31 March 2008

The Human/Animal divide

Christians believe that the possession of a soul separates humans from animals. Some secularists I know, even the ones who are adamant atheists, claim that evolution has created a distinct consciousness that irrevocably separates humans from animals.

But I don't think either are quite right.

Consider Nim Chimpsky, a baby Chimpanzee who was taken away from his mother to be raised in New York by humans in an experiment to gauge how much, if any, language ability a chimp might have. He grew up thinking he was a human. Then, the experiment ended and funding dried up. Nim was sent promptly off to a dreary lab to reside with other chimps serving science.

Here is a description of some of his behavior among his fellow chimps, as told by the author of Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp who would be human:

There was a children's book all about Nim while he was in New York, basically a photo book, and Nim kept his one copy of this book safe, even though chimps tend to wreck everything. He would bring it down and show the other chimps, then bring it back to his bunk and keep it under his sleeping area so that no one could destroy it. He would just look at pictures of his New York City family, and himself, over and over again.

So where does the soul, that precious human consciousness, begin?

The quote is from an interview for Salon.com that is worth reading.

Labels: , ,

Blogger is being weird again

It has been blocking me from getting in again today, telling me my new password, which worked just fine for three or four days, is not working. Very frustrating and irritating but I shall soldier on.

30 March 2008

Mystery Science Theater 3000 goes political

Thanks to a mention in 'The Corner' at National Review Online I found these little political ads, slightly altered by the team that brought you Mystery Science Theater 3000.

So enjoy.

come to think of it, NRO's 'The Corner' is a pretty funny political site too.


Labels: , ,

Read this, please.

I don't often think of myself as an 'educator' - it has unpleasant connotations for me, careerist out of touch administrators being the least of it. But, I suppose, I am one. And as such, along with the rest of my persona, I was encouraged to read this analysis by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times this morning. The first step to solving a problem is being aware that you have a problem. Kristof is aware.

After pointing out that as many Americans believe in flying saucers as believe in evolution, that 36% of the population thinks the government was involved in the 9/11 conspiracy, and a number of equally depressing facts about our ignorance and gullibility, he writes:

“America is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism, and anti-intellectualism,” Susan Jacoby argues in a new book, “The Age of American Unreason.” She blames a culture of “infotainment,” sound bites, fundamentalist religion and ideological rigidity for impairing thoughtful debate about national policies.

Even insults have degenerated along with other discourse, Ms. Jacoby laments. She contrasts Dick Cheney’s obscene instruction to Senator Patrick Leahy with a more elegant evisceration by House Speaker Thomas Reed in the 1890s: “With a few more brains he could be a half-wit.”

I especially like his conclusion, harking back to an era when being 'conservative' almost implied being an intellectual:

The dumbing-down of discourse has been particularly striking since the 1970s. Think of the devolution of the emblematic conservative voice from William Buckley to Bill O’Reilly. It’s enough to make one doubt Darwin.

There’s no simple solution, but the complex and incomplete solution is a greater emphasis on education at every level. And maybe, just maybe, this cycle has run its course, for the last seven years perhaps have discredited the anti-intellectualism movement. President Bush, after all, is the movement’s epitome — and its fruit.

Labels: , ,

The Web, politics and public opinion

We are now in uncharted territory this campaigning season in more ways than one. Aside from the 'post-racial' folks under 35, there is the Internet. Very few have figured out exactly how it effects politics, nor are likely to until long after the results of November come in.

Still, there is some clear thinking out there on the topic. Read this one by Frank Rich in today's New York Times. His conclusion:

The 2008 campaign is, unsurprisingly enough, mostly of a piece with 2006, when Iraq cost Republicans the Congress. In that year’s signature race, a popular Senate incumbent, George Allen, was defeated by a war opponent in the former Confederate bastion of Virginia after being caught race-baiting in a video posted on the Web. Last week Mrs. Clinton learned the hard way that Iraq, racial gamesmanship and viral video can destroy a Democrat, too.

Labels: , ,

Big Brother OWNS you!

