Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Science and the Right

 Dafydd at Big Lizards has some comments on why Republicans have trouble winning on issues like:
  • Cap and Trade -- rather, Cripple and Tax

  • The expansion of nuclear power generation

  • The EPA's attempt to outlaw CO2 (and now NO2 as well; hat tip to Hugh Hewitt)

  • Missile defense, both theater and strategic

  • Nationalization of major industries

  • Nationalization of health care to a single-payer, government-controlled system

  • The promiscuous proliferation of "endangered species" that are, in fact, not endangered
  • First, each of these controversies is a wedge issue by which Republicans and conservatives can oust Democrats and liberals from Congress -- and potentially from la Casa Blanca, as well.

    Second, each is fundamentally a scientific question, from climate science, to nuclear physics, to aeronautics and cybernetics, to the optimal pursuit of medical research, to economic science, to the biological sciences.

    And most important, for each of these wedge issues, the Right can only win if it is more credible when speaking about scientific matters.

    It's not good enough merely to be no less credible than, on a par with the Left -- in this case, a "tie" in rationalism goes to whoever is best at slinging emotional arguments; and in that arena, the Left always has the home-field advantage.

    All of which leads me, by a commodious vicus of recirculation, back to the hubris-flaw of conservatives; and that is, of course, the squirrely refusal of so many prominent conservatives to accept the findings of a century and a half of evolutionary biology.
    That intellectual blind spot torpedoes conservative credibilty on a host of other scientific issues:
    (Snipped.  Read the original blog post.)

    The scientific evidence for evolution by variation/mutation and natural selection is overwhelming; and no respected, peer-review-published scientist in the field of biology disputes the fundamentals of the discipline. (Everyone disputes the details; that's the very nature of science.) The unanimity is so stark that the nutters at the creationist Discovery Institute are reduced to babbling about conspiracy theories to "silence dissent," a facile and convenient claim most recently pushed by noted actor, conservative columnist, and evolutionary biologist (I made up that last one) Ben Stein.

    But for purely religious reasons, conservatives who are also believing Christians -- which is a huge subset -- plus some politically conservative Jews, have an irreducible simplicity as a core axiom: That evolutionary theory, which they call "Darwinism," is false. They reason backwards from this axiom to declare invalid any experiment, observation, or conclusion that supports it. And in the process, they fatally damage their own credibility to argue any case that depends upon the ability to reason logically or to understand basic scientific principles. Or even the scientific method itself.

    Worse, they even damage my credibility, due to guilt by association; and I'm bloody sick of it. Every time I argue science with a liberal, I must spend the first 500 words defending myself from the false charge of rejecting evolution -- and the next 2,000 words mitigating the damage from the same charge -- but more true this time -- leveled against the Right in general.


    Evolution is the great counterexample cited to prove that the Right is no more rational than the Left. Thanks; the rest of us really appreciate being lumped together with Ben Stein and Michael Medved.

    (This post was, of course, driven by my annoyance at Medved presenting yet another knucklehead railing against "Darwinism," citing the Discovery Institute's all-purpose catechism of "irreducible complexity"... that mutable charge that shifts from biological system to biological system, always one step ahead of the very reduction of complexity it claims cannot occur.)

    Monday, June 29, 2009

    Will on Health Care

     George Will in the Washington Post:

    Most Americans do want different health care: They want 2009 medicine at 1960 prices. Americans spent much less on health care in 1960 (5 percent of gross domestic product as opposed to 18 percent now). They also spent much less -- nothing, in fact -- on computers, cellphones, and cable and satellite television.


    Today the portion of income consumed by those four has barely changed -- 55 percent. But the health-care component has increased while the other three combined have decreased. This is partly because as societies become richer, they spend more on health care -- and symphonies, universities, museums, etc.

    It is also because health care is increasingly competent. When the first baby boomers, whose aging is driving health-care spending, were born in 1946, many American hospitals' principal expense was clean linen. This was long before MRIs, CAT scans and the rest of the diagnostic and therapeutic arsenal that modern medicine deploys.

    In a survey released in April by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard, only 6 percent of Americans said that they were willing to spend more than $200 a month on health care, and the price must fall to $100 a month before a majority are willing to pay it. But according to Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute, Americans already are paying an average of $400 a month.

    Most Americans do not know this because the cost of their care is hidden. Only 9 percent buy health coverage individually, and $84 of every $100 spent on health care is spent by someone (an employer, insurance company or government) other than recipients of the care. Those who get insurance as untaxed compensation from employers have no occasion to compute or confront the size of that benefit. But it is part of the price their employers pay for their work.


    As market enthusiasts, conservatives should stop warning that the president's reforms will result in health-care "rationing." Every product, from a jelly doughnut to a jumbo jet, is rationed -- by price or by politics. The conservative's task is to explain why price is preferable. The answer is that prices produce a rational allocation of scarce resources.

    Regarding reform, conservatives are accused of being a party of "no." Fine. That is an indispensable word in politics because most new ideas are false and mischievous. Furthermore, the First Amendment's lovely first five words ("Congress shall make no law") set the negative tone of the Bill of Rights, which is a list of government behaviors, from establishing religion to conducting unreasonable searches, to which the Constitution says: No.

    "The Backgammon Effect"

    John Steele Gordon at Commentary Magazine discusses the "backgammon effect" as it applies to climate change arguments.

    But why is the Nobel-Prize-winning economist so exercised about global warming as to be reduced to name calling instead of examining the data? Why are so many climate scientists and liberal politicians so certain of the data on global warming that they think the debate is over?

    I think it is a case of the "backgammon effect." In backgammon, the players move their pieces according to the dictates of a pair of dice. A single bad throw of the dice can convert a near-certain winner into a near-certain loser. Being human, players sometimes misread the dice and misplay accordingly. They get a six-four, for instance, but play a six-three. The opponent, if he is paying attention, points out the error,  it's corrected, and the game goes on.

    Interestingly, the player who misreads the dice and thus misplays almost always does so to his own advantage. Is he cheating? Not at all. He is simply misperceiving the real world because his self-interest leads him to do so. He wants a six-three and so he sees one in a six-four. It's as simple as that.

    You could also call it the "miscounted change effect" -- when a clerk gives a customer the wrong amount of change by accident, it's usually an undercount. This also isn't conscious cheating -- it's merely that the penalties for coming up short at the end of the day are more severe than for coming up with excess cash in your cash drawer.  As a result, it makes sense to guard against handing back too much money more stringently than against handing back too little.  Besides, if you hand back too little, the customer is usually more than happy to help you get it right.  Fewer customers mention it when they get handed too much money.

    Sunday, June 28, 2009

    Canada Care

    Ed Morrissey comments on the state of care in Canada.
    My friend Michael Stickings links to a story of bureaucratic outrages involving an acutely ill premature baby, but only focuses on one particular outrage while excusing the other.  Because Canada does not have the capacity to deal with the demand for neo-natal intensive care for premature births, the single-payer system sent the critically ill child to the United States for treatment.  Unfortunately, the parents do not have passports which are now required for crossing the border, and the US refuses to allow them into the country without them...

    ...Well, it's impossible to look at this situation without seeing the relative merits of the American and Canadian systems.  First, the child would have gotten care in the US, too, regardless of insurance status.  People get emergency care regardless in this country.  There is a difference between health insurance and access to care that some people elide for purposes of political argument.  No one gets turned away from emergency care for lack of ability to pay.

    But why wasn't there a NICU bed for the child in the entire nation of Canada?  The government of Canada won't pay for more.  They don't exist to expand supply to meet demand; their single-payer system exists to ration care as a cost-saving mechanism.  In a free-market system, supply expands to meet demand, which is why Canada could subcontract out to a US hospital for capacity.  Michael writes that paragraph as if it was mere luck that an NICU bed happened to be open in the US, but that's a function of the system, and not luck.  These parents are separated from their child at the moment through the fault of Canada's government and not the US.

    Day at the Museum

    In this case, it's a day at the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

    In one of the largest gatherings of critics since the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky opened two years ago, six dozen paleontologists in the area for a conference this week took a field trip to get a glimpse of the marketing tactics used by the other side of the evolution debate.

    Paleontologists spend their careers studying evolution, and here they were visiting a place where nearly every room is dedicated to disproving it through Creationism, a fundamentalist Christian belief based on a literal interpretation of the Bible that contends God created the universe just a few thousand years ago.

    "The real purpose of the museum visit is to give some of my colleagues an opportunity to sense how they're being portrayed," said Arnold Miller, a professor of paleontology at the University of Cincinnati, which is hosting the conference. "They're being demonized, I feel, in this museum as people who are responsible for all the ills of society."


    David Menton, a cell biology professor and researcher with Answers In Genesis, which founded the museum, made no apologies for the fact that the museum's teachings are rooted in the Old Testament. He insists they rely on largely the same facts scientists use, just with a starting point millions of years later. Anything before that can't really be proven by science anyway, he says.

    "I've spent enough of my professional life in science that I know science being compatible with religion is not the sort of thing that keeps scientists up at night," Menton said. "There's a lot of scientists out there that rather applaud that idea."

