Saturday, August 10, 2002
The Washington Post has expropriated the title of Josh Marshall's excellent blog. Soon Slate will be ripping off my clever blog title, since it does fit in with their "box" line.
Friday, August 09, 2002
I've added some bells and whistles to the site, including a search function and a very cool GuestMap. Check 'em out.
Charles Murtaugh's thoughtful post on Intelligent Design led me to read Susanna Cornett's reflections on the same topic, where I came upon this line: "If it presents a challenge to my faith, well, then, I have to think about that because, like it or not, faith is a theory just like evolution is a theory."
Leaving aside the dubious proposition that faith is a theory, I'd like to comment on the idea that evolution is one, as that's one of my personal betes noires. I think the idea that evolution is a theory is an accident of language, a consequence of the phrase, the theory of evolution. What this means, of course, is the theory that explains evolution. Newton's Opticks contains a theory of light, but nobody would conclude that light is a theory.
That being said, I also want to offer a few words on Intelligent Design, and the flap it's caused in American political circles.
William Paley, perhaps the most well-known proponent of intelligent design of the natural world, put forward his ideas in the 18th century, well before Darwin. His most famous example is as follows. Imagine you are walking through a field and you find a rock. You would have no problem explaining the existence of the rock through natural processes. Now imagine you find a watch. You would have serious problems explaining the existence of the watch through natural processes. Why? The watch exhibits signs of design, or creation for a purpose, which imply a designer.
The point here is that Paley was trying to explain a then-inexplicable feature of the world, namely the presence in it of so many things that seem to be designed: birds, bees, eyes, wings, you, me. Intelligent design provides an explanation.
Comes Darwin, who provides another, much more robust, explanation, natural selection, which explains design without recourse to a designer. Now, the reason natural selection is considered one of the greatest ideas in history is just because the problem, explaining apparent design in the natural world, was so intractable, and intelligent design was such a satisfactory explanation.
Now, can I imagine a science course that begins with the feature of the world we want an explanation for, apparent design in the natural world, and works its way through possible explanations, including intelligent design? Yes. Would it be an intellectually dishonest course? Not necessarily. In fact, by focusing on design, the course would highlight the key feature of natural selection.
Where am I going with this? Well, in a democracy, the people get to decide questions like the one under discussion. Sometimes you have to compromise. If you don't want to compromise, you have to convince people, and if you want to do that you must understand where they are coming from and treat them with respect.
Is ID now totally obsolete? With reference to the apparent design of biological organisms, I think yes. With reference to some other features of the natural world, like the existence of the inverse square law, also referred to by Paley by the way, I think the question is open.
Do I think that proponents of intelligent design are being disingenuous? With reservations, yes. But I think opponents of intelligent design are often disingenuous too, ignoring the place of ID in the history of science, as well as discounting its continuing relevance with regard to other issues in science and the philosophy of science. Why do they do this? In part, I think that some, at least, fear that if their opposition is too nuanced, they will be perceived as giving in to creationists.
Meryl Yourish adds her two cents to the ongoing discussion of Dahlia Lithwick's Slate piece on the abortion injunction imbroglio, and gets it right.
Charles Dodgson comments on the case of Abdullah Higazy (via Brad DeLong). It seems that an FBI agent coerced a false confession from the guy.
Dodgson observes that the Bush administration is trying its best to make sure that the public isn't bothered by such stories in the future. If the FBI isn't given carte blanche to waste its time forcing confessions from the innocent, the terrorists will have won, of course.
Isn't it clear that, apart from being a misguided farce on its own merits, the Department of Homeland Security is taking attention away from the absolutely necessary reform of the FBI.
Silflay Hraka continues its New Perfect Manhood series. Plus it has a very cool GuestMap feature that I might just implement on this site. Check it out.
Josh Marshall explodes the myth of Bush administration competence. A must read.
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias, unsurprisingly, likes Marshall's take as well. He thinks, though, that the article would have benefited from a mention of the fact that we seem to have let al-Queda slip through our fingers, and over the border into Pakistan. I'd go even further, and say that, while the mission in Afghanistan has obviously become one of nation building, the Bush administration refuses to accept this. By keeping the focus on hunting down al-Queda and Taliban operatives who are no longer there, the administration invites wedding party shoot ups, consequent anti-American bitterness and wilting troop morale.
Nation building was always going to be the more important stage in our efforts in Afghanistan. But the administration's campaign disdain of such activities, coupled with its neurotic inability to accept that any of its positions could ever have been wrong, produces a no-win situation. The original mission is as completed as it's going to get, yet the administration won't square up to the facts and get the American people behind nation building in Afghanistan.
As a proponent of a campaign in Iraq, in no small part because I believe the effects of a subsequent American occupation administration would be a great humanitarian boon, I think the lesson of Afghanistan is that Bush the lesser, while he might win the war, is almost sure to lose the peace.
Thursday, August 08, 2002
On NRO, Doug Bandow argues convincingly that any attack on Iraq would require a congressional declaration of war.
While I wholeheartedly agree with the general thrust, I disagree with this statement: "There certainly is no hurry to make war on Iraq . . . ."
The administration of Bush the lesser has been making inchoate, belligerent noises since at least January. What it should have been doing is making the case for an attack on Iraq to Congress and the American people.
There is no time to waste. Saddam is now completely on his guard. If any future action against Iraq becomes a debacle, the administration will have nothing to blame but its own temporizing.
Patrick Ruffini thinks that leftie bloggers are neurotic malcontents. I'll address this further after I talk with my therapist.
Wednesday, August 07, 2002
Also from the Guardian, Richard Dawkins on Bush the lesser: "It would be a tragedy if Tony Blair were to be brought down through playing poodle to this unelected and deeply stupid little oil-spiv."
The Guardian reports that "senior British ministers are privately admitting to growing exasperation across government at the lack of a clear and coherent US policy towards Iraq."
I know how they feel.
Dahlia Lithwick concludes her reflections on the recent absurd court ruling enjoining a woman from having an abortion, at the father's urging, with this observation:
[U]ntil medical science enables us to transplant embryos as easily as we transplant sweet peas, there simply cannot be a balanced weighing of paternal and maternal rights. That day is coming, mind you.
I find this troubling, and hope that Ms Lithwick simply hadn't thought the matter through. Regardless of whether embryo transplantation becomes easy and commonplace, it would seem obvious that no woman can, or should, be compelled to undergo an operation to remove an embryo.
Presumably, the reasoning runs that, since a woman getting an abortion is undergoing a surgical procedure anyway, the burden created by forcing her to undergo a similar procedure, embryo transplant, would be slight. But the point is that a woman has the right to autonomous control of her own body, including which types of procedures she is willing to subject herself to.
And if advances in science render embryo transplant relatively easy, they'll also render abortion not a surgical procedure, and Ms Lithwick's point moot.
Frankly, I'm baffled. The case for an attack on Iraq is the case for an attack on Iraq now. Yet Bush the lesser insists that he will deal with Iraq in a "patient and deliberate" manner.
It's time for the president either to make the case forcefully for an attack on Iraq, or to stop rattling the sabre. Nobody can believe that all this waffling really serves to confuse Saddam. Only the people of the United States, and beyond, are confused.
Mr President, put up or shut up.
N.Z. Bear points out that tensions are running high across the Taiwan Straight. I think it's a very real possibility that China might use any U.S. action against Iraq as cover for military action against Taiwan.
Tuesday, August 06, 2002
Today's Washington Post editorial on the sanguine state of affairs in Israel and the Occupied Territories ignores the logic of its own realizations.
The Post admits that "Israel cannot be required to spawn a terrorist state on its borders," but dodges the inevitable consequence of that position. Any Palestinian state established within the current conditions of the Middle East, and endowed with qualities that flow from the current Palestinian mindset, will be a terrorist state. There can be no Palestinian state so long as those conditions, and that mindset, prevail.
Change in the conditions in the Middle East will only be wrought by the United States. Change in mindset will only come afterwards, and will be the work of a generation.
The clear implication is that obtaining the conditions for a Palestinian state is outside the control of the Israelis, and in any event, will happen no time soon. There will be, and can be, no Palestinian state in this decade.
The Post, however, refuses to look this straight in the eye. Instead, it offers up the usual bromides that Israel's actions contribute to the Palestinian death cult of revenge, and Israel "must ... be made to see" that its actions don't serve its desire to live in peace. Palestinians must be given hope that they will have a state within a foreseeable time frame. Israel should refrain from "tightening the noose."
As to the second piece of advice, I am of two minds. I agree that the measures Israel is taking now are not sufficient to guarantee, or even improve, Israeli security. I am not convinced, though, that that is because they are too extreme. Interminable, low level conflict, involving morally dubious strikes causing perfectly foreseeable deaths of children, can't be the way forward. Wholesale reoccupation of the Palestinian administered territories, coupled with mass arrest of all members of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority might be.
In any event, the first piece of advice is bankrupt. It amounts to saying we should lie to the Palestinians. Palestinians must realize that they won't be getting a state any time soon, and that the conditions on which such a state is predicated are not within the Israelis' power to provide. On the one hand, only the Palestinians themselves can transform their society from the psychopathological cult of death it has become.
On the other hand, only a radical transformation of the political and cultural landscape in the Middle East will finally free the Palestinians. If they want a state, they should be rooting for widespread democratization and liberalization, in Saudi Arabia for instance, and the annihilation of Saddam's regime.
Lying and fostering a false hope is emphatically not the way to go.
Monday, August 05, 2002Transportation Security Administration Lunacy
Here's a story about an 80 year old man who made a crack about having a rifle in his wallet during some interminable security check, and wound up perp walked by a state trooper to a holding cell.
Now, either valuable security resources were wasted, endangering everyone's safety or we don't need the amount of security we have, wasting money.
What's worse is the guy's reaction. He thinks he did something wrong and deserved what he got. If that's the mindset that's being created by airport security, I'm afraid.
Sully Market Watch
That's right. It's Monday, and that means that Homeobox brings you the weekly report on market conditions since Andrew Sullivan, investment guru, made his buy recommendation. Friday's closes: Dow - 8313, still down 371 despite some help from all those people winding up their short positions; Nasdaq - 1247, down 126; S&P 500 - 864, down 57.
I'll admit that tweaking Andrew over this is starting to get boring. But politically motivated market cheerleading irks me.
Good stuff on the Time article about Bush the lesser's failure to act on a Clinton administration plan to "roll back" al-Queda from Josh Marshall and Matt, the liberal InstaPundit, Yglesias. Matt says: Bush Fucked Up.
And, in its inimitable style, MWO comments on Josh Marshall's piece thus:
The Rovespeak regime has responded that it did not take action because it preferred an "elimination" of Al Qaeda, not a "roll back" - even if what it has decided to label a "roll back" would have in fact eliminated Al Qaeda capabilities. (Osama bin Laden is still at large. There are still reportedly around a hundred Al Qaeda operatives in the US and thousands around the world. Do actions taken so far constitute an "elimination" or a "roll back"?)
Bush didn't take action for nearly a year and 3000 Americans were murdered because...uh, because why again? Because taking steps according to the information and plan already provided by the previous administration would have somehow precluded going further?
Does this crackpot administration really expect that to fly? Yes, ladies and gentleman, it does. Because bigger lies have been told by Bush, Inc. and parroted by our failed national media before.
Josh Marshall suspects that the real stumbling block in the way of a successful conquest of Iraq is the Bush administration. I agree.
A good piece in TNR arguing against a moratorium on cloning research. Here's a sample:
An early-stage zygote is crucially different from the disabled, the deformed, the fragile young, or the fragile old. Before 14 days--the legal cutoff Britain has established for scientific research--the zygote has developed no organs, no nervous system, nor even the precursor to a nervous system. This absence of the most primitive neural anatomy means that biologically the zygote cannot receive any form of stimulation related to the senses, cannot perceive or cogitate, and thus cannot be hurt or suffer.
Betting on the Future
Glenn Reynolds turned me on to this essay at Tech Central Station, wherein Tom Bell argues that "copyright and patent law cannot demonstrably satisfy their utilitarian aims, and suggests what we should do about that problem."
What particularly caught my eye was Bell's suggestion that, absent statutory protection for novel invention through patents, research and development could be rewarded through ideas futures.
Those of you interested in this idea should check out The Foresight Exchange, a functioning ideas futures market, not using real money.
Robin Hanson has a good page on the idea, as well.