Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Peregrine Falcon Dives

If you've ever marvelled at Peregrine falcons, and wondered how fast they go, you'll love this video, where they clock a falcon going 242 mph. If you like Disturbed and military jets as well, you love this one as well.

Who Designed the Designer: The argument the IDers must censor

Over at Bill Dembski's blog for loyal sycophants, head lapdog DaveScot vainly tries to justify the censoring of the question of who designed the designer by calling it "trite", and pummeling a straw man:

"There is not enough data to make any determination of who designed the designer. When and if we can identify the designer of organic life on this planet we might have some data to work with in determining the origin of that agency. Until that situation changes, maybe SETI will give us some data someday, there’s no point in asking the question over and over again.

Indeed, there is no point in asking the question over and over again, but that is because it blows the most basic argument of Intelligent Design, or Paleyism if you like, out of the water, not because we lack sufficient data to answer the question.

The question is rhetorical. We who ask it don't expect an answer, because it can't be answered. That's the point. ID argues that specified complexity (SC), a term that still waits in vain for an clear objective definition, requires an intelligence as its source. But since such a source would invariably have a good amount of SC itself, this begs the question of where THAT SC came from, and down the infinite regress we go, turtles, er, gods, er, designers, all the way down. The clear logical answer to where complexity came from is that it came from something simpler, not something even more complex.

Refusing to go there, for they know evolution lies at the end of that path, the IDers find themselves in a trap. They can't answer this challenge without delving into a lot of pseudophilosophical gibberish like this from one of the commenters:

"...the beginning of the universe (science) implies (philosophy) a first cause of the universe that is eternal, infinite, immaterial, and non-spatial. Furthermore (philosophy), since only temporal and finite things require a cause for their existence, an eternal and infinite being like the first cause does not require a cause. He is self-existing."

Aside from the problem of trying to discern exactly what an immaterial, non-spatial being would be like, this brings the 800 pound gorilla into the room, for the being they have in mind when they say things like this clearly is the Christian god. However, they must avoid this at all costs to have any hope of achieving their political agenda to get ID acknowledged as science rather than religion, so their only recourse is to ban discussion of said topic. Thus DaveScot's plea of a lack of data with which to determine who designed the designer, and who the designer is, is clearly disingenuous, since those questions have been, and must be, decreed off limits in principle by the IDers, regardless of the amount of data available. The data has already spoken on who/what the designer was. The IDers simply don't like the answer, so in true religious form, rather than reject their disproven hypothesis, they simply ignore the data, and declare the question that leads to it out of bounds.

Presidential Delegate Count

Now that the minor players are dropping from the race, the delegate count is getting meaningful. Go here for the running score of the presidential delegate count. At the moment, it looks like this:

Republicans (1,191 needed to win):

McCain - 97
Romney - 74
Huckabee - 29
Paul - 6
Giuliani - 2

Democrats (2,025 needed to win):

Clinton - 232
Obama - 158
Edwards - 62

If we assume 80% of Huckabee's delegates ultimately go to Romney, Guiliani's and Pauls go to McCain, and 80% of Edwards' delegates ultimately going to Obama, it looks like this:


McCain - 110
Romney - 98


Clinton - 244
Obama - 208

Might we, after the longest presidential campaign in history, end up right where we started with Clinton vs McCain?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Romney the Edumacation President

Mitt Romney in his Florida concession speech:

"We will be facing new competition from other countries, like Asia..."

Perhaps he should call Fred Thompson. I understand the Soviet Union is there.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Missed it by THAT Much: 334,000 miles

In a preview of one of the few doomsday scenarios qualifying as not "if", but "when", an asteroid 500-2000 feet in diameter will pass within 350,000 miles of the Earth some time this week. Apparently such events are fairly common, happening every 5 years or so, but because their impact would be so devastating for us, astronomers take a close look. Every 37,000 years on average that impact occurs, and it tends to destroy a high percentage of the life on earth when it does so. The worst, occurring before the vaunted Cambrian Explosion during the Proterozoic Era, wiped out 95% of life on earth. Those craters on the moon are not volcanic, they are from asteroid impact. One day, it will happen here again.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Evolving Computers, and Creationist Denial

Sometimes reality is more of a satire than the satire.

First, check out this article on the astonishing progress and insights being made with robots fitted with evolutionary decision algorithms, and "bred" to simulate evolutionary processes. Surprisingly, many counter intuitive behavior patterns form, including cheater robots and altruism:

"By the 50th generation, the robots had learned to communicate—lighting up, in three out of four colonies, to alert the others when they’d found food or poison. The fourth colony sometimes evolved “cheater” robots instead, which would light up to tell the others that the poison was food, while they themselves rolled over to the food source and chowed down without emitting so much as a blink.

Some robots, though, were veritable heroes. They signaled danger and died to save other robots."

This shouldn't be all that surprising to those of us who were paying attention to what happened to Dawkins' "tree" program in The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins made a fairly simple program to evolve trees, but what he ended up with often looked nothing like trees (insects, furniture, etc.). It was clear then that a simple variation and selection can produce a very unanticipated result. Now we have solid evidence that they can produce many of the things the anti-evolution cranks have maintained were impossible: kin loyalty, altruism, cheating and self-sacrifice. [hat tip Panda's Thumb]

Yet what is the response to these wonderful findings from the Intelligent Design crew? I quote Granville Sewell quoting GilDodgen:

"...if you really want to simulate evolution with computer programs, you should introduce random errors not only in the string simulating DNA, but also in your entire program, the compiler that is compiling it, the operating system, and the computer hardware on which it is running–then see what happens. Unintelligent forces simply can’t do intelligent things..."

Some things are so mind numbingly stupid they are hard to criticize. This brings to mind an old Saturday Night Live skit long ago starring Steve Martin, Garrett Morris, and Bill Murray as cavemen:

Bill: How do we catch the deer?
Steve: We need to make a circle around the deer to catch them.
Bill: Huh?
Steve: Look, these rocks represent us, and this stick represents the deer. See, we make a circle around the deer...
Garrett: I see. So if the deer runs from me, he runs to you, and if he runs from you, he runs to me.
Steve: Yes, YES!, Now you get it.
Bill: But we are not rocks.

Now we have GilDodgen and Granville Sewell claiming computer simulations can't prove that unintelligent processes can produce altruistic behavior because the computer it was proven on works. It is such a lame dodge it would be embarrassing for a child to propose, much less a mathematician. This is what Intelligent Design has come to: a chanting of dogma ("Unintelligent forces simply can’t do intelligent things") in denial of verifiable fact.

Oh, and if you want a real belly laugh, follow Sewell's link to his "simple, clear, proof" of that. He claims to have written a computer program in Fortran that simulated "the effects that the four known forces of physics (the gravitational and electromagnetic forces and the strong and weak nuclear forces) would have on every atom and every subatomic particle on our planet."

Yeah right. And I can flap my arms and fly to the moon.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More Deceptive Rhetoric from the Abstinence Crowd

Question: How can you tell an abstinence advocate is being intellectually dishonest?
Answer: She is talking.

