Tammany Hall

Tammany Hall:

Since we were just talking about the period yesterday, let me draw your attention to Greyhawk's piece on how the issues of racism and secession played out in New York City during 1860.

Alien Life

Alien Life:

The Journal of Cosmology has published a piece that claims it may be proven.

Official Statement from Dr. Rudy Schild,
Center for Astrophysics, Harvard-Smithsonian,
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Cosmology.

We believe Dr. Hoover's careful analysis provides definitive evidence of ancient microbial life on astral bodies some of which may predate the origin of Earth and this solar system.
This is not shocking if you have been following the debate about life forming under pressure.
One of the more novel suggestions comes from American chemist and biologist Stanley Miller (of the famed Miller-Urey experiment in the 50s, which created amino acids by exposing inorganic chemicals to UV radiation), who claims that life was not the result of heat, as many think, but rather ice. In 1997, Miller began defrosting a 25-year-old ammonia and cyanide-filled vial that had been kept at a temperature matching that of Jupiter's moon Europa. Amazingly, and contrary to all assumptions, Miller discovered that the concoction in the vial now contained the familiar signs of complex polymers made up of organic molecules. Since then, further evidence supporting Miller's on-the-rocks hypothesis has come to light.
If life generates naturally when the right pressure and chemical balance is made, it's not surprising to find it on meteorites. If this kind of life is broadly similar to ours -- carbon based, amino acids -- we may be able to extend our thoughts on the Order of Reason much more broadly than to horses or higher animals.

That, of course, remains to be seen: there may be truly "alien" kinds of life as well! As an initial sketch, though, the idea that the universe has life as well as reason embedded in it is well-traveled ground: contemporary philosophers will think at once of Hegel, but I think the neoplatonic picture is stronger. Either model gives adequate theoretical support for it (as might some other models); but it would tend to undermine moral relativists of the stronger type (i.e., those who believe that all morality, as opposed to some morality, is culturally relative).

UPDATE: Dr. Schild's website lists a number of his papers, with abstracts. Cassandra's point about 'confirmation bias' may be relevant here, as he's written several things predicting a universe full of life: naturally, then, he'd be a good person to go to if you wanted a big-name, Harvard astrophysicist likely to be open to the idea.

He's also arguing for a different kind of object similar in many respects to black holes, called a MECO (massive eternally collapsing object).
This MECO is also a collapsed object with 3 billion suns mass, but unlike a black hole it is surrounded by a strong magnetic field anchored to the rotating core, and is a solution of the General Relativistic Einstein-Maxwell equations in which Quantum Electrodynamic and Dark Energy forces prevent the formation of a true event horizon.

The illustration answers the long-standing puzzle: if Black Holes have an Event Horizon beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape, how can it be that they are the most luminous objects in the universe at optical, X-ray, and radio wavelengths? My telescopic studies of these objects at centers of gravitationally lensed quasars have shown thet the strong emissions are caused by the sweeping magnetic fields acting on infalling matter to produce the structure shown.
It's a good question, and a puzzling one. You can read about x-ray emissions from what may be the best known 'black hole' candidate here. There is still quite a lot we don't understand about what is going on out there.

Film School

Film School:

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a fascinating article on film school in Baghdad, Dubai and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Independent Film & Television College" featured in Baghdad Film School opened in 2004, closing in 2006 when a car bomb exploded in front of the school, but reopening, as the documentary shows, in 2009—with the faculty wearing bulletproof vests. The instructor Maysoon Pachachi explains, "We wanted to set up the first independent film school in a country where independent thinking had been banned for a long time. In a country like Iraq, which has been traumatized for millennia by occupations and invasions and so forth, the only thing that has stood in front of that is creative articulation, ... the making of something when the world is being unmade all around you."

Its students are simply amazing, inspirational in their determination. Though some of their work isn't much more sophisticated than a cellphone video, still they have faith that they are entering into the profession of cinematography. "I want an Oscar, now or later," says one student. Most live in the "no go" areas of the city, where active militias and kidnappings are common. As they discuss film locations, they must grapple with the logistical dangers of war and the challenges of merely getting to class. "It's clear that our movements in this chaotic place are very limited," Pachachi says. "If we go out in the streets to film, we not only endanger ourselves but also the lives of other people."

The teachers ask the students to document their lives. "Every Iraqi has a story," a student says. "You could make a film about everyone." For these students and their teachers, filmmaking is a way to stay sane, to stay alive, though bombs intrude pervasively; throughout the semester, their friends and members of their families are killed.
That's an alarming portrait; if it is accurate, Baghdad's security situation has degraded from when I was there last (which would have been about the time this school re-opened, in mid-2009). Nevertheless, the story is also a reason to be hopeful. True art, pointed at the Beautiful, has a transcendent power. It cannot end war, but it can help to forge a peace once the shooting has stopped.

