Today's xkcd:

It happens this is also the answer to the problem posed in this article on the stagnation of culture:
Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There’s no chance you would mistake a photograph or movie of Americans or an American city from 1972—giant sideburns, collars, and bell-bottoms, leisure suits and cigarettes, AMC Javelins and Matadors and Gremlins alongside Dodge Demons, Swingers, Plymouth Dusters, and Scamps—with images from 1992. Time-travel back another 20 years, before rock ’n’ roll and the Pill and Vietnam, when both sexes wore hats and cars were big and bulbous with late-moderne fenders and fins—again, unmistakably different, 1952 from 1972. You can keep doing it...

Look at people on the street and in malls—jeans and sneakers remain the standard uniform for all ages, as they were in 2002, 1992, and 1982. Look through a current fashion or architecture magazine or listen to 10 random new pop songs; if you didn’t already know they were all things from the 2010s, I guarantee you couldn’t tell me with certainty they weren’t from the 2000s or 1990s or 1980s or even earlier. (The first time I heard a Josh Ritter song a few years ago, I actually thought it was Bob Dylan.)
The 1980s were the era when the Baby Boomers grew up, reached their late 30s and crossed into their 40s.   They stopped wanting anything new about that time, and settled into middle age.  The culture locked down with them, because the size of their cohort means that advertising, the movies, all the cultural industries look to them first and last.

If you were born in the 1980s, then, the world you know has never changed in any serious way.  The political parties have always occupied the same basic positions:  Reagan was the last sea change.  You don't remember JFK, so Democrats have always been anti-war.

If this demographic trend is as suggestive as it seems to be, American culture will not change much for another twenty years or so.  There are a lot of interesting things going on, but they're going on in corners:  they'll not have a chance to influence the big show.

Let's Have Some Oratorio -

It's the season of Handel, the missus and I are going to see one of his operas this weekend, it's also close to Hannukah, and I don't need an excuse anyway. An old favorite of mine:

Let's Have a Song

A good song of Scotland:

From the Baltimore Consort, an amazing group that I have somehow never managed to arrange to see live.  They're one of the best early music groups performing today.  Those of you in the D.C. area should take advantage of your proximity, and arrange to hear them play.

One for Lars

From  "Archaeologists uncover early Christian community in Norway."

Against Rape

The Pennsylvania liquor board has pulled an anti-rape ad that it developed, over charges that the ad consists in blaming the victim.  Here's the text of the ad:

"SHE DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT, BUT SHE COULDN'T SAY NO:  When your friends drink, they can end up making bad decisions like going home with someone they don't know very well.  Decisions like that leave them vulnerable to dangers like date rape.  Help your friends stay in control and stay safe."

The website Jezebel objects:
Rape is not just a bad thing that happens to someone after drinking too much, a wave of nausea that ends in vomit that smells like Red Bull. It's not something the victim conjures up with a mixture of alcohol and phermones. It's a deliberate act on the part of the rapist, a violation of another person committed solely because the rapist wanted to rape. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we'll be rid of stupid, finger wagging ads like these.
I'm not a big fan of public service ads like these either.  However, if we're going to have them, it is important that they be able to speak the truth.

As our co-blogger Joseph W. points out, from his perspective as a JAG lawyer, the ties between alcohol and rape are undeniable.  If we're going to flood the airwaves with warnings about not letting your friends drink and drive, why not ads that warn that you should probably not let your friends go home drunk with strangers?

To say that is not in any way to justify rape.  We can still place the full weight of the crime upon the shoulders of the rapist.  There is no suggestion that the woman deserves to be raped.  All that is being said is that she is vulnerable to being raped in this condition, and therefore you who are her friends ought to watch out for her.

I understand the objection to similar statements about wearing short skirts, but this ad is crucially different.  If you say "Don't wear a short skirt if you don't want to be raped," you do seem to be setting up a limit on women's behavior and free expression as a kind of price for safety.  This ad does not do that, however:  it doesn't suggest that women shouldn't drink.  It does suggest that they be responsible about it, but that's good advice for a whole host of reasons.  Yet even that is not a limit on women's behavior:  what the ad ends up advising is that if your friend decides to get really drunk, you should help her watch out for her safety.

This provokes another quote from the Havamal, a poem that is coming up surprisingly often when discussing feminist issues:
A better burden can no man bear
on the way than his mother wit:
and no worse provision can he carry with him
than too deep a draught of ale.