In yet another ironic situation of lying for Jesus, Rebecca Hagelin treats us to a statistical nightmare of an analysis to get the answer she wants, which is, of course, that we should promote abstinence-only as the form of birth control for teens:

Hagelin: According to the CDC, the nation’s teen birth rate rose in 2006 for the first time since 1991. Among girls 15 to 19, the rate went from 40.5 births per 1,000 females in 2005 to 41.9 births a year later.

Oh my god, the horrors, right? Wrong. As is so common with such advocates, Hagelin cherry picks her data. I was immediately suspicious when I saw the age category she used: 15-19 is a strange range. After all, 15 and 19 are light years apart socially. I'm not nearly as concerned about 18 and 19 year olds, who are after all legally adults, as I am with 15 year olds giving birth, lacking even the possibility of having the means to care for those children, financially or cognitively. So why would someone cobble together such a strange group? I'd think a range of maybe 11-17 would be the better measure of the social problem of "teen pregnancy". Here's the full story from the CDC.

CDC: The report shows that between 2005 and 2006, the birth rate for teenagers 15-19 years rose 3 percent, from 40.5 live births per 1,000 females aged 15-19 years in 2005 to 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006. This follows a 14-year downward trend in which the teen birth rate fell by 34 percent from its recent peak of 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991.

Let's put that in perspective. Since 1991, the birth rate for teens and young adults dropped 34.5%, or roughly 1.5 / 1000 a year. The gain Hagelin focuses on is only 1.4 / 1,000. Now granted, a change in a trend like this is warrant for some attention to this stat, but all by itself it doesn't make much of a case. After all, this graph is a hockey stick on the ground with a broken blade. The head CDC statistician agrees:

"It’s way too early to know if this is the start of a new trend," said Stephanie Ventura, head of the Reproductive Statistics Branch at CDC. "But given the long-term progress we’ve witnessed, this change is notable."

This one blip could simply be an outlier on the high variance end of the stat. It might have reached an effective bottom to whatever measures have caused the gains to date. If you decided to lose weight by no longer eating the 10 doughnuts a day you normally eat, and graphed your weight, it would look like the 15-19 year old graph: dramatic steady improvement for a time, and then a bottoming out with some random fluctuation. The next two data points will make or break Hagelin's case that the birth rate is truly rising again.

However, more to the core of the argument, given that people like Hagelin have been telling us wrongly for 14 years that the sex education and access to birth control would causes the birth rates to rise, what reason do we have to believe them now? Their hypothesis was disproved long ago. Sex education and free access to birth control has made 15-19 year old birth rates go down for 14 years. If those birth rates are truly rising, it is due to another cause. My guess would be the increased maturity of children of age X relative to those 10 and 20 years ago, and other social trends. But it's certainly not the availability of condoms. That test has been run 14 times, and the abstinence crowd lost.

And now we come to the smoking gun of Hagelin's deception. Again, why did she pick 15-19 year olds? Well, one look at all of the data tells us:

CDC: The birth rate for the youngest teens aged 10-14 declined from 0.7 to 0.6 per 1,000, and the number of births to this age group fell 5 percent to 6,405. The birth rate for older teens aged 18-19 is 73 births per 1,000 population –- more than three times higher than the rate for teens aged 15-17 (22 per 1,000). Between 2005 and 2006, the birth rate rose 3 percent for teens aged 15-17 and 4 percent for teens aged 18-19.

I'll forgive Hagelin for excluding the 10-14 year olds. Their births are too low to effect the total meaningfully. But I won't forgive her for lumping the 15-17 group with the 18-19 group. High schoolers and college kids are different breeds. After all, the proportion of 18-19 year olds who are married is far highers than it is for 15-17 year olds. Lumping them together would be like commenting on average dog speed of a group made up of half bulldogs and half greyhounds. The real trouble group, the 15-17 year olds, went from ~21.3 / 1,000 in 2005 to 22 / 1,000 in 2006. This is hardly an alarming trend, and subject to all the limitations of interpretation noted above.

Other stats lend themselves to a very different picture than the one Hagelin would have you form:

CDC: The study also shows unmarried childbearing reached a new record high in 2006. The total number of births to unmarried mothers rose nearly 8 percent to 1,641,700 in 2006. This represents a 20 percent increase from 2002, when the recent upswing in nonmarital births began. The biggest jump was among unmarried women aged 25-29, among whom there was a 10 percent increase between 2005 and 2006.

The rise in unmarried births is mostly among adults, not teens, and there are all sorts of legitimate reasons unmarried adults might have children. Unmarried adults are also far more capable of caring for their children than are teens, and in equal economic and social environments, children of single parents do not lag behind those with two.

CDC: Birth rates increased for women in their twenties, thirties and early forties between 2005 and 2006, as well as for teenagers.

The preterm birth rate rose slightly between 2005 and 2006, from 12.7 percent to 12.8 percent of all births. The percentage of births delivered before 37 weeks of gestation has risen 21 percent since 1990.

The low birth weight rate also rose slightly in 2006, from 8.2 percent in 2005 to 8.3 percent in 2006, a 19 percent jump since 1990.

So birth rates are increasing across the board, and the really troubled births remain low, albeit with slight upward trends. Funny Hagelin didn't tell us that. She told us only what fit her preconceived agenda. When she claims "plenty of reliable studies demonstrate that abstinence education does work", should we expect her approach to be any different?

Certainly some of that increase is due to increasing wealth and superior medicine. Those who were once doomed to remain infertile are now able to procreate. Those who once died on the operating table now live to have more children. I cannot say I find this a necessarily positive trend. It's hard to look at the world and decide what it needs is more people. However, it surely does not lend itself to the sort of simplistic analysis people like Hagelin would apply to it.

Hagelin: Birth-control pills. Condoms. Diaphragms. All ... send an unmistakable message to teens: “You have no self-control, and we don’t expect you to. We know you’re going to ‘do it,’ so just make sure you’re ‘safe’ when you do....we should be teaching the whole truth - that sex outside of marriage (regardless of age) is always unhealthy, risky and morally wrong.”

Maybe it just sends a message to them that we understand the realities of the world, and are interested in them living healthy, full lives, rather than burying our heads in the sand and pretending that an oft-failed unrealistic simplistic policy like abstinence-only education is the answer to a complicated social problem. Hagelin gives away the game with that last statement. Sex outside of marriage is always unhealthy, risky and morally wrong? That certainly is going to come as a shock to the millions of unmarried adults who have healthy, happy, responsible sex lives. But to Hagelin, as with so many abstinance-only promoters, ideology is more important than reality.

College Football and Violence: It's the Upsets!

Here's one we maybe didn't need a scientific study for. Seems college football not only increases crime in the city that hosts a game, but increases it dramatically when the home team loses in an upset:

"The largest estimated effects are found when an upset occurs, defined as when an unranked team beat a ranked team or when a lower-ranked team beat a higher-ranked team."

So I guess we now have evidenciary confirmation of this highly sophisticated, counter intuitive formula:

alcohol + student fans + more alcohol + the home team losing + even more alcohol = frustrated expressions of violence

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Discovery Institute Needs to Send Out another Big Tent Memo

Poor Robert Crowther of the Discovery Institute laments the way the media has been treating Intelligent Design in the Florida school board wars:

"This CBS News report falls immediately into the hole of stereotyping the debate over evolution as simply a religious issue. The reporter ominously opines: "How did life begin? The question often divides faith and science." This is an all too familiar setup for an Inherit the Wind style treatment of the issue — as if the only questions about Darwinism are religious ones. Not so. There are a lot of scientific questions at play in this debate — indeed, all of the serious questions about the evidence are scientific."

