Thursday, June 30, 2005

Bush's speech

President Bush has offered the case, once again, that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror, and the response to 9/11. It must be noted, though, there are no ties between Iraq and 9/11.

Except, of course, for:

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1) The people we are fighting in Iraq are Islamist terrorists, many of them associated with al Qaeda, the same organization that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.

2) The principal purpose of the Iraq war is to promote the spread of freedom and democracy throughout the Arab world, which remains the only long-term cure for the problem of Islamist terrorism that anyone has proposed. (If the Democrats have an alternative, they're keeping it a secret.)

3) After Sept. 11, knowing what terrorists could achieve with (relatively) conventional weapons, it was no longer acceptable to risk leaving in power a tyrant like Saddam, who a) had a decades-long fascination with weapons of mass destruction; b) had used weapons of mass destruction on many occasions; c) was a long-time supporter of terrorist groups; and d) had long been viewed as such a threat to America and its allies that since 1998, regime change in Iraq had been the official policy of the United States government, based on an act of Congress.

4) Let's follow up on 3 c). One of the Democrats' most ridiculous mantras is that there was no connection between Saddam's Iraq and international terrorism. This claim is demonstrably false, but as usual, the Democrats are playing to the least well-informed Americans. Let's just itemize a few of Iraq's most notorious pre-war connections to 9/11 style terrorism:

    a) Ansar al Islam, an al Qaeda branch, manufactured ricin for use in attacks on Europe.

    b) Saddam hosted al Qaeda's number two leader, Zawahiri, in the 1990s.

    c) Saddam harbored, and put on a government pension, one of the few perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing who escaped apprehension.

    d) Saddam harbored Abu Nidal, once the world's most famous terrorist, until, for reasons that remain mysterious, Saddam apparently had him murdered shortly before the war began.

    e) Saddam harbored Abu Abbas, organizer of the Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking in 1984; Abbas was captured in Iraq during the first days of the war.

    e) Zarqawi, the world's most deadly terrorist, fled Afghanistan when the Taliban fell at the end of 2001 and went to Iraq. Why? Because he knew that terrorists were welcome under Saddam.

    f) From Iraq, Zarqawi organized the murder of American diplomat Lawrence Foley in Jordan.

    g) From Iraq, Zarqawi organized and financed a chemical weapons attack on Jordan that could have killed tens of thousands. The perpetrators of that scheme are now on trial in Jordan.

    h) Saddam paid the families of suicide bombers to encourage terrorist attacks against Israel.

Abuse at Gitmo

Gordon Cucullu looks at the abuse that goes on every day at Guantanamo.

Many of the orange jumpsuit-clad detainees fight their captors at every opportunity. They attack guards whenever the soldiers enter their cells, trying to reach up under protective face masks to gouge eyes and tear mouths. They make weapons and try to stab the guards or grab and break limbs as the guards pass them food. These terrorist prisoners openly brag of their desire to kill Americans. One has promised that if he is released he would find MPs in their homes through the Internet, break into their houses at night and 'cut the throats of them and their families like sheep.' These recalcitrant detainees are known euphemistically as being "non-compliant."

And the treatment this behavior brings?

Yet these thugs are treated with an amazing degree of compassion: They are given ice cream treats and recreational time. They live in clean facilities, and receive a full Muslim religious package of Koran, prayer rug, beads, and prayer oils. An arrow in every cell points to Mecca. The call to prayer is played five times daily. They are not abused, hanged, tortured, beheaded, raped, mutilated or in any way treated the way that they once treated their own captives or now treat their guards.

The detention facility at Guantanamo is not a prison. I suspect anyone who was "non-compliant" in that fashion in a prison would soon find himself in solitary confinement, with a number of extra years added to his sentence. The detainees at Guantanamo are free to attack and harass their guards the way they do because there's so little cost to that behavior.

The Gitmo Cookbook

Several hundred recipes prepared for the inmates at the camp are to be published next month in "The Gitmo Cookbook," including dishes such as mustard-and-dill baked fish and honey-and-ginger chicken breast.
Laura Curtis, one of the book's editors, says the recipes would "make a point about how well we are treating these people." Freed prisoners are said to have put on an average of nearly 14 pounds during captivity.

"We feel that the word 'torture' is a serious abuse of the language when you apply it to what's going on at Gitmo," she says. "We're pretty tired of the military-bashing that we see in the news."

On testing the recipes, one member of the book team disliked the glazed carrots but says the carrots "did not sink to the level of torture."

Well, maybe not to the book team. Small children, on the other hand, are notorious for their dislike of vegetables.

What is jail time worth?

A man whose child molestation conviction was oveturned because a judge ruled the witnesses had been coerced may collect a bundle. He has to prove that he was, in fact, innocent, and that "he didn't contribute to his own arrest." But if he can do that, he's entitled to $100 for each day he was in prison.

It seems reasonable to me that a person who is wrongly convicted deserves compensation for the time spent in prison, and I'd make a case for a higher amount. A hundred dollars a day works out to $4.17 per hour. (I'm counting all 24 hours, because I'm assuming a person in prison might prefer to sleep somewhere else.) The Federal minimum wage is $5.15, and the California State minimum wage is $6.75. That works out to $123.60 and $162 per day, respectively, and disregarding overtime. If every hour past the eighth hour is counted as overtime at time-and-a-half, then the compensation amounts would be $164.80 and $216, respectively.

Then there's my rule of thumb for deciding what "reasonable" compensation is. Prisons are not known for being pleasant places to dwell. It seems reasonable to ask how much you'd have to pay the average "reasonable person" to induce him or her to spend a day in prison, with all the "features" prisoners are subject to (confinement, regimentation, prison discipline, prison food, intrusive searches, abuse from other prisoners including a significant risk of prison rape, and for convicted molesters, a significant risk of being killed).

John Stoll has not been proved guilty, and spent ten years subject to all the frills associated with being a convicted child molester. He's filed suit for over $50 million, which works out to over $110 per hour.

If burns in the lap from spilled coffee are worth half a million (where it wound up after appeals), ten years in prison should be worth at least a little bit more.

Yucca Mountain

(Hat tip: Brown and Caldwell e-mail.)

I know everyone's been preoccupied with Karl Rove engaging in definition of character, and with Bush's trampling all over the Sacred Ground of the World Trade Center, but yesterday, a scientist involved with Yucca Mountain testified before Congress about some interesting e-mails.

Well, someone might think it's important.

"I have never falsified any documents related to Yucca Mountain or any other project," Joseph Hevesi, a United States Geological Survey hydrologist in Sacramento, told a House Government Reform subcommittee on Wednesday. The panel is investigating e-mails written by Hevesi and other scientists that, according to Yucca Mountain critics, suggest they changed work to reach a predetermined conclusion.

So what did he do?

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Among [the e-mails]: "In the end I keep track of two sets of files, the ones that will keep QA happy and the ones that were actually used." QA refers to quality assurance. Explaining that message, Hevesi said that the only difference between the two sets was that the set for quality assurance had a header field. "All the numbers in those files are identical, so in essence they are identical files," Hevesi said. In another e-mail he wrote: "I don't have a clue when these programs were installed. So I've made up the dates and names. ... This is as good as it's going to get. If they need more proof, I will be happy to make up more stuff." Hevesi said that that e-mail reflected his surprise that a few nonessential programs were being required to go through quality assurance protocols. "I'm making an off-the-cuff remark to identify I may not know the exact date. My wording here is poor, and I should have used 'educated guess,'" Hevesi said.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Physics student brain teaser

I was just heating some water in a kettle, and after filling up my thermos bottle (so I'm not constantly running back and forth), I decided to pour the water back in to the pot and heat it back to a boil. I figured some of the heat would have been dumped into the glass in the thermos, and this would pre-heat it.

It took about ten seconds to bring the water back up to a boil. The kettle is electric, and draws 1500 watts. How much heat was sucked up by the glass inside the thermos?

Extra credit: What steps would you take to subtract out the effect of pouring a stream of hot water through room-temperature air?

Any wandering science teachers are welcome to steal the idea for this problem.

(If you're a science teacher, you'd jolly well better be able to work out the answers your own darn self!)

Cereal killers?

There are many critics who would have us do away with sweetened breakfast cereals. But how bad are they?

No, you do not get l00% of your RDAs (recommended nutrient intakes) from Trix or any other cereal for that matter. But the nutrition facts are nonetheless impressive. A one cup serving offers 25% of your requirements of folic acid, zinc, iron, niacin, vitamin B-12, riboflavin, and other essentials. When you add milk, you get even more. So what's with this comparison to "cookies"? And you get all this nutrition for only 120 calories – 160 with milk. In each serving you get 13 grams of added sugar – which is about 3 teaspoons, containing about 50 calories.

Sure, healthier, unsweetened cereals wouldn't have that extra 50 calories, but the're also a lot less likely to wind up inside the kid.

