31 August 2006


Patrick O'Brian's naval mastery (Robert Messenger, New Criterion, 5/05)
The Royal Navy stumbled badly on the outbreak of war against America in 1812. In August, the USS Constitution sank the HMS Guerrière. In October, the USS United States captured the HMS Macedonian, and in December the Constitution sank the HMS Java off the coast of Brazil. The tiny American navy—six frigates were all the capital ships it mustered on the outbreak of war—was managing what the much larger and more experienced fleets of Napoleonic France, Spain, and Holland had failed to do: beat the British in a straight fight.

When the eighteen-gun brig USS Hornet sank the equal-sized HMS Peacock in under fifteen minutes in February 1813, the navy of Nelson seemed to have lost its aura of victory. But, honor was restored on June 1 when Captain Philip Broke and HMS Shannon captured the USS Chesapeake, one of the U.S. Navy’s frigates, in a short violent ship-to-ship action just outside of Boston harbor. Shannon’s disciplined gunnery killed so many of the Chesapeake’s officers and crew that the British were able to board and easily capture a ship that carried many more men.

It has never been established why the American captain, James Lawrence, took his ship out of safe harbor and into action that June day. He may have wanted to test his youthful crew and take them away from the temptations of port or perhaps he simply underestimated the professionalism of the Royal Navy after the string of U.S. victories.

While history doesn’t answer the question, fiction can. In his novel The Fortune of War—the sixth in the Aubrey/Maturin series—Patrick O’Brian created impetus for Lawrence’s impetuousness. He goes into battle to recapture Dr. Stephen Maturin who has escaped from Boston with papers that describe the whole of the French-American intelligence operations in England and Europe. Lawrence’s failure becomes, in O’Brian, a double victory for the British— in the naval and the clandestine war....

Over the course of twenty books, we follow these two through great victories and shattering defeats, through wealth, poverty, success and failure in love, and family. We grow to love them because of the delight the author himself takes in their adventures. The books are more reminiscent of Jane Austen—especially her most naval novel, Persuasion—than of C. S. Forester. It is almost a cliché to compare O’Brian and Austen. (O’Brian enthusiasts like to point out the similarity between the names JAne AUsten and JAck AUbrey.) It is easy to imagine the Bennet girls turning up for a dance, and a chance to meet eligible naval officers, at Aubrey’s residences at Melbury Lodge or Ashgrove Cottage, just as it is easy to imagine Maturin visiting an old friend at Lyme Regis and meeting the families from Uppercross Cottage, or Admiral Croft or Captain Wentworth or William Price appearing at one of Aubrey’s ports of call. O’Brian wrote up as history what Austen wrote up as life.
It is now de rigeur to compare O'Brian with Austen, and far be it from me to complain. As much as I love the O'Brian books, though, I notice that no one ever introduces Jane Austen by comparing her to Patrick O'Brian. In the end, O'Brian is done in by the demands of genre. Aubrey cannot be promoted, nor can he be allowed to keep a fortune. Maturin may never grow too disgusted of spying for the hated British Empire, nor wholly succumb to one of his many addictions. Stung by criticism, O'Brian towards the end starts killing off important characters, and some minor characters sail off never to be seen again, but relatively early in the series we see that we have reached equilibrium. The characters are who and what they are, fated to grow in some ways, contract in others, but never to suffer essential change.

This is, oddly enough, one of a number of similarities between the Aubrey/Maturin books, and Star Trek, which was loosely based on the Horatio Hornblower books. Genre demands that Aubrey be kept in frigates just as Kirk must be kept on the Enterprise. The familiar members of both crews must be preserved, though red coats and red shirts can both be killed off promiscuously. The technologies are similarly arcane. O'Brian, of course, has a leg up on understanding the nuances and implications of his technology, but if suddenly transported into one of these fictional worlds, we would be more likely able to operate the USS Enterprise than HMS Surprise. Even the characterisations are similar, Aubrey and Maturin between them splitting up the roles given to Kirk, McCoy and Spock. As I've noted here before, O'Brian's great novel -- legitimately mentioned with Austen's great novels -- is the first four books, through The Mauritius Command. The other sixteen are simply extraordinarily well-written genre novels.

More pertinently, Austen inspired O’Brian’s artfully simple writing. Each had a great gift for characterization and for drawing the reader into another world:

"I never was a great reader,” said Jack. His friends looked down at their wine and smiled. “I mean I never could get along with your novels and tales. Admiral Burney—Captain Burney then—lent me one wrote by his sister when we were coming back with a slow convoy from the West Indies; but I could not get through with it—sad stuff, I thought. Though I dare say the fault was in me, just as some people cannot relish music; for Burney thought the world of it, and he was as fine a seaman as any in the service. He sailed with Cook, and you cannot say fairer than that.”

“That is the best qualification for a literary critic I ever heard of,” said Yorke. “What was the name of the book?”

“There you have me,” said Jack. “But it was a small book, in three volumes, I think; and it was all about love. Every novel I have ever looked into is all about love; and I have looked into a good many, because Sophie loves them, and I read aloud to her while she knits, in the evening. All about love.”

“Of course they are,” said Yorke. “What else raises your blood, your spirits, your whole being, to the highest pitch, so that life is triumphant, or tragic, as the case may be, and so that every day is worth a year of common life? When you sit trembling for a letter? When the whole of life is filled with meaning, double-shotted? To be sure, when you actually come to what some have called the right true end, you may find the position ridiculous, and the pleasure momentary; but novels, upon the whole, are concerned with getting there. And for that matter, what else makes the world go round?”

“Why as to that,” said Jack, “I have nothing against the world’s going round: indeed, I am rather in favour of it. But as for raising your spirits to the highest pitch, what do you say about hunting, or playing for high stakes? What do you say about war, about going into action?”

“Come, Aubrey, you must have observed that love is a kind of war; you must have seen the analogy.”
Aubreyana is coming to be as immersive a fictional world as Star Trek. There are sites in which O'Brian fans discuss the books (and everything else) at great length; fan books that collect recipes for the meals served throughout the books (including those involving rats); cds of the music played by Aubrey and Maturin; and any number of websites collecting favorite passages from the books (including my favorite "Aubreyism": Autres pays, autre merde (other countries, other s***)). Mr. Messenger lists some of the many references that have sprung up to help the reader navigate the books, but misses my personal favorite, Anthony Gary Brown's Persons, Animals, Ships and Cannon in the Aubrey-Maturin Sea Novels of Patrick O'Brian. This book delivers exactly what the title promises: a list and explanation of every person, animal, ship and cannon named in the Aubrey/Maturin, you should excuse the expression, canon.

Looking into the passage Mr. Messenger quotes above, we learn the following about the real life Admiral Burney:
Burney, Admiral

A Captain under whom Jack Aubrey had once served, and who had himself sailed with Captain Cook. His sister was a novelist (FW 2).
James Burney (1745?-1821), a son of the composer Charles Burney (1726-1814), sailed under *Cook, as Midshipman and, from 1773, Lieutenant. Made Post in 1782, he was placed on the retired list in 1804 and not promoted Reear Admiral-still on the retired list-until 1821. His sister, Fanny Burney (1752-1840), spent her youth in the glittering literary societry cultivated by her father and published her own first novel Evelina in 1778, then going on to enjoy success with Cecilia (1782) and Camilla (1796), all about the entry of beautiful young women into the world of social experience. Fanny, also a prodigious essayist and letter-writer, in 1793 had married an exiled French Royalist General, d'Arblay; during the Peace of Amiens of 1802, they visited France but were arrested and interned until 1812. Brown at 65.
Not only is there a Captain Burney, but he really had a sister and she was really a novelist. More to the point, it turns out the Fanny Burney, whose novel Aubrey considered sad stuff, is a important novelist called, by Virginia Woolf, the mother of English fiction. The joke within the joke within the joke is that being as fine a seaman as any in the service is good qualification for being a literary critic.

