Monday, March 28, 2005

Simon Cowell is good for Self-Esteem

Accompanied by a rather frightening illustration of Paula Abdul, Bret Stephens' WSJ editorial last Friday focuses on "American Idol," and suggests that the real star of the show is Simon Cowell, not because he's a particularly pleasant individual, but because he's "judgmental."

Of the three judges, Stephens has this to say about Randy Jackson:

He is strictly about performance. If a singer does poorly, he'll complain she was "pitchy"; if she does well, then she's Mr. Jackson's Dawg: "You were hot, man: I give you props for that." In the Jackson world view, either you succeeded or you didn't, but no performer's feelings will ever be hurt by a word he says because it's all about the singing, never about the singer.

I'd also like to add this: Randy Jackson needs to build a bigger vocabulary. A'ight, dawg?

Of Paula Abdul, Stephens says:

Although she is the only performer among the judges, she never seems to care about the performances themselves. What she cares about is each contestant's "potential": She wants them to feel proud no matter what. If she were a pedagogue, she'd be into social promotion; her fundamental belief is self-belief. It certainly took her far.

And Paula Adbul certainly seems to enjoy her role. Watch closely and you will often see her leaping to her feet and groovin' along with the contestants. She'll also swoon dramatically if some crooner makes her weak in the knees. And she also seems to be the most emotionally invested in the contestants, and perhaps it's because as a performer herself she remembers all too well the cold hand of judgment.

But the cold hand of judgment is what's needed sometimes, and that's where Cowell comes in:

And then there is Mr. Cowell, the daddy who is not afraid to spank the children. . . . The greater part of Mr. Cowell's appeal, however, is his honesty. . . . of sparing people from the worst of themselves. "I met someone the other night who's 28 years old," Mr. Cowell said once, "and he hasn't worked a day since he left college because he's pursuing a dream he'll never, ever realize: He thinks he's a great singer. Actually, he's crap. But nobody has said to him, 'Why have you been wasting your time for eight years?'"

Sure, Simon's harsh judgments garner him lots of boos from the audience, but aren't his judgments exactly what some people need to hear?

Back in February, USA Today had this interesting article on how the seeds sown by the "Self-Esteem Movement" back in the 70s have now grown:

Kids born in the '70s and '80s are now coming of age. The colorful ribbons and shiny trophies they earned just for participating made them feel special. But now, in college and the workplace, observers are watching them crumble a bit at the first blush of criticism.

"I often get students in graduate school doing doctorates who made straight A's all their lives, and the first time they get tough feedback, the kind you need to develop skills," says Deborah Stipek, dean of education at Stanford University. "I have a box of Kleenex in my office because they haven't dealt with it before."

. . .

Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, says he had "high hopes" for the benefits of boosting self-esteem when he began studying it more than 30 years ago. But his lengthy review of 18,000 articles, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, ended with the realization that only two clear benefits emerge from high self-esteem: enhanced initiative, which boosts confidence, and increased happiness. "There is not nearly as much benefit as we hoped," he says. "It's been one of the biggest disappointments of my career."

I don't find any of this particularly surprising. Nor did Orson Scott Card, who wrote on the subject in his Jan. 23rd column at Card manages to bring in both American Idol and the Baumeister study which was the subject of an article in the January issue of Scientifc American.

Roy F. Baumeister, Jennifer D. Campbell, Joachim I. Krueger and Kathleen D. Vohs published an article in the January 2005 Scientific American titled "Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth."

Their method was not so much research as a review of research.

They went through all the published research on self-esteem and immediately eliminated all the studies that depended on self-reporting along.

Here's the problem: If somebody reports that they have a very positive self-image, and then tells you that he is very successful in his job and his social life, what have you actually learned?

That people who have a high opinion of themselves have a high opinion of themselves.


. . .

There is no statistically significant connection between high self-esteem and genuine achievement, ability, or successfulness. Not in the real world.

Except in one area: Making new acquaintances like you. If you have high self-esteem, you're probably a little bit better at making friends (though it's not inevitable -- just slightly more likely).

Card doesn't suggest completely eliminating "You can do it!" boosterism, but says it's important to strike a balance between building up esteem and leveling the necessary critique. Failing to provide the honest truth, Card says, is actually a selfish act, which I think is an interesting way to look at it.

The truth might hurt at the moment -- but nowhere near as badly as seeing themselves made ridiculous in front of an audience of millions.

Yet I can also understand their friends and family. It's so much easier just to say, "Sure, you're great, you're wonderful" and then change the subject. No confrontation. No moments of unhappiness that you've caused.

Praising people who have done nothing to deserve praise is the lazy, selfish thing to do. It makes them like you while setting them up for embarrassment and failure later.

He closes with some good advice:

Here's what works: You teach children the connection between work and achievement.

Great achievements aren't made by feeling good about yourself. They're made by boldness, originality, hard work, painstaking attention to detail, long practice, self-effacing cooperation, reliability, and a host of other attributes and actions.

Whom would you rather hire to work for you? The person who thinks he's wonderful all the time, regardless of what he does, or the person who is always questioning the quality of his own work and trying to do better?

. . .

Children need encouragement -- but they also need realistic assessments of their current level of achievement so they know what they need to work on.

The people who know them best and love them most are in the best position to do this.

. . .

Praise real achievements, however small, and you help a child. Praise him regardless of achievement, and you do damage, either to your own credibility or to the child's ability to know himself well enough to improve.

This is so obvious it shouldn't even need saying.

Probably. But it's always good to hear people say it.

