Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013!

Took the afternoon off work to write this… Debbie is in her best, most urgent “Have you written the Christmas letter yet?” mode -- so, with my schedule papered with musical performances later in the week, this is the ‘Do or die’ time, right now. Sitting here with a nice martini buzz (something else I can’t do at work) -- brain cells roasting on an open fire. The hi-fi is playing something by a group called “The Cars. Debbie will be out most of the day, conducting her fifth-grade strings concerts and, as usual, doing something productive. Me? I’m much more easily distracted, but the circumstances will never get better than this. Now! Let the stream of consciousness commence...

We’ve taken a whole bunch of trips this year. As much as I loved living in Omaha -- and I did -- there was usually an enormous time commitment involved whenever traveling to anyplace but Omaha. Not so in Virginia! Take a trip through Virginia if you want to see beautiful coasts/mountains/cities/wineries; take a trip through Nebraska if you want to see corn/sorghum/bison/grain elevators. Last May, Debbie and I traveled to Asheville, NC, to meet up with our good friends, Tom and Mary Salem. Tom is a former boss from my Omaha years -- yet strangely enough, we still like each other. We beat the odds. It is said that Asheville is the “San Francisco of the East” -- not an unfair comparison. Both Asheville and San Francisco are blessed with great natural beauty, and both seem to be very artistic in something of a counter-cultural way -- the difference is that in Asheville, you half-expect to see leftover Sixties hippies trading bong-hits with Daniel Boone. The ladies visited the Biltmore Estate, home of the Vanderbilts, who made their fortune in railroading -- exactly whom, I can’t say. Tom and I decided to go slumming instead and embarked on a brew-pub tour of beautiful downtown Asheville -- which bills itself as the brew-pub capital of the world. That’s pretty big talk, and we wanted to see if Asheville walked the walk. It did. All I really remember, though, is that there was lots of tasty dark bubbly stuff. And pretty waitresses. But after a sufficient amount of dark bubbly stuff -- must have been something chemical -- the pretty waitresses all started looking like Picasso had passed through Asheville on his plastic-surgery tour. My, what pretty eyes you have! Would you mind turning your head around so I can see your other two? On our way home, Debbie started having abdominal pains, and, from our cell phone, we arranged a rendezvous at a local hospital. Turns out, she had a kidney stone. Fortunately, it was small enough to pass on through with no further ado, and a few days later, it did. Like Bob Dylan said, everybody must get stoned -- Debbie, in her way; me, in mine.

As usual, I was signed up this past summer with the Tidewater Winds, a John Philip Sousa-style concert band that works pretty much every evening in July. However, this year, I hit a wall. My workplace switches over to ten-hour days in late June, so for the past several years, that has meant working ten hours, dashing home, scarfing a quick dinner, donning the tux , and heading out again for a two-hour gig. This past July, I decided I just can’t do this anymore. The Winds played a Christmas concert last week -- one of the most fun, ever -- and then I resigned from the group. They’ll do fine without me, and I just hope I’ll do fine without them.

In August, Debbie and I visited our friends Kurt and Patty Rauscher in Batesville, IN, not far from Cincinnati.  En route, we sat patiently on a runway in Norfolk waiting to depart for Cincinnati, via Philadelphia, in what I hope was the jet with the least effective air conditioning this side of Morocco.  When your sweat glands give up and turn into liver spots, you know you’re in for it.  By the time we arrived in Philly, we were cheese steaks.  Had a related thought that's just dying for its own "Far Side" cartoon:  a plane is being boarded by buzzards and hyenas (along with some real people). The buzzards and hyenas are carrying dead animals and a stench is overwhelming the humans, while the stewardess pleasantly announces, "Please check your carrion luggage."  Kurt is my friend of longest standing -- we've been close friends since I was in eighth grade.  That was… uh… twenty years ago??  Heh.  Try, uh, 45 years.  Kurt is a retired Delta Airlines pilot, and is enjoying his retirement very much -- "The hours are great,” Kurt says, “but the pay sucks.”  It was great to see Kurt’s parents, Merle and Irene, again -- when I was in high school, they always made me feel welcome, like one of the family.  Merle and Kurt even tried to teach me how to play golf, an endeavor inspired more of pity than practicality -- I can’t even master walking while chewing gum.  Then, to make matters worse, I lost about seventy pounds during my sophomore year – once I could actually see the golf ball, I didn’t know what to do with it.  We all went to a wonderful restaurant outside of Batesville where they make their own wine, and my reaction was, hey, they sell food too!

