07 April 2007

Stem Cell Research

Here's a first: a British research team has grown part of a human heart from stem cells.

What do people think of stem cell research applications like this?

06 April 2007

German Propaganda Archive

This site contains a nice collection of Nazi and GDR propaganda material.

This postcard is of special interest since the lines in the background are meant to represent Speer's "Cathedral of Light."

The British Hostages II

Geoffrey Wheatcroft on Britain's position in the middle east.

05 April 2007

Speedy French Candidates

Paris - A French auto magazine has caught the cars of leading presidential candidates breaking the speed limit, raising doubts about their credentials as good citizens in the final straight of the race for France's top job.

To me what is so surprising about this story is the willingness of the French press to delve into what might have in the past be considered the "private" lives of French politicians. While that has been common enough in the U.S. over the past few decades, it is as far as I know a much newer trend in France.

Recent Purchases

David Trottier, The Screenwriter's Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script

Daniel Tanguay, Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography


I've been asked a couple of times why this blog isn't all that concerned with, hmm, politics, or rather what we think of as politics - that is current events. I guess that's a fair question given the title of this blog, so it of course deserves a fair answer.

I've become enamored with some aspects of the work of Leo Strauss. Not that I am a Straussian - I think a lot of what he had to offer was complete crap. However, one aspect of his thinking that I really buy into - at least for now - is his effort to differentiate between the philosopher and the partisan. Put rather crudely the philosopher is not committed to a particular political group, etc., whereas the partisan is and it seems to me that focusing on current events leads to the latter.

Why do I find any resonance in this distinction? I suppose it is because of my own blogging experiences. Being a partisan shuts out opposing viewpoints, which, even if they are not completely convincing in themselves, are likely as powerful as the views one does ascribe to. Of course I realize that there are certain weakness in the sort of thinking I'm adopting, in fact they are so easy to point out that I won't name them here. I also realize that I do not take this approach across the board - in other words I'm not going to give "equal time" to the claims of intelligent design advocates. Nevertheless, when it comes to a certain set of what one might call "big questions" partisanship seems at best inappropriate.

Tocqueville's Fears

Out of that grows the general truth that the individual is the sole and best placed judge of his own private concerns and society has the right to control his actions only when it feels such actions cause it damage or needs to seek the cooperation of the individual.

-- Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, pg. 78, (Penguin: 2003) (trans. Gerald Bevan)

This is really a description of what Tocqueville thought that he found in the U.S. It was not something that he necessarily recommended. Indeed while Tocqueville feared what one might call a Jacobin, centralized state, he also was uncomfortable with the extreme individuation he thought that he had found in America.

04 April 2007

One Hundred Posts!

This blog has now reached one hundred postings! Huzzah!

A Better Monarchy

One of the constant rhetorical points in American political discourse is the praise of democracy. And of course one of the prominent arenas for this discourse is in the area of foreign affairs, especially when we invade a nation. I think that there is a problem with this though. Namely that praise of this idea as a universal salve is probably naive at best.

Put in a different way, is it better to have a reformed monarchy or should we dismantle the institutions of a society in order to create them anew? I'll put my cards on the table and state that I am fairly skeptical about the latter of these two options.

Does Insanity Exist?

This paper deals with the fate of eight pseudopatients who had themselves admitted to psychiatric institutions in the early 1970s. The psuedopatients (many of who were involved in the profession of psychiatry or psychology) were thus labelled a specific way upon entry and their behavior (which was "normal" following their admittance) was interpreted with that category in mind. For example, the pseudopatients took a lot of notes during their time at the various facilities and this was commented on by the staff as an indication of their insanity! So the question becomes can we tell the sane from the insane? Apparently the field of psychiatry couldn't in 1973.

Whether a paper this old (it was published in 1973) reflects the current state of psychiatry, etc. I can't say. I do wonder whether a similar experiment produced today would bring about the same result? I think that it is likely that it would. Anyone have any evidence for a conclusion opposite this one?

Carl Sagan...

