Saturday, December 23, 2006

Privileged planet arguments

Link to a discussion of whether Earth was "designed" to be optimally habitable for us.

Irreducible Complexity and the Flagellum

The heading links to a post on The Panda's Thumb, which outlines the hypothetical steps involved in the evolution of the bacterial flagellum. And then there's this link on Panda's Thumb.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Conservative economists

(Hat tip: John Ray.)

I believe the answer is, to some degree, yes. My experience is that many students find that their views become somewhat more conservative after studying economics. There are at least three, related reasons.

First, in some cases, students start off with utopian views of public policy, where a benevolent government can fix all problems. One of the first lessons of economics is that life is full of tradeoffs. That insight, completely absorbed, makes many utopian visions less attractive. Once you recognize, for example, that there is a tradeoff between equality and efficiency, as economist Arthur Okun famously noted, many public policy decisions become harder.

Second, some of the striking insights of economics make one more respectful of the market as a mechanism for coordinating a society. Because market participants are motivated by self-interest, a person might naturally be suspect of market-based societies. But after learning about the gains from trade, the invisible hand, and the efficiency of market equilibrium, one starts to approach the market with a degree of admiration and, indeed, awe.

Third, the study of actual public policy makes students recognize that political reality often deviates from their idealistic hopes. Much income redistribution, for example, is aimed not toward the needy but toward those with political clout. This Dave Barry column, which is reprinted in Chapter 22 of my favorite economics textbook, describes a good example.

Put the freeze on ID thieves

From the December 2-3 Wall Street Journal: "More states let consumers suspend credit files as an antifraud strategy".

If you put a "freeze" on your credit account, any new creditor who wants to open an account in your name has to provide a personal identification number, which the agencies issue the consumer once his account is frozen. The idea is, this number is one that a casual thief won't have. (Don't write it on your credit cards!!!)

(Yes, that should be obvious, but "Obviously, the obvious isn't obvious to everyone.")

Where to find instructions for freezing your credit files:

Equifax.com
Click "customer service", and then "How do I place a Security Freeze?"
Experian
Go to www.expereian.com/consumer/security_freeze.html
TransUnion.com
Click "Personal" then "Fraud and Identity Theft", then "Preventing".

Freezing requires a certified letter, containing some personal information. Thawing is easier, requiring a phone call or web access, and your personal identification number. Note, however, the thaw hotlines are not currently open 24 hours. TransUnion operates from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM on weekdays, in every time zone.

Officially, it can take up to 72 hours to thaw, but in practice, it usually takes a few minutes.

Fools writing for imbeciles?

MediaBlog at NRO offers its take on the Wall Street Journal piece yesterday.

Rago defends the MSM on the grounds that its "institutional culture... screens editorially for originality, expertise and seriousness." Which is ironic, because his piece lacks two of the three.

1. Originality. Rago hasn't said anything about the state of the political blogosphere that Matt Welch didn't already cover in his April 2006 article "Farewell to Warblogging." And Welch actually knows whereof he speaks.

2. Expertise. If Rago knows enough about blogs to condemn them as sweepingly as he has here, then it isn't evident from reading his piece.
<snip>
Rago follows a depressingly well-worn path: He starts from the (false) premise that bloggers are out to replace the MSM, points out their inability to do what the MSM does, throws in some sneering riffs about how bad most of them are, and concludes that the MSM, despite all of its faults, is far superior.

He's wrong. Do we really have to explain why? Again?

UPDATE: Another annoying aspect of Rago's piece: His intentionally insulting tone ensured a reaction that would appear to support his "mob" thesis. Witness the pile-on.

Jimmuh Carter's new book

YOU CAN ALWAYS tell when a public figure has written an indefensible book: when he refuses to debate it in the court of public opinion. And you can always tell when he's a hypocrite to boot: when he says he wrote a book in order to stimulate a debate, and then he refuses to participate in any such debate. I'm talking about former president Jimmy Carter and his new book "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."

The hazards of nepotism

(Hat tip: Thd Daily WTF.)

One of the advantages of being a contractor -- well, aside from getting paid nearly twice as much -- and aside from not having to work unpaid overtime -- is that being "on call" is generally not part of the job description. The whole 2AM-Oh-Crap-A-Batch-Job-Failed call followed by a six-hour I-Have-No-Idea-How-To-Fix-This-Crap debug session that's chased down with the Oh-Crap-It's-8Am-And-Time-To-Go-To-Work realization -- that pleasure is reserved for full-time employees. That's what Ivan D. believed, right up until he got a 2AM call of his own: we desperately need your help to find a screw in the warehouse; none of the full-timers are responding!
<snip>
In many warehouses, a delayed order would not be reason enough to wake up a developer, especially a contract developer. However, this particular warehouse stocked millions of airplane parts that were urgently requested by inbound and outbound flights. They called Ivan up because a gate-full of passengers were anxiously waiting for their already-delayed intercontinental flight to depart. A single screw was all that was needed to finish the routine maintenance and send everyone on their way.

The warehouse system is, to put it gently, a mess. It was written by the CTO's two nephews. True, they didn't know the languages they were going to be programming in, but there are lots of books on the languages, and both nephews can read. So eventually, it would work out.

Ivan arrived at the warehouse a little after 2:30AM and was greeted by a frantic foreman who immediately showed him the error message. It was fairly straight-forward: the database query from the RF scanner was timing out. Ivan took a peek at the change logs and saw that one of the nephews deployed a new version of communication module shortly before he left for the day. Whoops.

Ivan opened up the VB project and found the code that was causing the problem. It looked something like this: Set rsStock = objConn.Execute("SELECT * FROM [Inventory]") While Not rsStock.EOF If rsStock("ItemId") = intItemId Then Call SendItemToTransmitter(rsStock) End If rsStock.MoveNext Wend It turns out that bringing millions of rows down from the database into a VB application just to look for a single row is a bit slow. Fortunately, it was an easy fix, so Ivan simply added a WHERE clause to the query, compiled the code, and deployed it. Within minutes, the warehouse worker was able to use his RF scanner to locate the screw and send it to the plane. Everyone -- from the foreman to the network administrator -- was astonished that Ivan was able to fix the bug so quickly.

So, the nephews don't always write the best possible code. And since they're in charge, any tendency toward pointy-hairedness can be a problem.

Later that morning, Ivan arrived back at work feeling happy and refreshed. A few people thanked him again and his manager (the other nephew) asked to speak with him immediately. Ivan figured it'd be an official thank-you-for-saving-the-day thing. Not quite: the boss went off on him, criticizing him for coming in at an unauthorized time, making an unauthorized software change, and for compromising the integrity of the warehouse system.

Here in the States, this is a matter of the individual policy quirks of an owner. It will impact the productivity of one company. In countries where things like this are mandated by law or strict custom, the effect is to lower the productivity of an entire country's workforce. This is one of the reasons why overseas labor may cost less per hour. Thing is, you may be getting exactly what you pay for.

Radical Islam

So how, aside from killing jihadist terrorists, can we defend ourselves against the insidious spread of radical Islam? Here are a few starting suggestions:

Bluntly identify radical Islam as fascistic — without worrying whether some Muslims take offense when we will talk honestly about the extremists in their midst.

At the same time, keep encouraging consensual governments in the Middle East and beyond that could offer people security and prosperity, while distancing ourselves from illegitimate dictators, especially in Syria and Iran, that promote terrorists.

Establish that no more autocracies in the Middle East and Asia will be allowed to get the bomb.

Seek energy independence that would collapse the world price of oil, curbing petrodollar subsidies for terrorists and our own appeasement of their benefactors.

Appreciate the history and traditions of a unique Western civilization to remind the world that we have nothing to apologize for but rather much good to offer to others.

Finally, keep confident in a war in which our will and morale are every bit as important as our overwhelming military strength. The jihadists claim that we are weak spiritually, but our past global ideological enemies — Nazism, fascism, militarism and communism — all failed. And so will they.

Stateless groups

Stateless warfighting organizations are all the rage these days. From Al Qaeda to Blackwater, they come in all shapes and sizes and pursue all varieties of ends. Consider: Al Qaeda is an organization funded by a Saudi tycoon's heir, and exists to pursue strategies that are wholly outside the realm of policies of any given state. Indeed, it seeks to topple the governments of many states in the Middle East, from which it draws many of its recruits and funding.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Instapundit on Nifong

And here's more on student and alumni reaction, from Joe Malchow. Malchow observes: "College administrators often speak of community. Isn’t it an essential part of community to defend one’s community against unfounded or overbroad attacks?" I don't think they're big on that.

And as it happens...

UPDATE: Hmm. Duke applications are down.

Sowell on Nifong

In his book "The Great Crash 1929," John Kenneth Galbraith said: "The worst continued to worsen." The same can be said of the Duke University "rape" case and District Attorney Michael Nifong. After all this time, it finally came out in court last week that the DNA samples collected from the underwear and private parts of the alleged victim contained DNA from other men -- but none from the Duke lacrosse players who were accused of raping her.

Monday, December 18, 2006

False charges in rape cases

Jim Khouri is currently the fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He has a piece up on just how often rape charges turn out to be false.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Abuse at Guantanamo

(Hat tip: Bill Keezer.)

