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June 30, 2005

It's too early in the day for logic


Your IQ Is 120

Your Logical Intelligence is Average
Your Verbal Intelligence is Genius
Your Mathematical Intelligence is Genius
Your General Knowledge is Exceptional

A Quick and Dirty IQ Test

Anything that measures my mathematical ability as "genuis" is immediately suspect and highly likely to be a fraud.

Snitched from

Posted by susanna at 09:58 AM

June 28, 2005

AnySoldier: Inside the heart of a sailor

AA Chris Hernandez is currently out in the Persian Gulf, getting ready to head home finally. His last two posts on show the true heart of a sailor - a patriot:

04 Jun 2005

Well, we've been dealing with the heat and the strains from missing home but we all stay strong for you at home. I am sure that you know of Mr Rumsfield decision of the situation in China. So it looks as though we will be out here longer than expected. All of our loved ones at home are a bit sad from the news. I am distraught that I have to disappoint my goddaughter, yet again. I was hoping to be home in time to take her to her first trip at the beach, but now since we may miss summertime.... Hearing news that my little brother is starting highschool (he just turned 14), and my younger sis (she just turned 19) is struggling with work and becoming a resposible adult has brighten the sad news. I also have been losing sight of the "why" I chose to be here. Being out here for so long at sea, one loses sight of the importance of the sacrifice we made. Granted, some are here for the scholastic opportunities and/or the benefits. I (as sappy as it may sound) chose because I wanted to make a difference. Not only in my life but the other lives I indirectly affect. I always was a giver and tried my hardest to help others....what better way than fight for the rights and freedoms our forefathers and mothers gave? Some days my job seems unappreciated, useless, but then I remind myself that what I do directly influences the aircraft that go out there to watch out for our boys taking care of business. One day I hope to fly as well. The jets are amazing and our specifically are awesome! Thank you again for your support and we hope to see home soon!

28 Jun 2005

Greetings from the gulf! We're on our last leg of our voyage and getting antsy to coming home. We recently left a very hot, sandy port-call in the Emirates. The main area where we stayed was so nice! The people there really appreciate us. Some of us cooled off at the water park, others (like myself) took to relax in a day spa. I'm very much looking forward to passing through the canal homeward. We are finishing up our missions and soon enjoying a break from the strenuous times here. Our ship will be relieved soon and our fellow sailors on the incoming ship will take the heavy responsibility. I have now come to terms with my position in the path I have chosen. I now recognize that the sacrifices I had made to be where I am today. There have been many hurdles and problems while being underway, but as I read all your letters -I know it is well worth it. Nothing I have done, as of yet, compares to the strength, courage, and honor that you have given us here. Thank you!

It just makes you proud, as we head for Independence Day.

For the full set of entries, including some amazing photos, go to Hernandez, AA Chris M., June 28.

Posted by susanna at 05:49 PM

Guardians of history pass into darkness

Two of the nation's finest historians died today - Thomas Clark and Shelby Foote.

Dr. Thomas Clark was born in Mississippi in 1903, and died two weeks short of his 102nd birthday. He earned his college degree in Mississippi, where he knew William Faulkner but didn't know he was a writer. From an interview with Clark:

I had no money when I graduated from high school. Absolutely no money. My father allowed me to take 10 acres of the best land on the farm. In April, late April—that's late to plant cotton—I got a cotton crop in the ground and fertilized it, lived with it night and day. I produced a good crop of cotton, which gave me a basic financial support to go to Ole Miss; but I didn't have enough money to see me through. [So I] made application to keep up a golf course. For three years I kept up the course. [William] Faulkner played on the course and he also worked with me on the course to keep it up and for three years, in and out, Faulkner was out there with me.

Hamilton: Did you discuss writing with him?

Clark: No. I didn't know he was writing. He'd just been fired from the post office. He would disappear. What I didn't know then [is that] he'd go down to New Orleans, you know, for those stays with that literary group down there and [then] he'd come back. He was writing. . . . When I got to Duke, I saw a copy of Scribner's or the Atlantic Monthly or some literary magazine on a table. I turned it over and there was Bill Faulkner's picture on the back and I thought "Good God!" There was Bill Faulkner staring at me (laughs). That's the first I knew that Bill had arrived. (laughs again) That's the first Bill knew he had arrived.

Dr. Clark spent more than 75 years of his life in Kentucky, including a pivotal 30+ years at the University of Kentucky, the majority of that as chair of the history department. He wrote dozens of books on history, mostly Kentucky history, and was a force behind preserving Kentucky history for most of the 20th century. He will be greatly and deeply missed. More here and here.

I knew Dr. Clark; I met him when he was already well into his 90s, when I worked on a historical park project in Lexington, KY. Photos from the 1950s show him as a husky, vibrant man, but when I knew him he was frail and thin, although definitely energetic for his age. He obviously loved life and lived it fully - a year after his wife died in 1995, he remarried at 93 to a 75-year-old widow from his church, whom he and his wife had known for years while her husband was also alive. It's a testament to his humor, intelligence and sweetness of character that I find nothing odd in a woman nearly 20 years his junior wanting to be a part of his final years. I wish I had known him better.

And we will miss him for another reason - he's nearly the last of a transitional generation:

Thomas Dionysius Clark was born on July 14, 1903, in Louisville, Miss. Both sides of his family, he noted, had taken part in the great migration of the 1830s, moving from South Carolina into the Choctaw Indian country of Mississippi.

Many of the adults he knew growing up were Civil War veterans or former slaves.

"The Civil War was as real to me as if I had fought it," he said.

When he was born, a man who was 20 at the time the Civil War started would have been just 63. When he was 10 and fascinated, as young boys often are, in the stories his elders have to tell, they would have been in their early 70s and willing to tell their tales, both slave and free. To us it's tragedy in sepia; to him, it had flesh and blood and was named Jim or Ted or Matthew. And now he is gone, and with him that connection to our distant past. We're blessed that he was so prolific in his writing.

Shelby Foote was also from Mississippi, although he too left his home state, in this instance for Memphis, Tennessee. He is best known for his 3,000 page, three volume history of the civil war, and for his narration of Ken Burns's documentary The Civil War. I saw him on a few interview shows, and he was very much the quintessential Southern gentleman, in all the good ways it could mean. He too will be greatly and deeply missed. He was 88 when he died late last night. More here and here.

Posted by susanna at 03:39 PM

NJ prosecutor defends, prosecutes GITMO guards

Jorge Morales, an assistant Hudson County, NJ, prosecutor, went to Guatanamo Bay as a military prosecutor at the federal detention center holding those arrested for terrorism. His job was to prosecute US military personnel charged with breaking the law while stationed at Gitmo.

He wound up defending them when he got back.

"I went to Guantanamo in September 2004 as chief of military justice, meaning that I was prosecutor for the JAG Task Force, and, as such, I was in charge of dealing with disciplinary problems in the (U.S.) military ranks - and there are some 2,000 members of the service there," Morales said...

Morales said there are hundreds of people being held - none of whom he interrogated - and he said the soldiers assigned to move and secure the prisoners "were subjected to a lot of abuse by detainees - spitting on them, throwing feces."

But he said the soldiers "were very well trained" and generally refrained from retaliating against the prisoners.

"If there was even the appearance of a problem (in the interaction of soldiers and detainees), military people would be removed from a cell block," Morales said.

Perhaps his clear-sightedness at Gitmo has something to do with his attitude:

A fervent patriot, Morales said: "I'll die for this country any time, because of the liberties and opportunities afforded here."

He's not blinded by anti-Americanism. But then, he has intimate knowledge of what it means to be an American:

Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Jorge Morales now lives in Moonachie, but he was born in Colombia, where he still has family - including a cousin who hunted guerrillas as a colonel in the police force and an uncle who retired as a judge after frequently being targeted by antigovernment saboteurs...

...[H]e enlisted in the Army, sneaking in prematurely at age 17.

After his discharge, Morales spent five years with the Reserves and six years with the National Guard. Meanwhile, he enrolled at St. John's University, where he earned a degree in criminal justice. Then he earned his law degree from Pace University Law School.

Morales is an immigrant who worked hard to earn the American Dream, and clearly a man of reason. I like him already.

