Sunday, 1/26/14

    1. STEM and Beauty
    2. Durn furriners and their furrin laws
    3. Richard Mouw wants no prophet’s mantle
    4. Death and Pregnancy in Indiana
    5. Can’t we just get along?
    6. Death, sanitized
    7. Marriage promotion as cargo cult


I dropped the Ann Althouse blog for its low signal-to-noise ratio, but here’s one (last?) signal I really liked:

“Each step of a drop’s life arouses astonishment,” he said. “Nature is subtle, but we have tools to decipher her code…. I’m trying to tell you why this is important physics to know, but I’m showing this movie for another reason. This is an uncommonly beautiful thing to watch… It’s that aesthetic sense which has just as much compelled me to study this as the importance of the science itself. I really believe that this is a perfectly good reason to study this behavior.”

That reminded me of that interview with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that we were talking about the other day, here. Remember, she was asked how to get girls to go into STEM majors, rather than the “helping professions,” and Gillibrand’s idea was to leverage the (supposed) female desire to help people by explaining to young girls that science and technology do ultimately benefit people. That quote from Nagel suggests another approach. Appeal to the love of beauty, reveal the aesthetic aspects of science, and let the girls — not to mention boys — know that it’s just fine to pursue what you feel compelled to look at because it is beautiful. That makes science more like other things you instinctively feel drawn to put your time into when you are young. Make the study of science intrinsically rewarding instead of portraying it as a means to an end, where the scientist supposedly loves other people, but instead of working with people, closes herself up in a lab and pays attention to things other than people, urge herself onward by imagining the people out there who will benefit. It’s better to love exactly what you are doing. Have the object of your study be the beautiful thing that you love, as Professor Nagel loves his drop of water.

I don’t think I can add anything to that except for some bold italics.


One of the knee-jerk causes of The Thing That Used To Be Conservatism (thanks again for that expression, Mark Shea) is proposed bans on use of foreign law in American courts. It seems to be a blunt instrument for bludgeoning the boogeyman, “Shariah Law.” But let’s look at the collateral damage.

Eugene Volokh explains in a series of articles why Court do and should use foreign law. In family law, for instance:

Consider, for instance, Ghassemi v. Ghassemi, a 2008 Louisiana case. The Ghassemis were first cousins born in Iran. They married in Iran in 1976 and had a son born in Iran in 1977. The husband then came to the United States to study, while the wife and son stayed behind. The husband remained in America, and in 1995 arranged for the son to join him in America. The wife also eventually came to America, and in 2006 she petitioned for divorce from the husband. To rule on the divorce petition, Louisiana courts first had to determine whether the Ghassemis were validly married. It turns out that Louisiana, like about half the other states, bars marriage between first cousins. If the Ghassemis had tried to get married in Louisiana, their marriage would not have been valid. But the Ghassemis had married in Iran, not in Louisiana. And in such a situation, Louisiana law expressly provides that Louisiana must look to the law of the place where the marriage was entered into: “A marriage that is valid in the state [defined to include foreign countries] where contracted … shall be treated as a valid marriage unless to do so would violate a strong public policy of [Louisiana] ….”

Or contracts:

Consider Campbell v. American International Group, Inc., a 1999 Oklahoma case. Christopher Campbell (a Louisiana resident) was injured in an accident while riding in a car driven by Michael Muller (an Oklahoma resident). Both men were American soldiers, and the accident happened in Germany, where they were stationed. Muller’s auto insurance was issued in Germany by a French corporation. After the men returned to the United States, Campbell sued Muller and Muller’s insurance company in Oklahoma court. Insurance cases are primarily contract cases, so the court had to decide which law to use in interpreting the contract. And the court concluded, reading the insurance policy, that the policy incorporated German law — unsurprising for a policy sold in Germany. I don’t think there should be anything controversial about such use of foreign law. We Americans are part of the big world and we go all over it, whether as soldiers, businesspeople, or tourists. When we travel we might enter into a contract. Then, after we come back, and a dispute arises, we may want the benefit of suing in American courts, which are more convenient for us.

