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Friday, December 31, 2004

Some bills we can expect to see from George W.

1. The Healing a Divided America Act: "Shocked and saddened by the divisive nature of the recent Presidential campaign, President Bush will attempt to reach out and pacify the two warring cultures in our country. Accordingly, a twenty-foot-high concrete security wall, topped by electrified razor wire, will be constructed as a barrier between blue states and red. Democrats and Republicans will have thirty days to relocate to blue states and red states, respectively, or else they will be placed in attractive relocation camps for their own safety and comfort."
Shamelessly stolen from The New Yorker, January 3, 2005 where you will find additional legislation.

All those years during the Vietnam War, I never understood the validity of the "Better Dead than Red" bumperstickers. They were just prescient.

All Our Yesterdays by Robert Parker

Surprise, surprise, a Robert Parker that does not feature Hawk or Spencer and does not even have a private detective. I think this is one of his best yet. Spanning three generations it follows the men of the Sheridan family, greatly flawed, who seek to redeem themselves of an obsession for violence and corruption that becomes a hex. Their lives all become entwined with the Winslows, to the detriment of all.

Conn Sheridan, the patriarch, is a young sniper for the IRA. He is assigned the assassination of an English politician. After being sold out by Hadley Winslow, his married lover, he escapes from British prison just before he is to be shot, and leaves for America. He becomes a cop, a rather corrupt one at that, whose son Gus inherits, or assumes, that corruptness but doesn't want it to singe his son Chris.

The story is told through a variety of perspectives, starting with conversations between Chris and his girlfriend Grace, the daughter of Tom Winslow, Hadley's son. Tom has a nsty secret. As a teenager, he had raped and killed a young girl, a crime that was covered up by Conn, who used the information to blackmail Hadley into resuming their affair. Conn passed along evidence of Tom's pedophilia – Tom had been sent to a private clinic in Switzerland as part of the deal with Hadley to hush up the murder – to Gus, who continued to use it as a hold over Tom, now returned from his Swiss hiatus and manager of a large bank. Gus has also been on the take from two Irish crime families and is using Tom's bank to launder their ill-gotten gains.

It all comes crashing down when one of the henchmen of the crime families is gunned down and an innocent school girl is killed in the cross-fire. Gus's soon, Chris, is appointed by the mayor, Parnell Flaherty, a candidate for the Senate seat also sought by Cabot Winslow, Grace's sister (it does get rather intertwined,) as special prosecutor to end the crime war between the two families. Gus, realizing that the only way he can help his son succeed is by revealing everything, warns the crime bosses that he is changing sides. This pressures Tom into killing two more young girls and the Sheridans and Winslows are soon revealed to be mired in corruption. Only Chris and Grace appear to have achieved some form of salvation through the efforts of Gus and Laura, Grace's mother, who realize that only through their sacrifice can the two children escape the insidious effects of bad marriages and corruption their families have become mired in.
It all sounds a bit coincidental and too intertwined, but Parker has skillfully woven a story that cannot be put down.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Origins of the DSM-IV

Many years ago, I was introduced to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a young medical librarian. Little did I know that this Bible of the psychiatric profession was of relatively recent vintage and the virtual creation of Robert Spitzer. "The Dictionary of Disorder" by Aliz Spiegel (The New Yorker, January 3, 2005) provides an interesting glimpse into the history of Spitzer's creation.

In 1949, Philip Ash, a psychologist published a study showing that "three psychiatrists faced with a single patient, and given identical information at the same moment, were able to reach the same diagnostic conclusion only twenty percent of the time." Another study in 1962 found similar results. Needless to say, there were many in the profession who were dismayed by these results.

Spizer had, in his childhood, undergone Reichian psychoanalysis until he became suspicious of its validity. (Reich, a student of Freud, had marketed the "orgone accumulator," a mechanism the size of a telephone booth that he claimed could enhance sexual prowess and cure cancer.) He fell into the job of editing the DSM almost by accident, but this proved a fortuitous event, for Spitzer was a genius at summarizing and digesting research and synthesizing a mass of information into digestible portions.

In any event, the DSM is now absolutely required by insurance companies and has brought some rational thinking to what had been confused non-science. Ironically, recent studies have shown that it has not brought about the changes in reliability that had been hoped for, and that "there are lots of studies which show that clinicians diagnose most of their patients with one particular disorder and really don't systematically assess for other disorders." Some critics have complained that that "it often characterizes everyday behaviors as abnormal, and that it continues to lack validity, whether or not the issue of reliability has been definately resolved."

The End of Warfare

The End of Warfare

Little comment required. Someone has done his homework.

Open letter to the president

December 30, 2004

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Via Fax: 202-456-2461

Dear President Bush:

We are ashamed of the cheap response of our country to the tsunami tragedy. Let's compare some numbers.

Cost of your inauguration: $40,000,000.
Cost of supplemental bill to support the war in Iraq: $75,000,000,000
Offers of U.S. Aid to tsunami victims as of today: $35,000,000.

Something is seriously wrong with these numbers. And we are supposed to be a Christian nation that values charity? And love of our fellow human beings? How must this chintzy response to an immense tragedy look to the rest of the world?

We don't deny your right to an immense party, and we know it's paid for mostly by donations, but the juxtaposition is appalling.

We urge substantially more support for the victims of this great tragedy.


Eric C. Welch
Sheila A. Welch
7289 Columbine Rd
Forreston, Illinois 61030

Bush Inauguration to Cost More Than First Relief Offer

Vanguard Online Edition : Bush inauguration fever hits Washington

I don't mean to deny Bush his right to a really BIG party, and I know the money is mostly from donations, but the immorality and arrogance of having such a celebration after the tsunami horrors suffered by our fellow sisters and brothers in Asia truly boggles the mind. How we must appear to others begs the imagination.

In the meantime, Bush has promised such a niggardly (knee-jerk PC types be sure to check the OED or your dictionary for the correct etymology) amount, at last count only some $35,000,000 (Link) when the cost is expected to be in the billions.

How paltry can we get. This is Christian charity?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

State of Mind and The Analyst by John Katzenbach

Both of these page-turning thrillers have an element of the Kafkaesque to them. State of Mind takes place sometime in the near future at a rurally located university of some 25,000 students. Jeffrey Clayton teaches Abnormal Psychology, keeps a loaded pistol under his desk in the lecture hall, and like most other teachers has a metal detector at the entrance to his classroom. Classrooms have bulletproof windows, students set fire to classrooms to avoid having to take exams, and campus police, a branch of the state police, never travel alone and wear riot gear.. A recent experiment with guard dogs being let loose in vacant classrooms seemed to have helped the vandalism problem, but their howling can be distracting. About half the student population was thought to carry guns, but fortunately they were located in a mainly rural town where the Student Health Service might expect only a dozen rapes and stabbings on a weekend. Urban areas were much worse.

Clayton is approached by a well-armed man who identifies himself as an agent of state security from the new Western Territory, a semi-fascist area that wants to become the fifty-first state. This man, who calls himself Martin, knows a great deal of Clayton's work with the FBI as a man able to track down serial killers. He also knows a great deal about Clayton's past.

It turns out that Jeffrey's father, whom he thought had died in a car crash years before, is alive, living in the new state, and murdering young women. What could be better cover than "white, educated, artioulate, professional academic, married with a lovely family. They, of course, were the critical piece, you know. The ultimate in camouflage." Years before, Jeffrey, his sister, Susan, and mother, Diana, had fled and hidden from the father because of his predelictions. This removed his camouflage requiring his creation of a new identity and fmily. Now he has begun to stalk Susan, a puzzle expert, and Diana in Florida, also. What better place for him now to hide out than a new state where fear has been eliminated. Martin and the territory officials are desperate to locate and kill the unknown man who they fear will destroy the psychological rational for their new state and the basis for their supression of basic civil liberties in the name of safety and freedom from fear. Jeffrey realizes he has become the bait to trap his father. Soon begins a cat and mouse game between Peter Curtin, Jeffrey's father, as he is now known, and his old family.

What makes the book particularly interesting is the tension between the old, free, violence-ridden world, and the new, safe, unfree territory that may be actually more susceptible to violence than the old.

In The Analyst, Dr. Frederick Starks, a psychologist, just turned 53, receives a letter on his birthday informing him that he has ruined the life of the letter-writer's mother and that his own life is about to be destroyed. Soon his credit cards and bank accounts disappear, he is accused of the sexual harassment of a patient, and a client commits suicide. He is told that if he does not discover the identity of the letter-writer's mother within two weeks, he must commit suicide or a member of his family will be killed. The only clue he has to the letter-writer is that he calls himself Rumpelstiltskin and a beautiful girl who delivers messages. "R" always seems to be one step ahead of him and Starks is soon baffled and undure what to do next as his life crumbles around him.

