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Saturday, August 17, 2002
Should I title my posts ...
... or not?

Homeobox is new to blogging goodness, and is willing to take advice. So, tell me what you think. After I review the opinions of my tens of readers, I'll make a decision.

Do you lisp?
Matt Yglesias helpfully posts the FBI's drug use shibboleth. I wonder if Bush the lesser would pass.

Who's president?
Reading Meryl Yourish's amusing guest contributor, the Hulk, put me in mind of something. I think there might be a political message here. Let's look at the transcript of a recent press conference.

The NY Times: Mr President, can you articulate the basic case for war against Iraq?

POTUS: Saddam evil. Bush smash.

NYT: A follow up, Mr President. Isn't there a chance that any attack on Iraq would precipitate exactly the kind of MWD strike we hope to forestall?

POTUS: Bush not be hurt. Bush not care. Bush smash.

The Washington Post: Mr President, is it the administration’s intention to commit to nation building in a post-Saddam Iraq?

POTUS: Bush smash.

WaPo: Uh, yes, Mr President, but after the attack ...

POTUS: Bush smash. Bush smash you, you not careful.

NBC: Mr President, doesn't your refusal to make all Harken records available open you to charges of a cover-up?

POTUS: Bush not care what you think.

ABC: Mr President, given the ballooning budget deficit, is it wise to enact the future tax cuts envisioned in your plan?

POTUS: Bush smash taxes.

CBS: Mr President, given the current economic situation, what steps will the administration take to shore up confidence?

POTUS: Bush smash.

The Hulk as president.

Meryl Yourish weighs back in on the ongoing paternal rights discussion and hits the nail on the head. Why do women have a choice when it comes abortion, while men have to pay as a consequence? Easy answer. Here's Meryl:

My body. My decision. Not yours, not a judge's.

Friday, August 16, 2002
Paul Orwin (link via Charles Murtaugh) muses on the question of the apparent fine tuning of physical constants, and, I think, gets it backwards. He writes:

Well, I always find it a bit humorous how people with intense mathematical training can blithely state something like "the chance of human beings arising from Evolution are infinitesimal" or "the chance of all of these physical constants being just so, allowing for us to exist, is very small". Any time someone invokes an argument of this type, they are making a serious logical error. How many times have the physical constants of the universe been set? How many times has life on Earth evolved (ok, there can be some debate on this one, given the history of cosmic catastrophe on the earth's surface)? The answer, in both cases, is once. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you simply can't argue "What are the odds?" about something that has only, and can only, happen once! It is simply not a useful discussion.

No one is really asking what the odds are. We begin with the observation that a great number of the physical constants of this universe, such as the expansion rate of the universe or the nuclear resonance that allows the abundant creation of carbon, have values such that small deviations would render life impossible. Then we ask why those constants should have those values.

An obvious answer is that, if they didn't, we wouldn't be here to wonder about it. As true as that is, it doesn't provide an explanation for the values of the constants beyond brute fact: Those are just the values the constants have; lucky us.

The idea of "odds" gets introduced by the back door, as it were, when we try to come up with an explanation. If the constants varied across a large number of universes, the fact that we live in a universe that has life supporting values wouldn't be much of a surprise. In fact, it's a dead cert. "Odds are" that if constants vary across a very large number of universes, some will have the right combination to produce life, thanks to the law of large numbers.

But this doesn't mean that anyone is asking, "what are the odds that this universe would have those values." The question that's being asked is, "why does this universe have constants with the values that it does."

For those of you interested in the fate of that little lost dog, we paid a visit to the vet and she's healthy, but doesn't have a microchip. So, for the nonce, she's got a room at the Hotel Fitzpatrick while we look around for either her owner, or somebody looking for a well-behaved, house-trained schnauzer cross. If you live in Catalunya and you're interested, drop me an e-mail.

Mister's not too thrilled.

Noah Snyder has responded to my earlier post criticizing his position on annulment of paternal obligations. Let's take a look. Noah writes:

The argument is not that men have exactly as much of a right to annul paternity as women do to an abortion. The argument is that every argument for abortion has a analogue (albeit sometimes weeker) which argues for paternalt annulment. I'm not claiming that a right to control your bank account is equivalent to a right to control your own body, but that doesn't mean we don't have some right to control our bank accounts.

This, I think, is exactly where I disagree. The only valid argument for abortion rights is the argument for autonomy over bodies. And that argument has no paternal analogue.

Of course, we have rights to control our bank accounts. It's just that these rights don't survive balancing with the rights of a child to support.

The question at hand here is why is it reasonable to force a man to pay for the rest of his life for a child which he did not want to have. If you argue that by choosing to have sex he has agreed to live with the consequences, then you are on slippery ground because you could make the same argument that a woman agrees to part with certain rights to control her own body when she chooses to have sex. Perhaps the argument for men is weeker, but that doesn't make it incorrect.

