Great moments in marketing

Chobani yogurt's ingredients list includes "evaporated cane juice."  (So does my sugar bowl.)

Tunnel vision

Martin Bromiley's wife went into the hospital for minor surgery, but suffered catastrophic brain damage from being deprived of oxygen.  The surgical team experienced difficulty in ventilating the anesthetized patient, then in intubating her.  Instead of shifting focus to an emergency tracheotomy--a priority so obvious that even Bromiley immediately wondered why it had been overlooked--they seemingly lost track of time and spent 25 minutes intensely focused on repeating a failed procedure.

But when Bromiley was given the terrible news, his internal response was not furious rejection but recognition.  An airline pilot, he was reminded of United Airlines Flight 173, whose pilots ran it out of gas and crashed while fixating on a malfunctioning landing gear light.

Perhaps because of Bromiley's deep empathy for the surgical team's shocking and deadly error, he found a way not only to spur a useful investigation of his wife's death but to put the experience to good use in the medical field.  Medical workers respond well to his parallel experience with error fixation and other human foibles common to highly trained professional teams that face life-or-death emergencies.  Teams of this kind need charismatic, self-confident leaders, but they also need trusting communication and a disaster routine that kicks in when priorities get lost, the brain fixates, and the internal time clock stops working:  "Get that blood oxygenated one way or another within ten minutes" or "Fly the plane."

The hammock begins

The 7/32-inch rope arrived yesterday afternoon.  I spent most of the evening cutting it into 50-foot lengths, hooking them onto a dowel in doubled lengths of 25 feet, and tying up the long ends into bobbins.  Now I've tied knots in the first foot or so.  The triangle pattern is a little subtle.  I hope I was right about multiplying the feeder cord by three to get the finished length, because I seem to be using up the bobbins alarmingly fast.  I may have to bone up on those splicing techniques.

Having discovered how to make my laptop read aloud to me, I've spent the day so far knotting while listening to the articles I'd otherwise have sat and read.  Unfortunately, the program can't read a Kindle download, because I can't highlight the text in that format.  The artificial voice is mildly annoying but comprehensible.  You have to make allowances for its inability to distinguish between noun/verb pairs like PRO-ject and pro-JECT.  If it gets too confused by a name, it reverts to spelling.

Rightward shift

If you want to sneak up on someone who's getting drowsy, approach him from the left.  Even if he hears you, his brain may interpret the sound as coming from the right.

I'm sure this should help us win elections, too.

CWCID:  As always, when I start talking this way on a Saturday, I'm responding to a variety of excellent links from Not Exactly Rocket Science.  Some weeks, it's unremitting PC nonsense, but the pickings are good this week.

Scientific corruption

It looks a lot like corruption everywhere else.  The danger signs are almost always pretty much the same, the biggest red flag being a hostile and defensive response to questions.  When you get that creepy feeling, it's time to check your parachute or gird for total war:
The day to day operation of the lab was conducted under a severe information embargo. . . . Information flowed one way, which was up, and conversation between working groups was generally discouraged and often forbidden.
Raw data left one’s hands, went to the immediate superior (one of the three named above) and the next time it was seen would be in a manuscript or grant.  What happened to that data in the intervening period is unclear.
. . . [T]here was a pervasive feeling of fear in the laboratory.  Although individually-tailored stated and unstated threats were present for lab members, the plight of many of us who were international fellows was especially harrowing.  Many were technically and educationally underqualified compared to what might be considered average research fellows in the United States. . . .
This combination of being undesirable to many other labs should they leave their position due to lack of experience/training, dependent upon employment for U.S. visa status, and under constant threat of career suicide in your home country should you leave, was enough to make many people play along.
Even so, I witnessed several people question the findings during their time in the lab.  These people and working groups were subsequently fired or resigned.  I would like to note that this lab is not unique in this type of exploitative practice, but that does not make it ethically sound and certainly does not create an environment for creative, collaborative, or honest science.

Core nuttiness

Reading a series of articles trying to explain the controversy over Common Core leaves me feeling like a math-challenged second-grader trying to understand an opaque lesson on long division. This shouldn't be a complicated question: does a national standard for achievement give schools an accurate benchmark from which to judge the progress of each grade level and, if so, is that helpful? But then one reads the articles and falls immediately into a pit of murk. The whole concept of testing is flawed because it ignores the wonder of the educational accomplishments of each special snowflake. All academic standards are tools of the patriarchy. A rigid, uniform federal standard squelches individual state innovation and improvement. Tests are unfair, because teachers of poorly testing students are penalized for the crimes of parents or society. Curricula imposed from on high invariably lose sight of their educational purpose in favor of institutionalizing propaganda. Teachers will "teach to the test" instead of developing critical thinking skills in their students. The only way to develop critical thinking skills is to switch from a traditional set of standards or tests to Common Core. Common Core is a benign set of national standards based on an enlightened preference for critical thinking over rote memorization. Common Core is a cookie-cutter set of lesson plans that stifle creativity and prevent teachers from focussing on the needs of real students. Common Core saves money; Common Core imposes unfair costs on cash-strapped budgets. Only a Tea Partier would hate Common Core. Only a corrupt teacher's union would hate it. Parents hate Common Core because it removes control over their children's education to a more and more remote central authority. Parents hate Common Core because it exposes their children's so-called educational attainments to the harsh light of reality.

