Thursday, March 31, 2005

Today's favorite comment

Nothing to put up in lights, but cute.
The "wish-I-had-thought-of-that category."

Brad Delong's post talked about the Social Security discussion. He knocked off an answer to a remark by Treasury Secretary John Snow...

"I have not heard one good reason not to [support the administration's plan] and it's hard to figure out why anybody would oppose it..."

Here are four off-the-top-of-my-head reasons to oppose the Bush private-accounts plan, all of them very good ones:

1. As private-accounts plans go, it is a lousy one: the high three percent real clawback means that the working class and the lower middle class run an unacceptably large chance of losing money if they sign up.

2. It is not cost-free for the existing Social Security system: it increases the Social Security deficit: contrary to what administration spokesmen claim, the shift to private accounts costs more in reduced revenues flowing to the standard Social Security system than it saves in reduced standard Social Security benefits.

3. It doesn't do a thing to raise national saving; in fact, if people treat their private accounts as close substitutes for their other saving, it could well significantly reduce our already much-too-low national saving rate.

4. The Bush administration has a demonstrated skill at getting the important details of policies wrong: at turning gold into straw. Even a good plan would be wrecked in implementation by this crew.

It is pathetic that John Snow has not heard any of these reasons. The Treasury Secretary should not be an ignorant, underbriefed doofus.

First comment:

Brad sez:"The Treasury Secretary should not be an ignorant, underbriefed doofus."
Maybe he's being groomed for a higher office.


As the blog world grows, the long tail gets longer, and the top tier gets more crowded.
I left the world of bookmarks some time ago with a Bloglines aggregator (click on the tag below). It has become such a way of blogging that I sometimes go browsing among my old bookmarks to see if anything is happening with the sites that don't have what it takes to be grabbed by "subscription."

My sense is that in time any sites that are not subscription-friendly will fade. Bloglines, of course, may be part of the problem. The tagging system is still in a state of flux, so until a universal standard emerges a lot of places will continue to fall through the cracks.

Here are some aggregators I have found...

Tom Paine
Pundit Drome (30 sites, plus Chris Muir)
Centerfield [note: harvard (dot) edu]

And, of course, the Grandaddy of them all, Arts and Letters Daily. It used to be my home page, but now I only go there on the weekends if I'm looking for something else to read.

There are more, I'm sure.
If anyone has a favorite, I would like to know about it. A list of aggregators would be the next step in organizing the chaos that we call the blogworld.

As Terri Schiavo dies, people reflect, talk, think...

At this writing she isn't dead yet. Not officially.
As the waiting continues, a new kind of public conversation is taking place. Those who have been marginalized as part of the lunatic fringe are being treated with a little more respect. Stories are being told. Personal experiences are being shared. And just as the appearance of a clerical collar causes people to become more aware of profanity, the plight of Terri Schiavo is one that makes us tread more softly in conversation. We never know when we might be speaking with someone with a personal experience, recently re-lived, that has opened a part of their heart and mind that we didn't know about before.

A doctor recounts a personal experience with an adult patient born without what most people would call a brain...

I was astounded, however, that when I turned on a child's music box in the room, I observed that this hydranencephalic patient turned toward the musical device and began to smile and make sounds, as if she were enjoying the experience. I then tested this observation several times and found a consistent response to sound stimulation. When I conducted a test of electrical activity in her brain stem, the portion of the brain that controls bodily functions like breathing, I was surprised to find that the neurons of the brain stem involved with hearing were normal.

Several more advanced electrophysiological brain measures showed that she had normal hearing response waves, reflecting neural activity in the higher brain stem. She was aware at some level of the sounds and people noises in her environment, and responded to these sounds with the appearance of joyfulness.

I immediately brought her other doctors back into the room, where they began to interact with her in a totally different manner, in some cases holding her hand and trying to speak with her, and treating her more like a normally functioning human being. I was so emotionally moved by her struggle for human definition through the single modality of hearing that I went down to a local electronics shop and bought her an audio cassette player, and some modern and classical music.

On of the monks who came to Florida with the approval of their bishop, to be with those who watch, wait and pray, awaiting the death of Terri Schiavo, said:

"If people cast us off as fanatics, then they cast us off as fanatics, but that's part of what being a prophetic witness is, to be able to say something is the truth. Whether or not people listen doesn't matter to us. We're called to speak it and live it."

Judith Weiss keeps on linking to good stuff, including James Lileks taking on Christopher Hitchens.

I heard Nat Hentoff on a radio show two nights ago make the point that this case is not a "right to die" case. It is a "disability rights" case. The point is well taken, except for the legal thicket through which we have to wade to get there. In the end we are watching helplessly as those who prate about "We are a nation of laws" have their day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

MaxSpeak, You Listen!

This one speaks for itself.
Five days old now and I see it popping up several places.
Worth repeating.

Under socialism, the government takes into its hands the means of production, assuming ownership of capital assets. This control has within it a great capacity for mischief, in the likelihood of distorting the disposition of the Nation's productive assets to diseconomical ends.

Under the George W. Bush Excellent Privatization Plan for Social Security, the Government borrows money and purchases capital assets on your behalf, selecting how much of each asset you will buy, dictating the process whereby your portfolio is transformed from equities to bonds to an annuity, charging you a stiff interest cost for the purchase, gutting what remains of your public pension, and guaranteeing you a feeding tube until the Lord calls you home. This is far superior to socialism, since you will be unconscious during the entire process.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A new coalition is birthing

This post refers to Terri Schiavo's death watch, but it is not as much about Terri Schiavo as it is about the impact that her dying it is having on the living.
As I was reading a Becki Snow post (via Judith Weiss) a light came on as I saw a vision of a lion lying down peacefully with a lamb. The lamb, if you scroll down the Becki Snow blog, is the writer. The lion, along with a disneyesque - some have said Woodstock-like collection out in the street, is described wonderfully.

The Mitchells are FLAMING liberals, total atheists and rabid Democrats. Not to mention they have wicked ninja skills. Mess with Mom Mitchell, and she will turn you into dog food; Dad Mitchell will just break you with his mind. They are also completely and totally on Terri's side.

The juxtaposition of atheist, liberal and pro-Terri crashes journalists' mental harddrives. It literally drives them insane. Watching Mom Mitchell take apart a reporter is fun. They are not expecting her to go crazy-go-nuts all over them when they assume she's part of the "religious right" simply because she supports Terri Schiavo's right to live. I didn't know grannies knew that kind of language, but there it is. The air literally turns blue, and then Dad hauls out a load of literature and pictures and stuff, and by the time they finish with him, the reporter is just a quivering heap of suppositions. Mom and Dad Mitchell are both just awesome in every way. They simply do not give a rat's bohiney about what other people think they should think. I sit back, look at them, and think to myself: "if I ever turn into a flaming liberal atheist democrat, I want to be just like them."

Something important is happening here.
I haven't decided exactly what that might be, but it is bigger than it looks.
I think it would be a mistake to try to sum it up in a couple of cute phrases. It's better we let it simmer for a while and see how it turns out.

When my lead salad maker saw a new recipe for spinach salad she remarked,
"I never would have thought to put oranges and onions in the same recipe."
Yep. Me, too.

FICA reform...Buh-Bye

From Weisman, the Washington Post, quoting Tyler Cowen of George Mason University (and others)...

For several months, the White House has had to contend with some private-accounts supporters who argue that Bush's plan is far too timid. Now, the administration must confront a new group arguing the proposal represents an unwise expansion of Social Security's promises.

