Low Bridge

Via the Borderline Boys, a little film:

My grandfather was a welder who ran a service station for long-haul truckers.  One of them made a similar mistake.  In those days long-distance communication was often by telegraph, which charged by the word and therefore rewarded brevity.  He sent his letter of resignation in the form of a quatrain:

Saw low bridge,
Couldn't stop.
Now you have
An open-top.

"I do not think you can have the duck."

Do grocery stores in your area carry fresh or frozen ducks in the meat department?  None of them in my little town does any more.  I'm even striking out in the grocery stores in other towns nearby.  My store offered to special-order them for us, but when we came back to check they said only that the shipper claimed they were seasonal.  "It's seasonal" is becoming an all-purpose explanation for whatever the local stores don't feel like stocking.  Wal-Mart wouldn't reliably carry Mason jars for canning, for instance.  Seasonal in South Texas!  What a laugh.

I finally found a mail-order place that will ship the same brand of whole ducks frozen, at a price that rivals what the store used to charge even counting the freight.  Unfortunately, we still don't have our ducks.  What arrived, by mistake, was a couple of large packages of frozen duck sausage.  I'm starting to feel like Steve Martin (sorry, they won't let me embed!):  "He can have the chicken."

Reacting Emotionally to the Non-Plasticity of Mankind

Grim writes an interesting post with quotes from Marx and Heinlein. I want to add something about that, related also to my last post. If there is indeed such a thing as "general intelligence" or cognitive ability (and there is), and it is largely inherited (as it is), so that every man's possible mental accomplishments are limited on the day of his birth - well, how does it make you feel?

I used to hold "blank slate" ideas - and I can tell you that when they're applied to politics, be they leftist or no, they are extremely agitating. Marx (and, I believe, Charles Fourier before him) believed strongly in a huge well of untapped potential in the human race. Get the social arrangements right, and what we call "genius" will become "average." One Marxist thinker, who didn't emerge on a quick google, claimed that the average New Communist Man would have the mental abilities of a Darwin, a Freud, or a Marx - though he admitted there would be deviations from the average, with unimaginable geniuses waiting to emerge and transform the world. The frustrating sense that this incredible world is potentially avaialable right now, with the humans we have, and it's only being held back by social arrangements...well, how to describe it? It can't be good for the blood pressure.

Closely akin to this is the idea that John Derbyshire calls "educational romanticism" - the idea that, since anyone can do almost anything, all that's standing between your children (or your community) and Nobel Prizes in physics, seven-figure salaries, etc. is insufficient education plus discrimination -- surely that idea would fill anyone with bile. I grew up believing "blank slate" ideas and tasted some of that bile, and still get the aftertaste when I reflect on what the Greens have done to our industrial capacity...but that is a different tale.

I do not find it depressing or dismal to see this isn't so with intelligence, that blank slate ideas are nonsense, that in fact the U.S. probably does as well as any country ever in getting its best brains into higher education (this book and that book document it well) -- and that the creation of genius by an act of will must wait, not for a messianic statist, but for technology we may get within the next century. It's a comfort to know we haven't been wasting as much genius as I used to think.

What do you think and how do you feel about it?

On that Foreign Policy article

A few posts below, Grim discusses a foolish Foreign Policy article that attempts to discredit ideas linking IQ to wealth - the title, so predicably, throws the thunderbolt of "racism." (Paragraph 1 of the link shows why I chose "thunderbolt.")

The author firmly establishes his ignorance in the first paragraph - declaring that "Genetic determinism with regard to racial intelligence -- alongside the very idea that intelligence can be meaningfully ranked on a single linear scale of intrinsic worth -- has been firmly debunked by Steven Jay Gould, among others." He cites then to Gould's mendacious Mismeasure of Man.

Gould was an accomplished paleontologist, and knew a lot of important things about fossils and evolution. He was, however, an unrepentant Marxist, which required him to be a psychological blank-slater - and this seriously biased his work when he strayed out of his field. His specific ideas on race, that there hasn't been time for evolution to create signficant differences between large human families, that human evolution stopped 40,000-50,000 year ago, and that genetically our differences really are "skin deep" only, these have not stood the test of time or psychometrics.

The most famous example is well described in this magnificent book -- a sizable increase in cognitive ability among the Ashkenazi Jews. (Average IQ 112-15 - nearly a full standard devition, with huge overrepresentation among the top levels of IQ, and top achievements in science.) The distinction of "Ashkenazi" is important -- this intellectual prominence does not occur among Jews whose ancestors did not sojourn in Europe, and these Jews are a genetically distinct group (having also a specific set of heightened genetic risks, notably to Tay-Sachs disease). Yet their split from the rest of the Jewish population occurred in historic times, showing that significant - historically, incredibly significant - human evolution happens on a much smaller timescale than Gould imagined, or the Foreign Policy author will admit.