Wanting or not wanting to have a child is irrelevant to the analysis. If the child is yours, absent some prior agreement with the other parent to the contrary, you pay. It's a bright line rule. And it applies equally to the mother and the father.

You could argue that a woman loses autonomy over her own body as a consequence of having sex, but there's no slippery slope between that position and the position that parents must pay for their offspring. And that's my point. The positions are entirely separate.

We don't make sperm donors pay child support, why should we make a man pay child support when he thought he was engaging in non-procreative sex?

We don't make sperm donors pay because there was a prior agreement not to. And frankly, there's not much difference between procreative and non-procreative sex. Intentions are difficult to determine, and accidents do happen. Bright line rules work best.

If sex does not commit a woman to bear a child this produces, then why does it commit a man to pay for the child this produces? (Notice I am not saying that bearing a child is the equiavlent of paying for a child, only that the act which produces the commitment is the same.)

Because a woman's right to autonomy over her body trumps the rights of the child-to-be. As soon as the child is born, that right to autonomy is taken out of the equation, and men and women are on equal ground. Since there is no autonomy issue for men, they just get to that point sooner.

I'm not saying that you can't come up with a good answer to that question, only that it is very difficult to come up with a good answer to that question which does not also give a decent argument against abortion.

I think I just gave a good answer that's not an argument against abortion. We'll see what people think. Maybe this is enough to convince Matt Yglesias.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002
Josh Marshall rubbishes the Bush administration's decision to ax $5.1 billion dollars from the budget. He concludes:

The real story here is the folks running the White House were so desparate and panicked about what to do on the economy and so eager to come up with some way to salvage the Economic Forum that they came up with this joke which is sure to backfire.

Now, I agree that the administration of Bush the lesser is the most incompetent in my personal experience. But, I think this decision speaks more to the attitude in the administration that the American people, generally, are just as stupid and uninformed as the president is.

Hope they're wrong.

Diane E. puts up another post about the paternal rights issue. And still gets it wrong.

I find that it's often the case that self-described conservatives try to clothe their positions in commonsense garb, when those positions are really ideologically motivated cant. Take this, for example:

Regarding the relationship of the child to the father, yeah, it’s too bad that the human product of a one-night shtup doesn’t have the same relationship to his night depositor as does the child of a marriage. Tough. Nature, and society, are correct to provide disincentives to stupid behavior. As I said, I am a conservative and it’s a dirty rotten job but someone has to point out “You can’t have it all.”

This conflates two senses of "relationship." Diane is playing off the sense of "personal relationship." What's at issue is the "legal relationship." And as I've said before, creating an incentive for marriage by punishing children is a pretty stupid idea. She's right, though, that "you can't have it all." If you want to have sex, and you're a man, be prepared to pay for a child.

Oh, but that's so unfair to the man, who can't decide to have an abortion. To quote Diane, "tough."

Here's some more:

If you believe that the woman should have 100% of the life and death power over the fetus, then you cannot believe that the man has 50% of the responsibility of the free choice she has made.

Well, I believe that a woman has 100% of the power over her own body. And I believe that a man has 100% of the responsibility for the decisions he makes, knowing that if a child is born and it's his, he has to pay.

Basically, I'm reluctantly coming to the conclusion that Diane's position comes down to: Punish these unmarried sluts, and their bastard kids too.

Give me a break.

Matthew Yglesias's speculation that Demosthenes is really a kid put me in mind of this essay by David Deutsch. Deutsch argues that being a child constitutes the last widely accepted reason for irrational discrimination.

Allison M. expresses surprise that people are still arguing about evolution in the United States.

Well, mostly, the argument about evolution is driven by religious fundamentalists and biblical literalists, who, by virtue of their positions on various school boards, are attempting to approve the teaching of some form of creationism in public schools. One of their favored avenues these days is reliance on the argument from design.

While I am not a believer in the applicability of that argument as an explanation for the apparent design of biological organisms, I do believe, as I've argued before, that in a democracy, sometimes you have to compromise, even if you find your opponent's thinking wooly headed. And given the centrality of apparent design to the concept of natural selection, there is room for compromise.

Allison also has an interesting post about chimpanzee violence. Check her site out.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002
Diane E. adds her thoughts to the ongoing discussion of paternal rights. And gets it wrong. Here's the key section:

After the woman is pregnant, it is her choice to bring the child to term. Isn't that what the damned choice movement is all about? If an unmarried woman chooses to bring a child to term, then let her deal with the consequences.

Unfair? Tough. That's life. If the courts weren't so busy destroying the laws that protect marriage (which really protect women and children) then those women who choose, yes, choose, to have kids out of wedlock might think twice about their bad decision. Single parenthood sucks. Children who grow up without fathers are at a disadvantage in practically every imaginable way. There is no argument about that at this stage of the game.

What the feminists and Meryl seem to be saying is that a woman should be able to choose whether or not to bear a child (we agree on that), and force a man that a woman has no legal relationship with to pay for the kid's upkeep if she alone decides to bear the child.

Let me start at the end. What's significant in terms of a father's obligation to a child is not his legal relationship with the mother, but his legal relationship with the child. Diane seems to be saying that allowing fathers who aren't married to mothers to blow off responsibility for their children will send a message to those misguided single mothers: Get married or else.

Of course, this ignores the, admittedly wildly unlikely, possibility that it's the man who doesn't want to get married. And would have the effect of punishing children. If you want to encourage marriage, there are lots of better ways to provide incentives.

What's more, Diane arbitrarily picks one choice, the choice to carry to term, and makes that the choice that carries "consequences." Why that choice, and not the choice to have sex in the first place?

Ultimately, I think we all want to see children provided for, and the best way to do that is to attach financial responsibility to biological motherhood and fatherhood. Frankly, abortion has nothing to do with it at all.

Intelligent Design seems to be on a lot of people's minds these days.

Iain Coleman comments favorably on Simon Blackburn's review of two books by John Polkinghorne, physicist, theologian and apologist for the reconciliation of religion and science. While I share the opinion of Messrs Blackburn and Coleman that attempts to provide scientific or historical justification for any particular set of religious beliefs are worse than useless, even delusional, I'm not such a sceptic when it comes to the argument from design in cosmology.

Blackburn offers us the familiar objections to cosmological Intelligent Design, that such a proposition is not falsifiable and leads to an infinite regress of "who created the creator" questions.

As to the former, the objection just doesn't hold water. Cosmological Intelligent Design, based as it is on the seeming fine-tuning of the constants of the physical world, does in fact make predictions, disproof of which would falsify the theory. If those constants, such as the nuclear resonance that allows the production of carbon in stars, are not quite so finely tuned as they seem to be, or if their fine tuning turns out to be the result of natural processes, the theory would loose crucial support.

Furthermore, the idea of fine tuning requires that the law of large numbers does not apply to universes. That is to say, a prediction made by an otherwise well confirmed theory that there were, in fact, a large number of universes would serve also to falsify Intelligent Design because the apparent fine tuning could then be seen simply as an artifact of the universe we live in. Of course the constants are finely tuned to support life in this universe, because otherwise we wouldn't be here to comment. This line of reasoning, however, requires there exist a large number of actual universes.

Arguments about falsifiability are similar to those that describe cosmological Intelligent Design as a "god of the gaps" position, a line which Charles Murtaugh puts forward. I have to disagree with this characterization as well. "God of the gaps" arguments point to an area where explanation is not forthcoming, and given our difficulty providing an explanation, simply insert god. Cosmological Intelligent Design, by contrast, points to a feature of the world, the seeming fine tuning of physical constants, and offers an intelligent designer as a hypothesis for the presence of that feature.

As to the problem of infinite regress, I don't think it is that hard to imagine that there could be a difference in kind between creator and creation, perhaps a difference in terms of contingency and necessity, that would explain why the universe needs a creator, but the creator does not need one in turn.

In any event, I don't find cosmological Intelligent Design to be an exercise in wooly-headed wishful thinking, or worse yet, disingenuous apology, but rather a fascinatingly open question. Attempts to make use of it to support a particular religious view of the world, however, probably do fall into one of the former categories.

There's been a lot of talk in the blogosphere, and beyond, about the application of game theoretical models to the situation in Iraq. Take a look at the Spatialized Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma demonstration at Oxford Virtual Technology. Make sure to play around with the interaction target setting.

For another Prisoner's Dilemma interactive game, with some good commentary and links to boot, check out Serendip.

Critics have suggested that Homeobox contains too much relentless bloviation on topics political, and too little ... er, whatever. Since I'm always willing to take constructive criticism on board (particularly when the critic is my wife), here's the lowdown on one of my favorite cartoons, Kevin Spencer.

You, too, can follow the adventures of the eponymous hero, a young, chain-smoking, alcoholic sociopath. Meet his dysfunctional welfare dependent parents, Percy and Anastasia. Thrill to his interactions with his prison psychiatrist. Laugh at the antics of his many acquaintances (sociopaths can't really have friends). And get to know my personal favorite, Alan the Magic Goose, Kevin's imaginary friend.

So, take a ride in Kevin's cracked skull. Check it out here.

This piece in the Washington Post on a new Justice Department plan to fingerprint certain aliens is terrible as journalism. It contains the obligatory quote from an "immigration advocate" claiming that the plan is no more than racial profiling and suggesting that it is designed to reduce visitors from the Middle East.

But if the Post feels compelled to quote opponents of the plan, why no quote from someone suggesting that the plan is propagandistic window dressing that ignores the country that 15 of 19 of the 9/11 terrorists came from?

It seems obvious to me that the raison d'etre of the Bush administration is the Bush administration.

Now, I think that I could live with this if, delving deeper, I saw Bush as a cynical manipulator, twisting the facts and his own positions in order to cling to power for power's sake alone. In fact, I think this is probably a pretty good description of many of Bush's consiglieres.

What frightens me is that I can't really see Bush this way. I believe that he is filled with a messianic sense of purpose. The Bush administration is the end because God has chosen it to be.

Bruce Anderson, writing in the Guardian, says that the case for war against Iraq is "irresistible." Here's a sample:

But if [Saddam] were left to his own devices, in command of Iraq's oil wealth and relatively advanced manufacturing sector, it would only be a matter of time before he acquired terrible weapons and a means of delivering them. The dangers of such a man possessing such weaponry are so great, so self-evident, that mere containment is not enough. A pre-emptive war is justified, and article 54 of the UN charter would provide enough cover for such a venture.

Anderson concludes that Tony Blair should use his "undoubted powers of persuasion" to make the case for the attack to the British people.

I think this is correct and applicable to the Bush administration also (well, minus the powers of persuasion part). It's time that Bush stopped shilly-shallying. Comments to the effect that Saddam is a bad guy but the president is deliberately weighing his options are worse than useless. Start making the case for war now, Mr President.

Monday, August 12, 2002
Peter Beinart argues persuasively in TNR that Democrats should focus on making sure the administration follows through with nation building efforts in Iraq, following our conquest of that country.

Good advice.

The Washington Post calls on the administration to live up to its own rhetoric and get busy with the work of rebuilding Afghanistan. Hear, hear.

What's so troubling about the lack of administration commitment to Afghanistan is that it bodes ill for commitment to a post-Saddam Iraq. From my perspective, the opportunity to build a liberal and democratic Iraq is at least as compelling a reason for U.S. action there as removing Saddam and his WMD program from the scene.

Sunday, August 11, 2002
Silflay Hraka trashes a NY Times piece on blogging and Noam Chomsky's new pamphlet. Check it out.

This, frankly, is outrageous. It must be clear that the Jose Padilla "case" is nothing but an exercise in propaganda. And that's what motivates the administration to strip an American citizen of his constitutional rights? If there were evidence that the man was truly guilty of plotting a radiological attack, the situation would be more complicated, but as it stands, it's just shameful.

Impeach Norm Mineta? Impeach John Ashcroft.

Noah Snyder argues that there should be a mechanism available to annul paternity, the legal analogue of an abortion (link via Matt Yglesias). I think this is a terrible idea.

The principal pro-choice argument is, at bottom, about women's autonomy in making choices about their own bodies, not bank accounts. Take away this factor, and there is no compelling reason to allow men to dodge responsibility for the children they father. What it comes down to is male sniveling about how unfair the situation is, since women can choose to abort a fetus, but if they choose to keep the child-to-be, dads have to pay.

To quote Meryl Yourish, "cry me a river." Might as well complain about not having a uterus. Maybe we can come up with some kind of legal analogue for one, though.

Good stuff in the NY Times about the administration's making the case for war against Iraq. Here's a sample:

For all their talk, however, administration officials have not yet made a case for war that would ensure public support, critics say. President Bush must deliver a major speech on the subject, they say, and also secure the vocal support of Congress.

"You have not had the president articulate why Saddam Hussein needs to be removed," said Lee Hamilton, the former Democratic congressman who now heads the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "He has not made the case that Saddam Hussein is an imminent threat to the United States."


I thought I'd throw my two cents into the Steven Den Beste - Demosthenes brouhaha. Was Demosthenes's post ad hominem? Not precisely. Was it condescending as hell? You bet.

Meryl Yourish follows up on her "you want to play, be prepared to pay" post regarding men's desire to duck child support for children they didn't want. As I've said before, I'm in agreement with the sentiment.

Meryl concludes with something that I can't quite agree with though. She writes:

The mother is going to spend the next eighteen years (minimum) caring for that child. The child isn't going to take care of itself. That's why the woman gets to decide whether or not she wants to have the baby, and why the man has to pay even though he has no legal say in the matter. Because of the age-old story: Men leave. Women stay and take care of the children. Cry me a river, part two.

Now, I agree that women usually raise the children, but I don't think that's the principal reason why women get to decide whether they want to carry a child-to-be to term. That reason is that women have a right to autonomy with regard to their own bodies. Even if we lived in Bizarro World, and men took care of children, women would still have the right to choose to carry to term, or not.