Language and Worldview

Language and Worldview

If our mother tongue does not actually restrict what we're able to think, as was the fashionable belief for a time in the last century, it does at least affect the sort of thing we're forced to practice thinking about daily, and therefore the sort of thing we learn to think about with ease and precision. Two articles on this subject appeared recently in the Big Apple's sister publications. A NY Times article pointed out that

if different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.

Consider this example. Suppose I say to you in English that “I spent yesterday evening with a neighbor.” You may well wonder whether my companion was male or female, but I have the right to tell you politely that it’s none of your business. But if we were speaking French or German, I wouldn’t have the privilege to equivocate in this way, because I would be obliged by the grammar of language to choose between voisin or voisine; Nachbar or Nachbarin.
A similar Wall Street Journal article addressed the need in some languages to give more attention to tense and gender than ordinarily is required in English:
Take "Humpty Dumpty sat on a..." Even this snippet of a nursery rhyme reveals how much languages can differ from one another. In English, we have to mark the verb for tense; in this case, we say "sat" rather than "sit." In Indonesian you need not (in fact, you can't) change the verb to mark tense.

In Russian, you would have to mark tense and also gender, changing the verb if Mrs. Dumpty did the sitting. You would also have to decide if the sitting event was completed or not. If our ovoid hero sat on the wall for the entire time he was meant to, it would be a different form of the verb than if, say, he had a great fall.

In Turkish, you would have to include in the verb how you acquired this information. For example, if you saw the chubby fellow on the wall with your own eyes, you'd use one form of the verb, but if you had simply read or heard about it, you'd use a different form.
Both articles noted that many languages lack a purely personal system of spatial references like "left," "right," "front," or "back," requiring the speaker instead to specify the directions of the compass even for immediately personal issues like which leg has the insect on it at the present moment. Speakers of these languages learn as very young children to keep track of the compass directions, to the point of having what seems a nearly supernatural ability to point to due north even after being spun around blindfolded. Anecdotes about bad drivers notwithstanding, this apparently is a skill within the grasp of all ordinary specimens of homo sapiens, but it is not one that comes naturally to most of us unless we are constantly drilled from early childhood.

So all that stylebook advice about avoiding the passive voice is important philosophically as well as grammatically: it gives us practice thinking about whether we can or cannot identify the cause for an event.

h/t Talk to YoUniverse

Maps of Ethnic Breakdowns

Maps of American Cities by Ethnic Breakdowns:

A very interesting project, but based on 2000 census data. The author says he will do new ones once the new tabs are available.

You can see the maps for the biggest 40 cities here. Atlanta, for those of you interested in Georgia, is here.

Black Swans

Taleb on the Stimulus:

Our favorite living economist, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, thinks the stimulus made the economy worse. It's hard to argue with the reasoning. Unemployment is not only worse than it was in 2008, it's far worse than the projections made by the administration for what their stimulus would accomplish. (I suggest the excellent blog PoliticalMath for examining this question. There are many posts in his series.)

Nor did we de-leverage, which you will recall is Taleb's normal advice for people operating in the fourth quadrant. Instead, as a nation we vastly increased our debt.

Article V

Article V is also part of the Constitution:

There has been a slew of commentary criticizing the TEA Party movement for being shackled to the Constitution. I'd like to go over two points that the comments seem to miss entirely.

Mr. Ezra Klein's formulation of the idea is this:

Before people start tut-tutting me for even posting such heresies, I'd just add that Klarman is stating an obvious reality that others hide. The GOP says, "We pledge to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers," and then promotes an amendment to change birthright citizenship. The Tea Parties are largely based on reverence for the Constitution but are simultaneously pushing for a Balanced Budget amendment. I think this sort of instrumentalist approach to the Constitution is proper, of course, but I also think people should be honest about the underlying assumptions.
The distinction between amending the constitution and ignoring it is not a small one, but it seems to be lost on some of these authors. Perhaps someone, somewhere has suggested that the Constitution is a divinely received document that must never be altered. By Mr. Klein's own examples, though, the TEA Party is not guilty of this. The idea is not that the Constitution should never change; it is that it should change always and only through the means laid out in the Constitution.

Article V provides the rules for this process. Notice how Mr. Klein's examples work. If there is a Balanced Budget Amendment, it will be an actual amendment to the Constitution. If there is a revision to birthright citizenship, it will result from an amendment to alter the language of the 14th Amendment.

The TEA Party's commitment to the Constitution should be comforting, not only to progressives but to everyone. Amendments through the Article V process can only succeed if they have both wide and deep support. There's no reason to be afraid of a movement that is committed to that process.

