Friday, June 29, 2007

Evolution in the lab

Here's a story from the New York Times about evolution taking place in the lab.

In the corner of a laboratory at Michigan State University, one of the longest-running experiments in evolution is quietly unfolding. A dozen flasks of sugary broth swirl on a gently rocking table. Each is home to hundreds of millions of Escherichia coli, the common gut microbe. These 12 lines of bacteria have been reproducing since 1989, when the biologist Richard E. Lenski bred them from a single E. coli. “I originally thought it might go a couple thousand generations, but it’s kept going and stayed interesting,” Dr. Lenski said. He is up to 40,000 generations now, and counting.

In that time, the bacteria have changed significantly. For one thing, they are bigger — twice as big on average as their common ancestor. They are also far better at reproducing in these flasks, dividing 70 percent faster than their ancestor. These changes have emerged through spontaneous mutations and natural selection, and Dr. Lenski and his colleagues have been able to watch them unfold.

Now 40,000 generations is a lot. It took 18 years to get that many generations in bacteria, which are notorious for reproducing quickly. In human terms, allowing 18 years on average, that's 720,000 years.

In that time, the magnitude of the change would be equivalent to humans growing to a height of 12 feet, and coming into puberty at age 4. This is in addition to other changes that have been observed.

And other scientists are now doing the same sort of research:

Other scientists are watching individual microbes evolve into entire ecosystems. Paul Rainey, a biologist at the New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study at Massey University, has observed this evolution in bacteria, called Pseudomonas fluorescens, that live on plants. When he put a single Pseudomonas in a flask, it produced descendants that floated in the broth, feeding on nutrients. But within a few hundred generations, some of its descendants mutated and took up new ways of life. One strain began to form fuzzy carpets on the bottom of the flask. Another formed a mat of cellulose, where it could take in oxygen from above and food from below.

But Dr. Rainey is only beginning to decipher the complexity that evolves in his flasks. The different types of Pseudomonas interact with one another in intricate ways. The bottom-growers somehow kill off most of the ancestral free-floating microbes. But they in turn are wiped out by the mat-builders, which cut off oxygen to the rest of the flask. In time, however, cheaters appear in the mat. They do not produce their own cellulose, instead depending on other bacteria to hold them up. Eventually the mat collapses. The other types of Pseudomonas recover, and the cycle begins again, with hundreds of other forms appearing over time. “The interactions are everything you’d expect in a rain forest,” Dr. Rainey said.

All of a sudden, the ecosystem seen in The Ringworld Engineers isn't so far-fetched.

Also, see Richard Lenski's web page.

And more...

Gregory J. Velicer, a former student of Dr. Lenski’s who is now an associate professor at Indiana University. Dr. Velicer experienced this bafflement firsthand while watching the evolution of a predatory microbe called Myxococcus xanthus. Myxococcus swarms lash their tails together and hunt in a pack, releasing enzymes to kill their prey and feasting on the remains. If the bacteria starve, they come together to form a mound of spores. It is a cooperative effort. Only a few percent of the bacteria end up forming spores, while the rest face almost certain death.

This social behavior costs Myxococcus energy that it could otherwise use to grow, Dr. Velicer discovered. He and his colleagues allowed the bacteria to evolve for 1,000 generations in a rich broth. Most of the lines of bacteria lost the ability to swarm or form spores, or both.

Dr. Velicer discovered that some of the newly evolved bacteria were not just asocial — they were positively antisocial. These mutant cheaters could no longer make mounds of spores on their own. But if they were mixed with ordinary Myxococcus, they could make spores. In fact, they were 10 times as likely to form a spore as normal microbes.

Dr. Velicer set up a new experiment in which the bacteria alternated between a rich broth and a dish with no food. Over the generations, the cheaters became more common because of their advantage at making spores. But if the cheaters became too common, the entire population died out, because there were not enough ordinary Myxococcus left to make the spore mounds in the times of famine.

During this experiment, one of Dr. Velicer’s colleagues, Francesca Fiegna of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, discovered something strange. She had just transferred a population of cheaters to a dish, expecting them to die out. But the cheaters were making seven times as many spores as their normal ancestors. “It just made no sense,” Dr. Velicer said. “I asked her I don’t know how many times, ‘Are you sure you marked the plates correctly?’ ”

She had. It turned out that a single Myxococcus cheater had mutated into a cooperator. In fact, it had evolved into a cooperator far superior to its cooperative ancestors. Dr. Velicer and his colleagues sequenced the genome of the new cooperator and discovered a single mutation. The new mutation did not simply reverse the mutation that had originally turned the microbe’s ancestors into cheaters. Instead, it struck a new part of the genome.

But Dr. Velicer has no idea at the moment how the mutation brought about the remarkable transformation in behavior. The mutated segment of DNA actually lies near, but not inside, a gene. It is possible that proteins latch on to this region and switch the nearby gene on or off. But no one actually knows what the gene normally does.

Thanks to Clayton Cramer for the pointer.

There are some ironic points, though, in his post.

Intelligent design advocates, for example, and even many Creationists, do not dispute what they call "microevolution," which involves relatively minor changes. Heck, we've been breeding dogs and horses long enough to create distinctive breeds; only a very unimaginative person would deny the possibility that, with enough time, you might get a distinct species.

I fear we have very different definitions of "minor".

Those last two, where a single strain of bacteria is mutating to form entire ecosystems, is hardly "minor".

If we hadn't invaded Iraq...

Peter J. Wallison indulges in a bit of alternate history.

...if we imagine what the world would look like today if Saddam Hussein had not been deposed, it seems clear that almost no outcome in Iraq would be as adverse to the interests of the United States as today's world with Saddam still in power.

We can look at what was actually happening in the build-up to the war, and run the scenario forward. We know that Saddam had thrown the weapons inspectors out of his country, and the sanctions were becoming increasingly porous. We know his people were working to develop nuclear weapons, and would have reinstated chemical weapons programs as soon as he could. And once he had them, he'd use them.

First, US troops would still be in Saudi Arabia. Our troops were there because of the Saudis' fear of an Iraqi attack. We should recall that one of the principal reasons bin Laden cited for attacking us—not only on 9/11, but for many years before—was that US troops were supposedly defiling the Muslim holy places in Saudi Arabia.

Imagine, also, trying to persuade Iran to abandon the development of nuclear weapons when Iraq—which had attacked Iran—was actively engaged in doing exactly that. We hope now to change Iran's course through economic sanctions—a difficult prospect to be sure—but that would be a hopeless quest if its leaders and population believed they needed nuclear weapons to deter Iraq.

Then there's Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Before he was deposed by the US invasion, Saddam was bidding for leadership of the Arab world in its opposition to Israel and US policy in the Mideast. We can now see the resources he would have brought to bear in that effort. Saddam was a Sunni leader of a Shi'ite country. As he watched the Islamic world becoming more fundamentalist, he too became more overtly religious. Undoubtedly, he saw himself as the new Nasser, the one person who could unite the Arab and perhaps the Islamic world against the West and Israel. If he had remained in power, he would now be contesting with Iran for sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Saddam's interest in driving the US out of the Middle East would be coincident with those of al Qaeda and he would have the weapons of mass destruction that al Qaeda has been seeking. We could never be sure that if we opposed Saddam—say, in another Iraqi invasion of Kuwait—he would not make weapons of mass destruction available to al Qaeda.

Some will disagree with this course of events. However, as has been asked elsewhere, "how likely does it have to be?"

BBC – Anti-Israel bias?

(Subs¢ription required)

The BBC routinely rejects charges of anti-Israel bias, often by noting that it also gets complaints from Palestinians. If both sides are unhappy, the argument goes, the BBC must be getting the story right. This of course would assume that both sides are equally justified in complaining. To pretend that Hamas statements are as reliable as those from accountable Israeli government officials is bias masquerading as even-handedness.

Actually, some BBC journalists don't even pretend to be even-handed. Consider Middle East correspondent Fayad Abu Shamala, who addressed a Hamas rally in May 2001, saying journalists were "waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people." The Beeb claimed that Mr. Shamala made his rally remarks in "a private capacity" and that his reporting "always matched the best standards." When Mideast correspondent Barbara Plett said during an October 2004 radio show that the airlifting of Yasser Arafat to a French hospital moved her to tears, the BBC didn't admit that she "breached the requirements of due impartiality" until listeners complained repeatedly.

There are numerous other examples that point to a simplistic narrative that invariably portrays Israel as the aggressor and the Palestinians as mere victims. Emblematic of this mindset is Jeremy Bowen, who was recently appointed as Middle East editor. In January, Mr. Bowen sent what he called a "mini briefing" to BBC senior executives and editors. This email was leaked and provided a rare look into the worldview that informs BBC coverage of the Middle East.

Written during the height of the internecine fighting between Hamas and Fatah, Mr. Bowen explained that "What is the way that Palestinian society, which used to draw strength from resistance to the occupation, is now fragmenting" (emphasis ours). Mr. Bowen seems to have internalized Palestinian propaganda, which likes to speak of "resistance" when what is really meant is terrorism. The word terrorism, by the way, is banned at the Beeb, ostensibly because it's a value judgment. Mr. Bowen continued to see the "death of hope, caused" -- no surprise here -- "by a cocktail of Israel's military activities, land expropriations and settlement building."

