May 312008

NYT: “Deal to return children to sect breaks down

  • A deal?   Who said anything about a deal?   The Texas state supreme court ruled that the state acted without authority when it confiscated the children.   End of story.   What’s there to break down?
  • I thought the children were to be returned to their parents, not to a sect.

Still, plans for the release had seemed to be moving toward resolution in her courtroom. Then came the snag over conditions.

Under one provision, the parents would have had to stay in close touch with state child protection officials and could have been subjected to visits by inspectors and state caseworkers at any time.

Further, in the absence of results from recently administered DNA tests, families were asked to sign affidavits agreeing to take from the state only their own children. They would also have had to take parenting classes.

I have a better idea.  How about if the state child confiscation officials who did this deed sign an affidavit agreeing not to act without authority in the future, and agree not to have contact with other peoples’ children until they’ve shown evidence of good behavior.   How about if they be required to take classes on the Bill of Rights?

May 292008

Alan Jacobs at The American Scene argues with the “freetards.”

That’s a new term for me. I think I’ll steal it and use it myself without paying any license fees for it.

His first article on the subject was titled, “My writing doesn’t want to be free.” He credits the Fake Steve Jobs for the term.

Jacobs questions the applicability of the method whereby bands give away free music as a kind of loss leader. That idea is one that comes up a lot in these discussions — the freetards tell us to give away our writing/music/software for free and make money on X.

So here’s my question: If giving away your stuff on the internet as free loss-leading MP3 files or PDF’s is a virtuous way to sell something else, how come in international trade it’s considered evil? There they call it dumping or predatory pricing, and there are treaties and laws against it. It can be argued that authors who give away stuff for free are hurting others who’d like to sell their goods just as much as those countries who sell lead ingots below price in order to drive competitors from the market.

May 272008

Sunday afternoon I listened to a horrible book on an otherwise nice bike ride. The book was “The John Deere Way: Performance that Endures” by David Magee.

John Deere has always had a positive image in my mind, at least until yesterday. Hearing an old Johnny Popper will bring back good memories from when I was a kid; even more so for my wife, who was raised on an Iowa farm where she sometimes drove one. A toy-sized John Deere tractor has an honored place in our bedroom, even if it isn’t the type of Model B that she had on the farm. John Deere makes good, though not inexpensive, lawn tractors.


People put signs like this in their yards. I saw two of them yesterday, one at a working farm, and the other at a former farmstead. I understand.

But unfortunately the name John Deere is now going to be associated in my mind with that book. It supposedly was written by an independent author, not a corporate flack. Perhaps it’s a good thing, because your average corporate PR drone probably could not stomach his/her craft taken to such an extreme.

I don’t know what point size was used in the written version, but I’ll bet it set a record for the most corporate platitudes per square inch, most of them repeated over and over again. There were phrases delivered straight, like “John Deere works to deliver higher productivity,” “commitment to products,” “founding tenets: quality, innovation, integrity, commitment,” and “striking design and bold new power in tractors.” For informative content, we are given things like, “[John Deere] was first to add pride to productivity for farmers.”

The phrase, “for example” is used several times in the book, but is never followed by anything very true-to-life and not obviously vetted by the top corporate levels. Early in the book we learned that a lot of Deere employees stay with the company a long time. We are told the younger ones learn by example from the older ones, but we are not given an example of how that really works.

A tiny bit of useful information leaked out when the author/corporate message contradicted itself. We learn that John Deere carried many of its customers through the bad years of the Depression, and that it has a history of supporting its dealers through bad times when they have unsold inventory. But while we’re told about continuity and the original core values of business, and how “the new has built on strengths of the old,” we also learn that the very newest way of this decade is basically turning the old on its head. The company is now going to emphasize the return to shareholders, and that means no more providing interest-free loans to dealers, and basically no more Mr. Nice Guy. It’s going the way of most large corporations in the current environment. I can’t begrudge John Deere for having to go a new direction, but it would be nice if the corporate line, channeled through David Magee, was not about how there is a John Deere way.

