It’s a lovely idea, but

There’s an NPR story here about music being used as a therapy to aid chronic pain sufferers or the dying.  Anecdotal reports are good, but there are no scientific, double-blind, replicable studies yet to back it up.  I have my own concern about the practice.  I like listening to music, but I hate opera and the operatic style of singing (meaning I writhe when I hear opera singers try to sing popular songs operatically).  I imagine that, if I were dying or in great distress, hearing that irritating voice would increase my sufferings.  Of course, if Ella Fitzgerald could be resurrected to come to my bedside, that would be another story.

Religion lite

I sort of just sat back and sniggered when the Presbyterian Church (USA), after first attacking Jews decided next to go after men. How else to explain the new doctrine the Church has put into effect:

The divine Trinity – “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” – could also be known as “Mother, Child and Womb” or “Rock, Redeemer, Friend” at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action Monday by the church’s national assembly.

Delegates to the meeting voted to “receive” a policy paper on gender-inclusive language for the Trinity, a step short of approving it. That means church officials can propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the Trinity, but congregations won’t be required to use them.

“This does not alter the church’s theological position, but provides an educational resource to enhance the spiritual life of our membership,” legislative committee chair Nancy Olthoff, an Iowa laywoman, said during Monday’s debate on the Trinity.

The assembly narrowly defeated a conservative bid to refer the paper back for further study.

A panel that worked on the issue since 2000 said the classical language for the Trinity should still be used, but added that Presbyterians also should seek “fresh ways to speak of the mystery of the triune God” to “expand the church’s vocabulary of praise and wonder.”

One reason is that language limited to the Father and Son “has been used to support the idea that God is male and that men are superior to women,” the panel said.

Apparently those of us be who believe that religion stands for eternal truths, not polling items, are just hopelessly naive.

Now, I’m all for a religious institution to have a certain flexibility. It’s that flexibility that means that we no longer have to live lives that reflect identically the lives of 6th Century B.C. Judeans.  It also means, thankfully, that Jews no longer have to fear the Christian Church. But those changes go to practices, not core doctrines.  That is, with the destruction of the temple, Jews abandoned the practice of animal sacrifice. We also no longer engage in the practice, from Leviticus that mandates that a man must marry his brother’s widow (a practical and humane idea in the days before women worked). Likewise, Christians recognize that, regardless of what happened 2,000 years ago, today’s Christians cannot and should not indulge in the practice of Jew hating and baiting.

Doctrine is different from practice. It goes to the core beliefs that animate a religion. You either believe that Jesus died for your sins, or you don’t. If you do, you are a Christian. If not, you’re not. (In this way, Jews for Jesus have always bewildered me. It seems to me that, once they accepted Christ as their saviour, they pretty much crossed that big, bright line distinguishing Christian from Jew.) Those who mouth platitudes about a nice teacher who got snatched by the Romans, was tortured to death, and had some good aphorisms that were collected and published later believe nothing at all.  And yet this religious nihilism is precisely what the Presbyterians are heading towards: to them, Christianity is no longer about eternal truths, it’s about nice people (excluding men and Jews), good feelings (except towards men and Jews), and political correctness. I’m sure that, in a few years, there’ll be rumblings that Christ was really a woman (he was so sensitive, after all), or possibly homosexual (he never did get married), and that the whole history of the Church reflects a homophobic, male-dominated Church heirarchy that wilfully disguised Christ’s true nature.
By the way, if you’d like to see where liberal Christianity could go, check out this website, for the HerChurch in San Francisco. There, the followers of Martin Luther get this:

We are a diverse community, standing firmly within the Christian tradition in order to re-image the divine by claiming her feminine persona in thealogy, liturgy, church structure, art, language, practices, leadership, and acts of justice. Challenging the church’s restricted language of the past, we pay special attention to images and metaphors that attempt to embrace divine fullness and that offer a witness of holy nurture and inclusive justice, both to the church and to the world.

By the way, I do believe that religions should celebrate and accommodate women.  Women are the home fires of religion, since they are the teachers of children.  In other words, religions cannot survive without women’s buy-in.  But religion is also the place of eternal truths and morality.  If these are adjusted to suit every prevailing politically correct wind, you don’t have religions anymore — you have social clubs.

