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Saturday, August 31, 2002
Is this InstaPunditWatch?
 
Prof. Reynolds claims that it was lack of European material support for our efforts in Afghanistan that caused Bush the lesser's dismissive attitude toward European opinion. Or to put it in his own words: And that's why Bush doesn't "give a shit what the Europeans think."

Come on. Bush never gave a shit what the Europeans thought. On the day he was elected president, he probably couldn't have named five European leaders. Or five European countries for that matter. (Is Mexico yurpean?)

Dressing up Bush's arrogance and unilateralism as a reaction to tepid European support is worse than the InstaPundit's usual pro-Bush spin. (Let none speak ill of the Dear Leader) It's a flat-out lie.
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This or that
 
Glenn Reynolds discusses the environmental alternatives in his Tech Central Station column, but falls, I think, into the excluded middle. Here's Prof. Reynolds:

Environmentalists are right, in a way, when they refer to resources as finite. At current technology levels, resource endowments will eventually run out. But that's the problem. If we follow the advice of enviro-Luddites, we may cut our consumption of resources significantly, but since the supply is still finite, that only puts off the inevitable day when they will run out. And when they run out, people will do what people always do in a crisis: survive any way they can, even if it means strip-mining, wholesale tree-cutting and tree-burning, and stripping the ocean of anything that swims and can be eaten.

On the other hand, if technology continues to develop, resources are no longer finite. Nanotechnology turns dirt and sunlight into all-purpose construction materials. Space development turns asteroids into substitutes for mines (a 100-meter nickel-iron asteroid contains literally centuries' worth of metal at current rates of consumption), and lunar soil into potential fusion fuel. Biotechnology turns garbage into fuel and drugs.

Which world would you rather live in? One in which technology stagnates, and people make do with less to delay the inevitable day when everything goes black? Or one in which we can turn the Earth into a garden because we've moved all the polluting stuff into space? Back in the 1970s, science writer Jerry Pournelle called the latter future "survival with style," and it's the future I'd rather live in. If the Johannesburg flock have any sense, it's the one they'll pick, too.

Professor Reynolds and I probably agree on where we want to go, a future of increased plenty for all through the exploition of the solar system and the use of advanced technology. But I think he ignores the fact that there is more than one route there.

Too often, Prof. Reynolds's argument is used as a justification to proceed full speed ahead, heedless of the fact that such a pace is a guarantee of misery for millions and millions of people. Of course, throttling back the pace of progress to a speed that ensures we run out of everything before we make sufficient technological progress to be able to make the leap to a solar system utilizing culture is self-defeating. That doesn't mean, though, that we shouldn't moderate our growth so that we might reach our goal with the minimum of suffering along the way. And that route might very well be very slow.

In the end, we should neither revert to low-impact agrarianism nor burn the planet out on our way to bigger and better things. Rather, keeping the goal of a solar system wide society in mind, we should plot a course that gets us there in the most equitable manner possible. If that means getting there a hundred years later, so be it.
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Thulk smash
 
Meryl Yourish dodges Marvel Comics' legal department.
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More on race
 
Godless, of Gene Expression, was kind enough to reply to my earlier post on race, and I'd like to respond in a post. Godless writes:

Races are clusters in genome space.

If we ignore slight variations in genome length (e.g. insertions, deletions, etc.), we can approximate each human as a genome sequence - equivalent to a categorical vector with ~ 3*10^9 components, each with one of four values.

Vectors from people of the same geographic ancestry tend to cluster together in sequence space. If you start at a given point in sequence space and expand a hypersphere around it of steadily increasing radius (as defined by a genetic distance metric), you will start to include more and more points, representing other humans.

For example, if we extended a small hypersphere around someone of Chinese ancestry, they would group with other Chinese. As the sphere expanded, the radius would include other East Asians (Koreans, Japanese, etc.). At maximal radius the sphere would include the entire human race.

If we tease this out a bit, the important observation is that as we expand the hypersphere certain radii will be more significant than others, by virtue of the fact that those radii capture natural clusters in genome space. This is unremarkable. What is a substantial claim is that certain of the largest cluster groupings, those corresponding to the classical "race" categories, have something to tell us about the populations contained therein beyond the fact that those populations fall within that particular cluster.

Extraordinarily large clusters will contain correspondingly large variation. Of course, it is always possible to average over the cluster, but any information you obtain will be an artifact of the values more properly ascribed to smaller clusters.
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Friday, August 30, 2002
Race?
 
