From afar, the Netherlands may look like a society thoroughly comfortable with socialism and a host of 'progressive' culture-of-death inventions (euthanasia, legalized narcotics, etc.) Having made many visits to my wife's relatives there however, I can attest that that's only part of the picture. The Dutch are nothing if not independent and pragmatic - something that can cut towards wacky social experiments, but just as quickly back towards self-interested policy.
The Friesians in the north (my wife's ancient ancestors) practically defined the term libertarian - centuries before the founding fathers enshrined those principles into the U.S. constution, (and MoveOn sought to undermine them.) Living in castles surrounded by mud flats, the feudal Frieisian mini-states resisted even the most basic cooperation long and hard.
More recently, the Dutch have experienced problems resulting from immigration without assimilation that would make California look like a monolinguistic Anglo Saxon paradise of rigid cultural conformity. In a nation where conservatives Pim Fortuyn (politician) and Theo Van Gogh (fimmaker) have been murdered in the streets, even hard-line liberals find it hard to sign up for further trans-border collectivization and loss of local law and order control.
Thus it's no surprise that after France's rejection of the EU constitution, it's looking like Holland will do likewise:
EU leaders called for a "pause for reflection" as opinion polls showed that Dutch voters will probably follow those in France, who voted by some 55 percent to 45 percent Sunday to reject the proposed European constitution. A snap poll yesterday showed the Dutch "no" camp had been strengthened by the French outcome, with 59 percent now planning to reject the constitution. "The chance of a majority voting for the constitution in the Netherlands has become very slim," said a spokesman for the Maurice de Hond institute, which carried out the study. Andre Rouwvoet, of the Protestant ChristenUnie, which has three seats in the 150-seat parliament, saw the French "no" as a promising sign... "This constitution has no soul. ... They did not want to put a reference to the European Judeo-Christian tradition in..." The referendum will be the first in the Netherlands in more than 200 years, and many voters see it as their first opportunity to give their opinion about the development and pace of European integration. The polls show a striking disparity between public opinion and that of elected politicians. Some 80 percent of Dutch members of parliament support the text.I'm continually amazed at how on different questions, across multiple nations, elites in the press and in representative bodies can hold views completely at odds with those of the electorate. This is why we have elections. This is why the spread of democracy is so incredibly important. Government should be of and by the people, not of and by their supposedly benevolent but bureaucratically self-interested 'protectors'. We've known this for over 200 years. It's nice to see others reminded of it periodically.
31 May, 2005
From afar, the Netherlands may look like a society thoroughly comfortable with socialism and a host of 'progressive' culture-of-death inventions (euthanasia, legalized narcotics, etc.) Having made many visits to my wife's relatives there however, I can attest that that's only part of the picture. The Dutch are nothing if not independent and pragmatic - something that can cut towards wacky social experiments, but just as quickly back towards self-interested policy.
I can't get enough of Zell Miller:
I would like to see an association of democracies instead of what we've got right now [at the UN]. What we've got right now are just a bunch of dictators and tyrants who are contemptible of America and America's values and contemptible of everything that's American except their money. I think it was twenty-five years ago they were saying that it was ripe for reform. Well, ripe has now turned to rotten, and somebody ought to haul it off to the trash dump, but nobody will drive the garbage truck.Great minds... :)
The UN by its very nature also gives no consideration (moral or otherwise) to how a particular country's economic or military position was achieved - through brute force and slavery, or a free, liberal, open society, based on market principles. And by definition, the UN cannot possibly be a moral compass. It is, rather, a set of control rods on any position - immoral or moral, that deviate from average across the world. And in our time, as well as 2000 years ago, average remains pretty foul.
at 11:04 AM
No, it's not necessarily an oxymoron, as Mike Thomsen points out in this long thought piece. [Hat tip: Joe Carter at EO.] Key excerpt:
The key stumbling block that conservative Christians will have to overcome to understand why libertarianism is compatible with a Christian worldview is to understand the difference between legislating morality and legislating virtue. Libertarians are in favor of the former, but not the latter because basic morality... [is a] matter of public protection. Where we part ways from our conservative counterparts is that we recognize the fact that any action that harms oneself, when freely undertaken in a sound mental state, is not an action which produces a victim. Virtue is not the same thing as basic morality, it is going above and beyond what is expected of you.I can agree with that - to a point. Where it breaks down is with the idea that it's possible to draw a sharp line between un-virtuous behavior that harms an individual and immoral behavior that harms others. In the Christian worldview, we are all brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Similarly in Buddhism or Taoism (all part of a great big eternal oneness.) Thus, harming oneself (e.g., through addiction), invariably harms another, even if indirectly. There are no entirely private misdeeds without public consequences.
Ronald Reagan managed to meld the two viewpoints reasonably well, though he never resolved some of their inherent philosophical conflicts either. I've taken a few previous shots as well, focusing on this country's founding issue: choice. (I.e., no religious belief can be valid if compelled by the state.) Had the two viewpoints been easily reconcilable, I should think that either a) the Bible would have taken the side of capitalism more explicitly (instead, as Thomsen points out, it stays largely agnostic on that point), or b) Ayn Rand would have embraced religion. (Instead, she did precisely the opposite.) Still, it's a windmill that begs for Quixote-esque tilting.
at 10:55 AM
Credit the Anchoress, (who credits someone else) for this fun little diversion. Blogging readers should cut and paste the template for their own post:
A is for Age - 41
B is for Booze – White wine (any)
C is for Career – Corporate strategy consultant and house-dad… for now.
D is for Dad’s name – ‘B’ is for the first letter of dad’s name.
E is for Essential items to bring to a party – Genuine affection for the host(ess); sufficient energy to liven things up.
F is for Favorite song at the moment – ‘Bring Me To Life’ (by Evanescence)
G is for Goof off thing to do – Watch the History Channel
H is for Hometown – Homogeneous upper-middle-class historically significant Boston suburb
I is for Instrument you play – Saxophone (gave it up long before Bill made it hip)
J is for Jam or Jelly you like – Peanut butter (less carbs)
K is for Kids – Two daughters (one teen; one almost)
L is for Living arrangement – Two-family house; walls knocked down to be all ours
M is for Mom’s name – Yes, hers begins with an ‘M’.
N is for Names of best friends – (In alpha order): Hal, Luc, Joe, Ray, Wayne...
O is for overnight hospital stays – Two (at age nine - several days each)
P is for Phobias – 'Hyelophobia' (glass - broken); 'Hemophobia' (blood – to the extent that it results from same)
Q is for Quote you like – “Beyond the very extremity of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own, sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.” (William James)
R is for Relationship that lasted longest – Wife (since we met, 19 years ago)
S is for Siblings - One brother
T is for Texas, ever been? – many times: on business; for airline connections; to run a 50 mile trail race
U is for Unique trait – Flat feet; otherwise, better ask my friends…
V if for Vegetable you love – Peas
W is for Worst trait - Procrastination
X - is for XRays you’ve had – Knees; teeth; abdomen; left hand; ankles
Y is for Yummy food you make - Lasagna (mom's recipe)
Z is for Zodiac sign - Libra
at 8:59 AM
30 May, 2005
My brother is still in the hospital with little change. That's good - for now. Three events in the past 24 hours however have reminded me to revel in what we have, not what we lack.
First is a sage reference by blogger friend John Ballard (aka, Hootsbuddy), to this post by The Cheerful Oncologist (aka, Dr. Craig Hildreth.) The comments are especially powerful, coming as they do from several cancer patients who ought by rights to be wallowing in self-pity and abject fear. That they choose to be psychologically, emotionally and spiritually at precisely the opposite pole is deeply inspirational.