John Deere can be thankful that most people will never even hear of this sycophantic book.

May 232008

I got to wondering if there were any Wikipedia articles containing substantial text sections that didn’t also have one of those obnoxious little notes: “Please help improve this article or section by expanding it” or “The neutrality of this section is disputed” or “You can improve this article by introducing more precise citations” or “This article does not cite any references or sources”.

By clicking on the “Random article” selection, I found that there are actually quite a few. Whether that means these are articles that meet the standards of these self-appointed nannies, or whether they are merely articles they just haven’t found yet, I don’t know.

May 212008

I really, truly did LOL at this one from the Postmodern Conservative, about the idea that with Hillary as Vice President, Bill could be appointed to her Senate seat.

‘Two for the price’ of one sucked eggs back in 1992. Without Hillary, Bill would have avoided both of the signature embarrassing failures of his Presidency: health care and adultery. Like the boy on the playground who’s a little too old for his grade, there is no safe public place to put Bill Clinton; he will always be looking for someone’s sandbox to traipse through, some game of hopscotch to mess up, some skirt on the monkeybars to find himself standing under.

Maybe it struck me as funny now because back in the day I used to compare Bill Clinton’s thugs to playground bullies who push little kids to the ground and taunt them for not being able to stand up and walk.

May 202008


What does this photo have to do with Anna Karenina, you may ask? (Or not.)

The photo is from last weekend’s bike ride, and is also posted over at The Spokesrider. I was listening to Liza Knapp’s lecture on Giants of Russian literature while slogging into the wind on the day I took that photo, but that isn’t exactly the connection I had in mind.

What I was thinking of was the part where Knapp describes Anna’s death. Anna made the sign of the cross just before her suicide under a train, and it was a redemptive moment. The act of making the sign brought back a flood of connections from her youth, and she asked forgiveness in that moment.

Although I’m a Lutheran Christian, I do not go in for making the sign of the cross, or a whole bunch of other ritualistic and ceremonial stuff other than the two sacraments. And I probably wouldn’t do those if they weren’t a direct command. I was brought up in more of a puritanistic version of protestantism that avoided emphasis on external rituals and ceremonies. I didn’t encounter the more liturgical type of Lutheranism until college.

But I find it fascinating how our religion is very materialistic, and not exclusively spiritual. There are material things like bread and wine in the sacraments. We’re taught to pray for daily bread. We’ve taken a technological invention (writing) and made something sacred out of it.

And Liza Knopp’s explanation of that part of Tolstoi’s work showed me another connection between the material and the sacred. I don’t think I’ll start making the sign of the cross myself at this point in my life, but I can now be more than merely tolerant of those who do it, and respect what such actions can do.

I do not know if Liza Knopp is a Christian, but she certainly has a good understanding of the Christian aspects of Doestoevsky, Tolstoi, and (in a way) Chekov. (I’m just now getting to her lectures on Chekov.) I wish I had had her as a literature instructor back when I was in college — a Lutheran college. The instructors I had were good enough, but she has some insights that would have been a great addition to the kind of religious education a college like mine was trying to provide. (I still am grumpy about the fact that I never learned about C.S. Lewis until years after I graduated. I should have learned about him and his type of apologetics in college. And now I’m learning from Liza Knopp about other things I should have learned then. But better late than never, etc.)

Oh, I almost forgot to explain the connection with an Amish small engine shop. Well, the sign is one that maybe can correct a common misconception about the Amish and technology. The Amish aren’t against technology. They are always adopting new technologies. But they are very careful and deliberate about it — careful about the effect they may have on family, social, and spiritual life. That’s where the connection is. It’s another arena in which a material thing  (in this case a gasoline engine) has an impact on spiritual life.

May 202008

Research by the American Association of University Women shows that boys have not “paid a price for the gains girls have made in the classroom. ” “‘There is in fact no boys’ crisis,’ [says] Linda Hallman, the AAUW’s executive director. ‘We are blowing the myth out the door.'” (WSJ URL here.)

