jrosenhouse https://scienceblogs.com/ en Farewell to EvolutionBlog! https://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/10/18/farewell-to-evolutionblog <span>Farewell to EvolutionBlog!</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Folks, I'm done.</p> <p>A recent story in the news involves the decision by FIDE, the world chess federation, to hold the Women's World Championship in Iran. That's a bit awkward, since Iran imposes certain religion-inspired dress requirements on women. This has led some players, most notably the current American women's champion Nazi Paikidze, to boycott. She is supported in this by the U. S. Chess Federation, among many others. Frankly, you have to go back to the 1970s to find a time when FIDE was something other than a corrupt embarrassment to chess players.</p> <p>So here we have a story about religion interfering with chess, and I still couldn't work up any enthusiasm for writing about it. <i>Definitely</i> time to pack it in.</p> <p>I started blogging in 2002, when a friend of mine basically dared me to. We were both post-docs at Kansas State University, and we were both chronic night-owls. Most nights we ended up at Gumby's Pizzeria after midnight, sitting in a booth surrounded by drunk, loud college students, talking about math or politics. We were both blog readers, which at that time largely meant Atrios and Andrew Sullivan and a few others who got in on the ground floor. He said I should start my own blog, and--why not!--I did. </p> <p>I was fresh out of graduate school, still in my twenties, struggling to get some sort of research program started and worrying about long-term employment prospects. Blogging was a wonderful stress-reliever. At the end of the day I could blow off a little steam, rant about whatever was on my mind, and take a break from the obscure problems in algebraic graph theory and analytic number theory I worked on during the day. It was therapeutic! I was someone who liked writing, who felt he had things to say, and who liked the instant feedback blogging could give you.</p> <p>At that time ID was still on the ascendant (The <i>Kitzmiller</i> blow was still a few years off) and the New Atheists had not yet arrived on the scene. After a few years blogging on my own, <i>SEED</i> magazine “discovered” me and made me part of their stable of science bloggers. A blog collective like that was a new thing at the time. During those years I blogged obsessively. The folks at <i>SEED</i> brought us all together for blog gatherings in New York once a year. They commissioned a caricature of all of us, that I still have framed and hanging on my wall. That's when blogging was really fun.</p> <p>But after a few years of this, things changed. <i>SEED</i>, along with so many other magazines, folded. The original group of bloggers largely went their separate ways, and the feeling of really being part of something faded. </p> <p>Moreover, my professional interests changed. Ever since the publication of <i>The Monty Hall Problem</i> I've been finding more and more of my time spent on writing and editing. I currently have two books under contract (one as author and one as editor), at various stages of writing and production, and I am likely to have a third one going soon. I am also now the book review editor for the <i>American Mathematical Monthly</i>. I now spend so much of my time staring at a screen trying to make words appear, or trying to improve someone else's words, that blogging no longer seems like much of a release. It just seems like more of the same. Not writing is now my stress reliever.</p> <p>So I think it's time to hang it up, at least for a while. Maybe a few months down the line I'll discover that I miss it. When I started the blog, I never imagined that it would go anywhere. At its peak, the blog was averaging about two thousand hits a day, which still seems like a staggering number to me. I am incredibly appreciative of everyone who read, linked to, or commented on my little musings. Even the critics! </p> <p>I am also incredibly grateful first to <i>SEED</i>, for plucking me from obscurity in the first place, and more recently to the National Geographic Blog network for continuing to give me a home. </p> <p>It's time to move on. The last vestiges of my <a href="http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=SIWOTI">SIWOTI syndrome</a> have left me. The Internet remains a bottomless pit of stupidity. (It has its good points too!) It used to be that I would read something foolish, and then stew about it all day until I could unload in an epic blog post. I was updating nearly every day, and writing those updates was the highlight of my day. </p> <p>I have not had that passion for quite a while now. So, it's time to give up the ghost. Good-bye! </p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/jrosenhouse" lang="" about="/author/jrosenhouse" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jrosenhouse</a></span> <span>Mon, 10/17/2016 - 19:57</span> Mon, 17 Oct 2016 23:57:33 +0000 jrosenhouse 50790 at https://scienceblogs.com POTW 5 https://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/10/03/potw-5-3 <span>POTW 5</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>I've just posted <a href="http://educ.jmu.edu/~rosenhjd/POTW/Fall16/homepage.html">the new Problem of the Week,</a> along with an official solution to last week's problem. But this one will have to hold you for a while, since I'm taking next week off.