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Monday, June 30, 2008

1030: Yesterday was a good day. Today promises to be the same.

I slept later than I wanted to, but last night I finished a column, and I have now had breakfast and I am ready to rewrite. I have a number of notes from my advisors.

We'll see. The proof of this pudding is in the eating, I'll try to have it up tonight. Then I have more work to do, and I don't feel intimidated by it.

It feels good to be back if only partially. Now I have to get to work.

1530: Column is done. I am a bit tired, but I sure got some work done. I'll see if I can get to some fiction today, but probably not. Tomorrow, though. I seem to be catching up, and feeling better, and having more energy. I suppose there will be more bad days, but at least I know there can be good ones.


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Tuesday,  July 1, 2008  

1100: went to bed before midnight, got up at 0800, took a short walk after breakfast and took Sable to the groomers where she will be washed, brushed, and spoiled rotten. I'm up, but it wasn't my best night, and I am a bit sleepy. I do hope to get some real work done today.

For those who didn't notice, the second part of the June column went up last night (just in time). I'll get the July mailbag done, and the July column part one and international edition will g0 up next Monday (first business day after the 7th). I hope to be able to keep that schedule. I'll also try to get some fiction done, as well as building the new Intel Extreme system and reorganizing my computer system. There's enough work to do that I know I won't get to all of it for a while, and I do need to take it easy.

On my walk today I had many ideas for the new book, The Mask on the Wall: Winning Against Brain Cancer (working title), and I'll be writing up a formal proposal for my agent and editors. Niven will be over tomorrow to work on the proposal for our next big book. I am long overdue to finish Mamelukes but I have good reason to think I'll race through that now that I have a bit more energy; and I keep getting ideas and thoughts about LisaBetta, a story that takes place after about 75 more years of sowing the wind.  That ought to be more than enough work....


I see the poor journalist blogger (Jonathan Weissman) who said that Obama is more white than black (in a chat room, not in print or in his blog) has done some serious penance and frantic apologizing. Meanwhile, the Democrats can't wait to start the purges: black districts represented by people who supported Hillary must go now. Supporting Hillary in an Obama district is unforgivable. But of course this isn't race based. Democrats by definition cannot be racist.

I have mixed emotions on all this. Can American blacks ONLY be represented by American Blacks? I have heard the arguments to that effect. I have also heard arguments that we can only be represented by "one of us" from many other groups. I my case I find it hard to know who "us" is. I'd rather be represented by Thomas Sowell than by a random Norman French, Danish, or Swedish socialist; but then I am an intellectual by trade, and while I am snobbish my snobbery doesn't pay much attention to origins. Ah well.


From today's mail:

I have a long mailing summarizing a great deal about Global Cooling. It's long enough that I did not want to put it in mail, so I have made it a REPORTS page. You will find it here.

This is probably a good time to remind you about REPORTS. You will find a sort of summary of what's available in the Reports here.

There are silly reports such as Dogs in Elk, more serious reports on dyslexia, empire and republic 1 and 2. There is a trip report on my voyage on the USS HOPPER -- I was privileged to be aboard during part of her commissioning cruise.  My impression of EPCOT, including what Walt Disney intended EPCOT to be (and actually hired my team to help plan) -- and a whole bunch of stuff that I thought worth your attention. If you're looking for something to do, you might browse through the Reports.

Just another service for your subscriptions.





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Wednesday,  July 2, 2008

1500: Got up at 8, took our walk at 0900, and at 1030 Niven came over. We swam until Noon, then went to Midori Sushi for lunch, came back, and wrote up our publication notes for ESCAPE FROM HELL. It has been a good if somewhat exhausting day.

Given my druthers I'd have slept later, or taken a nap, but we did good work, telling me that willpower will get me through some of my funk. More and more I think I am recovering.

Today arrived a big box of the hardbound of Jerry Pournelle, Exile -- and Glory, Baen Books. You can preorder it now: http://www.amazon.com/Exile-Glory-Jerry-Pournelle/dp/1416555633/jerrypournellecha . Since the books physically exist, it should not be long before they are shipping them. The book contains the complete contents of High Justice (a story collection that includes High Justice, The Enforcer, Tinker, and a number of other stories I wrote about one possible future world; and the novel Exiles to Glory, which also takes place in that world but includes a beginning asteroid civilization. Think of this as an introduction to LisaBetta, a novel I am writing now. These are good stories and the technology projections hold up well, if I do say so myself.

I'll have more of substance to say later. I am a bit tired, but I did get a good day's work done today.



