Although my experience with hurricanes is less than Tex's, I've done both the ride-out and the evacuation. I slept through Isabel, except for a couple of occasions when the house I was in leaned over far enough in the wind to wake me up. It didn't fall, though, so I went back to sleep.

(More interesting than the storm was the commute that day. I was in D.C. for work, at the Pentagon as I recall, and stayed until the Metro was being shut down. I caught the last train out of town, and then when I got to the end of the train line, I found that they were no longer running buses on schedule, but as-needed. So, instead of catching my usual bus and then walking home a few blocks from the closest bus stop, the bus service gave me my own bus and dropped me off at my front door. That's service!)

Hurricane Floyd, when they gave the evacuation notice, was the size of Texas and a "very strong" Category 4. It weakened substantially before it made landfall, though, and the damage to our home in Savannah was not severe.

I suspect that Grim's Hall readers are likely to be prepared for anything, as you seem like a resourceful and self-reliant lot. I'll just repeat the usual advice that you always hear. If you're going to evacuate, go early and take the back roads. If you're going to stay, be sure you have bleach (a few drops in a gallon of water will sterilize it for drinking), a good knife, and adequate preserved food, preferably canned as it won't be ruined if it gets soaked. I'm sure you've made all the other sensible precautions that are appropriate to yourselves, such as obtaining any prescription drugs you might need, etc.

Good luck to all of you in the storm's path! If you survive, tell us any good stories that come out of the storm. We'll be glad to hear them, and from you.

The Greatest Storm

"The Greatest, the Longest in Duration, the widest in Extent, of all the Tempests and Storms that History gives any Account of since the Beginning of Time."

Now here's an account that would satisfy even the voracious appetite of the news channels, who dearly love a storm: Daniel DeFoe on a great storm that struck England in 1703:

The human toll was substantial: 123 dead in and around London and an estimated 8,000 drowned at sea, including about one-fifth of the sailors in the queen's navy. The physical wreckage was equally immense, with 800 houses flattened, 400 windmills demolished and the newly built Eddystone Lighthouse, off England's southern coast, washed away. Whole forests blew over. On a tour of Kent, Defoe started to count the fallen trees but quit at 17,000, having grown "tired with the Number."
H/t Maggie's Farm.

"It Can't Happen Here"

"It Can't Happen Here"

The news this weekend is saturated with public officials calming urging people to evacuate in the path of Hurricane Irene. I've lived on the Gulf Coast all my life and am familiar with the drill: do we go this time, or do we stay? When we lived in Houston, the obvious answer always was to stay; we were 50 miles inland at 50 feet of elevation, so the winds were extremely unlikely to be truly dangerous and there was no realistic chance of storm surge damage. It's no picnic to suffer through downed trees, weeks of power outages, and widespread roof leaks combined with shortages in both workers and construction materials, but it's often a sensible choice to stay behind and try to keep the damage under control in person. The deadly Hurricane Rita travesty in 2005 (100 killed) was an object lesson in how much worse an unnecessary evacuation can be than the actual effects of the storm.

Now we live within a couple of miles of the coast at only 17 feet of elevation. We take evacuation notices very seriously, even though we know that an evacuation almost certainly will turn out to be needless. The problem, of course, is that a hurricane causes bad but tolerable damage within a very broad path -- and potentially catastrophic damage within a narrow and unpredictable ribbon. By the time you know where ground zero is going to be, it's far too late to evacuate. Even so, we think very seriously about staying behind unless a storm is quite large and very likely to make a direct hit. The storm shutters go up, and then we hesitate until the last hour that we can be sure the roads won't be under water, in this very flat stretch of Gulf Coast where you have to go quite far inland before achieving any noticeable elevation. We make reservations several days in advance at an inland hotel that will accept numerous large and small animals. In six years here, we've bugged out once, aborted one bug-out at the last minute, and put up storm shutters a couple more times just in case.

Here's garden-variety hurricane damage that you'd like to stick around and fix up yourself while you guard your house and your neighborhood against looting:

Here's utter destruction that left a lot of people realizing in their last moments of life that they'd made a horrible mistake (that one house left standing used to be in the middle of a neighborhood before Ike hit the beach town of Gilchrist):

Interviews with people who barely survived the worst part of a hurricane show a set of consistent reasons why they didn't evacuate when there was still time:
(1) They couldn't bear to leave their animals behind but hadn't made adequate advance arrangements to take them along.

