August 2009

Heckler’s Veto

by Burt Likko on August 31, 2009

If you subscribe to a religion that does not instruct you to disavow science and participation the real world, fine; you are not the target of this morning’s rant. Take moral and social solace from your religion and go and harm no one with it. But if you believe in a religion that promotes ignorance and antiscience, then I’m aiming this post right at you. To decide if you should be offended at me or not, you need to take a careful look at what your religion actually teaches. I should warn you in advance that you may not like the result if you do.

Now then. Let’s begin.

Can you spot the offensive religious reference in the T-shirt logo illustrated to the left? I, for one, cannot. But apparently one is there, because parents of students attending the Missouri high school in question complained and the school will no longer permit students to wear this T-shirt.

Here’s the heckler’s veto in raw form — quoth a parent: “I was disappointed with the image on the shirt, … I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.” Excuse me? You don’t think science should be associated with a school? What would you say if I said I didn’t want to see a high school associated with algebra? Algebra is, after all, the creation of foreign Muslims. As for “associating” evolution with the school, isn’t evolution necessarily included in the the list of mandatory subjects for study in the science curriculum?

The principal’s justification for giving in to the heckler’s veto is “If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing.”

Hear me now. The principal should censor the T-shirt illustrating Jesus on the cross, and should not censor the “evolution of the trumpet player” T-shirt. The reason is simple — one is religious advocacy and the other is a reference to science. There is no equivalency between advocacy of science and advocacy of religion. They are different. The school is in the business of teaching science. The school is required to remain neutral about religion.

There is a pernicious notion that evolution is a religion. This is a deeply, deeply incorrect idea, propagated by people who should know better and bought into by people who should be intelligent enough to understand that they are being lied to, but who turn off their normally-acute critical thinking skills when a bizarre notion comes wrapped in the swaddling of their preferred religion. You will also notice that the only people who advance this idea are deeply religious themselves, and the vast bulk of them are Protestant Christians. Why do you suppose there aren’t any Hindus pounding the tables about how evolution is a religion? The notion of evolution does not particularly offend Hindu theology.

Religion by definition involves the relationship of man to the supernatural; at minimum, it involves a search for the purpose of existence. There is nothing supernatural or religious about evolution. Religion, particularly the monotheistic religions descended from the patriarch Abraham, promote Manichean world views in which there is Truth and there are Lies, and nothing in between. They are about immutable, eternal truths which are found in their holy books. There are no immutable, eternal truths in science. Darwin’s theory has undergone such substantial revision he would barely recognize it today — which does not mean he was wrong, by the way. He was as right as the evidence available to him allowed him to be. He did not know about DNA and genetic sequencing; the modern synthetic theory does a much better job than Darwin’s writings of explaining the phenomenon of evolution. Evolution specifically, and science generally, offer no answers to the questions about the reason we exist or the reason the universe exists. They offer no guidance on issues of morality — just like your refrigerator does not offer such guidance and you’d be an idiot to ask your refrigerator for forgiveness of your sins. That’s not what it’s for.

The result of this politically-motivated bit of outright deception is the idea that there is any sort of equivalency between science and religion. To understand why, imagine if the T-shirt had illustrated an apple with a trumpet on it falling onto Isaac Newton’s head, with the caption “The band has tremendous gravity” or something like that. Anyone who complained about that on religious grounds would immediately and universally be thought of as an ignorant buffoon. They would be mercilessly mocked, and eventually counseled to obtain rudimentary science education. They would complain that their religion was being ridiculed — but if the religion inspired disbelief in gravity rather than evolution, almost no one would suggest that it was rude or impolite or even inappropriate to ridicule such a religion.

Yes, there is equivalence between the theory of evolution and the theory of gravity. They’re both only theories. Both help us understand indisputably real phenomena. They’ve both been superseded by advances in scientific experiment and thought. But they are both science and they are both important for a person to learn and understand if they are going to navigate the world in a meaningful, intelligent way. And if someone who insists on worshiping a Bronze Age sky god claims that advocacy of either theory is incompatible with religion, well, it’s religion that should lose that fight.

For the record, my perspective is as follows: science = good (saves lives, makes people smarter); religion = superstition (sometimes harmless, but sometimes inspires violence and keeps people ignorant). Also for the record, the parents who complained should not be subject to any kind of governmental sanction; the parents have freedom of speech to complain or be offended about whatever they like.