I recently finished reading Amanda Ripley's "The Smartest Kids in the World, and How They Got That Way." She examines schools in the U.S., South Korea, Finland, and Poland, as judged by the standards imposed by the International Baccalaureate Program, and concludes that a few straightforward reforms can make a huge difference in a nation's schools over a surprisingly short period. First, choose your teachers from the top 1/3 or 1/4 of their graduating classes, then give them the pay that's required to attract such a cohort. Second, combine rigorous standards for achievement with a wide latitude in methods. These two approaches are intimately linked, in that academically excellent teachers can be afforded the professional courtesy of autonomy, as long as you check frequently to ensure that the kids really are learning the curriculum. Finland converted itself from an educational backwater to the world's highest-performing system in just a few years with these limited techniques.

Common Core apparently is a bundled deal; if you want the rigorous, uniform standards, you have to accept a loss of autonomy and innovation, not to mention a hefty dose of propaganda and unintelligible nattering about "critical thinking skills" (however those are defined, they seem to be completely absent from Common Core's promotional materials as well as from most of the debate). We already have a pretty good set of tests in the International Baccalaureate system--why not use those, let teachers make up their own lesson plans, and let principals hire or fire them according to whether they make any useful progress with the kids?

Suddenly It All Makes Sense

Been mystified about the bone-headed decisions that have been rolling off the administration's foreign policy efforts these last few years? Turns out there's a good reason Team Obama has gotten worse rather than improving with experience.
...the [National Security Council] has been by procedure and fierce tradition a rare apolitical forum, a place for the president to hear hard reality. NSC staff are foreign-policy grownups, and its meetings are barred to political henchmen.

Or that was the case, until the Obama White House. By early March 2009, two months into this presidency, the New York Times had run a profile of David Axelrod, noting that Mr. Obama's top campaign guru and "political protector" was now "often" to be found "in the late afternoons" walking "to the Situation Room to attend some meetings of the National Security Council." President Obama's first national security adviser, former Marine General and NATO Commander Jim Jones, left after only two years following clashes with Mr. Obama's inner circle.

He was replaced by Democratic political operative and former Fannie Mae lobbyist Tom Donilon. Mr. Donilon joined Ben Rhodes, the Obama campaign speechwriter, who in 2009 had been elevated to deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. Also present was Tommy Vietor, whose entire career prior to NSC spokesman was as an Obama spinmeister—as a press aide in the 2004 Senate run, and campaign flack for the 2008 Iowa caucuses, and assistant White House press secretary. In fairness, his credentials also included getting caught on camera in 2010 pounding beers, shirtless, at a Georgetown bar. America's foreign-policy experts at work.
Well, now, shirtless beer drinking after work is not to be held against a man! Being a successful press aide might be; it's not a career often distinguished by men or women of high honor and personal integrity. There are exceptions who are worthy individuals, to be sure.

In any case, Americans are WEIRD. It's strange to find a foreign policy team that is built around those who have learned how to do American politics for American audiences. You shouldn't expect that to work out well; and, indeed, it hasn't.

Thanks to Ms. Strassel for an interesting report.

Cure it or kill it?

Old and busted: repealing and/or replacing Obamacare. New hotness: "fixing" it . . . by repealing it and maybe replacing it with stuff. As Ramesh Ponnuru argues at Bloomberg View, Obamacare was an attempt to solve the terrible problems caused by forcing insurers not to take the riskiness of their new customers into account. Ordinarily, such a policy would cause healthy people to delay paying for expensive insurance until they got sick. Solution: force everyone to buy expensive insurance right now, a/k/a the individual mandate. Get rid of the individual mandate, and you score lots of points with voters, but then what do you do about the fact that you've just destroyed the insurance market? It's nice to call a repeal of the individual mandate a "fix," but it doesn't fix much unless we kill the whole bill.

Strawy, strawy men

Some stupid arguments about Bergdahl that just won't quit.

For the children

I'm not sure it's safe to let the little darlings go to school at all.  Maybe they should all be home-schooled:
Riggs said her 10-year-old daughter went on a school field trip recently and came back sun-burned. Riggs said district policy didn't allow her daughter to bring sunscreen to reapply.
But, NEISD spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said sunscreen is considered a medication, something children need a doctor's note to have at school.
"Typically, sunscreen is a toxic substance, and we can't allow toxic things in to be in our schools," Chancellor said.

