Monday, March 31, 2008

Philosophy to Religion

I was watching Anthony Bourdain in China a few minutes ago, and he used a phrase that intrigued me. He referred to a particular temple as a place "where Daoism changed from a philosophy to a religion for many people".

Does that actually happen, and if so, how? It seems to me that religion requires a theistic element most philosophy doesn't have, and such an element can't easily be incorporated into an existing philosophical framework. It has to be part of the philosophy from the start. But I certainly am no expert. If someone out there can provide a possible philosophy-to-religion mechanism, I'd love to know about it.

In Anthony's case, I think he used the term "religion" in anther sense, to express a increase in intensity of adherence to the philosophy.

Rest in Peace....Please

Sigh......The news just ran a story about a Princess Diana death inquest that's apparently going on in Britain. Based on what I can find absolutely nothing has changed since the initial findings 11 years ago. Apparently someone saw the need to look into the various conspiracy theories about it; this Reuters article has some quotes from the proceedings. Honestly, some of it is so ludicrous that it's hard to believe taxpayers from two countries (France did the initial investigation since the accident happened there) had to pay good money to fund it. Of course the Diana cultists (can you imagine a life so barren as to be dedicated to this?) will say it's all a coverup. I say it's been 11 years; let her rest in peace.


Another snow storm is blowing through here;it looks like about 4 inches again. The southeast part of the state is getting it worse. Hopefully it's the last gasp.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Random Reading

A couple for stories I found via Brijit......

A contrast between the Farm Bill and a South Dakota organic family farm in Gourmet magazine of all places.

A jarring story in Marie Claire about a man finding out his sister is in the porn industry.

Al-Sadr Rope-a-Dope

So Muqtada al-Sadr told his followers to back off. I'd read somewhere that he's a better politician than anything, and I think this shows it. Now he can claim that no one loyal to him is involved in any further fighting, and lay the blame for any deaths and damage on the Iraqi government while preserving his persecuted-by-the-Americans-and-their-puppet image for the elections. He can also let Maliki clean out the rebel elements in his organization, since they'll pesumably be the ones still fighting.
This also calls out Maliki in another way; it removes what everyone believes, despite his statements, was his prime target. It also could make Maliki look really ineffective if the fighting continues and he can't get things under control.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Garrison Keillor Wavering on Faith

I found this interesting, at least partly beacuse of it's source. It's tone is pretty mild, as you would expect from him, but one passage in particular rang true....

Skepticism is a stimulant, not to be repressed. It is an antidote to smugness and the great glow of satisfaction one gains from being right. You know the self-righteous -- I've been one myself -- the little extra topspin they put on the truth, their ostentatious modesty, the pleasure they take in being beautifully modulated and cool and correct when others are falling apart. Jesus was rougher on those people than He was on the adulterers and prostitutes.

I'll have to check back with him and see how it goes.

Took a Wrong Turn

All I can say about this can only suppress for so long, and you never know when it will surface.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Economic trouble, and Economic TROUBLE

Via 2blowhards..... California home values really took a dive in February. What also caught my eye were the actual prices.....

The median price of an existing, single-family detached home in California during February 2008 was $409,240, a 26.2 percent decrease from the revised $554,280 median for February 2007, C.A.R. reported. The February 2008 median price fell 4.8 percent compared with January’s revised $429,790 median price.

With those prices I can understand why some people would be tempted by a high-risk ARM. It might be the only way they'd even have a chance to own a home.

Ah well, it could be worse......there's always Zimbabwe (via Andrew Sullivan)

After a catastrophic few years that have seen the economy crumble and inflation soar to 200,000 percent, Mugabe's most powerful political weapon – fear – appears to be eroding. To understand what 200,000 percent inflation means, a journalist friend I was traveling with, N., said that on Friday, he had lunch at a hotel in Harare , where a local beer cost 2 million Zimbabwean dollars (less than $1). He passed by the hotel after work the same day and the same beer was going for more than 4 million.


We got the promised snow Wednesday night, about 4 inches of heavy wet stuff that stuck to the shovel. Ah well, it pretty much melted off the streets and sidewalks by yesterday afternoon.

I was recently commenting on a story (via Incertus) about the Florida Senate issuing an apology for slavery, and it occurred to me that I really don't have any experience with the emotions involved. According to the last census, there are 4685 black/African American people in South Dakota, putting them as a minority group in a virtual tie for third with Asians,well behind Native Americans and Hispanics. It is still quite possible to grow up here and never meet a live black person. When you talk race relations here, it almost always involves Native Americans.

