Friday, June 07, 2002

I PLAN TO SPEND THE weekend away from the computer, so likely no posts until Sunday night, if then. All the more reason to check out the following undeservedly "bottom-of-the-food-chain" blogs that have been kind enough to link to me:
Captain Spaulding has forgotten more about comedy than Martha Stewart remembers about napkin rings.

David Nieporent would be just as prolific as Instapundit if Instapundit posted only a few times a week.

Bob Owen is the other right-wing fatherly blogger from the Twin Cities area who likes gadgets and gets annoyed at the tv news.

Eric McErlain thinks far too much about soccer for the good of his own mental health, but has an amusing anecdote about how ABC has hoisted itself with its own petard in an effort to be unfriendly to American soccer viewers with TiVos.
In other news, Howard Bashman makes the case for flying solo blog-wise.
The one-room house is an art installation created by a Brooklyn artist, Anissa Mack. Titled "Pies for a Passerby," the piece consists of this picturesque little cottage, complete with red-and-white checkered gingham curtains, in which Mack bakes apple pies from scratch, one at a time. The artist then places the pie on a windowsill to cool -- and, presumably, to be snatched by an opportunistic bystander.
Is New York kinder and gentler after September 11? Don't believe it for a second.
Lisa Osorio, a Brooklyn lawyer in her forties, is one of several people circling the cottage with the calculated patience of a prowling lioness. "The other day, there was a girl here eating a whole pie. I was like, you should share." The girl didn't, so Osorio watched and learned. "You have to kind of be around when she's about to put the pie out," she explains. "I'm just going to wait till I get one."

Surely there are easier ways to acquire an apple pie. Maybe going to a store and just buying one? No way, says Osorio. "I want one of these, because I want to be a part of something special."

When Mack finally puts the afternoon's first pie out to cool, it is immediately snatched from the windowsill by Cynthia Otrupcak, a substitute teacher from upstate New York.

Like a victorious beauty queen, a flushed and gushing Otrupcak is surrounded by envious well-wishers who actually hate her, and it isn't long before the scene turns ugly.
I GOT A COMPLAINT from a Bebe Neuwirth-lookalike reader in Thailand that their American television imports are running about a year behind and I should be more assiduous in avoiding spoilers. Which, I suppose, precludes mention of the critical plot twist involving Nurse Chuny, the 73 African-American doctors they brought in to compare and contrast with Dr. Benton, the swordfight between Dr. Carter and Dr. Kovac fought over a sex toy for Dr. Lewis, or the controversial decision in "Friends" to bring in a seventh cast member played by Carrot Top to play Phoebe's lover.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

AVRAM'S ON A ROLL. He points me to the classic Usenet post Godless Linguistics, a marvelous, but all-too-accurate satire:
Third, there is NO evidence that transitional languages ever existed. What use is half a language? A noun without verbs conveys no meaning! Sure, there is middle and old- English. But these are ENGLISH! A complete nontransitional language. We do not deny that micro-linguistics can happen, but this process can create only DIALECTS. There is NO EVIDENCE that a series of random micro-linguistic events can create a WHOLE NEW LANGUAGE. I'll believe in Macro-linguistics when I see a video tape of a child growing up in an Eskimo village suddenly become fluent in Armenian! It takes A LOT MORE FAITH to believe in atheistic linguisticism than the truth of Babelism.

So join me in the crusade: Babelism must be included in the public school English curriculum.

There are only two theories which explain the origin of our language: Babelism and Linguisticism. Shouldn't they BOTH be given a fair hearing?
(via Gruber)
YOU MIGHT HAVE SEEN the facial-recognition tests passed around post-September 11 where someone would claim to see the face of the devil in the billowing smoke of the World Trade Center fire and collapse. I knew a professional card-counter, someone who scrounges a living from the margins of probability theory with the occasional risk of getting thrown out of a casino hotel in the middle of the night, who refused to accept that it was anything other than supernatural. Here's a good control picture of a Shuttle launch. How many faces can you find in the smoke? I found three, plus a pert nipple in the lower left-hand corner.