Posted by susanna at 07:47 AM

June 27, 2005

Science vs Rights

When it comes to passing laws, when does science win out over rights?

As a part of some work I'm doing, I've been reading about incidences of traffic accidents in Alabama, divided by those involving DUI and those not involving DUI. Unsurprisingly, the chart of crashes looks like a ski slope west to east - 16 - 20 year olds account for almost 20% of the non-DUI crashes during 1999-2000. The steepest slope down is from 17-26, where things begin to even out a little in non DUI crashes. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that at age 21, the legal drinking age in Alabama, DUI-related crashes take over - with the peak age for being in a DUI-related crash being... wait for it... 21 (4.5% of DUI crashes involve 21 year olds). For some reason 22 drops, but the numbers go back up at 23, then drop again at 24 and go down steadily until hanging on to the 2.4-3.4% range for each age until 41. Then it drops again until, at 55, non-DUI crashes take over for good.

It's a very interesting chart, and I'd reproduce it for you but it's in a PDF that I can't reproduce here; the researchers are Dr. Nancy Rhodes, Dr. David Brown and Aimee Edison of University of Alabama.

Two things stand out to me: The percentage of teens involved in crashes, and the DUI incidence jumping so precipitously at 21. The former circumstance I think is a result of lack of experience compounded by immaturity; not true of every teen, certainly, but of enough to be significant. And I think immaturity is a bigger factor than lack of experiences - lots of people learn to drive when they're out of their teens, and (while I've not seen data) I seriously doubt their crash rates are similar to those of teens. Another factor to consider is that the teens have a very high rate of accidents despite the fact that on average they would drive many fewer miles than the average adult. On the basis of this evidence - not new evidence either - that teens really can't handle it, should we raise the driving age to 18? Or at least require permit driving with an adult in the car until 18? Or even 20? Would it be a breech of rights to do so? It would seriously annoy both teens and their parents, I know.

Then... DUIs. They jump from 3.4% to 4.6% from age 20 to age 21; 3.4% is still quite high, higher than any age past 25, but this reinforces the idea that the 1.2% jump represents the teens who've waited until it was legal to drink before drinking - or just perhaps that drinking increases dramatically once it's legal, so the instances of DUI crashes go up as well. Whichever it would be, it's obvious that legal permission to drink alcohol is likely highly coordinated with increases in drunken driving.

So you have teens who are already at great risk for traffic accidents, and you have to make a decision about whether to also allow them to drink alcohol. There's evidence that legal permission to drink results in a higher level of drunken driving. Would lowering the drinking age to 18 be tantamount to laying a match at the base of high combustible fodder?

I don't drink, and so I don't spend a huge amount of time considering drinking ages until I come upon data like this. As a rights issue, I think it odd that people can vote and die for their country at 18 but can't drink until they're 21. But as a safety issue, science (and I don't just mean this study) clearly shows that the ages of 16-20 are already a danger zone on the roads, and why make it worse not just for the 18-20 year olds but the rest of us, by turning them lose with a car and a six-pack of beer?

A curious and difficult question; I'm not by nature a heavy paternalism-by-law type. But I'm leaning more toward 18 as a driving age, and thinking that 21 is just about right for drinking (maybe 23?).

What do you think?

UPDATE: On the other hand, this looks like a good idea for using up alcohol. That'd give you another reason to have a trunk full of 'shine.

The question is: If this comes to fruition, would it evolve so that a Mercedes would only run on the best whiskey?

Just asking.

Posted by susanna at 02:16 PM

June 26, 2005 " will be worth it."

From Army SSG Karlton R. Cook:

Our mission here has remained unchanged though we are seeing a lot of activity in the Tall-Afar region as well as the Syrian-border areas. It is becoming more and more clear to me how much of a priviledge it is to be here helping to establish a better way of life for the Iraqi people as well as protecting Americans back home from the types of people involved in the insurgency. I am so thankful that we in the United States haven't had to live with the threat of car bombs, IED's, kidnappings and so on. Many in the Middle East and Far East must contend with such realities. It won't be an easy road for the Iraqis' but it will be worth it.

His message is dated June 26.

Posted by susanna at 09:21 AM

June 25, 2005 Flying in country

I've gotten permission from Marty Horn, who is in charge of the site, to post excerpts from the site so people can have an easy way to find interesting news and stories from military personnel on the ground. So far I've found entries there from US military personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Africa. There's a lot more of interest than I can put here, so generally I'll use one or two excerpts a day and then direct you to individual posts on the site with cool photos or lengthy discussions of what the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and others are up to.

Go check out this photo of Marines (SSgt Michael Murrell-June 24) loading up in a helicopter. It gives me vertigo! SSgt Murrell has posted a number of photos, including one of him in front of a sign that reminds me of the paintings on WWII fighter planes (and with the same intent, I'm sure).

Posted by susanna at 11:24 AM A baby shower in Iraq

This sounds like a fun thing to support (originally written in all caps, converted to mixed case for readability):

What I would like to know is also if you could help me with something, or maybe put me in touch with some one who could. We have an interpreter who goes out on missions with us and he puts his life on the line every time he goes out with us. Well here is the thing his wife is due to have a baby in three months and all of us would like to give him if you will a sort of baby shower. The reason is that they don't have the same resources and their monthly income is about 700.00. But here is the dilemma, we don't have any way to get balloons or baby stuff, so if you could help it would be great!!!!!!!!!!!!!! By the way, his name is Jahwed.

She doesn't say whether it's a boy or girl that is expected, and maybe they don't know. But I'm sure baby things that could be worn by either would be greatly appreciated, along with toys and baby toiletries. If you're interested in helping out, go to, and find the entry from SPC Tammy C. Miekow on June 25.

Wouldn't it be spectacular for this group of soldiers to be able to give a blow-out shower for this Iraqi interpreter, his wife and baby?

Posted by susanna at 11:00 AM

June 24, 2005

An open letter to Linda Foley

Linda Foley, the president of The Newspaper Guild, has clarified her remarks about the US military targeting journalists, although she doesn't really apologize for them. Her column is a fevered rant from start to finish. I've sent her an email in response, which I reproduce below in its entirety.

Dear Ms. Foley -

I earned a journalism degree in the early 1980s, when Woodward & Bernstein were considered among the greater heroes of journalism, there with Upton Sinclair and Edward Murrow. For several years, I worked as a reporter at small newspapers before going on to graduate school in criminal justice. As a part of my graduate work, I have studied how the media covers criminal justice, and what impact their coverage has had on the practice of criminal justice.

Two important recurring themes in the academic literature on media are the issues of bias and culture - specifically, is there bias, and if so, how is it manifested? Is there a culture within journalism that contributes to a bias, and if so, what is it and how does it work? The majority of current literature has concluded that there is a bias, and that it is materially affected by the culture of journalism. Journalism tends to draw its practitioners disproportionately from some segments of society, in terms of both life experience and political beliefs, and their output - in both story selection and slant - are affected by that reality. This is not deemed to be a conscious, advocacy type bias, although at times it becomes that. The culture factor relates to the values inherent in a journalism career - that you are more likely to win awards and colleague/boss accolades from uncovering big stories and reporting them in dramatic ways, rather than spending your career telling about the daily lives of average Americans, even if the latter is the majority of what happens daily in the US. Using criminal justice as an example, you need only to look at the academic work of Doris Graber or Mark Fishman to see the effects of that. I would be happy to provide citations if you wish.

Another aspect of the culture of journalism is that journalists tend to consider their job the most important in the world - that is, the freedom and progress of civilization hinge on the practice and protection of a free press. There is a level of truth to that, but in my experience journalists carry it much too far, to the point that they begin to see themselves as a privileged class and act with commensurate arrogance, demanding that every thought and document and moment in the lives of everyone be open to their scrutiny on request or run the risk of being publicly labeled as less than honest. Meanwhile, as we have seen increasingly in recent years, the journalists and their organizations hold themselves above this requirement they have of every single other entity in the world, because they are, after all, the linchpin of society and thus qualified individually and as a whole to make the judgment about whether their inner workings are needful of scrutiny. Unsurprisingly the answer is usually "no", until public pressure forces accountability. And when public pressure forces accountability, it is nearly always given grudgingly and with dire threats of damage to journalism.

