Sunday, April 30, 2006

I Have Enlisted

I have joined the 101st Fighting Keyboardists over at Captains Quarters. I haven't found out yet whether I'm allowed to put the logo on my site.

Friday, April 28, 2006

We Came From The Pleiades

An amateur - very amateur - archaeologist from Bosnia, who believes he has found a pyramid there, thinks the Mayan hieroglyphics reveal this.

(HT: point2point.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Cancelled Due To Lack Of Interest

It is clear that my tremendous scouting reports to get you through the difficult process of observing the World Cup knowledgeably has been unappreciated. Just think, you could have made breezy comments to Europeans and South Americans you ran into, tricking them into thinking you are one of the good Americans who really understands. But noooo, you would rather be benighted Yanks, provincial and unable to converse smoothly with the world.

So, the third and fourth sections of the preview are cancelled. Wankers.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What I Did On My Liberal Vacation

I went visiting liberal blogsites that had some indications of respectability about them. I made an effort to discover sites that were genuinely leftist, allowed comments, and seemed to at least attempt to weigh both sides of an argument. I took Pajamas Media as my jumping off point. Though that site links more frequently to conservative and libertarian sites, it connects out to liberal sites as well.

I wanted to not only read the arguments, but engage them as well, to see how the regular attendees responded to disagreement. Only one of the sites will I recommend on to my readers, and that with some caveats. Still, it was good to recapture the
experience of being the lone dissenting voice, which I hope I will remember when lone dissenters come to the sites I comment on.

About Commenting In General

1. It is difficult to know which writers will be willing to discuss with you, and which are there only to show off for their friends how clever their put-downs are. Either might seem insulting at first, and I found no method better than trial-and-error for guessing who to respond to. One sees this on conservative sites as well, with people using phrases such as Dumbicrats, Dhimmicrats and other things they think witty. When I post on familiar sites, I regard these comments as background noise which don't push the conversation further along, and disregard them. The lone dissenter has much more suspicion that the snide are speaking for the entire group. I resolve to be more of a scourge to my allies.

2. It is harder to keep track of who wrote what on an unfamiliar site. Twice I misattributed earlier comments to the wrong poster. While this may seem an unremarkable observation, it is important to keep this in mind when addressing the lone dissenter. Everyone wants a piece of him, and he may be answering several objections at once. It is easy to be clumsy in such situations.

About Liberal Commenters (All sites in group are American)
It’s a small sample: 3 sites engaged, 2 others just poked at a few times. The only advantage to these observations is that they are current. Political groups change in outlook over time, and I expect the internet to increase that. The elected politicians and the established writers are not going to reflect the changes until well after they have happened. The blogosphere on all political fronts will include many early adopters and adapters.

1. Liberals still think of journalism as the last defense against tyranny, a belief they hold emotionally even as it weakens intellectually. They do not so much believe the MSM as depend on it. The Left might enjoy speculation of the changes to come in news and media, but they really believe that the weakening of the established media risks bringing on the deluge. Thus, every attack on traditional media sources carries a whiff of anarchy to them, as if the Bush administration might suddenly be without restraints if the NYT were not there to hold it in check. Pointing out MSM failures is not seen as holding it accountable, but an undermining of the checks and balances of our society. I was surprised that this sentiment was so strong on the internet, but concluded that there is some disconnect between the intellectual and emotional responses here. I imagine it would be the same with conservatives if the roles were reversed. If 90% of the legacy media were Republicans, we might regard attacks on the major networks as attacks on civilization as well.

2. There is a parallel here with the emotional ties to the UN. I have less data for this observation, but there is sentiment that if the UN loses power there will be nothing to restrain men from doing evil. This is not asserted as a proposition – I think most liberals would back off from that conclusion pretty quickly – but it is an undercurrent. In that sense, it does not matter as much to them how corrupt the UN might become; it must be retained because there is nothing else. (I had known but forgotten this. When I complained to a coworker about the UN a decade ago he said “Well what’s your alternative?” My suggestion that individual agreements and treaties between nations would provide the same service at a much lower price, he was appalled, sure that the nations of the world would break out into many wars in that situation.)

3. They do not know what conservatives write and think. While all of us tend to get our information about our political opposition secondhand, I found this to be extreme on the left. The same quotes out of context kept showing up; something that Rush said in 2001 or Ann Coulter had in her book would be quoted, and the darkest interpretation of it was generally accepted. I thought at first that the wilder quotes were being used because they were rhetorically superior in making points, and heck, conservatives do that all the time as well. But in my brief forays I found few who had read or heard the material at the source and in context. The only things they catch firsthand are snippets of talk radio.

4. In contradiction to #3, however, many liberals seem to have an island of conservatism in their beliefs. One might target shoot and find gun-control rhetoric excessive, even if she supports limited versions; another will have conservative views on core curriculum in education, a third likes George Will or some other MSM conservative. This island was often connected to their profession or personal experience, which I find intriguing.

5. The 1960’s-80’s are regarded as current events, sometimes at the expense of actual current events. Because I am a boomer myself, I may have gravitated to boomer sites unintentionally, and that may have colored my data. I am concerned that they had difficulty taking in new thoughts that did not grow from or have an analog in the political situations of the last generation. Conservatives complain that to liberals, all wars are Vietnam. I think that may simply be a distillation of a larger phenomenon. Nicaragua and Chile in the 70’s and 80’s were held of more account in discussing American foreign policy than the events of the 1990’s and 00’s in North Korea, Africa, and the ME. It was not that they were unaware of newer information, but that they seemed to disregard it if it did not square with the earlier templates. This worried me, because it seems to hit at the root of our ability to adapt to changing realities. The exception was technological change, which most seem to embrace more than conservatives do, though there were more flat-out Luddites on the liberal sites.

6. Motive reading by magical means remains in full force. The easy assumption that they know the real meaning behind Bush’s actions is almost universal, even when they disagree with each other whether that motive is to make money for his corporate friends, improve his poll numbers, or punish his enemies. I found this impervious to any discussion. Sneering as a method of arguing is also still common. I had hoped that this version of liberalism as a measure of how much you “get it” socially was on the wane, but I guess not. It is especially worrisome because I find that fault increasing among conservatives. That doesn’t bode well for future discussions. I have a personal rule that when someone uses the motive fallacy twice, I no longer attempt to discuss anything with them. That person may be worth listening to, but not arguing with. There’s no point.

7. There remains a solid minority of liberals who at least give lip service to backing away from ultra-liberal ideas. They make an effort to mention “I think that now we’re in it we have to win,” or “I don’t want to excuse the actions of the terrorists.” I didn’t see any examples of them pursuing those thoughts any further, but the flow of the discussion often didn’t lend itself to that. People would be trying to make one point or another about the EU or Rumsfeld, and the larger discussion was usually tangential. But I found it curious, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Were they reassuring me, reassuring themselves, placating me, trying to appear balanced, or what?

The site where I found the best discusiion was Obsidian Wings. You will encounter the sneerers and eye-rollers there, but some folk who will have a discussion as well. Warning: Even the discussers can have a snide edge, but as I have one myself, I didn't think it was fair to write them off for that reason.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Iowahawk Is At It Again

It sure sucks to be the Zarkman, doesn't it?

Too bad he doesn't allow comments.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Waiting For Terrorists

I don't want to hope that anyone tries to take over a plane, but it would be pretty funny if some terrorist picked the flight that was showing United 93.

