Reader Mail

Who Elects the Brain Dead?

Drs. Stark and Waxman on call. Also: Clove compartments. No shining to Stephen King. Conservatives, evolution, and science (again). Plus much more.

11.1.07

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THE LEAST AMONG US
Re: Jeffrey Lord's Night of the Brain-Dead Congressmen:

Jeffrey Lord's "Night of the Brain-Dead Congressmen" is an entertainingly written piece that unfortunately misleads on a key point.

Congressmen Stark and Waxman and CMS have no authority to "restrict the use" of ESA's. What they are doing is to restrict the grounds on which Medicare will pay for their use.

So what's at issue here is not whether ESA's can be prescribed, but whether taxpayers will be coerced into paying for them under the Medicare program.

Most conservatives at least give lip service to the idea of getting Medicare and Medicaid spending under control. Let's face the fact that this will require that some services, to some patients, will have to be curtailed.
-- Bob Danielson

Mr. Lord proposes that the two Congressmen in his article, Reps. Stark and Waxman, are brain dead. I can probably accept that characterization, but I have a serious query for Mr. Lord, or anyone else out there in the blogosphere. If these Congressmen are brain dead, what does that say for the majority of the voters in those districts that have been re-electing them over and over and over again? Are those voters brain dead, or are they even farther gone than that? And what about Pelosi, and young Kennedy, and Maxine Waters, and at least two dozen more just in the U. S. House of Representatives alone? And what about the voters in those districts that keep electing them? Now let us aggregate the U. S. Senators that suffer the same malady, along with their voters. Keep in mind that in each case the majority of voters in each of these jurisdictions, of their own free will, elected these people. Now what should we glean from this regarding a very significant plurality of the American electorate? I submit that that is a truly scary thought this All Hallows Eve.
-- Ken Shreve
Behind Enemy Lines in New England

Thoughtful article, but it leaves out one glaring question: At what point does our medical community come to grips with how they have educated their patients, or in this case, how they have allowed the patient to be used like a rubber doll, passed around while everyone feeds from the patient's medical problems?

And just what would an educated patient want to see changed? Perhaps that answer might be found in the notion of "competition" if my hunch is right.
-- RJP
Corrales, New Mexico

1. Remember Dr. Bill Frist and Terri Schiavo? Who can forget the current battle over reproductive health issues? And, the Aids epidemic and condom distribution? All are widely believed to be the proper concern of patients and their physicians only. Yet, the current administration, with the blessing of the GOP, has no problem with government bureaucracies intruding into these very private areas of our citizens' lives. I don't recall Mr. Lord expressing concern about any of these.

2. Mr. Lord writes: "THE FIRST ISSUE IS capitalism. They don't like it. The second issue is big government bureaucracies. They are crazy in love with those." While ostensibly talking about a handful of individuals in this article, anyone who reads Mr. Lord's articles knows he thinks the same of all liberals and Democrats. This statement is an example of the kind of hyperbolic nonsense that is all too common from both the right and the left. It is possible to be an enthusiastic supporter of capitalism and still recognize that problems exist, some of which can be addressed by government regulation (Security and Exchange Commission) and intervention (Federal Reserve). The health of my portfolio is tied to market forces and the actions of these two government bureaucracies.

3. As for bureaucracies, it is true that in too many instances, they have become too big and too inefficient. Also, once created, they never go away. But this does not negate the fact that (1) we need government, (2) we need to pay taxes to support government and (3) government should be efficient and transparent. The current administration has failed miserably on the last two counts. Since the GOP and conservatives hate government so much, they apparently feel no obligation to appoint competent, public minded people to office. Who can forget the most famous among the parade of incompetents in the Bush administration: Brownie?
-- Mike Roush
North Carolina

One thing this great article does not mention is that the Doctor and the Lawyer will never have to worry about the consequences of their actions because they are vested in the Federal Healthcare system and don't have to go on Medicare ever. Typical double standard from the Dems. One standard for the plebs and one for them.
-- Tom McGonnell
Alexandria Virginia

CLOVE, BUT NO CIGAR
Re: Elizabeth Nolan Brown's Clove Encounters:

"Clove Encounters" overlooks the complicity of one Indonesian tobacco giant in current efforts to ban Bad Things That Taste Good, from patisserie to cigarettes. Only Djarum has agreed to pay into the tobacco settlement state attorneys won a decade ago, despite the fact that their products did not figure in the case.