    He defended the displays that argue people and dinosaurs are contemporaries, including one at the museum entrance that show two young girls playing in a field near a dinosaur.

    "I'm not saying dinosaurs and man frequently hobnobbed," Menton said. "I live on Earth at the same time as grizzly bears, but if I could stay as far away from grizzly bears, that suits me fine."

    The critique of scientists even extends to the gift shop, where among the DVDs for sale is one entitled, "The Cure for a Culture in Crisis: It doesn't take a Ph.D."

    It all had Wednesday's visitors shaking their heads.

    "Faith is one thing," said Mark Terry, a high school science teacher from Seattle, "but when it comes to their science statements, they're completely off the wall."

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    Climate and Carbon Dioxide

    Googling on "CO2 lags warming" turns up a number of links, including this one at New Scientist: Climate myths: Ice cores show CO2 increases lag behind temperature rises, disproving the link to global warming

    About this myth, New Scientist says:

    Ice cores from Antarctica show that at the end of recent ice ages, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere usually started to rise only after temperatures had begun to climb. There is uncertainty about the timings, partly because the air trapped in the cores is younger than the ice, but it appears the lags might sometimes have been 800 years or more.

    That sounds like confirmation of the "myth". What gives?

    Well, the "myth" part is that this lag is actually meaningful.

    Sometimes a house gets warmer even when the central heating is turned off. Does this prove that its central heating does not work? Of course not. Perhaps it's a hot day outside, or the oven's been left on for hours.

    Just as there's more than one way to heat a house, so there's more than one way to heat a planet.

    Granted. But if it's a hot day outside, the temperature inside the house goes up, and then you turn on the central heating, you'd expect the temperature to climb faster. The interesting question is, how much of this do we see?

    What seems to have happened at the end of the recent ice ages is that some factor - most probably orbital changes - caused a rise in temperature. This led to an increase in CO2, resulting in further warming that caused more CO2 to be released and so on: a positive feedback that amplified a small change in temperature. At some point, the shrinking of the ice sheets further amplified the warming.

    Models suggest that rising greenhouse gases, including CO2, explains about 40% of the warming as the ice ages ended. The figure is uncertain because it depends on how the extent of ice coverage changed over time, and there is no way to pin this down precisely.

    One of the biggest problems with the whole global warming argument is trying to pin down the physics of the system so that projections actually match reality. For example, a number of people assume the various climate feedback loops are all positive, and we'll get runaway warming.

    Finally, if higher temperatures lead to more CO2 and more CO2 leads to higher temperatures, why doesn't this positive feedback lead to a runaway greenhouse effect? There are various limiting factors that kick in, the most important being that infrared radiation emitted by Earth increases exponentially with temperature, so as long as some infrared can escape from the atmosphere, at some point heat loss catches up with heat retention.

    Too much equality for same-sex couples?

    From the Brisbane Times:

    July 1 should be a day of celebration for the nation's same sex couples, when their relationships will become formally recognised under many federal laws.

    But many gay and lesbian Australians are finding that equality comes at a price - literally.

    From next Wednesday, when the law starts to recognise de facto gay couples, Centrelink will also begin taking into account gay partner's incomes when considering eligibility for benefits.


    Ray Mackereth, publisher of Q News, a Brisbane-based gay and lesbian newspaper, said suddenly foisting equality on people who'd been discriminated against their entire lives didn't seem fair.

    He said for many years elderly gay people had missed out on family tax benefits, medicare benefits, partner benefits or family assistance.

    "Despite having paid higher taxes all their lives and not being recognised as a same sex couple, now they're going to receive less money in their retirement when their planning was done many years ago," Mr Mackereth said.

    At the very least, they should be able to opt out of being considered married.

    If they don't, or if they decide to get married, I don't see how their situation is any different from opposite-sex couples who choose to marry at particular times of life.

    Friday, June 19, 2009

    Stick Figure Science

    There was a contest, and the winning entries are here.

    Peter Hitchens on Murder (among other things)

    Why it's so hard to compare apples with apples on the subject.

    Which brings me alongside Mr Hadley's responses to my most recent posting. But before I board his vessel with cutlass aloft, a few reactions are necessary to comments on my Sunday column. Mr Brant asserts that murder has not substantially increased since the abolition of the death penalty. Several points here: Can he please cite his sources? Is he referring to homicide as a whole? If he is using 'murder' as his definition, is he aware that the definition of 'murder' alters according to the legal punishment of that crime? For instance, when we still had a death penalty, but after it was weakened by the Homicide Act of 1957 many killers attempted to avoid the noose by pleading 'diminished responsibility' and so being sentenced for manslaughter. After this weakening, convictions for murder rose slightly, but not spectacularly (from 32 in 1956 to 51 in 1961) . But convictions for 'manslaughter due to diminished responsibility', most of which would probably have been prosecuted and sentenced as murder before 1957, climbed from 11 to 41 between 1957 and 1964. Add them to the murder figures, and you get quite a significant jump.

    Once the death penalty ceased to operate at all, this process continued. The distinction moved elsewhere. Rather than trying to avoid being hanged, the accused's lawyers sought to avoid a 'life' sentence. And the prosecution, mindful of prison overcrowding and the high cost of jury trials,has joined in (the affronted relatives of victims sometimes write to me about the resulting injustice). What has tended to happen in subsequent years is that many more cases which would once have been charged and prosecuted as murder were reduced (for speed and cheapness) to charges of manslaughter. So, many cases whose actual nature would have had them classified as murder in, say, 1955, will have been recorded as manslaughter in post 1965 Britain. It is very difficult, given the fluid boundary between the two, to establish numbers.

    Then, as the 1948 Royal Commission on the subject rightly pointed out, one must always be careful with direct before and after comparisons. Generally, countries which abolish the death penalty have suspended it or restricted it for a long period before the moment of abolition. (Most of the American states which claim to have the death penalty for political purposes never actually execute anyone, which also tends to confuse the matter, and those which do only execute after immense delays, by which time the murderer has often forgotten what he did, and so that many sentenced murderers actually die of natural causes on Death Row, making 'comparisons' between 'death penalty' and 'non-death-penalty' states virtually meaningless).

    In Britain's case, the 1957 Homicide Act, which prevented the execution of gang members who had participated in a homicidal crime, and enshrined the 'diminished responsibility' defence, effectively eviscerated the death penalty although it wasn't formally abolished for another seven years. Britain never executed many murderers in modern times (the highest tally in the post-war period was 18 in 1951) but by the time abolition came, the annual total of hangings rarely rose above two. A serious comparison of pre and post abolition should therefore track the whole period between 1945 and now, and examine in detail many of the homicides nowadays classified as 'manslaughter'.

    It should also, as I have rather often pointed out, recognise that trauma surgery has hugely improved since 1964, and that many homicidal assaults, which would undoubtedly have resulted in death 45 years ago, now do not do so. This is not because of the criminals being gentler, or lacking the intent (or callous heedlessness of the consequences of their savagery) which lead to death. A clue as to how many such 'hidden murders' now take place is offered by the growth in attempted murder cases, which rose between 1976 and 1996 from 155 to 634. In the same period instances of 'wounding to endanger life' rose from 5,885 to 10,445. All these figures, and a careful examination of this superficially persuasive but in fact worthless part of the abolitionist case, are to be found in the chapter 'Cruel and Unusual' of my reviled book 'A Brief History of Crime'. Any decent library will find it for you. The issue is also addressed in another chapter 'Out of the Barrel of a Gun', which shows that two post-war suspensions of the death penalty (one in 1948 and the other in 1955-57) caused by Parliamentary debates on abolition, correlate with two substantial but temporary increases in the incidence of armed and violent crime (the form of crime which death penalty supporters argue is deterred by capital punishment). In both cases the figures fell again after the suspension ended, only to increase, and carry on increasing evermore, after final abolition.

    Liz Throws a hissy fit

    Elizabeth Becton doesn't like being called "Liz".

    She really, really, really doesn't like it.

    If you want to score a meeting with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), know this: His scheduler/office manager, Elizabeth Becton, is to be addressed by her full name — not Liz or any other variant.

    An executive assistant at McBee Strategic recently learned this the hard way. A few weeks ago, the assistant e-mailed Becton seeking a meeting with McDermott and a client, JPMorgan Chase. Days later, the assistant checked back in and unfortunately began the e-mail with "Hi Liz." 

    Becton curtly replied, "Who is Liz?"

    When the assistant wrote back with an apology, Becton turned up the heat. "I do not go by Liz. Where did you get your information?" she asked. 

    The back-and-forth went on for 19 e-mails, with the assistant apologizing six times if she had "offended" Becton, while Becton lectured about name-calling.

    A while ago, I decided to adopt as a policy that you get one apology per minor offense.  If that's not sufficient, that becomes your problem.  Now this isn't for something major like a broken bone or a wrecked car, but if you take offense over a mode of address, and refuse to accept an apology, I have to conclude it's because you enjoy taking offense.

    I'm more than happy to oblige.

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Dinosaurs give us the finger

    An item that recently made the news was a finding that "proved" birds did not descend from dinosaurs.  Since the Conspiracy to Boost Evolution At All Costs neglected to spike this data, science has had to rely on finding more data.  In this case, reported at the blog The Panda's Thumb, scientists have found a fossil "caught in the act" of evolving, which seems to resolve the question.

