March 31, 2009

"And your problem is shopping?"

...in the long violent saga of mankind we have rarely done anything as benign as going shopping, rarely devised anything as socially advantageous as property rights and the rule of law, rarely enriched the poor or enhanced lives as we did by creating capitalism.

War, pestilence.  And your problem is shopping? 

Daniel Finkelstein in the London Times on whether there is a fairer, more rational alternative to capitalism.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:01 PM | Permalink

More Christians than communists in China

There are more Christians in China than communists: 100 million believers vs. 74 million members of the communist party.

In fact, across China religion is undergoing a defiant and extraordinary revival. Millions of Chinese are turning to familiar traditional faiths such as Buddhism and Taoism – a mystical belief with about 400 million adherents that is China’s only indigenous creed. Taoist believers, like Buddhists, visit temples across the country to burn incense, present offerings and request readings from fortune tellers. Others are finding comfort in Confucius, but it is Christianity that is leading the battle for China’s 1.3 billion souls.
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Praying Chinese Christian
More Robert Reinlund photos here.

Why Christianity has such a hold remains something of an enigma. Many Chinese are looking to fill the chasm left by the collapse in Marxist ideology’s credibility in the wake of the disastrous ultra-leftist 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square crackdown. It’s also possible that a religion from the West holds a particular attraction for Chinese looking for a more modern faith to complement the stunning success of capitalist-style economic reforms. But the sense of belonging may be the best way to explain why Christianity has been such a spectacular success story in China in the past few years.
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“The future of Christianity in China is very different from in the West,” believes Pastor Jin. “In the West, Christianity is in retreat, especially in Europe, but in China it is growing by leaps and bounds.” He cites the stability the church offers to a population buffeted by decades of wrenching political change as one of most appealing aspects of the faith.
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“China is a land that has been chosen by God. If the government did not interfere then many more Chinese would become followers. Our hearts are thirsty.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:18 PM | Permalink

I can't keep up

I just can't keep up with all the news coming from Washington

America, World's Scariest Emerging Market by Desmond Lachman

A singular characteristic of an emerging market heading for deep trouble is a seemingly suicidal tendency to become overly indebted to foreign creditors. That tendency underlay the spectacular collapse of the Thai, Indonesian and Korean currencies in 1997. It also led Russia to default on its debt in 1998 and plunged Argentina into its economic depression in 2001. Yet we too seem to have little difficulty becoming increasingly indebted to the tune of a few hundred billion dollars a year. To make matters worse, we do so to countries like China, Russia and an assortment of Middle Eastern oil producers -- none of which is particularly well disposed to us.

Like Argentina in its worst moments, we never seem to question whether it is reasonable to expect foreigners to keep financing our extravagance, and we forget the bad things that happen to the Argentinas or Hungarys of the world when foreigners stop financing their excesses. So instead of laying out a realistic plan for increasing our national savings, we choose not to face up to the Social Security and Medicare crises that lie ahead, embarking instead on massive spending programs that -- whatever their long-run merits might be -- we simply cannot afford.

The Czech prime minister told the European Parliament

“The U.S. is repeating mistakes from the 1930s, such as wide-ranging stimuluses, protectionist tendencies and appeals, the Buy American campaign, and so on.
All these steps, their combination and their permanency, are the road to hell.”

The Financial Times says the crisis has broken the American social contract

people were free to succeed and to fail, unassisted. Now, in the name of systemic risk, bail-outs have poured staggering sums into the failed institutions that brought the economy down. The congressional response is a disaster. If enacted these ideas would lead to an exodus of qualified employees from US banks, undermine willingness to expand credit, destroy confidence in deals struck with the government and threaten the rule of law. I presume legislators expect the president to save them from their folly. That such ideas can even be entertained is a clear sign of the rage that exists.

The Social Security surplus has run out, ten years early.  Without that surplus the government will be forced to borrow an additional $700 billion over the next decade from China, Japan and other investors.

"Over the past 25 years, the government has gotten used to the fact that Social Security is providing free money to make the rest of the deficit look smaller," said Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Now they've essentially got to pay their own way, at least a little more fully.

"Instead of Social Security subsidizing the rest of the budget," he said, "the rest of the budget will have to subsidize Social Security."

Chairman Barney Frank and his House Financial Services Committee approves on a new bill that would impose financial controls on the pay of all employee of any company that received a capital investment from Washington

It would, like the tax measure, be retroactive, changing the terms of compensation agreements already in place. And it would give Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner extraordinary power to determine the pay of thousands of employees of American companies.

The prospect of a new era of government-controlled business, a dramatic break from American free enterprise is unnerving. 

I await the plans from the Office of People Who Are Much Smarter Than You Are, the vast majority of whom have no business experience, on just how they will keep American car companies running and make them profitable. 

Already, the Food Safety Modernization Act, pending in the House, promises a vast new bureaucracy  to regulate even small roadside stands by forcing them to register with the federal government  as 'food production facilities" or risk a million dollar fine.

It will only be eight or ten years before stocks recover to its prior peak

It's all too much, too fast, too expensive and too much indebtedness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:31 PM | Permalink

I can't keep up

I just can't keep up with all the news coming from Washington

America, World's Scariest Emerging Market by Desmond Lachman

A singular characteristic of an emerging market heading for deep trouble is a seemingly suicidal tendency to become overly indebted to foreign creditors. That tendency underlay the spectacular collapse of the Thai, Indonesian and Korean currencies in 1997. It also led Russia to default on its debt in 1998 and plunged Argentina into its economic depression in 2001. Yet we too seem to have little difficulty becoming increasingly indebted to the tune of a few hundred billion dollars a year. To make matters worse, we do so to countries like China, Russia and an assortment of Middle Eastern oil producers -- none of which is particularly well disposed to us.

Like Argentina in its worst moments, we never seem to question whether it is reasonable to expect foreigners to keep financing our extravagance, and we forget the bad things that happen to the Argentinas or Hungarys of the world when foreigners stop financing their excesses. So instead of laying out a realistic plan for increasing our national savings, we choose not to face up to the Social Security and Medicare crises that lie ahead, embarking instead on massive spending programs that -- whatever their long-run merits might be -- we simply cannot afford.

The Czech prime minister told the European Parliament

“The U.S. is repeating mistakes from the 1930s, such as wide-ranging stimuluses, protectionist tendencies and appeals, the Buy American campaign, and so on.
All these steps, their combination and their permanency, are the road to hell.”

The Financial Times says the crisis has broken the American social contract

people were free to succeed and to fail, unassisted. Now, in the name of systemic risk, bail-outs have poured staggering sums into the failed institutions that brought the economy down. The congressional response is a disaster. If enacted these ideas would lead to an exodus of qualified employees from US banks, undermine willingness to expand credit, destroy confidence in deals struck with the government and threaten the rule of law. I presume legislators expect the president to save them from their folly. That such ideas can even be entertained is a clear sign of the rage that exists.

The Social Security surplus has run out, ten years early.  Without that surplus the government will be forced to borrow an additional $700 billion over the next decade from China, Japan and other investors.

"Over the past 25 years, the government has gotten used to the fact that Social Security is providing free money to make the rest of the deficit look smaller," said Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Now they've essentially got to pay their own way, at least a little more fully.

"Instead of Social Security subsidizing the rest of the budget," he said, "the rest of the budget will have to subsidize Social Security."

Chairman Barney Frank and his House Financial Services Committee approves on a new bill that would impose financial controls on the pay of all employee of any company that received a capital investment from Washington

It would, like the tax measure, be retroactive, changing the terms of compensation agreements already in place. And it would give Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner extraordinary power to determine the pay of thousands of employees of American companies.

The prospect of a new era of government-controlled business, a dramatic break from American free enterprise is unnerving. 

I await the plans from the Office of People Who Are Much Smarter Than You Are, the vast majority of whom have no business experience, on just how they will keep American car companies running and make them profitable. 

Already, the Food Safety Modernization Act, pending in the House, promises a vast new bureaucracy  to regulate even small roadside stands by forcing them to register with the federal government  as 'food production facilities" or risk a million dollar fine.

It will only be eight or ten years before stocks recover to its prior peak

It's all too much, too fast, too expensive and too much indebtedness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:30 PM | Permalink

Gardasil, a boon or a danger?

In the past couple of years, the vaccine Gardasil has been touted as the best way to protect young women against cervical cancer. 

Manufactured by Merck & Co, the vaccine is designed to prevent the initial establishment of HPV, the human papillomavirius, that causes cervical cancer and is transmitted sexually.  Administered in three injections over six months, Gardasil is expensive ($360).

So effective was the new vaccine, many urged that it be given to all young teenage girls as a prophylactic before they became sexually active.  Some parents were horrified at the idea; most greeted the idea with great relief. 

Since HPV infection shows no symptoms and has no cure, the vaccine was heavily promoted in commercials which showed teenage girls saying "I want to be one less" who gets the HPV virus.

A number of states mandated the vaccine despite the fact that no one knew the long term effects.

Now from CBS news comes new worries about Gardasil safety and very serious side effects.

The National Vaccine Information Center, a private vaccine-safety group, compared Gardasil adverse events to another vaccine, one also given to young people, but for meningitis. Gardasil had three times the number of Emergency Room visits - more than 5,000.

Reports of side effects were up to 30 times higher with Gardasil.

"If I'd have known, we never would have gotten the shot," said Emily Tarsell, whose daughter, Chris, died three weeks after her third Gardasil shot. She was one of the 29 fatalities reported in two years. "And she'd be here to hug."

Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder of the NVIC, said: "Now we know from this report that there are more reactions and deaths associated with Gardasil than with another vaccine given in the same age group. It's irresponsible not to take action."

Mary Beth Bonacci says "The vaccine is unnecessary, it's dangerous, and it's disabling and killing young women."

We have pap smears, which detect HPV-related warts and pre-cancerous changes to the cervix. It is because of our friend the pap smear that cervical cancer deaths declined 74% between 1955 and 1992 - - the same time period wherein the rate of unmarried sexual activity was rising dramatically. Those cervical cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society, continue to decline at a rate of about 4% a year.

We don't need Gardasil to prevent cervical cancer. Gardasil is the closest thing I've ever seen to an out and out pharmaceutical hoax foisted on American women under the guise of "public health."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:23 AM | Permalink

March 30, 2009

"Total fraud," colossal scare story"

The eminent physicist Freeman Dyson is profiled in the New York Times as The Civil Heretic

IT WAS FOUR YEARS AGO that Dyson began publicly stating his doubts about climate change. Speaking at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University, Dyson announced that “all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated.” Since then he has only heated up his misgivings, declaring in a 2007 interview with Salon.com that “the fact that the climate is getting warmer doesn’t scare me at all” and writing in an essay for The New York Review of Books, the left-leaning publication that is to gravitas what the Beagle was to Darwin, that climate change has become an “obsession” — the primary article of faith for “a worldwide secular religion” known as environmentalism. Among those he considers true believers, Dyson has been particularly dismissive of Al Gore, whom Dyson calls climate change’s “chief propagandist,” and James Hansen, the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and an adviser to Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Dyson accuses them of relying too heavily on computer-generated climate models that foresee a Grand Guignol of imminent world devastation as icecaps melt, oceans rise and storms and plagues sweep the earth, and he blames the pair’s “lousy science” for “distracting public attention” from “more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet.”
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Climate models, he says, take into account atmospheric motion and water levels but have no feeling for the chemistry and biology of sky, soil and trees. “The biologists have essentially been pushed aside,” he continues. “Al Gore’s just an opportunist. The person who is really responsible for this overestimate of global warming is Jim Hansen. He consistently exaggerates all the dangers.”

On the same day, the London Telegraph reported on the Swedish scientist who's been researching sea levels for 35 years and knows about sea levels than any one else in the world who quite boldly states, the rise of sea levels is 'the greatest lie ever told.".  Also a "total fraud" and a "colossal scare story".

Think about that and Obama's $2 trillion climate plan that Senate staffers say will cost  three times what the President estimated.

Just how a massive tax increase on gasoline and electricity will get us out of recession is beyond me.  The fact that it's even being considered is infuriating, based as it all is on flawed computer models, questionable science, serial exaggerators and fundamentalist believers.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:54 PM | Permalink

Little girl saved

After little Morgan McCracken, 7, was hit in the head with a baseball in a backyard game, she seemed fine, but her parents, after reading about the death of Natasha Richardson took her to the emergency room after the little girl complained of a headache.

Morgan was in such bad shape by the time they got there that she had to be transferred to a children's hospital by helicopter, where she was immediately taken into surgery, according to CNN.

The McCrackens learned there that Morgan had the same injury that Natasha Richardson had died of -- according to CNN, an epidural hematoma. Mr. McCracken told the cable news outlet: "[Our doctor] told us that if we hadn't brought her in Thursday night, she never would have woken up."

But after Morgan's surgery and five days in the hospital, she's "doing fine," according to CNN, which lists the danger signs to look out for in a head injury on their web site.

Little girl saved after Natasha Richardson's death

Any head injury should be checked out.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:50 AM | Permalink

Giving your brain a workout

Brain Gyms are the latest in mental health writes Kelly Greene in the Wall St Journal

Patrons pay $60 a month to work out on 20 computer stations loaded with "mental fitness" software, including a "neurobics circuit" that purports to stretch the brain. Ms. Bucklin says she's addicted to an art-auction game that displays a dozen Monets for purchase. "Then they'll intersperse them with other Monets, and you have to tell them apart," she says. "I minored in art history, and I still find it difficult."

Thousands of Americans are choosing to join a small, but growing, number of "brain gyms" springing up around the country. Similar brain-teaser programs are available on home computers, sometimes free of charge. The scientific jury is still out on the efficacy of such software.
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More than 700 retirement communities have added computerized brain-fitness centers in the past three years, according to Alvaro Fernandez, co-founder of SharpBrains Inc., a firm that surveys the brain-fitness software market.

