28 February, 2006

Blogpost frenzy!

So long as my soul (yes my soul, not my frontal lobe) is being run daily through a cider press (yes a cider press, not a trash compactor), I might as well post a blog post now and then. So:
  • Item: DefenseTech says Iraq is about to have some new infrastructure. The U.S. Army has put in for new roads in previously unpopulated areas so they can drive their vehicles unmolested by bombs. So we can add urban sprawl to the unpleasantnesses deluged upon the birthplace of Western civilization. (Unless they come up with German-strength zoning codes that will keep new highways from inducing sprawl. I suppose while they're at it, they could come up with an instant radioactivity decayer to neutralize all the "depleted" uranium. And they can all have a pony!)
  • Item: The too-rarely-cited William Arkin, the brilliant military reporter who got pushed out of the LA Times for being, frankly, too good, writes that secret anti-terrorism programs were already rife in the U.S. government before 9/11. He concludes, in his commie way:
    The existence of a set of overlapping secret counter-terrorist organizations before 9/11 should punctuate the failures of the government and thus create an environment of deep skepticism today about the government's competence to pursue terrorists. What appears to be happening instead is the perpetuation of the myth that secret organizations -- properly managed and given free reign -- will protect us in the future.
  • Item: George W. Bush's opinion polls are truly amazing. In case you haven't seen the latest one from CBS, well, it might cheer you up. Go read the PDF of the unfiltered results. Isn't it great that Americans are so polite about their protest? Compare it to the mostly Muslim crowd in India that according to the Associated Press showed up hours ago to chant "Death to Bush" as the petulant prince visits their country. Unfortunately their focused visualization killed several marijuana plants, angering local residents.
  • Item: The Iraq war turns 3 this month. It's good to be almost through with the terrible twos. Fortunately, the good parents are finally starting to think about which nursery school it should attend.
  • Item: In conversations recently, I found that several of my best friends were first turned on to blechgs by Tom Tomorrow. I very much want to thank Mr. Tomorrow for giving us all a laugh or two and showing us what blogs could be before we knew, or even hated, the word 'blog.'
  • Item: !

26 February, 2006

Strategic hate initiative

Hi all! No, I wasn't crushed to death in a trash compactor! I've just been trying to finish this paper, which means I'm not blogging at work, which is where I get my best stuff done. Anyway, this post comes to you courtesy of procrastination.

There's been a lot of noise made about a decision to allow a UAE-based company to manage U.S. ports. A lot of this noise comes from liberal quarters, where it's apparently okay to tar Arabs with the broad brush of terrorism if it looks bad for Bush. Atrios is pretty reliable for saying the wrong thing in such instances, and doesn't disappoint this time:
Normally I'm made a little bit uncomfortable by issues which have a crypto-racist tinge to them - they're Arabs so they're bad! - but this seems to be a genuine issue. Why the hell would we let a UAE owned company handle domestic port operations?
Note the obvious subtext. "Normally I'm a little bit uncomfortable - but I can't pass up some Bush-baiting. Fuck those dirty Arabs anyway!" Or Kos, who has a whole section devoted to this flap, including this especially telling diary:
The "opponents of the port deal are racists and xenophobes" argument has both puzzled and enraged me for the past 48 hours. People much smarter than me have pointed out that if you spend three years drumming into Americans' heads that "Arabs = scary" they might believe you.

So, I was looking at the Dubai tourism website from a link on a previous diary, and found this under the "General Information" section of the "Visa Regulations" tab:

Nationals of "Israel" may not enter the U.A.E.

Now, there are those who want us to believe that this is a matter of simply "free trade" or "international business as usual" and "confidence building among trade partners." But ask yourselves if this were any other situation in which our "trading partner" imposed such a restriction, whether outrage would be warranted.

And STFU about the "xenophobia" stuff.
(Irony, you will recall, died sometime during the Nixon administration of "asphyxiation", and thus does not apply to this particular post, no matter how ironic you might find it.)

I don't have much to add. It's obviously racist to assume that a given party is not trustworthy merely because they're Arab. It makes me highly inclined to doubt the trustworthiness of the bloviating parties on such subjects as the USA PATRIOT act and anti-Arab racism in general. Political opportunism is no substitute for, you know, um, principles.