I've been fortunate to have gotten to know African Americans through college, and my step-daughter is currently involved with a black man, but overall the historical baggage just isn't here. After all, South Dakota didn't exist until 1886, and my family didn't settle here until 1890 after coming from Europe.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Linked by a fellow South Dakotan!

Thanks to Douglas Wiken at Dakota Today for providing a link to my humble blog. I'll try not to be too big a disappointment, and I'll return the compliment. I've been trying to find other South Dakota bloggers. Being a South Dakotan creates a certain natural camaraderie; when you're in another state and meet another South Dakotan it's almost always a plesasant surprise, and it's usually possible to find common experiences.

Good Ad

ESPN just ran an ad (for a bottled water, I think) featuring Lou Pinella running out onto the field and yelling at an umpire, but telling him it was a good call, he's doing a great job, etc. It's fairly amusing, and I think he should actually do it once. It reminds me of the scene in The Odd Couple movie where Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are having another argument, and Jack shouts at him about what a great guy he is.

It's Money That Matters

Now that they've pretty much wiped out the protests (and no doubt used them as an excuse to arrest anyone else they had always wanted) China is letting journalists into Tibet under the kind of strict controls you would expect. It's nice to see that George Bush wasn't letting this bother him too much, but then he seems to have really stopped caring or even paying much attention to anything, if he ever did.
China learned the lessons of the Soviet fall well; it's economics that matters (Putin seems to have figured this out too;he swings that oil hammer fairly well). We could boycott the 1980 Olympics and play all sorts of political games with the Soviets because they posed no real threat; they couldn't take us militarily and their economic system didn't work. We could wait for them to implode. China is different. We can rattle sabers, but they're too big and too nuclear-armed to take on militarily(even if we could scrape together a viable army; thanks again Bush), and they know that just threatening to unload the huge amount of US currency they hold would tank our economy. Besides, so many US businesses rely on items manufactured there that no one is going to rock the boat. Perhaps other countries that aren't in such deep hock to them can step up, but the US is pretty much impotent. Our only leverage is that they also realize that if we go down hard we'd take their economy with us.
The only reason this has amounted to anything is that China is still new to this international stuff, and their history of being exploited by other countries has given them a bit of an inferiority complex that makes them hypersensitive. Once they truly learn to use what they have (perhaps by watching Putin) it could get ugly.

Picking a Fight?

So since the surge, which had shown some success in decreasing violence, was going to have to wind down soon, the Iraqi government decided to go out and pick a fight with the Sadrists? I suppose they figured they'd better do it while the US Army is still there to back them up,but it seems like it's going to restart a Shia internecine war. This may make our hired guns the Sunnis happy at the moment, but Shiites are the majority of the population, and if they see this as targeting them the Sunnis will eventually pay. Besides, starting new fires when you've shown you can barely contain the ones already burning is asking for trouble.
Of course the Bush administration will now use this as an excuse to try to back off on troop withdrawals. I say try because they had to pretty much max out the army to get the surge, and slowing down withdrawals may well break things down. Not that the administration really cares. They want to pick at the Iranian bogeyman, and they'll grind the military into dust to do it. After all, it'll be someone else's problem in a year.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pros and Cons of P.E.

2blowhards has a link to an opinion piece from a woman who strongly advocates more physical education in school. By coincidence my local news, based in Sioux Falls, just said that their school district, by far the largest in the state, is reducing the P.E. requirement. I'm torn on this. I certainly agree with the need for kids to get exercise, both for health and to blow off a little pent-up energy. But as a child whose gifts were definitely mental and not physical, I dreaded P.E. For me it was mostly a grueling test of survival, an ordeal to get through without harm if possible. Of course, back then it was pretty much high-impact - running laps in the gym; various versions of dodge ball, including one called "kill ball" that would cause most current educators to hyperventilate and which forced me to become fairly skilled at fixing eyeglasses; and occasional traditional sports at which I was hopeless.
My daughter,a junior, hasn't had traditional P.E. for a couple of years, but the high school does offer some other fitness classes that she took and enjoyed. Maybe if such options had existed for me I'd feel differently.

Genuine Self-Abuse

Via Arts and Letters Daily, this in the Washington Post from a man who spent 24 hours immersed in political punditry. Like a so-so sitcom, it has it's moments, but is entirely predictable and eventually rather tedious, like doing a study of what happens to a group of people when you hit their feet with a hammer. Perhaps it's just me. I can't even sit through an hour straight of Keith Olbermann, and I like him.


