Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Catholic Church Shoots Itself in the Foot Again

Archbishop Joseph Naumann has ordered Kansas governor Kathleen Sibelius to stop taking communion, saying she has engaged in "scandalous behavior that has misled people into dangerous behavior." And her terrible crime that brought on this retribution? She vetoed some anti-abortion bills that were probably unconstitutional and certainly bad policy. As the Kansas City Star explains:

"What the archbishop calls "scandalous behavior" is in fact good government. The bill Sebelius vetoed was bad public policy on so many levels.

It would have empowered district attorneys and prosecutors around the state to embark on legal fishing expeditions against abortion providers. (As if Kansas hasn't had enough of those already.)

It would have put patient privacy at risk by requiring abortion doctors to provide extensive details to the state about a woman's reasons for seeking a late-term abortion.

It would have placed abortion providers in the middle of family feuds by allowing relatives of abortion patients to sue the doctors.

What's scandalous in this matter isn't Sebelius's veto. It's Naumann's implication that a Catholic politician has to follow the lead of hard-line abortion opponents, regardless of the damage to privacy, Constitutional rights and good government."

With this policy of *exclusiveness* as opposed to the example Jesus gave us of *inclusiveness*, how in the world does the Catholic Church remain such a large denomination?

The Catholic church has a long history of persecuting people who don't toe a rigid, dogmatic party line as announced by the Pope. Look at the Galileo case. In 1633 he was tried before the Roman Inquisition for heresy, and had to live for the rest of his life under a sentence of house arrest, even though he had signed a formal recantation. Incredibly, it took the Catholic Church until 1992 (!!!) before it formally apologized for persecuting Galileo.

The horrible cases of Priests abusing kids is another example of the head-in-the-sand attitude of this pathetic excuse for a church. Priests were routinely moved from parish to parish and nothing done to them, despite the multiple complaints made. If there is any justice the Catholic Church will be in bankruptcy for the huge payouts it has had to make for its misdeeds.

The heart-wrenching cases of the boys Father Larson abused when he was in the Wichita area should not be forgotten. Five (!!) of these boys eventually committed suicide. The case of Eric Patterson which appeared in the Eagle did so only after Eric's mother learned that the Bishop had lied to her years before. The Bishop assured her that Father Larson would never again be in as position where he would be around kids. When she learned that the Church had simply transferred him to a position where he could abuse more boys, she finally went to the news media, and a series of articles detailed the whole despicable situation. Father Larson was ultimately convicted of minor charges and did serve some prison time, but his punishment certainly did not fit his crimes.

Can the people in the Catholic Church not understand that this authoritarian hierarchy is just plain wrong? As Christians our authority is to come from the Bible and from the counsel of the community of believers who search for the truth together. One man, or a group of men, do not hold a monopoly on the truth. This crap about the infallibility of the Pope is sheer nonsense. All humans are fallible! If the Catholic Church would get away from this authoritarian hierarchy it holds so dear, it would be a lot better off, and perhaps in the future could avoid the types of problems written about above.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Faces on Australian Currency

This morning I've been working on a series of trivia questions on famous Australians, and in the process of doing that research it struck me that the faces on Australian currency tended to be writers, scientists, and others whose contributions to national life involved something other than government service.

This is in marked contrast to the U.S. Our currency contains only politicians--Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Franklin, and Cleveland.

I decided to check this out and do a systematic review of Australian currency. There are 4 names for most denominations because there are 2 versions of most of them, and different faces are on the front and back of each version.

$5 note -- Queen Elizabeth II

$10 note -- Francis Greenway (architect), Henry Lawson (poet), Banjo Paterson (poet), Mary Gilmer (poet)

$20 note -- Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith (aviator), Lawrence Hargrave (scientist who was the first to fly), Mary Reibey (shipping entrepreneur), John Flynn (started the Royal Flying Doctor Service)

$50 note -- Howard Florey (co-discoverer of penicillin), Sir Ian Clunies-Ross (scientitst), David Unaipon (inventor and first published Aboriginal author), Edith Cowan (first female Member of Parliament)

$100 note -- Douglas Mawson (explorer of Antarctica), Sir John Tebbutt (astronomer)

From this review it is apparent that Australia does indeed make a point of honoring people other than its politicians. The U.S. could, I think, learn much from this example. While I love politics and have no problem with honoring Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, all of whom were instrumental in the founding and development of our system of government, the others seem silly and should be replaced by a broader range of contributors to our national life.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Donnie Brasco" and "Prince of the City"

Both of these fine films deal with that seamiest side of law enforcement--the undercover cop. And both are true stories.

In "Donnie Brasco" an FBI agent infiltrates the New York underworld, primarily by befriending a mid-level guy played by Al Pacino. We see their friendship develop and all the moral ambiguities that present themselves to someone leading this sort of life. The guy's family life goes to pot, of course.

