Monday, November 30, 2009

Tom Smith and His Incredible Bread Machine - R. W. Grant - Mises Institute

But it's for the good of the people!

Tom Smith and His Incredible Bread Machine - R. W. Grant (Mises Institute)


This is a legend of success and plunder And a man, Tom Smith, who squelched world hunger. Now, Smith, an inventor, had specialized In toys. So, people were surprised When they found that he instead Of making toys, was BAKING BREAD!

The way to make bread he'd conceived Cost less than people could believe. And not just make it! This device Could, in addition, wrap and slice! The price per loaf, one loaf or many: The miniscule sum of under a penny.

Can you imagine what this meant? Can you comprehend the consequent? The first time yet the world well fed! And all because of Tom Smith's bread.

A citation from the President For Smith's amazing bread. This and other honors too Were heaped upon his head.

But isn't it a wondrous thing How quickly fame is flown? Smith, the hero of today Tomorrow, scarcely known.

Yes, the fickle years passed by; Smith was a millionaire, But Smith himself was now forgot Though bread was everywhere.

People, asked from where it came, Would very seldom know. They would simply eat and ask, "Was not it always so?"

However, Smith cared not a bit, For millions ate his bread, And "Everything is fine," thought he, "I am rich and they are fed!"

Everything was fine, he thought? He reckoned not with fate. Note the sequence of events Starting on the date On which the business tax went up. Then, to a slight extent, The price on every loaf rose too: Up to one full cent!

"What's going on?" the public cried, "He's guilty of pure plunder. He has no right to get so rich On other people's hunger!"

(A prize cartoon depicted Smith With fat and drooping jowls Snatching bread from hungry babes Indifferent to their howls!)

Well, since the Public does conle first, It could not be denied That in matters such as this, The Public must decide.

So, antitrust now took a hand. Of course, it was appalled At what it found was going on. The "bread trust," it was called.

Now this was getting serious. So Smith felt that he must Have a friendly interview With the men in antitrust. So, hat in hand, he went to them. They'd surely been misled; No rule of law had he defied. But then their lawyer said:

The rule of law, in complex times, Has proved itself deficient. We much prefer the rule of men! It's vastly more efficient. Now, let me state the present rules.

The lawyer then went on, These very simpIe guidelines You can rely upon: You're gouging on your prices if You charge more than the rest. But it's unfair competition If you think you can charge less.

A second point that we would make To help avoid confusion: Don't try to charge the same amount: That would be collusion! You must compete. But not too much, For if you do, you see, Then the market would be yours And that's monopoly!"

Price too high? Or price too low? Now, which charge did they make? Well, they weren't loath to charging both With Public Good at stake!

In fact, they went one better They charged "monopoly!" No muss, no fuss, oh woe is us, Egad, they charged all three!

"Five years in jail," the judge then said. "You're lucky it's not worse. Robber Barons must be taught Society Comes First!"

Now, bread is baked by government. And as might be expected, Everything is well controlled; The public well protected.

True, loaves cost a dollar each. But our leaders do their best. The selling price is half a cent. (Taxes pay the rest!)

Recursivity: The Fruitlessness of ID "Research"

At Recursivity, Jeffrey Shallit writes about: The Fruitlessness of ID "Research".

One of the hallmarks of science is that it is fruitful. A good scientific paper will usually lead to much work along the same lines, work that confirms and extends the results, and work that produces more new ideas inspired by the paper. Although citation counts are not completely reliable metrics for evaluating scientific papers, they do give some general information about what papers are considered important.

ID advocates like to point to lists of "peer-reviewed publications" advocating their position. Upon closer examination, their lists are misleading, packed with publications that are either not in scientific journals, or that appeared in venues of questionable quality, or papers whose relationship to ID is tangential at best. The paper I have in mind is Stephen Meyer's paper “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories”, which was published, amid some controversy, in the relatively obscure journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington in 2004.
what I want to do here is look at every scientific publication that has cited Meyer's paper to determine whether his work can fairly said to be "fruitful". I used the ISI Web of Science Database to do a "cited reference" search on his article. This database, which used to be called Science Citation Index, is generally acknowledged to be one of the most comprehensive available. The search I did included Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Sciences Citation Index, and Arts & Humanities Citation Index. Even such a search will miss some papers, of course, but it will still give a general idea of how much the scientific community has been inspired by Meyer's work.

I found exactly 9 citations to Meyer's paper in this database. Of these, counting generously, exactly 1 is a scientific research paper that cites Meyer approvingly.

By contrast, let's compare Meyer's work with another paper, in the same field, of roughly the same length, and published in the same year:

W. G. Joyce, J. F. Parham, and J. A. Gauthier, "Developing a protocol for the conversion of rank-based taxon names to phylogenetically defined clade names, as exemplified by turtles", Journal of Paleontology 78 (5) (2004), 989-1013.

This paper has been cited 60 times since 2004, according to ISI Web of Science...
The grand total: exactly 1 paper (Weber's) can be said to be a scientific paper that cites Meyer approvingly, and even that is subject to debate.* This meager record does not support the claim that ID is a scientific revolution with far-reaching consequences.

ID advocates are constantly telling us that intelligent design is a new scientific paradigm that will prove fruitful. Five years after ID's flagship "peer-reviewed" paper, that does not seem to be the truth.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Climate change: this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation - Telegraph

The London Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker comments on Climate Change, calling it the worst scientific scandal of our generation.

A Misleading Brainteaser - Robert Blumen - Mises Economics Blog

Robert Blumen at the Mises Economics Blog looks at: A Misleading Brainteaser.

It is the month of August; a resort town sits next to the shores of a lake. It is raining, and the little town looks totally deserted. It is tough times, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit. Suddenly, a rich tourist comes to town. He enters the only hotel, lays a 100 dollar bill on the reception counter, and goes to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one.

The hotel proprietor takes the 100 dollar bill and runs to pay his debt to the butcher. The Butcher takes the 100 dollar bill and runs to pay his debt to the pig raiser. The pig raiser takes the 100 dollar bill and runs to pay his debt to the supplier of his feed and fuel. The supplier of feed and fuel takes the 100 dollar bill and runs to pay his debt to the town's prostitute that, in these hard times, gave her “services” on credit. The hooker runs to the hotel, and pays off her debt with the 100 dollar bill to the hotel proprietor to pay for the rooms that she rented when she brought her clients there.

The hotel proprietor then lays the 100 dollar bill back on the counter so that the rich tourist will not suspect anything. At that moment, the rich tourist comes down after inspecting the rooms, and takes his 100 dollar bill, after saying he did not like any of the rooms, and leaves town.

No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now without debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism.

Jason Rosenhouse at Evolution Blog compares it with this scenario from Beavis and Butthead:

Actually, this scenario reminds me of something I once saw in -- of all things -- a Beavis and Butt-head cartoon.

Beavis and Butt-head were supposed to be selling candy bars as part of a school fundraiser. They each had twenty candy bars, each one costing one dollar. Butt-head pulls out a dollar and buys a candy bar from Beavis. Beavis now hands the dollar back to Butt-head, thereby buying a candy bar for himself. They keep passing the dollar bill back and forth and before long they have both “sold” all of their candy bars.

There is a significant difference, though, which the alert reader can glean from the comments.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tipler on ClimateGate

Frank J. Tipler, author of The Physics of Immortality, among other books, offers: The Skeptical Scientist’s View (Pajamas Media)

The now non-secret data prove what many of us had only strongly suspected — that most of the evidence of global warming was simply made up. That is, not only are the global warming computer models unreliable, the experimental data upon which these models are built are also unreliable. As Lord Monckton has emphasized here at Pajamas Media, this deliberate destruction of data and the making up of data out of whole cloth is the real crime — the real story of Climategate.

It is an act of treason against science. It is also an act of treason against humanity, since it has been used to justify an attempt to destroy the world economy.
Two factors have enabled this particular conspiracy to survive for so long.

First, the actual data for surface temperatures have been available only through a small number of organizations. Every experienced scientist has had occasion to doubt a colleague’s reported experimental result. No problem: The skeptical scientist merely has to try to replicate his colleague’s result, and a failure means that the claim is false. But how does one replicate the claim that the average temperature of the Earth — an average computed from taking the data at thousands of temperature stations all across the globe — was one degree Fahrenheit lower in 1900 that it was in 2000? It is impossible to visit all the stations today, to say nothing of the stations of 1900. Replication is impossible.

I am automatically skeptical of any claim that by its very nature cannot be replicated by other scientists. What keeps scientists honest is not that scientists are more honest than other people — we aren’t — but that we know our colleagues are looking over our shoulders. Everyone is honest when he knows he is being watched.

We must seriously question whether climate “science” is, or even can be, a true science if skeptics cannot check its experimental claims. The only way climate “science” can approach being a real science is for all of its raw data to be made available. Only then is it possible for outsiders to check, at least partially, the claims of the insiders.

