Saturday, June 01, 2002

VIA WSJ BEST-OF-THE-WEB. An Israeli newspaper reports on an attempted terrorist attack:
An Arab terrorist infiltrated the community of Shavei Shomron this morning, throwing grenades and shooting at residents, including kindergarten children. Fortunately, his attacks failed and he was ultimately killed by an armed shopkeeper who chased him down. There were no injuries.

At about 8:30 AM, an Arab infiltrator managed to open fire and throw at least one grenade at the Shavei Shomron kindergarten before setting off on a shooting spree through the town. He opened fire at several residents and homes before David Elbaz, owner of the local mini-market, gave chase and killed him with gunshots. In addition to several grenades and the weapon the terrorist carried on him, security sweeps revealed several explosive devices that he had intended to detonate during the thwarted attack.
Here's the Reuters version, five paragraphs into a story about an Israeli raid on terrorists in Nablus:
Jewish settlements, hated symbols of occupation to Palestinians, have also been targeted. On Friday, an armed Palestinian infiltrated Shavei Shomron settlement north of Nablus and was shot dead by a settler, military sources said.
LATEST Blogbook nominations.
CHRIS KAHRL COMMENTS on the now-postponed Jason Tyner bobblehead day in Tampa Bay. The .214 hitting outfielder was shipped to the minor leagues just days before tomorrow's scheduled giveaway. (And how did the world-famous Durham Bulls get themselves associated with the most-worthy-of-contraction Tampa Bay Devil Rays in any event?)
CALL YOUR CONGRESSCRITTER and demand real INS reform from the administration.
In the mid 1990s, the Clinton administration initiated, then let die, a revolutionary computer visa system that could have prevented Atta and Al-Shehhi from getting their student visas, and might even have uncovered their conspiracy before September 11 came to pass. The bad news for Bush (and the rest of us) is that some of the people most responsible for killing the computer system are now running the INS---put there by none other than George W. Bush. And since September 11, these officials have been operating below the media radar to make sure that a broken immigration-security system stays broken.

Why would members of the Bush administration want to do such a thing, given the president's firm commitment to fight terrorism? Because of the president's other firm commitment to courting Hispanic voters. Key Bush officials know that an effective system of tracking immigrants is the last thing Hispanic and other immigration lobbyists want to see. Indeed, a fundamental tension operates within the Bush administration itself, and the GOP generally, between national-security conservatives, who want a strong INS capable of keeping terrorists out, and libertarian conservatives, who want a weak INS incapable of stopping the free flow of labor. It's no exaggeration to say that the future security of the country may depend upon which side wins.
(via Marshall)

Friday, May 31, 2002

YOU SHOULD NOT BRANDISH POKERS AT GUEST LECTURERS. Charles Kuffner correctly points out that my discussion of intelligent design uses a lot of words when one, "falsifiable," will do. Karl Popper's philosophy of science was somewhat orthogonal to the conversation I was having with Professor Volokh (who is almost certainly at least passably acquainted with notions of falsifiability), so I just didn't want to get into it (I'd imagine that 99.99% of the people familiar with the term "falsifiability" don't need any convincing regarding the problematic nature of intelligent design theory), but the Kuffner post has a nice introduction if the name Popper doesn't ring a bell.
I WISH THIS ARTICLE about the injured victims of suicide bombers were better-written and had more than the vague details it does have, but the included photos of x-rays of shrapnel tell plenty.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

GOOD PIECE BY Roger Clegg how civil rights lawyers are contributing to educational disruption by challenging school disciplinary procedures -- as if the problem in inner-city schools is too much discipline.
ONCE UPON A TIME, a conservative was someone who got offended when the Lord's name was taken in vain. My least-favorite writer at NRO, Kathryn Lopez, along with the Media Research Center, seems unaware of this in criticizing ABC's decision to bleep "Jesus" from the exclamation of a host for "The View," though I agree the decision is a bit odd in this day and age.
LAST WORD: The underlying problem is that Eugene is using "intelligent design" in its narrowest sense (where it's an interesting philosophical construct not much different than the legendary "brain in a vat" thought experiment), while the people he is critiquing are discussing ID on the terms that the ID proponents are actually discussing it. Eugene concedes that ID, in his sense, isn't scientific. ID proponents don't make that concession, and falsely present the ID vs. evolution dispute as a scientific debate.

