Sunday, February 27, 2005

Chris Rock is funny

A couple of things I just caught: first, he presented a segment in which he interviewed the "moviegoer on the street" to see if they'd seen any of the best picture nominees. None had. It was pretty amusing.

Then, he introduced Tim Robbins by saying (paraphrase), "When he's not entertaining us, he's boring us to death with his politics."

Hehe. Hollywood's so self-important when it comes to things like these awards -- look at us beautiful people, we're important, darling, we're relevant! -- that it just cries out to be mocked a little, and I think it's been great that Rock has been doing it for the last few weeks, much to the Academy's chagrin. I'm surprised they let him do that segment. Good for him.

Hey, I usually tune in to watch all the beautiful people too, and I can appreciate art ... but I still think a lot of the Academy are 'limousine liberal' snobs, and Chris Rock is funny :)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

I shall taunt you a second time

I've added to my sidebar ndnation blog, which like Blue-Gray Sky has pretty good Irish football commentary and an appropriately strong sense of school pride. Take this swipe at Florida:

The UF football program has which of the following:

1. a rich and storied tradition
2. generations of success
3. a name synonymous with college football
4. a high graduation rate
5. a university curriculum without majors such as "Recreational Therapy"
6. numerous national championships
7. numerous Heisman trophy winners
8. a national following
9. every game nationally televised
10. a chip on its shoulder

If you want to talk smack to a Domer, you had better have more than just #10 to back it up.

Ouch. I've got no particular beef with UF but I'm familiar with the attitude of those who would bash Notre Dame. Good post :)

People who need people

Japan has come up with some weird stuff before, but this is out there. (Link via Family Scholars, who headline it, appropriately, just "Whoa.")

As Japan produces fewer children and more retirees, toymakers are designing new dolls designed not for the young but for the lonely elderly -- companions which can sleep next to them and offer caring words they may never hear otherwise . . .

The doll ["Yumel"] can be programmed to "sleep" or "wake up" in accordance with the owner's pattern, saying "good morning" with open eyes at due time or inviting the elderly to sleep with the doll's eyelids drooping.

"If you lead an orderly life, Yumel will be in a good mood, singing songs or pleading with you to do something like buying him toys," Kiriseko said . . .

Some customers are so much in love with the doll that they are troubled by casual questions it asks. "Some say they cannot give Yumel good answers when it asks questions such as 'Why do elephants have long noses?'" Kiriseko said.

"You may think they don't have to answer as it's just a doll who's asking, but they are truly perplexed," Kiriseko said.

This is more than a little disturbing, I think. It has long been evident that the demographic crisis in the West and Japan is going to change societies in fundamental ways, and it's also no new trend that these societies have become less supportive of the elderly -- but on an individual level, how sad is it that children can be so unsupportive of their parents that the parents would resort to a doll, talking at the level of a five-year-old, for "human" contact? What a terrible shame. At least dogs and cats are real and can show real affection, though again, one would hope that adult children would not be so enamored of maintaining their "lifestyles" (the article's word) that they would neglect to spend time with their own parents. These dolls may be cute, but their programmed 1200-word vocabulary and creepy entreaties of their owners (to buy them toys?!) can't be true substitutes for family.

What shall we hang

One of the cable channels has been running Oscar-nominated movies every night this month, and particularly because they're playing in widescreen and without commercials it's been a good way to see some older films that I never watched before (my sister was a film major, but it's not my field :). So, the other night I watched "The Lion in Winter" and most of "Lawrence of Arabia." They made for an interesting comparison since the former was almost entirely built on the dialogue (adapted from a play) and the latter was more purely a visual masterpiece -- just amazing cinematography. They both had good stories and settings, but that was the main difference I perceived, anyway. With "Lion" I kept feeling like I didn't want to watch any more -- the royal family drama was so full of scheming, manipulation, venom, and cruelty that it wasn't pleasant to observe. Yet the insults were so sharply written and so merrily delivered by Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole -- who seemed never to be able to decide whether they loved each other passionately or despised each other utterly -- that it was hard not to keep watching. Overall I think I'd prefer "Lawrence," despite its being so long, because it's shot so well, has better character complexity, and so is more compelling to watch. But both were worth seeing, and now I think my film education has been helped a little :)

Democracy's spread?

Some steps, anyway: Egypt's president Mubarak has decided he might allow people to run against him (for the first time in 25 years) in this fall's elections. It's going to require constitutional change, since it's written in their constitution that only a single candidate can be on the ballot for president. (Shockingly, President Mubarak keeps on winning with 90 percent of the vote. Such a popular guy!) But now, apparently, getting some pressure based on recent elections in Palestine and Iraq, he's feeling more magnanimous. There's still no indication that he's going to free the leader of an opposition party whom he arrested last month. Still, Mubarak's sudden commitment to "the need to consolidate efforts for more freedom and democracy" certainly appears to be a good sign.

Friday, February 25, 2005

False hopes and a failure of journalism

There are going to be a lot of stories to follow with regard to California's monster funding initiative, Prop. 71, for stem cell research (significantly including embryonic stem cells). Most of them, if current trends are any indication, won't mention adult stem cell research but will talk quite a bit about ESCR, often without giving serious attention to the controversy of the latter. Whether the oversight with regard to ASCR is deliberate or inadvertent, it's really unforgivable as a matter of journalism because it is a failure to fully report -- and it's not only leading to millions of people being uninformed but also giving many people false hopes, which seems wrong.