The second reason this conspiracy has been able to survive so long is simply that climatologists are now trained to believe in global warming theory. Remember the overwhelming urge of scientists to believe in their own pet theory, to believe that the data simply must confirm the theory, to believe that the only valid data points are those which confirm the theory? Data that are inconsistent with the theory are not recorded by believers, or not published. To true believers, such data are obviously due to an error in making the measurements, and so need not be recorded.

This human failing is why we need outside non-believers to check the theory against all the data — not just the data selected by the believers.

Scientific conspiracies like the global warming conspiracy are actually quite common. They occur whenever it is difficult for outsiders to check the claims and whenever a pet theory is involved....

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Climategate" -- Forget the Emails: What Will the Hacked Documents Tell Us? - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine

Ronald Bailey, at Reason's Hit and Run blog, offers his take on what's being uncovered in the British Climate Research Unit document dump: Forget the Emails: What Will the Hacked Documents Tell Us?

He cites British statistician William Briggs, pointing out that we really don't know the historical temperature of the earth. We can guess, based on proxies and models, but it's still guessing:

One example from something called a “SOAP-D-15-berlin-d15-jj” document. A non-native English speaker shows a plot of various proxy reconstructions from which he wanted to “reconstruct millennial [Northern Hemisphere] temperatures.” He said, “These attempts did not show, however, converge towards a unique millennial history, as shown in Fig. 1. Note that the proxy series have already undergone a linear transformation towards a best estimate to the CRU data (which makes them look more similar, cf. Briffa and Osborn, 2002).”

In other words, direct effort was made to finagle the various reconstructions so that they agreed with preconceptions. Those efforts failed. It’s like being hit in the head with a hockey stick.

Briggs lists nine sources of error, of which the CRU accounts for one.

He continues:

I hope that a lot of independent researchers will be taking close looks at the CRU documents to check on the accuracy of their interpretations of climate data. Of course, this wouldn't be an issue if climate researchers had made their data publicly available in the first place.

Whole Briggs analysis here.

Quick Addendum: It turns out my hopes for independent analysis are being fulfilled. Over at CBS News, correspondent Declan McCullagh reports that independent programmers are now looking into CRU code and finding some pretty disturbing things...

Virtual Mafia in Online Worlds

Interesting description of an unintended consequence. I suspect a game redesign is in order RSN.

Virtual Mafia in Online Worlds

If you allow players in an online world to penalize each other, you open the door to extortion:

One of the features that supported user socialization in the game was the ability to declare that another user was a trusted friend. The feature involved a graphical display that showed the faces of users who had declared you trustworthy outlined in green, attached in a hub-and-spoke pattern to your face in the center.


That feature was fine as far as it went, but unlike other social networks, The Sims Online allowed users to declare other users untrustworthy too. The face of an untrustworthy user appeared circled in bright red among all the trustworthy faces in a user's hub.

It didn't take long for a group calling itself the Sims Mafia to figure out how to use this mechanic to shake down new users when they arrived in the game. The dialog would go something like this:

"Hi! I see from your hub that you're new to the area. Give me all your Simoleans or my friends and I will make it impossible to rent a house."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm a member of the Sims Mafia, and we will all mark you as untrustworthy, turning your hub solid red (with no more room for green), and no one will play with you. You have five minutes to comply. If you think I'm kidding, look at your hub-three of us have already marked you red. Don't worry, we'll turn it green when you pay…"

If you think this is a fun game, think again-a typical response to this shakedown was for the user to decide that the game wasn't worth $10 a month. Playing dollhouse doesn't usually involve gangsters.

The Newmarks on ClimateGate

Betsy Newmark has some comments on What is so disturbing about Climate-gate.

What should be disturbing to anyone involved in science or who just took a high school science class is the cavalier attitude to data and research. What raises scientific research above research in other fields such as the social sciences is the rigor demanded of observing phenomena and reporting on the results. And the sine qua non is the willingness to share data so other scientists can duplicate your tests and examine your methods. And yet, this is what those researchers at East Anglia and other researchers at American universities have been trying to do. They've been refusing data requests, trying to avoid Britain's Freedom of Information laws, while intimidating scientific journals to keep critical studies out of publication. Then they deride their critics by saying they're not being published in the same journals that they just threatened if they published such critical studies.

This is a total rejection of the scientific method. And for what? To protect their theories about man-made global warming. Here they're asking nations across the globe to spend hundreds of billions of dollars and rejigger their entire economies because of their warnings about global warming. And yet they totally reject any attempts for an honest, yet skeptical examination of their theories.

She also links to her husband's post, listing a baker's dozen links on global warming.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A place to buy weird stuff


How are non-experts supposed to evaluate the merits of climate change? According to Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy, it's a matter of social validation. “Climategate” and the Social Validation of Knowledge.

Most of us, however, lack expertise on climate issues. And our knowledge of complex issues we don’t have personal expertise on is largely based on social validation. For example, I think that Einsteinian physics is generally more correct than Newtonian physics, even though I know very little about either. Why? Because that’s the overwhelming consensus of professional physicists, and I have no reason to believe that their conclusions should be discounted as biased or otherwise driven by considerations other than truth-seeking. My views of climate science were (and are) based on similar considerations. I thought that global warming was probably a genuine and serious problem because that is what the overwhelming majority of relevant scientists seem to believe, and I generally didn’t doubt their objectivity.

At the very least, the Climategate revelations should weaken our confidence in the above conclusion. At least some of the prominent scholars in the field seem driven at least in part by ideology, and willing to use intimidation to keep contrarian views from being published, even if the articles in question meet normal peer review standards. Absent such tactics, it’s possible that more contrarian research would be published in professional journals and the consensus in the field would be less firm. To be completely clear, I don’t think that either ideological motivation or even intimidation tactics prove that these scientists’ views are wrong. Their research should be assessed on its own merits, irrespective of their motivations for conducting it. However, these things should affect the degree to which we defer to their conclusions merely based on their authority as disinterested experts.

Monday, November 23, 2009

ACORN Document Dump Scandal

ACORN said it would cooperate with any investigations. It seems to have chosen to do so by lightening the load of any investigators who might have to go through their documents. From Big San Diego ACORN Document Dump Scandal

On October 1st, 2009 California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced that an investigation had been opened into ACORN’s activities in California, resulting from undercover videos showing employees seemingly offering to assist the undercover film makers with human smuggling, child prostitution and even tax advice to boot.

Although ACORN has denied any wrongdoing, some of the employees involved were terminated, and ACORN has publicly stated that they would fully cooperate with any investigations that followed.
Shockingly, we now learn that the ACORN office in National City (San Diego County) engaged in a massive document dump on the evening of October 9th, containing thousands upon thousands of sensitive documents, just days prior to the Attorney General’s visit.

Stop the (Health Reform) Juggernaut (from Health Issues ACSH

Jeff Stier at the American Council for Science and Health calls on Congress to...Stop the (Health Reform) Juggernaut. It's not so much that it will kill people. It will slow the development of new medicines, and lots of people will die who would otherwise live.

Pelosi's health care bill may cost the pharmaceutical industry $150 billion over a decade -- nearly double the amount the companies conceded when they cut a White House-approved deal with Sen. Max Baucus this summer. By making fewer resources available for R&D, the bill will stifle innovation. It is a sure-fire prescription for fewer new life-saving drugs.
Democrats in Washington are out to cut health care costs at the expense of the research-intensive (as opposed to generic) pharmaceutical industry. Yet drugs often improve the span and quality of life in a remarkably cost-effective way. Innovative new drugs have helped many patients avoid costly hospitalization. From 1980 to 2000, the number of days spend in the hospital for every 100 people fell from 129.7 to 56.6, a drop of 56% -- meaning that Americans avoided 206 million days of hospital care in 2000 alone, according to Medtap International, which provides health economics and outcomes-research services.
A study in 2000 sponsored by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research concluded that increased use of a blood-thinning drug would prevent 40,000 strokes a year, saving $600 million annually. A 1997 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found the costs of treatment per episode of major depression fell by 25% from 1991 to 1995, largely as a result of new medicines.
New drugs are also generally better than older ones at reducing mortality. In a study of patients who took drugs between January and June 2000, those who took newer medications were less likely to die by the end of 2002.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Samizdata looks at the release of e-mails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) What a difference an internet makes

It is claimed that the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia has been hacked and there is a massive file of emails and code up on a server in Russia. If what has been posted is real then the balloon is about to go up.

Amazing. If true.

As someone says, if it looks to good to be true, it probably is.
Those were my first sentiments exactly (although I don't think that being glad when an opponent has dropped dead is all that surprising - I'm sure we all know that feeling), and the sentiments of practically everyone else in the anti-AGW blogosphere when they first heard about this. Now, it is looking ever more likely that it is true, all of it.

Not least because the first big response from the hackees has been to cry, not: load of made-up bollocks, but rather: stop thief! Yes, we have been hacked, and that's outrageous. The story is that we have been hacked. (Lots of people are suddenly discovering the case for intellectual property rights.) The BBC's first version of this story goes with this angle, and with pretty much nothing else. AGW scientists (good) robbed by anti-AGW fanatics (bad). But this response has not killed the story. It has only given it legs. If there's nothing to it, why be so fussed about the hacking?

