30 September 2006

Give Dr. Kevorkian An Advice Column

Dear Prudie,

I just had my three-year anniversary with my boyfriend. He was married when we first met, and we eventually had a very brief affair before he left his wife. He has two children with her, whom I have a great relationship with and love very much. I am beginning to think it was a mistake and we rushed too quickly into getting serious. Now that we have settled into our life together (we bought a house), I find we have less and less in common and am starting to see that our long-term goals and dreams are vastly different. Thoughts of breaking up have crossed my mind. Although at the time I believed he left his wife because his marriage was over, I now know that I played a much greater role in bringing about the end of their marriage. I have so much guilt over how our relationship started and now feel even more guilt that I effectively stole someone else's life, a life that they wanted, and now I don't want it anymore. I also find it increasingly harder to deal with the fact that friends and family will always see me as the other woman or him as a scoundrel. I'm sure his ex would love to see our relationship fail as she hates my guts and I know that hearing about me from her children is torture. Sometimes I wish he would leave me and get back together with her. Am I entitled to familial happiness after what I did? I don't want to hurt him, and I especially don't want to hurt his children any more than I already have. I can't reach the decision to leave but am not happy staying. Is this my punishment for what I did?
Every once in a while, when I'm in my car I find myself listening to Dr. Laura. Whenever this happens, I am struck anew by how mean and nasty she is to the callers, who have apparently never heard the show before, or are masochists. Now, radio shrink shows (and sob sister columns) are necessarily scams. The host pretends to offer advice and therapy in 30 second increments, but is really just using the caller's pain and perversion to attract listeners so she can sell advertising. Only Dr. Laura, though, makes it a point to tell her scummy callers that they are scum. As we can see from this letter to "Dear Prudence," it really should be a more widespread practice.


This isn't the big torture post I mean to get to one of these days, but there is a point that doesn't get as much play as it should. When we first started collecting high value prisoners in Afghanistan, the military and CIA had to decide what they could do with them, interrogation wise. On the one hand, these prisoners had (potentially) lots of information we could use. On the other hand, and contrary to what you've heard, they were under orders to treat the prisoners humanely. So it was left up to the interrogators, in the first instance, to figure out what they could do.

The rule of thumb they came up with is that they could do to the high value prisoners those things that are done to American troops. They figured that the fact that we do it to ourselves means that it is not inhumane by definition. That's where almost all of the high-pressure "torture" techniques, including waterboarding, come from.

29 September 2006

Sometimes The Hive Mind Is Stupid

Massachusetts has a law, dating from 1913, that people from out-of-state cannot get married in Massachusetts if their state of residence would not let them get married. Although I'm sure that this effects cousins or people with some other degree of consanguinity that may legally marry in Massachusetts but not in their own state, the statute almost certainly was passed due to concerns about miscegenation. It was, when passed, a bad law.

But now it has a new purpose: it stops same-sex couples from other states from coming into Massachusetts and getting married and then trying to have that marriage recognized in their own state, in effect exporting same-sex marriage. The Commonwealth has been pretty good about enforcing the statute and out-of-state couples have been denied marriage licenses in Massachusetts. Until today.

Today, the Massachusetts trial court held that two women from Rhode Island can get married in Massachusetts because the Massachusetts trial court couldn't find any Rhode Island law banning same-sex marriage. There can be no doubt that this is result oriented judging combined with willful blindness. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it is wrong as a matter of Massachusetts law and will be overturned on appeal. Remember that in the Goodridge case (instituting same-sex marriage) the same argument was made about Massachusetts law and the court rejected it. The word "marriage," said the court, means the joining of a man and a woman and necessarily excluded same-sex couples. The court went on to hold that the law excluding same-sex couples, by use of the word "marriage," violated the Massachusetts' constitution, but the will not make that decision for Rhode Island.

So, you ask yourself, if this case is not likely to survive the appellate process, why am I bothering to write about it?

Because the Goodridge decision, while good news for Ms. Goodridge and her wife (though they've since started divorce proceedings) was terrible news for the gay marriage movement and the Democratic Party. A court doing what we were always told a court would never do galvanized the right into sponsoring state referenda on gay marriage, the referenda drew voters like flies, and while they were there they voted for Republicans. Still, we were told that this was an unnecessary over-reaction. No other state was going to be forced to recognize gay marriage because of Massachusetts' decision. Now we see that there can be no assurance on that point either: is anyone 100% certain that a couple, validly married in Massachusetts, will be held to be unmarried by a Rhode Island court?

How much damage to the gay-marriage movement and the Democratic Party will be done by a clear example of a Massachusetts court going out of its way to try to spread gay marriage to Rhode Island? If given their druthers, is there any question that the movement generally and the Democratic Party specifically would wish that this hadn't come up five weeks before the election.

28 September 2006

Life In Northampton

A story on the front page of the local newspaper sums up life in Northampton:

Taking their art to the streets -- Northampton policy about-face allows art sales on city sidewalks (Dan Crowley, Daily Hampshire Gazette, 9/28906)
The Heresy Collective [Warning: Sound], and perhaps a slew of other artists, will soon be allowed to sell their artwork on the city's streets, according to public works officials.

In a precedent-setting move, Robert C. Reckman, chairman of the Board of Public Works, said Wednesday that the board planned to develop a new policy paving the way for the street sale of 'fine arts.'

'We believe there is a strong constitutional argument that the sale of fine art by the artist is protected by the First Amendment,' Reckman told seven of the collective's nine young members at Wednesday's board meeting.

Reckman added that 'only fine arts, such as original painting, prints, sculpture and photography' would be covered, not 'goods, wares, and other merchandise in the normal sense.'

'We do not believe that this protection extends to crafts or decorative arts in this context,' he said....

Earlier this month, city attorney Janet Sheppard issued a memo to the board stating that, in her opinion, the sale of art, on all public streets and sidewalks in the city, including Main Street, was not allowed under the city ordinances or the Constitution.

Board of Public Works members then asked for an opinion from Northampton lawyer William C. Newman, director of the western regional office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts....

The Heresy Collective's members said they looked forward to working with the board, and were excited to see the city backing artists. But they also expressed several concerns, including how public works officials might define 'fine arts.' In addition to paintings, drawings, and literature, the collective creates and sells original recorded music, which some of its members consider art.
That a bunch of low-life no-talent artists group together and call themselves the "Heresy Collective" we can pass off without much comment. They're really sticking it to the man, man.

That the Board Of Public Works asked the City's lawyer for her opinion, got it, didn't like it and then asked the ACLU does show some initiative. If they only showed that much initiative filling pot holes, or fixing the bridge that lost its railing last year. I'm sure they'll get right to it, once they move past the trivial point of defining "art."

What I'm a little curious about is how they expect this new regulation to work. The heart of the First Amendment is that the government cannot treat speech differently based on its content. On the other hand, commercial speech has less protection than noncommercial speech. But all this art is, by definition, for sale. If the same picture is painted on two pieces of cloth, one of which is framed and the other of which is a t-shirt, is the first saleable but not the second? Is scrawling "War Is Not The Answer" art if it's on canvass but crafts if it's on polymer clay earrings? What is "fine art" and how is the cop on the beat supposed to know?

Apparently, all the answers are here: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Things That Make You Go, "What The F..."

Dropping my daughter off at Temple this afternoon, I saw a car in the parking lot with the Massachusetts license plate "RAMALA." I can't decide if it is in honor of this Ramala or that and, in either case, what that person is doing in the Temple parking lot. (For those concerned that the first Ramallah has two "L"s and an "H", Massachusetts vanity plates only have six characters.)

27 September 2006

Things On Which I've Meant To Blog

Letting intention substitute for the act, I have been meaning to blog on the following:

1. The really hilarious conspiracy theories on DU, etc., that George Bush is responsible for falling gas prices. If I remember correctly, when prices were heading up, John Kerry thundered that George Bush should go to his friends in the oil bidness and talk them into dropping the price of gasoline.

2. The line between torture and good interrogation tactics. How much does it have to do with the end being pursued? Torture in order to extract a confession for use in court is bad. Coercion to get actionable military information is good.

3. And while we're at it, what to make of the argument that torture never results in good information. Is there any example in which that's the way the world works? What are they saying about all the various governments who have used torture, broadly defined? That they are just sadists, completely uninterested in the truth? My impression was that the meme from World War II to 9/11 was that everyone breaks eventually, so whenever an operative was captured you had to assume that everything they knew would soon be known to the enemy. When people say that the prisoner will say anything to stop the torture, that's true as far as it goes. But it can only work as a result of bad technique on the part of the interrogators. You need to start with broad questions that don't communicate much information to the prisoner and you need to ask at least some questions to which you know the answer.