Hyperactivity? Alas, you'll have to do serious hunting to find a study that shows any relationship between sugar consumption and hyperactivity.

More on Rove

A collection of notes about Karl Rove.

Also, an article here.

Another one here, too.

Karl Rove's remarks

Here's the transcript of what he said.

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Remarks of Karl Rove at the New York Conservative Party White House Wednesday, June, 22, 2006 Thank you very much, Michael, for your kind introduction - and for all you have done over the years to advance the conservative cause in this great state and throughout our land. You are a forceful and articulate champion of conservatism - and all of us are grateful for your energy and commitment to a great cause. I honored to receive the Charles Edison Memorial Award, particularly in light of your previous honorees, including Representative Jack Kemp, Senator Zell Miller, and above all, President Ronald Wilson Reagan. That is better company than I deserve to be in - but I'll take what I can get. It's a pleasure to be among so many friends and fellow conservatives - and it's a privilege to speak to the Conservative Party of New York. You provide much of the energy and activism and hard work that has brought us to a moment when conservatism is the dominant political creed in America - and when we are making progress on so many important issues. Think for a moment how much has been achieved by conservatives in the last 40 years. The conservative movement has gone from a small, principled opposition to a broad, inclusive movement that is self-assured, optimistic, forward-leaning, and dominant. Four decades ago conservatism was relegated to the political wilderness - and today conservatism is the guiding philosophy in the White House, the Senate, the House, and in governorships and state legislatures throughout America. More importantly, we have seen the great rise of a great cause. Conservatives have achieved a tremendous amount in the past 2 ½ decades - but there is more, much more, that remains to be done. This afternoon I will devote my remarks to the President's victory in November; the ideas that will continue to work in our favor; and the state of contemporary liberalism. The political realignment in America is moving ahead; here are some of the reasons I believe this is happening. To you, the Presidential election probably seems like it took place a long time ago; I know that's certainly how it seems to me. But it was a key election in the history of our country - and there are important things we can learn from it. Recall that in 2004, we faced a united opposition which outspent our side by over $40 million in a time of controversial war and a recovering, but not recovered economy. The 2004 election was a steep political mountain to climb, but the President scaled it - and he did so with energy, passion, decency, and an unwavering commitment to principle. What is significant about November's victory is not simply that the President won, but how he won. In the 2004 election, President Bush placed all his chips on the table. There was no trimming on issues, no "campaign conversion," no backing away from Social Security and tax code reform. The President persistently made the case for an "ownership society"; championed a culture of life; defended the institution of marriage; stood with the people of Iraq in their passage to liberty; remained committed to spreading democracy in the Middle East; and continued to aggressively wage and win the war on global terrorism. President Bush showed himself as he is. He wanted a referendum on what he has accomplished - and most importantly, on what he hopes to achieve. The victory itself was significant. President Bush received more votes than any other candidate in American history. He's the first President since 1988 to win a majority of the popular vote. He increased his popular vote total by 11.6 million votes since 2000 - more than four-and-a-half times President Clinton's increase from 1992 to 1996. President Bush improved his percentage in all but three states. He improved his vote in 87 percent of all counties and carried more than 80 percent of the counties - and he won in 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties and George W. Bush is also the first President since FDR to be re-elected while his party gained seats in the House and Senate - and the first Republican President since 1924 to get re-elected while re-electing Republican House and Senate majorities. And he won with a higher percentage than any Democratic Presidential candidate has received since 1964. President Bush achieved what almost none of his critics thought he would. Once again, they misunderestimated what you and he could do. And now, moving forward, here's why we will defy expectations again. It's because of the ideas we hold. A quarter-century ago, a Senator from this state, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, wrote this: "of a sudden, the GOP has become a party of ideas." It was true then; and it remains true today. We are the party of ideas - and as Richard Weaver wrote, "ideas have consequences." With that in mind, here are some of the ideas I believe will lead to the further realignment of American politics. We are seizing the Mantle of Idealism. As all of you know, President Bush is making a powerful case for spreading human liberty and defending human dignity. This was once largely the preserve of liberalism - but Ronald Reagan changed all that. It was President Reagan, you'll recall, who said the policy of the United States was not simply to contain Soviet Communism, but to transcend it. And we would, he argued, was because of the power of liberty. President Bush has built on those beliefs - and he is committed to something no past President has ever attempted: spreading liberty to the broader Middle East. President Bush's eventual goal is the triumph of freedom and the end of tyranny in our world. This vision, which will require the concentrated work of generations, is consistent with the deep idealism of the American people - and it is an idealism whose importance is being confirmed by history and events. During the last four decades we have witnessed the most spectacular growth of liberty in history. More nations are free today than ever before. Consider that in a four month period - from the end of 2004 to early 2005 -- we saw elections take place in Afghanistan, the Ukraine, among the Palestinians, and in Iraq. In the span of 113 days, more than 100 million people, living on two continents, have cast free votes in nations that had never known democracy. More than half of these voters are people of the Muslim faith who live in the broader Middle East. And since those elections we have seen what scholars refer to as "The Arab Spring" in Lebanon and Egypt and elsewhere. We are seeing unprecedented progress when it comes to spreading liberty in the Middle East. This confidence in the power of liberty is anchored in the words of the Declaration of Independence; the arguments of President Lincoln; and the policies of President Reagan and President Bush. In his second Inaugural Address, President Bush stated it well: "Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it." * * * * Second, our movement's growth has made us Agents of Reform. Edmund Burke, one of the most important figures in the history of conservatism, was known as an advocate of reform. He understood the essence of conservatism is applying timeless principles to changing circumstances, which is one of the keys to political success. President Bush has pointed out that many of our most fundamental systems - the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, legal systems, public education, worker training among them - were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow. He is committed to reforming great institutions to serve the needs of our time. As the President has said, to give every American a stake in the promise and future of our country, we will bring the highest standards to our schools. We will build an ownership society by expanding the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance, and preparing Americans for the challenges of life in a free society. We are putting government on the side of reform and progress, modernization and greater freedom, more personal choice and greater prosperity. The great goal of modern-day conservatism is to make our society more prosperous and more just. * * * * Third, we are defending Time-Honored Values. Conservatives have long known that political liberty depends on a healthy social and moral order. And so the President is committed to strengthening society's key institutions - families, schools, communities, and protecting those mediating structures so important to our freedom, like our churches, neighborhood and private groups - the institutions that inculcate virtues, shape character, and provide the young with moral education. That is why President Bush supports welfare reform that strengthens family and requires work. That is why he has supported adoption and responsible fatherhood initiatives. That is why he is building a culture of life and upholding the dignity of the human person - and seeks a world in which every child is welcomed in life and protected in law. And that is why he has provided unprecedented support for religious charities that provide a safety net of mercy and compassion. It is why President Bush supports the protection of traditional marriage against activist judges; why he signed legislation that insists on testing, high standards, and accountability in our schools; and why he he has fostered a culture of service and citizenship. President Bush supports these things because he believes they will lead to a society that is more compassionate and decent, stronger and better. We are attempting to spread liberty abroad - and we must show that we are worthy of liberty at home. * * * * Let me now say a few words about the state of liberalism. Perhaps the place to begin is with this stinging indictment: "Liberalism is at greater risk now than at any time in recent American history. The risk is of political marginality, even irrelevance.… [L]iberalism risks getting defined, as conservatism once was, entirely in negative terms." These are not the words of William F. Buckley, Jr. or Sean Hannity; they are the words of Paul Starr, co-editor of The American Prospect, a leading liberal publication.

There is much merit in what Mr. Starr writes - though he and I fundamentally disagree as to why liberalism is edging toward irrelevance. I believe the reason can be seen when comparing conservatism with liberalism. Conservatives believe in lower taxes; liberals believe in higher taxes. We want few regulations; they want more. Conservatives measure the effectiveness of government programs by results; liberals measure the effectiveness of government programs by inputs. We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government. Conservatives believe in making America a less litigious society; liberals believe in making America a more litigious society. We believe in accountability and parental choice in education; they don't. Conservatives believe in advancing what Pope John Paul II called a "culture of life"; liberals believe there is an absolute unlimited right to abortion. But perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to… submit a petition. I am not joking. Submitting a petition is precisely what did. It was a petition imploring the powers that be" to "use moderation and restraint in responding to the… terrorist attacks against the United States." I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the Twin Towers crumble to the earth; a side of the Pentagon destroyed; and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble. Moderation and restraint is not what I felt - and moderation and restraint is not what was called for. It was a moment to summon our national will - and to brandish steel. MoveOn.Org, Michael Moore and Howard Dean may not have agreed with this, but the American people did. Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: we must understand our enemies. Conservatives see the United States as a great nation engaged in a noble cause; liberals see the United States and they see … Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia. Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans had done to prisoners in our control at Guantanamo Bay with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot - three of the most brutal and malevolent figures in the 20th century? Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals. * * * * Let me end where I began. Forty years ago, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a proud liberal, won the Presidency in a landslide. His party held 68 Senate seats; 295 House seats; and 33 governorships. In 2004 George W. Bush, a proud conservative, won the Presidency for the second time, receiving the most votes in American history. His party has now won seven of the last 10 Presidential elections. Republicans hold 55 Senate seats; 232 House seats; and 28 governorships. These facts underscore how much progress has been made in four decades. It has been a remarkable rise. But it is also a cautionary tale of what happens to a dominant party - in this case, the Democrat Party -- when its thinking becomes ossified; when its energy begins to drain; when an entitlement mentality takes over; and when political power becomes an end in itself rather than a means to achieve the common good. We need to learn from our successes - and from the failures of the other side and ourselves. As the governing movement in America, conservatives cannot grow tired or timid. We have been given the opportunity to govern; now we have to show we deserve the trust of our fellow citizens. At one time the conservative movement was largely a reactionary political party - and there was a sense of pessimism even among many of its ardent champions. You'll recall that Whittaker Chambers, who gave up his affiliation with Communism to join the West in its struggle for freedom, said he believed he was joining the losing side. For decades, liberals were setting the agenda, the pace of change, and the visionary goals. Conservatives were simply reacting to them. But times change, often for the better - and this President and today's conservative movement are shaping history, not trying to stop it. Together we are articulating a compelling vision of a better world -- and I am grateful to all of you who are making that better world a reality. Thank you very much for your attention, for your support of this President, and above all, for your devotion to this country.

