Saturday, April 13, 2002

A Clerical Error

Maureen Dowd is outraged by Cardinal Law's refusal to resign, and rightfully so. Not being Catholic, I can't say what they should think about this scandal, although it should hardly be a surprise that there were child molesters and pederasts among the priesthood. The stories have been around since the Reformation. What really hurts is the revelation that such people were tolerated, even protected, by the church. Most of us would say that the act is criminal and the coverup as well.

What strikes me, a Mormon, is that the first story out of the block was not the excommunication of these priests. That's what would have happened to a Mormon bishop. The prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, reemphasized church policy on this at last week's General Conference. He quoted the scripture that immediately comes to my mind in connection with any kind of child abuse, and especially sexual abuse, "But whoso shall offend one of these
little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a
millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were
drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matt. 18:6) Maybe that verse isn't in the Catholic Bible.

He also denounced spouse abuse and abuse of the elderly, and made it abundantly clear that such acts merit church discipline. He quotes the following scripture:
The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and . . . the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

(Doctrine & Covenants 121:36�37)

Outlaw human cloning

This editorial is from the Deseret News, the newspaper owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's editorials, however, are not dictated by the church, which has not taken any official stand on the cloning issue.

I wrote the following response in a letter to the editor:

Your editorial on cloning includes the following argument:

"Without question, cloning research could do much good, perhaps bringing cures and treatments to many. But it comes far too close to an ethical line that separates research for a greater good from research that sacrifices one good in pursuit of another. Underlying the current discussion is the fact that science knows very little about cloning's long-term effects."

What you seem to be saying is "Yes, it could have huge benefits, but because we don't know enough about it, we shouldn't do any more research." That makes no sense. If we don't know enough about it, we should proceed carefully to expand our knowledge, rather than simply rejecting the whole idea out of hand.

There are two types of cloning under discussion, reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. The first is the stuff of science fiction, copying a living person or making many identical "twins" from a single embryo. Your argument citing the lack of knowledge about long term effects of cloning is cogent with respect to reproductive cloning, because it has the potential of bringing children into this world with genetic defects which
could make their lives miserable and tragic.

Therapeutic cloning is done for the purpose of obtaining stem cells which can then theoretically be used to grow new tissues to treat disease or injuries. This type of cloning does not have the possibility of producing deformed babies, since since no embryos are implanted in women or brought to term. This research could be a blind alley, but it could also open a way to treat and cure diseases like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. We just don't know enough yet to tell.

The real issue is whether using fertilized ova, such as those which would otherwise be discarded, to obtain stem cells through cloning is somehow equivalent to killing babies to obtain organs for transplant. I don't think this makes any more sense than saying that transplanting organs from people who have recently died is a violation of the sanctity of life. If we had banned transplantation when it began being investigated because we didn't know enough about its potential problems, there would be thousands more lives cut short by organ failures, which today can be saved.

Friday, April 12, 2002

Ken Layne denounces the suggestion that bloggers should have a code of ethics. I say, why not?

For starters:

Bloggers should have opinions and attitude and be able to defend them.

Objectivity is discouraged and should be avoided. Any reader who is too stupid to think for him/her/itself or who mistakes rank bias for anything but opinion does not deserve coddling.

Rant whenever the mood strikes.

Do not suffer fools gladly or mercifully.

Good bloggers find the news and views that others won't acknowledge and seek to give it wider attention, particularly if its reliable and has more sense than the New York Times editorial page.

Good bloggers give credit when it's deserved, even to the New York Times editorial page, when it occasionally gets something right.

Bloggers should not deprive themselves or their families to feed their habits. Posting of cute pictures of pets and children are allowed.

Bloggers should never defer to the egos of "professional" journalists, merely because such writers make their living by writing. Susan Sontag makes a living by writing.

Bloggers should never miss an opportunity to puncture pomposity, but should be able to take as good as they give. The Scene (

How about that! I should have posted my letter to Ms. Postrel here and given her this site to link to. That shows how good I am at self-promotion.

I have been reading her book, The Future and Its Enemies and find it intriguing how many of my ideas, and those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, about freedom, learning and eternal progression fit right in.

It's also ironic that "Mormons" are consider only backward and conservative, when many of our doctrines are quite dynamist, in Ms. Postrel's term. We believe that "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come." (Doctrine & Covenants 130:18-19) Brigham Young taught that "The truth that is in all the arts and sciences forms a part of our religion all truth is a part of our religion."

It is true that there appear to be conflicts from time to time between religion and science, but my faith is that I should investigate and consider all arguments and claims and, if there is no apparent way to reconcile them with the gospel, keep my mind open and things will eventually be made clear. Many things that religion appears to claim may not be so, because of our own lack of understanding. The same applies to science. I don't know any other religion that would countenance such an attitude.

