Monday, May 15, 2006

Another Harriet Miers Moment

Michelle is completely unimpressed. Hugh is disappointed. Ed is lukewarm. John believes that Bush has blown his last chance to rescue his second term. They're shaking their heads at NRO's The Corner. One observer says we need Jack Bauer and we're getting Mr. Rogers.

I agree with all of them. The President clearly had a chance to lay out a credible plan to solve the problem of illegal immigration, and all he did was recommend a band aid for a hemorrhage. Troops are a short term fix and building more detention centers so that captured border-crossers don't have to be released in this country is insulting, as is offering illegals a pathway to citizenship. This was another Harriet Miers moment for the President, unfortunately.

Any solution that does not include a state of the art fence along the length of the border with Mexico is simply a waste of money and effort. We have in the past thought George Bush had the chance to be a historic president. Tonight the only people who will think that are illegal immigrants and those who aspire to be.

We look for the President's job approval numbers to continue bobbing up and down in the mid-thirties. They would go lower except, like scoring 200 on the SATs, they can't get any lower.

Blog War

A blogger war appears to be brewing with Andrew Sullivan on one side and Hugh Hewitt, most prominently, on the other. Sullivan has taken to using the pejorative "Christianist" a lot on his blog and has introduced the term into the cultural mainstream with an article in Time magazine. By "Christianist" Sullivan means someone who believes that one's politics should be informed by one's faith commitment. Since he differentiates between Christians and "Christianists", presumably Christians are those who know their place at the back of the political bus:

But [the "Christianist"] agenda, whatever else it is, cannot be described as mainstream Christianity. Its extremism, its enmeshment with partisan political power, its contempt for individual liberty, its certainty and arrogance and intolerance, demand that some other name be given to it.

So what is it that the "Christianists" oppose? Abortion on demand, gay marriage, giving the benefit of the doubt to life in the case of comatose people whose preferences are not known, but whose family wants the person to be kept alive, and so on.

This is not to deny that there are people out on the fringe who would support banning contraception and sexual behavior between consenting adults, and Sullivan is right to challenge them. What he is not right to do, though, is to suggest that people who hold to traditional Christian morality are extremist, intolerant, and arrogant, and this he does. In the process he manages to conflate in peoples' minds any Christian who seeks to exert influence in the public square with the nefarious "Christianists" who he believes seek to establish a totalitarian theocracy.

Hugh Hewitt, a "Christianist" himself perhaps, writes a response at World Magazine.

The Faith of a Darwinian

Bill Dembski directs us to an article in Physics Today in which the authors say this:

Molecular machines are the basis of life. DNA, a long molecule that encodes the blueprints to create an organism, may be life's information storage medium, but it needs a bevy of machines to read and translate that information into action. The cell's nanometer-scale machines are mostly protein molecules, although a few are made from RNA, and they are capable of surprisingly complex manipulations. They perform almost all the important active tasks in the cell: metabolism, reproduction, response to changes in the environment, and so forth. They are incredibly sophisticated, and they, not their manmade counterparts, represent the pinnacle of nanotechnology. Yet scientists have no general theory for their assembly or operation.

How much can one molecule do? Consider, for example, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) synthase. This macromolecular assembly, only about 10 nanometers on a side, is an essential part of the cellular factory that produces ATP, the universal energy currency of life. We will not get into the details of the biological role of ATP synthase in the cell, but consider merely what it is capable of doing in isolation: It is a rotary motor. In the presence of a proton gradient, this remarkable machine turns a spindle as it adds phosphate groups to molecules of adenosine diphosphate to produce ATP. And every day the cells in your body perform this phosphate-addition reaction to produce roughly your body weight in ATP molecules.

But that is not all: ATP synthase can run in reverse. It can consume ATP, and with each ATP molecule that is hydrolyzed, the central shaft of ATP synthase turns by 120 degrees, directly converting chemical to mechanical energy. That reverse operation was explicitly demonstrated through a series of elegant experiments in which a molecular propeller was attached to the shaft and then imaged with optical microscopy.The propeller rotated in the presence of ATP, with absolute thermodynamic efficiencies of up to 90%. Despite the tremendous strides made in nanotechnology, no device of similar functionality can yet be fabricated with inorganic materials. Furthermore, many questions remain about the basic principles by which molecular machines such as ATP synthase convert chemical energy to mechanical forces.

After going on at some length in this vein the authors observe, in a masterful piece of understatement, that:

It is surely one of the triumphs of evolution that Nature discovered how to make highly accurate machines....

Note the difficulty of describing biological machines and information without using terms that are redolent of purpose:

One of the key hallmarks of biological function is ordering in space and time, and at least two great classes of biological orchestration should serve as a call to action for physicists: the coordination of physical structures and processes and the orchestration of information.

The whole article is worth reading but one passage in particular struck us. The authors write that:

Understanding collective effects in the cell will require merging two philosophical viewpoints. The first is that life is like a computer program: An infrastructure of machines carries out arbitrary instructions that are encoded into DNA software. The second viewpoint is purely physical: Life arises from a mixing together of chemicals that follow basic physical principles to self-assemble into an organism. Presumably, the repertoire of available behaviors is more limited in the latter. The two viewpoints are complementary, not incompatible: Either one could best describe cell behavior, depending on the particular situation.

Life is like a computer program, they tell us. If this is a legitimate analogy then we might ask if there has ever been a computer program which has come about through blind, purposeless forces and processes such as mutation and natural selection. It takes an enormous amount of blind faith in materialism to believe that something like a computer program could emerge purely by happenstance and physical forces, without any intelligent input, but no one should ever doubt the prodigious capacity for faith among Darwinians.

Cost Comparison

President Bush is going to address the nation tonight on the immigration issue, an issue which has probably cost him ten points or more in his job approval ratings, mostly due to an erosion of conservative support.

President Bush, trying to build momentum for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, is considering plans to shore up the Mexican border with National Guard troops paid for by the federal government, according to senior administration officials.

One defense official said military leaders believe the number of troops required could range from 3,500 to 10,000, depending on the final plan. Another administration official cautioned that the 10,000 figure was too high.

The president was expected to reveal his plans in an address Monday at 8 p.m. EDT. It will be the first time he has used the Oval Office for a domestic policy speech - a gesture intended to underscore the importance he places on the divisive immigration issue.

The question we wish to ask is what's the cost comparison between building a secure fence and placing 4000 to 10,000 Guardsmen on the border for the next twenty five to a hundred years or until an equal number of border policemen can be hired and trained? It seems to us that paying for all those Guardsmen/border police is an inefficient way to stop illegal immigration, but we haven't seen the numbers. Perhaps the president will tell us tonight what the cost will be.

Saddam's Mobile Labs

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters is very skeptical that those Iraqi mobile laboratories were being used to make hydrogen gas for weather balloons. Recently translated documents suggest a much more sinister purpose, but since that purpose is pretty much what the administration said before the war, the MSM has pretty much ignored the documents and their implications.

You can read Morrissey's take here.

Meanwhile, it should be noted that every captured document that has been translated has so far been consonant with, or actually supports, the White House's justification for going to war (WMD and Saddam's association with terrorists), and none of them have, as yet, been incompatible with it. We're waiting for the "Bush lied" crowd to at least acknowledge that he may have had good reason for believing what he was telling the American people in early 2003.