Less good than they say for the sons of men
is the drinking oft of ale:
for the more they drink, the less can they think
and keep a watch o'er their wits.
That's as true for women as for men.  The truth is no insult.  I hold it to be true that rapists should be hanged, and that women should not in any way be blamed for having been raped.  I also hold it to be true that it is wise to keep an eye on how much you drink, and in what company, and not to drink very much if you are not with people you trust completely.  I also hold it to be true that, if your friend happens to get really smashed, you have a duty as a friend to make sure they get home in one piece.

Why is it so difficult to speak these simple truths when it comes to rape, as opposed to avoiding the danger of being beaten and robbed in an alley?  Via Lars Walker, a report from Norway:

Lars notes the response of Norway's justice minister to the report:
After a police report in Oslo said that Muslims were raping Norwegian women out of a religious conviction that this was the proper thing to do,  a stormy public debate erupted, reports Bello, and “the government ministers, most of them avowed anti-Semites, claimed that the report and its publication serve Israel and its policy of occupation.” 
Norway’s justice minister defended the police report but also said that “Israel must be glad to hear about it.”
Do you comprehend the breathtaking Orwellianism here? “If we talk about the one thing these rapists have in common, we'll look like Nazis. Therefore, to distance ourselves from the Nazis, we'll find a way to scapegoat the Israelis.” 
We need to be able to speak the truth in these matters.  If we cannot speak the truth, it would be better to say nothing at all.

Even if you prefer to say nothing, however, your duty to your friends remains.  This is what friendship means:  it means we take care of each other.

Michele Bachmann's Path to Victory

So I got this video via email from the campaign.

It's certainly true that she doesn't waver.  I can't argue against that proposition:  it's why I stopped supporting her.  She doesn't waver even when she's wrong.

Still, consider the argument.  She is who she says she is, at least; and she's no cronyist, and no elite.  I doubt she wins Iowa, but if she does consolidate a strong position early in spite of polling data and what we might expect?  We could do worse, I suppose, in spite of everything.

Y Gododdin

Before the battle of Stirling Bridge, William Wallace watched from hiding on a hilltop as the English force began to cross the river below.  That hilltop had been the site of an ancient fort:
A hillfort comprising a single oval bank with another rampart 30m further down the slope, was first recorded on the summit in the 18th century. Originally interpreted as the camp of Wallace’s troops, recent investigations revealed the structure was much older, as charcoal recovered from the inner rampart returned a radiocarbon date of AD 560-730. 
Stirling Council Archaeology Officer Murray Cook, who in September led a community excavation at the site, said this means the fort could have been one of the main centres of the Gododdin, a Britonnic people who lived in northeast England and southern Scotland. Part of this tribe formed the kingdom of Manaw, which local place names such as Clackmannan and Slamannan suggest could have included the area around Abbey Craig. But this high-status settlement also appears to have come to a dramatic end, destroyed by a fire so intense that its stones fused together.
Gododdin was one of the kingdoms of the Old North, now almost forgotten.  There was a time when these kingdoms were the frontier of our civilization, but few now even know their names.  Its companion, Ystrad Clud, is remembered now only as 'Strathclyde,' which used to have administrative functions within Scotland.

As for Gododdin, it is chiefly remembered for a single verse from its surviving poetry:
He fed black ravens on the rampart of a fortress
Though he was no Arthur
Among the powerful ones in battle
In the front rank, Gwawrddur was a palisade.
This is often taken to be the earliest surviving reference to the man we know as King Arthur.  The reference  assumes its audience needs no explanation of why a raven-feeder, a palisade in the front ranks of battle, is not shamed by the comparison.

Bourbon in Your Eyes

Following on T99's post of lounge-singing in Morocco, here's a young lady doing it the American way.

Islamic Cleric Rules Men Should Do the Cooking

An Islamic cleric residing in Europe said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any “sexual thoughts.”
The unnamed sheikh, who was featured in an article on el-Senousa news, was quoted saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.
Apparently we've got it all wrong, boys.  All that foolishness about cooking your wife or girlfriend a good meal on date night?  Just shooting yourself in the foot.

Medieval "PTSD"?

Or, a journalist discovers Geoffroi de Charny.

De Charny also suggested what the knights should do to resist the stress factors. He said knights should fight for a good cause to avoid succumbing to the pressures of war. A ‘good cause’ should be God’s cause – a war for a higher and just cause, to reinstate law and order – and not for personal gain. 
“On the one hand we can see that de Charny was a very conscientious man – and in the Middle Ages conscience was regarded as God’s way of telling us how to relate to rights and wrongs.
“On the other hand, he was a warrior who took part in several wars over a period of 30 years, including a crusade to the city we call Ismir. War and crusades are by definition violent,” says Heebøll-Holm.