(The author mentions the Flynn Effect. He neglects to mention that it appears to have stopped, at least in some places -- suggesting that mankind is not so plastic as he wishes.)

I haven't read IQ and the Wealth of Nations - but according to the review quoted here (review by the man I believe to be the best science blogger alive - and one well versed in biology and psychometrics), the book draws on 620 different IQ studies from around the world and 813,778 tested individuals. In covering blacks, both in Africa and in "diaspora" countries like Jamaica, he drew on 155 different studies with 387,286 people tested -- leading me to doubt strongly the article's suggestion that the sample sizes are too small to say anything meaningful about black or African IQ. [Edit: The link in this paragraph is actually to a review of Lynn's later book, Race Differences in Intelligence; 137 of the studies in the later book were not included in the earlier, though both had extensive data.]

None of this has anything to do with John Derbyshire's Takimag Column that the author opens with - Mr. Derbyshire's column is primarily about antisocial and criminal behavior among American blacks rather than IQ among African blacks. (There is, as we discussed long ago, a very strong correlation between low IQ and criminal and antisocial behavior - one that cuts across races, making it hard to pigeonhole as "the legacy of slavery and oppression" - and you can read a lot about it in chapter 11 of this book.)

If you want to know something about the current state of knowledge about race, race differences, and IQ, you've picked a a good time -- there is an excellent new popular book out: Race and Equality: The Nature of the Debate by John Harvey, published by the Ulster Institute for Social Research. It's about 140 pages in pdf form, and I found it readable in a couple of easy sittings (I bought the pdf straight from the site so I could read it right away; Amazon has a low supply of paperback versions I believe).

Assisted Euphemizing

My very elderly aunt, who has been bed-bound since she broke her hip last summer, has at long last been released from her suffering.  The family members who controlled her modest finances are following her wishes in having her cremated.  Oddly, the resulting freedom from time pressure makes it all the more difficult to settle on appropriate funeral rites.  It becomes almost like choosing a wedding date; I expect "hold the date" cards in the mail any day now.  Nor did it take long for the participants to stumble, as if for the first time, on the notion that the service should not be anything as dour as a funeral, but instead a celebration of her life.  I long for the old-fashioned approach:  a standard ceremony expressing loss, grief, and respect, conducted immediately for whoever can manage to fly in, with minimal pressure on the family to agree on what would be an appropriate celebration of a life they all viewed so differently.

As we are all Episcopalians, that seemed the least likely point of controversy:  just pick a church and hold a service out of the Book of Common Prayer.  I find now, though, that the plan is to hold a service in the chapel of the "assisted living" facility where my aunt spent ten unhappy years after being uprooted from her East Texas home.  The family sold her on assisted living on the reasonable grounds that she could not take care of herself in a town she no longer shared with any family.  It made sense to move to where most of her surviving family lived.  The fact remained, however, that she was being institutionalized.  That the institution had a benevolent purpose didn't change the fact that it was devoted to systematizing its residents' schedules:  telling them when to eat, when to sleep, and when to wake -- for their own good, of course, and in order to maintain some orderly structure in their lives.  My aunt simply hated it.  She appreciated having help, but quickly discerned the underlying message of the place, which was that residents who asked for too much help (a wheelchair, for instance) would be moved from their small but reasonably humane apartments into a nursing wing, where there were two beds to a room and no room for much of anything personal.  She put off that last evolution until she broke her hip and became bed-bound, but she had been so dreading it for years that she endured excruciating pain in walking rather than use a wheelchair.  The residents all feared the nursing wing.  It didn't matter what the staff called it -- I think "extended living" is the currently accepted euphemism -- they knew it was the place where even more of their lives would be stripped away, while they endured remonstrations for their poor attitude.

My mother, stepmother, sister, and father all died at home.  They were lucky enough to die of fairly acute illnesses at a time when they either had partners still living or, in my father's case, as the survivor, could afford some live-in help toward the end.  He initially resisted bringing in live-in help, as I would later learn would be the case for every elderly relative in whose affairs I tried to intervene.  My aunt might have been able to stay at home in East Texas if she had been willing to consider it.  My mother-in-law resists the idea today.  I'm used to the reaction by now:  a visceral dislike of having strangers come into the home.  It's not a reaction I would have guessed.  I suppose I always thought of it as something like the luxury of having a butler or a ladies' maid.  It worked out wonderfully for my father.  It beats by miles having to answer to an institutional staff who work, in effect, for a landlord you can't get rid of.  If I survive my husband I'll certainly budget ahead of time for as much live-in help as I can afford.