"We saw this area explode last year," says Mr. Fernandez. He estimates that consumers spent more than $80 million in 2008 on mental fitness. "You have an industry with tools and coaches. This is more real than people think."

The industry pins its claims for brain exercise on a relatively new scientific discovery: neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to rewire itself throughout life by creating neural connections in response to mental activity

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:43 AM | Permalink

March 27, 2009

Try hard, work hard

Sometimes you need scientific research to remind people what everyone used to take for granted. 

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.

Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.

Parents and teachers can engender a growth mind-set in children by praising them for their effort or persistence (rather than for their intelligence), by telling success stories that emphasize hard work and love of learning, and by teaching them about the brain as a learning machine.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:04 AM | Permalink

Mounting Wall of Debt

Senator Gregg says U.S. couldn't even join EU due to debt levels

Obama Deficits

I agree with Fred Barnes that the incredible period of growth over the past quarter century was not 'fleeting' who writes

Obama also seems misinformed about America's economic record in recent decades. Prosperity was "fleeting," he said, --f he's talking about the past quarter-century, most Americans would love to return to that era. From late 1982 well into 2007, we experienced one of the greatest economic booms in the history of the world, interrupted only by two shallow and brief recessions. Prosperity wasn't fleeting. It was practically non-stop--until the housing bust and credit crisis hit last year.
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Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner just had to defend his institutional takeover plan against charges of radicalism.

"Do you realize how radical your proposal is?" Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.) asked.

"It's not radical. . ." Geither began, before Manzullo interrupted him.

"You're talking about seizing private businesses and you don't consider that radical?"

Some people wonder whether Obama wants his bank plan to fail so he can nationalize the financial sector

I just don't have much confidence in the government running things.  Neither does Scipio

You might wonder what sort of people will be attracted to these new centers of power and influence. Easy answer: The same sort of people who are attracted to the Internal Revenue Service, Environmental Protection Agencies and Departments of Education—petty busybodies, grim manipulators, and small-minded paper pushers. These types will exert more direct control over your life than any religion ever could. Indeed, this motley throng will become the new priesthood of the new America.

And from where will come the necessary funds to pay for all of this? It will come from you. You will be taxed and taxed again to pay for these creatures whose sole reason to live is to ride herd over you.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:03 AM | Permalink

March 26, 2009

Organizing your home office

Just what sort of organization works for you is idiosyncratic and highly particular.  Just look what Sara Rimer went through as she sought to organize her home office.

An Orderly Office?  That's Personal

All organizers seem to agree on two things:

1. Get rid of clutter
2. Use a label maker

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:23 PM | Permalink

Is the Economy Turning More Brides Back to the Traditional Religious Wedding?

Seems so according the ABC News: Going to the Chapel, Getting (Cheaply) Married.

When Eileen Weir of Boston gets married in November, she'll probably walk to the church to save the cost of a limo. She purchased a wedding dress for $200 at the annual "running of the brides" event at Filene's Basement and plans to make her own invitations.
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"You have to ask yourself what's important," Weir says. "How many decorations do you really need? We are tied to the Catholic Church. If getting married is a leap of faith, than this is the place to do it."

According to a recent Gallup poll, the recession isn't increasing Americans' weekly church attendance, but for those already affiliated, a faith community can help prioritize the creation of a sacramental bond.
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These connections include "liturgies and music, things that evoke something awesome, transcendent. Sights, sounds, and smells," she says, adding, "It's the connection to community. Some Jewish people, for instance, have talked about how important it is for people to attend services to learn the traditions, through the community."

Community is of utmost importance at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Baltimore, which recently began offering a complete wedding package (minus the photographer and band) for $10,500.

The weddings are held in the building, and five local kosher caterers agreed to offer the same menu for the same price, explains Avi Frydman, executive director of the Orthodox Jewish congregation.
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"People are starting to pare things down," Porcello says. "They are concentrating on the more practical side of the relationship, and a practical appreciation of the faith, the reality of what marriage is more than the fairy tale wedding,"

Many couples mention that they had originally planned a larger wedding budget, "but that they are cutting back so they want to make the service really spiritual," Ritter says.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:14 PM | Permalink

"There are two automatic responses to anything money-related – boredom and fear"

A recent study seems to show that the brain switches off rationality when given 'expert advice.'

Financial advice can make us take leave of our senses, according to research that shows how the brain sets aside rationality when it gets the benefit of supposedly expert opinion.

When a bank manager or investment adviser recommends a financial decision, the brain tends to abdicate responsibility and defer to their authority with little independent thought, a study has suggested.

Such expert advice suppresses activity in a neural circuit that is critical to sound decision-making and value judgments, scientists in the US have found.
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“This study indicates that the brain relinquishes responsibility when a trusted authority provides expertise,” said Gregory Berns, Professor of Neuroeconomics and Psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta, who led the research. “The problem is that it can work to a person’s detriment if the trusted source turns out to be incompetent or corrupt.”

The findings from Emory University hint at what personal finance journalists have known for years: that there are two automatic responses to anything money-related – boredom and fear.

Most people cannot wait to unburden themselves of their mind-numbing, terrifying money worries so that they can get on with more pleasant decisions, like what to have for dinner.

I understand this response completely which is why I urge people to find a financial advisor they trust, one who is regulated, qualified and experienced who will act as more as a decision partner with you.  You can never turn over the final responsibility.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:09 PM | Permalink

Disaster from the sun

Oh good, another thing to worry about.  Our electrical grid can not handle solar outbursts.

According to the NAS report, a severe space weather event in the US could induce ground currents that would knock out 300 key transformers within about 90 seconds, cutting off the power for more than 130 million people.

  Space storm  alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe

Our modern way of life, with its reliance on technology, has unwittingly exposed us to an extraordinary danger: plasma balls spewed from the surface of the sun could wipe out our power grids, with catastrophic consequences.

The projections of just how catastrophic make chilling reading. "We're moving closer and closer to the edge of a possible disaster," says Daniel Baker, a space weather expert based at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and chair of the NAS committee responsible for the report.
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First to go - immediately for some people - is drinkable water.
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there is simply no electrically powered transport: no trains, underground or overground. Our just-in-time culture for delivery networks may represent the pinnacle of efficiency, but it means that supermarket shelves would empty very quickly -
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Back-up generators would run at pivotal sites - but only until their fuel ran out. For hospitals, that would mean about 72 hours of running a bare-bones, essential care only, service. After that, no more modern healthcare.

Worse than Katrina with 4-10 years to recover.

"I don't think the NAS report is scaremongering," says Mike Hapgood, who chairs the European Space Agency's space weather team. Green agrees. "Scientists are conservative by nature and this group is really thoughtful," he says. "This is a fair and balanced report."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:01 PM | Permalink

March 25, 2009

Cost of Alzheimer's, triple that of other older people

Another reason why Alzheimer's is the last thing you want to get.

The health care costs of treating Alzheimer's are triple those of other older people and that doesn't  include the billions of hours of unpaid care from family members.

That all adds up to at least $33,007 in annual costs per patient, compared with $10,603 for an older person without Alzheimer's, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Alzheimer's Association.
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An estimated 5.3 million Americans have the disease; by next year nearly half a million new cases will be diagnosed, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

From 2000 to 2006, while deaths from heart disease, stroke, breast and prostate cancer declined, Alzheimer's deaths rose 47 percent.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:29 PM | Permalink

March 24, 2009

"Never refuse to receive an apology"

From the Art of Manliness comes The Unclassified Laws of Etiquette excerpted from a book published in 1880.

My favorites

Never point at another.

Never leave home with unkind words.

Never neglect to call upon your friends.

Never make yourself the hero of your own story.

Never pick the teeth or clean the nails in company.

Never fail to give a polite answer to a civil question.

Never appear to notice a scar, deformity, or defect of anyone present.

Never punish your child for a fault to which you are addicted yourself.

Never exhibit too great familiarity with the new acquaintance, you may give offense.

Never write to another asking for information, or a favor of any kind, without enclosing a postage stamp for the reply.

Never fail to say kind and encouraging words to those whom you meet in distress. Your kindness may lift them out of their despair.

Never refuse to receive an apology. You may not receive friendship, but courtesy will require, when a apology is offered, that you accept it.

Never fail to answer an invitation, either personally or by letter, within a week after the invitation is received.

Never give all your pleasant words and smile to strangers. The kindest words and the sweetest smiles should be reserved for home. Home should be our heaven.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:51 PM | Permalink

The 'happiness suppressant

The survey is not recent (2003) but still surprising. 

Nigeria tops happiness survey

Nigeria has the highest percentage of happy people followed by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, while Russia, Armenia and Romania have the fewest.
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"New Zealand ranked 15 for overall satisfaction, the US 16th, Australia 20th and Britain 24th - although Australia beats the other three for day-to-day happiness," New Scientist says.
The survey is a worldwide investigation of socio-cultural and political change conducted about every four years by an international network of social scientists.
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The survey appears to confirm the old adage that money cannot buy happiness.
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The researchers for World Values Survey described the desire for material goods as "a happiness suppressant".

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:44 PM | Permalink

March 23, 2009

Dark particle, dark matter and dark energy in Indra's Net

Reality is stranger than we can imagine and so odd I can't even understand it.

A new strange particle that may break all known rules for creating matter was discovered in Illinois's Fermilab auto smasher and called the Y(4140).  I do hope they get a better name.  Maybe, the "dark particle" to join the other dark mysteries of the cosmos

Cosmic Web.  Much of the missing "normal" matter from the in the cosmos resulting from the Big Bang  has been found  clustering around wispy ropes of invisible matter forming part of the "vast weblike superstructure of the universe within which galaxies are embedded like sparkling sequins."

080521-Missing-Matter Big

The image from the University of Colorado at Boulder is a computer simulation of the universe showing a region of space
about 1.5. billion light-years a side.

Dark Matter ,an invisible form of matter that does not give off or reflect light yet accounts for the vast majority of mass in the universe,  has been mapped in 3D and seems to provide "compelling evidence that the mysterious substance is the scaffolding upon which stars and galaxies are assembled".

Dark-Matter 3Dmapped

Dark Energy, accounting for some 74% of energy in the universe repels gravity and is attributed to be the force behind the expansion of the universe.

-Dark-Energy Big

It  all reminds me of nothing so much as Indra's Net, the Buddhist concept of interpenetration of all phenomena.

"Imagine a multidimensional spider's web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image." --Alan Watts

Indra Net

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:40 PM | Permalink

"I have seen the future, and it's riots"

Britain's Naked Public Square

[T]he piecemeal persecution of Christians in Britain is even more damaging—and it has now become routine.
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Jeremy Vine is a highly visible BBC broadcaster and a practicing Anglican. In a recent interview, Vine explained how difficult it had become to speak of his faith on air. It is, he claimed, now “socially unacceptable” to mention one’s Christian faith in public. Society in Britain has become intolerant of the freedom to express the religious views that were “common currency thirty or forty years ago,” Vine added. “The parameters of what you might call ‘right thinking” are closing. Sadly, it is almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God.” All of which is unsurprising, given that last year Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC and a practicing Catholic, issued an edict stating that the BBC should treat Islam “more sensitively” than Christianity.
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The problem is that the government and media of Great Britain have put in place over the last few decades a determined program to abolish the influence of Christianity. It’s a little late now for believers to pretend surprise that such a program exists and has consequences—to be shocked that a community nurse should be fired for offering to pray for a patient or astonished that a culture that set out to devalue its values should find itself awash in crime, sex, and social discord. We need, rather, to do as the archbishop of York, John Sentamu, insisted when he asked his congregants to “wake up” and defend their faith before it is further marginalized. “Christians should reclaim,” as the Anglican bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, recently demanded, their “place in the public square.”


If people who believe in the sanctity of life don't speak up or are afraid to speak in the public square, there will be no stopping such abominations such as the recently proposed directive from the EU.  EU 'to put animals before embryos'

The European Union is to radically restrict laboratory testing on animals - by insisting human embryos are used by scientists for research instead.

Toxicology tests on animals will be permitted only after similar research on tissue taken from human embryos has proved fruitless, according to a proposed new directive from the European Commission (EC).

And no one to speak out against  people like Patricia Hewitt, former Health Minister under Tony Blair, who wants to see suicide/euthanasia clinics set up across the country

The future of Europe without practicing Christianity is chilling.  Theodore Dalrymple in Europe is a Riot

As if this were not enough, the government has done all in its power to ensure that there are no forms of social solidarity that do not pass through a government department—it went to the trouble of de facto nationalizing all the major charities well before it nationalized the banks. Forty-two percent of British children are now born illegitimate, and at least 25 percent can expect to live in a single-parent household, while many others live with serial step-parents, which is perhaps worse still. This is not a form of family life that can exist on a mass scale without state subvention, which if suddenly withdrawn or greatly reduced would plunge large numbers of people into real poverty. It conduces to common criminality, which is now rampant in Britain.
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Not long ago, I had occasion to stay for a few weeks in a once-industrial town in the north of England. The last steel mills had just closed down. I was surprised by the elegance of much of the early 19th-century architecture, now completely overwhelmed by the brutalism of the 1960s and ’70s. The prematurely middle-aged spent their time looking for secondhand clothes in charity shops. Pawnshops had also made a big comeback. Feral young men with an expression of urban predation on their faces stood around on street corners in nylon tracksuits and hoods, muttering f---ing this and f---ing that to one another. About half the people in the street were unemployed young immigrants, mainly of Middle Eastern origin, on the lookout for a bit of small-scale trafficking. Some took advantage of free Internet access in the public library—a concrete building aesthetically suitable as the headquarters of the Stasi—to look at inflammatory political sites or to search for women.