Underlying this arrogance is the belief that a systemic bias does not inhere in their profession - actually could not, because journalists are, after all, the linchpin of a free society. It becomes a circular argument. Anyone identified by the mainstream journalism world as having a bias is immediately demoted and is not considered by the mainstream as being a "true" journalist. The problem is, the majority of journalists do operate from a similar background and worldview, so what they are actually doing is labeling and shunning "the other" - a practice they vilify in other contexts. The claimed standards are accuracy and fairness, but those standards are not objectively applied to all journalists, only ones who are "the other" or who egregiously violate them (Jayson Blair, for example). To see that in action, you need only review the Dan Rather/Bush National Guard documents situation - despite clear evidence that the documents were made up, and lacking any strong evidence that journalists would require in other situations to prove that the content was true even if the documents were made up, the general tone of coverage was that the documents were "fake but accurate", and journalism apologists savaged anyone who would dare question the credibility of someone of Rather's stature in the profession. Anyone who agreed with the "fake but accurate" meme were considered "true" journalists; anyone who thought they were fake in both origin and content, as the evidence indicated, were labeled as right-wing Bush supporters. In my judgment, that was an example of institutional bias resulting from a majority worldview among journalists, such that they were not easily able to step outside of their bias to examine for truth.

I believe this intitutional bias is what underpinned your recent remarks that the US military deliberately targets journalists in Iraq for injury and death. I think it likely you genuinely believe it is at core the truth, and weren't just saying it for effect, although certainly it was partially for effect in the journalistic tradition of the need for drama - the "entertainment imperative" of media. My opinion is given credence by the reality that you were unable to substantiate your claim in any solid way, offering no definitive proof of targeting at all, but rather dark intimations of coverups that cannot be proven or - even more importantly - disproven. If I were to intensively research your life, I have no doubt that I could construct any number of stories about activities and motivations that are far from the truth of who you are, but by clever juxtaposition of truths and quickly-veiled half-truths would seem plausible to those inclined to think ill of you anyway. I give as example any number of "expose'" books on public figures, which you yourself would dismiss as hatchet jobs with little reference to reality.

I think you and many journalists are inclined to think ill of the military, especially the US military, anyway. Because negative information about the military fits your world-view more than positive information, you embrace the former and reject the latter whenever possible. While that is certainly the reality of journalism today, I submit that it is not good journalism, not credible journalism, not the kind of journalism that I was taught to do. Regrettably, the ideal of the classroom is quickly dashed on the rough stones of reality - the reality that the journalism profession does not reward careful building of evidence and measured reporting, but instead elects as its official leader someone who finds it wholly reasonable and defensible to casually indict an entire military on the basis of unproven innuendo made plausible only by her own institutional bias and personal worldview.

I am genuinely sorry that you have received many ugly and hateful emails, despite the fact that your words painted their loved ones as vicious and deliberate murderers. Those who object to your words should not have crawled down in the pit with you, but rather set an example of moderation and thoughtful analysis. In closing, I would like to make one final point, based on this lead paragraph from your recent comments on the current situation. You said:

"Note to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (or whatever you’re calling yourselves these days): I was just re-elected president of The Newspaper Guild-CWA, and I’m not resigning.

That said, let me address the rest of this column to the people who really matter: the members of The Newspaper Guild."

First, you label as "the other", in a term meant to be ugly and dismissive, those who disagree with you instead of offering actual support for your earlier comments. That could not be encouraging or a comfort to honest thoughtful journalists who disagree with you - it rather establishes that anyone who does disagree with you is by definition in this scorned group, so to be acceptable in your profession, to you, there must be agreement with your worldview. How does that support the freedom of the press to cover what they see as they see it? Second, you identify as "the people who really matter" the members of The Newspaper Guild. That's evidence of an increasing problem with journalism - journalists go for their approval and support to the echo chamber of their own membership, this generally homogeneous group sharing a history and/or a world-view. That is why journalism is rapidly losing credibility with the average American - they are unimportant to you, and should sit down and shut up and believe what you say because, after all, you're a journalist charged with the protection and progress of civilization.

Wishing you the enlightenment you seek for others,
Susanna Cornett
Columbiana, AL

And there you have it. I'll post any response if I get their permission to do so.

Posted by susanna at 10:33 AM

June 22, 2005

Not that we're surprised

If you're a blogger, I suggest you take this:

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

There were a couple of places where the answer I wanted (none of the above) wasn't available and really should have been. But an interesting thing nonetheless.

Posted by susanna at 10:09 PM

Where'd I put my toothpicks...

I was awake deep into the night having a girl-talk with my only niece allowed to stay up that late - that would be 21-year-old Amanda. I'm finding it difficult to see the keyboard around the toothpicks holding up my eyelids, so no long important essays forthcoming anytime soon from this spent writer.

I'm nearly finished with my new business website, though, so I thought I'd post a photo illustration I did for the site. It's not going to win awards, but I was impressed with myself:

BW writing illus smaller.jpg

If you can make out anything on it, the notepad in the front of the photo has a handwritten outline for the site. And the image on the computer screen (very hard to see) is part of the front page of the site itself.

After much pondering and toying around with ideas, I abandoned the "Hot Copy" name because I just couldn't get over the feeling that some people would first think, "Hot? Hot Copy as in, "You hot, baby!!"?" and that's not at all what it is. I regretted it, since a reader from this very site provided a great logo for me last fall. But I decided instead to use "susannawrites" as my business name (without the quotes, of course), with the tag below, "words you need to succeed". As it's a business writing venture, improving the bottom line for the client is paramount.

I've done everything I can to emphasize my history and capabilities as a writer, including getting quotes from my current (and only) client and from my last boss to post on the site. My Portfolio page looks quite impressive, even if I do say so myself, but of course that's the point. It's improvident to discuss that half the things on it were written in the 1980s - after all, I've only improved, right? I used thumbnails of the fronts of various publications I've done as graphics for that page. The site is all in B&W, including all photos and thumbnails, because I thought that would make a much cleaner looking site. As I had to design it myself, simple is good. I'm going for the elegance factor.

This week I'll take it to a web guy to actually take my design from conception to live website. Then I'll be rockin', baby!!!

Meanwhile, I have to get back to work on my current client's project so I will have the wherewithal to pay for this new website and its hosting. Enjoy your day.

Posted by susanna at 01:55 PM

June 21, 2005

Tribute to a soldier

It's difficult sometimes for those of us without family deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan (or anywhere else, for that matter) to truly connect to the loss each death of a soldier is. I encourage you to read this site to learn about Sgt. Seth Trahan. His sisters called him "Sethro". At his funeral:

His mother, Emma, stated "I told the Lord two days ago, I can't make it. I can't go through with this. And the Lord replied, I know you can't, but I CAN" and with that she said, she knew God was going to give her the strength to carry on. Randy told us how before Seth left last October for active duty, he said "If anything happens to me, don't blame God. This is my choice."

He was 20 years old when he was killed instantly by a roadside bomb in Iraq, on Feb. 19, 2005.

Posted by susanna at 06:50 PM

114 days, 12 hours of work a day, no days off

Wanna know what it's like for a soldier in Iraq?

02 May 2005 Any Soldier, I am here to once again thank those out there who support. If it were not for those at home supporting us out here, this would feel like a lost cause. We have been here for one hundred and fourteen days, twelve plus hour work days, no days off and no time to ourselves. The summer heat is already beating us down, the bad guys are still there, and we aren't at our half way point yet. But we keep going. We do our job, never failing and never quitting. We couldn't do it without your support and I thank you for all of it........... Thanks again, SGT Axelrod

That's what it's like. SGT Axelrod is writing from Iraq, posting on (go to the Where to send page, and look for Axelrod on June 21).

Oh, and that was back in early May. Add another 45 days to that, and temps over 110 degrees during the day. They're all wearing uniforms and guns and heavy boots. Quite frankly, I'd pass out before lunch on the first day. Our military is just full of amazing and dedicated people. We're very blessed to have them.

Posted by susanna at 03:37 PM

A positive view from Iraq? Really?!

I've spent far too much time in the last couple of days reading through the entries on's Where to Send page. I encourage you to do the same. Through there, I came to this site, set up by a Louisiana soldier currently deployed in Iraq. She wants people to know that things aren't all bad in Iraq, and according to her she has more than 1500 photos on her site to prove it. I encourage you to "waste" some time there too. Here's a great sign from her site that I'm sure didn't work but probably got smiles at least:


And here's another one (photo, that is):


I'll say "Amen" to that sentiment.

