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October 25, 2005

On hiatus

I thought this blog died over the weekend, and after the initial shock I realized I wasn't too sad about it. It's been great fun, and I've had some good feedback from it, but without comments capability the fun quotient dropped considerably. I've also realized that my interests and focus have shifted since it started, and I've struggled to have a clear "voice" here that would give it a niche on the blogosphere. Also, right now I'm trying to make a living writing, and work on my dissertation prospectus at the same time, so I haven't much energy for writing here right now. I thought about taking it down completely, but that seems too big a decision to make quickly. So I will declare myself on hiatus, indefinitely, which may mean I'll post something next week and may mean I'll post something in January or never. I do have an idea for a website including a blog that I want to deveop, but I don't know that now is a good time. My doctoral studies have meandered and stuttered and sat stupified for too long. My goal is to finish and graduate in December 2006. Right now it feels like putting this blog on hiatus will need to be a part of that.

Feel free to delink me. And thank you, very much, for visiting and reading and making this one of the most rewarding things I've had the pleasure to do.

Posted by susanna at 10:43 AM

October 18, 2005

Update on bus crash

Below I wrote a rather exhaustive (exhausting?) overview of the bus/semi crash in Wisconsin, focusing then on the 78-year-old bus driver and the general concern about reaction time for older drivers. This article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel gives the update. In summary:

The bus driver has a history of doing a good job, was popular and often requested for trips, and at this time there's no indication that the police are looking at him intensely. This may be an instance where his age was genuinely not a factor, which I mentioned in the post below could be the case. It doesn't mitigate the larger point, but some people do retain great acuity into old age, and Paul Rasmus could well have been one of those. Regardless of his role, however, the precipitating factor was the jackknife of the semi.

That takes us to Michael John Kozlowski, 22, driver of the semi. Here's the word on him:

After Michael John Kozlowski, 22, failed to pay a speeding fine this year, his license was suspended, according to Indiana motor vehicle records...

It appears he has a history:

Kozlowski received the speeding ticket April 27 on suspicion of driving 76 mph, 21 mph over the limit, on I-65 in Marion County, Ind. It was the third time Indiana police had cited Kozlowski on an accusation of speeding in five years, records show...

Before receiving the speeding ticket this year, Kozlowski was ticketed in Indiana on suspicion of driving 55 mph, 15 mph over the limit, in Clinton County in March 2001, and on suspicion of driving 70 mph, 15 mph over the limit, in Lake County in May 2001. The fines on those tickets were paid.

In addition, records show that Kozlowski was involved in an accident in Indiana in December 2001. Details of that accident were not available late Monday.

Now, that record is not worse than a lot of people have, and apparently he has no DUIs or reckless driving citations or they would have mentioned it. Driving on the suspended license is bad, but is more an administrative issue than a bad driving issue. It will increase his liability and the liability of his employer, but doesn't matter in regards to his prior behavior being predictive of this accident.

The core of the issue is here:

Law enforcement officials on Monday declined to say how Kozlowski's truck ended up jackknifing in the middle of the interstate. Saying that the accident was under investigation, they declined to speculate on whether Kozlowski fell asleep when his truck veered off the highway and back on before overturning.

The accident happened at 2 a.m., and we don't know how long Kozlowski had been driving. But the federal government recognizes that over-the-road drivers, working per run rather than by the hour, have a reputation for pushing their physical limits. It could be that Kozlowski violated current federal regulations on ratio of sleep-to-rest time for long-haul truckers. We don't know. But if he didn't, and there's no evidence that he was exceeding the speed limit in leading to his crash (no mention either way in the article), then this will go down as a tragic accident.

It is likely, however, that Kozlowski may lose his CDL and/or do time for driving on a suspended license. I'm not sure what the legal liability in this situation would be - whether driving with a suspended license would trigger a felony charge in the event he was involved in an accident causing harm to others. If he was violating federal regulations, there's a good chance he could be charged with one of the levels of manslaughter.

I would go into the federal regulations on trucker hours, but my back went out last Thursday and every minute I sit at this computer still knots it up. So I can't sit for long and write. You can look it up yourself, though, starting here and here. For the Wisconsin crash, the pertinent information is this:

May drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
May not drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.

Did Kozlowski violate that? I'd say that's the crux of the investigation right now, if the Journal-Sentinel article is accurate.

Posted by susanna at 01:47 PM

October 16, 2005

I don't know that it was a factor, but...

Should this be allowed?

A bus carrying high school students home from a band competition crashed into a tractor-trailer that had jackknifed on the interstate early Sunday, killing four adults and an 11-year-old girl, officials said...

Bus driver Paul Rasmus, 78, of Chippewa Falls, died in the crash...

I have absolutely no knowledge of this man and his driving skills, and certainly there are enough massive RVs on the road helmed by men in their 70s and probably a few in their 80s to show that indeed some people maintain sufficient sharpness to drive safely when very old. But should they be allowed to drive school buses full of children? There are so many things that can happen on the road, especially when you're driving at a high rate of speed - and I don't mean over the speed limit. Sixty-five is a lot faster when you're driving a bus than when you're driving a car. You need longer time to make any manuever, and if your reaction time is already slowed by age, it just compounds. And in this instance, the accident happened at 2 a.m. - I think it likely that the average man of 78 is less sharp than a man of 68 or 58 or 48 at that time of day, especially if he's been up since early the previous morning without sleep.

We don't know if anyone could have avoided the accident - I'm truly not saying this man's age is even partially to blame, in this instance. It just caught my eye, and made me think that I don't know many man that age that I'd allow to drive my child (if I had one) at a high rate of speed on a bus.

Another important consideration is the attention of the semi-driver:

Baldeshwiler said the information being shared with band members indicated that the semi-tractor trailer, also heading westbound, left the roadway momentarily, then hit the bus as it returned to the traffic lane. That report was not confirmed.