Spring Break

Spring Break!

Spring break is almost here. Let's go to Mexico!

...or possibly Savannah. My .50 cal is in the shop.

H/t: Dad29.



Commenting on this story about handgun carry on college campuses, InstaPundit says:

Is it just me, or is the notion that guns are especially dangerous on university campuses because they’re lawless and full of alcohol and drugs one of those arguments that “proves too much?”
I don't think I've ever been on a college campus that was really all that bad. Still, assuming the argument were valid on the facts, it would be odd to hear a college administration saying, 'Guns would be too dangerous here given our irresponsible leadership.'

"But What Did You Really Mean by That?"

"But What Did You Really Mean by That?"

I'm belatedly getting around to what's turned out to be a great read: Judge Vinson's ruling on the federal government's bizarre "motion to clarify" last month's declaratory judgment holding ObamaCare unconstitutional and void. It's only 20 pages long and written in plain English, so I recommend it to you.

The judge held his temper admirably in the face of an outrageous affectation of incomprehension on the part of some government lawyer hacks. These guys lost their case, failed to appeal it for over two weeks, failed even to seek a stay, and yet asked the court last Thursday to believe that they're in some kind of doubt over whether the judgment was supposed to have any effect pending appeal. This is black-letter first-year lawyer stuff: an order takes effect unless you get it stayed, or unless there is a rule or statute that automatically stays it for some period or under specific conditions. If you can't get the judge who ruled against you to stay his own judgment, you go immediately to the next higher court and ask for a stay there. You do all this with an eye on the deadlines -- and the deadlines don't depend on how long you think it ought to take for your lawyers to complete a "careful analysis" of your ruling. If you're really having trouble understanding what the hard words mean and you think you need to hire smarter lawyers to explain them to you, you hotfoot it into court and ask for an extension to permit to get that done. Otherwise, the status quo is whatever the order says, not what everyone assumed was the case before the lawsuit, or what you hope will be the case if and when you win on appeal. In this case, the status quo is that, at least with respect to the majority of states who filed the suit, ObamaCare is null, void, dead. It's an ex-law. It's joined the Choir Invisible.

Nor does the fact that this is a "declaratory" judgment change anything. Declaratory judgments are what you ask for when you're not seeking damages or other relief for a past action, but instead are asking the court to rule, somewhat in the abstract, on what the parties' legal obligations are going forward. But the judgment that results from this kind of suit is just like a regular judgment: as enforceable as the kind of judgment that says "pay that guy $100 million in damages."

Normally when a plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment, he couples it with a request for an injunction. In other words, if he wins, he wants the defendant to be enjoined from doing whatever the defendant had erroneously been assuming he was legally entitled to do. One reason for taking this extra step is that an injunction, unlike a declaratory judgment, can be enforced by the court's contempt powers. When the defendant is the government, however, there is a well-established presumption that the government will comply with the law (I know, I know), and that an injunction would be superfluous. These government officials, who don't seem entirely to grasp the concept that the government must obey the law, just got a warning shot across their bows:

A litigant who tries to evade a federal court’s judgment --- and a declaratory judgment is a real judgment, not just a bit of friendly advice --- will come to regret it.” Badger Catholic, Inc. v. Walsh, 620 F.3d 775, 782 (7th Cir. 2010). If it were otherwise, a federal court’s declaratory judgment would serve “no useful purpose as a final determination of rights.” See Public Service Comm’n of Utah, v. Wycoff Co., Inc., 344 U.S. 237, 247, 73 S. Ct. 236, 97 L. Ed. 2d 291 (1952). For the defendants to suggest that they were entitled (or that in the weeks after my order was issued they thought they might be entitled) to basically ignore my declaratory judgment until “after appellate review is exhausted” is unsupported in the law.

What's more, the government's lawyers were sailing pretty close to the wind in arguing that “a single federal judge” is not authorized to “paralyze totally the operation of an entire regulatory scheme, either state or federal, by issuance of a broad injunctive order’ prior to appellate review.” They cited a case that used words to that effect, but (as they knew perfectly well) the case was based on a federal statute that was repealed in the 1970s, which used to provide that decisions emanating out of federal districts containing only one judge were not effective to enjoin an Act of Congress. Under current law, any federal judge can enjoin an Act of Congress, no matter how dinky his district is. If the litigants don't like the result, they can get a stay pending appeal. If they can't be bothered to seek a stay, the Act of Congress is frozen unless and until they win at the circuit level or the Supreme Court.

