Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A liberal's tirades over Alito

Terry Karney has been ranting over the complete unsuitability of Judge Alito to be a Justice. Or, indeed, to be a Judge.

A list of his posts:

Alito, and searches
Wherein he looks at Doe v. Groody, and links to the decision itself. His take on it is that Alito was willing to let police officers use an unincorporated affidavid to expand a search warrant, thereby making a mockery of the warrant process. To him, there are two places in the decision where "I think his reading of the law is either flawed, or dangerous."
Something I forgot yesterday
Wherein the Republicans are hypocrites for wanting an up-or-down vote on Alito.
More on the ideas of Alito
Wherein he looks at Alito's decision to overturn a lower court's ban on a nativity scene. Problem: "The [lower court's] condemnation was, however, so clear (and unanimous) that surely Judge Alito could have chosen to honor it, or pressed for en banc consideration of the case, rather than just pushing it aside and replacing it with his own vision of the right outcome under the Establishment Clause."
Therefore what? Therefore: "It isn't about choice. Not only do we lose on that one (because the Right is loud, and the base wants Roe overturned..."
A quick reference
Wherein he links to Law Students against Alito.
Alito, and trust
Wherein he paraphrases Alito's response to questions about what he said when he was hoping to be hired by the Reagan administration. His translation: "I didn't really mean it, I was just trying to get the job". In other words, he lied to get the job.
He further says, "His record is one of putting the corporation over the individual, the police over the magistrate, the gov't ahead of the citizen." and "To be honest, I'd rather see nine Thomases on the court, than one Alito."
More on Alito
Some more on the NSA
Alito, again
Just being one of those days (lots of posting)
Those sonsabitches
Some homework, to cheer you up.
Wherein he offers his analysis of how the addition of any Justice might affect a court. He offers a prediction that "it may be safe to say that he could have trouble getting his opinions handed down."

(Later, I'm planning to add quick capsule descriptions of each post [halfway there now!], and some general commentary to wrap up, but I'll put this up right now. You can tell he's spent a lot of energy on his tirades.)

Why pick on this fellow? To be sure, he's not a major pundit, but he has a following, I've had friends cite his writings as somehow authoritative. He has a fairly large number of readers of his Live Journal. Based on numbers of comments to his posts, quite a few more than I have.

And frankly, his way of thinking seems to be a very good representative sample of that of the Lunatic Left. Therefore, I present it for your consideration.

NSA – National Spying Argument

Nat Hentoff, one of the Washington Times' pet liberals, has his thoughts about the NSA telephone monitoring argument.

In brief, he has concerns about concentrating too much power in the hands of the executive branch, and breaching the Constitutional protections against excessive executive power.

In the Federalist No. 47, Madison said plainly: "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
...Justice Roberts and Judge Alito have shown excessive deference to executive government powers.

There's a question-begging term for you. "Excessive deference". Hentoff does not show that Alito or Roberts are giving "excessive deference" to executive power, he asserts it, and then takes it as given with no further need for demonstration.

As it happens, there are many knowledgeable lawyers and law professors who don't consider these Justices (Alito was sworn in a handfull of hours ago) to give "excessive deference". That such a divergence of opinion exists should warn Nat Hentoff, and others, that they aren't allowed to assume "excessive deference" as a premise and base their argument on it.

Who's on the phone?

As a matter of fact, yes he is!

Former Doctor Who actor Tom Baker is to be the voice of a talking text message service for three months.

He replaces BT's computerised voice which currently translates texts into voice messages on a landline.

Baker, 72, who also narrates sketch show Little Britain, was chosen for his instantly recognisable voice.

So this would be BT's first regeneration?

(For what it's worth, I'm running the hospitality suite at Gallifrey One, a Doctor Who convention.)

Hot Air at the BBC

According to the Beeb, sea levels will rise 7 meters or 23 feet, over the next 1000 years. Maybe my parents should get a head start on things and start calling their property "beachfront" property. Actually, they're at an elevation of about 250 feet. They overlook a piece of the river which is six feet above sea level.

Currently, the atmosphere contains about 380 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas of concern, compared to levels before the industrial revolution of about 275ppm.

To have a good chance of achieving the EU's two-degree target, levels should be stabilised at 450ppm or below, the report concludes.

Some problems, of course, include:

  • We don't know all the mechanisms for generating or removing carbon dioxide.
  • We don't even know the most significant mechanisms.
  • We don't know these mechanisms for other greenhouse gases. (Surprise! Plants give off more methane than we expected!)
  • Our computer models still can't accurately model the changes in seasons, or "retrodict" – give the right answers when run backward into the past. Do we really trust them with the future?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Steyn on Stein

Mark Steyn has some thoughts about Joel Stein's "I don't support the troops" piece.

...a couple of weeks later, driving past a house in Hanover, N.H., I saw an even sillier qualification: "Support Our Troops. Bring Them Home Now" -- so they can sit around the barracks feeling like losers until they're needed for some hurricane-relief operation.
Joel Stein (no relation) of the Los Angeles Times took a lot of heat last week for coming right out with it and saying that he didn't support the troops and that it was a humbug phrase that he and his anti-war comrades shouldn't have to use as cover for their position. Good for him. He's right. It's empty and pusillanimous, the Iraq war's version of "But some of my best friends are Jewish . . ." If you're opposed to the mission, if you don't want to see it through, if you're supporting a position whose success would only demoralize those serving in Iraq and negate their sacrifice, in what sense do you "support the troops"? Stein ought to be congratulated for acknowledging that he doesn't. We armchair warmongers are routinely derided as "chickenhawks," but Stein is a hawkish chicken, disdaining the weasel formulation too many anti-war folks take refuge in.
Hamas...takes a Joel Stein view: Why the hell should we have to go tippy-toeing around some sissy phrase we don't really mean? Hamas doesn't support a two-state solution, it supports the liquidation of one state and its replacement by other, and they don't see why they should have to pretend otherwise. And in last week's elections for the Palestinian Authority they romped home. It was a landslide.
So what happens now? Either Hamas forms a government and decides that operating highway departments and sewer systems is what it really wants to do with itself. Or, like Arafat, it figures that it has no interest in government except as a useful front for terrorist operations. If it's the former, all well and good: Many first-rate terror organizations have managed to convert themselves to third-rate national-liberation governments. But, if it's the latter, that too is useful: Hamas is the honest expression of the will of the Palestinian electorate, and the cold hard truth of that is something Europeans and Americans will find hard to avoid.

As with Joel Stein, you're always better off knowing what people honestly think. For decades, the Middle East's dictators justified themselves to Washington as a restraint on the baser urges of their citizens, but in the end they only incubated worse pathologies. Western subsidy of Arafatistan is merely the latest example. Democracy in the Middle East is not always pretty, but it's better than the West's sillier illusions.

Friday, January 27, 2006

NSA wiretapping program

Brendan Minter, of Opinion Journal, doesn't think Bush is abusing power in the NSA wiretap program.

There is another check on executive power, however, that is being overlooked in this debate: personal accountability. If a long pattern of far-reaching abuse emerged in the wiretapping program authorized by this president, George W. Bush would be on the hook for it.
There is, of course, also a legal and constitutional argument to be made in favor of the wiretaps. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a former top Justice Department official who has also served as a federal judge and a prosecutor, dropped by The Wall Street Journal's offices recently and made a compelling legal and constitutional case for the wiretap program in four succinct points:

• The very language of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution invites using a "reasonable" standard in deciding when to conduct searches.

• During the Cold War it was widely accepted that the federal government had the power to use radar to spot incoming Soviet bombers and missiles. Wiretaps are today's equivalent of the Cold War's radar because instead of Soviet missiles, we're confronting terrorists who would bring themselves and possibly small bombs in suitcases into the country.