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/jrosenhouse" lang="" about="/author/jrosenhouse" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jrosenhouse</a></span> <span>Sun, 10/02/2016 - 21:50</span> Mon, 03 Oct 2016 01:50:57 +0000 jrosenhouse 50789 at https://scienceblogs.com POTW 4! https://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/09/27/potw-4-2 <span>POTW 4!</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Better late than never! A small technical SNAFU yesterday interfered with the well-oiled machine that is Problem of the Week. But now we're back on track! <a href="http://educ.jmu.edu/~rosenhjd/POTW/Fall16/homepage.html">The fourth problem</a> has now been posted. The official solution to last week's problem will be up by tomorrow.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/jrosenhouse" lang="" about="/author/jrosenhouse" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jrosenhouse</a></span> <span>Tue, 09/27/2016 - 07:13</span> Tue, 27 Sep 2016 11:13:30 +0000 jrosenhouse 50788 at https://scienceblogs.com A Review of Undeniable, by Douglas Axe. https://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/09/23/a-review-of-undeniable-by-douglas-axe <span>A Review of Undeniable, by Douglas Axe.</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Do you remember those commercials, from a few years back, for Excedrin headache medicine? There was a whole series of them. In each, some very normal-looking and totally relatable person would talk straight to the camera, explaining that he or she suffered from terrible headaches and had tried every other remedy. The climax of each commercial was when the person said something like, “How do I know Excedrin works? Well, they have their “scientific research” to prove it. But you know what? I did my own kind of research. I tried it.” I use the scare quotes to indicate their tone of bemused contempt.</p> <p>That's basically what Douglas Axe's <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Undeniable-Biology-Confirms-Intuition-Designed/dp/0062349589/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1474617389&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=undeniable">new book</a> is like. Axe, if you are unfamiliar with him, is a protein chemist and the latest ID celebrity. The argument of his new book is this: The latest science shows that evolution is total nonsense, but that's just for geeks and nerds. The fact is that every child figures out that complex machines come from intelligence, and that's all you need to conclude that life is designed.</p> <p>While I no longer blog with anything like my former enthusiasm, I do return here periodically to remind you that ID is dead. I say that in part because the ID folks do not seem to have had a new idea since Dembski's <i>No Free Lunch</i>. They pop their collective heads up to publish a book every once in a while, but all the recent ones have just been rehashes of old, discredited arguments.</p> <p>Axe's book is an egregious example of this. There is nothing remotely new in it. But more than that, it is a real step backward in tone and style for ID. It is the sort of short, large print, truculent book that has more in common with Henry Morris and Duane Gish than with William Dembski or Michael Behe.</p> <p>For one thing, the book is openly evangelistic. The creator is the Christian God. Period. No subterfuge about the possibility of intelligent aliens or anything like that. For another, there is a great deal of swagger and bravado involved. In his telling, modern evolutionary theory is not merely incorrect, it is <i>ridiculous</i>. This is <i>obvious</i> to anyone not blinded by groupthink or by morbid, anti-religious bias. There are the silly cartoons and pull quotes and the condescending tone towards his audience. There are the suspiciously short quotations from other scientists, and the familiar boasts of what a courageous truthteller he is. The denunciation of ID from every major scientific body in the world is not evidence that knowledgeable people have, for good reasons, considered and rejected ID's arguments. Instead, it is evidence of a massive conspiracy, in which a few gatekeepers force everyone else to tow the materialist line.</p> <p>And there is also the complete unwillingness to deal seriously with the actual reasons people give for finding evolution not just credible, but the only theory that adequately accounts for the facts of biology.</p> <p>In Axe's telling, God did <i>everything</i>. Every attribute of any consequence, in any organism, is God's handiwork. Natural selection is nothing more than an inept fiddler that at most made a few refinements around the edges. He does not weigh in on the age of the Earth, but I will assume he accepts that the Earth is very old and that the fossil record reveals a genuine chronological progression of life forms played out over vast periods of time. Near the end of the book, he laments that dumbass materialist scientists only consider the construction and operation of various bio-molecular systems, but they do not consider the conception that had to occur prior to the construction.