It's a language issue: when I say "intelligent design", I'm discussing the intelligent design movement, which makes actual contentions that are demonstrably false, including the contention that ID is scientific. With that definition, there's nothing incorrect with saying that "intelligent design proponents are wrong." Eugene would surely agree with that (he states his agreement with the premises in his posts, and the conclusion naturally follows), just as I would agree with Eugene's narrower (but ultimately trivial) point that the hypothesis "An omniscient being created both humanity and all of the evidence pointing towards evolution and away from intelligent design" cannot ultimately be said to be "wrong" or anything worse than "not helpful."

But the narrow point that Eugene is making is ultimately irrelevant to the debate that's happening in front of school boards -- there isn't an ID proponent that is making the concessions that Eugene is making. Eugene's criticism of my calling "intelligent design" "wrong" is thus inapposite to, and, I believe, unfairly critical of, the point I made.
That's my objection to Eugene's statements.

Some links, courtesy of readers: LAN3 points to The Skeptic's Dictionary on intelligent design, Jim Ancona refers me to this interesting work on pulsars, and Godless Capitalist, though he's talking past Volokh, has lengthy commentary and a series of links both on refutations of ID and the predictive power of evolutionary theory.
PROFESSOR VOLOKH'S thought experiment about how "intelligent design" might be viewed in the context of astrophysics is interesting but inapposite to the "intelligent design" vs. "evolution" debate. The proper analogy to the position of the "intelligent design" school is not "I think that object X out there might have been created by an intelligent, advanced alien species" but "I think that object X out there might have been created by an intelligent, advanced alien species because there is no alternative explanation: everything that is being taught about astrophysics to the contrary is absolutely incorrect, though I have no alternative model to put in its place, and absolutely no evidence contradicting the current model. Therefore, students should not be taught physics." It's not sufficient to say "That's interesting, but completely useless"; the second statement is (a) incorrect on a factual basis (there is an alternative explanation to intelligent design consistent with the evidence) (b) bad science (in that it's simply denial without evidence and without putting forward a better, or indeed any, alternative theory, much less a testable one) and (c) coming to an erroneous conclusion because of an incorrect premise.

Part of the problem seems to be that Professor Volokh seems to be taking the intelligent-design supporters at their word when they claim to be making scientific critiques in good faith. That's not the case. The intelligent design literature consistently misquotes or misrepresents existing scientific literature, and consistently ignores evidence contradicting its claims. There's a reason the leading book on intelligent design is by a law professor, and the leading argument for teaching intelligent design is a Zogby poll: this is a political movement, not a scientific one. As science, it's the equivalent to the "frivolous argument" in law: no more valid than the arguments of tax protestors who weave together disparate Supreme Court precedent to "prove" the inapplicability of the income tax. And there's nothing improper or imprecise with saying that "intelligent design theory" as its promoters want it taught in the schools of the United States is absolutely, positively, 100% wrong, any more than saying that a tax professor is disserving her students if she presents Irwin Schiff as a valid alternative to conventional understandings of tax law.
IT'S INTERESTING HOW Bush defenders and Bush haters both seize upon the same Bush anecdote to rally the troops.
"I wonder why it is you think there are such strong sentiments in Europe against you and against this administration?" the reporter [David Gregory] said. "Why, particularly, there's a view that you and your administration are trying to impose America's will on the rest of the world, particularly when it comes to the Middle East and where the war on terrorism goes next?"

Turning to Mr. Chirac, he added in French: "And, Mr. President, would you maybe comment on that?"

"Very good," Mr. Bush said sardonically. "The guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental."

"I can go on," Mr. Gregory offered.