• The FISA court itself has found that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does not curtail the president's constitutional ability to conduct warrantless searches.

• The government is not listening to phone conversations that take place entirely within the United States. Each one of the calls monitored involves someone either calling from or calling to a foreign number (in addition to involving at least one suspected al Qaeda operative). It's long been accepted that the federal government has a wide latitude to conduct searches at the nation's borders, which is why passenger luggage, container ships and other things can be searched as they cross into the country without first getting a warrant.

Stuck in 1968?

Arnold Kling declares the reason he no longer considers himself allied with the "liberals" is that his calendar isn't stuck on 1968.

Hamas and Palestine

Dennis Prager has stated he's not that upset about Hamas winning the elections in the Palestinian territory. It may not be what he'd prefer, but at least it's now clear where the country stands.

Max Borders makes similar points:

With clarity comes responsibility

In fact, it will now be easier politically for Israel to do what it must to protect itself. Now that Hamas is “legitimate,” Israel can simply defend itself against Palestine instead of a murky Palestinian faction – and such would be justified even under international law. Israel is no longer dealing with a terror group hiding behind an enfeebled Fatah.

They’re dealing with a government that has been elected upon an existing right of self-determination – even if it determines itself to be a terror state. And real states (elected by a real majority) may legitimately get their clocks cleaned if they commit acts of war against other states. This may be the clarity the region needed. In the short term, it may mean all out war. In the long term, it may bring some finality to things in a place that has seen only a series of wars and intifadas anyway.

But isn't democracy supposed to be a good thing? Not necessarily.

Democracy: Four wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.

What a nation decides to do is far more important than how the decision was made.

At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, Hitler was democratically elected.

On a related point, this might be a good opportunity to revise our manner of speaking about the spread of democracy. In short, we must take greater pains to emphasize “the rule of law” and “democracy” simultaneously.

And while we're at it, "the rule of law" works better if it's the rule of good law.

In a September, 2004 blog entry, I mentioned, among other criteria for "success" in Iraq,

Non-violent social field
(This will take years, possibly a generation or two.) The society must adopt a – zeitgeist, if you will – which considers violence to be something completely separate from other methods of settling disputes. When violence is initiated, the initiator has crossed a line into an area that is not part of the social norm. In this way, the mental and emotional barriers to violence are strengthened.

(That entry is the fourth of a series, addressing questions about the Iraq war. It, as well as parts two, and three, are well worth revisiting.) (IMAO, YMMV)

If Palestine democratically chooses to become a wolf, with Israel as the putative lamb, it will have failed. If it can somehow transform its social field into a peaceful, liberal (in the original sense) one, it will have succeeded.

Health care questions

There are those who like to paint the Health Care Establishment as uncaring, if not outright evil.

Insurers, for example, will often refuse to pay $150 for a diabetic to see a podiatrist, who can help prevent foot ailments associated with the disease. Nearly all of them, though, cover amputations, which typically cost more than $30,000.

Ian Urbina, The New York Times, January 11, 2006

Somehow, health insurers are supposed to prefer paying $30,000 for one procedure over paying $150 to prevent it. If you or I were told, "you have a choice: you can pay $150, or you can pay $30,000. Which do you prefer?" it'd be a no-brainer.

Urbina focuses on the Beth Israel diabetes treatment center that closed because of lack of funding. The treatment philosophy of the center comes across as sound. Urbina tells some inspiring anecdotes. However, he offers no data on the overall performance of the treatment center. Did it achieve success with fifty percent of its patients? Ten percent? One percent?

I would trust liberals a lot more if they would ask questions about effectiveness. Instead, Urbina, like many people who trade in folk Marxist narratives, focuses on establishing the superior motives of the Beth Israel diabetes treatment center and the misguided motives of health insurance companies and others.

Kling discusses some reasons why Beth Israel may have closed. I suspect Urbina would love to see regulations passed forcing insurers to keep the center open, even if its success rate is only one percent.

(By comparison, if only 1% of the $150 podiatric visits prevent an amputation, you're spending $15,000 to prevent a loss of $30,000. It still looks attractive, as long as the amputation is not too far in the future. If that amputation is, say, 20 years in the future, the future value of the $15,000 may be more than $30,000. In fact, if the interest rate is higher than about 3.5%, it will be.)

Kling mentions one factor in the management of diabetes:

Poverty is one obvious factor in the low skill level of some diabetics. One would hope that Medicaid would work to alleviate this. However, Urbina's article points out that the Beth Israel Center lost money on Medicaid patients because of Medicaid reimbursement rules. To me, this suggests either that the government was not convinced of the value of Beth Israel's treatment system or that single-payer health insurance is not the panacea for disease management that liberals take it to be.

Or maybe both.

A teenage fashion fad?

And I hadn't known this had become a fashion trend.

Thais tighten brace controls

HEALTH authorities are clamping down on the Thai teen fashion fad of wearing fake orthodontic braces by targeting those who sell and make the pseudo-dental gear with steep fines and prison time, officials said today.

What do they do about body piercings?


Update:

From the AP

Girls flashing multicolored metallic grins are regularly featured in teen magazines as braces have become more common in Thailand, transforming the dental gear into a fashion statement.
Rasamee Vistaveth, secretary-general of the Consumer Protection Board, said the agency was planning to sign an order Thursday punishing sellers of fake braces with six months in prison or a $1,300 fine.

Importers and producers could face up to one year behind bars and a $2,600 fine.

I still don't see the harm in it.

Intelligent Design

There is one field where Intelligent Design actually is being considered as an approach to life. It's the field of synthetic biology, where intelligent beings are attempting to design new life forms, or new functions in existing life forms.

A different sort of designer is working in the nascent filed of synthetic biology. These scientists generate novel biological functions through the design and construction of living systems.

So what methods do these designers use?

Synthetic biologists use evolution as a method. That seems pretty intelligent.

The final paragraph in this op-ed is worth reading:

The real worry, though, is about the future of science. Children educated in a system in which untestable statements of faith are treated as privileged hypotheses are hardly prepared to face a world in which evolution is a fact of life. The next generation of scientists will face the rapid evolution of viruses and the implications of decreasing diversity in animals. We cannot afford to raise a generation of doctors who believe that drug-resistant bacteria are a punishment from God rather than an evolutionary process induced by the misuse of antibiotics. Whomever or whatever created the universe, let's hope they wanted us to be intelligent, too.

Minimal genomes

All the information needed to make a cell is in a handful of genes for protein synthesis, some for DNA and RNA metabolism, a few for making the envelope, and a smattering of others.

The burning question is, which specific genes are essential for making a working cell? A number of techniques are used to arrive at estimates.

Knowledge of what constitutes a minimal genome could allow researchers to build new life forms from scratch. It could also help combat drug resistant bacteria, by allowing the development of antibiotics that target genes the bacteria just can't do without.

Interestingly enough, there seem to be a number of different "minimal gene sets" around.

About 80% of the approximately 250 genes found essential for B. subtilis are present in all bacteria that have a genome of "a decent size, about 2.5 to 3 megabases or above,"...

— Dusko Ehrlich of the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in France

In contrast, Salama's group has found surprisingly little overlap, only 11%, among the essential genomes of Helicobacter pylori and the other bacteria they examined, with 55% of the genes shared by only some species.

— Nina Salama of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

So what do these differences mean?

"I think that reflects all these subtly different niches for which these different bacteria are adapted," [Salama] says.

So we may be seeing the descendants of different ancestral bacteria, each with its own set of essential genes.

Part of the problem involves defining just what "essential" means.