GINI coefficients

Via Maggie's Farm:
Somebody really should start calling it “Income Diversity”.  How could progressives be against it then?

Friday Night OVA

See if you catch the Tolkien reference...

Off Message

Pope Francis:
This culture of wellbeing convinced us it is better not to have children! It’s better! You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be carefree [...]

It might be more comfortable to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Then in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness. It is not fruitful, it does not do what Jesus does with his Church: He makes His Church fruitful.
What? Marriage has something to do with being fruitful and multiplying? That could have all kinds of consequences!

70 Years Ago

The landings at Normandy are part of one of two major campaigns we will commemorate this month on major anniversaries. This one, far better known to Americans, is of much more recent importance.

Nothing I could say is worthy of the occasion. Remember it, study it, consider what it cost, and honor those who paid the price.

The premature post-presidency

Matthew Continetti on a day in the life of a president who's given up and now only wants to spend time with like-minded people thinking great thoughts.

I guess if he gets too disillusioned he could always desert.

Income inequality

Mark Perry argues that individual income inequality in America has been flat for fifty years; what's changed is household inequality, largely driven by the upsurge in single-parent families.

What if income-redistribution problems only increase the prevalence of single-parent families?

Not To Speculate, But...

...maybe his entire leadership chain was full of psychopaths.

I mean, it could be true.

Or maybe it's that 4/25 is an Airborne brigade, and like all paratroopers they volunteered three times for positions of increasing danger -- once for the Army, once for the Infantry, and once for Airborne. Perhaps a group that has self-selected for the honor of a life of danger has a particularly strong disdain for someone who deserts his post.

No, it surely has to be the psychopath thing.

"Suck it up and salute"

James Taranto is having some trouble with the White House's policy regarding the ideal level of military cooperation with civilian authority.  As you've all no doubt read already, the Bergdahl negotiations (as well as rescue initiatives) had stalled for a couple of years in the face of doubts and concerns over the circumstances of Bergdahl's leaving his unit five years ago, but the White House views last week's trade a triumph of the principle that the military should "suck it up and salute."  The controversy exposes huge rifts in middle America's views of the military.  Taranto quotes a progressive young writer at Salon:
The left's blinkered view of military culture is perhaps best summarized by Elias Isquith, a young writer for, who yesterday explained the backlash against the Bergdahl deal as follows:  "When a member of the military fails to adhere to the far right's rigid formula of what a soldier should be (nationalistic, religious, obedient; conservative) right-wingers . . . come down on them [sic] like a ton of bricks." He cited one example in addition to Bergdahl:  John Kerry.
What a revealing comment.  This Salon writer appears to think that only a nationalistic, religious, obedient, and conservative serviceman would understand why it's wrong to desert in the face of the enemy, perhaps even to give aid and comfort to the enemy in wartime.

As Taranto notes, Bergdahl failed notably in his duty to suck it up and salute.  He also alludes to the failure of our current Secretary of State to do the same while he was in uniform.  The progressives have an idea of what makes for an ideal soldier, and it's not much like that of an ordinary American.

Taranto also contrasts the White House's limp ineffectuality in the face of bureaucratic intransigence and incompetence at the HHS or the VA with his ability to cut through red tape and achieve his goals in the Bergdahl trade.  It's all about whether he really cares.

Hammock practice

I've learned a couple of macrame netting knots, one denser than the other, and am practicing with yarn while I wait for my larger hammock rope supplies to arrive.  The two contrasting knots will let me make a pattern on a square grid; something simple and geometrical should stand out well.

The smaller pattern on the bottom right is more of the Clones lace I've been working on for years.  It's all about the size of the pixels.

Doubling down

I guess the White House can't afford another scandal in which Susan Rice is revealed as a shameless liar every time she hits the talk-show circuit, so instead of apologizing for her "honor and distinction" boilerplate they're trying to go on the offensive against critics.  White House aides, for instance, are complaining they never expected Bergdahl to be "swift-boated" by his own unit.  Are we about to be treated to a spectacle in which the military tries to court-martial him and the White House has his back?

This isn't going to end well.  They let the story get out before they started trying to cover it up.  Also, I'm not sure that digging up the whole story of swift-boating in 2004 is a good thing for Kerry and his buddies--though admittedly he'll look pretty good compared to Bergdahl.


It looks as though the Mississippi senate republican primary race for is headed for a runoff between longtime incumbent Cochran and insurgent McDaniel.  For many, the race has become about the controversy over Cochran's hospitalized wife and who is most guilty of taking advantage of her pitiable condition.  Ace sees it differently:
How establishment is Cochran?  Here's longtime House GOP leadership staffer and now self-described bi-partisan "Super Lobbyist" John Feehery reacting to the results last night.
"I guess Mississippi doesn't want Federal money any more.  I betcha there are 49 states that will gladly take it."
That's exactly the kind of mindset that pervades DC.  Politicians are judged on their ability to extract money from you and give it to someone else.  Scalp hunting isn't simply ego driven or designed to make people feel good.  It's about changing the Republican party.