Jerry, I just read your report on EPCOT. Did you by any chance take the LAND tour? It includes a walkthrough of the hydroponics center. They ARE doing some research there. I found it informative and fun.

Thank you. Jim Caple


If so, this is more recent than my last visit. I am glad to hear that at least some of Walt's dream remains. He had intended EPCOT to be his memorial.


CPU Cores

Jerry, it looks like Intel has been reading your column...<g>

Ron Morse


Heh! Thanks!



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Thursday,  July 3, 2008

1030 I slept in until 0930. I have many errands today; and this afternoon I hope to work on Mamelukes.


Some years ago I took a tour of EPCOT in Orlando (see report) and mentioned it the other day. I have a good bit of mail telling me that there still is some kind of research going on at EPCOT. That may well be, but it has nothing to do with what Mr. Disney hired me (as principal investigator through Pepperdine Research Institute) to examine.

What Walt wanted was a true Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). It was to be a planned research community in which those who worked there would also live there. It was to be experimental in that technology concepts like the people mover would be tried out for the inhabitants -- as well, of course as for the public. The notion was to make tourism pay for an actual community of research workers. One of the subjects of research was to be energy, and Walt wanted to know if it would be practical to conduct fusion energy research -- and make that pay by allowing hamster tubes through the lab so that visitors could observe. We also talked to large companies like GM and Ford and Westinghouse about what kinds of research they might sponsor.

Disney wasn't entirely against the notion of government sponsored research contracts at EPCOT but he was pretty determined that it should not be just one more government laboratory. He also envisioned a teaching community that could grant degrees, but that would primarily be part of the community. The main idea was an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow in which new technology could be introduced to a community of smart people primarily engaged in research on future technology, the whole thing to be supported in the main by income from the theme part -- including the enormous profits to be made by buying up the property around the theme part before the park was to be built. Even if EPCOT did not attract a lot of paying visitors, Disney World would. The location of Disney World was secret (we weren't told, of course) but it would be built in a place where land was worthless, and the Disney Corp. would buy a lot of that land before disclosing where Disney World (Disneyland East) and EPCOT were to be built.

But Walt emphasized that EPCOT was not to be part of Disney World in any way except sharing paying customers. EPCOT was to be an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, largely a planned community of condominiums. We were to look into common dining rooms, and other such features that one might find at a research university. An EPCOT TV station for the benefit of the EPCOT inhabitants. Transportation for employees: couldn't that be combined with the system for moving the visitors? Stores and shops: what might be needed for the residents as opposed to the visitors?

My answer that last question was that some was obvious, and having a means for entrepreneurs to come in and supply needs would be more efficient than running company stores. Walt agreed, but he did intend to keep control of the situation: concessions would be leased, not sold, and there would be explicit rules of conduct. While Mr. Disney was a fan of limited government, and pretty conservative in his views, he was also a utopian -- not socialist, but perhaps patron.

The EPCOT dream may or may not have worked, either as a community or as a research facility. I was much younger then, and I was very excited about the work, which, alas, didn't run long (a few months as I recall). Much of it depended on the income stream from visitors, as well as the profits on land speculation; but given those sources of income, there was certainly a good chance that the institution would thrive. Think of a smaller edition of Bell Labs set up on a campus where most of the people resided, and with an attached University. It wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but I could imagine living there (recall that I was a professor as well as head of Pepperdine Research at the time).

I think it could have worked, and I am sorry it did not.


EPCOT, What I remember hearing

I read a magazine article years ago about Epcot. The article said that Walt's dream was axed by Disney corporate because they couldn't stand the liability of having a community of real people tied to their name.

The fear of the Disney franchise being soiled by residents protesting, committing violent crimes, etc. was deemed too big of a risk.

regards, -jim

I can easily believe that, but I had not heard it. One of the things we worked on was the contract the EPCOT residents would sign. The idea was to protect EPCOT from liability and giving the institution a means for ejecting people from the community. Walt's comment was that Cal Tech and Pepperdine weren't in such dangers. Of course that was just before the wave of sit ins and takeovers at universities including Columbia University.


Last night I read Exile and Glory, and you know, it all holds up. The book consists of a series of short stories preparatory to a novel. It looks at technologies, politics, and an asteroid civilization. It holds up well.

The novel was originally a Laser Book, which means that it's written in the vein of the Heinlein juveniles. No bodices get ripped, and while there is violence it's not bloody; and of course the language is appropriate for a younger readership. That doesn't make the stories less interesting in my judgment. You'll have to make up your own minds.