(This post is a test to see if Instapundit is more likely to link to a post that contains the words "pert nipple.")
BECAUSE THE EVOLUTION DISCUSSION DIDN'T GENERATE ENOUGH HATE MAIL DEPT. Volokh's Michelle Boardman makes a non-linked reference to Gregg Easterbrook's Abortion and Brain Waves. It's more pro-choice than it sounds.
N.Z. BEAR is kind enough to come to my defense against a self-refuting demonstration of Godwin's Law and Orwell's Politics and the English Language. I won't link to the Chomskyfans' site, though, as I subscribe to the non-falsifiable theory that every time someone clicks a link to a flame-baiter, baby Jesus kills a kitten.
THIS LAWSUIT against American front groups for Hamas for the murder of an American citizen in Israel has been allowed to proceed. (One of the murderers was later released by the Palestinian Authority, and went on to kill five more people in a suicide bombing.) The briefs are, of course, fascinating. The attorneys for the plaintiff have since left Mintz, Levin to form Lewin & Lewin. (via Bashman)
Avram Grumer and Iain Murray weigh in on the politics of intelligent design. Of course there are many other pieces on evolution and intelligent design on the page you're currently reading as well as in the archives.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

GREGG EASTERBROOK SUGGESTS that methane trading credits would do more to prevent global warming with less economic impact than Kyoto. Left unspoken is that some environmentalists want economic impact.
SOME PLEASANT PRESS COVERAGE about the blog book from EPN, even if it makes my September 11 television-watching sound a bit more dramatic than it was.
I DON'T KNOW WHY I'm getting hits from people looking for the Ralph Nader letter to NBA Commissioner Stern complaining about the referees in Game 6 of the Lakers-Kings series, but here's the San Francisco Chronicle article about the latest tilting-at-windmills scheme.

Next, Ralph Nader complains about the mawkish death of Dr. Greene on last season's "ER," and the poor dialogue in "Attack of the Clones." Clearly, federal regulation is needed.
JOSHUA CLAYBORN HAS given this site a cursory review. Is my niche really "analyzing the Blogosphere"? How distressingly self-referential. Speaking of self-referential, N.Z. Bear is actually doing hard counting, and I've temporarily moved up to 29th-most-linked-to weblog.
JAMES LILEKS IS always good and today is no exception.
Maynard has just returned from a seven-month stay in Guatemala, where she continued work on her latest novel, “The Usual Rules,” which reflects on the events of September 11. The book got its start after Maynard read a story in the New York Times about a young girl who lost her mother that day and decided to continue the young girl’s story in a fictional rendition. “The situation of a child experiencing every kind of loss really haunted me, I think because my own children experienced the division of family that comes from divorce,” she says, referring to her divorce from her husband in 1989.

“I think I’ve come more and more to trust myself,” she says.

Oh, break out the bubbly. Let the bells peal across the land: Joyce Maynard has achieved an addition level of self-trust, and we can only pray it results in another memoir. Trusting Myself: a Journey of Self Trusting, or, How the Sight of Ten Million Tons of Concrete Crashing to the Ground Was SOOO Like My Divorce, Minus All the Dust.

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

THANKS TO READER LAN3, who points me to a replacement The Big Lebowski quote generator.
TIM SALMON HAD A terrible 2001 season with an empty .227 batting average, started off this year hitting .192 with middle-infielder power, and it looked like he was through. He's since turned it around with a great May and June, but perhaps that's just the difference between Central and Western Division pitching. Good for him, regardless.
LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS, 2002-style. (via Kepple)
DAVID JANES DOES a nice bit on phylogenetics, providing helpful backup to my earlier post.
RIGHT BIRTHDAY, WRONG BALLPLAYER DEPT. Hasn't anyone heard of Jeff Bagwell? As for my favorite Jewish-but-not-really player, The Big Hurt, someone who played first base as infrequently and as poorly as he did has to be considered a dh, even if 1991-1997 was one of the greatest offensive stretches by a player since Ted Williams (if overshadowed by the even more impressive 1990-and-still-going stretch of Barry Bonds, the best player not named Babe Ruth in the history of the game).
MARTIN DEVON continues to miss the point. I'll ignore the sophistic rhetorical devices such as "Max Power Sunday school" that falsely imply that evolution is a matter of scientific religious belief rather than analysis of the evidence. The debate is perhaps pointless from hereon, because Devon, rather than admit his original point is wrong, is forced to concede that he "could make the same argument about...gravity," at which point we see that his argument is not helpful because he has his own private definitions of what is fact and what is theory, though he has yet to bless his readers with the benefit of these idiosyncratic definitions, and has yet to identify a "fact" that would survive his standard of scrutiny.