Starks decides he has but one course of action: to die. Without giving too much away, Starks fakes his death and assemblies several new identities for himself as he seeks to discover who is behind the plot to destroy him and why. This book is a real page turner, as frustrating as The Castle, until Starks reassembles his life and seeks the answers to his torment.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Battle for God by Karen Armstrong

Rarely does one come across a book that is recognized as erudite, essential, and readable simultaneously. The author of The History of God has brilliantly analyzed the rise of fundamentalism as a reaction to the emphasis on logos of the Enlightenment as opposed to mythos that had been essential to one's view of the world. "The economic changes over the last four hundred years have been accompanied by immense social, political, and intellectual revolutions, with the development of an entirely different, scientific and rational, concept of the nature of truth; and once again, a radical religious change has become necessary." As science and technology began to become associated with such visible successes in overcoming disease and social ills, the tendency was to believe that logos (rational, scientific thinking related exactly to facts and external realities) was the only “means to truth and began to discount mythos [that which is timeless and constant, “looking back to the origins of life . . to the deepest levels of the human mind . . . unconcerned with practical matters” and rooted in the unconscious, that which helps us through the day, mythological stories not intended to be literal, but conveying truth] as false and superstitious.” The temptation is to think of mythos as meaning myth. In this context that would be incorrect. Armstrong uses this word as it relates to mystery and mysticism, rooted ultimately in traditional biblical and Islamic history “which gives meaning to life, but cannot be explained in rational terms.”Logos, however, was unable to assuage pain and suffering leading to a vacuum the fundamentalists sought to revive. The danger unseen by modern fundamentalists is that they have tried to imbue mythos with an element of literalism essential to logos. The difference between these two concepts forms the basis for the battle between modernism and fundamentalism.

She traces the beginning of the fundamentalist movement back to the time of Columbus when a crisis occurred in Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella expelled both Muslims and Jews from Spain. The three religious groups had actually coexisted quite happily and profitably together for several centuries, but the prospect of modernity and threats from a new world view, science, threatened age-old traditions and myths. The fundamentalist movement was an attempt by traditionalists to retain a sectarian view of the world.

For many of these people the world can be divided into two camps: good and evil and those forces that are not allied with their own narrow view of the world are labeled as evil. That these believes are rooted in fear does not lessen their impact or importance to the faithful. Often an arrogance and condescension – I plead guilty here – make secularists insensitive to those who feel their religious beliefs have been undermined and challenged. The seemingly irreconcilable difference between rationalism and mysticism perhaps make militant fundamentalism inevitable. The danger for fundamentalist lies in their attempts to turn mythos into logos, e.g., have sacred texts be read literally and inerrantly as one would read a scientific text. That may lead to inevitable discrepancies between observation and belief that may hasten the defeat of religion.

Of great benefit, is Armstrong's clear explanation of the differences and conflicts that exist in Islam. Shiite and Sunni branches represent very different interpretations of a major faith.
The eventual outcome of the dichotomy of secular versus sectarian remains unknown. What is apparent is that fundamentalism cannot tolerate pluralism or democracy and compromise seems unlikely. The author identifies two major threads in the development of fundamentalism: (a) fear of the modern world and (b) that the response to fear is to try to create an alternative society by preaching "an ideology of exclusion, hatred, and even violence." She warns at the end of the book, "If fundamentalists must evolve a more compassionate assessment of their enemies in order to be true to their religious traditions, secularists must also be more faithful to the benevolence, tolerance, and respect for humanity which characterizes modern culture at its best, and address themselves more emphatically to the fears, anxieties, and needs which so many of their fundamentalist neighbors experience but which no society can safely ignore."

Monday, December 27, 2004

On Fire by Larry Brown

Aside from the fact that I love reading about firefighters, Larry Brown, who served as an Oxford, Mississippi fireman for seventeen years, has a real flare for memorable description. This book is a series of essays, some just fragments, that vividly portray his life and many of the events, some mundane, many others traumatic, that he faced.

For example, as captain of the pumper unit, they are called to the scene of a car accident, a young boy trapped in a car that has been wrapped around an electric pole. The nurse on the scene is screaming at them to do something, but they know that with the tools they have -- the city not having sprung for a $7500 Hurst tool that would pull the car apart like Turkish Taffy -- they will be unable to pry the car apart. He climbs all over the vehicle, tryting to see a way before discovering the only solution is to pull the boy straight up through the windshield. He and Dwight, a massive black firefighter whose funeral in a black church after his death from a stroke is movingly described, smash out the windshield and then pry the shift lever away from the victim. Only then are they able to slide in a backboard and lift the boy out into the waiting ambulance that goes screaming off to the hospital.

"Most of a firefighter's 24-hour day is spent killing time: cooking, watching dirty movies, doing routine equipment maintenance, and sleeping; Brown catches the lazy, good-old-boy camaraderie of the firehouse perfectly." (Booklist)

A Magnificent but Dangerous Obsession

John Chatterton is a professional diver. He and fellow expert divers discovered a wreck off New Jersey that defied the historians. It was a German submarine that had been sunk during World War II, yet there was no official record of the sinking. In fact, all the evidence seemed to point to the boat's having been sunk in the Mediterranean.

Chatterton and Richie Kohler made numerous dives at the very dangerous depth of 230 feet. Having done some scuba diving myself as a teenager and studied the effects of nitrogen narcosis, I was astonished at what they were able to accomplish. The wreck's appeal did, in fact, kill several divers. I had read The Last Dive : A Father and Son's Fatal Descent into the Ocean's Depths by Bernie Chowdhury that chronicled the deaths of a father-son team who dove the wreck. Robert Kurson in Shadow Divers tells the story from a much broader perspective. My son and I listened to it in the car and were spell-bound.

What was almost as fascinating was the detailed account of the divers' lives and their obsession to identify the identity of the submarine. It was eventually determined to be the U-869 that had officially been recorded missing in the Mediterranean. You will not be able to put this book down.
"9/11 was a faith-based initiative."
Wendy Kaminer

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Another Wiseacre

Andy Carpenter is the wiseass lawyer of an advance reader novel, Bury the Lead, that I picked up at Book Expo. It's fun. He is suckered into representing the reporter son of an editor friend. Daniel, the journalist, had been the only contact between a serial killer who cut off the hands of his victims and the public. After the fourth death, the police charge Daniel with the murders. The evidence seems rather overwhelming, especially when the severed hands are found in Daniel's apartment. That his wife had been murdered (hands intact) in Cleveland was not especially auspicious.

Andy makes delightful comments throughout, such as when he attends a classy wine-tasting for a charity. "I am immediately transformed to another planet, a place where people spin wine around in their glass, analyze it as if it's a top-secret formula, and use words like 'flinty,' 'oaky,' and 'brassy' to describe the taste. Not having previously chewed on flint, oak, or brass, I have no idea what those things taste like, which puts me at a considerable disadvantage. I'm not even sure what they mean when they say a wine is dry; I spilled some and had to mop it up with my napkin just like I would something wet."

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Michael Crichton v Global Warming

Michael Crichton's new book, State of Fear, challenges much of the environmental movement's fear of gloibal warming. In an interview, free at, describes his epiphany regarding global warming and the religious fervor of many environmentalists. He began reading much of the research and realized that much was based on views of the future and predicting the future. He also wonders why if CO2 is blamed for an increase in global temperature over the past 30 years, why wasn't it blamed for temperature decreases in the previous 30 years. (See the link below for an explanation related to sunspots.)

The climate research is dazzling and impressive, but it's not good enough to set policy. No one would agree they can predict the future, yet that's what is being done by the environmental movement. My own take on it is that yes it's true that the earth is getting warmer, but to say that's bad is not science, it's a value judgment. We know from the Greenland core samples that the earth was 5 degrees warmer than it is today around the first millenium. We also know that we are past the end of an interglacial and due for another glacial period. Whether the warming will prevent the advent of a new glacial period or increase its chances no one can say with any certainty. We just don't have enough information to change policy.

Should we try to reduce CO2 pollution? Surely, but as Crichton points out, some 20,000 children die every day from drinking polluted water. That's something we can address right now and we should.

Quote from some of that research. "Soon and Baliunas confirmed that from 800 to 1300 A.D., average temperatures in many regions worldwide were 2 to 4 degrees or more higher than the allegedly sweltering 20th century. It’s referred to as the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), and the extra warmth made life better, not worse. It is not only the arcane techniques of paleoclimatology, such as testing core samples of glacial ice for radioisotopes, that testify to the MWP, but history—such as people’s contemporary accounts of what they grew in their fields.

Decent wine grapes grew in Merrie England. (No more, alas.) Olives grew in 13th-century Germany, where St. Albert the Great also noted abundant fig and pomegranate groves in Cologne and the Rhine valley—places too cold for those crops today. Renaissance culture awakened and flourished throughout Europe.

The MWP also explains why Greenland, now essentially a glacier, could credibly be called Greenland. It was a Danish colony, and things actually grew there.

Following the MWP, the Greenland colony died out as average temperatures plummeted 3 to 5 degrees—about 2 degrees colder than our climate today. This Little Ice Age (LIA) finally moderated but lasted in most places until about 1900. For whatever reason, many regions have warmed up about 1 degree since 1900."

Friday, December 24, 2004

Stalin v Hitler v Bush

For years historians tried to separate the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin. Stalin's brand of dictatorship was viewed more positively, most likely because they had been allies during the Second World War, without whom, we most likely would never have won. Hitler became the personification of evil.