But for most of you, Exile and Glory is a new Pournelle novel you haven't seen before. Go buy it...



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Friday,  July 4, 2008

         Happy Birthday America!        

We have a local community Fourth of July Parade in the Studio City Triangle, and I took Sable down to be part of it. She gets a bit nervous when there are hundreds of dogs and children, and I have to be careful with her. Besides, kids offer her food and after a while she gets the notion that any kid holding something yummy is offering. So I have to watch that. All's well that ends well, and this was fun if exhausting. Halfway through Sable found a pothole a good 8 inches deep and decided to wade in the muddy water, which cooled her off something wonderful but sure wasn't good for her appearance, and this just after we had her groomed. So I washed her off when we got home (well, hosed her down; I am not up to putting her in a washtub and doing a real wash) and now she's clean if a bit ruffled.

And I fear I am exhausted, but it feels pretty good to be tired and hungry. Dr. Wang prescribed a liquid formulated for AIDS patients that restores appetite, and it worked: whereas the very thought of food used to make me ill, now I eat with gusto, and in fact I should be careful or I'll gain too much weight. I am up to 202 pound (from 193 low point) and this is about the weight I want to stay at, so from here on I'll be more careful. There was food aplenty at the 4th of July Parade, but I was reasonable about what I ate. Time to start being abstemious (which I was not yesterday).

On Coerced Testimony Including Confessions, and Rules of Evidence

The Fourth of July seems a good time to look into this matter.

First, we can all agree that the notion of torture as a means of obtaining information is repugnant, and as a general rule civilized societies do not employ it. The US Constitution has built in a protection against being compelled to testify against oneself, which pretty well rules out the use of torture as a means of obtaining confessions.

Note that the Constitution does not rule out compelled testimony, nor do our courts, nor do the courts of any other civilized nation. Witnesses can be and are compelled to testify before grand juries (if they are not willing to talk to the police) and can be jailed until they decide to cooperate. Depending on where they are jailed, one might say that torture is a legitimate means of compulsion, and the threat of being jailed in a place where sexual and other assault on inmates is common is often used as a threat. High profile witnesses such as reporters who refuse to reveal sources may be protected, but less visible potential witnesses do not have that expectation. The ability to compel witnesses to appear and testify is pretty fundamental to our theory of a trial, and that power is available to the defense as well as the prosecution as a Constitutional right.

So, when it comes to compulsory testimony, the practice is common and indeed routine, with a few exceptions. One exception is the journalist claim to immunity from being compelled to reveal their sources; this "right" is fairly new, and its limits are not well established, and in these days of the Internet and blogs it is very difficult to determine just who is a journalist within the meaning of the shield laws to begin with. We have not heard the last argument in that matter, nor have we seen the last ruling. But in general if you are a participant in or witness to an event that becomes important in a civil or criminal case, you can be compelled to testify under oath and under penalty of perjury, no matter how embarrassing or unpleasant this may be; and if you plead that you won't testify because it might incriminate you, you can be granted immunity and compelled to tell your story.

Which brings us to the major exception to compulsory testimony: the immunity against self incrimination. This isn't debatable in the United States because it is built into the Constitution, and is one of those rights from the Bill of Rights that probably could not have been inferred from the grant of limited powers theory favored by Hamilton and the others who argued that a Bill of Rights was not only not needed, but would prove to invert the theory of the Constitution: with a Bill of Rights, those powers not forbidden to the general government would be understood to have been granted, while the Hamiltonian view was that if the Constitution didn't say the Federal Government could do something, then it couldn't do it no matter how reasonable that might seem. In any event, immunity against self incrimination is pretty well absolute in the United States, at least in so far as it applies to the Federal Government. (This is not the time to discuss the theory that some (but certainly not all) of the Bill of Rights was incorporated as prohibitions on the States by the Civil War Amendments.)

While the existence of this right is not debatable, its wisdom is certainly discussable, which was the only reason I brought it up in the first place. Most Americans don't seem to know there are plenty of  arguments against not being compelled to tell the truth in court even if the truth tends to be self incriminating. Whether they ought to be aware of those arguments can be debated, but surely knowing they exist does no harm?

But do note that even if one cannot be compelled to incriminate oneself, one can be compelled to testify against one's colleagues in a crime. Prosecutors can and do grant immunity to minor actors in a criminal enterprise, sometimes as part of a plea bargain, sometimes on the theory that it is better to let the little fish get away if we can get the major culprits, and sometimes because the evidence against the small fry is so overwhelming that there is no need for self incrimination with or without details.