World Cup: Groups C & D

Big doings in Group C. Holland and Argentina, two of the teams capable of winning the World Cup, are both in this draw. Argentina has a young and talented team – so talented that they hare having trouble deciding who to play. That is a good problem to have, but a problem they will have to have worked out by June nonetheless. In soccer futbol, the 11 best players are not always the best team. That is true in any team sport, perhaps, but it is more subtle in soccer, where substitution is more limited, and style of play difficult to discern. A defender who is merely solid in a containment, absorbing, defense-minded style may be suddenly brilliant in an attacking set. Or he may become a liability, and neither difference will be apparent in a single game. Argentina has young defenders and depth at the positions. Which way will that go? Holland is my emotional favorite to win it all. Brazil is the smart-money favorite, as it should be, but I’m not betting any money, smart or otherwise, so a little underdog rooting won’t cost me anything. Ruud van Nistelrooy is enormously talented, and the Dutch team top to bottom is as talented as the Brazilians and Czechs. Watch for van da Sar in goal. Importantly, they have twice beaten the Czechs as well, which no one else has been able to do.

Group D Mexico and Portugal are both inconsistent, offense-minded teams, and no one in the draw is particularly good defensively, so this is another grouping whose games might be more interesting to Americans. By soccer standards, there will be a lot of fireworks here. Neither is considered a threat to win the cup, but both are exactly the sort of team the favorites worry about playing. The odd bounce and isolated mistake can be deadly in soccer football, or a team can make half-a-dozen major mistakes and still not be scored upon. Mexico does have a decent keeper in Sanchez, and hyperactive but mistake-prone scorers in Lozano and Blanco. Marquez at mid is their premier player. Portugal is exceptional across the midfield with both youth (Ronaldo, whose club team is Man U) and experience (Figo). They have goalie problems and some striker weaknesses. They rely too much on their wings to provide offense.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Always and Never

I would be a terrible marital counselor myself -- I would save marriages only by virtue of the fact that they agreed their counselor was a critical fathead and have something new in common - but I recall an important part from my training. The use of the words "always" and "never" are giveaways that a person is responding emotively rather than logically. "She always undermines me in front of our friends." "He never supports me with the children's discipline." There is no always and never. (If you ever go to a marriage couselor, you can stay one-up on your spouse by remembering not to use unqualified statements like that).

One occasionally sees comments on conservative blogs that Clinton (or Carter) was a completely terrible president. Worst ever. No redeeming qualities. Please note I said "occasionally." More frequently, amidst the scathing criticisms, one will find grudging praise or acknowledgement. I thought Clinton did well on NAFTA and GATT, and showed some real backbone, and I don't mind saying it. For all the mistakes in Bosnia and Kosovo, Clinton had more success in that impossible situation than most others in the last 7 centuries. Welfare Reform, though it happened under pressure, did happen on his watch. Great. He was on balance rather a cipher, neither advancing nor destroying foreign policy or the economy. With the former USSR, benign neglect was an okay thing. With Islamic terrorists, it was a bad thing.

It is this general balance on the sites I am in agreement with that causes me to shake my head in disbelief visiting lefty sites -- even supposedly moderate or reasonable liberal sites. People will claim with a straight face that George Bush is the worst president ever, that the war in Iraq had zero justification and has been an unmitigated disaster, that civil rights have been set back decades, etc. It defies common sense.

You could pick any president at random in history, list up the negatives and ignore the positives, and declare him to be the worst president ever, if you wanted to simply make statements that looked like an argument, rather than actually examining the evidence. Why would that be a valuable exercise?

The extreme statements, the always and never statements, are the tipoff that the writer is not worth reading another sentence of, unless your goal is to teach instead of to learn.

World Cup: Advance Predictions

Only 50 days to go, or thereabouts.

The World Cup has 32 teams which have qualified, divided into 8 groups of 4. Two from each group will move on. One or two teams in each group are overwhelming favorites to continue. Only in one group is there a projected dogfight among three teams shooting for two slots. That is of course the group the US is in. In two other groups, the identity of the second qualifier is probably unimportant, as three teams in each are weak enough that the best they can hope for is an upset in the round of 16. They won't go farther.

I will scout the likely qualifiers to the round of 16 four at a time, not only for their chance at the championship, but how deep they are likely to go at all.

Group A should be more fun for the American viewer than most others, even though we don't know the teams or care much about the countries. Germany is in the round of 32 by virtue of being the host team, but they are not a bad team. They score a lot, let in a lot. Their midfield is strong. They should advance. Costa Rica is an offense-minded team, with past-his-prime Wanchope hoping for a last moment in the sun. He is still powerful. Neither is considered a contender for the championship. One might slip into the semifinals. If you like underdogs, this is the group for upsets, and you can root for either Poland or Ecuador.

Sweden and England will come out of Group B. England has, as usual, as talented a team as exists in the field, but how they play together will determine how far they will go. They are capable of upsetting one of the top four teams (Brazil, Argentina, Czech Republic, Holland), but also capable of being beaten by a poorer team. Inconsistent teams usually find at least one bad game on the way to the finals. England needs to hope their bad game is against a team that cannot put them away. To the well-known duo of David Beckham and Michael Owen add the young Wayne Rooney as a potential explosive force. Sweden has a balanced attack, as likely to get goals from its midfielders and wings as its strikers. This is excellent for consistency and for league play, but problematic in World Cup competition, where teams often need a superlative player who can work a miracle rather than four very good ones who might score. Worth noting: England seldom loses, though it often gets only a draw against teams it should put away. How it plays in overtime might be the key.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

An Example of BDS

My uncle sends me things from some sort of "thinkers group" in No CA. Somone named Harold Helm writes the following, illustrating once again "garbage in, garbage out." He asserts a dozen things with no factual basis, can't understand why so much of America isn't outraged, and vows to never get over it. Classic Bush Derangement Syndrome.

And oh yeah, he can't avoid getting excited over poll numbers. I think that should be a symptom on the DSM-IV of BDS.

"Thomas Richardson quote - Arleen wrote: ... Between
the mess in Iraq, the saber-rattling with Iran, the lobbyist
scandals, the deficit, the outsourcing of jobs, the price of gas,

and buffoon of a president who thinks breaking the law is job
one, it's hard not to be pissed-off on a minute-to-minute basis.
... these days, with new revelations about the criminality
of this Administration coming at us on a daily basis, it's hard
to keep up without a G.D. scorecard. But then there's always
that one little thing that gets on your last nerve, and this week
my personal rocket's red glare was set off by a remark made
by Antonin Scalia when he was asked about the Bush v Gore
decision, the stolen 2000 election. His response: "Get over it!"

I have heard that phrase once too often, and it sticks in my
craw like the "Love it or leave it" bull I heard in the `sixties, a
virtual dismissive wave of the hand that says I have no voice,

no power, no say. Well, you've picked on the wrong citizen
if you think I will shut my mouth, or be
relegated to talking to that arrogant hand.

I am an American. That may not mean much to people
like Scalia, but it means something to me. And when someone
tampers with my country's voting process, or anything else
that impinges on the democracy of MY COUNTRY,
I am not going to GET OVER IT, now or ever.

I am an American. I will not be dismissed, minimalised
or marginalized, especially by hypocrites like Scalia et al,
who persist in throwing rocks at my patriotism from
inside their glass houses.

I will not be preached to by warmongering pseudo-Christians;
I will not be reminded of the importance of family values by
people who have no values at all. I will not be lied to,
stolen from, manipulated. I will not be assuaged by
meaningless rhetoric; I will not be lectured on a topic of
by people who wouldn't recognize the truth if it walked
up to them on the street and bit them in the ######.

