Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

College Censors, Get Ready to Open Your Wallets

Pajamas Media » College Censors, Get Ready to Open Your Wallets
It seems college administrators who enact and enforce oppressive speech codes can be held personally liable.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What is Marriage?

What is Marriage?

Found in the upcoming issue of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, the paper treats the trickiest arguments in the same-sex marriage debate the with the precision and rigor for which these three scholars are known. Questions, for example, of whether marriage is primarily a legally-sanctioned romantic partnership, or if its essential purpose resides in something else.

Here's a link to the paper

Friday, December 24, 2010

Can Civilization Survive Without God?

Can Civilization Survive Without God?: A debate
If it wasn't the philosophical equivalent of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the distinguished journalists who waited in eager anticipation around the square-shaped table at the offices of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on Washington's M Street in late October may well have anticipated fireworks. The Washington Post's Sally Quinn, the Economist's Peter David, the Guardian's Timothy Garton Ash, the Washington Examiner's Michael Barone, and a handful of others had been invited to witness an unusual public debate between Christopher Hitchens, enfant terrible of the New Atheism and author of the best-seller God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and his brother, Peter Hitchens, author of the more recent The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. The two brothers had clashed in public debate before, often acrimoniously, but this event was special: it was the first major discussion between them in public since Christopher, 61, was first diagnosed with metastatic (usually fatal) esophageal cancer in June 2010. Would natural fraternal sympathy prevail over the two men's deep, and long-lasting, philosophical disagreement?

Don't Gasp, Don't Kvell

Dafydd ap Hugh at Big Lizards has a series on he repeal of DADT: Don't Gasp, Don't Kvell part IIII - Faster Than a Speeding Pullet:
As readers well know (and generally lament), I do support the ending of Bill Clinton's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy that allows gays to serve in the military, so long as they stay in the closet. I believe gays should be allowed to serve openly, but not flauntingly. (Similarly, I believe women should be allowed to serve in any position in the military for which they qualify, including combat.)
But I do not in any way like the way that DADT was repealed. Following the crushing GOP victory in the 2010 midterm elections, it's appalling that the lame-donkey Congress which has just been repudiated has the audacity to vote on major pieces of transformative legislation -- that everybody knows would not pass in the incoming Congress. That's just wrong, and there's no two ways about it.
The previous rants of this ongoing Obamanation are:
But in the pell-mell rush to jam through Congress the instant repeal of DADT, I cannot imagine that the Obamunists have the slightest interest in a 'go-slow' approach that would give us the time to work the kinks (sorry!) out of the system. Rather, I agree with Paul Mirengoff at Power Line: Obama will shove this revolutionary transformation (which underlying policy I support) down the tracks like a runaway freight train, and any testing policy that tries to slow it down will be squashed flatter than today's GDP growth (which unseemly haste I abhor).
After all, the policy must actually be a done deal before January 3rd; else the incoming House of Representatives might refuse to appropriate or authorize the funds to implement it.
This is exactly what I was afraid would happen: Because conservatives made it clear that they would never, ever, ever vote to repeal DADT, no matter when or how, the 'progressivists' rightly concluded that they have only this one brief window, which, if not seized upon, slams shut in just under a fortnight... so the Left must move the policy faster than a cannon-fired chicken. Full scream ahead, and damn the training!
Well, never let it be said that Congress failed to disappoint.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Do Argue

The crowd at The Weekly Standard is sharply divided on the repeal of DADT

The Marines, the Media and 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' John R. Guardiano

Why DADT Has to GoJohn Tabin

Re: Why DADT Has to GoJohn R. Guardiano

Thoughts on DADT RepealAaron Goldstein

Re: Thoughts on DADT RepealW. James Antle, III

Goldstein Misunderstands DADT John R. Guardiano

Guardiano Misunderstands Goldstein Aaron Goldstein

DADT and ‘Hard Empirical Evidence’ John R. Guardiano

DADT and Left-Wing Intellectual Bigotry John R. Guardiano

Re: DADT and 'Hard Empirical Evidence' Aaron Goldstein

The Problem with Debating DADT John R. Guardiano

...this is a difficult and complex issue that is all too easily caricatured and distorted, and by the extremes on both sides of the debate.

Monday, December 20, 2010

More Loaded Dice

David Friedman looks at a couple of items -- one showing that conservatives are more authoritarian, and another showing people who watch Fox News are dumber.

More Loaded Dice: "Several years ago I had an exchange on this blog with Professor Robert Altemeyer over his claim that authoritarianism was more common on the political right than on the political left. I argued that the survey on which his claim was based was, probably not intentionally, loaded. Questions about respect for authority consistently referred to authorities more popular on the right than the left, questions about people bravely defying authority referred to forms of defiance more popular on the left than on the right, hence people on the left would appear, by their score on his questions, less authoritarian than they were, people on the right more. I recently encountered the same problem in a different context, this time an article describing a study that purported to show that people on the right are more often misinformed about public issues than people on the left.

The obvious way to rig the results of such a poll is to select questions where the answer you consider mistaken is more popular with one side than the other. Most people who believe Obama was not born in the U.S. are on the right. Most people who believe the Chamber of Commerce used foreign money to influence the most recent election are on the left. By my count, for at least seven of the eleven questions the answer that the study's authors considered misinformed was a view more popular with the right than the left. One—the Chamber of Commerce question—went the other way.

A second problem with the study was that, for at least three of its eleven questions (whether stimulus had saved several million jobs, whether the economy was recovering, whether Obamacare increased the deficit), the right answer was unclear. In none of the three did the study's authors provide adequate support for their view—which, in each case, coincided with the claims of the Administration.

And The American Spectator has a blog post on some of the flaws with this survey.

Professor Krosnick's polling results are so woeful that both Pew Research Center Survey and Gallup polling recently took the time to harshly reprimand him for his shoddy work.

And these comments at The American Thinker:

...The purpose of my polls was to quantify the impact of the media's remarkable pro-Obama and anti-Palin bias on the electorate for my documentary, Media Malpractice. What we found back then was that McCain voters and those "exposed" to Fox News and talk radio were far more likely to answer our simple multiple-choice questions correctly than Obama voters and those "exposed" to any other media outlet. The most dramatic example was that those voters "exposed" to "conservative" media were far more informed when it came to simply knowing that it was the Democratic Party which controlled congress at the time. This turned out to be rather determinative when it came to voters' presidential choice.

Conversely, we discovered that it was only when it came to knowing all the negative stories about Sarah Palin (an incredible 98% of those "exposed" to MSNBC knew that Palin was the candidate with the pregnant teenage daughter) that those consumers of the more liberal outlets excelled. Otherwise, fans of liberal media were far more likely to get our easy questions wrong.


I will be waiting with bated breath to see if Silver and his buddies on the left react in anywhere near the same way to this most recent poll from the University of Maryland. However, I will be sure not to hold that breath too long, because though the Maryland poll has far more holes in it than anything I or any other "conservative" could ever dream of getting away with, I am quite certain that it will not receive anywhere near the same kind of scrutiny and criticism from the elites in the "mainstream."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Harry's Place » Wikileaks & Michael Moore: A Lesson In Propaganda And Mass Idiocy.

Harry's Place » Wikileaks & Michael Moore: A Lesson In Propaganda And Mass Idiocy.

Comments on the Michael Moore "Sicko" WikiLeak.

The link to the memo that used to be at The Guardian seems to have gone 404 compliant.

OMG: There Are Gays in the Military

OMG: There Are Gays in the Military: "

One of the issues that always comes up is sharing showers. The reason the gay guys in the shower aren’t grabbing anyone’s ass is not because there is a DADT rule, it’s because they aren’t ass grabbers. Changing that rule isn’t going to lead to mass ass grabbing in the showers. There is a word for people who like to have sex with people who don’t want them to, that word is rapist. Somehow I must have missed the epidemic of homosexual rape in the British/Canadian/Aussie armies. It didn’t happen there and it won’t happen here. Of course there will be some concerns and difficulties in implementing this, but it won’t be long before it becomes old news.