    What's especially interesting about it is that it catches an evolutionary hypothesis in the act, and is another genuine transitional fossil. The hypothesis is about how fingers were modified over time to produce the patterns we see in dinosaurs and birds.

    Birds have greatly reduced digits, but when we examine them embryologically, we can see precisely what has happened: they've lost the outermost digits, the thumb (I) and pinky (V), and retain the forefinger, middle finger, and ring finger (II-IV), which have been reduced and fused together. This is called Bilateral Digit Reduction, BDR, because they've lost digits from the medial and lateral sides, leaving the middle set intact.

    Dinosaurs, when examined anatomically, seem to have a different pattern: they have a thumb (I), forefinger (II) and middle finger (III), and have lost the lateral two digits, the ring and pinky finger (IV-V). This arrangement has been advanced as evidence that birds did not evolve from dinosaurs, since they have different bones in their hands, and getting from one pattern to the other is complicated and difficult and very unlikely.

    The alternative hypothesis is that there is no conflict, and that dinosaurs actually underwent BDR and their digits are II-III-IV…but that what has also happened is a frame shift in digit identities. So dinosaurs actually have three digits, which are the index, middle, and ring finger, but they've undergone a subtle shift in morphology so that their forefinger develops as a thumb, and so forth.

    Now we could resolve all this easily if only the physicists would get to work and build that time machine so we could go back to the Mesozoic and study dinosaur embryology, but they're too busy playing with strings and quanta and dark matter to do the important experiments, so we've got to settle for another plan: find intermediate forms in the fossil record. That's where Limusaurus steps in.

    Limusaurus has a thumb, a tiny vestigial nubbin, and has lost its pinky completely. This is a (I)-II-III-IV pattern, and is evidence of bilateral digit reduction in a basal ceratosaur. In addition, the forefinger has become very robust, and while still distinctly a digit II, has been caught in the early stages of a transformation into a saurian first digit. It's evidence in support of the dinosaurian II-III-IV hypothesis and the frameshift in digit identity! It's almost as good as having a time machine.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    Give me a blog!

    John Stossel (famous for his "Give Me a Break" segments) has a blog at ABC.  His most recent post to date:
    Jacob Sullum has a nice column in this month's Reason magazine debunking the idea that guns purchased in the US fuel the drug violence in Mexico.
    "Making it harder for Americans to buy guns is not likely to stop Mexican gangsters from arming themselves. The persistence of the drug traffickers' main business, which consists of transporting and selling products that are entirely illegal on both sides of the border, should give pause to those who think they can block the flow of guns to the cartels."
    He also argues, as I have, that conservatives who oppose gun control should also oppose the drug war. A war on drugs inevitably becomes a war on guns.

    Gitmo files

    Thomas Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard suggests we not take the interviews with people just released from Gitmo at face value.  At the very least, their testimony has not been consistent.
    On Sunday night, CNN ran part of an interview with a Uighur named Khalil Abdul Nasser. Until just a few days ago, Nasser was detained at Guantanamo. Nasser's transfer to Bermuda, along with three of his fellow Uighurs, has caused a storm of controversy on the tiny resort island. So, Nasser wanted to quell any doubts about his innocence.
    Regarding allegations that he attended a terrorist training camp, Nasser (speaking through a translator) said: "This is not true, because I have never been in any kind of training camp."
    [Nasser] did not always dispute this. During his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) at
    Gitmo, Nasser freely admitted that he once trained at the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement's (ETIM's) Tora Bora training camp.
    The transcript of Nasser's CSRT session at Gitmo, who was then known by his alias, Abdul Helil Mamut, is readily available on the New York Times's web site. (See here.) A U.S. military tribunal alleged: "The Detainee arrived at the Uighur Tora Bora training camp on 17 June 2001." Nasser responded, "That's correct. The name Tora Bora is used in the accusation, but it is not correct." (He later claimed he may have arrived earlier in June of 2001.)
    Other Uighur detainees held at Gitmo, like Nasser, said they were not familiar with the name Tora Bora. It may be that the camp was not known to them as the "Tora Bora training camp," as described by the government. But, that is clearly where they were. Their descriptions of the camp match it precisely and, as described below, Nasser admitted he was in the Tora Bora mountains during the beginning of the U.S. bombing campaign in 2001. Nasser also admitted he was at the Tora Bora facility, after initially disputing its name.

    Nasser did not say who ran the Tora Bora training camp during his CSRT session. But it is clear, based on the testimony of at least eight other Uighurs, including Hozaifa Parhat, that Abdul Haq ran the camp.

    There is no real material dispute, then, that the camp was run by an al Qaeda terrorist. And Nasser lived and was trained at this camp.

    A statement by the Uighur detainees' attorney and Nasser's newfound denial do not change these simple facts.

    CNN, like most other news organizations, could not be bothered to do some basic fact checking of the Uighurs' story. If the news channel had, then perhaps it would not have presented their claims unchallenged.


    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Restoring federalism?

    Big Lizards blogger Dafydd ap Hugh calls attention to a couple of laws being considered in Montana and Texas:

    In May, Montana became the first state to approve the Firearms Freedom Act, which declares that guns manufactured and sold in the Big Sky State to buyers who plan to keep the weapons within the state are exempt from federal gun regulations.

    According to the act's supporters, if guns bearing a "Made in Montana" stamp remain in Montana, then federal rules such as background checks, registration and dealer licensing no longer apply. But court cases have interpreted the U.S. Constitution's Interstate Commerce Clause as covering anything that might affect interstate commerce -- which in practice means just about anything.

    (Including, as he mentions, growing your own vegetables in your own garden.)

    Two other states -- Alaska and Texas -- have had favorable votes on laws similar to Montana's, declaring that guns that stay within the state are none of the feds' business. More than a dozen others are considering such laws, and more-general declarations of state sovereignty have been introduced this year in more than 30 legislatures.

    The federal courts may not respond well to these laws in the short term, but backers who acknowledge this say that regardless, they intend for the laws to change the political landscape in the long term. They hope these state laws will undercut the legitimacy of contrary federal law -- as has happened with medicinal marijuana -- and even push federal courts to bend with the popular wind.

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    Harry Jackson Jr. on Same-Sex Marriage

    At townhall.com:

    ...Knowledgeable pro-traditional marriage advocates understand that the real danger lies with the unintended consequences of gay marriage on the next generation. Redefining marriage, redefines family, the redefinition of family changes the definition of parenting, the definition of parenting changes the dynamics of education.


    What will the landscape of America look like if same-sex marriage is legalized across our nation? According to the writings of Dr. Stanley Kurtz, nations who have gone this way see a dramatic increase in out of wedlock births, long-term singleness, and other symptoms of the devaluation of the institution. If the American family loses the presence of its birth dad in the home, there will be several huge consequences.

    Consider these statistics. Over half of Americans studied in a survey in 2001 by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government believe that the high number of single-parent families is a major cause of poverty. Studies also reveal that most Americans believe that welfare programs encourage single-parent families and teenage pregnancy.

    Malcolm D. Williams in 1997, used a sample of 1,610 10-13 year-olds in a study. He found that children who learn to share significant ideas with their fathers had fewer behavior problems and developed stronger cognitive abilities than their peers.

    Similar results were found in a 1995 study of 254 black adolescents living with both of their biological parents. Ninety-six percent of these boys said their fathers were their role models. In this study, only 44 percent of black adolescents who were not living with their fathers said their fathers were their role models.

    The Journal of Family Psychology in 2000 reported a study of 116 African American students ages 10-13. The boys with married parents were found to have much higher levels of self esteem and a better sense of personal power and self-control compared to single-mother homes.

    Repeatedly, scholarly studies focused on adolescence show that early onset of puberty in girls is a major problem. It is associated with negative psychological, social, and health problems. Depression, alcohol consumption, and higher teenage pregnancy rates are some of the results. An eight year study of girls and their families showed that a father's presence in the home, with appropriate involvement in his children's lives, contributed to later pubertal timing of the daughters in the seventh grade.

    These studies and scores of others suggest what most Americans have always known: that both boys and girls, are deeply affected in both biological and psychological ways by the presence of their fathers....

    And from the comments:

    What is Marriage For?

    The question to ask, in order to provide a solid foundation to all arguments about marriage is this:

    What is marriage for?

    Is it for adult companionship, pleasure, and convenience? If so, then what we have now -- marriage as a purely optional possibility, lightly entered into, lightly gotten out of, completely divorced from childbearing, and extending as a "right" to any number and/or combination of consenting adults -- is the inevitable result.

    If the current situation is not desirable then marriage must have some other purpose than merely as a pleasant possibility to facilitate companionship among adults.

    In the traditional understanding of marriage, as practiced by every society humanity has ever produced, marriage is much more -- it is a formal, permantent, legal (and often, but not necessarily, religious), bond between male and female that serves multiple functions.

    1. Marriage obligates both biological parents to participate in raising their offspring. This drastically reduces the number of children thrown onto the community to be supported via taxes.