In other words, even when Palestinians were killing each other, it was Israel's fault. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations: The Palestinians could not possibly be held accountable for their actions. There was no word in Mr. Bowen's "briefing" that Israel had evacuated Gaza and that Palestinians elected Hamas into government, which refuses both to accept Israel's right to exist and to abandon terror.

Bias at the Mirror?

(Subs¢ription required)

At the WSJ, Robert Aitken looks at the BBC report on left-leaning bias in its output.

...while the report, commissioned by the BBC, is a careful piece of research, it pulls its punches when it comes to bias within its own News and Current Affairs department -- where it matters most.

To an objective reader, last week's report seems to confirm that the BBC is biased. Testimonials from serving BBC journalists and a stack of polling evidence clearly shows the gap between the "impartiality" rhetoric and the reality. Yet the old defensive reactions did kick in. Richard Tait, chairman of the BBC's "Impartiality Steering Group," point-blank denied that there is any bias in its news output. The Beeb has never been distinguished by a culture of robust self-criticism.

I know this from experience: Toward the end of my 25 years as a BBC reporter I began writing a series of internal memos, first to senior news executives and finally to the BBC's Board of Governors, detailing an entrenched liberal-left bias that seriously undermined the BBC's claim to be an impartial news provider. Referring to well-documented incidents, I posed several questions: Why did we keep hiring established left-wing pundits, but never any journalists with right-wing credentials? Why did we use "right wing" as a yah-boo term to mean "anything we don't like"? Why did we never give U.S. actions the benefit of the doubt -- in contrast to our strenuous efforts to be "fair" to Britain's avowed enemies?

The reaction was a studied indifference from everyone up the command chain.

On every issue of public policy and political controversy, the BBC's instincts are to side with the progressive, liberal wing of politics.

The war in Iraq? Opinion within the London newsrooms was overwhelmingly opposed to military action from the start and has never wavered since. Man-made climate change? The BBC has jettisoned all semblance of impartiality on the issue; it now openly campaigns with a constant stream of scare stories. The Arab-Israeli conflict? The BBC's sympathies are firmly on the side of the Palestinians, who, having achieved the status of permanent victims, escape skeptical examination of their actions and motives.

The same biases color attitudes on moral issues. Abortion? BBC reportage invariably starts from the premise that it is an unquestioned social good, and the company has close links with pro-abortion groups like the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Multiculturalism? The BBC enthusiastically embraces a relativism that treats all cultures, no matter how backward, as equally valid and gives our own democratic traditions no special weight. Homosexuality? The BBC has consistently pushed the agenda of gay-rights activists on issues like same-sex marriage and the adoption of children by gay couples.

The reverse of the coin is that the BBC has its own in-house pariah groups: the "Christian Right," neocons, climate-change skeptics, "homophobes," George W. Bush. These people will never get the soft interview or helpful publicity.

The BBC reserves special venom for its portrayal of the Superpower. Little details betray underlying attitudes. I once spotted a poster of President Bush as Hitler in the large, shared radio current affairs newsroom; no one else seemed to mind this sophomoric but revealing prank. A much deeper anti-Americanism was at work in the reporting of the New Orleans hurricane disaster: BBC correspondents demonstrated unholy relish in dwelling on the failures in a way they would never have done had the event occurred elsewhere. The murder spree at Virginia Tech this spring was an opportunity for moralizing reports about U.S. gun laws. Reporters conveniently forgot that such tragedies happen the world over.

All these biases arise naturally from the type of organization the BBC is and the sort of people who work there. The BBC is a public-sector entity, paid for by what is essentially a universal poll tax levied on everyone with a television, and thus has an instinctive suspicion of the private sector. This colors its judgment in debates about, for instance, public health care and education. The general view is that the public sector is always superior, at least in intention, to the private.

In terms of staffing, BBC editorial people are overwhelmingly university graduates, usually in the liberal arts, and young; the official retirement age is 60, but the ranks of the over-50s are very thin. Not surprisingly there is a strong "group think" mechanism at work. It is striking how quickly the "BBC position" on any news story emerges. I know from personal experience that expressing dissent in BBC editorial meetings can be an intimidating and uncomfortable experience.

Is Darwin Kosher?

($ubs¢ription required.)

Yeshiva University has held a fund-raiser at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Carl Feit, the chairman of the science division at the university seems to be quite at home with secular science.

Prof. Feit says that in nearly a quarter-century of teaching introductory biology, he has always taught evolution -- supported by traditional Jewish source material -- and that "there has never been a blip on the radar here." His assessment echoes the official line of the Modern Orthodox rabbinical association, which states that evolution is entirely consistent with Judaism.

The seeming ease with which this branch of Judaism has embraced science can in large part be credited to the towering intellectual legacy of Moses Maimonides. In his 12th-century masterpiece, "Guide to the Perplexed," Maimonides opened the door to a Judaism unfettered by a literal reading of religious texts. For many Jews the persuasive case for evolution does indeed amount to a crisis of faith, but the Maimonidean precedent of figurative interpretation provides a framework within which conflicts arising between Torah and science can be argued away. To be sure, some arguments are more compelling than others (and a great many are not compelling at all). But in contrast to many observant Christians, there is a greater willingness of these believers to live with such inconsistencies.

There are some dissenters, of course. Rabbi Daniel Lapin opposes evolution, and the article cites Rabbi Natan Sifkin. He differs from many of his fellow Orthodox rabbis, to the point where they are ordering him to burn his writings.

Rabbi Slifkin does not consider Darwin a threat to his faith. Relying heavily on Maimonides he argues not only that there is no incompatibility between traditional Jewish faith and the laws of nature, but that a full understanding of one depends on a full understanding of the other. "Appreciating the role and rule of natural law is an essential prerequisite to appreciating the role and rule of the spiritual law of Torah," Rabbi Slifkin writes in "The Science of Torah." "To be sure, we have scientific explanations for phenomena. But this does not paint G-d out of the picture. On the contrary -- it presents a new picture, that of the body of scientific law, for Him to have painted."

To Rabbi Slifkin, God set the scientific process in motion. Yet he sharply dismisses the claims of intelligent-design advocates like Michael Behe as "wrong and dangerous." He thinks it "strange" that such people feel compelled to "find gaps in biology in order to give God something to do." After all, "Man's physical ancestry in the animal kingdom has no bearing on his unique spiritual nature. Whether our physical bodies originate from mud or monkey, our fundamental identity does not relate to either."

According to Marc Swetlitz, co-editor of "Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism," "the Slifkin affair has forced both Jews and non-Jews to remember that there are Jews who oppose evolution and they are not afraid to say so. I think there is more Jewish anti-evolution writing out there now than ever before."

Rabbi Slifkin has not given an inch to his critics despite the animus directed toward him by some neighbors and colleagues. He has taken to the Internet to mount an exhaustive defense of his writings, meticulously countering each and every argument made against him. And though he was dropped by his religious publisher and distributor as a result of the controversy, he has since signed with a new outfit that is planning to release a vastly expanded version of one of his banned books, "Sacred Monsters," in July.

The animating idea that runs through all of Rabbi Slifkin's work is his insistence that "science and monotheism go hand-in-hand." At a moment when our national debate tends to cast religion and science in adversarial roles, he reminds us that belief in the former needn't imply hostility to the latter.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

History doesn't repeat itself...

...but it does rhyme.

Orson Scott Card spends considerable looking at parallels between World War II and the current war on terror.

That was World War II. We take it for granted that Nazism was destroyed. We forget what a near thing it was.

Then he moves on to the mistakes we may be about to make in Iraq.

In fact, in one key way, we are living through the opposite of the run-up to World War II. America has a President who has taken the early action against the maniacs who seek world domination that Chamberlain refused to take.

But there are still some very important lessons we must learn:

1. When the press has decided to report only one side of the story, the public is ill served. If the British press had simply told the truth about what Hitler was doing, and reminded people of what Hitler had promised in Mein Kampf, it is likely that British public opinion would have been supportive of the early action that would have stopped Hitler without the devastation of World War II.

2. If you do not believe the threats of an insane enemy and destroy their war capacity early, when it can be cheaply done, you will pay for it in blood and horror.

3. Only fools believe that an enemy cannot do what he threatens to do.

4. Only fools allow their best allies to be neutralized before the war begins.

This is a big one. We could very easily lose most, if not all, of our allies by taking the wrong actions now.

if we do insane things like withdrawing from Iraq (which would be seen by everyone as a massive victory for Al-Qaeda and Iran and a proof that America cannot be relied on as an ally) or allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons, then several things will certainly happen:

A. All the Muslim nations that have trusted us will immediately make friends with Iran or be toppled by Islamicist coups and revolutions.

B. Israel will be destroyed and its population slaughtered in a new holocaust. We might be able to bring out a few survivors.

C. Europe will be neutralized. Radical Islam will completely dominate the Muslim populations in European nations, and the governments will almost certainly bend their foreign policy to accommodate their demands. America will have no allies.