In that case, why not have men and women shower together in the military, as they did in that "Starship Troopers" movie? What possible objection could there be?"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting 'mythical' healthcare system

The Guardian is not by any stretch of the imagination a conservative rag. They're reporting on an interesting document from WikiLeaks: Cuba banned Sicko for depicting 'mythical' healthcare system.

Cuba banned Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, Sicko, because it painted such a "mythically" favourable picture of Cuba's healthcare system that the authorities feared it could lead to a "popular backlash", according to US diplomats in Havana.


...the memo reveals that when the film was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so "disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room".

Castro's government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it "knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them."

Apparently, Moore wanted to believe the showcase hospital he saw was typical, and so he didn't bother to check the story.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Google's book database

Google's book database

With little fanfare, Google has made a mammoth database culled from nearly 5.2 million digitized books available to the public for free downloads and online searches, opening a new landscape of possibilities for research and education in the humanities.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why Media Matters Doesn’t

Why Media Matters Doesn't

The George Soros-funded, out-to-get-Fox-News and generally-lamebrained Media Matters is claiming that Fox editor Bill Sammon committed the grave felony of urging climate skepticism to Fox staff in a December 2009 e-mail. Sammon, of course, did nothing of the sort. The e-mail in question reads: "Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data we [...]

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Levi’s Story - Interview - National Review Online

Levi’s Story - Interview - National Review Online

A study on “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America” was published Monday by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the project, talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about what the study says, what it means, and what we should and can do about the retreat.


Moderately educated Americans (Americans with a high-school degree but no four-year college degree — 58 percent of the adult population today) have traditionally constituted the backbone of the American family. Until recently, these middle Americans were more likely to get married, to value marriage, and to be involved in institutions such as churches and other civic organizations that lent direction and stability to their marriages.

No more. In the last three decades, nonmarital childbearing, divorce, low-quality marriages, and family instability have all been on the rise in middle-American homes.


Among adults in middle America, family breakdown inhibits the accumulation of assets, increases stress and depression, and raises the mortality rate — especially among men. So, the health, wealth, and happiness of middle Americans is taking a serious hit.

Among children in middle America, family breakdown typically doubles delinquency, drug use, psychological problems, and teenage pregnancy.


We are now witnessing the emergence of a “separate and unequal” marriage regime in American life, where highly educated and more affluent Americans are enjoying comparatively stable, high-quality marriages at the same time that middle Americans, as well as Americans in poor communities, are seeing their marital fortunes fall.


Indeed, the biggest marriage story among ordinary Americans is that cohabitation is mounting a major challenge to marriage as the preferred site for childbearing and co-residence in Middle America (as well as in many poor communities). This is disturbing because children and cohabitation do not mix. Children born to cohabiting parents are at least twice as likely to see their parents break up before they turn five, and they are much more likely to suffer educational and emotional problems, compared to children born into married homes. Finally, children in cohabiting households are at least three times more likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused than children in intact, married families.


“When Marriage Disappears” points out that a “soul mate” model of marriage has overtaken an “institutional” model of marriage in the minds of many Americans. What I mean by that is that more and more Americans think that marriage is about an intense and fulfilling couple-focused relationship that, by the way, is made possible by a comfortable and secure income.

More and more Americans have jettisoned the older, institutional view that marriage is also about raising a family together, offering mutual aid to one another in tough times, and becoming engaged in larger networks of kin and community.


One of the reasons that we’re seeing a wholesale retreat from marriage in middle America is that a majority of Americans do not believe that sex needs to be connected to marriage and a growing minority of Americans do not think that parenthood needs to be connected to marriage.


I’m worried that we’re moving in the direction of an old-style Latin model of social life, where the elite enjoys money, power, and stable families — and everyone else faces high levels of economic and familial instability.


Marriage is the original Department of Health and Human Services for our children, insofar as it is designed to provide children with access to the financial, social, and emotional support that they need from both of their parents. When marriage breaks down, children are hit hardest.

When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America: The State of Our Unions 2010

When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America: The State of Our Unions 2010
In middle america, marriage is in trouble. Among the affluent, marriage is stable and may even be getting stronger. Among the poor, marriage continues to be fragile and weak. But the most consequential marriage trend of our time concerns the broad center of our society, where marriage, that iconic middle-class institution, is foundering.

For the last few decades, the retreat from marriage has been regarded largely as a problem afflicting the poor.[1] But today, it is spreading into the solid middle of the middle class.

The numbers are clear. Wherever we look among the communities that make up the bedrock of the American middle class—whether small-town Maine, the working-class suburbs of southern Ohio, the farmlands of rural Arkansas, or the factory towns of North Carolina—the data tell the same story: Divorce is high, nonmarital childbearing is spreading, and marital bliss is in increasingly short supply.
Cohabitation. Moderately educated Americans are increasingly likely to choose living together instead of marriage (see Figure 4). From 1988 to the late 2000s, the percentage of women aged 25–44 who had ever cohabited rose 29 percentage points for moderately educated Americans—slightly higher than the 24-point increase for the least educated. Over the same period, cohabitation grew 15 percentage points among the highly educated. When it comes to cohabitation, then, Middle America again looks more like downscale than upscale America.


Nonmarital Childbearing. Moderately educated mothers are moving in the direction of the least-educated mothers with respect to unwed births (see Figure 5). In the early 1980s, 13 percent of children born to moderately educated mothers were born outside of marriage, and 33 percent of children born to least-educated women were born outside of marriage. Only 2 percent of children born to highly educated mothers were born outside of marriage. By the late 2000s, nonmarital childbirths accounted for 44 percent of children born to moderately educated mothers, 54 percent of children born to the least-educated mothers, and 6 percent of children born to highly educated mothers. Over this time period, then, the nonmarital childbearing gap grew between Middle and upscale America and shrunk between Middle and downscale America.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kaboom: Another Palin-hater self-combusts

From Michelle Malkin's blog: Kaboom: Another Palin-hater self-combusts:

Man, I thought those Palin-bashers who didn’t know when the Boston Tea Party occurred took the hate cake.

I was wrong.

Here’s the errrrrrudite liberal journo Richard Wolffe mocking Sarah Palin for citing famed, beloved Christian author, novelist, lay theologian, and apologist C.S. Lewis as a source of divine inspiration (via The Daily Caller):

Incredibly, Wolffe derides the author of “Mere Christianity,” “The Abolition of Man,” “The Screwtape Letters,” and so many other seminal works as merely a writer of “a series of kids’ books” in order to jab at Palin.

Fellow Palin-basher Chris Matthews tried to save Wolffe from himself by counseling him not to “put down” Lewis. Wolffe ignored him.

When I think of Wolffe and his smug media peers in the intellectual establishment, I think of Lewis’s brilliant musings on Men Without Chests.

He had them pegged.


Visit the C.S. Lewis Foundation website here.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Muslim attitudes toward sharia, bombing, democracy

From" The Advanced Civilization that Would Be Islamic
In the latest polling data of Muslims around the world, most favor death to converts out of the faith. There's more here. And here is the source poll.
LA Times:
According to the survey, majorities in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and Nigeria would favor changing current laws to allow stoning as a punishment for adultery, hand amputation for theft and death for those who convert from Islam to another religion. About 85% of Pakistani Muslims said they would support a law segregating men and women in the workplace.
And here's the Pew report.

Also of Note:
* Many Muslims see a struggle between those who want to modernize their country and Islamic fundamentalists. Only in Jordan and Egypt do majorities say there is no such struggle in their countries (72% and 61%, respectively).
* At least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan say they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion. Majorities of Muslims in Jordan and Nigeria also favor these harsh punishments.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Conservatives attacks on Sarah Palin

Merv at Prairie Pundit cites a piece on the attacks against Sarah Palin:

Conservatives attacks on Sarah Palin: "Colbert King:

The recent attacks on Sarah Palin by establishment conservatives make her Democratic opponents seem like wusses. The prospect of a Palin presidential candidacy in 2012 has obviously spooked the GOP elite. But do they have to be so mean?
But are the attacks fair?