O'Brian's life was likely not a happy one. O'Brian spends a surprising amount of space, for sea novels, bemoaning the lot of the writer. Publishers and book-sellers are dismissed, again and again, as descritable cheats who look only to mulct the poor writer of his fruits of his labor. (In the best of these, a sea officer-poet is complaining about publishing delays: "I was about to say they were the most hellish procrastinators--:" "Oh how dreadful," cried Fanny. "Do they go to--to special houses, or do they...") Given that a second minor theme running through the books from beginning to end is the uselessness of the aristocracy, it is somewhat ironic that the forturne O'Brian finally won with his pen ended up with his stepson, Count Nikolai Tolstoy.

At the end of his life, his writing also brought him infamy. A biographer discovered that he had abandoned his first family, including his desperately ill daughter, in order to run off with another man's wife (the erstwhile Countess Tolstoy). I am deconstructionist enough to let the books speak for themselves. Knowing that Jack Aubrey would dismiss O'Brian as a mere scrub does not, I find, much effect my enjoyment of his work. It does render parts (as when, for example, Stephen's wife abandons their seemingly autistic daughter or Stephen brushes asise another character's confession to infancticide as of no moment) retrospectively troubling.

I don't hesitate, though, to give O'Brian the last word:
'As for Gibbon, now,' said Stephen when they were settled by the fire again, 'I do remember the first lines. They ran "It is dangerous to entrust the conduct of nations to men who have learned from their profession to consider reason as the instrument of dispute, and to interpret the laws according to the dictates of private interest; and the mischief has been felt, even in countries where the practice of the bar may deserve to be considered as a liberal occupation." He thought - and he was a very intelligent man, of prodigious reading - that the fall of the Empire was caused at least in part by the prevalence of lawyers. Men who are accustomed over a long series of years to supposing that whatever can somehow be squared with the law is right - or if not right then allowable - are not useful members of society; and when they reach positions of power in the state they are noxious. They are people for whom ethics can be summed up by the collected statutes. Tully, for example, thought himself a good man, though he openly boasted of having deceived the jury in the case of Cluentius; and he was quite as willing to defend Catiline in the first place as he was to attack him in the second. It is all of a piece throughout: they are men who tend to resign their own conscience to another's keeping, or to disregard it entirely. To the question "What are your sentiments when you are asked to defend a man you know to be guilty?" many will reply "I do not know him to be guilty until the judge, who has heard both sides, states that he is guilty." This miserable sophistry, which disregards not only epistemology but also the intuitive perception that informs all daily intercourse, is sometimes merely formular, yet I have known men who have so prostituted their intelligence that they believe it.'

A Use For The Blog Revenue

Panasonic to sell $80,000 TV set (Reuters, 8/31/06)
Panasonic said on Thursday it would start selling the world's largest television set, featuring a 103-inch (262-centimetre) screen, for $80,000.

30 August 2006

Our People Are Our Most Important Spam

RadioShack Uses E-Mail to Fire Employees (AP, 8/30/06)
RadioShack Corp. notified about 400 workers by e-mail that they were being dismissed immediately as part of planned job cuts.

Employees at the Fort Worth headquarters got messages Tuesday morning saying: "The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately, your position is one that has been eliminated."
Our goal is to be the first person fired by blog.

29 August 2006

The Impotence Of Being Ernesto

Tropical storm, and former hurricane, Ernesto made landfall in Florida today, bringing the total number of hurricanes to hit the US this year to, um, none. Cable news outlets lavished blanket coverage on the rainstorm. The DrudgeReport noted that this was a welcome relief to hurricane-weary residents of Florida, who have had to battle no hurricanes so far this year.

Ernestos stubborn refusal to regain strength was a particular affront to forecaseters, who had been breathlessly noting that he would be traveling over very warm water. It has become a item of faith over the last two years that warm water leads to strong hurricanes, that global warming leads to warm water and that George Bush leads to global warming. Ernesto, adding insult to, well, the lack of much injury, ignored the fact that President Bush was actually in the gulf region today, marking the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

We're All Entitled To Unreasoning Hatreds...

But what is it with Lou Gots and baseball caps?

28 August 2006

No Room At The Inn

From London's Sunday Times comes word that one in five Brits is seriously considering emigrating due to high taxes and crime. One of the taxes that people apparently don't like is the estate tax. In NRO's Corner, they seem to think that a wave of British immigrants will be good news for the US. Apparently, they've forgotten that time long ago (July, wasn't it?) when the US couldn't possibly take in any more immigrants. Guess we'll have to turn them all away...

But enough about us. What do the British think of us? The most interesting thing about this poll is that it is another indication -- as was the suggestion by a Labour minister that the inheritance tax should be ended -- that the post-war British settlement is coming apart. The settlement is being pulled apart by forces that should be familiar; Britain half wants to be us and half wants to be France. They can't decide between the free market and socialism. Each beckons, neither wins.

An American, looking across the Atlantic, suspects that it all comes down to the National Health Service. The British don't love their government run medicine the way the Canadians do (the Canadians venerate socialist medicine like Americans venerate the Declaration of Independence) but can't imagine giving it up. The NHS, though, is not just the NHS, it presupposes an entire cradle to grave welfare state. Will the whole thing crumble or will the last Brit turn off the last light in the last NHS surgery? Someone be sure to let us know, we'll be too busy looking west to notice.

26 August 2006

Israel Win Or Lose Redux

Bloggers and their ilk are revisiting the question of whether Israel or Hezbollah won their recent little war. The conventional wisdom is shifting at least a little towards Israel in the blogosphere, although not, apparently, in Israel. I'll stand pat for now at a tactical win for Israel but a strategic win for Hezbollah. If, however, the Euros can really insert a 15,000 man international force into south Lebanon, Hezbollah's strategic victory will become a huge defeat.

25 August 2006

Emails, We Get Emails

The electronic postman today drags over the electronic transom the following email: Do you consider your self to be a casuistrist?

My first reaction is that I'm awfully tempted, but the outfits seem likely to be too expensive and kind of sweaty.*

My second response is that I certainly am a professional casuistrist. Personally, I am too. I am too skeptical of the limits of human reason and foresight to fully trust where logic takes me. Logic is both overinclusive and underinclusive, ruling out some actions that must be down while allowing some actions that ought not be done. I am a great believer that one should not let morality stop one from doing what is right, but only, I suppose in the extreme case.

The real problem is that I don't trust the rest of you with this powerful tool. In the best of all worlds, I get to be a casuistrist, while the rest of you must be rule bound.

* An old joke but a good one; perhaps done best by Patrick O'Brien by having a character ask, after two men are described as dreadful procrastinators, whether they "go to special houses."

Your Democratic Part: Not Completely Out Of Touch With Reality

From the Kansas City Star:
Joe’s still got a home

Democratic chief Howard Dean was asked whether he would welcome Sen. Joe Lieberman back to the party if he wins the election: "… If he were to win, we would welcome him back in the Democratic Caucus. We’re a big tent party, and we accept all kinds of folks, and we’re happy to have them."

Optimistic Iraqis

The second great blogging conundrum, right after "Should I become rich by turning this into a porn site?", is whether to link to things that Instapundit has already linked. Ordinarily, my answer is no, but this is too interesting to me to miss. Instapundit links, via a post at Daily Dispatch, to this mildly optimistic poll of Iraqis. Note that Iraqis are strongly against splitting the country into three parts, support the new government, and think that the country will be better off in 6 months. They also are watching more TV. All those things together seem almost miraculous.

24 August 2006

Hanging A Lantern On Starsky and Hutch

I've been sporadically watching the first few episodes of the BBC series Life On Mars. Thoroughly modern Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler is investigating a serial murderer of young women, has just broken up with his girl friend and is burning out at work. His girl friend, who is also a detective, tells him that he used to have hunches, but now all he has is procedures. She goes off to follow up on a hunch, and is kidnapped by the murderer. In the aftermath, Sam fails to pay sufficient attention and is hit by a car.

Sam wakes up in 1973. His car and wardrobe match his surroundings. He is now a Detective Inspector, assigned to a CID Unit. The DCI in charge is nothing but gut and is resolutely old fashioned. The squad has been beaten down, more or less literally, and do things as the "Guv" wants. This is mid-70s policing at its most politically incorrect. Sam's insistence that procedure, patterns, forensics and blood splatters can help is dismissed as "gay boy" policing. Sam's insistence that the immigrant workers be referred to as the "immigrant work force" leads to lots of eye-rolling. Sometimes Sam's modern knowledge helps, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's just irrelevant in a world in which the simplest lab report takes two weeks to come back.

