"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Bitten by a turtle lately?

Have you been crushed by a crocodile lately?  Well don’t worry–your doctor has a code for that.  Injured by an exploding non-powered glider?  There’s a code for that too.  Pecked by a turkey?  It’s covered.

Yes, the federal government is requiring that all doctors, hospitals, and health care providers use codes from the newly issued DCM-10 when reporting injuries and illnesses.  So when you tell your doctor that you were pecked by a turkey, they’ll enter put the code W61.43XA on all forms related to insurance claims, medical reports and so forth.  Assuming that this is the first time your report it, that is.  For subsequent turkey-pecking injuries, the code is W61.43XD, so don’t get confused.  Likewise, W58.13XA would be code for your first instance of being crushed by a crocodile, not to be confused with W58.03XA, which is “crushed by alligator, initial encounter”.  And “Glider (nonpowered) explosion injuring occupant” is code V96.25XA, while while V96.15XA is “Hang-glider explosion injuring occupant.”

The codes don’t apply exclusively to the type of injuries.  Doctors must also report the location of the injury.  So if you’re injured in a chicken coop, your doctor will need code Y92.72, while Y92.311 indicates that you were injured on a squash court.  Y92.152 informs us that you got hurt in the bathroom of a reform school, which is distinct from the bathroom of an orphanage (that would be Y92.111).  If you strain your vocal cords at the opera house, that would be Y92.253, while if the aforementioned crocodile crush occurred at the zoo, then it’s time to break out code Y92.834.

All kidding aside, this is serious business.  The total cost of implementing the new reporting system will be in the tens of thousands of dollars for all medical practices, and in the millions for some.  83 large organizations representing most of America’s doctors recently sent a letter to the government, requesting that the DCM-10 be canceled.  The government ignored it, naturally.  And the name of the federal rule which requires doctors to use this system?  “Administrative simplification“.

My cheesiest post yet

This morning I clicked on over to the Atlantic Monthly’s homepage and what did I find but an article about the history of big blocks of cheese in the White House.  It turns out that two Presidents have been the recipients of enormous cheeses.  Thomas Jefferson received a wheel of cheddar from a Baptist preacher in 1802; it weighed 1,234 pounds and was engraved with the motto “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”  (If better words were ever put on cheese, I’m unaware of it.)  A generation later, a dairy farmer named Thomas Meachem offered Andrew Jackson an even bigger cheddar: 1,400 pounds.  It left the White House stinking of cheese until the Van Buren Administration.

Such an article naturally left me with an obvious question: did Chesterton have anything to say about the intersection of politics and smelly cheese?  Well, Chesterton had something to say about everything.  This comes from A Miscellany of Men:

After a few sentences exchanged at long intervals in the manner of rustic courtesy, I inquired casually what was the name of the town. The old lady answered that its name was Stilton, and composedly continued her needlework. But I had paused with my mug in air, and was gazing at her with a suddenly arrested concern. “I suppose,” I said, “that it has nothing to do with the cheese of that name.” “Oh, yes,” she answered, with a staggering indifference, “they used to make it here.”

I put down my mug with a gravity far greater than her own. “But this place is a Shrine!” I said. “Pilgrims should be pouring into it from wherever the English legend has endured alive. There ought to be a colossal statue in the market-place of the man who invented Stilton cheese. There ought to be another colossal statue of the first cow who provided the foundations of it. There should be a burnished tablet let into the ground on the spot where some courageous man first ate Stilton cheese, and survived. On the top of a neighbouring hill (if there are any neighbouring hills) there should be a huge model of a Stilton cheese, made of some rich green marble and engraven with some haughty motto: I suggest something like ‘Ver non semper viret; sed Stiltonia semper virescit.'” The old lady said, “Yes, sir,” and continued her domestic occupations.

After a strained and emotional silence, I said, “If I take a meal here tonight can you give me any Stilton?”

“No, sir; I’m afraid we haven’t got any Stilton,” said the immovable one, speaking as if it were something thousands of miles away.

“This is awful,” I said: for it seemed to me a strange allegory of England as she is now; this little town that had lost its glory; and forgotten, so to speak, the meaning of its own name. And I thought it yet more symbolic because from all that old and full and virile life, the great cheese was gone; and only the beer remained. And even that will be stolen by the Liberals or adulterated by the Conservatives. Politely disengaging myself, I made my way as quickly as possible to the nearest large, noisy, and nasty town in that neighbourhood, where I sought out the nearest vulgar, tawdry, and avaricious restaurant.

There (after trifling with beef, mutton, puddings, pies, and so on) I got a Stilton cheese.