The only radical changes that a movement committed to the Article V process can create are in areas where the government is already in wide variance from the provisions of the Constitution. Of course, that is just why our progressive friends might be alarmed. They know they haven't bothered to amend the Constitution before instituting their program.

The young progressives often argue that it is nearly impossible to get simple legislation passed, with the Senate requiring sixty votes to accomplish anything. That is true, if you are trying to do something so radical that sixty Senators don't want to sign on for it. Part of the point of emphasizing the Constitution is to take stress off the Republic by limiting the use of the Federal government as a bludgeon to beat other Americans into conformity.

Consider the other bugaboo of these articles, which is the TEA Party's invocation of the 10th Amendment. Let's look at the text of that amendment.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
The good news for the young progressive is that the 10th Amendment shows that every program they might like to institute is fully Constitutional. Almost anything you can dream of can be enacted -- at the state level.

If the 10th Amendment were fully enforced, it would result in a massive reduction of the size and power of the Federal government. The power to shape the social safety net would reappear at the state level, where state governments could consider the realities of their budget and carefully sort out just what kind of net they really want. We would have fifty models instead of one. Mr. Klein could have his preference, and so could the staunchest conservative.

A perennial problem with democracy is that it always leaves an unhappy minority. This model has the advantage, though, of letting that minority move to somewhere that suits them better. American's diversity means that when we use the Federal government to try to modify behavior, we force people with very different morals and values to comply with our own. The 10th Amendment gives us a way of avoiding that tension almost entirely. People can live just as they like, in the state of their choosing -- whichever one suits them best.

Once that is accomplished, America will be a more stable place. Stability is part of the goal. The TEA Party movement is mostly made up of established, middle class families. They don't want to destroy the country. They just want to stabilize it. The best way to do that is by a clean adherence to the permanent will of the People, as codified in -- and occasionally amended by -- the Constitution.

Andrew Jackson

The TEA Party and Andy-By-God Jackson:

It's enough to make a politician nervous, these historic similarities.

Established politicians dismissed his candidacy: Former President Thomas Jefferson called Jackson “one of the most unfit men I know of” for the presidency.

Jackson’s campaign responded with charges that the political establishment had become a corrupt and unresponsive elite. Only an outsider such as he, Jackson insisted, could bring to bear the common sense and virtue of the common people.

Events proved that no one liked Jackson — except the voting public....

The Jacksonians charged that Adams was an effete intellectual and questioned his Christian faith.

The Adams campaign responded by revealing a variety of skeletons in Jackson’s closet — everything from a man he had killed in a duel to six soldiers he had executed when they went AWOL after the War of 1812.
That's a little more serious a charge than "dabbling into witchcraft." Or being able to see Russia from one's house. Not that it mattered; as you know, Jackson was in fact elected, and proceeded to institute a number of populist reforms.


1930s Fun:

Arts & Letters Daily often has book reviews, but this is their first catalog review that I can recall.

Today, left-leaning progressives insist our consumerist culture is not only trashing the planet but also leaving us less happy than earlier generations of Americans. Conservative Christians tell us we cannot find meaning or purpose in mere material abundance but must make God the center of our lives, as our Founding Fathers did. Our shopping orgies and wanton spending habits have purportedly left us broke, isolated, and starving for richer friendships, deeper community ties, a higher degree of civic engagement than Groupon can deliver.

But look at how our supposedly more enlightened forebears created the social connectedness we long for. As the DeMoulin catalog suggests, they were literally manufacturing and selling it! An industrialized economy may have left early-20th-century urbanites with fewer opportunities to display their masculine prowess and develop meaningful bonds with each other, but the industrialized economy could also produce that which it had erased — in a more efficient, potent, culturally relevant form.
Like, ah, spanking machines. And exploding cigars. Actually, a lot of these things seem to involve blank cartridges in one caliber or another. Not the fake branding iron, though.

Unemployment & Education

What's going on with the Asians? How come they're employed at roughly similar levels no matter what kind of education they manage to get?

h/t Laura at 11D via Megan McCardle

What Are We Playing?

What Are We Playing?

It's a shame the Street banned this piece; it's one of the more perfect opportunities for realizing that men and women are playing different games. "I am playing. I'm playing tag."

Now, that's a lesson children ought to be taught.


Event Horizons:

Here's a story from local Georgia news that would be horrifying but not shocking if it had happened in Atlanta. What makes it shocking is where it did happen.

I won't go into the details here, for the sake of those of you who would prefer not to read a shocking and upsetting story. I only want to say that I have spent a lot of time in Pickens County, Georgia. When the man says that there hasn't been a crime like this in the 35 years he can recall, I think that's quite right.