The rub for the government here is that they put all their eggs in one basket. The individual mandate is a linchpin of the law because we all know that the law will go from ruinously expensive to frankly impossible if individuals can't be forced to buy the kind of insurance that their betters have decided they need. (I remain in a bad mood about this aspect because my affordable high-deductible catastrophic coverage is almost certainly going to be ruled unacceptable.) Congress originally included "severability" language in the bill, which would have permitted the rest of the law to be implemented even if, as they openly feared, some judge struck down the individual mandate. The Congressional leaders then made the deliberate decision to excise the severability clause, precisely because they were worried that the law wouldn't work without the mandate.

As a result, when Judge Vinson struck down the mandate, he had no choice but to strike down the whole law with it. He didn't surprise the government with this approach, either; there was considerable discussion of it during the trial, and the government lawyers confirmed that a ruling against the mandate would kill the whole bill; indeed, that was one reason they gave for why he shouldn't strike down the mandate. And now that Congress has changed with the most recent elections, there's not much chance of passing a new ObamaCare that eliminates the mandate, even if anyone thought they'd figured out a way to make that work at last.

The upshot is that Judge Vinson construed the "motion to clarify" as the "motion for stay" the government would have filed if it had employed competent and honest lawyers. He stayed the effect of his order for seven days, to give the government a chance to seek an expedited appeal to the 11th Circuit or, preferably, directly to the Supreme Court. If he's satisfied with what they achieve in the next seven days, he appears to be prepared to extend the stay until the appeal is exhausted -- or of course one of the higher courts may do that on its own. All in all, Judge Vinson seems to have mastered considerable irritation and done what he really believed was in the public interest. I'm still hoping for a few contempt penalties, though.


Nathan Bedford Forrest:

Time magazine reports on a controversy in Mississippi.

In 1867, former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest became the first Grand Wizard of a newly formed organization called the Ku Klux Klan. Forrest had been a slave trader before the Civil War; he was also the commanding officer during a battle known as the "Fort Pillow massacre" in Tennessee at which some 300 black Union troops were killed in 1864. (Whether they died in combat or were killed after they surrendered is still a matter of dispute.)

Now, in honor of the Civil War's 150th anniversary, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) are seeking to put Forrest on a Mississippi license plate.
OK, that's a pretty good job of explaining why it would be controversial to put him on a license plate! Now, to balance the article, we'll get an explanation of why they want to do so. That way we'll have both sides of the story. Right? Well, no, not exactly: we get two cherry picked lines framed with explanations of what we're supposed to think about them.
Chuck Rand, a member of the SCV, calls any assumption that the Forrest license plate is racist a "knee-jerk reaction" by people who don't understand the "real causes" of the Civil War. Or, as he calls it, "The war for Southern independence." But critics point out that slavery isn't addressed in these commemorations.


"Lincoln waged a war to conquer his neighbor," Rand explains. "In our view, he was an aggressor against another nation, just as Hitler was an aggressor against other nations." Most people, Southern or otherwise, are not likely to agree with such an inflammatory statement[.]
We also get some expert testimony to help us decide what to think.
"Robert E. Lee has been replaced as the great [Confederate] hero by Nathan Bedford Forrest by these Southern white heritage groups," says Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, which investigates extremist groups. Lee owned slaves, Potok says, but "he was very much a statesman, and at the end of the Civil War, he encouraged Southerners to rejoin the Union in heart and soul. Forrest was very much not like that. The fact that they want to honor him specifically says a lot about what they stand for."
The takeaway from the article, then, is that Forrest was completely undredeemable, and the SCV are extremist crypto-racist jerks.

I'm not associated with SCV in any fashion; maybe they are crazy cryto-racist jerks. I do know enough about the history of the Civil War to know why someone would think Forrest was a figure in whom we should recognize praiseworthy qualities. He was a slave-owner, certainly; but so were Washington, Jefferson, James Jackson of Georgia, and a number of other highly praiseworthy men.

He founded the Ku Klux Klan, which my family fought against back in the days right after the Civil War in Tennessee. It should also be noted that in 1869, when four years of guerrilla resistance against the new governments had not produced victory, Forrest took a leadership role in disbanding the movement. Congress thanked him: "General Forrest and other men of influence in the state, by the exercise of their moral power, induced [the KKK] to disband."

In other words, he was much like some of the Sunni leaders in Iraq who fought for Saddam, and then fought against us in the insurgency; but whose leadership in bringing peace and order to the region after the Awakening caused us to receive them as allies. As for the Ft. Pillow massacre, Time at least notes the controversy around it; Forrest himself denied any such massacre, ascribing the reports to the invention of Northern reporters for propaganda purposes.