Could be worse

Ralph Peters urges forbearance:
But pity Ms. Rice. Like the president she serves, she’s a victim of her class. Nobody in the inner circle of Team Obama has served in uniform.  It shows.  That bit about serving with “honor and distinction” is the sort of perfunctory catch-phrase politicians briefly don as electoral armor.  (“At this point in your speech, ma’am, devote one sentence to how much you honor the troops.”)
I actually believe that Ms. Rice was kind of sincere, in her spectacularly oblivious way.  In the best Manchurian Candidate manner, she said what she had been programmed to say by her political culture, then she was blindsided by the firestorm she ignited by scratching two flinty words together.  At least she didn’t blame Bergdahl’s desertion on a video.


The stakes couldn't be higher for the upcoming midterms:  the President's very will to serve.
For White House officials, [the realization of high stakes] crystallized during meetings like the one that Obama, humbled and remorseful, hosted in November [2013] with a dozen Democratic senators. . . .
The senators, all facing reelection in 2014, were furious because they had seen their approval numbers nose dive almost overnight, largely because the most tech-savvy administration in history couldn’t develop a health care website that worked. . . .
According to several participants, Begich and his colleagues demanded to know how committed Obama was to fighting for the Senate majority. Obama was known as a fierce competitor when his name was on the ballot, not so much when it was not. 
“I don’t really care to be president without the Senate," Obama said, according to attendees . . . .

The price of lying

If you can't be honest with yourself about what a "war" is, you probably lose sight of what an "end of war is"--notably, the difference between losing a war, on the one hand, and accepting an enemy's surrender on the other.  President Obama explains that releasing five extremely dangerous Taliban operatives is no big deal, because that's what happens at the end of wars:  the captured soldiers go home and beat their swords into ploughshares.
That was true for George Washington, that was true for Abraham Lincoln, that was true for FDR.
I'm trying to remember.  Wasn't there something different about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II?  It'll come to me.

Best Thing To Do With Death, is Ride Off From It

Two in a week is rough country. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Can A Sitting Federal Judge...?

I'm told the answer to that question is always "Yes." But how about a state "Civil Rights Commission?"
Baker forced to make gay wedding cakes, undergo sensitivity training, after losing lawsuit.
Oh, gee, we forgot to make the cake. Somehow the order got lost. Clerical error, probably that guy who left last month to move to Egypt. Major US ally, Egypt. Great friend of America. You're cool with Muslims, right?

Also, if we made it we made it with peanuts and coconut -- somehow that 'nut allergy' thing got misplaced too. Have to throw the thing out. Didn't realize until this morning. But we'll make another one, as soon as we can get past this huge back-order. Maybe next March? Soon as we can, promise.

Did we turn any wedding cake business away last quarter? Heavens no! But you know, we have problems with our distributors. They're out of state, and they don't like providing flour for gay wedding cakes. We just had to accept their offer to be our sole source of flour because their prices were so good, even though we regret these contractual stipulations. That leaves us with a contractual obligation to these out-of-state businesses not to violate their ethical standards. Now, we aren't asserting any such conscience ourselves -- heavens no! Heavens no! No, it's just a contract -- oddly enough, written to be adjudicated according to Mississippi state law. Not sure how that got in there. Anyway, you can talk to the Mississippi courts about it if it bothers you.

Quarterly sensitivity training? Absolutely. I can't tell you how much that improves the attitude toward the targets objects subjects of sensitivity. It works great in the Army!

At this point, I'd have a hard time not sympathizing with outright bigots, if these were those. The government has overstepped its bounds. It's asking for whatever it gets here. There are lots of ways to resist an order without violating it.

Dear Slate Magazine: Don't Tax Beer

This was a bad idea in 1875 or 1919, and it's not gotten better with age.
Recently, Derek Thompson of the Atlantic riffed on new research from the marketing professors Caleb Warren and Margaret C. Thompson, who argue that “coolness” is “a measured violation of malign expectations.” Instead of simply warning young people of the dangers of drunkenness, we need to make binge drinking seem mainstream and thus lame. This will be extremely difficult because, as I’ve learned to my detriment, being drunk can be quite fun—until you wet the bed or start murdering people.
Even after that, if they're pansy beer-banners.


A routine request in Florida for public records regarding the use of a surveillance tool known as stingray took an extraordinary turn Tuesday when federal authorities seized the documents before police could release them....