But the principal made a bad call by prohibiting the T-shirts. In doing so, he ceded to the idea of a heckler’s veto, which itself is pernicious to the idea of free speech. In doing so, he advanced the idea that evolution is religion, which it is not. In doing so, he not only failed to remain neutral about religion, he has effectively advocated for religions that promote antiscience because he gave in to people who subscribe to a particular religion and thereby effectively delegated control of this issue to them. He has cast his school in particular and schools in Missouri generally into disrepute by choosing ignorance over science. And he cost his school and the band money by doing it.

Evolution is not religion. Get it right.

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Station Fire

by Burt Likko on August 31, 2009

An update, mainly for out-of-area folks vaguely worried about the news of fires in Southern California.

My immediate area is not threatened by the Station Fire. However, yesterday and today everyone here in northern Los Angeles County has been treated to the spectacle of an immense smoke plume. To left is what it looks like from orbit. Those familiar with the geography of Southern California will recognize the distinctive curve of Santa Monica Bay and the Palos Verdes peninsula, and should be able to identify the primary smoke sources as coming from the southern crest of the Angeles National Forest.

Yesterday, it was smoky and gloomy all day long. Today, the winds shifted and we had sunlight over our house, but not over the parts of town where we went to do our grocery shopping.

There are no evacuations in my immediate area, but there are some evacuations going on about fifteen minutes away in the nearby community of Acton.

The point is, don’t worry about me. Worry about my friends. I have friends in Acton, I have friends in La Cañada. They’re the ones who are most at risk right now.

The fire cannot really be contained well in the mountains. I know those mountains fairly well having hiked over many of them over the past several years. They are too rugged and steep for most firefighting equipment other than guys with axes and firecans — and the conditions are such that setting up fire lines would be very dangerous all by itself, what with very hot weather and a prolonged drought to deal with. There hasn’t been any appreciable rain in those mountains since February — which is not all that unusual, but it does make for ideal conditions for a fire.

What I think can be done is to set up a firebreak in the easier territory at the base of the mountains — but all the territory inside is going to be burned. That’s forest and mountain land that I’ve come to like and appreciate quite a bit, and all of it is going to be gone. It will take a generation for the forest that I love to come back.

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Eggs Benedict

by Burt Likko on August 30, 2009

For some reason, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce have both challenged my technical skills in the kitchen. Which has put home preparation of one of my favorite breakfasts out of my reach. Until this morning, that is. This morning, I woke up and said, “Eggs Benedict, you are my bitch today.”

My egg poaching was aided by two silicone pods. Spray the silicone pods with some non-stick spray, pour a single egg in each, and drop the whole thing into a pot of boiling water. Cover the pot. The pods will float all by themselves.

My first poach was marred by some water leaking into the pod because I wimped out and tried to put the pod in with a long-handled slotted spoon, and awkwardly let about two ounces of water into the egg. After that, I knew I had to cowboy up, deal with the heat and the steam, and put the pods in the boiling water by hand. That kept the eggs dry, with the only water in the resulting pods being steam condensate, which I drained out before serving the eggs.

The slotted spoon is essential to removing the pods. Again, my first attempt at using these things was the learning curve — the cooked egg needed to be separated with a spoon from the silicone despite the non-stick spray; just turning the pod inside out ripped the cooked albumen and let the still-liquid portion of the yolk run out everywhere. I’d have eaten this myself but The Wife was impatient and she disregarded the texture problem, pronouncing the egg “delicious.”

She also did not want to put my hollandaise sauce on her Benedicts. Which, if you ask me, sort of defeats the purpose of Eggs Benedict. And I’d finished my learning curve on this batch of hollandaise sauce, so this turned out to be pretty good.

A couple of notes on hollandaise sauce. First, you can’t keep it. Its primary ingredients are butter (that is, dairy fat) and egg yolks. A better breeding ground for bacteria is difficult to even imagine. Trying to store it or even keep it in an open container for any significant length of time is pretty much asking for it.

Second, not only can’t you keep it to store for later, you can’t even make it and set it to one side for use after you’re done with other stuff. With a brown sauce, white sauce, tomato sauce, or a wine sauce, that’s generally a pretty easy thing to do; you make the sauce and either keep it simmering or set it aside to reheat when the rest of the food is ready to be sauced. Hollandaise is different. Its ingredients want to separate rather than stay suspended together.

