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March 31, 2006

God Under the Microscope

A decade or so ago, I recall Paul Harvey talking about a new study. He introduced the story with something like, "And today's story with the most lasting importance may be this..." The study noted that people in a hospital who were prayed for seemed to do better and heal faster than those who weren't, even if they didn't know that they were being prayed for. It might have given me a little lift if not for the fact that it didn't seem to matter to whom the prayers were spoken. It seemed to me that trying to make God do hamster tricks would be useless at the least and counterproductive at worst. If Satan can do wonders, surely he can heal those who are prayed for in the name of a false god and game the results. Prayer is not an exact science. It's not a science at all, frankly. It's part of a relationship, it's a conversation. It's not a precise chemical reaction.

Keep that in mind when you hear this.

Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.

And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested.

Because it is the most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness, the study, begun almost a decade ago and involving more than 1,800 patients, has for years been the subject of speculation.

The question has been a contentious one among researchers. Proponents have argued that prayer is perhaps the most deeply human response to disease, and that it may relieve suffering by some mechanism that is not yet understood. Skeptics have contended that studying prayer is a waste of money and that it presupposes supernatural intervention, putting it by definition beyond the reach of science.

It's not so much that it's in the supernatural realm. It's that studying the actions of a person, God in this case, cannot be done statistically. If someone were to study you and see if you acted the same way to the same circumstance over and over, it would be trivial to foul up the outcome, intentionally or otherwise. And prayer is a matter of faith, but how do you measure or control for that? This study and others like it, regardless of the outcome, are pointless from the beginning. Its core assumption--that God or the supernatural world can be experimented on--is faulty. The article notes that other studies on prayer have shown mixed results, which is what I would expect.

In a hurriedly convened news conference, the study's authors, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston, said that the findings were not the last word on the effects of so-called intercessory prayer.

Indeed it isn't. That will come, however. Madeline Murray O'Hare could not be reached for comment. >grin<

As usual, Scott Ott at ScrappleFace puts it all in perspective.

“As it turns out, God was not impressed by our academic credentials, our substantial funding base, and our rigorous study protocols,” said lead researcher Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston. “I get the feeling we just spent 10 years looking through the wrong end of the telescope.”

Posted by Doug at 10:00 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 29, 2006

Former FISA Judges Discuss the NSA Wiretapping

Is the President's NSA wiretapping program unconstitutional, impeachable or at least censurable? The jury is still out on that, as the details are still being investigated (though that hasn't stopped Sen. Russ Feingold from acting from a position of ignorance). The main thrust of the argument is that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had jurisdiction, and that going around them via executive order was illegal.

Speaking of that jury, it recently asked some guys who would know.

A panel of former Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges yesterday told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that President Bush did not act illegally when he creaated by executive order a wiretapping program conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA).

UPDATE: As has been pointed out to me, not all the judges specifically stated that Bush was within his constitutional rights. The other judges did not specifically speak to this.

The five judges testifying before the committee said they could not speak specifically to the NSA listening program without being briefed on it, but that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does not override the president's constitutional authority to spy on suspected international agents under executive order.

"If a court refuses a FISA application and there is not sufficient time for the president to go to the court of review, the president can under executive order act unilaterally, which he is doing now," said Judge Allan Kornblum, magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida and an author of the 1978 FISA Act. "I think that the president would be remiss exercising his constitutional authority by giving all of that power over to a statute."

The judges, however, said Mr. Bush's choice to ignore established law regarding foreign intelligence gathering was made "at his own peril," because ultimately he will have to answer to Congress and the Supreme Court if the surveillance was found not to be in the best interests of national security.

Judge Kornblum said before the 1978 FISA law, foreign surveillance was done by executive order and the law itself was altered by the orders of Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan.

But isn't the FISA law good enough that the President shouldn't have to end-run around it?
It has been three months since President Bush said publicly that the NSA was listening to phone conversations between suspected terrorists abroad and domestically. The actions raised concerns from Congress and civil liberties groups about domestic spying, but the judges said that given new threats from terrorists and new communications technologies, the FISA law should be changed to give the president more latitude.

So five judges, including one of those who wrote the FISA Act, say that Bush was well within his rights to do what he did, and that the only caveat is the very sensible question of whether the other two branches of government thought it to be in the interests of national security. At this point, we do know that Congressional leaders were briefed on this, with only small concerns about constitutionality being expressed. Given this new testimony, it sounds like those concerns are groundless, so there's little left. We know from the initial Times report that at least one attempt on the Brooklyn Bridge was thwarted, and there may be more that was done but is currently classified, so the national security question is on its way to being answered. Critics are having all their legs knocked out from under them.

Posted by Doug at 04:24 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Buy a Piece of History

Remember those flooded school buses photographed in New Orleans? Well, you can buy one.

Starved for cash, the New Orleans school district is taking a long shot and hoping to sell its flooded, unsalvageable school buses on eBay.

Some submerged to their roofs in the black flood waters, the yellow school buses were widely photographed in the days after Hurricane Katrina and have become an icon of the city's devastated school system.

Correction: they became an icon of the city's devastated credibility when they started pointing fingers of blame up the food chain but failed to follow their own plan that included using school buses to get the poor out of the city. Sounds like a little airbrushing of recent history by this AP writer.

Junkyard Blog covers this, as he was the guy who broke the story of the Ray Nagin Memorial Motor Pool.

Posted by Doug at 01:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 27, 2006

Rahman Case Has Its Upsides

The question of what "religious freedom" means to the Afghan government is still on the front burner. President Karzai is inserting himself into the situation. Diplomacy seems to be doing the job. It's not over yet (in the linked article, the clerics warn of an uprising if Abdul Rahman, a converted Christian, is not executed), but things seem to be getting better little by little. I see some political good in this situation, as the government and the people are being forced to debate the religious freedom issue. Hopefully, they'll take some cues from the countries that liberated them

From my perspective, there is another upside. Afghans are more curious about Christianity.

