Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Banned in Bahrain

Boingboing is banned in many areas in the Middle East and Africa. In response, they've assembled information on just how bad some web filters are, how to circumvent them, and a kit for persuading employers not to throw away good money on them.

Letter published

Since I don't know how durable this link is, here's the entire text of the letter published in the Daily News, last Sunday:

Cheney T-shirt

The local sheriff has ended his investigation of the hunting accident, and no charges will be filed. It seems the final verdict is, "Shot happens."

– Karl Lembke

The Moses Complex

Arnold Kling explores why so few of the Jews he knows are libertarian. He attributes it to "The Moses Complex", rooted in the Exodus narrative which every Jew celebrates once a year.

One of the most basic narratives in Judaism is the Exodus, in which Moses leads the oppressed Hebrew slaves out of the land of Egypt. The Exodus is a movie that is constantly being remade, and not just by Cecil B. DeMille. It is the basis of Marxism and of what I call folk Marxism, both of which were embraced by many Jews.
The OriginalMarxistFolk Marxist
PharaohCapitalist ClassWal-Mart
HebrewsWorking ClassOther Stores
MosesKarl MarxLiberal Pundits
Not every misfortune that occurs in society is a replay of Pharaoh's enslavement of the Jews. The Exodus narrative can always be tried on, but it does not often fit properly. Usually, problems are more complex and systemic than a simple oppressor/oppressed narrative can describe. Sometimes, the best solution is to increase, rather than to diminish, personal responsibility. Often, government programs can exacerbate problems, with no built-in correction mechanism.

A regular guest at Loscon, a fellow by the name of Talin, likes to point out that what matters is not whether any system is error free, but how good the error correction mechanisms are. God is, by definition, error free. Nothing else is, even by definition. So far, no one has that much chutzpah.

Economic String Theory

Thomas Sowell notes that money with strings attached is less valuable – in many cases, a lot less valuable – than money with no restrictions on its use.

Suppose someone left you an inheritance of a million dollars -- with the proviso that every cent of it had to be spent on tickets for you to go watch professional wrestling matches. If you happened to be a professional wrestling fan, you would be in hog heaven. But what if you were not? How much would that million dollars be worth to you? Certainly a lot less than a million dollars.

What if there was a clause in the will which said that you could forfeit the million dollars and instead receive a cash amount of $100,000 to spend as you pleased? Many of us would take the hundred grand without strings, even if that was only ten cents on the dollar compared to the million for watching wrestling.

Some of us, of course, might look for loopholes. Can they be professional wrestling matches in places I've always wanted to travel? What sort of ancillary expenses will pass muster? If I take a cruise to Australia to watch a match in Sydney, does that count, even if the fraction of the time I spend actually watching the match is very small? Can I bring a friend? Nevertheless, I think his point is valid.

Many of us who receive money from Social Security or other government programs are learning the hard way the difference between money with strings and money without strings. For example, Social Security recipients have to be enrolled in Medicare, whether they want to be or not. "Universal" coverage means compulsory coverage, just with prettier political spin.

Domestic Surveillance

Victoria Toensing, a former Justice Department official and chief counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee, has some comments about the NSA surveillance program.

In Article II, the Constitution establishes the president as commander in chief. As such he has inherent authority to conduct warrantless surveillance for the purpose of acquiring foreign intelligence information. He does not have the authority to close banks, seize steel mills, or raise our taxes; he does have it to get battlefield information about an enemy who has killed thousands of us on our soil and threatens to do so again.

No court opinion denies this constitutional authority to the president. All federal appellate courts that have considered the issue, including the FISA appeals court, have recognized such authority. The Supreme Court, over three decades ago, emphatically specified in the Keith case that it would leave this issue to another day. In doing so, the Court provided a clear indication that foreign surveillance is not domestic surveillance.

The Keith Court held that the president does not have authority to conduct warrantless searches of entities that are "domestic," i.e., where "[t]here is no evidence of any involvement, directly or indirectly of a foreign power." This decision, the Court stressed, makes "no judgment on the scope of the president's surveillance power with respect to the activities of foreign powers, within or without this country."

Dominos vobiscum

Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza, is planning to start a town which will be governed according to traditional Catholic principles.

A FORMER US marine who was raised by nuns and made a fortune selling Domino’s pizza has embarked on a €337m plan to build America’s first town to be run according to strict Catholic principles.

Abortions, pornography and contraceptives will be banned in the new Florida town of Ave Maria, which has begun to take shape on former vegetable farms 90 miles northwest of Miami.

I've been reading Rodney Stark's book, For the Glory of God, and I'm working my way through the accounts of various reform movements and persecutions in history of the Catholic church. Throughout history, Stark sees a tension between people who are fairly lax in their faith and people who are looking for a more intense religious experience. Because of this tension, religious culture tended to move between laxity and drives toward purity. As a result, history is marked by the formation of sects, where people who were interested in a more intense religious experience could congregate, and reform movements aimed at cleansing a corrupt church of its impure elements. In response, when sects and reform movements became too threatening, the mainstream church tended to bring to bear whatever power it had to suppress it.

I suspect a society with a monopoly religion is inherently unstable over generations.

We've had any number of experimental communities established in this country, including religious communities, communes, and even a community based on B.F. Skinner's book, Walden Two. Very few last beyond the first generation, and virtually none have worked as well as their founders had hoped.

One reason the second generation is always a problem is "regression to the mean". The founders of a community can self-select. Generally, they will all be of like mind and temperment, and they'll share a number of unspoken rules in common. As a result of these unspoken rules, they'll function quite well as a community. Then along comes the second generation, which is not selected in this fashion. They'll be far more like a collection of people chosen at random from the world at large. In addition, kids are always testing the rules, and unspoken rules get tested more severely than others.

Even if this town passes muster with the ACLU, I have a feeling it will lose its distinctiveness in a generation or two.

A fair amount of commentary can be found at World Magazine's blog.

About that civil war...

When the Golden Mosque in Samarra was destroyed, we were told civil war was imminent. Well, it's been imminent for the past two years.

Now, William F. Buckley has joined the "realist" crowd, saying Iraqis may just not be civilizable. We can understand freedom and liberty, and we can live under a rule of law, but there's no point in trying to impose either on Arab culture.

Mr. Buckley's pessimism may be premature. Both Sunni and Shia religious leaders have called for calm. The Moqtada al Sadr, whose militia was in the forefront of the retaliatory attacks on Sunni mosques, prayed publicly Saturday with the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars. Thousands of ordinary Sunnis and Shias joined together in half a dozen Iraqi cities to demonstrate for peace.
These peaceful demonstrations for peace drew little attention from a news media that is eager to report on a civil war, even if it isn't happening.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Rare Earth – how rare?