Yesterday the weather was beautiful here;low 60's and sunny. Today it's supposed to be windy (so far so good) and in the 50's. Tomorrow: Snow.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

True Fundamentalism

Slate has an article by James Martin on why Easter has resisted extensive commercialization compared to Christmas. I largely agree with it, although I have a quibble with this:

...while Christmas is forced to contend with Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, there is little holiday competition around Easter time.

It seems to me that from a commercial standpoint the other holidays don't compete with Christmas as much as they serve as supporting players, creating the "holiday season" that gives Bill O'Reilly such a snit but that has broadened the shopping clientele. It's worth noting that this season existed before Christianity; indeed, the early church intentionally put Christmas at that time to coincide with the celebrations already going on so as to make Christianity more popular.

I do agree with this point.....

Easter is an event that demands a "yes" or a "no."

The events alleged to have happened in the the Easter story are the true fundamental Christian beliefs. If you believe they're true, you're a Christian; if you don't, you're not. Either way,you make your choice and get on with life. The troubles start with the other Christian "doctrine", which is the result of people either trying to explain unrelated things, or trying to exclude (or worse) others they find objectionable. If people who call themselves "Christian fundamentalist" actually had to act that way, they'd have to be much more liberal and tolerant than they'd probably find comfortable; indeed,they'd probably belong to a denomination that allowed more restrictions and possibilities for exclusion.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Riddance

Rebecca Traister has an article in Salon about the possible decline of the celebrity gossip media. Speaking as a person who occasionally samples such fare for the same reason I take a sip of my wife's Diet Pepsi - to remind myself why I don't like it - I hope she's right. In addition to the factors she cites, another aspect of it annoys me; the attitude and behavior of the involved media. Watch the TMZ television show for 10 minutes (keep a bucket nearby) and you'll almost feel sorry for the celebrities they "cover". They don't just take pictures/video. They ask incredibly personal questions, they shout and harass. They don't seem to have any regard to the celebrity; the attitude seems to be that being a good actor/singer/etc somehow forfeits all rights to humane treatment. I can understand why California,with it's celebrity Governor, passed special laws regarding them.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Fairly Straightforward Explanation

Via Marginal Revolution....David Leonhardt gives a fairly easy-to-follow rundown of the credit crisis in the New York Times. I hate to say it, but the part about buying investments with lots of debt and getting burned sounds just like what happened to the stock market in 1929.

Turn in your Declaration

I found this via 2blowhards. I'd almost forgotten how much I like John Cleese.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


As I contemplated (with the usual disappointment) my last two posts, I noticed certain commonalities between the Spitzer and financial market debacles - hubris, being consumed by a self-created monster, exchanges of money leading to up-and-down movements - but above all the loss of trust necessary to function effectively. You can't lead a government of laws if people don't think you follow them, and you can't do business if people aren't sure you have the means to hold up your end. Spitzer and Bear Stearns ultimately went down because they lost credibility. A key difference is that Bear Stearns is gone for good, while Spitzer may eventually work his way back.

Spitzer's Failing

Now that the media has moved on to other kinky guberatorial shenanigans, I thought I'd jump in with my thoughts on Eliot Spitzer. I think it goes beyond the talk aobut hypocricy. For me it ventures into Crooked Cop territory.

I work closely with law enforcement here, and occasionally talk to the Attorney General. Yes, he's an elected official, but he's also the top legal authority for the state. He's in charge of the state's criminal investigative division. He's regularly asked to interpret the meaning of laws and ballot measures, and in the case of the measures those opinions are actually on the ballot for voters to use. Someone with that kind of authority and responsibility has to be unfailingly on the straight and narrow. If he's not, it affects the morale of the entire legal system.

Personally, I agree with those who think prostituion shouldn't be illegal. But it's one of the laws Spitzer enforced,and as governor was still in charge of the enforcers. He cannot violate those laws. It means too much to too many.

Is Wall Street Nuts?

There's a lot of goofy talk (imagine!) about why the stock market went up so much. A commenter at Balloon Juice had a pretty good take.......

