Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gallagher on Culture: part IX

(Part VIII was a restatement of a point made earlier.)

"Connecting sex, love, babies, money, mothers and fathers is hard."

Up at Radcliffe last week, feminist and queer-theorist Prof. Janet Halley, who generously invited me to attend this conference, described this view of mine about the public purpose of marriage as "dark." I don't see it that way at all. Everything worth doing is hard — effortful. What's dark is the alternative: where eros, desire, sex, love, marriage, and babies are intrinsically unrelated or practically separated.


A marriage culture means married men who fall passionately in love with their secretaries or their junior law partners saying, "My marriage comes before my happiness; my family comes first." It means women watching Oprah and feeling underappreciated, like they are "settling" for less than they deserve, stepping back to say, "It's not humiliating to accept less than I 'deserve;' it's grown-up. It's motherly. It's what women have done for all of human history and it is good."


These decisions are being made every day: Sacrifice or immediate gratification? The audacity of hope or the audacity of fidelity? Grownups have to choose. A marriage culture consists of offering a provisional answer to grownups about how they should choose. Marriage as an individual right offers no cultural basis for helping people answer the questions that matter most.

In truth, my own view of divorce (or non-marriage) in most instances is so dark that it seems to me literally insane how often I find people choosing — "me, my rights, my desires" — over marriage.

But I'm old enough (close to 50) also to understand the temptation, if not first hand then through the lens of close friends and family: Because I understand: Choosing your marriage means choosing finiteness over infinite possibility. It means, for many many people, saying: "I'm never going to get what I really desire — but I can be live and be satisfied with what I have."

In the end, I'm pretty sure that most people who choose faithfulness over infinite possibility are in fact personally happier than those who choose to pursue infinite possibility no matter who gets hurt (especially their own kids).

But, damn, it doesn't always feel like that on any given day, does it?

Another reason why privatizing marriage (as I understand it) is such a disastrous option — whether we accomplish it by endorsing gay marriage, or by separating marriage and state does not much matter.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Freeman Dyson on climate change

Freeman Dyson is pretty close to being a household name. He's not quite up there at the level of Stephen Hawking – perhaps having had TV appearances on Star Trek has handicapped him. But now he's famous for a whole 'nother reason:

Lately, however, since coming “out of the closet as far as global warming is concerned,” as Dyson sometimes puts it, there has been noise all around him. Chat rooms, Web threads, editors’ letter boxes and Dyson’s own e-mail queue resonate with a thermal current of invective in which Dyson has discovered himself variously described as “a pompous twit,” “a blowhard,” “a cesspool of misinformation,” “an old coot riding into the sunset” and, perhaps inevitably, “a mad scientist.” Dyson had proposed that whatever inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow.


There is the suspicion that, at age 85, a great scientist of the 20th century is no longer just far out, he is far gone — out of his beautiful mind.

But in the considered opinion of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, Dyson’s friend and fellow English expatriate, this is far from the case. “His mind is still so open and flexible,” Sacks says. Which makes Dyson something far more formidable than just the latest peevish right-wing climate-change denier. Dyson is a scientist whose intelligence is revered by other scientists — William Press, former deputy director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and now a professor of computer science at the University of Texas, calls him “infinitely smart.”

The Great Global Warming Swindle

A response to "An Inconvenient Truth"

Friday, March 27, 2009

Evolution, Generations, and Deep Time

"My grandfather wasn't no monkey!", "You think we came from slime?!", and "man, if you want to believe your great^100 grandpa was a rock, be my guest...but it's STUPID!". The latter was actually left on a use.net forum awhile back. They're all too familiar to those of us who defend evolutionary biology from the constant onslaught of religious opportunists who prey on their theistic victims for personal or political gain.

Talk Origins contributor Aron-Ra and I take a stab at responding to these objections based on Aron's Post of the Month, July 2002.

In a "powers of ten" style look at deep time, "Dark Syde" looks at what science believes the ancestors of humans were.

I figure at 20 years per generation, 100 generations of grandfathers would equate to twenty centuries. That means the grandpa you're talking about was a contemporary of rabba Yeshua bar Yosseff just 2,000 years ago.
Increasing the multiple, your great^1,000 grandpa would have had even shorter generation gaps, being about 14 or 15 years apart on average. He would have been a Paleolithic nomad in about 13,000 BCE, just shortly before the foundation of the most ancient cities like Jericho and Damascus. He still would have been fully human and already a member of the only surviving human species, Homo sapiens.
Your great^10,000 grandpa and grandma would have been everyone else's great to the Nth grandparents too. (Everyone alive today that is) He would still have been definitely human and visibly different from his Neanderthal neighbors. Whether he would be considered Homo sapiens yet 140,000 years ago or still classified as H. antessesor or heidelbergensis doesn't really matter. All are still obviously people and no more ape-like than any of the more isolated aboriginal primitives still around today.
Your great^100,000 grandpa might now be called Homo ergaster or erectus having lived some 1.3 million years ago
And his great^10,000 grandfather would have been called Homo habilis or rudolfensis. Any or all of them would have appeared to be a bit more ape-like than the most monkey-faced modern guy, but he still would have been definitely human, especially when compared to the other fully bi-pedal apes that were wandering around a million and-a-half to a couple million years ago.
Your great^1 million grandpa on the other hand is quite a leap away from Homo erectus....There were no definite humans yet, but there were other hominids even though none of them could walk on two legs for very long.
At six or seven years between generations, your great^10 million grandpa would have been barely recognizable as a primate, looking almost as much like a squirrel.
Your great^100 million grandpa was a shrew-like mammal darting through the Jurassic underbrush 170 million years ago.
Your great^1 billion grandpa would have lived under water along with everything else, including trilobites and some really alien beasties a few hundred million years ago and at least a couple hundred million years before the first dinosaur.
The world of your great^10 billion grandfather wasn't much different from that which was already described, although there were a lot fewer trilobites then. And he wasn't a swimming worm yet. He would have been a roundworm, if he would have been considered a worm at all. He may have looked more like a jellyfish with a sense of direction.
Your great^100 billion grandfather may not have been an animal yet, but a sort of co-op of bacteria living inside a single membrane: The mitochondrion, Golgi apparatus, nucleus, and other bacterial endosymbionts, all of which have their own individual ancestry.
Your great^1 trillion grandfather would have been various bacteria before they learned to cooperate in a single eukaryotic cell.
And your great^10 trillion grandfather would have been bacterial too.
Your great^100 trillion grandfather may have been an even simpler chemosynthetic protien in an inhospitable world unrecognizable as Earth.
Even earlier, with 'generations' now coming every few minutes and represented by chemical hypercycles, your 'ancestors', for lack of a better word, would have been macromolecular cycles in which the end result of a given chemical reaction is the constituents to fuel the next leg, which ultimately circles back around to any one reaction. This is the earliest we can go back in terms of proto-biology (Abiogenesis) and it's chock full of speculation at that. We are now at just over 4 Billion years ago.

Before that, we have the formation of the Earth, of the solar system, of the galaxy, and the universe. Of course, before about four billion years ago, the whole notion of "generations" has long since ceased to have any meaning.

But it's quite a tale.