An Afghan Christian leader in the U.S. has welcomed reports that criminal charges may be dropped against an Afghan convert who was threatened with execution for refusing to return to Islam. The case has prompted strong international condemnation.

Hussain Andaryas said the publicity surrounding the Abdul Rahman case had resulted in a surge of interest in Christianity among Afghans, strong concern for the plight of Afghanistan's underground Christians -- and an antagonistic response from Muslims.


Andaryas runs a collection of Christian websites in Afghanistan's Dari-Persian tongue as well as daily radio programs and a weekly television program.

He is in daily contact with individuals in his homeland, and has been reporting for several years about the risks faced by Afghan Christians -- all converts from Islam and thus considered apostates worthy of death, according to Islamic law (shari'a).

He said the websites typically drew about 300 unique visitors every month, but since the Rahman story emerged had attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The number of emails received also has risen enormously, and 13 people are now tasked with responding to them.

The majority of emails are negative and many are abusive, coming from Muslims who felt that Rahman and other apostates -- including Andaryas himself -- should be severely punished.

But there also are many messages of support, he said.

And then there are emails coming from Afghans wanting to know more about Christianity, asking where they can get a Bible in the Dari or Pashto language, or sharing the news that they had become believers in Jesus Christ.

Among the most stirring messages are those from Afghan Muslims marveling about a faith for which a man was willing to die and wanting to study the Bible further.

"I strongly believe God is using this situation for His glory," Andaryas said. "One man's bold step has shaken the world."

While I don't wish persecution on anyone, the threat of death to Rahman plays well into God's hand. Keep this man and the other Afghan Christians in your prayers.

Posted by Doug at 01:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 24, 2006

Adult Stem Cells Further Prove Their Worth

Those wacky adult stem cells. Every time you turn around, they keep showing that they have a lot more potential that you thought with none of the downsides of embryonic stem cells.

German scientists said on Friday they had isolated sperm-producing stem cells that have similar properties to embryonic stem cells from adult mice.

If the same type of cells in humans show similar qualities the researchers from the Georg-August-University of Goettingen believe they could be used in stem cell research which would remove the ethical dilemma associated with stem cells derived from human embryos.

"These isolated spermatogonial stem cells respond to culture conditions and acquire embryonic stem cell properties," Gerd Hasenfuss and his colleagues said in report published online by the journal Nature.

Stem cells are master cells that have the potential to develop into any cell type in the body. Scientists believe they could act as a type of repair system to provide new therapies for illnesses ranging from diabetes to Parkinson's.

But their use is controversial because the most promising stem cells for treating human disease are derived from very early human embryos left over from fertility treatments.

If the same can be done with human cells, then the folks pushing hard for embryonic stem cell research will have the final plank knocked out from under them. The only folks left standing will be those for whom "ethics" is a quaint anachronism, and who care more about research money for corporations doing ESS work. Here's hoping that further research reveals that this source of stem cells is available to us.

Posted by Doug at 01:24 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 23, 2006

The Abdul Rahman Case - Is Democracy Dead in Afghanistan?

The Abdul Rahman case in Afghanistan has captured the attention of the media and the blogosphere, not to mention the White House. Obviously, we at SCO hope that this convert to Christianity is treated with respect and an open mind by the new government there. So far, the messages are mixed, with the option now on the table to declare Rahman mentally incompetent to stand trial so that the world spotlight on this case of religious freedom dims.

There are those on the Left that suggest that this proves the Afghan Experiment has failed. However, I'd say that this only proves that the budding democracy there is, in fact, budding. No big surprise there. I wonder how long they would have given the 13 colonies before declaring our Constitution a miserable failure. You could still own slaves a generation after the thing was signed, for goodness sake. Entire families of Africans had their lives destroyed under a Constitution that said that all men were created equal. Should they have given up on the whole federal government thing and gone back to being under the thumb of King George?

"georgia10", the author of the linked post at the Daily Kos, has this to say:

Declaring this Christian crazy to spare judicial execution does not solve the deeper problem that such undemocratic and immoral action is enshrined in the text of the Afghanistan Constitution, that same Constitution Bush praised as a hallmark of democracy. Is this democracy? Or is this the type of case that reminds us that freedom is not on the march in Afghanistan, no matter how many purple fingers are waived in the air?

It sounds like "georgia10" has given up and sees no possibility of any kind of future for Afghanistan. Might as well have give it back to the Taliban, eh? Does the Left really have that little faith in the democratic process, of working through your own salvation? There's lots of finger wagging in that post, but it's very short on specific (or even general) alternatives. The move from a theocracy to a democracy is not noted in any way as progress. How sad and pessimistic do you have to be to declare failure at every single setback?

So what do we do? I think it's time to handle Afghanistan the way we handle any other democratic country; apply diplomatic pressure. I think the words coming from the Bush administration are what we should be doing, and perhaps negotiating with the Afghan government to try to resolve this in such a way that hopefully it will enlighten some folks there. What would be really great would be for American Muslims to raise their voices against this situation, and note how well they are treated here and how well freedom of religion works when it's properly done.

Self-government is a learned behavior. You don't learn it by voting in a few elections. However (and to "georgia10's" surprise, perhaps), you'll never get there without a bunch of purple fingers first.

Posted by Doug at 10:22 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Ingratitude Isn't a Christian Value

It's fantastic to hear that the US & UK military was able to rescue the remaining Christian Peacemaker Team hostages. Now, you'd think these folks would be grateful to their rescuers, but it's hard to tell by their statement. The families are certainly to have their loved ones back, and the hostages are certainly glad to have their freedom back. They thank the people who prayed for them. They thank God for sustaining their friends' courage while they were captive. But you'd be hard-pressed to hear any note of thanks to the military folks who got them out. As James Taranto notes, it seems that the people they consider most their enemies are the countries of their benefactors.

It's not clear whom the CPT statement means by "our enemies." But the only enemy they seem to recognize is the U.S. and its allies, whose "occupation" of Iraq is the "root cause" of the ex-hostages' captivity, and whose detention of "thousands of Iraqis" they liken to their own kidnapping and (in one case) murder by terrorists.