Crime can come up anywhere, of course; as with the market, past performance is no predictor of the future. Still, it reminds me of a story from Forsyth County, where I grew up as a young man.

We had an occasion where someone shot a deputy. This was unheard of -- in part because it was well known that the community as well as the deputies would simply kill you in reply to such an affront. The guilty party went out of his way to turn himself in: and not to any local authority, but to the state police.

Whoever this guy is, he's forgotten that he was not in Atlanta. He did this in the high country. If he doesn't hand himself in, he isn't going to live to see a trial. If he does hand himself in, it'll be the work of many deputies to keep him alive long enough to see one.

That's just how it ought to be. I've blood on my hands. There's no harm in you putting the blood of this kind on yours. In fact, far from no harm, it's better that you do.

More on the Harvest Moon

More on the Harvest Moon

Grim's moon picture got me thinking how I never can quite keep straight how moonrise and moonset work. I know that the full moon rises as the sun sets, and that the new moon rises as the sun rises. I usually can remember that the moon rises a bit later every night (an average of a little over 50 minutes later, or 24 hours in a revolution of the Earth divided by 27-28 days of moon cycle), so if I concentrate I can figure out that the half-moon waning rises at midnight while the half-moon waxing rises at noon. I also know that the sun rises and sets due east and west at the equinox, but rises and sets south of east and west in midwinter and north of east and west in midsummer. What I never realized is that this means the moon rises in a different direction throughout each month:

SeasonPosition of Moonrise/Moonset

Like the sunrise and sunset positions, the amount of variation to the north or south depends on the latitude. (And this chart, of course, would be reversed in the southern hemisphere.)

Here's something else I didn't know, and can't quite visualize without some globes and lights: The 50-minute lagtime is only an average, which varies between 25 and 75 minutes depending on the season. In summer and fall, the lagtime is at a minimum; in winter and spring, at a maximum. (The distortion is maximized with latitude.) So the Harvest Moon rises only 25 minutes or so later every night this week, and we should look for moonrise in the southeast sky even though the sun is rising and setting nearly due east and west this month.

TV Tropes

TV Tropes

I was warned that if I went down this rabbit hole, I wouldn't come back up for a while. I got to reading about a cheap literary tactic called a "Mary Sue" character, a kind of thinly disguised avatar for the author, often in the fantasy genre, easily identified by a series of questions beginning with:

  • Does the character have a name you really, really like?
  • Is it Raven?
  • Does the character have eyes and hair of a color not found in nature?

But once you look up "Mary Sue" on TV Tropes, it proves almost impossible not to start clicking on the links that will lead you to every motif in popular escapist fiction. "Mary Sue" leads to "Wish Fulfillment," which in turn suggests "Be Careful What You Wish For," a genre that includes "Deal with the Devil." You can't read far in Deal with the Devil before you're distracted by "Evil Is Not a Toy" and its corollary, "Sealed Evil in a Can," a/k/a the "Genie in the Bottle" or "Pandora's Box."

Several of these themes are linked to "Older Than Dirt," a category for largely pre-Iron Age sources. Reading down the list of modern tropes traceable to Older Than Dirt sources, we find "Almost Dead Guy," a plot device of ancient Greek origins who clings to life just long enough to be questioned on some important plot point by the surviving protagonist. Almost Dead Guy is related to "I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin," or, in another form, "Retirony," where any character who mentions either an impending retirement or one last mission is as doomed as a Star Trek "Red Shirt" character:

Kirk: All right, men, this is a dangerous mission. And it's likely one of us will be killed. The landing party will consist of myself, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Ensign Ricky.

Ensign Ricky: Aw, crap.

This leads to the "Sorting Algorithm of Mortality," where, for instance, robots (non-living), snakes, and spiders can count their life expectancy in nanoseconds, while dogs are home free, "except in literature (or Disney)." And this takes me to "Her Heart Will Go On," and "Cycle of Revenge," but I've got to climb out of this rabbit hole . . . .

The First Sunrise of Autumn:

I hope you were all able to see the Harvest Moon last night or early this morning.

A Lie

A Lie:

Salon magazine has a piece about a young woman who accused her father of molestation... and how she came to understand, years later, that she had lied.

Toward the end of her memoir, her father asks her, "What I really want to know is how the hell you could have thought that of me." Salon wanted to know, too. We spoke with Maran recently about how a false memory is born, what she thinks of "Courage to Heal" today, and what her story can teach us about such dangerous political narratives as the undying "Obama is Muslim" lie.
Well, of course we should explore the 'Obama is a Muslim' issue. That's obviously relevant.

Here's something that bothers me about the account.
Why write this book now?

