Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

April 29, 2005

Can you really love your neighbor as your self?

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:11 pm

Another excellent article in the Jewish World Review. This article is so compact — every word counts — that I can’t really excerpt it. But it’s on the nature of “self,” the nature of love, and how acting is both like and unlike real life. Just read the whole thing. It’s not long.

Passover, and the Divine’s silence

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:08 pm

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo has a fascinating article in Jewish World Review on the absense of overt miracles in modern times, and a comparison with their presence in biblical times. An excerpt:

When the Israelites left Egypt on their way to the land of Israel, Divine intervention was very apparent. The Ten Plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea and the many other smaller and larger miracles showed full evidence of G-d’s intervention in man’s affairs. Consequently, our general reading of those years make us believe that anyone living under such miraculous conditions would not have had any other option but to be a deeply religious person.

The foremost commentator, Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah, gives us however a totally different version of the events:

“As the result of the sin of the spies in which they spoke evil about the land of Israel, G-d no longer spoke with Moshe for 38 years” ([commentary on] Lev. 1.2)

This is a most remarkable and far-reaching observation. What we are told is that most of the time that the Israelites traveled through the desert, there was no special Divine providence. G-d did not speak to them and consequently the Israelites had to deal with the question of G-d’s interference not much differently from the way modern man does. Although the miraculous bread, manna, fell and other smaller miracles did take place, it becomes clear that these events no longer had any real effect on the religious condition of the Israelites.

After a few years, these must have just seemed “normal,” not miraculous.

True, we are told that water and food was miraculously provided. However, once G-d stopped speaking with them in the middle of the desert and they realized that this thundering silence of G-d could continue day after day, this Godly silence must have been more dreadful than anything we can imagine. This coupled with the frightening awareness that they had nothing to fall back on if G-d decided to stop providing them with water and food. Being used to revealed miracles and then suddenly overnight finding oneself in an icy absence of any divine interference, right in the middle of a desert, must have been too much to bear. G-d’s “indifference”, no doubt, created a devastating traumatic experience without precedence.

While the words of the Haggadah relate the miracles, the “empty spaces” between the words tell us of the frightening Divine silence of these very 38 years. And just as our forefathers must often have wondered what happened to G-d’s presence, during all these years, so do we. But just as they came through so must we.

The art is to hear G-d in His silence and to see His miracles in His “absence”. It is in the balance of these two facts that life takes place.

April 28, 2005

LAX Security

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:08 pm

This past weekend, I went to Southern California, and for the first time in several years I used Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) instead of Long Beach or Orange County. Soon after landing, I started seeing signs everywhere saying “LAX this” and “LAX that,” and I immediately thought it would be great if the security staff had a logo on their shirts or jackets that said “LAX SECURITY.” In fact, those windbreakers police and FBI agents sometimes where, with only the word “POLICE” or “FBI” in block letters on the back would be a great model for a novelty item — jackets that say “LAX SECURITY,” which could then be used to test how “lax” the security at LAX really is — put on a jacket, grab a walkie-talkie, and see where they let you in without asking questions….

Trouble is, security at LAX might be plently lax anyway — or at least, severely misguided, as shown by an event that occurred when I came back to the airport for my return flight. In line to go through the metal detector, I had just reached the front when a uniformed TSA security screener broke into the line, said (politely) something to the effect of “hold on, let these people through” and allowed a large group (half-dozen?) of other uniformed TSA security screeners into the line in front of me. It was a new batch of screeners, arriving to begin their shift. Some of them put some things on the x-ray conveyor belt, and they all walked through the metal detector. “What, you have to be screened?” I asked one of them. “Yes, everybody has to be screened — and if it beeps I have to be wanded just like you,” he answered.

Now if we think about this for even a moment, we should see that this is really strange, and really disturbing. The obvious implication is that from the standpoint of security, the screeners themselves are not considered “trusted” — that is, they might not only possess some hidden weapon, but would be considered a threat to security if they did. Now, this may or may not be a valid assumption, depending on how well they screen the screeners during the employment process. But either way, the implications are not good:

  • Suppose the screeners can, in fact, be trusted — but they have to go through the metal detectors to satisfy some bizarre notion of fairness to social equality. This is harmless in itself (the line was only delayed by a minute or less), but it guarantees that (a) the screeners will all be unarmed, and (b) the public — which has to see them go through otherwise they would not know how “fair” everything is — will know they are unarmed. This means that terrorists will also know the screeners are unarmed. This is fine if they are just trying to stop a retired general from traveling with his Congressional Medal of Honor. But for terrorists, it basically means that they can get through with weapons even if they are detected — what’s the screener going to do to stop them? (Call someone else to shut down the terminal? They seem to do a lot of that — but a clever terrorist could point the gun or knife at the screener who’d just detected it and say something like, “my buddy’s in line behind me with a gun watching us, and if you say a word, he’ll shoot you and run.”)
  • On the other hand, suppose the screeners cannot be trusted. In this case, screening the screeners doesn’t help.
    • First, they are trusting the screeners to screen each other, perhaps under the assumption that even if one screener is not trustworthy, the likelihood that screener being screened by another untrustworthy screener is small. This assumes, probably incorrectly, that two terrorism-inclined screeners could not arrange for one to screen the other.
    • But even if you assume that they couldn’t — or that terrorism-inclined screeners are rare enough that they chances of one being screened by a trustworthy screener are high — it doesn’t matter. Because if a screener cannot be trusted with a weapon, he can’t be trusted to keep other people with weapons out, either. In other words, if you are a terrorist “organization” with at least two members, one of you can get a job as a screener, show up to work without any suspcious items, and then let the other through the screening checkpoint with a gun in every pocket.

In other words, the mere fact that they find it necessary, or even desirable, to make the screeners walk through the metal detectors shows that the security at LAX is just lax security — if even that.

Clarification: They don’t actually have jackets that say “LAX Security.” I just thought it would be really funny if they did.