13 February, 2006

Veins in your teeth

Spent the blizzard at home with my parents. Cozy. Did some shoveling. The snow was extremely powdery; whenever I would hurl a load over my head the wind would catch it and stretch it out into a huge plume like volcanic ejecta.

While there my dad opined on the subject of Dick Cheney shooting that lawyer in the face. His principal objection wasn't to Cheney hitting his friend, but to the fact that Cheney was out there hunting quail in the first place. I responded that thousands of people hunt quail and it wasn't that remarkable, but he was unmoved.

"I wouldn't mind so much if they went out with no weapons, with just their bare hands, and then hunted like that. That would be okay," he said.

"And with no clothes, either?" I replied.

But it's an interesting idea. Start from the ground and see how far you can get. Just you and your wits and whatever you can find lying around in the woods. If you can make a passable bow and arrow from scratch, bully for you. If you must stalk your prey with empty hands and strangle it to death, so be it.

Has anyone ever heard of such a thing? I know some people can catch fish by sliding their cupped hands up from beneath its belly, but I've never really heard of anyone doing the above.

06 February, 2006

Black people are better at everything

A completely Super-Bowl-unrelated conversation led me to this rather old Salon article by Gary Kamiya, titled "The black edge: Are athletes of African descent genetically superior?"

The article is a review of a book by one Jon Entine, titled "Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk About It". Entine, while bowing low to acknowledge that training and opportunity and hundreds of other environmental and social factors contribute, argues that blacks essentially do have better genetics.

This may be true, but I think this is something of a fallacy. The key lies in the brief parenthetical given by Kamiya, "Africa has greater genetic variety than any other continent, which helps to explain why people of African descent can be genetically gifted."

The above is a very well-established fact and is the product of the famous "Out of Africa" migration ca. 100,000 years ago, which forced a population bottleneck. The Out of Africa population had to undergo a dramatic contraction and expansion in population size, which has the effect of removing significant amounts of genetic diversity from the population. Subsequently other populations underwent additional bottlenecks - upon migrating into Europe or East Asia, for example. We can see the signature of these bottlenecks in the distribution of gene frequencies in these populations.

If we consider new and frequent alleles (that is, those that arose after our divergence from chimp and that show more than, say, 5% frequency in the population), which are more likely to be under positive selection than new rare alleles, then there will be almost no alleles present in Out of Africa populations that are not present in the African populations. Actually, this will be sharper for genes under selection, since selection should be weaker in bottleneck populations.

What this means is if we consider any particular trait that confers some freakish ability, we should expect to find Africans with that freakish ability. This will increase further if we consider multi-factoral traits, since it's far more likely that we'll find the coincidence of two alleles in an African population than we will in an Out of Africa one.

This has only one meaning: genetic diversity is VERY good for populations as a whole. This ought to apply to any sort of trait, not only athletic prowess, so really we should expect to see black luminaries dominating in all sorts of endeavors. So why don't we? Well, obviously some things have stronger environmental components than others. It's easy to pick up running. All you need are feet. Picking up the violin, on the other hand, is a tad different, and historical and social factors will obviously have much more weight there. But as that violin-playing field levels out, if genetics matters we should expect to see Africans dominating there.

As a final note, remember this: marry someone as genetically distant from you as possible. Can't hurt.

Ye Olde 500th Poste

This is a milestone of some sort, I suppose. Probably most blegs pass this marker long before now in their history. At any rate, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who's read this bloog over the years, and the people who have sustained it by writing with me. I would be remiss if I didn't single out Hedgehog, who has made this whole thing infinitely more enjoyable and without whom I would have long since given up on this project. So here's to a few good years, with hope for many more.

01 February, 2006

Rhinos lose, long live rhinos

The Canadian election came and went and once again, the Rhinoceros Party failed to take a single riding, leaving it once again seatless. Not even the seat of its pants. But that's ok, as we will hold the flag of Marxism-Lennonism high.