If the truck did in fact leave the roadway, was sleepiness on the part of the truck driver a factor, at 2 a.m.? Truckers get paid by the run, not by the hour, and some tend to stay on the road for ridiculous amounts of time, living on caffeine, so they can finish a run in as little time as possible.

So are there caps on age for bus drivers? Are there caps on hours a truck driver can go without sleep?

There are two advertisements for school bus drivers (here and here) on the Wisconsin government page, only one of which mentions a minimum age - 21 - but not a maximum, although passing a physical is mentioned. That may include reaction time. However, this page called " " is about doing criminal background checks on bus drivers, and doesn't mention their age. It does say a person must have an "S" certification from the Wisconsin DOT, and sends you to that website for more info. A search for "bus driver age" at the Wisconsin state statutes site only brings up a requirement that a person who only has a permit must have someone with a driver's license with them if they operate a bus.

At the Wisconsin DOT site, there's a long list of infractions that can bar you from driving a bus for varying amounts of time, including life (oddly enough, "operating while intoxicated" will get you 5 years off the list, "operating while intoxicated causing injury" will get you two. If they're not cumulative, that's crazy. The chart doesn't say). Age is not on the list. On their PDF "The Transportation of Pupils in School Buses and Other Vehicles", which includes bus driver qualifications, it mentions a minimum of 18 and says they must:

Meet the physical/medical standards for school bus endorsement referenced in Admin. Rule Trans. 112 by providing either a current federal medical card or an MV3030B (medical examination report for “S” or “P” endorsement)

So, off to look at that. This page is "Commercial driver license medical requirements", where it says this:

If you do not hold a federal medical card or are not grandfathered, you will be issued a restricted commercial driver license. This license would only be good if you are a school bus driver or are employed by a municipality (village, town, state, etc.).

So it's okay not to be medically certified if you are a school bus driver? That's confusing, as is how a "state" could also be a "municipality". But onward. Finally, deep in the midst of the site, we get the "Medical Examiner's Certificate BDS199", which at last gives the actual requirements for medical fitness - and age/reaction time are not mentioned. Conditions that could lead to specific problems while driving are mentioned, but reaction time is not one of them. "S" certification, which I still haven't found, apparently alludes to tuberculosis testing.

So does reaction time matter?

Here's information from the website of Marc Green, Ph. D., who

has an experimental psychology Ph. D. and 32 years of experience in basic and applied research in perception, attention, reaction time, memory, man-machine interfaces and related areas. He has also served as an expert on matters related to road accidents, warnings, slip & falls, intellectual property as well as cases involving other human factors issues.

On reaction time, it says:

In many cases, the speed with which a person can respond, "reaction time," is the key to assigning liability. It is common practice for accident reconstructionists simply to use a standard reaction time number, such as 1.5 seconds, when analyzing a case. In fact, reaction time is a complicated behavior and is affected by a large number of variables. There can be no single number that applies universally....

Reaction time, he says, is composed of several factors including mental processing time, movement time, and device response time. A variety of other factors, including age and cognitive loading (how much you have to pay attention to at one time) also are important. On age, he says:

Although most basic research finds that older people respond slower than younger ones, the data on older drivers' braking times are not entirely clear. One problem is that different studies have used different definitions of older; that is, sometime "older means 55, sometimes it could mean 70. Moreover, some studies find no slowing of reaction time with age. Instead, they conclude that the older driver's greater experience and tendency to driver slower compensate all or in part for the decline in motor skills. Never the less, I would place the slowing with age to be about 0.3 seconds for a "moderately" older driver, say 65-70. On the other hand, older drivers generally compensate for slower reaction times with reduced speeds.

An important question, then, would be whether the older driver in the Wisconsin crash was going the speed limit. And try this on for size - from Loyola University, quoting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

[T]here's cause for concern when elderly people do drive because they have higher rates of fatal crashes per mile driven, per 100,000 people, and per licensed driver than any other group except young drivers. A problem is that elderly drivers don't deal as well as younger ones with complex traffic situations...

* People age 70 and older have more motor vehicle deaths per 100,000 people than other groups except people younger than 25.
* Per mile driven, drivers 75 years and older have higher rates of fatal motor vehicle crashes than drivers in other age groups except teenagers.
*Per licensed driver, fatal crash rates rise sharply at age 70 and older...

Food for thought.

And here are mine...

I think that drivers past a certain age should have to undergo testing that measures not just how well you see or hear, but actual reaction time. And I think that there needs to be provision for not selecting an older driver when there will be additional factors of concern - for example, driving a 20 mile loop in the daytime at speeds not exceeding 40 or so mph, in regular traffic that frequently slows you further, is very different from driving at 2 a.m., in the dark, after a day that may be in its 16th or 20th hour, at interstate speeds. The most important thing is the safety of the people involved, not the feelings of the driver. And accusations of "ageism" or "discrimination" need to be shouted down. No one who is 78 years old drives as well as someone who is 48. No one who is 78 drives as well as he himself did at 48. That should matter.

We'll see what happens in Wisconsin. And my prayers go out to the families of those who lost loved ones. I hope that, in this instance, the investigation proves that the bus driver's age was immaterial to the outcome.

[I've worn both of us out. I'll address long-haul truck driver safety later.]

Posted by susanna at 04:46 PM

October 15, 2005

Isn't this intriguing...

Read these two excerpts:

First this:

A crowd protesting...Saturday turned violent, throwing baseball-sized rocks at police, vandalizing vehicles and stores, and setting fire to a neighborhood bar, authorities said...

...a large group of men destroyed the exterior of a gas station ...

"A whole big gang started to come in here. Next thing you know, they're jumping on the car. Then they overturned it. Then they started on the building, breaking windows, ripping the bars off," he said.

