Friday, August 05, 2005

Republicans are big spenders, too.
With a tip to Dale Franks, who's noting an article by Jeff Jacoby: might surprise younger readers to learn that spending discipline was once a basic Republican principle. Hard to believe in this era of bloated Republican budgets and the biggest-spending presidential administration in 40 years -- but true. Once upon a time Republicans actually described themselves with pride as fiscal conservatives. That was one of the reasons they opposed the promiscuous use of pork-barrel earmarks, which are typically used to bypass legislative standards, reward political favorites, and assert political control over state and local affairs.
We talked about this a bit at the last discussion club meeting. Some of the members said, and I agree, that this behavior is an unfortunate result of the nature of the Washington beast. Politicians are motivated to stay in office, and the easiest way to get elected and stay elected is to promise goodies to consituents. There are different factors at play here:

  • The disregard for the limits to powers on the government

  • The incentives for becoming a career politician (power, prestige, ...)

  • The lack of term limits and other measures [limited powers!] to curb these incentives

  • The public's expectation of something for nothing

As long as these factors are in play, the majority party will be tempted to spend like nuts to protect its position.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

New element discovered.
I don't know who originally wrote this - something going around in e-mail:
A major research institution (could it be Florida Tech) has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element has been named "Governmentium." Governmentium has 1 neutron,
12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 11 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium causes 1 reaction to take over 4 days to complete, when it would normally take less than a second.

GOVERNMENTIUM has a normal 1/2-life of 4 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "Critical Morass."

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium - an element which radiates just as much energy, since it has 1/2 as many peons but twice as many morons.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Evolution, ID, passion and truth.
David Klinghoffer has a piece on NRO about evolution and why there is cause for doubt.

First, he notes how we (or at least men) have evolved a competitive streak, an instinct to pass on our DNA to future generations at the expense of all rivals. Klinghoffer goes on to extend this instinct past mere genetic survival and into battles within the realm of ideas. So he talks about the specific tactics used to belittle ID and says they are signs of our evolved sense of status protection:
One prominent evolutionary psychologist, Harvard's Steven Pinker, has written frankly about rivalry in academia, and the use of cutting rhetoric in the defense of established ideas: "Their champions are not always averse to helping the ideas along with tactics of verbal dominance, among them intimidation ('Clearly'), threat ('It would be unscientific to'), authority ('As Popper showed'), insult ('This work lacks the necessary rigor for'), and belittling ('Few people today seriously believe that')."

I bring this up because Intelligent Design aggressively challenges the status of many professionals currently laboring in secular academia. And because one of the hallmarks of the defense of Darwinism is precisely the kind of rhetorical displays of intimidation, threat, authority, and insult that Pinker describes.

For instance in a section on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, entitled "Q&A on Evolution and Intelligent Design," you will find numerous statements as if lifted almost verbatim from Pinker's examples - ridiculing ID as "non-scientific," an idea whose "advocates have yet to contribute in a scientifically rigorous manner," who "may use the language of science, but [who] do not use its methodology."
Yes, we should all play nice and be polite to our fellow men. But sometimes something is called "non-scientific" because it is indeed non-scientific. It doesn't matter how you spin it or if your feelings are hurt by it, but ID is non-scientific. There's status protection, and then there's calling a thing what it is.

Moving on...
When you consider that ID theoreticians have published their findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals, in formidable academic presses such as those of Cambridge University and the University of Chicago, such denunciations start to sound like a worried defense of status more than a disinterested search for truth.
Yeah, well, peers have reviewed ID and have rejected it.

In a wonderful irony, the only intellectual framework in which people can genuinely be expected to pursue truth dispassionately, even if that truth undermines our sense of personal prestige, happens to be the religious framework, in which people aren't animals at all but rather beings created in the image of God.
That's patently false. The only way to be truly dispassionate about any pursuit is to have no beliefs at all, of any kind. I'm no more dispassionate in my support of science as, for example, Ken Ham is dispassionate about Creationism. As I would reject any "scientific theory" that is anything but, Ham and hiscientificject anything actual scientic theory that challenges their notion of God.

Not to mention that a God-ly framework is the ultimate appeal to authority, which is, as Klinghoffer notes, supposedly a no-no.

And I think this inability to be truly dispassionate is found in everyone - no one has a complete lack of idealogy. Scientists may be dispassionate within the framework of science - allowing their work to lead them were empiricalithin the bounds of emperical evidence, yada yada - but they are quite passionate about science itself. The deeply religious will be passionate about their faith and reject all sorts of science because of it.

To discount the pursuit of knowledge because the pursuers have an interest in the pursuit is to discount all knowlege.

What's really interesting is that Klinghoffer uses the evolution of specific instincts to cast doubt on evolution, which doesn't make any sense. To my mind, it's like arguing that if 1 + 1 = 2, the existence of 2 somehow invalidates the concept of addition.

On the other hand, Klinghoffer seems to be arguing that we are nothing more than our instincts (our instincts tell us to bash on our rivals, I have quoted writings that do just that, therefore we always act on instanct, Q.E.D.).