Disturbing News, Refreshing News

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:05 pm

I came back to the Internet on Tuesday from a four-day (!) hiatus, to find the following disturbing news, on the website of Laura Ingraham, the radio talk-show host:

PRAYER REQUEST FOR LAURA: You know I hate Drama Kings or Queens, but I am asking for your prayers today and for the forseeable future. On Friday afternoon, I learned that I have joined the ever-growing group of American women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. As so many breast cancer patients will tell you, it all came as a total shock. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who love me–my family, a wonderful fiance (if he thinks he’s going to get out of marrying me because of this little blib, he’s sadly mistaken!), my friends, and my church. I am absolutely blown away by how helpful and kind everyone has been–including total strangers who have experienced the same rollercoaster of emotions. The sisterhood of breast cancer survivors is inspiring. I am truly blessed. On Tuesday I will have an operation and within a few days will know more about the future. I am hopeful for a bright future and a “normal” life (well, scratch the “normal” part). Anyway, people have gone through much worse, and I know I’ll obliterate this. I am thanking you in advance for your prayers. You are my family. And remember, I’ll be back sooner than you think.

There was a corresponding — and rather upbeat — recording from Laura played on her show by the person sitting in for her, Congressman (!) J.D. Hayworth. In the recording (made by phone just before she went into the hospital for surgery) she said the cancer was not visible on a mammogram — it was picked up on physical examination during an exam by her gynecologist. She had not been to her gynecologist in three and a half years; this visit was prompted not by any symptoms, but rather by her impending marriage.

My first reaction was, of course, gosh-this-sounds-serious/I-hope-everything-turns-out-OK. My next reactions, in quick succession, were as follows:

  • How serendipitous this was — had she not been getting married now, she might never have caught it in time. (And you all know how important early detection is in determining whether cancer treatments are successful.) Sounds lucky!
  • If she had gotten engaged a year or two earlier, she might have caught the cancer a year or two earlier, and had an even better chance of successful treatment. Sounds unlucky!
  • How strange it is to be talking about whether on is “lucky” to have found breast early or later. “Lucky” is being in the 99.8% of women who will not get breat cancer this year. Better yet, “lucky” is being in the 87.5% of women who will never get it at all. (“Still pretty lucky” is being in the 97% of women who will not die of it even if they do get it.) The problem with this is, the 9.5% of women who get breast cancer and get cured will probably feel a heck of a lot more “lucky” than the 87.5% who never got it in the first place. This is really strange, but seems to be a fact of human nature. We usually feel fortunate and thankful when we have a possibly-bad thing happen that turns out to be not-so-bad (cured cancer, car accident without injury, etc.), but we rarely feel fortunate when nothing notable happens at all (no cancer, no car accident, etc.). The more I think about this, the stranger it seems. But it’s undeniably true.
  • There is something extremely refreshing about hearing that someone out there still thinks it’s important to go to a gynecologist before getting married — in this age where most people seem to have forgotten that there is any connection whatsoever between the body system gynecologists deal with, and marriage. Still, someone shouldn’t have to get cancer for us to find this out.

Yesterday (Wednesday), Laura’s website had this update:

THE POWER OF PRAYER AND LAURA UPDATE: Laura’s breast cancer surgery yesterday “couldn’t have gone better,” in the words of her surgeon Dr. Katherine Alley. Initial sentinel node testing done during surgery showed no signs of cancer involvement in the lymph nodes, and we all hope that this good news is confirmed by more in-depth tissue testing done over the next 48 hours. “The outpouring of love and concern coast-to-coast in prayer, emails, telephone calls has left me feeling more blessed than I can possibly convey,” said Laura Thursday morning from home. “I really don’t know what I did to deserve such kindness but I will gladly wrap myself in it,” she chuckled. “It’s weird but getting cancer has made me feel more blessed than I ever felt before, and I will do everything I can to return the generosity 100-fold when I am feeling a bit better.” According to Laura and her friends who were there throughout, the entire staff at the Surburban Hospital Outpatient Medical Center in Bethesda, MD was amazing. Absolutely top-notch! According to one of Laura’s friends, as she was being taken into surgery, she joked about whether the hospital was running a “two-for-one” surgery special–”a lumpectomy and a lift together–20 percent off!”

And today:

LAURA UPDATE, DAY 3: Hey everyone! I am sitting here in bed with my wireless laptop wishing I was going to be on air today (Thursday) as I planned. Oh well, the post-op was a bit more taxing than I thought (I felt great when the anesthetic hadn’t worn off!), so I’m not ready to rock and roll quite yet. I think I took a turn for the worse when in the middle of the night I turned on CNN to see Al Gore popping gasket about “extreme” judges at the moveon.hasbeens rally. Or was that Darrell Hammond from an old SNL? Anyway, it was a jolt to my system. Awaiting lab results now to see just how “angry” that breast tumor was, its “hormone receptivity,” etc. This is jargon that I hope that none of you ever have to become familiar with, but sadly 1 in 9 women in this country do! I cannot wait until I can resume our daily conversation. You all are so important to me, and I hope you know how grateful I am. Until I am back behind the mic, stay with the show–we need your support–and please keep the prayers coming. To quote Pres. Bush, “I feel comforted in the storm when people pray for me. People ask me why, and I tell them because I can feel it.”

Moral of the story: Don’t watch CNN while in post-op recovery.

April 21, 2005

Blogging hiatus

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:07 pm

Blogging here will be light to nonexistent for the rest of today and tomorrow, and definitely nonexistent Saturday through Monday (Sabbath and first two days of Passover). “See” you Tuesday or later.

Tape measure awaiting FDA approval?

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:05 pm

Medgadget has this interesting report:

Just when you thought you needed a fancy BMI calculator, new data suggests a tape measure provides plenty of insight into your health. …

In addition to gauging pre-diabetic states, the tape measure (pictured above) can be used to determine height, and the distances between objects. No word yet on when it will be available in the United States and at what stage of the FDA approval process it is at.

(Hat tip: Sneezing Po.)

