Sunday, November 30, 2008

Paul Gross eviscerates David Berlinksi's latest book. I have to say, of all the writers on the Discovery Institute's payroll, Berlinski to my mind is the most depressing. His Tour of the Calculus was a wonderful book. Since then, it is as though he was replaced by some horrible simulacrum. He must truly believe his readers and fans (at Commentary and other conservative magazines) are so stupid that none will make the effort to fact-check his assertions.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Long Arm of Terror

My wife and I are in Montreal over the Thanksgiving holiday. My father-in-law, who was diagnosed several weeks ago with normal pressure hydrocephalus, had undergone neurosurgery, and after several worrisome weeks has shown a rapidly advancing recovery.

So this Thanksgiving we have had something to be truly grateful for. And yet in the midst of this, the terror in Mumbai has struck home here. One of the three physicians who run the Julius Richardson Hospital here in Montreal, where my father-in-law was undergoing his rehab, Michael Moss, we have just learned was killed by the terrorists in the Mumbai attack. The story from the Gazette is here.
In his mid-seventies, Dr. Moss, a veteran of the British Navy, was on vacation at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai when the terrorists struck. God rest his soul.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From a conservative professor at University of Denver to David Frum:
I find it astonishing that conservatives can discuss the election results and their path back to power without addressing the right wing's increasing estrangement from science. Religious conservatives have refused to acknowledge that evolution is the cornerstone of biological sciences and that the earth and universe are billions of years old, Free market enthusiasts have denied the efficacy and necessity of the Clean Air Act’s protections of the environment and human health. They have also refused to acknowledge Reagan’s leadership role in protecting the stratospheric ozone layer and the successes of the Montreal Protocol in addressing this global problem. It is genuinely difficult to find an adult discussion of climate change on any conservative web site. Conservatives find themselves arrayed against the National Academy of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society and the Academies of Science of many countries.
Good news for Publishing Industry newshounds: Pat Holt is back, in blog format.
In light of the Citigroup meltdown, Rod brings up what's on the mind of many of us:
OK, here's what I don't understand. Obama's new economic team -- Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and Peter Orszag -- are all universally acclaimed as brilliant. But they are all proteges of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the Citigroup official who worked hard to break down the Depression-era firewalls that kept what's happening now from happening, and who stood shoulder to shoulder with Alan Greenspan to keep the government from regulating new financial instruments that helped cause this meltdown. Why is nobody asking why men with this kind of past being put back in charge of US economic policy? It's like a Republican president in 2016 bringing back Rumsfeld's proteges to run national security.
I'm looking forward to how this is explained--if the question is ever properly raised....
Hitch explains why Hillary is an unfortunate choice for Secretary of State.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Now...even I have a limit when it comes to enthusiasm for the Home Town Team...


Crunchy Con Recipes: Bourbon Lentils.
1 Can Organic Lentils
1/2 cup of chopped onions
1/2 cup of chopped mushrooms
Solid shot of Maker's Mark or your preferred Bourbon.

Saute the onions and mushrooms in a medium/large pan for about 5 minutes (till they start to get crisp around the edges) on medium-high. Add the can of lentils, keeping some of the water from the can. Stir. As the water evaporates, add the shot of bourbon and stir some more. Let simmer for a few minutes. Serves two.
And now, the Economist's post-mortem:

Republicanism’s anti-intellectual turn is devastating for its future. The party’s electoral success from 1980 onwards was driven by its ability to link brains with brawn. The conservative intelligentsia not only helped to craft a message that resonated with working-class Democrats, a message that emphasised entrepreneurialism, law and order, and American pride. It also provided the party with a sweeping policy agenda. The party’s loss of brains leaves it rudderless, without a compelling agenda.

This is happening at a time when the American population is becoming more educated. More than a quarter of Americans now have university degrees. Twenty per cent of households earn more than $100,000 a year, up from 16% in 1996. Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster, notes that 69% call themselves “professionals”. McKinsey, a management consultancy, argues that the number of jobs requiring “tacit” intellectual skills has increased three times as fast as employment in general. The Republican Party’s current “redneck strategy” will leave it appealing to a shrinking and backward-looking portion of the electorate.

Why is this happening? One reason is that conservative brawn has lost patience with brains of all kinds, conservative or liberal. Many conservatives—particularly lower-income ones—are consumed with elemental fury about everything from immigration to liberal do-gooders. They take their opinions from talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and the deeply unsubtle Sean Hannity. And they regard Mrs Palin’s apparent ignorance not as a problem but as a badge of honour.

