How many children?

According to the headline, "I'm the daddy... to 70 children!"

This is a pretty thorny ethical issue, isn't it?  Cassandra has recently made some compelling arguments about the importance of biological diversity; and we're all, I think, more or less on the same page of the importance of having involvement of both parents in the raising of children.  So:  while Elise finishes formalizing her thoughts, from your position is this better than polygamy, worse, or about the same?  Why?

Speaking of Feed and Seeds... know what's a bad place to try to rob?  The Tractor Supply Company.

At the Feed and Seed

We went by the Feed and Seed today to buy wormer for the horses.  While we were there, Ms. Grim was asking them if they would get peanuts in, because she thought she might try them for her garden next year.  The shop owner avowed he thought he might have some in the spring, if she wanted to come back.

"Will they grow well?" she wanted to know.

"Oh, peanuts grow well in Georgia," he said.  "Especially down in South Georgia.  Jimmy Carter made peanut farming famous."

Now that's a perfect intro, I thought, so I said, "I hear that Herman Cain is from Georgia, too."

"Is that right?" the owner said.

"Who's Herman Cain?" the wife asked.

The owner said, "He's a presidential candidate.  You need to know his name, because he's the one you need to vote for if he gets on the ballot."

This is a farm supply shop in a rural county in North Georgia, which produces mostly timber and cattle.  If Herman Cain has won the hearts of these people, there is no reason he can't be President.

Empathy and its Discontents

"Empathy is not a major player when it comes to moral motivation," which raises some concerns about its value.  Americans are really good, these days, at feeling bad for you.  Does that mean they will help you?
As Steven Pinker writes in his mind-altering new book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” we are living in the middle of an “empathy craze.” There are shelfloads of books about it: “The Age of Empathy,” “The Empathy Gap,” “The Empathic Civilization,” “Teaching Empathy.” There’s even a brain theory that we have mirror neurons in our heads that enable us to feel what’s in other people’s heads and that these neurons lead to sympathetic care and moral action.
You can read a much more in-depth account of Dr. Pinker's new work here.  What strikes me most about his assertions is how carefully he has pruned some of the graphs.

The first graph is pruned by showing a mean but not a mode; the 20th century graph is pretty much on the line with what the mode would be.  If you take "Europe and the US in the 20th century," and plot it against an average that is distorted by just a few of the graphs to the left, it looks like there has been substantial change.  If you take "the 20th century" as a whole, and plot it not against the average but the mode, it looks like there is no significant change.  The "100 Worst Wars and Atrocities" chart offers a hint as to why:  there is a strong clustering of the "worst"-ever things as you approach our present time.

Likewise, the "Deadliness of War" graph is strangely constructed by having a flat number of people killed.  The population has increased so much over the time frame, though, that the change makes a hash of the assertion.  There is a huge difference in a nation losing 10,000 people when it has a population of 30,000 versus 300,000 versus 300,000,000.  Note also that the scale on the graph is logarithmic, which makes the spike in the 20th century seem like a far smaller change than it really is:  if you drew this same thing on an normal scale, the Thirty Years War would look like a blip beside WWII.

As always, I doubt these claims of "progress" in human nature.  Cultures change over time, yes; but assuming you have an ordinary prejudice toward your own values, any period in history will be able to draw a chart showing "progress" of this type.  After all, humans learn culture from interaction with each other; and we have more interaction with those humans who are closer to us than those further away.  This is true in both space and time.  Therefore, of course it looks like periods of time further away from us are less like us than closer periods; and of course you can draw graphs that appear to show lines on scales going in a consistent direction.

That doesn't imply "progress," though.  Any age will be able to draw a graph just like this, showing movement from values alien to their own, to values closer to their own, to their own values.  That will certainly look like progress to them, but that doesn't make it progress in any real sense.

El Cumbanchero

Our brothers at the BSBFB have posted this video of children at play.

They say it is a serious matter, and indeed, once it was.  This is a most serious group, with big-band and references to President Kennedy.

