If you should ever be sitting on your front porch in the dusk, smoking a long-stemmed pipe that a friend sent you because he knew you liked cigars and Tolkien -- and you should hear rustling and squeaking behind the decorative window shutters on your house -- it is probably bats getting ready to come out to hunt.

Furthermore, if there should happen to be any nearby children, you should call them over and tell them to watch the shutters. Then, you should puff up a big bunch of smoke from your pipe, and blow it behind the shutter. A few seconds letter, the children are likely to be very impressed.



One thing we've probably learned over the last few years is that NASCAR fans are more likely than not to dislike the President. This was most obvious during Car & Driver's April Fools Day joke, which succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

A Car and Driver April Fool's hoax on the Web, reporting President Obama had ordered Chevrolet and Dodge out of NASCAR after the 2009 season, turned into a sizzling Internet topic Wednesday.

"Just when we thought we could take a breather from Barack Obama's wacky policies, he reached across the Atlantic today to drop another one on us," wrote Sandra Rose at Rightfielders.com. "Naturally, NASCAR fans are outraged."
Naturally. It wasn't true, of course. The President hadn't said anything about NASCAR; when he finally got around to saying something, four months later, it was on the importance of the sport to America's automobile industry.

Why would NASCAR fans have believed the hoax? Probably because it fit so well with the takeover of the automobile industry; the electric/hybrid car push; the 'slim down' anti-obesity crusade; the 'slim down' anti-carbon-footprint crusade; etc, etc., etc. Too, then-Senator Obama turned down a NASCAR club that wanted his campaign to sponsor their car. In other words, the joke was highly plausible: NASCAR fans probably feel that the joke better represents the truth of the President's feelings for them than the fact that he is a wise enough campaigner to do some minimal pandering in their direction.

When we learned today that half the NASCAR drivers invited to meet the President declined the offer, then, few can have been very surprised.

There seems to be a debate about the etiquette of turning down a Presidential invitation, however. Jeff Gluck says it's not very patriotic to claim to be too busy to meet with the President. The Western Experience agrees, proving that this is not just a partisan position.

The American Thinker isn't buying it:
As for Gluck's "patriotism" shot - is he really equating patriotism with being an extra in a campaign commercial for a candidate they don't support?
My own sense is that the President isn't the Queen, and Americans aren't his subjects: any President is meant to be no more than primus inter pares. You may decline an invitation with him on the same terms as with any other equal.

Those terms are that you can decline with no more than a note declaring that you regret you cannot accept the invitation: no explanation is required. No one in NASCAR seems to have done otherwise. I would say, then, that they have acted politely. A free citizen is not required to appear at the President's pleasure. It is not rude for him to state that he has other business that, regretfully, must detain him.

Dumb Law

Another Dumb Law:

I hope none of you in California ever use babysitters.

Dubbed the babysitting bill, AB 889 would require families to provide nannies and sitters (anyone over 18 who cares for your child except one of your other children) with lunch and rest breaks, minimum wage, worker's compensation, paid vacation, and overtime pay. Families who fail to provide these things could be sued.

So pretty much forget ever going on a date night again, and as for us working moms -- we're totally screwed.... The rest breaks in particular are just ridiculous because that means someone else would have to come in and cover for their breaks every two hours. If you're a parent, you know how hard it is to find one good sitter, much less two; good luck finding one who's willing to work for 15 minutes at a time.
Good luck finding a teenager who's willing to work for 15 minutes in total, in my experience; but perhaps you've had better luck.


Speaking of Errors:

Iran unhappy with Made-in-China Korans.

Iran's Organization of the Holy Quran is scolding Iranian publishers who've outsourced production of the holy book to Chinese printers.
Apparently, their copies of the Quran are riddled with typos, according to the Tehran Times.

"These tableaus are made quite cheaply in China but are sold for much more than they are really worth to make that much more profit," said an official with the organization who monitors and evaluates Qurans available in Iran.

The official even urged importers to halt future Quran shipments from China, the Times reported.
I can't imagine why an atheist country would produce slapdash copies of sacred texts. It's like they don't even care.


Oh, You Meant Mr. Crow:

I don't have it in me to even be annoyed by this sort of lazy paranoia. However, I'm amused by CNN's editor.