Boo Simon Cowell if you like, but he might just be doing these contestants a favor.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Screwtape proposes another toast

I'd been meaning to link to this after The Anchoress pointed it out. Meghan Cox Gurdon, writing at the National Review Online, does a superb job imagining what C. S. Lewis's netherworld bureaucrat Screwtape might have to say about many modern moral issues, such as embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and Terri Schiavo. The key to unlocking the worst in the human heart, says Gurdon's Screwtape, is vanity.

"Vanity is a rusty key that was left lying about, and it was I alone who saw what it could unlock at this point in human history."

"It is true," Screwtape continues with a shrug, "that much of the groundwork was already laid. We had already convinced people of the rightness of destroying inconvenient life. Now they talk quite coolly of "blastocysts," and "clumps of cells" and "surplus embryos." My genius was to recognize that they needed just a little push to be convinced, with their mania for recycling, that by harvesting something that would otherwise be chucked out, they are doing a positive good! Think of it: They believe they occupy "the moral high ground." Oh, the profits for us — "

Go here for the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

We are all Terri Schiavo

Just in case you need some perspective on the Terri Schiavo case, Noel at Sharp Knife, is happy to provide. (Hat tip: What Attitude Problem)

If Terry Schiavo had only starred in "Superwoman", we'd find a way not to kill her.

If she were a corporation, we'd indict the Chief Financial Officer--her HINO (husband-in-name-only).

If she were a killer, she'd be protected under the supreme court's ban on executing the retarded.

If she were a terrorist, Teddy Kennedy would be making blistering speeches on the Senate floor condemning her torture-by-starvation.

If she were a teen-aged murderer, she'd be spared execution under the 'Cruel & Unusual' clause.

If she were Scott Peterson, she'd get an automatic appeal...and 20 more years of life.

If she were a beached dolphin, we'd demand not just her feeding, but that heroic measures be taken.

If she were in Guantanamo, we'd see to it that she had appropriate meals and medical care.

If she were on another Death Row, her parents and her priest would be allowed visitation.

. . .

And if we hadn't been desensitized by three decades of the Death Culture . . .

would we even ask "If"?

Though we often refer to modern society as a "culture of death," never has death been less present than it is today. We no longer routinely face death. Death occurs in hospitals and nursing homes where the elderly and infirm are hidden away from society. Because we do not regularly bear witness to the ravages of disease and decay upon our bodies, I might suggest that on the whole we Americans are ill-equipped to face it when it comes.

For this reason, opinions on the Terri Schiavo case do not seem to follow the usual conservative/liberal political opinions (except perhaps in Congress where pandering to one's perceived constituencies is part of the job description). Friends who self-identify as liberal/left have also lined up in support of Terri Schiavo's parents. Friends who lean rightward are also insistent that she be "let go."

Because deep down we fear crippling infirmity, . . . because we are not equipped to deal with it, . . . because we look at Terri Schiavo and recognize that "there but for the grace of God go I," we wish to "end her suffering." Because we would never want to live like that, we believe it's best that no one else has to live like that either.

Because we have accepted the ideal of "quality of life," and have drawn our own arbitrary lines marking the point at which quality of life ends, we are entirely willing to draw that line for others as well.

The reason so many people support ending Terri Schiavo's life is because we are all potential Terri Schiavos, and it scares the crap out of us.

Monday, March 21, 2005

To whom much (snow) is given, much (shoveling) is expected

Sorry, for the long break. I'm still trying to find a balance between real life and blogworld. Real life always wins, which is how it should be. Besides, it was the weekend, and you expected me to sit in my basement office, blathering away about politics and culture, while outside there's so much shoveling to do? (There's always shoveling in blogworld, of course.)

Anyway, what did I tell you about March?

Friday an honest-to-goodness blizzard blew in, knocking us back to January. And Saturday morning we awoke to discover a smooth, flawless ocean of white covering the front yard from house to street, with no discernable lines of demarcation separating the yard from the sidewalk from the driveway.

I kissed my wife and child goodbye, and headed outdoors to start the process.

The drift in front of the garage was easily surmounted, but the snowblower was not in proper working order anyway, so out came the cheapie shovel.

On the last few trips to the hardware store, I have had my eye on a very fine shovel. A veritable "Firebolt 3000" of a shovel, with a price to match. Here's where my practical side always triumphs. I cannot reason spending $30 on a shovel no matter how good it is. In the end, it's just a shovel, it has a humble purpose, and there is no good reason one needs a Lexus when a Chevelle will do.

So a couple years ago I bought the cheap plastic Shovelle, merely as an auxilliary to the snowblower. Snowblower for the driveway and sidewalks; Shovelle for the steps.

But with the snowblower on the fritz, the Shovelle has been pressed into service for the heavy jobs.

"I'd help," my wife said, "but we only have one shovel."

"That's okay," I said, "I don't expect you to be shoveling snow in your condition anyway," I added, achieving both chivalry and martyrdom in one brief statement.

And it was bad. Heavy, deep. The biggest snowstorm we had all winter. In March.

Oh, how I groaned and complained! (Or was that my back?)

I also battled with envy as neighbors up and down the block started their snowblowers and quickly and efficiently cleared their driveways. Didn't they see me struggling? Couldn't they spare just a few moments to help their neighbor in distress?

Last year when my snowblower was working just fine, I would clear the sidewalk on our whole side of the block. You'd think one of my neighbors would return the favor.

Across the street, Sam was clearing his steps with his own shovel. If not for me, how about for Sam? Sam's the patriarch of the neighborhood. He was the first resident here back in the 40s. I couldn't believe these people with snowblowers would let Sam try to shovel all the heavy, wet snow from his driveway.