Chesterton on Torture

An excerpt from his classic essay, On Ending and Mending Things:

A certain politician (whom I would not discuss here on any account) once said of a certain institution (which wild horses shall not induce me to name) that “It must be mended or ended.” Few people who use this useful phrase about reform notice the important thing about it. The important thing about it is that the two methods described here are not similar but opposite; between mending and ending that is not a difference of degree but of vital antagonism of kind. Mending is based upon the idea that the original nature of a thing is good; ending is based upon the idea that the original nature of a thing is bad or at least, has lost all power of being good.

If I “mend” an armchair it is because I want an armchair. I mend the armchair because I wish to restore it to a state of more complete armchairishness. My objection to the armchair in its unmended state is that its defects prevent it from being in the fullest sense an armchair at all. If (let us say) the back has come off and three of the legs have disappeared, I realize, in looking at it, not merely that it presents a sense of general irregularity to the eye; I realize that in such and such respects it does definitely fall short of the Divine and Archetypal Armchair, which, as Plato would have pointed out, exists in heaven.

But it is possible that I might possess among my drawing room furniture some object, let us say a rack or a thumbscrew, of which the nature and raison d’être was repellent to my moral feelings. If my thumbscrew fell into slight disrepair, I should not mend it at all; because the more I mended my thumbscrew the more thumbscrewy it would be. If my private rack were out of order, I should be in no way disturbed; for my private code of ethics prevents me from racking anyone, and the more it was out of order the less likely it would be that any casual passer-by could get racked on it.

This was a man with clear moral principles.  When he needed an example of something that was obviously evil, and that everyone would agree was evil, he chose torture devices.

Torture once again

A great deal has been written about the torture report by people much better and smarter than myself.  I feel that I have very little to add.  Torture is always wrong, has always been wrong, and will always be wrong.  All decent people accept these facts.  How could the United States go so wrong?  Whatever happened to our moral principles?

That’s the sort of question that needs to get asked at a time like this.  Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t do very well at asking questions at the moment.  Of course you can pick up any newspaper and read some doofus blathering about the need for “a national conversation” on something or other, or making an urgent demand for “soul searching”.  All of which means nothing.  Let me take the opportunity to recommend this article: National Conversations Are Worthless:


Luckily there is a little bit of good news from Daniel Larison here:


Fighting back against the claim that an large and growing majority of Americans are okay with torture, he notes that 81% oppose electric shock, at least 58% percent oppose waterboarding, and at least 84% oppose sexual humiliation.  It’s easier for a moral weakling to support ‘torture’ in the abstract than to actually approve of specific, horrible actions against our fellow human beings.  For those of us who hold the morally right position on this issue, we need to remember this and use it wisely whenever we’re having any sort of discussion of the matter.

The Torture Report: What hath Dubya wrought?

It’s advent, the most wonderful time of the year.  The boughs of holly are out.  The lights are up.  The news is all about murder by police officers, false rape accusations, and torture.

It’s not a terribly jolly way to start the holiday season.

But no decent person can ignore the torture report.  Here is a good summary of the horrors that were revealed.  It’s not for the faint of heart.

The eight amendment of our Constitution bans “cruel and unusual punishments”.  Throughout American history, we have refrained from using torture because we’re better than that.  Even during World War II, when the very existence of the free world was threatened by fascism, we did not torture.  Nor during the Civil War, World war I, or the Korean War, or any other conflict.  Torture was morally wrong and we knew it.

But then came George W. Bush, and we started down the road to hell.  He has a lot to answer for.  So does everyone else who participated in this in any way.

President Obama has done many things wrong, but at least he stopped all use of torture.  That, however, does not protect the USA against the shame and disgrace that this brings.

Sadly, the standard response from Republicans seems to be unrepentant.  Last night I was at the gym, and had the misfortune to spend thirty minutes on a treadmill with Bill O’Reilly’s face right in front of me.  O’Reilly’s argument to me seems to be: we didn’t torture anyone, and it was right for us to torture people.  Of course he was full of euphemisms: we have “detainees” rather than prisoners, we use “enhanced interrogation techniques” rather than torture.  And of course he couldn’t point out a single statement in the report that wasn’t true.  There you go.  That’s the Republican position.

Having left the Democratic Party and become more conservative, I find myself sympathetic to Republican positions on many issues.  But until the Republican leadership takes a clear stance against torture, there’s no chance that I’ll vote for them.

More thoughts on the UVA rape hoax

(Continuing from my previous post.)

