Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pi Eyed

Does the Bible claim that pi is 3?

I Kings 7:23 states the following:

"The sea was then cast; it was made with a circular rim, and measured ten cubits across, five in height, and thirty in circumference."

Apparently, critics of the Bible and any claims to its infallibility love using this passage. They point out that these proportions imply pi equals 3, when its value (according to Wikipedia) is really closer to 3.14159. That is, if the width were really ten cubits, the circumference should be, not thirty cubits. but closer to 31.4159 cubits.

None of these critics are more gleeful than Jason, the proprietor of Follow the link for his detailed analysis, but here's what caught my eye:

"Now, as it happens I don't think it is unreasonable to conclude that the writers were simply giving round, ballpark numbers. But I'm not the one claiming that every word in the Bible is divinely inspired and infallible. Please don't tell me that on the one hand the Bible is reliable in everything it says, but on the other I have to first learn math and science from some independent source before I can know how to interpret it properly.

"There is no reason, outside independent knowledge that pi, in fact, is not three, to interpret those measurements as approximations. And even if you do interpret them as approximations, you're still left with the fact that the plain meaning of the Biblical text can lead you astray on matters of math and science."

This breathless passage sent me back to check the words of the passage again. Here's what I don't see:

"The sea was then cast; it was made with a very precisely circular rim, and measured 10.00 cubits across, 5.00 in height, and 30.00 in circumference."

If this were how the passage was presented in the Bible, I think Jason might have had a point. However, the Biblical passage does not seem to be pretending to a high degree of precision -- ten, five, and thirty seem like nice round numbers. Nor do we know how perfectly circular the "circular rim" was. We often describe the earth as a sphere, but in fact it is an oblate spheroid -- does that mean that if you use the term sphere, you're being fallible?

No, you're being imprecise. It seems clear that Jason is conflating imprecision with fallibility.

  • Pi does equal 3, if you're rounding to the nearest integer.
  • Pi equals 3.1, if you're rounding to the nearest tenth.
  • Pi equals 3.14, if you're rounding to the nearest hundredth.

And so on. You can carry this out to as many decimal places as you like, but there is some specification at which pi will always be an approximation. Wikipedia carries it out to five decimal places, and still characterizes that as an "approximation". Pi generally equals 3.14 in grade school math, but NASA would probably require a little more precision. A shepherd culture, circa 800 B.C., might be forgiven a little imprecision.

Postscript: There is an excellent discussion from a physics web page of the concept of significant digits. The basic rule is that no calculation can be considered as more precise than the least precise number used to calculate it. The numbers given in I Kings 7:23 -- "five", "ten", "thirty" -- each contain only one significant digit. Therefore, even if we were to assume pi = 3.14, then (3.14)(10) = 30, because the operand 10 has only one significant digit.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sinking Sand

I remember my first Sunday school class very well. I must have been very young, because I distinctly remember a girl sitting next to me who told me she was six years old. I thought, "Wow! She's old!" I can still remember the songs they taught me, most notably the one that goes like this:

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

Children's song or not, this is a message of theological importance. There is no greater peace than the peace Jesus gives. It explains how men like Paul and Peter could be contented even in the very worst of circumstances, while others cannot be consoled no matter how well things are going their way. When our lives are not centered on Christ, we flail and flounder around for something that seems solid, permanent, dependable. Being fallen creatures, we will tend to settle for the first thing that tickles our fancy. For some it's money -- these folks worry about not having it, or acquiring it, or keeping it. For some it's their good looks or their intellects. But good looks are rented, not owned, and must sooner or later be returned to dust. A stroke, or a head trauma, or old age, or disease can take away a good mind. And even when otherwise healthy, a good mind can be captured by a false ideology and kept enslaved by vanity.

There is no gift of this world that will not someday be taken away. Only God can give the gifts that cannot be taken away.

But all this talk about God is just not trendy. Within the past 150 years or so, Freude, as in joy, has been more or less supplanted by Freud, as in Sigmund. Not theology, but therapy. The way to happiness is not understanding the Lord, but in understanding ourselves. We used to say, "He is able -- Amen!" Now we say, "Here's my navel -- ommmm!"

The opposite of the wisdom of the ages is the fad of the moment, and today the deep thinkers have decided that our problem is that we simply do not enjoy sufficient amounts of self-esteem. So we went on a national self-esteem binge. We decided it's something that should be taught at home, at school, and as the moral of any story or situation. Of course, it has found a home in the popular culture. Almost no one has given the cult of self-esteem a better, more earnest presentation than the singing group known as the Roches -- one of my favorites.

Everyone is Good

I would like to be a person
who does not judge,
Free to be me whatever that might be,
I don't want to hold a position, don't want to hold a grudge,
'Cause it seems to be the cause of a lot of misunderstanding
Heartbreak, misery

It's really a sadly beautiful song. On the recording, Terre Roche sings it, and she has a lovely voice, and a lovely face, and it really hurts to disagree with her. But sorry, Terre, you're not making any sense. What you're saying here, "I don't want to hold a position," is holding a position. You say it's the cause of a lot of misunderstanding? That's a judgment.

Everyone is not good, not even by the low standards we like to set for ourselves. We have cheaters. We have thieves. We have murderers, and torturers, you name it. We have Josef Stalin, and Pol Pot. We have the Enron executives, and the Ku Klux Klan, and Satan worshippers, and serial rapists.

