Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Monday, October 31, 2005


    Fighting the good fight

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    -- Teddy Roosevelt


    Posted by Tom, 10/31/2005 6:58:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, October 29, 2005


    Good Morning!

    This is God.
    I will be handling all of your problems today.
    I will not need your help.
    Have a nice day!

    Matthew 6:25-34

    Posted by Tom, 10/29/2005 6:30:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, October 28, 2005


    Priorities

    Do not care overly much for wealth or power or fame, or one day you will meet someone who cares for none of these things, and you will realize how poor you have become.
    -- Rudyard Kipling


    Posted by Tom, 10/28/2005 7:00:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, October 27, 2005


    The Inflation Man Cometh

    Get ready for some wicked inflation if the folks over at the Mises Institute are right about the new head o' the Fed. They've had some doozies on him and his policy wishes the last couple of days:

    The Ascension of Bernanke Into the Clouds
    What Does Inflation Targeting Mean?

    Astute readers will remember this post, which linked to this article, which contained this quote straight from the horse's ass mouth:

    The U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost. By increasing the number of U.S. dollars in circulation, or even by credibly threatening to do so, the U.S. government can also reduce the value of a dollar in terms of goods and services, which is equivalent to raising the prices in dollars of those goods and services. We conclude that, under a paper-money system, a determined government can always generate higher spending and hence positive inflation.

    Put your head between your legs and kiss your retirement savings goodbye. OK, so maybe it's not that drastic. But it will suck.

    Posted by Tom, 10/27/2005 7:23:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Gentle Reminders

    We live we love
    We forgive and never give up
    Cuz the days we are given are gifts from above
    Today we remember to live and to love
    -- Superchick

    In Christ alone
    I place my trust
    And find my glory in the power of the cross
    In every victory
    Let it be said of me
    My source of strength
    My source of hope
    Is Christ alone
    -- Brian Littrell


    Posted by Tom, 10/27/2005 6:51:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, October 26, 2005


    Thomas Cannon, R.I.P.

    About 3 months ago, one of the greatest Americans of recent generations died at the age of 79. I have waited to comment on his passing because I wanted to acquire and read his biography: Poor Man's Philanthropist. I have now done so, and I have to say that short of Dr. Ruwart's Healing Our World in an Age of Aggression, this book is probably the most recommendable I've ever read.

    Thomas Cannon was a working-class man who grew up in abject poverty. He was black, and had to deal with racism and segregation for the first half of his life. Somehow, he managed to develop and maintain a positive Christian mindset, and for the second half of his life he literally became a poor man's philanthropist. He hadn't followed the Dave Ramsey plan, and he wasn't rich by any stretch of the imagination. But he somehow found it in his budget to periodically write $1000 checks to complete strangers whose stories he read about in the local newspaper. Along with each check, he'd include a note about why he was giving, and humbly apologize for not being able to give more. He was a lover of animals as well, at one point sending $1000 to the care of a police dog who had been featured in the paper. As usual, he included a note, writing:

    Officer Castillo credited Raysa for having helped him to win the Sherwood Reader Award and the $1000 check that came with it. As an equal member of their team, "Officer Raysa" also deserves full recognition and reward for her devotion to duty and for her years of faithful police work.

    Therefore I am matching the $1000 check given to Officer Mark Castillo with the enclosed one for his dog.

    ...

    Please have one of your staff members deliver my check to Officer Castillo for Raysa. Tell him to use the money for her needs and pleasure.


    I can't help but wonder how many of the screaming, screeching animal rights types I run into have ever thought of trying to be the better person like Thomas Cannon was. I'm convinced that he probably did more with this one check than Ingrid Newkirk has with her millions.

    Thomas Cannon should be an inspiration to us all. Faceless bureaucratic charities are nowhere near as satisfying to give to (nor I daresay as effective) as simply finding a person (or dog) deserving of help and applying that help directly from your heart to theirs. Mr. Cannon only gave away about $147,000 in his lifetime, but I believe with all my heart that his personal way of doing so was much more effective at reaching hearts and minds than giving to an organized charity would have been.

    I urge everyone to get this book. Thomas Cannon's example is one worth studying and following.

    Posted by Tom, 10/26/2005 10:59:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Democrats are useless

    Not that Republicans are necessarily useful by comparison, but in this instance it's the Democrats who are being real twits. Hold on whilst I reach for my whack-a-mole stick...

    The latest flap is over the eventual shut-off of analog TV signal in favor of digital. Rep. John Dingell, one of the Detroit Mafia, is seen here making a complete ass of himself:

    The House Commerce Committee on Tuesday began consideration of legislation that would shut off broadcasters' analog TV signal at the start of 2009, sparking rancorous partisan debate over just how much federal help people should get when the switch is made.

    ...

    "Millions of American families will need a converter box costing $60 or more just to keep watching television once analog signals cease," said Rep. John Dingell (news, bio, voting record), D-Mich., the committee's senior Democrat. "House Republicans, to protect their tax cuts, would force millions of Americans to reach into their wallets and pay a television tax of $20 to $60 per TV set. Why should ordinary people pay for a government decision that makes their television sets obsolete?"


    Wow. There is so much that is just WRONG about that statement. First, the cutoff is in 2009, giving us 3 years to save a whole $60. This comes out to $20 a year or $1.67 per month. People could clip coupons and save that much without really even trying.

    Second, the Republican tax cuts have likely resulted in at least $20/year worth of tax savings to all of those people. But Dingell wants to repeal the tax cut so that he can redistribute the money back to his favorite constituents, at the cost of something closer to $200/year per family once government's overhead is taken into account.

    Third, there's the ridiculous question at the end. In the spectrum of stupid government decisions, why is television the most important thing on this guy's mind? We have a government that confiscates our income to the tune of trillions of dollars every year for the purposes of making other countries hate us, keeping us from being able to buy cheap and effective medicines, destroying our natural resources through gross mismanagement, killing our entrepreneurial spirit, and obliterating our children's future prospects with famously underperforming public school monopolies, among other things. And yet somehow the thing to get upset about is a freaking $60 part for televisions?

    The next "thud" you hear will be my head banging on my desk.

    Posted by Tom, 10/26/2005 6:25:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 25, 2005


    Country Mouse

    Backwoods Home has a great little article about rural culture. As a participant in rural culture, I found it to be a tad on the "isn't this obvious?" side. Then I thought of a few of my city-slicker friends, and I guess it isn't.

    I particularly liked these two items:

    6. Do the wave. In the city, avoiding eye contact can be a survival skill. Congeniality can get you shot, or at the very least, panhandled.

