Survival of the Smartest

Anoth­er rea­son that we are leav­ing the Unit­ed States is the coun­try’s descent into irra­tional and prim­i­tive mythology.

Exam­ple: The State of Kansas has once again tried to attack the teach­ing of Evo­lu­tion in their pub­lic schools. They are sup­port­ing the teach­ing instead of ‘Intel­li­gent Design’, which is just a fan­cy way of say­ing ‘God Did It’. This is to be taught in Sci­ence Class. If this does­n’t both­er you, stop read­ing right now. A ter­rif­ic arti­cle I saw in Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can’s web site: 15 Answers to Cre­ation­ist Non­sense lays out just how fal­la­cious the Intel­li­gent Design argu­ments are.

In an exquis­ite twist of irony, this move could cause large swaths of the US to be less com­pet­i­tive in the glob­al econ­o­my (and in a sense, the world’s ecosys­tem) where more edu­cat­ed and enlight­ened coun­tries tend to suc­ceed. Accord­ing to the laws of Nat­ur­al Selec­tion — that they them­selves refuse to believe in — those Kansas know-noth­ings will be less com­pet­i­tive in the mar­ket­place, and will (eco­nom­i­cal­ly) not thrive. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this does not keep them from breed­ing, but they’ll even­tu­al­ly be some­what cut off (and irrel­e­vant, just as some third world coun­tries are today, again — eco­nom­i­cal­ly). Since they dis­pute the valid­i­ty and val­ue of Sci­ence, I won­der if they would­n’t also give up their tele­phones, tele­vi­sions, com­put­ers, inter­net con­nec­tions and oth­er trap­pings of the last cen­tu­ry? What hap­pens when these lux­u­ries break down and can’t be repaired as their edu­cat­ed cit­i­zens leave for employ­ment else­where, and their stu­dents are unpre­pared for col­leges where sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy is taught. That last bit won’t hap­pen, but I don’t think I’d be look­ing toward Kansas for much eco­nom­ic growth over the next few decades.

A sim­i­lar dynam­ic is show­ing up in Stem Cell Research. With South Korea announc­ing some absolute­ly spec­tac­u­lar suc­cess­es in that area of sci­ence this past week, and Bush sub­se­quent­ly peremp­to­ri­ly announc­ing his oppo­si­tion to a bill that would free up gov­ern­ment fund­ing on such research, a com­men­ta­tor not­ed that all this does is make the US Gov­ern­ment less and less rel­e­vant to the whole activ­i­ty. As this sci­ence pro­gress­es and the mon­ey starts to pour in when investors bet on com­pa­nies that will deliv­er the mir­a­cle cures based on stem cells, the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion’s medieval view only insures that (as the com­men­ta­tor put it): “the red-state sci­en­tists will move to the blue states, and then in turn, all the sci­en­tists will move out of the US to the coun­tries where this research is flour­ish­ing.” Once again, the US digs it’s own eco­nom­ic grave and glee­ful­ly leaps into it, all in the name of fun­da­men­tal­ist religion.

Just as the best and bright­est sci­en­tists (as well as artists, writ­ers, musi­cians and dancers) left the Sovi­et Union, over time I believe it will also hap­pen to the once great Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. I am sad about this, but as we often say these days, we feel like we can’t get out of here quick­ly enough.

Religion versus Rational Thought

I’ve stayed away from dwelling on the rea­sons that we are leav­ing the US. Bet­ter to spend time on the mechan­ics of the activ­i­ty. I’ve avoid­ed the sub­ject, part­ly because, you can become quite occu­pied with the forms to fill out, the doc­u­ments to locate, the mon­ey to spend and the mov­ing com­pa­nies, real­tors, lawyers and bankers to com­mu­ni­cate with. But in the end I keep com­ing back to the fact that the US has become a theoc­ra­cy. Not mov­ing toward it, not in dan­ger of falling into it. It’s there.