In 2007, I was out for a walk with someone I wasn't even that close to. She asked me if I'd ever done anything I was ashamed of and had never forgiven myself for. And without hesitation I said, yeah, when I was in my 30s I accused my father of molesting me, and then I realized it wasn't true. She stopped walking and stood still, just staring at me and she said...
So what do you think she said? I was imagining the next line would be something along the lines of, "How could that possibly be true?"

But no. Here's the next line:
"The same exact thing happened to me."
Well, now. If that's true, it suggests a more dangerous matter.

Here's what bothers me most. If you'll read through to the end, though, you'll find that she believes that it is better that there should be false accusations occasionally, as long as there is an adequately hygienic purpose.
In the middle of the book, while you are still deeply in the mind-set of being molested, there's a notion you agree with that if one innocent man goes to prison, but it stops a hundred molesters, it's worth it. Do you still agree with that notion?

I'm fairly close to a man still in prison, and really believe he is innocent. I know how he's suffered. I know he's 80 years old and in ill health. He's spent 20 years in prison, for no reason. If every elementary school child is now taught how to protect themselves from sexual abuse -- and even more to the point, some father or preschool teacher who feels the urge to molest a child will be inhibited from doing so because they think there are guys still in jail for doing that -- but innocent people are in prison, do I have to make that choice? It is a Sophie's choice kind of thing. Would I allow an innocent man to sit in prison if it meant keeping children safe?

So would you make that choice?

I think so.
It's not necessary to explain how this shows that people thinking that Obama is a Muslim is good if it prevents social harm on some larger level, which would seem to be the (highly undesired by Salon) implication of these remarks. I assume that isn't what they meant to imply, so we'll let it pass.

A more relevant issue: How are we to make sense of these claims? Those of you who remember the era will remember how outrageous some of the claims seemed. It's quite disturbing to realize that women -- not children, but 30-something women -- actually came to believe these falsehoods. These are not questions about things they've read in the press, or things they might like to believe: they are questions about their actual experience. Neither are these experiences where, you know, you might forget; I wasn't really paying close attention; I had other things on my mind.


Let me just say

Let Me Just Say... start with, that pants or shorts with slogans on the backside should be banned on general principle. That said, I am amused by this.

Women on college campuses are being paid $500 each to hand out coupons while wearing fitted sweatpants with "Double Down" in large letters across their rear ends....

The nation's largest women's group doesn't like it one bit. "It's so obnoxious to once again be using women's bodies to sell fundamentally unhealthy products," says Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. What's more, she says, KFC has forgotten something important: Women make more than half the decisions about what to eat for dinner."
OK, well, then, KFC made a bad investment and their ad campaign will fail. The market will punish the decision, and in the future they'll adopt practices more in line with what the market rewards.

Or possibly they're smarter than they look...
KFC marketing chief John Cywinski says it's an effective way to catch the attention of young men — KFC's key customers and the biggest fans of Double Down. which case it is NOW that has 'forgotten something important': women may make more than half the decisions about what to eat for dinner, but they made a far smaller percentage of those decisions that followed the form, "You know what sounds good? A sandwich made up of two fried chicken breasts filled with cheese, bacon, and some kind of fatty salt-sauce." Almost 100% of those decisions were being made by... um, not women.

Not men, either, though. The Good Lord knows I'll never eat one of those things. We need a term for "idiot teenage-to-20-something boy," which adequately separates the class from young men who have properly developed by 18 or 23. Suggestions?

Shell Games

Shell Games

Kevin Williamson at the National Review nicely sums up what's so enervating about the usual tax-cuts-vs.-stimulus-spending debate:

[I]f we cut taxes without cutting spending, we are not cutting taxes. We are deferring taxes. Taxes are not the problem; spending is the problem. Taxes are a symptom. . . . There is no substitute for consuming less than you produce, either at the individual level, the household level, or the national level. JFK never really understood that, very probably because he had servants to lift his fingers.
Williamson concludes with a proposal to cut farm subsidies. How about we throw out the entire Department of Agriculture instead? And the Department of Education right after it.

The commenters, as usual, went straight to the argument about whether it's fair to cut Social Security. I appreciated the most recent post:

Would you rather pay 2% of your income into a scheme that is honestly labelled as straight-up welfare for poor, old people, and there is no pretence that you are ever going to get anything out of it? Or would you prefer the current system, where the government takes 15% of your income and invests it worse than you would in a Vegas casino? I know which one I'd choose. That's the endpoint which should be reached with as much fairness as possible to people who have already "paid in."