I will not be condescended to by people who are as immoral
as they are greedy and self-serving. I will not be shooed away
from the adult dinner table like an ignorant child, while the
alleged grown-ups plot the destruction of my own nation,
or the nations of others. I will not be told to remain silent in
the face of wrongdoing. I will not relinquish a single
freedom that is my birthright as an American.


When my fellow citizens are suffering, I will speak out for them,
and stand with them. When disaster strikes, I will
not GET OVER IT by going shopping, or attending a birthday
party, or catching a ballgame. REAL AMERICANS don't do
things like that –and besides, it seems pretty obvious
that those jobs are already taken.
REAL AMERICANS do not need to be told how to act,
or how to react. We know what needs to be done,

and we do it every time. Within minutes of the 9/11
attack, firefighters, police officers, and emergency workers
were on the scene. They risked their lives to save others
without hesitation. Not one of them walked away in an
attempt to GET OVER IT. And dare I say it? Not one of them
found it necessary to stop and read The Pet Goat in its
entirety before springing into action.

REAL AMERICANS don't condone torture, secret prisons, or rendition.
REAL AMERICANS don't look at photographs from Abu Ghraib
REAL AMERICANS don't watch footage of dead Iraqi children
on the nightly news and GET OVER IT.
REAL AMERICANS don't read about their soldiers being
wounded and killed in an ill-disguised attempt to put MONEY
into the pockets of the rich and the powerful
This Administration, and the elected officials who support it,
have brazenly picked a fight with myself and my fellow citizens.

Wrong move, wrong crowd. They obviously don't know who
they're up against. You see,
real Americans don't GET OVER IT when it's their own country
under siege. They don't kneel, they don't bow, they don't yield.

The American people are now standing knee-deep in a
foul-smelling liquid. They know what it looks like, what it
smells like; they KNOW what it is. So stop telling us it's raining.
Stop trotting yourselves out into the public square with
your half-truths and your spin. We all know the emperor has
no clothes; don't insult our intelligence with grandiose
descriptions of his wardrobe.

I know this Administration and its party just LOVE throwing
those bumper-sticker slogans around. Well, here's one for
them to chew on: "Eventually, everything comes out in
the wash." And I''ll be darmed if I'm going to watch all of
that dirty Republican laundry get
hung on the line, and be told to GET OVER IT.

There will be a backlash to the corruption and incompetence
of this regime, of that I have no doubt. Poll numbers for the
current crop of Republicans are plummeting faster than the
average American's savings account. I guess all of those
angry citizens who have
been keeping tabs on where their country is being led
just aren't GETTING OVER IT either.

So to the people in power who have turned my country
into something to be scorned rather than admired, to be
feared rather than respected, to be a harbinger of hate,
violence and death the world over, I say this: You are
down. Your support is dwindling, your lies are being
exposed, and your failures are as glaringly visible
as a fireworks display on the 4th of July.

And if you find that upsetting, well, hey
GET OVER IT! ... unquote - Anyone second the motion?


I have a Christian friend who is very much "into prophecy," by which she means equating current events with John's vision of the Apocalypse, as recorded in the last book of the NT. Today she was mentioning the one year/one day method of interpreting, which by simple arithmetic had the world ending about a century ago and by complicated arithmentic, could be any day now.

I went through this in 1975-77, and I admit I grow weary. I have to keep reminding myself that when the prophesied return does happen - and it is one of the central doctrines of the faith that it will - there will be a group of enthusiasts who misinterpreted the Bible but correctly predicted the impending end by accident. They will laugh at themselves in heaven, however seriously they take themselves here, recognizing that they got the right answer by dumb luck. But for the rest of us, it pays to remember that one of these groups will be right.

Fat Kids, Part II

TCSDaily has the second part of the article on the myths surrounding the epidemic of childhood obesity. A good read. I was a skinny kid. I'm a fat adult. The connection between childhood and adult obesity is wildly overstated. In simplest terms, there is a connection between extreme obesity in children and obesity in adults. There is no other connection.

Fat Kids, Part I

Shortage of Social Workers

The National Association of Social Workers released the results of a national study of licensed social workers. What do you think the study discovered? ...warn of an impending shortage of social workers... And who do you think will be most affected? ...the most vulnerable among us.

As a social worker, I nonetheless wonder how this is a bad thing, exactly. The field is staffed by aging boomers who are going to be retiring in the next 10-20 years. The ideological diversity of that group is slight. The range of the solutions they can generate runs from whether the local government should be responsive to whether the federal government should send money.

We got an update on suicidology at our social work department meeting. The national group which deals with this is deeply concerned about... credentialing of suicidologists. But their new catchphrase is "Suicide is everyone's business," which would seem contradictory at first, until you understand how human services advocates think. Everyone should care very deeply, and be aware of the problem - and make impassioned pleas when called upon. And as a result of this caring and awareness, they should respect the people who do this work and pay them handsomely.

I could have written that last paragraph about just about any area of need. ______ is everybody's business. And we're deeply concerned about credentialing. At the same time, we're very big on allowing people to make bad choices, but make society pay for it.

You will notice that all these important advocates for causes are not giving up their jobs speaking at conferences to alleviate the shortage of front-line workers. See my annoyance with advocacy here.

From what I can see, the younger social workers are far less ideological, more of a "Git 'er done" attitude to helping others. I like them. How they got through MSW programs, where the professors are all from my generation, and thus 60's retreads, I don't know. Academic social work is still little more than political training. But the new group seems more grounded.

Monday, April 17, 2006

That Nazi Accusation

I got an estimate at a body shop for a dent years ago. The owner of the shop said at one point “Of course they’ll try to jew you down on the price.” I went mildly still and met his eyes, a social cue he picked up immediately. He looked away and fumbled awkwardly “Although maybe I could have found a better way to put that.”

Yes, he could have said gyp, because the derivation from “Gypsy” is no longer noticed. The word entered English before we became sensitized to ethnic slurs, and had already been disguised by shortening, unlike indian giver. When I was a child, “Chinese” was a descriptor for anything that seemed topsy-turvy or unexplainable, as in chinese fire drill. This was probably a combination of stereotypes: China was the other side of the world, where you would end up if you dug straight down, so it seemed likely that they would do things backwards or inside–out there. They also looked different, and so just about anything about them seemed believable. Anything about anyone who was different seemed possible. Heck, we believed that people from Massachusetts were capable of strange things, and it turned out we were right. And in Connecticut there were New Englanders who rooted for the Yankees, so all bets were off once you got south of Nashua.

Most people in that era who used some insensitive ethnic accusations did so without necessarily thinking about Jews, Indians, Chinese, or certainly Gypsies. People don't think much at all. I imagine it had an effect on how they viewed each group without realizing where the stereotype had come from. I don't doubt that the connection became conscious from time to time and even extended prejudices. But words of insult generally lose their power over time. Taboos are strange things, and sometimes the insult will intensify, but this is rare.

To call someone a "Red" became so overused that it became humorous. As communism recedes from the face of the earth (faster, please), the insult will likely erode into an archaism in a few generations, as "know-nothing" or "bimetallism" are now.

