Thursday, July 30, 2009

Diversity care

The Discriminations blog notes that "HR3200, the health care reform bill introduced in the House, provides, in two places, for the 'COORDINATION OF DIVERSITY AND CULTURAL COMPETENCY PROGRAMS.' It provides 'CULTURAL AND LINGUISTIC COMPETENCY TRAINING FOR HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS.'

"A culturally competent workforce, of course, must be a diverse workforce, and so 'NURSING WORKFORCE DIVERSITY GRANTS' are also generously provided." (Subtitle D, Part 1, sections 2242 and 2243, if you're interested.)


Surprised? Did you really imagine this bid for the government to take over health care would be all about health care? Aside from being primarily in aid of making the population dependent on an army of federal desk surgeons, HR 3200 inevitably gets in a few more licks for social engineering. Who cares if you have an M.D. from Harvard Med School and have worked 16 hours a day for weeks at a time during your residency — first things first: Do you have cultural competency? Your Spanish we can take for granted, but how are your Swahili lessons coming along?

Just scrolling through the titles, subtitles, and sections of HR 3200 is an invitation to attention deficit disorder, but don't worry, you'll be covered for that, too, once you are approved (generally within five months of acceptance on the waiting list) thanks to the generous contributions of generations yet unborn and confiscation from today's middle class wage earners.


No one with a claim on sanity would devote a sizable chunk of his lifespan to reading HR 32o0 in its entirety. But do try a sample. Subtitle B, sec. 3121, for instance, on "National Prevention and Wellness Strategy." I copied and pasted the section and asked the computer to do a word count. That single section is 3,036 words. Ten double-spaced pages.

I suspect only God knows what the entire bill contains. It would not surprise me in the least if one of the countless drones who drafted bits of HR 3200 accidentally dropped his résumé in, and it is discovered a few years hence, like a preserved ice man in the arctic.


But for the moment, all you need to know is that you cannot know how diversity care will change your life, or perhaps put a cap-and-trade on your exhaling carbon dioxide and contributing to global warning. Liberty ends not with a bang or a whimper, but with a law too large and complex for any human mind to comprehend. From here, the sound of Big Government advancing is eerily like the menacing, long-drawn-out "invasion" theme in Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony.


What are the odds I'll be posting soon?


My job cuts into my blogging time, that's for sure.

I regret the lack of new postings more than you probably do. Still, my work — where things are exceptionally busy at the moment — has more social utility than the blog. It also pays much better.

I'm planning to do some short entries, pro tempore, just to keep my hand in.


Monday, July 27, 2009

The Great Calibrator

Things continue to look up for those of us who don't belong to the Church of Obama.

It's great fun to read the New York Times, Obama's public relations agency, trying to damp down the flap over their idol's "acted stupidly" shot from the hip about l'affaire Gates.

As an aside, I'm actually rather surprised that the heat has been turned up so high. The public knew last year that the Big O was a long-time congregant of mad-dog racist preacher Jeremiah Wright, and decided that was okay. It preferred to look at what O said, not what he did — always a mistake with any politician. O would bring us together, heal us, wash us clean of our racial sins.

Frankly, it's hard to see what that "acted stupidly" told us that we shouldn't have known already. But apparently it touched an I've-had-enough nerve. Even the slow learners seem to have twigged that Obama is the president of some of the people — the racial, ethnic, and sexual identity tribes.

If you will forgive another aside: I haven't read enough in detail about the incident to be certain of what happened, or who was "right." I doubt very much that Officer Crowley acted stupidly, but it's conceivable that he let his temper or authority get the better of him
in the face of insults, while Professor Gates let his conviction about the omnipresence of racism get the better of him. The point remains, Obama didn't know the facts or truth either. He spoke reflexively, revealing his world view to be the same as Gates's.

The Times has grasped at a life preserver. Obama is in trouble for "speaking his mind," not for what's in his mind. To wit:
There is no owner’s manual for the Oval Office, no school to learn how to be a president. Perhaps most challenging for any new president is learning how powerful that megaphone really is. Every offhand word, every spontaneous remark, every comment informed more by emotion than calculation risks profound consequences.
No school to learn how to be president? Well, how about some experience outside academia and politics, experience of what it is like to have responsibility for the employees and stockholders of a business, or the very lives of the soldiers fighting a world war? How about some time as a lawyer representing various kinds of people, not just selected victim groups? Even within the political realm, having spent more than an obscure term as a Senator might be useful.
… his comment last week on the case of Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor, was not a slip of the tongue, advisers said. Mr. Obama said what he wanted to say. The question is whether presidents can really do that.