A lot of what's wrong with our tax system is that we try to hide the "straight-up welfare," mixing it in with self-funding pension plans and insurance schemes for camouflage. We confuse all these aspects until it's almost impossible to have a rational discussion about what our obligations are to the most desperate of our citizens, and how much each American should be expected to spend on them. We've already reached the point where people can talk about writing "insurance" for those who already are ill with expensive diseases -- a turn of phrase that shows a profound confusion between hedging unknown risks and bestowing charity on people who are far past the "risk" stage.

h/t The Daily Caller



Our friend from way, way back has been our houseguest since last Thursday, but has gone home now. She brought the rain with her, I'm afraid, and endured six days of it almost non-stop. That meant no fishing expeditions. We did get to watch a lot of hummingbirds and refill a lot of feeders, from two to four gallons a day the whole week. We had many lunch and dinner parties with neighbors while she was here. Now it's back to the quiet, solitary life that my husband and I -- two confirmed hermits -- normally live.

Our guest didn't take the rain with her; it's still in the forecast through this weekend. On Sunday, though, we're expected to receive our first true cool front of the season. (I can't call it a cold front, because it will only drop the overnight lows into the lower 70s.) The temperature here varies only slightly from season to season and from year to year. What does vary is the rainfall. In Houston, we could expect to receive over 50 inches a year almost every year. Here, the annual total rainfall reaches an average of between 30 and 35 inches only when you consider wild swings in both directions from year to year. Several years ago, we got 55 inches in one five-month period. Last year we had less than 15 inches all year, but this year we're at 50 inches after only the first nine months. The native plants are ready for nearly anything.

The horrible recent drought, which devastated the whooping cranes that are so much a part of our county's raison d'etre, has so impressed itself on our collective memories that we almost superstitiously avoid complaining about this year's extraordinary rainfall. We only wish we'd had the budget for another cistern, so we could get through a longer drought next time without having to fall back on the rather nasty well water. There's nothing like a reliable source of good water to give us a feeling of security.

I hear the rain starting again. God bless the rain and give us grateful hearts for it.

Faith followup

Faith Followup:

RCL had a comment he was unable to post for some reason. It follows:
...for two centuries religion has been gradually giving way...

Men have been giving way true. On this day that Cardinal Newman is beatified I am confident that his Church is not giving way. Like Scruton's quote, Newman also felt there was no conflict, nor could there be, between theology and science.

Theology begins, as its name denotes, not with any sensible facts, phenomena, or results, not with nature at all, but with the Author of nature - with the one invisible, unapproachable Cause and Source of all things... As far as it approaches towards Physics, it takes just the counterpart of the questions which occupy the physical philosopher. He contemplates facts before him; the theologian gives the reasons of those facts.

In posing the various positions Grim you are scrupulously unbiased. The most blatant problem with "science" is that it is not unbiased. It is an activity of men and in every time, not just our own, what was set forth as "settled science" was sometimes falsehoods or errors favored and defended by those who profited from their acceptance. "Religion" has had a role in that game as well, of course. Where men go lies follow.

The "animal" as you've used it in this post for carnal nature can be countered with “Animal” as in the Magic post from a couple days before. There's actually more than animal to even animals. Most people know that intuitively. Similar to when Dr. Jung was asked if he believed in God, "I don't believe. I know." Materialism in politics or science is a perversion of the Nature of Man and Life. Neolithic magic, Augustine's longing heart, Arthur's quest for the Right, Tolkien's vision of Virtue, Love and Beauty are proofs of our highest nature.

"By their fruits you shall know them".

The fruit that fell from Cardinal Newman's tree was the great Catholic literary revival in 20th century England. Chesterton, Belloc, Waugh, Graham Greene and J.R.R. Tolkien. Especially Tolkien. The beatification today was celebrated in Rednall, the countryside popularly regarded as The Shire, rolling hills and woods near Birmingham. Tolkien and his brother would go with their guardian, Fr. Francis Morgan, a priest of Cardinal Newman's Oratory to visit his mother and get away from the city of Birmingham. Fr. Morgan supported their mother in her illness and she appointed him guardian upon her death. Their story is very romantic and tragic, but the outcome of the love and faith invested by a mother and a priest was Magic.

Let the scientists proceed but a man's got to know his limitations.



From bi-planes to faux-helicopters to weird twisty shapes, all kinds of innovative ceiling fan designs are on display at WebUrbanist, including this YouTube posting that reminds me how many videos of warehouses full of domino set-ups or Rube Goldberg devices can be found on the web these days:

WebUrbanist is worth checking out. Try these 25 hair designs, for instance, including some backwards faces. There are a lot of articles featuring graffiti, abandoned cities and zoos, futuristic cities, weird architecture, and surprising household appliances.

Mead and Meat Pie:

The bounty of late summer. We're still getting a few peppers out of the garden. I'm ready for fall, though.



Via Cassandra, a truly horrifying story. How has this happened at Arlington?



