Monday, June 26, 2006

Don't Kill the Geese

Ah, those greedy capitalists. First Bill Gates sets up a charitable foundation and then retires to help manage it. Then Dick Cheney makes the largest single charitable contribution of any politician in American history. Then the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffett, gives his fortune to Bill Gates' foundation. How does one keep one's equilibrium when the world simply refuses to conform to the popular wisdom that the wealthy are evil, tightfisted, robber barons?

It's worth noting, perhaps, that if the left had their way there'd be no Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. There'd be no private wealth and thus no private philanthropy. All charity would be at the beneficence of the government which would acquire its resources by taxing the people at levels that would remove all incentive to accumulate Gates/Buffett scale fortunes. No one would be wealthy. Everyone would be middle class at best and the government, unable to mine more silver in the exhausted ore of the middle class would be unable to keep up its support for the kinds of charitable work done by private foundations.

In other words, the poor need the rich. The rich invest. The rich create jobs, and the rich make it possible for charitable organizations to do their work. This is not to say that the rich are ipso facto virtuous. Of course they are not, but the problem is with individual morality not with wealth. Those who insist we soak the rich in taxes and confiscate their wealth are as short-sighted as the man who wanted to kill the goose that laid golden eggs in order to have a tasty dinner.

Enlisting Congress Against ID

The Edge runs a letter signed by a number of Darwinian worthies which, along with a book hostile toward Intelligent Design, they sent to every member of Congress. Here are some excerpts from the letter with my remarks:

June 16, 2006

To Members of Congress:

We, the authors and editor of Intelligent Thought, are sending you a copy of the book in hopes that you will consider its message. The book is largely about Intelligent Design (ID), the latest incarnation of creationism. ID is a movement that threatens American science education and with it American economic predominance and credibility.

This is a common scare tactic frequently employed to "poison the well" against ID. It's noteworthy that rarely does anyone ever say precisely how ID threatens science education. Suppose a biology teacher took time to point out to her class, after teaching the lessons on evolution, that some scientists and philosophers believe that this process is purely mechanistic while others, a smaller number, believe it required intelligent input, and explained some of the reasons why. Suppose, too, that a physics or earth-space science teacher discussed with his classes the astonishing fine-tuning of the cosmos and the remarkable fitness of the universe, our galaxy, our solar system and our earth for intelligent life. Suppose further that he concludes that some scholars see in this a fortuitous accident whereas others see in it intention and purpose. How, exactly, would any of this endanger science education?

The recent federal court decision in Dover, Pennsylvania found that ID was not a scientific theory, but a form of religion in disguise. Judge John Jones III, a churchgoing Republican appointed by President Bush, concluded that teaching this doctrine in the public schools represents both bad education and an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. President Bush's science advisor, John H. Marburger, has affirmed that 'evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology' and 'intelligent design is not a scientific concept.' And Newt Gingrich has stated that ID has nothing to do with science and shouldn't be taught in science courses.'

One of the three authorities cited above is a scientist. One is a judge and the other is a politician. This is a good example of a logical fallacy called an appeal to irrelevant authority. What Judge Jones or Newt Gingrich say about the nature of ID is totally beside the point. What is germane is what philosophers of science are saying about it and in that field there are a lot of top people who would argue that there is simply no good reason for banishing design arguments from science. See for example, Del Ratszch's outstanding work on this subject Nature, Design, and Science.

Reason and law triumphed in Dover. But ID and its spinoffs continue to threaten American education by ignoring the massive evidence for evolution-the central principle that unites all the biological sciences- and by substituting adherence to religious dogma for the scientific method.

It is simply false to state that ID ignores the evidence for evolution. What it opposes is the claim that evolution is a purely mechanistic process. It is also false to claim that it substitutes religious dogma for the scientific method. There's no "religious dogma" in any of the major ID sources and I challenge any of the signatories of the letter to provide an example to support their allegation.

Our country cannot afford substandard science teaching. Indeed, a national science test just administered by the Department of Education showed a decade-long erosion of scientific proficiency among American high school seniors. We won't cure this problem by questioning scientifically established facts (evolution) and theories (natural selection) and replacing them with unsupported conjectures based on faith.

Nor do we cure substandard teaching by ignoring the difficulties with exclusively physicalist explanations or by encouraging sudents to accept on faith that those difficulties will be somehow, someday resolved.

The controversy over ID vs. evolution is not a scientific controversy. Every scientific body in the US has opposed ID and affirmed the reality of evolution. The "controversy" is about whether sectarian religious views should be taught in the science classroom.

The controversy is not about whether sectarian religious views will be taught in the public school classroonm because clearly no one is pushing for that. The controversy is about whether one metaphysical view - materialism - should be immunized in our public schools against any challenge from competing metaphysical hypotheses.

A list of the signers of the letter can be found at the link. These people know that as long as they can misrepresent and distort the nature of ID they will be able to hold on to their philosophical monopoly in the public schools. They also know that if they were to portray ID accurately they would quickly lose their influence and thus their dominance. Consequently, we will continue to see ID misrepresented as a religious doctrine, a variety of creationism, a scientific fraud, and so on. It's the only way the metaphysical naturalists who dominate the scientific establishment can hold on. They know that the day the door is open to honest debate will be the day that Darwinian materialism begins its decline into scientific and philosophical obsolescence.