“They want to be genuine, they want to speak their mind,” said Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary for President George W. Bush. “But there’s the recognition that you’re no longer able to muse the way you’re used to. If you’re too candid, that can really haunt you. So presidents learn the art of being circumspect. And they chafe at it. They want to be genuine. But in many ways, they all become more guarded as time goes on.”
So, the Times implies, Obama's error was not letting his prejudice slip out, but being too candid. Loose lips sink ships of state. There's a dark, seething mass of gun- and religion-clingers out there in the steppes of America who haven't yet accepted Obama's vision of Utopia. They must not be inflamed or goodness knows what they might do. Obama needs to hone his nudge-and-wink skills.
David Axelrod, another senior White House adviser, acknowledged that Mr. Obama’s comments on the Gates case had reflected a president still getting accustomed to his new position.“I think there’s something to that,” Mr. Axelrod said. “The fact of the matter is he’s a human being. As gifted and bright and disciplined as he is, every once in a while, he doesn’t use words exactly as he intended or in retrospect discussion it had meaning beyond what he wanted to express.”
So, having informed us a few paragraphs earlier that "
his comment … was not a slip of the tongue, advisers said. Mr. Obama said what he wanted to say," the story now quotes an adviser who seems to suggest the contrary.
In the end, Mr. Obama said he did not regret weighing in on the Gates case, only the wording he chose because it had offended police officers in Cambridge, Mass., and because it had distracted from his push for health care legislation. He tried to fix that Friday by saying he should have “calibrated” his remarks more carefully while still maintaining that the arrest was unjustified.
So, our golden-tongued, gifted, bright, disciplined president falls back on the patent-medicine cop-out (no pun intended — well, okay, why not?) "I regret that I offended … ." But the Great Calibrator still knew the arrest was unjustified. How did he know that? Why, it's all right there, in black and white.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Mr. Misdeeds goes to town

For the first time in months, if not years, I'm feeling almost hopeful about the future of America. Maybe it's only green shoots. Maybe a freeze is coming. But for now I will water them, tend them, watch and wait. Could it be that revival is in the air?

President Obama's halo has well and truly fallen off.

He has demonstrated lately what many of us have been saying since even before his canonization: that inside the Holy Father, a petty, radical misfit is struggling to get out. And finally has.


Having promised us that prosperity was just around the corner, for one low, low price of $787 billion, he finds himself as top dog in an economically blasted country with a thousand points of blight. The United States has not responded to his behavioral therapy: there has been a stimulus but no response.

He has sought to rescue us from the ravages inflicted on our health by private doctors and insurance companies. If only our doctors and insurance were ruled by a government bureaucracy, and health care for the many were rationed to allegedly benefit the few, we'd all be sound as a dollar. Wait, bad choice of words. Sound as a politician's promise. Uh, no …


But we cannot wait, Obama says. We cannot stop to examine the 1,018 pages of the healthcare reform bill, which it is safe to say he has not read in its entirety — briefings from staff members don't count, and it's unlikely any single staff member has read it all. However, it seems that Jeff Dircksen of Government Bytes has:
… A couple of things stand out. First, the legislation empowers a very busy bureaucracy. The term "Secretary" — as in the Secretaries of Health & Human Services, Labor, Defense, and Veterans Affairs — appears 1,124 times in the bill. The Secretaries -- along with Commissioners (199 references), Committees (76 references), and Boards (17 references) are busy conducting studies, developing methodologies, and receiving recommendations among other things — some of the other things [include] requiring, limiting, penalizing, regulating, taxing, and enforcing their way to affordable health care for all.
Despite Obama's foot-stamping impatience, and his order that Congress will pass the thing before the August recess, it's not going to happen by his deadline. Maybe never. Too many people are questioning whether our undoubtedly imperfect healthcare system is actually that bad. Too many people are doubting that the answer is to have a national infirmary run by a dozen layers of managers and string savers.