The show pretends to be a psychological study in which we must choose among three alternative. Sam is from 1973, but is crazy. Sam is from 2006, but has really traveled back to 1973. Sam is from 2006, but is hallucinating while in a coma after his car accident. There are long internet debates on which is right, along with coy internet comments from the writers and producers. In truth, nothing about the show could matter less.

Clearly, the producers wanted to remake Starsky and Hutch. Sam and his DCI charge around in a hot car. They drive backwards down one way streets and do 360s. The DCI threatens, and sometimes beats, witnesses and the accused. They jump over desks and run out after the perps, they get in gun fights and fight each other and other cops. It's a 1970s cop show about the by-the-book cop and his wild streetwise partner made to the production standards of the oughts. But you simply can't do that sort of show in the oughts -- if you try to do it without irony. Thus, the po-mo solution to the politically correct problem is to hang a lantern on it: this is not a 70s cop show, it's a show about a 70s cop show, complete with a point-of-view character who is so detached that he's not even really there, or maybe just not all there.

The 70s scenery is fun, the characters are interesting, the mysteries are good enough; I recommend the show to those who get BBC America (Mondays at 10:00 pm).

A note: Margaret Thatcher, at the time Education Secretary in the Heath government, hangs over the show like an anvil, unmentioned but inevitable.


Pluto Is No Longer a Planet, Astronomers Say (William J. Kole, AP, 8/24/06)
Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.
I have no idea what this is supposed to mean:
It was unclear how Pluto's demotion might affect the mission of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which earlier this year began a 961/27-year journey to the oddball object to unearth more of its secrets.
It is now the first probe to a Dwarf Planet. We ignore these phenomena at our peril.

Now, on to the Moon.

23 August 2006

Scary To Think That We're The Stupid Party

Ann Althouse has a op-ed in today's New York Times about the recent district court decision staying the NSA's TSP wiretapping program. Althouse makes the legal process point that an legal opinion that does not explain its reasoning fails the most basic requirement for the exercise of the judicial power. Though she does not take an opinion on the substance of the decision, she does say that the issues presented are difficult and the answers not obvious.

She has obviously been attacked by the moonbats. Of all the comments left at her blog attacking her, this is my favorite:
Your pithy commentary on a rather black and white issue is a pretty blatant slandering attempt to cloud the ruling which the people of the United States deserve. Not only was it dissappointing to read your pontification on the ramifications or circumstances surrounding the ruling, but your lack of execution with respect to directly citing anything but sparse references from the verbiage of the decision made your editorial borderline yellow. Our country, the greatest in the history of the human civilization, is such because of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. Federal Judges are elected to uphold that. You and your Judicial Watch friends are a jeopardy to our country. We'd live in a plutocracy if you'd have it your way. The framers are turning over in their graves are you fools continue to marry the desecration of basic liberties in the Bill of Rights to security. And before you tout your fascism, for the record, I am a New Yorker, and I am a 9/11 survivor. So what the hell do you know about being attacked. Give me liberty or give me death.
Althouse organizes her op-ed around a theme of irony. How ironic that many on the left are so ignorant.

22 August 2006

Two-Thirds Home

Long time readers of the blog will know that I have the honor to lead a small movement of like-minded people dedicated to replacing Pluto on the roll of planets with the Moon. Today, word comes from Prague that the IAU has revised its proposed planetary definition so that it wouldn't include Pluto. Even better, they've done so using a definition based on gravity and orbit. Soon, their pretence that Earth/Moon is not a double planet will crumble.

Also, this quote from the article is precious: "Some people think that the astronomers will look stupid if we can’t agree on a definition or if we don’t even know what a planet is," said Dr. Pasachoff of Williams College. "But someone pointed out that this definition will hold for all time and that it is more important to get it right."


Ben & Jerry's protest the fact that we spend more on education than on the military, that we spend the third most per student in the world, and that we get such poor results.

Well, that's what I think it said. They used big words.

Dual Use

Ann Althouse points to this story about a dispute over installing "black boxes" in private automobiles. I responded with this comment:
What a terrible article.

What's really going on is that these devices are part of the airbag system.

When airbags first came out, they were one size fits all. Your front end would crumple, the airbag would deploy and, if you were a normal sized person, it would likely saver your life. Unfortunately, if you were short or fat or an infant, it might kill you. And sometimes the airbag would deploy for no reason at all. Of course, the car companies got criticized and got sued. They then developed a new airbag system.

Modern airbags inflate differently depending upon the situation. The trigger is more sophisticated, so airbags don't go off unexpectedly. But in order to work properly, they need to keep track of the last few seconds of driving data in order to tell what speed the car is going, whether it's been braking, is it suddenly decelerating from hitting something, etc.

A few years ago, insurance companies and lawyers discovered that they could recover the last information monitered by the airbag controller. So they could tell, for example, whether a person in an accident had been braking, or how fast they were going.

This was kind of spotty, however. There wasn't any uniform information, nor was the device particularly well protected. The insurance companies lobbied the car companies to beef up the devices, and the car companies realized that it might be in their interest, too. (For example, during the sudden acceleration scare they could have proven that the driver was pressing down on the gas.)

That was the state of play when the ACLU and the government got involved.

So, if you have a relatively new car with a modern airbag system in it, you have some version of these "black boxes," and you can't take them out because, if you did, the airbags wouldn't work.
You can't possibly understand this story with knowing the history, and the author included none of it. Even worse, the history is more interesting than the story.

Q: What Did The Mohel Say To The Nervous Parents?

Will Saletan wades into the growing controversy over circumcision, HIV and the intactivist movement. If non-Jews don't want to circumcise their children, it's perfectly alright with me, but the intactivists do tend to be nuts.

A: It won't be long now.

Please Stand By...

Is anyone (else) having trouble loading the blog in Firefox?


This isn't the sickest thing I've heard of that's not itself violent crime, but it's close.

What can we do with people who are sexually fixated on the pre-pubescent? Kill them, incarcerate them for life, castrate them (actually or chemically), tattoo them, tag them, just let them live in the community until convicted of a crime and after being released? None of the alternatives is attractive, but the one we adopt by default seems the most problematic.

21 August 2006

What's The Point Of National Tragedy If Not To Confirm Our Biases

Over the weekend, I read Popular Mechanics' newly published book length and updated version of their article Debunking 9/11 Myths. The book is everything James Lileks says that it is: "sane, logical, unemotional, sensible, comprehensive." It will debunk nothing, because this is not a matter for rational argument. I am particularly indebted to the Amazon reviewer "G. Duenas" for pithily capturing this dynamic: Nice Try. Two words [sic] Loose Change.Any [sic] one with half brain who dears [sic] to watch this movie(Loose change) [sic] will then know the truth about 9/11.

Rational argument never works unless the participants have, before hand, agreed to the rules by which they will be bound. They must agree, for example, to the mini-fascism of evidence-based argument. That George Bush planned 9/11 is an ideologically driven conclusion (for those of the appropriate ideology) that must eschew evidence. But if the evidence doesn't matter, how can there be an argument?

Hey, You! G-d! Get Your Butt Over Here!

From the Boston Globe we read about the charming (and apparently wide-spread) custom of buying a statue of St. Joseph (Jesus' father, I believe) and burying him upside down facing a building you want to sell.
Donald Ward Cranley doesn’t need to look at the latest economic indicators to know how the real estate market is faring. He just checks the inventory in his shop, Ward’s Gifts, on High Street in Medford.

If sales of the beige, 5-inch St. Joseph statues are slow, it means the real estate market is strong. If sales are brisk, the market is weak. Lately, all signs point to a real estate meltdown: He’s selling 300 statues a month.

"We can’t keep them in stock," he said. "Everybody comes in here looking for them. Realtors are buying a dozen at a time."

