The DC Madam

This will be interesting. The so-called "DC Madam", Deborah Jeane Palfrey, is threatening to reveal her customer list and the first of what may be many highly-placed cads just resigned.

Palfrey is alleged to have run a prostitution ring for 13 years before her retirement in 2006 and supposedly has records reflecting "transactions" with thousands of highly-placed officials.

Palfrey has denied she ran a prostitution ring. Her company, Pamela Martin and Associates, was simply a "high-end adult fantasy firm which offered legal sexual and erotic services across the spectrum of adult sexual behavior and did so without incident during its 13 year tenure," she said.

Palfrey contends her escort service provided university educated women to engage in legal game-playing of a sexual nature at 275 dollars an hour for a 90 minute session, the Washington Post reported.

But Palfrey has also hinted that she has a record of the phone numbers of thousands of more than 10,000 customers that could embarrass more the a few of the US capital's high-fliers.

Friday, the US State Department announced that Randall Tobias, the embattled head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), was resigning for unspecified personal reasons.

However ABC News, which said Palfrey has provided it with a record of the numbers of calls to her private cell phone, reported that Tobias stepped down after they spoke to him about his allegedly contacting her number.

Tobias since 2003 also was President George W. Bush's first global AIDS coordinator, a job which drew criticism for his emphasis on faithfulness to partners and abstinence over condom use in trying to prevent the spread of the AIDS virus.

Before entering government he was chairman, president and chief executive of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, and also, from 1997-2000, chairman of the board of trustees at Duke University. MORE

Mr. Tobias sounds like a very wealthy and powerful man. ABC News has a little more detail on the "services" he purchased from Palfrey.

On Thursday, Tobias told ABC News he had several times called the "Pamela Martin and Associates" escort service "to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage."

Tobias, who is married, said there had been "no sex," and that recently he had been using another service "with Central Americans" to provide massages. MORE

Hmmm, "no sex," Mr. Tobias says. Where have we heard that before? Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say he is being truthful. It still seems pretty stupid to call an escort service that offers "legal sexual and erotic services across the spectrum of adult sexual behavior" and have a woman come to his home for a private massage. What does he expect people to think?

Here's the problem, and I said this same thing in my pre-blog days about Bill Clinton and Gary Condit: People who live double lives like this make themselves vulnerable to blackmail. This is very dangerous for government officials who possess national secrets and are in position to make important decisions that affect many people. Even if we forget the morality of it, those we place in high office need to above reproach for purely practical reasons.

Mr. Tobias at least did the honorable thing by resigning. I feel sorry for his family and others that will be torn apart if more names are revealed by Palfrey. I also have to wonder why the background checks that are supposedly done on administration appointees did not reveal his proclivities - this sort of activity probably did not start recently. Either the FBI is doing incomplete investigations, or the White House know about it and appointed him anyway. Neither possibility is good. Another good question is whether the boards at Eli Lillyand Duke University knew what their chairman was doing to relax.

The saddest part is that I'm probably in the minority in being bothered by this. When other men are exposed like Tobias, the public reaction will probably be a big yawn. The Clinton scandal demonstrated that most of the American public doesn't really care if the president fools around as long as the economy is booming and his wife stands by him.

I look at it another way: any man who will lie and cheat on his own wife will not think twice about doing the same to the rest of us, whether he is the president of deputy undersecretary of whatever. People will say "he's only human like the rest of us." True enough, and I don't expect perfection. Still, is basic honesty is too much to ask of our leaders? Apparently so.

The Warriors

Darth Beckman has a long post quoting Fred Reed about how traditional "warriors" are ill suited for modern warfare. Reed used to write a column in Army Times (back when it was an actual newspaper) that nicely captured the best and worst of a soldier's life. I read it every week when I was in the service.

Reed has some colorful views, but he is not a wacky anti-military leftist. Keep that in mind when you read this article, because it goes a long way toward explaining our current problems in Iraq. Here's how it starts:

People ask how we got into our splendid mess in Iraq and why we can’t get out. The question is a subset of a larger question: Why, since WWII, have so many first-world armies gotten into drawn-out guerrilla wars in bush-world countries, and lost? Examples abound: France in Vietnam, America in Vietnam, France in Algeria, Russia in Afghanistan, Israel in Lebanon, etc. Why don’t they learn?

The answer I think is that militaries are influenced by a kind of man—call him the Warrior—who by nature is unsuited for modern wars. He doesn’t understand them, can’t adapt to them.

The Warrior is emotionally suited to pitched, Pattonesque battles of moral clarity and simple intent. I don’t mean that he is stupid. Among fighter pilots and in the Special Forces for example it is not uncommon to find men with IQs of 145. Yet emotionally the Warrior has the uncomplicated instincts of a pit bull. Intensely loyal to friends and intensely hostile to the enemy, he doesn’t want any confusion as to which is which. His tolerance for ambiguity is very low. He wants to close with the enemy and destroy him.

This works in wars like WWII. (Note that the American military is an advanced version of the military that beat Germany and Japan.) It does not work when winning requires the support of the population. The Warrior, unable to see things through the eyes of the enemy, or of the local population, whom he quickly comes to hate, wants to blow hell out of things. He detests all that therapeutic crap, that touchy-feely leftist stuff about respect the population, especially the women. Having the empathy of an engine block, he regards mention of mutilated children as intensely annoying at best, and communist propaganda at worst. MORE

Original article here.

WMD Re-defined

Here's a weird story. A suspicious package was spotted this week outside an Austin abortion clinic. Police determined it to be a homemade propane/nail bomb and it was disarmed safely. The device was powerful enough to have killed anyone nearby had it exploded.

The next day a suspect named Paul Ross Evans was arrested. From the news story, Evans appears to be nothing but a common criminal. There is no indication he had any connection to pro-life groups. (If there were, you can bet this story would be national news.) Why he would bomb an abortion clinic is still unknown.

Evans faces federal charges for "Using Weapons of Mass Destruction," with a potential sentence of life in prison. I find this a little confusing. My understanding is that "weapons of mass destruction" are nuclear, biological, or chemical devices that can kill thousands of people. A propane-powered nail bomb can certainly do some damage, but it's not going to wipe out an entire city. Yet the government apparently classifies it as WMD.

I think I see what is going on here. Recall that we invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein allegedly possessed WMD. This turned out to be not exactly true. Now we know that it was true; all we had to do was re-define WMD to include items like propane cylinders and small quantities of nails. Presto, Iraq did have WMD and so do a lot of other countries.

Now Bush can order the invasion of all those evil nations that stockpile propane and nails. They may say their objective is to barbeque while hammering together birdhouses, but should we believe them? No, we can't take that chance. The risk is just too great. Cruise missiles are the best solution.

UPDATE 5/1/07: The hideous weapons are even more common than I thought. Now it seems assault rifles count as WMD. Wow, Castro has WMD just 70 miles off our shores! We must invade immediately! Not to mention the Mexicans, Canadians, and Bahamians. We're surrounded on all sides.