    2. Marriage obligates sexual fidelity -- harnessing biological drives and channeling them to productive rather than destructive purposes. This drives down rates of both sexually transmitted disease and the depression and other mental problems which plague the promiscuous as they continually form, destroy, and re-form relationship bonds.

    3. As a corollary, by assuring that each child's parentage is known marriage improves the next generation's ability to find suitable, un-related mates and the raising of blood-siblings in the same household makes incestuous attraction unlikely. This is biologically healthy for the human species

    4. Marriage ensures mutual support through the difficulties of life and the vicissitudes of fortune. Families and extended families assist each other in a myriad of ways that no other community, however well-intended, can duplicate. Friends may have other obligations. Neighbors may not even know each other. But couples, siblings, cousins, and even in-laws are there for each other because that's how families are.

    5. Marriage provides beneficial connections to extended family groups. Few things are rarer and more remarkable than for a mere friend or acquaintance, much less a stranger, to help a young couple with the down payment for a house or a car or to provide other financial support to help set a new adult on his/her own feet. Few things could be more commonplace than for family members to do so.

    Many people gain their first, valuable work experience that sets them on a lifetime of productive employment in a family member's business. They might not have taken a chance on a completely inexperienced stranger, but since its a nephew, a cousin, or your sister-in-law's sister-in-law the connection makes a difference. The old saying is true -- you don't just marry your spouse, you marry the family.

    So we need to recognize that the formation of these social bonds and connections -- things far removed from mere adult companionship -- is part of what marriage is for. Indeed, in many societies, these literal or figurative tribal connections are more critical for the ordering of society than local, regional, or even national politics.

    6.Marriage provides for the orderly transmission of both wealth and culture from one generation to the next. The first through financial support AND education while the parents live and through the inheritance of property after the parents die. The second because despite the efforts of government schools and tax policies that often force mothers into full-time jobs children still learn their values at home.

    A child raised by his/her married, biological parents is better off by every measure of success than a child raised in any other living arrangement.

    Marriage is not for "two adults in a loving relationship". Marriage is bigger and grander and more ambitious. Marriage is for nothing less than the perpetuation of human civilization.

    And the social pathologies that accompany family breakdown -- whether this involves never marrying at all or uncommitted marriages resulting in serial polygamy via too-easy divorce -- prove that we need to recapture the proper understanding of marriage if the US is going to survive in any recognizable form.

    What is deception?

    From Bruce Schneier's "Crypto-Gram" newsletter:
    David Livingstone Smith, University of New England, is a philosopher by training, and goes back to basics: "What are we talking about?" A theoretical definition -- "that which something has to have to fall under a term" -- of deception is difficult to define. "Cause to have a false belief," from the Oxford English Dictionary, is inadequate. "To deceive is intentionally have someone to have a false belief" also doesn't work. "Intentionally causing someone to have a false belief that the speaker knows to be false" still isn't good enough. The fundamental problem is that these are anthropocentric definitions. Deception is not unique to humans; it gives organisms an evolutionary edge. For example, the mirror orchid fools a wasp into landing on it by looking like and giving off chemicals that mimic the female wasp. This example shows that we need a broader definition of "purpose."
    His formal definition: "For systems A and B, A deceives B iff A possesses some character C with proper function F, and B possesses a mechanism C* with the proper function F* of producing representations, such that the proper function of C is to cause C* to fail to perform F* by causing C* to form false representations, and C does so in virtue of performing F, and B's falsely representing enables some feature of A to perform its proper function."
    NB:  "iff" in the definition above is not a misspelling.  "Iff" is logician shorthand for "if and only if".

    Saturday, June 13, 2009

    Play this for your kids

    A couple of video clips at Randy Cassingham's blog which will help keep your kids (or you) out of jail if falsely accused of a crime.

    Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    Is homosexuality fixed?

    (Hat tip: Clayton Cramer)

    A paper published at the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, "Homosexual Behavior in the United States, 1988-2004: Quantitative Empirical Support for the Social Construction Theory of Sexuality" makes the following claim:

    The present study analyzed data collected in 11 rounds of the General Social Survey conducted between 1988 and 2004 (N = 10,767 men and 13,868 women). Using simple cross-tabulations, the prevalence of homosexual contact in America was estimated by sex, year, and various sociodemographic variables. The subsequent results of three estimation models (OLS, logit, and probit) revealed a statistically significant causal effect of the urbanization character of an individual’s residential environment at age 16 on the likelihood that the same individual would engage in homosexual behavior as an adult. The results empirically confirm the idea that sexuality is socially constructed, thus bringing quantitative social scientific inquiries about human sexuality closer to relevant theoretical perspectives.

    In other words, people who are exposed to homosexuality while growing up are more likely to engage in homosexual activity themselves.

    This has some implications for, among other things, the same-sex marriage debate. If you normalize same-sex unions, you're going to have more of them. You may be fine with that, but you need to acknowledge it's going to happen.

    I backed up to the index and looked through the table of contents.

    Today's Alternative Marriage Styles: The Case of Swingers claims that:

    The results of a national on-line survey of 1092 swingers are discussed. Questions from the General Social Survey are used to compare political, social, and sexual attitudes of swingers with the general population in the U.S. Measures of marital and general life satisfaction from the G.S.S. are also used to compare the groups. A preliminary attempt is also made to determine the level of childhood abuse and family dysfunction in the backgrounds of swingers. It is concluded that swingers surveyed are the white, middle-class, middle-aged, church-going segment of the population reported in earlier studies, but when it comes to attitudes about sex and marriage they are less racist, less sexist, and less heterosexist than the general population. Swinging appears to make the vast majority of swingers' marriages happier, and swingers rate the happiness of their marriages and life satisfaction generally as higher than the non-swinging population. Implications of the study and its limitations are also included.

    A news release on June 25, 2001 stated:

    The Joint Statement Against Abstinence-Only Education, which is endorsed by 35 organizations, including the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, Unitarian Universalist Association, National Education Association, Lambda Legal Defense Fund, and other civil liberties, health, education, youth, and religious groups, states that:
    1. abstinence-ONLY education is censorship;
    2. abstinence-ONLY education affronts the principle of church-state separation;
    3. abstinence-ONLY education silences speech about sexual orientation; and
    4. censorship of sexuality education is ineffective, unnecessary, and dangerous.

    Other entries include:

    Working with Polyamorous Clients in the Clinical Setting

    Polyamory - What it is and what it isn't

    We live in a culturally monogamous society, so to espouse polyamory certainly puts you in the eccentric category, "the lunatic fringe" so to speak. In the current political climate, this also brings with it dangers. This is illustrated in cases where children have been removed from their parents because they were not living in the mandated norm of mum, dad and the kids. To come out as poly is a vulnerable thing to do, given all the misunderstandings and all the sleazy, sinful innuendo. It is also the reason why poly people relate to the gay and lesbian community, who have been through, and in many cases still are going through, the same process. Polyamorists are certainly viewed by the societal majority with the utmost suspicion.

    Polyamorists also fully support the right of anyone to select monogamy as a life choice, and believe it is the right choice for many people. The key here is choice.

    A review of a book entitled Against Love:

    Don't expect a fair exposition of both sides of the issue, she succeeds is shooting down not a few sacred cows in the literature and cultural history of love. And the real target is our cultural wedlock to wedlock. She asks the unasked questions about why our culture is so blind to the failings of monogamous heterosexual marriage. She points out how we use many parallels between marriage and work, how we must "work" at our relationships ("labor intensive intimacy"), and any relationship that ends in less than death is a failed relationship, much like getting fired at work. She says "How can you not admire a system so effective at swallowing all alternatives to itself that it can make something so abject as 'working for love' sound admirable?"

    I read this book over one weekend, underlining section after section. Although I have researched and studied alternate forms of relationships for years, I have never before seen the flaws of our social system of love/marriage so well dissected. No wonder so many people are finding "alternate" relationship forms, are cheating on a partner, are logging multiple serial marriages. And after reading this one could wonder why the gay and lesbian communities are so anxious to obtain the "benefits" of marriage.

    Commitment in Polyamory

    A review of the book, Beyond Hysteria: Boy Erotica on the Internet

    This website can not be described as a mouthpiece for the Conservative Coalition.

    Tuesday, June 09, 2009

    DOJ Lawyers Said Enhanced Techniques Legal

    Technorati turns up this article in the ABA Journal, with the interesting headline, "Some DOJ Lawyers Who Questioned Waterboarding Agreed it Was Legal".

    Usually, "some" means "not all", but:

    In 2005, Justice Department lawyers differed over the propriety of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects, but all agreed that it was legal.

    Even lawyers who raised objections to some of the methods—including James Comey and Daniel Levin—agreed they were legal under a 1994 anti-torture law, the New York Times reports. The newspaper bases its report on previously undisclosed e-mail messages, interviews and recently declassified documents.

    (emphasis added>

    It's still legal. Get over it.

    Club Gitmo

    A letter in the Wall Street Journal:

    David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey are right in pointing out the drawbacks in closing Guantanamo ("Why It's So Hard to Close Gitmo," op-ed. May 30). One more comes to my mind: Although the hostile press depicts this detention center as nothing less than an American version of a concentration camp, for at least one woman in Russia it is a place where she is delighted to have her son confined.