St. Joseph statues have long been used by sellers to help move property. Tradition has it that if you bury a statue upside down and facing the property you are trying to sell, St. Joseph will direct a buyer your way.
Long-time readers will know that I am something of a Catholicphile. But here I've got to say that I'm down with the Protestants. G-d is not your servant and, even if He were tempted to help you sell your house, why would burying a statue of His dad upside down catch his attention? In a good way?


The Resurgent Taliban.





UPDATE (From Peter B) Resurgent Canadians: Canadian trap claims dozens of Taliban casualties
Less than three hours after taking command of Canada's battle group in southern Afghanistan, Lt.-Col. Omer Lavoie sprang what amounted to a carefully laid trap on Taliban insurgents that left as many as 72 militants dead with Canadian troops suffering no casualties and Afghan forces only a handful.

Blogging May Be Spotty For The Next 4 Days

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees begin their August series at Boston today and will play 5 games in 4 days, starting with a double header today. The Yankees are currently leading the American League East by 1.5 games over the Red Sox. Both teams are looking pretty beat-up and neither team has been able to rely on its pitching for the last two weeks. In the last few years, the Yanks and Sox have been in a late summer fight to win the East, but both teams pretty much knew that they would both make it into the playoffs. This year, it looks like only one team from the East will be in the playoffs -- and that team could well be the convincing winner of this series (if there is no convincing winner, we might have to wait until the mid-September 4 games series in New York to find out who's going on into October). Since both teams, by definition, will have had a terrible year if the other team goes further than they do, this series is for the whole enchilada.

UPDATE: Saturday Morning. Those were two ugly games, made uglier by the fact that the Red Sox lost both of them. How either team hopes to get very far in the playoffs with their bullpens playing at this level is a mystery.

UPDATE: Monday Morning. I can see how sloppy drafting might have given the impression that it is the August series that matters. Careful reading would have disclosed to the more discerning reader that it is, in fact, the series in New York that really matters. This year, that is the September series. The August series, held in Boston this year, doesn't matter at all.

How To Make National Health Care Cheaper

Four Canadians, three with PhDs and one a PhD candidate affiliated with English and Nursing departments at two Canadian Universities, have published an article denouncing evidence-based health science as a fascist plot:

Drawing on the work of the late French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari, the objective of this paper is to demonstrate that the evidence-based movement in the health sciences is outrageously exclusionary and dangerously normative with regards to scientific knowledge. As such, we assert that the evidence-based movement in health sciences constitutes a good example of microfascism at play in the contemporary scientific arena.


The philosophical work of Deleuze and Guattari proves to be useful in showing how health sciences are colonised (territorialised) by an all-encompassing scientific research paradigm - that of post-positivism - but also and foremost in showing the process by which a dominant ideology comes to exclude alternative forms of knowledge, therefore acting as a fascist structure.


The Cochrane Group, among others, has created a hierarchy that has been endorsed by many academic institutions, and that serves to (re)produce the exclusion of certain forms of research. Because 'regimes of truth' such as the evidence-based movement currently enjoy a privileged status, scholars have not only a scientific duty, but also an ethical obligation to deconstruct these regimes of power.
The entire article can be read here.

It is tempting to end with this paragraph, from their conclusion:
The evidence-based enterprise invented by the Cochrane Group has captivated our thinking for too long, creating for itself an enchanting image that reaches out to researchers
and scholars. However, in the name of efficiency, effectiveness and convenience, it simplistically supplants all heterogeneous thinking with a singular and totalising ideology. The all-embracing economy of such ideology lends the Cochrane Group’s disciples a profound sense of entitlement, what they take as a universal right to control the scientific agenda. By a so-called scientific consensus, this ‘regime of truth’ ostracises those with 'deviant’ forms of knowledge, labelling them as rebels and rejecting their work as scientifically unsound. This reminds us of a famous statement by President George W Bush in light of the September 11 events: ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists’. In the context of the EBM, this absolutely polarising world view resonates vividly: embrace the EBHS or else be condemned as recklessly non-scientific.
Note the artistry of the reference to the 9/11 "events." (We certainly can't call them attacks.) This puts it about right: you can be with the US, GWB and the West, or you can be with our enemies. No evidence-based micro-facism there.

But I'm not going to end there, because the real fun is the Acknowledgment: "Dave Holmes and Amélie Perron would like to thank the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Gender and Health for funding. Stuart Murray and Geneviève Rail would like to thank the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for funding." If I depended upon the Canadian state for my healthcare, I might be nervous about their funding an argument against evidence-based heath science. Then again, the native shamans might not have as long a waiting list.

UPDATE: Mini-fascism spreads: Medical advice: Know your shaman (Reuters, 8/16/06)
Peru's government warned people to be wary of fake medicine men offering cure-all miracle herb potions Tuesday, after a bogus brew killed a man hoping to shake off a spell of bad luck.

20 August 2006

That Would Be Some Mattress

The Drudge Report is trying to gin up a controversy over reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is part of a consortium loaning money for the acquisition of some newspapers in California and Minnesota. As Drudge points out, this is not a philanthropic purpose.

But what does Drudge think the Foundation does with its money. Keep it in the mattress or the back room? Obviously, the Foundation invests the money and uses the return on its investment to either grow its principal or increase its grants. In fact, the Gates Foundation's financial reports on online. Its 2005 report shows, along with a bunch of other things, assets of $29 billion, investments of $28.7 billion, investment income of $1.4 billion and total revenues of $1.86 billion. On the other hand, the Foundation made grants of $1.56 billion and had total expences of $1.7 billion. So the Foundation "made" $152 million last year.

This Vote Is A Referendum On . . . Oops, Never Mind.

ABCNews notes that John Kerry attacked Joe Lieberman today on This Week, calling him "the new Cheney."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., blasted a fellow Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, for continuing his bid in the Connecticut Senate race despite a narrow loss to newcomer Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary earlier this month.

"I'm concerned that [Lieberman] is making a Republican case," Kerry told ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" in an exclusive appearance. . . .

"Joe Lieberman is out of step with the people of Connecticut," Kerry added, insisting Lieberman's stance on Iraq, "shows you just why he got in trouble with the Democrats there."
And when he wins, will John Kerry admit that Connecticut supports the war? The idea that Joe Lieberman will ever caucus with the Republicans is nuts. Lieberman is a liberal, through and through -- including in his reasons for supporting the Iraq War. So, the Democrats don't run the risk of losing the Senate because Joe Lieberman votes for the Republican slate when the next Senate is organized. Rather, they run the risk of losing the Senate because their opposition to Lieberman makes clear that they have become a one issue party, and on that issue they've left the American people behind.

Update: Quinnipiac now has the race at Lieberman 53, Lamont 41

BrothersJudd Blog: BE GLORIOUS, DAMN YOU!

Kill Yuppie Scum" The backlash against neoliberalism (John Derbyshire, NRO, 1/26/04)
The story of the past quarter-century ? a convenient starting marker would be the election of Margaret Thatcher on May 3, 1979 [footnote omitted] ? has been the triumph of what is loosely called neoliberalism, a belief in open markets with minimal restraints on trade between nations, free movements of peoples, and the dismantling of huge state-owned enterprises and regulatory bodies. This has been a very wonderful thing, and I shouldn't like to leave you with any misunderstanding as to how I feel about it. I am old enough to remember the previous regime, at least in England, and believe me, neoliberalism is way better than what went before.

As is the nature of all human things, though, the new synthesis has generated a new antithesis. Neoliberalism has its dark side. When neoliberalism was first promoted in China by Deng Xiaoping, it was launched with the slogan: "To get rich is glorious!" So, indeed, it must have seemed to the cowed, brutalized survivors of Mao Tse-tung's 30-year experiment in egalitarian communism. And so it is: Personal wealth produces a great deal of vulgar display and vapid hedonism, but it also patronizes great art, gives the leisure for public service, and supplies the wherewithal for works of charity.