Political Land-scape

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial about Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He is, in other words, the Baptist interface with Congress and the White House. I've seen Land on TV many times but in this interview he was unusually blunt about the forthcoming presidential campaign. It begins with this:

Rudy Giuliani didn't score many points with social conservatives last week when he issued this impassioned endorsement of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold a federal ban on "partial-birth" abortion: "I agree with it." He certainly didn't win over Richard Land, who has said he would never vote for Mr. Giuliani. When people ask the Southern Baptist Convention's representative in Washington why the former New York mayor's promise to appoint strict constructionist judges if he's elected president isn't enough, Mr. Land replies: "If he'll lie to two wives, what makes you think he wouldn't lie to you?"

I was particularly fascinated with Land's view on New Gingrich, whom his allies Richard Land and Jerry Falwell seem to be promoting as their candidate in 2008.

"I am not a big enough hypocrite to have made character an issue with Bill Clinton and turn around and vote for men who broke their oaths to their wives." Having been in his current position since 1988, Mr. Land has had more than enough opportunity to see Mr. Gingrich up close, and he has not been impressed: "When he was speaker, when they went into conference to negotiate, it was always our issues that got negotiated away and his economic issues that didn't."

Mr. Land suggests that Mr. Gingrich was good at paying lip service to evangelicals: "He always understood how important social conservatives were to the coalition." But Mr. Land believes that many of them have learned their lesson: "I think most evangelicals still don't trust him."

Do I detect the beginnings of a split in the social conservative coalition? Read the full story and see what you think. Land seems to be setting up support for Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson. Dobson and Falwell are holding out for Newt Gingrich. Meanwhile conservatives who think winning the Iraq War and defeating terrorism are a higher priority are lining up behind Giuliani.

All this will be sorted out in the primary campaign and by the time Election Day gets here everyone could be united again. If not, a Democrat may coast into the White House.

Returning to his political wonk persona, Mr. Land notes that in 2006, about a quarter of voters identified as white evangelicals, and 70% of them voted for Republicans. The three quarters who didn't identify as white evangelicals voted 61-37 for Democrats. Which means, according to Mr. Land, "that Republicans can't win elections just with evangelicals, but without them, Republicans face a loss of apocalyptic proportions."

Abortion Bigots

Last week the Supreme Court upheld a federal law banning the ghastly partial-birth abortion procedure. It was a 5-4 vote, and the justices in the majority were all Catholic. Soon afterward, this cartoon by Tony Auth appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Mr. Auth is, of course, entitled to his opinion and a certain degree of artistic license. The point he appears to be making is that the five justices voted the way they did due to their Catholic beliefs. Rosie O'Donnell and other anti-life activists made similarly hysterical statements.

This is a laughable argument on its face. First, think for a moment about what the Court did. This ruling agreed with a law passed by Congress, most of whose members are not Catholic and are nominally Christian at best, and signed into law by a Methodist president. Liberal Democrats like Harry Reid and Pat Leahy voted to ban partial birth abortion. It can hardly be described as some kind of Catholic conspiracy, as the cartoon suggests.

Second, while Catholics are a big part of the pro-life coalition, they are not the only part. Evangelical Christians, conservative Jews, Muslims, and many mainline Protestants are equally in favor of limiting abortion in general and partial-birth abortion in particular.

Third, there are plenty of reasons to oppose partial-birth abortion that do not depend on any sort of Christian belief at all. Law professor Robert Miller explained this in First Things.

Similarly, until the last few decades, Anglo-American law, which has historically been dominated by non-Catholics, treated abortion as a serious crime, even in early pregnancy, and consistently did so in order to protect the life of the unborn child. If you’re heard otherwise, see the monumental new history of Anglo-American abortion laws by Professor Joseph W. Dellapenna, Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History, a massive work spanning eight centuries and 1,200 pages, which is destined to become the magisterial treatment of the subject. Note to Mr. Auth: Prof. Dellapenna is not a Catholic; he describes himself as a lapsed Unitarian.

Furthermore, if Mr. Auth bothered to read the philosophical literature on abortion, he’d find that there are serious arguments on both sides of this issue. In particular, he might be surprised to learn that many of the most sophisticated defenders of abortion rights long ago conceded that a human fetus is a human being, not a clump of cells (it’s rather difficult to know much about embryology and conclude otherwise). Hence, most such philosophers defend abortion either by arguing that abortion is a permissible form of homicide, such as self-defense, or else by distinguishing human beings from human persons (human persons being human beings with some minimal level of mental capacity) and arguing that only human persons and not human beings generally are entitled to moral protection.

For my part, I sense in both these doctrines a reductio ad absurdum of the view they are meant to defend, and so I think the arguments fall out very largely on the pro-life side. Still, I recognize that the issues here are very complex and involve many contestable points in ethics and meta-ethics, and so I appreciate that other people, reasonably and in good faith, often come to views different from my own. Mr. Auth, probably because of his complete ignorance of the relevant arguments, is unable to say the same. MORE

John Yoo, another law professor and former Bush Administration official (whom I totally disagree with on many issues) describes the Auth cartoon as nothing less than ignorant bigotry.

Playing the religion card is worse than silly because it shows how intellectually lazy the liberal defense of Roe has become. There are many reasons why the Court upheld the federal partial-birth abortion law, but not a state ban that it struck down in 2000. The Court found the state law too vague, while the federal law is more specific about the prohibited procedures. The Court may have been demonstrating more respect for the judgment of Congress than that of the states. Or the Court may have been following public opinion: Polls show that a majority of Americans agree with the partial-birth abortion ban. Almost two-thirds of the Senate, including Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy and Harry Reid voted for it. Four years ago, today's critics didn't ask whether Mr. Leahy's and Mr. Reid's votes were inspired by their Catholic or Mormon faiths.

Rather than develop reasoned responses to the Court or the arguments of conservatives, liberal critics resort to the mystical for easy answers. They suggest that irrational religious faith or pure Catholic doctrine handed down from the Vatican drives the Justices. It is much easier to dismiss your opponents as driven by mysterious forces than to do the hard work of developing arguments built on human reason. This religious critique recalls the nativist fear of Catholicism that too often appears in U.S. history. Senate Democrats appealed to the same bias when they filibustered judicial nominees for their "deeply held" religious beliefs, as Sen. Charles Schumer said of now-circuit judge William Pryor.

Now that liberals want to keep count of these matters, I should disclose that I am not Catholic. I did clerk for Justice Thomas, but I didn't know if he was Catholic at the time. To confuse matters, I agree with the late law professor John Hart Ely (religion unknown) who wrote that Roe v. Wade was wrong "because it is not constitutional law and gives no sense of an obligation to try to be." But if the Court ever returned the issue to the states, I would probably vote for a woman's legal right to an abortion in California. And I fully agree with my liberal colleagues who like to make sport of Justice Kennedy's opinions: He often seems more interested in his power on the Court as the crucial fifth vote than in consistently advancing a coherent view of constitutional law. MORE

Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship is demanding an apology from Auth and calling for people to drop their subscriptions to his newspaper. I hope he succeeds but I'm not holding my breath.

Who Needs College?

So yesterday Marilee Jones, the Dean of Admissions at MIT, resigned after 28 very successful years. Why? Because word leaked out that she never graduated from college herself and had falsely claimed to have three degrees.

Of course it is wrong to lie about your credentials like this. Having said that, it is also remarkable that this "uneducated" person managed to work for decades at the very heart of American higher education - without anyone suspecting she had no diplomas of her own. In fact, by all accounts Jones had exemplary job performance and even co-authored a book about the college admissions process.

