The Natural

I just read Glenn Reynold’s Instapundit site (a multiple daily occurrence), in which, in the midst of his ongoing family tragedy he notes that:

I’d have to say that the medical profession has made a lot less progress with “end of life” issues than I had thought. Unlike Leon Kass, though, I’d rather see them make progress at keeping people alive. They’re doing better, but, also unlike Kass, I wish that medical care had advanced as much since 1986 as laptops have. There’s nothing noble or natural about seeing someone die of cancer. Cancer isn’t natural. It happens because something has gone horribly wrong. Unavoidable, perhaps, but that’s not the same as “natural.” The same is true of everything else people die of.

First of all, having lost close family members myself, a situation that remains, to date, sadly (though I know Professor Kass wouldn’t agree) and fundamentally part of the human condition, I’d like to say that I wish for the best for his family in this trying time.

But if it’s not deemed too opportunistic in the face of such personal trauma, I’d also like to disquisite on the above quote. Being a mathematician and thus, by nature (i.e., it’s natural for him) logical, I would hope that Glenn’s father-in-law would see it as a good cause.

“Natural” is vastly overrated. As is “normal.” As is “organic.” That such scientific terms, which ought to be morally neutral, have somehow acquired intrinsic value, is a testament to the sad state of the news media and our educational system.

Let’s take them (not) in order. “Normal” is a statistical term. It just means a characteristic that most of a given sample have. If you’re human, it’s normal to have two legs and two arms. It’s normal to have skin pigmentation. It’s normal to have an IQ within a couple dozen points of a hundred. And it’s normal, if you’re a man, to be attracted to women. That doesn’t mean that any of these things are “good.” It only means that a vast majority of human beings have these traits.

Being homosexual is not normal, but then, neither is being Albert Einstein or Mark Maguire or…me. Or you. It is not normal to be either an axe murderer or a genius. The fact that these states are not a normal condition provides absolutely zero information as to whether or not we should or should not approve of them. Thus, the mindless condemnation that any particular trait is “not normal” is meaningless.

OK, next up–“Organic.” Although, via arm-twisting by addled ex-hippies and their willing accomplices in the press, the government has come up with bizarre criteria that determine whether or not a food product can be labeled “organic,” the scientific fact remains that organic means nothing more than that a substance is…well…carbon based. Scrawny blueberries grown under FDA-authorized conditions of minimum-to-zero fertilizer and pesticides are organic.

So are the disallowed fertilizer and pesticides.

So is botulism. And anthrax–even that produced in Saddam Hussein’s labs.

And finally, to get back to the original point spurred by Glenn’s family travails, “natural.”

This is a rare case in which I disagree with Glenn. Cancer is many things, and one of them is natural.

Nature is not our friend. Regardless of what Leon Kass and Jeremy Rifkin wish to believe, natural is not a moral value–it is just a state of being uninfluenced by humans (at least in the common parlance–some, including me, consider humans and their works to be natural as well).

It is natural to be born. It is natural to love. For humans, it is natural to create works of art and beauty, often transcendently so. Unfortunately, it is also natural, for many, to rape and murder. And it is natural to get cancer, and ultimately, for all so far, it is natural to die. I find it bizarre that those who would condemn rape, welcome death, on the basis that the latter is “natural,” when in truth one is no more or less natural than the other.

Since the dawn of recorded time, it was natural for someone injured to become infected, and lose a limb or die, until we came up with the unnatural advent of antibiotics. It was natural for a woman and her child, in the event of a breach birth, to die, or for the child to live, but the woman to die in agony by having the child literally ripped from her womb, until we came up with those unnatural anesthetics. It was natural for people to lose most of their teeth, often painfully, until we came up with those unnatural dental maintenance techniques.

And now that we’ve unnaturally conquered so many other ills, and, in defiance of human nature, dramatically reduced the incidence of violent death among our youth, and, by unnaturally producing food on farms, reduced our need to hunt dangerous natural wild animals–we live unnaturally long lives, and thus it is now natural for many of us to get cancer. And when we defeat that (as we will inevitably do, though, sadly, probably not in time for Glenn’s father-in-law), we will do it with means just as unnatural as those employed to improve the human condition in the past.