It's even whispered in some quarters that those wonderful-in-theory systems in Canada and the U.K. aren't quite so wonderful when the rose-colored glasses slip off. Not when you're a file number with an illness that severely downgrades your quality of life or even chances of survival and you wait months till the functionaries in some monstrous cubicle farm decide you can have your operation. Canada and the U.K. have abolished capital punishment, except for patients in their national health services.


And not least, Obama acting stupidly in re Gatesgate. I suspect a few minds were opened like clamshells as a U.S. president delivered a judgment on an incident that was none of his business, and demonstrated that he is spring-loaded to perceive bias everywhere. As he told the NAACP, "The pain of discrimination is still felt in America. By African American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and a different gender. By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion simply because they kneel down to pray to their God. By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights."

Well, guess what. Ordinary, un-hyphenated, un-identity-obsessed Americans are getting a little tired of being taunted and attacked at home by their own president, when he's not traveling the world apologizing for our sick, discrimination-riddled souls.

Can tin haloes be recycled?


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Caught in a literary Yale-storm

Michael Blowhard, of 2 Blowhards fame, protests the narrowness of academically correct fiction in a posting about an Open Yale course (I accidentally typed "curse" — hmmm) on "The American Novel Since 1945." He says:
Take that course and you'd learn little if anything about postwar crime, horror, romance, or western fiction. You'd discover next to nothing about erotic fiction or humorous fiction. You'd remain clueless about the enduring influence of writers like Mickey Spillane and Jacqueline Susann. (I bet you also wouldn't wake up to the history of the postwar American publishing business.) Yet you'd emerge convinced that you'd "done" the postwar American novel. And you'd have Yale's imprimatur bolstering your confidence about that judgment.
Here are the novels that will be taught to litivores seeking the Yale professor's insights.

Let's see: I've actually read a couple of them (Lolita and, when I was a pup, On the Road). I've read quite a few of Philip Roth's novels, although not The Human Stain, and Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, though not Franny and Zooey. I vaguely recollect that a writer I think highly of praised Wright's Black Boy. The names of Flannery O'Connor, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, and Cormac McCarthy are known to me.

But I have to confess complete ignorance of Maxine Hong Kingston,
Marilynne Robinson, Edward P. Jones, and the "students' choice," Jonathan Safran Foer. I am culturally deprived (I accidentally typed "depraved" — hmmm). Get me a grant. Who's the Obama literary czar?

Should I happen to take Professor Amy Hungerford's course — she's not half cute, is she? — to improve my mind, here are some of the conundrums, condoms, and carborundums I could explore.

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior:
Referring to examples throughout the syllabus, but especially Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior, Hungerford describes the overriding tendency of American novels written after 1945 to explore the tension between individual and collective identities and to interrogate the artistic and political stakes of competing notions of authenticity.
Is Amnesty International on the case? Are harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, used to interrogate the … erm, I'm not sure what the object of the verb is, "stakes" or "notions." Why must notions of authenticity compete? Why can't they cooperate? Why can't we all just get along?

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping:
The loss of identity that Emerson describes as becoming a "transparent eyeball" in the woods, Robinson brings into the realm of the home, the built environment. The individual voice and its guiding consciousness are all mixed up in the material substance of the world, giving them a concurrent fixity and fragility that it is Robinson's talent, and our challenge, to explore.
Emerson's lost identity became a transparent eyeball in the woods? Ah, yes, I remember his essay now: the old farmer, chopping down trees to add to his pasture, stopped to pick up the eyeball, irritated to have to interrupt his task. "Yah, tha' use to be Ralph all right, th'old git," his voice with its guiding consciousness said. He contemptuously tossed the eyeball aside, but it and his voice and his consciousness got all mixed up in the material substance of the world. There they remain to this day, fixed and fragile, I've heard it whispered on dark nights in the cabin at the shore of Loon Lake. Challenge enough for anybody.