"I think there was a kind of notional support among right-wing or free-market intellectuals," said Cowen, "but now they're getting nervous. Even if they're not speaking out, they just figure it will die on the vine."

Abraham Lincoln said it best:

You can fool some of the people some of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

* * * *

Medicare, however, is another issue.
Matthew Yglesias puts the political challenge into a tight little nutshell.

Medicare masochism is basically a manifestation of intellectual laziness combined with callousness. Medicare policy is extremely complicated. Our health care system is messed up in a large number of ways, and Medicare has many design problems that lead spending to be higher than it needs to be. But Medicare policy is not only complicated, and difficult, but deadly boring. Devising a workable proposal that would control spiraling costs in a smart way would be very hard. In fact, it would be beyond the capacity of pretty much every pundit in town. Indeed, I doubt that 85 percent of the bloviators out there could even comprehend a reasonable proposal if it was put before them. 90 percent of the remainder are simply too lazy to do it. Politicians fail to implement such reforms for a bunch of reasons, but one important reason among them is that it's genuinely hard to figure out what we should do. Rather than acknowledge any of this, however, the opinion elite prefers to simply call for "courage" and "pain." And, of course, pure willpower can cut costs easily enough by simply shifting costs onto patients. But this doesn't actually solve anything. It'll be almost as large a drag on the economy and it'll get people killed.

What's needed are actual solutions -- efforts, for example, to end the supply-driven element of Medicare spending -- that will reduce the cost of care, not simply shift that cost around. But we'll never get even close to having such solutions available until the pain caucus shuts up for a few years about the courage and starts opening up column inches for people who actually know what they're talking about to put some ideas forward.

GB Shaw said something about fighting a battle of wits with an unarmed man.
Matthew is, in this case, fighting an entire army of mostly unarmed men (and women).

"When the revolution comes..."

That's what we said back in the day, as they now say. My parents' generation spoke of in my day or in the good ole days. It seems young people always look forward as the old look back.
I find that the best way to hold on to youth is to join the younger set as they look forward. Jonathan Edelstein's post is a glowing example of bright, if ominous, expectations.

In case anyone was uncertain up to now, the events in Kyrgyzstan have made it crystal clear that the world is in its biggest wave of sustained grass-roots revolution since 1989. During the past two years, protesters in six countries have succeeded in driving governments out of office, with four of the incidents happening within the past six months. Not all of these have led to immediate democratization - the two Bolivian revolts have left the political system largely unchanged, and the jury's still out on Kyrgyzstan and Lebanon, but the idea that the people can overthrow a repressive government has taken firm root.

Which leads to the inevitable question: who's next?

Historically, waves of revolution tended to spread across regions. That pattern has broken down somewhat in the current wave given that television, fax machines and the Internet can spread the news of popular revolts around the world within minutes. Three of the six post-2003 revolts have taken place in the CIS [ed. Commonwealth of Independent States. Jonathan presumes the reader knows what this means.], but the others have been scattered as far as Latin America, the South Pacific and the Levant.

Still, there is some indication that the revolutions may be having a regional effect. Democratic movements throughout the CIS have been stirring, with the past week seeing an abortive demonstration even in quiescent Belarus. The Lebanese revolution may be having an even more dramatic effect, with up to 80,000 demonstrators taking to the streets in Bahrain in conscious emulation of the protesters at Martyrs' Square. There's more discussion of events in Bahrain at Chan'ad Bahraini, and the signs point to a real popular ferment.

Another clue to the next revolution may lie in this year's electoral calendar. Three of the six popular revolutions thus far have been catalyzed by stolen elections, while a fourth was triggered by a pre-election assassination and a fifth by post-election parliamentary maneuvers. Elections are potential flash points for several reasons: the public is politically energized during the campaign period, the aftermath of an election produces a sense of transition, and the legitimacy of elections and electoral processes critical to the legitimacy of the resulting governments. Countries are most vulnerable to revolution during the period immediately before and after an election, and the political calendar points to several potential hotspots...

He then ticks off likely candidates...Somaliland, March 29... Zimbabwe, March 31...Central African Republic, April 10...Togo, April 24...Ethiopia, May 15...Iran, June 17...Uganda, June 30...Azerbaijan, November...Haiti, November 13 to December 11...

Each of these is listed with a thumbnail summary of why it could be a candidate. He concludes by going on record.

So which is the most likely country for the seventh revolution? If I had to guess, it would be Bahrain, followed by Ethiopia and Haiti. On the other hand, an unexpected wild card might set off a popular revolt where it is least expected - possibly Belarus, Egypt or one of the Gulf states. The only firm prediction I'll make is that, by the end of the year, at least one more government will leave office after its people take to the streets.

Edelstein is one of the smartest people blogging today. His analysis of Lebanese politics is a premier work of excellence, not because he is clairvoyant, but simply because he does his homework, keeps it neat and orderly, and reports what he has learned in clear and understandable language that anybody can grasp if they take the time to read and pay attention.

I don't often blog about it, but his site is one of the most important places in my aggregator.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Chinese communities in Korea

The Marmot points to a long and informative post at another blog about the Chinese population in Korea. The number has shrunk dramatically in recent years.
This post is long and conversational, and good reading for anyone with interest in Korea. Americans will be interested to know that the idea of ethnic minorities living apart from their host country in close-knit communities maintaining separate ethnic, language and social identities is an international phenomenon.

South Korea had around 120,000 Chinese in the early seventies, now there are 22,000. There are many reasons as to why they've left though one of them is that most are from families that originate on mainland, whereas because of history (being in SK at the height of anti-Communism) they are all Taiwanese citizens, with the exception of the relatively few who managed too obtain Korean citizenship. Problem with Taiwanese citizenship is that you couldn't go to the mainland all those years and if you obtain Korean citizenship you have to give up your previous citizenship and still would not be able to go to the mainland all those years (things have changed). So, a good option was emigrating to the US; you can obtain US citizenship without renouncing Taiwanese citizenship while still being able to travel to the family hometown on the mainland on your US passport.


Most of Korea's Chinese came to Korea after Mao's revolution, and subsequently have not been here long, so to speak, in the sense that the older ones remember living in China. Incheon's Chinese are different in that the larger percentage of them came in the 19th century.

Sr. Peter Claver (1899-2004)

Sr. Peter Claver Fahy, the nun credited with giving Dorothy Day the first donation for The Catholic Worker, died Dec. 3 in Philadelphia. She was 105....Until her retirement in 1979, she lived in slum-blighted urban areas and poor rural districts from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Mississippi, working mainly with poor African-Americans and Native Americans....In her writings, Day recorded quite a few visits she made to Sr. Peter Claver’s ministries....In the 1970s, Sr. Peter Claver founded two shelters for battered women, one in her hometown, which she continued to support until her death. She retired to Philadelphia in 1979 but continued to work in homeless shelters, prisons and afterschool tutoring programs for children.


A couple of Easy Essays by Peter Maurin (1877-1949)

Politics Is Politics

1. A politician is an artist in the art of following the wind
of public opinion.

2. He who follows the wind of public opinion does not
follow his own judgement.

3. And he who does not follow his own judgement
cannot lead people
out of the beaten path.

4. He is like the tail of a dog that tries to lead the head.

5. When people stand behind their president and their president stands behind them they and their president go around in a circle getting nowhere.

