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September 21, 2006

Reason, faith and the pope

So, I've now read -- several times actually -- the Pope Benedict speech which so upset the world of Islam.

I read it first to find out what he'd actually said, and to see the context in which it was said. I kept re-reading the turgid and opaque text, hoping to see the remarks on Islam as something more than a bizarre sidetrip in a speech otherwise devoted to reason, faith and the interplay between the two.

But it just keeps looking like a bizarre sidetrip.

The speech was delivered to scientists at the University of Regensburg, Germany, where the pope once taught.

He recalled that, in his day there, "The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the "whole" of the "universitas scientiarum," even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: It had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God.

"That even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: This, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question."

He was reminded of all this, the pope said, when he recently read the comments of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus on "the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both."

Manuel II, in a dialogue with a "learned Persian", said 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.' "

(Manuel II, incidentally, spent his reign defending the ever-shrinking Eastern Empire from the Ottomans. His son was the unfortunate who finally surrendered Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.)

The pope continued,"The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. 'God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ("syn logo") is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...."

In context, it is a bit of lecturing to Islam on the evils of forced conversion. One can only say that it's too bad so many of the pope's predecessors didn't get that point.

Benedict soon left Islam behind and rambled on through the "de-Hellenization" of the church, the "synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism", noted Kant had "anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole," and so on.

He wraps it up with the declaration that we'll realize "the new possibilities open to humanity" only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons.

"In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith."

Only that, he says, will make possible "genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

I'm still trying to figure out how reasonable it was to leave the description of Islamic faith up to a Bzyantine emperor who's view was strongly prejudiced by his circumstances. Seems a strange way to start a dialogue with another culture, which, of course, reacted much as you'd expect.

As I noted in an earlier post, the danger of a new hot war between Christianity and Islam is an over-arching issue of our time. The pope did nothing to ease that danger. Nor do the secular authorities who are busy linking Islam as a whole with fascism and terrorism, with their talk of "Islamo-fascists" and such.

We are in very, very dangerous times.

Posted by jcb at 11:28 PM | Comments (15)

Blago -- all headlines, no follow-through

Being positive, one could say that Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich took a bold stand in an attempt to shelter his state's citizenry from the often outrageous prices charged for prescription drugs. One could say that, in another case, he acted with forthright promptness to assure vulnerable people got the flu vaccine they needed.

Negatively, one could say ... well, let Illlinois Auditor General William Holland take over here:

-- "The state's operation of the I-SaveRX program, which imports prescription drugs into the United States, is in violation of federal law."

-- "Pharmacies operating under the I-SaveRX program may be in violation of Illinois' Pharmacy Practice Act."

-- "The state did not monitor whether prescriptions are being filled only by approved pharmacies."

Regarding the state's purchase of flu vaccine at a time when it appeared supplies might be short, Mr. Holland said:

-- The state agreed to purchase the flu vaccine even though it did not have federal approval to import such vaccines. Furthermore, documentation showed that at the time state officials signed the contract to purchase the flu vaccine, state officials knew that FDA approval was unlikely. Without federal approval, importation of flu vaccine was not legal."

-- Documentation was not available that demonstrated how the state determined that it needed the 254,250 does of vaccine that it agreed to purchase from Encosse.:"

-- "By December, 2004, Department of Public Health documentation showed that (the federal Center for Disease Control) had located sufficient flu vaccine to cover Illinois' priority population" ... "The contract with Encosse was signed on Jan. 13, 2005."

-- Illinois officials took the lead in procuring flu vaccine for other state and local governments but failed to develop agreements with these entities. ... the absence of such agreements ...resulted in Illinois being potentially liable to pay for the entire cache of vaccine -- over $8.2 million."

However satisfying it would be to stand sholder to shoulder with a state official challenging federal rules that work to the advantage of the deep-pocketed pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Holland's report to the General Assembly leaves it pretty much impossible to conclude anything other than that Gov. Blagojevich was more interested in flashy headlines than anything else. That's pretty much the way he is.

He got some great headlines in the Quad-Cities by declaring that a new school for Silvis was at the top of the state's priority list for school construction. He got great headlines in Carterville, in the southern Illinois, by announcing its school project was at the top of the priority list. No guarantee, of course, that either Silvis or Carterville will get any money at all, or that either has any guarantee that some other community won't jump to the top of that priority list as the governor makes his rounds in the six weeks remaining until Election Day.