Edward P. Jones, The Known World:
Professor Hungerford suggests that Jones revives a nineteenth-century form of the novel when his narrator takes on a God-like omniscience, but unlike the nineteenth-century novel's narrators, Jones's omniscient narrator provides little in the way of God-like consolation.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and don't you dare tell Me different. I know everything, you little pipsqueak reader. But even if it was the worst of times, don't worry, be happy. That's why you read Me, for consolation. Not like that wrong number of a deity Jones — think you'll get a scrap of comfort out of him? He was the inspiration for "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by that Reverend Edwards who used to practice his frown in front of a mirror.

Students' Choice Novel: Jonathan Safran Foer,
Everything is Illuminated:
In thus attempting to marry the nineteenth-century social novel with Postmodernist, or late Modernist, techniques, Foer participates in an emerging tradition that risks the confusion between resonant emotion and sentimental cliché.
Now this I can relate to. I'm constantly confusing resonant emotion and sentimental cliché. I'd like to believe I've had some small influence in the emergence of this emerging tradition.


Monday, July 20, 2009

The face of anarchy

If you've never witnessed a scene like this, consider yourself lucky. The chances are you live well away from the decayed inner-city core of Los Angeles, New York, or almost any big American city.

The Los Angeles Times explains the video above:
Los Angeles police released security video today that captures unruly celebrants of the Lakers NBA finals victory helping themselves to merchandise at a Shell gas station convenience store blocks from the Staples Center. The footage, shot June 14 by a security camera at the rear of the store in the 600 block of West Olympic Boulevard, shows a group of about two dozen men swarming the store and helping themselves primarily to juice, soda and energy drinks in a large cooler.

The mob shouted, “Free soda, free soda” as they grabbed merchandise in a two-minute rush in which they also smashed bottles on the floor, trampled bananas, knocked over display racks and broke a window.
To you, a sight like this might be a shocking anomaly. For the many people in the urban underclass, it's business as usual. Today, raid a convenience store. Tomorrow, boost a couple of cars and deliver them to the chop shop. If Thursday is a slow day, settle for decorating a highway-side retaining wall with more graffiti. When things get lively, the toys get pulled out and the gangs try to decorate one another with bullet holes.

To the Leftist Establishment the mob takeover of a convenience store is an incident. Thieves are "unruly celebrants." Just high-fivin' for their sports team, a little overenthusiastic. After all, they're members of a gold medal victim group. Oppressed, you know what I'm sayin'? They're freelance redistributionists. Spreading the wealth around.
Total damage from that night has been estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars, but LAPD officials said it was far less than the 2000 Laker victory celebration beset by violence and looting that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Investigators released the video today, hoping people would recognize looters and report them to authorities. Beyond security video, Vernon said the LAPD is reviewing images posted on various social media sites, including YouTube and Flickr.

Would the police even bother to make a serious effort to identify the store invaders if eight police cars hadn't also been damaged? Maybe; police can be awfully retrograde. There's something quaint, a little comical, about looking for clues, asking witnesses to come forward, as if they were trying to catch a burglar or a James Cagney-like, '40s-movie type gangster. But what they're up against isn't an individual lawbreaker, or Bonnie and Clyde. They're facing a subculture that the Liberal Establishment has in large part created.

Borderless borders. Catch and release. Taxpayer-supported childbirth and childcare for the feckless and impoverished. Enforced multi-culturalism. Racial preferences. This is not your father's America. Just ask a wise Latina.

"Free sodas, free sodas." Free healthcare. Free everything, except politically incorrect speech. Our Jacobin president and his enablers understand the convenience store party-ers in a way that the language of the Los Angeles Times does not. The Obama Crew want you to believe that they are all about giving. But what they understand is taking, and calling it giving.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reconstructing the Roman Empire


A company called PANSA BV, based in the Netherlands, specializes in the reconstruction of buildings from imperial Rome, based on archeology and knowledge of the Romans' design and construction methods.

Most of their revivals have not actually been built in present times. They are CAD simulations, but apparently the specifications are detailed enough that they could actually be the basis for full-size, three-dimensional structures. Their site says:
Reconstructions by PANSA BV incorporate in-depth analysis of the archaeological evidence, including the architectural ornaments and the remains of floor and wall decorations. The reconstructions are worked out into architectural and structural detail according to Roman building and construction techniques. Our combined archaeological and architectural approach allows for life-sized reconstruction.