Church And State

1. Modern Society believes in the separation of Church and State.

2. But the Jews did not believe in it.

3. The Greeks did not believe in it.

4. The Romans did not believe in it.

5. The Mediaevals did not believe in it.

6. The Puritians did not believe in it.

7. Modern society has separated Church and State but it did not separate the State from business.

8. The State is no longer a Church's State.

9. The State is now a Business Men's State.

Jerry Brown is blogging

Yes, that Jerry Brown, former governor of California and Mayor of Oakland.

Political types can't seem to help themselves.
Detective Columbo once said, "I guess it's my line of work. Every time I see a body I think somebody killed it."
Likewise, politicians only see the world through political lenses.

Item link:

The death of Sun Hudson - a 6-month-old with a fatal genetic disorder who was taken off life support against his mother's wishes in a Texas hospital last week - adds some depth to the emotional debate over the fate of Terri Schiavo. The MSM are hanging on every twist and turn in the Schiavo case, and protesters have descended on Florida to denounce what they call "murder."

...President Bush, who signed a bill to allow Schiavo's parents to fight for her life, is in an awkward position on this one. [Emphasis added]

I'm glad to see somebody as important as Governor Brown into blogging, but he gets beat up pretty bad in the comments.

If more politicians would try their hands at blogging they might be a little more circumspect about what they say, when they say it, and how they do their jobs.

Predicting human behavior

Here we of my favorite topics, trying to predict human behavior. As a manager I wrestled with this challenge for thirty-five plus years and never got very far. I was disappointed as often as surprised by how often my expectations of new employees turned out to be not only wrong, but way wrong. I recall instances of people who had all the right stuff - experience, good attitude, intelligence in just the right amount, physical ability and a good record - who were nothing but a disappointment. In contrast there were people who I was forced to hire and retain for one reason only: we were in trouble for a "body", someone who could pass the mirror test (hold a mirror under their nose and hire them if it coulds up)...the only thing separating that person from the street was that no one else was available to do the job - and in more than a few cases some turned out to be among the most valuable and dedicated members of my team. Go figure.

Here is an interesting little essay from Kuro5hin describing the Big Five, the five important variables used by industrial phychologists in an attempt to predict by testing how well job applicants can be expected to perform in a job.

The story begins with Gordon Allport and H.S. Odbert, who hypothesized [in 1936] that

Those individual differences that are most salient and socially relevant in people's lives will eventually become encoded into their language; the more important such a difference, the more likely is it to become expressed as a single word.

This has become known as the "Lexical Hypothesis."

What Allport and Odbert did, though, was to go through two of the most comprehensive dictionaries of the English language available at the time, and extract 18,000 personality-describing words. From this gigantic list, they extracted 4500 personality-describing adjectives that they found describing observable and relatively permanent traits. And then, in 1936, they rested their case.

Decades pass...research and technology march on, and finally...

At a symposium held in Honolulu in 1981, the four prominent researchers Lewis Goldberg, Naomi Takamoto-Chock, Andrew Comrey, and John M. Digman reviewed the personality tests available at the day, and decided that most of the tests that held any promise seemed to measure a subset of five common factors - in fact the same as [another analyst] had discovered in 1963.

And here they be:

1. Surgency or Extraversion
2. Agreeableness
3. Conscientiousness
4. Neuroticism or (inversely) Emotional Stability
5. Culture or Openness to Experience or Openness to Ideas

I am reminded of Ed McMahan and Johnny Carson about to open an envelope which held the answer to some question or other - great timing set-up for yet another joke - saying: "Right here. Right here inside this one envelope is everything you need to know! Imagine! All in one place, right here, right here in this envelope...I can't wait to see!"

Sure enough. We are not disappointed.
The five traits are listed and described in detail. I find it to be a great relief, now that I am going into retirement, that one of the most vexing problems that I had to overcome will no longer be part of management. Now that we have these wonderful testing instruments at our disposal, nearly all the problems that have perplexed human resource managers in our lifetime have been reduced to an easy-to-measure list of personality characteristics that will virtually eliminate performance problems in the future.

I'm so relieved.
Just think! All those years I had to struggle with trying to find people who would be appropriately placed to wash dishes, clean up dirty floors, put up with the condescending abuse of customers who wanted Ten Dollar Service for five dollars, and do it all with a smile.
If I had been able to administer the right test, I would have employed the right people years earlier. The only "turnover" I would have worried about would have been the result of retirement as the staff got old enough to receive their various private pensions.

But wait. The only plan the company had was a defined benefits pension plan which was replaced by a 401-K that no one could afford to feed.
Oh, well. If that's all they had to worry about, the Five Big emotional testing factors would have got us through.

Cuban escapees - history in the making

This is a story of blogging it its best. In history class this story is what is referred to as "primary source material," a first person account of something that happens before the story becomes widely known. If there is any spinning, interpreting or ax-grinding going on, it is apparent from the jump. There is no attempt on the part of the writer-reporters to conceal any personal bias as they simply report the facts.

I caught a snip of a discussion on C-SPAN yesterday regrding journalism and opinion. There was a panel that included Arianna Hutchinson and David Brooks. There was a man from Al-Jezeera in the mix. Jeff Jarvis was among the audience. And the discussion made reference to blogging and journalism, trying to make some point about "fact" vs "opinion" as though the two could be somehow separated. As they talked it seemed clear to me that no one every wants to advance an argument (read "opinion") without facts. Likewise, I don't think it is realistic to think there is any way to report just facts without advancing an idea or opinion.

This story is a case in point. There are two posts to be read (each with a comment thread). The reader is invited to read them in reverse order (If blogs were books, the order of events would be organized differently, with background material coming first. It is sometimes important to read posts in reverse order.) and remember that it is not fiction.

Babalu Blog is the preeminent Cuban blog.
Val Parieto recieved an unsolicited email last week that looked so good it made him suspicious.

All sorts of caution bells were ringing. I kept hearing my father saying Be careful, Valentin. You never know what el caballo is capable of doing. What if my father and all the others who have told me to be careful were right. What if this guy wants to meet me to do me some harm. What if the guy is one of fidel's infiltrados, one of his moles that he has planted everywhere, especially here in Miami. For a moment I even had the notion that I would meet with the guy, he would knock me out somehow and I would wake up in one of fidel's jails or something. As you can imagine, I really wasnt sure what to do.

The email was from a woman whose father had a story to tell. The story was being passed to a blogger because the Miami Herald wasn't interested. The story of the email and subsequent meeting of the blogger and the journalist is more timely and interesting than the story itself.

"I'm an independent journalist," he said. "Used to work for the Herald years ago when I lived in Miami."

"I was in the Dry Tortugas working on a piece on scuba diving," the gentleman continued.

"When 14 Cuban refugees washed ashore this past Wednesday. I took a ton of photos."

He went on to tell me about the refugees and their arrival at Fort Jefferson. How they were all practically naked. How they had all arrived and sat calmy at a picnic table. How he wasn't allowed to talk to them until the Park Rangers realized they needed a translator.

"Naturally," he said. "I called my old contacts in the Herald but there wasn't much interest. 14 Cuban refugees washing ashore isnt too newsworthy here, I guess. So I immediately thought of BabalĂș. Would you be interested in the story and the photographs?"

The other post is an account written by Julio C. Zangroniz, the journalist.
There are photos that I could not open, but that is less important than the story itself.

Last Wednesday morning, March 23, just as the sun began to crawl over the horizon and light up the Dry Tortugas –the tiny group of Florida islands about 70 miles west of Key West— those placid grounds normally occupied by campers and vacationers became alive with excitement.

Did you see them… did you see the Cubans? nearly yelled one camper to another as he ran from camp to camp.