Dead, but got better

SCIENTISTS have created eerie zombie dogs, reanimating the canines after several hours of clinical death in attempts to develop suspended animation for humans.

Apparently the dogs come through the experience OK.

Tests show they are perfectly normal, with no brain damage.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Data central?

WorldChanging points to projects where individuals who tend to collect data can share it. This might contribute to the database available to researchers.

New resource

(Hat tip: blog.)

A new Web site aims to make widely available to the public certain government reports about topics from terrorism to Social Security that congressional researchers prepare and distribute now only to lawmakers. The site links more than a half-dozen existing collections of nearly 8,000 reports from the Congressional Research Service and centrally indexes them so visitors can find reports containing specific terms or phrases.

Recipes from Scotland

The latest recipes feature some decidedly Mediterranean treats. I recognize baba ghannoush, and the yellow pepper soup and the caprese stack (tomato and mozzarella) with herb oil is Italian. However, Gin-and-Lemon Chicken is a new one on me.

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GIN-AND-LEMON CHICKEN In this dish, chicken breasts are marinated first in a mixture of gin, lemon, thyme, chilli, tomatoes, honey and olive oil. Slices of red onion are added, then these are cooked in the drained marinade until meltingly soft. The chicken breasts are roasted in a hot oven for a short time, so they remain succulent and moist. Serves six 150ml gin juice of 2 lemons 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves half a small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped 2 heaped tsp honey 2 tbsp passata 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 3 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced 6 boneless chicken breasts, with skin on 25g butter, melted To make the marinade, place the gin, lemon juice, thyme, chilli, honey and passata in a large bowl, along with a teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Whisk together, then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the onions, then the chicken. Toss gently, to ensure the chicken and onions are coated with the marinade. Cover and place somewhere cool for an hour. Preheat the oven to its highest setting (240¼C/ 475¼F/gas mark 9). It could take half an hour to reach this temperature, so do it well in advance. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen paper. Using a pastry brush, paint the chicken breasts all over with the melted butter. Season with salt and pepper, then place the chicken, skin-side up, on a lightly buttered baking tray. (Be sure they are well spaced, not touching.) Using the pastry brush again, dip into the marinade and lightly brush some of this over the top of each chicken breast. Place these on the middle shelf of the preheated oven and bake for ten to 14 minutes (depending on the thickness), until just cooked. Test after ten minutes by piercing the thickest part with a sharp knife: the juices should run clear. Remove the chicken and allow it to rest for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, tip the marinade (with the onions) into a heavy-based saucepan. Bring this slowly to the boil, making sure the honey is dissolved, then boil rapidly, uncovered, for four to five minutes. Reduce the heat slightly and cook, still uncovered, for another ten minutes, or until the onions are meltingly soft and most of the liquid has evaporated. Using a slotted spoon, place the onions in the middle of a large round serving platter. Then, using a fish slice, place the chicken breasts on top of the onions, and serve at once with salad and bread.

Want some dessert?

SUMMER FRUIT AND BERRY SLUMP A slump does just that: the light cobbler-like scones on top slowly slump into the deep puddle of blueberries and nectarines underneath. To make it even more scrumptious, there is a layer of creamy mascarpone between the fruit and the topping, which melts seductively between the two. Yum. Serves six 500g blueberries 500g nectarines or peaches, pitted, thinly sliced 75g caster sugar 90ml orange juice 20g cornflour topping 250g tub of mascarpone 175g self-raising flour, sifted 1 tsp baking powder 50g caster sugar grated zest and juice of 1 large orange 50g butter, melted and cooled slightly Place the berries and nectarines (or peaches) in a saucepan with the sugar and orange juice. Heat slowly until the sugar dissolves, then boil for two minutes. Remove from the heat. Dissolve the cornflour in 11/2 tablespoons of cold water, then add this to the fruit. Stirring gently, so the berries do not break, return to the heat and cook for three minutes. Pour into a round, 20cm-deep, ovenproof dish and allow to cool. To make the topping, beat the mascarpone until soft and creamy. Using two dessert spoons, drop six dollops over the fruit, spacing evenly. Resist the temptation to spread all the blobs together. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then stir in the sugar and orange zest. Make a well in the centre and pour in the juice of the orange and then the melted butter. Combine gently but thoroughly. Using the same action - with two spoons - drop six spoonfuls of scone mixture on top of the mascarpone blobs. Do not panic if the scones do not cover the surface - it will all slump anyway. Place in a preheated oven (220C/425F/gas mark 7) for about 20 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the mascarpone is oozing out from the golden-crusted topping. Wait for five minutes, then serve.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Randy Barnett's Favorite Constitutional Opinion Sentence

My girlfriend asked me once what I consider to be great reading in judicial opinions. Here's one example (hat tip: Clayton Cramer).

In his dissent in Kelo (buried on page 14), Justice Thomas may well have written my all-time-favorite line of any constitutional opinion (perhaps, in part, because it does not seem to be written to be famous):
Something has gone seriously awry with this Court's interpretation of the Constitution.

Heh. (To coin a phrase.)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Eminent domain case

(Hat tip: ScotusBlug.)

Sometimes, there's very interesting (downright entertaining) reading in court opinions. Here's an example from the dissent to Kelo v. City of New London:

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The Fifth Amendment provides:
...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
It is the last of these liberties, the Takings Clause, that is at issue in this case. Though one component of the protection provided by the Takings Clause is that the government can take private property only if it provides "just compensation" for the taking, the Takings Clause also prohibits the government from taking property except "for public use." Were it otherwise, the Takings Clause would either be meaningless or empty. If the Public Use Clause served no function other than to state that the government may take property through its eminent domain power–for public or private uses–then it would be surplusage.

Precedent holds that "no clause in the Constitution can be assumed to be without effect". That is, there are no surplus words in the Constitution. Of course, there's another possible effect these words could have. Taken at face value, and applying the rules of logic, we note the Takings Clause says that if property is taken for public use, the State must pay "just compensation". However, the statement is, technically silent about the taking of property for other uses.

Alternatively, the Clause could distinguish those takings that require compensation from those that do not. That interpretation, however, "would permit private property to be taken or appropriated for private use without any compensation whatever."

One wonders if that's where the law is headed.

Certainly this Justice considers the precedent set here a dangerous one.

The consequences of today’s decision are not difficult to predict, and promise to be harmful. So-called “urban renewal” programs provide some compensation for the properties they take, but no compensation is possible for the subjective value of these lands to the individuals displaced and the indignity inflicted by uprooting them from their homes. Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities. Those communities are not only systematically less likely to put their lands to the highest and best social use, but are also the least politically powerful. If ever there were justification for intrusive judicial review of constitutional provisions that protect "discrete and insular minorities," surely that principle would apply with great force to the powerless groups and individuals the Public Use Clause protects. The deferential standard this Court has adopted for the Public Use Clause is therefore deeply perverse. It encourages "those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms" to victimize the weak.


This new book is creating a stir. The authors are not the first to show how the study of economics leads to counter-intuitive results.

Max Borders lists his top ten favorite insights from economics.

