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2/01/2003

 

quick thoughts on columbia



about the best thing i can tell you to describe how i'm feeling right now is that i haven't felt this since september 11th.

when i wrote the post below, i accidentally wrote "challenger" instead of columbia.

one more non-sequitur, this one again about september 11th. in no way could this tragedy ever compare to what we experienced on that black day except one, and in that one it perhaps exceeds it. NASA has never been about anything practical. but throughout its existence, it has served as the most visible symbol of our technological might, intrepid spirit, and national pride. it is one of the few "worthless" government programs that no one minds seeing the billions pour into because everything that we like to believe is good about ourselves rides up with those brave young men and women in a burst of sound and fury, signifying everything. whenever something like this happens i always wonder how we could ever let a spectacle as glorious as the most routine night launch become commonplace--a thunderous maelstrom that must make the angels riding shotgun with our boys quake in their boots. part of america dies with every NASA tragedy, a part not told in the numbers or the dollars.

locdog knows we'll pull through




 

space shuttle columbia disintigrates on re-entry



pray for the families.

locdog will be




1/31/2003

 

man vs. machine round 2



garry kasparov, the top-ranked chess player who made headlines after losing to IBM's "deep blue" chess-playing computer, is at it again. this time, he's matching wits with an israeli creation named "deep junior". they're all tied up after three games, with three more to go.

after kasparov's crushing loss to deep blue, he insinuated that human advisors must have been giving the machine strategy tips. a more introspective kasparov later said that he was mentally drained by the time the decisive game rolled around, taxed to the limits by playing against a foe that never tired, never erred. i believe him.

up until kasparov, no grand master had ever been beaten by a machine. why? computers just aren't that good at the sort of strategic thinking chess involves. while they excel at individual skirmishes, they struggle with formulating an overall battle plan. a computer, after all, is incapable of creative thought. what it can do is analyze every possible move it can make, every possible response an opponent could make to that, and so forth. computing scores associated with particular moves (capturing a pawn is five, a rook twenty, checkmate 100,000, etc.) the computer can play to maximize its score while minimizing its opponent's. thinking ahead more than a few moves at a time is extremely difficult for a machine, however, because the possibilities increase exponentially. deep blue could compute around 200 million moves per second--which is a lot until one stops to consider that there are literally billions of ways to play the first four moves of a chess game alone. deep junior can only compute about two or three million moves per second, but it has been programmed to try to focus on only those pieces that are relevant to play, rather than exhaustively analyzing the moves and counter-moves for meaningless pawns. kasparov, they say, can think fifteen to twenty moves ahead. how? human beings intuitively know which pieces will be relevant and which won't. we don't have to make hundreds of millions of computations to see that an opponent's defended knight can be captured by our queen, but in doing so we'd lose our most powerful piece. while no one has yet taught that intuitive sense to a machine, they can sort-of emulate it by brute force computations. kasparov, on the other hand, can simply look at a board, get a feel for how the game is going, and by making certain assumptions about his opponent's play always stay several moves ahead. when kasparov lost, then, it was due to a mental blunder he committed--sometimes very obvious ones that even a rank amateur like myself could see. the computer, of course, sees everything. but assuming he makes no mistakes, kasparov should be able to reliably beat any computer. that's the challenge a grand master faces when playing a machine: how perfect can he play?

i bring all of this up because it's fascinating in its own right (at least i think it is...) but also because it raises another interesting challenge for you naturalists out there. in my last post, i asked about the failure of science to produce, or produce an explanation for, life. intelligence itself represents a similar challenge. once again, we have blind, undirected processes supposedly producing intelligent life. it would seem, then, that intelligently directed, focused input ought to be able to do the same thing. kasparov claims that he can examine around two or three moves per second, and yet he remains dozens of moves ahead at all times. why haven't we been able to build a machine that can do that?

locdog doubts we ever will





1/30/2003

 

a question for you evolutionists



my apologies on using the e-word, by the way. "evolutionist" is almost as sloppy and vague as "fundamentalist". the problem is that "naturalist with a darwinian bent" lacks zing, and most people wouldn't know what the hell i was talking about anyway.

so here's my question:

how is it that time + chance, that is, the sum total of 14 billion years worth of random, undirected processes, managed to produce life, but the highly focused and intelligently directed efforts of science has failed to do the same?

you could sent a continuous stream of whirlwinds through a junkyard for 14 billion years and the odds of you ending up with a viable 747 as the output aren't worth mentioning, and yet we build them all the time. so why is it that we cannot produce, or even explain, life?