I kept my eye on Sam as I contined to shovel. Just in case he went down, I wanted to be ready to call 911. But then the guilt started in on me. What kind of neighbor was I that I let this elderly gentleman shovel his own driveway? Shouldn't I set aside my own shoveling to go help Sam? I continued to shovel, thinking bad thoughts about the people with snowblowers and then thinking bad thoughts about myself.

And then I looked up and noticed that Sam had disappeared. Had he fallen? I craned my neck to see if I could spot him sprawled on the sidewalk.

And at that moment he came out of his garage pushing his own snowblower.

So I started thinking bad thoughts about Sam.

Then a neighbor from a few houses away started clearing the city sidewalk, slowly making his way down the block. Hooray! My telepathic thoughts had been received! He cleared his own sidewalk, . . . then the sidewalk in front of the house two doors down . . . then the sidewalk in front of our next-door neighbors, . . . and as he reached the edge of our driveway where our property line began, . . . he turned around and went back up the block. He never came back.

So I grabbed my shovel, ran up behind him, gave him a sharp whack on the head, and laughed maniacally as he crumpled to the pavement.

No, not really.

Instead I turned back to my bitter task, figuring I could really play up the whole martyr angle later. My back is just killing me, honey. I think I need to just lie here on the couch for awhile, okay? Oh, say, about three hours.

I finally cleared the driveway just before we needed to leave for my sister-in-law's.

Which, unfortunately, was just before the plow came by and blocked the end of the driveway with an enormous snowbank.

I don't know if I'll get the snowblower fixed before spring makes itself permanent, but if we get another snowstorm, I'm getting the $30 shovel.

What kind of life?

Lileks writes about Terri Schiavo, and manages to make a reference to Star Trek. Captain Pike in particular. Which really makes me uncomfortable because of my views on the whole Captain Pike controversy. But go read Lileks, then come back and I'll try to explain.

Oh, here's a nice portion:

In short: err on the side of life is not a bad motto to keep in mind. This seems simple enough. I respect those who nod, count to three, and offer a soft “however” so that we may refine the particulars. But I don’t have much time for those who hear “err on the side of life” and automatically bristle, because they hear the voice of someone who, damn their black and God-addled brain, once sent $10 to a politician who opposed parental notification law that did not have a judicial review.

You may not always agree with that sort of person. You may have no need for them. But you never think you have need of any chocks until you're in the truck, and you realize it's rolling down the hill. Backwards.

Now about Captain Pike. In the very first Star Trek pilot -- when the good ship Enterprise was under the command of Captain Pike, and there wasn't a Shatner within miles of the set -- the Captain is captured by the big-headed Talosians who surround Pike with blissful illusions so that he will happily live out a fantasy existence in their human zoo. Pike's fellow captive is a woman who was horribly disfigured when her ship crashed. She chooses to remain in a fantasy where she is young and beautiful. But in Pike's refusal to embrace illusory happiness, the show makes a strong case in favor of reality, no matter how harsh that existence might be.

Later in the series came the follow-up, when Pike, now horribly disfigured himself, confined to some sort of mobile life-support system, unable to even speak, seeks to return to the Talosians where he now wishes to embrace the fantasy existence. With this episode, Star Trek undoes the message of the first pilot. The message in the sequel episode is that illusory happiness is just fine, thank you, when your quality of life sucks.

And it's hard to argue against that. But who gets to decide if your quality of life sucks enough?

We can't give Terri Schiavo a Talosian illusion. Does this mean that her life is not worth living? Terri Schiavo can't tell us what she wants, and if she'd want to refuse sustenance. But what's happening to Terri Schiavo isn't anything like assisted suicide. It's slow-motion murder. She isn't being given a lethal injection and quietly drifting off to eternal dreamland. She is slowly, agonizingly being starved to death. If we decided to deal with death-row inmates in this manner, the outrage would be deafening. If I thought my old dog needed to be put down, but instead of going to the vet for the procedure I did it myself by starving the elderly beast, I would likely be arrested for cruelty.

And yet a judge in Florida has decreed that this is how our nation will deal with people like Terri Schiavo.

What kind of life is considered "quality" enough? Do we really want courts deciding this issue for us? Regardless of what happens to Terri Schiavo next, we cannot let this issue pass from the public consciousness until we can be certain that an old man in a robe won't someday make that call without our consent.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Like Flypaper to Moonbats

Lileks writes:

This morning I was clicking around, following some links about Wolfowitz’ nomination to the World Bank (mrghmghfm) (surpressing mad laughter) (mrghmghfm) (Sorry, mwa HAHAHAHAHA) and encountered one of those brand-name sites I don’t visit much because the proprietor has nothing to say and no particular skill at saying it. He referred to that “filthy Wolfowitz.”

Do you often come across the word “filthy” applied to many politicians? No. Can you recall which group, in the last, oh, 60 years, got tarred with that word most frequently? Just curious. If the word rings no bells for you, then I’m overreacting. Obviously rung no bells for the author. I expect he will be equally unaffected if Trent Lott refers to “that uppity Rev. Jackson.”

Well, it rang a few bells for me. Not that I'm anybody in particular. I'm just sayin' is all.

But I'm not surprised to learn that there are those on the left responding this way to Wolfowitz's nomination. Frankly, when I heard who Bush nominated, my first reaction was "What a brazen thing to do!" Or to borrow a phrase from Peggy Noonan, "He's got two of 'em."

My second reaction was "This is going to send the moonbats 'round the bend."

And which moonbat in particular was Lileks reading when he came across that phrase? He's not going to get a link from me, so you'll have to do some research. Here, let me help.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Skip the formalities . . .

. . . just give the American Idol crown to Nadia Turner already. She's got more talent than all the rest of 'em put together.

Little pink houses . . .