    Not so in the country. Out here, the wave is the primary social currency. Wave at everybody, whether you know them or not. If you see a guy standing by the road holding an axe dripping with blood, smile and wave cheerily. He might be butchering a deer and may choose to share some with you. You could be making meth in your basement, but as long as you wave and look friendly, people will think you are a good Joe.

    If you don’t wave, you could be Mother Theresa and everyone will think you are making meth in your basement. Which leads me to . . . .

    7. You will earn a reputation. The reputation is a quaint concept that no longer applies to the concrete jungle. You can be any kind of scuzzball you want in the city and no one cares. In fact, some people think it’s cool and they’ll probably give you your own TV show.

    Out here, you will earn a reputation whether you are a hermit who only comes out once every five years or the mayor. You can care about it or not, but if you ever want to do business, or anything else for that matter, your reputation will precede you, so consider how you want to be known. Be aware that anything you say will be held against you and it will also be spread all over town. And it is not cool to be a scuzzball in the country.


    I happen to own an entire economics text devoted to this very dynamic. It's called Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes, by Robert Ellickson, and it comes recommended by Nobel prize winning economist Vernon Smith. Ellickson attempts to document and explain this "social currency" that's used in rural culture, specifically using the fence law and dispute resolution of ranchers in Shasta County, California as a backdrop and data source.

    It's my belief that such currency is relatively more rare in urban settings simply due to the vastly greater number of people one expects to interact with on an average day. It should then follow that the reason people in cities tend to be more rude, pushy, and arrogant is because they place less value on this social currency. It could also explain why they are generally more in favor of formal laws for the purposes of settling disputes. But that's just a theory.

    Posted by Tom, 10/25/2005 6:38:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    English to English Translation

    Denny Crane Wilson (sorry, been watching too much Boston Legal) has once again posted his excellent modern-day interpretation of Shakespeare's "St. Crispin's Day Speech" from Henry V. Warning: contains some strong language.

    The only thing that bugs me is that we can't seem to settle on a spelling: is it Crispin or Crispian? The second sounds kind of like the patron saint of breakfast cereal, but still, somebody pick a spelling!

    Posted by Tom, 10/25/2005 6:25:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Ouch

    Cathy Young rightly excoriates those of us who made mountains out of molehills on the Sooner Suicide Bomber (my blather is here and here). In my defense, I'd like to point out that according to the counter at left, there's only about half a dozen people who read this blog anyway, so it's not like I've misled the entire internet community. Besides, I never claimed to be a reporter, just a guy with an opinion. But for anyone who was led to build a bomb shelter or something based on my shoddy reportage, I apologize. Send me a bill. I'm not going to pay it or anything, but I promise to feel really guilty.

    Posted by Tom, 10/25/2005 6:20:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    For Lisa, Nicki, and Annie

    Heard this on the radio this morning, thought of you.

    From the mountains to the valleys
    From the rivers to the sea
    Every hand that reaches out
    Every hand that reaches out to offer peace
    Every simple act of mercy
    Every step to kingdom come
    All the hope in every heart will speak what love has done

    For as long as I shall live
    I will testify to love
    I'll be a witness in the silences when words are not enough
    With every breath I take
    I will give thanks to God above
    For as long as I shall live
    I will testify to love

    -- Avalon


    Posted by Tom, 10/25/2005 7:20:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 24, 2005


    Why I Love Smallville

    Best Buy recently had Season 1 of Smallville on sale for $15, so I snagged it. I've always liked the series, and have just re-watched the first 2 episodes.

    There is plenty that is typical network TV cheese. In fact, I'm fond of referring to it as "Smallville 90210" in reference to its constant teen angst melodrama. And then there is the "comic book" aspect, which can either be a bane or a boon, depending on the skill of the writers. In Smallville, it's usually a boon, because it's almost never the focus of the story.

    At its core, Smallville is the story of two people: Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. We all know their destinies, one as the world's ultimate hero and the other as the ultimate villain. But Smallville is pre-destiny. Its focus is on the events and decisions that lead to those destinies. In it, we see both young men tempted by power, and their response to it. One scene in particular, from the second episode, stands out in my mind:

    Clark is infatuated with Lana Lang (why, I can't say, since Chloe Sullivan is way cuter). She already has a boyfriend, the captain of the football team (oh yeah, there's more cliche in Smallville than you can shake a kryptonite stick at). She also has a necklace with a kryptonite gemstone that has deep personal meaning for her. Through a series of events in the first episode, Lex Luthor winds up with the necklace and offers it to Clark as a way to win Lana's heart because she's mad at the boyfriend. Lex says something to the effect of "the power is yours. Take it, use it, and you can have her." In Lex's world, this is perfectly reasonable: use all of your resources to achieve your goals. But Clark does the noble thing and returns the necklace anonymously, declining to use the power of manipulation on a girl he thinks he loves.

    And this dynamic plays out throughout the entire series: Clark has tremendous power, but consistently refuses to use it for his own gain. Lex has a different sort of power (wealth and business resources), and exploits it fully for his own enrichment and the constant battle with his father. Ayn Rand would have a field day with this. But I don't think the surface is quite what it seems: Clark is not the perfect altruist; he protects himself from kryptonite, seeks his subjective values, and tries to be the person he's been raised to be. Lex does the same for his own weaknesses and goals. In this way the series may just be about how our parents affect our futures. But it also has a very strong message on the means to an end, and this is where I think the true value of the series shows up.

    Lex uses power and manipulation to get what he wants, even when what he wants is perfectly reasonable (the love and respect of his father, for example). It's not his goals at this point in his life that are suspect. It's what he does to achieve them. In my mind, Lex is a great analogy for government (indeed, one dream sequence shows him as President of the USA). Government has laudable goals: help the poor, create peace, heal the sick, and so forth. But it uses force and manipulation to achieve those goals. It steals from the wealthy to help the poor and goes to war for peace, among other things. It's not that government or Lex Luthor aim to do evil, it's that they use evil means to achieve good.

    I'm reminded of something C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

    Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

    Posted by Tom, 10/24/2005 7:18:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, October 22, 2005


    Smoke 'em if you got 'em

    Longtime readers will know that the issue of suing tobacco companies absolutely drives me out of my tree. Reason Online's latest installment in this drama underscores the point very nicely:

    The Justice Department's lawsuit against the country's leading tobacco companies accuses them of "racketeering." Yet the government's lawyers are the ones behaving like mobsters. Once you cut through the legalese, the message they're sending is clear: "Nice business you've got here. It would be a shame if something happened to it."

