Saturday, January 08, 2005

I'm really beginning to LOATHE the UN and its apologists

Tim Blair is too, apparently.

The Gray Lady gets grayer

It looks like the rumors of the demise of the demise of Old Media may be true. The NYTimes was an early adopter in putting its content on the internet, but its editorial policy and bias have hurt it. The WSJ, however, is able get people to pay for access to its website. If I were in charge, I'd try to make it more like an aggregation of blogs, with more attention given to ideological diversity.

More science, less knowledge

The Science Channel is showing a roundup of 2004's top science stories. So far I've learned:

that Burt Rutan's space rocket was powered by rubber oxidized with laughing gas; that light may have once been slower than it is today;

that it has been proven that the number of primes is infinite;

that organic molecules (the components of living matter) are throughout the universe; that the elements of life, particularly phosphorus, came from outside the earth;

that two new elements have been created and scientists think that we might be able to create new superheavy stable elements; and

that teleportation may be theoretically possible. Instantaneous communication of information has been achieved, but only over a tiny distance. This is a major step in creating practical quantum computers.

We'll soon be able to buy watches with atomic clocks inside. They will almost certainly be in cell phones and GPS receivers. Relativity is now part of daily life.

More claims that global warming has been proven. If true, I doubt that (1) it is exclusively the fault of human beings, and (2) there's anything practical that we can do about it. We know that there have been times when the percentage of CO2 in the air was higher than it is today. Yet somehow the earth survived.

There's a study that children who watched R-rated films during pre-pubescence are more likely to smoke than those who didn't. Boy, is that politically incorrect, so it will be doubted as much as globally warming is alarming people.

We're being told that farm raised salmon are dangerous to eat. So you have the choice of helping drive wild salmon to extinction or eating a less healthy diet. I suspect that more and more people will decide to quit listening to "experts," and do what they like.

I'm beginning to wonder if a big part of our problems aren't the result of too many "scientific" claims based on too little information. A lot of these stories strike me as speculative, or driven by politics. They also remind me of the number of "facts" that are no longer accepted as true. Science is more and more driven by media, which I think is the big difference between our times and previous ones. You'd think that the powerful media would allow us to make better decisions, but I seen no sign that we're doing so. If recent experience with media is any indication, we're not really being told more true facts, so much as being fed more propaganda, and that doesn't include advertising, and the messages we get from the entertainment media.

Maybe the Democrats will nominate him

Newt Gingrich says he'd be open to running for the presidency. Not a chance. The Republican base have higher standards than Democrats regarding adultery. They might forgive it if it had happened when he was young and foolish, but not when he was Speaker of the House.


The Armstrong Williams story is bad for Williams. He shouldn't have taken money to plug the No Child Left Behind Program. The government shouldn't be buying publicity without it being approved by Congress and full disclosure.

That being said, this isn't exactly Watergate. It pales in comparison to the Marc Rich pardon, the Oil-for-Food fraud, and the situation in Darfur. Considering how little these are getting from MSM, I will not be surprised if there is isn't a lot of effort to fan this into the first major scandal of Bush's second term.

Friday, January 07, 2005

What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

That's this year's Question of the Year from 120 distinguished scientists answered it.

From a sampling of the answers, I believe that a lot of scientists aren't all that honest or as intelligent as they get credit for. Some are cagy, limiting their answers to things that only they and their fellow specialists know or care about, retreating to the basics of ontology or the scientific method, or referring to terms that they know most readers will be able to interpret, such as "the continuity hypothesis." Some are disingenuously paradoxical, slyly saying things like "I belief in believing, even though I'm an atheist." Some are philosophical, admitting that very much of what we experience, or seem to, cannot be proven or disproven, or turning the question around to ask, "What is proof?"

Many are, nevertheless, quite honest and straightforward, such as Leo Chalupa who says, "(i) The human brain is the most complex entity in the known universe; ii) With this marvelous product of evolution we will be successful in eventually discovering all that there is to discover about the physical world, provided of course, that some catastrophic event doesn't terminate our species; and (iii) Science provides the best means to attain this ultimate goal." If he didn't believe those things, he wouldn't be much of a scientist.