According to the review of a new book by Richard Overy, The Dictators, in the New York Times Book Review, (December 26, 2004), that view began to shift following the fall of the Soviet Union. Overy, according to Steven Miner, the reviewer, has concluded that the two regimes are more similar than different (dah!). What intrigued me was the following quote:

"Both emerged in the wake of the chaos of World War I as a reaction against the apparent failure of liberalism and parliamentary democracy. Stalin and Hitler each saw his dictatorship as ensuring democracy of a higher order. Whereas Western political parties represented faction and class interests, Stalin claimed to serve the entire German volk from the humiliations of defeat and the supposed exploitation of international Jewry. And both systems were based on utopian visions that, Overy explains, were 'similar in form, if profoundly divergent in purpose,.' Soviet Communism promised a 'sociological utopia'; Nazism held out the prospect of a 'biological utopia.' "

The enemies of totalitarianism were "the Western liberal ideal of progress, with its emphasis on the sovereignty of the individual, the virtues of civil society ands toleration of diversity."

Those ideals are worth resurrecting, ideals that the neocons and Bush have convinced the country are lacking. Do we need to worry about the rise of another form of totalitarianism, perhaps as a moral utopia?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Cultural decline?

"Cultural xenophobia is a frequent sequel to a society's decline from cultural vigor. Someone has aptly called self-imposed isolation a fortress mentality. [Karen] Armstrong describes it as a shift from faith in logos, reason, with its future-oriented spirit, 'always. . . .seeking to know more and to extend. . . . areas of competence and control of the environment,' to mythos, meaning conservatism that looks backward to fundamentalist beliefs for guidance and a worldview."
Jane Jacobs in Dark Age Ahead

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

1954 Mock-Up of a 'Home Computer' - Netlore Archive

1954 Mock-Up of a 'Home Computer' - Netlore Archive

Michael Crichton, in a recent interview, made reference to a photograph of a mock-up done by the Rand Corporation to show what a future home computer would look like. One of the great things about the internet is the ability to verify statements. See the link above for the factual. Link here for more urban legend analysis.

Arctic Convoys

As I mentioned earlier, Richard Woodman, has written several excellent histories of naval operations in World War II. I have been finding The Real Cruel Sea difficult to put down, but did find time to begin Arctic Convoys, although this is perhaps not a wise choice, given the -5 wind chill in our bedroom.

These convoys were meant to bolster the Russian army's supplies that had been decimated following Operation Barbarossa, Hitler's idiotic attempt to annex Russia. The ships sailed just below the ice line on the way to Murmansk or Archangel (if the summer thawed the sea enough.) The weather was horrendous, but it was the "cold men remember the most; either the damp misery of the bulkheads running with condensation, the chill miasma penetrating every nook and cranny of the ship; or the bitter Arctic cold that froze the same condensation solid, turned exhaled breath to rime, and spray to ice. There was no comfort to be had anywhere in such weather, though the larger ships were less violent in motion than the smaller. The sparse 'Arctic clothing' issued from official 'slops' was largely ineffective and the 'comforts' knitted loveingly by anonymous donors at home were often insufficient. The warmest a man could get was in his bunk or hammock, fully clothed, and from which being turned out was an act of cruelty."

Sunday, December 19, 2004

History of British Merchant Mariners

Richard Woodman, aside from being an excellent nautical fiction novelist, is a naval historian of some note. His Arctic Convoys, was highly regarded and The Real Cruel Sea is a readable, thorough, celebration of the unsung heroes of the Battle for the Atlantic. As he notes, without the constant flow of materiel and supplies, the invasion of Europe by the allies could never have occurred. It was the flow of old tramp steamers and Liberty ships that kept things moving.

These ships were manned by theoretical non-combatants who had no special status and often lacked even the primitive comforts of the regular armed services. If their ship was sunk they went "off-pay." "Exposure in a lifeboat or on a raft was an unpaid excursion."

The Royal Navy regulars often failed to appreciate the hardships of their merchant mariner cousins and often cast a jaundiced eye at the oil-soaked, inebriated survivors of a torpedoed ship, not understanding that raids on the ships stores of alcohol were often the last comfort for a sailor facing an indeterminate time in a lifeboat or in the sea, if they were saved at all. They died in greater proportion to their naval equivalent and, ironically, perhaps, suffered the most in the postwar depression that Britain faced as late as 1949.

This is a detailed, substantial, and very interesting book.

What Ever Happened to Kansas? by Thomas Frank

How could someone who's ever worked for someone else ever vote Republican? How could one of the poorest counties in the nation go 80% for George W. Bush in the 2000 election? Those are the kinds of questions that Thmoas Frank, a disenchanted conservative Kansas republican examines in this book. Kansas become a metaphor for the red states (ironic that during the fifties the appellation red was such a negative.) How can these voters proclaim hatred for the elites while voting for an elite that proceeds to screw them?

American political life is all about getting people to vote against their own economic interests and the Republicans have been wildly successful at it recently. If you earn more than $300,000 per year you should raise your wine glass and Rolex encrusted wrist to the poor schmucks in Kansas who voted against their own economic interest so you could buy another Lexus. Thanks to them, unions are no longer a problem, the estate tax has all but disappeared, and meddling bank examiners no longer meddle. Hard times conservatism makes sense now to the indigent. It's like a chicken supporting Kentucky Fried Chicken.

This is part of the great backlash that emphasizes social issues all the way from busing to new wave art. But it's legacy is economic issues rather than social change. Globalization has succeeded where social change has not. It celebrates money uber alles. The benefactors have been the wealthiest on the planet. But the public pretense is that values matter most. Once in office, however, the only agenda priority is economic. The welfare state has been smashed and a 19th century pattern of wealth distribution has triumphed. "They talk Christ but walk corporate."

People have voted to rollback abortion, but give tax breaks to the rich. CEOs are rewarded today in a manner that is beyond understanding, often for failing to bring a profit to a company.
Conservatives portray themselves as the outsiders, the antithesis to the effete liberal intellectuals.

It will be interesting to watch and see if the conservative majority can now hold itself together as they become the insiders with the power rather the the downtrodden outsiders.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Why academics are liberal.

Jonathan Chait: There's a reason academia shuns Republicans

Jonathan Chait has revealed something that should have been obvious: of course academics are liberals, all intelligent people are. The craving that Republicans have for universities to turn Republican just won't happen as long as thoughtful, intelligent people remain in academia. That's the point. "Academics -- who are trained to think through the complexities, not brush them aside-- " are rightly appalled by Republicans in general, and Bush specifically, who follow their "feelings" and ignore the advice of those who specialize in subjects.

Conservatives would blame African-American studies, feminist studies, and other admittedly silly programs for the liberal bias, yet how do they explain the same "bias" in the hard sciences? Chait writes:

"But the rise of fashionable left-wing scholarship can be blamed for only a tiny part of the GOP's problem. The studies showing that academics prefer Democrats to Republicans also show that this preference holds in hard sciences as well as social sciences. Are we to believe that higher education has fallen prey to trendy multiculturalist engineering, or that physics departments everywhere suppress conservative quantum theorists?"

What's rather disturbing is that the products of universities don't seem to be liberal, hence the recent majority vote for the unintellectual.

Was the election really about sex?

Okay, We Lost Ohio. The Question Is, Why? (

Several news stories following the election suggested that it was the "moral" component, i.e., America's obsession with sex and sexual orientation -- violence and war seem never to approach the radar screens of the "moralists," -- that cost Kerry the election. The reports of the overwhelming success of anti-gay marriage amendments seemed at first blush (pun intended) to validate this position.

Recently, though, pollsters have begun to discover that terrorism was an issue of far greater significance for voters, and, I suspect, it was Kerry's inability to divorce himself from Bush on this issue or failure to define a better strategy that cost him the election. Rosenthal's analysis of the Ohio voter patterns bears this out. The Bush strategy of keeping us afraid was a very effective one.

Let's hope that legislators will not act on the wrong signals when making new legislation. The fact is that Americans may not be as concerned about "moral" issues as they might have thought. What we really need is a debate on what constitutes morality. Many people I have listened to seem to mean only sex and taxes (!!??) of all things. It's time to broaden the perspective to include a discussion of bombing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Pat Buchanan and the Neoconservatives

BookTv ran a fascinating program in which Pat Buchanan spoke about his new book, Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency. It was somewhat startling to hear him say he disagreed with the Bush foreign policy, trade policy, Iraq policy, and immigration policy yet decide to vote for him anyway because he disagreed with Kerry on everything else. I'm not quite sure what else is left (pun intended.)

Buchanan argues that free trade is destroying the industrial base of the country and that we need a return to the Hamiltonian principles of little taxation on anything except imports. He says that built and will rebuild a stronger economy in the United States. Instead, corporations are shipping jobs overseas because goods can be produced more cheaply there and American short-sightedly think on of satisfying immediate desires. The result will be a debasement of the currency (already occurring) and a lowering of the standard of living. NAFTA is good only for the elites. Why Kansas voters have consistently voted against their economic issues is one of the more interesting features of the last election. See What's the Matter with Kansas.