Then this:

Behold the might of al Qaeda and its fearsome Ramadan Offensive:

- Gunmen fired on two polling stations in Baghdad. No injuries.
- Office of the Iraqi Islamic Party is torched in Fallujah. No injuries.
- Office of the Iraqi Islamic Party is struck by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. No injuries.
- Office of the Iraqi Islamic Party is destroyed in an attack in Baiji. No injuries.
- Terrorists blow up the home of the local Iraqi Islamic Party chief in Ramadi. No injuries.
- Five security guards wounded in a car bombing near a mosque in Kirkuk
- Four civilians wounded in a roadside bombing targeting a U.S. patrol in Baghdad.
- Fifteen insurgents arrested as they prepared to attack polling centers in Mosul. No injuries.
- Power cut in 70% of Baghdad after power lines are sabotaged north of the city.
- Two police wounded in roadside bombing while patrolling near a polling station in Baghdad.
- Civilian killed by sniper fire near polling station in Baghdad.
- Three insurgents attacked an empty polling station South of Basra, and are captured. No Injuries.
- One policeman is wounded after a roadside bomb exploded near a polling station in western Baghdad.
- Fighting reported between a small band of insurgents and U.S. troops on patrol in Ramadi. No casualties reported.

Compare and contrast.

Incidentally, the first one was from a story about a Nazi party march in Toledo and the "counter-protest". For "counter-protest", read "thug activity". Yes, Nazi views and white supremicist views are abhorent. But race does not give you free license to thuggery, just as religion doesn't give you free license to murder.

Interesting that the first excerpt could easily have been in the Iraq of the media, isn't it?

Posted by susanna at 09:36 PM

October 14, 2005

If you read nothing else today...

You must read the NYTimes magazine article on New Orleans, written by a man whose family goes back over 150 years in the city. It's wonderful, both in its content and style. An excerpt that had me laughing out loud but a little sad too:

On St. Claude Avenue, just below the French Quarter, there was a scene of indigents, old people and gay men employed in the arts fleeing what they took to be bombs being dropped on them by Army helicopters. What were being dropped were, in fact, ready-to-eat meals and water in plastic jugs. But falling from the sky, these missiles looked unfriendly, and when the jugs hit concrete, they exploded and threw up shrapnel. The people in the area had heard from the police that George W. Bush intended to visit the city that day, and they could not imagine he meant them any good - but this attack, as they took it, came as a shock. "Run! Run!" screamed a man among the hordes trying to outrun the chopper. "It's the president!"

Laughing because it's, well, hysterically funny. Sad because it was real for those people.

Posted by susanna at 10:15 AM

October 13, 2005

Iraq establishes picture-perfect democracy

Okay, maybe not. But something amazing must be going on, because the NY Times editorial today says that Iraq might possibly if all the stars align right and Madelyn Albright gets a facelift just might in the vague imaginings of a teenybopper's dream of Justin Timberlake and with the substance of a morning fog facing down the rising sun could by some extremely remote and bizarre chance (like the possibility that Maureen Dowd would find reason) actually succeed in establishing a tenuous and no-doubt doomed democracy.

Really! See for yourself:

Clearly, it will take a great deal of political maturity on all sides to negotiate the hurdles ahead successfully, beginning with Saturday's referendum. And it will all have to be done in the midst of a brutal and relentless insurgency, pitifully inadequate Iraqi security forces and an overstretched and increasingly unpopular American military presence. But if the tentative political trends that produced this week's deal can be sustained and extended, those who have sacrificed so much to give Iraq the opportunity for freedom will have some reason to believe their efforts may not be in vain.

If they placed any more conditions on it, the whole editorial would have come crashing down. But for the NY Times to even obliquely and with great portentous warnings of imminent failure suggest the ephemeral chance that democracy could take root in Iraq... well, the mind boggles at the richness of what the reality must actually be.


Posted by susanna at 08:32 AM

October 12, 2005

Can it be that a man is better than me?

"Yes," says Charles Murray. "No," says Charles Murray.

Murray, a co-author of the controversial book, The Bell Curve, has a long and fairly complicated essay in the WSJ about the innate differences between groups of people - men and women, blacks and whites, and others. It's fascinating reading, and I highly recommend it. Stick to it to the end, and read with an open mind.

One of the points I think he needs to make more clearly - maybe in bold, 16-point type - is this: No matter what differences show up between groups, there is nothing that shows that all people in one group are better at something than all people in another group. That means, for example, that while women may not be as good as men generally at science, there will always be some women who can rival the best men. They should be encouraged to follow their talent and dream.

Men... blinding me with science

The thing that touches me most closely is that in some raw abilities that are foundations of scientific endeavors, men as a group are inherently better at them than women as a group. The primary one is visuospatial, or the ability to visualize dimensional space in the abstract. In the higher maths and sciences, that difference isn't just interesting, it's predictive - that is, men will do better generally than women just because men generally exhibit a higher natural ability in the characteristics necessary for that task.

On the other hand, women exhibit greater understanding of interpersonal relationships. In the social sciences, this is foundational - that's what social science is, understanding how individuals and groups function in a society. However, a major mechanism for finding and explaining those differences in detail is the use of statistics, which are becoming ever more complex. It seems to me that this would indicate that men and women working together collaboratively are going to succeed at finding answers more effectively than men and women working without input from the other.

Fun to think about, and consider what the implications are. I don't feel threatened by what Murray has to say, I think we would all be better off if we could emphasize our strengths and combine our efforts with those who have different but complementary strengths. In that way, we all move forward faster and more effectively.

Let's just sit here and value each other a bit

And in my judgment, the problem isn't with the fact of differences between groups - the problem is with valuing abilities. I think it's self-evidently true that the abilities men have at an inherently higher rate are valued more by society than the abilities women have at an inherently higher rate. Therefore, women who exhibit "manly" traits - scientific ability, aggressiveness, single-minded career focus - are valued more by society than women who exhibit "womanly" traits. And that reality has, in a fascinating way, been heavily reinforced by ideological feminism - it values playing as an equal on traditional male fields above excelling in traditionally "female" contexts. In instances where "femaleness" is acknowledged as different and encouraged (generally by emphasizing relationships, but rarely by encouraging the most traditional of female roles, wife and mother), the tone is generally that "woman traits" are inherently better than "man traits".