Maybe I will ultimately be disappointed, but I decided a long time ago that even if my beliefs aren't true, they are still a pretty good way to live. They teach hope, civility, kindness and acquisition of learning, and generally produce good people, although there are some who espouse them who don't live them perfectly. I don't either. That's why I haven't been transfigured.
Anyhow, thanks to Virginia Postrel for acknowledging my meager thoughts.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Now that's a switch

This from the Wall St. Journal:

Secretary General Kofi Annan didn't use the B-word himself. But babies plainly were on the minds of some delegates in Madrid this week for a new United Nations conference pegged to a challenge it says is "without parallel in the history of humanity": a rapidly graying world population.

By 2050, the U.N. projects, people over 60 years old will
outnumber those 15 and under for the first time in history.
Calling the trend "alarming," European Union Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou cited Europe's "low
birth rates" and lack of family-friendly policies as the
culprits. Ms. Diamantopoulou knows that at bottom an
"aging crisis" is another way of saying you're not
producing enough young people.

After decades of Malthusian gloom and doom, suddenly we have crisis of underpopulation! Why? Because our social security programs are built on the assumption of continuous growth, in essence a Ponzi scheme.

It will be interesting to see how the environmental fundraisers deal with this. I expect denial first. Maybe we will change our minds about immigrants, but we'll have to compete with European nations who will be unable to maintain their economies without importing laborers.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Princeton Professor Disputes Microsoft Claim (

Appel told U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that with thousands of types of printers, monitors and other pieces of computer hardware, Microsoft and its stable of outside testers don't test every way Windows is used.

There are about 70,000 Windows applications, Appel said. The number of tests of every possible combination of those applications would be "more than the number of atoms in the universe," he said.

"It's mathematically impossible to test every possible configuration in the universe, so Microsoft tests a representative sample," Appel said.

I've thought for a long time that the problems with personal computers are largely due to these facts. They aren't helped by Microsoft keeping all of its code secret and proprietary.

I think more and more that the only solution to this is to declare Windows public domain, including its source code. It's not like Microsoft hasn't been adquately rewarded for its investment in it. It has achieved monopoly status in applications software by leveraging its stranglehold on the operating system.

In fact, the whole application of copyright law to software, instead of patent law, should be rethought. We have reached a point today where no one really needs a new computer or a new upgrade of Windows, Office or anything else. What we've got works fine in most cases. We might need new drivers for new technology, but why should we pay again and again for the same software which differs only incrementally from previous versions? This model is not only a violation of antitrust laws, it's a ripoff. The fact that if is followed by every software company doesn't make it any less outrageous.

If Microsoft's arguments for maintaining its monopoly are valid, maybe we should declare it a public utility and regulate it at state and federal levels as we do the communications and power industries.

The reality on the ground as reported in the Jerusalem Post.

Doesn't this remind anyone, especially Colin Powell, of Viet Nam? Boys bearing bombs, booby traps all over the place, fightin a war in the midst of an enemy population? It's all there.

Shouldn't we allow the Powell Doctrine to be embraced by Israel, or is it only for the U.S.?

Wishful Thinking and OCD

The German initiative starts with a cease-fire in the
current violence.

This would then be followed by a withdrawal of Israeli
troops, an early declaration of a Palestinian state, an end
to Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas and phased
talks on such tricky issues as Israel's borders and the
status of Jerusalem, the German government said.

Also, it provides for international peacekeepers
patrolling a buffer zone between Israel and the
Palestinian areas.

This is about as realistic as John Lennon's "Imagine." There is no peace nor will there be until we either get rid of Arafat and the panoply of Arab terrorists operating in the vicinity.

Nobody has any new ideas, so they keep bringing up old, failed ones. It seems to be an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The old "international peacekeepers" who were so effective in Bosnia-Herzegovina are back for a return engagement, without, we should hope, an American component. If you liked the truck-bombing of American marines in Beirut, you'll love stationing them in the Palestinian areas.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

In Dark Thoughts and Quiet Desperation, David Perlmutter describes his thoughts and memories as he watches events in the Mideast. We may have reason to fear nuclear war again.

He gives us a reason for the Palestinian slant on all the news coming out of the area: The Israeli government doesn't know how to use the media. It prevents its own side from being told.

Michael B. Oren says that our policies holding Israel back from creating a secure and stable situation for itself is responsible for the warfare and deterioration between Israel and the Palestinians.

In many ways our policy and especially the opinions of the Europeans reflect a profound racism, a broad anti-semitism in the broader sense, against both Jews and Arabs. The Jews are demonized as the "neighborhood bully" and all the old anti-Jewish propaganda is recycled. But the Arabs are seen as weak and ignorant wogs who need our protection from the Jews, no matter how fanatical and vicious their leadership. By excusing the terrorism of the Palestinians, we accord them a lower standard of civilization. By calling their efforts to destroy Israel a "fight for freedom," we associate them with our founding fathers, but on a much more degraded level.