    Like mafia thugs extorting money from a shopkeeper, the Justice Department cannot follow through on its threat without breaking the law. In a decision the Supreme Court recently declined to review, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said there was no legal basis for the government's demand that cigarette makers "disgorge" $280 billion—a sum that exceeds the combined value of the companies' stock.


    Score one for the courts, who took time out of their busy days of destroying property rights through eminent domain to put a stop to something almost as egregious.

    That decision forced the Justice Department to rely on the argument that cigarette makers had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by committing various acts of "mail fraud" and "wire fraud" that tricked people into smoking. The government's lawyers said the industry's "pattern of racketeering activity" had generated "ill-gotten gains" of at least $280 billion.

    This coming from a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization whose pattern of racketeering activity has generated ill-gotten gains of TRILLIONS EVERY YEAR. Government to kettle: you're black.

    Posted by Tom, 10/22/2005 7:30:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, October 21, 2005


    Smitten

    In that newly-remade movie The Ladykillers, a preacher is going on about the definition of the word "smite". Paraphrasing slightly, he says "to smite, means to go upside the head! Cuz sometimes there ain't no other way."

    I guess I've been needing a smite, because a friend just gave me one so big that it's been a good while and I'm still seeing stars. Hope it lasts.

    Posted by Tom, 10/21/2005 5:50:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I am so freaking stupid

    Fortunately, I have the writers at the Mises Institute to keep me straight. I forgot the most important reason why price-gouging laws are evil and wrongheaded, as in the example of gasoline prices: GOVERNMENT DOES NOT OWN THE GAS!!!

    That's why Jason McBride should have been able to charge $5.00 or more a gallon for gas if he wanted. Or he could have given it away for free. Or he could have stacked it up in one-gallon cans, placed a table cloth over it, and had a picnic. After all, it was his property.

    I bought the gas. It's my gas. It doesn't belong to anyone else. If I want to sell it to someone, I should be able to tell them how much of their money I want for it in the exchange. The only two people who need to be involved in the trade are me and the potential purchaser. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    Posted by Tom, 10/21/2005 7:17:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Perseverance

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

    -- Hebrews 12:1


    Posted by Tom, 10/21/2005 7:04:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, October 20, 2005


    Gender Bender

    According to USA Today, the college gender gap is widening. Women now make up 57% of graduates, while being less than 50% of the traditional college-age (18-24) population. What's most amusing is that the article's writer seems downright apologetic about thinking this might be cause for concern:

    Talk of gender is fraught with social, legal and political minefields. Witness the outcry after Harvard President Lawrence Summers remarked in January that women might be underrepresented in sciences because of innate differences in abilities. For one thing, female inequities persist. There's still a pay gap. According to the Census Bureau, women on average earned 77 cents to each dollar paid to male counterparts in 2004.

    And then there's the "just because we're concerned about boys doesn't mean girls aren't special too" crowd, and the "let's be all-inclusive" crowd:

    "We very quickly decided ... we wanted to make sure we did not neglect" girls even while exploring obstacles facing boys, says deputy commissioner Patrick Phillips.

    The University of Washington recently started a college-prep program for boys, but administrator Thomas J. Calhoun Jr. notes the university also supports girls-only programs, including one aimed at increasing women in engineering.

    ...

    Yet because of potential conflicts with federal laws created to ensure gender and racial equity, educators "can't target resources to where they see the need," says Deborah Wilds of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which finances college scholarships for underrepresented kids. "You know that the kids least likely to graduate are a particular gender or ethnic background, but then you have to walk a fine line in how you serve them."


    Gag me with a ruler. Here's an idea: stop believing the grossly inaccurate idea that outcome is somehow a measure of bias (aka "correlation equals causation"), and instead allow people to percolate to their own individual socioeconomic strata without worrying about them and especially without trying to manipulate the result. Get out of the business of promoting this or that group ahead of its merits, and instead simply set standards for people to meet under their own power.

    And one more thing: maybe more guys would want to go to college if it weren't so downright hostile to them. It's been 15 years since I graced the hallowed halls, but I still remember the atmosphere on campus being one of "white male = bigoted, hatemongering date rapist". How about addressing that while you're pretending to care?

    Posted by Tom, 10/20/2005 7:14:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Health Care Reform

    Some twit over in the Netherlands has decided to start firing broadsides at the American Health Care "system". Let's be blunt: if it's a system, it is necessarily broken. The word "system" implies central control, and that just cannot work unless we are all clones with the same needs. Interestingly enough, the author seems to believe this:

    It is unrealistic to expect that free market economics will automatically work best for healthcare because everyone needs the same access and care.

    Here's a clue, dimwit: NOBODY needs the same access and care, not even people with the same health problems. I just met two diabetics who are on vastly different care regimens, tailored to their specific needs. The ONLY thing that allows that sort of customization is the free market.

    I can agree with our author on one and only one point: America needs health care reform. As to the specific type of reform, he has absolutely missed the mark so bad I think he was aiming the other direction. America's health care is broken due to government interference in the market. This comes from several different areas.

    The first is the fact that there is a government-enforced monopoly on health care training, combined with a draconian network of laws, licenses, and regulations regarding who can practice health care. This artificially restricts the supply of services and raises prices, which our dear author complains about:

    in America, the number of doctors, nurses and intensive care hospital beds is significantly lower than the OESO averages. Simple conclusion: less care, for less people at a decidedly higher cost.

    This type of fragmented healthcare delivery system, completely left to the whims of free market economic forces, is screaming for reform. Especially when the costs are increasing much faster than general inflation...


    The reason we have a problem is not because the government hasn't stepped in and done something, it's because the government already stepped in and did something. Specifically, it forced the closure of a significant portion of our medical training schools and programs in the early 20th century and let the criminally collusive AMA set the standards, union-style, for medical training. Government then backed up those standards by force of law (at gunpoint, if necessary) by prohibiting anyone without an AMA-approved license from practicing medicine. Ask any chiropractor who's been in business for a few decades what the government does to people it thinks are "practicing medicine without a license".

    The upshot is that people with basic skills cannot fill basic needs. A guy who's learned combat medicine (say, in the Army) and knows how to stitch up simple cuts and set broken bones and make a cast or whatever cannot hang out a shingle for his "Stitch -n- Go" business and make a living at it. Even worse, he cannot hire promising people and train them to do the same thing. Instead, we all have to have our needs met by people who are overworked, overscheduled, and desperately trying to pay off a $150,000 student loan.

    Would "Stitch -n- Go" be the premier health care in America? Of course not. But it would offer a hamburger alternative for those who cannot afford or do not need the prime rib.