I have been reading the warning for years that the term Nazi, and the related fascist, brownshirt, etc. would become watered-down and meaningless by overapplication. That is already occurring. Could someone have been humorously called a "soup nazi" in the 1950's or 60's? While it still has considerable power to insult in my generation, the next generation has less to base the understanding on. Knowing about Nazis and WWII was in the air when I was growing up, from all those war movies to "Hogan's Heroes." Unless a student is more knowledgeable than average about 20th C history, or religious history, or military history, I think the word Nazi has become more vague. Like cossack, or even vandal, the association with real events is being lost. Fascist has come to mean little more than "bad, with elements of control and militarism." In 50 years it will mean just "bad," and sixth-graders will do school reports on where the word comes from.

Troll Psychology

Neo-neocon's commentary on critical thinking included a bit on trolls and started me wondering about troll psychology. I was prepared to do research, but it ended up being quite easy. The Wikipedia article on trolls covers the waterfront nicely.

I have only once accused someone of being a troll, and I was wrong, which
provided a salutary warning not to do it again. My more usual inclination
is to regard all comments as sincere, however antagonistic or uninformed -
or flat-out stupid - they might be. Perhaps this is because I work in a
field of intelligent people who often do not see their obvious biases
because they are seldom challenged. I don't assume that because a
commenter has written something of jaw-dropping bigotry that s/he is
necessarily stupid.

If you still regard the NYT and all its intellectual descendents as the
generally reliable and only mildly biased media, and you spend your
professional and social time with those who think the same, why wouldn't
you continue to rely on them? Isn't it much easier to just believe what
the smart people seem to be saying, regarding the others as cranks similar
to the flouride-in-the-water guys of the 50's and 60's? And as such, wouldn't
you regard their claims dismissively?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Last Gift of Mary Magdalene

When Mary of Magdala went to the tomb on Easter morning, hoping with the other women to give the body of Jesus a proper burial (Friday afternoon's preparations had been hurried and the bare minimum), her situation was different than all of Jesus's other followers. The men could go back to their previous jobs and families. At least I can go back to accounting/fishing/building again. They would be humiliated, of course, but that would pass. They grieved for their friend, but lots of people grieve. Some of the men had wished to go back to their previous lives, and wanted assurance from Jesus that what they had given up to follow him was worth it.

Jesus had at least attempted to provide for his mother at the end. "Mother, behold your son; son, behold your mother" he had said to John. As far as we can tell, the other women had come from some sort of families, and after suitable punishment by their patriarchs, would be accepted back. Mary the mother of Jesus would have the greatest grief, of course, but no worse than a thousand other mothers in Jerusalem who had lost sons.

Mary had nothing to go back to. There were always job openings for Beggar, of course, but the other beggars would have been schooled for a lifetime in eliciting pity by appearance and tones of voice. She might not be able to make even a subsistence living. She might give herself as a slave, if anyone would have her - the woman of the house in any rich family might have something to say about the master taking on one of the girls from the Pampered Palestinian Escort Service, no matter how temporarily reformed. Ms. Magdalene had seemingly stayed somewhere the last two nights. Perhaps she had stayed with one of the other women, or one of the disciples - if she could find one out of hiding. But it could have been that she had nowhere, nothing, starting in about two hours.

We might hope that the followers of Jesus would remember at least something of what he taught, and that someone would take a poor woman in and provide for her. But if not, her own family was unlikely to take her back. She had shamed them already and was dead to them. Whatever friends she had formerly had among her customers wouldn't want to be that close to her new holiness, unless they were utterly depraved and would enjoy even more trying to take advantage of her need. You thought you were something for awhile there, didn't you - better than the rest of us, huh? Now look at you.

And yet out of love and duty, which are not as incompatible as we make them appear in our era, she wants to give what last little she has in the pointless gesture of doing things up properly for someone who wasn't even a relative. Just because it was the right thing to do. Just to show gratitude one more time, even if only only she noticed.

It was a gift of generosity unmatched by any of Jesus's other followers, a pouring out of her own self, probably pointlessly, in imitation of his own pointless sacrifice. Just because it had to be done. We lose too quickly in the immediate discussion of the resurrection how great must have been Mary Magdalene's despair at finding the tomb empty. Even this last ability to give a little gift had been taken from her, and she must have thought as well "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

No wonder that Jesus's words to her are "Touch me not." What other impulse could she have had but to wrap her arms around his ankles, touch his face, burrow into his chest, weeping? How did even the Son of God move quickly enough to prevent her?

There are no tears that will not someday be dried, no lonely depths that will not somehow be filled. We hunger; food exists. We thirst; water exists. What else then could hope be for, but for completion?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Susan Lindauer -- Not Competent To Stand Trial?

Ray Robison has been one of the bloggers leading the charge in translating the captured pre-war documents out of Iraq. Want to read the actual documents about the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection? Robison has 'em. Curious about the Russian support of Saddam, the Iraqi coverup of the WMD, the bioweapons trailers, or the Taliban connections? Robison's the guy.

His most recent post concerns a translation of how Saddam was attempting to influence foreign governments. He also gets us up-to-date on Susan Lindauer - remember her? She is the second cousin of White House staffer Andy Card. Ms Lindauer was trying to use this connection to commit treason, advocating for Saddam through back-channels and being used as a source by Iraq.

Robison has discovered that she is being held in a federal psychiatric center in Texas, and has been declared not competent to stand trial. From the Seattle Weekly:
Almost as instantly as she hit the global news cycle as a reputed U.S. traitor and alleged spy for Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government, former Seattle newspaper journalist Susan Lindauer dropped off the radar. Once the headlines faded in 2004, the public might have assumed she was convicted and sent to prison. But for the moment, Susan Lindauer's strange story remains incomplete. She is confined to a federal mental facility in Texas, perhaps never to get her day in court, according to friends, officials, and public records. Mostly unnoticed, a New York federal judge has found her incompetent to stand trial and ordered further evaluation. She is being held past her scheduled release date, which had been sometime early this month, and, she tells friends, might be forcibly medicated as part of her treatment.

An ex–Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter and former U.S. Senate and House aide, Lindauer, 43, was charged in March 2004 with conspiring to act as a spy and being an unregistered Iraqi agent.

I commented on that site what might be happening here, and reproduce it here.

Because I work in the involuntary hospitalization biz, I will offer some things as speculation only. I know nothing about this specific case.

You can always find someone who will declare a person is incompetent to stand trial. In my state I can name two psychiatrists and a PhD psychologist who all have an over 90% rate of finding incompetency. They are not -- at least two of them are not -- paid off quacks who will find what you want them to. They just have a very low threshhold for incompetency. Defense attorneys who specialize in mental health know who these people are. There are also issues as to whether a person is permanently incompetent, or could conceivably be restored to competency.

Secondly, there are several types of mental illness where a person might be both high-functioning in some ways, but completely clueless in others. A person with a bipolar disorder, or a late-onset paranoid schizophrenic could both conceivably fit that picture.

A person's attorney might be advising them not to be treated, knowing that treatment would result in restored competency and the necessity of standing trial. The prosecution, however, could believe that competency could be restored with forcible medication and be pressing for that.

A person in manic phase of a Bipolar disorder might well be grandiose and believing she could be saving the whole world by running with the big boys. When the overconfidence and grandiosity caught up with her and she got in trouble, it would be an ambiguous situation whether she would want to be treated. As poor insight into need for treatment is already a hallmark of certain illnesses, the layers of the onion would be even more complicated. A person could easily believe in that situation that he was being offered treatment as punishment, based on some paranoid fantasy that the feds don't want him to talk, or to make him appear less credible, etc. As MH professionals are often semi-paranoid lefties themselves, some of those treating such a person might even agree with him!