Some of his points resonate correctly. Others are more problematic. He argues that the courts have taken over the legislative function and that executives need to be more forceful in declaring what is and is not constitutional. The example he cites is the Massachusetts Supreme Court's decision that gay marriage were constitutional. If governor, he would have simply said nonsense and overridden the decision of the court. It seems to me that would mean Nixon should have decided that executive privilege was constitutional and ignored the decision of the Supreme Court, a path to chaos. And how about ignoring the decision of the Supreme Court in the 2000 Bush election?

Buchanan gets a little flaky on the social issues, but he is articulate and well worth listening to, especially when he describes Bush as a Great Society liberal, big government advocate and Wilsonian imperialist, the antithesis of a conservative.

"Terrorism is the price you pay for empire." Pat Buchanan

Monday, December 13, 2004

I Can't Decide iIf This is Funny or Sad.

MSNBC - French police to stop using training explosives

How would you enjoy being the unknown passenger? Right up there with bra searches.

Faith vs. reason

". . .any creed that substitutes faith for reason is incompatible with religious tolerance. Reason is the only basis on which men can live peacefuilly with those who disagree.

"For the truly religious , there is no such thing as private immorality: Anyone's 'sin' stands as an affront to God and simply cannot be allowed.

"On such a basis, how can one tolerate the 'evil' done by those who worship the wrong God, or perform 'blasphemous' rituals -- or no rituals? The social danger of fundamentalism, whether Christian or Islamic, is what follows when dogmatic faith in sacred texts replaces reason."
Harry Binswanger of the Ayn Rand Institute.

Right on Harry!

Peer pressure and the banality of evil

According to The Week magazine, Princeton psychologists "found consistent evidence that people need not be psychopaths or sadists to commit shocking acts of cruelty. All that's needed is strong peer pressure, the influence of authority figures , and the portrayal of the people to be victimized as less-than-human outsiders." Abu Ghraib met all the conditions.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Reason: Beyond Belief: When will secularism be allowed in the public square?

Reason: Beyond Belief: When will secularism be allowed in the public square?

I remain astonished by the Catholic bishops and the pope's advisor Cardinal Ratzinger who proposed denying John Kerry communion or who have advocated ex-communication because he did not adopt the party line with regard to abortion. I'm old enough to remember the Kennedy-Nixon election when one of the major concerns expressed by Protestants was that Kennedy would be beholding to the Pope and would make policy based on his religious beliefs. Kennedy just narrowly squeaked by to win the election and part of the reason for his win must lie with his "absolute commitment to the separation of church and state." Yet, here we find the bishops requiring a closer linkage. Kennedy said, " ... no Catholic prelate would tell the president [should he be Catholic] how to act." And Howard Dean was castigated for saying much the same thing!

How soon we forget. It's almost as if they were adopting a position that might prevent a Catholic from ever being elected.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Texas man was executed on repudiated arson findings

AP Wire | 12/09/2004 | Chicago Tribune: Texas man was executed on repudiated arson findings

Good 'ol Texas. By God, once they've made their minds up, facts should not interfere. George W. learned his lessons well there. It seems to me that "justice" is not the simple process of the law, it should be the accurate enforcement of the law. It also seems to me that if the state willfully ignores exculpatory evidence and puts someone to death then the state and its agents should be tried for murder.

This is not the first instance of Texas enjoying capital punishment. Harry Blackmun, in his stinging dissent in 1994 when the Supreme Court refused to review a Texas (again!) death penalty case, ( argued that our experiment with the death penalty has failed, a lesson most civilized countries learned years ago.

To quote:

"From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than 20 years I have develop...rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor...Rather than continue to coddle the court's delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved...I feel...obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self-evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies... Perhaps one day this court will develop procedural rules or verbal formulas that actually will provide consistency, fairness and reliability in a capital-sentencing scheme. I am not optimistic that such a day will come. I am more optimistic, though, that this court eventually will conclude that the effort to eliminate arbitrariness while preserving fairness 'in the infliction of [death] is so plainly doomed to failure that it and the death penalty must be abandoned altogether.' (Godfrey v. Georgia, 1980) I may not live to see that day, but I have faith that eventually it will arrive. The path the court has chosen lessen us all."

Friday, December 10, 2004

Another Charles Todd?

Rennie Airth's River of Darkness is a police procedural set in rural England shortly after W.W. I. John Madden, a Scotland Yard detective has been sent to a town in Surrey where a brutal murder of an entire family looks to be a robbery gone wrong. Madden immediately suspects something as the wounds on the bodies display a striking resemblance to bayonet wounds and ones skillfully inflicted at that, indicating military experience.

Madden has his own torments -- it's interesting that classic, early detective novels had detectives with bizarre habits; modern detectives all suffer some rather melodramatic angst -- as his wife and daughter died in the great influenze epidemic and he suffers from psychological and physical wounds suffered in the war. In that respect, Madden echoes Charles Todd's Scottish detective , who also faces his own demons from the war.

Airth introduces several interesting characters including the insecure constable Billy Styles and Madden's new love interest, Dr. Helen Blackwood. The killer's mind is revealed in contracting vignettes. His response to his war experiences differs sharply, Airth's point being that survival takes many forms.

River of Darkness will grab your attention and hold it. Apparently, it's the first in a projected trilogy. The second volume, The Blood-dimmed Tide, is due to be released soon.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Reason Embattled: Secularism in Peril

Reason Embattled: Secularism in Peril

In this excellent article excerpted from her book, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, Susan Jacoby reviews Justice Scalia's comments on the death penalty and, I would argue, assault on reason. He stated in an address delivered at the University of Chicago Divinity School that the death penalty could not be considered cruel and unusual because the Founding Fathers did not believe it to be so.

Perhaps, but they also believed that slavery was appropriate. Sounds almost as if Scalia disagrees with all the amendments that were added after 1800. Jacoby argues that his reasoning is sectarian and that Scalia believes government derives its power from God. I guess he never considered mercy or forgiveness to be God-given.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

So what ever happened to the balanced budget amendment?

The new conservatives (?) are really tax-cut and spend big government advocates. According to former Republican representative Joe Scarborough, during the Clinton administration "federal spending grew at a rate of 3.4 percent, whereas government spending has grown at a dangerous 10.4 percent clip during George W. Bush's first term." (more quotes) I remember not so many years ago when it was a Republican Eleventh Commandment to have a balanced budget. In fact, Bush and company stymied a bi-partisan effort in Congress to require offsetting spedning increases with spending cuts. They're building a house of cards, folks. So why isn't anyone writing about the problem, or at least paying attention?

Jack Germond in Fat Man Fed Up suggests that the leftward leaning of most reporters isn't the problem, it's that they have realized that policy discussions bore Americans and so in the end, "it is far wiser to focus attention on the kind of people who are running rather than which one has the best plan for providing drug coverage for old folks."


Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day by Joe Scarborough
Running on Empty by Peter Peterson
Fat Man Fed Up by Jack Germond

MIT V. Harvard

A man was standing in the 10 items or fewer line at a grocery stor in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The cashier looked at the number of items in his cart, way more than ten, and said, "You must go to either MIT or Harvard."

"How did you know that," he replied.

"Well," she said, "if you go to MIT you can't read, and if you went to Harvard you can't count."

Monday, December 06, 2004

IHT: Commentary: Deflating Bush's China balloon

IHT: Commentary: Deflating Bush's China balloon

"Ultimately, the value of a currency is an international verdict on the honesty and competence of the government that issued it." The dollar has lost significant value against the Euro in recent months. President Bush's attempt to blame China is misplaced. After all they are helping to finance our debt. The Chinese reaction was succinct: "China's custom is that we never blame others for our own problem. The United States has the reverse attitude. Whenever they have a problem they blame others." Li Ruogo, People's Bank of China

American Writers: Halberstam & Sheehan

American Writers: Halberstam & Sheehan

In July, 2002, Brian Lamb interviewed Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam on Vietnam. I had made an audiotape of their 3-hour conversation, converted it to an MP3 file and stored it on one of my MP3 hard disk jukeboxes. I was reviewing my index of MP3 files looking for something to listen to while working on some fences and decided this would be interesting.

It is a fascinating discussion, especially since it took place before the invasion of Iraq. Naturally, some listeners wanted to know if one could draw analogies between Vietnam and Iraq. There are many, although Halberstam was clear that the Bush administration's response was the result of an attack on American soil, whereas Vietnam posed no threat to the United States.

He did caution that one danger of invasion was that the hostility to Saddam Hussein the Iraqi people felt toward their leader could easily shift to hostility against an occupier, and that as we learned in Vietnam, it is impossible for a non-indigenous force to gain complete control of a foreign country. Terrorists and locals simply belend in too well, and ultimately they have history on their side; they know we will have to leave sometime. He also warned that intelligence is often flawed, reminding us that much as the predictions of a popular uprising against Castro did not occur during the Bay of Pigs, that we might face similar problems should the invasion of Iraq occur. Fascinating discussion.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Browse the Talk.Origins Archive

Browse the Talk.Origins Archive

This is the best site for intelligent discussion and information related to the creationist (silly)/evolution(intelligent) debate.