4. Finally, a lovely piece in USA Today a few days ago arguing that lower gas prices might stoke inflation. Of course, higher gas prices are also said to stoke inflation. The sheer ignorance of almost everyone about what inflation is (a general increase in prices caused by an increase in the money supply relative to real value) is astonishing. As Milton Friedman said, inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. It cannot be caused by an increase or decrease in commodity prices. (Which is not to say that changes in oil prices don't show up in the prices for a lot of other products that incorporate petroleum one way or another. They do. But that's not inflation (by definition). That's the price mechanism at work, signaling that we ought to shift away from, or to, the effected products.)

25 September 2006

A No Win Situation

Senator Allen is, I'm sure, unhappy to see an AP story entitled Sen. Allen Denies Using Racial Slur. Saying it would be bad, denying it is bad, being accused of it is bad.

24 September 2006

Guess The Role Model

Using only this sentence fragment from Slate, guess who is writer/director/actor Zach Braff's role model: he created a role that requires Natalie Portman to fall in love with him.

23 September 2006

In The 21st Century, Winners Don't Die Of Typhoid

France Looks Into bin Laden Death Report (AP, 9/23/06)
French defense ministry on Saturday called for an internal investigation of the leak of an intelligence document that raises the possibility that Osama bin Laden may have died of typhoid in Pakistan a month ago but said the report of the death remained unverified.
Or hide in a cave while their death is misreported.

22 September 2006

From The BrothersJudd Archives: CALL ME ISHMAEL

Today is the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Tomorrow's Torah reading relates the sacrifice of Isaac. Today's reading relates what we might call the sacrifice of Ishmael.

Genesis 21:1-34
1 The Lord took note of Sarah as He had promised, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. 2 Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken. 3 Abraham gave his newborn son, whom Sarah had borne him, the name of Isaac. 4 And when his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah said, "God has brought me laughter; everyone who hears will laugh with me." 7 And she added,
"Who would have said to Abraham
That Sarah would suckle children!
Yet I have borne a son in his old age."

8 The child grew up and was weaned, and Abraham held a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

9 Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing. 10 She said to Abraham, "Cast out that slave-woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." 11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly, for it concerned a son of his. 12 But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed over the boy or your slave; whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you. 13 As for the son of the slave-woman, I will make a nation of him, too, for he is your seed."

14 Early next morning Abraham took some bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar. He placed them over her shoulder, together with the child, and sent her away. And she wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15 When the water was gone from the skin, she left the child under one of the bushes, 16 and went and sat down at a distance, a bowshot away; for she thought, "Let me not look on as the child dies." And sitting thus afar, she burst into tears.

17 God heard the cry of the boy, and an angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heeded the cry of the boy where he is. 18 Come, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him." 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and let the boy drink. 20 God was with the boy and he grew up; he dwelt in the wilderness and became a bowman. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

In the Quran, the two stories are collapsed.

Quran, Sura 37:

[37:100][Abraham said] "My Lord, grant me righteous children."

[37:101] We gave him good news of a good child.

Satanic Dream

[37:102] When he grew enough to work with him, he said, "My son, I see in a dream that I am sacrificing you. What do you think?" He said, "O my father, do what you are commanded to do. You will find me, GOD willing, patient."

[37:103] They both submitted, and he put his forehead down (to sacrifice him).

God Intervenes to Save Abraham and Ismail

[37:104] We called him: "O Abraham.

[37:105] "You have believed the dream." We thus reward the righteous.

[37:106] That was an exacting test indeed.

[37:107] We ransomed (Ismail) by substituting an animal sacrifice.

[37:108] And we preserved his history for subsequent generations.

[37:109] Peace be upon Abraham.

[37:110] We thus reward the righteous.

[37:111] He is one of our believing servants.

Birth of Isaac

[37:112] Then we gave him the good news about the birth of Isaac, to be one of the righteous prophets.

[37:113] We blessed him and Isaac. Among their descendants, some are righteous, and some are wicked transgressors.
In the Jewish tradition, the great nation that Ishmael goes on to father is the Arab nation and, in the Islamic tradition, Mohammad is one of his descendants. What are we to make of the fact that each branch of the family claims that it was their ancestor that was offered to G-d as a sacrifice? It seems an odd sort of honor.

The Torah story is the more psychologically complex. Sarah demands that Hagar and Ishmael be banished, but only after Isaac is born. Is that because she fears for Isaac's birth-right? Is it that she always hated Hagar and Ishmael, but knew that Abraham would not allow his only son, even one who's mother is a slave, to be exiled? With the impact of feminism on Jewish worship (which has been surprisingly beneficial), the more modern interpretation is that Sarah is a prophetess in her own right and that she is announcing G-d's will. Abraham, arguably strong in the story of Isaac's sacrifice, is shown in this story as weak and vacillating. G-d is shown as steadfast, holding on to His promises to Abraham even in unusual circumstances, which makes the story important for Christian theology. I was struck today by the passivity shown by Hagar and Ishmael, who from all the story shows, go into the desert with all the proper submission that Islam could wish. In the Torah story, though, Hagar and Ishmael are not sustained by their faith. Hagar loses hope and cannot bear to watch Ishmael die.

The Sura does not mention either Sarah or Hagar, and feminism has yet to come to Islam. Sura 37, much more than the story in Genesis, is about submission. Ishmael is told about his father's dream requiring his sacrifice. Ishmael, true to the theme of submission to Allah's will, agrees immediately and readies himself. On the other hand, as Islam rejects the possibility that Allah will not advocate evil, even as a test, tradition holds that the dream comes from Satan. In the two Torah portions dealing with the sacrifices of Abraham's sons, there is no question but that G-d is acting directly, nor is it at all clear (for Ishmael it is not even suggested) that this was only a test. In each telling, the son to be sacrificed is, at the time, the only son. In the Quran, Isaac has not yet been born, while in the Torah Isaac's sacrifice occurs after Ishmael has been banished. Each tradition is determined to show that its patriarch was special in his father's eyes and that each, being most-beloved of Abraham, was the only fitting sacrifice.

Now let's pretend for a moment that we are not dealing with sacred texts inspired by the Divine. Where does this leave us in the middle east? The great crusade on which we are currently embarked is to destabilize the middle east by establishing democracy. Through democracy and other inducements, we hope to settle the conflicts inflicting this part of the world. But while diplomats can work on territorial grievances, reparations and the settling of old scores where "old" means within the last fifty years, diplomats can do nothing to settle the problem of a sibling rivalry three thousand years old.

Judaism, with the fall of the second Temple and the diaspora, has been through a reformation. The priestly cast is gone and the age of rabbinic Judaism, in which it is sufficient to simply read about the Temple rituals, has come. Christianity has gone through its own reformation and the relationship between G-d and man and that between man and the church, has changed even in the Catholic Church. Islam, alone, has not been reformed. And yet Islam must be reformed if it is to take its place next to the other two great Abrahamic religions. A good place to start is at the beginning. Both the Torah and the Quran make clear that Abraham, though a problematic father figure, loved his two sons. Perhaps we need to stop caring, quite so much, which son he, and His G-d, loved more.

To all our friends at BrothersJudd, a happy and healthy new year, and a blessed Ramadan.

Posted by David Cohen at October 4, 2005 10:55 PM


Genesis 22

Abraham Tested
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied.

2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?" "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied. "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied.

12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram [a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."

Judges 11

29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD : "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."

32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.

34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, "Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break."

36 "My father," she replied, "you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request," she said. "Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry."

38 "You may go," he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite custom 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.


18:21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

20:2 Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones.


12:30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.

12:31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.

Here we have, at the heart of Rosh Hashanah, one of the foundation stones of western civilization -- the offering of Isaac. As we discussed yesterday, note the importance to the story that Isaac is considered Abraham's only son. Ishmael has been banished and is no longer Abraham's son. G-d's relationship descends from Abraham through Isaac to Israel.

The fact that Isaac is Abraham's only son -- and when G-d says only, He means now and forever -- is one of the odd things about this story. G-d has promised that Abraham's descendants will be a mighty nation, more numerous than the stars. How can that promise come true if Isaac, Abraham's only son, is sacrificed? Abraham, though a notoriously stiff-necked man, never argues with G-d but goes along. We have to suspect, don't we, that Abraham has figured out the "test." But, of course, G-d knows that Abraham knows and Abraham knows that G-d knows. So what kind of test is this? In Temple today, the Rabbi brought up an interesting suggestion: the test is not whether Abraham is willing to sacrifice Isaac. What sort of test is that? Given the time, given the mores, given the demands of neighboring gods, given that G-d is G-d, why wouldn't Abraham comply? The real test, suggested the Rabbi, was whether Abraham -- who had steeled his nerves to the task, who had traveled for days, who had bound his son and raised the knife -- would stop when told to stop. He passed that test. If he had failed, then G-d's promises would have been forfeit. As he passed, the promises remained.

