April 30, 2011

A vivid figure from my youth...

Last Crew Member on Kon-Tiki Expedition Dies:

...Knut Haugland was a Norwegian wartime hero and by the time he met Heyerdahl had already had a lifetime's worth of adventures. He had learned radio communications in the military, had become involved in the Norwegian resistance movement and had sabotaged a German heavy-water plant. He escaped the Gestapo twice and received countless medals of decoration for his bravery and war record.

And then he joined up with Heyerdahl for this adventure. Despite the reliance on primitive technology - the raft was built based on drawings dating back to the time of the conquistadores - the expedition allowed itself the luxury of a hand-cranked radio. Haugland spent much of the 101 days at sea briefing the outside world.

The balsawood raft was made without a single nail, screw or rivet, just like it would have been in ancient times. The boat had a single steering oar to control its direction, a small cabin, a mangrove wood mast and 2 sails.

The crew's diet consisted of fish, coconut milk, water kept in bamboo containers and the occasional shark. As one crewman said " We ate them before they ate us should we slip from the planks."

The trip took 101 days and and finally crashed into a reef in the Tuanotu Islands of French Polynesia. They had proved that the migration route was possible and that a raft could make it across the Pacific...

What a thrilling and charming book that was. Well, still is, I'm sure. I may re-read it. I was maybe 12 years old when I discovered it. I remember being amazed at how they would catch sharks by holding out whole fish and when the shark grabbed the fish and dived, its tail would flick up, and they'd grab it and pull! The shark's loose intestines would move towards its head, and it would loose consciousness. Then they could haul it aboard, and run for safety as it came awake and started snapping and biting.

The other fascinating thing about the sharks is that they could bite off half of a whole tuna, without the slightest tugging or worrying. they'd just slice right through.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:29 PM

April 25, 2011

"Something for something"

Welfare handouts aren't fair – and the public knows it - Telegraph:

...As we report today, Policy Exchange – supposedly the Prime Minister's favourite ideas outlet – has done a brave and unusual thing. Rather than polling the public just on policy and voting intention, it has put a far more abstract moral issue before them. It instructed the pollsters at YouGov to find out precisely what the public thought the most powerful term of approbation in the political lexicon – "fair" – actually amounted to.

The quite unequivocal reply that was received (with breathtakingly enormous majorities in some forms) came as no surprise to this column. To most voters, fairness does not mean an equal distribution of resources and wealth, or even a redistribution of these things according to need. It means, as the report's title – "Just Deserts" – implies, that people get what they deserve. And what is deserved, the respondents made clear, refers to that which is achieved by effort, talent or dedication to duty: in other words, earned on merit.

As I have written so often on this page, when ordinary people use the word "fair", they mean that you should get out of life pretty much what you put in. Or, as the report's authors put it, "Voters' idea of fairness is strongly reciprocal – something for something." By obvious inference, a "something for nothing" society is the opposite of fair. And this view, interestingly, is expressed by Labour voters in pretty much the same proportion as all others.

Imagine that. After all these years of being morally blackmailed by the poverty lobby, harried by socialist ideologues and shouted at by self-serving public sector axe-grinders, the people are not cowed. Even after being bludgeoned by the BBC thought monitors and browbeaten by Left-liberal media academics with the soft Marxist view of a "fair" society – from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs – they have not bought it. They do not believe that if people are poor, it is necessarily society's fault, and therefore society's duty to deal with the consequences....

Even commies don't believe that commie stuff about "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." Imagine the world's most dedicated socialist revolutionary. The one who thinks Pol Pot was a bit of a squish. Suppose his boss says, "Comrade X, you have done more than any other person to advance the revolution. And you will be pleased to know that we are giving the promotion and pay-raise you deserve to Comrade Y, who needs the money more than you do." Ha ha. Smile brother, you believe your theory, don't you?

Posted by John Weidner at 3:38 PM

April 24, 2011

Why do we begin with the Creation?

From Pope Benedict XVI's Easter Vigil Homily:

...At the Easter Vigil, the journey along the paths of sacred Scripture begins with the account of creation. This is the liturgy's way of telling us that the creation story is itself a prophecy. It is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being. The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this. They did not interpret the story as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being.

Now, one might ask: is it really important to speak also of creation during the Easter Vigil? Could we not begin with the events in which God calls man, forms a people for himself and creates his history with men upon the earth? The answer has to be: no. To omit the creation would be to misunderstand the very history of God with men, to diminish it, to lose sight of its true order of greatness. The sweep of history established by God reaches back to the origins, back to creation.

