Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 19, 2013

Conservatives, Dying Rats, Richard Feynman, and Other Links for Monday

1. Noah Smith has some unsolicited advice for “Conservative White America”: “when I think about Conservative White America, I am increasingly struck by the sense that this is an entire civilization in crisis. It is under threat not just – as conservatives would claim – from increasing numbers of Hispanic and Asian voters. ‘Demographic drowning’ doesn’t begin to describe its problems. Like Medieval Europe before it, Conservative White America is stuck using a social model that just is not working anymore.”

(I have a quibble with this bit of Noah’s historical sketch: “The Battle of Nicopolis was the last gasp of three centuries of European failure on a grand scale. Three hundred years earlier, climbing out of the Dark Ages on the back of a population boom, and loosely united by the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, Europe entered into a contest with its neighbor, the Islamic civilization of the Middle East. It was a protracted, one-sided beating.” It was a one-sided beating in the Levant, Anatolia, and the Balkans. The story was a bit different in Iberia and Italy. Just saying.)

Smith assesses the condition of America’s white conservatives on a number of indices, including “failing health” (especially compared to white Europeans), “failing economic performance,” and “failing electoral clout.” Under “failing economic mobility,” Smith writes: “Much is made of the economic dynamism of Red states like Texas (well, mainly Texas). But white Americans experience the least economic mobility in the South, the most conservative region. And upward mobility for whites seems to be lowest in regions with heavy sprawl.”

Smith wishes to assure his readers that he is not concern trolling:

I want America to succeed, and so I want Conservative White America to succeed. I am not “concern trolling”. Seeing rural white American communities spiral into drug use does not give me a shiver of pleasure. Seeing working-class white Republican families disintegrate does not give me a shot of vindictive glee. Seeing white working-class people fat and unhealthy and socially isolated and stuck in dead-end careers out in vast suburban wastelands does not make me smirk and say “I told you so”. These things make me sad, and angry, when I see them.

OK. Then Smith has some prescriptions, of which I will quote only a few:

I also feel like Conservative White America has shot itself in the foot by assuming that government is always its enemy, and corporations its friend. America’s private health care system has not served conservative white Americans well. The amount of fat and sugar consumed on a daily basis by conservative white Americans, turning their bodies to slush, was put into their food by corporations, not by the government. Obviously government is not always good (and personally I think that America’s conservative movement provides a needed restraint on government). But the idea that government is always bad, and that its badness is a pillar of conservative faith, should be questioned, for the good of the conservative Americans themselves.

And finally, the contempt for education, science, and intellectualism urged on conservative audiences by many of their media figures seems so purely and obviously self-defeating that it almost doesn’t require discussion.

Smith also has this post reviewing conservative economic arguments since the financial crisis of 2008: “hard as I try, I can’t rid myself of the notion that conservatives have tossed out a lot of bad economic arguments in the last five years. It seems to me mostly a defensive reaction. The 2008 crisis put everything in American politics and political economy in flux, and conservatives desperately wanted to avoid a general turning of public opinion against the business class. Now that that looks unlikely, conservative writers and intellectuals are making somewhat fewer obviously specious economic arguments (Republican politicians, of course, are another matter). Notice that I said ‘somewhat’.”

2. On the subject of conservatives and science, Jonathan Adler has a post at Volokh, “How Not to Convince Republicans to Address Climate Change,” looking at a recent New York Times op-ed four former EPA Administrators who served in Republican Administrations. An excerpt:

Then there’s the substance of the argument, little of which is responsive to Republican concerns about the size of government or cost and intrusiveness of federal regulation. The four suggest that a carbon tax would be a relatively efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage technological innovation. They’re right about this. They then suggest that a carbon tax is politically infeasible — a reasonable, if debatable, proposition. But rather than make the case for some sort of alternative to the current Administration’s policies, they suggest Republican leaders should endorse the EPA’s imposition of greenhouse gas controls under the Clean Air Act. Really? There are few, if any, climate experts who believe the Clean Air Act is well-suited to GHG emission control. This is one reason both the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats sought new climate legislation. The CAA is capable of imposing substantial costs on emitters, but cannot come close to achieving meaningful reductions (for reasons I detail here). Some may believe it’s better than nothing, but those folks are rare in Republican circles. If Republicans are ever gong to be convinced to endorse climate policies, they won’t be in the form of costly command-and-control emission regulations — regulations capable of imposing substantial pain for little gain.

3. At 3 Quarks Daily, Paul Braterman (formerly of Glasgow University and the University of North Texas) has a post, “Creationism as conspiracy theory – the case of the peppered moth”: “The peppered moth provides a textbook example of industrial melanism and its reversal. Once a classroom classic, then much criticised, and finally rehabilitated through further observation, the story also shows how real science works. The response of the creationist and ‘Intelligent Design’ community provides a textbook example of a conspiracy theory in action, with cherry-picked quotations, allegations of collusion and fraud, and refusal to acknowledge new evidence.”