The question naturally arises from this: just how necessary is a college degree? It wasn't at all important for Marilee Jones. The important point was that people think she had a college degree so that she was able to hold the position she did. Perception matters more than the reality.

I have argued that you can do just fine in life without a sheepskin on the wall. Many people do. Ask the next plumber or electrician who comes to your home about his career. I can assure you he probably makes far more money than the typical holder of a B.A. in Sociology, and is probably a lot happier with his life.

Now before you say I must have sour grapes, I happen to hold a master's degree myself from a prestigious university. It was instrumental in getting me my first real job - not because of any useful knowledge I gained from it, but because my employer was a graduate of the same prestigious university. Having that credential opened a door for me. Afterward it was irrelevant.

This, I think, is the primary value of a college education today. Forget about learning anything useful in college; you are there to get your union card. Holding a bachelor's degree opens up opportunities for you that are not available to other people. What you do with those opportunities is mainly a function of your personal character and dedication - not any particular knowledge you gain while acquiring your degree.

I realize this is quite a radical view, and I concede there are exceptions. Technical and scientific knowledge are harder to acquire on your own, so those who wish to be engineers, physicians, and the like will find college is necessary. But even for them, the real education will take place in graduate studies. The undergraduate experience simply lays the foundation.

The problem is that many college graduates think getting through all those lectures and research papers means that society now owes them a fat salary. It does not. So they become bitter and cynical, with good reason; they - and their parents - were sold a bill of goods. They could have done much better things with that time and money.

I highly suggest you send this post to any young people you know who are headed to college, or to the parents who are about to make a very bad investment. You will be doing them a big favor.

1973 vs. 2007

Here are several scenarios with two outcomes. One from 1973 and the other 2007.

Scenario: Matt goes duck hunting before school, pulls pickup into school parking lot with shotgun in gun rack.

1973- Vice Principal comes over, takes a look at Matt's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his gun to show Matt.

2007- School goes into lock down, FBI called, Matt is hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.

1973- Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up best friends. Nobody goes to jail, nobody arrested, nobody expelled.

2007- Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Both charged with assault, both expelled, even though Johnny started it.

Scenario: Jeffrey won't be still in class, disrupts other students.

1973- Jeffrey sent to office and given a good paddling by Principal. Sits still in class after that.

2007- Jeffrey given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. School gets extra money from state because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his neighbor's car and his Dad gives him a whipping.

1973- Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.

2007- Billy's Dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. Billy's sister is told by state psychologist that she remembers being abused herself and their Dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has affair with psychologist.

Scenario: Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.

1973- Mark shares aspirin with Principal out on the smoking dock.

2007- Police called, Mark expelled from school for drug violations. Car searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario: Pedro fails high school English.

1973: Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.

2007: Pedro's cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English banned from core curriculum. Pedro given diploma anyway, but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he can't speak English.

Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from the 4th of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle, blows up a red ant bed.

1973- Ants die.

2007- BATF, Homeland Security, FBI called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism. FBI investigates parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated. Johnny's Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary, who hugs him to comfort him.

1973- In a short time Johnny feels better and goes on playing.

2007- Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy.

Defending Our Values

The "values" of the decadent west are, basically, money, sex, power, absolute personal autonomy, and idiotic pride. They are as much the enemy of love and truth as Osama bin Laden. And they are killing far more bodies and souls than he is. Another 9/11's worth will walk out of abortuaries all over the US today.

Mark Shea

Count on Bush...

... to do exactly the wrong thing, both for the country and himself. According to the Evans-Novak Political Report, Bush is apparently standing by Al Gonzales against all reason and common sense. Here's their analysis:

Gonzales: President Bush gave several signs Tuesday that he really does intend to keep Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales in office. This is bad news for Republicans.

  1. Bush released an unusual statement praising Gonzales "for taking on this difficult and important assignment" in co-chairing a minor task force. His improbable praise for Gonzales's pathetic performance as a witness before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week was another sign. The authoritative word from the White House was that Bush was adamant about retaining Gonzales as attorney general despite Republican demands that Bush cut his losses and find someone new.
  2. Vice President Dick Cheney's verbal joust Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested that the continued defense of Gonzales is not an isolated act of defiance (see below). Bush, never enamored of life in Washington , detests dealing with a Democratic Congress. Reflecting annoyance and fatigue, he is unwilling to withstand incessant attacks from the likes of Reid and is ready to fight it out for the year and a half left in his term.
  3. Republicans in Congress view this posture by Bush as pure folly. For the long term, they see their President's intent to wage constant warfare against the majority Democrats, and from such a weak position, as casting a pall on Republican chances of retaining the presidency in 2008. For the shorter term, they foresee nothing but trouble from Gonzales's continuing to stay in office. House GOP leaders and members do not shy away from noting that Gonzales has no Republican support on Capitol Hill.
  4. Gonzales's difficulties did not begin with the botched dismissal of U.S. attorneys or his serial memory failure in last week's testimony. Much as Bill Clinton sought to replicate in Washington the culture of Little Rock by bringing along Vince Foster and Webster Hubbell, Bush imported such close associates from Austin as Gonzales and Harriet Miers. The results have not been pretty. Gonzales and others in this group demonstrate an ability to turn mere incompetence into the appearance of impropriety.
  5. While the current cliché is that Bush never should have named Gonzales as attorney general in the first place, the consensus in the administration was that he was already at sea in his first post as White House counsel. Colin Powell, Bush's first-term secretary of State, was so appalled by Gonzales that he would shunt him off to Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, who in turn handed him down to lower levels along the State Department chain of command.
  6. Bush writes off this derision of Gonzales as part of Washington 's arrogance, and he seems determined not to appease that mindset. For now at least, the President refuses to yield, on the grounds that Gonzales -- whatever his shortcomings -- broke no laws.
  7. Bush's position, however, may be undermined by an unexpected development this week. It was announced that a little-known government agency -- the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), headed by Scott J. Bloch -- has launched an investigation into possible illegal White House political participation in the case of the U.S. attorneys. (More on this below.)
  8. The irony here was not noted in early news accounts. Bloch, a devout Catholic, has been under fierce attack for three years in leading the independent investigative agency because of his interpretation of statutes covering worker protection of sexual orientation. He also has been publicly accused of hiring too many Catholics. Clay Johnson, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and another Texan brought to Washington by Bush, joined the attack on Bloch. The case became a cause célèbre on the right when Bloch was told by a prominent Catholic layman close to Bush that it would be better if he just resigned.
  9. Now the tables are turned, with Bloch investigating the White House. In an administration in trouble on several fronts, the President's barricading himself with Al Gonzales by his side does not help.

Earth Daze

I've just learned that Sunday was Earth Day and I missed it. I feel bad now. Sorry, Earth. I hope you had a nice day.

While I have the utmost respect for nature and believe we should preserve and protect it, the people who make environmentalism into their religion bug me. The logical end of their arguments seems to be that this would be a great planet if we could just get rid of all the people.

It is no accident that the folks who are so eager to protect the planet are often the same ones who want to restrict population growth, use abortion as birth control, promote euthanasia and encourage gay and lesbian relationships. All have the same end result: fewer people wandering around the planet messing it up.