Question for zealous proponents of ESCR. Why are you still talking about it like it's the only answer? This sounds much more promising than we were hearing even just a few years ago.
At long last, the glint in a researcher's eye has been turned into a significant advance in the clinic. Forget all the fuss about embryos and angst about playing God: this is unadulterated good news. We have proved that scientists can now fashion organs using a patient's own cells, eliminating the problems with rejection that have always plagued transplants. Today it is a trachea – tomorrow it could be a colon, even a heart.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jay Fitzgerald points to this excellent summation of what went wrong with conservatism.

Back in the '70s, conservative intellectuals loved to talk about "radical chic," the well-known tendency of educated, often wealthy liberals to project their political fantasies onto brutal revolutionaries and street thugs, and romanticize their "struggles." But "populist chic" is just the inversion of "radical chic," and is no less absurd, comical or ominous. Traditional conservatives were always suspicious of populism, and they were right to be. They saw elites as a fact of political life, even of democratic life. What matters in democracy is that those elites acquire their positions through talent and experience, and that they be educated to serve the public good. But it also matters that they own up to their elite status and defend the need for elites. They must be friends of democracy while protecting it, and themselves, from the leveling and vulgarization all democracy tends toward.

Writing recently in the New York Times, David Brooks noted correctly (if belatedly) that conservatives' "disdain for liberal intellectuals" had slipped into "disdain for the educated class as a whole," and worried that the Republican Party was alienating educated voters. I couldn't care less about the future of the Republican Party, but I do care about the quality of political thinking and judgment in the country as a whole. There was a time when conservative intellectuals raised the level of American public debate and helped to keep it sober. Those days are gone. As for political judgment, the promotion of Sarah Palin as a possible world leader speaks for itself. The Republican Party and the political right will survive, but the conservative intellectual tradition is already dead. And all of us, even liberals like myself, are poorer for it.

Great to see them all again....

Hat tip: John Wilkins.
Andrew Sullivan is having some fun making sport of National Review's tacky predilection for annual cruises. I don't blame him. Honestly. Perhaps while the blessed WFB was still alive and up for this sort of thing, given his affection for all things nautical, maybe it made sense.

But really. If it's time for conservative journals to dig in and reach out to expand and engage more people with conservative ideas, may I suggest NR take a page from science fiction fandom and start holding annual conventions at a sporting hotel in a different US city every year? Not a bad way to broaden your appeal.
Dan Kennedy brings us up to date on what's rotten in the state of Massachusetts:

I am pleased to report that everything has returned to normal in the land of the bean and the cod. While the rest of America celebrates the election of Barack Obama and hunkers down for the economic apocalypse, we in Massachusetts have returned to snickering – and occasionally feigning outrage – at our venal political culture.

For a brief time, fully 5% of our 40 state senators were facing criminal charges. But that distinction was lost last week, when Jim Marzilli resigned after he was caught attending an environmental conference in Germany. Not much of a crime, you say? Let me explain.

Marzilli, who was arrested last June on charges of attempting to grope several women on park benches (he also allegedly came close to knocking over a hot-dog vendor while running from police), had not reported to work for lo these many months. So when he turned up on a European junket, his long-suffering colleagues sent word that they'd finally had enough.

Marzilli's departure leaves us with only one tainted senator, Dianne Wilkerson, who, according to the FBI, was recently caught on a surveillance camera stuffing $1,000 in cash into her bra – part of some $23,500 in bribes she's charged with taking on behalf of an aspiring bar owner in need of a liquor license.

Wilkerson has been an ethical disaster area for years, having served a sentence of house arrest during the 1990s after she, uh, forgot to pay her taxes. Her term's up in January, and she's promised to resign before then – but she won't say how long before. Meanwhile, she now says she needs a taxpayer-funded lawyer on the grounds that she's broke. Obviously she needed a bigger bra.

I could go on. So I will. The speaker of the Massachusetts House, Sal DiMasi, is under investigation for demonstrating generosity to his friends that would be admirable if he hadn't allegedly violated ethics rules – and possibly state laws – in so doing.

The charges against DiMasi – who, to his credit, successfully stood up to governor Deval Patrick (a friend of president-elect Obama's) and stopped his disastrous proposal to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts – may or may not end his political career. DiMasi has been adamant in denying any wrongdoing. But it must be said that both of DiMasi's predecessors as speaker, Tom Finneran and, before him, Charley Flaherty, resigned and pled guilty to federal charges in order to avoid doing time behind bars.