One could even hope that people like this ought to have less self-esteem than they already do -- which in most cases is a whole outrageous lot. Yet, oddly enough, the truly unrepentant evil man is seldom plagued with the doubts that torture the rest of us. Pol Pot, shortly before he died, told an interviewer that he still believed in his cause, which required murdering a million of his fellow Cambodians. Hitler, likewise, thought that history would someday honor him for his contributions. What you and I see as a Holocaust, he saw as a cleansing -- getting rid of a scourge. Hitler had his faults, but the evidence would suggest he thought highly of himself.

But, gee, we shouldn't take a position. We shouldn't hold a grudge. World War II -- what a misunderstanding that was!

The more bad news is that we are doing a better job of teaching self-esteem than reading, writing, or arithmetic. Japanese students perform better at math than American students, but American students rate their own math skills highly, while Japanese students do not have a high opinion of their own knowledge. My musician friends tell me that young students nowadays do not want to hear any criticism; they only want to be told how good they are. Even when they're not. Especially when they're not.

Well, don't we all want to hear how good we are? Fine, but it sort of misses the point of music lessons. I have spent thousands of dollars on trombone lessons in my life, and I would have been shortchanged if every teacher I'd ever had only wanted to tell me how good I was. (Fortunately, that was never a problem!) Here's a promise: you can't get better at playing an instrument if you cannot withstand criticism. You are paying your teachers to criticize you. You can't progress unless you know where you're at, and you can't know where you're at by kidding yourself.

And kidding yourself is what the self-esteem movement is all about.

Here's a better approach. Think of it like this: Everyone is bad. As my pastor, Wally, likes to say, "Cheer up! You're worse than you think." You're a wretched sinner, and have no reason to feel good about yourself. Same as me. Same as Pastor Wally, or the Pope. Same as everyone except Jesus. All of our righteousness is only as filthy rags, which in Bible-speak means no cleaner than your dirty underwear -- and that's our righteous works. (Imagine how He must view our unrighteous works.) But fortunately, we can wear His righteousness and be secure in the knowledge that He will change us.

The self-esteem bromide then becomes unnecessary. The Lord thinks you're a sinner, and that's already the worst thing anyone can call you. Nobody else's opinion of you matters. But He also sent his Son to die for you, to redeem you. Now, that's a liberating feeling. When you are ready to give up on yourself, you can finally acquire some real help. He who would save his life will lose it.

Self-esteem, material well-being, human accomplishment, psychoanalysis, touchy-feely New Age nonsense -- all are sinking sand. They're nothing upon which to base a joyful life, or an eternity. Stand on the firm foundation, the solid rock.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bully for You

There is nothing more detestable than a bully.

That's pretty much true at every level. It's true when SS goons are rounding up unarmed, defenseless Jews for their final and fatal endurance test of degradation and brutalization. And it's true when the big, tough kid in school forces the smaller, weaker kids to submit to lesser but still painful humiliations. The best that can be hoped is that the fledgling bully has not yet grown into the morality which hopefully he will yet achieve. The worst to be feared is that he will become a seasoned Nazi and lacks only the experience and opportunity.

Whatever the setting or circumstances, bullying is the hallmark of the fallen state of man. Bullying is our own little piece of Hell. It is what provides Hell with its hellishness.

Does this not make it incumbent upon all good men of morality and faith to stand up to bullies? To defend the weak?

If you agree, then congratulations, you now understand the moral basis for war, and for fighting in general.

Why are some people so resistant to this logic?

Sally Field has always been an attractive and appealing actress, and yes, we really, really, like her. Which is why it's so terribly disappointing that she just doesn't get it. While receiving an Emmy award, she had this to say:

> "If mothers... ruled the world, there would be no god-damned wars in the first place...."

If you grew up as a boy in public schools, you have dealt with such logic before. You have been picked on and humiliated by some other boy for weeks, and finally decide to stand up for yourself. You hit back. And then you get sent to the principal's office along with the bully, and punished alongside the bully as if you shared equally in the blame. Because, "fighting is wrong." "It doesn't matter who started it." You can fool yourself all you like with such talk, but you won't fool a kid. They already know that smashing a bully in the mouth is one of the best things in the world, and you might as well save your breath and quit denying the obvious.

To anyone who would tell kids such a thing, I would say: okay, what if you're walking down the street, and a thug snatches your purse, and then on second thought, decides you look good enough to rape. So he starts dragging you toward the nearest alley. Now, here comes another man. This may be your last chance. So what do you say to him?

a) "Please, help me, this man is trying to rape me!"
b) "Run along, now, I know you're thinking of helping me, but fighting is wrong."

And if you do beg him for help, what then should he reply?

a) "Unhand that woman, or I'll clobber you!"
b) "Sorry, but it doesn't matter who started it."

It's so easy to figure these things out when you put yourself in the victim's shoes, isn't it?

If you answered "b" to either question, then congratulations, you just won the "No Balls" Peace Prize, in moral obtuseness.

Terrorism is simply bullying on a larger scale. How we react to bullies, to terrorists, to terrorist states defines who we are, spiritually and morally. If we are too squeamish, or too morally unsure of ourselves, to kill terrorists, then what good are we?

The idea that all violence is morally equivalent is essentially a denial that morality even exists. Defending the weak sometimes requires raising a fist, shooting a gun, or dropping a bomb.

Sally, trust me, you wouldn't like living in the world that al-Qaida has in mind for you. Be aware that, to preserve your right to dress up nicely and morally preen before a fawning Hollywood audience, someone, somewhere, has to be willing to fight a "god-damned war."

