Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio?

Former FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt, 91, came out as "Deep Throat"today. The nation owes him a debt of gratitude for putting truth and country first at considerable personal risk. Without him, it is entirely possible that Nixon's lies and subversion of the constitution would have gravely injured the Republic.

We could use some more brave souls to reveal all the crap the current group is pulling? Of course it would help to have a press that cared.

Getting rid of the independent counsel statute turned out to be a big mistake. I hope that if Dem's ever regain control, they will reinstitute it, possibly with some safeguards against frivolous fishing expeditions like Ken Starr's.

Christian Sentiment?

George Bush must love America's enemies - he's made so many of them.

From the WaPo's story on his Press Conference today.

President Bush today dismissed as "absurd" a charge by Amnesty International that his administration has created "the gulag of our times" at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and he asserted that allegations of mistreatment have originated from detainees who "hate America" and are trained to lie
And, oh yeah, American soldiers, the FBI, the Red Cross...

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Rich get ... Personal Chefs

From the NYT contiuing coverage of Class in America.

Increasingly, the nation's richest are spending their money on personal services or exclusive experiences and isolating themselves from the masses in ways that go beyond building gated walls.

These Americans employ about 9,000 personal chefs, up from about 400 just 10 years ago, according to the American Personal Chef Association.

Crime and Abortion

No doubt the most controversial chapter in Freakonomics, reviewed below, concerns the link between Roe vs. Wade and the huge drop in crime that occurred in the 1990's. Leavitt make the case that a large fraction of that drop was due to Roe vs. Wade's legalization of abortion, and the resulting boom in abortions among precisely those women whose children are most likely to go on to criminal careers: poor, uneducated, unmarried and otherwise disadvantaged.

His argument rests on the following points: 1)The chronological correlation - crime started dropping precisely when that cohort of children would have entered their peak criminal years, moreover, in states that legalized abortion about 3-4 years earlier, the decline started about 3-4 years earlier. Similar effect were found in other countries. 2) The observed fact that those women whose children were statistically most likely to become criminals were those who had most of the abortions. 3) The decline in crime was observed almost entirely in the age cohort of the unborn. Other statistical tests are applied and the theory passes those too.

Leavitt makes the point that this effect does not justify abortion, especially to someone who considers abortion itself a crime. On the other hand, he also notes that the results suggest that the women who decided to have abortions made an accurate accessment of their chances of successfully raising a child.

These results are offensive both to some liberals as well as social conservatives, and that makes them controversial. I was initially skeptical, but came away convinced.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Good Wine in a Dumb Bottle

Freakonomics, a Review.

Book Title: Dumb

Book Subtitle (A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything): Dumber

Chapter Titles: Really Dumb

Italicized text: An obnoxiously effusive paean to the first author, presumeably written by the second. This stuff would make Rush Limbaugh or a Rap Star blush.

The rest of the book: To my surprise, very good, packed with interesting tidbits of information giving insight to much of ordinary life. One prominent theme is the way information and circumstance lead to incentive structures different from the ostensible ones. Examples include explaining how it can pay a real estate agent to get the buyer to offer a lower bid or why it can pay Sumo wrestlers to throw matches.

Sometimes the discussion involves the results of applying statistical methodology to unconventional subjects (drug dealer earnings, honor system bagel sales) and sometimes just a rousing good story (how Superman helped rout the Ku Klux Klan).

I recommend it. Skip anything in italics unless you have good control of your gag reflex.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Welcome to Blogistan

From time to time I push the "next blog" button and cruise random climes of the blogosphere. I am often surprised by how many good writers there are out there, public diaries, literature, and poetry. Of course there is also an infinite sea of clutter, in which category I include all the stuff in languages that I can't read. I can't quite decide if I should mention some of those I like or not - many of them seem so personal that I sort of hate to intrude - on the other hand, the authors are publishing them for the world to see.

Many have lamented the decline of the private literary forms of yore - the letter and the diary - but I suspect that they would be reassured if they clicked on the old "next blog" link once in a while.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Advice and Dissent

One of the more annoying affectations of columnists is addressing their columns to the President. Tom Friedman of the NYT apparently thinks his key role as an Iraq War enabler should entitle him to be heard by the Pres. In this, his latest folly he asks the President to shut down the Gitmo torture center. Fat chance.

Of course he does have some rather good arguments:

If you want to appreciate how corrosive Guantánamo has become for America's standing abroad, don't read the Arab press. Don't read the Pakistani press. Don't read the Afghan press. Hop over here to London or go online and just read the British press! See what our closest allies are saying about Gitmo. And when you get done with that, read the Australian press and the Canadian press and the German press.