UPDATE: And here's another soldier's photo page.

UPDATE: And still another interesting thing! There's something called Read to Your Kids program that... well, I'll let them tell it:

The Read to Your Kids Program is something we are starting here at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan (BAF). It is something new to BAF but started in Bosnia and Kabul by MSG Johnson. This is a good way for soldiers to keep in touch with their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc while deployed. The Read to Your Kids program is open to all US military service members, coalition forces, and civilians on BAF. We have completed 53 taping sessions since we started last month. With this program the soldiers get 30 minutes to read a children’s book while we make a VCR tape of it. We then give the tape and the book to the soldiers so they can send them home to their children. The deployed soldiers here are excited about the program and think it is a good way to continue interaction with their children.

What we need for this program are the following items:
Children’s books (new or used)
Blank VCR tapes
Bubble envelopes to send the book and the tapes home in.

For more information, you can go to, to the Where to Send page, and look for Lall, Lewin A, posted in 18 Jun. For a story on the same program in Bosnia, read here (PDF).

Posted by susanna at 12:33 AM

June 20, 2005

Toss the key

Police in San Jose, CA, say a man they recently arrested, may have abused thousands of children in his career as a pedophile:

The spiral notebooks have brightly colored covers and look as though they might belong to a schoolchild. But police in San Jose, Calif., who seized the notebooks from the home of a suspected pedophile last week, say they contain the chilling records of a man who may be the most prolific child molester the country has ever known. Police say Arthur Dean Schwartzmiller, who was arrested last month on charges of molesting two 12-year-old boys in San Jose, recorded some 36,000 hand-written entries, each in meticulous black script noting names or code names for his young victims, along with cryptic references to acts of sexual abuse.

He's not flown under the radar either:

Schwartzmiller, 63, has a long record of convictions for child molestation over the past 30 years in at least three states and arrests in four others...

Predatory, repetitive pedophiles will not stop. They just won't. It's time we had a law similar to the "three strikes" law that says, "That's it. You get convicted X times as a pedophile, you're in for life." Three seems about right, maybe even two, and that would have put Schwartzmiller in jail permanently some time ago. Yes, it's tragic that there will be victimizations that could have been prevented if he was put away permanently the first time. But that's not in keeping with the principles of American correctional responses, the foundational sense that (almost) everyone deserves a chance to show they've changed. And while I would also advocate beefed up tracking of some types of pedophiles, the sad truth is that someone like Schwartzmiller is relatively transient and difficult to track for recordkeeping purposes. A dilemma.

On another note, the investigators - and especially journalists - need to come off this veiled allusion to the possibility that Schwartzmiller victimized 36,000 different victims. It's not physically possible unless he was the manager of an orphanage for 30 years and took children by the dozens into his private place. It would take over 98 years to victimize 36,000 if he did one a day; 49 years if he did two a day. Even if he only attacked a tenth of that - 3,600 - he would have had to victimize 72 children a year, 6 a month, every year, every month, since he was 13 years old.

The implicit point of emphasizing the numbers, outside of sheer shock value, is to make it sound worse. Well, past a certain point we know he's a monster, and abusing 36 children is not materially different from abusing 36,000, except it paints him as a super-human evil. And I mean that literally. If Schwarzmiller has abused 3,600 children in his life - still a highly unlikely number - then the issue moves from his being a monster to the criminal justice system being a resounding failure. There's just no way that level of activity can go unnoticed and/or unpunished without incompetence or willful coverup (like the Catholic priests).

Posted by susanna at 11:45 AM


I've mentioned Fred Phelps here before - he's the guy who leads a church in Topeka, KS, and goes around protesting gays and America. His latest "work" was protesting outside the funeral of a young, 19-year-old soldier, chanting that she was going to hell because she fought in America's dirty war. You really have to see the signs to believe it.

Phelps claims to be a Christian, and maybe when he was first converted he was a true one. I can't say. But I assure you that he is on the side of Satan now. To talk about God in this way, to evoke His name in praising evil - it's blasphemy. And I mean that literally. He is the moral equivalent of Eric Rudolph, another man who claimed a belief in God as he did his dirty deeds.

These men, and their associates, are clearly people who enjoy attention, drama, and a deep feeling of self-righteousness. They are clearly not people who have any interest in following God's will, as any time spent in the New Testament will show that their activities are not in harmony with God's will for us today. But they give cause to others to deride Christians and Christianity, not that some people need a lot of reason - they too are just waiting for a good excuse.

One reason I bring this up is because in one respect I do agree with each of the two men - the Bible does teach that homosexuality is wrong; I believe that abortion is wrong. But they take a truth and turn it into a lie by their actions; they make themselves, and by extension God, into figures of mockery and derision. That's why it's blasphemy. Neither I nor any Christians I know do less than condemn the actions of Phelps, Rudolph and their ilk, but people who are already looking for reasons to deride God and Christians don't want to see that. They want to tar everyone with a belief they disagree with as freakish hateful nutcases, wallowing in their own anti-Christian self-righteousness, not seeing that they become little Phelpses themselves in the process.

I'll say it again: Phelps and Rudolph are evil men. And their actions have no relation to the Bible as I understand it.

One reason for this post - other than general outrage at Phelps and Rudolph - is a post I read once on The Volokh Conspiracy; I don't have time to go dig for it. Essentially, Eugene Volokh was saying that true believers (he was speaking of both Muslims and Christians) must actively condemn people who would hijack their religion for evil, using it as a cover for wickedness. I agree. There are a lot of people for whom the Bible is just a place they get the name "Christian" and little else - they don't have much interest in actually submitting themselves to the will of God. I think it right and proper to condemn those people, just as Jesus condemned the Pharisees in the first century, and Peter rebuked Simon the Sorcerer.

It's especially difficult for those of us who endeavor to follow the Bible literally - who believe the Bible means what it says, and our duty is to follow it, not reshape it to a doctrine more comfortable to the modern mind and sensibility. We're included when someone uses the term "right wing Christian fundamentalists", in a sneering tone, despite our deep differences with others they also include, like Phelps. So it behooves us to make it clear where we stand, what the differences are, what we do and do not advocate.

Christianity is not an inherently political religion, although involvement in politics by Christians is not prohibited. The purpose of Christianity is to draw closer to God, to worship and serve Him as He wants to be worshipped. I think any honest person who spends much time with "right-wing Christian fundamentalists" would be able to tell pretty quickly which ones are true Christians and which ones are using it as cover for a self-willed - even evil - life. God will deal with them in His time, in His way, and they should be terrified by that. But in the meantime, let's just make it very clear that "right-wing Christian fundamentalist" is about as usefully descriptive as "journalist" in ascertaining the truth of what a person is.

Posted by susanna at 10:28 AM

June 18, 2005

Thinking of our military

As you go about your weekend, spend a little time thinking about our military.

A Kentucky woman earns the first Silver Star — the nation's third-highest medal for valor - since WWII.

Here is a list of all the military personnel who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, including age, home town and manner of death. Read a few. Read a few every day, if you can bear it. And thank them in your heart for their sacrifice.

Every one of these men and women will have a quilt block in a KIA Memorial Quilt, which will develop a traveling exhibition for people to see. You can make quilt blocks yourself, or donate funds to help them out. It will be a wall of honor in fabric.

And if you want to help individual soldiers, Marines, etc., a very good way is through I encourage you to write letters, even if you can't send a package. We all worry about the morale of the military in the field because of the relentless negativism and outright lies of the media and the liberals, around the world. This is a way to rebuild that morale, one soldier at a time. Is it worth 15 minutes of your day?

And yes, I'll be putting my time - and what money I have - where my mouth is.

Have a wonderful day. It's gorgeous here in Alabama.

Posted by susanna at 12:18 PM

Size does matter... or maybe not

A researcher in Canada has discovered that men and women have different brains.

I'll pause for a second to allow you to get over the shock of that.

