Monday, 3 February 2003

WSJ on the “New Europe” letter

Somewhat lost in the shuffle today has been the Wall Street Journal's editorial and comments on how the so-called “Gang of 8” letter came about. Money quote from the editorial:

The notion that France and Germany speak for all of Europe is especially absurd, akin to assuming that New York City and Washington, D.C., speak for all of America. Down in the polls, German leader Gerhard Schröder barely speaks for a majority in his own country. The fact that France's Jacques Chirac threw him some anti-American political cover is news, but still a dog-bites-man story of Gallic hauteur. The vote in NATO on helping the U.S. in Iraq was after all 15–4 in favor, with the other opponents being the global powers of Belgium and Luxembourg.

The commentary by Michael Gonzalez, who along with Terri Raphael, solicited the letter, meanwhile contains this choice statement:

The Journal is an independent newspaper and doesn't carry water for any government.

Unlike certain other New York-based newspapers we could mention.

Ryan McGee: Blogger I could hang out with

I'm serious. He's like my evil twin or something. Take his comments on Avril Lavigne for example:

I hate saying it, but she has the best pop record of the year. I like every single one of these songs. Everyone who I’ve pushed to listen to this disc grudgingly agrees this is a great album, even if “Complicated” generates a nervous tic in their eyes (it’s recently replaced “Blurry” by Puddle of Mudd for the “Livin’ La Vida Loca Overplayed Song of the Year” Award). Great record, great hooks, non-wince inducing ain't gonna change the world but as disposable musicianship this ranks pretty high.

So, if you want to know what I'd write in my blog if I watched Buffy and was fixated on Jennifer Garner (as David Letterman would say, she's easy on the eyes), read Wading in The Velvet Sea.

This post brought to you by the Department of Having Nothing Worthwhile to Post.

Dini and Evolution

Susanna, Jane Galt, Kevin Drum (CalPundit) and the Volokh Conspiracy (principally Eugene) have been posting about the Texas Tech professor, Michael Dini, whose policy is not to write letters of recommendation for students who refuse to acknowledge the Theory of Evolution. Or, as Dini explains:

If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will ask you: "How do you think the human species originated?" If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences.

Now, there are a few questions to be asked here:

  1. Does Dini have the right to set this condition? Yes. He's a professor, and he has the sole right to decide who he wants to write letters of recommendation for; it's not like he's promising to go back and give the students an “F” in the class.

  2. Is it a valid condition? Well, the Theory of Evolution is pretty fundamental to modern biology. On the other hand, I'm not convinced you need subscribe to the Theory of Evolution to be a successful doctor or dentist. But, it's Dini's condition, not mine, so he's the appropriate judge of the relative merits.

  3. Is the Theory of Evolution a “belief”? I don't think so, in the sense that like all scientific theories, it is falsifiable; the presence of evidence to the contrary, like evidence that humans existed before other mammals existed on Earth, would show it to be invalid. Creationism, however, isn't falsifiable; any piece of evidence against it can simply be rationalized as something created by God (to what end, however, is a mystery: why would God deliberately create evidence that would place doubts in the minds of men about the biblical account of creation?).

The bottom line, for me at least, is I'm glad I don't teach biology; it's hard enough trying to explain the scientific method when you're talking about political science, which has no theories anywhere near as politically controversial as evolution. (We have our own internal debates over whether or not people who call themselves “political scientists” ought to use the scientific method, but nobody outside the discipline cares.)

I somehow forgot to link to Mark Kleiman's excellent discussion. And my personal policy on the matter — not that I get a lot of requests for recommendations — is equivalent to that expressed by Mark:

My job as a teacher is to supply my students with the facts, the skills, and the ideas required for them to be able to form serious opinions on whatever it is I'm trying to teach them about. It's not my job to make their opinions coincide with mine. That's the difference between a university and a fundamentalist seminary. And I happily write enthusiastic recommendations for students whose political beliefs differ radically from mine.

It also happens to be representative of my teaching policy in general. I've shot down students who've spouted pure ignorant drivel on essay exams (I vividly recall a particular student who alleged that blacks were treated equally in the U.S. before the 1960s, but then started demanding all sorts of special privileges), but only because they've been factually wrong. notes

I've been playing with the stylesheet a bit recently. The most visible change is probably the background on the sidebar, which should show up as a light gray (on my laptop's LCD, it actually has a bluish tint). I've also set the stylesheet to just use your default sans-serif font (which probably means Verdana or some Helvetica variant), rather than the first font it could find in the long list of possibilities that was there before. (You can also choose the Serif look in some browsers, but it doesn't seem to stick so it's not very useful at present.) Of course, you can override the stylesheet rules if you like. Also, there's a printing stylesheet that most recent browsers recognize; the main thing it does is remove the sidebar when printing.

As you may also have noticed, I've simplified the TrackBack links; they're the links to the right of the Permalink icon that look like « (X), where X is the number of trackbacks to that entry. (The link is bold if X is non-zero.)

Finally, I've debated about whether or not to post a blogroll. Since I wouldn't use it myself, the value to me would be minimal; plus, I'd rather not be in a position to be accused of “playing favorites.” There are plenty of great blogs out there, and you don't need me pointing you in the right direction. (I have put some links to some services I've found useful, however; GeoURL and Janes' Blogosphere are both neat tools that I recommend heartily.)

Another brief note: I've fiddled some with the headers of the pages, so Internet Explorer should finally understand that this blog is in UTF-8 encoding. Grrr.

Road trust fund on the table in Tennessee

Bill Hobbs passes on word from the Nashville Tennessean that Gov. Phil Bredesen is considering using gas tax dollars to balance the general fund budget. While I don't share Bill's enthusiasm for raiding highway funds, and think it would be counterproductive to start accruing debt to pay for highway construction and maintenance, I'll reiterate my position that it would be reasonable to fund the Highway Patrol out of the gasoline and diesel tax. TDOT also should seriously consider using its dormant legal authority to build toll roads in rapidly-growing areas.

Bill has a longer post at the Political State Report.

Kevin Raybould also has a post at Also, a minor correction: the Tennessee Tollway Authority was sunsetted on 30 June 2000 after the legislature failed to pass legislation to reauthorize it for six more years.

48 Hours with Al Qaeda