Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Book recommendations

Here are some links to books I'm sending out for Christmas:


From John Ray's "Dissecting Leftism"

Interesting point from a comment on Rishon-Rishon (also see here): How come the Left happily compare Bush to Hitler because of the invasion of Iraq, even though the guy Bush TOPPLED was a real dictator who did gas people, was a member of a national socialist party, AND had a moustache. Doesn't that make GWB more like FDR? There's no logic on the Left, though.

Bush Derangement Syndrome strikes again.

Iraq: What do the experts say?

WHEN IT COMES to the future of Iraq, there is a deep disconnect between those who have firsthand knowledge of the situation — Iraqis and U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq — and those whose impressions are shaped by doomsday press coverage and the imperatives of domestic politics. a survey last month from the U.S.-based International Republican Institute, 47% of Iraqis polled said their country was headed in the right direction, ... 37% said they thought that it was going in the wrong direction. And 56% thought things would be better in six months. Only 16% thought they would be worse.
64% of military officers are confident that we will succeed in establishing a stable democracy in Iraq. The comparable figures for journalists and academics are 33% and 27%, respectively. Even more impressive than the Pew poll is the evidence of how our service members are voting with their feet. Although both the Army and the Marine Corps are having trouble attracting fresh recruits — no surprise, given the state of public opinion regarding Iraq — reenlistment rates continue to exceed expectations. Veterans are expressing their confidence in the war effort by signing up to continue fighting.

There's also lots of evidence of success one can point to in Iraq. At the very least, things are nowhere near as bad as the press would have us believe.

This is not meant to suggest that everything is wonderful in Iraq. The situation remains grim in many respects. But the most disheartening indicator of all is simply the American public's loss of confidence in the war effort. Abu Musab Zarqawi may be losing on the Arab street (his own family has disowned him), but he's winning on Main Street. And, as the Vietnam War showed, defeatism on the home front can become self-fulfilling.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Freepers hammer Krauthammer

Whenever an article about evolution or ID/IOT hits the news, there are a number of "usual suspects" who can be counted on to pay attention. World Net Daily often has a pointer to the item in their "evolution watch" section, and Free Republic's denizens ("Freepers") fly into a comment war over it.

Now, the response as Krauthammer endangers his conservative credentials by gainsaying the likes of Pat Robertson and sinking into apostasy.

Again, some of the comments are illuminating:

"and the fool said in his heart: There is no god"

– message 4 posted on 11/18/2005 8:12:40 AM PST by prophetic
Its been stated repeatedly but for some reason this guy and other evolutionists still want to misrepresent ID as Creationism. ID is not creationism. ID is Deism. Creationism involves a personal God. ID does not profess belief in a personal GOD. Actually the premise behind ID is hostile to Creationism.

5 posted on 11/18/2005 8:12:49 AM PST by Mulch (tm)

There you have it! ID/IOT does not invoke a personal God, but if you reject ID/IOT, you've rejected Him.

Buckhead on the Rathergate docs

Buckhead has a few comments about how he determined the Bush National Guard documents were fale.

So, how did I know? The short answer is that I am 47 years old and I am not a blithering idiot.

The long answer is at the other end of the link.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ignoring economics

Thomas Sowell has a series of articles on how people have been ignoring economics lately, at their own peril.

I first became aware of the law of gravity as a small child when I pedaled my tricycle off the porch and crashed into the yard. Gravity of course operated all along, whether I was aware of it or not. Economics is a lot like that. Many people completely unaware of economics sometimes discover it the same way I discovered gravity, through some personal or national crash.

...continued in full post...

Liberals especially tend to think up all sorts of good things we want -- a "living wage," "affordable housing," "universal health care," and an ever-expanding wish-list of things everyone should receive as "rights" -- with little or no awareness of the economic repercussions of turning that wish list into laws. In many cases, items on their wish list have already been turned into laws in other countries and in other periods of history, but there is remarkably little curiosity about the actual consequences in those countries and times.

So what are these consequences?

Whenever an artificial price ceiling is imposed by fiat, there will be a shortage of whatever good is being controlled. This is the case whether we're talking about prescription drugs, gasoline, labor, or human creativity. Whenever an artificial price floor is imposed by fiat, there will be a glut of whatever good is being controlled.

Other columns in the recent past have dealt with:

  • "Price gouging" by oil companies – high prices are not a matter of "greed", and attempts to force oil companies to lower prices led to the gas lines of the mid 70s
  • Unemployment vs. discrimination: In the US when discrimination was legislated, we did not see high unemployment among the groups legislated against.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Krauthammer on ID/IOT – the responses has a "soapbox" feature where anyone can post comments on topics of the day.

"TerryM" posted a long response to Krauthammer's piece on ID/IOT; I've posted a couple of responses to his piece.

Friday, November 18, 2005

False research findings

Marginal Revolution has a nice analysis of the article arguing that "most published research findings are false".

Ioannidis presents a Bayesian analysis of the problem which most people will find utterly confusing. Here's the idea in a diagram.

Krauthammer on the Dover trial

Charles Krauthammer is putting in his two cents' worth on the subject of evolution, ID/IOT, and the trial in Dover.

The first point he makes is to deal with the assumption that science and religion are somehow enemies.

Einstein saw his entire vocation – understanding the workings of the universe – as an attempt to understand the mind of God.

Not a crude and willful God who pushes and pulls and does things according to whim. Newton was trying to supplant the view that first believed the sun's motion around the earth was the work of Apollo and his chariot, and later believed it was a complicated system of cycles and epicycles, one tacked on upon the other every time some wobble in the orbit of a planet was found. Newton's God was not at all so crude. The laws of his universe were so simple, so elegant, so economical, and therefore so beautiful that they could only be divine.

It's a pity modern religionists seem incapable of understanding this idea.

...continued in full post...

Dover distinguished itself this Election Day by throwing out all eight members of its school board who tried to impose "intelligent design – today's tarted-up version of creationism – on the biology curriculum. Pat Robertson then called down the wrath of God upon the good people of Dover for voting "God out of your city."

As I mentioned in another post, Pat Robertson, in issuing his statement, has declared ID/IOT a religion. In particular, it's his religion. There's no other way to interpret his words. As for the claim that ID/IOT really is science, Dr. Krauthammer begs to differ:

Let's be clear. "Intelligent design" may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological "theory" whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge – in this case, evolution – they are to be filled by God. It is a "theory" that admits that evolution and natural selection explain such things as the development of drug resistance in bacteria and other such evolutionary changes within species, but that every once in a while God steps into this world of constant and accumulating change and says, "I think I'll make me a lemur today." A "theory" that violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be science – that it be empirically disprovable. How does one empirically disprove the proposition that God was behind the lemur, or evolution – or behind the motion of the tides or the "strong force" that holds the atom together?

In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase "natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us," thus unmistakably implying – by fiat of definition, no less – that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and to science.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Rewriting history - Cheney's view

After years of Democrat politicians' shrill accusations, the Administration is hitting back.

Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein. These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence, and were free to draw their own conclusions. They arrived at the same judgment about Iraq's capabilities and intentions that was made by this Administration and by the previous Administration. There was broad-based, bipartisan agreement that Saddam Hussein was a threat ... that he had violated U.N. Security Council Resolutions ... and that, in a post-9/11 world, we couldn't afford to take the word of a dictator who had a history of WMD programs, who had excluded weapons inspectors, who had defied the demands of the international community, who had been designated an official state sponsor of terror, and who had committed mass murder. Those are facts. What we're hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war. The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out. American soldiers and Marines are out there every day in dangerous conditions and desert temperatures - conducting raids, training Iraqi forces, countering attacks, seizing weapons, and capturing killers - and back home a few opportunists are suggesting they were sent into battle for a lie. The President and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone - but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history.

Having dished it out, Democrats are shocked – shocked, I tell you – at the prospect of having to take it.

ID/IOT as Philosophy

James Harrington at Tech Central Station has an article titled, The Flawed Philosophy of Intelligent Design.

The time has come to be blunt. The problem with Intelligent Design is not that it is false; not that the arguments in its favor reduce to smoke and mirrors; and not that it's defenders are disingenuous or even duplicitous. The problem with Intelligent Design is that it is dumb. I would contend that ID is dumb biology; even if it is on to something, what it is on to has no connection and does no meaningful work in biology (or physics). However, and more significantly, ID is dumb philosophy.

Harrington looks at two competing philosophies, naturalism and non-naturalism.

Naturalism has a certain elegant simplicity. Its fundamental assertion is that what you see is what you get. The world is the way it seems to be, and there is no call to introduce anything outside the knowable and discoverable universe.

Non-naturalism, on the other hand, treats the world as an open system, and at least one entity – at least one force or being – intervenes to cause what we see in the world around us. This seems to address the weirdness we see, from quantum physics to chaotic systems in the macroscopic realm.