In Sweden, elections reveal a socialist crisis, which has installed a center-right government for the first time in ages. It is 'center-right' because it is desperate to exclude the actual right, the anti-immigration party, who did shockingly well. Thus, it is necessary to build a coalition across the major fault lines if the government is to avoid actually instituting some truly right-wing laws and policies.

Rasmussen polling, here in America, has been splitting things up between "the political class" and "mainstream" voters. It appears that methodology might be exportable to Sweden, where the political class prefers its class to its politics. Better to compromise on ideological principles than to let power escape the confines of the Usual Suspects.

Here at home, well-known right wing echo chamber The New York Times says that the real reason the Tea Party is doing well is women. Well, we knew that, right? Part of the power of the movement is that it represents a breakthrough in involving women with an interest in protecting the integrity of their families, and the traditions of liberty for their children.

Except the Times has a different point: actually, they say, the problem is that women aren't paying attention, are confused, and either depressed about politics or just unenthusiastic about it. If only women would outperform men at the polls, the Times says, the Democrats would do great!

That kind of underlines the problem, though, doesn't it? Why should it be true that the only portion of women to be generally enthusiastic and engaged this year is on the right, especially among those leading the Tea Party? Isn't this supposed to be the year that the Great Health Care Takeover represents such a relief to women (whom, we hear, disproportionately favor these kinds of socialist programs)? Shouldn't they be lining up to express their enthusiasm for more of the same?

The opposite is happening, and that's the real marker. What is the Democratic Party's agenda if they are returned to Congress with their majorities intact? We don't know: they have not said much of what they will do next if re-elected. Partially this is because they despair of the possibility, but partially it is because the Great Achievement has produced only fury from America -- not the expressions of love they told themselves to expect.


An Oversight:

Our dear friend T99 linked back to an earlier video re: ukuleles; but she left out the original in the series. This one is of special interest to us here!

Please enjoy.

Musical Jokes

Musical Jokes

Assistant Village Idiot reminds me how much I like them with his link to a Ukelele Orchestra video.

This is an old favorite of mine that I'm not going to wait till Christmas to post:

Slaughtering Meat

Slaughtering Meat:

A big story in the UK today: it turns out that many institutions have begun using only halal meat, without telling anyone of the change. People are alarmed! Spokesmen explain that there's nothing to fear, because the change is just to make sure that Muslim customers can get what they want. Fausta asks:

Surely the spokesman would be equally agreeable to Kosher foods?
Now that raises a curious question. Just what is the difference between Kosher and Islamic slaughtering? I was under the impression that the procedures were largely the same (as you would expect, since Islam sources much of its core material from originally Jewish sources). According to Wikipedia, the physical procedure is the same. Symbolically, there are two major differences:
Dhabiha requires that God's (see Islamic Concept of God) name be pronounced before each slaughter.[15] Some Muslims have accorded meat to be halal but not necessarily dhabiha; in other words, kosher meat is considered halal by some Muslims. This is according to the Hadith: "[I]t is narrated by Al Bukhari from Aisha the Prophet Muhammad's wife, that some people came to him and said, Oh God's Prophet, some people bring us meat and we do not know if they pronounced the name of God on it or not, and he said pronounce you the name of God and eat." Dhabiha meat by definition is meat that is slaughtered in the shariah manner and the name of God is said before the slaughter. In Shechita, a blessing to God is recited before beginning an uninterrupted period of slaughtering; as long as the shochet does not have a lengthy pause, interrupt, or otherwise lose concentration, this blessing covers all the animals slaughtered that period. This blessing follows the standard form for a blessing before most Jewish rituals ("Blesséd are you God ... who commanded us regarding [such-and-such]," in this case, Shechita). The general rule in Judaism is that for rituals which have an associated blessing, if one omitted the blessing, the ritual is still valid [see Maimonides Laws of Blessings 11:5]; as such, even if the shochet failed to recite the blessing before Shechita, the slaughter is still valid and the meat is kosher.
So: if you slaughter meat so that it is dhabiha, which is the strongest reading of what halal meat requires, it is also kosher. If you slaughter meat so that it is kosher, it is also halal for at least some Muslims.

Therefore, the rational thing for a business to do is to slaughter all its meat dhabiha. Christians, Buddhists and atheists won't care; many Hindus weren't going to eat it anyway; and you satisfy both Islamic and Jewish law.

There are only two classes that are likely to object: animal rights activists concerned that this is an unacceptably cruel form of slaughter (which, frankly, it does not seem to be); and those who are motivated by an aesthetic desire to drive Islam out of Western life. That latter motivation is one that I think more understandable and acceptable than some do, though I do not share it; I am one of those who honestly does not think that Islam is an enemy. However, I also can understand the perspective of those who have come to the opposite conclusion.