One thing that is striking about most of the answers is that they underly the whole enterprise of what these people have devoted their lives to. They might as well say, "I believe, but cannot prove, that we can't know anything." For instance, one physicist says he doesn't believe that time really exists.

Ultimately, I think the question itself is a kind of trap. It's not scientific. It's a challenge to acknowledge the limits of science, which failure to do would be insane.

So dead people voting is OK?

From The Seattle Times:
"I know by the law it wasn't right, but it felt right in my heart," he said. "I wasn't trying to defraud anybody. I was just going with my wife's last wishes."
Is that the standard now--"It felt right in my heart"?

What was that Senator Boxer emoted yesterday?
Every citizen of this country who is registered to vote should be guaranteed that their vote matters, that their vote is counted, and that in the voting booth of their community, their vote has as much weight as the vote of any Senator, any Congressperson, any President, any cabinet member, or any CEO of any Fortune 500 Corporation.
Technically, it does leave room for allowing their votes to count even when they're forged after the voter dies, but allowing citizens to vote for other people who are dead seems hardly likely to make sure that everyone's vote counts as much as every Senator's. In fact, I would argue that the kind of block voting that Democrats rely on, whereby black and union groups are expected to vote based only on what somebody like "Kingfish" Al Sharpton or a union boss tells them to think.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

People, get ready

If this is the result of a thirty-foot tsunami, I don't want to be around when part of the Big Island of Hawaii slips off. Earthquake-generated tsunamis don't get more than about 30 feet, but waves caused by things like landslides, volcanoes and meteor or comet strikes can be far greater and would make this disaster look like a normal high tide.

Huge tsunamis on both US coasts are certain, as is another eruption of the Yellowstone Super-volcano. These aren't just the stuff of disaster movies. They have happened in the past and will in the future. The Toba eruption 100,000 years ago and the resultant ice age it caused is thought to have reduced the entire human population of earth to as little as 10,000 people.

These things have been prophesied and they will happen. They won't seem to be supernatural, because there will be herds of scientists explaining them in scientific terms. However, our technology will undoubtedly prove inadequate, and some of us will remember the story of the Tower of Babel.

Are they stupid or just don't care about truth?

The Democrats are trying to gin up opposition to Alberto Gonzales on the basis of his legal memo on the treatment of terrorist captives. This is idiocy. When you render a legal opinion, you're not representing your own personal beliefs about what is right and wrong; you're supposed to be telling someone what the law is, based on a review of common law and statutory interpretation. So if you would favor having an Attorney General who spins his research, by all means support the Dems on this.

I don't know much about Gonzales, except that he's Hispanic and an overachiever. He's definitely proven his ability and I see no reason not to confirm him. The Democrats are losing ground with Hispanic voters and their handling of this will just accelerate the process. Of course, they depend on keeping their constituencies dumb and poor so that they'll think that they need government programs to survive. Republicans prefer to honor real accomplishment and encourage achievement because that's how people really overcome disadvantages, not by depending on patronizing politicians.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

New dangerous attacks on Prozac

There are news reports trying to link Prozac to suicide. This is something I know about. I participated in a double-blind study of prozac before it was approved by the FDA, and I know for a fact that it alleviates depression. It doesn't cause suicides; it helps prevent them. I also have a friend whose son committed suicide when he was taking Zoloft. The problem with blaming it on Zoloft was that the young man had not been taking the drug as directed. He had quit taking it for several weeks before he committed suicide. These drugs take time to work and it is dangerous to stop taking them or restart them suddenly. Anybody taking them needs to be closely monitored or understand the risks clearly, preferably both.

I also take naproxen, which has just been reported to be associated with higher heart disease rates. I could have told you that, because the people who need it usually have health conditions that are linked to heart disease. The drug doesn't cause the heart problems. It treats conditions that often accompany them. Naproxen is also associated with ulcers, which is why I also take the generic version of Prilosec. Without it, I would be left with alternatives that would make me unable to function.

