Let Who Die?

I watched Ron Paul’s response to Wolf Blitzer’s medical insurance question and I do not hear anybody in the audience shouting “let him die”. I do hear strong applause in response to Paul’s comment “that’s what freedom is all about—taking your own risks”. And I do hear a couple audience member shouting “yeah!” to Blitzers question “are you saying that society should just let him die?” The audience reaction got a lot of attention this week. But it seems to me Blitzers line of questioning (and lack of follow-up) was the bigger story.

The first thing is that Blitzers hypothetical “young man, makes a good living” is a bit of a straw man in this context. The point of the healthcare debate is not so much about the young man who makes a good living. It’s more about the young man or woman who does not make a “good living”. It’s about the baseline we are willing to accept as a society. How low are we willing to set the bar?

Secondly, it seems to me that the obvious follow-up question Blitzer should have asked is:

Blitzer: OK Mr. Paul, well when that (uninsured) young man shows up in the emergency room after a car accident are the doctors going to treat him or not?

Now make that young man an old grandpa with Alzheimer’s disease. Or a baby with RSV. Yes I know we have Medicaid for the very poor and Medicare for the elderly. But lots of folks are falling through the cracks (about 1 in 6)!

Then it might have been nice if Blitzer quizzed Paul on the economics so we could listen to Paul’s’ explanation of how if we just let the market do it’s job, see, and privatized everything, our healthcare costs would not be rising at double-digit annual rates.

So fie on Blitzer, for the straw man of a scenario and the total lack of follow-up.

Posted in healthcare, libertarianism | Leave a comment

Finely Tuned

Tuning Fork

Shostakovich and Stalin by Mait Jüriado via Flickr

It’s hard to decide whether to loathe or applaud The BioLogos Forum. The purpose of the project is to convince evangelical Christians that evolution is real. Nobody can argue with that right? The world (certainly the United States) would be better off if fewer people thought the planet was 6000 years old and cave men rode dinosaurs right?

The part that I often get hung up on though, is the inconsistency of the argument put forth on BioLogos. On the one hand, they make the case that we should all believe in the theory of evolution because of all the really great evidence for it. Evidence is important right? We are all interested in figuring out how things really work right? Of course, especially when we are talking about something as important as life on this planet, where it came from, and where it’s headed.

But then BioLogos takes a sharp left turn. Observation and evidence and logic are really important when studying biology, but when it comes to everything else, we should really not apply those criteria. It’s NOMA you see. The crux of their position is that you don’t have to throw out your Christianity in order to believe in the theory of evolution.

One thing that has always bugged me about that position is that it seems like such a small victory. The scientific method is so much more powerful than that. Why stop with the theory of evolution I say. Why not slay more sacred cows while you’re at it? Line ’em up and knock ’em down. You thought the earth was flat. Busted. You thought demons caused illness. Busted. You thought we all evolved from a single breeding pair (Adam+Eve). Busted. So far so good. Why not go on… You think there is a magic bearded guy who intercedes on your behalf? Busted. You think there is a “spirit” that enters your body at conception and leaves it at death. Busted.

I get enthused. And then I am reminded of my real world experience discussing and debating these very issues with friends and family. I’m reminded of how hard it is to change someone’s mind. And when I think of that, I become much more sympathetic to the BioLogos approach. Maybe the scientists have to excuse (temporary) hypocrisy in the interest of progress. Any progress. Small. Slow. Progress.

One can view BioLogos cynically (and I often do). But one can also detect a sort of genius at work. A great example of this is the recent series of articles by Dennis Venema about his journey from de facto Intelligent Design proponent to evolutionary theory advocate:

From Intelligent Design to BioLogos, Part 1: Early years
From Intelligent Design to BioLogos, Part 2: Embracing Intelligent Design
From Intelligent Design to BioLogos, Part 3: An Unexpected Opportunity
From Intelligent Design to BioLogos, Part 4: Reading Behe
From Intelligent Design to BioLogos, Part 5: Epilogue

Venema is the perfect messenger: young, handsome, devoutly religious. His rhetoric is scientifically accurate (on the subject of evolutionary biology) and at the same time perfectly tuned to his audience. Nowhere is BioLogos’ perfect sense of their audience more evident than in the Ask an Evolutionary Creationist: A Q&A with Dennis Venema. Just look at how this question is posed:

7. From Jane (from her husband, an atheist): All of the questions posted so far approach the topic from the viewpoint of assuming belief in a god. As an atheist, I don’t share that assumption. (For those who might not appreciate it, evolution offers a mechanism for understanding the existence of living organisms that doesn’t require the existence of a god.) If you transitioned from an anti-evolutionary/pro-intelligent design view to an evolutionary creationist view a few years ago,” why didn’t you keep going and just embrace evolution and drop the theistic aspect?