But what about Jephthah and his vow that "whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering." Given the story of Isaac, given the law making human sacrifice an abomination, why would he make such a vow, why would G-d reward it and how could he (or He) see it carried out. There are important lessons in Jephthah's story about rash vows and what it means to pray and see a prayer seemingly answered. If G-d intended the Gileadites to triumph, should He have changed His mind because of Jephthah's vow? Obviously, we must be circumspect in the promises we make, to each other and to G-d.

On the other hand, the most likely explanation for the story of Jephthah's daughter is that it is misunderstood. Jephthah could not have gotten either the people of Gilead or the Priests to go along with a human sacrifice. Moreover, the story seems oddly interested in the state of his daughters virginity for a story about human sacrifice. What seems to be going on here is that Jephthah vowed that whatever came out to greet him would either be consecrated to G-d or, if appropriate, be sacrificed as a burnt offering. In ancient Israel, a person could be consecrated to G-d, cloistered and would not thereafter marry. This makes sense of the daughter's response to Jephthah's news ("Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry") as well as the ending of the story, "And she was a virgin" as opposed to "And she was a burnt offering."
Posted by David Cohen at October 5, 2005 11:39 PM

MORE: I keep meaning to email my Rabbi for his notes on a particularly nice sermon he gave a few weeks ago. One of the points he made is that it is entirely appropriate, when you come to a particularly troubling biblical passage, to say "it can't really mean that."

Celebrate International Web Day

You've all seen it elsewhere I'm sure, but just a reminder that, until November, the Royal Society has put all of its publications since 1655 on-line for free.

Happy Anniversary Of The Creation Of The World

It's Arev Rosh Hashonah and we've got 14 people coming to the house tomorrow, so I might be a little scarce. Here's a typically pompous and overly earnest comment from BrothersJudd to tide you over:
Oh, where to start...

In the beginning...

People of faith believe that there are two paths to knowledge: through perception and through faith. I know that there is a computer on my desk. I know that G-d exists. Materialists believe that the only path to true knowledge is through perception, and that the existence of my computer is a fact because I directly perceive it, while G-d's existence is not a fact because faith is not a legitimate path to knowledge. To people of faith, this attempt to give to perception a privileged position unattainable by faith is startling. It is as if a deaf man insisted that sound did not exist because he could not see it, or a blind man insisted that color did not exist because he could not smell it.

In practice, of course, no one insists that only those things that are directly perceived can be known. If enough people say that they have gone to Yellowstone and have seen hot water shooting out of the ground every hour or so, we accept that as a fact, despite not having perceived it, or anything like it, ourselves. The blind and the deaf accept that sight and hearing exist, because so many others tell them so, and much that they do perceive is otherwise inexplicable.

And yet the materialist, living amidst billions who claim to have perceived Truth through faith, living next to the sometimes quite concrete testimony of dead billions more, and living with the otherwise inexplicable mystery of the Beginning of material existence, insist that only their senses count and that if they cannot perceive access faith, it cannot exist. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Yet, that is not entirely their fault.

Once a fact is known -- that G-d exists, or that He created the Earth, or that fossils have been found of animals that do not currently exist -- all we have with which to deal with that fact is our reason. Here is the tricky part even for those who accept faith as a means of cognition: what role does faith play in the manipulation of facts, regardless of how they are known. The answers to this question are all over the lot. Some believe the Bible to be the inerrent Word of G-d, accepting six days, Eve from Adam's rib, a great flood and the loaves and the fishes as a report of what would have been directly perceived, if they had been present to witness events. Others see G-d as starter, setting the race in motion but otherwise uninvolved. The majority take the most difficult route to justify, as we pick and choose between faith and perception. If a blind man heard such disparate reports of a sunset, he too might doubt sight, although he would be equally wrong.

Here we sit, then, with each side by now too wedded to its conclusions to allow for constructive reasoned discourse. Is there a path out of the morass? Probably not, but I'm willing to give it a (necessarily solipsistic) try.

There are certain things that both faith and reason tell me. I exist. Existence had a beginning. Reason can tell me nothing about conditions prior to the beginning of existence. My faith, perception, knowledge and reasoning are limited and imperfect.

What, then, can I conclude from these truths. First, that I can conclude nothing with certainty. The fact of my existence is the only certain fact available to me. Second, that both faith and reason push me to conclude (by which I can only mean "act as if") all the rest of you are sentient beings such as I am (though logic, of course, pushes the other way). Third, that both faith and reason push us to conclude (see above) that the physical world exists as we perceive it (though logic, again, pushes the other way). Fourth, that we can know is only a vague shadow of true existence; that all knowledge is but a metaphor that helps us navigate the unseen depths.

Each of us carries in our brain a model of the world. When we drive somewhere, or give directions, we are navigating our own model of the world. When we act in a particular way in order to cause another to respond as desired, we are navigating our own model of the world. When we add 2 to 2, we are navigating our own model of the world. When we plan for the future, we are navigating our own model of the world. When we worship or research, we are navigating our own model of the world. Every decision we make, every action we take, is made or taken -- not in the real world -- but in our model world. New knowledge comes only when the reality and our model diverge, at which point the model should change, but often doesn't.

Each of us has a model, and each model diverges from every other model to a greater or lesser extent. Models tend to be more alike within families, tribes or nations than between those groups. Some are more rigid than others, some more supple. But each model perceives reality though a slightly different lens. Different models can thus give us different insights into the nature of reality.

Perception and reason are inherently limited and flawed. They can see only part of the truth, and thus faith need not justify itself to reason. But, humans being humans, faith and knowledge are also limited. Each can give only part of the picture or, rather, a different picture of true existence. The one great advantage of faith, though, is that is requies acceptance that Truth exists outside of reality. To use Godel's model, faith is the statement that knows that it cannot be proved. Reason is "2+2=4", which believes itself to be true beyond proof. Reason denies its own model.

This is the rock on which the materialist falters. The materialist demands that only those things that can be perceived exist, but reason does not go so far. Reason also insists that atoms, say, existed before they could be perceived. The materialist must, therefore accept that those things exist that are capable of being perceived under the proper conditions, regardless of whether they are actually perceived. In other words, the materialist must punt on existence, substituting his model for perception -- exactly the crime of which he accuses the faithful.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 4, 2005 12:12 PM

21 September 2006

Why Has No One Ever Mentioned This Before?

Emma Thompson reveals pressure of staying thin and youthful in Hollywood

Fun With Photos

At the moment, Drudge has juxtaposed a 3.3 million year old skeleton with a picture of Barbra Streisand.

20 September 2006

Republicans May Be Evil, But We Are Certainly Brilliant

The Corner points to some yutz who writes that it is self-evidence that the Pope dissed Islam in order to help Republicans in the upcoming mid-term election:
Pope Provoked Muslim Rage To Help Bush and Republicans (Rob Kall, opednews.com)

Ratzinger is not stupid. Including the reference to the passage that has incited Muslim anger was no accident. It was a calculated, intentional strategy designed to help George Bush and the Republicans in the 2006 elections, just like the Catholic church systematically helped Bush and the Republicans in the 2004 elections, through Cardinals and Bishops who attacked Kerry....

To spell it out, it seems that the Pope intentionally drew an angry, violent, anti-Catholic, possibly anti-Christian response from Muslims on the street in the Arab world. This makes great TV -- burning the Pope or Christians in Effigy, threats to terror Bomb the Vatican and Catholic Churches. This is designed to raise the hackles of American Christians, to intensify the fear of Muslim terrorism, to boost the belief that there are 1.1 billion Muslims plotting against Americans.

There's no truth to these ideas, but there are millions of right wingers and some independents and dumbocrats who will go for this message hook, line and sinker.
Leave to one side the obvious point that Rob Kall's vicious anti-Catholicism will not cause Catholic riots across the world. Let's just note that the Pope's statement about violence and Islam is untrue; that the ensuing riots will cause people to vote Republican; although Democrats could better protect us if there were a threat; that Republicans are questioning Democrats' patriotism by suggesting that they are blind to the obvious threat; and that there is no threat but just fear ginned up by Republicans because voters desperate for protection will vote Republican. (It is the song that never ends, it just goes on and on my friends ....)