Second was an encounter yesterday with a good friend from church who has jokingly started calling himself 'Job'. He lost his young and vibrant wife and their two unborn twins very suddenly last December. Shortly thereafter, his mother-in-law had to undergo massive surgery. A few weeks after that his mother was nearly paralyzed (and will be permanently disabled) by a freak spinal virus. He is left to raise two small children on his own. And yet, he goes on and finds time to pray for my brother and me. That is a faith community. That is the kind of strength that can only come from God. That is light and love and hope.
Third was an incident at the hospital this morning. My brother had started to flush and itch from an allergic reaction to blood products he was receiving. Apparently this happens from time to time, but we were obviously alarmed and alerted the nurses right away. Their hurry made us understand that it was indeed important. They got it under control quickly - an unpleasant but never life-threatening couple of hours. What we did not know until later was that another leukemia patient two doors down had 'coded' during our mini-crisis. Coded, as in heart stopped beating. They had revived her and removed her to the ICU. I don't know her prognosis. What stunned me when I walked out of my brother's room was to see her empty room (rhymes with 'tomb' - my inner voice reflexively chimed in 'where have they taken her?') In the hall, a relative stood weeping, talking to a nurse. It took everything I had not to rush over and hug her. Instead, I gave the best "I'm soooo sorry" look I could, not invading her private grief.
Whatever cross we may carry, it is sure that another's is heavier.
at 2:47 PM
It's hard not to feel more than a little schadenfreude, (or more appropriately, sang froid bordering on joie) regarding French President, Jacques Chirac and his loss on yesterday's referendum vote to approve the first EU constitution.
French voters rejected the European Union's first constitution Sunday, a stinging repudiation of President Jacques Chirac's leadership and the ambitious, decades-long effort to further unite the continent... Chirac had waged an all-out campaign to persuade nearly 42 million sharply divided voters to approve the charter.What's equally stunning however, is Chirac's haughty anti-democratic arrogance in response - reminiscent of Canada's Paul Martin, not to mention another political figure of French ancestry who still has sour grapes over his stinging loss last November. Chirac:
"It is your sovereign decision, and I take note. Make no mistake, France's decision inevitably creates a difficult context for the defense of our interests in Europe... [I will announce] my decisions concerning the government and its priorities [in coming days.]"So which is it? The voters' decision, or his? The will of the people, or a terrible error by millions of dunder-headed idiots who can't possibly know what is best for them? Louis XIV would be proud. John Kerry can surely empathize.
at 2:26 PM
In light of headlines when I was in Toronto earlier this month, (and not having read as widely as usual these past few weeks), I'm somewhat stunned to find Canada's Liberal government still standing. The moral compromises and brushing-under-the-rug of serious scandal that that entails will only spread dry rot further through the system - and cynicism through the population. [Down here, the experience of Mssrs. Nixon and Clinton attests to how tactical victory for oneself often turns into reputational defeat and a long journey into the political wilderness for one's party and ideals.]
I especially liked this take on the situation up north by Robert Fulford, a "leading [Canadian] literary journalist and columnist":
During recent decades our politicians have told us a sweet bedtime story about Canada being an exceptionally compassionate country, a world leader in multiculturalism and wonderfully generous to the poor countries. All of this expresses something called 'Canadian values.' All lies.Politics is about stories and pictures. Smart politicians know that whomever controls the meta-story and the meta-image of a nation and a party has a build-in advangate in everything tactical. Thus it's understandable that Canadian Liberals would seek above all else to preserve their 'story' in contravention to any messy facts on the ground. But why would Conservative MPs, as well as the larger Canadian population go along so easily?
Directly pointing out that the emperor has no clothes (as Fulford and others have done) can have surprisingly little effect when the prevailing story - however fictitious - reflects positively on the listener (aka, citizen.) The same works in reverse. That's part of the reason why Reagan (and to some extent President Bush) won easily. They painted a positive vision of the future while their rivals heaped scorn, derision and gloom on the very voters they sought to court.
The Canadian situation may also be partly if perversely explained by a 'conservative' preference (hardly worthy of the name) among Canadians that's better characterized as 'don't rock the boat' - even if, or rather especially if it's stalled and sinking. This post is already overloaded with metaphor, but if I'm allowed one more, the impulse is like a deer in the headlights - resisting change precisely when change is most clearly called for.
Nobody wants to feel bad about himself. To listen to the critic in such an extreme case is to accept blame for oneself and take responsibility for one's previous blindness. (A similar impulse is at work in the derision poured on John Bolton by the left precisely when his world view is most needed - and the UN's most suspect.) Changing worldviews is hard. It's painful. Better to dismiss the truth-teller than to accept the truth - in this case the apparent truth that Canada's Liberal government and its prime minister, Paul Martin were involved in the deliberate and gross misuse of public funds.
In a similar vein, I have yet to discover an instance in which anyone identifying him/her self as of or on the left could hear the phrase 'compassionate conservative' as anything other than an oxymoron. As Thomas Sowell has observed, the liberal worldview is philosophically not set up to allow any goodwill to be granted to the other side. In an honest belief that they hold a monopoly on correct (and compassionate) thinking, liberals - in the U.S. and in Canada - work desperately to preserve the myth that compassion must be funneled through government to be legitimate. Conservatism must remain in the public mind as the epitome of callousness and greed if the larger liberal story is to work. When it is shown to be otherwise, they lose control - and power.
at 2:03 PM
29 May, 2005
When my brother first got ill in March, his hospital room felt warm and inviting - especially after walking through the chill and snow. Now that everything is green, the sun is bright and the days are warm, the same room feels claustrophobic - sterile and unchanging. From a clinical standpoint, that is as it should be. It doesn't make it any easier. Humans were made to walk free and interact with their messy natural environment - part of the reason I love trail running. (God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.) To be precluded from doing so starves us of something intangible but essential. I've felt the same on some trips to New York City, though this is worse.
His room looks out on some vents and a concrete roof. There's no natural anything in sight except a few pigeons now and then. No flowers or plants are allowed in his room - too much potential for microbes. To leave his room (even to go into the hallway), he must don a mask and latex gloves. That in itself would make me paranoid and a little OCD. I've visited him the past few days and he's starting to get a little nuts staring at the same four walls. Given the constraints he must observe it's like prison but with nicer guards - not that I'd know. :)
Depending on the timing of his medications, he's tethered to an IV pole and finds it cumbersome to walk with that for long. The lack of e-mail bugs him, though I can't get him excited about getting say, a Blackberry or a wireless card for his laptop. The lack of easy, natural face-to-face interaction with the world also bugs him. His TV has the kludgiest remote control you've ever seen. He's not very interested in it anyway. Reading is difficult to sustain for long.
He's bored and sleeping a lot - numb and agnostic to things that used to excite him. It's hard to get him to smile. When he does, I wonder how much of it may be an act for our benefit. His hands shake and that bothers him. It bothers me. He reminds me of my grandfather - a fine and loving man, but one with almost 60 more years of life under his belt. My brother (understandably) wants it all to go away and be the same as it ever was. However this turns out though, he knows - and we know - it won't be. Oh sure, he may go home and go back to work and everything will look the same. But it won't be. It can't be. He'll be a cancer survivor. If he gets that far. If he makes it to and through the bone marrow transplant he's got a full year during which he won't be allowed to be in a public setting. That weighs heavy on him.
We all try our best to cheer him up and distract him, but there's only so much an outsider can do. More than anything - yes, even more than assured recovery - I want him to have peace of mind: to know that eternal life through Christ is right there for the asking. I know there's only so much that I can influence on that front. There's nothing I can control. He has to choose to cling to life. Whether that's this one and his transformation in it, or the promise of the next isn't as important as that he cling to something. He listens and nods when I bring up scripture, but I can't tell what he's thinking. I can empathize to some degree, but I'm not in his body. I'm not trapped in that hospital room. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm not facing early death - at least not that I know of... not that I'd know.