It is all a variation on the theme of a May 8 article in The Observer of London that begins, "An American soldier has revealed shocking new details of abuse and sexual torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay in the first high-profile whistle-blowing account to emerge from inside the top-secret base."
And more of the same, like:
And it is now obvious from reports in my own paper and others that the abuse at Guantánamo and within the whole U.S. military prison system dealing with terrorism is out of control. Tell me, how is it that over 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody so far? Heart attacks? This is not just deeply immoral, it is strategically dangerous.
He has a good case alright, but it won't impress Bush. To the extent that he is aware of world opinion, he is contemptuous of it. He's proud to be a bully and proud to appoint them, proud to be offensive, proud to preside over a torture machine that outrages the fastidious. No US President has exhibited a greater disdain for what Jefferson called "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind."

Besides, if he shut down Gitmo, where would he build the replacement torture center?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

About that groveling Newsweek apology

From the WaPo: Nevermind.


Juan Cole has written a post about our prospects for victory in Iraq entitled Sometimes You are Just Screwed. You can probably catch his drift just from the title, but many of the details are interesting.

The US military cannot defeat the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement any time soon for so many reasons that they cannot all be listed.

The guerrillas have widespread popular support in the Sunni Arab areas of Iraq, an area with some 4 million persons. Its cities and deserts offer plenty of cover for an unconventional war. Guerrilla movements can succeed if more than 40 percent of the local population supports them. While the guerrillas are a small proportion of Iraqis, they are very popular in the Sunni Arab areas. If you look at it as a regional war, they probably have 80 percent support in their region.

The guerrillas are mainly Iraqi Sunnis with an intelligence or military background, who know where secret weapons depots are containing some 250,000 tons of missing munitions, and who know how to use military strategy and tactics to good effect. They are well-funded and can easily get further funding from Gulf millionnaires any time they like.
The other side of the problem is that there aren't many US troops, and the troops we have don't speak the language, don't know the culture, and don't know the territory.
There are simply too few US troops to fight the guerrillas. There are only about 70,000 US fighting troops in Iraq, they don't have that much person-power superiority over the guerrillas. There are only 10,000 US troops for all of Anbar province, a center of the guerrilla movement with a population of 820,000. A high Iraqi official estimated that there are 40,000 active guerrillas and another 80,000 close supporters of them
Cole's piece is well worth reading, but I'm not sure that I buy his whole story. For one thing, he makes a point of the fact that the insurgents seem to be promoting a Shiite-Sunni civil war. If that happens, won't the Sunni be crushed or exterminated, especially if the Shiites have our aid?

Of course that's a pretty bleak prospect too. I suspect he's right in his analysis of our biggest weakness:
The quality of leadership in Washington is extremely bad. George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and outgoing Department of Defense officials Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, have turned in an astonishingly poor performance in Iraq. Their attempt to demonstrate US military might has turned into a showcase for US weakness in the face of Islamic and nationalist guerrillas, giving heart to al-Qaeda and other unconventional enemies of the United States.
It's obvious that Rumsfeld et. al. drastically overestimated the importance of our technological superiority, but I suspect Cole is underestimating it. Of course even the best weapons don't help much if wielded by utter idiots.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Black Holes a Go Go

I was playing a game of Go with my friend Prof C the other day. He's a former EE professor who made it fairly big in the PC boom days of the 80's, cashed out in the early 90's, and quit to pursue other interests, which, as it turned out, were deep water sailing and busty blondes half his age. After a series of costly and painful mishaps involving each took a big piece of his cash stash, he figuratively adopted the Oddesyian solution of walking inland with an oar on his shoulder until somebody asked "What's that?" Which is how he wound up in arid and mostly blonde free Nuevo Mexico, playing the ancient oriental board game with your humble servant. He's got an exquisite 10-inch thick kaya board and top grade slate and clamshell stones in a cherrywood bowl, so I guess he isn't quite poor yet.

As usual, he had black, adopted a san-ren-sei strategy and immediately went on the offensive. When the position got tense, he pondered a while and then said: "Hey physics boy, I've got a question about your black holes. Suppose you made a little one, small enough so it would evaporate in about a day, you know, like your guy Hawking said."

"That's not so easy," I said.

"Just assume it, OK. Now the outside observer should see the black hole evaporate over about a day. In the intense gravity near the horizon, time would slow to a comparative standstill. A hypothetical observer there would see your day flash by in an instant. You would both agree that the black hole had meanwhile evaporated. So this black hole wouldn't really ever have existed! Why should even your big one be any different over the long run?"

With that, he took a black slate stone between forefinger and middle and thwacked it down right in the center of my biggest moyo. I love that sound of slate on kaya.

I thought a long time and finally said: "Maybe you should ask Lubos. He's worried about the where to find the next Superstring Revolution and about observers falling into black holes."

I figured I could kill his invading stone, but decided it might be better to just chase it long enough to build up a good attack on his other side.

Saving President Larry

Much to my surprise, John Tierney actually has an interesting column in todays NYT. It seems economists in Pittsburg did an experiment where they paid men and women to do calculations, first at a piece rate of $0.50 per and then in four person tournaments where the winner got $2 per correct answer and the losers nothing.

On average, the women made as much as the men under either system. But when they were offered a choice for the next round - take the piece rate or compete in a tournament - most women declined to compete, even the ones who had done the best in the earlier rounds. Most men chose the tournament, even the ones who had done the worst.

The men's eagerness partly stemmed from overconfidence, because on average men rated their ability more highly than the women rated theirs. But interviews and further experiments convinced the researchers, Muriel Niederle of Stanford and Lise Vesterlund of the University of Pittsburgh, that the gender gap wasn't due mainly to women's insecurities about their abilities. It was due to different appetites for competition.
He goes on to note that many occupations are structured as tournaments, where the winner gets a lot and the losers much less. Steven Leavitt, in his book Freakonomics cites crack dealing as a classic example of such an occupation. Street dealers make less than minimum wage, live with their mothers, and risk very adverse outcomes (such as sudden death) - but if they make it up the ladder a few rungs, they can do quite well. Are women underrepresented among crack dealers? I'm guessing yes.

There are good sociobiological reasons for believing that this kind of sex difference is innate and related to our different incentive structures in the reproduction game.

Larry Summers, as part of his penance, is spending $50 million to figure out how to attract women to science and engineering. Sean Carroll and the usual feminist suspects are performing various ritual ceremonies to the same end, but it seems to me that Mr. Tierney his economists might have told us the answer.

Academic physics is very much a tournament, with lots of ways to fall by the wayside, as Sean got to personally experience recently. It could just be that the reason women rarely reach the upper circles has less to do with ability or discrimination than it does with their unwillingness to play this silly game.

So there's your answer, Larry. If you want more women in the science game, you might want to change the rules in such a way as to increase security and decrease competition. I'll bet that won't come naturally to your capitalist economist's soul.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Phrist vs. Philibuster: Gotterdammerung

Well, the big vote on filibusters is coming, and I'm not optomistic. It will seemingly come down to whether or not six Republican Senators can be found who will put principle ahead of their fear of the wrath of the RtLers. Oh well.

Discrimination by Sex

I found this somewhat improbable story via slashdot. In the (in my opinion, unlikely) event that this study is confirmed by further study, we may have the long sought explanation for the paucity of women in science and engineering. So give it up Sean - it's got to be hormonal.

The conclusion of the study was that parental occupation has a strong influence on the sex of the children.

But according to calculations by chief researcher Satoshi Kanazawa, for engineers and other "systemisers" the ratio is 140 boys per 100 girls.

Nurses and the like produce around 135 girls for every 100 boys, the study found.

Mr Kanazawa predicted that a physicist and a mathematician would be the most likely pairing to produce a boy, while a therapist and a chat show host would be odds-on favourites for a daughter.
If we further assume that children's occupations will resemble those of their parents, we can explain why there are so few female physicists.

The problem is, they can't reproduce. Female physicists will have mainly male children, and so will male physicists - unless married to chat show hosts - and I can promise that there aren't any physicists married to chat show hosts. Consequently, all the physics aptitude gets concentrated in the male sex

Sunday, May 22, 2005

String 'em up!

Peter Woit has a post Game Over on the End of String Theory. He and his commentators are pretty sure the beast is dead, now if they can only manage to pound that stake...

My reaction: Well maybe. A long time ago in a galaxy on a 3-brane remarkably resembling this one, I was a student in a department where quantum field theory was considered dead, dead, dead. Even my QFT prof, a former student of Chew, could hardly be bothered with teaching us such an obsolete subject, and dull student that I was, I didn't learn much. Before I graduated, t'Hooft et. al. had showed this view to be wrong, wrong, wrong, and the revolution was in full swing.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Operation Enduring Shame

Tim Golden has a truly horrifying torture story in todays New York Times. The opening sentence sets the sickening tone:

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.
The agonizing tortures inflicted on him as he was dying are reminiscent of the torture and crucifixion of Christ - including the crucifixion like position he was chained in and the sadistic guard who, when he asked for water, cut a hole in the bottom of the water bottle and sprayed him without letting him drink. A final cruelty lay in the fact that his captors mostly believed him to be totally innocent.

I have rarely been so ashamed of my country and my army. After a long cover-up, the low ranking enlisted perpetrators are being prosecuted, but as usual, none of the senior officers are being pursued. After World War II we hung Japanese soldiers for these types of crimes, and their colonels, and generals, and minister of defense.

The story makes clear that this was not something that senior officers just overlooked.
Some of the mistreatment was quite obvious, the file suggests. Senior officers frequently toured the detention center, and several of them acknowledged seeing prisoners chained up for punishment or to deprive them of sleep. Shortly before the two deaths, observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross specifically complained to the military authorities at Bagram about the shackling of prisoners in "fixed positions," documents show.

Even though military investigators learned soon after Mr. Dilawar's death that he had been abused by at least two interrogators, the Army's criminal inquiry moved slowly. Meanwhile, many of the Bagram interrogators, led by the same operations officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, were redeployed to Iraq and in July 2003 took charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to a high-level Army inquiry last year, Captain Wood applied techniques there that were "remarkably similar" to those used at Bagram.
My first reaction was horror and disgust, but my next was rage, rage at the contemptible careerist generals who brought this shame on our army and nation by tolerating, encouraging, and covering up, and rage at the political operators who created the climate for these crimes. They have shamed their nation and themselves, made the world more dangerous for Americans, and, very likely, ensured that we will not win these wars soon or perhaps at all. My final reaction was fear - I have a child in an Islamic country, and now more than ever Americans will be targets.

The many conservatives who have rushed forth to distort, justify, minimize and rationalize these horrors are beneath contempt.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

This week's physics puzzler.

This question is prompted by a passage from Brian Greene's Fabric of the Cosmos. Greene is discussing the fact that in our usual experience entropy is proportional to volume (other things being equal) whereas for black holes the entropy is proportional to the area of the horizon. On page 479 of chapter 16 he says

Were you to double the radius of a black hole, its volume would increase by a factor of 8 while its surface area would only increase by a factor of 4.
This is misleading. His radius, area, volume relations are only valid for flat space, in curved space the ratios are different. The radius circumference relations for a circle on the surface of a two sphere illustrate the point.

So here's the question, in two parts:

a) What are the radius, area, volume relations (for a surface r=constant) in a Schwarzschild space-time?

b) Do the notions of radius and volume even make sense for a black hole?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

50 Million Ways to Say You're Sorry

Harvard University has announced a new program to promote women and minorities in science and technology.

Lawrence H. Summers, the embattled president of Harvard University, announced yesterday that the university would spend at least $50 million over the next decade to recruit, support and promote women and members of underrepresented minority groups on its faculty.

Cynics might claim this is just the latest of the ritual public abasements Summers has been forced to undergo for his sins against political correctness, but we should give the alternative interpretation the consideration it deserves: when a school lacks a big name and a big pocketbook, some sweeteners are probably needed to attract a qualified staff.

In another story, NPR's Morning Edition today reported that this year 200,000 more women than men will receive college degrees. This is evidently just one of many symptoms that young men are having a tough time in life these days. This sad story prompted the NPR interviewer to ask if colleges were considering affirmative action to attract more males, but the academic interviewee slapped this down by pointing out how unfair that would be to the young women who had worked so hard and gotten better grades and scores than the men. Oddly enough, though, this prompted me to recall that boys score about 40-50 points higher on the SAT than girls. Elite college selection committees often chip in this difference to level the playing field.

Meanwhile, Sean Carroll continues to fight the good fight to gain women their rightful place in academia. I know I will sleep better for knowing it.

Classical Mechanics: Hospitals Rule

Episode II of the NYT's series on class in America is up, with Janny Scott's Life at the Top in America Isn't Just Better, It's Longer. Three people, three economic classes, and three heart attacks, with divergence in care and results. The most striking difference appears to be in the hospitals where they first showed up, but the difference in care continues.

This kind of anecdotal story isn't expecially impressive to me, because so many aspects could just be accidental - the rich guy having heart attack close to a good hospital, for example. It's a long article, but the following three paragraphs present the theme:

Class informed everything from the circumstances of their heart attacks to the emergency care each received, the households they returned to and the jobs they hoped to resume. It shaped their understanding of their illness, the support they got from their families, their relationships with their doctors. It helped define their ability to change their lives and shaped their odds of getting better.

Class is a potent force in health and longevity in the United States. The more education and income people have, the less likely they are to have and die of heart disease, strokes, diabetes and many types of cancer. Upper-middle-class Americans live longer and in better health than middle-class Americans, who live longer and better than those at the bottom. And the gaps are widening, say people who have researched social factors in health.

As advances in medicine and disease prevention have increased life expectancy in the United States, the benefits have disproportionately gone to people with education, money, good jobs and connections. They are almost invariably in the best position to learn new information early, modify their behavior, take advantage of the latest treatments and have the cost covered by insurance.
It would have been interesting to me to contrast these cases with similar ones in, say France or another country with national health insurance. The differences due to education and judgement would seem likely to endure, so how much would that affect results?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Class Warfare: Revenge of the Sith

In parallel with it's new series on class in America, the NYT has announced it's own offensive in the war against the non-rich. They intend to start charging $50 for their "premium content," including their op-ed columns. The only one I will actually miss will be Paul Krugman, and I'll miss him a lot, but probably not $50 worth.

This event is the internet's equivalent of the 18th century Enclosure Acts in England or the advent of barbed wire in 19th century America. The end of the open range and the small net farmer. It is all but inevitable that the great era of the free internet is ending. Soon most free sources of news will disappear behind fences and become available only to the prosperous.

Hey, for $20-25 I would have taken them up on it.

Football 1; Physics 0

NPR had This Story on a Georgia physics teacher who was fired for docking a football player's grade for putting his head on his desk and sleeping through a class. What the heck was this guy thinking - the kid was a football player - and in Georgia yet. The school board's position was evidently that school policy prohibited basing the grade on anything but academic performance, while the teacher tried to argue the bizarre notion that staying awake in class was part of the kid's academic performance. I mean like sheesh, it's not like the kid was some geek - he was a friggin football player.

Not that I'm completely unsympathetic to the teacher's position - I've been a teacher. I admit being a bit distressed when, after I asked my son about his mathematical methods teacher, he said that he wasn't really sure, since the only time they had met was when he turned in his take home final. I might even have wondered aloud why I was spending North of $30k/year to send him to that supposedly elite school.

In the end though, I had to admit that the Georgia teacher was way off base. Hey, I've been a football player too.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

100 Greatest Americans

ProfessorBainbridge.com has a post up knocking a planned Discovery Channel Series on the Greatest Americans. He seems to consider it an example of the reality genre, though I would class it with The Most Extreme Insects myself.

He rightly regards many of the choices as ridiculous, e.g., Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barbara Bush, Condeleeza Rice, and Dr. Phil to name a few. His own suggested replacements include some bizarro choices (Milton Friedman, Julia Child, Robert Mondavi!) and he disses some genuinely good choices (Nikola Tesla, Harriet Tubman, Babe Ruth). The list essentially ignores the major American artists, scientists, and writers.

Classical Mechanics

Janny Scott and Dave Leonhardt of The New York Times have begun a new series on class in America. Several themes emerge in their opening overview: many of the traditional markers of social class have disappeared, Americans still believe in income and class mobility, but actual class mobility has recently decreased and is less than in many other countries. For example:

Most Americans remain upbeat about their prospects for getting ahead. A recent New York Times poll on class found that 40 percent of Americans believed that the chance of moving up from one class to another had risen over the last 30 years, a period in which the new research shows that it has not. Thirty-five percent said it had not changed, and only 23 percent said it had dropped.

More Americans than 20 years ago believe it possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich. They say hard work and a good education are more important to getting ahead than connections or a wealthy background.

In fact, though
One surprising finding about mobility is that it is not higher in the United States than in Britain or France. It is lower here than in Canada and some Scandinavian countries but not as low as in developing countries like Brazil, where escape from poverty is so difficult that the lower class is all but frozen in place.
When discussing complex and contentious subjects, it helps to define your terms. The authors proclaim
The series does not purport to be all-inclusive or the last word on class. It offers no nifty formulas for pigeonholing people or decoding folkways and manners.
Fortunately, that's a bluff. In fact they offer this really cool interactive graphical widget for calibrating your position in the hierarchy more or less precisely. For the NYT, class is occupation, education, income, and wealth.

The most prestigious occupations are (Surprise! Surprise!) Doctors(1) and Lawyers(2), followed by an unlikely pair of IT types (Data Base and System Admins(3&4)), and, Physicists and Astronomers(5). Distressed as I was to see us below the IT types it was gratifying to see we soundly beat CEO's(46), Mathematicians(48), Street Vendors(434), and Janitors(440).

It's nice to be esteemed, but as physicists and astronomers all know, a prestigious occupation and a couple of graduate degrees, plus 4 bucks, will get you a little foam cup of coffee at Starbucks. Despite their occupational prestige down between Miscelleaneous Health Technicians(42) and Mathematicians, CEOs carry a lot more clout, and live in much bigger houses than Physicists or even Doctors. Class in America, to me, comes down mostly to money, income yes, but even more to wealth.

Concluding themes in this opening essay include the effect of class on health and lifespan, and the increasingly reclusive isolation of the wealthy. This is planned to be a three week series and looks like it could be pretty good.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

I take it all back Josh!

OK, so maybe I got a bit snippy with Josh Marshall yesterday (not that I'm even an insect on his windscreen), but today he makes up for all with this note and pic. Of course I'm still waiting for that other shoe to drop on the yellowcake story.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Blogged Out Too?

Is it just me, or did Josh Marshall used to be more substantive? I'm not sure how many more posts about bamboozlement I can take.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Up to date in Kansas

William Saletan has a Slate article arguing that Intelligent Design, the latest incarnation of Creation Science, and about to be adopted in Kansas, is so much less obnoxious that the previous version that scientists and liberals should take it seriously, or at least give it a fair hearing. To my considerable surprise, I found myself more or less in agreement, subject to the usual caution that selective quotation can make anything look good (or bad).

The new challenger, ID, differs fundamentally from fundamentalism. Like its creationist forebears, ID is theistic. But unlike them, it abandons Biblical literalism, embraces open-minded inquiry, and accepts falsification, not authority, as the ultimate test. These concessions, sincere or not, define a new species of creationism...that fatally undermines its ancestors. Creationists aren't threatening us. They're becoming us.
There are two main aguments against "Creation Science:" by explicitly invoking a deity, it violates the establishment clause, and it promulgates a demonstrably false picture of reality. The 1999 version of CS sinned in both ways. By insisting on biblical literalism, they essentially insisted on a Christian version of creation, and had to explicitly reject the age of the Earth, scientific dating methods, and the stratigraphic sequence. 2005 ID abandons both, according to Saletan.
The board's draft standards said, "The fossil record provides evidence of simple, bacteria-like life as far back as 3.8+ billion years ago." CSA would have tried to remove that sentence. IDnet embraced it and proposed to add a prepositional phrase: "almost simultaneously with the postulated habitability of our earth." This would underscore Calvert's argument that life arose faster than randomness could account for. A few lines later, the board's draft mentioned the fossil record, radioisotope dating, and plate tectonics. CSA would have fought all three references. IDnet affirmed them and asked only for a revision to limit their implications: "Certain aspects of the fossil record, the age of the earth based on radioisotope dating and plate tectonics are consistent with the Darwinian theory. However, this evidence is not inconsistent with the design hypothesis."
Two years later, in a bioethics journal, Calvert and an IDnet colleague, biochemist William Harris, summarized the differences between Biblical creationism and ID. "Creation science seeks to validate a literal interpretation of creation as contained in the book of Genesis," they explained. "An ID proponent recognizes that ID theory may be disproved by new evidence. ID is like a large tent under which many religious and nonreligious origins theories may find a home. ID proposes nothing more than that life and its diversity were the product of an intelligence with power to manipulate matter and energy."
Scientists also fear that letting this camel stick his nose under the tent would lead to the whole camel later, and I sympathize with this argument. I don't believe, though, that the dogmatic insistence on deity free explanations is either wise or justifiable, constitutionally or intellectually. To my mind, atheism is just another religion and the state is no more entitled to establish it than Hinduism. Students do need access to the facts - let them make up their own minds about theories. They will anyway.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Living Well

Living well is the best revenge is a popular formulation, and probably a good strategy for a happy life.

Genghis Khan had a slightly chillier view:

"The greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him. To ride their horses and take away their possessions. To see the faces of those who were dear to them bedewed with tears, and to clasp their wives and daughters in his arms"
Retrieved from "http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Genghis_Khan"

Sunday, May 08, 2005


David Brooks descends into self parody in his latest excerpt from the Heritage Society talking points (poorly disguised as an NYT column). His theme is that Bush's SS plan is a call for shared sacrifice of the type Democrats have repeatedly asked for.

Sometimes you had to walk through Democratic precincts in a gas mask, the lofty rhetoric was so thick.
The gas mask won't help David, that stench is your own hypocrisy.
Over the past few weeks, the president has called their bluff. By embracing the progressive indexing of Social Security benefits, the president has asked us to make a shared sacrifice for the common good. He's asking middle- and upper-class folks to accept benefit cuts so there will be money for the people who are really facing poverty.

He has asked us to redistribute money down the income scale. Why should programs for children and families be strangled so Donald Trump can get bigger benefit checks?
Pretending people who make $60k are rich like Donald Trump is one of the more tedious Republican tricks. Under Bush's plan, the guy making $60k will take a big hit in his SS check. For Donald Trump, Bush, Cheney, Paris Hilton and probably even David Brooks, the cut in SS benefits is tiny compared to the huge Bush tax cuts they got.

Shared sacrifice Republican style = big tax cuts for the rich while everybody in the middle class gets much, much less.

UPDATE: As usual, Paul Krugman says it better in this NYT column, with some numbers, but minus my personal vitriol regardings his fellow columnist.
Hell hath no fury like a scammer foiled. The card shark caught marking the deck, the auto dealer caught resetting a used car's odometer, is rarely contrite. On the contrary, they're usually angry, and they lash out at their intended marks, crying hypocrisy.

And so it is with those who would privatize Social Security. They didn't get away with scare tactics, or claims to offer something for nothing. Now they're accusing their opponents of coddling the rich and not caring about the poor.
And some numbers
Suppose you're earning $60,000 a year. On average, Mr. Bush cut taxes for workers like you by about $1,000 per year. But by 2045 the Bush Social Security plan would cut benefits for workers like you by about $6,500 per year. Not a very good deal.

Suppose, finally, that you're making $1 million a year. You received a tax cut worth about $50,000 per year. By 2045 the Bush plan would reduce benefits for people like you by about $9,400 per year. We have a winner!
But read the whole thing.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Our Friend Ben

Some British tabloids have uncharitably described Pope Benedict XVI as the "Nazi pope," based presumeably on his teenage membership in the Hitler Youth. His real antecedents, though, are in the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which he long headed, and which was long known as the Holy Inquisition. That name, but little else, was discarded in the twentieth century. The Roman Catholic Blog has a link to this Associated Press story on the ouster of Thomas J. Reese as editor of the Catholic magazine America. This was a apparently a pre-papal act of then Cardinal Ratzinger, but it clearly bears the stamp of an authoritarian personality.

Many American Catholics think that the Catholic Church has put its intolerant and occasionally genocidal past behind it. Those who do ought to check out this entry about Torquemada in the Catholic Encyclopedia. This fragment caught my eye

At that time the purity of the Catholic Faith in Spain was in great danger from the numerous Marranos and Moriscos, who, for material considerations, became sham converts from Judaism and Mohammedanism to Christianity. The Marranos committed serious outrages against Christianity and endeavoured to judaize the whole of Spain.
That is an utterly dishonest slander, but not content with this outrageous justification, goes on to minimize the number of murders
Llorente computes that during Torquemada's office (1483-98) 8800 suffered death by fire and 9,654 were punished in other ways (Histoire de l'Inquisition, IV, 252). These figures are highly exaggerated, as has been conclusively proved by Hefele (Cardinal Ximenes, ch. xviii), Gams (Kirchengeschichte von Spanien, III, II, 68-76), and many others. Even the Jewish historian Graetz contents himself with stating that "under the first Inquisitor Torquemada, in the course of fourteen years (1485-1498) at least 2000 Jews were burnt as impenitent sinners" ("History of the Jews", Philadelphia, 1897, IV, 356). Most historians hold with the Protestant Peschel (Das Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, Stuttgart, 1877, pp. 119 sq.) that the number of persons burnt from 1481 to 1504, when Isabella died, was about 2000. Whether Torquemada's ways of ferreting out and punishing heretics were justifiable is a matter that has to be decided not only by comparison with the penal standard of the fifteenth century, but also, and chiefly, by an inquiry into their necessity for the preservation of Christian Spain. The contemporary Spanish chronicler, Sebastian de Olmedo (Chronicon magistrorum generalium Ordinis Prædicatorum, fol. 80-81) calls Torquemada "the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the saviour of his country, the honour of his order".
The actual numbers were almost certainly much higher than any of these estimates, and hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes and had their property stolen. Very unfortunately, the Catholic Church continues to defend this theft, murder, and genocide.

So why am I not looking forward to this papacy? The outrages of the Inquisition, and the more recent scandal of the widespread cover up of priestly rape and pedophilia, were not accidental, but grew organically out of the authoritarian structure of the Church - a structure rooted not in the Gospels, but in imitation of Imperial Rome. The church ought to outgrow and cast off this un Christian excresence which has led to so much evil. Unfortunately, Ratzinger looks like the least likely man to do that job.

Auntie Em! Auntie Em!

Blink! by Malcolm Gladwell, is the NYT #2 bestelling book

...about the first two seconds of looking--the decisive glance that knows in an instant. Gladwell, the best-selling author of The Tipping Point, campaigns for snap judgments and mind reading...
While I didn't go so far as to actually buy or read the book, I did spend two seconds looking at the picture of the cover, and decided to try putting its advice into practice. I assembled a few books on biology and evolution, spent a couple of seconds looking at the cover of each, and blinked*.

Sure enough, there I was, back in Kansas.

*three times, for luck

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Blogged Out

I found Sean Carroll's Bad news pretty depressing, mainly because he and Lubos were the inspiration (if I can call it that) for my trying the form. I had forgotten how depressing and cut-throat the tenure struggle was. I can't seem to even get up any enthusiasm for piling on Tom Delay.

On another depressing topic, the NYT reported that even ugly kids mommies don't love them. Or at least not as much as pretty kids moms love them. Oh well. Fortunately my kids are gorgeous.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Torquemada in the WH

Don't miss Eugene Robinson's Torture Whitewash in today's Washinton Post.

A year later, only the low-ranking grunts who grinned and gave thumbs-ups while committing these sadistic acts have been made to answer. Only one ranking officer -- a reservist, a woman, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski -- has been sanctioned. The White House and Pentagon officials who opened the door to these abuses, and the careerist Army brass who oversaw the brutality, sit comfortably in their offices, talking disingenuously of "rogue" privates and sergeants.
The sorry performance of the US press and the US Congress are the essential underpinnings of this whitewash.

God and Math in the Academy

An odd aspect of existence is the compulsion we have to try to make sense of the world. OK, maybe that's not so odd, evolutionarily speaking, but it certainly seems odd that one of our attempts has been so successful. Magic, religion, science, and math are all aspects of that effort to tame reality, but what Wigner called "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" in explaining the physical world continues to amaze me. Roger Penrose's Road to Reality reminded me of that once again.

All of which is prolog to saying that I haven't quite decided what to think about the Carr and Giddings article in the May Scientific American about creating black holes in the LHC. On one level it seems like a prayerfull plea to The Lord to bail out string theory, or maybe just "wouldn't it be cool if..." I don't see much compelling reason in string theory or out to suspect that it will happen, but I guess it would be cool. On the other hand, I might find it even cooler if the LHC revealed something really new and unanticipated, like the photon, the muon and the strange particles were.

So I guess I'm cheering for the idea that God, or the Universe, not run out of surprises yet. Though I'm pretty sure that the Universe doesn't care.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

...let me count the ways

Not that anybody asked, but why does the President offend me so much? There are lots of reasons, but the thing I really hate is the systematic, Orwellian, dishonesty. Tax cuts for the rich are called jobs programs, programs to destroy the environment are called programs to save it, war is called peace, torture is called justice. As usual, Paul Krugman says it better here in his NYT column. Krugman shows how the President's program targets the middle class, and, more importantly is really intended to destroy Social Security, not save it.

Remember, these are the people who named a big giveaway to logging interests "Healthy Forests."

Sure enough, a close look at President Bush's proposal for "progressive price indexing" of Social Security puts the lie to claims that it's a plan to increase benefits for the poor and cut them for the wealthy. In fact, it's a plan to slash middle-class benefits; the wealthy would barely feel a thing.
Because the middle class will get little benefit from Social Security ala Bush, the base of popular support would be eroded in ways that Bush's multi-million dollar campaign of distortion and deception has so far failed.
No, this is about ideology: Mr. Bush comes to bury Social Security, not to save it. His goal is to turn F.D.R.'s most durable achievement into an unpopular welfare program, so some future president will be able to attack it with tall tales about Social Security queens driving Cadillacs.
OK, I've got of other reasons for not liking these guys, but I'll have to take the count past one some other day.

Backroom Dealer

David Brooks reports a hidden deal offered by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to Bill Frist in this column.

Bill Frist should have taken the deal.

Last week, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, made an offer to head off a nuclear exchange over judicial nominations. Reid offered to allow votes on a few of the judges stuck in limbo if the Republicans would withdraw a few of the others.

But there was another part of the offer that hasn't been publicized. I've been reliably informed that Reid also vowed to prevent a filibuster on the next Supreme Court nominee.
I'm most interested in how Brooks got the story. Maybe he dug it out, but I suspect somebody, probably a swing Republican, fed it to him. Brooks backs the party line that the nuclear option will work, but maybe some other Republicans are sending Frist a smoke signal. The rest of the column is well worth reading. "This way madness lies" is a key theme.