While not a fan of Palin, King goes on to defend her political skills and appeal to voters. Sometimes the things that people like me like about Palin get lost in all the noise of defending her against bogus allegations and insults.

First, I like her energy policy. She has articulated an all of the above approach that includes lifting the strangulation on domestic production of oil and gas. Her foreign policy supports our efforts to defeat a wicked enemy. On the economy and taxes she is consistent with what most conservatives and most Americans think is the correct policy.

So what is the problem? Some people see her as unelectable and there fore they are trying to discourage her and her supporters. I do not think that is likely to work. She has shown a resilience that has confounded her critics on the left and will survive her critics on the right. Those who want to oppose her need to stop the insults and start dealing with policy issues. I think they will have a tougher time on that score, but that is what the campaign should be about....

New peer reviewed paper shows just how bad the climate models really are | Watts Up With That?

When a climate model actually successfully predicts actual climate based on initial input values, then I'll take its claims about climate change seriously.
New peer reviewed paper shows just how bad the climate models really are | Watts Up With That?


We compare the output of various climate models to temperature and precipitation observations at 55 points around the globe. We also spatially aggregate model output and observations over the contiguous USA using data from 70 stations, and we perform comparison at several temporal scales, including a climatic (30-year) scale. Besides confirming the findings of a previous assessment study that model projections at point scale are poor, results show that the spatially integrated projections are also poor.

Bush told the truth, people died anyway

From Clayton Cramer cites the Washington Post pointing out the "Bush Lied" meme is all wet
: Clayton Cramer's Blog: An Astonishing Source For This
...dive into Rockefeller's report, in search of where exactly President Bush lied about what his intelligence agencies were telling him about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and you may be surprised by what you find.

On Iraq's nuclear weapons program? The president's statements "were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates."

On biological weapons, production capability and those infamous mobile laboratories? The president's statements "were substantiated by intelligence information."

On chemical weapons, then? "Substantiated by intelligence information."

On weapons of mass destruction overall (a separate section of the intelligence committee report)? "Generally substantiated by intelligence information." Delivery vehicles such as ballistic missiles? "Generally substantiated by available intelligence." Unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to deliver WMDs? "Generally substantiated by intelligence information."

The Press Continues to Lie About Palin’s “Death Panels” Comment

John Sexton at Big Journalism:
The Press Continues to Lie About Palin’s “Death Panels” Comment: "
A new AP story says that, according to Obama’s own deficit commission, Obamacare isn’t going to bend the cost curve without some serious cuts from the top down:
Sarah Palin take note: For the first time, the government would set — and enforce — an overall budget for Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs that cover more than 100 million people, from Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes to premature babies in hospital intensive care.
Palin attracted wide attention by denouncing nonexistent “death panels” in Obama’s overhaul, but a fixed budget as the commissioners propose could lead to denial of payment for medical care in some circumstances.
In regard to “death panels” the AP makes the same mistake made by every other commentator on this issue. It’s time to set the record straight. Yes, it’s true there were no “death panel” provisions in the Affordable Care Act, but it’s also true Palin’s statements were never, ever aimed at a specific provision in the bill. They were always intended as statements about the dangers of turning health care over to government bureaucrats. Let’s lay out the facts in detail and try to put down this pernicious media created myth.
Sarah Palin’s “death panels” comment appeared on Facebook on Friday August 7th, 2009. The post makes no mention of any specific element of the bill. Instead it directs readers to view [a] of Michele Bachmann on the the house floor...
As you can see, Bachmann is referencing this article by Betsy McCaughey which brought to light remarks made by Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel. Palin mentions Dr. Emmanuel’s remarks in the midst of her Facebook post, but both her opening and concluding paragraph makes it clear that her “death panels” statement is ultimately her worry about what could happen after a government takeover of heath care:
The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course…
Nationalizing our health care system is a point of no return for government interference in the lives of its citizens. If we go down this path, there will be no turning back.
Later the same day, Dave Weigel noted part of Palin’s Facebook post. He did not cite “death panels” but did copy the part about Dr. Emmanuel. Liberal site TPM picked it up from Weigel but chose to highlight the paragraph about “death panels” instead. By 7PM that day, blogger Andrew Sullivan was linking to TPM and highlighting the death panels statement, labeling it a “mix of camp and high farce.” Crooks and liars was even more outraged, though mostly that Palin would use her son to make a political point.
By the next day, conservative Ann Althouse was writing to counter the wave of liberal outrage by attempting to put Palin’s statement back in context:
She doesn’t say that the government will kill disabled (or elderly) persons directly, but that death will occur as a result of the decisions of cost controlling bureaucrats with the power to determine who can receive various treatments. I don’t know why “level of productivity in society” is in quotes, nor do I know whether it is the plan to ration care on this basis. Those are actually serious matters, and I’d like to know the answers.
That same day conservative blogger William Jacobson explained how the idea of value based health rationing could be derived from Dr. Emanuel’s published work:
These critics, however, didn’t take the time to find out to what Palin was referring when she used the term “level of productivity in society” as being the basis for determining access to medical care. If the critics, who hold themselves in the highest of intellectual esteem, had bothered to do something other than react, they would have realized that the approach to health care to which Palin was referring was none other than that espoused by key Obama health care adviser Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel (brother of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel). The article in which Dr. Emanuel puts forth his approach is “Principles for Allocation of Scarce Medical Interventions,” published on January 31, 2009.
A day later, top conservative blogger and author Michelle Malkin posted a series of links to published horror stories about the NHS (Britain’s socialized health service). Malkin echoed Palin’s original Facebook posting when she wrote “the effects of socialized medicine in Britain — engineered by government-run cost-cutting panels on which Obamacare would be modeled — continue to wreak havoc on the elderly and infirm.”
The same day as Malkin’s post (Sunday), George Stephanopolous asked Newt Gingrich to defend Palin’s comments on This Week. George advances what would become the liberal line saying “it’s not in the bill” but Newt responds that this is not about a single provision, it’s about trusting the government to make health spending decisions. You can watch the exchange here.
There were many prominent voices on the right who understood that Palin was expressing a fear about nationalized health care in general and not a criticism of a specific proposal. But the liberal media continued to miss the point. By the next day, August 10th, 2009, two powerful media outlets solidified the false idea that Palin’s “death panels” comment was a reference to specific provisions in the bill. First Ezra Klein posted an interview on his Washington Post blog which began:
Sarah Palin’s belief that the House health-care reform bill would create “death panels” might be particularly extreme, but she’s hardly the only person to wildly misunderstand the section of the bill ordering Medicare to cover voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions between doctors and their patients.
This could be an honest mistake. Klein may have simply conflated two separate criticisms which were making the rounds around the same time. But Klein wouldn’t have had to go very far for a hint that something was amiss. In fact, in the interview that followed that opening Senator Isakson expressed confusion about the idea that “death panels” could possibly be used as a description of end-of-life counseling:
I just had a phone call where someone said Sarah Palin’s web site had talked about the House bill having death panels on it where people would be euthanized. How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts.
Whatever his intent, the effect of Klein’s post was to solidify in many reader’s minds that Palin had said something demonstrably false about a specific provision of the bill. Later the same day, Politifact published a fact check article titled “Sarah Palin falsely claims Barack Obama runs a death panel.” From the headline on, Politifact assumes that Palin was making a factual claim about a specific provisions in the bill:
We have read all 1,000-plus pages of the Democratic bill and examined versions in various committees. There is no panel in any version of the health care bills in Congress that judges a person’s “level of productivity in society” to determine whether they are “worthy” of health care…
Only at the very end of their article to they entertain another possibility:
Conservatives might make a case that Palin is justified in fearing that the current reform could one day morph into such a board. But that’s not what Palin said. She said that the Democratic plan will ration care and “my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’…”
She did say the Democratic plan would ration care and as the AP story at the top of this post shows, the first part of what Palin warned about is already on the horizon. But Palin did not specify a date when her parents or her baby would face the prospect of “death panels.” The overall context of her statement makes clear that this is somewhere down the line (the bill hadn’t even passed yet), but by sticking to this one sentence of her multi-paragraph Facebook post, Politifact twists her warnings about the future of nationalized care into a definitive, time-limited statement.
The next day, August 11th, the White House pounced on Palin. Speaking at a town hall even in New Hampshire, President Obama said:
The rumor that’s been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for “death panels” that will basically pull the plug on grandma … this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready, on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything. This is I guess where the rumor came from.
Like Ezra Klein, the President was wrong about where the phrase “death panels” came from. It’s certainly possible that this was another honest mistake, a matter of accidentally conflating two separate criticisms of the bill. Then again, it may be that the White House chose to embrace Politifact’s line of reasoning because it allowed them to make a categorical statement, i.e. Palin is wrong, rather than discuss the more nuanced future of socialized medicine.
The next day, 08/12/09, Palin responded to President Obama and clarified the meaning of the phrase “death panels.” After a discussion of the end-of-life counseling present in the bill, she went on to say:
Of course, it’s not just this one provision that presents a problem. My original comments concerned statements made by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a health policy advisor to President Obama and the brother of the President’s chief of staff. Dr. Emanuel has written that some medical services should not be guaranteed to those “who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens….An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia.” [10] Dr. Emanuel has also advocated basing medical decisions on a system which “produces a priority curve on which individuals aged between roughly 15 and 40 years get the most chance, whereas the youngest and oldest people get chances that are attenuated.”
But her explanation was overlooked by the press, which was sold on the narrative about “death panels” not appearing in the bill. A month later, Palin tried again to clarify what she meant by the term. Speaking at a high profile event in Hong Kong on 09/23/09, the Wall Street Journal reported her saying:
I seem to have acquired notoriety in national debate. And all because of two words: death panels. And it is a serious term. It was intended to sound a warning about the rationing that is sure to follow if big government tries to simultaneously increase health care coverage while also claiming to decrease costs. Government has just got to be honest with the people about this…
To this day, the press ignores the clear history and Palin’s multiple statements about what she meant. Perhaps that’s because, taken in context, she has a point. Even Politifact, which labeled “death panels” the lie of the year, wrote this:
History professor Ian Dowbiggin, who has written several books on medical history, euthanasia and eugenics, said he had never heard the term before Palin used it. He said the phrase invokes images of Nazi Germany, which denied life-saving care to people who were not deemed useful enough to broader society. Adolf Hitler ordered Nazi officials to secretly register, select, and murder handicapped people such as schizophrenics, epileptics, disabled babies and other long-stay hospital patients, according to Dowbiggin.
“It’s not far-fetched to make the historical argument that as you get government more and more involved in health care, you create an environment that is more hospitable to the legalization of forms of euthanasia,” Dowbiggin said. “But the Nazi example should be used very advisedly.”
Unfortunately, Politifact’s distortion of Palin’s statement went largely unchecked by other watchdogs. Even Annenberg FactCheck, which usually does a better job, dropped the ball. They reference Palin’s original Facebook clarification, but completely leave out the paragraph where she explains her broader meaning. Wouldn’t this be germane in an article about the meaning of the phrase? (Annenberg also leaves out any mention of her clarification in the Hong Kong speech.)
Palin and many other conservatives made clear at the time that “death panels” was not a criticism of a specific provision in the bill. From the moment she wrote it, “death panels” was a catch all phrase designed to highlight the real danger of putting government in charge of deciding what can be spent on health care. It was the left from the Post to the President which (accidentally or not) conflated this with claims about specific provisions in the bill. Their motive in doing so, i.e. being able to call Palin a liar, is understandable. They are, after all, partisans who wanted to see the bill pass. But one wonders why supposedly independent news organizations like the AP continue to echo this demonstrably false claim right up to today.

Charles Blow: Stop Writing About Palin Because She Likes It Too Much

From Big Journalism, Dana Loesch writes:
Charles Blow: Stop Writing About Palin Because She Likes It Too Much "
It’s like watching the Little Engine That Could, the way Charles Blow slowly comes to the realization that all the negativity that progressives have been heaping upon Sarah Palin is actually – GASP – helping her.
Because they came on too strong and too wrong. They attacked her pregnancy, her baby, her children, thereby repulsing mothers who went off to join the tea party, such was their disgust at the sexist double-standard. They printed thousands of words on her every word, followed her on her book tour, stalked her speaking appearances, her teenage daughter’s Facebook page, all the while bearing the audacity to say that she  runs the risk of “overexposure.”
Yes, she’s about as sharp as a wet balloon, but we already know that. How much more time and energy must be devoted to dissecting that?
Apparently, another two sentences, Mr. Blow. If her reasoning is so stupid, then why not use your column space to dissect her approach to energy – or economic theory, i.e. quantitative easing, gold vs. fiat, et al.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Book review: The law, marriage and other intimate relationships

In her Book review: The law, marriage and other intimate relationships, Margaret Somerville looks at a collection of essays on the institution of marriage. Lots of meaty stuff in this review.

The book’s focus is the role of the state in the recognition of intimate relationships, especially through marriage. Since the second half of the twentieth century, with the widespread legalization of divorce, changing sexual mores, and openness about homosexuality, this has been and remains a controversial topic in most Western democracies. In dealing with it, we need to ask many questions that include: Should the state be involved at all in marriage? What can the disciplines of history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology, to name just some that are relevant, tell us about marriage? What is the role of marriage in relation to children? When the “best interests” of children and the preferences of adults as to their intimate relationships conflict, which should prevail? Should common law relationships attract legal rights and responsibilities? If so, should they be the same ones that marriage implements? Should same-sex marriage be recognized in law? If so, why should two interdependent relatives, such as sisters, not receive the same privileges, protections, and benefits? Should three or more people be allowed to marry? What is the role of institutional religion in marriage? And so on.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Feds Foil Terror Plot; Firedoglake Genius Calls It “State Sponsored Terror”

The entrapment defense is in full swing.

Let's start with the ever-silly leftist take on the story:
Tonight in Portland, we had a small dose of the FBI's almost-operational terror sprees, as agents spent more than a year goading a young jihadi wannabe into almost killing thousands of Portlandians in our city's living room as we gathered for the lighting of the holiday tree.
. . . .
How long are we going to let the cowboys shoot up our country with their false terror plots and operations that would go nowhere without their instigation, planning, and coercion? How long will we allow our own federal constabulary to justify its own recklessly inflated budget by permitting actions like this to develop, fester, and grow operational in our midst?
This is terror, pure and simple. State-sponsored terror. Big-splash terror designed to make people compliant and fearful, and grateful to their federal government — in a city which has not yet installed the Rapiscan porno-scanners at our airport.
Now for the facts.
According to the story, Mohamud was corresponding with an overseas terrorist and looking for ways to become involved in "violent jihad." This is when the FBI entered the picture, with an undercover agent who pretended to be an associate of the terrorist willing to help Mohamud assemble a bomb to kill men, women and children at a Christmas tree lighting event.
According to the FBI, Mohamud had a thumb drive with detailed instructions for making the bomb. He mailed bomb components to the investigators so they could assemble the bomb. He set off a practice device. And he mailed passport photos to the investigators as part of a getaway plot. And so on and so on. He was quite serious about this.

The FBI operatives cautioned Mohamud several times about the seriousness of his plan, noting that there would be many people, including children, at the event, and that Mohamud could abandon his plans at any time with no shame.
"You know there's going to be a lot of children there?" an FBI operative asked Mohamud. "You know there are gonna be a lot of children there?"
Mohamud allegedly responded he was looking for a "huge mass that will … be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays."
If this is "entrapment," it's the kind I like: the kind that captures people willing to kill innocent women and children for jihad. By all means, let's "entrap" as many such people as possible.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Irreducible complexity cut down to size

A reply to Brian Micklethwait's post about projection

From Samizdata:
A reply to Brian Micklethwait's post about projection: "
What follows was not written by me but by a friend of mine, Niall Kilmartin. As will be apparent, he has known me since university. - NS

At the end of a recent post about lefties making laws for us because they think we're like them, Brian Micklethwait asks what similar errors we make. I think I can answer with examples from his own post.
First, he talks of gun control freaks - people so violent that if they had guns to hand during temper tantrums, they'd murder - and suggests that these people want guns banned because they think we're the same as them. Here he does have a specific, documented, public-domain example of a gun-control advocate with a domestic violence history. But let me offer a rival example.
In the week I first met Natalie Solent, she was sitting in the Oxford University D&D club chatting to two friends of mine whom she'd just met. An accident occurred outside and my friends went to help - thus incidentally establishing their bona fides as caring people to her. That situation resolved, they sat down again and - as my friends have a tendency to do, for some reason - began talking about guns. Natalie then was in some ways not Natalie as we now know her. As she told me later, if that accident hadn't happened, she would have written them off in the unthinking way of many British people: "They like guns, guns are for killing people, so they must like the idea of killing people; I'll not pursue their acquaintance."
Natalie, as she then was, is far more representative of how left-wingers think than Brian's example. No doubt Brian's example is useful in debate: 'We're not the only violent ones. In fact, we're not specially violent. In fact, if we can look at some among our opponents for a moment... '. But as regards political fundamentals, that argument is so like the left's tactics, that it's fair to use it only when debating with them. My friends' reaction to the accident persuaded Natalie to change her mind a little. You would have got nowhere with her by saying, 'You only think that because you're so violent yourself'. It would be very like some accusations against the Tea Party: propaganda failures because it is so obvious to Tea Partiers and their friends that they are not true.
Brian's next illustration is even worse, because he has no public domain example, just speculation about some guy who thinks homosexuality will destroy civilization if tolerated because it would destroy his mental equilibrium if he tolerated it. In a world of ten thousand million (is it?) human beings, this guy may well exist. But in my (far from complete) knowledge of the Anglosphere public domain, past and present, I cannot offhand come up with an example. I can however think of counter-examples.
Before we meet them, however, let's meet a counter-argument. Turn the argument about homophobes being repressed homosexuals around and assert that homosexuals are really repressed gynophobes or androphobes. Here I can think of public domain examples. Women staff at Bletchley Park said that if a woman so much as spoke to Alan Turing when he was not expecting it, he would visibly shrink into himself in alarm. When the gynophobia is in itself so clear, it's a fair diagnosis that the homoerotic symptoms are mere side-effects.
Now look instead at, for example, Noel Coward. If I were willing to argue like a leftie, I could diagnose gynophobia. Think of his joke about the queen of Tonga at the coronation. As the enormous queen and diminutive ambassador from Pakistan passed in their shared carriage, someone asked him who that was with Queen Salote: 'Oh, I think that's her lunch.' Think of the plot of Blythe Spirit: the two women make the man's life hell quarrelling over him and eventually kill him. A clear diagnosis of gynophobia? Or a clear diagnosis of comic genius? Certainly, if Noel Coward was terrified of women, he handled it very much better than Alan Turing - unless you claim his homosexuality shows his bad handling of it, but then we're into circular reasoning.
In short, a hand-count of examples of people who are or may be assuming that laws should be written to deal with people like themselves does not a true-for-all-cases proof make. Arguing with some supporter of Canada's current laws against hate speech, I'd think it very fair to push Brian's argument. But with anyone more reasonable, I would not pretend to know things I don't know.
But as I said, I can offer counter-examples as well as counter-arguments. Many decades ago, my mother was raised, in humble circumstances, in a very straitlaced small Scottish town, attending the local school, but when she was 13 years old, she knew plenty about homosexuality - because she had a classical education. And there was nothing unusual about this level of classical knowledge even among ordinary people: many of you will know the In Parenthesis anecdote about the WWI Welsh private assigned to latrine duty who defended the utility of his task with the words 'Don't you know the army of Artaxerxes was utterly destroyed for lack of sanitation?' (I love this anecdote because it's so easy to say 'for lack of sanitation' in an appropriately-Welsh accent.)
My mother, aged 13, imagined that homosexuality was one of those things, like polytheism, human sacrifice and slavery, that had been common in the past but had died out under the beneficent influence of Christianity. Not that anyone told her that - it was a 13-year old's way of understanding what she was taught in the light of where and when she lived. (My mother aged 16 had become aware that 'died out' was putting it too strongly.) Until half a century ago there were many people like her - people who were not taught to respect Socrates because he was homosexual, any more than they were taught to respect him because he owned slaves, or worshipped Zeus and Athena. Although they saw homosexuality as a perversion, they were taught to respect Socrates, and to see Athens killing him as a tragedy - not as good riddance to a nasty pervert. They knew exactly what they believed, but they were also taught to know intimately and respect a culture, and people in that culture, who had very different values from theirs.
Now imagine presenting to these past people - who would certainly fail the Haringey council 'anti-homophobia' test or similar - the idea that they believed what they did because they thought tolerated homosexuality would destroy civilization. They would have thought of two responses.
- They would have thought of Sparta, where the idea that homosexuality destroyed a civilization is a possible thesis. The Spartans made homosexuality obligatory for their military training, and (uniquely amongst Greeks), had a positive, rather than just contemptuously tolerant, view of female homosexuality. The Spartans suffered a 90% decline in their citizen body during the classical period; eventually it destroyed the old Sparta. The Spartans had customs - marriage-by-capture, willingness to let visiting nobles sleep with their wives - which it's easy to explain by saying that their homosexuality was easier to learn in their teens than unlearn when it was time to procreate. So yes, if it is promoted enough, our ancestors would have argued, homosexuality can indeed destroy a civilization.
- But they would have set this level high, because they would also have thought of Athens. In Athens, philosophers taught that men who desired other men showed better taste than men who desired those inferior creatures, women. (And so women who desired women showed bad taste, but then women were inferior, so they would sometimes show bad taste - no need to get in a tiz about it.) Athens did not suffer a decline in its citizen body. If Athens destroyed itself - as one can argue it did - it was for other reasons. Just as with teenage-Natalie and guns above, so for our ancestors - and, today, for those who reject political correctness - Brain's explanation is simply an irrelevance.
These I think show ways in which we can avoid the vulgarities of left-wing argumentative methods. When you're forced to debate with such people, it may be fair to use their own tactics of pick the (unrepresentative) example or even invent the hypothetical (irrelevant) example. With anyone fairer, understand what they believe and the reasons why they do.
So much for Brian's post. One last reflection: writing this raised a question for me - and gave me my answer. People who defend Canada's anti-free-speech laws say they must because the alternative is the laws of the past. I'm sure that's just another of the lies the left uses to keep us in line. But suppose (God forbid!) they forced me to believe it? Suppose I had to choose between evils: between Canada's laws today and the laws of my mother's youth? Actual sex acts are by their nature private. Free speech is by its nature public - more effectively subject to law. In his first letter on the French revolution, Burke lists requirements for liberty: '... a simple citizen may decently express his sentiments upon public affairs ... even though against a predominant and fashionable opinion...'. So I have my answer.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Optimism in Evolution

Working my way up the spindle...

Subject: [DebunkCreation] Optimism in Evolution

Optimism in Evolution

When the dog days of summer come to an end, one thing we can be sure of is that the school year that follows will see more fights over the teaching of evolution and whether intelligent design, or even Biblical accounts of creation, have a place in America's science classrooms.

In these arguments, evolution is treated as an abstract subject that deals with the age of the earth or how fish first flopped onto land. It's discussed as though it were an optional, quaint and largely irrelevant part of biology. And a common consequence of the arguments is that evolution gets dropped from the curriculum entirely.

This is a travesty.

It is also dangerous.

Evolution should be taught — indeed, it should be central to beginning biology classes — for at least three reasons.

First, it provides a powerful framework for investigating the world we live in. Without evolution, biology is merely a collection of disconnected facts, a set of descriptions. The astonishing variety of nature, from the tree shrew that guzzles vast quantities of alcohol every night to the lichens that grow in the Antarctic wastes, cannot be probed and understood. Add evolution — and it becomes possible to make inferences and predictions and (sometimes) to do experiments to test those predictions. All of a sudden patterns emerge everywhere, and apparently trivial details become interesting.

The second reason for teaching evolution is that the subject is immediately relevant here and now. The impact we are having on the planet is causing other organisms to evolve — and fast. And I'm not talking just about the obvious examples: widespread resistance to pesticides among insects; the evolution of drug resistance in the agents of disease, from malaria to tuberculosis; the possibility that, say, the virus that causes bird flu will evolve into a form that spreads easily from person to person. The impact we are having is much broader.

For instance, we are causing animals to evolve just by hunting them. The North Atlantic cod fishery has caused the evolution of cod that mature smaller and younger than they did 40 years ago. Fishing for grayling in Norwegian lakes has caused a similar pattern in these fish. Human trophy hunting for bighorn rams has caused the population to evolve into one of smaller-horn rams. (All of which, incidentally, is in line with evolutionary predictions.)

Conversely, hunting animals to extinction may cause evolution in their former prey species. Experiments on guppies have shown that, without predators, these fish evolve more brightly colored scales, mature later, bunch together in shoals less and lose their ability to suddenly swim away from something. Such changes can happen in fewer than five generations. If you then reintroduce some predators, the population typically goes extinct.

Thus, a failure to consider the evolution of other species may result in a failure of our efforts to preserve them. And, perhaps, to preserve ourselves from diseases, pests and food shortages. In short, evolution is far from being a remote and abstract subject. A failure to teach it may leave us unprepared for the challenges ahead.

The third reason to teach evolution is more philosophical. It concerns the development of an attitude toward evidence. In his book, "The Republican War on Science," the journalist Chris Mooney argues persuasively that a contempt for scientific evidence — or indeed, evidence of any kind — has permeated the Bush administration's policies, from climate change to sex education, from drilling for oil to the war in Iraq. A dismissal of evolution is an integral part of this general attitude.

Moreover, since the science classroom is where a contempt for evidence is often first encountered, it is also arguably where it first begins to be cultivated. A society where ideology is a substitute for evidence can go badly awry. (This is not to suggest that science is never distorted by the ideological left; it sometimes is, and the results are no better.)

But for me, the most important thing about studying evolution is something less tangible. It's that the endeavor contains a profound optimism. It means that when we encounter something in nature that is complicated or mysterious, such as the flagellum of a bacteria or the light made by a firefly, we don't have to shrug our shoulders in bewilderment.

Instead, we can ask how it got to be that way. And if at first it seems so complicated that the evolutionary steps are hard to work out, we have an invitation to imagine, to play, to experiment and explore.  To my mind, this only enhances the wonder.

Olivia Judson, a contributing columnist for The Times, writes The Wild Side at

God Centers in the Brain

This, from the Economist:

Where angels no longer fear to tread
Mar 19th 2008
From The Economist print edition

Science and religion have often been at loggerheads. Now the former has decided to resolve the problem by trying to explain the existence of the latter

Illustration by Stephen Jeffrey
BY THE standards of European scientific collaboration, €2m ($3.1m) is not a huge sum. But it might be the start of something that will challenge human perceptions of reality at least as much as the billions being spent by the European particle-physics laboratory (CERN) at Geneva. The first task of CERN's new machine, the Large Hadron Collider, which is due to open later this year, will be to search for the Higgs boson—an object that has been dubbed, with a certain amount of hyperbole, the God particle. The €2m, by contrast, will be spent on the search for God Himself—or, rather, for the biological reasons why so many people believe in God, gods and religion in general.
"Explaining Religion", as the project is known, is the largest-ever scientific study of the subject. It began last September, will run for three years, and involves scholars from 14 universities and a range of disciplines from psychology to economics. And it is merely the latest manifestation of a growing tendency for science to poke its nose into the God business. Click Here!
Religion cries out for a biological explanation. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon—arguably one of the species markers of Homo sapiens—but a puzzling one. It has none of the obvious benefits of that other marker of humanity, language. Nevertheless, it consumes huge amounts of resources. Moreover, unlike language, it is the subject of violent disagreements. Science has, however, made significant progress in understanding the biology of language, from where it is processed in the brain to exactly how it communicates meaning. Time, therefore, to put religion under the microscope as well.

I have no need of that hypothesis

Explaining Religion is an ambitious attempt to do this. The experiments it will sponsor are designed to look at the mental mechanisms needed to represent an omniscient deity, whether (and how) belief in such a "surveillance-camera" God might improve reproductive success to an individual's Darwinian advantage, and whether religion enhances a person's reputation—for instance, do people think that those who believe in God are more trustworthy than those who do not? The researchers will also seek to establish whether different religions foster different levels of co-operation, for what reasons, and whether such co-operation brings collective benefits, both to the religious community and to those outside it.
It is an ambitious shopping list. Fortunately, other researchers have blazed a trail. Patrick McNamara, for example, is the head of the Evolutionary Neurobehaviour Laboratory at Boston University's School of Medicine. He works with people who suffer from Parkinson's disease. This illness is caused by low levels of a messenger molecule called dopamine in certain parts of the brain. In a preliminary study, Dr McNamara discovered that those with Parkinson's had lower levels of religiosity than healthy individuals, and that the difference seemed to correlate with the disease's severity. He therefore suspects a link with dopamine levels and is now conducting a follow-up involving some patients who are taking dopamine-boosting medicine and some of whom are not.
Such neurochemical work, though preliminary, may tie in with scanning studies conducted to try to find out which parts of the brain are involved in religious experience. Nina Azari, a neuroscientist at the University of Hawaii at Hilo who also has a doctorate in theology, has looked at the brains of religious people. She used positron emission tomography (PET) to measure brain activity in six fundamentalist Christians and six non-religious (though not atheist) controls. The Christians all said that reciting the first verse of the 23rd psalm helped them enter a religious state of mind, so both groups were scanned in six different sets of circumstances: while reading the first verse of the 23rd psalm, while reciting it out loud, while reading a happy story (a well-known German children's rhyme), while reciting that story out loud, while reading a neutral text (how to use a calling card) and while at rest.
Dr Azari was expecting to see activity in the limbic systems of the Christians when they recited the psalm. Previous research had suggested that this part of the brain (which regulates emotion) is an important centre of religious activity. In fact what happened was increased activity in three areas of the frontal and parietal cortex, some of which are better known for their involvement in rational thought. The control group did not show activity in these parts of their brains when listening to the psalm. And, intriguingly, the only thing that triggered limbic activity in either group was reading the happy story.
Dr Azari's PET study, together with one by Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania, which used single-photon emission computed tomography done on Buddhist monks, and another by Mario Beauregard of the University of Montreal, which put Carmelite nuns in a magnetic-resonance-imaging machine, all suggest that religious activity is spread across many parts of the brain. That conflicts not only with the limbic-system theory but also with earlier reports of a so-called God Spot that derived partly from work conducted on epileptics. These reports suggested that religiosity originates specifically in the brain's temporal lobe, and that religious visions are the result of epileptic seizures that affect this part of the brain.
Though there is clearly still a long way to go, this sort of imaging should eventually tie down the circuitry of religious experience and that, combined with work on messenger molecules of the sort that Dr McNamara is doing, will illuminate how the brain generates and processes religious experiences. Dr Azari, however, is sceptical that such work will say much about religion's evolution and function. For this, other methods are needed.
Dr McNamara, for example, plans to analyse a database called the Ethnographic Atlas to see if he can find any correlations between the amount of cultural co-operation found in a society and the intensity of its religious rituals. And Richard Sosis, an anthropologist at the University of Connecticut, has already done some research which suggests that the long-term co-operative benefits of religion outweigh the short-term costs it imposes in the form of praying many times a day, avoiding certain foods, fasting and so on.

Leviticus's children

On the face of things, it is puzzling that such costly behaviour should persist. Some scholars, however, draw an analogy with sexual selection. The splendour of a peacock's tail and the throaty roar of a stag really do show which males are fittest, and thus help females choose. Similarly, signs of religious commitment that are hard to fake provide a costly and reliable signal to others in a group that anyone engaging in them is committed to that group. Free-riders, in other words, would not be able to gain the advantages of group membership.
To test whether religion might have emerged as a way of improving group co-operation while reducing the need to keep an eye out for free-riders, Dr Sosis drew on a catalogue of 19th-century American communes published in 1988 by Yaacov Oved of Tel Aviv University. Dr Sosis picked 200 of these for his analysis; 88 were religious and 112 were secular. Dr Oved's data include the span of each commune's existence and Dr Sosis found that communes whose ideology was secular were up to four times as likely as religious ones to dissolve in any given year.
A follow-up study that Dr Sosis conducted in collaboration with Eric Bressler of McMaster University in Canada focused on 83 of these communes (30 religious, 53 secular) to see if the amount of time they survived correlated with the strictures and expectations they imposed on the behaviour of their members. The two researchers examined things like food consumption, attitudes to material possessions, rules about communication, rituals and taboos, and rules about marriage and sexual relationships.
As they expected, they found that the more constraints a religious commune placed on its members, the longer it lasted (one is still going, at the grand old age of 149). But the same did not hold true of secular communes, where the oldest was 40. Dr Sosis therefore concludes that ritual constraints are not by themselves enough to sustain co-operation in a community—what is needed in addition is a belief that those constraints are sanctified.
Dr Sosis has also studied modern secular and religious kibbutzim in Israel. Because a kibbutz, by its nature, depends on group co-operation, the principal difference between the two is the use of religious ritual. Within religious communities, men are expected to pray three times daily in groups of at least ten, while women are not. It should, therefore, be possible to observe whether group rituals do improve co-operation, based on the behaviour of men and women.
To do so, Dr Sosis teamed up with Bradley Ruffle, an economist at Ben-Gurion University, in Israel. They devised a game to be played by two members of a kibbutz. This was a variant of what is known to economists as the common-pool-resource dilemma, which involves two people trying to divide a pot of money without knowing how much the other is asking for. In the version of the game devised by Dr Sosis and Dr Ruffle, each participant was told that there was an envelope with 100 shekels in it (between 1/6th and 1/8th of normal monthly income). Both players could request money from the envelope, but if the sum of their requests exceeded its contents, neither got any cash. If, however, their request equalled, or was less than, the 100 shekels, not only did they keep the money, but the amount left was increased by 50% and split between them.
Dr Sosis and Dr Ruffle picked the common-pool-resource dilemma because the communal lives of kibbutz members mean they often face similar dilemmas over things such as communal food, power and cars. The researchers' hypothesis was that in religious kibbutzim men would be better collaborators (and thus would take less) than women, while in secular kibbutzim men and women would take about the same. And that was exactly what happened.

Big father is watching you

Dr Sosis is not the only researcher to employ economic games to investigate the nature and possible advantages of religion. Ara Norenzayan, an experimental psychologist at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, has conducted experiments using what is known as the dictator game. This, too, is a well-established test used to gauge altruistic behaviour. Participants receive a sum of money—Dr Norenzayan set it at $10—and are asked if they would like to share it with another player. The dictator game thus differs from another familiar economic game in which one person divides the money and the other decides whether to accept or reject that division.
As might be expected, in the simple version of the dictator game most people take most or all of the money. However, Dr Norenzayan and his graduate student Azim Shariff tried to tweak the game by introducing the idea of God. They did this by priming half of their volunteers to think about religion by getting them to unscramble sentences containing religious words such as God, spirit, divine, sacred and prophet. Those thus primed left an average of $4.22, while the unprimed left $1.84.
Exactly what Dr Norenzayan has discovered here is not clear. A follow-up experiment which primed people with secular words that might, nevertheless, have prompted them to behave in an altruistic manner (civic, jury, court, police and contract) had similar effects, so it may be that he has touched on a general question of morality, rather than a specific one of religion. However, an experiment carried out by Jesse Bering, of Queen's University in Belfast, showed quite specifically that the perceived presence of a supernatural being can affect a person's behaviour—although in this case the being was not God, but the ghost of a dead person.
Illustration by Stephen Jeffrey
Dr Bering, too, likes the hypothesis that religion promotes fitness by promoting collaboration within groups. One way that might work would be to rely not just on other individuals to detect cheats by noticing things like slacking on the prayers or eating during fasts, but for cheats to detect and police themselves as well. In that case a sense of being watched by a supernatural being might be useful. Dr Bering thus proposes that belief in such beings would prevent what he called "dangerous risk miscalculations" that would lead to social deviance and reduced fitness.
One of the experiments he did to test this idea was to subject a bunch of undergraduates to a quiz. His volunteers were told that the best performer among them would receive a $50 prize. They were also told that the computer program that presented the questions had a bug in it, which sometimes caused the answer to appear on the screen before the question. The volunteers were therefore instructed to hit the space bar immediately if the word "Answer" appeared on the screen. That would remove the answer and ensure the test results were fair.
The volunteers were then divided into three groups. Two began by reading a note dedicating the test to a recently deceased graduate student. One did not see the note. Of the two groups shown the note, one was told by the experimenter that the student's ghost had sometimes been seen in the room. The other group was not given this suggestion.
The so-called glitch occurred five times for each student. Dr Bering measured the amount of time it took to press the space bar on each occasion. He discarded the first result as likely to be unreliable and then averaged the other four. He found that those who had been told the ghost story were much quicker to press the space bar than those who had not. They did so in an average of 4.3 seconds. That compared with 6.3 seconds for those who had only read the note about the student's death and 7.2 for those who had not heard any of the story concerning the dead student. In short, awareness of a ghost—a supernatural agent—made people less likely to cheat.

Who is my neighbour?

It all sounds very Darwinian. But there is a catch. The American communes, the kibbutzim, the students of the University of British Columbia and even the supernatural self-censorship observed by Dr Bering all seem to involve behaviour that promotes the group over the individual. That is the opposite of Darwinism as conventionally understood. But it might be explained by an idea that most Darwinians dropped in the 1960s—group selection.
The idea that evolution can work by the differential survival of entire groups of organisms, rather than just of individuals, was rejected because it is mathematically implausible. But it has been revived recently, in particular by David Sloan Wilson of Binghamton University, in New York, as a way of explaining the evolution of human morality in the context of inter-tribal warfare. Such warfare can be so murderous that groups whose members fail to collaborate in an individually self-sacrificial way may be wiped out entirely. This negates the benefits of selfish behaviour within a group. Morality and religion are often closely connected, of course (as Dr Norenzayan's work confirms), so what holds for the one might be expected to hold for the other, too.
Dr Wilson himself has studied the relationship between social insecurity and religious fervour, and discovered that, regardless of the religion in question, it is the least secure societies that tend to be most fundamentalist. That would make sense if adherence to the rules is a condition for the security which comes from membership of a group. He is also interested in what some religions hold out as the ultimate reward for good behaviour—life after death. That can promote any amount of self-sacrifice in a believer, up to and including suicidal behaviour—as recent events in the Islamic world have emphasised. However, belief in an afterlife is not equally well developed in all religions, and he suspects the differences may be illuminating.
That does not mean there are no explanations for religion that are based on individual selection. For example, Jason Slone, a professor of religious studies at Webster University in St Louis, argues that people who are religious will be seen as more likely to be faithful and to help in parenting than those who are not. That makes them desirable as mates. He plans to conduct experiments designed to find out whether this is so. And, slightly tongue in cheek, Dr Wilson quips that "secularism is very maladaptive biologically. We're the ones who at best are having only two kids. Religious people are the ones who aren't smoking and drinking, and are living longer and having the health benefits."
That quip, though, makes an intriguing point. Evolutionary biologists tend to be atheists, and most would be surprised if the scientific investigation of religion did not end up supporting their point of view. But if a propensity to religious behaviour really is an evolved trait, then they have talked themselves into a position where they cannot benefit from it, much as a sceptic cannot benefit from the placebo effect of homeopathy. Maybe, therefore, it is God who will have the last laugh after all—whether He actually exists or not.

Back to top ^^

Patterico on Obama

From way down at the bottom of the spindle....

3/18/2008: Fisking Obama's Speech Today — Didn't See It, Just Reading The Text

Posted By WLS:
I'm in no way enamored of Obama — neither his style nor his politics.
So, I'm looking at his speech with a very jaundiced eye.  And there are lots of things I don't particularly like in the text:
I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together
 From what I've read over the last few days, he didn't learn "togetherness" as a method of problem solving from Rev. Wright.

Family, Marriage, and Law

Apparently, international law is not terribly gender-neutral with respect to marriage.  Rita Joseph sets out "twelve facts" about family and marriage, including:

2. Article 23 of the ICCPR guarantees, first, protection by society and the state for the family as "the natural and fundamental group unit of society" and second, "the right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family".

3. In the event of the introduction of State or Territory laws that tamper with these protections, the Federal parliament has a constitutional external powers authority (and duty) to enact a general overriding law restoring marriage and family obligations originally promised in Article 23.

4. This article, according to the UN Human Rights Committee (General Comment 19), "implies, in principle, the possibility to procreate". (A General Comment is the most authoritative of all the prescriptions that may be issued by the UN human rights monitoring bodies.)

5. With specific regard to "the right to marry and to found a family", there is, of course, no requirement to procreate but rather a more exacting requirement for the two rights holders of this right to have "in principle, the possibility to procreate" through their marriage. This term, "in principle, the possibility to procreate", rules out definitively any genuine legal right of two persons of the same sex to marry.
10. Promoting same-sex "marriage" contravenes international human rights obligations for governments to provide "the widest possible protection and assistance" for the family, "particularly for its establishment" as "the natural and fundamental group unit of society" (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Article 10).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pew + Marriage = Confusion

Pew + Marriage = Confusion: "Once again, the Pew Foundation has come out with a poll that has given liberals a sound bite moment. You've probably heard that 39% of Americans said that marriage is becoming obsolete."
It seems odd that in four years, the number of Americans who reject marriage would increase threefold. Perhaps the apparent change is due to how the Pew poll question was worded. The actual question was "Some people say that the present institution of marriage is becoming obsolete -- do you agree or disagree?" The first thing to note is that this is a push-poll type of question: the wording is going to raise concern in some individuals about being out of step or controversial if they disagree with the question's premise. After all, studies have shown that people will lie to pollsters to avoid appearing reactionary.
Sometimes, I cause all kinds of trouble by answering precisely the question asked, which is not always the question someone intended to ask.
"Some people say that the present institution of marriage is becoming obsolete -- do you agree or disagree?" — Um... "agree or disagree" with what? What they said? Or that they said it?

MercatorNet: Marriage is no place for me-too-ism

Why have marriage as a legal institution at all? I'm no longer the only one asking that question. MercatorNet: Marriage is no place for me-too-ism

Before you start telling me that refusing to recognise same-sex marriage is a breach of human rights, you need to explain what you understand marriage to be, and why you think it’s a good idea in the first place. You need to explain what the key characteristics of marriage are (or should be), and why each of those characteristics is essential. You need to explain why you think it is appropriate that marriage should form part of our legal framework at all.

In short, you need to justify – from scratch – this strange public institution by which you would have two persons publicly promise to remain exclusively faithful to one another for their entire lives, for better or for worse. In any other context, such an all-encompassing promise would be regarded with suspicion, incredulity, even cynicism. In this debate, we can’t keep ignoring the proverbial pink elephant in the room.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Scooter Libby's Bigger Picture

Quin Hillyer writes at The American Spectator: Scooter Libby's Bigger Picture
Libby's lawyers had argued that he did not commit perjury because he testified as accurately as possible about a conversation that, months later, different people could legitimately remember differently. My column makes the case that Libby never should have been convicted. So did several other excellent pieces. Libby did not perjure himself or obstruct justice. Period.
What is clear is that prosecutor Fitzgerald's theory was that Libby invented and lied about the information coming from Russert in order to excuse subsequent mentions of Plame to the New York Times' Judith Miller and Time magazine's Matthew Cooper. But the judge and jury threw out the charges relating to Cooper and Miller: Libby was innocent on those counts. In that case, though, why would Libby have made up the bit about Russert, months later, if he had no reason to try to hide something else the jury concluded he didn't do?

The man had no reason to lie or to knowingly deceive the FBI or the courts. He quite literally had no motive.
But a Special Prosecutor had been appointed, and millions of dollars spent finding a culprit. Someone had to be found guilty of something.
AS for the WMD question:
Here's what the official Robb-Silberman commission that later looked into the WMD question found out:
The intelligence community had learned a hard lesson after the 1991 Gulf War, which revealed that the intelligence community's pre-war assessments had underestimated Iraq's nuclear program and had failed to identify all its chemical weapons sites. Intelligence analysts [HILLYER NOTE: intelligence analysts, not political pressure from the V-P's office] were determined not to fall victim again to the same mistake…. Collectors and analysts too readily accepted any evidence that supported their theory that Iraq had stockpiles and was developing weapons programs…. For good reason, it was hard to conclude that Saddam Hussein had indeed abandoned his weapons programs.
In short, the simple fact is that Ambassador Wilson's fulminations about the "16 words" were almost irrelevant. So much evidence led so many intelligence analysts and agencies into believing that Iraq had WMD that the Bush statement about uranium was mere icing not on, but in the guise of, the yellowcake.

What for strange reasons has never received the attention necessary is that American forces did actually find WMD materials after toppling Saddam Hussein. As Deroy Murdock has noted in several columns, Iraq still possessed mustard and sarin nerve agent, low-enriched uranium, and live botulinum toxin. For what it's worth, Iraq also operated a terrorist training camp just south of Baghdad called Salman Pak, and it knowingly harbored some terrorists and provided material support to many others. It repeatedly violated United Nations sanctions and repeatedly fired on American planes enforcing the "no-fly zone." And it had a history of gassing its own people.

All of which makes all of Scooter Libby's deep concerns abut Iraq, and his actions and those of the whole Bush administration, not sinister or in any way dishonest but instead understandable and even wise efforts to protect Americans from deadly future attacks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Moon vs Muslims

Skepticlawyer » The Higher Criticism
I think one of the program items at Loscon is a "The Myth of Fannish Tolerance" panel.

Until I was published, I had not experienced that phenomenon known as ‘the literary festival’ or the ‘science fiction convention’ or the ‘[insert favoured genre here] convention’. They are–for one who hasn’t encountered them before–strange beasts, not entirely to be trusted. Like all large, loosely organised events, they are prone to ideological capture, something I soon learnt to my cost (viz, ‘help, I’m the only non-leftie in the room!’).
Seldom, however, do they descend to the level of ideological cant evinced by the Wiscon Science Fiction Convention in its treatment of leading science fiction author Elizabeth Moon. Here is Russell Blackford’s account of events:
Here is the thoughtful, rather temperately-worded blog piece by Elizabeth Moon that led to her being disinvited as a guest of honour at the feminist science fiction convention, Wiscon 35 (to be held in May next year in Madison, Wisconsin). Moon is actually much less temperate about people like me, i.e. baby boomers, than she is about Muslims (I have no idea what her opening sentences are all about, but do read on). However, her remarks on Muslims in America were apparently considered so inflammatory that she was no longer a viable guest of honour for a relatively small convention held in a relatively small American city.
Like Russell, I agree that Moon’s piece is temperate and thoughtful. I disagree with much of what she says, but that’s because she’s coming from a position that I’d describe as ‘liberal left’. I think, for example, that she mischaracterizes libertarians, although I do concede that there is some terrible hypocrisy in the Tea Party movement, especially over welfare (en brief, many conservative Tea Partiers think they should be paid welfare for their large families, and that single mothers should not). One thing I do find extraordinary: the criticism of her for closing the thread and deleting comments after she was subjected to abuse. Believe me, anyone who does that here will get me doing my ‘libertarian property dance’ and will be SOONED into submission. Our blog, our rules.
However, not only was she disinvited by Wiscon:
Her post was, apparently, “an anti-Muslim rant”. No, actually, it wasn’t; as anyone who reads it—and whose cognition is not stuck somewhere within their own posterior—can tell for themselves.
Moon’s piece promulgates a mild form of assimilation policy, one that would be familiar to many Australians (and Americans). She is intelligently critical of Islam from an explicitly feminist perspective...