The dark side of neoliberalism is inequality. Every country that has embraced the new order has seen the gap between rich and poor grow wider. Not all of us have entrepreneurial talents; not all of us ? very few of us, in fact ? have the ability to get rich. Now of course, a rising tide lifts all boats, and the neoliberal order has blessed not only those who enriched themselves, but hundreds of millions of others, too. Not only has it lifted us up, it has supplied us with a plethora of goods and services that did not exist 30 years ago, and that would never have been brought into existence by any state-managed bureaucracy, or any Dictatorship of the Proletariat, or any of those labor-industry-government partnerships so fondly imagined by leftist economists of the 1970s.
I very much like John Derbyshire. His occassional essays for National Review and NRO are pithy and even elegant. His Calvin Coolidge novel is excellent. I very much want to read his mathematics book, though I have no interest in the subject matter. When it comes to the beauty of of prime numbers, I am as a blind man in a convention of the deaf.

But what the heck is he talking about. He doesn't want us to mistake his love of neoliberalism, one of the crowning achievements of which is the free movement of people. Well, gee, John, how could we have come to make that mistake? (Tangentially, hasn't it been fun these last few weeks to watch NRO lambast the President for his immigration plan, on the one hand, and argue that conservatives must support him, on the other?)

Like many conservatives, Mr. Derbyshire is uncomfortable with democratic capitalism. In this, his name is nicely poetic. Like Tolkien, he harks back wistfully to the way things (never) were when happy little Englanders lived their preindustrial lives like the hobbits in their Shire. It's too bad, we can hear him grumble, that freedom leads inexorably to Donald Trump. And, of course, it is unfortunate, but would he be any happier if he as carefully watched how any of us spend our money. For that matter, do conservatives really like to see more money being frittered away on modern art, or the hallways of power being stocked with the leisured rich, or the creation of more mega-foundations, spending the wealth of the Fords, Rockefellers and Carnegies? Have we all become such socialists that we take for granted our right to an opinion on what other people do with their property?

If so, we should be sobered by Mr. Derbyshire's timely demonstration of where this notion leads as he attacks neoliberalism's downside: income inequality. First, says who? In the United States at the moment, income inequality is largely, though apparently not solely, caused by immigration. [The preceding sentence was changed. See the comments. DGC] We're importing poor people, because we're just not making any of our own, any more. The rich certainly are richer than they've ever been, but so are the poor. I doubt that he would argue that actual economic inequality is greater in the West than it was under Communism. Second, so what? Income equality isn't a good thing. Depending upon how ruthless the government is, it is either a pipe dream or the excuse for great evil. If political rights belong to everyone equally, why does "justice" have anything to say about the distribution of income (not wealth, by the way) at some particular point in time. I've never been poorer than when I was in college, but any compassion spent on me then would have been wasted.

Freedom is freedom; the idea that it should be curtailed if we don't like where people choose to go led to the worst of the last century. This is where Mr. Derbyshire goes wrong. He implicitly accepts the centrality of the state in modern life. Our safeguard from excess and depravity is not the state, but can only be a culture that rejects excess and depravity. Political freedom can only survive if the greater nation, expressing itself not through the police or regulation, but through censure and shame, limits our choices by limiting what we choose, not what we are free to choose. The alternative is the freedom of license, which, damaging in itself, will be followed by repression.

Thus, the importance of religion in the United States. Religion says that the rich man and the poor man are equal in the sight of G-d. From this flows our idea of the importance of political equality. Religion says that man has been given free will and can use it even to disobey his Creator. From this flows our idea of freedom. Religion says that man has an inherent dignity. From this flows our idea of inalienable rights. Religion says that man is imperfect and not perfectable. From this flows our idea of limited government and our skepticism of efficient government.

Liberals often ask what is it that conservatives wish to conserve? It is this culture, which teaches that the measure of a man is how he acts, not what he earns or buys.

19 August 2006

The Good News Is Unlimited Free Energy

OJ buries the lead in a post ostensibly about gas prices falling in the run-up to the November election. He adds on a link to this article:
Company claims to have developed new technology that provices [sic] unlimited free energy (gizmag.com)

Steorn, an Irish company, claims to have produced a groundbreaking (we do not use this word lightly) technology which is based on the interaction of magnetic fields and produces free, clean and constant energy. If the claims are true, the new technology will enable a significant range of benefits, from the convenience of never having to refuel your car or recharge your mobile phone, to a genuine solution to the need for zero emission energy production. It will also provide a secure supply of energy, since the components of the technology are readily available. Steorn’s technology is claimed to allow the production of clean, free and constant energy. Steorn’s technology appears to violate the ‘Principle of the Conservation of Energy’, (energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only change form) considered by many to be the most fundamental principle in our current understanding of the universe. Fully aware that its claims will be considered bunkum by anyone who has graduated kindergarten, Steorn today issued a challenge to the global scientific community to test its free energy technology.
The bad news is that the Universe doesn't actually exist.

Blogging The Dialectic

Searching around for something to blog, I bounced from this post to this post to this post. I have no idea what's being disputed, but reading Mr. Stoller's post at MyDD I was struck by the following:
There’s a larger problem here, which is that you cannot just segment off blogs into their own little box. Or rather, you can on the right, since right-wing blogs are basically irrelevant. But on the left, there is no blogosphere that can be separated from the progressive movement at large. [Emphasis added]
As we've discussed at the other place, right wing blogs are irrelevant, as are left wing blogs. But am I the only one who hears a echo of "The party is the vanguard of the Proletariat"?

The only true thing Marx ever said was that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy but the second time as farce.

For Peter


18 August 2006


From June 27, 2006

Bush Ignores Laws He Inks, Vexing Congress (Laurie Kellman, AP, 6/27/06)
A bill becomes the rule of the land when Congress passes it and the president signs it into law, right?

Not necessarily, according to the White House. A law is not binding when a president issues a separate statement saying he reserves the right to revise, interpret or disregard it on national security and constitutional grounds.

That's the argument a Bush administration official is expected to make Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who has demanded a hearing on a practice he considers an example of the administration's abuse of power....

But Specter and his allies maintain that Bush is doing an end-run around the veto process. In his presidency's sixth year, Bush has yet to issue a single veto that could be overridden with a two-thirds majority in each house.

Instead, he has issued hundreds of signing statements invoking his right to interpret or ignore laws on everything from whistleblower protections to how Congress oversees the Patriot Act.
From Federalist 51:
TO WHAT expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places. Without presuming to undertake a full development of this important idea, I will hazard a few general observations, which may perhaps place it in a clearer light, and enable us to form a more correct judgment of the principles and structure of the government planned by the convention....

It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices. Were the executive magistrate, or the judges, not independent of the legislature in this particular, their independence in every other would be merely nominal. But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
The grant of power to the President in the Constitution is broad. "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." (Article. II, Section. 1). Nonetheless, as the federal government is designed, Congress is meant to be the driving force of the government. Congress sets taxes and controls spending. The Senate has the right to reject judges, high administration officials and treaties. The President has very little express power, on the other hand, to interfere with the workings of the legislature. The veto is his only express tool and it is relatively weak.

And yet, from George Washington on, we have had some very strong Presidents and very weak Congresses.

The reasons for this are well-rehearsed. The President is elected by the nation while Congress is parochial. The President has almost plenary powers when it comes to defense and foreign affairs. The President has the power of the bully pulpit; nicely captured by the annual spectacle of the State of the Union speech -- the President in the well of the House, surrounded by all the symbols of the glory of the United States, carrying out a constitutional duty -- being followed by a reactive, petty political response. Less charitably, the Presidency allows for, indeed almost demands that, the people invest their hopes in a strong leader; the proverbial man on a white horse. We saw this most clearly after 9/11 when George W. Bush, a divisive figure coming off a divisive election, gained the approval of 90% of the nation.

We usually celebrate the genius of our constitution by ticking off our freedoms, or our wealth, or noting the noble goals of American exceptionalism. But in reality the genius of the constitutional system is best illustrated by this trite, less-than-noble jockeying for power. The President claims some power. Congress pushes back. The Framers knew that they were not instituting a government of angels. They knew that office-holders always try to accumulate power. They therefore famously set up a system of checks and balances; one of which is that, if the President is gaining power, Congress is losing power. Congress, regardless of faction and party, is as an institution loath to lose power and will do what it can to stem the tide. Here, the signing statements are a sideshow. Both the Congress and the Administration know that those statements have no power to change legislation or the President's constitutional powers. This is just one small skirmish in the war between Congress and the President, each of whom keeps the other in check by desiring to capture as much power as possible.

