Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A reason to suspect "medical miracles"

"Even doctors and nurses who ordinarily disdain religion often call cases like Jack's "miracles". Of course, for many in healthcare, it's easier to believe in miracles than to accept that they were wrong and a life could have been unnecessarily or prematurely lost." -Nancy Valko, Futility Policies and the Duty to Die

How many cases of medical error or ineptitude have been papered over by declarations of miraculous recovery, with the rejoicing family and patient too happy to question the competence of their doctors?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Democracy at War

It is surely a curious characteristic of democracy: this amazing ability to shift gears overnight in one's ideological attitudes, depending on whether one considers one's self at war or at peace. Day before yesterday, let us say, the issues at stake between ourselves and another power were not worth the life of a single American boy. Today, nothing else counts at all; our cause is holy; the cost is no consideration; violence must know no limitations short of unconditional surrender.

Now I know the answer to this one. A democracy is peace-loving. It does not like to go to war. It is slow to rise to provocation. When it has once been provoked to the point where it must grasp the sword, it does not easily forgive its adversary for having produced this situation. The fact of the provocation then becomes itself the issue. Democracy fights in anger—it fights for the very reason that it was forced to go to war. It fights to punish the power that was rash enough and hostile enough to provoke it—to reach that power a lesson it will not forget, to prevent the thing from happening again. Such a war must be carried to the bitter end.

This is true enough, and, if nations could afford to operate in the moral climate of individual ethics, it would be understandable and acceptable. But I sometimes wonder whether in this respect a democracy is not uncomfortably similar to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: he lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath—in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat. You wonder whether it would not have been wiser for him to have taken a little more interest in what was going on at an earlier date and to have seen whether he could not have prevented some of these situations from arising instead of proceeding from an undiscriminating indifference to a holy wrath equally undiscriminating.
—George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy

via The Ambler

Monday, March 28, 2005

Alma Mater Adflicta and her College Republican Dunces

Well, my university has become a laughingstock for everybody, rather than just for most of its students. I babbled a bit about the situation here under the name Dumb_Ox. I actually used the phrase "virile whoremaster" there, a combination which might very well be a hapax legomenon in the whole body of the English language.

My tNP forum posts provides part of my take on the stories, which I might rewrite for this weblog if I feel up to it. To sum up: CU-Boulder athletic department used booze and girls to recruit football players. Some of these girls, not to mention others, were raped by the recruits and/or players at various parties, often funded by the alumni fundraising group the CU Foundation. President Libby Hoffman and Head Coach Barnett have been under fire. Throw in the revelation that CU professor Ward Churchill is a bullying kook, and President Hoffman, breaking under the pressure, joined the several other CU administrators who have resigned.

At my first and only College Republicans meeting, which I attended at the beginning of my last semester at CU during Winter of 2002, one of the "motivational speakers" asked the assembled group of forty or so kids who the only Republican in the CU administration was. Strangely enough, one girl knew the answer. He proudly repeated her answer, saying with a glow in his eyes that that one Republican was none other than president Elizabeth Hoffman.

Oh how fickle is the favor of a campus political group. Here's the CU College Republicans e-mail for March 7, the day Hoffman announced her resignation:

President Betsy Hoffman submitted her resignation to CU on March 7,
2005, and we fully support her decision to resign. Her inability to hold her
faculty accountable to reasonable working ethics and standards makes her
resignation long overdue. We have faith in our elected Regents to facilitate the
transition from the Hoffman reign to CU's next President.

We expect the Regents to take the reign of Betsy Hoffman's final two
years at CU as an example of how not to run a university. We urge the Regents to
continue their journey into CU's future with integrity, with a desire
to rebuild our reputation, and with the realization that we must regain
the trust of the public. Hoffman's resignation was a step in the right direction.
Churchill's departure will be the next great step.

We will host a gathering on Wednesday, March 9 from 12pm - 1:30pm on
the Fine Arts Lawn (between the UMC and the Euclid Parking Garage) to show our
support for Hoffman's decision. Comy by from some free food and good times!

Our message to Hoffman: TAKE WARD WITH YOU

We'll see you at the party and then the meeting this Wednesday!

Humorously enough, the next day I received this e-mail from the CRs:

To act in the interest of a greater cause is an admirable quality. The
actions of President Hoffman to put the interests of the University of
Colorado above her own, is one appreciated by many in the student body.
It has been brought to our attention that tomorrow’s rally has been
interpreted as sending a message other than the previously stated. It is the
opinion of our organization that the decision made by President Hoffman should be
representative of a respectful step in building the CU community. We
ask that Ward Churchill take the same step. Meaning, he too should resign in
the interests of the University of Colorado, putting the community
interests above his own.

We fully support President Hoffman’s decision to resign as President of
CU and hold no ill will towards her.