Think I'll Go Buy Myself A Ford "Rhode Island"*

Oil drops below $60.00 a barrel.

*So called because it's the size of Rhode Island.

Where Am I?

Over at JaneGalt's defending insider trading and DDT.

19 September 2006

It Can't Be A War Of Civilizations.

That would require a second civilization.

If The Election Were Held Today, I'd Be Very Surprised

Bruce Bartlett trots out the old line: If the election had been held six weeks ago, almost certainly they [Republicans] would have lost control of the House of Representatives and probably the Senate, as well. This reminds me of the arguments after 9/11 that, if this action or that had been taken, 9/11 wouldn't have happened. My favorite was that, if Ralph Nader had been elected, 9/11 wouldn't have happened because he had a plan to reinforce cockpit doors. Even if he did, and even if it became his top priority, it takes a spectacular leap of faith to believe that, eight months after his inaugural, four particular cockpit doors would have been reinforced, or that pre-9/11 flight crews would allow passengers and crew to be beheaded because they refused to open the doors.

But the real point is that, while we can reduce our vulnerabilities, we can't make ourselves invulnerable because the enemy is an actor, too. He will adopt to our new tactics, just as we adopt to his. If 9/11 had been made impossible, it would have taken some other form.

Similarly, if the election had been held six weeks ago, the president would have started making almost daily speeches 13 weeks ago. We would have adapted.

18 September 2006

A Question

Does Kleenex purposely interrupt the interleaving of their tissues about three-quarters of the way down so that, when the next one doesn't pop right up, you look into the box and realize that you're running low?

17 September 2006

Decent English Leftists. Nation Marvels.

The BBC brings us the story of a young girl growing up in Soviet Russia. Her father was in the gulag for trying to obtain a printing press and her neighbors avoided her and her mother because the state considered dissent contagious. Her one lifeline with sanity came through letters from an English couple who, though apparently leftists, made it a point to write to the families of political prisoners. They became penpals, and the English couple began to send care packages. A book chronicling the relationship is coming out and the girl, now 41, is retelling how "When the first letter came it was like something from another planet. We were living in such a closed society that it was like getting a message from a UFO."

Luckily, there are plenty of commenters ready to remind us that, while brutal dictatorships are bad, so is consumerism.

Hoist On His Own Petard

Natural Selection attacks Harry Eagar.

[Harry is a long-time friend of this blog, and we wish him nothing but the best. Hang in there, Harry, we'll be praying for you.]

Conspiracy Is A Warm Fluffy Bed

Israeli-US plot behind pope's remarks: Iran hardline press (AFP, 9/17/06)
Iranian hardline newspapers said there were signs of an Israeli-US plot behind remarks by Pope Benedict XVI that linked Islam to violence and created a wave of anger across the Muslim world.
Life must be such a delight when everything that happens can be fit into one coherent world view. "Down with randomness" is the cri de coeur of the conspiracy theorist.

No Room For Wife-Beater?

The AP story (quoted by Jonah Goldberg in the Corner) about the firing of the Cardin staffer/Oreo blogger includes the following quote from the Steele campaign:
Melissa Sellers, a Steele spokeswoman, criticized the blog.

"It is deeply disturbing to learn that a staff member of 10-term Congressman Ben Cardin would keep a blog chronicling racial prejudices toward Lt. Gov. Steele and others," Sellers said. "This is the kind of attitude and gutter politics that Marylanders are sick of and why they are ready for change."
Notice that the description of Cardin used when pith is all-important is "10-term Congressman Ben Cardin." The number one thing the Steele campaign wants voters to know about Cardin is that he has served in Congress for 20 years.

[NB: Without more, I don't consider the following statement, from the blog, antisemitic: The blog also contains an entry describing Cardin's friends as "large men with strong, loud voices and Jewish noses." "Jewish" describes a type of nose, as well as a type of rye bread, and simply noting the someone has that type of nose is not antisemitic. "Jewish" is, in fact, a strongly descriptive word when applied to noses that immediately gives us all a mental picture of the type of nose described. Objecting to the description as antisemitic, on the other hand, may well be antisemitic as it implicitly treats the adjective "Jewish" as pejorative.]

16 September 2006

The Sad Thing Is That She Might Be The Most Competent Dem Politician

Sen. Hillary Clinton blasts Bush assassination film (Dwight R. Worley, The Journal News, 9/16/06)
Sen. Hillary Clinton this morning blasted the producers of a new film depicting the assassination of Pres. George W. Bush.

"I think it's despicable," Clinton said
The problem is the incompetent Dem voters.

The New Phonebook's Here

Well, actually it's not. But the great Economist Pocket World in Figures is here. The PWF is worth the cost of an Economist subscription all by itself. It's like walking around with the CIA World Fact Book in your pocket.

[20 minute break as I, while looking for statistics on crime (the US has the largest prison population while not even showing up on the list of the most number of crimes per population), get sidetracked by other fascinating tidbits.]

Did you know, for example, that at $20 billion, the US is the largest bilateral and multilateral donor of international aid? Or that we donate twice as much as number 2 Japan? That we're the world's largest producer of energy? That we use less energy, per head, than Canada? That we have both the world's longest road network and the world's longest rail network? That we ship more freight by rail than any other nation? That the US and Belgium, at 99.6, are tied for the largest number of color TV's per 100 households? That there are 10 countries (topped by Luxembourg at 138) with more than 100 cell phones per 100 population? That the median age in Japan is 43 and in Uganda is 15? That Latvia has the lowest birthrate in the world and also the smallest number of men (84) for every hundred women? (Except for Losotho, the bottom 8 countries in terms of the number of men for every 100 women are all in eastern Europe.)

I could go on all day. In fact, I think I will.

15 September 2006

Lochner Lives

Eve Tushnet points to Stuart Buck who quotes the following passage from Mark Gerson's In the Classroom: Dispatches from an Inner-City School That Works:
Because they worked hard and wanted and expected to work hard as adults, my students took an almost instinctive interest in money and economics. One of the parts of the Constitution that captivated them was the interstate commerce clause, because it allowed the government to limit the number of hours they could work. I did not expect to spend much time on this, but the students were fascinated by the idea that the federal government could regulate working conditions in a Jersey City restaurant on the basis of the fact that the tablecloth was made in New York. I was surprised that this point generated significant ire among my students. Carmen reacted first: "No one should tell me how much I should work except my mother. How does Bill Clinton know how much money we need or how many hours I can work and do well in school?

Walt added, "She be right, yo. And if I ain't workin', you think I'm studyin'? No. I am out with my boys."

Every student who commented on the interstate commerce clause agreed with these assessments. The unanimity was striking, but so was the fact that most students did not allow themselves to become too upset in light of what they considered a grievous violation of their liberty. Why? Because, as Charles told me, no one paid any attention to these laws. He had worked sixty hours a week in a restaurant for several years, and no one had ever threatened to stop him. Moreover, Charles added, it was not just small businesses that do not keep official records; his younger brother had worked similar hours in a branch of a large supermarket chain, and no one had bothered him, either. I would never have thought of it before, but now I would not be surprised if statutes restricting the number of hours teenagers work are the most violated laws in the city, and there is nothing the government can do about it.
As luck would have it, the regulation of working hours was at issue in Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905), the high-water point for libertarian policies in the US.

Lochner involved the violation of a New York State law regulating the number of hours bakers could work. The regulation was supposedly for the health of the bakers, although it was more likely a Union put-up job so that non-Union shops wouldn't have an advantage over Union shops. The Supreme Court struck down the regulation, holding that the freedom of the bakers to contract with the bakery for to work any number of hours they together chose was implicitly protected by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment ("No State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law").

This is what is known as substantive due process (likened by its opponents to red pastel greenness). It holds that the Due Process clause does not simply regulate the governmental process in depriving a citizen of life, liberty or property, but that it creates a substantive right to certain aspects of life, liberty or property that cannot be denied at least through the legislative process. Lochner is incompatible with a modern regulatory state and, in fact, lead the Supreme Court to strike down several important components of Roosevelt's New Deal. That lead to the court packing plan (Roosevelt proposed to expand the Supreme Court until his new justices could override the old, Lochner loving justices. The crisis was averted when the Court first severely limited and then overruled Lochner.

Substantive due process, however, lives on. Although the courts will now defer to economic regulation without regard to the erstwhile freedom of contract, they strictly forbid interference with the judicially created substantive privacy right upon which the right to abortion, among other things, is based.