In the most telling scene in this film, the cop is in Miami working on a business venture there, when he meets with the other FBI folks in a makeshift headquarters set up in what appears to be a motel room. The "suits" are listening to wiretaps, and generally just pushing paper around, while the undercover guy, who is the only one dong real work, and certainly the only one doing dangerous work, just does not seem to fit in. He has taken on the personality of his alter ego, Donnie Brasco, and by this point he prefers the company of his friends who know him as Donnie Brasco.

The callousness of the FBI toward Donnie and his precarious situation is appalling. He is used as a piece of meat for their own ends, and this is troubling. The last scene is especially troubling, as the agent is presented with a plaque and a paltry $500 check. Hardly anyone is there except for his family, and it is obvious there is no real appreciation for what he has gone through.

In "Prince of the City" a cop who is disgusted with what he has to do in his undercover detective work decides to work with the federal authorities who are investigating police corruption. The real-life result, as mentioned in the bonus part of the DVD, is that 52 of the 70 members of New York's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), are indicted on criminal charges.

At the start the feds ask him if he has done anything improper, as he will be asked about this on the stand when he eventually has to testify. He mentions 3 things, but of course there are many more and the most telling scene in this film is a huge meeting in the Attorney General's office with all the prosecutors there giving their opinions to the AG on whether to seek perjury charges against the poor guy. Passions run high on both sides, and after hearing all sides the AG decides not to prosecute him. On the same day, ironically, the Judge in a Motion for a new trial against the highest-profile defendant, a crooked lawyer, denies the new trial request, which was based on all the false testimony of the detective, holding, correctly I think, that it was a "collateral matter" and didn't affect the facts of the case against this defendant.

The SIU group is presented as basically a very dedicated group of cops, who do take some money and take some dope on occasion, but have also taken plenty of bad guys off the street. As in "Donnie Brasco", the feds are not presented in a very good light. The 2 prosecutors who worked most closely with the main character are decent guys, but some of the higher-ups are just pricks. In fact, a scene which the audience applauded in the theater had one of the cops charging into the office of this particular prick prosecutor and assaulting him. This cop is later presented as the only true hero of the film, as he is going to fight the charges rather than cooperate with the feds in exchange for leniency, or commit suicide, which are the options chosen by all the others.

These films present troubling pictures of the use of undercover informants in our society. Justice Douglas went so far as to say he thought a free society should never use undercover informants. I don't know that I would go that far, but certainly their use should be quite limited.

Part of the issue here is that the types of "crimes" these guys usually work on should arguably not be crimes at all--things like use of dope, prostitution, and gambling. If we can get these things de-criminalized, that would go a long way to ridding our society of the stench of undercover informants.

Larissa Gets #6

She had only a slight lead going into Final Jeopardy today, after one of her opponents had hit both the daily doubles in the Double Jeopardy portion of the game, made big wagers, and then got them both.

Larissa risked a huge amount on final jeopardy, as usual, and hit it, so she remains as champion and is now likely the 3rd-highest money-winner ever on Jeopardy. Alex announced at the start today that she was in 4th and had a good chance of getting to 3rd, so I presume with her $40K winnings today she made it.

The final question was rather interesting, asking about a 1950's movie which starts at 10:30 A.M. and takes place practically in real time. 2 of the 3 nailed the answer--"High Noon".

Monday, May 26, 2008

Larissa Kelly Gets Win Number Five

America's newest sweetheart did it again today, coming from behind in Final Jeopardy to win her 5th victory. She wagered everything in Final Jeopardy and was the only contestant to get it right, a question about the World Health Organizaon not hiring peple who do what. She wrote down the right answer--smoke--fairly quickly, and the leader guessed "execute". It seems obvious in retrospect, but I must confess I did not come up with the answer in the allotted time frame.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Potato Soup--Part 2

After a number of trials and some useful input from my son and future daughter-in-law, here is my recipe.

Peel potatoes and carrots and cut into small, bite-size pieces. Place in sauce pan and just barely cover with water. Add black pepper, red pepper, parsley flakes, sage, and a bay leaf. Heat to boiling and then cook until vegetables are almost done.

Add pearl onions and/or green onions, a package of frozen corn, a quarter stick of butter, and then lay a bunch of fresh spinach over the top. (I like to cut the spinach into thirds as otherwise it is too long and stringy to digest properly.) Heat to boiling, then cover and cook gently for 5 minutes.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Akshay Rajagopal

This 11-year-old Nebraskan is the winner of the 2008 Geography Bee. I happened to catch the last part of the competition the other day on public television. He went through the national competition without missing a single question, only the second time that has happened.

I will leave for another day the question of why Asian-Americans seem so much smarter than we Anglos. I can't think of anything intelligent to say about this, other than the fact that they seem to work harder.

