Friday, October 29, 2004

Our third member posts!

Welcome in, Figulus! I was just reviewing the blog today when I saw your Latin post from the other day.

That got me thinking about etymology (not uncommon). A school district in Washington state has banned Halloween parties at school, claiming that depictions of witches (warts, black hats, broomsticks, etc.) are offensive to real "witches."

First of all, these people are only "witches" in the sense that they have tried to revive a pagan British Isles religion called "wicca," which is the origin of the English word for a witch. Now, of course, every society has had the concept of a witch. Prohibitions on witchcraft are in the Old Testament, a thousand years and more before the Middle East had contact with the British Isles. King David wasn't going to see a British "wiccan" but a homegrown Hebrew witch. Hebrew has a different word for the practice (have to look that up), but it all means the same thing.

I say this only to note that "witch" is not synonymous with "wiccan," as many would like to believe.

Now, I just looked up another word on a hunch. It turns out that "wicked" is also derived from "wicca"! So wouldn't any use of the word "wicked" be offensive to so-called "real witches"? Isn't "wicked" inherently politically incorrect?!

I don't actually think there's any problem with "wicked," obviously, but I point this out to try to irritate the PC crowd, who have now gone beyond what I thought rational adults would believe.

To go dutch or welsh on a bet would really be a wicked thing and would definitely get my Irish up. There. I had to use all of those in one sentence.

Figulus: I'll be in town this weekend.

Foreign Poll-Watchers

Saw a cable news story on the foreign poll-watchers being sent over here from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, I think). The OSCE lady they interviewed was very calm, pleasant, and condescending. She explained how their presence will make Americans feel confident that their votes will be properly handled, etc., etc. The reporter filing the story concluded by noting how there are, however, X million voters in this country, but sadly, only 54(?) OSCE poll-watchers to try to cover all of this.

My response to the OSCE "observers"? Get out of my country!!

I am so absolutely furious at them, and I can't use the language I'd like to, considering this is a blog with standards. I'm also angry at the State Department, who invited them in the first place. This is reportedly the first time foreign poll-watchers have been invited in for a Presidential election.

For all of the people out there who think this is a good or even necessary thing for our elections, I would like you to remember that we have American poll watchers at every election. Both parties send their representatives all the time to make sure everything goes fairly. Even in my county, which has almost no liberals, the Democrats manage to scrounge up somebody.

If I saw an OSCE poll watcher where I was voting, I would be so tempted to give him a firm but calm piece of my mind, but I'm a Southerner, and it would probably be outside the bounds of politeness I was reared with. That, and you're not allowed to create a disturbance at a poll. Maybe a quiet remark to please leave. If enough voters expressed their opinions to them, would they get the hint next time? If I were a local election official of either party, I would be doing so in much stronger terms.

William Watkins, over at Southern Appeal, briefly reviews James Webb's Born Fighting about the Scotch-Irish. Dad's just read that, and I'm thinking it must be a genetic reason that I'm so outraged right now. This OSCE action is a blatant violation of American sovereignty (and it's all the worse that the State Department is encouraging it!). We have no voting problems that their presence will avoid, and our American poll watchers are better able to handle things.

We are not some third-world country that doesn't know how to run a democracy, nor a bananna republic with sham elections. And we don't need (and, I presume, don't want) other countries condescendingly "observing" our elections, which the US Consitution places solely under the sovereignty of American citizens.

OSCE, go back to Europe!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Cliff May nails the Iraqi explosives story

Cliff May's column on the Iraqi explosives story is finally up. He has quotes from people in the right places on this one.

Hypotheses sine fictione

During the matins for today, I ran across the following reading from Wisdom 7:13-14, which made me think of this blog:

[Sapietiam] sine fictione didici, et sine invidia communico, et honestatem illius non abscondo. Infinitus enim thesaurus est hominibus; quo qui usi sunt, participes facti sunt amicitiae Dei...

Which I partially translate as "Without *fictio* I have learnt [wisdom], and without envy do I share, and her diginity I do not hide. For she is to men an unlimited treasure; which those who have enjoyed have taken a share in the friendship of God..."

What reminded me of this blog is simply the word "fictione", which I have left untranslated above. It is the ablative of "Fictio", an abstract noun from the verb whose principle parts are fingo, fingere, finxi, and fictus, which means, literally, to mold something out of clay, to "do pottery". But this verb has also figurative meanings: to feign, to fake, to use guile, to cover up. Its English cognates are indeed "fiction", "feign", and "figure". This is the verb that Newton used when he said, "Hypotheses non fingo." It is this verb he saw when he read chapter 7 of the Wisdom of Solomom, and I have to wonder whether this verse from the Vulgate affected, whether consciously or not, his choice of verb.