Ehrlich points out that essential genes really need to be defined by the conditions under which they were tested: "We used rich medium for our test. If we used different medium, many more genes would be required, because [the bacteria may] have to synthesize all the amino acids and vitamins."

and

Assays such as Rubin's screen for optimal growth in randomly mutagenized cultures. Thus, a mutation conveying drastically slower growth would probably be scored as lethal (because the bacteria harboring it would be out-competed), and the gene would be seen as essential.

So a gene that's essential in one environment becomes non-essential in an environment where essential nutrients are abundant. (For example, the ancestors of primates survived the loss of the ability to synthesize vitamin C.) And a mutation that conveys drastically slower growth is only "essential" for a bacteriium that has to compete with other fast-growing strains.

One of the challenges of abiogenesis (origin of life) research involves determining just what chemicals would have been available to the very first living things, and what roles they could play that are now being played by synthesized molecules today.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

National Gorilla Suit Day

I hear January 31 is National Gorilla Suit Day.

If the courts are clogged next Tuesday, it'll be because people are suing gorillas.


Update:

A quick Google search turns up the fact that National Gorilla Suit Day was invented by Don Martin, of MAD Magazine fame.

link link link

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Corruption – a warning light

People in government are no more corruptible than they were in the past. It's just that there's more to gain by being corrupt.

Before the Civil War most Americans' only contact with the federal government was through the Post Office. Now contact occurs ubiquitously. The scandals that tarnished Ulysses S. Grant's presidency over 130 years ago were a sign of things to come. As more money flowed through Washington and as Washington's power to regulate our lives grew, opportunities and temptations for graft, influence peddling and cutting corners grew exponentially. Power breeds corruption.
There are effective steps, however, that could be taken to lessen the likelihood of future Abramoff-like scandals. But you won't hear much advocacy for them.

Our tax code--all 9 million words of it--is the biggest source of lobbying and corruption in Washington. The thing has been amended 14,000 times since 1986. Tax bills have become feeding frenzies for special interests, as well as a way for pols to try to buy votes through manufacturing ever more tax credits. The flat tax would eliminate all of this.

Similar frenzies are now regular occurrences with various appropriations bills. Two decades ago Ronald Reagan vetoed a highway bill that had some 150 earmarks, that is, special appropriations to specific projects that would be exempt from the normal enactment process and regulatory scrutiny. Reagan thought so many corruption-inviting earmarks were an abomination. Yet a Republican President and a Republican Congress passed a highway bill last summer with more than 6,000 earmarks.

Deregulation also reduces the influence of and need for lobbyists. But the White House has dragged its heels in deregulating our whole communications industry. Television, radio, cable, satellite and telephone companies still wage tong wars against one another for special regulatory advantages, even though the Internet has obliterated the traditional boundaries between these segments. These wars generate a gusher in contributions and lobbying fees.

Another breeder of the Washington-is-the-world-and-we-are-indispensable mentality is longevity. But don't look to Congress to enact term limits on itself anytime soon.

Another necessary reform is cleaning up the way we draw district boundaries. In no other democracy is the process of districting so politicized as it is here. Most federal and state legislators no longer face any real competition in general elections. Rare is the federal election cycle in which fewer than 95% of the incumbents in the House of Representatives running for reelection fail to get reelected. Competition not only is good for business but also is a necessity in politics.

The sins of our forefathers

Many of the illnesses we suffer today are down to our ancestors not having enough choice in the mating game, UK researchers believe.

Inbreeding over the millennia has left us with "sloppy" control over our genes, making us vulnerable to disease.

This is basically a larger-scale of the "founder effect". Genetic defects that were prevelant in a small founding population have been inherited by all its descendents.

The researchers believe that most of the damaging mutations occurred when there was only a small population of early hominids - the two-legged primates who later evolved into humans and chimpanzees.

At the time, there may have been as few as 10,000 hominids to breed with one another.

Energy prices – one year ago today

A windfall tax on company profits would cause long-term damage to UK energy supplies, BP and Shell have said. The idea of a windfall tax was raised during the first hearing of an enquiry into energy prices on Tuesday. Prices have risen over the last year and consumer group Energywatch estimates an extra 800,000 consumers are facing hardship as a result.

Any time a price goes up, people start accusing producers of "gouging" and muttering about taxing "excess profits". Somehow, no one ever thinks of producers as "charitable" or "humanitarian" when prices go down, nor does anyone think of offering a subsidy to reward them for their generosity.

Terri Schiavo – one year ago today

The US Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Florida Governor Jeb Bush to keep a badly brain-damaged woman alive.

What a difference a year makes.

A copy of what?

Amazon is giving people a chance to rent a copy of the net for themselves.

A copy of what?

Via its subsidiary Alexa, the e-commerce firm is letting people get at a regularly updated copy of much of the information found on the web. Via the Alexa service, anyone with a basic knowledge of programming will be able to search 4.5 billion web pages from more than 16 million websites for whatever they want.

Oh. And why?

The image search allows people to query all the metadata that digital cameras attach to snapshots which record when a picture was taken, which model and make of camera was used and the image's size. The Musipedia service lets people search for song melodies and lets them whistle a query and submit it to the database.

Oh. That sounds cool, I guess.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

political typology

The Pew Research Center looks at the population, classifying them in nine political categories.

Ribstein on Alito

Larry E. Ribstein, Corman Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law, has another take on (soon to be) Justice Alito.

The past decisions of Alito, should he win confirmation, suggest how he might approach the pending cases. This analysis undercuts the simplistic description of Alito during the nomination hearings that he won’t give the "little guy a fair shake."
...while politicians try to fit a Justice Alito into sound bites, this ignores the complexity of issues Alito will face in day-to-day cases, and his attention to these competing concerns throughout his judicial career.

Prof. Ribstein is the author of http://www.ideoblog.org/.

Dershowitz on Alito

To what extent does a justice's rulings depend on the law, and to what extent on personal beliefs? Alan Dershowitz believes he knows.

Almost all justices vote almost all of the time in accordance with their own personal, political and religious views. That is the reality, especially on the Supreme Court, where precedent is not as binding, and where cases are determined less by specific facts than by broad principles.
The broad outline is obvious for all to see. Justice Alito will generally favor big government, big corporations, big religions and big majorities over ordinary citizens, consumers, minorities, religious dissidents, immigrants, persons suspected of crime and disenfranchised voters. He will have a narrow view of civil rights, women's rights, disability rights and immigrants' rights, and he will have a broad view of presidential power and states' rights (except in cases like Bush v. Gore). His membership in the Princeton alumni group that opposed the admission of women and affirmative action for minorities suggests that he will be unsympathetic to affirmative action.

Supporting the troops

I'm sure you've heard any number of people who say, "I support our troops, but I don't support the Iraq war," or words to that effect.

Well, Joel Stein does not support our troops.

...I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken — and they're wussy by definition.
...blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.
But when you volunteer for the U.S. military, you pretty much know you're not going to be fending off invasions from Mexico and Canada. So you're willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism, for better or worse. Sometimes you get lucky and get to fight ethnic genocide in Kosovo, but other times it's Vietnam.

If you're not going to support what the troops do, how can you say you're supporting the troops?

Are hybrid cars an answer?

I'm sure they are – to some questions. However, they may not be the answer to increasing fuel economy.

Hybrids, which typically claim to get 32 to 60 miles per gallon, ended up delivering an average of 19 miles per gallon less than their EPA ratings under real-world driving conditions (which reflect more stop-and-go traffic and Americans' penchant for heavy accelerating) according to a Consumer Reports investigation in October 2005.
HYBRIDS ARE ALSO failing to pay for themselves in gas savings. A study by the car-buying website Edmunds.com calculates gasoline would have to cost $5.60 a gallon over five years for a Ford Escape hybrid to break even with the costs of driving a non-hybrid vehicle. The break-even number was $9.60 a gallon for a Honda Civic hybrid.