My cousin seems pleased with the idea of using the assisting-living facility chapel for my aunt's memorial service, and has scheduled it for a little over a month from now, when a lot of the family will happen to be in town for other reasons.  It was kind of the facility to offer the chapel, of course, and I suspect the assisted-living facility has as pleasant associations for my cousin as it had dreadful ones for my aunt (and now has for me).  It was a nice place, as such places go, but it was a dehumanizing institution nevertheless.  There was a ten-year battle between my cousin and my aunt over whether my aunt would fall in line with the conventional wisdom that it was a fine place and she was lucky to be there.  My aunt was prepared to go so far as to admit it was necessary, a place to be endured with as much grace as possible, but she strongly resisted pretending anything beyond that -- a stubbornness that led to ten years of strained relations and accusations of ingratitude.  The decision to have a memorial service there strikes my suspicious heart as the final salvo in that ten-year battle:  "See!  It really is nice here!"  So I have a little over a month to prepare to be gracious in a venue that makes me want to climb the walls.  I'm practicing all the Miss Manners lines, like "You're very kind to say so" and "Will you please excuse me?"

Ex-Post Facto Evidence

A blog called "Colorlines" has a story with a  headline that is not supported by the story itself:  "Even Gun Enthusiasts are Disgusted with Trayvon Martin Gun Range Targets."

Nothing in the story that follows suggests that; actually, it sounds like the targets are big sellers.

Still, let me go ahead and provide him with the evidence that he is lacking.  I'm not sure if I really qualify as a "gun enthusiast," since I prefer blades to guns; but I do own, and sometimes enjoy shooting, several guns.  I think that the target is a pretty low thing to do.  The Martin family is going to have to see that.  Whatever your thoughts about the case -- and the facts remain somewhat murky -- simple human decency ought to outweigh any thought of money to be made.

Nevertheless he says he was motivated by the hope of money; and apparently he was rewarded.  When something is rewarded you get more of it.  Expect more of this, with all attendant consequences.

The Whole Man

"In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic." 
-Karl Marx,* The German Ideology 

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” 
-Robert Heinlen, Time Enough for Love
It's always interesting when you see an ideal held by both sides of a deep ideological split.  This sentiment points to the praiseworthiness of developing all aspects of our nature, burnishing virtues of mind and body and spirit.

This was Plato's idea as well:  the virtues should prove to be a kind of unity.  Courage, for example, means doing the right thing under threat:  so you must also have the virtue of practical wisdom, to know what 'the right thing' happens to be.  Knowing is likewise of little good without the capacity to do, and so you ought to have trained your body to maximize its capacities for action.  This, in turn, opens new ranges for the expression of courage:  developing a capacity to swim strongly and well means that it may be courageous for you to save a drowning man, whereas it would not be courageous but foolish for someone who swims poorly to try.

So far this morning I have replaced the belt on a lawn tractor, arranged a plumber to fix the leak in the basement pipes, read and considered some philosophy, and killed a huge and bothersome nest of fire ants.**  Most of those tasks are unpleasant, but the sheer variety of them makes it rewarding.  It's pleasant to exercise so many different faculties, even if each individual exercise -- philosophy aside -- is no special joy.

* A Marxist friend of mine tells me that this quote is really one of Engels' contributions to the work, and that Marx hated it.  I assume he's right about that, although I haven't seen the documentation.  It makes sense, as Marx was economist enough to fully grasp the benefits of specialization -- and the necessity, at his point in the Industrial Age, of maintaining that efficiency in order to support his new kind of society.  It may not always be necessary, though:  tasks that benefit from specialization are very often the kind of tasks that can be automated.  That frees the man to be a man again, not a widget or an insect.  Indeed, if he is not to starve, it requires him to show the flexibility that is the mark of a man and not an insect.

** Unless environmental legislation should someday retroactively protect the fire ant species, in which case I have no idea how that rock got turned over, the mound dug up, and poison poured all over the furious beasts.  It's a complete mystery.

Hooah, Kid.

Now, you may be asking why an unassisted triple play is a big deal.  Take a look at the conditions, and give the boy some credit.  That's one of the rarest plays you'll ever see.