Why Don't We Just Elect Noam Chomsky


Our First Link

We've got our first link, from Think of England. I would have thought, though, that the Brits would understand the word "secret." Maybe if I through in an extra "U"? Now I've got to go batten the hatches against the dreaded ToE-lanche.


The voices. The voices. Won't someone shut off the voices.

The Upside Of Remaking The Middle East

USA Today reports that during the recent unpleasantness, the US convinced Turkey and Iraq to refuse fly-over rights to Iranian planes carrying arms for Hezbollah.
The United States blocked an Iranian cargo plane's flight to Syria last month after intelligence analysts concluded it was carrying sophisticated missiles and launchers to resupply Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, two U.S. intelligence officials say.

Eight days after Hezbollah's war with Israel began, U.S. diplomats persuaded Turkey and Iraq to deny the plane permission to cross their territory to Damascus, a transfer point for arms to Hezbollah, the officials said.
Now, it's clear that the "unnamed intelligence officials" are gilding the lily. Iraq has no reason to love or cooperate with Iran, it's not in a position to refuse a US military request and Turkey is functionally an Israeli military ally. But we do see here a glimmering the new Middle East, where the Arabs and Israel are not friends, but are all equally opposed to terrorism.

17 August 2006

Ah, Those Selfish Policemen (Via The Corner)

From an editorial in today's Hartford Courant urging a moratorium on arming the police with stun guns until the State can adopt regulations for their use:
Not that stun guns are a hard sell. Studies confirm that they do help to dramatically reduce police injuries and cops will embrace anything that improves their odds of making it to those fat retirement pensions without a scratch.
I'm no fan of public employee unions, but this strikes me as an argument too far.

All The Cool Superpowers Are Taken

ABC News: Humans With Amazing Senses
Fourteen-year-old Ben Underwood of Sacramento, Calif., is one of the few people known to use echolocation as a primary means of navigating the world on land. There's not even a hint of light reaching his brain. His eyes are artificial, but his brain has adapted to allow him to appraise his environment. He makes a 'clicking' sound to communicate with objects and people around him.

Scientists have discovered that in the brains of the blind, the visual cortex has not become useless, as they once believed. When blind people use another sense — touch or hearing, for example — to substitute for sight, the brain's visual cortex becomes active, even though no images reach it from the optic nerve. Echolocation creates its own images.

'I can hear that wall behind you over there. I can hear right there — the radio, and the fan,' Ben says.

Ben says every object in his life talks to him in ways that no one else can hear or understand.

Something Else Would Have Happened

New York Magazine runs a series of essays on "What If 9/11 Never Happened." Liberal writers (Andrew Sullivan, Frank Rich, Dahlia Lithwick, Doris Kearns Goodwin and others) confess their fantasy about a rational world in which George W. Bush is seen for the charlaton that he is. A very few (including Sullivan, to be fair) recognize that the problem wasn't 9/11, but the worldwide terrorist conspiracy that kept attacking us time after time without facing any coherent response. But the only contribution of real value is from Tom Wolfe:

The New York real-estate market would have become so hot, hot, hot that by now developers would be converting grand old hotels such as the Westbury, the Stanhope, the Mayfair, perhaps even the Plaza, into condominium apartments selling for $10 million and up. By now a socialite would be any young woman who has appeared in three or more party pictures taken by Patrick McMullan for any of a dozen or so fat party-picture magazines. A local music genre called hip-hop, created by black homeboys in the South Bronx, would have swept the country, topping the charts and creating a hip-hop look featuring baggy jeans with the crotch hanging down to the knees that would have spread far and wide among white teenagers—awed, stunned, as they were, by the hip-hop musicians’ new form of competition: assassinating each other periodically. How cool would that have been? Two historic pillars of the New York economy—shipping and garment manufacturing—would have vanished by now. There would be 40 empty piers on the Hudson River, and the only shipping would be an intrepid but decrepit aircraft carrier welded to a dock and turned into a museum. Meanwhile, a little known Asian country called Bangladesh would be manufacturing more clothes for the American market than Manhattan’s West Twenties, West Thirties, and Chinatown put together. Latins today would make up 40 percent of the city’s public school population, easily outnumbering black students (35 percent), while the white component would have declined still further (15 percent). The big news, however, would be the surge in the number of Asian students, which might have rocketed upward by as much as 10 percent a year. The city would have had two Republican mayors in a row for the first time in modern history. There are no silver linings in 9/11, and it is no consolation to say that at least we didn’t wind up with a senseless, baffling, flotsam city like that.

Greetings From A Double Planet

Brit over at Daily Duck posted on the new definition of "planet" just promulgated by the International Astronomers Union (IAU) which save Pluto as a planet at the cost of letting some awfully dodgy members into the Club. (And when I'm down South it usually only takes a few minutes before I'm saying "Y'awl.")

I wondered whether anyone could tell me whether the Moon is actually a moon or, as I once heard, not a moon because the Sun's gravity acted on it more strongly than the Earth's gravity. Well, according to this Wikipedia article, I'm on the cutting edge of astronomical knowledge. At the same time the IAU saved Pluto from non-planethood, it also clarified that the Moon is a moon. Whether an otherwise planetary body is a moon now depends on whether, with its putative primary, it rotates around a spot in space (in which case it's a double planet) or a spot within the primary (it which case it is a moon). Under this definition, the Moon is a moon.

Clearly, the IAU has got it wrong both times. Pluto is not a planet. That's obvious; and certainly when it comes to matters of definition, the definition should follow the obvious.

Except, of course, when the obvious is mundane, but the definition is really cool. Hence, I reject the definition of the Moon as a moon and adopt the definition (taken from the Wikipedia article linked to above) first proposed by Isaac Asimov:
The late Isaac Asimov suggested a distinction between planet-moon systems and double-planet systems based on what he called a tug-of-war (TOW) value that describes whether the presumed satellite is more firmly under the gravitational influence of the presumed planetary primary or the Sun. In the case of the Moon, the Sun "wins" the tug of war, i.e., its gravitational hold on the Moon is greater than that of Earth. The opposite is true for other presumed satellites in the Solar System (with a few exceptions), including the Pluto-Charon system. By this definition, the Earth and Moon form a double-planet system, but Pluto and Charon represent a true primary with a satellite.
From here on out, the Earth and Moon form a double planet system. There are still nine planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. So says me.

16 August 2006

Liberty Or License

Two interesting, and interestingly related, stories from Ann Althouse today. In the first, the State of Virginia sued to force a 16 year old with Hodgkins Lymphoma to continue with his chemotherapy over his objections. Starchild Abraham Cherrix disliked the side-effects of chemotherapy and his parents deferred to his position. Rather than force him to continue through three rounds of chemotherapy, with a cure rate of 85 to 90%, his parents allowed him to take an "alternate treatment" from Mexico consisting of a herbs including licorice and red clover, taken four times a day along with prayers as he drinks it down.

In the second, Muslim kids in New York are taken out of public school and sent to Madrasses. The boys spend nine hours a day for two or three years memorizing the Koran in Arabic, a language most don't speak. If they succeed, the boys and 10 people they nominate get to go to Paradise. New York doesn't seem to have a particularly good explanation as to why they didn't catch this earlier. The New York Times treats the whole thing as something of a lark, and hopes that it won't cause an anti-Muslim backlash. Two of the boys are the sons of an endocrinologist from Pakistan; another's mother is the son of a US born lawyer for the New York city of Mount Vernon.

Taken seperately, these stories serve up a smorgasbord of blog topics. We have issues of education, of state competence and incompetence, or the boundaries of freedom. How much should we defer to people over their treatment? What if they are parents deciding for a child? What if the child is 16? Should we require public education, should we allow private schooling or home schooling? Is taking out two or three years to memorize the Koran nuts, or is it an honor?