Here are some interesting facts about the military's M-1 tank courtesy of Strategy Page:

Of the 1,100 American M-1 tanks that have served in Iraq, about seven percent have been badly damaged, at least badly enough to get them shipped back to the factory for rebuilding. Some 70 percent of the Iraqi based M-1s have been in combat. As infantry have known since World War I, tanks draw fire. But they are well protected, and fewer than twenty of the 4,400 tank crewmen involved have been killed, two thirds of those while standing up in a turret hatch, with at least head and shoulders exposed. The main cause of lost tanks is, as it has been since World War II, is mines and bombs. A few tanks have rolled over particularly large bombs, which in some cases flipped the tank. But other times, mines blow off one of the tracks, immobilizing the tank and making it the center of a fierce fight. But the terrorists and anti-government forces have come to avoid American tanks. Yes, these 69 ton behemoths can be hurt, but only at great risk and cost to the attacker. In addition to the M-1s three machine-guns, the 120mm gun has special shells for urban warfare, shells that are particularly deadly against gunmen trying to hide in buildings.

One reason the Iraqi military is not yet ready to fight on its own is that it lacks this kind of weaponry and the training it takes to use it. There's little doubt that eventually some of these needs will be met, but it will take time. To expect the Iraqis to fight their own fight without the armor, air power, UAV's, etc. that American forces have at their disposal is unrealistic. The need for this kind of combat support will keep at least some American troops in Iraq for a long time to come, or at least until the Last Helicopter party wins the presidency.

Russian Diplomats Murdered

How will the Russian government react to this:

A group linked to al Qaeda said it has killed four Russian diplomats it had held hostage, according to a statement and video on a Web site Sunday.

The group -- the Mujahedeen Shura Council -- said it had beheaded three of the men and shot one to death. A video also posted on the Web site appeared to show one of the men being beheaded, another man already beheaded and a third man being shot in the head. The fourth man did not appear in the video.

The same group posted a statement last Monday demanding Moscow withdraw its troops from Chechnya and "release all our brothers and sisters" from prison within 48 hours. In the statement last week, the group added, "God enabled the lions of unification to capture four Russian diplomats in Iraq and kill a fifth," alluding to an attack June 3, when a car belonging to the Russian Embassy in Iraq came under fire.

Embassy official Vitaly Titov was killed in the attack, and diplomats Fyodor Zaitsev, Rinat Agliuglin, Anatoly Smirnov and Oleg Fedoseyev were kidnapped.

We could not bring ourselves to watch it, but if you care to there's a video here.

Counterterrorism Blog reminds us that:

Russia has been known for dealing with terrorists with sometimes excessive force. And not only with Chechen rebels. For example, in September 1985 when four Russian diplomats were kidnapped in Beirut by Hezbollah, the then USSR responded in kind by first abducting a family member of an Hezbollah leader and then killing him very, very gruesomely. The hostages were given back right away and Russia was never targeted in Lebanon again.

Russia has no friends among the Islamic jihadis. They are hated by the Islamists for their war against the Chechens today and for what they did in Afghanistan in the 1970s. It's hard to imagine that the Russians will do nothing, but it's also hard to imagine what might be within their power to do.

Culture of Corruption

The Washington Times wonders why it is that a corruption-conscious media has, with very few exceptions, ignored the record of Rep. Jack Murtha. Of course the fact that he's an antiwar Democrat may not be irrelevant to the question.

Read the Times' editorial and for exercise ask yourself whether you would only be finding this stuff out for the first time now if Murtha were a pro-administration Republican. Here's the core of it:

Last June, the Los Angeles Times reported how the ranking member on the defense appropriations subcommittee has a brother, Robert Murtha, whose lobbying firm represents 10 companies that received more than $20 million from last year's defense spending bill. "Clients of the lobbying firm KSA Consulting -- whose top officials also include former congressional aide Carmen V. Scialabba, who worked for Rep. Murtha as a congressional aide for 27 years -- received a total of $20.8 million from the bill," the L.A. Times reported.

In early 2004, according to Roll Call, Mr. Murtha "reportedly leaned on U.S. Navy officials to sign a contract to transfer the Hunters Point Shipyard to the city of San Francisco." Laurence Pelosi, nephew of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, at the time was an executive of the company which owned the rights to the land. The same article also reported how Mr. Murtha has been behind millions of dollars worth of earmarks in defense appropriations bills that went to companies owned by the children of fellow Pennsylvania Democrat, Rep. Paul Kanjorski. Meanwhile, the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign-finance watchdog group, lists Mr. Murtha as the top recipient of defense industry dollars in the current 2006 election cycle.

As Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, has said, "If there is a potential pattern where Congressman Murtha has helped other Democrats secure appropriations that also benefited relatives of those members, I believe this would be something that merits further review by the ethics committee."

It's odd that the media, which has been fairly unbiased in going after corrupt politicians recently, has gone silent on Mr. Murtha's questionable actions. Or maybe it isn't. Since December, Mr. Murtha has become the darling of the antiwar crowd, and, as we've seen with other such darlings, scrutinizing their behavior is considered disrespectful. But as we're on the subject, few might recall that after the massive 1980 Abscam scandal, Mr. Murtha was named by the FBI as an "unindicted co-conspirator."

The LA Times broke this story a year ago, but because Murtha has become useful to the anti-war crowd in the interim neither they nor anyone else in the liberal media have shown much interest in pressing the issue.