Monday, February 28, 2005

Is Increased Longevity Good?

Here's some good news to cheer you:

Average life expectancy in the United States rose to a record 77.6 years in 2003 from 77.3 years in 2002, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although women on average still lived longer than men in 2003 - 80.1 years versus 74.8 years - the gender gap in mortality narrowed, continuing a 25-year trend, the CDC said in a report.

The Atlanta-based agency, which is responsible for monitoring and responding to health threats, attributed the improvement in life expectancy to corresponding drops in eight of the 15 leading causes of death. Chief among them were significant declines in mortality from heart disease, cancer and stroke, the three biggest killers. Death rates for these conditions fell between 2.2 percent and 4.6 percent.

An odd thing about this is that when I've asked students whether a pill which would enable users to live forever would be a good thing, they almost invariably answer in the negative. Even Christian students who fully expect to live eternally often say they wouldn't wish to live in a world in which there was no death (until I ask them what on earth, then, the attraction of Christianity is for them. Then they realize the strangeness of their reply and change it.). Yet the news that life expectancy is increasing will be universally acclaimed as positive.

Why is that? Do people want to live longer and longer life spans but just not too long? Why not, as long as the extra years are robust and not stretched out debility?

Anyway, three cheers for longevity!

Watching Our Kids Self-Destruct

Rebecca Hagelin recounts her experience as a substitute teacher in her local middle school. It's pretty depressing stuff. Perhaps most disturbing are these words:

Could it be that our kids are searching for meaning? Could it be that they are so numbed by the anything-goes society that they are pushing the envelope just to feel alive? Take cutting. It's a phenomenon now prevalent in even the best schools, and it's exactly what you're hoping it isn't: self-mutilation. Kids casually cut themselves with knives, safety pins and razor blades - just because. In Michelle Malkin's column of February 23, she refers to a school counselor telling the parent of a middle school student, "70% of the kids here cut or know someone who does. It's cool, a trend, and acceptable."

In a February 28, 2005 article entitled, "Left Behind, Kids Have Too Little to Respect" for The American Conservative, substitute teacher Marian Kester Coombs observes, "Those who give speeches about higher standards and more teachers typically lunch in places like the Senate dining room. They would do well to spend a noon hour in the cafeteria of a public school. Kids in super-tight or droopy jeans and t-shirts reading "Yes - but not with you" or "You forgot to ask if I care" shuffle through food lines that feature tater tots, fries, chips, pizza, Pepsi, and Little Debbie dessert squares. Ritalin offsets the sugar high." As Coombs says, "But bad fashion and worse nutrition are not these children's only common denominators. Their more defining trait is the forlorn look they share."

Kids often find themselves in an ironic situation. They may have everything they think they want but very little of what they really need. Too often their lives are barren, loveless, and meaningless. They're not aware of it, of course, youngsters not being capable of the degree of introspection and self-diagnosis necessary to perceive an existential vacancy, but they suffer from it nonetheless. These kids drift through school like they drift through life. Uncaring and unmotivated, their lives are burdened with a terrible loneliness and an awful sadness.

They cut their bodies because they see themselves as worthless and everything they do as pointless. They are the by-product of their parents' rejection of traditional views of marriage and of the purgation of all vestiges of an emotionally and intellectually rich religious heritage from our public culture. The one refuge where these tragic kids could find meaning and purpose for their lives, the one place where they could find true worth and dignity, is the one place they're not allowed to look and the last place they'd consider trying.

An obsessively secular culture has essentially removed from their reach the thing they most need and thinks it can compensate for the lack by imposing more rigorous academic standards and requiring them to take tougher courses in their schools. To paraphrase Mark Twain, there are thousands hacking at the branches of the problem for every one who is cutting at the root.

Society will not address the root of the malaise which afflicts so many youngsters because it would require that we recognize what the root of the problem is and there is little evidence that we do. Even if we did, to apply ourselves to the root would require a complete reversal of the secularizing trend of the last forty years, and an admission of its utter folly. Instead, oblivious to the harm we are doing, we continue to banish the only hope many of these kids have from our public places, intent on making our schools as sterile and barren as the hearts and minds of the young people most in need of that which is being put off-limits.

Putin's Understanding of America

For a former KGB guy Vladimir Putin has a very attenuated understanding of how things work in the U.S. as this MSNBC/Newsweek report makes painfully clear:

Four years earlier, in another castle in Central Europe, George W. Bush looked Vladimir Putin in the eye and saw his trustworthy soul. But what he saw inside Putin last week was far less comforting. When Bush confronted his Russian counterpart about the freedom of the press in Russia, Putin shot back with an attack of his own: "We didn't criticize you when you fired those reporters at CBS."

It's not clear how well Putin understands the controversy that led to the dismissal of four CBS journalists over the discredited report on Bush's National Guard service. Yet it's all too clear how Putin sees the relationship between Bush and the American media-just like his own. Bush's aides have long feared that former KGB officers in Putin's inner circle are painting a twisted picture of U.S. policy. So Bush explained how he had no power to fire American journalists.

If this is a measure of how well-informed the Russian president is about how things work in the U.S. one wonders how, with agents such as Mr. Putin in its employ, the old KGB scored any successes at all during the cold war.

Time's Running Out for Zarqawi

An Australian news agency has this story predicting the imminent capture of Abu al Zarqawi:

Iraq's interim Government says security forces were closing in on Al Qaeda frontman Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, 24 hours after announcing the arrest of another top aide of the Jordanian militant.

"We are really close to Zarqawi," national security chief Kassem Daoud told reporters in the Shiite Muslim pilgrimage city of Najaf. "You will hear very good news soon," added the secular Shiite, who was elected a Member of Parliament on the same ticket as outgoing prime minister Iyad Allawi in the January 30 elections.

Mr Daoud was speaking after talks with Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who backed the main Shiite bloc that romped home to win 140 out of 275 seats in the new Parliament.

On Friday, the Iraqi Government said a senior Zarqawi aide had been arrested on Monday, along with a man who had acted as the militant's driver, west of Baghdad. It gave no reason for the delay in the announcement.

Zarqawi, Iraq's most-wanted man, has a $US25 million reward for his death or capture.

No one should get their hopes up too high, of course, but we certainly may hope that Mr. Daoud knows something of the matter about which he speaks. If he does it'll be interesting to see if Zarqawi allows himself to be taken alive.