Monday, January 31, 2005

America - Darwin's nemesis

The New York Times > Science > Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U.S. Classes
... in a 2001 survey, the National Science Foundation found that only 53 percent of Americans agreed with the statement "human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals."

And this was good news to the foundation. It was the first time one of its regular surveys showed a majority of Americans had accepted the idea. According to the foundation report, polls consistently show that a plurality of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago, and about two-thirds believe that this belief should be taught along with evolution in public schools.

These findings set the United States apart from all other industrialized nations, said Dr. Jon Miller, director of the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University, who has studied public attitudes toward science. Americans, he said, have been evenly divided for years on the question of evolution, with about 45 percent accepting it, 45 percent rejecting it and the rest undecided.

In other industrialized countries, Dr. Miller said, 80 percent or more typically accept evolution, most of the others say they are not sure and very few people reject the idea outright.

"In Japan, something like 96 percent accept evolution," he said. Even in socially conservative, predominantly Catholic countries like Poland, perhaps 75 percent of people surveyed accept evolution, he said. "It has not been a Catholic issue or an Asian issue," he said.
I wonder what the numbers are like in Iran? America must be the most anti-intellectual, and anti-science, of the wealthy nations. The Dark Ages are closer than you might think ...

Boycott CRC Information Holdings

Eric's Commentary on the Shutdown of MathWorld

Once upon a time CRC, the Chemical Rubber Company, published books of tables and reference material for chemists and scientists. Alas, that company is gone. It's name has been taken by a foul and parasitic entity; a form of demonic possession that attacks publicly traded companies. This web page explains why we need to stop buying anything from CRC's ownership:
I have had to conclude, to my sorrow, that CRC--perhaps like many other publishers in our era of wild corporate acquisitions and conglomerations--is no longer managed by people who understand and love books, authors, and readers.

The parent company of CRC, Information Holdings Inc., appears unashamed to treat information as a commodity to be exploited for short-term, bottom-line cash with no concern for long-term, strategic planning. The goal of the CRC representatives seemed to be monomaniacal: to squeeze from Wolfram Research and from me as much instant and short-term cash as possible, using the lawsuit as a lever.

How self-defeating in an era of rapid technological change! Apparently uninterested in looking forward and building good future business strategies, here are publishers focusing instead on how to squeeze greater quantities of immediate cash from old 'properties.'

I have come to realize how unusual it is to be working for a company that is run by people who still enjoy the core activities for which the company was founded. Very early in the lawsuit, a Wolfram Research response to the lawsuit mentioned that Wolfram Research has chosen to remain privately held in order to be free from the obligation to outside stockholders, who appear so often to focus corporations inordinately on short-term financial results. Wolfram Research's principals believe that they can take the long and broad view of the corporation's mission, as they could not if they had to satisfy stock analysts and uninvolved stockholders.

The behavior of CRC's representatives this last year has been, for me, convincing evidence of the wisdom of Wolfram Research's strategy. The people at my company believe in what they do, make money doing it, and have fun along the way. I didn't see much fun among the CRC people we dealt with.
Update: This affair first gained attention five years ago. But that was before blogs became popular ...

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Adopted doesn't count?

Passports, but no pass

A couple traveling with their daughter is denied admission to their airplane by an agent working for a Northwest Airlines affiliate. The agent's manager also denies admission

Their crime? Their adopted daughter does not resemble them. Her passport, which proves both identity and nationality, is not considered sufficient proof of family affiliation.

The family misses their flight. Later the airline is apparently rather contrite. My suspicion is that the agent didn't much like the idea of adoption, much less inter-ethnic adoption. The rules are sufficiently ambiguous that the agent was able to exercise his/her prejudices. Astoundingly, however, the manager didn't catch the problem.

Northwest needs an aggressive re-education program, preferably administered by a senior executive and his adopted children.

If this were to happen to my family, they'd need a heck of a lot more than an apology to avoid litigation.

Glacier Good-bye

SF Gate: Multimedia (image)

When I was young, foolish and fortunate, in 1977, I hitchiked to Banff. I visited again in 1994. Even over those 17 years the picturesque glaciers had receded from the tourist spots built nearby them. Soon they will be gone.

Update: The original title for this post had "Glacier" spelled "Galcier". I fixed the typo, but since Blogger chose to implement persistent URLs based on the article title, this will break any links from RSS feeds to the article. Sigh. Semantic identifiers are rarely a good idea.

Problem of the weak: faces of meth Photo Galleries

When I see these images I imagine what my children will face between 2011 and 2023. What hellish product of evil minds will make methamphetamine seem one day as "benign" as mere Heroin?

To save them from that future I would of course give my life, but I'd also give up some of my and your freedom. That is why I am a liberal, but not a libertarian.

The problem of the weak. Again.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Markets as moral entitites?

Crooked Timber: Just deserts and the market

Crooked Timber notes a persistent theme among their commentators: "...if markets are working correctly, people end up more or less where they deserve to be...". The author digresses into an academic refutation that apparently involves Hayek (generally a sign that it is to heavy a discussion for my aged brain).

Analysis aside, this is a persistent theme in right wing discourse. It seems to have two separate roots that converge on a single conclusion.

Root One: The Deists
  • God rewards the good and punishes the bad.
  • Poverty is a sign of God's punishment, hence of badness.
  • Wealth is a sign of God's reward, hence goodness.
As Mike P. reminded me, this is the thesis of the pre-Job Bible. It's characteristic of many religions and it's the natural regression point for many fundamentalists.
Root Two: The Libertarians
  • Markets are God-like.
  • Markets are Good.
  • Poverty is a sign of Market punishment, hence of badness.
  • Wealth is a sign of Market reward, hence goodness.
We need to expose the roots of this reasoning wherever it manifests itself.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Dying, not defeated

BBC NEWS | Health | Tumour diary: The time has come

I've read occasional instances of Ivan Noble's diaries over the years. I think the last time I caught site of one he was doing well in remission. This is his last diary. He wrote when he was diagnosed in September of 2002 at age 35:
I am determined to beat the tumour and to see my little girl grow up.
In this, his last column, he writes
What I wanted to do with this column was try to prove that it was possible to survive and beat cancer and not to be crushed by it.

Even though I have to take my leave now, I feel like I managed it.

I have not been defeated.

Ivan lived with his cancer for almost 3 and a half years -- a long time for a high grade glioma. During that time he married his girlfriend and they had a son.

Our friend Tom Antonetti died years ago of the same cancer. I had the fortune to see Tom when he was in remission, he died less than a year later. He was about 40 then.

Time for the US to pass the baton ...

2020 Vision - A CIA report predicts that American global dominance could end in 15 years. By Fred Kaplan
Who will be the first politician brave enough to declare publicly that the United States is a declining power and that America's leaders must urgently discuss what to do about it?
This isn't really news. There's nothing except supernatural intervention that would make the US the dominant world power forever. Bush hasn't caused the relative decline of the US, he's only accelerated it by 20 or 40 years or so (twice the rate of decline). Since Bush was elected by a majority of US voters with a well established track record, it's really the Bush voter that should take historical responsibility.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Stories of my father: umbrella combat

Boing Boing: HOWTO kick someone's ass with an umbrella

As a child in the 1930s my father was a fan of "howto" pamphlets on the use of a concealed walking stick dagger in combat. He probably came across some version of this 1901 article. I'll have to ask him if it looks familiar.

Bush is good for journalism: even Maureen Dowd can write now

The New York Times > Opinion > Maureen Down: Love for Sale

Maureen wants to prostitute herself to the Bush administration. This is a great column, funny with tears, biting with despair. Maureen used to be a crummy writer, but the longer Bush is in power the better she's doing.

The same powerful tonic has come to The Atlantic, Harpers and the New Yorker. I just read Richard Clarke's article in the January Atlantic -- American as a 2011 military state (but why did he call the Mall of America the Mall of the States? -- was he being polite?). It was a great article, but excellence is now routine in The Atlantic. That wasn't true four years ago. They must be making money -- the mag is getting thicker every month.

Harpers is consistently interesting. The New Yorker, fueled by Seymour Hersh, deserves a few Pullitzers.

True, the New York Times is pretty feeble, but maybe this bracing influence will finally resuscitate them.

Of course I'd rather have Kerry as President. If I have to live with King George however, it's good to have something to read in my hideaway. local search -- take that Google! Search: thai

Ahh, I love to see Amazon and Google slug it out. Each solid blow means more neat stuff for me.

Google has done a pretty good job with local search. Now A9 does much the same thing -- but they've added images too!

Of course my local MSP favorites don't have pictures yet ... but there's the clever part. Amazon is leveraging their power tool -- an infrastructure for commentary. The link for a nearby Thai restaturant goes to an Amazon page that allows commentary -- and posting of pictures!

If I had a decent camera phone it would be fun to help build the Amazon image library this way.

Does an earthlike planet require a neighboring supernova? - A different 'Big Bang' may have saved Earth

I only see the USA Today when traveling. This morning I caught sight of this article. I expected to see some f/u in the New York Times, but USA Today seems to be ahead of the pack. On review I note that this is still a "controversial hypothesis", but a more technical article states some supporting evidence (atypical isotopes) will be published shortly.

