Super-cheap blood tests . . .

. . . developed by Cambridge non-profit funded by the Gates foundation.

H/t Instapundit.

Inconvenient religion

King's College, an evangelical Christian school based in Manhattan, has kicked out Dinesh D'Souza for getting engaged before he's quite finished divorcing his wife.   D'Souza is making quite a stink about it. ("I had no idea that it is considered wrong in Christian circles to be engaged prior to being divorced.") Ann Althouse also is puzzled, as are many of her readers; the discussion wandered into the usual weeds over the image of God as the lawgiver vs. the kindly old gentleman (as C.S. Lewis put it) who didn't have very firm ideas about prohibiting bad behavior but instead "liked to see the young people enjoying themselves."   Gradually, however, a couple of traditional thinkers waded in and tried to stem the tide of rampant moral relativism.   All of commenter Paddy O's posts are worth reading:
Jesus, as you note, took the rougher part on himself, while giving grace to others.  Again, it just seems curious that of all the very tough demands Jesus makes on us, some are seen as selective and some are seen as absolute, the selective ones seeming to be applied to that which we would rather not give up, and the absolute seeming to be applied to others who we would like to manage.
Paddy O also offered the useful suggestion that D'Souza should follow the example of Henry VIII and start his own college.

Whether we look at the issue from the point of view of religious principles or just etiquette or mental health, I think it would take a strange view of marriage and commitment to get engaged before you finish divorcing.  Isn't there some essential confusion here?  I've never understand the point of marrying at all if one takes that vague a view of whether he's in a marriage or not.

America's New Poet Laureate

Natasha Trethewey, originally of Mississippi and now at Emory University in Atlanta, is America's nineteenth poet laureate, and the first Southerner to hold the post since the original.
What kind of writer would you have become if you had been born outside the South?

I have no idea. I can’t begin to imagine myself without the fate of my geography. I feel lucky to have been born into a troubled and violent history and a terrible beauty.
Here is the poem cited in the first part of the review. You can see her annoyance at the refusal to see the South she loves -- which is, in a way, different from the one that I do. Yet we are both of the thing, of the place.

The Al Smith Dinner

Four years ago, John McCain killed at this event. This year, well, see for yourself.

I Just Want To Make Clear: Our Sons Are Entitled To Every Form Of Nutrition

H/t: D29.

What Do You Mean By 'Entitled To'?

The difference between Joe Biden and Mr. Obama includes this fact: when Joe Biden says he wants to be clear about what hemeans, he usually proceeds to be quite clear about what he really means. This time I'm not sure.
BIDEN: I want to make this clear so there no misunderstanding anybody. I got a daughter, lost a daughter, got four granddaughters, and Barack has two daughters. We are absolutely — this is to our core — my daughter, and my granddaughters and Barack’s daughters are entitled to every single solitary operation! EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY OPERATION!
Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a transcript of the remarks, so I'm not sure what he means by "entitled to" in this case. Does he mean that no operation should be unavailable to 'daughters' who want it? It's not clear that this is right: what if 'someone's daughter,' to use Biden's phrasing, wants to amputate her hands for no medical reason, as part of an art project? I would think that a doctor's oath would, or ought to, forbid participation.

Does he mean 'entitled to' in the sense that the operation should be not only available to them, but free to them? That's a highly problematic view, but if you want to endorse single-payer health care, say so. (Is the proposition that only women should have single-payer health care, or are women just the wedge to force it on everyone?)

Or does he mean 'entitled to' in the sense that no one should forbid access to an operation that is common practice? In that case, Hot Air raises a good point about Obamacare's IPAB board, which will in practice deny care to some 'daughters' -- even if their parents are likely to be long dead themselves.

Or is this just about abortion? If so, it's questionable whether it's reasonable to describe that as an "operation." In a sense it is a medical operation, because there are medical personnel involved. But the point of an operation is health, and the point of abortion is the destruction of a human life. An execution is not an "operation," and in that sense an abortion is not one either.

Guess I'll Be Getting Some Phonecalls Soon...

The NRA is loving the last debate. After four years of Democrats being afraid to even pretend to symbolically embrace gun control, good old President Obama went all in. Gives them somewhere to spend their big campaign bucks, and no doubt it's going to give rise to another round of fundraising soon.