A group of 14 Cuban refugees, 13 men and one woman, had walked quietly into the grounds surrounding historic Fort Jefferson, then sat meekly at a picnic table, just as if they were just another group of tourists exploring the remote outpost.


When the ranger noticed a visiting journalist snapping photographs of the group, she came over to warn him about “park regulations concerning the commercial use of photographs taken here.” The journalist assured her that he was visiting the fort at the express invitation of the top representatives of the National Park Service there, and that he would make sure to comply with any and all regulations. But in the meantime, he asserted that he would continue to fulfill his journalistic duties.

The little story that follows is a glimpse into part of America that most people know about but rarely think about, the way that immigrants are handled, in this case by everyday folks working for the National Park Service and the National Guard.

A number of the refugees asked that the ceiling fan be turned down, or off altogether, because they were getting extremely cold, so it was done. Soon after, yet another park ranger showed up with a huge box of clothes. Tell them these are for them, so they can feel more protected.

As I said, this is blogging at its best. The snips I pasted here are only a sample.
To get the full experience you have to follow the links and read for yourself.
This is why I don't take the paper any more.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Big Brother is Watching

I don't know about you, but I for one find the fact that you can look up anyone's passport photo on the web to be very disturbing.

Thanks, PHD

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Anchoress has a great kid

Too good to miss.
Her fifteen-year-old son is guest blogging....

In Ireland you can turn any corner and run into a cow. Seriously. I'm not talking about the women, they're mostly ok looking. I mean real live cows. We had to stop traffic for them. You can open the window and touch them as you drive by. There is no light in the eye, though, an expression like no one is home. Cows have this vacant look, like Gwyneth Paltrow.

I have a great story about Ireland and cows, and it's true. [Go read about it. And hope your kid turns out as good as that.]

Support my Grandpuppies

There is a budding entrepreneur at our house, peddling internet merchandise that you cannot live without.
Molly and Jake are our two dogs, and they are the photogenic subjects of the cups, teeshirts and other stuff available online at Molly and Jake's Place, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hootsbuddy's Place.

Spend money.

North Korea via NY Times, Pejman

Another story about the surreal world of North Korea was in this week's New York Times. Pejman picked it up and commented:

Columnist Claudia Rosett has frequently pointed out the silence of the United Nations when it comes to the refugee problem caused by the exodus of North Koreans to China. Perhaps this story will serve to bring this crisis to the forefront of the international community's List Of Problems To Fix. In the meantime, note anew the fascinating fact that for all of the problems North Korea has, its citizens are convinced that it is "the greatest country in the world" and that its leaders are faultless. The mind reels at the degree to which a personality cult can be so successfully deceitful.

He's right. The mind reels.
According to he article, there is a large and growing population of Korean refugees, as many as 200,000 living in China, having crossed the 877-mile border between China and North Korea. It's hard to imagine what it is like to be poor in China, but for these people a poor life in China is better than anything they knew in North Korea.

Like the Marmot, we watch the mousehole and wait.
When the time comes, the emergence of North Korea into the rest of the world will have the effect of an avalanche on its people. How and when that will happen remains unclear. And whether or not it will happen as the result of military intervention is also unclear. But emergence there will be, as surely as pregnancy results in birth.

Footnote: The Times article will be accessible (registration required) until it is shifted into the archives (fee to access). Pejman's archives will be available at no charge longer than that. I read somewhere that the Times was contemplating going all-subscription online like WSJ and others. I think they have the smartest marketing stance if measured by readership, thanks in part to a generous online presence. Requiring a subscription would result in an immediate drop in the number of readers, like me, who already have so much to read at no charge that it would be senseless to pay.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Martyrdom of Terri Schiavo

I don’t want to write about the main subject in the news, Terri Schiavo. Nothing that I can write, nothing that I can do will be heard or read in a din of noise that some call a debate, but which is nothing more than the a dissonant chorus of well-meaning individuals looking at the scene from painfully different points of view. But for my own catharsis I am forced to put something into words.

As I woke up I heard a voice on NPR reflecting on how the death of this young woman in Florida somehow gives hope because it has stirred a lot of people to talk about the meaning of life and death. I wonder how many...

I posted a couple of days ago that this event underscores the need for clear planning that might avoid similar tragedies, but last night I came across an impassioned essay that dismissed such comments as “puerile” and of no real significance. In yet another effort to politicize a shared national tragedy, the writer, for whom I have only the greatest respect, goes right to the heart of the matter when he says that as a country we have chosen death. The husband has chosen death. The courts have chosen death. To speak of what ought to have been done is to avoid looking at the real problem. Not wanting to take any of the blame, we all seek to shift the burden of responsibility to someone else.

Just before I read this essay I was listening to an almost irrational talk-show host saying to a caller that if he didn’t like rudeness he should hang up the phone, change the station and listen to something else. The caller, trying to advance another point of view, had said, “If you want to be civil…” and the host interrupted him replying that he wasn’t interested in being civil. He was interested in saying something that could change what was happening to a dying woman in Florida. His passion – a good word to be using this week – seemed real.

The word “shrill” was knocked about before the election to describe those whose minority views were never going to have the dignity of civil debate. Spin masters knew they faced such hard-core opposition that debating would only serve to provide wider circulation of those views, so a better defense was to marginalize them by dismissing their views as “shrill” yelling. The response was to grab the word and wear it proudly, in the manner of demonstrators in Belgrade a few years ago by wearing bulls-eyes for the entire world to see in news photos. A Google search for “shrill” gets over three quarters of a million hits, those with a political bent topping the list.

Many of the people who used the word “shrill” pejoratively can now appreciate, in the case of Terri Schiavo, what it means to have their views, their ideas, their deepest values – another great word nowadays – rendered impotent in a tide of events over which they have no meaningful control.

I already know, after a lifetime of trying, that nothing that I say or do will make a lot of difference in the outcome of national policies. In retrospect I count myself fortunate that in my younger years I was able to participate in a movement resulting in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and an end to American involvement in Vietnam. But those things really didn’t come about because of anything that I did. Had Kennedy not been assassinated, civil rights legislation might have been delayed by the Solid South. And the end of the war came about more as the result of failing and duplicitous policies in Washington than kids in the streets.

But none of that is important. As I look around me, those were only a couple of bright spots in my youth. A darker picture emerges when I think of how helpless I feel watching the advance of what Walter Wink refers to as the myth of redemptive violence. From TV, from the movies, from books, we are spoon-fed the idea that there is a connection between violence and morality. We are led to believe that in some way God requires of man that he be willing to do more than die to defend good against evil; he must also be willing to fight and kill as well.

That is where we cross the line. It is one thing to die for something. It is another matter to kill another person for a cause. We get confused when we lose focus about what is killing and what is dying. We get tangled up in language and use phrases such as “right to die” and “right to live” when both refer to the same event, but we need to spin the argument one way or another. Typically this is an effort to shift the responsibility to someone other that ourselves.

We need to back away from the discussion long enough to see what is happening to us a population. There is no way in a representative government that any of us is allowed to claim that what our government does is not an extension of what each of us is doing as an individual. It’s like being part of a family. We didn’t choose our parents or our siblings, but whoever they are, good, bad or indifferent, that is how things are. We need not approve of a father’s abuse or a sister’s degradation, but we cannot escape the truth that he is the father, and she is the sister. Like it or not, we are all in this together.

The case of Terri Schiavo is presenting a lot of Americans with a dilemma that is old stuff for some of us: how do I reconcile my values as an individual with those of a citizen when those two values are in conflict?