We took two trips to Pittsburgh this year -- the town where I went to grad school, where my academic career died an agonizing death before it was born, and where I learned to love the NFL -- hard to say for which I should be most grateful. As aging baby-boomers, we’re always on the lookout for yet another investment that can go sour, and this year we decided to invest in a movie. An old Air Force buddy, John Niespodzianski (not just another pretty name, I assure you), is the CEO of an upstart production company, Orchard Place Productions. They’re making a zombie movie named “The Other Side, so we decided, what the heck, and threw in some capital -- our portfolio has been like “The Walking Dead” for some time now, just thought we should make it official. In August, we enjoyed a long weekend at the William Penn Hotel in the beautiful downtown, and met John and his wife Cindy at a kick-butt beer joint named “The Sharp Edge.” Later on, we introduced Debbie to the inexplicable allure of Pittsburgh cuisine, which is to cuisine as a laboratory culture is to culture. We enjoyed a Primanti Bros. sandwich, which consists tomatoes, slaw, some species of meat (it’s not important which), and a fistful of French fries – all mashed down between two slabs of Italian bread. Then we went back to the hotel, had dessert and coffee, and listened to a fabulous jazz trio on the lovely art deco mezzanine. The next day, we met up again with John and Cindy at an old farmhouse west of Washington, PA (pronounced “Warsh-ington”), where the zombies were being filmed. You might be surprised how much effort goes into making a movie. There were actors and cameramen and directors and assistant directors and make-up specialists and… rain. Lots of rain. Debbie and I walked around like we owned the place -- and, in a very temporal sense, I guess we did, sort of. For a day, maybe. The cast and crew were very warm and welcoming. Cindy was… I don’t know the technical term, but she was the person in charge of finding discontinuities in the film -- like, hey, those brains were seeping out of your left temple yesterday, but today they’re hanging out of the right one, what gives? John is the producer, and I can’t imagine a better one -- he solved problems and brought food and kept smiling, sort of a one-man morale machine. On our way back to Virginia, Debbie and I met up with Jim Siehl, father of my college buddy Dan Siehl, and had dinner at the Jean Bonnet Tavern in Bedford, PA. Not only did George Washington sleep there, he left the recipe for his favorite porter. Mmmmmm. We decided to eschew the drama of I-95 and the D.C. Beltway, and traveled home via Winchester, VA (birthplace of Patsy Cline). It took a bit longer to take that route, but we were rewarded by a gorgeous drive through the Shenandoah Valley.

On our next trip to Pittsburgh, in early November, we got together with our upstate New York friends, Kevin and Ann Schmalz. There was a Pitt game and a Steeler game in town that weekend, so any thoughts of bargain-basement lodging prices were dispelled very quickly -- we wound up at a Hampton Inn about four miles north of downtown. That doesn’t sound like much of a distance, but when you consider that Pittsburgh is one of the hardest cities in the country to navigate, it’s worse than you think. Pittsburgh is a city in three dimensions. When you see a crossroads on a map, you think, okay, I get it -- but then you arrive and you’re on a bridge between two mountains and the “crossroad” is actually a small access road about a thousand feet below you -- welcome to Pittsburgh, where there is simply no substitute for knowing where you’re going. Even Tom-Tom was confused and started sounding like Robot from “Lost in Space” –- “When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!” Kevin and I attended a Pittsburgh Symphony concert that was, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever heard. The least-uttered sentence in the English language is, “Wow, look at that trombone player’s Rolls-Royce!” Runner-up on that same list is: “Wow, what a musical bassoon player!” Yet that’s what Kevin and I were both saying as we left Heinz Hall. The Symphony performed Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” -- it was everything you’d expect from a princess with a thousand tales. At some point since I left Pittsburgh, the Symphony had graduated from “good” to “world-class”. Next morning, we all had breakfast at DeLuca’s in the Strip District -- if you watch Tom Cruise’s “Jack Reacher”, a scene was shot right there in that restaurant. According to the waitress, they had to shut down for a week during the filming, for a scene that lasted all of forty seconds. We ordered the “Scientology Scramble” -- a double order of ham, served out of your gourd.

On April 2 this year, Debbie and I celebrated our 30th anniversary. We threw a shindig at our house, many of our wonderful friends and family attending. Debbie is still amazing. She teaches strings (music) at three different elementary schools and runs the music program at our church; she is the glue that keeps our household together. This past week has been a busy one for her, as she has been giving concerts -- conducting fifth-graders and herding them as well. I’m back with the Virginia Beach “Not Ready for Primetime” Symphony, and we’re performing Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet this week while the ballerinas pass the deux. The deux stops here. Our lives are truly blessed. We hope yours are, too. May the Lord of all Creation bless you this Christmas season and bring you all the happiness that comes with knowing Him and accepting His gifts.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

RINO Blasty

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Apology Excepted

Our politicians are always reminding us that an apology has a fairly strict form. They remind us by not following it.
Most modern apologies take the form, "We're sorry if you were offended..."

Firstly, any apology that contains the word "if" is not an apology. If someone is truly sorry, it isn't contingent on anything.

Secondly, any apology that personalizes the offended party is not an apology. "Sorry if you're offended" casts the offended party at least as a part of the problem. Is the problem that I was offensive, or that you were so thin-skinned? That's left unclear, and a good apology leaves nothing unclear.

However, such apologies can *sound* very close to a real apology, which is probably why politicians employ these bogus mea culpas.

