Saturday, July 31, 2004

A Phoenix in Darkness

I just finished the first three chapters of A Phoenix in Darkness, an on-line novel by Donald Crankshaw. It's as good as Fire, although it ends in a cliff-hanger as I should have expected. I hate that. But I guess it will get me to read the rest of the story.

I'm one of those people who can't start a novel in the evening, because if it's good I won't be able to stop reading until I finish it. I pretty much have to allocate an entire day. Crankshaw did the same thing to me with Fire. It's not exactly a cliff-hanger, but it definitely leaves you wanting a resolution. We can't let him get away with this. Everybody stop reading his blog until he finishes these stories.

OK, don't do that, but at least write and tell him to get going, OK?

Friday, July 30, 2004

charity II

This is a continuation of my post on charity and begging.

Something I passed over fairly briefly is what I view as the immorality of giving money to these people. Giving money to drug addicts is not only not charity, it is actually immoral. This is probably controversial, so I want to explain why I feel this way.

First of all, let's dispense with the idea that we do this for noble reasons. If you think that beggars take your money and use it to buy food or get a hotel room or use a laundry mat, then this doesn't apply to you. If you see a person who is down on his luck and you give him ten dollars to help him out, that's actual charity. That's love. Ten dollars is an actual sacrifice, and your motive is good. You are thinking of how your gift will effect the other person rather than how it will effect you. If you think that way, then don't read any more of this article because God has blessed you with a wonderful innocence and I don't want to take that away.

For the rest of us, we know better, don't we? We know that this money isn't going to do anything to actually help the person. When we give a dollar to a beggar, we aren't thinking of the beggar's needs, we are thinking of our own. No one likes a dirty, smelly, drunk stranger coming up to them on the street and talking to them (Most of us aren't thrilled about clean, perfumed, sober strangers talking to us on the street). When a beggar assails you in this way, the quickest way to get rid of him is to give him a dollar. This is the real reason for handing over the money. It's a purely selfish act. We do it for our own comfort.

Now, we can give ourselves a break and admit that there is a little more to it than this. We do feel sorry for the guy. We would like to help him out in an abstract sort of way. Not enough to actually sacrifice to do it, but we'd vaguely like to see him doing better. So that dollar isn't only a bribe to make him go away, it's also a token of our good will. A wish that he weren't so pathetic.

In this way, giving a dollar to a beggar is similar to sending condolences to someone who has lost a friend. It's a nice thought, but it's practically free. It's a social event. It helps to build and maintain community. It's a good thing. But it's not really an act of love. Love requires effort and sacrifice.

Given in this spirit, that dollar may actually benefit the beggar. You can make him feel like he is worthwhile. Give him a moment of self-respect. Let the dollar represent your concern for him as a fellow human being. But if this is your motive, you can't just hand it over without making eye contact and hurry off. You have to stop. You have to talk to him. Ask him how he's doing. Put your hand on his filthy shoulder and tell him you hope he spends the money wisely because you care what happens to him. That would be love.

I'm rather surprised at that last paragraph. I isn't what I intended to write. I'm going to have to think about this some more before I go on writing on the subject.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

ladies, now you can purchase a simulated squeeze

A few months ago I blogged about the imaginary girlfriends service. It seemed unfair to me that there wasn't an imaginary boyfriend service for women, so I decided to start one. I'm calling it the Simulated Squeeze service. Be sure to tell all your friends about it.

politicians in Vietnam

Derbyshire on Vietnam service:
Now look. We all know what happened when time came for George W. Bush to make his Vietnam decisions. His family, like 90 percent of well-connected elite families in America at that time, made a few phone calls & got him a stateside billet. This option was not open to most Americans. I don't know Cheney's situation, but I imagine something similar happened.

As I said, and still say: That, for me, takes some of the shine off the ticket. Sure, flying National Guard is tricky, dangerous, and -- yes -- useful. But you're not getting shot at by America's enemies, as John Kerry certainly was.