Well Robert, perhaps you need to send another Big Tent (tm) memo to all those people who keep talking about how this debate is going to bring God back into the classroom, and how those people are good Christians who believe the Bible, and how their enemies are the evil atheists (or "Darwinists" in the current lingo). Here's Dennis Bennett, the superintendent in Dixie County:

"We just wanted to get it on the record that we’re a Judeo-Christian community, and we believe in academic freedom..."

Or how about Ken Hall, a School Board member in Madison County:

"I'm a Christian. And I believe I was created by God, and that I didn't come from an amoeba or a monkey"

Really Robert, are you vying for a slot next to the guy who thinks pro wrestling is real? Do you expect us to believe Miss America is about talent too? Intelligent Design is all about religion and politics, oh, and selling books, and it always has been. Even the lame sciency comments in the article show that. No one who has spent 5 minutes reading about evolution could make the statements those people make.

"Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory" - William Dembski

I Hate the Clowns, and I'm not alone

I've never liked clowns, and now I know I'm not alone. The clowns of course, protest, but consider some of the scariest moments in movies are evil clowns (think Poltergeist). Then again, I don't think Homey the Clown was part of the study.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why Disagreeing with the Consensus has the Bigger Burdon of Proof

IDer/Creationists, as well as other promoters of crankery, often ask why, when their lack of credentials in the fields they so ruthlessly criticize are called to bear, the same lack of credentials don't also apply to the defender of the consensus of scientific opinion. Shouldn't the burden be the same, with either credentials or lack thereof applying equally on both sides, fair and balanced and all that?

No. Life is rarely fair and balanced. Life is ruthlessly reality-oriented, and so is the scientific community. It's full of very brilliant people, with years of experience, and a genuine passion for what they do, pitted against each other in an arena that begs for critical attack, and rewards the victorious rebel with the status of legend. Consensus there happens rarely, and not without reason. To accept that takes mere acknowledgement. Challenging it, however, is going to take a good deal more. You're claiming you know better than all those people. It is the equivalent of claiming you can defeat the UFC Heavyweight champ. Yes, if you won't get in the ring with him, or do science like the scientist, your background is going to come into question a lot more than someone who grants their superiority.

I've never seen it put better than Mike Dunford does:

"Agreeing with the consensus in the other field is essentially a statement that you understand the current state of knowledge in that field, and are willing to extend the people who actually work in that area the courtesy of not thinking that they're all permanently out to lunch.

Disagreeing with the consensus sends an entirely different message. It says: 'I, Joe Blow, on the basis of my extensive experience as a toothbrush-bristle designer, think that I am better able to evaluate the scientific status of evolution than people who have spent a lifetime studying evolution.'"

It is, quite simply, arrogant in the extreme. Odd that it comes so often from people who greatly tout the value of modesty.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Does Dinesh D'Souza Know what "Delusion" Means?

I am really starting to believe that Dinesh D'Souza doesn't understand what a "delusion" is, or what it means for something not to exist. His incredibly idiotic arguments against atheism have been pushing me in that direction for quite a while, as he constantly dodges the issue of whether or not gods exist to make unsupported assertions about the pleasant social effects he imagines result from religion. Take his latest article as a prime example. In it, he is criticizing Richard Dawkins for doing what some consider a sloppy job of attacking belief in God. I am decidedly in the camp that sees those criticisms as the courtiers reply, arguments that collapse into irrelevancy if the core claims of the existence of gods are without merit, but portray religious views as so much more grandiose and intellectually justifiable than what Dawkins presents. I still await, with little expectation of success, the first concrete example of such an argument (and please, the only thing the ontological argument deserves in response is laughter).

Still, Dawkins is arguing outside his field (sort of), so I'm prepared to concede that perhaps some arguments could have been handled better. But that doesn't make him wrong, and neither does the fact that religion can bring some good to the world. So does the concept of Santa Claus. That doesn't make Santa Claus real. This should go without saying, and yet we get this bit of intellectually insulting nonsense from D'Souza on David Sloan Wilson:

Wilson examines Dawkins' central claim that religion is an obvious "delusion." On the contrary, Wilson writes, religion is in general more adaptive for human communities than atheism.

On the contrary? Contrary to what? Is god real? No! Can belief in gods bring benefits to believers? Sure! Why not? That doesn't make it not a delusion! I am amazed that people debating D'Souza allow him to get away with this crap. Please, whoever gets the next debate with D'Souza, call him on this early and often! Chicanery needs to be exposed.

It is also telling that, like a true zealot, D'Souza is far more about perceived authorities than he is about evidence and logic:

"Richard Dawkins was given a chance to respond to Wilson's article. How does he counter one of the most trenchant challenges to his book, one that is all the more crushing as it comes from a fellow atheist in an atheist publication?"

It doesn't matter where it came from, its a crap argument. I'm surprised Dawkins responded at all beyond "consequences don't imply existence" and left it at that. Speaking of leaving it at that, as if his ridiculous argument wasn't bad enough, D'Souza begins his closing paragraph with a few lines guaranteed to blow the most powerful irony meter away. Don't say I didn't warn you:

Essentially this evolutionary biologist is confessing that in his recent work he has ventured to write about subjects in which he has no expert knowledge. When Dawkins tackles history, philosophy and theology, he usually makes a fool of himself.

Gee, do we know anyone who often writes or debates about subjects like evolution and theology in which he has no expert knowledge, and who is recognized as a fool by all but his sycophantic following?

Einstein, Newton, Gravity, and Light

Here is a nice little summary of the revolution that Einstein brought to the way we look at light and gravity compared to the way Newton laid it all out. However, before we dismiss Sir Isaac too lightly due to Al bested him, it is good to remind ourselves that Newton ruled physics for over 200 years, and Einstein had his shoulders on which to stand.

This is the sort of thing that should always spring to mind any time someone criticizes a bit of science with the argument that it violates common sense. Practically all science that deals with the very large (stars), the very small (quantum mechanics), the very fast (light), and the very slow (evolution) is going to violate our common sense, because our common sense evolved in an environment where such things either didn't occur or were beyond our perceptive limits. It would be suspicious if it didn't violate common sense.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Ugly Truth about the Tumbleweed

Think of the old west and tumbleweeds? Not before 1877 apparently. It is actually an invasive species from the Ukraine that arrived in South Dakota along with flax. By the 1900's it had rolled as far as California. Nothing like open plains for a plant that spreads it's seed by rolling around. And didn't we get horses ultimately from the Russian steppes? Our old west...just a bunch of Russian stuff transported across the Atlantic.

Read more about the tumbleweeds here and here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bobby Fischer Dies at 64

Bobby Fischer, the greatest Chess player ever in the US, if not the world, died at age 64 in Iceland. He was one of the most brilliant, troubled people the planet has ever seen, competing with grandmasters at 12, and accomplishing things in top chess tournaments, like winning all 11 matches, or 20 in a row over several tournaments, that are apparently unheard of, and then disappearing from the world in an anti-Semitic huff. Here is a nice writeup of his life, and here is another. Even the great Kasparov yields the top spot to him.