Another obvious question about this whole mess is: what exactly happened?  It seems clear that Sabrina Rubin Erdely went shopping for a story about rich, white guys committing rape.  She toured several campuses and was eventually connected to “Jackie”, the UVA student who provided the tale.  Erdely published a story chock-full of details, and virtually every detail that can be checked has turned out to be false.  The story says that Jackie was raped at a party at Phi Kappa Psi on the date of September 28, 2012.  In reality, the frat didn’t hold a party on that date.  Jackie says that a particular student named “Drew”–she gave his full name to the Washington Post–dated her for several weeks before taking her to the party and gang-raping her along with his frat buddies.  In reality, this man has never even met Jackie, doesn’t belong to that frat, isn’t a lifeguard (another detail that Jackie supplied about him), and in short, is a completely innocent victim of Jackie’s claims.  So Jackie certainly lied; shame on her.

But the question is, how many of the lies come from Jackie and how many from Erdely?  The logical thing would be to ask both Jackie and Erdely.  Unfortunately Erdely seems to have gone into hiding.  Jackie doesn’t seem to be saying much either, though her father has given an unimpressive and unhelpful interview to a British tabloid.  So it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll be getting a clear picture from the two people who could actually provide answers.

Then there’s the question of what actual events occurred?  Was Jackie raped or assaulted?  Some people continue to insist that she was, citing friends who claim she told them about such an assault on the night it allegedly happened.  Well, that’s something that us mere observers can’t know.  Perhaps she was, perhaps not.

On to the next question: why did this hoax happen?  Why on earth did Erdely think she could get away with it?  Why didn’t Rolling Stone uphold even the slightest bit of journalistic standards?

Well, it’s because of the culture, folks.  Brendan O’Neill gives us an excellent article on the ‘Cult of Credulity’.  Many sources, including supposedly intelligent sources, are telling us that we should automatically believe any rape accusation.  Of course this is atrocious–a flat violation of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”.  But leftists don’t do principles.

And it’s spreading.  On the same day that the Washington Post blew the lid on the UVA case, they also help expose the fact that Lena Dunham had made a blatantly false accusation of rape, aimed at an innocent man.  Now her publisher is furiously backtracking, apparently having realized that a libel lawsuit is likely to be on the way.  It seems like falsely accusing college guys of rape is the trendy new thing to do, at least among wealthy white liberal women.

I leave you today with a link to this essay: Everything is Problematic.  In it a college student (amazingly) doesn’t accuse anyone of rape, but instead documents her journey away from the political far left.  Among the factors that caused her to flee: anti-intellectualism, dogmatism, and self-delusion.  No kidding.

Thoughts for the day

After being absent from the blog for nearly two years, I’ve returned with four posts about the recent gang rape charges at UVA published by Rolling Stone, which turned out to be a hoax.  Okay, that’s a bit odd.  Why do I care so much about this story?

Every forum thread and comment section on the internet devoted to this topic has overflowed with comments from UVA students and alumni.  For the record, I am neither a student nor an alumnus.  I did, however, live near Charlottesville for seven years, and had many friends among the students and faculty at the school.  In that sense, it makes me particularly angry that Rolling Stone picked UVA as the target of its slander.  If they’d instead made up a fictional rape case set at, say, the University of Alabama, it would be just as much a moral outrage, but it wouldn’t be so personal for me.

That said, it is a moral outrage.  Accusing someone of rape, when you know that person didn’t commit rape, is a terrible thing to do.  The ninth Commandments is “Thou shall not bear false witness”.  Many translations give it as “Thou shall not lie”, but the original Hebrew makes it clear and specific: we should not falsely accuse others of crimes.  For Jews and Christians, this has been a part of the basic moral order for thousands of years.  Of course, the left-wingers who run publications like Rolling Stone and most major universities in this country proudly reject our Judeo-Christian heritage, so it shouldn’t be too surprising when they bear false witness shamelessly.

Well, whatever being wrote the Ten Commandments was right.  It is wrong to falsely accuse anyone of any crime.  It is wrong for the same reason that rape is wrong.  Rape harms other people.  So does a false accusation.  Rape is selfish.  So is a false accusation.  Rape treats other people as worthless.  So does a false accusation.  This should be obviously and clear to all thinking people.

Regrettably, many on the left don’t seem to see it that way.  Examples have multipled, but here are two much-quoted examples.  A UVA student wrote an essay in Politico saying, “to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.”  Meanwhile over at The New Republic, Rebecca Traister tells us this:

The dismantling of Erdely’s storyboth by anti-feminist agonistes and by those genuinely dismayed by possible journalistic errorwould mean that Jackie’s story of being beaten and raped by seven fraternity brothers will be dismissed, and that the reading public will be permitted to slip back into the comforting conviction that stories like Jackie’s aren’t real, that rapes like that don’t happen, that our system works, and that, of course, bitches lie.  What we will all be allowed to happily forget is that there are plenty of real stories of rape: of violent rape, frat house rape, gang rape, date rape; that most rape accusers do not lie and that in fact it’s quite likely, statistically, that Jackie herself did not lie.

