Saturday, November 19, 2005


(or, How to Beat A Greasy Spot That Once, A Long, Long Time Ago, Used To Be A Horse)

I made two discoveries this week. One, that Scott Adams has a blog. Related to the first, is that he's waded into the debate over Intelligent Design.

It was a brave, if slightly foolish, thing to have done. But Adams has brilliantly illustrated the real problem with the arguments. To wit, most of those involved neither understand the other side's argument, nor their own. So, the debate leaps almost instantly to various forms of ad hominem.

As entertaining as ad hominem can be, it's still a logical fallacy.

The real problem is that Evolution and ID speak to completely different issues.

Here's the problem that I have with Evolution, as it's usually presented: I have yet to see an explanation of speciation that does not devolve into hand-waving at some point. Natural selection is not at issue, here. That's proven tech. But, here's the problem: You start with a dog, then its descendants change slightly to a different kind of dog, and succeeding generations become really different dogs ... and so on. When, precisely, do you arrive at something that is demonstrably not-dog? Granted, it's something that takes years and years, and it's probable that we haven't had enough generations of mammals to observe it yet ... and for all its flaws, it remains a pretty good description of what seems to have happened over the history of life on Earth.

Be that as it may, it's light-years from having the same weight or authority as Newton's Laws of Motion, and leaves much of the mechanics unexplained. There's a market for something to explain what's going on in the gaps.

As for Intelligent Design ... it's not science, properly speaking. It's epistemology. A different animal entirely. It does not even pretend to address the question of how things came to be, it's more concerned with why. But, it does lend itself to mis-use by people on both sides who want to conflate the questions, by laziness, ignorance, or disingenuous dishonesty.

As such, I'd have to agree with the people who are saying it ought not to be taught in high-school science classes. High-school science classes do such a poor job of conferring the knowledge that we do have clearly, that something like this could only muddy the already-murky waters. Weighty matters such as this should be reserved for those other two well-worn areas of scholarly debate: the lunch table, and after-school fist-fights.

Anyhow ... The problem with ID as science, is that it makes no testable predictions. But even that is not the fundamental problem, since the question really comes down to religion.

To the hard-core fundamentalist, Evolution is the blackest heresy imaginable, since it seems to remove any need for God in the cosmos. It doesn't, but that's beside the point. To the hard-core atheist, ID is the blackest heresy imaginable, because it summons up that damned old bearded guy they keep trying to bury. There is no meeting in the middle, here. The sides have far too much invested emotionally to allow for any compromise. There's only one cure for heresy. But, since we've outlawed burning at the stake, character assassination will have to do.

For the rest of us, there's nothing for it but to pop up a batch of popcorn, pitch a pillow, and enjoy the show. It's fine street theater, for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing.

UPDATE: 19 Nov 05: Vatican Official Refutes Intelligent Design. Yet another take on the argument. And there are subtle shadings of meaning between what someone like Rev. Coyne says, and what Benedict XVI says.


My wife and I were watching a program on television this afternoon, that recalled to my mind one of the 20th Century's vastly underappreciated turning points. It was about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Most of you know the story: how a rag-tag group of American college students put the beat-down on the best that the Soviet Olympic machine could put together.

For those of you who are still scratching your heads: go rent Miracle today. Yes, it's got Kurt Russell wearing jackass plaid pants. But see it anyway. It's important.

Those of you who are too young to remember what things were like 1975-1980, count yourselves lucky. Those were some pretty bleak years. We had taken some serious body-blows to our national self-image. There was the oil crisis. And disco. And inflation. And the way Vietnam ended. And disco. And the seizure of the embassy in Teheran. And did I mention disco?

Enough to destroy a man's will to live, it was. By contrast, everything the Soviets touched seemed gold. Communism was on the march everywhere. They'd pretty much overrun Southeast Asia, they were moving forward in Africa, and making inroads in Central America. And now, they were taking an active hand in Afghanistan.

Then, on a glorious February day in 1980, the tide began to turn.

We'd been beaten for so long, that we'd forgotten what it felt like to be winners. That improbable, come-from-behind win against the supposedly unbeatable Soviets started a renewal of the American spirit. A renewal of pride.

Looking back, we can see that as an important turning point. In the Cold War prior to Lake Placid, there were few victories. After Lake Placid, there were few defeats. By 1990, the Soviet Union was in obvious decline. Afghanistan had become a sucking chest wound, and Mikhail Gorbachev was trying to stabilize the patient, but to little avail. The former Warsaw Pact nations were bolting the coop as fast as they could. Two years later, most of the "Soviet" republics followed suit. Truly, it was a glorious time to behold.

And to think that it started with a bunch of stubborn college kids, and a coach in jackass plaid pants. Miracle. Was there ever a fitter title?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


This is either pure genius, or irresponsible madness. I can't quite make out which.

