Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Link Love 4

Sixteen Volts translates an article on Western codependence regarding Islam.

Following a link from Sixteen Volts, I discovered the comic strip "Cat and Girl". This particular panel struck a chord; I have lost count of the number of times I was the boy shown here.

Pope Benedict on Faith and Reason. The money line is here:
In the seventh conversation (*4V8,>4H - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, [Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus] touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (F×< 8`(T) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

Monday, August 28, 2006

I still respect Steve Sailer tremendously, but his writing on Iran of late has been borderline idiotic.

For those of you who have spent the last year in cave on Mars with your eyes shut tight and wearing cotton in your ears, Iran is a country that is (1) hell-bent on the acquisition of nuclear weapons and (2) swearing global jihad and, specifically, to wipe Israel off the map.

Sailer's response is to tap is fingers together and say, well, what do they mean really.

First it was a post comparing the conventional weaponry of Iran with that of other SW Asian countries and U. S., with no reference at all to its present effort to "go nuclear." Pardon me, but this is like someone who, confronted with an enemy armed with a machine gun, tries to take comfort in the fact his slingshot isn't all that great.

Then it was a post on trying to pick a target for an Iranian invasion from Iran's immediate neighbors and smugly asserting that Iran would never invade, say, Turkey. Of course, Israel doesn't border Iran. Neither does the U. S.

Finally, this weekend, a post (no permalink yet) that said, well, imagine if Iran conquered Mexico and Canada (presumably to introduce democracy, as we have done in Iraq and Afganistan). This is his strongest argument yet . . . until one remembers that:
(1) Iran in its public statements has not claimed to fear imminent American invasion because of Iraq and Afganistan. On the contrary, Iran probably calculates (and probably correctly) that our ongoing difficulties there make an invasion of Iran less likely.
(2) The only reason that action against Iran is even a possibility is that it is seeking nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons that Sailer insists are merely defensive.

This reminds me of the comments I submitted in response to a post by Razib Khan over at Nation Building. Razib makes the entirely reasonable point, in reference to Iran, that the nature of intra-national political competition does not select for individuals prone to suicidal risk. Fair enough. But as I wrote then:
Iran and NK ran a substantial risk in pursuing nuclear weapons in the first place. Indeed, given the demonstrated will and means of the U. S. to destroy regimes that attempt to acquire them (Saddam Hussein's), their nuclear programs were suicidally risky, once you note that they appear to be safe bets only in hindsight. So the Iranian and NK appetite for risk in the pursuit of their objectives is demonstrably substantial.
Why is it that we are to invest Iran, whose leadership seems willing to risk its very existence in the pursuit of nuclear weapons, with an almost pristine rationality once it gets them? Why is nuclear non-proliferation, a cornerstone of American foreign policy for 50 years, so glibly cast aside? Sailer writes that the idea that "we must run any risk to be safe" is false. This is a cute formulation, but unless the content of his criticism goes beyond a concern that we get the cost-benefit and risk-analysis right, it doesn't actually address the central issue: what will the effect of a nuclear-armed Iran be on American interests?

UPDATE: In fairness to Steve, he now has a new post that at least asks the right questions, although I think his determination to exclude Israel from any calculus of American interests has cramped his imagination.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Love and Money

Suppose a man asks a woman to go on a date with him. The woman has no romantic interest in this man, so she declines, but he asks her again every few weeks, suggesting different activities, hoping to catch her interest. Eventually, he offers to take her snow skiing. The woman still has no romantic interest, but she likes skiing, and skiing is too expensive for her to afford on her own, so she agrees to the ski trip.

Question: has the man done anything wrong?

According to Natalia Antonova, for a man to leverage his financial resources to win the attention of a woman, he has done something very wrong. He has somehow exploited her. How this is exploitation, when no force or fraud are used, is never explained. How a man taking a woman on a ski trip has done her injury is never explained. That the man's greater financial resources make dating him attractive is somehow inauthentic . . . and, oh yeah, this is the guy's fault.

So let's continue the story. Let's say that, over a succession of ski trips, the woman finds a side to the man that she had not seen before, a side that does stir her romantic interest. So when the man proposes marriage, she accepts. That the man is financially stable is part of the practical side to her acceptance, but if he had not been so, he never would have had the opportunity to display his non-financial desirability.

