Archive for November, 2011
30 Nov 2011

Your Tax Dollars At Work

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The goofballs running the Air Force Academy spent $80,000 to construct an outdoor circle of boulders around a propane-fueled fire pit to accommodate the spiritual needs of infinitesimally small numbers of cadets self-described as “pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths.”

What exactly people who like extinct religions and imaginary religions have in common is unclear, but the Air Force classifies all of the former schools of metaphysical opinion as “Earth-based,” whatever that means.

If one were a Grecian pagan worshipping Zeus or a Nordic pagan worshipping Odin, wouldn’t that make one’s religion “Sky-based?”

And why exactly do these nonconformist cadets need boulders and propane? Couldn’t they sit even more comfortably on ordinary teakwood lawn furniture? Is the Academy planning to supply pious pagan undergraduates with chickens, sheep, and the occasional ox to be sacrificed on major holy days? Will worshippers of Baal or Quetzalcoatl be immunized from the common law and permitted to sacrifice unwanted children or enemy combatants to their bloodthirsty divinities? Will the usual Academy prohibitions on sexual fraternization be suspended for Wiccans to conduct Black Masses? It’s not easy to see how the officials in Colorado Springs think they can conveniently draw the line once they’ve committed themselves to honoring diversity of opinion on such a scale.

LA Times story.

29 Nov 2011

Constitutional Conservatism Versus Utopian Liberalism

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Yuval Levin, in National Review, explains why the American left seems to be contradicting itself so frequently these days, as it rhetorically swings back and forth between appeals to Populism and demands for conceding ever more power to unelected elite experts.

The difference[s] between.. two kinds of liberalism — constitutionalism grounded in humility about human nature and progressivism grounded in utopian expectations — is a crucial fault line of our politics, and has divided the friends of liberty since at least the French Revolution. It speaks to two kinds of views about just what liberal politics is.

One view, which has always been the less common one, holds that liberal institutions were the product of countless generations of political and cultural evolution in the West, which by the time of the Enlightenment, and especially in Britain, had begun to arrive at political forms that pointed toward some timeless principles in which our common life must be grounded, that accounted for the complexities of society, and that allowed for a workable balance between freedom and effective government given the constraints of human nature. Liberalism, in this view, involves the preservation and gradual improvement of those forms because they allow us both to grasp the proper principles of politics and to govern ourselves well.

The other, and more common, view argues that liberal institutions were the result of a discovery of new political principles in the Enlightenment — principles that pointed toward new ideals and institutions, and toward an ideal society. Liberalism, in this view, is the pursuit of that ideal society. Thus one view understands liberalism as an accomplishment to be preserved and enhanced, while another sees it as a discovery that points beyond the existing arrangements of society. One holds that the prudent forms of liberal institutions are what matter most, while the other holds that the utopian goals of liberal politics are paramount. One is conservative while the other is progressive.

The principles that the progressive form of liberalism thought it had discovered were much like those that more conservative liberals believed society had arrived at through long experience: principles of natural rights that define the proper ends and bounds of government. Thus for a time, progressive and conservative liberals in America — such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine on one hand and James Madison and Alexander Hamilton on the other — seemed to be advancing roughly the same general vision of government. But when those principles failed to yield the ideal society (and when industrialism seemed to put that ideal farther off than ever), the more progressive or radical liberals abandoned these principles in favor of their utopian ambitions. At that point, progressive and conservative American liberals parted ways — the former drawn to post-liberal philosophies of utopian ends (often translated from German) while the latter continued to defend the restraining mechanisms of classical-liberal institutions and the skeptical worldview that underlies them.

That division is evident in many of our most profound debates today, and especially in the debate between the Left and the Right about the Constitution. This debate, and not a choice between technocracy and populism, defines the present moment in our politics. Thus the Left’s simultaneous support for government by expert panel and for the unkempt carpers occupying Wall Street is not a contradiction — it is a coherent error. And the Right’s response should be coherent too. It should be, as for the most part it has been, an unabashed defense of our constitutional system, gridlock and all.

Read the whole thing.

29 Nov 2011

China’s Organ Harvesting

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Ethan Gutmann, in the Weekly Standard, delivers a gruesome look at one of the world’s greatest atrocities occurring during the last two decades, China’s harvesting of organs from sometimes-still-living condemned prisoners.

In 1989, not long after Nijat Abdureyimu turned 20, he graduated from Xinjiang Police School and was assigned to a special police force, Regiment No. 1 of the Urumqi Public Security Bureau. As one of the first Uighurs in a Chinese unit that specialized in “social security”—essentially squelching threats to the party—Nijat was employed as the good cop in Uighur interrogations, particularly the high-profile cases. I first met Nijat—thin, depressed, and watchful—in a crowded refugee camp on the outskirts of Rome.