Actually, to allow fact-checking to define the narrative is exactly the right thing to do.  Facts matter.  Truth matters.  Separating true from false matters.

As for Traister’s statement, it’s quite telling.  Supposedly “the reading public”, which presumably doesn’t include Traister herself, has a comforting conviction that rape isn’t real and never happens.  In reality, no one believes this.  Everyone knows that rape is a real problem and does happen.  Traister is railing against a non-existent position.

Fortunately there are a few folks still standing up for reason.  I highly recommend reading all of the following:

Emily Yoffe says that The Putative Epidemic of Campus Rape is Pushing Colleges to Adopt Policies Unfair to Men.

Judith Levine takes to task the absurd feminist responses to the whole story: “Feminism Can Handle the Truth.”

And Mollie Hemingway points out that Sabrina Rubin Erdely has a long history of writing utterly absurd stories and passing them off as true.  Why haven’t her lies been exposed before?

More Hoax Evidence

(Continuing from my previous post.)

In the past 24 hours, the problems with the Rolling Stone article about a brutal gang rape at UVA have continued to multiply.  More and more news sources, watchdog groups, and individuals are pointing out that Erdely clearly engaged in shoddy journalism at best.  More likely, it goes beyond that.  Erdely is simply making things up.  Some more points that should be mentioned:

10. Regarding the credibility of Rolling Stone, here are a couple of relevant examples.  Back in 2003 and 2004, the magazine aggressively pushed the theory that the Diebold company, which manufactures voting machines, had rigged its machines so as to steal elections for the Republican Party.  Of course in 2006 the Democrats began winning elections, and from that point on Rolling Stone and every other left-wing source became happy to accept the results from those same machines.

In 2005, they published Deadly Immunity, a piece by Robert F. Kennedy claiming that vaccines cause autism and other health problems, and that a massive cover-up had been hiding this information from us for years.  A few months later, they removed the piece from their website without a formal retraction.  Then they put it back on their website, and claimed that they had never removed it.  The scientists that Rolling Stone relied on, Mark and David Geier, are transparent frauds who have faced legal consequences for their bogus research.

11. Returning now to Erdely’s story itself, there are other obvious flaws that no one seems to have point out yet.  The largest is simply the idea that such a lengthy, violent rape could have occurred inside a crowded frat house during the middle of a major party.  The victim would only have needed to scream for help in order to attract the attention of everyone in the building, and probably many others outside of it.  (The Phi Kappa Psi frat house is only a few feet away from other residential buildings.)  It beggars belief that a gang of rapists would have carefully planned their crime in a location where scores of people were nearby and the victim could easily get their attention.  The claim that frat brother did this repeatedly, as part of an initiation ritual, is just plain impossible.

12. Erdely also tells us that once Jackie left the building, she immediately called her friends.  This means that she had her phone with her.  Why, then, did she not dial 911, either during the rape or immediately afterwards.

13. Aside from the narrative about Jackie, Erdely does tell one blazingly obvious and undeniable lie.  Throughout her article she posts verses from a song called Rugby Road, and she says: “In 2010 Rugby Road was banned from football games–despite a petition calling it ‘an integral part’ of UVA culture.  Rugby Road verses are still performed on campus by UVA’s oldest a cappella group.”

As some who attended football games in Charlottesville before 2010 many times, I can testify that I never heard any part of this song.  All testimony that I’ve found from students, professors, and alumni confirms that no one else has either.  If the verses that Erdely quotes exist at all, they’re clearly not as popular as she claims.

* * *

Summing it all up, things are not looking good for Rolling Stone or for Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s career.  Time will tell what becomes of this story in the end.

Hoax Evidence

(Continued from my previous post)

Okay, so the Rolling Stone article is looking like a hoax.  Nothing sure yet.  It might turn out to be entirely true, but the smart money’d definitely on hoax.  What’s the evidence?  Well, the skeptics that I’ve linked to have already pointed out several things:

1. Supposedly in the room where Jackie was raped, there was a glass table that got shattered, and both her and the rapists rolled around in broken glass for several hours.  Clearly this is not remotely plausible.

2. Afterwards, Jackie supposedly went downstairs, where the crowded party was still going on.  She was supposedly bleeding profusely at the time.  And yet nobody noticed this.