Empty anti-Porn arguments: The Matt Barber addition

Matt Barber hates porn, and he is hopping mad that the government is not doing more to crack down on porn on the internet. The problem with Matt's arguments, as is typical with Christian-based anti-porn arguments, is that they are circular, devoid of evidence, and logically conflict with the facts. Here they are:

Barber: Many say pornography is victimless, but we know that's a lie. It is extremely destructive to all parties involved. It reduces women and even children to mere sex objects and destroys individuals, families and communities.

OK, we see lots of assertions here, but where is the evidence? What, exactly, is the destruction it supposedly does? As Ed Brayton points out, if porn is super destructive, and has become far more popular, then we should be seeing a dramatic increase in divorce, sexual assault, and child abuse, and we aren't.

What is the evidence that it reduces people to mere sex objects? What is the evidence that doing so, in a temporary fashion, is damaging? When we watch athletes play we reduce them to athletic objcts. The same with models. They don't seem to be suffering. What is the evidence that doing so becomes a permanent state of mind? We never see any. All Barber is doing here is revealing how sexually repressed he is. People watch porn for a variety of reasons. Many couples watch porn for stimulation, or even ideas. For them, it becomes a healthy addition to their life, not the fictional destruction Barber imagines.

The constant references to children is a bit of intellectual dishonesty from Barber. Those of us who defend people's right to watch whatever consensual adult content they wish, do not support the pornographic exploitation of children. This is just an attempt by people like Barber to poison the well of rational discourse.

Barber: Adult pornography creates a trap that is difficult to escape. It entices viewers to consume more and more smut and to delve deeper and deeper into more graphic and obscene material.

Here we see the circular nature of Barber's arguments. Why is it a problem to want to view more porn? Well, because Barber assumes porn is bad in and of itself. But that is the position he is supposed to be supporting with this claim, so the argument is circular. To illustrate further, recast his claim to be about something good, like exercise, or sex itself. Should we argue against exercise because it might entice one to exercise even more?

Americans are very sexually repressed. Few in the world outside Islamic countries are more uptight about their bodies and their sexuality. That is why we have this hysteria about porn in the first place. We could use a little enticement to delve deeper and deeper into our sexual nature.

Barber: During a 2004 hearing held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, several experts testified as to the highly addictive nature of pornography. Those experts further testified that regular consumption of adult pornography can breed sex offenders who prey on women and children. It provides a gateway to child pornography and eventually to child sexual assault.

Yes, and allowing sex at all CAN breed an Adolf Hitler. So what? That statement says nothing. It is the same flawed reasoning that proclaims marijuana a "gateway drug". This is MSU on parade, not a shred of evidence to be found supporting any of it. In every conceivable way, the plain observable facts of our society show that arguments like Barber's are more obscene than the targets of his attacks.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Obama, Reagan, Edwards, and the Nonsense of "Change"

We have been hearing a lot about change in this election, and in an America where growing majorities are unhappy with the president, the congress, the economy, and the war in Iraq, this should come as no surprise. Similarly, it should come as no surprise that in an era of unprecedented damage and potential damage from human activity, there would be a social trend towards doing and eating more "natural" things. But "natural" has become, in many minds, synonymous with "good", which is absurd considering that, oh I don't know, botulism, cyanide, mosquitoes and cactus needles are natural as well. Whatever problems we have with man made foods and products, there are plenty of natural foods and products that are far worse.

It seems now that some of us, and John Edwards in particular, have made the same mistake with regard to "change". He and other Democrats talk about change as if it is inherently good. Baloney! Pol Pot was change. So was astroturf. Change is not inherently good. Wanting change is not the same as wanting ANY change. So it is patently absurd for John Edwards, or any other politician, to go ballistic over Barak Obama talking about how Reagan "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon [and] Bill Clinton did not...", simply because he didn't like what that change was. Whether you like the change he brought is a completely different issue from whether he brought change. This is akin to creationists who argue against evolution because they don't like the implications. Sorry, it's true or not, and it's change or not. Both Hitler and Ghandi were agents of change.

The real irony here is that this whole change thing has become for the the Democrats what Ronald Reagan is for the Republicans - a meaningless slogan to mention to get cheap applause, and to sound great while saying virtually nothing. The Democrats have been chanting "change, change, change" like a street corner bum (hat tip PJ O'Rourke). You could have a drinking game with "change" as the drink word and get hammered. Earth to politicians: George Bush is not going to be president in 2009, so we are getting change no matter who is elected. So you're for change. Great, I'm glad you are. Not a real out-of-the-box thinker are you? I'm sure you're for Mom, apple pie, and the children too. Who isn't? OK, I'm not, but I digress.

Enough already about change! Change is a certainty. At least when the Republicans talk about Reagan, we have some notion of what that means. "Change" means "not where we are now". Attaching meaning to it the way the Democrats are slinging it around is like finding a place based on the fact that it is "not Dallas". What sort of change? Has it been tried before? Why should the results be different this time? How are you going to implement it? And most importantly of all, how are you going to pay for it? In a time where we are swimming in record debt beyond what most of our puny brains can fathom, that should be the first question we ask about anything that is not a budget cut.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Maher and Uninformed Voters

Check out this clip of Bill Maher interviewing people and allowing them to talk about the ridiculous reasons and goofy rationalizations they have for voting the way they do. And if you think Maher is too liberal, he has PJ O'Rourke on afterwards to discuss the clip. Can we find a way to keep clueless people from voting aside from making a ballot so complicated they vote for Pat Buchanen by accident?

Line of the clip, from O'Rourke:

"We're not bigoted (New Hampshire), because we never see anyone that doesn't look like us."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

DI response to the NAS: It's all about Moving the Goalposts

The Discovery Institute's response to the National Academy of Sciences book about evolution, as so often is the case, reveals clearly what the Discovery Institute is really all about. Written by Casey Luskin, a lawyer of the type Shakespeare had in mind, leads us through a morass of rhetorical games and irrelevancies, as is typical of cranks.

Right out of the chute we get what one always gets in a paper about science: a poll.

"A 1982 poll found that only 9% of Americans believed that humans developed through purely natural evolutionary processes. Two years later, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued its first Science and Creationism booklet, stating that science and religion occupy 'separate and mutually exclusive realms.' Public skepticism of evolution remained high—a 1993 poll found that only 11% of Americans believed that humans developed through purely natural evolutionary processes."

This of course is the mark of a PR firm. Scientists measure their theories by experimental data, not polls. Then our esteemed Mr. Luskin hits us with this inexplicable contradiction:

"The NAS accurately defines irreducible complexity — “If one component is missing or changed, the device will fail to operate properly” — but then promotes a false test of irreducible complexity, wrongly claiming that if one part of the flagellum can perform some other function, then irreducible complexity is refuted. "

One can be forgiven for rereading this several times trying to find what one is missing. It is as if Casey said "my firehouse cannot stand with even one brick missing", and upon being told "baloney, I can remove the entire third floor where the firemen sleep and not only does it stand fine, it makes a great garage", responding with "Yeah, but then it wouldn't be a firehouse." Luskin is trying to dismiss the existence of the Type III Secretory System (T3SS) which is made up of a subset of the components of the flagellum, and which is a glaring refutation of the claim that the flagellum is irreducibly complex.