The least you could do is show some appreciation. If you can't, then you've done it hundreds of times as "The Flying Nun", but please go take another flying leap.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I'm not really a fan of the "Cathy" comic strip (by Cathy Guisewite), but she published a strip once that was one of the best comics ever. Playing on the tension that existed between cartoon Cathy and her controlling mother, it showed the difference between the 1950s kitchen and the "modern" kitchen (I think the strip was from the 1980s). On the left, here is the 1950s kitchen -- just a range/oven, a sink, a cast iron skillet, and a refrigerator. On the right, here is the modern kitchen, containing every gadget imaginable -- blender, Cuisinart, automatic mixer, microwave, fancy Teflon-coated cookware, freezer, you name it. Then, on the left, here is the 1950s meal -- turkey, ham, soup, homemade biscuits, scalloped potatoes, pie. And on the right, the modern meal -- a microwavable TV dinner and a Diet Coke. Somehow, less is more.

Though now a Presbyterian, I was raised Baptist, so I learned all the good old Gospel hymns growing up, and loved them all. Well, all except "Just As I Am", which was the altar-call hymn. (If Preacher Hall was wrapping up a real stemwinder, we would sing every verse twice through, waiting, in what seemed like an infinite loop, for more people to come forward and be saved.)

The "Jesus Freak" movement of the early 1970s -- sort of a "Hippies for Jesus" thing -- came in right about the time I was discovering a world outside of the religion of my youth. So, I sort of missed out on the whole Campus Crusade/InterVarsity thing. As a freshman at Penn State, I did go to an InterVarsity meeting once with a very nice girl named Karen, a French horn player, and a junior. I was very, very uncool and certainly not what she was looking for in a boyfriend. But she was kind enough to take me to InterVarsity, which is the first time I ever heard the folksy bleating soon to be incorporated in what we now refer to as "praise music".

I hated it.

Cloying, treacly, overly sentimental. Ycch. The femininization of Christian music. Definitely not Men's Town. My buddy Ray came up with the perfect word for capturing its essence: Jee-zak.

That style is still with us today, more or less. Sometimes it's still in plaintive post-hippie time capsule form; other times, it's an overblown orchestral production number, complete with chorus, soloists, and everything but the dancing girls. And sometimes, even the dancing girls -- just not at the Baptist churches.

For all I know, the Lord loves modern praise music. I can't speak for Him. He says, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord," and perhaps noise is good enough for His purposes. It might therefore be a sin for me to dislike it as much as I do. But I can't help myself. Every time I hear modern praise music, I feel another chunk of aesthetic sensitivity break off and head south, like an iceberg looking for the Titanic, like panicked brain cells grabbing their luggage and fleeing the Keith Olbermann show.

Turns out, however, I'm not the only church-goer who feels this way. Lawrence Henry, in the American Spectator, took praise music to task earlier this summer. Follow the link, and don't miss the feedback in the Letters sections, here and here.

Of course, what I think we're really seeing is just the general dumbing down of musical taste in our culture. Listening to the dreary, whiny sounds of electronic post-rock, it's hard to imagine that our tastes, as a culture, were once refined enough to appreciate George Gershwin and Cole Porter, let alone Beethoven and Verdi. These days, music is less an art form than it is a sensation. Craft takes a back seat to attitude.

We live in a very small age. Small, in the sense that our culture does not prepare us well to exalt anything bigger or more magnificent than we are. (Most modern music exalts sex; heck, snails can have sex.) We have every technical gadget and gizmo in the world, music composition tools that would have made Mozart weep for joy, recording devices, modern microphones and acoustic science and vast numbers of people who can play some sort of an instrument -- and the music we produce with all that paraphernalia sounds like it was written either by the four-year-old Neil Sedaka at one extreme, or a love-crazed salvage yard car-crushing machine at the other.

A hundred years ago, a couple of guys with nothing more than a piano wrote the incomparable "It is Well With My Soul".

Somehow, less is more.

Rather Fun

Michelle Malkin reports that Dan "The Wan" Rather is suing his ex-employer CBS over specific decisions made in the wake of the discredited "60 Minutes" story about Bush and his Air National Guard stint -- the story that gave birth to the characterization, "fake but accurate."

If life is nothing else, it is often entertaining. The only thing more fun than watching Dan Rather splatter dirty diaper filling all over himself and CBS News is watching it twice.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Whose Worst Nightmare?

Word out of the Rudy Giuliani camp is that he is being touted as the Republican Who Can Beat Hillary. He is the Democrats' "worst nightmare".

Last I heard, Rudy thinks it's okay to abort babies. He is actively pro-gun control. He is in favor of the restrictions on the First Amendment known as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform".

I think that makes him my worst nightmare, too.

It's going to be interesting to see how many conservatives show up at the polls if Rudy, or John McCain for that matter, wins the Republican nominaton. There will be at least one less than there would otherwise be.

In about four hundred years, the Hebrew Kingdom fell from its zenith under David and Solomon, to its destruction and ruin -- first breaking apart first into two smaller and weaker states, then followed by the enslavement of the northern kingdon by Assyria, and finally by the captivity of the Jews by Babylon. God had promised the Hebrews that they would become a great nation, if they followed his laws. They didn't, and paid the consequences.

I don't know that we are in any better position to feel smug about our wealth and power than Solomon's contemporaries may have felt. To quote my buddy Ray from South Carolina, we may not be on our final decline, but if we are, the last thirty years or so is what it would look like. How do we get back on the right track as a nation? It's hard to say, but it's pretty easy to say that we won't start our long climb back by murdering babies, or by supporting presidential candidates who don't mind.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Patriot Games

Upon being fined by the NFL for using electronic surveillance of opponents' hand signals, Coach Bellichick of the New England Patriots apologized for his "mistake".