    On top of this, we have the FDA and DEA and the "War on Drugs". The effect of this triumvirate of stupidity/evil has been to keep Americans from being able to buy effective drugs that are available over the counter in almost any other nation. Again, restrict supply, raise prices. Create a monopoly channel (prescriptions by doctors, filled by pharmacists -- also trained like doctors -- and unavailable to mere mortals), and you will have problems.

    All of these drugs could be simply made available over the counter to anyone 18 years of age or older. Yes, there will be some abuse, but probably no more than there is now. Alcohol is widely available, yet I've seen no evidence to suggest that alcoholism is worse now than it was during Prohibition. Indeed, alcoholism has many free and for-pay programs available to treat it, and the narcotically-addicted have benefitted from offshoot programs in the same vein.

    The upside is that people with migraines could simply go to the store and pick up some Percodan or whatever to help them out, rather than wasting $60 for a doctor's visit just so some guy with the right creds can scribble out a prescription on a piece of paper after a 30-second examination and Q&A session. That's money into the toilet, not to mention a gross misallocation of resources when that highly trained doctor could be dealing with people whose problems can't be fixed by a quick trip to the drug store.

    And of course, there's always the bugaboo about "quality control" and the ever-popular Thalidomide defense. But the free market has already provided review and rating services for household appliances, firearms, restaurants, and video games, not to mention a host of other products and services we might want to spend our money on. With the advent of the internet, such services have taken on a new strength in Wiki-like participatory review services like those available at Amazon for books. There is ZERO rationality behind claiming the same won't happen for pharmaceuticals (not to mention the "Stitch -n- Go" shops).

    Finally, we come to the insurance companies. While it is easy to cast all the blame on them, and some of it is deserved, they are only trying to fix what the government has already broken. Health care cost is unmanageable for the average person, so insurance companies try to even some of that out by gambling that they'll have more healthy clients than sick ones in any given time period. This will obviously lead to problems as they attempt to control the bottom line, especially when epidemics arise or large-scale injury incidents (natural disasters, etc.) come along.

    So where does this leave us?

    What desperately needs to happen in American healthcare is at a minimum the following:

    1) Open the market to non-licensed practitioners.
    2) End the War on Drugs and make all pharmaceuticals available over the counter.
    3) Encourage end-users to pay for their own health care by allowing any doctor/practitioner to pay no taxes on cash transactions, and allowing the customer to pay for that care with pre-tax dollars.

    The result of just those three reforms would be a vast increase in the availability of health care, a vast decrease in its relative cost, particularly for minor health problems, and the growth of a new industry in rating and review of health care systems. More resources, more efficiently utilized, and new creation of wealth. Put the newly out-of-work DEA agents on a more useful assignment, like picking up trash along the freeway. And then we could thumb our noses at those twits in the Netherlands who are attempting to centrally plan their health care despite a century of evidence proving that such does not work.

    Posted by Tom, 10/20/2005 6:55:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, October 19, 2005


    And the Handgun of the Century is...

    ...the 1911, of course. No other pistol comes close. Read the article and bask in the glory of this inspired design, which is coming up on its 100th birthday.

    For the Negative Neds in my reader list (you know who you are), who might be feeling left out because you prefer some obscure East European design, note that the author has kindly given you a sort of "honorable mention". So stop your whining. Those of us with good taste don't want to hear it.

    Posted by Tom, 10/19/2005 6:31:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 18, 2005


    Required Reading

    The Mises Institute has posted an excellent article on the myths and realities of this thing we call "Price Gouging". I'll save you the suspense: "price gouging" exists only in the feverish imaginings of attorneys, politicians, and people who don't understand economics. The best myth being exploded is the one which confuses sunk costs with opportunity costs:

    There is no rational reason why retail gas prices at the local pump should skyrocket before a hurricane or immediately after a natural disaster, since the retail gasoline at the pump was purchased in a previous period and at a lower wholesale cost. That retail gas prices do rise during such events is merely more evidence of price gouging and exploitation.

    I call out this particular myth because a man I otherwise respect and admire believes it. Dave Ramsey stated this very thing on his radio show a few weeks back, and while he is very good with personal finance, he misses some key points in making this accusation.

    As the author of the article points out, a person who buys a house for $100,000 and then sells it some time later for $150,000 is not a price gouger, even if that person had at some time in the interim offered the same house on the market for $120,000. The price paid hasn't changed, and the person selling hasn't changed. Only the market conditions have changed. Dave Ramsey is fond of the real estate business, and advocates seeing one's house as an investment, and rightly so.

    What he misses is that an underground tank full of gasoline works exactly the same way. It is capital goods, like a house. Like a house, its value fluctuates with market conditions. As market conditions indicate that gasoline is a more valuable capital good than it was previously, the only rational response is to raise the price at which one offers to sell it. So just as one would not sell their house, appraised at $150k, for $120k absent some mitigating circumstance, one should not be expected to sell gasoline valued at $3/gallon for $2.29.

    It should be noted that at least one gas station owner was observed raising his prices to $4.99/gallon for the period of about an hour. During that time, he sold not a drop of gasoline, since the station across the street was selling for much less. An hour after his overly exuberant price hike, he bowed to market forces and lowered his prices to what economists call "clearing levels", meaning people started buying from him again. And despite the fact that the market had already punished him by keeping him from selling any gas at his vastly inflated prices, for some reason the State still feels the need to charge him with "price gouging" and probably toss him in jail as a result.

    Market: Rational
    State: Irrational

    Any questions?

    Posted by Tom, 10/18/2005 9:22:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 17, 2005


    Once more from the top

    This last weekend I attended another of the spiritual retreats of which I'm so fond. Once again, the event was transformational and renewing. Once again, I am trying to start out on a new course, different from my usual ways, repenting of my usual sins, turning over to God my usual burdens. Each time I make a lot of progress all at once, then slowly lose my way. I redevelop my habits, recommit my sins, and pick up my burdens. It happens so slowly I'm not usually aware of it. Then one day I get woken up by some small reproach and I realize how far I've drifted. Usually it takes monumental effort or another weekend to get back on course. The only hope I get out of this repetitive cycle is that each time I climb a little higher, and each time I fall a little less than before.

    Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
    -- 1 Peter 5:8


    Once more into the breach, dear friends.

    Posted by Tom, 10/17/2005 9:14:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    A.S.A.P.

    Always Say A Prayer

    Posted by Tom, 10/17/2005 6:46:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005


    Quotables...

    Appropriate, considering last night's post.

    The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence, clamorous to be led to safety - by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblin, all of them imaginary.