Bush and Cheney (and Bill Clinton, and Pat Buchanan, and many others -- far too many others -- of their generation) took a pass on Vietnam, and let someone else less well-connected go fight for them. John Kerry didn't. I won't be voting for the guy, but facts is facts.
I disagree on three points. First, I don't think it is settled that Bush's family got him the National Guard billet in order to keep him out of Vietnam. First, anyone could join the National Guard. You didn't need family connections. Second, you were more likely to go to Vietnam as a member of the Guard than as a civilian, even with the draft. Third, if there was any help from his family, it was probably to get him into fighter-pilot training, not to keep him out of combat.

Pilot positions are extremely hard to get in the Air Force, and fighter-pilot positions even more so. His dad was a fighter pilot and he wanted to be one too, so he used his connections. And it is probably a lot easier to manipulate the Guard politically than the Air Force. Maybe there is something blameworthy here, but nothing cowardly. Also, Bush volunteered for a unit that was in combat in Vietnam. I've never seen any evidence that Bush tried to avoid Vietnam, much less that he used family connections to do so.

Cheney had a perfectly legal exemption available to all Americans. He was married with a child.

John Kerry, on the other hand deliberately exploited the system. He gave himself three contrived purple hearts (along with other contrived medals) and then used them to get out of Vietnam after only a few months. I suspect he planned it that way from the beginning. John Kerry gets no credit for Vietnam in my book because he did it for purely cynical and self-centered motives.

Yes, he had the physical courage to go, but that's no big deal. At that age, boys think they are bullet-proof. I know I did (still do because I'm Doc Rampage). Heroes are heroes because they sacrifice for others. Taking a calculated risk to enhance your future political career is not heroism. It's not laudable in any sense.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival is up. There are some interesting articles in there from some widely varying perspectives. Go check it out.

Kraft scales back plan to trim portion sizes

From this article:
Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., retreated from its earlier statement that it was putting a "cap on the portion size of single-serve packages." The company made this statement last August when it announced that it was creating a Worldwide Health & Wellness Advisory Council to evaluate the company's product lines and develop policies, standards and measures to respond to rising obesity rates.
I credit the blog world for its quick response to this travesty.

Count me as another customer who finds it presumptuous and offensive for a company that sells me food to form an advisory council to help me with my weight problem? Who asked 'em? Oh, yeah, a bunch of health-Mullah busybodies who want to pressure companies into coercing me to eat the way they think I should.

That's how these fascists work. They think they know how everyone else should live. If they can get enough voters to agree then they use democracy to control. Example: drug laws. If they can't get a majority, then they build coalitions and buy congressmen to get it enacted in spite of the voters. Example, air bag laws. If it is so unpopular that they can't get the laws passed, then they go to the courts to force everyone to do things their way. Example: smoking laws. If they can't get the courts to do it, then they try to pressure a supplier of some kind. Example: junk food.

I'd really like these fascists to bugger off and leave me alone.
Back of the Envelope has discovered Calvin and Hobbes on-line. My favorite comic strip of all time. I've added it to my links over at the right.
Check out the International Catalog of Superheros.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


La Shawn Barber comments on an article by Eugene Kane, a black columnist. Eugene Kane approves of Edwards because Edwards has a high "comfort level" with blacks. La Shawn is, well, unimpressed:
I couldn’t care less what Edwards’s comfort level is. All that matters to me is that he supports child-killing, race discrimination and a host of other issues incompatible with my beliefs.
She takes Kane to task also. Kane writes
In fact, Edwards said he knew enough about black voters to understand what they dislike about national politicians who reach out to their community only at election time.
Barber responds
This is what masquerades as insight these days. Name one person who enjoys when people come around only when they want something.
Now that's an Ann Coulter-quality zinger. Barber continues
What’s so bad about white liberals “reaching out” to blacks? Reaching out is not the problem per se; it’s the race pandering that inevitably follows. There seems to be a misunderstanding of the word pander, which is defined as “cater[ing] to the lower tastes and desires of others or exploit[ing] their weaknesses.” It’s a pejorative term and not synonymous with “reaching out.” Playing on the anger and resentment of one race and socioeconomic class toward another is not good.
John Edwards looks at Eugene Kane and he doesn't see an American, or a voter, or a successful journalist or an influential columnist, he sees a black person. He feels compelled to inform the black man that's he's accustomed to being around black people. It's almost like he needs to reassure Kane that he doesn't get uncomfortable being in the same room with, you know, "your sort".

I don't know whether to be more amazed that a current politician said such a thing or that a black columnist was not offended by it.