Wheels within wheels.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Faux Logic, Part V

Evidence Is Seldom Unambiguous

We slide conveniently between the words evidence and proof. When we hold an idea ourselves, it is seldom on the basis of proof, but because we believe the evidence weighs in favor of that idea. Yet we demand proof from those we dispute with. Unless someone produces an argument which compels us to change our minds, we hold to our previous idea. Those we argue with, frustratingly, demand the same from us. (Poor us.)

Proof is seldom available. Even in mathematics, the usual gold standard in everyday conversation, proofs are contextual. Change the base, change the surface, and your elegant proof evaporates.

There is evidence for all kinds of propositions, including many that are not true. A person may be innocent of murder even though he owned the murder weapon and hid it, was known to be in the area, and had motive. I don't mean to merely say that "he was found Not Guilty;" he may be actually innocent.

Even when evidence is overwhelming in one direction, it is still usually mixed, and it is foolish to appear not to recognise this. Was communism a good idea? On one side of the scales are the 100-200 million of their own people that communist governments killed, and the poverty of 90% of its citizens. It would take a great deal of evidence in the other direction to overcome that. But there is some evidence -- people put it forward all the time. They supported the arts of high culture, ballet and classical music. They made advances in opthamology. On a deeper level, does not suffering produce great literature? Isn't it worth something that they inspired people to reach for a more perfect world? Yes, these are all good things. They don't make much of a dent in accounting against all those dead people and poor peasants in my mind, but it's something.

Evidence can point in several directions at once as well. Say three people are exposed to a disease. One decides to pray, one decides to take medicine, and one decides to just wait it out. A week later, they are all well. This does not prove anyone's position. The evidence would weigh somewhat in favor of the third person -- they were all going to get well in a week no matter what -- but it's not proof by any means. One of the three might have actually caught a separate disease or an additional one; one of the first two may have had a peculiar susceptibility to the disease which should have killed him; the third person's mother may have been praying for him. Each can count the improvement in health as evidence. In none of the cases is it compelling evidence.

When we are trying to convince people of an idea we usually overstate the point for rhetorical effect. That's not contemptible if we recognise that's what we're doing. But it is intellectually dangerous, as we quickly come to believe ourselves. I have an uncle who sends me commentary from the hard left from time to time. "George Bush got us into a pointless war and has alienated the world." As a shorthand way of expressing that you believe that the president's actions were a major reason for military actions which have been a net loss, and have cost us more friends than we've made, the overdramatic statement is only mildly annoying. We can't spend all our time in discussion qualifying every point. But to take the statement as simple fact is just silly. As would be an opposing sentiment that "George Bush has saved America."

In religious or philosophical discussions, I am usually tempted to just not attend to people who make impossible pronouncements. "There's no more evidence for God than there is for the Easter Bunny." Well, there's not much difference in the amount of proof for either, but we've already established that proof isn't really the issue. As to the amount of evidence, the difference is profound. An individual might find the evidence for God insufficient. But when people try to claim that there is no evidence whatsoever, I suspect that something else is in play. Some need to not believe is ruling their intellect.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Poverty and Immigration

Winterspeak over at Asymmetrical Information has some thoughtful comments on the New Yorker article about how much of poverty is perception, and what might be done about that.

As John Cassidy in "Relatively Deprived" has an idea that I think is guarranteed to make more people feel even poorer, I think I'll have a serious go at that in the near future. But for the moment, I have only smart-ass ideas on poverty and immigration -- both of which are better than what is usually proposed.

Completely separate from any other action we take on immigration, we should offer to anyone in the world who wants to come work here the chance to rent a green card at $10,000/year, payable in advance. They would still pay taxes, have to find housing, all that good self-sufficient stuff. This wouldn't be a replacement for current immigration, it would be in addition to it. Play out in your head what you think would start happening.

Perceptions of poverty. I like the idea of Friedman's negative income tax and all that, but I think we could get real bang for our buck by sending everyone on assistance on a one-week paid vacation to an actual poor country every year. Travel and hotel only; buy your own food and souveniers. It would be good for the economies of the poor countries. It would be good for the airlines (and Mexican bus companies). It would be good for the kids' educations. It would allow some current immigrants to revisit their homelands and remember why they came here. It would give folks a break from their drab lives.

And we would be giving the gift of reality.

Fat Kids

According to John Luik over at Tech Central Station, there is no children's obesity epidemic in the western nations, including America. No real change from 1995 to 2003.

Softball with Chris Matthews

Matthews interviewed Barbara Boxer last night. You gotta love it.

MATTHEWS: What is your rudimentary basic thought right now about the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon five to 10 months from now. What should be the U.S. policy right now?

BOXER: first thought is you take a deep breath. (Wow, wish I'd thought of that). I`m on a bill (and just in time) that would begin sanctions on Iran (Begin? Already? ) if they keep going down this path (Whoa -- are we ready to begin a bill to begin something down the road? Let's not get ahead of ourselves here). There is a whole host of sanctions (Yeah, baby; take another deep breath -- whoo!) you can do with people visiting there, buying their oil (Watch out Iran, the big guns is coming OUT!). But you need the world (Darn, I knew there was a catch to it. But at least Barb's on a committee about it).

Boxer thinks the nukes are 5-10 years away. Well I'd like definite proof of that before we make any decisions. We wouldn't want to make decisions about this based on inadequate intelligence, would we?

Addicted to Advocacy

Advocates for causes are often drawn from the ranks of those who do actual work. We see them all the time in social work -- they get brought in to speak at department meetings, and there seem to be conferences for just about anything. Advocates want to influence one of two groups: either those who are still on the front lines seeing patients, or governments. Getting a lot of other human service people to buy into their views on the transgendered, or peer support, or motivational interviewing, or Feng Shui, or Reiki provides some rush, but getting the government to pass legislation or send money is the real prize.

These advocates act differently than those of us on the front lines. I don't know if they become different or start out that way. But they are clearly energized by the big rolls of the dice. Spending two years getting some homelessness regulation changed just seems so much more important to them than finding actual housing for people for two years. Listening to them speak at conferences and Grand Rounds, they are either angry or condescending. As they get farther from actual clients, that latter becomes more pronounced. I guess when you spend your time mostly with other advocates and the people who are resisting your advocacy, it tends to polarize you.

The advocates who are parents of children that something tragic or difficult happened to are sometimes cut from a different cloth. They are more likely to just be regular folks, bending their energy to making changes in the world. I like those people. Some few of those who have endured the tragic circumstance personally are also remarkably gentle, powerfully persuasive people. Too often, they are the angriest, or the most condescending. The emotional leakage of the contempt that have for those who will not make the changes they want is considerable.

Advocates for a new cause can often pick off low-hanging fruit pretty quickly. Making others aware of some grossly unfair circumstance and getting the worst excesses eliminated or punished is a quick reward and a powerful rush. After that the battle becomes longer and harder.

And yet not harder. How hard is going to meetings and eating donuts? How hard is it to sit among people who think you are doing the work of angels and strategize how you are going to convince legislators and administrators to do what fits your vision of how the world should be? There is no failure anymore. If the state legislature doesn't officially recognise the rights of your favored group to get more money or be given their own government agency to get them stuff, you haven't failed. The stupid legislatures have failed. Society has failed. You're still just fine. Sure you didn't get that big gambling hit of winning the lottery, but you cashed a few scratch tickets and you were darn close this time.