The abortion debate has primed the pump. The polarization of the country around this issue has resulted in a political rift carelessly dismissed by pundits as liberal vs. conservative. But there are a large and growing number of so-called “liberals” who know that abortion, though legal, is also immoral. I imagine there are a lot of “conservatives” who breathe many a sigh of relief that a sister or daughter “in trouble” can legally escape the consequences of an “unwanted” pregnancy, though they would never say so publicly. Yesterday’s issue of Catholic Online has a timely essay entitled Gen-X: Is Terri Schiavo our Roe v. Wade? At last we can point to ourselves and know that our self-righteous attitudes about euthanasia have not kept us untainted as a nation from that stripe of evil.

In the final analysis, we have to conclude that legality and morality will never be congruent. We are not, nor do we want to be, a theocracy. We must come to terms with the shortcomings of man-made laws and systems. Those of us who oppose capital punishment have lived with those shortcomings for a long time, and will continue to do so. My opposition to capital punishment is not based on what it does to the person executed, but on what it does to me as a citizen-participant in the execution. I find it offensive that anyone would try to attach my views regarding capital punishment to any putative approval of what is happening in Florida. I have learned over the years to tolerate such ignorance as nothing more than that: a leap from the known to the unknown, based on what is in this case bad faith.

I had to be at work this year on Palm Sunday, but in past years I have taken part in several Palm Sunday services that enable the congregation to reenact the Passion of Christ. We gathered outside the sanctuary and processed into the church singing, as a symbolic representation of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Later in the service, various people read from a Passion Narrative adapted from the synoptic gospels. Part of that narrative has everyone in the congregation to cry out in response to questions from Pilate, “Crucify Him!” We all participate in the call for crucifixion. We all are part of that multitude. We all share in that shameful execution. And we all stand in need of His forgiveness.

Likewise, we all share in the death of Terri Schiavo. As citizens we are taking part in that passion narrative.

Terri Schiavo will be remembered as a martyr. Even if by some stretch of fate she were allowed to resume living for a few more years she would still die a martyr. Her death will always be remembered as a formative event in the American Public Square as the moment that finally provoked us as a nation to face at least one facet of our national sinfulness. She is a martyr because we all took part, one way or another, in her death. For some of us it is a new and painful idea, the notion that we are committing a sin simply by being part of a population. But in that common place we all stand together in need of Divine forgiveness.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

from the Book of Common Prayer

* * * *
Added Mar 26...
Donald Sensing, former Marine officer and current Methodist minister, courageously takes a stand that I find reasonable. Yesterday's post and the one preceding it are both worth reading. The comment threads start out well enough as regular readers sound supportive, but there are a good many flames as word spreads.
* * * *
And March 28, the day after Easter...
Somebody was bound to say it - the idea that everyone had and no one wanted to put into words. It seems so cold to say it out loud. Jon Carroll writes in the San Francisco Chronicle...
Schiavo's sad case is not unique; feeding tubes are pulled every day in the United States. Patients are intentionally given overdoses of morphine every day in order to relieve their suffering. Sick people choose to die, and say so, and they do die, aided or unaided. This is the cycle of life....The panderers and the publicly pious created a nine-ring circus around a private family decision, and they used a helpless young woman as a pawn. They did so apparently without conscience and without regret....Did any of them care about Terri Schiavo for the first 14.5 years of her vegetative state? They did not. Did they offer to pay for the extraordinary expense of keeping her alive? They did not. Did they sit by her bedside, read her books, play her music, bathe her bedsores? They did not. There's nothing to be gained from unpublicized compassion. ...There are elderly people all over this country dying every day from simple neglect. People just forget about them. Maybe Congress could subpoena them! That way, when they didn't show up, they'd be in contempt of Congress and someone would have to go find them and at least change their sheets and give them some hot broth.
There is more. A lot more.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Technical difficulties

The DSL is down this morning so I am blogging from another location.
I forgot how much dial-up is the pitts.
Anyway, there are two things to think about...

First, if the last several days have not done anything else, they have underscored the importance of everyone leaving a final directive for health care. The Critical Conditions Planning Guide (PDF) is to be used by whoever you decide in advance will be your designated agents for health care decisions. There should be a primary agent, then three or four alternates. They should all know who they are, have a copy of your instructions, and know exactly what you want to have done under a veriety of circumstances. They need not be family members or health care providers, but it is important that they agree to be your agents.

Second, following the pageant of the Legislative and Administrative branches during the last seventy-two hours, I have a hard time appreciating complaints about "activist" judges overstepping their authority. It seems to me that Congress and the President have done just that by getting involved in a matter heretofore left up to families and states.

At this writing the case of Terri Schiavo remains unresolved.
My heart goes out to all who have strong feelings on both sides of the issue.
The anguish we all feel today is the result of a preventable situation that should have been resolved in advance. Unfortunately, the case represents more the rule than the exception.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Only three more years...

Abbas Raza points to the U.S. Memory Championships and a Slate piece about memory.

I wish he hadn't done that.
Just now, I don't recall exactly why I reacted that way...

For some reason a Beatles song has been playing in my head.

When I get older losing my hair many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine,
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?If I'd been out til quarter to three would you lock the door?Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?


To attain the rank of grand master of memory, you must be able to perform three seemingly superhuman feats. You have to memorize 1,000 digits in under an hour, the precise order of 10 shuffled decks of playing cards in the same amount of time, and one shuffled deck in less than two minutes. There are 36 grand masters of memory in the world. Only one lives in the United States. His name is Scott Hagwood, and he's won every U.S. Memory Championship since he began competing in 2001.


John DeLorean is dead. Terri Schiavo isn't. Yet.

"John DeLorean was one of Detroit's larger-than-life figures who secured a noteworthy place in our industry's history," GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said Sunday in a statement. "He made a name for himself through his talent, creativity, innovation and daring."

While apt to be remembered popularly as the man behind the car modified for time travel in the "Back to the Future" movies, DeLorean left a powerful imprint in automaking built on unique, souped-up cars.

Tip to Boing Boing,
who thanked Mo,
who has this take from last night's developing news...

The Senate wants to water your vegetables. Sorry, that's a terrible slang expression along neurosurgeons for keeping someone comatose or in a persistent vegetative state alive. Please get a living will or designate a power of attorney so this never happens to you or your loved one. Contrary to what the 'right' would have you believe, discontinuing a feeding tube in a person with PVS does not typically cause pain or hunger and is a painless, peaceful, natural, and dignified way to die (at least more dignified than dying with tubes, lines, and monitors on you 24/7).

That's more breezy and irreverent than I would choose, but how long after any high profile tragic story does it take pundits and night-show hosts to begin the jokes?

If you don't have arrangements made now, then when do you aim do get it done?
Will you memory hold out that long? (See the post above.)

Blogged news from Iraq, from one end to the other

No one seems to have reported the latest events in Basrah. Not any of the news services or the blogs.

Students of the Basrah and Shatt Al-Arab universities in Basrah city have been on strike for the last three days as a reaction to the attack last week by Sadrists and Mahdi Army militiamen on tens of students organising a field trip or a picnic at Al-Andalus park, downtown Basrah.

Hooded men assaulted the students with rubber cables and truncheons which resulted in the death of a Christian girl, Zahra Ashour, and another student who came to her rescue after militiamen had tore off her clothes and were beating her to death. He was shot in the head.

