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A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Monday, December 17, 2012

More Notes from the Untergang

Time for the miscellany again. 


Oh, Baby.

Okay.  TOF saw this sort of thing on an episode of CSI, the original Vegas version, and he thought "Oh, come on.  Matters are not so far gone as all that."  But he sees now that he is but a cock-eyed optimist regarding the collapse of modern civilization.
Apparently, there are grown men and women who want to be treated as babies.  Is there no end to this mad process of trying to bend reality to conform to our appetites?  Is it any coincidence that this phenomenon has arisen in the same time frame during which governments have been persistently treating their citizens as children?  How far will the infantilization of society go?
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If Those Who Feed the Hungry are Blessed,
What are Those Who Try to Stop it?


Some while back I mentioned the story of Angela Prattis in Pennsylvania who was cited for bringing food to the hungry.  Cited, as in fined by the government.  As in barred and prohibited.  You must not try to help the needy on your own.  You may only do so through the Organs of the State and their lamprey NGOs.  But now we find it is a more general affliction.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s food police have struck again!

Outlawed are food donations to homeless shelters because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content, reports CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

Glenn Richter arrived at a West Side synagogue on Monday to collect surplus bagels — fresh nutritious bagels — to donate to the poor. However, under a new edict from Bloomberg’s food police he can no longer donate the food to city homeless shelters.
"...because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content."  Honestly, you can't make this stuff up!  If Alan Livingston had not already invented Bozo the Clown, Nature herself in the form of NYC politics would have evolved him.

But it is not only New York that has gone insane.  Here is a report from Houston.
Homeless activists and food-giveaway ministries are planning to fight an ordinance passed by the Houston City Council last week that requires prior permission before any group or individual could distribute food to five or more people on public property.

Nor is it limited to the US.  At least Marie Antoinette would have actually let them eat the cake!

When the NYC story was mentioned on another blog, a commboxer there replied:
In Portland, this winter, many winter part-time homeless shelters aren’t opening because they couldn’t get permission to from the city. Several contractors have responded to expand the number of beds at shelters that have long held permits to begin with; but we’ve lost about 250 beds and added only 123 so far.
And on First Things a while back there was a commboxer who mentioned that when the Catholic Archdiocese complained to the Washington City Council that rules requiring adoptions be given to gay pairs would "drive us out of the adoption process," one of the councilmen replied, "Good.  We've been trying to get you out of it for years."  

So it is not just a food thing; and it is not just the massive brain damage so often suffered by politicians and bureaucrats.  It's deliberate.  The genius of Western Civilization, née Western Christendom, was the way it self-mobilized ordinary people to help others.  Can't have that; not in the Managed Society, where the pointy-haired bosses are in charge and we are to do only as we are told by our Besserwissers.

TOF says pfui. At least we know which organs the Organs of the State are. 
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Tesla, Uncoiled

Nikola Tesla has come into a great deal of apotheosis lately.  He has been called the greatest geek who ever lived.  And there is much justification for this praise.  But there is a downside to regarding science and technology as the only axes along which to measure greatness.

Along with most of the other Brights of his era, ol' Nick was a deep-down, dyed-in-the-wool eugencist who looked forward to the day when the less fit would be weeded out: 
The year 2100 will see eugenics universally established. In past ages, the law governing the survival of the fittest roughly weeded out the less desirable strains. Then man’s new sense of pity began to interfere with the ruthless workings of nature. As a result, we continue to keep alive and to breed the unfit. The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct. Several European countries and a number of states of the American Union sterilize the criminal and the insane. This is not sufficient. The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny. A century from now it will no more occur to a normal person to mate with a person eugenically unfit than to marry a habitual criminal.
So we can see that the urge to seize control of and manipulate the institution of marriage is no recent thing.  Oh, well.  You should read Wells or Huxley on the topic.  Darwin danced around it in his usual fashion, but his son, also named Darwin, was the leader of the eugenics society in England along with Darwin's cousin, Galton. Fortunately, by 2100 we will all be dead due to global warming or the zombie apocalypse or something. 

Nowadays, we regard eugenics with disfavor due to certain actions by the Germans during WW2 (which were ironically not explicitly eugenic in nature).  But the notion that we are smart enough to breed ourselves to a higher plane of existence has not gone away.  Now it is genetic engineering that will optimize the superman.  Though little is said of the massive experimentation that would have to take place before it is over.  By then, eugenicists like Tesla -- and Sanger, Wells, Shaw, Galton, Fisher, and the rest -- will seem awful tame by comparison.
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It's Only "End-of-Life Counseling", Not "Death Panels"

Or, in UK, the "Liverpool Care Pathway."  Apparently, it's not just for adults anymore. 
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Science Я Us


The estimable Ishmael Alighieri has taken note of Alan Alda's new venture.  Alda plans to collect suggestions from kids for what science questions to ask, pick one, and then ask scientists to answer the question at a level a 6th grader could understand. Now this is quite a challenge.  I hope the little suckers submit "What is the Higgs Boson?" just for the fun of it.  Apparently, the first question was "What is a flame?"  The answer is obviously "one's hot girl friend" for whom one conceives a "burning passion."  It is cognate with the term "flamboyant."  But we suspect the scientists will not have come up with that one. 

The second question is going to be "What is time?"  And Mr. Alighieri notices immediately that this is not even a scientific question.  He suggests a second panel, composed of philosophers, who would gage the submitted questions as to whether they are scientific or philosophical and pass them on accordingly.  TOF wonders whether, if the philosophers explain to the scientists why the question is philosophical and not scientific, they ought to do so at a 6th grade level.