It works sometimes. Sometimes advocates change the laws, or the standard practice, and presumably someone down the line benefits. But mostly it's a hoax, a way to waste your life pretending to be important.

Dragostea Din Tei -- Back Again!

That great song is now #1 in Russia. Well, it's about time.

Wikipedia has an ever-lengthening article on Europe's #1 hit in 2004. Versions and parodies continue to multiply around the world. It is also known as the Numa Numa Song, or Miyah Hee, and I understand that Mark Steyn does a great version of it in a toga once he's had a few palinkas.

The official video is here. You'll notice that this Romanian/Moldovan boy-band really likes the part where it looks like they're aloft on a plane's wing, gesturing.

You will hate yourself for becoming addicted to this song.

Good News From the Left

This is one of the most encouraging things I've seen from liberals collectively in several years. It is the Euston Manifesto (HT:PM), an articulation of what used to be called liberal beliefs. I would caution that these are British small-l liberal academic bloggers, and we don't know whether this depth of sanity will travel well.

There is plenty for conservatives to disagree with here, mostly of the "Yes, but..." variety. Yet these are people you clearly can have a discussion with. I knew there were sane liberals out there, just waiting to coalesce.

I wonder what they will call themselves? "Neo-liberals" has a nice symmetry in today's political landscape, though they might prefer something more distinctive. If they go the Neoliberal route, they will have about a 30% philosophical overlap with the neocons. Over time, that overlap might increase, and they'd all just be "Neo's." As it would be mostly superannuated Boomers who have grown cynical about many things, the name would be more than a little ironic. No problem. Irony has always been very hip with us.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Faux Logic, Part IV

Or, When Clever Thinking Is Bad Thinking

My last name is “Wyman.” How many times since about 6th grade do you think people have grinned at me and said “Why, man?” My middle name is “Neat,” a family surname meaning “cattle,” as in Neat’s Foot Jelly, which used to be sold a million years ago.
Well that’s pretty neat.

Aren’t you the wit, then?

At college bull sessions, late in the evening someone would eventually ask “What if all of this doesn’t really exist, and this is just our collective imaginations?” Far out, man. What if time could go backward? Is my green the same as your green?

Christianity seems to be called to answer the same questions every century. I’m sorry, I meant every fifteen minutes. “What if Jesus didn’t really die on the cross but just looked dead…” “ Jesus wasn’t actually God, but a god…” “His followers made up stories about what he had done…” “Maybe God isn’t just 3 persons, but an infinite number of persons, of which Christians have seen three…” Yeah, Modalism has been around for many centuries now, and you might find the sophisticated debates on the subject useful. Actually, it’s really, really likely that whatever brilliant insight you ran across in a magazine in 1992 – even if it was a highbrow monthly – has a long history of being examined by people smarter, better, trained, and more pious than you and I put together. They don’t all agree, but you’ll at least have cleared away the debris of the discussion and be contemplating the core issue. If you want to offer one of these New Insights for discussion, that’s different. We aren’t all up on every heresy and its variants, and discussion is good for learning. Maybe I will discover that I have to go back and do more research before I can effectively discuss the issue. But have the minimal good sense not to make pronouncements. Why announce to everyone that you’re not very smart?

Christians do this as well, of course, and it is no better when we do it. “Catholics don’t believe in the Bible…” “Evangelical preachers say that God wants you to vote Republican…” Yeah, yeah. Read up on it, willya?

Or philosophy in general. “God is in everything, so it’s not really useful to claim…” Yes, that’s called pantheism. You might want to read up on what people have said for and against it before you blather on any further.

“I only believe in what can be scientifically proven, or deduced from known facts…” Okay, that’s an adolescent version of logical positivism, so check out philosophers of the 19th and early 20th C, and talk to me later. Please, I said later.

"I think you can be a moral person without being religious." See False Dichotomy.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about such things, or consider yourself less than others. It does mean that trusting into your own “sense of things” even if you’re very bright, is usually a poor bet on deep topics. Clever people are more susceptible to this. It is in one way a better type of thinking than just reciting back what other people have told you. It is actual thinking for yourself. But it’s just the practice logic I noted in Faux Logic (Part I). It may be an original thought to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bona fide original thought.

In the avenues of the internet where I sit at cafes, political issues are major fare.

No, I'm not going to list the Brilliant Ideas that each new troll or Koskid brings over to that list of links on the right-hand side of the page. If you're really uncertain which attacks on Bush (a proxy for so many political and cultural issues) have been pretty thoroughly and repetitively dealt with (sometimes even granted some soundness), then I suggest a simpler strategy. Consider the remote possibility that someone may have heard your argument before.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Gospel of Judas, or Let's Try Very Hard Not To Be Silly, Shall We?

Current events once again gives me my idea for my next posting on Faux Logic. There is breathless news about a newly-discovered ancient text, purported to be the Gospel of Judas.

There is nothing new here. The idea of seeing the story of Jesus from Judas's POV has been around for a long time, as evidenced by this early document. You will note that it is not very early, BTW. But the idea seems to be particularly intriguing to our own age. The musical Jesus Christ, Superstar is a gospel of Judas. It is the story of Jesus told from Judas's POV. Nothing wrong with that artistically, if you know that going in. It's an interesting thought, and can potentially tell us a great deal about self-justification and rationalization.

There are other ideas that keep showing up every century, and people think they're new.
Hey, what if they found the body of Jesus, hidden in the Vatican?

Or, Jesus also had some secret teachings, handed down through his disciples.

Or, Jesus preached a gospel of love and forgiveness which his followers, especially Paul, twisted into something harsh and judgemental. (Read Matthew 5-7 for that).

Yeah, fine, all ideas are worth looking into. But you'd think that when people get this brilliant challenging idea that no one in the church has answered before, they would actually check into it, to see if anyone in the church has answered it before.

This particular heresy is the theological version of "Hey kids, I know how we can raise some money for Widow Brown's farm. Let's put on a show!"

A Neglected Bit of Information

It was pointed out to me that while I refer often to my family, I had not shown them off. This is a terrible thing. I live to show them off.

The picture is taken in Beius, Romania last summer. My wife Tracy took the photo, and is thus missing. From left is my oldest son Jonathan and his wife Heidi, me, Chris, Ben, and John-Adrian. It should be pretty clear which ones are of Romanian heritage.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Jimmy "Birdhouse" Carter

It distresses me that Carter even said this, of course. It is doubly distressing that this was not in the context of any campaign or issue battle, where we might blame it on overheated passions and rhetoric. That would still be contemptible to be this bigoted, but it would at least be understandable. This comment comes after calm consideration, and we may safely conclude that this is how Jimmy Carter really perceives the political divide. Knowing that he will be quoted, knowing that Christians who disagree with him will read this, he nonetheless gives voice to a worldview that is so unable to consider alternative views that it would be embarrassing even if it were true.

"I was teaching a Sunday school class two weeks ago," he recalls. "A girl, she was about 16 years old from Panama City [Fla.], asked me about the differences between Democrats and Republicans.

"I asked her, 'Are you for peace, or do you want more war?' Then I asked her, 'Do you favor government helping the rich, or should it seek to help the poorest members of society? Do you want to preserve the environment, or do you want to destroy it? Do you believe this nation should engage in torture, or should we condemn it? Do you think each child today should start life responsible for $28,000 in [federal government] debt, or do you think we should be fiscally responsible?'