Oh, yes, by definition. But: "on the one hand / on the other hand"? What exactly is the conflict between being conscientious and being a warrior?

Hamiltonians versus Jeffersonians

This is a banner day for interesting articles.  Dr. Mead has one in which he points out that both President Obama and Mr. Gingrich have declared themselves to be in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, and that Roosevelt himself would have told you he was in the tradition of Hamilton.  The Jeffersonians, though one is in the race, aren't really in the hunt:
That fight was essentially over three things that divide us intensely today: the role of the federal government, the nature of the credit system, and the future of the social hierarchy. Alexander Hamilton favored a strong federal government at home and abroad, a centralized credit system similar to the British one with a Bank of the United States acting as our central bank, and believed that the best educated and most widely experienced people in the United States constituted a natural aristocracy and should play the leading role in our politics. Thomas Jefferson disagreed with virtually everything Hamilton believed. He wanted a weak federal government, detested Hamilton’s banking system, and feared that the alliance of a social elite with a powerful government and a strong central bank would turn the US into a European-style aristocratic or monarchical society.
I've always thought of myself as a member of the Jeffersonian tradition in this regard.  For reasons laid out yesterday, I don't think my side has any hope of recapturing the Presidency at any nearby point.  I wouldn't have picked Ron Paul as the guidon-bearer for Jeffersonianism, though; after all, Jefferson was an expansionist, and fought the Barbary States.

Happy Pearl Harbor Day!

Why not celebrate by refusing to send a care package to deployed soldiers?

Barbarians on the Thames

That is the title of Theodore Dalrymple's latest piece, which he describes as a postmortem on the British riots. He begins by denying the existence of final causes in history, which we were just discussing the other day:
Complex human events have no single or final explanation. The last word on the outbreak of looting and rioting that convulsed large parts of England, including London, in August will therefore never be heard. But some of the first words were foolish, or at least shallow, reflecting the typical materialistic assumptions of the intelligentsia.
As usual, he goes on to make some very good points.

What Does the Administration Mean By "Human Rights"?

I read an interesting headline at ABC News this morning: "Rick Perry Says Human Rights for Gays ‘Not in America’s Interests’."

Of course, I'm thinking, that can't be what he said.  The man's had some trouble expressing himself clearly at times, but even so I couldn't imagine that anyone would say "human rights for gays are not in America's interests."  

And of course, it turns out, that's not what he said at all.  What he said was that special rights for gays were not in America's national security interests -- and that foreign aid decisions, which is what all this is about, should be based on national security interests and nothing else.

Secretary Clinton recently gave a speech in which she announced the policy change in which gay rights will be considered in making foreign aid decisions.  However, she appears to deny the governor's premise that what is at issue are special rights, saying, "Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights."

There's nothing in her speech that suggests she is interested in "special" rights, and I'm not sure just what Governor Perry means by that.  If he means that gays should not have a special right to redefine the basic institutions of society to suit them, I suppose I agree with him; but if he's opposed to the things Secretary Clinton was actually talking about, I don't think those include special rights at all.  

Still, let's consider his statement a little more carefully. Here's the meat of his remarks:
This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop..... 
But there is a troubling trend here beyond the national security nonsense inherent in this silly idea. This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country. Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong.
Now, it is true that "people of faith" tend to be morally opposed to male homosexuality, not just in this country but in most countries.  This is especially true in the countries Secretary Clinton is talking about when she says that being gay should never be a criminal offense -- that is generally true only in the Islamic world.  

Secretary Clinton spoke to this issue directly, however, in a way that seems to make clear that the governor's concerns are not well founded.
Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people. And likewise, for most of us, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity. And caring for others is an expression of what it means to be fully human. It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.
I generally hate the phrase "fully human" wherever I encounter it -- what is the point of the adjective here? -- and the last line is not quite right.  Still, the objection I would raise to it is not that there aren't universal human rights, but that she's eliding past the true reason why they exist.

It happens to be true that Secretary Clinton is poking a finger in the eye of some people of faith, then:  Iranian ones, though, not American ones.  This is still a strange decision from an administration that declared it was going to rebuild relationships with the Islamic world, but I expect it's because they really believe in it enough to justify the hardship it's going to create for their diplomatic efforts.