The reason I tell this story is that it is ours, my wife's and mine. Nine years and two children later, we are very happy.

Now to be fair to Miss Antonova, the story she tells is quantitatively different, though perhaps not qualitatively so. She describes an Englishman visiting Ukraine, apparently for the expressed purpose of meeting women. It appears he would like to find a wife there, but in the mean time, he is content with casual hook-ups, and clearly expects sexual favors in return for the things his money provides. (In my own case, in contrast, I asked nothing but the pleasure of my future wife's company. Indeed, such was my restraint that she had to ask me to kiss her. Poor woman.)

Note that Ukraine is poverty-stricken, but not famished. It's per-capita GDP is 1/6 that of the U. S., if I have my numbers right. While that certainly makes it poor, it does not seem that anyone faces imminent starvation. This is an important point: when one's very survival is at stake, his or her moral principles can be tested beyond their breaking point, and I don't want to sound as if I don't appreciate this. But if moral principles they truly be, they will be stronger than mere speed bumps on the way to a prosperous life-style. At some point, the Ukrainian women Miss Antonova writes about must be held morally accountable for their own decisions, yet Miss Antonova herself seems unable to do this.

She does, however, possess ample scorn, contempt, and hatred for the Englishman (hereafter, "fat-ass"). For he is indeed fat. And ugly. And socially inept to the point of being repulsive. In short, he is the kind of man who stands little if any chance of winning the romantic attention of a woman in the West. But according to Miss Antonova, fat-ass's greatest sin is desiring a woman who is obedient, which Miss Antonova confounds with being financially dependent. Now I will not attempt here to mount a concerted defense of male headship, for certainly I would fail to convince such as Miss Antonova of anything except my own atavism. But I will point out that, theory aside, a man's de-facto authority in marriage is the established pattern even in America and is expected in one degree or another by the vast majority of women. (Miss Antonova, being unmarried, may not know this.)

Likewise, financial dependence (not the same as "obedience," though I grant the correlation). Again, feminist ideology aside, most women contemplating children would very much like their husbands to be the family "breadwinner," allowing their wives to devote themselves to their offspring. In due course, the women become "financially dependent." This is not without risk to women, given the culture of the day. My point here is not to defend, but to describe, and to point out that fat-ass's objective, while stated more bluntly than we are accustomed to, is not unusual.

So that rounds up the case against fat-ass. And in the end, the invective poured out on the fat-asses of the world seems far out of proportion to their actual crimes. For I suspect that their most unforgivable crime is to seek an escape from the loneliness to which Western standards of desirability have exiled them. They have spent their lives suffering rejection and ridicule for wanting what so many others around them have, but which has been consistently denied to them in their own country because, here, there is no market for middle-age, no market for overweight, no market for anomie, no market for mediocrity. I do not fault Miss Antonova for finding fat-ass undesirable; after all, I don't want to date him either. But I can look on a fellow human being and say, "There, but for the grace of God . . ."

Link Love 3

My immune system is for crap. I take echinacea, which probably helps, but does not prevent recurring colds, like I felt coming on last night. I'm trying Zicam to see if I can head it off.

Life with daughters: you get a shaving cut one morning and realize that the only thing to put on your chin are Stawberry Shortcake bandaids. No doubt, my students will be amused.

Sgt Raymond exegetes The Parable of the Talents.

Steve Sailer and Arnold Kling each ask, in different ways, can teh multicultural paradigm work when Muslims are involved? Short answer: no.

Yesterday I got into a discussion in the comment section of the Natalia Antonova blog. You can judge for yourself the relative strength of our arguments, but my point here is that, while defending her perspective valiantly, Ms. Antonova, as of this writing, avoided the snarkyness, ad hominen, and deliberate misrepresentation so common in such forums. I just thought that deserved praise.

Surely we could write a list of rules for fruitful and civil discussion on the internet:
  • Seek common ground. Try to find things your opponent says that you can concede. It will make you more credible on the subjects you disagree on.
  • Be humble. Don't assume that you understood your opponent perfectly. Be willing to ask for clarification. In the mean time, try to give what he says the most charitable interpretation possible.