But if the CPT is going to "love our enemies," the least it could do is thank them. The statement does not acknowledge that the hostages were rescued by U.S. and British servicemen, or indeed that they were rescued at all; it refers mysteriously to their having been "released," as if the kidnappers themselves had decided to let them go.

This seems to run deeper than a case of simple ingratitude. There is a whole strange worldview at work here--a theology, if you will. We don't claim to understand it fully, but it seems to equate America as the root of all evil and America's adversaries as Edenic creatures--innocents who know not good or evil and thus bear no culpability for their bad actions.

If we have this right, it follows that the CPT Christians see themselves, by virtue of their faith, as being forgiven for being American, or for being from another nation that America has corrupted. This is why they cannot be grateful to, or forgiving of, America: For them that would amount to thanking or forgiving sin itself.

Their kidnappers may have done what they did because of the presence of coalition troops, but without the troops, there would be still be violence done to people in Iraq. It would be state-sponsored, however, which apparently the CPT folks would prefer to violence that results in the ability of the people to determine the course of their own country.

By the way, on my lunch break I heard Limbaugh say that if these people hated violence so much, they shouldn't have accepted the military help that was given to them. A principle's a principle, eh?

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt notes a Bible passage that the CPT folks should get familiar with.

Posted by Doug at 09:44 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

March 22, 2006

The Message from the Media

Just in case it wasn't obvious that thought precedes action...

Children exposed to sex in TV programmes, films, magazines and music are more likely to engage in sexual activity than those who are not, according to research out today.

There is a direct relationship between the amount of sexual content a child sees and their level of sexual activity or their intentions to have sex in the future, the study found.

Such media also has at least an equal influence on sexual behaviour as religion or a child's relationship with their parents and peers, the study said.

It concluded that the media is an "important source" of information about sex for teenagers who might not get advice elsewhere.

To some, this may be shocking. It shouldn't be.

Posted by Doug at 11:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Healey for Lt. Gov. of Rhode Island

I'm on the road at a client site in Rhode Island this week, and I picked up the local free paper while eating supper this evening. (I mention that in case anyone wonders why this Georgia resident would even know about this story.) I read about a guy who's campaign I could get behind. I don't know what his general politics are, but he's got a mission and has been willing to walk the talk, not just talk it.

Robert J. Healey, Jr. EAST BAY - Robert J. Healey, Jr. is tired of preaching logic to voters. Instead, the Barrington resident and Warren native is basing his recently announced campaign for the office of Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor on the absurd. If it's silly or non-sensical you can imagine it's coming from Mr. Healey, who stated his intentions for office from Brava Beach in Punta del Este, Uraguay on Thursday.

Why Uruguay?

"I have chosen this location because I think that it demonstrates that no matter where you are in the world, and no matter what you are doing, you can also be serving as Rhode Island's Lt. Governor at the same time. Waiting for the demise of the governor can be accomplished just about anywhere, any time, and by just about anyone with a pulse. I probably would do it here on the beach," Mr. Healey said, adding that if he is elected he will facilitate the constitutional abolition of the office or "serve as the impetus for otherwise changing its constitutional role."

Now before you dismiss this as a one-off, futile, point-making campaign, consider that this guy's been making a career out of this. And he's been doing a decent job at this. From the biographical highlights at the end of the article come these points:
* Founded Cool Moose Party (name taken from Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party) and ran for governor against former Governor Edward DiPrete in 1986 — received a little less than 4,000 votes

* Ran for governor again in 1994, this time garnering slightly less than 10 percent of all votes cast — won the race in Warren which "humbled him," he said.

* Because of that showing (receiving more than 5 percent of the vote), the Cool Moose Party gained statewide recognition

* In 1998, he took on then Gov. Lincoln Almond and Democratic challenger Myrth York and received 8 percent of all votes cast.

* In 2002, he ran against incumbent Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty promising to abolish the office, if elected; he received a 20 percent share of votes cast statewide.

He's been doing this for 20 years, so he's no flash in the pan. I can't possibly do the article on him justice with snippets, so go ahead and read the whole thing, even if you're not from Rhode Island. I did, and I enjoyed it.

Posted by Doug at 08:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Let's go to the video tape

Hugh Hewitt was on CNN last night, being interviewed by Anderson Cooper along with Time's Michael Ware and CNN's Nic Robertson. Hugh recaps the interview and I have to agree that Anderson is does indeed run a "fair show." I did get the sense that he was going out of his way to let Hugh talk when Ware was spinning out of control. However, was Anderson in charge of the Iraq footage being shown next to Hugh and the others during the segment?

The discussion was about the portrayal of Iraq by the news media, which is something I've seen covered on a few channels in the last day or so. But while Hugh was arguing that the MSM is out to support a bad version of events there, all the Iraq footage was of burned out cars, and troops investigating other sorts of Baghdad violence. So, while they were talking about the media's eagerness to show more bad then good, they were showing all bad.

Maybe the segment producer knew that Hugh was gonna mention Eason Jordan and he couldn't restrain himself from presenting such lopsided video feed.

Posted by Abigail at 03:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 20, 2006

Virtual Visitation

Yesterday's New York Times offered an interesting peek in to an evolving trend in the often-heated custody battles: visitation with Dad by computer (Full disclosure: my brother-in-law is profiled in this story:

With work and the school week behind them, Charles A. Mason III and his daughter, Arielle, who live more than 1,500 miles apart, prepared for their scheduled weekend visit. There was no packing involved, no plane tickets, no car rides or drop-offs. All it took was some instant messaging on their home computers and a little fidgeting in front of their respective Webcams, and father and daughter were chatting, playing checkers and practicing multiplication tables.

"It's funner than talking on the phone, because I can see him," said Arielle, 10, who lives with her mother in Longmont, Colo., but has regular "virtual visits" with her father as part of the custody arrangement her parents worked out after her mother moved eight years ago. "It's just like being in front of him, but with games and computer stuff added."