The only real-life construction project based on PANSA's work seems to be the "Roman Cardo" in the Biblical Open-Air Museum. (The cardo was a main street in Roman towns and military camps, lined with shops and other features of economic life. Yes, I had to look it up.)

Cardo, Biblical Open-Air Museum

Ancient Roman architecture often gets knocked, except for its astonishing engineering aspects. Most of its ideas, other than the dome, were supposedly "borrowed" from the Greeks, who allegedly did the real cerebrum work and had an inspiration account with their gods. The Romans just went for overpowering stuff like gargantuan civic bathhouses, or decadent seaside villas of the rich, so it's said.

But we can't justly compare Greek and Roman. Practically everything from ancient Greece is in ruins, and we don't even have contemporary paintings of what their buildings looked like. By now everyone knows that the austere white marble of Greek temples was tarted up in flashy colors — probably impressive, but not the serene, platonic forms most of us still envision. We don't know what their non-sacred edifices were like. They may have been mean and drab, the antique equivalent of post offices.

Thanks to Mount Vesuvius and archeology, plus the Roman world being centuries closer to us in time, we can better judge their buildings. A few, like the Pantheon, are virtually intact. We know how their villas were designed and decorated.

"The so-called aedes in the headquarters of the
Hunerberg legionary fortress in Nijmegen.

The Roman Empire was unquestionably fiercely militaristic and ruthless toward its, or its rulers', enemies, foreign and domestic. (Those philosophy-loving, democratic Greeks were a militaristic and ruthless lot too, as Herodotus makes clear.) But I see no evidence that Roman architecture was brutal. What I have observed of it in person strikes me as pleasing and well proportioned. The wall frescos from their houses that have been preserved aren't all pornography and gladiatorial fights; charming scenes of gardens and mysteriously dreamy landscapes have been found in great numbers, and were probably more the norm.

From the Roman Cardo, Biblical Open-Air Museum

In the late 19th century, Roman architecture enjoyed a brief revival, culminating in New York's original Pennsylvania Station, torn down in the '60s in the United States's worst act of cultural vandalism. (I am lucky enough to have visited it and remember it.) That was before architects became egotists, outdoing each other in originality that as often as not inflicts long-standing eyesores on the public.

We could do worse than promote a second Roman revival. We already have done worse.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Melody d'amour

PhotobucketMelody Gardot has released another exceptional album, My One and Only Thrill. As enthusiastic as I was about her previous disc, Worrisome Heart, which I wrote about here, her newest shows off her vocal and songwriting abilities in a new — one might even say daring — direction. But she's daring in a surprising way.

It's almost required these days for a young musician who hasn't acquired a large following to tread the well-paved, attention-seeking path of "edginess." But Melody — her music draws you in so intimately that it's impossible to refer to her other than by her first name — has gone her own way, and it's so unfashionably retro as to be breathtaking.


Plenty of singers and songwriters emulate big band and swing era styles. It's a comfortable niche that has its fans. Melody has adapted for her own use a different era of popular music, one that has nearly dropped out of the collective memory. The sound on most of My One and Only Thrill might best be described as pre–rock and roll, early 1950s pop.

That includes string orchestral arrangements, unashamed sentimentality, and lazy-afternoon pacing. Most of what she has written for this album, and the instrumental framing, would not have surprised someone who turned on the radio in 1953 and heard it emerging from the Philco. You can imagine it as theme songs for early big-budget CinemaScope romance movies like Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.

Needless to say, that format isn't exactly what many are clamoring for in our cynical times. I imagine lots of producers, if they heard this album as a demo tape, would wind up in an oxygen tent. Melody must have had fierce self-confidence to go in this direction without first having made her reputation in a more conventional mode.


Her confidence wouldn't count for much if she didn't make it pay off, but she does. She believes in what she's doing — no hints of campiness or condescension. Her voice, rich, varied in color, can be tender but not syrupy, regretful without self-pity, or playful as the mood demands. She writes good lyrics, better than those of the songs of a half-century ago that she has taken as a model.

Not everything on the album is in the sweet-backing-strings vein. There is a bluesy item (wonderful muted horns), a couple of cheery bossa nova and Caribbean-inflected numbers. But her singular achievement is successfully reviving a musical genre that had been given up for dead.