4. In late July, I noted a case from the Eastern District of Tennessee finding that Jefferson County had violated the Establishment Clause by outsourcing the education of some students to a religious school. I did not notice at the time that Howard Friedman of the Religious Clause blog had blogged about the case earlier in the month.

Saga of Eirík the Red

The beginning of the Saga of Eric the Red. 14th Century manuscript, possibly from the Hauksbók, compiled by Hauk Erlendsson, Lawspeaker of Iceland.

5. The Evolution of Milk-Drinking: Andrew Curry has an article on the evolution and spread of the gene that allows adult humans to digest lactose. An excerpt:

During the most recent ice age, milk was essentially a toxin to adults because — unlike children — they could not produce the lactase enzyme required to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk. But as farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. Several thousand years later, a genetic mutation spread through Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase — and drink milk — throughout their lives. That adaptation opened up a rich new source of nutrition that could have sustained communities when harvests failed.

This two-step milk revolution may have been a prime factor in allowing bands of farmers and herders from the south to sweep through Europe and displace the hunter-gatherer cultures that had lived there for millennia. “They spread really rapidly into northern Europe from an archaeological point of view,” says Mark Thomas, a population geneticist at University College London. That wave of emigration left an enduring imprint on Europe, where, unlike in many regions of the world, most people can now tolerate milk. “It could be that a large proportion of Europeans are descended from the first lactase-persistent dairy farmers in Europe,” says Thomas.

(H/T: Instapundit.)

So, the milk-drinking gene first appeared in Europe within the past 8,000 years. Of course, the Native Americans crossed the land bridge from Siberia to the American continents several thousand years before then.

I recall that in the Vinland Sagas, the Icelandic explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni offered the North American natives dairy products. The inability of the indigenous people to digest the dairy products likely led to horrible side effects for the Native Americans and possibly contributed to breakdown of relations between the Greenlanders and the natives — which ultimately led the Greenlanders to abandon their North American settlements.

6. Glasses that solve colorblindness. (Not cheap.)

7. Timothy Snyder (Professor of History, Yale), in The Times Literary Supplement, writes about Katyn and the Soviet Union in World War II: “The Second World War was two separate wars for the Soviet Union, one to be entirely forgotten and one to be selectively remembered. Between 1939 and 1941, the Soviet Union fought as a German ally, invading or occupying Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. During this period, the Soviets committed mass murder among populations that had not been Soviet citizens before the war, such as the Poles at Katyń, in 1940. Between 1941 and 1945, after Hitler betrayed Stalin and Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Germany committed mass murders on a still greater scale, such as those of Belarusians at Khatyn in 1943. Between 1945 and 1991, from the end of the war to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soviet propaganda sought to displace the first war with the second, such that the Soviet Union and its citizens appeared unambiguously as victims and victors.” (H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

8. Rats and Near-Death Experiences: “Borjigin and her colleagues examined nine rats. They induced cardiac arrest while the animals were hooked up to EEG machines, and the team then measured the electrical activity in the animals’ brains. About 30 seconds after the heart had stopped, all the animals experienced waves of synchronized brain activity that were characteristic of the conscious brain. Rats that were asphyxiated with carbon monoxide showed a similar pattern of brain activity. The rats’ visual cortex, which processes visual imagery, was also highly activated. This could shed light on why NDEs are so vivid, Borjigin said.”

Althouse quotes one of the scientists as saying, “Measurable conscious activity is much, much higher after the heart stops — within the first 30 seconds…. That really just, just really blew our mind.” Then Althouse says (emphasis in original): “I thought this was already well known, but I guess euthanizing rats and getting this data is new. Still, were the scientists’ minds actually blown? Isn’t this what they expected? Wouldn’t it have been more mind-blowing if there hadn’t been a brain activity burst — because that’s what would support the supernatural interpretation of the near-death experiences reported by human beings?”

RichardFeynman-PaineMansionWoods1984 copyrightTamikoThiel bw

9. Feynman’s Last Blackboard (emphasis added): “Richard Feynman was a brilliant, bongo-playing, lock-picking, eminently quotable physicist. His quips, on anything from the pleasure of findings things out to the key to science to how fire works are standard fare for science fans. For synthetic biologists, it’s a quotation he left on his last blackboard at Caltech before his death in 1988 that is most frequently quoted: ‘What I cannot create, I do not understand.’

(H/T: 3 Quarks Daily.)

10. “Our clearest view yet of Antarctica stripped of all it’s ice.” (H/T: Will Truman, League.)

Image Credits: (1) Wikimedia Commons; (2) Wikimedia Commons; (3) xkcd.com.

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