According to ID, the world perked along perfectly fine for several billion years according to the rules of physics. Over most of space-time the naturalists have it basically right, things just sort of go the way they seem they should. Then, a couple of billion years ago, along came The Designer, not itself the product of those processes. It showed up and decided to take a bunch of these otherwise perfectly natural chemicals and put them together to make bacteria and then designed in a replication system. Then it left it alone for another several million years and decided, "Hey, I've got these bacteria around, let's collect them into these other things." And, so forth.

But, this is just dumb! It takes the real virtues of both real alternatives and turns them on their heads. If naturalists value metaphysical simplicity, the simplicity of ID becomes simplemindedness. The ID theorist response to any puzzle is to demand a simple solution, even if the simple solution amounts to deus ex machina. This isn't just lazy philosophy; it's lazy fiction. On the other hand, if non-naturalists have a valuable sensitivity to the messiness of the real world, the ID theorists goal is to make that messiness go away. Pointing at every gap in our understanding and saying, "See there goes God, or whoever." isn't sensitivity to complexity; it's just stupidity.

One of the problems with ID/IOT is that it essentially abandons the quest for knowledge, and draws the curtain of ignorance over any questions about the world.

Consider the following example. Imagine yourself as a visiting alien; when surveying "Africa" you discover large termite mounds. Most of the crew gets right down to the business of studying termites and figuring out how they manage to produce their nests. But, a few make a different claim. Given that the termites are clearly not sentient, they decide that the termites could not possibly have built their nests in the absence of an independent sentient nest designer – The Termite Farmer. Therefore, they take off and go looking for The Termite Farmer instead of studying what termites actually do.

When faced with any answered question, especially a messy one, ID/IOT serenely explains to us, "I don't know, and you don't either, even if you think you do."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Evolution and the Kansas science standards

Steve Abrams, chairman, Kansas State Board of Education, presents his side of the evolution vs. ID/IOT debate.

I'm excerpting only the bits I'm commenting on – to see his unedited prose, follow the link.

...continued in full post...

The critics also claim that in the scientific community, there is no controversy about evolution. They then proceed to explain that I ought to understand something about this, because surely I can see that over a period of time, over many generations, a pair of dogs will “evolve”. There is a high likelihood that the progeny several generations down the line will not look like the original pair of dogs. And then some of the critics will claim that this proves that all living creatures came from some original set of cells.

I'd love to see the e-mail in question. Usually, that phrasing is used by opponents of evolution, followed by the "refutation", "but they're still dogs.

As far as that argument goes, we can see impressive amounts of change in populations under selection in a very short time. Also, history is complete enough that we're pretty convinced that the vast array of dogs all descended from one original type of dog. Once this bridge is crossed, one can see how bears and dogs might well have derived from a common ancestor. Whether that ancestor looked more like a wolf or more like a bear can't be determined just from that fact – other lines of evidence have to be considered. But there is no yawning gap between the two orders.

Sure, Chihuahuas and Great Danes are "still dogs", but bears and dogs are "still carnivores" – members of the order carnivora. And carnivores and ungulates (including cows) are "still mammals". Mammals and reptiles are "still vertebrates". Vertebrates and annelids (worms) are "still chordates". Chordates and molluscs are "still animals", and animals and plants are "still eukaryotes". The issue here is the pattern we see. These groups are not random – each subgroup represents a modification of a larger group – a modification added by something.

Obviously, that is one of the reasons that we tried to further define evolution. We want to differentiate between the genetic capacity in each species genome that permits it to change with the environment as being different from changing to some other creature.

Problem: "change from one creature to another" has been observed. That's why the anti-evolutionists are having such a hard time defining "kinds". Does a "kind" equate to a species? A genus? How about a class, order or phylum? No matter where they try to draw the line, there are lots of examples of transitions over that line. Ultimately, the only definition of a "kind", where change from one to another is impossible, seems to be a list drawn by some expert ID/IOT researcher.

In our Science Curriculum Standards, we called this micro-evolution and macro-evolution… changes within kinds and changing from one kind to another. Again, as previously stated, evolutionists want nothing to do with trying to clarify terms and meanings.

OK, let's clarify. What is the line between "macro" and "micro"? What is the scientific test for determining what kind of change can happen, and what kind can never happen? Why is it that critics of evolution doggedly refuse to define so fundamental a term?

It seems that instead of making it a “he said”, and then “she said”, and then “he said” and so on and on, it would make sense to go to the document about which everyone is supposedly commenting about: The Kansas Science Curriculum Standards. (

Good idea!

Another claim that our critics promote through the media is that we are inserting Intelligent Design. Again, if we go to the Science Curriculum Standards, Standard 3 Benchmark 3 Indicators 1-7 (pg 75-77). This is the heart of the “evolution” area. Only 7 indicators… ...<snip>... 7) explains proposed scientific explanations of the origin of life as well as scientific criticisms of those explanations. As anyone can see, Intelligent Design is not included. But many of our critics already know this. This is not about Biblical creation or Intelligent Design… it is about the last 5 words of indicator 7… “scientific criticisms of those explanations.” Evolutionists do not want students to know about or in any way to think about scientific criticisms of evolution. Evolutionists are the ones minimizing open scientific inquiry from their explanation of the origin of life. They do not want students to know that peer reviewed journals, articles and books have scientific criticisms of evolution. ...<snip>... I have repeatedly stated this is not about Biblical creation or Intelligent Design… this is about what constitutes good science standards for the students of the state of Kansas. I would encourage those who believe we are promoting a back door to creation or Intelligent Design to actually do your homework… READ and investigate the Science Curriculum Standards ( and base your comments on them and not on the misinformation critics have been plastering the print and clogging the airways with… unless of course, your only defense really is baseless character assassination.

Well, let's look at some of these standards. What I find interesting is not so much the seven standards listed in the article, but the details listed under "added specificity". For example:

1)The student: understands biological evolution, descent with modification, is a scientific explanation for the history of the diversification of organisms from common ancestors. 1-c) Patterns of diversification and extinction of organisms are documented in the fossil record. Evidence also indicates that simple, bacteria-like life may have existed billions of years ago. However, in many cases the fossil record is not consistent with gradual, unbroken sequences postulated by biological evolution.

The Talk Origins website is a good resource to look at as well. You'll find just about every "criticism" of evolution discussed there, particularly its index of creationist claims. In the case of this "yes, but" to the standards, we see:

Claim CC201: If evolution proceeds via the accumulation of small steps, we should see a smooth continuum of creatures across the fossil record. Instead, we see long periods where species do not change, and there are gaps between the changes. The idea that gradual change should appear throughout the fossil record is called phyletic gradualism. It is based on the following tenets: New species arise by the transformation of an ancestral population into its modified descendants. The transformation is even and slow. The transformation involves most or all of the ancestral population. The transformation occurs over most or all of the ancestral species' geographic range. However, all but the first of these is false far more often that not. Studies of modern populations and incipient species show that new species arise mostly from the splitting of a small part of the original species into a new geographical area. ...<snip>... The imperfection of the fossil record (due to erosion and periods unfavorable to fossil preservation) also causes gaps, although it probably cannot account for all of them. Some transitional sequences exist, which, despite an uneven rate of change, still show a gradual continuum of forms. The fossil record still shows a great deal of change over time. The creationists who make note of the many gaps almost never admit the logical conclusion: If they are due to creation, then there have been hundreds, perhaps even millions, of separate creation events scattered through time.