I learned the oth­er day that accord­ing to a poll in 2003, ’79% of Amer­i­cans believed in God’. I think the num­bers are even high­er than that (I heard some­thing like 90% on the news. By the way, when bro­ken down by reli­gion (same poll), Jews had the low­est belief in god: 48%. Among adults as a whole, 66% were absolute­ly cer­tain (the pol­l’s lan­guage, not mine). (Here’s the poll:

George Bush con­stant­ly uses reli­gion to keep peo­ple com­pla­cent about the job he is doing (or rather what he is doing to the coun­try). That only goes so far, as his ‘poll’ num­bers show. Nev­er­the­less, while peo­ple may dis­ap­prove of his han­dling of the war, Social Secu­ri­ty, Health Care, the econ­o­my, and what­ev­er else he could have an impact on, they nev­er­the­less fol­low that up with ‘But he’s a good man’ or ‘I still believe in his moral­i­ty’. And for that, they give him a free pass to do what­ev­er he wants, giv­ing hand­outs to cor­po­rate cronies, or pri­va­tiz­ing (which usu­al­ly means dis­man­tling) some oth­er aspect or activ­i­ty of the pub­lic sector.

In fact, Amer­i­cans now no longer believe that you can be moral with­out being reli­gious. They believe that the two are one in the same. That’s just ludi­crous. And it gets real­ly weird when you start to look at things log­i­cal­ly (which reli­gion seems to be counter): OK, in Freako­nom­ics, a fas­ci­nat­ing new book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dub­n­er, a bunch of econ­o­mists do some analy­sis on every­day things, like what do peo­ple typ­i­cal­ly die of, or why drug deal­ers live with their moms. Log­ic, and sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis, as the lit­er­a­ture about the book put it, “reg­u­lar­ly turn the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom on its head”. It offers this extreme­ly non-reli­gious, non-mys­ti­cal, and refresh­ing view:

“What unites all these sto­ries is a belief that the mod­ern world, despite a sur­feit of obfus­ca­tion, com­pli­ca­tion, and down­right deceit, is not impen­e­tra­ble, is not unknow­able, and — if the right ques­tions are asked — is even more intrigu­ing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.”

Why did I segue into this dis­cus­sion of Freako­nom­ics from reli­gion and moral­i­ty? Because it can indeed be more moral, to take the non-reli­gious view. The reli­gious view, par­tic­u­lar­ly of Chris­t­ian Con­ser­v­a­tives has been that abor­tion is immoral, that we should save the life of the unborn child. Yet, here’s an abstract from a paper post­ed on the Nation­al Bureau of Eco­nom­ic Research site, (a view that is echoed in Levitt and Dub­n­er’s book):

“We offer evi­dence that legal­ized abor­tion has con­tributed sig­nif­i­cant­ly to recent crime reduc­tions. Crime began to fall rough­ly 18 years after abor­tion legal­iza­tion. The 5 states that allowed abor­tion in 1970 expe­ri­enced declines ear­li­er than the rest of the nation, which legal­ized in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. States with high abor­tion rates in the 1970s and 1980s expe­ri­enced greater crime reduc­tions in the 1990s. In high abor­tion states, only arrests of those born after abor­tion legal­iza­tion fall rel­a­tive to low abor­tion states. Legal­ized abor­tion appears to account for as much as 50 per­cent of the recent drop in crime.”
NBER Work­ing Paper No. 8004, Issued Novem­ber 2000

It seems that those unwant­ed chil­dren grow up to become career crim­i­nals at an alarm­ing rate. There­fore, if you want to save lives by pre­vent­ing 50% of future crimes, (mur­der among them), keep abor­tion safe and legal. The moral thing to do for the future as well as the women forced to sup­port these unwant­ed chil­dren is to allow them (after their own care­ful delib­er­a­tion) to ter­mi­nate their preg­nan­cy. Yet, if we log­i­cal non-reli­gious types bring up such facts (and they are facts, not belief), the howls of the pious descend upon us. We are not only wrong, we are bad peo­ple, we are immoral and unamerican.
George Bush was inter­viewed back in 1987 regard­ing his views on Athe­ists by Robert I. Sher­man, a reporter for the Amer­i­can Athe­ist news jour­nal. The exchange went like this:

Sher­man: What will you do to win the votes of the Amer­i­cans who are Atheists?

Bush: I guess I’m pret­ty weak in the Athe­ist com­mu­ni­ty. Faith in god is impor­tant to me.

Sher­man: Sure­ly you rec­og­nize the equal cit­i­zen­ship and patri­o­tism of Amer­i­cans who are Atheists?

Bush: No, I don’t know that Athe­ists should be con­sid­ered as cit­i­zens, nor should they be con­sid­ered patri­ots. This is one nation under God.