D. The world economic order, from which America skims its prosperity, probably would not endure. Oil still calls the shots, and Russia and China will join with Islam to marginalize or shatter the American economy. Never mind that the resulting worldwide depression would ruin their own economies. If America is brought down, they will feel like relative winners. And without America as a beacon of hope, what internal opposition would they have to worry about? None.

This is all easily foreseeable, even obvious. Outcomes A, B, and C would be inevitable, and while some optimists believe D could not happen, they merely underestimate the willingness of our enemies and rivals to hurt their own interests in order to bring us down.

We truly would be "America Alone" if this happened. And if outcome D occurred, we'd also be "America Emasculated". Reasonable people may disagree over how likely these outcomes are, but it seems to me, reasonable people have to ask, "how likely do they have to be?"

There's lots more – read the whole thing.

Supporting the troops: Reality check

AS AN IRAQ WAR VETERAN who participated in combat operations and political reconciliation efforts, I take issue with some of the arguments repeatedly being made on Capitol Hill. Most recently I was bothered by statements from Sen. Carl Levin, who cited three common antiwar arguments in his June 21 op-ed, " Lincoln's Example for Iraq," all of which run counter to realities on the ground in Iraq.
  • A deadline for withdrawal is an incentive for Iraqi political compromise. ...the more likely result: an American exit date crushing any incentive for Iraqi leaders to cooperate and instead prompting rival factions to position themselves to capitalize on the looming power void.
  • We can bring the war to a "responsible end" but still conduct counterterrorism operations. The problem with this argument is what a "responsible end" would mean. What is "responsible" about the large-scale bloodshed that would surely occur if we left the Iraqis behind with insufficient security forces? What is "responsible" about proving al-Qaeda's thesis that America can be defeated anywhere with enough suicide bombings?
  • We are "supporting the troops" by demanding an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.Levin says that "our troops should hear an unequivocal message from Congress that we support them." He explains his vote to fund and "support" the troops while simultaneously trying to legislate the war's end. But what kind of "support" and "unequivocal message" do the troops hear from leaders in Congress who call their commanders "incompetent" or declare the war "lost"?

Monday, June 25, 2007

The rape of a name

(Warning: Link above is to an MP3 file.)

Last week, Dennis Prager spent an hour discussing his thesis that "the rape of a name can be as bad, or worse, than actual rape of the body."

Of course, this round of that topic is in response to what happened to the Duke University Lacrosse players. Not only did their families have to spend significant chunks of their inheritances defending them from charges that turned out to be false, their names and faces were splashed all over the New York Times, and they were labeled rapists by the District Attorney and a piano-full of professors (eighty-eight kiesters) at Duke. Fortunately for them, the fact that they were found innocent (not just "not guilty") was also headline news.

Dennis comes to this sort of situation with a statement from Judaism: He who publically humiliates another is regarded the same as if he had shed that person's blood. In other words, to harm or destroy a person's reputation is the same as harming or destroying that person.

He spent an hour on this topic because he's gotten any number of e-mails differing with him. There are any number of people who, at least on first thinking about it, have decided being physically raped is worse than having one's name dragged through the mud. This is even true for some of his callers.

Then he started getting calls from people who have seen the aftereffects of both. One person cited the statistic that many women refuse to report their rapes, because the damage to their reputation is more painful. (This may not be entirely valid – a woman may reasonably decide ten units of pain is enough, and she doesn't want to face the eleventh.)

And then the most telling caller was a woman who had been raped, and later had been accused of molesting one of her children. She stated the rape of her name was much worse.

So, after all that, we get to the point I want to discuss. Dennis was quite puzzled that one's reputation had come to be held so lightly, when in the past it was known to be extremely important. I think he's missing a bit of historical perspective.

In the past, when just about everyone lived in small communities, everyone knew everyone else. Whatever you did followed you around, often for the rest of your life. If you screwed up, your only option was to hope you could "live it down" – spend the next however many years atoning, and particularly doing very much other than what you had done to earn your reputation, so that people would come to disregard your past.

You could, of course, pick up and move to another village, if you had the freedom to move from place to place (many people were bound to the land and not free to leave). You also had to be willing impoverish yourself (money existed, but most people didn't have any, and there were no banks, especially none with branches in other cities). In effect, you had to abandon your life in one village, and trek to another one where you wouldn't be known.

And since you were an unknown in the new village, you would be forever regarded with suspicion. The process of relocating was hard enough that people only did it for very pressing reasons – like escaping a major stain on their reputation. You could probably not count on living long enough to be an accepted member of your new community.

With increasing freedom of movement, and with the increasing ability to pick up and move from one place to another, it became easier to outrun a reputation. If a person had learned his lesson, and mended his ways, it was actually possible to sail to a new country, or drive to a new state, and start a new life. There were enough people around who had done just that to make any other person who did so – well, not that strange. (And in places like the Foreign Legion or California mining towns, everyone was from somewhere else.) It became possible to outrun a reputation.

Fast forward a few years, and we have the anonymity of the big city. In a small town of a few hundred, it's possible to know everyone personally. In a small town of a few thousand, it's conceivable that everyone will be known by reputation. In a city of a hundred thousand or a few million, forget it. Most of the people you run into in a big city will be strangers, and chances are, you'll never see them again. Your reputation is whatever you do in the seconds or minutes you're interacting. Reputation is something you share with a fraction of the people you meet.

To be sure, it's possible for someone to attain "repute". People can become famous, or infamous. Paris Hilton has a reputation, as does Kato Kaelin. (Remember him? I only remember him because he's in an spot.) Or, you can be made famous against your will, like the Duke Lacrosse Players.

Part of being a member of a Global Village is that any reputation you have, or any reputation that is created for you, can be spread far and wide, whether you want it so or not. In your preindustrial village, your reputation was based on what you did, and word of it spread to everyone, for good or for ill. But villagers had limited power to shape another's reputation. If someone made up lies about others, enough people would compare the stories with the actual facts to earn the storyteller the reputation of a gossip. There were some incentives to watch what you said about others.

But now, in the global village of the 21st Century, our cultural institutions and our sensibilities have lagged behind our power to spread information. Anyone can say anything about some other person, and post it where a Google search will find it.

Now, the insult one school child posts about another in her MyFace blog will probably not be counted as highly significant by a prospective employer doing a Google search. But I guarantee those Lacrosse players will have the tale of their rape charges following them forever. Every time someone does a Google search on their names, that story will come up. Thousands of links will pop up.

To be sure, Mike Nifong is no longer an attorney, and he's likely to die in poverty after he loses the lawsuit from the families of the three players. His reputation is now carved in digital stone. But no one in the justice system is proposing that Crystal Mangum (Janette Rivers) suffer any sort of penalty for what she did.

Back in the days when reputations were harder to run away from, laws developed to help safeguard them. In Jewish law, for example, the penalty for bearing false witness (in court) was that the one bearing false witness would be sentenced to the penalty the subject of the falsehood would have gotten, had the lies been believed. Crystal Mangum should be sent to prison for the same length of time the Lacrosse players would have had to serve, had they been convicted. If she's suitably remorseful, maybe she could be allowed to serve those terms concurrently. But she did serious damage to the reputation of the three defendants, as well as to the rest of the Lacrosse team. She also did serious damage to the credibility of anyone who steps forward with an accusation of rape. Her case will now be cited as proof that women do, sometimes, lie about being raped.

We're in a culture now where we can't run away from a reputation any more, and our laws have to allow us to protect them, or else we'd better forget our cultural and evolutionary past and learn that reputations don't mean anything.

Link Whorage

As you may or may not already be aware, members of the Watcher's Council hold a vote every week on what they consider to be the most link-worthy pieces of writing around... per the Watcher's instructions, I am submitting one of my own posts for consideration in the upcoming nominations process.
Here is the most recent winning council post, here is the most recent winning non-council post, here is the list of results for the latest vote, and here is the initial posting of all the nominees that were voted on.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Steyn on Jihadists

Mark Steyn has some observations about the continuing threats against Salmon Rushdie.

Steyn looks back on the success of the radical Islamist strategy of intimidation and wonders why the West still can't buy a clue:

This is where we came in two decades ago. We should have learned something by now. In the Muslim world, artistic criticism can be fatal. In 1992, the poet Sadiq Abd al-Karim Milalla also found that his work was "not particularly well-received": he was beheaded by the Saudis for suggesting Muhammad cooked up the Quran by himself. In 1998, the Algerian singer Lounès Matoub described himself as "ni Arabe ni musulman" (neither Arab nor Muslim) and shortly thereafter found himself neither alive nor well. These are not famous men. They don't stand around on Oscar night, congratulating themselves on their "courage" for speaking out against Bush-Rove fascism. But, if we can't do much about freedom of expression in Iran and Saudi Arabia, we could at least do our bit to stop Saudi-Iranian standards embedding themselves in the West.

So many of our problems with Iran today arise from not doing anything about our problems with Iran yesterday. Men like Ayatollah Khomeini despised pan-Arab nationalists like Nasser who attempted to impose a local variant of Marxism on the Muslim world. Khomeini figured: Why import the false ideologies of a failing civilization? Doesn't it make more sense to export Islamism to the dying West?