Instead, he poses a number of "what if?" questions that might hypothetically falsify evolution (though the fact that he is unable to suggest a mechanism whereby this falsification would occur does much to demonstrate the degree to which the fact of evolution is beyond question). But, again, that one can come up with thought experiments of (extraordinarily unlikely) new discoveries that would falsify evolution doesn't change its epistemological status unless one's willing to apply the same hyper-skepticism to all of reality. What if Laurence Fishburne showed up at your workplace and offered you a red pill that demonstrated that you were a brain in a jar in a mad scientist's lab? Devon writes:
Deeply held theories with a great deal of supporting evidence behind them have fallen away. This didn’t happen because of “apples that start to rise instead of fall.”
This is sequence of sentences demonstrates my point nicely. Using the language of "deeply held", Devon again confuses theories with beliefs; but a theory that fell away because of something less than an apple that rose instead of fell demonstrates that it was not that extraordinary that the theory did not survive scrutiny. In contrast, theories such as gravity and evolution are so well-proven that it would take something extraordinary, such as a rising apple or a minotaur fossil or a discovery that carbon-14 decays at different rates at different times because the laws of physics also change over time, before it would be appropriate to reconsider them. A comparison to pre-Copernican geocentric views of the universe is simply not appropriate; before Galileo, theory was not based on observation, but on philosophy, and observations contradicting the theory were explained away in violation of Occam's Razor.
NEW Alain de Botton book in 400 words. This is a great feature; the Wurtzel condensation deserves to be a classic.
MIT STUDENT hacks into Xbox. (Web page) (formal paper)
I'M NOT SURE how Howard Bashman can call Holmes Group v. Vornado Circulation Systems "boring." Why, it completely rewrites federal appellate understanding of 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1)!

OK, most of you are normal, and aren't excited by issues of federal jurisdiction. So let's play out why this matters.

Federal courts have jurisdiction over patent related matters under 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a). The idea is that the patent system is a set of federal laws, and needs to be applied consistently by the federal courts. But as patent litigation multiplied, there were problems of inconsistency; appellate courts in one area of the country would interpret patent law differently than appellate courts in other areas of the country. The Supreme Court only occasionally took cases to resolve differences.

It was thought that it was especially important to potential inventors to have a consistent jurisprudence of patent law, especially because there was concern that the system would be gamed by parties racing to the courthouse to make sure a suit was heard in a favorable jurisdiction. (The patent-holder can sue for infringement, but the potential defendant can beat the potential plaintiff to the punch by suing for declaration that it doesn't infringe.) So, back in the 1980s, Congress created the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Under § 1295(a)(1), the Federal Circuit gets to hear appeals from cases "arising under" § 1338(a). This was read by the Federal Circuit to give it jurisdiction under all appeals relating to patent law.

Problem is, "arising under" isn't a new phrase. It's used in another jurisdictional statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. And there's ancient precedent stating that "arising under" means that the jurisdiction is created by the complaint only -- it doesn't count to raise an issue in the counterclaim.

So, today, the Supreme Court sensibly stated that "arising under" means the same thing in statutes right next to each other.

Which means that a defendant who raises a counterclaim relating to patents when the original complaint fails to create § 1338(a) jurisdiction escapes the Federal Circuit.

Which means that we're back to the regime where there's jurisdiction shopping and potential inconsistency in patent law. (Not that the Federal Circuit has been noted for its consistency. But it's still hypothetically easier for a single specialized court to be consistent than for a dozen regional courts that see a handful of patent law cases a year to do so.)