Of course, they never include themselves in plans to reduce the population. It's always the other guys whose existence is deemed unnecessary. Jen has a great post about an Sierra Club member reacting to a pregnant woman with several kids in tow who came upon his Zero Population Growth display:

The man behind the table was pacing and silently counting heads. He looked at my children like they were sucking his air. As the message his organization was presenting sank in I said, "My goodness! We must be your worst nightmare then, huh?" He didn't say no. In fact what he did say, looking at my belly, was, "It's not to late to stop!" I try not to think of what he was implying.

I think it is clear what he was implying: "Kill that kid before he gets out, lady!" No doubt he would also suggest that handicapped people are also an unnecessary drain on the planet and should be eliminated.

Fortunately it is possible to care for the environment without going to such extremes. The Nature Conservancy has a good strategy: buy the land you want to preserve. Then let nature take its course. Simple, effective, and no one has to be coerced into cooperation.

Political Cowardice

A reader left this interesting comment on my Cho's Coin Toss post:

Our lawmakers are not in the business of making laws that protect the most people, young or old. They are in the business of making laws that gain the most attention and we the voters sit back and allow it. MORE

Well said. Even before the victims at Virginia Tech could be buried, our political heroes were already racing to do the wrong thing. As I said in the post, there is probably very little that anyone could have done to stop this massacre. Yet the result will be an orgy of legislation that will, at best, simply create dangers of a different kind in the course of reducing this one.

This futile exercise will, however, have one certain effect: it will make the politicians look good. And as the commenter noted, we the people will fall for it. We always do.

One of the feel-good measures came directly from the White House when Bush ordered flags to be flown at half-staff. At one time this gesture was reserved for people of legend: presidents, kings, national heroes. Over time it has been slowly reduced in importance to the point it is now used as nothing less than cheap political theater. People die in tragic circumstances every day. If you happen to die in the company of 32 other people, somehow you become a subject of national mourning?

A soldier in Afghanistan saw the obvious stupidity of this. His base is, as ordered, flying its flag at half-staff for the Virginia Tech victims. Yet they are not allowed to give the same respect to the soldiers who are regularly killed there.

Of course, we really have no one to blame but ourselves. Politicians naturally want to make the voters like them, and they know that most are easily misled. If they look like they are "doing something" we vote for them again. And again. And again...

RIP Boris

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin died yesterday. I can vividly remember the photos of him in 1991, standing atop a tank rallying the people to resist an attempted coup by the ousted communists. His success in throwing out communism would soon be shadowed by his failure in building a free democracy. Nonetheless, he changed history for the better. RIP.

A story today on OpinionJournal looks back at Yeltsin's legacy and makes an interesting demographic point.

Communist ideology was based on a set of anti-values designed to facilitate state-sanctioned murder and justify totalitarian rule. At the same time, however, these values defined a worldview that gave each individual a sense that he was working for the good of mankind and that his life had meaning. The revelations of glasnost showed that the communist worldview was based on lies, but offered nothing to take its place. After the fall of the Soviet Union people hoped for democracy; instead they found themselves ruled by bribe-takers and gangsters. The result was widespread despair.

Between 1992 and 1994, the rise in the death rate in Russia was so dramatic that Western demographers did not believe the figures. The toll from murder, suicide, heart attacks and accidents gave Russia the death rate of a country at war; Western and Russian demographers now agree that between 1992 and 2000, the number of "surplus deaths" in Russia--deaths that cannot be explained on the basis of previous trends--was between five and six million persons.

Under these circumstances, Yeltsin became an unpopular and even hated figure in Russia. But even in light of the disastrous toll of reform, one could argue that, in his policy decisions, Yeltsin had good intentions. MORE

This is stunning. Six million people died of despair? The Russians I have known were dour, almost depressing people. They were like this long before Yeltsin came to power. Is there something about Russian culture itself that leaves people so hopeless?

Whatever the cause, Yeltsin's good intentions were not enough to rebuild Russia after so many years of communist dictatorship. Now compare this to U.S. efforts to create a democracy from scratch in Iraq. Is it possible? Maybe. But if so, it will take a long time and cost many lives, if the Russian experience means anything.

The Right Choice

Linked below is a slide show with audio narration by a young mother. During her pregnancy the child was diagnosed with a rare condition that would almost certainly be fatal soon after birth. She and her husband decided to carry the child to term and spend whatever time they could with him.

He lived 35 minutes and died in his mother's arms.

Many, many people who are "pro-choice" will be quick to say this couple made the wrong choice. They don't think so. Yes, they could have aborted the child. They did not. Why? Because life, however short and hopeless it may be, is still life. Every life has value. Every life is a gift from God. Every life affects every other life. This family will show you why.

Have some tissues ready and click here.

H/T: J-Walking.

Gonzales Brilliant?

A couple of days ago I thought Al Gonzales was toasted during his Senate testimony. Conventional wisdom suggests that, with even GOP senators calling for his resignation, he will be gone soon. Bush continues to profess confidence in Gonzales. Maybe Gonzales is smarter than we think:

This record reflects either a Harvard-trained lawyer—and former state Supreme Court judge—with absolutely no command of the facts or the law, or it reveals a proponent of the unitary executive theory with absolutely nothing to prove. Gonzales' failure to even mount a defense; his posture of barely tolerating congressional inquiries; his refusal to concede that he owed the Senate any explanation or any evidence; his refusal to even accept that he bore some burden of proof—all of it tots up to a masterful display of the perfect contempt felt by the Bush executive branch for this Congress and its pretensions of oversight. In the plainest sense, Gonzales elevated the Bush legal doctrine of "Because I said so" into a public spectacle. MORE

From this perspective, Gonzales was being perfectly consistent with the main theme of the entire Bush Administration: unrestricted executive power and total disregard for the other two branches. It seems foolish at this point for Bush to stand by somebody so weakened as Gonzales. But it wouldn't be the craziest thing this president has done.

Meanwhile, Steven Taylor points out an absurd statement by Rush Limbaugh yesterday. Rush said: Everybody on the Republican side now, along with the Democrats, wants to throw Alberto Gonzales overboard. He may be an idiot, I don’t know. He may be a weak attorney general. … It seems, every time there’s a public demand for somebody to resign in Washington, it’s always a Republican!

Well duh. People can't resign unless they are already in office. We’ve had a Republican administration for the last six years. The prior eight years we had a Democratic administration, and there were plenty of calls for its appointees to resign or be fired.

Cho's Coin Toss

The media and blog world is breathlessly trying to figure out what drove Cho Seung-Hui to kill so many people at Virginia Tech, and what to do about it.

First, as tragic as it is let's keep this incident in perspective. This morning on Fox News I heard that in a normal year about 20 people a year die violent deaths on American college campuses. This year's total will be higher, obviously. Meanwhile about 1700 college students die every year from alcohol-related incidents. If the goal is to save as many lives as possible, which problem should we focus on - guns or booze? For that matter, how many babies are aborted by Virginia Tech students each year? I'm guessing it is more than 33.

I've come to the conclusion that Cho's killing spree resulted from a series of coin tosses. Can you flip a coin and get heads ten times in row? Probably not. However, if we put a thousand people in a room and have them all start flipping coins, we can say with statistical near-certainty that one person will get ten heads in a row. The rub is we can't know in advance who it will be.

So what were Cho's coins? Here's what we know.