I have seen the future, and it’s riots

The  only hopeful words I could find this weekend were those of Pope Benedict in Angola at a Mass for a Million

The words which Jesus speaks in today's Gospel are quite striking: He tells us that God's sentence has already been pronounced upon this world (cf. Jn 3:19ff). The light has already come into the world. Yet men preferred the darkness to the light, because their deeds were evil. How much darkness there is in so many parts of our world! Tragically, the clouds of evil have also overshadowed Africa, including this beloved nation of Angola. We think of the evil of war, the murderous fruits of tribalism and ethnic rivalry, the greed which corrupts men's hearts, enslaves the poor, and robs future generations of the resources they need to create a more equitable and just society -- a society truly and authentically African in its genius and values. And what of that insidious spirit of selfishness which closes individuals in upon themselves, breaks up families, and, by supplanting the great ideals of generosity and self-sacrifice, inevitably leads to hedonism, the escape into false utopias through drug use, sexual irresponsibility, the weakening of the marriage bond and the break-up of families, and the pressure to destroy innocent human life through abortion?
--
Yet the word of God is a word of unbounded hope. "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son ... so that through him, the world might be saved" (Jn 3:16-17). God does not give up on us! He continues to lift our eyes to a future of hope, and he promises us the strength to accomplish it. As Saint Paul tells us in today's second reading, God created us in Christ Jesus "to live the good life", a life of good deeds, in accordance with his will (cf. Eph 2:10). He gave us his commandments, not as a burden, but as a source of freedom: the freedom to become men and women of wisdom, teachers of justice and peace, people who believe in others and seek their authentic good. God created us to live in the light, and to be light for the world around us! This is what Jesus tells us in today's Gospel: "The man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God" (Jn 3:21).

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:40 AM | Permalink

March 22, 2009

"You just let it go. Let it go."

Last Impressions
When it's all going down the tube, what stuff sticks around to the end?


The following recently appeared on eBay:

"everything I own furniture, jewerly, family heirlooms: I have medical issues and need $ to take care of myself"

The seller, redbettle81, writes:

"I offer all of my belongings for sale. Everything complete. I have 40yrs of furniture, professional tools, household items, clothes, family heirlooms, etc. You can imagine this is quite a bit. . , However I will not sell my Miniature Pincher (Jack) he is dear to me. You can have everything you want and dispose of the rest or take it all for keeps, no matter. I was an electronic security expert for many years and have fallen on hard times with damaging high blood pressure, heart attack, etc and can no longer work. I made mistake many years ago of not saving so now I pay the price of facing living on the street at 51yrs old. Family is non-existent so I fend for myself and like it that way. I some things thatare collectibles and some that are in new condition. I will be happy to forward picture of items soon as I get a camera. Thanks for reading this message."

Marty Calhoun of Dickson, Tenn. -- redbettle81 -- says he didn't get any bidders. Just some people sniffing around, whom he sizes up as con artists.

His situation, he says, is that "after years and years of having everything -- house, furniture -- you don't really need this stuff. You just sit around and look at it."

He's already sold his father's gun from World War II. Far more painful, he's sold the Harley. "I just want some kind of fresh start out of life," he says. "Things are going down. It's hard to explain. But I'm letting go."

Everything's in storage, and he's living in a one-room place with "a cot, a dog, a TV. Got a laptop. Bunch of crates with clothes in them. Gonna try and keep the dog forever. He always wags his tail. Always there for me. Dog's good to me. Love the dog.

"I lay here and think what did I blow all those tens of thousands on. You just think so much about life when you start selling things. Reflect back on everything. You don't need this.

"You just let it go. Let it go."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:47 AM | Permalink

'Markets need morals, and morals are not made by markets"

Morals: the one thing markets don't make by Jonathan Sacks


I recall another conversation with a successful investment banker. He told me that the first thing he had to establish was his character, his reputation for trustworthiness and honesty. Without that, he would have been unable to trade. Nowadays, he said, deals no longer depend on character but on lawyers.
--
Common to these stories is the gradual disappearance of the cluster of principles that went by the name of morality. Whatever its source - religion, conscience, custom or code - it meant that there are certain things you don't do because they are not done. You don't reward yourself when customers, clients or shareholders or employees are suffering losses. You don't pay yourself out of all proportion to what you pay others. You don't take advantage of your position just because you can. You are guided, even if no one is watching, by a sense of what is responsible and right. Without that internalised code of honour and trust, no institution can be sustained in the long run.
--

The market economy has generated more real wealth, eliminated more poverty and liberated more human creativity than any other economic system. The fault is not with the market but with the idea that the market alone is all we need.

Markets don't guarantee equity, responsibility or integrity. They can maximise short-term gain at the cost of long-term sustainability. They don't distribute rewards fairly. They don't guarantee honesty. When it comes to flagrant self-interest, they combine the maximum temptation with the maximum opportunity. Markets need morals, and morals are not made by markets.
--

They are made by schools, the media, custom, tradition, religious leaders, moral role models and the influence of people. But when religion loses its voice and the media worship success, when right and wrong become relativised and morality is condemned as “judgmental”, when people lose all sense of honour and shame and there is nothing they won't do if they can get away with it, no regulation will save us. People will outwit the regulators, as they did by the securitisation of risk so no one knew who owed what to whom.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:47 AM | Permalink

Renting is often the better choice

Rethinking Rent

But a growing chorus of economists and housing experts say that this mind-set, too, needs fundamental reform. Owning a home is not right for everyone, they say: In some ways it's overrated, and it can even have harmful effects for individuals and society. It is now glaringly clear that buying a home is a financial risk, not the surefire investment it is often perceived to be. Widespread homeownership may also have a negative impact on the economy, because, among other reasons, displaced workers can't easily relocate to new jobs. And some of the alleged rewards of homeownership, such as greater self-esteem, health, and civic engagement, have been called into question by research. The government, critics argue, should focus on ensuring high-quality, affordable housing rather than promoting homeownership for its own sake.

---

According to this view, renting offers many advantages, and should be considered a viable long-term option for people of all ages and socioeconomic levels. Renters enjoy flexibility and freedom from the responsibilities of maintenance. Given the often overlooked costs and risks of homeownership, renting is in many cases a wise financial choice. And the experience of a place like Switzerland - a well-functioning country with only about a 35 percent homeownership rate - suggests that rental housing per se does not unmoor society.

The emotional tug of owning a home can't be discounted. But in recent years, as jobs have become less stable, environmental concerns have risen, and the costs of owning a house have become apparent, the case for renting has become more compelling. According to Eric Belsky, "People are saying, 'Hey, it's OK to rent.' " Instead of starting with a presumption in favor of homeownership, he asks, "Why don't we help people make informed choices?"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:43 AM | Permalink

March 21, 2009

Stoking Outrage

I don't like to write about politics but I am very disturbed at the deliberate stoking of populist rage against the people whose jobs are to unwind that  mess at AIG.  It's inciting mob violence and it has to end.

Busload of Crazies to Tour Homes of AIG Executives This Weekend…and ACORN’s behind it

ACORN if you remember has signed on to be a "national partner" in the 2010 US Census despite its history of voter fraud and  bullying  intimidation of banks and prior ties with the Obama campaign.

Even the powerful Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers who formerly supported ACORN now proposes hearings on the activist group after accusations that ACORN engaged in a pattern of crimes ranging from voter fraud to a mob-style "protection" racket.

Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times

Yes, the $165 million in bonuses handed out to executives in the financial products division of American International Group was infuriating. Truly, it was. As many others have noted, this is the same unit whose shenanigans came perilously close to bringing the world’s financial system to its knees. When the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, said recently that A.I.G.’s “irresponsible bets” had made him “more angry” than anything else about the financial crisis, he could have been speaking for most Americans.

But death threats? “All the executives and their families should be executed with piano wire — my greatest hope,” wrote one person in an e-mail message to the company.
--
By week’s end, I was more depressed about the financial crisis than I’ve been since last September. Back then, the issue was the disintegration of the financial system, as the Lehman bankruptcy set off a terrible chain reaction. Now I’m worried that the political response is making the crisis worse. The Obama administration appears to have lost its grip on Congress, while the Treasury Department always seems caught off guard by bad news.

And Congress, with its howls of rage, its chaotic, episodic reaction to the crisis, and its shameless playing to the crowds, is out of control. This week, the body politic ran off the rails.

There are times when anger is cathartic. There are other times when anger makes a bad situation worse. “We need to stop committing economic arson,” Bert Ely, a banking consultant, said to me this week. That is what Congress committed: economic arson.

How is the political reaction to the crisis making it worse? Let us count the ways.

Mark Steyn calls it The Outrage Kabuki

In between appearances on Jay Leno and his “March Madness” picks, Barack Oprompta also found time to compare AIG executives to suicide bombers:

I think it's more Chicago Razzle Dazzle, but the Canadian Financial Post asks Is this the end of America?

As an aghast world — from China to Chicago and Chihuahua — watches, the circus-like U.S. political system seems to be declining into near chaos. Through it all, stock and financial markets are paralyzed. The more the policy regime does, the worse the outlook gets. The multi-ringed spectacle raises a disturbing question in many minds: Is this the end of America?
--

One test of whether we are witnessing the end of America is how many more times Americans put up with congressional show trials of individual business people and their employees, slandering and vilifying them for their actions and motives. And for how long will they tolerate a President who berates business and corporations as dens of crime and malfeasance? If the majority of Americans come to accept the caricatures of business as true, then America is closer to the end of its life as a global leader, as a champion of markets and individualism.
--


Reform of health care, environmental policy, education, energy, banking, regulation — every nook and cranny of the U.S. economy has been put on alert for major change. Expansion of government spending, plunging the U.S. into unprecedented deficits, is without parallel. In economic policy, through regulation and control of energy output, financial services and monetary expansion, the U.S. government has embarked on a fundamental reshaping of America. It is designed, in short, to bring on the end of America.

The spillover effect of all this on the rest of the world promises to be dramatically disruptive.

UPDATE  Thank God, the protest was a bust - one busload and 20 media vans

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:44 PM | Permalink

Support for the "Last European"

Surprising comments and support of the Holy Father and the remarks he made on AIDS in Africa.

I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness — even through personal sacrifice — to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress.

Andrew Klavan responds in Score One for the Pope

I’m not a Catholic—and I’m pretty sure I’ll never become one—but I’ve read a fair amount of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI and it’s clear to me the man is a theological genius. I find it amazing that the Vatican could have followed a genuine hero like John Paul II with a mighty mind like Benedict’s. He is the Last European, the last man to truly understand the ideas that formed the foundation of Europe’s greatness. When he leaves, they may have to turn off the lights of the continent.
--

But this latest flap about Benedict’s remarks on condoms and AIDS—this is absurd.
---
First of all, the Pope is a religious leader not a doctor. His job is to give spiritual not medical advice and I don’t think any “expert” anywhere can deny that “a new way of behaving towards one another,” sexually would improve people’s lives and perhaps ultimately put an end to AIDS altogether.

But more than that, it really does seem that moral approaches to AIDS prevention work better than merely physical ones—that is to say, that condoms cannot do the job, “if the soul is lacking.”

He points out   

if you carefully read the New York Times editorial attacking the Pope’s statement, you’ll find out that the Pope pretty much got it right. After first touting reports from the CDC and the Cochrane Collaboration on the effectiveness of condoms for individuals who use them “consistently and correctly,” the editors go on to confess that both groups acknowledge, “The best way to avoid transmission of the virus is to abstain from sexual intercourse or have a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected person.”

 Africaaids

From Harvard Square, Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at Harvard.


“The pope is correct,” Green told National Review Online Wednesday, “or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments. He stresses that “condoms have been proven to not be effective at the ‘level of population.’”

“There is,” Green adds, “a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.”

Green added: “I also noticed that the pope said ‘monogamy’ was the best single answer to African AIDS, rather than ‘abstinence.’ The best and latest empirical evidence indeed shows that reduction in multiple and concurrent sexual partners is the most important single behavior change associated with reduction in HIV-infection rates (the other major factor is male circumcision).”

Travis Kavulla from Kenya

In its obsession with condoms, the Western public-health community has been every bit as dogmatic as the pope. And it has been even more blinkered to the realities of Africa, which is arguably in the grips of a huge religious and moral revival that has a huge potential to be wielded in the fight against AIDS. Church attendance is soaring, and Africans are willing to make sacrifices, of both their money and their pleasure, for moral causes. In this respect, it is not Benedict and the Catholic Church who are out of touch. It is the West and its condom myopia.

Peter Hitchens in The Daily Mail

*Conventional wisdom says the Pope is stupid and wrong to say fidelity and abstinence are better than condoms at guarding Africans from AIDS.

Conventional wisdom, as usual, is talking out of its backside.
What the Pope says matters only if anyone listens to him. If nobody does, his opposition to condoms won’t stop anyone using them and will make no difference. If lots of people listen to him, his support for marital fidelity will persuade many people to follow this path, and so save untold lives.

The experience of such countries as Uganda suggests very strongly that he is right when he says this, and that fidelity is a far better protection than a rubber sheath. The only real hope is a change in sexual habits.

I am not a Roman Catholic, but I am weary of the concerted smearing and misrepresentation which the Pontiff constantly faces.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:45 PM | Permalink

March 20, 2009

"The banks, which, to paraphrase Willie Sutton, is where the money used to be"

It is time for the president to state the obvious: This recession is not caused by excessive executive compensation in government-controlled companies. The economy has been sinking because of a lack of credit, stemming from a general lack of confidence, stemming from the lack of a plan to detoxify the major lending institutions, mainly the banks, which, to paraphrase Willie Sutton, is where the money used to be.

As usual Charles Krauthammer bores to the heart of the matter, this time  in Bonfire of the Trivialities

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:58 AM | Permalink

March 19, 2009

What fathers bring to the table

The number of U.S. Births Breaks Records - 4.3 million babies born.  Sadly, about 40% (39.7%) were born out of wedlock.

