Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Looking Mostly Good So Far

At the time I write this it looks like the Iraqi elections are looking good so far. There has been some violence but not as overwhelming as I feared and people appear to be voting. Let's hope these keeps up throughout the day. It looks like the biggest problem won't be low voter turnout overall, but low Sunni turnout.

Personally, I would prefer regional elections for local representatives. I think that would have gone a long way of preventing any kind of 'discredited' election due to the Sunnis' refusal to participate. I also believe local representative elections could have been held over a year ago, even before the hand-over of sovereignty to oversee the occupationprovisional government.

To get a feel for how election day will go and where Iraqi public opinion stands, see Zogby's recent poll best summarized by Juan Cole:
Sunni Arabs who say they will vote on Sunday: 9%
Sunni Arabs who say they definitely will not vote on Sunday: 76%
Shiites who say they likely or definitely will vote: 80%
Kurds who say they likely or definitely will vote: 56%

Sunni Arabs who want the US out of Iraq now or very soon: 82%
Shiites who want the US out of Iraq now or very soon: 69%

Sunni Arabs who believe US will hurt Iraq over next 5 years: 62%
Shiites who believe US will hurt Iraq over next five years: 49%

Shiites who want to hold elections on Jan. 30: 84%
Kurds who want to hold elections on Jan. 30: 64%

Sunni Arabs who want to postpone elections: 62%

Sunni Arabs who consider guerrilla resistance against the Americans legitimate: 53%

Iraqis who would support a religious government: 33%
Again, this was a Zogby poll, so keep that in mind. Still, shift the numbers by 10% and it still paints roughly the same picture. Iraq's want us out, but they still need us, whether they want us or not. Somehow we need to pull out gracefully without letting the place collapse under its own weight. I wish I knew how to do that; I don't. I'm not sure anyone does.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Defender's Guide to Science and Creationism

In my ongoing studies of Creationism, Intelligent Design and Evolution I found perhaps the most useful site yet, the Defender's Guide to Science and Creationism. This guide goes through virtually every criticism put forth by creationists and counters it in as short and efficient a manor as possible. Before going into the more interesting points, I just want to say it is amazing the people you 'meet' on the internet. This world and this country are full of fascinating, brilliant people you've never heard of. Here I was expecting a biologist, anthropologist or someone like that responsible for such a comprehinsive guide, not this:
Welcome to a new year and a new www.vuletic.com/hume. I wanted to launch this updated version of my site before I headed off to Iraq for my second deployment, and it looks like I have succeeded. I regret that there is not very much new content to this site just yet: I have updated some of my older papers and projects, and deleted a few, but most of the changes to this site are cosmetic at the moment. To the left you will see a list of categories. Most of these are promissary notes for things I hope to write about for you in the future, as however much time I have left in this life permits.
Mark I. Vuletic, editor of this site, is a doctoral candidate in philosophy and a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps.
Emphesis added.

Here are a couple of the shorter entries:

4.4: ASSERTION: Evolutionists cannot explain how feathers evolved.

RESPONSE: (i) The standard view is that feathers evolved from reptilian scales. One can see how this might have happened when one looks at gradations in the present world, where there seem to be intermediates between scales and feathers, often on the same bird. Christopher McGowan explains:
If we examine the wing of a penguin, we see a wide range of covering structures, from small structures that look like scales at the leading edge, to structures that are obviously feathers at the trailing edge. There are all shades in between. (McGowan 1984:119)

McGowan goes on to point out that
feathers and scales are essentially just variations on a theme; both are formed of a horny protein called keratin, and they both develop along similar embryonic pathways. (McGowan 1984:120)

5.5: ASSERTION: There are no transitional forms between humans and their nonhuman ancestors.

RESPONSE: The evolution of humans from nonhuman hominids is actually one of the best attested transitions in the fossil record. Creationists claim that there is a sharp dividing line somewhere among the fossil specimens, with humans on one side and apes on the other. However, as Jim Foley discovered in tabulating creationist arguments on this matter, the transition is so smooth, and most of the fossils so intermediate in nature that not even the creationists can agree with one another about which fossils are supposedly human and which ones are supposedly apes.

Foley charts all of this out at www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/compare.html, part of his definitive Fossil Hominids FAQ at www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/, to which the reader is directed for more detailed information of the evolution of humans.
That comparison of hominid fossils is particularly devastating. Creationists claim every transitional form between ape and man isn't really transitional, but just an ape or human. Yet, the creationists can't even agree which skulls should be classified as human and which should be classified as ape. Of course it is hard, they show characteristics of both, just as predicted by, ah, which theory was that again? That link charts out the confusion in clearly documented detail.