Well, you know what? He has it coming. You pay the money, and you take the ride. If there's one thing the folks down Ohio way don't like very much, it's gun control. Georgia gun laws are little looser.

What's the Economy on This?

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: Is this Aston Martin 77. Santa, are you listening???? I’ve been a good girl, sort of. :)

-Elizabeth Price Foley
That's a two-million dollar automobile. I'd have settled for a new Harley. C'mon, Santa. The best ones are a hundred times cheaper. Surely a bad man is worth 1/100th of a good girl?

Yeah, OK, probably not. Can't blame a man for trying.

Speaking of Vigilantes

You're probably aware of Anonymous, the hacker group. You probably haven't heard much to recommend them to you before now. Here's their argument for vigilantism. It's well worth considering.

So is this.


It's time to mothball the term "terror" for a while.  It's lost all meaning.  It was being steadily drained of meaning years ago when people started asking, "Isn't it terrorism when someone makes me uncomfortable?  Isn't all force terrorism?"

What the Obama administration has been lying about is not whether the attack and murder of our ambassador and other Americans in Benghazi was an act of terror in some ineffable sense.  It has been lying about whether the attack was a spontaneous mob reaction to a provocative video, or a professional and pre-planned armed assault by an al Qaeda affiliate in a region where the administration had been crowing over the demise of that group.  The fact that the President vaguely alluded to the word "terror" in his remarks the day after the attack is not the point, as even Candy Crowley admitted shortly after the debate concluded.  The important point is that the President and his spokespersons repeatedly insisted that the attack was an unpredictable eruption of crowd hostility sparked by a YouTube video, long after it was crystal clear the attack was heavily armed, carefully coordinated, and took place in the complete absence of any crowd demonstration, video-related or otherwise.

I'm sure the attacks were terrifying.  They would have been equally terrifying whether they resulted from a proto-military assault or a crowd that suddenly lost control of its humanity.  The issue is not whether they inspired fear but whether they were an assault by a previously identified enemy about whom we had solid intelligence, or some kind of bolt-from-the-blue mass hysteria that no one could have planned for.  I fear the distinction is being lost in the endless parade of fuzzy blathering.

If Romney wanted to nail Obama on his prevarications, he'd have done better to focus on when Obama or his surrogates first admitted publicly what he'd known all along, which was that there was no public demonstration of any kind out the Benghazi facility that night, and that the attack was a sudden, coordinated onslaught by men with RPGs, whom we quickly learned were associated with al Qaeda.

Armed Posse Patrols Timber Land in Sheriff's Place

Story from Oregon here, about citizens stepping up to do local police work. One part I do not get -
Policing expert Dennis Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, says neighborhood watch efforts can be positive but turn into problems when volunteers "decide that instead of supplementing law enforcement, they are going to replace law enforcement. Then you cross potentially into vigilantism."... Nichols says what his group is doing is "not vigilantism at all."
Okay, I get why an academic might say it, and why the word carries emotional freight that would make someone want to deny it. But I never heard before that was the distinction. Vigilantes at their best, if I remember, could and did work with official law enforcement (when there was any), and hand their prisoners over to the courts for trial (when, again, there were any). The crowd in The Ox-Bow Incident turns evil, not when they decide to apprehend suspects in a murder, but when they follow a leader who decides that they're going to do their hanging on the spot - "because they don't think the courts are fast enough."

What an Unpleasant Debate

Not because I think it didn't go well, although it wasn't the walkaway stomping of the first debate. The tone was what made it unpleasant.

Still, the final arguments were convincing. Romney gave the best answer I've ever heard him give. Obama started off by saying something implausible ('I believe in free enterprise'... 'I don't believe that government creates jobs'), and went on to level a series of negative arguments designed to undermine what his opponent had just said.

Some other observations: Obama didn't answer the question on Libya at all. Apparently Mitt Romney was the only person on the stage or in the audience who knew the difference between an AK-47 and an "assault weapon." I couldn't understand why Romney didn't answer the outsourcing question by coming back to his energy policy -- you can't outsource North American oil production -- but maybe he felt he had landed all the blows he wanted to in the first part of the debate.