The publication of the book, Rare Earth: Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, was welcomed by many in the Creationist movement. To them, it makes the case that the conditions for life are so rare, our planet had to have been specially designed as a haven for life.

The article linked to the headline suggests that habitable zone around stars may be larger than we had originally thought.

Here is part 1 of a debate on how rare habitable planets might be, and here is part 2.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The scientific conspiracy

World Net Daily jumped all over this article, of course. One of the twelve Creationist Tactics is, "Interpret any uncertainty anywhere in science as total uncertainty everywhere in science." We have an unexpected result, therefore science has got it all wrong, especially about Evil-oooootion.

What's the fuss about?

The discovery of a furry, beaver-like animal that lived at the time of dinosaurs has overturned more than a century of scientific thinking about Jurassic mammals.

The find shows that the ecological role of mammals in the time of dinosaurs was far greater than previously thought, said Zhe-Xi Luo, curator of vertebrate paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

I have questions about the details of this find, but they'll wait. For now, I have a comment.

Creationists of all stripes, from the Biblical Literalists to the ID/IOT movement, offer the charge that science has closed its collective mind – and closed ranks – against any data that might overturn the evolutionary paradigm, the only theory blessed by the materialist establishment.

Because of this conspiracy, any facts that might tend to overturn Holy Evolution are excluded from the journals and classrooms, and suppressed in any other way that may be needed.

Except – this report made it into the journals, and the AP, and the New York Times, and...

Some have argued that scientists force the data into interpretations that will support evolution. Indeed, some accuse scientists of committing fraud to bolster evolution. Problem is, here's something that has not been interpreted away, or reinterpreted so it's a better fit to what scientists think happened.

Here is an example (you listening, creationists and ID/IOTs?) of how real science works. Researchers have turned up a fossil that surprises everyone, because it doesn't fit the story they've all thought was true. If this fossil checks out, science will change the story, but keep the fossil – the exact opposite of what Creationism does.

Intelligent design is losing support

Intelligent Design, or as I call it, the Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory, is losing support among members of the conservative community.

Interestingly enough, one reason for this waning support may be the – *ahem* – evolution it's undergone.

In the beginning, we had Creationism, which said the Genesis account of origins is the literal truth. Then, when the courts insisted state-of-the-art science had to be taught in schools, and Creationism was anything but, we saw the development of "Scientific Creationism", or "Creation Science". This was, essentially, Creationism with the serial numbers filed off.

When "Scientific Creationism" was bounced, we saw a third stage in the evolution of the idea. More serial numbers were filed off, and we saw the birth of "Intelligent Design".

Now, in response to the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision, the fight is on over which serial numbers to file off now. There are limits to how much of this the Creationists can engage in. There's only so much metal in any gun, and if you file off too much, soon you won't have anything.

Now we have an observer of the Campus left saying it's time for Evangelicals to make their peace with Darwin.

Christians need to make their peace with evolution. Let me amend that, evangelical Christians need to make their peace with evolution. This is not likely to happen, as opposition to evolution has almost become a litmus test of faith among evangelicals, but it is necessary if they are to retain their integrity and influence.
Evangelicals challenge evolution out of religious, not scientific, conviction. Very few of those who believe scientific creationism, of which I.D. is the latest incarnation, even have any scientific training. What they do have is a belief that the theory of evolution is antithetical to their faith. I have worshiped with evangelical Christians all my life, and their rejection of evolution comes from the Bible first, with whatever scientific rationales they can stitch to their standard coming much later.
A year ago, John Derbyshire cheerfully predicted the demise of I.D. in National Review. "Neither science nor religion ever had much use for I.D. Both will proceed happily on their ways without it." His sanguine prediction seems to have some accuracy, given the recent judicial and educational backlash against the anti-evolutionists. Unfortunately, by publicly defining their faith by allegiance to scientific folly, the creationists (of all kinds, from young-earth to I.D.) have indeed exposed Christianity to ridicule and obstructed the road to belief.

A quote worth re-quoting:

In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to be observed, as Augustine teaches. The first is, to hold to the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing. — Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

Chromium conspiracy?

Hexavalent chromium is hitting the news again.

Scientists working for the chromium industry withheld data about the metal's health risks while the industry campaigned to block strict new limits on the cancer-causing chemical, according to a scientific journal report published yesterday.
Documents in the report, published in the peer-reviewed online journal Environmental Health, show that the industry conducted a pivotal study that found a fivefold increase in lung cancer deaths from moderate exposures to chromium but never published the results or gave them to OSHA. Company-sponsored scientists later reworked the data in a way that made the risk disappear.

As described, this sounds bad. However, recall the article stating that half of all published reports are actually wrong – either reporting a significant effect that doesn't exist, or finding no link where there is one. Maybe, with this in mind, it's entirely reasonable to look at data very carefully before releasing it.

As it stands, the effect of the proposed limit of one microgram per cubic meter of air will result in an estimated two to nine excess deaths per thousand workers due to lung cancer. OSHA usually aims at one excess death, but in this case decided the cost of attaining that limit was excessive. Even the one microgram limit is looking pretty expensive – 5 billion dollars industry-wide.

In a somewhat hysterical post, Main St. USA notes that 380,000 US workers are exposed to hexavalent chromium annually. If we assume all 380,000 are exposed to this metal over a 45-year working lifetime (the criterion OSHA uses in its calculation), every excess death per 1000 workers represents 380 excess deaths among this workforce. There are a lot of numbers missing from the Washington Post article, but this number may give us a shot at some perspective.

One microgram is expected to cause between two and nine excess deaths, and a five microgram limit, 10 to 45 excess deaths. Based on this, the current "maximum exposure level" of 52 micrograms per liter should yield between 104 and 468 excess deaths from lung cancer per 1000 workers. Are we seeing a 10-47% death rate from lung cancer in elecroplating workers?

The one microgram standard is expected to cost the industry 5 billion dollars per year. I don't know how many statistical lives this standard is expected to change, but let's use 50 per thousand as a starting point. Fifty per thousand, times 380 thousands, gives us 7600 lives saved. Divided into five billion dollars gives us an annual price tag of $658 thousand per life saved.

Furthermore, this standard is applied over the entire 45-year working life of each worker, so really, that price tag needs to be multiplied by the 45 years the worker is exposed to it. That's $29.6 million per life saved, and even if we simply multiply it over the entire industry – basically assuming every worker has a cancer prevented – that's a little over $1.2 million per worker.

The question that always has to be weighed is, given the cost per life saved, is this really the most effective use of our lifesaving dollars?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I don't follow...

Here's an interesting one.

Web 2.0
The second generation of the Internet has arrived. It's worse than you think.

Andrew Keen is not terribly – well, keen on the latest developments in the Internet.

This Web 2.0 dream is Socrates's nightmare: technology that arms every citizen with the means to be an opinionated artist or writer.