Night At The Museum

A most excellent evening recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in New York City)! Of course I thought of all of you. I think of you often, and snap pictures, and then life takes over and they remain in my phone.

It was called The Grand Tour (symbolic of how, years ago, a young person wasn't fully educated until they had taken a year or so and traveled around the world (did I ever mention the Met is snooty? You must go to the NY Historical Society to get the other-side-of-the-tracks story). 

There were some great things going on: lectures (one on Medieval beekeeping!), demonstrations, live music, and receptions throughout the museum (all my favorite spots, the American Wing (sculpture), the Petite Sculpture Hall (European sculpture, including one of Perseus, Rodin's Burghers of Calais, and some things I've seen but had not ever paid enough attention to - a later post), the Temple of Dendur (which is a great place to hear a concert), and Arms and Armor (happy sigh!)

It was fabulous being there at night. I was quite taken by the artwork and how different it looked at that time of day.

I attended a presentation of armor (photos below), and learned:

Firearms predated plate armor by 300 years and they lived together for about 300 years. The first firearm was from around 1320 and probably came from the far east. Northern Italy and Germany were the main armor makers because of ideal conditions in their region (nearby water, ability to have heat from forrest nearby, water to cool armor being made).

These replica helmets (above) were made in Philadelphia and Austria.The presenter said there is always a battle (no pun intended) in museum-world about whether to show original pieces or to show replicas, which could then show the recently restored padding and straps.

The presenter showed up how flexible this gauntlet was; unbelievable -- it can move quite fluidly.

The mail on the table was enormously flexible, and was very much like fabric.

We learned how there would be more metal in the front of the helmet, to deflect arrows, and less in the back, to save on materials. We also learned that plate armor was brought about by increased use of the crossbow. And that they would be shined up nicely not just to look good, though that was a part, but to help result in a "glancing shot," that is a shot where the arrow, which is already at a disadvantage since it must hit the steel at exactly the proper angle and at its highest velocity in order to penetrate, glides right off instead of penetrating the armor.

This picture was taken in the gift shop. I have never seen it before but it's a field trip kids from a long time ago took, to Arms and Armor.

I'll post some of the sculpture another time. I want to see if I can find some daytime shots to compare the shots I got at night.

A Wonder, Of Sorts

Thank you, Ms. Garofalo, for your kind opinion of your fellow Americans.

The thing is, I think there is a funny parallel within the GOP to Ms. Garofalo's reading.  The thing behind the "Herman Cain can't win" concept is that Republicans also assume that some racist sentiment will keep Cain from winning.  The lesson of the Florida straw poll is that, actually, once people get together they realize that he has an extraordinary amount of support.  Once people realized that their fellow Republicans weren't as racist as they expected them to be, Cain won in a walk.

The shock, apparently even to Republicans, is that there is very much less racism within the Republican party than they expected to find.  Everyone feared everyone else, but in the end, it proved that their hearts were all in the right place.

That was surely a wonder:  like the coming of dawn after a long night.

In God We Trust

Walter Russell Mead makes an interesting point.
In ancient times, the damage to two unique symbols of national identity by something as rare as an East Coast earthquake which did little or no damage to more pedestrian and less symbolic structures would have been highly noteworthy.  We would be rending our garments, consulting the Sibylline books and repenting in sackcloth and ashes after so a clear a demonstration of divine wrath.
The phrase "In God We Trust" has an 18th century ring, he says, but it's actually a 19th century creation -- as a phrase associated with the United States government it dates, in fact, to the worst days of the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln clearly thought of what he was doing as reforging a broken compact with God.  He spoke of the horrors of the war in just this way.  Just a year after adopting the phrase "In God We Trust" for Federal money, he said in his second inaugural address:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." 
It is true that the America of 2011 does not believe in anything like the fashion of the America of 1864.  The question Mead is drawing our attention to is the question of whether that is good, bad, or irrelevant.  It's an interesting question, since the powerful and wise of the hour seem to fall chiefly into either the "good" or "irrelevant" camps.