So: we accept the principle of compelled testimony, even if that testimony is embarrassing or self incriminating, so long as that compelled testimony is not used against the witness. Perhaps this ought to be debated, but at the moment it is certainly the practice in both Federal and State courts, and in England (and of course there are places that do not recognize any right against self-incrimination, and routinely demand that a witness tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in both civil and criminal cases. It is my understanding that this was the situation in Louisiana until the US Supreme Court imposed the Bill of Rights on the state after the Civil War Amendments.

We can compel testimony; so we are now haggling over the means of compulsion.

There is a long and complex literature on this subject. One of the classic cases is the ticking time bomb. There was an excellent made for television 1960 Playhouse 90 production starring Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, and Cliff Robertson that looked at this in great detail: Heflin is a French officer charged with public safety in Algiers. It is known that a teen age boy, a prisoner, knows where a bomb has been placed and when it will explode. Many lives, both French and Algerian, are at stake. Time is short. What means are legitimate in finding the location of that bomb? Cliff Robertson, a junior officer, offers to use extreme means of interrogation and argues that there is no choice. I don't suppose this can be found for viewing now, but I have never forgotten it. It lays out all the arguments with great clarity.

This case is a distillation of the current arguments regarding water boarding and other extreme means of interrogation. One side claims that it is irresponsible not to use extreme means when there is a chance for saving life: for preventing another 9/11. The other claims that "the end does not justify the means." (As an aside: if the ends don't justify the means, then what does?)

I don't expect to settle any of this. If two thousand years of discussion hasn't settled it, I won't be able to. I just want to lay out the threads of the argument so we understand what we are talking about.

The Stakes

One thing we can agree on: extreme means of compulsion are only justified by the highest of stakes. Alas, that, too, can be debated.

Torquemada, Inquisitor General in Spain during the inquisition of Ferdinand and Isabella the Great, is said to have personally been a very good man who wore a hair shirt and was both abstemious and pious in his personal life. He was also very concerned that the Inquisition was being used by the Royal Government for political, not spiritual, purposes, and he conceived it as his job to do the real work of the Church, which was the salvation of souls. To him there were no higher stakes. He was horrified by the notion that people were being condemned without just cause; but of course, to him, "just cause" had a different meaning from what most of us would accept.

In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella united Spain and drove out the last of the Moslem kingdoms which had been established over the centuries since the Prophet. The dream of uniting Spain, and ending any Muslim presence in Europe, had been the dream and ambition of every Christian Spaniard for six hundred years. For a good summary of the early days of this conflict as well as one of the most valuable synoptic histories of the West, see Fletcher Pratt The Battles that Changed History.

Prior to 1492 there had been other conquests of Muslim states in Spain. In all cases their Most Catholic Majesties (Isabella la Catholica was Queen of Castile in her own right, as well as Queen of Aragon as Ferdinand's husband; and Gonsalvo de Cordoba, the best general of the age, was Isabella's general, not Ferdinand's) required that all the new subjects either convert to Christianity or leave the kingdom. There were many conversions, but there was also great suspicion that the conversions weren't sincere. This had consequences both religious and political. Politically, it was very dangerous to have a fifth column of Muslim sympathizers in the kingdom. Religiously, heresy was considered one of the worst of the sins, and heretics were doomed to Hell. Dante had placed them in fiery sepulchers below the City of Dis.

Of course there were opportunities for petty officials. Many Jewish and Muslim converts were wealthy. Convicting them of heresy could be quite lucrative, and even the Pope became concerned about false prosecutions. One reason Torquemada was appointed Inquisitor General was to prevent selfishly motivated accusations. Alas, his reforms did not spare those who really were heretical, and if one was questioned before torture, during torture, between tortures, and after torture one might be induced to confess to anything. Torquemada had good intentions but his place in history is not the one he would have liked to have.

In other words, if what is wanted is reliable information about the guilt of the subject -- reliable self incrimination -- torture is notoriously unreliable. In Germany nearly everyone accused of witchcraft confessed -- and their property was confiscated, generally to the enrichment of the accuser. King James I of England, on reading the testimony of women accused of witchcraft, famously said "They are all great liars." He did not believe they sailed the seas in a sieve, or summoned a horned man, or flew on broomsticks. Some of this testimony was voluntary braggadocio, but some was solicited under torture -- and it was not reliable.