"This is historic," my friend promised me. "We are enabling Internet users to author their own content. Think of it as empowering citizen media. We can help smash the elitism of the Hollywood studios and the big record labels. Our technology platform will radically democratize culture, build authentic community, create citizen media." Welcome to Web 2.0.

Hmmmm... I thought I was already authoring my own content. Isn't that what you're reading right now?


The consequences of Web 2.0 are inherently dangerous for the vitality of culture and the arts. Its empowering promises play upon that legacy of the '60s--the creeping narcissism that Christopher Lasch described so presciently, with its obsessive focus on the realization of the self.

Another word for narcissism is "personalization." Web 2.0 technology personalizes culture so that it reflects ourselves rather than the world around us. Blogs personalize media content so that all we read are our own thoughts. Online stores personalize our preferences, thus feeding back to us our own taste. Google personalizes searches so that all we see are advertisements for products and services we already use.

Instead of Mozart, Van Gogh, or Hitchcock, all we get with the Web 2.0 revolution is more of ourselves.

Keen echoes the popular belief that the ability to customize and personalize access to information will result in each of us living in an echo chamber where all we see is ourselves reflected in wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

I don't buy this notion. While anything can be carried to extremes, there's an awful lot of room for personalization without getting anywhere near the degree of narcissism Keen alludes to.

Consider: Lots of people cook. Some are better than others, and lots of people hire others to do their cooking for them – either by hiring a cook, or by letting a restaurant do the cooking for them. All of these approaches represent ways of personalizing one's eating. In a restaurant, one can order from a menu, and further customization is often available. You know, hold the tomato, add olives. Cooking offers more chances for personalization.

Would Andrew Keen recommend that we all eat our meals in a cafeteria, with our selections made for us for the sake of exposing everyone to an enriching variety of experiences? Somehow, I rather doubt it.

Keen draws a contrast between Orwell's 1984, where

...Winston Smith's great act of rebellion in Nineteen Eight-Four [sic] was his decision to pick up a rusty pen and express his own thoughts...

and a nightmare Web 2.0 where

...everyone is an author, while there is no longer any audience.
One of the unintended consequences of the Web 2.0 movement may well be that we fall, collectively, into the amnesia that Kafka describes. Without an elite mainstream media, we will lose our memory for things learnt, read, experienced, or heard. The cultural consequences of this are dire, requiring the authoritative voice of at least an Allan Bloom, if not an Oswald Spengler. But here in Silicon Valley, on the brink of the Web 2.0 epoch, there no longer are any Blooms or Spenglers. All we have is the great seduction of citizen media, democratized content and authentic online communities. And weblogs, course. Millions and millions of blogs.

But just as we share restaurants, recipes, and foods with each other, we also share ideas. When we write in a blog, or a news group or a mailing list or a fanzine, we hope someone else will read and appreciate it. The vast majority of bloggers draw on sources outside themselves for their material. This includes newspapers and magazines, and other blogs.

It might be useful to study how quickly material works its way through the blogosphere. Are there regions in the blogosphere where conservative ideas, or liberal ones, never penetrate? I read a number of blogs that provide links to pieces they disagree with, even if only, as I'm doing here, to express disagreement. Surely, at least some of these ideas will not be reflections of my own thoughts.


So which is it? Are blogs too commercial, or not enough? Just taking off, or doomed?

The answer to these questions is probably "yes." Which suggests that they're the wrong questions.

OK, so what's the right question? (Or what are they, if there's more than one?)

Looks like the right question is, "What is in store for blogs?"

Or maybe, a better question is, "What is in store for us on account of blogs?"

One prediction: blogs aren't going away.

Even if the biggest, richest, and most popular blogs are hugely successful financially -- and more importantly, even if they're not -- there will be millions of people out their generating and publishing their own content. Regardless of what happens, the vast majority will be doing it without being paid (they already are) and they'll be doing it because, as I noted last week, it's fun. Which is what should really worry the Big Media people, because it's something that doesn't change with the financial markets. From four years ago comes this advice: "Beware the people who are having fun competing with you!" Because it's hard to put them out of business, so long as it stays fun.

I don't think we should be thinking of blogs as competitors of newspapers or news broadcasts. Many blogs overlap a great deal with news outlets, but there are still things the news media can do that bloggers, in general, will never be able to do. For example, newspapers and TV news bureaus will have the budget to send reporters to other countries to gather news, and the average blogger can only report on events in his or her own back yard.

Bloggers can, however, carry out news analysis. And chances are, no matter what any newspaper reports on, there's likely to be at least one blogger – sometimes quite a few – with something to say. Some of these folks will be all wrong, but some of them will be very much right.

In a way, this is part of an ongoing tension between mass production and customization. It would seem most efficient if we all met our needs in the same way. If we all dressed in the same way, there'd be no need to have a multitude of different clothing manufacturers. If we all took mass transit everywhere, there'd be no need for individual cars. And if we all get our news from big outlets, there'll be no need for news blogs.

But aside from the fact that people like to customize their lives, any time a business lacks competition, it gets lazy, and its quality goes downhill. Just as foreign imports forced American car companies to shape up, blogs are forcing news outlets to shape up in the areas where they have to compete – news analysis. Relatively few people will insist on reading only analysis they agree with, but when they read one they disagree with, it had better make logical sense. If it's a badly thought-out argument, the reader who disagrees with it may not know enough to pick it apart, but chances are, he can find a blogger who does.

Darwin in the news at WND

World Net Daily leaps on any story that it thinks might discredit evolution. This time, they pick a story captioned: 500 doctoral scientists skeptical of Darwin"

My first observation: "Doctoral scientists" is a weird term. What the heck does it mean?

More than 500 scientists with doctoral degrees have signed a statement expressing skepticism about Darwin's theory of evolution.

For another take on what this list means, you might look here. This article points out that:

  • The number of signatories to this list is a tiny fraction of all scientists.
  • The statement they've signed is not anti-evolution.
  • Most of the signatories have degrees in fields so far removed from biology they're no more qualified to comment on evolution than the average man on the street.

Shot happens

Vice President Cheney shot a lawyer, and jokes are flying like a covey of quail. Mine is the header for this post.

(Well, I also suggested Cheney be given the Aaron Burr award for marksmanship.)

As Charles Krauthammer notes, even funnier than the intentional jokes is the hysterical reaction of the media, incensed at not having been notified immediately, if not sooner.

This news briefing got famously out of control (as a psychiatrist I found the groups I ran for inpatient schizophrenics far more civilized) over the new great issue of our time: Why was there a 14-hour delay in calling the press?

The press wants to be the channel through which all information flows to the public, and react hysterically to any challenge to this exalted position.

The editor speaks about the Cartoons

Flemming Rose is the culture editor of the Jyllands-Posten. In this article, he explains his thinking behind the publication of those notorious cartoons.