And, for a guy dismissed by most of us as crazy, Khomeini made a lot of sense. The Rushdie fatwa established the ground rules: The side that means it gets away with it. Mobs marched through Britain calling for the murder of a British subject – and, as a matter of policy on the grounds of multicultural sensitivity, the British police shrugged and looked the other way.

Who we're fighting

"Nato accuses Taliban of using children in suicide missions," by Chiade O'Shea for The Guardian:

Children as young as six are being used by the Taliban in increasingly desperate suicide missions, coalition forces in Afghanistan claimed yesterday.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to which Britain contributes 5,000 troops in southern Afghanistan, revealed that soldiers defused an explosive vest which had been placed on a six-year-old who had been told to attack Afghan army forces in the east of the country.

The boy was spotted after appearing confused at a checkpoint. The vest was defused and no one was hurt.

"They placed explosives on a six-year-old boy and told him to walk up to the Afghan police or army and push the button," said Captain Michael Cormier, the company commander who intercepted the child, in a statement. "Fortunately, the boy did not understand and asked patrolling officers why he had this vest on."

Of course, if this kind of thing got reported more widely, people might actually start to support "Bush's War™".

Is race just a social construct?

(Hat tip: John Ray.)

An unrealistic typical inside-the-dogma-boundaries debate about race, this one at The New Republic, ellicits a response from Razib at Gene Expression. Razib says race is not simply an ideological construct.
Race is a social construction. But it is not one constructed purely from human ideology. That many perceive Greeks as white and Turks as non-white is a reflection of social axioms (Christians are white, Muslims are brown). That may perceive Greeks as white and Thai as non-white is not a reflection of social axioms (Greeks exhibit physical characteristics of the white race, Thais do not). Humanists are well schooled in the interplay between ideology and facts in generating a narrative of the world. To pretend as if there is no factual basis in the outlines of an ideology is a denial of reality, which would less concerning if not for the fact that most Americans parrot this very line about race as if it was universally accepted.

The whole argument over "race is a social construct" gets very interesting in places. One of the more curious turns is when it mutates into "race is only a social construct."

To which the response must be: "Therefore what?"

"Therefore," it seems to me, the whole notion of race is a phantasm, and should be completely in any discussions of social policy. Yet it seems the folks most likely to insist that race is only a social construct are the ones most likely to insist that this social construct be considered in such things as university admission, job qualification, and even in the criminal justice system (e.g., the death penalty is unfair because members of one social construct are executed more often than members of some other social construct.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Giving and taking

George Bush brought gifts to Pope Benedict XVI, and people are carping about them.

There is a link so you can read the case for and against the gift and its giving. But this leads into another topic.

I’ve asked before - how do you receive a good? If someone gives you a gift that they’ve spent a good deal of time selecting for you, even if it is not to your taste, do you accept it and ask for the receipt so you can return it? Or do you accept it and then shove it away in a drawer? Or do you keep it nearby and consider it, use it, and try to figure out just what it was about the gift that made someone select it for you? Sometimes there is some self-discovery in doing that. You learn what you show to other people, for one thing.

I think I want to refer back to this when I do my rewrite of my book on the Wiccan Rede.

Junk DNA

Genomicron, a blog run by an evolutionary biologist, has a number of posts addressing the latest research in noncoding DNA.

Creationists tend to glom on to reports of functionality in noncoding DNA as proof that the entire genome is exquisitely designed, and therefore some intelligence had to create it.

There are posts discussing what's actually been discovered, and its implications,

National Academies of Science

Neat website, lots of content.

(Re)Earning the public's trust

Lately, we've been reading and hearing stories that reveal the startling fact that the media are biased, and that they often get things wrong. We've also learned that water is wet.

Once any given outlet reaches the point of admitting the problem, is there a way to fix it?

The question is not whether unfairness and errors persist in the news media. Glaringly, they do. But how should the media eradicate them, so that biased reporting will not continue to taint the good name of the fourth estate of the realm?


What really are the causes of errors in the news media? Errors can arise from a reporter's incompetence or inadequate knowledge of a subject matter. A reporter's impatience, inability or unwillingness to get the views of all sides in a given matter can be the cause of an error. With some measure of diligence and determination reporters can eliminate these lapses.

Sometimes, poor editing can create an error in a reporter's story. The unwillingness of a government official or corporate leader to speak to a reporter about an issue can result in unfairness and imbalance in a story. Dependence on a secondary source of information without verification can result in publishing an erroneous piece of information that can be repeated by others who rely on it. All this can be avoided.

When a reporter finds that he has made a mistake, it is his place to tell his boss what has happened. Not all reporters are honest enough to take this step. There is a tendency on the part of some reporters to ignore it or even pretend as if nothing had happened. Some reporters hide the errors from their editors. This shouldn't be.

There are editors who take mistakes reported to them quite seriously, and initiate immediate action. Some other editors are said to be in the habit of sweeping such errors under the carpet. The right thing to do is for a reporter to inform his editor immediately whenever he finds an error in his article. The editor, who, in such a case, obviously missed the error himself or decided to leave it in, owes a duty to his conscience and a social responsibility to publish a correction or clarification immediately.

Besides the errors, the even more insidious problem is that of bias. Some is unconscious bias, but much of it is just plain advocacy journalism disguised as straight reporting. Accuracy in Media, the original media watchdog organization, has been documenting both the errors and the bias in the mainstream media for close to 40 years.

Are there possible remedies to the afore-stated problems? Certainly there are! If reporters and editors allow honesty and integrity to regulate their professional conduct, a better part of the problem would be solved. Although reporters are not always pleased with the idea of having news researchers call their sources to verify the accuracy of their stories, it is worth the cost to have fact-checkers in our newsrooms.

This is the way to earn and keep the trust of readers and the general public. To do otherwise would amount to eroding this trust. If the many journalistic scandals have helped to raise the levels of consciousness and responsibility of editors and news directors to the interests of their readers and listeners, then the right lessons have been learned. But far too often, it seems that these lessons have not been learned.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Supreme court filibusters

On NRO today is [Ed Whelan's] essay “The Next Supreme Court Vacancy: There’s plenty of room to confirm another strong justice.” Among other things, the essay discusses the long-established Senate practice of affording every Supreme Court nominee an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor and explores the lone exception to that practice over the past 130 years—the broadly bipartisan filibuster in 1968 of Abe Fortas’s nomination as Chief Justice.

In short, the only filibuster of a Senate floor vote on a Supreme Court nomination was not only bipartisan, it was a broad-gauged opposition for the best of reasons. Fortas simply lacked the personal probity for service on the highest court in the land. Our best historian of Supreme Court nominations, Henry Abraham, calls Fortas's behavior "ill-conceived, arrogantly thoughtless, [and] downright stupid," accounting for his downfall as caused in part by his "personal greed." (These quotes are from Abraham's Justices, Presidents, and Senators, coming out in a new edition this fall.) source

Powell on his UN speech

Colin Powell speaks on "Meet the Press" about the presentation he made before the UN.

Did the president lie or mislead us?

Powell: "We went to war on the basis that we have a terrible regime . . . it's been terrible forever. What makes it so terrible now -- in the aftermath of 9/11 -- is that they had demonstrated that they will use these weapons. They've used them against their own people, they've used them against the enemy. They had them at the time of the first Gulf War . . . . And the intelligence community said and had every reason to believe that they not only had the capability of having them again, but they have stockpiles. And that was the precipitating cause. . . . I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone. But the case that we took to the world and the case that we took to the American people rested not just in his human rights abuses or his cheating on the Oil-for-Food program, it rested on the real and present danger of weapons of mass destruction that he could use against his neighbors, or terrorists could use against us."

So you gave your presentation before the United Nations in good faith?

Powell: "I spent five days out at the CIA going over every single piece of information that was going to be in my presentation. There were a lot of other pieces of information that different people . . . wanted me to use, and it was all rejected. Everything in that statement was blessed by the director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet; his deputy, John McLaughlin; and all of their senior officials. . . . And so I went to the UN having dumped a lot of stuff on the side of the road because it wasn't multiple source. It might have been right, but it wasn't multiple source and I wouldn't use it. And the reason you see Director Tenet sitting behind me [at the UN] is because [he and] I wanted to make sure . . . that people understood I was not making a political statement. I was making a statement of the facts as we knew them."

Nevertheless, the "Today" show graphic ran: "Breaking His Silence: Powell Blasts Bush's War Policies." Except he didn't.

Tortured reasoning

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was on a panel discussion about torture and terrorism law. During this discussion, the topic of Jack Bauer came up. (source)

...a Canadian judge's passing remark - "Thankfully, security agencies in all our countries do not subscribe to the mantra 'What would Jack Bauer do?' " - got the legal bulldog in Judge Scalia barking.

The conservative jurist stuck up for Agent Bauer, arguing that fictional or not, federal agents require latitude in times of great crisis. "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent's rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.

"Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?" Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. "Say that criminal law is against him? 'You have the right to a jury trial?' Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so.

"So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes."

The left-wing blogosphere has erupted in a fit. Left wing bloggers are shocked and appalled that Justice Scalia supported torture. And indeed, the blog post I lined to above, one of the "canaries in the coal mine" that I follow, declared himself "Croggled and appalled".