That says nothing about the efficacy of torture for soliciting verifiable information, as for instance, the location of a ticking time bomb. While few of us today would agree with Torquemada that if we can bring the sinner to true repentance at the moment of death we will have done him an infinitely great service -- that the stakes cannot be higher -- the argument is not so clear in the case of the ticking time bomb, or the location of hostages. What we think of high stakes today is quite different from the days of Ferdinand and Isabella.

That doesn't mean that the stakes are not high. Or that the subject should not be debated in a responsible republic.

What's to Debate?

In the United States there is no debate over self-incrimination. Whatever the arguments, the question has been settled in the Constitution itself: the federal government cannot compel you to incriminate yourself, and the courts have ruled that this doctrine applies to the states as well. The question is settled.

What is not settled is just what can be compelled? Can the defense require reporters to reveal sources? If the only testimony that will free a defendant is a confession by someone else, can that someone else be granted immunity and compelled to make that confession? If he does, how can we tell if this is the truth? If he does not, is there justice for the defendant?

The Constitution itself gives the accused the right  "to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense".  We have seen that the State of Texas doesn't seem to pay much attention to this when it thinks the stakes are high -- not only has no one in the FLDS case been confronted with an accuser, but the accuser is apparently now known not even to exist -- but in general this is a right we all have and I would presume most of us support it.

But what does it mean? What means of compulsion are legitimate and what means are not? We have a lot of case law on that subject, but I don't think there is a general agreement. This is one subject for debate.

A second debate can be had on the general principle of high stakes matters like the ticking time bomb.

And of course it is not enough to establish principles. One also needs to establish procedures: due process of law. We have some procedures. What we need now is some general agreement on principles.

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Saturday,  July 5, 2008

Coerced Testimony and Rules of Evidence, Continued


It is probably time to end the discussion on coerced testimony (See above). My purpose in bringing it up in the first place was to show that some questions aren't as simple as one might think.

We have:

The extralegal option.

Like chattel slavery, legalized torture debases and dehumanizes the practitioner, irrespective of the benefits he (and the society of which is a member) hopes to derive from it. It is an offense before God and man, and I do not wish it *legally* performed on my behalf by the minions of the state, even if the failure to do so would directly result in my injury or death.

That being said, it is possible to envisage circumstances in which I would be willing to debase and dehumanize myself in such a manner (for example, to save the life of a child, the ticking bomb scenario, et. al.) in order to preserve others, or in which it would be likely that others of a similar mindset would do the same. However, in my mind, such activities should only be undertaken with the knowledge that they are illegal, not sanctioned by the state, and that those who engage in such methods can expect to suffer the consequences of doing so.

This avoids the repugnant option of enshrining torture as an accepted method of the bureaucracy, raising the bar for engaging in such practices so that it is generally only the highly motivated and self- sacrificing who will do so, and then only in extreme circumstances which are difficult to encode into the legal system without opening the doors for wholesale abuse.


 Roland Dobbins

History is a great teacher, but it also lies with impunity.

-- John Robb

Roland summarizes the consensus of most Western philosophers on this subject. The point is a very conservative one: that it is impossible to make hard and fast rules and always adhere to them. Hard cases make bad law; and attempts to perfect society by adopting perfect rules seem to end in disaster.

At one time most Americans learned much of this in high school, when they studies US history, and the debates of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. More advanced schools even assigned some of The Federalist Papers. No more.

Incidentally, in England (at least until the 1970's when I ceased teaching Constitutional Law) the solution to the entire problem of illegally obtained evidence was to allow the evidence, with the circumstances of its acquisition, to go to the jury. The constable who broke in without a warrant was liable for his actions, and might well be tried for burglary: although another jury might also decide that the circumstances warranted an exception to the rules and acquit him. The whole procedure was sufficiently cumbersome that few wanted to find themselves in the dock and the p0lice did not act except in extraordinary circumstances; at the same time, once the evidence was obtained, the criminal was not given a free pass because the constable blundered.

On the whole the system seemed to work. And yes, of course you can make up -- or perhaps find real -- cases in which the result is outrageous.

The attempt to find perfect rules to build a perfect society has not worked in the past, and is not likely to work well in future. Government is an art, and it has always been important to find the right man to govern. We seem lately to depend on an increasingly complex set of rules, as if finding the right rules allows us to have idiots as our governors. I call to witness the imbecile efforts of LA to do something as simple as curb the explosive growth of billboards while continuing to have entirely incompetent city officials. Los Angeles is hardly unique in this respect. Trying to compensate for fools and criminals in government by multiplying and refining laws,  rules, and regulations, even in matters of such great importance as dealing with coerced testimony and illegally obtained evidence has never been very successful.