Students say that their belongings, such as mobile phones, cameras, stereo players and loudspeakers, were stolen or smashed to pieces by the militiamen. Girl students not wearing headscarves, most of them Christian, were severely beaten and at least 20 students were kidnapped and taken to Sadr's office in Al-Tuwaisa for 'interrogation' and were only released late at night.

Students also say the police and British soldiers were nearby but did not intervene.

A Sheikh As'ad Al-Basri, one of Sadr's aides in Basrah, stated that the "believers" of the Mahdi Army did what they did in an act of 'divine intervention' in order to punish the students for their "immoral and outrageous behaviour" during the "holy month of Muharram, while the blood of Imam Hussein is yet to dry." He added that he had sent the "group of believers" to observe and photograph the students, and on witnessing them playing loud music, "the kind they play in bars and discos", and openly talking to female students, the "believers had to straighten things out".

The report is from Zeyad's blog Healing Iraq, and continues with more details.
What I find interesting is that I found the link from Najma
, who pointed it out in her blog from Mosul, on the other end of Iraq. She has an interesting take, the title of her post being I demonstrate from my place..

I heard about this from my aunt on the phone yesterday, but I didn't post about it since she had no enough information about it, and I waited for the media to give me more info.

It seems that the media isn't intending to talk about it, and it's the bloggers' job to inform you of it..

You go, girl!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

New Year in Iran

All Iranians, whatever their religious beliefs, language or origins and wherever they live, are strongly attached to Now Rouz, meaning New Year.

This festival, which does not feature in the Islamic lunar calendar, begins the solar year at the spring equinox, 21 March. Lasting around two weeks, it is the longest of all Iranian feasts and its rites are the richest in symbolism. The ceremonial includes customs from pre-Islamic festivals and rites introduced by people of non-Iranian origin, such as the Jews, and even borrowings from rites practised elsewhere.

This post is being lifted verbatim from Iran Press Service.
The country is far more complex than the average American thinks.

Two weeks before Now Rouz, each household traditionally grows a plate of sprouts of wheat, barley or lentils as omens of a good harvest or as tokens of fruitfulness in the future.

This significant ritual is followed by two important celebrations which mark the closing days of the year and prepare for Now Rouz proper. At nightfall on "Ember Wednesday", or chahar shambeh souri, meaning the Wednesday festivities, a bonfire of brambles and other dry plants is lit. Men and women, old and young leap over the flames shouting "Fire that burns! Fire! Fire! May your red come to me and my yellow go to you!" The light of the flames symbolizes the Sun. By challenging the setting Sun to shine more brightly and to compete with the fire, they urge it to throw off its winter torpor.

Once the fire has gone out, earthenware pots and vases filled with water, and a variety of other objects, are hurled from the top of the house to shouts of "dard-o bala! dard-o bala!" ("Pain and unhappiness!"). Wednesday being traditionally considered as a day of ill-omen, in this way misfortune is averted and unhappiness symbolically banished from the house.

On the same day, people try to foresee the future. The omens are read in various ways. Women who want a child, girls who have not yet found a husband, men who are hoping to conclude a successful business deal or even to get married, go out into the streets or stay behind closed doors eavesdropping on conversations between people they do not know. They interpret the words they overhear as omens of the future and make wishes and pray to try to ward off misfortune. Another custom is for women and children in disguise, their faces hidden, to go out into the streets at twilight carrying an empty receptacle and bang on doors with a spoon. They say nothing but go on knocking until someone opens a door and gives them a present. [Sounds like Halloween.]

The second end-of-year celebration, the "Day of Reckoning" (rouz-e barat) is the Iranian day of the dead. On the last Thursday of the year alms and gifts are distributed at the cemetery: money, food, halva or new clothes are given so that the poor can celebrate the feast. The house is cleaned from top to bottom-this is a vestige of a pre-Islamic festival. In this way the living seek to pay their debts to the departed and attract the benevolence of their ancestors.

The "spring cleaning" (khaneh takani), done before New Year, is more than just a cleaning operation. From cellar to attic, from carpets to bedding, everything must be made as good as new. A new life is dawning and the house must be symbolically purified and thoroughly cleansed as if it were a human body, by being carefully washed and by wearing new clothes. [I have read about this on a couple of Iraqi blogs.]

For the New Year ceremonial, the plate of sprouting grain and the tray of “haft sin”, meaning seven sins, --from the Iranian letter “S”-- must be placed on the Now Rouz cloth in front of a mirror lit by as many candles as there are members of the household, a copy of the Qor'an, the Muslim’s holly book, a bowl of milk, a bowl of yoghurt, and gifts of coins.

The tray of the "seven sin" contains seven products whose names in Persian, Turkish or Arabic begin with the letter sin, the initial letter of the Persian words for green (sabz) and white (sefid), colours which symbolize respectively the renewal of springtime and the purity that wards off demons. Today the tradition has changed: everyone can choose seven symbols representing renewal, creation, abundance and wealth. The number 7 is a sacred number, as it was for the Babylonians and the ancient Hebrews, linked to the idea of creation which runs through all the symbolism of Now Rouz.

While they are waiting for the New Year to begin, the parents and other older people pray that the year will be propitious and recite the Qor'an to bring blessings and happiness to the family. Immediately afterwards, sweetmeats are eaten. Their taste presages a happy year.

That is only about half the post. It continues for thirteen days.

Copyright 1990 UNESCOCopyright 2004 Gale Group
Editor’s note: Besides Iranians, all Kurds and peoples in Central Asia, including Afghanistan, do also celebrate No Rouz very much like the Iranians.

Mr. Zarrinkoub is an Iranian Historian and specialist in oriental literature. A professor of History at the University of Tehran, he is the author of more than thirty books, the last one being a study on the Persian poet Hafez.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Approaching Holy Week

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. The following Sunday is Easter.
This Lent has given us a lot to contemplate, life and death questions so widely discussed that even Philistines and infidels are involved. You know what they say about opinions...

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube is again being taken away.
Professor Volokh shines a spotlight on capital punishment.
Whatever we call what we are doing in Iraq (War? Occupation? Nation-building? Security?) continues to be paid for in human losses.
Another little girl is murdered in Florida by a registered predator.
Scott Peterson is sentenced to die.
Darfur has not vanished, except from the popular press.
And on and on.

As much as I would like to say something wise about all these subjects, I am at a loss to do so. For me there is no easy litmus test or common denominator. I understand and respect the passionate, pro-life pleas to "save" Terri Schiavo, but I also just completed my own "Critical Conditions Planning Guide" and wrestled with my own wishes in the tragic event that I might be in a similar condition. My father spent his last year following a stroke in a nursing home with a feeding tube. His death was caused by something else, but I decided at that time, seeing his condition, that if I was not able to participate in my own nutrition, at least cognitively, that I would prefer not to continue living. I have said as much to my wife and anyone else who cares to listen. The operative word here is "cognitively." That is the variable separating Christopher Reeve from Terri Schiavo.

But all that is irrelevant to public discussion.
That is where we start to get into trouble. Public discussion becomes more than just discussion. After a few paragraphs, public discussions move to attempts at resolving questions in a manner that is normative for everyone. That is the great pitfall of democracy and the adversarial mindset developed from ingesting too much law and too much logic. Too much father, too much son, and not enough Holy Spirit. (And yes, I did not use upper case for the first two deliberately. It was simply a figure of speech that seemed too good not to use. )

Peggy Noonan's column in yesterdays WSJ is excellent. It is as clear and undebatable link between the Schiavo case and those who oppose abortion as can be found.