I think he needs to try again. A mistake is something you make when you add up a column of numbers incorrectly. A mistake is something a kid makes when he doesn't quite get to the bathroom on time. A mistake is something your waitress makes when she brings you a foo-foo drink with an umbrella in it, instead of that shot and a beer you ordered.

When you are caught filming the hand signals of opposing teams, against NFL regulations, that is not a mistake. The word for which you are grasping, Coach, is "cheating".

A real apology is so rare these days. It consists of three parts:

1. An acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
2. An expression of contrition and humble sorrow. And
3, A promise never to do it again, and to make amends if that's possible.

Acknowledging a mistake is not the same as admitting wrongdoing. Coach, you did it. Own it.

Predatory World

It has been a great summer for bug watching. Watching predatory behavior is fun, but I empathize a little too much with higher animals who are being attacked and eaten. That goes for the films on Animal Planet and National Geographic about crocodiles eating zebras, or lions eating wildebeasts, or hawks eating rabbits. Surely the prey animals must feel something akin to pain, if not despair. It's the natural order of things, and the way God designed it. Maybe animals have to suffer alongside mankind because Adam fell from grace. Well, I don't have to watch it. But I do, occasionally, because predatory behavior is fascinating.

That's why I like documentaries about insects. It's hard to empathize with insects -- though watching mud daubers roll spiders up into little balls for feeding to their larva even tests that proposition. The mystery is why the spiders don't even fight back. Apparently it has been known for some time that any other insect invading a wolf spider's lair will be attacked and dispatched. But send a wasp down there, and the spider's attitude changes from opportunistic predator to cringing prey from the instant the wasp's attennae touch her. It doesn't even try to fight; it wraps its legs around itself and waits for the sting.

Darwinists like to talk about evolved behaviors and survival of the fittest. How do they explain a prey species evolving a behavior that benefits its predator? Where does that fit into the Darwinist rubric?

Last weekend, I saw a very impressive wasp digging a hole in my backyard. Very large, very active. She seemed aware of my presence, but mostly ignored me, as she disappeared over and over again into the hole, and pulled out some dirt. I looked up wasps on the web and discovered she was a digger wasp. I'm not very familiar with the species, and understand that they're somewhat rare in these parts.

She looked formidable. I don't know what poor insect is her preferred prey, but whatever it is, I feel sorry for it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Managerial Food Chain

It took years, but I finally figured out that I'm a giraffe.

I work as a database administrator for a fairly large organization with lots of informational technology needs. A DBA position is almost as high as a technical person who doesn't manage anyone (besides himself) can hope to climb within an IT organization. If you happen, as I do, to see the workplace as a food chain, it helps to see managers as the stealthy carnivores, which means that everyone else is a cud-chewing, befuddled herbivore. DBAs correspond most closely to giraffes -- we're not big enough to affect a lot of destinies, but we're too big to be casually messed with. It's a good place to be. We're not interested in devouring our weaker colleagues. Instead, we eat lots of green stuff (the more, the better) and watch, from a safe, high place, the smaller herbivores being made miserable by the lesser carnivores, who, nasty as they may be, are generally too small to hurt us.

Every once in a while, we run into a lower-level manager who hasn't yet figured that out.

There are actually two types of managers. The best type is the former techie turned manager. He has done the job and thus has an idea about particulars, and what needs to be done, and how many people it will take, and helps you in any way he can, and takes heat for you if something goes wrong. I don't want to say much about these guys, they're way too useful to slander. It may not sound flattering, but in the world of carnivores, these are the birds that pick the ticks and other bloodsucking parasites off of our backsides, where we can't reach. It's necessary and even helpful. You get the job done, and it helps them get fed.

The rest of this post talks about the other type of manager.

Where you or I might look at a techie and see a techie, such managers look at anyone and everything as a prop for projecting a managerial image. They will manage a fire hydrant if it stands there looking stupid long enough. ("Useful for putting out fires, but prone to feel under pressure," might be the first line in the yearly review.) No one really knows what a manager does, but our big mistake is assuming that managers do know. And the knowledge it takes to become a manager is practically unquantifiable. But it's okay. No one knows what it means to be managerial, but everyone knows what it means to look and act managerial. That's why every manager needs props. A small laptop with Blue Tooth is nice, but a techie asking him questions is the best. It doesn't really matter if all the questions take the form, "Huh?"

I've been working with one such MOTM -- manager on the make -- for the past week or so. You know the type: chirpy, cheerful, well-dressed, lots of energy, and brimming with the burning desire to say something memorable and intelligent at a meeting. Even if you do not work directly for him, he will assume that, since you are the one doing the technical work, he is therefore obviously the one in charge. Simple Boolean logic. If you email a vendor and don't cc him, you will receive an email chiding you, in cordial but firm tones, that you should "keep the communication channels open" and "keep him in the loop". Somewhere, nearby, a smiley face will pop out at you.

You will also discover sooner or later that what you're saying to him gets spun slightly by the time it hits the boss's ears. Not changed, really, but with a certain emphasis added that you did not intend -- or if you did intend, was not emphasized.