</p> <p>Strangely, he does not take his own advice. How does ID makes sense of the fossil record, which shows a clear progression from simpler, ancient organisms to more complex, modern organisms? Why did God do His creating over billions of years, and why did He do so in the one sequence that would later suggest evolution to so many? Why did he just watch the unicellular organisms for a billion years or whatever before getting on with the show? What was the point of the millions of years of bloodsport taking place among creatures with enough brainpower to know they were suffering and miserable, but not enough to enter into a relationship with God? What are mass extinctions all about? How is this consistent with the idea that life was designed for a purpose? </p> <p>Axe has nothing to say about any of this. And that's just the fossils. What about all the other <a href="http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/">lines of evidence</a> that are so ably explained by evolution? The patterns of embryological development, the retroviral scars, the vestigial structures, and all the rest. Axe never even mentions any of it, much less tell us how ID accounts for it. If God really is responsible for all of this, then it amused Him to create in a manner that coincides perfectly with evolutionary expectations. But Axe is too busy dismissing biologists as idiots to acknowledge that they have good reasons for accepting evolution.</p> <p>Which brings us to all those adaptations Axe finds so compelling. They're complex! There's functional coherence! Indeed. But they are also more like Rube Goldberg machines than they are the creations of an omnipotent engineer designing a machine for a purpose. The issue is not so much bad design, as it is weird design. Design that makes no sense from an engineering perspective but makes perfect sense if you see the modern system as the endpoint of a long, historical process. Rube Goldberg machines are ingenious, but they are funny precisely because you recognize immediately that no engineer would design such a thing. So it is with basically every complex adaptation studied to date. You can look from on high and gush about the genius of the designer, or you can actually study these systems carefully and quickly grow skeptical of ID.</p> <p>I won't bother with Axe's arguments, such as they are, for dismissing natural selection. It's the usual bad search metaphors and asinine probability calculations that we have seen so many times before. (Might I suggest <a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11191-015-9801-7">my recent article</a> if you want some discussions of these points?) </p> <p>Instead I am more interested in why Axe thinks his conclusions are so simple and obvious. He is very taken with the idea that we all have a “universal design intuition” that tells us, somehow, that living organisms just have to be the products of intelligent design. You need design to explain bricks and shoes (his examples), right? And organisms are <i>way</i> more complicated than that! This intuition, and our basic experience with everyday contrivances, should count for more, he argues, than the opinions of a few over-educated eggheads:</p> <blockquote><p> We tend to overlook two key facts. One is that everyone validates their design intuition through firsthand experience. The other is that this experience is <i>scientific</i> in nature. It really is. Basic science is an integral part of how we live. We are all careful observers of our world. We all make mental notes of what we observe. We all use those notes to build conceptual models of how things work. And we all continually refine these models as needed. Without doubt, this is science. I have called it <i>common science</i> to emphasize the connection to common sense. </p> <p>...Long before we walk, we have constructed simple mental models of gravity and balance. Long before we put our hands to art, we have acquired notions of color, shape, and form. Long before we speak, we have learned to classify things into categories that await the terms we eventually use to refer to them. (p. 60) </p></blockquote> <p>This goes on for a while. Eventually we come to this:</p> <blockquote><p> Because everyone practices common science, public reception of scientific claims is arguably the most significant form of peer review. For professional scientists to assume that public skepticism toward their ideas can only be caused by public ignorance is just plain arrogant. If ignorance is the cause, clearer teaching should be the remedy. When that proves elusive or ineffective, professional scientists need to be willing to find fault with their <i>ideas</i>, not the public.</p> <p>...Instead of merely following expert debates, nonexperts should expect important issues that touch their lives to be framed in terms of common science. Once they are, everyone becomes qualified to <i>enter</i> the debate. This doesn't apply to intrinsically technical subjects, of course, but the matters of deepest importance to how we live are never intrinsically technical. (p. 62-63) </p></blockquote> <p>That “intrinsically technical” loophole is doing a lot of work here. One suspects it is <i>only</i> evolutionary biology to which folks get a heckler's veto, so as long as they feel deeply that it is wrong. </p> <p>Science, of course, is one long assault on our common sense. Excuse me, common <i>science</i>. Science tells me I live on a giant sphere that rotates at more than a thousand miles per hour. Is that how it feels to you? Science tells me that the continents are moving around, and that hydrogen and oxygen, both gasses at room temperature, come together to form water. It tells me that sodium, which explodes, and chlorine, a deadly poison, come together to make tasty table salt. Science tells me that time slows down when I move real fast, and it tells me things about atoms that are an affront to basic sanity, let alone common sense. </p> <p>I guess those subjects are all intrinsically technical.</p> <p>Evolutionary biology receives contributions from paleontology, genetics, anatomy, ethology, mathematics, embryology, and many other fields besides. People study for <i>years</i> to become experts in any one of these disciplines, but here comes Axe to tell them they wasted their time. Turns out it is all so simple and non-technical that any old person on the street can figure it out.