Our Education secretary, a Mr. Arne Duncan, takes a more sophisticated route to the non-apology. He has been getting some pushback from critics of his "Common Core" initiative. Rather than answering them substantively, he said, according to the Washington Post, that he was fascinated by the fact that some opposition to the standards was coming from “white suburban moms” who fear that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.” (No word as to what Common Core has to say about the use of argumentum ad hominem.) This frames their criticism as something unsubtantive without itself offering anything of substance, and in passing relies on a stereotype and a racial slur.

All this is fine and dandy, but unfortunately, some of the thin-skinned, white suburban moms took offense. An emergency like this calls for an excellent non-apology, and Arne's went something like this:
"I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret — particularly because it distracted from an important conversation about how to better prepare all of America’s students for success... I want to encourage a difficult conversation and challenge the underlying assumption that when we talk about the need to improve our nation’s schools, we are talking only about poor minority students in inner cities. This is simply not true. Research demonstrates that as a country, every demographic group has room for improvement."

As non-apologies go, this one is a masterpiece. Firstly, Arne expresses no contrition, but only "regret". "I feel remorse for my statements" is what the aggrieved party wants to hear -- whereas "I regret my statements" is more neutral.
E.g., I may regret my sins, and I may regret leaving my sunglasses at the restaurant.  But I don't have remorse for forgetting my sunglasses.

Then he admits to some "clumsy phrasing" when the real problem is that his phrasing was perfectly clear: a bunch of spoiled white suburban soccer moms who think they're kids are geniuses have the temerity to question the Secretary of Education... sniff.  A pox on them and their insufferable spawn.  I'm paraphrasing.

Then, Arne poses as someone who is sincere and means well, but has just been so misunderstood.  He says he wanted simply to "encourage a difficult conversation"... but then goes on to impute a lack of comprehension to his critics. Of course, difficult conversations don't get any easier when you lead off with a couple of insults. And it begs the question to insist that it's his critics who misunderstand the education process, and not him.

Ah well. We probably shouldn't criticize him at all. He is our public servant, you know. It's not our place to question our servants...
Update 11/20/2013:  I don't like Martin Bashir very much, and I certainly don't like his politics, but here he gives the world a lesson in how to deliver an apology (for an unspeakable thing he said about Sarah Palin)...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sounds Easy to Me

I'm an old warhorse database programmer/administrator, been programming since 1984, been a DBA since 1997. I've worked in defense applications, in intelligence applications, in the insurance business, and for school districts. If I haven't quite seen it all yet, I've sure seen a lot.

One of the things I've seen is that there are basically two types of people:

1. There are people who, if they don't know about something, assume that the something in question is not necessarily easily knowable. A programmer might assume, for example, that if he's worked on military software, that software for school systems might be at least as hard to master, even though that may sound counterintuitive to a non-professional.

2. There are people who assume, if they don't know about something, that it must be easy to learn. Does that sound strange? Yeah, to me too. But that is what a lot of people are like. People who would assume that school software is easier than military software. People who would assume that software is easy because they work on computers too, and all you have to do is point and click. People who assume that something can be done within the dictated deadline because that's what's on the calendar. People who, to pull out an old retread, believe that if a woman can have a baby in nine months, then nine women can pull it off in a month.

I've met plenty of people like that. If you try to explain the complications, they take it that you're making excuses. HR and benefits departments have at times seemed to be fully staffed by such folks.  A benefits lady where I once worked gave us a briefing on our retirement benefit and tried to gloss over an obvious gouging the employees received from the company, as if nobody in the room would notice. This was a room containing mostly mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and computer-science wonks, many of whom had masters' degrees and Ph.D's. But if one assumes that math and physics are no harder than payroll, you get someone who thinks she can sneak an intellectual knuckleball through the strike zone even though she's probably the dumbest person in the stadium. It didn't end well for her presentation.

If I were the guessing sort, I would guess that the entire ObamaCare software project is being overseen by our type 2 individuals. It would just never occur to them that delivering a brand-new application to be used by millions to sign up for health care would be all that complicated. They could tell it would be done by Jan 1, 2014 just by checking their calendars. Yep, there it is, Jan 1, 2014.

Lucky us.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Outsourcing Slavery?

Where does being a "wage slave" stop and being a slave begin? 

Maybe the United States doesn't just outsource jobs.  Maybe we also outsource slavery.  Is that an exaggeration?  If so, it's a slight one, and the Bloomberg writer agrees:  "Apple, along with others, calls that bonded labor, a form of modern-day indentured servitude, one step removed from slavery."  However you put it, it's not something the U.S. Dept. of Labor or the National Labor Relations Board would accept.

There's something for everyone in today's world economy.  They get our money, and we acquire their indifference to workers' conditions.  When the Fourteenth Amendment gets outsourced, so do OSHA regulations.  We depend on China to ensure that their workers are treated fairly and safely.  The suicide nets set up outside the workers' dorms, to keep the workers from jumping to their deaths, may or may not apply.