Anyway, congratulations to young Akshay!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Is Larissa Kelly the next Ken Jennings?

This modest, unassuming graduate student from California has won 3 Jeopardy games in a row at this writing. Her winnings from the first 2 days totalled over $80K, an unheard-of amount for only 2 days. She seems to know about every subject, and she is not risk-averse as women tend to be. Her soft, sweet voice makes her an extremely appealing contestant. Go, Larissa!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Best of Sydney J. Harris

Years ago my favorite newspaper columnist was Sydney Harris, whose columns always seemed to be full of thoughtful insights, artfully expressed. Here are some passages from his book with the above title.

"Experience can be a very bad techer, indeed, or no teacher at all. It is like the silly phrase, 'Practice makes perfect." In most cases, practice merely confirms us in our errors, and the longer we do something the wrong way--that is, without enlightenment and instruction--the more fixed we become in our folly." --p. 56

"People do not so much listen to what we say as to how we say it; the expression of a statement carries a much stronger charge than its content; two men can make the same observation, and one will be accepted, the other met with suspicion or disbelief.

The world listens to the secret language of our emotions, and not to the bald denotations of the words themselves. And mastering that secret language calls for a true ear as much as for a true heart." --p. 94

"Two University of Wisconsin students were indicted on obscenity charges for peforming in a nude version of 'Peter Pan'. I didn't see the performance, but I have seen naked bodies, and they are lovely or laughable or uninteresting or droll, but none has ever impressed me as obscene, in any sense of the word. An *act* can be obscene, an *attitude* can be obscene, but a body per se cannot be. It is only a dirty mind that can see dirt in a clean body; to the (unconsciously) impure, all things are impure. The plain common-sense fact is that a naked body is about as unlustful and unexciting in itself as a plucked chicken." --p. 105

"Most homicides are not professional jobs, in felonious pursuits, but are committed by relatives, friends or neighbors, in the home or nearby. They are sparked by liquor, by lust, by jealousy, or greed, or a burning sense of injustice. And most are committed by people with no previous record of violence.

It is these who will be restrained by stricter gun laws, who will find it much harder to go home, pick up a gun and shoot an adversary. The liquor will pass, the lust will die, reflection will replace passion if the instrument of death is not so readily available.

No one suggests that tougher gun control will reduce organized crime or will inhibit the crooks. But the majority of fatal shootings in a metropolis are more emotional than criminal in intent, more impulsive than premeditated. And if the gun isn't there, the impulse to shoot cannot be so hastily gratified." --p. 132

"Professional sports don't interest me, because I think the phrase is a contradiction in terms. An activity ceases to be a sport the moment it becomes professional." --p. 140

"Any society has much less to fear from crime--organized or unorganized--than from a usurpation of power by its own law-enforcement agencies. Protecting even the worst criminals from unfair treatment is a small price to pay for avoiding the greater danger of police transgressions against the civil liberties of all." --p. 169

Friday, May 16, 2008

Phil Cuzzi

Any time you can do a google search on the name of a Major League umpire and get 52,500 hits, you know there is something seriously wrong. The fact is, Mr. Cuzzi has had problems with many different players and managers during his unfortunate tenure as an MLB umpire, and he should be replaced by somebody more competent immediately. I have watched the tape many times of the playoff game during which he threw out Tony LaRussa and Jim Edmonds, both for arguing balls and strikes, and it is ludicrous for an umpire to inject himself into an important game as he did.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Wingnuts Open Their Season

Tuesday night it rained hard most of the night, and the rain continued off and on throughout Wednesday, causing the postponement Wednesday night of the scheduled home opener for the Wichita Wingnuts. However, yesterday dawned bright and clear, and the game last night was played in ideal conditions, temperature about 70 degrees and the sky filled with beautiful puffy clouds.

There was the usual opening day fanfare, which was mostly forgettable, but the best thing was the great turnout. Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was filled to near-capacity, confirming my hunch that an independent league team would do better here than the various minor league teams have over the years. Wichita fans have just never been able to embrace the minor league teams, as the players come and go and no connections are developed between the players and the city.

The game started on the right foot for the local team, as the first Wingnuts batter walked, was sacrificed to 2nd, and then scored on a ground-ball single up the middle. For the record, final score was Wingnuts over Sioux City 7-4, before a crowd of 5,874.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ten Interesting Things about Vermont

From a book in the "America the Beautiful" series.

1. Although only 43rd in size, Vermont has no less than six geographical regions.

2. Its border with New Hampshire is formed by a river named after yet another state, Connecticut.

3. Its longest river is not even called a river, it is Otter Creek.

4. Its proportion of rural residents is the highest of any state., Fully 2/3 of Vermonters live in the country or in towns of less than 2,500. This to me is an amazing statistic.

