Saturday, June 30, 2007


No essay this weekend, so I'd like to direct your attention to some former ones that I wrote which I would like to get more attention.

First, there's a book I'd love people to read more, Mark Steyn mentioned it in his book America Alone. It is by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, known primarily for his Sherlock Holmes books: The Tragedy of the Korosko. Doyle wrote many books, but this one in particular is the most important and timely of his works. I excerpted a pair of particularly significant passages, but the entire book is online if you want to read it. I recommend all of Doyle's work, especially The White Company.

I haven't done much with it lately, but my essay on the US Constitution is added to on occasion by looking at individual amendments. The first part is an overview of the history and structure of the constitution, as well as it's intent and philosophy. There also are several additional essays linked there in the first and second amendment. In my opinion no American kid should be able to graduate high school without demonstrating at least a basic understanding of the US Constitution. Then, perhaps, they might be able to vote and some eventually govern more wisely and capably than our present leaders.

I wrote The Unabomber Today in the middle of the week, and it probably should have been a weekend essay. It is an examination of the news media, the treatment of issues by the press, and how the Unabomber would be treated today. It's also my primary explanation of the Drum Principle which I refer to fairly often.

Slavery is one of those issues that people make a judgment about without even considering what it means or how it is used. It is presumed to be always wrong, always bad, always evil, and never to be considered - but is it? This seems controversial until you think about the topic a bit more completely; for instance, the US Constitution bans slavery... except for prisoners who have been convicted of crimes.

In an effort to combat postmodernist philosophy I wrote two essays, one on Truth and another on textual criticism. You probably aren't aware of it, but at least some of your worldview is very likely based on postmodern assumptions. What does that mean and why is it wrong? I tried to tackle that. Related to these is the essay on proof, where I try to explain why what people often demand as a level of proof is irrational and and impossible standard.

Give a few of these a look, I've written essays for more than a year, and some of them aren't bad. I just wish I'd gotten a better education and better grammar training so I could handle the language with more precision and delicacy.

Friday, June 29, 2007


"Music is the key to the female heart."
-Johann G. Seume

Take a look at this picture. Tell me she's not just beautiful:

Liv Tyler
That's the daughter of this man, one of the ugliest men in Rock and Roll:

Steven Tyler
Steven Tyler. I'm not sure how she came from that genetic pool, but she did have a pretty mom, Bebe Buell who was a model, Playboy playmate, and singer. As it turns out, rock has some really ugly guys in it, just hideous men who somehow manage to be sex symbols and gain adoration and desire in the hearts of women. The music, power, and wealth has a lot to do with it, but really can you explain why Lemmy Kilminster from Motorhead gets so much lovin'?

Someone took the time to identify and give the images of the ugliest men in rock and roll, including these two gems and eight others. Check out the West Virginia Surf Report blog for the whole list (there are some obscure guys in there, I'll identify them in a moment - also language warning, some obscenity in the descriptions).

They left off one of the most obvious choices: Mick Jagger, and added in David Crosby, who isn't so much ugly as just goofy.

Now who are these guys and what are their bands?
  • As I said, Lemmy is from Motorhead
  • Roland Orzabal is from Tears for Fears
  • Joey Ramone is from the Ramones
  • Mick Mars is from Motley Crue - and boy is he motley
  • Vinnie Vincent is from Kiss
  • Ric Ocasek from the Cars (although now Todd Rundgren is singing in his place)
  • Mick Jones is from Big Audio Dynamite (and the Clash)
  • Iggy Pop is from his own band, and he defies the pattern of men getting more handsome as they age
  • Perry Ferrel is from Jane's Addiction, Porno for Pyros, and Satellite Party
  • Steven Tyler is from Aerosmith
  • Jim Skafish is from Skafish
  • Gene Simmons is from Kiss
  • Bill Berry is from R.E.M.
  • Sonic Youth is the band of that name
  • and Shane MacGowan is from The Pogues
They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and that's at least party true. Apparently the way into a woman's heart through her ears. The more I think about that, the more true it really is.

Note: West Virginia Surf Report are the same guys who did the compare and contrast of fast foods I blogged on earlier.


Willard: Don't you think its a little risky for some R&R?
Kilgore: If I say it's safe to surf this beach Captain, then it's safe to surf this beach.
-Apocalypse Now

Remember the Flying Imams? The seven Muslim clerics who decided to put on a show and see how disruptive they could be and get away with it on a plane? I wrote several times about this, and here's the latest update, courtesy the Washington Times:
A federal judge will not block the public from accessing court documents or attending hearings in a lawsuit filed by a group of imams who say they were wrongly removed from a US Airways flight.

The imams' lawyer, Omar T. Mohammedi, had asked U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery in Minnesota to "remove members of the media" from the court's electronic case filing distribution list and hold proceedings in closed session.
Why did they want to block anyone from getting any records or information about this court case? Because blogs are being so mean to them, by reporting on the case.
Mr. Mohammedi did not respond to a request for comment, but he told the judge his clients had received death threats and had been unfairly criticized in press reports and Internet blogs.
Powerline blog tells what the judge's response to this request was:
As a CAIR functionary serving in a CAIR production, Mohammedi prefers to reserve to CAIR the publicity rights over his clients' claims. It's an understandable sentiment, yet lacking in any legal authority. In her letter to Mohammedi denying the motion, Minnesota Federal District Court Judge Ann Montgomery declined to treat the case "in the extraordinary manner you suggest." She succinctly explained to Mohammedi:
Under the First Amendment, the public and the press have a significant interest in full access to all judicial proceedings, both criminal and civil. You have provided no legal authority supporting your request to limit public access to this case. While it is regrettable that anonymous individuals have threatened violence, the Court Security Officers will insure that the United States Courthouse here in Minneapolis is secure.
Commenters at Powerline used their freedom to say this:
This is a sound decision by Judge Ann Montgomery.

I guess CAIR wanted to try some heavy duty taqiyya behind closed doors. But, the judge saw through the ruse and did not allow it.

As for the death threats, can CAIR document them and make them public?
-by Ledger

Whatever happened with the proposed legislation to protect “John Does” from being sued in cases like this?
-by Ghost

The John Doe legislation didn’t go anywhere. There is no way any tort reform is going to happen in a Democrat congress. Sorry, but it is just the way it is.....too easy to transpose that legislation to other areas of law.

I remember the idiots at the Strib editorial staff saying they were happy that the imams sued to we could have the “light of day” on the incident. Funny how those knuckleheads get it wrong every damn time, proven this time by the fact that the last thing the imams wanted was light of day.

I am looking for this whole case to get over pretty quick with the imams saying they are taking their ball and going home.
-by Choir Boy

Or, in layman’s terms, welcome to America and the U.S. Constitution. And, oh, by the way, don’t confuse freedom of speech with freedom from criticism.
-by D. Eisenhower

Islam is about submission. That means imams can criticize you, but you can’t criticize them. Under penalty of violence and death. That about sums up the religion of peace.
-by cpcharlie
The Imams are quite aware that blogs will take a story and dissect it, bringing out every aspect and finding the things out that the legacy media has either no time or no inclination (or both) to investigate or examine. They aren't particularly fond of that aspect, because it has made their efforts less than effective.

As I have stated in the past, this was two things: first, it was a trial run to see how people responded on planes; and second it was a test case to court with the hope of a legal decision to protect Islamic misbehavior on planes and protect Muslims specially in this nation. These Muslims, and especially CAIR, are very aware of what bloggers - and commenters - are saying about them and the case, about the power those forces have to bring light and information to bear on events.

In this war, charlie does surf, and he's not happy with what he has found.
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"Now, there is really no such thing as an 'inside game' anymore, since bloggers make sure it gets 'outside.'"

No Illegal Immigration
The recent second attempt at passing a Comprehensive Immigration Bill in the Senate was defeated recently. The effort was impressive, but the effort to stop it even more so, as this was a bill that nearly no one in the USA wanted to see passed. The problem people had with this bill was that it effectively extended amnesty to illegals who have been in the US for a long time, and did not do anything to protect and secure our southern border any more than it is. Were there not so many illegal aliens and so much of a problem with people crossing the border by the thousands each day, this wouldn't have annoyed people so much. But the US is facing a problem with immigration, and in a nation that suffered the terrorist attacks on 9/11, having a porous border with thousands crossing it unchecked every day is a problem.