In light of the concerns raised regarding this event, we are postponing
the activity originally planned for March 9.

Sadly, the College Republicans don't even mention the athletic department mess. (Indeed, they were rather unsound in other areas as well--their leadership thought homosexual marriage was a great idea, which doesn't bode well for the future of the Colorado GOP) It's almost a cliche now: the Right attacks Churchill, the Left attacks the Coach, and poor President Hoffman, who is good at fundraising and medieval lit but not at university administration or public relations, has to leave before the really bad boys do. Frankly I'm one alumnus of the Right who will be happy when both Coach and Prof are gone.

Words can mask as often as they reveal

"Corporations, government agencies and even consumers are tinkering with open-source software, which can be downloaded free from the Internet."
-Ross Wehner, "Linux, others are used behind the scenes" Denver Post, March 28, 2005

I've never liked the word consumer; it evinces mental images of passive bovine grazing. First of all, "customer" is far more respectful of the person with whom one does business. Secondly, it is somewhat misleading, since at the moment of economic transaction, it is hard to say whether the customer is consuming the fruits of the business' labor, or the business is consuming the fruits of the customer's labor.

Here we see how the word especially misleads. In open-source software, any tinkerers are not consumers but producers, innovators who will, if they are competent, actually add value to a thing.

I wonder whether the newspapers refer to their own subscribers as consumers? That's certainly not something one would do if one wishes to project the notion that newspaper readers are informed and active thinkers.

Friday, March 25, 2005

We (Heart) Death?

Nobody ever told me that Tolstoy's War and Peace contains a Masonic initiation scene. The passage that caught Google's eye:

Half an hour later, the Rhetor returned to inform the seeker of the seven virtues, corresponding to the seven steps of Solomon's temple, which every Freemason should cultivate in himself. These virtues were: 1. Discretion, the keeping of the secrets of the Order. 2. Obedience to those of higher ranks in the Order. 3. Morality. 4. Love of mankind. 5. Courage. 6. Generosity. 7. The love of death.

"In the seventh place, try, by the frequent thought of death," the Rhetor said, "to bring yourself to regard it not as a dreaded foe, but as a friend that frees the soul grown weary in the labors of virtue from this distressful life, and leads it to its place of recompense and peace."
-War and Peace, Book Five Chapter Two

Really, I myself have fought the love of death in the past, and its association with the masons doesn't really surprise me. Since Dostoevsky is the only Russian novelist I have studied in any detail, I do not know what Tolstoy makes of the drive towards Thanatos in his novel. Compare, however, the last lines of Proverbs 8:
"So now, O children, listen to me;
instruction and wisdom do not reject!
Happy the man who obeys me,
and happy those who keep my ways,
Happy the man watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts;
For he who finds me finds life, and wins favor from the LORD;
But he who misses me harms himself; all who hate me love death."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

"Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms? A gang is a group of men under the command of a leader, bound by a compact of association, in which the plunder is divided according to an agreed convention.

If this villainy wins so many recruits from the ranks of the demoralized that it acquires territory, establishes a base, captures cities and subdues peoples, it then openly arrogates to itself the title of kingdom, which is conferred on it by the eyes of the world, not by the renouncement of aggression but by the attainment of impunity."

-Augustine, City of God Book IV Chapter 4

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Family History makes it into History Textbook

...but family history is more accurate.

On another note of local interest, my sister has sent me a link to one of her Colorado history class textbooks, Thomas Noel's The City and the Saloon: Denver, 1858-1916. My great-grandfather Michael Flaherty is the bartender on the far left of the cover photo. Professor Noel, a historian at CU-Denver, claims that Flaherty was owner of the bar along with his brother. This is a rather strange claim, since my family knows he was only the bartender and an orphan who didn't have a brother here. Noel is a friend of my cousin, who I would think could have set him straight on this.

Addendum: turns out my cousin was actually the source of the error. His memory tricked him.

A Jesuit Plagiarist?

The Rev. James Martin, S.J., a columnist at America magazine, has lifted verbatim part of a talking points memo from a lobbying group, incorporating its words into his own speech to the Los Angeles Religious Education conference. The lobbying group? The homosexual advocacy group Rainbow Sash. has the story.

The leadership of my alma mater adflicta had excused and ignored the petty bully of a professor Ward Churchill until it was revealed that he had plagiarized another academic. I wonder if Martin's Jesuit superiors, who care so much about academic respectability, might discipline him for plagiarism?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Not the Castle I was Thinking Of

I let out a howling "NO!" when I heard that the IRS had seized a Colorado castle from its owner and putting it up for auction. The only local castle I know of, Bishop Castle, was hand-built out of rocks by one man. It's now about 160 feet tall, whose height the aged builder still scales without the help of equipment or the safety of a harness, and it still gains additions yearly.