As for Mr. Mason, who lives in Warrenton, Va., the video chats are a vast improvement over telephone calls, during which his daughter — like many children her age — is often monosyllabic and easily distracted.

"I can barely hold her attention on the phone for five minutes," he said. "When we can play checkers and look at one another, I can keep her talking about school and life for an hour or more."

As divorce has remained a constant, custody arrangements have evolved over the last half-century. Increased awareness of the toll divorce can take on children and fathers' increased involvement as parents, combined with the demands of working parents who often have to move in order to get and keep jobs, have made for increasingly creative and sometimes complex custody agreements.

As the legal system begins to acknowledge the potential benefits of technology in bridging the physical and emotional distance caused by divorce and separation, more families are experimenting with computer-assisted custody sharing.

Although any separating couple can opt for virtual visits in their custody agreement, debate surrounding the issue is unfolding on the state level as advocates push to have the option spelled out in state laws in order to broaden awareness of the practice and enable judges to grant such visits where they see fit.

However, some say that virtual visitation is not necessarily a good thing:

But not everyone gives virtual visits a ringing endorsement. In addition to concerns that it may be used to limit in-person visits, some lawyers and noncustodial parents also worry that it may be used to bolster the case for a custodial parent's contested relocation.

In 2001 an appeals court in New Jersey overruled a lower court decision denying a custodial parent's request to move out of state, reasoning that the court did not consider computer-assisted visits as an option for the noncustodial parent who objected to the move.

A Massachusetts court ordered video visits in 2002 in another contested relocation dispute. The father in the case, who argued that video visits were being imposed to replace in-person visits with his children, lost his appeal to stop the move.

"The danger is that it will become a substitute for real time," said David L. Levy, chief executive of the Children's Rights Council, based in Hyattsville, Md., which advocates for children affected by divorce and separation. "Virtual time is not real time. You can't virtually hug your child or walk your child to school. We don't want this to be seen as an excuse to encourage move-aways."

The Utah and Wisconsin regulations specify that virtual visits should be used as a supplement to, not a substitute for, traditional visits. The Wisconsin bill also specifies that virtual visits should not be used to justify a custodial parent's relocation. The laws define "electronic communication" as contact by video conference, e-mail, instant message, telephone or other wired or wireless technology.

"I think that most judges understand that children require physical one-on-one contact with the absent parent," said Cheryl Lynn Hepfer, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Clearly, such technology offers both promise and peril for children of divorced parents. For such visitation arrangements to work effectively there needs to also be in-person visitation. The custodial parent needs to still be involved in the process of allowing their child to be online to ensure their safety. States need have specific requirements in place that do not allow custodial parents to use virtual visits as a reason to relocate far away from from the other parent. But in situations where the child is already living far away from the parent, the new means of communication available through the Internet allow parents to bridge the distance and spend more quality time with their children. That is something children of all ages and life situations need: time with their parents.

Posted by Tom at 10:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Free Heath Care Isn't

Name the country with the most evenly distributed quality of health care. Prepare to be surprised.

Startling research from the biggest study ever of U.S. health care quality suggests that Americans - rich, poor, black, white - get roughly equal treatment, but it's woefully mediocre for all.

"This study shows that health care has equal-opportunity defects," said Dr. Donald Berwick, who runs the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass.

The survey of nearly 7,000 patients, reported Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, considered only urban-area dwellers who sought treatment, but it still challenged some stereotypes: These blacks and Hispanics actually got slightly better medical treatment than whites.

While the researchers acknowledged separate evidence that minorities fare worse in some areas of expensive care and suffer more from some conditions than whites, their study found that once in treatment, minorities' overall care appears similar to that of whites.

"It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter whether you're rich or poor, white or black, insured or uninsured," said chief author Dr. Steven Asch, at the Rand Health research institute, in Santa Monica, Calif. "We all get equally mediocre care."

Well, if we're all getting mediocre care, wonder how good it is in places like Canada, which is supposed to have the liberal dream of "free" health care and yet they keep streaming over the borders to get it here.

This will of course cause great consternation among Democrats who need to continue insist there's a health care "crisis" so they can resurrect HillaryCare(tm). Truth be told, it's not broken so there's no need to fix it.

The survey examined whether people got the highest standard of treatment for 439 measures ranging across common chronic and acute conditions and disease prevention. It looked at whether they got the right tests, drugs and treatments.

Overall, patients received only 55 percent of recommended steps for top-quality care - and no group did much better or worse than that.

Blacks and Hispanics as a group each got 58 percent of the best care, compared to 54 percent for whites. Those with annual household income over $50,000 got 57 percent, 4 points more than people from households of less than $15,000. Patients without insurance got 54 percent of recommended steps, just one point less than those with managed care.

Could overall health care in this country do with an improvement? Sure. However, resorting to a socialized system that puts people on waiting lists for years isn't the answer. Would you rather get 55% of what you need now, or get it months down the road (when you'd probably need more care)?

Murphy's Law of the Hospital: "Free" health care isn't.

(Hat tip: JR at Blogger News Network.)

Posted by Doug at 10:06 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Protectionist Labor Laws Don't

A recent change in employment law in France has caused an uproar among the youth. But first, imagine if employers here in the US were forbidden from firing workers. What do you think would be the effect on the job situation? Obviously, employers would be extremely careful about who they hired. It would slow down the employment situation considerably; you don't want to go on a hiring binge if your business is taking off, because you may get stuck with poor performers that you couldn't then get rid of. Business growth would slow as a result, and the economy would be the worse for it. Not only that, getting young people hired would be tougher; even the local fast food joint would have to get picky.

Now, socialists might say that guaranteed jobs are good. They said that in France. But this put their employers in a bind and stunted growth. And while the original intent of this guarantee was to supposedly help the working class, it hurt the unemployment picture because employers did indeed get very picky and cautious in their hiring practices. Thus a general truism regarding liberal law was again demonstrated; what sounded good in theory didn't work at all, and was actually counterproductive, in practice.