I'm actually quite delighted with this finding, not because it matters in any kind of way that will change my life, but because a scientist objectively collected all available data about the phenomena (in this case, brains) that she was studying, and then drew conclusions based on her findings. That is as opposed to deciding beforehand what she would and would not look at based on her philosophical beliefs about what information was appropriate to know. Yes, yes, WE know that's not science, but it'll still get you a professorship at any number of (at least for now) prominent universities.

The researcher also determined that size did not correlate with intelligence - a finding underscored by the fact that Einstein's brain was slightly under average in weight.

However, if size is an issue with you, don't despair just yet. Another scientist found that size does correlate with intelligence. He says that employers will appreciate that information because it (somehow) validates intelligence testing, and greater intelligence means better workers. I suppose that means we'll soon be seeing factories full of people who look like this.

So there you have it. Size matters doesn't matter matters doesn't.... Oh, shoot, I'm just a peabrain anyway. What do I know?

But if it matters to you, I find the Canadian researcher more credible. She did actual research on real brains. VCU dude, no doubt a wonderful person who is kind to dogs and children, did a meta-analysis, compiling results from a bunch of studies and putting them together to see what the preponderance of conclusions said. The problem with that is that we can't know (without a lot more work than I'm inclined to spend on it right this miniute) how well done those studies were. In research as in everything, garbage in - garbage out. Which isn't to say his research is garbage. But in assessing diametrically opposed findings, I'm sticking with brain lady.

OTOH, if we had the time to spend with it, we'd probably find that there's a way that both of them are actually true to some degree...

Argh. My peabrain is now howling and sobbing with pain. I must take it to bed.

Posted by susanna at 12:03 AM

June 16, 2005

And that's one reason they'll lose - again. And again.

The Dems are trying to put together a coherent plan for winning politically in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, and they're finding it... difficult. Of course they are, because the lefty leadership and its entitlement barnacles are not in step with America as a whole. The incoherence on Iraq policy is a classic example - they know the majority of Americans support our troops and democracy in Iraq, but they hate so badly for things to go well there. If Iraq actually becomes a sustainable democracy and the US mostly leaves, then the Dems will find a pet monster killed dead (the "WE'RE GOING TO FAIL!" bogeyman) and a pet meme suffocated (the "WE'RE WRONG TO GO IN THERE!" one). So they're caught in a dilemma: to support the war is to go against their own strongly voiced opinion and preferences, but to not support the war is to disgust and lose whatever percentage of American voters support the war but are still hanging fruit for the Dems.

The strategy so far has been to mouth platitudes about "we support the troops not the war; we shouldn't have gone but now we're there we have to make it work", neither of which is supported with actual behaviors. In fact, their behaviors generally give lie to their platitudes. And I've never seen their philosophy stated more openly than this little gem from Howard Dean's own former campaign co-chair in (unsurprisingly) Washington state, at a Dem strategy meeting:

Another DNC member, Karen Marchioro, the former co-chair of Dean’s campaign in Washington state, said, “Once we’ve gotten ourselves into a mess like this, I’m not sure what I think we should do — and I was opposed to this thing from the get-go. I don’t think it’s a fair question to ask of people who opposed this war to figure out how to get out of it.”

"I don't think it's a fair question to ask..." There you go. A major problem of governance, according to them, and one they expect Americans to choose them to fix - and it's not "a fair question" to ask them how they'd do it. I can just hear it: "Why, we didn't want to go in the first place!" they cry to each other, usually out of the hearing of Average American. "We didn't want to go, and now they expect us to get them out of it? We'll get them out of it - we'll yank every military person out of Iraq, give it back to Saddam with our apologies, and eviscerate the military budget so we can give more to Kofi Annan. That's what we'll do! That's what we should have done in the first place! If Kofi was in charge, the world would be a utopia by year's end!"

You doubt?

Dean, who is now the DNC chairman, didn’t speak about Iraq at this weekend’s meeting. He did say Democrats will appeal to voters as the party that will provide universal health insurance, build “national defense based on international cooperation,” and buttress parents’ moral authority.

See? I'm sure we all want our national defense to be based on international cooperation, don't we? (And that "buttress parents' moral authority"... what would that be, precisely? Somehow I'm not thinking it means requiring parents to at least be notified when their child has an abortion, much less actually have their permission to do major surgery. I'd be curious what it does mean - most likely classes on tolerance. Paid for by the government, of course.)

Just keep it up, Karen, my love. And encourage your old boss to keep speaking his mind too. Give the Americans a little more honesty - everyone loves a little honesty, especially from folks they didn't realize still knew how to be honest. Show them the underbelly of the beast. It's the surest way to make sure you'll be shot down again.

It's beautiful to see.

Posted by susanna at 02:30 PM

June 15, 2005

I'm sure she's a lovely person

While surfing tonight, I came across this little blurb about a novel written by a woman named Victoria Alexander. I admire anyone who can finish a book, and it's really impressive when it gets good reviews from people who like that sort of book. However... I'm thinking I'm not going to be beating down the door at my local Barnes & Nobles to pick up this one:

The story reflects Victoria['s] claims that Derrida's post-structuralism is a theory based on a dubious understanding of the origins of structure.

Yes, that'd make great beach blanket summer reading.

Posted by susanna at 11:31 PM

June 13, 2005

I can quit reading anytime I want to

Meryl tagged me with the book meme, so here we go (although I'm having a very hard time, since I love all my books and this also leaves out magazines):

Number of books I own: I just did a rough count, and it is about 1300. I'd say that's a bit low, but I didn't want to go digging through boxes to count. I've gotten rid of several hundred over the years. We won't discuss how many I've owned in all. Nor that I frequently check books out of the library and listen to dozens of audio books.

As for what kind... I have probably 50 religious books, including a couple of Bibles, some songbooks, a variety of commentaries and study books, and issue books like (for my scientist friends) ones on intelligent design. I have over 70 cookbooks, a nice stash for someone who currently tends to eat cereal or beanie weenies straight from the can. I have about 50 writing books and 70 needlework books, the latter mostly quilting with a few cross-stitch, crochet and needlepoint thrown in for good measure. Yes, I've read all of them, to the extent you read pattern books. I have quite a few non-fiction-y books, on history and science (I really liked Against the Gods), some classics, and piles and piles of mysteries, thrillers and romances - no apologies to all of those who consider romances to be mindless trash. I like my mindless trash. And some of it is quite well written. I also have two shelves of Dean Koontz books. Did I mention I like Dean Koontz?

Last book I bought: It was... thinking... ack. Looking around... Okay, I think it was The Lie That Tells A Truth: A guide to writing fiction by John Dufresne, and Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This! A guide to creating great ads by Luke Sullivan. Are you seeing a theme here? Of course you are. (Wait! Wait! I remember now - it was Write Away, by Elizabeth George. I'm afraid that only reinforces the theme.)

Last book I read: Paper or audio? I'm reading The Taking by Dean Koontz in paperback, and The Purple Cane Road by James Lee Burke on audio. I'll generally read 2-4 books and listen to 2-3 books a week. That counts rereading old favorites.

Five books that mean a lot to me:

The Bible: My life circles this book, trying every day to assimilate more of what it is into what I am. It's been my best companion, sharpest critic and most feared object all my life. I suspect it will be all those things until I die - because the One who caused it to be written is all those things to me.

I've read a lot of books on the Bible and religion that have had strong influences, but I prefer to focus on the Bible.

Lord of the Rings: A friend told me about this book when I was a freshman in college. I've read it a lot since then, I have it unabridged on tape, and I have the DVDs, which I just finished watching all the way through Saturday through today. I don't know that it has affected me that much in terms of how I live my life, but it always moves me and gives me great pleasure. No matter that I know precisely how everything turns out, I cried several times when watching the DVD this weekend.

Mystery novels: It's difficult to narrow this down to one specific one, but the genre has had a huge impact on my life. I started reading them at 8 years old, working my way through Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and The Three Investigators, then started in on Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Ngaio Marsh, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Stewart (NOT the Merlin stuff), Victoria Holt (The Mistress of Mellyn was very spooky to me as a teenager)... it goes on ad infinitum. Because of them, I wanted to write, I wanted to do something criminal justice, I most especially wanted to write mystery novels. I've done the first two; I'm working on the third. I still read several mysteries a month. My current favorites are Patricia Cornwell, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, Faye Kellerman, Jonathan Kellerman, Elizabeth George, William Kent Krueger, Tony Hillerman, and... well, a dozen or so more.