The castle for sale is in fact a bit older and was built by people hired by a coal baron. The first actually looks medieval and wonderfully gothic in its somewhat haphazard construction, while the second looks like a vanity mansion made for the wealthy. It is comforting to know that there are two nearby redoubts to which I may escape once the barbarian mutant cannibals and their robot overlords take power.

Friday, March 11, 2005

I knew a man once that was given to drinking, and I made up this rule for him to distinguish between Bacchus and the Devil. To wit: that he should never drink what has been made and sold since the Reformation—I mean especially spirits and champagne. Let him (said I) drink red wine and white, good beer and mead—if he could get it—liqueurs made by monks, and, in a word, all those feeding, fortifying, and confirming beverages that our fathers drank in old time; but not whisky, nor brandy, nor sparkling wines, not absinthe, nor the kind of drink called gin. This he promised to do, and all went well. He became a merry companion, and began to write odes. His prose clarified and set, that had before been very mixed and cloudy. He slept well; he comprehended divine things; he was already half a republican, when one fatal day—it was the feast of the eleven thousand virgins, and they were too busy up in heaven to consider the needs of us poor hobbling, polyktonous and betempted wretches of men—I went with him to the Society for the Prevention of Annoyances to the Rich, where a certain usurer's son was to read a paper on the cruelty of Spaniards to their mules. As we were all seated there round a table with a staring green cloth on it, and a damnable gas pendant above, the host of that evening offered him whisky and water, and, my back being turned, he took it. Then when I would have taken it from him he used these words—

'After all, it is the intention of a pledge that matters;' and I saw that all was over, for he had abandoned definition, and was plunged back into the horrible mazes of Conscience and Natural Religion.

What do you think, then, was the consequence? Why, he had to take some nasty pledge or other to drink nothing whatever, and become a spectacle and a judgement, whereas if he had kept his exact word he might by this time have been a happy man.

-Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome

Cosmos Patrol: Star Trek for Communists

As if Star Trek weren't comsymp enough, somebody has imagined that the Soviet Union had a similar show with similar themes.

Then-top Kremlin boss Leonid Brezhnev was a big fan of the show, and was even rumored to be responsible for its creation. Brezhnev was known for his enthusiasm for show business and the Soviet space program (and graft and booze and mistresses and diamonds and expensive foreign cars, but that's another story). A Russian friend remembers seeing a news photo in Pravda of a drunk and ill-looking Brezhnev visiting the show's set dressed in his own custom-made "Cosmos Patrol" velour uniform. If you've ever seen a picture of Brezhnev, then you know that cannot have been a pretty sight.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Hands of a Priest must not Shed Blood?

An aquaintance of mine, an army vet with a black belt in some Eastern school of martial arts, has mentioned that he has become interested in early Western martial arts. Apparently so are these people. They say:

We have centered our studies on two main documents. The first is based on a manuscript, owned by the Royal Armouries, named I.33. This document outlines different concepts of self defense as taught by a Priest to his Student. This document was written between 1280-1300.

The martial arts site says, "Please check our Sources section for more information." The Sources section says, alack, "under construction."

Interesting that a priest is the teacher. No creampuff clerics, here. I know the crusades had various armed priests, like Alleumes of Clari who single-handedly frightened most of the defenders of Constantinople to abandon their posts in the inexcusable misadventure that was the Fourth Crusade. Supposedly priests bearing arms has always been against canon law. (See this section of Aquinas' Summa.) I doubt teaching self-defense falls under this prohibition, especially since I have visions of a boxing priest from some black and white movie--Going My Way, perhaps--who teaches a boy how to fight. Speaking of movies, if these manuals lend themselves to well-choreographed fight scenes a film based on a medieval Western martial artist could make a good action flick.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Exploding Head of Keanu Reeves

And everybody and his Mother is trying to kill me, IF, IF, my head doesn’t blow up first!"
-Keanu Reeves as Johnny Mnemonic

When Sci-Fi films are bad, like that little girl with the curl in the nursery rhyme, they are horrid. So it's nice to see that a whole web site has taken the time to examine just what makes bad sci-fi, and bad movies in general, fail miserably. From, a scathing review of Johnny Mnemonic, an adaptation of a William Gibson cyberpunk novel. I pulled out some of the funniest quotes, which rather obscures the already poorly-thought-out storyline. Brief plot synopsis: In the year 2021, courier Johnny Mnemonic's brain has an implanted storage device that holds a whopping 160 gigabytes of data transferred from a computer.(How quickly storage technology has advanced since 1995!) He overloads his brain with 240 gigs of data that, in addition to wiping his memory, might get him killed. Let the funny begin!

