Day By Day

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Good President [continued] -- Missing Bush in Afghanistan

Jim Hoft writes:
It’s not just the American people who are sick of the Obama-Pelosi regime.
Afghan leader Harmid Karzai wrote in 2009 that he longed for the “golden age” of US-Afghan relations like during the Bush years.
 A lot of us in this country are longing for a return to the sanity of the Bush years too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Denis Dutton Has Died

And the world is poorer for his passing. For several years now Professor Dutton has been my favorite go-to guy on the internet. His "Arts and Letters Daily"site  has long been the first thing I see when I fire up my computer in the morning. I also regularly visit "SciTech Daily" and "Climate Debate Daily", also founded by Dutton. The range of informed and literate commentary presented on these sites is amazing.

You can read about Professor Dutton and his many contributions here, here, here, and here.

Here is the man himself talking about his great passion.

Feminism 101

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Iowahawk Strikes Again -- Job Counseling for Former Legislators

A outplacement transition guide to life beyond Washington
for former members and associates of Congress

Losing a job can be a challenging and stress-filled time. Especially during the holidays, and especially for someone like you - the soon-to-be former team associate of the United States Congress. At this moment, you may be packing boxes and moving vans with the cherished mementos and petty cash of your career in Washington. You may be wrapping those last-minute trillion dollar gifts and holiday earmarks for loyal supporters, phoning final farewells to your Washington colleagues, lobbyists, and "escort services." In many cases you may find that they, too, have lost their jobs -- and, if they haven't, will no longer return your calls. And in those lonely moments between, you ask: why me?

Hilarious as usual. Check it out here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Rise of Bourgeois Dignity

Around the beginning of the eighteenth century the world changed for good. It started in Holland and England, and spread from there. Slowly at first, then with ever greater speed and consequence the condition of an ever increasing proportion of the world's population became significantly better and better. Ever since scholars have been trying to understand what happened and why. The latest such attempt is a six-volume work by Dierdre McCloskey, the second volume has just been published under the title Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World.

What changed, she argues, was peoples' attitudes toward the accumulation of wealth.  
At the beginning of the 18th century, people in the Netherlands and Britain began talking about commerce as a good thing — a novelty at that time. They gave dignity to the bourgeoisie. And that drove capitalism, giving birth to the modern world.

What changed was the sociology. That is, what changed was the attitude of the rest of the society toward businesspeople, and with that new attitude came a change in government policy. It was suddenly all right — most clearly in the most bourgeois country on earth, the U.S.A. — to get rich and to innovate.
 It's an interesting thesis, one that rings true with me. This is an idea that I plan to explore.

You can read an interview with the author here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Good President [continued] -- Bush's Finest Hour

Peter Wehner remembers:
Four years ago this month may have been the low-water mark in Iraq, with the nation gripped by a low-grade but escalating civil war. The American public strongly opposed the war. Almost every Democratic lawmaker in Congress, with the honorable exception of Senator Joseph Lieberman, was in fierce opposition to both the war and what later became known as the “surge.” Republican lawmakers were losing their nerve as well. Three months earlier, in September 2006, Senator Mitch McConnell had asked for, and received, a private meeting with President Bush. Senator McConnell’s message was a simple one: the Iraq war’s unpopularity was going to cost the GOP control of Congress. “Mr. President,” McConnell said, “bring some troops home from Iraq.”

President Bush, to his everlasting credit, not only refused to bend; he increased the American commitment to Iraq and changed our counterinsurgency strategy. And while the situation in Iraq remains fragile and can be undone — and while problems still remain and need to be urgently addressed... — this is a moment for our nation, and most especially our military, to take sober satisfaction in what has been achieved. It has not been an easy journey. But it has been a noble and estimable one.

There is no need here to rehearse the names of the few who did not buckle at the moment when the war seemed lost. They know who they are. In the words of Milton, they were “faithful found among the faithless.” Their faithfulness, and in many cases their courage, is being vindicated.
Read the whole thing here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Another Neat History Toy

Check out the Google "Books Ngram Viewer" [here]. It allows a search function for the frequency with which a word or phrase appears in books published from 1750 to 2008. You can trace the rise and fall of specific words, phrases or concepts over time. I, for instance, set it to trace the occurrence of the word "character". The use of the term peaked in the mid-nineteenth century and steadily declined thereafter, with intriguing upticks during WWII and after 2004. I wonder what that means [the phrase that starts every one of my research projects].