Or at least your content. It isn't always the government you need to watch out for in this Internet day and age. Just check out this clause in Adobe's terms of use document for their new Photoshop Express:

Adobe does not claim ownership of Your Content. However, with respect to Your Content that you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Services, you grant Adobe a worldwide, royalty-free, nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, derive revenue or other remuneration from, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content and to incorporate such Content into other Materials or works in any format or medium now known or later developed. [emphasis added-apparently]

Once users started to complain Adobe admitted that yes, on second thought, that is a bit extreme. They promise new, revised, improved, and slightly less frightening terms shortly.

Labels: , ,

Genetics and the Crusaders

The next great non-written resource for studying the history of humanity is genetics. When the Crusades went through Lebanon the men of the Christian armies left unmistakable evidence of their passing and settlement. The fascinating thing is that it was primarily among the Christian population of Lebanon that these genetic markers appear. The Muslim population shows equally clear evidence of Arab expansion.

There is obviously a story there that involves a bit more than arms, combat, bigotry and atrocities.

Labels: , ,

29 March 2008

Father Guido Sarducci Lives!

Most of you may not remember the good Father on Saturday Night Live but he was hilarious. I thought for sure he'd been either defrocked or sent out to the most remote parish in Mongolia or someplace.

But still lives! And is working as a reporter for TheRealNews on the Internet. Check this out, about halfway through, Sarducci, posing as a reporter named Pepe Escobar, explains why America gave the greenlight to the Maliki government to go after the Mahdi Army in Iraq.

Sure, he's gotten a bit fuller in the face, his hair is graying, and he no longer chain smokes, but just listen to that speech pattern. It's Sarducci alright. And his explanation of the situation in Iraq with Dick Cheney makes perfect sense.

BONUS: Strong Bad impersonates Father Sarducci. Not as convincing as Pepe Escobar.

Labels: ,

China: Once again Number One in the World!

Yes, in yet another sign of becoming a manufacturing powerhouse China pulls ahead of the rest of the world in a key indicator. Here is the news story.

The Bush Administration is again embarrassed to see the United States fall behind China. Many observers fault the Administration for failing to keep pace with China in this important benchmark of modernization.

Not that they didn't try.


Labels: , ,

Best Commentary on US Presidential Campain Ever

The Bullwhaaa factor. But be warned - the following piece of incisive political analysis uses the good old fashioned non-euphemistic term for Taurine effluvia: truth to power!

Labels: ,

28 March 2008

Blogger - VERY annoying

Blogger for some reason has not been letting me into my account. I e-mailed for help, and got an e-mail telling me to click on a link to reset my password. The page at that link told me to follow the instructions on the e-mail I had been sent.

Which I had just done.

Finally resorted to my usual in response to recalcitrant technology. I began pounding every button available muttering curses under my breath and damning Blogger and Google forever and ever.

And it worked. At least, once I quit using IE and went to Firefox. Found another e-mail, or rather six e-mails from blogger, one of which had the magic instructions.

Sometimes I think the Scientific Revolution was a bad idea.

now spellcheck won't work.

Labels: , ,

25 March 2008

One man builds Stone Henge - in his backyard

This retired construction worker has figured out one possible way to raise the blocks that make up Stonehenge. It's amazingly simple.

They were smarter than we are, way back then.

thanks once again to Andrew Sullivan for the link.


24 March 2008

Obama and the Conservatives II

Noonan is not the only conservative who can see the value of what Obama did the other day. Check this one out.

Labels: , , ,

Obama and the Conservatives

Apparently a lot of people were impressed with Obama's speech on race this week. Oh, not those such as the folks at National Review Online who were on the whole snarly and disgruntled about the whole thing, but certainly more thoughtful conservatives like, of all people, Peggy Noonan*. While she is not in general in favor of Obama, she realizes that he actually gave a speech that expected people to think on their own. Here's a taste of her reaction:

The primary rhetorical virtue of the speech can be found in two words, endemic and Faulkner. Endemic is the kind of word political consultants don't let politicians use because 72% of Americans don't understand it. This lowest-common-denominator thinking, based on dizzy polling, has long degraded American discourse. When Obama said Mr. Wright wrongly encouraged "a view that sees white racism as endemic," everyone understood. Because they're not, actually, stupid. As for Faulkner -- well, this was an American politician quoting William Faulkner: "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." This is a thought, an interesting one, which means most current politicians would never share it.

The speech assumed the audience was intelligent. This was a compliment, and I suspect was received as a gift.

It was also refreshing in its rarity. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, let's all hope this becomes a trend.

*yes, I know. I can't believe I wrote this either, but she is beginning to grow on my.


Labels: , ,

"Creationist idiocy and intolercance"

At least that is how Andrew Sullivan bills it.

Click here for the little anecdote and see what you think.

Labels: , ,

22 March 2008

A Bad Night in the unnamed Port City. Sumer '67

The summer after I graduated from High School in the unnamed Port City to our south, I took a five week job as a traffic surveyor with the state DOT. It was our job to stand at an intersection all night long and when cars stopped to step forward with our clipboard to ask them questions about their trip. One night something terrible happened to the Port City while we were out standing at the side of the road - there was a race riot that burned down much of the core black neighborhood. The first we know of it was when a car came over the bridge where we were working looking for the hospital - someone had thrown a brick through the windshield and the passenger was injured. Other cars took one look at us (we were all teenagers but some of us were black) and made a u-turn at full speed to escape from us. We were a little puzzled until one of the cops assigned to watch over us called one of the black kids over and said "I thought you ought to know, there is a riot over in your neighborhood."

We looked over to that part of the great Port City and suddenly noticed that the night sky was redly glowing with firelight, as if half the town were burning. It was.

I remember this today because I came across the following quote from a citizen of the city that I copied into my notebook several months ago. And because Obama just made his speech on race.

He says the same of the riots that erupted in the Central Avenue district in 1967, after [Port City] police shot and killed Martin Chambers, a black 19 year-old. Many of the businesses that went up in flames never reopened or reclaimed their vitality. "We did nothing but hurt ourselves," he laments.

One of the fellows working with me that summer told me later that his father's pool hall was burnt down that first night of the riot. He had just invested all his money in remodeling it.

The Tomb of Jesus and the Modern Media

Some days I want to believe in the Last Judgment more than on others. After reading this little article by Thomas Madden, one of the best of the new Crusade scholars, debunking attempts by the Discovery Channel, Time, and CNN to hype a non-story about the discovery of "Jesus' tomb" and, one assumes, Jesus' body, I am particularly keen to be there on that awe filled day to watch these clowns being judged.

I suppose this is not a point I need to make, but my thesis about the utter failure of American elites during the Bush era most certainly includes the makers of documentaries that hype crack-pot stories for mere lucre.

The Dept of State - bumbling clowns

That is, for personal reasons involving the adoption of my grandson, about the mildest thing I can think to call them. After watching how the State Dept carried out a political agenda to screw hapless American citizens, proved absolutely unresponsive until forced to correct the mistake, and then lied about it, and continues to come up with fresh lies about it, the following news story on Talking Points Memo about how Dept of State employees checked into Obama, Clinton, and McCain's passport records makes perfect sense. It certainly sounds familiar: the same suspect behavior, the same secrecy as to who was doing what, the same contempt for transparency, and above all, the start of the same lies to cover their ass.

This comment from a reader of the above linked story seems to have it about right:

-Mismanagement. You’ll recall that the whole US passport program was in disarray at the end of 2007 because the Bush Administration failed to plan for the Canada-Mexico-Carribean travel changes. Waits were stretching on for months. It’s possible these offending contractors may have been brought in to fill the gaps that the Bush Administration allowed to happen.

-Mismanagement II. You’ll also recall that Condi Rice refuses to take even symbolic responsibility for the day-to-day management of State. Blackwater contract? US Embassy in Baghdad? Contractor fraud? Cookie Krnogard? (A Relevant Article from the Post)

-Cover Up. Someone at State knew and didn’t report it up the chain. If a system was installed to track this information, then surely SOMEONE thought it to be important. So where did the info stop, or who suppressed it and why?

I may hold my nose if necessary to vote for anybody the now clinically deranged Democratic Party can put up for President so I can be sure that clowns like this are purged from the ranks of the federal bureaucracy, once the wonder and envy of the world. At least for those of us who knew something about the workings of bureaucracies.

Labels: , , , ,

21 March 2008

Conservatives and the Surveillance State

Nothing about the Bush admin has struck as more peculiar, nor more disturbing, than the Republican Party (and conservatives in general) embracing an unregulated surveillance state in the name of national security. We are at war, they justify, and the war on terrorism, like McCain's war in Iraq, can last for a hundred years. A permanent state of war. But then, war is peace, dictatorship is democracy, and dumb is smart thanks to our increasingly Orwellian political discourse.

Glenn Greenwald, who is sometimes just too much for me, manages to express the dangers of this here on Salon.com when he examines the implications of contract employees accessing Barak Obama's passport application. Such records as, or course, are deeply private*.

The domestic spying arm of the U.S. Government has grown steadily over the last several decades but has exploded since 9/11. Virtually all imaginable categories of invasive information about the private lives of innocent Americans -- from telephone calls and email correspondence to health and prescription records and even the most innocuous incidents -- are now collected and stored in digital dossiers by the U.S. Government and are accessible to untold numbers of public and private employees. This explosion in domestic surveillance has been accompanied by the patently foolish assumption that government officials are so well-intentioned, honorable and interested in using this data only for our own Good that we can trust them to compile and use it without external checks -- such as judicial warrants -- because the danger of abuse is so low.

Look carefully at the words I have emphasised because that is exactly the way the policy is sold. How can any genuine conservative believe this? How can any genuine conservative embrace the resulting policy?

For that matter, how can any Republican be comfortable with constructing this surveillance state and handing it over to President Hillary Clinton? Or any other liberal who actually believes that the State is good and always knows best? As Julian Sanchez of the Los Angeles Times has noted,

Without meaningful oversight, presidents and intelligence agencies can -- and repeatedly have -- abused their surveillance authority to spy on political enemies and dissenters. . . .

But it is done by the Federal government, which has only your best interests at heart. So sleep tight tonight, knowing that your government is patiently at sifting through your records, keeping us safe from 6 month old Vietnamese babies, and answering the phone at 3am, all to keep you safe.

* as a former Social Security employee I can tell you exactly what a crock this is.


Labels: , ,

18 March 2008

American elites and you and me ... and mass idiocy

Remember that I have said several times in Sententiae that virtually all American elites, business, military, political and education, have failed America during the Bush years (not entirely Bush's fault, but still). If I needed any proof of this vast overgeneralization, here it is:

The housing fiasco.

Here's David Brooke's opinion - he's more or less a conservative:

Who’s not to blame? The mortgage brokers were out of control. Regulators were asleep. Home buyers thought they were entitled to Corian counters and a two-story great room. Everybody from Norwegian town elders to financial geniuses decided that house prices would always go up. This was an episode of mass idiocy.

And Megan McCardle of Atlantic.com has this:

Before we enter into the orgy of blame, I'd suggest that that someone was everyone, almost. Crazy Asian people who thought America was some sort of Miracle Market sent us more money than we needed for investment, inflating an asset price bubble. The Federal Reserve, complacent after more than twenty years of tame inflation, added a little kerosene to an already blazing fire. Silly people decided that real estate prices would continue rocketing upwards forever, and took on ridiculous mortgages that they had no reasonable hope of paying off. Idiot bankers thought that their enormous brains, raffish good looks, and advanced computer models had enabled them to conquer risk.

I rest my case.

Labels: , , ,

07 March 2008

Off to Spain and Portugal

For the next week Carmen and I will be in Portugal and Spain. I've done everything I could think of to prepare ... bought an MP3 player, spent most of the week trying to figure out how to make it work and downloading Thucydides' "Peloponnesian War" on it, a couple of hours debating which fountain pens to take, and about 25 minutes picking out the clothes I'll need. Oh yes. Also helped Carmen pick out a new piece of luggage.

We will fly into Lisbon and meet up with the Sobrinos, Joey and Ms Em. If they can tear themselves out of the fleshpots of Lagos and the "Rising Cock Hostel.*" We have tried to warn them, once their aging Tio and Tia arrive - that's it! The fun is over!

Oh well. Maybe Mr Sobrino will let me use his computer to post something on the blogs. Otherwise, I will talk to you all next week.

*it's actual name, Carmen informs me.

Ooops. My ethnic group is showing


Name a Scotch-Irish food. Name a Scotch-Irish holiday. In fact, name anyone who IS Scotch-Irish. Can't do it?

Well, neither can I, and I am one, at least so far as family lore goes.

And now, I am embarrassed to say, we seem to represent some kind of weird mountaineer block vote ... for Hillary Clinton. No, I didn't believe it either. Therefore it must not be true.

Though personally I am now paying a lot more attention to my grandfather's claim that my grandmother's clan was actually Hungarian gypsy.

Your Congress at work

This little quote caught my eye at the library today. It's in the latest issue of "Harpers Magazine".

Since 2005, at just ten of D.C.'s priciest restaurants, House members have spent more than $5.4 million of political funds.

That is a lot of food and fun. And worth every penny I should imagine.

They all have to go.

Labels: , ,

06 March 2008

Hillary jumps the shark

Though most people seem to think she did that some time ago. This is getting close to the point where I will not be able to vote Democratic (read: against the Republicans) in the Fall if she wins the nomination.

If she has reached the point of implying she'd rather support McCain than Obama, it is time to get rid of her.

Labels: , ,

Why I won't be upset if McCain wins

Essentially, the reaction against Bush and Bushism has set in. Nothing can turn it back. I would much prefer a Democratic victory because I think it will take that to bore down deep enough into the Federal Bureaucracy and ferret out the political hacks and incompetents who have infested it since Bush entered office. It was at its most obvious with Gonzo at the Justice Department and his string of third rate lawyers from a fourth ranked law school, but other departments have had their problems. And, there are always the clowns at the American Embassy in Hanoi who decided to split up 26 American families and make their lives hell so they could score an ideological point against the Vietnamese government.

So it is a pleasant surprise to find this in an old issue of the Washington Post by Harold Meyerson.

McCain's whole campaign is anti-Rovian. His core supporters are Republican moderates and Republican-inclined independents, and then he picks off enough conservatives to prevail. Even if he didn't have a history of rocky relations with various right-wing leaders, the very trajectory of his campaign would pose a threat to the conservative movement, notwithstanding that McCain is philosophically an heir to Barry Goldwater.

Bush has been his own nemesis and now he finds himself publicly embracing the Un-Bush, a man he repeatedly insulted and smeared in his own run for the presidency. I think that Meyerson is right in the major thrust of his argument:

With his preemptive war and seemingly permanent occupation in Iraq, and his attempt to privatize Social Security, George W. Bush pushed American conservatism past the point where the American people were willing to go -- pushed them, in fact, to the point where they recoiled at the conservative project. And with that, American conservatism shuddered to a halt. In the 2005-06 congressional session, Republicans still controlled both houses of Congress, yet they introduced no major legislation.

This exhaustion of conservatism has been apparent all along in the Republican presidential contest, where the chief point of agreement among the leading candidates has been to make permanent both the Bush tax cuts for the rich and our occupation of Iraq. The conservative agenda has been winnowed down to supporting what remains of Bushism. That's not only a losing formula for November, it also means that intellectually, conservatism is running on empty.

So - I suppose that William F. Buckley really is gone, and if it is McCain in November, I can live with that.

but I don't think it will be.

Labels: , ,

05 March 2008

Lefthanded people are superior!


You might mutter, suspecting it to be a sinister plot, but that would just be gauche of you.

So read this and ponder.


Labels: , ,

03 March 2008

Problems with immigration and citizenship

Just in case you thought my complaints about the way CIS and the State Department handled young Mickey's case was merely a private snark, it seems that Hilzoy at Obsidian wings* and Michael Ledeen at National Review Online are both hopping mad at the same type of studied indifference and bad faith, this time in cases that could literally cost a person their life.

These clowns have to go.

*home of the ever popular Sniper Kitty.

Labels: , , ,

Failed dogs

A hot new site showing that dogs are really a "failed species." Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan's link, here it is folks.

Kind of makes you misty eyed, doesn't it.

I'm getting a digital camera now so I can shoot the lummox.


Labels: ,

02 March 2008

Leningrad Cowboys addendum

Starting with the movie "The Leningrad Cowboys Go America" that I saw years ago, the special "Leningrad Cowboy" beer can that I gave to Stoly the Mad Cossack, and virtually every you tube clip I've seen of this Finnish group, the Cowboys have been raucous, crazy, and hilarious.

But not in this one.

Labels: ,

The Leningrad Cowboys do Delilah...

... with the Red Army Choir!

If you know who the Leningrad Cowboys are ... you probably should be ashamed of yourself ... but at least you will know what's in store for you if you click here.

It's positively philosophical: neo-Medieval maidens dancing, post-modern Finns with extraterrestrial haircuts, and the Cold War warriors in brown.

Welcome to the Twenty-First Century.

Don't like 'Delilah'? Try 'Sweet Home Alabama'. BTW, I think some of those former Soviets are enjoying themselves. Who would have thought it 20 years ago.


01 March 2008

What I want in a pen ... or anything else

Further proof that I am engaging in a salmon-like struggle against the flood of today's Zeitgeist, this description of a Waterman No 12 Eyedropper pen by Pier Gustafson precisely captures my ideal for any tool.

"Concise ... with the exception of the clip, it contains not one part that is not required for the function of the fountain pen."


Labels: , ,

What if I'd been born a ...

That last post got me thinking (and you were wondering what it took?): what if I'd been born a female? Well,, uh, I'd have a different name. Probably something like 'Helen' or 'Elisabeth.' Or maybe even 'Virginia.' And I wouldn't look quite so much like Mark Twain, I wouldn't have to shave and I wouldn't have to worry about this problem.

Then I wondered ... what if I'd been born a fountain pen? What would I be? And the answer came to me from reading Pen World.

I'd be a Sheaffer Flat-Top.

Here's why:

"Like the Ford Model-T (except in more colors), the Sheaffer flat-top is solid, dependable, serviceable, about as exciting as cold toast and writes like a stick. What it lacks in flash it more than makes up for in steady dependability." Rob Astyk

"Built like a tank, it is the business symbol of the '20s and one of the most rugged if not the most rugged nib of all time. Not mere sheet gold, but military-style, armor-plated gold!" Nathan Tardiff

"As the name would suggest, the Sheaffer flat-top is a reliable, square, and predictably inflexible* pen well suited to our age." Jonathan Blumenfeld

"Unconcerned with vanity, the flat-top does its duty without drawing attention to itself." Betty LeBaux

And this one, which is a bit problematic for me, but is too good to pass up:

"Conservative. Had Otto von Bismark been reincarnated as a pen, the flat-top would be the model." Pier Gustafson [a flat-top with a pickelhaub?]

And this one, from a review of a specific pen, that I hope will be true:

"The main point is that this pen, as beat up and worn out as it is, still manages to do the same job today as it was designed and built to do seventy-some years ago!" - Mike Stevens

Now if I were an automobile, I think I would be a 1965 Volkswagon Beetle like my older brother Jesse owned.

* not to be confused with stubborn.


Labels: , ,

William F. Buckley jr

I disagreed with a great many things Bill Buckley believed and wrote, yet I always admired his intellectual verve and vitality (except on those rare occasions when he used his vocabulary and syntax to obscure and befuddle). I saw him on stage at the University of Port City when I was 17 (just after the peace treaty that ended the War of the Roses). He was polished, wittily acerbic, and immensely charming. For awhile I read everything he had written. Then I got over it.

It is now immensely sad to read all the encomiums written about him by conservatives, especially at National Review Online, who have essentially repudiated much of what he stood for: an intelligent, clear eyed conservatism that understood the distinction betweens ends and means. And, I might add, in his own person came to loathe the Iraq War once he realized it was a mistake.

I was reminded of how much I'd enjoyed his long ago talk when I read this exchange with a student found on Slate.com's "Doonesbury" page.

"In what ways would your life have been different if you had been born female?"
-- student journalist

"I'd have seduced John Kenneth Galbraith and spared the world much pain."
-- William F. Buckley Jr.

Labels: , ,