This is tremendously interesting, though the journalist missed the key point of interest. The hypothesis is that earthlike planets, the only kind known to support sentience (one example), can only form when a supernova detonates very close (1 light year -- or closer than the current closest star) to a star with an early, very shortlived (few million years), planetary disk (disc). The supernova blows away parts of the disk and seeds the early solar system with heavy metals. Without the supernova effect any earth like planets get expelled or destroyed by careening gas giants early in solar system development -- or whacked by comets a bit later on.

Not to stretch an analogy, but the solar system is like an egg, and the supernova is like exploding ... ummmm ..... errrrr .... you know. If the supernova doesn't blow at precisely the right time and right distance -- the egg is sterile.

So what did Dan Vergano miss? This data should allow astronomers to estimate how common earth like planets are. One of the mysteries of our galaxy is that it's not swarming with little green men. There are several explanations of this; one explanation is that planets that support life, much less sentience, are very rare.

Supernovae are not all that common in our galaxy, though they were probably more common 4 billion years ago. If very proximal supernovae are required to produce "fertile" solar systems, then earth like planets may be quite rare. Since the galaxy is known to be a very violent place, many of those planets would be sterilized or destroyed before life could develop.

I'd be particularly interested to know if any "tweaks" to the fundamental parameters of physics (C, G, Planck's constant, etc) would change the equation to increase the number of "fertile" solar systems. It would be particulary interesting if small tweaks would change the frequency of "fertile" planets to either zero or many. If it turned out that the universe is "tuned" to produce an average of one sentience per spiral galaxy ... well ... that's interesting.

All fun stuff. I guess not everyone shares my hobby however!
Astronomers studying the planet-forming disks of dust that orbit young, distant stars are hoping to solve the mystery of our own solar system's youth. Why is our system so different in form and function from others they can see?

It's a difference that may have saved Earth, because the scientists suspect that Jupiter and Saturn would have collided with the planet — or slung it out of the solar system like a slingshot — if the disk surrounding our young sun hadn't been so damaged.

These "protoplanetary" disks were a hot topic at a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society. "Something very bad happened to our solar system's disk in its early years," says Steve Desch of Arizona State University in Tempe.

An exploding star, or supernova, likely occurred within a light-year — about 5.9 trillion miles — of our sun in its infancy, he argues. (The closest star to our solar system now, Proxima Centauri, is about 4 light-years away)...

... A presentation at the meeting about a Hubble Space Telescope survey of 25 nearby stars, all youngsters less than 10 million years old, provides evidence that dust disks congeal into more compact bodies over only a few million years.

.... Only the eruption of a star 25 to 40 times bigger than our sun could have littered our solar system with the radioactive elements seen in meteorite surveys reported by Desch's team at the meeting.

Astronomers have seen just such explosions blasting protoplanetary disks in the Orion Nebula, a star-forming factory 1,500 light-years away. Rather than blowing away the disks, the supernova blasts appear to seed them with metals rocketed out of the heart of the exploding star.

The supernova that blasted our solar system may explain some of its other peculiarities:

•Planets in our solar system follow nearly circular orbits far from the sun. Most planets detected orbiting other, nearby stars follow either highly elongated orbits or circle incredibly close to their stars. Scientists suspect that a stellar explosion could have stopped these developments in our solar system.

•Dust disks seen orbiting nearby stars typically contain much more material, sometimes 100 times more, than our solar system. A Spitzer Space Telescope survey of 26 nearby sun-like stars known to have planets found evidence that six of them have comet belts. But all appear filled with about 100 times more comets than our own. [jf: comets can be very dangerous ...]

"There's good evidence the solar system had a stunted formation when the (supernova) injection happened," Desch says. And that may have been very good for Earth.

Many astronomers believe that Jupiter and Saturn formed deep in space, far beyond Pluto's orbit, and spiraled into the solar system. Why they stopped a safe distance from the sun and left Earth undisturbed — unlike the history of many other solar systems seen nearby — is the final mystery that disk studies may help answer..

Monday, January 24, 2005

Outsourcing to Africa

Rising Data Solutions: Company Profile

Call centers in Ghana. Next will be software projects.

Aztecs: how nasty can humans be?

The New Yorker: The Critics: The Art World

Very, very nasty. Really, really nasty.

So what keeps us from not being Aztecs?

Safire's tips on reading Safire

The New York Times > Opinion > Safire: How to Read a Column

It's been years since Safire wrote anything I was interested in. On his retirement, he managed to pique my interest -- even though it is a bit "cute". Here he decodes the secret language of Safire. Emphases mine. I omitted the ones I think are dull; he claimed 12 but really only had 8.

January 24, 2005
How to Read a Column

....2. Never look for the story in the lede. Reporters are required to put what's happened up top, but the practiced pundit places a nugget of news, even a startling insight, halfway down the column, directed at the politiscenti. When pressed for time, the savvy reader starts there.

5. Don't fall for the "snapper" device. To give an aimless harangue the illusion of shapeliness, some of us begin (forget "lede") with a historical allusion or revealing anecdote, then wander around for 600 words before concluding by harking back to an event or quotation in the opening graph. This stylistic circularity gives the reader a snappy sense of completion when the pundit has not figured out his argument's conclusion.

6. Be wary of admissions of minor error... In piously making these corrections before departing, the pundit gets credit for accuracy while getting away with misjudgments too whopping to admit.

7. Watch for repayment of favors. Stewart Alsop jocularly advised a novice columnist: "Never compromise your journalistic integrity - except for a revealing anecdote."

8. Cast aside any column about two subjects... (Three subjects, however, can give an essay the stability of an oaken barstool. Two's a crowd, but three's a gestalt.)

9. Cherchez la source. Ingest no column (or opinionated reporting labeled "analysis") without asking: Cui bono? And whenever you see the word "respected" in front of a name, narrow your eyes. You have never read "According to the disrespected (whomever)."

11. Do not be suckered by the unexpected. Pundits sometimes slip a knuckleball into their series of curveballs: for variety's sake, they turn on comrades in ideological arms, inducing apostasy-admirers to gush "Ooh, that's so unpredictable." Such pushmi-pullyu advocacy is permissible for Clintonian liberals or libertarian conservatives [eg. Safire] but is too often the mark of the too-cute contrarian.

12. Scorn personal exchanges between columnists. Observers presuming to be participants in debate remove the reader from the reality of controversy; theirs is merely a photo of a painting of a statue, or a towel-throwing contest between fight managers. Insist on columns taking on only the truly powerful, and then only kicking 'em when they're up.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The unsung heroes in the Dover School district: Defending Science

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: The Crafty Attacks on Evolution
The Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania became the first in the country to place intelligent design before its students, albeit mostly one step removed from the classroom. Last week school administrators read a brief statement to ninth-grade biology classes (the teachers refused to do it) asserting that evolution was a theory, not a fact, that it had gaps for which there was no evidence, that intelligent design was a differing explanation of the origin of life, and that a book on intelligent design was available for interested students, who were, of course, encouraged to keep an open mind.
Those teachers deserve a medal for fighting in the defense of rationalism and science.

The Rise and Fall of the Body-Scanning Clinics

The New York Times > Health > Rapid Rise and Fall for Body-Scanning Clinics

There's not that much that surprises me in health technology and marketing, but this did. I did not expect the body-scanning clinics to crash and burn. Is the story really over? These services struck me as a really awful idea, but I'm used to awful ideas being popular.

Overall it seems like the market for these services was more limited than expected; vendors overbuilt then slashed prices. Maybe they'll continue at a lower level of demand, or maybe they'll find a way to provide CT services for far less money. The latter would be interesting if it happened, but it may be the demand simply isn't there. On the other hand the non-medical fetal ultrasound clinics seem to be still in business

This is a great story by Gina Kolata, one of the best medical journalists around. She exposes the greed of some prestigious academic health centers -- who jumped on the bandwagon even though they knew well that this service was likely to cause more harm than help. Shame on Harvard for succumbing, and credit to Yale for resisting.

One of the most important aspects of this story is what it says about the effects of a true marketplace on healthcare costs. There are almost NO true markets in medicine, this was one of them. Prices fell by 50% over a year -- to the very edge of profitability. It may say something about how medical savings accounts might work (I'm a cautious fan):
The New York Times
January 23, 2005
Rapid Rise and Fall for Body-Scanning Clinics

For a brief moment, Dr. Thomas Giannulli, a Seattle internist, thought he was getting in at the start of an exciting new area of medicine. He was opening a company to offer CT scans to the public - no doctor's referral necessary. The scans, he said, could find diseases like cancer or heart disease early, long before there were symptoms. And, for the scan centers, there was money to be made.

The demand for the scans - of the chest, of the abdomen, of the whole body - was so great that when Dr. Giannulli opened his center in 2001, he could hardly keep up. "We were very successful; we had waiting lists," he said. He was spending $20,000 a month on advertising and still making money.

Three years later, the center was down to one or two patients a day and Dr. Giannulli was forgoing a paycheck. Finally, late last year, he gave up and closed the center.

Dr. Giannulli's experience, repeated across the country, is one of the most remarkable stories yet of a medical technology bubble that burst, health care researchers say.

It began as a sort of medical gold rush, with hundreds of scanning centers, with ceaseless direct-to-consumer advertising, and with thousands of Americans paying out of pocket for the scans, which could cost $1,000 or more.