Unless you're Michelangelo or Shakespeare, chances are that the work you do today will not live on for hundreds of years. I can't remember the last time I moved a database from Prod to Dev for testing, and received a Nobel Prize or a Tony Award for my efforts. Immortality is probably not in the cards for us. However, doing your work for the MOTM is like finding that elusive fountain of middle age. The work that you do for him today, far from being soon forgotten, is destined to live on for years as a line on his resume. The harder you work, the better his next job.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shaking A Fist at God

A very close friend of mine, I've known him all my life, went to the same church I did as a child, and we've kept in touch these many years. Like everyone, he's had his ups and downs through life, but he seems sometimes not so much unable to roll with the punches, as unwilling. He has hardened into the last rugged individual, convinced he must go through life on his own, figuring things out on his own, dealing with problems and setbacks on his own. He is very resistant to the idea of turning his life over to the Lord and letting Him be in charge. I have tried many times to talk him into coming to church with me, and he's not rude, but he always asserts his independence.

If God is pursuing someone, however, He seems to have a way of tightening the screws in someone's life to the place where there is no alternative but to submit to His will. This is what the Calvinists call "irresistable grace". As the Borg might say, "Resistance is futile."

To me, the interesting thing is how we have changed places since we were young. As a teenager, he was popular and outgoing, always laughing, always the social butterfly. On the other hand, I was a trombone-playing bookworm, not popular at all, and not very joyful. Today, he is grim and taciturn, seemingly angry about his place in the world and resentful of many of the changes he has seen and experienced. And while I'm not exactly Mr. Popularity at work, I have a cadre of close friends who seem to enjoy my company, and I theirs, and I'm having the best time of my life.

There are so many rules to follow in Christianity, it's easy to mislead oneself into believing that the Lord wants us to be miserable. He throws our sins in our face, tells us we're not worthy, and exhorts us to behave contrary to our nature. And the penalty for failure is eternity in Hell.

This joyless theology may be why so many have turned away. If the Lord can't give them peace and happiness, they'll achieve it on their own terms, thank you.

And that is the path to true misery. As C.S. Lewis observed, the problem is not that we want so much out of life, but that we are willing to settle for so little.

It's the other way around. The Lord wants us to be joyful in His presence. Basically, He wants to party with us for all eternity. And sometimes, He has to disabuse us of our own fixations, to pull us away, gently or not, but firmly, from the things we desperately hope will bring us happiness, but which were always destined to fail us.

Anyhow, my friend called yesterday to tell me about a lawsuit that he just lost, that has cost him thousands and may cost even more. He opened up by saying, "Well, some people believe God allows bad things to happen in order to send a message, and it that's the case, then I guess I'm just going to have to get used to getting screwed." About two or three more minutes on that theme. The frustration in his voice was as thick as brick wall.

I expressed my sorrow for his misfortune, and offered to have my pastor call him. "No, no," he begged off. "I don't like to tell other people my problems, I'm just going to have to deal with it."

Usually I'm not so bold, but something got a hold on me. I said, "Hey bud, look: you've been shaking your fist at God, so don't you think you ought to hear His side?"

Though he denied doing that, it was clear that he still prefers his own home-cooked misery to God's happiness. But we all shake our fist at God sometimes. He has designs for our lives that don't necessarily fit with our own plans. The more we struggle against them, the worse our circumstances are liable to get. He remakes us in His image, and sometimes that takes a lot of re-arranging. And it hurts. And the prospect of it is daunting.

(This has nothing to do, by the way, with being "holier than thou." Any Christian who harbors such feelings is doing something wrong. The closer you get to the Lord, the more you should realize how great your sin is, and it should make you even more grateful for what He'll do for you, and has already done. No human being has cause to boast. Christians have no excuse for not being even more aware of this than anyone.)

My friend's great theme is that the world is full of injustice and that he gets more than he deserves. But if anyone deserved to be treated well, it was Jesus, and look at what we did to Him. If He wasn't treated well, we certainly don't deserve to be, either.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Immigrant Song

It's a little late to be piling on Bush, Kennedy and the bipartisan group of senators who (in the words of Thomas Sowell) believe that America's immigration policy should be set in Mexico. But it is still timely to bring it up because the immigration issue is a spin-off of the essential hatred of American culture that bills itself as multiculturalism.

It's not a question of hating other cultures, or looking down on them, or treating other peoples with anything less than respect. If someone is coming here to live, however, it must be assumed that there is something he doesn't like about his own homeland, relative to the U.S. This being the case, whatever it was, we ask that he try not to bring it with him.

Embrace your new country. And learn its language, which by the way happens to be English.

If I ever move to Mexico, I won't expect everyone else around me to learn my language. I promise.

Yet the Democrats fall all over themselves to broadcast a debate in Spanish. Ambitious as always, they're not content to showcase the woefulness of their political thought only in one language.

Yes, we are a nation of immigrants. However, we have never before tolerated so much lawless immigration. In times past, it was controlled. Also, in times past, an immigrant would have to learn English if he were to fit in. It wasn't on New York City to put up road signs in Gaelic, or Italian, or German, or Polish, or Russian, or Yiddish. It was on Irish, Italians, Germans, Poles, Russians, and Jews to learn English. They came here. We didn't go there.

A common language is important. It ruins a country when its people don't identify with it. The Austrian Empire limped into the 20th Century harboring dozens of ethnicities and languages, but didn't survive World War I, mostly because of ethnic hatreds and lack of a feeling of commonality. Serbs thought of themselves as Serbs, Albanians as Albanians, Hungarians as Hungarians, etc. -- few thought of themselves as subjects of the Hapsburgs first, and their own ethnic group second.