I was over at Gene Expression, where I found this post by Godless. In it, (s)he provides a recap of his(her) position on the nature and importance of human genetic differences, by way of listing points of agreement with a/some commentators. What struck my eye was this: "We agree that races exist."

Now, I'm not sure what this means. There's a fairly charged dispute in the biological community and beyond over the meaning of the term "race," and over the question of the "existence" of race. For a quick primer, here's a pro essay and a con essay.

But what does Godless mean when (s)he says that races exist? If (s)he means broad stroke racial classifications like "white" are biologically meaningful, I don't think I can agree. If we're talking about more specific classifications like "southwestern European," I wonder what use calling these "races" is, instead of a less charged term like "geographical subpopulations."

Is it all polemics?
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And now for something completely different
 
For those of you interested in or amused by philosophy, I can recommend The Philosophers' Magazine Online. Check out the games section.
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Thursday, August 29, 2002
Again, Mr President, make the case!
 
David Aaronovitch speaks for those skeptical of the case for war, but willing to be convinced. He asks:

Show me the evidence first. Don't just tell me you have it, tell me what it is. Convince me that the consequences of inaction outweigh the consequences of action. Publish the dossier. If I am going to have dead kids on my conscience, I have to know that the alternative was worse.

These are the people Bush needs to speak to. If he makes the case, I think they'll listen.
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When I say uh, I mean uh
 
James Carroll argues that there's more to Bush the lesser's famed inarticulateness than a lack of capacity with language. Rather, it is indicative of a failure of understanding, and ultimately, leadership.
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Comments are back ...
 
via Haloscan. Can't wait to hear from you.
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Something to gaze on
 
I just checked out David Yaseen's site, A Level Gaze. It's definitely worth a read. Go check it out for yourself.
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Between Scylla and Charybdis
 
I'm not feeling too hopeful these days.

On the one hand, we have a petty despot, determined for the purposes of his own personal aggrandizement to engage in the most reckless of conduct, thoughtless of the fate of his people and surrounded by a coterie of sycophantic factotums.

On the other hand, we have Saddam Hussein.
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Wednesday, August 28, 2002
Dean on Iraq
 
Matt Yglesias rightly points out that Howard Dean's position on Iraq's nuclear capacity exposes us to the worst of both worlds:

Waiting for Saddam to acquire nuclear weapons seems to me to be the worst of both worlds. All the international law issues surrounding the very concept of "preemptive" war will still be just as troubling, the thorny regional diplomacy will still be just as thorny, innocent Iraqi civilians will still die, except this way Saddam will be able to drop the bomb on us. If we're going to attack Saddam preemptively, then the sooner the better. The longer we wait the higher the costs become for the same payoff.

Nevertheless, I would point out that Dean calls for action given "irrefutable evidence" of Iraq's possession of nuclear or biological weapons.

Given the vice president's statement that there is no doubt that Saddam possesses WMD that he plans to use on the U.S., I think Dean's condition is pretty well satisfied.
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I wasn't aiming for the baby
 
Ampersand follows up on last week's account of the police assault on toddlers with a cartoon illustrating the "Top Ten Police Excuses For Pepperspraying Infants."
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Memetic infection
 
Bigwig over at Silflay Hraka graciously acknowledges my small contribution to the Hulk as politician meme, recently ripped off by The Onion and previously ripped off by me from Meryl Yourish.
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Give me a break
 
The InstaPundit hypes Mickey Kaus's latest bit of disingenuous Krugman bashing.

Kaus's target was a Krugman column about Bush's new plan to prevent forest fires by cutting down forests. Mickey couldn't find anything to nitpick in the substance of the column, so he focuses on the last paragraph:

A final thought: Wouldn't it be nice if just once, on some issue, the Bush administration came up with a plan that didn't involve weakened environmental protection, financial breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations and reduced public oversight?

In a stunning display of what the InstaPundit calls "fact-checking," Kaus offers up a Clinton era pollution control measure that Bush didn't kill as refutation.

First of all, rhetorically hyperbolic concluding paragraphs that ask for just one counter-example can charitably be read as suggesting that the vast majority of the possible examples to be found won't qualify as the counter-example. Sending your research assistant off to delve into the databases to find one good counter-example smacks of desperation.

Regardless, last time I checked, "come up with" means "produce." Failing to kill someone else's plan is hardly coming up with it.

Better luck next time.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2002
The course is clear
 
After finely parsing Dick Cheney's speech on Iraq, Bill Buckley concludes that "the American people should now be told that we are at war against Saddam Hussein."

The logic is inescapable. Cheney has stated that "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."

If Cheney is not dissembling for political effect, the course is clear.
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Dean for President
 
Hugo Young has a short interview with Howard Dean that's worth reading. Here's Dean on Bush:

This president has the capacity to do more harm to America than any other individual. For the first time we have a man in the White House who can neither manage economic affairs prudently nor foreign affairs wisely.

On Iraq, he rightly advocates "a 10-year, nation-building commitment."
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Mr President, make the case yourself
 
Dick Cheney's attempt to make the case for an attack on Iraq just convinces me that the administration of Bush the lesser is far too incompetent even to lay the groundwork for such an attack, let alone successfully conduct one, and more importantly, manage the aftermath.

Swirling in the air when Cheney made his speech was the news that the president doesn't feel he has a legal obligation to acquire the consent of Congress prior to an attack. No controlling legal precedent indeed. Isn't it obvious that the president must secure the approval of Congress prior to any attack on Iraq? Clearly it's a moral and political necessity. Leaks of White House counsel briefings informing the president that no such approval is required muddy the field before the game even starts.

The president should have made it clear from the outset that he will obtain the approval of Congress. Research into whether he could dispense with that approval should never have been undertaken.

What's more, the president must make the case himself. Sending Cheney out to float a trial balloon is worse than useless. It sends the signal that the president is unwilling, or unable, to make the case himself.

Mr President, talk to the American people. Convince them of the moral and practical need for action against Iraq. Be straight about the dangers. Commit yourself explicitly to the task of post-liberation nation building. Obtain the consent of Congress, through a formal vote, and if possible, the consent of the U.N.

Get busy with the nation's business.
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Cover your BUM
 
N.Z. Bear and others have launched the BlogMD Initiative, a project to create "new ways to browse the blog universe."

For me, the project conjures up images of both early cartographers endeavoring to map the natural world and early explorers boldly venturing out to discover and bring back information.

So, go check it out.

Only, I don't really like the BlogMD moniker, which puts me too much in mind of Blog Doctor, the cure for your sick blog. I prefer MetaBlog, or perhaps Blog Universe MetaDatabase.
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What's up with comments?
 
Jonty of netcomments tells me that his hosting company has decided that the comments feature uses too much CPU time and has suspended the site temporarily. He's trying to sort it, and hopes to get the service back up within a few days. If not, I'll switch to a new comments tool.
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Monday, August 26, 2002
Sarcasm from the InstaPundit
 
After characterizing, with tongue in cheek I think, the arrest of podiatrist terrorist Robert Goldstein as a "success for homeland security," the InstaPundit adds the following pithy comment:

I'm still waiting for someone to write that we need to understand the hopelessness and desperation that lead people to contemplate such horrific acts, though.

Well, Professor Reynolds, I'm still waiting for you to write that the person responsible for the homeland security farce, as well as the airline security boondoggle and the anthrax investigation debacle, is none other than George Bush.
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Thanks Rittenhouse Review
 
Thanks to James Capozzola, editor of The Rittenhouse Review, for adding Homeobox to that site's list of "better blogs." Homeobox appreciates it, Mr Capozzola. Right back at ya.

Readers might also want to check out The Lefty Directory's interview with Mr Capozzola.
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More Hatfill
 
NRO's Joel Mowbray seems to think that the worst thing about the Steven Hatfill situation is the pillorying the man has received at the hands of Nicholas Kristof. Now, I tend to agree that Kristof's treatment of Hatfill verges on the irresponsible, but the worst thing about the Hatfill situation is that the Justice Department are botching the investigation.

To be fair to Mowbray, though, he does devote two paragraphs to Justice. Here's one of them:

With Hatfill on the offense, the government ought to make its move: Go public with the legitimate evidence against Hatfill, or, if there isn't any, publicly exonerate him and apologize. It seems only appropriate to ask of the Department of Justice.

Yeah, and maybe conduct an investigation that stands a chance of catching and convicting the perpetrator.
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Justice bungling
 
Here's what I took from yesterday's Washington Post story on Steven Hatfill. Hatfill claims that he had been working overtime on the days the anthrax letters were mailed, so he couldn't have mailed them. He's produced timesheets to back up the claim.

Now, I realize that it's been quite a while since the days in question, but the FBI have had this guy under a lens for quite some time. Haven't they been able to pin down his alibi by questioning co-workers, seeing if he used a card key at work on the days and at the times he suggests he was there or obtaining things like credit card or phone records that could establish his whereabouts?

I don't know enough to say whether Hatfill is innocent or guilty. I do know enough to say that this investigation is becoming a debacle.
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Inconsistencies on the left
 
Writing in the Guardian, David Clark calls our attention to the contradictions and shifts in attitude that characterize the arguments of many on the left with regard to action in Iraq. Here's a sample:

There are no easy options for dealing with the threat that Saddam represents. He can either be contained or deposed, and there are unavoidable costs in both. It scarcely matters whether the suffering of the Iraqi people has been caused by UN sanctions or deliberately orchestrated by Saddam in order to blackmail the international community into giving him a free hand. Containment has a human cost either way. Those who have argued that it is unacceptably high have a moral obligation to say which of the alternatives they prefer: to get rid of Saddam or allow him to continue unhindered.

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Sunday, August 25, 2002
Yglesias on design
 
Matt Yglesias thinks that presenting the argument from design would make it "that much harder" to disabuse students of "the massively false beliefs" that in all likelihood currently make up the larger part of their views on evolution.

Just to make sure that my position is crystal clear, let me reiterate that I don't think that Intelligent Design is a viable alternate hypothesis for the apparent design of biological organisms. I do think think that natural selection provides a perfectly robust explanation.

Nevertheless, prior to the advent of natural selection, Intelligent Design was the best explanation going, and it does answer the key question: Why do biological organisms look as if they were designed?

In communities where there is substantial desire to see the argument from design presented as part of the curriculum, I can see no reason not to compromise and present it. Students are smart enough to choose the better explanation themselves. Plus, it would be a great exercise in critical thinking.
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Let students decide
 
Charles Murtaugh turned me on to this excellent demolition by Allen Orr of William Dembski's arguments that Darwinism cannot provide an explanation for the existence of complex adaptations.

Orr reveals Dembski's arguments to be not simply wrong, but fundamentally disingenuous.

After an interesting discussion of Dembski's preference for an interventionist designer over one who sets the rules in advance, Orr concludes by speculating as to Dembski's motives:

But more important, I suspect Dembski and much of the ID community are turned off by the fact that the Einsteinian view demands no change, much less revolution, in our practice of science. The Einsteinian view is insufficiently radical—too tame, too palatable, and too inconsequential for Dembski and his fellow travelers. It is one thing to stand in awe before the harmony of natural law. It is quite another to topple methodological naturalism, puncture materialism, and re-write the textbooks of Ohio and Texas. I can guess which Dembski prefers.

Which brings us back to the discussion of whether and how Intelligent Design should be included in high school curricula. As loyal readers of Homeobox will know, I'm an advocate of compromise on this issue. In the end, I think that a well designed course that begins with the feature of the world we want an explanation for, apparent design of biological organisms, and presents Darwinism and Intelligent Design as competing hypotheses, would allow students to reach the conclusion for themselves that it is Darwinism that provides the most robust explanation. Students, I think, are smart enough to make up their own minds.
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Equal justice
 
Atrios is calling for comments on the case of Robert Goldstein, the Florida podiatrist discovered to have a small arsenal in his home along with a written plan to attack an Islamic educational center.

What do I think? Well, I think he should be held without bail, because he presents a threat to the community, afforded access to his attorney, given a fair and speedy trial on charges of plotting terroristic violence, and, if found guilty by a jury of his peers, sentenced to a long stretch in prison.

Just like anyone else in the U.S. accused of similar crimes. Oh, wait ...
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Dear Leader
 
Ampersand posts the account of a dad who, along with his toddler, got pepper sprayed by police making sure Bush the lesser could raise funds without having to be annoyed by the voices of the people. Check out the chilling picture of people confronting police in riot gear.

Combine that image with the arguments made in this Washington Post essay that the administration, in pursuit of its bogus Homeland Security program, "has made no attempt to devise any procedures consistent with the rule of law and instead argues that the president's power related to the national defense does not require such procedures."

It looks like a cult of the leader, entitled to deference from the masses enforced with violence and entrusted with powers unchecked by any Constitutional restraint. Makes you wonder.
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Make the case!
 
James Baker gives the president a blueprint for making the case for action against Iraq. Regime change in Iraq, argues Baker, is a practical and moral necessity, and can only be accomplished through the use of overwhelming military force. Baker advises the president to get his squabbling aides on the same page and make the case to the U.N. for immediate, no-restrictions inspections of Iraqi arms facilities, with military conquest an absolutely certain consequence of the first failure of complete compliance.

There is no place for a misguided policy of strategic ambiguity with regard to Iraq. Stop temporizing, Mr President.
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