Critics of 12 cartoons of the prophet Muhammad I decided to publish in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten have not minced their words. They say that freedom of expression does not imply an endorsement of insulting people's religious feelings, and besides, they add, the media censor themselves every day. So, please do not teach us a lesson about limitless freedom of speech.
...I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears and feelings of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam. And I still believe that this is a topic that we Europeans must confront, challenging moderate Muslims to speak out. The idea wasn't to provoke gratuitously -- and we certainly didn't intend to trigger violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter.

It is interesting to compare the reactions of Muslim groups with the reactions of Christian and Jewish groups to similar provocation.

On occasion, Jyllands-Posten has refused to print satirical cartoons of Jesus, but not because it applies a double standard. In fact, the same cartoonist who drew the image of Muhammed with a bomb in his turban drew a cartoon with Jesus on the cross having dollar notes in his eyes and another with the star of David attached to a bomb fuse. There were, however, no embassy burnings or death threats when we published those.

It would appear that Muslims have a shroter fuse. Granted, we may be hearing from the extremist fringe, but the Islamic extremist fringe seems to be a lot more scary than the Christian extremist fringe.

The issue seems to be less a matter of respect for another religion and more a matter of a gang member feeling "dissed".

Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn't intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.
The lesson from the Cold War is: If you give in to totalitarian impulses once, new demands follow. The West prevailed in the Cold War because we stood by our fundamental values and did not appease totalitarian tyrants.

Or, as another author put it, "Once you pay Danegeld, you'll never be rid of the Dane."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

More comments on The Cartoons

Neomugwump offers his take on The Cartoons.

The first item he looks at is a proposal that it's time to stop publishing the cartoons everywhere.

But the usefulness of these cartoons has ended. We’ve proved how incompatible much of Islam is with Western values. We’ve proved our commitment to free speech. Now we’re just poking a rabid dog with a sharp stick. There’s no sense to that.
Islam is incompatible with Western values? Hmmm. Should a bunch of screaming fanatics in Syria or Iran speak for a whole faith? What about American Muslims? Are they basically backwards folk because of their faith?

This raises two points, and I'll look at them one at a time.

First: are we needlessly provoking Muslims?

In the comments for Neomugwump's post, I linked to a Weekly Standard article on the cartoons. They were originally published on September 30 in the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten.

No reaction.

They were reprinted on October 17 in an Egyptian newspaper.

Again, no reaction.

(One weird note: September 30 happens to be my birthday, and October 17 happens to be my girlfriends' birthday.)

Only after militant imams cobbled together three really offensive cartoons and published the lot as a booklet did we see riots, protests, burning embassies, and death threats.

Conclusion: We in the West don't have to be offensive. The radical Islamic wing will find reasons to be offended, and if they can't find a good enough reason, they'll make one up.

Second point: are we tarring a whole religion with a billion followers with a broad brush?

Short response: Silence is consent.

Longer response: We have here a group which protests, very loudly, any slight – real or imagined – against Islam. A magazine reports that copies of the Koran are being flushed down toilets at Camp X-ray, and rioters are in the streets and buildings are in flames before anyone even thinks of asking, "how the hell do you fit one of those down a toilet?"

A Nigerian beauty pageant contestant offers the opinion that "these contestants are good women – Muhammed might have taken one as a wife." Now she's had to flee the country in fear of her life.

Where are the Muslims speaking out against these reactions? Where are the crowds of Muslims standing up against those who defame the name of Islam from within? If they exist, they don't seem to be able to get the ear of any reporters at any of the major newspapers, and they don't seem to be able to find anyone with a TV camera.

Or maybe they don't believe any of these acts tarnish the image of their faith.

Maybe the ongoing publication of the cartoons is nothing more than "poking a rabid dog with a sharp stick". But that raises the question of what else can be seen as poking that rabid dog with a sharp stick. The cartoons were originally published as a test. A man who wanted to write a children's book introducing Islam to non-Muslims couldn't find an artist willing to draw depictions of Muhammed. They were all afraid for their safety. So Jyllands-Posten asked for people to submit depictions of Muhammed to see if the "Islamic Street" really was that volatile.

If it's true that publishing any depiction of Muhammed is off limits because it might inflame the rabid dog, then what about any other items the rabid dog chooses to take offense at? If the rabid dog uses its sense of outrage to trim away bits of our culture, we'll eventually be free to do only those things that are allowed by its interpretation of Sharia.

If the radical wing of Islam really is a rabid dog, there is one time-honored solution, and it's not retreating into our houses and letting it have the run of the street.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Evolution – revisiting an oldie

Reason Magazine's Ronald Bailey asks why neoconservatives are so eager to doubt Darwin.

...the neocon assault on Darwinism may not be based on either science or spirituality so much as on politics and political philosophy. That is the view of Paul Gross, a biologist and self-described conservative. ... Regarding Commentary's anti-Darwin article, he says he is mystified that the magazine "would publish the damned thing without at least passing it by a few scientists first."
But something deeper seems to be going on, and the key to it can be found in Bork's assertion in his book that religious "belief is probably essential to a civilized future." These otherwise largely secular intellectuals may well have turned on Darwin because they have concluded that his theory of evolution undermines religious faith in society at large. Of course, this is not a novel thought. Many others have arrived at the same conclusion. Conservative activist Beverly LaHaye, a biblical literalist who is president of Concerned Women for America, puts the matter directly: "If the biblical account of creation in Genesis isn't true, how can we trust the rest of the Bible?"
A much younger (and perhaps less circumspect) Kristol asserted in a 1949 essay that in order to prevent the social disarray that would occur if ordinary people lost their religious faith, "it would indeed become the duty of the wise publicly to defend and support religion."

We cannot know the innermost secrets of their hearts, but if these conservative intellectuals are indeed carrying out "the duty of the wise," then they have less faith in their fellow citizens than does the pope. The Vatican, after all, has had occasion to absorb a truth succinctly stated by biologist Paul Gross: "Everybody who has undertaken in the last 300 years to stand against the growth of scientific knowledge has lost." That lesson has a moral: If Darwinian evolution is scientifically true, then we have no choice but to go forward and build as good a society as we can in the light of this truth.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Anchors dropped in yesterday

There are any number of people who take up space in the present, but who are living, thinking, and emoting, in the past. The Lunatic Left is still fighting the Vietnam War, prosecuting Watergate, and voting for Kennedy (or maybe even Roosevelt). Blacks decide on policy from a past in which Klansmen lynched "uppity niggers" and poll taxes were perfectly legal, and see anything other than enthusiastic acceptance of their decisions as an attempt to reinstitute slavery. Women see any criticism as an attempt to ban them from the workplace, take away their franchise, and chain them to a stove. Their perspective is not based in the present time, but is anchored in the past.