The Roman Empire itself vanished in large part because of an ethnic group in their midst -- the Goths -- who did not speak Latin, had no particular love of Roman institutions, and could not be assimilated. In a supreme irony, the Eastern Roman emperor Valens had allowed them into the empire because he felt they would be useful for labor and military conscription. The Goths vanquished the Romans in battle, and slew Valens -- and the Romans spent the last hundred years of their existence bribing the Goths to behave themselves, with intermittently poor results. Sometimes the Goths would sack Rome. Other times, they'd just sit around comparing different varieties of black fingernail polish.

So here's a clue: don't let into your country great numbers of people who have no particular love for it.

You might be asking yourself: if allowing unbridled immigration is bad for America, why were liberal Democrats and Bush Republicans united in favor of it? Simple. Because:

1. Democrats can't see beyond the next election.
2. Republicans can't see beyond the next stock report.

When Democrats see illegal immigrants, they see new votes and new clients for the welfare state. Republicans see cheap labor. "Cheap", however, is relative. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation points out that American taxpayers subsidize much of this labor by paying for the government services received by low-skilled Hispanic workers, including medical costs and food stamps. Republicans are pro-business, and thus have no objection to businesses being subsidized by the taxpayer. It's a good deal for the businesses. For the taxpayer, maybe not so much.

As a general rule, beware of bipartisanship. It's something that ought to be good -- we could sure use some in our foreign policy, for example -- but usually, when Republicans and Democrats agree on something, taxpayers should hide their wallets. The bill was defeated only when conservatives exploited one of the Republicans' most endearing traits: their cravenness. It took a lot of phone calls, threatening not to vote for them, not to contribute money to their party -- and this had to be done twice, because Republicans are slow learners and move their lips when they read.

To legal immigrants, we ought to say: Welcome! We don't care what color you are, or what language you spoke in your homeland, but welcome to America! Obey our laws. Learn our language. Get a job. Buy a house. Vote in our elections. Take your kids to Little League practice. Become an American. This land is your land.

To illegal immigrants, we ought to insist: go back, Jack, do it again. Follow the rules, this time.

Copping a 'Tude

This via Drudge -- in Union City, Georgia, they'll arrest you if you feed a cop something he doesn't like. In this case, someone oversalted a hamburger.

Here's the link.

If I owned a restaurant there, I would refuse to serve food to policemen. Assuming they wouldn't throw me in jail.

Note to Krispie Kreme franchise owners: Union City would be a bad place to introduce a salted pretzel donut.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Conservatives vs. Republicans

There were many memorable Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1940s and 1950s, the golden age of animation. There is one in particular that keeps resonating in my head, everytime I watch a Republican campaign. It features a big dumb lion who keeps catching a smart-alecky mouse, but who then fast-talks his way out of being eaten. After each successful escape, and before ducking in a hole, the mouse always turns around, smirks, and gently says, "Suckerrrr!" This annoys the lion to no end; he turns red each time and bangs his head against the tree. At the end of the cartoon, the lion tries to rationalize his decision-making -- but his attempts ring hollow even to himself, and so finally he pulls up a mirror, and stands there yelling "Sucker! Sucker!" at himself.

(Maybe I should point out that the folks of my generation define "sucker" as someone who is particularly gullible. I'm sure there are trendier definitions.)

A psychologist would say the lion has progressed beyond denial and is now ready to deal with his problem -- which, in his case, is terminal stupidity.

As a conservative who has voted for every Republican candidate (with one or twp exceptions) since 1972, all I can say is, I know exactly how that lion feels.

The beginning of political wisdom has been achieved when one finally realizes:

1. Politicians of both parties as a whole are more liberal than the electorate as a whole.
2. Politicians of both parties keep their jobs, generally, by pretending to be more conservative than they really are.
3. Democrats are reliably liberal.
4. Republicans are either unreliably conservative, or not at all.

It isn't symmetrical. The relationship between Democrats and their liberal constituents is harmonious; they are natural allies. The relationship between Republicans and conservatives is tense and uneasy. Politicians of both parties tend to want to do liberal things. Democrats don't have to be cajoled into acting like liberals, but Republicans have to be threatened by their conservative constituents to get them to accomplish anything even remotely conservative

It's not hard to get a Republican to talk like a conservative, however. Just make him run for re-election. That's when you find out he's actually the second coming of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, and likes Mom, apple pie, the girl next door, and Buicks. He's no closet liberal, he's just misunderstood.

What's a conservative to do? My buddies and I have argued a lot over this. Most of them believe half a bottle is better than none, and thus it's better to have a Republican who occasionally does dumb things than to have a liberal Democrat who has dedicated his life to doing dumb things. They tell me, hold your nose if you have to, but vote Republican because "The Democrats are so much worse." I see their point. However, the problem with this is it doesn't provide any incentive for Republicans to act more like conservatives. If you want someone to quit doing things you don't like, you have to stop rewarding them.

Looking at the current crop of Republican candidates, it makes me feel like I'm Simon Cowell, looking for the next American Idol at a karaoki party for Goth kids. Sorry, Rudy, but I'll never vote for anyone who's comfortable with abortion -- Western civilization's homage to child sacrifice. Go find a Baal worshipper to vote for you. Sorry, John, I know you spent years in a Vietnamese prison camp and that you are therefore entitled to my respect; nevertheless, you took a wrecking ball to the First Amendment with your campaign finance "reform" laws, and have taken the wrong side on the immigration debate. Each remaining candidate seems to have his own share of flaws, from the conservative perspective. However, I could probably be talked into voting for one of them, at least once.