April 19, 2005

New NASA Administrator Confirmed

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:59 pm

OK, so this isn’t quite a big story as the new pope, but it updates a previous post.

Dr. Michael Griffin has been confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as NASA administrator. The official NASA announcement is here. My previous comments are here. Mark R. Whittington has some interesting (and more detailed) thoughts here. And The Eternal Golden Braid has some more links here.

The New Pope

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:12 pm

It seems nearly every news source in the world is reporting the news — the new pope has been chosen, and it is (former?) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He will now be known as Pope Benedict XVI.

I’m shocked — not at the choice, but at how quickly it was made. To elect a pope, they need a two-thirds majority, which in this case means 77 of the 115 cardinals in attendence. With no predetermined list of candidates, they got the two-thirds majority on the fourth or fifth vote. (They had one vote yesterday, after which they announced the non-election by black smoke. After that, they were to have two votes each morning and afternoon, but only have the smoke-announcement once each morning and afternoon. The announcement was this afternoon, which means he was elected on the fourth or fifth vote.)

I think that’s pretty amazing. I’m not old enough to remember details of past papal elections, but I have the impression they normally take longer. Reuters reports that this is this is “only the third time in a century that a pope had been chosen on the second day of a conclave” — but according to this list there have been only eight conclaves in that century.

Despite all the “controversy” that the secular press reports about the Catholic Church, there must have been an amazing degree of unity to make a selection so quickly, especially with no pre-set list of candidates. Of course, the media immediately proceeded to get this
wrong, too.

  • Reuters headline: “Controversial German Cardinal Elected Pope.”
      How controversial could he be to get a two-thirds vote so quickly?
  • New York Times: “His well-known stands include the assertion that Catholicism is the ‘truth’ and other religions are ‘deficient.’”
      I mean, really — if he’s a Catholic, then by definition doesn’t he believe those things? Doesn’t everyone believe their own religion is the “truth”? And if he didn’t believe that other religions were “deficient” — say, in the ways in which they disagree with Catholicism, wouldn’t he go join one of them?
  • Los Angeles Times: “Ratzinger is a divisive figure, and many cardinals are uncomfortable with his orthodoxy.”
      Obviously not that many are too uncomfortable.

And even some Catholics got it wrong:

The Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame, said [prior to the election] Ratzinger’s homily [immediately prior to the conclave] indicated that he believes the pope’s role is to “protect the sheep from the prowling wolves of unorthodoxy and relativism. He wants to defend the fact that truth is absolute and the church must speak the truth and be faithful to it.”

McBrien added, “If Cardinal Ratzinger were really campaigning for pope, he would have given a far more conciliatory homily designed to appeal to the moderates as well as to the hard-liners among the cardinals.”

“I think this homily shows he realizes he’s not going to be elected. He’s too much of a polarizing figure,” McBrien said. “If he were elected, thousands upon thousands of Catholics in Europe and the United States would roll their eyes and retreat to the margins of the church.”

Then there is the age issue. The new pope just turned 78 this past Saturday (nice birthday present, eh?), which means he is only five and a half years younger than the late pope. If he were to serve as pope for the same length of time as John Paul II, he would be 104 years old at the end. There were several rather morbid interpretations of this fact, such as this one from the Associated Press:

Ratzinger turned 78 on Saturday. His age clearly was a factor among cardinals who favored a “transitional” pope who could skillfully lead the church as it absorbs John Paul II’s legacy, rather than a younger cardinal who could wind up with another long pontificate.

However, (later in the same article)

Pope John XXIII was 77 when he was elected pope in 1958 and viewed as a transitional figure, but he called the Second Vatican Council that revolutionized the church from within and opened up its dialogue with non-Catholics.

And there was this over at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, quoting an e-mail from one of Andrew’s readers:

The guy’s 78 years old. I give this papacy 3-5 years tops, given that guys like him don’t exactly jog 3 miles a day and stick to a low cholesterol diet. His election was for a classic “stay the course” place-holder to give the church a few years to take stock of where it wants to go in the long term.

And Wikipedia, the free, online, anyone-can-enter-anything-in-there encyclopedia already (as I write this, Tuesday evening) has him on the List of 10 shortest-reigning popes:

This is a list of the 10 shortest-reigning popes.

1. Benedict XVI (19 April 2005–): reigned, so far, under 1 day
2. Urban VII (September 15 – September 27, 1590): reigned for 13 calendar days
3. Boniface VI (April, 896): reigned for 16 calendar days

(I’m sure that page will be updated tomorrow, at least; and perhaps every day until he drops off the list, assuming he lives until May 23, when he will have been pope longer than John Paul I.)

The guy has not even been pope for six hours, and they are already starting the death watch … sick.

And the sad thing is, if they keep repeating that prediction enough, it will eventually come true.

Other stuff:

Interesting article here. Professor Bainbridge responds directly — very directly — to Andrew Sullivan here. Hyscience has a biography and quotes from the new pope. And, other bloggers comment: Glittering Eye, Tim Blair, Michelle Malkin, Thrown Back, PowerLine, Hugh Hewitt, Jane Galt, Professor Bainbridge, Captain’s Quarters, Brendan Loy, and Catholicity.

April 18, 2005

Secret Service protecting expectant duck

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:33 pm

From here.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Security is tight in front of the White House for a new resident — a Mallard hen sitting on nine eggs she laid at the foot of a sapling over the weekend.

The mother duck chose for her nest a fresh heap of mulch on the sidewalk outside the heavily guarded entrance of the Treasury Department, next door to the presidential residence.

Secret Service officers have erected metal stanchions around the tree to shield the incubating bird from passersby on the crowded pedestrian plaza in the heart of the U.S. capital.

The Pennsylvania Avenue fowl’s reputation has grown, and it was featured on a national morning television show on Friday.

“I’m getting more calls on this than on the Chinese currency,” Treasury spokesman Rob Nichols said.

Treasury staff have dubbed the bird “T-bill”, “Duck Cheney”, and “Quacks Reform”, Nichols said.