Nijat explained to me that he was well aware that his Chinese colleagues kept him under constant surveillance. But Nijat presented the image they liked: the little brother with the guileless smile. By 1994 he had penetrated all of the government’s secret bastions: the detention center, its interrogation rooms, and the killing grounds. Along the way, he had witnessed his fair share of torture, executions, even a rape. So his curiosity was in the nature of professional interest when he questioned one of the Chinese cops who came back from an execution shaking his head. According to his colleague, it had been a normal procedure—the unwanted bodies kicked into a trench, the useful corpses hoisted into the harvesting vans, but then he heard something coming from a van, like a man screaming.

“Like someone was still alive?” Nijat remembers asking. “What kind of screams?”

“Like from hell.”

Nijat shrugged. The regiment had more than enough sloppiness to go around.

A few months later, three death row prisoners were being transported from detention to execution. Nijat had become friendly with one in particular, a very young man. As Nijat walked alongside, the young man turned to Nijat with eyes like saucers: “Why did you inject me?”

Nijat hadn’t injected him; the medical director had. But the director and some legal officials were watching the exchange, so Nijat lied smoothly: “It’s so you won’t feel much pain when they shoot you.”

The young man smiled faintly, and Nijat, sensing that he would never quite forget that look, waited until the execution was over to ask the medical director: “Why did you inject him?”

“Nijat, if you can transfer to some other section, then go as soon as possible.”

“What do you mean? Doctor, exactly what kind of medicine did you inject him with?”

“Nijat, do you have any beliefs?”

“Yes. Do you?”

“It was an anticoagulant, Nijat. And maybe we are all going to hell.”

Read the whole thing.

29 Nov 2011

Scientists Find Probable Amerindian DNA in Iceland

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The discovery of a new mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) subclade (C1e) in Iceland of Haplogroup C, characteristic of population groups found in Northeast Asia and of Amerindians is identified in a new paper in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology as likely evidence of the presence in Iceland of matrilineal descent from American Indians encountered by Viking explorers of North America around the year 1000 A.D.

Abstract

Although most mtDNA lineages observed in contemporary Icelanders can be traced to neighboring populations in the British Isles and Scandinavia, one may have a more distant origin. This lineage belongs to haplogroup C1, one of a handful that was involved in the settlement of the Americas around 14,000 years ago. Contrary to an initial assumption that this lineage was a recent arrival, preliminary genealogical analyses revealed that the C1 lineage was present in the Icelandic mtDNA pool at least 300 years ago. This raised the intriguing possibility that the Icelandic C1 lineage could be traced to Viking voyages to the Americas that commenced in the 10th century. In an attempt to shed further light on the entry date of the C1 lineage into the Icelandic mtDNA pool and its geographical origin, we used the deCODE Genetics genealogical database to identify additional matrilineal ancestors that carry the C1 lineage and then sequenced the complete mtDNA genome of 11 contemporary C1 carriers from four different matrilines. Our results indicate a latest possible arrival date in Iceland of just prior to 1700 and a likely arrival date centuries earlier. Most surprisingly, we demonstrate that the Icelandic C1 lineage does not belong to any of the four known Native American (C1b, C1c, and C1d) or Asian (C1a) subclades of haplogroup C1. Rather, it is presently the only known member of a new subclade, C1e. While a Native American origin seems most likely for C1e, an Asian or European origin cannot be ruled out.


Discovery.com

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

29 Nov 2011

The Obama Coalition Replacing the New Deal Coalition

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Moe Lane marvels that, after so long a time, the Democrat Party’s New Deal coalition, consisting of “unions, city machines, blue-collar workers, farmers, blacks, people on relief, and generally non-affluent progressive intellectuals,” is being pronounced dead by the New York Times. The new coalition of the American left is simply writing off the white working class, period.

Whether you agreed with the New Deal program or not, you could always actually define it in terms that were internally self-consistent. Broadly speaking, it was a broad agreement among various groups that America’s most pressing problems could be managed and ameliorated on a broad scale through ‘expert’ and judicious government intervention; and that such intervention dampened the uncertainty and anxiety that might otherwise cause societal panics and economic dislocations. Again: you don’t have to agree with that (I don’t) to recognize that it existed as a coherent policy.