Jack Reacher in Western drag

I was a big fan of westerns many years ago, and I happened to download Mustang Man by Louis L'Amour from as part of my monthly account balance. It's a good story, written by a journeyman western author. Nolan Sackett (the Sacketts feature prominently in many of L'Amour's stories) finds himself enamored of a young city girl who has embarked on a quest to find some Mexican gold in the midst of Comanche territory. Smitten as he is, he agrees, against his better judgment, to help out. Classic western.

I'm also listening to Lee Child's Echo Burning, one of the better -- in a very good series -- of Jack Reacher novels. (See the archives for reviews of others in the series.) It struck me that the broad plot outlines of this story are very similar to the western genre. You have the quiet but extremely competent hero who never fails to help the damsel in distress. Change the setting and the replace the cars with horses and you have an old-fashioned western. This is not a negative, just an observation, and not terribly original, I suspect, either.

Both very good stories, page turners, and enjoyable.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Just what I always expected!

"Why it's good for you to be lazy" (From The Week's Little Red Book)
"Couch potatoes, rejoice: Lying around doing nothing is good for your health. Vigorous exercisers are racing toward an early death, claims Peter Axt, a researcher with the Fulda University of Applied Sciences in Germany. Axt theorizes that we only have a limited amount of energy. When we spend hours pounding the pavement or pedaling an exercise machine, we're using up energy needed to maintain health he says. 'People who would rather laze in a hammock instead of running a marathon, or who take a midday nap instead of playing squash, have a better chance of living into old age,' he says. Axt does, however, recommend moderate exercise, such as a tranquil walk. And let yourself sleep -- as much as possible. Getting up early stresses us out for the whole day, he says. 'Waste half your free time. Just enjoy lazing around.' "

Friday, December 03, 2004

Scared of what?

Are you more fearful? Feel that the world is closing in and the bad things are beginning to overwhelm the good? Almost daily we are presented with the sordid details of a new disease, plane and car crashes, road rage incidents, or how teen pregnancy is destroying civilization. The antidote is a good dose of data.

Barry Glassner's The Culture of Fear presents a solid case for why and how the media exaggerates the "news." Remember all the stories of the epidemic of road rage? Glassner's analysis of the actual data reveals that in the past five years there were only five reported victims of road rage in the country. And according to the American Automobile Association, a study of automobile-related deaths between 1990 and 1997 showed that only one in one thousand could be directly attributed to "road rage."

Many people remain afraid of flying, a totally irrational fear. As Glassner reports, "In the entire history of commercial aviation. . . only 13,000 people have died in airplane crashes. Three times that many lose their lives in automobile accidents in a single year. The average person's probability of dying in an air crash is about 1 in 14 million, or roughly the same as winning the jackpot in a state lottery." In fact, the accident rate has been declining. Yet headlines warn of "steering clear of commuter planes with fewer than 30 seats." The FAA contrarily noted that once Alaskan bush flights, air taxis and helicopters are removed from the equation, that commuter flights are just as safe as larger planes.

The fear mongering prevents us from addressing real issues. For example, Glassner cites numerous reports in the media of an epidemic of youth violence. 48 percent of all reports about children on the major networks about children concerned violent behavior, while only 4 percent were concerned with the health and economic issues facing children. In reality, "youth homicide rates had declined by thirty percent in recent years and more than three times as many people were killed by lightning than by violence at schools." During a period when crime rates were dropping, media coverage of crime increased 600% creating an impression that crime was out of control.

Beware of "experts," be skeptical, and don't let ideologues sway you with fear. "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

More Carlin, this time on prayer. And did you notice that the response rate to prayer is about the same whether you pray to God or Joe Pesci? An excerpt from his HBO special.
George Carlin can be crude and rude, but if you listen carefully, he is one of the finest social critics around and well worth reading or listening to. He's also a master of language and English usage. He particularly dislikes euphemisms. Americans, in particular, use euphemisms to soften issues and problems, Carlin suggests, to help us avoid having to deal with reality. For example, in World War I there was a condition known as shell shock, two syllabus, harsh words, describes a nasty condition, simple and honest. Now watch what happens:

WW II: same condition called battle fatigue, four syllabus, doesn't seem to hurt as much, nicer word;

Korean War: operational exhaustion, eight syllabus, sounds like something that could happen to a car, little humanity left;

Vietnam War: post-traumatic stress disorder, still eight syllables, but with a hyphen, hard to tell what it is under the jargon. Maybe if they had called it shell shock, the veterans would have received better treatment. Language that takes the life out of life.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A recurring debate that I have with a dear friend of mine is whether the Civil War was worth fighting to preserve a mythical entity called the "union" given the millions of casualties suffered by both sides. The recent rejection by Alabamians to change language in their constitution that supports segregation just reinforces my view that Lincoln should have let the south secede. Who wants 'em anyway. The language had been added to their constitution following the Brown v Board of Education decision in 1954 and it eliminated the right to public education, preserved poll taxes that had been used to prevent voter registration of blacks. Other changes that were rejected by the voters would have eliminated language that supported segregation, e.g., "No child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race." (for the full text of this section click here.) Of course, let's not forget that Alabama gave us Judge Roy Moore whose ignorance never ceases to amaze me. Next time you travel through Alabama, be sure to pee on the state.

Monday, November 29, 2004

I'm appalled by the silliness over profanity in Saving Private Ryan, an excellent movie. Are we really going to return to bowdlerizing quality as was attempted in the thirties? Is context to be completely lost? See Leonard Pitt's articulate column linked here. It's worth reading.

It's also time someone stood up to the great unwashed numbskulls out there and pointed out to them the difference between being offended (self-inflicted) and being harmed (externally-inflicted.)

Sunday, November 28, 2004

In a rather frightening example of how easy it can be to blow up a plane, James Bamford, in Pretext for War describes how, in 1995, a terrorist group in the Philippines blew up part of a 747. They used a digital watch with an alarm, some fine wires, a contact lens solution bottle filled with nitro glycerin soaked in cotton, to create a nasty little bomb that was placed under the seat and then detonated 4 hours later after the terrorist had left the plane at an intermediate stop. Note that none of these items would appear suspicious to airport security or show up on an x-ray.

The bomb detonated as planned, killing a Japanese businessman and disabling the plane, which was able to return to the airport with some difficulty. The terrorists were so pleased with their success that they planned several more such attacks. They were thwarted only when their apartment caught fire and a member of the cell was captured. Following interrogation by the Philippine police, it was learned they had also planed [bad pun] to fly an airplane into the Pentagon in a suicide attack. The terrorists claimed the attacks were in protest of American Israeli policies, particularly the savage attack on a Lebanese town in which numerous women and children were killed.

The Philippine police promptly informed the FBI of what they had learned. This information, a preview of the 2001 attack, was either lost or disregarded in one of the intelligence failures that Bamford delineates in a most interesting book. Available from unabridged.
Artest, Sex and TV

Americans enjoy being outraged. We have such a sanctimonious streak as we seek to prevent others from watching what we often indulge in ourselves. The flap over the Housewives star leaping into the arms of an NFL lineman (I never saw the commercial and don't watch NFL either, but it was impossible to ignore the broohaha) was so silly, yet I suspect the real problem, albeit unarticulated, was that the guy was black. People won't say so, but I bet that's the real underlying concern: a white babe going for a black jock. "In fact, it's a pity that Owens and Sheridan didn't lock lips before the camera cut away. 'Nothing's more fun than making bigots stroke out.' " (Leonard Pitts has a fine column about the incident.)

It's a shame that basketball had to intrude on my consciousness, too, leaping away from the sports pages to the regular news(??) as children masquerading as adults got into a pissing contest in Detroit. What do you expect from a bunch of narcissistic, overpaid, athletes are put into an arena with beer swilling rednecks? It was inevitable. Fighting in sports could all be solved by applying the same laws inside the arenas as outside: you slug someone, charge the mound, whatever, and you go to jail for assault. Simple.

And in more evidence that it is impossible to parody anymore, C-SPAN was caught showing porn movies as they broadcast a hearing where the National Institute on Media and the Family showed an ostensibly bored group of Sebators, including Joe Lieberman, precisely what should not be on television. Now we used to think C-SPAN was safe...... Our thanks to the family oriented NIMF for proving otherwise. For the prurient a link to the entire C-SPAN broadcast can be seen at this C-SPAN link.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Continuing my reading of Wisdom of Crowds, a very insightful book about how we make decisions by James Surowiecki. The author describes the dangers of homogeneity in promoting group think, something we will begin to see more of in the Bush second administration as he builds his Cabinet with "Yes" men and women. Analysis by social scientists shows that decisions made by groups that permit little diversity are often wrong and conformity to adhere to the majority opinion can be very strong. Solomon Asch 's studies on conformity showed that an individual would often agree with the group even if there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For example, when presented with a card showing lines of different lengths and asked to pick the shortest one, subjects would almost always pick the one chosen by other members of the group (the experimenter's confederates) even when it was obviously not the shortest.

