Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dos Amigos

The following pics explain everything you need to know about why Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez feels the way he does about George Bush and the United States:

People judge you by the friends you keep and the books you read. On both counts Hugo shows bad judgment:

A Skeptical Mathematician

Mathematician and computer engineer Granville Sewell explains why he's skeptical of the Darwinian explanation for life's origin and complexity. He introduces his paper with this:

When Dr. Behe [author of Darwin's Black Box] was at the University of Texas El Paso in May of 1997 to give an invited talk, I told him that I thought he would find more support for his ideas in mathematics, physics and computer science departments than in his own field. I know a good many mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists who, like me, are appalled that Darwin's explanation for the development of life is so widely accepted in the life sciences. Few of them ever speak out or write on this issue, however--perhaps because they feel the question is simply out of their domain. However, I believe there are two central arguments against Darwinism, and both seem to be most readily appreciated by those in the more mathematical sciences.

He then proceeds to offer his two arguments. Here's one:

Although we may not be familiar with the complex biochemical systems discussed in this book, I believe mathematicians are well qualified to appreciate the general ideas involved. And although an analogy is only an analogy, perhaps the best way to understand Behe's argument is by comparing the development of the genetic code of life with the development of a computer program. Suppose an engineer attempts to design a structural analysis computer program, writing it in a machine language that is totally unknown to him. He simply types out random characters at his keyboard, and periodically runs tests on the program to recognize and select out chance improvements when they occur. The improvements are permanently incorporated into the program while the other changes are discarded.

If our engineer continues this process of random changes and testing for a long enough time, could he eventually develop a sophisticated structural analysis program? (Of course, when intelligent humans decide what constitutes an "improvement", this is really artificial selection, so the analogy is far too generous.)

If a billion engineers were to type at the rate of one random character per second, there is virtually no chance that any one of them would, given the 4.5 billion year age of the Earth to work on it, accidentally duplicate a given 20-character improvement. Thus our engineer cannot count on making any major improvements through chance alone. But could he not perhaps make progress through the accumulation of very small improvements? The Darwinist would presumably say, yes, but to anyone who has had minimal programming experience this idea is equally implausible.

Major improvements to a computer program often require the addition or modification of hundreds of interdependent lines, no one of which makes any sense, or results in any improvement, when added by itself. Even the smallest improvements usually require adding several new lines. It is conceivable that a programmer unable to look ahead more than 5 or 6 characters at a time might be able to make some very slight improvements to a computer program, but it is inconceivable that he could design anything sophisticated without the ability to plan far ahead and to guide his changes toward that plan.

If archeologists of some future society were to unearth the many versions of my PDE solver, PDE2D , which I have produced over the last 20 years, they would certainly note a steady increase in complexity over time, and they would see many obvious similarities between each new version and the previous one. In the beginning it was only able to solve a single linear, steady-state, 2D equation in a polygonal region. Since then, PDE2D has developed many new abilities: it now solves nonlinear problems, time-dependent and eigenvalue problems, systems of simultaneous equations, and it now handles general curved 2D regions.

Over the years, many new types of graphical output capabilities have evolved, and in 1991 it developed an interactive preprocessor, and more recently PDE2D has adapted to 3D and 1D problems. An archeologist attempting to explain the evolution of this computer program in terms of many tiny improvements might be puzzled to find that each of these major advances (new classes or phyla??) appeared suddenly in new versions; for example, the ability to solve 3D problems first appeared in version 4.0.

Less major improvements (new families or orders??) appeared suddenly in new subversions, for example, the ability to solve 3D problems with periodic boundary conditions first appeared in version 5.6. In fact, the record of PDE2D's development would be similar to the fossil record, with large gaps where major new features appeared, and smaller gaps where minor ones appeared. That is because the multitude of intermediate programs between versions or subversions which the archeologist might expect to find never existed, because-- for example--none of the changes I made for edition 4.0 made any sense, or provided PDE2D any advantage whatever in solving 3D problems (or anything else) until hundreds of lines had been added.

Read the rest of his argument at the link.

There are some folks on the religious fringes of our culture who hold to peculiar and unsupportable doctrines but who meet regularly and reinforce each other in their implausible beliefs. They thus each leave the meeting encouraged but no more correct than when they went in, and outsiders are often bemused that these folks could really believe the things they do.