It seems to me that the thing to do is encourage everyone to excel where their talent and tastes lie, valuing dedication and excellence over specific fields. By "valuing" here, I mean, appreciating as good and commendable. Some accomplishments will always bring more money and power than others, but we can practice evaluating people based the extent to which they've maximized their ability and preferences. It's like the Parable of the Talents - one man received five, one received two and one received one. The man who received five and made them 10, and the one who received two and made them four, were both commended by their master equally. The one with one talent was condemned for not doing his best with it.

The evolution of political correctness

It is, incidentally, very curious to me that the group of people who are first to hammer home that macroevolution, survival of the fittest and the whole Darwinism pantheon of beliefs are among those who decry Murray and his fellow scientists when they talk about their science. Their findings actually are a support for micro-evolution, for the development of differing group characteristics over time. We know that we are all descended from the same ancestor - that's probably the only thing all evolutionists and creationists agree on, although they envision a different common ancester (a man-like creature that branched into man and apes for evolutionists, Noah for creationists). So if there are differences, then those are the result of evolution.

God didn't make mistakes. God loves every one who has ever lived or ever will live with the same deep desire for their best interests. So I believe that the more we learn about His universe, and use that knowledge to advance the good of all of His creatures, including man, the more we're doing His Will. Science is an integral part of that. And no matter how the politically correct crowd wants to play it, understanding differences between groups more deeply and encouraging every individual to his personal best can only make the world a better place for everyone.

There's a symmetry to Emmy

The case of Emmy Noether is instructive. She is identified in Murray's article as a "great female mathematician", possibly the only one (so far) who could stand as an equal with the greatest male mathematicians. I looked her up, because I had not heard her name and I was intrigued. Here is what one bio sketch of her says:

In 1935, the year of Emmy Noether's death, Albert Einstein wrote in a letter to the New York Times, "In the judgement of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began."

...Known primarily for her profound and beautiful theorems in ring theory, Emmy Noether's most significant achievement runs deeper: she changed the way mathematicians think about their subject. "She taught us to think in simple, and thus general, terms... homomorphic image, the group or ring with operators, the ideal... and not in complicated algebraic calculations," said her colleague P.S. Alexandroff during a memorial service after her death. In this way, she cleared a path toward the discovery of new algebraic patterns that had previously been obscured.

Another bio says this:

Emmy Noether made many contributions to the field of mathematics. She spent her time studying abstract algebra, with special attention to rings, groups, and fields. Because of her unique look on topics, she was able to see relationships that traditional algebra experts could not...

And there is this praise from not inconsiderable luminaries in their own right:

...the greatest female mathematician and theoretical physicist who ever lived, Emmy Noether

That from Christopher Hill, Head of the Theoretical Physics Department at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, IL, and Leon M. Lederman, a Nobel Laureate in Physics and former Director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

There is more here and here and here. This is particularly interesting, from the last link:

The axiomatic approach was for Hilbert a means of logical clarification, but in the hands of Emmy Noether it became a powerful method of mathematical research. As Herman Weyl said: "This method was applied by Emmy Noether with mastery skill, it suited her nature and she made algebra ` the Eldorado of axiomatics','' and from algebra it spread to the rest of mathematics.

Based on the description of her work, it appears to me (to the extent I can understand it, given my math phobia) that what she did was move from the narrow to the broad, seeing larger patterns and relationships in categories of phenomena that then gave new direction to the pursuit of detail. I'm also intrigued by the phrase "it suited her nature". One of my theories is that the very way women perceive the world could bring a different approach to all disciplines that men would struggle more to achieve. The difference itself will give science a more robust ability to understand the world, whether it be physics or sociology. I think it probable that one source of Noether's genius was her ability to bring her womanly perception of relationships to her scientific research. Obviously she had to have an unusual level of visuospatial ability and other characteristics conducive to scientific activity. But it's very possible that her unique contribution came about at least in part precisely because she was a woman, not in spite of it.

Also, on a different tangent - not only was Noether a woman, she was a German Jew. She was suppressed and then virtually expelled by the Nazis. Although they didn't cause her tragically young death at 52, their treatment of her is another black mark among the millions they'll face on judgment day. One wonders what she could have accomplished had she been embraced and nurtured as a thinker.

UPDATE II: Just wanted to reiterate something... I'm all about equality of opportunity, but I abhor the trend toward equality of outcome. I can do math and its evil cousin statistics, if I work hard and have help, but writing is like breathing to me: both necessary and easy. Okay, I have to work at it to be really good, but the interest and ability are there. My wish for every person: To find that place where interest and ability intersect, and have the help necessary to take it to its highest possible expression. That's all. And it doesn't matter to me if that intersection is in quantum physics or basketball or mothering or poetry. In the end, we'll have what the world needs.

Posted by susanna at 10:28 AM

October 10, 2005

A view from inside South Korea

Last Saturday, while I was helping a friend at a yard sale, one of her new neighbors came over to check out the offerings. She was a woman in her 50s, somewhat heavy, well-kept, pleasant, and when she said she was a teacher I was not at all surprised. She looked like so many teachers I know, right down to the shirt with little embroidered figures all over it. She was carrying an insulated mug, holding it with both hands in the cool autumn air, and invited my friend to the church where her husband is pastor.

It was only when I had chatted with her for a while that she told me she and her husband lived in South Korea for 15 years and have only been back in the US for five. They were missionaries, and raised their children there. So I asked her - what do South Koreans think of America and Americans? What do you think of North Korea? And should the US leave South Korea?

Standing beside a bed set for sale, children's toys all around her, the overcast sky keeping in the dawn chill long into morning, she told me that the North Koreans are just waiting for an excuse to come after the US. That they are not reasonable. She said a top official in the North Korean government was one of the many defectors from their country who made their ways to their church, and he said they do have nuclear abilities and want to use them. She said that the older South Koreans, the ones who remember the Korean War (or, as they term it, The War), like Americans and appreciate what America did. The younger ones adopt anti-Americanism as a fashionable ideology but, she said, they will trip over themselves to become acquainted with an actual American. And, she said, the US should not pull out of South Korea - it would put them at great risk from invasion from North Korea.