I am gradually getting used to the idea that offspring #2 will be an infant of the female persuasion (assuming that the ultrasound technician is correct). Though I will be quite outnumbered, I've begun to notice a few fringe benefits.

For example, we have a two-bedroom house. Though we intend to eventually create a third bedroom in our finished basement, the two girls should be able to share a bedroom for quite some time. And of course, we already have all the girl-clothes we'll need, assuming little Augusta, Miriam, Chloe, Cora, whatshername will accept hand-me-downs for many years before the teen fashion police beam their mind control waves at her unprotected head.

Having one girl child in the house has already resulted in an abundance of pink. With two, we'll easily reach some sort of "pink critical mass." I am not looking forward to it.

But last night I discovered something very interesting while doing laundry. Other people separate their whites; I was able to do an entire load of wash consisting of nothing but pink clothes.

This never happened to me when I was Single Guy.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Who Would Jesus Dismiss?

(Hat Tip: Brainpost)

You may not have heard that a professor was recently fired from the University of Colorado for his controversial viewpoint. No, I'm not talking about Ward Churchill -- he's still there. I'm talking about Phil Mitchell, a professor in the history department.

According to Family News in Focus, Mitchell lost his teaching position for assigning a history class to read Charles Sheldon's In His Steps -- the book that asks the question "What Would Jesus Do," the phrase that launched a thousand marketing gimmicks.

Mitchell said he was immediately terminated when one student complained to the history department about the assignment.

"I called the director of my program on Monday morning," Mitchell explained, "and he confirmed that the department was going to let me teach one more year and then I would no longer be permitted to teach history at the University of Colorado."

When asked about Mitchell, a secretary in the history department—who asked that she not be identified—angrily responded, "We don't let him teach here."

This isn't the first time Mitchell, who has taught at CU for more than 20 years, has taken heat for using conservative sources in his classes. He said that when he quoted from Thomas Sowell, a conservative black commentator, the department head berated him and called him a racist.

Now I'm not exactly sure why one would assign In His Steps in a history class, but I might make a guess or two. The message of the book -- "What Would Jesus Do?" -- is certainly a timeless one, but the book itself is locked to a particular era in U.S. history. Written around the turn of the last century, one can connect In His Steps to a period of religious revival -- what some might consider the nation's third "Great Awakening." Christians began to emphasize the sins of society. There were temperance movements calling for the prohibition of alcohol, and poverty was seen less as a personal problem and more of a societal failure. This religious revival probably resulted in a political revival that led to FDR's "New Deal," and other social programs that are still with us today, even while their religious roots have been lost in time.

In His Steps certainly touches on the problems of turn-of-the-century America, even as its wide cast of characters seek their own personal revivals by trying to do what Jesus would have done. But though the message is timeless, I might suggest that the book itself is not. When I read it a few years ago, I found it difficult to relate to the struggles of the book's characters. One, a newspaper publisher, rethinks his newspaper's decision to run stories about boxing matches. He believes that people should not be reading about such things and so excises them from his newspaper. Later he decides that people should not be reading newspapers at all on Sundays, "the one day in the week which ought be given up to something better and holier," though it costs him advertisers and subscribers.

This isn't exactly a modern moral dilemma, which might explain why Sheldon's great-grandson decided to write an updated version a few years ago.

Meanwhile, back to Phil Mitchell.

The timing of the controversy is especially odd, considering how the campus has rallied around Churchill.

"I think it's interesting," Mitchell said. "People are marching for Ward's academic freedom, and I think—to a point—that's legitimate. I just wish somebody would march for mine. I don't have any."

I could see assigning In His Steps in a history class if one is discussing the social and political issues at the time the book was written, particularly as they relate to religious revivals which are certainly a historical reality. I have no idea if that was the context in which the book was presented.

I would love to know more about this story.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Heebie Jeebies

I'm completely freaked out by this.

The Actroid robot, developed by Kokoro and Advanced Media, will greet guests at the information booth of Japan’s World Expo opening March 25 in Aichi. She understands 40,000 phrases in each of four languages and has nuanced facial expressions to match the more than 2,000 types of answers she can give. She’s even imbued with a sense of irony; when asked if she is a robot, she answers disconnectedly and with clumsy movements — followed by a “just kidding!” before reverting to smooth humanoid motions.

Some people probably think of it as a precursor to Commander Data. I can't stop envisioning it as a precursor to the Terminator.

(Hat tip: What Attitude Problem?)

Life's Little Irritations

Doug kindly offers a brief list of people who suck.

Among them is this one:

People who use "creative" tones for the ringer on their cell phone who do not pick up after the first ring.

I would have cut it off at: "People who use 'creative' ring tones on their cell phones." Period. End of quote. Just set the blasted thing to ring like a normal phone, okay people? Why does it have to play Fur Elise?

I recently picked up the latest "Sixpence None the Richer" CD, and on the packaging were instructions for how to make your cell phone ring out their ubiquitous smash hit "Kiss Me."

I'm hoping nobody actually takes 'em up on this offer.

"Million Dollar" review

Ruth, a quadriplegic, and Meredith, her personal aide, head off to see the controversial hit movie "Million Dollar Baby."

For the two of us, going to a movie requires planning. It's hard to be spontaneous when you're in a wheelchair, or trudging along beside one. But nothing was going to keep us from judging Clint Eastwood's controversial new movie for ourselves.

Their recounting of their experience is warm and amusing, but with (obviously) very painful and personal insights into the issues that surround the film. Here are two spirited ladies not afraid to tell you that they both declared the film "able-ist crap." (And if you haven't seen it, and wish to remain spoiler-free, you might want to skip this entry.)