It ended abruptly with the wholesale shuttering of businesses.

CT Screening International, which scanned 25,000 people at 13 centers across the nation, went out of business. AmeriScan, another national chain, also closed. So, radiologists say, did another company that put scanners in vans and traveled to small towns in the South.

The business's collapse, health care researchers say, holds lessons about the workings of American medicine.

It shows the limits of direct-to-consumer advertising and the power of dissuasion by professional societies, which warned against getting one of these scans. The tests, they said, would mostly find innocuous lumps in places like the thyroid or lungs, requiring rounds of additional tests to rule out real problems, and would miss common cancers, like those of the breast.

It also shows the workings of the medical market - when insurers refused to pay, requiring customers to dig into their own pockets for the tests, scanning centers found themselves cutting prices to compete. Within a year, some centers said, prices fell to less than $500 from $1,000 or more.

... The scans were something new in American medicine - not like traditional screening scans, mammograms or colonoscopies, for example, in which patients are overseen by their doctors. People requested these scans on their own. They paid on their own, with no hints that insurers would start picking up the bill. And the reports came to the customers, not their doctors.

Some proponents said the scans would enable people to take their health care into their own hands. Critics said the scans were medical nightmares, a powerful medical technology gone out of control.

But few anticipated the precipitous reversal of fortune for the scanning centers...

... Dr. Carl Rosenkrantz, a radiologist in Boca Raton, Fla., said the business had another appeal - it promised radiologists a good living without being on call at a hospital and even without necessarily being present at the scanning center.

...Academic medical centers also got into the business, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard, which opened Be Well Body Scan. The center is owned by the Beth Israel Radiology Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the hospital's radiology department...

At Yale, Dr. Howard Forman, an associate professor of diagnostic radiology and management, said he had felt pressure from hospital administrators to explore the possibility of offering whole body scans to healthy people. He could see why. "From a profitability standpoint, you would go in this direction." But he and his colleagues resisted. "There is no evidence that the scans are good medicine," Dr. Forman said.

Dr. Barnett Kramer, director of the National Institutes of Health's office of disease prevention, said: "For every 100 healthy people who undergo a scan, somewhere between 30 and 80 of them will be told that there is something that needs a workup - and it will turn out to be nothing."

The same arguments were made by the American College of Radiology and the Food and Drug Administration.

...As for Dr. Giannulli, he has moved on to other things. He founded a company, CareTools Inc., which sells software for medical record keeping to doctors' offices. That, he says, is the new frontier in medicine.
I work in the clinical automation industry, so it's a bad sign that Dr. Giannulli thinks we're the next big thing ...

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Twixters: marooned in the twenties


My brother Brian was ahead of his time. He followed the path outlined in this Time Canada article during the 1990s. It's the path of the twixters "marooned" in their 20s, done with college but not ready to commit to the long dry road.

More recently, however, it seems to be the rule among my friend's children and pretty common among the recent grads I know of from our neighborhood college (Macalester). I don't think the article describes these people very well though; besides establishing "twixterhood" as an official phenom it doesn't provide much insight into why this is (supposedly) common now. Is it simply a wealth effect? Is it a gestalt reaction to an unpredictable world, a "Lady or the Tiger" paralysis?

I think there's something different happening, and I suspect that there's not one simple explanation. I think of these social transitions as being manifestations of a nonlinear (chaotic) system. (The murder rate is my favorite example of such a manifestation -- it's driven by demographics and employment but transitions are dramatic and affected by many interacting sub-drivers.) There are probably some primary contributors, but also many peripheral interactions that cause a sudden prevalence spike.

It will be interesting to see if the phenomena persists, or if it recedes as quickly as it came.

Hong Kong -- views of another galaxy


It's been over 20 years since I flew into Hong Kong, past the riot of skyscraping housing. This site provides a pictorial update. It looks like another order of magnitude increase in density. I would like to read about what it's like to live in those buildings.

A blog at least partially made up of Iraqi (english) voices

Words From Iraq

It's a bit confusing, but it appears to include posts from various english writing Iraqis. The descriptions of everyday anarchy and violence in Iraq ring true. (via metafilter)

Evolutionary game theory: people are strategies in a "game" played by natural selection

Marginal Revolution: Are you a player or a strategy?

This is new to me, but it has face validity. In some ways humans can be thought of as "strategies" in a kind of meta-game that emerges from the fundamental properties of natural selection.
Our colleague, Dan Houser, has just published an important new paper (co-authored with Robert Kurzban) that supports the assumption of evolutionary game theory. (The paper is also featured in the Economist.)  In a public goods game, Kurzban and Houser are able to identify three systematic strategies; cooperate, free ride and reciprocate (cooperate more when others do so).  The first surprising result of their paper is that these strategies can be tied to specific individuals.  Some individuals cooperate, others free ride and others reciprocate and the strategies that these individuals 'choose' are stable.  (This doesn't mean that individuals play strategies robotically regardless of context a better analogy may be to think of strategies like personalities - even a quiet person can yell sometimes.)

Strategy choice is so stable that Kurzban and Houser can create very cooperative groups simply by weeding out the free riders.  What is even more surprising, however, is that when individuals are randomly assigned to groups each strategy type earns about the same payoff.  Even though the strategies are very different, no strategy dominates the others in a randomly assigned group - this is exactly what one would predict if individuals are strategies in an evolutionary game.
Hmm. Reminds me of this.

Is it childish to call David Brooks "Bobo"?

Crooked Timber: How To Ascribe Super-Powers To Words - David Brooks on the inaugural address
Does Bobo believe this, or what?
Hmm. It seems a big childish to call David Brooks "Bobo". On the other hand, he does inflict his inanities on us. It's a real ethical quandry.

Brooks is emblematic of the fall of the New York Times.

Where commercial copy protection will lead

Boing Boing: Debunking a DRM press-release

Cory's right:
And that is exactly what they will do: they will bring home lawfully purchased CDs and DVDs and try to do something normal, like watch it on their laptop, or move the music to their iPod, and they will discover that the media that they have bought has DRM systems in place to prevent exactly this sort of activity, because the studios and labels perceive an opportunity to sell you your media again and again -- the iPod version, the auto version, the American and UK version, the ringtone version, und zo weiter. Customers who try to buy legitimate media rather than downloading the unfettered DRM-free versions will be punished for their commitment to enriching the entertainment companies. That commitment will falter as a consequence.
I'm an unlikely pirate, but the first time I buy a CD I can't listen to on my iPod (legal use) I'll be hoisting the jolly roger.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Kaplan rips the inaugural address

Give Me Liberty or Give Me... What? - The muddle in Bush's inaugural address. By Fred Kaplan

No, it wasn't a great speech. It was a disturbing speech.
... Whatever freedom is, how do we go about spreading it? The president said in his speech that the mission "is not primarily the task of arms," though he added that sometimes it must be. If not with arms, then how do we spread freedom? With rhetorical encouragement? Bush's answer was intriguing: "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." The United States will also "encourage reform" in repressive governments "by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. … Start on this journey of progress and justice," President Bush told these rogue leaders, "and America will walk on your side."

This sort of talk raises three questions. First, does the president really know what he's saying here? In 1956, the Voice of America encouraged the rebels of Hungary to rise up against their Communist regime, and when they did so, they were mowed down; the United States did not come to their aid and had no ability to do so. In 1991, George Bush's father encouraged the Shiite rebels of southern Iraq to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein, and after the Iraqi army was expelled from Kuwait and the war declared over, Saddam mowed down the rebels; the United States did not come to their aid. If the leaders of a democratic underground in some dictatorship hear this speech and rise up tomorrow against their own tyrants, will George W. Bush "stand with" them? Really?...
When Kaplan's done, there's not much left of Bush's inaugural address.

Fox flips out

A Fox News anchor flips out when a guest dares to question the nature of Bush's elaborate 2nd inauguration.
A delightful video clip. Heh, heh.

The world called Titan

ESA Portal - Seeing, touching and smelling the extraordinarily Earth-like world of Titan
Thus, while many of Earth's familiar geophysical processes occur on Titan, the chemistry involved is quite different. Instead of liquid water, Titan has liquid methane. Instead of silicate rocks, Titan has frozen water ice. Instead of dirt, Titan has hydrocarbon particles settling out of the atmosphere, and instead of lava, Titanian volcanoes spew very cold ice.

Titan is an extraordinary world having Earth-like geophysical processes operating on exotic materials in very alien conditions.
A fascinating press release from the ESA, but where does "smelling" come into the picture?

Update: A Guardian article clarified the "smell". It's the probe's analytic chemistry.

Did the KGB blow up those Russian apartment buildings?

This story has been all but forgotten ...
In September 1999, four apartment buildings, two in Moscow and two in other Russian cities, were blown up, killing over 300 people, wounding hundreds more.

Russians suspected Chechen terrorists. Putin, newly in power, solidified his position and launched the invasion of Chechnya. Horror followed.
I remember when this happened. At the time some Chechens claimed the Russian secret services (heirs to the KGB) had staged the attack. This claim didn't get much traction. I didn't believe it. In those days the Soviet era seemed to be ancient history -- Russia was going to rejoin the world. A few tin hat types continued the story; I linked to a representative web site above.