If so, he was making a profound theological statement about the making of science, whose wisdom is so different from our everyday wisdom, which is indeed a "Sapientia cum fictione", a wisdom we make up for our own convenience, a wisdom of dullishly painted clay masks, fashioned to cover the truth. We often think of the wisdom of science, the wisdom of Newton, as being very different from the wisdom of revelation, the Wisdom of Solomon. But I doubt Newton would have thought so. To him science, indeed all wisdom without *fictio*, was true participation in the friendship of God.

Who's the Source?

OK, so CBS and the NY Times run with a recycled story that was known a year and a half ago and is being misreported now. (Yes, I mean the Iraqi explosives story.) NBC had a reporter on the scene back in April, 2003, who provides evidence (not proof, but evidence) that the whole thrust of the story is false. The thrust of the story is not that the weapons are missing (that much is clear to everybody) but that it's Bush's fault.

Specifically, so the story goes, it's Bush's fault that he didn't send in enough troops to secure all such weapons sites, to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. That he ignored a direct UN warning to secure this one, specifically.

Except there is evidence the weapons were gone before the end of the war. US troops stopped at the site twice on their way to Baghdad and saw no UN-sealed weapons. Now, it's a big place, and they weren't specifically looking for them, but it's suggestive. Inspectors arrived on the scene a month later (May, 2003, I think), and they were certainly gone by then.

The story has, apparently, been known since that time. Why resurrect it now? Why, it's a week 'til the election, of course. And who placed this story with CBS and the NY Times? Hmmmm...

Cliff May at National Review Online suggests it is somebody close to Mohammed El Baradei, the head of the IAEA, and whom the US is trying to replace with somebody who would take the job seriously. El Baradei is apparently pretty anti-American and doesn't feel much pressure to go after Iran's nuclear program. Undoubtedly a Kerry administration would be much more favorable to El Baradei.

Read Cliff May's posts to The Corner on this, which I've linked to above. He's working on a full column on this topic, which I'm looking forward to.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Reuters on the Guardian flap

This is almost as much fun as the CBS forgeries. Reuters has a full story on the Guardian's harrass-an-Ohio-voter campaign, including quotes from Kerry campaigners and other liberals in the US to please stop it before it backfires even worse!

Global Warming Panic Caused by Obscure Mathematical Error?

Well, I don't know that we can conclude that yet, but a friend at NASA passed along this article yesterday that seems to show that the so-called "hockey stick" graph of global temperatures could be artificially created. A flat-out error.

The so-called "hockey stick" graph is a plot of global temperature versus year, stretching back to the Middle Ages. It supposedly shows some slow variations from century to century in the distant past, followed by an alarmingly steep and sudden rise in temperature in the 20th century.

However, we don't have direct temperature records for the world much before this past century, so the temperatures shown for the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Enlightenment periods, etc., are calculated indirectly, using some other method. Tree rings, for instance. Ice cores. Things like that. Now, these might work well or they might not, and you have to account for the different accuracy they give (as well as any systematic effects), compared with what you get when you look at a thermometer and write down the temperature.

Well, the method that was used to fit the data together when the "hockey stick" graph was made is now suspect. Actually, it's more than just suspect; it creates false trends. If you were to put in random data, with no temperature trend in it, the old method would still show a hockey-stick shape--a sharp rise in 20th century temperatures. Even when you give it fake data that has no such trend!

The MIT Technology Review article gives a simplified discussion of it, but there is a link to the original article. Now, the detailed, scientific article revealing this was submitted to the journal Nature and was refereed but eventually rejected. However, the authors include the referee reports on their website, which apparently show that it was not rejected for any reasons of bad science, but merely because the referee thought it was too technical for Nature and was of limited interest.

I would strongly argue against the "limited interest" reason, but that's Nature's call. I haven't read the referee reports myself, but I'll check them out to make sure this is true.

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that there has been no temperature rise over the 20th century, only that we can't tell, based on the earlier studies that claim there was.

It's also a cautionary tale to people using the "Principal Components Analysis" method of analyzing multi-variable data. My current paper is heavy with PCA results, which can be tricky to interpret, so I'd better watch myself.

Americans' Opinions on Foreign Meddling in American Elections

Great bunch of letters on the (UK) Guardian's website concerning the Guardian's call for British subjects to write letters to Ohio voters to advise them how to vote in our presidential election.