Our profession of faith begins with the words: "We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth". If we omit the beginning of the Credo, the whole history of salvation becomes too limited and too small. The Church is not some kind of association that concerns itself with man's religious needs but is limited to that objective. No, she brings man into contact with God and thus with the source of all things. Therefore we relate to God as Creator, and so we have a responsibility for creation. Our responsibility extends as far as creation because it comes from the Creator.

Only because God created everything can he give us life and direct our lives. Life in the Church's faith involves more than a set of feelings and sentiments and perhaps moral obligations. It embraces man in his entirety, from his origins to his eternal destiny. Only because creation belongs to God can we place ourselves completely in his hands. And only because he is the Creator can he give us life for ever. Joy over creation, thanksgiving for creation and responsibility for it all belong together....
Posted by John Weidner at 7:49 AM

April 23, 2011

Can she call 'em, or can she call 'em?

Rush Limbaugh on IPAB: The Death Panels:

...The president's healthcare legislation imposed a hard spending cap on Medicare, the first time it has ever had one -- which he has just proposed lowering by another one-half of 1 percent of GDP (a further cut of about $70 billion a year). Obama�s cuts, which will take effect immediately, are to be administered by his newly created Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB)."

Now, folks, you're going to hearing IPAB, Independent Payment Advisory Board. You're going to be hearing a lot more about IPAB in the days and weeks ahead, and I want to tell you today, April the 20th, what IPAB is. IPAB is the death panels. That's all you need to know. Don't doubt me. IPAB is where the rationing will take place. "The Independent Payment Advisory Board, 15 members appointed by the president. Its recommendations for cuts in Medicare services or for reductions in reimbursement will not be subject to congressional approval but will take effect by administrative fiat. Right now."

IPAB is the death panel. IPAB is rationing of health care. And again, just to tell you what it is, "The Independent Payment Advisory Board, 15 members appointed by the president. Its recommendations for cuts in Medicare services or for reductions in reimbursement will not be subject to congressional approval but will take effect by administrative fiat. Right now." Obama's Medicare cuts, the death panels, the rationing, starts now. That's why the seniors in the USA Today story just previous to this were granted a waiver from it because it's drastic, it's rationing, and it wasn't supposed to happen 'til 2013, but now, you know, it's happening before the election, it's not the way it was supposed to happen, it's been elevated some or sped up. So here comes a waiver. ...

Actually, the question was very easy, if one is thinking clearly. (A skill you can learn by reading RJ.) ANY system of health care will ration care, for the obvious reason that resources are not unlimited. And the whole idea of government running anything is for bureaucrats to make decisions in any matter of allocating resources. Therefor ANY government health care system will end up with death panels.

The interesting thing about Sarah Palin is not that she's brilliant, although she's obviously pretty sharp. It is that she sees things clearly. That's much more important in a leader than intellectual brilliance. And quite rare. Actually the idea that the smartest people should put in charge and allowed great power is just socialism. And it fails every time.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:56 AM

April 22, 2011

As religions go, this is a really stupid one...

It's perhaps a bit unfair to flog a dead horse such as "Earth Day," but there could hardly be a better example of how bad philosophy leads one into cosmic stupidity...

"We have about five more years at the outside to do something."
• Kenneth Watt, ecologist

"Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind."
• George Wald, Harvard Biologist

"We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation."
• Barry Commoner, Washington University biologist

"Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction."
• New York Times editorial, the day after the first Earth Day

"Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years."
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist
"By...[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s."
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

"It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,"
• Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day

"Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions....By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine."
• Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University

"Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support...the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution...by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...."
• Life Magazine, January 1970

"At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it's only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable."
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

"Air pollution is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone."
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

"We are prospecting for the very last of our resources and using up the nonrenewable things many times faster than we are finding new ones."
• Martin Litton, Sierra Club director

"By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate...that there won't be any more crude oil. You'll drive up to the pump and say, 'Fill 'er up, buddy,' and he'll say, 'I am very sorry, there isn't any.'"
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

"Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct."
• Sen. Gaylord Nelson

"The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age."
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist
Posted by John Weidner at 9:01 PM

April 20, 2011

"lying, self-serving twaddle"

Glenn on the curious lack of anti-war demonstrations...

...Yeah, it's as if all that self-righteous moralism, and cries of war criminal and illegal wars and concentration camps at Gitmo was just a lot of lying, self-serving twaddle by people who really just wanted power for their team. Who knew?...