The Top 14 Astronomy Pictures

Check them out at Discover [here].

The Reliability of Scientific Authority

George Johnson and John Horgan discuss recent writings on the question of just how reliable is the scientific enterprise. Their conclusion is unremarkable: there are a lot of problems with the ways in which science is conducted and especially in how it is reported, but ultimately in a free market of ideas truth will out. Though this conclusion is itself problematic [we don't always have time to wait for the gradual, often decades and even centuries-long process by which truth is revealed] and unremarkable, the discussion leading to it is filled with fascinating ideas and references. These are two smart guys talking informally about interesting things.

Check it out.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Emerging Class Conflict

Fred Siegel has a terrific review in the Wall Street Journal of three books discussing the current discrediting of elites, left, right, and center. Globalization and the information revolution have produced in America and throughout the West a new set of elites that have thoroughly displaced earlier industrial elites and have roused considerable critical commentary. The three authors considered in this review [David Callahan, Michael Knox Beran, and Anthony Codevilla] come at their subject from radically different points of view, and all three have interesting things to say about America's new "ruling class". Check out the review here.

Where Immigrants Settled

The "Immigration Explorer"

A visual representation. Really neat to play with. Select a year and a specific immigrant group and see their distribution across the nation. You can even select for county-level data.

So cool! Check it out here.

Where the Obscene Rich Gather

According to census data seven of the ten richest counties in America are in Virginia and Maryland near the nation's capital, otherwise known as Behemoth. Read it here

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Can Blogs Restore the Credibility of Scientific Authority

It is now a given that the current system for evaluating academic research -- peer review and citation frequency in major journals -- has completely broken down. So what can replace it? John Hawks and Dienekes Pontikos have a suggestion: blogging.
Pontikos sees little point in formally publishing his findings. "I can bypass them entirely, and have the entire world review what I write," he wrote in an e-mail. Indeed, comments on his blog — "could you please provide the eigenvalues for the principal component analysis", for instance — read like the niggling recommendations of a manuscript reviewer.
As for Hawks, he writes:
I've often found that the best reviews of my work come from blogs and readers, not from peer review itself.
Read it here.

The much derided blogosphere, it seems, may in the end be the salvation of a corrupt scientific establishment the credibility of which has pretty much disappeared.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lies of the Left (continued) -- Erin Brockovich

The environmental left made a lot of fuss over it, some lawyers made a lot of money out of it, and some unscrupulous film makers won a lot of awards, but it was all a lie.

Hinkley, California, the town made famous in the Oscar-winning Julia Roberts movie Erin Brockovich, does not show any evidence of an increased rate of cancers.
Pacific Gas and Electric, which released a toxic plume of hexavalent chromium 6 from a Hinkley-based natural gas pipeline station, paid a record $333 million to settle a class-action suit in 1996. But the California Cancer Registry has now completed three studies that show cancer rates remained normal in from 1988 to 2008.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Claudio Arrau and the Others

My favorite interpreter of Beethoven plays the "Appassionata" Piano Sonata No. 23; Op. No. 57, 3rd movement. It's a real test for any pianist and You Tube allows us to compare how different artists have approached it.


Now listen to Horowitz perform the same piece:

And now for something a bit different, check out what Faizal Say does with the same piece:

Hey, what's wrong with a bit of over the top showmanship? It is the romantic era after all.

The Continuing Collapse of Scientific Authority [updated]

Leave aside rampant fraud, incompetence, and bias that have infested the scientific enterprise, what about the good science -- you know, the stuff performed by competent, reasonably objective professionals and verified by repeated confirmatory observations? Well, that can't be trusted either.

Writing in the New Yorker, Jonah Lehrer argues:
The test of replicability, as it’s known, is the foundation of modern research. It’s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts are losing their truth. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. 
The most likely explanation for the decline is an obvious one: regression to the mean. Yet the effect’s ubiquity seems to violate the laws of statistics.... Biologist Michael Jennions argues that the decline effect is largely a product of publication bias. Biologist Richard Palmer suspects that an equally significant issue is the selective reporting of results—that is, the subtle omissions and unconscious misperceptions, as researchers struggle to make sense of their results.... In the late nineteen-nineties, neuroscientist John Crabbe investigated the impact of unknown chance events on the test of replicability. The disturbing implication of his study is that a lot of extraordinary scientific data is nothing but noise. This suggests that the decline effect is actually a decline of illusion. Many scientific theories continue to be considered true even after failing numerous experimental tests. The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything.
Read the whole thing here.

And Lehrer expands on this argument in Wired [here]:
For many scientists, the effect is especially troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, where do we put all these rigorously validated findings that can no longer be proved? Which results should we believe? Francis Bacon, the early-modern philosopher and pioneer of the scientific method, once declared that experiments were essential, because they allowed us to “put nature to the question.” But it appears that nature often gives us different answers.
This is important stuff because it calls into question the bedrock of modern scientism -- the "scientific method" itself. It is upon this rock that claims to scientific authority are grounded, but more and more the rock is beginning to look like a pile of shifting sand. 


Games With Words does an extensive deconstruction of Lehrer's article that discusses the sources of error -- publishers' bias; confirmation bias; a tendency to fudge figures; careerist incentives to publish false data; the fact that most scientists are piss-poor statisticians; etc. In some ways it is an illuminating piece, but in the end it doesn't repudiate Lehrer's basic point -- that much of what is reported as scientific truth turns out on close examination to be questionable at best.

Read the article here.

The Games With Words article notes that with regard to error in scientific publications we are operating on faith. We assume that the proportion of unreplicable results is low because if it is high scientists might as well "question the meaning of [their] own existence". Well, according to David Freedman, writing in the Atlantic, notes that "Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong." and wonders "why are doctors—to a striking extent—still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice?"

Read the whole disturbing article here.

And, check out Daniel Engber's piece in Slate on the inadequacy of the peer review process [here].

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Revisiting Election 2000 -- Bush Won Fair and Square

George Will explains:

Once Gore initiated the intervention of courts, the U.S. Constitution was implicated. On Nov. 7, Gore finished second in Florida's Election Day vote count. A few days later, after the state's mandatory (in close elections) machine recount, he again finished second. Florida law required counties to certify their results in seven days, by Nov. 14.
But three of the four (of Florida's 67) counties - each heavily Democratic - where Gore was contesting the count were not finished deciphering voters' intentions. So Gore's lawyers persuaded the easily persuadable state Supreme Court - with a majority of Democratic appointees - to rewrite the law. It turned the seven-day period into 19 days.

Many liberals underwent instant conversions of convenience: They became champions of states' rights when the U.S. Supreme Court (seven of nine were Republican appointees) unanimously overturned that extension. But the U.S. high court reminded Florida's court to respect the real "states' rights" at issue - the rights of state legislatures: The Constitution gives them plenary power to establish procedures for presidential elections.
Florida's Supreme Court felt emancipated from law. When rewriting the law to extend the deadline for certification of results by the four counties, the court said: "The will of the people, not a hyper-technical reliance upon statutory provisions, should be our guiding principle." But under representative government, the will of the people is expressed in statutes. Adherence to statutes - even adherence stigmatized as "hyper-technical" - is known as the rule of law.

In the end, seven of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices (and three of the seven Florida justices) agreed on this: The standardless recount ordered by the Florida court - different rules in different counties regarding different kinds of chads and different ways of discerning voter intent - violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Two of the seven U.S. justices favored ordering Florida's court to devise standards that could pass constitutional muster and allowing the recount to continue for six more days. Five justices, believing that the recounting had become irredeemably lawless, ended it.

Once Gore summoned judicial intervention, and Florida's Supreme Court began to revise state election law, it probably was inevitable that possession of the nation's highest political office was going to be determined by a state's highest court or the nation's. The U.S. Supreme Court was duty-bound not to defer to a state court that was patently misinterpreting - disregarding, actually - state law pertaining to a matter assigned by the U.S. Constitution to state legislatures.

Suppose that, after Nov. 7, Florida's Legislature had made by statute the sort of changes - new deadlines for recounting and certifying votes, selective recounts, etc. - that Florida's Supreme Court made by fiat. This would obviously have violated the federal law that requires presidential elections to be conducted by rules in place prior to Election Day.

So it was Gore, not Bush, who tried to game the system to steal the election. Of course none of this means anything to Democrat partisans who will go to their graves convinced that Bush stole the election.

Condi Explains How the Real World Works

Well done, Condi. The "Bush lied" charge was always an exercise in deception and the willingness of MSM mouthpieces like Couric to perpetuate it is in itself a travesty.

The Qumran Mystery Jar

This might be even bigger than Al Capone's vault. In 2004 a sealed jar was found at Qumran (the place where the Dead Sea scrolls were found]. Since then speculation has raged as to what was to be found within. Well, after six short years scientists have finally examined the interior of the jar and there they found..., gypsum [and a few pieces of charcoal]. No scrolls, no valuables, just gypsum. There is no truth to the rumor that a TV special starring Geraldo is in the works. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Picture that Says It All

What were they thinking?

In Bill's case it is pretty obvious. Here was his chance to step back into his favorite place, the limelight. Additionally, by acting as surrogate President, he subtly undermines Obama's image and in so doing strengthens Hillary's position should she decide to mount a primary challenge. But what about Obama? Doesn't he realize just how weak and detached this makes him look. Is he really that disinterested in the job of being President? That's sure what it looks like.

Iowahawk Strikes Again -- Obama Resigns

The funniest man on the intertubes explains why Obama called and then walked out of his press conference in order to spend more time with his family.

Obama Names Bill Clinton to Presidential Post

WASHINGTON DC - Ending weeks of speculation and rumors, President-Elect Barack Obama today named Bill Clinton to join his incoming administration as President of the United States, where he will head the federal government's executive branch.
"I am pleased that Bill Clinton has agreed to come out of retirement to head up this crucial post in my administration," said Obama. "He brings a lifetime of previous executive experience as Governor of Arkansas and President of the United States, and has worked closely with most of the members of my Cabinet."
Clinton said he was "excited and honored" by the appointment, and would work "day and night" to defeat all the key policy objectives proposed by Mr. Obama during the campaign.
"I am gratified that the President-Elect has entrusted me with this important responsibility," said Clinton. "I'm looking forward to getting back behind, and under, the Oval Office desk again. As I have told the President-Elect, I pledge to do whatever I can to serve his historic administration by making sure that none of that bullshit he talked about during the campaign will ever see the light of day. Americans can rest assured that he will be safely confined to the East Wing, as far away as possible from any potentially dangerous office equipment or nuclear buttons."
Read the whole thing here.

So it really wasn't all about Hillary after all!

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Romance of Capitalism

Ann Althouse links to a post charging that the Rolling Stones sold out to corporate interests and lost their authenticity and elicits this comment:
In fairness to the author, the divide she discusses isn't political-economic (i.e., capitalism versus its alternatives), it's merely the aesthetic: the perceived continuum between authenticity and crass commercialization.

After R.E.M. declined Microsoft’s reported $12 million offer to license “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” to roll out Windows 95, the Rolling Stones quickly grabbed the money for “Start Me Up.”

When severely tested, R.E.M. stuck to its policy not to lend their music to non-artistic uses. Whether that decision was principled or foolish, the most important factor was that it was their right to choose.


I agree that rock & roll is inherently capitalistic, moreso that than the author gives credit. But the best argument for capitalism, especially to those who are suspicious of it, isn’t that maximum commercial exploitation is always necessarily good, or cool, or even "rock & roll."

It’s that capitalism is the system that best preserves the right of individuals to choose how to order their own affairs in harmony with their beliefs and values. And gives others the choice to embrace or reject the result.
 Exactly! I couldn't have said it better. 

Read the post and the entire discussion here.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Lies of the Left (continued) -- Inherit the Wind

The recent release of a despicable liable of a movie, Fair Game starring Sean Penn, has occasioned much comment around the internet. The reason is that, such is the power of the medium, the falsehoods portrayed on the screen will become [in Richard Fernandez' words] "a reference for history" in the minds of many who see the movie. That is, many people will believe the lies because they have seen them acted out on screen. This, as Fernandez points out, is an old Hollywood tradition -- spinning liberal lies into powerful fables that affect the nation's political culture.

One of the most effective such slanders was the 1960 Stanley Kramer film, Inherit the Wind, which was loosely based on the Scopes evolution trial. It fixed in the public's mind the picture of Clarence Darrow as a crusader for scientific truth standing up to fundamentalist Christian bigots represented by William Jennings Bryan. If you are one of those who still believes that the Scopes trial was a victory for scientific rationalism, check out Edward Larson's Pulitzer Prize wining book, Summer of the Gods. It will set you straight.

Perhaps the most important distortions embodied in the liberal vision is the portrayal of science as objective truth and those who question scientific authority on moral grounds as ignorant bigots. Actually there were many valid reasons to object to the teaching that Bryan opposed and in many ways the religious fundamentalist were far less bigoted than the defenders of "objective scientific truth" who assailed him.

Here [from Jonah Goldberg] is an excerpt from one of the scientific texts being challenged in the Scopes case.

Evolution of Man. – Undoubtedly there once lived upon the earth races of men who were much lower in their mental organization than the present inhabitants. If we follow the early history of man upon the earth, we find that at first he must have been little better than one of the lower animals. He was a nomad, wandering from place to place, feeding upon whatever living things he could kill with his hands. Gradually he must have learned to use weapons, and thus kill his prey, first using rough stone implements for this purpose. As man became more civilized, implements of bronze and of iron were used. About this time the subjugation and domestication of animals began to take place. Man then began to cultivate the fields, and to have a fixed place of abode other than a cave. The beginnings of civilization were long ago, but even to-day the earth is not entirely civilized.

The Races of Man. – At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest race type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.

Charles Darwin and Natural Selection. – The great Englishman Charles Darwin was one of the first scientists to realize how this great force of heredity applied to the development or evolution of plants and animals. He knew that although animals and plants were like their ancestors, they also tended to vary. In nature, the variations which best fitted a plant or animal for life in its own environment were the ones which were handed down because those having variations which were not fitted for life in that particular environment would die. Thus nature seized upon favorable variations and after a time, as the descendants of each of these individuals also tended to vary, a new species of plant or animal, fitted for the place it had to live in, would be gradually evolved.

Artificial Selection. – Darwin reasoned that if nature seized upon favorable variants, then man by selecting the variants he wanted could form new varieties of plants or animals much more quickly than nature. And so to-day plant or animal breeders select the forms having the characters they wish to perpetuate and breed them together. This method used by plant and animal breeders is known as selection.

Improvement of Man. – If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.

Eugenics. – When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.

The Jukes. – Studies have been made on a number of different families in this country, in which mental and moral defects were present in one or both of the original parents. The “Jukes” family is a notorious example. The first mother is known as “Margaret, the mother of criminals.” In seventy-five years the progeny of the original generation has cost the state of New York over a million and a quarter dollars, besides giving over to the care of prisons and asylums considerably over a hundred feeble-minded, alcoholic, immoral, or criminal persons. Another case recently studied is the “Kallikak” family. This family has been traced back to the War of the Revolution, when a young soldier named Martin Kallikak seduced a feeble-minded girl. She had a feeble-minded son from whom there have been to the present time 480 descendants. Of these 33 were sexually immoral, 24 confirmed drunkards, 3 epileptics, and 143 feeble-minded. The man who started this terrible line of immorality and feeble-mindedness later married a normal Quaker girl. From this couple a line of 496 descendants have come, with no cases of feeble-mindedness. The evidence and the moral speak for themselves!

Parasitism and its Cost to Society. – Hundreds of families such as those described above exist to-day, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.

The Remedy. – If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.

Strong stuff, that. Such was the state of scientific authority at the time of the Scopes trial. It's not surprising that many people, then and now, would find such drivel morally objectionable. From the perspective of several decades later we can see just how dangerous and reprehensible, not to say biased, settled scientific opinion was then. And is it any less now? Will scientists a century from now look back upon our current opinions aghast. The Stanley Kramer version of the Scopes trial should not stand. The whole shameful episode should not be considered a great triumph for scientific liberalism. Instead it should be remembered as a caution against placing too much faith in the pronouncements of scientific authority. In the case of movies, it is important not to believe your eyes, and in the case of science it is good to consider the moral implications of what you are being told.