    -- H.L. Mencken


    Posted by Tom, 10/12/2005 6:50:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005


    Remote Control

    Reader Annie asked about robotic vehicles for military purposes, with a concern towards the funding of the project that's aimed at getting them developed. The $2 million Pentagon-sponsored prize was recently won by a vehicle designed by a group from Stanford University. Given that the $2 million was put up by the taxpayers of America, it's kind of sucky, but at least the Pentagon didn't go the NASA route and try to build it themselves. Of course, the fact that most of the contestants were universities may mean that a considerable amount of public funds went into their development anyway.

    But I think this is entirely beside the point. The military is clearly on a mission to automate war. It is not a far leap from the rather benign application of drone airplanes and robotic ground vehicles and cave exploring/bomb detonating robots to robotic tanks and antipersonnel vehicles. As a technophile, I must admit that all of this is pretty darn cool. Supporters of the idea might even sell it as saving the lives of our American boys and girls, and they'd be right on that count.

    However, the primary cost of war in the political arena is the local lives lost. The primary political gain is the perception that our leadership is "doing something" about our enemies. And call me cynical, but I don't think George Orwell was very far off the mark in 1984 when he said that it is in the best interests of the ruling class to always have an enemy. One need only look at the various wars on Drugs, Terror, Guns, Poverty, and the like to see disturbing parallels.

    So while the 1500-odd American dead in Iraq is appalling, President Bush's opponents have had a fair amount of trouble making hay over it because it is surprisingly low relative to other conflicts. What happens to a country's willingness to go to war as the expectation of lost life is reduced? If we start replacing soldiers with technology, and killing our enemies by remote control, it is my position that for reasons of basic economics, we will become more willing to go to war and act aggressively with citizens of the world both within our nation and outside it. As the cost of a good is reduced, the willingness to buy it will increase. And if we don't have to consider that some brave soldier must put himself at risk to kill "the enemy", whoever they may be, I believe we will be ever more willing to kill him. This may be effective in pursuing policy, but not particularly beneficial for our humanity. It will turn war into the political equivalent of a factory farm.

    Posted by Tom, 10/11/2005 9:36:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I like it

    UNICEF bombs the Smurfs in fund-raising campaign for ex-child soldiers

    From the description of the cartoon, I think it's well done and will probably have some good shock value. War is too sanitized. We need another round of Twain's The War Prayer for all the welfare/warfare state faithful (translation: Democrats and Republicans).

    In it, a preacher stands in church and prays for victory in battle:

    Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory --

    An angel in the form of an old man then descends and translates the prayer:

    "O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."

    Yes, we ask it in the spirit of love. And somehow we see no contradiction. As the story says in closing:

    It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

    Posted by Tom, 10/11/2005 6:50:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Words fail me

    An article about rape used as a weapon of war in the Congo.

    Sexual Violence is 'Worse Than the Guns'

    I think I'm gonna be sick.

    Posted by Tom, 10/11/2005 6:20:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I feel so cultured

    Go see this post at Joystiq and identify the sculpture in the picture and the person who made it.

    Then check your answer against this link. No fair peeking!

    Posted by Tom, 10/11/2005 5:53:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    On Suffering

    I knew a guy once who called himself a Buddhist. I say he called himself a Buddhist because he later called himself a Christian, and I'm not sure what changed. Anyway, his take on Buddhism was essentially this: life is suffering. There is nothing we can do about it, so we might as well get used to it.

    Besides being somewhat depressing, I think this statement has a subtle flaw -- mostly truth, but somewhat a lie. See, life IS suffering, and we do need to get used to it, but there is something we can do about it. There has to be, otherwise life simply isn't worth living, and I'm amazed that all the Buddhists who hold to this idea haven't simply blown their brains out in despair.

    Unfortunately, we do not live in a world (at least in the West) that is comfortable with suffering. I don't mean that in the sense of "hey, I've got cancer and it's pretty cozy". I mean, when we see others suffering, our immediate desire is to make them feel better. We say all sorts of things to try and make them laugh, or to make them take a "philosophical approach" to it, or whatever. Examples: "Don't cry, your face will rust." "It's God's will." Or one of my favorites: "The flower petals fall though we love them, the weeds grow though we hate them, that's just the way it is."

    There are even entire conversations going on about "what to say" when someone is hurting. We want to turn into counselors for those who are in pain, but we don't really want to engage with them (we might actually feel some of their pain), so we try to prepare ourselves with these little homilies and platitudes that we can throw out and comfort ourselves with the idea that we've "done what we could". And when we don't know what to say, we avoid them, because we "can't help".

    Even worse, we bury our own suffering so we don't have to deal with the good intentions (but ultimately useless actions) of others. Which means our suffering is somewhat worse than it might otherwise be. I have a friend who had a bunch of miscarriages, and the last one was really bad. Her pastor came to see her, and told her not to come to church on Sunday. He said that it wasn't because they weren't appreciated and wanted, but because everyone else would be trying to make them feel better, and would say the absolute stupidest things. "It's God's will" may in fact be the truth, but it's of no use to the person who is hurting. It probably even exacerbates the "mad at God" response that many seem to have in times of loss.

    There's also the matter of ego -- the sufferer's and the "helper's". The message a suffering person gets from this shallow platitude approach is "you're broken, but I can fix you, and look how easy it is." The helper feels good about himself, but in the process makes the sufferer feel worse -- "gee, if that's all it takes to fix me, I should have just started saying that 3 days ago." Even the approach of "wanna talk about it?" doesn't help the sufferer, because the helper is putting themselves in a position of authority -- "I am here to share my wisdom with you." At the most benign, it is applying the helper's solution to a problem that might not benefit from it: "I am a good listener, therefore you need to talk to me."

    And all of this doesn't even get into the overarching attitude: that being in pain is a mental illness. How sick is that? Pain is just pain. It's a part of life. One writer used to say, somewhat masochistically, "I like pain. It lets me know I'm still alive." Well, I don't particularly like pain, but neither do I believe it necessarily needs to be eradicated from a person who's experiencing it. I think our need to stomp out pain is more about us and how uncomfortable we are with the situation than it is about the person who is suffering.

    I think -- and this is just me thinking out loud here -- that what most helps the suffering person is knowing that they are not alone. If we can just be there with them, hold their hand, hug them, cry with them, and the like, we will not ease their suffering, but they will not have to suffer alone. But here we have a problem for the helper. It requires humility. The helper does not come with a preconceived notion of how to fix things, and does not come desiring to use what they consider to be their "skills" at listening or counseling. Instead, they allow the sufferer to be in pain -- which will probably be painful to watch -- and they share the experience. They allow the sufferer to drive the interaction, rather than demanding attention (through platitudes and homilies) or information (through the "I'm a good listener" model).

