Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Gulf Oil Spill, Lex Talionis, and the Rent-Seeking Style of Governance

"...But we can't explore space if the requirement is that there be no casualties; we can't do anything if the requirement is that there be no casualties."
— Isaac Asimov

The DeepWater Well blow out is something that happens when men try to do stuff. Wells blow out. They always have. Every single scrap of 20th Century advancement was one way or another fueled or funded by oil and the fearless drilling that pulled it to the surface. Men put their strength into their dreams and it's no legend that the price is paid in the lives of good men. Other men became legends putting the fires out and the lids on.

Hype can't touch calloused hands. And hype won't make legends in oil country, because the job is right there. PR won't put out an oil field fire. Photo Ops won't plug a gusher. And Reputation Management won't wash off the crude. It was Red Adair who said "If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur."

The Federal government is the amateur here. True leaders do not cast blame or jockey for position but seek solutions, find a vision that is doable and enable each person to find an important task in working together to build preventive solutions. True leaders don't worry about being photogenic or sounding tough, they just focus on getting the job done.

No one in BP or on that oil rig intentionally caused this rig explosion, and every one of them who survived will learn - no thanks to Congress - from the disaster how to make the next well safer, what they can each contribute on the next rig to keep themselves and their crews out of harm's way. The men who were there on that rig were and are professionals all, who understood that no great venture is without risk. They are true men: prepared to put themselves on the line in order to play their own part in the history of Great Things that America is known for.

Yet the people - in both parties - who are supposed to be leading us seem to have forgotten these things. They look past the beam in their own eye to hold a magnifyer to the mote in their brother's.

For people elected to stand in each pair of our shoes on the floor of the House and Senate, elected to stand in for each of us in the White House, to avoid their own responsibilities to bring us together into a team of workers to get the job done, and instead to put all their energy toward trying to create a mob by finding someone different from them to demonize, is beyond belief.

It's a sign of recent decay in our government that the most excessive rent seeking is espoused by all but a courageous few elected members of Congress and is even the 'unprecedented' strategy preferred by the White House and its unelected appointees.

The people we elected, of all parties, to temporarily hold our own place in government need to step back from their PR and "reaction" reports, wipe off the make up, and take a good look in the mirror. They must remember where the future lies, and it isn't in the Bletway.

This is America: land of big skies, big shoulders, big deeds. America is the land where the Constitution founds our law on consistent mercy toward all, not on retribution. Vindictive retaliation has no place in United States law or governance. Why are the people who promised to preserve American liberty taking part in this brutal and primitive ritual? Is lex talionis - the law of tooth and claw - the legacy they wish to leave their own grandchildren? While staring in their own faces, they should ask themselves why they are not dedicated to preserving these self-evident truths of compassionate law and predictable governance for future generations?

History, long from now, will not reflect kindly on this episode, but it will identify it as a turning point.

A turning toward what, is the question.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Historic Jefferson, Texas

Pat at And So It Goes In Shreveport is having fun this summer blogging their day trips and outings. Her most recent is about the Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport - on my list if we ever get to actually stop while passing through the town! We passed through - going and coming - this past week on our way to South Carolina - I took a picture! I told Paul I am going to blog about the places we saw the signs for. Heh.

Anyway, last week Pat walked the reader up and down the picturesque streets of Jefferson Texas. We went to Jefferson a couple of years ago, rounding off a visit to Marshall to go to the Friends of the Library sale. That was the sale where I bought a copy of Alexander McCall's "Tears of the Giraffe" and was introduced to Precious Ramotswe and her neighbors in Botswanna. I enjoyed the book so much I immediately went and bought all the rest of the series. They are simply wonderful: inspiring books that can remind how one person just being her best self can make life a little easier. Funny that sometimes the nicest memories come from small events in out of the way places.

Jefferson is a lovely little town, and we had a good time wandering its streets, shopping its many antique stores, and enjoying good food. I think you will too. Go over and check out Pat's post, then see if you can't work a short trip into your summer schedule.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Clean Search Engines: Google's Recent Changes and Ways To Adjust Them

[UPDATE Jan 1, 2011: I settled on Yahoo's regular search. It took it a couple of weeks to get "smart" but I've been using it as my default search for about 5 months now and am happy. The results are "as expected", clean, accurate. ]

I promise I'm not turning into a nerd but it took me a while to find this info so I want to share it, in case someone else out there needs a new way to spot the internet "alligators" in advance! A few weeks ago, Google rolled out a bunch of Search Enhancements. Some changes affected the way it looks, and - my concern - part of the change seems to have affected content filtering settings.

Some changes were immediately visible and some were not. Here are a couple of lists of some changes:

05/02/2010 Changes in May

05/06/2010 Google Now Looks Like Bing?

06/17/2010 Changes in June

There doesn't seem to be a permanent cookie any longer. For those of us who previously had safe filtering turned on even if not signed in, Google has now added a 3rd option (no longer just on or off), and defaulted to what they call "moderate", which doesn't filter enough for me (in fact I thought they had turned it completely off!). Realistically, a more apt word would be "minimal" or even "nominal", as it doesn't filter anything but explicit images, resulting in bad stuff showing up in innocent searches - like searching for "antique mall in [a town in] Louisiana". Seriously.

Thus, it is possible that plain googling may need more help to be clean enough for your adolescents or children - or work . If you are finding that normal searches are showing inappropriate results or not displaying as you wish, below are some links you can use to help.
OR you can try one of the great new child-friendly search engines, including Google's own great one(more on this later): http://www.safesearchkids.com/google-for-kids.html

Google: How to Enable Safe Search

Google: How to LOCK SafeSearch

(Note: These only work continually if you set all of your browsers to never delete Google's cookie (which no longer is independent of the browser). It must be set independently for every browser and every user.

New URL for Google Encrypted Web Search; Students Used Old URL to Bypass School Filters

How to Get Classic Google Layout Back

About Google's Dedicated Youth-Safe Search URL: http://www.safesearchkids.com/index.html
This is a great idea, and the page offers some good advice about parental controls and internet safety in general.

I am using Google SafeSearch For Kids tonight and it seems pretty good so far. here's the actual Search URL: http://www.safesearchkids.com/ I can find the blogs I usually read (political but clean) but I haven't tried any real research yet. I'm going to use the Google for kids exclusively for a few days I think and see how it works for me.

List of Other Clean Search Engines You Can Use:

Ask for Kids

Altavista Family Filter

AOL Kids Only

Lycos SearchGuard


If using dedicated clean search engines proves not to be the solution you need, you may want to find a good safety software to use - preferably not one that charges a subscription. Subscriptions for nothing more than "use" have no value, as other options are out there. Here's one new possibility: FamilyShield. Has anyone tried it or have suggestions for Parental Control Software?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

On Traditional Patriotism and Tea Parties

"In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot."
Mark Twain

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Turn Around & You're Tiny, Turn Around & You're Grown

If you like beautiful, dreamy, romantic blogs, here's one of the nicest: "my heart belongs to me". Erin is our newest daughter in love's sister.

Of the many "don't miss" posts, her wistful and loving paen to Sesame Street's film about a crayon factory is a treasure. If you never thought "How'd They Do That?" could make you teary eyed, Erin's gentle insight may stop you in your tracks.

But especially, she's blogged about Lani's bridal shower, given by her mother's friends, on Sunday. Lots of great pictures, and happy girls. :-)

It was a girly, dress-up brunch outdoors on a beautiful day overlooking the water at "The Grill at Rough Hollow" in Austin (technically nearest to Lakeway). The photo above is the three sisters: Lani, Erin and Neil.

The hostesses made gorgeous, simple arrangements using hydrangeas and limes and blueberries. Erin made yummmmmy cupcake towers. Both these ideas are definitely keepers: everyone oohed and ahhed. I know I'll be heading to the Produce Market the next time I need to create centerpieces for an event.

This is Janet, Lani's Mom. See how beautiful our new daughter in love is going to be when she is closer to my age?

Pretty as all the pictures, and we had the nicest time. Do go over and visit!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Unemployment Rates For March 2010: Mexico 4.8%, USA 10.4%

From the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)*

Unemployment rates of the 30 member countries

2009 Annual Unemployment Rates:
Mexico: 5.5 %
USA: 9.3 %

Only 6 countries (out of the 30 members) had lower unemployment than Mexico's 5.5 % for 2009: Norway (3.2%), Korea (3.7 %), Switzerland (4.2 %), Austria (4.8), Netherlands (4.9),
Japan (5.1%).

Quarterly Unemployment rates:

Q3 2009
USA: 9.6

Q4 2009
USA: 9.5

Q1 2010
USA: 10.4

Only 5 member countries achieved less unemployment than Mexico for Q4 2009 (latest quarter available for all member countries): Austria, Korea, Norway, Japan, Switzerland. Australia tied with Mexico's 5.4 %.