This means that when you make it, it should be close to the last thing you do. Hollandaise sauce is “just-in-time” sauce — pour it directly from the double boiler onto the plate and serve immediately.

Now, here is my lesson in hollandaise sauce making. You need to whip up the egg yolks first, then add the water, and then sherry, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper mix, just a bit at a time, then take it off the heat and add the melted butter just a bit at a time, stirring constantly. No problem for the amateur cook of middling skill, right? Well, here’s the deal. Whip the egg yolks in a cold double boiler, then put it on the heat and keep stirring them, vigorously, as you add the water one tablespoon at a time, and that water needs to be boiling when you add it.

I let the double boiler heat, because I was nervous about getting everything ready in advance. So the egg yolks cooked and solidified somewhat in themselves before any liquid got added, resulting in a granular texture to the sauce. Good hollandaise sauce should be smooth, creamy, and uniform.

The good news for today’s breakfast was that despite the textural imperfection of the sauce it tasted great. (Well, it’s made from egg yolks and butter, how could it not taste great?) The better-looking product is as illustrated above.

It’s the just-in-time requirement for the hollandaise sauce and the just-in-time requirement for serving the eggs that makes Eggs Benedict a challenge. You need to time the egg poaching with the creation of the sauce so that both are ready within seconds of one another, and both right before service. If you’re reading all this carefully, you will initially that you need five hands working at once to do the job properly. That’s why, if you’re beginning this challenge as I was before graduating this morning, you will probably need several attempts before you get the timing right.

This, by the way, is why the Egg McMuffin sandwich at McDonald’s is the way it is. An Egg McMuffin is a poor man’s Eggs Benedict. McDonald’s can’t do this kind of precision cooking in a fast food setting — my work this morning took about an hour of setup and cooking before delivery of breakfast, although with experience that time will decrease. At McDonald’s they fry the egg in a special ring made for the job, poking a hole to let the yolk run out during the cooking process, and they slap a piece of cheese on the final product instead of using hollandaise sauce. The grease you sometimes see on the egg is left over from heating the ham on the same grill; a well-prepared Egg McMuffin will not have grease on its egg.

The real Eggs Benedict that I prepared this morning have about a gazillion calories, so I wouldn’t suggest this as an everyday breakfast. You also might want to consider serving some fruit — melons or berries — alongside the main dish, to cut the richness. But mmm-boy is this stuff good.

Hollandaise sauce

3 egg yolks
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
3 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
dash of cayenne pepper
chives to taste

Prepare two pots of boiling water, one for use with a double boiler and the other as a reservoir for cooking (see narration above). Mix sherry, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and chives (if desired). Slowly melt butter. In cold double boiler pan (see narration above) whisk egg yolks until they begin to firm up. Place double boiler over heat, and continue stirring vigorously as you add one tablespoon of boiling water. When mixture begins to firm, repeat with second tablespoon of boiling water, then repeat for third. Then, while continuing to stir, add sherry-lemon juice blend. Remove double boiler from heat. While stirring sauce continuously, slowly pour in melted butter. Resulting sauce should be smooth and golden in color. Serve immediately.

Eggs Benedict

English muffin
Smaller slices of Canadian bacon, ham, or American bacon
2 eggs
Hollandaise sauce (see above)

Prepare meat in the typical fashion. Toast English muffin in halves, place meat on bottom. Poach eggs in boiling water (see narrative above for technique notes) for six minutes, then place atop meat. Drizzle hollandaise sauce atop and serve immediately.

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Don’t lie to advance your own cause. It only sets your cause back. And sometimes, it also makes you look like a complete fool on the Daily Show when you get caught in the act. Watch the interview here.

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The Pleasant Face Of The Anti-SSM Movement

by Burt Likko on August 29, 2009

The guy is right about one thing — telling people that gay people caused Hurricane Katrina isn’t going to convince anyone to change their mind and oppose same-sex marriage. A frothing, crazed religious screed isn’t going to convince anyone who doesn’t already buy into the frothing, crazed screed to begin with. To reach out to the middle, you have to appear moderate and reasonable.

According to the Washington Post, the political movement to oppose same-sex marriage has found a spokesman capable of doing that. He is Brian Brown, the director of the National Organization for Marriage. In a lengthy and flattering profile, the WaPo seems to spend most of its time talking about what a really nice guy he is. As if that were a surprise. A good politician is always a nice guy (or a nice gal).