But as my pastor says, you know someone by his non-negotiables. Republicans have trouble with non-negotiables, which in large part is why I have trouble with Republicans. I think conservatives should let their consciences be their guide. As for me, I will not, cannot, vote for Rudy or McCain. Period. That's not negotiable.

I'm through looking at myself in a mirror and screaming, "Sucker!" Next time I catch the mouse, I'll eat him.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Toasted Hagel To Go

Yesterday, my Omaha buddies sent me an article about an impending press conference by Sen. Chuck Hagel, during which he was yet again poised to announce his plans for his political future. I tried -- yawn -- very hard -- wiping eyes -- to contain my anticipation.
This past March, a similar press conference was scheduled, only to find that Hagel used the occasion to announce he had made no decisions, and was postponing any final decision until March 2008. In baseball, this is called a balk. In the orchestra, it's called "the trombone section lost the count." The press has made much mirth over the good Senator's propensity to call such press conferences, starting with Dana Milbank at the Washington Post, and followed by the Wall Street Journal's mirthful but merciless James Taranto.

A year seems like a long time to wait for such portentous news, and I have to admit the suspense was killing me -- it was every bit as intense as worrying about which flavor of Blizzert would be on sale next month at the Dairy Queen. The suspense must have been killing Hagel, too, because yesterday he mercifully decided the world had held its breath long enough. He announced that he would retire from his Senate seat. Check it out at the Weird Harold.

Now, not to brag, but sometimes, my instinct about politics unnerves me a little bit. After my Omaha buddies shot me the link, but before Hagel announced he was retiring, I sent back a reply, stating that Hagel's career in electoral politics is over.

One of my buddies, Mark, shot back, "Are you saying we're stuck with him?"

Not at all. I replied that he should expect a conservative Republican to challenge Hagel in the primaries, or a Democrat to beat him in the general election. I did not predict Hagel would resign, exactly, but it does look to me as if his assessment of his own political future was the same as mine.

Times are changing. It used to be that a "maverick" Republican could take a visible issue (in Hagel's case, the Iraq war) and side with the Democrats, while incurring little political cost. In fact, it was so commonplace, the American Spectator's Tom Bethell even handed out annual "Strange New Respect" awards, for erstwhile conservatives or Republicans who change their tune once they are safely ensconced in Washington. The phrase itself -- "strange new respect" -- was how the typical Washington Post puff piece on a turncoat Republican would generally begin, e.g.,

"Congressman Densley Pated has grown in office, earning a strange new respect from his colleagues in Washington, while amazing friends and foes alike."

As Bethell pointed out, the way you amaze friends and foes alike is to betray your friends.

This is what many conservatives feel Hagel did when he began to challenge U.S. involvement in the Iraq war. As I was saying, once upon a time, Republicans could do this sort of thing, routinely and with impunity. Today, it no longer works. If you make conservatives angry enough, they'll stay home on election day, or vote for a third party candidate, or run someone against you in the primaries. This is the culminatory backlash of years and years of being betrayed by Republicans on a host of issues, including taxes, the growth of big government, and most recently the immigration mess. Now, Republicans who change their tune find they have a piper to pay. Conservatives are already referring to Sen. Lindsey Graham as "the former Senator from South Carolina," after Graham's backing of Bush's "shamnesty" proposal for legalizing illegal aliens. John McCain, who has stuck it to conservatives on a number of issues from campaign finance "reform" to immigration, is now running his zombie-like presidential campaign without conservative contributions. I think he knows he can't win, but something, perhaps pride, keeps him going through the motions.

Anyhow, Hagel knows its over. He has alienated his conservative base in return for puff pieces in the liberal press -- in other words, for nothing. It's the Esau bargain -- he's the man who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. If conservatives aren't going to vote for a Republican, who will? Why not go ask those nice liberals over there, the ones who wrote all those glowing things about you?

What? They're all going to vote Democrat?


It seems they prefer non-maverick Democrats over maverick Republicans anytime. All the time.

And by the way, Taranto is having fun this time, too.

True confessions: when I lived in Nebraska, I voted for Hagel. Go sic those liberals in Washington, Chuckie! "Up With Chuck!" Now, it's goodbye, so long, enjoy your retirement, find a nice quiet place to live, stay there.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Bumpersticker Manifesto

On the way home from work yesterday, I noticed two bumper stickers on the car in front of me. One said:

"I think... therefore I am a Democrat!"

The second said:

"Proud to be everything the Right Wing hates!"

Hmmm. Right-wingers hate terrorists. Right-wingers hate child molesters. Terrorists and child molesters are a subset of "everything". Therefore, the owner of this vehicle is a child-molesting terrorist?

Well, perhaps not. It's possible she did not see where she was led by her own logic.

Guess she wasn't thinking.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Carey, Kreider, and Haynes

Like many Steelers fans, I was happy to hear that Pittsburgh's new coaching regime retained both veteran fullback Dan Kreider and the newbie, Carey Davis, who is acquiring a reputation for being the new "Mini-Bus". That is, Davis is seen as a somewhat smaller version of big, hard-hitting Jerome Bettis, the former Steeler who was the perennially dependable pile-driver for so many seasons in those short-yardage situations. Davis certainly looked good in pre-season, but so did Kreider, a 255-pound block of granite who is more of a blocking back than a running back, but who would efficiently neutralize the first opposing linebacker he encountered. Kreider is considered by many to be the best fullback in the NFL -- which is to say, the best of a dying breed.