Quite Right

The worst argument against the death penalty, of course, is that it’s somehow awful for the state to kill people. Nation-states are all about killing people. They exist solely because they’re better at that, on a large scale, than any other form of human organization. Everything else is superstructure, and if they lose that edge it will fade away.
Instapundit, today.

Today's Headline

"Terrorist arrested in elaborate plan to cause minor cosmetic damage to government buildings."

It is good to love your enemies.  I love this one for designing a plan that, even if it had worked, would have had no effect whatsoever on America aside from a few days' employment for out-of-work construction contractors.  Also for finding a way to make Toys'R'Us into a supplier of dual-use technology.

Dear Mr. Fox...

...won't you guard our henhouse?
"I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that," North Carolina's Gov. Beverly Perdue said yesterday. 
That's just what our government needs:  less accountability for public officials.  Great idea, ma'am.

Bob Dylan and the Girl

You probably know this song.  If you don't much like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash did it; and if you don't like either of them, I've never met you.

Who is the girl?

History preserves her name.  She was Suze Rotolo:  "an American artist, but... perhaps best known as  Bob Dylan's girlfriend between 1961 and 1964 and a strong influence on his music."  She died, at 67, of lung cancer.

If you're like anyone, she is the one who grabs your eye when you look at the cover.  He looks like nobody; yet she was the influence, and he was the genius.  She didn't do anything we readily know of her own.  Most Americans could name another two or three of Dylan's songs; those of his generation, ten or more.

There's a lesson here, and it's an important one.  I'm not sure quite how to formulate it.  It seems improper, and insufficient, to say simply:  "The girl matters."  But she does, and surely more than we have any way to articulate.  She walked with him once, in a lane:  and he wrote songs for her.

What Justification?

Socrates was a troublemaker like this.

The man is a liar, too.  He tells you in the first few minutes that he is a Jew, but he is in fact an Evangelical Christian.

I'm not particularly interested in the last few minutes of the video, though, where he goes fishing for men.  I'm interested in the substance of his argument about... well, watch and see.  The important part stops about the 23rd minute.  There's a real problem in the analogy he's making, and I'm curious if you'll see it.

Reasons to Prefer Monogamy

In a prior post Grim asks, "Is there some fundamental reason to prefer monogamy, or is it just what we're used to seeing?" Perhaps more disturbingly, he asserts that there is no competing interest to be balanced against the expressed desire of a woman to be in a polygamous marriage. I can think of several fundamental reasons why a society might prefer monogamy. I can also easily think of a crucial competing interest: that of children born into polygamous marriages. Both points will be addressed below:

Reason #1 to prefer monogamy to polygamy: Inbreeding.
Doctors and family members interviewed by New Times say up to 20 children from families in the polygamist community are currently afflicted with the condition that requires full-time attention from caregivers. Victims suffer a range of symptoms, including severe epileptic seizures, inability to walk or even sit upright, severe speech impediments, failure to grow at a normal rate, and tragic physical deformities.

"They are in terrible shape," says Dr. Kirk A. Aleck, director of the Pediatric Neurogenetics Center at St. Joseph's Hospital. Aleck is a geneticist who participated along with Tarby and others in the groundbreaking study of several polygamous families with fumarase deficiency in the late 1990s.

There is no cure for the disease, which impedes the body's ability to process food at the cellular level.

"But...", you say, "that's just one community". Except the same problems exist halfway across the world in Turkey. Different religion. Different culture. Same result:
Ayla has recently uncovered a disturbing side effect of polygamy and inbreeding.

Repeated intermarrying within families, typically between first and second cousins, has produced abnormally high rates of children with Downs Syndrome and Mediterranean anaemia.

Hmm... let's try a third continent:
Often it is not a question of remarriage but simply of inheritance, a widow being automatically transferred as wife to the man designated by the rules of succession. This implies a certain weakness or even the non-existence of prohibitions on marriages between affines; a man can inherit wives from his brother and from his father, although naturally his own mother is excluded. This practice, which is fairly frequent in Africa, flagrantly contravenes bothe the Christian and the Muslim teaching on incest.”

So much for that whole consent thingy. Wives are property....which brings us to reason #2.