Here's one story of a man suffering from the terrible effects of ALS. He seems to harbor sincere hopes that stem cell research, from human embryos, will deliver a cure for him within the next two or three years. In fact, embryonic stem cells are nowhere near being ready for clinical trials in human beings, and there are lots of practical concerns (aside from the serious ethical ones that California's shoved to the side) about getting to that point. Pluripotent embryonic stem cells tend to differentiate unpredictably and lead to tumor growth, and they are hard to direct. There is greater possibility of immune rejection with these cells because they will never be of the same type as a patient. On the other hand, adult stem cells do not present the same problems of immune rejection or uncontrollable growth, and they have already been and are now being used in therapies in actual patients, in many different contexts. The results for many different individuals -- from restoring motor neuron function in spinal cord injury patients, to restoring sight to the blind, to causing substantial improvement in symptoms of Parkinsons -- have been truly amazing and represent real promise, and sooner, to sufferers of devastating conditions like the San Diego man with ALS. With all that being the case, why does the Union-Tribune not even mention ASCR? Instead, we get this:

The most promising research is with stem cells from days-old embryos. Because these cells have not yet been programmed, they have the potential to become any cell in the body. Conjuring images of the cavalry coming to the rescue, these embryonic stem cells could conceivably replenish diseased organs and tissues –- offering the promise of curing everything from Alzheimer's to ALS.

ESCR isn't the "most promising" research, and it's not a heroic cavalry -- and it's cruel to sufferers of diseases like ALS to keep hyping the hope that ESCR is going to represent a miracle cure. In fairness, this article does do a fair job of representing the moral concerns about ESCR, but the failure to discuss ASCR only continues to underinform the public.

Moderation for thee, but not for me

There really are groups out there that think the Democrats are losing touch with their inner radical leftists -- witness this outraged commentary on abortion from Elizabeth Schulte over at Socialist Worker. Giving the pro-life Dems the time of day is disturbing to Schulte, and she's genuinely appalled at Hillary Clinton's, John Kerry's, and Howard Dean's feints toward a middle position on the subject. She can't believe NARAL retreated from its opposition to the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act -- an anti-choice act if there ever was one, she suggests, since it implies fetuses older than 20 weeks might be living human beings who could feel pain like actual people. She actually believes that Democrats are "poised to eject their pro-choice position completely."

Well, cool off, Ms. Schulte: last time I checked, Senators Clinton and Kerry still had 100% ratings from NARAL (and no, NARAL's nowhere near the middle or mainstream on this issue). And given that Howard Dean used to work for Planned Parenthood and is still talking to audiences about women's rights to "health care" and rights to choose, he doesn't appear to be seriously moving away from the left either.

Of course I'd like to see more people become pro-life. I think it would be great if the Democratic leadership got serious about the goal of eliminating abortion (for that matter, all the libertarian and pro-choice Republicans, too). I just don't think that's going to happen for the Dems anytime soon, as beholden as the party is to the abortion-rights sector. The Socialist Worker folks needn't lose sleep for any time in the foreseeable future.

The weather wimps

Steven Pearlstein, a New England transplant to D.C., complains about the way in which Washingtonians cower in fear at the mere mention of snow. About yesterday, he says, "All day long, TV news crews whipped up fears about 'treacherous driving' even as the scenes behind them showed traffic moving smoothly on snowless roads." As it turned out, according to the Weather Channel report I saw this morning, D.C. got about 3 inches. Still, as much as Washington might consist of weather wimps, I think Columbus is pretty close behind. Drivers freak out here when it starts to rain, much less snow. And the weather guys here always seem to be predicting "lots of snow!" when nothing much ever hits the city itself. Of course, then the times you don't hear much from the weather guys are when the genuine storms hit. Oh well. I guess I'll be trading one worrying city for another!

Letting Dean be Dean

When I first saw this AP headline ("Liberal groups watching Dean"), I thought it was interesting that liberal groups were really concerned that Dean might become too moderate in reaching out a bit more to the right. It seems that "the normally blunt Dean appears to be trying to shift from flamboyant presidential candidate to cautious party spokesman." Hmm. Isn't it more likely he'd take the party too far away from the center? Some don't think so, like Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones:

"There are some that worry that he will move the party too far to the left, but I'm not worried about that," [says the woman who challenged Ohio's electoral vote count long after the election]. "I think he will give definition to the party and allow Democrats to define the party instead of allowing Republicans to define us."

Personally, I think Ms. Tubbs Jones should worry a little more about the too-far-left part, but not at all about the definition part. Dean seems quite happy to keep being Dean, whether it's talking to party interest groups or to students, as he did on Wednesday at Cornell. He's still bringing out his best stump lines, the ones that really demonstrate understanding of what it might take to bring more voters over from the Republicans:

"You ever wonder why Republican campaigns are all run the same? Guns, God and gays. That's all they do. Why is that? It's because they never have anything constructive to say about jobs, healthcare and a real defense policy," Dean said.

He should take those first lines back to the South, since they loved him there :) Or take this one, with the standard euphemism:

"The difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the Democrats think that women should be able to make up their own mind about what kind of health care they have," Dean said on abortion rights.

I always wonder what the Democrats think, when they appear to be speaking about and for all women, about the around half of women voters who do vote Republican. Complete dupes? Mindless drones who don't realize they can think for themselves about things like health care or what's in their own interests? Never mind. I suspect most of us will be happy to just let Dean continue to build those bridges.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Credulity strained

In a somewhat ironic turn, some scientists engaged in embryonic stem cell research with IVF embryo lines are now thinking that their research will first lead to improvements in IVF itself. The SF Chronicle article on the subject highlights a lot of the reasons opponents of ESCR have long been concerned. For one, take the attitude of the scientists quoted:

"If we can find the best way to grow embryos to get stem cells, and understand the best techniques to nurture them, then we can do studies to see if it might make a difference in our standard culture lines for things we are indeed going to place into patients," said Dr. David Smotrich, medical director and founder of La Jolla IVF.