But now that has gone by the wayside, to be replaced with a system that . . . apparently plans to trade support for permanent government dependency programs for minorities, in exchange for legislating the fringe progressive morality of affluent urbanites. Aside from the utter lack of an unifying intellectual or moral framework to such an arrangement, it’s unclear exactly who benefits less from it; while it’s certainly not in minority voters’ long, medium, or short-term interests to become a permanent underclass, it’s not exactly clear that minority voters are even particularly ready to vote for a progressive social policy (as an examination of recent reversals in same-sex marriage movement in California and Maryland will readily attest). But then, that is not really the goal, is it? The goal is to re-elect President Obama — which is something that poor African-American and rich liberal voters both wish to do — and if that is accomplished, then anything else is extra. Which is just as well, because nobody really expects Obama to have much in the way of coat-tails this go-round.

Jim Geraughty, in his Morning Jolt email, responds:

Ah, but look, today’s Democratic party isn’t really about addressing economic opportunity or even dealing with America’s most pressing problems. For starters, many Democrats are not persuaded in the slightest that the annual deficit, accumulating debt, and ticking time bomb of entitlements are pressing problems at all. If Democrats really expected electing Obama would solve problems, they would be angrier with him than we are. No, for most Democrats, their political party is about a cultural identity. That identity is heavily based on not being one of those people — i.e., Republicans or conservatives. As far as I can tell, there are three inviolate principles in the modern Democratic Party:

Any form of consensual sexual behavior is to be accepted — if not celebrated. With that central belief comes the policies of abortion on demand for any woman at any age free, free contraceptives in schools, and gay marriage, and the insistence that Bill Clinton’s lying under oath about Monica Lewinsky didn’t matter because it was about sex. Complaining about explicit sexual content in pop culture reaching an audience that isn’t ready for it — e.g., Tipper Gore in the 1980s — is the sign of the square and the prude. As no less an expert political philosopher than Meghan McCain told us, “the GOP doesn’t understand sex” and has “an unhealthy attitude about sex and desire.” (Republicans are supposedly repressed and sexless, even though they generally have more children.)

America is a deeply racist country, even though you have to look far and wide to find anyone who openly expresses the belief that one race is superior to another. Everybody recoils when Imus says something snide and obnoxious about the Rutgers womens’ basketball team. Racism is never found in the central tenet of affirmative action, that minorities must be judged by a lower standard, or in the until-recently all-white lineup of MSNBC, or in the claims that Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain are Uncle Toms, or in the career of Robert Byrd. The fundamental belief of the Democratic party is that racism remains a serious problem in America today, and that the problem is found entirely in the GOP.

Credentials are to be respected, and any scoffing or skepticism at, say, the Ivy League is a sign of anti-intellectualism, ignorance, jealousy, and insecurity. Those who go there are indeed the best and the brightest; undergraduate and graduate degrees from those schools are key indicators of one’s intelligence, good judgment, and overall character. The success of dropouts Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are strange anomalies, and no serious reevaluation of the higher-education system is needed. As Rush Limbaugh observed, Bill Clinton said he wanted a cabinet that “looked like America” and declared he had achieved it after assembling a group that consisted almost entirely of Ivy League-educated lawyers.

Everything else is negotiable. For a while, it appeared that Democrats were organizing themselves around the principle that almost every dispute with every other nation and group can be resolved through “tough, smart diplomacy.” But now President Obama has started killing foreigners left and right, and not too many Democrats complain at all. Obama even used a drone to kill an American citizen, Anwar al-Alwaki, with nary a peep. Don’t get me wrong, Alwaki had it coming, but this is precisely the sort of don’t-bother-me-with-legal-details-I’m-fighting-a-war philosophy that Democrats spent seven years denouncing.

You think the Democratic party cares about wealth? Come on. In their minds, George Soros spending his money to help out his political views is noble, but the Koch Brothers are evil incarnate. Higher taxes are good, but no one will complain if Tim Geithner or Charlie Rangel cut corners on paying them. One might be tempted to argue that the righteousness of unions represent an inviolate principle to Democrats, but in New York, Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo is trimming here and there and living to tell the tale.

No, the party really is about identity politics now — us vs. them. And everybody knows which side they’re on.

28 Nov 2011

Bachmann Wants 11 Million People Deported… In Steps

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The Hill says Michele Bachmann was trying to distinguish her candidacy from Newt Gingrich’s by offering this proposal.

She did. I’d say that she proved something very important about herself and her candidacy by advocating a policy so economically disastrous, so historically philistine, so morally repugnant, and so practically impossible.

Even in times of political adversity, even in times of defeat, it is usually agreeable to be conservative and Republican, because we have the better arguments on our side. We know that we are right. Our opponents are fools and knaves, who enjoy whatever successes they achieve by placing themselves on the side of entropy, on the side of water flowing downhill, who appeal to selfishness, self-entitlement, to group and class prejudices, to all the worst aspects of Human Nature.