If people aren't buying fuel economy, what are they buying?

Then there's the ultimate defense: They are just like conventional cars because drivers buy them for many reasons other than fuel savings and cost. There's the "prestige of owning such a vehicle," says Dave Hermance, an executive engineer for environmental engineering at Toyota, the leading seller of hybrids. After all, many vehicle purchases are emotional decisions, he says.

Prewar Iraqi documents

It seems that Congressmen are having trouble getting copies of unclassified pre-war Iraqi documents from our intelligence agencies. And only a small fraction of the captured documents have really been looked at.

To date, some 50,000 of the 2 million "exploitable items" in the possession of the U.S. government have been examined by U.S. intelligence analysts, many of them only for their relevance to the search for weapons of mass destruction. (The numbers are the best guesses of several officials who have worked on the document exploitation project.) There remain, then, approximately 1,950,000 items whose contents are unknown to anyone in the U.S. government.

Some governmental officials don't see any urgency in examining these documents. After all, they're from a dead regime. However, a large number of these documents are known to contain, in general terms:

Among the vast intelligence take are boxes and boxes of files captured from the Baghdad headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. According to U.S. officials familiar with them, the Iraqi Intelligence documents include detailed personnel files of Iraqi intelligence officers and operatives. While some of these files have been exploited, many of them have not. It is a safe bet that today some of these Iraqis are coordinating the insurgency. Our failure to exploit the materials we have almost suggests we do not want to know all we can about the "terrorists and insurgents who oppose the birth of a new democracy."

But if the intelligence agencies aren't that concerned about the contents of those documents, then maybe we should put them up on the Internet, and let interested historians have access to them.

They might find something.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Windfall profits?

(A blast from the past)

Remember the hue and cry a month ago, about the oil companies "gouging"?

[I]n our nation's capital, the town of a thousand-and-one second chances, Congress designed something dubbed the Windfall Profit Tax (WPT) in 1980. Less than a decade later - mere days on the bureaucratic time-clock - the tax was lifted after being judged by almost everyone to be a colossal failure.
Consider the recent Congressional hearings over the run-up in gasoline prices following the worst hurricane season in record and its flagship storm, Katrina, the worst natural disaster in American history. Treated like criminals for making profits, oil company CEO's were paraded before a joint hearing of the Senate Energy and Commerce committees to justify their earnings as senators from both parties beat them like piƱatas on national television.
According to a study by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, the original windfall profit tax a quarter of a century ago, reduced domestic oil production by somewhere between three and six-percent from 1980-1988. As a result, it increased foreign oil imports from between eight and sixteen-percent - exactly the opposite of its stated purpose. To top it off, by the end of its run, the WPT had generated virtually no revenue. It was repealed and left for dead in 1988.

Chocolate?

Double standards in play?

Then there is New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin who said in essence that God is surely mad at black America and that the city of New Orleans will once again be a "chocolate" city. He didn't make things any better when he tried to clarify his remarks by saying "How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about." At least Nagin apologized. Compare the treatment Clinton and Nagin received to that that of Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) who when speaking at Sen. Strom Thurmond's (R-SC) 100th birthday party in 2002 made the following remarks; "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." Lott was forced to issue a written apology and stepped down as Senate Majority Leader as well as a result of intense pressure from the media.

I guess Republicans are expected to know better.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Edge Question Series

The question of the year is, "What is your dangerous idea?"

Anonymity, authority, and accountability

I know a few people who say they don't trust what's written on blogs because they don't know who's writing them. In response, I've pointed out to these folks that they don't know I'm using my real name in any of my writings. All they really have to go by is my track record. Do I turn out to know what I'm talking about, or not?

Bruce Schneier looks at the same topic in the wake of the Wikipedia scandal tempest-in-a-teapot.

The problem isn't anonymity; it's accountability. If someone isn't accountable, then knowing his name doesn't help. If you have someone who is completely anonymous, yet just as completely accountable, then – heck, just call him Fred.
EBay's feedback system doesn't work because there's a traceable identity behind that anonymous nickname. EBay's feedback system works because each anonymous nickname comes with a record of previous transactions attached, and if someone cheats someone else then everybody knows it. Similarly, Wikipedia's veracity problems are not a result of anonymous authors adding fabrications to entries. They're an inherent property of an information system with distributed accountability.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A third option

Jonah Goldberg sees a third possibility for Iran: regime change from within.

Wheels turning on the axis of evil

In his State of the Union speech after the September 11 attack, George Bush defined an "axis of evil" comprised of (at least) Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.

Charles Krauthammer looks at Iran's behavior and thinks the wheels may be turning around at least one part of the axis. Iran is playing with (nuclear) fire.

The Iranians had broken the seals on their nuclear facilities and were resuming activity in defiance of their pledges to the "E.U. Three." This negotiating exercise, designed as an alternative to the U.S. approach of imposing sanctions on Iran for its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, had proved entirely futile. If anything, the two-year hiatus gave Iran time to harden its nuclear facilities against bombardment, acquire new antiaircraft capacities and clandestinely advance its program.

An Israeli bombing strike probably won't be enough to shut down any Iranian program.

In a previous article, Krauthammer looks at who's running Iran.

Everyone knows where Iran's nuclear weapons will be aimed. Everyone knows they will be put on Shahab rockets, which have been modified so that they can reach Israel. And everyone knows that if the button is ever pushed, it will be the end of Israel. But it gets worse. The president of a country about to go nuclear is a confirmed believer in the coming apocalypse.

Krauthammer sees two choices: a military strike, or more of the same.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Short Cappuchino

(Hat tip: Jonathan Last.)

Just like In-N-Out, Starbucks has a secret menu. Only theirs is really secret.

Here's a little secret that Starbucks doesn't want you to know: They will serve you a better, stronger cappuccino if you want one, and they will charge you less for it. But why does this cheaper, better drink—along with its sisters, the short latte and the short coffee—languish unadvertised? The official line from Starbucks is that there is no room on the menu board, although this doesn't explain why the short cappuccino is also unmentioned on the comprehensive Starbucks Web site, nor why the baristas will serve you in a whisper rather than the usual practice of singing your order to the heavens. Economics has the answer: This is the Starbucks way of sidestepping a painful dilemma over how high to set prices. Price too low and the margins disappear; too high and the customers do. Any business that is able to charge one price to price-sensitive customers and a higher price to the rest will avoid some of that awkward trade-off. It's not hard to identify the price-blind customers in Starbucks. They're the ones buying enough latte to bathe Cleopatra. The major costs of staff time, space in the queue, and packaging are similar for any size of drink. So, larger drinks carry a substantially higher markup...
The practice is hundreds of years old. The French economist Emile Dupuit wrote about the early days of the railways, when third-class carriages were built without roofs, even though roofs were cheap: "What the company is trying to do is prevent the passengers who can pay the second-class fare from traveling third class; it hits the poor, not because it wants to hurt them, but to frighten the rich." The modern equivalent is the airport departure lounge. Airports could create nicer spaces, but that would frustrate the ability of airlines to charge substantial premiums for club-class departure lounges. Starbucks' gambit is much simpler and more audacious: Offer the cheaper product but make sure that it is available only to those customers who face the uncertainty and embarrassment of having to request it specifically. Fortunately, the tactic is easily circumvented: If you'd like a better coffee for less, just ask.

It's beginning to look a lot like winter

Here's a neat site – a snowflake site. It includes links to pictures like these.

(Hat tip: Patterico.)

A modest proposal

Reading Captain Ed's comments on the Alito hearings reminded me of an idea that's been rattling around in my head.

It reminds me of the Lloyd Bentsen moment in the VP debate in 1988 with Dan Quayle, when the VP nominee told the eventual VP that he was no John Kennedy. The difference in this case was that Teddy didn't have the guts to face Aldisert, having fled the scene when these witnesses came to the bench -- like almost all of his Democratic colleagues.