These decisions cannot be driven by sensational news stories and misleading statistics. We have now lost Celebrex and Vioxx and who knows how many other valuable medicines because of irresponsible reports and the threats of lawsuits. I'm wondering when we'll see some lawsuits by people who have been deprived of medicine by the trial lawyers. Does anybody understand how the scarcity of vaccines such as the flu vaccine is related to the threats of lawsuits? How about a class action against those who cause unnecessary suffering by driving valuable drugs off the market?


Hugh Hewitt is a jinx. You don't want him rooting for you, if tonight's Orange Bowl is any indication (USC-55, Oklahoma-12 at this time). He's been badmouthing USC all year on his radio show to the point of getting annoying.

I was rooting for the Trojans because Norm Chow is the former offensive coordinator from BYU, who should have been made head coach to replace LaVell Edwards. He's now getting the national recognition he deserves, and BYU may be under a curse like the one the Boston Red Sox labored under for so long. I've always thought that BYU had done amazing things considering the disadvantages it has in recruiting. But its fans have gotten spoiled and demanding, and forgotten how good they had it to have a winning combination like Edwards and Chow for so long. The University of Utah has had to learn the same lesson, as their coach, Urban Meyer, jumped to Florida after his outstanding success during the past two years here. Mountain West Conference schools just can't offer salaries like those in other parts of the country with larger populations. Utah was undefeated, along with Auburn and USC, this year. They're all champs. Who cares what the BCS says?

Going on the dole

David Brooks summarizes the Social Security issue, which boils down to "will socialism work?"
The question is: Will we leave our children a system as flexible, dynamic and productive as the one that was, fortunately, left to us? Or, by doing nothing, will we succumb to the same ineluctable pressures that now afflict Europe, and find that we are immobilized at the exact moment China and India are passing us by?
My father-in-law is a retired actuary. When I asked him about this, he responded that the problem was easy to fix, just cut benefits by raising the retirement age or tax them more. The dangerous thing about Social Security is that such measures are so difficult for politicians to take, because they are so easy to demagogue.

I think that class warfare will pale in comparison with intergenerational warfare.

Reidin and Rightin

There's a lot of comment about Harry Reid's bogus attack on Justice Thomas today. The criticism is well deserved, but I wouldn't like it to get Reid tossed out. How does it help conservatives to get rid of an incompetent leader of the opposition?

I also have trouble with the claim that Reid's criticism of Thomas is racist. He dislikes Thomas because he's so conservative, not because he's black.

Get Robert Fisk on this!

(Via The Kerry Spot): The BBC reports that no good deed goes unpunished:
An Indian helicopter dropping food and water over the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands has been attacked by tribesmen using bows and arrows.

There were fears that the endangered tribal groups had been wiped out when massive waves struck their islands.

But the authorities say the attack is a sign that they have survived.
Good guess.

There was an article cited at the Tsunamihelp blog that it was feared that huge damage to the ecology of the Andamans had been caused by the tsunami. I thought that tsunamis were a part of the ecology, which was verified by material here. Apparently, there are mud vocanoes erupting in the area caused by the squeezing of mud between two geologic plates. The natives are a race of black pygmies, said to be among the most ancient and isolated primiitive societies on earth and typically greet visitors with arrows. Some of these islands are thought to have been split in the past by tsunamis, and new splitting may have occurred this time. They are not far from the epicenter of the quake which caused this tsunami. I suspect that the natives have some tribal wisdom that has helped them survive such things in the past without a modern electronic tsunami warning system.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Slow learners

I wasn't around last week for the big push on Hugh Hewitt's new book on blogging. I'm not sure that it'll tell me much that I don't already know. He got a nice review from Instapundit, although it's sort of like preaching to the choir to post a review on a blog.

Like Hugh's last book, this one should be required reading for the people who won't like it. The MSM are reacting like candlemakers to electricity, which is so predictable they should be embarrassed, and being amply covered by the blogosphere. I'm sure there are plenty of people who aren't plugged in, and it's true that newspapers have survived competition from television, but blogging and internet news sites are a far bigger threat to the news media establishment.