"I told her that if she answered all of those questions, that she believed in peace, aiding the poor and weak, saving the environment, opposing torture ... then I told her, 'You should be a Democrat.'"

Source: Creative Loafing, which published this comment like it was a good thing. I'll be linking back to this often, I suspect, as a roaring example of how dangerous the mentality of the Religious Left can be.

New Slogans

Green Party: Our handbaskets are recyclable and are made by co-ops.

Libertarian: Emerging technologies will change everything about how we look at handbaskets.

Go ahead. Pick on anyone you want. I don't like much of anyone today.

Axis II: Cluster B

Cluster B.

Axis II Cluster B patients have an inadequate "endoskeleton," or lack one
altogether, in their behavioral control. Whether they lack conscience, or
will, or impulse control varies and is debateable from case to case. The
hospital, or group home, or family must create an "exoskeleton" around them
to contain their behavior. This might be a reward system, constant
monitoring, or removal of tempting or dangerous items. Sometimes the
initial treatment for a drunk is to put him somewhere he can't get at

We do something similar with children, who gradually develop internal
controls, and even adults can learn them.

Just recognise when you can't explain it or appeal to people's better
nature any further. When people can't, they can't, and saying "they
should" isn't helpful.

For example, some child molesters are guilt-free and live by manipulation.
Others have genuine sorrow and self-hatred. The sorrow and self-hatred may
not prevent them from reoffending. They may need the same degree of
accountability as the sociopath. We fall into the trap - a half-truth, as
usual - of believing that if they really, really understood, they wouldn't
do it. But understanding is often irrelevent to changing behavior.
Insight can help maintainchanges later, but that is quite different.

Guess what. I wasn't really talking about drunks and child molesters. I
was talking about everyone. Insight, and feeling really sorry, may not
change your behavior. In fact, if you've been trying that strategy for
years and are still losing your temper, that should tell you how inadequate
the strategy is.

The same applies for trying to change loved ones. If you've already tried
explaining and making them feel bad, maybe it's time to try something else.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Faux Logic, Part III

When I was in 6th grade, one of my friends used to think it was uproariously funny to ask people "Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?" It took kids a moment to get it - that the two possibilities weren't mutually exclusive. It is called a False Dichotomy, and if you give them a moment, 12-year-olds can see through it.

But apparently some commenters on my favorite blogs had their intellectual development arrested at age 11.

old man, over at Dr. Sanity's
Yes, we were victims on 9/11. What does it mean for the world's most powerful country to be a victim? What privileges will we claim with our victimhood?

-That we are not in any way responsible for what happened to us?
-That we are always morally right?
-That we are not accountable to anyone for anything?
-That we are forever entitled to sympathy?
-That we are always justified in feeling moral indignation for being wronged?
-That we never have to be responsible again for anything?

E. Nonee Moose, over at GM's Corner:
Should American corporations and our government continue to import cheap labor rather than offer protections for American workers?

It is a common type of argument these days. Helen Thomas and Dan Rather use it. If you question their statements, well then you're in favor of a government-controlled media! If you think going into Iraq was justified, you must think it's just fine for the US to invade anyone it wants for any reason, and believe whatever Bushitler tells you!

The most common form is this exagerrated choice. Either you support legislation X or you want women to go back to being barefoot and pregnant (when exactly was that, BTW?). Or you want Big Pharmaceuticals to be able to do whatever they want. Or you're racist. This should be the easiest of the three to see through so far, but it persists nonetheless.

Aphrodisiac Scents

You won't find many plugs for Prevention magazine on this blog - this may be the only one ever. But a clever and well-written article in the February '06 issue deserves mention. In an article by Denise Foley entitled "Spice Up Your Sex Life," there is a short section on what smells are exciting to the sexes. I hope this quote comes under fair use.
Alan Hirsch, MD, neurological director at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, found that many patients who had lost their sense of smell also lost interest in sex. That piqued his curiosity about the power of scents to boost desire...he asked a group of women to sit in a lab, attached to a device that measures vaginal blood flow and sniff 30 different odors, ranging from licorice (a folkloric aphrodisiac) to cheese pizza (a cheap date)...he also asked 31 men to sit in a laboratory, their penises attached to a machine that measures blood flow, and sniff the same 30 odors.

What he found: The men responded sexually (with increased penile blood flow) to all the aromas, proving the theory that it doesn't take much. But the hands-down winner for most arousing smell - it increased penile blood flow by 40% - was the mingled scents of pumpkin pie and lavender (Ed: Mmm, pumpkin pie). Runners up were doughnuts with black licorice (32%) and pumpkin pie with doughnuts (20%). Women weren't as turned on by scents, which surprised Hirsch because they tend to have keener noses. But the combined aromas of cucumbers and Good & Plenty candy (which is licorice scented) and the scent of baby powder tied for first place (a 13% increase in vaginal blood flow). Pumpkin pie with lavender followed, with an 11% increase.

...(Guys, a word to the wise: In Hirsch's study, three scents actually turned women off: cherries, barbecued meat, and men's cologne. "My advice to men would be to ditch the cologne and get some Good & Plenty," says Hirsch.)

The Duality of Islam

In our Bible-study discussion of Islam, I noted that all the discussions by Muslims of their faith, and all written material that was quoted, made reference only to men. Given that the status of women in Muslim cultures varies widely between nations and classes within nations, I wondered what status the Koran gives women in theory. Are they spiritual co-equals, or is their status subsumed under their husband’s/father’s/tribal leader’s? Are they eligible for the same places in heaven, or are they lower in the hierarchy even there?

The disparity between theory and practice is enormous, as evidenced by these sites, on which Muslims comment to each other about Qur'anic teaching. The reports on the status of women are glowing, noting that the Qur'an specifically gives women the right to challenge even The Prophet, the right to vote, an entitlement to three-fourths of their children’s affection, economic and educational entitlements, and on through a long list. The contention is that Muslim women actually have more rights than modern women, without having to give up any of the privileges of protection and security that modern (read Western and western-influenced) have sacrificed.

In none of these discussions was there the least mention that this heightened status is not a reality in any Muslim culture. There was no apology for how men and tribes fall short of the ideal, no recounting of how the conversion of a country or an individual had slowly undermined the old attitudes and improved the lot of women. The theory was regarded as an accomplished fact throughout history. The Qur'an directs that Muslim women have equal status; therefore Muslim women have equal status and have always had it.

The recent cartoons from Egyptian newspapers (HT: Dr. Sanity) highlights this pretending that the ideal is the real. The innocent and harmless Islamic dove, the flower being watered by the cute little angel – are these really the images that Muslims have of themselves? Political cartoons exagerrate to make a point, but these images betray a deep unreality of perception. gcotharn over at neo-neocon relates an incident from his childhood, when the old men stood around and related how the South has come this close to winning the war but were betrayed by General Lee – a type of rewriting of history common to most cultures. All peoples want to showcase their ideals in purest form – there is certainly no shortage of pictures of Jesus blessing the children. But in these Islamic cartoons, the context is clearly about how Islam as an institution is treated in the world, not a picture of how wonderful Mohammed is. There’s a huge gap here.