f. The view that living things in all the major kingdoms are modified descendants of a common ancestor (described in the pattern of a branching tree) has been challenged in recent years by: i. Discrepancies in the molecular evidence (e.g., differences in relatedness inferred from sequence studies of different proteins) previously thought to support that view.
Claim CB821: Modern versions of the phylogenetic "tree of life" are based on DNA and other molecular analyses. Inconsistent and bizarre results based on different molecular analyses "have now plunged molecular phylogeny into a crisis" (Wells 2000, 51). A few inconsistencies are to be expected, because biology is messy. Genes need not always evolve at the same rate in different lineages. Some molecules may converge as a result of selection or chance. Horizontal gene transfer occasionally occurs. Such exceptions will be rare, but there will be a few of them among the vast body of consistent results. Most inconsistencies can be resolved by basing an analysis on multiple genes (Rokas et al. 2003). Other inconsistencies will occur as a result of methodological and interpretive mistakes (Sanderson and Shaffer 2002). Phylogenetic analysis is a very complex subject; people who do not understand it well cannot be expected to get it right all the time. Publishing one's methods and results allows others to catch mistakes. Creationists looking for inconsistencies can dishonestly pick out the few there are while disregarding the vast body of consistent results and the reasons for the inconsistencies. Some claimed inconsistencies are really consistent. Wells, for example, cited a study which "placed sea urchins among the chordates" (Wells 2000, 51), but sea urchins (and echinoderms in general) do group with chordates as a sister group. Wells (2000, 51) also cited another study that "put cows closer to whales than to horses," which is also entirely consistent with genetic, morphological, and fossil evidence.
ii. A fossil record that shows sudden bursts of increased complexity (the Cambrian Explosion), long periods of stasis and the absence of abundant transitional forms rather than steady gradual increases in complexity, and
Claim CC300: Complex life forms appear suddenly in the Cambrian explosion, with no ancestral fossils. The Cambrian explosion was the seemingly sudden appearance of a variety of complex animals about 540 million years ago (Mya), but it was not the origin of complex life.... There are transitional fossils within the Cambrian explosion fossils. For example, there are lobopods (basically worms with legs) which are intermediate between arthropods and worms. Only some phyla appear in the Cambrian explosion. In particular, all plants postdate the Cambrian, and flowering plants, by far the dominant form of land life today, only appeared about 140 Mya. ... Even among animals, not all types appear in the Cambrian. Cnidarians, sponges, and probably other phyla appeared before the Cambrian. ... According to one reference (Collins 1994), eleven of thirty-two metazoan phyla appear during the Cambrian, one appears Precambrian, eight after the Cambrian, and twelve have no fossil record. And that just considers phyla. Almost none of the animal groups that people think of as groups, such as mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, and spiders, appeared in the Cambrian. The fish that appeared in the Cambrian was unlike any fish alive today.
iii. Studies that show animals follow different rather than identical early stages of embryological development.
...embryological characters are still useful as evidence for evolution (in constructing phylogenies, for example), just as adult characters are. Furthermore, there is some degree of parallelism between ontogeny and phylogeny, especially when applied only to individual characters. Various causes for this have been proposed. For example, there is selective pressure to retain embryonic structures that are needed for the development of other organs.
2. a. Genetic changes occur only in individual organisms. New heritable traits may result from new combinations of genes and from random mutations or changes in the reproductive cells. Except in very rare cases, mutations that may be inherited are neutral, deleterious or fatal.
Claim CB101: Most mutations are harmful, so the overall effect of mutations is harmful. Most mutations are neutral. Nachman and Crowell estimate around 3 deleterious mutations out of 175 per generation in humans (2000). Of those that have significant effect, most are harmful, but a significant fraction are beneficial. The harmful mutations do not survive long, and the beneficial mutations survive much longer, so when you consider only surviving mutations, most are beneficial. Beneficial mutations are commonly observed. They are common enough to be problems in the cases of antibiotic resistance in disease-causing organisms and pesticide resistance in agricultural pests. They can be repeatedly observed in laboratory populations.
Whether microevolution (change within a species) can be extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which appear irreducibly complex) is controversial. These kinds of macroevolutionary explanations generally are not based on direct observations and often reflect historical narratives based on inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence.
Claim CB902: Microevolution is distinct from macroevolution. Microevolution and macroevolution are different things, but they involve mostly the same processes. ... There is no argument that microevolution happens. Macroevolution is defined as evolutionary change at the species level or higher, that is, the formation of new species, new genera, and so forth. Speciation has also been observed. Creationists have created another category for which they use the word "macroevolution." They have no technical definition of it, but in practice they use it to mean evolution to an extent great enough that it has not been observed yet. ... I will call this category supermacroevolution to avoid confusing it with real macroevolution. Supermacroevolution is harder to observe directly. However, there is not the slightest bit of evidence that it requires anything but microevolution. ...Creationists claim that microevolution and supermacroevolution are distinct, but they have never provided an iota of evidence to support their claim. There is evidence for supermacroevolution in the form of progressive changes in the fossil record and in the pattern of similarities among living things showing an absence of distinct "kinds." This evidence caused evolution in some form to be accepted even before Darwin proposed his theory.

Two comments. First, the response to this item of "added specificity" is basically pointing out that lots of "micros" add up to a "macro". (And, if we're going to coin terms, lots of "macros" add up to a "super macro", and lots of "super macros" add up to a "super-duper macro".) Second, when I go in for jury duty, one of the things that's always being pointed out is that "circumstantial" evidence is often considerably stronger than direct evidence. Circumstantial evidence hangs around and can be subjected to further testing whereas direct evidence depends on the memory of an eyewitness and becomes less reliable over time.

Back to the standards.

6. c. Natural selection, genetic drift, genomes, and the mechanisms of genetic change provide a context in which to ask research questions and help explain observed changes in populations. However, reverse engineering and end-directed thinking are used to understand the function of bio-systems and information.
Claim CI120: A purpose for an object indicates that the object is designed. When somebody designs something, he or she usually has a purpose for it, but the purpose is that of the designer, not the object designed. For example, people have a purpose for windows and airbags in automobiles, but the automobile itself has no such purpose. To the extent that traits of living things have a purpose, that purpose, ultimately, is the reproductive success of the organism's genes. Such purpose is entirely consistent with evolution. It is not uncommon for undesigned objects to have a purpose. The North Star, for example, has a purpose in navigation, but it got that purpose entirely through the chance of its being in a certain spot. Some life forms have no apparent purpose. Life also exists at cross-purposes. A bobcat's purpose for a rabbit is likely to be quite different from the rabbit's purpose.

This would actually be a splendid point to bring up not just in biology, but in all of science. Science asks "how", and not "why". Many's the time a scientist will be led badly astray by thinking of some system in terms of one particular function.

Some of the scientific criticisms include: a A lack of empirical evidence for a “primordial soup” or a chemically hospitable pre-biotic atmosphere;
Miller-Urey: A key question in origin-of-life research is the oxidation state of the prebiotic atmosphere (the current best guess is that the origin of life occurred somewhere around 4.0-3.7 bya (billion years ago)). [Jonathan] Wells wants you to think that there is good evidence for significant amounts free oxygen in the prebiotic atmosphere (significant amounts of free oxygen make the atmosphere oxidizing and make Miller-Urey-type experiments fail). ...<snip>... The famous Miller-Urey experiments used a strongly reducing atmosphere to produce amino acids. It is important to realize that the original experiment is famous not so much for the exact mixture used, but for the unexpected discovery that such a simple experiment could indeed produce crucial biological compounds; this discovery instigated a huge amount of related research that continues today. ...<snip>... ...textbooks generally mention some of these hypotheses (briefly of course, as there is only space for a page or two on this topic in an introductory textbook), and furthermore generally mention that the original atmosphere was likely more weakly reducing than the original Miller-Urey experiment hypothesized, but that many variations with mildly reducing conditions still produce satisfactory results....In other words, the textbooks basically summarize what the recent literature is saying.
b. The lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code, the sequences of genetic information necessary to specify life, the biochemical machinery needed to translate genetic information into functional biosystems, and the formation of proto-cells;
Claim CA100.1: Evolution leaves lots of things unexplained, such as gravity, the origin of life, biological complexity, and morals. No theory explains everything, and evolution makes no pretense of being different. Evolution does not even apply to some areas, such as cosmology and physics. In biology, evolution is broadly applicable, and it explains a great deal (Theobald 2004), but it is not everything. Some explanations depend on other factors; some we simply have not found yet; and some may be beyond our ability to uncover or understand. It is silly to condemn evolution, despite its strengths, for not achieving godhood.
and c. The sudden rather than gradual emergence of organisms near the time that the Earth first became habitable.

This, ironically, supports a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life rather than any sort of special design project. Based on the geological record, it appears life formed pretty much as soon as the earth wasn't absolutely lethal. It just wasn't that much of a challenge. If it had taken a billion years, or two or three, then we'd be justified in thinking the formation of life was an improbable event, but not if it happens right away.

Indeed, life may have formed several times, and been wiped out when the next asteroid collided with the planet. Finally, the loose asteroids were mostly used up, and life was allowed to develop in peace.

Once life formed, it certainly did what life does best – it spread.

The first life – the first set of replicating molecular systems – were certainly nowhere near as efficient at reproducing as, say, modern bacteria. However, let's assume a "generation" time 1000 times greater than modern bacteria. Instead of doubling once every 20 minutes or so, suppose the first living things doubled in number once every two weeks.

In one year, our original replicator would have given rise to some 67,000,000 replicators. In two more years, we're up to one mole of replicators, and in another three years, the whole world's oceans could be filled with these replicators. In a science that considers a million years a short time, there's no way an event taking six years would appear anything but "sudden".

In this respect, the problem is very similar to that of the cambrian explosion (Claim CC300). The answer to that applies to eras outside the cambrian, too.

Elemental, my dear Oppenheimer!

Tom Digby, in his mailing list, mentioned having attended a memorial for the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

...I was given reason to wonder if salamanders (the fire elementals, not the reptiles) like nuclear bombs. Is it a case of "the hotter the better" or is the fireball of a nuclear explosion too hot even for them.?

I commented:

Fire elementals might like as much fire as can be had. However, they might not hang around where nuclear weapons have been detonated because they don't get along with radiation elementals.

Fuel to the creationists' fire

Pat Robertson has all but declared Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory a religion – his religion. It's unthinkable that any reasonable observer could look at his statement and think otherwise.

Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson comments on the battle between evolution and ID/IOT, and makes a couple of good points that always bear repeating:

...continued in full post...

biologists are unanimous in concluding that evolution is a fact. The evidence they and thousands of others have adduced over 150 years falls together in intricate and interlocking detail. The multitudinous examples range from the small changes in DNA sequences observed as they occur in real time to finely graded sequences within larger evolutionary changes in the fossil record. Further, on the basis of comparably strong evidence, natural selection grows ever stronger as the prevailing explanation of evolution.

Many who accept the fact of evolution cannot, however, on religious grounds, accept the operation of blind chance and the absence of divine purpose implicit in natural selection. They support the alternative explanation of intelligent design. The reasoning they offer is not based on evidence but on the lack of it. The formulation of intelligent design is a default argument advanced in support of a non sequitur. It is in essence the following: there are some phenomena that have not yet been explained and that (most importantly) the critics personally cannot imagine being explained; therefore there must be a supernatural designer at work. The designer is seldom specified, but in the canon of intelligent design it is most certainly not Satan and his angels, nor any god or gods conspicuously different from those accepted in the believer's faith.

Flipping the scientific argument upside down, the intelligent designers join the strict creationists (who insist that no evolution ever occurred) by arguing that scientists resist the supernatural theory because it is counter to their own personal secular beliefs. This may have a kernel of truth; everybody suffers from some amount of bias. But in this case bias is easily overcome. The critics forget how the reward system in science works. Any researcher who can prove the existence of intelligent design within the accepted framework of science will make history and achieve eternal fame. They will prove at last that science and religious dogma are compatible. Even a combined Nobel prize and Templeton prize (the latter designed to encourage the search for just such harmony) would fall short as proper recognition. Every scientist would like to accomplish such a epoch-making advance. But no one has even come close, because unfortunately there is no evidence, no theory and no criteria for proof that even marginally might pass for science.

Unfortunately, in his critique of the fundamentalist religionist point of view, he winds up reinforcing the ID/IOT notion that evolution is "just part of a plot to eradicate religion":

...continued in full post...

So, will science and religion find common ground, or at least agree to divide the fundamentals into mutually exclusive domains? A great many well-meaning scholars believe that such rapprochement is both possible and desirable. A few disagree, and I am one of them. I think Darwin would have held to the same position. The battle line is, as it has ever been, in biology. The inexorable growth of this science continues to widen, not to close, the tectonic gap between science and faithbased religion.

Rapprochement may be neither possible nor desirable. There is something deep in religious belief that divides people and amplifies societal conflict. The toxic mix of religion and tribalism has become so dangerous as to justify taking seriously the alternative view, that humanism based on science is the effective antidote, the light and the way at last placed before us.

Religions continue both to render their special services and to exact their heavy costs. Can scientific humanism do as well or better, at a lower cost? Surely that ranks as one of the great unanswered questions of philosophy. It is the noble yet troubling legacy that Charles Darwin left us.

I predict we'll see this quote trotted out as evidence of "the religion of Darwinism".

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

About WMD

Cold Fury posts a summary, with links to news sources. Among other points: Iraq had enough yellowcake uranium to make, using very conseervative estimates, at least 100 Nagasaki bombs. Saddam Hussein fully intended to use at least some of his uranium for that very purpose.

Another post addresses the "lies and scandals" of the War On Terror.

Five questions for muslims

THE RIOTING IN France by primarily Muslim youths and the hotel bombings in Jordan are the latest events to prompt sincere questions that law-abiding Muslims need to answer for Islam's sake, as well as for the sake of worried non-Muslims.

The questions?

(1) Why are you so quiet?

When Muslims object to something, they demonstrate. There are demonstrations over any number of things. When a lady in a beauty contest said any of the women in the contest was someone Muhammed would have been happy to marry, there were riots.

When suicide bombers blow up children in restaurants, there are no demonstrations.

(2) Why are none of the Palestinian terrorists Christian?

There are significant numbers of Christians in the Palestianian territory. But only Muslims engage in terrorist acts.

(3) Why is only one of the 47 Muslim-majority countries a free country? According to Freedom House, a Washington-based group that promotes democracy, of the world's 47 Muslim countries, only Mali is free. Sixty percent are not free, and 38% are partly free. Muslim-majority states account for a majority of the world's "not free" states. And of the 10 "worst of the worst," seven are Islamic states. Why is this?
(4) Why are so many atrocities committed and threatened by Muslims in the name of Islam?

Google "honour killings" some time. Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and killed – his head sawed off with a knife. In the name of Allah.

(5) Why do countries governed by religious Muslims persecute other religions? No church or synagogue is allowed in Saudi Arabia. The Taliban destroyed some of the greatest sculptures of the ancient world because they were Buddhist. Sudan's Islamic regime has murdered great numbers of Christians.

Also, read "From Time Immemorial" for a history of how dhimmis have fared under Muslim rule.

Chemical Warfare in Iraq?

There's been a flurry of reports on the Web about accusations the US has used chemical weapons in Iraq. Specifically:

RAI, the all news state-run satellite channel in Italy, aired a documentary Tuesday that accused the United States of using chemical weapons against the civilian population during a November 2004 bombardment of Fallujah. AKI, the Italian news agency, reports that the documentary, entitled "Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre" and aired on the first aniversary of the assault on insurgents in Fallujah, includes interviews with former US soldiers and with residents of Fallujah who say that during the assault on the city the US military used the chemical white phosphorus.

...continued in full post...

The Daily Kos jumped all over the story, and there have been any number of comments elsewhere.

Scott Burgess, at The Daily Ablution, has some postings on the subject:

Here: Essentially, the injuries reported are not consistent with burns from white phosphorus.

One interesting comment:

Some have claimed the use of WP contravenes the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention which bans the use of any 'toxic chemical' weapons which causes 'death, harm or temporary incapacitation to humans or animals through their chemical action on life processes'.

That means, tear gas is banned, but machine guns are OK.


(I can't help but feel that, if the smoke was in fact as dangerous as Mr. Monbiot wants it to be, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons would take note).


There are no reported deaths resulting from exposure to phosphorus smokes."
No "burning flesh to the bone", then. No "caramelisation" or "dissolving". No suffocation and "burning from the inside". "No reported deaths".


One good sign that you've done well in a discussion is the descent by your counterpart into the realm of the ad hominem. If, at the same time, he ignores the substantive, factual points you've raised (e.g., the opinion of his chosen expert that his conclusions are ill-founded), you're left with little choice but to conclude that he's incapable of answering those points. The Independent's Andrew Buncombe seems to be in precisely that position of impotence.


Referring to another quote from yesterday's Independent story, I asked:
Daily Ablution: "Are burns caused by white phosphorus consistent with 'bodies burned but clothes intact'?" John Pike: "No

And finally, it seems witnesses on whose accounts this story is based have axes to grind.

Mudville Gazette has a lenthy post on Fallujah, including:

As for the rest, the BBC debunks many of the instant myths surrounding this story, noting that White Phosphorous is an incendiary weapon (also used to create smoke screens), not a chemical weapon, and that although the US is not a signatory to any international treaty restricting the use of white phosphorus devices the military has stated they were used to illuminate combat areas at night.

CounterColumn has a comment here and links to another comment here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Is Google a right-wing extremist?

There are many rolling their eyes at a line from the President's Veteran's Day speech:

President Bush came out swinging on Veterans Day in a speech accusing his Democratic war critics of re-writing history. Some war critics have mounted a campaign against him by boiling the entire pre-war history and post-invasion violence down to a two-word phrase: "Bush Lied". They say he lied us into war by distorting intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to convince Americans to fight an unnecessary war. The "Bush Lied" accusation is, if true, an indictment of the entire war itself, and one could reasonably argue we should cut our losses and get out of it.

They're rolling their eyes at the charge that Bush's opponents re-wrote history. In return, I'm rolling my eyes at the notion the charge is considered anything but self-evident truth. Fortunately, we do have the Internet...

The president could have destroyed the entire "Bush Lied" attack a long time ago. And he could have done it in a way that showed what a wired, technologically savvy president he is; and in a way that would have simplified his side of the debate down to three words and a number:
Google "Clinton Iraq 1998"

(Pause while you call up Google. You'll get some 3 million hits, including:)

But you won't need all those three million hits anyway. You can just click on the very first one, which will take you to a CNN story dated December 16, 1998 about President Clinton warning Iraq that its failure to comply with UN weapons inspections left him no choice but to attack.
The third hit that our Google search on "Clinton Iraq 1998" finds is a link to a story about something called the Iraq Liberation Act. What's that? Well, it's a document approved by Congress and signed by the president on October 31, 1998. It set forth as American policy the support of groups opposed to Saddam Hussein and encouraged regime change. It even set aside a few million dollars for the Iraqi National Congress, the group many war critics have accused of duping the Bush administration into believing in WMD that never existed. But if the Bush administration was duped, so was the Clinton administration, since the Iraq Liberation Act has President Clinton's signature on it.
Seven links into our three million hit cache we find a story with the following quote:
Mr. President, today, along with Senators McCain, Lieberman, Hutchison and twenty-three other Senators, I am sending a letter to the President to express our concern over Iraq's actions and urging the President 'after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.'
The letter quoted goes on to detail the many ways Iraq has violated its post-Gulf War obligations to the UN (those violations being among the causes for war in 2003) and the Coalition that liberated Kuwait after the 1990 Iraqi invasion. It was written by Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan. Today Sen. Levin is among those Democrats who publicly accuse President Bush of lying about WMD in order to get the U.S. into war with Iraq. If you follow more of the three million links that Googling "Clinton Iraq 1998" find, you'll read Madeline Albright sounding as hawkish on Saddam as Donald Rumsfeld. Albright was Clinton's Secretary of State in 1998. Former Vice President Al Gore's transformation from reasonable hawk to a sort of howling anti-war Gorewolf is particularly disturbing. The Google search string will help you document that transformation. Thanks goodness he invented the internet to make this all possible.

A bit of media bias?

A quick search, including site-specific google, has failed to turn up any mention of Pat Robertson's warning to Dover in the Washington Times.

At least the right is ashamed of what Robertson said.

Intelligent Design: Not religion, but...

...Pat Robertson didn't get the memo.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God -- you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said.

In voting Tuesday, all eight Dover, Pa., school board members up for reelection lost their positions after trying to introduce "intelligent design" to high school science students as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

So, contrary to the claims of those who have testified (under oath) that Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory is not purely scientific and religious in nature, choosing something other than ID/IOT is tantamount to choosing something other than God.


Science trumps testimony

Steve Milloy looks at the Rolling Stone's article on climate change. He looks at the track record of the scientists named by the magazine as "heroes".

Rolling Stone calls NASA scientist James Hansen the “Paul Revere” of global warming as it was Hansen who famously sounded the alarm about global warming in his 1988 testimony before Congress. But Dr. Hansen’s predictions of global temperature increases have also been famously wrong. While Dr. Hansen predicted a 0.34 degrees Centigrade rise in average global temperatures during the 1990s, actual surface temperatures rose by only one-third as much (0.11 degrees Centigrade) and lower atmosphere temperatures actually declined.
Dr. Robert Watson is extolled as “The Messenger” by Rolling Stone. Watson is lauded for leading the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in concluding that humans have already warmed the planet and that the Earth’s temperature will rise by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. But as pointed out in this column previously, the sort of crystal ball climate modeling that the IPCC report relies on has never been validated against historical temperatures, so it’s difficult to take its predictions of future temperatures too seriously. Moreover, global warming theory and its climate models say that atmospheric temperature increases should be 30 percent greater than surface temperature increases, but they’re not – they’re actually less.

The point is, 99% of the world's experts can say the temperature is doing one thing, and the temperature can do another thing, and what the temperature is actually doing trumps what the experts say it's supposed to be doing.

When the experts' predictions match reality, they'll be worthy of being taken seriously. Not before.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Effect of notification laws

Do parental notification laws have any effect on the rates of teen pregnancy? Looks like the answer may be, "yes and no". Todd Zywicki of the Volokh Conspiracy quote the abstract of a study:

Laws requiring minors to seek parental consent or to notify a parent prior to obtaining an abortion raise the cost of risky sex for teenagers. Assuming choices to engage in risky sex are made rationally, parental involvement laws should lead to less risky sex among teens, either because of a reduction of sexual activity altogether or because teens will be more fastidious in the use of birth control ex ante. Using gonorrhea rates among older women to control for unobserved heterogeneity across states, our results indicate that the enactment of parental involvement laws significantly reduces risky sexual activity among teenage girls. We estimate reductions in gonorrhea rates of 20 percent for Hispanics and 12 percent for whites.

That looks like a "yes". Where's the "no"?

While we find a relatively small reduction in rates for black girls, it is not statistically significant. We speculate that the racial heterogeneity has to do with differences in family structure across races.

If unwed teen pregnancy is a bad thing, it's in society's interest to prevent it. Notification laws seem to prevent at least some of it. But in order for notification laws to work, there has to be an intact family structure. Laws that promote strong families would also seem to be a good thing.

ID/IOT – not even science

Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory claims to be a scientific alternative to evolution. Is it? Is it a scientific theory that might be either right or wrong?

Or is it "not even wrong"?

What scientists do in designing experiments that test their theories is create conditions under which their theory might be proven false. When a theory passes a sufficient number of such tests, the scientific community starts taking it seriously, and ultimately as plausible.
To win in the game of science, a theory must be submitted to many tests and survive all of them without being falsified. But to be even allowed into the game, the theory must be falsifiable in principle: there must be a conceivable experiment that would prove it false.

If we examine ID in this light, it becomes pretty clear that the theory isn't scientific. It is impossible to refute ID, because if an animal shows one characteristic, IDers can explain that the intelligent designer made it this way, and if the animal shows the opposite characteristic, IDers can explain with equal confidence that the designer made it that way. For that matter, it is fully consistent with ID that the supreme intelligence designed the world to evolve according to Darwin's laws of natural selection. Given this, there is no conceivable experiment that can prove ID false.

Of course, there are those who continue to support ID/IOT. The comments section is open for any who wish to propose some observation which:

  1. Must be seen if ID/IOT is true (IF ID/IOT is true, THEN we observe X)
  2. If not seen, demonstrates ID/IOT false (IF we see other than X, THEN ID/IOT is not true)

Happy hypothesizing!

This is probably one of those 50%

A recent report asserted that up to 50% of research paper results are wrong. I'm sure that, at the very least, Michael Fumento will say this is one of them. Actually two of them. One paper found no link between vending machine use in high schools and obesity; another found no link between portion size and obesity.

The first paper ("Frequency of School Vending Machine Purchases, BMI and Diet Quality") looked at the frequent claim, made most recently by the Terminator, that school vending machines are responsible for making kids fat and should be banned.... The subjects were 552 high school students who were surveyed about their diet quality, including total calories, total fat, saturated fat, total carbohydrates and sugar, and their vending machine purchases. <snip> But what was really interesting was that there were no differences in BMI percentile or in calories between the four groups. In other words, contrary to the claims of those who blame school vending machines for childhood obesity, vending machine purchases did not make a difference to the student's calorie intake or to their BMI. As the authors conclude the "Results suggests that frequency of purchase from school vending machines was not associated with BMI percentile or DQ [Diet Quality]."
The second study looks at another of the popular obesity claims, namely that the portion sizes offered by restaurants make people fat...What they found was that portion size made no difference in the amount of food consumed. Participants who had received large portions did not eat more food than participants who had received small portions, even though their portion contained five times more food. The availability of the extra food did not influence total consumption. As the authors note "There was no effect of portion size" which "suggests that smaller portions did not influence intake...."


For years, Jerry Pournelle has been proposing a contest to establish a manned base on the Moon. Someone seems to have been reading his blog.

Now admit it. The idea of Nascar fans watching pod racers at 5,000 feet makes you laugh, right? But such contests, mixing science, innovation and derring-do--even the nuttier ones--are good for society. They lead to economic advance.
Contests are not only fun. They can also be key to our survival. If President Bush is serious about rekindling NASA--a worthy idea--I have a suggestion. NASA's annual budget is $16 billion. Within that budget NASA sets aside $20 million for prizes to reward real accomplishments, not just paper proposals. That's wa-a-a-ay too little. In fact, it's a puny one-eighth of 1% of NASA's budget. Why not bump up the annual prize figure to $2 billion? The U.S. would get a lot more bang than it gets now for that $16 billion. NASA, alas, seems paralyzed. The agency's new goal of putting a man on the Moon by 2018--13 years from now, and we've already been there--proves its weak vision. NASA's execution is poor, too. The agency has already spent billions of dollars on the National Aerospace Plane, the X-33, X-34, X-37, X-38 and the Orbital Space Plane. None of these has flown. Meanwhile, Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne was built for less than $40 million. President Bush wants to fire up his presidency. Here's a way: Commit America to big, gaudy, public contests in space travel and energy. These will fire up an entire country.

Homeowners guide to perchlorate

The State of New Jersey has a guide to perchlorate in water and the environment.

What is perchlorate? Perchlorate is a naturally occurring chemical that can also be manufactured. One source of perchlorate is found as naturally occurring deposits in Chile that are mined and used as fertilizer in the United States. Much of the perchlorate manufactured in the United States is used as the primary ingredient in solid rocket propellant. Perchlorate is also used in a wide variety of industrial processes and fireworks, matches, lubricating oils and air bags. Wastes from the manufacture and improper disposal of perchlorate-containing chemicals are increasingly being discovered in soil and water. In recent years, there has been growing interest nationwide in perchlorate levels in soil, groundwater, drinking water and irrigation water, and the potential health effects of exposure to perchlorate.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

David Gelernter on the Iraq War

And here's the link to Gelernter's piece, including:

We often hear from Democrats that President Bush's policy in Iraq makes no sense. But how can it make sense to the Barbara Boxers of Congress if they can't understand the explanation?

...continued in full post...

Democracies rarely declare war to improve the world, as Rice could have explained had she had the chance. They fight to protect themselves, sometimes to fulfill treaty obligations. But once a war is underway, free peoples tend to think things over deeply. Casualties concentrate the mind. We refuse to let our soldiers die for too little. America at war has lifted its sights again and again from danger, self-interest and self-defense to a larger, nobler goal. Same story, war after war. Iraq fits perfectly.

Boxer, of course, would have none of it, interrupting before any explanation in depth could be given.

Rice answered that this is the way the world works. For example, we did not go into World War II to build a democratic Germany…. Here Boxer interrupted. World War II, she told Rice curtly, has nothing to do with Iraq. Boxer had lost relatives in the Holocaust. No one had to tell her about World War II.

Ah, yes. Argumentum ad frothing fit, again. As Gelernter points out, having lost relatives in the Holocaust does not qualify you as an expert on the history of WWII.

You know, after an exchange like that, I sometimes find myself wishing a person giving testimony would reply with something along the lines of:

Excuse me, when I was sworn in, I swore to tell the whole truth. I intend to do just that, even if you don't want to hear it.

Probably never happen, though. Gelernter continues:

What do we conclude when the secretary of State makes a plain statement of historical fact and a senator won't listen? That it is only natural for demagogues to attack thoughtful, polite officials who are trying hard to tell straight truths about a complicated war. The Boxers of this world ought to be met with single-minded slogans, but no doubt Rice can't see why she should stoop that low.

Americans who don't know history are the demagogue's natural prey. Boxer's statements assume that Americans at large know as little about history as she does. Let's hope it's not true.

Progress in Iraq?

Roger Aronoff looks at signs of progress in Iraq, and the Middle East in general.

Saddam Hussein has been put on trial (as opposed to, for example, summarily executed or disappearing altogether), two elections in Iraq, and general democratization in the region.

...continued in full post...

There's still a long way to go, but the benchmarks are everywhere. Democratic revolutions have occurred in Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon. Elections have been held in Egypt, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. Pressure is mounting on countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran to begin their own democratic transformations. And these are not happening in a vacuum. They are happening because the U.S. and its allies are staying the course in Iraq.
David Gelernter, the Yale professor who often writes for the Weekly Standard, wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times about Condoleezza Rice's appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He points out that Rice got it right when she explained that while we went to war because of the potential threat of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism, the plan now is "for a freed Iraq to inspire and stabilize the entire Middle East and to promote democracy everywhere." Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) had charged this amounted to a "bait-and-switch" by the administration.

Rice explained that that is how the world works. She gave the example of World War II, and that we didn't go to war to build a democratic Germany. Boxer didn't buy the analogy, and was apparently offended. Gelernter expanded on Rice's analogy: "Democracies rarely declare war to improve the world…They fight to protect themselves, sometimes to fulfill treaty obligations. But once a war is underway, free peoples tend to think things over deeply. Casualties concentrate the mind. We refuse to let our soldiers die for too little. America at war has lifted its sights again and again from danger, self-interest and self-defense to a larger, nobler goal. Same story, war after war, Iraq fits perfectly."
In spite of the continuous negativity coming out of the media on the war and the constant questions about the administration's ability to execute, sustain and win it, there is reason for optimism and gratitude. The sacrifices of our soldiers are for a noble cause that is transforming the Middle East.

Our side is winning. Of course, the media don't like to think of themselves as being on "our side." And that is part of the problem our troops face day after day.

Monday, November 07, 2005


While I'm at it, Mark Steyn sees the rioting as at least partial fulfilment of his prediction:

Ever since 9/11, I've been gloomily predicting the European powder keg's about to go up. ''By 2010 we'll be watching burning buildings, street riots and assassinations on the news every night,'' I wrote in Canada's Western Standard back in February.

The NY Times articles quote sources blaming the riots on "harassment" on the part of French police. It seems they've been checking IDs and questioning immigrant youths. But they may have had a good reason to question people:

In the no-go suburbs, even before these current riots, 9,000 police cars had been stoned by "French youths" since the beginning of the year; some three dozen cars are set alight even on a quiet night. :There's a civil war under way in Clichy-sous-Bois at the moment," said Michel Thooris of the gendarmes' trade union Action Police CFTC. "We can no longer withstand this situation on our own. My colleagues neither have the equipment nor the practical or theoretical training for street fighting."

In trying to quell the riots, it's going to be tempting to offer concessions. Steyn has a prediction about the results of that tack, as well:

...the rioters aren't doing a bad impression of the Muslim armies of 13 centuries ago: They're seizing their opportunities, testing their foe, probing his weak spots. If burning the 'burbs gets you more "respect" from Chirac, they'll burn 'em again, and again.

Flash crowds heat up

Wretchard at The Belmont Club offers some commentary on the tactics used by the rioters in France, and apparently, elsewhere.

Belmont Club commenter Red River makes the interesting conjecture that rioting "youths" in Paris have confined their primary mode of attack to car burning as part of a deliberate brinkmanship. Car burning is spectacular, serious enough to get attention yet – and this is the vital point – not serious enough to provoke lethal force. By staying just shy of the threshold, the rioters can maximize their rate of propagation at minimum danger to themselves.

If so, that would imply guerilla tactics, and a bit more thought than a mob usually gives to its actions in a riot. Now the part that intrigues me:

Other commenters have noted how small groups of "youths", coordinated by cell phone, can gather to attack and disperse before a response can be mounted.

In May of 2003, the first known "flash mob" was assembled. Using the Internet and cell phones to coordinate, a crowd of tens, sometimes hundreds, of people would descend on a location.

Flash mobs started as pointless stunts, but the concept has already developed for the benefit of political and social agendas. For example, a group of gay and lesbian people in Detroit targeted a "straight restaurant" in reaction to reported homophobia there.

Or, I suppose, if you need a dozen rioters at a particular spot for the few minutes it takes to make your point...

Paris: City of Jihad

It appears that Zyed Benna, age 17, and Bouna Traore, age 15, are going to have fifteen days of fame.

At least, it's their deaths which have sparked more than ten days of rioting in the outskirts of Paris. The two boys were apparently hiding from police in transformers at an electrical station when they completed a circuit.

Now, according to the NY Times, "youths" are shooting at the police, with two officers in the hospital.

"This is just the beginning," said Moussa Diallo, 22, a tall, unemployed French-African man in Clichy-sous-Bois, the working-class Parisian suburb where the violence started Oct. 27. "It's not going to end until there are two policemen dead." He did not say whether he had taken part in the vandalism.

But then again, how much of this is outrage, and how much is an excuse to make trouble?

While everyone seems to agree that the latest violence was touched off by the deaths of the teenagers, the unrest no longer has much to do with the incident. "It was a good excuse, but it's fun to set cars on fire," said Mohamed Hammouti, a 15-year-old boy in Clichy-sous-Bois, sitting Sunday outside the gutted remnants of a gymnasium near his home. He said he had not participated in any violence.

I recall a quote in one of the news magazines shortly after the Los Angeles Riots. A rioter was quoted as saying, "Who's Rodney King?"

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Animal Rights fanatics

(Hat tip: Captain's Quarters.)

The Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works held a hearing on October 26 of this year. One of the witnesses testifying was Jerry Vlasak, MD. His testimony gives fuel to the fires of those who believe the animal rights movement is an anti-human being movement.

It seems the transcripts of the testimony are rather hard to find. Blogger Brian O'Conner has archived copies of them in two parts: one dealing with bureaucratic issues, and the second deling more with the tactics and beliefs of the animal rigts movement.

O'Conner analyzes comments from the second portion, including this:

Dr. Vlasak. Non-human lives, non-human animal lives, are as precious as animal lives. At one time, racism and sexism and homophobism were prominent in our society. Today speciesism is prominent in our society. It is just as wrong as racism. [O'Conner's emphasis . . . ed] Senator Inhofe. So you do put them in the same category, the animals of non-human and human lives? Is that correct? Dr. Vlasak. They are morally equal.
Dr. Vlasak ... is merely affirming the underlying premise of the entire Animal Rights industry: that the life of an animal and that of a human are equally valuable, and that to discriminate on the basis of differences in species (i.e. to privilege "human persons" over "non-human persons" . . .) is as immoral and as unethical as to discriminate on the basis of race, age or sex.

(...Continued in full post...)

Senator Inhofe. One of the statements you made at the animal rights convention when you were defending assassinating people, murdering people, you said, let me put it up here to make sure I’m not misquoting you, “I don’t think you’d have to kill, assassinate too many. I think for five lives, ten lives, fifteen human lives, we could save a million, two million, or ten million non-human lives.’’ You’re advocating the murder of individuals, isn’t that correct? Dr. Vlasak. I made that statement, and I stand by that statement. That statement is made in the context that the struggle for animal liberation is no different than struggles for liberation elsewhere, whether the struggle for liberation in South Africa against the apartheid regime, whether the liberation against the communists, whether it was the liberation struggles in Algeria, Viet Nam or Iraq today, liberation struggles occasionally or usually, I should say, usually end up in violence. There is plenty of violence being used on the other side of the equation. These animals are being terrorized, murdered and killed by the millions every day. The animal rights movement has been notoriously non-violent up to this point.
Senator Inhofe. And so you call for the murders of researchers and human life? Dr. Vlasak. I said in that statement and I meant in that statement that people who are hurting animals and who will not stop when told to stop, one option would be to stop them using any means necessary and that was the context in which that statement was made. Senator Inhofe. Including murdering them? Dr. Vlasak. I said that would be a morally justifiable solution to the problem.

After a day of testimony, Senator Inhofe concludes there's no way to compromise with the animal rights movement. When one side values human life above animal life, and the other is perfectly willing to sacrifice N human lives in order to save at least N+1 animal lives, there's no middle ground.

Senator Inhofe is perfectly correct. The difference between his premise — that a human life is of greater worth than an animal life — and that of Dr. Vlasak — that the life of a human and an animal are equally valuable — precludes using the normal tools of negotiation and compromise to find common ground. I hope Senator Inhofe and Senator Lautenberg, particularly, understand that the premise Dr. Vlasak operates under is the premise underlying AR as a whole. Dr. Vlasak is simply much more candid than his more cautious brethren, who are reluctant to express themselves as clearly as Dr. Vlasak because they know it would mean the death of their movement.

Note: We need to distinguish between those who are legitimately concerned for animal welfare and want to prevent animal suffering, and the animal rights activist movement. You can love your pet and want to prevent animal suffering, without believing that humans are expendable in that pursuit.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

ID/IOT makes Christians look bad

Smallholder at Naked Villainy notes that the testimony of the advocates of Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory has been — less than compelling.

At least, not compelling in the direction of any belief the ID/IOT supporters would like us to adopt.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sheehan for President?

(Hat tip: Mc Q.)

It seems the Green party may be trying to draft Cindy Sheehan for a Presidential run, or maybe even a run against Hillary Clinton for the Senate.

The Libby Indictment

David Limbaugh, a practicing lawyer, offers his take on the Libby indictment.

Based on his press conference, Fitzgerald seems convinced that Libby willfully leaked "classified" information (Plame's affiliation with the CIA) to reporters not entitled to receive it. But he couldn't be sure whether Libby had the criminal intent the statute requires. Notice Fitzgerald didn't say he would have difficulty proving Libby's criminal intent but that he didn't know what Libby's intent was. That's a significant distinction because it's the difference between Libby having committed a crime that is difficult to prove, and not having committed it at all. Also note that the United States Supreme Court held that in order to be guilty of violating the Espionage Act, the accused must not only have intent or reason to believe the leaked information could be used to injure the United States or benefit a foreign country. He must also have acted in "bad faith." So, popular legal opinion aside, it seems it would have been quite difficult for Fitzgerald to make a case against Libby under the Espionage Act as well. And this is where the legal becomes relevant to the political. Democrats have been saying from the outset that Bush evildoers conspired to disclose Plame's "covert" identity to exact revenge on her husband Joe Wilson for undermining their claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire uranium "yellowcake" from Niger. But no amount of posturing and yelling will make true their false charge that the Bush administration "outed" Valerie Plame to hurt its political enemies, to the detriment of national security. It's not just unprovable; it's false. Democrats are going to have come to come up with a better plan to criminalize the war.

Taking sente

Democratic Senate leaders started out the month of November with a closed session. The ostensible reason for the session was to deal with Iraqi intelligence.

The real reason was to take sente. "A move is sente if the opponent has to answer it..." The closed session focused attention on whatever issues the Democrats wanted to bring up.

The problem with taking sente is that you have to do something useful with it while you have it. If you don't have a plan, you won't keep sente, and your brilliant play won't be available when you do have a plan.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Groody to the max

Q and O offers this take on Doe v. Groody

TBogg writes...
Clarence Thomas to be joined by man after his own heart. In Doe v. Groody, Alito agued that police officers had not violated constitutional rights when they strip searched a mother and her ten-year-old daughter while carrying out a search warrant that authorized only the search of a man and his home. [Doe v. Groody, 2004]
What's this? Alito argued that the Police had a Constitutional right to search somebody, despite not having them listed on the warrant? Well, actually, no. The search warrant specifically did allow for their search. As Judge Alito wrote...
First, there is no doubt that the search warrant application sought permission to search all occupants of the premises. Indeed, the application made this request in three separate paragraphs.
The actual warrant was typed (and authorized by the magistrate, unchanged) by the same officers who had written the application—and presumably had reasonable expectation that it meant the same thing. Most important, however, is the fact that the officers had probable cause to search the other occupants of the house. I'm very curious to know when Duncan Black, TBogg, et al, decided that "probable cause" was no longer operative.

Strip-searching Doe v. Groody

Hat tip: Memeorandum...

...continued in full post...

Patterico comments:

The question at issue was whether the warrant, when read together with the affidavit, covered the other occupants (or at least provided the police a good-faith basis to believe that it did). I heard Erwin Chemerinsky on Hewitt today claiming to have read the decision, yet he didn’t even mention that the issue was the scope of the warrant. He just ranted about how Alito wrote a decision protecting cops from liability for strip-searching a 10-year-old.
I can’t yet say whether I agree with Alito’s dissent; my initial impression is that, while Alito has some good points about how to read warrants, the majority has the better of the argument. But it’s only an initial impression; I don’t criticize decisions until I have read them thoroughly.

John Hinderaker comments:

The majority held that the warrant did not authorize the officers to search anyone but the drug dealer himself. Alito disagreed. In my opinion, Alito got much the better of the argument. You can judge for yourself by reading the decision here. Alito wrote:
First, the best reading of the warrant is that it authorized the search of any persons found on the premises. Second, even if the warrant did not contain such authorization, a reasonable police officer could certainly have read the warrant as doing so, and therefore the appellants are entitled to qualified immunity.

Voice of Reason comments:

the crowd over at Democratic Underground is having a field day with. Let's look at a few choice comments:
Although the case is technical, what it boils down to is this: Alito approves of cops strip-searching little pre-pubescent 10 year old girls. Read that again: Alito approves of cops strip-searching little prepubescent 10 year old girls.
Scalito's a creep. When a man thinks like that, you have to wonder what he's done to his own children.
The whole case just makes me shiver. I have daughters that age. Who wouldn't I try to kill, cop or not, if they tried to do that to my babies? What's more, Scarlito has a teenage daughter. And he'd let the cops do that to HER?
For a ten year old prepubescent girl that's tantamount to a lesbian rape. And to have your Mommy powerlessly forced to watch! Jesus! You couldn't show that in a Quentin Tarrantino movie w/o an NC 17 rating! Larry Flynt would be banned in Cincinnati if he showed that in Hustler. But Scalito thinks it's OK. Let's destroy him with this. He's a sick, perverted rape-enabler.
Morons. Should ten-year-old girls ever be strip searched? Whether the answer is affirmative or negative, that was not what Alito was called upon to decide, and it is not what he should have considered. Here's what was at issue: <snip> The question before the Third Circuit in this case was whether the reading given the warrant by the executing officers went beyond the bounds established by Vantresca.

His conclusion?

Personally, I don't think it did. The officers clearly acted in good faith and in accordance with what they believed was their authority. The only question is whether their belief was reasonable, and given the contents of the affidavit attached to the warrant and the warrant's clear deference to the affidavit on other matters, I believe it is. But again, this is a matter on which reasonable people can disagree.

About those WMD "Lies"?

Max Boot writes on Plamegate and WMD:

But with his investigation all but over, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has found no criminal conspiracy and no violations of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a crime in some circumstances to disclose the names of undercover CIA operatives. Among other problems, Plame doesn't seem to fit the act's definition of a "covert agent" — someone who "has within the last five years served outside the United States." By 2003, Plame had apparently been working in Langley, Va., for at least six years, which means that, mystery of mysteries, the vice president's chief of staff was indicted for covering up something that wasn't a crime.

But under the Martha Stewart laws, making a false statement to the cops is a crime.

...the one undisputed liar in this whole sordid affair doesn't work for the administration. In his attempts to turn his wife into an antiwar martyr, Joseph C. Wilson IV has retailed more whoppers than Burger King.

The least consequential of these fibs was his denial that it was his wife who got him sent to Niger in February 2002 to check out claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later stated, in a bipartisan report, that evidence indicated it was Mrs. Wilson who "had suggested his name for the trip." By leaking this fact to the news media, Libby and other White House officials were merely setting the record straight — not, as Wilson would have it, punishing his Mata Hari wife.

And the "lies" that were used to justify going to war?

Pretty much all of the claims that the administration doctored evidence about Iraq have been euthanized, not only by the Senate committee but also by the equally bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission. The latest proof that intelligence was not "politicized" comes from an unlikely source — Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, who has been denouncing the hawkish "cabal" supposedly leading us toward "disaster." Yet, in between bouts of trashing the administration, Wilkerson said on Oct. 19 that "the consensus of the intelligence community was overwhelming" that Hussein was building illicit weapons. This view was endorsed by "the French, the Germans, the Brits." The French, of all people, even offered "proof positive" that Hussein was buying aluminum tubes "for centrifuges." Wilkerson also recalled seeing satellite photos "that would lead me to believe that Saddam Hussein, at least on occasion, was … giving us disinformation."

Maybe they were all in on the conspiracy.

Who can't wait?

Under "The Bush Derangement Parade", Michelle Malkin discusses just who's sponsoring "The World Can't Wait, Drive Out the Bush Regime."

They're not just mad at Bush/Rove/Halliburton, by the way. They're also mad at a local radio station for refusing to air one of their crackpots ads. Via the NY Daily News:
An organization planning a national series of anti-President Bush protests today has blasted Emmis Radio for advising WQHT (97.1 FM) not to run a paid ad for the cause and the events.
The one-minute spot was cut by musician Boots Riley for a coalition of progressive groups and individuals called The World Can't Wait, Drive Out the Bush Regime. Promoting a noon rally in Union Square today, it says, "Bush made torture into a sport and justifies it. ... We all watched Bush leave people to die in New Orleans. ... This regime is what's criminal."
More of Boots Riley's fine work:
5 millions ways to kill a CEO Slap him up and shake him up and then you know Let him off the floor Then bait him with the dough You can do it funk or do it disco... Toss a dollar in the river and when he jump in If you find he can swim, put lead boots on him and do it again You and a friend videotape and the party don't end
All they are saying is give peace a chance, right? Bull.

Is the Designer dead?

From coverage of Kitzmiller v. Dover:

Rothschild asked Behe if he had witnessed newly designed structures appearing in the past five years.

Behe said the designed structures that he's written about are much older.

Rothschild asked if it was true that the intelligent designer might not actually exist any longer.

Behe agreed that was true.

Rothschild paused.

"Is that what you want to teach school students, Mr. Behe?" he asked.

As part of a curriculum making students aware of intelligent design, Behe said, "Yes, I think that's a terrific thing to point out."

Spyware provided by Sony?

Sony seems to have configured some of its music CDs to install spyware on a user's hard drive. It's apparently intended as an anti-piracy measure. To make sure that, once it's installed, it isn't un-installed, it uses techniques that hide it from the operating system and from antivirus software.

New research from Mark Russinovich over at Sysinternals (the company I've blogged about before as the source a ton of excellent and free software utilities) indicates that Sony BMG has configured some of its music CDs to install antipiracy software that uses techniques typically employed by hackers and virus writers to hide the program from users and to prevent them from ever uninstalling it. The CDs in question make use of a technique employed by software programs known in security circles as "rootkits," a set of tools attackers can use to maintain control over a computer system once they have broken in.

Of course, what a corporation invents, no matter how legitimate the use to which it's put, malware writers can copy.

In the comments, one user explains how to remove it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

He can't be serious.

Under the caption, " Scientists Speak About Darwin's flawed Theory...A Few Examples", some wonderful examples of flawed thinking. Norm Weatherby can't possibly be serious about these.

"I have always been slightly suspicious of the theory of evolution because of its ability to account for any property of living beings (the long neck of the giraffe, for example).

OK, I've heard that before. But it's almost invariably followed by:

I have therefore tried to see whether biological discoveries over the last thirty years or so fit in with Darwin's theory. I do not think that they do. To my mind, the theory does not stand up at all."—*H. Lipson, "A Physicist Looks at Evolution," Physic Bulletin, 31 (1980), p. 138.

Well, almost anything, right? (Amusing note: "Physic" bulletin. Haw!)

Here's an interesting quote, wrenched out of context:

"I can envision observations and experiments that would disprove any evolutionary theory I know."—*Stephen Jay Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory," Discover 2(5):34-37 (1981).

This bears on the nature of "falsifiability". Any scientific theory has to stick its neck out. There must be some conceivable observation that can show it to be false. Lipson's suspicions are raised when he sees evolution as a theory that can account for any property of living beings. The reason suspicions would be raised by such a theory is that a theory that can account for anything at all winds up accounting for nothing. Only if there are things a theory also rules out does the theory have any real power.

I recall this quote of Gould's. He states that every theory he's aware of is sticking its neck out. There are observations that can be imagined, which would prove that theory false.

So why are these quotes being dredged up?

I've looked for opinions not "contaminated" by the new Intelligent Design controversy. Too many people just assume that scientists have always backed Darwin in past years and that the current controversy has no historical basis. Wrong. There are literally thousands of quotes from distinguished scientists in every discipline that pronounce Darwinism as fraud or worse. Check the dates on these.-Q

Harumph. The fact that the same "arguments" used to support "scientific creationism" are now used to support "Intelligent Design/Intelligent Origin Theory" doesn't mean ID/IOT is right. What it does mean is that ID/IOT is "Creation Science" in a new suit. And "Creation Science" is Biblical creation myth in a lab coat.

We see that the only "proof" offered in support of any of these is attempts to poke holes in evolution – as if getting rid of one means the other wins by default.

Well, it doesn't work that way. Suppose evolution is thrown out the window tomorrow. *poof* Gone. Neither creationism, nor "Creation Science" nor ID/IOT have any theories to offer in its place. They're not viable alternatives to evolution because they're not theories at all.

Furthermore, I suspect these quotes were probably culled from a list of quotes taken from an ID/IOT website or book, and if read in context, we'd find two kinds. The first kind would be those uttered by people who hadn't studied the subject, and were not qualified to render an opinion. The second kind, from people with expertise in the field, would turn out, once the context was restored, to support naturalistic evolution.

For example, Gould always believed that living things descended from a common ancestor by means of naturalistic processes. No need for an Intelligent Designer anywhere in the process. The use of quotes to suggest the opposite is dishonest, and taints anything else coming from that source.

Alito and Casey

Carol Platt Liebau gives her take on Judge Alito's dissent on Casey.

Even from this account of the Supreme Court deliberations in Casey, it's clear that Judge Alito's opinion was hardly bizarre or out of the mainstream. In fact, if Justice Kennedy had stuck by his original vote, Judge Alito's position would have been that of the Supreme Court. Given that fact, it's (predictably) both inaccurate and misleading for the left to act as though Judge Alito's decision was clearly and obviously out of bounds, when in reality, the entire Casey opinion ended up being governed by Justice Kennedy's last minute change of heart.


Powerline's John Hinderaker looks at Alito's dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

And here's his take on the "Strip-Search decision.

Why Miers failed

(Hat tip: Jonathan Last.)

The Daily Kos, run by Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, offers this comment:

The tipping point came within the past several days. GOP Senators privately communicated to WH CoS Andy Card that unless they had access to hard evidence that Miers was conversant in constitutional issues, there was no way she would be confirmed. Her performance in private meetings was weak, at best, these senators told Card.
...Miers wasn't done in from a lack of conservative cred as the wingers want to believe. Bush was convinced she was like him and would've fought for her all the way through. She was done in from simple incompetence. Her responses to committee questions betrayed a complete lack of understanding of constitutional law. Her meager writings were incoherent. She was unable to articulate competence in meetings with senators. Give Miers the same set of facts but with Judge Roberts' obvious competence on legal issues, and she gets confirmed. She wasn't done in because the crazies flipped. She was done in because she simply wasn't competent to sit on the High Court and it was so painfully obvious.

The Daily Kos is not known for its blind, unquestioning support of the Republican party. It seems Miers would have been voted down because she lacked the ability to act as a Justice on the Supreme Court, and not because the "extreme right wing" didn't like her.