Treasury Secretary John Snow, who “had been briefed on the duck”, paused to pay it a visit after testifying before Congress on Thursday, the spokesman added.

The mallard chicks are expected to hatch at the end of the month.

UPDATE: The ducks hatched on April 30. On May 1, government biologists captured them, and the Secret Service took them to Rock Creek Park, where we hope they will be very happy. It is not known whether the stay at the Treasury Department gave Mrs. Duck the idea to invest in T-Bills….

Michael Moore for Pope?

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:06 am

The following is the latest “update” posted on Michael Moore’s website:


How’s it going? Ready for the next step?

Let me know what you’ve been up to and any ideas you have about what our next move should be (write me at the addresses below).

Meanwhile, I’ll be in conclave this week handing out goodie bags and running for pope. Wish me well!


Michael Moore

Well, that’s no less true than anything else Michael Moore says…

Gun Safety in the Schools

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:32 am

My one-time (college freshman year) roommate is one of the smartest, most out-of-the-box thinkers I know. We used to (and sometimes still) talk about all sorts of things, and one of the things we talked about 17 years ago (egads!) was anything and everything about airlines and politics. He once called up SaudiArabian Airlines and asked for a flight to Israel, just for kicks. When told they don’t have flights to Israel (of course), he said, “But it is there, right?” The guy on the other end of the phone said “Yes,” and my friend then told him that since the airline was owned by the Saudi government, and he was therefore an employee of the Saudi government that he — and therefore the Saudi government — had just rec0gnized the existience of the State of Israel. It was one of those moments when you wished you had a videophone to see the look on the guy’s face.

He also had another brilliant idea: we could end all airline hijackings, if we would hand every passenger a gun as he or she got on the plane. “But,” I said, “most people don’t know how to use guns these days.” Even if only a few people need to be able to shoot straight to deter terrorists, people are so ignorant about guns these days that they’ll shoot them by mistake even when there are no hijackers.

“Well, people would have to learn, then,” he said.

“But it would have to be everybody! You’d have to totally re-organize society.” I said.

“Yes, everybody would have to learn,” he said.

“You mean like, have a course for everybody in high school, like driver’s ed?”

“Yes, like that!” he beamed. I’d solved his problem.

Lots of things have changed since 1988. For one things, 35 of the 50 states have passed laws that allow essentially any non-felon to carry a concealed handgun. And, like so many things I thought in 1988 that would never happen in my lifetime — from the fall of the Berlin Wall on down — we might someday see this, too.

Marksmanship for High School Diploma Enacted

[Arizona] Governor Signs Bill, Teaches Actual Gun Safety

A gun-safety bill for children breaks new ground. Worth one credit toward a high school diploma, the course requires Arizona students to safely discharge a firearm at a target to pass. American high schools used to have firing ranges in the basement, but the tradition began fading in the late 1960s. Gun-rights proponents believe that training and education leads to increased safety and responsible behavior.

The bill’s designers, concerned that “gun safety” could be turned into “gun avoidance” by gun-control politics, included statutory rules like the “shoot safely” requirement, to prevent unintended change. Other requirements include: Instruction on the role of firearms in preserving peace and freedom; the constitutional roots of the right to keep and bear arms; the history of firearms and marksmanship; the basic operation of firearms; practice time at a shooting range, and more.

The Arizona Game and Fish Dept. (AGFD), specified by law as the course instructors, are discussing the specifics of the curriculum. AGFD has currently trained more than 18,000 school students in archery, a shooting sport, and are pleased with the final version of the bill, which they supported.

The law began as an idea and rough draft from Bloomfield Press publisher Alan Korwin, who asked, “Why don’t we make marksmanship a requirement for a high school diploma? We know many kids get no gun-safety training, and marksmanship teaches responsibility, improves concentration, and affects national preparedness.” Because a required course would have budget implications and likely sink the bill, State Senator Karen Johnson introduced the class as an elective. It sailed through the Senate unanimously, and through the House by a veto-proof nearly three-to-one margin. Governor Janet Napolitano signed it into law on April 11 (the text follows [See here]).

One television reporter, obviously nervous about providing such education, asked, “Don’t you think kids will rush to line up just so they can get a chance to go shooting?” Without hesitating Korwin replied, “If it’s that popular, and kids get all that safety training and experience, that would be a good thing.”

April 17, 2005

Liberals for tax cuts for the rich?

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:28 pm

This is pretty amazing — one of those things that “everyone knows” is that conservatives are in favor of tax cuts and liberals are against them. And if not all liberals are against tax cuts, then they are at least against “tax cut for the rich,” right?

Well, not necessarily — or perhaps, not anymore. There is this thing in the U.S. tax code called the “alternative minimum tax,” known, perhaps not so affectionately, as the AMT. The idea behind the AMT is that if a high-income person takes “too many” deductions — say, makes “too many” contributions to charity, or invests “too much” in tax shelters like Eskimo fisheries, or has “too many” personal exemptions (read: too many children) — that high-income person does not ending up “too little” tax. It started like this:

In the waning days of the LBJ Presidency, Joseph Barr became Treasury Secretary for all of 30 days on a recess appointment. On January 19, 1969, he created a political sensation by telling the Joint Economic Committee that in 1967, 21 millionaires had managed to pay no income tax at all. This was deemed an outrage, and Congress spent the next decade designing federal tax policy in Quixote-like pursuit of those 21 millionaires.

Now, of course, it turns out that this affects a lot more than 21 people, and it affects mostly of people who aren’t millionaires. (I can’t find it online right now, but I recall reading about five years ago in Forbes about a family with middle-class income who got hit with AMT because they had eight kids — i.e., “too many” deductions relative to income.)
And, the AMT was not affected by the “Bush tax cuts” of 2001 and 2003. Better yet, there is this interesting anomaly:

Especially, er, rich, is the fact that the AMT is biting hardest in the most liberal, high-tax states. That’s because the AMT doesn’t allow deductions for state and local taxes the way the regular code does. So middle-class taxpayers in New York, California and other states with high income-tax rates are getting hit sooner than people in, say, Florida or Wyoming. It is the ultimate blue-state tax.