Evolution of the eye

One of the features of the mammalian eye is that the photocells in the retina are installed backwards.  The light-sensitive portion is away from the pupil, and the support hardware -- the rest of the cell, and the nerve fibers connecting them to the optic nerve -- are between the photoreceptors and the light they're supposed to detect.  "Leon" at the Debunk Creation mailing list, forwarded this for comment:
...[M]olecular biologist Michael Denton of the University of Otago who is also one of the most prominent critics of Darwinism today. In "The Inverted Retina: Maladaption or Pre-adaptation?," published in Origins and Design magazine, he explains how the inverted retina that Dawkins presented as faulty is actually created in the most efficient manner possible for the vertebrate
. . . consideration of the very high energy demands of the photoreceptor cells in the vertebrate retina suggests that rather than being a challenge to teleology, the curious inverted design of the vertebrate retina may in fact represent a unique solution to the problem of providing the highly active photoreceptor cells of higher vertebrates with copious quantities of oxygen and nutrients.
To keep up this high rate of metabolism, of course, the retina cells need a great deal of energy....
How do these cells, that enable us to see, meet their extraordinary need for nourishment and oxygen?
Through the blood, of course, like the rest of the body.
Where, then, does the blood come from?
At this point, we see why the inverted retina is a perfect sign of Creation. Right external to the retina layer lies a very important tissue of veins that envelop it like a net.
In a relevant article, Denton examines whether the retina could have been formed in a different way. His conclusion was that it could not. Dawkins' suggestion that the retina should be flat, with the receptor cells facing the light, would distance them from the capillaries that nourish them and in great measure, would rob them of oxygen and nutrients they need. Extending the capillaries into the retina layer would not solve the problem, because this would produce many blind spots and reduce the eye's ability to see.
 And comments he got, including:
What are the oxygen requirements of invertebrate eyes in comparison to other cells in their bodies?
The question being begged here is: Why couldn't an intelligent designer make a vertebrate eye that doesn't depend on such a convoluted system of interdependency? Also, the "reverse" design of the vertebrate eye leads to relatively easy retinal detachment. Evolution is, of course, a series of tradeoffs between resource requirements and efficiency. To be effective, IDiots have to explain why an intelligent designer would be subject to these same trade offs and why, if the intelligent designer could design such efficient "forward" eyes for invertebrates he/she/it could not also do so for vertebrate eyes.
Just a specific instance of a general form.
1. Darwinist gives explanation X
2. Explanation Y is a possible apparent alternative.
3. Therefore ALL evolution MUST be false.
4. QED Creation must be true.
Point out to this person that Denton now accepts evolution and has written a further book pointing out where he was previously mistaken:
It is easier than trying to refute the twit point by point.

Blasphemy laws?

From Commentary magazine, the U.N. has passed a very interesting resolution.

The UN Human Rights Council today passed a resolution labeling "defamation of religion" a human rights violation. The resolution was sponsored by a group of Muslim nations hoping to preempt Western criticism of actual human rights violations inside their countries. This represents a successful attempt to internationalize the Qur'anic prohibition on criticism of Islam.

I wonder if this will be observed when the target of "defamation" is any religion except Islam. 

Dictionary of Philosophy

Neat link, for reference...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Editorial Cartoon Blues

Pat Oliphant is getting some heat from Jewish groups for this:
It will be interesting to see if any of the players who screamed about the New York Post monkey cartoon speak up against Oliphant.

Finally some sense over "zero tolerance"

TALLAHASSEE - Children no longer would be arrested for such minor violations of zero tolerance polices as bringing plastic butter knives to school, drawing pictures of guns or throwing an eraser under measures moving through the Florida Legislature.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would prohibit calling police for a nonviolent misdemeanor. A similar bill later cleared the House Pre-kindergarten Policy Committee.
Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, said his bill (SB 1540) would save money and prevent children from having criminal records by requiring that schools handle such disciplinary matters administratively.
"Throw an eraser and they want to call it throwing a deadly missile, which is a felony," Wise told the Senate panel. "When you get into the juvenile justice system everybody thinks your sins are forgiven when you turn 18, and I will assure you that doesn't happen. It's a blemish on your record."
In 2005 an 11-year-old Hernando County girl was arrested for allegedly bringing a plastic butter knife to school. She was handcuffed, taken to jail and charged with a third-degree felony. A 15-year-old boy at the same school that year received three weeks of house arrest for throwing a pencil that hit a custodian on the shoulder.
Police in 2007 arrested a 10-year-old Ocala girl who brought a small kitchen knife to school to cut meat packed in her lunch. Prosecutors, though, later dropped the felony weapons charge after the Department of Juvenile Justice ask them not to pursue the case.
In 2003, an 8-year-old Melbourne boy was arrested at his elementary school for carrying a pocketknife, and a 13-year-old Brandon student was suspended because his calculator had a knife-like gadget.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Double standards

Jonah Goldberg writes about the paranoid style on the left.  First:
I just have a hard time listening to liberals grow suddenly high-brow and Ivy League serious about the paranoid style of the American Right. Where were these people for the last eight years when abject paranoid hysteria consumed the left flank of liberalism and threatened to capsize the entire enterprise? There are certainly elements on the Right that are prone to such things, but there are also elements on the Left that are just as prone to it. I will stack Naomi Wolfe up against any John Bircher. Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, the folks at ANSWER, Ward Churchill, are no less conspiratorial than your typical right-wing conspiracy theorist and some of them are not only worse, but far more accepted by the liberal establishment than their opposite numbers are by the conservative establishment. Why do the Tim McVeigh types count against the Right, but the Black Panthers never against the Left? Why aren't liberals troubled by Rosie "Steel Never Melted Before Before Bush" O'Donnell but wigged out by Michael Savage? When Spike Lee floated the idea that the Bush administration blew up the levees to flood New Orleans, where was Packer & Co's hand-wringing then? When Randall Robinson proclaimed at the Huffington Post that blacks — and only blacks — were being forced to eat the flesh of the dead in the wake of Katrina, why did no one dust off their Hofstadter? Where was The New Yorker when a Greek Chorus of dunderheads claimed that a cabal of perfidious bagel-snarfing neocons were, like the Elders of Zion of yore, scheming to undo all that is good in the world? Where were they when Hollywood buffoons were producing Broadway plays depicting the very same neocons shouting "Hail Leo Strauss!"

Man, a lot of liberal readers didn't like my earlier post about liberalism and the paranoid style. Most aren't being jerks about it, but they simply have a really hard time coming to grips with the fact that the paranoid style isn't necessarily a rightwing phenomenon. Among the complaints: They nitpick my examples, as if I was trying to be exhaustive.They say Republicans have conspiracy theorists as public officials while my examples of liberals are simply activists and celebrities. They say that conservative conspiracy nuts are embraced by Republican officials, but no Democrat embraces paranoid style types of the left.

It's all a bit exhausting. But here&'s the problem. I conceded up front that conservatives can be conspiracy theorists and paranoid. So about 85% of this tu quoque stuff is gratuitous. The point wasn't that the right is immune to this stuff, it was that liberals are blind from similar — and often more prevalent — stuff on their own side. So they end up, like Packer, thumbsucking about the supposedly scary paranoia of the right while ignoring the paranoia of their own side.

But if it's examples you people want, I was barely scratching the surface. Cynthia McKinney? Does no one remember her? It's worth noting that she recently said — as a matter of fact — that the National Guard rounded up blacks in New Orleans and massacred them in the woods...

The point is that when liberals and leftists spout conspiracy theories and paranoid delusions — as they have for generations now — it's written off by the liberal establishment as either an isolated incident, or an understandable exaggeration or, simply, the truth and therefore not a conspiracy theory. And: It Is Annoying.

SSM in Vermont

It appears Vermont is about to enact Same Sex Marriage, this time, by democratic process.

At least this way, it short circuits the furor that arises when judges impose it by fiat.

Giving soldiers the finger!

The finger, the hand, eventually the whole arm!


The first phase of the Pentagon's plan to regrow soldiers' limbs is complete; scientists managed to turn human skin into the equivalent of a blastema — a mass of undifferentiated cells that can develop into new body parts. Now, researchers are on to phase two: turning that cellular glop into a square inch of honest-to-goodness muscle tissue.


Step one will be trying to get those undifferentiated cells to turn into something like muscle cells. That means making sure the cells have myosin and actin — two proteins that are key to forming the cellular cytoskeleton, and to building muscle filaments. Then, Page and his team will try to get those cells to form around a scaffolding of tiny threads, made of biomaterial. Exactly what will be in thread, Page isn't quite sure — maybe collagens, maybe fibrinogens. It's one of many mysteries to unravel, as his team tries to grow body parts from scratch.

Faster, please?

Confederacy: It Doesn't Just Refer To The Stars and Bars


via Clayton Cramer's BLOG by Clayton on 3/24/09

Confederacy: It Doesn't Just Refer To The Stars and Bars

Adam's Blog points
to one of those reminders that there's always someone prepared to play the victim card and take offense, even where none was intended:

Political correctness will rot a thinking mind. Case in point, the reaction to the following statement from Id. Rep. Dick Harwood (R-St. Maries):

Promoting his state sovereignty resolution on the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives on Monday, St. Maries Rep. Dick Harwood declared that the United States is really a "confederacy."