Meredith: We go on about Million Dollar Baby for days and that's when I realize that for all its problems (e.g., the musical score is puerile), I've seen an important movie during this year's Lent. I don't want people to boycott this film. I want them to see it even though -- and perhaps because -- they know the ending. And then, I want them to get angry, not at God, but about flaws in the structural apparatus of faith (i.e., religion) that would make assisted suicide seem an appropriate response instead of becoming a living witness to suffering. I want viewers to wonder why the character of Maggie Fitzgerald has the determination to become a prize fighter but not enough spiritual strength to manage life as a quadriplegic. I especially want Christians to remember that throughout our history, the Spirit has lived large and worked well within broken bodies; something to ponder as we come to the Cross during this holy season.

Ruth: It took nearly a decade for me to arrive at a place of acceptance. I've chosen life, believing that it's not my place to decide to die because life is too difficult, inconvenient, or no longer to my liking. Some may feel the choice to commit suicide is a form of ultimate freedom. What I know is that by surrendering my option to play God, I've lived long enough to learn that a life of dignity, usefulness, and hope is possible for a quadriplegic. If only the character in Million Dollar Baby could've stayed in the ring of life long enough to discover this for herself.

Go here for the whole article.

(Hat tip: The Dawn Patrol)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Another geek moment

I was going to suggest that Bill Wallo is thinking far too deeply about a film series that has turned out to be far more shallow than I expected.

But then I thought, heck, this is a worthwhile discussion after all.

How will Lucas choose to depict Anakin’s descent? Will it be inevitable - will it be his “destiny?” Is he part of some sort of obligatory sea change in the Force from light to dark? Is the portrayal a positive one or a negative one? By and large, Anakin has been portrayed as an impetuous but well-meaning youth up to this point. Will there be something in Revenge of the Sith to excuse Anakin’s fall from grace, or will it truly be characterized as the “wrong” choice? These are questions for which I as of yet have no answers, but which I think are far more important in terms of understanding the Star Wars universe than that the finale will be “dark.”

I wrote it all off as pointless the moment that Liam Neeson uttered the word "mitichloridans" (or whatever) and the Force stopped being a philosophy and became a matter of genetics.

Er, . . . the geeks will know what I mean by that.

Still, as disappointed as I've been in Star Wars, I am interested in seeing how the prequel trilogy is concluded. And Bill raises some interesting questions.

Meanwhile, Bill, I do recommend Battlestar Galactica, which you also mentioned. Lots of food for thought there.

Though if anyone watched last week's episode, and didn't heed my warning that it's not suitable for children, I hope you didn't have to try to explain to the kids what Dr. Baltar was doing all alone in his lab with his pants down.

9998, . . . 9999, . . . .

The Sitemeter counter just recorded Darn Floor visitor number 10,000, coming from the Llamabutchers. (Thanks, Kathy!)

Michael Schiavo rejects offer of $1 million

Earlier today, World Magazine reported that an American businessman named Robert Herring had offered Michael Schiavo $1 million if he would end his pursuit to starve his disabled wife to death. (Note the headline on the BBC link, erroneously calling this a "coma case." Sigh.)

The $1m offer expires on Monday, 14 March, four days before Mrs Schiavo's feeding-tube is due to be removed. Under the offer, Mr Schiavo would hand over his rights to decide his wife's future to her parents.

Mr Herring, who founded an electronics firm and later a satellite channel, said he was moved to act after following the legal battle and realising that time was running out for Mrs Schiavo.

As a supporter of stem cell research, he said he believed that there was hope of a medical cure.

He said he was a "neutral party", insisting he had no connections with the woman's parents, husband or any organisation involved in the case.

"I believe very strongly that there are medical advances happening around the globe that very shortly could have a positive impact on Terri's condition," he said.

"I have seen miraculous recoveries occur through the use of stem cells in patients suffering a variety of conditions.

"With a date of March 18th quickly approaching, and no other viable hope for Terri to be able to keep her feeding tube, I felt compelled to act."

In a follow-up posting, World Mag reports that Michael Schiavo has rejected the offer.

Terri's family members said the offer was "incredible," but were not surprised Schiavo didn't take it. "After he has denied Terri therapy for so many years and denied our family any opportunity to help her, we can only come to the conclusion that he is not comfortable with the prospects of her regaining her abilities to speak and communicate to us the reasons for her condition," they said in a statement.

I'm inclined to agree. Since the man has obviously moved on with his life, fathering two children by another woman, one wonders why he pursues Terri's death so doggedly.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

It's a . . . blur!

Today was ultrasound day! Or, as we called it, "Gender Determination Day" for child #2.

Deciding upon a name for child #2 has been a major topic of conversation around stately Darn Floor manor. Lid is no help, because she always suggests names like "glix" or "thir" or "dadadadadada."

I have only been considering boy names, because I was already certain of this child's gender. Had Lid been a boy, she would have been called "Titus," a name that alarmed friends and family. Our families were generally relieved when Lid turned out to be a girl.

At the time, my wife liked the name "Titus," but it no longer makes her top ten. Or even her top twenty. So I've been suggesting a number of other great names. "August," for example. I think it's a great name. "Gus" for short, of course, but you can't just have "Gus." So "August" for long.

She did not respond positively. Nor did she embrace "Owen." She liked "Benjamin," but I was afraid that people would call him "Benji," and so I suggested "Bennett" as a compromise. I'm not sure she's sold on it.

The sonagram above will replace the one on our fridge that was taken at six weeks, when offspring #2 was just a head and a butt. Since then I have been peppering the image on the refrigerator door with words from a Magnetic Poetry set, beseeching the appliance to make the child a boy. One recent sentence read:

give me a boy please

Another said:

ask god for a baby brother

But when my back was turned, visiting relatives rearranged the words so that they read:

sweet baby girl

From the youngest of the nieces to the oldest of the aunties, they were all certain that the baby would turn out to be a girl. And they all got a charge out of telling me so.