Now, advocates of the bill said that it wasn't amnesty and that it would provide border security over and over, but bloggers tore the bill apart and noted that it was, in fact amnesty and that the bill did not in fact do a thing for security. Even the money alleged to be set aside for border security ultimately would not be used for that. President Bush himself admitted, in a candid slip of the tongue, that it was amnesty:
"You know, I've heard all the rhetoric -- you've heard it, too -- about how this is amnesty. Amnesty means that you've got to pay a price for having been here illegally, and this bill does that."
This bill was supported by the President of the United States, the leaders of both major parties, and many activist organizations such as La Raza. So how did it get defeated? The people spoke. Loud, clear, and so often that the Capitol Building switchboard shut down, that the email accounts of senators were full, that the fax machine buffers were overloaded. They got truckloads of mail. They got complaints in person. And it was all coordinated and driven by blogs. Sure, talk radio was a help, but talk radio got it's information primarily from blogs - including those of various senators opposed to the measure. Rich Lowry explains:
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff seemed to suggest that illegals would have to pay back taxes, when the White House had quietly taken that provision out. Bloggers and talk-show hosts publicized this and other problems that otherwise would have gone unnoticed (John McCain learned of the tax provision in a blogger conference call), slowing its momentum.

As the techno-populists dissected the bill, its senatorial supporters mustered their most off-putting imperial pique. Mississippi Republican Trent Lott rued that talk radio was "running the country." Ohio Republican George Voinovich went on the Sean Hannity radio show and complained that he was being "intimidated" because people were calling his office opposing the bill.

President Bush said opponents hadn't read the bill, when diligent bloggers combed through it line by line. They gave the bill the markup -- the detailed process of amendment -- that it never got in committee because there was such a rush to passage. Even the procedural shenanigans that the bill's supporters relied on to try to get it through were subject to the intense glare of publicity. Instead of helping the bill's cause -- as such arcane maneuvers would have in the past -- they hurt it by adding to the sense of chaos and unfairness around the process.
In the past, bills like this could be pushed through without much hope of opposition. People wouldn't know what was in the bill, they couldn't rally opposition fast enough, and the monumental size and complexity of legislation tends to put it out of the realm of most individuals to puzzle through. As Rich Lowry points out, those days are done, and Democracy is the better for it. Commenters discussed this notion:
Thank you one and all
There will certainly be other fights for which we are now more knowledgable and unafraid.

Good job, one and all
-by Well Now

The voice of the people - a good thing? The senate heeded the voice of the people, defied the president, and refused to support the amnesty bill. This is a good thing.

In a few months, the senate will heed the voice of the people, defy the president, and refuse to support any more funding for the war in Iraq. Will this also be a good thing?
-by BK

The people speaking
out was the purest form of what the Founding Fathers of our Republic wrote. The people spoke loud and clear, used their voices and their right to speak out against this bill. Hurray for the people who are no longer willing to take anything that the so called elites and power hungry pols try to cram down our throats.

I'm proud to be one of those citizens who "intimidated" poor, little Mr. Voinivich. Such a victim he is. So, we of Ohio called and told him if he supported this bill, we were going to boot him out of office. Uh, Mr. Voinivich seems to forget that he "works" for us, not the other way around.

Perhaps it would do him some good to work a "real" job where one's employer can boot you out of your job for far less than what Voinivich was doing. The employer expects you to do the job he hired you for. Voinivich seems to forget he has an employer, the people of Ohio.

We'll see how he fares on his next job, whatever that may be, when he refuses to do the job his employer hired him to do. That is, if he able to get another job, being the incompetent buffoon that he is.
-by Peppermint

The voice of the people.
Up to now, that term has been mis-applied to a vocal minority who "had the ear" of our leaders, and used that advantage to run roughshod over the rest of us. This time around, it was different. The so-called "silent" majority spoke up, and told both their political leaders and the "enlightened, vocal minority", "Neither of you speaks for us."

It would be interesting for the same thing to happen when the next debate on the Iraq operations rolls around.

Unfortunately, some of the "elite'" still believe that they, and only they, have the floor. To see what they have in mind, go to RealClearPolitics, and look up Theodore Sorenson's essay, "A New Vision". It is the acceptance speech he wants the next Democratic Presidential nominee to give at their convention.

It basically says to those who defeated the "shamnesty" bill,

"We rule.

"You obey.

"Deal with it."
-by eon

The Battle was Won but the war continues.

I agree with most of the postings that this was a telling victory. But, let's not get distracted by patting ourselves on the back for too very long. We still need to address border security and the issue of illegal immigration.

Don't lose sight of the fact that our elected representatives were perfectly willing to exclude us from the process and to deliver a bill that had been allowed input from all of the special interest groups involved. Remember that we cannot trust Washington, not now and not in the future. Their willingness to act on this bill was totally in their self-interest, for the most part.

Still it was sweet, wasn't it?

Michael Chertoff can give up his budding lobbyist career and return to trying to protect this nation.

Se you at the bill signing!
-by John L

All Senators work for the people. Voinivich was on TV stomping his foot and (nearly) yelling because he had received so much mail and so many calls telling him to change his vote or he wouldn't be re-elected. He was furious, saying no one would intimidate HIM. (Maybe true, but no one would re-elect him either, if he didn't change his vote.)

Peppermint is right. Voinivich works for the people of Ohio. Every Senator works for the people in the state that elected him or her, not the other way around. Because of Thursday's vote, a few will figure that out.

And I think SBMcGraw is right too. Every Senator is eveyone's business. The amnesty bill definitely showed that to be the truth. Like SBMcGraw, I wrote a lot of letter to senators from other states, usually thanking them for supporting the right choice around "no amnesty" and telling them that ALL American people appreciate their position, not just their constituents.

It is harder and more time-consuming to ride herd on a dozen or more prominent senators rather than just two for each of us. But yesterday, we proved how worth it it can be.
-by Arby

Every time I hear the term "nativist" in reference to people who simply want our government to defend our borders, I want to come out of my chair!

Has anyone heard of Mecha? La Raza (the race)?

According to the website I sited:
"MEChA's national constitution starts out: 'Chicano and Chicana students of Aztlán must take upon themselves the responsibilities to promote Chicanismo within the community, politicizing our Raza with an emphasis on indigenous consciousness to continue the struggle for the self-determination of the Chicano people for the purpose of liberating Aztlán.'"

So what?

The key is knowing what these lefties are calling "Aztlán."

Although traditional theories vary:
"...the name Aztlán was taken up by some revolutionary Chicano movement activists of the 1960s and 1970s to refer to the Southwestern United States which was acquired from Mexico by the United States as a result of the Mexican-American War... Aztlán in this sense became a symbol of Mexican primordial right to the Mexican territories which were colonized by the United States after the Mexican-American War."

Who are the REAL nativists?

The racist members of La Raza, who want to take "back" large portions of the United States and boot the rest of us out.
-by Mountain Rose

All: one thing we must take great care to distinguish is the difference between racism and simple cultural preferences.

The first is despicable: it is the notion that race is the sole or primary human trait that should be taken into consideration when evaluating individuals.

The second is a perfectly natural feature of the human mind: a preference for associating with people of similar culture and values. I am not ashamed to confess that I prefer to associate with my own, so that I can share our common heritage with my peers--from values to language to arts and literature and everything in between.

It doesn't matter what color my peers are: race has nothing to do with it. Culture, or at least cultural sensibility, has everything to do with it.

When I am forced to coexist next door with people who think women are inferior, that violent self-martyrdom is the height of personal achievement, that English is for pro-establishment lackeys, that learning math is for Uncle Toms, that Jews and Christians are monkeys or that every glass of Chianti I drink is a ticket on the HOV lane to hell, then I have a problem.

There's nothing wrong with this sentiment: that's just the way we are programmed. Denying this is one of the biggest lies that has been foisted on contemporary society.