14 September 2006

By "Economy", We Mean "Gas Prices"

Cookware Blogging II

The Cohen's also love lasagna, but need a good lasagna pan. This week, I bought a Hefty EZ Foil Lasagna Pan, extra deep. This is the Rolls Royce of disposable extra deep foil lasagna pans. It is 13 1/4 x 9 5/8 x 2 3/4 (for our metric friends, the pan is conveniently labeled as 336mm x 244 mm x 69 mm). The foil is heavy duty and protects the lasagna from burning. It has good thermal properties and spreads the heat evenly throughout the pan. (When cooking, be sure to keep the top edge of the lasagna particularly moist, as the heat does tend to dry out it out.) The pan is well up to the weight of the lasagna. The pan was knocked out of shape on the trip home from the grocery store, but it was easily knocked back into shape. Clean up is particularly easy, as you just throw the pan away.

One Bowl Easy Meatless Lasagna:

1 32 oz container Ricotta cheese
3 cups Mozzarella
1 cup Parmesan
2 eggs
1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatos
1 box of 12 lasagna noodles.

Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C). Mix Ricotta cheese, eggs, 1 cup Mozzarella and 1/2 cup Parmesan in bowl. Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan. Put three uncooked lasagna noodles on bottom of pan, arranged with the long axis of the noodle along the short axis of the pan. Spread one third of Ricotta mixture evenly over dry noodles. Cover with one third of remaining sauce. Put down dry lasagna noodles. Repeat twice more, so that all of Ricotta mixture and sauce is used. Put down last three dry lasagna noodles. Mix diced tomatos, 1 cup Mozzarella and season to taste (Tobasco, salt, pepper, Oregano, Italian Seasoning, etc.) in bowl. Spread over top. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover, top with remaining Mozzarella and Parmesan and bake for 15 minutes, or until cheese on top starts to brown. Let sit for 5 minutes and then serve.

Call Off The Calling Off Of The On-Bringers

Although I can't get the page to load, Drudge quotes John Kerry as follows on the Swift Boat Vets in '08: 'I'm prepared to kick their ass from one end of America to the other.'

Don't you hate it when you are running for president and someone makes a completely devastating attack that destroys your candidacy, and you think of the perfect reply, only now it's two years later?

Ice Skating In Hell

Amnesty International report: Hezbollah guilty of war crimes (Yossi Melman, Haaretz, 9/14/06)
Amnesty International has accused Hezbollah of "serious violations of international humanitarian law, amounting to war crimes" during the recent Lebanese war.

In a report published in London Thursday, the human rights group condemned the "deliberate targeting" of Israeli civilians by Hezbollah.
In a way, this is too bad. Amnesty is accusing Hezbollah of war crimes for deliberately targeting civilians, but it also accuses the US and Israel of war crimes because, though civilians aren't targeted, civilians are killed in attacks on legitimate military targets. This faux equivalence reduces the perceived legitimacy of both the use of force by nation states against their enemies under arms -- which Amnesty intends -- and Amnesty itself. The distinction that Amnesty occludes is at the heart of the just use of force. It's as if the violent intruder and the defending homeowner were both criticized for their use of force.

13 September 2006

Bad News

News comes from Washington, via The Corner, that President Bush, at his father's urging, has made James Baker a senior adviser on Iraq. One of the great mysteries of the last 20 years is why Baker, the biggest ego in Washington, is considered competent. W has just repeated one of his father's key mistakes.

12 September 2006

You Wouldn't Think He'd Have The Time

Man Accused of Fraud Blames Karl Rove (Larry Neumeister, AP, 9/12/06)
Attorneys for a man accused of fraud say he was charged at the behest of presidential adviser Karl Rove in retaliation for a flood of spam e-mails sent to a campaign Web site. A federal prosecutor says the claim is "absurd."

Assistant U.S. Attorney David M. Siegal urged U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain on Monday to reject arguments that Rove caused the criminal investigation that led to charges against Robert McAllister.
Doesn't he know we need a new casus belli?

No Comment

It just was mind-boggling to find in a supposedly liberal media outlet an editorial that was factually incorrect, that used a sort of rabid, frenzied tone, with complete reckless disregard for the facts.

Gotta Love Drudge's Two Top Stories



U.S. trade deficit hits record in July...

Jeeves And The Serious Novelist

So, I'm minding my own business reading Trollope's The Small House at Allington when I start to be bothered by a niggling thought. Lord De Guest reminds me of someone. Lord De Guest would be great friends with Lord Emsworth, so long as they could reach armistice on the great pig/bull debate. Not only that, but the plot starts to seem somewhat familiar. There is this chap, you see. Not the most intelligent chap, of course, but well-turned out. Well, this chap goes to visit a friend from his club at his uncle's home (the chap's friend's uncle, that is) in the country and meets this girl, something in the cousin line. It being the country and all, there are fields and streams and this bridge, you see, and stars, at night I mean, and of course the chap walks out with the girl and before you can say "b's and bees" the chap's engaged. So far, so good, you say, and yet there are some flies in the, in the ..., in whatever it is that flies get into. Nothing good, I'm sure.

You see, there's this other girl and she and the chap have seen something of each other in London and you might even think -- or she might think, which is more to the point -- that there are certain expectations. What's worse, the chap is about to be torn from the b. of his new f. and dragged off to visit this other girl at her country home (more of a castle, actually), where there are lots of Earls and younger sons and other people a chap would just as soon avoid, so he'll be spending lots of time with that other girl. Worst of all, there's a sort of aunt to the first girl who's also going to be at the castle and knows all about the engagement, so if that chap were somehow to get engaged to another girl, well the first girl would find out all about it directly. Come to think of it, there is this other chap, forget the name, Eaves, Eakes, wait, wait, Eames, that's it, Eames, who does something in an office in London, bit of a stick in the mud. Well this J. Eames knew that first girl from childhood and loves her like a chap loves a girl, but he's poor but proud and won't make an offer. Maybe if I lend him a fiver... oh well, nothing to do but put it all in the hands of Jeeves.

Oh, wait, there is no Jeeves in Trollope. In fact, that seems to be the only difference between Trollope and Wodehouse: Wodehouse takes Trollope's plot and adds Jeeves. The first time is tragedy, the second is farce.

That's not to say that Trollope is not funny. He can be laugh out loud funny. I particularly like this passage, from our introduction to Dr. Crofts (who is not the chap, or the other chap, or even the third chap alluded to above):
It was now two years since Crofts had been called upon for medical advice on behalf of his friend Mrs Dale. She had then been ill for a long period--some two or three months, and Dr Crofts had been frequent in his visits at Allington. At that time he became very intimate with Mrs Dale's daughters, and especially so with the eldest. Young unmarried doctors ought perhaps to be excluded from homes in which there are young ladies. I know, at any rate, that many sage matrons hold very strongly to that opinion, thinking, no doubt, that doctors ought to get themselves married before they venture to begin working for a living. Mrs Dale, perhaps, regarded her own girls as still merely children, for Bell, the elder, was then hardly eighteen; or perhaps she held imprudent and heterodox opinions on this subject; or it may be that she selfishly preferred Dr Crofts, with all the danger to her children, to Dr Gruffen, with all the danger to herself. But the result was that the young doctor one day informed himself, as he was riding back to Guestwick, that much of his happiness in this world would depend on his being able to marry Mrs Dale's eldest daughter. At that time his total income amounted to little more than two hundred a year, and he had resolved within his own mind that Dr Gruffen was esteemed as much the better doctor by the general public opinion of Guestwick, and that Dr Gruffen's sandy-haired assistant would even have a better chance of success in the town than himself, should it ever come to pass that the doctor was esteemed too old for personal practice. Crofts had no fortune of his own, and he was aware that Miss Dale had none. Then, under those circumstances, what was he to do?
Nor are the characters much different. Trollope has as many drones about the place as Wodehouse. He treats his politicians with more respect, but as barely more human than Wodehouse's magistrates. Trollope's aristocrats are, on the whole, probably a little worse behaved than Wodehouses and are no more intelligent or inherently noble; though they are treated as such by Trollope's fawners every bit as much as by Wodehouse's. Their women are just about exactly the same. Lady Alexandrina could walk unchanged into Bertie's flat and turn his b.'s to i. Lily Dale, though she would pass Bertie's test perhaps, would certainly fail Jeeves' exam.

The difference seems to be this: Trollope's characters are earnest where Wodehouse's characters are fatuous.

11 September 2006


If there was one thing I disliked more than another after 9/11, it was arguments that the attacks proved the necessity of adopting some piece of the speaker's preexisting domestic agenda. I find, five years on, that I feel the same way about use of the anniversary for political gain. Today, I've watched the airplane fly into the southern tower, I've watched the towers burn, I've watched men and women jump to their deaths rather than be burned alive, I've watched the towers fall, I've seen the smoke billowing out of the Pentagon. I have tried to relive the day anew. Today is for the honored dead and I have no greater lesson to draw than sometimes we're at the wrong place at the wrong time.