The government has long asserted it doesn’t need a probable-cause warrant to use stingrays because the device doesn’t collect the content of phone calls and text messages, but instead operates like pen-registers and trap-and-traces, collecting the equivalent of header information. The ACLU and others argue that the devices are more invasive than a trap-and-trace.

Recently, the Sarasota police department revealed it had used stingrays at least 200 times since 2010 without telling a judge because the device’s manufacturer made it sign a non-disclosure agreement that police claim prevented them from telling the courts.
I would think the courts would have some questions about that principle!

Science v. Religion?

Jerry A. Coyne has a triumphalist portrayal of atheistic science that he paints as both in conflict with, and ascendant over, religious faith. It is for the most part a sneering, strawman-fighting portrait, but in the end he offers three principles that prove the superiority of science.
1. They both make truth claims about the universe, but only science has a way to settle those claims. Except for deistic religions, or godless “religions” like Taoism or Unitarian Universalism, most religions make existence claims about gods, the nature of those gods, and how those gods want us to live. Christianity, for instance, argues that there is a single God (often tripartite with Jesus and the Holy Ghost); that he sent his son, born of a virgin, down to be murdered to atone for an original sin infecting all humans; that Jesus came back to life three days after he was killed; and that some day he will return to Earth, sentencing all of us to either eternal life or the flames of hell. Those are empirical claims about the universe: they are either true or false. But the problem is that they conflict with the “truth claims” of other faiths. If you’re a Muslim, for instance, belief in Christ’s divinity will doom you to hell. Hinduism has many gods, Jews don’t believe in an afterlife, and Unitarians reject the Trinity. Almost all religious schisms, which eventually gave rise to the more than 10,000 Christian sects on Earth today, were based on irresolvable claims about what is true.

Religion has no way to settle its panoply of conflicting claims. In contrast, science can adjudicate empirical claims, for science is a toolkit: a way of thinking and doing that actually helps us understand the universe. There are thousands of religions, but there is only one science. Scientists of all faiths and ethnicities use the same methodology and agree on the same set of truths. Think of how far the unanimity of scientific understanding has progressed since 1500! Now think how far theology has progressed since 1500, at least in terms of understanding the true nature of the divine. It hasn’t budged an inch. We can’t even settle the issue of how many gods there are, much less if any exist at all. That’s what happens when you rely on faith rather than reason, and when you discern truth by listening to clerics or your own thoughts rather than by examining what actually exists out there in nature.
This is wrong for several reasons.

Science does not, in fact, have a way of settling many of the 'panoply' of claims he raises. Especially, science can't tell you anything about how human beings ought to live. Those kinds of claims have to be grounded elsewhere. You don't have to ground them in religion, but you do have to ground them in something other than the bare facts about the world.

Christianity serves as the ground for an embrace of mercy, and an ideal that human society should serve the interests of the poor as well as the powerful and wealthy. What would a scientific justification for that look like?

The closest science could come to resolving moral claims lies in the field of virtue ethics. If a virtue is a capacity, a thing like courage that will enable you to do things you couldn't do without, then we could perhaps make some headway with science. We could measure certain practices, and see if they produced increasing courage -- although measuring that in scientific terms might be challenging! First, after all, you have to define courage so that you can be certain what you want to measure. (Why is that a problem? See Plato's Laches, and Wittgenstein's 'private language' argument.)

For values beyond virtues, science can't help you. And for virtues, well, they're any excellence of capacity. Hang on to that thought.
2. Science and religious “investigation” produce different outcomes. Religion’s search for “truth” could have resulted in the same things that science has discovered, but it never has. The Bible, or God, could have pronounced that washing your hands might curb disease, or that, instead of being created de novo, life evolved from very simple precursors. But scripture didn’t say that, and science has repeatedly corrected the false conclusions of religious dogma.

The response of theologians is this: “The Bible is not a textbook of science.” Yet what they really mean by that is, “The Bible isn’t entirely true.” This then gives them license to decide which parts of the Bible are true (conveniently, they are the bits that science hasn’t yet disproven, or those that best align with modern morality) and which parts are false (for example, God’s approbation of stoning for adultery and death for homosexuality). This disparity in outcomes derives from the disparity of methods. Religion begins with conclusions that are comforting, and then picks and chooses evidence that supports those conclusions, ignoring the pesky counterevidence or fobbing it off as “metaphor.” In contrast, science is designed to prevent you from that kind of confirmation bias: it’s a method, as physicist Richard Feynman noted, that keeps you from fooling yourself and finding what you’d like be true instead of what’s really true.
One of the great writers on the subject is the Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides. He doesn't at all say that 'the Bible isn't entirely true.' What he says is that the Torah is true, but it speaks in the language of men. Sometimes its truth is metaphorical. Maimonides is a tireless advocate of the sciences of the day, and articulates a principle in which the search for truth is bolstered by a community of faith whose moral commitments include a determination to speak the truth about what they find through experiment or dialectic. If that seems to conflict with an established religious doctrine, Maimonides says, the right thing to do is to reconsider whether you have understood correctly what was present in the doctrine. This is a moral commitment grounded in faith because it is a kind of natural theology: a desire to understand more about God by understanding His works. You must be honest in this endeavor exactly as you are faithful to God.