The Darwinians are something like these people. They keep insisting to each other that blind, unthinking natural forces are all that's necessary to explain how the computer program of life got written. They recite to each other their catechism which states that given enough time, enough mutations, and the magic wand of natural selection, anything, no matter how incredible, is possible. They succeed in reinforcing each other in their faith that it happened all by chance and physics, but thinking people on the outside marvel at how anyone could actually believe it.

Thanks for the tip to Uncommon Descent.

Climbing GOP Approval Rating

The President's approval rating continues its upward trend which is good news for Republicans running for office this November and bad news for the Democrats who were popping champagne corks as recently as a month ago over the prospect of sweeping both the House and the Senate under their control:

Amid falling gas prices and a two-week drive to highlight his administration's efforts to fight terrorism, President Bush's approval rating has risen to 44% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. That's his highest rating in a year. The poll also showed likely voters evenly divided between Democratic and Republican candidates for Congress, 48%-48%. Among registered voters, Democrats had a 51%-42% advantage.

Much of the increase in the President's numbers are Republicans getting serious as elections get closer. There's a lot of disappointment with Bush among the GOP faithful over spending and especially illegal immigration, but many are recognizing that as bad as Bush has been on these two issues, a Democratic congress would be far worse:

Bush's approval rating has edged up largely on the strength of Republicans coming back to the fold - 86% with him now compared with 70% in May.

So, as elections approach the Republicans are closing ranks which means that Bush's approval may hit about 48% this Fall, provided gas prices continue to drop and nothing else on the world scene changes much. If the House bill to build the wall along the border passes the Senate and the President signs it, his numbers might edge toward 50%.

Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who ran Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, said GOP fortunes have turned since Labor Day: "This has been the best two weeks Republicans have had since Bush was re-elected."

The new poll found likely voters more prone to vote for candidates who support Bush on terrorism, 45%-28%, and evenly divided on those who support and oppose Bush on Iraq. More than a quarter said Iraq is their top concern this fall. For the first time since December 2005, a majority of people did not say the war there was a mistake; the split was 49%-49%.

Bush's terror-fighting techniques drew mixed reviews. A 55%-42% majority supported his policy of wiretapping phone conversations between U.S. citizens here and suspected terrorists in other countries without getting a court order.

There's more at the link.

Red States Rising

George Will reflects on a book written by Thomas Edsall of The New Republic who offers what is, from his point of view, a dispiriting assessment of the rise of the Republican party and the demise of the Democrats. Will points out how lefties like Edsall consistently attribute GOP success to all the wrong reasons and are utterly purblind to the fact that their own message has very little resonance with the majority of Americans.

Will's entire column is good, but his last two paragraphs put a sharp point on his argument:

Edsall notes that one-third of American children -- and almost 70 percent of African American children -- are born to unmarried mothers. Then, in an astonishing passage about this phenomenon, which is the cause of most social pathologies, from crime to schools that cannot teach, he explains how Americans differ concerning what he calls "freedom from the need to maintain the marital or procreative bond."

"To social conservatives," he writes, "these developments have signaled an irretrievable and tragic loss. Their reaction has fueled, on the right, a powerful traditionalist movement and a groundswell of support for the Republican Party. To modernists, these developments constitute, at worst, the unfortunate costs of progress, and, at best -- and this is very much the view on the political left as well as of Democratic Party loyalists -- they constitute a triumph over unconscionable obstacles to the liberation and self-realization of much of the human race."

Looking for the real reason for the rise of "Red America"? Read that paragraph again.

Red America is a reference, of course, to the "red" states which voted for George Bush in the last election as opposed to the "blue" states which went for John Kerry.

The major problem the Democrats have is that too many of their movers and shakers hold it as a religious dogma that the social dysfunctionalities of the last four decades are actually a good thing. Until they realize that "red staters" regard these dysfunctionalities as extremely harmful to our culture and associate them with liberal social attitudes, the Democrats will have a very difficult time turning red states blue.

Re: What Makes it Torture?

JB brings his military and police experience to bear on the question I addressed in What Makes it Torture? His insightful response is featured on our Feedback page and is worth reading.