We're in a period of waiting as his body slowly revives from the vicious chemo assault they had to put him through. Waiting is nerve-wracking, even as everything appears calm on the surface. Any news is bad news. An accumulation of no news is the only good news - and that assures only a ticket to even more arduous, painful and protracted treatment. The docs drop by, say everything is tracking, and leave. There's no drama as was true two weeks ago. That's a good thing, but it also means there's little to think about unless one is deliberate about it. I can understand why he might feel depressed.
at 9:21 PM
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
at 9:47 AM
28 May, 2005
I particularly like this characterization of Amnesty International's latest 'report' on Gitmo that report flushed what was left of their credibility as a voice for innocents wrongly detained.
Amnesty's secretary-general, Irene Khan, sought to characterise the American military's Guantanamo Bay prison camp as "the gulag of our times". This lurid hyperbole does Khan no credit. It is inexcusable for an organisation founded on the principle of protecting the innocent against the predations of grisly mass murderers such as Stalin to demean the historical record for the sake of a cheap shot. Is she seriously suggesting the treatment of 540 detainees at Guantanamo is to be mentioned in the same breath as the 30 million-plus deaths in Soviet forced labour camps? If that's the level of intellectual dishonesty, why not go the extra distance and throw in Auschwitz as well? It is another example of the sad loss of perspective among some global opinion leaders opposed to US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.It's no longer ironic, but rather predictable that what comes out of elitist, radical left organizations like Amnesty is hyperbolically anti-American to the point of incoherence. That's sad, given Amnesty's good work over the years in highlighting true oppression and torture. One has to marvel at how closely aligned such views are with - for example - this pro-Saddam site, or the latest rhetoric from North Korea. Sort of like Bill Clinton endorsing the Iranian mullahs.
UPDATE: Some in the media think it undecorous when high officials speak plainly. But as an antidote to UN-speak - where wrong is always somewhat right, and right is always somewhat wrong and the moral compass spins wildly depending on the last New York dinner party - I rather like it. President Bush, speaking of the Amnesty International report that compared Guantanamo to a Soviet gulag said it was written by: "people who hate America. It's absurd. It's an absurd allegation."
at 9:16 AM
26 May, 2005
The Anchoress tipped me off to this very long, but amazing philosophical/spiritual thought piece she posted yesterday on suffering and its relation to God's purpose. Sadly, she knows what she's talking about, having stood by her own brother as he slipped away from cancer last Fall.
This post of hers from March struck me dumb when I first read it - before my brother relapsed. I cannot even read it now, having learned recently that there's a fine line between needing to cry in a difficult situation and wallowing in the pain and making it worse. It's the difference between burning oneself accidentally and holding one's hand deliberately over a flame.
I haven't been able to do much blog-reading recently, so Anchoress' tip is itself an answer to my prayer for help in understanding my brother's illness, and gaining strength and wisdom through it. There's a ton there. The entire thing is must reading. It has certainly given me perspective. One small excerpt:
...some contemplatives... have taught that some (or much) suffering is derived from our own inability (or unwillingness) to simply "allow" the world (or, the Holy Spirit in her manifest workings) to unfold around us without reacting, too quickly, too harshly, and TOO FEARFULLY. It is REACTING, rather than RESPONDING.These same East-West contemplative 'what is reality?' threads and efforts at finding God inside also get picked up in the Gnostic Gospels, as well as modern quasi-heretical but hard-to-ignore works like 'A Course in Miracles' and its more popularly recognized treatment by Marianne Williamson: 'A Return to Love'.
The fear, of course, feeds the reacting, causing us to make further and further missteps, each one of which takes us farther and farther away from our Creator, our Source, and the One who came to draw us near, to bring us closer, once again. The One who said, "Be not afraid. I go before you," whom we call "The Savior."
This is, actually, the common truth that I find between Buddhism and contemplative Christianity (Contemplation is an element of Christianity too little explored, I think, in the main) that in both cases, the Christian and the Buddhist are trying to move beyond simple, often destructive REACTION into a more accepting, constructive, “move with the flow” RESPONSE…until they grow to the point where even RESPONSE is trained down, less caught up in wondering, and more at home in wonder...
if the suffering cannot be more than we can bear, then both corporeal and spiritual help is on the way, if we are willing to seek and recognise it. Some of that recognition will be of a deeper and less tangible, ultimately deeply personal and internalized sort. But before anything else happens, we need to raise our heads and look around. He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head. (Psalm 110:7)...
We are helped on the way, as Christ was helped, but ultimately, our crosses are ours to embrace, not for punishment. But, perhaps, for wisdom, and for strengthening and, for the sustaining humility our suffering brings, the humility to understand that we cannot make it alone and must cry out, “Abba, Father.”
Random thought #1: We've gotten very good at avoiding overt suffering in modern, Western society. Much of it goes underground as a result - harder to rout, just like the retreat of my brother's leukemia into his central nervous system to hide from the chemo.
Random thought #2: God may not be blogging directly Himself, but it's interactions like these with virtual strangers like The Anchoress, as well as inspiring comments on other posts (thank you, readers) that make me certain He is using every piece of modern technology to fulfill His purposes.
Random thought #3: If God were blogging directly Himself, would we recognize Him? Would we have the sense (and the courage) to link to Him? How would He deal with comment spam? (This is how my tired mind is working recently... taking amusement where I can find it.)
UPDATE: Picking up on the rich comment thread on the Anchoress' post, including a discussion of 1st Corinthians 10:13, it's worth noting this from David O. Dykes, in his book "Handling Life's Disappointments" (out of print):
Don’t confuse the promise in I Corinthians 10:13 with the reality of trials and tribulations which Christians face. There is always a measure of temptation attached to every trial, but the trial itself is not temptation. Our adversary [i.e., Satan] uses trials to make us bitter and grumble. God uses trials to make us better and grow. We can face difficulties and disappointments without resorting to unbelief and sin.
at 12:47 PM
I made an 18-hour roundtrip to New York City yesterday on business. It was exhausting, but more physically and mentally than anything else - quite different from recent emotional depletion around my brother and his leukemia.
Not knowing the politics of my traveling companion, I didn't listen to radio news and thus feel a little out of touch. A few quick thoughts on the Republicans' too-easy capitulation, I mean compromise. It violates my sense of principle. Republicans could have won this one, with scorched earth if necessary. The way Democrats are already spinning it is painful to watch. I'm skeptical that conservatives will get anything other than media trimphalism out of a gesture of pragmatism, goodwill and restraint.
That last point is particuarly important. It may be a useful long-term concession if it can be pitched as the ultimate in conservative principle: neither caving to ridiculous and unprecedented fillibusters nor 'nuking' Senate tradition. It will also be advantageous to see conservative female and minority judges being elevated. That is the Democrats worst fear and strategic weakness. Now it can be realized.
Sweet dreams, Teddy K. :)
UPDATE: Rightside Blogger has a good long fisking of the compromise.
at 11:06 AM
24 May, 2005
Rarely have I felt this overwhelmed. I've been spending time with my brother this week in the hospital while he's been on intensive chemo, helping take care of various administrivial tasks surrounding his illness, quizzing docs and working to keep remote family and friends informed of how he is doing. It's the right thing to do - crowding out just about everything else. However things turn out, I'm glad for the time with him. We've had some sublime moments that defy words.
Until today though, I didn't quite appreciate how much of a toll it is taking. I find myself in tears at anything remotely emotional, while at the same time finding deep spiritual meaning in a string of miraculous coincidences and signs that continue to crop up (more on those in another post.) The rest of the world just doesn't seem to matter. I know this isn't much of a post to read, so I'll stop. Business trip to NYC tomorrow. Some semblance of regular blogging by the weekend.
at 9:44 PM
22 May, 2005
21 May, 2005
I spent much of the afternoon yesterday hanging out with my brother. I say 'hanging out' rather than 'visiting' or 'tending to' or 'comforting' or 'sitting vigil', because that's closer to what it was. Ordinarily, 'hanging out' on a Friday with my brother would involve a bike ride, some beers and maybe a steak on the grill. But we made do.