By joining the state's attorney's tax-milking cabal, Djarum has won a de facto monopoly in the U.S., which explains Elizabeth Nolan Brown's equation of their epoynmous product "With its dark wrapper and strong, peculiar -- and, to many, sickening -- smell, it."

As a non-vampire novel reading Sampoerna smoker who thinks of Swiss country folk when Goths are mentioned, I suggest Madame Brown broaden her olfactory horizons by sojourning to Sumatra or Sanur. She will find that just as the cooling effect of menthol from domestic mint has improved even mild Virginia bright leaf for centuries, clove's active ingredient, eugenol, has been smoothing over the rough edges of strong tropical tobacco ever since Nicotina Rustica was introduced into the Indo-Pacific by Magellan's fleet.

Congressmen claiming to favor free trade must be reminded that they are trying to outlaw a commodity that drove the age of exploration, and the first exercise in truly global commerce. Today, 80% of the clove crops of places distant as Zanzibar and Guatemala go up in smoke in cigarettes manufactured and consumed around the world.

And a good thing too. If clove's active ingredient were the real target of the obsessively risk-averse, we'd face Prohibition of toothache remedies, Smithfield hams, pastrami and pickled crab apples, for unless the demon clove is entirely driven from our shores, how is ATF to keep eugenol fiends from sticking the things into Marlboros, or heaven forfend, to stay the hands that roll their own?
-- Russell Seitz
Cambridge, Massachusetts

KING OF SUSPENSE
Re: Alec Mouhibian's Stephen King, Scary Pest:

The well-known problem with Stephen King's writings -- bloated and lengthy books, repeated plots, near-Baroque phrasing, unsympathetic characters -- no doubt the writer of "Stephen King: Scary Pest" can provide many more -- are often said to stem from one thing: when his stuff sells as well as it does, and brings in that much money to him, how can you ever get him to realize that he's doing something the wrong way?
-- Robert Nowall
Cape Coral, Florida

I never found him scary. I've always thought his works formulaic and gave up.

Now for really, truly scary literature, try the obscure Charles Williams. He wrote only seven novels, called supernatural thrillers, one chapter of whom is scarier than the collected works of above-named author. Especially his Descent Into Hell. No, it was not a Dante-esque type of descent, but the true deterioration and damnation of a human soul. Now THAT'S scary.
-- Anastasia Mather

BELIEF IN THINGS NOT SEEN
Re: Lisa Fabrizio's Reasons to Believe:

A few notes to Mrs. Fabrizio:

I don't consider myself fully a Republican. I consider myself a Libertarian, and I find the Republican Party to be more supportive of my ideas than the Democratic Party. And I will most likely be joining with the GOP or one of her candidates in the near future to support the 2008 elections. There's full disclosure.

Now, yes, I have seen this e-mail (and various other formats) in cyberspace. I find this kind of demagoguery to be very funny, but also frightening. There are people out there who actually believe this trite. And I do agree with most of your responses.

But on to Evolution. Things may have changed in the 10 years since I graduated high school, but throughout my time in school, in school systems across the country, Evolution was always taught as a Theory, not fact. It was taught as the best supported theory that has been advanced for the method of species variation and to explain how new species are created, and why some species eventually disappear.

It is also important to note that some states have passed laws allowing Creationism to be taught as an equally valid theory. It is not. Evolution is a theory built out of hundreds of years of empirical observations on the interaction of all of the life on this planet. Creationism, on the other hand is not a scientific theory, but a religious belief that should be taught in Church. The Theory of Evolution has been around for centuries, and is widely accepted by almost all of the biological community (both strongly Christian and openly atheistic) simply because nothing else comes close to being able to answer all the questions involved in life's changes and expressions.. Most importantly, it should not be confused with Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection. The Theory of Natural Selection was advanced by Darwin after years of observation around the globe (while on the HMS Beagle), specifically the Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America which has a wide variety of animal life not seen anywhere else in the world. Before publication he shared his ideas with other Naturalists, who had made many similar observations.