Even if the mainstream media try to bury this, they can't stop us anti-AGWers from talking about it amongst ourselves, and my bet is that they will quickly abandon the attempt to ignore the content of this material, and instead make copious use - perhaps even acknowledged use, with links - of the work even now being done by all those damned bloggers. If they don't do this, they will merely look foolish. It's a different world, from the one where all the journalism was done by "journalists", and only those journalists could decide what journalism would be done.

Sure enough, the New York Times already has a report about this, and James Delingpole already has a piece up at the Telegraph blog. (Thank you Instapundit.) This won't now be buried, even if the story ends up being that a lot of trivia was hacked, and then a lot of incriminating stuff was forged and added, which is looking less and less like the story with each hour that passes.

Two particularly good bloggers on this story so far have been Bishop Hill (already quoted above) and Devil's Kitchen, the Bishop for the trawling through that he is already starting to do, and DK for the way he (among many others) is already teasing out what it all might mean...

LameStream Media: Why Did You Bypass These Juicy ACORN Nuggets?

There are those who just refuse to look at what has been turned up on ACORN. LameStream Media: Why Did You Bypass These Juicy ACORN Nuggets?

How Single Parents Affect the Brain -

Do children need both mothers and father? There's some suggestive research cited in the Wall Street Journal: How Single Parents Affect the Brain

Conventional wisdom holds that two parents are better than one. Scientists are now finding that growing up without a father actually changes the way your brain develops.

German biologist Anna Katharina Braun and others are conducting research on animals that are typically raised by two parents, in the hopes of better understanding the impact on humans of being raised by a single parent. Dr. Braun's work focuses on degus, small rodents related to guinea pigs and chinchillas, because mother and father degus naturally raise their babies together.

When deprived of their father, the degu pups exhibit both short- and long-term changes in nerve-cell growth in different regions of the brain. Dr. Braun, director of the Institute of Biology at Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg, and her colleagues are also looking at how these physical changes affect offspring behavior.

Their preliminary analysis indicates that fatherless degu pups exhibit more aggressive and impulsive behavior than pups raised by two parents.
Still, the prevalence of single-parent households has researchers looking at possible consequences for children. An OECD report found that just 57% of children in the U.S. live with both parents, among the lowest percentages of the world's richest nations.

The report, which sparked some controversy when it was released in September, found that children in single-parent households have an increased risk of delinquency and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, as well as poorer scholastic performance.

The OECD also analyzed data from 122 separate studies and found that there was variability in the negative effects on children of living in a single-parent home; on average, the OECD found, the magnitude of the impact was relatively small. On a standardized intelligence test with a median score of 100 points, for example, a child in a single-parent family would be about 3.5 points worse off than a similar child in a two-parent family, according to Dr. Chapple, who co-wrote the report.

Fear the Geek - News - The Stranger, Seattle's Only Newspaper

Zero tolerance bounces around Randy Cassingham's blog on a regular basis. One of Randy's readers cited the Columbine massacre as a defense for zero tolerance policies. Well, they were in place for two years before the shooting, and didn't prevent it.

Dan Savage has his own thoughts about what led up to the shooting. Fear the Geek

I had no problem fathoming Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's motives. While I didn't suffer the extreme abuse some of my friends did, I was fucked with enough to spend four years fantasizing about blowing up my high school and everyone in it. I can only imagine the scenarios that must have rolled through Marty's head on a daily basis. Watching SWAT teams inch their way toward Columbine High, I wasn't shocked that something like this could happen in a high school. I was shocked that something like this hadn't happened at any of mine.

Klebold and Harris aren't heroes; they were hateful, twisted racists who, in addition to going after jocks, hunted down and murdered one of Columbine's six black students. But they didn't go guns blazing into a vacuum. Harris left a suicide note, discovered by police and reprinted in one of Denver's daily papers, The Rocky Mountain News. I haven't seen the note printed anywhere else, which strikes me as odd.

The note reads: "By now, it's over. If you are reading this, my mission is complete.... Your children who have ridiculed me, who have chosen not to accept me, who have treated me like I am not worth their time are dead. THEY ARE FUCKING DEAD....

"Surely you will try to blame it on the clothes I wear, the music I listen to, or the way I choose to present myself, but no. Do not hide behind my choices. You need to face the fact that this comes as a result of YOUR CHOICES.

"Parents and teachers, you fucked up. You have taught these kids to not accept what is different. YOU ARE IN THE WRONG. I have taken their lives and my own--but it was your doing. Teachers, parents, LET THIS MASSACRE BE ON YOUR SHOULDERS UNTIL THE DAY YOU DIE."

The power cliques that rule American high schools are every bit as murderous as Harris and Klebold, only their damage is done in slow motion, over a period of many years, and fails to draw the attention of parents or teachers--let alone news anchors, SWAT teams, and presidents. How many kids ostracized, humiliated, and assaulted in American high schools, like the survivors of Columbine High, are left scarred for life? How many commit suicide every year?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Patterico's Pontifications » L.A. Times Columnist Uncritically Quoted Star of Latest ACORN Video

Patterico's Pontifications » L.A. Times Columnist Uncritically Quoted Star of Latest ACORN Video

In September, L.A. Times columnist James Rainey wrote a column in which he uncritically quoted ACORN worker Lavelle Stewart suggesting that she had turned Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe out of her office...
...(Breitbart tells me that Rainey is now claiming he did try to contact Breitbart. Breitbart told me he can find no evidence of the attempted contact. Breitbart told me that tonight. It was very easy to contact Breitbart, as it always is.)

The best part: Rainey recently criticized Fox News for uncritically accepting only one side of the story. I mean, there are so many levels to the irony, you need an elevator to visit them all.

I now publicly ask the question Rainey would not answer privately: having written a misleading column that falsely suggested that ACORN in L.A. was clean — and that Giles and O’Keefe were dishonest — is James Rainey now going to write a new column and correct the record?

The will of Landrieu

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

The Senate Health Care covers a lot of ground.  One of the items in the bill is a $100 million barrel of pork, for which only one state qualifies -- Louisiana.  ABC puts it:

I am told the section applies to exactly one state: Louisiana, the home of moderate Democrat Mary Landrieu, who has been playing hard to get on the health care bill.

Gotta watch out for the Lawgivers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Temple Mount Archaeology

From Commentary Magazine: Helping the Palestinians Falsify History

For sheer gall, Barack Obama’s labeling half of Israel’s capital a “settlement,” as Jonathan has pointed out, may be hard to beat. But a New York Times report of a new book about the Temple Mount is definitely in the running. Seeking to give readers some background, the report offered the following gem: “The lack of archaeological evidence of the ancient temples has led many Palestinians to deny any real Jewish attachment or claim to the plateau.”

We’ll ignore the fact that the Second Temple is actually well-documented in extant writings from the period, and that several sections of the Temple compound’s outer walls, as described in these writings, have been uncovered (the Western Wall being one of them).

Instead, let’s discuss why there is a dearth of findings from the Temples themselves. (1) There happens to be a mosque on the exact site where, according to tradition, the Temples once stood. (2) Israel, contrary to Palestinian propaganda, is not out to “destroy al-Aqsa”; indeed, it scrupulously avoids any action that might endanger the mosque. (3) Israel is so deferential to Muslim sensibilities that, after capturing the Mount in 1967, it handed control of the site back to the Muslim waqf. Which brings us to (4): for all these reasons, Israel has never excavated the only place in the world where remnants of the Temple could possibly be found. Nor were any digs conducted there before 1967: al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock have stood undisturbed for hundreds of years. And yes, it is hard to produce archaeological evidence if you never even conduct a dig.

What is outrageous about this report is not just the way it abets Palestinian falsifications of history, though it certainly does that: since the reader isn’t told that this “lack of evidence” stems from the fact that nobody ever looked, he naturally assumes that archaeologists did, in fact, look and found nothing.

Even more outrageous, however, is the way Israel’s generosity is being used against it: its very restraint in eschewing excavations on the Mount — its concern, again, for Muslim sensibilities, its desire to avoid even the appearance of harm to the mosques — has been twisted into “evidence” that no Jewish connection to the Mount ever existed.

Economics is upside-down

From Marginal Revolution:

Only in economics are floors above ceilings!  It might be better to say "a minimum allowed price above the market price" and "a maximum allowed price below the market price," although that is a bit of a mouthful.  I find that the floors and ceilings language does work, however, if the instructor explicitly points out the oddity of floors above ceilings!  In that case, students find the distinction memorable.

Floors and Ceilings

When you've lost the Dean of Harvard Medical School...

From the Wall Street Journal: Health "Debate" Deserves a Failing Grade

As the dean of Harvard Medical School I am frequently asked to comment on the health-reform debate. I'd give it a failing grade.
Speeches and news reports can lead you to believe that proposed congressional legislation would tackle the problems of cost, access and quality. But that's not true. The various bills do deal with access by expanding Medicaid and mandating subsidized insurance at substantial cost—and thus addresses an important social goal. However, there are no provisions to substantively control the growth of costs or raise the quality of care. So the overall effort will fail to qualify as reform.