Baseball isn't my favorite game -- it's a Yankee sport (poking Raven), one that historian Kenneth S. Greenberg proved was not entirely satisfactory to Southern tastes.  (It turns out that Southerners wanted to keep the bat, just in case anyone wanted to try to tag them; and they refused as a point of honor to run away from any man, ball or no ball.)  Still, I have to admit, it's always a pleasure to sit down with a beer and watch on a summer afternoon.  Good to see the youngest generation taking to it.

The Vanishing Women

The title of the article is "Insight: Afghan women fade from White House focus as exit nears."

Now that is an insight:  and don't they just?
Shortly after sending U.S. troops to Afghanistan in October 2001, President George W. Bush focused so intently on freeing Afghan women from the shackles of Taliban rule that empowering them became central to the United States' mission there.  More than a decade later, as his successor Barack Obama charts a way out of the unpopular war.... Obama's lack of overt attention to Afghan women has led many to fear their hard-fought gains will slip away[.]
Indeed they will if no one defends them.  The best candidates for defending them are, of course, the Afghan women themselves.  In the future, if we take it upon ourselves to ensure that a traditionally-oppressed group has a new dawn of rights and respect, we need to ensure that they have not merely the recognized right but the practical means of self-defense.

"Touch not the cat bot a glove."  On that road, and no other, lies freedom.

So My Question Is...

...what kind of low-rent opposition researchers do Republicans employ?  Mitt Romney ran a hotly contested campaign against John McCain in 2008; the oppo book got published online, and there weren't any surprises in it.  Mitt Romney went on to run a hotly contested campaign against several well-connected Republicans this year, and nobody came up with anything beyond voting records and conflicting political position statements.

Yet since Romney became the presumptive nominee, we've suddenly learned that:

A)  He was arrested for disorderly conduct for refusing to obey police instructions on how to operate his boat;

B)  He was a roughhouse prankster who was part of a high-school gang that once jumped a guy and gave him a hair-cut.

Fortunately for Romney, there's a way to turn this around.

Romney Campaign Adopts New Slogan

IQ and National Wealth

Foreign Policy magazine has an interesting follow-up to the Derbyshire story, which becomes interesting once the author has finished clearing his throat of disdain.  It turns out that there's a very good argument against a lot of the IQ studies from Africa that people have been relying upon:  The quality of the data is very poor.

Lynn and Vanhanen even argue that IQ was correlated with incomes as far back as 1820 -- a neat trick given that the IQ test wasn't invented until a century later.
As that surprising finding might suggest, most of Lynn and Vanhanen's data is, in fact, made up. Of the 185 countries in their study, actual IQ estimates are available for only 81. The rest are "estimated" from neighboring countries. But even where there is data, it would be a stretch to call it high quality. A test of only 50 children ages 13 to 16 in Colombia and another of only 48 children ages 10 to 14 in Equatorial Guinea, for example, make it into their "nationally representative" dataset.
Psychologist Jelte Wicherts at the University of Amsterdam and colleagues trawled through Lynn and Vanhanen's data on Africa. They found once again that few of the recorded tests even attempted to be nationally representative (looking at "Zulus in primary schools near Durban" for example), that the data set excluded a number of studies that pointed to higher average IQs, and that some studies included dated as far back as 1948 and involved as few as 17 people. 

There is a great deal more on the second page of the article, which suggest further problems with the data.  Naturally I find this information to be a relief, but I know that Joe in particular has looked closely at the information and tends to support the conclusions; so, I thought I would post the link here and ask what he (and the rest of you) may think of it.

There's a more interesting genetics-related suggestion (than IQ) in the article as well:

Enrico Spolaore and Romain Wacziarg have gone even further back, arguing that "genetic distance" -- or the time since populations shared a common ancestor -- has a considerable role to play in the inequality of incomes worldwide. They estimate that variation in genetic distance may account for about 20 percent of the variation in income across countries. 
Spolaore and Wacziarg take pains to avoid suggesting that one line of genetic inheritance is superior to another, preferring instead an interpretation that argues genetic distance is related to cultural differences -- and thus a more complex diffusion of ideas: "the results are consistent with the view that the diffusion of technology, institutions and norms of behavior conducive to higher incomes, is affected by differences in vertically transmitted characteristics associated with genealogical relatedness.… these differences may stem in substantial part from cultural (rather than purely genetic) transmission of characteristics across generations," they write.