1: David Ricardo
Comparative advantage: trade always makes people better off.
2: Arthur Laffer
Raising taxes doesn't necessarily increase revenues, and lowering them may very likely bring in more money.
3: Julian Simon
Don't be afraid of scarcity – we won't run out of resources.
4: F. A. Hayek
Spontaneous order: if the conditions are right, highly complex social orders will emerge on their own without any planning from a central authority.
5: Tullock and Buchanan
politicians operate more out of self-preservation than in the "public interest." (No kidding.)
Give local villagers property rights in endangered animals like elephants. When the villagers didn't own the animals, they had no incentive to protect them. Once the villagers owned the brutes, they were able to extract their value. Then, of course, they had an incentive to protect the animals as a resource.
7: Frederic Bastiat
Broken window theory: If someone throws a stone through a shop window, the owner has to repair it. This puts people to work and increases output. Since such creates jobs, wouldn't we be better off breaking lots of windows and repairing them? A little reflection reveals that this is not only destructive to shop windows, but to the economy as well. When shop owners spend their money on repairs, they have less to spend on other goods and services in the economy.
8: Yandle, Vijayaraghavan, and Bhattarai
some environmental degradation along a country's development path is inevitable, especially during the take-off process of industrialization. Second, it suggests that when a certain level of per capita income is reached, economic growth helps to undo the damage done in earlier years. If economic growth is good for the environment, policies that stimulate growth (trade liberalization, economic restructuring, and price reform) should be good for the environment." In other words, environmental quality is part of a land's stored capital. You expend some capital to get going, and if you've spent it wisely, you can recoup that capital later. Growth in a situation where environmental damage is forbidden is like breathing in a situation where you're forbidden to exhale.
9: North, Weingast, and Nye
"There are certain commonalities among prosperous nations. Institutions like property rights, solid judicial systems, and the rule of law are critical elements of wealth creation. Why? These institutions help to reduce the costs of starting up and doing business in a society."
10: Adam Smith
How is it that a bunch of people out scrambling to make a buck simply do a better job of providing for the general welfare (if such there be) than any other social arrangement or central plan? Because the best way to benefit yourself in life is to cooperate with others. And the best way to elicit cooperation is to specialize and to trade freely.

Politics in your genes?

The story making the rounds now is that your politics may be determined by your genes. I think it may well be true. I've also heard commentary that indicates the commentator either hasn't read the study, or doesn't know how science works.

One person seemed to think the researchers who did this study were claiming that genes determined what people thought – period. In fact, you almost never see a 100% correlation between genes and behavior. What do we see in this case?

...continued in full post...

Calculating how often identical twins agree on an issue and subtracting the rate at which fraternal twins agree on the same item provides a rough measure of genes' influence on that attitude. A shared family environment for twins reared together is assumed. On school prayer, for example, the identical twins' opinions correlated at a rate of 0.66, a measure of how often they agreed. The correlation rate for fraternal twins was 0.46. This translated into a 41 percent contribution from inheritance.

Identical twins share 100% of their genes in common. Fraternal twins share (on average) 50% of their genes in common. The difference between 100% and 50% of heredity in common works out to a difference between a correlation of 0.66 to one of 0.46.

I've been playing with the numbers in the article, and the only thing I can figure is that someone subtracted 0.46 from 0.66, and divided by the 50% difference in genes held in common. Thus, 0.66 - 0.46 = 0.2. Divide by 50%, which is the same as multiplying by 2, and we get 0.4, which is very close to 0.41 if the correlations given were rounded off.

Correlation coefficients (R) are not percentages. The proper figure is the coefficient of determination, which is the square of the correlation coefficient (R2). In the case of identical twins, R2 = 0.44, meaning that if you know the position of one identical twin on school prayer, you can predict the other's position some 44% more often than random guessing would allow. In the case of fraternal twins, the number drops to 21% better than random guessing.

Another tack I've heard commentators taking is to focus on the specific items reported in the article. No serious researcher believes there's a specific gene for the opinion on school prayer, or property taxes, the Moral Majority, or capitalism. What the researchers are saying is that:

...people's gut-level reaction to issues like the death penalty, taxes and abortion is strongly influenced by genetic inheritance. The new research builds on a series of studies that indicate that people's general approach to social issues – more conservative or more progressive – is influenced by genes.

I find it very interesting that a report like this would be covered in the NY Times. Larry Summers caught all kinds of grief for saying that men and women differ in their tendency to go in to the sciences. One of the debates in modern society is whether men and women are inherently different. The conventional wisdom in the universities has been that all mental and social differences are the result of environment and social conditioning. Folk wisdom, and new research, hold that at least some differences in attitudes are inherent.

The difference between male and female is genetic.

Unintended consequences in politics

The screaming extremist left has been spending a lot of its time slandering America. At least, it looks like slander to those of us who don't speak "nuance".

Although it's fun to watch a party self-destruct in this manner (it has the same fascination as a wreck on the freeway), it has a definite down side.

There's an important debate to be had in this country about just how far we're willing to go in our interrogations. But it's a difficult debate to even get started when one side thinks that we should be extremely concerned with the possibility that someone, somewhere might have desecrated the Korans of the people responsible for the murders of Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, three-thousand Americans and now hundreds upon hundreds of Iraqi civilians.

The extreme left, unfortunately, thinks in stark black-and-white terms. In our treatment of prisoners, we're either perfect, or we're equivalent to a Nazi death camp. This is a common position held by the left. They have their ideals, and since they're ideals, no mere mortal or mortal institution can achieve them. Since all fall short of the glory of the leftist ideals, all are sinners. And since the left doesn't distinguish degrees of falling short, someone who falls short of the ideal by the smallest margin can be equated with the worst of human evil.

But the side-effect of this is that it's impossible to please the critics. Once it becomes impossible to please a critic, there's no point in making the attempt.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Maimonides and Durbin

Yesterday, Dennis Prager had cited the counsel of Maimonides* on how to apologize. Today, I Googled "apology" and "Maimonides" to see what came up. I found this on Cold Fury. Dennis Prager wrote an article recommending how a high-ranking Senator should handle having said something bone-headed, and what an apology should look like.

...continued in full post...

In the hope that it will help anyone, public or private, who wishes to be forgiven for a sin, here are two guidelines taken from the "laws of penitence" as codified by the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides. The first thing a penitent must do is acknowledge precisely what he did and precisely describe it to the injured party. It is entirely insufficient to tell a business partner from whom you have stolen, "I'm sorry for any thing I did that might have hurt you." You must say, "I stole $10,000 from you while you trusted me as your business partner." Second, a penitent must offer restitution.

Just in case you were wondering.

It's interesting, also, to read the comments on the affair. The post's author, Sasha Castel, is not prepared to give the Senator the benefit of the doubt. After the two-step apology process is laid out, Sasha says:

Will it ever happen? I don't think so.

Two other people commented, with similar amounts of charity:

Yeah, well that would require him to be really regret that, and it looks like he regrets saying it far more than he regrets thinking it.
That's what it comes down to. If it was really a case that he opened his mouth and said something without thinking, and he really understood why what he said was so offensive, then a wholehearted apology would have been an extraordinarily easy thing to give. The only thing the absense of a quick, wholehearted apology can possibly indicate is that he does not think that what he said was offensive.

It sounds like the guy can't do anything to redeem himself.

* Moses ben Maimon, 12th C.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Photosynthesis - in pitch darkness?

Bacteria have been discovered which can carry out photosynthesis at the bottom of the ocean, miles away from any sunlight.

The newfound bacteria use sophisticated antenna systems that act like a microscopic satellite dish to collect light, the researchers said. Tests show the microbes indeed depend on photosynthesis. Visible light is just one aspect of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes radio waves, infrared "heat," and X-rays. Instead of sunlight, the deep-sea microbes use geothermal radiation. "This shows that photosynthesis is something that is not limited only to the very surface of our planet," Blankenship said. "It lets you consider other places where you might find photosynthesis on Earth as well as on other planets."

Infrared light had not been considered a good candidate for photosynthesis because of its low energy per photon and its long wavelength. However, it's an energy source, and wherever energy is packaged in any remotely available form, some life form can evolve a way of tapping it.

We may yet find life that taps the energy of nuclear reactions.

Durbin, again again

Radioblogger, the blog run by Hugh Hewitt's engineer, has a transcript of Durbin's "apology". He has the text linked to an MP3 file, so the interested browser can compare the transcript with the audio of the remarks, lest charges of misrepresentation be brought forth.

In the interest of spreading the "apology" far and wide, I quote the entire text:

...continued in full post...