How does this have anything to do with immigration? Here's how. American culture, which makes possible the opportunities this country alone offers, should be identified by all of us and jealously defended against the PC attempts to 1) deny that it exists, 2) claim that it's just as good and bad as any other and 3) water it down or outright destroy it.
-by Voltaire
The general consensus is "yay we won" which is an amazingly bypartisan, cross cultural thing. Basically the only people who liked this bill were the guys in congress pushing it, President Bush, and a few major corporations who benefit most from illegal immigrant labor.

This isn't over. All we've managed to do is maintain the status quo, which while better than this bill's option, is not tolerable. We have to deal with this problem, and deal with it soon. The first thing, without exception, that has to be done is to better secure our southern border. That has to be the first effort, and that has bipartisan, cross-cultural support among all ages, ethnic groups, and both men and women.

The second thing that has to be dealt with is strict enforcement of the immigration laws we now have. How do we do this? Businesses and individuals who knowingly hire illegals should be punished. Illegals that are caught should be deported, the first time and without being set free to show up in court under their own recognizance. Cities and states that have "sanctuary" zones for illegals and who do not permit officials to question anyone about their immigration status must be penalized, pushed to obey the law. The House recently passed a law that withholds federal funds from any city that has a "sanctuary" policy where illegals may live without fear of being caught or deported, and police may not ask about their status. That needs to be passed and enforced.

Then, when we've done that, we can look at restructuring the immigration system, making it easier and more streamlined, so that guest workers can come here, and go back home. So that people who want to become part of the USA can do so legally, easier. We can look at changing the "anchor baby" law that makes any baby born here a legal citizen and basically gives parents immunity to deportation.

But this has to be done one step at a time. The biggest flaw of our times is impatience, we just cannot let things happen as they happen, we want it all done and wrapped up with applause in half an hour like a TV sitcom. The people would support one step at a time, careful action to deal with this problem. But the first thing that has to happen, the first, is to secure that border.

Will this new found power of the people to pressure their congressmen be good or ill? Both, I expect. The thing is, it took an incredible level of ill will and frustration in a huge segment of the population to generate this kind of response. That won't happen again easily. One of the commenters asked if the people demanding action on certain things should apply to the war in Iraq. This is a good question, especially in this context.

Where the immigration bill was entirely legislative - this is an area congress is given constitutional power over, and is a law that is passed - a war is not. Congress has zero power over military action, that is given to the President by the constitution. Congress can advise, they can suggest, they can plead. They can restrict funding to the military but may not restrict funding to specific uses of the military. In other words, the people can speak all they want, but congress simply doesn't get to make the decision about a withdrawal from Iraq.

In any case, the American people are not interested in us simply leaving Iraq. Most people are disgruntled, I believe, with how things are going, most are impatient with the lack of positive progress they are aware of (a problem with the media, as I've noted before). Most people want our boys home - when their job is done, and when they are victorious. But I do not believe most Americans want us to simply leave Iraq, right now.

Even the recent poll that a lot of less informed anti-war fellows quote does not indicate this, all it indicates is that - in this poll of a few thousand specific people - most people want the American soldiers to come home at some point. That point is never specified in the poll, nor are the conditions of their return even hinted at. The only reason I believe this poll didn't show 100% of the people want these soldiers to return home is because some inferred that meant "now" and "unconditionally" because of who was doing the poll and adjusted their answer to reflect this. That's just a guess, though.

So there isn't this huge opposition to the soldiers remaining in Iraq that we saw against this bill. There isn't going to be a gigantic campaign to storm Washington with our ire. And even if there was... it wouldn't matter, congress doesn't have that power. It would be like most people demanding from congress that sumer last longer, or that it never rain on their vacation. Good for you.

Immigration RallyI'll tell you what I did like about this, though. As opposed to the artificially ginned up rallies that A.N.S.W.E.R. and other leftist groups organized last year with tens of thousands of people, this was a natural, grass-roots uprising of the people, with millions responding, spontaneously. This wasn't a nice TV moment with special speakers and photogenic opportunities, it was done without concern about publicity, without big rallies. It was directed specifically at the congressmen - straight to the point. The contrast between what happened here and the asinine rallies and specially packaged protests we've seen in the last years is stark. There's been something so artificial and contrived about the anti-war movement in the USA and abroad, but this was the people genuinely upset and concerned taking action to get things done.

That's called democracy.
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"Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved"
-Francis Crick (codiscoverer of DNA)

Glenn Reynolds is excited, be believes one of his worldview positions has been proven:
Beleive in Evolution? Hell, I've seen it done!
e. coliPutting aside the irony in the position that someone "does" evolution, let's take a closer look at the article and the science he refers to. At Michigan State University, for the last 13 years scientists have been breeding a certain kind of bacteria (Escherichia coli, common in stomachs) to see how it reacts to its environment. In that time, there have been 40,000 generations of bacteria, roughly the equivalent of 160,000 years of human history. Here's how the New York Times reports this story:
While working at the University of California, Irvine, Dr. Lenski decided to set up a straightforward experiment: he made life miserable for some bacteria. He created 12 identical lines of E. coli and then fed them a meager diet of glucose. The bacteria would run out of sugar by the afternoon, and the following morning Dr. Lenski would transfer a few of the survivors to a freshly supplied flask.
Diet was not the only change in environment, he also changed the temperature of the room to see how the microbes responded. Most of the microbes fared poorly, others adapted to face this new challenge:

Within a few hundred generations, Dr. Lenski was seeing changes, and the bacteria have been changing ever since. The microbes have adapted to their environment, reproducing faster and faster over the years. One striking lesson of the experiment is that evolution often follows the same path. “We’ve found a lot of parallel changes,” Dr. Lenski said.

In all 12 lines the speed of adaptation was greatest in the first few months of the experiment and has since been tapering off. The bacteria have all become larger as well, although Dr. Lenski is not sure what kind of adaptation this represents. When other scientists saw these sorts of results begin to emerge, they set up their own experiments with microbes. Today they are observing bacteria, viruses and even yeast as they adapt to challenges as diverse as infections, antibiotics and cold and heat.

Other experiments included seeing if bacteria would survive on soap, and at the New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study at Massey University, they found that bacteria adapted to their environment by forming different ecosystems, some on the bottom, some floating on the top, and so on. Bacteria lives and dies and breed so fast that scientists are able to watch these changes in a matter of years rather than millennia; similar to the efforts by scientists to understand the genetic code by manipulating fruit flies who have a life cycle of days.

So far so good, this seems like evolution in a petri dish, right? That will show those godbags! Well, sort of. To answer that question you have to understand two concepts. The first is what evolution really is, and the second is what Intelligent Design is.

Snowshoe Hare
Evolution is the theory that creatures adapt to their environment, some dying out, some becoming better suited to face their challenges. There are two layers of this, if you will: microevolution, in which creatures adapt to their environment to survive better (such as bunnies becoming white in winter or dogs getting a thicker fur coat), and macroevolution in which creatures adapt and change until they become new and divergent species.

We have thousands of examples of microevolution in the world, this is undisputed. Humans adapt to their environment (your hair grows faster at certain times of year, paler skin tans in the sun to protect from sun damage, if you are in high altitudes your body adjusts to handle the lower oxygen content, and so on). Adaptation to the environment was the basis in fact that Charles Darwin started with, he looked at what was observable and speculated on what that might mean.

Macroevolution, on the other hand, we have no examples of. Now, part of the reason is that it is believed that this process would take millions of years (that's hundreds of thousands of generations) to be perceptible. It's just outside the realm of empirical science to measure this concept. Another reason this has not been measured or seen is that so far no creature has adapted outside its genetic code. In other words: no creature has changed in a way that it is not "programmed" in its DNA to react to its environment.

What these scientists have observed is fascinating and interesting, it will help us understand ecosystems and how creation reacts to changes, it may even help us fight disease and infestation. But what they have not observed is what Glenn Reynolds is looking for: macroevolution. None of these creatures have become another species, they have simply become adapted versions of their previous species.