For Rednecks (video)

Note that some people might find the video linked to above, hmm, offensive.

French Election Update

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - Nicolas Sarkozy remains the most popular contender in France’s presidential race, according to a poll by Louis-Harris released by RMC. 29 per cent of respondents would support the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP)candidate in this month’s ballot.

For a while there it looked like Bayrou might upset one of the two main contenders (Sarkozy or Royal) but his support in the polls has flagged in recent weeks. Also - as one would expect - the campaigning for the April 22 first round vote has become more intense over that same time period.

Does it matter who wins the Presidential election in France? Perhaps not. Indeed it may be that it doesn't matter who ends up residing at Élysée Palace since no victor will have significant of room for manuevre. Then again no politician is ever completely completely mastered by the historical tides.

03 April 2007

...if thou hast no name to be known by...

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Metallica may work as a name for a heavy metal band, but a Swedish couple is struggling to convince authorities it’s also suitable for a baby girl.
Apparently the Swedish government has some authority over what one may name a child - at least with regards to their legal name. One has to ask why any population would grant a government agency this sort of authority? I can think of rationales associated with issues like identity theft and the like but they hardly seem to justify this sort of interference in the lives of citizens.

Addendum: Oh and I pulled the title of this post from Shakespeare's Othello:

O thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!

Site Changes

So what do my readers (if there are any) think of the changes I've made to the blog in the last day or so?

The Rare Successful Revolution

I wonder if the American Revolution has taught some Americans the wrong lesson. That radical and swift change can bring about mild consequences, when in reality radical and swift change is just as or perhaps more likely to bring about horrific regimes, events, etc. Alright, I'll take my Burkean hat off now.

The NRA & Parker v. District of Columbia

WASHINGTON (Map, News) - Could the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress be undermining the best pro-gun case ever likely to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court?

That's the question one of the attorneys (Robert A. Levy) involved in Parker v. District of Columbia is asking. Note that if the Supreme Court were to uphold the Circuit's opinion in Parker it could do so on grounds which specifically recognize the individual right to bear arms.

Kicking Up Some Dust

Florida Repeats

Congratulations to the Gators.

02 April 2007

Movie Scripts

So, as some of you may know we're considering writing a screenplay. Well it seemed that one good place to start that process would be to read movie scripts. So I started looking for scripts online and I came across this site; it has a large selection of scripts for free.


Some of you may already know who Ken Ham is; if not you can read about him here.

One of the videos Ken Ham has produced to defend the account of creation in Genesis has been critiqued here.

Of the things I've read of Ken Ham's his "Were You There?" article is probably the piece that has provoked the most thought.

My initial reaction to the article is this. Say I wake up some morning and I look outside and there is snow on the ground. Well, I didn't actually see the snow fall, just as I have never witnessed the billions of years of stellar, biological, etc. evolution, however, I have seen snow fall in the past, just as scientists have witnessed various acts of geological, etc. change since the 19th century. So, why would I assume this particular snowfall was any different in its creation than past snowfalls I've witnessed? This prompts an allied question - why would the way that snow is created long ago be different than that it is today? And of course why would the geological, etc. processes we see today be different in the past?

So yeah, I wasn't there. But the clues that exist in current patterns of change in combination with the historical record (e.g., rock strata, the genome of a particular animal, fossils, etc.) allow us to make powerful and convincing inferences based on that data.

Addendum: In the critique of Ham's video I found the bit about the advent of nylon metabolism to be a major "wow" point. Namely that nylon did not exist prior to 1935 and yet bacteria which eat nylon have come into existance. Sounds like evolution to me.


In the grey olive-grove a small brown bird
Had built her nest and waited for the spring.
But who could tell the happy thought that came.
To lodge beneath my scarlet tunic's fold?

All day long now is the green earth renewed
With the bright sea-wind and the yellow blossoms.
From the cool shade I hear the silver plash.
Of the blown fountain at the garden's end.

Sappho, XV (trans. Bliss Carman)

This is the old fashioned way to render Sappho's work. More recent translations are far less amorphous in tone.