For March 2010:
Mexico: 4.8 %
USA: 10.2 %

For April 2010:
Mexico: 5.45 %
USA: 9.5 %

*If the link above expires or doesn't work, here's how to navigate there:
http://stats.oecd.org > Country Statistical Profiles > Labour > Labour Statistics > Labour Force Statistics > Survey based unemployment rates and levels

May 1941 Unemployed on Main Street in childersburg Alabama, Photo by Jack Delano, Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection fsa 8b35795

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Normandy: A walk through history"

Mom in High Heels is one of the brave spouses of our military, and is with her Army husband stationed in Germany. Her blog is a lot of fun, she's homeschooling their son, but my favorite thing is her travel writing. Being in Europe, they take the opportunity to see so many historic places. Her photos and commentary are always special, with little details you might not hear anywhere else.

"Normandy: A walk through history" is one of those, a chronicle of their visit to Sainte Mere Eglise, Dead Man's Corner, Utah Beach, Pointe Du Hoc,and Omaha Beach. It's a good article for family reading, and her photos bring it to life.

Of Omaha Beach, she writes:
" I could not in my wildest dreams comprehend the scale of this beach. It's not a small beach. It is huge and deep. I had no idea how far these men had to go once they hit the beach. Remember that they came in at low tide to avoid obstacles in the water (we visited at low tide too). As we stood at the head of the beach looking out over the water, my breath was taken away. The wind was whipping around us, but we walked down to the waters edge, which took us a good 20-30 minutes and we weren't weighed down with gear, waterlogged or being fired at."

Take your time on this tour. Walk slowly and click open the photos. They are real, not set designs. No crew came in and staged the area. This isn't some planned PR event, it's three generations of a real family considering together the utter reality of these places and the history of the men who did the job they had to do to guarantee their children could live as free people.


Photo: "French civilians place crosses at the graves of American soldiers in a cemetery on Omaha Beach" from the Eisenhower Library. And something else, from the same page to ponder.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"There Is Only One Basic Human Right..."

"Freedom is not empowerment. Empowerment is what the Serbs have in Bosnia. Anybody can grab a gun and be empowered. It's not entitlement. An entitlement is what people on welfare get, and how free are they? It's not an endlessly expanding list of rights -- the "right" to education, the "right" to food and housing. That's not freedom, that's dependency. Those aren't rights, those are the rations of slavery -- hay and a barn for human cattle. There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences."

-- P.J. O'Rourke

Monday, June 7, 2010

Glory To God For All Things: Russian Government plans Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Paris

Some days the news brings glad tidings. Here is the joy that can be found in the building of a church: Russia has successfully acquired the land and approval from the French government to build a traditional Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Paris, in the neighborhood of the government. The cathedral's design has not yet been declared, but news reports say it will be modeled after St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, with gilded onion domes.

Russian churches have been a fixture in France since the time of the Tsars, and Paris holds a number of Orthodox locations. I'm sure I learned of this this morning on Lucianne.com but cannot find the L Dot story now. Details here (link opens a PDF):

Other details and background are here and here and here.

The Orthodox Church is deeply, deeply mystical, and it must be said that the increased presence of a praying body bode well for Paris and France as a whole, and for Europe.

If you have never been exposed to Orthodox Christian theology, there's no better place to start than by reading Father Stephen's blog, linked from my sidebar, "Glory to God for All Things". Read, even if you are not a believer, and understand, at last, why.

My first exposure to Orthodox theology was through the writings of Fr.Alexander Schmemann. Sometimes theology is like water to a dying thirst, and his writings were that for me.

Recent accounts by individuals of their conversion to Orthodoxy are found at "My Way to Orthodoxy"

We are truly witnessing pivotal events in the resurgence of faith. The Orthodox believe that Christian worship brings Heaven to earth. Can Heaven be far away when God walks in the world and restores Christianity at every point?


06/08/10 P.S. I neglected to credit the painting, which my mother painted in acrylic, of St Basil's, Moscow.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Consider the Lilies of the Field...

The Words of our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ:

Matthew 6:27-34 (King James Version)

Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ain't That America? Pat Austin Takes A Daydream of a Southern Road Trip

Go on over to And So It Goes In Shreveport, and feel the tension disappear. Feel the world right itself again, and remember how it feels to go home in America.

Imagine walking down the railroad tracks, and exploring abandoned old stores and still-full-every-Sunday frame churches with their steeples standing in fields of verdant and wild green.

Imagine the flowering of industry sprouting up as drilling rigs for gas wells, and the pride of place when everyone benefits from a real thriving economy that meets the needs of little Coushatta, Louisiana, and of the mighty Nation she does her part to support.

Imagine bushel baskets overflowing with the freshest of home grown produce, imagine sitting in the backyard in the cool of the evening shelling purple hull peas.

Imagine all that in warm fresh air saturated with the fragrance of peaches...

What are you waiting for? Go! Go see her post and photos for yourself!

About That "Civility" Business


THAT Explains The Sudden Obsession With Ordering Other People To Behave With "Civility"

I should have known. When the smart set get all ga-ga over something (no offense or reference to Miss Lady Gaga), there's usually a best seller involved. And it usually involves either rules or breaking rules.

The Rules books are usually for how to control other people.

The Breaking Rules books are usually for how to intimidate other people.

The Rules books generate a spontaneous rash of seminars and workplace development presentations, adopted to enhance corporate culture at great expense by HR, with the result that the already polite, the timid, the shy, the anxious, and the new make a sincere effort to follow along, while the rude and ambitious toss the manual on their way out of the conference room (which they leave early due to some urgent conflict on their calendar).

And once the book has been mentioned in all the best magazines and conferences and generated an 8 foot shelf of copycat keyword books, the author is described as a "thought leader".

In this case, the book - well, the book of the moment - is "The Civility Solution: What To Do When People Are Rude" by P.M. Forni. Mr Forni has also written a couple of other books on the topic. His first, in 2002, was "Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct".

Guess which is which?

The Rules book begins with the author proposing that as a society we do a new thing, and base our behavior on "respect, restraint, and responsibility that we call civility".

The author talks about "the so-called coarsening of America".

The Breaking Rules book by page 8 is already encouraging needless aggression through sharp, accusatory questioning under the guise of "confronting rude behavior".

The phrase "the right thing to do", which, as we have learned, is corporate code for "any other reason spoken aloud may be used against the company in court", pops up right away. The author defines civility as being influenced only by our own internal prompting and it sounds such a gentle thing. But by page 7 "rude" people are derided as coercive, humiliating, demeaning, threatening...invalidating. The author claims "They bruise and wound."

Then begins to lay out his plan for "effective ways of dealing with it."

The example provided first is a librarian who accosts a patron engrossed in using one of the computers, and grills her repeatedly about a turned-off computer nearby. The polite patron explains the unused computer was so noisy it was disturbing her. Forgetting this is a library (in which quiet is the "civil" and expected behavior), the confrontive librarian turns the machine back on and issues the order not to do it again.

The librarian seems to think that prefacing this command with "please" this makes it civil.

The librarian's situation is then described as "sad" for she's seen so much disregard for others among the patrons of the library. Truly, it's enough to cause her to lose all faith in human nature.

It seems there's no incivility in the active disruption of another's concentration in order to assert control of the space that other person occupies. If rudeness is failing to pass the pepper when passing the salt, then that failure to pass the pepper gives the un-peppered one license for"confronting": berating and accusing to one's heart's content.

Of course, in the Wall Street Journal account of the sensation this movement is causing, a woman professor of Theology enlightens him of her strange (and dangerously incorrect) opinion that Jesus taught compassion without teaching rules, whereon Mr. Forni is given pause to consider that his rules might better be called "ways".

This is one of a piece with another from the 8 foot shelf, "Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy" by Stephen Carter, from 1998, who couldn't resist preaching either, albeit in that stylishly dying gracefully protestant denominational way that assures we are all "equals before God" who "share createdness".

M Scott Peck, who used to make sense and have something useful to say, seems to have started the fashion with the trite "A World waiting to Be Born: Civility Rediscovered" from 1993. Kind of a shame that a guy who started off willing to admit that polite rituals could screen genuine evil by denying the capacity for truth and emotion in another person, ended by labelling "incivility" - impoliteness - as the root of all our terrible societal troubles.

All seem to have one thing in common: they all propose that what the world needs now is nicety from everyone who disagrees with them.

They click their tongues at the obnoxious world and encourage others to make an interminable issue of the fact that the rabble, by virtue of being rabble, are "rude". How dare we rabble get to behave however we please and think whatever we wish and say whatever we believe to be the truth.

The bores of Civility would so appreciate it if we would just wait in the hall until they call for us and mind our tone and trust them to make the best decisions for us.


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