For a while it looked like Kreider might be cut, with the Steelers' trendy new emphasis on a passing game, in favor of tight ends and wide receivers. He survived the cut, thank goodness. However, today, it was announced that he'd lost his starting position to Davis.

It's the nature of pro football. I suppose it makes more sense to keep two bona fide running threats on the field than one. Kreider is a sure-handed receiver, but is just an adequate runner by NFL standards. Davis may not block as well as Kreider, but his running skills look pretty good -- just ask those dazed-looking New Orleans Saints defensive players that he smashed into the dirt on a 58-yard scamper. He and Willie Parker together in the same backfield will not be anticipated with joy this season by the opposing teams.

But I'm sad for Kreider, who has contributed so much to this team's success over the years. I wish him the best, and hope he still has lots of football in him. He's a great player.

And while we're at it, let's salute running back Verron Haynes, who lost a lot more than his starting position. He wound up being the number six choice in a five-man backfield. Haynes performed well as Pittsburgh's third-down back and contributed heroically in the 2005 Steelers Super Bowl run. A class act and a gifted athlete, he was plagued with injuries for much of his career. Best wishes, Verron. I hope you heal up well and discover a bunch more seasons left in you, with a good team that needs your skills.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Musical Humor

Best musician's joke I've heard in a while:

Q: What's the difference between a blues musician and a jazz musician?
A: A blues musician plays three chords to an audience of thousands, while a jazz musician plays thousands of chords to an audience of three.

HillaryCare Round Two

I think more people are receptive to socialized medicine today than they were in the early 1990s, probably for a number of reasons -- the fact that it's getting more and more expensive being probably chief among them. It's hard to look into the future without some degree of concern, perhaps even despair, about whether we will be able at some point to afford decent health care or insurance to cover us into our old age. Some people are panicking.

And panicky people do stupid things. Like, socialize their medical system. This is tantamount to being so afraid that you run back into a burning building.

I say this, because we are already in this situation mainly because of the degree of socialism that already exists in our health system. Indigent folks and illegal immigrants can walk right into an emergency room and be treated with no obligation to pay anything. That's "free" medical care for them, but not free for you and me; it's why inpatients are billed $365 for an aspirin. Also, there's Medicare and Medicaid. The federal government strong-arms health providers into caring for older folks at low rates of compensation, and the paying customer base gets to subsidize the shortfall. This means that, when you're working well into May of each year just to pay your taxes, some of it pays for all this generosity.

If you believe in putting out a fire with gasoline, however, you will love the idea of solving our medical cost problems with newer and bigger doses in socialism. In the early days of the Republic, there were traveling medicine shows, where slick-talking con men would sell snake oil to incredulous suckers, as a cure for all ills. In modern times, instead of medicine shows, we have elections, and thus have elevated snake-oil salesmen to a higher calling. Socialism is political snake oil, and we have a lot of snakes out there trying to sell it. You can always tell a political snake-oil salesman. He's the candidate who tries to present a trade-off as if it were a solution. He's the one who indicts the status quo with a list of specifics, but describes the product he's hawking only in glowing generalities.

During the Clinton administration, the "he" was Hillary, and when asked specific questions about her plan, she would bite back testily. When the "reformers" get lured into talking specifics, they don't fare as well -- that's why so many of her top-level policy discussions took place behind closed doors (the transcripts are still unavailable). For example, when asked how small businesses would be able to afford paying their share under the plan for their employees, she snapped that she couldn't worry about every under-capitalized business in America. It didn't take long to figure out that small business owners were going to be the sacrificial lambs of her great experiment. She was selling snake oil, and the Republic is better off for her having been a poor salesman. But Hillary learns quickly, and round two is about to start.

The great illusion that forms the basis of all socialism is the notion -- not exactly denied but never exactly discouraged -- that something is going to become "free". And this can be done, depending on what you mean by "free". Prices, for example, can be reduced to zero. However, costs are not so easily done away with. No system is going to work without paying the providers. Doctors need to be paid. Nurses need to be paid. Hospitals need to have beds. Specialists need to spend years of their lives in grueling academic programs. Somebody pays for all this. Even the lowlier tasks cost real money; who is going to empty the bedpans for free? I doubt even the Boy Scouts will soon be offering merit badges for that. Somebody always pays the costs -- and under socialism, that means the taxpayers.

So the question becomes, can enough voters be convinced that socialized medicine is a good deal for them, or can they perceive that the costs won't vanish simply because the benefits are "free", and that they'll be the ones who get the bill?

And by the way, from an economic perspective, the "solution" is simple. If you want the cost of something to go down, you make it more efficient to produce. And if you want the price of something to do down, you increase the supply or decrease the demand. Reducing the demand for medical care may not be feasible, given that we are keeping people alive longer nowadays; perhaps all we can do is to reduce frivolous demand for medical care by increasing co-pays. However, we could easily increase the supply of medical care. One way to do it would be to create more medical schools and allow more students to become doctors. Each year, we turn thousands of intelligent young men and women who want to become doctors away from medical schools. Why we do this is another story, but the short version is because we let them. There is a wonderful description in Milton Friedman's book, Free to Choose, of the American Medical Association as the world's most successful labor union. One way labor unions try to increase the wages of their clients is to lessen the amount of competition. In other words, fewer doctors means higher rates.

So, if it's that simple, why don't we do it? Well, just because it's simple doesn't mean it's easy. My best guess is that taking all this on politically wouldn't be advantageous to politicians. They get along a lot better by promising "free" stuff to their constituents than by taking on established political power bases.

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