Forrest was born poor, and received little education. Yet his native intelligence and spirit allowed him to win a fortune before the war. He never received a military education like most of the Confederate generals, so when the war broke out he enlisted as a private -- and worked his way up to Lieutenant General.

He formed his own cavalry units and fought them with such brilliance and insight that a number of his methods fundamentally reformed the training and doctrine for the U.S. cavalry for decades to come. As motorized units came into play later, they became the foundation of our understanding of maneuver warfare: the kind of warfare still practiced today. US Army and Marine Corps front-line combat units take pride in their distinction as "maneuver units," a distinction that we really owe to Forrest.

At Brice's Crossroads, Forrest destroyed an enemy army more than twice the size of his own, using tactics that he invented without any formal training.

An article that made all of that clear might have raised some interesting questions: questions quite relevant to our lives today, as we think about how the new Iraq will settle its own differences, and forgive old wounds. At this remove I suppose we feel free to condemn without reservation, but that is not something that Iraq can do to its Sunni leaders without destabilizing the situation. That is another way of saying that they are necessary for peace, too: and if there is peace, it will be because they (like Forrest) exercise their moral leadership in that direction.

If they do, they might be thanked for it: Forrest was. It's less clear if they should be forgiven. That is a question we haven't decided here, even a hundred and fifty years on.
Bring Bush!

I hate to break it to that guy, but Bush ain't coming and neither is Obama. Funny, though, that it's Bush he's calling for and not Obama.
The Android Trebuchet:

You know what would be fun? Building a massive siege engine and setting it to be triggered by a cell phone.

They used an Android cellphone, a computer the size of a credit card and a Blue Tooth receiver to trigger the wooden weapon, known as a trebuchet, during the first "Storm the Citadel Trebuchet Competition" in Charleston over the weekend.

The trebuchet was used during medieval times to break down fortifications.

"They also threw dead people," said Dennis Fallon, dean of engineering at The Citadel, a military college with about 2,100 male and female cadets. "What we have done in military history is not always something to be proud of."
Be fair, engineer. They threw live people, too.

Mobs and Leaders

Mobs and Leaders

In this video, an angry crowd struggles to regulate itself, with the help of a few individuals who struggle to find words and gestures that will return people to their senses. This is the long version, almost 12 minutes. There are shorter versions on YouTube, but it's worth watching this one in full to observe the crowd dynamics.

H/t Dane101.com via Hotair.com.

For FbL:

FbL wanted to try the skillet/broiler pizza hack, but didn't want to buy another skillet. While I dispute the premise that one has 'enough' skillets if one does not own at least one cast iron skillet, she wondered if this griddle could work.

I usually use mine for outdoor cooking over open fires, but I thought it could possibly work if you laid it across two burners. Iron is pretty good about equalizing heat. I tried it today, making a small square pizza in the middle of the burner but overlapping with each eye.

The iron equalized heat as well as I'd hoped, so the pizza was evenly crisp on the bottom. There is one disadvantage to this griddle compared to the skillet, which is that it is a lot heavier. When it is super hot, coming back out of the broiler especially, the extra weight increases the risk of burns even through oven mitts.

Still, it worked.


Why Are Men Angry?

Kay Hymowitz writes a followup to a piece that I didn't link the first time, because it is well-traveled ground for us. Here it is, though, for reference.

Apparently she got some negative feedback.

About a week ago, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of my new book, which argued that the new stage I call pre-adulthood—the twenties and early thirties—was not bringing out the best in single young men. Some men didn’t like it. As in, “cancel-my-subscription-the-writer-should-contract-such-a-bad-case-of-carpel-tunnel-syndrome-she-never-writes-again” didn’t like it.

But a lot of the responses unwittingly proved my point—and another one: Men are really, really angry.
I thought her point was that these weren't men, a point with which I completely agree. Now she has a new point, though:
Let’s call it gender bait and switch. Never before in history have men been matched up with women who are so much their equal—socially, professionally, and sexually. By the time they reach their twenties, they have years of experience with women as equal competitors—in school, on soccer fields, and even in bed. They very reasonably assume that the women they are meeting at a bar or café or gym are after the same things they are: financial independence, career success, toned triceps, and sex.

That’s the bait; here comes the switch. Women may want equality at the conference table and treadmill. But when it comes to sex and dating, they aren’t so sure. The[y] might hook up as freely as a Duke athlete. Or, they might want men to play Greatest Generation gentleman. Yes, they want men to pay for dinner, call for dates—a writer at the popular dating website The Frisky titled a recent piece “Call me and ask me out for a damn date!”—and open doors for them.
What was the bait, again? That your intimate life could based on the same ideal of competition that forces you to scramble in every other aspect of your life?