That means 40% of those babies won't have a father bound to them by marriage to their mother.

By coincidence, today is the feast day of St. Joseph and the subject of the homily Pope Benedict XVI gave in Cameroon

St. Joseph, he said, "is not the biological father of Jesus, whose Father is God alone, and yet he lives his fatherhood fully and completely......"To be a father means above all to be at the service of life and growth."

That's what those 40% of newborns will lack - an adult male who will devote himself to their lives and growth.

More on the statistics

By racial/ethnic group: 27.8 percent for non-Hispanic whites (up from 26.6 percent in 2006);
a really appalling 71.6 percent for blacks (up from 70.7 percent);
65.2 percent for American Indians/Alaska Natives (up from 64.6 percent);
51.3 percent for Hispanics (up from 49.9 percent); and bringing up the rear,
Asians/Pacific Islanders at a paltry 16.9 percent (but still up from 16.5 percent). 

What fathers bring to the table in the service of life and growth of their children.  All quotes from Why Marriage Matters  for Children which also has citations to all the studies referenced.

Protection against povert
y

David Ellwood, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, notes:
"The vast majority of children who are raised entirely in a two-parent home will never be poor during childhood. By contrast, the vast majority of children who spend time in a single-parent home will experience poverty.


Reduced risk of criminal behavior

After studying murder and robbery rates in our nation’s cities, Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson observed, “Family structure is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, predictor of variations in urban violence across cities in the United States.” This is why neighbors should thank the married mothers on their block.

Reduced risk of substance abuse

Regardless of gender, age, family income, race or ethnicity, adolescents not living with a biological mother or father are 50 to 150% more likely to abuse and be dependent on substances and need illicit drug-abuse treatment compared to their peers living with both biological parents.

Reduced risk of sexual abuse

The journal Pediatrics reported in 2002 that, “Children residing in households with adults unrelated to them were 8 times more likely to die of maltreatment than children in households with 2 biological parents. Risk of maltreatment death was elevated for children residing with step, foster, or adoptive parents.”

Greater likelihood of educational attainment

Sara McLanahan of Princeton University finds that “regardless of which survey we looked at, children from one-parent families are about twice as likely to drop out of school as children from two-parent families.”

Children from biological two-parent families have, on average, test scores and grade-point averages that are higher, they miss fewer school days, and have greater expectations of attending college than children living with one parent. Additionally, of those from either type of family who do attend college, those from two-parent families are seven to 20 percent more likely to finish college.5

Children from divorced homes are 70 percent more likely than those living with biological parents to be expelled or suspended from school. Those living with never-married mothers are twice as likely to be expelled or suspended. 

Greater physical health and mental well-being

The National Center for Health Statistics found that children living with their biological parents received professional help for behavior and psychological problems at half the rate of children not living with both biological parents.16 Other studies show the general health problems of children from broken homes is increased by 20 to 30 percent, even when adjusting for demographic variables.

Learning that 40% of newborns will not have these advantages is profoundly discouraging.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:47 PM | Permalink

March 18, 2009

Rethinking condoms

The Pope is in Africa, so naturally the talk turns to condoms.

The premise of the question asked of the Pope was that the Catholic Church's position on AIDS was often considered unrealistic and ineffective.

"I would say the opposite. I think that the reality that is most effective, the most present and the strongest in the fight against AIDS, is precisely that of the Catholic Church, with its programs and its diversity. I think of the Sant'Egidio Community, which does so much visibly and invisibly in the fight against AIDS ... and of all the sisters at the service of the sick.

"I would say that one cannot overcome this problem of AIDS only with money -- which is important, but if there is no soul, no people who know how to use it, (money) doesn't help.

"One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.

"The solution can only be a double one: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering. And these are factors that help and that result in real and visible progress.

"Therefore I would say this is our double strength -- to renew the human being from the inside, to give him spiritual human strength for proper behavior regarding one's own body and toward the other person, and the capacity to suffer with the suffering. ... I think this is the proper response and the church is doing this, and so it offers a great and important contribution. I thank all those who are doing this."

Let's look at the  research done by Harvard professor Edward Green, senior research scientist at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies in "Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countries" , a book reviewed by Douglas Sylva in Saving Life

There are, however, no condom "successes" in Africa. Something like 700 million condoms are shipped to the continent, year in and year out, courtesy of the U.N., the U.S., and the EU, yet infection rates remain stubbornly high. The UNICEF official approvingly cites Botswana's commitment to condoms — "Let us follow the decision of the government of Botswana" — but about 35 percent of that country's population is infected. That's the example the rest of the world should follow?

Whenever someone, usually an obscure African churchman, dares to raise such uncomfortable questions, the full might of the AIDS establishment comes down to smite him, and he is condemned as a religious zealot. Finally, though, there is a challenger to condom dominance who cannot be so easily dismissed. He is a distinguished public-health official, a paragon, in fact, of establishment credentials: Edward C. Green, senior research scientist at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. Green has had an epiphany of common sense and now has the courage to criticize the role of his colleagues as prophylactic missionaries to the Third World. In his important new book, Rethinking AIDS Prevention, he exposes the failure of the condom approach, and explains why AIDS experts cling to this failure.
--

Obviously, such people have a personal interest in ensuring that the basic lesson of the AIDS epidemic — promiscuous sex cannot be made consequence-free — never gets learned. As our "polypartnering" devotee makes clear, "we should not use the HIV/AIDS crisis as an excuse to revert back" to the bad old days of monogamy. And thus enters the lowly condom; it allows proponents of the sexual revolution to trumpet as "safe" risky sexual behavior.
--
Green makes the reasonable request that African public-health measures should be designed with the best interests of Africans in mind; most especially, that the schoolchildren of Africa should not be handed a box of condoms, and subjected to a program designed for the clients of New York's gay bathhouses, but encouraged instead to delay sexual activity.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:53 PM | Permalink

Amortality or a well-lived life

Amortality: Time magazine calls it number 5 on 10 ideas changing the world right now. 

Catherine Mayer coined the term which she described thusly

It's about more than just the ripple effect of baby boomers' resisting the onset of age. Amortality is a stranger, stronger alchemy, created by the intersection of that trend with a massive increase in life expectancy and a deep decline in the influence of organized religion — all viewed through the blue haze of Viagra.
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The defining characteristic of amortality is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death.
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They prop up the tottering music industry, are lifelong consumers of gadgets and gizmos, keep gyms busy and colorists in demand. From their youth, when they behave as badly as adults, to their dotage, when they behave as badly as youngsters, amortals hate to be pigeonholed by age. They're a highly sexed bunch. Viagra and its cousins help give elderly amortals a pleasurable alternative to aqua aerobics while blotting out those pesky intimations of mortality.Amortals don't just dread extinction. They deny it.

I think it was Alice Longworth Roosevelt who said, "The secret of eternal youth is arrested development."

There's a whole lot of talk by Glenn Reynolds, Ray Kurzweil, and Aubrey De Grey at about speeding up research to increase life spans indefinitely.  I look to Dr. Bob for more meaningful thoughts in A Life Not Long who recalls the death of a friend who died too young.

These questions, in some way, cut to the very heart of what it means to be human. Is our humanity enriched simply by living longer? Does longer life automatically imply more happiness–or are we simply adding years of pain, disability, unhappiness, burden? The breathlessness with which authors often speak of greater longevity, or the cure or solution to these intractable health problems, seems to imply a naive optimism, both from the standpoint of likely outcomes, and from the assumption that a vastly longer life will be a vastly better life. Ignored in such rosy projections are key elements of the human condition — those of moral fiber and spiritual health, those of character and spirit. For we who live longer in such an idyllic world may not live better: we may indeed live far worse. Should we somehow master these illnesses which cripple us in our old age, and thereby live beyond our years, will we then encounter new, even more frightening illnesses and disabilities? And what of the spirit? Will a man who lives longer thereby have a longer opportunity to do good, or rather to do evil? Will longevity increase our wisdom, or augment our depravity? Will we, like Dorian Gray, awake to find our ageless beauty but a shell for our monstrous souls?
--

In Matt’s short life he brought more good into the world, touched more people, changed more lives, than I could ever hope to do were I to live a century more. It boils down to purpose: mere years are no substitute for a life lived with passion, striving for some goal greater than self, with transcendent purpose multiplying and compounding each waking moment. This is a life well-lived, whether long or short, whether weakened or well.

Like all, I trust, I hope to live life long, and seek a journey lived in good health and sound mind. But even more — far more indeed — do I desire that those days yet remaining — be they long or short — be rich in purpose, wise in time spent, and graced by love.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:48 PM | Permalink

"Taking advantage of mass starvation"

In the New Criterion, The lingering stench: airing Stalin's archives by Gary Saul Morson unveils the horrors of the Soviet regime. 

For those who think it's cool to hang posters of Lenin, read this

And despite the desperate strategy of throwing all blame on Stalin so as to excuse Lenin, The Unknown Lenin, which reproduces a selection from some six thousand Lenin documents never before released, reveals bloodthirstiness that surprised even anti-Communists.
During a famine, Lenin ordered his followers not to alleviate but to take advantage of mass starvation:

It is precisely now and only now when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) carry out the confiscation of church valuables with the most savage and merciless energy.


“an (and therefore must)”: Leninist and Soviet ideology held not just that the end justifies any means, but also that it was immoral not to use the utmost cruelty if that would help. And it was bound to help in at least one way—intimidating the population. From the beginning, terror was not just an expedient but a defining feature of Soviet Communism.

In Terrorism and Communism,
Trotsky was simply voicing a Bolshevik truism when he rejected “the bourgeois theory of the sanctity of human life.” In fact, Soviet ethics utterly rejected human rights, universal justice, or even basic human decency, for all concepts that apply to everyone might lead one to show mercy to a class enemy. In Bolshevism, there is no abstract justice, only “proletarian justice,” as defined by the Party.
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Perhaps the most important lesson to come from the Stalin archives is that any ideology that does not admit the existence of human nature winds up destroying not only countless lives but also the human soul.

Seeing again how easy it is to be sub human, less than human, I am reminded again that  human beings are the only creatures that can fail to achieve their true nature. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:47 PM | Permalink

“It was the emphasis on love"

In today's Britain, a woman who was raped by her father and faced a forced marriage, fled her home, became a Christian and now fears for her life.

My imam father came after me with an axe.

We are all too familiar with the persecution of Christians in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet sitting in front of me is a British woman whose life has been threatened in this country solely because she is a Christian. Indeed, so real is the threat that the book she has written about her experiences has had to appear under an assumed name.

That assumed name is Hannah Shah and her book, The Imam's Daughter, was just published in the U.K. but not yet in the U.S.

The book is called The Imam’s Daughter because “Hannah Shah” is just that: the daughter of an imam in one of the tight-knit Deobandi Muslim Pakistani communities in the north of England. Her father emigrated to this country from rural Pakistan some time in the 1960s and is, apparently, a highly respected local figure.

He is also an incestuous child abuser, repeatedly raping his daughter from the age of five until she was 15, ostensibly as part of her punishment for being “disobedient”. At the age of 16 she fled her family to avoid the forced marriage they had planned for her in Pakistan. A much, much greater affront to “honour” in her family’s eyes, however, was the fact that she then became a Christian – an apostate. The Koran is explicit that apostasy is punishable by death; thus it was that her father the imam led a 40-strong gang – in the middle of a British city – to find and kill her. 

Hannah Shah says her story is not unique – that there are many other girls in British Muslim families who are oppressed and married off against their will, or who have secretly become Christians but are too afraid to speak out. She wants their voices to be heard and for Britain, the land of her birth, to realise the hidden misery of these women....
---


Hannah’s description in the book of the moment when her “community” discovered the “safe” home where she had fled after becoming an apostate is terrifying. A mob with her father at its head pounded and hammered at the door as she cowered upstairs hoping she could not be seen or heard. She heard her father shout through the letter box: “Filthy traitor! Betrayer of your faith! Cursed traitor! We’re going to rip your throat out! We’ll burn you alive!”

Does she still believe they would have killed her? “Yes, without a doubt. They had hammers and knives and axes.”

Why didn’t you call the police after-wards? “First, I didn’t think the police would believe me. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen in this country – or that’s what they’d think. Second, I didn’t believe I would get help or protection from the authorities.”

When she finally confided in a teacher that she was being beaten, still too ashamed to confide about the sexual abuse, the teacher contacted social services who sent out a social worker from her own community. 

He chose not to believe Hannah and, in effect, shopped her to her father, who gave her the most brutal beating of her life. When she later confronted the social worker, he said: “It’s not right to betray your community.

Hannah blames what is sometimes called political correctness for this debacle: “My teachers had thought they were doing the right thing, they thought it showed ‘cultural sensitivity’ by bringing in someone from my own community to ‘help’, but it was the worst thing they could have done to me. This happens a lot.

Her conversion came about because the family who sheltered her were regular church-goers.

She began to go with them and, to put it at its most banal, she liked what she heard.

“It was the emphasis on love.

The Islam that I grew up knowing and reading about doesn’t offer me love. That’s the biggest thing that Christianity can and does offer. I sense that I belong and am accepted as I am – even when I do wrong there is forgiveness, a forgiveness which Islam does not offer.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:05 PM | Permalink

Neutering the language

Miss, Mrs, Madame and Mademoiselle, Frau and Fraulein, Senora and Senorita,  all words  banned by EU bureaucrats in Brussels who have decided such words are sexist because they refer to a woman's marital status.

And that's not all.  No more sportsmen, statesmen, headmasters or headmistresses, policeman or policewoman.

Helpfully, the bureaucrats have issued a booklet with guidelines in 'gender-neutral' language sent out by the Secretary General of the EU Parliament.

I like the Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson who described the guidelines as 'political correctness gone mad'.