Mr. President, more than most people, a Senator lives by his words. Words are the coin of the realm in our profession. Occasionally, words will fail us, and occasionally, we will fail words. On June the 14th, I took the floor of the Senate to speak about genuine, heartfelt concerns about the treatment of prisoners and detainees at Guantanamo, and other places. I raised legitimate concerns that others have raised, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, about the policies of this administration, and whether they truly do serve our needs to make America safer and more secure. Whether, in fact, some of the policies might, in fact, endanger our troops, or in some ways, disparage the image of America around the world. During the course of that presentation, I read an e-mail from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that was discovered to exist last August, and has now been produced as part of a Freedom of Information Act. After reading the horrible details in that memo, which characterized the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, I then, on my own, my own words, make some characterizations about that memo. I made reference to the Nazis, to the Soviets, and other repressive regimes. Mr. President, I've come to understand that was a very poor choice of words. Last Friday, I tried to make this very clear, that I understood that those analogies, to the Nazis and Soviets and others, were poorly chosen. I issued a release, which I thought made my intentions and my innermost feelings as clear as I possibly could. Let me read to you, Mr. President, what I said in that release last Friday. I have learned from my statement, that historical parralels [sic] can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings. Our soldiers around the world, and their families at home, deserve our respect, admiration, and total support. Mr. President, it is very clear that even though I thought I had said something that clarified the situation, to many people, it was still unclear. I'm sorry if anything I said caused any offense of pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Nothing, nothing should ever be said to demean or dimish [sic] that moral tragedy. I'm also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military. I went to Iraq just a few months ago with Senator Harry Reid, on a delegation, bipartisan delegation, the President was part of it. When you looked in the eyes of those soldiers, you see your son. You see your daughter. They're the best. I never, ever intended any disrespect for them. Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies. There's usually a quote from Abraham Lincoln that you can turn to in moments like this. Maybe this is the right one. Lincoln said, if the end brings me out right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten thousand angels swearing I was right wouldn't make any difference. In the end, I don't want anything in my public career to detract from my love for this country, my respect for those who serve it, and this great Senate. I offer my apologies to those who were offended by my words. I promise you that I will continue to speak out on the issues that I think are important to the people of Illinois, and to the nation. Mr. President, I yield the floor.

(N.b., I've broken this into paragraphs, because I found a solid block of text very intimidating to wade through.)

Today, Dennis Prager spent two hours discussing this "apology". One of the things he points out is that the validity of an apology does not depend on how many tears you shed while giving it. There are other criteria. Probably foremost of these is that you say what it is you are apologizing for. If you don't consider what you did to be wrong, then your apology is meaningless.

What did Durbin apologize for? Well, to the extent that he actually named any kinds of wrong, he apologized for hurting people's feelings.

He's sorry that comparing our detention facilities with the Gulag or a Nazi death camp was in any way insulting to us, or that our soldiers were in any way offended by being compared with Nazis. He's apparently not sorry for drawing such a comparison.

Indeed, after the tears and the apology, Durbin offers a quote from Lincoln which can be read, without too much trouble, as saying, "But I'm still right."

Unintended consequences

Brennan Hawkins, the 11-year-old Boy Scout has been found after being lost in the wilderness for four days. Now we learn that he would have been found sooner, except he had been taught to stay away from strangers.

I like to think about the unintended consequences of various policy decisions. One of my peeves is that people will advocate one or another policy without adequate consideration of the unintended consequences.

In this case, the unintended consequence of teaching a boy to avoid strangers was that he nearly died.

One of the reasons I read and enjoy Bruce Schneier's Crypto-Gram newsletter, and (yay!!!) now his blog, is that he also looks at unintended consequences. In a way, security is all about unintended consequences. Insecurity results when a system, intended to do one thing, does something else, with or without the help of someone with malicious intent. Sometimes, the unintended consequences are the result of a system intended to increase security.

In this case, a procedure intended to increase security – training a boy to avoid strangers – increased the danger of his situation instead. He would have been better off had he been told never to go with a stranger. Sure, he might have refused to get within six feet of a rescuer, but the rescuer could have called for a family member to come and get him, and he'd have been found sooner.

(I have also read that parents should establish a "password" for their kids, which can be given to any adults sent to pick them up if the parents can't be there. If the rescuers had had a password to shout to the boy, he might not have stayed hidden.)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Under the title, "Asking the wrong question on global climate change", Todd Zywicki turns the question of whether we should Do Something upside down to see what falls out.

Is it true that the only way to "justify doing nothing about global warming now is to deliberatly muddle the science"? I think the answer is quite plainly "no." Even if it is true that global warming is occurring, this is only the first of many questions regarding whether we can justify doing nothing about global warming.

There are several dots that remain unconnected, even if we stipulate that global warming is both occurring, and man-made. To examine the effect of not connecting these dots, let's turn the question of causation upside-down.

...continued in full post...

First, assume that the Earth were warming for wholly natural causes, and that the effect was as dire as the worst-case predictions under the current scenario--the apocalyptic stories we read of famine, pestilence, and natural disaster. Would the fact that this warming were "natural" make any difference at all with respect to whether we should do anything? The answer seems obviously no. We never stand by and simply permit wholesale disaster simply because the cause of the disaster is natural.

OK, if we don't ignore something, present or impending, merely because its cause is natural, it doesn't follow that we must do something about something merely because we caused it.

To imply that if the science shows we are changing the climate we must do something about it is as wrongheaded as it would be to say that if we are not contributing to global warming we should not do anything about it.

And his basic conclusion:

So the real question to ask here is whether on net, the costs of doing something about global climate change outweigh the benefits of doing it.

Ultimately, the issue has to come down to... what is the effect of a warmer climate? If we decide we don't like the effect, what is the best way of changing the trend? Is there some better way to deal with a changed climate?

Charity – a word from the Sufi

Over the past weekend, I had a chat with my girlfriend on the subject of charity, and in particular, Conservative™ and Liberal™ views of charity. I've been thinking about writing a post on the topic, and then I found this tale.

Winds of Change has a weekly post of Sufi wisdom. This week's tale concerned a tiger, a fox, and a man who saw an act of charity. I can't summarize it without re-printing the whole thing, so go and read it there, and then come back. I'll wait.

...continued in full post...

The man in the story is chastised for following the example of the fox, when he should have followed the example of the tiger.

The tiger, in this tale, is operating from a position of strength. He has the resources to fend for himself, and to bring in a little more than he needs. From his surplus, he gives to the needy fox. Since it's taken for granted the tiger's actions are directed by the Creator, the tiger fulfils the will of the Creator by extending himself to garner more than he needs, so he can give to the needy. (Notice, though, he gives after his own needs have been met.)

The fox receives the charity of the Provider because he truly is crippled. His front legs are missing. He (presumably) did not choose to lose his front legs. It just happened, and he's dealing with his loss as well as he can. In addition, he's not as well off as he'd have been with his front legs. He doesn't get his choice of food, but only what's left behind by the tiger. If the tiger doesn't leave quite enough to satisfy the fox's needs, well, "beggars can't be choosers".

Those who can meet their own needs have a duty to do so. The world does not owe anyone a living. Those who can do more than meet their own needs can walk in the path of the Creator by giving from their surplus to the needy. They have no obligation to stint on their own needs in order to be charitable.

Those who are capable, but who demand that others provide for them, are guaranteed only a very effective weight-loss program.

The Wiccan Rede includes the line, "fairly take and fairly give".

Most people understand the concept of "fairly take". Do not steal, do not swindle, do not cheat others out of what is rightfully theirs. The man, sitting in the corner and waiting for Providence to bring him food, was attempting to take in an unfair fashion.

The flip side of this concept, "fairly give", is a lot harder.

It's easy to think that if you just give to the poor, for example, you can end poverty. Unfortunately, it never seems to work that way. When you give to the poor without conditions, you wind up subsidizing poverty – paying poor people to remain poor. Eventually, like a muscle that goes unused, the poor person's ability to meet his own needs will atrophy, and you have another cripple on the public dole.

It's not fair to expect the fox to grow new legs, but it's not fair to give a free ride to the man who has the full use of his legs. It cheats the fox, by diverting his share of charity to those who don't need it, and it cheats the man by allowing his legs to wither from non-use.

And, the wild game becomes too scarce because the tiger's been feeding it to the needy, the tiger may start getting hungry by and by. And crippled animals are very easy to catch.

Durbin, again

From WizBang...

A while ago, I wrote about the "heckler's veto," where people are prevented from speaking by being shouted down or threatened. It's a despicable tactic. And it's a tactic that seems to have evolved. Its practitioners have learned that shouting someone down requires meeting them face-to-face, and that doesn't always work – especially in silent forums such as online and print discussions. So they went looking for a way to adapt the heckler's veto to work, and they seem to have found one. If you can't increase the volume of your argument, increase the intensity. Ratchet up the rhetoric. Push everything into the extreme, and hope that the sound and fury of your words will overshadow the lack of substance. With that tactic, everything becomes easier. Bush isn't a bad president, he isn't woefully wrong, he isn't misguided, he isn't leading us into disaster. He's Hitler, he's Satan, he's evil incarnate....

The response to this tactic?

I've mentioned before "Godwin's Law," and I'd like to see it extended a bit. I'd like to see anyone who makes a comparison to some great atrocity in the past be immediately challenged to explain exactly what that great atrocity entailed, and then go into detail showing precisely how the current event compares with the historical one.

The problem is, you can't fit that on a bumper sticker – or in a two-minute TV interview.

Geneva conventions and Gitmo

(Hat tip: WizBang.)

A very good piece on the legal status of the detainees at Gitmo.

Something fishy

A recipe from the Borders, in Scotland.