Sher­man (some­what tak­en aback): Do you sup­port as a sound con­sti­tu­tion­al prin­ci­ple the sep­a­ra­tion of state and church?

Bush: Yes, I sup­port the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. I’m just not very high on Atheists.

So there you have anoth­er rea­son for why we are leaving.

So much happening, so little reporting

OK, OK, so it’s been a while since I did an entry here. Like 8 days.

It isn’t as if noth­ing’s been going on. Life has been turned upside down by try­ing to do two things that are nor­mal­ly all-con­sum­ing when they are done on their own: sell­ing your house, and buy­ing a new house. We’re now doing them simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. Oh, and the buy­ing part is near­ly entire­ly by long-dis­tance in anoth­er coun­try, and on anoth­er coast. But you knew that last part, dear reader.

Where to start? Well, with our house now on the mar­ket, it means that we still had to decide what to do about where to live in Van­cou­ver. While I was there in March, I hap­pened to strike up a con­ver­sa­tion at the Mas­sive Tech Con­fer­ence with a fel­low named Ter­ry who just hap­pened to be mov­ing back to Toron­to from Van­cou­ver. He offered to show off his con­do (in Cana­da these are called apart­ments, but the asso­ci­a­tion that man­ages them is called a ‘stra­ta’. Don’t ask me why, but that’s the term.) On a whim, I took him up on it. You nev­er know, right?

It turned out that the place is small, but prob­a­bly just right for us. So after talk­ing it over and ago­niz­ing over the deci­sion, Pam and I sub­mit­ted an offer for Ter­ry’s place. After some nego­ti­a­tions, we agreed on a good price (for both par­ties, I assume), we also agreed that the offer was good con­tin­gent upon the sale of our place here. Tomor­row a home inspec­tor will take a look at it and send us a report (com­plete with dig­i­tal pho­tos — I won­der if we could have done any­thing remote­ly like this 5 years ago!), and next week we meet with a Bank rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Van­cou­ver to get a small mort­gage. We decid­ed that rather than cov­er the entire place with the pro­ceeds from our house here, we’d take out a rel­a­tive­ly small mort­gage, main­ly to start to build up a his­to­ry of good cred­it in Cana­da. We also would­n’t want to raise any red flags about us being drug deal­ers or some­thing like that, buy­ing a house 100% with US cash.

The apart­ment is indeed small, but it has some key fea­tures that make it par­tic­u­lar­ly attrac­tive to us; it is on the sec­ond floor of an 11 sto­ry build­ing, and set on a hill over­look­ing False Creek. It has a large patio/deck, rough­ly the length of the place full of plants, includ­ing a set of tall bam­boo trees. The view faces north toward the city and Grouse Moun­tain. The deck is large enough for a table and chairs, as well as anoth­er seat­ing area, so it’s essen­tial­ly anoth­er room. Also, the com­plex has a secure front lob­by entrance, under­ground park­ing, a health club, steam room and jacuzzi. The loca­tion is near the Granville Bridge and Granville Island to the north­west, and a great neigh­bor­hood with many restau­rants and shop­ping to the south and south­east. It’s extreme­ly close to near­ly all of the main bus lines into Down­town Van­cou­ver, but in good weath­er is no more than a 20 minute walk from most of the places we would want to go. It’s has easy access to the main road south­ward toward the US, as well as the air­port. It has a gas fire­place, good kitchen (with high qual­i­ty gas stove, oak cab­i­nets and gran­ite coun­ter­tops), broad­band inter­net and a heat­ed floor for the mas­ter bath­room. There is only one bed­room, but I think we can make the den dou­ble as a guest bed­room via fold-out couch or mur­phy bed. Rather than put up pho­tos of the new place — and we have some —I’m think­ing I’ll post them after our fur­nish­ings are in place. Ter­ry and his part­ner’s (inci­den­tal­ly, in Cana­da, ‘part­ner’ can refer to the sig­nif­i­cant oth­er of the same sex or the oppo­site sex — so Pam is my ‘part­ner’) taste in fur­ni­ture and gen­er­al decor are very dif­fer­ent from ours, and I want us to show the place as ‘ours’ rather than ‘their’s and about to be ours’.

