Monday, January 31, 2005

Women of Nanny State Forced into Sex Trade?

The following is excerpted from Clare Chapman's article in yesterday's UK Telegraph titled 'If You Don't Take a Job As a Prostitute, We Can Stop Your Benefits'

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year. Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit.
(No prize for guessing whether fellas are being forced into prostitution the same way-Henway) Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.

The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse...

"There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry," said Merchthild Garweg, a lawyer from Hamburg who specialises in such cases. "The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral any more, and so jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to benefits."

Well, certainly this marks the apex of the European experiment. People are incented to be non-contributing members of society and no personal behavior (regardless of its degradation to the ideals of a peaceful, fruitful nation) can be condemned under the banner of enlightened thinking. Thus are the females of this egalitarian, humanist society are pushed into the sex trade. Viva Progressive Civilization!

Missionaries in Paris?

In Samuel Gregg's column from today's WSJ titled Corporatism, Entrepreneurship, and Faith, he highlights the lack of entrepreneurial spirit in Europe. He discusses causes such as bloated and restrictive beaurocracies concerning small business as well as the social welfare norms, but he also addresses the "enlightened" secularism with its attendant dissociation and despair that plagues the vital young people who could be building Europe's future.

It is difficult for people with atheistic mindsets to be what John Paul II calls "people of hope." Those with no hope have only the present. They have no compelling reason to be interested in the future -- for themselves or for others. Why should those who refuse responsibility for the future, or those who do not concern themselves with it because they will have departed this life in 30 years' time, care about unsustainable levels of welfare dependency, paralyzed labor markets, or crippling regulation?

The idea that there is something wrong with foisting the payment for one's present comfort onto future generations (as many Western Europeans seem content to do) is incomprehensible to secularist minds. For if we believe that all that matters is our own present satisfaction and that no one owes anything to others, then it does not seem unjust to mortgage the future of others -- even our own children. The same deadly logic lies just beneath the surface of Lord Keynes' celebrated quip that "in the long run, we are all dead."

Gregg concludes by identifying this situation as the opportunity for evangelism, and I'm not sure I disagree. However, the irresistable image in my mind was of hair-frocked, sandaled missionaries banging their bibles among the cafes and cabarets of darkest Paris and Berlin. I do think someone with some constructive message better get over there, because people can't thrive without hopes. We are seduced by our dreams like bees by flowers, or too often, like moths by flames. As we've witnessed, in the absence of a benevolent message of meaning and joy, power-hungry leaders will arise within that vaccuum with loud, compelling promises of identity and purpose through destruction.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Courage of Others

There are many ways both personal and public that people can assert themselves. But today, in Iraq, it is through voting, taking hopeful, courageous action in the face of conflict and violence. I believe in democracy as a force for freedom and prosperity and justice, and I wish all that in abundance for the deserving men and women, old and young who braved today's journey to the ballot box.

There are varied stories about people who were victimized by the old regime or as a result of the continuing violence committing themselves to this exercise of human will and the pursuit of a sovreign nation. Among all these, the plentiful participation of women as candidates, election workers, and voters has been one of the most encouraging for me to see. Here's a touching example from Kaled, a blogger from Bagdad:

How exciting it was to see this old woman, supported by her grand children for a distance of more than 400 meters, coming to do something she wanted so badly to do for 50 years, that is to choose whoever she wants, without pressures or conditions. When I asked her: did you vote? She answered strongly: yes, my son. I asked her: Don’t you get tired walking all this distance? She said: it is an effort that for me is a rest, because it was a dream to choose whoever I want. I never had the right to choose, even when they asked me to marry, because the decision then was not in my hands. And today is the day in which I can offer a service to my country and do something that my sons and grandsons will be proud of and will ensure a good future for the country.

Democracy isn't merely an arbitrary selection from a geopolitical menu. Freedom to participate, to contribute, to be valued, and to decide is the necessity of the human soul.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Okay- Now my bloomers are aflame

I'm not sure I buy the current Intelligent Design argument as the final explanation for how everything came to be. That doesn't mean I think there was no intelligence present, but I don't know that they've framed or proved it adequately. And certainly, the physically observable processes of adaptation have to be included in any schema that's legitimate.

Yet and still, the fear of even approaching the issue scientifically can make blind naysayers of critical thinkers (see below), and that's a crying shame. If we're going to defend and encourage Harvard president Larry Summers' provocation to study the potential for "innate" differences in aptitude between male and female brains, why would we be afraid to examine Intelligent Design? Even if one suspects a theory is hogwash, as long as one's research is careful and ethical, what better way to refute it than with rigorous examination of facts? Perhaps, through that process, compelling alternatives may even be uncovered.

I've exceprted this article from the WSJ.
BY DAVID KLINGHOFFER Friday, January 28, 2005

The question of whether Intelligent Design (ID) may be presented to public-school students alongside neo-Darwinian evolution has roiled parents and teachers in various communities lately. Whether ID may be presented to adult scientific professionals is another question altogether but also controversial. It is now roiling the government-supported Smithsonian Institution, where one scientist has had his career all but ruined over it.

The scientist is Richard Sternberg, a research associate at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington. The holder of two Ph.D.s in biology, Mr. Sternberg was until recently the managing editor of a nominally independent journal published at the museum, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, where he exercised final editorial authority. The August issue included typical articles on taxonomical topics--e.g., on a new species of hermit crab. It also included an atypical article, "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories." Here was trouble.

The piece happened to be the first peer-reviewed article to appear in a technical biology journal laying out the evidential case for Intelligent Design. According to ID theory, certain features of living organisms--such as the miniature machines and complex circuits within cells--are better explained by an unspecified designing intelligence than by an undirected natural process like random mutation and natural selection.

Mr. Sternberg's editorship has since expired, as it was scheduled to anyway, but his future as a researcher is in jeopardy--and that he had not planned on at all. He has been penalized by the museum's Department of Zoology, his religious and political beliefs questioned. He now rests his hope for vindication on his complaint filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that he was subjected to discrimination on the basis of perceived religious beliefs. A museum spokesman confirms that the OSC is investigating. Says Mr. Sternberg: "I'm spending my time trying to figure out how to salvage a scientific career."

The offending review-essay was written by Stephen Meyer, who holds a Cambridge University doctorate in the philosophy of biology. In the article, he cites biologists and paleontologists critical of certain aspects of Darwinism--mainstream scientists at places like the University of Chicago, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford. Mr. Meyer gathers the threads of their comments to make his own case. He points, for example, to the Cambrian explosion 530 million years ago, when between 19 and 34 animal phyla (body plans) sprang into existence. He argues that, relying on only the Darwinian mechanism, there was not enough time for the necessary genetic "information" to be generated. ID, he believes, offers a better explanation.
Whatever the article's ultimate merits--beyond the judgment of a layman--it was indeed subject to peer review, the gold standard of academic science. Not that such review saved Mr. Sternberg from infamy. Soon after the article appeared, Hans Sues--the museum's No. 2 senior scientist--denounced it to colleagues and then sent a widely forwarded e-mail calling it "unscientific garbage."

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Zoology Department, Jonathan Coddington, called Mr. Sternberg's supervisor. According to Mr. Sternberg's OSC complaint: "First, he asked whether Sternberg was a religious fundamentalist. She told him no. Coddington then asked if Sternberg was affiliated with or belonged to any religious organization. . . . He then asked where Sternberg stood politically; . . . he asked, 'Is he a right-winger? What is his political affiliation?' " The supervisor (who did not return my phone messages) recounted the conversation to Mr. Sternberg, who also quotes her observing: "There are Christians here, but they keep their heads down."

Worries about being perceived as "religious" spread at the museum. One curator, who generally confirmed the conversation when I spoke to him, told Mr. Sternberg about a gathering where he offered a Jewish prayer for a colleague about to retire. The curator fretted: "So now they're going to think that I'm a religious person, and that's not a good thing at the museum."

Without dispute, there have been times when people of faith, the Catholic Church for example, stood in opposition to scientific questioning, especially when they hadn't figured how to theologically understand the findings. (Send the scholars back to the theology mines, I say- Where's my new, comprehensive scholarship on homosexuality? I don't want retreads, I want a new, openminded looksee and resultant apologetics.) This oppressive stance was a particular problem because the Church was the principal repository and provider of advanced education, and it was their own students who kept getting pesky ideas.

However, since then, minds have cleared and hearts have stilled their panic. Most faiths now consider science to be a laudable vocation. The current Catechism of the Catholic Church says "The order and harmony of the created world results from the diversity of beings and from the relationships which exist among them. Man discovers them progressively as the laws of nature. They call forth the admiration of scholars. The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man's intellect and will."

For any scientist, surely curiosity and wonder should be prerequisite. And surely that makes any authentic discoveries of our being, world, and universe "wonderful". The secular faith of Science is leaning toward the same mistakes that religion has historically made-refusing to truthfully examine the intricacies and amazements of existence just because the resulting Weltanschauung hasn't caught up.

Seek Truth first, then understanding. Cause then effect. Reversing the order perverts the search.

What I meant with my very first post-

It's not upbeat and rib-tickling, but the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz gave us another chance (did we need one?) to reflect on the nature of evil in a world that God created as good.

The following is excerpted from an article in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 27, 2005, written by Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Russia.

"When remembering the tragedy of the Holocaust, as world leaders will today at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we are faced with the eternal question: Where was God?

No mortal can ever attempt to explain God's mysterious ways. As the prophet Isaiah tells us in the name of God: "My thoughts are unlike your thoughts." However, what we can say is that when humans suffer God suffers as well, even more than a parent for a child.

Yet God gave man free will to change the world for the better, and we must say that our independence is so vital that it outweighs the profound pain resulting from man abusing his free choice to hurt his fellow man. It is clear to me that 60 years ago God was surely watching and waiting for an answer to an even more important question: Where is man?

Where is man who can differentiate between good and evil, who has the power to act and create? Where is man who understands the sanctity of human life, and why is he not crying out at its desecration?"

This is brief and eloquent, and reflects what I was trying to express in my very first blogpost, the tsunami-inspired argument for God and man's goodness that I couldn't let go until writing it down.
Perhaps I'm channeling my inner Jewishness. Who knew?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Squatter's Post

My internet was down for five days and I had to free ride on an unsecured wireless network in the building just to check e-mail every couple days. Now I'm back in action, able to lollygag in the blogosphere at leisure, but nothing's particularly burning my bloomers. Still, I feel I must post something new just so I don't have one of those stale, neglected blogs, too ashamed to ask anyone to come over after school. Bad enough I'm unread, must I be unfresh?!

I keep wanting to put a parenthetical phrase behind the word 'unread'. Something like (although actually I don't care if I'm read- not joking- honestly). And, truthfully, I don't care. I'd feel much worse about navel-gazing circle jerks like this if I thought anyone else had to suffer through them. However, the fact that I'm motivated to write that I 'actually', 'truthfully', 'honestly' don't care makes me wonder, Dr. Freud, if I really do. Pathetic in either case.

At some point, I'll post on what an untalented hack I am in comparison to others I read and enjoy regularly. I promise it'll be more fawning than self-pitying, but for now, read the poorly assembled syllables above and take my word for it.

No links till I care enough.
Slumber or Rock On (as local time zone or local custom dictates)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

It's Jets-For-Prawns!

In a bit of perfidy certainly worthy of the UN, though it's being perpetrated by the EU, we get the latest groin kick to the developing world from "civilized humanitarians." Sure, it's no Oil-for-Fraud or Sex-for-Food, but the EU's newest inequity is a real up-and-comer in the race for the moral basement.

Thanks to for the pointer to this article from The Scotsman

Money quote: "TSUNAMI-struck Thailand has been told by the European Commission that it must buy six A380 Airbus aircraft if it wants to escape the tariffs against its fishing industry."

At, they note, "The aircraft will cost Thailand some £1.3 billion – nearly the amount that all 25 EU members states have pledged in tsunami aid to the whole affected region."

I believe trade relieves the people of developing nations from crushing poverty. Not just once- like a food drop- but for their lifetimes and their children's lifetimes. But it doesn't work if we won't let them be competitive or force them to spend their relief money on bloated expenditures that don't benefit infrastructure or public health.

Although America is not currently strongarming people who are still damp from the flooding into buying luxury liners instead of food, our own gargantuan (97%) tariffs on the Thai fishing industry are no credit to us.

I love the shrimpies! Protectionism be damned. Bring on the prawns!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Phantasmic Tsunami aftermath

This article was written by Gordon Fairclough of the Wall Street Journal, but since it can be tough to follow links to their pieces for subscribers, here are large extracts from this fascinating clean-up effort.

PHUKET, Thailand -- When the tsunami waves hit here last month, the hotel where Jinda Sinta worked erupted in chaos. Ms. Jinda frantically called an ambulance to help one unconscious child, but rescuers were unable to revive him. The next week, Ms. Jinda says, the dead boy returned to the damaged hotel lobby. Wearing the same dark-blue shorts he had on when he died, the ghost of the black-haired 10-year-old "was running around, playing," says the 40-year-old front-desk clerk. Then he disappeared.

As Thai people grapple with the physical aftereffects of December's natural disaster, they are also dealing with another serious problem: Ghosts. For many Thais, steeped in Buddhist teachings of rebirth and even older animistic beliefs in spirits, ghosts are very real. When people die suddenly and violently, as they did in the December waves, spirits cling to their bodies and to familiar places, unsure of how to cross from the world of the living to the world of the dead, many here believe.

Psychologists say the ghosts are likely a manifestation of the mental trauma suffered by the tsunami survivors, a way for people to face their fears and come to terms with what happened. But for many, the ghosts are a problem that requires a practical solution, not therapy.
"If we don't send them off, the spirits will stay around where they died," says Saengthong Suwanjan, the 60-year-old keeper of a Chinese temple overlooking the sea. "If they can't go anywhere, they will stay here and haunt us. And if they don't know how to get to the next life, they might try to take some of us with them." (contrast the dismissive, if reasonable and understandable, attitude of psychologists with the pragmatically expressed need of the residents to move their loved ones through an acknowledged process- Henway)

Ghost stories abound. Prasert Tamnakla, a 37-year-old dive-shop owner on the devastated island of Phi Phi, says that for days after the waves hit, he could hear the spirits of the dead wailing in the night. "Mostly, it was women's voices. They were calling for help," says Mr. Prasert. Pitak Noonoon and other night watchmen at a building facing Patong beach, where dozens of people drowned in an underground shopping center, heard a lot of banging and scraping early one morning. When they went in to investigate, they discovered that large sheets of plywood had been tossed around. "One big piece moved 10 meters," Mr. Pitak, 24, says. "Now that's not natural." Others say spirits have visited them in their dreams. Somjai Rungchaiwitoon says her father came to her when she was asleep one night. "He seemed so real, I ran and hugged him," she says. "He told me he was trapped in a drain pipe and asked why nobody had come looking for him. He said other people were also trapped." (Even in this media-plentiful event and location, note that ghost stories are always anecdotal, unsubstantiated, unproveable- H)

So Ms. Somjai, 27, traveled from Bangkok to Khao Lak, where her parents owned a grocery story that was washed away by the waves. She brought a group of Buddhist monks to pray at the site, where bodies were stored in tents in the early days of the recovery effort. They asked for her family's spirits to be freed to travel to their next lives. In Phuket, Thailand, Keng Saeyiow conducts a ceremony intended to propel the spirits of the tsunami's victims on to the next world. Soldiers tell tales of seeing the ghosts of foreign tourists playing on the beaches and swimming in the ocean. A monk says he saw hundreds of spirits standing by the highway along the west coast. (Does the drama of the visions relate to the imcomparable scale of the tragedy?- H)

It was with great trepidation that 65-year-old Bayee Ouisakun moved back to her home in Nam Khem, a fishing town devastated by last month's tsunami. "I'm not afraid of the waves," says Ms. Bayee. "But every night when I hear the dogs howling, I worry about the ghosts."
So, Ms. Bayee did what she considered the sensible thing. She too called in Buddhist monks. More than 40 crowded the small ground floor of her damaged home, chanting blessings. One sprinkled holy water, reciting prayers in Pali, the ancient Indian tongue that is the liturgical language of the religion here. "I want to make sure that those who are dead now don't come back and cause trouble for the living," says Ms. Bayee, who has also affixed a swatch of red cloth at the foot of the staircase that leads to the family's sleeping quarters. The cloth is imprinted with symbols designed to ward off evil.

In places like Nam Khem, some of the townspeople are trying to sort out a new modus vivendi for the living and the dead. "Even if we're scared, we have to steel ourselves," says 12-year-old Sunisa Kaewjan. "My brothers and sisters are all ghosts now," she says. "We have to respect them, give them offerings like in the old days." (I was particularly touched by the girl's desire to be kind to the ghosts since all her siblings had joined them.- H)

Now, Thailand is embarking on the next phase of its post-tsunami cleanup: sending off the spirits of those who died, so they will stop haunting the beaches, villages and hotels along the Andaman Sea coast. On Saturday, the people of Phuket threw a supper for the ghosts, designed to fete them and send them on their way so they will no longer disturb the peace.
At sunset, Keng Saeyiow, 63, stood on a beach at the south end of the island in a black robe. He chanted in reedy Hokkien, a Chinese dialect, summoning the spirits of those killed by the tsunami in Thailand. With his left hand, he swung a long bamboo pole, with a two-tiered paper "spirit trap" on the end, its red streamers trailing in the wind. Once he had collected the spirits in the trap, he walked it over and placed it at the head of a long table set for a feast. On the table were 24 place settings of fruit, chicken, fish, squid, Chinese liquor, water and 140 bowls of rice for the spirits to eat. A row of empty plastic chairs lined one side of the table. On the other, scores of townspeople crowded around to pour drinks and offer the food to the spirits.
After more singing by Mr. Keng the spirits were again gathered up and taken over to two miniature wood-framed houses covered with colorful paper. The houses were surrounded with paper facsimiles of money and other things the spirits might need in their next life -- including television sets and red and blue Nokia cellphones. (This is not so different from the ancient Egyptian burials with furninshings and servants for the future - H) The pile was set ablaze. As burning embers flew into the night sky, Mr. Keng chanted in Hokkien: "Go, go to the spirit world." "If we hadn't done this, the spirits would be stuck here. At night they'd keep coming back. But now they've been sent off to heaven," says Senee Mornphan, a 34-year-old tour-company operator, who participated in the ceremony. "I feel much better now. I think we all do."

Just to be sure, a local charity group plans to scour Thailand's west coast for errant spirits later this week, using two men who act as spirit dowsers, locating lost souls and collecting them. The enterprise is being funded with donations from a group of Singaporean tour operators, according to Somsuk Jitkaew, manager of Good Morning Holiday & Tours Co. in Phuket.
"I think once we do this, then the tourists won't worry so much about the ghosts," says Ms. Somsuk, whose company mainly arranges tours for people from Singapore and Malaysia. "Some people are definitely worried about the ghosts. They believe. And if we do this, they will feel better."

As for Ms. Jinda, the hotel receptionist, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She went to a Buddhist temple and made an offering of toothpaste, soap and other necessities to the monks there. She said a prayer for the little boy who had perished in the lobby. "Let him go in peace," she pleaded. He hasn't been seen since.

I have to doubt, have to point out that this can't be proven. And yet I want to believe it. More than that, part of me finds it reasonable- O yes, many trapped spirits from something like this, let's try to gather them and point them in the right direction. (slapping my palms together) Very good, then. Onto fixing the roof.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Fake Degrees Rampant at DOD?

As a person rejected by a highly-regarded institution of higher education for a Masters' degree, I can't claim to be unbiased. I wanted the Masters' to teach someday. Someday, I may try again to get it, although the institution to which I applied was a stretch given my background and probably not the best fit for my temperament or talents. I could've done better on the essay, too. Happy? I've disclosed. All that said, the rejection had me surfing online diploma mills, fantasizing about the ease of short-circuiting the process and even the education that comes with it, too. They acknowledge my life experiences! They recognize I'm more than just my stats and application materials! No, I couldn't sell myself on anything that another web surfer could identify as shinola in .2 seconds in the Googlesphere. Besides, I'm the kind of jerk who actually hopes to be improved ( or at least entertained) when I make sizable investments of time and/or money.

I have yet another axe with the decline of scholastic rigor and the increase in hyperbole coming from prestigious institutions. Still, they're better than nothing aren't they?

This article from Reason not only describes how top U.S. security officials have bogus degrees subsidized by taxpayers, it also highlights how one of those computer specialists "lost" subpoenaed documents in the Lewinsky (remember her?) scandal. This employee's husband was Secret Service at the time. Hmmmm....

How do I get me one of them there Fud- oops, PhD- degrees?

Monday, January 17, 2005

The frivolity of evil, the marathon of Life

This article by the always lucid Dr. Dalrymple is sad and true, I think.

His patients never seem concerned about trading their own microscopically short-termed pleasures for the long-term misery of others who suffer the consequences, especially their children. However, I don't believe it's merely the frivolity of evil at work. How can someone understand the concept of lasting consequences with an underdeveloped sense of Time?

I do agree a social order that detaches acts from consequences is a necessity for this deterioration, but I would also point to a general devaluation of the substance and richness of life, because this appreciation requires an appreciation of time not only as something that should be shortened. Modern society seems to demand things move faster, and seems to discount the subtleties of things that are slow. Because of its nature as a medium, it's understandable why television operates in tiny, digestible, though incomplete, chunks of sight and sound. What most of current culture hasn't yet understood is that sizzle and spectacle don't reflect the total nutritional requirement of the human soul. When one never experiences unadvertised beauty or quiet stillness or the lovely experiences that require time and effort and involvement, mere short-term pleasure is the only analgesic in town. And superficial pleasure's habitual overdose is corrosive to deep human happiness.

It used to be taken on faith, even by those not educated enough to judge for themselves, that "elevated" experiences were worth pursuing and learning to appreciate. Now, there is wide cultural acceptance and even exultation in knowing nothing about the world or its wonders. People are not ashamed of stunting their own potential until it encompasses nothing beyond the workings of their own remote controls. Talents in music or dance that took years to develop are now often less valued than the spectacle of hypersexualized children showing off. People cook less, sew less, garden less, construct and craft less, and produce far fewer of the materials they consume. This is an unbalanced diet of low-quality stimulation with no time for reflection. Life-sized events fly by at a blur with a threshold for content that necessarily degrades in order to produce new shock and thrills among the jaded.

Part of this retarded understanding of Time I attribute to technology. Early inventors knew they'd made an impact when things could be done faster or with less effort. I'm not a Luddite. On the contrary, I think technology is humanity's gift. I don't suggest that anyone should be handwashing dishes for enlightenment, even if sometimes I find it soothing and unobjectionable. I think people should free themselves from things they abhor or can't do efficiently enough. I only suggest that all the "mod cons" supposed to free people from drudgery have produced free time that huge amounts of people don't use to improve themselves, their relationships, their communities, or the world.

And what about the children of the technologically liberated? Many of these kids grow up materially indulged, unaware that effort was ever required to acquire things. They're often strikingly ignorant, because their parents who've disavowed the backwardness of traditional, concrete skills for self-sufficiency haven't even passed on such training as they received. Their children are bred only to consume, an unsustainable situation where multitudes of infantilized adults without basic life skills or maturity are unable to leave the nest.

Then, there are the modern people who desperately shuttle from place to place so they don't miss anything. The ubiquitous cellphone-people I'm forced to overhear using the wonders of technology to escape developing foresight, punctuality, consideration, and modesty. Listen yourself, and you'll rarely hear anything anything other than logistics under dicussion: "When will you get here? I'm on my way. Bring it with you, I forgot. Meet me there and we'll see if anything's happening."

But Life is already happening. And its opportunities for glories and intimacies and memories unspool while many of us are concerned with faster-moving, transient garbage that's already out of date and/or fashion. And those slow moments to put your hands to something real, to develop skills that aren't easy, to learn something deeply, and to help or enjoy another person are lost to the commute.

I remember someone saying that Man is the best marathon runner on earth. We can't outrun a horse or jaguar over short stretches, but over distance, no animal outlasts a human. I'd suggest our minds and spirits copy our biology in this respect. The greatest human achievements of art and science are the results of dedication over time. In a recent example, we can see Saturn's moon, Titan, because of a seven-year journey, itself the result of years of investment and the sustained efforts of thousands of people. It is the application of effort over time that turns humans into miracle-workers and that makes the impossible possible. I'm afraid the cultural disregard of this dynamic impoverishes our spirits as well as lessens our ability to create future wonders. As we turn modern life into an ever-accelerating sprint, we ought to consider how it predisposes such as we are to failure, how little speed and superficiality play to our strengths.

Friday, January 14, 2005

So much for tolerance and/or equality

If you weren't paying attention to this kind of story, recently black, conservative pundit Armstrong Williams admitted to receiving payments from the Bush Dept. of Education for promoting No Child Left Behind. I happen to think NCLB is a good start to education reform, but Williams' undisclosed interest in it was lousy ethics (as journalists and bloggers are chorusing ad infinitem.)

Other conservatives, especially those who are women or minorities, are even more dismayed because of the real potential that they, too, will be considered paid shills. Whether or not I agree with all her political positions, Michelle Malkins' hate mail is horrific. She fears it will get worse.

My point here is that when someone thinks a man is wrong about his actions or opinions, it's usual to label him imbecilic or deranged. If he's a minority, one may unfairly paint him with the worst stereotypes available, although the accuser risks wider censure for that. A man with offensive opinions is not typically labeled "impotent" or "syphilitic." Nor would the range or number of his sexual experiences be used to defame him. A man condemened sexually is a playboy, a gigolo, or Casanova, all of which connote positive ideas for lots of people. Is the same seductive glow present in the phrase "filthy whore?"

When a woman's ideas or actions are disagreeable to someone, hostile reactions tiresomely return to labeling her as a sexual object, either paid or unpaid. A woman won't usually be labeled "lunatic" or "braindead" or "evil incarnate", which- for my money- would be a step up. Instead, otherwise law-abiding people (women, too) retreat to branding objectionably speaking or thinking women as "sluts", "whores", "bitches" at a minimum. (Bitch has also become a synonym for prostitute, imagine that?) When angry people accept this kind of slander of women solely as corrupt, sexual objects, what treatment are they expecting (and promoting) for their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters in the world-at-large?

Words matter. You can't indulge in or accept condemnation of women with opposing opinions as sexual chattel without encouraging a culture where any woman you care about may be treated the same way. No matter how disagreeable some woman's views may be to you, it undermines safety and success for the women you love by abandoning debate and degrading any woman this way, making "female" equal "worthless".

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Don't know if "dooced" has caught on, but...

Turns out there is a word for the flack resulting from online activities.

Fired because of your blog? Dooced.
Estranged from your family after they discover your online journal? Dooced.
Friends hate what you say on your website. Dooced?

The source of the term is when Heather B. Armstrong got fired in 2002 because her bosses didn't like what was on her website, (still operating, if you care)

The urban dictionary carries the evolving contributions to online lingo.


Speaking of learning, I went to a big coffee shindig last night. Not merely drinking- oh, no-but hearing from people who understand the geopolitics of the coffee trade, the financial and savory ramifications of different origins, how to sniff out the over 1000 compounds that make coffee such a seductive elixir, and how to create the perfect cup of homebrew. And there was free stuff- like pounds of fabulous coffee!

It's fascinating to me because the beginning of the coffee story is tiny: a farmer who may have as few as 30 trees or a person who scavenges ripe beans from plants that grow wild. There may be local processing by the harvesting persons themselves or an aggregated treatment, but the beans will migrate through co-ops and associations, sometimes governments or even drug lords, to find their way to the New York Coffee Exchange. How convenient for me!

Here the coffee is cupped (tasted) and the stockpiled beans purchased on contract by the companies who fill the supermarket cans, the boutiques who fill the bags, and the cafes that roast their own. Need I mention the untold intricacies of blending and roasting? All the options in grinding? And which method will be used to brew? The perfect pull of a espresso shot? A latte with artwork? Perhaps Drip fantastic from a calibrated instrument, not merely a "machine." Maybe the French Press is best. For those enraptured, the chain of tweaks are as endless and intense as for any other hobbyist/fanatic/clinically obsessed subgroup.

But coffee, the second most traded commodity after oil, fulfills its destiny in each person's cup, as one single, sensual experience. From micro to macro to micro again. Coffee's international, dynamic, and complex, but it depends on individuals in every part of the chain. It's not nearly as automated and systematized as other commodities favored for their homogeneity, and differentiation's still on the rise. Coffee remains hands on trees and beans in bags and flames and water. It retains an elemental quality because its growth and harvesting, grading, blending and roasting are still human, seasonal, small-scale functions. While the unique origin and sometimes even part of its long journey is written into the aroma and flavor.

I think my next thriller will be in the modern world of coffee. And now I know a couple people to talk to about it.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Okay, just one more, but this burned my keister...

The following post- dated Thursday, Jan 6th, pardon the delay- is from a long-time bookseller at Waterstone's chain in Edinburgh, Scotland. In his spare time, Joe writes a highly-disclaimed humorous personal blog which does infrequently refer to his work or bosses, as many humans do. For this, apparently, he's been fired. According to Joe's report, there was no complaint about any of his work. In fact, if we take him for accurate, over his 11 years with W's, he's performed in a praiseworthy fashion.

Joe blogs :
I pointed out once more that I was outraged that a company seemed to think it had the right to tell an employee what opinions they could articulate in their own time. I asked if I repeated some of the articles they found offensive in the blog to a friend in the pub would that not also be defaming the company by the logic they were employing here? I was not answered. I pointed out that this was like the Thought Police and invasive of my rights. I was told that if I discussed anything to do with work then I was representing the company and must conform to their rules. Obviously I dispute this strongly – this is like saying we have a new feudal system where companies are the lords and employees are mere serfs who they own. How can I possibly be considered to be representing the company on my own site in my own time? In fact do not most companies around the world have riders attached to their email saying explicitly that any comments within are not necessarily those of the company? So why do they assume I am talking for the company on my own site in my own time? That makes no sense to me.

I am not a serf; I am not an indentured servant. I am a free man with the right of freedom of expression. The company does not own me, body and soul – conforming to their rules at work is to be expected, but in your own time and space? How can anyone be expected to go through their personal life in fear of saying the wrong thing? No-one should.

This has left me dreadfully upset. That a company I have given so many years to could treat me in such a brutal manner is despicable. That a book company thinks so little of the primacy of freedom of expression is alarming. I pointed out that Waterstone’s has stated publicly several times in the past that as a bookseller they believe in the freedom of expression and not in censorship. In fact a campaign was mounted a few years back which had banners along the lines of ‘what did Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot have in common? They feared the power of the written word. Celebrate Freedom of expression with us.’ Some folks may recall it. I asked if this was actually meant or was it simply cynical marketing? I was not answered.

I realize this is a different country, a different situation- perhaps. But with the explosion of blogging, it's worth paying attention to how companies respond to the online, off-the-clock comments of employees. Will the "any publicity is good publicity" theory dominate, or will new employees start being required to sign agreements specifically prohibiting identifying themselves or their workplaces?

Unfortunately, I'm rarely surprised by the depth of hypocrisy among those who trumpet freedom of expression with hyperbolic vigor. It is never the strident who astound me with their tolerance.

Are jingles dead?

Now that all the advertisers want to license pop songs, whether iconic or obscure, the days of the best jingle writers are as lonely as the Maytag repairman's.

Not only are traditional jingles passe', it's become declasse' to refer to your brand name in accompanying ad music nowadays. Bosh! I'm annoyed by ads where I can't figure out the point or the product. I miss the amusing inventions of original music, even when in the service of something as crass as advertising. And what's cooler, if you're a company, than having your own signature tune?

I love the scenes in black-and-white movies where sheet music wizards bang out six new hits a day in the piano and smoke-filled offices of Tin Pan Alley. So, I'm sad about this development on principle. Worse, it's one less place for legit musicians to work. Still, I know some smart cookie will buck the trend, inflame huge buzz (sounds painful) with an old-school jingle, and we'll all fall in love anew with (or at least be inundated by) what's become called "custom" music. Some say no, but it's my bet.

I haven't learned the link trick yet. Gimme a minute.

Perhaps this will be the last tsunami post for a bit...

In two separate stories today, we have more meteorologists/seismologists in Thailand and the U.S. who knew about the incoming wave, but had no way to get the information to the affected areas.,,SB110530853574920997-email,00.html,,SB110530955443821007,00.html?mod=opinion&ojcontent=otep

This second article has more information about the Earth Observing System which may get funded and staffed for international use because of the events of Boxing Day.

This is what makes me saddest- not God's "vengeance" but that we experienced a "perfect storm" of inefficiency, ignorance, and callousness that multiplied the miseries suffered.
Last post is the story about lagging Indian relief efforts (though they refused international assistance). The shrewd author wonders how the Indian gov't can supply clean drinking water to all tsunami victims when half the people don't have it normally.,,SB110530917343121001,00.html?mod=opinion&ojcontent=otep

I don't mean to be one-sided, includng only WSJ pieces, but they've got some great summary from their international bureaus today.

I vow to learn how to make a pretty link, where you don't have to see the convoluted address, just a cute summary word.

What will I comment on if not pointing to other people's eloquent bashing of the U.N. and the avoidability of this "act of God?" I hope to find out myself.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

How to make a tsunami more deadly

According to WorldNet Daily, this poor canary was trying to paper the coal mine with leaflets, because no one would listen to his warnings about the eminent quake.

This is exactly what I mean when I say we aren't helpless. (See My First Post re: God holds the bag) This geologist was ignored while other regional agencies decided not to alert citizens of the quake for fear of disruptions to tourism. The breadth and depth of this tragedy lies in great part with us humans. In this case, believing that the body count exploded just by happenstance while humans did their best is a fiction. There were widespread, significant failures here which may have led to thousands of extra deaths. I hope once the most desperate needs are met and rebuilding is well underway, there'll be time to discuss how this shortsightedness and corrupt governance in this part of the world doomed its citizens.

Looking to the future: For mindblowing accounts from anonymous U.S. foreign staffers about the efficiency and mindset of both the U.N and these local governments regarding relief efforts read

Saturday, January 08, 2005

To Decide What Fascinates Me (Who Cares?)

I didn't want to go dormant so early in my blog's existence, and something I wanted to share did occur to me.

I've had trouble defining my own BLOG OF line, the one that describes whether the author cares about flyfishing, military engagement, all things grandkiddy, whatever. I still can't condense my key issues down to a tiny wordsplosion- I'm a fiction writer, not a poet, though I'm working on it- so I thought I'd post on what I care about and see if it helps me distill what's in my hot buckets of topic.

I'm reading The Rape of the Masters by Roger Kimball, and I love it. Its subtitle is How Political Correctness Sabotages Art, and it's a more literate argument than I could make. If neither facts nor experience can be said to make some meanings impossible and some more likely, then nothing means anything. And nihilism isn't a tremendously sustaining position for any creative enterprise. Much art and literature, especially in historical retrospect , CAN'T and DOESN'T mean what today's collectivist/feminist/oppression-focused interpretations argue, and Kimball is thorough in showing it. The widely published and acclaimed professors he excoriates, (one who interprets a child's painted mouth into a "wound" of an "ideology of sexual innocence"- huh?) are typical of the ones who taught me in art school. Though my decidedly non-relativist, pre-modern (?) convictions at the time weren't particularly insightful, they were unshakeable, and that brought me conflict I might have deserved. Smart enough to smell the crap is smart enough to duck it. Anyway, this is always of interest to me, and as Kimball says, the dangers to culture are twofold:

1) We elevate mediocrity in the form of art that has the right PC intent but little inherent aesthetic value or emotive power.
2) Through hyperanalysis and strained links of interpretation that consciously avoid discussing the art, we degrade the products, and thus our own enjoyment, of artistic mastery and genius.

In a similar vein, but regarding modern poetry, I found this column by Joan Houlihan, How Contemporary American Poets are Denaturing the Poem, Part IX. I'm enjoying it, too, so here's the link.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

My first

I decided to give in and blog because of my sense about a question that's been kicked silly since the Indian Ocean tsunami: How could (a good) God have allowed this?

I've been reading the discussions and articles, but haven't seen my view represented anywhere that I could "Amen" or "Ditto" it. Since almost any foolish theory can find a few adherents, I wondered about this. Not flattering myself a subtle or deep thinker, no matter how I might wish otherwise, I decided to put my thoughts down here. Just for myself, without worry about an audience. I wanted to attempt to condense them and explain my position clearly, chiefly so I could clear the mental pantry where they're hogging the limited shelf space.

1) With our first knowledge of Good & Evil, the world remained our beautiful and abundant sustenance, but also became an incredibly dangerous place for humans.

Our marvelous, dynamic Earth runs both in gentle cycles and cataclysms of a large scale that is inherently threatening to fragile creatures like we are. But dynamism is the nature of life itself on this planet. Microorganisms replicate and transform in profusion. Tectonic plates shimmy. Mountains become valleys and oceans become deserts. Dawns and sunsets march as the seasons warm and chill while our bodies grow, replicate, and age. We were made to live in this flux of overlapping change. Most often we benefit; sometimes we're crushed. But anything powerful is potentially dangerous. This natural drama is not "evil"; it's essential to the continuance of life as we know it, and through our gifts, we are not totally defenseless. To know that God's eye is on the sparrow is to know that even against the backdrop of universe-sized events, we are not forgotten.

2) Those who choose to blame God for selective calamity are not, at least in my exposure, in the habitual practice of gratitude for the lack of same.

As I read it, the habitual blamers are not the continually prayerful types, giving heavenly credit for creation, breathable air or the atmosphere that protects from radiation, the earth that provides food and drink. These people may claim sunshine allegiance to some allegorical deity, but they take for granted their own sufficiencies and satieties, their critical faculties, beauty both natural and constructed, wonders of civilization and innovation, and examples of personal excellence. They are not in a constant state of gratitude for their ongoing survival, comforts, or joys, that might outbalance their choice finger-pointing during times of trial. If they were as generally grateful as the saints, difficult or painful times that would seem insignificant by percentage and severity with the glories of this life, and like the saints, perhaps they could say that "Still, God is good." The scapegoating reflex by people who never joined the club to give God credit in the first place is common, but I wonder how they perceive the manifold joys of each second of Creation. Do I fully appreicate them? I couldn't, but trying keeps me busy. This pervasive one-sidedness is especially curious given how many of those pondering these questions are educated, electrified types like me with extra time and historically unprecedented resources. To many, it seems no matter how miraculous modern medicine or technology might seem to our ancient parents, the good in their life simply occurs as their normal due or some person (not a child of God, of course) makes things happen, but the notion of a petty, careless God is ever-present to hold the bag for the crap.

3) The vast majority of human suffering is caused by, exacerbated by, or soluble by other humans. It's true we are flawed, and are capable of evil acts and cruelty, but we are the only game in town and the best hope for goodness.

The loss of life and extent of destruction are what are so affecting about the tsunami. But both these things, humans could have lessened for each other. Persistent poverty, lack of public education, lack of technological development, short-sightedness of knowledgeable people who could have sounded alarms, and the current food, medical, and infrastructural crises are all things that we could have and can do something to improve. In the Christian tradition, God thinks man, while imperfect, can yet be a fitting tool for His work. He proves it by making himself a man, Jesus, who after his death confers divine authority and power to the apostles to work for the good here on Earth. If we are not God's emissaries for miracles on this earth, who is? If the developments of science and civilization don't appear miraculous, what else qualifies? If we won't use the capacities of invention and industriousness we've available in abundance to take care of our brothers, we're not even doing the easy stuff. How can we expect glowing hands to split the sky every week to solve some crisis that we've helped cause and are blessed to be able to solve? As imperfect beings in an imperfect world, we are nonetheless divinely designed to ameliorate each other's suffering and are called to do so for the love of God and each other as well as our own development.

4) The suffering, through fear and pain, of innocents weighs especially heavily on us, but we must remember that for the living, those fears and pains can be relieved, and the dead are already free from them.

I believe that God can remove all memories of pain and grief from those who have died. I believe that across the span of a heavenly eternity, even years of suffering would become inconsequential nanoseconds. I avoid discomfort and emotional pain like most humans, but I do believe, in the end, pain will not matter much. Without earthly bodies and earthly time, suffering like we experience here isn't possible. Those that are dead are already comforted. For those that are alive and injured or heartbroken, humans can reach out to each other in fellowship and love. Not all bodies and spirits will be mended, but each sufferer may choose to lessen the burdens through the disposition of his mind and heart toward God. But no matter what a suffering person chooses in that regard, we have a responsibility to try to love each other in actions, thoughts, and words. The tragedy of wounded innocents is not a screaming, bottomless chasm, so infectious and immune to our actions that we should cower, helpless and paralyzed by our empathy.

For the moment- that's it. More than enough, I think, if less well-thought and expressed than the topic deserves.