Now that argument seems intuitively plausible.  Economic success is largely the result of trade, and trade is most successful where communication is most easy.  That means that barriers to communication and common understanding would tend to complicate trade, and thus lower economic success.  These could be linguistic or cultural barriers, but a genuinely distinct genetic heritage might also affect sense perception and brain activity in interesting ways.  That could cause a long-separate population to have a different way of seeing the world, literally in some cases, which would be a kind of barrier to communication.  Thus, "genetic distance" might indeed raise barriers to economic success.

However, there's a very obvious counter-example:  the Japanese.  Few societies have been as successful historically at isolating themselves, culturally and genetically.  Even today they have a quite distinct culture and genetic heritage; but especially in the 19th century, when American gun boats finally forced their doors, they were as distinct as you could want a population to be.

Japan nevertheless rapidly industrialized and in only a few years was defeating Russia at war; a few years later it was challenging the United States as a naval power.  This was done by addressing cultural distance only:  the Japanese sent people abroad to study (as for example to Paris, where they studied the police department carefully, and then replicated it carefully in Tokyo).  There was no effort to intermarry with gaijin.

That would appear to recommend against a racial/genetic model even here.  Again, though, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For Lunch Today, A Bully Burger and some Bull$***

Dawsonville Pool Room seized by tax agents, apparently in spite of the fact that the owner was not at fault in owing the taxes, and was in contact with them about making payment.  Apparently that doesn't exempt you from having an armed band of state-employed bandits come shutter your business, lock the door, ransack your cash registers and bust open your vending machines to take the change.
Employees and patrons said agents arrived at the Pool Room about noon Wednesday, ordered everyone out and took possession of the property.... the state agents “took all the money from two register drawers and cleaned out the video gaming machines.” 
If I was a taxman, before I went to guns in Dawson County I'd take a good look at the whiskey still sitting out on the town square, just beside the Pool Hall.  Dawson County has seen their kind come before, but it hasn't always seen them go. 

Every Major's Terrible

Sing this xkcd to the tune of "Modern Major General."

I'm guessing xkcd is not today fielding thousands of furious objections from offending every major all together; but apparently he was wise to leave one or two of them out.

Why is that?  Possibly it's because these majors aren't very defensive; if you're a philosopher you can smile at the cartoon and say, "Well, that's just the analytic philosophers... but it's sure true of them!"  (Or if you're an analytic philosopher, you can say, "Nonsense... where do you think math gets its fundamental assumptions?")  Or if you're a historian, you can point out that history is a nearly ideal preparation for a career as a military officer, a foreign service officer, a political career, or even a career in international business.

Theology can laugh at "X therefore 3X" as a succinct criticism of Aquinas, who adopts Avicenna's proof for the existence of a single, simple, unitary God and then goes on to assert the Trinity; but they can, of course, point out that Aquinas does have a rather lengthy and sophisticated account that the joker might want to grapple with before he dismisses it.  Economists, well, I suspect they will just smile along, recognizing the justice in the remark.

So if you want to mock academics, go right ahead -- as long as you're careful to make a few certain specific exceptions.  Otherwise, kiss your job goodbye.

House opinionating

Sippican goes off on stupid house trends.  He wouldn't approve of some things about our house, but I'm right there with him on other trends:

1.  Snout Houses.  As he says, don't nail your house to the ass-end of your garage.  It's an egregious failure of American design that we can't figure out what to do with the cars.  Here, we put the house on stilts with a wraparound porch on the second level and the garage underneath.  We never put the cars in the garage, though.  They just get parked wherever.

2.   Flat-Screen TVs over Mantels.  Guilty.  Works for us.

3.  Microwaves over Stoves.  I prefer not to put any electronics (other than the vent hood) over the hot stove, but our microwave is built into the upper cabinet, which he disapproves of.  He thinks a microwave belongs in the island, but ours is an island-free galley kitchen, not an 800-square-foot extravaganza.

4.  Cook-Tops on Islands.  See above.  We did put in a nice, powerful hood that's properly vented to the outside.  My mother-in-law's vent hood doesn't vent anywhere.  I fail to see the point.

5.  Open Plan in a Big House.  For the airport-lobby look.  I'll go him one better:  our not-very-big house has the quaint kind of kitchen that's not integrated with the living room.  My husband feels more strongly about this one than I do.  I enjoy houses with the integrated kitchens that seem almost obligatory now, but he's the cook and he doesn't feel like being on stage (or subjected to conversations) when he's getting dinner masterpieces ready to bring out.  The idea usually is to avoid making the kitchen drudge feel isolated, but that's not an issue with him, to put it mildly.  (See "Introverts," below.)  But I chuckle now when I see plans in fancy housing magazines that include an "away room," which used to be what we called any ordinary room with an old-fashioned door.