Much like army ants in a circular mill who die from exhaustion following a lost leader, humans will often indulge in group think and group action even if it is not in their interest to do so. And the more influence we exert on one another the more likely we are to become collectively dummer. A very good argument for encouraging independent thinkers and nay sayers.

"The presidential election showed that the Christian church is failing as a teacher of the gospel. Until Election Day we could blame George W. Bush for the atrocities in Iraq. But now we, the people of the world's supposed leader in democracy and freedom, have guilt on our hands for ratifying the least moral president we have had in years. The church's failure is shown by the fact that so many supporters of Bush cite moral values as their reason for electing him. What God do these people worship? Do they think a country stained with the blood of 100,000 dead is a moral improvement over one stained blue dress? That sort of thinking must break God's heart."
The Most Reverend Mark Shirilau, Archbishop and Primate, Communion of Ecumenical Churches. Newsweek, November 29, 2004.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

In 1869 John Wesley Powell decided to set off down the Green River and follow it to the Colorado and then down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. All of this was territory that had been unexplored by Europeans. Edward Dolnick recounts the passage in Down the Great Unknown. It's a fascinating story told masterfully of a courageous -- or foolish -- adventure.

His companions had no experience running rapids and their equipment was sturdy but not designed for shooting rapids. Fortunately, by starting high on the Green, they were able to learn some of the basics without killing themselves. Water, because it cannot be compressed and is fluid, does some strange things when running through narrow canyons and over rocks. Speed is not the greatest hazard: "Waves ricochet off rocks and cliffs and collide with one another; water rushes over rocks and dives down into holes and moves upstream to fill in 'empty' spaces behind obstacles." Water is moving in so many directions at once and at so many different speeds that obstacles such as rocks, dangerous in and of themselves, become even more hazardous.

Many of the canyons were very deep making portages around bad rapids impossible. Their first hint of difficulty came after Brown's Park, a lush hidden valley favored by cattle rustlers, called Lodore Canyon. The entrance was described as a "dark portal to a region of gloom." The walls of the canyon extended upwards some 2,000 feet. "The Gates of Lodore hinge inward, cruelly joined, hard rock, ominous, and when the mists skulk low between the cliffs, they become an engraving by Gustave Dore for one of Dante's lower levels of hell." This a description by a modern writer who extols the river.

And this was before they got to the tough parts.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Bumpersticker: "Who would Jesus bomb?" Good question.

"Allow a President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose-and you allow him to make war at pleasure. If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him." (Abraham Lincoln in a letter to W. H. Herndon, Feb. 15, 1848)
Patrick Buchanan got it right in Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency. He writes that Bush's posture after 9/11 is unconstitutional and harmful to the U.S. Nowhere in the Constitution is the president afforded the power of making preemptive war, yet his approach was to declare a virtual battle against evil, rather than going after the perpetrator of the act itself. Ignoring precedent and reality (numerous countries have developed chemical and nuclear capacities in the twentieth century despite U.S. policy to prevent such a spread even among our friends with no retribution,) Bush put several countries on notice they would be liable for regime change if they tried to enter that circle of countries.

"To attain Churchillian heights, Bush's speechwriters had taken him over the top." They defined four elements in his speech:

1. The war on terror is a war between good and evil and will not end until all elements of evil are eradicated;
2. Every nation must decide if it is with us or against us, if not with us they are with the terrorists;
3. Any nation that funds or assists any group we decide is a terrorist will be considered a terrorist state subject to attack;
4. Iran, Iraq, and Korea will not be permitted weapons of mass destruction and we would engage in preemptive strikes and wars to prevent their acquisition by those countries.

These elements caused the coalitions that had been created after 9/11 to "crumble." He went further in a speech to West Point graduates in 2002. The thrust of the speech was that the United States would never permit any country in the world to threaten its hegemony and would use its military to prevent any country from becoming greater than we are.

"Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators can deliver those weapons on missiles.... If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long." Ignoring history (containment worked with such lunatics as Mao and Stalin) Bush is making a case for perpetual war.

How did this happen? Buchanan argues that Bush's inexperience and ignorance of foreign policy permitted the neoconservatives to hijack his foreign policy Buchana goes on with a more traditional (for him) jeremiad against free trade that he (and Ralph Nader - now there's a ticket) will lead to a us become a non-industrial low-paying service center economy unable to compete.

While I have rarely been in agreement with Buchanan, this time he got it right.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Can someone please explain to me why the Big Ten has eleven members?

And the phrase "we need to save the planet" seems the height of arrogance and hubris. As if nature needed saving by a bunch of recent little pipsqueaks to the planet who can't manage to save themselves. The earth has been around for billions of years; humans, in our present form for barely 100,000, and industrialized for no more than 200 years. If we blew ourselves up tomorrow, nature/the planet would barely notice. Those who use that phrase simply want to have a new environment to drive around in their Volvos.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

It's time to bring evidence-based drug testing back.

The New York Times Book Review (November 14, 2004) reviews two books that savage the current process used to bring drugs to market: The Truth about the Drug Companies by Marcis Angell, and Powerful Medicines by Jerry Avorn. We've all sat in the doctor's office, waiting while expertly coiffed drug salespersons deliver their free drug samples and sales pitch to our physicians. Unfortunately the information and samples they provide are most likely not the result of adequate testing. We're beginning to see the results as drugs are being pulled off the market for unrecognized harmful side-effects and several lawsuits have been settled or are pending against pharmaceutical companies for fraud, price gouging, or withholding information about deleterious drug effects.

Industry expenses for marketing have been estimated at about $54 billion, just about twice what they spend on research and development. It's unfortunate that much of it goes to getting a penis to stand up rather than better flu vaccine, but perhaps that reveals our own priorities.

Only 133 of the 415 new drugs approved by the F.D.A from 1998 to 2002 were actually "new molecular entities" and of those only 14 percent were considered by the agency to be "a significant improvement" over existing drugs. The other problem lies in the way drugs are tested. Ideally, evidence-based medicine would use randomized clinical trials to determine which drugs are safe and effective. Instead the marketplace has been used to judge the value of pharmaceuticals. One recommendation has been to create an independent national institute to test drugs and judge their worth. Given the drug companies' power, I suspect Hell would freeze over first.

The future of democracy in the Middle East lies with religious Muslims. That's the premise of What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building by Noah Feldman

Feldman was sent by the Bush administration in 2003 to help the Iraqis create a constitution. Uniquely qualified, despite his liberal Democrat background, he could speak and write Arabic fluently. He also had an abiding belief in the inherent compatibility of Islam and democracy. In an earlier book, After Jihad, he had made the case that Muslims desire democracy and they should therfore be giving the chance to govern themselves. He also believes the United States and Europe have been mistaken in supporting authoritarian governments. Let's not forget the CIA was involved in the overthrow of a nascent democracy in Iran in 1953 that resulted in the Shah coming to power, ultimately resulting in the hostage crisis under Jimmy Carter. Islamic terrorists have "long been motivated by their grievances against the authoritarian states in which they live." We in the West have always sacrificed our ostensible values for short-term allies.

The basic first step of any occupying power is to provide security and in that the U.S. has failed rather miserably. Not having enough troops on the ground to prevent looting following the invasion, the U.S., Feldman suggests, showed that they were not in charge. The result has been anarchy. Feldman remains optimistic. I, less so. Unfortunately, we have broken the pot; now we have to pay for it.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

I love John McPhee's writings (currently reading Founding Fish) so I was very pleased to see a new article in the November 15, 2004 New Yorker.

The Illinois River is third in freight carried, following the Mississippi and the Ohio. It's a relatively straight river except for some "corkscrew" bends near Pekin. The barges that navigate the Illinois can be huge. The Billy Joe Boling that McPhee is riding (some people get all the fun) is pushing a toe longer than the new Queen Mary 2 , the longest ocean liner ever built. Maneuvering such a "vessel" takes skill and sang-froid. At its widest point, this collection of barges and towboat is four times longer than the river's 300 foot width. The Illinois is an autocthonous river (a word I learned from Founding Fish but will probably forget) beginning not far from Chicago.

This particular barge string has fifteen barges wired together carrying pig iron, steel and fertilizer. The ones with pig iron appear empty, but the iron is so heavy and the river channel only nine feet deep at its minimum, that the barges can only be loaded to about 10 per cent of capacity. The steel cable holding the barges together is about an inch thick and the deck hands need to constantly monitor the tension of the wire.. The barges and tug at the stern become almost a rigid unit. The pilot has to steer this mass carefully between railroad bridge pilings and other obstructions. The pilot "is steering the Queen Mary up an undersized river and he is luxuriating in six feet of clearnace." Meanwhile at the stern, behind the stern rail of the towboat, only ten feet away, is the riverbank. This assumes no unusual current changes.

On the Mississippi, a tow can consists of as many as forty-nine barges and be two hundred and fifty feet wide. When they arrive at the Illinois, the consist needs to be broken up into smaller groups. Just by way of comparison, a fifteen barge tow can carry as much as 870 eighteen wheelers on the highway.