When I was a clerk after law school, one of my co-clerks was convinced that the government was incredibly stupid to allow parents to raise their own children. Rather, he thought that the only rational system was to remove kids from the parents at a relatively young age, to be raised by the state. He was untouched by arguments that it wasn't really up to the state, or that the state -- just being people -- wouldn't be any better at raising kids than just handing them out to random people on the street, the system we use now. I'm not now convinced that he had a point -- he was actually completely out of his mind, with this being one of his more sensible proposals. But we continue to be bedeviled by what seems, on the surface, to be the rather easy question of the extent to which we should defer to parents, which is to say, not very much if they step out of the fairly broad path of social conformity.

Taken together, these stories cancel each other out. Abraham, as he prefers to be called, is not to be sacrificed. The State reached a settlement with him in which he will receive traditional, mainstream treatment, but his alternative "medicine" will be accomodated as much as it can be. The Madrassa is going to add a couple of hours of traditional school subjects next year. In the meantime, the kids have a true achievement -- memorizing the Koran -- that will bring them honor in their community, pride to their parents, and, if we're lucky, maybe a little shame to public school teachers who eschew rote memorization because they don't realize what their students are capable of.

We have one extreme: have the state take the kids. We have the other extreme: treat children as if they were adults and defer to their wishes. We have the safe path in between: impose our will, realizing that our will is imperfect.

Warping The Next Generation

"Blowin' in the Wind" just came up on ITunes and, after Bob asked how many roads a man must walk down, my 11 year-old daughter immediately yelled "42."

I wouldn't say that my work here is done, but it's coming along nicely.

Oh, That Liberal Media

A breathtakingly honest discussion of the Progressive obligation to use their media soapbox to help their chosen candidates.

15 August 2006

True, Dangerous And Impossible To Ignore

Michelle Malkin points to this video of a graduation exercise at Fort Benning. Lt. Col. Randolph White tells the graduates that they are the best and the brightest and should never apologize for being Americans. He also tells them that they are worth more than all the latte-sipping biscotti-nibbling effete liberals in Hollywood. To my ears, the crowd's reaction starts out surprised and then becomes enthusiastic. We are not used to such bald statements at official events.

I agree, more or less, with everything that Lt. Col. White says. I agree entirely with the Milblogger at Blackfive.net that a soldier, having heard that speech, would follow LTC White into Hell carrying a gas can. But one doesn't have to be an "old pathetic slacker" to worry about a gap opening between the military and the nation. The military, at LTC White clearly acknowledges, is an instrument of policy as well as our protection from our enemies. But how many of his young men understand the importance of civilian control of the military? How many will believe, in the future, that the orders of a President Clinton and the orders of a President Bush are equal, even if President Clinton loathes the military?

LTD White is clearly trying to armor his graduates against the attacks (as they will see it) of the mainstream media just as he has trained them to withstand battle. This passage is particularly strong, but presents the problem most clearly:
We're asking an awful lot of young men.

Greater Love Hath No Silicone Implant Than This...

From Israel, news of an important advance in the fight against terror:
One Israeli woman has received an unexpected boost from her breast implants during the Lebanon war -- the silicone embeds saved her life during a Hezbollah rocket attack, a doctor said....

The woman did not emerge from her ordeal completely unscathed, however.

"The shrapnel was removed but the implant had to be replaced," Govrin
I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

The Grass Is Always Deadlier On The Other Side Of The Wall

This week's literary tempest in a teapot is whether Gunter Grass was only a commie stooge, or was a committed Nazi first. I really couldn't care less, he's despicable either way. But it does bring up that age old question: Why are we so forgiving of the Communists?

Wheat And Chaff

I'm currently trawling through the BrothersJudd archives looking for any posts or comments I might want to move over here. Along the way, I came across this classic comment thread, which may well be when the wheels started coming off the trolley.

Do We Have A Winner?

I'll be interested to see, over the next few weeks, whether the Administration benefits from Israel's failure to destroy Hezbollah. Will people conclude that if the Israelis, with all their experience and advantages, had trouble with Hezbollah, then the Americans can't be blamed too much for having trouble with the insurgents?

14 August 2006

The Tortoise Wins Again

Best of the Web points us to a Jewish Federations of America article about a meeting between Jews and Cossacks.
Chief Rabbi of Ukraine Azriel Chaikin and the Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Naomi Ben-Ami met with the leader of the Ukrainian Cossacks Anatoliy Schevchenko and the General Judge of Cossacks Igor Kozlovsky. At this meeting, the Cossack leaders assured the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine and the Israeli Ambassador of their support of Israel as it combats terrorism.
So now the Kossacks are more anti-semitic than the Cossacks. Just when life is tempting us to mutter "Plus ca change..."

Is Balancing The Budget Conservative?

This question fascinates me. Traditional conservatism always made much of avoiding deficit spending (if more in the breach than the observance). But is a balanced budget, ceteris paribus, conservative? I say no, as this September 2004 comment at BrothersJudd argues:

There is a theoretical tendency for deficits to raise interest rates. In practice, it is such a small effect that it has always been swamped by other things happening in the economy. Deficit spending and a national debt at the level we are experiencing, and even much higher, are not correlated with any adverse monetary consequence.

Having said that, deficits can be politically debilitating because they allow the illusion that everyone can get more from government than they put in. All other things equal, that is bad for conservatism, one of the tenets of which is that activist government is a wealth destroyer. All other things are never equal, however, and deficits, in and of themselves, are not, ipso facto, bad government but simply a proxy for bad government.

In other words, arguing against deficits is a convenient tool to use to beat at government spending that we don't like. This program, or that, we argue, are not worth the debt it takes to finance them. There is, though, a flaw at the heart of this argument that has led many so-called "fiscal conservatives" astray. Conservatives are mislead into thinking that it is the debt, rather than the program, that is the problem.

This is clearly wrong. If the government borrows money from me, that is a voluntary transaction in which the government pays me for the use of my money and thus faces more of the real cost of the program. If the government taxes me, then I bear the loss of the foregone interest (and must borrow more myself, or reduce my personal spending, or fail to make an investment) and the government does not see the real cost of its program. (This, of course, assumes, contra factually, that the government even engages in quasi-cost/benefit, return-on-investment analysis, but that doesn't effect the argument.) In fact, for the finance students among us, I would argue that there is a Miller-Modigliani corollary for government that says that, just as debt and equity financing is the same for a corporation, there is no reason to prefer taxation to debt for financing government programs.

In other words, if a government program is not worth borrowing for, it is not worth taxing for. The conservative response to a bad program is to close down the program, not to raise taxes -- and if a good program requires borrowing, then passing it by to avoid borrowing is nuts.

So, the president's various programs may or may not be good ideas. I like more than I dislike. But the fact that we are borrowing money to pay for them (notice that same assumption) is irrelevant. (If we relax the assumption, we know in practice that if the government weren't spending the money on Iraq and NCLB and prescriptions, it would just be spending it on something else. If the money's going to be spend anyway, I'd rather have it spend on President Bush's priorities than John Kerry's.)

John Kerry provides the perfect example of what I'm talking about. Senator Kerry voted for the $86 billion to fund the Iraqi war before he voted against it. The reason he voted against it was the Senate's rejection of his amendment to raise taxes (he would say "reverse" some of the president's tax cuts) in order to pay for the war. Here, Kerry is at least purporting to believe that, while the war is worth risking American lives, it isn't worth issuing government bonds. Whatever that argument is, it sure ain't conservative.

From a following comment:

Let's try this a different way: No cost is too great for the essential functions of government; no cost is so small that we should accept unnecessary government. We need to win the argument about the proper functions of government, not hide behind arguments about the cost.

13 August 2006

Playing Kissy Face With The Dictator

The Fidel I think I know: He's a man of ironclad discipline, inexhaustible patience, colossal ideas and insatiable illusions (Gabriel García Márquez, The Guardian, 8/12/06)
His devotion is to the word. His power is of seduction. He goes to seek out problems where they are. The impetus of inspiration is very much part of his style. Books reflect the breadth of his tastes very well. He stopped smoking to have the moral authority to combat tobacco addiction. He likes to prepare food recipes with a kind of scientific fervour. He keeps himself in excellent physical condition with various hours of gymnastics daily and frequent swimming. Invincible patience. Ironclad discipline. The force of his imagination stretches him to the unforeseen.