There won’t always be an England

How did England so rapidly plummet from the world’s top dog to a nation that has no pride, no sense of its own history (except to be abjectly embarrassed by that history), and no sense of self-preservation. The latter appears in matters large, as in its inability to confront its increasingly visible Fifth Column, and small, as in the fact that the nation is drinking itself to death:

Drink-related hospital admissions in England have reached record levels, NHS statistics show.

Hospital admissions for alcoholic liver disease more than doubled in a decade, reaching 35,400 in 2004/5. Alcoholic liver disease deaths increased by 37%.

Admissions for alcoholic poisoning increased to 21,700 from 13,600 over the same 10-year period.

The Information Centre report also highlights England’s binge and underage drinking problem.

Nearly one in four secondary school children aged 11-15 reported that they had drunk alcohol in the past week when surveyed in 2005.

The average amount of alcohol consumed by this age group doubled between 1990 and 2000 and currently remains at 10.4 units (or about 10 small glasses of wine or five pints of beer) per week.

Young adults are the most likely to binge drink – a third of men and a quarter of women aged 16-24 said they had drunk more than double the recommended number of units on one day of the previous week, typically Saturday, when surveyed in 2004.

I should say that this absolutely debauched British approach to alcohol really isn’t that new.  England was also awash in alcohol at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries.  When, in the early 19th Century, the British turned to the high morality with associate with the Victorian era and, in increasing numbers, to Evangelical Christianity, these trends were partyly a response to the damage wrought by the Brits’ uncontrolled alcoholic excesses.  (America’s prohibition experiment was also a response to out-of-control drinking.)  I suspect that on this go-round, waiting in the wings for those British who can no longer take the damage the alcohol wreaks on their society, will be Islam, complete with its long-standing prohibition against alcohol.

Government’s inability to police fraud

We just got yet another reminder (as if we need one), about Government ineptitude at managing its own programs:

Welfare recipients and their friends and relatives are defrauding taxpayers of $500 million a year through the county’s child care programs, a grand jury report concludes.

The report released Thursday found that nearly half the $1.1 billion CalWORKS child care program is lost to fraud because the Department of Public Social Services doesn’t verify that welfare-to-work recipients qualify for child care.

“Widespread abuse … has created a program culture that encourages fraud by parents, child care providers and agency employees,” the county grand jury report said.

You can read more about it here, but the rest is just as depressing as the beginning.

The problem, as I see it, is that Government employees are not given incentives to care enough to do the very best. No private business can afford to have this type of fraud practiced against it on a regular basis. In the private sector, therefore, the business would (a) have systems in place to prevent fraud; (b) reward those employees who aggressively and reliably use that system to protect the company; and (c) punish (that is, fire) those employees who just can be bothered.

In the Government sector, however, employees get to keep their jobs no matter what. Unsurprisingly, those who are not committed to their work or who aren’t blessed with their own high ethical standards, will do the bare minimum. Most people are rational creatures, and its irrational to go the extra mile if that will make no difference whatsoever.  It’s even more irrational to do so if you look around and see that those who can’t be bothered to even make the first mile are still receiving the same incentives that you receive.

One could pull back and ask a different question: Why doesn’t government put those incentives in place?  My guess is there are several reasons. First, it’s truly other people’s money. We taxpayers docilely pour our money into the pot and make no demands (indeed, how can we?) that it be spent wisely and efficiently. In the corporate world, the owners are all over you if you waste their money. While we “own” these government programs in terms of financing them, we have no voice.

Second, the unions that drive the Government engine make damn sure that the pesky taxpayers don’t get in the way of the myriad benefits the unions have drawn down from the public trough. I’ll say again, as I often do at this point, that I have no problem with collective bargaining for a living wage and decent working conditions. Outside of those parameters, though, I’m hostile to unions, which I think are hostile to capitalism — and I think capitalism is the engine that drives a free, prosperous nation.