Coyne would like you to dispose of the doctrine entirely. But then you lose the ground of the moral commitment -- that one and many others. But notice something else. Insofar as this commitment creates scientists who are devoted to an honest understanding of their results, it is a virtue from the perspective of science itself. Now we said before that a virtue is any sort of excellence of capacity; here is a virtue especially for the practice of science. Faith in Maimonides' mode is a scientific virtue.
3. Science and religion have different philosophical bases. After centuries of experience, science has discarded the idea of God because it’s never been useful in explaining anything. Most religions still cling to the idea of deities, even in the absence of evidence, for a bad reason: faith. Although theologians weave a web of obscurantist verbiage around the word “faith,” it all comes down to believing something without good reasons. How can you possibly find out what’s true if you base your search for truth on confirmation bias and on assertions unsupported by evidence? How can you want to base your life on such assertions? And, if you’re a Christian, Jew, or Hindu, how can you be sure that your religion is the right one, and that, say, the tenets of Islam are simply wrong? You can never know. Religion is incompatible not only with science, but also with other religions.

In the end, the conflict between science and religion can’t be papered over by polling people who don’t want there to be a conflict. After all, most religionists pride themselves on modernity, and don’t want to be seen as unfriendly to a science that has improved their lives immeasurably. The real conflict—the one that will be with us so long as religion pretends to find truth—is between rationality and superstition. It is a conflict between using faith to discern what is real as opposed to using reason and observation of the universe. Ecklund can conduct surveys until Templeton runs out of cash, but she’ll never turn religion into a way to find truth—or to help science find truth. And so the incompatibility will remain until we realize that faith is not a virtue.
Unfortunately for the argument, we just finished proving that faith is a virtue -- at least that it can be, insofar as it is understood as a commitment to search for truth about God by searching for an honest and complete understanding of His work.

Nevertheless, it is true that science and religion have different philosophical bases. This is why religion is the kind of philosophical commitment that can ground a moral code broader than virtue ethics. That is a virtue(!) that science lacks.

But it's also why the claim of progress isn't very interesting. Science by nature pursues finite things. The scientific method requires this. In order to conduct experiments that falsify a hypothesis, it is necessary that the measurements be limited in time. It is necessary that you study a thing that has limits. Ideally, you want to focus on just one variable -- a very finite limit indeed! Religion, by contrast, deals with ultimate truth. This is not a finite question, as is easily proven: for it includes the truth about numbers, and numbers are not finite.

So let us say that we have two fields of study, one that considers the finite, and one the infinite. People begin trying to draw a picture of what the object of their study looks like. They start with a triangle, and then add another line, and then another. Each additional side improves the conception of the object of study, approaching a true and correct picture.

In a few hundred years, the first field will have made significant progress in its study. No matter how large the number of sides on the actual object of their field of study, progress will be obvious. If it had eight sides, then at first you would have 3/8ths of the truth; then 4/8ths, or half the truth, which is progress. Eventually you would have 8/8ths of the truth. So to for an object of any size: if it has N sides, at first you would have 3/N, then 4/N... and eventually N/N.

(At least you would, if you could be finally certain that you'd gotten the sides correct. Science doesn't quite work that way, but by eliminating possibilities rather than confirming them. So to be quite right, we'd have to count backwards: first we've eliminated three possibilities, now four, now ten, now a thousand, in pursuit of a negative N).

The students of the infinite, by contrast, will still be infinitely far away from their goal (a point made by Nicholas of Cusa, from whom I borrow the metaphor). This is true even if they'd added just as many sides as the finite students, or far more sides. (Or subtracted them.) The two kinds of study are different in such a way that 'measurable progress' is not a helpful standard, because it is built into the nature of the inquiry.

So is religion a way of pursuing truth? Of course it is. Is it a way of finding it? Well, the truth it seeks is infinite. Just as no scientist will ever prove a truth because the scientific method can only disprove things, so too in religion there is a structural feature that prevents a final attainment of capital-T Truth. In science this feature is less obvious because it studies finite things, and so the approximation can eventually become good enough that we might no longer notice that we haven't actually come to say what is true, but only eliminated enough things that are false that our approximation of the truth of that finite question is satisfying.

Yet it is satisfying, even then, only when we ponder that question. There are many questions beyond those kinds of questions. Another method is needed to pursue those answers. There need be no conflict between science and religion: science can carry us as far as it can, and after that, faith is the only virtue there is.