Yes, he has leukemia. Yes, he is confined to a single hospital wing because he lacks a functioning immune system. Yes, he has toxic multi-colored chemicals better suited to a long forgotten New Jersey Superfund site titrating into his veins. Yes he is tired and weak. Yes, his prognosis seems grim. But let those things fade into the background and he's just... my brother... for now. And now is all that really matters.
Our pastor recently told us of his sabbatical trip to what he described as a "thin place" - a remote Scottish abbey where silence and remoteness allowed him to feel God's presence close at hand. Yesterday's time with my brother was about as far as one could get from a windswept rocky moor in the North Atlantic, but it felt 'thin' nonetheless. We sat. We talked. He read what I'd written here. I read some scripture back to him. We talked a little about cancer, the future and his treatment but we didn't ever dwell on it. He was calm. Sometimes we sat in silence. God was there. We both knew it. I thank Him for this time.
In case there was any doubt however, I was reminded that God looks out for the little things when I found an open parking space on the street with a broken meter, just around the corner from the expensive hospital garage. For those readers living outside a major urban area, this may seem like no big deal. Here in Boston however, it qualifies as a minor miracle.
at 9:34 AM
The Anchoress posts this extended, insightful piece on vows: of marriage, of the priesthood, of celibacy... and of Jedi Knights. Yes, you read that right.
My wife is off watching a morning showing of the new Star Wars film. She's a huge fan. I've always been lukewarm. The first one was brilliant allegory with compelling characters. The others (especially the more recent ones) have made my skin crawl with their too-obvious liberal agendas. One of Anchoress' theses is that with this latest, George Lucas may have unwittingly been the vehicle for a conservative message about the fate of the Catholic Church - an example writ large of God's purpose sometimes being accomplished through the opposite intentions of his children. Go read the piece. I can't possibly do it justice here.
Beyond what she has to say about Star Wars however, I was intrigued by some of her thoughts about homosexuality. It's a topic I've alternately gravitated to and steered away from - especially the marriage angle. I'll admit to being deeply conflicted. Some of our very best friends are gay. I'm convinced they never had any choice in the matter. Between them, I can't discern a common 'lifestyle'. They are as diverse in their beliefs and daily lives as the rest of us.
My family and I attend (in fact, initially looked for) an "open and affirming" church that has helped draw some amazing people (both gay and straight) back to God. Some of what goes on under that umbrella is misguided IMO. Most is not. Living in Massachusetts, I have attended a gay wedding, albeit not without some serious cognitive dissonance - soothed by several stiff martinis and a long chat with a fellow Christian attendee.
I've thought about this a lot - and gone round and round and round in circles. Ultimately, I've decided that - whatever the answer - religious (and secular) people are wasting too much time and energy on it. God will judge where we cannot. Loving one another is the first principle. I know that's easy for me to say.
Without drawing any conclusions, here's what struck me as particularly thoughtful and honest on this topic in The Anchoress' post:
I have to wonder if sexuality, like gender, is no “accident of birth” but a purposeful assignment of the Creator. We are all loved into being, and WHO and WHAT we are is entirely wrapped up in how we are meant to serve the Lord and serve others. The bare truth that nobody ever wants to point out is that gay or straight, vowed or unvowed, ALL unmarried people are called to celibacy. And if that is so, then gays (for whom marriage may make “social” sense to some, but no sense, in more fundamental ways, to others) are not called to marriage. If they are not called to marriage, yet we are ALL called to serve God, then, that is certainly something to think about. I wonder, sometimes, if gays were not created to live their lives as “a necessary other,” meant to offer their lives apart from the rest, in celibacy, because they are meant to serve God in a particular way. If they are meant to do so, and they aren’t even giving that a shot - how will they ever discover it?There's much more, including several links. Go read it.
at 9:13 AM
Innovative cartoon blogger Jose Martinez points us to this review in the NYT of a book ("Rogue Regime") by Jasper Becker. I have not yet read the book, but it sounds like it covers ground already well established by others, such as Brad Martin ("In the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader"), which I've mentioned here, here and here. It sounds like Mr. Becker takes a more conservative line on what the U.S. should do and what's at stake. Quoting from the book, the review notes:
North Korea can best be compared to a large concentration camp in which the guards and their Gestapo officers are able to live as before but the inmates are slowly being worked to death.I knew in general that NoKo enforced a class structure based on family history and loyalty, but I did not know that it was this rigid or complex:
In a country with a population of about 22 million, the security ministries employ 300,000 full-time officers who enforce discipline on a citizenry grouped, by loyalty, into three classes (core, wavering and hostile) and about 50 subclasses. Food rations, housing and other privileges are doled out according to class rank.That's just the Orwellian-sounding security ministry. It leaves aside a million-plus man military machine, (that's sometimes applied internally), as well as ordinary local police tasked with restraining crime. We're talking about a domestic spy agency roughly three times more concentrated than the New York City police department, (which uses 40,000 officers to protect eight million people.) And liberals complain about alleged civil rights losses at home. Give me a break. The review continues:
In his later chapters, Mr. Becker goes over the recent history of diplomatic initiatives, and finds a common theme. Again and again, North Korea has encouraged overtures by hostile powers, either by implying that it might behave less aggressively and liberalize its economy, or by playing the military card, as it is doing now. After securing loans, food or industrial investment, it has pocketed its gains and reneged on its agreements.When will we learn? The administration may be taking heat from humanitarian groups for even considering cutting off food aid, but given such a depraved history in NoKo, why shouldn't they? Oil-for-Food had a nice ring to it as well - until the details came to light. It's really too bad that it didn't accomplish what was intended. Nobody is for the starvation of innocents. But if the result is merely feeling good while enriching a tyrant, what use is that?
The review touches the issue of South Korean culpability in the North's depravity:
Mr. Becker has nothing but contempt for the so-called Sunshine Policy pursued by Kim Dae Jung of South Korea, which urged a nonaggressive, open-handed approach to North Korea, holding out the carrot of investment that would lead to the creation of export-oriented industries, which in turn would bring about deeper social and political change. One of the more bizarre results of this policy was the auto factory built in Nampo by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. North Korea simply took delivery of the first 7,000 cars and never paid for them. The factory closed soon after.The review concludes:
Mr. Becker also argues for giving up on the United Nations as a means of bringing North Korea back within the international fold, and instead creating, along lines proposed by Tony Blair, "a new framework in international law" to deal with rogue states and "a method to enforce these laws through the legitimate use of military force."Sounds like my kinda guy. I'm going to go find the book.
at 8:47 AM
20 May, 2005
As the (mostly bad) news of my brother's condition has emerged over the last few days, I've allowed part of myself to observe what it has done, and is doing, to those around him - including me. Most miraculous have been a series of openings with people - some relatives, some not - with whom I had let loving relationships atrophy, corrode or shatter. More on that in a moment.
The un-salvable pain that surrounds a trial like this seems to give license. The irritability of sleep deprivation, not wanting to eat, and the stark fear of immeasurable loss (staring into the proverbial pit), all push me to impatience - to telling people off. I want to understand and control and then retreat into myself. Yet an amazing counter-balancing feeling has made itself known - more than compensating for those baser impulses. Call it the Holy Spirit... because it is.
As I've become overwhelmed, the need to surrender this problem to God has become obvious. I am doing what I can. Laying aside the hope I cherish for miraculous healing for my brother, I'm under no illusion that my puny efforts will make a lot of difference physically. Confronting that enormity and giving it up to God has emboldened me to take risks.
In just a few days, I have found myself - often through tears - able to say things and reach out to people on issues that I've kicked down the street for months or years. Where social constraint, the pressures of daily life, or just plain laziness kept me meek and mute, they are now steamrollered by the pilot light of God's grace turned on 'high'. [Cue sound of 'whoomp' and smell of hair singing as spiritual gas grill is turned on.]