</p> <p>Folks, no one has “intuitions” about what can happen in billions years of evolution by natural selection. Nothing in our daily experience is remotely relevant to understanding what science reveals about the history of life on Earth. Organisms reproduce themselves imperfectly and engage in a struggle for existence. In this they differ dramatically from the world of human invention. Our everyday experience with human contrivances simply has nothing to tell us about what can happen when such a system evolves over billions of years. The only way to determine whether it is plausible is to do the hard work of high-level science. How interesting that the actual professionals who do this work, who are forced by the practical realities of their jobs to stick with what works and discard bad ideas that lead nowhere, are all but unanimous in finding evolution not just credible, but, frankly, kind of obvious. How arrogant of me to think that verdict counts for more than a bad analogy between life on the one hand, and bricks and shoes on the other.</p> <p>(And no, I have not overlooked the sheer <i>chutzpah</i> of Axe lecturing us on the need for better education, when he and his fellow travelers fight tooth and nail to make sure that such education is impossible.)</p> <p>Now, I would like to close with one further point. It seems to me there is a huge double standard in how Axe treats natural selection as a possible explanation for complex systems, versus how he treats intelligence.</p> <p>Scientists like to point out that we have voluminous evidence, alluded to earlier, that modern life is the end result of a gradual evolutionary process. When they apply evolutionary reasoning to the problems they face in their work, they are routinely rewarded with tangible progress. We know that the basic components of evolution by natural selection are empirical facts: Genes really do mutate, sometimes leading to new functionalities. Natural selection can string together these mutations into directional change. On a small scale these are empirical facts. We then note that every complex adaptation studied in detail has shown clear signs of evolutionary history, and in many cases we have strong, converging evidence for the major stepping stones through which they evolved. </p> <p>Axe dismisses all of this out of hand. Evolution is sheer lunacy, untutored intuition is enough to refute it, and until you evolve a flagellum from scratch in a laboratory you have nothing.</p> <p>Contrast that with his credulity regarding the power of intelligence. It is all well and good to say that intelligence can create things natural causes cannot, but he never stops to ask about possible limitations on what intelligence can achieve. Instead he writes things like this:</p> <blockquote><p> We're left to think that poor <i>Tavros 2</i> [a solar-powered, underwater vehicle] is really no more worthy of comparison to a lowly cyanobacterium than it is to an exalted dolphin. After all, raw natural ingredients like sand and metal ores and crude oil become <i>Tavros 2</i> only with the skillful help of thousands of people at hundreds of industrial plants of various kinds. With all due respect, this human invention does very little in comparison to the human effort expended to manufacture it. The contrast with cyanobacteria could hardly be more stark. (p. 175) </p></blockquote> <p>This sort of thing is commonplace throughout the book. He is constantly telling us that the simplest biological processes are <i>way</i> beyond the puny contrivances of human engineers. Axe is all about parlaying our everyday experiences into grand conclusions about the history of life on Earth. Why then should I not conclude that intelligence is fundamentally incapable of accomplishing what Axe attributes to it? If the greatest accomplishments of the greatest intelligences we know of are like nothing compared to the living world, then why the confidence that intelligence is responsible for the living world, much less for the universe as a whole? </p> <p>With natural selection he refuses to accept the small-scale evidence of what has been observed in the field and the lab and the large scale evidence for common descent and for the evolutionary origins of those complex systems he goes on about. He laughs at it. Dismisses it out of hand. But he makes a far more extravagant extrapolation in going from what intelligence is seen to do, to what he claims it did. </p> <p>Axe's argument is like saying that since moles make molehills, mountains are evidence for giant moles. </p> <p>I make an issue of this because I am willing to meet Axe part way. I also find evolution by natural selection hard to believe, though I've never considered “intuition” a serious argument for any scientific conclusion. As I see it, though, the idea has three big things going for it. The first is the mountain of evidence that supports it. The second is the consistent success that scientists have had in applying evolutionary thinking in their work, as contrasted with the nothing-at-all that ID folks can brag about.</p> <p>And the third is that the main alternative theory, that an omnipotent magic man just poofed the universe into existence with an act of will, is even harder to believe. If you don't think it's hard to believe, if you're perfectly happy to just help yourself to the assumption of such an intelligence to explain basic facts of biology, then you need to think a little harder.