2. Forced marriages and child brides.
Forced marriages, child brides, polygamy and arranged marriages between first cousins are some of the problems that Canadian immigration officials in Pakistan have to deal with.

3. Aging fathers + aging sperm = more birth defects. In societies where polygamy is common, men often continue to have children into their old age. Not only are older men unlikely to live long enough to ensure their latter born offspring are provided for, but their children face a higher risk of birth defects.

In a monogamous marriage, fertility is limited - naturally - by a woman's waning fertility and eventually, her inability to conceive. Not so when an 80 year old man can marry (and impregnate) a 12 year old.

4. Welfare and immigration issues. From communities where half the residents are on welfare and the majority of children live below the poverty level to Muslim immigrants who repeatedly return home (where polygamy is legal) and then bring their wives back to North America to collect welfare and state medical benefits to smuggling of child brides (gotta do something about that incest problem!), it's pretty clear that the rosy scenario of a rich, benevolent man supporting multiple wives and many children doesn't quite live up to the advertising.

5. Cost of living/stability: it costs more to support 3 wives and 15 children than one wife and 2 childen. The greater the number of dependents, the worse the consequences of financial reverses.

Not all rich men stay rich for life. What happens to all those wives and children when Daddy loses his nest egg? (see previous item)

6. Human nature/jealousy. Few women want to share a man. For that matter, few men want to share a woman. Pretty much every article I read pointed out that the Koran says the first wife must agree to a multiple marriage. And they all said that this is ignored in practice. Why? (hint: see item #8)

7. Parental neglect/children growing up with no father in their lives. Not recognizing your children when you meet them in the street is not a good thing:
Mehmet Arslan Aga, a sprightly, pot-bellied, 64-year-old Kurdish village chieftain from Isuklar, seems an unlikely defender of monogamy as he has five wives, 55 children, 80 grandchildren and a small army of servants. But he insists that if he had his time again, he would only marry once.

Although his large number of wives underlines his powerful status, he has found it a challenge to build each wife a house far from the others to prevent them from competing and struggles to remember all of his children's names.

He recently saw two young boys fighting on the street and intervened, breaking up the fight and telling them they would bring shame on their families. "Don't you recognize me?" one of them said. "I'm your son."

His biggest headache, though, he says, stems from jealousy among the wives, the first of whom he married out of love. "My rule is to behave equally toward all of my wives," he said. "But the first wife was very, very jealous when the second wife came. When the third arrived, the first two created an alliance against her. So I have to be a good diplomat."

Apart from the need to play marital referee, Mehmet, who owns land and shops throughout the region, says the financial burden of so many offspring can be overwhelming. He explained, "When I go to the shoe shop, I buy 100 pairs of shoes at a time. The clerk at the store thinks I'm a shoe salesman and tells me to go visit a wholesaler."

Despite his fecund lifestyle, Mehmet Aga acknowledges that polygamy is an outmoded practice and has taken personal steps to ensure that it is coming to a halt in his village. He has banned his own sons from taking second wives and is educating his daughters; he will not allow them to become second wives. He claims that his situation derives from his ignorance and the need to make tribal alliances. "I was uneducated back then, and Allah commands us to be fruitful and multiply, but having so many wives can create problems. If you want to be happy, marry one wife."

8. Lack of consent/willingness from the first wife. An old movie quote comes to mind:

"But we had a deal!"

"I have altered our arrangement. Pray I do not alter it further".

9. Gross power imbalance. A man and a woman who marry have roughly equal power. It is up to them to decide how it will be shared. In a marriage between one man and multiple women, the wife faces not only competition from her husband but competition from other wives eager to gain power/influence.

10. Divorce. It's a big enough problem now between monogamous couples. How is marital property equitably disposed of when there are multiple wives, each with children? If a woman wants to leave a polygamous marriage, her actions affect many more people. Maybe that explains why most societies that allow polygamy don't think a woman should be able to get a divorce (unlike men).