One might wonder, from Dr. Smotrich's matter-of-fact tone, why such research would even arouse controversy at all. But embryos aren't just "things to place into patients," like a Pacemaker. They are early-stage human lives, whether placed into patients or not. The fact that some embryos might not be implanted, by design (that is, to the argument that they were never going to be born anyway so why not use them for research), doesn't obviate questions about whether the research embryos should have been created in the first place. What breathtaking indifference to the power being exercised here: some of these embryos they'll kill for research, and some they'll decide to let go on to life. It's all up to the scientists who lives and dies; it doesn't matter which does which or the fact that some must die to help the others live. It doesn't matter how many human embryos will have to die in the process of discovering the "best way" to grow stem cells, in all the experiments that must be done along the way. Of course, we missed the opportunity to decry much of this when we failed, as a society, to object to all the experimentation (and countless discarded embryos) that led to IVF in the first place. Still, now we're talking casually about research and experimentation on nascent human lives separate from any IVF process that itself would be at least directed toward birth.

Also take this statement:

The stem cell researchers hope to work out every step of this process in order to determine just how the all-purpose stem cells manage to turn into the particular cells that make up the human body. Their findings clearly have implications for IVF -- one reason many clinics are forming active collaborations with stem cell laboratories.

I've suggested before that one reason to be wary of the promise that "we'll only use the excess embryos!" is that it's easy to see how quickly that intention slides to cover cloning the excess embryos you've gotten (since there weren't really enough to begin with), or providing financial incentives for clinics to maybe intentionally produce more of the "excess" embryos (so that in the course of 'normal' fertility treatments, the doctors go ahead and create a few more extra embryos -- why not?). Perhaps such predictions seemed alarmist: hardly. We know the New York Times is all for the cloning piece of things already; no dissembling there. Now it appears the "collaborations" between ESCR labs and fertility clinics have already begun as well. Look for the mainstream media to continue to report such developments entirely credulously, without much question (such as, do the patients know about the collaborations? Did they consent to their embryos being used? What conflicts of interests might arise here? How much money is at stake?). If they just push the storylines through, then over time people stop noticing anything novel or troublesome about the research. Hey, it's established fact. Are you going to turn back the clock? (Darned reactionaries.) Meanwhile, where are the stories on adult stem cells -- have they received equal or greater prominence proportionate to the actual results they're achieving? Not so much -- here, the Chronicle says nary a word about the existence of adult stem cells.

We do get one line about opponents of ESCR in the story, with a fair representation of our concern:

That doesn't eliminate the moral concern, of course, because critics object to any deliberate destruction of one life in order to save another.

As a moral proposition, one might think such a claim is sufficiently weighty to warrant further discussion -- wow, is that what's going on here? Destruction of lives to save others? Didn't we talk about this with Nazi medical experiments? And in this case, isn't it true that we're not even "saving" anyone or anything at all yet -- such that what's going on should really be framed as deliberate destruction of countless thousands of lives in the abstract hope of maybe one day possibly saving others?

But that's it, and it's followed up by one researcher's statement that the IVF/ESCR connections make for "an interesting twist." The quote comes from a Proposition 71 (the California multi-billion dollar stem cell initiative) oversight board member. It doesn't say much for the hope that she might actually exercise meaningful oversight over the research.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Colbert killed a panda

Those darned bloggers, spreading rumors about real news people, like the ones on the Daily Show :)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Highway robbery

Dan sounds off over at Daily Contentions with a good rant against the superinflationary (is that a word? it looks like it should be :) costs of higher education, specifically at Notre Dame where it's now more than $10,000/yr more than when I started there just seven years ago. This is insane. ND concedes that's about a 39% higher cost since just 1999 -- whereas the overall inflation rate, as Dan suggests, has been less than half that. What's worse, financial director Joe Russo is giving extremely lame excuses for the price rises, including maintaining the Notre Dame power plant. Give me a break. And despite the university's increases in financial aid grants, many people are still hurting from the ongoing gouging. Says Dan: "While I agree that Regis' kids shouldn't be entitled to Pell grants, there is perhaps a better solution that could help students of all economic backgrounds: DON'T RAISE TUITION!"

I've grumbled before that I wish there were some realistic possibility that we the consumers for higher education degrees would simply refuse to pay beyond some point. It just doesn't seem likely to happen, but how unfortunate for those (like my Domer siblings) who do face many, many years of awfully-high monthly loan repayments. Is a place like Notre Dame worth a lot? Absolutely. But $40k per year? My 1925-built dorm would say probably not.

No such thing as anonymity

Moritz privacy guru (and former White House chief counselor for privacy) Peter Swire is quoted in today's WaPo article about identity theft. In a shocking lapse of security, a large Georgia information collection/dissemination company sold 145,000 people's names, addresses, social security numbers, and some of their credit reports, to a massive fraud ring on the West Coast. Having had my own SSN stolen last year, though I was lucky not to incur credit problems at the same time, I understand all the headaches this causes in trying to straighten everything out. As Professor Swire says, "This is not some theoretical debate about privacy principles. This is fraud affecting lots of people." And it's not pretty.

Code breaking

I just switched over to Mozilla (from Netscape ... you think I'd use IE?) and noticed my site renders differently again from in either of the two main browsers. The lines around my sidebar quote extend across the page. I had set the width as 80% in the sidebar, and it looks all right in Netscape and Explorer, but Firefox seems to read it as 80% of the whole page. It's really distracting but I don't know how to fix the tags. Any readers know? Thanks!