All that trouble building those giant puppets, and then they have to learn to love the war. It's rough being a pacifist!

Smelly hippie lights cig on burning American flag
Posted by John Weidner at 11:02 PM

April 19, 2011

Very pretty star map...

Take a look at 32 Nearby Stars, by Krystian Majewski. It's a charming grid representation of every star within 14 light years of the sun. You can move it with your mouse, and hovering over a star gives you its name.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:52 AM

April 16, 2011

Sign on and ship out...

For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the fountains, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.
      -- Ezekiel 34:11-16

"I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out." If the Christian story is true, then that's a simple statement of what happened. People shrug their shoulders, and give the matter no thought, a deadness of spirit I find bewildering. For me, if I knew for a fact that there was only a one-in-a-thousand chance that this gonzo thing was true, I'd still sign on and ship out, no question. All else is dross.

Medieval carving, God chastises Adam and Eve. At The Palace of the Legion of Honor, SF
A cool medieval wood carving, God Chastises Adam and Eve. I saw this at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, SF.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:11 PM

April 14, 2011

"There never was a there there."

Roger Simon, President Boring:

...But what is it about Obama that makes him so boring? I submit it is something quite simple — he has nothing to say. He is a boring person, the quintessential "hollow man" in the T.S. Eliot sense. He is kind of a socialist, kind of a liberal, kind of a multi-culturalist, kind of an environmentalist, kind of globalist, kind of a budget cutter — but none of them with any real commitment. Basically, he's a vague and uncommitted person pretending to be otherwise. He is the man that voted "present," now in the presidency. The fact that he never specified the targets of “hope” and "change"� during his election was far from a campaign ploy and more typical than we ever dreamed. There never was a there there. And now, I strongly suspect, there never will be....

I remember trying to point out to Obama fans that if a guy is in his mid-forties, and hasn't accomplished anything... he isn't going to start accomplishing things even if you make him President of the US. People show what they are. You cant help it. If there was anything to Obama, he would have already done something exciting with his life.

He's really the ultimate condemnation of "affirmative action."

Posted by John Weidner at 9:49 PM

April 11, 2011

"Oh look, Spring Spheres!"

There's a bunch of things one might say about this bit of lunacy (feel free) but the first one that pops into my mind is, these people are afraid! The old lady getting up on a chair because there's a mouse on the floor is brave compared to these doofuses. Yet I bet if you asked them they'd say that their atheist/secularist positions are brave, because, you see, they aren't "using religion as a crutch." They are fearlessly, without illusions, facing a vast cold cosmos, blah blah blahbitty blah. Just don't threaten them with a chocolate egg!

Seattle school renames Easter eggs 'Spring Spheres' - Seattle News - MyNorthwest.com:

...Jessica, 16, told KIRO Radio's Dori Monson Show that a week before spring break, the students commit to a week-long community service project. She decided to volunteer in a third grade class at a public school, which she would like to remain nameless.

"At the end of the week I had an idea to fill little plastic eggs with treats and jelly beans and other candy, but I was kind of unsure how the teacher would feel about that," Jessica said.

She was concerned how the teacher might react to the eggs after of a meeting earlier in the week where she learned about "their abstract behavior rules."

"I went to the teacher to get her approval and she wanted to ask the administration to see if it was okay," Jessica explained. "She said that I could do it as long as I called this treat 'spring spheres.' I couldn't call them Easter eggs."

Rather than question the decision, Jessica opted to "roll with it." But the third graders had other ideas.

"When I took them out of the bag, the teacher said, 'Oh look, spring spheres' and all the kids were like 'Wow, Easter eggs.' So they knew," Jessica said.

The Seattle elementary school isn't the only government organization using spring over Easter. The city's parks department has removed Easter from all of its advertised egg hunts....

St Mary magdalen with miraculous egg that turned red

(The icon portrays an old legend that Mary Magdalene was carrying eggs when she discovered the Resurecton of Christ, and the eggs turned red.)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:09 PM

Scientists are always advocates...

Dr Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, in an interesting talk on how science actually works...

Thanks to Bishop Hill

Posted by John Weidner at 3:05 PM

April 7, 2011

Industrial Age crack-up...

I've been a poor blogger lately partly because of some other things I've been writing. I'm going to try out a bit of the other stuff on the blog here, and you may feel free to criticize...

