Saturday, December 03, 2005

new book

Tom Bethel, a contributer to NRO, has written a new book, The Policially Incorrect Guide to Science. I may actually go look this one up and buy it.

Here is an NRO article that Bethel wrote. (thanks to Back of the Envelope for the link).

Bethel mentions that George Will and Charles Krauthammer have spoken disparagingly of Intelligent Design. Donald at Back of the Envelope mentions that John Derbyshire has done the same thing. So has Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit. There are a class of conservatives who are embarrassed by fellow conservatives who don't believe in evolution. They think such conservatives are primitive, irrational, unscientific.

But how would they know? None of these four is a biologist. I venture that none of them could write a convincing scientific argument in favor of evolution. These four, along with the large majority of conservatives who are embarrassed, are simply relying on the scientific community. They are appealing to authority, just as they so often accuse Creationists of doing. And the authority they are appealing too is clearly infested with people who are philosophically and politically opposed to Christianity. So I also think that none of these three could explain why the scientific community should be trusted in this area.

Too many people think of Science as a single edifice. We get TVs and computers and airplanes and atom bombs from Science, so Science must be really good at understanding nature. But this isn't the case. Science isn't an algorithm. You don't teach grad students a few rules and then send them out to Do Research. Scientific investigation is an art and individual scientists vary dramatically in skill level.

Furthermore, each science has different criteria for success, different goals that the scientists strive to fulfill. In no field related to evolution is there any drive to produce actual inventions or other practical results. The theory of evolution could be proved entirely 100% wrong tomorrow and it would have no effect whatsoever outside of classrooms and museums.

It is reckless to take the success of physics and engineering and from it to presume any special quality in the evolutionary sciences. There is virtually no overlap with the hard sciences, either in personnel or methods. There is not much more overlap with the biological and medical sciences that have produced practical results. These sciences did not begin producing substantial results until after the field of biology had become very specialized and the evolutionary fields had branched off.

The evolutionary sciences are isolated branches of study. They have no track record of practical results, no history of predictions made and fulfilled, nothing to qualify them as especially reliable sciences; nothing but a tenuous historical relationship and a name they claim in common with the more respectable sciences. But George Will finds these weak sibling fields so respectable that he considers any critics of the fields to be "the kind of conservatives who make conservatism repulsive to temperate people".

Roscoe on WP

Roscoe has a couple of good posts up about the latest anti-American campaign clothed in the costume of humanitarianism. Money quote:
If we aren't serious enough about this war that we are willing to trade the lives of our grunts to satisfy anti-American propagandists, then lets get the hell out now before we lose any more guys.

Friday, December 02, 2005

sometimes virtue is its own reward

I was reading some blogs near me in the TTLB Ecosystem (checking out the competition) and found this wonderful story at a blog called Echo9er.

India, public displays of affection, and charity

My post about public kissing in India attracted some negative publicity at an Indian blog because the blogger didn't get the irony of my comment. This just goes to show how easy it is to misinterpret people (especially if the writer is not writing in your native language) and why life is nicer if you read charitably.

Reading charitably means that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, you assume the author is intelligent, reasonable and good natured and that if what he says doesn't match up with that assumption, then you are probably misreading and need to work a little harder at understanding.

Only if you make a sincere effort to interpret the author as a reasonable person and your efforts fail, should you conclude that he is not being reasonable.

death and squirrels

From Cosmo (Jonah Goldberg's dog) at NRO this story about squirrels attacking and killing a dog. According to the article, it sounds like this is just being treated as a curiosity. I'd be rather concerned if I lived in the area. If the squirrels can kill a dog, they can kill a child.

On the other hand, the more likely explanation is that the dog was already dead and the squirrels were just eating it. Most animals will eat meat when it is available. Passers-by probably just heard a different dog barking and assumed it was the one the squirrels were eating.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Patterico joins the Dark Side

Fortunately, his commenters seem to be firmly on the side of all that is right and good.

Patterico is upset about proposals to eliminate the home-owner's interest deduction and the state-income-tax deduction from the federal tax code. He is upset for a good reason, because it hits him in the pocket-book. As he points out, this is really a tax hike.

But there are good reasons for this tax hike beyond the fact that it makes the tax code more fair. If the Republicans can pass this change, then it will eliminate a lot of the resistence against the flat tax.

I think that is really what they are doing: divide and conquer the opponents of the flat tax.

Democrats and soldiers

The Republicans would be a more manly party if they would listen to Ann Coulter.

I am so sick of these two-faced Democrats who react with mock horror when any Republican criticizes any Democrat who either (1) served in the military or (2) had a son killed in the military, as though this sacrifice should forever protect them from criticism from their fellow citizens, while showing no respect at all for any Republican who has given the same sort of sacrifice. It is pure partisan, cynical, hypocritical, bald-faced exploitation of the military by people who despise the military and all that it stands for.