UPDATE: Thanks to the gentlemen who emailed me with suggestions. I switched the lines to be fixed-width, which seems to work across all browsers unless you've got a very small window open (in which case the sidebar items go to the bottom of the page). But the fix works well enough until I can figure out a few other tags, so gracias :)

Arithmetic of the afterlife

In an NYT Magazine critique of intelligent design, writer Jim Holt tosses off the following:

And why should the human reproductive system be so shoddily designed? Fewer than one-third of conceptions culminate in live births. The rest end prematurely, either in early gestation or by miscarriage. Nature appears to be an avid abortionist, which ought to trouble Christians who believe in both original sin and the doctrine that a human being equipped with a soul comes into existence at conception. Souls bearing the stain of original sin, we are told, do not merit salvation. That is why, according to traditional theology, unbaptized babies have to languish in limbo for all eternity. Owing to faulty reproductive design, it would seem that the population of limbo must be at least twice that of heaven and hell combined.

Staying out of the intelligent design fray (I generally don't have problems with evolution), it's worth taking a look at that statement. First, on the assertion that Christians who believe souls inhere at conception ought to be troubled by nature being an "avid abortionist" (wink, nudge) -- I don't see why we should be troubled so much more by death before birth than after birth, as a theological question. After all, 100% of live births culminate in death at some point, and a good many of these also aren't baptized. Traditional (presumably we may substitute Catholic) theology has a fair amount to say in both cases, and while it does hold that, per Christ, baptism is necessary for salvation, Catechism also teaches that "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (CCC 1257). God's mercy is infinite and unknowable, and he wants all of us to be saved; and Jesus in particular said of the children to let them come to him. So traditional theology holds that while unbaptized children may be in limbo, we may justly put our trust and hope in God's mercy for their salvation. Personally, I don't think he's letting twice as many people stay in limbo as in heaven or hell -- and so I don't think our "shoddily designed" reproductive systems are any sort of argument for a less than beneficent Designer.

For a (tangentially) related link, this article by Cardinal Dulles on "The Population of Hell" is an interesting read.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Made in His image

This week my brother sent me some tapes by Christopher West, who's best known for making John Paul II's "personalism" philosophy and theology accessible to laymen. (I've read all the way through "Love and Responsibility," Wojtyla's early major work on what would become a hallmark of his thinking, and as powerful as it is it's also pretty dense philosophical writing of the kind I struggled mightily with in undergrad. So I can attest to the benefit of having all the ideas simplified.) :) West starts off his talks by getting his audience to really consider why we can speak of a "theology of the body" at all. I've heard the phrase many times, but didn't really grasp it; but if theology is the study of God, and man is made in the image of God, then studying the body and its purposes and experiences can also be a study of God -- another way we can know Him. This idea is woven throughout Scripture, from the first man to the Incarnation of Christ to the professed relationship between Christ and the Church (and we who make up the Church). The relationship of Christ and the Church is that of a bridegroom and bride; or in the converse, husbands are supposed to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. As we are told in the letter to Ephesians, their union is a great mystery. Thus, by studying the human condition and how we fully relate to each other, we can also learn about divine love and how we can relate to God.

The talk I'm listening to now is called "Winning the Battle for Sexual Purity," (not prudishness or puritanism, but purity) and is primarily addressed to men, as he speaks about the male experience in our culture with uniquely strong desires and temptations toward pornography and nonmarital sex, and with confused ideas about sex and masculinity. It's interesting to listen to as a woman, since women's experiences are often so different. As in his book The Good News about Sex and Marriage, West does a good job of conveying the Catholic teaching on difficult but essential subjects. I haven't finished the tapes yet, but I would recommend them for young men especially.

Friday, February 18, 2005

That unfair biology

It's hard to know where to begin with this story, so I'll just start at the top (link via Family Scholars). Here's the premise:

Several times each month, the Toronto woman [Jane Doe, "a lesbian living in a long-term relationship"] attempted to inseminate herself at home with semen donated by a gay friend who had helped Ms. Doe's lesbian partner procreate two years earlier.

When these attempts proved futile, Ms. Doe opted for artificial insemination, only to run headlong into a federal law that prohibits gay males or men over 40 from being sperm donors. The prospective sperm donor -- identified only as G. -- was both 40 and gay.

If heterosexual women could obtain artificial insemination with sperm donated by their spouses or sex partners without running into roadblocks, Ms. Doe said, why were lesbians being shut out?

(Naturally, she sued.) Well. It seems like lesbians aren't targeted by this law (passed for health reasons) any more specifically than anyone else, since they presumably can undergo artificial insemination by non-gay males or men under 40 just as well as heterosexual women; Ms. Doe's desired inseminator just didn't meet the criteria after the turkey baster had failed. Also, heterosexual women seeking insemination from unknown or even known donors who aren't their husbands or partners would also have to deal with the law. As for the women "spouses" and sex partners not being of help, that seems like a straightforward fact of biology -- life's really unfair that way -- but Ms. Doe's lawyer sees it otherwise: "Since lesbians are completely dependent for donor sperm on males who are neither their spouses nor their sex partners, Mr. Bredt said, the regulations are discriminatory." Worse yet, though it's not clear how this is so, "It is driving them out of the health-care system."

Ms. Doe's case may now be moot, since as the paper reports, "In a strange twist of fate, Ms. Doe's efforts to fertilize herself at home ultimately resulted in her becoming pregnant in May of 2002." This is such an odd statement when you think about it. "Becoming pregnant" -- where customary means are implied -- transmutes in stories like this to "efforts to fertilize herself at home." We're not supposed to reflect, in cases like this, of the unnaturalness of the endeavor, of its desirability as a matter of social policy, or of its impact on the children that do sometimes result. Of course, we too infrequently reflect on such questions when artificial conceptive means are employed by single women or even married couples, or the when old-fashioned means are employed in nonmarital encounters. But still, reflect on it here, with a few more details:

The characters in the case cover much of the alphabet. In 1998, 'W.' -- Ms. Doe's partner -- conceived a child, known as L., with the help of their gay friend, G.

The couple wanted G. to be the father of Ms. Doe's child, since that would give the siblings a biological link and a common father.

In an affidavit, G. said he enjoys a warm relationship with the children, as do his parents, who are active, doting grandparents.