In short, Congress screwed up when it drafted § 1295, and it took the Supreme Court a while to get to pointing it out. The question becomes whether Congress bothers to get around to fixing its mess. On the other hand, there's still no Congressional fix for Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board v. College Savings Bank, which effectively threw a class of patent infringement suits into the state courts.

Finally, Holmes Group doesn't just strike down the Federal Circuit's 1990 en banc opinion in Aerojet-General sub silento, but also puts Hunter-Douglas's view of the scope of § 1338(a) into question, again without mentioning it.
1962 Bill Fischer 84 1/3 innings
2001 Greg Maddux 72 1/3 innings
1913 Christy Mathewson 68 innings
1976 Randy Jones 68 innings
Curt Schilling is up to 37 consecutive innings without a walk.
JIM TREACHER IS UPSET that Lance Bass may spend $20 million to be a Soviet space tourist. Celebrities waste godawful amounts of money all the time. I'm confused why Bass's waste of money is somehow morally inferior to, say, a $30 million co-op on Fifth Avenue.

Monday, June 03, 2002

MY HALL OF Reciprocity on the left side of the page is getting pretty darn huge. What's exciting is the number of new bloggers who have only a dozen links but include me in that total, even though "Max Power" didn't exist four months ago (and thus had to build a reputation from scratch), and occasionally goes whole weeks without being able to post.

I think Samizdata, Volokh, and OxBlog have the right model: collaborative blogging. If I had to do this over, I would've
(1) started a year (or, at least, five months) earlier. The trend hasn't peaked yet, but I got in just as it was getting hard to make oneself heard. (Then again, Vodkapundit and Pejman Yousefzadeh are inexplicably popular in the warblogosphere, and have been blogging only a few weeks longer. More power to them, in that they're appealing to audiences that I'm not.)

(2) It makes so much more sense to have three or four relatively like-minded bloggers participating in the same blog. They can feed off of each others' ideas that much more easily -- I get into debates with Eugene Volokh or Robert Musil, and readers are forced to jump from web site to web site to follow it. If we were on the same blog, the sequence would be that much more evident. More importantly, multiple bloggers provide more content than a single blogger does, and one blogger can pick up another blogger's slack if one finds oneself especially busy, given that very few bloggers have the sort of work schedule that permits Glenn Reynolds-style blogging.
I don't know what the answer is. Every time I'm ready to decide that my blog hasn't lived up to the standards I set for myself, I get a burst of new readers, or a permalink from Instapundit, or a sudden spate of creativity. On the other hand, I'll have deadlines at the end of the month that will severely restrict my blogging in a couple of weeks. Do I let my readership dwindle back into the double-digits of accidental google hits, or do I make a hostile takeover bid for The Man Without Qualities?
RED WINGS AND OCTOPUSES: an explanation that makes sense (eight-legged creature to symbolize an eight-game sweep of the 1952 Stanley Cup playoffs). (via Poserpundit)
CRIMINY. I appear to have exasperated Martin Devon as much as he exasperated me.
This brings us to Max Power, whose frustration leads him to conclude that my refusal to be satisfied with the scientific consensus is akin to saying:
"Some people think that there was no plane crash at the Pentagon on September 11. Others do. Let's not stop asking questions, and teach both theories to our schoolchildren, because, as far as I can tell, the real answer is -- we don't know."
Mmmm. How nice. I'll give Power the benefit of the doubt and assume that he didn't really mean to imply that my essay had malevolent intent. Even if you strip that part of it away Power's choice of analogy shows that he cannot tell the difference between theory and fact.
I know the difference between theory and fact, and was making a specific point about the degree to which evolution has been proven. If you don't like the example of September 11, the example of gravity works just as well. One need not have malevolent intent to belief in a wildly implausible conspiracy theory or a baldly false view of the world: witness the fact that more people believe in astrology than in evolution or the vast numbers who refuse to acknowledge that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy.