But what sickens me even more than the Democratic hypocrisy and posturing is the weasely Republican bowing and scraping to this exploitation. Republican politicians are terrified of criticizing Democrats who sacrificed because they know the MSM will trash them for it. But if they would just stand up like men and take their lumps and defend themselves now, during an off-year, this putrid strategy might have lost its usefulness by election time. Instead, the Republicans are allowing the formation of yet another tradition where Democrats can criticize Republicans but Republicans cannot criticize Democrats.

Republicans already can't criticize a Democrat who happens to be black or female or gay without being roasted over a slow fire by the press for "intolerance", but Democrats can say any racist, sexist, homophobic thing they want and suffer no consequences. Thinks are shaping up so that by election 2006, the same one-sided rule will apply to soldiers and families of soldiers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

story notes

Since I got out last week's installment of "Ink Magic" a bit early and since it was short, and since it was a major cliff-hanger, I decided not to wait for next Saturday to publish the next one. You will find it just below this post. The new section isn't a cliff-hanger, but hopefully it introduces enough mystery to leave you with an interest in discovering more. I hope to get out another section on Saturday.

How do you like the plot twist of a mad scientist who discovers another universe? Pretty original, huh? But come on, it's a common plot device because it's neat.

Sheya is hosting the next Storyblogging Carnival over at Tales By Sheya. Get your stories in by Saturday. I actually saw a significant traffic boost from the last Carnival; I'm hoping that means the Carnival is growing more popular.

I really should volunteer to host the Carnival again. Maybe after Christmas.

Ink Magic continued


Ink Magic (part 5)

I clutched at the two by four but before my hand could close on it, the tentacles jerked my feet out from under me and I landed hard on the cold concrete floor. Desperately, I scratched at the web-covered end of the two by four but all I got was a hand full of spider web. The black tentacles jerked me across the floor toward the staircase.

As I was pulled past the desk, I grabbed one of its short wooden legs with one hand and hung on for dear life. As the creature tried to pull me loose I used the other hand to reach for the power cord of the nail gun. The monster pulled so hard that the desk swiveled out from the wall just as the nail gun fell to the floor. Before I could grab the gun, the desk and I were pulled further, leaving the nail gun again out of reach.

I grabbed the cord and jerked the nail gun forward but now it hung up on the back of the desk. My feet were starting up the stairs toward the black blob as I jerked at the power cord again and the gun stuck again. The tentacles hauled my feet up to the third stair as I forced myself to calm down and pull the gun carefully under the back of the desk.

The nail gun finally came free with my feet only inches away from the monster. A quick jerk on the cord brought the gun flying to my hand where I caught it and in one motion turned it to the monster and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

The bastard had unplugged my nail gun.

The old desk was jammed in place and the monster was not strong enough to break the death grip I had on the desk. I guess that's why it gave up on pulling and instead started oozing down the stairs toward my feet. As the creature began flowing around my ankles and up toward my knees, a tremendous feeling of ... something ... overwhelmed me. It was like my heart was being squeezed from inside.

I took a deep breath and let out with a primal scream of outrage as I let go of the desk to sit up and attack the monster with my hands and teeth. It was an act of pure defiance; I didn't really think I had any chance to escape the monster, but I was going to do whatever I could to hurt it. As I was trying to sit up my shirt burst open and a black blob swelled up from my chest.

In a moment, the blob on my chest had grown large and very heavy. It coiled itself like a huge cat and lunged at the monster on the stairs, nearly caving in my chest with the power of its spring. I lay there stunned and gasping for air as the two black mercury monsters joined in combat.

The battle was eerily silent. There were no screams or shrieks, just a sound like wet rags thumping against the floor and walls. There was a louder thump when they fell from the stairs to the floor of the basement where they kept fighting.

The thing that had leaped from my chest was shaped like a giant cat. It looked like the tattoo the old man had given me except that it was solid black, the same color as the ink in the tattoo.

The tentacle monster had let go of me when the fight started, so as soon as I could move, I began dragging myself up the stairs. The black-ink cat was clearly losing and I didn't want to still be there when the tentacle monster had time for me again so I struggled to the top of the stairs before I collapsed. As I lay there I saw that the monster had indeed unplugged my nail gun. It seemed that this tentacle thing wasn't some dumb animal.

The tentacles found my ankles again as I was wobbling to my knees. They hauled me roughly back down the stairs, my face bouncing on each step. I landed in an aching pile at the bottom of the stairs, gazing about in a red daze. The black-ink cat was gone. The tentacle monster just squatted there like a spider in a web, holding my ankles in a rubbery grip. The creature seemed to be gloating at me, giving me time to suffer before it consumed me.