That this comes at the same time that the US government is shutting down its commission on religious freedom is bad timing, but it's not the State Department's fault.  The Senate is responsible for this because of  the question of funding.

Now, Governor Perry may still be right that (a) foreign aid decisions should be based only on national security issues, and (b) this push is not only not going to help us in that regard, it's actually going to be harmful because it will further irritate relations with the Islamic world.  I'm not sure I agree with (a), but if you do, (b) surely follows.  

Soul and Sowell:

Commentary writes:
Because he is black, his opinions about race are controversial. If he were white, they probably would be unpublishable. This is a rare case in which we are all beneficiaries of American racial hypocrisy. That he works in the special bubble of permissiveness extended by the liberal establishment to some conservatives who are black (in exchange for their being regarded as inauthentic, self-loathing, soulless race traitors) must be maddening to Sowell, even more so than it is for other notable black conservatives.
But of course, it is demonstrable (for me, and Plotinus) that he is not soulless:  for after all, soul is our connection to intellect, and therefore to reason.  And Sowell must share the same order of reason as this liberal establishment, else he could not understand the rules of their game.  (Indeed, the phrase 'capable of understanding the rules' is almost an analysis of the word 'rational'; and notice that it is the potential to understand, rather than the actuality of understanding, that is at stake.)

The unity of the order of reason is one of the few things that survives the most severe skeptical assaults.  You can speak of Evil Demons; but an evil demon must share the same order of reason as you in order to fool you.  You can question whether you are a Brain in a Vat; but the mad scientist keeping you there must share the order of reason with you in order to be able to fool you.

If you have that, you have everything we really wanted out of metaphysics.  Including, as it happens, a soul for Thomas Sowell.

Now, Let's Not Go Overboard

Politico says that "Nervous Mitt fans" are urging their candidate to "hit Newt harder."  One of the strengths of the Gingrich campaign, though, has been its general refusal to hit fellow Republicans, but to concentrate fire on the Obama administration.  The Romney campaign has likewise been wise in this regard, with the effect that whichever candidate wins, they will not have been damaged by a bruising primary.

Indeed, the many debates have allowed the candidates to sort according to something like merit.  I'm not fond of any of the remaining options, to be sure; but the decisions people have made about the qualifications of the candidates are based on their capacity to answer questions, express their thoughts, and the positions these candidates have taken.  It has been a fairly responsible, positive campaign.

That I am unhappy with the choices is reflective of the fact that no one who shares my views is involved with politics at the level that could sustain a Presidential run -- a sad but unsurprising fact, since in general our political system puts all its incentives toward the kind of cronyist, rent-seeking, power-abusing, lying, thieving behavior that indeed we do observe.  It's not clear that someone who agrees with me could get elected to a high enough office to be taken seriously as a Presidential candidate; it's certainly true that they couldn't build the kind of support within the political system that would allow them to be elected President and govern successfully.  Everything they stand for would be about undercutting the political powerbases of those whose support they would be seeking:  of course they cannot win.

Our system will never produce a President I can wholly approve, then.  I do hope that we may be able to pick off a few victories at the edges, here and there.  When the crisis this mode of government produces finally arrives, we might then be able to use the leverage to sever the concentration of Federal power, and restore the Federalism and local independence that would allow for a more just system to exist.

Those objections aside, I am pleased by the relatively good behavior of our debaters.  Perhaps it is inevitable that the primary will get rougher and more bruising as we come down to the part where people begin to vote.  However, before we pull the pin on that grenade, I'd like to remind Team Mitt of just how bad things could get:

What say we just continue to be gentlemen about this, then?

Court-Martial as Spectacle

According to This Ain't Hell, Michael Yon's given what looks like, but in fact is not, an interesting dilemma:
It could happen tomorrow. A Soldier might say, “Sir, I want to go to Afghanistan, but I am afraid that by violating the Geneva Conventions, I could be accused of a war crime. I am caught in a bad place. I cannot violate the Geneva Conventions and so there is no need to send me to Afghanistan to fly. I must refuse that unlawful order. If ordered, I will go to Afghanistan but I cannot fly in violation.

A Soldier is obligated to obey the law. A Soldier is obligated not to obey unlawful orders.

What would you do?
The answer is, you obey your damn orders.

Every now and again, in court-martial practice, you run into someone with this new and brilliant idea. They or their families are antiwar activists; they'll disobey orders to deploy, proclaiming the war to be "illegal" according to their own understanding of international law; and in their fantasies they'll force their court-martial to decide the legality of the war. Even if they lose, so they dream, they'll be able to bring in a parade of experts to explain, in open court, why the war is evil - and do wonders for the cause.