There's a lot of abusive conduct taking place at Gitmo. However, it's not being carried out by the guards.

Guards have been routinely pelted with feces by inmates and face physical attacks from al Qaeda detainees. In May, al Qaeda detainees organized an ambush to stop a search of cells for contraband medication following two suicide attempts. Prison authorities have responded by providing inmates with a huge Arabic library, a modern hospital, sporting facilities and satellite television.
<snip>
Officials said al Qaeda inmates have attacked American guards on a daily basis. During the 12-month period that ended in August 2006, authorities reported 3,232 incidents of detainee misconduct. They included 432 assaults with bodily fluids, 227 physical assaults and 99 efforts to incite a disturbance or riot.

Bill's thoughts:

I have a couple of suggestions: misbehave and be bound--total restraint. They lie anyway, so let's just cut out the look-good crap and teach them some manners. The other one is to dress, Aryeh Neier, president of the New York-based Open Society Institute and former executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a guard uniform and make him walk the prison block with the other guards.

Um, Bill? Why not both? And have someone standing by to film whatever Mr. Neier does in response to being assaulted.

Certainly, since the US will never get credit for being nice to the prisoners, I see no point in continuing. Define what sort of treatment is reasonable and legal, and what falls beyond the pale, and administer reasonable punishment as needed.

Intelligent Design, or not?

Can "Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory" be true if a species is so incredibly vulnerable to extinction? (Reproducing a large chunk of this, since I'm not sure how long it'll be before it retreats behind a firewall.)

...what can we make of the further complications that led the Large Blue butterfly (Maculinea arion) to extinction in Britain? It entrusts a critical stage in its life cycle to the tender care of a single species of red ant that is particularly finicky about where it nests.

The story goes like this: The Large Blue lays its eggs in the buds of thyme - the culinary herb that grows wild in Europe - in the tight-bud stage. If the butterfly is ready to lay its eggs before the buds appear, or not until after they have started to open, the brood is lost. The eggs hatch after one or two weeks, depending on the weather; warm weather speeds hatching. The young caterpillars feed on thyme flowers for about two weeks during late July and early August, then fall to the ground where they are "adopted" by red ants (Myrmica sabuleti) attracted by a sugary substance secreted from a dorsal gland. The ants carry the caterpillar back to their nest, where it then gorges on ant larvae. While hidden from its own predators, the caterpillar spends 10 months as a predator in the ant nest, and then pupates there. After three weeks pupation the butterfly emerges during the four weeks mid-June to mid-July.

M. sabuleti is a warmth-loving ant that thrives only in short, dry grassland on hot south-facing slopes that are heavily grazed. If the grass grows higher than 3-4 cm and shades the ground, cooling it, this ant dies out and other species of ant take over - ants that are not interested in providing free food and lodging for Large Blue caterpillars. Taller grass also crowds out thyme.

What happened in Britain was a constellation of events that conspired to spell disaster for the Large Blue. One was the increased use of chemical fertilizers that promote vigorous grass growth, which kills off small wild flowers such as thyme. Then, sheep were pulled off the land by a change in livestock farming. For a few years, rabbits spread and kept the grass short in habitats favored by the butterfly, but in the 1950s myxomatosis (a viral disease of rabbits) was introduced and eliminated them. Pastures also were previously burned over, which kept the grass short, but this is no longer done.

So here you have an insect that depends for its very existence on a fragile chain of circumstances that is easily broken by bad weather, changes in exposure to grazing due to human intervention and disease, loss of its unique food plant, and loss of its protector ant species. If I were to design such a silly system I'd at least choose the most abundant, hardy species of ant to host my caterpillars, and ensure that they could feed on other plants beside thyme, and at other stages than the bud. To me, the case of the Large Blue is conclusive disproof of the theory of intelligent design.

Interesting piece, but also interesting are the comments to the piece. For example:

ID is not about 'optimal design'
by Enezio E. de Almeida Filho
Intelligent Design Theory has nothing to do with 'optimal design', and this is something that Woodall seems to be unaware of. Has he read any books by William Dembski?

In that case, I wonder what an undesigned butterfly would look like?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More on Kitzmiller v. Dover

Barbara Forrest, co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, discusses her participation in the Intelligent Design Movement's opportunity to crush those evil Darwinists.

Not only did I show up for my deposition, but I also testified at the trial despite being delayed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Moreover, I had the distinction of being the only witness whom the defense tried to exclude from the case. When they failed, the Discovery Institute tried to discredit me with ridicule.

(Also, this piece looks at the charge that Judge Jones copied the ACLU's proposed findings of fact into his own decision, thereby implying he's a plagarist.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Measures of media bias

Two University of Colorado researchers have conducted a study of media bias.

. Reporters have to make political judgments when choosing their words. In order to study bias, the researchers made lists of common phrases used by Republicans and Democrats in Congress. (Think "death tax" vs. "tax cuts for the wealthy" — Shafer made a handy list.) The researchers then charted which newspapers used which phrases. The exercise illustrates just how difficult it is to be truly objective. Reporters can claim to have represented both sides of a story, but that isn't worth much if the language of the story clearly puts one side in a better light.

2. A newspaper's bias appears to be partly a function of its readers' politics.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Flying while Muslim?

Six Imams were removed from an airplane, for behavior that made the other passengers and the flight crew nervous.

But the imams who were escorted off the flight in handcuffs say they were merely praying before the 6:30 p.m. flight on Nov. 20, and yesterday led a protest by prayer with other religious leaders at the airline's ticket counter at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

But what does everyone else say they were doing?

Witnesses said three of the imams were praying loudly in the concourse and repeatedly shouted "Allah" when passengers were called for boarding US Airways Flight 300 to Phoenix. "I was suspicious by the way they were praying very loud," the gate agent told the Minneapolis Police Department. Passengers and flight attendants told law-enforcement officials the imams switched from their assigned seats to a pattern associated with the September 11 terrorist attacks and also found in probes of U.S. security since the attacks -- two in the front row first-class, two in the middle of the plane on the exit aisle and two in the rear of the cabin. "That would alarm me," said a federal air marshal who asked to remain anonymous. "They now control all of the entry and exit routes to the plane." A pilot from another airline said: "That behavior has been identified as a terrorist probe in the airline industry."

And

According to witnesses, police reports and aviation security officials, the imams displayed other suspicious behavior. Three of the men asked for seat-belt extenders, although two flight attendants told police the men were not oversized. One flight attendant told police she "found this unsettling, as crew knew about the six [passengers] on board and where they were sitting." Rather than attach the extensions, the men placed the straps and buckles on the cabin floor, the flight attendant said. The imams said they were not discussing politics and only spoke in English, but witnesses told law enforcement that the men spoke in Arabic and English, criticizing the war in Iraq and President Bush, and talking about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The imams who claimed two first-class seats said their tickets were upgraded. The gate agent told police that when the imams asked to be upgraded, they were told no such seats were available. Nevertheless, the two men were seated in first class when removed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Abuse of police privilege

Glenn Reynolds has been following the story of a 92-year-old woman who was fatally shot by police during a "no-knock" raid.

The trend toward militarizing police began in the ’60s and ’70s when standoffs with the Black Panthers, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the University of Texas bell tower gunman Charles Whitman convinced many police departments that they needed more than .38 specials to deal with unusual, high-intensity threats. In 1965 Los Angeles inspector Daryl Gates, who later became police chief, signed off on the formation of a specially trained and equipped unit that he wanted to call the Special Weapons Attack Team. (The name was changed to the more palatable Special Weapons and Tactics). SWAT programs soon expanded beyond big cities with gang problems.

Abetting this trend was the federal government’s willingness to make surplus military equipment available to police and sheriffs’ departments. All sorts of hardware is available, from M-16s to body armor to armored personnel carriers and even helicopters. Lots of police departments grabbed the gear and started SWAT teams, even if they had no real need for them. The materiel was free, and it was fun. I don’t blame the police. Heck, if somebody gave me a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to play with, I’d probably start a SWAT team, too—so long as I didn’t have to foot the maintenance bill.
The subtle effect is also real: Dress like a soldier and you think you’re at war. And, in wartime, civil liberties—or possible innocence—of the people on “the other side” don’t come up much. But the police aren’t at war with the citizens they serve, or at least they’re not supposed to be.

The combination of these two factors has led to some tragic mistakes: “no knock” drug raids, involving “dynamic entry,” where the wrong house has been targeted or where the raid was based on informants’ tips that turned out to be just plain wrong.
Sometimes, homeowners are killed in these actions; other times, it’s the officers. When a narcotics task force raided a duplex apartment in Jefferson Davis County, Miss., in 2001, they arrested one tenant, then burst into the adjacent apartment of Cory Maye. Thinking a burglar had broken into the bedroom he shared with his toddler, Maye shot the officer fatally. Maye was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, although irregularities in the trial eventually led to his conviction being overturned and a new trial ordered.

And, in a case that is now drawing national attention, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, who lived in a high-crime neighborhood of Atlanta, recently opened fire on police when they broke down her door while executing a drug warrant. They returned fire, killing her. It’s hard to believe any of this would have happened had the police taken a less aggressive approach in the first place.