Third, Government programs must comply with the Code of Federal Regulations, an absolutely vile user’s manual for all things Government. If you think the Tax Code is bad, multiple it by 2 million, and you’ll get a small inkling about the CFR. I suspect that, even if all Government employees were disciplined, ethical geniuses, who were given huge bonuses for doing the job well, it would still be impossible for them to get the job done — any job — if they stuck rigidly to the CFR.  The CFR and efficiency are mutually exclusive concepts. If you’d like a good insight into just how stifling government regulations are, you can read Philip K. Howards’ only slightly dated The Death of Common Sense : How Law is Suffocating America.

Don’t teach better; just teach less ethically.

In yet another reminder that it’s all about the bureaucracy and not about the child, it turns out that California joins the lists of states lying and cheating to get federal funds (and what a good lesson that is to teach our children):

California and some other states have inflated test outcomes by lowering the achievement standard students need to meet to be proficient in reading and math under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, university researchers say.

It amounts to a dumbing down of how the states calculate student progress, the researchers concluded.

Under No Child Left Behind, individual schools and school districts can be punished for repeatedly failing to meet the federal standards, including restructuring schools and possibly closing them in extreme cases.

Researchers with Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) studied 12 states and found nearly all reported results significantly higher than those gathered through the federal government’s own testing.

Their study confirms long-held suspicions that many states have set a low bar on what it means to be proficient, distorting the true extent to which kids are learning, said Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor of education and public policy and co-director of PACE.

In the process, he said, parents have no clear idea of how their children are progressing.

Regarding the last sentence, the one highlights parents’ ignorance about their children’s progress, I’ll just point to my earlier post on that subject.  It seems to me that parents willingly function in a universe that says, if ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.

I told you so….

Don’t you hate people who say “I told you so”? I do, unless I’m the one saying it. This time, I’m saying it regarding the Israeli troops massed on the Gaza border. But let me back up a bit….

Last night, Mr. Bookworm, who reads only the NY Times, asked me “What the heck are the Israelis doing?” He was not pleased. My response was that the kidnapping served only as an excuse to do what the Israelis intended to do ever since Sharon withdrew the settlers and gave the Palestinians a state: they’re attacking a sovereign state. The “I told you so” in all of this is that, last year, when Sharon began the disengagement, I said (and wrote) that disengagement was a good idea because it gave Israel a sovereign state against which to act. Before, Israel had been waging war on her own territories and the world had castigated her for attacking the victims of her own imperialism. By withdrawing, Israel created a nice, bright line. The Palestinians are now governing themselves and, like any government, must abide by the consequences of their actions.

That Israel was right in the withdrawal (and that she was correct in her assessment that it made military actions easier, not harder) is evidenced, I think, by the surprising fact that the NY Times has actually blamed the Palestinians, not the Israelis, for the looming military action:

The Palestinians who futilely threw up sand berms on Gaza’s main roads to deflect Israeli troop movements were building their defenses in the wrong direction. The responsibility for this latest escalation rests squarely with Hamas, whose military wing tunneled into Israel on Sunday, killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped another. This was a follow-up to a declaration earlier this month by Hamas’s political leadership that the group’s 16-month intermittent cease-fire would no longer be observed.  [Emphasis mine.]

As Clarice Feldman, writing at the American Thinker, says, “Maybe Pinch and Keller are both on vacation.”

A harbinger of what will happen if the Dems take the White House again

I know that many of you are like me in that you’re disgusted with the Republican’s profligacy, as well as with other careless, pandering form’s of government in which Republicans engage. Be assured, though, that “punishing” them at election time, both in 2006 and 2008, will be worse. Why? Because the Dems will control the Supreme Court again. And when they control the Supreme Court, you end up with rulings such as this one authored by Stevens (of Kelo fame), that open the door to giving foreign combatants the right to expensive civil trials, complete with all the Constitutional rights guaranteed to Americans:

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Bush overstepped his authority in ordering military war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The ruling, a strong rebuke to the administration and its aggressive anti-terror policies, was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who said the proposed trials were illegal under U.S. law and international Geneva conventions.

The case focused on Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan, 36, has spent four years in the U.S. prison in Cuba. He faces a single count of conspiring against U.S. citizens from 1996 to November 2001.

The ruling raises major questions about the legal status of about 450 men still being held at Guantanamo and exactly how, when and where the administration might pursue the charges against them.