5. Its politics has undergone a remarkable evolution. From the forming of the Republican Party in 1854 until 1958, every major elected official was a Republican. Starting in 1958, this began to change and the Democrats have been competitive ever since. In 1990 Bernard Sanders won election to the House as the first Socialist House member in 60 years. Vemont also has the largest % of women in its legislature--33%.

6. Settlement in Vermont did not begin until around 1750. At that time the governors of both New Hampshire and New York began making grants of land in what is now Vermont, often involving the same land. Ethan Allen organized his Green Mountain Boys to defend the claims of New Hampshire grantees against those of New York grantees, organizing his group in a meeting at the Catamount Tavern in Bennington in 1770. The controversy was finally resolved in 1790 when Vermont paid New York $30,000 for the disputed land.

7. Not being one of the original 13 colonies, Vermont adopted its own Declaration of Independence and constitution in 1777. This constitution made Vermont the first political body in the U.S. to ban slavery, and the first to grant the right to vote to men who were not property owners. Vermont remained an independent country until joining the U.S. in 1791 as the 14th state.

8. As of 1993, air conditioning in cars is prohibited in Vermont.

9. Environmental reforms have led to a restoration of the state's forests. Originally 90% of the state was forested, then this was mostly wiped out, but it is now restored to about 80%.

10. Vermont is the country's leading producer of maple syrup.

Wichita Enacts a Smoking Ban

The City Council this week, in a 4-3 vote, approved an ordinance which would ban smoking in all businesses which allow minors inside. This was a compromise reached after the original proposal to ban smoking in all businesses could not achieve enough votes for passage.

Kudos to the Council members. particularly Mayor Carl Brewer, who advocated for the complete ban. We all know this is coming, it is just a matter of when the Council can muster up the courage to do it.

And boos and hisses to the Council members who opposed this. Council member Paul Gray, in one of the stupidest comments ever made by a public official, said "If we're really that concerned about it, we should just ban it outright", referring to banning smoking around children in cars and homes. If such a ban were to be proposed, Mr. Gray and people of his ilk would be the first to raise a stink about intruding on private property rights, as he did in voting no on the very limited ban which was actually enacted.

The story in The Wichta Eagle quoted blogger Bob Weeks as saying that "No one has the right to be on somebody else's property on their own terms". This seemd to be saying that smokers have the right to smoke in public places, but non-smokers have no right to be free from harmful smoke in public places, which would be an idiotic proposition. However, after checking out his blog, I realize that what he was articulating was the libertarian position that property owners have the right to ban smoking or not on their own premises, and the public will vote with their dollars on which businesses to patronize. The Eagle quote simply failed to capture the essence of the position Mr. Weeks was arguing for.

A Failure of Imagination

To the Eagle:

I am embarrassed that my city government has chosen to become a deadbeat debtor. I see no reasonable rationale for the city's refusal to pay for the cost of housing its prisoners, and Mr. Rebenstorf does not provide any in the recent Eagle article.

If the city does not want to bear the cost of housing its prisoners, perhaps it can come up with more creative solutions for dealing with its misdemeanor offenders than locking them up.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Kosuke Fukudome

This guy, signed by the Cubs in the offseason, was not the "mega-star" in Japan that some previous Japanese imports were, like Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, or Dice-K. However, he is being given credit for almost single-handedly lifting the Cubs into first place so far this year. As is always the case with the Japanese stars, his fundamentals are flawless, and the aspect of his game most often pointed to is his patience at the plate. He has seen more pitches per at bat than any other player so far this year, and this has rubbed off on the entire Cubs team. What used to be a free-swinging club has overnight turned into a team which is at or near the top in the important categories of walks and on-base percentage.

What stands out for me is that all this is done solely by example. The guy doesn't even speak the language, so obviously he cannot be the "rah-rah" type of guy usually pointed to as a team leader. To me this illustrates the importance for all of us of just going about our business in the right way, regadless of fanfare or ostentatiousness. People will notice and in the end those who do take care to work hard and do things the right way will be rewarded. Despite plenty of examples to the contrary, it is not always the loud-mouth who wins out in the end.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Bobby Jindal

Heard this guy speaking before the National Press Club today, and he was very impressive. As a Republican governor of Louisiana, he would seem to be an excellent choice to run with John McCain this year. We will see if McCain has enough sense to choose him as his running mate.

Today's Best Trivia Questions

The most interesting questions from today's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and "Jeopardy" shows:

1. Ken Burns' 2007 documentary "The War" dealt with which war?

2. The phrase "red-letter day" has its origins in what?

3. Of the nine 2006 Nobel Laureates, 8 were people and the 9th was what?

4. Tzatziki is a Greek dish made of yogurt and which vegetable?

5. Circled 7 times by the Israelites in the book of Joshua, what is the world's oldest walled city?

Answers: 1. WW2, 2. religious holidays, 3. a bank, 4. cucumbers, 5. Jericho