We must live our lives by a set of values, but whether or not something is natural should not–indeed cannot–be among them. If it were, and we guided our lives by it, we would still be living nasty, brutish and short lives on a savannah in Africa, subsisting on roots, berries, and whatever the hyenas left behind. Of course, none of you would be reading this in that event, because we wouldn’t have such unnatural things as computers, computer networks, or even written language.

We have to find other moral guideposts than whether or not it’s what nature intended–nature intends nothing. Or to the degree that one believes in such a teleology, nature intends only that we are born, we breed and we get out of the way for the next generation. If that is our highest aspiration, then we truly are no different from any other animal, and I don’t think that even (or especially) Leon Kass believes that.

More Straight Talk From The SecDef

Don Rumsfeld continues to put on, in Brit Hume’s words, “the best show in town” at his daily press briefings.

Today, apparently, in response to a question about whether or not he was “micro-managing” the bombing/maneuvers on the ground in Afghanistan, he responded by stating that the story had no named sources, and said it was obviously written by a “world-class thumb sucker.”

It is really difficult (and frightening) to imagine Bill Cohen giving these briefings.

[Update]

Just to clarify the record, and not that it reduces in any way the entertainment level, but in reading the actual transcript, it seems clear that the “thumb sucker” appellation applied to the story itself, rather than the author.

Clinton Family Values

Cute editorial in the Washington Times today on the latest Clinton antics, and relatively uncritical reportage of them.

What strikes one as downright weird, though, were Miss Clinton’s next thoughts: “I was worried that, with the tax cut, we wouldn’t have enough money to repair New York and D.C. and to help the families of the thousands I knew must have died.” The sky is falling, and she’s worried about tax cuts: This is a true Clinton.

Mom’s worried about the tax cut, too. Mrs. Clinton told CNN that the Bush tax cut “undermined… our ability to deal with this new threat of terrorism.” Well, which is it? The husband says it’s slavery, etc. that got us into this fix, while the wife says it’s the Bush tax cut. These people really need to get their stories, no matter how ridiculous, straight.

Further Flight 587 Thoughts

As more info comes out, I’ve switched back to “glass-half-empty” of sabotage mode. While it’s extremely unlikely for a piece of primary structure to simply fall off on an airplane, airplane crashes themselves are extremely unlikely, as evidenced by the demonstrable fact that they are rare. Such events are, almost invariably, caused by a fatal and improbable combination of circumstances and events, and I now think it likely that this will be eventually found to be the case here as well, even given the horrendous coincidences of timing and location.

While it’s possible that it was deliberate, the particular plane (full of Dominicans on the way to the Caribbean) seems improbable (though, of course, the saboteur might not necessarily know the destination or manifest), and I would think that there would have been an attempt to do multiple aircraft nearly simultaneously, as occurred on 911, rather than a single isolated case. Also, now that they’ve determined that it wasn’t a fastener problem, it’s harder to come up with a theory of just how the tail would have been deliberately weakened in a way that an inspection wouldn’t catch. Also, absent some kind of active device (e.g., radio controlled charges), I don’t think that one could really plan when or where the aircraft would hit. It seems likely to me that, even given the fact that it was Mike Moran’s and the other fire fighters’ neighborhood and timing on Veterans’ Day and all, the location of the impact was just a tragic coincidence–a few seconds more and it would have ended up in the ocean.

Airbus was the first major manufacturer to use composites for primary structure, and we are only now getting enough life in the fleet to really understand long-term fatigue issues. Given that the vertical stabilizer did not come off quite as cleanly as originally reported, I’m now willing to entertain scenarios in which a stress-fatigued stabilizer came off, perhaps under whipsaw loads from hard rudder action to control the plane in unusual wake turbulence. Once the stabilizer was lost (particularly if the pilot didn’t realize this had occurred, which seems likely, since it’s fly-by-wire with no direct force feedback), there would be no essentially no yaw control from the airplane. This could result in fairly high g-loads on the engine pylons as it went into a flat spin (they aren’t designed to take much in terms of lateral loading–they’re cantilevered below, and are designed mainly for vertical loads), and could easily snap off, taking both engines. Once the engines were gone, there was no hope at all, because those would have been the only possibility of yaw control (using differential thrust).

