NBierma.com File

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

E-mail from history professor on Robert Putnam, individualism, and post-Sept.11 altruism:

The Putnam reference is pretty interesting, and in fact this question came up
in one of my classes this week (I think I was the one who raised it though ...).
Are we really not as individualistic as he says we are? I think Putnam would
say that the compassionate response isn't necessarily evidence that things are
changing, or that he's been mistaken. In the book he focuses on the importance
of joining organizations, those social situations that require people to commit
longer term, to put up with irritating people, to go along with the consensus
when you don't entirely agree, to work for a greater good down the road--the
kinds of situations that make us into mature, civic-minded people. My guess is
that we're seeing at least in part an example of the "minute-man tradition" in
our culture--we have an amazing ability to rise up in response to crisis, but we
are not good at dealing with long-term, deeply rooted social problems (the
aborted War on Poverty being a case in point).

Plus, so much of this volunteerism seems to be couched in distressingly
one-dimensional patriotic language: we are good, and they must be evil. We're
really not interested in analyzing what went wrong in the larger world to cause
the evil, or dealing with messy political and social problems long-term. Sorry
if this sounds cynical, but there are an awful lot of flags on cars, houses, etc
around here, and a lot of God and country pieces in the Grand Rapids Press. It's
a little overwhelming.

E-mail from Will R in response to my thought of the day on religious freedom:

A free intellectual/moral marketplace -- a marketplace of ideas, if you
will -- and a free economic marketplace are not the same thing. The
former functions better with less government intrusion; the latter
needs repeatedly to be beaten with a stick to avoid devouring us.

Point well taken about the strip club thing, but -- and don't shoot me
for this one -- I do think they should be protected by the first
amendment. My reason is this: How can we say we are of strong moral
fiber if we come morally unglued as soon as the threat of temporal
punishment is lifted? My nausea over the tepid moral cesspool that is
America could not be greater, and I too agree with conservatives on
that, but the fact is we're no different than we were. The State
carries specific powers that I don't think should be used to enforce
morality, namely the power to revoke liberties and, whether through war
or capital punishment, to kill. If you hold someone at gunpoint and
tell him to do the right thing, that he does so is not a reflection of
his character, merely his desire to survive. The increase of civil
liberties affords the Church a unique opportunity to confront depravity
in ways that were impossible before, because the veil is lifted. People
will say what they really think, and we can answer them in ways we
could not. There should be laws, granted, so that the frontier between
my rights and yours is clearly defined and enforced, but only the
minimum that are necessary.

It is very tempting to apply these principle to capitalism, as our
President likes to do. (An funny side bar: Bush's name in Chinese, a
phonetic transliteration pronounced "boo sure", is a homonym
of "incorrect" or "it is not so".) To some extent they apply, but only
mutatis mutandis. Bush seems to think that it's a few bad apples that
are the problem -- it makes me wonder how many more companies have to
fold in scandal for him to see the need for systemic change. I happen
to think that in the case of corporate governance, the CEO dogs need
shorter leashes. I propose having a board of directors elected by the
shareholders -- the people who really got screwed when Enron, WorldCom,
et al., went under -- and having the authority to hold the CEO to
account, much as the President is accountable to Congress. It may be
that tighter regulation is necessary to effect this, in which case I'm
all for it. I'm not one of those let-the-market-sort-it-out, Wall-
Street-Journal-Editorial-page-is-my-Bible conservatives. The market is
a firehose that needs to be directed by human efforts in order to work
effectively and not put somebody's eye out.

Your comments about de Toqueville's "tyranny of the majority" are good.
Once again, I have been helped in this department by Uncle C. S. He
says the majority of people -- including himself, but also the sort of
people who "think in catch phrases, believe advertisements, and spread
rumors" -- don't deserve a share in governing a hen roost, much less a
government. The Founding Fathers had no intention of letting them
govern; hence the electoral college. Also, the Senate was not designed
to be directly elected, but to be elected by state legislatures. Their
dilemma is spreading power thinly enough to prevent tyranny without
letting the great unwashed influence policy too much. I agree with
Lewis that equality is a necessary legal fiction for avoiding tyranny,
but it is just that -- a fiction. Nature knows no equality. We are
God's equals. I am not Melville's literary equal. Americans seem to
have forgotten that this is a fiction and want to apply it to their
everyday lives, and Christians seem especially susceptible to it. It
seems like everyone and their dog writes a Christian self-help book
these days. Many of these people comment on things they have absolutely
no business commenting on. That there are many cultural voices, and
that they are all equally valid does not mean that everyone who can
read and write has a cultural voice. Many people can neither understand
nor articulate the nuances of cultural debate. They should accept with
gracious humility that God made them for something else and should give
a certain authority to the people God has designed for this sort of
thing, just as I defer to my doctor's judgement about what's wrong with
me. He knows better than me, simple as that. One relatively recent
example comes to mind that illustrates this. There was a golfer a few
years back, Casey something, I can't remember his name, whose swing,
they say, was in the same league as Tiger Woods, but who was excluded
from the PGA tour because of a medical condition that prevented him
from walking the course -- he had to use a cart, which is prohibited by
PGA rules. He could walk fine, but didn't have the endurance for 18
holes. The Supreme Court absurdly ruled that the PGA tour let him use a
cart -- let him cheat, in other words. Having the endurance to walk is
part of the game, but he felt he should be exempt from that because he
couldn't help his medical condition. I can't help that I suck at golf,
but does that mean I have the right to an exemption from the rules? No.
I am not equal to the champions of golf; neither was this guy. Tragic?
Yes. It is a shame that someone who can hit the ball so well should
have such a handicap. Unfair? Not in the least. He simply was not good
enough. The irony is that when everyone plays under the same rules, or,
to put it in legal terms, when all are equal under law, our true
inequalities and differences come out. God made us this way and we
shouldn't try to change it. Each of us is a bundle of unique strengths
and limitations. The limitations are the result of sin, or flaws in
God's creation; he put them in us to keep us humble, to remind us that
there is One who can do all. No one is God but God. We forget that

By Nathan VanderKlippe, February 2003

It’s not every day you get paid to be a human penny, rolling down a
super-sized version of one of those mall charity funnels.

But the West Edmonton Mall was opening a new slide called the Tropical
Typhoon, and duty called: I came to work armed with my swimming shorts.

Best to arrive informed, I thought, and called Kevin Hanson, the mall’s
operations manager. He says the big funnel cost $300,000 and is the
only one in Western Canada.

"We like to bring stuff in that’s going to dazzle you a little bit or
amaze you," he explained. Over the past few years, waterpark usage has
stagnated at around 500,000 people annually and the park is trying to
freshen up. It’s investing $1.2 million in renovations and new slides
this year alone.

I had to know what to expect on my first ride, so I asked Hanson.
Little did I know he would throw down the gauntlet.

"We’ve had guys that have made up to four spirals on it before they
drop out the middle," he said. "I would suspect if you’ve never ridden
it, you’ll do one turn before you go out the middle."

Just one measly turn? This man didn’t have much faith in me. I mean,
you get at least six or seven satisfying spirals when you chuck a coin
into one of those charity funnels.

What I needed was professional help. If anyone could help me beat the
laws of nature it had to be someone who knows them inside out so I got
Doug Schmitt, a University of Alberta physics prof, on the line.

"It would depend on basically how fast you were going," he opined. "So
the faster you’re going, the higher your kinetic energy. Basically that
would dictate what level you’d spin around on the funnel."

OK, got it. Minimize the friction, keep up the kinetic energy and see
if this unsculpted body can beat gravity. I have visions of my torso as
a human version of one of those Olympic skeleton sleds, lithely snaking
my way around the funnel’s bowl.