  • Update: Ms. Antonova just summarily dismissed me from her blog. Maybe I don't know jack about how to have a civil and fruitful discussion on the internet . . . .

    Monday, August 21, 2006

    Give Me Your Tired and Poor Misrepresentations

    Jerry Bowyer over at TCS writes in defense of amnesty:
    As the argument runs, we all like immigrants just fine, thank you. But what we don't like is illegality. [This] argument is basically circular. The debate is about whether we should change our laws. If we liberalize immigration rules, then a number of immigrants will no longer be in violation of the law. They won't be "illegals."
    To the extent that some politicians attempt to divorce their discussion of illegal immigration from the number and source of illegal immigrants, Mr. Bowyer has a point. But no serious commentator on immigration does this. The number and source are exactly what "enforcement first" advocates are concerned about, as Mr. Bowyer should know perfectly well.
    Those of us who believe importing massive numbers of low-wage workers from countries with traditions of economic paternalism and political corruption might be bad for the existing citizenry of the United States are always asked, "Do you really want to engage in mass deportations? Do you!?! If not, then you must agree to an amnesty in exchange for securing the border and enforcing the law . . . and we'll really do it this time, not like in '86 when we lied out our ass to get you to agree to the last amnesty. This time you can trust us."
    No, Mr. Bowyer, those of us who want to see immigration law enforced, whatever our commitment to law and order in the abstract, are specifically opposed to the result of the illegality. And we want to see concrete evidence of the political will to stop the slow-motion invasion and conquest of our country by a foreign people before we consider the normalization of illegal immigrants already here.

    Thursday, August 17, 2006

    The few people that read this blog may remember that my wife and I are engaged in the "landscaping project from hell," part of which has been to replace our deck. My wife asked me to calculate the places to drill the holes to mount the posts between the rails such that all the gaps between the posts are the same and no more than 3 and 15/16 inches (per county building code). Below is the Matlab program I wrote to make this calculations, given the length of the rail (rl), the thickness of the posts (pw), and the maximum space between the posts (ms):

    clear;close all;
    format rat;
    % Note: all units are in inches
    pw = 1 + 5/8; % post width
    ms = 3+15/16; % maximum space
    rl = 59.5; % actual rail length
    ps = pw+ms; % minimum post spacing
    erl = rl + pw; % effective rail length, since rail thickness not present on each end
    np = ceil(erl/ps); % minimum number of posts+1, rounded up to nearest whole number
    aps = erl/np; % actual post spacing determined by whole number of posts
    i = (aps-pw/2):aps:rl; % This is a vector containing the floating point measurements
    x = round(i*16)/16; % Rounded to nearest 16th of an inch
    y = floor(x); % The whole number
    z = (x - y); % The decimal. Should appear as a fraction
    total = [y' z'] % Output

    These calculations can be done by hand by interpreting the code as algebraic expressions. Note that "ceil()" means to round the number UP to the nearest whole number. The Matlab vector means that the first whole should be drilled through the rail aps-pw/2 inches from one end, and each successive hole should be drilled aps inches along. The last four lines are used to round the decimal inches to the nearest 16th of an inch, and to print the results.

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    Why Congressmen Like Immigration

    A former aide to the presidential campaign of Mexico's Vincente Fox, Fredo Arias-King handled many of its foreign relations. Now with the Center for Immigration Studies, he writes of his experience dealing with American Congressmen on immigration and other issues. While acknowledging the political motivations favoring unrestricted immigration (Democrats like Latino immigrants because they vote Democrat; Republicans support them because their business patrons like cheap labor), Arias-King also detected the personal motivations of Congressmen for preferring Latinos over their existing constituents:
  • Latinos seldom challenge or thwart their politicians' quest for power and wealth.
  • Latinos are prone to patronage relations with their goverments.
    HT: Steve Sailer
  • Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    "Diversity Policy Memorandum"

