U.S.S Constitution

I saw this at Walter Russel Mead’s blog, Via Meadia.

The USS Constitution, named by President George Washington and nearly as old as our venerable founding document itself,  is still going strong. Old Ironsides, as the ship has been lovingly known ever since British cannonballs harmlessly bounced off her sides in  the War of 1812, set sail once more out of Boston harbor, for just the second time in the last 131 years, to celebrate the 200-year old victory that gave her her nickname:

Some 285 people were on board the ship, which sailed under her own power for 17 minutes, traveling a distance of 1,100 yards.

Tugs were then reattached to Constitution’s sides and she returned to her pier by early afternoon. The ship, which doubles as a museum, receives more than half a million visitors each year.

The Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship in the world still afloat. And although the United States is often called a young country, the American Republic is actually one of the oldest surviving governments in a world that often lunges from one revolution to the next. Here’s to many happy returns—for both Constitutions.USS Constitution, the oldest U.S. Warship curr...

We don’t often think of it, but if you look around the world, how many countries have the same government they did back in 1787. France was still a monarchy and fated to go through five republics, two empires and a restoration. China was an empire ruled by the foreign Manchus. Germany and Italy didn’t exist as countries. The only country with a constitution older than ours, that I can think of, might be Great Britain’s unwritten constitution. Even then, I think the British form of government has changed more than ours has over the last century. Japan has the world’s oldest royal family, but the politics of Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate were significantly different than they were in the twentieth and twenty-first century.

It is actually rather amazing that the United States is still ruled under the same basic form of government since we were only thirteen states on the Atlantic seaboard. Some might think that it is past time for a new constitution, but I don’t think we could ever be lucky enough to find people of the caliber of George Washington or James Madison, or any of the other founding fathers in this day and age. Lesser sons of great sires are we.

A Little Optimistic

 

 

I don’t want to be overconfident, but I am starting to feel just a little optimistic about our chances in November. Most of the polls that I have seen have Romney and Obama tied. That is not the reason for my slight optimism. Polls this early don’t really mean a lot. I have, however, seen all kinds of signs that voters do not like Obama, or what he represents very much.

There was the Chick-Fil-A incident. I imagine that a lot of the people who went out of their way to buy chicken sandwiches can just as easily go out of their way to vote. I doubt many will be voting for the first Presidential candidate for support same-sex marriage. Then there is the baker who refused to be part of a photo-op with Vice-President Joe Biden, and who saw his business increase exponentially.

There is Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan to be his running mate. Ryan was supposed to be too extreme with his plans to reform Medicare. The Democrats are already planning to depict Ryan throwing old people over a cliff, but according to Michael Barone, this doesn’t seem to be working out so well.

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan was supposed to be a problem for the Republicans. So said a chorus of chortling Democrats. So said a gaggle of anonymous seasoned Republican operatives. All of which was echoed gleefully by mainstream media.

The problem, these purveyors of the conventional wisdom all said, was Medicare — to be more specific, the future changes in Medicare set out in the budget resolutions Ryan fashioned as House Budget Committee chairman and persuaded almost all House and Senate Republicans to vote for.

But while Democrats licked their chops at the prospect of scaring old ladies that they’d be sent downhill in wheelchairs, the Medicare issue seems to be working in the other direction.

Romney and Ryan have gone on the offense, noting that while their plan calls for no changes for current Medicare recipients and those over 55, Obamacare, saved from demolition by Chief Justice John Roberts, cuts $716 billion from the politically popular Medicare to pay for Obama’s politically unpopular health care law.

The Romney campaign is putting TV advertising money behind this message, and it will have plenty more to spend — quite possibly more than the Obama forces — once the Romney-Ryan ticket is officially nominated in Tampa, Fla., in 10 days. Team Obama is visibly squirming.

It turns out that Ryan and Romney, who in late 2011 and early 2012 moved quietly but deliberately toward embracing the Ryan agenda, may have outthought their adversaries.

Those last-minute Mediscare-type mailings to seniors, which enabled Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles to narrowly defeat Jeb Bush in the 1994 Florida governor race, don’t work so well anymore when the issue is brought out fully in the light of day.

Dare I hope that the American people are ready for an intelligent conversation on our looming entitlements crisis? If so, than Obama doesn’t have a chance. All he and the Democrats have to offer is scare tactics and a stubborn refusal to permit any reform that might possibly harm any of the interests that fund their party. So much for being “progressive”. As Barone concludes.

This election can be seen as a contest between the Founders’ ideas and those of the Progressives, who saw the Founders as outmoded in an industrial era.

Ryan strengthens Romney in his invocation of the Founders. Obama is stuck with the tinny and outdated debunking of the Progressives. Which rings truer today?

 

 

No Man is an Island

As the poet John Donne put it,

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Though he had it slightly wrong. If the latest research in biology is any indication, we are, each one of us, a continent, perhaps even a world in ourselves. That is the impression I got when I read this article in The Economist.

The traditional view is that a human body is a collection of 10 trillion cells which are themselves the products of 23,000 genes. If the revolutionaries are correct, these numbers radically underestimate the truth. For in the nooks and crannies of every human being, and especially in his or her guts, dwells the microbiome: 100 trillion bacteria of several hundred species bearing 3m non-human genes. The biological Robespierres believe these should count, too; that humans are not single organisms, but superorganisms made up of lots of smaller organisms working together.

It might sound perverse to claim bacterial cells and genes as part of the body, but the revolutionary case is a good one. For the bugs are neither parasites nor passengers. They are, rather, fully paid-up members of a community of which the human “host” is but a single (if dominating) member. This view is increasingly popular: the world’s leading scientific journals, Nature and Science, have both reviewed it extensively in recent months. It is also important: it will help the science and practice of medicine

The microbiome does many jobs in exchange for the raw materials and shelter its host provides. One is to feed people more than 10% of their daily calories. These are derived from plant carbohydrates that human enzymes are unable to break down. And not just plant carbohydrates. Mother’s milk contains carbohydrates called glycans which human enzymes cannot digest, but bacterial ones can.

This alone shows how closely host and microbiome have co-evolved over the years. But digestion is not the only nutritional service provided. The microbiome also makes vitamins, notably B2, B12 and folic acid. It is, moreover, capable of adjusting its output to its host’s needs and diet. The microbiomes of babies make more folic acid than do those of adults. And microbiomes in vitamin-hungry places like Malawi and rural Venezuela turn out more of these chemicals than do those in the guts of North Americans.

The microbiome also maintains the host’s health by keeping hostile interlopers at bay. An alien bug that causes diarrhoea, for instance, is as much an enemy of the microbiome as of the host. Both have an interest in zapping it. And both contribute to the task. Host and microbiome, then, are allies. But there is more to it than that. For the latest research shows their physiologies are linked in ways which make the idea of a human superorganism more than just a rhetorical flourish.

So, each one of us is not just a single entity, but a whole community of microbes. I’ll never feel lonely again. Meanwhile, we should all be good to our bacteria, they are our closest friends.