My Hero, James Taranto

My Hero, James Taranto

He never disappoints:

Maybe Barack Obama Is the Next Christine O'Donnell

"Tea Party Victory: Is Christine O'Donnell the Next Sarah Palin?"--headline, Washington Times website, Sept. 15

"Is Sarah Palin the Next Barack Obama?"--headline,, Sept. 17

Science, Evolution, Poetry

Science, Evolution, Faith, and Romance:

The New York Times today mocks Ms. O'Donnell for being inspired by Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Let's talk about whether romantic and fantastic writings should be at the core of one's identity and thought. Along the way, we can address a debate we've been having here for a couple of weeks.

Evolutionary sciences are increasingly able to explain and predict human behavior. For that reason, as we discussed recently, fields like economics should take 'the evolution challenge' in examining their ideas about how people will behave. I suggested that philosophy should do the same thing -- to understand virtue as animal as well as rational, because it seems to me to be both. Looking at the effect of animals on humans, we find that there is reason to believe that much of our magic comes from working with them. We may best understand what Hegel was calling "magic" by thinking about training animals, and how much can be communicated across species and without words.

Against this basic thrust is a counterargument, which is that what passes for evolutionary science pertaining to humanity isn't very good. (H/t: Cassandra; but I recall T99 making this point not so long ago, in one of our discussions that I can't seem to find.)

Ladies, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. It is time to stop arguing with evolutionary theorists when they use bonobo behavior to justify their own low standards.... simply write to let me know what behavior of yours you'd like to rationalize, and I am confident that working together as a scientific team, we can find a gorilla somewhere out there doing that very thing with a vengeance.

Let's face it -- the new "science" of infidelity is just not very scientific. It certainly provides a convenient "out" to deny personal responsibility, but anyone who buys this "science" is missing out on the best parts of being human: the freedom that comes from self-control and the intimacy that can only come with commitment.
To some degree, evolutionary science can 'prove' a lot of different things depending on what you want it to prove. The author points at writing that appears to show some evolutionary license for infidelity, and asks why we don't also see evolutionary license for other things that she would like? After all, she can observe the behavior in chimps.

Roger Scruton explores the problems of this neuroscience further in this article. Scruton raises many of the same points, and some others that are valuable. Wait, though: Let's make sure to consider his groundwork, before we look at the critique of the practice of these sciences:
Genuine science and true religion cannot conflict. Science discovers truths, religion reveals them. But no truth contradicts another, and all truths have a place in the scheme of things, bound each to each in a web of mutual implications. Pope John Paul II believed this, and made a point of emphasizing that the Church has neither the right nor the power to contradict the findings of science. Moreover, if science and religion conflict over some matter, then it is religion, not science that must give way. Of course the Church has not always obeyed that rule. But it is a rule dictated by the laws of thought.

Averroës and Aquinas wrote of faith and reason, rather than religion and science. But their concern was essentially the same: to reconcile human discovery and divine revelation. This concern has been central to Western civilization from its beginnings in the city-states of Greece. We are shocked by Plato, when he defends the “noble lie,” inviting us to propagate unbelievable myths for the sake of social order. We are shocked by Dostoevsky, when he writes that “if I must choose between Christ and Truth, it is Christ that I shall choose.” We are shocked by the person who protects his sacred texts from scientific examination, lest their status as “revelations” be put in doubt. We accept that there are falsehoods that it might be dangerous or impolitic to question. But we hope always for another and purer kind of religion, purged of superstition and pious fairy tales.

Since the Enlightenment, science has been capturing territory from religion, explaining the cosmos and our tiny corner of it in ways that make no mention of a supernatural plan. And for two centuries religion has been gradually giving way, accepting that now this feature of our world, now that one, could be accounted for without reference to God’s purpose.
I might argue that the only bad fairy tales are "pious" ones; in general I think there's a lot in that kind of folklore worth considering. In general, though, Scruton captures the post-Enlightenment position well: reason is on a throne, and animality is considered something to be striven beyond, improved or controlled by reason.

To what purpose, though? What can reason tell us about how we should direct ourselves?

Well, one way you could approach that problem is by looking at the shape of nature, and seeing if you can divine an arrow pointing in some direction. You can call this the "purpose" of nature, and set yourself to achieving that purpose.