He got great headlines in the Quad-Cities last spring by announcing $14 million for a new Western Illinois University campus here. But that turned out to be nothing when his plan for paying the bill for the bonds needed turned out to be so mushy that the Legislature wouldn't issue them. He got a second round of great headines here a few weeks ago for announcing $14 million for a new WIU campus. But he still didn't say how the required bonds would be paid off, so we may be as far as ever from actually getting the money.

Great headlines, no follow-through. Kind of the hallmark of the governor.

Oh -- in its first 19 months, the I-SaveRX program handled 17,575 orders, less than 1,000 per month.

The vaccine? It ended up in Pakistan a year later, being administered to earthquake victims. The supplier is in court, asking that Illinois be forced to pay up.

Posted by jcb at 04:05 PM | Comments (10)

September 20, 2006

Davenport's new web site

Well, the city of Davenport has it's long-in-the-works new website up. It's an improvement on the old one, but deserves nothing more than one thumb partially up.

The new site's biggest failure is that it doesn't include a simple staff directory of the sort found on other government websites in the Quad-Cities and elsewhere. Moline has the best locally -- a one-page guide arranged by department that lists personnel by name and title, along with a telephone number and an email address. It's an enormously useful feature I'd hoped to see on the Davenport's new site.

The lack of email addresses is particularly annoying. An enormous amount of routine back-and-forthing between the public and officialdom can be dealt with most conveniently via email. No phone tag, no interrupting someone who's busy at the moment, no need to wait until business hours to pose a question that you'd like answered sometime in the next day or two.

The new site site does at least include email addresses for city council members and and the various departmental pages do have "contact us" links that name the epartment head and includes telephone and fax numbers. That's an improvement over the old site, but still, why no email addresses?

More positively, the site's new "Action Center" holds the potential to be extremely useful. You can use the Action Center for about everything ranging from reporting an illegally parked car through requesting a special garbage pick-up to appealing a parking ticket. If the system works as promised, you'll get an email confirming your request, an explanation of how the process is going to work and a tracking number that will allow you to check on the status of your request.

Time and practice will demonstrate the practicality of the system. That sidewalk repair request you submit has to be routed to the right person, and the right person has to take some action. The devil's in the follow-through. We'll see.

There's also a payment center that could save the need to write and mail checks, or to visit City Hall to hand over the money. So far, though, parking ticket payments are the only one that can be made via the site. Others, sewer bills, parking lease payments etc., presumably will be added soon.

The "City Services Index" is a good feature. There's a lot of information about a lot of programs that many people may not even know the city offers. Some of it is pretty stale though -- the "speed camera program" link talks about a program that that WILL start Jan. 17, 2006, and announces that the chief of police WILL have a press conference Jan. 11, 2006 about the cameras. Some of the information is missing -- for example, the "List of Current Projects." which is to include a report on the status of each, is still being compiled. Here, again, whether the site fufills its potential depends on the follow-through to a good beginning.

Some of the services offered, while handy, are half-steps: for example, you can download a bicycle registration form or a temporary sign request form (among others), fill it out and mail it in. Would be much handier if the form could be filled out and submitted online. Besides saving the stamp, online submission of such information would save some city worker inputting it into a database or, possibily, shuffling through paper files looking for what's needed later.

The site does take a bow in the general direction of the multimedia age, with various audio and video presentations, ranging from photo slideshows to video of city council meetings. The city council videos -- video, actually, since there's only one up so far -- are handy in that you don't have to watch from beginning to end; you can jump back and forth and probably find the meeting segment in which you're particularly interested.

Check out the site, use some of the features and pass along feedback to the city. I'm sure the web team members will appreciate it as they try to turn this new beginning into a truly snappy service.

Posted by jcb at 10:59 PM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2006

Boland-Haring II

A recurring charge and counter-charge in the 116 comments on Haring-Boland is that the candidates are in thrall to party leaders and to millionaires and billionaires from Chicago and environs.

To whatever degree the charge is true of one, it's true of the other. Their campaign finance reports (Boland) (Haring) show both are getting substantial support from their respective parties and their leaders -- House Majority Leader Mike Madigan, in Boland's case; and Minority Leader Tom Cross in Haring's.

Both are heavy hitters. Cross' Citizens to Elect Tom Cross had $1.3 million on hand June 30; Madigan's Friends of Michael J. Madigan had just over a million.