It won't happen. A certain Dr. Yolanada Huet-Vaughn - a reservist and antiwar activist (who rather candidly admitted that she'd joined the reserves to lend credibility to her antiwar activities) - tried that very thing in the 1990's. The military appellate courts upheld her conviction, and here is the money quote:
"[t]he duty to disobey an unlawful order applies only to a positive act that constitutes a crime that is so manifestly beyond the legal power or discretion of the commander as to admit of no rational doubt of their unlawfulness."
Pull an Abu Ghraib and the "Nuremberg defense" won't help you. But "Everyman His Own Supreme Court" is not the rule, nor never has it been.

To my knowledge, the closest thing to a successful "court-martial as spectacle" was the 1925 trial of Billy Mitchell, which you can read about there. Then-COL Mitchell (his general's rank had been temporary) loved to make public pronouncements about the stupidity and incompetence of the Army, especially with respect to aviation. He was tried under the prior version of the General Article by a court composed of generals (as was natural; the members had to outrank him).

In reading about the trial, it didn't surprise me that Mitchell tried to justify his actions by claiming his statements were true. It did very much surprise me that the court let him do it. I'm used to trials where the defense researches issues and obtains documents months and weeks before trial. In his case, the court allowed his defense team to acquire reams of War Department documents right in the middle of trial, and the two sides fought it out improvised, like rats in a hole.

Mitchell achieved the public spectacle he wanted, but not the success. His factual claims fell apart as the evidence came in, and he was convicted pretty quickly. His sentence - a suspension from duty - was nugatory, but it led him to resign. And yet that is the most successful "court martial as spectacle" (from the defense point of view) that I know. (Does someone know another? I'm not counting war crimes tribunals - I understand that Tojo gained a measure of respect in Japan for his brave performance at his own trial.) Nowadays, I suspect, Mitchell would not receive so much accomodation - no more than I could defend against a violation of this article by claiming the contemptuous words were true.

"Heroic disobedience" is an issue we talked about long ago - and I believe it is a hallmark of liberty under the rule of law, that disobeying the law is not heroic. (What I mean is, if you find situations where violating the law is a noble and heroic act, that is a sign of tyranny.) Thus, on the civilian side in our system, you don't have to violate a law in order to challenge its constitutionality in court - you sue the official who enforces it, asking the court for an injunction or a "declaration" that the law is unconstitutional. If you win, it'll still be on the books, but not enforced. There is no need to violate it, or go to prison, in order to fight that good fight.

How I Got to Go to a Birthday Party While Heavily Sedated

Wistful childhood memories.

Frivolous Science

This may be old hat to those of you with rugrats in the house. You can make a non-Newtonian fluid with a starch suspension, such as a mixture of a little less than 2 parts cornstarch to one part water, a/k/a "oobleck" from the Dr. Seuss story. (If you can add a little fluorescent food coloring to it, so much the better in the oogliness department.) It becomes more viscous when subjected to pressure, which means, among other things, that you'll sink in it like quicksand unless you run over it quickly:

Put it on top of a speaker, and it will form writhing tendrils.

Useful information gleaned from comments sections: if your little brother puts it in your hair, just add some vegetable oil, and it will slither right off.

Wandering in random YouTube-association land, I found a new use for liquid nitrogen. When I was a kid hanging out with my dad at work, he used to get me out of his hair by giving me some to play with. He produced amusing effects by gargling it (just don't swallow). I wish I'd realized back then what it looked like when you poured it on top of water:

I think the kid was risking asphyxiation when he swam into the thick cloud.

For extra science fun, type in "Is it a good idea to microwave . . . " on YouTube.

More Things We Wish the Government Would Please Not Do

You might think that T99's post, in which we learned about the Fed 'servicing' the needs of the banks, represents the low point of today's news about the functioning of our government. Perhaps it does; but there is, at least, some competition for the honor.
[A]gents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Administration, have handled shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders, those officials said, to identify how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars?  That's not so bad....
[T]he former officials said that federal law enforcement agencies had to seek Justice Department approval to launder amounts greater than $10 million in any single operation. 
Wait, what?  You said "hundreds of thousands."  What happened to "hundreds of thousands"?  How'd we get to $10 million?
But they said that the cap was treated more as a guideline than a rule, and that it had been waived on many occasions....
So, on many occasions, they waived the rule limiting drug money laundering to not more than $10 million?