This gives me ideas

No bears around here, but this footage of a black bear making himself at home in a Florida hammock "like he was a tourist" inspires me to weave a hammock.  It's just macrame, right?


Matt Walsh puts his finger on exactly what confuses me the most--besides the whole genital mutilation thing--about transexuals:
If a girl declares that she’s a lesbian, progressives would tell us that this identity cannot be modified.  It is ingrained in her soul and nothing can ever alter it.  Her sexual preference is immutable.  Her sex, however?  Fluid.  Subject to change. . . .
Ryland showed signs of being transgender because she didn't like girly toys and she didn't like to wear dresses.  My first thought is that maybe she's a girl who just doesn't like girly toys or dresses.  But apparently girly toys and dresses are so important to the female identity that you lose the identity when you reject the toys and dresses.

Since someone already opened the table to Star Wars

There have been leaked (intentionally by Disney, or by an employee who cannot contain their enthusiasm/greed) from the new Star Wars workshops.  Here's my favorite:

That is a life sized Millennium Falcon cockpit.  Here's a shot of the rest of the construction to give a better idea of scale:

What this means is, they're building the ship as a physical object, not as a 3D computer environment.  Apparently, Disney heeded the numerous complaints from fans that the CGI was massively overused/overdone in the three prequels, and is going back to the roots of the franchise.  And clearly, they're putting real money into it, as something of this size is surely expensive.  Especially if (as it appears to be) this is going to be used as a backdrop as well as a shooting location.

As I said to my friend who linked this, this is exactly why I was pleased when I heard that Disney bought the rights from Lucas.

Do I have to pay the taxes I vote for?

It hardly seems fair:
“I’m at the breaking point,” said Gretchen Gardner, an Austin artist who bought a 1930s bungalow in the Bouldin neighborhood just south of downtown in 1991 and has watched her property tax bill soar to $8,500 this year.
“It’s not because I don’t like paying taxes,” said Gardner, who attended both meetings. “I have voted for every park, every library, all the school improvements, for light rail, for anything that will make this city better. But now I can’t afford to live here anymore. I’ll protest my appraisal notice, but that’s not enough. Someone needs to step in and address the big picture.”
It's not that I don't like paying taxes, or that I don't want all the stuff that taxes pay for, it's just that I don't want to pay the taxes that pay for all the stuff I want.  You know, the big picture.

Hey, Idiots!

Only slightly NSFW, towards the end.

See also:

Lilium Inter Spinas

Speaking of adventurous cooking, did you know that the day lily is edible? Not the true lilies, which are certainly not! But the day lily is a food with an ancient pedigree in Europe and Asia.

I learned this tonight, when my wife made us Day Lily Blossom Fritters stuffed with jalapenos, bacon, and cheese.

These things are fantastically good.

More on the topic here.

UPDATE: Still more adventure.

How ya gonna get 'em to stay on the farm?

Bookwoom Room points us toward this news of exciting developments in Belarussian policy toward agricultural workers:
Alexander Lukashenko is living up to his reputation as Europe’s last remaining dictator. The president of Belarus has decided to bring back serfdom on farms in a bid to stop urban migration.
Lukashenko has announced plans to introduce legislation prohibiting farm labourers from quitting their jobs and moving to the cities. “Yesterday, a decree was put on my table concerning – we are speaking bluntly – serfdom,” the Belarus leader told a meeting on Tuesday to discuss improvements to livestock farming, reported.
. . . Low agricultural wages and limited prospects have persuaded many farm workers to leave the countryside to seek opportunities in the cities or in neighbouring Russia.
. . .
If Lukashenko signs the serfdom decree, Belarus will be in violation of the 1957 international convention on the abolition of forced labour to which it is a signatory.  That didn’t stop him adopting a law in 2012 stopping timber industry workers from quitting their jobs and it probably won’t stop him now.
Russia may however raise objections.
That last part makes me feel lots better.


A Book Recommendation from Douglas

Especially for me and Tex, Douglas recommends Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World.

I have to admit that the thesis statement makes it sound a lot like The Secret for Capitalists. If I were a betting man (and I am), I would wager that the author has formed this thesis by getting the correlation/causation of changing attitudes exactly backwards.

However, it would be unfair to render such a judgment with any finality without actually reading it. I forward it merely as an initial impression based only on her abstract and the associated press material. We should consider the arguments.

What would we do without gender research

Don't these people seem to be, ah, reaching just a tad?
[H]istorically, hurricanes with female names have, on average, killed more people than those with male ones. . . . As they write, “changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley to Eloise could nearly triple its death toll”. 
The names certainly don’t reflect a storm’s severity, and they alternate genders from one to the next. 
Jung team thinks that the effect he found is due to unfortunate stereotypes that link men with strength and aggression, and women with warmth and passivity.  Thanks to these biases, people might take greater precautions to protect themselves from Hurricane Victor, while reacting more apathetically to Hurricane Victoria.