That's not all.  We also outsource EPA regulations -- "Pollution in China" gets in own page in Wikipedia.  The U.S. is all for "saving the planet" when "the planet" is defined as our own backyard.  The EPA lacks jurisdiction in China, but of course we don't have to trade with them.  Maybe the theory is that we can ruin half of the Earth's environment so long as it's the half we don't live in.

And don't forget other obligations businesses incur when operating in the U.S.  ObamaCare's heavy and incompetent hand is already poised to turn the U.S. into "part-time nation", as more businesses are and will be cutting back their workers' hours to 29 per week, to avoid getting completely sucked into helping liberals sleep better at night.  Ruining the U.S. labor market may not have been the intention of the ObamaCare legislation, but the "law of unintended consequences" is always a lurking presence when policy decisions are made -- and, like Glenn Close's psychopathic character in "Fatal Attraction", it is not gonna be ignored.

Businesses outsource not just to avoid paying higher wages, but also to avoid the other costs of producing something here in the U.S., and that includes taxes and the aforementioned regulations (including EPA and OSHA).  Maybe there's a happy medium somewhere that would enable businesses to turn a profit even when operating in the U.S., while also dealing with the government's ethical and environmental concerns.

If so, we'll never find that happy medium if we need government bureaucrats to find it.  Government bureaucrats are not judicious conservators of our nation's way of life.  They are attack dogs.  Chasing an issue beyond the bounds of any positive return is no deterrent to getting to sink teeth into a businessman's neck.  Doing so may ruin someone else's job opportunities, but the bureaucrat gets paid whether or not his actions help or hurt the economy, and life is always good in Washington.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Church of Liberalism vs. the Infidels

ObamaCare is floundering and Margaret Carlson is one unhappy liberal, which happens to be my favorite kind.

Carlson: "The website failure gives credence to those who warn that government can’t be trusted to get big things right, and that the market, not bureaucrats, should fix health care. It’s not just the crazies who doubt government now. According to the Pew Research Center, the competence of officialdom is on shaky ground, with only 19 percent of Americans saying they trust in government 'just about always' or 'most of the time.'"

"Crazies". I guess she means people like me -- people who don't always trust the government to do the right thing, whether through ignorance, incompetence or malice; people who believe, to quote another "crazy":

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."

The "crazy" who said that, by the way, went by the name of George Washington, who just happens to be the fellow after whom liberalism's Mecca was named.

For that's what we're dealing with here: a religion. There is no god but liberalism, and Obama is its prophet.  We are imbued in liberalism's moral precepts in the schools, battered incessantly with its presumptions in the popular media, and continually and coldly assessed by the keepers of its flame for any signs of heresy, unbelief, or rebellion.  Suspend a student from school for wearing an NRA T-shirt, or for physically defending himself in a fight.  Ostracize Chic-Fil-A and the Boy Scouts when they defend the traditional family.  Smear Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain with rumors of sexual misconduct when they take the national stage espousing a heretical viewpoint, while ignoring Bill Clinton's and John Edwards' own sexual issues for as long as possible because they're true believers.  When liberals speak of "crazies", what they really mean is infidels.

That makes liberalism, in Marxian terms, the opiate of the high and mighty classes.  It is the religion of choice for the clueless cognoscenti, such as Ms. Carlson. "Heaven" is the Great Society, our goal, our eschaton -- a social paradise, perfectly just, perfectly managed, and based on our shared faith in man's reason, knowledge, and inherent gosh-darn goodness.  Wicked resistance yet exists, but can be wholly blamed on the deprived childhoods and lack of (federally-funded) education of the benighted classes (that's us, by the way -- murderers, pimps, thieves, conservatives, and other species of "bitter clingers"). Society's institutions have failed to create a citizenry worthy of their vision. To create the Great Society requires tearing down our outmoded institutions and replacing them with newer, shinier ones.  Not justice, but social justice.  Not prison, but rehabilitation and re-education.  Not the family, but the village.  Not the church, but the progressive university.  Not the Constitution that James Madison helped write, but the "living Constitution" that the Supreme Court gets to re-write -- it's life, Jim, but not as we know it.

The opposing viewpoint, espoused by "crazies" like George Washington and me, is that man is imperfect in knowledge and character -- a fallen creature whose motives are suspect even on those rare occasions when his competence is not; whose laziness and greed require an incentive structure like the free market to get him to lift so much as a finger for his fellow man; and whose depravity requires institutions like the family and the church just to get him to behave himself.  You'll want to be very careful when dealing with such a creature.  You'll want to empower him to improve his own lot in life, while still protecting everyone else's.  Unfortunately, this also empowers him to ruin his own life.  And while it's dangerous to trust the governed, it's catastrophic to trust their governors:  you'll want to disperse political power and bind it with a constitution.  Unfortunately, this also disempowers the government from doing all the things some think it should. 

What you don't want is to collect too much political and economic power together under the hood of one mighty and unstoppable vehicle, and then hand over the keys to anyone who is not Jesus Christ.  Contrary to what the breathless and gushing Evan Thomas thinks, Barack Obama is not Jesus.  To judge by his recent spate of incompetencies, he's not even Pontius Pilate.