The issue, though, is whether his argument — made slowly, without shouting or calling other people names — is convincing. Here it is in a nutshell:

The institution of marriage has always been between a man and a woman. Yes, there have been homosexual relationships. But no society that he knows of, in the history of the world, has ever condoned same-sex marriage. “Do they always agree on the number of partners? Do they always agree on the form of monogamy? No,” Brown says, but they’ve all agreed on the gender issue. It’s what’s best for families, he says. It’s the union that can biologically produce children, he says. It’s all about the way things have always been done.
In other words, the “argument from inherent caution against social change.” That is, in my opinion, the most reasonable position for an opponent of SSM to take. But here’s the flaw in that argument.

Okay, so it’s not wise to go tinkering around with social institutions; we don’t know what negative repercussions might result from doing so. Good. But some segments of society have not been so cautious; we now have SSM in five states and maybe six in a few months. Canada, a society very similar to our own, has had SSM for five years. A handful of Western European countries have had SSM for several years. What do the “let’s just be cautious” folks say to the fact that the institution of SSM has had no measurable effect on anything in any of those societies? Do they say, “Not enough data yet?” Okay — when will we have enough?

Just because things have always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that it is the right way to do them. It means it’s the way it’s always been done. Fields were always plowed by hand, until someone thought of using animals to do the labor. Then they were plowed with animals and humans, until someone invented mechanical tractors. People only ate fish after it was cooked, until they tried it raw and liked it. Lawyers hand-wrote all their pleadings, until they didn’t. Books all came on roll-up scrolls, until they weren’t. Japan didn’t allow non-Japanese onto the Home Islands, until it did. Things change. The question is when, how, and why should they change. Opposing change for the sake of opposing change may begin as caution, but it ends as reactionism.

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The Concord Group is not a collection of paranoid alarmists nor are they insane. They are concerned with the government’s fiscal irresponsibility, and have been so since the Reagan Administration. Unlike a lot of other interest groups, they are truly bipartisan. So when they start projecting that the annual deficit will be twice the already-astronomical amounts that Congress has projected, it’s cause for alarm. Concord’s assumptions are substantially more reasonable than the CBO’s — read the fine print in their report as linked above.

The point is that if we adopt the versions of healthcare reform currently favored by the Administration, after ten years we will have tripled our national debt. You can see the ticker on the right-hand column of this blog to observe the alarming rate that the national debt is growing already.

But none of this is any surprise to me, despite my alarm. This is the part where I get to toot my own horn, although I’m hardly the only blogger in America who has been predicting these kinds of problems. Still, long-time Readers may recall that in December of 2007 I wrote of Candidate Barack Obama:

[Obama's] Imaginative government policies, particularly in the areas of education and health care, would be very expensive. Does suggests that taxes should be “as low as we can afford them to be” consistent with government spending, suggesting that he would ask for tax increases to pay for his ambitious programs — but it does not seem that he has thought through just how much more spending he has suggested, and how to pay for it all. Does not seem to consider a balanced budget to be a high priority.
* * *
Would mandate employer health care coverage and has proposed a “national insurance pool” as alternative for those without employer coverage. Believes it is “immoral” to consider cost of health care when patient’s life is at stake. Stops short of advocacy of “universal health care,” but significantly expanded governmental coverage is obviously an indispensible part of his proposed reform package.

And one year ago, immediately after he accepted his party’s nomination, I wrote of our then-future President’s speech and found his proposals regarding first health care to be:

Very short on specifics. That’s not to say that a more detailed [health care reform] plan hasn’t been offered previously (although I haven’t seen it myself). Health care reform policies are inherently complex and difficult to explain. As close as I can infer from the language used here, that means that insurance companies will have to offer coverage similar to the plan offered to membes of Congress. He implies that this will be “available” to people who cannot otherwise afford that kind of coverage, but a Cadillac plan is expensive and without going to a single-payer system (which means no Cadillacs for anyone) it’s hard to see how such a thing is possible. But again, the plausibility of the promise is not what we’re really looking for here — the issue is that the policy itself is described in only vague terms.

Then I looked at what he had to say about the alarming state of our national finances, first quoting the candidate and then offering my own thoughts:

“I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime – by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less… .”
This, of course, has been my big concern about Obama for a long time. He does not really specify, to my satisfaction, how he’ll “pay for every time” of this ambitious expansion of the government’s role in this laundry list of mostly nebulous policy goals. … he suggests some general tactics (“closing corporate loopholes and tax havens”) but does not even attempt to identify “programs that no longer work” or indicate how programs “we do need” can be made to “work better and cost less.”