Melody's vocal delivery shows such versatility that you feel she could do practically anything her heart turned to. But you sense that her heart would truly have to be in it before she would take it on.

My one worry for her is that she is so talented that the pressure is bound to increase. She's potentially a big money maker, and she will face constant temptation to turn to a slick, commercial sound. There's no reason she shouldn't switch styles, as she has between her previous album and the new one, but she'll need to hold onto that inner direction that has already made her one of the most remarkable young musicians around.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Everybody knows this is nowhere

Everybody seems to wonder
What it's like down here
I gotta get away
from this day-to-day
running around,
Everybody knows
this is nowhere.

— Neil Young, "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"

Nowhere isn't what it used to be. Your congressional pork farmers want to make sure you can get from one end of it to the other, and their cronies can get rich, at high speed.

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - New Mexico, Colorado and Texas are applying for federal funds to study the viability of a high-speed rail system from El Paso through New Mexico to Denver.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said Thursday the three states will submit a joint pre-application Friday for up to $5 million to pay for the study.

Whether the study costs $5 million or $5 billion, it will be hard pressed to find any compelling public interest to justify a high-speed railroad through what is about 98 percent desert and high plains. Having lived in New Mexico, I can assure you that "high-speed" and "New Mexico" are almost impossible to put into a single sentence that wouldn't make a jackrabbit laugh.

The state's favorite pastime is "low riding." That is, driving modified muscle cars as slowly as possible back and forth along the main streets of towns. (Local joke: Why do low riders like cars with small steering wheels? So they can drive with their handcuffs on.)

<span class=

Planned high-speed railway is expected
to boost local business.

It is hard to imagine there would be very much freight — at least, of a legal kind — to haul along such a route. But according to the AP story, the line is envisioned for passenger service.

Is anyone in Denver in a hurry to get to El Paso? I don't think so.

Is anyone in El Paso in a hurry to get to Denver? Yes, Mexican illegals and dope runners.

Udall, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, says travelers can't get from Albuquerque to Denver without changing trains in Los Angeles or Chicago.

No, Senator, you mean hypothetical train travelers. But travelers have the option to drive or fly. If you wanted to go from your office in Albuquerque to Denver, would you take a train the 335 miles between those cities? If it were nonstop, that would cost you more than four hours at an average speed of 80 mph; longer, if the train stopped near Santa Fe and at Pueblo and Colorado Springs. I know we're not all as busy and important as you, Senator, but in our own sluglike way, most of us do value our time.

Even with fares on the high-speed route subsidized to a pretty penny, like Amtrak's, they might also wind up lightening our net worth more than a plane ticket would.

Debating this project's merits is beside the point, though. It's a throwback to a vanished era when politicians were capable of being a little embarrassed at promoting boondoggles.

No longer. The floodgates have been opened. Even the left-wing USA Today reports: "Billions of dollars in federal aid delivered directly to the local level to help revive the economy have gone overwhelmingly to places that supported President Obama in last year's presidential election."

Stimulus has become the Politician's Stone, key element in an alchemical process for turning debt into gold. For those who play by Chicago Rules, that is.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Obama's authorization to use farce in Afghanistan

<span class=
Gen. Stanley McChrystal (center) explains U.S. strategy
in Afghanistan at a news conference.

As a neo-Marxist in good standing, President for Life Obama should be well aware of the original Marxist's quip, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." The news from the Comeback War, the one in Afghanistan, proves it yet again. Or maybe if it's historical precedent we're grasping for, think of Nietzsche's theory of the eternal return: "In an infinite universe, with no god to direct it, the finite experiences of human existence must necessarily repeat themselves eternally."

It's Hearts and Minds time again. Back to the first reel. This is where I came in. And hard-won common sense about the nature of war went out. The U.S.military has issued new guidelines, delivered via farcical item A, its social networking page:

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took over last month as the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, has said he wants his troops' first priority to be protecting Afghan civilians [farcical item B], not using massive fire power. McChrystal's new guidelines went into effect last week, and officials released a declassified version Monday.

The three directives for U.S. and NATO forces, posted on the military's Facebook page as part of a longer statement, are [farcical items C, D, and E]:

_ Airstrikes must be very limited and authorized but can be used in self-defense if troops' lives are at risk.

_ Troops must be accompanied by Afghan forces before they enter residences.