    General T. Michael Mosely, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, as sent out "EO Letter to Airmen," which says in part:
    From all walks of life--rural farms, inner cities, and every place in-between--young Americans are drawn to the call of Integrity, Service and excellence. We celebrate this diversity, recognizing that such a mix of experience leads to a breadth of perspective and broader horizons, and ultimately innovative ways to maximize our combat capabilities.
    Let's pretend, for a moment, that this letter is really about geography and experience. The letter goes on:
    harnessing such magnificent differences into an effective, coherent team takes solid leadership, quality training and a conscious effort toward mutual respect on all our parts. Tolerating harassment of any type is no different than committing the offense. As we become a leaner, more lethal force, we simply have no place for such potentially criminal or divisive behavior.
    Mmmm . . . so the Air Force, under General Mosely's command, has made a "conscious effort" to prevent city folk from harassing country boys? That it performs "quality training" to prevent the English Lit geeks from assaulting the wrench-and-screwdriver types? But here's what's really going on:
    We are all Airmen, and under enemy fire the race, religion, sex or geographic origin of the Airmen fighting next to us is irrelevant. We expect you to exhibit a similar whole-hearted respect toward your fellow Airmen.
    So it's not really about experience. It is about the litany: race, sex, religion, with "geographic origin" a recent addition, probably referring to immigrant status. So I have some questions for the General:

    1. What counts as "divisive behavior"? If the coach of the USAFA football team says that blacks run fast, is he violating your expectations? If so, then how, exactly, does the mere fact of "blackness" "maximize our combat capabilities"?
    2. When a Muslim sergeant in the U.S. Army throws a grenade into a tent, killing two and wounding 14 of his "fellow soldiers", how, exactly, is his religion "irrelevant"?

    Let's continue:
    The United States' first national motto, "E pluribus unum," means "out of many, one." The motto . . . subsequently took on a new meaning as people from all over the glove immigrated here, making the U.S. a multicultural "melting pot."
    It appears the General has difficulty maintaining consistency in a single sentence. The phrase "melting pot" originally meant that a single national and cultural identity would be forged from the "melting" of the various immigrant groups in the New World. But "multiculturalism" means exactly the opposite: that the various immigrant groups retain their national and cultural identities.

    If the general had been honest, he could have said that, given the reality of diversity in the Armed Forces, harassment and discrimination are inimical to its effectiveness. No argument here; indeed, the military has always been ahead of the social curve on racial integration. Nor would I deny that individuals of different races, religions, and sexes have made their contribution to the military mission. But the General goes beyond this. We are to celebrate diversity, yet no evidence is every presented that diversity, in and of itself, is an asset, while much evidence exists that it carries the potential for liability--as the General's memorandum implies. And, oh yeah, we must never actually notice the ways we are diverse! (As Coach Fisher deBerry learned the hard way.)

    And of course, the General's veiled threat is necessary to compel everyone to submit to obvious lies.

    Sunday, August 13, 2006

    The Strong Do What They Will . . .

    In a TAC symposium, Jeffrey Hart writes, inter alia:
    As an exercise in the use of the “moral imagination”—a term coined by Burke—let us cut through verbiage to concrete fact: if you had a child with Type I diabetes, a devastating disease, and I said I had a few cells that would cure her, would you turn this offer down?
    No, I would not turn them down. Come to think of it, if someone were to offer me Jeffrey Hart, I wouldn't turn it down either. Proving . . . what? That perhaps I am not the best person to weigh the life of a stranger against the well-being of my own daughter? That the "verbiage" (Hart's derisive term for moral argument) about "a few cells" (Hart's dismissive phrase to describe a human embryo) might be all that stands in the way of our committing a terrible injustice?

    Seriously, Hart reminded me of Thucydides, in The Melian Dialogue:
    . . . you know as well as we do that, when these matters are discussed by practical people, the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept.
    I am not without sympathy for the Athenian view as expressed above. Specifically, it nicely approximates, as the title of my blog should imply, my own view of foreign policy: that abstract morality is no substitute for power, and the will to use it. But let's be honest: Hart's moral position is to, in fact, reject moral reasoning in favor of family sentiment.

    So okay: an embryo is not likely to stir our sympathy and fellow-feeling as the fully developed person for whom Hart and others propose to sacrifice it. Fair enough. But the tradeoff Hart proposes is speculative. In fact (and readers are encouraged to correct me if my information is wrong or out-of-date), Hart's "few cells" will not cure diabetes or anything else. The actual achievements of stem-cell therapies have all used adult stem cells. So what is really at stake is the desire of researchers and pharmaceutical companies to be unencumbered by moral considerations in their pursuit of the next grant or fortune.