I’m going to have to call this one a broken promise. Not only has the President not come up with any plan whatsoever to “pay for” his expansive policy goals, not a single Federal program got the axe or even scissors in the President’s budget, he has not promposed a single corporate tax loophole or tax haven, and it appears that he thinks every Federal program is needed and works so well they all deserve more money.

But he’s certainly delivered on his promise for health care reform. Or rather, on his promise to try and deliver the sun, moon, stars, and the sky above without really defining what those things are, and to offer no plan for paying for it other than some sort of nonexistent national credit card.

Finally, on October 21, 2008, I endorsed Bob Barr for President, writing of the man who by then we all knew would actually be elected in his place:

Barack Obama inspires a lot of hope and will certainly try to push for changes in the way the government does business, in a way that John McCain will not. But we just plain can’t afford the agenda that, even now, he still is relentlessly pushing on the campaign trail. We are ten trillion dollars in the hole, people, and that trend needs to reverse itself. Expanding healthcare, overfunding the Department of Education, and cutting taxes is not going to do that. … As cool as Obama seems, and as much as you might want change, Obama promises Change We Can’t Afford.
Sure enough, we got exactly what we asked for when we elected him. Generalized policy proposals phrased in lofty and inspiring rhetoric with the details left to others to work out, an ambitious attempt to vastly increase Federal outlays in order to dramatically expand health care, and no concrete plan whatsoever to cut taxes, raise taxes, or otherwise pay for any of it other than simply borrowing the money.

Like I say, I’m far from the only person to have suggested that Barack Obama’s platform was going to be ruinously expensive and to mean the word “ruinously” in a literal sense. This situation been brewing right in front of us for nearly two years, if you only had the ears to listen for it coming. The question is not “how did this happen” or “is this creeping socialism” but rather “how are we going to get our national spending under control”?

Our national priority needs to not be health care reform unless that reform involves imposing cost controls and moving towards a more market-based system for delivering health care to the people who need it. But what we really need is a comprehensive austerity program.

Hat tip to Doug Mataconis for the Concord Coalition projection.

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A Message From The Land That Irony Forgot

by Burt Likko on August 28, 2009

Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, conservative firebrand from a liberal state, attends a town hall and finds a constituency sharply divided on the issue of health care reform — some adamantly in favor of it and some adamantly against it. The top line coming out of this astonishingly irony-free zone has to be from this oddly well-dressed gentleman:

Yep, that dude really did say “I’ll be danged if I give up my Social Security because of socialism” with no cognitive dissonance whatsoever.

You can pick your favorite reaction — Commander Riker’s face-palm of exasperated disbelief, or Captain Picard’s scornful stare of disdain:

Really, either response is appropriate.

RELATED: This from the Washington Post:

In other pockets of the state [South Carolina], the reaction to Democratic proposals has been strong, too. At a recent town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

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Sad To See

by Burt Likko on August 28, 2009

LeVar Burton may be most famous for playing Geordi LaForge on Star Trek, he may have made his mark playing Kunta Kinte in Roots, but he did his best work inspiring children to read books on Reading Rainbow, which after twenty-six seasons is finally coming to an end.

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A Test Of Resilience

by Burt Likko on August 28, 2009

Many of you Readers will have already come across the sensational story of a woman escaping from an eighteen-year captivity in an East Bay Area exurb. She was kidnapped by a stranger near her home in South Lake Tahoe in 1991 when she was only eleven years old, and held by a married couple. Her male captor appears to have raped her at least twice shortly after she reached puberty, fathering two children by her. The kidnap victim, and maybe her two daughters, were forced to live in tents in the back yard, as over the years the captors seem to have descended into a cycle of madness reinforced by warped religious views. The dude finally got arrested taking these victims with him to circulate religious literature on campus at UC Berkeley, and now the story breaks.

I’ve got a few thoughts in reaction to reading about this.

First, I say the criminal here has “warped” religious views despite knowing that that determining the exact point of warping as opposed to theological disputes is somewhat subjective. I might think that someone who sincerely believes the Holy Spirit protects him from the venom in a rattlesnake’s bite has gone over-the-line crazy while you might defend that person as as factually erroneous in that particular belief but otherwise functional in society and therefore not insane.