Romance novels: When I was 10, my sister and I shared a room. She had started reading Harlequin Romance novels, being at 12 quite a romantic, and when she laughed out loud at something she refused to tell me why. I was thus forced into reading romances. It quickly evolved into a long-standing love affair.

Of course Jane Austen must lead the pack in this arena, then Georgette Heyer. The shorter Regency romances, with their stylized manners and limited sex scenes, have been a favorite for a long time. I love some authors who do racier, longer Regencies or historicals - Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn, Christina Dodd, a few others (including Lynn Kurland, who does time travel, but does it very well). They have steamy sex, but it's always with either their husband or the man they'll marry (even if they don't know it at the time). That matters to me. I can't connect with the romance protagonists in a lot of the so-called "chick lit" or other novels with more modern sensibilities, for whom buying a car is a weightier proposition than deciding whether to have sex with... well, whoever happens along. Romances are my happily-ever-after books. I love them. If you want to check them out, you can't do better than The Scottish Brides, which introduced me to Laurens, Quinn and Dodd. But don't read it if you don't like racy.

Sci-fi/fantasy books: I came on these in my 20s, and haven't read a lot recently, but for a while I read extensively in the genre - although, let's just get this out of the way now, I read Stranger in a Strange Land and was unimpressed. I've not tried anything else of Heinlein's, and I don't expect to.

I worked my way through the early Dune books, the Eddings's Belgariad and Mallorean, which I've reread several times, most of the (pre-1995) books by Weis and Hickman, Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, several other authors. I've read C.S. Lewis (here too), H.G. Wells, and, of course, Douglas Adams. He should have his own category. I loved all the Hitchhiker books, and the Dirk Gently books too. He's sorely missed.

As you can probably tell, I love books and asking me to pick among them for the favorites is like asking me to pick out five foods. Favorite in what context? What mood? What stage of my life? What need? There are a number I've not mentioned yet that mattered a lot - the Anne of Green Gables series, for example; all of Stephen King's, but most especially Salem's Lot, Needful Things, and The Eyes of the Dragon; Caleb Carr's The Alienist. The dozens of books on serial killers that I've read; crime scene and crime investigation books; Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. The stacks of needlework books that have given me hundreds of hours of pleasure and industry. The books on science that challenge and excite me, the history books I love to browse.

And, of course, we can't forget Raising Demons, the best book Shirley Jackson wrote. (Although The Haunting of Hill House remains one of the most eerie I've read, to the point that I am reluctant to reread it because of how real it feels.) No, we can't forget Raising Demons, since that's what got this started.

Right, Meryl?

(I still think you should have given it to me. :D )

UPDATE: Okay, I've tagged five people who I think make a nice mix of possibilities: Alan at Theosebes, Jordana at Curmudgeonry, Mike at Cold Fury, Sean at White Peril and Fred at Fragments From Floyd. All are very sharp, very interesting people who have quite different backgrounds, jobs and interests. So we shall see. When (if!!) they respond, that is.

Posted by susanna at 10:51 PM

June 12, 2005

Grandmother's pearls

It's nice to see they're back on display.

And yes, I am a direct descendent of John Rolfe and Pocahontas. But then, by this time so are probably thousands of other people. Cool to have that connection to history, though.

Posted by susanna at 08:27 PM

Night fever in MacArthur Park

Sean Kinsell comments on my comment on his post on disco.

Did you follow that? Me either. But then, I used to try to figure out what the lyrics to MacArthur Park actually meant. I'm clearly not sane.

Posted by susanna at 01:43 PM

June 11, 2005

A new reason to get naked

A bunch of confused people stripped down and rode through London on bikes and roller skates to protest... er, celebrate... er, um... okay, I'll let them tell it:

A group of naked cyclists took part in a bike ride to protest against oil dependency and to "celebrate the human body."

Crowds gathered as about 100 people set off from Hyde Park corner, London, in the World Naked Bike Ride past some of the capital's most famous landmarks...

One of the organisers, Chad Neilson, 24, from North London, said part of the ride was to celebrate the human body.

"It's a protest against oil dependency and car culture and the overuse of cars for unnecessary reasons. There is too much pollution, it stinks in London, and we use too much fossil fuel. I think people should be a lot more comfortable with their bodies. There is nothing wrong with the naked body."

Unless the reporter cobbled that quote together from a longer, coherent argument, this young man is incoherent. But naked protests are not new; remember all those middle-aged women who exposed their vulnerabilities to show the depth of their distress at the Iraq war? Nudity had as little to do with the point they were trying to make as does this nudity with concerns about oil consumption. It is, very obviously, an effort to get attention, and as that it works. But it won't win over any sane person to their way of thinking.

If oil consumption is a concern to them, and they want to have a legitimate protest of it, then they need to eschew anything that uses oil in any form. No bikes or roller skates, because they are manufactured using oil-generated energy and products. No flats or houses because they were built of materials produced by using oil, with machinery that used oil products to run. No driving on asphalt because oil-based products are used to make the materials and lay them down. No books because... you get the idea. In the one thing that should make them happy, they also wouldn't be able to wear any clothes because they are, you guessed it, made from materials produced, transported, processed and sewn using oil products.

Once one of them establishes a lifestyle that completely rejects any use of fossil fuels or products produced using them in any fashion, then I'll talk to them about it. Until then, they should just keep their shirts on.

Posted by susanna at 12:30 PM

June 10, 2005

It's only bad behavior if you're an American

Mark Steyn opines on the latest Gitmo kerfuffle.

This struck me particularly:

...I wonder if the Islamists’ ability to play the Western press like a fiddle is quite so smart in the long run. The majority of Americans have a higher regard for their military than their media, and for the jihad to retain its power in the popular imagination it has to be credible. When Newsweek, CBS et al fall over themselves to shill for Islamist spin-doctors, complaining that the infidels are not handling the Koran in appropriately submissive ways, they risk turning the jihad into one huge laughing stock. In that sense, the whiners are doing far more damage to Islam than the urinators are.

That's a very good point, and further evidence that the left has a tin ear when it comes to hearing middle America. Most of us, even those who are not particularly religious, have a respect for religion and for religious equality. But we're not stupid - we see the sheer lunacy of delicately protecting a book to baby the tender sensibilities of a group of people who'd love to kill every one of us and say the book made them do it. And when I say that, I'm not including in the "group of people" Muslims who are peace-loving and are more sick of the killing than reasonable non-Muslims are.

Christians are taking note. I've heard more than one say - unprompted by me - that it's interesting how protective everyone is of the Koran and how contemptuous many of those same people are of the Bible and Christians. Most of middle America is Christian or identifies with Christianity. They are not impressed.

It's also a situation where the media is further out from cover than usual. In many cases, the media knows a lot more about whatever it is they're covering than their readers or viewers do. A few who live near where the news event is happening may know more, and a few others with particular interests may know more, but generally the average TV viewer and newspaper/magazine reader realize their suspicions of bias, selective coverage and inappropriate emphasis are exactly that - suspicions. Circumstantial evidence, as it were, although in recent years the evidence has been strong enough to pronounce guilt beyond reasonable doubt. But for these Americans, the Gitmo/Koran hysteria is direct evidence of a logic and reason breakdown in the government*, the media and the left.

I think the success of this country relies on healthy debate and reasoned disagreement. We've exchanged that for confusion, sound bites, hysteria and spittle - and that's just Howard Dean. The left doesn't realize it, but they've become the biggest budget reality show yet to be derided on American television.

The government I absolve to some degree - I think in the current climate it's probably best practices to be ridiculously careful. Certainly their ability to promptly and fully present all cases of Koran "abuse" at Gitmo has served them well.

Posted by susanna at 11:30 PM

June 09, 2005

A long time ago


Winter in Calhoun, KY

I took this sometime during the last two weeks of 1983, in Calhoun, KY, where I had just moved to work as a reporter. It was a very picturesque town, and a lot of good people lived there, but it was hard even for a country girl. The Saturday night I arrived in town it poured the rain. When I walked into my rented furnished apartment, wet and tired from driving for six hours, I turned on the light to reveal roaches crawling all over the walls, couch, lampshades... It wasn't pretty at all.