(2) They had weathered storms before, though the simple good luck of not being in the direct path of the worst damage, which drops off dramatically away from the eye-wall. They couldn't believe they'd be right in the shotgun barrel this time.

(3) They didn't fully take in the knowledge of how fast the water comes up in a storm surge and how quickly it makes the evacuation routes impassable. In the 1900 Galveston storm, the water was said to rise four feet in four minutes.

(4) They couldn't comprehend the night-and-day difference between pretty high winds that most buildings will survive handily, on the one hand, and a storm surge and debris wall that would come through their neighborhoods like a giant bulldozer.
None of these things are easy to take seriously if you live in an area where hurricanes are rare. People move around all the time and don't necessarily have family members or good friends with vivid memories of the last disaster from a generation back. I worry about the East Coast, where hurricanes hit just seldom enough to leave the population vulnerable in its attitudes. New York City is likely to be a real mess, flooded and bereft of power and transportation. Their public officials seem to be doing an excellent job of preparation, but that's an awful lot of people packed into a small area, very few of whom really understand in their bones what could be coming. But it's not a very big storm nor packing a huge storm surge, so with luck things won't be too awful.

The truth is, I love hurricanes as long as no one's getting killed. Maggie's Farm quotes Walker Percy on the subject today:

It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes . . . . The hurricane blew away the sad, noxious particles which befoul the sorrowful old Eastern sky and Midge no longer felt obliged to keep her face stiff. They were able to talk. It was best of all when the hurricane’s eye came with its so-called ominous stillness. It was not ominous. Everything was yellow and still and charged up with value.


I Don't Think Hank Did It This Way:

Have a good weekend.

UPDATE: For Mr. Blair, who likes Cowboys and Aliens, a recording from the same era as the old Waylon Jennings song.

It's authentic. At least, Joe Meek did both cowboys...

...and aliens.

Microbial Warfare

Microbial Warfare

I recommend this "Not Rocket Science" article about a possible new approach to the control of mosquito-borne dengue fever. It's brief, but paints a vivid picture of some clever, flexible, and ethical thinking about how to design a more specific weapon than a broadcast pesticide. Some Australian scientists figured out a way to infect dengue-carrying mosquitos with a bacterium that attacks the dengue virus without much harming the mosquito. Before they settled on the final technique, they learned some clever tricks from the bacterium itself:

Wolbachia is transmitted in the eggs of infected females, so it has evolved many strategies for reaching new hosts by screwing over dead-end males. Sometimes it kills them. Sometimes it turns them into females. It also uses a subtler trick called “cytoplasmic incompatibility“, where uninfected females cannot mate successfully with infected males. This means that infected females, who can mate with whomever they like, enjoy a big advantage over uninfected females, who are more restricted. They lay more eggs, which carry more Wolbachia.
The scientists dreamed up a new approach of their own, too, in the form of
a strain that halves the lifetimes of infected females. Only older mosquitoes can transmit dengue fever because it takes several weeks for the virus to reproduce in the insects’ guts. If you knock off the older ones early, you could slash their chances of spreading disease.
That last gambit was not the one they settled on. Ultimately they got a line of mosquitoes going that would carry a Wolbachia strain that somehow killed off the dengue virus right in the mosquito gut. The bacterium can't be transmitted from adult to adult mosquito, though, only through offspring. So the scientists needed to release infected mosquitoes into a native population and let them breed.

Now this part is really interesting, I think. The scientists really wanted to test the new mosquitoes in Viet Nam, where dengue fever is endemic. Instead, they persuaded their neighbors in Queensland to be the first guinea pigs, even though the results would be harder to judge there because dengue fever outbreaks are only intermittent. They reasoned that they could not expect the Vietnamese to trust them to run the experiments there if they had not been willing to try them in their own backyard. As it turned out, the experiments in Queensland were quite successful in showing that an entire mosquito population can be quickly converted to Wolbachia carriers without ill effects. Now the team is headed to Viet Nam to see if they can show real progress in fighting dengue outbreaks.

Tough Questions

Tough Questions, Indeed:

Bill Keller of the NYT constructed a series of pointed questions for Republicans seeking the nomination, on the subject of their religious faith. Verum Serum constructed a similar set of questions for President Obama.