Anyway, if you have any sympathies towards creationism or find yourself unable to counter some creationist's argument, check out the Defender's Guide.


The intolerance towards lesbians in the Buster controversy is sillier and more extreme than I realized. From the NY Times:
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings denounced the program, starring Buster Baxter, a cute animated rabbit who until now has been known primarily as a close friend of Arthur, the world's most famous aardvark. Ms. Spellings said many parents would not want children exposed to a lesbian life style.
"Postcards From Buster" is a spinoff of "Arthur" that combines live action and animation and went on the air a year ago. In the series, aimed at young elementary schoolchildren, Buster travels to 24 different states with his father and sends video postcards home.

Buster appears briefly onscreen, but mainly narrates these live-action segments, which show real children and how they live. One episode featured a family with five children, living in a trailer in Virginia, all sharing one room. In another, Buster visits a Mormon family in Utah. He has dropped in on fundamentalist Christians and Muslims as well as American Indians and Hmong. He has shown the lives of children who have only one parent, and those who live with grandparents.
"What we are trying to do in the series is connect kids with other kids by reflecting their lives. In some episodes, as in the Vermont one, we are validating children who are seldom validated. We believe that 'Postcards From Buster' does this in a very natural way - and, as always, from the point of view of children."
(Emphasis added.) If you want your children believing other children are all just like them, don't let them watch. Heck, if you want a good opportunity to show your children horrible, evil lesbians unfit to raise children, watch the show with them. Yes, this show is liberal. It is everything that is right with liberalism.

This is why I get so frustrated with the Christian right. Please, just stop forcing your unthinking, black & white morals on the rest of us; we have lives to live in the real world and would like to raise our children in a way that prepares them for that world.

There are those that think "moderate" is a passive thing, something that implies you just haven't made up your mind. I believe moderation is an active choice. To be snarky about it, I'm a moderate because I believe red necks deserver tolerance, too. But BS like this makes it really hard to keep my moderate stance. I don't want to live in the world these guys in power are trying to create.

UPDATE: The Moderate Republican, who calls himself a "Sesame Street Republican" agrees with me, although he says "PBS wants to teach kids about the diverse world they live in. That is not left or right, that is what it is." Actually, this is liberalism, it's just everything that's correct about liberalism, not the boogy-man version the right caricatures and the left sometimes lives down to.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Kevin Blames Corporate Profiteering

From conservative Kevin Aylward at WizBang!:

Is It Sweeps Week?

Katie Couric is talking about oral sex tonight on an NBC special on teen sex. On Fox, Paris Hilton is taking jobs she's not qualified to perform (which is pretty much all of them) on the premiere of The Simple Life - Interns.

Ironically there is one "job" we know Paris Hilton IS qualified to perform. She should have been a shoo-in to host the NBC special...
Both the left and the right complain about this garbage, though the right has been louder, lately. My wife listens to Air America all the time and Janeane Garofalo constantly complains about the filth coming out of Hollywood and the mass market media. Garofalo is about as far left as you get, a Green Party supporter who voted for Nader in 2000. The difference between the her and Dobson on this issue is Dobson blames moral decay and Garofalo blames corporate profiteering, marketing to the least common denominator.

I just thought it interesting that a conservative site unwittingly took the liberal side when blaming "sweeps week". Perhaps there is some truth to both sides of the debate.

Listen to T-Rex

Today seems to be picture day! From Pharyngula:

UCC Welcomes Spongebob

Proving they have both an open door policy and a sense of humor, the United Church of Christ welcomes Spongebob Squarepants. They even took some pictures:



New Science Links

I've been meaning to write set of posts to demonstrate the true success of the theory of evolution and rebut the claims of the creationists, but I quickly discovered the debate had gotten more sophisticated since the last time I've looked into it. Sure, I can take on the easy stuff like false idea evolution violates the second law of thermal dynamics, but I don't have a great understanding of, say, mitochondrial DNA versus nuclear DNA in determining the phylogeny of organisms1. Anyway, while trying to track down the many answers I needed I found several fantastic sites on evolution that have no problem getting down and dirty with the creationists to fight the good fight for truth, justice and so forth. I've linked those that made the best first impression over on the left under the title Science along with the godfather of blogs, Edge.

For tonight let me link to a fantastic post dealing with the relationship between science and religion:
Is religion consistent with science? Well, it obviously is in one sense, as many scientists have religious commitments of various kinds. The question is, are scientists with religious convictions, or believers who accept science, rational in their views? Strong and strident atheists say no.