And

When what should be a simple confirmation process reduces family members to tears, it shows that one party has degenerated into a secular Inquisition.

I'm no lawyer, and I don't even play one on TV. (To be sure, I don't play much of anything on TV – not my profession.) But whatever "badgering the witness" may be defined as, I'd bet money at least some of the questioning of Alito qualified.

My proposal is:

Confirmation hearings should be conducted using at least some of the rules of courtroom hearings. Let a judge, perhaps the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or parhaps a Supreme Court Justice drawn at random, oversee it. He would have the power to terminate lines of questioning that were not probitive, that were overly prejudicial, or that were just plain abusive.

Also, it seems many Senators on the committee would wander off to do something else while testimony was underway.

I had remarked in a previous post that I'd been under the impression that the purpose of a hearing was for the Senators to hear the Witnesses. Maybe it wasn't a joke – maybe the purpose is for the Witnesses to be harangued by whichever Senators care to be present.

If the purpose of a hearing is for the Senators in a committee to hear evidence so they can decide on an issue, then by golly, they should be required to stay in the room while testimony is being given.

I've served on two juries to date. Once a trial is underway, everyone has to be present for it to convene. If a juror (including any of the alternate jurors) is absent, the entire proceding waits until that juror returns, and he'd better have a darn good reason for wasting the court's time. This is because the jurors in any trial are themselves judges. They are judges of the facts in the case.

In these confirmation hearings, the Senators on the committee are judges. They are judging the qualifications of the nominee to hold the office to which he's been nominated. The notion that a judge should be able to wander off and tend to other things while a trial is ongoing appalls me.

In fact, while court is in session, even the spectators are expected to behave with a certain decorum. They may be able to leave and return while court's in session, but they're expected to pay attention. No reading, no doing crossword puzzles, no updating your blog. Senators on a committee hearing testimony should have to abide by those same rules, and at least give the appearance they're paying attention to the witness. This is, at the very least, simple courtesy.

And if individual Senators want to bloviate, then at the very least, they should have to sit through and look attentive while all their colleagues do the same.

The Alito hearings

Captain Ed observes that Sen. Schumer may have gotten in trouble because he likes to hear himself talk. He asked one question too many.

What did Schumer accomplish here? He got the ABA to emphasize that Alito has a mainstream judicial temperament as well as a high sense of ethics -- and that an extreme temperament would have damaged his rating from the ABA. But even more damaging, the answer that the ABA "doesn't do politics" slaps at the committee's handling of the hearings and the question of the confirmation itself. Politics shouldn't enter into it for two reasons. The first is that the position should be non-political and would remain so if the Court stuck with an originalist approach to Constitutional issues. Secondly this hearing itself shows the danger of allowing the Court to drift into legislative tasks.

Executive power

(Hat tip: Bill Keezer.)

Executive power was a big topic during the Alito hearings, with a great deal of "concern" directed at the question of whether Alito would vote to keep it in check.

Part of the problem is that people are not clear on what the limits of this power properly are. In the Weekly Standard, Harvey Mansfield makes the case that executive power extends beyond the scope of the laws passed by Congress, and grants the ability to do things perhaps not allowed by these laws.

One reasons for this is that the executive may have to deal with matters that aren't addressible by law.

A republic like ours is always more at ease in dealing with criminals than with enemies. Criminals violate the law, and the law can be vindicated with police, prosecutors, juries, and judges who stay within the law: At least for the most part, the law vindicates itself. Enemies, however, not merely violate but oppose the law. They oppose our law and want to replace it with theirs. To counter enemies, a republic must have and use force adequate to a greater threat than comes from criminals, who may be quite patriotic if not public-spirited, and have nothing against the law when applied to others besides themselves. But enemies, being extra-legal, need to be faced with extra-legal force. [Emphasis added.]

Of course, this leads to problems of its own:

Yet the rule of law is not enough to run a government. Any set of standing rules is liable to encounter an emergency requiring an exception from the rule or an improvised response when no rule exists. In Machiavelli's terms, ordinary power needs to be supplemented or corrected by the extraordinary power of a prince, using wise discretion. "Necessity knows no law" is a maxim everyone admits, and takes advantage of, when in need. Small-r republicans especially are reluctant to accept it because they see that wise discretion opens the door to unwise discretion. But there is no way to draw a line between the wise and the unwise without making a law (or something like it) and thus returning to the inflexibility of the rule of law. We need both the rule of law and the power to escape it--and that twofold need is just what the Constitution provides for.

And this tension is why the character of the person who holds the office of President matters, and matters more than anything else.

Final bloviation ratings

Sisyphus has compiled the final rankings for the Judicial committee.

The final aggregate score actually went up a bit – to 61.6%.

I was a bit curious, and since Sisyphus has given the party affiliation for each member, I figured I'd do a quick comparison.

The aggregate verbosity index for the eight Democrats was 63.0%; for the ten Republicans it was 60.3%. Not enough to be significant.

It might be interesting to sort by length of time served in the Senate. Maybe Senators become more long winded as they serve.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Rants of the month

I've finally re-formatted the rants of the month I wrote, and put them up on my home page. I wrote one every month, between April of 1997 and September of 2001.

I guess now I blog.

Iraq + Al Qaeda?

(Hat tip: Jason Van Steenwyck, via Powerline.)

MSNBC posts some internal Pentagon memos detailing Pentagon objections to the way the Intelligence Community (e.g., the CIA) was downplaying mounting intelligence of an Iraqi - Al Qaeda connection going back years. Here's what leaps out at me:

Follow the links.

Winning in Iraq

One of the eternal questions is, how will we know if we've achieved victory in Iraq? Jason at Countercolumn calls attention to a NY Times piece:

Some salient points: Note that one of the most effective recruiting mechanisms Al Qaeda has is money. Al Qaeda simply has more money than the other groups, and apparently can outspend the Ba'athists, despite Hussein's looted millions.
Next, it was interesting to see accounts of the tribes dispensing rough justice on their own. The sheikhs could have handed the fighters over to the U.S., or to the government. They didn't. They conducted their own arrest, then their own interrogation, then their own trial and execution. This reflects the power and influence that Iraqi sheikhs have over the population - a power that far exceeds anything an American could associate with a city councilman or mayor. This is why the "Strategic Corporal" concept is vital. The war in Iraq is not won or lost in Baghdad conference rooms. The war in Iraq will be won or lost by grassroots contacts between American platoon leaders, company commanders, and battalion commanders out in the provinces, where Al Qaeda is based. This is also why a broad liberal education is vital for our officer corps-and why the exclusion of ROTC programs at several elite universities harms our National Interest. It is not enough for today's junior officer corps to be made up of C students from State, with Phys Ed degrees and Varsity letters who can smoke their platoons on a road march. Every junior officer who leaves the gate must now be a mini Laurence of Arabia - a tactical innovator, a flexible thinker with genuine appreciation for culture, facility with language, and a keen understanding not just of his commanders mission and the mission of the unit two echelons above, but all the way up to CENTCOM.

A thought: Maybe the US needs to start up a system of schools, designed to produce Laurence of Arabia soldiers. The purpose should be to ensure a large pool of junior officers so there's no need to worry about a shortage. Ideally, only a small fraction would need to actually serve in the armed forces, and the rest could take their education into private industry, which can always use more highly-skilled people. Admission to these schools would be free, or very low cost, and have a very low minimum qualification. The barriers would not be to entry, but to further progress – you don't pass year N, you transfer to another school. The survivors would be very highly educated.

Universities are working to keep any taint of the military off their campuses. Maybe, if you can't join them, beat them. Compete against them in the marketplace. (Consider also Jerry Pournelle's book, Higher Education.