His recommendations for addressing this:

Police raids should be videotaped, in an archival format that discourages tampering. And I think we need legal reform, too. Police who raid the wrong house, or who fail to give homeowners adequate warning except in truly life-or-death situations, shouldn’t benefit from official immunity.

We give the police a lot of power. They are the only ones in our society who have blanket authority to threaten or actually use deadly force against us in the course of their duties. Along with this power comes a level of privilege, as well as responsibility.

Recently, the Kelo v. New London decision prompted a spate of laws restricting the government's ability to take property through its eminent domain privilege. The public perception in the wake of that decision was that government had abused its privilege, and so it was being taken away.

The police need to take steps to rein in their use of their privilege to use deadly force, while they still have any say about how it will be reined in.

About those surveillance programs...

From the Boston Globe, we see the following:

After a delay of more than a year, a government board appointed to guard Americans' privacy and civil liberties during the war on terror has been told the inner workings of the government's electronic eavesdropping program.

Members say they were impressed by the protections.

The briefing for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board had been delayed because President Bush was concerned -- after several media leaks -- about widening the circle of people who knew exact details of the secret eavesdropping program.

<snip>

If the American public, especially civil libertarians like myself, could be more informed about how careful the government is to protect our privacy while still protecting us from attacks, we'd be more reassured," said Lanny Davis , a former Clinton White House lawyer who is the board's lone liberal Democrat.

Alan Raul, a former Reagan White House lawyer and the board's vice chairman, said he also was impressed.

"We found there was a great appreciation inside government, both at the political and career levels, for protections on privacy and civil liberties," said Raul, author of a book of civil liberties. "In fact, I think the public may have an underappreciation for the degree of seriousness the government is giving these protections."

Are the people we're fighting evil?

Dennis Prager has made some waves by asking people opposed to the war in Iraq one question: "Will you at least acknowledge that the people we're fighting are evil?"

An example of putative evil behavior:

The 46-year-old schoolteacher tried to reassure his family that he would return safely. But his life was over, he was part-disembowelled and then torn apart with his arms and legs tied to motorbikes, the remains put on display as a warning to others against defying Taliban orders to stop educating girls.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Iraq: Go native?

U.S. Marine reserve officer Josh Manchester offers his six-point plan for winning in Iraq.

  1. Dramatically expand the training and advisory efforts. Expand their numbers, funding, and facilities.
  2. Create a crash program to develop a massive Arabic linguistic capability within the US military. This is the United States. We put men on the moon. Why don't we train 20,000 or more American military personnel proficient in Arabic in the next 12 months?
  3. Give Maliki 60 days to remove the Shi'ite militias from positions of influence in the government. If he asks for help of some kind in doing so, provide it. Give him one last chance to prove that stopping the sectarian killing is more important than satisfying those who hunger for it.
  4. If he can't do it, then declare Iraq's security forces to be in receivership. What does this mean? It means that the security forces of Iraq no longer answer to the Iraqi government, they answer to the US military. The government will still exist. It will still be a democracy. But it will temporarily lose control of its military. After doing this, purge the Iraqi forces of those loyal to Shi'ite militias.
  5. Create combined US-Iraqi forces. Here's where the go native part really kicks in. ...create a situation such that the American forces and the Iraqi forces are one and the same. American forces in small numbers live, eat, sleep, fight and die with their Iraqi counterparts. It will keep the Iraqis honest about not killing each other in wanton bloodshed. And it will earn incredible benefits for the Americans in terms of intelligence gained and cultural lessons learned.
  6. Redeploy as many FOBBITS as possible. What's a Fobbit? A FOB is a forward operating base, and a fobbit is the derogatory term used by combat arms troops to refer to the support personnel who inhabit such gargantuan bases. ...as much as possible, integrate the logistics of the forces that have gone native with the Iraqis with the Iraqi logistics.
These changes would be dramatic. It takes guts to tell a sovereign government that we're relieving it of its military. But by going native, the US can destroy or neutralize the Shi'ite militias; restore confidence in the Iraqi armed forces; increase our language and cultural proficiency, which is a huge force multiplier; and over time we can gradually cede the military back to the Iraqi government. Just for good measure, it would probably be a good idea to surge a large number of troops in to tamp down violence in Baghdad while the go native plan gets ramped up. But within 6 to 12 months, the US presence would be smaller, and more effective, violence in Baghdad will be much lower, and the insurgency will be even more beleaguered than it is now.

Neanderthal DNA

With the release of the initial two papers describing chromosomal DNA sequences from a Neandertal, I thought I would put together some frequently asked questions and answers to them. I actually have been frequently asked most of these questions this week -- mostly by journalists -- so I think this is a good list.

Gene duplication

One things that the attackers of science (including ID advocates) frequently do is accuse scientists of constructing 'just-so stories'.
A scientist while investigating a bacterial genome discovered that two genes doing apparently different tasks were almost identical in sequence, only differing by a few base pairs. This was a very interesting discovery, and the scientist decided to investigate a bit further. The first thing he did was to sit down and think about ways in which this related genes could have been produced. He came up with a few explanations, but the one he thought was the most likely was that the original gene had been copied (duplicated) in it's entirety, and then one of the copies had been changed by point mutations until was performing a different task to the original.

(The above explanation is typically labelled a 'just-so story' by ID advocates. We have some evidence. The scientist has constructed a explanation to account for it. There is no other evidence at this point that the explanation is correct. Science typically refers to these kinds of explanations as 'hypotheses', and they are acknowledged to be entirely tentative in nature.)

Having come up with a perfectly reasonable explanation for the origin of these two very similar genes what does the scientists do next? Does he drop the subject having explained it to his satisfaction and then move on to his next project? Actually he doesn't. He decides that this hypothesis needs testing to see if it actually correct. So the scientist has a think about what predictions he can make from his hypothesis, and how he can therefore design some tests for it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The anti-science party

There is one party which is determined to keep the products of science from doing anyone any good.

From my days as an official at the FDA during the ’80s and early ’90s, when the Democrats were in the congressional majority, I recall the incessant, uninformed, and highly politicized meddling by prominent members of Congress. They did incalculable damage to science and technology. And now they’re back.

A few examples:

In 1989, Sen. Patrick Leahy, then chairman of the Agriculture Committee, complained to the FDA commissioner about the agency’s supposedly cavalier, insufficiently rigorous review of an important veterinary drug called bovine somatotropin, or bST, which boosts the milk production of dairy cows.
....
Largely as a result of the misguided efforts and bullying of Leahy and Conyers — and regulators’ fear of the two powerful congressmen — the FDA’s review of this excellent veterinary drug took nine years, while the evaluation of an almost identical product for injection into growth-hormone-deficient children had taken a mere 18 months.
....
During the 1980s, Congressman John Dingell, then-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, interfered constantly in federal agencies’ domestic policy-making, as well as their attempts to hammer out international agreements on the regulation of agricultural biotechnology under the auspices of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Dingell and his committee’s investigators harassed scientists from various regulatory agencies (of whom I was one), although they had no understanding of the subject area and were, in fact, lobbying against both a sound scientific approach and U.S. interests.

In carrying out the committee’s oversight role over the FDA, the imperious Dingell acted as a kind of self-appointed Grand Inquisitor. He and his staff continually summoned agency officials to humiliating and abusive hearings and demanded that they produce mountains of documents on unrealistically short deadlines. Committee staffers even appeared personally and unannounced at FDA headquarters and helped themselves to documents that the agency (and federal law) considered to be confidential business information and, therefore, off limits.

What seems to draw the most Democrat ire is those products that actually work, actually help people, and therefore might make their creators piles and piles of money.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Detained for praying in public

When a young girl was ordered to stop reading her Bible during lunch period at school, or face arrest, a few people speculated that she might have been reading it in a disruptive manner – very loudly, for example.

I wonder if these same people will consider "being disruptive" sufficient cause for removing these people from an airplane before takeoff.

Six Muslim imams were removed from a US Airways flight at Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport on Monday and questioned by police for several hours before being released, a leader of the group said.
....
Three of them stood and said their normal evening prayers together on the plane, as 1.7 billion Muslims around the world do every day, Shahin said. He attributed any concerns by passengers or crew to ignorance about Islam.

As Laura Ingraham mentioned, Muslims have been flying on U.S. planes for decades. Is this really the first time this has come up?

Jews fleeing Israeli towns

JERUSALEM – Hamas is "very satisfied" with reports here some Israelis in communities near the Gaza Strip are ready to flee their rocket-plagued towns while students reportedly have been skipping school for fear of being caught in regular Palestinian attacks, a senior leader of Hamas' so-called "military wing" told WND in an interview yesterday.

"The importance of what is happening in Sderot proves to the Palestinians, especially those who say rockets bring no results, that rocket attacks do bring big benefits," said Abu Abdullah, who is considered one of the most important operational members of Hamas' Izzedine al-Qassam Martyrs Brigades, Hamas' declared military wing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rebuilding in Iraq

When and if the smoke ever clears in Iraq, Pentagon officials say the world finally will see a minor miracle.

Not long after the election, I offered a set of predictions about sweeping changes that would occur.

The first has already happened. All the problems with voting machines, voter intimidation, and other forms of "disenfranchisement" disappeared overnight.

Now, the first story on another sweeping change – now we're going to start seeing news about the successes in Iraq.