Although I don’t buy the official story about TWA 800, I think it unlikely that there’s any coverup here–I just don’t see a motivation for it. If people think that the government is trying to keep us calm by hiding the “real” reason–terrorists, my response is that I’d much rather think that it’s terrorists, which we are already addressing, and could come up with new maintenance security procedures to address, than that we don’t know what happened, and that there’s a possibility that the entire Airbus fleet (and perhaps even Boeing as well, since they’ve started using composites in their latest series of aircraft as well) is at risk to an unquantifiable defect. Thus, at least to me, the current government position is more likely to keep me off an airplane than a sabotage theory.

Post-Modernism and bin Laden

In a recent speech, Paul Wolfowitz termed Al Qaeda our age’s Khmer Rouge. In this week’s Weekly Standard, Waller R. Newell has an interesting piece that points up one of the many parallels–both movements have been heavily influenced by western post-modern Marxists.

Many elements in the ideology of al Qaeda–set forth most clearly in Osama bin Laden’s 1996 “Declaration of War Against America”–derive from this same [opposition to hedonism, materialism, egoism, etc. through death and moral rectitude] mix. Indeed, in Arab intellectual circles today, bin Laden is already being likened to an earlier icon of Third World revolution who renounced a life of privilege to head for the mountains and fight the American oppressor, Che Guevara. According to Cairo journalist Issandr Elamsani, Arab leftist intellectuals still see the world very much in 1960s terms. “They are all ex-Sorbonne, old Marxists,” he says, “who look at everything through a postcolonial prism.”

Just as Heidegger wanted the German people to return to a foggy, medieval, blood-and-soil collectivism purged of the corruptions of modernity, and just as Pol Pot wanted Cambodia to return to the Year Zero, so does Osama dream of returning his world to the imagined purity of seventh-century Islam. And just as Fanon argued that revolution can never accomplish its goals through negotiation or peaceful reform, so does Osama regard terror as good in itself, a therapeutic act, quite apart from any concrete aim. The willingness to kill is proof of one’s purity.

And as an interesting follow-up to my post of a couple days ago on the post-modern left’s fear of technology, and (not always so) veiled admiration for Al Qaeda, he writes:

What the terrorists have in common with our armchair nihilists is a belief in the primacy of the radical will, unrestrained by traditional moral teachings such as the requirements of prudence, fairness, and reason. The terrorists seek to put this belief into action, shattering tradition through acts of violent revolutionary resolve. That is how al Qaeda can ignore mainstream Islam, which prohibits the deliberate killing of noncombatants, and slaughter innocents in the name of creating a new world, the latest in a long line of grimly punitive collectivist utopias.

An interesting read, and one more dot to connect as to why the rabid left cannot get behind the war–at their core, they share many of bin Laden’s aims–and methods…

More On L’Affaire JIR

In response to my latest rant on the possibilities that the terrorists are either unimaginably moronic, or that they want us to think that they are, and that both possibilities seem incredible, an anonymous reader offers an alternative explanation, to wit:

You know, maybe they aren’t that stupid. What if they were browsing the web some day and came across it. “Hey Abdul, you need to read this, it’s so funny!”

Then it got left behind. And we thought they were serious. Just wait until the archeologists of the future start talking about the significant news outlets of our time. “Most people got their weekly news from The Onion, America’s most respected source, while other chose the New York Times or the satire and comedy paper, The Wall Street Journal.”

Well, it is a third alternative, but given all the available evidence on offer, this seems to be a particularly humorless crowd, so to the degree that it is a viable explanation, it seems as astronomically improbable as the others. I’ve still gotta go with the theory that they really are major-league, world-class, galactic-championship-grade imbeciles…

More On L’Affaire JIR

In response to my latest rant on the possibilities that the terrorists are either unimaginably moronic, or that they want us to think that they are, and that both possibilities seem incredible, an anonymous reader offers an alternative explanation, to wit:

You know, maybe they aren’t that stupid. What if they were browsing the web some day and came across it. “Hey Abdul, you need to read this, it’s so funny!”

Then it got left behind. And we thought they were serious. Just wait until the archeologists of the future start talking about the significant news outlets of our time. “Most people got their weekly news from The Onion, America’s most respected source, while other chose the New York Times or the satire and comedy paper, The Wall Street Journal.”