But of course if good people will not attempt to take part in self government, then the government falls into the hands of someone else. As it has.

We can at another time address this problem.


The Forum Question Again

Site forum


You really really need a forum on this site. Trying to do discussions through email is a pain and a waste of time. If you made the forum available to subscribers I would probably subscribe.


There are open forums everywhere. I do not have time to conduct one. I do not have time to go through and edit out nonsense, obscenities, failed attempts at humor, and the usual fare one finds even in the best of the open forums. Those are all reasons why I almost never visit open forums, slash dot; there is too large a noise to signal ratio, and without considerable work on the part of the site master, it will always be that way.

I contend that I have one of the best mail pages on the Web, and that the reason this is so is that I select the mail for interest, relevance, and ability of expression. Once in a while I will include a message that I would not normally care to read, just as a demonstration. Of course I always make those anonymous.

Another problem is duplication. I must have over a hundred messages explaining entropy to me. Not one addresses the problem I thought I was raising, which proves I am not as articulate as I think I am; but except for those intensely interested in the technical details of the concept of entropy, there is not much of interest in any of them; my apologies to those who went to considerable trouble to write those missives. My intent here was not to run a course in physics 401, but to invite attention to what seems to be yet one more enigma: along with "why is there something rather than nothing?" we have "why is there any possibility of anything happening? How did the universe begin in a low entropy state?"  Clearly I didn't get that discussion, and I have pretty well closed the topic. With an open Forum, I can't close off anything.

I would then have to have not one Forum but many, and I'd do nothing but management, and I have zero interest in doing that.

This is a day book. It started as a log of what I am doing, soon included material neither I nor BYTE thought was appropriate for the BYTE column, and the mail page followed naturally. It is a reasonably successful day book. I don't get enough subscriptions (but then this is summer, the silly season, and that's always doldrums time for renewals and new subscriptions) but I get more than many better known sites, and I don't have to worry about advertisements.

As to discussions by email, it seems to me that if one is required to put together an actual statement, rather than just send in a comment on the spur of the moment, one puts a bit more thought into what one says; and that is reflected in the quality of the mail here. For those who think having to think about what they are to say, rather than simply snap off a comment to be posted, is a waste of time, my apologies; but I disagree.

I have no plans to make a Forum here. I am sure there is value in such things, but I can't do everything.


I have another reason not to have an open Forum. Some people are fanatics. I thought those opposed to "teaching evolution" were fanatics when I was in high school in Tennessee where the Scopes Law was still on the books and there was periodic agitation to enforce it again. I encountered anti-evolutionists from time to time during my academic career, including offers of grants if I would oppose the teaching of evolution.

I didn't pay a lot of attention to those: but now I find that the desire to censor any teaching of Intelligent Design or any other alternative to orthodox Darwinism comes with about the same arguments I used to hear about teaching evolution. The horror! Someone questions the consensus!  And of course censorship means some national means of controlling local schools.

I say that having national censorship of topics to be taught in local schools is a cure far worse than the supposed disease of having "Intelligent Design nonsense" taught in at most a few score school districts across the country -- and usually taught by its opponents at that. I have more faith in rational discussion than I do in censorship as a means of enforcing correct opinions. Suppose Darwinism is as right as rain and Intelligent Design is worthless and indefensible: then why must Darwinism use censorship rather than rational discussion?

I do not find that there is much interest among American students in the whole question of scientific method and rational argument. I do not see that many teachers are given much instruction in the subject, and I do not see much of it taught.

In any event, having an open Forum in which the ID people and Darwinists scream that the world will end if the other side is not censored is of no interest to me.

If in fact the arguments for ID are ludicrous, I do not see why there is so much pressure for censorship and suppression. Either one believes in rational discussion or one does not. If ID is easy to refute, then refute it. Who knows, the ID people may give up, or refine their arguments; and the refutation should be instructive.

If 100 mostly mid-western school districts required that alternatives to Darwinism be taught in school, would the Republic come to an end? Would that be worse than centralized control of subject matter? And where does the central control end? With jail for Global Warming Denial? I know that has been proposed.



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Sunday,  July 6, 2008

A good day so far.

Education and Curricula

This is not my education essay, but it does look into some particulars.