I can think of many more, but this has gone on long enough. This article has an example of a situation where polygamy seems to have worked out for all concerned. I'm sure there are others, but anecdotes are generally a pretty poor basis for public policy decisions.

Note: Because Grim's argument was rooted in the notion of what a woman thinks is good for her, I purposely did not consider the drawbacks for men (though I believe they exist and would have little problem coming up with a similar list from the male perspective).

"Beauty and Brutality"

An article from, on 'Iceland's literary landscapes.'  It goes with this video, which is part of a new documentary.  The video is of very high quality, so try expanding it to full screen.


I'd have to say that Johnny Cash wins the prize on this one, by a good sight.  Still, in fairness, he had the advantage of being much older when he did it.


You may have seen this article on the probability of your existence written by a student at Havard.  (H/t Instapundit).
So what’s the probability of your existing?  It’s the probability of 2 million people getting together – about the population of San Diego – each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice – and they all come up the exact same number – say, 550,343,279,001.

A miracle is an event so unlikely as to be almost impossible.  By that definition, I’ve just proven that you are a miracle.
With all due respect to our friend at Harvard, that's wrong in two ways.

First, since you're reading the article, the probability of your existence is 1.

Second, though, what is the probability of existence itself existing?  1, by the same principle:  but if you're going to run the regress, and try to figure out what the probability-of-coming-to-exist was before it happened, you need to know something that in fact you do not and cannot know.  Heidegger said that the great question of metaphysics is "Why is there something rather than nothing?"  That isn't a question that admits of mathematical proofs, since mathematics doesn't exist until the universe and its laws exist.


Dr. Hanson does best when he writes about history, as he does this morning.
Whether at Byzantium during the Nika Riots or in bread and circuses Rome, when the public expects government to provide security rather than the individual to become autonomous through a growing economy, then there grows a collective lethargy. I think that is the message of Juvenal’s savage satires about both mobs and the idle rich. Fourth-century Athenian literature is characterized by forensic law suits, as citizens sought to sue each other, or to sue the state for sustenance, or to fight over inheritances.

The subtext of Petronius’s Satyricon is an affluent, childless, often underemployed citizenry seeking inheritances and lampooning the productive classes that produce enough excess for the wily to get by just fine without working....  
Western moral literature, from Horace to Thackeray, focuses on the vanity of the rich who think that a greedy heir won’t really inherit their hard-won or suspect riches, or that their always aging hips and knees will always so briskly power them up the monumental stairs of their colossal homes, or that a fifth sailboat or another 1000 acres will at last end the boredom. But the rub is not whether they are rich but whether they are idle, whether they send a message that affluence can make life better, rather than affluence is inevitably corrupting. In Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars, the theme is not just imperial decadence and cruelty, but also the blind passions of the mob that the elite so cynically manipulate for their own useless privilege and nonsensical indulgence.
Fortunately, he has a remedy to propose.

"A new tax code, simple rates, few deductions, everybody pays something; new entitlement reform, less benefits, later retirement; a smaller government, a larger private sector; a different popular culture that honors character rather than excess — all that is not, and yet is, impossible to envision. It will only transpire when the cries of the self-interested anguished are ignored."

That sounds right to me.

The Godfather

How many of you like Herman Cain, but think there's no point in taking him seriously because he can't win?
In the days before the vote, nearly all the delegates who voted for Cain either said or heard someone else say this: "I love Herman Cain, but he can't get elected." The assumption that Cain can't win the Republican nomination was a serious obstacle in their minds. But at some point late Friday and early Saturday, the delegates overcame that obstacle. Some concluded that since they had heard so many people speak well of Cain, he could indeed win, if everyone who liked him would actually vote for him.
Now that's interesting.

UPDATE:  Here is the video of Mr. Cain's remarks on health care at the recent debate.

I remember reading some posts by left-leaning writers, which I can't seem to find now, that pointed to these very remarks from the debate as the ones that made them angriest.  Their point, as I recall, was that nothing in Obama's plan would put a bureaucrat between you and your doctor.  I assume they believe this is true because the letter of the law does not do so.