Here are two recipes from the Borders. ... The second recipe is from the Wheatsheaf, at Swinton, where John Keir has run the restaurant for a number of years.

...continued in full post...

HALIBUT ON A SAFFRON RISOTTO WITH POACHED EGG and lemon butter sauce Serves 4 • 7oz/200g Arborio rice or similar • 2 shallots, skinned and finely chopped • 4 tablespoons dry white wine • 3/4pint/450ml vegetable stock • 2oz/56g diced chilled butter • 4 trimmed halibut portions, each approx 41/2oz/125g • 8oz/225g baby spinach • 10 cherry tomatoes • 5 tablespoons olive oil • 1 tablespoon saffron in 4 tablespoons boiling water • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese • tablespoon chopped flat-leaved parsley • juice from 1 lemon • 4 free-range eggs Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 3/325F/170C. To make the risotto, heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the rice and diced shallots for two minutes, stirring frequently, adding the wine and reducing almost completely. Add a ladle of hot stock to the risotto, and stir until almost all is absorbed. Continue adding the hot stock. Check the rice grains - if they are at all chalky, add more stock and continue to cook for five to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt half the butter in a pan. Add the halibut, turning occasionally, just enough to colour it as it cooks. Transfer the halibut to the oven to stay warm, while finishing off the risotto. Toss the baby spinach and tomatoes in oil and set aside. When the risotto rice is cooked, stir in the saffron water followed by the Parmesan, parsley and a little of the lemon juice. Keep hot. Poach the eggs. Place round metal moulds on four warmed plates to hold the risotto, and fill firmly. Remove the moulds, and place a piece of halibut on top of each risotto mound, followed by a poached egg. Garnish with spinach and tomatoes and drizzle with lemon butter sauce. To make the lemon butter sauce, pour the remaining lemon juice into a pan and put onto a moderate heat. Whisk the rest of the butter into the lemon juice, gradually, until the butter has melted into the lemon juice forming an emulsion-like sauce.

Pseudoscience will hurt

(Hat tip: "Jason Spaceman" on Talk.Origins)

(Catching up)

Creationism, along with a newer theory of creation, intelligent design, is in the news again.
Although I believe that God is the source of creation, I am nevertheless concerned about mandating the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in the public schools; they are religious concepts that are most appropriately taught in houses of worship, not in science classrooms.

I am also concerned that if public schools start teaching these theories as science, then graduates entering the global workplace will be further behind their counterparts in India, China and elsewhere. These workers are better educated in science and math than our own, and they will work for a lot less than American workers, an argument that Tom Friedman persuasively makes in his new book, "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century."
How God created the universe, I told the man at the coffeehouse, was a mystery to me, just as it was surely a mystery to the writers of the Genesis creation stories. Their accounts, I said, are poetry, not science; truth, but not fact.

I believe that God created (and goes on creating) in a slow, steady way, which does not threaten my faith in the Creator. In fact, it only adds to my sense of wonder at the love and power of God.

The Rev. Kenneth L. Chumbley is rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Springfield.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Senator Durbin

McQ at Q&O says about what I've been thinking about Senator Durbin's statement about interrogations at Gitmo, and his non-apology the following day. Basically, Durbin slimed the American military, and America in general, and is now trying to deny having said it.

Is he stupid, or does he think we are?

Make it expensive

One of the reasons we have police, prisons, and other forms of punishment is to make crime expensive. The assumption is that if it costs too much to carry out a crime, you won't do it.

Winds of Change has several posts on the right to bear arms, and how it deters tyrrany of all sorts. It becomes too expensive to repress the masses.
We'll start with the story of civil rights leader Robert F. Williams:
"Luther Hodges ... was the governor of South Carolina at the time. We appealed to him. He took sides with the Klan.... Then we appealed to President Eisenhower but we never received a reply to our telegrams. There was no response at all from Washington. So we started arming ourselves. I wrote to the National Rifle Association in Washington which encourages veterans to keep in shape to defend their native land and asked for a chapter, which I got."
This was in 1957. Monroe, North Carolina. The NRA granted him a chapter without hesitation or question. And this was a man who would not crawl, or be anything other than a man:
"In a year we had sixty members. We had bought some guns, too, in stores, and later a church in the North raised money for us and we got better rifles. The Klan discovered we were arming and guarding our community. In the summer of 1957 they made one big attempt to stop us. An armed motorcade attacked Dr. Perry's house, which is situated on the outskirts of the colored community. We shot it out with the Klan and repelled their attack and the Klan didn't have any more stomach for this type of fight. They stopped raiding our community."
Blogger David Hardy notes that there were no fatalities, on either side. He adds:
"BTW, (1)that's by no means the only time Williams and his friends had to use firearms to defend themselves, and (2) there was no sense calling the police, since two police cars were in the Klan cavalcade!"
Against thug militias, even those that included trained police officers, guns ARE effective. Sudan's Janjaweed are similar: a thug militia with some al-Qaeda. Zimbabwe, same deal. Rwanda was the personification of thug militias.

This won't deter every last thug, but the greater the chance that any thug may not come home from his enforcement job, the fewer enforcers will be available, the less enthusiastically they'll do their job, and the more force will be available to direct against the more determined.

This has been a production of Better Living Through Economics

Logic and Islamist terrorists

Winds of Change cites a piece by Diana West on our treatment of prisoners at Gitmo.

"Under Islamic law, non-Muslims are deemed unfit to touch the Quran. That much is generally known. What is not usually considered is the reason: According to the Islamic law, we are unclean. <snip> In effect, then, with its official policy of clean cloves and detainee towels, the United States military is promoting, enabling and accepting the Islamic concept of najis - the unclean infidel - a barbarous notion that has helped fuel the bloodlust of jihad and the non-Muslim subjugation of dhimmitude. Our soldiers are many things: self-sacrificing, bold, loyal and true. They are not unclean.
James Taranto of the Wall St. Journal foolishly calls this "magnanimity." Tell me, if we capture Aryan Nations tarrorists, will black troops all have to say "yas massah" to them, avoid making eye contact, and refuse to touch them - in the name of magnanimity?
Ronald Reagan once stated that he could end the cold war instantly. All he had to do was surrender. If we decide to base our decisions on what would make the prisoners (and their associates and leaders) happy, all we have to do is let them out of our prisons, and place ourselves in them.If the objective is to get along, this would do it.

How bad theories kill

Thomas Sowell looks at some examples of how a bad theory can kill you.

The disappearance of an American teenager in Aruba has been more than a tragedy for her and for her family. It is the latest of many tragedies to strike trusting people who have long been sheltered from dangers and who have acted as if there were no dangers.

Reality: there are dangerous places in the world, peopled by dangerous people who don't care about your civilized sensibilities. Theory: the world is safe.

Theory works fine, as long as you stay in certain regions of the globe. If you wander into one of these areas where the theory doesn't match reality, you can get in serious trouble.

It looks like someone did.

...continued in full post...
Not only individuals but whole nations have lost their sense of danger after having been protected from those dangers.

Sowell cites polio, cases of which decreased sharply after a vaccine was developed. When people theorized that polio had been eliminated, they quit taking the vaccine, and cases increased. And this fallacy, the belief that because a danger never (or rarely) manifests, it must be inherently rare, shows up in lots of places.

The kind of thinking involved in the polio fallacy has appeared in many other contexts. When some public disorder gets underway and a massive arrival of police on the scene brings everything under control immediately, many in the media and in politics deplore such "over-reaction" on the part of the police to a minor disturbance. It never occurs to such people that it was precisely the arrival of huge numbers of cops on the scene that brought the disturbance to a screeching halt without having to use force.

And so we get to a current issue:

The latest version of the polio fallacy is the demonizing of the Patriot Act. Some people are yelling louder than ever that they have been silenced, that we have had our freedom destroyed, all as a result of the Patriot Act.

Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Do you want to be in the vicinity of the slow learners?

Sciavo – still

As predicted, there are differing opinions about what the autopsy results mean. Kevin McCullogh has his take on the subject, relaying to his audience the Schindler family's side of the story.

When true believers strike

True Believers who put their own agendas ahead of sound science enjoy what success they do because the effects of their policies may take years to manifest.

The True Believers who oppose fluoridation in water systems can scare people into refusing or abandoning water fluoridation programs. The effects won't show up immediately, but they do show up.
In the three years since fluoride was removed from Ashburton’s water supply, the town’s oral health has been on a plummeting, downward spiral, says an Ashburton dental surgeon. Dr Justin Wall said the increasing incidence of oral decay in the Ashburton District could be directly linked to the removal of fluoride on March 31, 2002. <snip>
...continued in full post...
"The time from when a tooth is perfectly healthy until it is travelling home in your pocket is normally four years and we’re approaching four years now. For people who didn’t have sound teeth when fluoride was taken out, the deterioration has been accelerated," he said. Dental therapists who worked with young children were now becoming overloaded with work and that was spilling over onto his workload, Dr Wall said. As a contractor to the Canterbury District Health Board who deals with advanced problems with children’s teeth, he said his waiting list was now running three or four weeks out. "By the time they see us we are looking at abscessing and things like that in children from about the age of four. If we can’t treat them, they sit on waiting lists for six months in Christchurch Hospital for a general anaesthetic."