These questions are all partisan levers, of course; but it proves to be the case that there are some very good questions here. A philosopher loves a good question, almost as much as he loves locating a serious contradiction lying at the foundation of some system of understanding like science or mathematics. I think it might be worth posing some of these questions to the readership, with the intent that we should lay out the answers we wish to discuss -- don't feel obligated to answer them all -- and then enjoy a courteous debate about why we feel our view is a good one.

I've selected the questions I think are strongest and most important, and omitted ones that are merely partisan attacks or that lack the same broad philosophical or theological interest. I'm also omitting questions that are actually settled by provisions of the Constitution, such as religious test and Dominionism questions, with the exception of questions about atheists for reasons I shall explain below.

From Mr. Keller:

3. (a) Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation?” (b) What does that mean in practice?
4. If you encounter a conflict between your faith and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it? Has that happened, in your experience?
5. (a) Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? (b) What about an atheist? [See Romney question below for more on this subject. -Grim]
8. (a) What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution? (b) Do you believe it should be taught in public schools?

[To Rep. Bachmann. Sorting out how to read and interpret the Bible is a subject of intense philosophical interest, among some of the truly great philosophers. -Grim] You have said that watching the film series “How Should We Then Live?” by the evangelist Francis Schaeffer was a life-altering event for you. That series stresses the “inerrancy” ­— the literal truth — of the Bible. Do you believe the Bible consists of literal truths, or that it is to be taken more metaphorically?

[To Mr. Romney. Mr. Keller raises a point that -- he may not be aware -- was first raised by John Locke, whose writings on the separation of church and state and religious toleration were extremely important to the Founders. Locke, however, opposed toleration for atheists:
Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration.
While the Constitution is currently read as offering unconditional support to atheists (as well as to Roman Catholics, whom Locke also didn't wish to tolerate on account of suspicion of disloyalty, an objection raised against JFK but not since), that the question was answered otherwise by such an important thinker to the Founders, one otherwise devoted to toleration, I think it remains a good question for examination and thought. -Grim] 1. In your 2007 speech on religion, you said that “freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” Where does that leave unbelievers, in your view?

From Verum Serum:

Do you believe the God of the Christian Bible is the same as the God of the Koran? Does this view influence your foreign policy?

Do you believe in hell and if so who is damned? Do you believe in heaven and if so what are the qualifications for entry? Do either of these views influence your interaction with people and or foreign leaders?

Do you believe salvation is individual or collective? From what passages do you take this view?

Do you believe, as some liberals churchmen do (including some you’ve consulted with), that socialism is the system most compatible with the Gospels? Does this influence your public policy and if so how?

How do you integrate your faith with a scientific worldview including belief in evolution?

Does the Bible influence your views on gay marriage? [I'm more interested in "how does religion influence, etc.," than "Does your religion, etc?". -Grim]

Do you believe Jesus was God? Do you believe Mohammed was a prophet of God?

Do you believe in a future end of days aka Armageddon? Do these beliefs influence your view of Israel and/or foreign policy?

Is there anything you disagree with in the Bible? What and why?
There's a lot there to sink your teeth into. Let's hear what you think.

Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman's Endorsement:

Naturally, this is a subject of interest for the cowboys among you. It's a glowing endorsement.

He is not only a good sport, he is a good, kindhearted man, and he once sat in on drums with ZZ Top. A guy like that can’t be all bad. When I ran for governor of Texas as an independent in 2006, the Crips and the Bloods ganged up on me. When I lost, I drove off in a 1937 Snit, refusing to concede to Perry. Three days later Rick called to give me a gracious little pep talk, effectively talking me down from jumping off the bridge of my nose. Very few others were calling at that time, by the way. Such is the nature of winning and losing and politicians and life. You might call what Rick did an act of random kindness. Yet in my mind it made him more than a politician, more than a musician; it made him a mensch.
I probably would have voted for Kinky. It's good to know he's happy with the outcome, and has developed such respect for his former opponent.


The Horror, The Horror:

Walter Shapiro is really frightened by this Rick Perry business. He offers several reasons, the most laughable of which is his visceral aversion to firearms. I can't help but notice that we've come a long way.

Anti-Intellectualism. Liberals revere high SAT scores. That is why it is no accident that, over the past century, the Democrats have nominated for president five former college or law school professors (Woodrow Wilson, John W. Davis, George McGovern, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama) plus Hubert Humphrey, who was a graduate teaching fellow while working on a Ph.D.

