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Why Isn’t Sign Language Ubiquitous? February 26, 2011

Posted by federalist in Language, Open Questions.
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Deaf children instinctively develop sign languages during the same critical periods for language development as other children develop spoken language. And these sign languages have complete analogs to the linguistic characteristics that distinguish and define all spoken human languages. (My favorite book on this is Pinker’s The Language Instinct.)

Given this innate instinct why don’t humans develop full-fledged sign languages unless they are deprived of hearing? The advantage of having a gesticular language to back up a spoken language seems compelling, as Matt Ridley suggests:

At loud parties, on trains or during ambushes, we could resort to signing, instead of having to shout, distract fellow travelers or alert our quarry.

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Boys Need a Coming-of-Age Test February 20, 2011

Posted by federalist in Education.
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Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, notes:

It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers.

It has been two generations since we fought a war for survival or had large numbers of young men pressed into military service. There is no test or ceremony to mark a boy’s transition into manhood; there is not even a vague social consensus about what “manhood” might entail. I proposed some standards a few years ago, but they haven’t caught on yet….

Solar Tsunami: Nature’s EMP Attack February 16, 2011

Posted by federalist in Energy.
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Forecasters are see an increase in solar storms over the next few years. Power Magazine explains the devastation that a powerful solar storm would wreak on our infrastructure. Unlike a man-made electromagnetic pulse attack a “solar tsunami” will affect a much wider area, primarily damaging satellites and the largely invisible high-voltage infrastructure on which our society depends … and which we are unprepared to replace.

This is the largest natural disaster the country could face and it is certain to happen…

Scared? Have another look at my post on stockpiling for survival.

Capital Punishment: Not That Difficult February 4, 2011

Posted by federalist in Open Questions.
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A shortage of the anesthetic thiopental sodium threw the capital punishment system into disarray. States go to great lengths to establish protocols for killing that are deemed both reliable and sufficiently painless so as not to constitute “cruel” punishment for those that have been sentenced to die for crimes.

A lethal injection sequence of three separate drugs, beginning with thiopental sodium, has become the standard in most states, which is why the absence of the first drug threatened to derail the process. But why has this become the standard means of execution? After all, you have to strap down the condemned and get a needle into a vein before you can even begin administering the toxins.

If the goal is a reliable and painless death, you can save the trauma and pain associated with placing an IV, not to mention issues with stocking reliably potent drugs, through simple oxygen deprivation. One might think this is what is practiced in states that use “gas chambers” for execution. But apparently the only gas chamber executions ever performed by U.S. governments have used poison gas (some variant of cyanide) which, if not painful, at least tends to cause a somewhat spectacular death typically accompanied by violent convulsions.

Nothing could be more painless or less traumatic than death by oxygen deprivation (hypoxia). Anyone who has gone for a ride in a hypobaric chamber without an oxygen mask (as many military pilots have to do) knows that severe oxygen deprivation results in painless and almost instant unconsciousness. Left in a sufficiently low-oxygen atmosphere a person will be dead within ten calm minutes. And if the ear-popping associated with a low-pressure chamber is too discomfiting a low-oxygen atmosphere can instead be produced by scrubbing oxygen from a room and replacing it with physiologically inert gases like nitrogen. Unlike other means of execution, the failure of a hypoxic chamber cannot cause suffering: If oxygen levels can’t be brought down low enough or fast enough the worst that happens is that the subject feels light-headed instead of unconscious. (In fact, hypoxia is notoriously lethal because its symptoms are so hard to recognize; pilots are put through hypoxia to try to train them to recognize the symptoms and put on oxygen masks before they are incapacitated.) And unlike poison gas chambers a hypoxic chamber poses no risks to bystanders or executioners.

So why isn’t hypoxia the preferred means of execution?

Charter Cities — Better Than the Free State Project February 3, 2011

Posted by federalist in Federalism, Government, Markets.
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The United States of America was supposed to be a federation of independent states. If the Federal government hadn’t so overstepped its constitutional bounds we would presently have a great experiment in which fifty States were free to test different polities, and some measure of competition between them would over time lead to and preserve good government. Sadly, owing to Federal overreach the States have been left with less power and freedom to shape their polities, so the Great Experiment has become a Modest Experiment: States still compete for citizens and businesses through tax and regulatory policies1. But no matter where you go you’re subject to the same Federal government that controls nearly 20% of GDP and whose regulatory power dwarfs that left to the States.

The Free State Project was an effort begun a decade ago to focus the political power of a large number of libertarians on a single State (ultimately choosing New Hampshire) where they would, as citizens, work to incrementally free the State from unconstitutional Federal rule.

Recently, “Tenthers” (so named for the Tenth Amendment) have been working more broadly to restore State rights under the Constitution.

But to me nothing beats the idea of a “Charter City” as promoted by Paul Romer: This would be a territory cut free from its donor government, governed only by its own charter. The Charter City would have its authority guaranteed by a strong and stable third party — Hong Kong under British administration was an example of this. Like free trade zones and for-profit states a charter city in a relatively unfree or poorly governed region of the world would expect to attract extraordinary investment, leading to exceptional growth and prosperity, which would hopefully be contagious to its neighbors.


1 The Mercatus Center has an excellent analysis of the current differences between states in its 2009 publication Freedom in the 50 States.