This helps to explain why people who normally thrill to higher tax rates are suddenly up in arms. Liberal newspapers are now denouncing the AMT as a “tax increase” and blaming the White House for not doing more to stop it. “The AMT needs to be fixed,” moans Senator Barbara Boxer’s spokesman, in what has to be a tax-reform first. “We need to address the AMT, which is trickling down to catch more and more middle-class families in New York,” says Empire State Senator Chuck Schumer, another Saul on the road to Tarrytown.

So, Barbara Boxer and Charles Schumer, who lead the fight against the Bush tax cuts (for those of us with below-AMT incomes), are now in favor of tax cuts for people with above-AMT incomes. If Bush were proposing the same thing, you can bet that those same people would be screaming about “tax cuts for the rich” and “turning back the clock” to those unenlightned days before LBJ when millionaires paid no taxes.

The irony is delicious.

And by the way, if Democrats represent the poor and Republicans represent the rich, why is it that high-income states like New York (Manhatten) and California (Hollywood) have (liberal) high tax rates, and are represented by liberals like Barbara Boxer and Charles Schumer? While poorer states like Alabama and Idaho are represented by Republicans? Just asking…

April 14, 2005

“Be Consistent”

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:23 pm

Today and yesterday I have been dealing with a situation very much like this one:

The Monkey Cage

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs underneath it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After awhile, another monkey makes the attempt with the same result – all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace that monkey with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and another attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another one of the original monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. the previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.

Everytime the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they are not permitted to climb the stairs or why or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. After replacing all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

Why not?

Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how policy begins.

In the original, it said “company policy,” but in this case it’s not company policy. Everyone involved at my company knows we’re doing this particular thing the wrong way — they are just under the impression that we have to do it the same wrong way as it’s been done before, because that’s what are (government agency) client wants. The motto is, “We have decided that consistency is more important than accuracy.” In other words “We have to do it the same wrong way as it was done before.”

Which may be true, for all I know. But it’s still the wrong way.

April 13, 2005

Doctors Without Conscience

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:30 pm

The current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine has what is, for that journal, a rather unusual article — an article by Elie Wiesel (PDF version) about doctors under the Nazi regime.

I wonder if the timing of the article is significant.

In any case, Wiesel writes better than I do, so here are some key excerpts:

This is one of those stories that invite fear.

Now we know. During the period of the past century that I call Night, medicine was practiced in certain places not to heal but to harm, not to fight off death but to serve it.

In the conflict between Good and Evil during the Second World War, the infamous Nazi doctors played a crucial role. They preceded the torturers and assassins in the science of organized cruelty that we call the Holocaust. There is a Talmudic adage, quite disturbing, that applies to them: Tov she-barofim le-gehinom — “The best doctors are destined for hell.” The Nazi doctors made hell.

Inspired by Nazi ideology and implemented by its apostles, eugenics and euthanasia in the late 1930s and early 1940s served no social necessity and had no scientific justification. Like a poison, they ultimately contaminated all intellectual activity in Germany. But the doctors were the precursors. How can we explain their betrayal? What made them forget or eclipse the Hippocratic Oath? What gagged their conscience? What happened to their humanity?

We know the facts. The motives as well. One day, Hitler and Himmler’s health minister made it known to leaders in the medical field that, according to a secret decision made at the highest level, it was necessary to get rid of “useless mouths” — the insane, the terminally ill, children, and elderly people who were condemned to misfortune by nature and to suffering and fear by God. Few in the German medical profession believed it worthy or good to refuse.

Thus, instead of doing their job, instead of bringing assistance and comfort to the sick people who needed them most, instead of helping the mutilated and the handicapped to live, eat, and hope one more day, one more hour, doctors became their executioners.

Where have we heard this before? In the news of the past month or two, perhaps?

In October 1939, several weeks after the beginning of hostilities, Hitler gave the first order concerning the Gnadentod, or “charitable death.” On the 15th of that month, gas was used for the first time to kill “patients” in Poznán, Poland. But similar centers had already been created in Germany three years earlier. Now, psychiatrists and other doctors collaborated in a professional atmosphere exemplary for its camaraderie and efficiency. In less than two years, 70,000 sick people disappeared into the gas chambers. The Gnadentod program was going so well that the head of the Wehrmacht Hospital psychiatric ward, Professor Wurth, worried, “With all the mentally ill being eliminated, who will want to pursue studies in the burgeoning field of psychiatry?” The program was interrupted only when the bishop of Münster, Clemens August Graf von Galen, had the courage to denounce it from his cathedral’s pulpit; protest, in other words, came not from the medical profession, but from the church. Finally, public opinion was moved: too many German families were directly affected.

Now, sometimes the families are complicit — and when religious figures denounce euthenasia, they are told that it’s unconstitutional to consider their opinions. No, they must not “impose their views” on the euthenizers, who must be free to impose their views on those deemed to have insufficient “quality of life.”

Like the fanatical German theorists, Nazi doctors did their work without any crisis of conscience. They were convinced that by helping Hitler to realize his racial ambitions, they were contributing to the salvation of humanity. The eminent Nazi doctor responsible for “ethical” questions, Rudolf Ramm, did not hesitate to declare that “only an honest and moral person may become a good doctor.”

Now every American hospital has an “ethics committee.” Isn’t that reassuring?

Did I meet other doctors? In my barracks at Buna, some of them supervised the division of those permitted to live from those who were to die. I have described elsewhere the silence that preceded this event: it filled our being. We were afraid to look at one another. As on Yom Kippur evening, I had the feeling that the dead were mixed with the living. As for the doctors, I knew not who they were and have forgotten their faces.