I've not thought much about that 1999 attack, though it was later recalled in the context of several terrorist attacks in Russia (Opera house, school, etc). I was quite surprised, then, to read this in a book review from The Economist (emphases mine): | Russia | Arts |Bleak house

Three books by journalists cast a gloomy light on the question. “Inside Putin's Russia”, by Andrew Jack, latterly the Financial Times correspondent there, is a fluent, detailed and balanced account of Russian power politics, with a lively emphasis on the Kremlin's onslaught against independent media and stroppy tycoons.

Mr Jack also addresses the most sensational charge made against Mr Putin—that the tower-block bombings which killed hundreds of people in 1999 were committed not by the ostensible culprits, Chechen terrorists, but by security services wanting to smooth Mr Putin's rise to power. The charge is not completely absurd, and was well outlined in "Darkness at Dawn" (2003), by David Satter, who set up the Financial Times's bureau in Moscow in 1976.

Mr Jack agrees that the official version of events is full of holes. In particular, the Russian security services have never explained an episode in which they were caught apparently planting explosives in a block of flats in the provincial city of Ryazan. But he steers clear of an all-embracing conspiracy theory—too risky for its backers, he reckons. Instead, he suggests that the Ryazan affair may have been an attempt by spooks to stage a terrorist attack in order to gain credit for foiling it.
So the bottom line seems to be that (foreign) journalists don't know, but they find it conceivable that Putin's men (KGB) staged the bombing. This does make it easier to understand why many in the middle east at one time believed the CIA/Mossad blew up the WTC. After all, if Russia/Putin could do it, why not Bush? Didn't it allow him to do to Iraq what Putin did to Chechnya?

For the record, much as I dislike GWB (I think he's now morphing into a disciple of both Yahweh and Any Rand), I am certain that he didn't stage the WTC attack. He did, however, use it to attack Iraq in much the same way Putin used the apartment explosions to attack Chechnya. The level of evidence used to justify the twin invasions was also, in retrospect, rather similar.

Why does the US media persist in comparing the Iraq invasion to Vietnam? It's really more like the Russian invasion of Chechnya.

Social security: fundamentals of privatization

The New York Times > Opinion > Krugman: The Free Lunch Bunch:
There are several ways to explain why this particular lunch isn't free, but the clearest comes from Michael Kinsley, editorial and opinion editor of The Los Angeles Times. He points out that the math of Bush-style privatization works only if you assume both that stocks are a much better investment than government bonds and that somebody out there in the private sector will nonetheless sell those private accounts lots of stocks while buying lots of government bonds.

So privatizers are in effect asserting that politicians are smart - they know that stocks are a much better investment than bonds - while private investors are stupid, and will swap their valuable stocks for much less valuable government bonds. Isn't such an assertion very peculiar coming from people who claim to trust markets?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Coronation Day reading

The BEAST: 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2004 You're on the list.

Search Bot wars: How Yahoo can attack Google's Blogger products

Blogger: Create your Blog Now -- FREE

Google owns Blogger. Yahoo does a far better job of indexing my Blogger posts than Google does. Google used to do a much better job of indexing my posts -- back when I first started the blogs! Yahoo is a Google competitor, they too offer blogs and search services.

Google and Yahoo are competitors. Hmmm.

What about this:

1. Blogger has grown very fast. It has had to redo its servers and software several times. It often has performance issues.

2. Indexing robots are a heavy burden for Blogger's servers. If the servers are in trouble, Google may want to reduce the burden to help Blogger stay up.

3. Yahoo has no such motivation. Indeed, Yahoo is incented to be particularly conscientious about keeping its Blogger indexes very current. Perhaps indexing Blogger every few hours might be a good idea ... Shame about Blogger's servers, but that's Google's problem ...

Isn't it interesting how some wars just seem inevitable?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Yazidi/Dasin of Iraq

Yazidi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Anyone think Iraq is a simple place?
The Yezidi or Yazidi (Kurdish; Êzidî) are adherents of a small Middle Eastern religion with ancient origins. They are primarily ethnic Kurds, and most Yazidis live near Mosul, Iraq with smaller communities in Syria, Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Armenia, and are estimated to number ca. 500,000 individuals in total.

There are also Yazidi refugees in Europe. The Yazidi worship Malak Ta’us, apparently a pre-Islamic peacock angel who has fallen into disgrace. Malak Ta’us has links to Mithraism and, through it, to Zoroastrianism. The Yazidi maintain a well-preserved culture, rich in traditions and customs.

In the region that is now Iraq, the Yazidi have been oppressed and labeled as devil worshippers for centuries. During the reign of Saddam Hussein, however, they were considered to be Arabs and maneuvered to oppose the Kurds, in order to tilt the ethnic balance in northern Iraq. Since the 2003 occupation of Iraq, the Kurds want the Yazidi to be recognized as ethnic Kurds.

The Yazidi’s own name for themselves is Dasin. While popular etymology connects the religion to the Umayyad khalif Yazid I (680-683), the name Yazidi is actually most likely derived from the Pahlavi (Middle Persian) word 'yezd,' meaning angel, probably in reference to Malak Ta’us.
The Pehlavi (Shah of Iran) family were said by their enemies to be closet Zoroastrians.

Dyer on an African "Marshall Plan"

People talk about the need for a 'Marshall Plan' for Africa, but the original Marshall Plan, designed to help European countries recover after the devastation of the Second World War, provided around $75 billion (at today's prices) in American food and supplies over a period of three years to help Europe rebuild. It did rebuild, and has long been just as prosperous as the US. Whereas fifteen times as much money per capita, over fifteen times as long, has left most of Africa poor, chaotic, and miserable.

The basic difference is politics. Europe had a skilled labour force in 1945, but more importantly it had governments that were determined to maintain the education and health services that produced that labour force. Africa's elites simply stole the money in many cases -- both the aid money, and their own taxpayers' money -- and condemned their people to ignorance, violence, poverty and disease. Simply increasing the aid will not change this equation.

There are well-run African countries where targeted development aid can help, like South Africa and Botswana; there are spectacularly corrupt ones like Nigeria and Angola that nobody in their right minds would send development aid to; and there are basket-cases like the Congo where there is no longer any modern economy and only disaster relief has any immediate relevance.

The politics is the problem, and only Africans can fix that. But the best incentive for reform that the rest of the world can offer African countries is fair access to its markets if and when they get their own acts together. Fair trade, not 'free' aid, is the key.
Dyer is no capitalist pawn, so he's especially credible when he says the key intervention for African is to open our markets. On this one point even Bush might cooperate, though "Fair" is a tricksy word.

Africa is also a good lesson on the limits of a libertarian state.

It's over. We lost. Thanks George.

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | Julia Roberts has a better chance of winning this war

Today the New York Times had a picture of a girl, the same age as my son. She was kneeling and she was crying. Blood ran off her hands and over her clothes. It was the blood of her parents. They allegedly ran a checkpoint. They were killed by US forces. We'll probably never know what happened. Did her father realize it was a US checkpoint? Did he fear SU forces would kill or torture his family and rape his daughter? Was he afraid it was an insurgent checkpoint? Did he even see it? Did he really choose to run, or did he never know he'd arrived at a checkpoint? Did the troops follow procedures? Was the checkpoint marked?

It doesn't much matter. That picture was the best summary of the war so far. I'd mail it to George Bush, but that would be a waste of a stamp; at most it would get me a call from the secret service.

On the same day as that picture came out, the Guardian had an interesting editorial by Max Hastings. I believe Hastings has been a relative supporter of the US effort. He feels the military effort is lost, but he holds out hope for Iraq. Emphases mine.
There is growing dissension and dismay in the US armed forces about their prospects of victory in Iraq. The yellow ribbons, lapel pins and yard signs expressing solidarity with the nation's soldiers are still conspicuous around army bases across America. But commanders and soldiers alike are conducting an increasingly anguished debate.

There are four reasons for this. First, many service people are shocked by the incontrovertible evidence that the justifications offered by the Bush administration for invading Iraq - WMD and a link with international terrorism - were false. Second, bitter and painful fighting, notably in the showpiece assault on Falluja, has failed to suppress insurgency. Third, there is deep scepticism about progress in recruiting Iraqis to assume the security burden. Even General David Petraeus, the US airborne general charged with organising Iraq's new forces, is said to be increasingly despondent. And finally, the army and marine corps are acutely aware that they have to sustain the occupation without sufficient troops to control the country effectively.

Having begun the campaign convinced of the justice of their cause and their ability to secure victory, many members of the US military and their families now suspect that the cause may be invalid and the battle unwinnable...

... In the minds of many US soldiers looms the spectre of Vietnam. In recent years, the US army has been forged into a motivated, effective tool for large-scale military operations overseas. But it has never been suited to combating insurgency. Guerrillas and suicide bombers can impose a deadly corrosion on conventional forces.

... The US armed forces are fighting the sort of conflict that least suits their capabilities. It would be a devastating blow to the confidence painstakingly rebuilt since Vietnam if the US, having committed enormous resources and suffered painful casualties, was obliged to quit Iraq without achieving its purposes.