It's one woman's view, and she's five years gone from the country. But she seemed intelligent and not inclined to state her own ideology - that is, she spoke about it only in response to my questions, and she didn't seem to have any desire to persuade toward any particular US path. It made her views carry greater weight. I'd like to sit down and talk with her more. It's difficult a lot of times to separate the rhetoric from reality, especially when you're dealing with something you yourself will never have personal knowledge of. I was relieved to hear that her views fit what I had concluded about the situation - not because I want validation, but because it means that my evaluation of the situation did manage to get to the center at least to some degree.

For what it's worth.

Posted by susanna at 08:24 AM

October 08, 2005

All the kids are doing it

You are a

Social Conservative
(30% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(78% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Strong Republican

Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

I confess that I did this previously after seeing it at Jordana's, and I landed right on Donald Trump's face. I tightened up my responses this time and landed on Reagan's cheek. I can handle that better. But the truth is, I'm a bit more of a softy that I like to think sometimes. Shhhhh....

For today, at any rate, I'm even more conservative than my brother. And that's a rare thing.

Posted by susanna at 05:26 AM

October 07, 2005

Viewing The Passion through blog-colored glasses

You never know where your words will wind up when you fling them out to the world via your blog.

Last year, I posted several times on Mel Gibson's The Passion. It was a wonderful movie, but hard to watch. I bought the DVD but haven't watched it. The box feels like a pulsing pain barely contained - I know to watch it again, alone this time in my own home, is to invite a heavy spate of weeping and recriminations. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I just know how I'll react. I'd probably be the better for it. I think you can see from this that the movie - or rather, its intense depiction of my Lord's death - cuts very deeply in me.

Part of the intense reaction to the movie by people in general was concern about whether it would spark anti-Jewish sentiment. Blogs were rife with heated rhetoric from all sides. I personally didn't think before or after seeing it that anyone reasonable would respond that way, and if someone DID respond that way, they probably weren't reasonable to begin with.

Now I find that one of my blog posts was quoted in part in the footnotes of a book on the aftermath of The Passion: After the Passion Is Gone - American Religious Consequences, published last November. The second chapter is Passionate blogging: Interfaith Controversy and the Internet, written by William Cork, who runs the Tischreden blog. The entire chapter, with a complete list of blogs cited, is in PDF here. I am quoted in Note 29.

The most interesting thing to me is... does he think I'm a Jewish blogger? Read the paragraph where he links the note quoting me, and tell me what you think.

And, finally, I found the somewhat obscure reference to me via a new web tool called iWebtool, specifically their Backlink Checker. Very interesting, although quite incomplete. I found out about iWebtools from Terry at I See Invisible People, who is always interesting even though I don't often agree with her politics (nor she with mine, truth be told, but that's okay, isn't it?).

Posted by susanna at 01:25 PM

NOPD - the good guys

The New Orleans police have been hammered, and justifiably so, for a lot of bad behavior before and after Hurricane Katrina. However, there were a lot of officers who stayed the course, who worked hard, who exemplified in some of the toughest circumstances just what it means to be a fine officer. Those officers deserve to be acknowledged and praised, not tarred with the same brush of shame their deadbeat colleagues are.

Cerberus does the job nicely with this post, a look at two officers who stayed the course and did the right thing. These are the kinds of officers that are rightly judged heroes.

And it's also funny what the officers think of the feds who came by:

We handed him over to the feds--who, by the way, are very good at making ID cards, and have really pretty uniforms.

Actually, municipal cops and sheriff's deputies are usually going to be better at this type of policing than any kind of fed, because the feds aren't trained for that kind of work and do it only rarely. They do big multi-jurisdictional things, targeting specific types of crime. And often they do their job very well, but even then they need the local guys for the close work with local citizens.

Working with citizens in a municipality or county is a very specific type of policing, and in a disaster like the Katrina aftermath the skills of federal cops aren't really useful. They can bring to bear great amounts of valuable resources, but they really need to get out of the way and let the locals lead the work, because they know precisely what they're doing in their own environment. Jurisdictions get tangly, though, and so do egos.

And by feds, btw, I'm not including National Guard. They are trained to deal with disasters, as are some segments of the military. Those guys can be scary good. But still, they need the locals to do their job on the ground, and locals like the ones Cerberus discusses are as high a quality as any fed or military personnel you want to name - and better at local policing than either.

UPDATE: Here's another article Cerberus highlights, showing what it was like for the good guys in the NOPD.

Posted by susanna at 11:00 AM

Where's Simba?

Want to see what Simba saw? Want a little bit of an African safari from your comfy home? Check this out. I have it set up so I can watch it while I surf.

Posted by susanna at 09:01 AM

October 06, 2005

Update on bombing in Oklahoma

The president of the University of Oklahoma, David Boren, has made an interesting shift in how he describes the death of bomber John Hinrichs III:

While saying it appears no one else is connected to the bombing, Boren made a shift in describing Hinrich's death by saying, "I do not say suicide, I say it's an individual death that we're dealing with. That's all we really know."

So that makes two points: That Hinrichs didn't blow himself up deliberately with the only intent being killing himself, and the corollary point that he must have had some other reason for being there with a bomb on. His attempting to buy ammonium nitrate and there being other bomb making materials at his apartment (apparently beyond what would be left over from making the one that killed him) are suggestive of a bigger, more encompassing event than single suicide. However, the cops are still playing it close:

The FBI release continued by stating, "There is no known current threat posed by any additional explosive materials. At this time, there is no known threat from any other person(s) related to this incident. At this time, there is no known link between Hinrichs and any terrorist or extremist organization(s) or activities."

Those sound like dodgy statements - they aren't syaing there are no connections, they're saying, we haven't confirmed any yet. Stay tuned. And yes, it's quite possible this will all turn out to be a loner seeking glory in death in ways he could only dream of in life.

