Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pressing His Luck

I don't know how this made it onto YouTube, but it's a slow-motion video clip of a jihadi paying the ultimate price for trying to kill people with a mortar.

There's no explanation of what happens, but I suspect that his initial round was tracked by computerized artillery and the return fire was deadly accurate. He should have taken off after he shot the first round, but he evidently wanted to increase the chances that he maimed or killed someone.


Academic Re-education Camps

Science welcomes eccentrics and heretics, those whose opinions and theories shake established orthodoxies. Well, at least it used to. That was until the orthodoxies concerning women, homosexuality and transgenderedness, race, religion and evolution all came under the aegis of secular leftism. Now one challenges those orthodoxies at considerable peril to one's professional and personal well-being.

Ask, for example, Lawrence Summers about what happens when one transgresses the leftist dogmas about gender. Ask Charles Murray about what happens when one flouts the dogmas concerning race. Ask Richard Sternberg what happens when one violates the dogmas concerning Darwin or Guillermo Gonzalez about what happens when metaphysical materialism is called into question.

Now J. Michael Bailey is feeling the force of academic intimidation and character assassination that accompanies any hypothesis that wanders too close to the barbed wire perimeters of the leftist gulag:

In his book, Bailey argued that some people born male who want to cross genders are driven primarily by an erotic fascination with themselves as women. This idea runs counter to the belief, held by many men who decide to live as women, that they are the victims of a biological mistake - in essence, women trapped in men's bodies. Dr. Bailey described the alternate theory, which is based on Canadian studies done in the 1980s and 1990s, in part by telling the stories of several transgender women he met through a mutual acquaintance. In the book, he gave them pseudonyms, like "Alma" and "Juanita."

Other scientists praised the book as a compelling explanation of the science. The Lambda Literary Foundation, an organization that promotes gay, bisexual and transgender literature, nominated the book for an award.

But then the roof caved in. Read the story for the details of the ordeal to which Bailey is being forced to undergo.

The left-wing python is slowly squeezing the life out of academic research. By insisting that all findings conform to what is ideologically acceptable and punishing those who dissent our universities have undergone a sex change of their own, so to speak. They have exchanged their traditional role as marketplaces of ideas for more "progressive" roles as institutions of indoctrination for our young and re-education camps for those unfortunate souls so foolish as to deviate from the party line.


For What It's Worth

Breitbart has the story of an AP-Ipsos poll which found that 22 percent of liberals and moderates said they had not read a book within the past year, compared with 34 percent of conservatives:

Among those who had read at least one book, liberals typically read nine books in the year, with half reading more than that and half less. Conservatives typically read eight, moderates five.

By slightly wider margins, Democrats tended to read more books than Republicans and independents. There were no differences by political party in the percentage of those who said they had not read at least one book.

I wonder if the disparity between liberals and conservatives has something to do with the fact that liberals are often academics and conservatives are often businessmen. The former might be expected to read more than the latter.

In any event, I don't think we can draw any significance from these numbers without knowing what sorts of books are being read by the two groups. If one group reads a lot of novels and another reads a lot of history chances are the former is going to read more books in a year than the latter.

What is troubling, though, is that:

One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year. Of those who did read, women and seniors were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.

The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year - half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who hadn't read any, the usual number read was seven.

"I just get sleepy when I read," said Richard Bustos of Dallas, a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify. Bustos, a 34-year-old project manager for a telecommunications company, said he had not read any books in the last year and would rather spend time in his backyard pool.

Twenty-five percent of us don't read at all, and those who do - assuming that by "religious works" is meant stuff like the Left Behind series - read mostly to be entertained. Sadly it appears that Americans do not hold the gifts of language, literacy, and learning in very high esteem.

I was reminded by this survey that both Karl Rove and George Bush read a book or two a week, and Bush's reading is not just light entertainment (see the link for a sample). His reading evinces an intellectual curiosity far above that of most Americans and probably beyond that of most of those who criticize him for being mentally obtuse.


Artificial Life

So, according to this AP story scientists are within a couple of years of producing a living cell from the chemical constituents of life:

Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they're getting closer. Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of "wet artificial life."

"It's going to be a big deal and everybody's going to know about it," said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. "We're talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways-in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict."

One of the leaders in the field, Jack Szostak at Harvard Medical School, predicts that within the next six months, scientists will report evidence that the first step-creating a cell membrane-is "not a big problem." Scientists are using fatty acids in that effort.

Szostak is also optimistic about the next step-getting nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA, to form a working genetic system.

His idea is that once the container is made, if scientists add nucleotides in the right proportions, then Darwinian evolution could simply take over.

"We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened," Szostak said.

This is a very odd statement. Szostak is saying that blind, random chance is more ingenious than human intelligence. He'd have us believe that unguided, unintelligent accident is a better engineer than human minds.

Anyway, they may be successful in manufacturing a functional cell - who knows - but if so, then the only observed case of life having appeared from non-living precursors will be one in which the development was guided by an intelligent agent. We will then have actual experience of life being produced by intelligent designers, but we will still have had no experience of life being formed by purely unintelligent processes. We will, in other words, have empirical reason to believe that biogenesis can be effected by minds but no empirical reason to believe that it can be effected apart from minds.

What, then, will be the most reasonable inference - that life probably appeared through physical processes alone or that it is at least partly the result of intelligent action?What scientific, as opposed to philosophical, grounds will anyone have for insisting upon a purely physicalist explanation for the origin of life?