    A Reuters dispatch from Moscow, dated Aug. 8, 2003, reported that Amina Khasanova, whose son was a detainee there, told a Russian newspaper that she was "terribly scared of a Russian prison or a Russian court" for him and hence presumably was in no hurry to have him released. "At Guantanamo they treat him humanely, the conditions are fine," she said.

    Her son, Andrei Bakhitov, one of the eight Russian detainees at Guantanamo, had written her: "I think that there is not even a health resort in Russia on the level of this place."

    Richard Pipes

    Cambridge, Mass.

    Dyson interviewed at Yale

    Freeman Dyson interviewed on his recent notoriety over climate change.

    Obama "sort of God"

    Link at townhall blog.
    Newsweek editor Evan Thomas brought adulation over President Obama’s Cairo speech to a whole new level on Friday, declaring on MSNBC: "I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God."

    Weed Eater

    It used to be a brand of trimmer.  Now, it's an increasing number of people with salad greens in their lawns.  (WSJ)

    As suburban homeowners commence their annual battle against weeds, more people are paying top dollar to eat them. The dandelion -- perhaps the most common weed of them all -- is seeing a huge surge in sales at grocery stores. Other long-scorned greens making the leap to the dinner table include purslane, lamb's quarters and stinging nettles, a skin-irritating plant that can be eaten safely after boiling.


    Until the mid-20th century, greens such as wild onions, pokeweed and sorrel were eaten in many parts of the U.S. "The wild plants and the weeds were more commonly eaten until World War II, when they were seen more in disdain and processed foods began to move up," says James A. Duke, a former Agriculture Department researcher who has written a book on edible weeds.

    Signs for the Economy

    Apparently, underwear sales are a leading indicator.  Sales seem to have bottomed out, and this is a sign the recession may be ending.
    And jobless claims seem to have peaked -- another leading indicator.

    When will this horrible recession be over? According to one surprising source, it's over right now.

    The source is Robert J. Gordon, an acclaimed macroeconomist and professor at Northwestern University. It's surprising to learn he thinks the recession is over, because he is one of seven members of the elite Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Analysis. These are the people who decide officially, for the record books, when recessions begin and end -- usually many months after the fact, when the decision is really obvious. I'm unaware of any previous case in which a member of this committee has stepped forward and declared the end of a recession in real time.

    Hot Air notices: Enhanced techniques legal

    Allahpundit at Hot Air also noticed the story.
    This one trickled out over the weekend but shouldn't go unnoticed. Turns out defining "torture" is hard even for the most brilliant of lawyers.

    Monday, June 08, 2009

    Transitional forms

    How do we go from dinosaurs to birds,

    From therapsids to mammals,

    Fish to life on land,

    And how do we get from ancestors like apes,

    To humans that we are today?

    Transitions, transitions!

    Transitions, transitions!

    –From "Darwin on the Roof" (unpublished)

    Transitional forms is the subject of the latest issue of Evolution Education and Outreach.

    "Worse than fiction"

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    Global warming alarmists are fond of invoking the authority of experts against the skepticism of supposedly amateur detractors -- a.k.a. "deniers." So when one of those experts says that a recent report on the effects of climate change is "worse than fiction, it is a lie," the alarmists should, well, be alarmed.

    The latest contretemps pits former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, now president of the Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum, against Roger Pielke, Jr., an expert in disaster trends at the University of Colorado. Mr. Annan's outfit issued a lengthy report late last month warning that climate change-induced disasters, such as droughts and floods, kill 315,000 each year and cost $125 billion, numbers it says will rise to 500,000 dead and $340 billion by 2030. Adding to the gloom, Mr. Annan predicts "mass starvation, mass migration, and mass sickness" unless countries agree to "the most ambitious international agreement ever negotiated" at a meeting this year in Copenhagen.

    Even on its own terms, the numbers here are a lot less scary when put into context. Malaria kills an estimated one million people a year, while AIDS claims an estimated two million. As for the economic costs, $125 billion is slightly less than the GDP of New Zealand. Question: Are targeted campaigns using proven methods to spare the world three million AIDS and malaria deaths a year a better use of scarce resources than a multitrillion-dollar attempt to re-engineer the global economy and save, at most, a tenth that number? We'd say yes.

    But the Annan report deserves even closer scrutiny as an example of the sleight of hand that so often goes with the politics of global warming. Unlike starvation, climate change does not usually kill anyone directly. Instead, the study's authors assume a four-step chain of causation, beginning with increased emissions, moving to climate-change effects, thence to physical changes like melting glaciers and desertification, and finally arriving at human effects like malnutrition and "risk of instability and armed conflicts."

    This is a heroic set of assumptions, even if you agree that emissions are causing adverse changes in climate. Take the supposedly heightened risk of conflict: The authors suggest that "inter-clan fighting in Somalia" is a product of climate change. A likelier explanation is the collapse of a functioning Somali government and the rise of jihadists in the region.

    Enter Mr. Pielke, who, we hasten to add, does not speak for us (nor we for him). But given the headlines the Annan report has garnered, his views deserve amplification. Writing in the Prometheus science policy blog, Mr. Pielke calls the report a "methodological embarrassment" and a "poster child for how to lie with statistics" that "does a disservice" to those who take climate change issues seriously.
    We could go on, except we're worried about the blood pressure of readers who are climate-change true believers. Our only question is, if the case for global warming is so open and shut, why the need for a report as disingenuous as Mr. Annan's?

    The Climate Industrial Complex

    Bjorn Lomborg notes there are a number of companies that are using worries about climate change to line their pockets.  (WSJ)

    Some business leaders are cozying up with politicians and scientists to demand swift, drastic action on global warming. This is a new twist on a very old practice: companies using public policy to line their own pockets.

    The tight relationship between the groups echoes the relationship among weapons makers, researchers and the U.S. military during the Cold War. President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned about the might of the "military-industrial complex," cautioning that "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." He worried that "there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties."

    This is certainly true of climate change. We are told that very expensive carbon regulations are the only way to respond to global warming, despite ample evidence that this approach does not pass a basic cost-benefit test. We must ask whether a "climate-industrial complex" is emerging, pressing taxpayers to fork over money to please those who stand to gain.


    Naturally, many CEOs are genuinely concerned about global warming. But many of the most vocal stand to profit from carbon regulations. The term used by economists for their behavior is "rent-seeking."

    The world's largest wind-turbine manufacturer, Copenhagen Climate Council member Vestas, urges governments to invest heavily in the wind market. It sponsors CNN's "Climate in Peril" segment, increasing support for policies that would increase Vestas's earnings. A fellow council member, Mr. Gore's green investment firm Generation Investment Management, warns of a significant risk to the U.S. economy unless a price is quickly placed on carbon.


    The World Business Summit will hear from "science and public policy leaders" seemingly selected for their scary views of global warming. They include James Lovelock, who believes that much of Europe will be Saharan and London will be underwater within 30 years; Sir Crispin Tickell, who believes that the United Kingdom's population needs to be cut by two-thirds so the country can cope with global warming; and Timothy Flannery, who warns of sea level rises as high as "an eight-story building."

    Free speech is important. But these visions of catastrophe are a long way outside of mainstream scientific opinion, and they go much further than the careful findings of the United Nations panel of climate change scientists. When it comes to sea-level rise, for example, the United Nations expects a rise of between seven and 23 inches by 2100 -- considerably less than a one-story building.

    There would be an outcry -- and rightfully so -- if big oil organized a climate change conference and invited only climate-change deniers.

    The partnership among self-interested businesses, grandstanding politicians and alarmist campaigners truly is an unholy alliance. The climate-industrial complex does not promote discussion on how to overcome this challenge in a way that will be best for everybody. We should not be surprised or impressed that those who stand to make a profit are among the loudest calling for politicians to act. Spending a fortune on global carbon regulations will benefit a few, but dearly cost everybody else.

    Sunday, June 07, 2009

    Climate modeling FAQ


    For them as might be interested...


    I also sent this link to Jerry Pournelle. His reponse is posted in his mail section:

    It is a good defense of climate modeling, but it is also revealing. Note that climate modelers do not put the ability to predict actual climate high on their list of criteria for the effectiveness of their models. They are concerned that they predict about what other models predict; this shows they are on the right track, so to speak.


    To repeat my view: the proposed responses to human activity caused climate change are enormously expensive; I would think it obvious that it is vital that we have models that predict actual climate effects, so that we can decide on cost/benefit ratios. Clearly some climate changes would be for the better. The longer growing seasons milder climates at higher latitudes -- grapes in Yorkshire and southern Scotland -- were good for the inhabitants and were not so far as we know bad for the rest of the world. More CO2, up to a point, is good for plant growth. Clearly if those are going to lead to disasters we want to know that; but that requires models that predict reality, not just what other models predict.

    Copyright wars

    The folks over at some of the libertarian blogs have been making war on the notion of copyright.
    Mark Helprin offers this rebuttal at the Wall Street Journal:

    The opponents of copyright are no more disinterested than its defenders, although they do a good job of pretending, and their theories have become the window dressing for the piracy of software, music, movies -- and soon the written word. They may claim that they are not against copyright per se. But if, as they repeatedly assert, copyright is an unjustifiable tax, a monopoly, and a bar to creativity, why wouldn't they or anyone else be against it, as in fact they are?

    Copyright is no more a tax than the price a merchant charges for an item in his shop or what a laborer receives for his labor. Nor is it a monopoly any more than you have a monopoly on the sale of a watermelon you might grow in your garden, or the monopoly a seamstress exercises over her work. The opponents of copyright disingenuously maintain that it locks up ideas, comment and debate. Title 17 of the United States Code resoundingly says otherwise, that "in no case does copyright protection . . . extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described." And as for debate, have you noticed a lack of it?

    In previous eras, advances in the ease of replication were met by the consistent strengthening of copyright -- in lengthening the term, international standardization, increased enforcement. This did not discourage the production of works, which advanced by orders of magnitude. In Thomas Macaulay's England of 1825, 600 books were published. Economic growth, universal education, more efficient printing, and a strong system of copyright together saw 206,000 books published in England in 2005. One might attempt to argue the counterfactual, that even more books would have been published without copyright, but one would first have to establish that the incentive of being paid for one's work is a disincentive to producing it.

    E pluribus unum

    In Dennis Prager's video, he sets forth what he considers the American Trinity of values that set us apart from everywhere else in the world.  One of these is E Pluribus Unum -- "Out of many, one".  This is the value which states that, ideally, we don't care where you're from or what your ancestry is, you can become one of us.

    Ilya Somin reflects on this value in a post just written today:

    Less often appreciated are the ways in which life for immigrants in America is much better than in most other affluent liberal democracies. Although the US is not free of racism and nativist xenophobia, on the whole immigrants are much better accepted by natives than in almost all of the many other countries I have seen. We take it for granted that a person born in Russia or China or India can become as much a "real American" as the descendants of the Founding Fathers. Yet such ready acceptance is far less common elsewhere. In trips abroad, I have seen Russian immigrant communities in several countries, including France, Germany, and Israel, and spoken extensively with relatives and other Russians living there. In each case, they are less assimilated, worse off economically, and have much more tense relations with native-born citizens than the Russians who have come to the US over the last several decades.

    Enhanced tactics legal. Deal with it.

    From the New York Times, not known for its rabid support of Bush policy:
    When Justice Department lawyers engaged in a sharp internal debate in 2005 over brutal interrogation techniques, even some who believed that using tough tactics was a serious mistake agreed on a basic point: the methods themselves were legal.

    Previously undisclosed Justice Department e-mail messages, interviews and newly declassified documents show that some of the lawyers, including James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general who argued repeatedly that the United States would regret using harsh methods, went along with a 2005 legal opinion asserting that the techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency were lawful.
    The main authors of memorandums authorizing the methods — John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury — have been widely pilloried as facilitators of torture.

    Others, including Mr. Comey, Jack Goldsmith and Daniel Levin, have largely escaped criticism because they raised questions about interrogation and the law.

    But a closer examination shows a more subtle picture. None of the Justice Department lawyers who reviewed the interrogation question argued that the methods were clearly illegal.

    The lawyers had to interpret a 1994 antitorture law written largely with despotic foreign regimes in mind, but used starting in 2002, in effect, as a set of guidelines for American interrogators. The law defined torture as treatment "specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering." By that standard, a succession of Justice Department lawyers concluded that the C.I.A.'s methods did not constitute torture.

    The only issues that provoked debate were waterboarding, which Mr. Goldsmith questioned, and some combinations of multiple techniques, which Mr. Comey resisted.

    Some outside experts agree that the language of the 1994 law is strikingly narrow. "There's no doubt whatsoever that a great deal of coercive treatment that most people would call torture is not prohibited by the federal antitorture statute," said Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar who has studied interrogation policy.

    A very long piece on climate

    Posted at The American Thinker.

    An Atheist take on Same-Sex Marriage

    This, from atheism.about.com addresses the question I've raised before – why does marriage exist in a culture at all?

    What is it that a married heterosexual couple can do that any couple living together can’t do — especially if we imagine changing a few contract laws to allow for things like property sharing? What is so important about a marriage certificate that any couple, gay or straight, would want to hold it up? What do they hope to gain by having society acknowledge their relationship as a marriage?

    ...Setting aside all of the loaded arguments about raising children and heterosexual relationships, the most fundamental characteristic of civil marriage which differentiates it from other contractual relationships is the fact that it establishes, legally, socially, and morally, a new kinship — and by extension, a new family.

    A group of people can sign a contract for the purpose of setting up a new business, but they don’t thereby become kin or family. Two people can sign a contract assigning one the legal authority to make medical decisions for the other, but they don’t thereby become kin or family. Two people can sign a contract to jointly share property, but they don’t thereby become kin or a family.

    When two people marry, however, they do become kin — they are now related to each other. Furthermore, they also establish kinship ties with one another’s families — and in some cultures, establishing kinship ties between the two families has been regarded as the purpose of marriage, not establishing kinship ties between the two people actually getting married.


    Kinship is an important thread in the social fabric. It isn’t an “institution” like marriage because there are generally no specific legal, religious, or social rules regulating it. Kinship is, instead, an amorphous creation of many other institutions which help people structure their relationships with one another.

    If you know that someone is your kin, you know that you have different legal, social, and moral obligations to them than you do to total strangers. If you know that two people are kin, you know that they not only have different obligations to each other than they do to you, but also that you have different obligations to them as a group then you would to them as individuals if they weren’t kin.

    Marriage establishes a relationship which does not and cannot exist for people who are simply living together. However much a cohabiting couple may love each other and however long they may have been together, their relationship is not such that it can be described as “kin” and, as a consequence, they cannot make any legal, social, or moral claims on others to treat them individually and jointly as if they were kin.


    There is, after all, much more to being “kin” than the legal benefits...

    To begin with, there exist important moral obligations kin owe one another. These obligations may be enforced legally, as in some cases with marriage, but very often they are informal and unspoken yet nevertheless supported by one’s social milieu. Kin are expected to, wherever possible, financially and emotionally support one another when a crisis hits. A man who lets his mother become homeless will be ostracized by those around him, while siblings are expected to support one another when there is a death in the family.

    The flip side of this are the obligations which the rest of the community owes to those who are tied together through kinship bonds. People who are kin are not supposed to be treated as if they were complete strangers to one another. If you invite a married man to a party, it is expected that the invitation is also extended to his wife — to deliberately exclude her would be a serious insult which would not exist if you invited one roommate but not the other. When a woman’s son achieves some success, you congratulate her as well — you wouldn’t act as though she had no significant connection to him.


    There will be social pressures to acknowledge gay unions as marriages, however, just as there are social pressures to acknowledge the other listed relationships as marriages. When a person acts as though a spouse is little more than a random stranger, that will normally be perceived as an insult — and with good reason. But if Chris Burgwald or anyone else chooses to act in such a fashion, they will be as free to do so with gay marriages as they are to do so with other marriages today.

    In summary, what’s the point of gay marriage? The point of gay marriage is the point of all marriage. Marriage is different from other contractual relationships because it creates bonds of kinship. These bonds are in turn different and more important than other bonds: they create significant moral, social, and legal obligations both for those who are married and between those who are married and everyone else. Some individuals may not choose to acknowledge those obligations, but they exist and they constitute the basis of human society — a society which includes both heterosexual and homosexual human beings.

    Yes, the argument made by opponents of same-sex marriage is that it is the basis of human society. It is a major, if not *the* major structural component around which the rest of society is organized. It may be that changing it will make society stronger, but recognize that it's a major change – possibly on a par with changing all the chemical bonds in a pool of gasoline.

    Saturday, June 06, 2009

    Who actually read the Yoo memos?

    Apparently not the critics.  From WSJ:

    Sen. Patrick Leahy wants an independent commission to investigate them. Rep. John Conyers wants the Obama Justice Department to prosecute them. Liberal lawyers want to disbar them, and the media maligns them.

    What did the Justice Department attorneys at George W. Bush's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) -- John Yoo and Jay Bybee -- do to garner such scorn? They analyzed a 1994 criminal statute prohibiting torture when the CIA asked for legal guidance on interrogation techniques for a high-level al Qaeda detainee (Abu Zubaydah).

    n the mid-1980s, when I supervised the legality of apprehending terrorists to stand trial, I relied on a decades-old Supreme Court standard: Our capture and treatment could not "shock the conscience" of the court. The OLC lawyers, however, were not asked what treatment was legal to preserve a prosecution. They were asked what treatment was legal for a detainee who they were told had knowledge of future attacks on Americans.

    The 1994 law was passed pursuant to an international treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The law's definition of torture is circular. Torture under that law means "severe physical or mental pain or suffering," which in turn means "prolonged mental harm," which must be caused by one of four prohibited acts. The only relevant one to the CIA inquiry was threatening or inflicting "severe physical pain or suffering." What is "prolonged mental suffering"? The term appears nowhere else in the U.S. Code.

    Congress required, in order for there to be a violation of the law, that an interrogator specifically intend that the detainee suffer prolonged physical or mental suffering as a result of the prohibited conduct. Just knowing a person could be injured from the interrogation method is not a violation under Supreme Court rulings interpreting "specific intent" in other criminal statutes.


    The Justice Department lawyers wrote two opinions totaling 54 pages. One went to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, the other to the CIA general counsel.

    Both memos noted that the legislative history of the 1994 torture statute was "scant." Neither house of Congress had hearings, debates or amendments, or provided clarification about terms such as "severe" or "prolonged mental harm." There is no record of Rep. Jerrold Nadler -- who now calls for impeachment and a criminal investigation of the lawyers -- trying to make any act (e.g., waterboarding) illegal, or attempting to lessen the specific intent standard.

    The Gonzales memo analyzed "torture" under American and international law. It noted that our courts, under a civil statute, have interpreted "severe" physical or mental pain or suffering to require extreme acts: The person had to be shot, beaten or raped, threatened with death or removal of extremities, or denied medical care. One federal court distinguished between torture and acts that were "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment." So have international courts. The European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ireland v. United Kingdom (1978) specifically found that wall standing (to produce muscle fatigue), hooding, and sleep and food deprivation were not torture.

    The U.N. treaty defined torture as "severe pain and suffering." The Justice Department witness for the Senate treaty hearings testified that "[t]orture is understood to be barbaric cruelty . . . the mere mention of which sends chills down one's spine." He gave examples of "the needle under the fingernail, the application of electrical shock to the genital area, the piercing of eyeballs. . . ." Mental torture was an act "designed to damage and destroy the human personality."

    The treaty had a specific provision stating that nothing, not even war, justifies torture. Congress removed that provision when drafting the 1994 law against torture, thereby permitting someone accused of violating the statute to invoke the long-established defense of necessity.


    Health care myths

    Blogged at Campaign for Liberty:
    Myth #1 There are 47 Million Uninsured Americans in Crisis Today
    Myth #2: Switching to Electronic Records will Save Lives
    Myth #3: U.S. Health Care is Inferior to the Rest of the World

    Inside Gitmo

    The website, with the documentation for the book .

    Not all torture is detestable

    Some time ago, in an argument with a vocal opponent of torturing detainees in the war on terror, I suggested if he had such a hatred of torture, he might devote some of his energy to a case I knew of where the police had obtained a confession through torture -- at least, torture by his definition. (Maybe not quite torture, but certainly abusive practices by my definition.)
    He had no comment about police conduct.
    My conclusion:  He only cares about torture when the Bush Administration does it.
    By James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal:
    Last month the Government Accountability Office issued a shocking report on "selected cases of death and abuse"--not at Guantanamo Bay or other detention facilities for terrorists, but at schools for American children:

    When the report came out on May 19, we figured it would be a good opportunity to find common ground with politicians and commentators who've been complaining for years about the "torture" of terrorists. We figured President Obama would issue an executive order banning torture in schools, the New York Times would publish an indignant editorial, Dick Durbin would take to the Senate floor to declare that the teachers unions remind him of the Gestapo, and that nut who writes for The Atlantic would proclaim himself "shocked to the core."

    We were going to respond by saying that although we think there are circumstances under which it is justifiable to treat terrorists roughly, all good people can agree that torturing schoolchildren is categorically wrong. But we didn't have anything to respond to. As far as we are aware, the GAO's findings have been greeted with silence by the leading self-proclaimed "torture" opponents--though Education Secretary Arne Duncan did tepidly promise "he will ask state school chiefs around the country about the use of restraints and confinement of pupils in the classroom," according to the Associated Press.

    Where's the outrage? Could it be that all the complaining about "torture" was but a pretext for some less noble agenda?

    One data point is a curiosity. Two data points start being persuasive.  Or, as Ian Fleming puts it, "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action."  (Goldfinger)

    Tiller double standard

    Michelle Malkin writes at Townhall:
    When a right-wing Christian vigilante kills, millions of fingers pull the trigger. When a left-wing Muslim vigilante kills, he kills alone.

    Gay Marriage Just Won't Work -- Sam Schulman

    Writing at the Weekly Standard:
    ...I think that the fundamental objection to gay marriage among most who oppose it has very little to do with one's feelings about the nature of homosexuality or what the Bible has to say about sodomy. The obstacle to wanting gay marriage is instead how we use and depend on marriage itself--and how little marriage, understood completely, affects or is relevant to gay people in love. Gay marriage is not so much wrong as unnecessary. But if it comes about, it will not be gay marriage that causes the harm I fear, as what will succeed its inevitable failure.

    When a gay man becomes a professor or a gay woman becomes a police officer, he or she performs the same job as a heterosexual. But there is a difference between a married couple and a same-sex couple in a long-term relationship. The difference is not in the nature of their relationship, not in the fact that lovemaking between men and women is, as the Catholics say, open to life. The difference is between the duties that marriage imposes on married people--not rights, but rather onerous obligations--which do not apply to same-sex love.

    The relationship between a same-sex couple, though it involves the enviable joy of living forever with one's soulmate, loyalty, fidelity, warmth, a happy home, shopping, and parenting, is not the same as marriage between a man and a woman, though they enjoy exactly the same cozy virtues. These qualities are awfully nice, but they are emphatically not what marriage fosters, and, even when they do exist, are only a small part of why marriage evolved and what it does.

    The entity known as "gay marriage" only aspires to replicate a very limited, very modern, and very culture-bound version of marriage. Gay advocates have chosen wisely in this. They are replicating what we might call the "romantic marriage," a kind of marriage that is chosen, determined, and defined by the couple that enters into it. Romantic marriage is now dominant in the West and is becoming slightly more frequent in other parts of the world. But it is a luxury and even here has only existed (except among a few elites) for a couple of centuries--and in only a few countries. The fact is that marriage is part of a much larger institution, which defines the particular shape and character of marriage: the kinship system.

    The role that marriage plays in kinship encompasses far more than arranging a happy home in which two hearts may beat as one--in fact marriage is actually pretty indifferent to that particular aim. Nor has marriage historically concerned itself with compelling the particular male and female who have created a child to live together and care for that child. It is not the "right to marry" that creates an enduring relationship between heterosexual lovers or a stable home for a child, but the more far-reaching kinship system that assigns every one of the vast array of marriage rules a set of duties and obligations to enforce. These duties and obligations impinge even on romantic marriage, and not always to its advantage. The obligations of kinship imposed on traditional marriage have nothing to do with the romantic ideals expressed in gay marriage.

    Consider four of the most profound effects of marriage within the kinship system.

    The first is the most important: It is that marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality. The very existence of kinship depends on the protection of females from rape, degradation, and concubinage. This is why marriage between men and women has been necessary in virtually every society ever known. Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood--and sexual accessibility--is defined. Again, until quite recently, the woman herself had little or nothing to say about this, while her parents and the community to which they answered had total control. The guardians of a female child or young woman had a duty to protect her virginity until the time came when marriage was permitted or, more frequently, insisted upon. This may seem a grim thing for the young woman--if you think of how the teenaged Natalie Wood was not permitted to go too far with Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass. But the duty of virginity can seem like a privilege, even a luxury, if you contrast it with the fate of child-prostitutes in brothels around the world. No wonder that weddings tend to be regarded as religious ceremonies in almost every culture: They celebrate the completion of a difficult task for the community as a whole.

    This most profound aspect of marriage--protecting and controlling the sexuality of the child-bearing sex--is its only true reason for being, and it has no equivalent in same-sex marriage. Virginity until marriage, arranged marriages, the special status of the sexuality of one partner but not the other (and her protection from the other sex)--these motivating forces for marriage do not apply to same-sex lovers.

    Second, kinship modifies marriage by imposing a set of rules that determines not only whom one may marry (someone from the right clan or family, of the right age, with proper abilities, wealth, or an adjoining vineyard), but, more important, whom one may not marry. Incest prohibition and other kinship rules that dictate one's few permissible and many impermissible sweethearts are part of traditional marriage. Gay marriage is blissfully free of these constraints. There is no particular reason to ban sexual intercourse between brothers, a father and a son of consenting age, or mother and daughter. There are no questions of ritual pollution: Will a hip Rabbi refuse to marry a Jewish man--even a Cohen--to a Gentile man? Do Irish women avoid Italian women? A same-sex marriage fails utterly to create forbidden relationships. If Tommy marries Bill, and they divorce, and Bill later marries a woman and has a daughter, no incest prohibition prevents Bill's daughter from marrying Tommy. The relationship between Bill and Tommy is a romantic fact, but it can't be fitted into the kinship system.

    Third, marriage changes the nature of sexual relations between a man and a woman. Sexual intercourse between a married couple is licit; sexual intercourse before marriage, or adulterous sex during marriage, is not. Illicit sex is not necessarily a crime, but licit sexual intercourse enjoys a sanction in the moral universe, however we understand it, from which premarital and extramarital copulation is excluded. More important, the illicit or licit nature of heterosexual copulation is transmitted to the child, who is deemed legitimate or illegitimate based on the metaphysical category of its parents' coition.