So what's a Leftist to do? Change the law, of course, to allow more employment. The trouble is, you've created a culture of entitlement, and folks don't give it up that easy. Just ask Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin of France.

The French government faced a deepening crisis at the weekend as protesters turned out in large numbers to oppose a new law intended to reduce youth unemployment. Opponents worry the law will threaten job security.

Police said more than half a million people turned out in various French cities, demanding the withdrawal of the First Employment Contract, or CPE, which says people under the age of 26 may lose their jobs without cause during the first two years of employment.


The law forms part of an initiative by Villepin to respond to grievances expressed last fall during riots by unemployed, mostly Muslim immigrant youths. It would allow employers to bypass protectionist labor laws that companies say prevent them from hiring more freely.


In this case, however, the protesters don't want to change the system; they want to retain traditional labor laws that offer job security, protection and benefits.

Some analysts say the students are resisting reform, while others attribute the protests to France's stagnant economy and high unemployment rate.

"These students have been raised in a culture of job security, a job for life, and they were expecting a job for life," said Philippe Moreau Defarges, a senior fellow at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

"But now they have a fear that they will not find a job."

So the French workers insist they prefer to keep a 10% unemployment rate and stagnant economic growth rather than give employers any shot at weeding out the under-performers (only within the first 2 years, mind you). They fear they won't find a job? Are they finding any now?
Unemployment in France is around 10 percent, but in the under-26 range, 23 percent do not have jobs. Among immigrant youths, the figure runs as high as 50 percent.

No doubt the Frenchman (or Muslim youth) on the street would say that this is a matter of benefiting the labor force, without which there would be no businesses. On the other hand, without a climate in which businesses can thrive, you aren't going to have a good employment picture.

It's a symbiotic relationship that liberals in France and the US would be wise to remember before preaching against the stereotypical "evil corporation". Neither side--labor and management--is generally without fault or misbehavior, but when American liberals look to Europe for economic solutions, just remember how good we have it.

Murphy's Law of Labor: "Protectionist" labor laws don't.

Posted by Doug at 09:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 18, 2006

Some signals are not as "strong and clear" as they should be

I've discovered Regime Change Iran and its round up of news relating to a country with "suspect" nuclear aspirations. It's mostly links and quotes of news articles, but the subtleties of the Iran situation are often left out of major news headlines - so having an extensive list of articles to peruse is quite useful.

The real question is...What kind of useful things are the articles describing? The answer: apparently not much. Friday's Daily Briefing (posted on Thursday) said John Bolton was "very encouraged" about the Security Council discussions on Iran. Well, sure. But what does that mean?

Again...not much. On Friday, RCI linked a Fox News Article quoting Bolton as saying "The mood of the discussion is certainly in the direction of a strong and clear signal to Iran on the part of the Security Council."

I agree that the signal is strong, but I think the content of the signal is more important than the strength. What is the Security Council strongly signaling?

Here's what I know they are strongly signaling:
* We are talking about Iran
* We are talking about Iran and its nuclear weapons program
* We are determined to keep talking about it
* We are so determined that we are not complaining about the fact that Russia and China are trying to drag this out as long as possible

Fox assumes early in the article that the council is determined that this strong and clear signal will be concerning Iran's "suspect nuclear program."

No kidding. But what is contained in the signal? That's the whole point. The UN is already communicating a bunch of things just by sitting around and having discussions. When it finally releases a formal statement, I don't know how strong and clear it will be or what it will ask but I'm not all that hopeful. Mostly because of this last paragraph:

The diplomats will try to come up with a "clear strategy" on what happens next, Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Konstantin Dolgov told The Associated Press. "We need to have an agreed way ahead within the IAEA, in the Security Council."
You see? They are planning a strategy about what to do next. In other words, they aren't deciding what to do next, they are planning about making a plan about what to do next.

Springing into action indeed.

This reminds me of something I read just this morning from James Lileks' 2005 roundup in The American Enterprise:

Iran announces it will no longer allow inspectors into the Khomeini Memorial Peaceful Nuclear Research Facility for Hastening the Destruction of Israel. European diplomats threaten to take the matter to the U.N. Subcommittee of the Task Force for Occasionally Threatening to Issue a Strongly-Worded Report. But the group's next meeting isn't until 2007, and it must first take up the horror of Israel's security fence. Iran promises to allow inspections in exchange for 500 million Euros, payable in coins of enriched uranium. The E.U. agrees, with the condition that the interest rate on the loan will be adjusted upward if Iran makes nuclear bombs. If they actually detonate a bomb there would be an immediate balloon payment, make no mistake about it.

"Occasionally Threatening to Issue a Strongly-Worded Report"?
Yeah. That sounds about right.

Posted by Abigail at 01:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 17, 2006

The Politics of Psychology

I've been listening to a lot of podcasts in the past months. Some are political, some are computer related (geeky stuff; that's my biz), some are finance related, and some are just fun. The commute to and from work (when I do actually go in to the office) is when I typically listen to them.

On the way home today, I was listening to Glenn and Helen Reynolds' podcast (he, of course, of Instapundit fame, and she of Dr. Helen fame). Their latest entry is on the politicization of Psychology. Here's Glenn's summary of the show.

Is psychology over-politicized? We interview Dr. Nicholas Cummings, a past President of the American Psychological Association, and coauthor of Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm, about the injection of politics into mental health in general, and the American Psychological Association in particular. Plus, why men are disappearing from the psychological profession.

This is an amazing interview from a guy on the inside. Well, he was on the inside until this liberal activist got labelled a right-wing wacko for daring to suggest the politics was becoming too strong an element of APA rulings and studies.

Here's a guy who's for same-sex marriage, but who was ostracized because of his suggestion that studies and data should inform APA ethical standards in that area rather than political posturing. The APA came within 2 votes of saying that "Reparitive Therapy" for homosexuals should be on its list of ethical violations. The studies are inconclusive on this matter, but it was politics that almost made mentioning these programs to a patient a license-yanking offense.