All captains have to start as deckhands, and it's not unstressful. One physician who had been asked to study how pilots and captains handled stress, had to leave the boat because he couldn't handle the stress. The river is rarely empty and you can count on being approached by another thousand-foot tow coming at you down the river. Downstream tows always have the right of way. Hold spots, where a tow can be headed into the bank to wait for a downstream tow to pass, are plotted ahead of time and serve like railroad sidings. There is no dispatcher and the captains call traffic themselves announcing their location.

A large tow will burn about one gallon each two hundred feet or twenty-four hundred gallons of diesel fuel per day. Measured by fuel consumed per ton-mile, barges are "two and a half times more efficient than a freight train, nearly nine times more efficient than a truck."

There aren't too many locks on the Illinois as the river drops only about ninety feet, but watching a tow go through one can provide hours of entertainment. I remember sitting at the lock across from Starved Rock State Park as a long tow broke into two sections to get through the lock.

Unfortunately, pleasure boat operators being "ignorant, ignorant, ignorant," accidents happen. Much like train engineers, towboat captains fear boaters who won't get out of the way. It's impossible to steer around a small boat and the prop wash and propeller suction can be lethal to the unwary.

A fascinating article.
"Le Monde" is not, by the anxious standards of American journalism, exhaustively reported; French journalists tend to think that there are more interesting things to do in life than to pester some politician or official that has never said anything interesting in the first place for one more quote." Here, here!
New Yorker, November 15, 2004

Saturday, November 13, 2004

A couple of articles in German newspapers reflect caustically on the recent American election. Both link Bush's success to American biblical fervor. In most of the country, reports Der Spiegel, it's impossible to turn the radio dial (always better to listen to a good audio book) "without stumbling across a 24-hour prayer station." The Suddeutsche Zeitung argues Americans are simply reverting to their Puritanical roots, "they value linearity and firmness," eschewing nuance and balance. "Difficult problems must be solved simply. " Ideology has little to do with, it's just that the subleties of liberalism and the complexities of the real world are incomprehensible to most Americans.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Richard Nixon said during the Kennedy Nixon campaign that "America cannot stand pat," apparently forgetting that was his wife's name. (New Yorker, November 8, 2004)

In the same issue of the New Yorker there is an interesting article that uses The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson and In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien to discuss how our attitudes have changed toward trauma and the ability of people to adjust to it. The author argues that we are much more resilient than current conventional wisdom proclaims. "Most people just plain cope well. The vast majority of people get over traumatic events, and get over them remarkably well. Only a small subset -- five to fifteen per cent -- struggle in a way that says they need help."
For an excellent review of the health care problems we face in this country see Critical Condition: How Health Care Became Big Business--and Bad Medicine by Donald Bartlett and James Steele. Those who blindly speak of what a wonderful system we have should wonder why the life expectancy in this country is going down and is lower than in many other countries where they have some kind of single payer plan like Canada, Japan, Greece, France, Germany, etc.

The authors suggest the problems lie in changes that were made in the 80's under Reagan when an attempt was made to bring costs under control by applying market principles. The problem with that is health care is different than buying and selling widgets. In most businesses you achieve profitability by selling more stuff; a good medical system should not rely on selling more treatments, rather preventing their necessity. Just-in-time inventory principles that work well with car parts are not good at keeping essential surgical supplies on hand when one does not know when they will be needed. When they are it is essential they be in the inventory.

In a market based system doctors are rewarded for the number of procedure's they do, not for keeping patients from needing those procedures or how healthy someone stays. Specialists are rewarded more generously and the family practitioner is becoming a rarity who doesn't make much money in any case. Should it be necessary for parents and friends to have bake sales and fund raisers to finance care for a very sick child. We, as a society, are going to have to decide whether medicine should be a profit center or a Samaritan effort.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

As a huge fan of the Hardy Boys series in my youth, I was dismayed to learn in later years that the series was not the work of an individual but of a minor industry. A recent article in The New Yorker (November 8, 2004) provides even more information. Apparently, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, and many other series were the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer (see also). Typically, librarians were appalled by the concept and they rarely appeared in libraries, considering them tawdry (!) and sensationalist (heavens!), robbing the children of the opportunity to read books of moral value. Some educators argued years later that the books became "stepping-stones" to more sophisticated literature (certainly true on my case.) Some librarians of my acquaintance still have trouble buying books that might actually be entertaining. I loved Tom Swift and the Hardy brothers.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Does it frighten you that a recent report of the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security that 161 of 504 approved air marshal applicants had problems in their background that should have eliminated them from consideration? Between February 2002 and October 2003 there were 753 incidents of misconduct by air marshals including having some who's weapon was lost or stolen. Makes me feel a lot safer. (Atlantic, December 2004)

Monday, November 08, 2004

Now that we have attacked Fallujah, I'd like to ask the newly re-elected president just how many US casualties Iraq is worth, 1,500, 5,000, 10,000? Vietnam required 56,000 dead Americans before we realized the futility of it all. It's nice to know that we can always win over the hearts and minds of Iraqis by flattening their homes. If I were an insurgent -- nice euphemism -- I'd melt into another town and come back later. Why they can't see that just demonstrates the administration's myopia.
An article by James Fallows in the October, 2004 Atlantic about admissions policies at elite universities evoked a fascinating letter from a "$300,000-plus-tuition-paying mom." She argues that 1.) colleges need to come in different flavors and their marketing seems always to advocate great student-teacher ratios, etc., That her children have usually only one professor per year they enjoy and that we need teachers who can inspire and engage students; 2.) colleges need to be less like country clubs, "telling them they can study while others pick up their garbage is something I'd never do at home;" 3.) use personality tests rather than SATs, as students need to be pointed in realistic directions; 4.) advisors are too much like chaperones, they need to "earn their keep," who need to be more aware of options in the real world; 5.) create more real-world contact such as internships, community outreach and neighborhood partnerships. My criticism of the article would be that Fallows -- whom I always enjoy -- has difficulty seeing beyond the Ivy League.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Given the vitriol of the 2004 debacle, otherwise called an election, it is useful to remind ourselves that little is new. I read America Afire by Bernard Weisberg a couple of years ago, and most recently Adams v Jefferson by John Ferling. Both document the campaign of 1800 that resulted in the election being thrown into the House of Representatives. The campaign was ugly. War service of the candidates was an issue then as now, with opponents reminding the electorate (white property owners only then) that Thomas Jefferson had sat out the revolution at home in Monticello. Thomas Jefferson had hired James Callender, a British immigrant to write anti-Adams essays. "Calumny dripped from Callender's pen." Jefferson bankrolled many anti-Adams journalists. He unsparingly "flayed Washington," who, he claimed, had wanted to be a dictator, called Hamilton the "Judas Iscariot of our country," and called Adams a war mongerer and "poor old man who is in his dotage." The Federalists under Adams were no better. Callender was arrested and charged under the Alien and Sedition Acts -- and we thought the USA Patriot Act was bad -- passed during the Adams' administration. Callender later turned on Jefferson when he was not awarded a plum political post in addition ot his monetary rewards. He then went on the dig up the story of Jefferson's affair with Sally Hemmings, a charge that seems now not to have been true, the DNA evidence being somewhat inconclusive given the number of other Jefferson males in the area although I suppose the jury is still out in some minds. (see a summary here.) But I digress, the only point being that campaigns in the early 18th century were often more bitter than those today.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

What's the difference between Iraq and Vietnam? Bush had a plan to get out of Vietnam.

Colin Powell, when asked how he knew for sure there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, replied, "I know because we still have the receipts."

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Christopher Dickey is the Middle East correspondant for Newsweek. His columns are insightful and always interesting. Links to them can be found at his website:

Some new quotes:

"'Sixty Minutes' is a soap opera about people pretending to be reporters."
Barry Lando

"I read the Book of Job last night -- I don't think God comes well out of it."
Virginia Woolf

"The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."
John Adams, 1797.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The mention of Ayn Rand evokes strong emotions. Just how much a person's judgment
of her work has been swayed by her personal life is a good question. If you read Rarebits regularly, you will notice that I have reviewed several biographical works in addition to The Fountainhead in the past couple of years (see for issues 99 and 112) Certainly, she had little tolerance for those who disagreed with or or presented opposing viewpoints, could often be hypercritical, and often resorted to ad hominem attacks. Her critics fall into the same trap. For the New Intellectual is a meaty little book of selections from Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and very short speeches from Anthem and We the Living. The best part of the book, "For the New Intellectual," is her impassioned plea for rational thinking, reason, and the development of philosophy and intellectualism to counteract the forces of "Attila" and "Witch Doctors."