José Martí is his foremost author and he has had the talent to incorporate Martí's thinking into the sanguine torrent of a Marxist revolution. The essence of his own thinking could lie in the certainty that in undertaking mass work it is fundamental to be concerned about individuals.

That could explain his absolute confidence in direct contact.
That and the firing squad in the next room.

Regression By The Mean

Feel blue, say "I do" as weddings boost mood: study (Helen Chernikoff, Reuters, 8/13/06)
Lonely? Feeling low? Try taking a walk -- down the aisle. Getting married enhances mental health, especially if you're depressed, according to a new U.S. study.

The benefits of marriage for the depressed are particularly dramatic, a finding that surprised the professor-student team behind the study.

On the other hand, if you're not depressed, marriage could have the opposite effect, Frech said.
Marriage is the great equalizer. Yet one more reason that it is the foundation of civilization and should not be lightly altered.


This is a March 2003 posting to BrothersJudd:

Bush comes of age with Iraq, (John Hughes, Christian Science Monitor)
In the next few days, George W. Bush will make critical decisions likely to determine the fate of his presidency. Whether or not he goes to war with Iraq, and whether he is successful in breaking the tyrannical grip of Saddam Hussein, will decide whether the American people praise him or reject him, and what his place in history will be.
It became painfully clear to me watching the State of the Union address this year that I've drunk the Koolaid: I'm W's man. He is my leader and I am his follower (unless there's been no regime change in Iraq by the next election, in which case I'm moving to France). So I like a good 'hasn't W grown in office?' column as much as the next guy.

But by assuming that Bush's focus is on his popularity and the history books, Hughes, like so many observers both pro and anti-Bush, betrays his Clinton-era thinking. These observers are thinking too small. What George Bush intends is nothing less than ending the post-war security system and setting up a new system for the new century. This is a huge gamble with a commensurate potential payoff, but is as risky as anything the United States has attempted since World War II. Despite my own trust in the President, I find it odd that this is going on without much discussion, mostly because so many observers refuse to take W seriously when he says, in the State of the Union, to the UN or at press conferences dismissed as soporific, that he intends to remake the world.

The bouts of faux nostalgia for the cold war that pop up every now and then are impossible to take seriously. When this nostalgia takes the form, as it has recently, of wishing that the US could be defeated in war it is, at best, puerile. But it is another thing entirely to abandon the structure that, at least in Europe, kept the peace for 50 years and reconciled nations whose wars, over the past three centuries, had threatened more and more of the world. Anything that lasts so long becomes part of the landscape. It is almost impossible to imagine life without it.

And so people forget that the UN was formed to perpetuate the alliance that won World War II. NATO was formed to deter and contain the Soviet Union. With Germany and Japan tamed, with eastern Europe freed, with the Soviet Union gone to the dust-bin of history, the UN and NATO and the rest of the post-war order kept going more out of habit than purpose. Having lost their purpose, they needed a second. What were these powerful institutions to do now?

The first President Bush had an answer: he would use these post-war instruments to shape a new world order. Russia and the US, east and west, rich and poor, white and non-white, north and south, he would gather them all together to provide the stability previously imposed by the cold war. Even better, because we would no longer have to fear that some random hotspot could unleash global thermonuclear Armageddon, we would no longer have to suffer tyrants to live. This worked well once in Iraq. It half worked, without the UN and with a stiff-arm to Russia, in the Balkans. It will never work again and President Bush, contrary to the pop-psych theories that he lives to finish his father's work, has decided to undo that work.

To return to Hughes,
The defining moment in this coming of age was Sept. 11, 2001. Bush's life changed when Osama bin Laden sent his misguided minions on a surprise suicide attack with hijacked airliners against New York and Washington. As Bush said in his press conference last week, he will not take the chance of that happening again.
Will the UN or NATO or any collective security arrangement help us prevent another 9/11? Or, given that we can't guarantee our safety, is the old system the best we can do, or can we establish a better system? George Bush believes that the best interests of the United States require a new system, and it is that system that he is now working to establish.

The administration has decided to make the world safer in order to reduce our presence in the world substantially. Remake the middle east, so that it is not a powder keg. Leave Europe to the Europeans. Tame North Korea and reduce our presence in Asia. Through a free trade agreement for the Americas, plus military assistance when needed, build up the economies and the governments of Latin America.
This is, in some ways, a return to an older idea of America's place in the world -- Teddy Roosevelt's vision rather than Franklin's. But it will also depend on 21st century weaponry, technological superiority and the ability to put fires out while they are still smoldering. We will work with others. We will help when needed. We will accept help when offered. But at the end of the day, it will be America relying on itself. As the President said shortly after 9/11, we can do it alone if we have to, we're the United States.

The mavens of collective security deride the President as a cowboy but they have not watched enough westerns. The best follow a simple story: the stranger rides into town, sees a wrong that needs righting, he does what must be done, but he must do so alone. He discovers that the townsfolk, as afraid of him as of those he has fought, will never accept him. At the end, he rides out of town the same way he rode in, alone but tall in the saddle. George Bush hears the theme music playing; its time for the final shoot-out and then we'll saddle up and ride out of town.

An Old E-Mail To A Foreign Friend

[A Canadian friend once asked about Americans' penchant for describing ourselves as a city on a hill. My response should also explain why Wiinthrop's "Model of Christian Charity" is one of our founding documents.]

The "city on a hill" metaphor comes ultimately from Matthew 5:13-16, in which Jesus says:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
The metaphor was first applied to America by John Wintrop in 1630 aboard the Arbella as the Puritans made their stormy crossing.

Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body, soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going: And to shutt upp this discourse with that exhortacion of Moses that faithfull servant of the Lord in his last farewell to Israell Deut. 30. Beloved there is now sett before us life, and good, deathe and evill in that wee are Commaunded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another to walke in his wayes and to keepe his Commaundements and his Ordinance, and his lawes, and the Articles of our Covenant with him that wee may live and be multiplyed, and that the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it: But if our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worshipp other Gods our pleasures, and proffitts, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perishe out of the good Land whether wee passe over this vast Sea to possesse it;

Therefore lett us choose life,
that wee, and our Seede,
may live; by obeyeing his
voyce, and cleaveing to him,
for hee is our life, and
our prosperity.

So, the metaphor is double edged (to mix metaphors). We are a light unto the nations, so that by our example we can lead the rest of the world. But, equally, we cannot hide. Whenever we fail to live up to our own ideals, the rest of the world will notice. Our failure will also be chalked up as the failure of our various ideologies: see, faith in God doesn't work; see, markets don't work; free trade doesn't work; democracy doesn't work, etc.

Winthrop's vision probably was of one lit city, surrounded by darkness. After all, the Puritans were leaving England and Europe because they had not been able to live according to God's law as they understood it. Their intent was to establish the first virtuous City. My vision is more as you describe it: a series of cities, more or less lit, on hills and valleys as their individual circumstances would allow. But I think its also fair to say that the US bears a greater burden of the world's focus of hope and envy than the other cities. So, yes, we do want to "treat, trade and make friendships" with the other cities, and not even all that guardedly. Nonetheless, our responsibility for the health of these other cities is bounded by our own self-interest. "With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the world we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds."

Your second point [why Democrats kowtow to foreigners and Republicans scorn them] is very interesting and not something I've thought a great deal about. My sense has always been that we're pretty insecure about our standing in other countries -- a clear implication of the "Citty upon a Hill" metaphor, by the way -- and jump on even the weakest support. This is, in part, why our reaction to the French and, sad to say, Canadian positions on Iraq look like an overreaction. We're very sensitive to what we see as betrayal and, frankly, scared that "wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going." In a sense, we're always worried that any failure will, in the eyes of the nations, call the whole enterprise into question. (This probably applies only to Republicans and conservatives.)

Weekend At Fidel's

Cuba's "proof" that Fidel is still living large and in-charge.

12 August 2006

This Is A Test