This is typical of the kind of equivocation the IDers engage in, and why they cannot get even the most basic scientific foothold. One cannot do science with hypotheses that include weasel words like "properly" that allow them to move the goalposts any time the claim is refuted. Luskin spends a paragraph attacking the notion that the T3SS is a precursor to the flagellum, forgetting that there is nothing in the definition of irreducible complexity (IC) about precursors. Yet he can still unleash howlers like this:

"...Darwinists wrongly characterizes irreducible complexity as focusing on the non-functionality of sub-parts"

Excuse me, but YOUR OWN DEFINITION so focuses! Nevertheless, Casey continues the non sequitor and gives away the game in the process:

"[IC is properly tested] by assessing the plausibility of the entire functional system to assemble in a step-wise fashion, even if sub-parts can have functions outside of the final system.

But Casey, there is nothing in the definition of IC that says anything about step-wise assembly, and for good reason. This view has, at its core, an implicit assumption that evolution is a focused progression inexorably toward a finished product, instead of the messy, contingent, imperfect, never completed process it is. Evolutionary functional systems do not progress stepwise. They go forward, back, change function, co opt parts from other systems, and sometimes, die off entirely. The idea that one should study the evolution of a system and only consider step-wise solutions would be like studying successful football teams and only considering running plays.

There is also the size of the problem to consider. Systems like the flagellum evolved over millions of years, with likely tens if not hundreds of thousands of steps along the way. That makes claims like this one from Dembski completely absurd:

"At best the TTSS represents one possible step in the indirect Darwinian evolution of the bacterial flagellum. But that still wouldn’t constitute a solution to the evolution of the bacterial flagellum. What’s needed is a complete evolutionary path and not merely a possible oasis along the way. To claim otherwise is like saying we can travel by foot from Los Angeles to Tokyo because we’ve discovered the Hawaiian Islands. Evolutionary biology needs to do better than that."

On the contrary, the arguments via IC are akin to claiming one cannot travel on foot from New Orleans to Miami because the straight line path goes through the Gulf of Mexico, and refusing to consider any other pathway. Dembski's argument above is like insisting that we need a record of every single step along the way, despite the fact that it would take longer than a human lifetime to compile, or examine.

This is worth emphasizing, because it reveals a subtle intellectually dishonest tactic taken by IDers. When challenged to produce a falsifiable scenario to their claims, they always concoct something that is literally impossible. Always.

Casey Luskin is engaging in a long tradition of creationist rhetoric: ignore the facts, ignore the refutations, and keep repeating the same tired nonsense over and over again. Let's hope he, or some of the other leading lights of the ID movement, get a chance to espouse these views in the next court case, assuming they don't run away again.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Spacecraft Messenger Flys by Mercury

The NASA spacecraft Messenger passed within 124 miles of Mercury Monday, in the first of three maneuvers, over 7 years, designed to give the spacecraft the proper angle and velocity to get into orbit around our solar system's innermost planet. Messenger will also send pictures back of the opposite side of the planet, which has never been photographed (at least by an earthling).

We physics clutzes should bow in awe of those who are able to calculate all the factors necessary to pull this off. Think about it. Mercury is over 40 million miles away from us, depending on where we are in our orbits. Even the tiniest error would doom the project.

Phyllis Schlafly is Against the Children

The Religious Right might make a lot of noise on behalf of family and the children, but as Phyllis Schlafly makes clear, children's rights and safety goes by the wayside when it comes in conflict with goofy religious or fringe science ideas. Brace yourself, here is the shocking news that Ms. Schlafly finds so objectionable:

New Jersey just added four new vaccines to those already required of children who attend public schools, and has become the first state to require the flu vaccine. Children attending preschool or licensed day care centers must receive annual flu shots.

New Jersey regulations also require the pneumococcal vaccine for preschoolers, the meningitis vaccine for sixth-graders, and a booster shot for the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis they already receive.

That's right, the High Priestess of Family Values is having a conniption because children are going to be [gasp] vaccinated against dangerous diseases, even those with misinformed parents who have bought the mercury-vaccine crank medical theories, as apparently Ms. Schlafly has. She also shows a grotesque lack of priorities as she closes her article with this:

A decent respect for parental rights over medical treatment imposed on their own children should require that states allow vaccine exemptions for philosophical and conscientious reasons, in addition to medical and religious reasons.

You have got to be kidding. Allowing parents to expose their children, and by extension other people's children, to preventable and potentially dangerous medical maladies for any reason other than medical ones is insane, plain and simple. What possible "conscientious reason" could a parent have for doing this? This is about crank science and religion, period.

And sorry, religious views shouldn't count any more than the crank science should, but the crank science would fail on its own. There is no greater example of the privileged place of religion in society than this one. Parents being allowed to deny their children medical care will be viewed by historians centuries hence as one of the insanities of our time, and the likes of Phyllis Schlafly will certainly not be viewed as being pro-family, or interested in the well-being of children.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Einstein Rings Prove Old Al Right Again

Once again, science gets confirmational evidence while the deniers just play rhetorical games. In a shot to Einstein's deniers, a stellar formation called an "Einstein Ring", which would not exist were it not for the relativistic effect of gravity bending light, has been found for the first time in duplicate:

The phenomenon, called gravitational lensing, occurs when a massive galaxy in the foreground bends the light rays from a distant galaxy behind it, in much the same way as a magnifying glass would. When both galaxies are exactly lined up, the light forms a circle, called an "Einstein ring," around the foreground galaxy. If another background galaxy lies precisely on the same sightline, a second, larger ring will appear.

The scientists involved in the discovery compared the rarity of such a discovery to 2 consecuetive rolls at roulette. Here is a great picture of the phenominon.

Hat tip Greg Laden.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Darwin Awards 2007!

Once again for all our ghoulish amusement, The Darwin Awards are out. For the sake of the uninitiated, the Darwin Awards are for those members of the community who find the most creative, idiotic ways to remove themselves from the gene pool, thus doing the rest of us, and society, a favor. The highlights:

1) A couple who attempted to have sex at the top of a pyramid-shaped building and fell to their death.

2) A man who died of alcohol poisoning - from an enema.

3) A woman who chose the worst possible moment to call down the elevator shaft to her mates, and was decapitated in the process.

And my personal favorite, the media group that went out, on foot, to investigate elephants which had been trampling people and, surprise, got trampled.

Hat tip: Greg Laden

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Science Wins Showdown in South Carolina, Miller Provides Smackdown

An attempt to weaken science education failed in South Carolina, thanks to the performance of many of the people that showed up to speak on behalf of Ken Miller's "Biology" textbook. The book was in danger of being found guilty of including evolution, and sentenced to rejection, despite being recommended 11-0 by the evaluation committee put together by the very board that was now looking to reject it. You can view the full meeting here. Particularly entertaining are Miller's opening remarks on Video 1, the chair of the review committee on Video 2 making it crystal clear just what she thought of the board wasting her time, and Miller slapping down board member Charles McKinney who made erroneous claims about the content of Miller's book. McKinney can also be seen in Video 5 blathering on about Haeckel, Hitler, and social Darwinism, as embarrasing a public display of ignorance as one can ever hope to see.