Can you imagine what would happen if Bush or Cheney said something like that? But the media double standard on this is well known. What is less well known is that the Democrats are still the party of racists. In the sixties the national party leaders did a 180 and started supporting civil rights, but there was no mass exodus from the party.

Some left, of course, but most of the segregationists stayed. And it shows.

Monday, July 26, 2004

is Clinton involved?

Just a speculative note about the Sandy Berger story and Clinton's rapid defense of Berger. Does anyone really believe that Clinton doesn't think Berger did anything serious? Does anyone really believe that Clinton is the kind of stand-up guy who volunteers to go out on a limb for an old friend who got himself in trouble doing something stupid? I find both stories implausible.

A more plausible story is that Clinton is involved. Everyone wants to know why Berger did it and where the missing documents went. If he did it at Clinton's request (to protect the Clinton legacy on terrorism) and if the documents went to Clinton, that would explain everything, including Clinton's efforts to keep him out of trouble. Not out of loyalty, but because of what he can say if Clinton lets him take the fall. It's just speculation, of course.

the Ann Coulter debacle

USA Today hired Ann Coulter to cover the Democrat convention and Michael Moore to cover the Republican convention. It's a cute idea. Unfortunately they spiked Coulter's first column. Predictably, USA Today is getting a lot of grief over this, but read the column before you pass judgment. I have to admit that it is over the top, even for Ann Coulter.

I love Ann Coulter's books and her weekly column. I would like to see political discourse in this country be a bit more civil, but I have to admit: I think she is so hilarious that I can't resist reading her stuff. And the truth is, she is no Michael Moore. Coulter is playful; Moore is nasty. Coulter is contentious; Moore is a hateful.

Still, this is the second time Coulter has gone over the top into Moore territory. The other one is the article she got fired from the National Review for.

In the article that got her fired, she was under the stress of the biggest terrorist attack in history. But she was also under pressure to write quickly. I wonder if that's the problem with both articles, that she needs a few days to rethink and tone-down her more egregious statements. When she doesn't get the time, her work sees to suffer. As far as I know, she has never had to produce more than once article a week, so she normally does have the time.

I tend to be like that when I'm upset. I'll write something and then put it away for a few hours and come back to read it later. I'm usually glad I didn't post or send it immediately.

Mother's Cookies Taffy

This is an unpaid, spontaneous endorsement, although if Mother's Cookies wants to pay me for it retroactively I will graciously accept.

Mother's Cookies Taffy are the best packaged cookies you can buy. In particular, they beat the heck out of the better-known Oreo. I won't compare them to the fresh-baked cookies you can buy at bakeries and convenience stores, but for packaged cookies that you can buy and throw on the shelf for a month, Mother's Cookies Taffy cannot be beat.

Not only do they taste great dry, they are perfect dunking cookies. They suck up the coffee or milk instantly, saving all that swishing and swirling time you need for less hydrophilic cookies.

I speak with considerable experience. I spent maybe six or seven years of my life sampling different pre-packaged snack foods every Friday which was games night for me and a group of friends. We scoured the store shelves for cheap, bulk, low-food-value comestibles and tried just about everything. The unanimous favorite was Mother's Cookies Taffy.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

dry runs and bands

Clinton Taylor has an article on the band that caused all that ruckus last week. He says it was all legit.

Not so fast.

What he actually determined is that the lead singer is legit. The band is another story. First, we don't even know if anyone on the plane was actually playing at the casino. But that level of deception would be easy to detect, so lets neglect it. The use of a large band still looks like a good way to smuggle terrorists into the US.

Who would notice if three or four guys of a fourteen-man band didn't show up? In fact, I'm not sure anyone would notice if they did show up but weren't actually playing their instruments. How many people have a good enough ear to be able to tell if there are two or three trumpets playing? And some of them might not claim to be musicians. There are other jobs on a band. And who says that there aren't some terrorists who can play instruments?

So although Taylor did some good work, and although I'm still skeptical of the dry-run theory, the issue isn't settled by that article. It's still possible that this is a real singer, and even a real collection of musicians, but that there were some ringers in the band. Possibly even some known terrorists flying under the identities of legit musicians.

I'm only pointing out gaps in our knowledge. I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other on the facts.