</p> <p>Maybe that's just a matter of opinion. What is not a matter of opinion is that Axe's book is very superficial, makes no serious attempt to engage with the arguments of the other side, and reads far more like standard creationist propaganda than it does a work of science. </p> <p>Come to think of it, I intuited that this would be that case before even opening the book. By Axe's logic I needn't have bothered actually reading it. </p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/jrosenhouse" lang="" about="/author/jrosenhouse" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jrosenhouse</a></span> <span>Thu, 09/22/2016 - 21:46</span> Fri, 23 Sep 2016 01:46:46 +0000 jrosenhouse 50787 at https://scienceblogs.com Sully is Fiction https://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/09/20/sully-is-fiction <span>Sully is Fiction</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Kevin Drum has <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/09/donald-trump-teaching-whole-world-how-lie">a short post</a> noting that Trump has taught other Republican politicians how to lie more brazenly. Politicians have never been noted for their honesty, but we are seeing something new this time around. It is very aggravating that Trump simply makes it up as he goes along, while Clinton is the one endlessly on the defensive about her honesty.</p> <p>Relax, this is not going to be another election post. Instead I want to direct your attention <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2016/09/sully_is_the_perfect_fantasy_for_the_post_fact_era_of_the_brexit_and_trump.html">to this article</a>, from <i>Slate</i>. Compared to the daily calumnies emanating from our freak-show election, it is extremely small potatoes. And yet for some reason it has been bothering me for several days now.</p> <p>The article is a review of the film <i>Sully</i>, directed by Clint Eastwood. Fair warning: Major spoilers ahead.</p> <p>The real story of <i>Sully</i> is short and simple. Shortly after its take-off from LaGuardia Airport, a plane had a run-in with some geese. This resulted in engine failure, forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing. The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, determined that they would not be able to return to the airport runway. He landed the plane in the only place he could find, which was the Hudson River. Everyone got out safely. The National Transportation Safety Board did a routine investigation that quickly exonerated Sullenberger of any wrongdoing. The end.</p> <p>That doesn't make for much of a movie, so Eastwood simply made up a different story. <i>Slate's</i> Forrest Wickman summarizes the results:</p> <blockquote><p> But the conflict <i>Sully</i> invents is a fantasy that aligns itself with some of the dumbest and most dangerous ideas of our era. By making an enemy of bureaucrats, experts, and “facts,” Eastwood has made the perfect movie for the year of the Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. </p></blockquote> <p>Here's the key part of the article:</p> <blockquote><p> Still, the flight, even seen from multiple perspectives, makes up only a small portion of the film, and the rest is about one thing: The wizened old salt-of-the-earth pilot Sully (played by Hollywood’s favorite so-called everyman, Tom Hanks) vs. the National Transportation Safety Board, government regulatory eggheads who have the gall to conduct a standard investigation of a major aeronautic incident.* Sully, the hero, defends the wisdom of his gut, developed over the course of 40 years of piloting. The movie makes a villain of the technocrats with their scientific method and their acronyms (“QRH”? “APV”?) and their newfangled computer simulations, which they use to suggest that Sully could have landed the hobbled jetliner on a nearby runway instead of setting down in an icy river. (“They're playing Pac-Man and we’re flying a plane full of human beings,” Aaron Eckhart's co-pilot growls, through his matching Sully-esque moustache.)</p> <p>This conflict reaches its climax in a scene that’s completely, well, trumped-up. Sully prevails by requesting that the NTSB redo the simulations while making one crucial adjustment: The pilots must wait 35 seconds before turning toward one of the nearest airports, in an approximation of the time it might take to assess the situation and make a decision. Sure enough, the test pilots all lose altitude too quickly and go down in deadly crashes just short of their landing strips. It’s a satisfying dramatic conclusion, but it's pure fiction: In real life, it was the NTSB, not Sully, that suggested adding the 35 seconds. </p></blockquote> <p>Go back to the original for links.</p> <p>Really savor that final sentence for the moment. Eastwood did not simply make something up for dramatic effect. Instead he presented the exact opposite of what actually happened, for the purpose of demonizing real people who did not deserve to be demonized.</p> <p>How sick do you have to be to do that? How devoid of conscience do you have to be to even think of such a thing?</p> <p>Eastwood is well-known for his right-wing politics. As has become clear from Trump and his many supporters, the political Right in this country has no conscience, and cares nothing about facts or reality. </p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/jrosenhouse" lang="" about="/author/jrosenhouse" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jrosenhouse</a></span> <span>Mon, 09/19/2016 - 18:15</span> Mon, 19 Sep 2016 22:15:19 +0000 jrosenhouse 50786 at https://scienceblogs.com POTW 3! https://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/09/19/potw-3-2 <span>POTW 3!