"oh, just give us more time. it's inevitable."

which is science giving a very fair question the eternal brush-off. for if science struggles from now until the end of eternity to create life and never succeeds, at any point on that timeline one could get the exact same response from a scientist.

granted, because someone has not yet done something doesn't prove they never will, but right up until the point they do, i'm going to hold the failure to provide any satisfactory explanation of life as one of the naturalistic world view's biggest.

"so you resort to the God of the gaps once more."

and therein lies the root of science's animosity towards the supernatural (yes, it works both ways). the supernatural, as the scientist sees it, is a human construct whose sole (or would it be "soul") purpose is to patch over holes in our knowledge. it's throwing up the white flag since supernatural causes cannot be tested. but that's a silly way to look at it, for regardless of whether or not science can test or verify supernatural causes (and it cannot) it nonetheless cannot rule them out. and if all current evidence points not to time + chance, but to an Intelligence vastly superior to our own, then isn't a reasonable if non-falsifiable theory better than nothing?

locdog thinks so





1/29/2003

 

and whadja think of the media's response?



see if you can spot a trend:

Few presidents have confronted such a daunting pair of challenges -- looming war and an economy stubbornly stuck in a jobless recovery -- but President Bush left no doubt last night that Iraq is the issue that dominates his own thinking.

that from the washington post. and...

The press is obsessed with the Iraq question and the country does want to hear what George Bush has planned for healthcare and the economy. In many polls, people say that the economy concerns them more than Iraq or the war on terror. But watching George Bush's body language and the way the speech developed shows that it isn't just the Washington media that is heavily focused on Iraq.

that from time. and...

"More people are worrying about how they're going to pay their next mortgage and how they're going to keep their kids in school and he's focusing on this potential war," [some shmoe] said.

Recent polls reflect [the shmoe's] opinion: Those who approved of the president's economic policy fell below 50 percent. Another poll showed only half approved of Bush's handling of foreign policy.


that from an ap story quoted by cnn. and...

Though Mr. Bush reserved his passion for the topic of Iraq, he opened with his domestic agenda, an attempt to reassure nervous voters that his concentration on foreign affairs has not made him forget the problems back home...The possibility of war with Iraq overshadowed the president's other themes.

that one from howell and the boys over at the times. and...

We cannot let the call to war drown out the voice of the American people as they ask for jobs, quality education, affordable health care and a clean environment.

ok, that's it. fascinating stuff, eh? well, time to go. see you--what? what's that? you want to know where that last quote came from? oh. it came from gary locke, the guy who delivered the democratic response to the president's speech last night.

how could locdog have let that slip his mind




 

whadja think of the democrat's response?



um...something about the rich getting all the money...we need to do whatever the u.n. tells us...zzz...

locdog...*mumble*...sleepy




 

whadja think of the speech?



i liked it. i liked it for a lot of reasons. iraq, obviously, is first on the list, but this speech wasn't dominated by iraq and that would have been an easy mistake to make. it was the mistake most people were expecting.

most pundits pooh-poohed the clintonian "laundry list" of initiatives at the beginning of the speech. that's the equivalent of saying clinton never made a good speech in his entire presidency since all of his speeches were laundry lists: what we've done and what we're going to do. the man never stopped campaigning...anyway, clinton was a great speaker, all will agree, and bush, to his credit, captured a little bit of that ol' slick willy mojo. did anyone expect bush to come out talking about hydrogen cars or africans with aids? did anyone expect bush to get all misty over the children of prisoners? nope. we expected an angry, defiant president banging away on the war drum. what we got instead was a contemplative, emotional president who connected with the concerns and sufferings of a lot of people--something republicans are thought to be incapable of. this is what compassionate conservatism is all about: connecting with middle america. besides, it takes issues out of the democrat’s mouths and puts them in the position of attacking ideas they would rather be advancing. i'm not thrilled with all the new spending, but the political advantages of bush's approach are clear.