Well, at least if they're tracking that kind of money, it must be a highly effective operation.
So far there are few signs that following the money has disrupted the cartels’ operations, and little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain.

We Must Have Missed a Decimal Point

So you thought it was a lot when TARP cost us $700 billion, right? Bloomberg News has pried information out the Fed via Freedom of Information Act requests, revealing that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke actually pumped as much as $7.77 trillion into the banking system. When these guys say they're going to prevent another Lehman on their watch "at any cost," they're not kidding: that's more than half the gross national product.

J.P. Morgan tapped the Fed's Term Auction Facility for more than half the bank's cash holdings. "The six biggest U.S. banks, which received $160 billion of TARP funds, borrowed as much as $460 billion from the Fed.

Ouija Science

Maggie's Farm sent me to a list of "Eight Warning Signs for Junk Science," including:
  1. Science by press release.
  2. Rhetoric that mixes science with the tropes of eschatological panic (“a terrible catastrophe looms over us if theory X is true, therefore we cannot risk disbelieving it”).
  3. Rhetoric that mixes science with the tropes of moral panic (“only bad/sinful/uncaring people disbelieve theory X”).
  4. Consignment of failed predictions to the memory hole (also known as "moving the goal posts").
  5. Computer models replete with bugger factors that aren’t causally justified (if you don’t have a generative account that makes falsifiable predictions, you’re not doing science, you’re doing numerology.
  6. Convenience (if a ‘scientific’ theory seems tailor-made for the needs of politicians or advocacy organizations, it probably has been).
  7. Bad reps (past purveyers of junk science do not change their spots).
  8. Refusal to make primary data sets available for inspection.
The comments section delivered several valuable similar links: Seven Warning Signs of Quack Science, Six Symptoms of Pathological Science (includes "criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses made up on the spur of the moment"), and Ten Signs a Claimed Mathematical Breakthrough Is Wrong. I didn't understand most of that last one, but I enjoyed the author's conclusion that these are only warning signs, not disproofs. Even if a paper fails most or all of these tests, he cautions,"there might be nothing left to do except to roll up your sleeves, brew some coffee, and tell your graduate student to read the paper and report back to you."

One of the comments quoted this observation by my hero, Richard Feynman (in "Cargo Cult Science"): "When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition." His advice on the occasion of the Challenger disaster is apropos as well: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

Against the Counter-Thesis

Dad29 linked to a post on a longstanding historical debate on whether Islam, or internal dissolution, destroyed Western Roman civilization.  

With respect to the fact that the "counter-thesis" has been defended by some good historians over many years, I think we can say with some confidence that the counter-thesis is not correct.  Roman civilization in Britain, for example, was destroyed by pagan Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Danes.  By the time of Charlemagne, they had been re-Christianized chiefly by Gaelic monks who came from Ireland to what is now Scotland, and from Scotland south into the Germanic lands.

These Gaelic monks were never part of Roman civilization:  although the Romans appeared poised to invade Ireland from Chester, where they built a fortress for a legion ("Deva Victrix"), they did not follow through; and of course what is now Scotland was at the time mostly held by another civilization, the now-extinct Picts, who were beyond Hadrian's wall.  The Gaels (called "Scotti" by the Romans) had only begun to establish some footholds in what is now Scotland; even Dal Riada was not established until after 500 AD.

The collapse of Roman civilization in Britain happened before Mohammed was born; by the time he was alive, in fact, it was all over.

Islam may have been responsible for a similar destruction in Spain especially.  If the Saxons did it elsewhere, though, there should be a unifying cause that permitted both effects.  That will be found (I think) in the period of the barracks emperors; the consequent gutting of the native Roman military, and the civic culture that had produced it; and the rise of Germanic mercenary forces to supplant native-Roman ones, out of which grew Charlemagne's war band (and the Anglo-Saxon ruling system as well).

To put this in Aristotelian terms, Islam can only claim to be the efficient cause of the destruction of part of the Western Roman world.  The formal cause was the internal dissolution, which is universal to the areas affected by the various invasions.  

The final cause?  If we still believe in final causes in history, it would have to be something like the divine plan:  a will that there should be a Charlemagne, or a King Arthur.  Most Western thinkers today, however, don't believe in final causes in history anymore:  the idea has been discredited by Marxism (which argued for the inevitable collapse of capitalism from something like a 'final cause in the arc of history').