Once the roaches were gone, I enjoyed it somewhat, and it gave me the only experience I've had as a sportswriter. Be very grateful. I covered schools, city councils, the hospital board, sports and miscellaneous feature stories. I took a lot of photographs, and developed and printed all the ones in the newspaper while I was there. I helped paste up the newspaper, running the column-wide sheets of print through a waxer and placing them with an Xacto knife. I wrote headlines, counting the length in picas to make sure it would fit, and set them on the headline typesetting machine. And then I would go home to my furnished rental, or drive the 20 miles to Owensboro for the nearest shopping or restaurants.

I remember it with fondness, but I'm not too sorry I left after six months.

The photo above is still one of my favorites, though - taken and printed by me. A long time ago.

UPDATE: Speaking of newspapers... I'm digging around for old articles to type up for my writing portfolio, and am right now retyping an article about a water skiing tournament in 1984. The first skier I interviewed was Mike Morgan, 20, of Florida, who talked about going to medical school in a year. On a whim I googled him, and... he made it! He's a doctor, and still skiing. You can read about him here in 1999 and here in 2004. Very cool. I like to know what people are up to that I knew way back when.

Posted by susanna at 07:37 PM

June 08, 2005

An honorable Kentuckian

William Wallace, a Kentuckian, is featured on the US Marines main website right now. Very cool! He went to college at Eastern Kentucky University, where two of my grandparents, both my parents and my sister all earned their degrees, and where my niece attends now. (I went there one summer, but you really don't want to know about it.) He's also from LaGrange, KY, where I worked back in 1985-87. You know what's scary? 1st Lt Wallace would have been 5 when I started work at the Oldham Era. Yikes!

At any rate, he sounds like a fine young man, and certainly an honorable one. Go read about him and keep him in your prayers.

Posted by susanna at 10:29 PM

The Computer Cold War

It seems we computer users are in an endless battle against the spies of the OtherWorld, aka Internet spammers and the people who send out little Trojans and worms and other such creatures of darkness. Just this past week I in my admittedly limited knowledge managed to rid my sister in law's laptop of a whole host of nastiness running the spyware that I've downloaded after recommendations from more seasoned and skilled Internet warriors than I. She couldn't use the Internet for having to kill pop-ups, because if she ignored them they soon caused The Blue Screen of Death on her computer. The spyware warriors killed the source. Ha!

So, in the interests of helping others like me stay armed, I refer you to this post by Terry, a Woman Who Knows About Computers. She tested the new Microsoft spyware killer, and compared it to two standards. Check out her conclusions.

Posted by susanna at 06:39 PM

An excellent judicial choice

Janice Rogers Brown sounds like she's precisely the kind of federal judge we need. In fact, I think I'd like to see her on the US Supreme Court.

It's not just because the Congressional Black Caucus dislikes her (see "You Heard It Here First"), although that's a good reason too. It's not just because she's from Alabama (even though she wound up on a California bench). It's not just because she's opposed by a laundry list of leftist organizations, although that's almost as good as opposition by the CBC. And it's not just because of the glowing recommendations by bipartisan groups of her colleagues, as collected by Sen. Orrin Hatch and posted on the Republican National Lawyers Association website.

No, my personal endorsement of her comes from her religious background, which, based on this article, sounds a lot like my own:

For at least four generations, Janice notes that her family has been part of the church of Christ. That long family history of using the Bible as the single, undisputed standard for religious beliefs provided her with the foundations of her faith and fueled her analytical mind as well.

Her family, many of them noted teachers and song leaders in their congregations, expected every idea to be backed up with proof from the Word. She says she has always been drawn to the intellectual honesty of biblical study that has been emphasized in the church.

I can vouch for that. Most conservative churches of Christ emphasize the importance of going to the Bible to derive your spiritual understandings, and recognize the Bible as God's inerrant - and sole - Word to His people. From Day One, children raised "in the church" are taught to listen to the Bible first and their elders and teachers second - to be guided by wiser heads, but always ultimately recognize it's between you and God, and the Bible is your source for what God wants you to know. It's all about stripping it down to what the Word says.

Another point, and not an insignficant one, is that she is trained from both life experience and biblical teaching to be fair. She was raised in the Jim Crow South, and taught from early years that God is no respecter of persons. I'd say that's had a big role in her career, and would naturally extend to her judicial decisions.

Why is that important for a judge? Other than the obvious issues of morality and conservatism, what it means is that she is trained, almost at a cellular level, to respect and rely on original documents when deciding what is and is not the right thing to do. And she is bound by something larger than herself to adjudicating fairly and according to the letter and spirit of the law - she would, by definition, not be a legislating justice. In a courtroom, I'd say that would translate into stringent analysis and evenhanded judicial decisions.

What a wonderful thing for her to be a justice. Go, Justice Brown!

UPDATE: She's been confirmed! YEEHAW!!

I can tell from the website of the church she attends that we do have some doctrinal differences. But I'd say if she and I were to want to discuss those differences, it would be with an open Bible between us, rather than just a conversation about what each of us thinks is a good idea.

Posted by susanna at 04:17 PM

When will I ever learn

Someone wrote me this week asking how I could say that Peter Hitchens "nailed it" by identifying atheism as a faith. I suppose hope must spring eternal in me, because I responded instead of ignoring it, as experience has taught me I should. I have rarely encountered an atheist who first identified himself as one who did not go on to prove himself to be arrogant and uninterested in anything but showing what a completely brainless twit I am for believing in God. This exchange did not deviate from the majority.

I could have been writing a post for this blog instead. I should have. Sigh. In future, I will not respond to atheists. There is sufficient material on this blog to answer any questions they have about my beliefs. There are sufficient materials written by very intellectual and God-believing folks about the subject without my trying to deal honestly when people who seek only to bait.

Plesae note that I have not told you who this is. I won't tell you, either. My point is not to mock, but to say, enough. And also to be able to say, the next time it happens, "I already said, enough. Search my blog if you want to know my thoughts on this."

As always, that doesn't mean I won't discuss God. Of course I will. But only with those genuinely interested in learning about Him and/or about my views on Him and the reasoning behind it.

UPDATE: While I'm at it, I'd like to identify an exception. As you can tell from reading his posts on Gene Expression, razib and I do not agree on matters evolutionary. We've tangled a few times on it. But he is always a genuinely nice person, even when he's hammering you, and you know that he is attacking your arguments, not you. I like razib. And I've never read something he's written without pausing to consider the root of his arguments and their validity. I listen to him, even though I don't usually agree with him.

I will also point out, while I'm in this, that some arguments for rejecting general evolution are not good arguments. Some Christians can be nonsensical. I actively encourage Christians who are nervous about science (most I know aren't, some are) to understand and appreciate science and the scientific method, and to learn to distinguish between scientific finding and scientific extrapolation.

I'm not anti-science.

Posted by susanna at 12:28 PM

June 06, 2005

I'm not joking

Here's some evil right here.

If you aren't sure why, just read the first few paragraphs of this.

And TBN is not the only culprit. All the televangelists and "religious" charlatans who are out for money and power are wolves among the sheep. I'm not saying that all televangelists are charlatans, although of those Ive seen I'd say more are than not. And the Bible says a laborer is worthy of his hire - I have no problem with a minister making a very good salary. But owning multiple mansions on the backs of elderly widows and their social security checks is deeply wrong.

But then... the Crouches aren't as wealthy as the Roman Catholic Church. That's something to think about too.

(I'm not addressing doctrine in any of these cases; you don't even have to go there to know that accumulating millions in God's name is blasphemy.)

Posted by susanna at 10:15 PM

Thoughts on evil

One of my favorite readers sent me a link to a discussion of evil on another blog. It opened a lot of paths for thought, including whether evil is nature, nurture or choice, and whether it can become so deeply ingrained in a person that there’s no hope of excising or even deflecting it. I’m not likely to bring insight to the question in ways no one has before, because evil may have even outpaced love as the human experience most explored and pondered over history. But I think about things best when I write about them, so I’m putting this out there. You can take it as you wish.