6.  Very High Ceilings in a Family Room.  Guilty again, and loving it.  We suffered for too many years in a suburban house with 8-foot ceilings.  The common room here goes right up to the peak of the roof and suits us just fine in addition to accommodating my Christmas tree.  All other ceilings are 9 feet or higher.  I'd have been happy with 11 feet everywhere, but it does complicate construction.

7.  Plastic Everything.  Unlike Sippican, we live in a hurricane-threatened swamp and therefore made some concessions to humidity, including vinyl-clad window exteriors and lots of Hardie-plank and a PVC-related extruded material that I can't tell from wood trim once it's painted.  It's dimensionally stable and fire resistant.  I agree with him about anything that's supposed to mimic stained wood, though, including plastic decking material and vinyl fences or rails.  That technology is still in the double-knit polyester design stage.

8.  Ceiling Fans Everywhere.  Guilty again.  This is just more Yankee talk, frankly.  I feel less strongly about it, but my husband wants a breeze from above in every room, all the time, especially when he's trying to sleep.  The ceilings are high enough to accommodate the fans.

9.  Enormous Jacuzzi Tubs.  No, but we have two claw-foot tubs and no showers.  Sippican claims no one will bathe in front of a window, but it sure doesn't bother us -- though of course we're isolated behind trees and up on stilts.  If we can't manage to die here, I'm sure the lack of showers will give us fits in a resale.  For that matter, buyers probably will wonder why we didn't hide the toilet in a little closet (not me; too claustrophobic) and why we're perfectly able to share a single sink in the master bath.  Neither of us places time-consuming or complicated demands on a sink.

10.  Powder Blue and Cocoa Brown Color Scheme.  Not our thing.  I've seen worse color schemes, though.

Sippican doesn't mention my number-one objection in modern housing trends:  flat, "picture frame" exterior window trim, like the one pictured on the right.  I want a proper window sill on the bottom, with a nice shadow line.  Our framers were deeply confused by this request.

More Tea?

Guess it's a good night for the TEA Party, who staked a lot on beating the Senate's longest-serving Republican... and beat him.  There was a lot of talk about how the Presidential primary showed that the TEA Party movement was short-lived, but the TEA Party is only two years old.  You can't stage a winning Presidential campaign in two years; you have to start almost as soon as the previous one is over, as then-Senator Obama did rather than fulfilling the office to which he had so recently been elected.

Meanwhile North Carolina joins the rest of the South in constitutionally banning gay marriage.  I had to look this up -- Georgia passed its amendment in 2004, before the issue commanded my attention in any serious way.  A quick review of what I wrote here in 2003/4 was that, while the issue didn't really interest me, it was properly decided at the state level by constitutional amendments being a clear example of a power reserved to the states or to the people by the 10th Amendment.  Thus, amendments like tonight's in North Carolina seem like a reasonable way for the people to clarify just how much power they are prepared for the state to wield:  the power to regulate an existing institution, or the power to redefine it?

I have no idea how I voted on the 2004 amendment in Georgia; I don't remember it at all.  It was only later that, studying Aquinas, I came to understand just what was wrong with the structure of matrimony as it exists in America today.  My position against "gay marriage" is a consequence of that more basic argument of the nature of marriage, which we talked about at length here.

In any event, what I find surprising about the NC vote is the lopsided nature of the victory, and the huge turnout.  The foes of the amendment appear to have outspent the supporters two-to-one; the supporters carried the day anyway, 61-39 percent at current count.  That's a big victory for an amendment running into a two-to-one spending headwind.

So:  a big TEA Party victory, and a strong social conservative turnout in the face of a spending spree.  Those are good omens as we look to November.

I don't think crudité sales are going to finance that band trip

Massachusetts performs a valuable service as a laboratory for nutso social experiments, right up there with California.  Its newest contribution is a movement to phase out school bake sales, those nefarious attempts to corrupt our children's innate preference for watercress over cookies.

I don't know if we're losing the battle on obesity, but the fatheads definitely are taking over.

Prison Songs

This first one is by Richard the Lionheart, composed during his imprisonment while Duke Leopold of Austria was seeking ransom for him.  Leopold was excommunicated for imprisoning a crusader, but the ransom was heavy all the same.

I don't think they ever did get old Railroad Bill, though the Alabama boys sure did try.

Johnny Cash did a lot of prison songs.  This one is from San Quentin.