"I'm impressed — que bueno," said Mr. Bush, using the Spanish phrase for "how wonderful." He deadpanned: "Now I'm literate in two languages."
Perhaps the difference comes from the sources: this Washington Times piece and this New York Times report (which used the more neutral "added" instead of "deadpanned", but omitted the Washington Times contention that the reporting pool laughed at Bush's remark).
A FASCINATING POINT-BY-POINT refutation of another intelligent-design book, Jonathan Wells's Icons of Evolution.
THERE HAVE BEEN more than a few controversies over deep-linking: to what extent can you use hyperlinks to deep-link to another site before infringing upon the intellectual property rights to the content of that site? Oliver Willis takes deep-linking to a law-school exam level. It's a pure-link blog, but it looks like a web-magazine (albeit one with a much cleaner feel than the increasingly unreadable Slate or Salon). Clicking on a link will take you directly to the linked site without a frame or pop-up; there's not even the level of the five-word pithy comments of a Robot Wisdom. Moreover, he's selling ads, is promising to pay linked writers a portion of moneys received (though heaven knows how he's going to calculate that formula, or track down Joe Klein to give him his 0.263% share). I wish him luck, but fear he'll get a cease-and-desist letter from someone who doesn't understand the Web.
SPEAKING OF Stephen Jay Gould, he has (had?) some cogent points:
In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact" - part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus the power of the creationist argument: evolution is "only" a theory and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is worse than a fact, and scientists can't even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): "Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science - that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was."

Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.

Moreover, "fact" doesn't mean "absolute certainty"; there ain't no such animal in an exciting and complex world. The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are NOT about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us falsely for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

Evolutionists have been very clear about this distinction of fact and theory from the very beginning, if only because we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred. Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory - natural selection - to explain the mechanism of evolution.

- Stephen J. Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory"; Discover, May 1981

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

INTELLIGENT DESIGN REDUX. Volokh writes (albeit in the spirit of devil's advocacy):
But whatever might be wrong about teaching intelligent design, it's not that intelligent design is wrong.
Not so.

"Intelligent design" isn't science in the slightest. As Scott and Sager note, "Whether evolution occurred or not is not a debated question in mainstream science." (The linked page gives a good explication of why Philip Johnson's legal-style analysis falls short when applied to scientific study.) As Gilchrist writes:
A theory represents a collection of explanations, hypotheses, tests, and applications, including anomalies and failures (Kuhn 1962). Not all aspects of any theory are directly testable. For example, any theory explaining organismal diversity cannot be directly tested, since the plants, animals and microbes that make up the living world are the result of a historical process not readily replicated in the laboratory. However, evolutionary theory (and presumably, intelligent design theory) contains corollaries that make non-obvious predictions about patterns within the existing biota that can be tested.

If intelligent design theory is a viable alternative to evolutionary theory, then scientists must be using it to devise tests and to interpret patterns in the data they collect. What sense would there be in presenting an idea as a scientific theory if the idea were not actually used by working scientists? The importance of a scientific theory is not related to its popularity with the general public, but to its utility in directing research and explaining observations within a particular field of study (Kuhn 1962). For example, millions of people read their horoscopes each day, but astrology plays no role in directing research by astronomers or psychologists. Astrology, therefore, is not discussed in science textbooks except in a historical context. Because professional scientists must publish their work to retain their jobs and to obtain funding, the relative status of intelligent design theory and evolutionary theory can be assessed by comparing their frequency of usage in the professional scientific literature.
Guess how many peer-reviewed published papers exist using intelligent design theory to explain biological diversity. It's a round number. A very round number. Yep, zero.
Davis and Kenyon have baptized their concept of external design of living organisms as "intelligent design theory", but where is the research using this theory? The first edition of their book appeared in 1989; surely by 1997 there should be some evidence of intelligent design theory in the scientific literature if it is a bona fide piece of science.
Another example: around the world, oil and gas exploration companies make decisions worth billions of dollars based on scientific understandings of the history of the earth and interpretations of the geologic and fossil records of core samples. Is this a massive market failure, whereby an "intelligent-design" "scientist" can open up his or her own oil-and-gas exploration business and trump the competition by using the supposedly superior science? Or has the market correctly rejected young-earth creationism and the various pseudo-scientific attempts to resuscitate creationism?

In contrast, Darwin never envisioned the twentieth- and twenty-first century science of molecular biology, but advances in genome reading have produced results utterly consistent with the theories and predictions made by those studying the paleontological record.

To date, there is still no scientific support for intelligent design: this is why intelligent design supporters, instead of making scientific arguments, refer to tilted Zogby polls about what the public purportedly wants taught (as seen in the Washington Post article I link to below). Fortunately, we don't rely on the popular vote (yet) for decisions such as the optimal way to conduct open-heart surgery. The "intelligent design" vs. evolution debate is only a debate on the field of politics. In the world of science, it's a mismatch of Los Angeles Lakers vs. Beverly Hills Montessori School proportions.

Volokh also writes "Evolution has not been proven in any common sense of the term," but this is misleading at best. By that standard, astrology should be taught alongside astronomy and the theory of gravity, because conventional astronomy has not been "proven." Science deals with testable hypotheses, rather than Euclidean or Boolean proofs. Mark Isaak writes:
Proof, in the mathematical sense, is possible only if you have the luxury of defining the universe you're operating in. In the real world, we must deal with levels of certainty based on observed evidence. The more and better evidence we have for something, the more certainty we assign to it; when there is enough evidence, we label the something a fact, even though it still isn't 100% certain.
(And, in that sense, my "two plus two equals four" language in the post below was perhaps slightly hyperbolic. The underlying point, though, was right: this is a one-sided debate where one side is absolutely correct and the other side doesn't know what it's talking about, and modern journalism's demand for "balance" hides that.) Evolutionary theory (and even speciation) has been demonstrated in real life. Intelligent design hasn't.

Volokh: "Intelligent design is consistent with the evidence, too." Not so: the late Stephen Jay Gould's writings on the Panda's Thumb is a delightful refutation. Others have compiled numerous other examples (albeit of varying quality) of "jury-rigged" design. (Ms. Postrel's Reason magazine ran an interesting article a few years back speculating why so many otherwise intelligent neo-conservatives have flocked to intelligent-design pseudoscience. Eugenie Scott notes that part of the incoherence of intelligent design theory comes from the fact that it's a political coalition trying to create an umbrella for creationists with contradictory theories rather than any sort of science.)

(Self-important and irrelevant side note: I get a link or two from Volokh a week, have broken bread (or, at least, noodle soup) with him, played poker with him, and have met at least two other Volokh Conspiracy bloggers. What's a fellow got to do to get a permalink?)
SOME CONGRESSMEN ARE BOOTSTRAPPING non-binding conference report language to try to muscle school districts into teaching intelligent design. Unfortunately, the Washington Post article suffers from faux objectivity whereby the intelligent design proponents state that two plus two equals five, and the evolution proponents say, no, it's four, and that there's somehow a legitimate controversy.
Daniel Pipes's analysis of the Patterns of Global Terrorism report has me mad at the State Department. Among other things, it continues the fiction that Arafat is trying to stop terrorism against Israel, makes no mention of Saudi and Iraqi fund-raising for suicide-bombers, and devotes more space to the occasional Israeli settler riot than to Hamas's June 1 bombing of a nightclub that killed 22 teenagers. The report fails to mention Egypt's role in funnelling weapons to the Gaza. And, according to the State Department, Israel suffered only nine "significant terrorist incidents", rather than the dozens that actually happened. (What's a significant terrorist incident? "An International Terrorist Incident is judged significant if it results in loss of life or serious injury to persons, abduction or kidnapping of persons, major property damage, and/or is an act or attempted act that could reasonably be expected to create the conditions noted." Here's the first one from the report: "In Zurich, a bomb exploded outside the glass entrance doors to the office of El Al Airlines, causing damage to the doors, according to press reports.")
THE SUPREME COURT granted cert. in United States v. Recio. A quick look at the cert petition, and you can see why I'm predicting a 9-0 reversal.

I usually don't need a lot of persuading to be convinced the Ninth Circuit got something wrong, but an e-mail exchange with Professor Volokh has persuaded me that the dissent has it right in the Gerber case, contrary to my original thoughts. The problems I have with the reasoning of the dissent are really problems with the standards set in the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Turner v. Safley -- a decision that would likely be significantly narrowed if it were before the Court today, but remains, nevertheless, good law that the Ninth Circuit should be following. (Compare and contrast State Oil Co. v. Khan, where the Seventh Circuit upheld Supreme Court precedent while making the case for changing the precedent, something the Supreme Court did in the appeal of that case.)
FROM WSJ BEST-OF-THE-WEB: Daniel Gordon reports on Jenin:
Israelis not only worked to keep the hospital in Jenin open, but that they offered the Palestinians blood for their wounded.
The Palestinians refused it because it was Jewish blood.
That is a chilling story to an American of my age, with memories of white, bigoted-racial purists refusing to accept blood from African Americans in the segregated South.
The Israeli response, which could easily have been, "fine, have it you own way," was to fly in 2,000 units of blood from Jordan, via helicopters, for the Palestinians.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

THE LATEST Mark Steyn:
I'd like to be an "environmentalist," really I would. I spend quite a bit of my time in the environment and I'm rather fond of it. But these days "environmentalism" is mostly unrelated to the environment: It's a cult, and, like most cults, heavy on ostentatious displays of self-denial, perfectly encapsulated by the time-consuming rituals of "recycling," an activity of no discernible benefit other than as a communal profession of faith.
A DISTURBING PIECE about the growth of anti-Semitism, both in scope and degree, in the left and amongst the intelligentsia. (via Instapundit)
TEXAS PAROLE BOARD rejects requests to commute the death sentence of Napoleon Beazley who murdered John Luttig, the father of Fourth Circuit judge (and rumored Supreme Court appointee) J. Michael Luttig.
THE SUPREME COURT reverses Festo, 9-0.
7.6 tons of cyanide stolen in Mexico.

Monday, May 27, 2002

Wink Martindale is no Guy Smiley. Heck, he's not even a Guy Smiley.
I LIKE THE NEW Gatorade commercial. So sue me.
AL FRANKEN GIVES A commencement speech:
Be particularly suspicious of advice that is purported to be universally true. Here's a quote that is often cited by the anti-success crowd: "No man on his deathbed ever said, 'I wish I had spent more time at the office.' " I'm sure someone has died immediately after saying, "You know, if I had spent more time at the office in my 20s and 30s, I would have accomplished more and been much happier." And I'll bet some former Enron or Arthur Andersen executive will use his last breath to say: "I wish I had spent more time at the office and less time in prison."

Given the events of the past year, I believe the best advice for this year's graduates can be found in something Steven Ambrose once wrote: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Those words are every bit as true today as they were when he wrote them three weeks ago.
(via Sackmann)
NIFTY WASHINGTON POST Flash presentation on the Pentagon rebuilding. They're sort of cheating by finishing the outside ring first.
GOOD PIECE OF BRITISH REPORTING on life at an American base in Afghanistan. Or, the less routine battle at Takur Ghar.
THE NEXT GENERATION of google stuff.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

I DON'T KNOW HOW Blogger chooses its "blogs of note," but I have to question a blog that singles out Judge Richard Posner as a leftist. An author of such a statement is either wildly misinformed or on the lunatic-fringe of the right wing, and the site wasn't well-written enough for me to want to waste much more time there to figure it out. With so many good conservative, moderate and libertarian blogs out there, why is pointing people to that one?

UPDATE: Schultz thinks he's off the hook because he edited "leftist" to "liberal." The point (and cluelessness) remains, given the pejorative way Schultz uses "liberal." It's not that hard to open a book, figure out who nominated Posner, who voted for Posner in the Senate, and who voted against him. (It's also a mistake to characterize Posner in the "far right", but that's a different issue. Also incorrect: the urban legend that Posner became a right-winger because, as a child, his leftist parents forced him to give his electric trains to the children of the executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.)
YET ANOTHER heartbreaking account of the last minutes of the World Trade Center.