We had plenty of warning.  The Bible advises us, put not your faith in man. Discretion tells us, don't fix what ain't broke. Experience should have told most of us that slick hucksters, whether they wear the loud houndstooth and leering grin of the used-car saleman, or the blue serge and ingratiating smile of the professional politician, are to be taken with a grain of salt.

But many of us bought it anyway.  And now we have to suffer the consequences.  Alleluia, amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Heads I Win...

Joseph Atwill is a Bible scholar who is also an agnostic. Hey, it had to happen sometime. Atwill believes Jesus was made up by the Romans. Or maybe he's just hoping Jesus was made up by the Romans. Really, I can't tell which. But Atwill said at least one other thing I think is highly questionable...
“Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history...”
Let's leave aside his lack of perspective regarding history. Let's just go right for the quick, here: Atwill is wrong. Atwill is not just wrong based on my world view; he's wrong even according to his own.

Let me explain how...

Atwill is making a moral argument against Christianity. He's not the first. The main proposition is that the world would be better off without Christianity. So Atwill is implying here that there exists some standard by which he judges the "Good", and by which Christianity falls short.

So it's fair to ask, what is his standard, and what is its nature?  And no fair leaning on Christian ideals here -- he has to justify his moral argument based on his own assumptions, not mine.

Since Atwill doesn't believe in God, I presume he's a materialist, in which case he rejects the notion of any absolute standard for the Good. So then, without an absolute standard, what is left?

Opinion. That's all, folks. Atwill's may be an erudite opinion. It may be lucid and compelling. But it is just an opinion. In Atwill's opinion, and in the opinion of other atheists, Christianity falls short on the moral code-o-meter.

Can opinions themselves hold moral authority?

If so, then what makes Atwill's opinion better than the opinion of believers? Is it well-expressed? Well, there also happen to be articulate Christians. So that would probably not make the decisive difference.

Is Atwill himself some sort of moral authority to whom we should pay heed? My guess is, he's no better or worse than the vast number of us, including Christians. He's a mere human like us. Unless he assumes the authority of a prophet or an apostle -- and that isn't possible in his world view -- it's safe to assume he's personally no more authoritative than the rest of us.

What would it require to judge Atwill's opinion better than a Christian's? There would need to be some higher standard by which to judge both, wouldn't there? What would that higher standard be?

Reason? That seems to be a popular retort.  But if Reason is the arbiter, then St. Thomas Aquinas' opinion might be more important than Atwill's, if we can show Aquinas' powers of reasoning are superior. Aquinas, after all, is considered one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived. But, personally, I doubt that Reason holds all that much moral authority. Not to go full Godwin, but the Nazis were far better at reasoning than most other folks on this planet. They even took copious notes as they tortured Jews, so they would gain medical insights. E.g., they would throw a Jew naked into a snow bank, turn on the stop watch, and figure out how long they could keep him there before they couldn't resuscitate him. The head Nazis were hung at Nuremberg but they left us their data. It's perfectly good data. Lives have been saved using it. So what's wrong with collecting such data? Reason says the Jews were going to die anyway, might as well learn something we didn't already know, right?

Only it's repulsive as Hell, that's all, and Reason happens to be oblivious to that fact. Let's just stipulate it's ghoulish to decide one person's life is worth the torturing and killing of another person to whose life we impart no respect.  Reason is no help at all to us here because it can serve evil as well as good. That's why, whenever Reason is used to justify something evil, we call it 'rationalizing'.  So scratch that.

So then, what is that higher standard, if not Reason?  The majority?  Are we all majoritarians now?   Well, the majority in 1700 A.D. thought slavery was okay. A majority of American Indians thought human sacrifice was okay. We have a constitution with a bill of rights precisely because the Founding Fathers were perfectly aware that majorities can be oppressive and they believed even minorities deserve rights.  So scratch that too.

Maybe Atwill's opinion is better because, in his own view, he believes his opinions are somehow special. Problem is, he shares that conceit with practically everyone else on the planet, so that doesn't tell us anything either.

Is it starting to appear that Atwill's opinion isn't based on any higher standard at all?

In fact, the idea of a higher standard itself is a silly notion in materialist philosophy.  Don't believe in what you can't observe or measure -- that's their creed, after all.  Since we can't prove a higher standard exists, then materialists say it doesn't exist.

We conclude that Atwill's opinion is no better than anyone else's, based on Atwill's own assumptions about there being no God.

So, if his opinion is no better than anyone else's, then what is the point of him arguing it?  By his own assumptions about God, trying to convince us of his opinion's worth is pointless.

Whereas, in my opinion, there is something higher than my opinion -- namely, God's will.  I do right, or I do wrong, based on His opinion.  Provided God exists, that makes me right for embracing His will as the ultimate moral authority; whereas, provided He doesn't exist, it's pointless for Atwill to argue. So I win by both world views.

I even win by postmodernist standards. Postmodernists shrug and say, "What is truth? What is good?" and conclude that if something gives your life meaning, embrace it even at the expense of rationality. I can say I'm right, and they can't say I'm wrong. I win again.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Putting the Anal in Analyst

ABC News appears to be unhappy at the prospects that George Zimmerman may "walk free"...