... I do not think the US armed forces will achieve their military purposes in Iraq. The American soldiers who have become pessimistic about the campaign they are waging are probably right. But in a long historic view, Microsoft and DreamWorks could achieve a dominance of Baghdad and a power over Iraqi society that eludes George Bush and his armoured legions.
It's a curious proposition. The thesis is that we should hope that Iraq really is Vietnam -- where we lost the military conflict but won a sort of strategic semi-victory. Small consolation to the wounded.

I think Chechnya may be the better comparison. We'll see how things go after the retreat. Militarily, however, we have lost.

Managing complexity: the lifelong data repository

Faughnan's Tech: Yahoo! Desktop (X1) is the new champion

In my tech notes blog I posted a review of X1. I've been using it for a while. It needs work, it's not as polished in some ways as Lookout, but it's pretty good. We have a lot further to go, however.

Lookout works well because Outlook content has lots of metadata and context. Email has dates, links to people, descriptive text surrounding attachments, etc. Email tends by nature to provide focal chunks of context. In contrast Google works well on the web because web pages have links that can be weighted, a robust form of metadata. Heck, web pages even have descriptive titles.

By comparison today's desktop file store is a barren desert. There's very little to go on to help search tools work. The most useful tool is probably the folder name -- pretty meager fare.

This wasn't such a big deal when we managed a few MBs of data. But what of the dataset that grows over a decade? That repository may be vast. Unfortunately, due to lack of supporting metadata, it's easier to find documents on the web than it is to find them on the desktop.

The good news is there are no lack of ideas to make things better. Heck, even as one uses today's software to search for items, one can be layering metadata atop the file system. If I do a search and open a file, then it's clearly more valuable and might earn a higher value score. The list of ways to assign value is very long; it will be fun to see how they get instantiated. Some of those ideas are 50 years old (Vannevar Bush described most of them in 1945 or so), I doubt any of them are truly new -- but the implementations will bring surprises.

PS. This is an old interest of mine.

Update 2/21/05: I've taken to appending the string [_s#] where # is 1-5 to the end of filenames to provide some crude metadata value scores. Full text search programs that index file names can then be filtered by the suffix value.

What Fates Impose: The 2004 annual lecture to the British Academy

British Academy - King: "What Fates Impose"

Mervyn King is the Governor of the Bank of England. He presented the annual lecture of the British Academy at the end of 2004. The British Academy is what is technically known as a daunting audience. Governor King, with, I assume, help from his staff, rose to the challenge. His lecture on risk and probability is a classic, with footnotes. He chooses as his working example pension reform -- a topic of some interest in America.

Everyone should read this, particularly decision makers. It is, alas, wasted on our current government.
... Whether in policies for health or transport, matters monetary or meteorological, in times of war and peace, decisions should reflect a balance of risks. Yet policy debates continue to be permeated by the ‘illusion of certainty’.

The reluctance to give adequate prominence to risks may reflect the fact that many of us feel uncomfortable with formal statements of probabilities. Probability theory is relatively recent in our intellectual history, dating back to a flowering of ideas around 1660 from Pascal, Leibniz, Huygens and others. Despite advances since then, statistical thinking remains prone to confusion and is often avoided. Television weather forecasts in Britain rarely employ the language of probabilities used by the meteorologists themselves. Professor Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin has demonstrated in a series of studies how poorly doctors, lawyers, and other professionals understand probabilities. And despite Seneca’s maxim that ‘luck never made a man wise’, airport bookshops stock titles on how to become rich by successful investors and entrepreneurs who are confident that their success is the result of outstanding business acumen rather than good fortune.

Many of these misunderstandings stem from a failure to grasp basic statistical concepts. Juries are not informed that, in a country of our size, multiple cot deaths are likely to occur several times a year, that several people will have DNA that matches the incriminating sample, and that in themselves these coincidences are not evidence of guilt. Bookshops do not stock such titles as ‘I would have been a billionaire if only Lady Luck had been faithful’...

...I want to illustrate those two propositions by considering as an example public policy about pensions -- an issue, you might think, of particular interest to many of us in the Academy. When the Pensions Commission reported in October, it highlighted the financing gap in our present system. But we must not lose sight of the equally important question of what are the risks incurred in pension provision and how should they be shared among us? It is not my intention to make any recommendations. That is for the Pensions Commission next year, and the Government in its turn. But I do want to show that risk is at the heart of the issue...

...As Bertrand Russell said, ‘The whole problem of the world is that
fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts’...
If only, if only .... Ohio. Florida.

Another big thing the media missed

The New York Times > National > Bush Nominee Wants States to Get Medicaid Flexibility

An astounding statement from the former secretary of health and human services.
Mr. Leavitt said he did not believe that the secretary should have the power to negotiate with drug manufacturers to secure lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries.

The current secretary of health and human services, Tommy G. Thompson, said last month that he wished Congress had given him that power. But Mr. Leavitt said that a healthy, competitive market was a better way to hold down drug prices.
I'm not surprised Mr. Leavitt does not want a federal formulary. A great deal of money was spent to prevent such a thing.

I'm very surprised Tommy Thompson did want one, or at least that he wanted the power to negotiate for best prices on a national level. There was not a whisper of this while he was in power. Was he silent out of fear or loyalty to Bush? Why didn't the media realize how big this alleged statement of his was? We're only talking about hundreds of billions of dollars.

What's wrong with American journalism?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Google oddities: my "top ranked" page

Home Video Editing

I'm shopping for a digital video camera. So I do a Google search on "pass-through", "video" and "quality".

A page I started in 2000, advised by my brother Brian, came out #1. Ok, so it was a good start and it did attract some email, but there's no way it's a terribly useful web page. I aborted the project in mid-2000 because I decided the software/hardware solutions weren't there yet - especially on the PC platform. Instead I went into digital photography in a big way.

Now, with iLife 2005 and a G5 iMac (pending) I think I can do what I want in a semi-tolerable way. I have to move anyway, my analog tapes are getting old. (Actually I really want the 2006 G6 dual-core dual CPU Mac with 4GB of RAM, but I can probably start now.)

So maybe I'll update the page ... eventually.

At last, the obvious begins to be discussed. It's the technology stupid.

INTEL DUMP - Be afraid... but be prepared

From an Atlantic article by a counterterrorism guru
... This 'war' will never be over, unlike the Civil War, the Vietnam War, or even the current war in Iraq. There will always be a threat that someone will blow up an airplane or a building or a container ship. Technology has changed the balance of power; it is easier for even a handful of people to threaten a community than it is for the community to defend itself. But while we have to live in danger, we don't have to live in fear...
I wrote this in October of 2001:
Over the past century technology has increased destructive power more than it has increased defensive capabilities. Technology, including communication networks and knowledge distribution, has brought to individuals and small groups (micro-powers) the capabilities once limited to nation states; the cost of acquiring and deploying nuclear and particularly biological weapons has decreased substantially. It has increased the harm potential of individuals and small groups. I sometimes call this the AIM problem, a pseudo-acronym for Affordable, Anonymous Instruments of Mass Murder. Our technologies are lowering the cost of the havoc, and the new weapons can be deployed anonymously. Anonymity means invulnerability. We cannot be anonymous, so we are are at an enormous disadvantage -- eventually contending against an invulnerable opponent with irresistible weapons.

John Kerry's petition: replace Rumsfeld

:: Donald Rumsfeld Must Resign ::

Of course I'll sign as a gesture of support to John Kerry. I feel I owe him for fighting hard against terrible odds (a special thanks to for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band). I'm sure Bush will pay a lot of attention ...

King George

BBC NEWS | Americas | Kings in the White House

Stephen R Graubard, a historian, has a book out claiming that George Bush has the unchecked power of a king, and behaves like aone. I'm not sure that's so different from the CEO-president role Bush's admirers claim; even though CEOs of public companies in theory report to a board, in practice the board is often subverted.

It will be interesting to watch the succession. Will King George continue to reign even behind the scenes? (Assuming he does officially retire 4 years from now ...)

How you know you're middle-aged

jfaughnan's Yahoo! Profile

This is amusing. I have a profile on Yahoo that I set up years ago when I was running some Yahoo groups and needed a profile for the group. I never gave it much thought. Of course it persists, and it has my age as 42 (true way back then). Serendipitously I came across it today. When I view it I see the inevitable ads for personals (I guess that's why Yahoo does these directories -- duhhh). Only, unlike the usual personals ads one sees on the net, the models featured are clearly over 35. Maybe it's chance, but since Yahoo knows my age, there's no reason they couldn't target the ads a bit.

How sweet. I think I'll adjust my age to 85 and see what happens.

Update: At age 85 the "personals" go away. Instead I get some very generic ads that look like they're pretty low rent.

Seymour Hersh: The Next Wars

The New Yorker: Fact

Another Hersh article worth reading. If he didn't have such a good track record, and if Bush were not brutally wilfull, this would not be believable. As it is, I trust Hersh more than Bush. Where, though, will we get all the soldiers?

Monday, January 17, 2005

My favorite "A person of tolerance and diversity keyed my car."

This is indeed a well titled site. "Authentic GOP" indeed.

The Darwinian Society

Ownership Society
..An ownership society values responsibility, liberty, and property. Individuals are empowered by freeing them from dependence on government handouts and making them owners instead, in control of their own lives and destinies. In the ownership society, patients control their own health care, parents control their own children's education, and workers control their retirement savings.