Of course, a spot on a waiting list that's occupied by a kid with abscessed teeth means someone else is waiting that much longer. (Blame some of that wait on a socialized medicine system. A market-based system would have some incentive to respond to an upswing in abscessed teeth.) Left untreated, a decayed tooth will impact health in general, eventually leading to more hospital time.

The point here is that in this case, the lag time between discontinuing fluoridation and the visible impact on health is only(!) three years. In other cases, the lag time can be even longer. That doesn't make them any less serious.

Policies, for example that punish drug companies and force them to sell their wares at artificially low prices have a short-term benefit, but discourage long-term research. Even if profits remain high, the incentive to produce a "killer app" drug wanes. If the drug is that much of a "killer app", the company that invents it may lose all control over it due to political pressure to make it available to all comers for free. In the current climate, the company that invents boosterspice (Larry Niven's drug that prevents aging) will find that it has no say over its manufacture and distribution. It might as well spin off a separate company, which would then be the government-regulated boosterspice utility company.

The "controversy" over evolution is another example where the effects have a long lag time. Evolution is either true or not. By "true", I mean that evolution, as a model, describes what happens in nature. Either it's an accurate description, or it's not. As David Friedman points out in his books on price theory, the alternative to a true theory is a false theory – that is, one which says false things about how the world works.

If you reject a true theory, you will be led to believe false things about the world around you. And if you base your research or your policies on false ideas, you will get wrong answers. Now it's possible the answers won't be very wrong. An answer that's not very wrong is one that won't kill you outright, or even make you sick. It just won't make you any better. Or, an answer that's only slightly wrong won't make you as much better as one that's spot on correct.

The effect rejecting a correct theory in favor of one that is only slightly wrong is that you won't get ahead as fast as you would if you kept the correct one. Over a year, it won't make that much difference. In the long term, though, it adds up.

Consider a society that rejects true theory A in favor of slightly false theory B. Theory B falls short of theory A by a tenth of a percent. Thus, the society that chooses theory B is only acting on the right information 99.9% of the time.

In the first year, that society has fallen behind a society using theory A by a tenth of a percent.

After a decade, it adds up to one percent.

After a century, we're looking at a ten percent shortfall.

After a thousand years, the shortfall is some 63%. A society that had opted for the correct theory would be 270% farther along in whatever field the theory addresses. If the cure for your disease happened to be in that gap, well the people whose agenda favored theory B won't be around to demand an apology from.

The anti-fluoridation movement is an example of where bad theory kills people.

It's not the only one.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Scientific Fundamentalism

Eugene Volokh comments on a Slate Magazine piece on the possibility of a device that can measure consciousness in a person. (For example, a fetus. Or Terri Sciavo.)

The consciometer may not put the abortion issue to rest — given the deeply held religious and moral views on all sides, it's hard to imagine that anything could. But by adding a definitive neurophysiological marker to the historical and secular precedents allowing abortion in the first two-thirds of pregnancy, it may greatly buttress the status quo or even slightly push back the 23-week boundary. There is another possibility. The implications of the consciometer could create a backlash that displaces science as the legal arbiter of when life ends and begins. Such a shift — a rejection of science not because it is vague but because it is exact — would be a strange development, running counter to the American legal tradition.
This is a deep error; and it can be called "scientific fundamentalism" because of its tendency (similar to that in the most unpersuasive versions of religious fundamentalism) to assume that If It Isn't In [Science / The Bible / The Koran], It Doesn't Matter. What rule we should use for deciding when someone should have the legal right not to be killed is not a scientific question. Applying the rule may be a scientific question; if we decide that only entities that have consciousness have the right not to be killed, then science can tell us whether John Smith has consciousness. But deciding on the rule is simply not a scientific issue: It's a matter of moral judgment, which science isn't equipped to provide.

Shake, rattle, roll

Did you feel the quake? I did. It's a 5.3 in Yucapia, CA.

Volokh on evolution

Eugene Volokh has a take on the interminable quarrel over evolution.

Terri Sciavo – the Post-Mortem

The hoopla over the release of Terri Sciavo's autopsy seems to be ignoring a couple of points that were made, pretty consistently, all along.

What is mostly overlooked is that not everyone who opposed the court-ordered death made those kind of conspiratorial arguments. Some made ethical or religious argument against ending Terri's life, while others argued that Terri's wishes were never truly known. In all of Wizbang's coverage of Terri Schiavo the main point addressed was the court's determination of Terri's intent. To me Terri's wishes were the beginning and end of the case. According to the Supreme Court Michael Schiavo had no right to end Terri's life unless by "clear and convincing evidence" her wishes not to be kept alive artificially were made known beforehand. The claims that Terri had expressed her desire not to be kept alive by machine were neither timely nor particularly convincing, and Michael was aided by much better counsel on this critical issue. The determination of Terri's intent was made by Judge Greer as a finding of fact which was never seriously reviewed any appellate court. Lot's of issues were reviewed, but a de novo review of Terri's wishes was never performed, even after Congress acted.

Significant but not useful

When I was in graduate school, in the last millennium, I came up with the notion of "significant but not useful" to describe some data. I was doing research for a paper on radioprotective agents, and noted with interest that one agent that conferred protection was ginseng. The amount of protection conferred was significant – it was easily detected in the lab – but the effective change in the radiation dose was very small. The chance that even a very large dose of ginseng would make any real difference in the ability to withstand a radiation dose was quite small.

The difference was real, but not worth worrying about.

Here, we have the same sort of thing with cancer statistics.

Study confirms red meat link with bowel cancer People who eat more than 160 grams of red or processed meat a day are 35 percent more likely to develop bowel cancer than those who eat less than 20 grams a day, according to one of the biggest nutrition investigations ever carried out. [Story.]
Ok. 35 percent more likely than what? The study in question found 0.278% of the sample developed bowel cancer. If we take this figure as the baseline, we find that a 35% increase comes to a risk of 0.375% for those who eat a lot of read meat.

(160 grams is a shade under six ounces.)

If you essentially give up eating meat, you will decrease your overall chance of developing cancer by a tenth of a percentage point.

Whether it's worth it or not is up to you.

Food pyramid scheme

Sandy Swarc, at Tech Central Station, observes that the calorie allowances under the new food pyramid are rather minimal.

In simplifying the Dietary Guidelines for us, MyPyramid claims to give us our own "personalized" calorie recommendations after we enter our age, gender and activity level at the website. We should rightly expect that its calorie recommendations would be the same as those from the [USDA]Dietary Guidelines. But they don't match up at all. The differences are alarming.

The MyPyramid calorie allotments for adults aged 31-60, who are active for one hour per day, are lower than the USDA dietary guidelines. The discrepency is 24% for men, and 49% for women.

For adults over age 60, the discrepency is 62% for men, and 70% for women.
MyPyramid accentuates the calorie shortfalls by being one-size-fits-all and gender biased and misleading us to underestimate our physical activity. Unlike the Dietary Guidelines, MyPyramid disregards height and weight, assuming everyone of a certain age, gender and activity level needs the same number of calories. That's not scientifically sound.

Myths about 9/11

Popular Mechanics has a cover story that debunks myths about conspiracies in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Besides being inherently interesting, it's a good illustration of how real-world science doesn't always work the way people expect it to. This confusion means that people can be led astray by claims that aren't based in real science.

This happens in the conspiracy legends, accounts of the "moon landing hoax", and "controversies" over water fluoridation and evolution.

Science as religion

Steve Kellmeyer writes in the Mens News Daily blog on the relationship between science and theology. He lays the case that physics, and indeed all of science, as we know it, is inherently religious in its basis. (And that as a result, laws prohibiting the teaching of religion in science classes would mean we don't teach any science.)

I'm not misinterpreting:
In the re-emerging debate over creationism, intelligent design and evolution, much has been made of the need to keep religious faith out of the classroom. If this were accomplished, it would, of course, be a great loss, for if religious faith is removed from the classroom, physics, chemistry, and biology will have to be dispensed with and the hard sciences will be completely lost to us.

And how does he arrive at this conclusion?

...continued in full post...

The points he raises in support of this thesis are:

  1. The notion of an objective reality is a religious position.
    To assert that reality is not an illusion, but is, in fact, substantial is to take sides in a long-standing religious debate. The Hebrew and Christian faith insists on independent physical reality. The Hindu, the Buddhist, the Taoist traditions, along with any number of similar religious traditions, hold precisely the opposite viewpoint.
  2. Reality has a purpose.
    ...This is an important point, for investigation is only possible by means of a pre-existing purpose... ...the statement “reality exists” assumes not only that the investigator exists, it also assumes that the thing to be investigated has a “why” associated with it. In short, “reality exists” assumes the existence of purpose in both the investigator and the thing to be investigated.