_ Troops cannot go into or fire upon mosques or other religious sites. This is already U.S. policy.

The new CEO of the Taliban, whoever he is, must be laughing till tears flow. The world's military giant not waiting for the Lilliputians to tie it down, but doing the job itself.


If these directives are followed, it means:

Air power, often the most effective and least casualty-prone offensive tactic, may be used only in self-defense "if troops' lives are at risk." Far be it from me to claim any military expertise, but my impression is that in combat hot zones, troops' lives are always at risk.

So, hold back the air power. Perhaps each ground soldier could select one carefully researched and certified enemy combatant and call him out. Pistols at dawn? No, unfair. U.S. pistols are better made. Swords then, in single combat.


The Taliban is shooting at you from the pool deck of a house? Quick, ring for an Afghan with a search warrant. No, not an Afghan hound — not even to sniff out booby trap bombs, don't you know dogs are an abomination to Muslims? And wipe your feet before you enter, you oaf.


You need not notify the enemy commander that the ammunition depot and safe house inside the holy mosque is sacred. To you, if not to him. He has already been informed.

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took over last month as the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, has said he wants his troops' first priority to be protecting Afghan civilians, not using massive fire power.

Begging your pardon, mon général, but in a war — if that's what this Afghanistan sort-of what-do-you-call-it is — the first priority is to destroy the enemy. There are historical examples in which that required "massive firepower," incidentally. The second priority is protecting the poor sods under your command. Not killing Afghan civilians, assuming you can tell which civilians are the civil type and which are the insurgent type, is a nice idea. But it is not of the essence.

Except to President for Life Obama, who sees military action as a form of community organizing. Our country's commander-in-chief, like the commander-in-chief before him, likes playing toy soldiers. The problem is that those toy soldiers bleed and break and their hearts can be stopped.


For that reason, if no other, some of us have the idea that they should only be used in the most urgent defense of national interests. Not just any national interests, such as community outreach to Afghan tribes.

If making friends with Afghans is our priority, let's bring the service men and women home to their families and send a stimulus package in their place. Let's give every Afghan (unless found by a court to have committed assault and battery in the Taliban or Al Qaeda cause) a cheque for $100,000 and a brand new General Motors truck, with a five-year bumper-to-bumper warranty (except for acts of Allah) signed by Uncle Sam. The U.S. taxpayer would come out ahead and so would the Afghans. It's a win-win, I tell you.


"War is cruelty," General William Sherman famously said. "There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over." If we do not believe the cause in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or anywhere else justifies the cruelty — and I am not arguing it does, being a little unclear what urgent national business detains us in Afghanistan after making our point seven years ago — then let's stop it. And no more American lives for social networking.


Friday, July 03, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Was St. Paul really Leonardo da Vinci?

4. Television program is produced.

Uh, wait. I'm getting a little confused here. The Daily Mail has launched this year's religious news silly season, with Jesus and St. Paul moving up to spots no. 2 and 3 in its Spiritual Celebrity Sweepstakes, although still trailing Michael Jackson by a Roman mile.

Let's see if we can sort this out.

First up, we have a publicity hound who has decided that the famous Shroud of Turin, believed by some to be the burial cloth of Jesus, is actually a forgery by — wait for it — Leonardo da Vinci. The Shroud Code!
Lillian Schwartz, a graphic consultant at the School of Visual Arts in New York, claims that the image is a self-portrait of Leonardo, which was made using a crude photographic technique. Using computer scans she found that the face on the Turin Shroud and a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci share the same dimensions.
The same dimensions? Later the writer uses the word "proportions," apparently in the same sense, but the sense is lost on me in either case. The head was taller than it was wide in both faces? Both mouths were wider than the noses? What a breakthrough!
Miss Schwartz came to prominence in the 1980s when she made detailed measurements of the Mona Lisa and a Leonardo self-portrait. To her amazement, the two faces lined up perfectly, leading her to suggest that he used a self portrait as a model for the painting.
The two faces lined up perfectly? What does that mean? Did a witness pick those two faces out of a police line-up? ("Now, take your time. I want you to be very sure. Which of these five men is Leonardo and which is Jesus?")