Democrats snootily ridiculed George W. Bush’s scholarly performance, but compared to Perry, the 43rd president—who earned a B.A. from Yale and a Harvard M.B.A.—seems as well educated as John Stuart Mill. And Perry revels in this kind of comparison. Asked last week about how he differs from Bush, he tellingly replied, “He’s a Yale graduate. I’m a Texas A&M graduate.”
Holding a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M is a sign of anti-intellectualism?
The seventh-largest university in the United States, A&M's enrollment for Fall 2010 was over 49,000 students in ten academic colleges. Texas A&M's designation as a land, sea, and space grant institution reflects a broad range of research with ongoing projects funded by agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research. The school ranks in the top 20 American research institutes in terms of funding and has made notable contributions to such fields as animal cloning and petroleum engineering.
Shapiro himself appears to have a B.A. in history, which is a respectable degree; but it's not from Yale, it's from U. Michigan. That's not a bad school either!

Nevertheless, come off it. School pride, or state pride, are in no way signs of anti-intellectual sentiment.

UPDATE: Rep. Bachmann, by the way, has her B.A. from Winona State University, which is probably less well known because of its lack of a successful football team! Still, it sounds like a good school.
National rank: In 2011, WSU is ranked second among public universities in Minnesota in the 2011 edition of “Best Colleges” by U.S. News Media Group. Winona State has been ranked as one of America’s "100 Best College Buys" for quality and value, 15 years in a row. It has also been named among the "Best in the Midwest" by The Princeton Review for 8 years, and ranks as a "top-tier" institution among Midwestern universities, and the top 50 institutions in the Midwest Region Master's Category by the U.S. News & World Report.
She also holds a Doctor of Law degree from Oral Roberts University; and a Master of Laws degree from William and Mary.

Mitt Romney has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young, and M.B.A. and J.D. degrees from Harvard.

So, really, this "anti-intellectual" crowd is a fairly well-educated bunch. Their degrees (with the exception of Romney's English degree) tend toward the professional rather than the arts, a fact with both good and bad consequences.

Prostitutes II

You Know What This World Needs? More Women in Prostitution.

So suggests Dr. Catherine Hakim, in what is described as a carefully-researched account.

That the religiously dogmatic and the merely male chauvinist should have both demonised – and, paradoxically, diminished – the impact of female sexuality from time out of mind, is, following Hakim, only to be expected. In Anglo Saxon societies, such as our own, the net result is, she avers, that we have less sex overall than they do in steamier, less puritanical climes, while our sexual relations are mediated by a tiresome push-me, pull-you interaction: men wanting sex, women refusing it. According to Hakim, Christian monogamy is, quite simply, a "political strategy" devised by the patriarchy in order to ensure that even the least attractive/wealthy/powerful men gain at least one sexual partner.

But while this part of Honey Money may be relatively non-contentious for feminists, Hakim does not spare them her condemnation. The sexual revolution of the 1960s – effective contraception, the loosening of monogamous ties, the devaluation of female virginity – far from enabling women to empower themselves, actually exposed them to still more male exploitation. The post-60s male assumption became that women not only wanted sex as much as them – but that they were obliged to provide it, and for free. Free from the obligation to support children, free from the requirement to pay in any other way.

Hakim's view is that the myth of "equality of desire" is endorsed by feminists, and that this leads to what she terms the "medicalisation of low desire", whereby therapists and counsellors try to convince women that their lack of sex-drive is a function of psychopathology rather than hormones.
The full argument, better summarized in the full article cited above, appears to boil down to a few principles:

1) Evolution has conditioned women to be extraordinarily attractive to men, at the price of losing that boon in only a few short years;

2) Society has treated women badly by assuming that women, themselves, want sex (at least equally to men, which Dr. Hakim says is strongly contrary to evidence); it ought to recognize that they are meant to be sexually desirable objects, and to support their trading that desirability for position and wealth.

3) A world in which we did this would allow women to compete more fairly with men, because it would allow them to trade what nature has endowed as their chief asset, during that short time when they have it in full flower.

I am obviously not well disposed to this argument; this seems to me to be a world that is better for women if and only if it it best for women, in general, to learn to be treated like prostitutes. My objection is stipulated by Dr. Hakim's model, though; naturally I would object.