Darwin was an outstanding scientist and an exceptional human being. Alas, his name is not his own any more. So, with apologies to the great scientist and humanist, let us declare that the "ownership society" is social Darwinism in the Spenglerian tradition.

In social Darwinism "excellence" is rewarded by wealth (theoretically by progeny, but that part didn't work out). Weakness is punished -- by misery and death.

The Ownership Society is about rewarding Strength and Excellence. And, conversely, by elimination of the weak.

That's the agenda underlying "social security reform". Those who are strong will do well, those who misjudge, who are frail, who are weak, will perish. Unless, of course, they have wealthy families who will save them.

Only the poor and the weak will truly perish.

Sound familiar?

I don't like the idea of living in that world. I don't want my children to grow up in that world. The saddest irony of all is that Bush was elected, in part, by those who were too "weak" to see through his agenda. They and their children will pay the price -- unless, by some miracle, we turn this back.

NYT Magazine has an in depth review of social security

The New York Times > Magazine > A Question of Numbers
... Overall, the [Bush] plan is gentler toward lower-income seniors than wealthier ones, but all seniors would be poorer than under present law. In other words, absent a sustained roaring bull market, the private accounts would not fully make up for the benefit cuts. According to the C.B.O.'s analysis, which, like all projections of this sort should be regarded as a best guess, a low-income retiree in 2035 would receive annual benefits (including the annuity from his private account) of $9,100, down from the $9,500 forecast under the present program. A median retiree would be cut severely, from $17,700 to $13,600. On the plus side, budget deficits would be lower in the future. But, because of the lengthy transition, that ''future'' is exceedingly remote -some 50 years down the road. In the interim, deficits would rise by up to 1.5 percent of the country's G.D.P....
An in depth review. How many people know that since 1997 the insolvency date has moved back 13 years -- because lifespans have not extended as much as expected. The obesity epidemic perhaps?

This detailed article is robust evidence that this is a battle about ideology, not demographics and not economics. Social security is fundamentally "socialist" (progressive) -- those that have give to those that have not. It's easy to see why extremists, like Bush, want to eliminate it.

Among all the details and surprises in the article, one impression stands above all. The politicians who did this, and the people who worked for and with them, tower over our current leadership. It's not that America was any better; the historical context is very familiar. Bile spouting morons on the radio, whacko extremists proposing radical revisions, the dark specter of fascism off to one side -- heck, the American people were then as they are now. What puzzles me is why the politicians, and the bureaucrats who built social security, were so superior to what we now endure.

PS. Social security is mandated by law to do 75 year predictions. This is pathetically funny. We may not even be human in 75 years.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

My home town paper shows some spine ... callling a lie a lie

Editorial: Social Security/Blacks get more, not less, from it
Of all the lies -- let's call them by their right name -- that the Bush administration is spreading about Social Security, none is as vile as the canard Bush repeated last Tuesday, when he said, 'African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the [Social Security] system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed.' That is an entirely phony assertion; it has been debunked by the Social Security Administration, by the Government Accountability Office and by other experts. Bush and those around him know that. For them to repeat what they know to be a blatant lie is despicable fear-mongering.

Wow. The Strib is usually as dull as dishwater. Someone must have put something in the water coolers. Good for them.

A just sentence for Graner -- but an unjust world

Graner Gets 10 Years for Abuse at Abu Ghraib (
On the night shift at One-Alpha, Graner said, the Army assigned two low-ranking reservists to guard 80 to 100 prisoners, ranging from common criminals to veteran terrorists. He showed a picture of the guards' cellblock 'office' -- a closet-size space surrounded by sandbags to protect against the guns and grenades that he said were regularly smuggled to the prisoners.

Graner said the guards were told to 'terrorize' the inmates to make it easier for CIA agents and military intelligence officers to question them.

'They would say . . . give this prisoner 30 seconds to eat,' Graner recalled. 'It's pitch black in your cell. I shine a light in your eyes to blind you. I haul you out, naked, and I hand you the [packed lunch] and the whole time you're trying to eat I'm screaming at you. Then time's up. We gave you the opportunity to eat. You just didn't eat.' ...

...Graner named a series of Army officers, ranking from lieutenant to full colonel, who gave orders, he said, to mistreat prisoners -- particularly those described as "intelligence holds" who were believed to have information about the Iraqi insurgency that grew up after the fall of Baghdad. Those he named included Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade in charge of the prison; Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, the senior Military Intelligence officer; Capt. Donald J. Reese, commander of the 372nd Military Police Company; Capt. Christopher Brinson, platoon leader; and 1st Lt. Lewis Raeder, platoon leader in the military police command.
Graner deserves his 10 years. So, probably, do the people he's named. Problem is, so does Rumsfeld. And maybe, so does Bush.

Confusion about medical errors, sigh

A Health Care Cost Shift (
'So we're spending a third more than any advanced industrial country, but half of that money is wasted and people are hurting,' Darling said. 'The employer has to pay more just to undo the damage done' by medical mistakes.

There's no evidence that the US has a higher medical error rate than other wealthy nations. In fact, based on my experience in Canada, our error rates are probably about the same or a bit lower than elsewhere. (It's not that US physicians are more virtuous or better trained, it's that US consumers are more aggressive and have more lawyers.)

This is not a chance bit of confusion. It's a deliberate smokescreen by the insurance companies and payors. Of course journalists at the Washington Post are readily bamboozled by this kind of thing.

We know from studies in the 80s and 90s why our costs are higher than other nations. We use more subspecialists, we pay far more in overhead to payors and insurance companies, we're more aggressive in neonatal and end-of-life care, we pay our physicians and nurses more than other nations. (Note we pay our CEOs far, far more than other nations). It's no great mystery.

Reducing medical errors might reduce costs -- it depends how you define "error". In the popular sense of a "mistake that causes harm" reducing those might increase costs! Most the mortality from medical errors comes near the end of life, to vulnerable people who can't survive commonplace mistakes. Since most of those people would die even with perfect care, medical errors are reducing costs. (This is a common mistake about medical errors btw. The years-of-life-lost to medical error are far less than years-of-life-lost to other causes.)

If by "error" one means duplicate testing, "unnecessary care" (MRI for sore shoulder -- one man's luxury is another's necessity), etc. then indeed reducing these "medical errors" would reduce costs. That's in part what "managed care" is about. It's not what Leape et al were writing about in the 80s and 90s when they made their mark.

Of course there's no way any journalist will get this straight. They have been betrayed by their publishers/editors and are massively outgunned by the insurance/payor industry.

Yahoo squashes Google -- again

Yahoo! Search Results for "fermi paradox" "intelligent design"

I'd just posted on the results of a Google search on "fermi paradox" and "intelligent design". That search didn't come up with much, hence my post.

Then it occurred to me to try Yahoo Search. I already know that Yahoo does a far better job of indexing Blogspot (Blogger) than Google does (Google owns Blogger/Blogspot).

Sure enough, the same search in Yahoo finds many more posts. These aren't just "noise" results, the Yahoo search is simply much better than the Google search.

So it does look like the intelligent design folks are starting to tenderly inch their way towards the Fermi Paradox. Tenderly, because the ones doing this are smart enough to see the perils of this line of inquiry. My old Fermi Paradox page is still the top result, but not for long I'd guess. This should become interesting in a year or two.

In the meantime, Yahoo is a better search engine than Google! It's not really much of a contest. It will take me a while to switch over -- Google is so embedded in my workflow. Fortunately Firefox can be readily reconfigured, though Safari is stuck on Google.

I like Google as a company and an innovator, but they're clearly struggling in their core domain. If Yahoo can beat them, then so can Microsoft.

I wonder why Yahoo doesn't get more credit for their new search excellence? Yahoo is still dumb in a lot of things (their map/address book/directions integration has been broken for years) and often fails to deliver (of course my needs & criteria are not typical) -- but they are showing flickers of excellence. Maybe they'll join Amazon and Google in the top ranks of the innovators this year ...

Update 1/16: It occurs to me that Yahoo has a significant advantage over Google. It's the same advantage OS/X has over XP. Google is the dominant player, so the bad guys target their hacks against Google's search algorithms. It's a constant war, and it often means Google has to use suboptimal algorithms to thwart easy attacks. Yahoo isn't a dominant player, so they can use the algorithms Google has passed over or has abandoned (once Google abandons them, so do the bad guys, they need to track Google).

Of course if Yahoo's current search excellence gets noted, they'll be targeted too. The costs of targeting both Yahoo and Google are high however, indeed techniques that work for one may fail for another.

If this sounds familiar to you, then perhaps you're a life sciences person. This is the same kind of struggle one sees in ecosystems, and in antimicrobial therapy. HIV multidrug therapy works because HIV can readily adapt to one drug, but that adaptation makes it more vulnerable to another.

Again I wonder, how do the anti-evolution folks make any sense of the universe around them?

Why don't the creationists chase after the Fermi Paradox?

Google Search: "fermi paradox" "intelligent design"

I mentioned in a previous post that I think the creationists/intelligent design folks are barking up the wrong tree. They attack natural selection, a very robust model with wide applicability. Natural selection offends them because it makes man a happenstance -- rather than a deliberate creation of a God who has made Man "in his own image". (Of course any decent theologian could find a vast number of workarounds to this problem, but the anti-Darwinists are weak theologians.)