Anyway, we'll see what the independents thought soon enough. I imagine they will have been put off by the tone. If I was, surely they were also.

Well, now I feel bad

I know how it feels when the media won't give you a fair shake.   So now I'm full of warm fellow-feeling toward the courageous freedom fighters who shot that 14-year-old Afghan girl for advocating education for girls, only to suffer under a deluge of scorn and contempt locally and abroad.
“The Taliban cannot tolerate biased media.”  The commander, who calls himself Jihad Yar, argues that death threats against the press are justified:  he says “99 percent” of the reporters on the story are only using the shooting as an excuse to attack the Taliban.
You carry out a perfectly justified attempted murder against a dangerous heretic, and then you make death threats against the biased press that cover the story, and suddenly you're the bad guy?
Mullah Yahya agrees with Jihad Yar that the media and the Americans are side by side against the Taliban.  “But I would blame the Taliban as well,” he says.  “If they allowed independent media to visit Taliban-controlled areas, it could have a very positive effect on their coverage.  In fact we have suggested this to their media department, but they’re only interested in kidnapping reporters, not in cooperating with them.
I thought journalists were supposed to be sensitive to other cultures.  If kidnapping is part of their culture, who are we to object?

Women setting up men

Hillary Clinton's treatment of the President today puts me in mind of a favorite old song, "The Baron of Brackley" (Child Ballad #203):

From the YouTube poster:
[A] sobering tale of medieval Scottish married life.  It is believed the incident occurred in September 1666, but what the ballad does not tell us is that it is a reprisal raid by John Farquharson of Inverey on John Gordon of Brackley for a cattle raid.
The "Dee" and the "Spey" are rivers.  When the raiders arrive, Brackley's treacherous wife goads him into a hopeless opposition.

Down Dee side came Inverey whistlin' and playin',
And he is to Brackley's gates ere the day is dawnin'.
Saying, "Are ye there, Brackley, and are ye within?
There are sharp swords at your gates, they'll gar your blood spend."

"Oh, rise up, my Baron, and turn back your kye,
For the lads frae Dunmurray are driving them by."
"Oh, how might I rise up, and turn them again?
For where I have one man I'm sure he has ten."

"If I had a husband, the like I have nane,
He'd no lie upon his bed and watch his kye ta'en."
Then up spake the baron, said, "Gi'e me my sword;
There's nae man in Scotland but I'll brave at a word."

When the baron were buskit to ride o'er the close
A gallanter Gordon ne'er mounted a horse.
Saying, "Kiss me, my Peggy, nor think me tae blame,
For I maun go out, love, and I'll never come hame."

There rode wi' false Inverey full thirty and three,
But along wi' bonny Brackley just his brother and he.
Twa gallanter Gordons did ne'er the sword draw,
But against three and thirty, wae's me, what is twa?

Wi' swords and wi' daggers they did him surround
And they pierced bonny Brackley wi' monys a wound.
Tae the banks o the Dee, tae the sides of the Spey,
The Gordons will mourn him and ban Inverey.

"Oh, came ye from Brackley's yetts, oh, came ye by there?
And saw ye his Peggy a-rivin' her hair?"
"Aye, I came by Brackley's yetts, and I came by there,
And I saw his bonny Peggy:  she was makin' good cheer.

"She was rantin' and dancin', she was singin' wi' joy,
And she swears this very nicht she will feast Inverey.
She laughed wi' him, danced wi' him, welcomed him in,
And lay wi' him till morning he who slew her good man."

There's grief in the kitchen, but there's mirth in the hall,
For the Baron o' Brackley lies dead and awa'.
Then up spake his son on his own nurse's knee:
Saying "Afore I'm a man it's avenged I'll be."

Conservatism for Seculars

An article by Razib Khan at the Council for Secular Humanism, a view I find highly congenial.

On the English Language as Informed by the Battle of Hastings

Dr. Mead is turning out some good pieces lately. Many of you will enjoy this one.
If we hadn’t cleared all this useless rubbish out of the language we would still be spouting nonsense like this: I sit on thi biggi rocki, I throw thum biggum rockum, tho rocko is bigo. Tha girla, however, is biga and I go with thai biggai girlai to thi picturi showi. And so on.
The girla is biga? My guess is that we probably wouldn't have been saying that out loud even if we hadn't simplified the language.

"Loathsome, inhuman edifices"

Or what we generally refer to as "Stalinist architecture."  The Daily Caller puts the spotlight on "U. Gly" -- the university campuses whose design makes them "flawed slices of hell."  They remind me of the stuff my church's architecture firm churns out. 

I'm surprised they didn't include the University of Houston, full of truly hideous examples:

Rice University is another matter entirely.  I still have such fond memories of the old loggias there that they figure prominently in my dreams:


There was a long-lived ideal in Medieval society that there ought to be three classes of people: oratores, bellatores, and laboratores, that is, those who pray, those who fight, and those who work. We have lost the first class almost entirely, but here and there they still exist. Here one, a rabbi, speaks to a culturally Jewish comedienne in the way proper only to his class. I will quote a large part of it because the server is having trouble with the strain of so many people wanting to read an open letter from a rabbi to Sarah Silverman.
I wouldn’t be writing these words had your most recent video not been framed in biblical language. Its title held deep significance to me, as I am sure was your intention....

I believe I have your number. You will soon turn 42 and your destiny, as you stated, will not include children. You blame it on your depression, saying you don’t want to pass it on to another generation.

I find that confusing, coming from someone as perceptive as you are in dissecting flawed arguments. Surely you appreciate being alive and surely, if the wonder of your womb were afflicted with your weaknesses and blessed with your strengths, it would be happy to be alive, too.

You said you wouldn’t get married until gay people can. Now they can. And you still haven’t married. I think, Sarah, that marriage and childrearing are not in the cards for you because you can’t focus on building life when you spend your days and nights tearing it down.

You have made a career making public that which is private, making crude that which is intimate, making sensual that which is spiritual. You have experienced what traditional Judaism taught long ago: when you make sex a public thing it loses its potency. When the whisper is replaced with a shout there is no magic to speak about. And, in my opinion, Sarah, that is why you have had trouble forging a permanent relationship – the most basic desire of the feminine soul.

Human beings have many acquaintances and fewer friends, but only one spouse. Judaism celebrates the monogamous, intimate relationship with a spouse as the prototype of the intimate relationship with God. Marriage, in Judaism, is holy. Family, in Judaism, is celebrated. But for you, nothing is holy; in your world, nothing is permanent. Your ideology is secular. Your culture may be Jewish, but your mind is not.

I think you have latched on to politics because you are searching for something to build. There is only so much pulling down one can do without feeling utterly destructive. You want to fight for a value so you take your belief – secularism – and promote it. As an Orthodox rabbi, I disagree with just about everything you say, but respect your right to say it. All I ask, respectfully, is that you not use traditional Jewish terminology in your efforts. Because doing so is a lie.
If it is hard to imagine any other kind of man speaking this way to a woman in public, it ought to be. No other sort of man has the right. As he says, though, she has made it her business to make the private public, and she has mocked that which it is his charge to defend.

A plug for "Cook's Illustrated"

Maggie's Farm linked to a NYT review of the odd-duck "Cook's Illustrated."  It's off the beaten path, certainly -- no advertising, no restaurant or chef reviews, and it features decidedly bizarre editorials that have nothing whatever to do with cooking.  The recipes tend to be on the boring side.  It's worth reading, nevertheless, as the only cooking guide I'm aware of that employs the scientific method.  The test kitchen works on recipes obsessively to determine whether tweaking this or that ingredient, or the cooking time or technique, yields results approved by blind taste-testers.  Common grocery-store or mail-order ingredients get an impartial "Consumer Reports"-style treatment as well.  The NYT article confirms that the magazine's founder, Chris Kimball, isn't out to inspire cutting edge food trends for special occasions, but only to enable workaday cooks to produce reliable results with a minimum of effort, night after night.  I swear by his biscuit recipe.  And though his editorials apparently don't rate highly with his subscribers, I think they're great.

I'm not much of a cook, doing best when I stick to reliable, easy recipes.  In contrast, my husband excels at difficult cooking:  more Thomas Keller than Chris Kimball.  He works at recipes until he can produce them perfectly, all appearing on the table at the right time.  His attention span amazes me.  If I try to cook three things at once, one of them is going to get forgotten at some critical stage, and smoke alarms are not out of the question.

Ace says today that the NYT has become a Democratic Party newsletter with a good crossword puzzle ("Democratic operatives with bylines").  That's fair, except that they still put out the occasional enjoyable Leisure/Style or Science/Health article.

A Difference of Opinion

Father whose son has broken his arm on the monkey bars: "That's a character-building experience, boy. Carry on like this, and in a few short years you'll be fit to join the cavalry."

Father whose daughter has done same: "Why do these monstrous monkey bars still exist in our civilized country?"

Well, maybe they should be marked "Boys Only."

On the other hand, by kindergarten I had my boy on horseback -- and that can break your neck. I haven't had a daughter, and maybe I'd feel differently about it, but I suspect I'd have had her on horseback by that age also. I could be wrong, but girls like horses. I doubt I'd have had the heart to keep her from them. Nor did Rhett Butler, I suppose, who lost a daughter just so.

I Am Bad News

Here's the trailer for the new 'Kill UBL' film.

Nearly the first thirty seconds are built around a monologue by an American torturer. This is kind of shocking, for a film that has been portrayed all along as an Obama re-election venue. It is one thing to accept that torture exists, and another to accept that your nation practices it. It is something else to valorize torture so much that you make it the introductory speech to your re-election video. This is what the man says, as we pass to a video of him standing before prison bars:

"Can I be honest with you? I am bad news. I am not your friend. I am not going to help you. I'm going to break you."

I doubt many Obama voters read this page. If any of you do, though: is this what you wanted when you voted for him four years ago? This is his work. That means it is yours.


When a gap opens in enemy lines, the timing is always critical. Anybody ready to ride?

"I'm going to leave it at that . . ."

. . . instead of answering your question, says Secy. Clinton.  Joseph Curl outlines the shape-shifting story of the Benghazi attack, strangely reminiscent of the more triumphant, but still shape-shifting, story of the bin Laden raid:
On the eve of a House oversight committee hearing, the State Department called a briefing for the media.  For an hour, over the telephone, top department officials spun a new tale that bore almost no resemblance to the official story they’d been telling for weeks. 
There was no protest, the officials said, no protest that grew out of hand until a spontaneous mob — whipped into a rage over a video — poured into the consulate. In fact, “nothing was out of the ordinary” on the night of the attack, one official said. . . . 
The FBI wouldn’t reach Benghazi for 17 days.  When bureau agents finally did, they took tapes from the closed-circuit security cameras.  More, reports emerged that an unmanned drone also captured the attack on video.  The story was changing fast, and just before administration officials were to testify officially before Congress.  The sudden respinning was reminiscent of the evolving story on the raid to get Osama bin Laden — first he had a gun, there was a firefight, he hid behind one of his wives; then, no gun, no firefight, no wife.
Well, screenplays do get re-written all the time, as we discover what the audience likes.   "The question is whether reporters will follow the trail of lies and deceit or leave off just as the whole mess is imploding," Curl suggests.  But actually, if you're the New York Times, the question is whether reporters will start down the trail in the first place.  As Mark Steyn noted:
Surely, even among Obama’s media sycophants, there must be someone who recognizes that all the cushy court eunuch posts are filled and, rather than being the umpteenth extra in the crowd scene, there’s a reputation, a Pulitzer and maybe a movie deal to be made here.

Death: Two Empirical Perspectives

[T]here is great reason to hope that death is a good, for one of two things: - either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the sight of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain.... But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead are, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this? ... What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? ... Above all, I shall be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as in this world, so also in that; I shall find out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not.

-Socrates, from Plato's Apology

I once had a professor of philosophy who was very interested in Near Death Experiences. These are the things you hear about where the brain is approaching death, and visions of light or transportation occur. I've had one myself, in fact, when choked out of consciousness for a minute or two by my old master of jujitsu. These things are kind of interesting, in a way, because they are often quite similar in spite of cultural differences or other inputs. They don't, however, speak very much to what it is like to be dead, even "brain dead." This is because we can't be sure that there isn't brain activity of some kind.