"Some of these folks in Congress would love to see us as second-class citizens. Some of them in Congress right now of this tea party movement would love to see you and me ... hanging on a tree," Carson said, according to the audio....

Tea party officials have previously renounced characterizations that their movement is racist.
"Renounced"? How did that get past them?

Brains, Bodies, and Symbiosis

Brains, Bodies, and Symbiosis

Until quite recently, I've always been Hygeia's darling, particularly when it comes to digestive health. The usual problems of that kind were things I merely heard about in other people's lives. Unfortunately, it seems I have now developed an auto-immune disorder associated with digestive difficulties, which luckily is well-controlled with not-outrageously-priced medication. The whole experience has piqued my interest in what all those gazillions of gut flora are up to in there.

The most recent article to catch my eye was on my newly discovered favorite site, Not Exactly Rocket Science. People are publishing interesting articles about the role of gut flora not only in digestion but in the immune response and even mood. One study found that
mice, after regularly eating Lactobacillus, were more likely to spend time in the exposed parts of a maze (a common test for anxiety symptoms) than those who ate bacteria-free meals. They were also less likely to drift motionlessly when plopped into water (a common test for depressive symptoms).
I'm eating a lot of yogurt myself now, and am wondering whether I would behave differently if plopped down into the middle of a maze, or a deep body of water. Speaking of which, does it seem like a good idea to send National Guardsmen into deep water if they can't swim? I thought at first it was a matter of heavy clothing and boots, but this fellow's companion swam after him like a champ once he started going down. That looked dicey.

Back to gut flora and mood: evidently it's the vagus nerve, connecting the gut to the brain, that transmits the influence. Sever the vagus nerve in mice, and their guts no longer affect their behavior.

Some speculate that we eventually will learn how to treat mood disorders with probiotics. All I know is that they seem to work well on my gut. Some combination of the medication I'm now on, and the probiotics, certainly have eliminated the chronic fatigue that dogged me all last spring: gone like flipping a light switch. Of course, it may just be that the intestinal inflammation is controlled and I'm absorbing nutrients better. Still, even my somewhat skeptical gastroenterologist believes there's some good clinical evidence implicating gut flora imbalances in flare-ups of this condition. I guess I'll take my chances with the probiotics for the time being, especially since it's pretty clear they can't hurt me.

So my small passengers and I seem to do each other considerable good, and we do well to keep each other in a happy mood.

The Constitutional Right to Denial

The Constitutional Right to Denial

A federal district judge in Dallas has just struck down a Texas law requiring a physician to supply a pregnant woman with detailed information about the development of her fetus before aborting it, including a sonogram and a heartbeat recording. The court's reasoning is obscured in a maze of multi-pronged standards concerning strict scrutiny and compelling interests, but it boils down to a conviction that pregnant women should not be forced to confront irrelevant information that might distress them.

Before enacting the recent sonogram bill, Texas law had employed an ordinary informed-consent procedure based on written materials, of a sort that had been expressly approved by the Supreme Court in the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. The new sonogram law, however, provoked two legal challenges, both of which were upheld at least in part. First, the court struck down certain parts of the statute on grounds of vagueness. Second, it struck down certain parts on the ground of an inversion of traditional First Amendment rights: the citizen's right to freedom from unwanted messages, as upheld by the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Hill v. Colorado, which involved limitations on the rights of abortion protesters to accost potential patients in or near a clinic.

On the vagueness front, the court began by noting tartly that, from the number of words the plaintiffs found objectionable, it was hard to imagine they shared a language with the bill's drafters. Nevertheless, the court agreed that a number of provisions were unconstitutionally vague, such as a reference to "the doctor who is to perform the abortion," the requirement to explain the sonogram and heartbeat in a manner intelligible to a layperson, certain details about how permitted waivers would operate to excuse the doctor and the pregnant woman from confronting the uncomfortable facts about her fetus, and followup obligations to supply the woman with additional information about such matters as the availability of suits to establish paternity and obtain child support. If these provisions are unconstitutionally vague, it's hard to imagine how any statute passes muster. (The court suggests that the Constitution prohibits "gotcha tactics" in a statute, which would be great news if any such approach ever were to be consistently applied.) But this is a garden-variety results-oriented specimen of judicial activism employed to strike down a law the judge makes it plain he objects to on ideological grounds :

The Court has grave doubts about the wisdom of the Act . . . . The Act’s onerous requirements will surely dissuade or prevent many competent doctors from performing abortions, making it significantly more difficult for pregnant women to obtain abortions. Forcing pregnant women to receive medical treatment from less-skilled providers certainly seems to be at odds with “protecting the physical and psychological health and well-beingof pregnant women,” one of the Act’s stated purposes. . . . In short, if the Texas Legislature wishes to prioritize an ideological agenda over the health and safety of women . . . .
But the "vagueness" analysis is not the most troubling aspect of the decision. The most troubling aspect surely concerns the principle of freedom of speech. As the plaintiffs argued:
The Act violates the plaintiff physicians’ right of free speech by using them as puppets to convey government-mandated speech (visual, verbal, and auditory) to a patient who does not wish to receive that information and who does not believe it material to her decision. This mandated speech falls outside accepted medical practice for informed consent and requires physicians to violate basic tenets of medical ethics. This unprecedented intrusion on a physician’s relationship with a patient in a private medical setting violates the First Amendment.
The Dallas court agreed that the Texas statute violates the First Amendment rights by compelling the speech of doctors to pregnant women.

Defenders of the statute argued that the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Casey permits "compelled speech" in the context of informed consent to a medical procedure, where the statutory requirements are narrowly tailored to advance the government's compelling interest (a traditional strict-scrutiny constitutional analysis). The Supreme Court recognized

a substantial government interest justifying a requirement that a woman be apprised of the health risks of abortion and childbirth. It cannot be questioned that psychological well-being is a facet of health. Nor can it be doubted that most women considering an abortion would deem the impact on the fetus relevant, if not dispositive, to the decision. In attempting to ensure that a woman apprehend the full consequences of her decision, the State furthers the legitimate purpose of reducing the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision wasnot fully informed. If the information the State requires to be made available to the woman is truthful and not misleading, the requirement may be permissible. . . . [W]e permit a State to further its legitimate goal of protecting the life of the unborn by enacting legislation aimed at ensuring a decision that is mature and informed, even when in so doing the State expresses a preference for childbirth over abortion. In short, requiring that the woman be informed of the availability of information relating to fetal development and the assistance available should she decide to carry the pregnancy to full term is a reasonable measure to ensure an informed choice, one which might cause the woman to choose childbirth over abortion. This requirement cannot be considered a substantial obstacle to obtaining an abortion, and, it follows, there is no undue burden.
In the new decision, however, the Dallas court escaped this rather strong language by observing that the statutory attack in Casey was based on Fourteenth Amendment "due process" rights (i.e., freedom from "undue burdens") rather than First Amendment "compelled speech" restrictions. The Dallas court also noted that "important," "legitimate," and "substantial" interests were not necessarily "compelling," and that under Roe v. Wade the state's interest in protecting a fetus did not arise until the fetus was viable. The court did acknowledge the state's compelling interest in ensuring the informed consent of patients undergoing medical procedures, and it approved the state's decision to make some information available to the pregnant woman. Where the court balked was at the requirement to include in the disclosure a number of uncomfortable details:
[T]he Act under consideration here requires physicians to provide, in addition to those legitimate disclosures, additional information such as descriptions of “the presence of cardiac activity,” and “the presence of external members and internal organs” in the fetus or embryo. The Court does not think the disclosures required by the Act are particularly relevant to any compelling government interest. . . . The net result of these provisions is: (1) a physician is required to say things and take expressive actions with which the physician may not ideologically agree, and which the physician may feel are medically unnecessary; (2) the pregnant woman must not only passively receive this potentially unwanted speech and expression, but must also actively participate. . . . In the absence of a sufficiently weighty government interest, and a sufficiently narrow statute advancing that interest, neither of which have been argued by Defendants, the Constitution does not permit such compulsion.
I confess an inability to understand how someone can "ideologically disagree" with a picture of arms and legs, or with a recording of a fetal heartbeat. To my way of thinking, this is the crux of the decision, and it rests entirely on this judge's personal conviction that the presence of fetal arms, legs, and heartbeat are not "particularly relevant" to a pregnant woman's informed consent to an abortion. It's an awful lot of words just to come to the conclusion that people have a right to live in denial. The Dallas judge has ruled that pregnant women must not be confronted with the very information that might help them conclude whether the medical procedure they are contemplating involves another human life, or instead is as ethically neutral as blowing one's nose.



In the 15th century, when Europeans first began moving people and goods across the Atlantic, a... stowaway somehow made its way to the caves and monasteries of Bavaria.
The stowaway was a kind of yeast, which fused with the traditional European yeasts to allow you to ferment a new kind of beer. That beer, lager, is now among the most popular drinks in the world.

It's a good drink for an August afternoon, at least in the Northern hemisphere.

Discontented Science

Discontented Science:

Bryan Fischer's writing appeared once before on these pages, when he was arguing that grizzly bears should be eradicated if they threaten even one human life. I wasn't especially impressed with that argument.

Now he has penned what he apparently takes to be a refutation of Darwin. Darwin wasn't interested in most of the problems he raises, however, so it might be better said to be a broad attack on the secular worldview, which often considers itself to be firmly rooted on scientific theory.

There's a rebuttal here, which contains some important points, but which hardly attains the tone one would expect from a defender of dispassionate science. This is not exactly the Leibniz-Clarke debate on substantivalism versus relationism as the proper foundation for physics. No one will be reading this debate for insight into the question in a hundred years, let alone three hundred.

There is one problem that they touch on that very well may be of interest in that timeframe, though: the problem of the creation of the universe. (And why shouldn't it remain of interest a few more centuries, given its track record? The first sentences of Aristotle's Metaphysics point us toward it.)

Stephen Hawking published an article last year that continues to bother me in the fashion of a thorn that has burrowed under the skin. After starting off appropriately with Viking mythology -- always a good start -- he wrote:

In Western culture the Old Testament contains the idea of providential design, but the traditional Christian viewpoint was also greatly influenced by Aristotle, who believed "in an intelligent natural world that functions according to some deliberate design."

That is not the answer of modern science. As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

Our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws.
To say that "the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing" is to say something that is not, strictly speaking, true. If these laws "allow" effect X (say, the appearance of the universe), then there is not nothing -- there are, at least, these laws. They have to be in effect already in order to produce the effect attributed to them. Where did they come from? How are they sustained in such a way that they produce many universes "with different laws"? Apparently they must not be laws of the type that might be "different" under another system, as they must predate the creation of each system on this model. What sustains them in the time described as "nothing"?

Phrase it another way, friendlier to Hawking, and just say that the universe is such a thing that it can arise from nothing. Even now, though, we still don't have nothing. We have something: specifically, we have the latent potential of a universe coming to be. That's very different from nothing.

The question physics is capable of answering here is, "What triggered that potential to execute itself in the particular way we can observe?" If the answer is "gravity" or "quantum mechanics," an account of 'what they were doing before creation' is going to be just as troubling for the physicist as it was for St. Augustine.

Even so, it doesn't answer the real question, which is: How did such a potential come to exist? You exist because you got your existence from something that already existed -- your mother and father, perhaps. What was the thing that already existed that gave existence to this potential for creation?

Mr. Hawking hasn't answered the question at all. I fear to say, given my respect for his intelligence and accomplishments, that he may not have understood just what the question really was.


King Arthur's Round Table Discovered by Archæologists:

It's good they're still looking for it, anyway.

Historian John Harrison, chair of the SLHS, who initiated the project, said: "Archaeologists using remote-sensing geophysics, have located remains of a circular ditch and other earth works beneath the King's Knot.

"The finds show that the present mound was created on an older site and throws new light on a tradition that King Arthur's Round Table was located in this vicinity."

Stories have been told about the curious geometrical mound for hundreds of years -- including that it was the Round Table where King Arthur gathered his knights.
Around 1375 the Scots poet John Barbour said that "the round table" was south of Stirling Castle, and in 1478 William of Worcester told how "King Arthur kept the Round Table at Stirling Castle".

Sir David Lindsay, the 16th century Scottish writer, added to the legend in 1529 when he said that Stirling Castle was home of the "Chapell-royall, park, and Tabyll Round".

It has also been suggested the site is partly Iron Age or medieval, or was used as a Roman fort.
Some of you may remember that just last year, the Round Table was discovered by historians in Chester. It's become as hard -- or as easy -- to find the Round Table as it is to find the Holy Grail.