Looking at the cartoons, a non-Muslim wonders how they could possibly have given such offense. How could a few juvenile, satirical drawings of the prophet Muhammad have created a global crisis? It seems inexplicable, until you think about American reactions to a word we hesitate even to write for fear of giving offense, calling it instead the "n-word."

The African American experience reminds us that there is a rage so deep and abiding that it can be triggered by a small comment, an unintended slight, a remark perhaps meant as a joke but heard as a grievous insult. The legacy of slavery left behind that residue of anger. It created taboos that protect what Sigmund Freud described as the sacred totems of cultural identity. It established boundaries where outsiders -- in this case, white people -- are not allowed to venture. That's why the n-word is so powerful -- it is the symbol of the suffering that a people experienced at the hands of others.

Well, yes. Blacks were enslaved in the US, but no living Black has suffered under US slavery. (There are Blacks in Africa who are still enslaved, but that's another story.) Discrimination has faded to the point where we need professional tea-leaf readers to find some way to spin absolute trivia into evidence of subtle, covert racism. After a certain point, holding on to past injury is a sign of deliberate refusal to heal, a play for sympathy.

And ethnic strife the world over depends on anchors dropped in the insults and turmoil of yesterday.

Maybe the Muslim world will someday be able to laugh off slurs against the prophet Muhammad, but not now. The wounds are too raw; the sense of victimization is too immediate. I travel often to Muslim countries, and I am sometimes astonished at how hundreds of years of history can seem condensed into the present, so that every current injustice is magnified by the weight of every past one. I don't understand it, but then, I have to remind myself, I'm not a Muslim. I haven't lived it.

And you know what? Neither have many Muslims. Everyone who lived through the events of only one century ago is dead. The raw feelings of victimization were planted by parents, teachers, and other leaders.

It's one thing to remember the past, that we won't repeat it. It's another entirely to drop anchor in it, and refuse acknowledge change when it has occurred. To live anchored in yesterday is to cut yourself off from the good that has arisen over time. It also makes it less likely any changes for the good will continue. Those who have gone to the effort of changing or effecting change in others need some sort of recognition, or they'll become discouraged and stop trying to help.

I'm willing to meet the Other half-way. I believe 90% of Americans are willing to do the same. But if the Other refuses to even consider meeting us half-way, only a tiny minority will make the trip, and we all lose.

Cartoon "Moderates"

Charles Krauthammer adds his two cents' worth on the subject of the Mohammed cartoons:

As much of the Islamic world erupts in a studied frenzy over the Danish Muhammad cartoons, there are voices of reason being heard on both sides. Some Islamic leaders and organizations, while endorsing the demonstrators' sense of grievance and sharing their outrage, speak out against using violence as a vehicle of expression. Their Western counterparts -- intellectuals, including most of the major newspapers in the United States -- are similarly balanced: While, of course, endorsing the principle of free expression, they criticize the Danish newspaper for abusing that right by publishing offensive cartoons, and they declare themselves opposed, in the name of religious sensitivity, to doing the same.

So many intellectuals in the West stand ready to decry the "chilling effect" of any kind of calls for restraint – warning labels on movies, games, and music – calls for restraint on the part of the news media or in politics – laws calling for parental notification in abortion or requests for birth control. Any kind of restriction on content, or even criticism from a conservative group, creates a "chilling effect" on free speech.

Well, here's a real example of a chilling effect, and Western intellectuals are pouring on ice by the carload.

What is at issue is fear. The unspoken reason many newspapers do not want to republish is not sensitivity but simple fear. They know what happened to Theo van Gogh, who made a film about the Islamic treatment of women and got a knife through the chest with an Islamist manifesto attached.

How is the appeaser defined? The fellow who feeds the alligator, hoping it'll eat him last? Sounds vaguely familiar somehow.

Eat, drink, and be merry

This has been in the news all week.

... researchers divided 48,835 women into two groups based on diet-- one group with 19,541 women consumed a low fat diet and the other group with 29,294 women consumed their usual diets ­-- and followed the women for 8.1 years.

The most significant result of the $415 million study is that low-fat diets don’t reduce heart disease risk. As the researchers put it, “Over [an average] of 8.1 years, a dietary intervention that reduced total fat intake and increased intake of vegetables, fruits and grains did not significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women and achieved only modest effects on cardiovascular risk factors…”

One point made about the low fat dieters was that they generally didn't meet their dietary goals. If anything, this "blame the victim" approach underscores the lack of value of low-fat diets. If a group of people, who know they're being monitored, and who know their results will show up in medical journals, can't stick to a particular diet, why should we expect the average Joe to do any better?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

100% Natural Perchlorate

Local companies, including Rocketdyne, have been blamed for high levels of perchlorate in the groundwater. Now, it seems it's produced at low levels by natural processes.

With data coming in that supported the idea of naturally occurring perchorate, which is the basis of the award-winning ES&T article, the researchers began to consider the implications. “Perchlorate is an iodide transport inhibitor,” points out Dasgupta. “Does perchlorate at environmentally meaningful exposure levels inhibit iodide transport?” In two additional papers in ES&T, Dasgupta and his colleagues have shown that perchlorate is in Texas cow’s milk and, more dramatically, in human breast milk.

So either the stuff occurs naturally, or Rocketdyne has managed to salt the environment with incredibly large amounts of the stuff.

We're still encouraged to worry about the stuff, though:

With so many new avenues of research, it is not surprising that Dasgupta advocates that more environmental studies of perchlorate are needed. Citing arsenic in groundwater, he warns, “Being natural doesn’t make it good.”

It can, though, establish a level we've adapted to. For all we know, it'll turn out perchlorate is a nutrient. Arsenic may be, despite being toxic at high levels.

And remember, oxygen is toxic, in high doses.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Open forum on the Cartoon Jihad

In the second hour of his show, Hugh Hewitt hosted a round table on the subject of the Cartoon Jihad. Seated at the table were Joe Carter of the Evangelical Outpost blog, Michael Medved, and Dennis Prager.

(Update: The transcript and MP3 files are here, courtesy of Radioblogger.)

One of the points Hugh has been making, and which I find extremely irksome, is that in publishing the cartoons, newspapers are radicalizing Muslims.


Even if the cartoons turn out to contain themes that hit all the Islamic buttons dead-on, I agree with Dennis Prager. The newspapers are not radicalizing Muslims. Neither are the editors, and neither is anyone else. The "radicalized" Muslims are that easily driven into radical extremism because for them, it's an extremely short trip. The notion that we have to avoid publishing material because it might drive the rest of Islam into the extremists' camp is absurd.

I find it useful to take the notion of the "global village" seriously for some points. Imagine the entire world as a small village, with each house representing a country. Now, for example, I justify something like the invasion of Iraq by comparing it to a house where the father is abusive. Where he beats his family, tortures and kills his pets (and maybe even the hired help), and takes pot shots out the window at the people trying to enforce an easement on his property. In the absence of a police force assigned to deal with this situation, the only alternative is for good people in the neighborhood to take action.