</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Just want to poke my head up to mention that I have <a href="http://educ.jmu.edu/~rosenhjd/POTW/Fall16/homepage.html">posted a new POTW</a> for you. You get three for the price of one this week. The official problem is pretty straightforward, I think, so I gave you two bonus problems just for fun. Enjoy!</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/jrosenhouse" lang="" about="/author/jrosenhouse" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jrosenhouse</a></span> <span>Mon, 09/19/2016 - 17:22</span> Mon, 19 Sep 2016 21:22:42 +0000 jrosenhouse 50785 at https://scienceblogs.com POTW 2 Posted https://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/09/12/potw-2-posted <span>POTW 2 Posted</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>The second Problem of the Week has <a href="http://educ.jmu.edu/~rosenhjd/POTW/Fall16/homepage.html">now been posted.</a> It's a harder version of last week's problem, but perhaps it is good for a bit of amusement. By its nature, it might be a bit hard to describe the solution in a comment, but have a look anyway.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/jrosenhouse" lang="" about="/author/jrosenhouse" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jrosenhouse</a></span> <span>Mon, 09/12/2016 - 04:33</span> Mon, 12 Sep 2016 08:33:35 +0000 jrosenhouse 50784 at https://scienceblogs.com When Did it Become a Big Joke to Run For President? https://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/09/09/when-did-it-become-a-big-joke-to-run-for-president <span>When Did it Become a Big Joke to Run For President?</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>On <i>Morning Joe</i> today, Mike Barnicle asked Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson what he would do about Aleppo. Johnson's reply was, “What is Aleppo?”</p> <p>We're done here. Johnson should withdraw from the race, go home, and never show his face in public again. </p> <p>When did running for President become a big joke? When did it become something you do on a whim, just because? The Libertarian Party is receiving more attention than usual this year since they have a superficially serious ticket, and since the two main candidates are unpopular. Turns out, though, that Johnson has managed to avoid hearing about one of the most horrible human tragedies in recent memory, not to mention one of the most pressing foreign policy questions for the next President. Serious candidate indeed.</p> <p>Meanwhile, for the last several elections the Republican primary has had an extensive clown car. You see, many Republican politicians think it's just fine to use a Presidential election to sell a book, to jack up their speaking fees, to extort money from credulous followers, or to angle for a Fox News show. That's how you get jokers like Newt Gingrich, Ben Carson, or Mike Huckabee running for President.</p> <p>Do I need to point out that there is nothing comparable to this on the Democratic side? You have to go back to Lyndon LaRouche to find such an utterly unworthy candidate. There is a reason Trump ran as a Republican, and it sure wasn't ideological conviction. </p> <p>Speaking of Trump, did you catch the “Commander in Chief” forum yesterday? Trump expressed his undying love for Vladimir Putin. What a strong leader, he says. He tells us that all we need to do to defeat ISIS is to “take the oil.” This, apparently, is simple to do. He brushed off rape in the military by saying, in effect, that boys will be boys. And he told us that Obama has consistently done the opposite of what top intelligence officials have told him to do, a fact he inferred from the body language of his CIA briefers.</p> <p>Shades of the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBRlGh4CpoI">Jackson Park Express.</a></p> <p>It's hardly worth the trouble to rant about this, or to lament that so many voters seem unable to see through Trump's act. Let's move on to the press. They have picked up where they left off in the nineties, a period during which every move Hillary made was given a sinister interpretation. At the forum yesterday, moderator Matt Lauer spent ten minutes of a thirty minute interview hammering her about her e-mails. He then spent most of the remaining time cutting her off every time she tried to give an answer that was more than two sentences long. When it was Trump's turn, Lauer mostly rolled over and had his belly rubbed.</p> <p>I watched some of Brain Williams's MSNBC show tonight. He opened by telling us that both candidates were “under fire” for their performance at the forum yesterday. It quickly became clear that Trump was under fire because everything he said was stupid and deceitful. Hillary was under fire for not smiling enough. </p> <p>I mostly watch MSNBC. That's the liberal news channel. Yet virtually every host and commentator knows that as soon as Hillary's name comes up they are required to discuss the “ethical cloud” under which she labors and to remind us of how little the American people trust her. It's like a tic with them. Never mind that in every case the &amp;ldqou;scandal” is either fake, or so trivial that it would not be news for any other politician. These are the Clintons we're talking about, meaning their slightest move gets reported with the presumption of guilt. </p> <p>Let's move over to the left now. Bernie Sanders briefly interrupted his daily routine of admiring self-regard to reprise his role as useful idiot for the right. Now he's joining the chorus clucking about the Clinton Foundation. Remember that the “scandal” here was that certain people who donated to the Foundation, a highly successful charity let us recall, were subsequently given a few extra seconds of face time with the State Department than they might otherwise have gotten. Of course, there is not even a ghost of quid pro quo, and the examples trotted out by the press as insidious and worrying are laughable on their merits. But never mind! Having no actual impropriety to report on, it's nice we can count on the media, and Sanders, to lecture endlessly about appearances.