But we can all agree that when you think God speaks to you out of a cardboard box and tells you to kidnap and rape an eleven-year-old girl, and you also believe you’ve been gifted with the ability to control sound using only your own mind, it’s been quite some time since you crossed the line from “unusual religious beliefs” to “schizophrenia.” The male captor, at least, has a rap sheet for violent sexual crimes going back a quarter century.

So while in other entries of this blog I’m critical of religion, this incident isn’t something for which religion, at least in the form I usually address it, is a significant factor. The issue here is the crazy, not the religion.

Second, the kidnapping of children by strangers who are sexual predators is actually extraordinarily rare, but it does happen, but when it happens, unfortunately, the usual and horrific result is that the child victim is raped and then killed shortly afterwards. (Regarding the frequency of stranger kidnappings, see also this contrary study, suggesting that 24% of all juvenile kidnappings are by strangers.)

What makes this situation extraordinary is that the kidnapper did not murder the kidnap victim but instead kept her. Perhaps that was an outgrowth of his particular kind of mental derangement. I think it would make more sense for us as a society to respond to the story rationally, by recognizing that it is an exceptional circumstance. I suspect, though, that it will be digested into our culture as an example of what usually happens in a kidnapping situation.

Third, at least here in California we have a culture in which it’s not unusual to not know your neighbors very well, rarely if ever visit their houses, and generally leave them alone. I’m a big one to espouse the virtues of people minding their own business, and I think that giving other people a reasonable sphere of personal privacy is one of the obligations of decent behavior. Now, the Wife and I are friends with our next-door neighbors and we’re very fortunate that they’re perfectly normal folks. But the fact of the matter is that being friends with one’s neighbors is something of the exception rather than the rule in California.

But what if our neighbors were not perfectly normal folks but instead were kind of weird, hyper-religious, seemed to prefer to keep to themselves, and had tents and outhouses up in their back yard all the time? At what point do we stop respecting their desire for privacy, and start to be justifiably suspicious that something criminal is going on over there? And once we form that suspicion, what do we do about it? No easy answers here.

Fourth and finally, how will the now-freed victims adapt to their new circumstances? The 29-year-old woman who was abducted was eleven when she was taken. That would mean she was in, I think, sixth grade. She’s had no education at all since then but probably a lot of bizarre religious ranting. She is 29 years old and has spent 18 of those 29 years as a captive and probably as a sex slave of a couple of lunatics.

Her two daughters have had no education of any kind, and are now 11 and 15 years old. Whether the pubescent girl got treated like her mother is a disquieting question but one that there seems to be no choice but to confront when contemplating the situation. Either way, though, living in that bizarre environment is the only thing they have ever known.

How does a human being adapt to that sort of circumstance? How will these women re-integrate into normal society? What kinds of bizarre notions about the world will they have acquired? Will they be able to learn the kinds of skills that they will need to get jobs and support themselves? Will they be able to fall in love, and have families of their own? They were no doubt subjected to huge amounts of bizarre religion — will they become religious themselves, now that they will have the freedom to choose for themselves how to live their own lives?

Gratefully, most of the public will never learn the answers to these questions. They will be a long time coming, and the media spotlight will move off of them very soon. Which is good — these women should be allowed privacy and personal space in which to do what they have to do to heal and integrate into society. I would hope, though, that mental health professionals stay on top of the situation and there is at least some professional literature that comes out of the singular and exceptional case study that this situation represents.

There are elements of hope for a good outcome here; the abductee’s mother appears anxious to reunite with her daughter after so many years; her stepfather also seems supportive and willing to help. (The trauma of having their daughter taken from them seems to have led to the breakup of that marriage, an illustration of how crime affects not just the victim but like a crack in a windshield spreads harm and pain to many members of society.) But I think that whatever happens to them will have to look a lot like the way people are deprogrammed from cult membership, and that seems to be a decidedly unpleasant process.

The proverb is that people are amazingly resilient and adaptable. But the reality is that they are not infinitely so. These three young women are going to be a test of exactly how resilient and adaptable people can really be.

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Our Last Best Hope

by Burt Likko on August 28, 2009

Finally, someone thinks up a workable, dramatic, and quick solution to our national debt problems. Also note the same network brings us best short-form debate yet about using torture to interrogate terror suspects. Finally, intelligent, balanced discussion about the issues important to me!

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