Yesterday, I held Lid up to the picture on the fridge and asked her if she thought it was a boy baby or a girl baby. She pointed and replied "gur!" with enthusiasm. They're all against me. But she's only 15 months old. What does she know?

Yes, she's only 15 months. The two children will be roughly 18 months apart. This is much closer together than we expected. When we decided that we were ready for another child, we expected it would take some time. It took a whole year for Lid. This time it took once.


I'm sure someday we'll be glad they were this close together. I hope that day comes really soon.

In discussing names, I'd remarked to my wife that we could be old-fashioned and name the child after a virtue. But I noted that most of the virtues are girl's names: Prudence, Patience, Charity, Grace, . . . even Wisdom is described as a woman in the Bible.

And though they sound a bit more manly, no one names their children Courage or Strength.

"Or Penmanship," I offered.

"Penmanship isn't a virtue!" my wife said.

"Well it should be" I argued. "Hardly anyone has good penmanship anymore." (I certainly don't.)

"Well we can't name the child Penmanship. What would you call him for short?"

"Penny?" I suggested.

Of course, that's a girl's name again, just like all the other virtues.

So today was the day. Gender Determination Day.

I think the ultrasound machines are soooo cool. I have often remarked that I would like to have one at home. I think it would be neat to be able to just look around at your insides whenever you wanted. I could put the wand up against my wife's head and look at what's inside. I still wouldn't be able to tell what she was thinking, but it would be cool to be able to do it.

When we entered the room, the ultrasound tech asked us if we wanted to know the gender of the baby. "Duh!" I said. "This is Gender Determination Day! What do you think?" Well, no, I didn't say that. Not exactly. Something close to it, though.

The ultrasound lasted much longer than expected, as the tech seemingly took every possible measurement of the baby's various body parts. "Here's baby's head!" she said, cheerily. "Here's baby's heart." Nice, strong beat. Four chambers. Noted.

I also noted with frustration her refusal to use any gender-identifying pronoun. She did this with Lid, too.

"This is baby's leg . . ."

C'mon, c'mon . . .

"Here's the spine . . ."

Yes, nice. C'mon, c'mon, get to it.

"Now, here's baby's face, . . . you can see nostrils here . . ."

Nostrils?! You're looking at his nostrils!?

"And this is a foot, see here?"

C'mon! C'mon! Show me his pee-pee!

I really don't know how they can tell what they're looking at. Occasionally, as she moved the wand, something recognizable swam into view, like an arm or a foot, but just as quickly it would move away. I wanted to grab the wand from her and look for myself, but I think this is frowned upon.

The picture at the top of this entry is the best picture we got. At least from my point of view. It's one of the few where you can tell that the thing kicking around inside my wife is actually a baby, and not a puppy or a space alien. The baby is reclining backward, with its legs up over its head. This can't be comfortable, which might explain all the kicking.

As we were leaving the clinic, an elderly lady in the waiting area asked to see the pictures. She said she'd never seen one before, and of course they didn't have such things when she was pregnant.

It's amazing how this little peek inside the womb has altered the way people think about the unborn child. Prior to the development of ultrasound technology, it was easy to think of the baby as an unviable tissue mass. But even at six weeks, the tech could point out the baby's head and butt. We had images of Lid at 10 weeks, and arms and legs were quite visible. Small, but visible.

And today at 24 weeks, the ultrasound tech could point to a blur on the sonagram and state "I think this is the labia right here."

In case you're not well-versed in anatomy, that means it's a girl.

"What do you think of the name 'Miriam'?" my wife said.


I wonder if she'd go for "Augusta"?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Not the sort of day off I'd envisioned

I really intended to have a bunch of new stuff up today, but instead I spent most of the day on the couch, sleeping. Earlier this week, Lid came down with one of those common kid ailments. Nose running like a faucet, slight fever, frequent crying fits. On Monday night she decided to keep us all up until 2:00 am.

I'm guessing that I now have the same thing, though I probably won't engage in crying fits until 2:00 am.

Lid got over it in a day, and was about as happy as I've ever seen her this evening. I'm hoping that means that by tomorrow my throbbing headache and congestion will be replaced with extreme euphoria.

This is, of course, part of the whole parenting thing -- sharing your kid's colds. It's expected, what with all the snot-soaked kleenexes lying about.

Anyway, I'm heading back to my bed of affliction.

But watch this space. I'm promising an awesome announcement tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Neither New nor Improved

Well, he edited out the lies about James Watt, but Bill Moyers is still shopping this shrill piece of moonbattery around.

Here are my comments regarding this article when it appeared in the Mpls. Star-Tribune.

But I don't think my wife would go for it

An intriguing business plan.

(Hat tip: Blogizdat)

War and Bleach

Greg Wallace says that this is Bleach's best record ever. (Another review here.)

I hope to find out soon enough.

I've been enjoying Bleach's music for many years. Though Bleach hasn't jumped on the "Let's Put Out a Praise and Worship Record!" bandwagon like so many others artists have done in the last decade, I think they've had a number of incredibly worshipful songs. (For an emo-geek-rock band anyway.) Their 1999 self-titled CD (their third) was much maligned, but it's always been in regular rotation in my CD player. "All That's Sweet," "All to You," and "Good" are outstanding expressions of worship -- the last two in particular could and should be Praise and Worship standards by now.

But I digress.

In searching for a review of the new CD, "Farewell Old Friends," I came across this interview from September of 2003, done upon the relase of their previous CD, "Astronomy." (Second favorite of mine.)