3. The very notion that a group of nine frat boys at a major university would carefully plan a gang rape is quite far-fetched.  Moreover, one line in Erdely’s article implies that this gang rape was part of an initiation ritual, which is even more far-fetched.

4. It’s being alleged, though only in comments on other blog posts so far, that the details don’t add up.  UVA frat boys pledge in the Spring semester, but the alleged assault occurred in September.  Supposedly the frat party was continuing until early morning; in reality, parties don’t last that long.

5. Proper journalism requires names of witness, not anonymity; it requires the journalist to speak with anyone accused of a crime and allow them to respond.  A simple read of the article shows that Erdely made no attempt to reach even these low standards.  The Washington Post has just posted this: “Rolling Stone whiffs in reporting on alleged rape.”

6. Moreover, Erdely doesn’t seem to have any coherent explanation.  When asked about these lapses in her reporting, she’s babbled out incoherent responses full of “sort of’s” and “kind of’s” and “I guess’s”.

On top of that, I’ll add some reasons of my own.

7. Rolling Stone is not a credible source.  It is better known for topless pictures of Britney Spears than for anything resembling journalism.  It’s is shamelessly left-wing and routinely attacks groups that it doesn’t like: Republicans, conservatives, Christians, capitalists, and others.  An attack on a bunch of rich, white frat boys fits perfectly with the magazine’s biases.

8. Erdely provides many direct quotes, supposedly from Jackie and her friends.  They don’t sound remotely like actual college students.  “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years”.  “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”  This is not what actual college students sound like.  It’s more like what a clueless journalist thinks that college students sound like.

9. What’s true about Erdely’s dialogue is also true about her whole story.  We’re being asked to believe that minutes after a young woman was gang raped and was bleeding badly, her friends cared nothing about her, but only about the reputations and access to frat parties.  This isn’t realistic.  It’s more like a parody of fraternity and sorority culture.  And the reason why it sounds so much like a parody of fraternity and sorority culture is that, in all probability, it is a parody.  In other words, it’s a work of fiction designed to attack and mock certain types of people.

As I said at the start, the whole story might be true.  But certainly at this point, any credible evaluation of the evidence (or lack thereof) would lead to the conclusion that it’s probably a hoax.  If we learn in the future that Erdely made the whole thing up from scratch, that there was no real “Jackie” and no friends of Jackie, that Erdely’s goal was to smear rich, white people and nothing more.  Time, I hope, will bring the truth to light.

(The list of evidence continues in the next post.)

The return

I’ve been absent from this blog for almost three months.  Much has happened during that time.  General David Petraeus gave us a good, old-fashioned sex scandal.  Congress took us to the brink of the “fiscal cliff”, then reached a deal to raise taxes a small amount on a small number of people.  I read a lot of books.  Some movies came out in theaters, which I ignored.  A relative of mine had surgery and another entered a long-term therapy program.  Winter weather in Virginia was unusually mild, though the Northeast got pummeled.  The Pope stepped down.  And today, a mere two months after the aversion of the fiscal cliff, we are at the start of the next financial doomsday: “the sequester”.

The deal is this.  Nineteen months ago, there was showdown in Washington.  Congressional Republicans demanded budget cuts and refused to raise the debt ceiling without them.  President Obama at first insisted that he wouldn’t accept cuts without tax hikes, which the GOP naturally opposed.  The final deal was as follows: Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling along with a guarantee that one of two things would happen.  Either the parties would agrees to cuts totaling about a trillion dollars over the next decade, or else there would be across-the-board cuts to every discretionary government program.

In November of 2011, the “supercommittee” tasked with finding a compromise failed to approve anything, so the across-the-board cuts became the only option.  Originally they were scheduled for Jan. 1 of this year along with the expiration of George W. Bush’s massive tax cuts–that was the “fiscal cliff”.  The President and Congress agreed on a tax deal, while the spending cuts were delayed until March 1–now.  This time no compromise appeared to save the day and now the cuts are going into effect.

Some predict disaster.  On one front, the President and his allies say that drastic cutbacks will hit social services, leading to everything from longer lines at airports to criminals being released from prison.  On the opposite side, Republicans insist that the military will be gutted.  Here in my humble corner of the nation, I predict not much will happen.

First of all, there are no actual cuts to the government.  Federal spending will increase this year, and next year, and the year after.  The sequester only slightly reduced the rate at which federal spending is going up.  Almost all federal programs are bloated and could afford a small reduction in budget without many consequences.  The Department of Defense does not actually defend the United States.  It attacks other countries and sucks up money via useless pork-barrel projects.  The less money it has, the better off we all are.

So I say: Sequester away!

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