Call it a kind of spiritual "WTF?" (For our family viewers, that would be boldness: "Why not? What have I got to lose?") Why not testify openly to my faith in everlasting life through the gift of Christ's suffering for our sin? Why not share the miracles and signs in my peripheral vision of which I would ordinarily not speak? This is no ordinary time. Not for us in this household. Maybe not for the world... (more on that in another post.)
Ordinarily, I would censor myself for fear that what I might say about these 'minor miracles' would be dismissed - censured by silence, as others' assessments of my rationality diminished. They may diminish anyway. It is not impressions of my earthly rationality that I care about much right now. In four decades on this planet, I've either established them or I haven't. I know which judge I care about.
What got me going on this post was something that happened this morning. I had just come downstairs and, as is my custom, turned on my computer. Ordinarily, I would jump right to e-mail. Ordinarily, the world would rush in. Today, I was washed out - broken and derailed, out of energy and control. I could not face the world just yet. I closed my eyes and prayed through tears. I couldn't do anything else.
Aside from the obvious, (i.e., make those stinking leukemia blast cells go away right now!!), one of those prayers was for healing of a broken relationship with a particular family member outside of my brother's immediate circle. After a series of misunderstandings, I have barely spoken, (and definitely not e-mailed) with this person in months. Other details aren't important.
Literally as I opened my eyes, an e-mail 'pinged' in. It was the most loving and supportive message you could imagine - from that family member. I get goosebumps just retelling it.
God's active involvement in our lives, (when we invite Him in) is sometimes just so incredibly bloodly obvious that it absolutely bolls me over. Just when we most need Him most, He is there - if we look. I pray that those reading this can see and feel and know the truth of that constant, boundless, loving presence.
Thanks to all for your prayers and comments. I have already read several to my brother over the phone. They mean a lot. He is both stunned and amused that a pseudonymous little project like this blog would be the source of such messages of hope: light streaming in from complete strangers... who aren't really strangers at all in the incredible body of Christ.
SIDE NOTE: I found this RealAudio sermon by Charles Stanley (on his radio program this morning) to be incredibly germane to the situation we're facing - deeply inspirational in both its logic and its passion. In this case, that's not a contradiction.
at 12:28 PM
19 May, 2005
Well, it didn't take long for my ranting right-wing world view (and yes, I wear that label proudly) to intersect with my brother's situation. I've generally shrugged off the liberal worldview (pervasive around here) that sees socialized medicine (Canada, Europe) as a panacea. But this editorial, in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required), outlines the true cost of over-regulation:
...a recent vote of the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) [recommended] against approving Johnson & Johnson's leukemia drug Zarnestra. The drug may not be a miracle cure -- 15% of study patients achieved complete remission. But 15% is nothing to sneeze at either... The next thing to watch for is the fate of AstraZeneca's lung-cancer drug Iressa, which Dr. Pazdur [newly appointed head of the FDA's oncology drugs division] is signaling he may actually pull from the market as one of those "low efficacy" drugs. True, Iressa helps only about 10% of patients. But those who respond to it respond massively. "I've had patients who have gone from being on oxygen to skiing at altitude," says one doctor of the drug. Genetic tests are being developed to better predict who will respond to Iressa. Yet Dr. Pazdur seems to regard the FDA's Iressa approval in 2003 as an instance of the drug industry getting away with one. Incredible. One way Congress could fight back would be with a law ending the moral travesty of placebo-controlled drug trials for terminal diseases... justified as a way to prove efficacy beyond any doubt, regardless of how many people may die in the interim... As for the White House, its failure to offer adult supervision of the FDA -- an executive branch agency that regulates one-quarter of the economy -- is increasingly notable and unfortunate... Who would have thought that, five years into a Republican Administration, the FDA would be staffed by people who regard industry as an adversary, not a partner, in the anti-cancer fight.It's easy to say "let's give everyone the kind of care my brother is getting" (top notch), without stopping to think that that level of care - the miracle pharmaceuticals and advanced regimens - would simply not exist without the incentives to take risks inherent in a free market system. Canada and Europe can enjoy those fruits in large part due to our system being different here. Do we make the world more just by cutting off the fortunate? Or does civilization advance overall (albeit with inequalities along the way), by accelerating the pace of innovation?
The more I look at this quandry (i.e., healthcare), the more I'm confirmed in my (Ayn) Randian view that the state can redistribute wealth and innovation, but doing so will squelch its creation. Immutable law. Unavoidable. Too much meddling and progress will slow, then stop. (Don't liberals like to call themselves 'progressives'?) The wealthiest folks may be taken down a peg, but that's of little satisfaction if everyone else is too as a result of time stopping in its tracks, as it did in Russia or Cuba or North Korea. Like cancer itself, the damage may not be apparent right away. Eventually it is.
How do I reconcile that with my faith in Jesus Christ and God's ultimate justice through him? Like this. Or this. The state cannot fix the world. We cannot fix the world. God must fix our souls. He works bottom-up through our listening to the Holy Spirit and attempting (always imperfectly) to do God's will as best we can. As a system, the state (politicians and bureaucrats) work top-down through worldly power that eventually corrupts - sometimes acutely, sometimes corrosively. Recognition of God's will is being actively pushed out.
Don't get me wrong. Pharmaceutical companies aren't being nominated for sainthood here. They do what they do - take risks, make mistakes, and try to make money for their shareholders while obeying the law. But demonizing and marginalizing their contributions isn't productive. It's political. It's not going to help patients like my brother.
at 9:29 AM
I don't know how to begin this post. I have no clever tie-in to the usual political subjects I rant about. I hesitate to even share this, as readers have come to expect something entirely different here. But not writing about it is impossible. I'm consumed by what I've heard in the last 48 hours. As one of my best friends often says: "just write". And so I will...
My brother's leukemia is being described by his doctors as "aggressive" and "extremely unusual". Their solemn demeanors tell the tale even better than their honest words. They give him a 25% chance of making it. From the sounds of things, that may mean making it to Labor Day. Then again, as a friend notes: "Yeah, so? And a 50-to-one shot won the Kentucky Derby." Duly noted - with a smile.
I've written several pages of medical details for family and spent hours relating those by phone. That's kept me busy and distracted. I'm ashamed to admit that I've done some surfing off of other peoples' shock. It's easy and seductive. It allows one to feel - for a few brief moments - that one has digested the news, surrounding and dominating it by being its bearer - a kind of emotional crack-high that provides a sense of control but doesn't erase the pain.
I spent time with my brother yesterday, attempting to lighten the mood and inject God into an otherwise grim conversations with the doctors and my sister-in-law. They (including his main doc) are on that page. But it's hard to fully trust God's will when you're cast in the role of Job - or his wife, or his doctor, or his brother. [Side note: I was leafing through the Bible in my brother's room yesterday and it fell open to Job, chapter one, where an illustration of verses 20-22 caught my eye. For a bald guy dressed in an open-backed hospital johnnie who'd just received bad news and yet was seeking God, it was incredibly on-point.]
I've gotten plenty of little signs and indications over the last few months that let me know God is present, (the Job thing being just the latest.) Some seem to be in my peripheral vision, some metaphorical, some pretty obvious. I know that His will is what matters, and that there is a larger plan. That gives comfort and allows us to go on and face this one day at a time. It slows but doesn't stop the tears. I feel a kind of 'NIMBY' syndrome: Not In My Back Yard, God. Please. No Invading My Brother's Years. Not now. Not him. I know this bargaining is my attempt to replace my will with God's. I have to trust that he has a plan. Whatever happens will glorify Him if we let it.
Lots to do today. Prayers appreciated.
at 7:20 AM
17 May, 2005
I hadn't built up a head of steam today on anything political before larger things intervened:
8:45AM - Sister-in-law calls on the cell phone. The latest tests indicate that my only brother is probably not in remission from leukemia after all. From the back seat, their perceptive young daughter (my niece) asks difficult questions that I try to field as best I can while driving her to preschool. "Daddy's doctors will know what to do." "Let's say a little prayer so that God will be with Daddy today." I'm working hard to maintain my composure.