"Forming this family has been my choice, together with the choices of Jane Doe and W. I delight in my role as a biological and social father, and I view these choices as fundamental to my pursuit of a full and happy life."

There is a 'strangely twisted' aspect to the human desires at work here, and it's not a matter of fate but of misguided choices. The women desire to have children, feeling, perhaps, that motherhood is something special or essential to being a woman -- but they live in a manner which does not allow for that desire to be truly fulfilled since it fundamentally denies men's contribution. They desire to have their children share a biological link, feeling, perhaps, that biology and blood often do matter at an elemental level in binding a family -- but they live in a manner that requires by its very nature awkward arrangements to achieve it. The man desires to be a father, feeling that there is something fundamental to happiness and fulfillment in fatherhood -- but he twists the desire to be more about his own happiness than that of the children he created without corresponding commitment to the children's mothers (at least one of them!) in marriage.

There is something fundamental to human fulfillment in creating a family, in raising children. Not everyone is called to the vocations of marriage and parenthood, but those who are often do find true joy where love exists and manifests in creation. But the ideal setting for children and their parents is in marriages between the mother and the father. And it's where the focus is on others (the spouse and the children) rather than on yourself. I don't particularly care if Ontario's law is discriminatory in this case: I think the consideration for society and lawmakers should be whether it's advisable to encourage or permit artificial insemination for unmarried people at all. We can't stop unmarried people from having children, of course -- the laws of nature also let that happen quite easily. If the focus were really to be on what's best for children, though, instead of what adults want, should we permit in law the artificial creation of children who will lack, by design, one parent from the beginning?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

There be Irish here

Great post over at Blue-Gray Sky -- not analysis of any football or basketball news, but rather an entertaining "fun feature" of collections of names of Irish football players past. A sampling:

Warsaw Metro all-stars. Ziggy Czarobski, Len Cyterski, Tom Lopienski, Tom Zbikowski, Pete Chryplewicz, Bronko Nagurski, Scott Kowalkowski, Terry Andrysiak, Steve Toczylowski, Emil Sitko.

Epic names. Hercules Bereolos, Cikai Champion, Achille Magioli, Arnaz Battle, Alton Maiden, Seraphine Bouwens, Garron Bible.

My favorite may be the "good old-fashioned Irish donnybrook" line-up of the O'Players vs. the McDefenders. Well played :)

Knowing the enemy

News from Rome: the Vatican is offering courses at one of its pontifical academies in Satanism -- to educate about its history (Biblical and since) and present influence in the world. Apparently there has been a rise in incidents in Italy recently such that it is apparent that demonic cults pose a real problem worth learning more about. It always sounds a little strange to modern ears to talk about Satan and possession, but then again, as Screwtape would tell you, part of the way evil can prosper is for 'enlightened' men to deny it exists at all. So it doesn't seem that odd, after all, that the Vatican might think this is a problem worth teaching about more.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Compare and contrast

Good question from Jay Nordlinger regarding chants of "Death to America!" from an Iranian crowd:

What kind of people would chant such a thing -- 'Death to America'? Can you imagine a Western crowd, a democratic crowd, chanting, 'Death to Iran'? To be specific, can you imagine Israelis doing so? Americans doing so? I can't.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Love over fear

I hope everyone's had a nice Valentine's Day :) It's always up for some people and down for others, but while it's nice to have a day set aside for love it's also good to remember it's just another day. It's always a good time to appreciate those you love! (But it is good to have this one :)

This reflection from artist Carla Fielder, about her journey towards marriage with her now-fiance Stephen, is very touching. As they go through premarital enrichment classes at their church and she in particular goes through the ups and downs of learning how to love this man -- and deciding to commit to him for life -- they grow together over the years. Carla knows she's been hurt because she never really knew her own father, never saw through her parents' example how to make a marriage last. An independent woman, she knows marriage means taking a leap of faith:

My biggest fear is not the day-to-day of marriage: having to check in with Stephen, considering his opinions and his feelings, talking to him before making major purchases, making sure his mother and his five siblings feel at home, enduring reruns of his favorite stories and corny jokes, cleaning up after him, washing a sink full of dishes after one of his gourmet meals, bearing our children, serving him when I am tired, battling medical emergencies, surviving economic downturns, or forgiving lapses in judgment. It is the possibility that one day, after all of that, he might leave me to fend for myself. Because when I do the math, it adds up like this: Thirty-two years ago, I was perfection. The perfect smile. The perfect disposition. The perfect weight. Beautiful and blameless. Yet, one man -- the first man in my life -- was never there for me. Now, this woman, this stubborn, opinionated, card-carrying member of Weight Watchers with a furry upper lip and chin whiskers, will stand before a man -- a stranger just three years ago -- as he vows never to walk away.

It's a frightening thing, but they take the time to build their relationship over time, with a solid foundation, and come to know what unconditional love might mean:

Rev. Cherry says that I will have to love Stephen through not only misunderstandings, disappointments and bad attitudes, but possibly through cancer, layoffs, miscarriages and impotence, too. We make vows to God that we will take care of an imperfect person for life.

What a gift if the person you choose to love and take care of wants to do that for you! It was great to read Carla's story -- I hope she and her husband are happy together. They seem to be getting started off pretty well :)

Keep 'em coming

Well, it should be interesting having Howard Dean in the public eye as DNC chairman for the foreseeable future. He spent Friday going around sharing, in the surprisingly arch words of the Post, a "special-interest group hug." He had choice words for each special interest group he met with. For the GLBT constituency: "You are among the most persecuted people in the history of mankind." Right .... The situation in America today can't help but bring to mind Mao's and Stalin's and Pol Pot's purges of millions, the Hutu massacres, the Armenian genocide, and the Holocaust of millions of Jews, all together. Or as The Corner put it, "Let's hope the African-American caucus didn't hear that."