In discussions with dozens of health-care leaders and economists, I find near unanimity of opinion that, whatever its shape, the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care's dysfunctional delivery system. The system we have now promotes fragmented care and makes it more difficult than it should be to assess outcomes and patient satisfaction. The true costs of health care are disguised, competition based on price and quality are almost impossible, and patients lose their ability to be the ultimate judges of value.

Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by overregulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.

In effect, while the legislation would enhance access to insurance, the trade-off would be an accelerated crisis of health-care costs and perpetuation of the current dysfunctional system—now with many more participants. This will make an eventual solution even more difficult. Ultimately, our capacity to innovate and develop new therapies would suffer most of all.

Click to Give @ The Animal Rescue Site

Click to feed a rescue animal. Click to Give @ The Animal Rescue Site

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

for APA-L

Obamacare: Buy now, pay later

By Robert J. Samuelson
Monday, November 16, 2009

There is an air of absurdity to what is mistakenly called "health-care reform." Everyone knows that the United States faces massive governmental budget deficits as far as calculators can project, driven heavily by an aging population and uncontrolled health costs. As we recover slowly from a devastating recession, it's widely agreed that, though deficits should not be cut abruptly (lest the economy resume its slump), a prudent society would embark on long-term policies to control health costs, reduce government spending and curb massive future deficits. The administration estimates these at $9 trillion from 2010 to 2019. The president and all his top economic advisers proclaim the same cautionary message.

So what do they do? Just the opposite. Their far-reaching overhaul of the health-care system -- which Congress is halfway toward enacting -- would almost certainly make matters worse. It would create new, open-ended medical entitlements that threaten higher deficits and would do little to suppress surging health costs. The disconnect between what President Obama says and what he's doing is so glaring that most people could not abide it. The president, his advisers and allies have no trouble. But reconciling blatantly contradictory objectives requires them to engage in willful self-deception, public dishonesty, or both.

The campaign to pass Obama's health-care plan has assumed a false, though understandable, cloak of moral superiority. It's understandable because almost everyone thinks that people in need of essential medical care should get it; ideally, everyone would have health insurance. The pursuit of these worthy goals can easily be projected as a high-minded exercise for the public good.

It's false for two reasons. First, the country has other goals -- including preventing financial crises and minimizing the crushing effects of high deficits or taxes on the economy and younger Americans -- that "health-care reform" would jeopardize. And second, the benefits of "reform" are exaggerated. Sure, many Americans would feel less fearful about losing insurance; but there are cheaper ways to limit insecurity. Meanwhile, improvements in health for today's uninsured would be modest. They already receive substantial medical care. Insurance would help some individuals enormously, but studies find that, on average, gains are moderate. Despite using more health services, people don't automatically become healthier.

The pretense of moral superiority further erodes before all the expedient deceptions used to sell Obama's health-care agenda. The president says that he won't sign legislation that adds to the deficit. One way to accomplish this is to put costs outside the legislation. So: Doctors have long complained that their Medicare reimbursements are too low; the fix for replacing the present formula would cost $210 billion over a decade, estimates the Congressional Budget Office. That cost was originally in the "health reform" legislation. Now, it's been moved to another bill but, because there's no means to pay for it (higher taxes or spending cuts), deficits would increase.

Another way to disguise the costs is to count savings that, though they exist on paper, will probably never be realized in practice. So: The House bill is credited with reductions in Medicare reimbursements for hospitals and other providers of $228 billion over a decade. But Congress has often prescribed reimbursement cuts that, under pressure from squeezed providers, it has later rescinded. Claims of "fiscal responsibility" for the health-care proposals reflect "assumptions that are totally unrealistic based on past history," says David Walker, former U.S. comptroller general and now head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

Equally misleading, Obama's top economic advisers assert that the present proposals would slow the growth of overall national health spending. Outside studies disagree. Three studies (two by the consulting firm the Lewin Group for the Peterson Foundation and one by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency) conclude that various congressional plans would increase national health spending compared with the effect of no legislation. The studies variously estimate that the extra spending, over the next decade, would be $750 billion, $525 billion and $114 billion. The reasoning: Greater use of the health-care system by the newly insured would overwhelm cost-saving measures (bundled payments, comparative effectiveness research, tort reform), which are either weak or experimental.

Though these estimates could prove wrong, they are more plausible than the administration's self-serving claims. Its health-care plan is not "comprehensive," as Obama and the New York Times (in its news columns) assert, because it slights cost control. Obama chose to emphasize the politically appealing path of expanding benefits rather than first attending to the harder and more urgent task of controlling spending. If new spending commitments worsen some future budget or financial crisis, Obama's proposal certainly won't qualify as "reform," as the president and The Post (also in its news columns) call it. It's more like malpractice: a self-inflicted wound.


Simply compare and contrast Gibson's interview questions for Barack Obama and those for Sarah Palin. Gibson's Interview Questions for Obama:

• How does it feel to break a glass ceiling?
• How does it feel to "win"?
• How does your family feel about your "winning", breaking a glass ceiling?
• Who will be your VP?
• Should you choose Hillary Clinton as VP?
• Will you accept public finance?
• What issues is your campaign about?
• Will you visit Iraq?
• Will you debate McCain at a town hall?
• What did you think of your competitor's [Clinton's] speech?

Gibson's Interview Questions for Palin:

• Do you have enough qualifications for the job you're seeking?
• Specifically have you visited foreign countries and met foreign leaders?
• Aren't you conceited to be seeking this high level job?
• Questions on foreign policy...
• ...territorial integrity of Georgia
• ...allowing Georgia and Ukraine to be members of NATO
• ...NATO treaty
• ...Iranian nuclear threat
• ...what to do if Israel attacks Iran
• ...Al Qaeda motivations
• ...the Bush Doctrine
• ...attacking terrorists harbored by Pakistan
• ...Is America fighting a holy war? [misquoted Palin]

Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric both intentionally attacked Palin with questions designed to embarrass. Had Obama been queried with the same devious intentions, he'd have been reduced to the blubbering teleprompter-less soul we saw yesterday in Japan.


Walter E. Williams Explains “Price Gouging” Myth | American Conservative Daily

Today on Facebook, I saw a complaint that pharmaceutical companies were raising their prices in advance of "reform". Maybe it's time to revisit the concept of "price gouging". Walter E. Williams Explains “Price Gouging” Myth | American Conservative Daily

Let’s start off with an example. Say you owned a small 10-pound inventory of coffee that you purchased for $3 a pound. Each week you’d sell me a pound for $3.25. Suppose a freeze in Brazil destroyed half of its coffee crop, causing the world price of coffee to immediately rise to $5 a pound. You still have coffee that you purchased before the jump in prices. When I stop by to buy another pound of coffee from you, how much will you charge me? I’m betting that you’re going to charge me at least $5 a pound. Why? Because that’s today’s cost to replace your inventory.

Historical costs do not determine prices; what economists call opportunity costs do. Of course, you’d have every right not to be a “price-gouger” and continue to charge me $3.25 a pound. I’d buy your entire inventory and sell it at today’s price of $5 a pound and make a killing.

The absurdity of the health care bill

According to Robert J. Samuelson

[The] far-reaching overhaul of the health-care system -- which Congress is halfway toward enacting -- would almost certainly make matters worse. It would create new, open-ended medical entitlements that threaten higher deficits and would do little to suppress surging health costs. The disconnect between what President Obama says and what he's doing is so glaring that most people could not abide it. The president, his advisers and allies have no trouble. But reconciling blatantly contradictory objectives requires them to engage in willful self-deception, public dishonesty, or both.

The campaign to pass Obama's health-care plan has assumed a false, though understandable, cloak of moral superiority. It's understandable because almost everyone thinks that people in need of essential medical care should get it; ideally, everyone would have health insurance. The pursuit of these worthy goals can easily be projected as a high-minded exercise for the public good.

It's false for two reasons. First, the country has other goals -- including preventing financial crises and minimizing the crushing effects of high deficits or taxes on the economy and younger Americans -- that "health-care reform" would jeopardize. And second, the benefits of "reform" are exaggerated. Sure, many Americans would feel less fearful about losing insurance; but there are cheaper ways to limit insecurity. Meanwhile, improvements in health for today's uninsured would be modest. They already receive substantial medical care. Insurance would help some individuals enormously, but studies find that, on average, gains are moderate. Despite using more health services, people don't automatically become healthier.

The pretense of moral superiority further erodes before all the expedient deceptions used to sell Obama's health-care agenda. The president says that he won't sign legislation that adds to the deficit. One way to accomplish this is to put costs outside the legislation. So: Doctors have long complained that their Medicare reimbursements are too low; the fix for replacing the present formula would cost $210 billion over a decade, estimates the Congressional Budget Office. That cost was originally in the "health reform" legislation. Now, it's been moved to another bill but, because there's no means to pay for it (higher taxes or spending cuts), deficits would increase.
Though these estimates could prove wrong, they are more plausible than the administration's self-serving claims. Its health-care plan is not "comprehensive," as Obama and the New York Times (in its news columns) assert, because it slights cost control. Obama chose to emphasize the politically appealing path of expanding benefits rather than first attending to the harder and more urgent task of controlling spending. If new spending commitments worsen some future budget or financial crisis, Obama's proposal certainly won't qualify as "reform," as the president and The Post (also in its news columns) call it. It's more like malpractice: a self-inflicted wound.

Nidal Hassan's Powerpoint Presentation

Washington Post has a copy of Nidal Hassan's grand rounds presentation up.

More climate graphs and stuff

This is from The Register, a UK paper that seems skeptical enough about the notion of a climate apolalypse that it has a category called "Thermageddon".
The cosmic ray effect - a factor of the background CBR bombardment itself, and the relative strength of the earth and the Sun's magnetic shields - shows a strong correlation between temperature, CBR and is extraordinary.
In addition, "deep freezes" in the Earth's temperatures have coincided with short-lived but intense bursts of cosmic ray activity. Modulation is thought to reflect the Sun's passage through spiral arms of the Milky Way, and also the Sun's oscillation in relation to the plane of the galaxy. The Sun bobs up and down 2.7 times per orbit.

And here's the correlation into deep time, with CO2 as a comparison.

Fuel from Bacteria

The Royal Society for Chemistry reports on the development of a strain of bacteria that produce a nifty chemical -- Isobutyraldehide:
Why Isobutyraldehyde? Well, it's...
...a precursor to several useful chemicals, including isobutanol, which has great potential as a fuel alternative to petrol.
And what's more:
'Here, we were successful in engineering CO2-eating bacteria to produce isobutyraldehyde very efficiently,' says James Liao, who led the work at the University of California, Los Angeles, US. 'Our process is around 10 times faster than hydrogen production and about 100 times faster than genetically engineered ethanol production.' 

Importantly, extracting the final product from the mix is a simple process. 'The fuel vaporises to the gas phase easily, making separation extremely simple. Afterwards, we can liquefy it again by simple condensation,' Liao told Chemistry World.  

This process helps keep the bacteria alive longer, as they are not exposed to large amounts of chemicals. 'The bacteria are very stable, and in our flasks without much environmental control, the bacteria continued to produce for about 10 days,' Liao says.  

That last bit is important.  The chemicals we want for burning and chemical feedstock are almost always waste products.  If they build up in a high enough concentration, they poison the organisms producing them.  Just try to get yeast to ferment past about 12% by volume.  If you can pull the waste products away from the bacteria on an ongoing basis, you can keep them from poisoning themselves and run the process on a continuing basis.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What's the point of prison?

Peter Hitchens asks, What's the point of prison?

He has a rather original thought. Maybe the purpose of a prison is to punish.

The police deterred crime in cities and countryside, the Churches and the Temperance movement worked constantly to improve morality. Heinous murderers were hanged, so there were very few of them. The municipal reformers sought to clear the slums.

And the declining numbers who committed crimes went to prisons which were austere and harsh but not cruel or chaotic or diseased.

Prisoners had to work. They were kept under strict discipline, they lived in single cells and every moment of their lives was governed by hard rules. They could associate with each other only in very limited circumstances. Food was basic. Heating in winter was minimal. Contact with the outside world was very limited. Tobacco was not allowed (let alone drugs). Remission had to be earned by consistent good behaviour, as did privileges - access to books, visits, letters, better food.

In short, the authorities had the upper hand, all the time. Prison terms were not usually particularly long, but few who had undergone them wished to sample the fare again. Word got out that a spell in prison was to be avoided. People avoided it.
We are often told that we imprison more people than any other European country (though in fact the gap isn't that big, as careful study of the figures shows). But this endlessly repeated liberal whine fails to notice that we also have many more crimes and criminals than any comparable European country.

If we imprisoned at the rate they do, we would have even more people inside. But we do not. We either don't send them to prison in the first place or we let them out as fast as possible.

What happened to produce this enormous increase? Well, the sixties happened. The death penalty was abolished, requiring the growing incarceration of murderers for long periods, and a general inflation of sentencing because there was now no distinction between property crimes and killing, and because serious violence grows more common when murder isn't punished by death.

Reward was separated from effort by a bloated welfare state, illegal drugs were encouraged by rock music, the authority of parents and teachers was weakened, the police were taken off the beat.

And prisons quit punishing.

What also arrived, largely thanks to Roy Jenkins, was the culmination of a long liberal campaign to relax prison conditions.
For my own description of an existing modern British prison, they might like to Google "Peter Hitchens" and "What happened to punishment?" This described a visit to Wormwood Scrubs (the time and place were chosen for me by the authorities).
The basic point is that prison, once 'the due punishment of responsible persons', now has no such aim.

Read the whole thing.

Obamacare's real costs


The typical argument for ObamaCare is that it will offer better medical care for everyone and cost less to do it, but occasionally a supporter lets the mask slip and reveals the real political motivation. So let's give credit to John Cassidy, part of the left-wing stable at the New Yorker, who wrote last week on its Web site that "it's important to be clear about what the reform amounts to."

Mr. Cassidy is more honest than the politicians whose dishonesty he supports. "The U.S. government is making a costly and open-ended commitment," he writes. "Let's not pretend that it isn't a big deal, or that it will be self-financing, or that it will work out exactly as planned. It won't. What is really unfolding, I suspect, is the scenario that many conservatives feared. The Obama Administration . . . is creating a new entitlement program, which, once established, will be virtually impossible to rescind."

Why are they doing it? Because, according to Mr. Cassidy, ObamaCare serves the twin goals of "making the United States a more equitable country" and furthering the Democrats' "political calculus." In other words, the purpose is to further redistribute income by putting health care further under government control, and in the process making the middle class more dependent on government. As the party of government, Democrats will benefit over the long run.

This explains why Nancy Pelosi is willing to risk the seats of so many Blue Dog Democrats by forcing such an unpopular bill through Congress on a narrow, partisan vote: You have to break a few eggs to make a permanent welfare state. As Mr. Cassidy concludes, "Putting on my amateur historian's cap, I might even claim that some subterfuge is historically necessary to get great reforms enacted."

No wonder many Americans are upset. They know they are being lied to about ObamaCare, and they know they are going to be stuck with the bill.

Matthew Alexander

I've heard Matthew Alexander on talk radio, discussing interrogation techniques.  His theme is summed up in his subtitle: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq".
"This Ain't Hell" has a piece that examines "the two sides" of the person who uses the pseudonym "Matthew Alexander":
Alexander didn't use his real name to author the book or do his book tour. According to Alexander, his name was sealed in a court order for his protection. Of course, a puny DC District court order doesn't affect the crack research staff of This Ain't Hell. Here's his DD214;

Something I began to notice when I got his DD214 and after reading his book (about 4 times) is that this Matthew Alexander is quite different from the Matthew Alexander I saw in his interviews. This is a very studly record for an Air Force Officer, and the book is an excellent story about an aspect of the war in Iraq that's not often discussed. I highly recommend the book…from your local library. Unfortunately, any money you pay for the book will go into the pocket of the Matthew Alexander who was on the book tour. That Matthew Alexander is a liar and has an agenda.


Obviously, Olbermann didn't read the book, or if he did, he didn't mind that Alexander lied about what he wrote in the book. In the interview, Alexander said he'd convinced the terrorist to give up Zarqawi in six hours. In the book, he wrote that it took weeks.

In the interview, Alexander says that he used interrogation techniques in Iraq that the military isn't using, however, throughout the book, he credits his instructors at the "Schoolhouse" (his word) for teaching him these new techniques. But in one brief paragraph he says he talked religion with a terrorist which would have made his instructors at the "Schoolhouse", to use his phrase, "shit bricks" - so I have to assume that the whole book is about that one little conversation since that's the only time he deviated from his training by his own admission.

Now, Matthew Alexander tells us to take his book and his story at face value - that we shouldn't question his methods because he was the man on the ground. But here he interviews again with with Keith Olbermann in April, and based strictly on the general, non-specific information that Olbermann provides, Alexander spends five minutes second-guessing interrogation methods used in operations for which he wasn't present and he labels them "failures";

In the first interview, he tells us that he's looking to the future and not interested in placing blame anywhere - yet here he is, dwelling in the past and placing blame on other interrogators.


In this video interview, Alexander tells Jon Stewart that he hides his name, not because he's scared of terrorists finding out who he is, but rather because he's afraid of the military.

Now why would he be afraid of the military, unless he's not telling the truth? Also in the interview Alexander says that he gives examples of his fellow interrogators using torture. That's not true - the only thing he mentions in the book is one incident in which a colleague pounds the table with his fists and another story about something he heard another interrogator had done before Alexander got to the unit. Lucky for Alexander no one read his book.

A few months ago, Alexander changed his story about why he used a pseudonym to write the book. He told an interviewer from the Spy Museum that it was protect his family from al Qaeda. So I guess he was just afraid of the military while the Bush Administration was running it. More accurately, he's probably afraid that his fellow interrogators will find out his real name.

I made the mistake of watching the interviews before I read the book. When I was about halfway through the book, I wondered if I had the right book because it read nothing like what I heard in the interviews Alexander had done on TV. In the interviews he did, Alexander constantly made the point that he was using techniques that no one else had ever employed in this war, but throughout the book, he compares the techniques he learned from the "Schoolhouse" to those being used by some in his prison. In other words, the military was teaching the methods he used, but a few interrogators weren't using them. That doesn't make the military wrong nor does it verify that we had "policy of torture" during the Bush years, it just makes some interrogators untrainable.


Lately, Alexander has allied himself with the ACLU joining The Torture Project to bore through Bush Era documents relating to torture. I suspect that he's doing it because he needs money (his book did poorly among the Liberals - if you meet a Liberal who said he read the book, he's probably lying). However, he says it's because of the Bush Administration's legacy of torture and abuse. In the Huffington Post, he wrote;

First, VP Cheney said, "This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately… it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do." He further stated, "It is much closer to the truth that terrorists hate this country precisely because of the values we profess and seek to live by, not by some alleged failure to do so." That is simply untrue. Anyone who served in Iraq, and veterans on both sides of the aisle have made this argument, knows that the foreign fighters did not come to Iraq en masse until after the revelations of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. I heard this from captured foreign fighters day in and day out when I was supervising interrogations in Iraq.

He heard it from captured foreign fighters who he admits in the book lied to him on a minute-by-minute basis - but they're telling the truth about this particular subject. He echoed the same sentiment in another Huffington Post article;


I haven't told you Alexander's real name because I'm not sure if he's still in the military. Obviously, he has a talent for interrogating our enemies and I don't want to be the reason he stops doing that if he's still in the military. I found a promotion announcement on the internet that reports that he's on the LTC list and scheduled for promotion next June, yet somehow we got his military records so I have to sort that out. Just by knowing his real name, I was able to find his immediate family in about five minutes, so I'm not going to be the guy that puts his family in danger if any exists.

I will, however, provide his real name and his complete unredacted records to anyone who emails me through my AKO account (where I can verify your identity). If you don't know what an AKO account is, you don't have one.

Tea party movement

Paul Rahe at Hillsdale College writes, in part:

Back in early September, I attended the annual meeting of the American Political Science Convention, which was held -- for the first time -- outside the United States in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

One of the panels I attended had as its focus the first eight months of the Obama administration and that administration's prospects. Those on this particular panel were for the most part on the right, and in an utterly sober fashion they discussed the stimulus bill, the likelihood that the Democrats would pass a health care bill, and the prospects of the two parties in the 2010 midterm elections.

I was struck by one thing. No one even mentioned the tea-party movement and the explosions that had taken place at town meetings throughout the country in August.

So I asked why no one had mentioned it, and one political scientist -- an exceedingly distinguished and astute student of presidential elections -- responded that the tea-party phenomenon was, indeed, strange. It had, he noted, no institutional support. Nothing more was said. That was the beginning and the end of the panel's discussion of this phenomenon.

I guess that means the tea parties can't be cited as an example of "astroturf", then?

(HT: Power Line.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Marriage vs Cohabitation

Janise Shaw Crouse at The American Thinker looks at The Differences Between Marriage and Cohabitation

formally "defined" and publicly acknowledged commitment private, informal, undefined, uncertain "arrangement"
pact with legal standing, privileges, obligations, and responsibilities limited, ambiguous commitment, without clear, binding obligations
all-encompassing, total commitment of fidelity and complete sharing tenuous, transient conditional "understanding" with partial sharing
two interdependent individuals in an exclusive bond two independent individuals jointly occupying space

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mark Steyn on the Fort Hood assassin

Mark Steyn: A jihadist hiding in plain sight
Shortly after 9/11, there was a lot of talk about how no one would ever hijack an American airliner ever again – not because of new security arrangements but because an alert citizenry was on the case: We were hip to their jive. The point appeared to be proved three months later on a U.S.-bound Air France flight. The "Shoebomber" attempted to light his footwear, and the flight attendants and passengers pounced. As the more boorish commentators could not resist pointing out, even the French guys walloped him.

But the years go by, and the mood shifts. You didn't have to be "alert" to spot Maj. Nidal Hasan. He'd spent most of the past half-decade walking around with a big neon sign on his head saying "JIHADIST. STAND WELL BACK." But we (that's to say, almost all of us; and certainly almost anyone who matters in national security and the broader political culture) are now reflexively conditioned to ignore the flashing neon sign.
Well, like they say, it's easy to be wise after the event. I'm not so sure. These days, it's easier to be even more stupid after the event. "Apparently, he tried to contact al-Qaida," mused MSNBC's Chris Matthews. "That's not a crime to call up al-Qaida, is it? Is it? I mean, where do you stop the guy?" Interesting question: Where do you draw the line?

The truth is, we're not prepared to draw a line even after he's gone ahead and committed mass murder. "What happened at Fort Hood was a tragedy," said Gen. Casey, the Army's chief of staff, "but I believe it would be an even greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty here." A "greater tragedy" than 14 dead and dozens of wounded? Translating from the original brain-addled multicult-speak, the Army chief of staff is saying that the same fatuous prostration before marshmallow illusions that led to the "tragedy" must remain in place. If it leads to occasional mass murder, well, hopefully it can be held to what cynical British civil servants used to call, during the Northern Irish "Troubles", "an acceptable level of violence." Fourteen dead is evidently acceptable. A hundred and forty? Fourteen hundred? I guess we'll find out.

Fact-checking the fact checkers

The AP is "fact-checking" Sarah Palin's book, Going Rogue. Power Line - Fact-Check This

Power Line is not impressed with the fact-checks AP came up with. Ultimately, they conclude:

It appears to be a tribute to the factual accuracy of Palin's book that eleven hostile AP reporters can't come up with anything better than this.


A blog post at The Freeman looks at algae as an energy source. How Dense Can They Get?

The subtitle for this piece: "Good fuels need no subsidies."

Industry is more than willing to risk research dollars on technologies that show real promise, but it is not willing to flush shareholder money down a rat hole. Politicians, however, operate from different incentives. When a crisis, real or imagined, makes headlines, they want voters to see them doing “something” about it, and they must move quickly because election cycles and constituent attention spans are short. Funding long-term research in promising technologies is not sufficient to meet politicians’ needs. Solar panels, wind turbines, and ethanol refineries are all current technology and can be erected quickly with fanfare and photo-ops. By the time these alternative power sources prove to be financial and, possibly, environmental busts, the politicians will have been reelected and voters’ attention will have shifted to the next crisis.
Biofuels are carbon-neutral because the carbon dioxide released when they are burned is first extracted from the atmosphere by the algae. Unlike burning petroleum-based fuels, then, burning biofuels will not result in a net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

With algae’s vast potential, it is easy to understand why private industry is interested and why no government subsidies are needed to encourage investment. Moreover, if algae-based fuels do not prove viable, the companies now researching them will have no “status quo” problems with ending their investments and shifting scarce resources to more promising technologies – where “promise” is measured in density.

And it may be possible to boost algae's productivity to 100,000 gallons per acre per year.

Gibson Consulting estimates the world uses 1000 barrels of oil per year. That's 42,000 gallons per second. At 31.56 megaseconds per year, that's 1.33 trillion gallons per year. It would take 13.3 million acres of algae farms to make that much fuel. At that rate, plot of land 145 miles on a side would supply the world's energy needs.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Life After Death: The Message of Evolution

Now Dinesh accepts evolution. Dinesh D'Souza : Life After Death: The Message of Evolution

So how does he link evolution with life after death?

Is there life after death? One way to answer this question is to examine whether nature reveals some kind of a plan for life. We’re seeking not just any plan, but a plan that shows a progression from perishable things to imperishable things. Yes, a plan that develops from something like inert matter to something like consciousness or the mind would do very nicely. That’s because consciousness and mind have qualities very different from those of material bodies, and it’s possible that these qualities enable consciousness and mind to survive even after bodies perish.
Biologist Jacques Monod writes in Chance and Necessity that “chance alone is at the source of…all creation in the biosphere.” Insisting that our lives are the material products of a random process, biologist William Provine concludes that “when we die, we die, and that’s the end of us.”

This position has been argued most eloquently by Stephen Jay Gould. In Full House, Gould points out that the earliest forms of life were bacteria. “Now we have oak trees, praying mantises, hippopotamuses, and people.” Even so, bacteria haven’t been eliminated in the struggle for survival; indeed they outnumber all the other species put together. Somewhat wryly, Gould writes that we live in an “age of bacteria” confirmed by global “bacterial domination.”

Gould concedes that one can trace a continuous lineage from one creature to another, but this, he argues, does not constitute “progress” of any sort. After all, “Invertebrates didn’t die or stop evolving after fishes appeared” and similarly “fishes didn’t die out or stop evolving because one lineage…managed to colonize the land.” Mammals emerged later than reptiles, but reptiles are still around. On this basis Gould argues that it is mere arrogance for man to place himself at the top of the evolutionary ladder; in reality, we are the products of a fortunate series of accidents, just like every other life form. Re-run the tape of evolution from an identical starting point, Gould says, and there wouldn’t be humans but rather radically different creatures populating the planet.

Gould’s position was conventional wisdom in biology until a decade ago, but now some of the world’s leading biologists are challenging it. Two of them are Christian De Duve, who won the Nobel prize for his study of cells, and Simon Conway Morris, who is a leading expert on the fossils of the Burgess Shale. Duve and Morris argue that all the talk about randomness and contingency is overstated. In fact, they insist that evolution among several species has followed predictable pathways. Eyes, they contend, have evolved on separate evolutionary lines on multiple occasions. Placental and marsupial mammals are not closely related, and yet they have developed with similar structures and forms. Morris writes that “each group has independently navigated to the same evolutionary solution.”

Duve and Morris don’t deny the factor of chance, but they note that chance itself follows a largely predetermined trajectory. Paradoxically, chance mutations and varied environments nevertheless lead to evolutionary convergence. To understand how this might happen, think of tossing a coin several times; each toss produces a random result of heads or tails, but with many tosses one can predict with a high degree of certainly roughly how many heads and tails will occur. Or think of water descending from a mountaintop—there are many available tracks for it to follow, but they all point in the same direction, downward.

OK, that's certainly a thought, and we can run with this as a model. Water runs downhill from the tops of mountains, after falling as rain or snow. The force of gravity pulls the water downward until it reaches the ocean. I suppose the courses of rivers and streams could be likened to pathways leading to increased complexity, to the development of minds, and to consciousness.

Now, if we draw the comparison, we can picture rivers as populations evolving toward whatever future is represented by the ocean.

The thing is, in the case of rivers running to the ocean, some of them wind up feeding into lakes, which then empty into the ocean. Though there are some dead seas that don't empty into any other body of water, the vast bulk of the water on the planet winds up in the ocean.

When it comes to living things, the vast bulk of living things on this planet is bacteria, microbes, and very simple organisms, none of which are known for their mental prowess. And there doesn't seem to be any tendency for populations of these creatures to evolve toward consciousness. If anything, the creatures that develop consciousness seem to be the very rare dead-end. If anything, rather than a stream of water flowing toward some inevitable destination, achieving consciousness is almost like drops of water being tossed upward by turbulence onto a mountain top.

Consciousness appears to be possible in this universe. (After all, we have it.) But so far, of the many species on this planet, very few have developed it in four billion years of evolution. That's an awfully long time for a river to run to the sea.

Don't call people bigots just because you disagree with them'

Jeff Jacoby writes: Don't call people bigots just because you disagree with them

When it will occur to supporters of same-sex marriage that they do their cause no good by characterizing those who disagree with them as haters, bigots, and ignorant homophobes? It may be emotionally satisfying to despise as moral cripples the majorities who oppose gay marriage. But after going 0 for 31 -- after failing to make the case for same-sex marriage even to voters in such liberal and largely gay-friendly states as California, Wisconsin, Oregon, and now Maine -- isn't it time to stop caricaturing their opponents as the equivalent of Jim Crow-era segregationists? Wouldn't it make more sense to concede that thoughtful voters can have reasonable concerns about gay marriage, concerns that will not be allayed by describing those voters as contemptible troglodytes?

I oppose same-sex marriage for reasons I have explored in previous columns. I think it would be reckless to jettison the understanding, as old as civilization itself, that society has a deep interest in promoting families anchored by a married man and woman. It seems to me nonsensical to claim that men and women are utterly interchangeable, or to deny that children are likeliest to thrive when they are raised by both a mother and a father. I believe that timeless moral standards must not be casually overturned, and that doing so is apt to have unintended and unfortunate consequences. And I am sure that legalizing same-sex wedlock would fuel demands for further radical change -- legalizing plural marriage, for example.

But strongly opposing gay marriage doesn't mean I can't understand why many people just as strongly favor it. I can sympathize with committed gay and lesbian couples who feel demeaned by the law's rejection of same-sex marriage, or who crave the proof of societal acceptance, the cloak of normalcy, that a marriage license would provide. I don't regard the redefinition of marriage as a civil rights issue; nor do I buy the argument that laws barring same-sex marriage are comparable to the laws that once barred interracial marriage. But I recognize that many people -- sincere and decent people -- do. By my lights they are mistaken, not evil.

Why do so many same-sex marriage advocates find it so hard to see marriage traditionalists in the same light?
In a recent paper for the Heritage Foundation, Thomas Messner surveys the "naked animus" that was directed against supporters of Proposition 8, the California marriage amendment that voters approved last year. His meticulously footnoted study makes chilling reading, with example after example of the blacklisting, vandalism, intimidation, loss of employment, anti-religious hostility, and even death threats to which backers of Prop 8 were subjected.

Of course not all proponents of same-sex marriage display such vehement intolerance toward those who insist that the purpose of marriage is to unite male and female. But far too many do to shrug it off as insignificant. And voters don't have to be paranoid to wonder: If this is the kind of abuse that opponents of gay marriage can be subjected to now, how much more intolerance will dissenters face if gay marriage becomes the law of the land?

Kitco - Commentaries - Alf Field

Zimbabwe: A Fresh Start: How to rescue an economic basket case.

In February 2009 Zimbabwe was the only country in the world without debt. Nobody owed anyone anything. Following the abandonment of the Zimbabwe Dollar as the local currency all local debt was wiped out and the country started with a clean slate.

It is now a country without a functioning Central Bank and without a local currency that can be produced at will at the behest of politicians. Since February 2009 there has been no lender of last resort in Zimbabwe, causing banks to be ultra cautious in their lending policies. The US Dollar is the de facto currency in use although the Euro, GB Pound and South African Rand are accepted in local transactions.

Price controls and foreign exchange regulations have been abandoned. Zimbabwe literally joined the real world at the stroke of a pen. Money now flows in and out of the country without restriction. Super market shelves, bare in January, are now bursting with products.
With Mugabe out of the way and the economy recovering strongly, one could reasonably anticipate that a large proportion of the Zimbabweans living overseas will return to the country bringing welcome skills and capital. Indeed foreigners will also be attracted to investing in the country in those circumstances.

It is fascinating to see how rapidly the economy is recovering. It is a great testament to what can be achieved in a free enterprise environment by the elimination of controls combined with the institution of new money that people trust. It needs to be money that their Government cannot create via the printing (or electronic) press.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Israel's left wakes up

Dennis Prager has suggested holding plebiscites in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, and Western Europe. The question to be decided: "Do you want American troops to withdraw from your country immediately?"

If the answer is "yes", American troops leave, and the country is now responsible for its own defense.

This, he believes, would focus the minds of everyone in the affected country, including the anti-American left. They would have to actually think about why they have the freedom to express their opinions, and indeed, to do much of anything else.

Now, it looks like the apparent fact of abandonment by US power is having that same effect on Israel's left.

From Bookworm Blog:

I think Obama has done a good thing for Israel. With his abandonment of Israel, leaving Israel hanging out in the wind on her own, even the Israeli Left has been forced to face a reality they previously denied: Palestinians are not partners in peace. They are a force aimed at Israel’s total destruction and the death of her citizens.

Some Thoughts on Historians and Contemporary Anti-evolutionism. « a simple prop

Some Thoughts on Historians and Contemporary Anti-evolutionism.

Hat tip: Evolution Blog. Read the comments.

This theme of dehumanization has become something of an idée fixe for modern anti-evolutionists. Darwin is seen as, if not a causative factor of, then an inspiration for, the totalitarian regimes of the Twentieth century. Darwin’s work, we are told, led to the devaluation of human life, eugenics, the Holocaust, Planned Parenthood, and fetal stem cell research. Nowhere is this theme more evident than in the pro-ID movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed , in which Ben Stein unsubtly portrays Darwin’s writings as leading to the Holocaust and “Darwinists” as waging a campaign of terror against ID proponents. Egregiously, Stein selectively quotes Darwin to make it appear as if he disapproved of measures to aid the sick and infirm. Even more egregiously, in publicity interviews Stein has baldly stated that “science leads you to kill people” and “Darwinism led – in a pretty much straight line – to Nazism and the Holocaust.” While it would be comforting to imagine that Stein’s position was that of a politically motivated crank, it has received support from historian and DI fellow Richard Weikart, who appears onscreen with Stein during an interview conducted at Dachau. Weikart’s published attempts to link Darwin to Hitler have received negative commentary from such historians as Robert Richards, Paul Farber, Sander Gliboff, and Nils Roll-Hansen, yet these ideas have continued to be promulgated by Benjamin Wiker (again, a DI fellow) in his The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin, a biography that Gliboff accurately, if caustically, compares with the writings of the journalist Rita Skeeter from the Harry Potter series.
Our collective research as historians can obviously help disprove claims made by anti-evolutionists regarding both the social effects of scientific ideas and how the scientific community functions.

EvoS Journal

New journal: EvoS Journal

[This] is a journal designed to promote the education of evolutionary theory in colleges and universities. An evolutionary education provides a framework for enhancing the research and theory in all disciplines, and as such, EvoS Journal welcomes work from all academic disciplines as well as interdisciplinary scholarship that incorporates evolutionary theory across areas of study. As an outlet for academic articles, EvoS Journal has two particular aims. The first is to publish peer-reviewed articles related to evolutionary theory in higher education. The second is to publish undergraduate peer-reviewed publications that have arisen from courses offered through Evolutionary Studies Programs.

Skeptic » Reading Room » Debates: The Great Afterlife: Michael Shermer v. Deepak Chopra

Skeptic Magazine presents a debate: Skeptic » Reading Room » Debates: The Great Afterlife: Michael Shermer v. Deepak Chopra

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Michelle Malkin » Left-wing thug of the day

Michelle Malkin » Left-wing thug of the day:
Voters on Tuesday repealed the state’s same sex marriage law after an emotionally charged campaign that drew large numbers to the polls and focused national attention on Maine.

…”In a defiant speech to several hundred lingering supporters, No on 1 campaign manager Jesse Connolly pledged that his side “will not quit until we know where every single one of these votes lives.””

“We’re not short-timers; we are here for the long haul,” Connolly told the crowd, some of whom wiped away tears as he spoke. “Whether it’s just all night and into the morning, or next week or next month or next year, we will be here. We’ll be fighting, we’ll be working. We will regroup.”
Police are investigating a pair of threats against gay marriage opponents in Maine.

Marc Mutty from Stand for Marriage Maine says a threatening voicemail message was discovered Monday morning at campaign headquarters in which a female caller said, “You will be dead. Maybe not today, not tomorrow. But soon you’ll dead.” Police in Yarmouth are investigating.

Augusta police say a separate voicemail threat targeted Michael Heath, former leader of the Christian Civic League of Maine and its successor, the Maine Family Policy Council. Heath wasn’t actively involved in the gay marriage campaign, but he fought against a gay rights law in campaigns in 1998, 2000 and 2005.

Connecting the dots

Jonah Goldberg looks at which dots tend not to get connected in today's army.
...Flash forward to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the man who last week shot over 40 people at Fort Hood, killing 13, while shouting "Allahu Akbar!"
"As a senior-year psychiatric resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan was supposed to make a presentation on a medical topic of his choosing as a culminating exercise of the residency program," reports the Washington Post.
Hasan went a different way. He opted to give a bizarre PowerPoint presentation in which he defended suicide bombing, explaining that non-believers should be beheaded, be burned alive, and have boiling oil poured down their throats (presumably not in that order). He argued that all Muslims should be discharged from the military.
One slide concluded: "We love death more then [sic] you love life!"
According to the Post, the medical staff in attendance was deeply disturbed by the incident. But there's apparently no record of anyone's reporting it to authorities. That would be insensitive and discriminatory.
The following year, intelligence officials discovered that Hasan had been sending e-mails to Anwar al-Aulaqi, a prominent American-born radical cleric now based in Yemen with ties to al-Qaeda.
The FBI concluded it was no big deal and dropped the matter. "Investigators," reports the Post, "said Hasan's e-mails were consistent with the topic of his academic research and involved some social chatter and religious discourse."
Ah yes, his "academic research," which was laid out so rigorously in his PowerPoint presentation.
Hasan also reportedly expressed joy over the murder of an Army recruiter in Arkansas. His views were not a secret to his colleagues, nor apparently to his patients, whom he tried to proselytize.

Could He Ever Bring Himself to Say It? "No We Can't!"

Could He Ever Bring Himself to Say It? "No We Can't!"

Just an update to our earlier post, Could He Ever Bring Himself to Say It? Obamic Options 004. I posed the following question:

[W]ould President Barack H. Obama ever admit to the American people that -- contrary to the knee-jerk FBI statement -- such a shooting under these assumptions would almost certainly be an act of "jihadist" terrorism?

But I prefaced that question on five assumptions, four of which (all but he last) were being widely reported at the time; I wrote, "let's assume for sake of argument that the following reports are correct." (I even italicized it.) Here are the assumptions:

  1. The main shooter was Major Malik Nadal Hasan (or Nidal Malik Hasan -- I've seen both versions);
  2. Hasan was a recent convert to Islam;
  3. Hasan was "violently hostile" to the deployment of American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq;
  4. That the two persons currently being held in custody are, in fact, collaborators in the massacre.
  5. That the two in custody were also recent converts to Islam or radical Moslems.

As it turned out, most of the original assumptions for sake of argument were wrong:

  • Yes, it seems pretty solid that Nidal Malik Hasan was the shooter.
  • But he was not a recent convert to Islam -- he is a lifelong Moslem who is now a radical Moslem (I don't know whether he has always been radicalized or whether it's a recent event).
  • He was certainly "violently hostile" to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
  • But the two people briefly held in custody were not collaborators and were released.
  • I don't have any information whether they were Moslems, so let's call this unconfirmed.

However, my point not only stands but is bolstered. How? How can my point become stronger when 60% of the underpinning of premises on which it was based has been kicked down?

Should be obvious: Because each discarded assumption has been replaced by even more solid evidence that Hasan's massacre at Fort Hood was not senseless and motive-free, but was in fact an act of putative jihad.

We now know about Hasan's repeated anti-American, anti-infidel outbursts, his justification of suicide bombings, his incomprehension that American Moslems could possibly fight against their "brothers" in Afghanistan and Iraq. We now learn that he posted jihadist messages on the internet, that he had contacts with a radical imam who preached at the mosque that the 9/11 butchers attended, and even that he evidently attempted to contact al-Qaeda.

He was not a recent convert, but he was a radical jihadist. He evidently acted alone when he committed mass murder, but at least two witnesses insist he shouted "Allahu Akhbar" as he did it.

Let's just jack up the question and run the new, more careful reporting under it in place of the discarded assumptions; when you finish tightening the bolts, the same question is even more urgent now than it was four days ago.

And now we appear to have an answer: No; Barack H. Obama cannot bring himself to call this brutish massacre "an act of 'jihadist' terrorism." It simply is not in his nature, nor his best interests -- which do not seem to coincide with the best interests of the United States.

Honesty may be the best policy, but it's not Obama's policy.

Monday, November 09, 2009

CNN reinterprets the news

Mudville Gazette looks at the difference between what a witness to the Fort Hood shooting actually said, and what CNN said he said. What the "C" stands for

Pvt Joseph Foster is yet another soldier reporting that Nidal Hasan shouted "Allah Akbar" when he began firing last week - but Foster made the mistake of saying it on CNN:
Roberts: So the first moments of Thursday afternoon, can you tell our viewers, you know, where you were, what happened, how it all unfolded?

Foster: I was sitting in what they call station 13, it's where we get, basically, our final outs of our RSP (ph) system and I was sitting in about the second row back when the assailant stood up, screamed and yelled Allah Akbar (ph) in Arabic and he opened fire.

Follow the link to see how CNN spun it.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Trying to restore meaning to "torture"

Heather Mac Donald writes:

Liberal and left-wing critics of Bush’s “war on terror” have brandished the word “torture” to refer to every stressful interrogation practice that soldiers in Afghanistan and Guantanamo desperately and clumsily evolved in their effort to gather intelligence on presumed terror networks. But when an argument requires describing the actual torture practiced by more ruthless regimes, suddenly American interrogation practices are demoted to “abusive interrogation,” say, so as to recover and redeploy the original meaning of the term (officially defined as the intentional infliction of severe mental and physical pain and suffering) heretofore lost in the ecstatic (and sometimes justified) denunciation of Bush’s anti-terror policies.

Should Gen. Casey be fired?

Dafydd at Big Lizards thinks so, at least if he stands by one of his more inept statements.

Losing our "diversity" would be "a greater tragedy" than the Fort Hood massacre itself? Does any rational human being actually believe this? And does any military historian believe that "a [religiously] diverse Army gives us strength?" I think it clear from context that Casey is claiming that having a tiny handful of Moslem soldiers -- 3,000 out of nearly 1.1 million soldiers -- somehow makes the Army "stronger."

This is ludicrous. I'm positive having Moslems in our ranks doesn't make us any weaker, but neither does it make us stronger, except marginally: If we banned all Moslems from the ranks, we might have to accept a lesser qualified Christian, Jewish, or Buddhist soldier instead of a more qualified Moslem. But the diminishment would be slight at best.
Casey's remark is yet another example of transforming the criminal into the victim; it's political correctness run wild. And if George Casey cannot understand why Hasan's religion -- which appears by all reports to be a violent, extremist, jihadist sect of Islam -- could be the primary motive behind the otherwise senseless spree killings, then Gen. Casey should be removed as Chief of Staff. Immediately.

It's as stunning as if Eisenhower had said in 1942 that we should not "speculate" on the possible role National Socialism might play in the military aggression of the Axis, lest we create a "backlash" against soldiers with names like, well, Eisenhower. For heaven's sake, the ideology of National Socialism was the primary cause of World War II... just as the ideology of violent Islamic jihadism is the primary cause of global Islamic terrorism.

One thing to understand, though, is that generals got where they are by being experts in military matters and politics. Casey may well realize his job depends on being politically correct.