In a politically correct world where the school system fails to educate for fear of lawsuits, illiterate, ignorant students face a bleak future of unemployment. When Rick Luban is expelled for a minor prank, he joins Vanguard Mining and finds asteroid mining training to be more rigorous and demanding than school.

A company finds the schools can't (won't) teach the skills they need in their workforce, so they start a school to ensure they have an educated pool to draw from.

A school system like this would be the same kind of thing the US created in building the Interstate Highway system for defense purposes. Only a tiny fraction of the usage of these highways goes to the direct support of the military; the rest goes to support industry and personal travel.

Anyway, back to Jason. He notes that Al Qaeda and its allies are suffering from their rejection of Western education. They're having to re-invent stuff our military learned in officer training. And it's not working very well.

what we're only finding out now, Zarqawi was able to sense back in the first months of 2004, when he wrote to Bin Ladin expressing frustration at his lack of traction in Iraq, saying "By God, this is suffocation!" Yes, Zarqawi. It is. And you shall soon be reaping its fruits. The Ba'athist insurgency - as opposed to Iraqi nationalist fighters - has been, on the whole, defeated. Al Qaeda can be and will be defeated. As the article points out, the fact that a tribe stood up to them, took down their houses, tried and killed their assassins, AND HAS GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT cannot be a long-held secret. Other tribes, jealous of Al Qaeda challenges to their authority, and outraged at their atrocities, will follow suit. Al Qaeda has already been muscled over during the elections. Their fighters bleed red blood through their black track suits. They can be killed. When Iraqis figure that out - and they are - then the manufacture of martyrdom will accelerate. I wrote in the early days of this blog, in November 2003, that Al Qaeda will not be defeated by miliary force alone, but that victory would only come when its radical, murderous, nihilist ideology is thoroughly discredited on its own turf. We are watching that happen.

Alito hearing word counts

Nihilist in Golf Pants has compiled a list of "verbosity indices" for each Senator on the judiciary committee. The index is WSi/(WSi + WAi), expressed as a percentage. (W is the word counts taken from the transcript. WSi is the word count for each individual Senator, WAi is the word count for Judge Alito during each individual Senator's questioning.

The index ranges from a low of 42.7% (Sen. Kohl) to a high of 79.8% (Sen. Cornyn). Adding up the word counts for all the senators, I find the committee's aggregate verbosity index is 59.6%.

And I had always thought the purpose of a "hearing" was for the Senators to hear the witness.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Abramoff and Corruption

Professor Bainbridge on the Abramoff scandal.

And here's a link to my July, 2000 article, "Let's Hear it for Corruption!"

Econ blog

Arnold Kling and Bryan Caplan are co-authors of a blog.

Modest Proposal

Here's a proposed change to the Constitution.

My suggestion was for an amendment to the Constitution: Members of the House of Representatives shall be chosen each two years by lot from among the adult citizens of each congressional district.

Pros: No House elections or primaries, with the attendant posturing. The seniority system would be effectively dead in the House.

Cons: Congresscritters would be unfamiliar with the intricacies of House rules, so you wouldn't have senior members able to bring home pork to their constutuents.

How dangerous are coal mines under Bush?

Apparently about 30% less than under Clinton.

Mining fatalities have dropped every year President Bush has been in the White House, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Since 2001, mining deaths averaged 63 a year, which is 30% lower than during the Clinton administration. The fatality rate has dropped as well – it was 31% lower in 2004 than it was in the last year of the Clinton administration.
These and other reports appear to assume that regulatory activity translates directly into increased safety. That may seem like a reasonable assumption. More inspections should uncover more problems. Bigger fines should encourage compliance. But the problem is it isn’t necessarily so. Fines that are poorly administered, unfair, untargeted, random, or too excessive can and do backfire. They can encourage litigation against rules and discourage employers from asking regulators about ways to improve practices. If too onerous and intrusive, they can force conscientious businesses to close, perhaps leaving the field to those firms willing to trim corners and take bigger chances with worker safety. At the very least, considering the drop in both deaths and death rates during the Bush years, when it comes to safety in the mines, the connection between tougher regulation and safety isn’t entirely clear. Bush and Clinton have pursued different approaches to mine safety. And Bush’s results appear to be superior. It’s an intriguing story to explore. But you wouldn’t know that by reading the papers.

Capital gains taxes

Walter Williams discusses tax "give-aways to the rich".

Let's talk about capital gains taxes starting out with a few questions for you. Suppose you see a couple highway construction projects. On one project, the workers are employed using shovels and wheelbarrows. At the other project, the workers are using huge earthmovers, cranes, asphalt-laying machines and other equipment. On which project do the workers earn the higher wage? You'll probably answer, "Those on the project with all the machinery." Now the question becomes, why? Is it because construction company owners like machine operators more? Or, is it because the machine operators have more bargaining power? The answer to both questions is no. The correct answer is that the workers on the project using all the machinery are more productive. They are more productive because they have much more capital (equipment) working with them. Creating more equipment, whether it's earthmovers, computers or technical innovation, is called capital formation. The capital gains tax is a tax on capital formation, and when anything is taxed, one expects less of it. Less capital formation means a slower growth in wages. Roughly 95 percent of the growth in wages over the past 40 years is explained by the capital-to-labor ratio.
The capital gains tax dampens risk incentive. ... Capital gains taxes reduce your rate of return on the risk you have taken. Reduced rates of return mean that people will undertake less risk.
The capital gains tax has another debilitating effect on investment that's called the "lock-in" effect. People who have made a capital gain on an investment know that if they were to sell they would have to pay the capital gains tax. Therefore, for tax reasons, they often hold on to that investment longer than they otherwise would.

Darwin, the lightning rod

From the Weekly Standard, an article titled "The Survival of the Evolution Debate":

WHAT IS IT ABOUT EVEN the slightest dissent from Darwin's theory of natural selection that drives liberal elites (and even some conservative elites) bonkers? In the 1920s, in the days of the Scopes trial, it was the fact that anyone could believe the story of Genesis in a literal way that offended the delicate sensibilities of our cultural mavens. Then in the 1970s it was something called "creation science" that drove them apoplectic. Today it is the heresy of "intelligent design" that they seek to extirpate root and branch. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, liberals are haunted by the specter that someone, somewhere harbors doubts about Darwin's theory.

What is it about even the slightest hint natural law, unsupervised by any supernatural intelligence, is sufficient to account for life on Earth, that drives religious people bonkers?

In the end, that's what "evolutionism" says. Life on this planet, from small generation-to-generation changes to fundamental questions of how it arose in the first place, can be explained by naturalistic rules, and these rules can be discovered and understood by human beings.

Creationist explanations, including ID/IOT, assert that natural law is not sufficient to explain these things.

In making such claims the IDers are putting old wine in a new bottle. Some version of the design thesis is to be found in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and, perhaps most famously, in the writings of William Paley. The 18th-century English theologian argued that when we find a watch we infer a watchmaker; so too when we discover evidence of design in nature we properly infer a Maker or Creator. The basic point is that one can make a legitimate, rational inference from the orderliness and regularity of the cosmos to some sort of intelligent first mover. And it's important to point out that this inference was thought, up until recent times, to stand on its own merits, requiring no assistance from Divine Revelation.

Unfortunately, research has shown, and continues to show, that complex, ordered systems do arise spontaneously. An Intelligent Designer may have set up the rules that govern the system, but there's no evidence that ongoing tinkering is required.

There is one more point I'd like to look at:

It seems pretty clear that ID, as a public teaching, is going to meet the same fate as creation science. This modern update of an older understanding will not soon be taught as part of the science curriculum in our public schools. And this may be a good thing, in so far as it isn't really "science" anyway. What's unfortunate is that the ideology of Darwinism--that is, the mistaken notion that Darwin defeated God--not only reigns culturally supreme, but also apparently increasingly has the legal backing of the state.

