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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.