[NB For those who are looking to relive the day, CNN will be rebroadcasting its 9/11/01 programming beginning at 8:30 ET here.]

10 September 2006

Partisanship Stops At 30,000 Feet

OJ notes that Canada is buying military transports from Boeing. This brings to mind the old saw that amateurs think strategy while Generals think logistics. The US monopoly on heavy transport has been one of our most successful strategies since World War II, and yet it goes completely unheralded. We can get our troops anywhere in the world quickly. No one else can, unless they have our permission and our aid.

The Left Goes Mad, And I Don't.

Supposedly, we're 60 days from a realignment election that will sweep the Democrats back into power in the House and Senate. So, what do we see? Confident Dems bestriding the world. No.

What I find most comforting about this is how delusional the lefty fringe is. They've spent so much time talking only amongs themselves that they think that lefty fringism is a mass movement. I, on the otherhand, know perfectly well that I'm a member of a fringe movement. I am saner than the left, and I can prove it.


OK great. Let's do it. Let's say two weeks for everyone to get the book and read the first installment. We'll start on Sunday, September 24.

For the first installment, I suggest "Acknowledgements" through "Barrens", or through page 27 in the paperback addition. A couple of questions to think about: what genre is the book? If you answered sf, why? What makes it science fiction? Is the jumping around distracting? Is the math distracting? Do you need to understand the math to understand the book (a question that will become more pressing later on)? How true to life is the character "Alan Turing"? What purpose do the two epigraphs serve? What theme is being set? And, for Bret, what's the first sign that this is a book about monetary theory?

I'm happy to host it here, but would you guys prefer a seperate blog with everyone who wants set up as a "team member" so that everyone can post on the main page?

MORE: I have set up a new blog, Read In Unison, at http://readinunison.blogspot.com. I've invited people who have indicated that they want to participate and who's email address I could find relatively easily. Anyone else who wants to be a member should let me know.

09 September 2006

Just So Happens

Researchers identify "male warrior effect" (Reuters, 9/8/06)
Men may have developed a psychology that makes them particularly able to engage in wars, a scientist said on Friday.

New research has shown that men bond together and cooperate well in the face of adversity to protect their interests more than women, which could explain why war is almost exclusively a male business, according to Professor Mark van Vugt of the University of Kent in southern England.

"Men respond more strongly to outward threats, we've labeled that the 'man warrior effect'," he told the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.

"Men are more likely to support a country going to war. Men are more likely sign up for the military and men are more likely to lead groups in more autocratic, militaristic ways than women," he added....

"Male co-operation is a double-edged sword," he added.
What is, is right; now proven scientifically.

08 September 2006

An Excellent Point

This is an email sent to Jonah Goldberg and published in the Corner. It very nicely makes a point that we tend to forget: we are not the only actor in this war and not everything is within our power. Safety is not something we can achieve unilaterally. It is something we can only achieve through imposing our will on our enemy.
The favorite indoor outdoor sport of public intellectuals these days is of course the historical analogy. Iran is the new Germany and this is 1938. Bin Ladin is the new Saladin and this the 12th Century or whatever. A new one dawned on me yesterday. I am currently reading a book called Through German Eyes: The English on the Somme. The author has gone back and read German unit histories and intelligence reports and tried to write a history of the battle as the German’s saw it. What emerges is the whole myth of an incompetent British leadership sending lambs to slaughter is not true at all. Looked at from the German perspective, the British Army was actually very good on the Somme. They nearly broke the German Army.

The reason why this reminded me of today is that people continually refuse to understand that some fights are just hard. The British Army in 1916 was facing an industrialized well trained German Army that was occupying the better part of France and was simply not going to quit. All of the arm chair post facto strategizing in the world is not going to change the brutal reality that the English could either give up and loose the war or fight and win the war and suffer incredible casualties. There was no easy way out.

Today, we face in many ways the same situation. We face a fanatical and cunning enemy who is unafraid to blend into our society indiscriminately kill civilians, is numerous, well funded and like the Germans will not give up. There is no good way out of this. The United States is going to spend the next generation or more under the threat of terrorism. It will have to change its society and its notions of civil liberties and privacy and will probably have to invade and occupy the odd country every few years for the foreseeable future. All of the arm chair strategizing about more troops in Iraq and Special Forces and diplomacy and working with our allies is not going to change that. People just refuse to face a bad reality. A bad situation is always someone’s fault for not pursuing the easy solution. People refuse to accept that sometimes there are no easy solutions. In the same way people refused even after the war to see that the slaughter on the Somme and Ypres was unavoidable once the war started, people today refuse to see that a long protracted bloody struggle against radical Islam is inevitable. Thus we get “Bush’s incompetence” and “why do they hate us” and so fourth. It is just the same monkeys in different trees.

You Have To Be A Great Actor To Sell That Line

Brangelina to Marry When Everybody Can (AP, 9/8/06)
Brad Pitt, ever the social activist, says he won't be marrying Angelina Jolie until the restrictions on who can marry whom are dropped.

"Angie and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able," the 42-year-old actor reveals in Esquire magazine's October issue, on newsstands Sept. 19.
I wonder if the reporter burst out laughing.

07 September 2006


Is anyone interested in our choosing a book to read as a group, with a certain assigned portion each week and then a discussion of that portion? And if so, which book appeals. The Aubrey/Maturin books would be naturals, except that they are such well-trod ground. Dickens, Trollope, Shakespeare? Personally, I'd be interested in Cryptonomicon, if we can get AOG to join us.

The Conspiratorial Method

I loved this comment, by "Mutt", on a Hit and Run thread about peak oil.
No, I was marching around pointing out Cheney, Rumfeld et al were allies, bankrollers, & apologists of Hussien, and maybe should be behind bars.
It didnt occur to me til , jeez, only a year ago, or less, that maybe PUMPING Iraqs oil wasnt a goal, but keeping it in the ground, thus raising the price everywhere else- including fields owned/controlled by the same interests that own/control this current nitwit war.
i also was opposed to using US troops in a public war for private profit, but maybe thats just me......
And, since these things ARE gamed by governments, are you a "faith based" capital L libertarian?
Dont take this as rudeness, Mike, I appreciate your response.
This is as nice an example of the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" school of political opposition as we're likely to find. If the invasion leads to cheap oil, it is a imperial war by rapacious, overconsuming Americans who would drive their cars in the house if they could. If the invasion leads to expensive oil, it is an imperial war by rapacious capitalist profiteers run-amok, eager to screw the last dollar out of the poor, driving masses.

I also love the portrayal of the omniscient George Bush. Whatever results is what he intended. It can't just be that he was shooting for cheap oil and missed. If he got expensive oil, he was always intending to get expensive oil. That's part of why I read this things. I'm like the Jew who read anti-semitic trash; he liked every once in a while to read about how his people controlled the world and ruthlessly crushed their enemies.

Finally, I realized that Mutt has adopted the scientific method. If the theory doesn't match the observed facts, change the theory. The Enlightenment has finally come to conspiracy theory.

Cookware Blogging

The Cohens are red meat eaters. Unfortunately, over the last few years, we've been suffering for our love: whenever we would cook meat in our oven, our smoke detector would go off. Whenever our smoke detector would go off, our fire alarm would go off. That was unpleasant. Soon, whenever we smelled cooking meat, our ears would start to sweat. Something had to be done.

Red meat cooking being the man's job in our house, it fell to me to solve this problem. I succeeded by heating up a frying pan and, before putting the meat in the oven, searing the meat in the pan. This not only solved the smoke problem, but it tastes great, shortens the cooking time and more reliably results in the medium rare meat we prefer. It soon became clear that we were going to need a new frying pan big enough for some good sized steaks, durable enough for constant use and easy to clean of baked on meat juice. We bought a Swiss Diamond 12.5" frying pan.

This is the greatest frying pan on Earth. The theory of Swiss Diamond pans is that they are made of aluminum mixed with industrial diamonds. Whatever. The result, though, is a heavy though not too heavy, durable pan with great thermal properties. The heat spreads evenly, without any discernible cold or hot spots. It is oven safe up to 500 degrees, even though it has a plastic coated handle which stays cool on the stove top (though not in the oven). Oil, butter or other cooking fats are not necessary other than for taste or texture, so they can be reduced considerably. Swiss Diamond says to go ahead and use metal utensils, though I don't mostly just because I got out of the habit to protect all my other pots and pans.