Recently, though, I've come across two people who present empirical accounts of long-term "brain death" -- we really mean a coma in both cases -- which were monitored in hospitals. They are really different sorts of accounts.

Gerard at American Digest gives this account: the lights went out, and then flipped back on. For the intervening 13 days, there was nothing at all: not even a darkness, not even sleep, just nothing.

Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who was comatose for eight days, gives an entirely different account: one of transportation, and beings of light, and a kind of maximum being that is not light but not yet darkness. There is emotional content: love, joy, and not so much forgiveness as the sense that there is, and can be, nothing to forgive.

Which account you find more plausible depends on your own assumptions, but from a scientific perspective it doesn't matter. What we have here are two roughly analogous events, with a surprisingly different phenomenal content. The first one lines up with what is suggested by what we think we know about the brain; the second lines up with numerous other empirical accounts of near-death from around the world.

None of this actually speaks to the real question, which is what it is like to be dead. There also remains enough shadow in our understanding of the brain that even with brain scans you might hope that the brain-only account can yet 'save the phenomena.'

Still, how interesting the difference.

The Wages of Universal Healthcare

This year's statistics from the UK's Daily Telegraph:

* 43 people starved to death while in government-run hospital wards.

* 111 people died of thirst.

* 287 further people, though starvation was not the actual cause of death, were noted as being "severely malnourished" at the time of their deaths.

* Over a hundred died of infections from bedsores.

* Nearly twenty-two thousand were suffering from septicemia when they died.

So the good news is that it won't cost any money to go to the hospital. The bad news is that the strain on resources means that the hospitals lack the capacity to feed you, give you water, change your linens, or perform ordinary basic hygiene.

What Do You Want?

Walter Russell Mead begins an article on how civil society cannot deliver world peace:
Every aspiring beauty-pageant queen knows what to say when asked what she wants most: "World peace." World peace is at least nominally what we all want most. But evidently, we are not very good at making it.
Both economics and epistemology suggest that, this being the case, we may not really want world peace as much as we think we do.

Economics is all about the question of assigning value. It believes in humankind as a collection of rational actors who are willing to trade things they value less for things they value more. This isn't just true at the marketplace, where we are trading money for products. It is also true before we get to the marketplace, when we are accepting opportunity costs in order to pursue a given opportunity (instead of others). If we are regularly willing to trade opportunities to pursue good A for opportunities to pursue good B, we value B more than A.

There is a tradition within epistemology that suggests something similar about belief. If you tell me that you believe that the world will end on Thursday, how can I tell if you are serious or not? One way I can tell is if you are taking steps coherent with the world ending on Thursday -- for example, spending all your money on short-term pleasures instead of investments, or mortgaging your house so you can spend your last hours on a world-wide cruise, or not showing up at work all week so that you can be praying in church. Depending on your value system, one of these mechanisms might be a more rational way to spend your last hours than your usual routine would be. If you carry on going to work and investing in your retirement plan as usual, I might have some reason to doubt that you sincerely believe in the end of the world on Thursday.

These are reasonably good arguments if the human mind is generally rational, and generally not compartmentalized. However, both of those assumptions seem to be false assumptions.

So it turns out we have two possibilities. Maybe we really do want world peace -- as Dr. Mead suggests -- but it is simply the case that human beings are very bad at it. Alternatively, maybe there are things you want more than world peace, so that you will reliably trade opportunities to pursue world peace for opportunities to pursue these things.

Let's try a thought experiment to see which is the case. Imagine a computer algorithm has been designed that can reliably achieve peace if humans obey the computers' instructions. Nothing really wild is asked for -- no one has to sacrifice his son, for example -- but you have to do what you are told whether it makes sense to you or not. This program has been proven by experiment at every level, from tribal disputes in Africa to corporate ones in Europe and Japan, and so far it has generated perfect peace and cooperation wherever it has been tried. There is now a proposal before the Senate to ratify a global treaty requiring all people in the world to obey the computer, at all times, without exception. The President has already signed the treaty, so ratification is the last step to making this treaty the law of the land.

If Dr. Mead is right, and we just are bad at making peace, this should be an enormously attractive proposition. Is it?