Over the succeeding years, as I studied documents and archives about the Final Solution, I became familiar with the dominant role played by Nazi medicine and science. They were integral to the concentration-camp system and were as guilty as the various branches of Hitler’s armed services and police force of the monstrous crimes committed in occupied Europe out of hatred for the Jews and other so-called inferior races and groups. Yet after Germany’s defeat, with rare exceptions, criminal doctors calmly returned home to resume normal practices and ordinary life. No one bothered them at home, nothing threatened them. Only on the occasion of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem did German justice suddenly remember their crimes. The police found their addresses in telephone books.

Why hide, if you did nothing (recognized as) wrong?

But if an Eichmann shocks us, a Mengele revolts us. Eichmann was a rather ordinary low-life, without education or culture, whereas Mengele spent a number of years at a university. The existence of an Eichmann casts doubt on the nature and mentality of the German people, but the possibility of a Mengele throws into question the very basis of German education and culture. If the former represents Evil at a bureaucratic level, the latter embodies Evil at an intellectual level.

There is actually a quite simple explanation for this. (It’s a maxim of mine, and I should someday write a full-length essay on it.) That is: Academic education makes one an “educated person,” which is not the same as a “good person.” Academic education is not moral education; that is, it does not provide any morality whatsoever.

Of course, the environment in which academic education is delivered can provide moral education, but that can go either way. My daughter attends an Orthodox Jewish school, where students are explicitly taught, and rewarded for, good behavior in their interactions with each other and with teachers. This is in addition to, and distinct from, their learning of reading, mathematics, and other subjects (though not entirely distinct from their learning of religious subjects). On the other hand, it can be argued that the modern American (at least) university provides an environment which is actively detrimental to the moral development of students.

In any case, the environment is separate from the curriculum. There is absolutely no reason to believe that learning mathematics, or engineering, or biology, or medicine will protect someone from becoming a murderer or a thief or a racist. We don’t even need to look to the Nazis to see this; just look at the financial scandals and sexual harassment scandals at our to universities. There is no evidence education makes people moral, and the fact that people continue to believe it in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is completely mystifying.

Eichmann denied having been anti-Semitic and pleaded not guilty: he was only following orders. But the Nazi doctors? None among them acted under duress — neither those who presided over the nocturnal division of new arrivals, nor those who killed the prisoners in their laboratories. They could have slipped away; they could have said no. Until the end, they considered themselves public servants loyal to German politics and science. In other words, patriots, devoted researchers. Without too great a stretch, maybe even societal benefactors. Martyrs.

No doubt some of them did slip away, or say no. Which makes the guilt of those who remained, and thought themselves heros, even less excusable.

Must one conclude that, since a humane science exists, there was also a science that wasn’t humane? I won’t even consider racist theorists who tried to treat racism as an exact science. Their vulgar stupidity deserves nothing but disdain. But there were excellent physicians, well-informed chemists, and great surgeons — all racist. How could they seek truth and happiness for human beings at the same time that they hated some of them solely because they belonged to human communities other than their own?

Science is neither good nor evil. It can be, and has been, used for either.

One of the brutal shocks of my adult life came the day I discovered that many of the officers of the Einsatzgruppen — the death commandos in Eastern Europe — had received degrees from Germany’s best universities. Some held doctorates in literature, others in philosophy, theology, or history. They had spent many years studying, learning the lessons of past generations, yet nothing kept them from killing Jewish children at Babi Yar, in Minsk, Ponàr. Their education provided them with no shield, no shelter from the temptation and seduction of cruelty that people may carry within. Why? This question still haunts me.

Why would you think that a doctoral degree would teach one not to be a murderer? The questions haunts Wiesel, but I don’t even understand it. What is there in a doctoral program in literature that teaches one right from wrong? Theology, maybe — but look what they teach in the madrasses. That’s theology, too.

Yet inside the concentration camps, among the prisoners, medicine remained a noble profession. More or less everywhere, doctors without instruments or medications tried desperately to relieve the suffering and misfortune of their fellow prisoners, sometimes at the price of their own health or their own lives. I knew several such doctors. For them, each human being represented not an abstract idea but a universe with its secrets, its treasures, its sources of anguish, and its poor possibilities for victory, however fleeting, over Death and its disciples. In an inhumane universe, they had remained humane.

When I think about the Nazi doctors, the medical executioners, I lose hope. To find it again, I think about the others, the victim-doctors; I see again their burning gazes, their ashen faces.

Why did some know how to bring honor to humankind, while others renounced humankind with hatred? It is a question of choice. A choice that even now belongs to us — to uniformed soldiers, but even more so to doctors. The killers could have decided not to kill.

Yet these horrors of medical perversion continued beyond Auschwitz. Traces may be found, for example, in the hellish Stalin and post-Stalin eras. Communist doctors betrayed their brethren. Psychiatrists collaborated with the secret police to torture prisoners.

I hope every doctor who reads this article in the New England Journal of Medicine thinks about the questions it raises in light of the increasing acceptance — indeed, advocacy — in the medical profession for euthenasia of the young, the old, and the disabled.

It might be a good thing if some judges read it, too.

Romeo and Juliet

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:51 pm

Life imitates art, which was probably imitating life in the first place.

Family feud erupts after teens date; 6 wounded

Monday, April 11, 2005 Posted: 12:35 PM EDT (1635 GMT)

CRESCENT CITY, Florida (AP) — Members of neighboring families shot at each other, wounding six people, as part of a long-running feud that victims said peaked when a girl from one family began dating a boy from the other one.

Jewish Calendar Trivia

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:14 pm

For those of you who find the rules of the papal election not complicated enough, get a load of this.

Highlights, compiled by the author:

How is this year different from all other years?
?מה-נשתנית השנה הזאת מכל-השנים

Since Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat, we have a record 32 consecutive days of no Tachanun, as well as 9 or 10 consecutive Shabbatot without Av HaRachamim (see Section M).

Unique to the “hei-chet-aleph” (החא) year-type, we have no “double parashiyyot” the whole year (even outside of Israel), and we read Acharei Mot on Shabbat Haggadol-Erev Pesach – these events have not happened since 24 years ago (see Section O).