But, I figure, I’ll likely end up looking more like a soggy sack of

These thoughts in mind, I spend 35 minutes in line waiting to mount the
shiny new ride which looks a bit like a UFO being watered by a big blue
straw. I’m surrounded by students from Cardinal Leger Catholic Junior
High who are slip-sliding their way through Valentine’s Day.

Fourteen-year-old Nicholas Rocchio is one of them, and among the very
first to test the new slide when it opened at noon.

His verdict: "it’s the best slide I’ve ever been on!"

Now it’s my turn. I swing my way into the blue tunnel and start
plummeting toward the watery bowl. I close my eyes when I hit and feel
centrifugal force press my back into the plastic. I whip around, then
lose speed and tumble out of the bowl with all the elegance of an
elephant doing his business.

As I clamber up the ladder, I ask the slide attendant how many times I
made it around.

"Four," he tells me.

Nicholas, for all his youthful agility, only made it around twice.
Victory is mine.

Monday, June 02, 2003

>e-mail fwd:
Why did the chicken cross the road?

We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just
want to
know if the chicken is on our side of the road or not. The
chicken is
either with us or it is against us. There is no middle ground

I invented the chicken. I invented the road. Therefore, the
crossing the road represented the application of these two
functions of government in a new, reinvented way designed to
greater services to the American people.

Now at the left of the screen, you clearly see the satellite image
the chicken crossing the road.

We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not
yet been
allowed access to the other side of the road.

MOHAMMED ALDOURI (Iraq ambassador)
The chicken did not cross the road. This is a complete
fabrication. We
don't even have a chicken.

This was an unprovoked act of rebellion and we were quite
justified in
dropping 50 tons of nerve gas on it

The chicken's habitat on the original side of the road had been
polluted by unchecked industrialist greed. The chicken did not
unspoiled habitat on the other side of the road because it was
by the wheels of a gas-guzzling SUV.

To steal a job from a decent, hard-working American.

I don't know why the chicken crossed the road, but I'll bet it was
getting a government grant to cross the road, and I'll bet
someone out
there is already forming a support group to help chickens with
crossing-the-road syndrome. Can you believe this? How much
more of
can real Americans take? Chickens crossing the road paid for
by their
tax dollars, and when I say tax dollars, I'm talking about your
money the government took from you to build roads for
chickens to

No-one called to warn me which way that chicken was going. I
had a
standing order at the farmer's market to sell my eggs when the
dropped to a certain level. No little bird gave me any insider

Because the chicken was gay! Isn't it obvious? Can't you
people see
plain truth in front of your face? The chicken was going to the
side. That's what they call it-the other side. Yes, my friends, that
chicken is gay. And, if you eat that chicken, you will become gay
too. I
say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination
liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases
other side."


Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad?
Yes, The
chicken crossed the road, But why it crossed, I've not been told!

To die. In the rain. Alone.

I envision a world where all chickens will be free to cross roads
without having their motives called into question.

In my day, we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road.
us that the chicken crossed the road, and that was good
enough for us,
and that's the way it was and we liked it!

Isn't that interesting? In a few moments we will be listening to
chicken tell, for the first time, the heart-warming story of how it
experienced a serious case of moulting and went on to
accomplish its
life-long dream of crossing the road.

Imagine all the chickens crossing roads in peace.

It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

It was an historical inevitability. I would cross and the chicken
I are cousins.

I may not agree with what the chicken did, but I will defend to
death its right to do it.

What chicken?

To boldly go where no chicken has gone before.

You saw it cross the road with your own eyes! How many more
have to cross before you believe it?

I have just released eChicken 2003, which will not only cross
but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance
checkbook - and Internet Explorer is an inextricable part of

Did the chicken really cross the road or did the road move
beneath the

I did not cross the road with THAT chicken. What do you mean
chicken? Could you define chicken, please?

I missed one?