This is the best explanation of time, one of the most endearing folk songs of all time.  Sing along.  TOF's favorite rendition was one by Michael Cooney, which he sang at the Philadelphia Folk Festival lo these many years ago, and which he has on a wax 33.  Somewhere. 


 Mr. Alighieri also notes the following sentiment expressed by Mr. Alda.
"There’s hardly an issue we deal with today that isn't affected by science," Alda said. "I’ve even heard from a number of people in Congress that they often don't understand what scientists are talking about when they go to Washington to testify, and these are the people who make the decisions about funding and policy."
Note the bold face.  Nothing further need be said.

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Still Coming Ashore

A fine illustration of Lamarckism in action.  Living things actively participate in their own evolution by trying to exploit new niches.  Their intentions -- behaviors -- define what is meant by fitness against which nature selects.  These catfish are doing things their eastward cousins do not.  They have found a new food source, and hunting it will make certain traits advantageous for them that would not be advantageous for their cousins.  And so some succeed and some fail.  The successful move on to eventually become something different from their ancestors.  The failures remain as-is or disappear entirely.

Catfish hunting pigeons?  Who'd've thunk it.
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Will 2013 be 1937? 

Once upon a time there was a financial crisis.  The activist president responded by dumping a ton of money into the economy, to restore liquidity.  Normally, this would end the panic within a year, as it did in 1910; but this time the government decided just how that money ought to be spent.  That is, they decided up front who would be the winners and losers.  Curiously, the winners were those who had contributed properly in the political arena.  But in any event, just as when water is diverted from its natural course, the flood of money deepened the panic into a recession a couple years later.  Then, just as things seemed about to return to normalcy, a huge amount of money was sucked out of the economy by the government and moved about to favored recipients.  Consequently, private institutions, now starved for cash and for lines of credit, started to belly-up in earnest and there was a recession in the middle of a depression.

All this happened in 1937.  And Amity Shlaes wonders if it might not be about to happen again. 



7 comments:

  1. History more or less repeating itself:

    - An idea becomes popular among the hip set;
    - somebody take the idea and runs with it in the real world, with precisely the disastrous results its opponents predicted;
    - the idea goes into hiding, and is discretely unmentioned by its former horn-blowers;
    - marketing gets in the act, repositioning the idea, coming up with new slogans, whistling past its disastrous offspring;
    - finally, the disastrous reality passes from living memory;
    - idea resumes its position as darling of the hip set.

    The Usual Suspects point out the usual problems, but grandpa is no longer around to shout Amen!, and, besides, history is conditioned as all critical theorist will tell you, so all those dead people back in 1945 are really a matter of unsophisticated interpretation...

    I really appreciate your pointing out how difficult it will be (if, indeed, the impossible can be properly called 'difficult') to do genetic engineering on people for subtle traits like intelligence. Only the moral horror of the act itself had was before my eyes, not the moral horror of generations of experimentation needed to even pretend to get there.

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  2. Michael, the glutes are muscles not Organs.

    :>)


    JJB

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  3. Nowadays, we regard eugenics with disfavor due to certain actions by the Germans during WW2 (which were ironically not explicitly eugenic in nature). But the notion that we are smart enough to breed ourselves to a higher plane of existence has not gone away.

    The idea does seem to be going through a kind of rehabilitation. I think the preferred term now is liberal eugenics. Rather than aim toward the "enhancement" of human beings through the state, leave it up to individuals and consumers in the wondrous free market. And the state could not prevent it anyway, since it would just be another part of parents' "reproductive freedom."

    The liberal eugenics notion of "leaving it to individuals" wouldn't last long, though. Calls for state intervention to make the "enhancements" more equally distributed and available would quickly follow, as a growing sense of "genetic inequality" set in (like income inequality today). Down with the Enhanced One Percent!

    But yeah, no one ever talks about the experimentation needed to achieve this utopia.

    (A note about those certain actions by the Germans in WW2: If I recall correctly, in their defense at Nuremberg, didn't Nazi doctors read from the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell? Chilling to think about.)

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  4. about those catfish: while it's satisfying to see pigeons put to a higher use, the lack of this bird-hunting behavior in those fish in their native range suggests that perhaps it's the pigeons who will do the evolving. Sticking your head into water inches from the mouth of a predator is stupid even by pigeon standards, something perhaps Asian pigeons have figured out (or, more correctly, been selected against).

    While I take a certain joy in imagining a future in which voracious, stumpy-legged catfish hunt down pigeons a half-mile inland, it's sadly much easier to imagine some few pigeons with enough of a clue not to stick their heads into the catfish's mouth, and living to breed and pass on this behavior.

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  5. I was actually pulled over and harassed by a cop a few weeks ago over that Houston law. His reasoning was that giving out sandwiches increases littering. If that's the rationale for the law, I think the city has some priorities a little mixed up.

    Anyway, props for the Adventure Time reference.

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  6. Some of the "no random food kitchens" laws came about because of people being asses and using charity as a cover-- they figured out the place that offering free food to the homeless would cause the most damage, then did it. Blocking folks' property, littering, destroying parks by attracting dozens of people who are mostly insane and have no way to get back to the housing they'd been using, disrupting businesses, etc.

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  7. jjbrannon, muscles are organs.

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