But the king of prison songs in recent years is David Allan Coe.  He went to jail at nine years old, and spent most of his time for the next twenty years inside.  He had an interesting career after that, living for some years in a hearse he insisted on parking right outside the Grand Old Opry, and later in a cave in Tennessee.  I wouldn't watch this one if you are of a sensitive nature, but if you do watch it, give some credit to the prison officials who let him do this bit for a crowd inside.

Well, at least they've got their priorities straight

The defendants in the KSM mass-murder terrorist trial are worried, according to their lawyer, that they will be unable to focus on the defense of their lives if female attorneys for the prosecution keep exposing their knees.  Also, the defendants want to be protected from committing a sin if they can't keep their eyes away.

Hey, at least the chicks at the prosecutor's table aren't giving them the Sharon Stone treatment.  We do observe civilized limits.

One of the defendants had to be carried into the courtroom in a "restraint chair," which puts me in mind of the Elmore Leonard line about federal marshals who assisted a defendant in regaining his composure.  Maybe blinkers would assist the composure of the others. But there probably are going to be lots of things about a capital murder trial that will be unavoidably painful.


Once upon a time Atlanta's mayor, Andrew Young, explained why the Mondale presidential campaign was not going very well.  It was because, he said, it was run by a bunch of "smart-ass white boys."  The Late, Great Lewis Grizzard of the Atlanta Journal & Constitution adopted the phrase to introduce himself to audiences.  "Finally, I know what I am!" he said, in that early day for affirmative action.  "I'm a smart-ass white boy!"

Naturally, I thought of that this weekend.

The thing is, Tucker Carlson is wrong.  So is she, though, and just where she apparently doesn't see it.

The United Nations this weekend was talking about how the USA needs to give some land back to the Native Americans.  It's easy to mock the UN here, but let's look at the substance of the complaint.
Close to a million people live on the US's 310 Native American reservations. Some tribes have done well from a boom in casinos on reservations but most have not. 
Anaya visited an Oglala Sioux reservation where the per capita income is around $7,000 a year, less than one-sixth of the national average, and life expectancy is about 50 years. 
The two Sioux reservations in South Dakota – Rosebud and Pine Ridge – have some of the country's poorest living conditions, including mass unemployment and the highest suicide rate in the western hemisphere with an epidemic of teenagers killing themselves.
This is the reason why Native Americans are granted affirmative action benefits.  If someone fights out of Pine Ridge and makes it to college, they've already overcome a massive burden.  The whole point of the practice is to correctly judge just how much harder it was for them to get there than it was for those who had an easier road.  We ought to want this.  That's where Tucker is wrong:  the system isn't unjust by nature.  For them, we ought to want it.
"I should in that case hold you," replied the yeoman, "a friend to the weaker party."
 "Such is the duty of a true knight at least," replied the Black Champion; "and I would not willingly that there were reason to think otherwise of me."
The problem with what Warren did was that she made a mockery out of the system.  This is where Greene was wrong.  The question isn't whether she was qualified -- even well-qualified professors, when they are looking for a job at Harvard, are looking for any advantage that may come to hand.  That she is already a strong candidate is just the point.  This is not a system for the strong to use to tilt things even further in their favor.  It is a system that is meant to uphold the weak against the strong.

I'm just as Cherokee as Elizabeth Warren -- to judge by "blood quanta," which is apparently the standard that we're now supposed to apply.  Apparently the currently serving Cherokee Nation Chief is no more than that.  In my case it comes even further back in the family history, when this was frontier country and white women were very rare (a constant in the story of the American frontier is that women move to the frontier, wherever it is in any generation, rather more slowly).  A couple of my frontiersman ancestors took Cherokee brides.  It works out to the same percentage.  It also means my family is American since the mid-1700s, which counts for... exactly nothing, in determining who is a "real American," according to what I'm given to understand is the acceptable standard.

Never once in my life did I think of marking myself as "Native American" for some advantage.  It would be a positive insult to those people on Pine Ridge if I did.  I've suffered nothing for it; everyone whose family has been in the South for two generations, black or white or otherwise, has that much Native American "blood quanta" if they care to track it down.  For the people of Pine Ridge, it's everything; for us, it's a very minor part of the story of what it means to be American.

Most of us would be called "white boys" by our FOX News commentator; and why not?  I have no reason to buck the term if Lewis Grizzard wouldn't.  Nevertheless I'll bet if you looked, he was at least 1/32nd Native American.  All of us are, and that means nothing at all.  It's wrong to help yourself by taking from the weak and the poor.  If law or custom make it easy to do so, we are wrong if we take advantage -- and if the law backs us in our wrongness, then the law is just as wrong as we are.  Everyone knows that.