The scientists in this article plainly point out: if you remove the stress and put them in their original environment, within a few generations, they are back to where they started.
This social behavior costs Myxococcus energy that it could otherwise use to grow, Dr. Velicer discovered. He and his colleagues allowed the bacteria to evolve for 1,000 generations in a rich broth. Most of the lines of bacteria lost the ability to swarm or form spores, or both.
This is true of any creature, if you take a dog and put him in the arctic, if he survives, his offspring will be furrier. When you take those offspring back to warmer areas, their offspring will not be. The problem here is that if creatures return to their previous state when things change to be less stressed, that sort of throws a monkey wrench into the whole concept of macroevolution. Let's say that creature get furry in response to some cataclysm such as a meteor strike that chills the earth a while. What happens when the earth warms up again? They revert to what they were before, because fur is not very helpful. Thus, the divergent species die out and we return to the previous, simpler versions - at least that's what the theory dictates.

Yet that's not what happened. So either macroevolution has some serious flaws, or there's some mechanism that preserves these changes and maintains the evolved creatures even after the stress that triggered their changes have ended. So by its very definition and the theory its self, this experiment did not show macroevolution.

Now, briefly, I have to mention Intelligent Design here because that's something most strong evolutionists mock and deride and attempt to dismiss (almost always without a clue of what it says and why). This needs to be repeated again, because it apparently eludes most people who scoff at ID: most Intelligent Design advocate scientists also believe in evolution. There is nothing about the theory of Intelligent Design that negates the possibility of or opposes evolution. All it says is that however creatures developed or came to be, an intelligent theistic force was guiding that process.

In other words: even if this did somehow demonstrate macroevolution, it would not mean Intelligent Design was not valid. In fact, it might help to demonstrate ID, depending on your presupposition about existence.

Here's what I mean: if you start out with the presumption that there can be no theistic creator and that the only thing that exists is what you can measure with science and your senses, then no amount of evidence or demonstration will ever matter. You simply reject the possibility a priori, before you make any sort of statements or examine any evidence. This is like the idea that the world is flat, and when someone points out evidence that it is not, you simply shrug and explain it away. You cannot and will not admit the possibility that you might be wrong here, because before the discussion even takes place, you've assumed that position and based everything you believe upon it.

However, if you presuppose that it is at least possible that there is more beyond what we can measure with science and our senses (something that every sane person lives their lives in the assumption of, even if they are not aware of it), if you admit that it could be true that there is a theistic creator, then the regulated, orderly, and dare I say it, designed behavior of creatures in an experiment sort of support that possibility.

See, Intelligent Design is simply the recognition that the world certainly looks designed, something even Dr Richard Dawkins admits:
"Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose"
-Dr Richard Dawkins
Now, if the world appears designed to the point of even the most virulent anti-theistic creator advocates admit it, then there has to be a pretty good explanation as to why this appearance is here when it is not so. When I find a cave drawing of a guy hunting a beast, I don't speculate on how the mineral deposits and water flow over millions of years developed into this amazingly art-like design on the wall. I wonder who drew it and why. Because the evidence of design, without clear and strong evidence to the contrary, presumes a designer.

And that's all ID says. If it looks designed, then it probably was. Why reject this? Well, first, not because of bad science, there's nothing bad or good about the theory in a scientific sense - except that it's willing to accept the evidence no matter where it points us. I'll let these fellows explain why to reject Intelligent Design as a theory:
"Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic."
-Dr. Scott Todd, immunologist at Kansas State

"We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."
-Professor Richard Lewontin, Alexander Agassiz Research Professor at Harvard University
ID is rejected not because of bad science. Not because it is unreasonable or the evidence does not support this theory. ID is rejected because it opens a door that they do not care to consider. Just something to think about.
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Quote of the Day

"You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don't ever count on having both at once."
-Robert Heinlein
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Thursday, June 28, 2007


"Make crime pay. Become a lawyer."
-Will Rogers

This is the story of a judge and a dry cleaner and the legal system in the United States. Judge Roy Pearson took a pair of pants down to a neighborhood dry cleaner and asked them to give the pants a washing. When he came back, they couldn't find the pants, so he sued. For two years this case was knocked around, with legal fees piling up for both sides. By this point, Roy Pearson was now a Washington DC judge. The cleaners found the pants, finally, and offered them to the judge, but he didn't want his pants back. He wanted $65 million dollars.

How on earth did he come up with this total? Marc Fisher at the Washington Post has the story:
Pearson's first letter to the Chungs sought $1,150 so he could buy a new suit. Two lawyers and many legal bills later, the Chungs offered Pearson $3,000, then $4,600 and, finally, says their attorney, Chris Manning, $12,000 to settle the case.

But Pearson pushes on. How does he get to $65 million? The District's consumer protection law provides for damages of $1,500 per violation per day. Pearson started multiplying: 12 violations over 1,200 days, times three defendants. A pant leg here, a pant leg there, and soon, you're talking $65 million.
Thousands of dollars in legal fees and bad credit later, the case has been resolved. Judge Pearson has been ordered to pay court costs, with the decision on who pays the tens of thousands of dollars of lawyer fees the dry cleaner family incurred still to come. Did the system work here, was this lawsuit treated properly?

At Overlawyered, David Nierporent says no [edited, read the full post for details]:
here are a few reminders about this case that, to the extent it had any merit at all, should have been a small claims suit:

1. The Chungs offered Pearson $12,000 to drop this suit. If he had not been so greedy, they'd have been out that much money, plus a year's worth of legal costs.

2. Putting aside any money issues, this lawsuit was filed on June 7, 2005; for more than two years, this case has been hanging over the Chungs' heads. That's two years of legal and financial uncertainty.

3. The Chungs "won" the case, but Pearson used the legal system to impose what was likely $100,000 in legal costs on them.

4. Oh, one other problem: the Examiner reported, even before the decision, that Pearson's chances of keeping his job were slim.

5. And let's not forget one other party to this case, also abused by Roy Pearson: the taxpayers of the District of Columbia, who have to pay for the legal system. And they have no chance to get reimbursed.

6. Finally, remember that the case is not necessarily over.
Commenters discussed the case and the entire concept of tort reform:
You left out the most important one:

#7. While Pearson is too deluded to successfully use the justice system, and is thus a relatively minor player in it, more sophisticated plaintiffs' law firms have used the same tactics to extort billions of dollars in consumer class actions using the same legal theories as Pearson that even Kia Franklin acknowledges are "abusive" though she won't speak out against those attorneys.
-by Ted

There must be still more to this story - who hired this guy? He doesn't have a stellar career and wasn't even working as a lawyer then suddenly he's a judge? How did that happen?
-by Julian Wan

It seems to me that a lot of commenters are talking about Pearson's greed, as here. I haven't read all the coverage, but is there any indication that he was looking for more money? After all, there's no way he was going to get millions from the Chungs. From what I have read, it seems that Pearson is actually obsessive, and would have pressed even had the Chungs made a larger settlement offer.

Which brings up a second point. Had Pearson accepted the offer, would the case ever have become so well-known? If not, it would have been just another case of legal extortion. Certainly not an indication of "effective, built-in checks against such things."
-by david chichka

This case shows, among other things, the weakness of systemic solutions to the tort crisis. The statutes Pearson sued under, if applied rationally, are not ridiculous. What is ridiculous is the implementation.

It also shows that loser-pays is not the answer. Loser-pays wouldn't help the Chungs here, not would it help most businesses sued by jackpot-seekers (who almost never would have the kind of money the businesses' lawyers charge). On the contrary, it would make the system even more jackpot-oriented--plaintiffs could sue knowing that, if they won, their award wouldn't be reduced by the amount they had to pay their lawyers.

Another solution that I don't think will help is damage caps. Any damage cap that's low enough to not serve as a jackpot target will be low enough to not serve as a deterrent against legitimate causes of action, especially against large corporations. And there's really no one else besides the plaintiff to whom punitive damages can reasonably be assigned.

What is needed is to change incentives, so these frivolous (in layman's terms) lawsuits are smacked down at the beginning rather than the end. I'm also really not sure how to do that.
-by jb

Everyone deplores this case, or should. I'm a plaintiff's lawyer most of the time, and I would scarcely invoke it as proof that the "system works." It should have been squelched far sooner. In fact, for all I know, it would have been, had the right steps been taken. I'm not up on the procedural history, but this case seems to have spun far out of control, in ways that cases don't have to, under the existing rules, and to a degree that they usually don't.