They ought instead to be chasing physics. In particular, the Fermi Paradox is a uniquely interesting argument for intelligent design. Since I'm not a creationist by inclination it took me a few months of puzzling about the Fermi Paradox to come to the (duh) obvious realization that one of the explanations is that we exist in a created environment -- an environment designed for rare or singular sentience.

My favored explanation for our solitude is still the 'Singularity' thesis -- that all sentiences experience Singularities and none go traveling afterwards. To be fair, however, I have to admit that "intelligent design" feels like it's in the same range of implausibility. So why don't the creationists go after the Fermi Paradox?

I did a google search to see if this theme was emerging in creationist discussions. My search returned only a handful of pages, of which my old SETI Fail/Fermi Paradox page was at the top (a peculiar and fleeting glory -- for a year or two my old skijoring page led that search).

I do hope they'll chase this one down. It's much more interesting than a bizarre ideological attack on Darwin.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Preventing child abduction

Schneier on Security: Fingerprinting Students
...Child kidnapping is a serious problem in the U.S.; the odds of a child being abducted by a family member are one in 340 and by a non-family member are 1 in 1200 (per year)...

Schneier, a security guru, points out that fingerprinting children, or attaching RFID tags to them, is a waste of energy and, by creating an illusion of action, is actually harmful.

I was surprised by the 1/1200 risk for non-family abduction. This is about 10 times higher than I'd have guessed. I'm skeptical. If it were so high, I should have a personal acquaintance who's suffered a child abduction. It's not the kind of thing that people stay quiet about. Still, I don't want my wife to hear this number ...

Darkness in America. Who cares?

The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > Book Review: Atrocities in Plain Sight
...Whatever happened was exposed in a free society; the military itself began the first inquiries. You can now read, in these pages, previously secret memorandums from sources as high as the attorney general all the way down to prisoner testimony to the International Committee of the Red Cross. I confess to finding this transparency both comforting and chilling, like the photographs that kick-started the public's awareness of the affair. Comforting because only a country that is still free would allow such airing of blood-soaked laundry. Chilling because the crimes committed strike so deeply at the core of what a free country is supposed to mean. The scandal of Abu Ghraib is therefore a sign of both freedom's endurance in America and also, in certain dark corners, its demise.

Blah, blah blah. Torture. Deception. Betrayal. Stupidity. Cruelty. Who cares? Freedom was a heavy burden, we're better off without it.

Venezuala is the future Arts & Entertainment | Thong warfare and a kidnapped beauty queen

Is Venezuala our future? It reads like the majority of modern dystopian science fiction. A bright, spoiled and corrupt elite, a dull, corrupt and spoiled dictatorship, and the faceless masses below. Actually, it's mostly Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil'. Come to think of it, isn't Brazil nearby? (joke)

Read it.

This is one of our possible futures.

A contrarian view of dog training

Train in Vain - Why dog training fails. By Jon Katz
...Training also requires that we understand the animal nature of dogs, their love of rules, ritual, food, and reinforcement. Let dogs be dogs—it's an honorable thing to be. Because many owners prefer to view their pets as soul mates, therapists, ethereal beings, even mind-readers, we give them too much credit, make them too complex, muddying our communications.

Seeing dogs as piteous, abused, and pathetic creatures doesn't help either. Many dogs are mistreated, including my elder border collie. But I never refer to Orson as an abused dog. I don't want to see him that way, and when it comes to training, it doesn't really matter. I treat him well, love him wildly, train him carefully, and have high expectations. We will work until we get there; he deserves no less. If one more well-meaning owner tries to explain that his dog is biting my ankle or attacking my dog because 'he was terribly abused,' I might go buy some mace. And not for the dog....

Jon Katz loves dogs. Not just his dogs, but dogs as a people (species is not quite the right word.)

This is a good essay on training. It reminds me of the many years I spent with Molly at Marly's Canine College (which was of the "old school", she regarded me somewhat affectionately as a soft-hearted wimp). At Marly's I saw what Katz writes. Every dog needs his or her own approach to training. Ever trainer needs his or her own approach. The two compromise. Mostly it takes a long long time for most dogs and trainers.

Molly was a bit high strung, and jealous of our attention. She did very well with our kids even in her middle-age, but that was a result of a lot of work from us and her. There are resemblances between the lessons Katz outlines and those I've learned from our children.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Who will save American journalism?

The New York Times > Arts > Frank Rich: All the President's Newsmen
ONE day after the co-host Tucker Carlson made his farewell appearance and two days after the new president of CNN made the admirable announcement that he would soon kill the program altogether, a television news miracle occurred: even as it staggered through its last nine yards to the network guillotine, 'Crossfire' came up with the worst show in its fabled 23-year history....

I do not mean to minimize the CBS News debacle and other recent journalistic outrages at The New York Times and elsewhere. But the Jan. 7 edition of CNN's signature show can stand as an exceptionally ripe paradigm of what is happening to the free flow of information in a country in which a timid news media, the fierce (and often covert) Bush administration propaganda machine, lax and sometimes corrupt journalistic practices, and a celebrity culture all combine to keep the public at many more than six degrees of separation from anything that might resemble the truth...

DeLong returns often to this theme. The current ethos of American journalism is a mirror of NPR's talk shows. Present the words of one side, then present the words of another side. Pay no attention to who contradicts reality -- reality is constructed, hence it cannot be objectively defined and it cannot be defended.

We are suffering terribly for the sins of the deconstructionists.

Who will resurrect journalism in America? Not the New York Times! Not the Washington Post. Who?

The National Intelligence Council predicts the future

NIC - Mapping the Global Future: Executive Summary

The site is unreachable at the moment, but it should slow down in a day or two.

Huygens has landed

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Titan data from Huygens arrives

We disturbed the gods today.

Apple revenues: the missed story | 01/13/2005 | Apple unveils iProfit Maxi

Silicon Valley's newspaper notes what most miss on the Apple story: "More astonishing were Apple's overall computer sales, which surged to $1.6 billion, a 26 percent improvement from a year ago."

Conventional wisdom in some quarters has been that Apple may succeed with music, but that their computer business is doomed. The real story of this year's annual report is that their computer sales are surging -- even while everyone else is hurting.

Social Security assault: It's ideology, not demography and not economics

Shrillblog: WaPo Goes WaCkoFrom the WaPo:
... In short, Social Security is not facing a financial crisis at all. It is facing a need for some distinctly sub-cataclysmic adjustments over the next few decades that would increase its revenue and diminish its benefits.

Politically, however, Social Security is facing the gravest crisis it has ever known. For the first time in its history, it is confronted by a president, and just possibly by a working congressional majority, who are opposed to the program on ideological grounds, who view the New Deal as a repealable aberration in U.S. history, who would have voted against establishing the program had they been in Congress in 1935.
It's the same story with the funding of education in Minnesota. Pawlenty's attack is not about economics, or even about outcomes, it's about ideology. It's all about the foundations of the Republican/Libertarian agenda:

1. Eliminate progressivity in taxation and services.
2. Let the wolves take the weak.

We can have good and important discussions about both of these principals. We can't, however, start those discussion until American journalists find their way out of the deep, dark, black hole they're wandering in. Without journalists cutting through the fog of clever nonsense, Pawlenty and Bush, each in their sphere, will win their covert war.

I don't mind losing a war of ideology that's openly fought. If those two principals are the new core of our society, I can handle that (mostly by looking for refuge and moving!). It really annoys me to never have a chance to fight at all.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Be the Best You can Be: Pawlenty vs the american dream

Be the Best You can Be: Pawlenty's educational plan -- killing the american dream

He shows his colors.

Friedman's seven rules of mideast politics

The New York Times > Opinion > Friedman: Ballots and Boycotts
Rule 1 Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over by the time the next morning's paper is out.

Rule 2 Never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person who is supposed to be doing the conceding. If I had a dime for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasir Arafat, I would be a wealthy man today.

Rule 3 The Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure that they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.

Rule 4 In the Middle East, if you can't explain something with a conspiracy theory, then don't try to explain it at all - people there won't believe it.

Rule 5 In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away - unless the coast is completely clear.

Rule 6 The most oft-used phrase of Mideast moderates is: 'We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it's too late. It's all your fault for being so stupid.'

Rule 7 In Middle East politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, 'How can I compromise?' And the minute it becomes strong, it will tell you, 'Why should I compromise?'

Rule 8 What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in Arabic, in Hebrew or in any other local language. Anything said in English doesn't count.

I think these are quite interesting. Best he's done in a while. For what it's worth, I agree that it's not worth postponing the Iraq elections unless the Shia's ask for a delay.

Titanic Friday

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: Under the Moon

Our lander flies into Titan tomorrow.

Keep your toes and fingers crossed.

Never have we reached so far.

Least competent defense attorney

Boing Boing: Quote of the day: pyramid scheme
'Don't cheerleaders all over America make pyramids every day? It's not torture.' -- Defense lawyer Guy Womack speaking about alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, during the trial of accused military personnel.

Womack may not be a dumb as he sounds. Maybe this is a brilliant strategy to enable a future appeal on the grounds that the defense counsel was incompetent.