I certainly don't know all the facts and I wasn't there when it happened. But I know tendentious news coverage when I see it.

Here's Dan Abrams, ABC News' "legal analyst" (their words, not mine): "So what happened? How can an armed man who shot and killed an unarmed teen after being told by the police that he didn't need to keep following him, likely be found not guilty of those crimes?"

The implication here is that unless Martin had been armed, it would have been unreasonable for Zimmerman to believe his own life was in danger.

Gee, Dan, ever been beaten up in the dark by a stranger? Somebody doesn't need to be packing heat to beat you up, you know. Nor does someone need to be armed with a gun to be able to kill you.

I can see it now. The grieving survivors at George Zimmerman's funeral, and those who loved him console themselves, saying "Well, at least George wasn't killed by a gun."

Abrams: "I certainly sympathize with the anger and frustration of the Martin family and doubt that a jury will accept the entirety of George Zimmerman's account as credible."

There's a little bit of question-begging going on right here. Does anybody else's supposed anger and frustration count? How frustrated would you be, Dan Abrams, if you were falsely accused of murder?

Abrams is fulfilling the role of propagandist, not analyst. One of the comments left at the ABC News site said it all...

"This is an outrage. It's clear that GZ broke his own nose, beat his own head against the sidewalk, while TM screamed in horror, and then when GZ was done self mutilating, pulled TM on top of him and shot him in the chest. How did everyone miss that?"

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Greater Tragedies Than This

Here's a link to an article about the death of cursive writing in America... http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57591586/is-cursive-writing-dead/

It caught my attention because cursive writing reminds me of my grandfather. My biological maternal grandfather, that is -- a man who was born sometime around 1890, and about whom little was known but the name he claimed was his -- Joseph Doyle. I never met him; he died several years before I was born. I grew up knowing my step-grandfather, Jack Haskins -- who, for all intents and purposes, was my "real" grandfather, a patriot who served his country in the Pacific fighting against the Japanese, and who later turned me on to history and science-fiction.

Mom always suspected Joe Doyle wound up here in Virginia because he was "on the lam", guilty of a crime in another state that motivated him to change his name and hit the road. He had claimed to have been born in Baton Rouge, LA, but Mom never could locate his birth certificate. He simply appeared one day in Hopewell, VA, where my grandmother Sarah lived as a young, working-class woman. They met. They married. They had my mom. They divorced. All in the space of four years. Joe Doyle was alcoholic and abusive, but Sarah was not your stereotypical "victim." She wasn't afraid to get into a fistfight with him, and finally she just tossed him out on his keister.

For a while, Joe Doyle lingered in the Hopewell area, where he organized the labor force of one of the largest chemical companies in Hopewell. The corporation, which had maintained employment throughout the Great Depression, threatened to shut down if the workers voted for a union. The union was voted in, and the corporation fulfilled its threat. Among his other contributions, Joe Doyle once beat my great-grandfather nearly to death.

Having caused enough trouble in Hopewell, Joe Doyle then moved on to Washington, D.C. where he became a barber and married a Russian woman named Anna. He and Sarah split custody of my mom, so Mom lived in Hopewell and Washington in alternating school years. Joe Doyle would get back at Sarah by abusing my mom. He did things to her that would earn him a lengthy prison sentence today -- but in those days, teachers would see the bruises on her face and the striped-red-raw flesh of her beaten arms and legs (he would use a razor strop, a tool of the barber's trade), and not say a word to anyone. Finally, at the age of twelve, she begged Sarah not to send her back to the Doyle house. Mom never saw him again after that. He died of cirrhosis when she was in nurse's training in the late Forties. She heard from someone that, when the priest approached him on his deathbed, Joe Doyle snarled, "I'll die as I've lived." I trust that he did.

All that, to say, this... Whenever I read articles about cursive writing, Joe Doyle comes to my mind. He was a literate man, and possessed an IQ measured at 160. He wrote poetry, and was blessed with the best penmanship I've ever seen. That was all that was left of him -- that, and one grainy photograph from about 1926, standing alongside Sarah. His handwriting was stunningly beautiful. I don't know how good his poetry is, but visually, each written word is a work of art.

How far the apple has fallen from the grand-tree! I never had the dexterity or patience to learn how to write legibly, let alone beautifully. My second-grade teacher, Miss Smith, announced one day to the whole class that I'd never amount to anything because of my poor penmanship. My cursive writing skills eventually deteriorated to the point where I gave up on them altogether in high school, writing all of my assignments in standard print. Sometime during my college years, even my printing became illegible. Fortunately, the Lord in His mercy invented keyboards, and I was no longer doomed to a life of written incoherence.

There are those who will rage at the dying of the cursive write. For me, it's like watching the book close on Joe Doyle, one last time. The world has known greater tragedies.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Works

"I have seen the future and it works." That's the famous wide-eyed observation of the Soviet Union by journalist Lincoln Steffens, who like most journalists never saw a left-wing totalitarian scheme that he didn't like.