In the liner notes for "Astronomy," the band notes that the brother of band members Jared and Milam Byers, was killed in Fallujah in July of 2003. In the interview linked above, Jared and Milam share a bit about their brother, Captain Josh Byers, and his thoughts on our military actions in Iraq.

Do you remember the last time you spoke to Josh?

Milam: Yeah, it was April 2, the night before he flew to Iraq. He called all of us as a family to say goodbye. That was a hard thing. When your brother goes to war, all you can think about is, "Will I ever talk to him again?" He also wrote us every week or two, so we have letters that will just forever be special. My parents got a letter he wrote the day before he was killed. It's just amazing, because in the letter he talks about how our security is not in our circumstances but in God and a great faith-words that mean so much now, you know?

Obviously, Josh might still be alive today if not for the war in Iraq. Do you think his death was a necessary part of a necessary war?

Milam: Yes, because he believed it. For me to think any different would mean that he died in vain. Before he left for Iraq, he said, "The reasons I'm going is not the things you hear on CNN. It's not about oil, it's not about policing the world, it's not about weapons of mass destruction. It's about freedom. It's about us wanting to afford these innocent people a freedom that we Americans enjoy, and it's about people like Saddam not being able to bully the world around and kill innocent people anymore." That's what it was about. It wasn't any of that political propaganda bull that we're flooded with. It was about him wanting to free those people and genuinely caring for those people.

Jared: Josh was fighting to free those people and to free our country from terrorism. Josh believed in what he was doing, and I did too. I know why he was over there, and I know what he believed in. He felt it was a necessary cause, so I do too. I hate the war; nobody wants war. But I know that Josh believed he was there for a good cause.

Here is a military family who has lost a son and a brother. Anyone would understand if they reacted strongly against the war and against the administration that sent him there. But they don't. And this scenario is repeated countless times among countless military families. I'd like to think that I would continue to support our military presence in Iraq if such a tragedy would affect my family, but I fear that I might become bitter instead.

"Understand there are reasons beyond ours," goes a line from the title track of "Astronomy."

I don't know how they do it.

If "Farewell Old Friends" is, indeed, the final album from Bleach, I'm going to miss them. But these guys miss their brother every day.

Technology begets strange alliances

(Hat tip: World Magazine Blog) reports on an unusual bill introduced in the Maine legislature that would outlaw abortions of gay fetuses. The article points out that the bill has the support of a national gay-lesbian pro-life group. Of course, I would assume that any anti-abortion legislation would have the support of any pro-life group.

What I find particularly unusual is that the bill is based on the notion that the mythical "gay gene" may one day be discovered, and as a result, parents may choose to abort an unborn child who is discovered to have that gene.

State Rep. Brian Duprey of Maine has introduced legislation to prohibit abortions on unborn children who are gay. The measure has raised eyebrows and generated debate whether or not genetics has any bearing on someone's sexuality.

The Pro-life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians says it supports the bill.

"We recognize that at this time the gay gene has not been isolated, but with all the advances of genetics we believe that it may just be a matter of time" said Jackie Malone, executive vice president of PLAGAL.

Malone's group contends that homosexuality may not be a matter of preference or choice, but could be controlled by a person's genetic makeup. If a so-called "gay gene"is discovered and could be determined during a pregnancy, it could lead to abortions, PLAGAL believes.

"Abortion tries to get rid of real human beings who are threatening or undesirable," says Cecilia Brown, president of PLAGAL. "Children are routinely aborted now because of gender or disability. It is not inconceivable to see people aborting because of a possible gay gene."

May I assume that heterosexual fetuses could still be aborted?

(If you think China's "one child" policy that has resulted in more female children being aborted will create problems in the future, imagine what could happen with this! The mind boggles!)

Even more interestingly, Rep. Brian Duprey, who introduced the legislation, said he was inspired by a comment made by Rush Limbaugh.

Last month, Duprey told the Portland Press Herald newspaper that listening to the Rush Limbaugh show gave him the idea for the bill. Limbaugh had commented that if scientists ever discovered a gene that caused a person to be gay, then homosexual activists would become pro-life "overnight."

I've heard this sort of comment before -- not sure if it was Limbaugh or someone else -- but I think it's accurate. And science is continually challenging those who insist that an unborn child is a mere "tissue mass."

Jonah Goldberg actually wrote about this bill last month. I missed it at the time. But he also makes a good point about how the discovery of a "gay gene" would affect not just pro-life gays and lesbians, but perhaps alter the thinking of all who identify themselves as homosexual.

Just imagine, for the sake of argument, that Rep. Duprey is right — that sometime in the near future women will be able to abort their pregnancies solely to avoid giving birth to a gay kid. Would this increase the number of pro-life gays and put pressure on the political alliance between gay groups and pro-abortion groups? Probably (although there are significant numbers of pro-life gays and lesbians already).

Nothing sharpens a man's mind as much as knowing he'll be hanged in the morning, as the saying goes. Likewise, one may assume without fear of much contradiction that homosexuals would greet the prospect of the quiet annihilation of their culture with a special revulsion they do not (for the most part) reserve for the consequences of abortion generally.

The iPod Tax

Governor Doyle may be trying to pass off his budget as a "no new taxes" plan, but hidden away in his budget is at least one sneaky provision -- to tax internet downloads.

Gov. Jim Doyle wants you to pay Wisconsin's 5% sales tax whenever you pay to download a song, book, movie or piece of art.

A little-noticed provision of the Democratic governor's proposed state budget would extend the sales tax to those Internet transactions, officials said Monday. There would be no Internet sales tax police, however, because compliance would be on the honor system.