9:00AM - Having dropped off my niece, I break the bad news to our parents. This is the second such phone call I've had to make from a car in the last two months. Not trusting my own emotional state, I pull over to the curb.
9:30AM - Solo walk around Walden Pond, mixed with prayer, looking out over the water. It's a deeply serene place on a weekday morning - highly conducive to reconnecting with the Almighty. How easy it is to gradually wander from the proverbial path... until something like this happens.
10:30AM - Flipping the radio dial, I find Dr. Charles Stanley's Christian radio show. He's good - older, wiser and more nuanced than many media preachers. He's preaching on a topic (career discernment and God's plan versus our goals), that I've been discussing with a non-Christian friend - perfectly timely and useful. (Is it just me, or does God use plausible serendipity and my car radio to find His way through my thick head and hard heart?) Yesterday, after some stressful days with my parents (but before this latest news went down), I started up the car to 'Cat's in the Cradle'. For the record God, I hear you! Now what do you want me to do?
Please pray for my brother, our family and for wisdom from his doctors as we await further test results and guidance on what treatments may be next.
at 4:23 PM
Andrew Sullivan notes this story of a 25-year BBC veteran (Robin Aitken), and his insider book about systematic left-wing bias. His conclusions about its origin are identical to those of 'Bias' author Bernard Goldberg on his time at CBS:
“What we are talking about... is a sort of unconscious, institutionalised Leftism. And when so many people working together share a particular world view, groups who do not share it are bound to be marginalised." [said Aitken]... Aitken believes that the BBC is the most powerful cultural force in the country — and, therefore, that its bias has a profound and sometime malign effect on public life.
at 8:12 AM
Captain Ed gets right to the heart of Newsweek's late retraction yesterday: "Newsweek had a higher standard for retractions than for regular reporting." Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan shows his empathy for the Dan Rather school of fantasy journalism, where something that seems circumstantially plausible is the new standard for running a story: "We know that incidents like this have happened."
UPDATE: Austin Bay has a great post about Al Qaeda's calculated use of the story to instigate planned riots.
at 7:17 AM
16 May, 2005
With Burma's iron-fisted junta blaming last week's massive Rangoon bombings on "a superpower", it might be time to add to that map of Chinese terrorist influence. The BBC seems only too happy to parrot the dictators' line that the money trail leads to Washington. As with any murder investigation however, it's often best to start at home. Today's Wall Street Journal has an excellent editorial on the Burmese situation (subscription required):
...opposition groups have denied any involvement in the bombings, and have pointed the finger back at the generals... Col. Ner Dah Mya, commander of the [opposition's] military wing, told the Associated Press last week: "They want to blame [us] and blame ethnic groups. They want to categorize us as terrorist groups so that the international community will not support us." ...Why would Myanmar's military government, which calls itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), blow up innocent people in crowded supermarkets? It's a good question, especially since the SPDC has gone on a PR blitz of late to convince the West and its Asean neighbors that it is on the road to reform. Indeed, the generals and their flacks have traveled the globe pushing their "Roadmap to Democracy," which has proven little more than a diversionary tactic while the military clamps down on the NLD and continues its assault on ethnic minorities. The fact is, the junta -- like any military regime not subject to civilian checks and balances -- is riven by factional infighting.
at 12:02 PM
Pamela over at Atlas Shrugs sinks her teeth into Newsweek's insidious PR work for our enemies with this righteous rant and excellent graphic about China, and its connections to various terrorist havens and Communist holdouts. (Why the Clintons' residence in Chappaqua, NY isn't included on the map is beyond me.)
Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin covers the original Newsweek Koran-flushing 'story', including updates this morning here and here. I just love her phrase: "Newsweek Lied. People Died." The blogosphere smells blood in the water... For flood-the-zone coverage on this one, I'm also liking Don Singleton. His original post is here, on which I commented:
"Try running the exercise in reverse to see the double standard: How many fatal mass riots in Western capitals would be sparked by a report on Al Jazeera that Saudi radicals had desecrated a Christian Bible?"To which Don replied:
"The number is zero. Some bloggers might complain about it, but that is all. Christians face severe restraints just practicing their faith in Saudia Arabia, and while we pray for them, we don't riot about it."Bingo.
Anger at Newsweek is proper and overdue, but it's a story that will pass. What interests me more is the fact that in one direction and one direction only, the alleged desecration of a holy book is cause for mindless riot and murder. The left can bray all they want about 'theocracy' and 'empire' and 'Bush is evil', and go on and on about skinheads and abortion clinic bombers and David Koresh and Timothy McVeigh and Ruby Ridge. But when radical Islam and 'radical' Christianity are held up side by side on a wide-scale, grassroots occurrence like this, it sets certain religious and cultural values into sharp relief, e.g., the value of life itself. We will know them by the fruit they bear.
UPDATE: USS Neverdock notes: "Where was Newsweek and the rest of main stream media when The Palestinian gunmen holed up in the Church of the Nativity tore up Bibles for toilet paper?"
at 11:21 AM
A thousand points! to John Ballard (aka Hootsbuddy) for correctly answering our Sunday quiz. He Googled (see comments) to the late New York Democratic Senator and UN Ambassador, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, writing in the March, 1975 issue of Commentary Magazine. References here and here (paid archive), as well as in Friday's Wall Street Journal, where I originally read the quote (free excerpt here.) Zell Miller would be proud. As would John Kennedy. Too bad my own two Baystate senators can't see how far they've drifted from the sanity and responsibility to lead the republic and protect its interests. That is why Democrats, (outside of this little blue corner of the country) are losing these days.
at 7:25 AM
15 May, 2005
14 May, 2005
This picture (featured by Michelle Malkin) has to be seen to be believed:
Mohammad Hossein, 4, plays with his toy gun, in front of his mother, who is a member of a suicide commandos unit, during a meeting where more than 200 young men and women volunteers prepared themselves for special training to carry out suicide bomb attacks against Americans in Iraq and Israelis, at the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, just outside Tehran, Iran, Thursday, May 12, 2005...Think about that for a second... a mother whose way of caring for her son is to blow herself up while killing innocent civilians... a culture and a country that supports a public gathering of 200 people willing to do the same. This is not some relativistic cultural misunderstanding. This is not the type of person we can reason with or deter. This is pure evil. (Refrain: they hate us because of who we are, not what we do.)
at 1:15 PM
I was tipped off to this agenda-ridden tripe by a British ex-pat friend a few months ago and watched a bit of it on-line at the time. Now it's being plugged more widely by the BBC just after Blair's victory and the President's European tour - as if the timing were purely coincidental.
"In a new series, the Power of Nightmares explores how the idea that we are threatened by a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion."Why is it that the left is so enamored of the one tiny little slice of George Orwell's work (completely out of context), that proposes that totalitarian governments can use wars to distract their populations? Why is it that Holocaust deniers are reviled, (as they should be) and yet this is passed off as serious upscale fare for the thinking person? Why is the hyper-liberal BBC so eager to add legitimacy to what were once seen as fringe crackpot websites like this?
I can think of only one response:
at 7:33 AM
This is just sick:
A biology class lesson in Gunnison, Utah involving the dissection of a live dog has outraged some parents and students... [Substitute Biology teacher Doug] Bjerregaard made arrangements for his students to be a part of a dissection of a dog that was still alive... With the students watching, the sedated dog's digestive system was removed... The school's principal, Kirk Anderson, said notifications went to parents explaining the dog was going to be euthanized... The teacher is standing by his decision and calls it the ultimate educational experience. Principal Anderson said he supports the lesson and it will be allowed to continue because the students are learning.By the school's and the teacher's logic, the highest good to which it can aspire is "learning". That sounds fine and noble, but who is asking what these kids are learning, why they need to learn it, why it justifies this approach. Most importantly, has anyone stopped to think about the consequences - not just for the dog, but for the kids and for the larger society as a result of the broad moral license this provides. Since when did 'learning' become the only standard that mattered?
Something is desperately wrong when the pedagogical vetting process (even in Texas) requires a year or more of careful consideration and the involvement of an entire school board to allow the teaching the Bible as history and literature, and yet (in Utah at least), a substitute Biology teacher can send home a permission slip and start carving up Fido in class a few days later. Society's moral compass isn't just broken and drifting. It's been fixed in one position: directly away from the notion that it's important to instill in our youth the capability for philosophical or moral reasoning. We couldn't do that. It might interfere with learning about... whatever.
Hitler conducted all kinds of 'experiments' with plausible-sounding, quasi-medical goals. The problem was, they were on people. The world condemned them once it knew. Firm line. Easy answer. I wonder if the world would be as quick to do so today. The culture of death is an insidious thing. If a dog scheduled to be euthanized can be dissected for high school students today, why not a heavily sedated terminally ill grandma scheduled to be euthanized (at her own request) for a medical school class tomorrow? They'd certainly learn more. The 'benefits' would be more direct. Aren't those the absolute standards? I wouldn't bet against it happening. In fact, I wouldn't bet against it already having happened - quietly and privately - probably in some place like Holland.
I'm hardly anti-science, having devoted much of my own education and career to it in one form or another. I'm definitely not a vegetarian animal rights freak. But this is just another slip, (or evidence of same) down the long slippery slope of worshipping the world and ourselves alone.
at 6:56 AM
I don't know if this presages larger things, but the re-imposition of quotas on imports of Chinese textiles seems short-sighted and politically motivated. It's out of character for what I thought a Republican White House ought to stand for: free trade and the resulting lower prices for the 'little guy'. Static preservation of jobs that are bound to be lost at some point anyway used a 'thing' of the far-left and far-right. If it had to be political, why not wait to use this as leverage in the North Korean situation?
at 5:48 AM
13 May, 2005
I'm back from four days in Toronto. It's a beautiful, clean city, but with a bit of a planned, sterile feel to it. That's partly due to blocks and blocks of pastel cookie-cutter mid-rise apartment complexes going up all over. It's not as energized as New York, or as interesting as Boston or San Francisco. I like Canada, but despite some great meals, Toronto hasn't yet inspired me.
This was one of those business trips so jam-packed that, even with broadband Internet connectivity right in my hotel room, I lacked the energy and motivation to do anything other than sleeping and working. Causes for political amusement and outrage weren't hard to find though, as in these headlines found hanging from my hotel doorknob in this morning's Globe and Mail: "Gomery Witness Asked for Protection" and "Commons Grinds to a Halt". The editorials and television were utterly saturated.
The gist: Canada's Liberal government hangs in the balance. It will likely fall next week. Most Americans (including my traveling companions), were completely unaware of this. That's unfortunate. If a crisis of this magnitude were going on in California or even Britain, with this much corruption at its core, I suspect it would garner much more coverage. Captain Ed has more here:
Reuters shows the Tories carrying the vote [of no confidence] by two. I suspect that when it comes down to an actual vote which will carry the stigma of supporting a political party that clearly corrupted the electoral and government systems for their own enrichment, the gap will go wider than that.It would be easy to conclude that Canadian politicians had been studying the U.S. Congress, but I suspect this falls more into the categories of 'history echoes' and 'there's nothing new under the sun'. I.e., tainted liberal party under siege seeks every legal loophole to stay in power even after it's become clear that they've lost the hearts and minds of the voting public and are simply dragging their heels. Opposing conservative party sticks to its principles and refuses to compromise. (Sensing victory, why should they?) Liberal media paints Conservatives as unreasonable. Unwilling to compromise. Unwilling to just play nice and shut up. Where have we heard this before?
What's quaint to this American observer is how genuinely upset some media appeared to be at the lack of civility. Sorry. This is politics - the original blood sport. A nation of hockey players should understand that. Coming back to the U.S., our judicial filibuster seems, by contrast, like it's proceeding in ultra slow motion - Republicans being too cautious where they should move in for the kill. They need to use the 'Constitutional option' before our Canadian friends shame us with their speed and efficiency in such matters. Take off the kid gloves. Give judicial nominees an up or down vote. Now.
UPDATE I: 'Angry in the Great White North' has much more here and here and here - among many other excellent, in-depth posts on this subject, plus a postcard header of the Toronto skyline and a tribute photo of Gordon Sinclair.
UPDATE II: A reader comments: "I wouldn't go to Pittsburgh. Why would you go to Toronto?" Ouch. For the record, the only times I've been to either have been on business.
at 10:44 PM
10 May, 2005
This story in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) advances the long-simmering story about brake problems that have shut down service on the Acela high speed trains between Boston, New York and Washington. Having been a regular user of that service, it prompted me to do a little math.
Experts conducting the first major technical analysis of the defects that sidelined Amtrak's high-speed Acela trains are concluding that fatigue caused the trains' brakes to crack. It still isn't clear whether the problem stems from poor design or the failure of Acela manufacturers to meet required specifications for building the brakes... The train makers "should have had spare parts and they didn't," [Amtrak President David] Gunn said in an interview. "Rotors wear out. Everything wears out." William Spurr, the head of Bombardier's rail-equipment division in North America, said the transportation-equipment maker couldn't have anticipated that the brake parts would fail after about 500,000 miles, or half of their expected life span. The train's makers are responsible under their 1996 contract with Amtrak for supplying spare parts, but the contract doesn't specify how many such parts must be available... Acela's problems come amid debate in Washington about whether to continue federal subsidies to Amtrak, which got $1.2 billion in funding for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. The Bush administration has proposed eliminating federal funding unless Amtrak streamlines its operations...~400 passengers per train
20 Acela trains in service
~18 hours running time per day
= ~144,000 rider hours per day
~$25 revenue per passenger per hour
= $3.6M revenue per day
365 days per year
= ~$1.3B revenue per year
From personal observation on perhaps 200 Acela rides between Boston and New York, each step in this reasoning is very generous to Acela and Amtrak. Roughly speaking, alongside federal subsidies of $1.2B per year, that's a 50% ongoing subsidy. Not a start-up subsidy. Ongoing. No end in sight. The benefits to me are great (same with the $10B+ 'Big Dig' here in Boston that cuts my trip to the airport in half), but I can understand why someone in Ohio or Florida or California would see this as the regional pork that it is. With airline fares on these routes roughly double Acela's fare, it's not clear why the subsidy exists in the first place.
One reader - in response to my last post - asked what I thought of federal highway subsidies. Fair question. I haven't done the detailed analysis, but I can't imagine that it ads up to $20-$25 per hour of use, for every user of the resource. Furthermore, federal highway subsidies are largely at the discretion of the states. That gives a bit more accountability (at least in theory) than the lump subsidy Amtrak receives as a monopolistic operator of a service designed by government.