Have we hit rock bottom? Not quite. Both of the likely successors to DiMasi, Bob DeLeo and John Rogers, have ethics issues of their own. Give the nod to DeLeo, as his issues appear to be relatively trivial.

Taxachusetts is back.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sean Carroll has been perusing arxiv and finds it instructive that denizens of the steady state theory are still publishing:

For those with any lingering doubts, the Big Bang model — the idea that the universe has evolved from a hot, dense, smooth initial state — is correct, and the Steady State model should have been put to bed a long time ago. Evidence for the Big Bang is overwhelming. It’s a model that keeps making predictions, which keep turning out to be correct, while the Steady State theory made many predictions that turned out to be wrong.

But it’s an interesting case study in how science works. Reading Burbidge’s paper, the parallels with anti-evolutionists are striking. In both cases, one is repeatedly told that the establishment’s supporter’s can’t prove that their theory is correct. Which is undeniably true, as science never proves anything; it just accumulates evidence, and in the case of the Big Bang and natural selection, the evidence puts the case beyond reasonable doubt. Which doesn’t imply that there are no interesting questions remaining to be addressed. For both the Big Bang and natural selection, many of the details concerning the way in which the broad framework is specifically implemented in the real world remain to be answered. And in both cases, the skeptics like to pretend that open questions about the details are the same as open questions about the framework. But they’re not.

I'm well past the age of the gents in question here, but... it has not been that long since I was in the same phase, and way too much of what's going on in the 'dating' scene now is all-too-familiar.
George Will is even more blunt:

The answer? Do nothing that will delay bankrupt companies from filing for bankruptcy protection, so that improvident labor contracts can be unraveled, allowing the companies to try to devise plausible business models. Instead, advocates of a "rescue" propose extending to Detroit the government's business model for the nation -- redistributing wealth from the successful to the failed, an implausible formula for prosperity.

Some opponents of bankruptcy say: GM must not be allowed to fail before it perfects batteries for its electric-powered Volt, which supposedly is a key to the company's resurrection. This vehicle was concocted to serve GM's prolonged attempt to ingratiate itself with the few hundred environmentally obsessed automotive engineers in Congress. They have already voted tax credits of up to $7,500 for purchasers of such cars -- bribes that reveal doubts about consumer enthusiasm for them at a price that would reflect cost.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jim Manzi on whether to bail out Detroit's Big Three auto-makers:
Let them Die.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dogs and Cats Living Together Dept.
Well, here's something guaranteed to drive the PZ-ombies of this world up the wall:

Stephen Hawking allowing himself to be blessed by the...the...Pope???!!
What is the world coming to!

According to John Bohannon in the latest issue of Science (not online for me):
Scientists who gathered at the Vatican last
week for a closed-door conference on evolutionary
origins are giving the event mixed
reviews. Those who hoped for a clear statement
of support for evolution from the
Catholic Church went home empty-handed.
Others, expecting little, were happy with a
détente between science and faith.
Same old, same old. Cardinal Schoenborn continues to express doubts about "gaps" in the theory, and this continues to bemuse many scientists, but the Church not only didn't invite any of the shills from the Discovery Institute (very few of whom, anyway, are scientsts) the Cardinal continues to distance himself from Intelligent Design.
I think we've reached WTF time for what passes for the Massachusetts Republican Party. Jay Fitzgerald is all over it: "The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced a new party will have to be created to save what's left of the GOP here."


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nice video here of a new pyramid discovered in Egypt, dating back around 4,000 years.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Great Scenes from Otherwise Appalling Films (#2) I was saying...

Great Scenes from Otherwise Appalling Films.
Well, nice as the idea was, it was shortlived, thanks to this notice I got from YouTube when I just posted a new installment:

Your video "Great Scenes from Otherwise Appalling Films (#2)" has been identified by YouTube's Content Identification program as containing copyrighted content which NBC Universal claims is theirs.

Your video "Great Scenes from Otherwise Appalling Films (#2)" is no longer visible in some locations, because NBC Universal has chosen to block it.

You'd think by now, in the iPod age, the folks at NBC/U would see my "scenes" as a nice way to get a free promotion, no matter how modest, for movies well past their sell-by date.

Disappointing, but not unexpected. Maybe if I confine myself to films by Mario Bava, this will work. But in the meantime, I guess this series will be no more than an occasional text post...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Joan Vennochi scores John Kerry for his lack of honesty during the re-election campaign. Since we're stuck with a one-party state here, it's still refreshing to know we could soon have two new senators, if Kerry takes a cabinet position with the new president and Ted Kennedy's decline accelerates.