Note, once again, a reference to the "notion that Darwin defeated God". Ultimately, this isn't about science. Or more precisely, it's about the notion that science must invoke God to be acceptable. To some, it may appear that one particular theory has "the backing of the state", but this is because a highly vocal group insists on attacking it by any means it thinks necessary. If vandals keep painting graffiti on a particular wall, the fact that its owner paints it every week doesn't mean he's giving an elevated status to that wall, it means he's opposing the work of the vandals.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Biden v. Alito

Radioblogger links to Biden's questioning of Judge Alito, noting that in half an hour of questioning, Biden took up the majority of his time making speeches asking his questions.

First off, Senator Biden had half an hour today with Samuel Alito, and the judge's word count, according to John Podhoretz at the Corner, was about 72 words.

I sent Hugh Hewitt a comment about the length of time Biden spent asking his questions:

Subject: Joe Biden Nightmare: Joe Biden winds his way through to a question mark, and Alito says, "Could you rephrase the question please?" ................................Karl Lembke

Hugh's response:

Subject: RE: Joe Biden Oh my gosh that's funny. HH

Heh.

Alito

So far, the consensus seems to be Judge Alito is extremely well qualified, but then he wiped out the Jedi academy and fell into that volcano...

Bird flu – how lethal?

A recent study questions the 50% mortality rate for bird flu.

The Swedish study, published yesterday in Archives of Internal Medicine, said a survey of Vietnamese showed that most people who handled dead or sick poultry reported mild flulike symptoms but did not have the severe reaction health officials said could sweep the globe.

Unfortunately, these folks were not tested for the flu virus. However, it would make sense for the mortality rate to be a lot lower than the conventional wisdom would have it, if the confirmed cases represent only the sickest patients. People who don't feel that sick don't go to the doctor, and their flues aren't counted.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Take a memo:

(Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt)

A memo to the proponents of Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory:

I'm not so sure that even God would want intelligent design taught in our nation's science classes, as the Pennsylvania Appeals court decision rejected this past week. Why? Let's look at it from a practical matter. There is no science in Intelligent Design. No scientific theory, no experiment to be conducted, and certainly no body of scientific work to show that intelligent design is a scientific issue worthy of discussion in our nation's science labs and schools. That doesn't necessarily make it an irrelevant topic, mind you, just not for our nation's science classes. Now, if there is a school philosphy class, comparative religions class, or even a history or western civilization class, I am with you. <snip> In the end, it is much better to keep Creationism where it belongs, in the purvue of mom, dad and our family pastor or priest. And for those student who don't have such avenues, well, God pursues his children. He will find the way to reach them.

Flu!

InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds offers his take on the avian flu, currently worrying Turkey. (Oh, irony!)

Avian flu will either mutate so that it can spread easily among humans, or it won't. If it does, it might possibly also mutate in a way that makes it less fatal, or it might not. The result could be a dreadful epidemic that will kill millions, or just a new strain of flu. At the moment, no one can really say which is more likely, and those claiming otherwise are likely, um, overenthusiastic about their state of knowledge.

Pure common sense, that. Indeed, my own hunch is that the next flu pandemic will erupt from some other reservoir while we're keeping an eagle eye on the avian strain.

Now, the problem is, wherever the flu comes from, we're not ready.

The vaccine now under development, based on the flu strain that killed people in Vietnam, might not work against a mutated strain. And even if it does, the vaccine has a shelf-life of only about a year, making it hard to maintain a stockpile against the day that the flu goes global. We can stockpile antiviral drugs like Tamiflu or Relenza, though their effectiveness against avian flu isn't certain either. There are some reports of avian flu resistance to Tamiflu, though others pooh-pooh them.

One recommendation: Streamline the development process.

As Ray Kurzweil noted in testimony to Congress:
As we compare the success we have had in controlling engineered software viruses to the coming challenge of controlling engineered biological viruses, we are struck with one salient difference. As I noted above, the software industry is almost completely unregulated. The same is obviously not the case for biotechnology. A bioterrorist does not need to put his ‘innovations’ through the FDA. However, we do require the scientists developing the defensive technologies to follow the existing regulations, which slow down the innovation process at every step. Moreover, it is impossible, under existing regulations and ethical standards, to test defenses to bioterrorist agents. There is already extensive discussion to modify these regulations to allow for animal models and simulations to replace infeasible human trials. This will be necessary, but I believe we will need to go beyond these steps to accelerate the development of vitally needed defensive technologies. …

Time for a paper dump

The Weekly Standard's William Kristol has a suggestion for the Bush Administration: Release the documents captured after Saddam fell.

Can we ever really know the whole truth--or almost the whole truth? Yes. How? Let us--all of us--read the mass of documents captured after the fall of the Saddam regime. Stephen Hayes's reporting, including his article in this issue, suggests to us that these documents would confirm the argument for a terror connection. But let everyone make up his own mind, based on his own reading of the documents.

So: The U.S. government should release the documents. It should authenticate documents where possible, and then release them promptly, as they are authenticated. Or, if that is too onerous a process--and lots of time has already gone a-wasting--it should simply release all the documents, perhaps with whatever is known about their provenance and likely authenticity, and let news organizations, experts, and others make their own judgments.

Aren't most of these documents classified? Actually, no. And why should they be? After all, Saddam's regime is gone, all the information is at least three years old--and where there are still actionable items relating to individuals, that information could of course be redacted. Perhaps a few documents could not be released. But a great many could be.

"Open-source" processing of these documents could be very useful. The Iraq war is a hot topic, so a large number of highly interested volunteers would pore over these documents, finding any inconsistencies, or any intelligence, not yet uncovered by the experts.

(Consider how long it took interested amateurs to find the flaws in the Dan Rather memos.)

News of Iraq

Accuracy In Media takes AIM at coverage of the Iraqi elections, and the results of polls.

Media bias took a back seat when the media were forced to report the huge and enthusiastic turnout in the Iraq elections. The people want freedom and democracy, which is what our troops are fighting and dying for. The stakes have been dramatized for all to see.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Economic freedom

(Hat tip: Division of Labour.)

On average, the world seems to be getting freer. The average is now in the "mostly free" category for the first time since the index has been compiled.

Saddam, the abused child?

Jennifer Roback Morse believes Saddam Hussein's behavior looks familiar.

It was the headline that did it: “Hussein dwells on own predicament, not on testimony.” I’m thinking, I know this guy. He sounds a lot like some of the kids I’ve seen in my years around the foster care system. This guy is a socio-path, most probably with reactive attachment disorder.

Say what?

The classic case of attachment disorder is a child without a conscience, with no capacity for empathy with other people. What causes it? Typically, the attachment disordered child had his primary attachment with his mother disrupted during infancy. Infants normally become aware of other people as their mothers pick them up, rock them, feed them, and meet their needs. In the process, the child comes to make the deep connection that human contact assures his survival. This initial bond forms the foundation for the later development of the conscience.
The disturbed children I have seen are difficult and scary enough for anyone to have to deal with. Imagine one of these children grown up. Let him run a country. Allow him to be unaccountable to anyone. What you’ll get is Saddam’s Iraq. The world would be way ahead if our opinion-leaders had some remote understanding of the kind of person they’re dealing with.

How Democrats are helping Bush

Dick Morris has some thoughts about Bush's poll ratings.

WHY have President Bush's poll ratings improved lately? Some say it is because he became more visible and vocal in defense of his policies. But I believe the Democrats drove voters back to his camp with their attacks on the Patriot Act and the administration's wiretapping policies.