And speaking of studies, you'll take studies done by or cited by the APA with a grain pillar of salt after listening to Dr. Cummings describe how information that didn't fit the political correctness standard was unreported, ignored or misrepresented. This I find incredibly interesting especially in regard to studies on same-sex marriage. I was quoted studies by the APA and other groups when I mentioned the news about how families continue to break down in today's more and more liberal climate. But given the incredible bias you'll hear about, anything coming from the big psychological groups is extremely suspect. If you put your faith in those groups, prepare to have your foundation shaken.

Unless you think that liberal politics should be the basis of sound psychological reasoning. Then you'll be just fine.

This is 25 minutes well spent. Have a listen.

Posted by Doug at 09:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Vote Fraud in Venezuela - Who Would Have Thought?

Hugo Chavez has been caught with his hand in the ballot box.

It was the 32nd birthday of 1,921 Gonzálezes registered to vote in the western state of Zulia on Wednesday. But instead of celebrating with balloons and cake, many Venezuelans have been shouting fraud.

Every one of these Gonzálezes obtained their first government ID -- and simultaneously registered to vote -- in 2004, just before President Hugo Chávez defeated a recall referendum. And many of them registered on the same day, at the same registration center.

The case is ``one for the Guinness Book of Records,'' said Roberto Ansuini, a former opposition representative on the National Electoral Council who stumbled on it while looking into the registry's reliability. He said the most Gonzálezes ever born on one day in one year in Venezuela is 89.

The González case in Zulia typifies the opposition's claims that the registry is full of fraudulent voters -- one of the reasons some parties boycotted the December legislative elections and may sit out the presidential elections late this year. Many say the case also shows fraud in the recall vote.

Maybe Hugo needs a return visit from Harry Belafonte or Cindy Sheehan to turn the PR situation around.

Posted by Doug at 01:25 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 16, 2006

Old School

"Out of Ur" is a blog put out by the folks at Leadership Journal, a publication of Christianity Today. A post of theirs from March 14th was an interesting look at the Christian perspective on the education of our children. Given the various choices--public, private, homeschool--how do you decide? A pastor wrote in with his thoughts and he looks to an unlikely source for guidance; the culture of 1st century Judaism. No pat answers, but some pretty interesting observations.

I’m not sure our school choices today are all that different than the religious options of 1st century Jews. I’d like to draw some parallels. There were four major sects in 1st century Judaism: the Essenes, the Sadducees, the Zealots, and the Pharisees. Each of these sects interacted with the Roman culture differently. I see a similar pattern in how families interact with the educational options of metropolitan America.

He touches on how each of these group interacted (or not) with the culture, and how (or whether) they tried to change the culture. Being a homeschooler (actually, we are or have been all 3 types of schoolers mentioned, but have leaned towards homeschooling), I'd like to comment on his homeschooling parallel.

The Essenes lived in communes away from the influence of the Roman occupiers. Their philosophy of cultural interaction was to stay as far away from the surrounding culture as they could. They simply didn’t like what they saw. The parallel I see is with parents who choose to homeschool their children. They have looked at the options, and they have chosen to exclude their families from that aspect of cultural interaction.
If you think that homeschooling means you have no or little connection with the surrounding culture, you don't know homeschooling. Homeschoolers often participate in many extracurricular activities, where they come in contact with the culture and socialize with their peers. They still get educated (with higher scores than the average student), but they aren't exposed to all the excessive peer pressure and negative influences we're reading and hearing about more and more in the public school system. Now, if removing or reducing those influences while providing a superior education make homeschoolers "Essenes", that's not a bug, that's a feature (as we say in the computer field). But it's not nearly the cloister this article suggests that it may be.

Posted by Doug at 08:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 15, 2006

International Energy Games

This is interesting:

Ministries Agree on Bill To Limit Foreign Investment in Russian Economy
When I saw that headline I thought it odd because everything else I've read has indicated that Russia wants to use the possibilities of foreign investment as leverage in global policy making. That is, if European countries like France and Germany become dependent on Russian oil and gas resources, then those countries would be more likely to side with Russia against the US or whomever else Russia contended with diplomatically. But Russia cannot afford to keep drilling for oil and gas because of its weak infrastructure. So it needs investment. Countries like China would be happy to invest, because China wants the same thing from Russia - dependency and an ally on the world stage. So, I thought, maybe Russia is getting wise.

But then of course, I read the article:

Vladimir Taraskin, director of the Industry and Energy Ministry's legal relations department, said that the law may come into force in July 2007. He said that the draft law deals with 39 strategic types of activity, which are divided into five sectors: the space industry, the nuclear power sector, arms and military technology production, special technology and aviation.
I've thought about it a bit, and I don't think gas and oil fit into any of these categories. So basically, they are limiting investment, but only in smaller areas that will not affect its ability to make alliances or dependencies.

And as for resources for those industries? Mother Russia isn't giving up control of those either:

"There are other criteria covering monopoly activity and the development of resource fields of federal significance," Taraskin said.

And just to make us think that maybe they are going to bend on the energy issue, the article quote Taraskin as saying:
There is a proposal to include the electricity sector in the draft law also - concerning wholesale generating companies, but this is only being discussed

I don't know what his definition of "discussed" is, but I'd imagine that any discussion isn't all that serious. The ministries can have all the discussions they want, but there happens to be a G8 energy conference this week, where they are seriously discussing foreign investment in Russia.

On Monday Russia was laying out its demands concerning foreign investment in the energy sector.

"We have set ourselves the task of providing the world with energy resources on a reliable, long-term basis," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the conference.
Notice, they have done it themselves. They want to be the ones to provide energy to the world - and I think they want the rest of us to pay them to do it.

It's no secret that Europe does not want to fall into this dependency trap, but they have few other options. And that is no secret to Russia:

"Gazprom was, is and will be a reliable guarantor of gas supplies to Europe," [Gazprom deputy CEO Alexander]Medvedev said...

