Monday, February 27, 2006

Sad news. Noted science fiction author Octavia E. Butler is dead.
SEATTLE (AP) — Octavia E. Butler, considered the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer, has died, a close friend said Sunday. She was 58.
Her most famous novel was Wild Seed.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Media is waking up to Craigslist:
Tradional media continue to grapple with new media. Last night's episode of Nightline had a segment on Craig Newmark and his Internet-classifieds Website. While the show devoted some time to smiling customers, it mostly focused on the negative aspects of Craigslist. Besides a quick mention of the shady nature of the Casual Encounter section of Craigslist, there was the complaint that the site is hurting the newspaper business, stealing away those who would buy classified ads. According to Nightline, this shift has created an annual loss of $50 million in San Francisco alone. Newmark retorted that his site is serving customers in a way that newspaper classifieds can't.
So, what's the problem exactly?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dershowitz and Bennett on the cowardice of our press:
When we were attacked on Sept. 11, we knew the main reason for the attack was that Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms. What we never imagined was that the free press -- an institution at the heart of those virtues and freedoms -- would be among the first to surrender.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dan Brown, cracker-jack researcher. (Um, NOT.)

As I've written in my book, to this day, ignorance and misunderstanding of Lemaître’s background and his specialty continues to color popular accounts of his work in the most slipshod fashion.

This is most amusingly on display in Dan Brown’s lightweight thriller Angels and Demons, where he refers to Lemaître as a “monk” who all along planned to reconcile science and faith specifically by positing the “Big Bang” theory in 1927. (Interestingly, even the Talk Origins FAQ on Big Bang theory makes a mistake, claiming that Lemaître was a Jesuit. He wasn't, he was a standard diocesan priest.) Brown not only errs in assuming the Big Bang was outlined as such by Lemaître, he incorrectly dates Lemaître’s version, the Primeval Atom hypothesis in that year of 1927 (it was actually in 1931 the Belgian introduced his theory in a letter to Nature). What Lemaître did in 1927 was he wrote the paper that finally (eventually) convinced everyone, including Einstein and Eddington, that the universe could no longer be considered static.

Brown propounds this howler by further stating that Edwin Hubble “proved” the theory in 1929 with his famous report on the red shifts of extra-galactic nebulae. In fact, Hubble, notoriously cautious to the very end of his life, never claimed any such thing. Not only was there no such theory known as the Big Bang in 1929, but Hubble suggested in his paper only that the red-shifts measured by him and Milton Humason appeared to support non-static relativistic models of the cosmos (i.e. expanding universe models), and that there was a direct relation between the distance of nebulae measured and the velocity of their apparent recession.

And Brown gets paid to mislead his readers like this. Sheesh.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Leon Wieseltier takes Daniel C. Dennett to the wood shed:
In his own opinion, Dennett is a hero. He is in the business of emancipation, and he reveres himself for it. "By asking for an accounting of the pros and cons of religion, I risk getting poked in the nose or worse," he declares, "and yet I persist." Giordano Bruno, with tenure at Tufts! He wonders whether religious people "will have the intellectual honesty and courage to read this book through." If you disagree with what Dennett says, it is because you fear what he says. Any opposition to his scientistic deflation of religion he triumphantly dismisses as "protectionism." But people who share Dennett's view of the world he calls "brights." Brights are not only intellectually better, they are also ethically better. Did you know that "brights have the lowest divorce rate in the United States, and born-again Christians the highest"? Dennett's own "sacred values" are "democracy, justice, life, love and truth." This rigs things nicely. If you refuse his "impeccably hardheaded and rational ontology," then your sacred values must be tyranny, injustice, death, hatred and falsehood. Dennett is the sort of rationalist who gives reason a bad name; and in a new era of American obscurantism, this is not helpful.
That's more than an 'ouch' I'd say.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Angela Hoy unloads:
Forgive me while I step up onto my soapbox today. I am SO tired (whine!) of receiving book manuscripts from convicted felons who have written books about the government conspiracies waged against them.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Victor Davis Hanson on how Europe may recover itself:

Crash an airliner into the dome of St. Peter’s or knock down the Eiffel Tower tomorrow: Europe has no mechanism to hunt down the perpetrators in the Hindu Kush, the Bekka Valley, or the wilds of Iran—much less, like the United States, to hold a rogue regime responsible.

Frustrated by its lack of military resources, but cognizant of the classical need to warn an enemy that more is to be lost than won from starting a war, France is reduced to bluster about nuclear weapons—threats that probably are either not believed or welcomed by the jihadists. In lieu of a credible military, Europe will send more tiny contingents to Afghanistan, remind the world that Britain and France are nuclear, and somehow hurry up to construct a conventional deterrent where there is now none at all.

Finally, the Europeans who despised the unilateral and preemptory George Bush will start to grate at his new multilateral side even more. Be careful what you wish for, especially when an American leader may now not necessarily be such an easy target of caricature—or may not always do the dirty work of fighting jihadists from Pakistan to the Sunni Triangle.

Instead, by letting the Europeans take the lead with the Iranian negotiations, and keeping nearly silent about the cartoon hysteria, the United States essentially has told the Europeans, “Here is the sort of restrained sober and judicious global diplomacy that you so welcome.”

Because of slated troop withdrawals from European bases, and a new American weariness with the old anti-Americanism, some Europeans are beginning to recoil at the idea that they might well be on their own—and in a war against fanatical enemies that they have appeased and without rational friends that they have estranged.

In response, we may see less of the anti-American rhetoric and a return to the Cold War slogans of a “strong Atlantic Alliance” and “an essential Nato,” as nuclear jihadists replace the fear of 300 Soviet divisions.

So now Europe is being thrust right into the middle of the so-called war against Islamic fascism. Once threatened, it will either react with a newly acquired Churchillian maturity to protect its civilization, or cave, in hopes that even more Chamberlain-type appeasement will satisfy the Islamists.

It should be a fascinating spring ahead.

Let's hope so. (Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day.)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

On the 197th anniversary of his birth, I think it's important to reflect on these thoughtful words of Charles Darwin:

"To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual."

From Chapter 10 of his famous work.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Further Irony Dept.
"Betty was disconcerted by lesbianism, leery of abortion and ultimately concerned for the men whose ancient privileges she feared were being eroded. Betty was actually very feminine, very keen on pretty clothes and very responsive to male attention, of which she got rather more than you might think. The world will be a tamer place without her."
Nice to be well thought of...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Will the Palm become a Pod?

Speculation that Apple plans to buy handheld maker Palm has been revived by a call from two leading Palm investors for the company to be put up for sale, according to the local paper of both companies.

Mike Nelson, who owns eight per cent of Palm shares, argued that the company is poorly equipped to dominate the market for smartphones which are beginning to eat into sales of traditional PDAs, reports , online edition of the San Jose Mercury.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Irony Dept.
An American liberal writing in the New York Times Magazine tells, apparently without regret, how he pressured his teenage daughter to have an abortion until she gave in with the words, "I don't have a choice." (Here is the Weekly Standard article on the subject. The NYTM story itself is subscription only.)
The Tragedy of Michael Behe:

Although I was not there to see him, the transcripts of his appearance at the Kitzmiller trial make for compelling, almost tragic reading, transpiring with steadfast quasi-delusional self-assurance as the testimony unfolded into a progressively more predictable humiliating fiasco. This impression was reinforced when Behe confidently stated, on the ID-the-Future weblog, that as far as he was concerned his testimony was pretty much a smashing success (the need for such an act of unequivocal public reassurance, with the verdict still unknown and in the works, is in itself puzzling to me). I can just barely imagine what reading Judge Jones’ ruling must have felt like for Behe. Very clearly, his own claims were the centerpiece of the decision, and their surgical, at times merciless dismantling was the main motivation for the final decision that ID “science” is essentially a sham.

It took Behe some time to answer Judge Jones’s verdict, but his reply is surprisingly weak, at times almost whiny. Behe directly takes on 20 statements from the central, and crucial, part of Judge Jones’s decision, supporting its conclusion that ID is not science. Most often, Behe’s answers consist of simply repeating the arguments he made at trial, as if the Judge was just hard-of-hearing instead of utterly unconvinced by them. And when Behe does try to explain himself, the outcome is often worse.

Behe is a real scientist, unlike most of the other 'fellows' associated with the Discovery Institute. I think it's sinking in, and truly wonder how long Behe can continue to associate himself with the program of intellectual dishonesty at the heart of the 'institute'.

Update: a perfect example of the intellectual dishonesty I mean is right here. And note that this type of thing isn't rare from Dembski et al. It's almost a daily occurrence.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Literary discovery in...Conway, NH?
You won’t believe this.

A friend of mine from Harvard, Bob Glandon, who teaches English at a small college in New Hampshire, happens to live in Conway, NH, near the home of Dan Brown’s parents. He just wrote to tell me some remarkable news.

Yesterday, he was taking his garbage to the town dump and, as he was throwing his trashbag into the container for recyclable paper, a sheet of paper in the container caught his eye - in particular, two words that stood out clearly: “Langdon” and “Louvre”. He looked closer. The sentence read: “Langdon’s manuscript, while discussing the Louvre’s extensive collection of goddess art, had made a passing note of this modest pyramid.”

Having, like the rest of the planet, recently finished reading The Da Vinci Code, Glandon realized immediately that he was looking at a page of the novel, but the piece of paper was not from a book. It was ordinary typing paper; in the margins, there were marks and notes in red ink. As he read on, it became apparent that he was looking at the last page of the novel. He literally couldn’t believe his eyes: he was staring at an early draft of the the most popular novel of all time.

Was it possible that Dan Brown had disposed of this draft at his parents house? It seemed unlikely, but…

More from our man in Rome....