Natural Selection is the best supported theory on the mechanics of Evolution. It holds true under one of the most important aspects of scientific theory, in that it can be applied to create a desired outcome. Humans have been applying the Theory of Natural Selection for millennium, ever sense they stopped hunting and gathering and started raising and farming. Cow breeds, dog breeds, corn, wheat, rye, and dozens of other species and genus have been adapted to human's needs through artificial selection. In the cases of dogs, cats, and other useful animals the artificial selection of breeding allowed for speciation before recorded history and the modern animals are unrecognizable to their prehistoric ancestors. Darwin's major difference is that the competitive nature of the environment created the selective process, rather than human intervention. Even today, microevolution experiments occur in laboratories, universities, and even high schools across the country using micro and macro organisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, and even insects. One of the major health risks this country faces currently comes from microevolution, as strains of bacteria become resistant to our antibiotics, causing the diseases to flourish and needing new antibiotics to combat them.

Evidence for Evolution abounds. While the fact that the over-all bone structure varies little from vertebrae to vertebrae can be seen as economy of design (a support for Creationism), the presence of toe-nails on whales and pelvis and leg bones in snakes cannot be so easily explained without Evolution. The mitochondria which drives aerobic respiration in everything above the level of bacteria is the only thing which makes multi-cellular life possible, and replicates itself independently of cell replication, and most importantly, is not coded in the cell's DNA. Bacterial life was the first to come, and mitochondria (and chloroplasts in plants) are prokaryotes like bacteria, not their eukaryote hosts (the DNA is dispersed throughout the cell rather than centralized in a nucleolus). DNA between Humans and bacteria has less than a 10% difference. The difference between human's and chimpanzees is less than 1/100th of a percent. It takes serious training to identify the differences between vertebrae embryos. The list goes on and on, these are just what I can pull up now.

Yes, Global Warming and the carcinogenic properties of tobacco smoke are poorly supported. Evolution does not fall into this category and should not be dismissed with the same breath as the above ideas. Please understand that attacking Evolution in this fashion undermines the importance of the conservative position and make it more difficult to properly address the serious problems with those theories that are advanced without proper support.
-- Charles Campbell
Austin, Texas

Many of Lisa Fabrizio's responses to the list of "Things you have to believe to be a Republican" call for response, but allow me to comment on one of them: "If the indoctrination of free-love, 'alternate lifestyles,' and sexual promiscuity had been kept out of our schools -- where they had no business in the first place -- our children wouldn't need condoms."

I was raised Catholic and attended parochial grade school and a Jesuit preparatory school in the 1950s well before the "free-love" '60s and '70s. And I can testify to the fact there was plenty of adolescent sexual behavior despite the fact that it carried the ultimate punishment, the "mortal sin." And I'm not just talking oral sex. And I'm talking grade school as well as high school.

I'll agree that the '70s was a time of sexual experimentation but that primarily was among people 20 to 40 years old. I know what it was like in the '50s and I don't think it's much different now from then. If anyone wants details I can report events that look like anything happening today.

I was also an altar boy and one of my responsibilities was serving at Mass at a local institution run by the Poor Clare nuns for pregnant teenagers. On those occasions I would generally see 40 to 50 pregnant young women in the pews. And who knows how many young women resorted to abortion which was illegal at that time.

Condoms or birth control for adolescents in the '50s would have prevented many illegal abortions and provided the opportunity for advanced education for many young women at that time. And I believe reproductive options for young women today would have similar outcomes.
-- Ron Schoenberg
Seattle, Washington

Lisa Fabrizio replies:
I thank Mr. Schoenberg for his comments but beg to disagree with his conclusion.

Attempts to lessen the effects of a sin that is harmful in many ways, instead of denouncing it altogether, help no one. Making condoms and other forms of birth control available to children for whom it is still illegal to drink, smoke cigarettes or vote sends the wrong message to our youth.

Many see the advent birth control as the beginning of the sexual revolution; a license, as it were, to enjoy sex without consequence or commitment, so that people view each other as mere objects of pleasure. This is not love, but hedonism.