Taxis and Monopolies

Mark Perry of AEI notes that taxi medallion prices are flat for the first time pretty much ever, and discusses the impact of competition from companies like on-line "Uber."

Loser pays

One small step for tort reform.  Well, I know it's not tort, exactly, but it's the same principle.  A patent troll may find itself on the hook for $200,000 in defense counsel fees.  The recent Supreme Court that made this result possible was issued by Justice Sotomayor, joined by Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan (with Scalia quibbling only over some footnotes): a decidedly nonpartisan decision.


Moe Lane tries to cheer us up about democracy.

A Viking Age Cookbook

If Tex's recent post about bread-making has left you feeling adventurous, nothing says 'adventure' like Vikings.


Now that President Obama has proven Congress can’t stop him from releasing terrorists, the administration could be primed to empty out the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
It's amazing what can be accomplished once you prove to yourself that you aren't bound by the law.


Geraghty again, whose newsletter I can't link to, unfortunately--you have to sign up for it (it's free) if you're interested:
And now the mild sympathy for President Obama:  one of the most difficult tasks in life is coming to terms with a really awful failure of one's own making.  And while you can spread blame around — Shinseki, Kathleen Sebelius, Hillary Clinton -- ultimately the buck stops with him; he's the one who put all of those folks in that position. 
If Obama had come out Friday afternoon and declared he felt betrayed by Eric Shinseki, that he had trusted him to keep a close eye on his department, and that he never imagined such a distinguished veteran would prove so ineffective at combatting a culture of complacency and unaccountability . . . those of us who aren't so enamored with him could at least believe the president was learning some hard truths about the presidency.  Bureaucracies always tell you that they're making progress.  They'll always spotlight circumstances of seeming or even genuine improvement, and downplay or hide inexcusable failures.  They'll never tell you that they've screwed up royally, with catastrophic consequences, until it's on the front page. 
If you were Obama, wouldn't you be furious with Shinseki?  Would you be mad at yourself?  Mad at Sebelius?  Wouldn't failures this big prompt you to rethink how you approach these types of challenges? 
My suspicion — and fear — is that Obama can't do that.  He can't have an honest reckoning of his increasingly disastrous presidency because it would shake the foundation of his life's work.  It would mean his critics were largely right all along.
I'm angry enough with the President to enjoy reading this, but it also makes me thoughtful about how I've come to terms with really awful failures of my own making.  Shame has a tendency to make me run and hide, too, rather than own up, improve, and keep at the job.  Not all failures make me react that way, but really shameful ones do.

No Knock

A local magistrate issued a “no-knock warrant” to raid the house, partly because of the info linking the suspect to “assault-type weapons.” When the cops got there and tried to open the door, they felt something blocking it so they tossed in a flash-bang. The obstacle turned out to be … the playpen, with the baby inside. Here’s a photo of the aftermath, if you can stomach it. The suspect wasn’t even there[.]
Why not knock? The danger is that the drugs could get flushed. That danger has to be compared to other dangers.

The Road Helps

The consolation of tragedy is a renewed attention to the world.  For those of you who are interested, some pictures from the road.

Movements of peoples

Zerohedge has some interesting maps of immigration patterns over the last century, showing the predominant country of origin of immigrants to each state in the U.S.  The overall trend is toward a massive influx from Mexico, which is hardly news, but there are lots of surprises tucked in there.  For instance, I never would have guessed that the largest flow of immigrants to New York State in 1910 would be from Russia.  It's also surprising to see what a worldwide melting pot was going on a century ago, and how little of that there is now.

Switching gears to much older immigration patterns, I've been tempted to buy the new book by Brian Sykes, "DNA USA."  I enjoyed "The Seven Daughters of Eve," which traced movements of peoples by examining their mitochondrial DNA.  The new book is getting lukewarm reviews, though, and sounds like it's got a bit of interesting DNA data patched together with a rambling travelogue.  So I'm hoping someone will publish a summary of the good stuff.  One good source is Amazon reviews, which yield the following interesting snippets:

Native Americans descended from a handful of matrilineal (mitochonddrial) clusters that arrived in the New World between about 16,000 and 20,000 years ago. Three of the clusters are genetically linked to Siberians who originated in Central Asia.  The fourth cluster is linked to a Polynesian strain that arrived in the Cook Island about 3,000 years ago, from Taiwan; it is absent among the Eskimos and concentrated in Central and South America.  A fifth cluster is found in North America, but not Alaska.  It appears not to have originated from Asia, but instead from Europe--not the 16th-century European wave but a population from 16,000 years ago.  How did they get here?  Presumably not overland, across Asia and then Beringia, or they'd show up in Alaska today, but it's hard to imagine an Atlantic crossing, either, not that early.  That cluster seems like a real wild card.