Somebody's really let these folks down, because they haven't conveyed what the intimate is about. The intimate exists for two reasons: to shelter you and give you a place to regain strength; and to let you experience the unity with another that is the true depth of humanity. A man or a woman alone may experience their own depths, and perhaps in contemplation approach some of the depth of being itself: but to experience the depth of humanity requires another.

The marketplace in general has taken over far too much of our lives. There are a lot of modes of human life that aren't based on it, and generally the better ones: love, friendship, service (such as military service), meditation, thought. The last two are solitary occupations. Only in our intimate friendships do we Americans manage to get away from the ruthless competition and find a way to experience another in these better ways.

One intimate mode is the bond between family: that bond created by man and wife and child, which ties bloodlines together and extends across generations. This is the special bond of marriage, which deserves defense as a space consecrated for just that purpose.

Another -- sometimes together with marriage, sometimes not -- is the bond between lovers. This bond exists because of the second function of sex that Thomas Aquinas noted: the unity of the male and female, allowing a merging of individuals that alone creates a truly human nature. Though it is sexual, it need not be the sex of intercourse: it is a depth shared between a man and a woman who love each other with this passion, though they may touch no more than their hands.

Another is the bond between true friends, which Aristotle viewed as necessary to the best life. This bond can be as strong as the others, because trust and love of your friend allows you to understand each other. That common understanding lets you seek the true and the beautiful together.

Insofar as the young are approaching 'the sexual marketplace' as a sexual marketplace, they have made the core error before they appear in it. If they are angry about the results they are getting, the right answer is to re-examine their assumptions about what they should be seeking.

Moral Realism & Horses

Moral Realism & Horses:

This is the second post in a series; the first is here. In the first post, we discussed whether there are real morals, or only culturally relative ones. My belief is that there are at least two types of real morals, and I argued for one of them initially: what we might call "true virtue."

There's a second type I identify, which needs more argument to establish. In the comments to that first post, I asked for someone to explain how we know when an animal is thinking -- not just reacting from instinct. RCL took up the challenge.


Horses Thinking... *First of all I know you know!

As I said, observe Ms. Winema Toby Riddle...

1. Like many horses she knows when you put a kid on her and she takes care of them. While I'm out of town I'm leasing her to a friend. She was complaining to me that her two kids can't get her to trot. You know the answer don't you? My pal Paul told her the same thing I did, she knows they aren't balanced, she knows they're kids, she won't kick up because she's protecting them from themselves. When they ask right and they're set correctly she'll trot. Hell she'll take off at the least hint if you're in balance.

2. If I haven't been there for more the a few days; if I've just come by and worked her out and left for the last couple visits Toby's going to teach me some kind of lesson for the first 15 to 20 minutes guaranteed! She's always keeping score. Typical woman.

3. As a prey animal they're bred to be careful. They can imagine unspeakable danger from any rustle in the willows down a creek bed. Reaction only? Perhaps but it's thought and learning that enables them to put aside that reaction once they've gained confidence in their rider and through experience.

4. They can plan. They sometimes know what you're going to do before you do and they're ready for you. When they're being ornery they set you a trap. When you're working together they get there before you have to tell them.

5. We all know plenty of horses who can open any latch or get into some container or pantry that you'd never figure anyone could manuever with just teeth and lips.
What these answers come down to is this: we know the horse is thinking because we recognize what it is like to be a thinking animal from ourselves. T99 got it precisely:
I never know that anyone is "thinking," except insofar as they can communicate something to me that reminds me of the internal process I identify by the work "thinking." Horse and dogs do that to a limited extent by showing me that they are remembering things or have solve problems.
Let's say you go hiking in Tallulah gorge, and you see a boulder on the high walls when you hike out, but find that same boulder on the ground when you come back. What caused the change? It was acted upon by something else. Maybe someone pushed it; certainly the force of gravity acted upon it. It didn't make a free choice to come down into the valley.

Living creatures can move, but the lower animals are no freer than the stones. They are being driven either by internal instincts or by outside influences: the sensation of light, or pressure (like a fly buzzing off to avoid a swat), or the smell of food, things like that.

We can generalize this by saying that unfree acts are acts where X does Y because Z acts upon them: the ice sublimates because the sun shines on it. Natural laws rule these kinds of actions.

We have the ability to make choices. At least some of the time, we think about alternatives and decide to do one thing over another: or we find that there is a problem in between us and what we want, and we think through a solution to the problem. We may be less free than we often think we are, but at least some of the time we reason things through and make a choice: for example, we encounter a difficulty with our engine, reason what is likely to be the problem, and go about arranging a fix.