It is time to add another dimension to this fight. The American education system is in deep trouble. We have many problems to address. The last thing we need to do is waste time and resources in our school board meetings jabbering with a bunch of yahoos who think people who lived 150-2000 years ago have much to say about the state of science in 2007. These people need to be reminded, in public, that they are wasting the taxpayer's resources. Do you hear me Don McLeroy? Our education tax dollars are stretched far too thin as it is.

Cross Species Relationship: A Crow and a Kitten

I'm sure all the animal behavioralists will have a field day with this one. An adult crow adopted a stray kitten, fed it, and befriended it to the point where they would actually play together. Talk about long lost cousins.

Judge Rules Bible Distribution Illegal

In a two year old court case in St. Louis, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry has ruled that allowing the Gideons to distribute Bibles to elementary school children, whether during class, lunch break, or before or after school, qualifies as an unconstitutional promotion of religion:

The purpose of both practices "is the promotion of Christianity by distributing Bibles to elementary school students," Perry wrote. "The policy has the principle or primary effect of advancing religion by conveying a message of endorsement to elementary school children."

Such cases present a conflict for those of us with strong first amendment leanings, for while we are strongly against entanglement of state and religion, we also want a free and open market of ideas. The conflict arises when religious groups take advantage of tradition, and a captive government-mandated audience, to convey their ideas where competing ideas would almost certainly not be allowed, or where they would create an atmosphere deleterious to that audience's reason for being. In this case, children are in school to learn the subject material in the classrooms, not to be confronted at every corner by someone promoting one agenda or another. They will have plenty of time for that as adults.

Of course, those pushing religion at the children don't want to hear this, and Saint Xavier summed up why many centuries ago:

"Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards"

He knew, as so many do, that children can be taught, and made to believe, all manner of nonsense, if you get them young enough, and if you can insulate them from competing views.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Obsession with Polls Misses the Point

I can understand why the media obsesses so over the polls, especially when the polls blow it as badly as they did in New Hampshire. It's their job to get these things right, and they got it wrong. It is also understandable why the political advisers and the remainder of the staffs of the candidates would care. It's their job to know where the candidates need to spend time and money, and I'm sure some of them lost their jobs over it.

But there is little reason the rest of us should care. They screwed up a prediction of something we would have found out about anyway. Had they taken no polls at all, guess what? Nothing would have changed. Yet here we have the media going bonkers and talking about polls polls polls, and the fiasco in New Hampshire. Sorry guys, the fiasco was all yours, and the rest of us really couldn't care less. Get back to talking about the pros and cons of the candidates, and the relevant issues of the elections, and save the self-indulgent wound-licking for your private meetings. No one else cares, and in spending so much time lamenting your private concerns, you've forgotten your jobs.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Florida has been Invaded by Creationists!

Apparently Taylor County was just the first of many Florida school boards to pass resolutions opposing Florida's new science standards emphasizing evolution, according to Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald:

Oscar Howard Jr., superintendent of Taylor County's School District, and Danny Lundy, vice chairman of the School Board, spoke in accents from that other Florida. ''We're opposed to teaching evolution as a fact,'' Howard said, adding that his School Board and 11 others have passed resolutions against the imposition of evolution in the school curriculum.

Grimm attended a school board meeting where this occurred, and relates some truly amazing commentary by some of the people there:

...a Miami paramedic warned that taking God out of the classroom has led to immorality and violence. He related the beating death last week of a toddler by a 12-year-old in Lauderhill to the teaching of evolution. An unfathomable leap in logic on one side of the divide. An understandable leap of faith on the other.

It never ceases to amaze me that in a world where religion and violence run hand in hand nearly everywhere that people with the IQ of a lesser ape could think teaching evolution somehow justifies violence. "Well, yew say we cum frum monkeys, so now mah kids act like monkeys." Yeah, you ignorant twit, and you and I came from slave owners too. I'll bet our ancestors did their share of raping, pillaging, and warmongering. So what? And pardon me for polluting your prejudices with facts, but monkeys don't go murdering each other by the millions disputed tribal god images, so maybe acting like monkeys would be a step up for your ilk.

But this is what we are up against: pig ignorant people determined to keep everyone's kids the same way. The final speaker summed it up perfectly:

[She] angrily reminded the crowd that after all the carping over evolution, no one had gotten around to addressing the state's lackadaisical, last-century approach to science education.

''All I heard was this argument about evolution,'' she said, disgusted that so many other problems had been preempted by a single controversy.

``The kids lost out again.''

We have enough difficulties with education without having to waste so many resources on people trying to hold everyone else back because they can't handle the answers science gives them. And this time it looks like there is some behind-the-scenes organizing going on. They used suspiciously common language, many referring to evolution "being presented as fact" and suggesting a "fair and balanced" approach (why is it everything labelled as "fair and balanced" isn't? It's like mail marked "important").

Obviously these people are either being coached from a common source, or as getting their information from a common source. Whether the activity is truly coordinated remains to be demonstrated, but it really doesn't matter. It seems the next big court case is going to happen in Florida. I hope everyone in Florida contacts the school board members in Baker, Holmes, Taylor, and any other Florida county and remind them of the Dover-like disaster that awaits their school district if they pursue this course of action, and of how they have fallen for a scam. Show them The Wedge Document. History is on our side if we get the information out there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Things to thnk about on Alfred Wallace's Birthday

Mike Dunford has an excellent article summing up the life and scientific accomplishments of Alfred Wallace, the yong naturalist who independently conceived of evolution at about the same time Darwin was doing so, and prompted Darwin to write Origin of the Species.

The stark point made by the history of Wallace and Darwin is how, with scientific enterprises that focus on evidence, we will often see people drawing independent, but identical conclusions, even if they are looking at the problem from markedly different persectives. This stands in stark contrast to poorer epistemological methods like revelation, or instinct, which vary dramatically whereever they are used.

Official Primary Delegate Counts

For those of who confused to the point of fainting at the complexities of the New Hampshire and Iowa primary discussions, here is what it all means:

AP Primary Delegate Scoreboard:


Huckabee: 31
Romney: 29
McCain: 7
Thompson: 3
Paul: 2
Hunter: 1

needed to win: 1,191


Obama: 25
Clinton: 24
Edwards: 18

needed to win: 2,026

Some things to keep in mind. The number of delegates required to win is almost double for the Democrats as it is for the Republicans, so no cross-party comparisons unless you are going to double the Republican figures. Also keep in mind that some states are winner-take-all, so those will be the huge wins. Obviously any media proclamations of a candidate being dead are grossly premature. I've heard Clinton, Edwards, Giuliani, Huckabee and of course McCain proclaimed dead by someone out there in the mainstream media. It is also quite clear that Clinton's and McCain's victories in New Hampshire are very overrated. Given the polls 2 weeks ago, Obama's performance remains the big upset, since Hillary led strongly all the way to this point. History suggests that we are in for a lot more suprises.

Scientific Ignoramuses of the Week: The Taylor County (Florida) School Board

Will the next group of creationists to stand and be embarrassed please stand up? Apparently the school board of Taylor County is eager to be the next head on the legal chopping block as they released this statement, where on page seven we find ignorance of science on an unfathomable level in a supposedly scientifically literate society.