Behold, the Taser Cam!

On the one hand, this sort of thing is the good policeman's best friend: an honest witness. It's just an extension of the squad car video that's been standard equipment for the past few years. If a cop follows policy and does the right thing, the video will show for sure that he did the right thing, and save him lots of trouble afterwards when things go cubist.

It's also the bad cop's worst nightmare: an honest witness. If he's the sort to throw his weight around and harass innocent citizens, the video will tell the tale, and he'll reap his just reward. Cops are real popular in the Stoney Lonesome.

On the other hand ... this sort of thing just begs for abuses, in the wrong hands.

I can see these videos leaking out, and being circulated amongst drunken adolescents. Maybe even some not-so-drunken adolescents. You can be sure they'd make the rounds on the Internet. Some sad bastard is bound to loop one, sooner or later. To borrow Marv Albert's old phrase: "Let's see that again!"

I think I'll pass on that.

But in the end, I think it'll be a good thing, for the first reason stated above. There aren't too terribly many bad cops out there, but what they do makes it all the more necessary for the good cops to have as much information as they can gather, in their own defense. This gives us, the citizens, one more tool to separate the sheep from the goats. And it gives peace officers one more less-than-lethal weapon, so that they have a real choice between doing nothing, and maiming or killing.

In the end, we'll all be better off for that expansion of options.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Potpourri (i.e., a Mess o' Stuff)

I've been unable to string more than one or two coherent thoughts together lately. I blame it entirely on the weather. Fall is a simply glorious season in Texas. Sun, breeze, and temperature in near-perfect measure, excellent conditions for just about anything except swimming. And there are people who like the occasional dip even so.

So, I've been doing things like watching soccer matches and walking the dog instead of doing heavy thinking about the state of the world. Sue me.

But, some fairly important things have been going on. I'd be completely remiss if I didn't make some mention. I'll try to make sense of it, but I probably won't succeed.

Firstly, I've been holding off on commentary regarding the recent Iraqi constitutional referendum. For the first few days, I was waiting to see if it had passed. The results are ... interesting. In more ways than one. Firstly, it's a triumph for the electoral process. Turnout was even higher than in the January elections. There was very little violence on election day. This marks the third straight election that Al Quaeda has failed to deter. As far as their in-country influence goes, they're just about done. Just about the only people who still have a vested interest in seeing the insurgency succeed are the hard-left nut-bars who run the media over here. Which brings us to the next point: didja notice how sparse the coverage of the election was over here? You had to be paying close attention to see it happen at all. Mind you, we've had some hard-hitting, newsworthy disasters on our home court in the last few months. That's a partial excuse. But, I also think that there's an element in the media elite that really, really does not want to report on the fact that the new government is gaining ground over there.

Maybe they think that if they ignore the story, it'll go away.

But here's one they ignored for the first several days, but won't go away: Riots in France.

It would be easy to gloat. I've never had much use for the French government, and this is their own idiocy coming home to roost. No, the unemployed, unassimilated masses lurking in their capital's suburbs would never be a problem. No, they'd never, never rise up and bust the chops of the oh-so-nuanced and solicitous internationalists who staunchly opposed the simplisme, unilateralist Americans. Oh, no, they'd just stay put, hat in hand, and suck up the dole like good little boys and girls.

Hmm ... gloating came easier than I thought. But, after this, can there be any doubt that we're in a real fight? That we're ALL in a real fight? That appeasement won't cut it?

I mean, they found out in 1940 what appeasement gets you. Are their memories really so poor?

Maybe so. They're getting numerous wake-up calls, in the form of Gospodin Molotov's favorite mixed beverage.

The important thing to remember here, folks, is that this demographic time-bomb would have blown up in their faces, invasion of Iraq or no invasion. The poor damn French don't grok immigration. No one in Europe does. It's something they're either gonna have to figure out, or show most of the immigrants the door. It's a problem I don't really envy them.

We have centuries of experience in assimilating immigrant populations. It's who we are. It's what we do. See, there's a key difference between us, and France, and Germany, and the rest of that lot. If I were to move to France or Germany, I could never, ever become French or German. Oh, I could do so in a purely legal sense. But I would never be truly accepted. I'd always be an American ex-pat.

It's different here. Anyone can become an American. The main thing that's required, is that you want to. That's about it. If you want to badly enough, and you're willing to make it happen, you can be one of us. You can live in our neighborhoods. Your kids will go to school with ours. We'll cheer from the sidelines of the same soccer games. We'll shop in the same stores, mostly, and go to the same restaurants. We may not attend the same churches, but that's OK. There are lots of different ways of being American.

There aren't a whole hell of a lot of ways to be French.

Which is probably just as well, considering.