British vs. American Waterposted 9/05/01 A reader asks: “Mr. Derbyshire says that a pint of pure water weighs a pound and a quarter. A pint of water, however, weighs exactly one pound, hence the term fluid ounce. Is a British pint larger than an American one?”
NRO columnist and NR contributing editor John Derbyshire responds: A pint of pure water DOES weigh a pound and a quarter: Not in the U.S., though. For some reason, you pilgrims decided to downgrade the noble British pint by one sixth (i.e. a U.S. pint is only 5/6 of a British pint). Yet another reason why you should return to the protection of the Crown.
Conservatives and the Metric System posted 8/28/01 David Bardallis of Midland, Michigan writes: “I am having a debate with an otherwise right-thinking and wonderful woman over the desirability of the U.S. adopting the metric system. My position is that metric is an evil socialist plot and since it came from France, it can’t possibly be any good. She maintains, as most metric advocates do, that it is more “efficient” and easier. Now of course I don’t think “efficiency” alone is ever sufficient reason to upend centuries of tradition, but I’m not sure she is buying that. Is there a stronger, practical, “conservative” argument for the imperial system and against metric?”
John Derbyshire replies: Yes, there is, and it was made persuasively by George Orwell in his “As I Please” column of Mar/14/1947. He makes the following points.
Metric units cannot be easily visualized. There is no unit between a meter (over a yard) and a centimeter (less than half an inch).
”The names of the units in the old system are short homely words which lend themselves to vigorous speech.”
Much of the literature of the past would become more difficult to read. “The emmet’s inch and eagle’s mile / Make lame philosophy to smile” is the example he gives (from Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”). Orwell: “Fancy having to turn that into millimeters!”
I would add, though I think it ties in with Orwell’s first point, that the traditional “imperial” units are mostly based on parts of the human body, and so are easier to apprehend and visualize just on that account.
As a personal objection to the jettisoning of imperial units, I should also lose one of my favorite school Mnemonics: “A pint of pure water weighs a pound and a quarter.”
It’s the Spending…posted 8/20/01 Heidi S. Henley of Seattle asks: “A liberal friend has told me that the rich will be receiving more than the $600 maximum tax rebate, and that all the money for the rebates is coming out of the Social Security trust fund. Could you please clarify this for me? Thank you.”
NRO contributing editor Stephen Moore replies: Your friend is wrong on both counts. First, $600 is the maximum rebate that any individual or couple is eligible for in 2001. Second, the rebate is coming out of the non-Social Security surplus. We may actually end up dipping into the Social Security surplus at the end of this year, but that will be a result of a potentially huge increase in spending this fall, by Daschle, Gephardt, and unfortunately many Republican appropriators. Remember: It’s the spending, stupid!
Dancing Angelsposted 8/15/01 NRO reader Nathan Cardon of Mesa, Ariz. asks: “I have heard references to angels dancing on pinheads throughout my life. All I have gathered is that there was apparently some religious debate about it. What’s with the angel boogie?”
Michael Potemra, NR deputy managing editor replies: This debate — about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin — probably never happened. After the Reformation, early modern philosophers and theologians liked to ridicule mediaeval thinkers for engaging in arcane and fantastic speculations instead of looking to the evidence of the real world and drawing rational conclusions from it. They dismissed these earlier systems of thought, metaphorically, as debates about angels dancing on pinheads.
Since then, many people have taken the joke literally, and assumed that that’s literally what Aquinas and the other mediaevals busied themselves with.
Royalty Loyalty?posted 8/13/01 Michelle Oswell of Carrboro, N.C. asks: “Why are conservatives supposed to support Britain’s monarchy? Is it due to anything other than just tradition? It’s always seemed to be more money and trouble than it’s worth.”
NRO contributing editor Andrew Stuttaford replies: It is, of course, no longer obligatory for American conservatives to pay homage to the British royal family: George Washington settled that. Nevertheless, there is a good conservative case to be made for saying that the monarchy forms a useful part of the U.K.’s constitutional arrangements. Britain has been very fortunate in that its current democracy is the product of a gradual evolution that has stretched over hundreds of years. The result has been a political system that has combined surprising flexibility with unusual stability, something that has helped the country weather the upheavals of the past century remarkably peacefully. The institution of the monarchy has played a part in this process. By providing a perception of reassuring continuity, the crown has acted as both a facilitator of modernization and a brake on its wilder excesses. Importantly, in a frequently divisive era, the royal family has also been a symbol of patriotic unity, a “living flag” as effective as anything ever sewn by Betsy Ross, and one, moreover, free of the explicitly ideological baggage that poisoned so many 20th century ideas of nationalism.