The best thing about the pan is cleanup. Last night I made oven fried chicken in the pan. After letting it sit on the stove until after dinner, I took it over to the sink. Having first briefly fried flour coated chicken in butter and then baked the whole thing in the same pan in a 425 oven, I just ran it under hot water and then used a soft brush with dish soap for about ten seconds. The pan immediately came clean and even the water just beads up and runs off. I stick the pan in the dish rack and it's all set for whatever I make in it tonight (probably meat sauce for spaghetti). Clean up is always that easy.

Swiss Diamond products are pricey, but worth it. We only own the one and use it every most days for all sorts of things you wouldn't ordinarily use a frying pan for. Since it's oven safe and you can cook with it over a low heat without oil, there's almost nothing you can't cook in it.

Oven Fried Chicken.

Mix two cups flour, two tablespoons paprika and other spices to taste in a bag. (Last night, I used onion salt, garlic salt, toasted sesame seeds, mustard powder and chili powder; it was still a little bland). Rinse chicken parts (up to about 3 pounds) and pat dry. Put in bag and shake to coat.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large, oven-safe frying pan. When butter is hot, add chicken parts, shaking off excess coating into bag. Fry a few minutes to seal coating. Put pan in oven preheated to 425 degrees F (220 C) for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and turn. Cook for another 20 minutes or until chicken juices run clear.

06 September 2006

A Book? The Book.

Jewish man removed from airplane for praying (CBC, 9/5/06)
Some fellow passengers are questioning why an Orthodox Jewish man was removed from an Air Canada Jazz flight in Montreal last week for praying.

The man was a passenger on a Sept. 1 flight from Montreal to New York City when the incident happened.

The airplane was heading toward the runway at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport when eyewitnesses said the Orthodox man began to pray.

"He was clearly a Hasidic Jew," said Yves Faguy, a passenger seated nearby. "He had some sort of cover over his head. He was reading from a book.

"He wasn't exactly praying out loud but he was lurching back and forth," Faguy added.
Jewish prayer (davening) is a full-body experience. Traditional Jews shukle while davening, that is, sway back and forth and side to side in order that even the bones sing G-d's praises. At various times during certain services, it is traditional to prostrate oneself on the floor in submission to G-d. In order to be alone with G-d, a Jew might wrap himself in his tallit, or prayer shawl. At at least one point in almost every service, we sing of the angels praising G-d and how their voices shake the foundations of the Temple. At the same time we raise ourselves up on our toes three times (as the word of praise is uttered) to symbolize that shaking.

All in all, I can see how it might seem odd on an airplane.

05 September 2006

Use The Ratchet Upside Their Head, Pour Encourger Les Autres.

Instapundit points us to an editorial by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, perential Supreme Court bridesmaid, arguing against a proposed amendment to Virginia's constitution banning gay marriage. Judge Wilkinson argues that gay marriage is a proper matter for ordinary legislation and shouldn't be locked into constitutional law. I entirely agree. But Judge Wilkinson does not spend any time on what Richard Posner calls the "one-way ratchet" problem. That is, if liberals use the courts to constitutionalize their policy preferences and the conservatives don't, then even if conservatives sometimes control the courts, the law will still move in the liberal direction over time. At least when it comes to gay marriage, the conservative constitutionalize their policy preferences by holding a vote and amending the constitution. The most we can hope for is that gay marriage, like abortion, turns into an electoral debacle; that the left realizes that it has; and that they learn not to use the courts in the first place.

Stealing Is The Sincerest Flattery

CBS has set up a secret blog for Katie Couric. We should all have them, of course, but even I would be confused by being given a blog by the same entity that forbids you to express strong opinions.

The Uncanny Valley

The only advertiser to whom I've ever written a letter (actually email) of complaint was Duracell, about their "Putterman family" ads. Most people found the characters creepy and I was no exception. I wrote Duracell a nice letter to that effect. They sent me back a form letter, telling me that creeping me out had not been their intent. Although I don't think that I realized this at the time, what Duracell had done was fall into the uncanny valley.

The "uncanny valley" is a theory in robotics. It states, more or less, that people will respond to a robot who looks exactly like a human almost as if it were human, and that people will respond to robots who don't look like humans more like it was a human the closer it comes to looking human. This is not, however, a straight-line function because there is a point where a robot will look almost but not quite human where it will look creepy and fall into the uncanny valley. I'm not sure I buy the whole theory. R2D2 and C3PO seem like counter-examples. But there certainly is an uncanny valley and the Puttermans lived there.

I've been thinking of the uncanny valley and the Puttermans recently as a surf from blog to blog. I'm starting to see more advertisements aimed directly at me. For example, there is a match-making service advertising on online offering me girls in Northampton. Now, I'm not in the market for girls and, if I were, I wouldn't shop in Northampton. Moreover, I doubt that any one of the three girls pictured in the ad lives in Northampton (would that they did) so all the ad really accomplishes is to make me doubt the honesty of the provider of a service I don't need. But the ad also falls into the uncanny valley.

A few years ago, when caller ID was new, some call centers (including, I think, American Express) started using it to identify callers. Caller ID was integrated with the call center's computer system, so as they answered the phone the caller's file would come up on the screen. They started answering the phone "Hello Mr. Cohen, how can I help you." People freaked out and so the call centers went back to asking for your name, although your file was still right there in front of them. [The best use of this technology I ever experienced personally was at one of the pizza delivery restaurants. They answered the phone, "Hello Mr. Cohen. Last time you got a medium cheese pizza. Would you like the same tonight?", which reduced your part of the conversation to "yes" and the phone call to about ten seconds.]

The blog ads, and the services like the one I've (temporarily) installed above, are freaky. But they also fall into the uncanny divide. This is not so much because they are creepy, but because they are awkward. I would never refer to, in my own case, "Northampton, United States" or actually say or write that sentence. I'm perfectly happy to deal with a machine -- I use ATMs, I shop and bank online, I appreciate a good phone system that gives me answers now rather than simply put me on hold for the next available operator, and at least a quarter of the time I call people, I'd rather that their voice mail picks up -- but I don't need or like the pretence that the machine is a person. Keep your robots firmly on the far side of the uncanny divide and we'll do fine.

[The welcoming sentence is a free service from these people: http://www.geobytes.com/. All they ask in return is that, every 50th time their server is accessed, the page gets redirected to their site. I find that a fairly obnoxious practice and would apologize to anyone caught up in it, but the joke's on them: this is a secret blog.]

04 September 2006

But Who Can We Sue?

Study: Older fathers bring higher autism risk (AP, 9/4/06)
Men who become fathers in their 40s or older are much more likely to have autistic children than younger dads, a new study released Monday shows, bolstering evidence that genetics contributes to the mental disorder.

The research involved about 130,000 Israeli Jews born in the 1980s. Those fathered by older men were almost six times more likely to have autism or related disorders than those fathered by men younger than 30, and more than one-and-a-half times more likely than children fathered by men ages 30-39.

BrothersJudd Blog Archives: SMALL BAAL

Sic transit (Peter Keough, Boston Globe, 5/22/05)
In the spring issue of CommonWealth magazine (which I edit), [David] Luberoff made a provocative case [free registration required] against the environmental rationale for the Big Dig-related transit plans, now the subject of renewed litigation by the Conservation Law Foundation, which extracted the state commitment 14 years ago. Luberoff argues that the state's own analyses have shown that these projects, including the extension of the Green Line through Somerville and into Medford (which the administration continues to support on an even bigger scale), will do very little to clean the air or relieve traffic congestion - the two major environmental goals for the projects - and that they will do so at very high cost.

For a price tag of $621 million, Luberoff shows, based on 2004 state estimates, these projects would eliminate no more pollutants than could be accomplished by giving tune-ups to a couple of hundred automobiles that don't meet current emissions standards. ''In fact,' he writes, ''the state probably could identify and replace each of those 200 cars with a Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle for about $5 million, which is less than 1 percent of the cost of the three transit projects.'

Luberoff is equally dismissive of the idea that the three transit projects would relieve traffic congestion. They are expected to serve roughly 6,500 people daily, barely making a dent in the 770,000 who drive into Boston every day - despite the outsize cost. At $375 million to carry 3,500 people, the Green Line extension as originally conceived would add $16 million in debt service to the already beleaguered MBTA budget, or $18 a day per new rider for debt, plus $1 to $2 in operating subsidy. Cost per passenger would be a bit lower for the Red-Blue connector, but three times higher for renewed Arborway trolley service.
I am by no means the first person (I may well be the last) to note that, when it comes to modern American liberalism, there is no there, there. Conservatives obsess about defining conservatism, coming up with a unified theory of conservatism, retelling the history of conservatism and, best of all, tossing other people out of conservatism. Liberals have the "tossing people out" thing down pat, but otherwise seem to shy away from examining the underpinnings of their beliefs. Liberalism is, I've said, more of an aesthetic than an ideology.