Evolutionary science has some limits for you here, however: consider Kant's "first proposition" in his attempt to perform just this kind of a divination of the purpose of humanity.
All the natural capacities of a creature are destined sooner or later to be developed completely and in conformity with their end. This can be verified in all animals by external and internal or anatomical examination. An organ which is not meant for use or an arrangement which does not fulfill its purpose is a contradiction in the teleological theory of nature [i.e., the theory that nature has a purpose -Grim]. For if we abandon this basic principle, we are faced not with a law-governed nature, but with an aimless, random process, and the dismal reign of chaos replaces the guiding principle of reason.
Well, Darwinian science has some bad news for you. The importance of random mutation suggests that chaos has exactly the formative role Kant did not want to see there; and that the facts are that most of these random mutations do not function to guide a species (or even an organ or capacity) toward some destiny, but lead to extinction. Some small number of them prove beneficial, or harmless, and so may survive. The first proposition, though, seems to collapse.

Another way you can use reason to try to guide us in setting ends is to restrict your view, so that you are looking not at nature as such, but at human history. If you can divine a few points through which you can project a line, you can call that line the arrow of progress, and try to follow it.

Notable philosophers who tried to do this include Karl Marx. His idea about the dialectic was that it could show us how humanity was progressing, and we could then chart a course for further progress. Marx despised the capital-oriented middle classes, but he thought them better than the rural populations they had replaced. (Search on "idiocy of rural life.") The grinding of capitalism would, he was sure, produce internal contradictions that would have to be resolved through a new way. That way lay collapse and revolution, but -- since it was along the arrow of progress -- also a better world.

We don't need to belabor the matter of just how deeply wrong this was, or how deeply harmful. One might argue that Marx was merely wrong about the direction of the arrow, and try it again; but the experience suggests that we should be very humble about any theory that promises "progress" to humanity.

If reason cannot set the final ends for virtue, then, what can? Scruton:
Take the case of erotic love. The Bible succinctly explains the deep significance for each other of Adam and Eve. What it tells us is beautifully amplified by Milton in Paradise Lost. But the truths so finely discerned by Milton and by the author of Genesis are not captured by brain science. That science has made great progress in understanding the mechanism of pair-bonding, induced by the release of oxytocin into the cortex during intercourse. The theory shows what is common to people and laboratory rats. But it says nothing about what distinguishes them, which is the I-to-I relation of lovers, as revealed in the smile and the kiss.
This is the point that Cassandra and others are after: the higher nature that is achieved when animality is guided by reason. It is the poetry we get from Milton. What would evolutionary science say about this kind of poetry? That it was itself subordinate to the animality, I suspect: that romance and poetry are merely adaptive ways of achieving sexual access. Rational science finds that there is no rational nature separate from animal nature, for even the products of rationality are reduced at last to mere animality.

This is a problem for the Enlightenment! Enlightenment philosophy extends the ancient idea that reason (broadly read) should guide desire, to the idea that rational nature is the core of what it means to be human. It is what separates humans from the animals, and what places humans above the animals. If rational nature collapses into animality, the whole structure of the Enlightenment is in peril. All rationality turns out to be is a more effective animality. Rationality can hold its prominent position on the grounds of efficiency, but only for a while: for after the goods of animality are secured, we can no longer judge whether or not it is still more efficient. In order to judge, we need a rational standard: one of those arrows that Marx and Kant tried to build, which have proven so unreliable.

That is true if the Enlightenment is right about the core nature of humanity. That is to say, the Enlightenment understanding is wrong precisely if it is right: it fails on its own terms. If rational nature is the core of human nature, then animality is the core of human nature; science, and therefore reason, proves it.

If we take Scruton's groundwork seriously, we seem to be at the end of the debate. If religion must make way for what reason shows, then it will not do to have faith in a human nature above or separate from animal nature. All we have is an efficient adaptation: but efficient for what? It cannot guide us in any reliable way past the achievement of animal needs and desires.

That seems to be correct, if the Enlightenment understanding is where we make our stand. There remains a competitor.

The competitor holds that the core, essential nature of mankind is not rationality but romance. If there is a thing that makes us different from the animals it is the telling of tales. Into these stories about our lives we find friends and lovers to be not mere means to our animal or rational ends, but indispensable sources of romance.

The worth of others to us comes not from how they can help us achieve some end of our own, but in how their own ends and their own stories entwine with and enrich our tales. If they were only pieces of our story, they would be of small matter: but we find that their stories transform ours, and ours theirs, so that we are forced to regard them as equals of a sort. We may love them as enemies -- for what kind of a story has no villain? We may kill them, as it chances: but we are fools if we think that writes them out of our story. It only deepens the ways in which they alter the tale.

If it is the romance that matters -- not the animal desire, not the reason, but the poetry -- then we have a way of accounting for the power of Milton. We find that poetry and romance are not the byproducts of an animal search for reproduction, but the core feature of what and why we are. They are the point.

What that means is a topic for another day.