"[EU] dependency is only going to increase," Medvedev said. "There are only four sources of gas in the world: Qatar, Iran, Algeria and Russia."

Wow. Quite a group. Russia's economy isn't great, but it's gas resources are, and they probably have one of the most stable energy infrastructures. And once again, they know it too -
When asked whether Russia was the only one of the four that could be considered stable, Medvedev said, "You can answer that question yourself."
Of course we can, but Russia wants to answer it for us. Russia has the resources, but not the money. So the other question is, who has the money and the need for resources?

The biggest answer to that is China. China wants legitimacy as a diplomatic and capitalistic power. They have their hands in investments all over the world, places like Africa, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia & Iran.

If China can pump enough money into countries that are desperate for investment, then China can count on them to take their side in global diplomatic arguments. Perhaps it seems that countries like Sudan and Zambia are not important political allies, but what about Venezuela and Iran? These countries need neither more money, nor more strength in their anti-US positions. Russia may seem weak, but a government run by a group of former KGB spies is not the government I want controlling Europe behind the scenes.

There isn't a petition or a protest that we can start to stop these machinations. All we can do is be aware and hope that policy makers know that we may be able to trust our allies only as long as they can afford it.

Posted by Abigail at 02:35 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 13, 2006

Good News for Scooter Libby

John Credson, a Chicago Tribune reporter, has a very revealing article on the "revealing" of Valerie Plame. Turns out, as has been noted in the past, that her cover, such as it was, was paper thin even by CIA standards. While the Brewster-Jennings cover was rather light in hindsight, her use of a US embassy as an official address was a dead giveaway in foresight, according to CIA vets. The kicker is that her obvious tie to the government preceded the attempt to pass her off as a disinterested private-sector consultant, not to mention that later on she had a parking spot at Langley.

Genuine NOCs, a CIA veteran said, "never use an official address. If she had [a diplomatic] address, her whole cover's completely phony. I used to run NOCs. I was in an embassy. I'd go out and meet them, clandestine meetings. I'd pay them cash to run assets or take trips. I'd give them a big bundle of cash. But they could never use an embassy address, ever."

Another CIA veteran with 20 years of service agreed that "the key is the [embassy] address. That is completely unacceptable for an NOC. She wasn't an NOC, period."

After Plame was transferred back to CIA headquarters in the mid-1990s, she continued to pass herself off as a private energy consultant. But the first CIA veteran noted: "You never let a true NOC go into an official facility. You don't drive into headquarters with your car, ever."

A senior U.S. intelligence official, who like the others quoted in this article spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that Plame "may not be alone in that category, so I don't want to suggest she was the only one. But it would be a fair assumption that a true-blue NOC is not someone who has a headquarters job at any point or an embassy job at any point."

Things are looking better for Scooter Libby.

Posted by Doug at 03:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More Tapes & Docs on Hussein's WMDs

Just in case this is glossed over on the nightly news, here's some new information on the Iraq WMD issue. Tapes and documents are being translated, and more details have come out today.

In addition to the captured tapes, U.S. officials are analyzing thousands of pages of newly translated Iraqi documents that tell of Saddam seeking uranium from Africa in the mid-1990s.

"Uranium from Africa". Gosh, that phrase really sounds familiar.

The documents also speak of burying prohibited missiles, according to a government official familiar with the declassification process.

But it is not clear whether Baghdad did what the documents indicate, said the U.S. official, who asked not to be named.

"The factories are present," an Iraqi aide tells Saddam on one of the tapes, made by the dictator in the mid-1990s while U.N. weapons inspectors were searching for Baghdad's remaining stocks of weapons of mass destruction.

"The factories remain, in the mind they remain. Our spirit is with us, based solely on the time period," the aide says, according to the documents. "And [inspectors] take note of the time period, they can't account for our will."

Whether or not it was acted on, it was certainly planned and intended. But there is further information that indeed Hussein was in the WMD biz.
Mr. [Bill] Tierney [who translated the tapes for the FBI] said that the quote from the Saddam aide, and scores of others, show Saddam was rebuilding his once-ample weapons stocks.

"The tapes show that Saddam rebuilt his program and successfully prevented the U.N. from finding out about it," he said.

There also exists a quote from the dictator himself, who ordered the tapings to keep a record of his inner-sanctum discussions, that Mr. Tierney thinks shows Saddam planned to use a proxy to attack the United States.

Of course he'd use a proxy. That way the anti-war Left would continue to insist that he had no ties to terrorism. Hussein knew his audience.

And stay tuned...

There is more to come. House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, told The Washington Times that about 500 hours of additional Saddam tapings are still being translated and analyzed by the U.S. In addition, in Qatar, U.S. Central Command's forward headquarters in the Persian Gulf, sit 48,000 boxes of Iraqi documents, of which the military has delivered 68 pages to the committee.

"I don't want to overstate what is in the documents," Mr. Hoekstra said. "I certainly want to get them out because I think people are going to find them very interesting."

He said the office of John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, is now weighing the congressman's request to release 40 of the 68 pages.

Of the tapes released so far, Mr. Hoekstra said, "Everything [Saddam] is doing is saying, 'Let's take it and hide it' with a clear intent. 'As soon as this is over, we're going to be back after this.' "

The article goes on to cite the evidence that the WMDs may indeed have been shipped to Syria, citing satellite photos. Even the Duelfer report acknowledged this possibility. Because, after all, this was a murderous dictator we're talking about.
Mr. Tierney said he thinks the regime poured chemical weapons into lakes and rivers and sent other stocks over the border to Syria. Mr. Tierney served as a U.N. weapons inspector in the 1990s.

"The ISG, they were lied to in a very systematic way," he said. "Lying. They were very good at it."

But will the press notice, and will the Left care?

Posted by Doug at 12:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 10, 2006

Drivers Education for Blind Students?