In essence, I find it helpful to reduce these vast geopolitical issues to the personal level.

Now, imagine the case of a woman living with an abusive husband. He slaps her around at the slightest provocation, and insists that any trouble between them is all her fault. Last month, she drew an idle doodle, and he went ballistic. He broke several of her bones, destroyed her paint set, and told her never to offend him that way again.

To me, Hugh's warnings against further radicalizing the already extremist Muslims is the same as someone warning the woman not to do anything to "set off" her husband. Don't urge counseling, don't leave him, don't get a restraining order, and above all, don't subject the man to any negative consequences of his actions.

Again: Bull.

Civilized people don't burn down embassies because they don't like a cartoon published by some paper. Civilized people live in, and form an active part of, a community where this sort of violence is an extreme last resort, and only for sufficient cause.

A society, even a 1400-year-old, religiously based one, which wants to be treated like a civilization, had really better learn to act civilized. If it doesn't learn to act like a civilization, it doesn't deserve to be treated like one.

Open-mindedness is hard

Tammy Bruce was on Dennis Prager's show this morning in the second hour. One caller, identifying himself as a member of the Left, told Tammy that if she was so critical of the Democrats, she should leave the party and become a Republican.

Aside from being the exact opposite of the "big tent" philosophy, comments like this leave many with the belief that if they have any traditional values at all, they're not welcome in the Democratic party.

It's also an ad hominem fallacy: the arguer attacks the person making the argument rather than addressing the argument being made. Tammy Bruce was subjected to the classic line, "'Shut up!' he explained."

The post at the other end of the link above is one of Jason Van Steenwyk's posts where he links to the Washington Monthly. Here, the weighty response to Jason's argument is, "Jason's an idiot".

One comment:

Yeah--Jason Van Steenwyck has loads of credibility. I think that a violinist who writes financial stuff and serves as a National Guardsman is eminently qualified to comment on the operations of our Special Forces Command. I'm sure that if he walked into SOC, they'd embrace this guy like one of their Band of Brothers. Or laugh his ass out of the building.

In another post, I linked to his comments on the logistics involved in delivering aid in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The response: "He's an idiot. Maybe that's why he's an ex logistics officer." (Paraphrased – I don't feel like hunting it down right now.)

I suppose both of these people could explain, in detail, why Jason was factually wrong, or why his comparisons were inapt. I'm sure all the folks who called him a name or impugned his credentials can explain in great, cogent detail exactly what the right answer is.

Perhaps, from their Olympean heights, they can't be bothered to clarify things to the Unwashed Masses.

Or maybe their brains have suffered the effects of oxygen deprivation at those high altitudes.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Dark matters

There's a lot of weird stuff called dark matter in the universe. Its gravitational pull is what holds our galaxy together, along with all the other galaxies we've investigated.

Some folks accuse scientists of unnecessarily complicating things, and all but making up weird theories about dark matter and dark energy.

Well, not only did the not "just make this stuff up", scientists are starting to uncover some of the properties of this stuff.

Dark matter has evaded all attempts to detect and illuminate it in the 73 years since its existence was first hypothesized. Now British astronomers have moved an important step closer to lifting the veil on the elusive material that has mystified generations of scientists, by calculating some of its basic physical properties for the first time.
By studying the movement and mass of stars within these galaxies, they were able to calculate the minimum density and distribution of the dark matter around them. <snip> astronomers calculated that they moved at about six miles per second, giving it a "temperature" higher than the surface of the Sun. If it was made of hydrogen atoms, dark matter would be as hot as 10,000 C. Thanks to its unusual nature, it has a high temperature caused by the excited movement of its particles but no heat. Prof Gilmore added: "The strange thing about dark matter is that it has temperature but doesn't give off radiation. It is a different form of matter not made of the same stuff as ordinary matter that consists of protons and neutrons, and has no charge."

So how do we know all this?

Part of it has to do with the assumptions physicists make when they try to explain the universe.

One of the fundamental assumptions is that the universe is pretty much the same everywhere – it obeys the same rules, matter has the same properties, forces behave the same way, and so on.

And that seems to be true, as far as we can see. Stars emit light in the same way our sun does, and material emits and absorbs light in precise spectra the same way it does in the lab. Mass, force, and motion seem to work together in distant clusters of stars the same way it does in the lab.

And so on.

We know there's dark (invisible) stuff clustering in and around galaxies. We can measure how fast galaxies are spinning. If we add up the mass of the stuff we can see in galaxies, we find there's far too much mass to keep the stars from being flung off into intergalactic space by centrifugal force. Since we don't see galaxies flying apart, and we don't see fragments of splintered galaxies, something is providing enough force to hold them together.

The simplest explanation is that galaxies are held together by gravity, and the only (known) way to produce a lot of gravitational force is with a clump of something that has mass. So there's matter scattered around these galaxies, and its gravitational pull holds the galaxies together. And we can't see it. We can only infer its presence from the direction in which it tends to pull stuff we can see.

Since this stuff doesn't seem to emit light, or radio waves, or x-rays, or any other kind of electromagnetic radiation, no matter what happens to it or what kind of hot object it's next to, we conclude that it has no electric charge at all. And this is more than just being elecectrically neutral, like a hydrogen atom. Hydrogen atoms, and in fact most matter, is electrically neutral because its positive and negative charges are in balance. Electrons and protons are found in equal numbers – or darn close to it – in all matter. Besides electrons and protons, there are neutrons which have no net electric charge. However, that's "net" electric charge because neutrons are composed of particles which do have a charge. (The first clue was that neutrons are affected by magnetic fields.)

We know dark matter has no charge because when you accelerate charged particles, they emit light. No matter what you do to dark matter, it won't emit light.

Conclusion: either dark matter is weird, and behaves like nothing else we're familiar with, or the rules are profoundly different in parts of the universe not that far away from us.

Given a choice between "making up" something like dark matter or assuming that laws of nature are only "mostly" universal, scientists prefer the former.

It can lead to pretty bizarre results, but that's how science works.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Thar she blows!!!

The watering can used in an ill-fated rescue attempt of the Thames whale was bought for £2,050 on eBay yesterday.


The charity British Divers Marine Life Rescue will use the cash raised to buy new equipment.

Well, at least there's that.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

State of the Union

Did you hear the thunderous applause when President Bush pointed out that Congress failed to pass Social Security reform last year?

Well, so did a lot of people.

During an election campaign, political operatives are fond of seeking to induce in their opponent a negative "defining moment." That is to say a highly publicized moment when their opponent portrays everything that is wrong with him. <snip&gr; Surely, at the State of the Union address the Democratic Party provided such a moment when, as has already been well commented on by others, they wildly applauded President Bush's statement that Congress failed to pass Social Security reform last year.