This is a beautiful example of why they need to teach logic in grade school.

Take the assumption that an objective reality exists. This assumption is, indeed, absent in some religions and present in others, but this does not mean that it is inherently religious. It also does not mean that teaching that objective reality exists is ipso facto teaching religion.

The fallacy involved here is that of affirming the consequent.

This is an argument of the form: "If X, then Y." "We see Y", "therefore X".

In particular, "If religion A teaches idea I, then idea I will be taught wherever religion A is taught." "We note idea I being taught in science classes." "Therefore, religion A is taught in science classes."

Affirming the consequent is fallacious because the statement "if X, then Y" does not claim that X is the exclusive antecedent of Y. Suppose X is "a rock has fallen in the lake" and Y is "the rock is wet". Plugging those into the model of affirming the consequent, we get:

"If a rock has fallen in the lake, the rock is wet." "The rock is wet". "Therefore, the rock has fallen in the lake."

Falling in the lake is not the only way for a rock to get wet. A rock could be wet because it rained. The fact that a rock is wet is not proof that the rock in question fell in a lake. The fact that an idea is found in one religion, or a small set of religions, is not proof that the idea is inherently religious.

The second point is one I chose to break out as a separate premise. Kellmeyer considers objective reality to be inherently purposeful, and does not appear to consider the possibility of objective reality without purpose.

Here, Kellmeyer assumes his conclusion. This is known as Petitio Principii, or "begging the question". (Also "arguing in circles".) Kellmeyer sees purpose in the universe, so he assumes purpose in the universe.

There are any number of things in the universe for which no purpose can ever be proven. Radioactive material, for example, is composed of atoms which have a certain probability of decaying during any given time period. On average, some fraction of the atoms will decay during that time period. As near as can be determined, radioactive decay happens at random. No one has ever found a rule for telling which atom will decay when.

One could argue that each atomic decay occurs when and where it does for some purpose which may be known only to a Creator, but this is an assumption with no support other than a belief that things must happen for a reason.

The search for a unified field theory is one example of such an assumption in action. The hard sciences exist only because an ordered reality pre-exists them. If the universe were formless chaos, there would be no underlying reality upon which logic could function, nor, arguably, would there be a way to demonstrate the existence of logic at all. Logic would be the illusion instead of the tool.

One could argue, with equal validity, that we find rules in nature because we're good at finding patterns. The constellations in the night sky, for example, have been "discovered" by people, but this does not demonstrate that the stars were placed where they were in order to make any kind of pictures. The belief that the patterns we find in nature were created or ordained is a matter of religious faith. That patterns can be found is not. Neither is the statistical validity of any found patterns.

Finally, we see a habit of using scientific terms carelessly, in ways that scientists don't.

Physics tells us we can treat the particles that compose the universe as information packets. Physics does not point out the obvious: information exists only where purpose exists. Where reality is an illusion that repeats on an endlessly cyclic basis, there is no information to glean, no reality to tie together.

The problem here is one of equivocation. In particular, shifting between scientific and popular definitions of "information".

Popular definitions of "information" have connotations of meaning and the intent to communicate same. In this sense, random noise would have no meaning, and therefore would not be considered information.

Information theory defines "information" completely statistically. In essence, the more information any signal has, the more bits of data are required to make an exact copy of that signal. Random noise has the highest possible information content, and what we consider meaningful signals has a much lower information content.

By equating the scientific and popular senses of "information", Kellmeyer has stated that the more chaotic and unpredictable a system is (that is, the closer to pure random noise it is), the more purposeful it is.

I suspect this is not what he means.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The father of all abu ghraib streaks

Probably just a coincidence, but the New York Times had a cover story on Abu Ghraib 34 of the last 37 days. I wonder what public sentiment about the war would be like if an event like the beheading of Nick Berg had received even remotely similar treatment.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Now the principal doesn't like Zero Tolerance.

(Scroll down, or search for "Beaman")

Cecilia Beaman, principal at Pacific Middle School in the Highline Public School District, found out just what zero tolerance is like when her bread knife was found by Transportation Security Agents during a pre-flight security screening. <snip> On the trip home, screeners with the Transportation Security Administration at Los Angeles International Airport found it deep in the outside pocket of a carry-on cooler. Beaman apologized and told them it was a mistake. "You've committed a felony," Beaman says a security screener announced. "And you're considered a terrorist." Beaman will be fined $500 for the felony infraction as well as being placed on a TSA security list. Her statements ring a bell with anybody who has read the reactions of students who have been hit with the zero tolerance bat.

Jerry's correspondent continues:

...continued in full post...

Let's see if I can word the proper ZT responses to her objections: 1) The rules are necessary to keep order. Of course you don't think it is right when it happens to you. The only people who object to zero tolerance are the ones affected by it. 2) It does not matter what your intent was. You knew about the rule and you broke it. 3) You do not get all of your rights here. In order to do our jobs and maintain a safe environment we have custodial powers over you. 4) You brought it on yourself. You had plenty of opportunity to avoid the situation and were advised about the rules several times. Don't forget that everything that happened is your fault for breaking the rules. If she had been a student at her own school and been found to have that bread knife she would have faced serious consequences according to the school policy : 1. The principal/designee shall place the student on emergency expulsion. 2. The principal/designee shall notify the parents/guardians and request an immediate conference. 3. The principal/designee may impose long-term suspension of ninety days unless expulsion or a lesser number of days is warranted. 4. The principal/designee shall notify appropriate law enforcement personnel through the district security office. That's just for a first offense. If it happens a second time the student is automatically expelled.

The vocabulary word at Pacific Middle School this week is "schadenfreude".

Watt did he really say?

Hat tip: Powerline.)

One of the "American Taliban" quotes has James Watt saying:

I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.

(I seem to recall this quote appearing in Newsweek, back during the Reagan administration.)

In a recent article, Watt offers some context:
A liberal theologian and active participant in the National Council of Churches, Barbara R. Rossing of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, published a book titled "The Rapture Exposed." ... Rossing contends that Christians who believe in the Rapture presume that there is no need for stewardship of natural resources because of the expected return of the Lord. She writes: "Watt told U.S. senators that we are living at the brink of the end-times and implied that this justifies clear-cutting the nation's forest and other unsustainable environmental policies. When he was asked about preserving the environment for future generations, Watt told his Senate confirmation hearing, 'I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.' Watt's 'use it or lose it' view of the world's resources is a perspective shared by the Rapture proponents." Rossing fictionalizes this whole scenario and neglects to finish the sentence, which was as follows: "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns; whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations."

But then if she had, it would have lost so much of its punch. And it wouldn't have made nearly as juicy a quote for that American Taliban document.

I wonder how solid the rest of the quotes are.

About that "American Taliban"

Recently, my attention was called to a document floating around the Internet, which offers quotes showing how the Religious Right has taken over the Republican Party, and Conservatives in general.

I haven't tracked down the all of the quotes to see what sort of context surrounds them (or indeed, whether they've been made up altogether). I would really like to see the quotes in that page linked to the original sources, or at least as close as possible.

Nevertheless, even stipulating that the US Government has been taken over by religious fundamentalists, the linked article shows a major difference between American Fundies, who are regarded as intolerant and hate-filled until (unless!!!) proven otherwise, and other deeply religious people who belong to a "Religion Of Peace™".

Our fundies have not put anyone on trial for defaming their religion. On the other hand:
Oriana Fallaci is 75 years old. The renowned Italian journalist lives in hiding because of death threats she received after the publication in 2001 of her book The Rage and the Pride. She is dying of cancer. And now she is going to go on trial for "defaming Islam." The complaint comes from Adel Smith, president of the Muslim Union of Italy, who was never charged with defaming Christianity after he referred to a crucifix as a “miniature cadaver” during his 2003 efforts to have depictions of Christ on the Cross removed from Italian schools.

Add this to the death toll that didn't result when Christians didn't riot when a Crucifix placed in urine was displayed as a "work of art".

I suspect it's because Christians really are tolerant that their more strident critics complain the way they do. Their barbs are directed against a safe target, and they know it.

Morale in Iraq

The mainstream news media are full of accounts of how bad morale is in Iraq. The troops, accorting to conventional wisdom, are disgruntled. Michael Fumento went to Iraq and found that someone forgot to tell that to the troops.

I observed that troop morale in even the most hostile areas was better than I would have believed. ... If the troops had antiwar feelings they didn’t hold them back on my account. Yet I heard none. I also carefully read the ubiquitous graffiti in the portable toilets and only once found a negative scrawling — a Bush bash. But three other scrawlings ambushed that first one.

How is the war itself going?

[T]he war is ours to lose, but I don’t think we will lose it. In a true guerrilla conflict, time favors the insurgency. But progressively this war has shifted to one waging non-Iraqi terrorists against primarily Iraqi civilians, secondarily Iraqi military and police, and last against Americans.