Grim, last winter.

Innies and outies

I enjoyed this short article about tips for managing an introverted nature, especially the spirited discussion in the comments section from introverts insisting "I just want to be me."  Like many of them, I'm a bit baffled by why our extroverted brethren enjoy the gatherings of strangers that constitute their mysterious social life.  If I'm going to hang out with people (especially people I don't know well), I want to have an agenda:  to play music together, to paint the house, or at least to cook or share a meal.  Failing that, we'd better have extremely strong ties and shared interests in order to prevent the conversation from flagging.

But as I'm a bit cold-natured and socially clueless, in recent years I've made an effort to mingle.  I always hang out in the parish hall after Sunday services, for instance, and since that's not a social convention that does anything for me naturally, I concentrate on practicing listening skills.  (Left to my own instincts, I'd babble nervously and become a bore.)  After a few years of this, I can't say it's grown on me much.  Every so often it leads to a new friendship -- that spark you both feel when you realize you'd rather talk to each other than mingle -- and it always leads to a greater awareness of the situation and needs of those around me, which is good regardless of whether it's fun.  Nevertheless, it retains an ersatz quality that reminds me I'm in alien territory.

I'll always prefer a few intense relationships to a large number of friendly ones, and focused conversations to casual interaction, not to mention (usually) solitude to groups.  It will always be easier to get me to come to a party if its purpose is to pick up trash and then enjoy a picnic than if the agenda is to stand around with mixed drinks.  As you can imagine, I was just about the world's worst networker as a law partner, a real stinker in that department.  I was a lot more useful as the person you could tell to stay up three nights in a row in order to produce an outstanding chapter 11 plan on brutally short notice that would stand up on appeal.  That kind of thing is hard work, but it doesn't hold a candle to the drain I experienced from having to attend cocktail parties.  Oh, how glad I am to leave behind any professional obligation to attend cocktail parties.  In a sane world I'd have found a way to get double my usual hourly rate for that chore, instead of having to pretend it was so much fun that I'd happily give up my nights and weekends to endure it.

The fact remains that we all have to mingle from time to time, and it's nice for us introverts to have a few tricks to make it less excruciating for ourselves and those around us.  It's not like the extroverts have any plans to return the favor by learning how to structure social activities to our satisfaction, but that's OK.  The extroverts will be happier with each other's company, anyway.  They would hate our idea of parties and probably can't think of a good reason to learn otherwise.

Cheaper medicine

I've never yet failed to enjoy a TED lecture.  I have to ration myself, because my satellite internet connection won't permit me to stream video for very many minutes in any one day.  This lecture is about using off-the-shelf video game units to build for about $100 the kind of eyeball-controlled electronic devices that, up to now, paralyzed patients have had to pay $50,000 or even $200,000 for.

Patients with severe skeletal-muscular problems such as spinal injury or neurological disease tend to preserve their ability to control their eyes.  Not only the optical nerve, but also the other eye-related nerves, are more like an extension of the brain itself, in contrast with your other bodily movements, which are mediated through the spine.  When you add this ability to cunning little devices that track and respond to eye movements, it means that profoundly disabled people not only can web-surf but also can communicate and even drive mechanisms like wheelchairs.  The lecturer in this video has figured out ways to make these devices so cheap that they're reasonably available to just about anyone.

The price of cure

A history of surgery in the New England Journal of Medicine paints a vivid picture of why healthcare is such a large part of the modern budget, while at the same time being such a new part that its cost continues to outrage our feelings and expectations.  Only a little over a century and a half ago, surgery was confined almost exclusively to the kind of interventions that could be completed so superficially and rapidly that they were somewhat likely to do more good than harm.  Live-saving amputations were the earliest examples.  Lacking anesthesia, surgeons put all their emphasis on brute speed.  With the discovery of ether, they slowly realized they could afford to take their time and refine their techniques.  With the further discovery of hand-washing and sterilization of equipment, surgeons found themselves able and justified in expanding their repertoires to more challenging areas, such as the torso, and to less emergent medical conditions.  Today, medical science acknowledges more than 2,500 standard surgical procedures, often performed with minimal invasiveness, and with a success rate undreamed of in the mid-19th century.

We no longer expect to die of such common troubles as appendicitis.  We don't yet, however, quite expect to pay for their cure.  Unlike food, shelter, and clothing, the provision of which has been an expected economic burden on individuals and families since the dawn of history, medicine still somehow strikes us as a miracle cure that some kindly wizard should bring to the door in a diamond phial.