Chicago students are required to take drivers' education even if they are blind according to the Chicago Tribune (hat tip: Best of the Web):

Mayra Ramirez scored an A in driver's education this year, but sitting through the 10-week class felt like a bad joke to the Curie Metropolitan High School sophomore.

Ramirez is blind. She knows she's never going to drive. She can think of a lot of things she'd rather be studying than rules of the road, but she didn't have a choice.

Chicago Public Schools requires all sophomores to take the class and pass a written road-rules exam--a graduation requirement that affects about 30 blind and visually impaired students in specialized programs at Curie and Payton College Preparatory High.

"In other classes, you don't really feel different because you can do the work other people do," said Ramirez, 16. "But in driver's ed, it does give us the feeling we're different. In a way, it brought me down, because it reminds me of something I can't do."

State law requires that all districts offer driver's education, but does not mandate it as a graduation requirement. For the hundreds of high schools that do, there should be some exemption option for disabled students who cannot drive, a state education official said.

"It defies logic to require blind students to take this course ... and waste their academic time," said Meta Minton, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

Chicago's public schools have no such exemption. That is something the Curie and Payton students are pushing to change, through an advocacy program at the Blind Service Association.

Another fine example of taxpayer dollars at work in government schools. Perhaps this should be added to list of 101 reasons to homeschool your kids.

Posted by Tom at 10:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Are Democrats Losing the Black Vote?

Deroy Murdock notes the good things that have been happening in the black economic community under the Bush administration. His sub-heading is, "Will the Dems lose a reliable constituency this year?" My answer to that is "No", if you mean that in 2006 (and even 2008) the percentage split of black voters between Republican and Democrat will mirror the nation's at large. However, I have a feeling it'll continue the trend toward Republicans in both years. When you consider how most blacks voted against the same-sex marriage issue, in addition to Murdock's economic numbers, I think the wake-up call has been heard.

Posted by Doug at 01:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 07, 2006

China: Better or Worse on Religious Freedom

I've talked a bit before about the engagement vs. disengagement question with regards to China and my blogger-in-law Jim has discussed it, too. As I've noted, people whom I respect have come down on different sides of this issue. Some say that we shouldn't reward China's poor human rights record with Most Favored Nation trade status, as that is like giving the carrot without the threat of the stick. Why move if there's no downside to staying put? Others, like Jim, say that business is the foot in the door for, among other things, Christian evangelism. It's a Trojan Horse of sorts to bring in ministries that would otherwise be kept out. At the same time, this would keep the Chinese government in the international spotlight and bring pressure on them to improve their human rights record. This debate has been going on for a while. It's been a number of years since the Association of Christian Ministries in China worked with Congress to insure MFN status in China. It's now been a full year since China put in new religious affairs regulations, purportedly to bring more freedom in this area.

So how are things going?

One year after China’s Regulations on Religious Affairs came into force, Chinese citizens’ ability to exercise their right to freedom of religion remains as subject to arbitrary restrictions as ever, Human Rights Watch said today.

The regulations took effect on March 1, 2005. At the time they came into force, the Chinese government asserted that the national regulations, the first comprehensive set of regulations on religion in China, constituted “a significant step forward in the protection of Chinese citizens’ religious freedoms.”

However, local officials continue to repress religious activities that they determine to be outside the scope of the state-controlled religious system. Their decisions are often made arbitrarily and in a manner inconsistent with the right to freedom of belief or religion. Chinese officials continue to detain and arrest religious believers, close religious sites, and impose restrictions on the movements, contacts, visits, and correspondence of religious personnel.

“Chinese officials claim the new regulations safeguard religious freedom through the rule of law, but the intentional vagueness of the regulations allows for continued repression of disfavored individuals or groups,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “There’s nothing accidental about the vagueness – it gives officials the room they need to legitimize closing mosques, raiding religious meetings, ‘reeducating’ religious leaders, and censoring publications.”

Human Rights Watch said the most significant problem with the regulations is that arbitrariness is implanted in the text. The regulations state that “normal” religious activities are allowed, but then fail to define what the term “normal” means, leaving practitioners unclear about what is allowed and what is banned. The regulations also include other undefined key terms, such as “religious extremism,” “disturbing public order,” and “undermining social stability,” each of which only adds to the ambiguities and the potential arbitrariness of the application of the regulations.

The article lists further examples of how things haven't really changed much. My questions are:
  • In spite of the continued religious oppression, are mission organizations still finding significantly more opportunities?
  • If further opening of commerce to China hasn't worked to remove religious persecution, shouldn't we then use the stick and restrict it?
  • Now that American businesses have a bigger stake in the Chinese economy, do we even have the national will to restrict it? (My guess: No.)

This is a tough nut to crack. Consider this an open invitation for other Stones to post answers to these questions and contrary takes on the situation.

Posted by Doug at 09:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Global Warming "Connect the Dots" Game

I'm at a client site this week, and while watching CNN in the hotel room, I saw a commerial for the ECI folks that Jim has been writing on (and doing PR for). The commercial said--twice--that with God's help and our efforts we can "stop" global warming. With all deference to my blogger-in-law (who is not, I hasten to note, responsible for ad copy), this makes about as much sense as saying that we can pray enough to speed up global photosynthesis. I have two dots that have recently been reported on that need to be connected to demonstrate this.


Sun-spawned cosmic storms that can play havoc with earthly power grids and orbiting satellites could be 50 percent stronger in the next 11-year solar cycle than in the last one, scientists said on Monday.

German scientists have found a significant piece of evidence linking cosmic rays to climate change.

They have detected charged particle clusters in the lower atmosphere that were probably caused by the space radiation.

They say the clusters can lead to the condensed nuclei which form into dense clouds.

Clouds play a major, but as yet not fully understood, role in the dynamics of the climate, with some types acting to cool the planet and others warming it up.

The amount of cosmic rays reaching Earth is largely controlled by the Sun, and many solar scientists believe the star's indirect influence on Earth's global climate has been underestimated.

So there you have it. Connect the dots.

Posted by Doug at 08:11 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack