February 23, 2002


Mr. Carter, your record speaks for itself. So much for the silence of ex-presidents.
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In the "A. Proteus" post below, I included a mini-review of a speech delivered by Dr. Art Boucot, a world-renowned paleontologist, that was, well, less than flattering to the scientist. While I didn't write the review myself and therefore can't be blamed for its content, I am to blame for including it in the post and linking to it. I wasn't intending to impeach Dr. Boucot as a witness, but I can see how my actions may appear to be an attempt to do just that. I have nothing but respect for Dr. Boucot, and indeed for all responsible scientists. I'm not the type to attack the messenger in order to defeat the message (well, unless the messenger is James Carville...he's fair game). I included the speech both because I thought it was funny, and because to me it humanized Dr. Boucot a little bit. Having attended more than my share of scientific talks, I could also identify a little bit with the mini-review's subversive author. Including it was a silly thing to do, and I apologize.
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February 22, 2002


SUING VP CHENEY to turn over his energy commission records. Honestly, I don't know what to make of all this. The GAO is winning the pr war, making Cheney look like the bad guy. It doesn't help that he seems to have been less than truthful about what the GAO is actually asking him to turn over. Still, I think the White House has a very winnable case. The VP is an elected official of a branch separate from the Congress and therefore the GAO. By forcing him to turn over internal documents, it could be argued that Congress is encroaching on the executive branch's turf. I'd like to see him counter-sue--demand that Rep. Waxman, the man behind the GAO suit, turn over names, dates etc of all the groups and people he has met with. It would be an eye-opening list, I'd bet, with lots of lefty and socialist organizations. It'll never happen, but it would be interesting to watch.
Posted by B. Preston at 05:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Round two of the Speciation Challenge is a little tougher than round one. First off, Mr. Lonie got me on a couple of things from round one. Chicken pox can recur, but it’s called shingles when it does. Also, the bacterium in A. proteus isn’t a parasite. Okay, fine, that was the speculative part of the reply anyway. On substance I think it’s either a win for me or a tie at worst (for me, that is). For the next round, Mr. Lonie offers the following: (And again, scroll down if all this Darwin talk strains you, makes you want to shout or causes your mind to drift until you reach a comatose state. I beat up on Farrakhan and fellow bloggers in earlier posts.)

Paleontologist Art Boucot (who specializes in Silurian and Devonian brachiopods and is a world expert in them) of Oregon State University, told a class I was in about following the changes in a lineage of Silurian brachiopods. They had septa in the shell, two pieces of shell material parallel to each other inside the shell near the hinge. He could follow the changes of these septa through the rocks as they became curved, and as the curvature increased, until finally the septa fused. It is an example of small changes culminating in sufficiently different morphology to justify calling the later forms new species. So Dr. Boucot watched brachiopods change into new species through the rocks. And since the higher rocks were laid down later than the lower rocks, it was like watching the changes through time; evolution, in other words.

Per Michael’s email, I Googled Dr. Boucot to find out more about him and his research. I found a picture of him, a note or two about some of his work, and this take on a scientific talk he gave to the Geological Society of Washington. Here’s the relevant bit:

Art Boucot then gave a talk innocently entitled "Rates of evolution of behavior". The basic premise was that animal behavior patterns are very quickly established and do not change very much for long time spans. To support this idea Boucot then presented a whole lesson in pathology of ancient dead fish, clumping brachiopods, sick Cretaceous crabs, gruesome nematodes and down right disgusting Oligocene squirrels, all of which have modern equivalents. The projectionist quite rightly tried jamming the projector but Boucot didn't take the hint. Then things really degenerated and eventually culminated with the performance of two crabs on a satin sheet. Questions by Helz, Appleman and Yochelson. During and after Boucot's talk several Sleeping Bear attempts were noted.

Of course this has nothing to do with Mr. Lonie’s point; I just found it amusing. Google is a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. But back to the main point, the Silurian brachiopod sounds more like a case of change within a species to me, and no one is disputing that that does in fact take place, and that it’s rightly called evolution. But the animal is still a brachiopod, and if you could get one from the early strata to mate with one from the later, they’d likely produce viable offspring.

Mr. Lonie writes that you can get tied on knots defining what makes a species. That’s one of the problems, I think, in assessing whether any one example qualifies as a new species or simply variation within a species. For our purposes here, I’ll lay out a very broad sketch of what connotes a species, using the dog as my benchmark. There are lots of varieties of dogs, most resulting from selective breeding to produce desired characteristics. Some might call each variety a separate species, but for our purposes here I won’t—they’re varieties within a species, since any one breed can mate with any other and produce viable offspring, and since all dog breeds take the smorgasbord approach to mating. Contrast that with, say, birds, where morphologies run a wide range, but do connote distinct species since to my knowledge birds don’t naturally cross-breed.

With that in mind, Michael offers the next pitch:

Steven Stanley (a proponent of macroevolution using processes distinct from microevolution as it happens) gave an example of speciation that can be timed. A small embayment in Lake Victoria was cut off from the rest of the lake by a sand bar. This sand bar can be dated by Carbon-14 dating to about 4,000 years ago in origin. There are four fish species in it, distinct enough from those in the main lake to be good species but clearly related to some in the lake. Here is speciation in 4,000 years.

4000 years is bloody fast in geologic time. It’s another interesting case, but the question remains: can they mate and produce viable offspring? Some, perhaps all, of the morphological differences in the fish populations are due to the different environments in which they lived, but had the separated populations been able to reach one another the similarities are probably enough to allow mating and viable reproduction. I keep harping on this point both to clarify the argument to seek out substance. Horses and donkeys are mated to produce mules, and though mules differ significantly from both parents, because horse and donkey chromosomes don’t match up mules and hinnies (the female variety) are almost always sterile, and therefore don’t make a new species—without man’s intervention nature kills them off in one generation. If the Lake Victoria fish populations that are related cannot produce viable offspring, you have distinct species and therefore speciation. If they can, you have variety within a species. Unfortunately for the fish (and science), we’ll probably never know. As Michael writes, Nile Perch were recently introduced into the lake, and the new occupants devastated the populations that were already there.

It seems to me that these arguments represent grasping at straws. You take a couple of minor modifications of an animal either over a long period or a short one, and blow them up until you’ve convinced yourself that you’ve demonstrated speciation. That’s like arguing that 21st Century Scandinavians and 15th Century Asians represent distinct species, since the later man is (on average) taller and more robust, with different skull morphologies, skin tones, hair and eye color, etc. Surely both the Scandinavian and the Asian belong to the same species, don’t they? Am I missing something here?
Posted by B. Preston at 04:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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FARRAKHAN ON THE MURDER OF DANNY PEARL: "The Muslim World must not let its hatred of America's policies cause Muslims to do harm to American citizens traveling in Muslim countries who are unaware of foreign policy and have no part in its formulation, and more than likely would not want to benefit from these policies if they knew the pain and suffering caused to others that allows our apparent economic gain."

So, Minister, it's okay if Pakistani radicals murder, say, a State Department bureaucrat? Or the President? Or anyone familiar in any way with US foreign policy and who supports it or benefits from it? By Farrakhan's twisted criteria, Danny Pearl almost surely deserved his fate, since he was familiar with our foreign policy and, by making a living reporting on Middle Eastern affairs from a more or less US perspective, knowingly benefited from it. A peaceful religion, indeed.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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MAYBE I CAN CLEAR THIS UP: Or maybe I can muddy the waters a little more. We'll see. Bellicose Woman Kathy Kinsley thinks she has deconstructed the entire Christian worldview thanks to a comment Kevin Holtsberry left on her site. Impressive work, that--distilling 2000+ years of history and tradition in the normal course of blogging, living, etc. without breaking a sweat. We should put her to work on cold fusion.

Kathy's canard is this: all Christian rightists (but conspicuously not Christian leftists) don't believe humans are animals, therefore all Christian rightists are essentially Medieval toads (VodkaPundit concurs). Now, I must say that I think all bellicose women are sexy in this time of war and all, but Kathy's fallen a few grace points for this nasty post. First mistake: judging Christian rightists based on the testimony of those who don't like them. Second mistake: thinking you can then take said tainted testimony and make something worthwhile out of it.

Here's a little more detailed take on the animal-or-not controversy from a self-proclaimed Christian righty (and right-hander, though I always played soccer from my left foot). In purely physical terms, humans are indeed animals. We eat, sleep, breathe, poop etc just like all the other animals. But to the Christian, humans have something more. Call it animal+. Humans possess consciousness, the ability to reason, think and blog--we call it a "soul" but you're free to call it whatever you want. That's what separates us from the animal kingdom--ever seen a dolphin calculate the air speed of a laden swallow? Ever seen cats and dogs coming to blows over Kierkegard? Didn't think so. So when Christian rightists rant about raunch, randiness and running around, what they're getting at is that, as animals, that sort of behavior is to be expected, but since we're animals+ we can and should do better. If you want to deny the animal+ formulation, go right ahead, but you're denying your own consciousness in the process. Probably not a good idea to do that.
Posted by B. Preston at 02:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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LOUDER FENN rescusitates the Pope vis a vis evolution and pulls off a well-written distinction between materialism in practice and materialism as philosophy. Nice work and right on. My purpose with the doctor schtick is to drive toward that very distinction. Many Christians hear the word "materialism" have an auto response to growl and spit. Materialism in scientific practice is useful, and is in fact the only way to go. Materialism as philosophy denies God and is therefore futile (and wrong).

On that note, for anyone who wonders which came first, capital "e" Evolution or the ideas associated with it, Peter Bowler's Evolution: THe History of an Idea is a good read.
Posted by B. Preston at 01:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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STRATEGIC THINKING FROM THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION: To win a war, you must not only think like your enemy, but you must think ahead of him. For the Bush Administration, enemies come in two forms: actual terrorists and sponsor states; and anti-war folks at home seeking to derail the war effort. Sure, the latter "enemy" won't face any fire and has a perfectly legal right to make trouble, but they're still an enemy in the sense that they seek to undermine the war. The Bush Administration, in detaining the Al Qaeda prisoners in Cuba, have shown the ability to think like the home-grown enemy, and to think ahead of him. The anti-war types, as you're probably aware, have been suing the Federal government in an effort to force it to charge the Al Qaeda detainees in civilian courts. The judge's response: can't help you, since Gitmo is legally a part of Cuban soil. Checkmate.
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February 21, 2002

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THE PRESS RESPONDS TO GARVIN'S CASTRO COLUMN: Yesterday I posted exerpts from a Miami Herald article on the US press and its fawning over Cuba's ruthless dictator. Today, a couple of reporters responded in "Shoptalk," a tv news industry newsletter. Here's one of them:

From: Tom Tanquary
Freelance Photojournalist
Southern California
Re: Glenn Garvin's Miami Herald column

You go Glenn! Way to point out that after 40 years of a strangling embargo and political isolation Cuba is still a great place to visit! Not only do we have CNN letting us know that Americans are welcome in that tropical isle, he's giving extra ink to the fact that it's fun place to vacation. His satirical comparison to North Korea was a hoot. Like anyone would go there! And his joke about the failed dictators of Peru, Argentina, and Haiti was a good one as well. Oh, why didn't we have a embargo against them so they could still be in power? Just think what a paradise we could have turned Peru into. But no, that damn free trade got in the way, leading to democracy and all that crap.

If he's not careful, he's going to spoil it for the rest of us. If too many folks find out that the Cuban people are open, warm and friendly..... well, it could lead to change. Don't want that! We like to think of our enemies as, well, enemies. If word starts getting around that they're just like us, oh oh. Next thing you know, a reservation at the Buena Vista Social Club will be impossible to get.

His arguments on the embargo may have some weight, but he's pretty much moronic for the rest. The part about how "they're just like us"--that's the whole point of isolating Castro. Cubans are indeed just like us--they want freedom, they want to live their lives in peace and they don't want to have to listen to Castro's windbag speeches on the nightly tv broadcasts anymore. No one suggests that Cubans aren't just like us, but it's because we know that they are that we want to hasten Castro's fall. He's a terrible brute, and he should go. The fact that what is apparently a majority of the people in our press can't see this, and just attack anyone who suggests otherwise, is very disturbing. And remember, these people have been the cheerleaders for Shays-Meehan. I just thought I'd throw that in one more time.

Oh, and by the way, the other letter that ShopTalk printed was longer, but cut the same way as the one above. No letters in support of Gavin's column made the newletter, and having written a few pieces for them myself over the years, I know that they do run a variety of views whenever possible.
Posted by B. Preston at 06:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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RAND SIMBERG AND NASA: Okay, I do have a dog in this fight, but I think Rand Simberg's rants on the horrors of NASA are a bit overblown. First off, he discounts the last 30 years of NASA science, which includes what amounts to a Golden Age (not Goldin age) for astronomical research. COBE, SOHO, Hubble, Voyager, Pioneer, Viking, Casini--all satellite research programs that succeeded because of the massive amounts of funding and research capability that NASA is uniquely able to bring to bear. And because the research had no immediate commercial value, NASA was the only entity that was even interested in carrying it out in the first place. Even the Soviet program in its heyday couldn't match the technological capabilities of Hubble. Yeah, yeah, yeah--it was flawed when they launched it, but it's been fixed and taking amazing pictures for about a decade now, and is advancing science as a matter of routine.

The second problem with Simberg's take is that he fails to take into account the sheer magnitude of the effort involved in many of NASA's programs. True, many could be made more efficient, and Administrator O'Keefe seems to be on the track to make that happen, but the scope of some of NASA's bigger-ticket systems is simply too great for any one industry to take on at this stage. In fact, only one country is capable of taking on the missions NASA accomplishes, and that's us. I've been around NASA for about four years now, and the necessary collective talent that goes into some of these missions continues to amaze me. All of this will change eventually, as cheaper launch vehicles and other space-hardened technology become available, but for now NASA is pretty much the only body capable of mounting such large-scale missions.

Where Simberg gets it right is on the future of space flight. NASA will continue to be a player for several decades, but won't be the only game in town much longer. Launch should and will get cheaper, and other nations are seeing the benefits of having a sustained space program. Space tourism will happen, whether NASA wants it or not, and it will happen because people want it to. Like all new technologies, it will begin (has already begun) with the super-rich but will reach the less rich sooner than you think. At this point I think NASA can either develop a way to play along or get left out. NASA's manned space flight program should, imho, begin to focus on the next big jump--Mars. We have to go there, and if NASA doesn't lead the way someone else (most likely China) will. But closer to earth, NASA should encourage tourist travel to the ISS and to the Moon, which we should never have abandoned. There are some loose plans for a radio telescope on the Moon's dark side--NASA should build it and man it. There are difficulties, mostly with the care and feeding of humans on the Moon, but we're a smart species and we'll come up with a fix.

I guess my problem with Simberg is that he focuses exclusively on the manned space flight program, and just ignores everything else that NASA does. The manned flight program is usually the most visible part of NASA, but the science mission is arguably the most important--that's where most of the real ground-breaking research is taking place. And with programs like Hubble that require in-orbit servicing, you can't have one without the other at this stage. NASA will evolve into whatever the American taxpayer wants and needs it to be, but calling it "socialistic" and calling for its defunding is just hyperbole without thoughtfulness.
Posted by B. Preston at 06:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: In yesterday's lengthy rant on evolution, I posed a challenge to evolutionists: demonstrate speciation, where species X becomes species Y. The first reader to take a stab at it is Michael Lonie. It wouldn't be fair of me to exerpt and pick and choose what to refute, so here's his email in its entirety: (Again, if you hate this stuff, scroll down. I insult NASCAR in the next post.)

I think an example of speciation, by the establishment of a symbiosis, was
observed by Kwan Jeon in his experiments with Ameba proteus. The case is
discussed in Lynn Margulis' book Synbiosis in Cell Evolution. That is
probably the most accessible source if you want to look it up.

What happened was this. Jeon likes to experiment with amebae because of
their large size, among other things. One day in the 1960s his cultures got
sick. The cells were attacked by an unknown pathogenic bacterium. Most
died, but a few survived. Jeon nursed the cultures and, after five years,
they started growing again.

When he took a look at the cells the protozoan cells all had a large number
of bacterial cells in them. Each ameba had about 42,000 bacterial cells in
it. Jeon did experiments to kill the bacteria, and discovered when the
bacteria were gone the protozoans died. He also did experiments
transplanting the nuclei of the ameba into other cells and other nuclei from
the original strain of ameba into the infected cells. He found that the
protozoan could not live without the bacteria and the bacteria could not
live without the altered ameba nucleus. A symbiosis had arisen, in just
five years.

There are some proteins in the protozoan now that came from the bacteria and
seem essential to the protozoan, although their functions are not known.
Since the A. proteus is an asexually reproducing organism, he cannot do
genetics on it to identify the functions of the proteins. There is probably
a lot more to the symbiosis we don't yet know about. The bacteria is still
unknown and unculturable outside the host cells. About 98% or more of
bacteria are nonculturable, by the way. This also makes the symbiosis
difficult to study.

Talking once with Margulis she said to me that Jeon can now deliberatly make
the trasition in 18 months, now that he knows the condition to hold the
cultures in for optimum recovery. Jeon has not made the claim that his
symbiotic ameba is a new species, so far as I know. I asked Margulis about
it, however. She said the symbiotic strain differs from the original in
areas like antibiotic resistance, response to temperature and to starvation,
as much as the original A. proteus differs from other species of Ameba.

Well okay, I cut off his signature. I haven't read the book mentioned, but will head off to the Johns Hopkins library in the next day or so and find it. As for the A. proteus in question, since the scientists himself hasn't yet made the claim for speciation, I'd say it may be a little premature to make it for him. That's not to suggest that the case Michael describes isn't compelling--it is. But the creation (-1 point for use of a loaded word) of a symbiosis doesn't make a new species--it modifies an existing species, or possibly modifies both species involved. Additionally, since the bacterium involved isn't well understood, it's tough to reach any definitive conclusions as to what effect it's having on its host. It could be and probably is acting in a parasitic fashion, which could account for the A. proteus' reliance on it to survive once it has been introduced. This particular case is also a little stickier because protazoa reproduce asexually, so you can't mate one of Jeon's lab-variety with one from the wild to see if they can produce viable offspring. This case could be similar to (but I guess the opposite of) what happens when humans get chicken pox--once the infection has run its course, you're immune to a recurrence. It's just a thought. Like I said, the case Michael states is interesting, but not incontrovertible--it contains quite a few crucial unknowns. Asking for definitive proof is an admittedly high bar, but then again Darwin predicted that such proof would be abundant.

It's interesting, no one has stepped forward with anything from the fossil record. In fact, in my last roundabout on the subject everyone used lab amebae examples, though Michael's example is by far the most interesting. Bring 'em on, I love this stuff. You may stump me--I'm no biologist. And if you do stump me, I'll admit it and go do a little homework. But no one has stumped me yet.
Posted by B. Preston at 12:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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SKELETON AND SHORT-TRACK SPEED SKATING: Two reasons the Winter Olympics are more interesting than the summer version. Short-track is what NASCAR should be: fast, mentally strategic and mercifully quick. Skeleton is just scary--the sledders' heads are 1 inch off the ice at speeds of 80 mph. The "extreme" sports like snowboarding are a walk in the park compared to that. By the way, the US struck gold in both tonight, thanks to Jim Shea's slick track moves and Apolo Anton Ohno's witty skating. The guy looks like he's a chess master on skates.
Posted by B. Preston at 12:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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BUT I STILL THINK HE'S DEAD: Site carries bin Laden's message.
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THE MOST SHOCKING STORY OF THE YEAR: Leslie Stahl praises George W. Bush...yeah, that George W. Bush.
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February 20, 2002

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SHOULD I, SHOULDN'T I...? I've been debating in my spacious head whether or not to wade into the evolution discussion currently underway between Louder Fenn and Doug Turnbull, not that anyone asked me to, but because it's interesting to see how people approach the subject. In my early blogging days, Doug and I had a spirited and entertaining email roundabout on the subject, so I know where he's coming from, and he knows where I'm coming from. While the internal debate echoed in my skull Kevin Holtsberry beat me to the punch and critiqued Louder's take effectively. (By the way, if this topic causes you to reach for a stiff drink or yawn or halucinate or whatever, please scroll down--I beat up on tv talking heads in the next post.)

First off, I have a fairly detailed post on the subject. To all that, I'll add a couple of thoughts and shut up. First, to Louder, if you went to the doctor with a pain in your abdomen, what would you think if he poked around on you for a few minutes and then concluded that evil spirits were causing your troubles? He mutters a few incantations, then sends you on your way. After a few weeks, the pain gets worse so you head for a second doctor. Doctor #2 laughs when you tell him doctor #1's diagnosis, then tells you that you have a mild ulcer, gives you a few pills and in a few weeks you're as good as new. Which doctor was the materialist, and which doctor did you the most good? Doctor #2 didn't immediately seize on a spiritual cause, but investigated until he found the physical cause, and healed you. Doctor #1 committed malpractice.

So it is with scientists. They're materialists because they have to be--otherwise, every time they came to a difficult question they would simply wave their hands, say "God did it" and move on, without ever learning anything. Materialism by itself isn't a bad thing--it forces us to look for natural, physical causes for the effects we see around us. Scripturally, this idea gets backing from Psalm 19:1 “The heavens are declaring the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” If the heavens (creation) declare the glory of the Lord, examing that creation to the minutest detail is one way of getting closer to the mind of God, in that we see how He works. And look at God's interventions in the Old Testament--He often uses forces of nature, such as wind, fire, and earthquakes, to do His will. Be confident in your faith, let the scientists do their work, and critique them on their own terms. Many of them have become Christians as a direct result of their research--cosmologist Alan Sandage comes to mind. Science will take a thousand years to climb a mountain, only to find theologians sitting at the summit.

For Doug, I have posed one simple question to evolutionists, and none of them have been able to answer it. That question, or really challenge, is: show me the proof of transition from species X to species Y. Pick any two species, I don't care, but proove conclusively that species X transformed over time into species Y. When I set that challenge out, I get a lot of side-steps, and a lot of postulation, but no straight answers. Why, after nearly 150 years of research, can no one answer that question with anything approaching definitive proof? Darwin predicted in Origin of Species that the fossil record would show a smooth transition of speciation over time--that's the cornerstone of his theory. Additionally, the measure of any scientific theory is in its predictive power. Big Bang theory predicted the cosmic background radiation, which was found in the 60's and confirmed in the 70's and 80's. Einstein's general relativity predicted black holes and gravitational lenses, again confirmed later. Darwin predicts smooth transitions, and instead scientists must modify evolution to account for "punctuated equilibrium." That's more than a problem with the theory--it's a refutation of the theory. Scientists worldwide admit that the fossil record, from the Pre-Cambrian "explosion" forward, is a disappointment. And then there's the world of microbiology, where things really get hairy for evolutionists. And there's the continued reliance on such junk science as recapitulation theory--that the human fetus "retraces" is animal roots on the way to birth--that further weakens the case for macro-evolution.

Having said all that, evolution--that creatures change over time--is an irrefutable fact. The debate is over speciation, or macro-evolution. No matter how many silly creation "scientists" try to make their claims, and no matter how many careers (such as William Dembski's, formerly of Baylor University) are ruined by the intolerance of the scientific community toward those who question Darwin, that's the actual ground being fought over. Evolutionists shouldn't play the slick game of sustituting micro for macro when the argument gets a little dicey, and evolution skeptics shouldn't confuse their philosophy with their science. You'll be talking past each other, to no effect.

Can a Christian believe in evolution? In a general sort of way yes, but the plain language of Genesis (Hebrew and translated) doesn't jibe with it, so you have to either throw out Genesis 1 or do some smooth talking to make your case. But I encourage Christians and non-Christians alike to examine the hard evidence for themselves. Read Stephen J. Gould and Michael Behe, dig into astronomy, examine Genesis 1 and 2 to the nth degree. If you let the evidence lead you, you'll be surprised where it will take you. I sure was.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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TV NEWS SOFT-HEADS AND CASTRO: The Miami Herald's Glenn Garvin justifiably slams CNN for showing citizens how to break Federal law by travelling to Cuba. Even more shameful than that story are some of the past antics of TV newspeople that Garvin details:

Turner and CNN are not the only ones to turn lapdog in the presence of Castro. CBS President Les Moonves went to Havana last year for four days of partying and came back with Castro's autograph on a cigar box. 60 Minutes once ended a piece on Castro with tape of Dan Rather escorting him to his limousine and calling out, as it sped away, ''Goodbye, Mr. President, take care!'' (Contrast that with the insults Rather shouted at George Bush during that infamous live 1988 interview.)

And ABC's Barbara Walters, in a stunt so stupid it sounded like a right-wing conspiracy nut's fantasy, once helped Castro host a dinner party for a group of powerful executives from Time, Newsweek, ABC, NPR, The Washington Post and other elite news media. To be fair, it wasn't just a social occasion; the news executives bravely raised the question of human rights -- their own. The Post's Sally Quinn wrote plaintively that dinner wasn't served until after 11 p.m. and the air conditioning was turned very low.

Garvin asks why TV newsies get so silly and, well, soft-headed when they get close to Castro. Why, indeed? Maybe Castro is adding a few extra ingredients to those famous cigars. Or maybe they just like sidling up to ruthless dictators. Remember, these are the same people cheerleading for campaign finance reform.
Posted by B. Preston at 05:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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THREE CHEERS FOR AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: No, I'm serious. For once, they're reporting and trying to halt actual human-rights abuses. China's appauling treatment of anyone and everyone it deems undesirable should be exposed, and should be a cautionary tale to anyone who still thinks Communism isn't all that bad.
Posted by B. Preston at 05:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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NEXT STOP BAGHDAD? Foreign Affairs' Ken Pollack has entered the "next step" debate in the war. It's a long article with lots to digest, but the main thrust of it is that Al Qaeda should remain the US priority until its worldwide network is beyond repair, with Iraq coming in a close second. Invasion, not an Afghanistan-style special forces war, will be necessary, with 300,000 US troops needed to do the job. Since our allies and most Gulf States don't yet support our plans, waiting a while (but no too long, else Saddam get his hands on a nuke or two) before taking out Saddam is necessary. Sobering reading, but I think he's right--we will have to invade, and it could be bloody for our troops, and we will need allies to carry it off. Not the Euros, so much as the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the Turks, Egyptians and Jordanians. Giving them all a say in a post-war Iraqi regime is prudent, but none of them should get the final say, as their self-interests all counter each other and collide with our own.
Posted by B. Preston at 05:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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TED CRUZ has a sensible piece on school choice over at NRO today. Let's hope the Supremes restore power to the people, and let school choice reform our public schools.
Posted by B. Preston at 04:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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SHOULD THE U.S. MILITARY LIE TO THE WORLD? That seems to be the question dominating behind-the-scenes discussions at the Pentagon, if this Washington Post story about propaganda and the war on terror is to be believed. Scariest part of the story: an astrophysicist, Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden, is the head of the Office of Strategic Influence, which would mount any propaganda efforts. I work with several dozen of the world's top astrophysicists on a daily basis, and trust me on this, astrophysicists are brilliant people, but most of them don't know beans about shaping public opinion.

One flack's advice to the Pentagon about propaganda--don't do it. Once you're caught, your credibility is shot. Most people, especially those in the non-combatant countries the propanganda effort is likely to target, don't pay enough attention to differentiate what comes out of the Office of Strategic Influence from your garden-variety Pentagon briefing--they'll think all military information is coming from the same source and has the same level of quality. Your credibility is too precious to squander, and any benefit you might gain wouldn't be worth it because, in the wired world we live in, you will get caught.

So what about WWII propaganda? That was a different time and a different world. It was much easier to get away with disinformation campaigns then than it is now. Our present conflict is no less just than the fight against Nazis, but I just don’t see how using propaganda helps our cause—our strongest allies are already prepared to believe the worst about us. Deliberately lying to them only plays into those attitudes.

Looking at this from a spin standpoint, the Post's leaker obviously doesn't like the propaganda idea--that's why they leaked it. Either that, or the leak is part of the program, and aimed at making the Pentagon look more truthful by publicly rejecting such dirty business like propaganda. In that scenario, the Pentagon has already decided that it will use "strategic information," and is trying to inoculate itself from getting caught.

UPDATE: I think the leak is legit, by the way, and therefore reflects a real debate underway in the Pentagon.
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: SecDef Rumsfeld has clarified things a bit, saying the Office of Strategic Influence won't lie to the US public, but its real mission is still a little murky. Obviously, if its aim is to misdirect enemy attention on the battlefield, its mission is clear and just. But the NY Times article suggests that the OSI (not the Air Force's Office of Special Investigation, though the acronyms are close to enough to be...interesting) is still considering a host of options. Rumsfeld did however reject the overt use of misinformation both here and in allied countries for the reason I suggest above, namely that DoD's credibility is too precious to waste, while the Times mentions my theory that misinformation would blow back home and would be too easy in the electronic world to sniff out and refute. Advantage: JunkYardBlog!! (I've been waiting sooo long to say that.)
Posted by B. Preston at 11:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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ABC NEWS AND 'DIVERSITY': I don't think this little story, from a tv news industry newsletter called "Shoptalk," needs any comment:

ABC News has compiled a database of 480 people - all minorities - to turn to for on-air or taped comments, and the network has made using the list part of employee evaluations, according to USA Today.
When ABC News president David Westin's e-mail to staffers explaining that the database was developed in part to end the reliance on "the same, limited group" of experts, his message was largely ignored, forcing a "do it, or else" discussion with producers.
Evaluations include a diversity component, the producers in turn reminded their staffs.
CBS and NBC have similar rules, the paper reported, but CNN does not evaluate staff on diversity. A Fox News representative could not identify a specific policy on diversity of sources.

Well, ok, one comment. ABC, NBC and CBS keep a database of those deemed "officially diverse?" That explains why people like Ward Connerly have such a hard time getting on the air.
Posted by B. Preston at 09:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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CONGRATS TO Libertarian Samizdata, for passing 100k visitors Tuesday. I suspect about 75k of those were trolling for pics of the fair Natalija, but then again a heavy proportion of my hits lately have been the result of people googling for pics of disrobed ski babes....yes, that's still going on. I had just gotten tired of talking about it. Anyhow, congrats to the Samidats!
Posted by B. Preston at 09:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 19, 2002

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CFR DEBATE at The New Republic, with Gregg Easterbrook and John B. Judis squaring off. Easterbrook makes the case that CFR is cynical incumbent protection, and at least part of it blatantly unconstitutional. Judis says CFR is a modest step forward, building his entire case on the notion that CFR's passage is necessary to minimize the influence of the wealthy. What makes me scratch my head is this--the rich have far less influence today than they did at the nation's founding. When George Washington took office, only landowning white males could vote, and millions of Americans were the property of other Americans. The Founders, flawed but brilliant men that they were, saw problems with slavery, had a rationale for allowing landowners to vote (and as a relatively new landowner myself, I confess some sympathy to that rationale), but as Easterbrook notes, found no solution to the paradox of limiting the effect of money without squelching free speech.

One way to limit the effect of money is surely universal suffrage--the power of concentrated wealth can be pitted against the raw numbers of the non-rich. That's what we've been living with for a long time now, and it seems to work for the most part. The answer is surely not restricting political speech for weeks prior to elections, yet that's the route Washington favors. CFR is a sorry attempt to limit criticism of incumbents, and nothing more--the severability clause is proof of that. If President Bush doesn't have the cajones to knock this terrible bill down, I hope the Supreme Court does.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE OF THE LIKES OF LOUIS FARRAKHAN, or Jesse Jackson, or Maxine Waters, or a host of other black "leaders" who seem to spend 99% of their time denouncing America and the other 1% denouncing America even louder, but when an African-American expresses patriotism I find it especially heart-warming. It makes me think--"Jesse isn't as powerful as he thinks he is. Louis is still a fringe element. There is hope that our troubled racial past is just that--past."

So tonight, when the US women's bobsled team of Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won the gold, it was a nice moment for the country. Flowers became the first African-American to win gold at the Winter Games, and in the post-race interview she and her teammate draped an American flag around their shoulders. We should see more moments like this. And we should thank the Olympics for making this little moment possible.
Posted by B. Preston at 10:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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LOUDER FENN: Thanks to Kevin Holtsberry, I found his blog tonight. He describes himself as a "headbanging Catholic," and though I'm a raging Protestant I appreciate the "headbanging" part. He also gives it to evolutionists (might want to email your arguments to the Pope, btw). I like this guy--he's now in the permalinks to the left.

And yes, Alice Cooper is now a Christian. I saw a pretty funny feature about him on some network a few months ago. He still does all the weird stuff on stage, but is a normal suburban dad the rest of the time.
Posted by B. Preston at 10:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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THE CITY THAT ELECTS CRACK-HEADS FOR MAYOR is poised to let Mike Tyson box again. That's right--our nation's esteemed capital has a Boxing and Wrestling Commission, and it voted 3-0 today to move forward in granting Tyson a boxing license.
Posted by B. Preston at 05:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 18, 2002

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JONATHAN POWER, writing for ArabNews says that the West, thanks to President Bush, is heading down the wrong path and is sparking a "clash of civilizations." So...Bush is to blame for Sept 11, yada yada yada. We've heard this before, but what's new in Power's lame article is that he gets literate, quoting from Samuel Huntington's classic "The Clash of Civilizations."

Huntington warned that militant Islam would eventually stop its regressive path and once again rise to face the West as it did in the Middle Ages. Well, lo and behold, oil-rich states are rising from the desert dust and murdering thousands of Americans, Israelis and others who seek nothing more than to get along. So what's Power think of all this? It's all Bush's fault. And that even though militant Islam, soon to be backed by a nuke or two, is probably not the danger we think it is:

Whether dictatorial or democratically led, argues Huntington, the feelings of the masses are so strongly anti-Western the leadership can only head in one direction — confrontation with the supposedly Christian West. Yet, there is a process in American political discourse that tends to overstate dangers. The most egregious example was Vietnam with its theology of falling dominoes. Similarly, in retrospect, it is quite clear that the menace of Soviet military strength was overstated almost to the point of ludicrousness.

How does one overstate the danger of one guy with a suitcase nuke sneaking up the Hudson and levelling New York? If the likes of Power get their way, that horrific scene is coming to a harbor near you.

Power goes on to argue that the Arab countries are actually enlightened on the subject of human rights, because apparently a few Muslims had something to do with writing the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Of course, the counter to that argument, such that it is, is simply a list: Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Iran's mullahcracy, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Syria's Assad family, Arafat, the House of Saud and its weekly beheadings...enlightened folk, all.

So since Power's on such a roll, what's his answer to the present troubles? The usual liberal tripe:

But to be effective, the West itself has to be credible on the human rights front, which means among other things in the news right now, honoring the Geneva Conventions, abolishing capital punishment, supporting financial reform of electioneering and, not least, supporting the International Criminal Court.

Well, Congress took the "financial reform of electioneering" argument away from Usama last week. Since we've long been one of the few countries to actually honor the Geneva Conventions, I guess the terrrorists only have two to go. Maybe then they'll stop trying to kill us. Call me a skeptic.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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BALTIMORE RAVENS-HATERS, THINGS ARE LOOKING GOOD: First they lose Defense Coordinator Marvin Lewis to the Redskins, now the expansion Houston Texans havesnatched Jamie Sharper and Jermaine Lewis. Salary cap concerns threaten to carve up the birds--Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson are likely to be packing on March 1.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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WATCHING THE BACK-AND-FORTH, the thrust and parry, of the condom debate was amusing. On the one side, traditional moralists holding to a position that to about 80 to 90 percent of the country is self-evident: preach "safe sex," and you get more sex, though not necessarily sex that's any safer. On the other side, folks who call themselves "libertarians," and who live up to that name in a hundred areas except one. Ask a libertarian "Should the government subsidize retirement?" and most will answer "No, individuals should do that." Ask "Should the government buy food for people who are able, but refuse, to work?" and the libertarian will say "No, the able-bodied should fend for themselves." And on a hundred similar issues, the libertarian's mantra is "Leave me alone, keep the government busy with only those things specifically allowed to it in the Constitution." But on the condom issue, the libertarians, at least those who blog, are suddenly Big Government types. The government shouldn't collect an income tax, but it should tell kids about the particulars of sex. The government shouldn't regulate tobacco, or fund NASA, but it should distribute prophylactics to pre-teens. And the government shouldn't tell the libertarian what to do, but if the traditional moralist pipes up with concern that the free tossing about of condoms might, just might, send the wrong message, the libertarian will surely tell the moralist what to do, and where to do it.

Libertarians who want the government to promote condom use to minors, in spite of what parents are trying to teach their kids about love, sex and marriage, aren't libertarians at all. They're fine with their version of big government, just like everyone else. Liberals like their welfare state; conservatives, their military. Now we can see the type of Big Government that libertarians prefer--one that steps between parent and child, and teaches values contrary to established tradition. They're no longer libertarians, then, so they need a new name. How about "rubbertarians"?
Posted by B. Preston at 11:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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KEN LAYNE SAID A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO that Danny Pearl was set up by his kidnappers because he knew too much about them. Pakistani investigators agree.
Posted by B. Preston at 01:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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THE PRESIDENT HAS ARRIVED IN MY SECOND-FAVORITE COUNTRY: The Pres is in Tokyo, where I spent most of my Air Force career. Japan offers great food, surprisingly warm people and lets a 5'10" guy like me feel like a giant. But spiritually it's a difficult place to make a difference, and its economy is teetering. I hope the forecasts comparing Japan to Argentina are wrong, but I suspect they're right. Japan's economy is highly centralized, and its tax structure and government services are highly socialized. They'll need to take care of their bad loans and venture into some Reagan-esque tax cutting, along with allowing true capitalism to weed out weak companies, or keep sliding down the financial rabbit hole.
Posted by B. Preston at 01:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 17, 2002

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ALIVE AND KICKING: Thanks for the well-wishes...JYB is back on-line. Whatever was bugging me seems to be gone.

87-73: The final score of Maryland's destruction of the Dukies. I'm not particularly a Terps fan, but as a Tarheels fan I loathe Duke. Since the Heels have nothing this year, GO TERPS!
UPDATE: Bad news for Terps fans--looks like Chris Wilcox is turning pro at the end of this season.

THE CANADIANS ARE GETTING THEIR GOLD medal as I write this. The Russians look understandably annoyed. Watching this now, I suppose it's good the Russians didn't get their medal stripped, but..oh heck, I'm sick of all this. As the Democrats say about matters of actual importance, "It's time to move on."

AIRPORT SCREENERS GOT FEDERALIZED TODAY: In a couple of weeks I get to see how much better, saner, and less fattening the boarding process is, when I head to Florida to see the launch of Space Shuttle Columbia on a mission to upgrade Hubble.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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SOMEONE ELSE HATES FORD AS MUCH AS I DO: Yale Free Press, a site that's truly Vast. Right. Winged. has this to say about the dispicable new Ford Explorer ads:

I recently saw a Ford commercial that went something like this. An image of Mount Rushmore flashes on the screen, and the voice-over announces: "Presidents' Day: When America honors her leaders...[cut to an image of a sport-utility vehicle crossing rough terrain]...like the Ford Explorer." So much for patriotism. It makes one glad that Ford is losing money like France loses wars.

In my lifetime, I have owned two Fords--a 1967 Mustang when I was in high school, and a 1993 Escort wagon not too long ago. The Mustang was already 20 years old when I started driving it, and I loved it. The Escort was not only embarassing to drive, it was a real piece of junk. Ford had stuck a horrible Mazda drivetrain in the thing that succumbed to wear as often as the French do to invasions. I won't buy a Ford again.
Posted by B. Preston at 10:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack