CHAOS MANOR MAIL
Mail 254 April 21 - 27, 2003
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Note that if you don't put a name in the bottom of the letter I have to get one from the header. This takes time I don't have, and may end up with a name and address you didn't want on the letter. Do us both a favor: sign your letters to me with the name and address (or no address) as you want them posted.
I try to answer mail, but mostly I can't get to all of it. I read it all, although not always the instant it comes in. I do have books to write too... I am reminded of H. P. Lovecraft who slowly starved to death while answering fan mail.
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April 21, 2003
Good description of the assault on
Dear Dr. Pournelle: Not sure if you had seen this: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/SciTech/columbia030418.html or not. Short form is that the flight test instrumentation data recorder picked up a temperature spike on ascent consistent with the foam impact theory. NASA has got to get its act together on repair capabilities. Or we can just turn over the space program to the Navy. WE know how to fix ships.
V/R: Mike McDaniel
Precisely. Get NASA out of the operations business and turn that over t0 someone who holds people RESPONSIBLE. But in fact what will happen is promotions for those responsible, and early retirement for anyone who warned that there was a problem. NASA is NASA.
From: Stephen M. St. Onge firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: April 19th, 2003 subject: Interesting news
Apparently, we've pulled off a major intelligence
And for a good article on the lessons of the Iraq campaign by Victor Davis Hanson: http://www.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson041703.asp
DELENDAM ESSE SAUDI ARABIA!
France appears to be feeling the financial impact of its position on Iraq:
I cannot see how any one could missread Keegans article. I read it in the original version, in The Daily Telegraph paper edition, one of the perks of living over here in the UK. His comment on Saddam's defense strategy was reasonable comment.
If I had any disagreement it would have been to say that, given the overwhelming air superiority of the allies it is unlikely that a mobile defense would work e.g. see the Falaise gap in WW2.A more effective approach would have been small stay behind parties armed with AT weapons the objective being to inflict rising casualties on the US forces until your politicians began to call for retreat, or until the British forces could be sent to clear the way and take the casualties. One of the advantages of a volunteer force is the political side effects of casualties are reduced as the victims volunteered for action (actually many troops in the UK forces were worried that it would be over before they arrived.) It does appear that your politicians have not yet understood this.
I do disagree with your initial views on the need for the war, arguably as Saddam's regime committed Genocide, and Genocide is against International, UK domestic and I suspect US domestic law it was required that the US and UK act to stop it and remove Saddam. It is a fundamental tenet of UK law that it is the duty of any subject to act to stop or prevent a breach of the Law (in fact it is an offence not to.)The law is applied by the courts sensibly ie you are not expected to stop an armed robbery if you are not armed yourselves and you are expected to use "the minimum effective force needed but given that in the heat of the moment this may not be precisely calculated" This means using nuclear weapons is a no-no in any case where the enemy is not so armed.) It does follow that the US/UK had the ability to stop Saddam, and failed until recently to act, therefore they are guilty of failing to prevent an offence, the recent action was overdue and has now rectified the situation I also belive that many of the antiwar protesters are racists-"Freedoms which we have are not to be granted to others ie Muslims, because they do not need them"
I excuse you Jerry as I belive that your arguments were based on a different premise-all deserve Jeffersonian democracy and freedom but this was not the time or place to fight as the consequences for the US are to great in tat the result is empire-a useful word that.) If you get the impression that your politicians fill me with cynicism you are wrong all politicians do so. That is the result of age!
Yours faithfully Andrew Deacon _ Hotmail messages direct to your mobile phone http://www.msn.co.uk/mobile
I thought this is an interesting except from a recent Op-Ed in the New York Post, the link to the article follows:
"A few news organs, including this newspaper, featured reports that the established media felt were cheerleading in their optimism. But reality proved the "cheerleaders" right and the pessimists wrong.
The result has been a major shift in American media/news habits. While CBS viewership dropped 15 percent from pre-war totals, ABC fell 6 percent and NBC gained an anemic 3 percent, the Fox News Channel audience rose 236 percent while CNN and MSNBC (with smaller audiences) recorded similarly impressive gains. "
|This week:||Tuesday, April
This is worth your attention:
First chapter of 'The Geography of Thought' http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/20/books/chapters/
By RICHARD NISBETT
The Syllogism and the Tao
More than a billion people in the world today claim intellectual inheritance from ancient Greece. More than two billion are the heirs of ancient Chinese traditions of thought. The philosophies and achievements of the Greeks and Chinese of 2,500 years ago were remarkably different, as were the social structures and conceptions of themselves. And, as I hope to show in this chapter, the intellectual aspects of each society make sense in light of their social characteristics.
The Ancient Greeks and Agency
There is an ancient theater at Epidaurus in Greece that holds fourteen thousand people. Built into a hillside, the theater has a spectacular view of mountains and pine trees. Its acoustics are such that it is possible to hear a piece of paper being crumpled on the stage from any location in the theater. Greeks of the classical period, from the sixth to the third century B.C., traveled for long periods under difficult conditions to attend plays and poetry readings at Epidaurus from dawn till dusk for several days in a row.
A book worth contemplating, agree or not.
And a letter from another discussion group:
I am a founding member of http://www.clubforgrowth.org/ We believe that a person who is making $20,000/year does not need a $200 tax rebate from Tom Daschle, they need a $30,000/year job. And someone who is unemployed does not need 13 more weeks of unemployment benefits, they need a job. Right now the United States economy is perilously close to falling into the deflationary death-spiral that Japan fell into, and we need a strong combination of fiscal and monetary measures to make sure that does not happen.
Beyond that, the theory behind the Bush tax cuts is that they will cause United States government revenues to be higher, not lower. For example, every cut in the capital gains tax in modern times has caused capital gains tax revenues to go up. As for our debt/GDP ratio, it is far from a historic high. Indeed, one interpretation of America's historically high bond prices (= historically low interest rate on U.S. government debt) is that the market is demanding more of it!
RE: Wealth distribution, you really have to decide if you want a dynamic economy or one that you feel is "fair". In a dynamic economy you will see 20-somethings driving Porsche 911s past minimum-wage workers waiting at bus stops. We can adopt, say, Germany's more-"fair" taxation and more "fair" social benefits, but you had better be ready to accept Germany's 10%+ unemployment rate and general stagnation.
Also, the United States simply has much more "voluntary" poverty than Europe does. Our entire underclass is an example. What could one possibly do with one's *economy* to make a household comprised of an unmarried and illiterate 19-year-old and her 4-year-old and a two-year old children un-poor? (In terms of money--in terms of a more-important form of wealth (children), she is *already* richer than I am.) And besides such pathological (and typically multigenerational) examples, essentially every "striving artist" is a member of the "voluntary poor". They waitress just enough to make ends meet, and all raising their wages would do is have them work less and train/audition more. (I know some of these people since they seem to take up residence in my various homes...) America contains an amazing number of people whose focus is not rendering unto Caesar, at least not while they are young.
As I have said in previous posts, I expect the main payoff the United States will get from Iraq is via much-lower world oil prices. (But the business that Bechtel, Halliburton, et. al. will get in Iraq won't hurt either.) Thus it does not matter to us who owns the fields or who owns the oil, as long as a lot of oil is pumped per day from those fields.
I don't see that we owe the Iraqis more than we have already given them (freedom from Saddam), but sorting out their country for them probably makes good political and economic sense, if they don't give us too hard a time about us doing them favors they could not do for themselves.
Anyway, I don't see why every developed country has to have a high-tax-rates/high-social-benefits regimen. I'm for "diversity".
By the way, I am against the outsized executive pay packages for the same reason J.P. Morgan was--they are a "short" indicator.
Also from another forum:
<<The most recent study found that 30 percent of Asian American students in California and 13 percent of white students met UC eligibility requirements; the figure was a disheartening 4 percent for Latinos and 3 percent for African Americans.>>
He cleverly sweeps under the rug the underlying reasons for this. Most often it is failure to take the required coursework while in HS. Only a small percentage of HS grads are ineligible solely on the basis of test scores.
This is California's dirty little secret: students make choices in HS that influence their eligibility, but we have to pretend that it is all the fault of some elitists in Princeton. And spend fortunes on programs that do not address this issue.
Obvious solution: drop all coursework requirements for entrance to UC!!!
Which needs no comment...
But some data:
This is the hispanic iq in the Vietnam Experience Study (fairly representative samples) from 1985/86
White 3556 103
Black 502 85
Hispanic 181 92
The sources are reliable. The interpretation is another story, and one I won't attempt here.
[Pournelle said] "Race isn't the problem. The American culture can be and has been assimilated by every race known to mankind."
Others have said similar things in View. I think this is substantially false.
Or, slightly expanded: although individuals from many ethnic groups can find some kind of niche in American culture, there is reason to believe that transplantation of many Western social institutions requires certain _distributions_ of psychological traits ( personality and cognitive) in the target population, and those requirements are often unsatisfied.
People are not the same everywhere, the differences have social significance, and the socially significant differences are not purely cultural. Relevant gene frequencies available upon request.
This is worth a lot more discussion than I have time to give it. Do note that my quoted statement is not in flat contradiction to what follows, and it is possible to agree with Cochran and what I said as well; but Cochran argues that it is substantially false for large groups.
But that, I thought, was pretty well my point in the first place: importing large cultural blocks can not only result in indigestible lumps in our culture, but may in fact destroy it.
The US culture isn't weak and pathetic, and many countries consider US culture a weapon of mass cultural destruction; the question is, whether what is popularly supposed to be US culture, of the kind that pervades much of the world now, is itself compatible with a republic of limited and cheap self government. The US not only tolerated but encouraged considerable cultural variety, including diversities in welfare philosophy and even legal racial segregation. We don't have to be homogenous; but there does need to be an underlying unity.
One of the things we must be able to agree to is to lose an election and not take to the streets. Another is local laws that we really hate are still the law. I could go on with a long list of required civic virtues, and perhaps one day I had better since they don't seem to be taught in our schools any longer...
Once, while doing research for a play, I did extensive research into the question of why Shakespeare is the most produced and imitated playwright in history and other Elizabethans, (including my protagonist, Christopher Marline) have failed to meet the mark. In those times theatre was not just entertainment but also information distribution. Most people couldn't read. Ol' Bill and the rest were not particularly imaginative in their selection of material. If they were writing today, it would be television series and movies of the week. "Romeo and Juliet" was based upon real events, as was "Otello". Marlowe took both parts of "Tamberlane" (thus producing the first sequel) from a book in Archbishop Parker's library at Cambridge.
Bill's stuff survives because it still speaks to us in a very personal way. He knew not just how to tell a story but to make it tug at the heartstrings and engage us personally. His use of language, when language was everything (and had to be shouted to the rafters) was simply unparalleled. Now Chris Marlowe had the language (it was called Marlowe's mighty line) but his choice of materials was literally so bloody minded with a level of gore that wouldn't be permitted in a bad horror film or action thriller today that few of his plays are seen now. You can always find Shakespeare. Marlowe's roommate, Thomas Kyd, and the others of that period are simply unreadable by today's standards.
All of this at the time was popular culture or it wouldn't still be around helping people produced PhD dissertations. The same is true of most of the alleged" greats". We only care about it now because it was such a big deal then. Read most of this material today and you quickly learn the value of a good editor. The market is a very cruel place. Most classics survive because they are beneficiaries of a government subsidy called "required reading".
I have a set of The Great Books which I dip into from time to time. Most of it is translated, of course, but as far as I can tell, these works survive because they have a universal quality and are well written. You need both. Army field manuals are well written but not very exciting to most people. Formerly "great authors" like Fenimore Cooper and Sir Walter Scott (both of whom I've endured lately in the cause of researching my current book) seem to have survived for lack of better alternatives. Reading them is like swimming in sludge.
Before you dismiss popular culture entirely you should recall Nick Meyer's snide little line in Star Trek IV about Jackie Susann and Harold Robbins being considered "the greats" by a future generation. At least their stories were original and they knew how to hold the reader's attention. Only time will tell if Nick was correct of course.
Sincerely, Francis Hamit
Well, I disagree about Sir Walter Scott, who remains quite readable. Quintin Durward (about Louis XI the Spider King) is an excellent story, and so are many of Scott's old border tales. What most people don't remember is that novelists had to spend a lot of time on details, because most readers had never been to France, didn't know what the Oriflame was, hadn't been to museums to see armor and the like, and had neither newsreels nor TV nor even illustrated books. Like Jane Austin, Scott has to spend a lot of time describing things that a modern novelist can assume everyone has seen on TV.
Jacqueline Susanne wrote rather elegantly, and her novel about Judy Garland is quite poignant. She may not have been Shakespeare, but she wasn't the hack that most teachers (unpublished teachers, in fact) tried to say she was. And Harold Robbins could tell stories.
I don't recall dismissing popular culture. As a science fiction writer how could I? I tell stories for a living. Singing for my supper. Or as I said in my Britannica article on Science Fiction, we're a bit like the old bards who used to go from warrior campfire to warrior campfire, and say "Fill my cup with wine and fill my plate with meat, and I'll tell you a story about a virgin and a bull..."
April 23, 2003
The following on Windows Media Player privacy is long. To skip it, click here.
I don't know how much to be concerned about:
Serious privacy problems in Windows Media Player for Windows XP
by Richard M. Smith http://www.ComputerBytesMan.com
I found a number of serious privacy problems with Microsoft's Windows Media Player (WMP) for Windows XP. A number of design choices were made in WMP which allow Microsoft to individually track what DVD movies consumers are watching on their Windows PC. These problems which introduced in version 8 of WMP which ships preinstalled on all Windows XP systems. In particular, the privacy problems with WMP version 8 are:
- Each time a new DVD movie is played on a computer, the WMP software contacts a Microsoft Web server to get title and chapter information for the DVD. When this contact is made, the Microsoft Web server is giving an electronic fingerprint which identifies the DVD movie being watched and a cookie which uniquely identifies a particular WMP player. With this two pieces of information Microsoft can track what DVD movies are being watched on a particular computer.
- The WMP software also builds a small database on the computer hard drive of all DVD movies that have been watched on the computer.
- There does not appear to be any option in WMP to stop it from phoning home when a DVD movie is viewed. In addition, there does not appear any easy method of clearing out the DVD movie database on the local hard drive.
Technical Details =================
When a DVD movie is played by the WMP, one of the first thing that WMP does is to query via the Internet a Microsoft server for information about the DVD. The query is made using the standard HTTP protocol that is also used by Web browsers like Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator.
Using a packet sniffer I was able to observe WMP making these queries to a Microsoft server each time a new DVD movie was played. The packet sniffer also showed the movie information which was returned to WMP by the Microsoft servers. The first HTTP GET request sent by WMP identified the movie being played. For example, an HTTP GET request is made for this URL for the "Dr. Strangelove" DVD:
The hex numbers at the end of the URL are an electronic fingerprint for the DVD table of contents which uniquely identify the "Dr. Strangelove" DVD.
This URL is sent to WindowsMedia.com, Microsoft's Web site dedicated to the WMP software.
The HTTP GET request also included a ID number in cookie which uniquely identifies my WMP player. Here's what this cookie looks like:
By default, this cookie is anonymous. That is, no personal information is associated with the cookie value. However, if a person signs up for the Windows Media newsletter, their email address will be associated with their WindowsMedia.com cookie. For example, when I signed for the Windows Media newsletter, the following URL was sent to Microsoft servers:
The same windowsmedia.com cookie value will be sent back to Microsoft servers when signing up for the newsletter and when a DVD moive is played. In addition, using various well-known "cookie synch" tricks, an email address can be associated with a cookie value at any time.
Also when subscribing to the Windows Media newsletter, I was encouraged by an email message from the Microsoft newsletter department to create a Passport account based on my email address. In theory, yet more personal information from Passport could be matched with what DVD movies I have watched. There is no evidence however that Microsoft is making this connection.
The WindowsMedia.com cookie was assigned to my computer the first time I ran WMP. The lifetime of the cookie was set to about 18 months. This cookie gives Microsoft the ability to track the DVD movies that I watch on my computer.
After a series of redirects from the WindowsMedia.Com server, information about the "Dr. Strangelove" movie was returned in this XML file:
WMP extracted movie information from this file and then added this information to a database file, named wmplibrary_v_0_12.db, which is located on my hard disk in the directory " C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\Media Index". I didn't see any method of removing movie information from this file, so it appears to me that the file keeps a complete record of all movies watched that have ever been watched on my computer.
- Microsoft can be used DVD title information for direct marketing purposes. For example, the WMP start-up screen or email offers can be customized to offer new movies to a WMP user based on previous movies they have watched.
- Microsoft can be keeping aggregrate statistics about what DVD movies are the most popular. This information can be published as weekly or monthly "top ten" lists.
- Microsoft might be doing nothing with the DVD information. (In my discussions with Microsoft, I was told this option is their current practice.)
Note: The Video Privacy Protection Act of the United States prevents video rental stores from using movie titles for direct marketing purposes. The letter of this law does not a pply to Microsoft because they are not a video rental store. However, clearly the spirit of the law is that companies should not be using movie title information for marketing purposes.
I believe that the Microsoft should remove the DVD movie information feature from WMP version 8 altogether. The value of feature seems very small given that almost all DVD movies include a built-in chapter guide. In addition, the Microsoft movie information feature is not available when DVD movies are shown in full-screen which is how DVD are typically watched.
If Microsoft feels that this feature is important to leave in WMP, then I think it should be turned off by default. The feature can be made privacy-friendly very easily, by having WMP never send in cookie information with movie title requests. This change will prevent Microsoft from tracking individual movie viewing choices.
Vendor Response ===============
Response from the Windows Digital Media Division of Microsoft Corporation is available here:
Thanks to Ian Hopper of the Associated Press for bringing this issue to the attention of the author.
Digital Media in Windows XP http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/windowsxp.asp
Media Player for Windows XP Privacy Statement http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/software/v8/privacy.asp
The RealJukeBox monitoring system http://www.computerbytesman.com/privacy/realjb.htm
TiVo's Data Collection and Privacy Practices http://www.privacyfoundation.org/privacywatch/report.asp?id=62&action=0
Internet Explorer SuperCookies bypass P3P and cookie controls http://www.computerbytesman.com/privacy/supercookie.htm
Video Privacy Protection Act http://www.accessreports.com/statutes/VIDEO1.htm
Bill Gate's memo on Trustworthy computing memo http://www.computerbytesman.com/security/billsmemo.htm
And I don't intend to panic. Actually, I use PowerDVD to watch DVD movies on my computer, and I do not believe there is such a thing as an undeletable data base. I am sure many readers know far more than I do about these things.
This came into my mail a little bit ago:
I find this quote from John Adams absolutely remarkable. He wrote it to a friend when he was only 19 years old.
"All that part of Creation that lies within our observation is liable to change," Adams began.
Even mighty states and kingdoms are not exempted. If we look into history, we shall find some nations rising from contemptible beginnings and spreading their influence, until the whole globe is subjected to their ways. When they have reached the summit of grandeur, some minute and unsuspected cause commonly affects their ruin, and the empire of the world is transferred to some other place. Immortal Rome was at first but an insignificant village, inhabited only by a few abandoned ruffians, but by degrees it rose to a stupendous height, and excelled in arts and arms all the nations that preceded it. But the demolition of Carthage (what one should think should have established it in supreme dominion) by removing all danger, suffered it to sink into debauchery, and made it at length an easy prey to Barbarians.
England immediately upon this began to increase (the particular and minute cause of which I am not historian enough to trace) in power and magnificence, and is now the greatest nation upon the globe.
Soon after the Reformation a few people came over into the new world for conscience sake. Perhaps this (apparently) trivial incident may transfer the great seat of empire into America. It looks likely to me. For if we can remove the turbulent Gallics, our people according to exactest computations, will in another century, become more numerous than England itself. Should this be the case, since we have (I may say) all the naval stores of the nation in our hands, it will be easy to obtain the mastery of the seas, and then the united force of all Europe, will not be able to subdue us. The only way to keep us from setting up for ourselves is to disunite us. Divide et impera. Keep us in distinct colonies, and then, some great men in each colony, desiring the monarchy of the whole, they will destroy each others' influence and keep the country in equilibrio. “
Adams has always been my favorite intellectual among the Framers. He should have been the first Attorney General rather than VP.
I'm busy making up notes for a talk on this topic, to be given to a conference on genetics and anthropology this Friday. So I'm busy thinking about it. One of the interesting implications is that we might be able to test for certain genes that have strong effect on behavior and sort; even if a random draft of Sicilians tends to produce an unmilitary army, a suitably sorted subset might do fine.
In the same vein, even though a free society might be unsustainable if everyone voted in country X, it might work if we let the proper, genetically screened 60% vote. Strikes me that there in something in this idea to offend just about everyone.
On an entirely different note, it appears there are fundamentally different patterns of adaptation to high altitude in Andean Indians and in Tibetans. The Tibetan strategy works better, produces fatter and healthier babies - probably because the Tibetans have been there a lot longer. Thinking about this, I realized that there is a way to make life better in Bolivia over the long haul.
We do know of genetic adaptation, some fairly complex, among species of animals. Siberian Huskies are not like Freedom Poodles or Springer Spaniels in temperament or adaptability to living with people, although all those can interbreed.
We don't think in such terms about the breeds of mankind. As you say, there may be something in there to offend everyone.
Wasn't polyandry common in Tibet before the Chinese Han invasion?
One might argue that British schools produce a worse product than do the American schools. Or it may be a tossup. I do note that the British and indeed European schools are more along the lines of what I understood of Fred's comments. "Teach them what they will use in their lives."
The tough questions are, "How do we know if a young kid is going to go on to advanced education or turn into a waitress?" and "How do we know this kid is going to go on for advanced studies in physics rather than the arts?" The European approach is "test 'em early and often" then tailor their education to what might be the results of a bad day or of cheating. For most this might be a good thing. For some I am reminded of one test I foolishly tried to take in college when I had a 103 degree fever. I was close to delirious during the exam and did remarkably and predictably badly on it. I was fortunate in that the professor agreed to ignore that test if the rest of the tests during the course showed significantly better performance, which they did. Such a day might weld a brilliant kid into a low level vocational course sequence, so he'd spend his time learning to balance a checkbook when he should be studying algebra and geometry.
Another thing to the point of Fred's comments is that there is a tacit presumption that those who are poor and in the slums belong there and should never expect to rise above their station. I note that the teacher he quotes who makes this suggestion is one who did raise above his station, slum-dweller, though education that somehow sunk in. He'd have never become a teacher had this policy been followed.
I'm pretty sure that what Fred seems to be proposing is not a good solution. Alas, I don't have any good ideas myself given the numbers of pathetic teachers that pollute the profession detracting from what might be far better performance on the part of most teachers if freed from the rules needed to make the poor performing teachers "barely adequate."
The obvious "solution" that no one seems to propose is to abolish the entire national education system and establishment, and return control of education to local school boards and local government. Return financing of schools to local school boards and local government. Districts will then get the schools they can afford, and will tailor them to provide the kind of education that the parents and taxpayers think they need.
Now true enough: under this "scheme" (which is the way things were for nearly 200 years in this country) inner city schools are unlikely to have as much money as rich suburban schools. That doesn't mean they won't have decent schools. New York City produced a number of schools that encouraged excellence before "open enrollment" destroyed CCNY and the other excellent colleges and high schools.
When Federal Aid To Education was debated in the 50's the prediction of those who opposed it was that it would lead to Federalization, Unionization, Universal school systems that would be at best mediocre. I think no one predicted just how horrible the result would be.
I don't think that all the kids in the inner city should be mechanics and plumbers and blue collar workers: but if we weren't exporting those jobs as fast as we can, most of them would be. Those with enough ambition and smarts could get out; many did in the past. George Pepperdine founded Pepperdine College in the Inner City in a location that he thought would provide maximum opportunity for students to work their way through college. That worked for a long time, too, before Pepperdine College became Pepperdine U and moved to Malibu.
Leave local problems to local institutions. If the Feds want to be involved, let them found national universities along the lines of the service Academies, with free education at the cost of national service after graduation. They could do the same with boarding high schools.
The truth is that 50% of all the kids are BELOW AVERAGE. There is nothing we can do about that: but below average doesn't mean worthless, or unable to manage their own lives, and be good and useful citizens. Character counts. Contents of their character rather than color of their skin -- or size of their IQ for that matter.
Once upon a time, schools were seen as a "conserving influence", whose duty was to civilize the masses of immigrants and inculcate them with American values and the necessary information that all Americans should have as part of the process of creating a shared culture that was "America". Public education was seen as a patriotic duty, and those heathen statue-worshiping Papists who sent their children to parochial schools were seen as vaguely unpatriotic and perhaps even seditious.
Somewhere we gave up on that concept, I'm not sure where. Now you have the Christian fundamentalists who home school or send their kids to "Fundie Academies". You have folks like Fred who say, why don't we just let people have the education they want, rather than the education that someone else wants for them? And while I really can't blame them for that (certainly many of the values they would be exposed to in public schools are not values I would choose for my own children, nor does the curriculum of today's public schools inspire anything except disdain), it does bring to mind the question of, if we cannot create a shared culture for America via the schools, how DO we do it?
Perhaps Fred's modest proposal (perhaps charter schools as the future) is the best we can do. It seems a shame, though. Because that means that the American values of my youth -- values of liberty, justice, freedom, truth, charity, civic duty, respect for others, and a patriotism which was deep and to the core rather than shallow flag-waving, the values that made this nation great -- are dead in America, replaced by a shallow materialism and cynicism that are in no way an adequate substitute. It means that there is no such thing as "American culture" in our nation's future, just a bunch of odds and ends with a nice slipcover of commercial gloss ("popular culture") thrown over it.
And civil society is dead as a result too, for without a shared education, how can citizens get together to engage in rational discourse? The future of America looks a lot like Hate Radio on the AM dial, where vile talk show hosts spend hours whipping their millions of listeners into frenzies of hate against whatever group of people they wish to intimidate today. It is a vision which, frankly, scares the **** out of me, but now that we've given up on trying to create a culture via our schools, I don't know any way to stop it. I'm not at the point of applying for my immigration visa to Canada yet (Canada being arguably the only civilized nation left in the Western Hemisphere). I'm an American, I was born here, I still have that old notion of "civic duty" in my bones where it is my duty as an American to try to tug on the ropes of the American nation to try to steer it away from the iceberg upon which it is close to foundering. But I am not optimistic.
BTW, these issues are not unknown to teachers, even in inner city schools. I remember a faculty meeting when I was teaching at an inner city school, must have been in 1992 or so. We brought in a motivational speaker. She asked, "What does this school need most?". The answer was almost unanimous: "God." These teachers knew instinctively that there was something missing from their school, something important, that no amount of teaching of reading and writing and arithmetic could replace. That something was a shared set of values, once provided by the Christian religion, but no longer provided by anything in today's schools. Perhaps that was inevitable, given the lack of consensus today as to what is America and what are American values. But it's a shame.
-- Eric Lee Green mailto:email@example.com Web: http://www.badtux.org
And yet I think the consensus is here, among the people. It is the intellectuals, the enlightened ones, who are certain there is no longer a shared culture and we must use the legal system to keep things that way.
Irving Kristol long ago said that he would not be afraid to have the United States declared "a Christian Nation." He did not fear persecution from acknowledgment of what nearly everyone believed.
Aristotle was certain that civilizations went through cycles.
On the previous topic:
If folks don't want anyone to know what DVD's they're watching, basic DVD players are $60 or less at Wal-Mart.
They're stacked in the aisles like they used to stack blank video tape.
For some folks, maybe the computer is the only thing they've got to play 'em on, but I never thought I'd use the 2000 dollar computer to do the job of a $200 dedicated bit of hardware that's out in the living room ready to use at the push of a button.
Bill Newkirk firstname.lastname@example.org
Indeed. As it happens I tend to watch DVD's on a computer, but then I have lots of computers.
April 24, 2003
I have several letters that go like this:
I could have sworn it was something like "when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's a moray."
I certainly could be wrong.
Name Withheld by Editor to avoid embarrassment
He was quoting
Regarding Richard Pournelle's comments, this sentence caught my eye: " A lot of children of immigrants are torn between rules of the old country and the more open social morays of this country."
When an eel bites your knee as you swim in
Sorry--I've been reading Spider Robinson.
-- Mark Thompson jomath [at] mctcnet.net
When you swim past the reef
and you see all those teeth
Which makes me wonder if there's a language problem, or if some people just dislike puns so much they don't even see them? Ah well.
William Shakespeare is only unique if you confine yourself to English literature. Moliere is his exact counterpart in French drama. I think Stephen Leacock was the first to observe that Shakespeare was distinctive in being a working actor. Both Shakespeare and Moliere were life members of repertory companies. Neither had any significant outside employment, in contrast to their contemporaries. They both spent a considerable portion of their lives touring the provinces when the London or Paris trade was in a slump. Their plays are written from about twenty years of stage experience. Moliere's "Versailles Impromptu" probably has the distinction of being the world's first laboratory play.
A second point is that both Shakespeare and Moliere were what I suppose one might call, royalist-nationalist, meaning the direct tie between the citizen and the king in opposition to the nobility. In their time, the intelligentsia merged into the warrior nobility. The consequence was that you had a type of intellectual writer-- Corneille (Le Cid), John Ford (Perkin Warbeck), and the novelist Joannot Martorell (Tirant Lo Blanco) in Spain-- writing about the interior mentality of what we would call a gunslinger or a samurai or a street-gang member. These writers are alien to us because we cannot understand how what policemen call an "altercation of trivial origin" could lead to mortal combat between a pair of intelligent men. Samuel Bronfman and Charlton Heston had to take all kinds of outrageous liberties with El Cid, to make it back into something we could understand. There is literally no textual support for the idea of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar being an eleventh-century Winston Churchill, either in the poem or in the historical evidence (see Richard Fletcher, _The Quest for El Cid_).
If you follow Charles Nicholl's interpretation, in _The Reckoning_, Marlowe was a secret agent, writing about his rather specialized experience, rather like Graham Greene. Of course, if you have too many secret agents running around, nothing gets produced, and everyone starves. Shakespeare and Moliere endured because they spoke to the values of an emerging class, the middle class or bourgeoisie. We don't really think about our bourgeoisie assumptions, but they are omnipresent. For example, given that it is possible to make our own gasoline from coal, I think we all take it as more or less axiomatic that doing so is morally preferable to going and killing for oil elsewhere. We don't think that it is either cowardly or degrading to work with our own hands. We take it for granted that productive work is axiomatically virtuous. We have literally no understanding why a gambling debt should be paid in preference to a debt for merchandise. In the sixteenth century, Thomas More's invidious comparison between soldiers and thieves was still a novelty.
Now, of course, software has its own distinctive economics, and correspondingly, its own morality. We are facing another great transition. The popular writers who endure will be those who speak to a software world in some sense.
Andrew D. Todd
Good points all, and worth thinking upon. What is the new ethics in a software world?
Fletcher Pratt makes the point that El Cid, the perfect Christian knight, spent more time in the service of Muslim Emirs than fighting Muslims for Christian rulers, which may make a lot of chivalric but not strategic sense...
DVD's: I does not matter why I watch DVD's on the computer, I don't want my computer connecting to the net except on MY command. I actually think Microsoft is doing what they say, but that is STILL unacceptable. MS, however, provides a method of operation that does not seem objectionable: choose 'work offline'.
Schools: The HS I graduated from had an approach I believe was common to southern schools of the time. Everyone took core courses like English, Civics, History, etc. College Prep students took Chemistry, Algebra, etc. Agri/Home Ec students took much less academically rigorous courses (shop, agri, home ec) designed to prepare them to be farmers and homemakers. Many girls who did not plan on going to college took 'business' courses -- typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, etc. There was considerable swapping around -- most of the College Prep set took typing for example. Most of my classmates seemed happy with the education they got.. Murphy was an optimist.
In Tennessee in the 40's the system was that if you graduated high school with a passing grade and the College Prep curriculum, you would be admitted to one of the campuses of the University of Tennessee. The College Prep curriculum included 4 years of English comp and literature, three of mathematics through algebra (there was a fourth year optional math course at least in my high school) at least 3 years of a foreign language (Latin was recommended but whatever your school taught would do), Civics, a biology course, and a general science course. I would guess that not all rural high schools could teach a college prep curriculum.
(I don't know how things worked for blacks: Tennessee was legally segregated at that time. I do know that Booker T. Washington High in Memphis was considered one of the best high schools (black or white) in the state and was ranked high in national ratings as well. My vague recollection was that blacks who graduated with a College Prep certificate were given scholarship funds to go to any school, such as Tuskogee, that they could get into, and I think I recall that the Memphis papers had a story about a black boy going to Howard on a state scholarship. This would be about 1948.)
The College Prep curriculum was also offered at Central High School (in fact it was all you could take if you went to Central) which was a High School for the top 25% (I'm guessing at that number) from grade schools. Others went to regional high schools, some (perhaps all?) of which had a College Prep program. In addition to the College Prep there was a "technical" curriculum heavy in shop courses and shop math, and Memphis Tech was another selective school you could try to get admitted to. It was open I think to the whole county, and I believe my friend from down the road in Capleville managed to get to Memphis Tech.
But in those days we had a different view of the purpose of education.
Regarding Microsoft and DVD watching, I am still uncertain as to just what they are doing. And don't cable companies have statistics on how many are watching what channel and when?
And a view on Education
I had to take issue with you concerning statements appearing yesterday. I've read your opinions on education with interest, and agree with some of them. I studied to become a teacher, completing course work for certification in mathematics, physics, and chemistry before becoming dissuaded from a career in teaching by the innumerable hoops and idiocies I found in the College of Education. I certainly agree that a big problem exists with the teacher unions protecting bad teachers. But the solutions you espouse will certainly doom a great many kids to an inadequate education as surely as today's broken system.
We are already turning into two societies based on class. One gets good schools, SAT prep courses, admission to schools because their parents went there (nobody seems to classify this as affirmative action), and apparently will also not have to worry about bothersome inheritance taxes. If we are trying to create an American aristocracy, we're doing a good job of it.
The other class is both rural and urban, black, brown and white. Having lived in rural Middle America for much of my life, I can just imagine having these yahoos deciding curriculum and spending enough money to educate the kids adequately without any oversight. How many districts would you think it acceptable to teach creationism as science? I can number a good many of them if your solution was implemented.
Our local district pays teachers about 35% less than teachers in the suburbs. The high school, which was old when my parents graduated in the early 50's, is still being used although parts of it have collapsed and can't be repaired. Books are old and test scores low. The sports teams are fully funded, fortunately. A bond issue to construct a new school failed in a vote by a wide margin. Why in the world would I trust these people to educate my kids, now or under your system?
Local school boards are rife with corruption, politics, religion, and people who simply aren't fit to be in charge of determining the education of our kids. Some years ago I saw an example of a school board buying textbooks during a junket, in which the books they were shown were all blank. They were told what would be filled in later. They bought the books sight unseen.
I admit there needs to be sweeping changes to create an education system that supports our people and provides the workforce for the future. I absolutely agree with you about the number of people who aren't college material and who don't have blue collar jobs to fall back on like my father's generation. That is a political and economic issue rather than one of education itself.
The best part of America to me is the sense that we are all equal and should all have an equal chance at the American Dream. Disparate education quality, to such a wide degree, strangles this concept in practice by creating the have and have nots, both for now and the future. Education is no luxury; it is a vital part of having a chance to participate in society. As you go on to say, money isn't the only determinant of a quality school. But to say it plays no factor would be an extreme statement you did not make. Every school deserves good teachers, and we shouldn't expect the market to take care of this in any way except leaving the teachers not good enough to make it in the suburbs ending up teaching my kids in the country. Pay disparity is a continuing problem under your system and will and does cripple schools in many urban and rural districts. To a lesser extent, the same principle applies to school facilities, equipment, course options, and textbooks.
So how do we get out of this mess? First and foremost, funding for schools is too important to be left to local property taxes. Right here is the fulcrum under which the disparity begins. Deciding the quality of education by zip code is pretty patently unfair, and dooms many kids to substandard education. These kids are growing up and biting the whole country on the ass with their unpreparedness to join civil society. Decreases in property taxes could partially offset state taxes used to fund education.
Teachers unions need to be co-opted or shamed into policing their ranks to get rid of bad teachers and ensure teachers remain educated in their teaching fields. If this doesn't work, more coercive or legislative means should be employed. The way we educate teachers needs to be revamped as well. As each new theory is paraded about, prospective teachers are taught them as Holy Writ, despite the failure of so many of these theories to produce results in the past. The teaching colleges are lined up with the local school districts which serve as laboratories for their theories and programs. I have yet to see any of these teach kids to read better than phonics or write well. These early failures are compounded for the rest of the student's life. The hoops teaching candidates are forced to jump through, combined with the low pay expectations after graduation, are turning away many if not most of the people who would make good teachers from the profession. This also needs to change.
Of course there is more, much more. But the current system is helping create a system of the have and have nots that is wider and more divisive than any time in recent history. The egalitarian nature of the country is being perverted into something that ensures our future will see fewer well qualified people entering adult life than we did in the past. Unfortunately, I don't see your solution as helping that situation at all. Some school districts would improve, but many would remain inadequate. The disparity between suburbia and rural/urban settings would become even more acute.
Ultimately, we have to decide it's important that other people's kids get a good education rather than just their own. And we need to be willing to pay to see that it happens. THAT is patriotism.
Well it is certainly the view of the enlightened. Let me warn you that minding other people's business may be important, but it is also an onerous task. Perhaps you are better qualified to specify the curriculum of a school in Kansas or Wisconsin than the people who live there, but will you forgive me if I say it is not entirely obvious to me, and is even less likely to be obvious to them?
Now I agree, great things could be accomplished if we could just make the schools work the way either of us would like them to. I am just not sure how to do that. Me, I'd try to set examples.
Incidentally, while you concentrate on funding -- most teachers do, and their unions invariably do -- there is almost no evidence to support the proposition that putting more money into schools makes them better schools in the sense of delivering a better product. None.
What does seem to help is parental involvement. And for most people involvement means some kind of control, not merely being handed down their orders and told how much they will pay.
Local funding often means increased local involvement in the schools, and that can, and has, meant great improvements. The system I propose of local control will certainly leave some pockets of bad schools and bad results, and some places with much better results. The system we have now doesn't seem to be remarkably better.
(Mr. Short has registered his protest that I was insufficient in my reply, and has sent an even longer letter, but alas, I am not in a place where I can deal with that.)
This from another forum where we have been discussing education and in particular "evolution" in the classroom:
It's easy to work with creationism, no more trouble than working with any of our other old, honored, heartwarming myths that have and have had great utility in socializing us. Let it be taught wherever those who care about it want to teach and promote it, and may they do it well! Socuialization is crucial. Teach it at home, at public gatherings; in school -- but NOT in a science class. You don't teach the children Islam in the one-hour Methodist Sunday school class. Not only does it confuse the kids, who end up learning nothing and cynical, it's stupid. The one rule of formal logic that remains indispensable for useful thought -- despite the games of "fuzzy" logics -- is the law of contradiction. P AND not-P is necessarily false, so long as P is honestly defined.
Which prompted a rather long and rambly reply by me:
I find this confusing and I haven't time to deal with it.
Are you saying that it is logically impossible that the Universe was created in germinal form and evolved to where it is now, and thus there is no possibility that we live in a created universe because it is utterly proved that it was evolved from nothing? That Dawkins is not merely correct but logically correct so that disagreement with him is tantamount to rejecting formal logic?
Because if you are saying that you are dead wrong, and you probably know it, and I don't know why you say such things.
If you are saying that teaching the difference between theories and logical propositions is bad for kids, then you are dead wrong, and again you probably know it. Some theories, such as the Copernican Universe, are pretty solidly grounded. They are testable and the tests are easily comprehended by most intelligent people, and while they remain theories in strictest sense, for most of us the Copernican Solar System is "fact", with only refinements possible, and we don't spend much time looking for ways to refute the hypothesis or theory because our chances of success are very low.
But some theories, like "string theory" and "inflation theory" and other creation hypotheses stemming from the Big Bang theory are not so solidly grounded, and not so easily tested, nor are the tests very easy for most of us to understand. They are very obviously theories, and investments in refuting them may have big payoffs and refutations are not terribly unlikely.
The Theory of Evolution falls between those, doesn't it? In broad outline it looks to be testable and to have passed the tests, many of those tests comprehensible to most of us; those who seek to find alternative explanations for the evidence for evolution tend to get caught up in details and find their hypotheses becoming complex. But then that can be said for many of the proponents of evolution, particularly the "blind watchmaker" people who postulate such things as the evolution of the eyeball from light sensitivity, and even claim to have computer models of this only when asked about them the models don't turn out to exist, or at least have never been shown to anyone outside a very narrow circle of True Believers. I am willing to believe that an eyeball can be evolved from a light sensitive spot, but I have certainly never seen anyone show the path in anything but very broad outline, and the fact that some evolutionists claim this has been modeled when it hasn't doesn't raise my confidence in the rest of what they say.
In other words, the Evolution Hypothesis hasn't been falsified and we can all differ in our opinions on whether it's worthwhile investing time and effort in its falsification. I don't spend much time on it, myself. But I do recall a time when the Uniformitarian Hypothesis was thought necessary to the Theory of Evolution, and the way orthodox evolutionists treated those who thought they saw evidence of repeated catastrophe in Earth's history was at best shameful.
As we have said here often, there is a difference between what I would advocate in a school system, and what I believe is the right of the local schools to control. If Kansas wants to ban evolution from schools (and it never proposed any such thing) that is the business of Kansas. I grew up in Tennessee at a time when the Scopes Law was very much on the books, and Brother Fidelis never had any problem teaching us the broad outlines of the Theory of Evolution; not that I got much good from knowing it, although it may have been useful in thinking about human evolution as a factor in understanding human motivations when I began to write novels.
Imposing a curriculum from above hasn't exactly made our schools wonderful, has it?
While I am filching stuff from that other conference, we had a mild discussion of Sir Karl Popper, and David Stove's critique of Popper. The following summation of the critique (it is not mine) is pretty good:
Popper argued that positivism was a poor Philosophy of Science as no theory could ever be conclusively verified by corroborated evidence, theories could only conclusively falsified by conflicting evidence.
Stove criticized Popper's "negativist" PoS on positivist grounds. Stove would concede that Popper-style falsficationism was a good way to divest oneself of false theories. But Popper conflated the meanings of unfalsifiable & irrefutable.
Unfalsifiable propositions (metaphysics or tautologies) are scientifically useless. But the aim of science, and intelligent inquiry, is to acquire irrefutably true knowledge about the world. Popper is correct to say that we are never certain about scientific findings. But Stove is correct to say that the rational way to overcome uncertainty is by building up positivist probability functions of approximate reliability and confidence in our theories.
Negativism ultimately leads to intellectual nihilism. Stove showed that Popper's most famous students (eg Feyerabrand) took his negativist philosophy to it's logical conclusion and opened the floodgates of irrationalism.
All of which is worth contemplation, and of course fits into the discussion of the theory of evolution. Some propositions are so probable that we can enact them into law, because we thoroughly believe in cause and effect; investment in refuting the proposition that the Earth revolves around the Sun is just not likely to pay off. In such cases the distinction between unfalsifiable and irrefutable can be blurred without harm.
Stove did a pretty good job of showing that much of what we think of as philosophy doesn't seem to lead very far. He may have gone too far himself.
April 25, 2003
Every now and then I get a letter I really appreciate.
I am taking up a moment of your time to convey how much I have appreciated The Mercenary, and its associated works, throughout my military career. As a young cavalry officer I found it a great lesson in leadership. Later, as an Army Acquisition Officer (Futures Concepts) I read it again for its insights in combat developments. Now, as a Colonel of Civil Affairs, I find I am re-reading, and strongly recommending The Mercenary to others once again -- now to develop thought and discussion in civil-military operations and political-military interaction at the tactical operational levels.
A great work is not great because it is timely, rather because it is timeless.
Thank you, sir.
And the sky is falling:
A Bureau of Customs and Border Protection agent holds a knife from Iraq at the bureau in Atlanta Wednesday, April 23, 2003. Several members of the media and a U.S. serviceman have been caught attempting to ship Iraqi paintings, weapons and other war souvenirs to America, U.S. authorities said Wednesday. At least 15 paintings, gold-plated firearms, ornamental knives, bonds and other items have been seized at airports in Atlanta, Boston, London and Washington in the last week, according to the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)
An AK-47 from Iraq, thought to be gold plated, is displayed at the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection in Atlanta Wednesday, April 23, 2003. Several members of the media and a U.S. serviceman have been caught attempting to ship Iraqi paintings, weapons and other war souvenirs to America, U.S. authorities said Wednesday. At least 15 paintings, gold-plated firearms, ornamental knives, bonds and other items have been seized at airports in Atlanta, Boston, London and Washington in the last week, according to the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)
(Name of correspondent withheld)
Awful. Just awful, and so very unusual.
And I got this on another forum
you know that Christian conservatives are a substantial proportion of the electorate. This sort of thing is just corrosive to science education, and as a testing ground for a nationwide campaign it must be resisted.
What I'm most scared of is an alliance between right & left to rollback the teaching of evolution, just as they have with pornography. I think we may see this when the hapmap comes out.
To which I wrote a rather long reply:
Well, as a Christian, and a Conservative (ye gods, Russell Kirk was godfather to one of my sons, Possony to another, my book was a textbook in all three service academies and is still used in the war college, I wrote part of Reagan's SDI speech and I was Henry Salvatori's political operative, managing the successful Congressional campaign of Barry Goldwater Junior, what more conservative credentials do I flipping need???) and I'm all for science education, I am prepared to argue that the NSF budget is about the best Federal tax money I spend other than military, and I certainly have no objection to the teaching of evolution. I do object to the teacher then adding the conclusion that since evolution seems to explain a lot, it is therefore scientific truth that religion is the bunk, and there are absolutely irreconcilable conflicts between science and religion and particularly with all forms of Christianity, and the only smart people are those of this generation who in this year of Grace have finally the wisdom to know all things.
In a word, I am all for science as long as science is taught as science; but when it pretends to be everything else, as it does, here in this forum as well as out in the classrooms, then I have a problem.
Because if it comes to science vs. the Constitution and constitutional government, which looks more and more frequent, I get worried. I'd far rather have Kansas ban evolution through democratic processes than have all the smart people in the world go govern Kansas because they know far better what's good for Kansas than Kansans do.
The arrogance of some of those who are so damned sure they are right is just astounding. Scientific witch hunts are often the worst kind, and have been since the secular authorities stopped enforcing the local bishop's decrees of anathema.
If your readers would like to get a good digest of security news, including vulnerabilities, how some large companies are dealing with a particular vulnerability, and general information security news, I would recommend subscribing to the newsletters at http://www.sans.org/newsletters/ . I have found them to have some very good information, along with a very good 'reading room' of white papers (non-vendor) about info security. (Their classes are good also, but priced for businesses rather than personal.) If you are involved in setting security practices and guidelines, there are also good 'best practices' security policy templates.
Your readers should also consider the Microsoft vulnerability newsletters.
Of the two, I really like the SANS newsletters. Their information is timely, but the best source of information is Roland Dobbins, of course.
Information Security Dweeb
Thanks. I will probably refer to this again.
More on Stove vs. Popper
I saw the summation of Popper and Stove discussion and would have to disagree with it. Personally I find Popper more convincing than Stove though I find that I only have so much time and energy to apply to such things, I expect you find something similar.
If you do feel a sudden burst of enthusiasm you might be interested in the following critique of Stove's book (The author, Rafe Champion, is a passionate and tireless advocate for Popper).
Well in this instance I found Popper more convincing also. I have others of the Enlightened who assure me that Stove was right. But then I have:
Hi Jerry, I have written a small piece to explain that Stove's critique of Popper is not worth the paper it was written on. Feyerabend can hardly be regarded as a follower of Popper, he repudiated Popper's critical rationalism root and branch.
Drop into the Forum for some of the Popper Centenary papers
As for me, I once studied Philosophy of Science with Bergmann, one of the Vienna Circle leaders who had retired more or less to Iowa. Iowa when I was there was a remarkable place with Wendell Johnson, Van Allen, Bergmann, Kurt Lewin, and quite a few other important figures in their respective fields. I am not sure what I learned, but I do find the notion that if a statement can't be falsified it can't be science to be very useful.
But More Importantly, SEE BELOW
And on another subject, Decapitation:
This raises a question for me. I know some cultures (e.g., the Northmen) practiced them, but historically, nations have avoided deliberately targeting enemy leaders. I seem to recall that we let it be known quietly that any NCA who ordered a nuclear strike on the USA would not long survive the action, but that didn't mean we regarded it to be a first strike option, probably because our adversaries at the time had a similar capability, and we needed someone on the other side to deter. What do you know of the history of the idea?
-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <http://www.cet.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her/index.html>
Well, Richard Lionheart challenged Salladin to a man to man fight, Saladin sent his champion, and Richard chopped off his head with one blow; after which Saladin's son wanted to challenge the king, and Saladin had his bodyguards lead the boy away; and then followed, taking his army with him. But that wasn't, I think, too usual for the times.
It's late, and I'll wait for reader response. Interesting question.
April 26, 2003
We left off yesterday with a question of decapitation and history. To continue:
Through much of history, the military leadership has been fair game. Of course, for much of history, the military and civiliam leadership was indistinguishable, and only in recent years has it even been possible to "lead from the rear."
This is probably the first war in which we have had the capability, in terms both of intelligence and of precision munitions, to launch a decapitation strike on the beginning of the war, and I note that the President confessed to reservations about that strategy. But it appears to have been a success, and on the whole, it may well be why this campaign has gone so easily.
And in partial mitigation, the terrorists have made to secret of THEIR interest in decapitation strikes; and Saddam once attempted to assassinated Bush I, though admittedly not while he was the sitting President.
And of course Xenophon's Anabasis was written because Cyrus the Younger tried to end the war in one stroke by killing the King of Kings, but was himself killed, leaving the Spartan mercenaries stranded in Persia.
But as you say, it is unlikely to be useful against our enemies in future. It's a bit harder for a democratic leader to remain hidden at all times...
Subject: " . . . the usual Microsoft nightmare."
Perhaps overstated but just now at the end of a 14.4 pipe nightmare sounds about right..
Regarding Evolution, Creation, and Education
It occurs to me that there are similarities between some of our most popular and most intractable arguments.
Consider a Creation/Evolution world view. Contrast it with a view about environmental issues (greenhouse, global warming, resource use, kyoto, etc.).
It seems to me that there is a fundamental difficulty (on all sides) in understanding the difference between theorem and fact. Creationism is a theory. Evolution is actually a whole bunch of theories. Fossil evidence are facts - but the implications of those facts on the theories is generally amongst the theoretical.
Because neither theory precisely completely explains all of the physical evidence, we ought to be looking for refinements of our theories. Instead we see some ingenious pseudo-science to make the evidence fit, or to discredit the evidence.
We saw a lot of this in our recent discussions about "The Sceptical Environmentalist".
Mention IQ distributions in high schools, or popular drug policies, or just about anything, and we see the same behaviour. People committed to their own theorem as irrefutable fact, and fighting with anybody who dares disagree.
If we were more committed to locating the truth than to proving our own "truth" we'd probably get a lot further.
emmenjay (at) zip.com.au
Ted Codd R.I.P. I wonder how many of us, who's
lives are now ruled by databases, realise how much
we owe Dr Codd?
I thoroughly agree. Probably a result of my Christian Brothers education, which was thoroughly Thomist. And early exposure to C S Lewis who made Reason the foundation for most thought.
You ask if anyone can give a "public policy" reason why bigamy, polygamy, incest, and adultery are "wrong." You also have spent quite a bit of time bashing the hapless Senator Santorum. Let me reply the Santorum Slug Fest first. Then I'll offer some "public policy" reasons for regulating human sexuality.
I don't see much evidence that Santorum or anyone else in the government is actively interested in policing the nation's bedrooms. This is another one of those "issues" that gets conjured up by people looking to score political points off the alleged verbal miscues of public figures who really haven't said anything very controversial. The flap over Rod Paige's saying he would prefer to send his kids to a Christian college is another instance and before that we had Kerry's comment about "regime change."
I doubt that all this instant outrage--magnified by blogging and discussion threads--does much good. The main effects seem to be (1) to give people who are unable or unwilling to think seriously something to chatter about (a kind of allomorphic behavior), and (2) to create a strong disincentive among politicians to say anything unscripted or unrehearsed. The quality of political discourse in the U.S. is already sufficiently dumb that I can't see any good reason to join in efforts to make it worse. Or put it this way: I'm all in favor of heaping scorn on politicians for bad ideas, bad judgments, and bad behavior. Sometimes an unguarded remark reveals bad ideas or bad judgment. Trent Lott got what he deserved. But Santorum, Paige, and Kerry were or are getting beat up on pretty silly grounds. Take Kerry's "regime change" remark. Nobody seriously thought he was calling for the overthrow of the American government. He was trying to recycle a cliché in an attempt at wit. It failed, and conservatives acted like he had announced his allegiance to the Bader-Meinhauf Gang. Liberals returned the favor when Paige rather blandly said he wanted his kids to learn "Christian values."
Santorum offers a pretty ordinary slippery slope argument about the right of the government to regulate sexual acts. I guess I can imagine that there are some people who take libertarian principles to the extreme of thinking that there is NO public interest in people's sexual behavior, but I would guess that that is a tiny minority. To be sure, viable human societies have made customary an incredible variety of human sexual relations. The Etoro, who live in the Strickland-Bosavi region of New Guinea, believe that all young boys between roughly the ages of 12 and 20 need to be "inseminated" (orally) by older men more or less daily. Men marry at about age 26, and the preferred heterosexual marriage partner is the sister of the boy that the groom has been inseminating. Other tribes in the area have similar practices. The Etoro profess to be deeply disgusted with their neighbors the Kaluli who have a similar culture except for the belief that the right way to inseminate boys is anally. (Anthropology is nothing if not colorful.)
Contrary to your assertion, "human nature" provides no safeguards whatsoever against incest. All societies have "incest taboos," i.e.. explicit rules with strong sanctions against sex between certain relatives, but the combinations of relatives vary from society to society. What we call "cousins" are out-of-bounds some places but preferred marriage partners other places. Step-parent/stepchild relations are vigorously prohibited in some locals, permissible elsewhere. The first marriage partner of a Mossi boy (northern Ghana) will usually be one of his father's wives after dad dies. Brothers and sisters routinely married each other in ancient Egypt. The Maguses of ancient Persia favored mother/son breeding. There is no sexual combination that humans find intrinsically revolting. We have laws on incest because, in part, humans have attractions that societies need to control.
The origin of the human incest taboo remains a dauntingly difficult problem. Inbreeding, if carried on routinely, would weed out a lot of negative traits. The old idea that humans avoid it in order to avoid defective children is doubly wrong: it wouldn't work; and it doesn't match the actual variety of incest taboos. The likeliest explanation is that the incest taboo forces the biological family to turn outward from itself. The incest taboo makes its members seek both their sexual gratifications within the larger community and links the family to other families. The incest taboo and the rule of exogamy are not the same thing but clearly work together to ensure the family doesn't become an isolate. From an evolutionary perspective, the incest taboo favors the survival of genes that travel and mix; the stay-at-homes find themselves in small isolated groups that have poor odds of competing with the large, more integrated tribes of out-breeders.
But if we are programmed against incest, it is a highly flexible program that balances the benefits of marrying out with the benefits of consolidating alliances. Most peoples marry out, but not too far out.
"Public policy" reasons for laws against bigamy, polyandry, polygyny, homosexual relations, and adultery are similar. On a pan-human scale, almost any kind of human sexual relationship is approved and practiced by some bunch of people somewhere. That is good reason to think that specific laws governing sexual relations (and marriage) are not grounded in human nature; but it turns out to be an excellent reason to see these rules as closely connected with social order. Societies with "strong marriage" typically punish adultery severely; and conversely those with "weak marriage" offer few and mild sanctions against it. Ethnographically, weak marriage correlates with societies in which women have little productive value and are, to an extent, interchangeable. Traditional Comanche stole each other's wives, for example, and while the aggrieved husband might go after the thief, he received little help from Comanche society as a whole. But then, he was free to go off and steal a wife too, often by raiding another tribe.
America has become a society with a "weak marriage" system in this anthropological sense that infractions of marital fidelity are seen mostly as a private matter and marriages are easily dissolved and replaced. One consequence of this, as some feminists are beginning to realize, is that the social "value" of women is greatly diminished. Rule of thumb: lower the bar on adultery, and women become redefined as interchangeable.
From an evolutionary perspective, again, no problem: viable human societies can exist that put a very low value on women's reproductive capacity. What the society needs is a reliable way to sustain its supply of specialized labor. That can be done by having babies with known paternity and maternity and raising them in stable households, but it can be done in other ways too. Encouraging high immigration, for example. That was the Comanche solution: immigration by kidnapping. And it is more and more our solution.
Public policy reason for sanctioning adultery? How about sustaining the monogamous marriage as a "strong" institution to encourage local breeding? Or if that sounds too manipulative, how about sustaining a high value on motherhood for the sake of children? These are really two ways of saying the same thing.
Plural marriage, whether as "bigamy" or in the many other possible combinations, is a very common human institution, and hence we know a lot about how it works. Usually it gravitates to the form of senior men gaining a kind of monopoly on all the most desirable younger women. Of course, where it exists in the form of polygyny (one man, several wives) it is typically the wealthier older men who enjoy the privilege. Public policy reasons for thinking it is not such a good idea for the contemporary U.S.? Here's several: the resentments of the younger men in a society that still has a powerful egalitarian ethos would be highly destabilizing. Young men fight over the available women. Reduce the supply and expect the fighting to increase, with high societal costs. Polygyny reinforces class divisions and leads to other complicated inequities. Polyandry (one wife, many husbands) is typically very unstable. Tibetan polyandry, which is probably the best known variety, takes the form of one wife married to a group of brothers. Because each brother wishes to have a child of his own, the wife is hard-pressed to produce children on order, and the younger brothers often get tired of waiting. They bring new wives to the household and the resulting friction typically splits the group. Elsewhere polyandry can take the form of a bunch of polygynous older men who have hoarded the young women for themselves but who "buy" a wife for the younger men. The Lele in Congo have such "village wives," who, through they are not exactly prostitutes, don't end up in a very happy situation.
But of course, American polyandry could be something altogether different. There is a biography of a genteel Victorian woman, Violet somebody-or-other, who managed a household with three "husbands." Some of our contemporary "polyamorists" think this is an admirable relationship. Among consenting adults, anything goes, no? But there is a huge difference between people discretely breaking the rules and a society that says make any arrangements you wish. The consequences of that approach are pretty evident in the ethnographic record: societies filled with hyper-aggressive males and women who possess, as women, very low status.
This is probably enough for the beginning of an answer, but it is just the barest preliminary of the "public policy" reasons. But let me add some generalizations: First, a society that doesn't restrict human sexual relations in effective ways is a society that doesn't have much interest in reproducing itself. People left to their own sexual whims will sometimes form stable families, but that is the exception, not the rule. The more we treat sex as merely recreational, the less important we make procreation. De-mystifying procreation--making it just another event that may or may not require heterosexual married parents in a long-term relationship--leads both to low procreation and badly raised children. Second, a society that abandons the effort to restrict and channel human sexual urges into approved forms loses control of the strongest emotional/biological force known to our species and invites a progressive dissolution into unconnected or randomly connected individuals.
April 27, 2003
A reply to Peter Wood
First, I agree that there can and certainly LIKELY will be many ill consequences of 'deregulating' sexual congress. Some will pass quickly, others may take generations to work themselves out, quite literally.
Second, I'm not defending anything, just telling those in power to get it right. This reply is based on the quote (mythically?) attributed to Voltaire, "I may despise what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." In my case, it's 'regard with distaste what is done', but the priciple applies.
Third, I personally have a problem with your implication that what is privately practiced, and not openly flaunted, is any of society's business. This conflict directly with a statement you made:
"...But there is a huge difference between people discretely breaking the rules and a society that says make any arrangements you wish..."
I hope you don't see this as taken out of context, and believe that it stands on it's own. Those behaviors that are 'counter-survival' will by definition breed themselves out. Why not let social mores decide, unless you believe that a massive public relations campaign would change people's point of view too radically?
Maybe I'm missing something, but based on news accounts, I've gotten this:
Apparently a neighbor decided to stick his/her nose in the business of the two men in the case now before the Supreme Court.
Had they been caught in a Public Display of Affection, or left their curtains open while involved in sweaty bedroom games, or some such foolish act, I'm sure it would be in the public domain by now.
So, it appears that somebody decided they were doing something that he/she didn't like, and so decided to use the current state of emergency and alarm
(hysteria?) to stop them. When added to the stated fact that the physical acts that are forbidden to them are NOT forbidden to a heterosexual couple, I think that equals discrimination.
It's not about allowing polygamy/bigamy (in a monogamous society, the difference is moot), adultery (which seems loosely defined in practice, whatever the dictionary definition. More below), or incest.
IT'S ABOUT MAKING THE LAWS THE SAME FOR ALL CITIZENS.
When a physical act, in private, with mutual consent (& desire, not that it's considered a talking point), is LEGAL for certain groups of people and ILLEGAL for other groups of people, we generally say it's bad law. The one exception we seem to agree to allow is forbidding certain potentially/likely self-harmful behavior to those below a certain age, as protection against youthful impulse.
So, Texas is being given a choice with the law, here. Either make it a blanket prohibition, or repeal it. OR put up a sign at the state borders saying,
"We don't like *the acts* (to paraphrase Sen. Santorum) caused by fulfilling the desires of certain groups of people, so we're going to find them, catch them, and ride them out on a cactus rail."
It wouldn't be politically correct, it *would* alienate a large segment of the 'right thinking' public (another loose, fuzzy, ill-defined entity, but I won't even try to sharpen the focus there), BUT it would have the inestimable virtue, especially in the current administration, of being an honest, unapologetic expression of a desired policy.
One moment for a quick side note. I looked up 'adultery' and got the following definition from The American Heritage Dictionary: "Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse." Why is it then, that so many people seem to imply that ANY sexual act outside of monogamous marriage is adultery? It may be a sin, depending on your reading of the Bible, but using the blanket term 'adultery' weakens the term. For instance, what college kids WILL do, like it or not, is probably in most cases NOT adultery, but it's strongly implied that that's the sin being committed.
I also believe that,to quote the late RAH twice, first from "If This Goes On..." and second from Stranger in a Strange Land.
"From my point of view, a great deal of openly expressed piety is insufferable conceit."
In Stranger, Jubal to Ben: "Who asked YOU?" when Ben says that the group Mike is forming, "...just isn't RIGHT!"
"If This Goes On..." is a very good story to read, or re-read, when looking at the acts of the current administration. I ran across a page of quotes from it and other RAH stories at
Read through them and see what you think.
p.s. All thoughts expressed are my own, hopefully well formed and insightful. Any reading I've done over the years to form them is not responsible for any poorly argued or written text here.
Which I'll reply to when I get back home.
To quote Henry Spencer - "The dream is alive, but not at NASA"
Amazon.com’s founder and a few other high-tech high rollers are spending millions on a shared dream: to re-ignite the exploration of space: http://www.msnbc.com/modules/exports/ct_infobeat.asp?/news/904842.asp
If I had the money, I would be looking to spend it on getting better ways into space.
On David Stove and philosophy of science:
In another discussion I said: > > I read Stove four times when that came out, and I still don't understand him
> >Here's my 1999 review of a book of Stove's essays. It still gets me indignant >letters from philosophers. -- Steve
> >"The Unexpected Uselessness of Philosophy" > >by Steve Sailer >National Post >12/29/99 >http://www.isteve.com/philosophy.htm
Which is in fact well worth the time required for reading if this subject is of any interest at all.