This is from some developing thoughts on the Catholic Church as an institution which, among many other institutions, is facing challenges because we are moving from the Industrial Age into the Information Age. [NOTE: I'm intentionally neglecting spiritual factors, and treating the Church here as just another organization. This is, of course, just part of the story, and not the most interesting part.]

We are entering a new age, sometimes called the Information Age, and lots of older groups and institutions and models are changing or dying. Including many Catholic entities.

It is very important to realize that many of the things we think of as typically Catholic were in fact invented in the last century or two, in response to the new possibilities and new wealth opened up by the growth of industry.

For instance we lament the ongoing collapse of the great orders of religious sisters who used to teach and nurse. The truth is that the Church existed for 18 centuries in which female religious were far fewer than male. Those orders and their tasks were mostly innovations from the time of Queen Victoria! The 19th and early 20th centuries were when mass education and mass access to hospitals were invented. The Industrial Age both made them possible, and required them, in order to have a higher quality of workers and managers. The Church was inventing them, and secular institutions and Protestant churches were busy inventing the same things at exactly the same time.

And both the church and the secular world staffed these burgeoning new institutions with large numbers of women. Women who typically lived lives dedicated to service, usually with some degree of poverty, and often without marrying. In other words, poverty, chastity and obedience!

Look at this picture. What does it make you think of? It is in fact purely secular; the young woman is a Red Cross nurse of the time of WWI. (This is a painting by the Swedish artist Carl Larsson, of his daughter Suzanne.) School teachers of the time often had a somewhat similar flavor—we've all heard of the prim starched spinster schoolmarm.

The industrial Age gave us our public school systems, and also what we now think of as a "normal"� Catholic parish, with attached school and convent.

And these models all started breaking down at the same time! Breaking down along with many other Industrial Age institutions.

My father was on the board of trustees of a hospital when I was young. (St Jude, in Fullerton, CA.) And, some time around the early 60's, they were having trouble with some very unhappy nurses. He told me that the board had realized with a bit of shock that they were paying their nurses less than their janitors! That was the old model, and it wasn't going to work anymore. Changes had to be made.

The timing? I don't remember precisely, but it was roughly the same time as the Second Vatican Council! And simultaneous with that, the teaching profession was changing drastically. Men were taking up teaching in ever larger numbers, and expecting wages that would support families. That was the time of the unwise decisions to have a Department of Education, and to allow the creation of teacher's unions.

So, much as I might like to criticize liberal folly (and there was an appalling lot of it) for deconstructing the orders of sisters, I suspect that much that happened in the second half of the 20th Century was going to happen one way or another no matter what the Church did.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:57 PM

April 5, 2011

Too busy to blog, but here's another quote...

Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things. It is the continuing revolution of the marketplace. It is the understanding that allows us to recognize shortcomings and seek solutions. It is the right to put forth an idea, scoffed at by the experts, and watch it catch fire among the people. It is the right to dream--to follow your dream or stick to your conscience, even if you're the only one in a sea of doubters.

      -- Ronald Reagan
Pope John-Paul II
Posted by John Weidner at 10:50 AM

April 4, 2011

I love being on the right side (in both senses of the word)

Breaking: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to Be Tried by Military Commission at Guantanamo:

... John Yoo:
It has taken two years for the Obama administration to snap out of its never-never land approach to national security. But by announcing a reversal�on their plans for civilian trials of terrorists including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, they are implicitly confessing that their campaign attacks on the Bush administration were wrong and that decisions like opening Gitmo and military commission trials are the best balance of security needs and protections for liberty.�Military courts will provide a fair trial and allow the United States to protect intelligence secrets, which are the most important weapon in this war. I still believe, however, that the administration has yet to prove that it can run terror trials successfully, and until thy do, the best choice is still to capture more al Qaeda leaders rather than kill them, and to detain them while exploiting the information that they have....
Posted by John Weidner at 11:08 AM

April 3, 2011

"All things and all deeds have a value in themselves"

Excerpt from a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher, 10 April 1944 (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien , edited by Humphrey Carpenter)

I sometimes feel appalled at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at the present moment: The millions parted, fretting, wasting in unprofitable days - quite apart from torture, pain, death, bereavement, injustice. If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed vision of the heavens! And the products of it all will be mainly evil - historically considered. But the historic version is, of course, not the only one. All things and all deeds have a value in themselves, apart from their "causes" and "effects." No man can estimate what is really happening sub specie aeternitatis*. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labors with vast power and perpetual success - in vain: preparing always the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:50 AM