It may seem an impossible task -- as it may have been in the 1950s as Mr. Schoenberg suggests -- but the only way to teach our children is: just say no to premarital sex.

INTELLIGENT OBSERVATIONS
Re: Jackie Mason & Raoul Felder's Race and Intelligence and Reader Mail's Mind Your Manners:

Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder wrote a brilliant, succinct article about politically incorrect science and the reaction it gets. I realize I'm late to the discussion but so are many others.

Those of us ignorant galoots with the temerity to ask for one, just one, non-counterfeited transition-state fossil to validate the Theory of Evolution or who suggest that said theory violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics have gotten this treatment for years.

As for the topic that inspired Mason's and Felder's article, I don't believe any one category of people is any more intelligent than any other. American city-dwellers who believe they are somehow inherently more intelligent than African tribesmen should try to keep up with a local game-tracker in the Bushveld as he logically examines barely perceptible evidence and from it concludes where an animal is hiding, to name but one example. If the city slicker is not humbled by that experience, then his mind is too closed to rightfully be involved in scientific research.
-- Richmond Trotter, PE
Arlington, Virginia

London, Ontario contributor Steve Baarda has breathed a voluminous and most welcome gust of common sense into this stale discussion. In this he calls to mind Ronald Reagan who often said of HIS opponents: "It's not what they BELIEVE is wrong so much as it is that what they KNOW . . . just ain't so."

Especially captivating is Mr. Baarda's suggestion" it is not that hard to take the next step and see that it is likely that differences among groups of people who share similar gender, cultures, geography, climate, history, and yes race will develop differently than others and will exhibit some generalized differences."

It leads to a question of possible interest: what impact does inadequate nourishment have on the development of cognitive potential in individual human beings, especially the young? We have already seen the dreadful PHYSICAL impact brutal levels of malnourishment have had on those most unfortunate souls trapped in the workers' paradise known as the Democratic People's Republic of [North] Korea, subjected as they have been to the mercies of the Kims, father and son, for more than half a century. Were these wretched creatures to be tested for intelligence one wonders how their scores would fare compared with those of their former countrymen south of the 38th parallel.

If malnourishment DOES turn out to be a significant contributing factor, a related question might be asked about the extent -- in both space and time -- of famine conditions that have afflicted (and continue to afflict) inhabitants of the African continent.

Has any such scientific inquiry been attempted? If not -- and given the fate of Messrs. James Watson, Arthur Jensen, Lawrence Summers, and Charles ("The Bell Curve") Murray at the hands of squealing, venomously intolerant, politically correct bigots who think they run everything in our country (of the sort described by Reagan) -- it seems unlikely any such inquiry will be undertaken anytime soon.

Pity.
-- Thomas E. Stuart
Kapa'au, Hawaii

AGREE TO DISAGREE
Re: Matthew Halliday's letter (under "Kid Nation") in Reader Mail's Mind Your Manners:

As for the first half of Matthew Halliday's letter, I assure him that almost all conservatives will readily admit that there are dumb-a**es within their ranks. In fact, I can think of a few conservatives I would like to give to the other side myself.

No conservative I have ever met have said liberals deliberately harm the rest of mankind -- although there is enough sometimes to make us wonder. Indeed, their intention is to do good. But the unintended consequence is that much of our young are slower to grow into their full roles as free moral agents. The larger point is that if you get your anthropology wrong your policies are doomed to be wrong as well. If you don't understand human nature, you in all probability will do more harm than good.

His comments concerning multiculturalism and cultural relativity require a bit of unpacking. Among anthropologists, keeping and open mind and observing other societies has to be done with care. This is extremely hard to do. Professionals often take copious notes during the first six months observing the "subject" in the field and then throw them all away and start over again. This is done even when studying a farming family just out of town. (We tend to assume the family next door to us is very much like our own. This is often not the case.) "Cultural relativity" as such is a suspension of our own expectations in "seeing" and understanding another culture. In anthropological writing, the line between dispassionate description and sympathetic presentation is very fine and blurred -- and we are apt to confuse one with the other or think they are the same thing. The occupational hazard is that one can become incapable of making critical value judgments -- sometimes even averse to condemn the brutality practiced by a society not their own. Not applying critical comment is a useful anthropological "tool"; but it is a mistake to think it is necessarily a virtue in public life.