It’s a herd mentality at work. The Fed cut 75 bps. In a black box, this should be good for equities. Money is cheaper, overall cost of capital goes down etc. Given the real and/or perceived liquidity issues facing the financial markets, the spectre of inflation such a move would cause has taken a back seat. Inflation is yesterday’s worry. For now.
Obviously, there is more to it than that. The see-sawing in the market we have been seeing the past few months is overreaction to different sets of conflicting news. The market should not have risen that much today nor should it have fallen so much at the end of last week when Bear unraveled. Confidence in the market is weak right and it appears to be amplifying movements quite a bit.

I'd add that lower interest rates generally make bonds and related securities less attractive long-term investments than stocks. At least some stocks theoretically also handle inflation better because the company's revenues and earnings go up with everything else. As with everything else being said, though, in the current climate it can all go out the window.

I knew those years working at a PBS station watching Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser
would come in handy someday!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Voting is not a Singular Event

Lately I've come across arguments over the effectiveness of voting, whether it really means anything given the structure of the system. The con argument seems to advocate just staying home; the pro relies on rather philsophical arguments.
I think an important point is overlooked in that argument; There's usually more than one vote to cast. Yes, The Presidential system is indirect and convoluted. But there are other votes on that ballot that are direct and meaningful, like state and local offices and ballot initiatives. Votes can make a real difference there, and have an immediate impact on lives. Political parties know this, and have used them to get out votes.
So even if you just can't bring yourself to participate in the screwed-up Presidential main event, don't forget about the undercard.


Sometimes, when she can't sleep or during a long bus ride to another campaign stop, the thought must pop up: Why do I keep going? The numbers are bleak. I'm generally well-regarded as a Senator, from New York no less. I could build a powerful legislative legacy. I move in the corridors of power and celebrity as few others do. I don't need this.

But as she contemplates her opponent, a young, charismatic newcomer to national politics with a strong wife and a message of change, her mind drifts to thoughts of another man who once had that aura, a man who got her where she is but who also scarred her deeply and publicly in ways few can understand, a man she stood beside through it all, a man whose presence in her life continues to be a very mixed blessing. A man who, if it were possible, could win the nomination with an ease of which she can only dream, and wouldn't hesitate to do it. A man who gave her an intimate look at the top of the mountain she's now trying to climb.

So she takes a deep breath and soldiers on, regardless of whatever damage it may do to the party (who would toss her aside to get him back if they could) because she didn't give up then and she won't give up now,and because it's what she's been doing for so long that she can't remember any other way.

He Did It

Well, from what I've seen, Obama's speech was about as successful as could be hoped. The man seems to be naturally able to rise to an occasion. I'm a registered Republican (a youthful indescretion I've been too lazy to rectify) so I'm out of it until the general election. But it's beginning to seem that he's truly special.

Enough already!

I have grown weary of all the media effort wasted on Barack Obama's pastor. The simpleminded notion that somehow he would exert some sort of undue authority over government policy in the event of an Obama administration is the kind of thinking that only the chattering chumps could perpetuate. It reminds me of the hubub over JFK's Catholicism somehow turning the U.S. government to the Pope. Thankfully Obama is doing what JFK did and addressing it directly. I've seen the film of JFK, and you can see in the faces of the audience as they listen that they realize how silly the whole thing is; Hopefully Obama can accomplish the same thing and we can get on with life.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Antiques Roadshow Bleep

The Antiques Roadshow just finished with a woman reacting to finding out her painting was worth a load of money by uttering something that required an approximately one-second bleep. I'm surprised that doesn't happen more often. Finding out that you could pay off the mortgage by selling Grandpa's old table could make anyone's tongue slip.

Many of the estimates on there amaze me, or more accurately the fact that somewhere out there are people who collect some of that stuff. That said, there have been a couple of things that I would almost buy if given the chance. The viewfinder from the camera that John Glenn used on his first space flight comes to mind, as does a drawing by master animation director Chuck Jones (an interesting combination now that I think about it). It's worth noting that both of those were fairly reasonably priced. Most of the time I can't imagine spending the kind of money quoted on there, even if I had it.

The Flatulence/Economics Connection

I originally came upon this via the excellent site Arts and Letters Daily. The article itself has it's moments, but what caught my eye was this......

"Levitt is a veritable gas guru, a leading expert on the underappreciated field of flatus -- intestinal gas that escapes via the southern route. He admits his unusual expertise has put his three kids (one of whom is economist and "Freakonomics" co-author Steven Levitt) through expensive universities."

I think anyone who has read much about economics has had the feeling that there was a connection.

Now What?

I'm not entirely certain what I'm going to do with this, but given my habits of thinking too much and wandering the internet I'm sure I'll find ways to fill the space.