Where the Soviets commandeered an entire economy, however, Western progressives have had to piecemeal it, taking over a sector at a time. That's where the term (maybe it's obsolete today) "creeping socialism" came from. It's been wildly successful because in government there's no shortage of creeps.

Well, we can see the future too. And depending on the goal, it can even be said to work. If the goal is to kill off the people entrusted to its care, the socialized British medical system is a morbid success story rivaling Stalin's Ukrainian genocide, in indifference if not in scope.


Cure patients of their ills? Conquer disease? Mend the wounded? Apparently, the British medical system can't even keep their patients fed and hydrated.

The good news for liberals, progressives, and socialists is that, with today's technology, they will be able to determine beforehand who deserves quality health care and who doesn't. Why, no sense wasting government benefits on their bitter and outspoken critics. Need a new kidney? They'll fix you right up. But first they might want to call the NSA. Wouldn't want to waste a kidney, so to speak, on a conservative troglodyte. Good thing Obamacare will be administered by the IRS. They have experience in meting out fair, impartial, objective, and unbiased punishment on those who stand in the way of progress.

Socialized medicine, coming to an America near you.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Absolutely Relative

I saw this quote, from an article by Rick Moran at PJMedia...
"Morality based on “outcomes”? Isn’t that a classic definition of moral relativism? Obviously, Raw Story believes that this is some kind of triumph for the left, that it’s good to judge moral actions based on how things turn out. Abortion may be an evil but if it results in a woman living a better life, then it is a positive good"
It seems to me that this skirts the issue. Liberals and conservatives, as well as moral absolutists and relativists, all have some stake in outcomes. We need some standard by which to measure the success or failure of the outcome. It is the standard itself that stands as either absolute or relative.

Is it okay to tell a lie? That sounds like an easy one; in fact, it is not. Scenario: you know for a fact, having just discovered it yourself, that the family across the street is hiding Jews in the attic from the Gestapo. Later in the week, you are approached by a Nazi official. He asks you, do you know anyone who is harboring Jews?

Obviously, the correct moral answer is, no sir. Congratulations, you have justified telling a moral lie.

So how can a moral absolutist, like myself, believe that telling a lie can be a good thing?

As Gen. Curtis Lemay used to say, there's a reason for the rules: the reasons are important; the rules are not. The rule against telling lies is less important than the reason behind them.

And that reason is: building and maintaining loving relationships -- the essence of moral law. It does no good to talk about morality without talking about relationships. That's the reason moral law exists. The rules themselves, or at least many of them, can change. However, the standard by which we judge the rules is absolute, as are some of the rules: e.g., love the Lord with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself. Even when the rules do change, there's still nothing arbitrary going on . Only in service to the absolute love that ought to accompany all of our acts can the rules be viewed as relative. That is our standard: absolute love.

The standard can only be absolute if it is eternal. The existence of the Holy Trinity is the only theology that really supports this -- One God, but in Three Persons, the same yesterday, today and forever. They have had to get along with each other forever; from personal experience, they know everything about maintaining loving relationships.

If our Lord were a monadic God -- one God, one Person -- then, presumably, eons would have passed before He created another soul. During that intervening time, there would have been no relationships, but only a universe of one. Relationships would not be permanent. Moral law would have to wait to be born.

Conservatives believe in an absolute standard because they believe (or tend to, anyway) in the absolute and permanent love of our Creator. Liberals, who tend not to believe very strongly in the Christian narrative, believe in a situational standard. And why not? The liberals' world is a situational world. Evolution put man here one day long ago and some day long from now a supernova will take him away, if our own evil doesn't do us in first. This means moral law is not absolute; it arrived some time after man became self-aware and will vanish when he does. And since everything else is situational, so too is morality.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Things Biology Just Can't Explain

It seems to me that any moral code based on materialism is missing an 'ought'. It could possibly explain why animals, including humans, behave a certain way. It could possibly explain why behaving a certain way better equips the species for survival.

What materialism can't explain, at least to my philosophically and biologically untrained mind, is why any such behavior is good, or bad, from a moral perspective. All it can do is to show the norm, and that individual creature A behaves different from that norm; it can't explain whether the behavior is right or wrong.

Materialism might postulate that an aberrant behavior hurts the species' chances of survival (though such an argument might more easily be made in hindsight). But it can't tell us why extinction is bad.

It can't even tell us why death is bad, since when one thing dies, many other living things get to nourish themselves on the carcass. As the outlaw Josie Wales said, worms gotta eat too, same as people. Modern biology, as materialism's water carrier in the natural sciences, should be pleased either way with the outcome.

Humans detachedly observe in other species behaviors that they would condemn as immoral in other humans. When lions kill each other in territorial disputes, the behavior isn't called evil, it's just what lions do. When chimps eat a female from another clan, it may seem repulsive, but again, they're just doing what chimps do -- I've yet to hear a biologist refer to this behavior as "evil". In fact, letting her live might raise the biologist's eyebrow, were that actually the aberrant behavior.