Well, it is a third alternative, but given all the available evidence on offer, this seems to be a particularly humorless crowd, so to the degree that it is a viable explanation, it seems as astronomically improbable as the others. I’ve still gotta go with the theory that they really are major-league, world-class, galactic-championship-grade imbeciles…

More On L’Affaire JIR

In response to my latest rant on the possibilities that the terrorists are either unimaginably moronic, or that they want us to think that they are, and that both possibilities seem incredible, an anonymous reader offers an alternative explanation, to wit:

You know, maybe they aren’t that stupid. What if they were browsing the web some day and came across it. “Hey Abdul, you need to read this, it’s so funny!”

Then it got left behind. And we thought they were serious. Just wait until the archeologists of the future start talking about the significant news outlets of our time. “Most people got their weekly news from The Onion, America’s most respected source, while other chose the New York Times or the satire and comedy paper, The Wall Street Journal.”

Well, it is a third alternative, but given all the available evidence on offer, this seems to be a particularly humorless crowd, so to the degree that it is a viable explanation, it seems as astronomically improbable as the others. I’ve still gotta go with the theory that they really are major-league, world-class, galactic-championship-grade imbeciles…

Nukes for Dummies

I’m still trying to verify this, but if the Daily Rotten is correct, the “nuclear weapon plans” found in the Al Qaeda safe house are actually a download of an ancient (gag) article from the Journal of Irreproducible Results. Given their idiocy in so many other realms, why would this not surprise me? And why would it also not surprise me that few journalists would know the difference?

Anyway, if it can be verified, perhaps we can all sleep a little better tonight.

[Update at 7 AM]

It’s twue, it’s twue! This is delicious.

Just google the words, “the de-vice basically works,” and you’ll get a plethora of links to this document (this one, from Barking Spider, is just an example–it can be found at a number of sites) titled “How To Build An Atomic Bomb.” Look carefully at the pictures of the terrorist document from the BBC at the Daily Rotten page (or go directly to the source, if you don’t trust them) and compare.

It’s worth pointing out that this article was part of a series. The previous ones were:

  • Let’s Make Test Tube Babies! May, 1979
  • Let’s Make a Solar System! June, 1979
  • Let’s Make an Economic Recession! July, 1979
  • Let’s Make an Anti-Gravity Machine! August, 1979
  • Let’s Make Contact with an Alien Race! September, 1979

The next one was a primer on how to clone your neighbor’s wife in a single weekend, using common kitchen utensils.

This may provide a hint about some of Al Qaeda’s nefarious plans for our future.

[Further Update: 5:40 PM PST]

In actually reading the satirical document in question, this paragraph jumped out at me (and remember this was over twenty years ago).

Worldwide controversy has been generated recently from several court decisions in the United States which have restricted popular magazines from printing articles which describe how to make an atomic bomb. The reason usually given by the courts is that national security would be compromised if such information were generally available. But, since it is commonly known that all of the information is publicly available in most major metropolitan libraries, obviously the court’s officially stated position is covering up a more important factor; namely, that such atomic de-vices would prove too difficult for the average citizen to construct. The United States courts cannot afford to insult the vast majorities by insinuating that they do not have the intelligence of a cabbage, and thus the “official” press releases claim national security as a blanket restriction.

This seemed particularly ironic to me under the circumstances. Of course, to not even be able to recognize the difference between an actual nuclear bomb manual, and an obvious send up of same, implies that one has a level of intelligence that would make a cabbage look like, well, Stephen Hawking–it would imply something more on the order of a lobotomized fern.

So can they really be this stupid, or is this some kind of reverse mindfuck on us to make us believe that they’re really, really stupid? That all of this apparent idiocy–the mindless threats, counting on a population that they’ve been repressing to support them once they’re out of power, expecting Muslims worldwide to come to their aid when they’re getting their asses blown up, attacking the American Media by literally sending an anthrax-laced envelope to “American Media,” asking for flying lessons that don’t involve takeoffs or landings, stealing joke plans for bombs from scientific satire magazines–is actually a fiendishly clever ploy, and once we’ve destroyed their power structure, killed most of them, chased the rest up into their caves, blown up the caves, and starved out the rest, and let our guard down, that’s when they’re going to hit us with something really big?

I have to confess, that I find both explanations so improbable that I no longer know what to think–the notion that they are really that bereft of mental capacity almost defies biology and the nature of the human genome, but the other explanation absolutely beggars logic. Anyway, I find the former more comforting…

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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