My favorite example was Sequila, who decided she didn't want to go riding one day. She saw me coming with a rope, and then -- when I looked away to open the gate -- lay down in a hollow so I wouldn't be able to see her.

That's an impressive bit of reasoning! She not only formulated a stimulus-response (man with rope means go riding: I don't want to go riding) but hit upon a plan of action that showed she understood the limits of my vision. Horse vision is different from ours: they have a nearly panoramic view. If I had tried to hide from her that way, it wouldn't work, because looking at the gate wouldn't have precluded me from seeing her.

She wasn't responding to instinct; I'd never observed her to lie down before. She was thinking through a problem.

How do I know that? Because I recognize the process from having thought through problems as well.

It didn't work, by the way:

Doesn't she look happy?

Immanuel Kant argued* that we can recognize this kind of reason only spontaneously: that is, only because we know it from ourselves. If someone were acting according to an order of reason that was different from ours, we wouldn't understand the rules, and probably wouldn't recognize it as reasoned behavior.

If we can recognize reason across species, then, the order of reason certainly exists across human cultures. If any morality tracks to reason, then, that part of morality is real: it is not cultural, but something arising from reality rather than human artifice.

Kant thought all morality could be demonstrated rationally. I don't agree; I find his critics persuasive who point out that it isn't really possible to generate positive duties from his categorical imperatives. If I may only act in a way that can be universalized without contradiction, I still don't have to act in any particular way.

It is possible, though, to generate some negative duties: that is to say, limits. "Thou shalt not" is a valid universal form for many moral questions. Thou shalt not steal, for Kant (as for your mother) because if everybody did it.... For Kant, the problem is that people steal to gain an advantage in property; but if everyone stole all the time, you couldn't guard the gains that you're trying to win. Theft cannot be universalized without destroying itself; it is therefore forbidden by reason.

So, here is a second type of real morality: "true limits" to go with "true virtues."

We still end up relying on culture for a lot of pretty crucial questions. However, these are good reasons to believe that at least some morality is embedded in the structure of the world.

* Readers interested in this point are referred, not to Kant!, but to Sebastian Rödl's Self-Consciousness. Like Kant, he doesn't extend his picture to non-human animals; but the persuasive arguments for why we recognize reason only spontaneously, and why the order of reason must be one, are just as strong pointed at higher animals like horses. We know they are thinking, because we recognize it.

Rödl would probably be unhappy with my use of his theory, as his theory hinges on language (a thing horses possess but only as body language, not the thought-formulating language that the philosophical tradition usually wants to insist upon). His tradition, though, probably requires him to accept my usage even if he doesn't like it. German Idealism is tied to Hegel's phenomenology of mind, which includes an account of what pre-language consciousness is like. In general I agree with Hannah Arendt's account of Hegel ("large parts of his work can be read as a running polemic against common sense"), but a German idealist can't easily walk away from it without giving a careful account of what he wants to replace it with. Further, in Hegel's defense, that the horse's development of mind ends just where he seems to believe that language would be required for further development. I have my own reasons for believing that thought and language are not as connected as modern philosophy usually assumes, but that (like proving the existence of free will) is another post for another day.

Adventures in Frosting

Adventures in Frosting

We recently celebrated our neighbor's mother's 90th birthday, a party that featured a demonstration of line-dancing by the birthday girl and her dance group. This admirable woman moved in with our neighbors a few years ago and swiftly became the county canasta champion. Mean poker player, too.

My contribution was the birthday cake. I had convinced my neighbor (the birthday girl's daughter-in-law) that store-bought sheet cake can't complete with a real home-baked cake. That meant, of course, that I would have to decorate the cake as well. I thought it would be no problem, but I didn't take into account that the cream-cheese-and-butter frosting for carrot cake is stiffer than most. I managed to blow out not one but two pastry-bag frosting extruders and suffered a little panic as the deadline approached for driving the cake over to the beachfront venue. Nevertheless, it all came out right in the end and tasted wonderful. Another neighbor cooked a killer brisket, and the hostess brought cole slaw, while various sides and hors d'oeuvre showed up with other guests. A fine day.

Here was something funny. A guest exclaimed to me over the moistness of the cake. I was perplexed; this is a perfectly ordinary recipe. I recited the ingredients: carrots, sugar, flour, eggs, oil -- "Oh, oil!" she exclaimed knowingly. "That explains it." I wonder: has she so swallowed the dietary nonsense of recent decades that she's been trying to bake without shortening? Probably with fake sugar and eggs, too. No wonder a real but pedestrian cake recipe tastes like a revelation to her. (She'd probably have died on the spot to hear what the frosting was made of. No icing-whiz? No Splenda?) It's true that carrot cake in a store or restaurant often tastes like rubber iced with snot. Is that the problem? Is it carrot cake by DuPont?