That said, there is anoth­er nice fringe-ben­e­fit of hav­ing to show off your house for so many prospec­tive buy­ers: it looks nice, for a change. So I post­ed a set of pho­tos of the inte­ri­or to Flickr. On Sat­ur­day, a spe­cial video­g­ra­ph­er will be com­ing over to do a video tour of the place. I hope we get to take some of his footage with us as well. It’s nice to have a record of the place you lived, espe­cial­ly when it was look­ing it’s best, with most of the fur­ni­ture and art you fur­nished it with.

So we’re off.

Not a minute too soon, either. I’m get­ting more and more upset with each evening news­cast, as the Chris­t­ian Tal­iban con­tin­ues it’s inex­orable progress toward tak­ing over the gov­ern­ment, media and lives of cit­i­zens here. This last week­end was ‘Jus­tice Sun­day’, where politi­cians and church lead­ers broad­cast nation­wide their inten­tions to take over the Judi­cia­ry. That would be the last branch of gov­ern­ment they don’t have a firm grip over. It feels more and more like the nov­el The Hand­maid­’s Tale of Mar­garet Atwood. I used to feel like we were leav­ing because I felt that this was no longer the coun­try that I grew up in. Now it’s even worse than that; it’s a coun­try that I’m begin­ning to fear and loathe.

Putting on our Best ‘House’ Face

The first two groups of prospec­tive buy­ers came through today, if what our real estate agent told us is true. Tomor­row we get the whole Cald­well Banker Office walk­ing through and anoth­er poten­tial buy­er at noon. It feels very strange, as if our lives are on dis­play. I know that they are look­ing at the rooms, not our per­son­al para­pher­na­lia, but I’m sure that they see a book here, a mag­a­zine there, etc. I hope they aren’t peek­ing in the med­i­cine cab­i­nets. Nah, there’s prob­a­bly not time for that.

To pre­pare for this onslaught of browsers, we’ve cleaned up a lot. We’d already been through some­thing like this before, when we were con­sid­er­ing swap­ping this place for a sim­i­lar unit across the court­yard. “The key to sell­ing a house”, our real­tor at that time said “is to have it look as emp­ty as you can. Lots of emp­ty sur­faces. Let the buy­er imag­ine them­selves in your space.” Well, we are far from emp­ty, but it is a lot tidi­er. My office is the only area that is still full of clut­ter, and even there I’ve cut it back to just the desks. I’ll get it down to desk lev­el, but that will take a few more days. Most of this was achieved through fill­ing box­es with what I could not throw out and tak­ing those box­es to our stor­age room in Lynn, MA. If Pam said our place felt like a Hotel room after Socrates was gone, it cer­tain­ly feels a lot more like one now.

Pam also did a bit of land­scap­ing in our back yard. I use the term back yard loose­ly; the tiny postage stamp of a back area we have behind our town­house is rough­ly a 12 by 20 foot plot with a dog­wood tree (hurt bad­ly a few years ago from an ice storm but recov­er­ing slow­ly), aza­lea and lilac bush­es on one side, and a few tulips (and lat­er in the fall, wild chrysan­the­mums) on the oth­er, with some stone and weeds in between. So, Pam took down what had to be the ugli­est plas­tic shelv­ing I’ve ever seen that we had up for a year or two for our house­plants to dur­ing the sum­mer and plant­ed 9 box­wood bush­es at the back. We set up a bright red fold­ing table and match­ing chairs we got from IKEA back in the Meso­zoic and it almost looks OK. At any rate the scene no longer looks like an emp­ty lot.

All this means that no mat­ter what, we are pulling up anchor and mov­ing on. I have this feel­ing in my gut that I haven’t had in a long time, the same as I felt when I was ready to leave Rochester, NY at the end of my grad­u­ate school stud­ies there: Impa­tience, like itch­ing pow­der in my head. I just want the whole thing to be done, but there are many i’s to dot and t’s to cross. We have to try and take care of all the details because we are not just mov­ing across town, or even to Prov­i­dence or Con­necti­cut. We’re leav­ing the whole damned country.

Did I say damned? Oh yes, when Anne Coul­ter is on the cov­er of this week’s Time Mag­a­zine, with a puff piece inter­view inside about how she ‘blush­es’ and rants on about how she’s glad that lib­er­als hate her because we are so evil, etc. Damned is what the coun­try is, and they can have Ms. Coul­ter and the sick bile that she vom­its into the cul­ture all they want.