Democrats don't just disagree with the Republican plan to reform Social Security, they don't believe there's a problem to fix.

They're doing it on porpoise

Killer whales set traps for seagulls. In particular, one seems to have learned how to set traps, and others learned from the example.

Now researchers at Marineland in Ontario, Canada have observed a four-year-old killer whale setting a trap for seagulls by spitting fish onto the water's surface as bait. The whale would sink below the water and wait for an unsuspecting gull to come down for a meal. Once the bird took the bait, the whale would lunge at it with open jaws. The whale, pleased with the results, set up the trap over and over again.
It was once believed that most animal behavior, from the food they ate to the places they slept, was based on instinct," Noonan said. "This new discovery supports the growing view that animals like killer whales are very prone to learning by imitation, and that they are 'cultural' in nature."

I predict a number of people will have problems with this finding. I predict it will be the same people who are uncomfortable with evolution – both tend to blur the distinction between us and animals. Evolution because of the notion of common ancestry, and this because it implies our minds differ from those of other animals in degree, not necessarily in kind.

New planet?

Astronomers' arguments over the definition of "planet" have intensified since the discovery of a new object orbiting the Sun. This new object, tagged "2003 UB313", is spherical, and larger than Pluto. In fact, at 1860 miles across, it's nearly half the diameter of Mars.

If this object is not a planet, then it's hard to justify calling Pluto one. If Pluto isis a planet, there may be a whole bunch of objects that qualify as planets, buried out in the Kuiper belt, and maybe even in the Oort cloud.

To slay the worm

Happy groundhog day!

A worm making the rounds of the Net is set to destroy files tomorrow.

Even if you have great virus checking, a second opinion is always worth while.

Microsoft advises customers who think their computers may be infected with the worm to scan them with up-to-date anti-virus software or run a "protection scan" at the company's Windows Live Safety Center Web site (http://safety.live.com).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Buy Oil, or Hurt Our Friends?

by Karl Lembke Iain Murray, on The Corner at NRO, suggests we might not want to cut back on our oil consumption.

Reducing US energy use generally hurts all of these trading partners; unless we're advocating a Cuba-style boycott of Saudi (but not, according to the President, Venezuelan) oil that would simply increase the pain felt by American consumers at the gas pump, because the price of oil is set in a global market.

It's an interesting thought. What would the effect be if we cut back on the amount of oil we use?

All things being equal, the world price of oil would drop.

The world price of oil is set, as Murray notes, in a global marketplace. Since oil is fungible, we don't care who supplys any particular barrel of the stuff, and within limits, neither does anyone else. If any consumer cuts back on oil consumption, this has the effect of pushing the price down the supply curve.

At first blush, you'd think falling oil prices would hurt oil producers. And indeed, that's the case Murray makes.

But your first blush is wrong.

Lower oil prices are good for everyone, consumer and producer alike.

The lower the price of oil is, the more people can afford it, and the more people can afford to put it to uses that were not practical when it was more expensive. The result is, more oil gets sold. Generally, oil suppliers don't make as much money per barrel, but they sell more barrels.

We also have to consider reason why oil consumption is lowered. Whether consumption is lowered due to conservation or finding alternatives to oil, there are two effects lower consumption could have – our production either increases or decreases. If it decreases, that's a net loss, and it hurts everyone by the decrease in value of what we produce. If it increases, it's a net gain to everyone for the same reason.

Sound simplistic? Maybe so, but we can blame that on my physics background.

Physics is full of what are known as "state functions". These are functions that depend on the state of a system at the time it's measured. All that matters is what the value of the function is at the time of measurement, and nobody cares how the system got there. State functions also tend to summarize a huge amount of aggregated information. For example, the pressure of a gas is a state function. It depends on the speed and mass of each of the molecules in the gas. Every individual particle contributes to pressure as it bounces around in a completely unpredictable fashion. However, when you measure the pressure, you don't care what each individual molecule is doing.

Likewise, when we look at energy policy, we can track every barrel of oil from the well to the end of its path through our economy. We can measure all the trade-offs as we weigh alternative energy sources and implement this or that conservation program, and we can come up with an estimate of what works and what doesn't. Or, we can measure a variable that summarizes the entire process – how does our productivity change as our oil consumption changes.

On balance, anything that increases the amount of energy we can put to use is a win for everyone.

What have Kennedy and Kerry wrought?

Ed Whelan notes that by forcing a vote on cloture, the Democrats have done three things.

1. Absent the filibuster effort, lots of attention would mistakenly have been focused on whether Judge Alito would reach the filibuster-proof level of 60 votes on final confirmation. If he were to fall short of that, the media would proclaim that the vote level sends a warning shot that another nominee like Alito could be filibustered. By forcing an actual vote on cloture, Kerry and Kennedy have deprived the Left of this pretend-filibuster argument.

2. Kerry and Kennedy have turned the wrath of the Left against those 19 Democrats (nearly half the caucus) who voted for cloture.

3. By using the filibuster weapon against a nominee whom the public rightly recognizes to be superbly qualified, Kerry and Kennedy have undermined Democrats’ future use of that weapon.

If you doubt that those 29 Democrats are the subject of anyone's wrath, may I call your attention this post? Terry Karney names "those sonsabitches" in his tirade and recommends his readers give them large pieces of their minds.

New forum

The other day, I noticed a call for blogs on the Men's News Daily website. I contacted Mike LaSalle, and after a bit of technical wizardry, my blog now appears on Men's News Daily.

So, I get another blog site, sort of a Siamese twin cojoined twin (let's be at least a little politically correct!) of this blog. Every change I make here appears on the MND blog as well.

I also get an announcement on the MND home page. And one of my posts is (at this moment) the second item in the "Commentary" column.

I AM happy to be there!

Sheehan arrested

Cindy Sheehan was arrested at the SOTU speech.

Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, opened her jacket to reveal a T-shirt that, according to a supporter, gave the number of U.S. war dead and asked, "How many more?"

She was also vocal, said U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, and after she ignored instructions to close her jacket and quiet down, she was led out and arrested. Demonstrating in the House gallery is prohibited.

A caller to Dennis Prager's show asserted Cindy Sheehan is not free, because she was arrested for protesting. Okay, she's not free to protest in the House gallery.

This reminds me of an interesting double standard. We've heard the media drumbeat, giving the tally of the number of soldiers killed in Iraq. To those who know how many soldiers have died in Iraq, I have one question: How many soldiers, to the nearest thousand, have died fighting in Kosovo?

(No fair Googling.)


The Washington Times has an article headlined, "A-bomb intent found in black-market paper".

