Friday, February 27, 2004

I'm not ordinarily a fan of large chain bookstores. I prefer to patronize successful, scrappy independents. But that's because I live in Boston, where they still exist.

In the meantime, let's give credit to Borders for bringing both enlightenment and foot traffic to an area that has seen precious little of either for quite some time -- the Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.

A recent study is out on child abuse in the Catholic church. The figures are staggering -- there is documented sexual abuse (serious abuse, not just pats on the rump) by four percent of the priests over that time period; and even that may be an undercount, as it's still based on self-reporting by a hierarchy which has not, to date, been inclined to come clean.

But how bad is that? The authors of the report aren't sure:

These reports provide the most comprehensive examination ever of child sexual abusers in any institution, their authors said, so it is not possible yet to determine whether Catholic priests are more prone to molest children than any other professionals who work with youngsters.

Is it fair to hold priests to a higher standard just because they're supposed to be in the business of moral instruction?

Perhaps not. But consider: One of the things that the report documents is that the Catholic hierarchy was very protective of accused priests, and frequently dismissive toward their accusers. The bishops were loyal to the institution because they sincerely believe that it is on a mission from God. And that loyalty drove them so much that it made them forget what that mission is supposed to be.

And if you want some decent writing on Christians who have lost the plot, here's Jeanne D'arc with a few notes on the kind of Christian that finds more inspiration in the death of Jesus than in his message...

Thursday, February 26, 2004

It can be dangerous to read publishers' blurbs while fatigued. A glance through heavy-lidded eyes at the promos for Wil McCarthy's latest (out in April) in the window of Pandemonium yesterday yielded roughly the following:

Lost in Translation, by Wil McCarthy

In a novel that challenges our expectations at every turn, acclaimed author Wil McCarthy sweeps us into the future as only he can imagine it. Here is a thrilling odyssey of discovery and adventure in a city of exiled rebels coming of age...

Brash and idealistic, he was a rebel without a cause in a world governed by science, reason... and immortality. Banished for his troubles to Tokyo, he now faces a stark future, condemned to make commercials for Suntory Whiskey while being battered with stage directions in incomprehensible Japanese. The ad shoot will last a century, but with Queendom technology it's no problem to step into a fax machine and "print" a fresh, youthful version of yourself. But the outré Japanese nightlife this hard-charging rebel will find is far from the paradise he would seek. Aided only by the neglected wife of an American photographer, he must struggle against loneliness, jet lag, and death itself, which has returned with a vengeance!

You know, I'm not sure I'm going to buy it...

A few Republicans (and DINO Zell Miller) in the Senate have recently floated what you might call the "establishment of religion act of 2004", which, among other things, seeks to place any bill establishing religious ceremony in government beyond the purview of the courts themselves. And some radicals, like David Neiwert, think the whole thing is profoundly unamerican.

Well, writing from Massachusetts, I think that's nonsense. The establishment of religion is in fact a strain of wholly American tradition which was strong here right from our earliest days, where the intolerant local authorities banned not only pagan rituals borrowed from African slaves, in the Salem witch trials, but also persecuted even Christians they viewed as deviant, hanging the occasional Quaker, and banishing the Protestant minister Roger Williams, who went on to found the colony of Rhode Island, because (like the dangerous secularist Neiwert), he had strange ideas about actually separating church and state.

So, state coercion of religion actually goes a long way back in American history, and attempts at revival are an interesting development which has to be seen in that context. We have yet to see what will come of it, of course, but one way or another we're sure to get the government we deserve.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Headline of the week:

Insider Sales Are Puzzling as Stocks Keep Rising

Gosh, do you think they know something the rest of us don't?

If you're wondering how the distortion of government scientific reports at the hands of Dubya's crew might affect you personally:

A senior scientist at the Department of Agriculture says its scientific experts have been pressured by top officials to approve products for Americans to eat before their safety can be confirmed.

In particular, the scientist said, approval to resume importing Canadian beef was given last August before a study confirming that it was safe. Canadian beef was banned after mad cow disease was found there in May.

The scientist's concerns were echoed by several scientific groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project, which say the Agriculture Department has pressured scientists to protect industries or countries favored by the Bush administration.

And some cynics suggest they're opposed to trade. A topic to which I shall return...

Oops: added link to the article I'm actually quoting. Sigh...

Monday, February 23, 2004

Tom Friedman offers his own take on the outsourcing issue:

... economists are surely right: the biggest factor eliminating old jobs and churning new ones is technological change -- the phone mail system that eliminated your secretary. As for the zippies who soak up certain U.S. or European jobs, they will become consumers, the global pie will grow, and ultimately we will all be better off. As long as America maintains its ability to do cutting-edge innovation, the long run should be fine. Saving money by outsourcing basic jobs to zippies, so we can invest in more high-end innovation, makes sense.

How might we interpret this? Perhaps we are supposed to wait for a few innovators to come up with the basis of new industries, which will then employ all the workers whose jobs being displaced by cheaper labor in China and India. Except for one thing -- when those new businesses are ready to go into production, why would they put their offices and factories in the States? What we keep on hearing from everyone, including Friedman himself earlier in this same column, is that workers in India are just as educated, just as trainable as workers in the U.S. -- and whole lot cheaper. Which makes Friedman's later call to ease the transition, echoing Robert Reich, by providing "job training" seem rather hollow. Like every other paean that I've seen for "transition assistance" for the workers, it begs the question, transition to what?

Or are the displaced office and manufacturing workers to be involved in "innovation" up close and personal? In which case, Friedman is clearly breaking new intellectual ground. How many people would have said before him: Let them get Ph.D.s!

And it's not just that he can't see the future; he's also blowing it on the past -- Kevin Drum points out that he got the phone mail example exactly backward...