Intransigent Design

A discussion swirled up this week on 3 Quarks Daily over an item about scientists Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer withdrawing from after the site began including intelligent design creationists in its Science Saturday segments. The discussion was generally supportive of the scientists’ decision not to support a platform that equates science with religion, with the exception of laudably non-anonymous Luke Lea of My thoughts were as follows:

The scientific method can be applied to the study of anything that can be defined. It can’t be applied to concepts whose definitions are constantly shifted around for the purpose of preventing science from examining them. We need to bear in mind the difference between a concept and a word game.

To present Intelligent Design uncritically — and especially to give it equal time — does a disservice to the public by equating it with science. I’m reminded of Dara O’Brian’s skit about giving equal time to people who don’t believe in outer space when NASA launches a satellite. Unless the Intelligent Design hypothesis can evolve into a falsifiable theory, it’ll remain what it always has been — a belief, comforting in its simplicity, but of precisely one cent less real world value than a lucky penny.

Mr. Lea responds, “Space toast: Space is an empirical concept, design isn’t.”

Luke: “Design” indicates a specific set of actions in 4-dimensional space. When I cut a board to size, I have designed it. When I measure once and cut wrong (sadly common), is the board still designed? What about if I find a use for it later? Indeed what if I find a board on the pile that’s just the right size to begin with; is it “designed” for the purpose? While we’re at is, how come trees are soft enough to be cut with metal blades, but hard enough to hold up an entire building?

It’s a fun word game, but it’s meaningless. The appeal of Intelligent Design creationism hinges on the common meaning of the word “design,” but its philosophical assertions hinge on an invented cosmic special definition of the same word.

Design is a perfectly empirical concept, when one settles on a specific definition. It’s only when ID’s assertions come under attack that its proponents get “intelligent” and begin playing a definitional shell game.

And just to sate my own curiosity, is toast an empirical concept too?

Who Was John Galt?

At the bookstore, I’m always amused that not one of the many people who ask for Ayn Rand’s books seem to have investigated how to pronounce her name. America has just come out of the largest-scale test of Randism since Hoover, with similar results. Hers is the Golden Age comic book of political philosophies: a glimpse into a shiny world without moral grayscales. It’s fun, at a certain age, but most of us grow out of it.

For those who simply can’t stomach complex political philosophies, this is a very frightening time, and its reflected in book sales. “How much is Common Sense?” a customer asked the other day, holding up a copy of Glenn Beck’s book. “It’s right there on the back, sir,” replied my manager.

Ignore Me Please

  • India: Many of the most beautiful women in the world. Young men sexually obsessed with their mothers and overweight middle-aged aunts.
  • Japan: Many of the most beautiful women in the world. Feelings of sexual inadequacy widespead enough to spawn the harem genre and a nationwide Lolita complex.
  • Brazil: Many of the most beautiful women in the world. Whole lot of fucking going on.


  • India: 0
  • Japan: 0
  • Brazil: 1

Darwin in Love

“In September of 1837, Darwin suffered palpitations of the heart, which would plague him throughout his life. Recuperating in his home town of Shrewsbury, he was introduced to his cousin, Emma Wedgewood, who mended his heart, and then won it. Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgewood fell in love, but ever a man of method, he drew up two lists. One called ‘Marry,’ one called ‘Not Marry,’ and he worked through the pros and cons. He concluded that ‘A constant companion and a friend in old age’ outweighed ‘Less money for books’ and ‘The terrible loss of time.'”

–Melvyn Bragg, from “In Our Time: Darwin, Part 2” on BBC Radio 4

The Darwins had ten children.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Good Teacher/Bad Teacher Delusion

Regarding Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article “Most Likely to Succeed”

Sure Malcolm: Don’t blame students; don’t blame parents; don’t blame underfunded schools; don’t blame distending class sizes, don’t blame school funding being tied to local property taxes; don’t blame artificial testing requirements devouring classroom time; don’t blame required special education skewing dollar-per-student vs. results numbers wildly below magnet and parochial schools; don’t blame the flight of your upper-middle class into homogenous neighborhoods.

Blame teachers. Those lazy, overfed teachers who work 80 hours a week 10 months a year so that they can also pull summer jobs for at least the first decade of their careers just to make ends meet, in order to instruct your mediocre “gifted” student with no help from you and your too busy, Blackberry-driven lifestyle.

Here’s a tip: There are bad teachers. They don’t last very long, and they’re not the problem with American education. Teaching is a hard life, and it takes a special caliber of person to do it.

Don’t feel bad. Build a light froth of cherry-picked data. You’re good at that. Use it to absolve yourself of guilt.

Attaboy, Malcolm.

Let America be America Again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–

Let it be that great strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme

That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?

And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,

I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.

I am the red man driven from the land,

I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–

And finding only the same old stupid plan

Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,

Tangled in that ancient endless chain

Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!

Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!

Of work the men! Of take the pay!

Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.

I am the worker sold to the machine.

I am the Negro, servant to you all.

I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–

Hungry yet today despite the dream.

Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!

