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April 30, 2005

What part of "unleavened" isn't clear?

Leavening is what makes bread or any other baked goods rise. It mixes with the liquids in the recipe - and in the case of yeast, the sugar as well - to release gases that create bubbles in the dough. How much leavening you have in relation to the other ingredients determines how much it rises and how fluffy the final product is. The most commonly used leavenings in modern baking are baking powder, baking soda and yeast. When you don't want something to rise, you don't put in any leavening - an example would be pie crust. Anyone who bakes on any regular basis could hardly keep from knowing that.

When the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, God sent Moses to Pharoah to gain release of the Israelites. Pharoah said no, repeatedly, resulting in increasingly serious plagues sent on the Egyptians by God. Finally, Pharoah said no for the 10th time, and God sent the last plague - the death of the first-born. To save the Israelites from the Angel of Death, and to prepare them to leave as soon as the Egyptians were distracted by their grief, God had the Israelites dress for travel. They were to kill a lamb, put blood on the door jamb so the Angel of Death would see it and "pass over" them (thus the name of the commemoration, "Passover"), and then eat unleavened bread, bitter herbs and the lamb they had killed, standing up and ready to leave. When Jesus instituted the communion feast - the Lord's Supper - celebrating his death and resurrection, he did it during Passover and used the standard Passover bread - which is unleavened, commemorating the Israelites' Egyptian escape.

That's why communion bread in Christian communion ceremonies is unleavened - that's what Jesus used. I think it also has the deeper symbolism going back to the initial Passover, because Christ is our sacrificial lamb, the One that keeps the Angel of Death away from us. We celebrate Him in that way too with the unleavened bread. Thus making sure the communion bread is unleavened is a non-trivial issue, Scripturally speaking.

So why are there so many communion bread recipes using leavening?? I'm preparing communion at church this week, so I was Googling for recipes just to see what was out there. I was shocked to see some that use baking soda, some using baking powder and one even using yeast! What part of "unleavened" aren't they getting? One even used sugar, eggs and milk as well as baking powder, and the little blurb on it said it's good as strawberry shortbread in a non-blessed setting. I say that's not "communion bread" that's "sweet biscuits". Some even say they're "unleavened", and then use leavening. Is it that they don't know what leavening is? Or are they assuming that calling it something makes it so? I can call a hot dog a burrito all I want, but that doesn't make it a burrito.

I'm clearly stunned by this. My brother assures me that there's a school of thought where people don't think the NT communion bread was unleavened, but I can't figure out where they got that. And it still doesn't explain the ones called "unleavened" that have leavening right there in their ingredients. Sigh.

Posted by susanna at 11:01 PM | TrackBack

April 29, 2005

The Mysterious Moving Mailbox

Remember this morning when I discovered my mailbox was knocked down? It didn't take much sleuthing to determine that the next door neighbors probably did it, one of those circumstantial cases that would get a grand jury indictment, no problem. I had work to do and a meeting to go to (both went very well, thankyouverymuch), so while I did report it to the police I didn't touch the mailbox or talk to the neighbors, or even report it to my landlord.

I left my house about 2 p.m. for B'ham. After the meeting I babysat my nieces, and just got home about 11:10 p.m. As I drove up to my house, I was doing one of my new things: Talking into a tape recorder about the drive home, details like the sounds of cars passing, the smells along the way, how dark the darkness is, how easy or difficult it would be to hide in this yard or that. It's a writer thing, to get the details right when the heroine is stranded in the middle of the night on an Alabama road. In the middle of describing the truly odd glowing crosses that have sprung up in the cemetery behind my house, I suddenly realized...

My mailbox is vertical again.

That's right, in my absence today, someone (dare I speculate the neighbors?) replaced the mailbox post in the hole and tamped down the dirt and grass. It's not very stable, but it's functional. That's all I ask. I'll call the police tomorrow and let them know. The newspaper box is canted just a hair, but I'm not picky. I don't subscribe to the B'ham News anymore anyway. And I do appreciate whomever it was taking the responsibility to fix the damage.

I'd say the black tire track halfway up the side of the bright white post may cause comment in the future, but hey, I've got the only roadkill mailbox on the block.

Posted by susanna at 11:31 PM | TrackBack

Correlation vs Causation: The case of the pedophiliac Trekkies

The LA Times needs to get a little savvy about statistics before they seriously damage the reputation of a lot of decent if geeky people.

Ernest Miller at Corante calls attention to this construction in an LA Times article on a Canadian anti-child-pornography unit:

On one wall is a "Star Trek" poster with investigators' faces substituted for the Starship Enterprise crew. But even that alludes to a dark fact of their work: All but one of the offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie.

"A dark fact"? "All but one...a hard-core Trekkie"? Clearly these folks are operating in an alternate reality. And they are wrong on so many levels. Miller handles the "all but one" claim, actually calling the crime unit for clarification. They did say that Trekkie stuff was prominent in the collections of a number of those they arrested, but didn't say "all but one". That goes out the window immediately, then.

But there were a lot, apparently, who did have Trekkie stuff, and the tone of the article ("a dark fact") saw something ominous in that. It appears the writer was actually trying to make a connection between the two, as if having Trekkie stuff was in some way predictive of pedophilia. You can almost hear in what passes for her brain, "Hmmm... They had Trekkie stuff! Obviously up to no good, and likely sexual perverts." It's also clear that she picked up this attitude at least in part from the police officers themselves.

So we come to statistics, and the difference between correlation and causation. They're familiar terms to most of us: Causation means just that - there is evidence that the presence of one factor directly leads to the presence of another factor or event. Correlation is a much weaker connection - there is evidence that when Factor 1 is seen, there's a pretty good chance you're going to see Factor 2 as well, but there's no reason to think Factor 1 caused Factor 2, or vice versa.

The fact that a lot of child pornography dealers had Trekkie stuff is a correlation, not a causation. I'm sure they all had computers, too, and stoves, and clothing. Doesn't mean that people who surf the 'Net, cook and wear clothes should be investigated by your friendly local anti-child-pornography team.

It seems to me a fairly obvious case of a third, undiscussed (sometimes even undiscovered) factor causing both observed things. In this case, I suspect the geekiness caused both the Trekkie collections and the choice of using the 'Net to engage in their non-geek-related perversion of child pornography. Certainly pedophilia is not limited to geeks, just as geekiness is not a predictor of pedophilia. The apparent fact that the Trekkie collections stood out as a commonality over other types of collections isn't something that is predictive either. Maybe it has something to do with being Canadian (that statement has as much or more support than theirs). As for child pornography and geekiness tracking together, that's not shocking either - the Internet is a pretty good place to hide crime, and to mask who you are. The people who are going to be good at hiding their activity are going to be good at computers - in other words, geeks. But geekiness isn't correlated to child pornography any more than being able to drive is correlated to being a bank-robbery-getaway-car driver - being able to drive facilitates driving the get-away car, but being able to drive doesn't make you do it.

It's just bizarre. And she calls it "a dark fact". I think the "dark fact" is that she writes for a major newspaper, and her editors didn't smack her down for tarring millions of excellent people as potential perverts.

Posted by susanna at 08:52 AM | TrackBack


I have a major writing deadline today, and a meeting this afternoon to turn the materials in. That means little blogging until tonight.

Naturally, that also means that odd unexpected events will pop up to use my time when I most need it elsewhere. Today, that "odd unexpected event" is that during the night someone ran over my mailbox and brought it down. Actually, "rolled over it" is probably more accurate. It looks like someone just backed into it and pushed it down, then drove over it. Sigh. This means I get to call the police to make a report and then call my landlord to fix it. I think I'll wait until I get more of my work done. It's not like the accident/crime scene is going anywhere, or posing any problems for anyone else.

But it is very annoying.

UPDATE: I did call the police, they did come by, and they agreed with me that the post the mailbox was on (a very sturdy one, I might add) was not hit by a car on the road, but rather rolled over by someone backing out of the property next door. They also informed me that it would be very unlikely that a) they would find out who did it (they didn't go talk to the people next door) and b) anyone would pay for it. Lovely.

You know, the dozen or so muffler-challenged pickups and souped up muscle cars that congregate next door several times a week can be annoying, especially when they use my driveway like a public access road and get their jollies from gunning up and down the road. I've gotten testy a few times but not hostile, since really it's high school kids doing what high school kids do, and I've not seen them drinking, they don't blast music and they aren't there all the time or until late at night. But I'm not very sanguine about paying ever how much it takes to fix my mailbox because one of them is too immature to 'fess up.

Posted by susanna at 07:58 AM | TrackBack

April 28, 2005

I didn't know they were moving

Sometimes the combination of shortened names in headlines and the use of religious imagery in naming churches or schools gives interesting results. A headline from the Jersey Journal today:

Holy Family expects a great auction

At least they can be sure nobody will stiff them. Call it the "Law of Ananias & Sapphira".

Posted by susanna at 01:12 PM | TrackBack

A sad commentary

My brother (of Theosebes fame) sent me the link to this test, which purports to suggest how long you'll live. The first iteration gave me 73 years. I then started playing with it to see what choices changed it up or down. My favorite:

Flossing daily adds more years to your life than being in a long term committed happy relationship.

5 years vs 3 years.

So, buy floss, not a marriage certificate.

Posted by susanna at 01:04 PM | TrackBack

Support Senate Bill 51

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas has brought forward S51, a bill that would require abortion providers to tell those coming for abortions that an unborn child of at least 20 weeks has been shown to have pain responses. Because of that, the bill goes on to say, those getting abortions must be given the option of having anesthesia or painkillers for the fetus as well as themselves during the abortion process.

Obviously this kind of bill is being hammered as an anti-abortion bill and an anti-woman bill. As a part of the Definitions section of the bill, the word "woman" is defined; some are choosing to interprete that as an attempt by Congress to redefine women as nothing more than baby-growing organisms. In my judgment, that's engaging in self-induced hysteria. It's nothing of the kind. It's standard practice to give clear definitions of even common terms in both laws and research; those are places where precision is crucial. In this instance, the definition also serves the purpose of indicating that when the word "woman" is used, it's referring to a female capable of reproduction, not just females adjudged adult and thus "women" by society. In other words, as soon as a female has reached puberty, she's covered by the bill. They're making the distinction that they're using it biologically here, not sociologically. Of course those against the bill are going to insist that it's a sociological insult.

And no, I'm not linking where I found the pro-choice/sociological insult arguments because I like the people involved and don't want to fight about it nor expose them to ridicule. They're good people. And in this, they're wrong.

Another objection is that research hasn't proven a pain response exists in babies. I don't find anything in the bill that supports their contention; it doesn't cite studies, but then it's not an academic paper either. It does say several times that "there is substantial evidence" of different points, and I'm not thinking their "substantial evidence" is an email from Pat Robertson. They also say:

Expert testimony confirms that by 20 weeks after fertilization an unborn child may experience substantial pain even if the woman herself has received local analgesic or general anesthesia.

So, is this expert supposed to be, oh, testimony from Dr. James Dobson? Again, I doubt it. There is research on whether fetuses feel actual pain; this article is a summary, which intriguingly seems to indicate that pain itself is to some degree a social construct. However, it also says this:

The debate about fetal pain need not affect clinical practice involving the fetus or neonate. Evidence that the stress response, which the fetus and newborn launch in response to physical insult, has known detrimental consequences is acceptable even to those who do not accept that pain is experienced. Newborns who undergo operations without analgesia show increased mortality compared to newborns who receive analgesia. Therefore, in cases of invasive practice where there is a clinical rationale for anesthetic use that does not rely upon a pain diagnosis, withholding analgesia for neonates should remain an unethical practice.

He does say anesthetics for the fetus are not yet warranted by research, and he is also against legislatively requiring anesthesia (this is from 2003, so prior to S51), so you could hardly call him a shill for the right. Here is a group of doctors in the UK who specifically study fetal pain, and wouldn't be much concerned about politics in the US:

We have now completed our first trial of giving the opiate fentanyl to the fetus. These are the first experiments to determine how to give pain relief to the fetus in a safe and effective way. At the doses used it ablated the blood flow redistribution to the brain, and the endorphin response but not the cortisol response.

We are continuing to characterise how the fetus responds to therapeutic but possibly painful invasive procedures, such as a blood transfusion. It can mount a rapid noradrenaline response from 18 weeks gestation and a slower cortisol and ß-endorphin response at least from 20 weeks. It also responds by increasing blood flow to the brain. This has been demonstrated from 16 weeks.

Do these findings immutably justify legislation like S51? I can't say, I'm not a doctor, and certainly not one who specializes in researching pain in fetuses. But it does rather strongly suggest that the framers of S51 weren't just writing up notes from the last Christian Coalition meeting. And I'm basing my support for the bill on at least as much information as those who are opposing it use.

I also don't want to hear any disdainful sneers about how S51 is all about politics. It's law. Law is always about politics. And certainly the pro-choice crowd aren't earnest innocents who only want The Best for Everyone Concerned. They are very aggressively involved in trying to define the issues, set agendas and get their definitions out there as the primary ones. To rail against anti-abortion people who do no more than that is more than a touch hypocritical. Argue about the principle, but don't attack the methods when you're just sorry you didn't think of it first.

In my judgment, abortion is homicide. The only justification for it is self-defense. The very least we can do is make sure the little ones dying every day go with as little pain as possible. I'm writing today to both the Alabama and Kentucky senators to praise their support for it. I recommend you find out where your senators stand, and respond appropriately.

Posted by susanna at 12:33 PM | TrackBack

Ivy league hip deep in hypocrisy

I don't have a problem with people who have money. I don't have a problem with people who have money spending it. I don't have a problem with people who have money spending it on things I can never reasonably hope to have.*

I do have a problem when people who have money get all googly-eyed about finding ways to live "sustainably" on the earth. It's kind of like those Hollywood types who whimper and whine about minimum wage levels and the poor and homeless of America, and still raking in the dough with no appreciable signs of cutting loose most of it for those same poor people they lament so pitiably. It's the hypocrisy that grinds in my gizzard.

This latest tirade is sparked by Dartmouth College's new "sustainability director", who will "work to support and further develop the sustainability efforts already in place at Dartmouth, such as the organic farm, composting and recycling programs. He will develop a strategy to embed principles of sustainable prosperity in the school's role as a place of learning and research, a business enterprise and a member of the local community, the College press release said."

Pardon me while I toss my cookies in the shrubbery. Don't worry, it's biodegradable and whatever's left after the little creatures eat their fill will rot and fertilize next season's shrubbery growth. You see, it's not just Dartmouth - it's other Ivy leaguers too:

Harvard employs an entire faculty team as part of its four-year-old Green Campus Initiative, while Stanford is currently looking into hiring a sustainability coordinator.

The point, in case you didn't figure it out, is to create the impression on campus of living close to the land, of giving back more than you take out, of not starring in your own movie, "Mother Earth, Interrupted". The problem is, you're on a college campus by virtue of the fact that you and/or your family have huge buckets of money. That money was not earned, either now or in previous generations, by fertilizing organic gardens with manure from local cows, then selling the produce to local community members who walked or rode a work animal over to your farm to pick up just what they needed for their families. In other words, your presence on the college campus is due to enterprises largely unconcerned with sustainability, and the best way you can "give back to the earth" is to shut the place down and move to Montana to grow an organic garden while living in a house of sod and burning only peat bricks for heat in the winter. A goal of, say, living in Manhattan is 180 degrees from anything sustainable in any sense that I understand of nurturing Mother Earth.

Just as I don't mind people with money, I don't mind people who are interested in sustainability. In fact, I admire it, and I've been known to consider the value of buying locally and eating foods in season. But my hero of the hour is Wendell Berry, not this Merkel guy. Despite being a world-renowned author, poet and advocate of sustainable local communities, Wendell Berry does not live in Manhattan or LA where he could be feted at the drop of a quiche. No, he lives in Henry County, Kentucky, on the farm where he grew up, a farm that he works himself, in a normal way and not as a pretty Marie-Antionette-as-shepherdess way. I don't always agree with Mr. Berry, but I think he's a wonderful example of someone serious about living an honest, land-respecting life. And if you don't believe me, go to Henry County. I have. I turned down a job there because it was too isolated. And that's from someone who grew up 10 miles out of the middle of nowhere. Here are some of Berry's thoughts, in an essay about why he won't buy a computer:

Like almost everybody else, I am hooked to the energy corporations, which I do not admire. I hope to become less hooked to them. In my work, I try to be as little hooked to them as possible. As a farmer, I do almost all of my work with horses. As a writer, I work with a pencil or a pen and a piece of paper...

I would hate to think that my work as a writer could not be done without a direct dependence on strip-mined coal. How could I write conscientiously against the rape of nature if I were, in the act of writing, Implicated in the rape ? For the same reason, it matters to me that my writing is done in the daytime, without electric light...

That computers are expected to become as common as TV sets in "the future" does not impress me or matter to me. I do not own a TV set. I do not see that computers are bringing us one step nearer to anything that does matter to me: peace, economic justice, ecological health, political honesty, family and community stability, good work...

That's the voice of someone who lives his beliefs. I recommend you read the whole essay; the part about his wife is very sweet. And don't fail to note the reflexive leftist in the first comment on the essay, who sees Berry's thoughts about his wife as proof that she's unvalued and oppressed. He'd be right at home holding Merkel's bike helmet.

The kind of cocktail-party environmentalism that is endemic at these schools is risible. If they were serious about it, and brought in people who live it and not play it as some gimick, I'd be more open to it. But even Merkel's claim of "sustainability", of living on only $5,000 a year for 14 years, has holes you could drive a diesel-powered Mack truck through:

Is it really possible to live on $5K/year without taking advantage of the “commons” of others? As the IRS considers “trading” of valuable things to be a production of income, was Merkel’s income, at $13.00 per day, underreported?

Where did Merkel live, or, more properly, how did Merkel put a roof over his head, purchase food and clothing, and pay for all those expensive bicycle tires on $13.00 a day?

...Obviously, Mr. Merkel is one of the oft-lamented “uninsured” who visits the emergency room when he falls off his bike, as there is no possible way in Hades he has health insurance on the 20 cents he has left over each day after paying for food and lodging. Therefore, I pay for Merkel’s health care when he busts his “sustainable” head.

There's more, and it's lovely, at Powerline. And let me add here that I'm not trashing all Ivy League grads - it's obvious that the Powerline guys are good folks. And they're mocking the sustainability thing too. That's where I heard about it. What's a problem is when people go to school there or teach there in a rich, rarified atmosphere and then play at environmentalism like some trendy parlor game. Don't come crying to me about the fertilizer I use in my yard until you stop using rubber tires for your bicycle, or stop attending classes in a room heated by coal, or refuse to eat anything grown outside of a 10 mile radius of your house. Until you pay someone a living wage to grow cotton, weave it on a wooden spinning wheel and loom made from sustainable wood resources, sew it by hand using a bone needle made from the bones of an animal that died of natural causes, don't cry to me.

I admire every little effort to do the right thing. But don't cover yourself in glory for it, especially when the only thing sustainable about your behavior is the facade that it matters.

* Of course I'd love to win the lottery, if I played it which I don't, or the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. And I'd love even more if my first published novel (coming soon! as soon as I write it!) made millions and I could spend that. I don't dislike or disdain money. I just don't get in wads when other people have it and I don't.

Posted by susanna at 09:56 AM | TrackBack

April 27, 2005

Jail House Rock

I just spent two hours touring the jail in my town, a cement-block and steel behemoth that will house upwards of 500 people. It's over half full and they're already talking about adding on. It was a great tour - I took my CJ class, none of whom had been in a jail before. The sergeant who took us around showed us everything we wanted to see, and answered all our questions. Well, almost all. We did ask for more information on the bizarre things he'd seen in his years at the sheriff's department, but I think he was concerned about our delicate sensibilities.

I'd toured it before, and I've toured a number of prisons and other jails too, so while it was very interesting it wasn't new to me. But I never get used to being around people in cages, and feeling that I have some obligation not to look at them to protect whatever privacy they have left. The sergeant was amused.

It's an amazing facility, and I would tell you more but then I'd have to kill you.

There was one scary moment. The segregation unit is a short hallway off one of the main corridors, with about six doors opening into it. Each cell is about half the size of a normal cell, and is closed with a dark gray steel door with a long narrow strip of plexiglass down the top half. The sergeant had told us about a prisoner who was a fighter, who had to be kept chained and in segregation at all times because any time he was free, he'd come at the officers. We were looking for him, but when the sergeant told us he was gone we all relaxed and continued down the hall. Then I looked to my right.

There, pressed up against the plexiglass, was a gray-haired man with stubbled face and the craziest grin I've ever seen. Even though he was behind a solid steel door, my skin crawled and I jumped back. He stayed pressed against the glass, watching us, the whole time we were in that section. I had a strong feeling that he was wishing he could grab one of us and get a few minutes alone. I wasn't surprised when I learned later that he was convicted of murdering his wife. Rumor has it that he's got other unsavory, perhaps deadly, predilections.

Dealing with the horrors of what people do to each other is different when you have a little academic distance going on. Seeing someone face to face who not only has killed but very likely would take great pleasure in doing so again is the stuff of nightmares. I admire those officers. I wonder how many of them have an overactive imagination.

I don't think you could and survive in that job.

Posted by susanna at 06:42 PM | TrackBack

The future of government-paid health care

The debate continues, off and on, about whether we should have a national government-paid health care system a la Hillary; it's likely to heat up when the next presidential election comes around, especially if Ms. Hillary herself is in the running.

To keep the matter in perspective, think about this: In Australia, the government pays for childless couples to have invitro fertilization treatment. And now liberal politicians there are going ballistic because there's a rumor the conservative government may try to cap the uses of IVF by couples. Not end, mind you, but limit - specifically, to three tries a year for women prior to age 42, and three tries total for women over age 42. If they want to try more than that, they can, they just have to pay for it at about $7500 Australian a pop.

And here's what the libs have to say about it:

[NSW Liberal Party vice-president and women's council member Rhondda] Vanzella said her reasons for moving the motion were driven by her daughter's IVF treatment.

"I know exactly what's involved in it, and I just don't think that there should be any relationship between the Government telling you what you can do and what you can't do," she said.

Well, from what I can see, the government there isn't trying to tell people what they can or can't do. What they're saying it, we aren't going to pay for it beyond a certain point. This seems very reasonable, if you take as a given that IVF is something governments should pay for at all in the first place (which I don't):

Treasurer Peter Costello and Mr Abbott have refused to confirm or deny the detail of the "three strikes" policy but have publicly argued the need to ensure IVF treatment is not open-ended, and released Health Department research to support their views.

If nationalized health care took over the US, how long before someone would claim that IVF is a civil right of someone here? How long before any limitations would be ascribed to racism, since a goodly percentage of those who would rely most on nationalized health care would be lower income minorities? And of course the anti-discrimination laws would soon require that gay couples be allowed to participate in IVF, even though their problem wouldn't be fertility but rather partnering in same-sex couples that can't biologically reproduce within the couple.

Reproduction isn't a right. Bottomless health care isn't a right. And we need to make sure that our health care policies don't go left.

Posted by susanna at 11:19 AM | TrackBack

April 26, 2005

The pros and cons of tracking sex offenders forever

Yesterday I posted about plans afoot in a few states to track convicted sex offenders by leg bracelets with GPS tracking capabilities. I noted that I'm generally in favor of it, but there are some civil rights issues and general common sense concerns that need to be addressed first. My discussion of it is quite long, of course it is because I'm the one writing it, so it's in MORE.

Many criminal justice policy decisions are made on emotion, not rational consideration and factual review of research and actual cases. That's a very bad thing. I'm not saying that emotion shouldn't be a part of it - emotion is part of what tells us should and shouldn't be a part of society. But it should be a part of the consideration, not the primary mover.

The first question is, what's our goal? Is it to stop them from causing additional harm? Is it to punish them for the harm they've already caused? Is it to teach them how to live a law-abiding life so they will choose not to harm again, and possibly even give something valuable to society like a solid, tax-paying hard-working citizen does? In the case of GPS tracking, its main purpose is clearly to limit or prevent further harm; any other purpose would be secondary.

And what about the impact our choice has on society as a whole? I don't think very many of us want to go back to a society where someone is hanged for stealing bread; the sharia law that holds sway in some more hard-line Islamic nations is often decried in the US as vicious and damaging to the concept of a free society. It is that, but what they do now is not so different in a number of ways from the way English society was not so many hundreds of years ago. So, given that we don't want to go where nearly everything is a capital offense, we have to have some way of deciding how harshly we want to respond to different kinds of crime. Essentially, we have to set up a hierarchy of harm, which first establishes what harm a crime causes and second how serious that harm is.

Then we think about intent. Did the person mean to cause harm? How much harm did they mean to cause? In our criminal justice system, given two crimes where the harm caused was the same (say, a death by drowning), we tend to view a crime less seriously when the intent to do harm is less. For example, if two people are drinking and horseplaying around a swimming pool, and one of them playfully pushes the other one so he falls down and hits his head, then slips into the pool and drowns before his drunk friend can get him out, we're not likely to charge that person with capital murder. If on the other hand, someone is swimming in a pool and someone else pulls him under and holds him there until he drowns, and meant for him to die, then the killer probably would be charged with at least first degree murder, if not capital murder.

So there are the main considersations: Harm, Intent, Goal of correctional response. To that, add likelihood of reoffending, which generally tracks pretty closely with intent. There are other factors - such as, repetitive DUIs where the potential for harm outstrips the intent to do harm in pretty much every case, so you have to respond to the potential as well as the intent - but in sex offense cases that's not really a major concern. In sex offenses, the intent to do harm tracks with the actual harm, and if anything the actual harm falls short of the intended harm much more often than the opposite is true.

Sex offenders come in a wide range of levels of harm, intent and likelihood of re-offending. The majority of them are not active predators; they're drunken frat guys or a relative taking advantage of an opportunity to abuse a young person or a boyfriend/husband who feels he has a right to sex on demand. Not that those can't be predators too, but a lot of them aren't. That's not to diminish the harm they've caused, but the intent is different from a predator's intent. And the context is difficult to monitor with a GPS device.

The civil rights issue is, for me, the fact that we should as a society seek to limit the government's control over the lives of citizens of the US. Certainly we have a limited right to protections, and that becomes pretty broad when it's a protection against intentional harm. But once a precedent has been set for maintaining oversight of someone for the rest of his life, outside of prison, if we've not set very clear boundaries for when that can happen, it can be extrapolated into other circumstances that really don't require or deserve it.

A more directly utilitarian consideration is resources - when you have limited resources, it's better to do a great job with the most serious problem than to do a poor job with every level of the problem. It is not practical, or even desirable, for us to lock up every sex offender for the rest of his (or her) life. We have to decide who is the greatest threat, and set criteria to determine that. The tighter the criteria, the fewer offenders will meet it, and the more likely we will be successful in preventing those offenders from further sexual predations.

I think we need to limit any permanent tracking to those sex offenders who are sexual predators with clear indications they will likely reoffend. We can't kill them all, or keep them all in prison forever. We're back to the hierarchy of harm. But I think the risk of reoffending, of causing future harm, is great enough to justify tracking a narrow subset of the offenders, the ones who have clearly gone beyond a crime of convenience or opportunity and actively sought out settings and circumstances where they can offend. Unfortunately, just like it sometimes takes a death at an intersection before the road crew puts up a traffic light, there will be instances where an offender either isn't detected until he becomes deadly or where his history doesn't predict he will escalate. People, children, will be victimized. But we can balance the need for freedom with the need for protection, and can limit harm significantly, by the GPS tracking.

Even that is not a sure thing, by the way. Unless we create a "child free zone" in the community at large, and limit child sex offenders to those clearly delineated zones, there will be instances where someone wearing one of those bracelets assaults a child. Nothing is guaranteed to stop reoffending 100% except killing the offender. And I would consider expanding GPS tracking to sexual offenders who choose adult victims, although that would create issues of how to limit their movement. I would think in that situation the tracking would not be so much to keep them away from certain areas as much as to track whether they were in an area where an offense took place. The knowledge that their exact location and time there would be accessible to police within minutes of a reported assault would be a powerful deterrent. But the main use would be for offenders who choose child victims.

Of course, people who murder in the course of sexual offending should, I think, be eligible for life imprisonment. If they have a history of offending, then I think the death penalty is appropriate. Actually, I think drawing and quartering is appropriate, but I don't want to get medieval on you.

Posted by susanna at 05:04 PM | TrackBack

Someone needs a lesson in statistics

Men's Health magazine compiled a list of the 20 happiest places in the US and the 20 most depressed; when I saw that Jersey City ranks as the third happiest, I knew there was something wrong.

What they really did was find out who complains about depression and then takes drugs or kills themselves over it. I'd seriously recommend they control for a few things - for example, pull out income and see if places with higher incomes have more sales of anti-depressants. Not that poorer people don't buy them, or need them, but I'd guess in Jersey City you'd find depressed people more likely to get their happy pills on a street corner, not in a pharmacy. And maybe it's just me, but I also suspect you'll find fewer recent immigrants, fewer salt-of-the-earth middle America types, and fewer macho types (i.e. cowboys) crying in their coffee. A lot of mood is interpreting what's going on, and some people are more ready to accept that life just isn't fair.

I'm not trashing people who need and use anti-depressants; I've needed them myself a few times. But just like Ritalin, I think a lot of people go on them more as a way to moderate emotions over behaviors or situations that are a part of life, rather than as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. It's a lot easier to take a pill than change your life or your attitude. But behavior modification is a good therapy for depression - once the drugs give you a mood floor, behavior modification therapy gives you new tools to manage situations and emotions that previously triggered depression. It's not a cure-all. But then popping a pill usually isn't either. Learning to re-interprete your world in a healthier way can actually help stave off the lesser depressive episodes, so you can let go of the drugs. Or take a lower dose at least.

Jersey City*. Sheesh.

* Yes, yes, I have some fond memories of it. But there's nothing like watching a cow pasture from your front porch.

Posted by susanna at 08:59 AM | TrackBack

Makes it easier to be a bad guy

NJ politician Paul Byrne, convicted of helping his boss and childhood friend Robert Janiszewski get into all kinds of nasty Jersey style corrupt deals while Hudson County Executive for four terms, finds some comfort in his lack of belief in God:

If you don't do this [write a living will] for your family, you don't really love them," he said. "People say, 'It's in God's hands.' Really, it isn't. God is too busy to be running around to all the emergency rooms in New Jersey."

Byrne doesn't believe in God, anyway. For a convicted bagman, there is comfort in that.

"If had any religious faith, I'd be concerned about dying because I don't think I'd even make it to purgatory," he said. "I don't want to contend with the day of reckoning."

Somehow I'm thinking the day of reckoning won't arrive or not arrive based on his wishes. It's sad. I hope he rethinks before the end.

Posted by susanna at 08:21 AM | TrackBack

April 25, 2005

Why am I always the last to know?

Paige Davis is off Trading Spaces!! Why didn't I know this? I watch it fairly often, although not as obsessively as I used to, and I like her a lot. I think she adds a lot to the show. But she's gone. Poof! Here's what she had posted on her blog - back in January! (Okay, maybe I'm the last to know because I'm oblivious.)

With Much Gratitude (Jan 24, 2005)

I just wanted to take a minute to say goodbye. As you may have heard, TLC is taking Trading Spaces in a new creative direction. They are moving into a host-less format and therefore I will no longer be in the cast of the show. My last episode will premiere in March and in the meantime I'll be looking toward my next adventure and what will hopefully be a bright future — and a lot more time with Patrick and Sophie. :-)

I cannot begin to explain what an incredible journey this show has been for me. I love Trading Spaces so much and I am very proud of what the cast and crew has brought to you. I have loved working with the amazingly talented cast. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting all our homeowners. And it's been a thrill meeting awesome and dedicated fans like you all over the country. I will miss my friends very much, but I know they all wish me well and send me off with their love and support; and I am sure that Trading Spaces will still be a fabulous and fun show for all of you to watch. I will certainly be watching and cheering them on.

With much gratitude,

Press Statement:
"TLC is taking Trading Spaces in a new creative direction, transitioning to a "host-less" format this spring. As a result, Paige Davis will be leaving the cast of Trading Spaces. We believe that this new creative direction will enable the show to be more spontaneous, focus more on the homeowners and designers, and create alternative home trades in different cities and on opposite coasts.

Paige helped make Trading Spaces a great success for the network and we wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.

Paige's last new episode will premiere in March, with repeat episodes of Trading Spaces airing throughout the year."

Hmph. I've watched the new format, and I don't think it's as cohesive. Maybe I'm just used to Paige. And maybe that's a sign that I'm conservative after all - I don't like change.

You knew it'd end up with politics, didn't you?

Posted by susanna at 10:09 PM | TrackBack

Maybe we should be Gosnoldians

A tooth from a 400-year-old English grave may give us a new American hero to revere.

Or at least another monument to visit.

Some say Bartholomew Gosnold was the "prime mover" behind the settlement at Jamestown, VA. US archaeologists have found a grave they think might be his, but they have to check his DNA against that of a known family member of Gosnold's. That's where the tooth comes in.

It's an intriguing story, and illuminates more of the history of the times. If you like history, you'll like this.

[Link via Archaeoblog]

Posted by susanna at 02:41 PM | TrackBack

Tracking sex offenders forever

In the wake of the newest spate of young girls abducted and murdered by sex offenders, lawmakers are discussing again the possibilities of permanently tracking convicted sex offenders by attaching a bracelet to their leg. Here's the description from the Florida version:

The proposal - approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee last week - mandates life in prison or permanent electronic monitoring if offenders ever get out, so trackers can instantly know if they leave the areas where they are registered to live.

The "instantly know" part could have to do with GPS, although the article doesn't say so. Here's a description from a 2004 article about a program in Washington, DC:

Using global positioning satellites, they can now track sexual predators' every move, right down to the square foot. Since the program began last year, some 60 offenders have been kept under close watch...

Stewart explains that an ankle bracelet communicates to a pager-like device worn on the waist. It has the offender's name on it, the date, and the exact time down to the second. The offender's movements are beamed from the box to a satellite, and then to computers monitored by parole officers like Paul Brannan in D.C.

"It is essentially psychological warfare. They know they're being tracked and the fear of us finding out about what they're doing is, I think, having a deterring effect."

The predators, notes Stewart, are forbidden from loitering around schoolyards, churches, or homes of previous victims. They're given curfews. If they're somewhere they're not supposed to be, parole officers learn about it when they log onto their computers the next day.

"This is what we're interested in," says Brannan. "What happens after work? Is he going home? Is he going somewhere else? We want to see if he stops near a school."

If he does, says Stewart, the parole officers have proof positive to take to a judge and have the offender put back in jail.

Tennessee already has it:

NASHVILLE -- Within the next few months, paroled sex offenders in Tennessee will be getting some new jewelry -- and they had better keep it on or Big Brother will know. The state is setting up pilot projects in several counties to make paroled sex offenders wear an ankle bracelet that uses a global positioning system, or GPS, to track their every move. The GPS bracelet can tell the Board of Probation and Parole if an offender strays into a restricted zone, such as a schoolyard or playground. It sets off an immediate alarm if the bracelet is removed. "I think these changes will make Tennessee one of the last places sex offenders want to be, and I think the GPS system will be one of the most important public safety tools since the two-way radio," said Rep. Rob Briley, a Nashville Democrat.

The ankle bracelet program was part of a package of bills, soon to be signed into law, that will tighten Tennessee's sex offender laws. Lawmakers said lax laws and enforcement had made the state a haven for such people. The tracking technology was first used in Florida in the late 1990s and since has spread to several other states. The Tennessee project will not be used statewide until a $2.5 million pilot program proves its effectiveness.

It's very difficult to rehabilitate sex offenders, and there are some who are predators, pure and simple, who should never see light of day again once they're caught. One Texas official estimates that number is 10%:

The arrest of a convicted sex offender this week in the kidnapping, rape and slaying of a 9-year-old Florida girl underscores a national problem, experts say. Authorities don't have enough money to identify, treat and monitor the sex offenders most likely to repeat their crimes.

"The systems at the state and federal levels need to be fixed," said Allison Taylor, executive director of the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment, which coordinates that state's sex-offender treatment strategies.

"We have 41,000 names on our (sex offenders) registry," she said. "If we could take our money and focus it on the 10 percent or so who are most likely to reoffend, we could make great progress."

10% doesn't sound that bad, until you do the numbers: 4,100 "most" likely to reoffend. And that's just in Texas. However, a Canadian psychologist says sex offenders aren't usually likely to reoffend:

In fact, most sex offenders are less likely to reoffend than other criminals.

"Studies show that most sex offenders do not reoffend after being caught," said Karl Hanson, a psychologist and senior research officer at Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, that country's equivalent of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Hanson, a leading authority on sex offenders, says counseling, an offender's past and even polygraph tests help identify the "highest-risk reoffenders." Those individuals need to be imprisoned for "very long sentences," he said.

I think what needs to be clarified there is the type of sex offender you're dealing with. A sex offender ranges from a person convicted of exposing himself to women to a father who abuses his daughter to a sexual predator who stalks and kills - like the man who killed Jessica Lunsford. A lot of sex offenders in all but the last category - the career sexual predators - are responding to circumstances as well as their own mental difficulties. When treated, they'll find ways not to re-offend. But someone who is addicted to sexual activity that is illegal - pedophilia, violent sex, rape - are unlikely to be deterred. They have to be incapacitated. What's the difference? Deterrence is essentially a threat - if you do X again, then you are going to suffer this harm that you really really really don't want. It's a mind thing. Incapacitation is literal physical restraint - you will not do this again because we are going to make it physically impossible to do so.

The GPS tracking falls somewhere between deterrence and incapacitation. Part of the goal is to get inside the heads of sex offenders to let them know they're being watched. That's going to be enough for a lot of the somewhat bad ones, and the knowledge that the police will be on their way soon will be enough for the bad ones. But for the evil ones, the only type of incapacitation that works is prison. Or death. Of course, even for the somewhat bad to bad ones, deterrence works only if they know the cops are coming if they go over the line.

Unfortunately, vigilance on those restrictions tend to slip as more people are put under survellience and few recommit. Staffing in law enforcement and corrections units also make a huge difference. It's a sad truth that the money for monitoring offenders like that just isn't there except for the brief period of time after a tragedy like the Lunsford murder. That isn't to say cops don't care, or that probation or parole officers don't care. They do. They're just usually badly overworked and pulled in a lot of directions. It's hard to maintain vigilance in the face of inactivity. But it's when vigilance slips that inactivity ends in tragedy.

I'm generally in favor of tracking serious sex offenders, especially those determined to be at high risk of reoffending. But there are civil rights issues. I'll talk more about that later today.

Posted by susanna at 12:05 PM | TrackBack

Cowboy archaeologist blog

I would never have thought those three words would make it together in a title - especially in a coherent title. Yet it works for this blog I found today, where a cowboy in chaps asks the burning question, "What have YOU done TODAY to change the face of archaeology as we know it?"

I really enjoy reading about archaeology, so it's going on the blogroll.

I was talking about archaeology yesterday with a friend of mine who's a freshman in college. I was encouraging her to spread her electives out over a variety of disciplines she found intriguing without being worried about whether it would or could be a career. You never know when you'll find your true calling, and it's sometimes nothing you would have thought of without taking a class on something related to it. I told her I'd always wanted to study archaeology and regretted not taking at least one class, but then had to admit I was more interested in finding the big stuff on a daily basis, not spending three years digging through a hillside with a tablespoon and a toothbrush to find one ancient bracelet. It's probably a good thing that my interest limited to watching archaeology shows and, now, reading about it on a blog.

[Link via Theosebes]

Posted by susanna at 10:13 AM | TrackBack

April 24, 2005

Astronomically beyond cool

I love readability measures. It's my goal to shake loose as much readability as possible from as many high-flown concepts/articles as I can get my hands on. I hit the readability vs snob-factor when I was finishing up my master's thesis. As a former reporter, I was intent on writing it clearly but readably. I think most fairly complex concepts can be understood without having to have a college or even high school degree, just a modicum of understanding and intelligence on the reader's part and more than a modicum of both on the writer's part. In other words, I think the blame for someone's inability to understand a particular piece of writing lies more on the writer than the reader.

A friend of mine - take a bow, Desiree! - was helping me get my thesis typed and formatted. This was before I was Computer Chick. Besides, she can burn up a keyboard at over 100 words/minute and I'm a lame 70 wpm if I'm cooking. After typing it, Desiree ran a readability and jargon test on the thesis. Then I took it to my professor. She made a number of changes, none of them substantive or theoretical; the majority were in wording, to, as she said, make it more "academic". She didn't say this sneeringly, I hasten to add - she was very cool, just acknowledging that an academic work has to have an academic air to pass muster. I then took it back to Desiree, who made the changes and ran another series of tests. The education needed to read it went from a high school sophomore to a college freshman; the jargon level doubled.

What an education in academese!

Now CG Hill at Dustbury has alerted me to this site, which will go to your website and analyze it for readability. Here's how mine came out:

Total sentences: 1,104
Total words: 14,012
Average words per sentence: 12.69
Words with 1 syllable: 9,424
Words with 2 syllables: 2,702
Words with 3 syllables: 1,307
Words with 4 or more: 579
Percent of words with three or more syllables: 13.46%
Average Syllables per Word: 1.5
Gunning Fog Index: 10.46
Flesch Reading Ease: 66.77
Flesch-Kincaid Grade: 7.10

Essentially, the Gunning Fog index says how much education someone would need to read it, so that's at about mid-year high school sophomore. Interestingly, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade is also education needed to read it, and that is 7.10. Apparently that one was derived using gifted students. For the Reading Ease measure, the closer to 100 it is, the easer it is to understand. The discussion on the website says, "Authors are encouraged to aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70." So apparently I'm doing okay, despite a tendency to be Faulkner-esque in my sentence construction.

And according to Philip Chalmers' rating index, my site takes more education than Time and Newsweek, but less than the Wall Street Journal. I like his assessment of what it means when a document has a Fog Index of over 30.

Posted by susanna at 04:41 PM | TrackBack

A Clinton-Kerry knockdown? We can only hope.

It appears that John Kerry may have aspirations to run at the presidency again in 2008, and envisions Hillary Clinton as his "2008 presidential opponent". That would make for a fantastic primary season. And the more dagger-eyed looks he gives people between now and then, the better. There's no way he's taking down Hillary, but he's an ugly fighter and if he can be lured into eating her breakfast for two years before the primaries, that's a good thing.

John Hinderaker at Powerline agrees.

And for those of you enjoying my mangled metaphors, I'm just practicing to be Tom Friedman when I grow up.

[Friedman link from Scott Johnson at Powerline]

Posted by susanna at 03:26 PM | TrackBack

Biased Brits Central at it again

Nice for the Brits to have to pay tax dollars for this:

The BBC was last night plunged into a damaging general election row after it admitted equipping three hecklers with microphones and sending them into a campaign meeting addressed by Michael Howard, the Conservative leader.

The Tories have made an official protest after the hecklers, who were given the microphones by producers, were caught at a party event in the North West last week. Guy Black, the party's head of communications, wrote in a letter to Helen Boaden, the BBC's director of news, that the hecklers began shouting slogans that were "distracting and clearly hostile to the Conservative Party".

These included "Michael Howard is a liar", "You can't trust the Tories" and "You can only trust Tony Blair".

...Last night, the BBC claimed that the exercise was part of a "completely legitimate programme about the history and art of political heckling" and said that other parties' meetings were being "observed". However, The Telegraph has established that none of Tony Blair's meetings was infiltrated or disrupted in similar fashion...

The spokesman was unable to provide details of any other campaign meetings attended by the BBC3 crew. He said that the hecklers had not been paid a fee, but could not say whether they had received expenses.

The sad thing is, while I think that's wholly outrageous, I'm just not surprised or even slightly shocked - unless it's at the general stupidity of BBC. Clearly they have some sense of themselves as the best of all journalists while at the same time committing egregious acts of bias and poor journalistic practices. There is in journalism a temptation to soup up situations to show what you think is truth, but more dramatically than is happening naturally. While dramatic license to prove a point is not a bad thing in some contexts, it is A Very Bad Thing in journalism, very obviously because journalism claims to be the unbiased, non-participant observer of What Is, not a dramatized version of same.

If the intentions were to disrupt Howard's speech, then they should all be fired forthwith. But if the intentions were just to "soup up" what they already thought was "truth", then someone needs to advise them that observation changes activity. Here's a little research from a Powerpoint on behavior change and the impact of observation:

Workers produced more work units when an observer was present (Belfiore, Mace and Browder, 1989)

Dishwashers spent more time on a task when observer was present (Rusch et al (1984)

Bus operators responded systematically to the presence of a supervisor (Olson & Austin, 2001)

I'm sure most people would say, "Um, of course" to those observations, but apparently the BBC folk aren't much willing to admit that their behavior, even if it was just giving people microphones who were already there to heckle, would have had an effect on the event. People tend to perform as they perceive they are expected to perform, while they're being observed. It's a huge issue in research studies, that's why they do double-blind studies on really important things.

The BBC people are guilty of one of three things: Stupidity (not knowing the science); Bias (knowing but not caring if it hurt Howard); or Sabotage (deliberately putting people out there to harrass Howard specifically, in an intentional bid to hurt him even if instigated only by their desire for footage). There is no non-culpable ignorance here. And in any of those three cases, they've seriously breeched the trust implied by their staunch claim of unbiased journalism.

I'm opting for Sabotage.

Posted by susanna at 08:42 AM | TrackBack

April 23, 2005

Filtering through

I was chatting this afternoon with a young lady of my acquaintance, who I will not describe in detail because I didn't get her permission to blog this conversation. She is intelligent and, in my judgment, fairly liberal. We talked about a lot of things, although not directly about politics, and at one point she said something about "conservatives, like Ted Turner".

I nearly keeled over in the floor. In what world would Turner, Mr. Give My Money to the UN, be conservative? I told her I didn't consider him one at all, and she said, "But he's a member of the NRA! And he gets huge tax breaks!" She said she considers herself a moderate, and her view of conservatives is "someone who is most concerned about themselves as an individual and about how things affect me, not anyone else." Nothing I could say - I didn't try very hard, I like her and didn't want to get into a verbal tussle - would sway her from her view.

It's a classic case of filtering, I think. We each have an image in our head labeled "conservative" that has a certain array of characteristics, and when we learn about someone we compare them to that image. It's just that she and I have completely different images attached to that word. And that's even with a full knowledge of dictionaries! In my judgment, based on her definition, there's a whole passle of not just liberals, but leftists, that would fit her image. The one I suggested to her was George Soros.

Pretty amusing.

Posted by susanna at 03:42 PM | TrackBack


You just wish people would actually think sometimes.

While I think the guidance counselor is probably a well-meaning person, one suspects she is the type of liberal who feels more than she thinks, and believes feeling deeply is an adequate substitute for thinking deeply. I suspect she'll learn that feeling without thinking has some unpleasant consequences sometimes.

And let me hasten to add that the non-thinking/all-feeling liberal is not a majority subset.

[Link via Tyler Cowen at the Volokh Conspiracy.]

Posted by susanna at 08:41 AM | TrackBack

April 22, 2005

Crowing roosters spark a hen-fight**

Trish Wilson righteously fisks SC Republican legislator John Graham Altman III, using the article from The State linked in my previous post on this. The legislators continue not to help themselves by making stupid jokes that are being recorded (one has to wonder whether they knew it was being recorded):

Advocates said they had offered amendments to remove sections that committee members had objected to, such as one that expanded the definition of “physical cruelty,” a grounds for divorce.

But the amendments never got introduced. Instead, advocates said, committee members joked about the title of the bill and then tabled it with little discussion.

According to a tape of the meeting obtained by The State newspaper, Altman asked why the bill’s title — “Protect Our Women in Every Relationship (POWER)” — just mentioned protecting women. Harrison suggested making the bill the “Protecting Our People in Every Relationship” Act, or “POPER.”

A voice on the tape can be heard pronouncing it “Pop her.” Another voice then says, “Pop her again,” followed by laughter.

It just makes me give a heavy sigh. These legislators need* some couth rather desperately. I doubt seriously that most of these men have ever raised a hand to a woman, or engaged in spousal abuse, or would tolerate it happening to their daughters or the women around them. But the clunkiness of this whole process indicates they've all got tin ears when it comes to women's political issues. Yeesh.

This is precisely the kind of legislatorial stupidity that gives leftist feminists the cart in which to ride roughshod over the legislative process. I agree with the people who say that South Carolina needs to get serious about domestic abuse (and I'm deliberately not using "domestic violence", since some very serious abuse does not involve physical assault). I agree that these legislators need a public metaphorical spanking for their idiocy. What concerns me is that because of that idiocy, the legislators may be unwilling to challenge more leftist elements who will now push harder for their version of the law. When you've been caught being very very disrespectful and rude about a certain genuine problem, it strips you of a lot of credibility when you try to point out that someone else (who wasn't disrespectful and rude in that way) is trying to pass inappropriate, unwieldy or just bizarrely anti-man legislation. I'm not saying that the tabled proposal, brought forward by a female Democrat legislator, is any of those things. I'm just saying, the Republicans have given a lot of cover to someone who would push for just that kind of legislation. And I fear because of this mui estupido behavior, South Carolinians are in trouble.

Pinko Feminist Hellcat (what a funny, cool name. heh.) has a bit more to say about this too. Naturally.

* I started to say "a good smack upside the head" but then realized in this context that was not a good choice. See how easily a silly joke could become A Major Issue?

** Yes, yes, it's a bit flippant. But I think the legislators are being idiots and the feminists are being just a tad self-righteous, consciously so I think in an effort to push their own agenda. I don't disagree with their agenda in a lot of ways, although I certainly don't agree with all the usual baggage feminists tend to load onto the DV issue. It's important to realize that we're seeing a fight here, not a reasoned debate on either side.

And partially I said it just to see if I could get a rise out of the feminists :D. Barry, where are you when I need you?

(Ooooohhhh... cool, when I went to Alas, A Blog, I learned that GW [and me, since I voted for him and agree with him on this issue] wants to kill 68,000 women. Evil, evil GW! Although I must say I'm more sympathetic to a woman who lives in a third world country and doesn't have contraceptives or the means to feed another mouth, than I am to a woman who has contraceptives and has the means to feed another mouth and has the option of giving up for adoption but still can't be bothered* to give 9 months of her life to let another life exist. You know, consequences really bite sometimes, especially if the situation is not completely of your own making, but that doesn't mean you should harm someone else to limit your consequences.)

*{And yes, that's inflammatory, but less so IMHO than saying GW wants 68,000 women to die. Not so pleasant when the shoe's on the other foot, hmm?}

Posted by susanna at 10:56 AM | TrackBack

Fat chance of death

On Wednesday I posted about the CDC having to come down on their claims that obesity has a direct causal link to early death. John Luik at TCS has a column on it that looks more closely at the numbers:

[E]ven the 25,814 deaths per year from obesity needs to be taken not just with a grain of salt but with enough to keep Chicago's streets ice-free for an entire winter. That's because the results are in many cases not statistically significant, though the authors don't mention this. For example, in the 25-59 year old group the confidence interval for increased risk for the obese with BMI's up to 35 is 0.84-1.72, meaning that we can't be confident that even for this group there is any increased risk of early death. The same is true for those with BMI's up to 30. Moreover, the RR figure -- the Relative Risk for dying from obesity - is, in the authors' words, "in the range of 1-2." This means that there is at the very best a very weak association -- notice, not a causal connection -- between obesity and death. And even this is built on a shaky foundation as the authors note that "Other factors associated with body weight, such as physical activity, body composition, visceral adiposity, physical fitness, or dietary intake, might be responsible for some or all of the apparent associations of weight with mortality." So there it is -- there may in fact be no link between obesity and death. Early deaths might instead be due to diets, body type or lack of physical activity.

There's lots more good stuff, and I suggest you read it just for the junk science debunking if not for the obesity update. And Luik predicts what the Fat Police have already confirmed - they're not going to let facts get in the way of fighting this horrible killer. From Luik's article:

In a world without junk science, results like these would mark the end of the supposed obesity epidemic that is killing us by the thousands. Unfortunately the public health community is already busily discounting the CDC's numbers and telling us that whatever the science says, fat kills. Don't count on it.

From an article on the findings in USA Today, which I linked to on Wednesday:

CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said because of the uncertainty in calculating the health effects of being overweight, the CDC is not going to use the brand-new figure of 25,814 in its public awareness campaigns and is not going to scale back its fight against obesity.

"There's absolutely no question that obesity is a major public health concern of this country," she said.

Looks like Gerberding has shifted from "scientist" to "fanatic".

Posted by susanna at 09:09 AM | TrackBack

Wendy's finger-lickin' lady is arrested

File this under "unsurprising":

The woman who claimed she found a finger in her bowl of Wendy's chili last month has been arrested, the latest twist in a bizarre case about how the 1 1/2-inch finger tip ended up in a bowl of fast food.

Anna Ayala was taken into custody late Thursday at her Las Vegas home, police said.

And this is one big reason why:

As it turns out, Ayala has a litigious history. She has filed claims against several corporations, including a former employer and General Motors, though it is unclear from court records whether she received any money. She said she got $30,000 from El Pollo Loco after her 13-year-old daughter got sick at one of the chain's Las Vegas-area restaurants. But El Pollo Loco spokeswoman Julie Weeks said last week that the company reviewed Ayala's February 2004 claim and paid her nothing.

Let that be a lesson, people!! No more lifting body parts to use in duping fast food outlets.

The question of whose finger it is remains unanswered.

[And yes, that's an intentional pun.]

Posted by susanna at 08:59 AM | TrackBack

Protect roosters, not women!

A South Carolina legislator is in hot water after defending the SC Judiciary Committee's decision to pass a bill making cockfighting a felony and tabling a bill that would have made domestic violence a felony. Both are now misdemeanors.

I read the article about it in the SC newspaper The State, and it appears that the domestic violence bill was tabled not to kill it but because some legislators didn't like some of the provisions. They're planning to put forward alternative bills. That's certainly valid procedurally. The person who brought forward the tabled bill is a Democrat, the people who plan to bring forward alternatives are Republicans. That's also standard. Usually a big bill will be negotiated and have several versions batted around before one is approved.

The problem here seems to be that one of the Republican legislators who opposed the DV bill but approved the cockfighting bill is one of those people who should permanently have a sock stuffed in his mouth. When interviewed by a television reporter, Rep. John Graham Altman (R-Dist. 119-Charleston), sounded as if he placed the fault for DV squarely on the victims. And while doing so, he informed the female reporter that she was not very bright, and neither was anyone else who disagreed with him:

A bill protecting cocks passed through the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. John Graham Altman (R-Dist. 119-Charleston) was in favor of the gamecock bill, "I was all for that. Cockfighting reminds me of the Roman circus, coliseum."

A bill advocates say would protect victims against batterers was tabled, killing it for the year. Rep. Altman is on the committee that looked at the domestic violence bill, "I think this bill is probably drafted out of an abundance of ignorance."

...Rep. Altman responds to the comparison [between the cockfighting and DV bills], "People who compare the two are not very smart and if you don't understand the difference, Ms. Gormley, between trying to ban the savage practice of watching chickens trying to kill each other and protecting people rights in CDV statutes, I'll never be able to explain it to you in a 100 years ma'am."

News 10 reporter Kara Gormley asked Altman, "That's fine if you feel you will never be able to explain it to me, but my question to you is: does that show that we are valuing a gamecock's life over a woman's life?"

Altman again, "You're really not very bright and I realize you are not accustomed to this, but I'm accustomed to reporters having a better sense of depth of things and you're asking this question to me would indicate you can't understand the answer. To ask the question is to demonstrate an enormous amount of ignorance. I'm not trying to be rude or hostile, I'm telling you."

Gormley, "It's rude when you tell someone they are not very bright."

Altman, "You're not very bright and you'll just have to live with that."

In the follow-up interview, Rep. Altman commented, "I wanted to offend that snippy reporter who come in here on a mission. She already had the story and she came in with some dumb questions and I don't mind telling people when they ask dumb questions."

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Altman isn't correct about the reporter coming with an agenda - it happens, especially with television reporters for whom confrontation is great TV. But he didn't have to give her not just the story she came for, but an even more damaging one. He's the one who's just not very bright, at least about talking to the press. Perhaps there are legitimate criticisms of the DV bill. He isn't quoted as expressing any coherently. That interview was a train wreck.

My biggest concern is not Altman the idiot and Gormley the attack reporter. Their exchange and its aftermath is almost cliche, especially given that revised bills will likely come up later. And I'm not very concerned about the feminist ranting about it, or the 100 college students who came out and protested (just wait, there'll be a candlelight vigil soon). They should pressure for elevation of DV to a felony, but to act like Altman's attitude is The Final Word is deceptive.

My concern is the women who are in DV situations who read about this in the newspaper or see it on television and think, "No one's going to help me. This legislator thinks it's my fault.", and become more hopeless as a result. For that, Gormley the attack reporter would carry a lot of the blame for making a Great TV Moment out of Altman's idiocy, rather than having a more well rounded report that included information about upcoming versions of the bill. I don't fault her or anyone else for mocking Altman. He deserves it. He's a politician, he's in his 70s, he should be smarter than that. But so should the other side.

Domestic violence is a difficult thing, just like any crime that takes place in the context of a relationship. It's hard to draw lines of blame, because truthfully women who go back to abusive men are consciously putting themselves in a high risk situation. But the psychological issue of women (or men) who repeatedly choose to be with an abuser is a completely separate issue from the abuser's abuse. It's never acceptable to beat up someone (unless it's in self-defense). In my judgment, the domestic relationship between a man and woman (or man and man or woman and woman) should only have an aggravating role in determining the seriousness of any assault, not a mitigating one. That's to say, the baseline for any assault should be the same if it happens in a bedroom, a bar or a ball field. Then issues such as repetitiveness, psychological intimidation, etc., should be added in as factors that make the crime more serious. Just like the fact that a man keeps showing up to bars even though he keeps getting his butt kicked when he goes shouldn't have an impact on the charges against the buttkicker, the fact that a domestic partner keeps returning to the situation likely to end in domestic violence shouldn't mitigate the assaulter's crime. He (it is usually a he, not always) has an independent responsibility not to harm.

I will say as an aside, that it is frustrating for the criminal justice system to have to see the same people coming through again and again and again, especially when the abused takes up for the abuser. That frustration is legitimate too, and the abused person's behavior often is its own sickness. But none of those dynamics should reduce the offender's responsibility for the harm he causes.

[First sighting of this from I See Invisible People, who links a longer post on Pinko Feminist Hellcat.]

Posted by susanna at 08:49 AM | TrackBack

April 21, 2005

I'm glad I'm not Eric

MSN has a new series in their "Dating & Personals" section, where, they inform us, "[M]arried writers reveal what they wish they'd done differently during their dating days". They kick it off with a column by a woman who co-edited a book called I Like Being Married. She may like it, but if I was Eric I'd be be finding it pretty hard to feel much love after this column.

Here's her Man Requirements from her dating days:

For many of my single years, I had a lengthy checklist of what my dream guy should be like: Tall, sophisticated, would sweep me off my feet by reciting lines from Walt Whitman. A natural philosopher and die-hard romantic, my husband-to-be would enjoy deep conversations about the meaning of life while gazing at me with those piercing brown eyes. (It's not like I'm picky, or anything...)

She goes on to talk about all these fantastically intelligent, cultured men whom she dated but just didn't gel with her. And now we get to... Eric.

Then I met Eric. "Oops," Eric said to me the first time I met him, looking down at his fly, which was open. "Looks like the horse is out of the barn." I laughed, and we talked some more, but I wasn't exactly dying to give him my number. After all, Eric had graduated from a mediocre college in Indiana. His clothes were wrinkled. Sophisticated, he was not. Even so, I figured it wouldn't hurt to go out with him a few times and have some fun while scouting out the real deal.

Months passed, and Eric and I kept going out. I was conflicted all the way; my checklist was still there, waiting for me to get real and move on. Just about every time we got together, Eric would say something that would remind me of the gulf between us. Like the day I told him I had always dreamed of hiking the Himalayas. This was met with an eyebrow furrow and a "Why would you want to go anywhere without good water pressure and dependable toilets?" Or, the day I nervously took him to meet my very religious mom. I'd prepped him for this, but he promptly informed her that "holy was out; happy was in." Spiritual enrichment, or any type of enrichment for that matter, did not exist in his world. He'd rather practice his golf swing than ruminate about the meaning of life. Why was I wasting my time with someone who was so obviously not my ideal?

I mean, is it just me or do you have a vision from reading this of some stupid insensitive clod with the manners of a goat, the style of a Pigpen, the depth of a mud puddle on a good road, and probably with a laugh that goes, "hyuck! hyuck!" while he's either adjusting himself or picking his nose? And do you get the contrast that she thinks she's a gorgeous genius with the manners of Princess Grace and the depth of a particularly deep part of the ocean? If not, this should help:

The why only became clear to me as I spent time with a good friend who'd found a guy who—check, check, check—had just about everything on her list. They had that perfect, clone-like state that I craved. Each spoke five languages and was very ambitious. Their breakfast conversation? Business strategies for developing countries. But then one day they asked if I'd seen a certain PBS documentary on the Civil War, and I admitted to laughing myself silly watching a SpongeBob SquarePants rerun with Eric instead.

I get her point - that in her judgment, her true mate was a guy who was very different from her, because he encourages her to do and be things she wants to do and be but somehow wouldn't on her own. It's an "opposites attract" thing. And given that she writes about how much she loves being married, it apparently works. I'm happy for them.

The thing that gets me is that she writes a nationally-available column that makes her husband seem like a tattered Sears suit marked down for the fifth time at the Salvation Army. You don't get any sense of what it is that she really likes about him, because the things she picks out as great are not presented in a way that makes me think they're great. She even basically calls him "childlike". Doesn't it sound arrogant and condescending to you?

I'm sure that her husband actually has a lot of great qualities, like responsibility, faithfulness, a great sense of humor, and, yes, intelligence. I'm sure their marriage is one of equals at least on a few levels, or she wouldn't be so happy. But why can't she say so? And why does she have to grind him under her heel (even though she apparently thinks it's "humor") in such a public way?

Maybe I'll start my own checklist: Advice on Good Marriages From Someone Who's Never Been There. And my very first entry would be, "Never trash your spouse in public. Never. Ever. N-O. Don't go there. Even to your family."*

*"Trashing" and "talking about problems" are different things. You can tell the difference - "trashing" will always sound whiney or hateful or mocking or condescending.

Posted by susanna at 09:56 PM | TrackBack

Agency sends paroled murderer to care for elderly woman

Dory Dickman, a close friend of mine who lives in New Jersey, told me recently that she and her sister had learned that the woman sent to care for their elderly mother by a health care agency was a paroled murderer. I encouraged her to tell the media about it, and today columnist Mike Brown in the Chicago Sun Times tells the story:

Imagine hiring someone to care for your invalid mother in her home only to learn months later that the person who's been back at the house taking care of Mom all day is on parole for a murder conviction. Imagine further that you were sent this caregiver through a very reputable agency that assured you it had performed a criminal background check on the employee through the Illinois State Police.

Sound kind of scary? Then imagine what it's like for Susan Dickman of Evanston. It really happened to her.

Dory and Susan's mom had a stroke last fall; Susan is a busy single mother and Dory lives in another state. They're in the situation a lot of people are, so they did the very best they could for their mom. They researched agencies, they monitored their mom's care, they did everything they could. Through that monitoring, they began to have suspicions that the caregiver might actually be a real threat to their mom. So Susan checked it out:

The real surprise came afterward, when the fill-in caregiver reported a parole officer had called looking for Young.

Dickman was shocked. Why would Young have a parole agent? She called a cousin who knows about such things. The cousin punched up the Illinois Department of Corrections inmate search Web page on her computer.

Sure enough. There was Rosetta Young, Inmate No. L07227, on parole from the Lincoln Correctional Center after serving 25 years for a 1976 murder and aggravated kidnapping conviction. There was also a felony conviction for a 1995 retail theft case.

Dickman would later learn Young's 1976 conviction stemmed from the murder of Colantha Wright, a mother of two who had been abducted by Young and her boyfriend, Charles Randle, from a South Side beauty shop where Wright worked. Wright's body was found two hours later in a field near Harvey. She had been shot once in the head. Her eyes were sealed with adhesive tape.

At the trial, a 10-year-old boy testified he saw a woman approach Wright with a gun and grab her. After a brief struggle, a man joined the woman. She handed him the gun, and they forced Wright into a car and drove off.

That woman was left alone with their mother all the time, and the reputable agency that sent her didn't even know that she had the murder conviction (although they did know she had a previous theft conviction). What's more, in Illinois agencies aren't even required to do background checks on home health care workers:

For Dickman, the incident raises larger questions about the reliability of criminal background checks, which aren't even currently required for home caregivers, who don't have to be licensed now in Illinois, although legislation is pending. It's easy to beat the check with a phony name or birth date, and it's not going to catch out-of-state convictions.

With more and more people living longer lives, and families often living some distance away from their elder family members, home health care is a burgeoning business. It's obvious that it should come with a large BUYER BEWARE stamped on every contract.

It's clear that even with the best intentions and doing the best research you can, you can still wind up with a convicted murderer sleeping with her boyfriend in your elderly, disabled mother's home - and you're paying her to do it.

At least the company, United Methodist Homes, is being good about the situation:

Dickman told me United Methodist Homes is still billing her for the services of the convicted murderer. [Chief Operating Officer William] Lowe defended the charges as legitimate but said he doesn't plan to pursue collection "aggressively."

I know Dory and Susan, not to mention their mom, are gratified by that promise.

It's nice to see such Christian charity.

Posted by susanna at 01:02 PM | TrackBack

Poor medical care contributed to inmates' deaths

It looks like serious trouble for Alabama's only women's prison, Tutwiler, and the for-profit Prison Health Services in charge of inmates' health care:

Prison medical staff provided poor, incomplete or substandard medical care to the three inmates who died last year at Tutwiler Prison for Women, according to a physician who monitors the prison's medical system for a federal court settlement.

Dr. Michael Puisis of Illinois, an expert in correctional health care, also suggests in a report that negligent, error-ridden medical care might have led to two of the three deaths.

It sounds very serious and unambiguous:

Among the mistakes the report cited in the three deaths:

"This patient's underlying medical conditions were grossly mismanaged," Puisis wrote about one woman, a lupus patient who suffered a brain hemorrhage and died in March 2004, a few months after Englehardt canceled tests recommended by an outside cardiologist. "There is no clinical basis for this decision," Puisis wrote.

"Care (of three chronic conditions) was substandard and may have contributed to her death," Puisis wrote about a prisoner who died in August. Her hyperlipidemia, a form of high cholesterol, was untreated and "unquestionably contributed to her death," he wrote.

This woman needed to go to a hospital, he wrote, but instead was kept in the prison infirmary and was not seen regularly by a doctor.

The third inmate hanged herself while on suicide watch. She was on suicide watch for five days, but was not evaluated by a mental health professional except for a phone call to a psychiatrist who prescribed medication. On Jan. 24, 2004, the woman was crying, saying "Daddy, don't hurt me anymore," and was banging her head against a wall, a nurse reported. The next day she hanged herself.

"It appears that the record is either incomplete or she was not seen for the duration of her suicide watch until she died," Puisis wrote.

PHS is not talking, unsurprisingly, and their excuse is pathetic:

PHS Vice President Ben Purser said Wednesday that he could not comment because he could not reach Alabama staff familiar with the report because they were in the field.

Please. If he had a pressing need to speak to any one of them he'd have them on the phone in 10 minutes. The state is also not interested in revealing the information:

The state and PHS are trying to keep Puisis' reports confidential. Previously, the reports have been filed with the court and released by the Southern Center for Human Rights, the Atlanta-based law firm that represents prisoners in the lawsuit.

But the Southern Center has declined to release the latest report because of unresolved issues with DOC and PHS. A state source provided the report to The Birmingham News.

This is one of those instances where I think leaking the information is the right thing to do. They shouldn't hold it back, and the reasons for holding it back all have to do with lawsuit protection, not inmate protection. Given the egregious problems, I don't think the corrections system will be as responsive as they should be without pressure from the public.

Some people complain about the cost of health care in prison, and the fact that prisoners (should) get for free what a lot of the rest of us have to pay for in some fashion. But as I told my students yesterday, they are in custody - they can't do for themselves. So we as a society have an obligation to at the very least give them basic medical care and prevent their deaths. And an inmate that is well taken care of and trained to succeed on the outside is going to cost us less in the long run, because they won't be back and they will contribute to society positively.

The financial considerations shouldn't be the only reason we take care of the inmates. But it does seem to be the one that matters a lot of times.

Posted by susanna at 11:08 AM | TrackBack

Flagrant misuse of connection (IMHO)

An off-duty B'ham police officer was killed two nights ago in a hit and run accident. That's truly tragic, and especially hard on the city's West Precinct, which has now lost 4 officers in less than a year (the other three were killed in one episode, trying to serve a warrant on a reputed drug house). Apparently someone at the scene got the license number, because police had it right away and by last night had found the truck that hit the officer, Jason Eckes.

What I am annoyed about is that the newspaper's headline, and a couple of graphs in the article, are about the father of the man who owns the truck and likely was the offender:

Announcer's son sought in police death probe

As Birmingham police mourned the loss of yet another West Precinct officer Wednesday, investigators searched for the son of a well-known radio personality in connection with the patrolman's death.

Murder, attempted murder and leaving the scene of an accident warrants had been issued for Doug Layton Jr., 38, a law enforcement official said.

Authorities said they believe Layton, the son of longtime University of Alabama football announcer Doug Layton, struck and killed off-duty Officer Jason Eckes, who was cycling in Homewood Tuesday night. The accident happened shortly after a police chase.

Layton's father, who spent more than 25 years as part of the Crimson Tide football radio broadcast team, said police came to his home looking for his son Wednesday morning. "I really don't know what's going on," Layton said. "They asked me where he was, but I haven't known where he was for quite a while."

I know that's news. But I think a newspaper should show more responsibility in reporting. It's not Layton the father's fault that his son likely killed a cyclist who turned out to be a police officer. I don't think it's a problem to make the connection - to put it somewhere in the story - but I do think it's inappropriate to make that the main point.

The original story about the hit and run was in the newspaper on Wednesday, but happened so late on Tuesday that they didn't have much detail. So the article I'm complaining about is the first major article about it.

How would I have done it? I would have mentioned it in the main article, not led with it. At most I would have pulled out a short sidebar on it being the son of Layton. It's just not fair.

And yes, life is not fair. I realize I'm trying to whistle down the wind with this one.

Posted by susanna at 10:54 AM | TrackBack

A thank you to wounded soldiers

As many of you know, I love to quilt. I've been doing it off and on for more than 15 years, and I grew up watching my granny quilting. It's not just a fun and challenging artistic outlet, but it also results in something that allows the recipient to know how much they mean to you. No one makes a quilt lightly.

That's why I think this idea is fantastic: It's an organization started by one woman that brings quilters together to make lap quilts for wounded American soldiers. And she is blunt about what it's meant to be:

Our mission is to provide ALL our combat wounded warriors from our nation's War on Terror wartime quilts called Quilts of Valor or QOV...

A Wartime QOV is not a charity quilt.

Charity quilts often are often made quickly with less than stellar fabrics. They typically do not involve the same planning one would take to make a loved one's wedding quilt...

It is an heirloom quilt which simply means it will be cherished for generations to come...

[I]t is our way to give something tangible to our wounded which will help them as they face the long and arduous road back to recovery and reintegration back into civilian life...

Here are some soldiers with their quilts. I think it's a wonderful way to liven up their rooms, to help them know someone in America outside of their family, a stranger, genuinely cherishes their services - enough to put the time, effort and money into it to make them a quilt.

If this kind of thing interests you, I encourage you to check it out. Anything we can do to let the military know how much we appreciate their service is a good thing. In another project, a young woman in Washington State is working to make quilts for the families of all military personnel who have lost their lives in the War on Terror, and she and her quilt guild are also taking donations of lap quilts to send on to the families. You can find out about her here, and read letters from families who have received quilts here.

UPDATE: Here is my most recent effort. I designed the quilt, picked the fabrics based on what the recipient's husband said were her favorite colors, and then made up block packets for the ladies at church. About 10 of them made blocks, and I made the rest. A lady from church who is a better quilter than I basted it (the best job I had ever seen, but I doubt I can finagle her to do it for my own quilts). I then hand-quilted it.

It was made for a lady we know at another church who was diagnosed with breast cancer. It went together with a lot of prayers for her, and I'm happy to say that she's doing very well right now. The pink in the quilt is acknowledging pink as the color for breast cancer awareness; I think of the design, a variation of Irish Chain, as The Path to Recovery. The stars are a pattern known as Friendship Stars.

Cheryl W quilt front cropped small.jpg

Posted by susanna at 08:21 AM | TrackBack

April 20, 2005

Aping humans

John at Powerline has a great post about how the study of apes serves as a boost to the liberal view of the world. A quote:

The conventional view is that religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, represents a backward, primitive way of looking at the world, and especially at human nature, compared to modern, progressive science. But who do you think has a more sophisticated understanding of human nature: Cardinal Ratzinger, the new pope, or the researcher who believes that studying bonobos can enable humans to construct an "ideal world"?

He has already updated it with a link to an article on bonobos that is quite illuminating - essentially, the females are more dominant in a bonobo society, and it's a society that "substitutes sex for aggression". A quote:

Whereas in most other species sexual behavior is a fairly distinct category, in the bonobo it is part and parcel of social relations--and not just between males and females. Bonobos engage in sex in virtually every partner combination (although such contact among close family members may be suppressed). And sexual interactions occur more often among bonobos than among other primates.

Sounds like the sexual revolution hit the rainforest long before the 1960s. If only Bill Clinton had known this - he may have become an ape leader.

I continue to be ... intrigued? amused? annoyed? at the efforts to find some reason in nature to assume that despite centuries, millenia, of patriarchal human societies, the actual evolutionary preference would be female dominance. It's just, I suppose, that the nascent human males got to the clubs first, so they brutalized the women before the women had a chance to outthink them and have keep them in literal or figurative chains ever since. I'm not saying that I think men deserve to be dominant because of the inherent superiority of males. I'm saying that their dominance has not been in the face of clear female superiority. Each has its strengths.

And in modern society, I have seen no evidence that things run by women alone have collectively been more successful than things run by men alone. I suppose a hard-line feminist would say we can't realize the true destiny of women until all maleness is stamped out. I say, vive la difference*!

* And in so doing, admit that sometimes even the French get it right.

Posted by susanna at 12:56 PM | TrackBack

Now that's comforting

You know how the left is trying to deep six or at the very least tax your Twinkies and Cheetos, because of the horror (the HORROR!) of disease-riddled obese people in our society?

Well, it turns out the CDC might have been just a leeetttle previous in their estimations:

Being overweight is nowhere near as big a killer as the government thought, ranking No. 7 instead of No. 2 among the nation's leading preventable causes of death, according to a startling new calculation from the CDC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated Tuesday that packing on too many pounds accounts for 25,814 deaths a year in the United States. As recently as January, the CDC came up with an estimate 14 times higher: 365,000 deaths.

The new analysis found that obesity — being extremely overweight — is indisputably lethal. But like several recent smaller studies, it found that people who are modestly overweight actually have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight.

Imagine! Being overweight is good for you! Break out the chocolate!

But don't expect a little thing like facts to get in the way of the CDC's efforts to change your life:

Last year, the CDC issued a study that said being overweight causes 400,000 deaths a year and would soon overtake tobacco as the top U.S. killer. After scientists inside and outside the agency questioned the figure, the CDC admitted making a calculation error and lowered its estimate three months ago to 365,000.

CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said because of the uncertainty in calculating the health effects of being overweight, the CDC is not going to use the brand-new figure of 25,814 in its public awareness campaigns and is not going to scale back its fight against obesity.

"There's absolutely no question that obesity is a major public health concern of this country," she said. Gerberding said the CDC will work to improve methods for calculating the consequences of obesity.

Emphasis mine. Charming, isn't it? I think for "work to improve methods for calculating the consequences of obesity" can be read as "strive to find reasons why we should do what we want to do anyway even though the research no longer supports us".

I'm not against efforts to improve nutrition in the country, although I think the way to go about it is pretty different from what's actually happening. The food police are more prune-faced than any image you've seen of a Puritan in full witch-hunting form, and much more self-righteous. If they'd loosen up and have a little sense of reality about themselves, it'd be a good thing. And some do - for example, I dearly love Cooking Light magazine, because the recipes in there aren't some redo of traditional meals that make you feel like you're being persecuted if you try to eat them. They have recipes that are so good you'd make them regardless of whether you were watching calories. I'm also not in favor of the "fat is wonderful!" groups who join the down-trodden minority column with their belligerent attitudes. I'm in favor of reason, people! And I expect it from the CDC, albeit apparently with little hope of success in this realm at least.

If you want to check your own ranking vis a vis obesity, check out this BMI calculator. For my height, you can weigh anything from 122 to 163 and still be considered normal weight. That seems about right - some women are naturally voluptuous, some are naturally lean, and neither one needs to be told they're wrong.

Now, I'm off to the gym for my weight-training and cardio workout.

Posted by susanna at 11:20 AM | TrackBack

It's an up and down world, even for a pope

Alan at Theosebes has a few comments on the ascension of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy, and then does a quick roundup of commentary he's seen about it.

My favorite?

FILLED PEWS OR NO?...In response to a conservative lay Catholic activist, a liberal Catholic pointed out how Catholic attendance has been dwindling over the past generation. A clear statement, he seemed to think, that it was high time the Vatican got with the modern program. On another show it was pointed out that in American old-line liberal churches (eg, Episcopalians) have lost members right and left (well, mainly right) as conservative churches are bursting at the seams. The liberal Catholic priest piously pointed out that Jesus seldom went with the majority.

Heh. A classic "half full/half empty" argument, used both ways depending on the necessities of the argument at hand. Nice to see.`

UPDATE: And still more corrected. Dr. Weevil points out that it's not JOHN Ratzinger, but JOSEPH Ratzinger who is the new pope. JOHN RATZENBERGER was a Cheers star. I will confess that I did not watch Cheers - maybe half a dozen times during its whole run - so I didn't make the mistake myself. I copied someone else's mistake. Which in a way is almost worse. At any rate, it's fixed now. And let that be a lesson to me!

Posted by susanna at 08:39 AM | TrackBack

We got yer Bible, right here! All gone!

The company publishing the new English Standard Version translation of the Bible are giving away copies of their Bible to the first 100 bloggers who put a link to the ESV blog on their own blog site. There are only 15 left. If you're a blogger and interested - hurry hurry!

I can post this now - I'm already on the list :D.

I like having various translations handy for Bible study - it's useful in some situations to see what nuances one translation team picked up versus another one. I've heard good things about ESV, although I've not seen one yet, and some of their lower-priced copies are very attractively bound. I requested the Cranberry Filigree. I wanted the Goldenrod, but knew the cover probably wouldn't survive the way I generally handle books.

UPDATE: As of April 20th, they're all gone. Sorry :).

Posted by susanna at 08:30 AM | TrackBack

Rove on media, Milbank on Rove

Karl Rove emerged from the White House yesterday to talk with journalism students at Washington College in Chestertown, MD. The article by Dana Milbank is a curious mix of agreement and attack, the latter seemingly an almost irresistible impulse on her part to prove Rove right.

The agreement:

"I'm not sure I've talked about the liberal media," Rove said when a student inquired -- a decision he said he made "consciously." The press is generally liberal, he argued, but "I think it's less liberal than it is oppositional."

The argument -- similar to the one that former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer made in his recent book -- is nuanced, nonpartisan and, to the ears of many journalists, right on target. "Reporters now see their role less as discovering facts and fair-mindedly reporting the truth and more as being put on the earth to afflict the comfortable, to be a constant thorn of those in power, whether they are Republican or Democrat," Rove said.

I'd have to agree with Rove somewhat too, although I think he doesn't get into where politics does matter with reporters. It's not that reporters generally set out to twist the news in a way that gives advantage to their political comrades, but rather that everyone carries around information filters based on their belief system. When they see something happening, or learn about an idea or event, the information they glean about it is automatically organized by their pre-existing beliefs on that topic. That kind of filtering can be consciously neutralized, to an extent, but it has to be recognized before it can be neutralized. I don't think many journalists see it, much less actively work to counter it in themselves.

Back to the article. Rove said this next:

His indictment of the media -- delivered as part of Washington College's Harwood Lecture Series, named for the late Washington Post editor and writer Richard Harwood -- had four parts: that there's been an explosion in the number of media outlets; that these outlets have an insatiable demand for content; that these changes create enormous competitive pressure; and that journalists have increasingly adopted an antagonistic attitude toward public officials. Beyond that, Rove argued that the press pays too much attention to polls and "horse-race" politics, and covers governing as if it were a campaign.

And here is part of Milbank's coverage of the rest of his speech:

Rove said that "we'd be better off with greater mutual understanding on the parts of both press and government." But despite Rove's increased visibility of late, the Bush administration prides itself on keeping journalists in the dark about goings-on inside the White House. Quoting the journalist Joe Klein, Rove said reporters should understand "how easy it is to make mistakes" in government. But the president has been famously unwilling to acknowledge mistakes...

[H]e proposed a rule: "Unless you have clear evidence to the contrary, commentators should answer arguments instead of impugning the motives of those with whom they disagree." But he did not square that with a White House that routinely challenges the motives of those who question Bush, calling them "partisan" and "petty."

He's taken Rove's comments and actively used them as a jumping off point to criticize the White House. I'm not saying that the White House doesn't deserve some criticism. But his approach to covering these sections of Rove's speech is like a primer illustrating Rove's point. Does he realize that? Because if so, he's committing parody in the name of journalism. Which is better - parody or self-parody? (The latter being unknowing.) I suppose in journalism, self-parody.

And then at the end, a "ha!":

At the end of the talk, Rove directed that a cherry pie be given to a reporter for enduring a speech that produced no news. On that, though, he was certainly wrong. There is more to news than polls and horse races.

Rove challenged the writer (obviously Milbank) to come up with a story from that. Milbank obliged. It's no wonder Rove is known for being able to manipulate people. What isn't discussed is how easily some people are to manipulate.

(I'm more amused than anything else at the story. It's an interesting exercise.)

UPDATE: Oops! Thanks to marc for letting me know that Dana Milbank is actually male, which I confirmed through this useful little bio/photo sketch. It turns out that snark is a language familiar to Milbank. I'm coming down on the side of "self-parody".

And yes, I will confess my bias - in my experience, that kind of "nan-uh-nan-uh boo-boo!" snarkiness comes more frequently from women and gay men than from straight men. Apparently Milbank is neither female nor gay (yes, the bio does say). He just sounds catty and small in the article, any good bits seeming almost reluctantly included as if his better journalism self popped to the surface briefly. Let me hasten to add that straight men can be just as small, but they tend not to be catty in quite that way. Case in point - the fine gentleman and columnist Nick Coleman.

And yes, again, I do usually think of a "Dana" as female, since the Danas I know mostly are. But then OTOH, my PT is a male Dana, and isn't catty at all. Perhaps it was the combination of the name and the tone.

Posted by susanna at 08:14 AM | TrackBack

Oooohhhh that had to hurt

I was just listening to the Rick and Bubba Show here in B'ham, where they were talking about sports memoribilia. One guy called to tell them about his wife selling a signed Dan Marino jersey in a shadow box at a yardsale for $25! He said it was without his permission, and he didn't sound real pleased.

One wonders what kind of damage that does to a marriage.

Posted by susanna at 07:52 AM | TrackBack

April 19, 2005

Love the one you're with

The Roman Catholic Church has a new leader, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, now Pope Benedict XVI. A lot of folks are glad the conclave is over and the selection made, and are content with whomever was chosen. Those people, I suspect, are the ones who actually believe that the Holy Spirit was involved with the selection - and thus God was - and so whomever it is, that's the best choice for what God has in mind.

Obviously, as you know if you read this blog much, I disagree with a lot of the Catholic theology, so I won't opine on whether or not God was actually involved. The point I'm making is, if you believe the Pope is God's voice on earth, then you would of a necessity have to believe that the Pope chosen is the one God chose. Now, it's true that God often moves in mysterious ways and He might have let the conclave choose against His wishes just to let them learn the consequences of whatever folly they're in the midst of. But you wouldn't know that now. You'd pretty much be required to believe it was the right choice, if you believe Catholic theology at all.

I have to say that I was pleased to hear all the talk about the Holy Spirit too, in the Fox News coverage. The Catholic priests of various ranks naturally spoke of the HS, but so did the average people on the street. It's comforting to realize so many people not only believe in the Trinity, but speak of them in a natural, familiar way. This is a good thing.

And then you have the Andrew Sullivans, who want all the pomp and history and feeling of spirituality that they can get from the Catholic Church, but whine and bluster and stew when the theology runs afoul of their own predelictions:

He has no experience dealing with people en masse, no hands-on experience of the challenges of the church in the developing world, and complete contempt for dissent in the West. His views on the subordinate role of women in the Church and society, the marginalization of homosexuals (he once argued that violence against them was predictable if they kept pushing for rights), the impermissibility of any sexual act that does not involve the depositing of semen in a fertile uterus, and the inadmissability of any open discourse with other faiths reveal him as even more hardline than the previous pope. I expected continuity. I didn't expect intensification of the fundamentalism and insularity of the current hierarchy.

The procedural/management issues Sullivan addresses may well be accurate; I can't say. However, in his list of the new pope's theological stance I can't find much problem (except the limitations on specific sexual activity - I think any form of sexual enjoyment within a marriage is perfectly fine, as long as it's not debasing either one). The subordination of women is a Scriptural concept*, not a Catholic one, although the specific manifestations of it may have a Catholic twist. The "marginalization" of homosexuality is a Biblical doctrine too - although it's clear that it's the act (and lust) that is condemned, not the un-acted on desire. That is to say, people with homosexual interests can be faithful Christians, it's just the acting on it that gets problematical. The point here is, what Sullivan is decrying is not Ratzinger, but God. It seems to me a rather futile thing to claim belief in God and then denounce what He says. What's the point? It is a deep, deep selfishness.

If I have any opinion at all of the pope, and I don't spend much time thinking about it (more in the past few weeks than probably all of the past few years combined), I'm actually pleased with their choice. Any religious leader who emphasizes focusing on God's will rather than man's preferences is always going to be higher in my estimation. While I won't join Sullivan in suggesting he leave the Catholic Church, I would be interested in knowing why it's so important to him to stay when some of the parts of Catholic theology he lists as so annoying to him are the parts that are most closely tied to Scripture.

UPDATE: Well, here I go, standing corrected again. I need to be more careful about names! Dr. Weevil points out that it's not JOHN Ratzinger, but JOSEPH Ratzinger who is the new pope. JOHN RATZENBERGER was a Cheers star. I will confess that I did not watch Cheers - maybe half a dozen times during its whole run - so I didn't make the mistake myself. I copied someone else's mistake. Which in a way is almost worse. At any rate, it's fixed now. And let that be a lesson to me!

* The "subordination of women" is a whole big issue all by itself, and one I can (and have) opine on at quite some length. I'll spare you and give just the core of my thoughts. I must say I don't agree with a number of the manifestations it has evolved into in some churches and theological constructs, but my objections are based solely on Scripture and not on my own desires. The Bible is very specific and blunt in its limitations on women in the church hierarchy and in the family, and I personally believe the limitations are another artifact of Eve's sin, not proof that God sees women as second class citizens. They are very real limitations, and not open to "modernization". I've dealt with them personally in my life - I'm a strong-minded woman who likes to manage things that aren't going to my satisfaction, and in church oversight I don't even have a representative at the table, much less a seat (which is to say, the churches I've attended recently don't have elders, and so the business of the church is handled in monthly meetings of the men. As a single woman, I don't have a husband who is a part of that, so I'm a bit adrift. That's a whole other post). That stings, but I deal with it between God and me. Also, when I first started teaching college, a man from my congregation took one of my classes. I had to deal with the issue of whether a woman could teach - have authority over - a Christian man in that secular setting, an issue for not only me but also some others in the congregation. So it's not an abstraction for me.

IN ADDITION: I'm not addressing at length the whole issue of the sex abuse scandal in the American Catholic Church as it pertains to the papal succession. I talked about it at the time, and I think the RCC handled it horribly. I also don't think it's by any means limited to the US churches, just that the general openness and the lack of tolerance for sexual contact between adults and minors here made it more likely to be revealed. But I think the problem was tied to the bureaucracy of the RCC, not the theology or the papal succession. Any large corporation acts to preserve itself. And I think that's one reason why the model God gave us in the NT actually includes autonomous local churches with no leadership common between any two congregations. In that scenario, any corruption like the sex abuse will be kept to a very small thing.

Posted by susanna at 02:19 PM | TrackBack

Just in case you needed another example...

In the post below I point out that the liberals wanting to limit choice would not be in favor of letting just anyone be the choice-maker. Their attitude emerges from a deep-seated arrogance, an assumption that they always know better and if others can't see it, then it's because the others are stupid. It's interesting, actually, that the Dems are associated with that kind of liberalism and yet at the same time harp on the necessity to "broaden the vote" - making sure everyone votes. They need to get on the same page with themselves, I think. But then, if "everyone" voted and still went with conservative choices, I'd say it wouldn't be long before suddenly we needed to limit voting. The true agenda is, "Whatever it takes to get my guy into office."

Talk radio is a case in point. Listening to radio is a highly democratic thing - there are dozens of choices, more than one in nearly every market, and even if you only have one radio choice there are many other ways to occupy your time even in the car. You could listen to audio books, or your own music. And yet people choose to listen to conservative talk radio by the millions. It makes liberals violently ill because it actually allows for debate - some version other than theirs is getting out there. So first they tried to compete in the marketplace. They failed. And failed. And failed. Then they got hysterical and tried to demonize talk radio hosts. That failed to lessen the level of listeners. Next they started Air America, another "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" effort. Now, according to this article, Air America is crashing too:

The liberal Air America Radio, just past its first birthday, has probably enjoyed more free publicity than any enterprise in recent history. But don't believe the hype: Air America's left-wing answer to conservative talk radio is failing, just as previous efforts to find liberal Rush Limbaughs have failed...

Wait a second, you say, didn't I read that Air America has expanded to more than 50 markets? That's true, but let's put things in perspective: Conservative pundit and former Reagan official William J. Bennett's morning talk show, launched at the same time as Air America, reaches nearly 124 markets, including 18 of the top 20...

And how does the left respond? Why, with their standard arrogance and demonizing:

So why do liberals fare so poorly on air? Some on the left say it's because liberals are, well, smarter and can't convey their sophisticated ideas to the rubes who listen to talk radio. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, whose own stint as a talk-show host was a ratings disaster, gave canonical expression to this self-serving view. Conservatives "write their messages with crayons," he maintained. "We use fine-point quills."

...Unable to prosper in the medium, liberals have taken to denouncing talk radio as a threat to democracy. Liberal political columnist Hendrik Hertzberg, writing in the New Yorker, is typically venomous. Conservative talk radio represents "vicious, untreated political sewage" and "niche entertainment for the spiritually unattractive," Hertzberg sneers.

Where's the desire for choice now? Oh, yes, that's right, the only choice that's allowed are choices in line with the liberal side of the aisle (see Security, Social). Funny how the left seems to think that protecting our liberties must involve limiting them. Um, unless the liberty in question is the liberty to have sex with as many people (or non-people) as often as it occurs to you to do so, regardless of the harm it causes to you or others.

The best part of the Air America article is the bit on why liberal talk radio always fails: it's just really really bad. Incompetent. Not funny.

But then it's hard to be funny when you're bitter.

Posted by susanna at 11:10 AM | TrackBack

My kind of pro-choice

Pejman Yousefzadeh explores the new "libertarian paternalism" and isn't very impressed. Me either. I think people should have the ability to choose from whatever options are possible, not from whatever options someone thinks they can handle. And that "someone" is always some type of "elite" thinker; no one who puts forward such ideas ever suggested that the person who decides what options you can have should be a Greyhound bus driver, or a teacher's aide, a correctional officer or a welder. No, it's not just anyone who can limit your choices - it has to be someone who is in harmony with the theorist both intellectually and politically (I doubt they'd nominate, say, Donald Rumsfeld or Ann Coulter to make the decision either).

Choice does create a lot of trouble for people who have a vision of how the world should be. As a Christian, I see many things going on that I think the world would be better off without: drinking, sexual promiscuity, rampant materialism, I have a whole laundry list. In an ideal world, I'd like those things to be not just a bad idea, but illegal. However, I'd be very very hesitant about passing laws against them, because it's not an ideal world and people can't be put on what I consider the right path just because I say so. My idea would be to bring their behavior more in harmony with God's will, but I wouldn't have any impact on their heart, which is where the important work needs doing. I tend to generally agree with passing laws that limit a person's behavior when it can or does negatively affect others (and even being judicious about that) but allowing them to otherwise live their lives as they see fit. And that's in moral issues, not the kind of social choices that these liberal paternalists are seeking to limit - in other words, the issues that I think are much more important than what kind of 401(k) you have or which school your kids go to. If I don't think it appropriate to pass laws limiting behavior that has an impact on your eternal destination, I'm sure not going to quick to pass laws on other types of behavior.

What the leftists want (and won't say out loud) is a ruling elite that controls the choices of the hoi polloi so they can construct the world they want. They've been at it diligently for over 40 years, and so far most of their ideas have caused more harm than good (welfare, anyone?). Not to say some of the basic intentions haven't been laudable, but the practical impact has been disastrous (breakdown of the black family, anyone?). The foundation of democracy is choice. What is needed is more information and better ways to convey the consequences of choice A over choice B, C, D, E, and F through Z - not an artificial limitation to choice A or choice F and we really really advise against F.

And why, thinking this way as I do, am I pro-life? Why wouldn't I be for choice in that situation too? Because I believe that it's one of the cases where my behavior has a major impact on the life of another person, and I should be prohibited from causing harm especially if my intent is just to make my own life easier.

Rolling it back briefly to my desire for everyone to serve God as He wants to be served... God wants our hearts, not just our behavior. Passing a law forcing the behavior would, I think, drive many hearts further from God. It has to come from inside, to be a true choice selected from a range of options. I'm just really sorry that given so many choices, so few choose God.

Posted by susanna at 10:32 AM | TrackBack

April 18, 2005

Poor Wendy's

Wendy's, the most excellent purveyor of burgers in a crowded field, is now offering $100,000 for information leading to the original owner of the fingertip an inveterate sue-er found in her Wendy's chili last week. I suspect sue-chick knows where it came from. One wonders if she would be eligible for the reward - then everyone would go away happy!

Apparently this story has reduced traffic in Wendy's restaurants on the Left Coast, where one would have thought it wouldn't be high anyway, given the general vegetarianism.

I've always loved Wendy's burgers best, and this doesn't change my mind. Of course, I don't get the chili anyway, so I wouldn't be testy about the story regardless. And that even survived the rumors that Wendy's had earthworms in their burgers. I of course discounted it - even then I had a keen eye for an urban legend. It appears that the Wendy's-worms version was a local permutation - Snopes identifies McDonald's as the main victim of that rumor, with Jack in the Box getting smeared in passing.

I figure that the Big Guys are generally clean and generally dealing honestly with their food products, for precisely the reason that these kinds of rumors are so damaging, and anything that could be proven would nearly (if not completely) shut them down. (See, Chi-Chi's.) I've always found this a much more nauseating possibility, and less detectible.

But none of it has affected a single decision about eating out or ordering in.

Posted by susanna at 05:06 PM | TrackBack

Getting proper respect

Thomas Stubbs, a WWII veteran from Alabama, is heading back to Czechoslovakia to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Pizen. He appreciates the response the Czechs have:

Stubbs said school children in Czechoslovakia were taught that only Russian forces liberated them from Nazi occupation.

"Their parents and older people kept alive the truth that it was us," he said.

He said that on earlier visits, he was deeply touched to see so many people waving American flags and extending a hero's welcome to the visitors.

Maybe we should send videos of that to France.

Stubbs also gives a succinct account of what it's like to be a soldier:

"We were terrified 90 percent of the time, especially from artillery and tanks," he said. "We're glad to be alive."
Posted by susanna at 08:42 AM | TrackBack

No photofinish yet

Former NY Times photographer D. Gorton outlines his thoughts and conclusions about the Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph of terrorists killing election workers in Iraq in December. The controversy rests on whether the photographer had to have known about the plans for the killing before it happened, and whether he was close enough to where his presence would have been known by the killers (the implication being that he would have been in physical danger from them unless they knew him or knew he would be there). It's a tough situation, and one that the AP has not adequately addressed.

The desire for a story shouldn't strip a journalist or a news media outlet of its humanity, even if they are politically in tune with the people doing the bad things (or even marginally sympathetic, which some of the news media seem to be). In a lot of ways this is very bad. Coming in the (somewhat distant) wake of former CNN news executive Eason Jordan's admission that CNN didn't fully report on Saddam's atrocities specifically so that CNN could maintain a market advantage by being in Iraq, the AP's twist and dodge are not comforting.

Media types bemoan the slip in credibility they suffer among US citizens as a whole. Perhaps they should explore their own decisionmaking for the reason why.

Powerline has been all over this, including being the first to consult Gorton about it. For the full story, go there and dig.

One quick other note from Gorton's article:

THE EXECUTION PICTURE advanced the meta narrative of the mainstream press that Baghdad and much of Iraq was chaotic and out of control.

The key here is "meta narrative". One of the things I've found repeatedly in the academic literature about the work of journalism is that one way the media manage the huge task of selecting and organizing information out of the vast pool out there is to bring to their selection process a preconceived notion of what they'll find and how they will interprete it. That's how you get things like an article written about something that never happened. It's also how media bias finds its way most often into media coverage - they see what they expect to see, and what they expect to see is drawn at least partially from their own life experiences and filters. Gorton is saying that's what happened here - the AP believes the war in Iraq to be chaotic, it's a dramatic paper-selling point, they have a photo showing that what they think about the war is in fact true (or evidently true, based on the photo), so they go with it. The larger questions, about how the photographer knew about the situation or whether he was close enough to indicate a personal familiarity and even approval of the terrorists in volved, are not asked.

We all have meta narratives and biases. That's not the problem. The problem is that the media has them but refuses to admit it.

Posted by susanna at 08:33 AM | TrackBack

Labash on Churchill

Matt Labash at The Weekly Standard is one of my favorite writers, kind of a latter-day Hunter S Thompson for the conservative set. Ward Churchill is one of the more colorful people to hate these days, basking in his 15 minutes with the disdain and arrogance of a true believer. Labash interviewing Churchill is worth waking up on a Monday.

Posted by susanna at 07:59 AM | TrackBack

Another blogging wake-up call

The NYT has a must-read article on blogging, dealing specifically with a blogger's right to blog whatever (s)he wants to without it affecting her/his job. The bottom line: There is no real protection.

As the practice of blogging has spread, employees like Mr. Kennedy are coming to the realization that corporations, which spend millions of dollars protecting their brands, are under no particular obligation to tolerate threats, real or perceived, from the activities of people who become identified with those brands, even if it is on their personal Web sites.

They are also learning that the law offers no special protections for blogging - certainly no more than for any other off-duty activity...

...Ms. Newitz and others have cautioned that employees must be careful not to confuse freedom of speech with a freedom from consequences that might follow from what they say. Indeed, the vast majority of states are considered "at will" states - meaning that employees can quit, and employers can fire them, at will - without evident reason (barring statutory exceptions like race or religion, where discrimination would have to be proved).

"There really are no laws that protect you," Ms. Newitz said.

The article also hits on the issue of whether or not to blog anonymously:

The policy also encourages employee bloggers to use their real names, rather than attempting anonymity or writing under a pseudonym.

Bad idea, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Two weeks ago, the group published a tutorial on "how to blog safely," which included tips on avoiding getting fired. Chief among its recommendations: Blog anonymously.

"Basically, we just want to caution people about how easy it is to find them online," Ms. Newitz said, "and that they are not just talking to their friends on their blogs. They're talking to everyone."

When I began blogging, I was an employee of the Jersey City Police Department. Although people who tracked my blog knew that, I was extremely careful what I said about my job in particular and the department in general. One reason was because it is a police department, which means that what goes on there a lot of times doesn't need to be on the Internet. But the other reason was a consciousness that at any time my employers could find out what I was writing, and I knew if they didn't like it I'd be on the street. The department was highly politically volatile. I didn't want to test the waters of blogger rights on my own nickel.

It's sad that a person's out-of-office 'Net commentary could lead to his being fired. It does chill speech. However, it's not a new thing. I worked for newspapers just out of college, and for several years in the 1990s I worked for a city council in Kentucky. In both instances, I was cautious about the affiliations I made and what I said in public because I knew I was known in those communities more for my work role than my private self. I suppose that consciousness started in elementary school, where my Dad was the principal and my mom a reading teacher for the last three years I was there. If I had a nickel for every time I heard, "She did it, and she's the principal's daughter!"...

We want to live our lives outside our jobs as if the two do not intersect, as if when we walk away from the office a veil drops between us and it. That's not true, and it never has been. Blogging is just the latest wrinkle. Everything a blogger posts under his own name must be evaluated as if a copy of it will be faxed to his boss the next day. Say only those things you don't mind having associated with your name in non-Internet contexts. I've expressed a lot of strong and at times controversial views on this blog. It would be very easy to find most of it - when you google "Susanna Cornett", there's 42 pages of entries specifically including my name. I'm a little concerned that future employers may troll my blog and evaluate me based on what is said there in a negative way if it disagrees with their views. On the other hand I like the feeling that my personality and beliefs are out there without apology. At this stage of my life, I'm willing to take the risk.

That doesn't mean I intend to be stupid.

The most important thing in this article is this point: "(E)mployees must be careful not to confuse freedom of speech with a freedom from consequences..." That's exactly right. We conservatives sneer at leftists who appear to think that the right to speak also means the right to be listened to. Well, we need to look to our own house. We have a right to say what we want to say without interference from government, but that doesn't mean we can say it with full impunity.

On a lesser note, I'm very disappointed in Technorati, which is in the business of tracking blogs. You'd expect a blog-associated business to have a more laissez faire attitude toward their blogging employees, like Microsoft and Sun Systems (both mentioned in the article). Perhaps Technorati should learn that freedom of management doesn't mean freedom from consequences either. If you object to their management decision (and the comment from their vice president about it in the article is just nonsensical), I suggest you contact them and say so.

Posted by susanna at 07:15 AM | TrackBack

This could get scary

Stephen St. Onge has a safety tip for all Americans.

Posted by susanna at 06:37 AM | TrackBack

April 17, 2005

A Christian bioethicist on Terri Schiavo

Christianity Today interviews Gilbert Meilaender, the Richard and Phyllis Duesenberg Professor of Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University. Here is a quote that summarizes his view:

My general view is that, rather than asking whether it's a benefit to have your life, we ought to ask what, if anything, we can do to benefit the life you have.

Recommended reading.

Posted by susanna at 05:10 PM | TrackBack

Do I hear an "ouch"?

I spoke today with the father of one of my college classmates, who was updating me on his offspring's doings. His son is well over 6', at least 6'6", I think; his wife needs lifts in her shoes to push up against 5' (maybe a slight exaggeration, but not by much if any). They now have six children, I learned. Whew. But here's the best: One of those children, when (s)he was born, was more than a third as tall as the mother already. Apparently most if not all of the children were 10+ pounds as well.

That's just painful.

I hear, however, that they are happy as can be. This is a good thing.

Posted by susanna at 04:56 PM | TrackBack

I'm gonna live forever!!

This article says that scientists are theorizing and some say even finding ways that will dramatically extend human life, possibly even to 1200 years and beyond. For some that is a deeply desired ideal; for others, the very thought is horrifying. Certainly the legitimate possibility of life extending even to 200 years or more would significantly change parts of our culture and sense of self in relation to our world and society. The writer does a decent job of hitting on pertinent points, so I won't cover the ground he does. But I do want to add my own thoughts.

My initial response was, "Some people are going to object to this on the grounds that scientists are testing God with this work." The Bible does seem to indicate that man's life is generally "three score and 10", or 70 years, but I think that's more an observation than an imperative. Before the great Flood, people lived many hundreds of years, with Methuselah having the longest recorded lifespan at 969 years (although a timeline will show you that he apparently died the same year the Flood occurred, which raises questions about whether he was serving God - maybe he could have lived even longer?). After the Flood, it wasn't unusual for the Patriarchs to live well past 100 - Abraham lived to 175. So I don't think it would be reasonable to say that God specifically limits man, or wants to limit man, to a specific lifespan.

Objections to the science would also likely emerge from those who think working to get around the now-natural limitations on lifespan is somehow a Tower of Babel using human flesh this time around - that is, mankind saying that he is god himself by showing they can do what God can do. While I won't deny that apparently some scientists have precisely that intention and motive (although they wouldn't couch it in those terms), at the same time I don't think any investigation into how God's creation works is a bad thing. If I believe that God created the universe, created mankind, speaks to me through the Bible, and not only created my eternal soul but can salvage it no matter how disobedient I am - and I do believe those things - then I have to believe that if God doesn't want us to know something, we won't know it. Now, there are things we have the option to know and shouldn't (see Good and Evil, Tree of), and God lets us make that decision. But if He truly doesn't want it to happen - it won't. SO I'm not afraid of science or research or new knowledge for its own sake. Context and intent are the keys.

So is this something God doesn't want us to know, or even something He thinks it would be best for us not to know? I can't say with certainty. As I said, if He doesn't want us to know it, we won't. If He thinks it's a bad idea but wants us to make the decision, then there should be some indication in Scripture that that's the case. I can't think of anything that says that, no "desiring to go beyond your years is a folly of mankind" type of verse. In that instance, the morality of it becomes more generalized, a situation of "it's not wrong in and of itself, but it sure has potential to be pursued in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons". And that's not a thinly disguised "I'm not saying it's wrong, just that you're no Christian if you try it". Just like with research on stem cells, I think there's a right way and a wrong way, and if we choose the wrong way or go at it for the wrong reasons, we'll reap the consequences of that.

To summarize the above: It's a great idea, go for it, just be careful you've got the right attitude!

I'm afraid some of the folks in the article can't lay claim to the last. For example: Grey thinks most of the social problems will be solved by the time the technology arrives. He also thinks that at that point people will have to choose between living for ever and having children. Clearly they can’t do both as the population explosion would be huge.

There's an underlying selfishness there - "My life is more important than any offspring". Also, I haven't seen any discussion of whether fertility would be extended just as general longevity is (although there's some indication that maybe it could). Of course, the people who are interviewed and the one writing it are all men, who are fertile throughout their lives (as we are informed ad nauseum every time some old codger marries a sweet young thing because "she has a wonderful mind"). Would a woman have to decide by the time she's 50 if she wants a child or a longer life? Would we find that women would choose children more than a long life much of the time, thus creating a circumstance where there are vast numbers of aging men and very few women past the age of 80? That would of a necessity set up a situation where old men would be competing with young men for the available women. Would men past the age of 100 be content to live their lives woman- and sex-free for hundreds of years? Or would they marry a new young thing every 80 years, live with her for a few decades and then marry another one when that one dies off?

Setting men and women as different in this situation is not making unwarranted assumptions, according to the article:

Research by the psychologist Professor Sarah Hampson has shown that, in extremis, men are the sex that most clings on to life. Only 25% of women say they want radical interventions — resuscitation, ventilation, tube-feeding — to save their lives; 75% of men demand such actions as their right.

And, not insignificantly, what would that do to the power struggle between old and young? Think if the Robber Barons of the late 1800s were still living. Do you think the first rich Vanderbilt would hand off his holdings to his young'uns? Or do you think he'd still be controlling things, since at just under 200 years old he'd be less than a fourth of the way through his life? Also, many of the innovations in this world have come from those under 40. If people are living hundreds of years, and choosing not to have children so the population doesn't boom, who is going to be the new wave of innovators? Certainly not a 457 year old Bill Gates. Think of the resistance of older people to new things - what percentage of people over 60 are as adept at computers as your average 12 year old? Imagine a world where nearly everyone is over 60. Wanna live there?

And don't even get me started on Social Security. You think a man who could live 1200 years is going to retire at 55? Do you think he's going to want to? I think you know the answers.

When I contemplate living a very very long time, I admit it does have some appeal. At the very least, I may have a chance to actually use all the fabric in my stash and make all the cross-stitches I have patterns for, not to mention being able to learn needlepoint, and tatting, and weaving, and... But when I think of being 200... 400... 600... 969... I think, no. No, I don't want it. 150, maybe, if I can hang on to my brain clarity and my physical ability to read, write and do needlework. But I think the process of living life doesn't just use up our bodies, it uses up our brains too. It uses up hope, and charity, and joy, and contentment. Not that we can't be hopeful and charitable and joyous and contented when we're old; it's the ideal. But life deals you heavy blows, and I can't imagine going through 1200 years of that.

And to be truthful, I want to see heaven. I love life, and I want to hang on to it as long as I reasonably can - which to me means into my 90s or even low 100s, with the same caveat as above (mental clarity/physical dexterity/vision). But I also love God, and I'm very curious about what He's like in person, and what Heaven is like. I'm excited about being in a place where you don't have the blows you take here. By the time I get there, I'm likely to have a lot of people I know and love there waiting for me. I will want to see them again. I suppose I don't long obsessively for this life to go on forever because I don't see death as an end to my existence. It's just a transition. I don't seek ways to live forever because I already know I will.

And I think that's the bottom line with the longevity research: The people driving it think that physical death is the absolute end of every human. They are frantic to keep their self intact, sentient and functional. It's a laudable goal in many ways and the research will likely yield many practical benefits for all of us. But even living 1200 years can't fill the emptiness of a soul that doesn't believe in God.

UPDATE: On further thought, I realized I was showing my bias in writing about the marriage aspect, assuming people would choose marriage. Also, I'm assuming that wildly increased longevity would spur those in power to pass laws prohibiting certain levels of procreation (if you bring one home, throw one away). What to do then? Will there be death squads that take out people when they hit 80, if they've had the temerity to reproduce? Or would there be laws about how long you can live after having a child, for the "good of the world"? It could well fire up space exploration, on a positive note.

And... does having a child damage or change a woman's body in a way that is irreversible?

An additional thought - there is a hint in the article that cost for longevity may be prohibitive for the lower financial echelon. No "longevity!" spam in the manner of Viagra spam. Would the longer lives of the well to do eventually precipitate a class war? Possibly, although deGrey doesn't think so. What deGrey doesn't know is what societal problems would result from the changes - just as the advent of the car juxtaposed with the advent of the Pill arguably laid the foundation for the sexual revolution as an unintended outcome. Who knows?

Of course, what would actually happen is that everyone would procreate like rabbits, and the longer they lived the more little ones they'd have. If an Arab sheikh has 70 children in a normal lifespan now, how many little sheikhs and sheikhettes will there be if he lives 800 instead of 80 years? 700?

A puzzle. A puzzle. And I suspect not one I need to resolve - I think it's likely that I won't even be a centenarian.

Posted by susanna at 02:33 PM | TrackBack


C.G. Hill manages to tie together spamming and a post on rehabilitation, and do so with admirable coherence. Would that I was that adroit.

(Of course, the fact that he links me twice in the same post must always raise the tone of his prose anyway.)

Posted by susanna at 01:12 PM | TrackBack

You must i read this

Mark Steyn dances around the Bolton hearings. Rock on, Mark!

Posted by susanna at 09:23 AM | TrackBack

April 16, 2005

I'm just sayin'...

One of the fun parts of blogging for me is getting and responding to comments. With my comments and trackback closed, I'm feeling decidedly as if I'm talking to empty air, although my Sitemeter says differently. Just so you know, I didn't close either myself - my web host, who keeps this on a friend's personal server, closed them because of all the spam. And it was quite noxiously heavy at times (I've gotten as many as 120 comment spam in a day, and as many as 10 trackback spams, which are harder to kill). I'm not perturbed at him for closing them, but I am distressed that it cuts off a line of communication.

So. May I suggest writing me? :D If you have thoughts about a post, let me know. It does encourage me, even if you're against what I'm saying. I don't feel like I'm talking to myself in an empty room. I'm (obviously) attempting to get back up to speed in blogging daily. A little feedback helps. Also, if you post a link to something I've written, write me and let me know. Even though my trackbacks don't work, I can still do an update with any related posts.

Not that I'm beggin' here or anything.

(And it's not like I asked you to hit the Paypal button.)

Posted by susanna at 06:40 PM | TrackBack

That ole ball 'n chain, prison style

Marriage counseling for an inmate serving a life sentence?

It's being done.

In the Joseph Harp Correctional Center, sprawling across the tawny plains 40 miles south of Oklahoma City, officials are running a six-part course on maintaining a healthy marriage, available for the last year or so to inmates in good standing...

"I had nobody," said Dunnino Moreland, 12 years into a life sentence for murder that began when he was 16. "I'd been abandoned by my family, my friends, by everybody I ever knew. I was all alone in here, forever. And then I met Tammy, and now I have someone who I care about, who comes to see me on Sundays, who I can share a life with. But I'm afraid, we're all afraid, that maybe she won't come back some Sunday."

Tammy Moreland leaned her head on the shoulder of the husband she had married just a few years ago, long after he went to prison.

"I'll be here while there's breath in my body," she said and then turned to explain to the class. "This man, who has never touched me sexually, because of this situation that we're in, has treated me better than any man I ever met out there."

That's a bit of a sad commentary on the men she normally hangs out with, but it's also quite true that the man she's married to now is a much better person than he was when he went in. It happens. And programs like the one they're in are, I think, a very good thing.

We're talking about corrections this week in class, and one of the things I always emphasize is that to be rehabilitated, you have to be habilitated in the first place. Supposedly rehabilitation programs are targeted at returning someone to a law-abiding and somewhat societally-functional behavior. The problem is, for a sizeable portion of the prison population, they've never had a law-abiding and societally-functional life to begin with so there's nothing to return to. It all has to be constructed out of whole cloth, in a setting that's substantially different from society "out there". One big problem with changes on such a huge scale (and it is a huge thing, as anyone who's tried to change a deeply-ingrained behavior can attest) is that you must have motivation - and what motivation can you have in prison, other than not going to prison again? That's no incentive for people who come from a criminal culture that values prison as a test of manhood, or for people who don't value themselves or their role in anyone's life. They don't see the value in a law-abiding life. But people with attachments to family are a different story:

State officials say there is more than compassion in their decision to take the program into cells, as well. The prison chaplain, Ron Grant, pointed to a recent study of 524 California parolees.

"When they looked at all the factors affecting whether the inmate returned to prison," he said, "the No. 1 factor, more than drugs, more than race, more than any other demographic category, was whether they were part of a stable family relationship."

That's why strengthening families should be a major focus in any rehabilitation program. Not everyone will respond to that, and the older the inmate, the more likely it will matter. But if the goal is to help people learn law-abiding, societally functional behavior, then this is a good start. It's not a new realization - prisons have been working to make it easier for families to visit inmates for a while. In NYC, for example, there are correctional buses that come into the city weekly to give inmate families a free ride to prisons upstate. But it's a new approach, and one that could have valuable unintended affects:

The most unexpected result of the program, the inmates said, is that it has helped them improve relationships in the prison with other inmates and the guards.

"I find myself using some of the techniques on people inside," Mr. Ree said. "And it works."

The most interesting aspect of this is the participation of men who are serving life sentences. What value is it to them? A lot, they say:

One instructor is Aaron Cosar, 19 years into a life sentence for first-degree murder and an assistant to the chaplain. He went through the course two years ago when it was a pilot program and credits it for making his marriage so important that he celebrates not one, but five anniversaries.

There is the day seven years ago when he met his wife, Justeen; their first date; their engagement; their wedding; and, perhaps dearest to him, the first time she visited him at the prison.

I would guess that his marriage gives him incentive to reach out more to help other inmates in prison. That's important, since as a lifer he has a status in prison that might help him reach inmates who will be released with lessons that will help them on the outside. If he's happier, and sees the value in a stable relationship, he could pass on that lesson.

On a practical, fiscal level, it's a good thing too. Inmates who are more emotionally stable are likely to be more stable in their behaviors, which lowers the level of volatility overall in the prison. A less volatile prison is safer for the guards and safer for the inmates, requiring fewer high security measures (like lockdowns). I'd also speculate (without research backup that I can point to right now) that it's also more likely to help inmates become functional in ways that will help them on the outside. That would lower recidivism, or reoffending, levels, which means... fewer inmates in prison.

It's an excellent program, I think, and I'm glad to see it. There are more interesting points in the article, so I recommend reading it all.

Posted by susanna at 10:41 AM | TrackBack

April 15, 2005

Can a few lies about rape mean a lot of false reports?

Rape as a crime is difficult to pin down, both in practice (how do you define rape?) and in tracking (what percentage of rapes are reported?). We've gotten better at the first, essentially defining rape as any act of sexual penetration that continues after the one being penetrated says "stop". There are some issues with timing in that definition, but for the most part it works*.

The next issue is level of reporting. Certainly a rape victim faces a social stigma that few other victims do - there's always a taint of blame lurking around the victim, and a woman almost has to proactively prove she couldn't prevent it for some to believe she didn't in some way contribute to it.** That lurking taint, and the trauma of the act itself, contribute to a low reporting rate for what is a serious crime.

Any crime reported to law enforcement throughout the country is included in the Uniform Crime Report, compiled and issued annually by the FBI. To measure the scope of unreported crime - driven at least in part from the understanding that rape is heavily underreported - the National Crime Victimization Survey was developed. Both data sets have their problems, but between the two we have a fairly decent idea of what's happening criminally in the country.

But for all their value, the UCR and NCVS don't tell us what percentage of rape reports to police are false. Eugene Volokh does an excellent job of exploring how only a small percentage of women willing to make a false report could result in a not-insignificant percentage of actual reports proving false. One point he doesn't make directly is that the low reporting level of rape overall increases the percentage of false reports - that is to say, if you're going to falsely accuse someone, not reporting it is a useless strategy. So it could be true that only 50-60% of actual rapes are reported, but 100% of false rape accusations are reported, by definition.

Because of the battle fought to get rape victims generally to be taken seriously in an initially wholly male-dominated criminal justice system, some people are reluctant to admit that false rape reports could reach a high number. And since rape isn't something often witnessed by others, it's not always easy to determine when one is false. But I think it's important to be willing to admit that it happens. The men who are falsely accused of rape are victims just as much as a woman who is actually raped. We shouldn't choose one gender over the other to protect from victimization.

I highly recommend reading Eugene Volokh's post.

* Arguments could be made that physiologically there is a "point of no return". Certainly the timing of the "stop" could become a mitigating factor - that is, the difference between a sexual assault and a Rape 1, for example.

Another factor to consider, and one not often discussed, is the rape of men, and I'm not talking about anal penetration. Getting back to physiology, our bodies are created to have certain responses to certain stimuli. Our brains and our bodies aren't always on the same track. A man could not want to have sex but his body still become aroused. In one case, a man was tied to a tree by two female hitchhikers and raped - that is, they manually aroused him and then had intercourse with him. Was it rape? I think so, because the harm there is in the psychology and the lack of control. The betrayal of his body is just one more source of shame - just as women who become aroused or feel some vestiges of sexual pleasure during a rape feel tremendous guilt about it. It's difficult to come to a realization that you can not want it and still have a physical response to it.

** Here again, though, you get into the whole area of victims contributing to their victimization. There are studies about it, but it's a delicate area. Two things I reminder about it (although I can't cite studies right this minute):

One, that a woman who is raped who thinks her behavior may have made her more vulnerable to rape actually has an easier time recovering psychologically because she can identify proactive ways to protect herself against future attacks (at least in her mind it is a protection). For example, a woman who is attacked in a parking garage could in the future never go into a parking garage alone. Her sense of safety can be to some degree restored. Conversely, a woman who is attacked by a stranger in her own home even though her home is secured to the best of her ability would have a difficult time finding a sense of psychological safety - because what could she change?

Two, it is true that people do make choices that make them more vulnerable to victimization, and to that extent contribute to it. There are a number of correlating conditions: For example, someone who is drinking is more likely to be a victim of a crime, just as someone who is drinking is more likely to commit a crime. Someone who stays with an abusive partner is more likely to be severely injured or killed. You get the idea.

Posted by susanna at 11:16 PM | TrackBack

It's in WaPo, it must be true

Meryl has been testy because her Internet provider, Comcast, has been on the fritz a lot lately. They've been telling her they won't compensate her financially because it's not been out a full 24 hours at a stretch.

I don't blame her for being testy. Perhaps, though, help is on the way!

Network problems at one of the Washington-area's largest Internet service providers have prevented some subscribers from checking their e-mail accounts and accessing Web sites.

Comcast Corp. said the intermittent outages affected service to cable Internet service subscribers throughout the country, but spokeswoman Jeanne Russo declined to say how many customers were having problems locally.

Russo said the outages began on April 7 after Comcast started upgrading its "domain name system" servers -- the machines that facilitate Internet traffic by translating Web site names, such as, into numeric Internet protocol numbers.

Now we know why, but how does that help Meryl? Here's her paragraph:

Additional outages in the Comcast network occurred on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. In each case, Russo said the problems lasted between three to five hours. She added that the company would issue credits to any customers who had problems as a result of the outages.

There ya go. Print it out and take it to your Comcast outlet, Meryl! Make 'em eat their words! Or at the very least, give you credit for their problems.

UPDATE: It's nice to know that at least Microsoft has it together.

Posted by susanna at 01:55 PM | TrackBack

That's the way (uh huh, uh huh) I like it!

Good things happen when law enforcement agencies actually work together.

Uh huh.

Posted by susanna at 01:43 PM | TrackBack

Yes, but what about the pig?

They've remade The Amityville Horror, for reasons even the reviewer can't quite guess, although (s)he (can't tell by the name) assumes it's because it'll make more money than it costs. The review concludes that the film is a better version than the original, while at the same time pointing out that it's a very low threshold.

What the reviewer doesn't say is... will the pig make a reappearance?

When I was young, my dad, grandfather, great-uncle and assorted male neighbors would slaughter hogs as part of the fall harvest time. The last one they did was when I was about 12, so I have clear memories of the crisp fall air, the bright drip of deep red blood, the billowing steam rising from a huge iron kettle placed over an open fire. The boiling water in the kettle was poured over the dead hog one saucepan-full at a time, and the men would scrape the hair off the hog's skin after it was loosened by the hot water. They used long sharp knives, and worked with a cheerful efficiency. I of course wanted to be in the middle of things, but I was too young to be trusted with a knife. One year, when I was about 8, my great-uncle gave me the task of holding onto the hog's tail while they scraped. I did so, gingerly, the tail feeling like a long thick hairy human finger. Afterward my greatuncle told me the pig would come back to haunt me, peering in my window at night and intoning, "You held My TAIL!!" Scary stuff for an 8 year old and I didn't sleep well for a while, waking up in the night to stare wide-eyed out my first-floor window from the safety of my bed (every child knows that their bed has magical monster-protecting qualities, but woe be unto any child who ventures out of it in the dead of night).

Over the years I mostly forgot about the dead but angry hog. That is, until I went to see The Amityville Horror - the first one, that is. Those of you who remember it know what's coming. It was a pretty decent horror movie for a 17-year-old, but nothing earthshaking. At least, it wasn't until the young boy in the movie looked out his second-floor window one night and cheerfully greeted his secret pal - a red-eyed glowering pig who hovered in the air malevolently.

I nearly fainted.

Objectively, it wasn't that scary. Subjectively, I knew my time had come. The pig had found me. And it had glowing red eyes!!

I don't remember much about the movie, but that stands out clearly, even 26 years later. I never saw the movie again. It didn't matter. In my mind, the movie image of Jody the Pig has merged with all my childhood horror fantasy of the Hog Whose Tail I Held.

So, I wonder... does Jody make a reappearance in this version?

I don't think I want to know. It would be unsettling to think he's been around all these years. Probably peering in my window.

Posted by susanna at 11:16 AM | TrackBack

April 14, 2005

Sometimes a loophole becomes a noose

I suspect there'll be people feeling that way before this is all over.

Posted by susanna at 05:32 PM | TrackBack

More concern for man than God

A talk-radio host on a religious station in Pennsylvania has apparently been fired for discussing with a caller the possibility that Pope John Paul II didn't go to heaven:

An evangelical Christian talk show host who questioned the beliefs of the Catholic church and entertained a caller's question about whether the late Pope John Paul II would go to heaven has been fired...

Last week, Minto questioned some of the Catholic church's beliefs, such as purgatory, and fielded a question from a caller who asked whether the pope would go to heaven. Many evangelical Christians believe that someone must be a "born-again" believer to enter heaven...

"As far as I'm concerned, I was doing what I've always done on the radio -- look at events around the world from a biblical perspective. I've always been willing to talk about controversial subjects," said Minto, who has had shows in Albany, N.Y., Denver and Phoenix...

Chuck Gratner, general manager of WORD-FM, didn't dispute Minto's description and said he was let go because of differences in how he conducted his show.

"WORD-FM needs to function in this city in support of the entire church -- that means everybody -- and not focus on denominational issues," Gratner said.

It always intrigues me when religious people who hammer down the doors of Congress anytime a suggestion is made to limit public religious speech turn around and ... try to limit public religious speech.

I'm not an evangelical, and I can pretty much assure you that Minto and I would have a lot of doctrinal differences if we sat down to discuss it. I'm not defending his doctrine, and I wouldn't defend Catholic doctrine either. What I would defend, on both sides, is the value of discussing the differences. If you're having a talk show on a religious station that isn't limited to one doctrinal view, you have three options: Discuss only "spiritual living" topics, where the focus is on overcoming the struggles of a religious life; discuss religion in general but in a "we're all God's children, no matter our differences!" way that leaves nothing to be said but sweet platitudes that take no one nearer to God; or discuss religion in a nitty-gritty, our-goal-is-God-first way that takes no prisoners and must, of a necessity, include the possibility that someone, somewhere in the Christian pantheon of denominations may have it wrong. It sounds like the station wanted the middle option, while Minto was willing to at least occasionally dip into the last one.

Very sad. Quite unsurprising.

In this world of "I'm okay, you're okay", it's quite a social faux pas to suggest that someone else's religious ideas may be inaccurate, no matter how diametrically opposed to your own (or to the Bible) they may be. Even groups that are on board opposing controversial moral issues such as abortion or gay marriage will often soft-shoe around their own doctrinal differences. I think (brace yourself for a moral judgment) that is wrong.

To those of us who believe in God, He is the most important thing in our lives. It should come as no surprise to you, then, that I think avoiding religious discussions is precisely the wrong way to go. I'm not out to convince people to become like me. I'm nobody. And I'm not interested in conversations where both parties are trying to convert the other, so all they're doing is talking or planning their next rebuttal, not genuinely listening. I will also walk away if the conversation gets angry, bitter or hateful.

But I do want to understand where people stand in relation to God, how they got there, why they believe what they believe, where we're different in our understanding, where we're the same. If they don't believe in God, I want to know why. I want them to be interested in why I do believe (although I find most non-believers are not interested at all, thinking they know why already). The way to increase knowledge and understanding is not to avoid anyone who might disagree with you, but to explore the disagreements because you may be wrong. I may be wrong. And if serving God is the most important thing to me, shouldn't my desire to learn more about how to do it properly overcome all my social embarrassment and personal egotism?

This radio station has shown itself not to be interested in the souls of its listeners, but only in scratching their itching ears. I almost regret not living in Pittsburgh, just so I can stop listening to them in protest.

And a few comments on the issue of the disposition of the Pope's soul. God is merciful and just, and I would not offer a conclusion about the Pope's soul - it's God's business, not mine. I would note, however, that the Pope's theology was not in harmony with the purest reading of the New Testament, and I think that matters. In a "better safe than sorry" way, I'd say the closer you are to New Testament practices, the more sure you can be of God's favor.

But that aside, if by some very sad circumstance - possibly even an unrepented sin in his life that none of us know about - the Pope's soul did not end up with God, what do you think he would want for the rest of us? Do you think he would want people to follow his path, and join him in exile from God? Or do you think he would want no one to join him, and everyone else to have the eternal joy of God's presence?

I'd say the answer would be in Luke 16:19-31.

Posted by susanna at 02:24 PM | TrackBack

Priority: Crime investigation or ... other stuff?

Crime shows are among the most popular on television, and in recent years the crime scene investigation aspects - including the CSI franchise - have proliferated like rabbits on Viagra. I've heard both police officers and crime investigation techs in the real world comment on how those shows have raised the expectations of juries about what type of evidence is available and should be presented in court.

The increased sophistication is a two-edged sword. Jurors who follow those shows have a fairly decent foundation of knowledge which can help them understand complex scientific evidence when it's presented in court. They also have an expectation that they will hear that kind of thing, so they're less likely to zone out or to think it's just a bunch of garbage used to obstruct the truth. Those are good things. However, on the other hand they now have certain expectations about what should be present in the evidence to prove that someone did a particular crime, especially crimes like murder or rape. They expect the evidence to mimic what they see on television, and they may not give as much weight to circumstantial evidence as is formerly true and actually appropriate to a case.

It places an unexpected burden on financially-strapped criminal justice agencies. Last night while watching Law & Order, I noticed that the report on DNA from blood taken at a crime scene was in the detectives' hands 24 hours or less from the time it was taken. The reality is far different. When a forensic scientist from the Alabama forensic lab spoke to my class this semester, he told us that it takes anywhere from six months to a year for a police agency to get the results from DNA submitted. For there to be a more rapid response, the head of the lab has to make an executive decision to jump a sample ahead of the backlog. That happens in major cases, but not often. And that's just one example. Many kinds of forensic investigations have very long lead times, which means that detectives are waiting months for information to help them on their cases.

It also means that situations like this one are likely fairly common: One of my students said a friend of hers called the police when her car was broken into and some things stolen. My student was with her when the police came. There were evident fingerprints and a blood stain. The officers made no effort to collect that evidence, and finally she asked them if they were going to. According to my student, their response was, "It's not worth our time." Now, the PR people in the department should have a conversation with the officer about how he words his remarks to the public, but essentially he's precisely correct. It's not that it isn't worth their time to investigate the crime, but rather that collecting that kind of evidence won't really help the investigation because a) it will take forever to get the evidence processed and b) likely the person doing such a low-level crime doesn't have at least his DNA in the system. So why haul out a crime scene investigator, use up their equipment and time, and send it off to be analyzed?

As is often the case, the expectations of the public as a result of television programs - reality or otherwise - are wildly different from what the reality of police work and criminal justice work really are. But even in the real world, some standards should be maintained. Unfortunately, in Alabama that's not happening and from what I can tell there's not much public dismay about it:

The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences has further cut its services after the retirement of a scientist who analyzed trace evidence.

Director F. Taylor Noggle Jr. notified all law enforcement agencies and district attorneys statewide saying the retirement of the scientist, combined with ongoing budget constraints, prompted him to cut analysis of trace evidence. Although the service was used infrequently statewide, some are worried about its impact on cases...

Authorities say trace evidence, which includes hair, fibers, glass, paint, soil, tire impressions and shoeprints, is often used to corroborate other evidence in a case. The science behind trace evidence developed on the premise that a criminal always leaves something behind at a scene, and tracing where it came from can lead investigators to the culprit.

While experts say cases aren't usually solved on trace evidence alone, the popularity of televisions shows focusing on forensic science and its high-tech gadgets has raised the level of public expectations, especially those charged with deciding guilt or innocence.

"Jurors are looking for something in addition to witness testimony," Davis said...

At one point, the department was doing trace evidence analysis at 10 of its labs statewide. That dwindled to four, and then just one - in Jacksonville. The service was halted for several years at least one other time in the past 10 years.

In 2003 and 2004, only 169 and 124 trace evidence cases were submitted statewide, compared with about 29,000 drug cases, 1,500 DNA cases, 3,000 toxicology cases and 1,800 autopsies.

The trace cases, Noggle said, made up less than 1 percent of the total cases submitted to the department annually.

"Without sufficient funding, you have to establish priorities and when you compare 150 cases per year and have a backlog of over 2,000 cases, what's your priority?" he said. "It's a small portion of what we do, and I was faced with a tough decision to make."

It is a small percentage of what they do, and if they have to eliminate a position, it sounds like that one was the right one. But the article doesn't say whether the small number of cases the retiring scientist worked actually kept him busy - certainly the fact that he's retiring in a couple of months but isn't taking new cases anymore so he can finish the ones he has seems to indicate he was busy. Although the FBI has agreed to take some trace evidence work from Alabama into their labs when necessary, they can't take on a lot. What this means is, law enforcement agencies throughout Alabama will be discouraged from collecting this type of evidence. Why bother, when it won't be processed? Only in the most serious cases - for example, a multiple murder or serial crime - will the FBI get involved.

Part of the harm this causes is investigations of cold cases. As we discussed in my class yesterday, meticulous crime scene investigation and data collection is crucial to solving a crime, even if it doesn't bear fruit right away. In numerous cases, blood-soaked clothing from a years-old crime scene has held still-viable DNA samples that have resulted in solving the crime. The other types of evidence - trace evidence - could help bolster such a case. In the current circumstance, they probably won't even collect a lot of that. And I'm not trashing the police, here. They're being pragmatic with their budget and their situation. What I'm disgusted about is that the criminal justice budget in Alabama can't even find the funding to maintain basic forensic expertise. And that's a fault of the legislature.

In class yesterday, I went on a side riff about taxes, and how they're collected and spent. My students weren't very savvy about where the government collects money from them, or how it's allocated. I told them that in my judgment, basic government functions include things like good roads, security and a good criminal justice system. We've fallen down on the job in Alabama. I wonder how many museum exhibits or cultural activities it took to suck out the money we should be spending on crime investigation.

Posted by susanna at 09:31 AM | TrackBack

April 13, 2005

Kitty reprised?

Powerline blog evokes the ghost of Kitty Genovese in their critique of a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article, about a white teen who was attacked and dragged off a city transit bus, where he was beaten and robbed while other riders and the bus driver looked on.

There are some similarities, but it's not precisely the same. In the 1964 Genovese case, she was attacked within the view and hearing of the residents of a large apartment building, any of whom could have called police without risk to themselves. They chose not to. None rushed to her rescue either. In the Minneapolis case, there were a group of attackers, obviously willing to mete out great harm, and any of the people who intervened would have been subject to attack themselves - possibly even at a later time. That's not an absolution, but it is a mitigation. In some areas, the populace is so worn down by crime and so convinced that police and city officials won't genuinely fix the problem, that it seems in their minds the best of a bad choice to let this kind of thing go. That is the kindest interpretation; one hopes other possible explanations, such as that the other riders may have been black and sympathetic with the hassling of a white rider, are not true.

If citizens truly felt a part of the policing of their society, we'd have a more orderly, less crime-ridden world, even in the most squalid and hopeless parts of our society. But many are riding the fence of legality in their own lives, and don't want to call attention to their own probably petty offenses in the course of bringing police in to alleviate more serious threats to their security and quality of life. It's also easier to leave it be when you're a part of a group - you can vacillate in uncertainty hoping someone else will intervene. And in some instances... people just don't care. That is the lesson of Kitty Genovese, and I don't think it's changed all that much in the interim.

However, I do agree with Scott Johnson that the city officials and police in Minneapolis are making some seriously poor decisions about policing if this is happening in a downtown business center. Not that a downtown business center is more important than a poor residential area, just that in the usual scheme of things, a downtown business area is going to be one of the first places cleaned up, for economic reasons. If things are bad there, I shudder to think what they are in the poorer sections of town.

Posted by susanna at 01:34 PM | TrackBack

Warning: Set down your Pepsi

James Lileks is always amusing, but his tale of playing Doom 3 the first time...

Well, I laughed until I cried.

Don't miss it.

Posted by susanna at 10:30 AM | TrackBack

DUKE is everywhere these days

Just in case you're going through withdrawal after the NCAA men's basketball tournament, here's another exercise in bracketology for you. Print yours today!

And yes, DUKE makes a showing here too, although there's no report about whether Coach Unspellable-Name-Pronounced-With-No-Appreciable-Reliance-On-Actual-Letters-In-His-Name will do credit card commercials during this selection process.

The ad at the bottom is amusing too.

Link via the always enlightening Galley Slaves.

Posted by susanna at 10:12 AM | TrackBack

Computer - inattentive driver... it's a conundrum

Parts of the NYC subway are going to automation, controlled by centralized computers rather than human conductors. At least, to an extent - apparently one conductor will remain in the front car, but the middle one will be gone. New Yorkers are skeptical of its success.

As someone who's ridden the NYC subways quite a lot, I'm skeptical too.

One of the functions of the mid-train conductor is to keep an eye out for those sprinting riders who dive for the door as it closes. The conductor has a manual override that allows him to open the doors so they can get in. The article says the new system will automatically reopen the doors if there is an obstruction in it. As someone who has gotten things caught in elevator doors, and had to pull a shopping bag out of the subway doors, I question that.

The article lists other concerns, which I think are valid. I'm not saying automation isn't the way to go, just that I don't know that they've proven it is the way to go. One thing missing (rather starkly, I thought) from the article is a good discussion of automated systems in other areas. You get a hint that maybe in DC they're this way, but it's not explicit. Nor does the writer answer the questions raised by New Yorkers by discussing those other systems. That's what I want to know.

Maybe it's in an article in the NYT. I'll go digging.

UPDATE: Didn't find anything searching for "L train", "laying off conductors" or "upgrading subway system". Curious.

Posted by susanna at 10:04 AM | TrackBack

Now who's obstructing science?

National Geographic is beginning an amazing project:

A five-year project to reconstruct a genealogy of the world's populations and the migration paths of early humans from their ancestral homeland in Africa will be started today by the National Geographic Society and I.B.M., the society said in a statement.

The goal of the program is to collect 100,000 blood samples from indigenous populations around the world and analyze them genetically. Researchers at 10 local centers and at the National Geographic Society in Washington will then assign the people who give blood to lineages that trace the routes traveled by their early ancestors.

I think this is fantastic, just excellent (here is a press release about the Human Genome Project, of which this is an extention). Migration patterns tell us so much about history with sweeping strokes, rather than the small details of battles and discoveries. Both are important. But there are those who would obstruct it:

The program is an effort to accomplish the goals of the Human Genome Diversity Project, an initiative that was proposed by population geneticists in 1991.

That project ran into a political furor that prevented it from receiving substantial government support. It was denounced by some cultural anthropologists, who said that looking for genetic differences among populations was tantamount to racism. And advocates for indigenous peoples portrayed it as a "vampire project" for extracting valuable medical information from the blood of endangered tribes while giving nothing in return.

It's not surprising that those groups are the ones who would object. First, in regards to finding "genetic differences" being "tantamount to racism" - that's only if you judge people in the aggregate, or are inclined to value people based on characteristics other than character and life choices. Making this objection says more about the objector than the project. What are you going to find out via DNA that could be "racist"? It's not going to measure intellect, or morality, or anything of that nature. I would think such genetic mapping would have a lot of potential for benefits: For example, discovering that certain populations are more susceptible to particular diseases, if that is what is tracked. Then efforts can be made to help counteract those propensities through modern medicine or technology. There are other benefits, but I think just mapping migration patterns through DNA is sufficient on its own.

The other argument is clearly just an effort to squeeze money out of the project for some type of social welfare program for the indigenous people. What kind of collective harm, or individual harm, would come to a people because they donated a small amount of blood? I don't particularly object to giving them something - I'm sure it will be a benefit to them - but I do object to the strong-arming and the accusation of "vampirism". Elsewhere in the article, it's pointed out that some religious groups don't want their blood to outlive their bodies. I think that's something that could be easily taken care of.

I will agree that the knowledge of migration patterns and the establishment of intergroup connections previously unknown could have major sociological impact. But that's something that is being studied already:

The impact of the Human Genome Project, however, extends far beyond laboratory analysis. Under the guidance of Dr. Watson, the Human Genome Project became the first large scientific undertaking to dedicate a portion of its budget for research to the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of its work. NHGRI and DOE each set aside 3 to 5 percent of their genome budgets to study how the exponential increase in knowledge about human genetic make-up may affect individuals, institutions and society.

And then we have a Yale geneticist who is a purist - he doesn't like the project because the material won't be collected or stored in a form that gives "everyone in the scientific community" access to it. It seems to me that with proper controls, they can insure that their data is not improperly manipulated and that their results are a genuine representation of the data. Outside of that, sometimes circumstances put constraints on real-world research that aren't ideal. Sometimes you have to do the best you can with what is.

One point I don't see raised is this: Would the DNA from the project be available to law enforcement for inclusion in databases? I'd guess the answer is "no", but I think it should at least be asked.

A very cool project. It'll be great to learn the outcome.

(Also pretty fascinating is that "all humans alive today can claim as a common ancestor a woman who lived in Africa some 150,000 years ago". Somehow the concept of tracking all humans back to one woman rings true to me.)

Posted by susanna at 09:52 AM | TrackBack

April 12, 2005

Showing his true colors

Keith Woods, Poynter Institute's Dean of Diversity (and doesn't that tell you a lot already?), has won the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award. If Woods' title didn't give you all you needed to know, the "Helen Thomas" surely did. Woods writes a long navel-gazing column about how he stepped up in the diversity wars, which has two particularly interesting points. Here's the first:

I’ve read a few stories before and since the Academy Awards saying that the number of black and brown nominees – and the subsequent number of winners – proves that, in Hollywood at least, we who advocate for diversity can rest at ease. To them I say yes, let’s mark the moment when no one can argue but that talent alone is to blame for Jamie Foxx getting his Oscar. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is 2005 and we are only now approaching zero. Even. Equal. Celebrate that fact if you will, but recognize in the moment’s historic tardiness the profound nature of the problem we confront.

So as we keep an eye toward the ideal that the glitterati of Hollywood presented, let’s also keep feet on the ground and shoulder to the grindstone.

That's right, the glitterati of Hollywood are the diversity standard by which we should judge ourselves. Of course, the fact that we've had two black Secretaries of State since 2000 doesn't even register on his radar. Why should it? He's planted his flag firmly in the camp of liberal politics:

So they attack diversity by labeling it liberal. Our challenge today is to stand up and say, yes. Absolutely. If it took being a liberal to get women into the newsrooms so that Helen Thomas could write about the world and pester presidents over the life of her career, then call me a liberal. If embracing diversity makes it possible for black men to rise to the late Bob McGruder’s magnificent heights, then brand me with the “D.”

One assumes, although he doesn't say, that by "D" he means "Democrat". And we needed him to slap us up side the head with that revelation? I wouldn't have concluded that at all, without his help.

And who precisely is the "they" in the first sentence? One assumes it's "the rising right":

Too many news organizations, rocked by precipitous drops in readership or viewership and desperate to hook up with this self-declared mainstream, are contorting themselves to look more like the rising right. So they deliver more of the hysterical voices from the fringes, leaving less and less time, space or political will to report on the whole of their communities.

If you want to talk about "hysterical voices from the fringes", you could do no better than to start with Helen Thomas herself, and her younger-yet-no-more-sane sister-in-mindless-liberalism, Maureen Dowd. Yes, those women are beacons of objectivity and fairness in a dark world of teeming partisanship. I'd be curious about Woods's stance on diversity of political viewpoint in the newsroom - given that

And since when are "the rising right" not a part of "the whole of their communities"? Just asking.

I couldn't let that stand on Poynter's site without comment, so I left one. Here it is:

I find it illuminating that your gold standard for "equality" is that an "actor of color" won an acting award for his talent with no taint of racially-based favoritism. It is a good thing, I don't argue with that. But how much more impressive is it that Colin Powell was chosen to be the US Secretary of State on his merits? How much more impressive that he was followed by Condoleezza Rice, unassailably chosen on her merit? Rice and Powell aren't entertainers, they are world leaders. They don't make good movies, they change the world. The fact that you chose an actor rather than the Secretary of State as your example shows that your true agenda is about advancing liberalism, not advancing the truth that race should not be considered, only merit, in value judgments.

As a former journalist, I applaud efforts to broaden coverage to the whole community, and I also recognize the value (although not the imperative) of having a wide spectrum of voices in the newsroom. I don't appreciate or respect flagrant political agendas marching under the guise of "progress" in journalism, nor do I think advancing a liberally political agenda in the newsroom is the way to advance objectivity and sound journalistic principles. See Mapes, Mary.

I could hear the strains of The Battle Hymn of the Republic playing resoundingly as background to your column. What I didn't hear was anything remotely approximating the kind of colorblind fairness and objectivity that journalism supposedly strives for. And by your ringing silence on Powell and Rice, it's obvious politically-blind journalism isn't your strength either - which you make explicit in your last paragraph.

Are we supposed to admire you?

I will note for the record that actually the "D" paragraph is third from the end. I thought of it as the last graph when writing my comment because my brain went into spasms when I hit that "D".

Of course the most interesting aspect of the whole exercise is that Woods doesn't see the richness of self-parody in his own column.

For more information about the "diversity" of political views in the newsroom, see this study by Pew and this post by Jay Rosen. For some reason I can't get to the Editor & Publisher site right now, but I'll have some links from there later.

I don't have the time to read through all of Woods's columns, but I did read a few to get some context. I found some good ideas and some reporting indicating either laziness or bias. For example, in a column on reporting on race during election seasons, Woods said this:

Black Americans, more than white Americans, have historically favored one party over the other, opting, for much of our history, to go with the least racist of the two parties. Race, then, has always factored in to their decision-making.

Lazy, or biased? Abraham Lincoln started the Republican party. The Democrats fought tooth and nail against the Civil Rights Act. A current grand poohba of the Senate Dems is a former member - actually Kleagle - of the Ku Klux Klan. So is Woods saying that Black Americans have always voted Republican? Or does he just not know his history? I'll leave that for you to decide.

Posted by susanna at 12:47 PM | TrackBack

Enemy inside the camp

Two years ago, as military personnel in Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait prepared to invade Iraq, a US Army sergeant rolled grenades into three tents, where they exploded. He shot two men who ran out of their tents to investigate. Two men died, 14 were injured, and the fact that the US Army sergeant was a Muslim raised fears that he was operating in collusion with Muslim terrorists.

Sgt. Hasan Akbar's trial began this week, and his defense is saying the attack was a result of mental illness:

His mental condition is a central issue. His lawyers do not dispute that Sergeant Akbar, a member of an engineer battalion at Camp Pennsylvania in the Kuwaiti desert, ambushed three tents as their occupants got ready for bed on the night of March 23, 2003. But, the lawyers say, he was too mentally disturbed to have planned the attack, which also injured 14 people...

In part because of the history of sex abuse in the family, Major Brookhart said, Sergeant Akbar, a Muslim convert who enlisted in 1998, feared soldiers who joked about raping and pillaging or who referred to Iraqi combatants as "towelheads" or "camel jockeys." "When he hears a sick joke about raping Iraqi women, he doesn't hear a joke, he hears a real threat," Major Brookhart said.

"When Sergeant Akbar acted, it was not with premeditation, it was out of desperation," he said.

The situations cited by Akbar's attorneys make mental illness a viable defense, so I will be curious about what evidence the prosecutors put forward to combat it. Not guilty by reason of insanity is a much narrower and more difficult defense than most people think. Certainly people who murder, especially in gruesome ways and targeting multiple victims, are not mentally the same as your average person. For at least the time they're murdering, they've given precedence to some mental demon that rides them. However, that's not the same as legal insanity. Essentially, to prove legal insanity you have prove that at the time of the behavior, the person did not recognize the behavior as wrong. That can be a result of a number of confluences, such as that the person didn't know right or wrong because of mental distress, or that their interpretation of events led them to believe something about the situation that wasn't true. I think Akbar's defense will go for the latter claim, saying that Akbar in a sense was acting partly in self defense (as a Muslim) and partly in concern that innocent co-religionists of his were at mortal risk from the officers. By "innocent co-religionists", I'm speaking of the women he thought they would rape and kill, not the terrorists operating under a guise of religiosity.

Obviously the two sides have already stipulated that Akbar did the attacks, so there won't be evidence presented to prove he did or did not. The issue is his mental state in doing it, and the most important part of that is his level of premeditation - what the jury thinks about that will determine whether he's found guilty of capital murder or something as relatively minor as involuntary manslaughter. He could even be found mentally incompetent and given psychiatric time instead of prison time.

We'll see. I'm not one to buy such a defense easily, and I seriously doubt a military tribunal will be an easy group to sell on it. But it's obvious race as well as religion will come into it:

The jury, which in a military trial is permitted to ask questions by submitting them in writing, did not have many questions, either. But after one witness, Maj. Verner Kiernan, said he thought the voice at the tent flap belonged to an African-American, a jury member wanted to know how he knew.

Searching for the right word, Major Kiernan attributed his belief to "tone" or "dialect." Sergeant Akbar, also known as Mark Fidel Kools, is black.

That's legitimate, I think. If I heard a voice speaking with the accent of Sylvestor Stallone or some mob wiseguy (the "dos" instead of "those"), I'd assume a white guy. I've yet to hear a black woman with the accent of Fran Drescher. While race is not destiny in regards to "tone or dialect", certainly some tones and dialects are narrowly associated with particular races - not because of the race, but because of the sociological separation into communities where accents are learned.

Should be interesting.

Posted by susanna at 09:23 AM | TrackBack

Roll tape!

A lot of protestors arrested during the Republican Convention have gotten off, some as a result of video tape that apparently shows them behaving legally at the time of their arrests. Meanwhile, the police point out that the tapes show they behaved themselves too.


Posted by susanna at 08:58 AM | TrackBack

A little cheese with that whine?

One thing that's always intrigued me about blogs is the catfighting. There are few of us who haven't laid a little smack down at some point, so I'm not holding myself above the fray, here. It's just that it's so... high school.

For those of you who've been cruising the Internet for a while - I first logged on in 1994 - you recognize the behavior, although blogging has its own peculiar twists. First in chat rooms and then in listservs, I noticed it: Everyone started out loving and supporting each other. Then little personality differences arose. Popular girls and boys got more attention. Somebody acted out. People got in snits and formed cliques. Usually there was either a blowup or a swarming, sometimes both. Then you'd settle down, love each other again, and flow on. And always, always, someone would say, "I'm not jealous, but I just don't like the way so-'n-so said this... or is doing that... or this or that for this or that reason". In my experience, people who have to tell you they aren't jealous generally are, at least a little.

I've noticed it some recently on a few blogs - sniping at people who've blogged their way into wide exposure, often on both television and print media, usually by riding some hobbyhorse of theirs. My question to the snipers is... why don't you just go read something else, if that annoys you? And why do you have to blog about the fact that you've changed the channel, if in fact you have? And if the popular boys and girls are behaving foolishly and self-evidently self-aggrandizing, why do you have to point it out? Isn't it self-evidently self-evident?

Of course, you could ask me the same thing - isn't their self-evident jealousy self-evidently self-evident? Why yes, I'd respond, but only by writing this post can I string together so many self-evidentlys in one sentence and still make marginal sense.

I suppose the thing that annoys me is mainly the jealousy that all the snipers claim not to feel. I am endlessly confused by the people who hound after Glenn Reynolds because he doesn't take on their issues with the fervor they feel, or because he may actually oppose them in some way. Often they even accuse him of evil motives in his post selection. I've been reading Instapundit for over three years, and I don't see evil. I see a lot I disagree with, sometimes I grit my teeth, but I admire the man's intellect, fortitude and sheer bloggy doggedness. He rarely gets personal, although he does get testy occasionally. I think he's earned his greater attention. Am I even a teensy bit jealous? Of course I am, although not in a "I don't want him to have it because I can't" way. It's more of a "I wish I was as smart and hard working as him. Rats!" kind of a way.

The Powerline guys I see similarly. They are excellent writers, they are very thorough, they find out things that I wouldn't know where to start finding for myself, they opine on things I didn't know I wanted to know about, yet find that after all I do. I don't always agree with them. They've certainly gotten a lot of attention from the Rathergate business, and maybe occasionally I wonder if there isn't a little laurel-polishing-and-resting going on over there. But I'm willing to admit to at least a little wish-I-had-a-laurel-to-polish business going on in my assessment, so I don't get particularly exercised about it. I just don't go visit for a few days until I fade back to just a very faint green, and I can assure you they are crushed by my absence.

But humor aside, I'd like to point to something that is true about at least Glenn Reynolds and the Powerline guys: They've been at this a long time, way before blogs. Glenn has noted numerous times that before he began blogging he was an inveterate writer of letters to the editor. He also writes tirelessly for law reviews and other professional venues, so he was accustomed to quick analysis and writing before blogs. And then he caught the wave, a man well stocked with all the tools to ride it well. The Powerline guys, especially John and Scott, have been writing opinion pieces and analyses together for years. They have a radio show. They do commentary. The blog just gave them a centralized place to do it to their hearts content without worrying about editors and making a pitch. They caught the wave, men well-stocked with all the tools to ride it well. The phrase "You make your own luck" is not always trite.

There are many other examples - the Volokh Conspiracy, for one. Michele Catalano's A Small Victory - that woman has enough to say to last for decades, and as for appearing in other venues, she was interviewed on local B'ham radio during the Republican convention. How cool was that? Michelle Malkin, who tapped into the blogosphere to bolster her writing career, which has self-evidently (I couldn't resist) worked (to the enrichment of the blogosphere, I might add). And it's not trite, either, to say that their successes and attention from outside the blogosphere are good for the blogosphere as a whole, because more people know we're here and can come see for themselves. They won't all stick to the Big Guys. They'll trickle down to us sometimes.

Who knows? Maybe someday even I will be the object of someone's dark green thoughts. (If anyone is thinking them already, remember - I live in *Texas*. That's where to send that little brown-paper-wrapped ticking package.)

UPDATE: I forgot! I was the object of dark green thoughts! What a thrill, and to think I didn't remember. My good friend Timekeeper of Horologium reminded me that a few years ago a blogger named Ugly Nora started a whole blog just to debunk me. What a blast. It died after just a few posts, but hey, it was fun while it lasted.

Thank you, TK!

Posted by susanna at 12:53 AM | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

If you say so

Diacon (not his real name - or so he claims) has emailed me to say I'm one of his blogspirations. I'm officially agnostic on that issue. Regardless of its provenance, the intriguingly named Poli Theo Doodle is off to a good start.

Posted by susanna at 11:18 PM | TrackBack

Say on, Brother Volokh

Eugene Volokh says precisely what I think about judging and judgments, most particularly political judging, only he says it more elegantly than I would.

But I'll give it a shot anyway. It's very funny to see the guy from Will and Grace doing one of those "The More You Know" public advertising spots on television, warning people with a very stern expression that they shouldn't be judging. Um, can you say "hypocrite"? By concluding that it's wrong to judge, they are judging. All judging means is making an evaluation about whether something is good or bad, be it a taste, morality or political issue. Before you can say something is or is not good, you have to have established a standard for what "good" is and what "bad" is. In setting that standard, you've excluded a range of behaviors and automatically have "judged" them as negative.

It's a "never say never" conundrum.

To truly not judge, you'd have to be of a mind that no behaviors or beliefs are wrong, or objectionable. That would include someone stealing your belongings, your wife or your life. You'd also have to think that people who judge others are themselves not wrong. You'd have to accept that any behaviors or opinions, even ones diametrically opposed to each other, are equally valid and acceptable. Basically, to not judge at all would mean you're dead.

The tricky thing in a society is to construct an atmosphere legally where as many opposing views can be tolerated as possible. I think we've done that. But having a legal system means you have to judge. Voting involves judging. Making laws involves judging. Saying that homosexuality is wrong or preferring to save a tree frog instead of a farmer's family farm is judging. The question is not really whether or not you should judge; the question is, by whose standard do you judge?

The liberals don't want that to be clear to the average person, because then they would have to admit the truth: That a liberal philosophy involves judging to the same (if not greater) degree than a conservative philosophy. It would mean they would have to compete on the common ground of right and wrong, rather than maintaining the illusory idea that conservatives (especially religious conservatives) are stern unloving judges while liberals are loving, all-embracing non-judgers.

An illustrative anecdote: The other night I was watching a rerun of L&O, one with Sabrina the Blonde Lesbian (who we didn't know was a lesbian until she "came out" when she was fired). Throughout the show she was strident, stern, self-righteous and just unpleasant. She was a hanging judge in spike heels, with Jack the one with his head in the noose, usually. I'm sure the lefties who share her political views thought she was great, but I just thought she was a pain. Every show, she was judging right and left and not happy with anything. When I watched it the other evening, I thought, "This is a fine example of liberal non-judging. She's a bitter bitter person."

And I don't mind saying that I'm judgmental in concluding that.

Posted by susanna at 09:30 PM | TrackBack

Not precisely smart

Theosebes has several new and interesting posts, unsurprisingly. My brother (who, of course, runs Theosebes) recently read The Da Vinci Code and notes Roman Catholic opposition to it here. He promises to give a review of it later, along with a review of a debunking book, The Gospel Code. I'm planning to confiscate his copies of both to read while he's in India next month.

The "not precisely smart" thing is the Catholic church opposition to The Da Vinci Code, which just gives the book and the theory more credence in the minds of those people too lazy to find out how bad his theology is, or too gullible to think author Dan Brown might have his own "code" - one that's anti-Catholic. I'm no Catholic apologist (as you will know if you've read this blog much), but in a general way I'm not much in favor of people putting forth even more baroque and bizarrely complex theories against true Bible theology than the Catholic church's own extra-biblical theology. I'm generally sympathetic to and in favor of people who worship God and Christ, as they should. I'm generally not in favor of people who put forward their own crazy theology as if it was truth, with hardly a nod to the Bible, especially when it's all about filthy mammon (that's money, to those of you who didn't grow up reading the King James Version) (and I'm pointing a finger at you too, Tim LaHaye)*.

The Roman Catholic church needs to laugh at Dan Brown and his little fiction story. When some cardinal or bishop or Vatican spokesperson is questioned about Brown's theory, he should roll his eyes (delicately, as befits an August Person) and make some light reference to the fact that Oliver Stone would be a perfect producer for the movie based on Brown's story. When you thunder and prohibit people from reading it and generally Look Disapproving, people think you have something to hide. Maybe they do, but it's not that Brown's little fictional turn is actually true.

My advice to all Catholics and especially the Vatican: Hand out copies of The DaVinci Code - from the thrift store, following my brother's example - and say, "Read this! It's a great story! A little heavy on the fantasy theology, but hey, it's fiction! Can't expect a thriller to hold the line on truth. When the movie comes out, we're going to have a screening and serve popcorn!"

Theosebes also links to another interesting "not precisely smart" activity - a church inviting Oprah Winfrey to speak to their assembly, complete with her "long time companion" - i.e. lover to whom she is not married - in tow. And this encourages Godly chastity and

* I don't have a problem with publishing fiction that uses the Bible or various iterations of Christian theology as its starting point; some of it is very entertaining reading. I just finished "Cradle and All" by James Patterson, a weird thriller about the possibility of the birth of a new Christ. It was good, and my faith in the Bible wasn't even slightly affected (although I continue to be amused that 95% of religious people in fiction are Catholic, 3% Jewish, 1% Muslim, and 1% some amalgam of the extremes of various Christian sects, usually engaged in evil). I'm not a theocrat who is interested in pushing down any kind of discussion that doesn't agree with what I believe. In fact, the more I read about what other people believe, the more challenged I am to understand more deeply what I believe and why. What I do object to is people making up things and extrapolating wildly, then putting it out as fact or at the very least heavily hinting that it's truth thinly disguised as fiction. However, those people shouldn't be shut down or thunderously banished from bookshelves, with the implicit (or sometimes explicit) understanding that if you read the book you're somehow abandoning God and Church. What believers should do is what I recommend above - show their amusement at the twisted theology and keep on putting out the truth. And meanwhile, make sure that people know just how much filthy lucre (another KJVism) the authors make from their bastard "theology", especially if they can make people believe it could possibly be true...

Posted by susanna at 08:46 PM | TrackBack

The intimacy of the hills

I was raised in a brick ranch-style house perched one third of the way up a gently rising hill in eastern Kentucky. At the base of the hill, a large flat field stretched to a small creek; just on the other side of the creek and across the narrow asphalt road, another hill rose up more sharply. All around, the hills flowed into each other, forming ridges with long skinny depressions between them. Outside of the hills, those depressions are called hollows; the locals call them hollers.

The little community surrounding my parents' home was once called Adela, when it had a post-office and people had a harder time getting to the county seat of Manchester. As a child, I could sit on the front porch of my house and see an old wood frame store my uncle ran; a white frame house up the hill from it where my grandfather's cousin lived with his wife; a white frame rental house owned by my dad and uncle; and across the cow pasture to the left of our house, my grandfather's big red barn. The narrow bottom land ran along the creeks, rich and loamy and tending to flood in any big rain. In our front field, sometimes we grew hay, sometimes tobacco, and for two memorable summers, we grew peppers that my sister and I were supposed to plant, tend and pick. We did, mostly, but it took a lot of help from other people too to get the peppers to market.

It wasn't until I was older that I realized every building, every piece of property I could see from my house was owned by someone I was related to. But that's less land than you might think. The hills close tightly against those loamy bottomlands, and the view doesn't go very far. It's a place where you can feel protected and safe or bound up and smothered. I suspect most people who stay there very long alternate between the two, sometimes during the same day. In a way, in those eastern Kentucky hills, the landscape echoes the relationships, or maybe it's the other way around. Because the hills are low and almost of a human scale, so close you can't avoid living and working and playing on them, they become as much a part of your internal landscape as they are a part of the external one.

I love the far-reaching views in Arizona, the dry brown stretches of West Texas, the low pinelands of southern New Jersey, the high mountains of the Poconos and the higher still mountains of Colorado. I'm intimidated yet somehow exhilarated by the sheer vastness of a Nebraska sky, and I even have a place in my heart for the concrete canyons of Manhattan. But I've never been any place where the landscape seems to become a part of you in the way it does in the eastern Kentucky hills.

I thought of that when I saw this photo by D. Gorton, taken in eastern Kentucky for a Patty Loveless album (Loveless is from the hills too). Here's a very similar yet obviously "corrected" version on Loveless's site - as a momentary aside from the point of this post, notice that on her version, she's lost 20 years and 20 pounds, the sun shines brighter and the mountain is farther away. But in both photos, I feel the hill rising behind the building as an intimate part of the scene, not just an impersonal artifact like the telephone poles. It seems to say, I have a history, I have a story, I have things to share with you. I can shelter you and give you a view of your world you don't see from below.

I will always love eastern Kentucky the best, no matter where I live. My favorite vacation spot is Smoky Mountains National Park, which is like my childhood home only on a grander, more pristine scale. I will always feel protected by the hills, and I will always gravitate there. There's much to love in the world, but there's nothing any better.

James Archambeault is one of the finest Kentucky photographers and one of the best photographers of Kentucky. Here are scenes that remind me of my growing up years, although they're not taken in my home county:

Madison County Spring
Appalachian Mountain Spring
Appalachian Foothills
Tobacco Cutter
Hill Farm, Powell County
Pond with Maple

Here is a photo of the Lilley Cornett Woods, one of the last stands of old-growth timber, further in eastern Kentucky than where I grew up. Here's a photo gallery.

Notice how this old house is perched on the rising hill. Here is a photo from Pike County, much further east. It shows a river valley, which will always be much wider than other valleys, but you can see how the hills flow into ridges. Here is a painting that shows the intimacy of living with the hills - see how the buildings are right up against the slope, and you can see that the hills are a part of the life of these people.

This is another common scene in eastern Kentucky - a denuded hill now covered with grass, the result of a strip mining reclamation project.

This is not my Kentucky. This is.

Posted by susanna at 08:10 PM | TrackBack

The Many Lies of Michael

Byron York has the scoop on Moorish manipulations, wherein a match flame attains the perceived status of a raging inferno.

Posted by susanna at 06:24 PM | TrackBack

April 08, 2005

Can you say "too invested"?

A rabble-rousing father has shot his son's high school coach because of disputes with the coach and some of the players. The man apparently has quite the history of causing trouble. The coach, btw, was not killed - he's in critical condition in the hospital.

Just the other day, I was watching a City Confidential episode about Wanda Webb Holloway, the woman from Channelview, Texas who tried to hire someone to kill the mother of her daughter's high school cheerleading rival. She was convicted.

Looks like some parents seriously need to get lives of their own.

Posted by susanna at 02:41 PM | TrackBack

The brain trust is apparently located in Maryland

It just boggles the mind.

Posted by susanna at 02:02 PM | TrackBack

Thoughts on the passing of Karol Józef Wojtyla

Today was the funeral for Pope John Paul II. In terms of politics and world order, he did a lot of good. In general, with his firm insistence on traditional values he helped hold the line against modernizers who would excise God and all His strictures from society if they could. And from what I've heard, in many ways he was a very good man in the sense that he was dedicated, spiritual, a hard worker and a genuinely compassionate man. I applaud all of those things.

But I disagreed thoroughly with major parts of his theology, which is to say, the theology of the Catholic Church. Much of it has to be supported by extrabiblical sources, because they just are not supported by Scripture. For example:

- The concept of the Virgin Mary as a major religious figure, one who serves as an intercessor with God. She is not depicted in that role in the New Testament. In fact, quite frankly I consider it blasphemous and idolatry.

- The concept of a Pope. The apostles made concerted efforts, according to Scripture, to make sure reverence was given to God and Christ, not to them as messengers. The Biblical example of churches presents them as separate entities in local congregations, not as offshoots of a central church. In fact, the imagery is of Christ as the tree and individual Christians as the branches. One central figure designated as an earthly intercessor for God is not supported.

- The concept of Peter as the first pope. This is based, as far as I understand, on the passage, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church", as spoken by Jesus. The interpretation by some is that Peter was the rock that Jesus said He would build the church on. However, the full passage indicates that it's more likely Peter's confession of Christ as the Son of God was the rock Jesus referred to. Also, when someone bowed to Peter because of his teachings and clear connection to God, he raised that person up and told him not to worship him. In contrast, millions bow to the Pope and it is considered a great honor to kiss his ring.

- The concept of priestly prohibition to marry. Peter was married. He had a mother-in-law. If he was the first Pope, why then is his example not followed?

- The whole concept of saints as special intercessors before God. In the New Testament, ordinary Christians are referred to as saints; in fact, the terms "Christian" and "saint" are synonymous in the NT. I can therefore Scripturally call myself a saint. However, that would not be a "saint" in the way the word is more frequently used now. There were no "saints" in the modern Catholic sense in the New Testament. And praying through them or worshipping them is not Scriptural.

There are a lot more examples. I don't question the dedication, the goodness, and the sincerity of Catholics generally, although I think a lot of their theology is incorrect. I do question the hierarchy and leadership of the Catholic Church, not that the men involved aren't internally consistent with their beliefs and genuinely dedicated to their concept of God, but rather that they are more dedicated to the Catholic Church than to searching out God unadorned by centuries of man's thoughts about God and the developing of trappings that originated more in man's conceit than in reverence toward God. By that, I mean that it is unassailably true that some popes in history were horribly corrupt, openly so, more concerned about earthly power and pleasures than God. Some of the pomp and circumstance of the papacy developed during that time, and while it may today be exercised for its historical value and (as I have seen it said) as a means to show in some still-meager earthly way the glory of God, it still emerged from earthly considerations, not godly ones. I cringe to see someone bowing to a man in the name of God. If Peter, Paul and Barnabas wouldn't allow people to bow to them, how arrogant is it for anyone today to allow it?

So where does that leave me in terms of mourning Pope John Paul II? And where do I think his soul is now?

I have prayed about it, and this is where I am. Karol Józef Wojtyla was a very good man who did a lot of very good things, including leveraging his religious power into political pressure that helped bring an end to the Soviet Union. That in turn opened an opportunity for millions to hear God's word in a way they hadn't had access to for a long time. He is, personally and politically, someone I mourn because of his goodness and his influence.

Spiritually, I'm more conflicted. I'm not God, so I won't even venture to guess where the soul of Karol Józef Wojtyla is now. I have prayed for his soul to be with God, because from what I know of him, he meant to do God's will and dedicated his life to it. However, from what I read of Scripture, that path included a lot of turns and embellishments unauthorized by God. In the end, all any of us can do is serve to the best of our knowledge and ability. I just think it's more sure to serve in a manner that is as closely tied to the New Testament doctrine and examples as possible.

NOTE: For those who object to theological discussions that disagree with another theological position, I don't mean to give offense. But sometimes doctrines are on their face mutually exclusive, and saying that both are okay doesn't necessarily make it so. Someone has to be wrong. The trick is to use God as the guide to who that is.

Posted by susanna at 11:52 AM | TrackBack

April 04, 2005

"Gone Kaczynski" or "cousin to McVeigh"?

Andrew Mickel confessed to his parents that he killed Red Bluff, CA, police officer David Mobilio as part of a protest against the evil of corporations. They turned him in to police, and now he's on trial in California. The burning question, according to this WaPo story, is this:

Has he "gone Kaczynski" - which is to say, is he crazy? - or is he a fully cognizant left-wing "cousin to McVeigh", a right-wing militia member who was executed for the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City? Both Kaczynski and McVeigh killed for ideology, although a case could be made that choosing murder as a means to make their statements says more about them than the cases they were trying to make. The same could well be true of Mickel.

Six days after the shooting, a manifesto appeared on more than a dozen Web sites operated by the left-leaning Independent Media Center .

It began: "Hello Everyone, my name's Andy. I killed a Police Officer in Red Bluff, California in a motion to bring attention to, and halt, the police-state tactics that have come to be used throughout our country. Now I'm coming forward, to explain that this killing was also an action against corporate irresponsibility."

The "Independent Media Center" would be the Indymedia about which we hear so much in the blogosphere, none of it good and much of it not very sane. That will likely creep back up in Mickel's defense, even if not in his formal defense in trial:

Some of Mickel's friends suspect he entered an echo chamber of anti-government talk and that it served as an outlet for some kind of violent urge growing inside him.

That "echo chamber"? Indymedia. But Mickel went beyond online nattering in his support for leftist causes:

Mickel went to the West Bank and Colombia with human rights groups. He became interested in the Palestinian cause and the U.S. role in Latin America. He joined rallies against the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund.

Unsurprisingly, his ideology incubated in the hyper-liberal atmosphere of Evergreen State College in Washington State, where "students do not get letter grades and are free to pursue independent study". That isn't to say all students who go there will develop murderous ideologies, but it is to say that it wasn't a likely place for Mickel's own ideology to temper out of its murderous path.

After killing Mobilio, Mickel fled to New Hampshire because his reading of its Constitution found support for anti-government revolution. There he called his parents, who the WaPo article refer to as "Karen and Stan Mickel, churchgoing college professors". (The church is never identified, so one wonders what precisely that is supposed to convey - and it must be meant to convey something, as I'm sure there are many other adjectives that could be employed to describe the parents. Perhaps that Mickel was raised in a Christian home, and still turned into this left-wing murderer? Unconvincing, if that is the case, because the ideology of a number of churches these days are less about God and more about left-wing politics.) The Mickels, by their actions, are good, responsible people: They turned him in.

The Mickels spoke by telephone with their son the day before his arrest. During their conversation, according to others who have knowledge of the phone call, Andy Mickel confessed to the killing. His parents turned him in...

Mickel was arrested the next day at the Holiday Inn. For hours he was surrounded by a SWAT team, which tried to coax him out. Finally, they agreed to Mickel's request to allow him to speak with a local reporter, Sarah Vos of the Concord Monitor, who was handed a telephone in the hotel lobby and told by agents just to listen. Vos told reporters at the scene that Mickel said, "I killed a cop in Red Bluff, California, in an effort to protest police brutality" and asked her to read his declaration of independence posting. And then he came out with his hands up.

It's a difficult thing, to turn in a family member when you know it will likely mean their life is forfeit, either through prison or death. But like Kaczynski, there is some reason to believe Mickel would not have stopped there. The Mickels did hire an attorney for their son, but Mickel dismissed him and intends to defend himself and, one suspects, his ideology. His parents point to persistant problems with depression over the years, and their son's use of anti-depressants, but Mickel's court-appointed advising counsel James Reichle, a former prosecutor, gives what is likely the prosecution's take on it as well:

As for Mickel's depression, Reichle says: "Everybody in America is on Prozac."

And everybody in America doesn't go out and shoot down a young father in uniform, in cold blood, from ambush, as a strike against "police brutality" and the state. I think Reichle has it right in his final conclusion:

Of course, his parents are going to say he's crazy, Reichle says. But Mickel "is extremely bright," his advisory counsel observes. "He just thinks differently from you and me."

Exactly. The Ted Bundys, Timothy McVeighs and Muhammed Attas of this world are not crazy in any legal way, or even in any way that slightly clouds their logic. They think differently, and in deadly ways. That's not crazy. That's just dangerous.

It will be interesting to see how the Mickels case unfolds.

And take a moment to say a prayer for David Mobilio, and envision his last moments:

At 1:27 a.m. on Nov. 19, 2002, Officer David Mobilio of the Red Bluff Police Department was working the graveyard shift when he pulled his cruiser into a gas station in his quiet little farm town. As he stood beside the car, the 31-year-old husband and father of a toddler was shot three times, twice in the back and once in the head, at very close range.

UPDATE: The local newspaper in Red Bluff reports that Mickel will not present a defense (a photo of Mobilio is included with the article). The prosecution has rested. Closing arguments will be tomorrow.

UPDATE II: Here's some more information. John at Some Poor Schmuck has links to some of the postings of Andrew Mickel (aka Andrew McCrae) about his ideology. Devra at Blue Streak blog has information from the time of the shooting and arrest, including details about Mobilio's funeral and information about memorial funds set up for his family and for the DARE program there; Mobilio was a DARE officer. This PDF link has a tribute to Mobilio on the second page; the Red Bluff Police Department still has his photograph on their home page. In one news article, the Red Bluff police chief said he just wanted to know why Mickel chose Red Bluff. Currently, no one knows.

Posted by susanna at 11:53 AM | TrackBack

Jury being selected for Rudolph trial

In 1998, a bomb went off at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, killing an off-duty police officer and seriously injuring a nurse. Eric Robert Rudolph, wanting for questioning in connection to it, went into hiding and became the subject of a multi-state manhunt. He was finally captured in 2003, and now his trial is set to begin in a Birmingham federal court.

Rudolph is also accused of setting off a pipe bomb during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and several other bombings in the Atlanta area, but the Birmingham trial was set to proceed first.

We're discussing the court system in my Intro to Criminal Justice class right now, and the Rudolph case is a good one to explore selection of a jury. Media coverage, locally and nationally, has been at times very intense. The defense originally asked that the case be granted a change of venue because of the publicity, but they compromised by allowing the jury pool to include people from all 31 counties of the federal district, not just the central counties of Jefferson, Shelby and Blount.

They've called 500 jurors, which has to be winnowed down to 12 and alternates. Each juror will be given a questionnaire about their views on issues touching the case, and in this case there are a lot of them: The charge is aggravated murder, because it was done in the commission of a felony, and there was more than one victim even though only one died. So the potential jurors must be "death certified" - that is, only jurors who state they can impose the death penalty if the evidence supports it will be accepted. The reported motive for the bombing was to close the abortion clinic, so the issue of abortion will be important - those who are pro-choice will have to see beyond Rudolph's anti-abortion stance to the facts of the case, whether in fact he did this act. And those who are anti-abortion will have to set aside their affinity for someone who believes as they do. And jurors will have to be queried about whether they have sympathies for violent means of protesting issues. In this instance, one would assume the anti-abortion folks will be most at risk for those sympathies, although personally I know very few people who oppose abortion who would support violent means, or even abortion clinic sit-ins, as legitimate methods. It would, I think, be analogous to people concerned about the environment who would also be supportive of violent means to do so - in other words, a very small percentage overall.

But the defense and prosecution have to slog through 500 of those questionnaires, and cut down the numbers to a manageable amount. Then those will face individual questionning in person. It's a complex and detailed process, and one developed over time to give the best chance of a fair jury. Whichever way the case turns out, someone will claim the jury was biased. Maybe so, to some degree, we all are one way or another. Whether that bias was systematic and thus important in moving the verdict one way or another despite the evidence is another question entirely. The prosecutor had this to say about the concerns of a biased jury, in this specific instance as a result of pre-trial publicity:

"I have this belief that there is more than enough people in the jury pool who have not made up their minds one way or another," Jones said. "I think what I have learned in the past, especially with the church bombing case, is that publicity alone just doesn't carry the day. While there has been an excessive amount, there have been a number of things to come out favorable to the defense in the case."

I think people generally take jury service seriously. And I also think that while no jury is perfect, most are probably as fair as possible given the circumstances and human nature. It'll be interesting to see how this process goes.

UPDATE: Here's some background on Rudolph, and an article indicating that his brother is none too stable either. The article can no longer be accessed at the original newspaper where it appeared, but some of it is at a Rudolph link page at The Covenant News, a religious pro-life website that appears to be involved in activism (although not of the Rudolph variety that I can see):

Brother Severed Hand At Ladson Home In '98

By Phillip Caston / The Post And Courier

A few weeks after the start of the manhunt for Eric Rudolph, it became clear that he had a tie to the Lowcountry. Shortly after Rudolph was listed as the main suspect in the Jan. 28, 1998, bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic, the fugitive's brother, Daniel K. Rudolph, made a graphic, bizarre videotape in his garage on Beverly Drive in Ladson. In the footage -- shot March 11, 1998 -- Rudolph applied a tourniquet to his left arm and said, "This is for the FBI and the media." Rudolph, then 37, severed his left hand with a circular saw.

Yes, mental stability is clearly a signal trait of the Rudolphs.

Posted by susanna at 10:34 AM | TrackBack

April 01, 2005

Blinded by science

Although I'm coming to it a bit late (okay, two years late), today I discovered a speech by Michael Crichton given in January 2003 that speaks about science in ways it needs to be spoken about. He discusses investigations about whether there is life on other planets, and the claims that nuclear winter would follow any mutual nuclear attack from the then-largest world powers, the US and the USSR. Essentially, he says both are based on very bad science pushed into the public consciousness as truth by the combined forces of charismatic, politically-savvy scientists and the lackadaisical response of other scientists who could (and he says should) have challenged them. It's a powerful argument, but what I think is most important about the articles are these passages:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period...

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way...

Once you abandon strict adherence to what science tells us, once you start arranging the truth in a press conference, then anything is possible. In one context, maybe you will get some mobilization against nuclear war. But in another context, you get Lysenkoism. In another, you get Nazi euthanasia. The danger is always there, if you subvert science to political ends.

That is why it is so important for the future of science that the line between what science can say with certainty, and what it cannot, be drawn clearly-and defended...

While I can't speak with confidence about the parallels he draws to Lysenkoism et al - not being familiar with the contexts - I definitely agree with what he says about drawing a line between what science can say with certainty and what it cannot. The fact is, scientists of all stripes - and in this I include social scientists, although many so-called hard scientists would scoff at their findings in any case - are so invested in the success of their research that they are engaged in as much public relations as science. Part of that, and in this I agree again with Crichton, is that science is poorly taught in public schools so the average citizen is at the mercy of charisma and high sounding theories. However, in defense of scientists, they in turn are at the mercy of their funding sources and their universities' intense desire to be seen as a cutting edge research institution. And not to a little degree, scientists are at the mercy of their own egos.

I don't agree with all that Crichton says, and again I can't speak to the validity of his charges against various scientific findings. But I do know that research in many fields, including social sciences, is controlled to a large extent by what funding scientists can get. It goes like this: To get tenure in a university and to foster a strong reputation in a discipline, a scientist must conduct science, be it social or hard research. To conduct research, he must get funding from somewhere, usually either a private foundation or the federal government. Those organizations are rarely about funding any research proposal that is scientifically sound and likely to increase knowledge in its field. Rather, they have their own agendas and fund research likely to advance that specific area of knowledge.

An example is research funded through the US Department of Justice. In the area of policing for the past few years, the focus has been on community policing. The focus carried over into their funding of local departments - if you wanted funding for officers, for equipment, for whatever, you had to couch your request in terms of community policing: How would this proposed change enhance the department's implementation of or commitment to community policing? Since 9/11, the focus has shifted more toward Homeland Security. Now, the precise same funding areas - more officers, more equipment, etc - have to be couched in terms of how those increases will enhance the department's implementation of and commitment to Homeland Security. So the focus is less on encouraging innovation at the department level, and more on imposing the federal government's agenda on local jurisdictions in the form of giving them back the money that was taken from their jurisdiction in the first place through taxes.

To be fair, there is evidence that funding, at least in criminal justice, is widely spread and thus not subject to tight control. To get an idea of who is funding what, in the MORE section is a listing of articles from the journal Criminology, the top journal in criminal justice academic circles. But what is studied is affected by what can be funded, what the current buzz is at the various academic journals, what the "academy" wants to support and hear. It's not a concerted effort, in the sense of a conspiracy, but just like everything else from fashion to television shows to investment styles, it's subject to influences beyond the pragmatic or mundane.

Another point I want to highlight from Crichton's piece is his point about the difference between science and the extrapolations from it. I am perfectly content to allow any number of speculations from scientific fact, as long as they are identified as speculations. Of course as a Christian that comes home for me in the discussion of creation vs the "big bang" or any other theory of the origin of man. I have never and will never claim that God's creation of the world can be scientifically proven following the rigorous methods of scientific hypothesis testing and the requirement for replicability. On the other hand, I also can clearly see that other theories for the origin of the universe and mankind can likewise not be replicated, nor has science currently found any evidence that would prove the theories of "big bang" and general evolution to the exclusion of the possibility of creation. And yes, I recognize that "creationism" can be a slippery opponent, since anything science does prove can be absorbed whole into a modified theory of how God did it, in absence of any scientific treatise on how He did do it. But that discussion, in my judgment, is one of extrapolation from the facts and should be identified as such. Lay out the facts, say definitively "this is what we've found". Then as a separate matter, say "this is what we think it means but we can't say it's proven". You can prove you've found the jaw of a man-like creature in the sediment of an ancient valley, but you haven't by virtue of that discovery proven that that creature was in fact an evolutionary bridge between other species of mankind. There aren't enough fossils or facts to bolster that conclusion. It's extrapolation. Certainly hypotheses can and should be developed based on those extrapolations, and scientific study done to see if it holds true. But the extrapolation itself should not be presented, as it clearly is now, as nearly undisputed fact.

Science should be kept pure, and extrapolations from it should be identified as such. I don't see why that's so hard for scientists to grasp. And I agree with Crichton that we should have at least some substantial pool of funding set aside to fund research that is not fashionable, but does bear up under scientific scrutiny.

Disputes involving youth street gang members: micro-social contexts - the authors thank the National Consortium on Violence Research (NCOVR) for their support.

Making delinquent friends: Adult supervision and children's affliiations - Author thanks the University of Texas at Austin for supporting the research.

Microanomie: The cognitive foundations of the relationship between anomie and deviance - The author thanks the National Science Foundation for its support.

Psychological, neuropsychological and physiological correlates of serious antisocial behavior in adolescence: The role of self-control - The author thanks the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice.

Adolescent romantic relationships and delinquency involvement - Funding was provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development through a grant to the Carolina Population Center, along with 17 other funding agencies.

Partisan politics, electoral competition and imprisonment: An analysis of states over time - The work supported in part by funds and facilities of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, University of Iowa.

Criminal propensity, deviant sexual interests and criminal activity of sexual aggressors against women: A comparison of explanatory models - Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Posted by susanna at 03:32 PM | TrackBack