"To be accurate, we're a confederated republic," the fifth-term Republican then told the House.

This brought a strong reaction from a local minority right's activist:

"It's a very offensive term for minority communities in our country, like African-Americans," said Tony Stewart, a board member and co-founder of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, and a retired political scientist at North Idaho College. "That whole term refers to the period of slavery."

So every use of the term confederacy applies to slavery? Not according to my dictionary. The primary meaning is, " an alliance between persons, parties, states, etc., for some purpose."

Steve Shaw, an active political science professor at Northwest Nazarene University, while disagreeing with Harwood and suggesting that Harwood needed remedial U.S. History classes, identified Switzerland as a confederacy. I guess this would indicate the Swiss have slaves, if we're to believe Mr. Stewart.

Was the United States founded as a confederacy? I'm going to do something totally wild and suggest we find out what the Founding Fathers say.

Adam agrees that Harwood needs some remedial U.S. History classes, but that the term "confederate republic" is used in Federalist #9, and Tony Stewart's comments also show a certain lack of knowledge. I might excuse this ignorance a bit more except Stewart is a retired political science professor--and he doesn't know that "confederacy" refers to something more than the C.S.A.? I can see why I can't get a teaching job at a community college--not ignorant enough.

What really disturbs me is how often victimhood offense is based on ignorance. I mentioned several years ago how a member of the Rhode Island legislature was insisting that the formal name of the state ("Rhode Island and Providence Plantations") be changed because of the slavery connotation of "Plantation." Except that "plantation" did not have a slavery connotation with respect to Rhode Island's name, and there were similar "plantations" in Ireland.

And the District of Columbia official
who was forced to resign for using the word "niggardly" which has nothing to do with the racial epithet.

And as I mentioned last year, when the term "black hole" was used to refer to the Dallas County traffic ticket collection system, a judge insisted that this was a racist term--with no apparent awareness that it refers to an object so dense that light can't escape it. (Or perhaps a judge so dense that no knowledge can cross his event horizon.)


If retention bonuses are outlawed...

DEAR Mr. Liddy,

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.


But you also are aware that most of the employees of your financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses. And I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn't defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.

My guess is that in October, when you learned of these retention contracts, you realized that the employees of the financial products unit needed some incentive to stay and that the contracts, being both ethical and useful, should be left to stand. That's probably why A.I.G. management assured us on three occasions during that month that the company would "live up to its commitment" to honor the contract guarantees.


At no time during the past six months that you have been leading A.I.G. did you ask us to revise, renegotiate or break these contracts — until several hours before your appearance last week before Congress.

I think your initial decision to honor the contracts was both ethical and financially astute, but it seems to have been politically unwise. It's now apparent that you either misunderstood the agreements that you had made — tacit or otherwise — with the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, various members of Congress and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of New York, or were not strong enough to withstand the shifting political winds.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gallagher on Culture: part VII

...the marriage fights didn't begin in 2003.

Between roughly 1960 and 1980, marriage came under a rather fierce and multi-faced ideological attack.

Five great strands of contemporary liberalism — the sexual revolution, the gender-role revolution, the expansion of welfare for the poor, the movement for racial equality, and the environmental movement — came together to support de-norming of marriage, knocking it off its pedestal and de-legitimating, in various ways, its privileged cultural postion. 


And roughly between 1960 and 1980, the divorce rate and the out-of-wedlock birth rates tripled. (I do not say this was cause and effect, I simply note that both things happened at roughly the same time in mutually reinforcing ways). 


Pause: What did I learn during this era from personal experience, my first 20 years? 


I learned this truth: Connecting sex, babies, love, money, and mothers and fathers is hard.

Hard at the individual level, and hard at the societal level. A society where marriage is the normal, usual, and generally reliable way to raise children is a great cultural achievement, not a law of nature.

Why, then, is marriage a universal human social institution? Because, over time, cultures that do not find a way to some minimal version of this achievement die out and are replaced by cultures that do.

Maybe fathers don't matter after all

It's quite well-documented that children of single mothers tend to perform much worse than children of married couples on a variety of socioeconomic metrics. The conclusion generally drawn from this is that children benefit greatly from being raised by both of their biological parents.

However, there are two other facts which are also reasonably well-documented:

1. Women* with low IQs are dramatically more likely to have children out of wedlock than women with high IQs.
2. IQ has a strong heritable component.

Which leads to a question which seems obvious in retrospect, but which I've never seen raised before: To what extent is the underperformance of children of single mothers due to being raised without fathers, and to what extent is it due to the fact that children inherit low cognitive ability and/or poor impulse control from their mothers**? Do fathers really matter?

*This may also apply to men, though I'm not personally aware of any research on the topic.

**And possibly fathers—see prior footnote.

 Well, maybe it's entirely due to hereditary factors, and the structure of the family has no contribution.  But it seems to me, the people who are arguing that any family structure is as good as any other will hate this proposed alternative theory even more.

About race

From Dienekes's blog, here's the table of contents of the Special Symposium Issue: Race Reconciled of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Unfortunately, much of the issue consists of semantic quibbling because academic anthropologists still don't have a workable definition of race (although I do). Several of the abstracts are devoted to beating a dead horse of the white-black-yellow racial model of 1900.

In other words, for many decades, when somebody finds a skeleton buried in a shallow grave in the woods, the cops call in a forensic anthropologist from a university, who examines the bones and reports back something like: "Male, black, age between 20 and 30," which is a big help for the cops.
The point is that despite all that sophomore silliness that cultural anthropologists teach about how race doesn't exist, the forensic anthropologists usually don't have much trouble figuring out which Race box to check on the "Missing Person" ID form. In fact, they are now so good at it, that they can often tell a Swede from a Greek or whatever from the shape of the skull, supposedly "contradicting the classic biological race concept of physical anthropology," (although not my partly inbred extended family model).
 .... (extract of an article)
In other words, "folk taxonomies" tend to be scientifically accurate.

Worth reading.  While race as "black / white / brown / red / other" may not be a valid concept, but "folk classifications" of race seem to be valid.

Michael Yon and Mark Bowden on torture

At Michael Yon's page, a link to Bowden's article.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Climate change, 2009

Over at Powerline, a selection of charts and graphs from the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change in New York.

Gallagher on Culture: part VI

What will happen to marriage once the government and the law insist that same-sex unions ARE marriage, "whether you like it or not"? 

First, this set of ideas about marriage will necessarily be privatized: that male and female point to each other, that marriage has deep roots in the necessity of bringing men and women together, because society needs babies, and babies need their mother and father in one family.  

Next, because the prime argument for gay marriage is an equality argument, this traditional view of marriage will also be stigmatized: that is, treated as a discarded and discredited relic of bigotry that we have happily overcome. 

I remember most vividly — it's just an anecdote, yes — a very smart young Harvard law student asked me, her voice dripping with suspicion and disdain: "Why are you so upset about same-sex marriage; how is it going to affect you anyway?"

When I pointed out to her how the law treats people who oppose interracial marriage in our society — professional licenses at risk, school accreditations potentially denied, state and federal tax-exempt statuses put into play — I watched her eyes open wide. She had never thought of this at all. And then I watched her turn on a dime and say, "You're right. That's how bigots SHOULD be treated in our society."

Ideas are powerful things. 


Gay marriage will not leave marriage undisturbed. If gay marriage becomes the law of the land, then this thing called marriage that I care about, and that most human societies have specially protected, will become nameless in the public square — also, unmentionable in polite society.


News for someone

From the Anchoress:

Roger L. Simon demands the press resign!. After all, they put Obama in office!


Haven't you heard about the newspapers going out of business or becoming online-only news providers?  They are resigning!

Vice presidential humor

Spotted on Powerline:

OK, here's some more humor. Joe Biden appeared at the Gridiron Club dinner--President Obama was otherwise occupied, the first President to miss his first Gridiron dinner since Grover Cleveland. Biden was in unusually good form:

President Obama does send his greetings, though. He can't be here tonight -- because he's busy getting ready for Easter. (Whisper) He thinks it's about him. ...

I understand these are dark days for the newspaper business, but I hate it when people say that newspapers are obsolete. That's totally untrue. I know from firsthand experience. I recently got a puppy, and you can't housebreak a puppy on the Internet.

You know, I never realized just how much power Dick Cheney had until my first day on the job. I walked into my office, and you know how the outgoing president always leaves the incoming president a note in his desk? I opened my drawer and Dick Cheney had left me Barack Obama's birth certificate.

Blather, Wince, Repeat

According to the French newspaper, Le Figaro, President Barack Obama has written a letter to French former president Jacques Chirac using language more commonly used when writing to current heads of state (via Monsters and Critics):

Paris -US President Barack Obama has indirectly praised former French president Jacques Chirac's fierce opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq, the online edition of the daily Le Figaro reported on Thursday.

In a letter described by Chirac as 'very nice,' Obama wrote, 'I am certain that we will be able to work together, in the coming four years, in a spirit of peace and friendship to build a safer world.'

If we could see the address on the letter to Chirac, it might be clear whether Obama or one of his staff was confused about the identity of the French President. My guess is that this was just a rookie mistake, i.e., bad diplomacy in wording a letter, not confusion about identities.

Blather, Wince, Repeat

Joe Biden is a treasure trove of misstatement.  From Jeff Jacoby's column?

"WHEN the stock market crashed," Joe Biden told Katie Couric in a CBS interview last fall, "Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed. He said, 'Look, here's what happened.'" Katie didn't embarrass her guest by pointing out that there were no TV broadcasts when Wall Street crashed in 1929 and that the president at the time was Herbert Hoover -- though she would surely have pounced had Sarah Palin committed such a howler.

Last week the vice president brought up FDR again, telling a Democratic audience that President Obama "has inherited the most difficult first 100 days of any president, I would argue, including Franklin Roosevelt."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Delk Print, again

A page on the subject at www.paleo.cc. Comments include:

The last photo in the set posted by David Lines set shows the Delk slab in relation to several cross sectional scans http://linesden.com/cem/delk/delk_ct_scan_long.pdf (lines, 2008). Although the scan images are rather small in relation to the slab image, making it difficult to confirm certain details, the following observations seem possible. First, the most distinct bands of light color seem to occur most of the rock edges, including areas of its surface, sides, and bottom, even where no depression occurs. This seems to strongly imply that light areas do not necessarily indicate compression or greater density. Indeed, some scans seem to not only lack light bands, but actually show darker regions immediately under the dino print and "big toe" depressions, whereas one would expect light bands if pressure from they were made by foot or digit pressing in sediment. Furthermore, one can see from "Slice 139," which cuts through the middle of the "big toe" depression, that this feature is incredibly deep compared to the other toe marks. The track advocates would have to explain how the big toe could impress that far, and yet leave relatively shallow toe prints on a much higher plane (besides being situated at an odd angle and much farther from the rest of the print than in a normal print).

What seems to have been missing in the CT procedures are proper controls, including comparable scans of known real prints, and known carved prints in similar limestone (including ones with applications of acid and other substances), to better understand the scan results. One important question is what degree and depth density changes are normal or expected in real fossil prints? Another is, were the CT scans calibrate to properly detect them? Medical scans are calibrated for tissue and bone--which are much less dense than rocks. Were they recalibrated in this case? On what standard or basis? What CT numbers correspond to what densities levels and levels of brightness on the scan. There appear to be many important details missing from the reports and videos of the print supporters.

Dinosaur tracks?

The link is to the article linked earlier, "21st Century Science Smashes Molecular Clocks". Buried near the end is this passage:

This crash course in 21st century science may be a bit confusing, but the reason for that is not just the complex mathematics involved, but the basic fact that confusion exists over what happened in the past. To add to the confusion, in 2008 fossil collectors discovered a human footprint alongside that of a dinosaur providing evidence for the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs.

Right. And cave men drove cars chiseled out of rock.

So what is this footprint? Well, the link takes users to a YouTube video, describing CT scans made of the so-called "Alvis Delk" footprints. Here's a picture from Little Green Footballs:

(Lest I be accused of throwing in a ringer, there are other photos of the same footprint at the Creation Evidence Museum website.)

The video states that the CT scan of these footprints prove that the mud underneath the prints was compressed, which would not have been the case if the human print had been carved into the rock.

Some initial thoughts:

It would have been nice if, rather than asserting that the changes in density seen in the scans would have been different if the print had been faked, the presenter had shown scans of known fakes for comparison.

A medical CT scanner may not be the best instrument for looking at rock. A medical CT scanner is intended to shoot x-rays through human bodies. The software is written with the amount of attenuation seen in a human body in mind. Unlike a piece of x-ray film, the image in a CT scan is calculated. It takes a bunch of projected images and mathematically "stacks" them to create a two-dimensional slice. But the validity of the reconstructed image depends on the x-ray intensities falling inside the scanner's working range. Objects that are strong absorbers of x-rays will overwhelm the ability of the scanner to correct for them. A well-known phenomenon is a "star artifact", appearing when we try to make a CT image of a patient with a piece of metal embedded in him. Basically, each of the projections shows this very dark spot where all the x-rays are absorbed, and the maximum density allowed in the computer model is not enough to account for the observed attenuation. The software tries to compensate, but it can't, hence the artifact.

For all I know, any sedimentary rock will show similar artifacts on the inside edges of concave surfaces, just as an artifact of the process used to construct the image.
I'd love to see what an industrial scanner – one with harder x-rays, and programmed to expect substances that attenuate x-rays more strongly than human bodies do.

A quick Google search found the blog "Stones and Bones", and this comment:

Baugh told the Mineral Wells Index that, “The compression lines, the density features, do show, and there is no way to fake that,” he said. “It is possible to carve a track in limestone. But there is no way to compress the material in the rock under the track. That is absolutely impossible. That’s why the CAT scans are so important.”

First of all, a medical CAT scan uses a lower energy beam than could be useful on a sandy limestone. That is why real paleontologists use industrial facilities. The University of Houston (added 8/15/08, this was inccorect- I was thinking of The University of Texas, Austin) has a laboratory that has many years of experience with just this type of analysis. This points to the next problem; a medical facility is not staffed by paleontologists or geophysicists. Baugh has no accredited degrees either. He wouldn't know "compression lines" from his own butt crack. However, you don't even need more than the photograph from the Mineral Wells Index, which was much higher resolution than from Baugh's website, to see that this is object is a fake.

I downloaded the photo at full resolution. If you closely examine the photo, you will easily see that there are sandy lenses in the rock; four are visible in the exposed rock between the "toes" of the dinosaur print. Now look at the "human print," particularly the area of the little toe. You will see (with a little magnification) that the top most layer is penetrated by the "toe" and not compressed, and the second layer is partially exposed. The same lens is exposed across the base of the four distal toes. This could not have happend unless the "toes" had been carved out of the rock.

Returning to the "dinosuar" print, there is no compression folding of the sandy layers between the toes which is interesting. First, there must have been if this were a legitimate track. However, there appears to me to be evidence of removal of material from between the central and the medial "toe" as well as along the top edge of the "track."

There also appears to be a patina coating the bottom of the basin. This has two interesting features. First, it is pealing and cracking. This is not appropriate to a real patina. Second, the patina appears in parts of the basin and not others, nor does it appear consistantly in the "human toe prints."
Here is how to fake a patina that will look like this fake fossil: Brush the surface with vinegar, and then sprinkle with baking powder followed by baking soda, and let dry. Repeat until you are happy with the results. This is not the only way, or even the best way. But it is simple, and will fool the average fool. Especially easy if they want to be fooled.

So, having spent a little bit more time on the photo of this fake, I feel that I understand a bit more about how it was produced. A legitimate dinosaur track was found and removed. Incompetent, unprofessional "Cleaning" damaged it. An parital overprint, or simple erosion depression was "improved" by adding "toes." The faked surfaces were smothed over with a simple kitchen concoction to make a "patina." Artifact fabricators next bury the fake for a year or two, or they smear it with fertilizer and leave it exposed. This helps weather the object and obscure tool marks.

Added later:

The bubble pops.

If you used the cheap kitchen patina method I mentioned above, there is the chance that the acid will create a gas bubble in a depression. This lifts the fake patina and is visable as little bumps, or they form pits.

I just enlarged the photo again, focused on the center toe of the "dinosaur." There are two obvious pits of broken bubbles created by a recently applied acid wash seen on the distal portion of the "track." Looking further, there is one more near the distal end of the medial toe.

It occurs to me to wonder about something. What happens to the x-ray density of limestone if you subject it to that patina process? Vinegar is a weak acid, and could easily dissolve small amounts of the limestone. The baking powder and baking soda could seep in to the matrix. This might wind up creating a layer of compressed limestone – the very layer of compressed stone that's taken as "proof" of authenticity.

In a comment, he adds:

In addition to the excellent critique of this canard, there is an even simpler mistake made by the counterfeiter. The center "toe" of the dinosaur footprint was an indentation in a raised soil matrix which surrounds the distal end of the digit and which extends into the central area of the "human" indentation (which by the way is a remaracably flat foot). In order to step onto an existing indentation in soft sediment and raise a mound of soil in front of the digits to the same height as the native soil on the far side (outside) of the original indentation, the foot of the dinosaur would have needed to slide forward, pushing, or bulldozing soil ahead of it. There is no evidence of movement within the dinosaur footprint, but subsequent erosion could have removed shallow grooves. However, based on the heel of the dinosaur footprint it is evident that this animal was not moving forward at a rapid rate and that the foot did not skid in the sediment. The foot was placed pretty much directly downward and lifted in much the same manner. The flat base of the dino footprint is further evidence that the animal was not moving rapidly (there are typically deeper heel and toe indentations when an animal is "running" which is also the condition in which the heel indentation has an initial strike surface which is not vertical beutwhich records the angle of contact with the ground as the animal moved forward. Under that scenario, the toe imprints are also deeper as the animal spings off its toes to maintain forward momentum.

Hmmm. A comment by "Anonymous" (Turns out to be Gary S. Hurd):

I did a bit more reading on X-ray CT of geological specimens at the University of Texas, Austin site. The so-called compression density changes are an error caused by incorrectly calibrating the difference between air, and rock. This caused the image software to outline the open "track." This is particularly a problem with beam energies that are too low for the sample material. Medical CTs use a beam of less than 140 kev, geological material should be examined well above this, even as high as ~400 kev.

The phoney "compression density" is really the density difference between air and rock.

Thought so. And, from deadman932:

I'm sure the radiologists did their professional best in looking at the rock itself, but it's a lot more difficult than it appears, if my reading my reading on the topic is any indicator.

There's very little data on using CAT scans to determine density variations in homogenous consolidated rock. Normally, what people look at is porosity variations, cracks or "inclusions" -- maybe fossils that vary in density from the "host" rock.

At 120-Kv levels, there's real problems in attenuation / beam hardening as well as other artifact-inducing factors. People have to know what they're doing with various materials, and calibrations have to be right. I personally don't think most radiologists would know the data on this, since they don't handle fossils all that much and don't neccessarily know the geological factors that can affect x-ray analysis, and the data is RARE.

One of my comments on the article:

Unrated I'm curious. Stipulating that this one particular footprint can be shown to be a human footprint (as distinct from a dinosaur footprint that got pushed out of shape, or "enhanced" by subsequent carving), and stipulating that humans and dinosaurs did coexist, it seems to me there's a lot of other evidence completely lacking. This evidence would include dinosaur fossils that show signs of having been butchered, including collections of dinosaur bones with tool marks in garbage heaps near human settlements. One would also expect to find dinosaurs with human bones (and frankly, any number of modern mammalian bones) in their stomas, and human and modern mammalian bones in dinosaur coprolites.

Paleontologists have traced the migrations of humans into the Americas by noting when various large prehistoric mammals went extinct. If humans and dinosaurs co-existed, they seem to have had almost no impact on each other. Facts -- such as the putative fact of human/dinosaur coexistence -- produce clouds of evidence, whose individual bits would support each other in telling a common story. So far, the putative fact of coexistence has, at most, one isolated fact. At most.

TARP, AIG, and other disasters

Karl at Patterico's Pontifications (not me) links to a few posts dealing with the AIG mess.

Left unasked in all of this is how stories like the AIG bonuses catch fire in the public imagination.

One answer is that the AIG bonus story is “made to stick” — simple, surprising, emotional etc. (okay, maybe not simple, but simple to sell). Storytelling is an effective method of getting messages to stick, one to which the Left frequently resorts. It is why the Democrats name bills after Lilly Ledbetter, Ryan White and so on — and wheel out Michael J. Fox to flack for funding embryonic stem cell research, or 12-year-old Graeme Frost to deliver an address on expanding S-CHIP. Conversely, it is there in the Alinsky-ite formula of “Pick the target, Freeze it, Personalize it and Polarize it.” It is there in Joe Stalin’s observation that “a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

On the road back to a majority, the Right might consider trying to become better storytellers and better debunkers of the Left’s stories.

And they cold start with some of these items from the blog, Just One Minute:

I Wish It Were Just This Bad: Henry Blodgett explains one consequence of the new confiscatory tax on TARP recipient bonuses:
....Believe it or not, hidden inside these companies are thousands of decent, competent people whose households bring in more than $250,000 a year. Many of these folks had NOTHING to do with the gambling addiction that bankrupted their firms. Many of them still have a choice where to work. And now that they've learned that their family's pay will be capped at $250,000 indefinitely, many of them will quickly decide that now is a good time to pursue their careers elsewhere. (That is, unless their firm takes the easy and obvious step of just paying them a fatter salary, which just renders the whole thing a farce.)....
....what venture capital firm or hedge fund is going to parnter with the government now that COngres has demonstrated a willingness to retroactively change the terms of a deal? Remember, the initial TARP bailout had few restrictions on compensation; Congress just unilaterally re-negotiates the terms as fits of pique pass over them.

So we will blow up the firms in which we are invested and scare off any potential new government "partners".
The 22nd Book: The Book of the Dead: Some folks are clearly under the illusion that all 370 AIG FP employees spent their days (and nights!) writing credit derivative swaps that were doomed to disaster. Let me just sketch an alternative hypothetical scenario for the outraged to contemplate.

Joe Cassano, who ultimately emerged as the leader of AIG FP after several rounds of managerial changes, was one of several contenders for the top post. His rivals, some of whom may have had serious disagreements with his personal style and professional judgments, could elect to stay on in senior posts at the satellite offices in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Wilton, Paris, and wherever, or they could leave for high paying jobs at hedge funds or other investment banks. Some stayed.

In the spring of 2008 it was clear that the Cassano-led charge into credit derivatives was an impending disaster and Cassano was on the way out. Would it better for the AIG board to (a) sack Cassano and let his disgruntled rivals quit for jobs at other firms, or (b) sack Cassano and guarantee a bonus pool to those who agreed to stay on and attempt to pick up the pieces?

The idea that the only correct answer is (a) is absurd.
Mob Rule: I see broadening support for mob rule on the question the AIG bonuses. Let me single out Felix Salmon, who would rather type than do his homework:
If AIG simply didn't pay the bonuses, would the employees of the financial products arm really fancy their chances in court were they to sue to receive them?
Let's see - first, as Liddy explained to Geithner (or see ABC News or the WaPo), under the applicable law employees could sue for double their wages plus legal fees. If we don't want to pay these people $165 million, how will we feel about paying them $330 million while enriching their legal teams? Believe me or use your imagination - plenty of people at these firms are tough, proud, competitive, and very comfortable with lawyers and legal scuffles, and they will welcome the chance to double their bonus.

There is also this cryptic passage in the Liddy letter - "individual managers who decide to withhold wages that are due are individually liable for violations of the Wage Act." I don't know if that is a criminal or civil liability and I am confident Mr. Salmon has no idea either. Maybe he would like to sign off on the order withholding the bonus pool and find out? How cool would that be if Treasury Secretary Geithner were jailed and personally bankrupted after he loses this lawsuit?

What if everyone who voted for the TARP plan signed off on such an order?

Some Reality for the Reality Based: The WaPo actually makes the long trek to the Wilton office of AIG Financial products and speaks with the guy in charge (Gerry Pasciucco, another dollar a year man brought in with Liddy last fall):
....what is missing from this week's hysteria is perspective. The very handsome retention payments they received over the past week were set in motion early last year when the firm's former president, Joe Cassano, was on his way out the door. Financial Products was already running into trouble on its risky credit bets, and the year ahead looked grim. People were weighing offers from other firms, and AIG executives feared that too many departures could lead to disaster.

So AIG stepped in with an offer to employees of Financial Products. Work through all of 2008, and you'd get a lump payment in March 2009. Stick around through 2009, and you'll get paid through 2010. Almost all other forms of compensation -- bonuses, deferred payments and the like -- have vanished.
"Everybody, including my secretary and including the guy down the hall that serves lunch, gets a payment," said Pasciucco, who added that he received no retention payment and has no contract.

But what about the argument made by top AIG officials that the people receiving retention bonuses have unique skills and knowledge that make them indispensable?

"They are replaceable," Pasciucco acknowledges. "If we were running a long-term business, we could probably replace them over time, not all at the same time."
I am not going to tell you they need all 370 people to wind down their remaining activities but you can be sure of this - if key people leave, AIG won't be able to hire replacements. Well, not without guaranteed compensation that will eventually outrage Congress. Hmm, they drafted doctors during the Korean War (if I recall M*A*S*H correctly); maybe Obama could institute a draft call-up for derivatives traders to fight this economic war.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Gallagher on Culture: part V

Part 5, at The Corner, NRO.

Here's another way that gay marriage and no-fault divorce are similar: Elites coalesced in favor of this legal change — and firmly downplayed the very idea it could have any cultural effects at all. Unilateral-divorce laws were passed by insider experts, "the best and brightest," who firmly swore that the objections and reservations of religious people and of the masses were uninformed, ignorant, and unlikely.

Because, after all, how could letting Anna and Evan disrupt their horrible, violent marriage more easily possibly affect your marriage?

Being Americans, even the smartest among us find institutional effects easy to deny and hard to take into account.
The heart of the same-sex marriage argument, by contrast, is this: There is no rational, relevant difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples — and anyone who disagrees is engaging in illegitimate discrimination, similar to people who opposed interracial marriage.

I know gay-marriage advocates honestly believe this to be true. That's not in question. My question is: How can an intellectual both say this and also say that same-sex marriage is not going to affect anyone besides gay couples? (e.g.: How exactly do we treat people and institutions that oppose interracial marriage these days? In law? In culture?)

Is the Death Penalty racist?

From Distributed Republic:

Let's take a look at the numbers.

In 2007, about 42% of the prisoners on death row were black, while 56% were white*. Of the 1088 prisoners actually executed since 1984, 374, or about 34%, were black. About 1/8 of the US population is black, so relative to their representation in the general population, blacks are definitely overrepresented on death row, and in executions.

But that's a silly basis for comparison. The question isn't whether a random black person is more likely to be executed than a random white person, but whether a black murderer is more likely to be executed or sentenced to death than a white murderer. Between 1976 and 2005, 52% of all murders were committed by black offenders. So it turns out that blacks are actually underrepresented on death row relative to the rate at which they commit murder.

Granted, there could be other reasons besides an unbiased criminal justice system for the underrepresentation of black murderers on death row. It could be that black murderers are more likely to be tried by predominantly black juries, who may be less inclined than predominantly white juries to impose the death penalty. It could be that whites are more likely to commit the types of murders that invite death sentences. It could be that juries find black victims less sympathetic, perhaps because of racism, or perhaps because they really are less sympathetic (e.g., gang members). But it clearly is not true that blacks are overrepresented on death row in any relevant sense.
Another interesting point: The death penalty really is applied in a profoundly sexist manner. 11% of murders committed from 1976-2005 were committed by women, but only 54 (less than 2%) of the more than 3,000 prisoners currently on death row are women, and only 11 women have been executed since 1976, accounting for just over 1% of all executions. But when was the last time you heard a leftist complaining about the sexist application of the death penalty?

The Bonus Tax

John Hinderaker at PowerLine is amazed people are still trying to defend the constitutionality of the proposed tax on the AIG bonuses. As written, the tax could wind up having some nasty unintended consequences.

One theory, presumably, is that since the government is contributing TARP money it can put whatever strings it wants on that money. (Including, I guess, strings imposed after the fact that would deprive employees of agreed-upon consideration for work they've already performed.) But that theory has been rejected in a variety of contexts. The government cannot condition its spending on a relinquishment of constitutional rights. Here's a thought experiment: how about putting a condition (retroactively, of course) on TARP money that says no employee of any bank that receives such money (or his spouse) can get an abortion? Would Nancy Pelosi think that's constitutional?

Wells Fargo didn't want any TARP money, but the government forced it to take more than $5 billion worth, so Wells Fargo employees who receive bonuses would be subject to Pelosi's proposed tax. Say you're a teller at a Wells Fargo branch in Minnesota and you're married to a lawyer who makes $250,000 this year. You get a $10,000 bonus for your good work during 2008. The government steals it all (90 percent federal plus 8.5 percent state plus, unless it's included in the 90 percent, 3 percent Medicare). That is simply insane.

If the Pelosi bill is actually enacted into law (which I still think is doubtful) and upheld by the courts, there is no limit to the arbitrary power of Congress. In that event, we have no property rights and there is no Constitution--no equal protection clause, no due process clause, no impairment of contracts clause, no bill of attainder/ex post facto law clause. Instead, we are living in a majoritarian tyranny. As I explained here, there is nothing wrong with the AIG bonuses and no reason why they should be repaid. But even if you think it was wrong for AIG to pay them, Pelosi's proposed confiscatory tax--total taxes would exceed 100 percent in some jurisdictions--is an outrage. If Congress can appease a howling mob of demagogues by enacting discriminatory tax legislation against a group of people who are, for the moment, politically unpopular, even though the vast majority of them have nothing to do with the supposed problems that have given rise to popular outcry--imagine, say, Congress enacting a surtax on the incomes of all homosexuals in response to a notorious case of homosexual molestation--then the idea that the Constitution affords us any sort of protection against arbitrary government power is an illusion.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Still more on bonuses

This one from J.G. Thayer

It is imperative to note that Mr. Liddy was not even part of AIG when the ruinous decisions and actions were taken. He was retired when the federal government brought him in — for the annual salary of $1.00 — to try to keep the company from complete and utter collapse.

Had I been Mr. Liddy, I would have entered the hearing room with a single dollar bill in my shirt pocket. And when the lambasting got more than I could stand, I would state "I didn't seek this job, you sought me," return my salary, and walk out.

There are any number of points Liddy could have raised.

Had I been in that hot seat, I'd have started by pointing out the bonuses were legally contracted, and approved by Congress in the "stimulus" bill. If I'm expected to breach those legally binding contracts, what other laws do I have a Congressional mandate to violate?  Will I be guaranteed immunity?  Will such a guarantee be worth any more than the guarantee written in the "Stimulus" bill?

More on those bonuses

Linda Chavez suggests it's time to "get real".

Gallagher, part 4

To recap: Changing divorce law did not only affect the "exit requirements" from marriage, it affected the shared vision of what marriage consists of, what the marriage vow means. The law names the reality of who is married and who is divorced in a way with which merely private definitions have a hard time surviving, much less competing.
We don't, in my view, have very good social science tools to measure cultural effects caused by law for a variety of reasons. Individual and private communties resist or adopt the new meanings promoted by legal change at differential rates, for example.

So, for example, despite the law's change, older views of marital permanence persisted privately for some time — up into the mid-80s, family lawyers report they would still occasionally run into clients who would utter bits of 1950s movie dialogue like: "I'm not giving him a divorce!" As if they had a choice.

It takes a while for the new meanings encoded by the law to percolate and permeate the culture. Also, the law in one state can certainly affect the cultural meanings in another states (making isolating the effects of legal change more problematic). If polygamy were legal in, say, Oregon, that would almost certainly affect the understanding of marriage in Massachussetts. Monogamy might remain the most common public understanding of marriage, but, by definition, no longer a core or essential feature of marriage in American society. Similarly, when California adopted unilateral (no-fault) divorce, something visible had changed in our understanding in the U.S. of what the marriage vow meant — even if it was another ten years or more before say, Louisiana adopted a similar law.

So, yes, correlation is not causality. But consider acquiring another proverb: Do not mistake all we can accurately measure for all that is real.

The Antikythera Mechanism

This is cool.


State Ownership of Corporations

Dafydd at Big Lizards looks at the threat government ownership poses to capitalism.

Will Obama wag the dog?

Beldar recalls actions of Bill Clinton that looked suspiciously like they were inspired by Wag The Dog, and wonders when we'll be seeing similar acts by Barack Obama.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The Teleprompter Of The United States has its own blog.

Gallagher on Marriage, Divorce, and Culture

The Amazing Power of The Culture (Part 3)

...the law creating unilateral divorce changed not only individuals' incentives before the law, it privatized the older concept of marriage as a permanent vow — indissoluable in the Catholic tradition (which was never the law in this country) and severable only for serious cause in the Protestant common-law version.

I can still hold the view that divorce is wrong — that I have no right to divorce because I made a vow to stay married. But with the advent of unilateral divorce, my views became a privatized view of marriage, not part of the shared reality defined by the law.

(so if same-sex marriage is legalized,)

...parents will still be able to teach their children their own views about what marriage is. But the law will be constantly repudiating that view in a number of public visible ways. Parents are having a very hard time fighting the progressive views of sexual culture, enshrined at law, in any number of ways. This will make it much harder.

When people say the "law is an educator," that's true, but it doesn't go far enough. In this case, the law is an arbiter of reality: Who is really married? Who is really divorced? Who is having an out-of-wedlock child? Who, for that matter, is committing adultery?

The law's power to name reality matters.

The Amazing Power of The Culture (Part 2)

What is culture? Sometimes we use that word as the opposite of economics or law. Here I mean something very specific. Culture, as James Davison Hunter put it, is the power to name reality.

In this sense, law is not the opposite of culture, but a particularly powerful player. What the law names as reality, is (in America at least) probably the single most powerful player in our shared reality.

If you doubt that, think about divorce for a minute.

When no-fault divorce was passed, its proponents promised us that the change in the law would not affect marriage generally — it would only affect bad marriages, which should be dissolved. And in recent times, gay-marriage advocates I've debated have asserted that my views about marriage, after gay marriage, will have a similar status in law and culture, to my views about divorce. (I'm Catholic)...

When the law actually endorsed unilateral divorce, it changed the terms of everybody's marriage....

If you have a right to divorce at will, what you lose is the right to make an enduring marriage — at least if you live in consensual (shared) reality.

The Amazing Power of Culture

I do want to explain, in a serious way, for anyone who is seriously interested, what I mean about how and why the public meaning of marriage matters. Call it: the Amazing Power of the Culture.
How do ideas have consequences? I want to share over a couple of posts, what I think I have actually seen — a report from the front, as it were.

The Mortgage Crisis

Clayton Cramer discusses What Went Wrong

New website

Cheat-Seeking Missiles points out the website:

Ask The President, a new Web site that lets you ask and vote thumb up or thumbs down on others' questions. Most are stacked one way or another, as the one above is, obviously reflecting a pro-strong defense viewpoint.

AIG bonuses

Powerline's John Hinderaker on the AIG bonuses.  Among other things:
There is no legal principle that would justify not paying these bonuses. If you make an offer to someone along the lines of, if you do X I will pay you Y dollars, and he does X, it's too late to change your mind. You're on the hook for Y dollars, and you should be.
Until Congress establishes a precedent that maybe you're not.
Is that a precedent Congress wants to establish?

Grayhawk on torture

Same stuff, different administration.

Grayhawk recalls Abu Ghraib

Greyhawk recalls Abu Ghraib.
In his retrospective honoring the blog's sixth birthday, Grayhawk recalls what he wrote about the scandal.  He introduces it with:
Continuing our sixth anniversary retrospective. The abu Ghraib posts are easily the most difficult I've ever written. That's somewhat compounded by the disturbing impression I get that the concern for what actually happened at abu Ghraib is somewhere near zero. That's disturbing because so much of what's now considered "common knowledge" is in fact well constructed distortion - distortion that changed the course of a war.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AIG Bonuses

The House Democrats have voted to let the executives keep their bonuses.


Oh My God, What A Twit!

David Shormann, Ph.D. does not know probability theory.

This is appalling. He's written the "Dive into Math" materials for home schoolers, and I now have grave doubts about whether parents should ever use them.

Pretty strong, right? Well, here's what provoked it:

Here is a definition of natural selection from a biology textbook used in Texas schools:
Natural selection is the outcome of variations in shared traits that affect which individuals of a population survive and reproduce each generation. This microevolutionary process results in adaptation to the environment.
Consider for example a female sockeye salmon in Alaska's Copper River. Let's say she lays 3,000 eggs, and all of them hatch. Now, to keep the population stable, only two of those eggs need to mature to adults and return, which means 2,998 of them will probably not make the return journey and produce offspring. Some will get eaten by birds, others by bears, or maybe even a salmon shark. Some will get smashed against rocks, others may starve. Only two are likely to survive to journey from their birthplace to the sea, then venture thousands of miles, before returning to their birthplace.

Now, do you really think the two salmon that survived to adulthood did so because they were clearly the best suited for the environment? Perhaps, but in reality, there is only a 1 in 3000 chance the salmon with the best set of genes survived to adulthood.

Now, this sounds really good at first glance, but it's an incredibly naïve view of fitness. Fitness, and natural selection, are both probabilistic functions. We're looking at differential success over large populations. The fate of an individual, while it matters a great deal to that individual, doesn't matter that much when we're looking at large numbers.

The system is actually a lot like a casino. From the perspective of the individual, there's a lot of luck involved. He pulls the lever and maybe he hits the jackpot, or maybe not. (Most likely, not.) Some people walk away from casinos considerably richer than they went in. Did that person find the key to overcoming the house advantage? No, of course not. Individual luck creates huge variations in the outcomes for individual gamblers, and these variations vastly overwhelm the house advantage. Even in a game like red/black at the roulette wheel, the house advantage is just under three percent. Over lots of bets, the gambler wins back 48.6% of his money each time, on average. But an individual bet is not an average. It either wins (100%) or loses (0%). The three percent house advantage disappears against the noise.

The casino, on the other hand, doesn't care about individual wins and losses. Those are noise. The casino makes money, even though some people win a great deal, because in the long run, the odds are always with the house, however slightly. Take a small casino with a dozen roulette wheels. Call it 60 people playing, and 50 spins of the wheel per table per hour. If each bet is a dollar, that's an income stream of $81 per hour.

That's what we see with only a one-in-thirty-seven increase in "fitness" on the side of the house.

The argument Dr. Shormann offers to "disprove" natural selection is like saying casinos can only make money if every gambler loses on every bet. If this is the level of understanding he brings to math, I would recommend home-schooling parents look at someone else's math package.

Exploring weaknesses in evolution?

Oh, by all means.

David Shormann, Ph.D. takes on the notion of molecular clocks.

An example of real 21st Century science is the mounting evidence against the idea of molecular clocks. Scientists look at differences in genes along with fossil evidence to determine when two species diverged from a common ancestor. For the human species, scientists use molecular clocks to predict the date of "Mitochondrial Eve", our Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) that supposedly originated in Africa.

Molecular clocks came into use in the 1960s. In the 1990 edition of Biology by Neil Campbell, an age between 200,000 and 400,000 years is given for "Eve" (p. 669). Moving ahead to 2004, we find in the 10th edition of Biology by Starr and Taggart that Eve is now only 100,000 to 200,000 years old (p. 471). The fact that the estimates were cut in half, on top of the huge error involved (50%), would make any reasonable scientist question molecular clocks.

That sounds rather telling on first glance. However, I have a couple of thoughts.

Firstly, molecular techniques were not terribly advanced in the 1960s, to say the least. It would be very interesting to compare the techniques used three decades apart.

A quick Google search shows that different molecular analyses will yield different ages for a last common ancestor. It turns out, for example, that:

A similar exercise has also been performed on the Xq13.3 region of the X-chromosome of the same individuals used in this study by Kaessmann et al.

The X-chromosome is the female sex chromosome in the nucleus, but because it is 'paired' with the tiny male Y-chromosome, it mostly doesn't recombine and is similar to mitochondrial DNA in that respect; but it is passed on by both fathers and mothers to offspring and so is different from mitochondrial DNA in that respect. Because the effective population size of the X-chromosome is three times that of mitochondrial DNA, the X-chromosome MRCA is predicted to be three times older than the matrilineal or mitochondrial MRCA. The age of the MRCA of Xq13.3 is found to be in agreement with the mtDNA data (mtDNA MRCA age: 171,500 years BP; Xq13.3 MRCA age: 479,000 years BP)

That's not very different from the 200,000 – 400,000 year range given in the 1960s-era textbook.

More searching: According to Wikipedia:

The notion of the existence of a so-called "molecular clock" was first attributed to Emile Zuckerkandl and Linus Pauling who, in 1962, noticed that the number of amino acid differences in hemoglobin between different lineages roughly changes with time, as estimated also from fossil evidence.[1] They generalized this observation to assert that the rate of evolutionary change of any specified protein was approximately constant over time and over different lineages.

It turns out the initial hypothesis of a fixed rate clock wasn't accurate. The clock can be speeded up or slowed down by a number of factors, including population size. If a species' population rises or falls significantly over time, this can affect the reading on the clock.

Molecular clocks are far from useless, despite this. We can tell a lot even if all we know is that event B happened between events A and C. Shorman misses this point where he writes:

The truth is, there will ALWAYS be confusion about what happened in the past because we cannot go back and verify it. Not only that, scientists believe up to 99.9% of the species that ever existed may be missing from the fossil record. .... finally, as Professor Jerry Coyne said on page 17 of Why Evolution is True, "By predictions, I don't mean that Darwinism can predict how things will evolve in the future."

Evolution is weak when it comes to explaining the past, present and future.

Many sciences make predictions about the past. For example, given evolution and continental drift, we predicted that fossils of ancestral marsupials – intermediate between Australian and South American marsupials – would be found in Antarctica. No marsupials live in Antarctica today, but their ancestors would have had to get to South America somehow, and Antarctica was the bridge between the two, before continental drift pulled them apart.

Guess what kind of fossils have turned up in Antarctica?

In fact, science can make predictions about things we already know. If we have a theory and exclude prior information, we can see if this information drops out of the theory. If it does, this is a valid test.

On top of that, genetic mutations are almost always neutral (see "neutral theory") or harmful, rarely beneficial, and never has a gene been observed to mutate and create a new and beneficial function.

This is just plain false. Antibiotic resistance is a new function, it's beneficial (for the bacteria), and it's the result of mutations. Bacteria have also picked up, through mutation, the ability to break down nylon and other completely novel molecules. And bacteria don't have recessive genes – if a function appears, it had to develop somehow, not appear from hiding somehow.

The blood clotting cascade is a complex and intricate molecular system. It was one of the poster children in Michael Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box. Behe's thesis was that systems like the blood clotting cascade were irreducibly complex, and therefore could not have arisen by Darwinian step-by-step modification of precursors. If any piece of the system is missing, or not yet ready, the whole system won't work.

Dr. Kenneth Miller has researched the development of the blood clotting cascade.

Using homology, he traces the molecules in the cascade back to a digestive enzyme in an ancestral form some 600 million years ago. Gene duplication would create a copy of this enzyme, which becomes the first step in the clotting cascade. It's pitifully inadequate for you or me, but it's perfectly adequate for a critter like a lobster.

Further gene duplication and differentiation gives us additional elements, which can then mutate to address different functions. An enzyme that does two functions well enough can be duplicated, and each copy can mutate to handle one function, even at the cost of losing the ability to handle the other.

Now, it would not be fair, just because we have presented a realistic evolutionary scheme, supported by gene sequences from modern organisms, to suggest that we now know exactly how the clotting system has evolved. That would be making far too much of our limited ability to reconstruct the details of the past. But nonetheless, there is little doubt that we do know enough to develop a plausible and scientifically valid scenario for how it might have evolved. And that scenario makes specific predictions that can be tested and verified against the evidence.

Now, what alternative theory does Dr. Shormann propose, and what (if any) are its strengths?

Bonuses and contracts

Over at CounterColumn:
In a nutshell: Whatever those mid-tier AIG employees are getting in the way of contractually guaranteed bonuses is absolutely trivial when compared with the eventual cost of setting a precedent whereby Congress feels itself entitled to unilaterally, arbitrarily and retroactively abrogate legal contracts.
A Congress that thinks it is at all right and proper to retroactively tax into oblivion the proceeds from any business transaction legally and freely entered into by both parties is a Congress which is a threat to the liberty and prosperity of all Americans.
If the government is big enough to retroactively eviscerate AIG employees - employees who agreed to stay on and keep the company going in anticipation of these bonuses, rather than leave the company with no one to run it - then the government is big enough to go back and rape you for whatever you have, too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Krauthammer on Stem Cells

In the Washington Post:

Last week, the White House invited me to a signing ceremony overturning the Bush (43) executive order on stem cell research. I assume this was because I have long argued in these columns and during my five years on the President's Council on Bioethics that, contrary to the Bush policy, federal funding should be extended to research on embryonic stem cell lines derived from discarded embryos in fertility clinics.

I declined to attend. Once you show your face at these things you become a tacit endorser of whatever they spring. My caution was vindicated.

President Bush had restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to cells derived from embryos that had already been destroyed (as of his speech of Aug. 9, 2001). While I favor moving that moral line to additionally permit the use of spare fertility clinic embryos, President Obama replaced it with no line at all. He pointedly left open the creation of cloned -- and noncloned sperm-and-egg-derived -- human embryos solely for the purpose of dismemberment and use for parts.
That part of the ceremony, watched from the safe distance of my office, made me uneasy. The other part -- the ostentatious issuance of a memorandum on "restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making" -- would have made me walk out.

Restoring? The implication, of course, is that while Obama is guided solely by science, Bush was driven by dogma, ideology and politics.

What an outrage. Bush's nationally televised stem cell speech was the most morally serious address on medical ethics ever given by an American president. It was so scrupulous in presenting the best case for both his view and the contrary view that until the last few minutes, the listener had no idea where Bush would come out.

Obama's address was morally unserious in the extreme. It was populated, as his didactic discourses always are, with a forest of straw men. Such as his admonition that we must resist the "false choice between sound science and moral values." Yet, exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds later he went on to declare that he would never open the door to the "use of cloning for human reproduction."

Affirmative action and hypocrisy?

In a post about affirmative action in an episode of Ugly Betty, Angela Onwuachi-Willig can't resist taking a pot-shot at Clarence Thomas:
Yet we should fear renewed criticism of affirmative action laws, now by minorities who deserve its benefits but refuse them as a sign of moral character. This isn’t Clarence Thomas, who benefited from affirmative action and then criticized it. His hypocrisy discredited his arguments.
This is wrong on three counts. First, there's nothing hypocritical about benefitting from affirmative action and subsequently criticizing it. A person may sincerely believe that affirmative action is bad, and yet decide that it's not worth unilaterally rejecting the personal benefits it offers. This is especially true in the case of Thomas, who has received not only the personal benefits associated with a seat on the Supreme Court, but also the ability to shape policy, including policy on affirmative action, for the better.

Second, even if we were to grant for the sake of argument Thomas's hyporcisy, that wouldn't discredit his arguments, any more than leftists' failure to return their share of the Bush tax cuts discredits their arguments against it. Failure to live up to an ideal is not a logical refutation of its validity. A professor of law should know better than to commit such a basic fallacy.

Finally, one of the most compelling arguments against affirmative action is that it causes people to question the qualifications of those who may have benefitted from it. In fact, Thomas himself has said that prospective employers questioned the validity of his Yale Law degree because of affirmative action, and this may have contributed to his opposition to it. And here Onwuachi-Willig is affirming the legitimacy of that argument by implying* that Thomas would not be in his current position under race-neutral policies.