As I wrote last month, the parallels with Ayn Rand's classic, 'Atlas Shrugged' are legion: a "socially conscious" government initiative (whatever that means), a laughably incapable quasi-governmental bureaucracy overseeing it, a technology that just doesn't work, finger-pointing by people who don't seem to understand it and don't believe themselves responsible and hundreds of thousands of lives inconvenienced but with no recourse to a more clued-in competitor. Taxpayers are saddled with a burden that career politicians don't have the will to improve - or simply kill, and its magnitude ("only" a billion dollars) gets consistently overshadowed by even more egregious government spending, (e.g., several orders of magnitude off from the Social Security mess.) The only difference here is that the plug has been pulled (at least temporarily) before people were actually killed in a pile of smoking metal at 120 MPH. Why do I have this feeling that that was by sheer luck?
at 6:38 AM
09 May, 2005
Witchcraft would be a better explanation of what Paul Krugman writes about Social Security in today's New York Times than math, economics or common sense. Donald Luskin does a swift, elegant takedown here. (Not that that's ever very difficult with Krugman's stuff, but someone has to do it.) Luskin characterizes Krugman's column as "a remarkable collection of lies". Indeed. Go Don!
at 3:03 PM
My last rant notwithstanding, I'm going to have to go light on the blogging the next several days as I travel out of the country on business - with Internet connectivity unlikely. I will most assuredly be taking notes for future posts. In the meantime, please dig through the archives, where you'll find plenty of posts that (IMHO) have aged rather well - outliving the headlines that inspired them.
at 11:20 AM
A colleague tipped me off to this editorial at UK-based 'Continuity Central' about threats from global warming. The reason for noting such an otherwise boring professional topic here is the degree of hype it raises in contrast to this chilling article in today's New York Times.
Continuity Central: "Climate change is the biggest threat to our future… Climate change means that extreme weather events will become more frequent and more dangerous… By 2100 we can expect global temperature increases..." climate change may be one of the biggest threats you face. [To which a reader comments:] "Your piece seems to me to underplay the ultimate effects of global warming." [Emphasis added.]This isn't a conceptual debate about global versus local. It is a fundamental misperception of priorities, with consequences that are all too real. Yes, the climate is changing. It has always been changing - sometimes fairly "rapidly", i.e., decades or centures instead of millenia. (As a former student of geology and environmental issues, I can say that with some authority.) In which direction it is changing, by how much, and with what consequences is still very much up for debate despite constant braying by the academic left about 'consensus' and who's at fault, (capitalism! Republicans! corporate greed! insensitivity!)
New York Times: According to federal Environmental Protection Agency records, [a chlorine plant in northern New Jersey] poses a potentially lethal threat to 12 million people who live within a 14-mile radius. Yet on a recent Friday afternoon, it remained loosely guarded and accessible. Dozens of trucks and cars drove by within 100 feet of the tanks. A reporter and photographer drove back and forth for five minutes, snapping photos with a camera the size of a large sidearm, then left without being approached. That chemical plant is just one of dozens of vulnerable sites between Newark Liberty International Airport and Port Elizabeth, which extends two miles to the east. A Congressional study in 2000 by a former Coast Guard commander deemed it the nation's most enticing environment for terrorists, providing a convenient way to cripple the economy by disrupting major portions of the country's rail lines, oil storage tanks and refineries, pipelines, air traffic, communications networks and highway system. Since 9/11, those concerns have only been magnified.
But worries about a theory (and yes, it is still a theory, albeit with fancy computer models to express it), are in a wholly different category from how we deal with an enemy (and yes, Islamofascism is an enemy, albeit a diffuse one) that has already attacked us spectacularly, and has since declared - repeatedly, credibly and specifically - that they are bent on our destruction by any means available. (Refrain: they don't hate us because of what we do, they hate us because of who we are.)
It's sad, bordering on frightening to think that so many great minds across a range of fields are spending so much time and energy thinking and worrying about a gradual change that may or may not emerge in any particular form over 50-100 years at the earliest. Meanwhile, threats that could cripple the United States economy overnight, (and in aggregate hobble liberal democracy more generally) are pooh-poohed by many of the same individuals as right-wing fairytales designed to keep us enthralled to an agenda of fear and corporate interests.
Perhaps history papers over such irrationalities in every generation, but I find it hard to believe that our ancestors circa 1915 would have looked at an article about climate change 90+ years in the future and weighed it more heavily than the threat of Kaiser Wilhelm overrunning Europe. Call them shortsighted, but I can think of virtually nothing about our modern society - much less the science that supports it - that they could have adequately perceived back then. To think that they could have rationally planned for our world is beyond ridiculous.
at 11:16 AM
08 May, 2005
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it... You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
at 8:20 AM
07 May, 2005
Anyone transported from the 1960's to the 2000's in a time machine would be forgiven for wondering why Vermont liberals are arguing for states' rights in a case that the MSM and the ACLU would like to characterize as a Republicans federal rampage:
Jury selection got under way this week in Burlington for the trial of Donald Fell, 24. He is charged with carjacking 53-year-old Teresca King in Vermont in 2000 and beating her to death nearly 200 miles away in New York as she prayed by the side of the road... "It's clear that the state doesn't want it," said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Yet the federal government is coming in and imposing it on us. They are imposing a system of justice we rejected." ...Prosecutors say that before the carjacking, Fell and his alleged accomplice, Robert Lee, also stabbed to death Fell's mother and a friend of hers in Vermont... From the outset, federal prosecutors took charge of the case against Fell and Lee, charging them with carrying out a carjacking that ends in a death. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft rejected a plea bargain that would have spared Fell's life.I'm not a lawyer, but this seems pretty clear-cut: the guy crossed state lines, allegedly in the process of committing a rather horrific kidnapping and murder. Even though I disagree with the penalty, federal jurisdiction was designed precisely for these kinds of cases. Where's the liberal angst when U.S. servicepeople, civilians and contractors are summarily (and horrifically) executed by stateless terrorists without trial in Iraq?
at 10:06 AM
I had a through-the-looking-glass moment reading this: "Democrats Voted Out of Baptist Church" in today's New York Times (off the AP wire):
It does sound pretty sad. To paraphrase one of my favorite pastors here in New England, "the best spiritual leaders are above partisanship, even as what they have to say is often inherently political. Jesus was political - but not partisan." It's a fine line, to be sure.
''If these reports are true, this minister is not only acting extremely inappropriately by injecting partisan politics into a house of worship, but he is also potentially breaking the law." ...A member of [the church], said God doesn't play partisan politics... ''God doesn't care whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. It just hurts to see that going on.''
That said, I don't see the NY Times or the Boston Globe expending much energy ferreting out liberal preachers who rail against the war in Iraq, global warming, social security reform and a dozen other issues that are essentially clever, coded ways of appeasing an audience eager to hear variations on the theme of "Republican priorities are evil. I hate Bush." Trust me, there are plenty of them. I'd be happy to advise any editor searching for a source. Such sentiments may be heartfelt, but they're distracting in either direction.
Expect the left to squeeze some serious 'theocracy' mileage out of this, even as I suspect there's more to it. E.g., since views on abortion tend to hew to partisan affiliation, the MSM's spin that this is an anti-Democratic jihad may be cover for a simple dispute over church teachings - something on which churches should have ultimate discretion. This sounds like typical church politics that happened to get 'hot'. The government should steer a wide berth. Not to do so would constitute a theocracy.
at 9:11 AM
06 May, 2005
This one makes my blood boil.
Kevin Francois... a junior at Spencer High School in Columbus, was suspended [for ten days] for disorderly conduct Wednesday after he was told to give up his cell phone at lunch while talking to his mother who is deployed in Iraq, he said. His mother, Sgt. 1st Class Monique Bates, left in January for a one-year tour and serves with the 203rd Forward Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. "This is our first time separated like this," said Francois, 17... Since her deployment overseas, Francois, whose father was killed when he was 5 years old, lives with a guardian... The incident happened when Francois received a call from his mother at 12:30 p.m., which he said was his lunch break. Francois said he went outside the school building to get a better reception when his mother called. A teacher who saw Francois on his phone told him to get off the phone. But he didn't... Francois said he told the teacher, "This is my mom in Iraq. I'm not about to hang up on my mom." Francois said the teacher tried to take the phone, causing it to hang up. The student said he then went with the teacher to the school's office where he surrendered his phone. His mother called again at 12:37 p.m. and left a message scolding her son about hanging up and telling him to answer the phone when she calls.UPDATE: Francois' suspension has been reduced to three days - a face-saving move by petty bureaucrats. I'm still incensed.
at 3:00 PM