I am the man who never got ahead,

The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream

In the Old World while still a serf of kings,

Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,

That even yet its mighty daring sings

In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned

That’s made America the land it has become.

O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas

In search of what I meant to be my home–

For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,

And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,

And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came

To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?

Surely not me? The millions on relief today?

The millions shot down when we strike?

The millions who have nothing for our pay?

For all the dreams we’ve dreamed

And all the songs we’ve sung

And all the hopes we’ve held

And all the flags we’ve hung,

The millions who have nothing for our pay–

Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–

The land that never has been yet–

And yet must be–the land where every man is free.

The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–

Who made America,

Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,

Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–

The steel of freedom does not stain.

From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,

We must take back our land again,


O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath–

America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,

The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,

We, the people, must redeem

The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.

The mountains and the endless plain–

All, all the stretch of these great green states–

And make America again!

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was one of the greatest American writers of the Harlem Renaissance. This poem was posted today on 3 Quarks Daily in honor of this historic day. I wished to reproduce it in full, as it sums up a number of my more Danish feelings this morning.

For the benefit of the archive, Barack Obama was last night declared President Elect. Democrats have taken simple majorities in the House and Senate. Here in California, a parental notification law for pregnancy termination by minors has failed, but Proposition 8 — which I volunteered in opposition to — has passed, revoking the right of same-sex couples to wed. Similar measures have passed in Florida and Arizona. While it may be arguable that the Republican Party is in shambles this morning, with it’s largest national figures now tied either to the losing Presidential ticket or the historically unpopular Presidential administration, immense burdens lie ahead for all Americans in the arenas of financial restructuring, job creation, universal health care, climate change, the national debt, and human rights. The mistake of the progressive movement of the late 1960s-early 1970s was believing that they had won simply by showing up, their neglect leading inexorably to the Neoconservative revolution of 1980 which continues to defy responsibility on all of the above issues. May we not fail again.

You Give Me Your Lunch Break, and I’ll Explain the Global Financial Crisis

Four videos. This won’t hurt much.

First up, American Public Media’s Paddy Hirsch deploys the Antarctic Expedition metaphor:

Second and third, Max Keiser — financial activist and former Wall Street wunderkund — explains the bankrupting of Iceland. Presciently, this was made in August 2007, when the global markets were still flying high:

And finally, John Fortune and John Bird explain how it all goes off:

Scooter Unapologized

Scooter is a big, dumb arena rock act — but since they’re German they do techno. They’re as brainlessly self-aggrandizing, self-referential and self-conscious as Kidd Rock, Monster Magnet or club hiphop.

Download the uncensored video for “Weekend,” and you’ll start to get it. The director’s concept seems to have been “Alexander the Great.” It’s become a mini-addiction for me. Lead singer H. P. Baxxter rides in cape and armor with three sometimes topless multiethnic dancing girls upon a boat carried by a sea of Buddhist monks. Warriors and dancers appear in fast cuts on a dry nighttime plane, the frames shooting psychotically from the beautiful (three girls making out in the snow) to the disturbing (passable CGI replacements of Baxxter’s head onto a line of boys). A striking Hindu dancer crawls toward Ganesha — the height of my guilty pleasures. Baxxter’s face morphs awkwardly out of a man’s back to kill the fun. There’s a maybe virgin Mary in heavier eye makeup than Filter’s “Take A Picture” mermaid. Nothing is held up long enough for rational thought. It’s a wonderfully terrifying thing.

You’re not supposed to feel good about listening to this music. The clever flourishes don’t make it okay. The dozen platinum albums don’t either. Forcing you to admit that there’s some flaw in you that enjoys the music is Scooter’s only redeeming characteristic.

Regarding Telecom Immunity

I believe in accountability. I believe that no crisis removes an American’s responsibility to uphold the Constitution. As a result, I feel duty-bound to oppose Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s bill granting American telecommunications companies retroactive immunity for any illegal wiretaps they may or may not have performed at the behest of the National Security Agency and the White House in the years following September 11, 2001.

Were the issue one of protecting companies acting in good faith, a cap on settlements would be proper. Granting immunity instead dismisses all present and future court cases, removing the public’s only avenue of discovery regarding the reality or extent of any illegal actions taken. Crisis does not justify barbarism.

Very little can be done by the public at this point. I’ve summarized my moral argument and sent it to lobbying group The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Stop the Spying campaign in the form of the photo below:

As a postscript, I regard Reid’s bill as another example of the spinelessness that caused me to leave the Democratic Party.

Bloody Comcastic

Because it isn’t enough to provide the shortest billing to payment due period of any company you do business with, Comcast gives you something more: the light euphoria of never knowing what precisely to ascribe to incompetence, policy or indifference.

Things That Just Seem Kind of Sleazy Now

  • Facebook flirting
  • Sites that spell out a word by including the domain suffix (e.g.
  • Neo-burlesque
  • Car murals
  • Anyone Oprah approves of
  • The whole “my ad looks like it was shot for YouTube” thing
  • The Reagan Presidency
  • Weezer
  • Every news channel but The Weather Channel