My right hand found the nail gun almost without conscious thought. The blob started flowing toward me as I struggled to raise the nail gun. The gun barked out a ratcheting whine and in seconds it had unloaded forty inch-and-a-quarter brad nails into the blob. The creature vanished abruptly, silently, like a shadow when the light comes on.

Good thing I had plugged the nail gun back in while I was at the top of the stairs.

I lay back in exhaustion and my eye fell on the tatters of my shirt, on my bare chest. The magic tattoo was gone, vanished like it had never been there except for the two red slits where the eyes had been. So, the black-ink cat was a one-shot deal. Well, I figured I still owed that tattoo guy a big check. As soon as I had the strength, I got the hell out of that house, but I didn't forget the journal or the letter.

My mother was at Vicky's Coffee House when I finally caught up with her. She was having her usual after-church lunch with friends --Vicky's Cup of Soup and Half Sandwich Sunday Lunch Special. Beet soup and crab-salad sandwich. After Mom got over her excitement about the state of my face I got her to read the letter. The letter told her that Dad had been kidnapped for his invention some fourteen years ago by some foreign power. The two of us must disappear so that we couldn't be used to control Dad any longer.

Very neat. For all I knew it may even be true for a sufficiently generous reading of "foreign power".

Mom and I flew to Denver where Mom caught a connecting flight to points further east. I stayed in Denver, telling Mom that I had some business to take care of. Is it my fault if she assumed the business was in Denver? But I don't run from no steenking monsters; I was going back to the Bay. Besides, I had to pay the tattoo guy.

The hotel was one of those low rent affairs where you stay when you are too tired to look for someplace better. The walls were so thin I could hear the guy next door clear his throat. He did it a lot. I called room service and asked them to send him up some cough syrup on me, but they said they didn't have any. The room heater had two settings: boiling hot and off. The chair looked very comfortable but that was a cruel illusion. It felt like sitting on a cardboard box with a leaf spring underneath.

I spent the evening in the comfortable-looking chair scanning through my father's journal, trying to get a quick overview.

The gravity lens, it turned out, was not a way to control gravity but a way to focus gravity waves into an image. Dad called the imaging device a graviscope. According to the journal, Dad had succeeded at least to the extent that he could get images out of the graviscope.

The images were ghostly and indistinct but there is nothing opaque to gravity. The graviscope could see though anything. Also, Dad seemed to believe that with enough work he could get the device to show what was happening at any spot on Earth.

Hello, big military contract. Goodbye any hope of privacy, ever again.

Dad was having serious problems with what he called phantoms: ghostly images of people who were not in the spot that he was imaging. He spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was causing the split imaging, but failed. Finally, he decided to try to focus on the phantoms and study them, trying to figure out where they were coming from.

Dad had a lot of trouble focusing on the phantoms. They always came out badly distorted, inhuman. Well, the bipeds were inhuman, and there were apparent quadrupeds that were in-canine, in-feline, and generally unearthly. At first, Dad recognized none of the phantoms but eventually he found some that had recognizable shapes: some humans, some animals, depending on where he looked.

Of course that caused some theoretical problems for Dad. Why would one phantom look human and the one right next to it be so badly focused that it looked like a monster? In some cases the human-looking phantom was clearly interacting with the monster phantom.

There was another problem, one that Dad described in disturbing detail. Even allowing for the bizarre distortions, there were things going on that Dad couldn't imagine happening anywhere nearby --acts of grotesque cruelty and violence by many different creatures on many other creatures.

Eventually, after months of investigation, Dad came to the conclusion that he was actually seeing another world. Here is the entry where he put forth his theory
I finally have a hypothesis to explain my phantoms, creatures that seem obviously real but that can be detected by no means other than gravity waves. It is almost as if they exist in a parallel universe that has no connection to ours other than gravity.

It is well-known that there is not enough matter in the universe to explain the way that galaxies and clusters of galaxies move. That is, there is more mass in the universe than astronomers can account for. Therefore, astronomers have postulated the existence of dark matter, a form of matter that we cannot detect using the traditional tools of astronomy.

As all of our detection methods, prior to my graviscope, have relied on various forms of electromagnetic energy, this dark matter must be matter that does not produce or absorb such energy. This suggests that the matter is electrically neutral, but does that necessarily mean that the matter has no binding forces at all? What if this dark matter possesses another force, dark electromagnetism? This dark EM would have no causal interaction with bright EM, the electromagnetism that we know, but it could follow exactly the same laws on different matter. There could be similar dark analogs to the nuclear interactions and the world of dark matter could form a universe just like ours with suns, planets, and even life.