He said: 'This is frankly ludicrous. We've seen the EU institutions try to ban the bagpipes and dictate the shape of bananas, but now they seem determined to tell us which words we are entitled to use in our own language. 

'Gender-neutrality is really the last straw. The Thought Police are now on the rampage in the European Parliament. 

'We will soon be told that the use of the words "man" or "woman" has been banned in case it causes offence to those who consider 'gender neutrality' an essential part of life.'

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:05 AM | Permalink

March 17, 2009

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill

My favorite Irish fiddler Martin Hayes and American guitarist Denis Cahill

They don't perform in the States very often.  Most of the time, they are in Europe or Ireland, but if you want to catch them live, check out  their website here

 Martinhayes Denniscahill

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:52 AM | Permalink

St. Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick in his own words in his confession


I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation.
--
I am greatly God's debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets: 'To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Our fathers have inherited naught hut lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.' And again: 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the uttermost ends of' the earth.'

March 17, St. Patrick's Day is a legal holiday in Boston, Suffolk County, but not because of the Irish.    It's Evacuation Day commemorating the day in 1776 when British forces under General Howe evacuated Boston driven out by General George Washington and his continental army. 

The password that day?

"Saint Patrick"

 St Patrick

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:22 AM | Permalink

March 16, 2009

Turning human embryos into profit

Timothy Carney on the lobbying and profits of stem cell research

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents drugmakers and for-profit laboratories, quickly endorsed Obama’s new policy. “We fully support and are enthusiastic about President Obama’s decision to allow the National Institutes of Health to fund embryonic stem cell research,” said BIO President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Greenwood.

Financial headlines around the world indicated Greenwood and BIO’s member companies had reason to celebrate: “Industry set for stem cell profits”; “Stem cell buzz may help industry”; “Shares of Stem Cells [Inc.] rally on Obama’s news.”
--

Destroying human embryos to harvest stem cells has never been illegal in the United States, and many laboratories have been carrying out this sort of research for years, either with private money or with state taxpayer money. Obama’s decision gives these businesses — and any that now want to jump on the bandwagon — access to federal taxpayer money for their efforts to turn human embryos into profits.

Consider an analogy. What if President George W. Bush had announced he was lifting many restrictions on oil drilling on federal lands — on Alaska’s Northern Slope, in the Gulf of Mexico, in national parks and forests, and off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts? He might have trumpeted this as “depoliticizing drilling” and “restoring geology to its rightful place.” Imagine the outrage of environmentalists — and the catcalls from Democrats charging it was a gift to the oil industry.

One important difference between this imaginary Bush story and the real Obama story: It’s nascent human beings, not virgin tundra, being trampled by Obama’s policy.

Another interesting contrast: BIO spent $7.7 million on lobbying last year, compared with $4.9 million spent by the American Petroleum Institute.
--
But that’s just the tip of the lobbying iceberg. As of the end of last year, BIO was retaining 18 different outside lobbying firms, including some of the giants of K Street: Covington & Burling, Patton Boggs, Foley & Lardner, and Hogan & Hartson, to name a few.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:45 AM | Permalink

Harvesting human life

Charles Krauthammer, Morally Unserious in the Extreme

Bush had restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to cells derived from embryos that had already been destroyed (as of his speech of Aug. 9, 2001). While I favor moving that moral line to additionally permit the use of spare fertility clinic embryos, Obama replaced it with no line at all. He pointedly left open the creation of cloned -- and noncloned sperm-and-egg-derived -- human embryos solely for the purpose of dismemberment and use for parts.

I am not religious. I do not believe that personhood is conferred upon conception. But I also do not believe that a human embryo is the moral equivalent of a hangnail and deserves no more respect than an appendix
----
George Bush's nationally televised stem cell speech was the most morally serious address on medical ethics ever given by an American president. It was so scrupulous in presenting the best case for both his view and the contrary view that until the last few minutes, the listener had no idea where Bush would come out.

Obama's address was morally unserious in the extreme. It was populated, as his didactic discourses always are, with a forest of straw men. Such as his admonition that we must resist the "false choice between sound science and moral values." Yet, exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds later he went on to declare that he would never open the door to the "use of cloning for human reproduction."

Are embryos potential human beings?  In an interview with Sanjay Gupta on CNN former President Clinton is completely confused about the very nature of embryos, thinking they are not fertilized because if they were.....

video on YouTube transcript here 

Clinton: I don't know that I have any reservations, but I was - he has apparently decided to leave to the relevant professional committees the definition of which frozen embryos are basically going to be discarded, because they're not going to be fertilized. I believe the American people believe it's a pro-life decision to use an embryo that's frozen and never going to be fertilized for embryonic stem cell research....

But those committees need to be really careful to make sure if they don't want a big
storm to be stirred up here, that
any of the embryos that are used clearly have been placed beyond the pale of being fertilized before their use. There are a large number of embryos that we know are never going to be fertilized, where the people who are in control of them have made that clear. The research ought to be confined to those....

And that is the one thing that
I think these committees need to make it clear that they're not going to fool with any embryos where there's any possibility, even if it's somewhat remote, that they could be fertilized and become human beings.

I wonder how many others share his confusion and don't understand that embryos have been fertilized and are in every respect human beings, very teeny tiny, alive with the potentiality of an eighty-year life span.

Susan Konig
At least one CNN stem-cell report, however, featured not a human but a a rat with a bum leg hobbling around his cage like - well, like Ratso Rizzo from Midnight Cowboy.

The CNN newsgal explained helpfully, "Look at this poor little rat, there's clearly something wrong with his legs." Then, to the reporter's "Now, look!" delight, the rat - treated with stem cells derived from human embryos - was running all over the place on strong, healthy rat legs.

So, we were watching a rat whose life had been dramatically improved, thanks to the sacrifice of . . . potential human babies. Wasn't this a Far Side cartoon?

Research shows that adult and umbilical-cord stem cells provide the materials needed for stem-cell research - embryonic stem cells are not needed to cure and treat diseases. So why is the pro-embryonic-research lobby so loath to admit this? Because if we say that destroying human embryos for scientific research is wrong and unnecessary, it's harder to say that abortion is fine.
--
But with research that destroys embryos, there are no mothers - just embryos orphaned in the lab. And looming behind the stem-cell issue is cloning: The scientists can make more embryos when they run out.

Will we allow a whole industry of conceiving and harvesting human life, if it's for the greater good? And if it's OK to create and destroy human life for medical research, why limit abortion at all?
--

There's the rub. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:06 AM | Permalink

"Christianity without the guilt, without the work"

The Myth of Relativism and the Cult of Tolerance


The multiculturalist claims that we should not judge others because moral values are culturally relative; i.e., what is right in one society may be wrong in another. 

The concept of right and wrong is, itself, parochial.  The enlightened multiculturalist understands that his culture’s values are just as arbitrary as his neighbor’s.  If pressed for an explanation for why he follows his culture’s mores, he will tell you he chooses to obey them as an obeisance to his tradition -- that and nothing else.

Notice how condescending this person’s attitude is -- not just to his own culture -- to every culture.  Every intelligent and committed Christian, Hindu, Moslem, or Jew (Buddhist’s are a slightly different story) that follows the moral teaching of her religion, not only believes that her values are objectively valid, she can offer arguments, with varying degrees of cogency, for their validity.  (Notice also that many of these values and arguments are the same from religion to religion.  This fact should tell us something.)
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Of the major religions, Christianity is the most susceptible to this rendition of the siren song of tolerance because it prides itself on not judging others.
--

The cult of tolerance is Christianity without the guilt, without the work; it is Christianity without the faith, the hope, and the love. The cult of tolerance is selfishness disguised as Christianity.
--
Unlike traditional moral relativism where the strongman rules because “might makes right,” politically correct moral relativism claims to be democratic.  In truth, it is far from it.  Tolerance, in its politically correct guise, is the imposition of a standardless standard upon the masses.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:03 AM | Permalink

"You’re going to have a smaller house, and a smaller car — if not a basement flat and a bus ticket"

Mark Steyn on The Brokest Generation

Our kids are the ultimate credit market, and the rest of us are all pre-approved!

the future of all our children is that they’ll be paying off the past of all their grandparents.
--
This is the biggest generational transfer of wealth in the history of the world. If you’re an 18-year old middle-class hopeychanger, look at the way your parents and grandparents live: It’s not going to be like that for you. You’re going to have a smaller house, and a smaller car — if not a basement flat and a bus ticket. You didn’t get us into this catastrophe. But you’re going to be stuck with the tab, just like the Germans got stuck with paying reparations for the catastrophe of the First World War. True, the Germans were actually in the war, whereas in the current crisis you guys were just goofing around at school, dozing through Diversity Studies and hoping to ace Anger Management class. But tough. That’s the way it goes.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:12 AM | Permalink

March 12, 2009

Calling for a New Awakening

Charles Murray in the 2009 Irving Kristol Lecture says important things about The Happiness of the People about the nature of a well-lived life, why the European model stifles human flourishing and American exceptionalism.

And since happiness is a word that gets thrown around too casually, the phrase I'll use from now on is "deep satisfactions." I'm talking about the kinds of things that we look back upon when we reach old age and let us decide that we can be proud of who we have been and what we have done. Or not.

To become a source of deep satisfaction, a human activity has to meet some stringent requirements. It has to have been important (we don't get deep satisfaction from trivial things). You have to have put a lot of effort into it (hence the cliché "nothing worth having comes easily"). And you have to have been responsible for the consequences.

There aren't many activities in life that can satisfy those three requirements. Having been a good parent. That qualifies. A good marriage. That qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours. That qualifies. And having been really good at something--good at something that drew the most from your abilities. That qualifies. Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation, and faith. Two clarifications: "Community" can embrace people who are scattered geographically. "Vocation" can include avocations or causes.

The stuff of life--the elemental events surrounding birth, death, raising children, fulfilling one's personal potential, dealing with adversity, intimate relationships--coping with life as it exists around us in all its richness--occurs within those four institutions.

Seen in this light, the goal of social policy is to ensure that those institutions are robust and vital. And that's what's wrong with the European model. It doesn't do that. It enfeebles every single one of them.
---
I'm not talking about all Europeans, by any means. That mentality goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.

If that's the purpose of life, then work is not a vocation, but something that interferes with the higher good of leisure. If that's the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble--and, after all, what good are they, really? If that's the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that's the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion that says otherwise?

Age-old human wisdom has understood that a life well-lived requires engagement with those around us. That is reality, not idealism. It is appropriate to think that a political Great Awakening among the elites can arise in part from the renewed understanding that it can be pleasant to lead a glossy life, but it is ultimately more fun to lead a textured life, and to be in the midst of others who are leading textured lives. Perhaps events will help us out here--remember what Irving Kristol has been saying for years: "There's nothing wrong with this country that couldn't be cured by a long, hard depression."
--
The drift toward the European model can be slowed by piecemeal victories on specific items of legislation, but only slowed. It is going to be stopped only when we are all talking again about why America is exceptional, and why it is so important that America remain exceptional. That requires once again seeing the American project for what it is: a different way for people to live together, unique among the nations of the earth, and immeasurably precious.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:39 PM | Permalink

Thanking them in public

A heart-warming story from Blackfive, Spring Training and the Wounded Warriors.


As they filed up the stairs out of the stadium, in a single file line, spontaneously the crowd again all stood up and gave the Marines a standing ovation until the very last one reached the top of the stairs. Had to take 3-4 minutes. It was loud.  It was crazy.  The players on the field were even clapping.  It was truly a proud moment for me. When the Marines got to the top of the stairs, several were crying.  It was very, very emotional. Emotional for them, for me, for the crowd.

My hat is off to Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants who paid for the airfare and hotels for 17 wounded Marines,

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 PM | Permalink

Bad News for Botox Users

From Science News If your face is too tight to show disgust, you won't be able to get rid of the emotion.

 Disgust

One of the most recognizable facial expressions is disgust: the expression displayed by an individual who is exposed to a nauseating image or horrifying story. But what happens when this emotion is not expressed? When the person keeps a straight face – either intentionally or unintentionally – and pretends that nothing is wrong?

As Judith Grob discovered, such people experience more negative emotions. ‘They look at the world with negative eyes because they cannot get rid of their feelings of disgust by expressing them. A botox treatment also has an effect on emotional experience, therefore, and not on wrinkles alone’.
--

Subjects who were asked to suppress their disgust when shown images of, for example, a dirty toilet or a film depicting an amputation were able to do so. ‘But the emotion then found its way into the open through other channels’, says Grob. ‘At the cognitive level, they began to think about disgusting things much more often and also felt much more negatively about other issues. The same phenomenon occurs in a situation where you are not allowed to think of something, say a white bear. Precisely because you are trying to suppress that thought, it becomes hyperaccessible’.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:12 PM | Permalink

Identity Protection

If you're thinking of buying some identity protection, be sure to read Cardholders Buy Peace of Mind if not Security in the Wall St Journal. 

As the number of data breaches rises, there's a growing cottage industry of companies selling protection to consumers. The companies can help monitor and prevent outright identity theft for those who lack the time and technical know-how to keep a constant eye on their credit reports or monitor the Internet to make sure their personal information, such as their Social Security number, hasn't been stolen. But they won't stop a more common crime: preventing a thief from using your credit-card number to make fraudulent purchases.
--

The number of reported data breaches of all kinds in the U.S. climbed to 656 last year from 446 in 2007, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization based in San Diego that helps identity-theft victims. These breaches affected some 36 million records -- including Social Security numbers, credit-card accounts and other personal data.

Overall, more than 250 million records containing personal information have been lost or stolen since 2005, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse -- and that's driving more consumers to companies that say they can prevent theft.

--

The services, which usually cost less than $100 a year, typically place an alert on a customer's credit report, which requires the person to approve over the phone any attempts to access the file or open a new account. In the event that a fraud takes place, they say they help customers fill out the right forms, and help them reach out to credit bureaus, banks and other institutions.

Statistically speaking, the risk to any individual from data breaches is small. Fewer than 1% of breach victims ever suffer credit-card fraud or identity theft, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, a research company focused on the payment industry.
--

But Amy Rosen prefers having someone else looking out for her. The marketing professional from Chicago signed up for a service from TrustedID last year after twice having cellphone accounts opened in her name in 2004 and 2007. While the service hasn't yet stopped any new fraud attempts, it has given her peace of mind. "This is the one thing that makes me feel like I'm protected and that someone else is looking out for me," says Ms. Rosen.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:06 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

Not just for men

A guest post at The Art of Manliness by J.D. Roth gives us Great Lessons from Great Men.

Now more than ever, we need to remember the importance of the character traits that have always been in good stead  and not just for men.

Read the whole thing to get the full .

Be tenacious
Exercise self-control
Do the right thing
Embrace the Golden Rule
Pay Yourself First
Avoid Debt
Keep Well
Do Not Covet
Live Modestly
Practice Patience
Give Generously
Learn from the Average Joe

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 PM | Permalink

Diamond Heist

Wired has a great story on The Untold Story of the World's Biggest Diamond Heist.

Read the whole thing and you'll get some good tips should you want to plan your own heist but you won't be able to figure out who got the diamonds.

They were accused of breaking into the Antwerp Diamond Center’s supersecure vault and stealing $100 million in diamonds, gold and jewelry. The loot was never found, but their trash was.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:47 PM | Permalink

Chocolate works

Peggy Griffiths is nuts for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars, eating 30 a week.  Clearly to her benefit as she is now 100 years old.

 Cadbury Centarian

 

Her daughter Eileen Osborne, 69, added: 'When mum was a little girl, her mother told her that sweets were bad for you but chocolate was good.

'Ever since then she only ever ate chocolate, never any of the other snacks on offer.

'She absolutely loves it. In the past ten years she has eaten her way through 30 bars per week. We're always told too much chocolate isn't good for you - but it has got her to her 100th birthday.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:40 PM | Permalink

Policy-making by perpetual crisis?

First there was Tom Friedman in This is Not a Test.  This is Not a Test

Our country has congestive heart failure. Our heart, our banking system that pumps blood to our industrial muscles, is clogged and functioning far below capacity. Nothing else remotely compares in importance to the urgent need to heal our banks.
--
Right now, there is too much uncertainty; no one knows what will be the new rules governing investments in our biggest financial institutions.


Then Richard Fernandez, after noting that the London Telegraph said that President Obama was too exhausted to give British PM Gordon Brown a proper welcome writes 

Maybe part of the reason the White House is frazzling itself into the ground is that they’re trying to remake everything. Everything has now become part of the delta. Everything is changing. Now they are facing the revenge of the second derivative: the rate of the rate of change. They are trying to restructure the government so it is run with Czars instead of cabinet secretaries; “engaging” hostile nations with little or no preconditions and getting blown off; changing the basis of the economy to conform to their untried vision of the future; creating the single greatest expansion of government since FDR; redesigning health care; holding consultations on everything and planning to save the world from Climate Change. They’re busy because crisis creates an “opportunity” for their own vague revolution.

The cumulative consequence of these actions is a vast increase in the amount of risk the entire system has to endure because variables are being added faster than they are being solved. The margins are gone — removed by design. The margins are in the way. But while things might hold together for so long as the road ahead is smooth, what happens if things hit a bump? What happens in the Obama administration, too preoccupied to “even fake an interest in foreign policy meets a sudden challenge?

Andrew Grove says Mr. President, Time to Rein in the Chaos

I find myself wringing my hands, not over the goals President Obama has set but over the ineffectual ways the administration has pursued them. I have no qualifications to judge how well the Obama team manages the political dynamics, but as a business executive with 40 years' experience, much of it managing change, and a part-time academic dedicated to studying why so few corporations succeed in navigating change, I feel compelled to comment not on the what of the Obama team's efforts but on the how.
-
We have gone through months of chaos experimenting with ways to introduce stability in our financial system. The goals were to allow the financial institutions to do their jobs and to develop confidence in them. I believe by now, the people are eager for the administration to rein in chaos. But this is not happening.

Until the administration does this, we should not embark on attempting to fix another major part of the economy. Our health-care system may well be ripe for a major overhaul, as are our energy and environmental policies. Widespread recognition that all of these reforms are overdue contributed to Barack Obama's victory in November. But if the chaos that resulted from initiating such an overhaul were piled on top of the unresolved status of the financial system, society and government would become exhausted. Instead, the administration must adopt a discipline; not initiating a second wave of chaos before we have a chance to rein in the first.
--
The answers to the questions "What is wrong?" "What are we going to do?" "How are we going to do it?" and "What should we expect?" should be drummed home relentlessly. This needs to be an ongoing process, where clarity, consistency and repetition are key. It is hard work and requires a laser-like focus on the solution.

One wonders what purpose there is in perpetuating the crisis in the financial system.

Mark Tapscott asks Does Obama's strategy require the perpetual crisis his economic policy produces?

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel gave the game away back in November with his observation that:

"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before. This is an opportunity…And this crisis provides the opportunity for us, as I would say, the opportunity to do things that you could not do before."

Initially, Emanuel’s disturbing words were dismissable as just his own, but the president himself and most recently Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have since repeated variations on the theme. So it is clearly the Obama strategy to use the current economic crisis as justification for his radical agenda.

Call it policy-making by perpetual crisis.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:11 PM | Permalink

"They say, 'I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself.' "

That quotation is from Barry Kosmin, co-author of the American Religious Identification Study (ARIS) released this week.

Cathy Grossman at USA Today has the best summary: Most religious groups in USA have lost ground.

The percentage. of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely.

--

"More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, 'I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself,' " says Barry Kosmin, survey co-author.

 Aris Guy In Desert
image from Damien Thompson"s Holy Smoke

Among the key findings in the 2008 survey:

• So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes.

• Catholic strongholds in New England and the Midwest have faded as immigrants, retirees and young job-seekers have moved to the Sun Belt. While bishops from the Midwest to Massachusetts close down or consolidate historic parishes, those in the South are scrambling to serve increasing numbers of worshipers.

• Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%.
• Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%.

• The percentage of those who choose a generic label, calling themselves simply Christian, Protestant, non-denominational, evangelical or "born again," was 14.2%, about the same as in 1990.

• Jewish numbers showed a steady decline, from 1.8% in 1990 to 1.2% today. The percentage of Muslims, while still slim, has doubled, from 0.3% to 0.6%. Analysts within both groups suggest those numbers understate the groups' populations.
--

Meanwhile, nearly 2.8 million people now identify with dozens of new religious movements, calling themselves Wiccan, pagan or "Spiritualist," which the survey does not define.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:38 AM | Permalink

March 11, 2009

45% of world's wealth destroyed

World Bank says collapse has arrived


THE World Bank has broken a taboo, becoming the first official organisation to predict the global economy will shrink during 2009, to collapse for the first time in more than 60 years.
--
The new World Bank assessment, prepared for next week's meeting of finance ministers and treasurers from the world's 20 largest economies, was not specific about the extent of the collapse other than to say that global economic activity would shrink "for the first time since World War II, with growth at least 5 percentage points below potential".

Global industrial production would be down 15 per cent by the middle of this year, with world trade on track to record its largest decline in 80 years.

An astonishing 53% of Americans believe the US will enter a depression like the 1930s says new Rasmussen poll.

So it is all the more discouraging that the White House has yet to nominate anyone to fill the top positions at the Treasury Department aside from Secretary Tim Geitner. 

In an astonishing breach of diplomacy, the head of the civil service in the U.K, Sir Gus O'Donnell, complained that he can't get anybody on the phone at Treasury to talk about preparations for next month's G20 summit  to deal with the global economic crisis.  O'Donnell  said it was "unbelievably difficult" to hold discussions ahead of the meeting of world leaders in London.

The CEO of Blackstone private equity company says 45% of world's wealth destroyed.

As Tom Friedman says today

Friends, this is not a test. Economically, this is the big one. This is August 1914. This is the morning after Pearl Harbor. This is 9/12. Yet, in too many ways, we seem to be playing politics as usual.

Ed Morrissey details the 18 top positions unfilled and underscores the failure of the White House to nominate people to fill those jobs.

Why has Obama neglected Treasury?

The White House has responsibility for appointing these 18 positions.  Those appointments get handled by the Senate Finance Commitee, which after receiving the formal nominations, has to do background checks and other information gathering to prepare committee members for their hearings.  It takes some time to get a nomination from the White House to a confirmation vote, but the clock doesn’t start — it can’t start — until Obama makes each nomination.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:17 PM | Permalink

March 10, 2009

Unnecessary, impolitic and immoral

There's not a person I know who doesn't applaud the advances in stem cell research.

But too few of them make any distinction between adult stem cells from embryonic stem cells.  One major difference is the former have been successfully used in treatment while the latter has shown only failure.  Here are some examples of embryonic stem cell research

Past supporters of this controversial research are now speaking out about the false hype surrounding the results.  The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that doubters are coming out of the woodwork.  Paul Billings, who studied stem cells' effects and co-founded a stem cell bank, said that hopes for major new medical treatments based on embryonic stem cells are "very remote".  "The problems are so complex that we're not likely to be able to tackle them with the stem cell gambit in the foreseeable future."

Researchers in China met with a disastrous result.  Fetal tissue injected into a patient's brain produced temporary improvement, but within two years the patient developed a brain tumor and died.  An autopsy revealed that the fetal cells had taken root, but had then metamorphed into other types of human tissue - hair, skin and bone.  These grew into the tumor, which killed the patient.

A devastating result occurred at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In some of the patients, the implanted embryonic cells apparently grew too well, churning out so much of a chemical that controls movement that they writhed and jerked uncontrollably.  Dr. Paul E. Greene called the uncontrollable movements developed by some patients as "absolutely devastating."  He said, "They chew constantly, their fingers go up and down, their writs flex and distend.  It's a real nightmare.  And we can't selectively turn it off.  No more fetal transplants.  We are absolutely and adamantly convinced that this should be considered for research only."

By contrast, the use of adult stem cells have resulted in significant breakthroughs

Researchers at Harvard Medical School say adult stem cells may eliminate the need for embryonic ones.  The researchers experienced a permanent reversal of Type 1 diabetes in mice by killing the cells responsible for the diabetes.  The animals' adult stem cells took over and regenerated missing cells needed to produce insulin and eliminate the disease.  The results hold promise for rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus and more than 50 other ailments.

Dr. Edward Holland of the Northern Kentucky Eye Laser Center in the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area, is using adult stem cell transplants as part of a treatment to dramatically improve the eyesight of his patients.

New research in the UK on rats indicates that transplants of adult stem cells can help stroke victims regain movement, senses and understanding.  They also show that the adult cells were more effective than cells from aborted babies.
The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York came to similar conclusions.

Abe Greenwald  scoffs at the idea that the President is removing politics and ideology from science.

The issue at hand is stem cell research, and in case accuracy on George W. Bush’s record matters to anyone at this point, let it be known that Bush never prohibited open scientific inquiry, and never engaged in “manipulation or coercion” of data. He never “distorted or concealed” scientific information to serve an ideology. He didn’t even “ban” federally funded embryonic stem cell research; he prohibited federal funding for research if the “cell derivation” process was initiated after August 9, 2001. And how funny it is to be scolded on the importance of unfettered scientific inquiry from the man who says of climate change, “The science is beyond dispute.”

So why did President Obama lift restrictions on taxpayer -funded research on embryonic stem cells?

It seems impolitic at best, raising yet another controversy when ALL focus should be on the economy and fixing the banks.

Investors Business Daily calls it fool's good by Bailing Out Bad Science.

With Obama lifting the restrictions on Monday, we will now be federally funding research that has yet to produce a single therapy or a single treatment of an actual human being, at least one that works. It has generated a lot of hope but very little change. It is he who is putting ideology over science.
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If embryonic stem cells are so promising, why aren't venture capitalists lining up and why does ESCR need federal funding?

Unnecessary, impolitic and profoundly immoral.

As Charles Krauthammer points out

One is the president has left open the cloning of human embryos in order to destroy them in experiments.

Secondly, he leaves open the creation of human embryos entirely for the purpose of research and experimentation.

As expected, the Vatican slams embryonic research, condemning it as "deeply immoral".

Catholic teaching holds that life begins at conception and opposes research involving destruction of human embryos.

The Vatican's newspaper quoted from a condemnation issued last year by U.S. bishops who expressed worry that there will be "no stopping point" if humans are treated as mere objects of research.

You don't have to be Catholic or even religious to understand what William Saletan at Slate does

You don't have to equate embryos with full-grown human beings—I don't—to appreciate the danger of exploiting them. Embryos are the beginnings of people. They're not parts of people. They're the whole thing, in very early form. Harvesting them, whether for research or medicine, is different from harvesting other kinds of cells. It's the difference between using an object and using a subject. How long can we grow this subject before dismembering it to get useful cells? How far should we strip-mine humanity in order to save it?

The danger of seeing the stem-cell war as a contest between science and ideology is that you bury these dilemmas. You forget the moral problem. You start lying to yourself and others about what you're doing. You invent euphemisms like pre-embryo, pre-conception, and clonote. Your ethical lines begin to slide.
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The stem-cell fight wasn't a fight between ideology and science. It was a fight between 5-day-olds and 50-year-olds. The 50-year-olds won.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:05 AM | Permalink

March 9, 2009

Something rotten in the state of Connecticut

Legislation was introduced last Thursday (Senate Bill 1098) in Connecticut that would remove bishops and pastors from overseeing their parishes and substituting in their place a boards of directors composed of lay people to whom each pastor would report.

This is unbelievable and undoubtedly unconstitutional -  the state attempting to direct how churches should be governed.  So much for separation of church and state.

Archbishop Charles Chaput said
"But prejudice against the Catholic Church has a long pedigree in the United States. And rarely has belligerence toward the Church been so perfectly and nakedly captured as in Connecticut’s pending Senate Bill 1098, which, in the words of Hartford’s Archbishop Henry Mansell, ‘directly attacks the Roman Catholic Church and our Faith.’"

"In effect, SB 1098 would give the state of Connecticut the power to forcibly reorganize the internal civil life of the Catholic community. This is bad public policy in every sense: imprudent; unjust; dismissive of First Amendment concerns, and contemptuous of the right of the Catholic Church to be who she is as a public entity," the archbishop criticized.

According to Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, called for the expulsion of  State Senator Andrew McDonald and Representative Michael Lawlor chairmen of the Judiciary Committee who  introduced the bill .

“Bishop Lori is correct to say that the bill ‘is a thinly-veiled attempt to silence the Catholic Church on the important issues of the day, such as same-sex marriage.’ Indeed, it is payback: this brutal act of revenge by Lawlor and McDonald, two champions of gay marriage, is designed to muzzle the voice of the Catholic Church.

“By singling out the Catholic Church—no other religion has been targeted—Lawlor and McDonald have demonstrated that they are ethically unfit to continue as lawmakers. They have evinced a bias so strong, and so malicious, that it compromises their ability to serve the public good. They should therefore be expelled by their colleagues.

The president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty whose mission is to protect the free expression of all religious traditions said

"This bill is doubly unconstitutional. It would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment even if it applied to all churches. but the fact that it applies to only one church - the Catholic Church - makes it unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment besides. This is truly a monstrosity."

UPDATE: After a firestorm of protest, the hearing on the bill scheduled for tomorrow has been cancelled.  The bill is dead for the rest of the legislative session,

Following the biggest political firestorm of the 2009 legislative session, a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday on the financial and administrative management of the Catholic Church has been canceled. The bill is dead for the rest of the legislative session.

As soon as word spread about the bill, the Legislative Office Building was flooded with telephone calls and e-mails on Monday. The bill, virtually overnight, became the hottest issue at the state Capitol.

The cancellation came less than 24 hours after Senate Republican John McKinney of Fairfield called for the cancellation, saying that his caucus was unanimously against the bill because they believe it is clearly unconstitutional.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:56 PM | Permalink

Time Out for Beauty

When I read the composer Morten Lauridsen explain how a Zubaran painting, filled with religious imagery, inspired his piece Magnum Mysterium, I knew immediately that I wanted to blog about.  But I diddled around and never got to it.

When Gerard Vanderluen posted "O Magnum Mysterium:" The Persistence of Sacred Beauty, I knew I never could do it as well as he.

In an arresting and rare explication and meditation on the origins of great art in our time, composer Morten Lauridsen writes of his own work and the work of a long dead master in It's a Still Life That Runs Deep. The essay reveals a bit, but just a bit, about how inspiration can leap from one medium to another in art and, by such a leap, gain even more power.

Lauridsen's exegesis also reveals how all great art tends to exist outside of time and to defy the "moral, spiritual and aesthetic relativism" that reduces most of our "attempts" at art to rubble. He does so by reminding us that great art, like God, exists outside of time.
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I've seen the painting by Zurbarán and I can attest to the fact of its strange power to arrest the pace and still the attention into contemplation. The underlying symbolism of the work was unknown to me until Lauridsen made it explicit, but I don't find it surprising. After many years of ignorant acceptance of one gruesome and ugly step downward in art after another that I witnessed when I wandered around in New York's overheated and overhyped art scene, I came to the reluctant conclusion that most contemporary art was garbage, that it had no soul, and that deep down... it was shallow.

In It's a Still Life That Runs Deep. Lauridsen contemplates the beauty of Francisco de Zubaran's "Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose.

Stilllifelemons

The painting projects an aura of mystery, powerful in its unadorned simplicity, its mystical quality creating an atmosphere of deep contemplation. Its effect is immediate, transcendent and overpowering. Before it one tends to speak in hushed tones, if at all.
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For "O Magnum Mysterium," I wanted to create, as Zurbarán had in paint, a deeply felt religious statement, at once uncomplicated and unadorned yet powerful and transformative in its effect upon the listener.

Read the whole piece and listen to the beauty Lauridsen created, "a quiet song of profound inner joy."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:46 PM | Permalink

Forgetting a child in a car

The bewildering lapses of memory in otherwise good parents who think such a thing could never happen to them.

Forgetting a child in the back seat of a hot, parked car is a horrifying, inexcusable mistake. But is it a crime? asks Gene Weingarten in Fatal Distraction

"Death by hyperthermia" is the official designation. When it happens to young children, the facts are often the same: An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just... forgets a child is in the car. It happens that way somewhere in the United States 15 to 25 times a year, parceled out through the spring, summer and early fall. The season is almost upon us.

Two decades ago, this was relatively rare. But in the early 1990s, car-safety experts declared that passenger-side front airbags could kill children, and they recommended that child seats be moved to the back of the car; then, for even more safety for the very young, that the baby seats be pivoted to face the rear. If few foresaw the tragic consequence of the lessened visibility of the child . . . well, who can blame them? What kind of person forgets a baby?

The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.
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These are heartbreaking stories made even more so by how the parents were demonized.

One clinical psychologist said

Humans have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. "We are vulnerable, but we don't want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we'll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don't want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:28 PM | Permalink

Warren Buffett talks, people listen

The US economy has fallen off a cliff said Warren Buffet in an interview on CNBC.

“If you’re in a war, and we really are in an economic war, there’s a obligation to the majority to behave in ways to not go around inflaming the minority. If on Dec. 8, or maybe it was Dec. 7, when Roosevelt convened Congress to vote on the war. He didn’t say, ‘I’m throwing in about ten of my pet projects,’
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“Job one is to win the economic war. Job two is to win the economic war and Job 3,” Buffett said. “And you can’t expect people to unite behind you if you’re trying to jam a whole bunch of things down their throats. So I would absolutely say, for the interim until we get this one solved, I would not be pushing a lot of things that, that you know are contentious.”

Learning that US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is practically alone on the job, working night and day to cope with the worst economic downturn in decades is worrisome and not just to me.

Jack Welch, former GE CEO said

This guy is locked in another world. And he’s throwing all these initiatives into this game in the middle of a crisis. Focus on the crisis! Focus on the economy!
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it’s the economy, Mika. It’s the economy. It’s getting the banks going. It’s a clear message to everybody: all hands on deck. We have a crisis: let’s deal with this. Not one day, carbon tax. One day, take the kids out of the Washington schools. I mean it’s, it’s crazy!

Until a plan comes out in sufficient detail to deal with the problem in the banks, stock investors will continue to see declines in the value of their portfolios. 

 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:08 PM | Permalink

March 5, 2009

Word on Fire

Father Barron on Steroids in Baseball.  Why did Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds take steroids when they were already at the top of their game, at the height of their powers?  Barron says it's  all about concupiscence meaning errant desire or what we would call today the pattern of addiction.

Father Robert Barron,  one of the most talented of the new Catholic evangelists,  has a series of commentaries on Youtube that deal with current events and movies that are quite enjoyable, even arresting, with a distinctive Catholic take.  Take a look at  his website Word on Fire.

I love him.  And not just because he looks a lot like my brother Billy.    A professor and theologian, he's engaging and remarkably clear and insightful.  Listen to any one of his weekly sermons and you'll see what I mean.  You can subscribe on iTunes.

For anyone looking to know more about Catholicism, this is a great place to hang out.    Begin with the trailer to The Catholicism Project, the Catholic story as you've never seen it before.  A thematic exposition in ten parts now in production, it promises to show the compelling power and beauty of Catholicism and I, for one, can't wait to see it completed.

About Fr Barron

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:28 AM | Permalink

"They have convinced themselves that perpetual bounty is now their birthright"

Victor Davis Hanson in Accounting for California's suicide.

Critics disagree. Some cite expanding but inefficient state government, out-of-control state pensions and oppressive taxes. Or are the chief problems costly prisons and astronomical rates of incarceration, illegal immigration, unchecked welfare, and excessive regulation and environmental restrictions?

All these explanations may be valid. But less discussed is the underlying culprit: a weird sort of utopian mindset. Perhaps because have-it-all Californians live in such a rich natural landscape and inherited so much from their ancestors, they have convinced themselves that perpetual bounty is now their birthright — not something that can be lost in a generation of complacency.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:07 AM | Permalink

How a "well-educated, historically rational human beings committed one of the single greatest acts of madness in financial history."

I don't think there's a more entertaining - or illuminating - writer on financial topics than Michael Lewis. 

Here he is on Wall Street on the Tundra in Vanity Fair.

Iceland Demonstration
Iceland's coalition government collapsed in January, fallout from the financial collapse

Iceland’s de facto bankruptcy—its currency (the krona) is kaput, its debt is 850 percent of G.D.P., its people are hoarding food and cash and blowing up their new Range Rovers for the insurance—resulted from a stunning collective madness. What led a tiny fishing nation, population 300,000, to decide, around 2003, to re-invent itself as a global financial power? In Reykjavík, where men are men, and the women seem to have completely given up on them, the author follows the peculiarly Icelandic logic behind the meltdown.
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Iceland Wideweb

Back away from the Icelandic economy and you can’t help but notice something really strange about it: the people have cultivated themselves to the point where they are unsuited for the work available to them. All these exquisitely schooled, sophisticated people, each and every one of whom feels special, are presented with two mainly horrible ways to earn a living: trawler fishing and aluminum smelting. There are, of course, a few jobs in Iceland that any refined, educated person might like to do. Certifying the nonexistence of elves, for instance. (“This will take at least six months—it can be very tricky.”) But not nearly so many as the place needs, given its talent for turning cod into Ph.D.’s. At the dawn of the 21st century, Icelanders were still waiting for some task more suited to their filigreed minds to turn up inside their economy so they might do it.

Enter investment banking.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:03 AM | Permalink

Reading the Bible

David Plotz, an editor of Slate reads the Good Book   


Should you read the Bible? You probably haven't. A century ago, most well-educated Americans knew the Bible deeply. Today, biblical illiteracy is practically universal among nonreligious people. My mother and my brother, professors of literature and the best-read people I've ever met, have not done much more than skim Genesis and Exodus. Even among the faithful, Bible reading is erratic. The Catholic Church, for example, includes only a teeny fraction of the Old Testament in its official readings. Jews study the first five books of the Bible pretty well but shortchange the rest of it. Orthodox Jews generally spend more time on the Talmud and other commentary than on the Bible itself. Of the major Jewish and Christian groups, only evangelical Protestants read the whole Bible obsessively.
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And something like that happened to me five, 10, 50 times a day when I was Bible-reading. You can't get through a chapter of the Bible, even in the most obscure book, without encountering a phrase, a name, a character, or an idea that has come down to us 3,000 years later. The Bible is the first source of everything from the smallest plot twists (the dummy David's wife places in the bed to fool assassins) to the most fundamental ideas about morality (the Levitical prohibition of homosexuality that still shapes our politics, for example) to our grandest notions of law and justice. It was a joyful shock to me when I opened the Book of Amos and read the words that crowned Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
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Not to sound like a theocratic crank, but I'm actually shocked that students aren't compelled to read huge chunks of the Bible in high school and college, the way they must read Shakespeare or the Constitution or Mark Twain.

Later in a forum, he explains why he read just the Old Testament


I was giving the Bible a very irreverent, very personal reading. As a Jew, I felt I could do that with my Bible, the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament, more or less). I did not feel I could do it with the New Testament, because I couldn't treat the life of Jesus fairly. I think that Christian readers would have a right to expect a New Testament reading from someone who belonged to the group, not from some outsider chucking spitballs. But maybe I should have kept going: My Christian friends tell me that reading the OT but not the NT is like leaving the play at intermission.

Since I just started reading the Bible about two years ago, I  can relate to a lot to what Plotz says.  I was spurred to join a Bible study group at my church to fill in what I felt was a huge hole in my education which loomed larger after reading what Camille Paglia said:

“The Bible is a masterpiece. The Bible is one of the greatest works produced in the world.  The people who all they have is the Bible actually are set up for life. Not only do they have a spiritual vision given to them but artistic fulfillment,”

By studying the Bible in a group, I learned much more than I would have on my own.  I can also recommend Peter Kreeft's book.  A professor of philosophy at Boston College, he illuminates the historical and theological  themes and offers insights in such clear language, that anyone can use his book as a useful guide.


"You Can Understand The Bible: A Practical And Illuminating Guide To Each Book In The Bible" (Peter Kreeft)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:47 AM | Permalink

March 4, 2009

The Formula that Killed Wall Street

Hey, bet you don't what  a Gaussian copula function is.

It's a Recipe for Disaster and the Formula that Killed Wall Street

Li's Gaussian copula formula will go down in history as instrumental in causing the unfathomable losses that brought the world financial system to its knees.

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Investors exploited it as a quick -and fatally flawed- way to assess risk.

David Li incidentally is a star mathematician who grew up in rural China in the 1960s.  Ah, the irony.

No one knew all of this better than David X. Li: "Very few people understand the essence of the model," he told The Wall Street Journal way back in fall 2005.

"Li can't be blamed," says Gilkes of CreditSights. After all, he just invented the model. Instead, we should blame the bankers who misinterpreted it. And even then, the real danger was created not because any given trader adopted it but because every trader did. In financial markets, everybody doing the same thing is the classic recipe for a bubble and inevitable bust.
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Nassim Nicholas Taleb, hedge fund manager and author of The Black Swan, is particularly harsh when it comes to the copula. "People got very excited about the Gaussian copula because of its mathematical elegance, but the thing never worked," he says. "Co-association between securities is not measurable using correlation," because past history can never prepare you for that one day when everything goes south. "Anything that relies on correlation is charlatanism."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:21 PM | Permalink

Bad for IVF children

In Britain, single women having in vitro fertilization will now be able to name anyone they like as their baby's father on the birth certificate.

father, mother, sister, brother, female lover, best friend.

The 'father' does not need to be genetically related to the baby, nor  in any sort of romantic relationship with the father, but will have to consent to being named.  The 'father' will have to take on the legal and moral responsibilities of parenthood.

Another blow to fatherhood: IVF mothers can name ANYONE as 'father' on birth certificate.

This raises the spectre of a legal minefield in which female 'fathers' will fight for visitation rights and be chased for child support payments if their fragile relationship with the mother breaks down.

The changes, due to come in on April 6, will apply to many of the 2,000 women a year who have IVF using sperm from anonymous donors.

The regulations are part of the controversial Embryology Bill passed by Parliament last year. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said they will give lesbian couples in civil partnerships who undergo IVF the same rights as married heterosexual couples.
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Baroness Deech, a former chairman of the HFEA, said the practice would lead to the ' falsification of the birth certificate'.

She said: 'This is putting the rights of the parents way above those of the child. It is absurd that anyone can be named as the father or the second parent.'

What a mess.  Do they have any idea how they are damaging the child's future?  Where is the concern for the child here?

They will be doomed to confusion, alienation  and genetic bewilderment, the "Life Debt' of Donor Conceived Children

One expert, Dr Trevor Stamers, a GP and lecturer in healthcare ethics said:

'There is no doubt from sociological evidence accumulated over the past few years that children do best in a two-parent married family with heterosexual couples being the married parents.

'It probably will be the child that is the loser but by the time we find that out, in 15 or 16 years, a huge amount of damage will have been done.'

We depend on birth certificates for accurate information on genetic and biological heritage.  Now, with the collusion of the state,  single women will be allowed to conceal the true genetic identity of the child.

I've written about this often. Listen to the cry of one such child in More Genetic Bewilderment


I'm here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up. We didn't ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the "products" of the cryobanks' service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place.

Cut off from their genetic history.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:57 PM | Permalink

March 3, 2009

Babies and TV commercials

A baby may look helpless. It can’t walk, talk, think symbolically or overhaul the nation’s banking system. Yet as social emulsifiers go, nothing can beat a happily babbling baby. A baby is born knowing how to work the crowd. A toothless smile here, a musical squeal there, and even hard-nosed cynics grow soft in the head and weak in the knees.


In the view of the primatologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, the extraordinary social skills of an infant are at the heart of what makes us human. Through its ability to solicit and secure the attentive care not just of its mother but of many others in its sensory purview, a baby promotes many of the behaviors and emotions that we prize in ourselves and that often distinguish us from other animals, including a willingness to share, to cooperate with strangers, to relax one’s guard, uncurl one’s lip and widen one’s pronoun circle beyond the stifling confines of me, myself and mine.

In a Helpless Baby, the Roots of Our Social Glue

I like this theory, but I haven't a clue how to pronounce the scientist's name "Hrdy".

The next article in the Science section of the New York Times is more baffling. Commercials make TV shows more enjoyable.

“The punch line is that commercials make TV programs more enjoyable to watch. Even bad commercials,” said Leif Nelson, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of California, San Diego, and a co-author of the new research. “When I tell people this, they just kind of stare at me, in disbelief. The findings are simultaneously implausible and empirically coherent.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:03 AM | Permalink

March 2, 2009

Checkmate in Darfur

In a terrific post about Darfur, Rusty Humphries, after visiting Darfur explains what is going on in simple terms.

What Hollywod gets wrong about Darfur.

Last year, I decided to find out the truth about Darfur.  I had the opportunity to go to the region to help with humanitarian aid.  It was an eye-opening, horrendous experience.
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First, the history you won’t hear from Clooney and his ilk.  Darfur is a region in Sudan. About 30 years ago the Arab Muslims in the north decided they that wanted to implement Sharia law throughout the entire country.  The problem was that there are a lot of people in Sudan who aren’t interested in Sharia law: the folks in the south are generally black Christians.  So the Muslims started a war in which about 2 million people were killed or displaced.  The Arabs in the north enslaved many of the blacks from the south — a barbaric practice which continues to this day.  Today, the war is at a stalemate.  South Sudan is working on a cession plan.  The citizens of southern Sudan are much poorer than those in the north because oil revenues tend to be given much more freely to those who follow Mohammad.
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While I was there, I met thousands of people who had recently been slaves.  We found a group of young men and women who had been released - and they didn’t even realize they were no longer slaves.
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The international community is fostering this genocide.  The Chinese receive a large percentage of their oil from Sudan, and so turn a blind eye to the slaughter.  The Russians, who still want to have a role as a major superpower, supply weapons and air support to the Arab Muslim government.  The Arab Muslim thugs who run Sudan receive support from Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, all of whom want to help their Arab Muslim brothers against the kuffar.
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“Why isn’t the UN stopping this?” I asked.  Here was their answer: “We can’t go in unless the government of Sudan invites us in.” You heard that correctly: the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum is slaughtering and enslaving their own people and the U.N. won’t stop them because the human trash committing these crimes won’t ask the U.N. to stop them.
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Checkmate.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:29 PM | Permalink

St. David and the Empire of the Sun, leeks and lullaby

Ah the wonders of the web where all sorts of connections can be made while I wait to clear the fifteen inches of snow that appeared overnight.  Ah, the great pleasures of a snow day.

A while back, I  started a draft post on the pre-posthumous memoir by J.G Ballard after I came across this interview about his new book  in LA Weekly


I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.


I believe in the non-existence of the past, in the death of the future, and the infinite possibilities of the present.


"Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography" (J. G. Ballard)

I tucked it away in draft form until this morning when I happened upon Happy St David's Day at Brits at their Best, a favorite blog of mine.

St. David (Dewi Sant in Welsh), a bishop of Wales (c 500-589)  became its patron saint (as well as the patron saint of vegetarians and poets).  Today the Welsh wear a leek in memory of some ancient battle against the Saxons where Bishop David advised them to wear leeks on their hats to distinguish themselves from  their enemies.    Knowing that a storm was coming, coincidentally yesterday I made a potato and leek soup  (absolutely delicious with lots of bacon bits and parsley as garnish).

Checking with the Catholic encyclopedia I learned that St David was conceived in violence, the product of the rape of his mother, a nun, by Sandde, King of Ceredigion, said by some to be King Arthur's nephew.  According to legend the poor woman gave birth on a cliff top during a violent storm.

David founded a number of churches and monasteries among them Glastonbury, Bath and Leominster, all while living a life of austerity (no meat, no beer) and great holiness.  His last words  'Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about" has become a very well-known phrase in Welsh 'Do the little things in life'.    My little thing for St David.

  Stdavid Wales, Jef-1

Here's the famous Welsh singer, Bryn Terfel, who gives shivers to The Anchoress, singing a lullaby, a love song, from Wales, courtesy of the Cat and David, best Brits.

   

Sleep my baby, at my breast,
Tis a mothers arms round you.
Make yourself a snug, warm nest.
Feel my love forever new.
Harm will not meet you in sleep,
Hurt will always pass you by.
Child beloved, always youll keep,
In sleep gentle, mothers breast nigh.
Sleep in peace tonight, sleep,
O sleep gently, what a sight.
A smile I see in slumber deep,

What visions make your face bright?
Are the angels above smiling,
At you in your peaceful rest?
Are you beaming back while in
Peaceful slumber on mothers breast?
Do not fear the sound, its a breeze
Brushing leaves against the door.
Do not dread the murmuring seas,
Lonely waves washing the shore.
Sleep child mine, theres nothing here,
While in slumber at my breast,
Angels smiling, have no fear,
Holy angels guard your rest.

Was I surprised to that that lullaby was prominently featured in the movie Empire of the Sun, based on the semi-autographical novel of the same name by J.F. Ballard.  I'd come full circle

Produced by Steven Speilberg with screenplay by Tom Stoddard,  Empire of the Sun, released in 1987, tells the story of a young boy from an aristocratic British family living in Shanghai in 1941 just as the Japanese invaded.  Separated from his parents, young Jamie  is captured and taken to a Japanese POW camp for British civilians where he comes to admire both the Japanese and the captured American pilots.  Jamie is played wonderfully by a very young Christian Bale who is befriended by a laid-back captured American pilot Basie played by John Malkovich.

When I watched the trailer again, I remembered how much I loved the movie.  A critical success, it won no Oscars despite several nominations.  I just bought it on Amazon for less than $10.  You can too.


"Empire of the Sun" (Steven Spielberg)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:11 PM | Permalink

March 1, 2009

Pension tsunami

That approaching wave of pension debt is bigger than it looks.

Pensionwatch

The purpose of this site is to provide an overview of the multiple pension crises that are about to drown America's taxpayers.

From the blog, The column that sparked this website: "Land a State Job and Become an Instant Millionaire"

California state government employees have an employer who regularly and by law provides a $40-50,000 contribution to each employee’s pension account — year in and year out — good budget times and bad. (And in bad years they borrow the money!)

The California state government provides a “defined benefit” pension plan to each of its employees. Such “defined benefit” pension plans are far more generous than any 401(k) or defined contribution pension plan available from any other employer in the state! In fact, the plan is so generous that it makes the average state employee a millionaire after only 22 years of work!

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It would require putting $56,889 ($1,251,562/22 years = $56,889) into your 401(k)/IRA or other retirement account every single year during those 22 years! When you work for the state, the state does this for you!

Is the state’s pension plan overly generous? The Sacramento Bee and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have been whining about it lately — are they jealous? The state’s own Legislative Analyst has determined that California’s pension plan provides nearly twice the benefit of the next highest state.

No wonder California is in so much trouble and going bankrupt.  California, the wave of the future.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:02 PM | Permalink

Was Cooking Humanity's "Killer App"?

Richard Wrangham of Harvard University where he is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology believes it is. 

Cooking is a human universal. No society is without it. No one other than a few faddists tries to survive on raw food alone. And the consumption of a cooked meal in the evening, usually in the company of family and friends, is normal in every known society. Moreover, without cooking, the human brain (which consumes 20-25% of the body’s energy) could not keep running. Dr Wrangham thus believes that cooking and humanity are coeval.

In fact, as he outlined to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in Chicago, he thinks that cooking and other forms of preparing food are humanity’s “killer app”: the evolutionary change that underpins all of the other—and subsequent—changes that have made people such unusual animals.
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Cooking alters food in three important ways. It breaks starch molecules into more digestible fragments. It “denatures” protein molecules, so that their amino-acid chains unfold and digestive enzymes can attack them more easily. And heat physically softens food. That makes it easier to digest, so even though the stuff is no more calorific, the body uses fewer calories dealing with it.

Why do People Cook?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:34 PM | Permalink

The remarkable story of the lost book of Charles Dickens

There is a lost book by Dickens, one that recorded some of the most remarkable encounters of his life. Within it, he catalogued the stories told him by the women – prostitutes, confidence tricksters, thieves and attempted suicides – whom he interviewed before they were admitted to Urania Cottage, the refuge for fallen women he established in Shepherd’s Bush in the 1840s and effectively directed for a decade or more. The money – substantial sums, for this was “high-end philanthropy” – came from the immensely wealthy Angela Burdett-Coutts, but the initial scheme and much of its everyday direction was Dickens’s alone, his most important and most characteristic charitable venture.
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He was the greatest novelist of the age, Burdett-Coutts its richest heiress, and they were determined to offer a chance to people who had none, or only bad ones. They could only help a tiny proportion of the great tide of vulnerable young women who washed up in the prisons and workhouses of mid-Victorian England, but they did so with determination, energy and imagination.

Dickens's Refuge for Fallen Women

But overall, it is striking how clear-minded the Urania project was and how realistic and thorough in execution. Dickens and Burdett-Coutts were simply unwilling to be indifferent to the suffering that surrounded them, and unfailingly energetic in pursuing the chances of change for the better. Urania gave those who entered its doors decent food and clothing, some education, a library, a garden and even music lessons from Dickens’s old friend John Hullah, Professor at King’s College London.

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"Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women" (Jenny Hartley)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:27 PM | Permalink

"The universe is a patch of light that evolved."

Quantum mechanics tells us that, rather than fade into nothingness, the world becomes more and more energetic as we look at ever-smaller parts of it. If we peer at a tiny region of space we see that it is not empty but boiling with particles that pop randomly into and out of existence for tiny parts of a second. This description of reality is certainly puzzling, but we can take comfort that even that great American physicist Richard Feynman, who said that no one really understands quantum physics.
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If our current scientific description of the universe is reduced to a single statement, it is that the universe is a patch of light that evolved.
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Science insists on our commonality. DNA analysis shows us that everyone alive today shares a mother who lived in Africa some 150,000 years ago. Our DNA also shows us that we are descended not just from apes but from slime, a story that takes our descent back some 3 billion years. But the story does not stop there. We are, as poets often remind us, made of star dust. In turn, the stars themselves are clouds of hydrogen gas that condensed and ignited. And even further back in time, before there was any hydrogen gas, the universe was once - for the merest moment in time after the Big Bang - a curious landscape in which there was a field of energy made out of Higgs bosons.

The story of science as we understand it today can now trace our descent - and the descent of all things - back to the origins of the universe. Surely that makes science the greatest story ever told. In a world filled with divisiveness of all kinds, how wonderful to be reminded that we are all in this together.

Christopher Potter on the 'God Particle'  -  or how Scientists are on the verge of unlocking how the universe was formed

Somehow I think whatever they find will be amazing yet will open up still more questions to answer.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:17 PM | Permalink