"Whereas, the Florida Department of Education has drafted and is now proposing new Sunshine State Standards for Science, the Taylor County School Board opposes the implementation of the new standards as currently presented.

Whereas, the new Sunshine State Standards for Science no longer present evolution as theory but as “the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported in multiple forms of scientific evidence,” we are requesting that the State Board of Education direct the Florida Department of Education to revise/edit the new Sunshine State Standards for Science so that evolution is presented as one of several theories as to how the universe was formed.

OK folks, let's start at the beginning, literally. The leading scientific theory as to how the universe was formed is called "the Big Bang". This occurred ~14 billion, or 14,000,000,000 years ago, and there are no other scientific theories to teach, although there are vigorous debates over the details of the Big Bang.

Some ~2 billion years later, the evidence suggests that life first formed on earth. This is called "abiogenesis", which is a very new, immature, exciting science. Life forms then changed over time, with 99% of forms going extinct, and modern forms arriving at various times in the past, the best estimates for modern humans being ~200,000 years ago. The theory that deals with the mechanisms and other aspects of this change is called "evolution", and was first written about systematically and fully by Charles Darwin in 1859 (with a nod to Alfred Wallace), and has undergone significant change since then as new information has come to light.

So referring to evolution as a theory "as to how the universe was formed" is flat out wrong, on the order of 12,000,000,000 years, or many hundreds of orders of magnitude. That creationists consistently conflate these issues provides solid evidence that their views are based on religion rather than on science. For where did they get the idea that all life, including human beings, came to be in the same event that created the universe, except from the book of Genesis in the Bible? People in societies without such a religious mythology do not share that view, and for good reason. No one could objectivly observe the world and draw such a conclusion.

Note also their dismissal of the independent, confirmatory evidence from many branches of science, "unsought and unprovoked" in the words of Pope John Paul II. They might as well have stated that the facts don't matter, because clearly they don't to them. They also, as is so tiresomely true of creationists, ignore that "theory" in science does not mean "guess", but is, in sick irony, an underlying concept that explains many facts and has endured much falsifiable testing. So the school board members are criticizing evolution being presented as a scientific theory because they don't understand what a scientific theory is. That is akin to the NFL commissioner not knowing what a touchdown is.

Whereas, the Taylor County School Board recognizes the importance of providing a thorough and comprehensive Science education to all the students in Taylor County and to all students in the state of Florida, it recognizes as even more important the need to present these standards through a fair and balanced approach, an approach that does not unfairly exclude other theories as to the creation of the universe.

This stands the education process on its head. An education is not about "balance", it's about reality, or at least our best approximations of it. "Fair" in science does not mean giving every theory equal support. It means being true to the evidence, where ever it leads. The creationists don't like that it led to evolution, and the explosion of their creation myth, so they cry that it is unfair to only teach evolution in science. Sorry, but there are no scientific alternatives for the variety of life on earth, and giving students the impression that there is would be a gross disservice.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Taylor County School Board of Taylor County, Perry, Florida, that the Board urges the State Board of Education to direct the Florida Department of Education to revise the new Sunshine State Standards for Science such that evolution is not presented as fact, but as one of several theories.

Would you be embarrassed to find one of your elected officials protesting the draft? How about one of them standing under a 55 mph speed limit sign making a speech about how horrible that the limit is 70. I hope Taylor County residents are equally embarrassed by the comments above. The Sunshine State Standards say that evolution should be taught as THE scientific theory of how life changes over time, and that is exactly as it should be. There are no other scientific theories, much less "several". Religious creation myths are not scientific theories. They are not subjected to peer review, they are not subjected to falsifiable testing. They are, in the parlance of science, mere hypotheses, not theories. Dressing them up in sciency sounding language like "specified complexity", "explanatory filter", and irreducible complexity", and publishing lots of popular books on the subject doesn't make it science either.

For people charged with overseeing children's education to be this ignorant of a subject whose answers are part of a basic science education, and readily accessible to anyone with internet access, is gross negligence of the highest order, and would justify removal from office in a sane society. In this one, we'll have to settle with public pronouncements of just how unqualified these people are to fulfill the obligations of their posts, and await they joy of their evisceration in court when they will be called to defend such nonsense where they can't get away with lying about what they say. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster descend upon them as it did to their Polk County neightbors.

Hat Tip Pharyngula

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Tom Delay Says Too Much about Moderates

On Chris Matthews tonight (parphrasing from memory):

Chris: Tom, you made an unhappy face when you said "moderates". Who are they to you?

Tom: Well...people who think a lot.

And the Republicans wonder why they don't attract such people much any more.

Pick Your Candidate, a comparative survey

In case you haven't gotten enough information from the 46,000 debates we've had this presidential election, you can rate yourself by filling out this questionnaire. Now obviously these things are always effected by which questions are chosen, but it still carries value. My results for the major candidates were not at all surprising. The Democrats were clustered together at the top between 24 (Richardson) and 18 (Edwards). Paul was the highest Republican (17), followed by McCain (-7), with the rest at -20 or worse, with Romney bringing up the rear (sorry Larry Craig) with a whopping -51.

National Champs LSU, SEC, proving superiority

LSU wins the national championship of college football, again.

They were the lower ranked team, again.

An SEC team wins the title, again.

In 10 BCS championship games now, the SEC is 4-0, and only one of those times (Tennessee 1999) were they the #1 team going into the game. No other conference has an overall winning record in the game. And as if to rub everyone else's nose in it, recall that Auburn of the SEC went undefeated in 2003, but was snubbed for the championship game in favor of an Oklahoma team that got squashed by USC.

Looks like the evidence is strongly favoring what my coonass relations have maintained for years: the northern teams (due to proximity), high scoring teams, and teams in weak conferences where it is easier to go undefeated, get more attention from the media, and are consistently overrated compared to the SEC teams, which are renounded for playing the kind of tough defense that wins championships, and for beating each other. Lucky for them they get a chance to prove themselves on the field now and again, because were it left to the polls they'd have 1 title over the last 10 seasons instead of 4.

Now how about going all the way NCAA, and having a real playoff like every other major sport? Or do the PAC-10 and Big-10 teams, who gain the most from the current screw up known as a system, fear losing to SEC teams every year in the playoffs?

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Republican Facebook Republican debate: the High and the Lows

Let the record show it was those candidates competing for the title of More-Christian-than-Thou (Huck and Mitt) that got the nastiest.

Best comeback award: to Mike Huckabee for responding to Mitt Romney's claim that he was going to explain his position on Iraq with "Which one?"

Fred Thompson talked about the Soviet Union again, but avoided naming them this time.

Debate Pussy Award: to Mitt Romney for responding to Huckabee's comeback by claiming it was a personal attack. Hey Mitt, saying you are inconsistent isn't a personal attack. Saying you are an phony asshole is.

Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney think our military needs to be the size of the one we had when the Soviet Union was our enemy, 40% larger than we have. Shades of Democrats in the 80's who claimed welfare would encourage people to work if we just gave them more of it.

Worst Counterexample: Rudy Guiliani's response to Ron Paul's assertion that a foreign policy that has us occupying land in that area of the world gives Muslims the motivation to attack us that mentioned the Munich Olympic attacks...on the Israelis.

Irony Award: to President Bush for insisting that a President needs to have a core set of principles he adheres to, "in good times and in bad". The one constant factor in the failures of this administration has been the President has maintaining his position on issues even during bad times, ie, when the evidence suggested doing otherwise. What we need is a president that doesn't maintain a doomed course out of principle.

Gut wrenching (in a good way) Award: everything John McCain says about serving in the military. On some levels, he seems like the only real candidate.

Gut wrenching (in a bad way) Award: When McCain and others talk as if Al Qaeda defeating America, as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany could have, is a remote possibility.

The Get a Clue Award: When Romney and others claim we are the greatest nation on earth. We used to be the greatest nation on earth. We could be the greatest nation on earth. But if you think we are, right now, the greatest nation on earth, I want some of what you are smoking.

The Say Nothing Award: to Fred Thompson, for responding to a question about our recent policy of military aggression by saying "We should only go in where we should go in". Way to appear to agree with everyone while saying nothing Fred.

Most revealing moment: When Huckabee said "if the primary thing we're facing is war, we'll be talking about military size and military might..." Notice that negotiation, understanding our enemy, or knowing how to end the war weren't in his top two. Size and power were. Again, if the Bush administration has taught us anything, it is that our military might, unmatched in the world though it may be, has limits far below what some would have us attempt with it.

more to come...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Political Implications of the 2010 Census

Early projections from Election Data Services and Polidata give the Republicans some rare good news. The seats in the House of Representatives for each state is determined by their proportion of the population, with each state guaranteed a minimum of one. 2010 marks the next census, and new figures for the House. According to the projections, here is how many seats each state stands to gain or lose:


Texas — up four seats to 36.
Florida — up two seats to 27.
Arizona — up two seats to 10.
North Carolina — up one seat to 14.
South Carolina — up one seat to seven.
Georgia — up one seat to 14.
Utah — up one seat to four.
Nevada — up one seat to four.
Oregon — up one seat to six.


New York — down two seats to 27.
Ohio — down two seats to 16.
Massachusetts — down one seat to nine.
New Jersey — down one seat to 12.
Pennsylvania — down one seat to 18.
Michigan — down one seat to 14.
Illinois — down one seat to 18.
Minnesota — down one seat to seven.
Iowa — down one seat to four.
Missouri — down one seat to eight.
Louisiana — down one seat to six.
California — down one seat to 52.

If we use the latest two elections as guide, the census data implies the Republicans will gain about 15 seats. Everyone wants to move south.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Telling Scorecard of Iowa Spending: Romney $6.5M, Huckabee $1.5M

In yet another data point to be ignored by those who obsess over campaign finance reform, Mitt Romney outspent Mike Huckabee over 4 to 1 and was still defeated. One would think after the failures of presidential bids by huge spenders Ross Perot and Steve Forbes, among many, many others, the idea that someone could "buy" a presidency simply by spending huge sums of money would die. What candidates like this make clear is that one cannot buy the election if one does not have either ideas or a personality that voters like. This should likely become more true over time as more and more communication is done via free media like the internet. No candidate lacks the ability to get their message out any more.

Friday, January 4, 2008

James Randi Retires the Challenge Undefeated

In news which should bring mixed feelings, James Randi has announced that he is discontinuing the JREF $Million Challenge after its 12 year anniversary, March 6, 2010. I will play psychic and predict that no one will beat the challenge in the interim, and I'll have a better hit percentage than most of them ever do.

This is one of those issues that really exposes how unobjective the media can be. The data demonstrating the impotence of paranormalists is overwhelming. Any reasonable person examining it would conclude that psychic claims lack sufficient evidence. People like Randi, Penn and Teller, and CSICOP have been exposing psychics for the poor magicians they are for years. If one is not convinced by the raw data, there are some logical arguments for which no psychic or their defenders have offered anything resembling a reasonable rebuttal. For example, why hasn't a psychic ever gone to Vegas and wiped them out? There are so many options, roulette for the telekinetically inclined, poker for the mind readers, blackjack for those who can remotely view, and pretty much any game for those who can see into the future. Why aren't half the lottery winners psychics? The lame claim that the psychics aren't interested in personal fortune doesn't wash, because they could easily give the money they win to a charity, or the poor, or a hundred other sources more worthy of the money than casino barons.

Why has no psychic helped us solve any historical mystery? If they can really talk to the dead, how about chatting with Jimmy Hoffa about where he is buried, or Hitler to see if he is still alive, or to any inventor or scientist, about discoveries they were about to make prior to their death? If they can talk to Einstein about the past, why not the future too? The reason is obvious: those that claim they can speak to the dead are masters of MSU.

Why are there no rules in sports to account for the paranormal? If telekinesis was real, it would play hell with golf, if not any sport with a ball. Mind reading would be a killer skill for a linebacker or quarterback, as would foreknowledge. Funny how the paranormalist's abilities never ever show up in any relationship with someone having a vested interest in them failing. The reason again is obvious: you have to be grief stricken and desperate to hear from your dead loved ones to believe their BS.

And yet, to observe the media, be it TV, or the movies, or the written word, psychics are presented as, at worst, being doubted by some, and at best, undeniably real. The fact that James Randi has had this challenge in effect for about 8 years with ZERO losses to the side thought correct by a majority of Americans ought to be huge news. So should this:

"Our expectations at first were that we’d attract major personalities by this means, but they’ve avoided having to take the test by simply not applying; those who have actually applied are generally honestly self-deluded persons"

In other words, Randi's challenge has provided an interesting indication of which of these performers actually believes his own bullshit, and which are true con artists. Sure, some of the honest ones might eschew the test for various reasons, but one can be pretty certain that none of the con artists will agree to the test. For once they really do know the outcome ahead of time. The next time you see one of these paranormalists making ridiculous excuses for why they refuse to take $1M of James Randi's money, your con artist spidey sense should be tingling.

As a tribute to Randi, and those past and future debunkers of bullshit, watch one of his favorite targets, Silvia Browne, get pwned.

Hat tip Mark at Denialism Blog.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Obama owns Iowa, the US next?

We thought it could happen, but it still has to sink in now. Barack Hussein Obama won the Iowa caucuses, and not by a small margin. If the thought of a black man winning an election in whitebread Iowa is not shocking enough, consider that he outpolled Hillary Clinton 35% to 30% (as of 10:30 CST) among women. He garnered over 50% of the youth vote. His performance was downright stunning. Perhaps all America needed to elect a black president was to have one that was not all about being black (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton), or a complete lunatic (Alan Keyes).

This result should be especially disturbing to Hillary Clinton, who, with her love-her-or-hate-her personality, could not afford anything other than victories with a multiple candidate field. As other candidates exit, their voters are less likely to move to Hillary than the other candidates. An Obama/Edwards ticket looks more likely than ever.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Religious thought vs Scientific Thought: a Flowchart

From Corpus Callosum comes this fabulous flowchart that very nicely illustrates the difference between the two modes of thought.

Notice how the religious chart ends, while the science one keeps looping around to look for more evidence and more understanding. This is science's great strength, but unfortunately its PR Achilles heal, and why so many flock to religious views despite science's superior epistemological record. Religion offers certainty, with the corollary lack of change, and no need for any of the hard work scientists spend so much time on. This holds much appeal for those who want a simple, black and white world so badly they are willing to ignore the considerable evidence that it is neither.