UPDATE: The Jawa Report has much more, including an array of useful and enlightening links.

And don't miss the post by Classical Values, or Jeff at Protein Wisdom, who also picked up Boren's shift, and notes again that Boren is a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. That latter is telling, because he would have greater knowledge than the average American about terrorism investigations generally, and also a greater inclination to work with the Feds on handling the situation as quietly as possible.

Posted by susanna at 11:11 AM

More on the Bali bombing II

Sidney Jones, South-East Asia project director of the International Crisis Group, discusses the suicide bombers in Bali and speculates on what may have urged them to do their ugly work. He concludes it's a combination of local issues, religious fervor and careful selection and training by older jihadists. Worth reading.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is planning to give Jemaah Islamiah's (JI) spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir an automatic reduction of thirty days in his sentence as a celebration of Ramadan, a practice applied to all prisoners in the country by presidential decree. Australia is very unhappy about that, as JI is believed to be behind both Bali blasts that killed Australians as well as many Balinese.

And they haven't found the bombmakers yet, although they're still looking. Australia has sent 45 police officers to Indonesia to help in the investigation. One suspects they are there as much to monitor that Indonesia is doing all it can as to actual aid in the work.

Posted by susanna at 09:38 AM

October 05, 2005

In such good company as this...

Occasionally I go through a phase where I go through my referrer logs at Sitemeter to discover where people are coming from when they visit my blog; it's always interesting. Today I discovered the cdbustard annotated blog list, and yes, I am on it. Here is the entry for me:

Cut on the Bias - English resident who loves guns. Amazingly consistent - both thematically offensive as well as having offensive content. Comments? No.

I've always heard that consistency is a virtue. And English resident? That would come as a bit of a shock to my family, given that we trace our ancestry back to immigrants arriving before the founding of the USA* (with a few exceptions). And the only countries I've been in besides the US are Canada and Mexico (walked across at Nogales, does that count?). A curious mistake on his part.

An amusing find. And I'm in such good company. Check it out.

UPDATE: I just can't resist giving you a few tidbits.

He says of James Lileks: "Boilerplate Right Wing Blather. Don't Bother."
Of Tim Blair: "A typical southern, red state type: hates Cindy Sheehan, hate the Kyoto treaty, etc. etc. He is actually from the far, far South: Australia."
Of Hugh Hewitt: "Radio Commentator. An Evangelical who worked for Nixon and Reagan. Very Big. Very Bad."
Of Michelle Malkin: "One of the Biggest: No comments: No reason to go unless you like to see evil in action. said it best "so bigoted she'd arrest herself for trying to cross a border." "

I thought the last one was very funny. Can't you see her arresting herself? All in good fun, of course.

Unintentional humor: A nice break from reality.

* And the majority of those folks were just average joes and janes, not many distinguished among them in terms of world renown. Hard working, working and middle class, salt of the earth. My blood isn't even very faintly blue.

Posted by susanna at 05:49 PM

An answer to what the Islamists want

In the post just below, I highlight the attitude of a Muslim cleric who by all accounts is a good man with no desire to harm America as a country or non-Muslim Americans in general. He refuses to accept, as a matter of principle, that 9/11 was done by Muslims, so he will forever seek another explanation regardless of any facts.

The other side of the equation is Jemaah Islamiyah leader Abu Bakar Bashir - JI is the al-Qaeda associated group that has set off bombs in Bali twice, most recently last week. Via Tim Blair (and you should read the whole post), here is what Bashir said (in an interview) is necessary to stop the Islamist radicals from aggressively going after non-Muslims (and willingly killing any Muslims in their way for their conception of "greater good"):

Atran: What can the West, especially the US, do to make the world more peaceful?

Abu Bakar Bashir: They have to stop fighting Islam. That’s impossible because it is sunnatullah [destiny, a law of nature], as Allah has said in the Koran. If they want to have peace, they have to accept to be governed by Islam ... We’ll keep fighting them and they’ll lose. The batil [falsehood] will lose sooner or later. I sent a letter to Bush. I said that you’ll lose and there is no point for you [to fight us]. This [concept] is found in the Koran.

I don't know how he could be more clear than that: They will not stop killing until the entire world is under Islam, and they believe that is not just required by but actually prophesied by the Koran. They are not going to accept concessions and live in harmony with less than the whole pie. Why is it that they can say that so very plainly and people still refuse to accept it?

I think the answer is similar to the good cleric Habib's defense mechanism: To believe the Islamic terrorists mean what they say would require the peacemongers to give up what they have set as their founding principle, that the US is bad and if we just made nice the terrorists would dissolve back into their culture and we would all be at peace. And since they can't allow this organizing premise to be wrong, they reject even bald statements from the terrorists themselves if the statements contradict their deeply held beliefs. Leftism as religion.

Posted by susanna at 11:15 AM

Answering the question of Muslim denial

The NYC Fire Department has accepted the resignation of a Muslim cleric chosen to be a chaplain for the department, days before he was due to be sworn in for the position.

Why? Because he "has doubts" about who was responsible for 9/11:

"It was the right thing to do for the department," said Imam Intikab Habib, 30, of Ozone Park, who quit the $18,000-a-year post after meeting with fire officials. In that meeting, he confirmed remarks made to Newsday Thursday expressing doubts that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida were responsible for the attacks.

He was recommended for the position by the Islamic Society of the Fire Department, who interviewed him and did background checks. They've withdrawn their support because of his views. From all indications in the article, Habib is a good person and not a radical hater of America or in any way someone dangerous or deceitful. In other words, he's the average Muslim, committed to his faith and not inclined to harm others who don't agree with him. His comments in the article about his reasoning for not believing 9/11 was done by Muslims are, I think, very enlightening:

Habib also said that as a devout Muslim, it was easier for him to entertain doubts about the identities of those behind the carnage. "Me not knowing who did it saved my guilt," he said.