For the African-American caucus: "He surveys the crowd of 150 crammed into the room. 'You think the RNC could get this many people of color into a single room?' he marvels. 'Maybe if they got the hotel staff in there.'" In the first place, I always find it rich when the liberal stereotype of Republicans as racists is played on by everyone's least favorite ethnic bloc: wealthy white men. Dean may want to be the first gay president, but in the meantime, he's actually just a plain ol' privileged, wealthy, white, educated man. (Sort of like John Kerry.) Do I think there's anything wrong with that? Of course not. More power to him for being a successful doctor and politician. Race shouldn't matter. But it's amusing to note the circumstance when Dean's the one who's raising the issue, I think. Also, the second part of Dean's statement is a little odd. Is he joking about the fact that hotel staff are often nonwhite immigrants? In which case, is that a racial assumption that the PC police should be alert to? And would they all go see Republicans because they aren't "real" minorities like the ones who have come to see Dean? Who knows.

For the Hispanics, race again: "'I think they only have one caucus in the Republican Party,' which he calls 'homogenous.' . . . Then he prostrates the party for suffering a loss of support from Hispanic voters." So wait ... Republicans are homogenous, but they're getting an increasing share of the Hispanic vote? How can that be? There must be something sinister going on here :)

So will Dean's strategies work to find new Democratic voters? Stay tuned. In the meantime, group hugs!

Life in the Kingdom

At some point, I think, the Saudis are going to have to realize that women are perfectly capable of driving cars and voting, that it's wrong to stop girls from escaping burning school buildings even if they don't have their head scarves on, that it's not okay to rearrange your wife's face if you're a little upset. In the meantime, the royals still run a militant state and keep on the lookout for sinister things like signs of love on Valentine's Day:

Sheik Ibrahim al-Ghaith, chief of the 5,000-man religious police, told Al-Hayat newspaper his men were "acting upon instructions to confiscate manifestations" of Valentine's Day, birthdays and other celebrations.

"The feast of love is based on love and passion and things that are not proper for a Muslim to respond to," he told the paper.

Salesmen and waiters avoid wearing red; entrepreneurs whose stores maintain a red hue risk days in jail.

Days in jail for having red in stores. Yeah. Lovely Kingdom you've got there, Sheik.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Wi nøt trei a høliday in Sweden this yer?

Jonah Goldberg notes in The Corner that there was a riot at the opening of London's newest Ikea store today:

Nine ambulances were sent to the outlet in north London after reports that up to 20 people had suffered heat exhaustion when the opening at midnight descended into chaos . . . Security guards said they were put "under siege" by customers who attacked them, leaving one guard with a dislocated jaw.

Now, one could make an observation, a la Theodore Dalrymple, about the general decline of English civilization. But such stories about Ikea do not appear to be confined to Britain. So the more apt question is, as Jonah writes, "Who riots for Ikea furniture?" I don't get it either. I understand the store is hugely popular for its ostensibly well-designed and inexpensive furniture, but I am skeptical on both accounts. In the first place, the stuff isn't all that cheap. In the second place, the designs seem very 1950s to me (so almost retro-futuristic), and too European/modernist. The sparse designs just aren't that aesthetically appealing; they're too cold.

I guess I'm in the minority in my views on this one -- people seem to think this stuff is great art. But I do have a fairly good eye for color, art, and design; maybe I just prefer more classical, warmer styles (or cool colors that still aren't stark) than Euro-sophistique. Oh well.

Cameramania

I suppose it might surprise some people, but while I don't believe privacy is protected in the abstract by the Constitution, I do have a libertarian streak when it comes to individual privacy as against the government and corporations. My latest beef (started by this post at Daily Contentions) is with red light cameras, which are everywhere in D.C. and which are now being considered by the Columbus PD. All of this is, of course, supposed to be done for safety. But is it really about safety, and how much privacy do we want to give up in its name?

In the first place, I realize accidents caused by running red lights really are a problem. One happened right in front of me last year -- broadside impact at 45+ mph that was pretty frightening -- and also last year I once had to slam on my brakes to avoid getting hit by a guy running a red light at at least 50mph a few seconds after my light was already green. As a general matter, particular intersections are more regularly dangerous than others. In those worst cases, I can see where having red camera lights really could cut down on offenders making decisions to run the lights. But these cameras aren't limited to "most dangerous intersections," and they're not fairly implemented; so the argument that "if you're not breaking the law, you've got nothing to worry about" doesn't really fly.

I didn't realize until I started reading that while some red light accidents are reduced by these cameras, most intersections actually experience increases in overall accidents and injuries largely because of people slamming on their brakes to avoid tickets. Furthermore, some intersections where lights are placed also have actually reduced yellow-light times, decreasing the amount of time drivers have to make the split-second decision whether to go through a light or stop (a court in San Diego tossed out its city's program a few years ago in light of evidence that the yellow lights were being tinkered with). This means lots of drivers who aren't the most dangerous red-light runners actually get entrapped by the system. The system also tickets cars, not individuals, so in up to a quarter of cases the wrong people are ticketed. There are further concerns associated with these types of tickets -- if you receive one in the mail three weeks after the fact, how could you defend against it effectively when the likelihood of you remembering what happened on that particular day at that particular intersection is not that great? Maybe you had someone immediately behind you and didn't think you could stop without getting into an accident. If a cop stopped you right after the fact, you might be able to argue that. Get an $85 ticket weeks later, your ability to defend yourself is lessened but you are still accountable to the state.