I can't repeat many of the choice phrases used in them, out of a respect for decency, but it makes me smile to see it, nonetheless. And I've got to give credit to the Guardian for having the fortitude to print letters critical of their efforts. Yeah, and that "critical of their efforts" phrasing is a severe understatement!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

John Edwards' father

And have you heard about the full story on Edwards' mill-worker father? Edwards keeps invoking his father in his own supposedly poor upbringing. Turns out that his father eventually (I don't know if it was after Edwards had already grown up and left home or not) left that job and owned his *own* mill!

You know, if I had a father with that story, I would be repeating it over and over in the campaign as an example of how people can raise themselves up from (supposed) poverty to wealth in a country this free. Why the heck isn't Edwards doing the same? Maybe it's that Edwards' whole message is that this is a poor, miserable, oppressive country in which nobody can make it, because the evil mill owners across the land keep the people

Why point out that your father put the lie to that image himself?

Edwards' vision of America

By the way, did you catch Edwards' whole assessment of how Americans are doing? He addressed us all in the second person, saying how we know just how poor and miserable we are, bareley eking by in our existences.

Boy, what a sour, depressing attempt at condescension.

VP Debate After-Action Report

I'm changing the subject line from that of the Presidential debate ("Debate Post-Mortem") for good reason: Cheney wiped the floor with Edwards!

Actually, I think Edwards did a decent job, stylistically. I don't think there was as much substance there as Cheney had, but who knows what a liberal would say. Cheney was clear, coherent, in control of the facts, and concise, not throwing in extraneous words that weren't necessary.

So I can imagine the other side thinking that Edwards won, but I'm excited with Cheney's performance.

Now, I didn't get to hear the second half of the debate, which I'm told was more on domestic issues, and in which Edwards did better than the first half. So my opinion is limited by what I saw.

Halliburton, Halliburton, Halliburton: Three mentions that I picked up on, and I was out for half of it, remember.

Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam: Also three mentions of Kerry having served in Vietnam that I picked up on. Did you know Kerry was in Vietnam? I'd never heard...!

On the casuality numbers in Iraq: Oh my goodness--I about thought Cheney was going to walk over and slap Edwards in the face for that "America bears 90%" line. Cheney pointed out that our Iraqi allies(!) bear 40 or 50% of the casualties (I forget which), and Edwards repeatedly refused to acknowledge this. Cheney got righteously indignant on the
Iraqis' behalf! Good for him.

Conclusion: Good job for Cheney, not bad for Edwards (style, at least). Won't matter too many hills of beans on the election, but it might help Bush amongst those who are real political junkies. On the other hand, fewer political junkies are undecided at this point.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Debate Post-Mortem

Actually, that subject line sounds worse than I meant it. I think Kerry
won on style, certainly after the first few questions were out of the way.
At the beginning, Bush was in command of the facts and stuck to them,
while Kerry wandered off into the woods with his irrelevant, rambling

Then they apparently decided to switch styles. Well, not precisely, but
Kerry expressed himself more articulately, if not necessarily logically,
while Bush sounded too plaintive (I was listening on the radio), stumbled
over his words (not unexpected, and I didn't mind too much), and kept
repeating the same phrases over and over. I didn't like him saying
(again, plaintively), "It's hard work," repeatedly. That's not a
justification on any issue, although you can employ that once or twice in
the context of explaining why our efforts must continue, despite setbacks.

Several times I thought he (Bush) should have ended his statement or rebuttal early, after he'd made his solid points, rather than fill up the rest of his time with words that didn't contribute to the meaning and just distracted from a good answer. If he'd done that, he would have looked a lot better on style, as well.

Just saw this on NRO's Corner:

MY DRINKING GAME [Michael Graham]

I have a fifth of Bushmill's Irish Whiskey that I will down the moment
Bush looks at Kerry and says "Nice tan."

Posted at 10:02 PM

I almost spit out my Coke when I read that just now.

Personally, I was itching for Bush to respond to one of Kerry's Vietnam
references with, "Did you serve in a war somewhere? Was it Vietnam?
Really?! Wow--I'd never known that before!"

I counted FIVE references by Kerry to his Vietnam service, if you don't
count a sixth that was brought up after Lehrer mentioned it first. Five
invocations of Vietnam that had absolutely no relevance, other than to
stick them into the discussion--"I know what it's like to be in a tough
situation. I was in Vietnam..." or something like that.

Conclusion (for now)? I give it to Kerry on style. It's been a long time since I'd had academic debating, and I don't remember how these things were scored. Does the logic of your answer matter? I think Bush had the better answers to the questions, but then, I already agree with him on most of these things.