Illegal Immigration as a political issue has successfully turned American politics on its head, making some Republicans and some conservatives on that particular issue into dangerous crazies, every bit as intellectually derisory, every bit as deluded, every bit as self-entitled as liberals.

What kind of person can endorse the rounding up, the arrest, the forcible transportation, and the involuntary exile of millions upon millions of men, women, and children? I’d say someone willing to contemplate violence and coercion on such a scale as an exercise in pure regulatory enforcement would be a moral monster.

Nativist conservatives attempt to justify their extravagant levels of outrage over illegal immigration and their embrace of fantasies of force and violence on an immense scale in two ways. They try pointing to the relatively modest real association between actual crime and illegal immigrants, and since the reality is not adequate to their purposes they then systematically confuse violent crimes associated with illegal drug importation and trafficking with illegal immigration. They also appeal to the rule of law and demand that our laws be enforced.

It is true that any unskilled laboring community originating from a poorer and more primitive foreign society is always going to include some real percentage of petty criminals, undesirables, and political agitators, and its ordinary members are, more frequently than the native born, going to litter, get drunk, and stand around outside playing salsa music. But it is perfectly obvious that the overwhelming majority of today’s wave of immigration, just as in the 1900s and 1850s, has come here to do work that needs to be done which native born Americans are typically unwilling to do.

Conservatives are right that it is important to maintain the rule of law, but when you find that decades go by and the law isn’t really being enforced, it is time to recognize that we are dealing with a case of laws which Americans demonstrably do not desire to be enforced.

America is culturally at root a Northern European, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon, and outside certain exotic indigenous subcultures, a decidedly law-abiding society. A lot of Americans don’t lock their doors when they go out even today. In a lot of parts of this country, if you drop your wallet on the street, someone will try to return it.

We do have a cultural problem, though, with laws produced by special interests and by ideologues and with laws expressive of our dreams and fantasies and wishful thinking, which get passed without proper thought for the consequences or intellectual scrutiny. Current immigration laws have no real relationship to our important principles, identity, or ideals, and even less to our national economic needs and requirements. They came about by compromises, by accretion, and by ideological politics. There was no grand national debate in which Americans as a whole thought the matter over, debated alternatives, and finally took a democratically arrived at position. Like Topsy, our current regulations just grew.

28 Nov 2011

Barney Frank Not Seeking Reelection

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An announcement was promised for later today that one of the House of Representatives’ most repulsively left-wing figures whose fingerprints are all over the national real estate disaster will not be seeking reelection next November.

It seems clear that a pile of canine excrement nominated by the democrat party could be elected to represent the south shore of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, filling the same seat once occupied by John Quincy Adams, so Barney Frank was not exactly in political trouble, but Massachusetts (like a lot of misgoverned liberal states) will be losing a House seat next go round, so the speculation is that Barney Frank is stepping aside in order to avoid a scramble over just whose district is going to be eliminated.

Watch for Barney Frank to receive some particularly prestigious or lucrative compensatory position.

28 Nov 2011

Best Research Paper Abstract of All Time

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27 Nov 2011

Gentleman With First Half 18th Century Fowler

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I tend to try to avoid posting unsourced, unidentified photos, but consistency is the hobgoblin and all that. Click on the image for a larger version.

I once learned that rather more of these ancient colonial era fowling pieces survived in New England farmhouses than I ever would have suspected. It was probably the combination of unwieldiness and striking decorative value (once they became obsolete, they were the ideal object to hang over the mantelpiece) that caused them to be preserved.

From Nothing Via by way of Vanderleun.

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Gerard Van der Leun identifies the original source as the Jooney Woodward site, from Britain (!).

26 Nov 2011

Arab Times Are A-Changing

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Via Theo.

26 Nov 2011

Leonardo’s To Do List

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In Toby Lester’s Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image (to be published February 7 of next year), the author explains that Leonardo da Vinci carried a notebook on his belt in which he constantly sketched or left memoranda to himself.

Robert Krulwich, at an NPR blog, offers a translation of Leonardo’s personal To-Do list from some point early in the 1490s.

It’s an interesting list, testifying to its author’s remarkably broad range of practical and abstract interests, and as Maggie Koerth-Baker notes admiringly, to his recognition of superior expertise in the possession of others.

I think it’s pretty interesting that of the nine tasks shown, six involve consulting and learning from other people. Leonardo da Vinci needs to find a book. Leonardo da Vinci needs to get in touch with local merchants, monks, and accountants who he hopes can help him better understand concepts within their areas of expertise.