    I don't think I want to go where this road will lead.

    Thursday, August 10, 2006

    Link Love 2

    Classes start today, so I doubt I will have as much time to maintain this blog as I did over the summer. However, there are a couple of articles from way back that I wanted to recommend and briefly discuss. Why Theology is a Simple Muddle, by Lee Harris over at TCS. This a lengthy and wide-ranging article concerning the creation-evolution-ID debate. Harris discusses what constitutes science, how scientific consensus is determined, and the potential theological consequences of evolution. He writes many provocative things, not all of which I agree with. His criticism of Karl Popper is not compelling, in my view, and his characterization of Calvinism is at odds with what Calvin actually wrote on the subject of evangelism. But the money line in the essay is this:
    It is scientifically impermissible to point to some biological datum and say, "Ah ha-this could not be the result of the natural selection of fortuitous, that is, random, variations. Ergo, we must assume that an intelligent agent was responsible for this particular characteristic, otherwise inexplicable by Darwinian science." Rather, the most that can be made of such Darwinian anomalies is to create a list of problems that challenge the normal science of evolutionary biology as it is currently understood by the scientific community; but no list of problems, however long and however perplexing, can, by itself, create a paradigm shift away from Darwin's theory to a new scientific paradigm. This list of problems may well make some scientists uneasy or uncomfortable with the explanatory power of Darwin's theory, but mere psychological dissatisfaction with a scientific paradigm can never create the kind of scientific revolution that is necessary to produce a Kuhnian paradigm shift.
    This statement seems undeniable to me, and it is what has always bothered me about I.D. Not that the universe or the cell were not designed, but that merely showing the inadequacy of the Darwinian paradigm to explain them does not, in and of itself, establish design. Which brings me to another article on TCS, Denying the Undeniable Design, by Douglas Kern. Kern essentially makes a reductio ad absurdum argument by having a Darwinian scientist make all the usual criticisms of I.D. . . . but in the face of the discovery of God's actual signature on the cell itself! The value of the essay is to ask, what if God, or some higher intelligence, really did design the cell. What evidence would scientifically establish this fact? The answer appears to be that science has no standards of evidence regarding design . . . but that doesn't mean that we can't recognize it when we see it.

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    Link Love 1

    "Culture and Demographic Crisis", by Frederick Turner, writing for TCS. Reflecting on how a visiting Martian might wonder why humanity appears to choose mystical and transcendent religions to give order and meaning to the cosmos and their place in it, instead of secular humanism or existentialism, he writes:
    Only after a study of the evolutionary history of the species would the Martian come to the shocking realization that the reason such sensible, inexpensive and prudent views did not prevail across the globe was that every society that adopted them had died out from lack of natural increase. He would note that all the cultures of the present day that had taken the intelligent position on meaning were undergoing demographic collapse and would, in geological time, be extinct tomorrow.
    This is a point that often seems to escape the otherwise fine writers over at GNXP. While recognizing the global threat of Islamism, they miss that the secularized society they favor may not, and probably doesn't, have the internal fortitude to adequately resist it. Mr. Turner proceeds to make a mistake of his own, namely advocate open borders as opposed to "closing the border," as if these were our only options. We can, and should, take note of our demographics and how the kinds of immigrants we let in may adversely affect our institutions.
    Update: In the comments, Razib of GNXP writes, among other things:
    I do not favor a secular society in that that is a society where the majority of individuals reject the supernatural. That simply won't happen (even those who are against "organized religon" are usually spiritual or vaguely theistic, not atheists). I simply favor one where atheists can be left alone to flourish and make their contribution to posterity.
    My apologies for the misrepresentation.

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    The Wit and Wisdom of Louisa May Alcott

    From Chapter 28 of Little Women:
    [Meg March] knew her husbands income, and she loved to feel that he trusted her, not only with his happiness, but what some men seem to value more--his money.
    From Chapter 37:
    [Amy March] knew she looked well, she loved to dance, she felt that her foot was on her native heath in a ballroom, and enjoyed the delightful sense of power which comes when young girls first descovver the new and lovely kingdom they are born to rule by virtue of beauty, youth, and womanhood.