Denying that Muslims did the deed keeps him from having to feel guilty that his co-religionists were involved. It is a defense mechanism. And I think we're dealing with that among a large segment of non-radicalized Muslim faithful, especially in the US - they are good people, they aren't reflexively anti-American, they don't support killing innocent people, they just refuse as categorically to believe Muslims did it. If that is your opening premise, of course you are going to feel upset and victimized when others insist it's true. And you can't argue with someone who refuses to accede to any facts that contradict their preferred belief.

I don't know how you combat this.

Posted by susanna at 10:07 AM

October 04, 2005

What do we think about abortion?

Michael Barone looks at the data from this Survey USA poll and says that even if Roe v Wade were overturned, abortion at some level would remain legal in the vast majority of the country.

I am against abortion, although I'm fine with an exception for mother's health (that is, I think in that instance the choice should be completely up to her - it's a matter of self-defense, really, a kill-or-be-killed calculus). I'm also a pragmatist. I think it likely that abortions would reduce in number, and things like parental notification laws easier to pass, if abortion were returned to the states to decide and we were able to pull the teeth of the abortion lobby that uses it as a proxy to fight all manner of liberal battles. If you sat down and talked to 100 women as individuals, women who if polled would divide into groups that seemed to have no common ground, I think you'd find that the vast majority - I would say 80% or higher - have very similar views in practical terms. That is, that they would allow (or actively support) abortion to save the mother (giving her the choice), and otherwise they would rather funding go to preventing pregnancy and helping pregnant women find good adoptive families if they choose not to abort, rather than to abortion clinics and organizations who promulgate liberal ideology on the backs of millions of dead babies. But the dialogue isn't allowed to get there because the people who have the most to lose financially if abortion loses a lot of its hot-button status will use every tool in their box to prevent the dialogue from getting to a peaceful place.

Posted by susanna at 06:43 AM

And you are...?

Just how much are you at risk of having your identity stolen? Check out this map of the US. The concensus seems to be that identity theft marches hand in hand with illegal drug habits - a non-violent way to keep the pipeline open.

I am a bit paranoid about it, although I live in a state that ranks 36th in risk (~49 cases per 100,000 population). The main thing I do to protect myself is to shred the endless stream of credit card applications I get. It's an annoyance, because I get so many, but I am not going to put one in the trash intact. So easy to fish it out and send off in my name. I suspect I'd be easier to target than I prefer to think, but at least I'm trying.

Are you?

Posted by susanna at 05:57 AM

October 03, 2005

He plays one on TV

The BBC interviewed Donald Sutherland, an actor who plays a character on the new Commander in Chief drama, a Hollywood effort to prepare the ground for a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. The big news is that Sutherland, again, I point out, an actor, thinks the Bush administration is bad.

This is new information? That an actor dislikes Bush? And explain to me again why an actor has any more authority to speak about the Bush administration than, say, Edie down at the hair salon or Frank, the English Lit prof at the local Ivy League university. "Hairdresser says, 'Bush lied, people died'". "Life-time socialist says, 'I don't like capitalism'".

I suppose the fact that he plays some White House type on the show is supposed to suddenly make him Michael Barone. News flash: It doesn't. He's still someone who makes his living memorizing and emoting other people's words and ideas. Doesn't mean he can't be very smart and knowledgeable. But it doesn't mean he is either.

And now for a small rant

This is from the CIC website:

Not only will she take charge of a grieving nation, but also the care of her own household.

Admittedly the average American woman has to manage a household and work - not that it's anything new. However, any woman who is president is not going to care for her own household any more than any man who is president. If she's married, if she's a parent, she will have to put those obligations on the back burner to some degree while she's president, just like a man does. This is a patent effort to soften the image of Hillary as a man in a bra. I've never been one to say Hillary is unwomanly; "womanly" encompasses a lot of things, and doesn't require either baking cookies or belittling men. Hillary Clinton would be a miserable and harmful president not because she's a woman, but because she's a liberal teetering on the edge of socialism. And having a TV drama where the female president "nurtures her family" isn't going to make the American public suddenly see Hillary as simultaneously presidential and Everymother.

No matter how many times Donald Sutherland cries on BBC.

Posted by susanna at 02:38 PM

A journalist does it right

There's lots of justifiable criticism of the media, and its coverage of Hurricane Katrina would garner a lot of it. But Media Blog at the National Review records an instance where a reporter - Brian Thevenot - and his newspaper - the Times-Picayune - made a point of correcting a major inaccuracy quickly and prominently. What's more, they did it as a part of the normal news reporting process, not tucking it into a corner of the editorial page but fitting the correct information and the reasons for the misinformation into the normal evolution of any story. It's an excellent example of the right way to do things.

The media does have a tough job, and under deadline pressure, in high intensity situations, it's easy to get things wrong. That's understandable, that's forgivable if all reasonable efforts were made in the first instance to be accurate, fair and clear. It's when journalists allow bias and arrogance to cloud their news judgment and production that it becomes a problem. Unfortunately, today's MSM evinces more of the latter than is healthy.

Posted by susanna at 01:48 PM

Muslims vs (your team here)

Mark Steyn has an excellent column about the realities of Islamism, in the wake of the second Bali murder bombing.

It's very clear that the people pushing jihad in the Muslim world are not uneducated superstitious peasants fighting anyone who disagrees with their fantasy of a god, nor are they politically naive:

...Azahari bin Husin, who police believe may be the bomb-maker behind this weekend's atrocity, completed a doctorate at England's Reading University...

Bassam Tibi, a Muslim professor at Gottingen University in Germany, said in an interesting speech a few months after September 11, "Both sides should acknowledge candidly that although they might use identical terms, these mean different things to each of them. The word peace, for example, implies to a Muslim the extension of the Dar al-Islam -- or House of Islam -- to the entire world. This is completely different from the Enlightenment concept of eternal peace that dominates Western thought. Only when the entire world is a Dar al-Islam will it be a Dar a-Salam, or House of Peace."