"Now it’s time to meet the film’s most ludicrous character, which is saying something. Learning that Laser Whip Guy has again failed to capture Johnny, Takahashi contacts Street Preacher, a priest with the Church of the Retransfiguration. Since this is a Sci-Fi movie, religion must be played up as the occupation of nutbags."

"Man, you know you’re watching a Science Fiction film when someone implies that Keanu Reeves ‘has a lot of stuff in his head.’"

"Still hoping to attract the attention of the guards, Johnny picks up some garbage can lids and performs a one man ‘Stomp’ impression. Hmm. I wouldn’t really say that Keanu Reeves noisily bashing trashcan lids together in a desperate attempt to gain the notice of uninterested viewers is a metaphor for his career. Just that the thought kind of crossed my mind."

"Johnny relates how he almost had a memory."

"So, to cut an extremely stupid story short, Johnny meets Jones, who turns out to be, not a dolphin augmented by the Navy, but a really bad muppet of a dolphin who’s been augmented by the Navy. Yep. A dolphin. Because, you know, they’re so smart. And this one’s augmented, to boot. I mean, Flipper was so intelligent that "no one you see, is smarter than he." And he wasn’t even augmented.

You really have to be watching this to get the full effect of just what a fiasco it is. First, the ‘groovy’ idea of the super-intelligent dolphin seems like something that hippies would come up with after hours spent sucking on a bong. To actually see it in the flesh just makes concrete how stupid the concept really is.

And that’s if we were, in fact, seeing it in the flesh. Instead, we’re obviously seeing it in the latex. The comically inept ‘dolphin’ prop seen here just adds a level of low farce to what was already intellectually specious anyway. The fact that this is supposed to be the film’s ultimate blowout plot twist breaks the final straw. Imagine Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Now imagine watching the entire film, only to see them use one of Ed Wood’s pie-tins-on-a-string for the climatic Mothership sequence. That’s about how well ‘Jones’ delivers on his promise.

Johnny calls the dolphin a ‘fish’ and gets zapped with some sort of sonic beam by the touchy aquatic mammal. Boy, I hope it never reads my description of it."

"Squibs are wee explosives that are detonated under clothing to similate an actor being shot. They also are used to blow open sacs of stage blood to create a bleeding effect. Here, we see squibs detonated on actor Takeshi’s back.

Yet, for a ‘cool’ effect, we also see squibs detonated on his chest. These, clearly, must represent exit wounds - the initial squib indicates the bullet entering his back, followed by a chest squib to indicate the bullet having punched completely through his torso. Neat-o keen, huh!
The only problem is that Johnny is standing directly in front of him!"

"Sob. I’ll never forgot you, Electronic Ghost Woman!"

"And yes, this is all mighty confusing. Therefore, J-Bone is given a monitor on which to watch the VR field, which allows him to throw out nuggets of exposition to the audience. For instance, when the Virus makes its appearance, CGI Johnny produces a mirror image of itself. "He’s doubling himself," J-Bone notes. Thanks, Exposition Man!"

I do wonder how he can wish for Keanu Reeves' head to explode without reference to Scanners? And how can he blast hippie visions of talking dolphins without alluding to Day of the Dolphin? Perhaps he didn't want to sully their mediocrity with the truly craptacular. is somewhat uneven. Lately the Jabootu reviewers have turned their asperous gaze upon the impoverished children's cartoon of decades past, Superfriends. As another cartoon character has said, "Why would a man whose shirt says "Genius at Work" spend all of his time watching a children's cartoon show?" Still, all of the film reviews are by people who love movies and have a good sense of what makes a movie fail. What's more, since the Internet has no word limit, they are free to summarize and critique entire plots, subplots, dialogue and scenes in a way that your average newspaper film critic can't spare the space for. Sometimes the reviewers even rewrite scenes and entire movie plots that actually work. It's like an expanded version of The Onion's "Films that Time Forgot" section, or a shorter text version of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. There are two excellent reviews of Battlefield "Travolta Unbound" Earth, as well as Star Trek V: Shatner at Work and the mind-numbingly atrocious Tom Green gross-out vehicle "Freddy got Fingered," the very mention of which still provokes a low-pitched shuddering groan from one of my sisters who was unfortunate enough to see it. Imagining "What would say?" is an excellent way to purge one's speech of cant and one's plotting of cliche.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Folly, Sirrah, doth walk about the orb like the Sun: It shineth everywhere!

McCain-Feingold Strikes Again! Via Southern Appeal, an interview with Federal Election Commission, er, commissioner Bradley Smith, indicating that campaign finance "reform" may soon regulate the internet. Perhaps if it is disguised as "virtual" child pornography, it will be allowed. Or somebody can always resurrect FidoNet, or appropriate the file distribution technology used by MP3 traders.

Related Update:

McCain Group got Big Cable Donation(AP)