The real question, for me, is whether the case is representative. If it is indeed representative, there should be thousands of cases just like it, and we may as well get to discussing those. If it's not representative, then I'm not sure why we would dwell on it.
-Peter Nordberg
Some suggested a few ways to make the system work better, as it now is certainly troubled, if not actually broken. Cases that ought to be thrown out are heard, cases that ought never even finish trial are winning. People are broken, and we all suffer for the costs while unscrupulous and unethical legal counsels become millionaires. There's something very rotten in the legal system, and we're all paying for it.

Some suggest a "loser pays" idea, where the side that loses the attempt at a lawsuit has to pay legal fees and court costs (photocopies, etc). As commenter Bill W pointed out,

the problem with a straight "loser pays" system is that it could then be too risky for some actual legitimate claims to be filed, because if they are close cases on the merits and expensive to defend, they would not be brought in the first place because of the high risk of losing.

Another commenter suggested a system where the lawyers have to pay when their side loses, and the judge can waive the requirement based on the situation, but then legal fees would become astronomical. And that system in any case would not deal with cases where undeserving or ludicrious cases end up with victories. Spill coffee in your lap because you won't put the cup down to drive? Sue for millions because the coffee is... hot. Hey, McDonalds is rich, they can afford it. And making them pay for the fees in addition is not helping matters any.

Some say that capping damages will prevent justly accused businesses from suffering enough punishment or penalty for their incompetence, but that assumes that there's no sliding scale based on the company's net worth. Personally I believe strongly that capping damages - and eliminating all subjective categories such as "mental anguish" and "pain and suffering" - would be a significant first step to fixing the problem. The most important one would be better jurists. Judges more willing to throw out cases for being frivolous or absurd would make the biggest difference.

In any case, this judge, about whom I share the same concerns as commenter Julian Wan (how did he get appointed, again?), seems to be at least obsessive/compulsive about his pants, if not clinically insane. He broke down crying when testifying about how he lost his pants in court. In his 2005 divorce, the judges ordered him to pay $12,000 for “creating unnecessary litigation.” He had apparently threatening his attorney wife and her attorney with disbarment. In this case, Judge Neal Kravitz said "the court has significant concerns that the plaintiff is acting in bad faith" because of "the breathtaking magnitude of the expansion he seeks."

I suspect the man is unbalanced. He probably will lose his position as a judge - he ought to be disbarred, in my opinion.
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"After a month in the UK, I get the sense that Britons feel America has grown up too fast for its own good; its muscles are larger than its brain."

American Stereotype
Blogger Amar Bakshi is traveling around the world interviewing people about what they think of and feel about the United States of America. Bakshi's heritage is from India, which might make people a bit more willing to talk to him than if he were your average white guy from America.

He recently wrote about his stay in England, and here's some of what he found out:
In my interviews, the average American came out looking like a pre-pubescent Don Quixote in a sandbox. We’re described as big-hearted, big tippers with an exceptional service culture and a willingness to aid lost UK tourists. But we're also considered somewhat childlike: poorly traveled, insular, fervent with unexamined faith, excessive patriotism and wishful thinking.

The good of this that is we believe we can accomplish anything, spurring innovation and making us work hard. But confidence can easily slip into arrogance. The notion that Americans are exceptional, having founded a city on a hill, particularly irks Britons, who remind me they abolished slavery first. Omnipresent American flags and recurrent politicians’ calls for God to bless America blend faith and politics in a way that violates our founding principles, I'm told. Certain Muslim communities are particularly wary of American religiosity.

That's the good. Then comes the bad, including the belief that America is not very good at taking care of our poor, that the government handling of Katrina was somehow a disaster, that Americans don't care about civilian casualties, that the nation should have signed the Kyoto protocol, and so on. Commenters responded to these perceptions:
But we're also considered somewhat childlike: poorly traveled, insular, fervent with unexamined faith, excessive patriotism and wishful thinking.
This is precisely the sort of condescending attitude that makes Americans not want to listen to Europeans in the first place. There's this assumption that we think and act the way we do because we just haven't "traveled" (read: grown up/turned French) enough. Wrong. For many of us, leaving the US just reinforces to us how special it is to live here. Personally I am always delighted to return home to a place that has a relatively uncorrupt police force, a literal Bill of Rights, and where I and my family actually have a fighting chance of moving up in society if we just apply ourselves and work hard. The alternative - a stultifying array of quasi-socialist regimes that reward people for going "on the dole" and punish them for succeeding - is the classic British rigid social structure, 'cept nobody even gets to be upper class anymore. Thanks but no thanks.

The pomposity of the average European is amazing. Just look at some of the terminology in this article:
Internationally, Britons see Americans willing to overlook our own errors and ignore the nuances of local environments, resulting in poorly conceived policies that do more damage than good. The British Empire studied foreign populations for centuries to methodically divide and rule them.
Hey, thanks for the insight. By the way, WE WERE IN THAT EMPIRE. We know exactly how you tried to divide and rule, and we threw a lot of "tea parties" to commemorate it, didn't we. The British took huge amounts of pride in their Empire (that's what they tromped around calling it!) and even now despite their fatal adoption of multiculturalism secretly pine for the days of Empire. By contrast, the US is highly conflicted about its own overseas territories and will let them go if they democratically decide to leave (see: Phillippines).

The British stirred up disasters wherever they went. Put aside the American revolution, think about the violent partition of India and Pakistan: Britain. The collapse of a half-dozen African colonial states: Britain. I'm amazed they even mustered the gumption to defend the Falklands - and judging by the recent traitorous performances of their own "Royal" marines who were captured/holidayed with Iran they probably couldn't even defend London at this point.

If America does something objectively wrong, we deserve to be criticised. But complaining about us because you don't like the way we are doing something usually just means we're doing it right.
-by Rory Calhoun

May I say it takes: 1. Courage to listen to all those views, 2. Lucidity to put them all together, and 3. Guts to submit that material for publication as is, i.e without being unduly judgmental?

I am glad to see that contrary to what I had suggested in my very first post to you, at the beginning of your journey, you obviously did NOT only find (and report on) what you might have been specifically after, from the start. However much your material might have been edited by you and by others, I must say it sounds (and is!) so much more valuable than embedded “journalism”…

Wait, I can do better than that, really: your summary is most interesting, truly impressive.

Congratulations, Amar.

Still there, all eyes and hears.
-by JRLR

Paris Hilton, George Bush, and Ann Coulter. This is the sum of all Americans that you portray in your post. Its no wonder your conclusions are skewed and condescending. If you, or the 'great' Britons you spoke with, find those characters to be representative of the American populace, then you and your sources are the ones who are poorly traveled. What possible good could come from painting with a brush so broad that you eliminate the contributions and opinions of literally millions of people because, to include them, would destroy the singular nature of your monochromatic musings?
Does America have problems? Of course it, like any nation, does. Does the current administration lack the intelligence to achieve its goals on the world stage? Apparently it does. Are all Americans responsible for this? No, we most certainly are not.
Of all the nations anywhere, America, because of its unique position as the "new world", is historically the most diverse and embracing society. That is what is lost in the keyhole snapshot of European prejudices you pass off here as journalism. I have no doubt that one could find an equal number of ignorant Americans to portray their small minded opinions of the British, but to what end?
Congratulations for finding a way to have someone else pay for your trip around the world, now if only you were committed to contributing something useful to the world instead of just cataloging the ignorant prejudice of the world's under-educated masses.
-by Patrick Huss

Ah, so you were treated to the facile British condemnation of all things American from the elder brothers, were you? I used to get that a lot when we lived in Frankfurt. You'll find a nice treatment of many of those cute little stereotypes in Jean-Francois Revel's Anti-Americanism, written mostly before, but finished after, 9/11. It's a slim volume, surprisingly easy to read given that it's written by a French philosopher, but then he supported his philosophizing as a journalist for Le Monde and other publications.