</p> <p>Incidentally, when Colin Powell behaved in <i>exactly</i> the same way, it was <a href="http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/8/30/12690444/alma-powell-clinton-foundation">treated as admirable</a> by the press.</p> <p>And we still have Sanders's preening supporters to deal with. These were the geniuses who, in defiance of all recent American history, thought it was a crackerjack idea to nominate for President someone who recoils from the word “capitalism.” Jerry Coyne, for example, has been doing post after post about how awful Hillary Clinton is. He sometimes <a href="https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/more-mendacity-and-sleaze-from-the-clintons/">uses phrases</a> like “mendacity and sleaze” when discussing them. <a href="https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/why-i-wont-shut-up-about-hillary-clinton/">In this post</a> he seems genuinely annoyed that so many of his fellow liberals think he should tone it down a bit:</p> <blockquote><p> Yet still I'm told either that Hillary Clinton is pure and untouchable, without a whiff of scandal to her name, or that I should simply shut up about the rumors of scandal and appearances of conflict of interest (note that I've never said she's been convicted of anything, just that she puts herself in problematic situations that could have been avoided). I'm told to keep quiet about her “forgetfulness” about her emails, about her lies about having been under “sniper fire” in Bosnia, about her huge personal emoluments from giving speeches to Wall Street, and so on. </p></blockquote> <p>Rumors of scandal? Appearances of conflict? <i>This</i> is Jerry's bill of particulars? <i>This</i> is what works him into a froth? </p> <p>What is <i>wrong</i> with him?</p> <p>Trump bribed the attorney general of Florida to have an investigation dropped. He ran a fraudulent university that was specifically designed to bilk vulnerable people out of their money. He routinely screwed contractors out of their money because he knew the contractors couldn't afford to fight him in court. In his business career he dealt so deceitfully with so many different banks that absolutely no one will lend him money any more. He refuses to release his tax returns because he knows it will show that he has been lying about his net worth and charitable giving. He routinely retweets Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. And he goes out on the trail and just makes it up as he goes along. Almost everything that comes out of his mouth is a bald-faced lie.</p> <p>If rumors and appearances make Hillary guilty of “mendacity and sleaze,” then what language is left for Trump's bill of particulars?</p> <p>We sure are lucky Jerry Coyne is here to protect us from <i>Hillary's</i> perfidy. What a courageous truthteller he is!</p> <p>When I compare Hillary to some Platonic ideal of the perfect candidate she falls short. But when I compare her to the genuine mendacity and sleaze of the Republican leadership, the corrupt press corps bent on her destruction, and the self-righteous bloggers who offer nothing to rival her impressive record of genuine public service, she suddenly seems a good deal more impressive.</p> <p>Mostly, though, I give up. The election will play out however it plays out, and regardless of who wins the country will continue to limp along pathetically as it has for two decades. Whatever.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/jrosenhouse" lang="" about="/author/jrosenhouse" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jrosenhouse</a></span> <span>Thu, 09/08/2016 - 20:11</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/policy" hreflang="en">Policy</a></div> </div> </div> Fri, 09 Sep 2016 00:11:55 +0000 jrosenhouse 50783 at https://scienceblogs.com A Lovely Move From the Chess Olympiad https://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/09/06/a-lovely-move-from-the-chess-olympiad <span>A Lovely Move From the Chess Olympiad</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>I realize that I never finished the story of how I achieved the exalted rank of expert at chess. Suffice it to say that I played two more games beyond the ones I have already reported on. Both were against 1900 rated players and both were rather dissatisfying draws. In the first I had the black side of a Queen's Gambit Declined, got the worst of it out of the opening, but then found a nice maneuver to get out of trouble when my opponent dithered a bit in the middlegame. In the second I had the white side of a Sicilian Kan, which quickly ended up in a standard Hedgehog formation. We shuffled the pieces aimlessly for a while before agreeing to a draw. That's the Hedgehog for you! I thought I was worse in the final position and was happy to get a draw. The computer said I was much better and suggested a bunch of lines I hadn't even looked at. Cower before my expert-level positional judgment!</p> <p>Officially there were two rounds to go, and I really liked playing on those wooden chess sets. But I was also getting very tired and it seemed to me my play was deteriorating. My informal calculation said I was up seven rating points (I only needed four!) So I decided to withdraw from the tournament and simply declare mission accomplished. Spare me the lectures about fighting spirit. I've been playing this miserable, time-sink of a game for thirty years and dammit, just this once, I wanted my friggin rating points. So sue me.</p> <p>Anyway, let's have a look at some real chess. Rio is already a distant memory. The real Olympics are going on <a href="http://www1.bakuchessolympiad.com/">right now in Baku</a>, in Azerbaijan. I'm referring to the chess olympiad, of course. The United States has its strongest team ever, with Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So on the first three boards. All are among the world's top ten players. We're giving up some rating points on board four, but Sam Shankland and Ray Robson are not exactly pushovers.</p> <p>The US team got nicked for a draw in round four against a strong team from the Czech Republic. But top seed Russia lost to Ukraine, in part because Alexander Grischuk collapsed against Alexander Volokitin on Board Four. A bad day for the Russians, but we're talking about mighty strong teams that have the likes of Grischuk and Volokitin on Board Four.</p> <p>Anyway, here's an interesting position from the round two matchup between India and Costa Rica. India is a major powerhouse, even without Anand playing for them, and are a dark horse to finish on the podium. Costa Rica is less strong. The position below comes from the Board One game between Bhaskaran Adhiban, playing white, for India and Sergio Minero Pinedo, playing black, for Costa Rica. Adhiban is already a top grandmaster and is still improving. Pinedo is rated a whisker below 2400. No slouch, but a draw with black against Adhiban would have been a real accomplishment.</p> <p>Here is the position, late in the game:</p> <p></p><center><br /><img src="http://educ.jmu.edu/~rosenhjd/chess/Olympiad/Olympiad1.jpg" height="300" width="300" /><br /></center> <p>Black to play. The draw was at hand by sacrificing the bishop for the pawn on f6, and then taking the pawn on d5 with the king. After that, the best white could get would be king, rook, bishop against king and rook. That's a well-known draw, and a fairly straightforward one if the defender knows a few standard techniques.</p> <p>Alas, Pinedo did not go for that. He thought he saw a cleaner way to draw. He moved his pawn to f4, white moved his pawn to f7, and black moved his rook to f5, leading to this position:</p> <p></p><center><br /><img src="http://educ.jmu.edu/~rosenhjd/chess/Olympiad/Olympiad2.jpg" height="300" width="300" /><br /></center> <p>Looks good! Seems like the white pawns are under control and the peace treaty is imminent. But not so fast. The position is actually white to play and win.</p> <p>Endgame tactics are always the best! Adhiban played Bf6!! That move deserves its own diagram:</p> <p></p><center><br /><img src="http://educ.jmu.edu/~rosenhjd/chess/Olympiad/Olympiad3.jpg" height="300" width="300" /><br /></center> <p>Incredible! If black takes with the bishop then his rook is obstructed and white just promotes his pawn. If black takes with the rook (which is what he played in the game), then white plays Ra6+ skewering the king to the rook. After the king moves out of the check, white just takes the rook. Game over! Black resigned.</p> <p>Great stuff! I caught some of the live broadcast this morning between classes, and it was excellent. But if you cannot tune in for that I recommend the recap videos by British grandmaster Daniel King on YouTube. That's where I found this little nugget. The videos are ten to twenty minutes long and King's commentary is very lucid.</p> <p>That's it for now!</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/jrosenhouse" lang="" about="/author/jrosenhouse" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jrosenhouse</a></span> <span>Mon, 09/05/2016 - 21:31</span> Tue, 06 Sep 2016 01:31:28 +0000 jrosenhouse 50782 at https://scienceblogs.com The Return of Problem of the Week! https://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2016/09/06/the-return-of-problem-of-the-week-3 <span>The Return of Problem of the Week!</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>In a technical, legalistic sense, the semester started last week. But as far as I'm concerned, the semester doesn't really begin until <a href="http://educ.jmu.edu/~rosenhjd/POTW/Fall16/homepage.html">Problem of the Week</a> returns!</p> <p>Our theme for this semester: Clock Problems.</p> <p>That's not code for modular arithmetic or anything. I mean it literally. Every problem this term will feature clocks in some way. Some are fairly easy, some are a bit harder, though I wouldn't say any of them are killer. Keep in mind that I deliberately keep the problems a little on the basic side, since I want students in the lower level math classes to be able to participate. So, nothing that requires anything more than algebra or geometry, and maybe some trigonometry.</p> <p>You also do not need to worry that students will look on this blog and see the solutions put forward in the comments. Participation is entirely optional, and they are not receiving any sort of course credit for handing in a solution. The kind of student who enjoys participating in this is also the kind who will not be looking for a shortcut to the solution.</p> <p>So feel free to have at it in the comments! </p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/jrosenhouse" lang="" about="/author/jrosenhouse" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jrosenhouse</a></span> <span>Mon, 09/05/2016 - 20:48</span> Tue, 06 Sep 2016 00:48:06 +0000 jrosenhouse 50781 at https://scienceblogs.com