Friday, November 07, 2008

More archeological evidence that those strange people who wrote the New Testament...actually knew what they were talking about.
In the first place, the archaeological evidence removes the necessity for the argument that Acts reflects second century Jewish religious life, not first century conditions. My own observation is that time and again when people have questioned the historical accuracy of the remarks in the NT about buildings and historical locales, the NT has eventually been vindicated by the archaeological evidence. This should give pause to scholars who too hastily want to argue alternate cases, merely dismissing the evidence of the NT about things like: 1) where Jesus was buried, or 2) whether there was a synagogue of Greek speaking Jews in Jerusalem in Jesus' day and the like.
Thomas Aquinas Smackdown of Bonaventure.
Okay, not really. But Siris points to this nice video of Professor Ralph McInerny on why Aquinas was such an exceptionally broadminded philosopher.

Friday dose of Krauthammer:

Which is not to say that Obama did not run a brilliant general election campaign. He did. In its tactically perfect minimalism, it was as well conceived and well executed as the electrifying, highflying, magic carpet ride of his primary victory. By the time of his Denver convention, Obama understood that he had to dispense with the magic and make himself kitchen-table real, accessible and, above all, reassuring. He did that. And when the economic tsunami hit, he understood that all he had to do was get out of the way. He did that too.

With him we get a president with the political intelligence of a Bill Clinton harnessed to the steely self-discipline of a Vladimir Putin. (I say this admiringly.) With these qualities, Obama will now bestride the political stage as largely as did Reagan.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Have I mentioned that I live in a rough town?
(All that Garden City stuff you hear about Newton is a bunch of crap.)
George Will's post-mortem:
As this is being written, Republicans seem to have lost a total of 55 House and 11 Senate seats in the last two elections. These are the worst Republican results in consecutive elections since the Depression-era elections of 1930 and 1932 (153 and 22), which presaged exile from the presidency until 1953. If, as seems likely at this writing, in January congressional Republicans have 177 representatives and 44 senators, they will be weaker than at any time since after the 1976 elections, when they were outnumbered in the House 292-143 and the Senate 61-38.
The GOP had it coming. If conservatism cannot overcome its dependance on know-nothing candidates who wear their anti-intellectualism as a badge of honor ('fruit fly research in France? I kid you not...'), it will remain in the political desert.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

This is hilarious:

You Suck at PhotoShop....

Via Slate.
Rod Dreher sums it up:

This election represents not an affirmative embrace of neoliberalism but rather a repudiation of the Republican Party and a certain kind of conservatism. It's important for the left to recognize this in order to avoid the temptation to overreach in the heady Democratic days to come. One-party government didn't work out so well for the Republicans during the Bush years — and going further back, Bill Clinton's misreading of the meaning of his 1992 victory caused him to make several key political errors that Democrats paid dearly for in the 1994 midterm election. To be sure, Obama has an opening now to move the country to the left, but it's not clear that that's where we want to go.

That said, the Obama Democrats' greatest ally will almost certainly be the addled Republican Party, which will be wandering around for some time like a google-eyed Wile E. Coyote after he's had an anvil dropped on his head. The recriminations on the right will make the Night of the Long Knives look like a knitting-needle ticklefest.

The civil war among conservatives will be between an enraged rump of die-hard knotheads and a disparate group of reformers. The knotheads believe that Obama's victory came thanks to the treason of some conservative intellectual elites and McCain's failure to be more like Reagan, whatever that means 20 years after the Gipper left the White House. Sarah Palin is the standard-bearer for the talk-radio faction within knotheadism, and Mitt Romney will emerge as the GOP establishment's last stand.

Well said.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Thanks to Siris for putting us in mind of Plato on this election day.
Socrates, in Plato's Gorgias:
No, Callicles, the very bad men come from the class of those who have power. And yet in that very class there may arise good men, and worthy of all admiration they are, for where there is great power to do wrong, to live and to die justly is a hard thing, and greatly to be praised, and few there are who attain to this. Such good and true men, however, there have been, and will be again, at Athens and in other states, who have fulfilled their trust righteously; and there is one who is quite famous all over Hellas, Aristeides, the son of Lysimachus. But, in general, great men are also bad, my friend.

When Scientists Speak Ill of their Colleagues
Larry Moran has a great post on how John Maynard Smith embarrassed himself when he disparaged the work of Stephen Jay Gould.