  • He was, according to relatives, afflicted with some sort of mental illness from early childhood. After the family came to the U.S. he was diagnosed with autism.
  • For whatever reasons, the family did not get Cho any treatment for this condition.
  • He had to make a transition from Korean culture to American culture.
  • He was unable to relate to his peers during his school years. He may have been shunned and bullied.
  • Both his parents worked long hours trying to establish new lives in the U.S.
  • Cho's older sister graduated from Princeton, maybe creating unrealistic academic expectations.
  • His creative writing involved dark, violent themes.
  • At college his social awkwardness continued and intensified.
  • He was referred for psychiatric care, but a judge determined he was not an imminent threat to himself or anyone else.
  • From what we know, he was not given (nor did he ask for) any psychiatric medications that might have helped his condition.
  • He was able to buy two guns and learn how to use them.
  • He did not have any sort of religious faith or firm moral principles.
  • He was surrounded by the violent, relativistic modern American culture.
Many people face several of these challenges and do not become killers. We can't pull out one of them in isolation and say that it was the deciding factor. Lot of kids have trouble adjusting to a new school; usually, they get past it. Kids is creative writing classes often write creepy stories; should every young Stephen King be hospitalized? The vast majority of people who buy guns do not use them to kill anyone.

Most of these conditions are innocuous until they combine to strike the same person. All the coins came up heads for Cho. If one or two of them had rolled the other way, maybe 33 people would be alive right now. We can't know.

I'm not suggesting it was all just fate, and none of this relieves Cho of moral responsibility for what he did. My point is that the frantic search for "answers" is ultimately pointless. The answers are clear. We just don't want to hear them, and we don't want to accept that these events can't always be stopped. We want a perfect world.

Our efforts to prevent such incidents in the future will probably have unintended consequences and ultimately not accomplish the goal we want. Yes, there are lessons to be learned and things we should change: better mental health care, for one. At the end of the day, however, we have to accept that we live in a fallen world and evil will always be with us.

Evil came to Virginia Tech this week. It will strike again.

Wisdom of the Saints XV

Our home is - heaven. On earth we're like travelers staying in a hotel. When you're away, you're always thinking of home.

St. John Vianney

AG On Fire

As I keep saying, Albert Gonzales should resign as Attorney General immediately. His sad performance before a Senate committee yesterday may have been the last straw. Even Republican senators are saying he should step down. Gonzales is either incompetent or lying. In either case, he doesn't need to be heading up the "Justice" department.

Via Borowitz Report, here is a different perspective on the hearing yesterday.


Found on Chair in Senate Hearing Room

A smoldering pile of ashes found on a chair in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room is believed to be the remains of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, officials confirmed today.

The smoking remnants, which appeared on the chair in which Mr. Gonzales had been seated during his testimony Thursday, have a “ninety percent chance” of being the Attorney General, a source close to the committee said.

“We’re going to have to wait for positive identification from the forensics people,” the source said. “But right now, all evidence points to that smoldering pile of ashes being Alberto.”

Mr. Gonzales’ day of testimony got off to a bumpy start as he displayed the memory lapses that have become his hallmark, including forgetting that he had an appointment with the Senate Judiciary Committee that day.

The Attorney General rushed into the hearing room two hours late, still wearing a pajama top, telling the senators that he had forgotten to set his clock radio.

As his testimony wore on, Mr. Gonzales repeatedly frustrated his Senate inquisitors by telling them that he could not recollect important meetings and conversations, prompting Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) to interject, “Even when I’m on a bender I have a better memory than this.”

At the White House, President Bush gave Mr. Gonzales’ a vote of confidence, telling reporters, “I believe that Alberto can continue to be an effective Attorney General, even if he is a smoldering pile of ashes.”

RSS Follies

If you don't read Driving Out The Snakes through an RSS reader, you can ignore this post.

While it works (most of the time), the feed for this blog is causing some technical difficulties for me. I have found that Feedburner works much better.

So if you are subscribed through Blogspot, I would be very grateful if you could delete that feed from whatever program you use, and replace it with this one:

You can also subscribe in a variety of services by using the handy "Subscribe now" link at the top of the right sidebar. For those who prefer, you can sign up to receive my posts via e-mail in the little box further down the sidebar.

Thanks for your help and have a nice day. We now return to our regularly scheduled ramblings.

Banned in Beijing

Apparently I've said a few things that the Chinese government didn't appreciate. How do I know? According to this site, Driving Out The Snakes has been blocked from public access in China.

I don't know exactly when I got on the Forbidden List. My traffic stats show visits from several different cities in China recently, so somebody is getting through. It may just be the censors checking up on me.

I'm sorry people in China aren't being allowed to read my pithy thoughts. On the other hand, I'm pleased to be an officially designated Enemy of the State. I must be doing something right.

Treating The Sick

If any good comes from the Virginia Tech killings, it may be a heightened awareness of the way we neglect mentally ill people. Americans have endless sympathy for those with physical disabilities. Yet when someone has a problem in the brain, they are usually ignored, sometimes ridiculed, and all too often left to live on the streets. It is far easier for a mentally ill person to get a gun than it is to get treatment.

Cho Seung-Hui had obvious problems. He came to the U.S. from South Korea at age 9 and apparently had trouble adjusting. Classmates from middle school and high school recalled him as painfully shy and unable to speak. The video he sent to NBC shows a person with the kind of rage and anger that is familiar to relatives of the mentally ill.

At Virginia Tech, Cho was referred for psychiatric evaluation over a year ago due to his bizarre and frightening behavior. A judge ruled he was a danger to himself, but not so dangerous as to require hospitalization. He was ordered to receive outpatient treatment; it is not yet clear if he did so, or what kind of treatment he received.

This is where it gets difficult. People with schizophrenia, bipolar, or other serious mental illnesses often seem perfectly normal at first glance. Their condition becomes clear only after lengthy observation. Courts are reluctant to confine people long enough to get a fair evaluation - as they should be. Fake charges of psychiatric illness are a favorite weapon of totalitarian regimes against opponents.

Even if courts would confine people, the question then becomes where? Private psychiatric hospitals are increasingly rare and expensive. State hospitals are often nothing more than prisons with a few extra doctors.

If they can somehow get help, many people with these conditions will show dramatic improvement with proper medications. Unfortunately, finding the right medicine involves a long trial-and-error process. With an infection, you can take antibiotics and a blood test will confirm the germs are gone. Mental illness is not so simple. Even doctors don't understand how the various medicines work. We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about how our own brains function. The same treatment can have different results in different people, and there are often troublesome physical side effects.

When someone goes over the edge like Cho, it seems clear in hindsight someone should have done something. But the legal-medical-political complex that we all think should have helped him did not. In fact, it probably could not help him, thanks to a thick web of laws and a serious lack of resources.

I recently ran across an organization called the Treatment Advocacy Center that promotes solutions to this dilemma. Mentally ill people will usually not seek treatment on their own; often they are convinced there is nothing wrong with them. TAC argues that the courts must step in and force these people into treatment. That is what was done until a movement in the 1970s to "de-institutionalize" mentally ill people.

With proper support, TAC believes most psychiatric patients can be helped on an outpatient basis. They have found that with proper support from the judicial system, these people can have much better outcomes , and families and communities will be safer from potential violence.

After what happened this week, this may seem like an obvious solution. Unfortunately it is not always so clear. The line between people who should be expected to take care of themselves, and those who need help whether they want it or not, can be hard to draw. We have a system that makes treatment optional for those who need it most. Here's how one psychiatrist sees it:

A lot of times, a family will say: 'Please treat our son. He's ill.' And I say: 'I'm sorry. I can't.' I know it's the best thing for him medically. But as a society we have decided you have the constitutional right to be very psychotic and medically ill — and miserable."

must find ways to distinguish between people who are simply evil, and people who are mentally ill. Sometime both exist in the same person. What drove Cho Seung-Hui to murder and suicide? We may never know. By helping others like him, we will help everyone. Now is a great time to start.

Did They Just Surrender?

With the dust at Virginia Tech starting to settle a bit, people are asking how it was possible for the killer to shoot 32 people without anyone fighting back. Texas Fred is perplexed:

Again, I stress this fact, this diabolical attack was carried out by one individual, armed with 2 pistols, ONE person, and he murdered 32 people in cold blood, while literally hundreds of others ran for their lives…

Didn’t anyone consider rushing the fool?? If you know the guy is going to try and kill you any way, why go quietly?? He had to reload the weapons, he couldn’t just keep on shooting continuously, he wasn’t a trained assassin or a Spec/Ops combat veteran, he was a maniacal nut-bag that was ALLOWED to murder, unhindered and unchallenged…

The MSM keeps on referring to the shooter as being heavily armed, well, apparently the MSM has never been to a real gunfight, going to a gunfight with a 9mm pistol and a .22 pistol does NOT qualify as being heavily armed, if this monster had truly been heavily armed, or trained in the art of war, there would have been an even worse death toll…

Excuse me, but maybe it’s my instincts, my training, the way I was raised, my desire to live, the strain of whatever idiocy it is that runs thru me that says I will not just roll over and die, I will not surrender and I will not submit, but for the love of God, didn’t ANYONE think of fighting back??

Did 32 people just say ‘Oh well, he has a gun, I’m guess I’m going to die’?? Did 29 wounded people think, ‘Oh well, he’s shooting us all, I’ll just hide behind a desk and maybe he won’t shoot me again’?? Did no one have the GUTS to RUSH this guy and try to save themselves or their friends??

Apparently not, and for that lack of action, there is no excuse…

The Anchoress asks a similar question:
... Buster and I wondered at the fact that, while some classrooms managed to barricade doors against the Virginia Tech shooter, there seemed to be no class ready to ambush the shooter by having heavy textbooks (or desks) ready to throw at him - “if they’d just gotten him to flinch, just distracted him, they might have taken him down,” Buster said, “and when you’ve got someone down, it’s so easy to kill him.”

Poliblog isn't as quick to buy it:
My first and most fundamental reaction is that it is really easy to sit at one’s desk and opine to the ether how one would react in such a horrible situation. None of us knows for sure what we would do in such as situation and God willing none of you reading these words will ever have to find out.

As for me, I agree we should probably wait to find out more specifically what happened inside the building before we reach conclusions. For all we know, maybe some of the victims did try to stop the killer. We know for sure of one hero, who was unable to stop the attack but sacrificed himself so others could escape. There may have been others.

Having said that, it does seem strange that the killer could shoot so many people, even stopping to re-load several times, and no one was able to distract him, throw something, rush him from behind, or otherwise defend themselves. There were hundreds of people in the classroom building. The sheer numbers should have tilted the odds in their favor.

Comparisons are being made to the passengers of United Flight 93 on 9/11. I think there is a big difference between these events. Passengers on the first three planes apparently thought it was an old-fashioned hijacking and they would be released unharmed. That's why they cooperated. Thanks to cell phone calls, Todd Beamer and the others knew what was happening and were aware they faced certain death if they did not resist. So they did.

Likewise, the people at Virginia Tech could not have known it was the Cho's intent to kill everyone he saw. Maybe he didn't kill as many as he could have - maybe he skipped over some people for reasons we will never know.

I think it is significant that the 77-year-old Holocaust survivor is the only one we know to have taken immediate action. Why? This man knew, from his own personal experience, what evil humans are capable of doing to each other. He saw it when he was younger than these college students.

Those born in the 1980s and after grew up with a different mindset. They didn't live through the Cold War and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Few have ever faced any real danger. To them, mom and dad have always been only a cell phone call away. They've seen lots of violence in movies, TV, and video games but they know it's not real. So for some of them, I suspect their first thought on hearing the shots was that it couldn't possibly be actual gunfire. That made them hesitate, and their hesitation led to their deaths.

Dr. Librescu knew it was the real thing and he reacted with instinctive speed, allowing his students time to escape. We can't know for sure, but I would bet he did not intend to follow his class out the window. He was likely planning to open the door and go out into the hall after the shooter. That is, apparently, the kind of man he was.

His generation is almost gone. Something tells me we are going to miss them and their courage.

A Victory for Life

Today the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the nationwide ban on partial-birth abortion. This barbaric procedure is used to kill babies who are only minutes away from live birth. The court's decision is a major blow to the Culture of Death, and the media was quick to portray it as such:

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court's conservative majority handed anti-abortion forces a major victory Wednesday in a decision that bans a controversial abortion procedure and set the stage for further restrictions.

Let's dissect this paragraph:

  1. The 5-4 majority in this case included Anthony Kennedy, who is rarely called "conservative."
  2. The term "anti-abortion forces" is used to characterize "pro-life" people in a negative way. "Pro-choice" people are never called "anti-life" by the press.
  3. Partial-birth abortion is "controversial" mainly to those who don't know what it is.
  4. The Court didn't "ban" PBE. Unlike in Roe v Wade, where the court overruled elected legislatures, this case upholds democracy in allowing Congress to follow the popular will.

However you describe it, this is a victory for life. Children who would have died in agony will now live to draw their first breath.

Death Visits Blacksburg

The shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday were tragic and we must pray for the victims and their families. Today the blogs and editorial pages are filed with reaction, blame and conclusions. I hesitate to say anything when the dead are not even buried yet. That is not stopping our 24-hour news media from providing endless coverage, however, so I will do likewise.

First point: I’ve noticed that the coverage varies on whether the number of deaths is 32 or 33. The difference is whether you include the shooter, who apparently committed suicide. Some editors seem to feel the killer should not be included in the total number of dead.

This seems strange to me. He was, according to initial reports, a deeply troubled person living away from home and family. He was arguably a "victim" as well. Those who loved him are now doubly tormented: grief at their own loss, and guilt for the loss of others. They need our prayers and support just as much as the other families.

Second point: I am already tired of hearing Virginia Tech students called "children" and “kids.” They are adults. That's why we let them drink all night, casually sleep with each other, and then kill any babies they happen to conceive. Having given them those privileges, it is schizophrenic for us to now talk about the students like they are emotionally helpless toddlers.

People got shot. People died. Without minimizing anyone’s pain, soldiers of these students’ age and younger deal with this sort of thing every day in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places.

Soldiers face another challenge, too: they have to shoot back. Then they must look at what they did to other humans. They don't get to leave the world early like the shooter yesterday did. They see the bodies every night in their dreams, for the rest of their lives. I feel sure the students of Virginia Tech will get far more emotional support and professional help than our combat veterans do.

Today’s college students blithely let their less-advantaged peers do the fighting overseas while they stay home to party. Their parents like it that way. Yesterday, some of these students got a taste of what they're missing. Let’s hope they learn from it.

Third point: This event was not the result of poor gun control, lax immigration, video games, cultural insensitivity, or lazy campus police. We do not yet and may never know the killer’s exact motivations. There are plenty of lonely, troubled people with access to guns who don’t go crazy and shoot others. Some unique confluence of factors drove this one over the edge. Evil does exist, and in this fallen world it will find a way to make its presence known no matter what we do.

Fourth point: Large campuses like Virginia Tech are almost impossible to secure from a such a determined person. I feel sure the police reacted as quickly and forcefully as they could. Parents are already calling for the university president and police chief to step down. There will be plenty of opportunity for everyone to consider what they could have done differently. Now is not the time to point fingers.

Fifth point: People ask “Where was God?” in all this. He was, and is, the same place as always: in control. Why does God let bad things happen? I don’t know. My choice is to accept in faith that He will ultimately make all things work together for good, and that in the fullness of time I will come to understand it. So will we all.

"For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."

Wisdom of the Saints XIV

One must be humble, little, self-disciplined, spiritual, and despised by the world to learn the mystery of the cross.

St. Louis de Montfort

Real Charity

It's tax time, and many Americans are totaling up last year's contributions to charity. Some of us will pat ourselves on the back for being so generous. Others will feel a little guilty for not doing more. Most, sadly, won't think about it at all.

What, exactly, is "charity?" Most would say it is gifts to help the poor, sick, hungry, etc. In fact, according to a study noted in the Wall Street Journal last week, most of our so-called charitable contributions don't go to charity at all. Where do they go?

The analysis, carried out by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, concluded that only 8% of donations provide food, shelter or other basic necessities. At most, an additional 23% is directed to the poor -- either providing other direct benefits (such as medical treatment and scholarships) or through initiatives creating opportunity and empowerment (such as literacy and job training programs). It's just not true, in other words, that the major beneficiaries of charity and philanthropy are the disadvantaged.

The "charity gap" is even wider among the affluent. Wealthy individuals claim, according to a Bank of America Study, that their giving is driven by a "feeling that those who have more should give to those with less." But people who earn more than $1 million per year give only 4% of their donations for basic needs and an additional 19% to other programs geared toward the poor. MORE (subscription may be required).

How can this be? Simple - the IRS defines "charity" to include most anything non-profit. Museums, universities, ballet, think tanks, opera - all these things are "charity" for tax purposes. Of course they are important and useful, but they don't offer any immediate help to the needy.

Here's an idea: what if we removed or reduced the tax deduction for gifts to these less-than-charitable groups? People would then be encouraged to donate to organizations like the Salvation Army that are far more efficient and compassionate than government agencies that try to help the poor.

Of course, this will never happen because the same people who like to donate to the opera also give to politicians. Most of them sincerely believe they are being generous and helping build a better world. I suppose they are. Do all those the folks living under bridges enjoy opera? Somehow I think they would be happier with a decent meal.

Who Wants To Live Forever?

FOR four days last December, America’s pleasure dome in the desert, Las Vegas, played host to a convention dedicated to the proposition that growing old is “a treatable medical condition.”

Booths advertising vitamins, hormones and pharmaceutical drugs, along with an array of oxygenating or detoxifying paraphernalia, filled the exhibition hall of the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. Lectures and workshops were offered on a bevy of “wellness” topics, including the alluring idea that human growth hormone could be deployed to beat back old age.

Several thousand attendees, mostly physicians, crowded the Venetian, a testament to what analysts say is now an industry that snares $50 billion a year in sales by catering to Americans’ obsession with looking and feeling younger. MORE

We all want the fountain of youth, don't we? I, for one, am being dragged into middle age kicking and screaming. This is an area where it's hard to find the right balance. If you are a Christian, you believe life is a gift from God. It follows that we must take care of this gift and do all we can to preserve it. Exercise, eat well, take vitamins, see the doctor, etc. All well and good.

On the other hand, we have to recognize that life isn't forever. Nor should we want it to be, if we have faith that something much better awaits us after we die. We know this intellectually; but practically speaking, most of us still fear death. This drives some people to extraordinary effort to extend their lives as illustrated in the article above.

This unwillingness to accept the death sentence we are all given at birth can drive people to commit all kinds of evil acts: harvesting unborn babies to provide nutrients they think will extend their lives, for example. Exactly how this differs from cannibalism is not clear.

I think most people, even atheists, know that death is inevitable. There are those, however, who somewhere deep down think they can beat the odds. If we can just cure this disease, if we can just regenerate these organs, if we can just continue our research, maybe we don't have to die. Maybe we can live forever. Maybe we can be gods.

They will never admit it, but I'm convinced there are people who follow this line of thinking. These folks are destined for disappointment. Science will not save them, and they will not accept the One who can save them.

Someday they will listen, of course. By then it will be too late.

It Can Always Be Worse

Saturday afternoon I was driving around on some errands. I wasn't far from our church so I decided stop in the adoration chapel for a few minutes. The chapel is a small room with eight chairs and a tiny altar. It's open 24/7 for people to pray or just have a few minutes of solitude with the Lord.

When you encounter others in this place, the etiquette is to offer a smile and then allow each other their own private time. If you must say something, you do it in a whisper. So as I opened the door I was surprised to hear two ladies conversing in normal tones. They stopped right away when I came in. My first thought was "how rude of them" to be using this place for their idle chitchat.

A minute later, one of the ladies started sobbing. The other put an arm around her and said something reassuring. The one who was crying said "I don't know what to do. I hope I'm not risking my life." Then more sobbing.

In that instant, shame swept over me for what I had thought. I did not know these people. I have no idea what she was talking about except that it sounded very serious, perhaps even life-threatening. My little problems that I had planned to pray about faded away as I listened to someone with real worries.

Then the crying woman started to whisper and I realized that she was worried about disturbing me. Again, I felt about as low as a cockroach. There are plenty of anxieties in my life, but my life itself isn't one of them. Yet this woman, facing some huge crisis, was being kind to me. It was the last thing I deserved from her at that moment. I offered a quick prayer for her protection, got up and left them alone again.

Lesson learned: however bad I think I have it, somebody else is suffering even more. That somebody is probably not far away. The real irony is that I still got what I wanted; when I left that room my worries were gone, replaced with gratitude. God answers prayers in the most unexpected ways.

Musical Chicken & Egg

One ironic aspect of the Don Imus brouhaha is the fact that the insulting, racist things he said are almost routine in black culture. James Taranto revealed yesterday there is actually a popular band called Nappy Roots. They warmed up the crowd at a Barack Obama event just last year. So presumably Mr. Obama doesn't find the term racist.

Likewise, the term "ho" ("whore") in reference to black women is common in rap music. So what's the difference? The difference is that Don Imus is a white male. Because of his ethnic background, he is forbidden to use these terms. They are reserved for inner-city youth.

This brings up the question of modern music and its meaning in our culture. Some people think rap and heavy metal music has a perniciously negative effect on the young people who listen to it. Does it? Or it this just another aspect of youthful rebellion? I know that my parents didn't care for the music I liked. I suspect their parents didn't care for the music they liked. And I don't really care for the music my son likes.

Zippy points us to a long, scholarly article from the Hoover Institution that argues it is different this time. Basically, the authors suggest the music isn't a cause of our broken culture. It is a result of our broken culture.

Why, we must ask, do kids like this music that we Baby Boomers find so unpleasant? Answer: because it expresses the deep longings they have for the security of home and family:

If yesterday’s rock was the music of abandon, today’s is that of abandonment. The odd truth about contemporary teenage music — the characteristic that most separates it from what has gone before — is its compulsive insistence on the damage wrought by broken homes, family dysfunction, checked-out parents, and (especially) absent fathers. Papa Roach, Everclear, Blink-182, Good Charlotte, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Eminem — these and other singers and bands, all of them award-winning top-40 performers who either are or were among the most popular icons in America, have their own generational answer to what ails the modern teenager. Surprising though it may be to some, that answer is: dysfunctional childhood. Moreover, and just as interesting, many bands and singers explicitly link the most deplored themes in music today — suicide, misogyny, and drugs — with that lack of a quasi-normal, intact-home personal past.

The study goes on to list many specific examples of popular artists pouring out their souls with sad stories of broken homes. A common theme, especially among rappers, is the absence of a father during childhood. This is a perfect reflection of what really happens in the urban black population. The prototypical nuclear family of mom, dad, and kids is almost unknown. Yet the kids somehow know it is the ideal, and they miss it. They sing about it.

This also explains the popularity of "retro" themes among kids today. Consider That 70s Show which was amazingly popular on Fox TV. The Foremans had their share of problems - but they were a family, and other characters were drawn to them because of it. I think many kids today fantasize about living in a such a "normal" family.

Certainly some of the attraction in modern music is simple youthful rebellion, just as our generation experienced in the 60s and 70s. Kids from loving, intact families are still drawn to the latest rap just because they like the beat. Even so:

...there is no escaping the fact that today’s songs are musically and lyrically unlike any before. What distinguishes them most clearly is a the fixation on having been abandoned personally by the adults supposedly in charge, with consequences ranging from bitterness to rage to bad, sick, and violent behavior.

And therein lies a painful truth about an advantage that many teenagers of yesterday enjoyed but their own children often do not. Baby boomers and their music rebelled against parents because they were parents — nurturing, attentive, and overly present (as those teenagers often saw it) authority figures. Today’s teenagers and their music rebel against parents because they are not parents — not nurturing, not attentive, and often not even there. This difference in generational experience may not lend itself to statistical measure, but it is as real as the platinum and gold records that continue to capture it. What those records show compared to yesteryear’s rock is emotional downward mobility. Surely if some of the current generation of teenagers and young adults had been better taken care of, then the likes of Kurt Cobain, Eminem, Tupac Shakur, and cer­tain other parental nightmares would have been mere footnotes to recent music history rather than rulers of it.

I have to say this article struck me like a ton of bricks. The music many in my generation find so unpleasant isn't just an attempt by the next generation to annoy us. It is a finger in our faces, reminding us how we failed. It is pain and sadness. It is a cry for help.

Sadly, for many of these kids help is too late. We failed them. We will pay the price.

Girls Gone Wild vs. IRS

Lost in all the Don Imus news this week was the downfall of another cultural icon. Joe Francis, founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" video empire, is behind bars. He was initially jailed for contempt of court in a civil case filed by some of his underage photographic subjects. Two days later he was hit with an indictment by the IRS alleging he deducted $20 million in phony business expenses from his 2002 and 2003 tax returns.

The Smoking Gun has Francis' mug shot and a copy of the indictment. It's interesting reading if you are a tax nerd. Among other things, he disguised about $4.7 million in construction expenses for a house in Mexico as "consulting services."

No doubt Francis will hire the best lawyers money can buy, but the IRS is not an organization to be tangled with. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Girls Gone Wild business. Could the IRS end up owning the whole company? Stranger things have happened.

Adios Imus

I've never heard more than a few bits and pieces of Don Imus. Nothing I heard made me want to listen any further. I think the furor over his recent comments which now seem to have ended his radio career says more about the rest of us than it does about Imus.

First of all, who did Imus insult? He did not, as far as I've read, say that all black females are nappy-headed hos. He was referring specifically to the Rutgers ladies basketball team. What he said was ignorant and ugly and he owes those young ladies an apology.

If, however, you are not a member of the Rutgers ladies basketball team, you have no business demanding an apology, because you have not been insulted. Who made Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton the official conscience of black America? Was it black Americans, or was it the media which needs a handy face to put on stories about race?

Second, Imus seems to have a long pattern of saying outrageous things like this. Yet he has not lacked for a wide variety of famous, and generally liberal, people willing to make guest appearances on his show. Why are they all suddenly so outraged with him? This could not be a surprise to his regular audience and guests. This suggests to me their current disgust has more to do with media attention than any principles of propriety.

Third, the cancellation of Imus by MSNBC and CBS Radio was driven totally by money. Advertisers were starting to bail out. No advertisers, no show. It's not at all complicated. I don't believe for a second the faux sensitivity of the network executives. They are protecting their business. Nothing more, nothing less.

I will leave you with a quote from Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, placing this story in the context of other recent events.

“Two years ago, Penn Jillette (of the comedy team Penn and Teller) went on Showtime calling Mother Teresa ‘Mother F—king Teresa’ and called the nuns who worked with her ‘f—king c—ts.’ Showtime is owned by Viacom and that is why I wrote to its chief, Sumner Redstone, to register a complaint. He wrote back extolling the merits of ‘artistic freedom’ and ‘tolerance.’ Last year, on Viacom-owned CBS radio, Jillette said Mother Teresa ‘had this weird kink that I think was sexual,’ compared the saintly nun to Charles Manson and said she ‘got her [sexual] kicks watching people suffer and die.’ Again, nothing was done about this.

“In 2005, Bill Maher went on HBO at the time of the death of Pope John Paul II and said, ‘For those who could not make the funeral, the Vatican has asked that in lieu of flowers, just stop touching your d—k.’ He also said that the whole story of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the Resurrection was ‘grafted from paganism’; he ended by mocking the death of the pope and the upcoming conclave. The letter I received from HBO said that ‘it’s a free country, and people are free to say silly things—even on HBO.’

“Right before Easter, the Catholic League protested the chocolate Jesus with his genitals exposed that was to be shown in the art gallery of the Roger Smith Hotel in midtown Manhattan (located on street level, the public was invited to eat him). Air America radio co-host Cenk Uygur, writing on ‘The Huffington Post,’ said, ‘So is the argument that Jesus didn’t have a d—k? Or were people offended because it was too big? Too Small? Too immaculate? Not immaculate enough?’ Regarding Imus’s remark, Uygur called it ‘derogatory and insulting.’

“Similarly, Joan Walsh on said the chocolate Jesus was not ‘a big deal,’ and advised people not to go see it if they didn’t like it. She has now called on Imus to be fired. Even New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said ‘don’t pay any attention’ to the chocolate Jesus, but he now finds it necessary to brand Imus’ comments ‘repugnant.’

“In other words, Catholic bashing is humorous and an exercise in liberty. Racism is awful. Bigotry, then, is neither good nor bad—it just depends who the target is.”