Global warming -- Now you can panic

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Why the Sun seems to be 'dimming'

Here's the thesis:

1. Particulate matter (soot, etc) is changing cloud behavior much more than we'd thought. This results in increasing the earth's albedo (reflectivity -- so can satellites we see the moon brightening over the past few years? probably no baseline ...) and cooling the earth.
2. Changes in clouds are altering rainfall, may have been responsible for recent African droughts, and may cause drought in China.
3. The earth is not getting cooler, however. It's getting warmer. But, from #1, there's less sunlight reaching the earth. SOOO ... the greenhouse effect is much stronger than we though. That means the extreme global warming models are more plausible.
4. We're reducing particulate pollution even as we increase greenhouse gas pollution. That means less of #1 and #2, but it means much more of #3.


We'll see. Sounds like this thesis is only now gathering steam. It may yet be shot down. If it isn't ...

Protection rackets hit gambling sites

BBC NEWS | Technology | Rings of steel combat net attacks

Gangs demand protection money from gambling sites. If they don't pay up, they are hit with a denial of service attack.

The interesting part is that they don't seem to target legitimate businesses (Amazon), or at least the journalist didn't mention that. I suspect this is simple logic. Amazon is unlikely to pay up, and they're a much tougher target. It's the same reason physical world protection rackets don't target Walmart.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

HubMed: Syndicating PubMed Search results


This was featured in a recent Blogline's newsletter. It turns a PubMed query into an RSS/Atom source. Similar to what I used to do with embedding PubMed queries into URL, but now conveniently integrated with one's RSS reader. It's of particular interest to researchers who want to monitor developments in an active area.

It looks like an experiment from the NIH/NCBI.

PS. I go way back in this area. I was an early usability tester for Grateful Med, a precursor to PubMed. (In some regards I prefer Grateful Med to PubMed, but I have a historic bias. Rosemary Woodsmall was the Product Manager for that effort.)

Dave Barry defines a sense of humor

Dave Barry - Elegy for the humorist. By Bryan Curtis

Dave Barry once defined "a sense of humor":
A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge.

How dangerous are cell phones?

Times Online - Britain
Professor Sir William Stewart, chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), said that evidence of potentially harmful effects had become more persuasive over the past five years.

The news prompted calls for phones to carry health warnings and panic in parts of the industry. One British manufacturer immediately suspended a model aimed at four to eight-year-olds.

The number of mobiles in Britain has doubled to 50 million since the first government-sponsored report in 2000. The number of children aged between five and nine using mobiles has increased fivefold in the same period.

In his report, Mobile Phones and Health, Sir William said that four studies have caused concern. One ten-year study in Sweden suggests that heavy mobile users are more prone to non-malignant tumours in the ear and brain while a Dutch study had suggested changes in cognitive function. A German study has hinted at an increase in cancer around base stations, while a project supported by the EU had shown evidence of cell damage from fields typical of those of mobile phones.

“All of these studies have yet to be replicated and are of varying quality but we can’t dismiss them out of hand,” Sir William said. If there was a health risk — which remained unproven — it would have a greater effect on the young than on older people, he added.

I'm betting there won't turn out to be much if any effect, but I'm definitely interested. I expect there'll be a genuine review article in JAMA or NEJM soon.

Predictions from 1961: looking to 2000

Will Life Be Worth Living In 2,000AD?

A quite funny list of predictions. The ads on the left, however, suggest it was probably not the most serious of exercises. More like the National Enquirer predicting life in 2040. Intriguingly, many of the IT predictions weren't that far off. Extrapolation around cars and robots however went very wrong.
...Doors will open automatically, and clothing will be put away by remote control. The heating and cooling systems will be built into the furniture and rugs.

You'll have a home control room - an electronics centre, where messages will be recorded when you're away from home. This will play back when you return, and also give you up-to-the minute world news, and transcribe your latest mail.

You'll have wall-to-wall global TV, an indoor swimming pool, TV-telephones and room-to-room TV. Press a button and you can change the décor of a room.

The status symbol of the year 2000 will be the home computer help, which will help mother tend the children, cook the meals and issue reminders of appointments.

Cooking will be in solar ovens with microwave controls. Garbage will be refrigerated, and pressed into fertiliser pellets.

Food won't be very different from 1961, but there will be a few new dishes - instant bread, sugar made from sawdust, foodless foods (minus nutritional properties), juice powders and synthetic tea and cocoa. Energy will come in tablet form.

At work, Dad will operate on a 24 hour week. The office will be air-conditioned with stimulating scents and extra oxygen - to give a physical and psychological lift.

Mail and newspapers will be reproduced instantly anywhere in the world by facsimile.

There will be machines doing the work of clerks, shorthand writers and translators. Machines will "talk" to each other.

It will be the age of press-button transportation. Rocket belts will increase a man's stride to 30 feet, and bus-type helicopters will travel along crowded air skyways. There will be moving plastic-covered pavements, individual hoppicopters, and 200 m.p.h. monorail trains operating in all large cities.

The family car will be soundless, vibrationless and self-propelled thermostatically. The engine will be smaller than a typewriter. Cars will travel overland on an 18 inch air cushion.

Railways will have one central dispatcher, who will control a whole nation's traffic. Jet trains will be guided by electronic brains...

What the heck is Bush saying here?

President outlines role of his faith - The Washington Times: Nation/Politics - January 12, 2005
I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you're not equally as patriotic if you're not a religious person,' Mr. Bush said. 'I've never said that. I've never acted like that. I think that's just the way it is.

What the heck is he saying? God, how anyone could vote for that guy ...

spare the death squad, spoil the liberation. Giblet speaks

Fafblog! the whole worlds only source for Fafblog.

We must destroy them to save them.

The incurable disorder: Obesity

Faughnan's Notes: the JAMA Atkins vs. Ornish vs Zone vs. Weight Watcher Diet Study Post

I posted on this JAMA study a few when the media covered it earlier this month. I updated my post after reading the article. Follow the link to see the original and the updated comments.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The anti-science (anti-Darwin) forces will win News | The new Monkey Trial (Michelle Goldberg)
...It's not hard for creationists to convince the public that the evidence for evolution is weak. Scientists accept evolution as something very close to fact, but Americans never have. In a November 2004 CBS News/New York Times poll, about evolution, 55 percent of the respondents said that God created humans in their present form. Twenty-seven percent believed in the evolution of man guided by God, and 13 percent believed in evolution without God.

So it should come as no surprise that the majority of Americans -- 65 percent, according to the poll cited above -- favor teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. Creationism is the perfect culture-war issue because it inevitably pits majorities in local communities against interloping lawyers and scientists. In a country gripped by right-wing populism, it's not hard to stoke resentment against scientists who have the gall to think that they know more than everybody else.

This is a long article, but overall not a bad overview. The author unfortunately omits mention of the most important anti-science figure in America. George Bush has made it clear, even back when he was first running against Gore, that he supports the anti-evolutionary forces.

I don't think Goldberg was clear enough on the misuse of the concept of "intelligent design". Intelligent design, in the broad sense, does not conflict with the idea of evolution. After all, God could have designed the universe and much else besides, and yet all of our biology might be a result of natural selection. Of course the "intelligent design" persons are not interested in this idea. They believe that God created them explicitly, in this case the "design" refers not to the design of creation, but to the "design" of humanity. I suspect, some of the ID folk would be willing to ascribe everything but humanity to be operations of natural selection. It's all about the primacy of humanity's role in the universe, and the belief that we were built in God's image.

Goldberg also fails to mention the most interesting and persistent fallacy in the thinking of the ID cult -- the fallacy of purpose. Their mathematical arguments against evolution are generally designed to show that if we were to rerun earth's history, the probability of developing anything like us is very low.

Think about it. That's only a quandry if one assumes, as they do, that we're the purpose or point of universal history. It's like someone who flips a coin a trillion times, then declares there must be a God because there's no way someone could flip another coin a trillion times and get exactly the same sequence of heads and tails.

Goldberg does mention that this is fundamentally not merely a crusade against Darwin, the positions taken by the creationist forces are fundamentally assaults on the foundations of science, attacks against reason, deduction and empiricism.

Alas, all of these arguments matter not at all.

The key paragraph, which I've excerpted above, is towards the end. 65% is a strong majority. Emphasis on strong -- among those group there are many for whom this is a "hell or heaven" issue. Weighting for this influence, it seems an overwhelming majority.

At various times in our nation's history we've shifted between a "rationalist" and a "romantic" perspective. Now the latter group is ascendant. The romantics feel that science is, like politics or the arts, a matter of opinion. This romantic group, oddly enough, includes both social conservatives and left wing intellectual deconstructionist heathens. Irrationality makes strange bedfellows.

There's not that much to be done. China may have to carry the torch of Rationalism for the 21st century. I can only hope they take good care of it. The rest of us will have to hunt around for scattered refuges of Reason in the US and resign ourselves to private schools (vouchers anyone?).

There is one final irony. The more layperson's cosmology I read, the more inclined I am to consider that some entity may have designed our universe [1]. So I think there's an interesting discussion about Intelligent Design in the cosmology/physics department. The Creationists are just barking up the wrong tree. They should be hounding physicists, not biologists.

[1] There are interesting distinctions between a created physical universe and the "our reality is a simulation" (created virtual universe), but the two have more in common than not.