I weary of the Intelligent Design in Schools argument, because apparently there is a small number of apparently intelligent and articulate people who simply do not understand what they are saying. No, they say, we don't want central control of curricula in all the public schools through the nation. But the Intelligent Design advocates are so stupid, their arguments so vapid, that we simply cannot afford to allow them to be presented in the hundred or so school districts that would mandate ID to be taught along with Darwinism, lest America lose her soul.

If that sounds like a very unfair summary of what the "keep the ID people out of our schools!" people are saying, I fear it is an accurate one, and after a dozen exchanges of email I find that I cannot get across the real point: that central control of curricula is a cure far worse than the disease; that if anything is a contest for the soul of America it is the central control of what is taught in the public schools.

What is the purpose of public schools? One looks in vain for guidance in the Constitution of the US, or in the early constitutions of most states. Education didn't become a right until well after the Civil War, and didn't become a federal right until fairly recently.

The main arguments for tax financed compulsory public education are (1) it is an investment in the future, for the pupils will learn skills that will allow them to take part in the national economy, support themselves, and not be a burden on the public; and (2) public education gives a common background for most pupils, and they can be taught the principles of citizenship; they learn the national saga and their state history, and gain a sense of pride in their country, and become imbued with patriotism.

Alas, today's public schools do not seem to accomplish either goal, nor indeed do they even try to; and many "professional educators" reject both premises. Leslie Fish has an anarchist song called "Teacher, Teacher" in which she decries the school boards because they want the teachers to teach the children to be just like their parents.  Of course that is precisely what most parents think their schools ought to be doing only better: that is, make the kids think like us, but make them smarter and more capable and able to earn more money. Why this is despicable is not known to me. Why the parents ought to be forced to pay intellectuals to make their children despise their parents is even less obvious.

How the schools are to make the children like their parents only better isn't known to the school board, but it's generally the goal, and when Professional Educators interview for positions they generally pretend to accept that goal and pretend to know how to accomplish it. The results are usually something else.

Let's look at one example of what amounted to central control of curriculum: Freudianism. The psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud were once the "consensus" view of most of the US intellectual establishment. They had heavy duty social implications, and justified really drastic changes in society. Adorno and Frenkel-Brunswick and others produced theories about "the authoritarian personality" and various theories of the proper relationship between children and parents, men and women, citizens and societies.

And the whole theory was and is nonsense. The clinical effectiveness of the very expensive Freudian analysis was no greater than that of far cheaper techniques including not only Carl Rogers and his permissiveness but also L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics. Freud postulated all kinds of structures like Ego, and Id, and Super-Ego that not only have no discoverable neurological counterparts  but contradict much of what is known about brain structure. His interpretation of dreams ended up with Immanuel Velikovsky writing a book about Freud's dreams. Velikovsky also had a theory of cosmology that had about as much evidence in hard data as Freud's theories of human behavior. One can argue that this is hardly coincidence: Freud didn't teach his disciples to pay attention to data (he knew that people often lied to their therapists as well as to themselves). Freud did not explicitly reject the scientific method, but he may as well have.

Indeed, Hubbard's Dianetics paid at least as much attention to evidence as Freud did. Of course both Freud and Hubbard made up many of their cases: think of the cases as illustrative scenarios because most of them had no basis in fact. Hubbard built Dianetics as a synthesis of Jung's variant of Freud and the General Semantics theories of Alfred Count Korzybski. Incidentally, Korzybski's book Science and Sanity is worth reading to this day, although it should not be taken as holy writ; and Wendell Johnson and Sam Hayakawa, both followers of Korzybski, wrote valuable books as well. Hubbard of course did not encourage the use of scientific method to test his theories of the human psyche, but he did insist that Dianetics was a science: "The modern science of mental health." It was pretty popular too,  and Dianetics practitioners could truthfully report that they got better results than Freudian analysis, and far cheaper, with less expensive training for the practitioners. As a practical matter, Dianetics was more useful than Freud.

Of course Freud had the intellectual cachet and the approval of the intelligentsia, who simultaneously insisted that Freud be taught as truth, while Dianetics had to be suppressed. Much of that suppression came about as accusations of practicing medicine without a license, which caused Hubbard to incorporate Dianetics into Scientology, and to proclaim Scientology as a religion and thus protected by the First Amendment.

Freudianism is not so widely taught as it was when I was a youth, but if a teacher wants to present Freudian theories in school, there will be many to defend his right to do so.

Surely my point is obvious?