Nevertheless, I do object. I have had the honor to know, and be moved by, excellent women. I do not think they would have been improved by being exposed to an order in the world that encouraged them, while young and impressionable, to pursue prostitution; I think it would have been a slur and a slander to them to learn to be treated that way.

But I must give fair room for the dissent, which holds that this is what women really want.
And who do we Gchat with, when it counts? Friends, past boyfriends, future boyfriends, other people’s boyfriends. But rarely our actual boyfriend, who’s next to us in bed, looking for something to watch on Hulu. (Unless he’s out of town, in which case we chat with him, and are reminded why we fell for him in the first place.) Gchat is for friendship, and affairs. It’s for allowing into the home everyone who isn’t supposed to be there, who’s supposed to be at home in their own bedroom. It offers a temporary escape from the prison of the family—a reversal of what Engels called “the great historical defeat of women”—and patriarchy, which depends on monogamy and its enforcement.
The great historical defeat of women? I wonder.

Bikini Swords

Swords and Bikinis:

This would be a good start, if they knew how to use the swords. As it is, a masterwork in the discipline of marketing! Poor fools who buy into it, though; a sword is not like Col. Colt's masterpiece, an equalizer of all in spite of strength or talent. Skill matters, and spirit more than skill. A training that fails to develop those things rightly does the student much harm, and no good.

Well. That's something I wouldn't do.

Your Brain Makes up What You See

Your Brain Makes up What You See

From Not Rocket Science, some optical illusions that you'll swear are a trick. In the image below, the spirals look pink, green, and blue. Each is actually made up of stripes: green/orange, orange/violet, and violet/green. The amazing thing is that you'd swear that the green next to the violet is really sky-blue. In reality's it's the same color that's next to the orange, as will become apparent if you zoom in on the picture far enough.

Here's one that's even harder to swallow:

The "light" squares within the shadow are the same color as the "dark" squares outside of the shadow. I couldn't blow up a screen-capture of the checkboard image far enough to make the illusion go away; I had to print it out and fold the page over to convince myself.

Here is a screen capture for your printing and folding purposes, those of you who (like me) couldn't be bothered to go into Photoshop and capture the hexadecimal value of the colors, as several of the commenters on the linked site did:

The Great Debt Experiment

The Great Debt Experiment

Does public debt work only when the citizenry values so highly what the debt will buy that they're willing to give up private or consumer goods for the duration? And then only if, when the debt-funded emergency or project is over, they are willing to give the public project up before they return to funding the private goodies?

This Foreign Policy article posits that the U.S. and Great Britain recovered quickly from WWII debt levels because their people drastically cut down on private debt while the war debt was ballooning. When the war was over, there was a painful re-tooling process, but wartime production was shifted over to meet a pent-up consumer demand. In contrast, recent decades have witnessed an explosion of public debt, not for temporary war emergencies or even long-term infrastructure like railroads, but for long-term unfunded pension and healthcare programs, even while consumer debt kept on expanding to fund larger houses, cars, and gadgets:

The heyday of Keynesian economics came to an end in the stagflation of the 1970s. But curiously, budget deficits actually grew after Keynesianism fell from favor -- not only in the United States, but throughout the Western world. The explanation lies partly in a covert acceptance of deficit spending even by governments nominally hostile to Keynesian doctrine, but also in part in the increasing pressures on public spending created by the second ingredient in the great debt experiment: unfunded long-term financial promises to voters.

The post-war era witnessed not only the triumph of Keynesian economics, but also the establishment of public pensions throughout the Western world. Almost all these pension plans were set up on a pay-as-you-go basis that provided high rates of return to the first generation of pensioners (which, perhaps not coincidentally, was the generation that voted them into existence) at the cost of an unfunded commitment to later generations. Public pension plans are the biggest element in the off-balance-sheet obligations of states, which also include unfunded health-insurance liabilities and the 2008 guarantees to the banking system. In most countries these "implicit" public debts dwarf their traditional obligations traded in the bond market. In the United States, the total long-term commitments for Social Security, public sector pensions, and Medicare have been estimated at over 300 percent of GDP on the basis of current policies.

The author appears queasy about the recent revolt against Keynesian policies by both lenders and voters, which is leading to brand-new austerity measures in nearly every developed country. Although he protests that no one can predict what will come of this about-face, he acknowledges that something had to give:

The markets have highlighted a fundamental shortcoming in Keynes's ideas: He assumed that governments would always be able to borrow. If they cannot, then Keynesian economics is dead in the water.