• Six new primary care facilities, with 66 more under construction; 11 hospitals renovated; more than 800 schools fixed up; more than 300 police stations and facilities and 248 border control forts.

• Added 407,000 cubic meters per day of water treatment; a new sewage-treatment system for Basra; work on Baghdad's three plants continues; oil production exceeds the 2002 level of 2 million barrels a day by 500,000.

• The Ministry of Electricity now sends power to Baghdad for four to eight hours a day, and 10 to 12 for the rest of the country. Iraqis are now free to buy consumer items such as generators, which provide some homes with power around-the-clock.

Mr. Popps said all this was accomplished despite a concerted effort by terrorists to bomb construction sites and kill workers. Thursday's kidnapping of private contractors south of Baghdad illustrates the problem. The State Department was forced to increase spending on security, up to $5 billion of the $20 billion, or risk losing more projects to saboteurs.

Friday, November 17, 2006

What car is best for the environment?

(Hat tip: Jonah Goldberg.)

Most people think in terms of MPG when shopping for aan environmentally friendly (or just plain cheap) car. A recent study has attempted to distill all the environmental costs into a single number – the total energy expended to manufacture, operate, and eventually dispose of each vehicle. The final figure is an energy cost per mile.

The Honda Accord Hybrid has an Energy Cost per Mile of $3.29 while the conventional Honda Accord is $2.18. Put simply, over the “Dust to Dust” lifetime of the Accord Hybrid, it will require about 50 percent more energy than the non-hybrid version, CNW claims.

And even more eyebrow-raising:

For example, while the industry average of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2005 was $2.28 cents per mile, the Hummer H3 (among most SUVs) was only $1.949 cents per mile. That figure is also lower than all currently offered hybrids and Honda Civics at $2.42 per mile.

The Toyota Sienna has an energy cost per mile of $2.180, which is below the average of all vehicles tested ($2.281). I suspect the Previa I drive may be a little bit higher, as it's an older model. Also, the Sienna has an estimated lifetime miles of 158,000. My Previa is about to register it's 300,000th mile. This means the costs of production and disposal are cut nearly in half. (Costs of operation and repair either remain constant, or increase somewhat.)

So I don't need to feel guilty about driving my minivan.

Remembering Milton Friedman

INDIANAPOLIS --Nobel laureate Dr. Milton Friedman passed away early this morning, in his San Francisco home, of heart failure. He was 94.

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers or gifts, contributions be made in his honor to the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Radiative power

It would be so convenient if our various gadgets could pull power from the air, and not have to be plugged in – particularly when every item has a different shape of power connector and power requirement.

US researchers have outlined a relatively simple system that could deliver power to devices such as laptop computers or MP3 players without wires.
....
The answer the team came up with was "resonance", a phenomenon that causes an object to vibrate when energy of a certain frequency is applied.

"When you have two resonant objects of the same frequency they tend to couple very strongly," Professor Soljacic told the BBC News website.
....
...the team investigated a special class of "non-radiative" objects with so-called "long-lived resonances".

When energy is applied to these objects it remains bound to them, rather than escaping to space. "Tails" of energy, which can be many metres long, flicker over the surface.

"If you bring another resonant object with the same frequency close enough to these tails then it turns out that the energy can tunnel from one object to another," said Professor Soljacic.

Neanderthal DNA

Unleashing a new kind of DNA analyzer on a 38,000-year-old fragment of fossilized Neanderthal bone, scientists have reconstructed a portion of that creature's genetic code -- a technological tour de force that has researchers convinced they will soon know the entire DNA sequence of the closest cousin humans ever had.
Their findings? Among others:
Scientists have already identified a few lucky genetic glitches that may have helped launch humans to global dominance while our stocky cousins turned toward an evolutionary dead end. One, in a gene called FOXP2, may have facilitated language. Another may have driven a big increase in brain size.
....
The new reports confirm early suggestions that modern humans and Neanderthals split into two genetically distinct groups about 500,000 years ago. They also show no evidence of interbreeding, though a final answer to that question must await further analysis.
Creationists have asserted that Neanderthals were nothing but modern humans with arthritis, ricketts, or some other bone disease. The decoding of the Neanderthal genome will make this claim even harder to support than it already is.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Climate science

Bjorn Lomborg on the "dodgy numbers behind the latest warming scare". Also, the WSJ editorial. "Two takes on global warming: guess which one didn't get the press"

A conversation....

Clayton Cramer likes to take scientists to task for their arrogance in continuing to advocate evolutionary theory. This is an e-mail conversation that took place a couple of months ago, and which I've been meaning to format into a blog posting.

The inspiration for the conversation was this post:

My wife and I are leading a Bible study right now concerning evolution, creation, Intelligent Design, and related issues. We are trying to give everyone enough of a grounding in these subjects to understand how evolutionary theory ended up in the driver's seat; the limitations of scientific theory; that there are a variety of different Christian perspectives (theistic evolutionists, such as Francis Collins, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute), Old Earth Creationists (such as astrophysicist turned evangelist Dr. Hugh Ross), Young Earth Creationists, and biologists and biochemists who are Intelligent Design advocates.
We are also trying to get everyone to understand that when scientists reject supernatural explanations, it doesn't mean that they are denying the existence of God--they are arguing that you can't construct scientific theories (which are, after all, suppose to enable prediction of events) with an "M" for "miracle" in a formula.

I replied with the following e-mail, which I'll present with Cramer's responses inserted. I sent a reply to his responses, which I'll present as commentary after each block of e-mails.


I think that’s a good idea.

I’d like to suggest a topic for discussion, and I’d be interested to hear what comes of it, if you do discuss it.

One of the arguments I’ve seen brought to bear against “evolution” is an argument from incredulity. It is simply unbelievable that “all this”, for different values of “all” and “this”, could have happened “by chance”. Equivalently, it’s unbelievable that “all this” could have happened “by itself”.

I’ve decided this is a red herring.

I would agree. The Intelligent Design advocates, however, don't make that argument. They argue that it is not simply the complexity of some components to life that make it unlikely to have happen by operation of natural law and random chance.

[Interrupting for a moment] Actually, they tend to make two different types of argument.

One is that there are some components that are so complex they cannot have arisen by the operation of naturalistic processes.

This is, of course, beyond disproof, because no matter how many times natural processes are shown to suffice for this or that component, ID-ists can always say, "Well, those aren't the ones we're talking about."

They also point to certain existing systems such as the flagellum or the blood clotting cascade. These systems, they will claim, are so complex that they cannot have arisen through naturalistic processes.

Interestingly enough, the blood clotting cascade has fallen out of favor with the ID crowd, since biologists have managed to come up with a plausible step-by-step history of its development.

Each step in the process takes us from a digestive enzyme (very useful, just not for clotting) to the modern cascade. Each step is an improvement in an existing system, and one which works well enough for its current owner.

So where ID makes its prediction about specific systems, it keeps being proven false. Where it makes its prediction about "some" systems, it steps outside the realm of scientific proof.

The traditional argument that with enough time, almost any random process will eventually lead to something improbable, is still valid. The ID argument about flagellum complexity points out that this is not simply one amazing coincidence, but several dozen amazing and completely independent coincidences--that they aren't like a snowball rolling down hill. Each of the flagellum components is pretty well useless without nearly all of the others--and so you really don't get any advantage of gathering one component onto your evolutionary snowball.

Actually "the traditional argument" is only one argument. One of the arguments used in biological evolution is that evolution has become notorious for taking a system that does one thing and adapting it to some other function. The starting point in the blood clotting cascade was, recall, a digestive enzyme.

I’ve yet to meet a scientist who believes anything, with the possible exception of certain quantum-mechanical events, happens “by chance”. Indeed, the whole basis of science is the attempt to discover regularities – “rules” or “laws” governing events. Indeed, back in Newton’s time, science was called “Natural Philosophy”, and was pretty explicitly devoted to discovering the laws God wrote when he crafted the universe.

Yup. That's part of why Newton was so certain that he could determine what those laws were, that would be logical, and that they would apply almost everywhere. For example, gravity, light, and magnetism vary inversely with the square of the distance--not some terribly complex equation, or dependent on some other factor. Imagine if gravity varied based not only distance but also on illumination, with weird minimum factors!

Terribly complex equations are allowed. Time-dependent relativistic Schroedinger equation, anyone?

And I could imagine a universe where gravity varied with illumination, or the phase of the moon, or some other factor. As long as it varies consistently with those factors, we can do science. We cease to be able to do science when gravity varies according to the whim of some capricious agent. For example, if the planets really had been gods or angels moving through the heavens, there'd be no reason to expect them to stay in any particular course.

All the “evolutionists” I know, therefore, believe that “evolution” occurred as the result of the operation of known, or at least discoverable, natural laws.

(I put “evolution” in quotes, because creationists have a habit of lumping under “evolution” a number of things that are not, strictly speaking, evolution. The question of the origin of life is, strictly speaking, abiogenesis, not evolution. Likewise, the Big Bang and other theories about the origin of the universe are matters of cosmology. But all deal with origins, and how there came to be something rather than nothing.)

It isn't just creationists who lump origin of life under evolution. So do evolutionists (at least, the ones teaching it badly at the lower grades).

[Interrupting, again] If you want to complain about inept teachers, go for it.

Thomas Sowell has written books about the education establishment. Among his damning points is that education majors have among the lowest average SAT scores of all declared majors. Presumably they can't do, so they opt to teach.

But just because a teacher is incapable of presenting (or learning) some subject, don't commit the fallacy of presuming the subject itself is as incoherent as the teacher's presentation of it.

The origins of the universe problem is pretty substantial! How does something come from nothing, or alternatively, how does something always exist? These start to sound suspiciously like modern, cleaned up versions of Creation myths. "You don't understand it--it's turtles all the way down!"

The problem of the origin of the universe is indeed substantial. But it's not evolution. It's cosmology. That's outside evolution's jurisdiction.

As for the underlying science, "maybe it is turtles all the way down":

First and foremost (since this is about how we know what we know):

Until we have some idea what the rules are, we have no idea what is, or is not surprising.

For all we know, the default is for something to come from nothing, and our universe where something has to come from something else is the oddball case. (Maybe the Designer has suppressed all of the instances where something would have come from nothing. How would we know?

Or, why shouldn't something always exist? We observe as data that something does exist, and if we assume something can't come from nothing, then what else is it going to have done?

And for completeness, I should mention the possibility that nothing exists, and we're imagining the whole thing. (though isn't imagination something?)

Maybe it *is* "turtles all the way down", if by "turtles" we mean the rules that govern the universe(s).

So back to the question I left with in my opening salvo, how do we tell the difference between rules that have always been (it's rules all the way down), and rules that were designed and implemented by a creator?

It may well turn out that some phenomenon exists which can never be explained in terms of general rules or laws. Maybe there is some unbridgeable gap between nonlife and life, or animal consciousness and human consciousness. Trying to prove this, though, is trying to prove an existential negative, which is very difficult at best. At best, we can look at the track record of those who insist that phenomenon X demands a non-material explanation.

It stinks.

But a good scientist should try to keep an open mind to the possibility that a non-material cause will be required to explain some phenomenon, even while he searches heaven and earth (!) for some material law that will account for it.

Agreed. I would be happy if evolution were taught in the lower grades with a bit more humility, and recognition that there are a lot of serious questions that have been raised.

If you want to rail against bad teachers, be my guest.

If you want to take bad scientists (those who insist in speaking "ex lab-coat", making pronouncements not supported by science), go ahead.

But if you want to rail against science, rail against it for what it actually does.

Let’s stipulate, though, that everything can be explained by the operation of materialistic laws of nature. Everything. We might as well – it’s the underlying assumption of science. Where did the laws come from?

Everything in a science class MUST be explained through operation of materialistic laws of nature--otherwise, it isn't predictable, and then it isn't science. But recognizing this as an assumption is a good start towards that humility of which I speak. At least by the time I reached college, I was being taught by real scientists, who knew that there are limits to what science can do.

Natural Philosophers assumed the laws came from God. Modern scientists may or may not make the same assumption. Practically speaking, though, they probably don’t think it matters. The laws of motion work the way they do whether they were crafted by God, by Allah, by Athena, by Wakan Tanka – or are themselves eternal and uncreated.

It doesn't matter--if you are doing science. If you are asking deeper questions, it may matter. But a scientist needs to acknowledge that what he is doing makes assumptions. Science teachers seldom get this across to their students.

If you want to rail against bad teachers.....

Can the laws of nature be eternal?

In response to the assertion that God created everything, people will ask “who created God?” The response to this is, essentially, that God transcends creation and is eternal. God did not need to be created because he has always existed.

An atheist scientist might argue that the rules science uncovers are eternal and did not need to be created. Alternatively, they might have come about through the operation of some more encompassing rule, a form of the “Theory of Everything” which physicists have been searching for.

Now, here’s the discussion question:

How do you tell the difference – experimentally – between universe-governing rules that were created by God and universe-governing rules that have existed eternally without the need for a creator?

Experimentally, you can't. That inability to put the M variable into scientific equations is a serious obstacle! But I have experienced a miraculous healing--once. I know other people who have had ONE such experience. I know many others who have not. This tends to make us skeptical of claims that the M variable can be ignored!

Can it even be meaured? I don't want to get in to miraculous healing, but if you like, I'll send you a link to Dennis Prager's recent show where he interviews a doctor on the topic of luck in medicine. How do you distinguish between the "M variable" and luck?

And while I have my own ideas about the existence of a Creator, I am also a scientist. As a scientist, I can’t justify teaching in any science class that the above question has been answered one way or the other until it actually is.

How about teaching in a classroom that the lack of a supernatural is an assumption of science that makes prediction possible, and that a scientist who asserts that there CANNOT be anything outside that possibility is being a bit arrogant?

Believe it or not, I have no problem with that. I've had a number of teachers whose position on the supernatural is "I can't fault you for your faith". They may then point out the problems they see in terms of the lack of a known mechanism to accomplish some particular supernatural effect. Is that arrogant?

Some of the ID questions are legitimate science: how did we get irreducibly complex mechanisms?

At least some of them are plausibly explained by the co-opting of pieces that were already doing somethin else.

For example, here's another paper on the possible development of the flagellum from a secretory structure.

If this recent paper claiming an oxygen atmosphere at 3.8 billion years ago is correct, then we went from hot rocks to photosynthesis (a VERY complex system) in less than 600 million years. That sure isn't sounding very random or blind.

I can see a few possible outcomes for this:

1: Photosynthesis is not that hard to invent. The modern system, being the result of billions of years of evolutionary fine-tuning, may be quite complex, but as can be seen with the proposed development of the clotting system, the first steps need not be super-efficient, highly-developed systems. They need only work "well enough to do the job".

2: Before photosynthesis as we know it took over, there was a different system that generated oxygen at a low efficiency. This may have been too inefficient to generate amounts of oxygen useful to any one life form, or even to generate deoxygenated molecules in amounts useful for any other metabolic process. The oxygen resulting may have been a side-effect of some whole 'nother reaction. (Which may explain why all our ancestors weren't completely wiped out by the sudden production of all this highly reactive and poisonous oxygen.)

3: Good old panspermia -- the first life forms arrived on interstellar dust from somewhere else. This postpones the problem of origins, but a lot more time becomes available. (I'm all in favor of "pre-loading" work when I'm dealing with projects, but that's going a bit far, don't you think?)

4: ET landed and either seeded the planet with bacteria, or cobbled together the first bacteria in his workshop.

5: Some unknown, and possibly miraculous, process caused oxygen to appear in the early atmosphere.

6: Some unknown, and possibly miraculous, process caused a photosynthesizing organism to spring together in violation of all the laws of probability.

7: (In the interests of the humility science has, and we all wish more scientists would display) "Other".

But the assumption that there is no materialistic explanaton for any phenomenon X is an assumption, just as much as the assumption that there is one. I don't feel like trying to do a Bayesian calculation on the track record of each assumption, but I have a feeling the assumption that phenomenon X will remain forever inexplicable will turn out to be quite improbable.

Finally, on the question of things happening by the operation of natural law, I can see a number of possibilities, based on whether you affirm or deny each piece in the chain.

Given the statement:

I: Some phenomenon happens because of the operation of natural laws designed by a creator.

We have three entities to deal with:

1) A phenomenon that happens

2) Natural laws

3) A creator

These three entites can be affirmed or denied, giving rise to eight logical possibilities.

I: Some phenomenon happens because of the operation of natural laws designed by a creator.

II: Some phenomenon happens because of the operation of natural laws which did not require a creator.

III: Some phenomenon happens, not because of any natural laws, but purely because of the will of the creator. (Any laws we think exist are pure coincidence.)

IV: Some phenomenon happens, but not as the result of any natural laws or any action taken by a creator. (It's all an incredible coincidence.)

The other four involve the denial of the first entity -- that a phenomenon has taken place. I'll leave their formation and exploration as an exercise for the reader.

How do we know what we know?

We know phenomena happen because of their effects on the universe around us.

We don't really know laws exist, but we surmise them from the regularities we observe around us.

How do we know there's an entity who created either phenomena or the laws? WE have to take that on faith.

When are elections like sex?

(Hint: not just when your party gets screwed.)

Glenn Reynolds argues that elections serve the same purpose as sex.

Reproducing by fission is easier, cheaper, and conveys virtual immortality -- but a population that reproduces by fission is an army of clones, and a parasite that's well adapted to one population member is well adapted to them all. Sexual reproduction, by jumbling up genes every generation, forces parasites to try to adapt to a moving target, giving the host organisms an advantage that justifies all the metabolic energy they put into this more troublesome form of passing on one's genes.
My thought has been that elections play the same role for the body politic that sex plays for the body physical: Every so often, the voters throw the rascals out, and vote in a new set of rascals, meaning that the special interest groups, lobbying outfits, etc., that parasitize the body politic have to adapt to a shifting target. As scientist Thomas Ray has said, one rule of nature is that every successful system accumulates parasites. The American political system has been successful for a long time.

So is the answer the installation of more mechanisms to increase turnover? Should we limit congresscritters, for example, to a single term?

Maybe not.

In order to succeed, most sexually reproducing organisms have to do things besides reproduce. At the very least, a certain amount of time is required to grow to sexual maturity, and then competition for mates demands the expenditure of resources. An organism that hasn't acquired those resources is hosed.

Likewise, politicians, and political parties, are expected to do things besides win elections. The ability to do these things improves with practice and experience. You could do away with political parasites by limiting all politicians to single one-week terms, but any politicians you elect will be completely inept at their jobs.

Sex hasn't eliminated parasites, but it keeps the numbers down. Elections haven't eliminated political parasites, but it keeps the numbers down. In both cases, we have a balancing act between the desire to keep parasites from gaining too much experience, and the desire to allow the body (or body politic) to gain enough experience to function.

Heads up...

MENLO PARK, Calif. -- Denise Johnson-Kula washes her fruit in bottled spring water. She no longer turns on her faucets or showers in her Menlo Park apartment because she said her water makes her sick.
"Within minutes of being in the shower and breathing the steam, my sinuses were running and I had choking symptoms," said Johnson-Kula. "I also had red, horribly burning skin. The wheezing got so bad I could hardly breathe. I actually thought I was going to die."
Dr. Robert Bocian determined she suffered from chloramine mediated respiratory toxicity.

And what's more, there's an activist group!

One thing that's interesting is that on one side of the question, we have people who insist on removing THMs from their water in order to get the cancer risk down to zero. On the other side, the activist group says:

•THMs are possible but not proven cancer causing byproducts.

So the studies that show problems with THMs in water are questionable, but the studies showing problems with chloramine are gold. Okey-dokey.

By the way, the group cites, without linking, the SFPUC FAQ on chloramine. Here's a link to the top page.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dennis Prager on pre-emptive war

In this week's New York Times Book Review, a historian reviewing a major new work of 20th-century history, Oxford and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson's "The War of the World," notes that "Ferguson argues that the Western powers should have gone to war in 1938, which would most likely have avoided much of the horror of World War II. ..." Imagine that. The New York Times publishes a favorable book review of a book arguing that a pre-emptive war in 1938 would have saved tens of millions of lives aside from preventing the Holocaust, "without parallel ... the most wicked act in all history." You have to wonder if the Times' editors and all their allies on the left, who have spent the last four years mocking the very notion of pre-emptive war, read this review.
It is overwhelmingly likely that even if we had found WMD in Iraq, The New York Times, Michael Moore and nearly all college professors would have still opposed the invasion. After all, they would have argued, it was still a pre-emptive war and therefore wrong by definition; and besides, Saddam had nothing to do with 9-11. Of course, the critics look right because we hardly seem to be winning the war in Iraq. But even here the critics are too smug. We have not won the war in Iraq because of something completely unforeseeable: widespread massacres of Iraqi civilians by other Iraqis and Muslims. We have never seen mass murder of fellow citizens in order to remove an outside occupier. No Japanese blew up Japanese temples to rid Japan of the American occupier. No Germans mass murdered German schoolchildren and teachers to rid Germany of the American, British, French and Soviet occupiers. The level of cruelty and evil exhibited by those America is fighting in Iraq is new. Had Iraq followed any precedent in all the annals of resistance to occupation, America would likely have been victorious in Iraq. It may just be impossible, if one is morally bound not to kill large numbers of civilians, to fight those who target their own civilians and hide among them. But George W. Bush had no way to foresee such systematic cruelty.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Misconceptions about science

Astronomy
  1. Stars and constellations appear in the same place in the sky every night.
  2. The sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west every day.
  3. The sun is always directly south at 12:00 noon.
  4. The tip of a shadow always moves along an east-west line.
  5. We experience seasons because of the earth's changing distance from the sun (closer in the summer, farther in the winter).
  6. The earth is the center of the solar system. (The planets, sun and moon revolve around the earth.)
  7. ....

Bad science in textbooks

Clayton Cramer likes to post about how "evolutionists" get it wrong, or at best, support shaky science. The examples of bad science he tends to pull out, though, are examples from science textbooks.

Well, based on modern textbooks, we should throw out physics, astronomy, geography, and any number of other subjects.

In many classrooms, science textbooks add to children’s misconceptions. William Beaty, an engineer who designed an electricity exhibit for the Boston Museum of Science, discovered “a morass of misconceptions, mistakes, and misinformation” in grade school science textbooks. In fact, he couldn’t find a single book that explained basic electricity correctly. North Carolina State University physics professor John Hubisz found similar problems in a two-year study of middle-school science textbooks. All told, he compiled 500 pages of errors in 12 textbooks, including mix-ups between fission and fusion, incorrect definitions of absolute zero, and a map showing the equator running through the southern states. Reporting on the ways science textbooks are developed and sold to schools, Forbes writer David McClintick says many companies “churn out rubbish” with countless errors. One widely adopted text, for instance, claims the earth rotates around the sun, when it actually revolves around the sun and rotates on its axis.

If Cramer wants to call attention to the glaring errors in textbooks, more power to him. But if he thinks the errors about evolution that he finds in textbooks reflect on evolution, maybe he'd better reconsider.

If we pull out of Iraq...

Victor Davis Hanson offers his take on conditions in Iraq:
...Kurdistan that is still thriving. Its population, devoutly Muslim, apparently understands the advantages of Western commerce and tolerance in a manner not true of the Iraqi Shiia and Sunni communities, or the Afghans. Yet the West has poured more aid money into the latter than the former. The difference seems to be that in Kurdistan when someone picks up a Westernized cell phone, drives an imported car, or turns on a computer, they seek to use such appurtenances to bring greater security and commerce to their own. In contrast, in tribal Afghanistan and the Sunni Triangle the Islamists are entirely parasitical on the West: they want our material products, but only to use them for destructive purposes. And if they employ televisions and videos to further the spread of Islam, they never pause for a second of self-critical analysis.
While we argue over various mathematical formulas to determine how many have died in the Iraq war, note that the passive is the voice of choice—as in “50,000 have been killed”, or “100,000 have died.” Culpability is ignored. And so we have the following Orwellian situation: the aggregate number must include everybody who dies violently in Iraq: an “insurgent” in jeans who blows himself up in an IED mishap, a terrorist killed by a Marine, a child murdered in a school by Islamists, Shiites blown up by Sunnis and vice versa—all these are lumped together as collateral civilian deaths. .... Stung by the dishonesty of “body counts” in Vietnam, and worried that in postmodern warfare, Westerners are not only not supposed to die, but also should not kill, our own forces release no figures on how many enemy terrorists they have killed. The result is that the narrative of almost all the mayhem coming out of Iraq is bifurcated into either how many Americans were killed, or how many “Iraqis” perished—a sure method to convince the reader that the entire enterprise is a complete disaster in which we are mere sitting ducks, whose presence alone leads to Iraqis dropping dead like flies. Where does all this lead? Not where most expect. The Left thinks that the “fiasco” in Iraq will bring a repudiation of George Bush, and lead to its return to power. Perhaps. But more likely it will bring a return of realpolitik to American foreign policy, in which no action abroad is allowable (so much for the liberals’ project of saving Darfur), and our diplomacy is predicated only on stability abroad. The idealism of trying to birth consensual government will be discredited; but with its demise also ends any attention to Arab moderates, who whined for years about our support for the House of Saud, Pakistani generals, Gulf autocrats, or our neglect of the mayhem wrought by Islamists in Afghanistan. We know now that when the United States tries to spend blood and treasure in Afghanistan and Iraq that it will be slandered as na├»ve or imperialistic.

In other words, with its hand-wringing over Iraq and Afghanistan, the Left may be on the verge of ushering in Pat Buchannan's vision of foreign policy, in which we retreat behind the walls of Fortress America, and if the rest of the world decides to go to hell, we allow them the freedom to make that choice.

Aside from the moral difficulties in this position, is it even practical? Someone who sets off a nuke in one spot may well cause serious damage in other areas. If someone manages to cobble together a super-plague, you might need very high walls on your fortress to keep it out.

Not so optimistic

I think that American troops should stay to protect the oil fields in Iraq. They should also seal the Kurdish region. On the other hand, I'd be happy to see our soldiers walk out of Baghdad, not with their tails between their legs but with their middle fingers in the air. From my observation post, which admittedly is nowhere near Iraq and has me shrouded in media fog, it appears that the Iraqis have botched their liberation. We gave them an opportunity to experience freedom and democracy, and they responded by shooting one another and blowing people up.

Justice for Saddam

Josef Stalin died in power, and the old Communist mass murderer avoided punishment -- at least, punishment exacted in this mortal world. .... This past Sunday, former Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein received a death sentence for his role in the murder of 148 people in the Iraqi town of Dujail.
I know, The New York Times and John Kerry have told us Iraq is a disaster. Not true. There's a democratically elected government in the potentially most powerful (predominantly) Arab Muslim nation, a government trying to learn to govern and administer under the most trying conditions. It's a government that is learning by doing -- and learning often by failure. However, as long as the United States and coalition remain around to coach, train and respond to crises, Iraqi failures will be controlled failures.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Five basics in forecasting

Forecast models can become complex, but the principles for gathering and vetting data for good predictions should remain basic.

An article from The Scientist – these look like principles that can be applied in lots of places, including journalism.

Would you like to be as successful in your forecasting? Here are five steps necessary for making good predictions.

1. Anchor your assumptions.

Before entering the meeting room with their pharmaceutical suitor Schering-Plough, Schoeneck, who is now CEO of San Diego-based BrainCells, and his team searched for data that they could confidently put into their forecast model. On the treatment side, they decided the best sources would be physicians currently dealing with patients. So they hired a marketing firm to conduct a survey of 500 rheumatologists and gastroenterologists, who were asked: "If there was a drug that fit this profile, what would you do?" To help predict how much they could charge for their drug, the team commissioned a similar survey of payers and managed-care organizations.

Gathering information is the most important part of building a forecast, say experts, and the process should be scaled up as a company grows. Smaller companies may rely on their scientist advisory boards as well as relationships with thought leaders. Novozymes, a leading supplier of enzymes and microorganisms, uses sophisticated S&OP (sales and operations planning) software and protocols to link different units for data input as well as directly tap into its customers' data. These tools help in developing and tracking forecasts in order to avoid supply-chain errors.

2. Offer a clear link to sources of data.

Sources of data should be clear and made visible internally to every key member of your company. That way, everybody on the team can probe the assumptions. In negotiations, offer up this transparency. "Both sides should have a transparent forecast structure and [should] share; otherwise you have a ‘my dad is bigger than your dad' argument, and you need a meeting of the minds," says Martin Joseph, head of information management and forecasting for global operations at AstraZeneca in Chesire, UK. This may mean taking a potential partner through your assumptions and their sources as well as your forecast model, says Schoeneck. For Centocor, the marketing team did the forecast by modeling on an Excel spreadsheet.

"The forecast is only as good as your assumptions," says Schoeneck. "In this case, we did so much back-up work, it gave us confidence. You're going in with more confidence in your data; forecasting becomes a more powerful weapon."

3. Focus on the process.

While forecasting is often seen as a results-oriented document - ‘Here's the numbers, here's what we need to do based on them' - its true value may be in the way it is created. "The emphasis should be what you can learn from the process," says James Stutz, director of corporate development at InterMune in Brisbane, Calif. Here, transparency extends to how the different units contribute the underlying assumptions and then review the results. Joseph says this gives the assumptions "no place to hide." By offering a clear link between the numbers and assumptions, each member of the team contributing to a forecast - including functional team heads in marketing, clinical operations, and sales, as well as forecasters and c-level executives - can probe the assumptions.

While the complexity of assumptions will differ radically depending on the company's focus and how the forecast is being used (for example, long-term strategy, short-term inventory management, sales targets), experts say a similar process should be in place. The heart of the process is gaining consensus throughout the organization. Bring in different parts of the organization, have them contribute their assumptions, and then force them and yourself to drill down on all the assumptions, says Stutz. Otherwise, "garbage in, garbage out" will prevail. Some companies, such as Aspreva Pharmaceuticals in Victoria, BC, have a dedicated forecaster to lead this effort. Others, such as BrainCells, a startup with 17 employees and one compound slated to enter Phase II trials in a few months, rely on the CEO and other executives to do the work.

4. Use the right person to build the forecast.

The job of the person leading the consensus meetings for data review is to "keep everybody honest," says Daniel Kiely, senior manager of strategic forecasting and market analysis for Celgene in Summit, NJ. "For example, a sales team may want to lower target number to get sales compensation. Is there gaming going on some times? Yes, there is. But the job of forecaster is to develop a consensus-based forecast, with forecaster as mediator to make sure bias is not introduced." To do so, says Kiely and others, the forecaster certainly needs technical skills in statistical modeling. But more important, he or she needs to be expert at facilitating meetings and gaining consensus among various functional areas. At larger companies, different product teams compete for resources; they know a bigger number is better, says Joseph. It is his job and that of his staff to ferret out bias and remove it.

5. Don't stop.

It is obvious that when events change - a new publication, approval of a competitor's new drug, a change in the standard of care for a patient population, etc. - underlying assumptions driving a forecast will change, and the numbers will need to be updated. However, the process must not be events-driven, say forecasters. Rather, it needs to be ongoing; some experts suggest monthly meetings to review the forecast. "The numbers here, fine, but a forecast is way out," says Joseph. "It is important to communicate and have discussions around it. People hitch a ride on numbers, and assumptions change, but people cling to the number."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Torture

One of the people I keep tabs on at Live Journal has been on a tear about torture. From reading his journal, I've seen that he has very strong feelings about torture – indeed, he hates it. I've also seen that he seems to lose his ability to read for content when he gets worked up about a topic.

Another problem I've noticed is that he has a very simplistic (he calls it simple) definition of what constitutes torture:

Here is my definition. You will (because you have already) disagree.

It's very simple.

Any physical or mental coercion.

Full stop. Any.

So the cold room, out of bounds.

The standing up for hours, out of bounds.

Feeding him food against his religion, out of bounds

Slapping him around,just a little, out of bounds

Telling him his family will never know where he is, out of bounds.

Not feeding him as the troops of the detaining power, out of bounds.

It is just that simple.

And it has the advantage of being both morally right, and working.

There are serious problems with this definition, which I won't go in to right now.

But it seems he's made the following logical argument:

• Torture is not nice.

Therefore...

• Anything not nice is torture.

Jonah Goldberg has a different take. Among other things, context matters.

When confronted with the assertion that the Soviet Union and the United States were moral equivalents, William F. Buckley responded that if one man pushes an old lady into an oncoming bus and another man pushes an old lady out of the way of a bus, we should not denounce them both as men who push old ladies around.
[Andrew] Sullivan complains that calling torture “aggressive interrogation techniques” doesn’t make torture any better. Fair enough. But calling aggressive interrogation techniques “torture” when they’re not doesn’t make such techniques any worse.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Islamic tolerance

Is Islam compatible with democracy? Not the way the Islamo-fascists practice it. But does that make it so for all of Islam?

Judging history bereft of historical context often leads to error. Regrettably, Christian historians have portrayed Turkish history only from a modern perspective most of the time. Judging Christians of the Inquisition era out of historical context, one would conclude Christianity is incompatible with science. Yet, the Christian Reformation that gave us the scientific explosion we enjoy today.

The assertion that Islam is incompatible with democracy is similarly flawed. The Wahabbi version of Islam practiced by the Taliban in Afghanistan is incompatible with democracy, as Christianity of the Inquisition was incompatible with science. Islamists of Osama bin Laden's world yearn for the glory of Islam under Ottoman rule without knowing how it came about when it did and why it collapsed.

News with blinders

Skeptical news writers seem their lose their skepticism when certain topics arise. For example, they seem to have taken on faith statements that the Bush administration's response to Katrina was worse than, for example, the Clinton administration's response to similar disasters.

Let's look at Hurricane Floyd. It hit the coast on Sept. 16, 1999, and New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida were very hard hit. At the time it was the worst storm to hit the U.S. in a quarter century. Legend has it that Mr. Witt, under the guidance of Mr. Clinton, handled the storm and the floods that followed with great skill and success. I mean, did you hear any stories to the contrary during the Katrina coverage?

But as NewsMax.com reported on Sept. 7, 2005, there is plenty of evidence that the media could have presented to show that Katrina was not the first major hurricane that presented major response problems for FEMA.

Three weeks after Floyd had passed, Mr. Witt appeared as a guest on the now-defunct CNN show, "Both Sides Now" hosted by Jesse Jackson. Mr. Jackson said, "It seemed there was preparation for Hurricane Floyd, but then came Flood Floyd. Bridges are overwhelmed, levees are overwhelmed, whole towns under water... it's an awesome scene of tragedy. So there's a great misery index in North Carolina."

Now keep in mind that this is nearly a month after the storm. Thecelebrated FEMA chief said, "We're starting to move the camper trailers in. It's been so wet it's been difficult to get things in there, but now it's going to be moving very quickly."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Evolution reference

This illo is from Dr. Douglas Theobald's 29 Evidences for Evolution. At one end of the series is a chimpanzee skull, at the other end is modern H. sapiens. The challenge for creationists and ID/IOTs: find the dividing line between human "kind" and ape "kind".

Interestingly enough, creationists can't agree where the dividing line is.

(link)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Fascists?

Just for reference, from the Telegraph:
...I heard one television interviewer ask a Muslim spokesperson if he thought that Mr Bush's "name-calling" had any point.

Name-calling? This makes it sound as if he had said: "Al-Qa'eda are a bunch of big fat poops."

The word "fascism" means an extreme totalitarian system that suppresses human rights and democratic freedoms.

Islamic fundamentalism is fascistic in the precise, technical sense of the word.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Katrina response

(Hat tip: Jason Van Steenwyk)

(Here's a link to the committee's final report).

Some items from the PM article:

MYTH: "The aftermath of Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history."– Aaron Broussard, president, Jefferson Parish, La., Meet the Press, NBC, Sept. 4, 2005

REALITY: Bumbling by top disaster-management officials fueled a perception of general inaction, one that was compounded by impassioned news anchors. In fact, the response to Hurricane Katrina was by far the largest–and fastest-rescue effort in U.S. history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm's landfall.
MYTH: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event."– New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, press conference, Aug. 28, 2005

REALITY: Though many accounts portray Katrina as a storm of unprecedented magnitude, it was in fact a large, but otherwise typical, hurricane. On the 1-to-5 Saffir-Simpson scale, Katrina was a midlevel Category 3 hurricane at landfall. Its barometric pressure was 902 millibars (mb), the sixth lowest ever recorded, but higher than Wilma (882mb) and Rita (897mb), the storms that followed it. Katrina's peak sustained wind speed at landfall 55 miles south of New Orleans was 125 mph; winds in the city barely reached hurricane strength.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Neighborhood Bully

Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,
His enemies say he's on their land.
They got him outnumbered about a million to one,
He got no place to escape to, no place to run.
He's the neighborhood bully.


The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
He's criticized and condemned for being alive.
He's not supposed to fight back, he's supposed to have thick skin,
He's supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He's the neighborhood bully.


The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,
He's wandered the earth an exiled man.
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,
He's always on trial for just being born.
He's the neighborhood bully.


Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.
The bombs were meant for him.
He was supposed to feel bad.
He's the neighborhood bully.


Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
That he'll live by the rules that the world makes for him,
'Cause there's a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac.
He's the neighborhood bully.


He got no allies to really speak of.
What he gets he must pay for, he don't get it out of love.
He buys obsolete weapons and he won't be denied
But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.
He's the neighborhood bully.


Well, he's surrounded by pacifists who all want peace,
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease.
Now, they wouldn't hurt a fly.
To hurt one they would weep.
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.
He's the neighborhood bully.


Every empire that's enslaved him is gone,
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.
He's made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,
In bed with nobody, under no one's command.
He's the neighborhood bully.


Now his holiest books have been trampled upon,
No contract he signed was worth what it was written on.
He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth,
Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health.
He's the neighborhood bully.


What's anybody indebted to him for?
Nothin', they say.
He just likes to cause war.
Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed,
They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed.
He's the neighborhood bully.


What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers?
Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill,
Running out the clock, time standing still,
Neighborhood bully.

Monday, July 17, 2006

As long as I'm writing books...

...Here's one in progress!

Some time ago, I decided to put together a commentary on the Wiccan Rede. Not only would I discuss the well-known, "An it harm none, do what ye will", but also the 26-couplet poem handed down by Adriana Porter to her grand daughter. I'm going to be posting some of my thoughts about the Rede here, and I'll start by posting the verse itself.

The Rede of the Wiccae



Bide the Wiccan laws ye must
In perfect love and perfect trust

Live ye shall, and let to live,
Fairly Take and Fairly Give.

Cast the circle thrice about,
To keep unwelcome spirits out.

To bind the spell every time,
Let the spell be spake in rhyme.

Soft of eye and light of touch,
Speak thou little, listen much.

Deasil go by the waxing moon,
Singing out the Witches' Rune.

Widdershins go by the waning moon,
Chanting out the Baneful tune.

When the Lady's moon is new,
kiss the hand to her times two.

When the Moon rides at Her peak,
Then your Heart's Desire seek.

Heed the north wind's mighty gale,
Lock the door and trim the sail.

When the wind comes from the South,
Love will kiss you on the mouth.

When the wind blows from the West,
departed souls may have no rest.

When the wind blows from the East,
Expect the new and set the feast.

Nine woods in the cauldron go,
Burn them fast and burn them slow.

Elder be the Lady's Tree,
Burn it not or cursed ye'll be!

When the Wheel begins to turn,
Soon the Beltaine fire'll burn.

When the Wheel hath turned a Yule,
Light a log the Horned God rules.

Heed ye flower, bush and tree,
And by the Lady blessed be.

Where the rippling waters go,
Cast a stone and truth you'll know.

When ye have an honest need,
Hearken not to others' greed.

With a fool no season spend,
nor be counted as his friend

Merry meet and merry part,
bright the cheeks and warm the heart

Mind the threefold law ye should,
three times bad and three times good

When misfortune is enow,
wear the star upon thy brow

True in love ye must ever be,
lest thy love be false to thee

Eight words the Wicca Rede fulfill,
An ye harm none, do what ye will.

There are variations that crop up here and there, and people have added extra verses. The folk process will not be denied. But the original can be found if you're stubborn enough. I've used one of the variant forms here, and will, at some point, comment on the change and why I used it.

A sense of "proportion"

The latest talking point about Israel's part in the current war is that it's "disproportionate". The problem here is, when we start talking about "proportionality", we have to keep in mind that "proportionality" is not to be examined in a vacuum. It necessarily exists "in proportion to" something.

In terms of the jus ad bellum, or justification for going to war, proportionality means having a reasonable relationship between the goals and objectives to be achieved and the bellicose means being used to achieve them. A country may not go to war to avenge an insult, for example: in simple terms, jus ad bellum reflects the wisdom behind "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words..." To create a just cause for warlike self-defense a serious infraction must occur. Even the obscurantist Saudi regime has characterized Hezbollah's invasion as an "uncalculated adventure;" no respectable legal opinion can fail to see it as a casus belli. Israel's recourse to force is a response to this unjustified act of violence, and its aim of inflicting maximum damage to those who invade its territory and bomb its citizens creates an obvious link between means and objectives. So much for jus ad bellum.

With respect to the jus in bello, or justice in war, proportionality means that the amount and type of force used must be such that unjust consequences do not exceed the legitimate objectives. Compliance with this principle requires an affirmative answer to the question: "If I take this military action, will more good than harm result from it?" To this equation, one must not forget – as the critics tend to – the many lives that will be protected by acting vigorously and decisively against the aggressor. Our response to Taliban-launched mayhem in America, massive military responses against an unrelenting and fanatical aggressor in Afghanistan, was proportionate. So is Israel's. The Jewish state's counterattack, focused on targets such as Hezbollah TV and radio studios, and the infrastructure (airports, bridges, highways) used by Hezbollah to wage war, has been absolutely classical.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Extra Credit" reading on gerrymandering

At least that's what I'm being called at Radio Open Source.

In fact, this post simply points back to Orson Scott Card. (Always worth a replay.)

I've written a book!

Buy the book!

The Official Manual for Spice Cadets is now up for sale.

Written for the 64th World Science Fiction Convention, this is a collection of great recipes from the author and from a multitude of his friends and acquaintances. This book also captures the zany spirit of science fiction fandom and is a fun read, even if you never use any of the recipies it contains.

If you can't make it to the Worldcon, you can buy a piece of it today.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Environmentalist follies

One of the problems with the environmental movement is that well-intended environmental programs can wind up doing more harm to the environment than good.

In places, I've noted that recycling programs can wind up using more resources than are recycled, causing a net loss in resources. Now, here's an example where a "green" fuel winds up putting more stress on the environment than our regular old "brown" fuel.

It turns out that, despite all the claims that ethanol is good for the environment, ethanol may be a net polluter in many ways. Ethanol does reduce carbon monoxide emissions because it is an "oxygenate," which means it adds oxygen to the fuel, converting the CO into CO2, carbon dioxide. (Seeing how CO is not greenhouse gas, our ethanol policies result in making more CO2; what would Al Gore say?) But on the question of hydrocarbons, ethanol appears to make things worse.
The ethanol subsidies may harm the ground as well as the air. Subsidizing ethanol in myriad ways creates incentives for farmers to plant far more corn than can be consumed by humans and cattle. This encourages farmers to rely solely on one crop   corn, because the government is propping up its demand and supporting its price.

Farmers have long known that rotating crops   planting something different in a given field from year to year   is crucial to maintaining the health of soils. Planting corn year after year exacerbates erosion and depletes soil nutrients. David Pimentel, the Cornell scientist, maintains that corn is particularly destructive to soil health when it is planted exclusively.
While some scientists find that making ethanol uses more energy than it yields, scientist Marcelo Dias de Oliveira, disagrees. But looking at the full "ecological footprint," taking into account cropland used, water consumed, and other secondary factors to the ethanol process, Oliveira found that ethanol is a net drag on the planet. "The use of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline proved to be neither a sustainable nor an environmentally friendly option," he wrote "considering ecological footprint values, and both net energy and CO2 offset considerations seemed relatively unimportant compared to the ecological footprint."

But it's green energy, so it's immoral to use anything else.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Allies of the Palestinians

This post on David Frum's Diary at NRO is aimed at the Palestinians. It's not very optimistic about the results of pursuing war against Israel.

Dear Palestinian Arab brethren:

The war with Israel is over.

You have lost. Surrender and negotiate to secure a future for your children.
<snip>
Only Syria continues to feed your fantasies that someday it will join you in liberating Palestine, even though a huge chunk of its territory, the entire Golan Heights, was taken by Israel in 1967 and annexed. The Syrians, my friends, will gladly fight down to the last Palestinian Arab.

And an interesting point about what newspapers will find fit to print:

Tom Gross points out the curious fact that although Ibrahim worked for 24 years as a correspondent for the New York Times (he has since graduated to better things as managing director of a Dubai-based investment company and a fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York), the paper declined to publish his open letter. It appeared instead in the New York Sun.

There follow comments from the blog, Iraq the Model, and a final note about the war on terror:

These notes may or may not be representative. But they do underscore a point that the Iraq the Model website argues - and that we must keep in mind as we absorb the past week's brutal violence in Iraq: Iraq is the key to the Middle East - and Baghdad is the key to Iraq. The battles being waged there are battles for the future peace and safety of the world.