So with safety concerns, entrapment of commuters or more innocent drivers, and confrontation concerns (even if not constitutional), why do cities keep insisting these cameras are necessary? Very simple answer: money. Cities love cameras because they are cash cows. Cleveland wants them to "pump up its sagging revenues." D.C. has taken in almost $30 million in just a few years, and the mayor now talks about the "urgent need" for continued revenue from the cameras. The companies who run the programs have a pretty vested interest in touting their "safety" benefits -- in many deals with city governments, they take 65% of the cut from each ticket. Insurance companies might also have an interest here because premiums could go up -- in some California cities tickets have been attached to putting points on your license. Your traffic ticket money goes primarily into corporate coffers.

Increasing yellow light times could help reduce red-light accidents, but cities seem not to be discussing that in favor of revenue-generating cameras. Fortunately, a new bill introduced yesterday in the Ohio House could ban the cameras in the state. If that doesn't work, any camera system installed needs to be strictly regulated and fairly implemented.

Defender of the Faith

Odd sentence in the WaPo's account of Prince Charles's announced marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles:

The April 8 wedding will be civil rather than religious, thus saving the Church of England the ignominy of sanctioning the joining of two divorced people, even though one of them, Charles, will be the 'Supreme Governor' of the church if he becomes king.

Right . . . I would have said "even though" the entire Church of England was originally founded to let a king divorce and remarry freely. Why should there be ignominy in this situation when such has been part of the C of E from the beginning? The Anglicans aren't even so delicate about ecclesial matters like appointing bishops who live in even more ignominious circumstances.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"He was my baby, and I chose to end his life"

By an accident of her baby's location in her womb, that hallowed "choice" to end his life was perfectly legal for Berkeley novelist Ayelet Waldman, and she wants to tell us about it. Her account (here in Salon; ad first) of her abortion of her third child is difficult to read because it is so emotionally confused; she's brutally honest about what she knows she did and yet somehow that doesn't resonate enough with her to regret it:

I was pregnant with a much-wanted child who was diagnosed with a genetic abnormality. I made a choice to terminate the pregnancy. It was my third pregnancy, and I was very obviously showing. More important, I could feel the baby move. We had seen him on the ultrasound; I have a very clear memory of his two tiny feet, perfect pearl toes, footprint arches, round heels. This was, for me, a baby, not a "clump of cells" as an older woman, steeped in the arcane language of the early feminist movement, called him. He was my baby, and I chose to end his life.

I made a choice based on my own and my family's needs and limitations. I did not want to raise a genetically compromised child. I did not want my children to have to contend with the massive diversion of parental attention, and the consequences of being compelled to care for their brother after I died. I wanted a genetically perfect baby, and because that was something I could control, I chose to end his life. (emphasis added)

I can't decide whether it's worse to kill with an attitude of complete callousness (like Amy Richards), or to knowingly dismember your own child with full acceptance that it is your child. If either mother had taken similar actions after their children's birth, they'd be thrown in jail and it would be easy for all to appreciate the monstrosity of their actions. As it is, in this case we are led to believe that the abortion was done partly in consideration of others: she didn't want her other children to contend with diversion of her attention. But she still seems to realize that she did this because of weakness and fear and a simple desire not to have an "inadequate" child. And she suffered consequences:

This decision was not without its terrible costs. I mourned this baby's death. The night before the termination I lay awake, feeling him roll and spin within my body. I wept for the death of the baby inside me, and I also wept for the death of the "fantasy baby," the perfect baby I lost when the amnio results came back. I was catapulted into a six-month depression after the abortion, a depression that ended only when I got pregnant again. On Yom Kippur I wrote an essay about what I had done and read it before my congregation. One of the lines in that essay asked how I could apologize for being so inadequate a mother that I would not accept an inadequate child.

We don't know precisely how "genetically compromised" her child would have been, although it probably was not a fatal condition because she anticipated him living a long life. I think the whole situation is terrible. The abortion sent the Waldman into a long depression; it ended the life of her son. (We don't know how it affected the rest of her family.)

Questions arise: I wonder what would have happened if the defect had not been detectable until birth, or if it had manifested itself after a year or two, or thirty? What if one of her other "genetically perfect" children were to have an accident someday and be permanently disabled, thus requiring "massive diversion of parental attention" and care later in life? I bet she would have loved that child anyway. I wouldn't wish such difficulties on anyone, but the truth is no one is guaranteed a perfect, or perfectly happy life, and somehow we usually muddle through, especially if we have love. So I also wonder: what if abortion hadn't been an option for Waldman? She might have had her child, despite all her normal worries and fears, and discovered she loved him anyway. But she comes to the opposite conclusion about what the law should be here: "Listen to the pregnant woman. Value her. She values the life growing inside her. Listen to the pregnant woman, and you cannot help but defend her right to abortion." No: listen to the pregnant woman, and if you truly value both her and her child's lives, you cannot help but defend the right to life.

Religion and good business

You know it must be Lent when all the fast food places start promoting their fish sandwich specials -- especially those restaurants that don't offer fish for the rest of the year. I do have to wonder about the combo deals at McDonald's and other places though where they make the deal a combo with two sandwiches. The point is to make some kind of fast . . . doesn't getting extra sandwiches defeat some of that purpose? Anyway. I know the Burger King at ND used to stock up on fish for students during the season, and the dining halls do not serve meat on Fridays, which I always thought was appropriate for a Catholic school. Those types of details do matter!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Distracted? I think not!

The Patriots have won their third Super Bowl in four years, and as a friend of mine writes, "how about that charlie weis??" Hehe. I was happy to see a good game (and for all Terrell Owens's immaturity, with which I am well familiar as a longtime Niners fan, the man can play ball) and I am impressed by the largely unassuming Pats, who have won more consistently than just about anyone else in the salary cap era. Still, as a good Domer I was mostly interested in the outcome of the game only to the extent it would showcase our new Notre Dame head coach. And that it did. What I think all Irish fans are hoping is that Weis will be able to bring his system to us; fortunately, that appears to be his plan. ESPN: "Weis is a kick in the ass, and they sure seem glad to be seeing that across the Notre Dame nation now." Ahem. Well, you can't deny the enthusiasm, anyway. With last night's game, it sure seems well-founded.

Friday, February 04, 2005

On the road again

I'll be travelling for most of the day, so no computer access. Back tomorrow or Sunday! In the meantime, for those law-types who are interested in Senate Judiciary Committee goings-on and filibuster topics, I've joined a new group blog that just got started last month, at Confirm Them. We've got some great writers over there from Southern Appeal, Redstate.org, and other places. I'm one of the resident students :) Feel free to check it out.

The SOTU hug

This was a genuinely moving moment from the State of the Union, agree with Bush's proposals or not. To see someone who was finally free to vote in her own country, along with the parents of someone who died to give her that right and so help make our own country safer, just helped show what it was all about.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Sonograms save a beating heart

One of the most powerful tools with which to help change individual women's hearts on abortion is ultrasound. The Times (good for them!) reports that crisis pregnancy centers around the country, along with groups like Focus on the Family, are working to raise money to place more sonogram machines in clinics where women are facing painful choices and need support. Why does it matter? Take this response from mother Andrea Brown:

"When I had the sonogram and heard the heartbeat - and for me a heartbeat symbolizes life - after that there was no way I could do it," Ms. Brown said recently as she revisited the clinic and watched her daughter, Elora, now 9 months old, play at her feet.

And that little girl is pretty cute :). Crisis pregnancy centers are usually quite upfront about the fact that they do not provide abortion referrals or procedures, but seek to provide counseling, prenatal care, and postnatal care (such as parenting classes, or clothing and diapers) to women facing difficult situations with a pregnancy. They say that showing women sonograms of their unborn children helps empower many to make the choice for life.

Of course, the abortion industry response is more along the lines of "there they go again, those sinister Christians." NARAL sees sonograms as a pressure tactic of "so-called" crisis pregnancy centers, sniffing, "With or without ultrasound . . . women understand the moral dimensions of their choices." They might, but then why should NARAL be opposed to using sonograms? In fact, its goal is to help people gloss right over those moral dimensions by not thinking overmuch about the fact that unborn children are actively developing little human beings. Planned Parenthood's response is similarly hostile:

"Generally, their treatment of women who come in is coercive," said Susanne Martinez, vice president of public policy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "From the time they walk in to these centers, they are inundated with information that is propaganda and that has one goal in mind. And that is to have women continue with their pregnancies."

That "one goal" is as opposed to, remember, Planned Parenthood's own ratio of 138 abortions to every 1 adoption referral -- and what's their interest in it anyway? Only about $100 million in revenue last year alone. On the other side is the wholly unprofitable interest in simply valuing and saving lives -- those of unborn children and of women who might have been scarred by the choice of abortion. If sonograms help the world have moms and children like the Browns, it seems like a good thing to me.

And a nice guy to boot

Nice profile piece from the SF Chronicle's Ira Miller the other day on my favorite NFL player, Steve Young. With his six passing titles and record six TDs in his Super Bowl (vs. the Chargers in the 1994 season), holding (at least until super-Manning this year) the record for passer efficiency, and his status as one of the top rushing QBs of all time, Young is considered a lock for the Hall of Fame -- his name's on the ballot for Saturday along with Dan Marino. I hope he makes it :D He's always been a classy and refreshingly normal guy overall. And besides, it would do lawyers credit as well (Young graduated from BYU Law in 1994).

Internal contradictions

Justin Katz, reprinting his article that first appeared in National Review, takes an interesting look at Andrew Sullivan and his politics. The article is definitely worth reading for those who follow Sullivan, for the summation of all the contradictory positions Sullivan has been willing to take to legitimize SSM. For just one example:

In July 2001, for example, he expressed astonishment at Lawrence Kudlow's implicit support for adultery laws. "Give me an adulterer over an ayatollah any day," wrote Sullivan. He has lambasted "screw-tightening" fundamentalists for targeting divorce, fornication — the whole arsenal of practices subversive to marriage. Yet, in January, he said of the same group that, when they "start proposing measures that would infringe on heterosexual abuse of marital privileges, [he will] take them seriously." If social conservatives target heterosexual as well as homosexual immorality, they are fanatics; if they don't, they are hypocrites.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Prayers for the pontiff

Pope John Paul II has been hospitalized with apparently serious breathing difficulties because of his flu. I know it's something of a wry joke among many Catholics to keep an eye out for "frail pope" stories -- "frail" being the adjective attached to him in every MSM mention for at least ten years -- but the sentiment is always with a sense of admiration that he continues to defy predictions and stay so strong. But this new challenge to his health sounds serious. We have been so blessed to have John Paul as a leader in our lives and in the world, as he has always been courageous in standing up for and advancing our knowledge of truth, and bringing the message of the gospel around the world. May the holy father recover swiftly from his illness or, if that is not to be, find rest in Christ.

Update: It looks now as though the pope is recovering well. That's good news :)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

But you are not a Jedi yet

A few links for my friend neurosis, who took down all his Star Wars links with his recent site revamp. (Links are also, of course, for any other readers who have overmuch interest in the subject :)

Under my "miscellaneous" category on the sidebar, I've added a link to an RotS photo blog, where "POOTtheMONK" has been regularly updating with official pictures leaking out from the movie. This one's my favorite so far . . . looks like Anakin has a new Master. 'Not good' for Obi-Wan. Also, one of the guys on theforce.net has been writing his own creative take (based on spoilers) on what RotS will be like, and if you overlook a few typos, the fanfiction he's put together is actually quite gripping. If you don't mind spoilers, it's a pretty cool story and it's just about done. Enjoy speculating until the next teaser trailer comes out in March (yes, I do know these things :).