In other news, research funded by Exxon shows that global warming is a hoax.

May 192008

I don’t often listen to audio books when I’m on a bike ride on roads where I’ve never been before, but yesterday on the way home from a two-day outing I was slogging into a stiff wind, and besides, some of the roads were already familiar to me. So I listened to more of Liza Knapp’s lecture on Giants of Russian Literature. It’s something I got on MP3 through my library’s Netlibrary subscription.

My hopes were not high when I learned that a book of hers had been selected by Oprah for her book club. But I have to say that I am quite impressed by this lecture. (And my wife now tells me that some of Oprah’s books are good, anyway. She told me that one of them was “Cry, the Beloved Country,” a book that she knew I liked.)

I had “read” only one of the books she had been talking about. Last year I “read” Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I put the word in quotes, because I listened to it on audio. Well, I had once listened to Notes from the Underground, too.

I don’t read much fiction, anyway, no matter how great. But now I am being inspired to go out and read more of Dostoevsky, AND more of what Knapp has written about them. And maybe to keep learning Russian so I can slog through some of these books in the original.

May 192008

McCain is true to form, sharpening his knives for carrying out his administration’s agenda, which will be to stab conservatives in the back at every opportunity.

But what to make of James Dobson, who wants to have a private meeting with him. Dobson has already indicated he won’t support McCain. What difference would a meeting make? Does Dobson want McCain to tell him special things in secret that he won’t say in public? Does he want some secret agreement? Is he willing to sell his vote and his support in exchange for some secret promise?

Religious leaders would be better off not endorsing candidates, anyway. They lose their moral credibility even when they support good candidates, because sometimes those candidates are going to do things they should not be part of. They can instead speak out on principles, e.g. the value of human life, and then let their followers learn how to incorporate those principles in their lives by deciding for themselves what to do at the ballot box. That’s how to create a strong movement that has deep roots.

Here’s from Novak’s article:

An invitation for Sen. John McCain to meet with evangelical leader James Dobson at his Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., so far has been rebuffed by the McCain campaign.

Dobson has indicated he cannot support McCain for president. His opposition reflects continued resistance to the prospective presidential nominee among Christian conservatives. They take issue with McCain’s current positions on stem cell research, immigration and global warming, as well as his past sponsorship of campaign finance reform.

May 142008

Yesterday I started reading the 1990 edition of Robert Conquest’s, “The Great Terror.” I had long known about Conquest’s work, but had never read any before.

In a way I’m glad I waited until after I watched a lot of Russian movies. Not that Russian movies give an accurate portrayal of life in the Soviet Union any more than American movies give an accurate portrayal of life in our country. But they give me a picture of how the authorities wanted the Revolution to be seen, and (more importantly) of what sort of portrayal the population needed to see in order to be part of it. And now more than ever before, I see all the players as real people.

One thing that’s surprising to me is how much dissent there was in high places in the Communist Party in the late 20s and early 30s. I had known about Mensheviks, and I had known about people like Trotsky, but not about this. Chapter 1, which follows a long chapter of Introduction, tells us, referring to one of the opposition groups that were led by people who had been Stalin’s followers:

They seem to have circulated a memoir criticizing the regime for economic adventurism, stifling the initiative of the workers, and bullying treatment of the people by the Party. Lominadze had referred to the “lordly feudal attitude to the needs of the peasants.”

There is a lot more like that.

In the Introduction there is a good section summarizing the crackdown on the people. It points out that the starvation of perhaps 10 million people, mostly in the Ukraine, was not an accidental byproduct of Moscow-centered economic policies, but a deliberate attempt to show the people who was boss.

There seems little doubt that the main issue was simply crushing the peasantry, and the Ukranians, at any cost. On ehigh official told a Ukrainian who later defected that the 1933 harvest “was a test of our strength and their endurance. It took a famine to show them who is master here. It has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay. We have won the war.”

It was an important learning experience not only for the peasantry, but for the police and Party officials. It prepared them for what was to follow.