It also seems likely to further fuel international criticism of the administration, including by many U.S. allies, for its handling of the terror war detainees at Guantanamo in Cuba, Abu Ghraib in Iraq and elsewhere.

Two years ago, the court rejected Bush’s claim that he had authority to seize and detain terrorism suspects and indefinitely deny them access to courts or lawyers. In this follow-up case, the justices focused solely on the issue of trials for some of the men.

The vote was split 5-3, with moderate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court’s liberal members in most of the ruling against the Bush administration. Chief Justice John Roberts, named to the lead the court last September by Bush, was sidelined in the case because as an appeals court judge he had backed the government over Hamdan.

Thursday’s ruling overturned that decision.

***

“Trial by military commission raises separation-of-powers concerns of the highest order,” Kennedy wrote in his separate opinion. “Concentration of power (in the executive branch) puts personal liberty in peril of arbitrary action by officials, an incursion the Constitution’s three-part system is designed to avoid.”

***

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a strongly worded dissent and took the unusual step of reading part of it from the bench _ something he had never done before in his 15 years. He said the court’s decision would “sorely hamper the president’s ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy.”

The court’s willingness, Thomas wrote in the dissent, “to second-guess the determination of the political branches that these conspirators must be brought to justice is both unprecedented and dangerous.”

Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito also filed dissents.  [Emphasis mine.]

Just how good are they, really?

I spend a lot of time talking to people whose children attend public schools in my fairly affluent area.  What always surprises me is the disconnect between the facts they recite and their ultimate conclusion about our school district.  Their ultimate conclusion is that the school district is just wonderful.  As for their facts?  Well….

One Mom told me how wonderful her daughter’s second grade teacher was.  The example she gave centered on the day her daughter came home with an F on a math exam.  The mother, who was very concerned about this, instantly approached the teacher.  The teacher beneficently promised the Mom that the grade wouldn’t be held against the child because, in fact, all of the children failed the math exam.  The mother was grateful for the teacher’s generosity.  I was shocked.  Shouldn’t the teacher apologize for her abysmal job teaching those students?

Another Mom told me that something great had happened at her school.  The psychotic fourth grade teacher — the one who regularly broke down and cried in the class, and who often hurled insults at the students — was not teaching any longer.  “Oh,” I said.  “Did they fire her?”  Nope.  She was now the PE teacher, where the students would only be exposed to her a couple of times a week.  Tenure kept her firmly tied to the school despite her manifest incompetence.

Yet another Mom told me that, at her son’s school, the school collected all of the text books ten days before final exams.  ‘Nuff said about that one.

Most of the Moms boast about the hours they spend in the classroom assisting their “wonderful” teachers.  Apparently, despite a low student-teacher ratio (about 20-1, plus a part time assistant), these teachers simply can’t get around to spelling basics for all the children.  The mothers always seem taken aback when I suggest that teachers who earn almost $50,000 a year for 8 months of work should be expected to teach the basics without needing the mothers to assist them.

I’ll admit I’m being somewhat nasty here.  Ours is one of the State’s better school districts.  The schools are beautiful; the teachers are, for the most part, kind, committed and normal; the children are nice and test well; and the parents are obviously happy.  I just find bewildering the chasm that sometimes opens up between their experiences and the conclusions they draw.

I’m in trouble

Okay, this is the kind of story that puts me in a panic:

Senior moments, such as forgetting a recent conversation, may be a sign of the process that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests.

US scientists examined the brains of 134 older people who had appeared mentally sharp, apart from some subtle forgetfulness.

They found more than a third were riddled with the protein clumps associated with Alzheimer’s.

The study is published in the journal Neurology.

Scientists are trying to identify the earliest point in the process that leads to Alzheimer’s, as it is thought that treatment is most likely to be effective if it is given at the earliest possible stage.

Most people had assumed that minor episodes of forgetfulness are nothing to worry about.

The researchers found the brains of people in the study showed levels of deterioration similar to those found in patients with severe Alzheimer’s.

I’m not yet a senior, but I definitely have my moments.  It’s just that, sitting here right now, I can’t quite remember how many moments I have, or when my last one took place.  I’d check my calendar for that info, if I could remember where I put it.

What does it take for a killer to become a cause celebre?

You all recall the almighty hooha when Stanley “Tookie” Williams, an Original Gang member for the Cribs, and a convicted killer of four, was put to death last year. You’d have thought the State of California was executing Mother Theresa. Today, with almost no fanfare, the State of Texas put Maturino Resendiz to death. He was convicted of being the infamous railroad killer. He was convicted for one brutal rape and murder, and connected with 15 others. His trail of death is no more nor less bloody than Tookie’s.

And when he died, no one among the glitterati seemed to care. Is it because he was in faraway, not Texas, and not lovely Marin County? Is it because he’s Hispanic and not black? Is it because he didn’t have someone write a children’s book in his name and mount a campaign to rehabilitate his image in the eyes of the loony Left? Your opinions on this are welcome here.

The Koran, a book of peace — not

I found something that amused me at the Arab News, which calls itself “The Middle East’s Leading English Language Daily.” It was a religious advice column, with someone writing in with this question:

Nowadays Islam is under so much assault with some non-Muslim saying that it is not a peaceful religion. Could you quote some verses in the Qur’an that would convince others of how baseless this whole smear campaign against Islam is?

Now that’s a good question, considering that almost all the concerted violence around the world (as opposed to random, personal crimes) and all the threats of violence, consistently emanate from those purporting to speak for Islam. What’s interesting is the answer from the columnist, Adil Salahi, because it’s a non-answer. He starts by praising the question (always a good tactic to deflect attention for your inability to answer — it’s law school 101):

Thank you for your message that shows that you are a person who does not accept what is said without questioning its truth. This is the mark of an intelligent person.

Then Salahi gets to the meat of his answer:

What you have been told about Islam and the Qur’an is certainly untrue. It is the word of someone who either does not know what he is talking about, or someone whose grudge against Islam blinds him to the truth. It is as the saying goes: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. You only need to open the Qur’an and read to realize that what it calls for is peace, not war.

At this point, I expect the column to dive into a detailed exegesis that highlights every verse in the Koran that calls for peace, and that explains why the Koran’s warlike language is meant symbolically, and not as an incitement to violence. That never happens. Instead, we get the interesting statement that the Koran comes from God, not Muhammed. The only thing I could understand from this was the Salahi, unable to turn away from Mohammed’s warlike acts and pronouncements, is trying to downplay his importance — which strikes me as something close to heresy within the confines of Islam. Thus:

The Prophet has always maintained that he did not write or compose the Qur’an, which is universally agreed to be a book of surpassing literary excellence. Yet Muhammad’s own statements, which we know to be his, are also superb. So, how can anyone attribute the Qur’an to Muhammad when he has repeatedly disclaimed any part in its authorship? Besides, the Qur’an provides numerous proofs that its only author is God Almighty. These begin with its style, which is unlike any human writing, and include its subject matter and different statements.

After we’re assured that it’s God’s book, not Mohammed’s, I’m still expecting those Koranic quotations that will assure me that the violent practitioners around the world are subverting and perverting God’s call for peace and harmony. That never happens. Instead, the author tells us that the Koran is about war and jihad, and certainly authorizes those acts:

The Qur’an certainly speaks about war and jihad. But when we take all statements in the Qur’an about war, and also take into consideration the circumstances prevailing at the time of the revelation of each, and relate this to the final statements, we are bound to have a firm conviction that war in Islam is a defensive one. But we have to add here that its being defensive does not mean that Muslims must wait until they are attacked before taking to arms. It means that they may take measures to remove the threat of aggression.

The article wraps with an attack on the Bible, the US and the UK, all of which prove the point that nations sometimes attack without justification.

If this is a sampling of astute Islamic advocacy and rhetoric, it leaves me cold and unconvinced. After stating an impossible premise — Islam is all about peace — the author first uses sleight of hand to deflect the reader’s attention (let’s talk about the Koran’s authorship), and then reluctantly concedes precisely the opposite point the article is meant to convey. For an example of good analytical writing, which does show that the Koran is obsessed with warfare, try this site.

[The picture is a Janissary, one of the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire.]

UPDATE:  Andrew Bostom takes on the “religion of peace” mantra here — and destroys it.