The Jewish holidays and calendar dates fall later in the solar year this year than they do in all other years of the 19-year cycle (see Section Q).

The coming Rosh HaShana (5766) will be the last time before the year 6000 that the rare “dechiyyat BeTU-TaKPaT” (בטו תקפט) occurs, postponing Rosh HaShana from Monday to Tuesday (see Section W).

If you are not Jewish — and maybe even if you are — this will not make a whole lot of sense to you. But I think it’s really cool. For example, I’m trying to think of some lesson to draw from Parshat Acharei Mot coming on Erev Pesach… ;-)

If you are interested — or even if you are not — there is much, much more!

Please Litter! Support Your Groundskeeper!

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:12 pm

Quite often, conservatives claim that some policy advocated by liberals “hurts the very people it’s intended to help.” This is a common claim about minimum wage laws, affirmative action, welfare, and so on. It’s often arguable, but in this one particular case, it’s undeniable.

Professor Bainbridge (UCLA Law School) reports that students are supporting a strike by UCLA groundskeepers with a demonstration, and they are publicizing that demonstration by plastering flyers on the walkways, which those same groundskeepers will have to get down on their knees and clean up, instead of (a) do nothing, or (b) sweep them up while standing or riding a Turf-Vac, like they do with normal litter.

A group of UCLA students plan a student strike tomorrow in support of a one-day strike by UCLA service workers, whose union includes custodians and groundskeepers …

In their zeal, the students have plastered these posters on sidewalks all over campus; e.g., in the sculpture garden …

You will have spotted the irony, of course: the groundskeepers the kids purport to be supporting are the very people who will have to get these glued-down posters off the sidewalks. …

Most of the kids probably don’t have limos yet, since in this town kids with limos tend to go to USC, but they certainly have got the whole limousine liberal mentality down pat.

He also has pictures.

(Hat tip: Eugene Volokh.)

Vatican Security Challenges

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:30 pm

Natasha Bita of The Australian reports on the security arangements for the conclave to determine the next Pope:

Security specialists are sweeping the Vatican for bugs and installing jamming devices to stop any errant cardinals using their mobile phones in the lead-up to next week’s secret papal vote.

Wary of secret service agents, nosey journalists and even greedy gamblers spying on the conclave’s deliberations, the Vatican has hired espionage experts to inspect the Sistine Chapel for hidden microphones and spy cameras.

The security squad will rip open cushions, scrutinise carpets, inspect ventilation shafts and check that pipes, electrical wiring and lights are where they are supposed to be, La Repubblica newspaper reported yesterday.

It said the security experts were worried about laser microphones that can eavesdrop on conversations 400m away by recording vibrations on the windows of the Sistine Chapel.

The 115 cardinals who gather in the chapel on Monday to elect a new leader for the world’s 1.1billion Catholics will be asked to surrender their mobile phones, tape recorders and electronic organisers at the door.

All of this makes sense, in a sense, if they really want to keep the meeting secret, which they obviously do. Of course, there is one really odd contradiction, leading to one (possible) vulnerability, of which there seems to be at least one in every security arrangement these days:

The cardinals will be frisked by guards supervised by the papal chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo of Spain.

La Stampa newspaper reported that the Vatican would use US technology to jam GSM, dual and tri-band mobile phones with an electromagnetic “wall” covering the cardinals’ hotel-style residence of St Martha’s — built between 1992 and 1996 with the succession process in mind — the Sistine Chapel and the 1km road linking them.

And as a cone of silence drops over the Vatican, voting cardinals will be denied access to newspapers, radio and television, while steps will be taken to stop them having chance encounters with cleaning staff.

So, it seems that somebody does not entirely trust the Cardinals not to hide a mobile phone from the guards and then use it anyway. Putting aside any theological issues, keep this in mind for the next point:

The late Pope John Paul II, worried that media analysis of papal candidates would threaten cardinals’ “independent judgment” in the lead-up to their vote, imposed the ban by changing the church constitution in 1996. It bars the use of any technology that can be used to record or transmit voices, images or writin

Apart from the cardinals, the constitution permits within the conclave precinct only enough priests to take confession in any language, two doctors, cleaners and catering staff, and two trusted technicians to sweep for electronic bugs.

Now, I’m not a Catholic, so forgive me if any of this is based on some misunderstanding about Catholic rules, but I see a glaring contradiction here. Suppose we assume that confessions are supposed to be confidential (that’s one of the rules, right?) and that conclave deliberations are supposed to be confidential (that’s clear from the article). In order for this to work, the priests who take confession from the Cardinals have to be completely trusted not to reveal what they say, right? They also have to be trusted not to use the confession as an opportunity to influence the Cardinal who’s confessing, nor to use the confession as an opportunity to pass information between the outside world and the conclave. However, for some reason the Cardinals are obviously not completely trusted not to bring a cell phone into the conclave grounds — and use it — in violation of the rules.

Hence, the contradiction: Why is it that the priests are trusted, but the Cardinals are not trusted?

Are the priests going to be sequestered also? Even if they are, they might still be able to use their position to influence the Cardinals, and if I understand things correctly, no one is supposed to influence them during the conclave. (Catholics, help me out here: is there a reason why the Cardinals can’t just confess before and after the conclave?)

(By the way, it’s probably a good idea to ban cell phones from the premises, even if they trust the Cardinals not to use them. Why? It’s possible that some nefarious person could hide a bug in some Cardinal’s cell phone and eavesdrop on the proceedings. However, this would not require frisking and all that.)

There may also be the problem of making sure no one manages to kidnap a Cardinal and replace him with an imposter who’s not a Cardinal. These guys are from all over the world, and don’t meet together all that often. I wonder how they verify that the person who was recently appointed (and less personally-known to the others) is who he says he is.

Take 2: Remember when the Democrats were against the “Politics of personal destruction”?