    From the sufferer's point of view, this looks like "I'm here. You don't have to suffer alone." It doesn't seem like much, but it can be everything. The focus is on the person who needs it, not the person who wants to be respected or admired for their skills at making others feel better. It relieves the sufferer of all demands -- they don't have to talk if they don't want to, they don't have to listen if they don't want to, all they have to do is just be. I think of it as bearing witness to the suffering -- letting the sufferer know that their pain does not exist in a vacuum.

    Two months is too little.
    They let him go.
    They had no sudden healing.
    To think that providence would
    Take a child from his mother while she prays
    Is appalling.

    Who told us we'd be rescued?
    What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
    We're asking why this happens
    To us who have died to live?
    It's unfair.

    This is what it means to be held.
    How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
    And you survive.
    This is what it is to be loved.
    And to know that the promise was
    When everything fell we'd be held.

    -- Natalie Grant


    "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep."
    Romans 12:15


    Posted by Tom, 10/11/2005 7:18:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, October 9, 2005


    At the Movies

    So, this weekend I took in two flicks at the theater and one on DVD.

    On DVD, I watched The Big Lebowski. Despite earnest and enthusiastic recommendations from a friend/coworker, I wasn't thrilled. I found it kind of incomprehensible, and couldn't believe these were the same people who came up with Fargo. Maybe it's one of those movies you need to be in the mood for.

    The first theater movie was A History of Violence. I thought it was excellent, and recommend it. Without spoiling it, the main theme is getting away from one's past, while still dealing with its consequences. Some of the action scenes stretched credibility a bit, but I don't think egregiously so. The overall atmosphere and style of the movie felt a whole lot like A Simple Plan, another excellent movie in the same vein.

    Finally, I saw Serenity again. Yes, it's that good. I'm still sorting out my reaction to its themes, but I find myself deeply moved by the message it brings about a world without sin, as attempted through human agency. If we accept the message, does that not indicate a need for us to change our behavior? If so, why do so few do it?

    Posted by Tom, 10/9/2005 9:20:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, October 7, 2005


    Coal and Oil

    OK, so on the suggestion of reader Annie, I looked into this whole coal-conversion thing going on in Montana (and perhaps Wyoming, Alaska, Illinois, and Pennsylvania). A quick Google search of "coal conversion Montana" yielded these 3 stories which seem to be representative:

    Company eyes Wyo, Montana for $5 billion plant
    Plan for coal-to-oil conversion picking up some steam
    Schweitzer pursues coal-to-oil conversion

    For me, the most disturbing part of these articles is that the people involved really don't seem to have any clue as to what constitutes "private industry".

    "The coals are very similar," [KFx CEO Ted] Venners said. "They're going to go wherever they are going to find the most support. With a $5 billion project, you're going to need a lot of government grants and guarantees."

    Why not simply fund it yourself and get some customers to buy it? Wouldn't that be the "private industry" approach to doing this? Why do you have to slurp 5 billion dollars of stolen tax dollars to run your business? Is the business actually economically viable, or isn't it?

    The governor of Montana doesn't fair much better in the differentiation game between State and Market:

    [Governor] Schweitzer said Montana has a huge advantage over other states because it owns the Otter Creek reserves, which the federal government traded to it after President Clinton halted a proposed gold mine near Yellowstone National Park.

    "So, clearly, we can move mountains in terms of bringing private resources to bear here," Schweitzer said. "The state can help in training people to run it, siting pipeline and bringing financial instruments to bear."


    Let me get this straight: the State owns the giant piles of coal, but somehow they're "private resources"? Look people, the difference between "public" and "private" is so elementary that it's given as a sidebar in 8th grade general business classes.

    Driving this whole mess is the DOD:

    Pentagon officials "are interested in this obviously for national defense, where they find that 50 percent of their fuel to run the military is coming from countries we're likely to be fighting, and that is not a very good position to be in," Schweitzer said.

    Hey, here's an idea. How about fixing our foreign policy so we don't have to fight these people? You know, rather than worry about the oil to run the tanks and jeeps, try doing something about the part where we need the tanks and jeeps. We could, I don't know, try buying oil instead of embargoing it, or engaging in free trade so that the people selling us the oil get a better standard of living out of the deal. Just a thought.

    And isn't it funny how we tend not to get into problems with nations who trade with us? We had that nasty business with fighter planes colliding over China a few years back, but it all worked out. I'm willing to bet it's because we have billions of dollars worth of trade with them every year. Both parties were motivated to find a peaceful resolution, because the trade meant too much to lose over a case of the grumpies.

    Back to the subject at hand, it really kills me to see the way government screws with the energy business. As a former employee of a natural gas pipeline, I can honestly report that my entire job, at the time paying around $40k/year, was basically to comply with government regulations that had nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of safety issues. And it wasn't just me. There were dozens of employees and contractors doing the job with me. Our company must have spent 5 to 10 million dollars a year keeping up with the government bean-counters, in the IT department alone. That's a lot of capital that could have been used more productively.

    It's because of this experience that I don't have a lot of hope for the future of this coal conversion industry. Sure, it'll probably do OK, but if it can't be done on the free market with the financial incentives (ie, profit) already in place, is it really worth doing? How long will it take us to see a return on investment from this venture? What is the opportunity cost of the billions of dollars that the taxpayers could probably use elsewhere? I guess we'll never know.

    Posted by Tom, 10/7/2005 5:35:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I know this guy!

    An imperative to heal the world

    Yes, I think the article is pretty accurate. He can be hard to work with, he's very driven, and he is committed to charity. I think the world is better off with him than without him, in spite of some of his harsher personality traits. He may need constructive channeling, but his drive to succeed and to help is many times that of other people who come to mind. And while I'm not Jewish, I share his desire to heal the world.

    Posted by Tom, 10/7/2005 7:07:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Yep, He was a Nutjob

    Our OU bomber was -- you guessed it -- tied to Islam and prepared to do a lot more damage. Oh yeah, and he had friends. See here.

    Oklahoma News 9 is reporting that Hinrichs began attending the same Norman mosque once attended by convicted 9-11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

    After the bombing, police checked the apartment Hinrichs shared with a Pakistani student who works in the Oklahoma athletic department. Officials found a very large cache of explosive material and also reportedly found "jihad literature" as well.


    Good thing I'm not a football fan, or I'd be worried.