There could be an entire universe of suns and planets sharing the same space as ours, and the only way we could detect it would be by gravitation. Since the universes share gravitational attraction, we might expect massive bodies of the two universes to attract each other and to share the same orbits --dark sun sharing the same space with the bright sun, dark planet sharing space with the bright planet.
Later he wrote this:
I am now fairly convinced in my theory of a dark matter universe. There is a dark planet that shares the Earth's orbit, circling, no doubt, a dark sun that shares the orbit of our sun. I wonder how many of the other planets have dark companions.

Dark is a good name for the phantoms in my graviscope. They are monstrous creatures of great cruelty. In fact, I have taken to thinking of them as demons: invisible, intangible, evil creatures that walk among us. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping at night.
And thanks to the journal, I had a bit of trouble sleeping myself that night. Dreams kept me restless: dimly-remembered nightmares of otherworldly spies with a graviscope, demons who could follow me anywhere. How to hide from such a menace?

The black-ink cat came to me in my sleep. I woke in the darkness to find two glowing red eyes staring at me. The cat that had climbed out of my chest to fight the monster now sat on my bed looking hungry. This time the cat wasn't all black; it had the red eyes and white fangs of the tattoo. I wondered if it was a pet now or if it thought I owed it an arm for protecting me.

The cat gave a low rumble, then it slashed out with a huge paw, glowing claws extended to rip open my chest. I gasped in pain and my back arched involuntarily, but I couldn't move. The slash opened a cavity of raw meat where my chest had been. There was little blood but the white ribs were exposed, along with some organs and a still-pumping heart. As I gaped in horror, the cat leaped into the chest cavity. It was far bigger than my chest, but somehow the cat managed to pass smoothly into the cavity and disappear.

I awoke with a shock, bolted upright in the bed, and clutched at my pounding heart, gasping for air. I ripped the sheet away to feel my chest in the pitch-dark room. The skin was intact but it didn't feel quite right; it was too smooth, too slick. I fumbled for the switch on the bedside lamp. It clicked on with a dim 30-watt glow to show me why the skin felt so funny. The black-cat tattoo was back.

Monday, November 28, 2005

torture and question-begging

Charles Krauthammer has an article in which he argues against the McCain "torture" amendment. He makes a very good point in the last couple of paragraphs, showing that McCain himself doesn't really believe in the amendment, but overall, I think he made a weak argument as can be seen by Ramesh Ponnuru's response:
I still resist Krauthammer's conclusion, because the example seems to go a lot further than he suggests. Doesn't his bomb end up blowing up any categorical moral prohibition? If we're talking about saving a city, for example, would it be permissible to torture the terrorist's innocent elderly mother or infant child to get him to talk?

It can't be the case, can it, that this example serves as a succinct proof of consequentialism in ethics? If it isn't, then we're left with the idea that what we can do to someone we're interrogating depends on his guilt and the gravity of the situation.
The position that Ponnuru describes is, of course, highly suspect. Surely there are acts (such as torturing an infant) that are universally morally wrong, no matter the need. But is torture one of these universally wrong acts? I have argued before, here and here, that is not.

By comparing torture of a guilty terrorist to the torture of an innocent baby, Ponnuru is begging the question. But to be fair, Krauthammer and others, by the way they put their argument are inviting critics to beg the question in this way. They start out: "Yes, torture is bad, but suppose..."

I put it differently: torture is just another form of violence. It has moral rules of application similar to beating, killing and other forms of violence. A moral society outlaws these things. We find violence in general to be morally repugnant. But a moral society also recognizes that sometimes violence is the right thing to do. Sometimes killing is a moral imperative, just as sometimes torture is a moral imperative.

Killing an innocent baby is universally wrong. Killing a murderer is not. Similarly, torturing an innocent baby is universally wrong. Torturing a terrorist is not.

Torture, like other forms of violence, is something that is so wrong in so many circumstances that we tend think of it as generally wrong. Torture for gain, for revenge, for entertainment is horribly wrong, just like beating or killing for gain, revenge or entertainment is horribly wrong. But just because torture is often wrong doesn't mean that it is always wrong.

What Krauthammer and others appear to be arguing is that torture is an evil that is sometimes necessary. I would argue instead that torture is an act of violence that is sometimes evil and sometimes good.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Beetles lyrics

Anyone remember the Beeltes song where they sang about how they prefer rotund women?
Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round. [emphasis mine]
And then it continues
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me?
I always pictured a guy with his wrist tied to a bunch of helium balloons, starting to fly off like a cartoon character, and then a big, round woman grabing him by his ankles and pulling him back down to earth. He thanks her with a warm embrace and then... Well, I never got past that point because my mind wanders but ... You know? I forget where I was going with this.

Never mind.