To say that evolution is a fact is not to say that it's beyond falsification; it's simply to say that it's so well-proven, with tests now running in the millions of failures to falsify, that it's going to be extraordinary to learn that it has been falsified, just as it would be extraordinary to learn that the September 11 Pentagon crash didn't happen. Devon protests:
Evolution is a theory that was developed from countless pieces of evidence to explain an age-old question. The plane that struck the Pentagon was a physical act of terrorism that was witnessed by thousands of people still alive today. How anyone is unable to see the distinction between them is beyond my understanding.
This demonstrates precisely the sort of burden-shifting/apples-and-oranges comparison that I find exasperating. The theory that a plane struck the Pentagon is one developed from countless pieces of evidence to explain a months-old question. The fact of evolution is a physical fact witnessed by thousands of scientists who are still alive today -- which is perhaps why I don't see the distinction between evolution and the September 11 Pentagon crash, given that "physical fact witnessed by thousands still alive" is Devon's criteria for "beyond question." Perhaps Devon is unaware of the physical fact of evolution. Perhaps Devon is confusing evolution with a subset of theories regarding natural selection still under debate. In either event, it's improper for him to infer "we don't know" from "I don't know."

I'm sure most of us would find it frustrating if we ran into a conspiracy theorist who was only vaguely familiar with the evidence of the Pentagon crash, and insisted on saying "we don't know," especially if, when we pointed him to the actual evidence, he responded by calling us narrow-minded. When Devon says there are "vast areas" of evolutionary theory that are "empty," he's simply demonstrating an unfamiliarity with the research that has been done and the evidence that is out there. I wouldn't call it a jigsaw puzzle, but I would call it a superstructure. Some drywall needs to be added, some wiring hasn't been installed, a lot of the rooms of the superstructure aren't yet up to four-star-hotel quality. But the foundation is there to build on, the reinforcing steel beams holding up the upper stories are in place, and it's damn solid.

Now, is it possible that a fossil of a minotaur or a mysterious non-DNA species will pop up to falsify the common ancestor theory and force us to tear down the superstructure and consider a different model? Sure. Just as it's possible that there will be apples that start to rise instead of fall and force us to reconsider the theory of gravity, or that it's possible Barbara Olson will emerge with Elliott Gould and James Brolin from a desert compound in Area 51 and expose a massive government cover-up and force us to re-examine our "best answer so far" about what happened to Flight 77. That a theory is falsifiable doesn't mean that to deny its overwhelming likelihood of truth isn't utterly perverse and, yes, frustrating. And there's nothing "closed-minded" about challenging Devon's bogus epistemology whereby we "know" that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon but are only permitted to say we "currently think" that evolution happened.
N.Z. BEAR takes the concept of Sullivan numbers to the next step, by adding up all of the front-page connections in the various blogs. Not surprisingly, Instapundit is 1st, Sullivan is 2nd, and Layne, Welch, Johnson, and Volokh are all in the top ten. Some blogs are missing, but I'm sure the list will be improved over time.

The step after N.Z. Bear's is to do an iterative study: first count all the links, and then weight the quality of the links. A link from Instapundit should count more than a link from a smaller blog; I know there are lots of things I don't bother linking to because 95% of my readers read Instapundit, and my link would be redundant.
Just as you were heading out of the office last Friday, the EPA released some bad news: 200 million people live in areas where the cancer risk from exposure to toxic chemicals is higher than what the agency considers to be a "minimum level of concern." According to The Associated Press, the EPA considers a cancer risk of one in a million or greater a matter of concern, and the new study reported that exposures to air toxins could be expected to cause 10 additional cancers for every one million people.
Unfortunately, TAPPED doesn't tell us what any of these numbers mean: is that an increase in the annual occurrence rates? Now, about one out of three people will get cancer in their lifetimes under normal circumstances. If we're talking an annual increase of one in a million, that's all of a 0.02% increase in risk. But the AP article indicates that it's the more remote increase "over a lifetime of exposure." Therefore, to cause a "minimum level of concern," an area has to increase the risk of cancer by about 0.0003%. I daresay that that's a level of risk that doesn't concern most Americans. (Comparison: an American male has about a ten in a million chance of contracting male breast cancer in a year -- a level of risk about 700 times that of the EPA's "minimum level of concern" and 70 times that of "exposures to air toxins.") So, unless you're willing to panic about male breast cancer, TAP's level of concern is a mite high.

Needless to say, both the AP and Tapped only report one side of the equation: there's no balancing of costs and benefits.

UPDATE: Tapped's links are FUBAR. Try this and scroll down.
CATHY SEIPP'S excellent article about blogging demonstrates that my problem is that I'm overeducated. Jim Treacher provides helpful commentary about the Alex Beam quote in the article.
"THE BIG LEBOWSKI" bowling alley in danger of closing; Matt Welch has a bundle of links. Unfortunately, the "Big Lebowski" quote generator I linked to April 4 seems to have disappeared into 404-land.
I DON'T KNOW WHY I watch the NBA at all. I mean, sure, I root for the Lakers and Phil Jackson from my years in Los Angeles and Chicago, and I got a kick out of Horry's game-winner in Game 4, but there's such a randomness to professional basketball games. Like the NFL, where there is a potential holding penalty on every down, every play in the NBA is a foul, and it's just a question of which ones the referees are going to call. Like when Mike Bibby hits Kobe Bryant in the elbow with his face. In Game 5, Shaquille had one free throw attempt, and then thirty in the next two games. Who do you think made a drastic adjustment?

That said, Sacramento sure spent a lot of time flopping and whining. Yeah, the officiating is random. It's probably even biased against you, the better team, because Phil Jackson is a better lobbyist than Rick Adelman. Just shut up and play. If you hit your foul shots, you win six games out of seven instead of three.
THE BLOG now has a Sullivan number of 3.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

A GOOD EXAMPLE OF dishonest sportswriting is this bogus argument by John Williams for putting Canseco in the Hall of Fame: 1. McGwire is a Hall of Famer; 2. Canseco is better than McGwire; 3. Therefore Canseco belongs in the Hall of Fame. The problem of course is the second premise.

1. Williams starts by listing the statistics where Canseco and McGwire are comparable or where Canseco is ahead. McGwire and Canseco have similar career batting averages, runs, rbis, games played, and total bases. Of course, Williams omits the other half of the equation. Canseco made 5928 outs. McGwire made 4797 outs. So Canseco had "equivalent" production while costing his team approximately two full seasons of additional 0-fers. An additional 200 stolen bases doesn't compensate for 1100 outs and 400 walks, needless to say. McGwire's career slugging average is .588. Canseco never had a season slugging .588. McGwire's career on-base percentage is .394. Canseco never had a full season with a .394 OBP, and one 104-game injury-shortened season where he nosed ahead of that with a .400.

2. Williams makes a big deal that Canseco won an MVP and McGwire didn't. Of course, if a single MVP makes one a hall of famer, that adds such luminaries as Jeff Burroughs and Ken Caminiti and Terry Pendleton to the Hall. Canseco did earn his 1988 MVP award. But he finished in the top-ten of voting only one other year. McGwire finished in the top-ten of voting five times, and was cheated out of a deserved MVP in 1998 when he finished second to Sammy Sosa's inferior season. McGwire was the top offensive player in the league four times, Canseco only once, his 1988 season.

3. Not mentioned at all are the players' positions. Mark McGwire was the second-best first baseman of the 1990s, and arguably the third-best first baseman of all time. Jose Canseco spent most of his career as a designated hitter, and there was a reason that nine teams gave up on him in the last half of his career, two of them without giving him so much as an at bat -- he was eminently replaceable.

Canseco's career numbers don't put him in the top twenty in any area. Yes, he blazed brightly in the 1980s before he got hurt and his skills fell off the table. But that's true for a lot of players who are very good, but don't belong in the Hall of Fame: Dale Murphy, George Foster, Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, MVPs all.
MARK STEYN on how squeamishness about ethnic profiling helped cause September 11 -- and perhaps more attacks in the future.
"There will be another terrorist attack," FBI Director Mueller told the National Association of District Attorneys the other day. "We will not be able to stop it." Presumably, the Administration wouldn't scare the American people if they hadn't done all they believe they can do. So, naturally, the mind turns to all the things they haven't done. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were young Saudi males, Osama himself is (was) a youngish Saudi male, and some 80% of all those folks captured in Afghanistan and carted off to Guantanamo turn out to be young Saudi males. Yet, as I write, young Saudi males are still arriving at U.S. airports on routinely issued student visas. If it lessened the "inevitability" just ever so slightly of that second attack, wouldn't it be worth declaring a temporary moratorium on Saudi visitors, or at least making their sojourns in the U.S. extremely rare and highly discretionary? Oh, no. Can't be done.
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS run amuck on the Regents Exam in New York.
In a feat of literary sleuth work, Ms. Heifetz, the mother of a high school senior and a weaver from Brooklyn, inspected 10 high school English exams from the past three years and discovered that the vast majority of the passages — drawn from the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Anton Chekhov and William Maxwell, among others — had been sanitized of virtually any reference to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, nudity, alcohol, even the mildest profanity and just about anything that might offend someone for some reason. Students had to write essays and answer questions based on these doctored versions — versions that were clearly marked as the work of the widely known authors.
In an excerpt from the work of Mr. Singer, for instance, all mention of Judaism is eliminated, even though it is so much the essence of his writing. His reference to "Most Jewish women" becomes "Most women" on the Regents, and "even the Polish schools were closed" becomes "even the schools were closed." Out entirely goes the line "Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles." In a passage from Annie Dillard's memoir, "An American Childhood," racial references are edited out of a description of her childhood trips to a library in the black section of town where she is almost the only white visitor, even though the point of the passage is to emphasize race and the insights she learned about blacks.
The irony is that the educational authorities probably bowdlerized the tests for fear of being accused of having culturally biased exams, and now the same people who would've complained about the cultural bias are going to use the bowdlerization as an argument against testing.

It was an open secret for several years that the LSAT's reading comprehension exam would include a "minority-friendly" essay whereby the burden of answering questions was eased by the foreknowledge that there was no chance on earth that the essay would be anything but laudatory regarding the minority in question. I don't know if that's still true.

Ten years ago or so, there were complaints that the SAT was biased against women because men scored so much better on the mathematics section. The question with the biggest male-female differential, and therefore presumably the most "cultural bias"? A straight-forward multiple choice question where one fraction was divided by another fraction. I can't find a source, though, now, so perhaps that's apocryphal, but I bet Joanne Jacobs would know.
THAT'S A welt.
EVOLUTION AND GRAVITY. Eugene Volokh distinguishes the theory of gravity from the theory of evolution by stating that "The theory of gravity provides a testable hypothesis about future events." But evolution also provides testable hypotheses for future events, as well as yet-to-be-discovered past events. To complain that evolution can't predict whether a single-celled organism will evolve into a human a billion years hence is no different than complaining that I can't use the theory of gravity (and other Newtonian physics) to accurately predict the results of what will happen when I throw dice in a Las Vegas craps game. (Roulette is another story, but that's another story.)

But otherwise, Darwin's theory of evolution is superior to Newton's theory of gravity. Sure, Newton came up with the inverse square law, but he had no explanation for why the attraction between masses followed that mathematical formula rather than a formula based on square roots or cosines or astrological phenomena. Not until Einstein was a mechanism for gravity proposed, and the theory of the mechanism of gravity still lacks experimental support. In contrast, Darwin came up with a both a descriptive theory and a mechanism--variation plus natural selection--that has been borne out by the evidence.

But if a couple of congressman went to a school board in Ohio and demanded that Newton/Einstein's theory of gravity be taught alongside a theory of the aether and that divine will animates the motions of gravity, they'd be laughed out of the building. It's a sad commentary on our state of scientific learning that the same isn't true when the attacks are on Darwin.
TODAY'S Dilbert reminds me of when I made the mistake of subscribing to Earthlink.
SUSANNA CORNETT POINTS TO something Martin Devon wrote a while back:
I have no doubt that 200 years from now some elements of the theory of evolution will still be taught, and hopefully by then a more satisfying answer will be found to the question of how one species evolves into a new one. But let's not stop asking questions, because as far as I can tell, the real answer to the question of how evolution works is - we don't know.
I'm having trouble running out of analogies to describe how enormously frustrating it is to see so much ignorance (and I mean that non-pejoratively) on a single subject. But, really, this is a debate on the level of "Some people think that there was no plane crash at the Pentagon on September 11. Others do. Let's not stop asking questions, and teach both theories to our schoolchildren, because, as far as I can tell, the real answer is -- we don't know."

No, no, no, no.

Anyway, to take on the three biggest misconceptions in Martin Devon's article:
1. Who stopped asking questions? There are thousands of scientists who continue to ask questions, continuing to develop knowledge on how evolution works, publishing countless papers a year. (Compare: intelligent design theory, where there has yet to be a single peer-reviewed study or paper published.) Don't confuse evolutionary science with the squishier social "sciences" where professors punish students for failing to reach ideologically correct conclusions. What matters in peer review is the truth. Even the late Stephen Jay Gould, the most prominent popularizer of evolutionary thought in mainstream discourse in the late twentieth century, hasn't been immune to this; his theories on punctuated equilibrium have been attacked and debunked.

2. Not to put too fine a point on it, we do know how one species evolves into a new one, and scientists have observed numerous examples of this speciation happening. While more evidence is needed to determine a precise structure for the family tree of humans, there is "a consensus on the fact that a variety of fossil hominids exist which are intermediate between humans and apes."

3. Devon asks "Are my kids 1/10,000,000th more evolved than I am?" This is a misunderstanding of what evolution is: there's no claim that species are evolving towards a particular goal. Rather, natural selection winnows out some traits and emphasizes others over the course of thousands of generations. Brain size has tripled over 2.5 million years, because hominids with larger brains were more likely to survive and to have surviving children. There's evidence of natural selection within the last ten thousand years in molar size.
Separately, for reader S.B., I link to this FAQ on evolution and philosophy, which is probably more precise than the Kuffner post I linked to earlier.

Cornett also asks "what would be accepted as 'proof' that evolution is false?" This set of pages is a phenomenal introduction to evolutionary predictions, evidence, and what would constitute falsification of evolutionary theory. The vast majority of evidence supporting evolutionary theory was discovered long after Darwin died.

A reader complained that evolutionary theory only makes "retrospective" predictions, but I fail to see why that is problematic. It's possible to have a falsifiable theory about what has happened in the past that can be falsified by new evidence of what actually happened -- just ask Michael Bellesiles. Over a million species have been discovered since Darwin died, and their discoveries are completely consistent with evolutionary theory -- the intermediate fossils found are consistent with common ancestors, and there aren't half-man/half-bird intermediate species turning up. And, as Dr. Theobald writes:
Thousands of new species are discovered yearly, and new DNA and protein sequences are determined daily from previously unexamined species (Wilson 1992, Ch. 8); each and every one is a test of the theory of common descent. Based solely on the theory of common descent and the genetics of known organisms, we strongly predict that we will never find any modern species from known phyla on this Earth with a foreign, non-nucleic acid genetic material. We also make the strong prediction that all newly discovered species that belong to the known phyla will use the "standard genetic code" or a close derivative thereof. For example, according to the theory, none of the thousands of new and previously unknown insects that are constantly being discovered in the Brazilian rainforest will have non-nucleic acid genomes. Nor will these yet undiscovered species of insects have genetic codes which are not close derivatives of the standard genetic code. In the absence of the theory of common descent, it is quite possible that every species could have a very different genetic code, specific to it only, since there are 1.4 x 10^70 informationally equivalent genetic codes, all of which use the same codons and amino acids as the standard genetic code (Yockey 1992). This possibility could be extremely useful for organisms, as it would preclude interspecific viral infections; however, it has not been observed, and the theory of common descent effectively prohibits such an observation.