Thursday, August 23, 2007

Unspeakable Evil

Is this the sort of barbaric evil that awaits all the people of Iraq as soon as we pull out?

Five-year-old Youssif is scarred for life, his once beautiful smile turned into a grotesquely disfigured face -- the face of a horrifying act by masked men. They grabbed him on a January day outside his central Baghdad home, doused him with gas and set him ablaze. It's an act incomprehensibly savage, even by Iraq's standards today. No one has been arrested and the motive remains unknown.

In a war-ravaged city torn by sectarian violence and marked by acts of vengeance, this attack's apparent randomness stands out as an example of what life has become in a place where brutality -- even against young children -- is a constant.

"They dumped gasoline, burned me, and ran," Youssif told CNN, pointing down the street with his scarred hands where his attackers fled.

As he sucked his thumb, he repeated, "I was burning." He tried to put the flames out himself. It looks as though this boy's face melted and then froze into rivers cutting through swollen hard flesh. It's hard to see the energetic outgoing child his parents describe beneath the sullen demeanor that defines Youssif today.

"He's become spiteful, I am not sure why," said his mother, Zainab. "He is jealous of everyone. If I say the slightest thing to him, he cries. He's sensitive." Even things like eating have become a chore. His face contorts when he tries to shovel rice into his mouth, carefully angling the spoon and then using his fingers to push the little grains through lips he can no longer fully open.

He has also become jealous of the baby sister he used to dote on. "I sit sometimes at night and cry," Zainab said, her voice heavy with guilt. "If only I hadn't let him go outside, if only I hadn't let him play."

It was on January 15 that masked men attacked her boy, their identities still unknown. Zainab said she was upstairs at the time.

"I heard screaming. I thought someone was fighting or something," she said.

She ran downstairs, saw her son and fainted. When she came to, she barely recognized her child. "His head was so swollen, you couldn't see his eyes, and his nose was pushed in."

"There was blood," she added, shuddering slightly. "The skin was melted off."

He spent two months in the hospital recovering from the severe burns. These days Youssif spends most of his time indoors, in front of the computer. It's only then that traces of the 5-year-old in him emerge. "He can't play outside with the other kids," Zainab said. "The other day they were playing, and he came in crying. I asked him, 'What's wrong?' and he said, 'They won't play with me because I am burned.'"

She said he once wanted to be a doctor and he loved kindergarten. "He used to be the one who would wake me up every morning, saying let's go to school," Zainab recalled. She coaxed him to tell me the few words he knows in English. "Girl, boy, window, fan," he said, his voice barely audible, the words barely intelligible. Doctors told the family there is little more they can do to help Youssif. The family can't afford care outside Iraq.

So Zainab has taken a massive risk by telling her story to the world. Her husband works as a security guard, and it's too dangerous for him to talk to the media. "I'd prefer death than seeing my son like this," Zainab said.

All she wants is for someone to help her little boy smile again.

Update: A charity has offered to pay all the costs for reconstructive surgery for Youssif. You might have thought that the charity was an Islamic organization since little Youssif is a Muslim, but you would have been mistaken. The charity is the Children's Burn Foundation. See Hot Air for the details.


Positive Review of <i>The Edge</i>

The Philadelphia Inquirer has just insured that it will be henceforth the object of much calumny and opprobrium from the Darwinian establishment. It has published a review of Michael Behe's book The Edge of Evolution that actually takes the book seriously enough to explain what Behe's argument is and, what's more, praises it.

Here's the crux of science writer Cameron Wybrow's review:

Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution, provides some hard numbers, coupled with an ingenious argument. The key to determining the exact powers of Darwinian evolution, says Behe, lies with fast-reproducing microbes. Some, such as malaria, HIV, and E. coli, reproduce so quickly that within a few decades, or at most a few millennia, they generate as many mutations as a larger, slower-breeding animal would in millions of years. By observing how far these creatures have evolved in recent times, we can estimate the creative limits of random mutation.

In the case of malaria, the creative limits appear quite low. Over the last few thousand years, several thousand billion billion malarial cells have been unable to develop an evolutionary response to the sickle-cell mutation, which protects its human bearers from malaria. On the other hand, malaria has proved able to develop Darwinian resistance to the antibiotic chloroquine. This resistance is based upon two simultaneous mutations affecting a malarial protein.

Yet this rare double mutation has occurred fewer than 10 times since chloroquine was introduced 50 years ago, during which time a hundred billion billion malarial cells have been born. If this indicates the typical rate of occurrence of double mutations, then the Darwinian transformation of our pre-chimp ancestor into homo sapiens, which would have required at least some double mutations, would have taken at least a thousand trillion years, a time span greater than the age of the universe....

The response to Behe has been predictable. The editors of the major print media have assigned known enemies of ID to trash the book - Richard Dawkins for the New York Times; Coyne for the New Republic; Miller for Nature; Ruse for Toronto's Globe & Mail. A large part of each review is ad hominem, concerned with Behe's alleged religious agenda, his minority status among biologists, and other irrelevant matters. In Dawkins' review, the science is barely touched, and it's not clear from Ruse's review that he has even opened the cover of the book. Behe deserves better. The Edge of Evolution makes a serious, quantitative argument about the limits of Darwinian evolution. Evolutionary biology cannot honestly ignore it.

Read the rest of Wybrow's review here.


An Atheist's Plea to Atheists

Well-known skeptic writer Michael Shermer has penned an open letter to the more militant of his atheist brethren imploring them to adopt a less strident, more tolerant tone. The letter is interesting although I'm not suure what it's doing in Scientific American.


Israeli Missile Defense

According to Strategy Page,

Israel is going ahead with installing the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. This is a defensive system with a unique twist. Iron Dome radars (there are two of them) quickly calculate the trajectory of the incoming rocket (Palestinian Kassams from Gaza, or Russian and Iranian designs favored by Hizbollah in Lebanon) and do nothing if the rocket trajectory indicates it is going to land in an uninhabited area. But if the computers predict a rocket coming down in an inhabited area, a $40,000 guided missile is fired to intercept the rocket. This makes the system cost-effective. That's because Hizbollah fired 4,000 rockets last year, and Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired over six thousand Kassam rockets in the past six years. But over 90 percent of these rockets landed in uninhabited areas.

Very clever, those Israelis.