VIENNA, Austria -- A document obtained by Iran on the nuclear black market serves no other purpose than to make an atomic bomb, the International Atomic Energy Agency said yesterday.

Sounds bad. Sounds threatening, even if it's not quite an "imminent" threat.

I'd love to see the folks who've been the loudest opponents of the Iraq war forced to go on the record with answers to some questions. These questions include:

  • Do you believe Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons?
  • Do you believe Iran intends to use any nuclear weapons it builds or obtains?
  • Do you believe the possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons is just grounds for an invasion of Iran?
  • What steps do you believe the US should take to address possible Iranian nukes?
  • How long should we give any steps short of an invasion to "work", and what will "working" be defined as?
  • Whose blessing would any country need for its invasion of Iran to be "legal"?

Inquiring minds want to know.

How the Wedge was Leaked

(Hat tip: Pharyngula via The Panda's Thumb via Talk Reason.)

The "Wedge document", detailing aims of the Discovery Institute, has circulated around the Internet for several years now. One problem I've had with it is, how do we know where it came from? Is it possible the document is taken out of context? Could it be a modern-day "Protocols of the Elders of Zion"?

Seattle Weekly has an article on the history of the Wedge document, including the story of how a secret, internal-use-only document got leaked.

What does the document say about the aims of the Discovery Institute?

Well, on page 6:

...However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a "wedge" that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of that stragegy, the "thin edge of the wedge", was Phillip Johnson's critique of Darwinism.... Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

This was one of the more telling bits of evidence presented at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, and is very hard to reconcile with the claim that the Discovery Institute is being guided to Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory only by the science. How did such a document escape?

The story begins, so far as the world at large is concerned, on a late January day seven years ago, in a mail room in a downtown Seattle office of an international human-resources firm. The mail room was also the copy center, and a part-time employee named Matt Duss was handed a document to copy. It was not at all the kind of desperately dull personnel-processing document Duss was used to feeding through the machine. For one thing, it bore the rubber-stamped warnings "TOP SECRET" and "NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION." Its cover bore an ominous pyramidal diagram superimposed on a fuzzy reproduction of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel rendition of God the Father zapping life into Adam, all under a mysterious title: The Wedge.

Curious, Duss rifled through the 10 or so pages, eyebrows rising ever higher, then proceeded to execute his commission while reserving a copy of the treatise for himself. Within a week, he had shared his find with a friend who shared his interest in questions of evolution, ideology, and the propagation of ideas. Unlike Duss, the friend, Tim Rhodes, was technically savvy, and it took him little time to scan the document and post it to the World Wide Web, where it first appeared on Feb. 5, 1999.

Well, it's well known: you can learn some very interesting things from documents left behind in the copier. That's why establishments dealing with classified documents have elaborate protocols, including the use of secure copiers when copies are needed.

I AM: Blasphemous?

Ian Millar considers AOL's new "I AM" ad campaign a blasphemous use of the name of God.

America Online is now acting like God – using what some consider to be His very name in a marketing pitch for e-mail, voice chat, video chat, instant messaging, text messaging and other forms of communication.
He points out to AOL executives that "I AM" is the English translation of YaHWeH, the self-proclaimed name of God.

Well, I AM astonished. I AM appalled. I AM disgusted.

I AM recalling an incident a few years ago.

Nike came out with a line of "Air" shoes, where the calligraphy on the word "Air" had gotten very ornate. To some, the cursive script looked a lot like the Arabic spelling of "Allah". Muslims were up in arms over this blasphemy, and Nike wound up withdrawing the line.

I AM certain Mr. Millar agrees wholeheartedly with the Muslims' point, and has nothing but respect for Nike's decision to pull the line of shoes.

But, I AM not holding my breath.

Bush: State of the Union speech

World Net Daily is one of the sites with the transcript of the SOTU speech.

I once had someone, in an argument, mention the SOTU speech as one of the few duties the President was required to do by the Constitution. I had to point out that the Constitution only required the President give the Congress a report on the State of the Union "from time to time". And there was no requirement that it be a speech. Indeed, the Constitutional requirement would be met by a periodic e-mail to each member of Congress.

And of course, the Democrats have their response. All they're willing to say is, "There's a better way." But they're not telling what it is.

Water fleas for homeland security

Altoona, PA will start using water fleas to test the water in its reservoirs.

The Altoona City Authority said it will use Daphnia water fleas to check water in the reservoirs. The authority recently agreed to pay $4,450 for a Kingwood Diagnostics Q-Tox startup kit and about $10,200 annually to maintain the system.

The City of Los Angeles has been using these critters, along with fathead minnow larvae, to test the effluent from the sewage treatment plant for toxicity. These critters are the aquatic equivalent of canaries – they're a lot more sensitive to poisons in the environment than anything we expect to be in the offshore waters, so as long as they don't react to the plant effluent, it's OK to dump it into the ocean.

Recently, the DWP has started testing its drinking water supplies using Microtox, which uses luminescent bacteria as microscopic canaries. In these bacteria, the luminescence is tied to their respiration, so the intensity with which they glow is an indication of how well they're functioning. If something doesn't agree with them, their life processes slow down, and the glow diminishes.

Really cool.

And the bugs can be freeze-dried, giving them a shelf life of 18 months.

Prescription drugs found in water

I recall a story... traces of prescription tranquilizers and antidepressant drugs had been found in the water in the UK. The good news is, no one was terribly anxious about it.

Now, a report on prescription drugs turning up in the local aquifers in Los Angeles.

Behind a tangle of willows, every second of every day for almost half a century, recycled sewage has gushed into an El Monte creek and nourished one of Los Angeles County's most precious resources: the drinking water stored beneath the San Gabriel Valley.

Cleansed so thoroughly that it is considered pure enough to drink, this flow from the Whittier Narrows reclamation plant meets all government standards. Yet county officials now report that they have found some potent — and until recent months undetected — ingredients in the treated waste: prescription drugs.

Hmmm. This is, by the way, the same "toilet to tap" water recycling program Joel Wachs thought he could ride into the Mayor's office a few years ago. Years after he had received briefings on the topic, he found the memo on his desk, and decided to raise a stink over it.

Result: Cancel a multi-million dollar project the month before it's turned on, and he's still not Mayor.

But I digress...

The concentrations are so minuscule — in parts per trillion, or a few drops in an Olympic-sized swimming pool — that scientists suspect there is little or no human danger. They acknowledge, however, that no one knows the effects of ingesting tiny doses of multiple drugs continuously over a lifetime.
In the meantime, the newest technology can detect chemicals in parts per quintillion — equivalent to one tablespoon in the Mississippi River.

"The analytical capability has really, really outstripped our ability to understand what it means," said Michael Wehner of the Orange County Water District, which taps a basin replenished by the Santa Ana River, composed almost entirely of treated sewage.

The main concern with these drugs is their effect on aquatic life.