Defining evil is itself a complex problem. The concept of “good” must first be outlined, because without a boundary understood to be preferable and laudable, there’s no beginning place to describe what is to be abhorred. And how do you decide what is good and what is not good? It’s an easy proposition if you believe in God, because He tells you. But you run into problems if you’re trying to define a morality without God, because essentially you’re choosing an arbitrary “because we say so” line. Why is it wrong to kill someone, or take something from someone else who is too weak to prevent the taking, if all there is finally is nothingness? All you have to fear is society and its formal and informal controls, not anything greater than that. Getting all you can out of life in whatever way you can seems most expeditious. Forming into groups and families through need for the power of the group or the comforts of affection can give you reason to avoid harming anyone in that specific group, but what is the benefit beyond the group? That isn’t to say that people who don’t today believe in God aren’t very good people; of course they can be, and many are. But I think you will find that in some fashion their moral compass is set to respond to the same general understanding of “good” and “evil” that is set out by God; they may deviate at some permutations, but they accept that “good” is not harming and actively benefiting others when you can, and evil is harming, deliberately or selfishly or both. The disagreement often arises in the understanding of what constitutes “harm”.

Once you understand “good” as seeking in thought and action to bring the most benefit to others as well as self, you can begin to understand “evil” as seeking in thought and action to deny benefits to others, or to actively seek to cause harm to them, most especially if the action brings benefit to you. Evil takes many forms, but the main ones, I think, are intentional evil and selfish evil. Obviously they can overlap, but the difference is in the reason behind the evil. Some people do evil things because they want to do non-good things – the motivation is partly or wholly a thumb (or a shiv) in the eye of good. There may be corollary reasons, including pleasure and profit, but ultimately the reason behind it is to be anti-good; they actively seek darkness specifically because it is not light. It doesn’t have to cause a lot of harm to be this kind of evil – kicking a dog to hear it yelp qualifies. But people who seek to be anti-good can do some of the most heinous acts; for example, the robber who made his victims drink Drano and hammered an ink pen in one victim’s ear, just because he could.

Other people do evil things because their own desires, needs and goals are more important to them than anything else. That’s selfish evil, which is not the same as advancing your self interests. It’s not evil to work toward your own agenda, so long as you aren’t using underhanded or deliberately harmful tactics. Much of life involves competition, and it’s not evil to win, despite what some would have you believe. Selfish evil would involve an egregious harm, often going outside the rules, seeing others as pawns to be used however best suits your ends regardless of what happens to them. It can be as small as cheating on an exam, or bad-mouthing a rival (especially unfairly) to undermine their chances at some benefit so your own chances are greater. But the big selfish evils are right up there with the worst of the intentional evils: pedophiles fall there, as do most murderers, scam artists and thieves. They do what they do not specifically to thumb their nose at conventional good, but rather because they want what they want and they really don’t care what they have to do to make it happen. A pedophile who kidnaps a little girl, holding her and raping her for days before killing her, has no philosophical agenda. He likes to have sex with little girls. If he has an opportunity to do it, he will. It’s very simple in his world. It can get complex, but mostly when they try to hide it, like a priest preying on altar boys or a relative preying on a son, a stepdaughter, a niece or girlfriend’s child. In their deepest hearts, a drifter who kidnaps a little girl for sex and a priest who uses the trust of his collar to get access to his targets are no different. They want what they want and that’s the end of the matter.

There are definitely people who draw from both wells, employing the evil to gain their own ends but finding the fact they are harming good to be a separate source of pleasure. They often are the very worst of the worst. Adolf Hitler falls there. So does Ted Bundy. They enjoyed the evil act for its philosophical implications as well as its concrete effects. They are the superstars of evil, the black holes that draw good into the abyss and kill it with glee. There are people living today who are different from Hitler and Bundy only in their timing and opportunity. Don’t think of them as anomalies in history; think of them as members of a thin but constant line of inhumanity, a line that includes the likes of Domitian and Vlad the Impaler.

I don’t think actual or wannabe genocidal dictators or serial killers read my blog. I do think each of us has a lesser or greater capacity for both intentional and selfish evil. The challenge in life is understanding where in our psyches those capacities rest, and learning to short-circuit the urges without becoming a walking kick-me sign. That’s where Christians have an advantage, I think – God made the model and wrote the manual, detailing its flaws and the patches to fix them. The fact that God condemns evil unequivocally answers one question from the first paragraph – evil is not wholly nature, because God does not condemn behavior you cannot learn to avoid. However, I do think that some people have characteristics that tend them toward either pleasure in harming or selfish disregard of others (or both), just like people have a tendency to be humorous or kind or generous or studious.

When I teach criminal justice courses on Corrections, I always make the point that you can’t be rehabilitated unless you’d been habilitated in the first place. What that means is that there is a law-abiding, other-respecting standard of behavior that we associate with being a good citizen. Much of it needs to be learned, at home, at church, and in other community situations like school and work and play. In the United States, that standard rests firmly (for now) on Judeo-Christian principles. Some people seem to be born with an internal compass that points them in the right direction, and in the most heinous of settings they emerge as models of goodness. Most of us will be more inclined to good than evil, even if we do deviate a good distance from center on occasion. Training makes a huge difference, though, as does belonging to a community with high moral expectations. The constant fear of social disapprobation carries more weight with us than we like to think; we’d prefer to think we would be one of those models of goodness no matter what cesspool we find ourselves in. Fortunately, we aren’t often put to the test. However, an increasing segment of society reaches adulthood every year without having solid training in that standard, for a variety of reasons. In that situation, the margins move outward: someone who, restrained, may consistently break the speed limit, may unrestrained become a thief. Someone who, restrained, may occasionally throw things in a temper, may unrestrained become a barroom brawler, even killing someone in anger. A disproportionate percentage of our worst criminals come from the ranks of the insufficiently trained, but those of us with more socially-principled upbringings shouldn’t look down our noses – instead, we should realizes that, most likely, there but for the grace of a socially-principled upbringing go I. Even in those circles, though, the majority of bad behavior falls well short of deep evil.

My sense of my own capacity for evil and the ways it is expressed helps me understand how this could be. And that’s a post for tomorrow.

Posted by susanna at 07:56 PM

June 01, 2005

I love cops

More and more everyday.

Posted by susanna at 05:39 PM | TrackBack

Hitchens and Hitchens, against each other

Sad to say I didn't know there was a Peter Hitchens, younger brother of Christopher Hitchens, until I saw this transcript of a joint appearance of the two at the British Hay Festival. Both are commentators and writers of some renown, and had not spoken to each other for four years prior to this meeting. If you want to know why, read it.

I have very much liked some of Christopher Hitchens' writings, and very much disliked some, in the year or so that I've been aware of him as a well-spoken and powerful thinker. I find on reading a partial transcript of the brothers' conversation that I like Peter Hitchens more as a person. Perhaps that's because he has a religious sensibility, while Christopher Hitchens has a distinct and vocal anti-Christian sensibility. I thought you would be interested to see (IK is the moderator):

CH: ...The real difference between Peter and myself is the belief in the supernatural. I'm a materialist and he attributes his presence here to a divine plan. I can't stand anyone who believes in God, who invokes the divinity or who is a person of faith. I mean, that to me is horrible repulsive thing.

IK Peter when did your belief kick in, when did this become an issue between you?

PH Oh, it's never been an issue. I returned as it were to the Anglicanism of my childhood. Such as it was - it wasn't particularly strong: one has some background music of Hymns Ancient & Modern and the King James Bible, but not very much more than that. I'm probably keener about it now than I was then. I suppose [I returned] in my early 30s when people sometimes do, when various things start happening. As an issue between us, I think he overestimates the issue. He has several faiths. He has the faith I think of Darwinism, which is just like Christianity an unproven and unprovable theory, which you can believe in if you want because you prefer that arrangement of the universe. I happen to think the arrangement of the universe based on the belief in intelligent design is more tolerable both morally and aesthetically, but he prefers another. I dislike only the attitude of the atheist that his is not a faith, cause it is. I have absolutely no disgust or anger at anybody who disagrees with me about that. I'm much more worried by people who are indifferent to the question...

Peter Hitchens thoroughly nails it, especially about the attitude of the atheist in regards to faith.

Food for thought on a Wednesday.

[Link via, oddly enough, Andrew Sullivan, who I generally don't read. Sullivan didn't link the faith exchange, but rather the exchange about smoking that followed it.]

Posted by susanna at 10:35 AM | TrackBack