But in the end, it comes down to this: Why kill her? What is gained? What is good about it? Ronald Reagan used to say, in the early days of the abortion debate, when people would argue that the fetus may not really be a person, he'd say, "Well, if you come across a paper bag in the gutter and it seems something's in it and you don't know if it's alive, you don't kick it, do you?" No, you don't.

The use of the word "kill" is inflamatory, but when one is arguing to save or protect life, it is rhetorically fair. Arguments are not actions. Arguments are only words. And if the use of an inflammatory word will cause or block actions, then words have done their job.

American Digest has an excellent essay inspired by Noonan's column that should become required reading in some future anthology of writing reflecting the puzzles of our time.

At some point in the early winter of 2001, it became clear to me that I needed to conduct a searching inventory of my soul and rebuild, almost from the ground up, my sense of who I was and how I thought about the world I was in and the life I was leading. At the time, I knew only that I had been mistaken about a great many things for a very long time and I was long overdue for an extreme makeover of the self.

To do that I used the only set of skills I was ever any good at, writing and reading, and began -- in fits and starts at first but then with more dedication -- changing into something and someone different from the person I had been for many years. This is nothing either unusual or dramatic. Indeed, the reinvention of the self is something deeply American and mordantly dependable. Still, it seemed to me at the time, and it still seems to me today, that I have no choice but to begin and continue with my slapdash renovation until such time that it seems to me to be finished.

All of this is a worn out way of saying that it has become my discipline over the past few years to try and write my way to a new kind of freedom I still only vaguely see. This again is neither unusual nor dramatic. Many others do it. Many more use other tools to accomplish a similar goal; career-change, relocation, materialism, spiritualism, conversion, drugs, alcohol, rehabilitation, Jesus. As Americans our options for reinvention are numerous with more being minted daily.

The whole thing, as they say, is worth the time it takes to read. Later in the piece this very familiar experience was described.

I quit being a Democrat at some point in the months right after September 11. Since that time I've lost old and, I thought, true friends who have assumed, wrongly and in spite of my objections, that I had become a Republican. I have no wish to "become a Republican," nor do I have the slightest idea of how to be one. But it seems to be the default assumption of many that the measure of a man and the worth of a friendship has become entirely based on how one did or did not vote in November of 2004. Given the utter complexity of the issues such as those raised up by Terri Schiavo, it is amazing to be that such a simplistic reduction can be made. And yet it is and thus are millions of friendships that might have enlarged lives rendered, like so many other things, disposable.

The familiar experience to me was not a change of politics, but the harsh realization that there were people called "friends" lost because of a change of my thinking. I never knew of this capacity in human beings until I was "politicized" in late adolescence. I came to the harsh realization that because I embraced ideas that they considered unacceptable, people I thought would always be frineds abruptly left me, even to the point of letting me remain homeless when put out of my apartment for taking part in the civil rights movement of the early sixties. I had more than one conversation with sweet ladies with rooms to rent, names provided through the good offices of the Baptist church, who politely let me know - after I told them why I was looking for a place to rent - that they didn't think their room would be where I should live.

The point is not that people disagree. The point is that disagreements can lead to widespread intolerance of unpopular ideas. Sometimes those ideas prevail anyway, as they did in my lifetime with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but just because the ideas prevailed, that did not mean that they were accepted. Even today I know people who will not be able to change. Their children have inched forward. So, too have their grandchildren. But changes, it seems, are measured in generations, not years. All we can pray for in the meantime is peace among those who do not agree.

As the passion of the pope, the passion of Terri Chiavo, the passion of Scott Peterson, the passion of those who die in prisons at the hands of guards or other prisoners, the passion of a child in Florida, the passion of all who die, friends and enemies these cases pass before us, as well as the Passion of Christ, we are left to reflect upon our own death when that time comes. In the end, we all - including those who do not believe in such mysteries - deeply want to die on the side of the angels.

He blinked

Professor Volokh says it in print: he changed his mind.

Mark Kleiman's post, which has persuaded me to change my views on the advisability of deliberately painful executions also has an excellent discussion of retribution as a goal of punishment.

Mark Kleiman responds...

Note that this is no mere factual correction; anyone might be forced to engage in one, though the real Masters of the Web retract as seldom, and as grudgingly, as possible. This is an actual admission by a blogger that he is not infallible.

Such an admission undercuts the entire purpose of blogging, which is the competitive expression of unchangeable opinion accompanied by personal abuse. Without the unchangeable opinion, the personal abuse would be pointless; what value is there in questioning your opponents' intelligence, morals, and sanity based on their opinions if you admit that your own opinions are not unvarying parts of your inmost self, but mere possessions, which you can change as easily as you change your clothing? If a blogger "concedes error," as Volokh admittedly has done, what won't he concede?

I, too, was wrong in my own cynical attitude:

The cocooning phenomenon sets in when there are a host of opinions in a discussion, too many to be read and digested. All one does is comb through, looking to reinforce already-held ideas, rather than seeking new understandings.

We did that.

I like that in this case I was wrong. It's an inverted expression of my tagline about being an optimist.

I also like that these two important men can find the words to be gentlemen in their discussion. Klieman's response was something akin to grace.

And Dr. Volokh was plain-speaking enough to say that arguments (such as mine) against atavism were not pursuasive. I can respect that. I understand that followed to their logical conclusion, arguments against punishments, capital or otherwise, cannot allow for this human weakness. To do so would legally eviscerate the whole idea of punishment.
I got it.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Capital Punishment is sub-Christian

Yesterday's post is important enough that I have decided to let it float for a day or two. Blog posts are like fresh-picked flowers; they bloom for a few days, then wither and die. This one I want to keep alive as long as possible.
The Volokh post got a blizzard of response. He really hit a nerve.
I don't understand the difference between "trackbacks" and "possibly more trackbacks" but it doesn't matter. This morning there are about forty "trackbacks" and an endless number of "possibles." My post from yesterday is about number fifty in the second category, so it is virtually certain to be lost in the din. Whatever the methodology, the bigger the ruckus, the less likely anybody's point will be read and understood.
The cocooning phenomenon sets in when there are a host of opinions in a discussion, too many to be read and digested. All one does is comb through, looking to reinforce already-held ideas, rather than seeking new understandings.

If you are a new reader, welcome.
I try to post once or twice a day, but in this instance I have decided to pause briefly to let yesterday's post have more exposure.
Thank you for reading.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Toward a more atavistic Capital Punishment

If you're going to favor capital punishment, then Eugene Volokh has put his finger on exactly the right button. Don't pee around. Do it publically. Do it slowly. Make it as excruciatingly painful and humilliating as possible for the candidate. Let victims, survivors of the crime and others who may be so inclined take part. And enjoy every moment of the event.

It is fitting that on the anniversary of Halabja, hard on the heels of the Atlanta murders of a judge and two others by an escaping prisoner, last week's cpture of the BTK killer, and any number of other high profile ugly reasons, that someone with the stature of a top-tier blogger should point out how the satisfying effects that capital punishment - particularly in its most atavistic form - allows us to reach deep into ourselves and find one of the most fundamental of all human qualities, the righteous urge to become enraged at evil and destroy it in the most dramatic and irreversable manner possible.

Getting buried now in the disappearing string of posts we create by blogging, is a little message by Jim at Stones Cry Out, posted just after the BTK killer was apprehended. It gets off to a good start...

Just when you thought it was safe to oppose to the death penalty, along comes a scoundrel like the BTK (bind, toture, and kill) murderer in Kansas, for whom any kind of execution seems too humane.

...but fades into a more reflective mood, citing questions by a Stanford professor that are treated as rhetorical, ending inconclusively.