These are very savvy, very politically aware men with a singular goal: To subsume the world under the umbrella of Islam, by whatever means, however long it takes. And they're gaining incrementally, not least by plugging in to the dream world of the 1960s libs and their philosophical offspring. It's still an "All You Need Is Love" world in their view, where the opening premise is always that America is evil and if it only shared the wealth worldwide we'd soon all be fed, living in McMansions with solar panels and living on organic carrot smoothies, lean and loving. It is a world where murderous terrorists are really just abused children acting out against a wicked abuser, where hugs accomplish far more than bombing a nest of terrorist vipers. It is the sheep opening the gates to the wolves, willing to share their own food, not accepting that they themselves are the targets.

A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist is a danger

Another dangerous fallacy of the leftist interpretation of Islamism is that Islamic fundamentalism conflates with Christian fundamentalism. Granted, there are some small groups of so-called "Christians" who use Christianity as a cover for their murderous sicknesses. But they are not connected to the mainstream of Christianity, they are instead vocally and soundly denounced. Islamists, on the other hand, are connected to many leaders of Islamic countries, funded by foundations that feed the poor in one country and blow them to bloody shards in another, and few Muslims publicly denounce them.

There is no parallel in Christianity, but saying it often enough makes people who don't know better think maybe there is. In fact, the vast majority of Christian fundamentalists are law-abiding people who would sacrifice their own lives rather than be party to taking innocent life. In terms of doctrine, I would be among the most fundamentalist Christians you could find, in the traditional meaning of the word. I believe that the Bible is God's Word, that He caused it to be written, that it is infallible and today as accurate an expression of His Will as it was when pen first hit parchment on the first word of the first book. I believe the New Testament is the contract we are under now, that Christ ended the Old Testament contract with His death and resurrection, binding us under the new covenant. And I believe that only through obedience to the New Testament can anyone come to God in the end.

As a necessary corollary to that, I think Muslims are wasting their time following Mohammed. I would support any reasonable effort to teach them Christ. I think that this world will know true peace only to the extent that it follows Christ. I would die to advance or protect Christianity. In other words, in many ways I am the equivalent of a Muslim fundamentalist in the strength and singularity of my beliefs.

Or not

But there are significant differences: I also believe that to be acceptable to God, obedience to His will must be voluntary, a result of a free will decision based on conviction. I do not believe that I have the right to harm someone else because they disagree with my religious beliefs - in fact, I think harming someone for that reason, or harming any innocent person, is a sin that, unrepented, would send me to hell. And I do not find any evidence in Scripture that God desires His people to rule this material world politically.

The vast majority of fundamentalist Christians that I have known or known of, even those I disagree with on some basic doctrinal points, believe much as I do about the role of Christians in this political world, and in spreading the gospel. They don't want to rule the world or coerce anyone. Those who think Christians are trying to force their religious beliefs into law in this country are missing two important points: The Constitution is based on Judeo-Christian philosophy itself, and if we were really trying to make this a theocracy every drop of alcohol, every bikini and a lot of other things in the country would be history by nightfall. We're not trying to make everyone in the country follow our preferences, we're just trying to find a compromise where we aren't beaten up by the secular world's own belief system on a daily basis.

There's a lot of difference between Azahari bin Husin, fundamentalist Muslim, and Susanna Cornett, fundamentalist Christian. But if the libs and the radical Muslims can make you think we're essentially the same, it causes you to look at me and think, "Azahari's not so bad, if this is a Christian equivalent". He wouldn't be, if he was, but he's not. He's a murderer. And the world would do well to shake its fantasy and face reality.

Posted by susanna at 12:54 PM

A scientist's service to God

Rutherford Aris, scientist and servant of God - a refreshing and reassuring concept in this age.

Posted by susanna at 08:10 AM

Miers - an unknown quantity as lightning rod

White House Counsel Harriett Miers is the nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, announced this morning by President Bush. Here is a profile on her from WaPo back in June [Link via How Appealing]. I don't know much about SCOTUS qualifications, but it seems that judicial experience - Miers has none - is no guarantee of quality. The talking head on the Today show hammered her, of course, his complaints boiling down to "she's not an elite from an elite school with an elite resume of activities", so I was unimpressed with his arguments. If that's the best they can do against her, she'll sail through confirmation.

One thing to her advantage in my judgment is her history of independence. Constitutional charge notwithstanding, the Supreme Court is a highly political place, filled with jockeying for position, forming alliances and compromising. A person who hasn't dealt with that kind of hard-scrabble, high-intensity pressure could find himself or herself bending in unforeseen ways - someone like, say, an academic who has not had to be concerned about consensus or leadership. Miers has been a city councilmember, she has managed a huge law firm, she has headed up the Texas Bar Association, she has proven herself to be not only well-versed in law but capable of managing people instead of being managed. This is a good thing. Will that translate into a good SCOTUS justice? I don't know. But I think she has a good chance of doing as good or better than O'Connor.

And another advantage to her lack of judicial history is that the libs and (especially) the wing-nut leftists will have difficulty finding purchase for objections. They'll find some. But it will be patently fault-finding, with no serious foundation. Fun to watch, though. And Miers won't be intimidated by a bunch of self-important members of Congress, either.

UPDATE: John Hinderaker at Powerline is not impressed, although he agrees that the Dems will have a difficult time finding things to complain about in her record.

I really don't know if she'll do well. I don't think anyone else does either. But I see no reason to assume she'll be a mediocre member of the Court, although I also see no reason to think she'll show a sudden propensity for intense legal scholarship. It's a risk. Maybe a slew of others would have been better choices. But maybe she'll be great. Who knows? And what were the chances a known, reliably conservative current justice would have gotten through the process?

I'm not saying Bush did a great job. I'm saying, we don't know yet that he did a bad job.

UPDATE: Beldar goes farthest in helping me see solid reason behind Miers's selection. We still don't know, but his points are sound.

Posted by susanna at 07:54 AM