Intelligent Design

There are many schools of "Intelligent Design", some of them very theological, and some very silly (not mutually exclusive categories). At its simplest one theory of ID asserts that while the mechanism of evolution may have looked very like Darwinian natural selection and survival of the fittest, it is simply absurd to assert that the Big Bang Mess inevitably moved to produce Carl Sagan, perform Swan Lake, and write Shakespeare's plays; the vast drama of the universe has some purpose even if we cannot discern it, and there is a goal toward which all this moves.

Many people find this obvious, and don't think the blind workings of chance could have produced what we have today. I don't know of any way to frame falsifiable hypotheses to test that assumption.

One can then add or subtract hypotheses. Sir Fred Hoyle, for instance, postulated that certain evolutionary steps were so improbable as to be ruled out; and that some of the evolutionary steps came about through the deliberate introduction of organic materials. Sir Fred's theory does generate testable hypotheses: for one it predicts that we will find proteins and other organics in outer space, in comets and perhaps asteroids; another prediction is that life will exist wherever it is possible for it to exist, and moreover, wherever we find life it will have a number of similar characteristics. We can't make strict tests of those hypotheses, but to the extent that we have evidence it seems so far to be consistent with Hoyle's view. Whether Hoyle is right or wrong is irrelevant here: all I am asserting is that it is hardly "unscientific" because "untestable."

Breeds of Dogs

Most breeds of dog have come about by intelligent design: the intelligence was supplied by a dog breeder who had some notion of what kind of dog he was trying to produce.

Dogs themselves seem to be the product of deliberate action on the part of some wolves: dogs seem to have tamed themselves, and the act of living as tame wolves brought about some changes in the physiology of the dog. It might be a neat debate: are dogs smart enough that they have come about by intelligent design? Or was the taming of the dog, which had a profound effect on human evolution, pure accident? Or was that too Intelligent Design (leaving out the nature of the Designer)? Villages that have dogs have a much better survival rate than villages that don't; and if one has dogs then one is free to devote some of the forebrain usually devoted to smell to the development of intelligence. Of course no one I know of says that humans deliberately made that choice.

Gradualism and Catastrophism

Older readers will remember just how violently the scientific consensus rejected the notion of catastrophes in evolutionary history. The reason for this is obvious: some evolutionary steps are so outrageously improbable that it must have taken a very great deal of time for that to happen, and even more for the changes to register in terms of being more 'fit' for survival. Remember: in Darwinian theory you cannot know the end point of the evolutionary steps. Just because a step makes it more likely, over a long enough time, for the organism to evolve a socketed eye (and we can all agree that having that eye is very much a survival advantage) does not mean a thing: the STEP ITSELF has to give an advantage, or at least must not place too great a burden on the organism.

One Intelligent Design argument would be that here is the place where a miracle happens: there is a mutation that itself does not increase the chances of survival of the organism and offspring, but which leads to something that does. The miracle is that this step is preserved. Of course this is mere speculation, a Just So story, and in no way testable; but from what I have seen, the Darwinists assert that there must have been a survival advantage even though they haven't figured it out yet is just as untestable and just as much an act of faith. Let me remind you that by definition 'miracles' are so rare that statistical evidence is generally impossible to obtain. Miracles are a matter of faith, not science -- by definition.

In any event I can guarantee you that the "consensus" against catastrophes in history was a damned dangerous view, and had some real effects on funding for asteroid watches and Project Safeguard. For those who don't think there is any danger from space, I invite you to have a look at http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/
and pay close attention to the animated display. Those who hate the whole idea of Intelligent Design say that if ID were taught in 100 school districts in accord with the wishes of the local school boards this would result in the loss of America's soul.

I don't think so: but I do know that if we don't take the possibility of catastrophe seriously, that puts the lot of us in danger of losing, not only our souls, but everything else as well.

Now I am sure there are many wiser than me. I know that many think they are; and among them are those who are absolutely certain that we must have central control of curricula all across the country, lest someone sneak in Intelligent Design theory and it will be so persuasive that we will all lose our souls. My own view is that central control of damned near anything is usually a disaster, and the more we can have local control -- over education, abortion laws, marriage laws, and much of the law that affects our daily lives -- the better off we will all be. If opponents of ID want to persuade their own local school boards not to allow ID in the school, they have that opportunity (but hardly the necessity in most cases). If they want to persuade the school board in Resume Speed, Kansas, not to allow ID in the classroom they can certainly argue that they ought to be heard, although I do not think they have any right to have their expenses paid. But: if they want to use the power of the state to dictate, from Columbia University or wherever they happen to reside, what the Resume Speed school board must forbid in local classrooms, they are power seekers.

Keep in mind Freud and Gradualism.






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