Now, I think that I have been somewhat unfair. Liberalism is not simply an aesthetic movement. It also has its religious aspects: it is as if some particularly virulent pagan sect had survived alongside Judeo-Christianity over the last three millennia, going through similar reformations, evolutions and growth. That is, liberals are like the United Church of Baal, which rather than seeking to have us sacrifice babies on the idol's fiery alter, seek to have us pay higher taxes for light rail demonstration projects. Nothing will be accomplished, but the god will be propitiated.

Originally posted May 22, 2005

[Note: The Baal series of posts and comments have always been among my favorites. This post, though, is now chiefly notable for the comment thread:
The congestion problem will be relieved when the Dig collapses and folks can't drive into the city.
Posted by: oj at May 22, 2005 06:24 PM

If only that were a joke.
Posted by: David Cohen at May 22, 2005 06:35 PM

The floods will come before the collapse.

If $15 billion for the freeway didn't propitiate Baal (hard to believe a half-mile tunnel in Boston cost more than the Chunnel), it's hard to believe $625 mill for the Green Line will. Baal's appetite is insatiable. Luckily, we have the taxpayers of western Massachusetts to help us out.
Posted by: pj at May 22, 2005 07:09 PM

03 September 2006

Blogging Synergy

Here are two things I came across recently that I wouldn't have blogged individually, but together creep above the bloggable threshold. First, from Ann Althouse, a link to a NYT story in which Jude Law talks about how hurt he was that Chris Rock made fun of him at the Oscars. The second is a comment on the IMDB board for Kingpin, which we watched last night. (Short review: hilarious, raunchy, disgusting, oddly touching and as nice a job of weird casting as I've seen. Highly recommended if you're not offended at body function humor.) As the comment is behind a wall, I'll quote it:
As a bowler i thought the ending tournament sucked. I've seen bill murray hit a couple of brooklyn's and they were sloppy also. His ball with the rose inside, is not a strike ball, it was meant to pick up spares for it lack of core, i'm pretty sure it was a plastic ball also. randy quaid's bowling looks pretty real. Of course everyone knows that left handers have that natural hook. I was hoping for some real bowling with some solid 10's standing, some light in the pocket shredding the 5 into the 7, some messengers from the head pin into the wall back into the 10 pin, and somebody picking up grandmas teeth. Your avid bowler understand's grandmas teeth, i never pick it up before, but i have picked up the 6-7-10 a few times. the bowling was very realistic, but it sucked. i enjoyed the movie alot [All the above is sic]
As the old Romans used to say, "De Gustibus non disputatum est" or, as the economists say, "You can't make interpersonal comparisons" or, as I say, you people sure have funny-working brains.

There are only two blogging templates: 1) Here's something that seems profound that is really mundane and 2) here is something mundane that is really profound. Seems pretty clear which template we have to use here, so here goes: Clearly, leftism is dead. Leftism requires that all revealed preferences that differ from the left's template be a sham (I'm looking at you, What's The Matter With Kansas). In fact, people make no sense at all.

We Are Now Taking Applications

For a new press agent. Your job will be to keep David's Secret Blog secret. All of the regular commenters would seem, ipso facto, to be qualified for the job. Please apply in the comments.

Topic For Discussion

In his most recent column, or his most recent column in this hemisphere, at least, Mark Steyn suggests that it isn't obviously a good bargain for the kidnapped Fox news employees to pretend to convert to Islam in order to gain their release. He doesn't suggest that they should have died instead, but he does suggest that the Arab street will understand this as western weakness. Here are three topics to discuss:

1. Is there anyone out there who would choose death over pretending to convert to Islam?

2. Would we be better off as a whole if our culture expected people to die rather than pretend to become apostates?

3. Would Muslims really see this as a win for the terrorists kidnappers, rather than the face-saving means of backing down it seems to the US street?

02 September 2006

Ignore The Voters And They'll Go Away

From Slate, we get an article by Amy Sullivan wondering why the Democrat's relationship with the religious of all stripes, including black protestants, is crumbling. Ms. Sullivan claims that "the Democrats' crumbling credibility on religion wasn't caused by one thing." She then runs through a series of "framing" issues, all the while assuming that, in fact, the Democratic Party would be a perfectly welcoming home for the religious.

And yet she does not even mention gay marriage.

It takes a certain wilfull blindness to note that even black churchgoers are starting to have problems with the Democrats, and yet not mention the one big issue that has driven the religious vote for the last two years. (Her treatment of abortion is about as blind, as she only mentions it in the context of Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton's campaign to reduce abortion rates. But abortion is old news, and doesn't explain why the religious continue to desert the Democrats.) In fact, the Democrats treatment of gay marriage has been a nice demonstration of the worst possible way to handle a political hot potato. The Party doesn't endorse it, few candidates will talk about it, John Kerry insisted that his position on gay marriage was the same as President Bush's, and yet everyone knows that the Democrats are the party of gay marriage. Maybe the lesson is not framing, or media bias, but that you really can't eat your cake and have it, too.

We Don't Know What We Don't Know

From the Brother Judd comes word of a study indicating the height directly correlates with intelligence. This is a fascinating finding. For example, how many people have tried to deprecate the voters by noting the advantage taller candidates seem to have (particularly post WWII). Now it seems that the voters were simply using a good proxy for intelligence. More telling for science, though, is that any correlation between height and intelligence is so counter-intuitive that it would ordinarily not be investigated. Any rewards to height, other than on the basketball court, would be dismissed as mere prejudice or a remnatn of evolutionary psychiology (taller people tend to be healthier, better nourished, wealthier and so women prefer taller men, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada). In fact, taller people should be expected to get more jobs, get higher pay, be more successful, not because of some unreasoning instinct but because they are, on average, better at their jobs. How many just so stories have just met their death?


The New York Times waddles in a few days late to note that "Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, knew the identity of the leaker from his very first day in the special counsel’s chair, but kept the inquiry open for nearly two more years before indicting I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, on obstruction charges." Suddenly, the Times is struck by the new question "of whether Mr. Fitzgerald properly exercised his prosecutorial discretion in continuing to pursue possible wrongdoing in the case."

There were those, of course, who were a little surprised that Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation lasted more than a couple of days. He had, after all, been brought on-board to give politically acceptable closure to an investigation that couldn't go anywhere because, regardless of how Ms. Plame's identity was leaked, it wasn't a crime to do so. That Mr. Fitzgerald bootstrapped an investigation into a non-crime into an indictment of Scooter Libby is problematic. For the Times, though, it is more problematic that Mr. Fitzgerald -- egged on by the Times because it hoped to embarrass the Bush administration -- used the on-going investigation to target journalists and, in particular, the Times' Judith Miller, who Mr. Fitzgerald disliked from a previous run-in in which she had warned an Islamic charity that Mr. Fitzgerald was about to search their premises. And yet, that is unmentioned in the Times' article.

New Times, New Ethics

A The New Republics writer I've never heard of, a Lee Siegel, has been caught up in a sock puppetry scandal. Mr. Siegel had a blog at TNR and commented on his own posts under a pseudonym, "sprezzatura." (For the time being, one of the threads at issue can be seen here.) "Sprezzatura" means a sort of aristocratic nonchalance, so Siegel apparently has no insight into his own character, but the thread, although completely unedifying, makes for fascinating reading. Given that TNR has become entirely irrelevant (too right for the left and too left for the right), when's the last time it published anything that made for fascinating reading?

So obviously it fired the author immediately.

What is it about sock puppetry that makes it a firing offense? The author is withholding information about his identity as a commenter, but do the other commenters really care? As author, a writer has the magazine's authority as well as his own and should be kept to a high standard of trustworthiness. But as an anonymous commenter? Why should we as readers care whether the anonymous schmo supporting the author is the author? This is an instance where dead-tree ethics don't seem to translate well to the on-line world and, in fact, get in the way of the magazine's primary duty to the reader: providing content that is interesting to read.

01 September 2006

I Was Playing Basketball

When one of the players popped the ball. We then had to play with arty glass orbs, some of which were too big to fit through the hoop. Next thing I know, I'm at the home of an NBA player, which seemed to consist mostly of concrete ramps. We were discussing his next contract when a mob of fans came storming up the ramps. We ran and they chased us. When they caught us, the fans in front were carrying a large metallic pan of chocolate pudding.

My 13 year old, when I told him my dream: "What in the world was your sub-conscious trying to work through with that!?"