    Posted by Tom, 10/7/2005 6:54:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, October 6, 2005


    On Arbitrary Travel Limits

    The person referenced in the previous post suggested that the government "should ban all cars from urban areas, and limit job commutes to a maximum of 20 miles."

    Let's consider the second part of that statement. What constitutes a "job commute"? Truck drivers travel hundreds of miles per day for their job (as do package delivery services and even the mail). If there's an arbitrary travel limit per day for work, what would we do about them? Obviously, the truckers need to do the traveling they do, but big trucks consume a monstrous amount of fuel compared to even the most inefficient passenger vehicle. Truckers supply food to all of the cities that this poster apparently loves, and without truckers, city people would soon starve. So presumably some sort of exception would be made for them (and for others who need to travel as part of their vocation).

    That's all well and good, until we realize that this will create an artificial demand for commercial vehicle licenses. How do I know this? Well, it's pretty obvious, but there's even a historical precedent in Oklahoma's license plate tax. Up until a little while ago, the cost of Oklahoma's license plates were tied to the value of a vehicle. Since this created huge hardship for businesses (whose vehicles are worth many times the value of passenger cars), an exemption was made for commercial vehicles. This led to every Tom, Dick, and Harry creating a small business (incorporation being a relatively cheap and simple affair) so that they could label their vehicles "commercial" and thus avoid or mitigate the egregious cost of license plates. The same would happen with a commercial travel exemption.

    What's the next step for a person wishing to make this wish a reality? The most obvious idea is to make incorporation more difficult or expensive, to raise its cost relative to the economic loss of not being able to travel. Unfortunately, the harder it is to incorporate a legitimate business, the harder it is for those trying to climb the lower rungs of the economic ladder out of poverty. The result is more poverty.

    So we have the initial burden on business, the increased cost to government of enforcement and paper chasing, and relatively more poverty as compared to before the law was implemented. All to avoid doing the hard work of education and persuasion, and it won't even accomplish the stated goals. Aggression is not stronger than love, but it is quicker, easier, and more seductive. Kind of like the Dark Side of the Force. Congratulations, you're a Sith Lord.

    Posted by Tom, 10/6/2005 7:58:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Aggression Abounds

    Hearkening to my earlier post with comments about the animal rightsists in my life, here's some more:

    Poster #1: Animals 'hit by global warming' [a BBC story with the usual handwringing about global warming]

    ...

    Poster #2: you are right about Americans and huge cars, especially with these rappers singing about Escalades all the time! Most celebrities have 6 to 10 cars. An average family has 2 or 3. I believe the government should limit the number of cars per household.

    Poster #1: Limiting the number of cars won't help. You have to limit the amount of gas they can consume. They should ban all cars from urban areas, and limit job commutes to a maximum of 20 miles.


    Translation: Based on propagandized junk science (see previous post about anthropogenic global warming) and my own self-importance, I would like to force -- at gunpoint, if necessary -- everyone in America to live according to my standards. I know best. My wisdom is the only wisdom that is needed, and I am ultimately the person most capable of determining what is right for anyone else in America. So sure am I of my own wisdom that I am willing to have people imprisoned or killed if they do not listen to me. No one else's needs or desires matter but mine.

    *sigh*

    And they wonder why there is so much hatred and aggression in the world. Hey, the kettle called, and said you're black too.

    Posted by Tom, 10/6/2005 5:36:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, October 5, 2005


    Nasty NASA

    Reason gives NASA the smackdown it deserves on this whole moonshot thing.

    How many cosmic hints does NASA need to realize that it might not be long before it's eclipsed by space entrepreneurs? If it wants to stay in the game, NASA should move from player to manager: Spell out the mission, offer a nice reward for its completion, and kick back until someone collects the dough. NASA could borrow from a suggestion made by the Aldridge Report, itself the result of a presidential commission, and offer, say, $1 billion "to the first organization to place humans on the Moon and sustain them for a fixed period."

    Getting back to the moon for just $1 billion dollars would do more than save America from another money-swallowing black hole. It would help nurture the kind of bottom-up experimentation that led to rapid advancements in aviation, and it just might spare a future NASA administrator some embarrassment. After all, how would it look if NASA's CEV chugs its way to the moon only to find lunar tourists pointing, giggling, and sipping Tang mimosas?


    And that's my vision exactly. By the time NASA gets to Mars, there will be a hotel for the astronauts to stay in.

    Posted by Tom, 10/5/2005 5:56:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Fun to watch

    I love it when a party who takes a particular demographic for granted gets smacked upside the head for it. Such is happening in Ohio, where Mike DeWine, an anti-gun nutjob Republican is being challenged by Paul Hackett, a vigorously pro-gun Democrat. While I am personally past the point of voting for either of the major parties, I hope Hackett gets the full support of the pro-gunners in Ohio and kicks DeWine's butt.

    Posted by Tom, 10/5/2005 5:46:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 4, 2005


    What Can We Do?

    Whenever I discuss the issues that bug me the most, I usually get one of two responses. The first is the standard statist response that usually begins with "there ought to be a law". It should be pretty clear to anyone who's been reading what I have to say that this is not an approach I can agree with.

    The second response is despair or helplessness, usually in the form of "well, what can you do?" The question is intended to be rhetorical, and the person asking it is hoping to be let off the hook for any further responsibility on their part. It is at this point that we must be ready to "go for the kill", as it were. It is only the intellectually and physically lazy and those who fear finding their own faults through introspection who want to avoid the responsibility of caring for the world.

    Loving others, blessing life, and encouraging peace is not an easy task, especially with the ever-present temptation to give up or turn to force. Treating others gently, honestly caring for them and their problems, and being firm only when necessary takes practice. It takes a long time to see any results. We may get frustrated or tired. Sometimes, we are going to come to a point when we don't feel as though we have the energy to do any more. We may give up trying to help or bless one particular person, but we must never give up trying to help or bless someone.

    I've been hanging out with a group of animal rights types at one online forum, and these are some of the kindest, most compassionate people I've ever had occasion to meet. They're also some of the most misguided. They want to be all cute and fuzzy when it comes to each other and to animals, but for those they see as enemies the only thing they want is calamity, suffering, and death. Tragically, they don't see the contradiction. Love is not promoted by hatred or aggression. Compassion is not promoted by cruelty. Telling people they are bad and rubbing their noses in it will only promote resentment and reciprocal aggression.

    Love requires that we do the hard thing. It is easy to sign a petition, cast a vote, or write a letter to an elected official. It's difficult to reach out to those we see as "the enemy", and try to understand and engage them in meaningful relationship. I've seen it time and time again in the aforementioned animal rights people, such as the various forum posts about calling the cops on a neighbor who ties his dog out in the yard rather than talking to him, but it is not limited to them. Christians do it as well -- it's easier to make a ruckus about abortion clinics than to try and engage a doctor or patient as a human being. It's easier to gripe about homosexuals than to actually make friends with one and love him as a fellow human being in spite of his attributes.

    Will engaging rather than attacking be more satisfying? I wish I could say yes, but personal experience has told me "probably not". It is a slow, painful process that doesn't bear much fruit immediately or quickly. If I show love to someone by helping them in some way, it might take the rest of their lives for the fruit to ripen, and I might never see it. In spite of this, I steadfastly believe that in the long run, it is more effective. People give what they get. People who are shown hatred and aggression will use hatred and aggression. People who are shown love begin learning to love. But somebody has to take that frightening first step.

    Posted by Tom, 10/4/2005 7:07:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 3, 2005


    Terrorism in the Heartland

    The words "suicide" and "bomb" have been put together here in Oklahoma, of all places. At the OU/KSU game Saturday night, some dude went out in a blaze of glory with a homemade bomb right there on the Sooner campus. The authorities are painting it as a "simple suicide", meaning that the only person the bomber intended to kill was himself, but that just doesn't smell right to me. A bomb is an awfully elaborate way to just kill yourself, especially when trees abound and rope is really cheap. Here's the salient details from various sources:

    CBS News
    Washington Post
    New York Times

    My money is on a minimum of suicide bomber, in the fashion of those in the Middle East. But since the deceased is apparently (by his name, anyway) American, it's more likely that he was the type to set bombs and let them kill others. Either way, it appears he miscalculated the volatility of his device and Darwin'd himself. A sad thing for his loved ones, but a good thing for the rest of us who might have been his victims.

    Posted by Tom, 10/3/2005 9:32:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Serenity Review at Reason

    There are spoilers, but Reason has a great overview of some of the deeper philosophical questions explored by the movie.

    The movie has not been a grand financial success, only bringing in a mere $10 million this first weekend. But as a work of science fiction, I think it is a triumph. Serenity is what science fiction should have been for at least a decade. Instead, it has been the crap that Lucas and Spielberg have been shoveling out. Schlock like A.I. and the first/last 3 Star Wars movies can't hold a candle to Serenity. The only movie I can think of from the last decade that is even in the same league was Gattaca. The Philip K. Dick adaptations (Minority Report, Paycheck) also came close. Serenity is what all of the movies that adapted Heinlein's works should have been: thoughtful, engaging, exciting, and poignant. A properly done Starship Troopers (or better yet, Tunnel in the Sky, which hasn't been done yet) would have been a good matchup for Serenity.

    So hats off to Joss Whedon. Even if the movie isn't the blockbuster that the various Star Wars movies have been, it's a far better film. It's deserving of inclusion in my DVD library when it comes out in that format, something the Star Wars movies have not accomplished.

    Posted by Tom, 10/3/2005 9:21:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Imperial March

    I've been reading P.J. O'Rourke's most recent (I think) book, Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism. In it, he describes the worm's-eye view of the various conflicts we've gotten into in the last decade or so. On Kosovo, he has this rather poignant passage:

    The locals explained how to tell the difference between the piles of rubble. When the destruction was general, it was Serbian. Serbs surrounded Albanian villages and shelled them. When the destruction was specific, it was Albanian. Albanians set fire to Serb homes and businesses. And when the destruction was pointless -- involving a bridge to nowhere, an empty oil storage tank, an evacuated Serb police headquarters, and the like -- it was NATO trying to fight a war without hurting anybody.

    However, if we hoped to protect ethnic Albanians, we were, as Senator Wellstone mentioned, less effective. In fact, we were less effective at protecting ethnic Albanians than Slobodan Milosovic had been. According to the U.S. State Department, an estimated ten thousand Albanians were killed and 1.5 million were expelled from their homes, most of them AFTER the NATO air war began.


    I think of this, and then I hold it up in contrast to the "Great White Way" that Bush, Clinton, etc. have been trumpeting. We are not a force for good. We are at best a force for stupidity. We tell other countries to be like us, but we are meddlesome idiots with no real clue (or concern) about the effects our actions have on the people we're pretending to save.

    And what does that do for us, really? Are we more or less monstrous for not caring that we destroy the things that people might need, while convincing ourselves that we're morally superior for not killing the people themselves? Is it nicer to destroy the capital goods that might be necessary to survival than to just kill people outright? The historical example of Stalin's famines suggests that it may in fact be more evil.

    Posted by Tom, 10/3/2005 5:40:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Christianity in Small Groups

    Here is a great article from ChristianityToday about what's missing from many small groups in churches that do them. As a member of such a church, I think this author hits the nail right on the head.

    Today small groups have the privilege of loving and accepting human beings for whom Christ gave his life. In these groups we can supply the love, encouragement, and embrace people need to continue their journey of transformation.

    A long time ago I decided I wanted to talk to someone honestly about my temptations, where I had messed up. I wanted to practice the discipline of confession. So I asked my friend Rick if we could meet. By that time, I had known him for about ten years.

    When we sat down together, I told him everything there was to tell about me—all of the darkest stuff and everything I felt the most embarrassed about.

    When I got to the end my confession, I could barely look up at him. When I finally did, Rick looked me in the eyes and said, "John, I have never loved you more than I love you right now."

    Those words were so powerful; they felt so good that I wanted to make up more bad stuff to tell him. To have someone know everything about me and still love me was truly life giving.

    That kind of love is what we ultimately need in small groups to transform lives. We can make small groups so complex and difficult, we can build the perfect small group strategy, but if we do not have the love of Christ present, we are not really engaged in transforming people into his likeness.


    I think the thing that makes me most frustrated is the "everything's perfect" message that I get from so many in my church. Everything's NOT perfect. Some people might be living in blissful happiness with their marriages and their babies and everything, but that's not reality. Reality is that some marriages are breaking up. Some people who want children can't have them. Some children who want parents don't have them. Some people are mean-spirited. Some struggle with anger or hatred or lust. Some are just wrecks.

    Until we stop pretending, the Church will remain the crippled, ineffective, USELESS organization that it is. The answers don't lie in organizing to defeat abortion or problems with prayer in schools. We won't have anything the world wants by griping endlessly about homosexuals or pregnant teenagers. The answers lie in community with one another, learning to be honest and brave, and experiencing God's love through one another in spite of our deepest fears that we are not worthy of that love.

    The biggest lie in the church right now is that we are worthy of God's love but not each other's.

    Posted by Tom, 10/3/2005 5:35:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...