the economic portion of the speech was, i think, a winner. republicans don't really have to sell tax cuts. tax cuts sell themselves. i don't buy into all of these polls that come out about how americans think their taxes are fine. when roughly 50% of the american people don't pay any significant chunk of their income in taxes, of course polls are going to reflect a favorable view. just about everyone else knows they are getting screwed, and they aren't happy about it. and those aren't the ones who are flipping burgers or pumping gas. those are the ones who own small businesses and sign paychecks, or buy the houses and cars that keep the other half employed. my wife and i pay out much more in taxes each month than we do for our mortgage, for instance. that's including social security--but i'll stop adding that to my regular federal income tax when washington does.

when the iraq portion of the speech finally arrived, i was beginning to wonder if bush would even bring it up. that's exactly the effect he was going for, i think, because it shows the american people where the president's priorities are. it shows that he isn't all foreign policy. and it was worth the wait: his presentation on iraq was masterful. bush constructed a concise, damning representation of saddam's regime without giving any new evidence--precisely what he should have done. although he tantalized with the promise of such in the coming weeks, bush was clear to point out that the united states doesn't need to establish the existence of iraq's weapons of mass destruction to have a legitimate case for war: their existence was never in dispute. it was iraq's responsibility to demonstrate that these weapons have been destroyed and their respective programs dismantled, and, as the president repeated over and over again, they've failed to produce that evidence. as bush so poignantly asked, why has saddam chosen this course? why has he continued--even now--to defy weapons inspectors and hold on to his outlaw programs? why has he forgone untold billions in oil revenues through global sanctions? he's got plans for those WMDs, and although we don't yet know what those could be, we do know they can't be good. and we know it's better to intervene at a time of our choosing than to wait for one of his. that we will have to intervene at some point is a given.

the strength of bush's iraq position didn't come from glitzy "smoking gun" spy plane photos, it came from establishing saddam's credentials as the world's most belligerent and ruthless tyrant based on those things we already know. the weapons violations were part of it, but when saddam's ghastly treatment of his citizens was described by the president of the united states directly to the american people, suddenly opposition to a war in iraq becomes opposition to everything that is decent and pure. this is not to downplay the weapons aspect, of course. that case was the one the league of united nations should be making for itself from resolution 1441, the resolution that described the fate of saddam's chem/bio/nuke programs and the consequences should he fail to comply. hence, democrats who wail about unilateral action are exposed as the partisans they are. bush isn't acting unilaterally, he's acting consistently with the rules the league of united nations established (supposedly), then ignored. the league of united nations isn't waiting for george w. bush. george w. bush is waiting for the league of united nations. and the additional evidence which has been promised in the coming weeks, rather than being the cornerstone of american aggression, will be the icing on the cake the u.n. itself baked back in 1992. bravo.

locdog thinks this speech was a homerun





1/27/2003

 

a suggestion for state of the union speech



peggy noonan is sick of flowery rhetoric.

Last year's State of the Union is remembered for dramatic declarations and rhetorical flourishes--"axis of evil," etc. That seemed right for the times.

But now, in January 2003, a year rich with rhetoric has passed. Mr. Bush's passion is well-established. Too much so, actually.

In an odd way Mr. Bush's passion about Iraq is getting in the way of his message on Iraq. It's not carrying the message forth forcefully, which is what passion is supposed to do. At this point his passion seems to be distracting from the message.

Which gets us to tomorrow night's address. What we need this time is something bracing--such as facts, new facts, hard data.


excerpted.

noonan's advice would seem like wisdom itself. the press, the american people, and the world are united in their demands for "new facts" or "hard data": the proof of saddam's mysterious WMD cache. bush's poll numbers are falling amidst increasingly harsh opposition from increasingly brazen democratic foes, who speculate on the president's true motives and lack of concern for the war on terror--supposing that iraq and the war on terror are somehow mutually exclusive. hans blix insists there's no smoking gun and the rest of the u.n. doesn't seem overly inclined to disagree. must be too busy voting libya into the human rights committee chair. the european union states think bush is a madman who's a greater threat to global stability than hussein could ever be. but bush need only hold one little press conference, show one little photo, and then no one can legitimately stand in his way. well, mr. president, why not show them the money?

i write this from the position of a man who firmly believes two things:

1. saddam hussein has weapons of mass destruction
2. the united states could, if it chose, demonstrate this fact publicly

notwithstanding that, or my admiration for noonan's gifts as a political strategist and speechwriter, she's in the wrong on this one. the problem isn't that the united states lacks sufficient evidence of iraqi weapons of mass destruction, it's that we should need to produce it. we know that saddam had these weapons; it was his job to prove they were destroyed. he hasn't. we've allowed this to become a debate not over saddam hussein and his ten years' worth of defiance, belligerence, and continual breech of sanction since the last gulf war, but about the motives of the president of the united states. i cannot question that in the short-term showing hard evidence of anthrax production or serin gas factories would be domestically useful, but the long-term consequences will be bad enough to offset any gains.

first of all, the media, european union, and blix and the rest of the league of united nations (the united nations itself was supposed to have the power to actually do stuff) wonks don't give a rat's rump about iraqi weapons of mass destruction. the issue is as much of a red herring as this farce of a weapons inspection we've allowed ourselves to be duped into. no one with half a brain could seriously believe that saddam has violated sanctions for a decade--forgoing hundreds of billions in oil revenue--because he's got nothing to hide. the goal here is simply to thwart bush, a goal shared by saddam for obvious reasons, the press for domestic political reasons, the league of united nations because when diplomacy becomes irrelevant then so do they, and the european union because they consider america a bigger threat than iraq could ever be. mix in the fact that all of these entities hate america for their own sundry causes, and all the petty jealousies and spites that go along with that, and what you wind up with is the inevitable conclusion that no amount of iraqi weapons of mass destruction will ever silence the critics. once they are public knowledge, the criticism will shift from establishing proof of their existence to establishing saddam's intent to use them, or demanding to know why we aren't targeting one of a hundred other nations who also have weapons of mass destruction--including ourselves. in the end, it will be the same "no blood for oil" chants or the same freudian speculations about bush and his father. if this balderdash could win the american people over the first time, it will do so the second as well.

but more importantly, producing evidence concedes the opposition's point. it says, in effect "yes, despite the fact that saddam hussein is a ruthless despot and mass-murderer who has consistently violated the sanctions that the u.n. instated, then ignored, a decade ago, it is really the united states of america the world should be suspicious of." it sets a precedent whereby america can only intervene for the good of the world after jumping through a series of ever-elevating hoops that amount to a de facto defense of tyranny. and for what? so that a bunch of u.n. diplomats and has-been nations can pretend they still matter? you see, saddam hussein is better left ignored if you are a diplomat. that's because, deep down, the diplomat knows that talk and papers are meaningless to people like hussein. but if you confront him militaristically, then you've admitted your own impotence: when it matters most, the diplomat cannot get it done. so what do you do with saddam? you ignore him. iraq doesn't have meaningful participation in diplomatic circles anyway so it's easy to do. and millions of people go on living and suffering beneath a system of government which is diametrically opposed to the liberal democracy the league of united nations supposedly supports so that a few small men can pretend they are something more. to such a man, or the nation that needs men like him to perpetuate the myth of their own significance, a strong american president really is the greatest threat.

so here's what president bush needs to say (but probably will not) to the american people:

the burden of proof is not on the united states of america. iraq agreed to dismantle their weapons of mass destruction programs and give evidence to that effect. they have been given ten years to do so and they chose instead to spend that time shooting at american aircraft and harassing, blocking or even expelling weapons inspectors. all the while, the people of iraq continued suffering under hussein's regime. time's running out for saddam hussein, and if the united nations or european union lacks the resolve to act, the people of iraq should understand that, even so, all hope is not lost. your day of freedom is coming. to the american people, i say that your government will not allow chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of terrorists because we failed to act when we should have. we will be vigilant and will not hestitate to strike when the security of the united states demands it. we will not fail to learn the lessons of september eleventh.

rhetoric? not really. it's just listing the right set of facts. the set that expose hussein for the criminal he is and demands to know why the jailor hasn't yet come for him. in essence, it's the famous speech bush made to the league of united nations delegates last year, with a reminder of the threat hussein represents to domestic tranquility mixed in for good measure. that u.n. speech was a good speech, the right speech, and bush finds himself in trouble now because he's gotten away from its message. noonan wants bush to think globally but act domestically, to forget about that speech and give the one the critics are howling for, but in the long run he'll be worse off for doing so. so will everyone but for a few unimportant diplomats.

locdog thinks bush needs to base the case for iraq on iraq, not america