The Long View 2007-02-02: Groundhog's Day

Homo floresensis is definitely a new species. Time flies with ancient DNA.


Groundhog's Day

The case against homo floresensis is not quite closed, if this report is to be believed:

The tiny woman dubbed the Hobbit who lived 18,000 years ago on a remote Indonesian island deserves to be deemed a new human species and not a deformed modern human as skeptics assert, researchers said on Monday....rebutting scientists like primatologist Robert Martin of the Field Museum in Chicago ...Two features in the frontal lobes and a structure called the cerebellum separated [normal humans from microcephalics], with the Flores woman fitting in with normal humans, not microcephalics, the study found. But she was unlike modern humans in four other features distinguishing her from Homo sapiens, crying out for recognition as a separate species, the researchers said....Martin said the new study was flawed, questioned whether Falk's team knew enough about microcephaly and insisted the question of a separate species is unresolved.

Be this as it may, I am about to finish reading a book by W.Y. Evans-Wentz called The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries (1911) (it's available from The Gutenberg Project, but I can't get a link to the file right now). Regarding the legends and continuing reports about contacts with the Good People in northwestern Europe and worldwide, the authors proposes that the most reasonable explanations are the psychical theory, the ancient-pygmy theory, and the Druid-tradition theory. He resolves the conflict among them by embracing all three.

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Speaking of fairy stories, this article by Donald Stoker of the U.S. Naval War College's Monterey Program throws cold water on the myth of insurgent invincibility:

Insurgencies Rarely Win – And Iraq Won’t Be Any Different (Maybe).....

Insurgencies generally fail if all they are able to do is fight an irregular war. Successful practitioners of the guerrilla art from Nathanael Greene in the American Revolution to Mao Zedong in the Chinese Civil War have insisted upon having a regular army for which their guerrilla forces served mainly as an adjunct. Insurgencies also have inherent weaknesses and disadvantages vis-à-vis an established state. They lack governmental authority, established training areas, and secure supply lines. The danger is that insurgents can create these things, if given the time to do so. And, once they have them, they are well on their way to establishing themselves as a functioning and powerful alternative to the government. If they reach this point, they can very well succeed.

Marx was right when he said that history repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. A lot of odd things happened in Congress during the Vietnam War, but nothing as strange as the new Democratic majority's project of reenacting their slightly garbled memories of 1975. The ironic thing is that this pantomime is taking the form of opposition to the Administration's plan for the pacification of Baghdad, a relatively minor undertaking that I suspect the president chose to emphasize in public chiefly because he needed to be able to point to some initiative that would be quickly successful.

Mickey Kaus notes that some of the Republican senators who have lately opposed the surge worry that they may be embarrassed if the surge succeeds:

Cynic's Scorecard: 7 Outs and Counting: Are Senators who vote for the Warner anti-surge resolution taking any political risk, or are they just protecting themselves against anti-war sentiment? In other words, on the off chance that the surge works, would they be embarrassed? Bob Wright says yes. But Senators in this situation have been known to leave themselves escape hatches.

The fewer escape hatches, of course, the greater the political consequences of getting it wrong, and the more support for the anti-surge resolution should actually reflect a senator's judgment that the chances of an embarrassing surge success are small. The more escape hatches, the more the Warner resolution seems simply a convenient way for pols to hedge their bets against any outcome...

I think that the senators need not worry. As I have remarked before, the political class is less interested in losing the war than in making sure that the Bush Administration does not get credit for a victory. One might judge the progress of the war, I suspect, by creating a News Alert for "Pyrrhic Victory" and counting the increase in occurrences over the course of the year.

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Another C.S. Lewis film is in the works. Ralph Winter Prods. is producing The Screwtape Letters along with Walden Media, as we see from IGN:

Planned for a 2008 release, Screwtape Letters is described as follows: "[It] takes the form of a series of missives from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his wannabe diabolical nephew, Wormwood. As a mentor, Screwtape advises his protégé on the finer points of undermining faith and promoting sin. His instructions are interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine."

I hope they have sense enough to keep the story a period-piece. The "novel" is just a string of essays about dealing with temptation. There is a love story, but the only strong narrative thread in the book is the beginning of World War II and the growing menace of the Blitz. It would be difficult to move all this into the early 21st century.

Let me repeat yet again: the Lewis book that should be made into a major film is That Hideous Strength. Well, maybe that and this alternative biography.

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Columnists should wax nostalgic when writing a memorial piece, but this one by Peggy Noonan is nostalgic in a dangerous way:

Next Tuesday would have been Ronald Reagan's 96th birthday, which is amazing when you consider he is, in a way, more with us than ever: his memory and meaning summoned in political conversation, his name evoked by candidates.

Certainly Ronald Reagan's name is often invoked, but the invocations are starting to sound like the references that old-style Democrats in the 1970s and '80s used to make to FDR. The Republican establishment delude themselves if they think the intervening Clinton years are remembered as a dark time.

Be that as it may, do I detect another dig at Bush II and his rich kid ways?

There was the courage to swim against the tide, to show not a burst of bravery but guts in the long haul. The good cheer and good nature that amounted to a kind of faith. The air of pleasure Reagan emanated on meeting others, and his egalitarianism.

By most accounts, George Bush is sharp and personable when you meet him in person. However, whoever thought that he had the public presence for a national stage should have their license to consult revoked.

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What this country needs are British-style tabloids, according to Mark Steyn. Here he explains to Hugh Hewitt why the American newspaper industry is in secular decline:

MS: And the thing about this, the thing about this is when you look at the numbers for Fleet Street newspapers, they’ve actually, basically, held up over the last forty years. They’re not significantly in overall decline since 1965. Now there is…the problem here is that the American model of just being a pompous newspaper, that offends no one, but at the same time, delights no one, I think simply doesn’t work. If you take the average Gannett newspaper, monopoly newspaper in a medium sized American city, it’s boring.

Well, yes, the papers are boring. If you want invective and scandal, you listen to talk radio or watch Fox News. About the Internet we need not speak. Maybe the newspapers in Britain are livelier because the media there are otherwise so controlled and monopolized that there is no place else for the liveliness to go.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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