Fouad Ajami wrote The Dream Palace of the Arabs, which deals with this vision and aspiration in the Middle East contrasting with its reality. Ajami’s focus is on the loss of pan-Arab high culture, but he doesn’t shy away from the larger discontinuity of Arabs in their thought processes. There is a constant invocation of long-past historical and mythological figures, Nebuchadnezzar, Osiris, Xerxes, called upon to be their representatives to the world. Even the first Gulf War was referred to by poets as “Rambo vs. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon,” bespeaking an outrage that a debased and upstart society (us) should even approach the Cradle of Civilization. The past glories of their people are regarded as their True Self, and those who oppose them are seen as the opponents of all culture and justice. Islam intensified an unhealthy tendency already present – a tribal and national pride swollen beyond all legitimacy and reason.

All cultures and religions have this tendency to divorce the ideal from the real. Because Buddhism teaches that violence must be used only in self-defense, Buddhists regard themselves as a peaceful people, despite the centuries of unconscionable slaughter in their lands. Buddhism is in fact a way of adjusting to horror and evil, rather than changing them. Communism drew its power from the shell game of holding out the picture of the Workers Paradise which is just over the horizon, comrade, and in fact is already here, and always has been since we took power. Humanists have a vision of how life could be which doesn’t look at all like the French or Russian Revolutions, and can thus deny they had anything to do with those horrors.

This duality is not unknown in Christianity, of course. The attachment to how things are supposed to be, glossing over how they are, is a powerful human temptation. Much has been made of the medieval idealization of saints and the duality of images of women. Certainly there is a strong strain in Christian devotional literature of clinging to the Beatific Vision despite all earthly appearances – “It Is Well With My Soul” suggests the denial of reality. But here’s the thing. It stops well short of that verge. Suffering is not ignored but transcended. Evil is not denied or explained away but is overcome. I cannot, come to think of it, come up with a solid example of Christian literature where the ideal is held to be the only reality. The concept hovers at the edge of Christian ecstatic vision and experience, but does not overwhelm them.

There have always been voices in the church raised in protest that the ideal has not been achieved, measuring the promises against the reality. In Islam, the opposite seems to be occurring: the more ridiculously distant Muslim culture gets from its highest ideals, the more it is insisted that the ideals are embodied in current culture.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Oppression and Birthrate: Additions

Germans resent that Americans keep bringing up WWII and the Nazis to them in discussions of war and morality. Their resentment is not unjustified. Germans can honestly declare 1) They have felt enormous guilt, and made cultural changes in response. 2) It happened a long time ago, and few now living had any serious part in the events. 3) They believe they have learned something it would be wise for Americans to learn as well. I grant that all three are mostly true. They have certainly been more apologetic than other nations which have committed atrocities. They have taught a mostly accurate history to their children.

I will briefly quibble with all of the above, though my opinions on the matter are somewhat tangential to the overall post. All people oversimplify for the sake of narrative and remembrance. The Germans did learn from their experience; yet over time, the lesson becomes streamlined, and important parts dropped away. They originally learned that nationalism and religion are potentially dangerous, and can be used to motivate them to evil. They refined this to a belief that nationalism and religion are dangerous, which is less true, but not bizarre. Germans are now gradually adopting the belief that nationalism and religion are not merely dangerous, but evil. They have moved gradually to the wrong lesson. To Americans, it sometimes appears that they have learned no lesson at all. This is understandable in terms of the current result, but it is an unfair characterization of Germans.

As evidence, I will note the tremendous response of German audiences to Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" and Friedrich Durrenmatt's "The Visit," when those black comedies played in Germany in the 1950's and 60's. The German audiences saw with painful clarity what has since been lost: an illustration of how everyday people could become fascists. (Current readings on both plays are watered down, and the original oppressors and victims are as likely to be reversed as maintained. Sigh. Truth is painful.) Both playwrights meant for the works to be generalizable to larger issues of collective guilt, but the unmistakeable references to the previous two decades have been cast off -- much as the Germans have cast off important parts of the lessons once learned.

But what I think about the guilt of Germans, or about collective guilt, is less important than what they themselves seem to think. All of Western Europe has a suspicion of nationalism and religion, and also has non-sustaining birthrates. German (and Austrian, and Italian) birthrates are lower still. It is not that I accuse them of dealing only partially with national guilt -- it is that they seem to believe it themselves.

Related posts:
Oppression and Birthrate

Monday, April 03, 2006

Eliminate Everyone

The New Editor has cogent comments about the hope of eliminating 90% of the world's population in the now-notorious lecture by Eric Pianka at UTexas. Be sure to read Comment #16

Zoology prof Eric is distressed at the 85% increase in population in the last 25 years. Seeing that we know where that increase is coming from – the black, brown, and yellow peoples of the world – why is no one calling this guy a racist? I wonder how much of environmentalism in general is unconscious racism?

Faux Logic, Part II

In my last post on logical argument, I criticized the technique of taking one fact and evaluating an entire complex system, such as foreign or economic policy on that basis. Today I shall look at an equally pernicious illogic, arguing from vague terms. Long a staple of animal rights activists, “they were here first” has shown up recently in the Aztlan claims by some Mexicans. It makes a vague sense at first glance, and it is not immediately apparent where it goes wrong. Well, there were bobcats/dark people/cacti here before the Europeans came, so maybe, er…
In the sentence “they were here first,” each individual word misleads by being vague. They. Who are they? Was this particular bobcat here in 1500? Do we know that the current bobcats around Steamboat Springs are direct descendants of bobcats that were here 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, 2000 years ago? Or will any bobcats do for making the claim of prior ownership, just because they’re, well, the right species, and we’re, y’know, not. Are we arguing that a species has a right to exist in a particular territory because it used to? Or was only 50 miles away, instead of 200 miles away? What is the moral basis for that claim?

When a Mexica demonstrator holds up a sign claiming that this is his homeland, what is the meaning of that exactly? He is not claiming to be born in the US. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a specific property claim based on a great-grandfather’s deed. The claim seems to be “because some of my ancestors lived in New Mexico, I have some right to live in Arizona.” Actually, the claim isn’t even that good. I don’t know who my ancestors were, but from my skin I figure lots of them lived in North America before Europeans got here. Some of my ancestors were also probably Spanish, but that’s a different part of Europe. Other people who are no relation to me used to run the country I was born in, and they used to claim this territory. There were all sorts of tribes around here before the Europeans, and I must come from some of them because I’m dark. So even if my people lived 500 miles from here and stole the land from other dark people, I have a right to this territory, because I look more like the original owners than you do, and have DNA that is a little more like them than you do.

Update: An excellent summary of Mexican History as it pertains to the SW USA is found over at Hud's Blog-o-rama.

Clarity on Habitat For Humanity

I don’t want to become “that blog that’s always criticizing Habitat.” I had an exchange of emails with Rattler Gator, who has had some problems with HFH, and an anonymous commenter has asked questions about Habitat Beius. I shall attempt some clarity here. For years, Habitat Romania was basically one guy in Beius. I know him slightly and like him. The Habitat teams in Beius all visit the orphanage that my sons come from, and where Ben worked all summer. We went over to see them working on the houses in Mizies, and we ran into them most days in the restaurants. I like them. They’re wonderful. They do good work.

I also get the HFH newsletter “Habitat World.” I used to like it. I like it less every year. It increasingly focusses on public policy advocacy, which suggests to me that the organization’s focus is changing in that direction. I note similar advocacy in my denomination’s mission materials: an outrage that some people are rich, and the same tired solutions straight off the Democratic Party platform.

My conclusion is that HFH is trending from being a Christian ministry to being a nonprofit, like the Red Cross or United Way. That’s entirely respectable, but my interest is waning because of it. If they were advocating conservative nonprofit advocacy it would still bother me, though perhaps I wouldn’t notice it so much.