So it seems to me that, if we're discussing any morality derived from biology, we need simply to understand:

1. When humans act in certain ways, they're just doing what humans do.

2. Since they're just doing what humans do, there's no right or wrong, it just is.

3. If a behavior renders us extinct, that's okay, worms and buzzards have to eat too.

4. Nonetheless, there are behaviors that we like and don't like.

What this leaves us with is preferences -- morality minus authority.  E.g., if gay men like being with other men, that's natural. But that's a two-edged sword: if straight men don't like gay men's behavior, that's natural too.  It all boils down to what we like and what we don't like.

But to get others to take our likes and dislikes seriously, we have to dress them up in more dignified clothing. Thus, if I'm trying to convince someone to like what I like, I'm going introduce a new concept: morality. I don't like what you're doing: that's immoral. Do as I say do: that's moral.  Calling it 'morality' helps me get what I like.  Why are appeals to morality so persuasive?  Beats me.  But they are, and I can use them to my advantage, perhaps.

If morality is biological, I'm afraid this is the world we live in: morality is but an illusion, alive so long as humans are here to uphold it, dead and gone when the last human is.

Paul said that faith is belief in things unseen.  When atheists speak in moral terms, they are either exhibiting the last vestiges of faith, or exploiting them.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Van Cliburn, R.I.P.

Van Cliburn, the great piano virtuoso, is dead at 78.

I was a music major back in the early Seventies and was privileged to attend a performance given by Van Cliburn at my college. He was then in his late thirties.

As a music major on an instrument other than piano, the threat of failing my piano jury and not getting my degree loomed over me throughout my stay at Penn State. So I took piano lessons from one of the grad assistants -- one of the less distinguished ones, unfortunately, but that made us even, as I was certainly one of her less distinguished students. I do remember that she bad-mouthed Van Cliburn via "piannissimo praise", the preferred defamatory gambit of music students. Nobody could speak ill of Cliburn's talent, but the word on the studio floor was that he was "selling out" -- booking too many concerts, which kept him from putting in the preparation necessary to churn out great performances.

Well, sorry, but who can blame him? As Jerry Reed sang, when you're hot, you're hot, and Cliburn was hotter than Elvis. But my piano teacher, amidst the cattiness, let loose an interesting comment: allegedly, Cliburn would often be so "unprepared" as to memorize piano scores he had never actually played on the airplane en route to his gig. The nerve.

The remark had exactly the opposite effect on me that was intended. I could not grasp the level of genius it would take to be able to memorize a piano score that one had never played, or the level of showmanship it would take to perform it. My respect for Cliburn went up, not down.

And yes, even several rows back, one could see what enormous hands Cliburn had -- he was said to have been able hit an octave and a fifth with one hand. You don't have to have huge hands to be a great pianist (e.g., Alicia de Larrocha), but it has to help. The Air Force band to which I belonged once accompanied Leon Bates (back when he and I were both young) performing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue"; Mr. Bates is a smiling, handsome fellow who looked like he would have been as much in his element running a football through a tough defensive line as tickling the ivories in black tie. His style made marvelous use of his mesomorphic build: large, muscular, commanding.  Yes, big hands have to be helpful at some level.

Van Cliburn not only beat the pants off the Soviet pianists when he won the Tchaikovsky Competition, he earned their love and respect.  At the height of the Cold War, that was no mean accomplishment.  Cliburn made the world a better place, and the world is worse off for his passing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ulysses S. Obama

I've decided finally that Obama is a much better politician than most people give him credit for.
His style reminds me a lot of General Ulysses S. Grant.
His opponent, General Robert E. Lee, thought his job was to defend Richmond.  General Grant was not trying to take Richmond; he was trying to destroy Lee.
Ronald Reagan famously said something to the effect, you'd be surprised at what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.  That's pretty high-minded and shows Reagan had a lot of class.  Unfortunately, politics doesn't always reward the class act.  There has, until Obama, always been an implicit understanding that your adversaries in the political process belong there just as much as you do, and at the end of the day some sort of compromise must be worked out -- hopefully, to your advantage.  Ronald Reagan was something of a Robert E. Lee.  He had actual policy goals and worked with anyone, Democrats or Republicans, to accomplish them.
Contrast that with Obama, who wouldn't breathe air if it meant acknowledging the GOP was right about something, anything.
This quote from Gov. Haley of South Carolina is instructive:
"I could not be more frustrated than I am right now,” Haley told reporters after the meeting. She said that when she asked Obama if he would consider a last-minute plan to shave about 2 percent from the annual federal budget without increasing taxes, the answer was “no.”“My kids could go and find $83 billion out of a $4 trillion budget,” Haley said. “This is not rocket science.”
Haley believes she's still operating under the Reagan paradigm.  She's upset because she thinks the president's job is to do what's best for the country and doesn't understand his intransigence.
She's trying to defend Richmond.
Obama is not trying to take Richmond; he's trying to destroy the GOP.
I think he's doing a fine job of it.

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