Intellectually, the notion of monarchy may, these days, be absurd (and as an Englishman I shall probably be sent to the Tower of London for saying so), but in Britain it has, so far, worked. For the (quite possibly very limited) time that it continues to do so, it is, therefore, still worthy of conservative support. As for the behavior of individual members of the Royal Family, don’t worry too much about that. The institution of the monarchy, like that of the U.S. presidency (yes, you know who I am referring to), is bigger than the misdeeds of any one or two individuals. Besides, why be a killjoy? We Brits are a traditionally reticent people. The guilty pleasures of the Windsor soap opera give us something else, other than the rain, to talk about.
Conservative Tree Huggersposted 7/17/01 Kevin Miller of Montgomery, Alabama asks: “Is there a conservative organization whose purpose is to foster and promote rational and reasonable conservation and environmental policies? If so, what is the organization and how can it be contacted?”
NR associate editor Kathryn Jean Lopez responds: There sure is, and you have a few options. Check out Fred Smith’s Competitive Enterprise Institute at www.cei.org or the Political Economy Research Center at www.perc.org for excellent and in-depth research. Also, take a look at the work of Ron Bailey, science correspondent for Reason magazine and author of The Earth Report.
Pop-Culture Survival Guideposted 7/13/01 Greg Decker of Norwood, Mass. asks: “Is there a mental exercise that I can do so that I can become less sensitive to political messages in entertainment media? I guess I’m too thin skinned. I take umbrage quickly when TV programs, or books, or movies, or music convey positions in opposition to mine. This becomes quite a problem, as the shows that I can watch without becoming indignant are fewer and fewer each season. (I miss the A-Team.) Example: A quote on Boston Public referring to NRA members as “Inbred Idiots” resulted in my boycotting the show. Another example: Bono’s politicking at a U2 concert caused me to refrain from getting their latest album, and I change stations when their songs come on. (Too bad too. I kind of like “Elevation.”) Am I too thin skinned? If so, is there any way I can desensitize myself? ”
NRO contributing editor Andrew Stuttaford replies: “Thin skinned”? Not at all. If there is an adjective that I would use to describe you, it is “brave.” Too many on the Right, as I assume you are, have failed to confront this extremely serious problem. They retreat to the laager, confining their viewing only to Fox News, military hardware shows on the History Channel, American Movie Classics (never Turner Classic Movies), and the safer stretches of Nick at Night. In your quest for entertainment, you have shown yourself to be made of sterner stuff (well done!), but you have, I can see, had to pay a high price. This is no surprise. Moving outside friendly televisual territory will inevitably subject right-thinking viewers to the sort of traumatic incidents that you so movingly describe. I feel your pain.
Unfortunately, it would be inappropriate for me to suggest a mental exercise to make you less sensitive to liberal propaganda in the entertainment media. As a reader of NRO, you are, automatically, enrolled in the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Being hypersensitive to the sort of unseemly political message concealed, say, in an episode of Friends, is, I am afraid, part of the job description. That does not mean that it cannot be fun. Try and visualize yourself as a spy, fearlessly surveying the enemy camp. As you watch TV, award yourself points for every bit of surreptitious left-wing sermonizing that you identify, the sneakier the insertion, the higher the score. Your evening’s viewing will be transformed into a sort of ideologically sound videogame. What’s more, given the political bias of our media, you will almost certainly finish up with a wildly impressive total.
The same approach will work with other media, although why it is that you should want to read the sort of books that contain covert leftist propaganda is beyond me. I find the novels of Mr. Tom Clancy to be entertaining, informative, and free of unwelcome ideological surprises. Why not stick with him? Similarly, when it comes to music, trying to persist with U2 seems like a fruitless and unpleasant exercise. May I suggest Ted Nugent as a wholesome alternative?
Drafting Femalesposted 7/12/01 Laurie Karnay of Fairfax, Va. asks: “Why hasn’t the Selective Service been changed to require females to register for it? The Department of Defense has opened up many warfare specialties over the years to women and still women are not required to register for the draft nor has there been any outcry to change the law to reflect today’s ‘modern military?’”
NR Washington editor Kate O’Beirne replies: In a 1981 decision in Rostker v. Goldberg, the Supreme Court held that the male-only-draft registration requirement was constitutional because the primary purpose of registration was to create a “pool of combat troops,” and women were exempt from combat assignments. Since that time, combat aircraft and ships (except for submarines) have been opened to women, and although direct ground combat remains officially closed, Army women are now in plenty of “close to combat” positions. At some point, the all-male registration system might again be challenged, and current assignment policies could put women’s registration exemption at legal risk. Should a court ever order America’s 18-year-old daughters to register for the draft, we might finally have a debate I’d welcome about the military’s foolish gender-blind policies.