And where do Madigan and Cross get their money? In many, many cases the answer is the same. A cursory glance at transfers into their funds shows both got money from ABATE PAC, AFSCME Illinois Council 31 PAC, Allstate Insurance Co., Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois PAC, AT&T Illinois Employee PAC, Cable TV & Communications Association of Illinois PAC, the Credit Union Politcal Action Council, EXELONPAC, the Illinois Hospital Association PAC, the Illinois State Medical Society PAC, and S.I.E.U. Local 880 Political Fund.

Both also got contributions from Ameren, Arlington Park Racecourse, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 15 and on and on.

In many cases then, it is the same interest money getting passed around, whether it's channeled through Cross to Haring, or through Madigan to Boland.

Are there other issues out there?

Posted by jcb at 08:37 PM | Comments (87)

September 14, 2006

Riding the gas price yo-yo...

While out making my rounds Wednesday, I saw gas for $2.44 a gallon -- and that was on the Illinois side.
On the Iowa side, I saw it under $2.25 at several places. It was going for as little as $2.20 a gallon, according to quadcitiesgasprices.com. Those prices are about 75 cents a gallon less that we were paying a month ago.

Election Day must be coming.

I suppose that's kind of cynical. I also suppose lots of other people feel pretty much the same. Gas prices yo-yo up and down, seemingly without rhyme or reason. They vary sharply from place to place, seemingly without rhyme or reason. The only certainties are that over time the price keeps going up sharply, and that when the yo-yo hits bottom, "bottom" is always a little higher than the last time. One more certainty: Oil company profits soar by billions through it all.

Anyway, the effect is that $2.20 gas seems like a great bargain now, instead of the frightening outrage it was when we first saw it barely 18 months ago. We're easily conditioned

The thought that the drastic drop in what we're dropping at the gas station is a bit of pre-election manipulation comes in part because other answers are, well, not very satisfactory.

Recent big finds in the Gulf of Mexico won't hit the market for years. Imports aren't falling. No new refineries have come on line. The Middle East is just as unstable -- or more so -- than it was last year. One oft-offered explanation is that the drop is seasonal, brought on by the end of the summer travel season.

But that holds no water either, given the history of weekly gasoline prices to be found on the Department of Energy website. Here's a brief look at the last six years. The numbers are averages for a gallon of regular gas in the Mid West region.

-- 2000: August peak, $1.43; second week of September, $1.55. No seasonal break there.

-- 2001: August peak, $1.65; second week of September, $1.62. Down three whole cents.

-- 2002: August peak, $1.38; second week of September, $1.36. Down two pennies.

-- 2003: August peak, $1.71; second week of September, $1.63. Down nine cents.

-- 2004: August peak, $1.85; second week of September, $1.79. Down six cents.

-- 2005: August peak, $2.59; second week of September, $2.88. Big jump. Katrina's to blame. (wink, wink)

-- 2006: August peak $3.03; second week of September, $2.41. Down 62 cents on the average, and even more in specific markets. Wow!

Now, there's a seasonal break the like of which has never been seen, either in actual pennies or in per centage terms. How can that be, if prices were being set by something other than greed? Perhaps someone can explain the market forces that made a 20-25 per cent cut possible.

Until then, I'm going to keep an eye on those August peak prices, which have gone up quite nicely, if you're an oilman who's chummy with the crowd in the White House and in Congress. And I'm going to keep assuming that the oil crowd is merely doing its buddies in Washington a little election-season favor by temporarily loosening the thumbscrews on an unhappy and restive electorate, which is turning a baleful eye on incumbents.

Here's a couple of more stats: The oil and gas industry has made
$12.5 million in campaign contributions so far this election cycle
. Of that, 83 per cent went to Republicans. In the 2004 cycle, the industry contributed $25.6 million,of which 80 per cent went to the GOP.

Connect the dots, as they say.

Posted by jcb at 09:00 PM | Comments (26)

September 13, 2006

A new factor

There's a new factor in Illinois Q-C legislative races. The Rico Democratic GOTV filed a statement of organization last week.

The committee's purpose is "general get-out-the-vote" activities; affiliated candidates are State Sen. Mike Jacobs and and state Reps. Pat Verschoore and Mike Boland.

The committee's chairman is Louise Kerr -- she's the Rock Island County treasurer. The committee's treasurer is Jeff Terronez, who's RICO state's attorney.

No financials listed yet; probably won't be until the end of the next reporting period in October.