This isn't all that new a shift. First, talk radio revealed that there is a huge untapped market in this country for conservative-slanted news and commentary. Then the Fox News Channel appeared and ate CNN's lunch. Still, it wasn't until 2004 that they began to realize that the sand was slipping under their feet. These people are not only arrogant, but they're not too bright if it took them so long to figure it out. Papers like the LA Times seem to be doing all they can to drive away potential readers with their online registration asking for your home phone, social security number, photo, birth certificate, driver's license and thumbprint, and then they don't remember you. This is a perfect example of the phenomenon of disruptive technology. It starts out appealing to low end markets then displaces the old ones which which have become dependent on profit margins that the new tech doesn't need.

This is going to be interesting.

Self-esteem -- it's for achievers

Inattentive has some insightful comments about Scientific American's piece debunking the self-esteem myth. It has taken me a long time to figure out how many people who have supreme confidence are just laboring under misapprehension of reality. Self-esteem is one of those things like bipartisanship and tolerance, that are good things, but can't be forced. Telling someone to be more bipartisan is just a roundabout way of trying to make him abandon his principles. That's why you hear Democrats criticizing Republicans for not being bipartisan like they were during Watergate.

I've been engaged in a debate in letters to the editor about prayer at public meetings, and it has made me realize that outlawing it on the grounds that we want to promote tolerance has resulted in greater division and intolerance. The only way to promote a virtue like tolerance is to practice it. But if courts just rule out all expressions of faith in public settings, where will we be allowed to practice tolerance? I'm not in favor of having prayers by a single religious tradition all the time. In Utah, if anything, I'd prefer prayers by Jewish, Muslim, Catholic or almost any non-Mormon group as long as Mormons had their turn and all were given with respect for what people have in common rather than what divides them. Of course, that would probably irritate atheists, but I'd still allow secular humanists time for an inspirational thought or moment of meditation. As long as they had substantial following, and didn't want to sacrifice a chicken or something like that, I'm all for learning respect for serious religions, even those of American Indian tribes, Buddhists and Hindus. For new age designer "faiths" and fringe religions like Wicca, Druidism, Heaven's Gate, Branch Davidians, etc. I'd probably want some extra evidence of their good will, sanity and support for principles of religious freedom, but that's about it.

Others say that prayers are only a way for the religious to assert that America is a theistic or Christian nation, which I can understand. However, insisting on exclusive recognition of your right to be atheist by denying others the right to express their faith strikes me as giving official sanction to that single point of view. That isn't an invitation to tolerance, even if it is couched in concern for those who might feel "stigmatized."

I have never been a real advocate of sectarian prayers in schools or elsewhere, but the more I think about it and observe how it has affected the public attitudes toward faith, the more I think the courts blew it.

Getting back to self-esteem, I see a similar problem, which I call the Oz Effect. Instead of brains you settle for diplomas. Instead of courage you settle for medals. And so on. Self-esteem should be the result of achievement and accomplishment, not the goal itself. It can be promote with love, examples and encouragement, but if it isn't accompanied by real accomplishment, it's just self-deception and misplaced confidence. We love heroes and champions, but we know that we can't all be Number One. Is the answer to pretend that we are, or is it that, even if we're not first in the class, we can all learn to read or do arithmetic and become contributors to society?

Like money in Gresham's Law, unfounded recognition drives out real achievement. We settle for diplomas without the skills they are supposed to represent.

There are other values or virtues like education, tolerance, humility and bipartisanship that cannot be approached directly or forced. It may be a blessing for people to be forced to be humble, but not if it ends there. Faith is another one. It can be urged, taught and given recognition, but it is ultimately a matter for each individual to learn. Still, the founders of the United States understood its value and sought to create a climate conducive to it. Our courts seem to have decided that they were a bunch of intolerant religious fanatics.

They're not only arrogant backstabbers,

but they've got no sense of humor, either.