There do have to be cultural benchmarks that are consulted in determining the tangible implications of subjective terms. As such, as alarming as it has been made to sound in recent days, the Republic will survive the Court’s decision to take a reading of modern society.

What began with a veiled indication that capital punishment is a notion that a responsible person, a Christian even, might oppose -- ended with another tacit acceptance that this primitive impulse in our human nature does, in fact, need to have the force of law and social approval behind it. I do not want the only record of my comment interred only with that archive, so I copy it here for my own record.

Do not waver.

One of the most seductive lies from the pit of Hell is that legality and morality must be congruent. It is not so. Examples of legal behavior which is not moral include drinking into oblivion, gambling away a family fortune and and driving while sleep deprived. Examples of moral behavior which is illegal include sheltering illegal immigrants who do not meet the letter of the law for asylum but whose lives would be endangered otherwise, driving someone for emergency medical care without a license, or revealing privileged information to certain individuals who may not have the legal right to know.The law may mandate capital punishment, but that does not mean that as Christians we must give it our blessing. As Christians I firmly believe we must continue to argue for the end of capital punishment, especially when it seems most justified. Otherwise, our arguments will always allow for exceptions. It will always be tempting to excuse capital punishment because the actions of the perpetrator are depraved. The reason that capital punishment is morally wrong is because of what it does to the executioner, not the perpetrator. The executioner is not simply the individual who causes the event, it extends to every citizen in whose name the event was performed.

An execution creates a population of perpetrators which includes you and me. It is morally repugnant, not because of what it does to the criminal, but because of what it does to us. Early Christians (including Jesus, incidentally) were the victims of capital punishment, not the executioners. [It is noteworthy that according to Luke one of the others who died on Golgotha allowed as how he and the other bandit deserved to die, although Matthew and Mark state that both of the others being crucified taunted Him.]

There will always be a poster child for capital punishment. Our responsibility as Christians is to resist our most atavistic impulses and struggle with how, under disagreeable and humanly irrational conditions, we can possibly follow the Lord's command to love. When we say to hate the sin and love the sinner, this is where the rubber meets the road. The is no loving way to take a person's life, even if he seems to have it coming.

I see no discernable trend in my lifetime that mankind is in danger of losing its impulse to be savage. There have been a few noble expressions of non-violent responses to evil that have turned out well. (I might mention that this most recent example of the actions of Ashley Smith influencing an escaped killer is a recent case in point, but by the time his crimes are up in lights, her less appealing, less "newsworthy" behavior will be overshadowed by the rest of the show.) But overall the conduct of human behavior continues to be everything that Mr. Volokh is not only willing to accept, but encourage. Those of us in the minority - and a small group it is - are not even close to gaining social acceptability. In fact, in most company, it is still best we keep silent.

St. Patrick's Day

Josh about covers it.
All you have to know about St. Patrick's Day is enough to make polite conversation when other topics don't come to mind or would be too risky. For kids it's fun. For old people a break in the routine. For drinkers, yet another excuse to drink. And for the coffee break peers, something to fill time other than the weather, TV shows and having a bad hair day.

Originally born in Britain sometime in the 5th century, St. Patrick was captured at around age sixteen and taken to a Druid chief in Ireland. During his six years of captivity, Patrick's faith strengthened so that when he returned to Britain at age 22 he decided to set his sights on eventually returning to bring the Gospel of Jesus to Ireland. This he did sometime between 432 or 462 at a turbulent time when Rome was withdrawing from Britain (and also a time when some say a "King Arthur" rose to power). Although Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, he certainly had the biggest impact. According to legend Patrick banished snakes from Ireland, but some argue that Ireland never had snakes in the first place.

Many believe he died on March 17th, so that is why we celebrate his feast today. It is common, indeed required among some, that people wear green to commemorate this day. But I hasten to note that green is the color for Catholic Irish to wear. Protestant Irish, such as myself, should wear orange.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

North Korea: cracks in the walls with cameras rolling...

Halfway through a video from North Korea, the camera pans on a propaganda portrait of Kim Jong Il, North Korea's leader, magnificent in his general's dress uniform with gold epaulets. Scribbled in black ink across his smooth face is a demand for "freedom and democracy."

If genuine, the graffiti speaks of political opponents willing to risk execution to get their message out. If staged, the video means that a North Korean hustler was willing to deface a picture of the "Dear Leader" to earn a quick profit by selling it to a South Korean human rights group.

Either way, the 35-minute video is the latest evidence that new ways of thinking are stealing into North Korea, perhaps corroding the steely controls on ideology and information that have kept the Kim family in power for almost 60 years.

This exciting development is being monitored by The Marmot's Hole.
He's one of the few people watching this mousehole like a patient cat. Politically, North Korea is a ticking bomb. Never mind the nuclear threats; their domestic problems are far, far more significant. When it happens, a popular upheaval will be as unstoppable as the birth of a baby.
Reports of the most unbelievable kind have been leaking from the North for the last few years, mostly by Japanese journalists. A pissed off crowd of Koreans can make a lot of things happen. This could be the Next Big Story.

But maybe not. We still wait and see.

Building, cement, bagged, instant

What a great idea! Concrete Canvas comes folded in a sealed plastic sack. The volume of the sack controls the water-to-cement ratio, eliminating the need for water measurement. You literally just add water.

I can't find any pictures, dammit. (There is one thumbnail of a model, but so far they haven't gone to full-size production.) But these people have come up with a really great idea, a concrete building that can be shipped folded up to anywhere, then inflated and made into a functioning building at the destination by adding water to the cement.

Wired News has the story.
Found via Slashdot.

The idea of a transportable, even temporary building has many possible applications. The recent tsunami disaster offers a recent example of a situation where any kind of shelter would be welcome. Apparently the portable cement structure mentioned in the article can be shipped sterile and used as a surgical operating environment if necessary.

They thought of an inflatable concrete tent after hearing about inflatable structures that are built around broken gas pipes to carry out repairs.

"This gave us the idea of making a giant concrete eggshell for a shelter, using inflation to optimize the structure for a compressive load," said Brewin. "Eggs are entirely compressive structures with enormous strength for a very thin wall."

The idea won second prize in the cement association competition in 2004. Crawford and Brewin, who are both engineers and have worked, respectively, for the Ministry of Defense and as an officer in the British Army, were also inspired by the plaster-of paris-impregnated bandages used to set broken bones.

***********IDEA AHEAD***********

I have a pet idea similar to this that I would love to push: temporary or disposable shelters made of ordinary corrugated cardboard, suitable for sleeping two adults or one adult with a couple of kids. Somebody may already have thought of it, which is okay. The humanitarian aspect of such an idea is far more important than whatever profits may result.

Cardboard houses are already available.

Quonset huts served well during WWII, a wonderful example of how inventions derived from military needs can serve wider, non-military use. Some are still in use in ways that their inventors would never have imagined.

But I would like to set in motion an idea that would be public domain, used by industry to make use of end runs and odd lots of materials, distributed by retail outlets (in order for the idea to work, someone has to pay basic costs) and finally donated through churches, civic organizations or other centers to be reused as shelter for homeless people.

After thirty-plus years in the food business, I have seen plenty of shipping boxes. The potential of cardboard is much greater than most people appreciate. The cartons in which products are shipped are normally more durable than the products themselves. There is no reason that this lightweight, strong material cannot be used for shelter. It can be fire-resistant and water-resistant, light enough that one person can carry it, and spacious enough for one or two sleeping bags.

Think about it.