And from another contributor to the discussion group:
Because he had a name which I suspected was the pen
name of an old school friend I looked at Rafe Champion's Amazon reviews
with some interest. He seems to be a 60ish philosopher (Website http://www.the-rathouse.com
) who convinced me he was not my Chinese scholar friend of the 50s by
saying he studied Agricultural Science in Tasmania in the early '60s. His
reviews are numerous, clearly written and quite interesting. Most are on
works of epistemology and methodology and are highly favourable unless he
detects a flavour of relativism or PoMo. However, at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/cm/member-reviews
he attacks "Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a Post Modern Cult" by D.C.Stove and Keith Windschuttle as follows:
Losing the plot - in style! February 8, 2002 David Stove has posthumously achieved celebrity status with this book. This status is not well earned because Stove and his claque have completely missed the point of Popper's philosophy and the way that it has sidelined the long-running and pointless academic obsession with knowledge as "justified true belief".
Popper has provided a viable alternative to the "justified true belief" theory of knowledge. He has propounded a theory of conjectural objective knowledge which grows by conjecture and criticism of various kinds, including the criticism of empirical tests. This is a matter of commonsense and it is not hard to explain to scientists and other practical people who have not had their brains addled by academic philosophy and its fruitless quest for the non-achievable - verified theories or "truly justified beliefs" or merely theories with a specified numerical probability. Those, like Stove, who think that inductive probabilities can be assigned to theories, have yet to provide the formula after some centuries of effort.
The fruitless and boring quest for inductive probabilities has driven many students from the pursuit of rationalist philosophy in search of more interesting and exciting fare, hence the rise of the deconstructionists and post-modernists and other related fads and cults. Stove and others have blamed this tendency on Popper's "irrationalism" but this is precisely the reverse of the true situation. It is the failure of the positivists and the inductivists to deliver the magic formula which has wrecked their credibility.
Popper has provided the antidote to irrationalism but he has been so thoroughly sidelined in academic philosophy that students can only find out about his ideas by accident, apart from the garbled and misleading misconceptions of his thoughts that are perpetuated by his opponents.
For a more enlightening introduction to Popper's ideas, in the context of the main postwar philosophical developments, read Bryan Magee "Confession of a Philosopher".
Which of course leads us back to the discussion of Stove that we began with...
Yet another reason not to open attachments:
-- "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." -- Theodore Roosevelt
Subject: Casus belli? ( priority one)
- Roland Dobbins
One of your correspondents said " Contrary to your assertion, "human nature" provides no safeguards whatsoever against incest. All societies have "incest taboos," i.e.. explicit rules with strong sanctions against sex between certain relatives, but the combinations of relatives vary from society to society. What we call "cousins" are out-of-bounds some places but preferred marriage partners other places. Step-parent/stepchild relations are vigorously prohibited in some locals, permissible elsewhere. The first marriage partner of a Mossi boy (northern Ghana) will usually be one of his father's wives after dad dies. Brothers and sisters routinely married each other in ancient Egypt. The Maguses of ancient Persia favored mother/son breeding. There is no sexual combination that humans find intrinsically revolting. We have laws on incest because, in part, humans have attractions that societies need to control.
The origin of the human incest taboo remains a dauntingly difficult problem. Inbreeding, if carried on routinely, would weed out a lot of negative traits. The old idea that humans avoid it in order to avoid defective children is doubly wrong: it wouldn't work; and it doesn't match the actual variety of incest taboos. The likeliest explanation is that the incest taboo forces the biological family to turn outward from itself. The incest taboo makes its members seek both their sexual gratifications within the larger community and links the family to other families. The incest taboo and the rule of exogamy are not the same thing but clearly work together to ensure the family doesn't become an isolate. From an evolutionary perspective, the incest taboo favors the survival of genes that travel and mix; the stay-at-homes find themselves in small isolated groups that have poor odds of competing with the large, more integrated tribes of out-breeders. "
A lot of this is wrong. First, there is of course a biologically-based & universal psychological adaptation that makes people unlikely to mate with extremely close relatives, the Westermarck effect. If you grow up with someone, they're sexually uninteresting. Thus the expression 'like kissing your sister'. There's plenty of evidence for this. This psychological mechanism misfires when it maks you uninterestd in your cute adopted sister ( or other kids in the kibbutz), and if you and your sister are separated from an early age, you life can turn into a Greek tragedy. But mostly it works. There have been a few groups that practiced brother-sister mating, but usually it' was to show how outre and magical they were: Pharaohs and such. It's not a natural tendency at all. In fact, many other species avoid mating with close relatives. There is of a course a real benefit to avoiding mating with close relatives. The chance of serious trouble in a kid goes up about two fold if you marry a first cousin ( above that expected from random mating) and is hugely higher with closer mating such as brother-sister: there you might see something like 25% losses. There are of course elaborate rules on who can marry who in various societies, and those are not innate, but the Westermarck effect is quite real and not cultural.
Basically, whoever this guy is, he hasn't a clue.
Interesting that Westermarck ( a good guy) is hardly known, while Freud, a totally unsound contemporary, spread silliness everywhere.
"Freud's rival in this field was Edward Westermarck; in 1891 he suggested that men do not mate with their mothers and sisters not because of social rules, but because they are simply not turned on by those they were reared with. Westermarck's idea was simple. Men and women cannot recognize their relatives as relatives, so they have no way of preventing inbreeding as such. (Curiously, quail are different, they can recognize their brothers and sisters even when reared apart.) But they can use a simple psychological rule that works ninety-nine times out of a hundred to avert an incestuous match. They can avoid mating with those whom they knew very well during childhood. Sexual aversion to one's closest relatives is thus achieved. True, this will not avert marriage between cousins, but then there is nothing much wrong with marriage between cousins: The chance of a recessive deleterious gene emerging from such a match is small, and the advantages of genetic alliance to preserve complexes of genes that are adapted to work with one another probably outweigh it. (Quial prefer to mate with first cousins rather than with strangers.) Westermarck did not know that, of course, but it strengthens hsi argument, for it suggests that the only incestuous relations a human being should avoid are the one between brother and sister, and parent and child." (Ridley 1993: 283, The Red Queen) [This preserves the genetic constellation of genes proven to work already in present environment vs. a stange environment with genes selected for that strange environment]
"But Westermarck's theory would also predict that if incest does occur, it will prove to be between parent and child, and specifically between father and daughter, because a father is past the age at which familiarity breeds aversion and because men usually initiate sex. That, or course, is the most common form in incest." (Ridley 1993: 284, The Red Queen)
"Bateson built an engenious device that exposed individual quail to five birds of the opposite sex, but of different degrees of relationship: a sibling nestmate, a sibling never seen before, a first cousin, a third cousin, and an unrelated bird. Both males and females generally preferred first cousins over all alternatives. ... Bateson therefore concludes, from this and other arguments, that quail may be following a highly abstract aethetic rule---prefer intermediary degrees of familiarity, not so close as to be cloying, not so distant as to be overly strange. If he is right, an elegant solution to the problem of avioding incest suggests itself. Quail are not Mendelian calculators. They are, rather, following a deeper, more abstract, rule of aesthetic preference that may be common to a wide range of animals and neurologies. Maximal attraction to intermediate familiarity will automatically exclude disadvantageous closest kin as potential mates. (Gould 1993: 379-80, Eight Little Piggies)
"For males, the situation is totally different. They remain in their natal group, and since they cannot get pregnant, they do not risk anything by having six with relatives. It is the females in their group who stand to lose from such contact. We therefore assume inhibitions against sex with mothers and sisters. The way these inhibitions may come about is through early familiarity---the basic mechanism assumed to underlie incest-avoidance in a wide range of species, including our own. The principle is simple: individuals of the opposite sex with whom one has grown up since infancy fail to arouse sexual feelings. If this process is disrupted---as when zoos raise young apes in a nursery---sex between relatives is not that unusual. Without a common backround, there is no way of knowing, so to speak, to whom one might be related. Normally, however, early familiarity characterizes the relations of males with close female relatives, and keeps them from breeding." (De Wall & Lanting 1997: 117, Bonobo)
"After the age of two, young males increasingly pursue suxual relations with females, but virtually never with their own mothers. Having recorded only five instances in 137 mother-son units, Kano concludes that incest-avoidance is established at an early age. By the age of four or five, the sexual behavior of young males more and more resembles that of adult males. Swollen females often accommadate the desires of these little Don Juans, who solicit them in the species-typical manner with spread legs and erect penis. They already know how to achieve intromission is various positions." (De Wall & Lanting 1997: 117, Bonobo)
"The implications of these findings is that an individual is able to strike an optimal balance between inbreeding and outbreeding by learning about is immediate kin and mating with a member of the opposite sex that is slightly different from its immediate kin. What such a balance might amount to in practice has previously been uncertain. I report here that Japanese quail of both sexes, having been reared with their siblings, subsequently prefer a first cousin of the opposite sex. ( Bateson, P. (1982) Preferences for cousins in Japanese quail Nature 295: 236) [note: choice between sibling, sibling novel, 1st cousin novel, 3rd cousin novel, and non related novel stranger.]
"A study of 2,769 kibbutzim marriages found that only 13 occured between peers and that in each of them one mate had left the communal group before the age of six." (Fisher, H. (1992) Anatomy of Love: The Mysteries of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1992. pp. 48) web site design • search engine
Come now Greg, you know who Peter Wood is.
As to the whole anthropological question of incest taboos and what part is biological and what part cultural, I pass. It's interesting, but seemingly unresolvable.
Me, I'll stay with the rather conservative notion that we don't know a lot about human nature, and like Burke I would rather draw on the bank and stock of the ages when it comes to legislation.
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