Monday, April 08, 2002

More from Fox News and Brit Hume:

The alternative minimum tax is confusing and unfair and in a few years will affect a third of all taxpayers. The IRS wants to scrap it, but Congress says it can't afford to. It's a really stupid tax, designed to make sure that rich people always pay some tax. There are some people who received huge bonuses in dotcom stocks that are now worthless, but because of the AMT, they still owe the tax on the value of the stocks when they received them.

A second item, the President wants Congress to pass a bill to assure Terrorism Insurance will be available in the future, but the Senate has bottled it up because it contains a cap on damages which the Trial Lawyers are opposed to. The next time one of my Democrat friends tells me they're the party for the working man, I want to hear his explanation for this one.

Martin Indyk,
former assistant Secretary of State on Fox News Special Report with Brit Hume, says that there are a number of Palestinian leaders who think Arafat walked away from the best deal they'll ever get. They are now muzzled by recent events, but more by Hamas and Hezbollah who also have Arafat on a short leash, so he can't do any of the things Bush is demanding of him if he wanted to.

All the better reason to allow the Israelis to continue their current operations, and free the Palestinians. Maybe they need some signs on their tanks, "Free Palestine! Drive out the Terrorists!" We could send over a lot of protestors to help them.

(LILEKS) James : el flamin' bleato is another ace today. He's so good, he makes me want to stop blogging for shame.

His take on Iraq and the Paletinians is hilarious and spot on. Speaking of which, Mara Liasson has been pushing the idea that the U.S. should send troops to Palestine to enforce peace. I was yelling at the tv, which was stupid, because it was on Tivo.

How does a highly paid professional get away with proposing a solution that resulted in the largest American loss to terrorists until the World Trade Center? Of course, the men were all polite and dismissive, hardly betraying how appalled they all were.

My own measured reaction was that the Israelis are in the midst of proving that they know exactly what needs to be done, and doing it as well, if not better, than our crack forces could. So why are we leaning on them? Our policy should have been to put a bounty on Arafat's butt, second only to UBL.

Arafat himself reminds me of a client I once had, when I was a public defender, with a record of molesting his own grandkids. He would put on this little grin, as though he thought pedophilia was just a bad habit. He had recently married and shortly thereafter started lobbying his new bride to apply for a foster child--a girl, about 7, blonde with blue eyes.

Arafat reminds me of that guy. He can't conrol himself. It's the only way he knows how to act. He thinks he just mischievous.

I can't say it any better than this.

Maybe I should rename this blog to Best of the Web, but unfortunately that name's been taken. I do love reading it, and miss it on weekends.

Todays' edition takes the NYTimes to task for the moral equivalence fallacy, i.e. the terrorism of the Palestinians against Israeli civilians is no worse than what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians. I have to wonder if there aren't some Palestinians who are quietly cheering for the Israelis' cleaning out the infrastructure of terrorism. No Palestinian would dare say so in public, but they must notice the fact that their "government" doesn't seem to be delivering the same kind of services and economic development that the Israelis take for granted. No matter how bad they feel Sharon is, what can they say Arafat has done for them, except send their children off to blow themselves up to kill Israelis. It must be like having Al Capone as your president and his mob as the administration.

As I've said, I'm finishing What Went Wrong? by Bernard Lewis. This book and another, The Middle East, a short history of the last 2000 years, leave me with a profound unease. The roots of Islam seem to be fundamentally contrary to living in peace with non-Muslim states or societies, except when they submit to Islamic law as Muslims do. It seems that we cannot expect Muslims to agree to mutual tolerance and respect without asking them to forget some of the most basic injunctions of their faith.

The other thing that makes the task difficult is that Islam has no central structure. No hierarchy except for the scribes and lawyers, who have no real authority and are scattered over the entire spectrum from fundamentalist to Westernizing reformer. Thus, there is no one to negotiate with who can really speak for all of Islam or even a majority. Islam's history has been punctuated with internecine conflicts, especially among Arabs. Islam is especially distrustful of aristocracy or kingship. That doesn't bode well for the House of Sa'ud. It has not been a fertile ground for democracy either. Most attempts have ended with military dictatorship.

To deal with the Muslim world, we need new arguments, based not on the self-evidence of inalienable rights, but on the basic futility of the old concept of jihad, which meant military conquest to bring the Muslim gospel to the world.
Somehow, Muslim peoples must be made to understand that they cannot be part of a modern world and deny the rights and freedoms of other nations and peoples. This would seem obvious from the history of the past 300 years, but they are, in large part, in denial.

Religions are usually conservative, forever calling the people to repent and return to basic principles and scriptures that are thousands of years old, but if they try to cling too tightly to outdated modes of living, or doctrines which are basically impossible, like the Shakers' celibacy, they fail their adherents. In fact, without a faith in continuing revelations from deity, all religions are doomed to be corrupted by "scholarship" and opinions of intellectuals who become jesuitical and jealous over irrelevancies.