If you don't want to feed the multitudes, the recipe for a more moderate quantity of cake follows. I tripled this to make four 9x13 cakes, which I combined into one 18x26 sheetcake by cutting off their interior sides so they'd fit together snugly. Once they were frosted, you couldn't tell they hadn't all been baked in one pan together.

Carrot Cake

1 lb carrots, grated
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups oil (I used canola)
4 eggs
2 cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup (or more) coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup (or more) dried cranberries (or raisins if you prefer it sweeter)

Cream Cheese Frosting (that's "Icing" to y'all up north)

3 packages (8-oz. standard size) of cream cheese
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 T)
1 tsp vanilla extract
confectioner's sugar to taste (maybe 1/2 cup by my standards, but I like a tart frosting to contrast with the sweet cake)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Combine sugar and oil with a mixer, then beat in the eggs one at a time. In a separate bowl, combine or sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then mix these dry ingredients into the wet ones. When the flour is well incorporated, stir in the nuts and fruit. Lightly oil the pans (three 9-in cake pans or two bread pans), then lay a sheet of wax paper on the bottom and oil that, too. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn out onto oven racks to cool, removing the wax paper carefully.

To make the frosting, let the cream cheese and butter come to room temperature, then combine them with a mixer, add the vanilla, and then add the powdered sugar to taste. Frost the cakes after they have thoroughly cooled. The cakes can keep at room temperature overnight, but the frosting will look best if applied the day you will serve the cake. The frosting should be refrigerated if you make it ahead of time, and it will be easier to stuff it into the frig if it's still in a bowl rather than on a big cake. Bear in mind that the frosting must come to room temperature before it will be easy to work with.


Act I

Act II

Food for Thought


... we must always be aware of how pervasive the confirmation bias is. Whatever we want to believe, we set out to look for any evidence that supports that belief. If we find even a single piece of evidence that supports what we want to believe, we feel like we're done, we've done our homework and we can now be certain about what we believe. Everyone does this, on both sides, and therefore, people disagree with each other while both being certain that they're right.

It especially means that we must be aware of the problem of moral diversity and moral teams. Whenever there is a moral team that has no moral diversity and is trying to study the other team, we can pretty much bet money – we can take 3-1 odds – that they're going to get it wrong. They can't get it right because the biasing effects of morality are so strong.

- Jonathan Haidt

I saw this quote the same week John Tierney's NYT article about bias and the lack of intellectual conformity in the social sciences came out. Arguably, the single most fascinating line in Tierney's article was this one:
“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”

This quote was endlessly repeated on conservative blogs because frankly, it was just so darned useful. I couldn't help hoping, though, that one of us might turn it around - see if the other side of that double edged sword sliced as cleanly?
“Any time conservatives see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to [any explanation that doesn't involve] discrimination or bias,” ...“But when we learn that conservatives are underrepresented in academia by a factor of more than 100, bias and discrimination no longer seem so implausible, do they?”

I liked the first statement because there's a very large grain of truth in it.

There happens to be a very large grain of truth in the second statement too, but I have to admit it doesn't sit nearly so well with me. Haidt's comments came to mind again when I saw this item from Glenn Reynolds. I'll admit to being briefly encouraged by Glenn's characterization of game as cartoonish. The rest of his comment - the part about being glad these men were 'getting help' - disturbed me a bit.

I want to see young men become more confident with women. I want them to succeed, if by "success" one means being able to approach women, talk to them, hopefully date them, form relationships (married or otherwise) that make both the man and the woman happy. But I don't see any particular value in teaching men to despise women, nor in teaching them tricks that make it possible to "bang" large numbers of shallow, confused and impressionable young women who would normally be out of their league (if we accept the self professed goals of the game community). There have always been ways to trick or pressure people into doing things they wouldn't otherwise be inclined to do. If human beings weren't vulnerable to such tactics, peer pressure wouldn't work. But the mere existence of a thing doesn't legitimize it.

It doesn't make it the right thing to do. It doesn't make the end justify the means, nor does it make two wrongs suddenly equal a right. What disturbs me is the omission of morality - and humanity - from this equation. Let's say that we accept the existence of a supposedly universal male desire for promiscuous, consequence free sex. Moreover, let's stipulate that what is natural is somehow inherently good, both for society and for the individual.

Rather a stretch, isn't it? But I'm willing to play along just to see where it takes us.

If (as conservatives so often assert) men and women are different and thus naturally want different things, by what logical or conservative principle do we wish for men to get what they want at the expense of women getting what they want? If it's "natural" for all - or even most - men to want consequence free sex and all - or even most - women to want families and committed relationships (and if these two desires are at odds with each other), then men can only get what they most desire by denying women what we most desire. And vice versa.

That's a pretty dismal view of male-female relations; it turns partnership and mutual support into a zero sum game in which men and women are pitted against each other:
If one accepts the hard-to-dispute premise that, between the sexes, women prefer a higher-sexual-cost regime in which men are supposed to "work for it," as it were, and men prefer a lower-sexual-cost regime in which their sexual needs can be gratified with almost no work whatsoever (compare and contrast female wish-fulfillment romcoms with male wish-fulfillment pornos, or even James Bond movies, actually), then of course it makes sense that women, rather than men, have a sound motive for increasing the sexual penalties for promiscuous sex whereas men have stronger motive for decreasing them.

It's funny - for years now I've watched men argue that porn is just fantasy - that it has nothing to do with what they want in real life. Suddenly now porn is being cited as indicative of what men really want to see happen in the real world (in other words, they want sexual needs gratified with no work and thus won't do anything that frustrates this desire)?

Wow. Really? I have to say that I had a higher opinion of the male half of humanity. This is the problem with reducing complex issues to simplistic formulas:
... lefty feminists continue to insist that it is men, of all people, who workin' as hard as they can to keep women chaste. To keep women from having sex with them, in other words. To make women feel bad about the occasional one night stand so that men can't have the occasional one night stand.

Does this sound like men to you? Or does it sound like a fantasy farce of cartoon men, wearing the Black Hats of Insanely-Counterproductive Sexual Prohibition, concocted by a blame-shifting villain-needing sexual cult?

From where I sit, it was not the rise of women but the spread of Christianity and Judeo-Christian values that turned Western civilization against centuries-old practices like slavery and prostitution. And last time I checked, for most of its history men have been the intellectual and political force that turned the words of a Jewish carpenter into the world's largest religion.

I'm not sure what makes so many men fall all over themselves in their haste to reduce their own sex to little more than an utterly amoral collection of uncontrollable urges, but I suspect that confirmation bias has a lot to do with it. That's the only explanation I can come up with for arguments that discount so much contrary evidence.

Or maybe that's just what I want to believe - the biasing effect of my own morality :p

Update: "Most boys are raised by divorced women with an axe to grind against men."


I realize we ladies are not exactly known for our mathematical prowess, but even I know that less than 34% doesn't add up to "most":

The percentage of children under 18 living with two married parents declined to 66 percent in 2010, down from 69 percent in 2000.

Mad Max

Autoduel on Ice:

It's been a while since we had a Borderline Boys post. I like this one: "If Mad Max had a fortress of solitude in Sweden, this is about what it would look like."

This may explain the Scandinavian fascination with rockabilly music that Joel and I were noticing recently.

UPDATE: Today from BSBFB, the Saudi version. I call this one "rotating the tires while the tires are rotating."

The Patriot Game

The Patriot Game:

Come all you young rebels,
and list' while I sing;
for the love of one's country
is a terrible thing.

BillT reminds me of an old song in the comments, below, to T99's post on chart-toppers. Now here was a song that deserved to top the charts: it didn't, but it should have.

Until 9/11, Americans tended to support the IRA: God knows I did. The assumption was that defending national sovereignty against foreign oppression was a natural right, for Ireland as much as for the Founders. Watch this now, and look at the masked men. Are they right? Were we wrong? What if the Libyans now fighting for freedom have to resort to masks of this kind?

One wants to say that they are good men, who did terrible things. The song is ready to say that with us. Are we sure?
Tallulah Gorge:

Below Bridal Veil Falls

In northeast Georgia, the Tallulah river has cut a remarkable gorge into the earth. Cutting through a dome rock formation, it has produced a chasm lined with granite stones worn smooth.

Oceana Falls

The gorge floor is mildly perilous in only a few places, where these smooth stone walls could lead one to tumble a few tens of feet into the river below. The chief danger is in getting wet. All the same, access to the floor is controlled by Georgian DNR Rangers.

February Runoff into the Gorge

You have to cross the river, which makes this an odd choice of hikes for February. The recent warm weather, though, made it perfect.

Tallulah River

The trail is rough, and includes a lot of clambering over boulders. It's a fun hike if you are in the area, and in the mood for something just strenuous enough to get the blood going, but short of real rock climbing.