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:15 pm

This is very nearly a repeat of this post from yesterday. Apparently, this “illness” is catching.
Kill Bush T-shirt
Remember a few years ago when the Democrats were ranting about accusing their opponents of practicing the “politics of personal destruction”? Bill Clinton used the phrase after his impeachment, Hillary Clinton used it in her book, Richard Gephardt used it, and I think Gore did too but I can’t find a reference offhand.

Yet, now you can buy a T-shirt that seems to imply the Democrats have changed positions on this, and now favor the politics of personal destruction. Yesterday, it was personal self-destruction. Today, it’s assassination.

Note that it is a federal crime to mail this T-shirt, because it is a federal crime to mail anything containing a threat to the president:

United States Code

Section 871. Threats against President and successors to the Presidency

(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

(b) The terms ”President-elect” and ”Vice President-elect” as used in this section shall mean such persons as are the apparent successful candidates for the offices of President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained from the results of the general elections held to determine the electors of President and Vice President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 1 and 2. The phrase ”other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President” as used in this section shall mean the person next in the order of succession to act as President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 19 and 20.

Anyone want to bet that no one will be prosecuted for this? Or that there would have been a huge outcry had Republicans sold a “Kill Clinton” T-shirt in 1997?

(Disclaimer: I provide the link to the T-shirt site not because I think you should buy the T-shirt, but so you believe me that it’s for sale.)

(Hat tip: Drudge Report.)

UPDATE (12:35pm): The product seems to have been removed from the web site very recently. Note, by the way, that the website is run by CafePress. This is a company that makes T-shirts and other memorabilia with any design supplied by basically anyone. Basically, you upload your graphic file to their web site, let them take the orders, make the T-shirts (or tote bags, or whatever) and send you a portion of the proceeds. I imagine what happened in both this case and the other one yesterday is that some enterprising Democrat made a graphic file on a computer, uploaded it to the CafePress site, and clicked all the right things to set up the shirts for sale. My guess is no human at CafePress ever saw the design until it showed up on Matt Drudge’s site.

April 12, 2005

Cookie Monster needs your help

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:19 pm

Cookie Monster’s PR agent (who is a real person) at Sesame Street, informed me (through an intermediary) that Cookie (his first name) is up for “person of the day,” against Bill Clinton, on CNN’s show “Paula Zahn Now” (or is that “Paul Lazanow”?). So if you think Cookie should be person of the day, please vote here. (If you click this link after today, April 12, they may be on to the next poll.)

UPDATE 4/13/05 2:40pm: Cookie Monster won the poll. Thank you for stuffing the ballot box voting.

And now, a serious comment about a seemingly whimsical event.

This is, of course, prompted by the publicity surrounding Mr. Monster’s new diet — that is, they are taking away Cookie Monster’s cookies!

As Chelsea J. Carter writes via The Associated Press:

First PBS announced that “Sesame Street” would kick off its 36th season this week with a multiyear story arc about healthy habits. No problem there; childhood obesity rates are soaring. Then I learned of changes that turned my “Sesame Street” world upside-down.

My beloved blue, furry monster — who sang “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me” — is now advocating eating healthy. There’s even a new song — “A Cookie Is a Sometimes Food,” where Cookie Monster learns there are “anytime” foods and “sometimes” foods.

“Sacrilege!” I cried. “That’s akin to Oscar the Grouch being nice and clean.” (Co-workers gave me strange looks. But I didn’t care.)

Being a journalist, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I investigated why “Sesame Street” gave Cookie Monster a health makeover.

(Despite?) not being a journalist, I was able to find that press release, too. It says, in part:

Sesame Street’s newest curriculum is part of a larger Sesame Workshop company-wide initiative, “Healthy Habits for Life,” created in response to the growing crisis of childhood obesity among children. The preschool years are a crucial time in children’s lives to foster healthy habits. Recent data reflect both the immediate and long-term consequences of poor dietary behaviors. Tackling the critical issues of health and well being, Sesame Workshop continues to set the benchmark in educational television with Sesame Street storylines that guide preschoolers and their caregivers through lessons related to healthy eating, the importance of active play and other key activities such as hygiene and rest.

Along with the “Healthy Moments,” the new season will feature all-new Muppet “street” scenes, new animations and original live-action films that all tout activities and behaviors that are good for you. Storylines include: “The Healthy Foods Name Game,” hosted by Mr. Healthy Foods, Elmo must find four healthy foods of various colors on Sesame Street before the mouse can climb to the top of the refrigerator; and “American Fruit Stand,” Sesame’s take on the 50s variety series that features a singing Miles rhapsodizing about the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables. Other segments include a song entitled, “A Cookie is a Sometimes Food,” where Hoots the Owl explains that there are anytime foods and sometimes foods: cookies are foods that you can eat sometimes, but fruits are delicious and healthy anytime! Additionally, every other show will feature a “Health Module;” a cluster of four segments related to health, exercise and nutrition.

Now, I’ll bet if they looked through the archives over at the Children’s Television Workshop, they’d find that whoever thought up the character of Cookie Monster 36 years ago had in mind precisely the same thing: to show that “cookies are foods that you can eat sometimes,” by creating a character who eats them to excess, and making that character an object of laughter.

In other words, it’s no new discovery that that eating too many cookies is not healthy, or that kids (and other people) like to eat cookies, and left unconstrained by parents or nutritional knowledge would eat too many cookies. They knew this in 1968 when they were designing Sesame Street. The original behavior of Cookie Monster was not some evil corporate conspiracy to get kids to eat more cookies — it was to get them to eat moderately by making gluttony look ridiculous.

Now, of course, we live in an era in which thje entertainment and educational elites believe in a “politically correctness” dictates that we not mention anything that’s bad. They have to pretend it doesn’t exist, in the hope that that will make it go away. They don’t want kids eating too many cookies, so they can’t have a character who eats too many cookies. They assume kids are too dumb to see, instinctively, parody for what it is — but not too dumb to know when they’re being nagged about what they eat. As a result, they can parody no one — except themselves, unintentionally.

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