Defining Personhoodposted 7/11/01 NRO reader Jason Garrett of Hilliard, Ohio asks: “In Ramesh Ponnuru’s article “Cells, Fetuses, and Logic,” Mr. Ponnuru calls the argument that a human being achieves “personhood” somewhere between conception and birth a “theoretical disaster bordering on superstition.” I have a coworker who happens to hold to this very position. Can you help me understand how to help him understand his error?”
NR senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru responds: I can try. The view I passingly criticized in my article is that “a clump of matter that is not a person somehow becomes inhabited by a person as it develops.” This view is a theoretical disaster because it entails an untenable distinction between a person and his body — that is, to “person/body dualism.” The dualistic view is that the person is the conscious, desiring aspect of the self and the body merely the person’s instrument: He drives it around like a car. The person, meanwhile, is the “ghost in the machine.” The body is subpersonal, the person suprabodily.
This view contradicts the experience we all have of ourselves as a dynamic unity of mind and body (and, some of us would add, spirit). Someone who tries to explain himself in terms of person/body dualism will have to abandon that dualism to remember what the “someone” is that he is trying to explain.
The truth is that you are your body (although not merely your body). Your body has gone through many changes since your conception, but it has not changed substantively — its substance, that is, has not changed.
Dualism today is in disrepute among philosophers; as a declared doctrine, it is almost dead. Unfortunately, it continues to underwrite the deaths of those human beings who are deemed not to be persons.
Supporting Schundlerposted 7/09/01 NRO reader David Darlington of Silver Spring, Md., asks: “As a former New Jersey resident, I was wondering, is there any chance the New Jersey GOP will actually support Mayor Schundler now that he has won the gubernatorial primary? They seem to be unwilling to do so, given that they first tried to hand the nomination to the ethically challenged DiFrancesco on a silver platter, and then broke the rules to get Bob Franks in at the last minute. I fear the liberal N.J. GOPers will undermine the conservative Schundler the way the Rockefeller-ites undermined Goldwater in 1964.”
Kate O’Beirne, NR’s Washington editor, replies: Bret Schundler enjoyed the support of party regulars from Republican strongholds in his 16-point win over former Congressman Bob Franks, but it’s unclear whether GOP leaders who failed to deliver for their establishment candidate care more about keeping “control” of the party, or the keys to the Governor’s mansion. While moderates like Franks and longtime National Committeeman David Norcross pledged their support for Schundler following his impressive showing, Acting Gov. and Senate President Donald DiFrancesco is hedging about how much he’s willing to support the conservative primary candidate he faced before ethical problems forced him to quit the race.
The White House and national party want to win both November gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey badly enough to lean on recalcitrant Republicans, and former Gov. Tom Kean signing on as Schundler’s campaign co-chairman signals establishment support. Some smart Jerseyites point out that should Sen. Torricelli be forced to resign over legal troubles, Gov. Schundler would appoint his successor, so ambitious Republicans might think it smart to be in his good graces. Finally, the administration can be expected to point out that Republicans who complain that Schundler’s positions on abortion, gun control, and school choice render him unelectable are consigning President Bush to the same fate given that his and Schundler’s views are a neat match.
Adopting Embryosposted 7/06/01 An NRO reader reports: “I recently watched a debate on Hardball between William Donohue of the Catholic League and Sen. Arlen Specter. Arlen Specter was for using them in research, Donohue against. I thought Donohue did very poorly when Matthews asked him, well, what are we supposed to do with them, let them sit frozen in a test-tube forever? Donohue seemed to be saying yes, but I know there has to be a better answer.”
NR associate editor Kathryn Jean Lopez responds: That’s a shame that William Donohue didn’t have a better answer on him, because, as you suspect, there is one. Embryo adoption has increasingly become an option for women who are infertile. And among fertile couples, too, who don’t want these youngest human lives to be destroyed — they have gone the embryo-adoption route. Embryos are human life, and if you believe that life begins at conception, there is really no way around that.
The question, still, is not resolved by offering the adoption option, and this is probably where Donohue got stuck. Many understandably object to the idea that we are freezing embryos in the first place, then selling them, or destroying them in research. Many object to in vitro fertilization itself (which is where Donohue is coming from). And with good reason: In the process of trying to get one woman pregnant, dozens of embryos may be created for the trial-and-error process that is IVF. Today, as we have seen, we have an increase in dangerous multiple births. The “miracles” of sextuplets are the result of IVF. Certainly couples should be praised for having not opted for “selective reductions” once pregnant with multiple children. It is the same with embryo adoption. For the adopting mom to serve as host, multiple embryos will have to be tried before one, or more than one successful implants. Then the adoptive mother is faced with the selective reduction question. So this isn’t a truly pro-life answer, either.
In the end, we are still faced with a fundamental question: Should we be doing this at all? Opposition to IVF is generally pigeonholed as a “Catholic” position. But, rather, it is a catholic one, and a human one: Should we be at the point where we have thousands of frozen embryos across the country?