But the neat thing about us humans [yes, I said "neat"! perhaps "keen" suits you?], what makes us more, uh, capable than other animals is our ability to rise above instinct. I suppose you could call this free will, self-awareness or a combination thereof. But we have evolved the capacity to process what our instincts tell us and to choose to act on them or not, to think instead of to simply react.

So while I believe nobody can be truly dispassionate about the pursuits they take, I believe our free will allows us to come close. We have the means to recognize fact as fact, to reason and to react in ways contrary to our instincts. Now, whether we choose to utilize these means is a different matter.

My apologies the long, rambling post. Apparently as an observer of such topics, I'm certainly not disinterested but am highly disorganized.
Hand guns that stamp their bullets.
California (yes, all of it) is working on a bill to force gun manufacturers to produce guns that stamp a serial number on shell casings as it fires.

I will leave the commentary to Scott Fenstermacher:
So, the logical time to stamp the cartridge is when the firing pin is released. You've got 1 pin heading at the cartridge already, why not a few more? I've taken apart more guns than I care to count (part of my Nebraska heritage), and if I don't want this incriminating pin to leap forward, it would be childs play to leave the spring out or even remove the entire pin assembly. I'm guessing this minor surgery could be performed in under 15 minutes, easily.

You know, I almost want to say that any legislation aimed at curbing gun violence is a good thing. Part of me would like to think that this bill's authors only have the best of intentions. Then the realistic side of me kicks the idealistic side of me in the keester and reminds me that I KNOW better. Bills like this, that force the industry to make changes that will bear more impact on legitimate consumers than on criminals is just stupid.

But it's politics, as usual. It's a way to get headlines, to make the politician seem like he/she is on the higher ground, while vilifying their opponent (in this case, the gun manufacturers). The police organizations support this bill... of course, they have to. How would it look for them not to support a bill aimed at reducing crime? But they have to know better, they have to know it won't work, yet they can't say that... Doesn't that just suck?
Yes, it does.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

As long as it keeps its noodly appendage to itself.
Bobby Henderson is pushing for Kansas, if it must teach Intelligent Design in its public schools, to teach his version. Why not? I especially appreciate his tangential contention that global warming is caused by a lack of pirates. That's hilarious.

He has even received a couple of responses from Kansas School Board members.

My question: is the Flying Spaghetti Monster all covered with cheese?

Tip to Right Thinking.
Take the high road.
Right Thinking has taken notice of Fred Phelps and wishes death upon him. Nah, that would just make him a martyr. Best just to heap piles of ridicule upon him. Or ignore him altogether, which is hard to do, I admit.

Monday, August 01, 2005

An alternative interpretation of The Lorax
Maybe it's more about property rights than you would have believed.

My lessons gleaned from other Dr. Seuss books:

Green Eggs and Ham - persistence works.
There's a Wocket in My Pocket - don't do drugs.
Cat in the Hat - what is done without Mom's knowledge is A-OK.
ABC's - "Four fluffly feathers on a Fiffer-Feffer-Feff" is fun to say.
The Grinch - Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus.
Over There not so good.
Actually, the so-called realistic depiction of the Iraq war is crap. Don't take my word for it ('cause I wouldn't know better anyway). Take it from someone who was there. It's a lengthy evisceration of the show, with a comparison of what the show depicts v. what would really happen. A sampling:
In the FX war, the soldiers are given orders to advance towards the building. So, in keeping with the 'reality' of this 'gripping' drama, they all stand up on-line and walk towards the building. Wrong.

A fire team advancing over open terrain towards a building they took fire from would be in 10 yards sprints, one team member at a time.

Finally, there is the shoot out. The terrorists rush out of the buildings in a mob and the Hollywood tacticians have members of the fire-team rush at them as if recreating a scene from Braveheart.

In real life, the grunts would just sit back and pick the terrorists off. But, evidently that isn't dramatic enough for FX.
There's much more. Check it out.

Tip to You-Know-Who.
A divided government is a better government.
Virginia Postrel is calling for the return of gridlock. She's completely right.

I'm reminded of when I used to be a subscriber to The Intellectual Activist, back when it was Clinton v. Dole. They recommended voting for Clinton. It wasn't an endorsement by any means, but a way to curtail Dole's rubber-stamping of anything the GOP Congress would throw his way. They recognized then that the Republicans are no different than the Democrats when it comes to spending. Better to have a Democrat in office to veto their spending bills.
I'm more inclinded to "Bob".
Andrew McCarthy:
So, the folks who brought you "compassionate conservatism" now offer "The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism." Perfect: A war that's not called a war for fear of making people think about war, which is waged against an enemy who is not identified for fear of offending mass-murderers and the people who coddle them, and which occurs everywhere on the planet so no one is left out, but nowhere specific so no one is put in.

I have another suggestion. Let's call it "The Thing Involving the Teeny-Tiny Number of People Who Made Certain Things Go Boom After Reading that Book that We Didn't Flush and Who Absolutely, Positively Do Not Represent the Vast, Enormous Majority of Very, Very Nice People Who Read the Same Book Without Making Anything Go Boom."

Or maybe we could just call it "Mabel" — without, of course, meaning any offense to Mabel. Or Mabels. Or anyone. Really.
One would expect President Bush to not be so P.C., but whatever.