In the meantime: a surprising number of Americans *have* travelled elsewhere...or are from elsewhere, like your family. Most, however, are there on business, whether business trip, on an international assignment like we were, with the military, or visiting family and friends. Not so many come as tourists, and so are invisible to your oh-so-vocal commentors, who no doubt took a two week holiday to New York City or Miami Beach, and now think they know America. Nor do they realize that at the moment, according to US Census statistics, nearly a third of us speak more than one language at home, either because we're immigrants, or because we're first generation Americans like you, and Grandmama doesn't speak any English at all. I had the interesting experience at the trailing daughters' elementary school of teaching English to a little Indian girl who spoke only Hindi, because her grandparents played nanny while her parents worked. This gives us Americans a perspective on the world somewhat broader than your British friends, who'll have holidayed on the Costa del Sol and Province, and of course Miami Beach.

As for their concerns about the heavy-footed Americans tromping obliviously around the world, perhaps they can look to their own recent experiences for comparison. We were over there during the little contretemps in Yugoslavia. For over a year we watched as the Europeans, insisting that this was their neighborhood and their problem to solve, both did absolutely nothing and refused to allow the Americans to, either. It was finally when President Clinton put his foot down that the bombardment of Croat cities and the siege of Sarajevo were ended, and the peacekeepers went in. This does not speak well to the ability of Britain or the Europeans to accomplish anything at all without a strong push from those well meaning but feckless Americans. Or for a more recent example, the three years that the Britain, France and Germany negotiated with Iran to end their nuclear bomb program, which has resulted in Iran being perhaps within a year or two of aiming nuclear missiles at Israel and the heart of Europe.

Actually, the fact that you so naively believe the judgements of your British friends to be sound speaks to your American-ness. We are taught to the politeness of not openly contradicting others unless we are sure of our ground, and would not dream of insulting the language or culture of another without cause. Out there in the great big world, however, insulting Americans to their face is considered great sport, and serves to reconcile the speakers to the facts that the despised America is nonetheless a continued magnet for immigration, has a faster growing economy and lower unemployment than anywhere except the newest open economies like India and China, and provides more opportunity for both citizens and residents (legal and illegal), just as your grandfather understood. Else surely he would have commanded his offspring to emigrate to Britain or other points your European interviewees find so superior.
-by Trailing Wife

Look, we British think our country is the best in the World, Americans think that America is the best country in the World. Do you know why? Because we live where we live. No American is going to convince me that America is a better country than Britain because I am British, and likewise no British citizen is ever going to be able to convince an American that Britain is greater than America because the US is the Americans home. This whole project is fundamentally flawed, sure people are going to have problems with America, but I sincerely doubt that many Britains focus on these problems when they view America. Yes America has problems, so does Great Britain, no country is perfect. I believe that this journalist is only presenting what he wants to present out of the information he has gathered. Look at the interview with the hotel manager, clearly it has been edited to make the interviewee say certain things, and what about the interview with the three school pupils on movies? I think they're telling the truth when they say that footage of the interview has been with-held, and that only the part of the interview concerning American film has been shown. I wish that Amar would show this footage and all the other, unedited footage from his interviews in some way. But aside from that, please don't start a war of words between the British and the Americans, both of our peoples view our own countries as the best that's all there is to it. We're allies, we have been for a long long time now, please don't base your judgement of the British on the work of this journalist who is investigating an issue that is utterly pointless.
-by anonymous

I am a 70 yr old supposedly retired Canadian truck driver (but ain't totally yet). For nearly 33 years my machines roamed all 49 US States. No matter what city, no matter what tiny town, from coast to coast. Maine to LA or Alaska to Florida, I've been in contact with those wonderful neighbours of Canada for 33 years. It is rare to meet (anywhere) a cruddy arrogant American, because they are just the nicest people on this planet.--Cannot say that about Ville du Paris though. The Canadian Army paid my vacations to 55 foreign countries, in about 20 of those lands I served alongside American GI's (plus those lovable Aussies & the comical Limeys also). Our guys shared a lot off bubbly with those Yanks. That's where I first got to like Americans (was serving in our army). God, I hate war! Yup, the Washington Foreign Policies often leave me scratching my rear bluejean pockets also. Man some of those USA foreign plans are DUMB. In fact dumb, and even dumber. But like I implied prior, the Americans are a good hearted people, and one of their foreign policies was rebuilding EUROPE with their own tax money in the Marshall Plan. I wonder how haughty some in Europe would be (today) if the USA had never spent billions, of the everyday worker's taxes to rebuild that bombed out mess (Marshall Plan) in 1945. Put me down as being a pal of those dumb Yanks. In fact I even love the English too. Thanks for the laughs London. Your big Canuck buddy
-by Hap Stokes

Hap Stokes, love the comment. And I've been wanting to respond to this thread in some detail. I think two beautiful points have come up, that in retrospect I did not emphasize enough in this post:
1) the melting pot idea of America, and just how diverse it actually is; many of the Britons I met, esp. those who visited the U.S. said they were struck by things like the Latin American and Mexican American influences in Miami or LA, and the west African influences in NYC, and just how amazing mixed America was (esp. compared with more prevalent, larger pockets of one nationality or another in the UK). This was particularly a point among Muslim Britons in Blackburn.
2) the idea of teasing America for sport, and not in full seriousness; along with the idea of reading between the lines of comments. I think the sporty, light-hearted aspect of these conversations is an important thing to emphasize more fully, and that even as there is a lot of resentment toward U.S. policies, and some teasing of U.S. citizens, there is generally the underlying sense that Americans by in large are good, kind, generous people, like you Hap are saying. I did not get the type of belligerence toward average Americans as I did toward the government. That tension, between dislike for the government and generally warm feelings for the people, was a throughline in the interviews. Attempting to reconcile those two viewpoints is a tricky enterprise because at a certain level, there's just a divide there, that speaks to lasting connections between people even as there is divergent views about governance.
This is a blog post, but certainly an intellectual work in progress, especially as more countries are visited and more ideas are framed and reframed through different individual lenses. I appreciate the comments here, and regarding methodology, my next post should address that. I'm hoping to be as transparent as time allows in all of this (since I'm running a largely one man band right now) and am keen on taking a week in August to print out audio files of interviews in full and posting them on the site so those who are interested (and hopefully there are a few of you!) can go and listen through. Goodnight all.
-by Amar

Thanks for the post. As an American Soldier serving here in Iraq, it's fascinatitng to come across and read your posts online.

Having always had a passionate interest in international relations (I have a Master's Degree in the field) I love learning more about others rather it be through reading their words or meeting them in person.

Personally I love America. Being a native Virginian there is something about the sheer vast scope, beauty and people of America that cannot be beaten. Our rapid growth culturally, economically and militarily. I've travelled overseas relatively little compared to the other posters here, be it with the Marine Reserves (Macedonia for 2 weeks), the Army National Guard (to LSA Anaconda), or personal travel to France and Germany. But I often wonder when I have seen other cultures and lands just how the ole' USofA managed to grow and develop as we have over a span of just over three centuries. Having said that, I do believe that also the sheer size of America does insulate (for lack of a better term) the average American from the outside world. We're a nation of 300 million in an area vastly larger than western and eastern Europe. France, for example, is the size of one of our states - Texas, and that's not even our biggest.

I fully plan to travel to the land of my ancestors (England, Scotland and Ireland) in the future. I cannot wait to see Germany and France again, particularly the historic battlefields of WWI and WWII.

Agreed that sometimes our foreign policy leaves one scratching ones head and wondering "Wha???" But I do believe a great deal of that is founded on the experiences of the pre and post WWII events in Europe and elsewhere. The concern that appeasement will only further encourage a tyrant, no matter how big or small, runs deep in those over say 50 and those, like myself, who have studied history.
-by Stafford

Interesting thread. I would be one of those "untraveled Americans", having never left North America. I have, however, lived with an Argentinian for a year, my brother-in-law is Salvadoran, and I've had extended contact through work, socializing, etc. with Brits, French, Romanians, South Africans, Arabs, Indians and various others. My best friend had a job for a long time that sent him to various countries in Europe and Asia, and we've spent late nights discussing his impressions of the people there. I live in one of the most monochromatic areas of the US (outstate Minnesota) and it's not unusual to hear three or more languages being spoken during a shopping trip. In New York you're likely to hear a dozen or more on the same trip. Not traveling first-hand doesn't necessarily mean total ignorance of the world.