Is this committee a big deal? What will it be doing and paying for?

Posted by jcb at 07:55 PM | Comments (50)

September 08, 2006

On the road again...

Will be traveling for a couple of days, so will be checking and approving comments only now and then.

In the meantime, you might check out Capitol Fax, where Rich Miller's question of the day is about Andrea Zinga.

Posted by jcb at 11:00 AM | Comments (28)

September 07, 2006

Closing McClellan a no-go

Seventy-five people or so showed up at Davenport's McKinley School tonight for a discussion on a suggestion that McClellan Boulevard be closed at River Drive.

While most everyone agreed that pulling onto River Drive from McClellan is dangerous business, and that traffic exiting River Drive there often is moving way too fast, there wasn't anything close to a consensus on what to do about it.

The principal concern was the impact closing the intersection would have on the streets most likely to be the new routes of choice between River Drive and Jersey Ridge Road. There seemed to be general agreement that neither Mound Street nor Forest Road are good candidates to pick up an additional 1,000 or so cars a day.

After an hour or so of dueling suggestions, Sixth Ward Ald. Charlie Brooke told the crowd, in effect, that it's back to drawing board, and that they'd all be notified if and when another idea surfaces.

Posted by jcb at 09:14 PM | Comments (4)

September 06, 2006

Schwigen and Huff, Part II

So the Rock Island County sheriff's office has an annual budget of about $8.5 million; there are about 175 employees. They provide police service to rural areas, operate a jail that usually has about 300 people locked up in it, guard the courthouse, and serve civil papers and arrest warrants.

In keeping the operation going, the sheriff takes on a considerable logistics task; buying, fueling and maintaining a fleet of vehices (not sure how many these days); feeding and caring for those 300 prisoners, not to mention running them back and forth to court. There are also near-constant negotiations with one or another of the villages that dot the county over providing police services, and, of course, dealing with a county board that can be pretty with a dollar when it wants to be, which is pretty often.

With a long-time incumbent leaving office, you'd think it's a great time to assess and evaluate operations, and plan whatever changes seem appropriate. You'd also think the candidates for the office would be the logical people to do the assessing, evaluating and recommending. You'd particularly expect that when both candidates, the Republican Kraig Schwigen and the Democrat Mike Huff, are veteran employees, the former a lieutenant and the latter a sergeant.

But I haven't seen or heard anything like that. Waving along parade routes and one-on-one politicking seems to be about it. And the one-on-one stuff seems likely to be mostly mutual character assassination, if the comments posted on this string are indictitive of the buzz out there.

Hell of a campaign, guys.

Posted by jcb at 11:12 PM | Comments (132)

September 04, 2006

Labor Day with the Dems

The people in the big picnic shelter, next to the road, noticed Lane Evans first. As the congressman came slowly down the slope, hunched foward by Parkinson's, with Jerry Lack by his side, they stood and applauded long and loud.

His way through the shelter was a series of hugs, handshakes and photographs. Later, during the program, when RICO chairman John Gianulis presented him the annual service to party award, the applause was again long and loud.

"I'm going to miss him," Gianulis said as the 12-term congressman exited right, to more applause.

Evans' farewells aside, 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards was the big draw at the Dems' annual Salute to Labor chicken fry at Illiniwek Park Monday.

The former North Carolina senator was pretty much mobbed by handshakers, picture-takers and question-askers for close to 30 minutes before making his way to the stage for the speech-making, which proceeded uninterrupted by off-and-on rain.

Edwards, sheltered under an umbrella held by State Sen. Mike Jacobs, hit the right notes for the event, getting in a mention that his family was millworkers and saying that "the greatest anti-poverty program in history was organized labor." That bit of truth won him a round of cheers.

So did his support for universal health care and a hike in he minimum wage to $7.50.

He also won cheers for his declaration that Americans have a "responsibility to humanity; a resposibility to show you care about the world."

He said we'd promised after Rwanda that we'd not stand by again as geoncide occurs. But one's occurring in the Sudan, and "where is America?"

He said his travels, to the Mideast among other places, have shown clearly that "the world does not see your character."

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin has on hand, and spoke briefly, as did congressional candidates Phil Hare, who's seeking the seat Evans is vacating, and Bruce Braley, who's running in Iowa's lst District.

All are in favor of hiking the minimum wage.

Posted by jcb at 08:57 PM | Comments (48)