I’m not sure bans on foreign law have gained any traction yet, but as Volokh says, “the benefits of bans on the use of foreign law are likely to be small — but the costs could be grave.”

Or put it another way: If your representative fulminates about “Shariah law” and sponsors legislation to ban use of foreign law in American courts, stop payment on any donation you’ve made to his campaign and make a note on your calendar for the day before the next election: “Bo Snerdly (or whoever) is too stupid to be making laws.”


Frequently I am invited to add my name as an endorser of a position paper on some topic of public concern: Often it is a statement by an interfaith group advocating for more aggressive efforts to find peaceful solutions to the conflicts in the Middle East, or a network of evangelicals expressing concern about something going on in the larger culture. I always read the statement in question over carefully before agreeing to add my name. And when I decide not to sign it, it often has to do with my impression that the group making the declaration is trying too hard to be “prophetic.”

(Richard J. Mouw)


“From a galloping horse” and “for what it’s worth”:

A Texas judge ruled Fri­day that a Fort Worth hos­pi­tal may not keep a brain-dead preg­nant woman on life sup­port against her fam­ily’s wish­es, and or­dered doc­tors to take her off the ma­chines by 5 p.m. on Mon­day.

(New York Times) Texas apparently has a law that requires her to be kept on life support for the sake of her unborn child (whose viability is a separate issue).

Indiana has no such law but does provide:

The living will declaration of a person diagnosed as pregnant by the attending physician has no effect during the person’s pregnancy.

(IC 16-36-4-8) Be it noted that, in my opinion, this is by no means equivalent to the Texas law, whatever other good or bad things you might think about it. While Arthur Hugh Clugh may have meant it as satire, it is establised law that “Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive officiously to keep alive.” All the Indiana Code does in that provision is to say “take the Living Will out of the factors under consideration for whether to strive.”

And considering that a “living will declaration of a person diagnosed as pregnant by the attending physician has no effect” 99% of the time anyway (a separate topic to be sure, but well-known to estate planners and elder law attorneys), that’s not a very big deal.


Cardinal Kurt Koch (head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) explains that part of the problem is a fundamental disagreement over what the purpose of ecumenism even is. The Catholic News Agency quotes him as follows: “‘The main problem that we have today in the ecumenical dialogue with all the Protestant’ communities . . . is the lack of ‘a common vision of the goal of the ecumenical movement. We have two different views. The Catholic view, (which) is also the Orthodox view, (is) that we will re-find the unity in faith in the sacraments and in ministries.’” Conversely, Cardinal Koch says, “the vision that I find today in the Protestant churches and ecclesial communities (is that) of the mutual recognition of all ecclesial communities as churches.”

It’s hard to argue with the cardinal’s assessment. Some, indeed, many of the most prominent voices in mainline Protestantism seem to have approached ecumenical dialogue this way in recent years. They want merely for everyone to recognize everyone else as faithful Christians. “We’ll keep our church; you keep yours. And we’ll all just get along together, recognizing each other’s churches as acceptable alternatives.”

(Matthew Block, The Purpose of Ecumenism) So what’s wrong with that? Well, maybe unity in truth would be better, for one thing — starting with the truths that “Church” doesn’t mean whatever you want it to mean, nothing more and nothing less, and that two cherches that teach opposites can’t both be teaching God’s truth.


If you’re willing to desecrate your loved one’s body by cremation, there are now companies that will turn the ashes into diamonds:

These tokens might be described as a loved one’s “relics,” but the similarity that suggests to older practices isn’t as strong as we might think. Diamonds have a certain hygienic quality to them besides being indestructible and perdurant—two qualities we wish upon mortal life. And it is precisely that wishing, that refusal to face facts, that is the problem.

(Read the rest)


“Marriage promotion” as a means of address social problems at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder is a bad idea. It’s not a neutral idea, or a nice idea that probably won’t work. It’s inexcusably obtuse and may be outright destructive. It is quite literally a cargo cult.

(Steve Randy Waldman) See? I do post thing I think are perverse. But the “cargo cult” figure of speech was so arresting, and the whole idea so counterintuitive, that I just had to engage a budding curmudgeon a little, if only in my own mind. Now you, too, can have the same experience!

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.