The thing about America is that it's so freakin' BIG. And diverse. Any terrain you prefer, you can probably find a reasonable facsimile somewhere here. Any political culture. Anything at all. Even if you've decided you hate America, there are people in America you can identify with.

My own view is that this is the main reason many Americans don't see the justification of the expense of going to Europe or elsewhere for vacations or whatever. Why go to the south of France when you can go to California for cheaper? Why go to Norway if you can go to Minnesota or Michigan? Why go to London if you can go to New York?

The only reasons I normally hear people give for going to extra trouble to go to places like that are visiting family, historical significance, and "to broaden their perspective". The latter is usually heard from college kids or massively yuppified younger professionals.

All that said, the world's view of America doesn't really matter much to me (though it is of passing interest to know what they're thinking). I'll judge my country's merits on what I see it do, cross-referenced with what I know has worked historically and my own personal biases about what kind of country I think we should be. Hopefully the rest of the world would do something similar in the end.
-by Dan
It is a bit unfair to judge people for their love of their own nation and criticism of another, it's natural to prefer where you live and grew up and question where you did not. Certainly every nation has aspects that are worthy of condemnation and criticism, areas where they lack and where they have excess, and so on.

At the same time, America tends to be criticized and disliked not because of anything specific or objective but because it is big and powerful. The Yankees in Major League Baseball are treated the same way: they keep winning, they are rich, we hate them. About 100 years ago, the British Empire was the big guy, and people resented, criticized, were jealous of, and longed to be part of it. That's partly why I posted the excerpt from The Tragedy of the Korosko last year, to point out the similarities.

British people are, in my experience, more aware of the foibles and dangers of being the superpower than Americans are. They understand better than most Americans how fragile this position is and how everything can change very quickly. The British suffered through two devastating world wars, losing a great majority of the cream of their population in the process for two straight generations, and the results are easy to see: a greater reluctance to see the use of force and a greater tendency toward comfort and safety rather than justice and liberty.

I fear much of Europe has suffered the loss of its brightest and best in the meat grinder of two massive wars, and what's left in charge is not often good or even slightly bright.

The problem we face in any nation is that peoples' perception of our country and people are shaped largely by the press and what media they get. This can be very misleading, such as people who thought that the TV show Dallas was an accurate portrayal of American life. That's like saying Absolutely Fabulous was an accurate portrayal of British life.

For Americans, the problem is a bit exaggerated by the fact that US media reaches around the world and shapes opinion more strongly. The US media is, for the most part, a bit slanted and thus their tilt is what other nations learn about the USA. Hurricane Katrina, for instance, was not unusual or worse than average in terms of disaster relief and government response - and US disaster relief and charity is the best and swiftest in the world - but the coverage was so ludicrously tilted to try to make President Bush look bad that the whole world thinks that's representative of the nation as a whole.

I've already written about the 2000 elections and the debacle in Florida to try to straighten up misconceptions about the events. Some day I plan on doing more of that series, such as on Iraq and Katrina. I don't get that many readers, but they tend to be rather international, so perhaps in a small way I can help straighten out some of these areas of misinformation.

This discussion highlights a pretty common exchange: Americans are nice enough but sort of dull and arrogant -vs- Europeans are sophisticated but really condescending. Neither criticism is exactly true, that's just how both sides come across without meaning to. Americans aren't dull or arrogant by nature or the majority, Americans are confident and goal-oriented. Europeans aren't condescending by nature or the majority, they simply react poorly to American confidence and are warning about the consequences they see.

The biggest divide, though, is that Europe is more socialist, leftist, and atheist than America. The worldview of most Europeans clashes with the worldview of most Americans, and the result is often misunderstanding. What each side takes for granted and the starting point each has are both different and thus it is difficult to find common ground. Americans fly flags because we're proud of our country and want to show support for it. Americans go to church because faith and God is part of the very fabric of our history and personality - we can't imagine not having faith around and in us.

I like this kind of post because it helps understand where we differ and where we can learn and get closer. What I don't like is the presumption that the US needs to catch up to Europe and is the errant, wild, and idiotic child that has to be reigned in all penitent and apologetic. Seems to me there's room for both nations to move together, rather than one or the other standing off with arms crossed and foot tapping.
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"He saw her charming, but he saw not half
The charms her downcast modesty conceal'd."
-James Thompson

I've written about virtues extensively in the past, trying to understand what each virtue is, why it matters, and how to cultivate such virtues. Each virtue is properly a matter of personal responsibility and encouragement from others such as friends and loved ones. Temperance, for example, ceases to be a virtue if it is enforced by the rule of law or forced upon you by culture. Each virtue must be a matter of self determination and personal effort, or they are no longer positive traits, but simply a matter of obedience and fear of repercussion.

Take modesty for example. The feminist Naomi Woolf has not been a big fan of modesty in the past. Most feminists consider modesty a patronistic oppression of women, trying to control their powerful sexuality and keep them under wraps. Women are encouraged to wear and act however they want and condemn others if there are consequences. However, recently, Ms Wolf learned a lesson on modesty.

Porn, she points out, is almost ubiquitous, it is all around us and even is so mainstreamed that young actresses have made their own little videos and "accidentally" climb out of a car showing off their lack of wardrobe. Naomi Wolf suggests that this innundation of provocation, naked women and sexual activity has actually reduced the sexual drive and saturated us to the point of disinterest.
So [fellow feminist Andrea] Dworkin was right that pornography is compulsive, but she was wrong in thinking it would make men more rapacious. A whole generation of men are less able to connect erotically to women—and ultimately less libidinous.

The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking. The evidence is in: Greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity.
Basically, too many men have been too exposed to porn and provocative women around them, and as a result are jaded and difficult to interest. Been there, done that. She points out that positive reinforcement is a powerful tool on humans. If we can achieve pleasure without another person around, then the other person becomes almost superfluous - if what brings you that satisfaction is associated with a kiss, a scent, a smile, a voice, and a person, then that person and all that comes with them will become part of that satisfaction and thus your interest in them. Without that, you become disinterested in the person.

This is an argument that has been made for decades at least by various people, to the blank, flat rejection of many. It was one of the arguments my own mother used to explain why porn was bad. Ms Wolf goes on to point out that feminism got it wrong, at least in this area:
The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros but dilutes it.

Other cultures know this. I am not advocating a return to the days of hiding female sexuality, but I am noting that the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time. In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at pornography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.
Feminism typically understood these restrictions as a male oppression, preventing women from achieving true sexual pleasure, of a cruel and pointless restriction of activity to please an angry and sadistic deity. For real freedom, they argued, you have to be free sexually as well, to do what you wish. The pill made this possible, they argued.

The cost to human souls was higher than they understood - or were willing to admit. It was a convenient lever to damage the family, to get women out and away from their husbands, and to move society toward a desired end, with government in greater control and with greater power and influence. The effect on society was every bit as corrosive and destructive as they'd been warned.

The problem is, I fear the purpose of writing this article was not what you might think. Perhaps I'm being unfair, perhaps I am uncharitable here and am too harsh. You judge:
I will never forget a visit I made to Ilana, an old friend who had become an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. When I saw her again, she had abandoned her jeans and T-shirts for long skirts and a head scarf. I could not get over it. Ilana has waist-length, wild and curly golden-blonde hair. “Can’t I even see your hair?” I asked, trying to find my old friend in there. “No,” she demurred quietly. “Only my husband,” she said with a calm sexual confidence, “ever gets to see my hair.”

When she showed me her little house in a settlement on a hill, and I saw the bedroom, draped in Middle Eastern embroideries, that she shares only with her husband—the kids are not allowed—the sexual intensity in the air was archaic, overwhelming. It was private. It was a feeling of erotic intensity deeper than any I have ever picked up between secular couples in the liberated West. And I thought: Our husbands see naked women all day—in Times Square if not on the Net. Her husband never even sees another woman’s hair.

She must feel, I thought, so hot.
This, I admit, is a good point: if you're the only woman your husband ever sees nude, if the only time you are provoked sexually is by your wife, then it would take significantly less to make you happy and excited. If your spouse only reveals that side of themselves to you, is modest and chaste in public, then that makes it all the more special, and personal. This is for you only.