An article that was quoted on talk.origins, included this statement:
Was the world created exactly as it says in the book of Genesis, or is the theory of evolution a more accurate account? Not every faith that includes Genesis among its Scriptures feels compelled to debate the matter.

For the vast majority of Jews, any discrepancy between science and faith was pretty much settled 1,100 years ago, said Rabbi Steve Vale of Congregation Ha-Makom (The Jewish Community of Solano County).

Saadia Gaon, a Babylonian rabbi who helped codify Rabbinic Judaism, resolved the conflict, Vale said.

"Saaida Gaon said that if there is scientific evidence of something and it contradicts what Torah (Scripture) says, the Torah can't be wrong and science can't be wrong. I'm wrong. I'm interpreting it wrong," the rabbi explained.
Rabbi Gaon seems to me to represent here the rational reconciliation of a religion with a scientific claim that appears to contradict the foundation of the religion. It is a very rational approach to take. You have a community-supporting document that provides you with moral and cultural identity, which you don't want to lose (particularly if you are Jewish in an Islamic world, as the good Rabbi was); you have a commitment to learning about the world through investigation. The only way to rationally reconcile these is to assume that you are the source of the problem. Kuhn noted a similar issue in science - the failure of a cherished theory would be blamed on the tools and tool user, rather than the theory.

This has allowed most theist communities to adapt to information about the world, albeit slowly and reluctantly in many cases. This is why theists do not have to reject evolution - since truth cannot contradict truth on their approach (i.e., the world is coherent and rational... think of the impact of that on the western evolution of science), they must be making the wrong interpretations. Personally I think that's a very good way to deal with the incommensurability of the two "sources" of knowledge.
If neither can be wrong, I must be wrong. Beautiful. Even if you believe God is unchanging that doesn't mean we are unchanging; we are growing up.

1Heck, I didn't even know what phylogeny meant2 a few days ago, but don't tell anyone. That sentence makes me look really smart.

2Although I certainly knew the difference between mitochondria and nuclear DNA; I wasn't born in the back woods yesterday or anything!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Theory, Not Fact

I linked to Glenn Reynolds, who'd a thunk it??

The Nurture of Evil

I've always felt the great lesson of Nazi Germany had nothing to do with Hitler. It's never really bothered me that people like Hitler exist; some small percentage of the population is capable of incredible, horrible evils that most of us could never imagine, let alone accept. That's the way I like to think of humanity, just a few bad apples. But that wasn't the lesson, because millions of Germans went along with Hitler's plans. Millions of perfectly ordinary people. Just like us.

There is a fascinating interview with Philip Zimbardo over at Edge (now linked permanently in my sidebar under science). Zimbardo is most famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment in which perfectly ordinary people became sadistic prison wardens or paranoid prisoners, depending on which role they were randomly assigned. This experiment has been in the news lately, for the worst of reasons.
When you put that set of horrendous work conditions and external factors together, it creates an evil barrel. You could put virtually anybody in it and you're going to get this kind of evil behavior. The Pentagon and the military say that the Abu Ghraib scandal is the result of a few bad apples in an otherwise good barrel. That's the dispositional analysis. The social psychologist in me, and the consensus among many of my colleagues in experimental social psychology, says that's the wrong analysis. It's not the bad apples, it's the bad barrels that corrupt good people. Understanding the abuses at this Iraqi prison starts with an analysis of both the situational and systematic forces operating on those soldiers working the night shift in that 'little shop of horrors.'

A Talk with Philip Zimbardo
Check it out.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Now Lucy!

As Ricky would say, Now Lucy! Hammertime says in his post Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?:
For those not in the know, the above song by the beatles was a sort of homily to the joys of LSD. LSD is a hallucinogen, which means you see crazy stuff when you take it.

Perhaps that is what Donald Johanson, the man who discovered "Lucy", was on when he made his assessment. Somehow, in contradiction of what other similarly-minded archaeologists had claimed, Mr. Johanson said that Lucy was the ancestor of humans.

A quick examination of the find shows that he 'built' his model of Lucy from two separate fossil finds, which happened to be 60 to 70 meters [over 200 feet] lower in the strata and two to three kilometers [1.24-1.86 miles] away from each other. Thus the model is immediately suspect. Throw in that many paleontologists (not just creation scientists) believe that Lucy was a knuckle walker, not upright as Johanson claimed, and you have a suspicious position indeed.
Now, I'm no expert, but I can Google with the best of them. Here is the rebuttal:
Creationists have been making the claim that Donald Johanson found the knee joint of "Lucy," a 40%-complete skeleton of the species Australopithecus afarensis, in a location "Sixty to seventy meters lower in the strata and two to three kilometers away" (Willis 1987). They have sometimes gone on to add the claim that "Only under questioning did [Johanson] admit that the knee was found over a mile from Lucy. To the best of our knowledge this admission has not appeared in print!" (Willis 1987; emphasis in original; Also see Brown 1989a, p. 44) The claim is used by creationists to show that (a) evolutionists are dishonest and (b) "Lucy" did not walk upright. It successfully shows neither of these things, because it is false. (Even if it were true, it would not demonstrate (b), for reasons given in Lippard (1989-90)--the knee joint is not the only evidence of bipedality in A. afarensis.)