Over at the American Constitution Society blog, the issue has drawn some comment. Most of the comments declare Scalia to be the worst thing that's ever happened to the Supreme Court:

This man is a fool and a poltroon and a blight on the profession, evil and dangerous, not just for his positions, but for his willingness to so lower the bar with respect to valid conclusions drawn from true premises.

We see more measured comments at the wsj blog.

This post at Think Progress has drawn any number ov comments. According to the commenters, Scalia is busy shredding the constitution and should be impeached. Another major thread running through the comments is exemplified by:
Wow. Scalia is basing his legal opinions on a fantasy TV show? Our republic is dead.
Do any of these prominent repugs live in the real world, or are they all unable to distinguish fact from fiction?

Southern Beale commented in a post:

Would someone please remind the dumber Republicans among us that Jack Bauer is a fictional character?

Well, I'd be willing to bet that Scalia is well aware that Jack Bauer is a fictional character, and that the show "24" depicts fictional events. Any takers?

Torture is obviously a hot topic for many people. And for good reason – it's a nasty business. However, we as a society tolerate lots of things that are nasty, to a greater or lesser extent. For example, in wartime, we tolerate the notion that our soldiers will kill and injure people, without giving them a fair trial.

Even with a fair trial, we tolerate the ability of police officers to stop and detain people, using deadly force if needed. In many cases the police can subject suspects to very coercive methods of interrogation. Some of these, like the offering of plea bargains, are little more than legalized blackmail.

However, as soon as you offer anything except the most stringent condemnation of anything bearing the label "torture", all hell breaks loose. If you dare question whether it's really that far out of bounds you are considered evil incarnate. There is almost no attempt to address the substance of your remarks, and every attempt to declare your opinions illegitimate.

Although Scalia and others at the panel raised serious issues in the discussion, the noise in the left-wing hemisphere of the blogosphere denounced him for failing to reject torture out of hand. The only possible reason any of these people can imagine is that he's evil, he's determined to eradicate all trace of due process and civil rights, and he's a sworn enemy of the Constitution.

Well, there is one more reason. Obviously, he must be stupid. He's so stupid that he can't tell the difference between a TV series and reality.

The "principled" opposition to torture blithely assumes that anyone who doesn't agree with them wholeheartedly and unreservedly must be operating from stupidity or evil, or maybe both. This is a very convenient point of view – it saves those who hold it from ever having to think. If everyone who disagrees with you is motivated by evil, or is blindingly stupid, there's no point in arguing with them. He's a Conservative – end of issue.

But there are real, weighty, meaty issues to deal with. Some of these were dealt with at the panel discussion.

Does the end justify the means if national security is at stake? On 24, the answer is, invariably, yes.

"[Scalia argued] that fictional or not, federal agents require latitude in times of great crisis."

"So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes."

While Judge Scalia argued that doomsday scenarios may well lead to the reconsideration of rights, in his legal decisions he has also said that catastrophic attacks and intelligence imperatives do not automatically give the U.S. president a blank cheque - the people have to decide. "If civil rights are to be curtailed during wartime, it must be done openly and democratically, as the Constitution requires, rather than by silent erosion through an opinion of this court," he dissented in a 2004 decision.

Do the ends justify the means?

Personally, I'd say they do, but the question is, how far? To say that the ends never justify the means is to commit the same error committed by one who defines torture as "any physical or mental coercion – any." Life is a series of trade-offs. That's one inescapable truth. Those who insist the ends never justify the means would rather there were no such trade-offs, but they're in for disappointment.

So the issue is not do we ever get our hands dirty, the question is how much dirt is compatible with our notions of a civilized society.

But that's an argument that requires thought and consideration. It's far easier to adopt a stance of ideological purity and declare all disagreement unprincipled by definition.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More readers of my stuff.

The bumping of this thread afforded me the opportunity to take advantage of FreeSeeker's link to the Karl Lembke essay. (Thanks FreeSeeker.) Oddly, although I am a self-professed word junkie, it had never occurred to me to plumb the definitions of the words in The Rede. How very intriguing. Lembke states: ""Bide" does not mean "obey". It means "endure"." That piqued my interest, so I looked it up. Following is Merriam-Webster's online offering:

Main Entry: bide
Pronunciation: 'bId
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): bode /'bOd/; or bid·ed; bided; bid·ing
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English bIdan; akin to Old High German bItan to wait, Latin fidere to trust, Greek peithesthai to believe
Date: before 12th century
transitive senses
1 past usually bided : to wait for -- used chiefly in the phrase bide one's time
2 archaic : WITHSTAND
3 chiefly dialect : to put up with : TOLERATE
intransitive senses
1 : to continue in a state or condition
2 : to wait awhile : TARRY
3 : to continue in a place : SOJOURN

M-W, indeed, confirmed Mr. Lembke's statement with meaning 2. However, I suspect that it also may be a contraction or variation of the more common abide with the following definition:

Main Entry: abide
Pronunciation: &-'bId
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): abode /-'bOd/; or abid·ed; abid·ing
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English AbIdan, from A-,perfective prefix + bIdan to bide; akin to Old High German ir-,perfective prefix
Date: before 12th century
transitive senses
1 : to wait for : AWAIT
2 a : to endure without yielding : WITHSTAND b : to bear patiently : TOLERATE
3 : to accept without objection
intransitive senses
1 : to remain stable or fixed in a state
2 : to continue in a place : SOJOURN
synonym see BEAR, CONTINUE
- abid·er noun
- abide by 1 : to conform to 2 : to acquiesce in

This being the case, perhaps we are being called on to endure or withstand or bear patiently the Rede, or perhaps it derives from the intransitive sense of both bide and abide: sojourn or dwell, i.e., live. As in "where do you abide?" or as some of us who were raised in the Christian tradition might remember, "Abide with Me." Thus our charge might be to live the Rede.

Beyond the denotation, however, isn't the etymology fascinating? Akin to German: to wait; Latin: to trust; and Greek: to believe. Of course, as we know, the word "rede," although related to "read" as a verb, means "counsel" or "advice" in its nominative sense, as used here.

As such, perhaps we are also being called on not only to endure, but also to wait, trust, and believe —- and live — the Wiccan counsel or advice. Hmmm. Think on that. Isn't that lovely? Though I can't explain why, I find those words very comforting. (and very challenging).

My articles get around

The long form of the Rede is traditional, at least in the sense of the term which means "I think I've covered up all traces that I made it up last Tuesday". It appears to be a collection of law and lore which would apply to at least one line of Witches. In particular, the line from which came one Lady Gwen, who founded the New England Coven of Traditional Witches (NECTW).


From: Karl Lembke probably published in 'Pagan Ink", although this was received through private channels.

More on Imbolc

From the Wild Hunt blog.


While I'm ego-searching, I might as well link to this article on evolution and science.

Partitioning Iraq a bad idea

Both withdrawing from Iraq and dividing it into parts will cause more war and violence later on.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Darwin Central Blog

This is a blog run by conservatives who don't see any threat in evolution.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

My beltane article


Space elevator

In this case, at the Space Elevator Blog.

Old recipe archive


And here's recipes 1-500


And here's recipes 1501-2000

And here's recipes 2001-2500

And here's recipes 2501-3000

And here's recipes 3001-3500

Citations on the web

The Imbolc article is posted on the Midnight Moon Cafe. This seems to be the blog of a trio of authors.

Paranormal sensual and erotic romance authors Cora Zane, Tempest Knight, Cassandra Curtis, and Brandi Broughton invite you to take a seat and a cup of coffee and join us.


Open letter to WND

The text of my open letter to World Net Daily in response to one of their pieces on evolution is here.

What are blogs good for?

That's how the media and political establishment conspire to push unpopular legislation on the public -- by convincing them their views are marginal and could not possibly win, and, in fact, are "extremist" and therefore things to be kept quiet about in secret shame.

What blogs, talk radio, and other non-establishment media are best at is fighting that dishonest meme and thereby letting people know that not only are they not alone, but in fact are part of the true, real mainstream majority opinion. And could, and should in most cases, prevail.

Tax cuts for the rich?

Maybe so, if you define "for the rich" as "for increasing the number of rich people". Tax cuts improve the economy.

The results of the experiment that began when Congress passed a series of tax-rate cuts in 2001 and 2003 are in. Supporters of those cuts said they would stimulate the economy. Opponents predicted ever-increasing budget deficits and national bankruptcy unless tax rates were increased, especially on the wealthy.

In fact, Treasury statistics show that tax revenues have soared and the budget deficit has been shrinking faster than even the optimists projected. Since the first tax cuts were passed, when I was in the Senate, the budget deficit has been cut in half.

So we seem to have a nice test of a theory here. One prediction is that if we cut taxes, deficits would increase and revenues would drop. Another prediction is that if we cut taxes, deficits would decrease and revenues would increase.

We ran the experiment.

We got a result.

Words mean things...

....but not always what you think they do.

You can't tell whether a text is "clear" or "unambiguous" by simply consulting the text — you also need to see whether there is external evidence that the meaning of some term is something other than what you assume it to "clearly" or "unambiguously" be (whether we refer to the meaning intended by the author or the meaning likely understood by most of the author's intended readers). This shouldn't be politically or ideologically controversial. It's just a description of how language and communication works.

consider this text:

1 + x = 10

This may seem "clear" or "unambiguous," until you see that people sometimes say — and quite correctly,

1 + 1 = 10

There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't.

Or say you have a contract that reads,

I will turn over to you my car if you pay me twenty thousand dollars.

Usually that's pretty clear; but if it turns out the contract is made by two Canadians in Canada, contemplating a transaction in Canada, we'd realize that "dollars" means something other than what it usually means in America.Even if the contract ends up in American court (say the parties move to California and litigate the matter in California), any American court will correctly look beyond the supposedly "clear" meaning of the text to recognize that the contract meant something quite different. Even the strongest version of the parol evidence rule would not, to my knowledge, require a court to assume that the term "dollar" is "clearly" U.S. dollar, even if that's the first reaction that the judge had to the contract before he learned of its entirely Canadian context.

Again, it's not that meaning is "up for grabs" in the sense that any interpretation is always as good as any other. It's just that language can't be understood without figuring out what it means in a particular context, and recognizing that seemingly "clear" words can become less clear — or clearly something else — when one recognizes the context. Usually the context is as you expected, and the meaning is thus what it clearly seemed at first. But we can't just categorically foreclose the possibility that a word in a 200-year-old document (or even in a relatively new document) means something different than what it clearly seems to be if we look only at the text.

The costs of switching to ethanol

The Volokh Conspiracy's Jonathan Adler looks at the effect increased demand for ethanol is having on the price of corn. And at the effect that has on any number of other things.

The Washington Post reports, the federal government's love affair with corn-based ethanol is further increasing a wide range of food prices.

Beef prices are up. So are the costs of milk, cereal, eggs, chicken and pork.

President Bush's call for the nation to cure its addiction to oil stoked a growing demand for ethanol, which is mostly made from corn. Greater demand for corn has inflated prices from a historically stable $2 per bushel to about $4....

cattle ranchers have to pay more for animal feed that contains corn. Those costs are reflected in cattle prices, which have gone from about $82.50 per 100 pounds a year ago to $91.15 today.

"Anybody that knows anything about the marketing of corn knows that when you raise the price of corn you are going to create problems in all of the markets that use corn," said Ronald W. Cotterill, director of the Food Marketing Policy Center at the University of Connecticut. corn prices rise in response to the incrased demand for corn, farmers are becoming less willing to let fields lie fallow or enroll their lands in various conservation programs.

In parts of the country, this could have a significant negative effect on wildlife habitat, particularly for migratory birds. So, even if one makes the (dubious) assumption that there are significant environmental benefits from switching to corn-based ethanol, such as a potential reduction in certain emissions, there are significant environmental costs as well.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Lieberman on Iraq

Senator Lieberman has been caught saying the situation in Iraq is improving.

Lieberman doesn't just argue the consequences of withdrawal. He also says that conditions have improved significantly over the last few months:

When I returned to Anbar on this trip, however, the security environment had undergone a dramatic reversal. Attacks on U.S. troops there have dropped from an average of 30 to 35 a day a few months ago to less than one a day now, according to Col. John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, headquartered in Ramadi. Whereas six months ago only half of Ramadi's 23 tribes were cooperating with the coalition, all have now been persuaded to join an anti-al Qaeda alliance. One of Ramadi's leading sheikhs told me: "A rifle pointed at an American soldier is a rifle pointed at an Iraqi." ...

In Baghdad, U.S. forces have cut in half the number of Iraqi deaths from sectarian violence since the surge began in February. They have also been making critical improvements in governance, basic services and commercial activity at the grassroots level.

Time for another look

The Israel-Palestine peace process has been dead for years. It's past time to hold the funeral.

Here is an excerpt from the speech Bush ought to give.

Five years ago I said, "The United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure."

Since none of the Palestinian leaders are engaging in a sustained fight against terrorists, the United States recognizes that today Israel has no partner for peace. I am left with no choice but to withdraw American support for Palestinian statehood at this time.

Since Israel has no peace partner, it is clear that the Israelis must take the necessary steps to protect themselves. Since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Gaza's international border with Egypt has turned into a thoroughfare for global terror with arms and personnel coming in from Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and beyond. I am disappointed with the fact that to date, Egypt has taken no effective action to block the terror traffic from its territory into the Palestinian Authority.

Can't detain enemy combatants?

The Fourth Circuit has held that al Qaeda agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri can't be detained as an enemy combatant. The Wall Street Journal is wagering this opinion will be overturned, and the legal framework allowing enemy combatants to be detained indefinitely will still be in place past January 20, 2009.

Liveblogging Nifong's hearing

The father of's Mary Katherine Ham is liveblogging the Duke Lacrosse Rape Trial.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Do you like being read to?

Me too.

And so do a lot of people.

Indeed, at a panel at Loscon one time, Bjo Trimble mentioned a time when she was in a bookstore, reading a book to her child. She noticed that before too long, she had a crowd of kids listening to her read, along with a whole bunch of adults who were trying to listen unobtrusively.

This blog is starting to post MP3 files of "forgotten classics", for your listening pleasure.

Junk DNA surprisingly active

The new work also overturns the conventional notion that genes are discrete packets of information arranged like beads on a thread of DNA. Instead, many genes overlap one another and share stretches of molecular code. As with phone lines that carry many voices at once, that arrangement has prompted the evolution of complex switching, splicing and silencing mechanisms -- mostly located between genes -- to sort out the interwoven messages.

Perhaps most surprising was how much of the human genome is at work at any given time, the scientists said.

Researchers have long known that only about 2 percent of human DNA is involved in making proteins, the molecular workhorses inside cells. That involves a two-step process in which a stretch of DNA -- a gene -- serves as a template to produce a strand of RNA, which is then used as a template to produce a protein.

Recent studies had shown that some snippets of DNA between genes also are transcribed into RNA even though they do not go on to make proteins. Surprisingly, though, the new work shows that most of a cell's DNA gets transcribed, raising questions about what all that RNA is doing.

Some of it may be doing nothing. "It may be like clutter in the attic," Collins said, noting that clutter could be useful when conditions change and evolution needs new material to work with.

But much of it seems to be playing crucial roles: regulating genes, keeping chromosomes properly packaged or helping to control the spectacularly complicated process of cell division, which is key to life and also is at the root of cancer.

Another aspect of Encode had researchers looking at the equivalent 1 percent of the genomes of more than 20 other mammals, and those results are forcing them to rethink the interplay between genetics and evolution.

The expectation was that many of the most active DNA sequences in humans would be prevalent in other mammals, too, because evolution tends to save and reuse what works best. But more than half were not found in other creatures, which suggests they may not be that important in people, either, said Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, England, a coordinator of the Encode effort.

"I think of them as gate-crashers at a party," Birney said. "They appeared by chance over evolutionary time . . . neither to the organism's benefit nor to its hindrance. That is quite an interesting shift in perspective for many biologists."

More on withdrawal

So might we take a lesson not from the 1970s forced withdrawal from Southeast Asia, which left us with killing fields and slaughter, but, say, 2005? The world wanted Israel out of Gaza, just as so much of the Democratic party wants us out of Iraq. Israel left Gaza. And the void was filled by the laying of tracks for the peace train? No, not hardly—rather, Iranian supported Hamas took over. There is now a new Hamas government on the border of Israel and Egypt, and a new Iranian state in the Middle East. Nice work. Might this be a lesson about withdrawing from such places when it is clear to the naked eye that terrorists are salivating at such possibilities?

I'd really like to hear why this is guaranteed not to happen if we pull out of Iraq on a timetable.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

More links to my stuff

Boosting the relevance of pages that link to my stuff.

And also, this'll help me find related stuff when I want to.

It's interesting to see where press releases wind up

A copy of my press release for the cookbook I wrote, almost a year ago now.

Article copied here

Fortunately, with full attribution.

I'm cited here

There's a link to my essay on Imbolc.

Cited in Free Republic!

Halfmanhalfamazing picked up on my piece on torture, citing Bill O'Reilly's interview with Brian Ross.

I'll just link back, as a reminder, and to boost the perceived relevance.

Media memes matter

The narrative that news media fix upon makes a difference in their reporting.

When George Allen was "Macaca'd," one of the reasons it worked is that it played media's narrative that he was a "racist." (There had already been tons of stories about how Allen had a Rebel flag and a noose in his office, etc.) This incident, caught on tape, seemed to confirm a stereotype that the media was pushing. The point is that, like it or not, narratives matter. Quite often, these memes are false, by the way. For example, the media played Howard Dean's internet campaign, but did you know that his website had about one-tenth as many hits as Bush's? (You wouldn't know that by reading the papers).


What I am saying is that the media is currently creating a narrative that says McCain is losing support. And in order to fit this template, they will highlight stories which confirm it (and they will ignore news items which would undermine their premise)...[ellipsis in original]

Trials for enemy combatants?

Ali Saleh Kalah al-Marri is an al-Qaeda-trained terrorist embedded here by the terror network, right before 9/11, as a “sleeper” operative to sabotage the United States — by committing acts of terror and using his techno-skills to disrupt the economy by computer hacking. President Bush thus designated al-Marri as an unlawful enemy combatant in the war on terror, and the government proffered this and other information to a federal judge — a presentation al-Marri did not rebut.


...a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Virginia ruled that the commander-in-chief may not detain a terrorist operative as an unlawful enemy combatant if that operative has managed to enter the United States and is present here lawfully — something perhaps worth the president’s consideration as he insists on trying to resuscitate an ill-advised comprehensive immigration bill that would make every illegal alien’s presence lawful.

Instead, the majority ruled that al-Marri, a national of Qatar here on a student visa, must either be given a full-blown trial in the civilian-justice system or be released.

Read the rest of it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Time to fight back

Islamic terrorists are winning the PR war.

You see an old sheik, speaking to what looks like 100,000 people, pulling out a sword and exhorting his screaming flock to kill every Jew they can find. One radical Muslim after another is shown giving motivational speeches on the fine art of Jew-hatred. And Jew-killing. Lots and lots of Jew-killing.

But here's the crazy part: There's not a word from the Jew-haters about the dreaded Occupation. Not a peep about roadblocks or fences or the oppressive policies of the Zionist occupier, which, as we are so often reminded, lie "at the heart" of our enemies' discontent. The Jew-haters are honest: they want Jews dead. All Jews. Roadblocks or no roadblocks. West Bank or no West Bank.

Talk about an inconvenient truth.

When you see all this Jew-hatred, it's tempting to be dismissive and say "These are only the radicals; there are many more moderates." Or to get all cynical because "The radicals will always want to kill us. So what's new?" These are great coping mechanisms that help us maintain our composure. But here's what's new: The radicals aren't just getting bigger and bolder on the battlefield, they're also, amazingly, winning the PR war.

Our PR timidity has backfired on us. I'm not saying we should emulate "Wrestlemania" announcers (how sincere do they look?), but I am saying that we need to get bolder and more emotional. It makes us more human.

For example, when the bombs fall on Sderot, instead of empty cliches like "no terrorist is immune" and "this is unacceptable" and so forth, we should have the guts to run ads all over the world and get on CNN and the BBC and say things like: "We gave them land, and they gave us war." "This proves that the occupation was never the key problem," and "How would England respond if the same amount of bombs fell on Manchester?"

These are not think-tank words, they're real words. If we can deliver them with the same intensity Mr. Burg used five years ago, the world will better understand the justness of our cause.

The amazing thing about the PR battle is that it's probably the only area right now where we can win. The political, military and diplomatic landscapes are a mess, but the PR landscape is wide open. Especially post-disengagement, there are numerous PR victories that are ours for the taking.

Does the death penalty deter?

Opponents of the death penalty like to claim there's no deterrent effect. There have been some studies carried out which beg to differ.

What gets little notice, however, is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim to settle a once hotly debated argument _ whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer.

"Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it," said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. "The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect."

A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. "The results are robust, they don't really go away," he said. "I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) – what am I going to do, hide them?"

Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. They all explore the same basic theory _ if the cost of something (be it the purchase of an apple or the act of killing someone) becomes too high, people will change their behavior (forego apples or shy from murder).

To explore the question, they look at executions and homicides, by year and by state or county, trying to tease out the impact of the death penalty on homicides by accounting for other factors, such as unemployment data and per capita income, the probabilities of arrest and conviction, and more.

Among the conclusions:

  • Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five and 14).
  • The Illinois moratorium on executions in 2000 led to 150 additional homicides over four years following, according to a 2006 study by professors at the University of Houston.
  • Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, according to a 2004 study by an Emory University professor.

A list of some studies is here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Thinking outside the box

"Thinking outside the box" must be one of the most hackneyed phrases in modern business. Here's a great example of a lawyer who did think outside the box. In this case, the box was the ongoing trial, interrupted when opposing counsel fell ill.

...Perhaps, it occurred to me, my opponent's physician would clear him to return to some duty less stressful than the trial itself even before he had fully recovered. And perhaps the events of the trial's first day would create possibilities that hadn't existed before.

I sent a lengthy email to my opponent, proposing that while he was recovering, we conduct a nonbinding day-long mediation before an experienced mediator chosen by the trial judge.

Mediation worked, and they arrived at a mutually agreeable settlement without the need for the rest of the trial.

This was not an obvious solution, but it was an effective one.

Monday afternoon quarterbacking

Analysis of Mitt Romney's response to the question of whether, knowing then what we know now, was it right to have invaded Iraq.

a reasonable person could obviously interpret Romney's statement to mean if Hussein had allowed inspectors in prior to 2002, but since Begala is insisting on absolute clarity, let's fact-check Begala's dates...

Sept. 17th is actually the date that inspectors were authorized to return to Iraq by Iraq. Inspectors, however, did not start inspections until November 27th. And why was there a delay? Because, yes, Iraq agreed to allow inspectors in, but under conditions not acceptable to the United Nations. Oh, and not acceptable to Hans Blix either:

The chief United Nations weapons inspector, Hans Blix, endorsed the key American demand that Iraq make a full declaration of its weapons programs before any inspections resume. Dr. Blix also said there was ''very broad support'' in the Security Council for a new resolution setting tough terms for inspections. In addition, he endorsed the threat of consequences if Iraq fails to disarm. Iraq had hoped for inspections under less stringent conditions.

Even failed terror plots should be taken seriously

Foiled terror plots often will seem ridiculous and unlikely, especially when they are preempted. What could be stupider than Ahmed Ressam, “a petty thief” according to Wright, running from border guards in Washington state after explosives were discovered in the trunk of his car? He wouldn’t have seemed so risible if he had exploded his bomb at Los Angeles International Airport. If the 9/11 plot had been disrupted at its very inception — with jihadis playing flight-simulator games in Afghanistan — it would have seemed laughable.

This is why even foiled plots deserve to be taken seriously. The New York Times notoriously played down the scheme to blow up fuel tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy Airport on Page 37, pleading that the amateurishness of the plot limited its newsworthiness.

An atheist's response to Hitchens

An atheist responds to Christopher Hitchens' new book.

On the fighting of battles

John Hawkins has a piece on "Proving the 9/11 Conspiracists Wrong".

If no sane person belives the U.S. Government conspired to take down the World Trade Center, why bother to argue with the insane? As it happens, it's for the same reason that I argue against evolution deniers.

So why have these conspiracy theories managed to spread? In large part because most serious commentators usually think it's beneath them to actually take the time to respond to the conspiracy theorists. The problem with that is that the nuts end up dominating the conversation by default because the sane, knowledgeable people tend to opt out of the conversation.

Interestingly enough, the conspiracists bring to their case the same logical flaws that anti-evolutionists and Holocaust deniers bring to their cases.

The other big problem is that conspiracy theorists use a style of argumentation that tends to baffle a lot of people. What the "truthers" and other assorted nuts do is ignore the big picture and focus on small things.

You see, there are always stories that are gotten wrong by the media in the aftermath of a big story (Think about how badly the Hurricane Katrina coverage was blown), small inconsistencies, and loose ends that aren't tied up. What the conspiracy theorists do is bring these minor issues up and demand that people explain them or else admit that there's a conspiracy. Most people don't know how to handle that because, quite naturally, they don't know what temperature steel melts at, who said what to whom two days after 9/11, or anything about some obscure study that the conspiracy theorists cite.

But, here's the thing: the conspiracy theorists have it backwards. It's the conspiracy theorists who need to build a case that explains what happened better than the official version, not people who believe the coherent, accepted version of events who need to explain away minutiae that the kooks have come up with.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Teacher granted new trial in porn case

A substitute teacher was sentenced to 40 years in prison for allegedly exposing her students to porn sites on the classroom computer. There's a real question as to whether this display was intentional, or due to pop-up windows running wild.

Judge Hillary Strackbein said 40-year-old Julie Amero was entitled to a new trial "because a witness the state presented as a computer expert, a Norwich police detective, provided 'erroneous' testimony about the classroom computer," according to the Hartford Courant.

"This is a case of a little bit of knowledge being too much," Amero's attorney, William Dow III told Security Fix. "The state's witness was not qualified to offer the opinions he did and further examination by the state showed that the witness was just wrong. Thankfully, the judge understood that."

Critics of the state's handling of the investigation and subsequent trial point to injustices that were revealed after Amero had been convicted. For example, the school district's IT director said after her conviction that the incident likely could have been prevented if the school had renewed its Web site content filtering software. It was outdated at the time of Amero's alleged porn surfing.

The defense's key witness, a forensics expert who had examined the PC Amero was using in the classroom, was barred from presenting his technical evidence during the trial. There also was the prosecution's admission that it had failed to conduct any scan of the computer's hard drive with anti-spyware software.

When I wrote about Amero's conviction in January, an anonymous commenter left this message on the blog: "I'm surprised at the grammar of all these comments. It's surprisingly good." Initially, I chuckled but otherwise dismissed that comment, until I began to hear via e-mail from some of the people who'd been carrying on a rather anxious conversation in the comments section of that blog post. It turns out that many of the most vocal were teachers or spouses of educators.

LeBaron said that under the circumstances, it would not be unreasonable for teachers in Connecticut to just turn off their computers, refuse to use them, and leave them off until they get proper training.

State Rep. Malone echoed that sentiment, adding that he, too, is worried about the long-term effects of the case.

"I envision some teacher is going to walk into their classroom and say, 'Nope, not me. Open your books and turn off the computers. These are dangerous things, and I'm not losing my career over it.'"

The comments on this post are also interesting. Some of the topics discussed include:

  • Forty years for exposing kids to porn for a few minutes? In some states, you'd have to kill three people, rob a bank, and spit on twelves sidewalks to do that kind of time.
  • The nature of what triggers pop-ups. Whose surfing caused the tornado of pop-ups?
  • The qualifications of the "expert witness". Did he blow it, and if so, how badly?
  • Who wants to be a teacher after this?

Brian also refers interested parties to the transcripts of the case.

And, as a parting shot, I note this:

Willard said schools place too much faith in Web site filtering software, which can do little to block adult-themed pop-ups generated by invasive adware and spyware programs.

'There is this misperception that filtering software is a totally effective solution that gives schools a false sense of security,' Willard said.

This is yet another example of how bad security is worse than no security at all. If you think you're protected, you tend to quit taking even the most elementary precautions.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Global warming and the press

Rich Karlgaard sees what he considers evidence of journalistic bias on the subject of global warming.

Does the mainstream media exaggerate the effects of global warming? Does it burn GW heretics at the stake?


Here is the damning quote from NASA head Michael Griffin:

"I have no doubt that global—that a trend of global warming exists," the administrator of NASA, Michael Griffin, said in a taped interview that was broadcast Thursday on National Public Radio. "I am not sure that it is fair to say that is a problem we must wrestle with.

"I would ask which human beings, where and when, are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now, is the best climate for all other human beings," he said. "I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take."

Griffin's statement is agnostic but not unreasonable. Many have been the cycles and fluctuations of Earth's surface temperatures during the last thousand years. Earth has survived. Civilizations have evolved. Never have so many people eaten so well or lived so long.

The AP/NYT story doesn't think Griffin's skepticism is reasonable at all. Fair enough—the writer is entitled to his/her opinion. But if that's what the writer thinks, shouldn't he/she have the honesty and guts to put a byline on the story?

The un-bylined story prints two nasty rebuttals to Griffin's statement:

Jerry Mahlman, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said Griffin's remarks showed he was either "totally clueless" or "a deep anti-global-warming ideologue."

Totally clueless now! Wow—words my 14-year-old would use. My read of human nature is that teenagers and grown-ups don't say "totally clueless" when they are totally confident of their facts.

James Hansen, a top NASA climate scientist and lead author of the research paper, said the comments showed "arrogance and ignorance" because millions of people will probably be harmed by global warming.

Millions will "probably" be harmed? Is that a guess? From a computer model? Whose model? The AP/NYT doesn't ask the scientist what "probably" means and how he derived such odds. Of course the story's anonymous writer also fails to ask about the costs of preventing "probably."

With crystalline certainty, we can say that millions of people around the world will be harmed if their access to affordable energy is curtailed. Jobs will be lost. Children will go hungry. Dreams of a better life will be put on hold. You don't need a computer model to show this. You just have to go back 10 years, when a billion people who are middle class now were poor then, simply because they lacked the infrastructure and information that cheap energy makes possible.

What do you think? Does the AP/NYT story load the dice? Is their "heretic shaming" typical of the mainstream media's coverage of global warming and its effects? Post your comments below.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sowell on adolescent intellectuals

He discusses the adolescent phase of life, when a person is old enough to do as he pleases regardless of what his parents say, and too young to have internalized the reasons why his parents didn't want him doing certain things. (Intellectuals tend not to outgrow that phase.)

This is a gem:

Two centuries ago, the great British legal scholar William Blackstone pointed out that there are some laws so old that no one remembers why they existed or what purpose they served then or now. But the bad consequences of repealing some of these laws have often made painfully clear what purpose they served.

This is a beautiful example of what Sowell calls the "constrained vision".

Monday, June 04, 2007

Wizbang on Torture

Wizbang has an essay on torture. I've got some comments on Terry Karney's latest post, on the media silence regarding the Al Qaeda manual.


Reactions to the Kennedy airport plot

Very quiet, at the time of the post.

The costs of bottled water

(Hat tip: John Ray)

World Watch Institute points out that bottled water is not only more expensive than tap water, but also impacts the environment more.

"Bottled water may be an industry winner, but it’s an environmental loser," says Ling Li, a fellow with the Institute’s China Program who authored the update. "The beverage industry benefits the most from our bottled water obsession. But this does nothing for the staggering number of the world’s poor who see safe drinking water as at best a luxury, and at worst, an unattainable goal." An estimated 35–50 percent of urban dwellers in Africa and Asia lack adequate access to safe potable water, according to Worldwatch’s State of the World 2007 report.


In industrial countries with highly regulated water supplies, tap water has been proven to be just as safe, or safer, than its commercial counterpart. In the United States, regulations concerning bottled water are generally the same as for tap water, but are weaker for some microbial contaminants. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water at the federal level, permits the product to contain certain levels of fecal matter, whereas the Environmental Protection Agency does not allow any human waste in city tap water. Bottled water violations are not always reported to the public, and in most cases the products may be recalled up to 15 months after the problematic water was produced, distributed, and sold.

Environmental Extremists

(Hat tip: John Ray)

A PDF authored by Robert Brinsmead.

Bob Brinsmead is a fourth generation member of an Australian farming family. In his tertiary education he majored in theology and later served for many years as the editor-in-chief of Verdict, an international journal of theology and philosophy. He was a co-founder of two para-medical organizations (International Health Institute and the First Australian Institute of Total Health) that did health education work in third world environments and health-risk assessment programs in Australia and North America.

In 1971 the Sierra Club published a book by Barry Commoner (The Closing Circle) proclaiming that “the third law of ecology” is, “Nature knows best.”

There is nothing wrong in saying, Nature knows best in the right context. Doctors sometimes say it to reassure a patient. Horticulturists like me often say it when working with plants. We’ve all heard advertisers say it to flog everything from butter to the latest natural face cream. My charming neighbour says it when he regales me about the benefits of Echinacea and olive leaf extract for all kinds of ailments.

But there is everything wrong in saying, as the Sierra Club does, that it a law that nature know best, meaning that nature knows best under all circumstances. That is a dangerous, unscientific fanaticism. I hope my neighbour opts for something better than Echinacea and olive leaf extract if one of his kids gets meningococcal. As my mentor in philosophy used to say, “Extreme views have this advantage: they are remarkably consistent.” And I would add, “And seductively simple.”


The environmental movement began as a protest against Western culture’s alienation from nature. This alienation was said to have its roots in the Judeo-Christian heritage that sets man apart as a special creation above the natural kingdom (see Genesis 1:28, 29). Environmentalism advanced the antithesis that puts an all-wise Mother Nature on a pedestal above the human race. The natural is lauded and, to quote an old one-liner, “only man is vile.” There is a very pervasive anti-human bias in environmentalism, and it is expressed in a bias against human technology, economic growth and human prosperity. Global warming theory is popular because it is just another big stick to beat up on human activity. Human activity cops the blame for everything from the disappearing green tree frogs to almost any natural disaster. It is as if Augustine’s old doctrine of original has come back to haunt us again. It was a doctrine that said every single calamity on the earth, including the disaster of death itself, was all man’s fault – or was it woman’s fault? Anyhow, in this present orgie of human blaming, eagerly supported by media sensationalism, the alienation of man from nature has become worse than what it was before environmentalism tried to correct it.

If human intelligence evolved through the same natural process that produced a fox’s cunning and a beaver’s dexterity, then all human intelligence is natural and all human technology is natural. I am not saying it is necessarily good, but it’s undeniably as natural as the technology of a bee hive, the weaving of a spider’s web or the navigational equipment of migratory birds.

In human consciousness nature has finally become conscious of itself. “We may think of ourselves,” says the great mythologist Joseph Campbell, “as the functioning ears and eyes and mind of this earth.” Heretofore nature could only act in a random order of hit and miss. As such, nature has often been wasteful and prone to structural flaws, as the ABC science reporter, Robyn Williams, has made all too clear in his recent satire, Unintelligent Design. But now Mother Nature has acquired in this human mind what Julian Simon has called “the ultimate resource,” and a power that the brilliant Princeton physicist, Freeman Dyson, has described as being “infinite in all directions.”

“Nature has structural flaws and physical limitations” writes Greg Easterbrook (A Moment on the Earth) “Genus Homo may be able to change that. People may be here because nature needs us – perhaps needs us desperately…There is no reason in principle why nature ought to oppose the arrival of the high-speed analytical powers of the mind. Nature may have been dreaming of these very powers for 3.8 billion years.” (pp.668-669). This is why the late physicist Heinz Pagel could write in Dreams of Reason that it is high time that we discard “the radical distinction between mind and nature.” This includes, of course, the distinction between natural and man-made.

I come back to the original question, Does nature know best? With her newly acquired thinking powers, I would have to say that potentially and ultimately the answer may be “Yes”.