Calls to get out of Iraq appeal to one interest group in particular – isolationists.

The voters who rate Bush's performance in Iraq negatively or who call for a pullout are not, in the main, dedicated liberals or even Democrats. Rather, they're marching to the beat of a drummer never stilled in our political music — the desire for the rest of the world to go away.
Yet the irony is that the very same voters the Democrats attract by attacking the war they lose by condemning domestic wiretaps and the Patriot Act — policies that isolationism argues for.

By figuring that all antiwar sentiment is liberal, Democrats misread the public — about the isolationists, whom the Democrats will keep in their corner when the argument is 4,000 miles away but will lose when it is right at home.

Interviewing someone besides Cindy Sheehan

Accuracy in Media reports on a Nightline interview with 29 mothers who have lost sons in Iraq. Not all agree with the war – but not all disagree, either.

Even among those who disagree with the war, there's relatively little support for Cindy Sheehan.

Surprisingly, even the mothers opposed to the war weren't too sympathetic toward Sheehan. One mother said Sheehan "makes me angry, because she's loading the guns for the enemy, she's empowering our enemy. She does not speak for me. Nor for my son." One mother opposed to the war said she was glad Sheehan spoke up, but another countered: "It's all politically motivated."

Debra Meyer said Cindy Sheehan, "as far as I'm concerned, dishonors her son's memory. It's all about her and her political views, and not about the guys."

Over the transom

John Ray, author of something like a dozen blogs, recently sent the following to his readers:

Keith Burgess Jackson, a tenured philosophy professor, has just started a new blog designed to deflate thuggish far-Leftist blogger, Brian Leiter. Leiter has a lot of influence and uses it to harm people who dare to challenge him. So Keith wants to try to civilize him a bit. Apparently Leiter is obsessed with his reputation. Keith says that Leiter scours the Internet for references to himself and then writes to people to get bad references removed. He has also apparently hired a lawyer to get the University of Pennsylvania law students to take down their rankings blog. Keith wants to put him down, but only by saying true things about him. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation. If you would like to help, at least please blogroll the new blog so that it rises in Google's rankings, so that when people type "Brian Leiter" into Google, the new blog comes up. I myself have no connection with the new blog -- just a wish to see it thrive. The blog is here.

"Worst economy since the Great Depression"

Rich Lowry offers his take on the "jobless recovery" and the "worst economy since the Great Depression".

Heritage Foundation economist Tim Kane calculates, putting all the key factors together, that economically, 2005 is one of the best five years out of the past 25.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The foibles of journalism

Today's news concerns the fate of a dozen (baker's dozen?) coal miners in West Virginia. At first, it was reported there was only one fatality. Later, it turned out there was only one survivor.

Many are blaming the coal-mining company for mis-reporting the facts, but at least some of the blame has to lie with the media. In effect, they jumped the gun, failed to flag reports as "preliminary" or "tentative", and ran with a story they wanted to be true.

Belmont Club looks at the difference between what takes place, what is achievable, and what is ideal in journalism.

Nice listing of Dover trial transcripts

Here's a nice listing of the transcripts for the Kitzmiller v. DASD trial.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Another person who thinks ID is about religion

In his book, Tom Bethell discusses a number of areas of science that are rather controversial. In the linked article, he discusses a topic that divides the conservative community – evolution.

After repeating a number of errors about evolution, he gets to the reason why he and his ilk object to evolution:

The underlying problem, rarely discussed, is that the conclusions of evolutionism are based not on science, but on a philosophy: the philosophy of materialism, or naturalism. Living creatures, including human beings, are here on Earth, and we got here somehow. If atoms and molecules in motion are all that exist, then their random interactions must account for everything that exists, including us. That is the true underpinning of Darwinism. What needs to be examined in detail is not so much the religion behind intelligent design as the philosophy behind evolution.

And there you have it. Not only do we have the phrase, "the religion behind intelligent design", we have the point of contention. On one side of the argument is naturalism – the notion that everything we see around us came into being as the result of the action of natural law.

On the other side, we have – what?

When naturalistic and material causes are ruled out, we have left, by logical necessity, causes that are non-material and non-natural. Something (or someone) outside the scope of natural law. It is to this praeternatural entity that Design is attributed. And it is this Designer that Bethell invokes to give life meaning.

Kitzmiller v. Dover – an analysis

As most of us know, Judge Jones has found the teaching of Intelligent Design unconstitutional. Jason Rosenhouse offers his survey of the 139-page decision:

...my intention in this essay is to provide a condensed version of all the major points and arguments it contains. The decision will no doubt be the focus of much commentary in the weeks to come, much of it by partisans trying to spin its contents for purposes of their own. Assessing the merits of such commentary will be easier armed with a firm grasp of precisely what it says.

...continued in full post...

  • The decision begins with a summary of the basic facts in the case.
  • From here the decision devotes several pages to ancillary issues: Establishing that the Court has jurisdiction, introducing the Plaintiffs and Defendants, and describing a few relevant legal precedents.
  • Next up is a determination of the proper legal standard to apply in this case. The Court concludes that there are two relevant tests to apply in determining if the ID policy is unconstitutional: The Lemon test and the endorsement test.
  • So how does the ID policy fare with respect to the endorsement test?
  • The Court's first finding in this regard is that, "An objective observer would know that ID and teaching about "gaps" and "problems" in evolutionary theory are creationist, religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism (p. 18)." To justify this conclusion the Court provides several pages of relevant legal and social history.
  • ...Consider, to illustrate, that Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God. As no evidence in the record indicates that any other scientific proposition's validity rests on belief in God, nor is the Court aware of any such scientific propositions, Professor Behe's assertion constitutes substantial evidence that in his view, as is commensurate with other prominent ID leaders, ID is a religious and not a scientific proposition.
  • From here the Court takes up the question of whether an objective student would view the disclaimer as an official endorsement of religion. After spending a few pages explaining why this question needs to be considered separately from the previous discussion of what a reasonable observer would conclude, the Court concludes "that an objective student would view the disclaimer as a strong official endorsement of religion.
  • ...the Court sums up its objections:
    In summary, the disclaimer singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instructions elsewhere.
  • The finding that a reasonable Dover high school student would perceive a clear religious endorsement in the ID policy is followed by a section showing that an objective Dover citizen would come to the same conclusion.
  • ...Especially interesting, in my opinion, was the Court's reliance on the nature of the editorials and letters to the editor published in the local newspapers...The Defense objected (strenuously, according to the opinion) to this line of evidence, but the Court allowed it for its probative value in assessing how an objective Dover resident would view the situation.
  • The Court next turns to what in my view is the most significant part of the decision: the finding that ID is not science.
  • we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science.
  • ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation;
  • the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's;
  • ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.
  • ...it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.
  • Everything up to this point has related to the Court's application of the endorsement test to the ID policy. There is still the Lemon test to consider.
  • The disclaimer's plain language, the legislative history, and the historical context in which the ID Policy arose, all inevitably lead to the conclusion that Defendants consciously chose to change Dover's biology curriculum to advance religion.
  • The penultimate legal question to be resolved relates to the effect prong of the Lemon test... The Court begins this section by noting that since the ID policy has already been found unconstitutional under the endorsement test and the first prong of the Lemon test, they include the effect analysis for the sake of completeness. After a brief consideration of relevant precedents related to such analysis, the Court concludes that the ID policy runs afoul of this prong as well.
  • In reading over the entire opinion I was struck by the extent to which Judge Jones' arguments parallel those scientists have been making for years. I suspect that prior to this case, Jones had never immersed himself in the minutiae of the evolution/ID dispute. In the course of the trial both sides had the opportunity to put their best foot forward in making their points. And in the end, it was clear to Jones that all of the good arguments were on the side of evolution, and not on the side of ID.