Civic respect and recognition of the different sub-cultures within one's country is a virtue and major step toward any humane society. This could be what "multiculturalism" is all about. But as with any "...ism," multiculturalism is used as an ideology. It is used to deny the existence of a general American culture. Instead, America is said to be actually made up of an amalgamation of several different cultures. The "European" culture is regarded as an oppressive majority seeking to denude the other cultures of their "treasures" and identity. Because the majority culture had privileged itself to write the country's history, that narrative is ignored in favor of disconnected study of the "unprivileged" oppressed minorities. The "melting pot" is said to be a myth. "E Pluribus Unum" is at best a fantasy. And this is just to scratch the surface.

All the same, multiculturalism as practiced in real life delivers harm and a disservice to all the purported "cultures." What immediately strikes the casual observer is that the division of the population into the designated ethnic groups is artificial and treats very different populations as if they were the same. It is only because they came from the same corner of the world map that Norseman Lutherans are grouped together with Catholic Poles and then both grouped with the Orthodox Greeks. It is only because they speak some variant of the Spanish language that Cubans, Mexicans, Columbians, and residents of Castile Spain are regarded all together as "Latinos." Even if there is some legitimate bureaucratic reason for these broad ethnic labels, these classifications are simply telling lies to our children about who they are. I am not a European. My ancestors were Irish and Cherokee. My wife's ancestors were Sicilian and Dutch. What does this make us? What does it make our children? It makes us very much American and we are not unique.

But the worse sin of multiculturalism is that it destroys the "glue" that holds us together. Maintaining static and separate populations does not a "one" make. Societies simply do not pop up when individuals are thrown in together. A society is built of a shared language, a shared history, processed conflicts, and shared expectations. It is organic and grows and changes. As more from every part of the earth come to America, the narrative of its history changes and grows larger -- not taken apart. We can acknowledge past injustices and mistakes; but in doing so we also acknowledge that we can meaningful talk about these things because of American ideals. As it is, my children know little of the Declaration of Independence, the Revolution, the Constitution, the Civil War, Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address, World War I, The Great Depression, World War II, FDR, The New Deal, JFK, The Civil Rights Movement, LBJ, Vietnam, Nixon and Ronald Reagan. And my grandchildren know even less.

Oddly enough, in my experience, there is a flip side to present day "multiculturalism" that logically is incompatible but many believe simultaneously. For the lack of a better term, let's call it the "Shakespeare" theory of human nature. Old Bill said: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players..." Unfortunately, too many believe it. There is this notion that human beings dress differently, speak differently, have separate mores that we wear around as if they were mere costumes -- but underneath we are all the same. But these things are not mere costumes. They are as much a part of us as sinew and bone. To believe that across cultures we all have the same hopes and fears is a serious error. Different civilizations do not have the same interests. The short history of man that we know illustrates that different civilizations are far more apt to war than dialogue. A "clash of civilizations" may sound less nuanced and sophisticated; but an objective examination tells us that authentic reality among real peoples is not as refined as we would wish.
-- Mike Dooley

Regarding Matthew Halliday's letter concerning Christopher Orlet's review of Diana West's book...he kind of proves Orlet/West's points by his description of studying other cultures thusly:

"To reconcile a thorough, empathetic, open-minded understanding of other cultures -- no matter how strange and seemingly hostile they may be -- with a steadfast belief in your society's own principles requires serious reflection and justification of said principles." (My emphasis added.) The problem with that statement is that those who value multiculturalism don't have a steadfast belief in our society's principles. If that statement were true, then our country wouldn't be in the mess it is in as those multi-culti types try to tear down our society's principles. When all cultures are equal, you don't mind if illegal aliens come into the country at will and don't assimilate, because who's to say they should change to suit us? When all cultures are equal, why protect ours from radical Islam? They have a right to their opinions, even those that will bring women back to the dark ages and murder homosexuals and force us to either submit to their religion or be treated as second class citizens.

As Diana West and Mr. Orlet were trying to say, this thinking is magical, childish, and adolescent. We need adults to deal with the world. Understanding other cultures is fine. It's the deciding that everything is equal, nothing is worth fighting for, ho-hum, who cares what happens in the future, la-la-la-la-la-la live for today -- that thinking is going to be the death of the West. And, whether Mr. Halliday wants to face it or not, that thinking comes from the left side of the political spectrum.
-- Deborah Durkee
Marietta, Georgia

ALL IS NOT "LOST"
Re: Doug Bandow's Make Way for a Second UN:

Sadly, President Bush has been listening to Navy Flag Officers (active duty and retired) when it comes to the newest rendition of LOST (this is not the same treaty Ronald Reagan refused to sign, but a slightly "reformed" version). While I believe the President has been right to listen to the Flags and not the American public, media or international community when it comes to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq he's dead wrong in listening to them when it comes to LOST. Like Kyoto, an international treaty he correctly canned, LOST is not in the best interest of the US regardless of what many senior Naval Officers believe and promote in magazines like Proceedings and their briefings to the White House.
-- Michael Tomlinson
Jacksonville, North Carolina

MURDER IN ALASKA
Re: Jay D. Homnick's Movie Out-Takes:

I'm writing in response to Jay D. Homnick's October 30th article, "Movie Out-Takes." I find the focus of the article misguided and the facts untrue. My greatest outrage is the assumption that Mechele Linehan was falsely convicted. Did Homnick sit in the courtroom and hear testimony? If he did, I certainly didn't see him there. The jury did the job asked of them, how dare he undermine the judgment. Kent Leppink is dead. He was shot in the back and face with a 44 Magnum, and Homnick takes the side of the woman
convicted of plotting his death. I find it repulsive that Homnick makes the comment that a son testifying against his father "is wrong." No, murder is wrong. There is no sin against an adult man, Carlin's son is nearly 30, testifying against a murderer. In fact, the opposite, not testifying, not telling the truth, is a far greater transgression.

As far as errors, there are many:

-- Anchorage, Alaska has a population of 100,000; hardly a small town.

-- Kent Leppink was from Michigan, not Missouri.

-- Carlin was widower, not a divorcee.

-- Kent was not killed in a shack, there was no shack. This fact was used as evidence as Mechelle wrote a note stating she would be at a cabin -- none existed.

-- Kent and his family were not estranged.

-- The movie The Last Seduction played little role in the prosecution's case; it was mentioned only in passing, as a glimpse into the type of people Mechelle idolized -- focused specifically towards the character, not Linda Fiorentino herself.

-- Kent operated a fishing tender, not Carlin's son

I understand why this case gets attention, why someone who calls themselves a "humorist" might be attracted to it. But Kent Leppink is dead and that is not funny. I consider myself a conservative and Homnick's theme undermining justice is hardly a conservative tenet.
-- Leslie Warner

Jay D. Homnick replies:
The case has been called the "Last Seduction Murder" and has been featured in hundreds of articles nationwide primarily for that reason.

Whether Mechele Linehan was "falsely convicted" I have no idea. Only God knows. What I said was she was wrongly convicted. Her guilt was not proven by our legal standard.

Also, in Jewish law a child may not testify against a parent, nor a parent against a child. The emotional motivations are way too intense, one way or the other. Most Americans reviled Stalin for encouraging children to inform on their parents.

I apologize for the mistakes in reporting some details. I would venture to suggest that Missouri and Michigan get mixed up regularly; in this story, that was not terribly relevant.

Leppink and his family were so estranged that one brother refused his share of the life insurance. That has been extensively reported.

In any case, I have a feeling the remake of The Last Seduction will not be a Warner Sisters movie.

ALL MOVIES ARE OF THEIR ERA
Re: Paul Beston's The Evil Is Gone:

I tried to get my kids to watch "2001-Space Odyssey" and after about 20 minutes they started asking "Is this supposed to be good?" They also found "Apollo 13" boring until they found out that it had really happened and I was there when it did.

I am one of those who cannot watch scary movies; anything that says "May be too intense for younger viewers" is right off my radar. That is because I have too much imagination. Modern movies, sadly, have too little.
-- Kate Shaw
Toronto, Ontario

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