Earlier this year she used the same technique to compare another Leonardo self-portrait with the Turin Shroud. 'It matched. I'm excited about this,' she said. 'There is no doubt in my mind that the proportions that Leonardo wrote about were used in creating this Shroud's face.'

There was no doubt in my mind that there was no doubt in her mind when I read further and discovered that a TV documentary about Miss Schwartz's astounding discovery will be broadcast tonight. If it's on TV, it must be so.

What about the shroud's fairly well-documented history of being exhibited long before Leonardo's time, which is even mentioned glancingly in the Daily Mail story? That was part of Leonardo's put-on. He was once, twice, three times a genius! A Renaissance man! He created those historical records, focusing the image on the shroud he created through a pinhole camera onto a medieval sheepskin discarded from one of his flying machine experiments!

Now we're clear on that, let's see how St. Paul wandered in here. Again in the Daily Mail, we have a story about an apparently more reputable archeological discovery, although if you can find two archeologists who agree about anything, the chances are one of them is deaf, blind, and mute.
Ruthless, half mad, he stoned Christians to death. He also founded modern civilisation. And until yesterday, his fate was one of history's great mysteries...

Deeply moved, the Pope delivered the news on Sunday that fragments of bones found in the tomb traditionally considered to be that of Saint Paul did indeed date from the first or second century. Which means that, in all likelihood, they are the bones of the Apostle Paul - bones that have lain there for 1,950 years yet, astonishingly, have only been discovered in our time.

This article is written by A.N. Wilson, author of about 500 books, fiction and non-fiction, and undoubtedly a knowledgeable man. My understanding is that while he has a keen interest in religious history (among many other things), he is of a skeptical disposition.

Nevertheless, you can't blame him for that boldfaced lead-in, which was probably the work of a copyeditor. "Half mad"? What bosh.

The Pope was not saying that he revered some relics as a matter of faith. He was saying that scientists, by carbon dating, have come as close as possible to identifying the very bones of St Paul himself.

Why is he so convinced? Though the carbon-dating experts knew nothing of their origins, the bone fragments were recovered after a tiny probe was inserted into the tomb which lies in a crypt beneath the Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls in Rome - a church long held to have been built on the site where Paul was buried.

Well, that settles it. Carbon dating shows the bone fragments to date from very close to when we think St. Paul was martyred (no one knows exactly). Within a year of the presumed date? Five years? Fifty years? Two hundred?

What else gives us such confidence?

Now, it appears that the aural tradition, passed on by word of mouth since the second century, that he had suffered martyrdom and was beheaded for his faith, is true. For this same tradition insists that his tomb is in the church of St Paul outside the Walls - where the bone fragments identified as his have been found. The Roman Church from the very beginnings made a cult of its martyrs and revered both Peter and Paul as the two great leaders of their Church.

Yes, the Church did indeed make a cult of its martyrs, and built altars and churches around any bits of their earthly remains they could convince themselves, or at least the worshipers, were to be found. Not just bones, but hair, tongues, teeth, hearts, and things perhaps better left to the imagination.

The Vatican archaeologists have also found a very old fresco - dated to three centuries after Paul's death - on the walls of the catacombs, which appears to be a faithful likeness of Paul.

The old icon-painters and makers of frescoes and mosaics did not paint from whim. They saw their task as the keeping alive of a tradition, and accounts of Paul's appearance would have been passed down from generation to generation. This picture, of a bald Jewish man with a pointed beard, is very likely authentic. Both discoveries - of the bones and of the frescoes - are inspiring new discoveries of the Christian faith's roots in actual history.

Either Wilson has undergone a lifebed conversion, or he is kidding us up just as Miss Schwartz says Leonardo was. No one of Wilson's learning could be this naive, give or take a few hundred thousand scholars. The painters of late antiquity passed down "accounts of Paul's appearance" from generation to generation? Through verbal description? ("Pssst. Bald. Pointy beard. Keep it to yourself till you're ready to go to heaven, then whisper it to your best disciple.") So that three centuries after Paul's ministry on earth, following this oral tradition, an accurate likeness was painted?

Wilson does a jig over the bones and frescoes being "inspiring new discoveries of the Christian faith's roots in actual history." Christianity has a historic, as well as spiritual, past? If only Edward Gibbon had known.