The Wedgie Awards

It's coming up on seven years now since the famous "Wedge Document", which set out the Discovery Institute's plan for the progression of the "intelligent design" movement, first came to light. PZ links to recently-published scans of the document, which he kindly makes available as a PDF. (Also don't miss his exciting cloak-and-dagger tale of how a humble mailroom employee brought this document to light.)

Seven years is more than enough leeway for us to judge them on their five-year goals. Let's see how they're doing!

The Wedge: Five Year Objectives
1. A major public debate between design theorists and Darwinists (by 2003)To date, the vast majority of biologists have refused to engage IDists in any public forum, and any engagement must be classified as 'minor'.0
2. Thirty published books on design and its cultural implications (sex, gender issues, medicine, law and religion)Err. This seems like the easiest thing for them to have achieved, but I actually don't think they've done this. The Discovery Institute only lists seven books supporting ID on their website. Makes me kind of sad for them.0
3. One hundred scientific, academic, and technical articles by our fellows.Um. If we're counting journal publications, I think the number is a paltry two or three, by the most charitable count.0
4. Significant coverage in national media:0.5
Cover story on major news magazine such as Time or NewsweekThey definitely got Time.0.25
PBS show such as Nova treating design theory fairlyI don't think they got any such coverage...0
Regular press coverage on developments in design theorySeems like this would have been a sure-fire win, except for the tiny problem that there haven't actually BEEN any developments in design theory.0
Favorable op-ed pieces and columns on the design movement by 3rd party mediaOh boy did they achieve this one.0.25!
5. Spiritual and cultural renewal:0.25
Mainline renewal movements begin to appropriate insights from design theory, and to repudiate theologies influenced by materialismLet's assume "appropriate insights" means "parrot our talking points" and give them this one. (You can tell I'd make a bad teacher because I am such a softie.)0.25
Major Christian denomination(s) defend(s) traditional doctrine of creation & repudiate(s) DarwinismI don't think anyone has, oddly enough.0
Seminaries increasingly recognize & repudiate naturalistic presuppositionsI'm not really in a position to assess trends within seminaries, but judging by the one nearest me (Harvard Divinity School), I'm going to say no.0
Positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in GodI'm not really sure what a positive uptake on sexuality, abortion, and belief in God would be. I'd say it should be, respectively, "Yes, have some," "Safe, legal & rare," and "He still owes me five bucks." Anyway, I'm not seeing any positive influence from ID, here. No points for you!0
1.[sic] Ten states begin to rectify ideological imbalance in their science curricula & include design theoryUrgh. To date, two pathetic attempts have been made, one of which (Dover, PA) was quashed ruthlessly, and the other of which (Kansas) likely will be very shortly.0
2. Scientific achievements:It's almost too much even considering this.0.4
An active design movement in Israel, the UK and other influential countries outside the USPersonally, I think they should have focused on Paris, which, as we all know, is the influential place when it comes to design. Vous êtes fabuleux, ma chere!0
Ten CRSC Fellows teaching at major universitiesI guess we can't consider Lehigh to be a major university.0
Two universities where design theory has become the dominant viewPlenty of leeway here. We've at least got Kent Hovind's "Patriot Bible University" and Bob Jones University. Although the former isn't actually an accredited university, and the latter probably shouldn't be, they never required either...0.2
Design becomes a key concept in the social sciencesMmmm. Possibly "a key example of a very bad idea", but I don't think that's what they meant.0
Legal reform movements base legislative proposals on design theoryThe number of stupid state congressfolk trying to pass pro-ID legislation is legion.0.2
Total1.15 out of 7

What's most amazing about the Wedge Strategy is that they actually believed that they would be able to achieve any of these goals. This means they're fully convinced that they're actually doing good science, as opposed to something worthy of a bad science fiction movie.

(Man in white lab coat enters from right, moving with a quick, decisive gait.)

DOC: Susan, hurry! Recalibrate the interferators to delta-seven. The ions have become unstable!

SUSAN: Oh, no, Doctor! Will we survive?

DOC: (grimly) If I can manage to repress the nuclear charge and divert the flow
of energy towards the quantum flux-gate, we just might make it.

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