Leonardo da Vinci knows he doesn’t know everything.

I think that’s a big deal.

The fact that questions Leonardo intends to address so commonly include notes of just how he intends to obtain the necessary information is, I think, likely to make many of us with experience in research smile in recognition of a kindred spirit.

25 Nov 2011

“The Last Dictator Standing”

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Nando’s, a restaurant chain of South African origin (specializing in Mozambique-Portuguese-style chilli-flavored chicken) recently released a commercial mocking Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe as “The Last Dictator Standing.”

Hat tip to Rafal Heydel-Mankoo.

25 Nov 2011

Mitt Romney’s First Campaign Ad Produces Big Kerfuffle

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Democrats pounced on Mitt Romney’s first campaign ad attacking Obama with glee. They had parsed the ad and discovered that one of the damaging Obama quotations (““If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we’re going to lose.”) had been repeated mockingly by Obama, coming originally from a McCain aide.

They had nailed Romney beautifully, the left-wing comentariat thought happily. Another ham-fisted Republican mistake was exposed, and ridiculed, and totaled up in their credit column. They’d won.

But, whoops! as the next couple of days passed, frustrated Obama staffers found that nobody really cared all that much about the fine details of that particular line’s original source and context. It applied very aptly to the incumbent president’s situation. The ad worked and did real damage.

And, in the end, Romney strategists got to sit back and smile contentedly, shaking their heads, and remarking with feigned astonishment to Politico about the Obama camp’s “overreaction to ‘a small buy on one station in New Hampshire.’ ”

25 Nov 2011

Cabinet Minister & Wife Competed in World’s Most Grueling Horse Race

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Owen and Rose Paterson riding in the Mongol Derby

Alright, we have to admit it: the Brits really do have some politicians superior to ours.

Conservative cabinet minister Owen Paterson was keen enough to compete, accompanied by his wife, in this year’s Mongol Derby, a thousand kilometer (621.37 miles) charity race over the Mongol steppes modeled on Genghis Khan’s postal system. Riders have to change semi-wild ponies three times a day in an attempt to cover roughly 40 miles per diem.

The Telegraph reports that the Patersons did successfully complete the race, and survived with quite a story to tell.

Owen and Rose Paterson are competing for words to describe their summer holiday. “It was absolutely awful,” says Rose. “The food was beyond terrible,” chips in Owen.

This year, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his wife did not play safe. On a whim – their children called it “midlife crisis” – they took part in a 1,000-kilometre race for charity, across the desolate steppes of Mongolia on semi-wild horses. “Anything to avoid security guards,” Owen semi-joked when I spoke to him in July for a Weekend article published just before they set off.

“Anything” turned out to be grimmer than their worst imaginings. Injury was likely and death a possibility, warned The Adventurists, organisers of the race. But, as the Patersons left for Ulan Bator to start the Mongol Derby in August, they had only the haziest notion of what lay ahead. “If we had had any idea we would have turned around and gone straight home,” says Rose. …

[T]hey arrived in the Mongolian capital in early August with too much equipment and no experience of using a satnav – which was all that stood between them and 10 sub-zero nights in the open air as they hurtled across the wilds, recreating the postal network that had held together Genghis Khan’s vast 13th-century empire.

The start close to Ulan Bator was deceptively luxurious, featuring showers and a relatively benign landscape. “We were all smiles as we set off,” remembers Rose. “The views were fantastic. On that first day we thought we might be among the winners.”

But the race, they discovered, was a deadly mixture of terrifying and dull. Some days they rode for 14 hours through freezing fog, unable to see anything. Guided by a handheld satnav, which Owen set to “direct route”, they found themselves travelling extra miles, on top of the allotted 40 a day, through swamps and over mountains in order to arrive at the pony-swapping stations three times a day.

“The worst leg of each day was the last one,” says Rose. “If we missed the ger (Mongolian for yurt) we would have spent the night outside, with no food or drink, taking turns to hold onto the ponies.”

So prone were the ponies to wander, that they could not even get off to pee between pony swap stops. If the animals had bolted, the couple would have lost everything, including their passports.

Bleached bones dotted the steppes, and the landscape was pitted with marmot holes in which the ponies could break their legs. “We were constantly attacked by packs of dogs. At one point the ponies bolted and we galloped flat out for miles, knowing that if we fell off the dogs would eat us,” says Rose.

The most surreal moment occurred during the August riots back home, when Owen received a message that Parliament had been recalled. “Standing on the steppes, shouting into the vet’s phone under the stars, I had to tell the whips I would not be able to make it because I was 15 hours from Ulan Bator.”

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