The claim is not only false, it is clearly shown to be false in Johanson's published writings about "Lucy" (e.g., Johanson and Edey 1981, ch. 7-8) and it has been pointed out repeatedly to its proponents that it is false. Despite this, none of the major proponents of the claim has publicly retracted it.
Most of the rest of the article goes on how, despite the obvious proof Willis was wrong on his claims they were unable to get him to retract his statements. I suggest anyone reading this to look at the two arguments from the creationist and the evolutionist and decide for themselves who seems reasonable and who seems over the edge.

National Guard Recruitment

From the local Orgonian:
Oregon Army National Guard soldiers who served in Iraq are opting to leave the military at a rate significantly higher than normal, according to preliminary numbers released to The Oregonian.

Fewer than half -- between 180 and 190 -- of the Iraq veterans in the Oregon Guard's 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, which came home in April, decided to re-enlist. Typically, Guard retention rates hover around 80 percent.
No surprise there, many in the guard want to continue to fight and feel a newly deepened camaraderie for their fellow soldier while others just need to get back to their families and normal life. But a little later the article surprises me:
The Oregon Guard usually brings in 1,000 new members each year, Caldwell said. He said he thinks the numbers could drop by 20 percent to 30 percent.

Sundquist, however, offered a more optimistic outlook. Recruitment totals for the past three months surpassed expectations, she said, and she thinks the Oregon Guard has a realistic shot at achieving the goal of 1,100 new recruits during its 2004-05 fiscal year, which ends in September. She said recent recruitment drives have been aided considerably by new Army signing bonuses of $6,000 to $15,000, depending on the status of the recruit, and by other perks, such as student loan payoffs.
I would have expected a much greater drop in recruitment. Why would anyone join the National Guard right now, in 2005? I don't mean that in a snarky, anti-war sort of way, but seriously ask the question. I can easily understand why someone would want to join the "war on terror" and sign up with the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines as a full time job, but why the guard? My understanding is full time service pays better than the guard with better health care and other benefits then combat activated Guardsmen. Not to mention if I'm going to war I want all the training I can get, not the Cliff Notes version. Why join a part time service when you know you will be sent overseas full time anyway?

What am I missing?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Fun While It Lasted

President Bush, January 20:
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.
All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side.
Three days later:
President Bush's call for an end to tyranny worldwide should not be interpreted by foreign governments and the American people as a prelude to a more aggressive and bellicose foreign policy in his second term, the president's father told reporters yesterday.
Some interpreted the speech as presaging a more confrontational relationship with Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other nations that are allies in the war on terrorism but also have records of abusing human rights.

White House officials said in interviews Friday that Bush was not signaling a shift in policy but rather seeking to clarify what administration officials call the "Bush doctrine of liberty" that the president feels should guide policy well after he leaves the White House. The president's father reinforced that message yesterday.

People "certainly ought to not read into [the speech] any arrogance on the part of the United States," the former president said during an impromptu visit to the White House briefing room.

Entrepreneurs to Build Gay District in Spokane

AP reports:
SPOKANE, Wash. - Gay activists in this staid Washington city are planning to create a neighborhood of gay-oriented homes, businesses and nightlife — a development religious conservatives contend would clash with Spokane's family-centered culture.
Tom Reese, an economic development officer for Spokane, said city government is not exactly pushing the notion of a gay district, but they don't oppose it either.

"It is our desire to create an environment where diversity and different interests and lifestyles of all types can flourish," Reese said.

No public funds will be used to create the district, which is dependent on developers, Aspen said. No location has been announced.
I have mixed feelings about this. Entrepreneurs are pushing for this, not the government, so that's great. I certainly have no moral problems with a development like this, although I'll reserve moral judgment for in particular establishment. (If they build a 'bath house' they'll get no moral support from me, for example.)

I worry about the backlash. Is this too much too soon? Or, as the promoters say, is it a matter of "visibility equals freedom". My suggestion to the developers is keep the placed toned down; a place you could bring your mother without being embarrassed. If they can do that and prove to all they can conduct themselves as worthy members of the community, then only good things should come from this.

Hat tip Wizbang!