It's a matter of equity, said state Revenue Secretary Mike Morgan, defending Doyle's goal of having consumers voluntarily pay the sales tax on "intangible" items they buy and download from the Internet. Buyers would have to pay the 5% sales tax if they purchased those items at any Wisconsin store.

It's not exactly clear how you purchase these "intangibles" at any Wisconsin store. I don't know of any "brick and mortar" download emporiums.

Rep. Scott Jensen called the Governor's plan the "iPod Tax" and vowed to "delete" it.

Interestingly, those who do the most downloading are likely to be young people. If Democrats like Gov. Doyle are really chasing after the youth vote, the last thing they'll want to do is alienate them by taxing one of their most cherished activities.

Besides, . . . Doyle's budget is already alienating them:

Some University of Wisconsin-Madison students, staging a hunger strike in the Capitol to protest tuition increases, said they should not be asked to pay the sales tax on any music, movie or other materials they download from the Internet. They noted that Doyle's budget would increase in-state undergraduate tuition next year by 5% to 7%.

I'm unable to listen to Charlie Sykes' radio program, but apparently he was discussing the issue today. A friend wrote to tell me that during the program, a caller complaining of the "iPod Tax" responded that it made him so mad he wanted to write a new School House Rock song about it.

You even had the nerve to tax my MP3.
I've got to tell you, Doyle, I really don't agree.

It's just a bill, . . . yes, it's only a bill . . .

Monday, March 07, 2005

All Spring in a Day

Cabin fever hit us hard last week. At midweek, the temps dropped back down to January levels, and resultingly, so did our moods. When they talk about a "cold snap" up here, what they mean is that it's still cold outside and we're all about to snap.

Luckily for us, this past weekend the temperatures scraped the underside of the 60s, and no one snapped.

T. S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, but here it's March. March will tempt you with a taste of coming spring one day, then howl down a winter blast on the next. April can surprise you with blizzards as well, but by April, winter has lost its power. In January, winter is the crazy old uncle who pays you a visit -- and stays. He lies around the house all day, eating your food, using all the hot water, drinking right from the milk carton. But in April, the crazy old uncle gives up and goes home.

March is a different story. March is when the crazy old uncle makes noises like he's going to pack up and leave, but the next day you find him settled down on the couch, the fingers of one hand welded to the television remote. In the other hand he's got a cell phone; he's just ordered out for pizza, and he's charged it to your bill.

So that's March up here.

Yesterday we had a taste of spring. Knowing it wouldn't last, we took advantage of the exceptionally warm weather to walk around Our Fair City and enjoy the sunshine for a change. Everyone was out enjoying the weather. The rest of the country bundles up against temps in the high 50s. When it hits the 50s up here in the north, we go out in shorts and T-shirts and hit the bike trails.

Unless you're one of those crazy people who goes out running no matter how cold it is (and I used to be one of those people) winter makes you sedentary -- sometimes against your will. So on these first warm days, it's easy to overexert yourself. I put Lid in the backpack and we walked much farther than we anticipated, resulting in aching shoulders and sore legs for me, but a good mood for all of us.

In late winter, when the temperatures get this high this suddenly, the ground can't soak in the water as fast as the snow can melt. Our backyard became a pond, with a small stream that emptied into the driveway. Under these conditions, the low spots make themselves quite apparent. A swimming pool formed between the garage and the house, and our exceptionally dry basement had water seeping in. Luckily, it's seeping in in the unfinished part of the basement, and running directly into a floor drain.

Last night the wind howled something fierce. It dried up the swimming pool in the driveway. I couldn't sleep, so I think I heard every creak of the house. The temperatures dropped back below freezing, and they haven't come back up all day. This is March.

But we had Spring for a day. And this is enough to give us hope to get us through the rest of the month.

You're Still Here?

Well, thanks. I'm flattered. A week away, and you're still bothering to check to see if I've got anything new posted.

Apologies again for the silence. Between the presence of in-laws and the persistence of overtime, I've been far too busy to do much of anything blog-related this past week. This week doesn't look any better. I'm trying to get a book in print before the end of the month, and the editing has been painstakingly slow. This is not so much a function of my pains-taking as it is a function of how poorly-written the book is. One cannot transcribe an oral presentation and expect that it will make a readable book. And yet it has been done. Though I sounded a warning when I spied an early draft, my warnings were not heeded. The "book" is awful. And it is my job to take the herky-jerky cadence, and jargon-filled and colloquial delivery of the speaker and clean it up so that he sounds like a professional. All on a topic I really know very little about.

This goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Meanwhile another author is holding up the second printing of her book while she sends daily "corrections" that so far have amounted to over a couple dozen pages of new material. And they keep coming. I just got another "correction" this morning.

And that's more than I ever intended to write about work.

What's going on in the news? In the blogosphere? I haven't a clue. I haven't read the news in days.

And if I'm to be completely honest, I'm sort of enjoying the break.

But I also have a number of half-written posts on a variety of subjects, and I'm hoping to find some time to complete them and get them posted.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Welcoming Ward to Wisconsin

Sean at "The American Mind" has photos of the competing demonstrations surrounding Ward Churchill's appearance at UW-Whitewater. (That would be both the "Capitalism is Terrorism" protesters, and the "Remember the 9/11 Victims" demonstrators.)

Sean adds his own thoughts here.

Jib of Jiblog also has quite a few pictures and more commentary. And a picture of someone who decided that this would be the most opportune moment to announce her sexual orientation.

UW-Whitewater's excuse seems to be that this is a free speech issue. No one is disputing that Churchill should be free to espouse whatever loony claims he wants. We just don't think he should be subsidized by taxpayers for it.

If you're an alumnus of the UW system -- UW-Whitewater in particular -- you might want to explain it to the person who calls every year asking for a donation.