But I can't help but get the sense that Ms Wolf is less interested in that truth than in finding some way apologize for the way women are treated in radical Islam. To explain why feminism has become strangely quiet about this problem. I suspect that Ms Wolf is not admitting feminism was wrong about porn and sexual "freedom" because she's learned her lesson about ethical behavior, modesty, and the importance of traditional morality in this area. What I see is a back door way to To defend the Drum Principle in which you abandon your stated principles and betray what you claim to stand for because to do otherwise might help what they perceive to be the greater enemy: President Bush.

She ends the article with an anecdote about a college student who is baffled by the concept of the mystery of sex - he's so familiar and inundated with it that there's nothing mysterious or even particularly interesting beyond brute animal attraction. So maybe I'm being uncharitable here. The problem is, modesty, as I started out saying, has to be voluntary and personal, it has to be a matter of responsibility and choice rather than enforced and regulated for it to be a virtue.

Society can gain some of the benefit of the virtue with strict enforcement and legal power. Members of a society can gain some of the positive aspects of modesty if terror of an angry god or fines and imprisonment are the source of that behavior. The problem is, it will be arbitrary - no one will understand why they ought to be modest. It will be external, so that modesty will fulfil the letter of the law, but not it's heart and intent. People will be modest only so far as they are required, not as far as they feel they ought. It will not be anything that feeds the soul of the individual as virtues do, modesty will not be a portion and part of that individual's personality and identity, but something they do when people are watching.

Islamic cultures enforce modesty by rule of law and terror of religion. It is not a virtue that the individuals necessary cultivate, but a trait that they exercise when in public. Some may be individually modest and chaste - and in truth, in a society where law forces a behavior, more are likely to personally choose that because it is how the culture they live in behaves. In the end, however, you face the counterculture dilemma: few will understand why they should behave modestly other than "because I'll be brutally crushed to death with rocks if I do not."

Lacking that understanding and the ability to pass it on to other generations means that the only mechanism left to maintain the appearance of the virtue is tyranny. Once a people are free, they will abandon the requirements they cannot see a reason for, even if that's a bad idea. That's how we got where we are in America today: because too few were able to articulate, let alone understand, how we ought to behave and why.
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Quote of the Day

"If you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance for survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves."
-Winston Churchill
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Wednesday, June 27, 2007


"It is the path of least resistance that makes rivers and men crooked."
-B. J. Palmer.

What should every adult know how to do? This isn't a trick question or a lead in to a joke, it's a serious question. What tasks or information should every human have comfortably under control by the time they are an adult?

Robert Heinlein answered the question this way:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
I am not so sure about all of those, but some of them absolutely. Some of them are obvious, some have been all but lost. Dr Helen donned her pajamas and looked at this idea for her advice column at Pajamas Media:
Rather than focus on whether or not human beings should specialize, I present my personal list of what I think an adult should be able to do in order to make it in our modern society [summarized, go read her column for the details!]:
  • Drive a stick shift
  • Be able to swim a reasonable distance
  • Surf the web and answer an email
  • Understand and be able to use a basic handgun
  • Give a good backrub.
Dr. Helen asked for suggestions from the readers, and she got 76 in the comments section. Here are some highlights:
For men:

Cook a simple meal.

In public restrooms, flush. Wipe the seat dry, if you've left it wet. (Do as you wish at home.)

For everyone:

Use turn signals when appropriate.

Accept a compliment graciously, and without self-denigration.
-by Curly

The ability to read and comprehend what is read, and to communicate effectively. To understand basic mathematics without the aid of a tool (cash register, calculator). An adult should also be aware of their responsibilities as a citizen of the country where they reside, and undertake to fulfill their responsibilities. Finally an adult should be able to use their brain to think before they act.
-by Jim

Balance a checkbook correctly.

Understand the distinction between being articulate and being right.

Name their Congresscritter and Senators.
-by Kent

From Jeff Cooper's Commentaries, Vol. 13, No. 10:

"What should a young male of 21 know and what should he be able to do?... We agreed upon "civics" or what was called American government. A young man should know how this country is run and how it got that way. He should know the Federalist Papers and de Tocqueville, and he should know recent world history."

"A young man should be computer literate, and moreover should know Hemingway from James Joyce. He should know how to drive a car well - such as is not covered in "Driver Ed." He should know how to fly a light airplane. He should know how to shoot well. He should know elementary geography, both worldwide and local. He should have a cursory knowledge of both zoology and botany. He should know the fundamentals of agriculture and corporate economy. He should be well qualified in armed combat, boxing, wrestling, judo, or the equivalent. He should know how to manage a motorcycle. He should be comfortable in at least one foreign language, and more if appropriate to his background. He should be familiar with remedial medicine."
-by Bill

Understanding the local language. That means knowing "pop" is the word for coke in the south, "hold" is a word for many things in West Virgina, and if you live on the Mexican border, some spanish like "como estas usted", "Estay aqui", you get the drift.(point)
-by Terry

An adult should be able to:

Read a map and navigate using compass points and not landmarks.

Tell time.

Make change when handling money.

Use a telephone, a screwdriver, and a can opener.

Groom themselves and otherwise at least minimally maintain their own personal hygiene.
-by Transplanted Lawyer

Know how to deliver a baby
-by Katherine

I'm more interested in figuring out the characteristics of a skill an adult should be able to do than in compiling a laundry list of such skills. The first is a philosophical exercise, and if done properly can inform us of our motives in requiring certain things of an adult. The second, as I've seen in far too many comments today, can easily descend into a schoolmarmish lecture about what all the rest of us should know. I'd bet not one of those would-be improvers of humanity is incapable of doing anything they themselves listed. They are being smug. I invite them, and you and me, to be more introspective and insightful.

I can see four reasons to expect an adult to be able to do something on the spot, without significant ramp-up time:

1. The skill is useful for participation in daily life as an adult. This one is obvious. Driving, emailing, writing, speaking, all fall into this category.

2. The skill must be exercised at once and with reasonable skill to be useful in some fairly common case. This is typical of various emergency skills, like CPR and the use of a handgun. If you can't do the Heimlich maneuver as soon as the guy starts choking, you don't have time to dig up a book and practice with a partner.

3. The skill or knowledge is a prerequisite for informed discussion about some prominent issue of the day. Science education certainly belongs in this category. A general knowledge of firearms probably does as well; it would be nice if the next person to suggest that "assault rifles" fire more powerful ammunition than deer rifles were to be laughed off the dais.

4. It violates the principle of least surprise not to have a skill or area of knowledge. You may not need to know anything about Shakespeare in order to get along, but you'll have some really awkward conversations if everyone else does and expects you to as well. This is strongly dependent on one's surroundings -- one group's Shakespeare is another group's Pete Wentz -- but I'd want my children not to feel out of place in an educated and civilized milieu, and I don't really care how they relate to fans of Fall Out Boy.

Any reactions to these criteria? What have I left out? What shouldn't I have put in?
-by Chuck Hardin
I have a few suggestions to add:
  • Find a book in a library
  • Know and understand your worldview
  • Argue with logic
  • Live within your means
  • Spell, in compete sentences and words, KTHXBYE
  • Do basic arithmetic without a calculator or cash register
  • Change a tire
  • Know and understand their country's Constitution
  • Keep a secret
  • Basic First Aid
  • Deal with most disasters (flood, earthquake, food shortage)
  • Understand that because something is in print does not automatically make it reliable or true
  • Understand statistics enough to doubt and mistrust polls
  • Cook from scratch
  • Do basic handyman stuff (saw a board, drill a hole, fix a leak)
  • Start a fire
  • Be happy without needing others or chemicals
This is a lot, right? Well it is, but then, you can't call yourself an adult until you've made it through at least a decade and a half of life to study and learn these things, or more. And being an adult brings with it responsibilities, which means you need to be the one that others can look to and lean on when the time comes. Without knowing these things, you cannot be that person. These are basic tasks that most people knew before they were 13 in the past, today we're lucky if someone knows half of them by the time they retire.

I know I can't do everything people list here, and I ought to be able to.

Any other suggestions?
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