"The tragic joke of human history is that on any of the altars men erected, it was always man whom they immolated and the animal whom they enshrined. It was always the animal's attributes, not man's that humanity worshipped: the idol of instinct and the idol of force--the mystics and the kings--the mystics who longed for an irresponsible consciousness and ruled by means of the claim that their dark emotions were superior to reason, that knowledge came in blind, causeless fits, blindly to be followed, not doubted--and the kings, who ruled by means of claws and muscles, with conquest as their method and looting as their aim, with a club or a gun as sole sanction of their power." John Galt in Atlas Shrugged

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Wired is becoming more than a magazine for just geeks (although it's possible that I have just become too much of a geek to notice), but several recent articles (October 2004) were prescient and interesting. Aside from one explaining how computers can now predict the course of forest fires, there's a fascinating piece on a radical new car that gets 70 mpg, is made of plastic, and has a revolutionary new frame that protects drivers better than standard frames even though it's much smaller and intuitively appears quite fragile. "The Long Tail" describes the impact of Internet mega sites like Amazon and ITunes, which have revolutionized buying patterns. No longer need books or music disappear from print because their availability through these web sites means that for profitability huge sales are no longer necessary. Walmart, in fact, becomes an elitist store than can carry only those CDs that sell at least 100,000 copies. ITunes, selling individual songs for $.99 can make money selling only 30,000. Recommendations can also made a huge difference. The example the author cites is the best seller Into Thin Air, a nifty book by Jon Krakauer that describes a tragic Everest expedition. Joe Simpson wrote a similar book about climbing in the Andes entitled Touching the Void. It was almost out of print and was hardly selling. No copies were in book stores, but because many people who had read Krakauer's book recommended Simpson's, it took off and Random House had to rush out a new edition. That could never have happened in the traditional bookselling paradigm. I think that's cool.
Dissent is crucial to the success of an organization. That's something I gleaned from a William Langewiesche article in The Atlantic. He dissects the Columbia shuttle disaster from the management standpoint. One of the investigators asked the top NASA administrator what mechanism or strategy she had in place for assuring that dissent would reach the top. Her reply was that they could just tell her. Obviously none of the low-hierarchy engineers bothered to relay concerns abot the foam that fell off and hit the wing ultimately causing the disaster. The lesson appears to be that a succesful bureaucracy requires a formal process for encouraging dissent and disagreement. Another recent book (haven't finished it yet) called The Wisdom of Crowds makes a similar point. It's crucial that people who aren't part of the normal structure and process be included in decision-making. The results are always better than when decisions are made by experts or individuals operating in a vacuum.
Questions I'd like to ask the president:

1. What is your vision for government?

2. If privatization is important, why no mention of it in the debates? What about Social Security?

3. Why not adopt the model of interstate highways and airlines for railroads, i.e. government owns, maintains, and funds the infrastructure which is leased/paid for by users? That would provide Amtrak and the railroads with a better and more level playing field.

4. Just what is a liberal? You keep bashing them all the time. Please define it, because by any definition, you're no conservative.

5. What constitutes victory in Iraq? How many troops is the country worth? Why not just declare victory and leave?

6. Do you regret the statement "bring 'em on?" You should.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Atlantic Monthly has some excellent articles on Bush's strategy - or lack thereof - in Iraq. (The joke going around is that he invaded Iraq by mistake, meaning to go after Iran where we know there are WMD but spelled it wrong.) Read "The Lost Year" by James Fallows and "The Green Zone" by William Langewiesche (one of my favorite authors, two excellent books of his are Outlaw Sea and American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center ) both in recent issues.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Five reasons to urge defeat of Orrin Hatch's Induce bill:

1. It discourages innovation:
Frivolous lawsuits would abound. The bill would prohibit any device that could possibly be used to facilitate copyright infringement, e.g., vcrs, IPODs, CD-Rs, etc. You get the picture.

2. It threatens even email and browsers:
Google and other search engines utilize P2P technology. Email is also a form of P2P.

3. The Business Software Alliance is scared of it.

4. It ignores reality. Technology development should not be hindered. What is needed is thoughtful and new ways of using it. After all, the VCR saved the movie industry, ratherthan destroying it. Why is the music industry so obtuse?

5. It will ultimately be more harmful to the people it purports to protect. It's also just bad law. One should never prohibit anything because it might be used illegally. We'd have to get rid of cars, guns, airplanes, etc.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Negro President by Garry Wills

The stranglehold on the presidency held by the southern states was, in large part, thanks to the slave population and the bizarre compromise ceded to the southern states as a compromise needed to ratify the Consitution that provided the south extra representation based on their slave population, each slave being counted as three-fifths of a white person.

The implications were substantial. The extra representation gave Jefferson the election in 1800 [see my review of Bernard Weisberger's excellent book, America Afire in issue 110] when the tied Electoral college was thrown into the House of Representatives for decision. The difference was eight votes, precisely the advantage gained the south from the three-fifths clause. That's why Jefferson was called the “Negro” president. In his book by the same title, Garry Wills discusses the enormous impact slavery had on the mindset of our early presidents, twelve of whom owned slaves at one time or another.

In fact, a major reason for locating the new capitol in Washington, D.C., was because slave owners (all the early presidents owned slaves) would have been forced to manumit them had they remained in Philadelphia, the original capitol and a hotbed of Quaker abolitionism, for more than six months.

The stranglehold on the presidency held by the southern states was, in large part, thanks to the slave population and the bizarre compromise ceded to the southern states as a compromise needed to ratify the Consitution that provided the south extra representation based on their slave population, each slave being counted as three-fifths of a white person.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

More of my favorite H.L. Mencken
...The only really respectable Protestants are theFundamentalists. Unfortunately, they are also palpable idiots...
What is the function that a clergyman performs in the world?Answer: he gets his living by assuring idiots that he can save themfrom an imaginary hell. It is a business almost indistinguishable fromthat of a seller of snake-oil for rheumatism.
The Killing Floor and The Visitor by Lee Child

Of these two books, I preferred The Visitor, (also available as Running Blind). In The Killing Floor, Jack Reacher, the itinerant ex-homicide investigator for the military becomes too much of a vigilante for my taste. There is also a series a coincidences that stretch credulity. The beginning will definitely hold your interest, however.

Minding his own business while having breakfast, Reacher is arretsed in a small town in Georgia and accused of a particularly vicious murder. After establishing his alibi, he learns that the dead man is his brother. (Jack was arrested because he was seen walking down the road near the industrial site where the body had been discovered. Jack had been on a cross-country bus and had just arbitrarily asked the driver to let him off at a random intersection so he could walk fouteen miles to some town to learn more about Blind Blake, a black jazz singer.) Jack had not seen his brother, a treasury agent who had single-handedly eliminated counterfeiting from the United States, for many years. Anyway, turns out the town is being run by the Kleiner family. They have figured out a way to manufacture almost perfect $100 bills.

Reacher is a good character, but his sudden brilliant insights and instant appeal to women, make this title just too unreal. Good fast airplane read.

Much better is The Visitor. Why this was also published as Running Blind is beyond me. Jack has been targeted by the FBI's behavioral science unit – I love several of Jack's comments regarding this speculative agency and its worth, its best profiler has a degree in andscape gardening -- as being a likely serial killer. It seems severeal women from his past have been murdered. All of them had filed sexual harassment charges against a superior and Jack had been an investigating office while in the army. Using his investigative skills and knowledge of the army, Jack establishes his alibi, and then reluctantly agrees to help investigate the murders.

The killer is supremely clever. All the victims are found in their bathtubs, naked, and completely submerged in army camouflage paint. They didn't drown, weren't stabbed or shot, and bore no marks or bruises There is no forensic evidence to determine how the women were killed and the only link seems to be that they are ex-army and had filed sexual harassment charges against a superior officer. This is a very good who-done-it that focuses on physical evidence and hard investigative work to determine the identity of the killer.

The ex-9/11 FBI of this book is not that of Efram Zimbalist, Jr. They will stop at nothing, blackmail, threats of torture, illegal activities, and just plain stupid stuff to get their way. I hope the author doesn't know something we don't know, although clearly Ashcroft would love this amoral, the-ends-justfies-the-means agency. Reacher is fleshed out much more as a viable character, a good investigator who has no time for silly psychological profiling (remember how wrong the FBI profiles were of the sniper in Maryland.)
River of Darkness by Rennie Airth

The effect of WW I on the survivors continues to provide a reservoir of themes for authors of English detective novels. Charles Todd's (actually a mother-son team) Ian Rutledge, a Scottish detective is one example. Rutledge suffers from guilt-ridden hallucinations.

Airth's Inspector John Madden is even gloomier having lost his wife and daughter to the great flu epidemic. Madden is the lead investigator in a series of horrific crimes. In what appears to be an attempted robbery, an entire family has been massacred. Madden, following a search of nearby woods, discovers evidence that the family's home had been under observation for a period of time from a dugout that bore unsettling similarities to battlefield trench observation posts. Further evidence leads the police to suspect the work is just one man, a former soldier who kills his victims with a bayonet in the manner taught for use on the battlefield.

We experience some of the action through Pike, the killer's point of view, and realize that facing the memories of war and dealing with those traumas often takes a variety of mechanisms as Pike and Madden are contrasted. I hope this is the beginning of a series featuring Inspector Madden.
Isaac Asimov
A prodigious explainer, Asimov's output was enormous.  He wrote over 470 books covering each of the major categories of the Dewey Decimal system.  For a really interesting assessment of his as a writer see this article.