21st October 2005

Smash! Pow! Zonk!

In case you missed it, Jon Stewart had Bill O’Reilly on the Daily Show two nights back. Yes, you read that right. Yes, THAT Bill O’Reilly Personally, I think the old man got his ass handed to him on a platter garnished with parsley and tomato-wedges. As good as that whole Tucker Carlson bit.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

21st October 2005

More Iran-hatred

The pre-propaganda against Iran continues with Oliver North’s new book. Meanwhile, America’s #1 Iran-basher gets tied up in Plamegate.

Who was behind the Niger uranium forgeries?

Even as the FBI was following the trail of the forgers, the Italians were looking into the matter from their end. A parliamentary committee was charged with investigating, and they issued a heavily redacted report: now, I am told by a former CIA operations officer, the report has aroused some interest on this side of the Atlantic. According to a source in the Italian embassy, Patrick J. “Bulldog” Fitzgerald asked for and “has finally been given a full copy of the Italian parliamentary oversight report on the forged Niger uranium document,” the former CIA officer tells me:

“Previous versions of the report were redacted and had all the names removed, though it was possible to guess who was involved. This version names Michael Ledeen as the conduit for the report and indicates that former CIA officers Duane Clarridge and Alan Wolf were the principal forgers. All three had business interests with Chalabi.”

posted by hedgehog in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

21st October 2005

The unmovable post

One of the articles I edit on Wikipedia is the evolution article. The great majority of edits to this article consist of random individuals coming along and inserting their snide creationism-based dismissals of modern evolutionary theory (fleetingly, before their changes are promptly reverted). Here’s a representative one, from today. I’m forced to imagine the writer as some sort of half-formed man-ape, picking in consternation at his brow-ridge as he painstakingly searches the keyboard for the correct keys:

Though evolution is not supported by scientific method (it is not observable and repeated), this experience causes the myth of evolution to fall into the category of a religious world-view rathern than a scientific theory. Evolutionists will show evidence for micro-evolution (small changes within a type of biological life form) then switch to macro-evolution to suggest these changes can result in biological life changing into another kind of life form like fish to human, or simple cell organism (there are no simple cell organisms in reality) to whales.

It’s really not worth it to make fun of someone who writes blurbs like this. Pointing out their errors is simply demeaning to yourself. It’s a pointless waste of time, like correcting the diction and pronunciation of a three-year-old; you’re better off smiling benignly and helping them open that Motts’ applesauce packet they’ve been struggling with.

I guess this is the way most biologists feel about engaging creationists in a public forum. As George Bernard Shaw said, “I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” Which is why people like Michael Behe can run around for so long unfettered, tearing up the vegetables and knocking over fenceposts.

The good professor recently starred as the defense’s main witness in the intelligent design trial currently underway in Dover, Pennsylvania. Behe’s standard argument is “irreducible complexity”, which he illustrates via a mousetrap: a mousetrap is a useful thing that cannot have been produced by an evolutionary process. That is, if we remove any one component from a mousetrap, it becomes functionally useless. A system that evolved by the agglomeration of components, however, requires intermediates to be useful. Behe argues that many biochemical systems (e.g. the blood clotting system in humans (and biological cascades more generally) or the flagellar motor) show such irreducibility.

Behe’s claims are easily rubbished. This talk.origins page features a gorgeous and simple demonstration of how an “irreducibly complex” system can evolve for gene cascades. But Behe persists because he can, in a public forum. In point of fact, no one can ever shut you up by proving you wrong; so long as you have money and an audience, you can talk gibberish until the cows are blue in the face and come home to the kingdom, and even be reasonably well-received by gullible ignoramuses.

In point of fact, I don’t think anyone even cares about Behe’s arguments. I don’t think Discovery Institute types like Philip Johnson are interested in how robust these concepts are. To them, this is simply armor of a sort. Here’s a moderately sophisticated argument that is impenetrable to the vast majority of the public. They’ll never appreciate the argument being made; they’ll never appreciate the counterarguments, even if anyone bothered to make them explicit. In such a situation, you merely have to pick the expert espousing the ideology that you’re comfortable with. Victory.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

21st October 2005

Speaking of maps

Check out this cloak-and-dagger stuff. It combines everything I love most — oil, maps, and greedy corporate schemes. The New York Times reports that the map of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is gone. It sure looks stolen to me, based on this report, though the goodnatured scientists at the US Geologic Survey would never suggest such a thing.

The wall-size 1:250,000-scale map delineated the tundra in the biggest national land-use controversy of the last quarter-century, an area that environmentalists call America’s Serengeti and that oil enthusiasts see as America’s Oman.

The map had been stored behind a filing cabinet in a locked room in Arlington, Va. Late in 2002, it was there. In early 2003, it disappeared. There are just a few reflection-flecked photographs to remember it by.

All this may have real consequences. The United States Geological Survey drew up a new map. On Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee passed a measure based on the new map that opened to drilling 1.5 million acres of coastal plain in the refuge.

The missing map did not seem to include in the coastal plain tens of thousands of acres of Native Alaskans’ lands. On the new map, those lands were included, arguably making it easier to open them to energy development.

The measure is scheduled to be in the budget reconciliation bill to be voted on next month.

“People have asked me several times, ‘Do you think someone took this intentionally?’ ” said Doug Vandegraft, the cartographer for the Fish and Wildlife Service who was the last known person to see the old map. “I hope to God not. So few people knew about it. I’m able to sleep at night because I don’t think it was maliciously taken. I do think it was thrown out.”

Mr. Vandegraft said he had folded the map in half, cushioned within its foam-board backing, and put it behind the filing cabinet in the locked room for safekeeping.

posted by hedgehog in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

21st October 2005

I’m not crazy

When President Bush came in and started acting all crazy, shaking his multi-trillion-dollar GI Joe set at Afghanistan and then Iraq and Iran and North Korea, many of us out here in reality-land were horrified. And at the same time curious. It all looked so crazy — and yet these are smart, educated, non-self-destructive people who are doing this. So maybe it’s not nuts, we said. Maybe they know something I don’t know. Maybe they have a plan. In arguments with those who supported the war(s), this was what I heard every time. They wouldn’t do this all for spite. They aren’t that nuts. They aren’t that dumb. They don’t hate America.

Wrong. As Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Fitzgerald knock down and splinter the Administration’s cheap facade of invicibility, one militaristic, pro-American right-winger after another wanders from the wreckage to tell us what we feared all along. They are that nuts. They are that dumb. They do hate America. The latest is here (abridged version follows) — from Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff for former Secretary of State Colin Powell:

Foreign policy had been usurped by a “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal,” and President Bush has made the country more vulnerable, not less, to future crises.

Secrecy, arrogance and internal feuding had taken a heavy toll in the Bush administration, skewing its policies and undercutting its ability to handle crises.

“I would say that we have courted disaster, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita – and I could go on back,” he said. “We haven’t done very well on anything like that in a long time.”

“If something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence.”

Mr. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and former director of the Marine Corps War College, said that in his years in or close to government, he had seen its national security apparatus twisted in many ways. But what he saw in Mr. Bush’s first term “was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberration, bastardizations” and “perturbations.”

“What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues,” he said.

The former aide referred to Mr. Bush as someone who “is not versed in international relations, and not too much interested in them, either.”

So we’re not crazy. They’re not informed. They really are nutso.

Update October 26: More evidence from A Tiny Revolution.

posted by hedgehog in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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