However, it's hard to see how the plan avoids triggering the consequence, even if it does not state that it will do so.

Africa Leads the Way?

One of the stranger headlines today touts the fact that Africa is one of the bright spots in the global economy.  Why?  They ran out of money first, so they reformed first.
Developing countries from across the world, including Africa, are portraying themselves as "innocent bystanders" of the economic storm boiling out of Europe and the United States, and have joined the chorus calling on the European nations in crisis to bite the bullet of painful economic reforms.
"It is not easy, it is painful, and we went through the pain, and the Europeans must be prepared to go through the pain," African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka told Reuters in an interview.
He said the reforms needed in the ailing southern European states involved the kind of overhauls of public finances and labor markets and other structural reforms that African nations -- with firm urging from the IMF and World Bank -- had tackled over the last two decades and now had results to show for it.
Fund and Bank experts say sound macroeconomic reforms and better budget management are some factors that have helped propel robust growth in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000.  This has given the region one of the brightest outlooks of any region amid the prevailing gloom.
So what kind of reforms did the IMF suggest, that produced these excellent results?
The IMF sometimes advocates “austerity programmes,” cutting public spending and increasing taxes even when the economy is weak, in order to bring budgets closer to a balance, thus reducing budget deficits. Countries are often advised to lower their corporate tax rate.
Really.  That sounds vaguely familiar.

Oh, in other news, President Obama gave a speech.  He says that the proposed GOP reforms would "cripple America."  Fortunately, he'll be there to keep those reforms from happening.

Polygamy in Georgia

From Atlanta's own Channel 2 news, a story that a school assignment is promoting Islamic polygamy:
Medlin showed Regan the assignment brought home by his 13-year-old daughter. The assignment consisted of a letter from Ahlima, a 20-year-old Muslim woman, and touts the advantage of a wearing a Burqa and finds the way western women dress to be "horribly immodest," according to the assignment. 
The assignment shows Ahlima saying she doesn't mind if her future husband takes more wives. "I understand that some Westerners condemn our practice of polygamy, but I also know they are wrong," the assignment said... 
Another page of the assignment lists the seven conditions for women's dress in Islam, including:
-It cannot resemble the clothing of nonbelieving women
-It must protect women from the lustful gaze of men 
It also states, "Islam liberated woman over 1,400 years ago. Is it better to dress according to man or God?”
My favorite part of this story is the school's explanation for the assignment:  'to help students put the school dress code into context.'

Once I met a playwright from Al Kut who claimed he was going to seek asylum in America -- not from the Ba'athists, but from his two wives.  Apparently they were fine when they were alone together, but as soon as he walked in the door the jealousy and sniping began.

That said, it strikes me that there is a feminist argument for (as well as the more familiar feminist argument against) polygamy.  Naturally a woman wants to marry a man who has good bloodlines and who can provide for her and her children during the times when she is unable to do so.  Under monogamy, most women must settle for a man who is only average or below; but the richest men could more readily afford ten children than a poor man can afford one.  Since wealth is often correlated with self-control, hard work, and intelligence, one could argue that these men would also be better quality mates.

Why should a woman have to select an unmarried loser, just to preserve a level playing field for the men who are seeking wives?

Elise said a while ago -- I can't recall the exact context -- that it should matter to men who proclaim that they love the women in their lives that the women prefer monogamy.  Fair enough; but what if they didn't?  What if the woman, like Ahlima, happened to prefer to marry the best man even if he had another wife?  Polygamy at least preserves what marriage is for:  it binds families into new kinship bonds, and provides for the generations.  (Actually, one might put it the other way, and say that monogamy preserves what marriage is for, since polygamy may be the older and historically more-common form.)

Is it just Islam?  Apparently not, because people were just as upset when the Mormons proclaimed that polygamy was acceptable.  The Jews practiced it in the old days, and Christ used a polygamous bridegroom as the explanatory model for his church.  It can't be said to be un-Christian or irreligious, then; it's just, so to speak, un-American.

Or so it has been.  Is there some fundamental reason to prefer monogamy, or is it just what we're used to seeing?