    Now to live in such a system, in which sexual intercourse can be illicit, is a great nuisance. Many of us feel that licit sexuality loses, moreover, a bit of its oomph. Gay lovers live merrily free of this system. Can we imagine Frank's family and friends warning him that "If Joe were serious, he would put a ring on your finger"? Do we ask Vera to stop stringing Sally along? Gay sexual practice is not sortable into these categories--licit-if-married but illicit-if-not (children adopted by a gay man or hygienically conceived by a lesbian mom can never be regarded as illegitimate). Neither does gay copulation become in any way more permissible, more noble after marriage. It is a scandal that homosexual intercourse should ever have been illegal, but having become legal, there remains no extra sanction--the kind which fathers with shotguns enforce upon heterosexual lovers. I am not aware of any gay marriage activist who suggests that gay men and women should create a new category of disapproval for their own sexual relationships, after so recently having been freed from the onerous and bigoted legal blight on homosexual acts. But without social disapproval of unmarried sex--what kind of madman would seek marriage?

    Fourth, marriage defines the end of childhood, sets a boundary between generations within the same family and between families, and establishes the rules in any given society for crossing those boundaries. Marriage usually takes place at the beginning of adulthood; it changes the status of bride and groom from child in the birth family to adult in a new family. In many societies, such as village India and Jewish Chicagoland, a new bride becomes no more than an unpaid servant to her mother- and sisters-in-law. Even in modern romantic marriages, a groom becomes the hunting or business partner of his father-in-law and a member of his clubs; a bride becomes an ally of her mother-in-law in controlling her husband. There can, of course, be warm relations between families and their children's same-sex partners, but these come about because of liking, sympathy, and the inherent kindness of many people. A wedding between same-sex lovers does not create the fact (or even the feeling) of kinship between a man and his husband's family; a woman and her wife's kin. It will be nothing like the new kinship structure that a marriage imposes willy-nilly on two families who would otherwise loathe each other.

    Marriage is also an initiation rite. Before World War II, high school graduation was accompanied by a burst of engagements; nowadays college graduation begins a season of weddings that go on every weekend for some years. In contrast, gay weddings are rather middle-aged affairs. My impression is borne out by the one available statistic, from the province of British Columbia, showing that the participants in first-time same-sex weddings are 13 years older, on average, then first-time brides-and-grooms. This feels about right. After all, declaring gay marriage legal will not produce the habit of saving oneself for marriage or create a culture which places a value on virginity or chastity (concepts that are frequently mocked in gay culture precisely because they are so irrelevant to gay romantic life). But virginity and chastity before marriage, license after--these are the burdens of real marriage, honored in spirit if not in letter, creating for women (women as modern as Beyoncé) the right to demand a tangible sacrifice from the men who would adore them.

    (Dennis Prager points out that in synagogues, never-married men called to read the Torah are referred to as "lad" regardless of their age.)

    These four aspects of marriage are not rights, but obligations. They are marriage's "a priori" because marriage is a part of the kinship system, and kinship depends on the protection, organization, and often the exploitation of female sexuality vis-à-vis males. None of these facts apply at all to love between people of the same sex, however solemn and profound that love may be. In gay marriage there are no virgins (actual or honorary), no incest, no illicit or licit sex, no merging of families, no creation of a new lineage. There's just my honey and me, and (in a rapidly increasing number of U.S. states) baby makes three.

    What's wrong with this? In one sense, nothing at all. Gays who marry can be congratulated or regarded as foolish based on their individual choices, just as I might covet or lament the women my straight friends espouse. In fact, gay couples who marry enter into a relationship that married people might envy. Gay marriage may reside outside the kinship system, but it has all the wedding-planning, nest-building fun of marriage but none of its rules or obligations (except the duties that all lovers have toward one another). Gay spouses have none of our guilt about sex-before-marriage. They have no tedious obligations towards in-laws, need never worry about Oedipus or Electra, won't have to face a menacing set of brothers or aunts should they betray their spouse. But without these obligations--why marry? Gay marriage is as good as no marriage at all.

    Sooner rather than later, the substantial differences between marriage and gay marriage will cause gay marriage, as a meaningful and popular institution, to fail on its own terms. Since gay relationships exist perfectly well outside the kinship system, to assume the burdens of marriage--the legal formalities, the duty of fidelity (which is no easier for gays than it is for straights), the slavishly imitative wedding ritual--will come to seem a nuisance. People in gay marriages will discover that mimicking the cozy bits of romantic heterosexual marriage does not make relationships stronger; romantic partners more loving, faithful, or sexy; domestic life more serene or exciting. They will discover that it is not the wedding vow that maintains marriages, but the force of the kinship system. Kinship imposes duties, penalties, and retribution that champagne toasts, self-designed wedding rings, and thousands of dollars worth of flowers are powerless to effect.

    Few men would ever bother to enter into a romantic heterosexual marriage--much less three, as I have done--were it not for the iron grip of necessity that falls upon us when we are unwise enough to fall in love with a woman other than our mom. There would be very few flowerings of domestic ecstasy were it not for the granite underpinnings of marriage. Gay couples who marry are bound to be disappointed in marriage's impotence without these ghosts of past authority. Marriage has a lineage more ancient than any divine revelation, and before any system of law existed, kinship crushed our ancestors with complex and pitiless rules about incest, family, tribe, and totem. Gay marriage, which can be created by any passel of state supreme court justices with degrees from middling law schools, lacking the authority and majesty of the kinship system, will be a letdown.

    When, in spite of current enthusiasm, gay marriage turns out to disappoint or bore the couples now so eager for its creation, its failure will be utterly irrelevant for gay people. The happiness of gay relationships up to now has had nothing to do with being married or unmarried; nor will they in the future. I suspect that the gay marriage movement will be remembered as a faintly humorous, even embarrassing stage in the liberation saga of the gay minority. The archetypal gay wedding portrait--a pair of middle-aged women or paunchy men looking uncomfortable in rented outfits worn at the wrong time of day--is destined to be hung in the same gallery of dated images of social progress alongside snapshots of flappers defiantly puffing cigarettes and Kodachromes of African Americans wearing dashikis. The freedom of gays to live openly as they please will easily survive the death of gay marriage.

    So if the failure of gay marriage will not affect gay people, who will it hurt? Only everybody else.

    As kinship fails to be relevant to gays, it will become fashionable to discredit it for everyone. The irrelevance of marriage to gay people will create a series of perfectly reasonable, perfectly unanswerable questions: If gays can aim at marriage, yet do without it equally well, who are we to demand it of one another? Who are women to demand it of men? Who are parents to demand it of their children's lovers--or to prohibit their children from taking lovers until parents decide arbitrarily they are "mature" or "ready"? By what right can government demand that citizens obey arbitrary and culturally specific kinship rules--rules about incest and the age of consent, rules that limit marriage to twosomes? Mediocre lawyers can create a fiction called gay marriage, but their idealism can't compel gay lovers to find it useful. But talented lawyers will be very efficient at challenging the complicated, incoherent, culturally relative survival from our most primitive social organization we call kinship. The whole set of fundamental, irrational assumptions that make marriage such a burden and such a civilizing force can easily be undone.

    There is no doubt that women and children have suffered throughout human history from being over-protected and controlled. The consequences of under-protection and indifference will be immeasurably worse. In a world without kinship, women will lose their hard-earned status as sexual beings with personal autonomy and physical security. Children will lose their status as nonsexual beings.

    Kinship creates these protections by adding the dimension of time, space, and thought to our sense of ourselves as food-eating, sex-having, child-rearing creatures. It makes us conscious not only of our parents and siblings but of their parents and siblings--our ancestors and our group identity. The family relations kinship creates--parents, godparents, uncles and sisters-in-law, cousins, clan, tribe, kingdom, nation--expand our sense of where we live and how we live. In our thought, kinship forces us to move beyond thoughtless obedience to instinct: It gives us a morality based on custom, "always adaptable and susceptible to the nuance of the situation." It makes past experience relevant to current behavior (I quote Michael Oakeshott and paraphrase Peter Winch) and gives us the ability to choose one way of conduct rather than another--the ability which Oakeshott says brings the moral life into being. The commonality of incest prohibitions and marriage rules from one community to another is a sign that we have moved from unselfconscious instinct-obedience (which works well enough to avoid parent-child incest in other species) to the elaboration of human kinship relationships in all their mutations and varieties--all of which have the same core (the organization of female sexuality, the avoidance of incest) but exist in glorious variety. Like the other great human determinant, language, kinship is infinitely variable in form but exists in some form everywhere.

    Can gay men and women be as generous as we straight men are? Will you consider us as men who love, just as you do, and not merely as homophobes or Baptists? Every day thousands of ordinary heterosexual men surrender the dream of gratifying our immediate erotic desires. Instead, heroically, resignedly, we march up the aisle with our new brides, starting out upon what that cad poet Shelley called the longest journey, attired in the chains of the kinship system--a system from which you have been spared. Imitate our self-surrender. If gay men and women could see the price that humanity--particularly the women and children among us--will pay, simply in order that a gay person can say of someone she already loves with perfect competence, "Hey, meet the missus!"--no doubt they will think again. If not, we're about to see how well humanity will do without something as basic to our existence as gravity.