For those who haven’t spent much time on BioLogos I must explain that there is almost no real debate on the site itself. Through their ground rules for commenting and their diligent enforcement, the comment section is little more than an echo chamber. Question 7 (above) though is a masterwork of subtle self-inflicted echo chamber intrusion. We have Jane (not an atheist), interceding on behalf of her husband (an atheist) with a substantive question. And it’s the very same question that’s been on my mind all along! Venema’s response, while unsatisfying, represents a fair piece of rhetoric. I admire the way Venema turns God of the Gaps around on itself in his response:

This (Jane’s husband’s position) is a God-of-the-gaps approach, where God has less and less to do as we understand more and more how nature works (and a view I reject). Logically, if I held this view I would view science as an inherently evil activity, since any natural explanation diminishes the activity of God from this viewpoint.

Did you see what he did there? He responds to the atheist, but he’s playing to the gallery. It is brilliant. The side effect is that he may just be able to convince his co-religionists that he’s not such a bad guy after all. He’s not an uppity scientist. He’s a true believer. Maybe there really is something to this evolution stuff.

Posted in evolution, religion | Leave a comment

Google Sites Adds Keyboard Shortcuts

I love Google Sites (wiki). I just noticed a whole bunch of keyboard shortcuts on the “More actions” menu. More to love!

Posted in Google Apps | Leave a comment

Of Workmen, Tools and Logical Argument

I’ve often heard the saying “It’s a poor workman who blames his tools”.  Remember in 2009: Twitter: blaming Ruby for their mistakes. While I agree with the substance of that post (that Twitter could’ve picked different tools or made Ruby suffice), seeing that saying again kind of set me off. Hence the present missive…

Whenever I hear (It’s a poor workman who blames his tools) used as a blanket statement it bugs me. You know, some tools really are better than others. And you know, sometimes a (workman) chooses or must make do with poor ones. Again, I’m not talking about Ruby here—I’m talking about that saying.

A quick search yielded some fascinating history on the origins of that saying. It looks like the saying started off rather differently:

Mauves ovriers ne trovera ja bon hostill. [A bad workman will never find a good tool.] (French proverb, late 13th C. )

And that usage prevailed for about six centuries or so until this:

Good workmen never quarrel with their tools. (Byron, _Don Juan_, 1818)

which is pretty close to the prevalent version I hear all the time in the software community.

The earliest version says (a poor workman can’t do good work, no matter how good the tools are). Now I can get behind that one. No controversy there.

The latest version says a good workman can do good work no matter how poor the tools are. That presumes that the workman cannot choose his tools. For if he could choose his tools then he would be evaluated on his ability to choose them, and choosing bad ones would reflect poorly on his ability. Or perhaps the workman wouldn’t even bother choosing tools at all since all tools are equally usable (to the good workman.) And that just seems absurd on its face.

Tools do matter, and the ability to pick good ones often sets the very best workmen apart from their peers.

Posted in tool | Leave a comment

Github Implements Agency-Aware Identity

screenshot of Github's new context selector for organizations

Github lets you specify your agency context

Github gave me a whole new reason to love them last week when they introduced agency-aware identity in their new organizations offering. Crazy cool. Now each of my clients can have their own Github organization and I can participate in each! Same goes for each of my Open Source projects. And I can use it for a day job if I had such a thing. And all with one identity—one set of credentials. Brilliant Github!

Posted in identity, usability, Web as Platform | Leave a comment

Watch a Video While You Work

I like to have a TED or SALT talk playing while I work on something mindless. The problem is that on my single 15″ display, there isn’t really enough room to keep my work and the video (window) side-by-side. I’d like to designate the video window as the top window so that it never gets buried.

image of window bar w/ WindowShade X icon

Unsanity WindowShade X Icon

I found two OS X solutions, each of which appear to be OS X window manager hacks to let you force a window to float atop all the others: ∞labs Afloat and Unsanity WindowShade X. I installed the latter and can attest that (after a reboot) it will indeed keep a browser window afloat. Just select the window of interest and hit the command key twice (⌘-⌘). The keystroke is configurable.

WindowShade X relies on Unsanity’s Application Enhancer. I was concerned about security vulnerabilities introduced by that thing but since my Google searching didn’t turn up any obvious warnings I went ahead with it.

Posted in Apple, usability | Leave a comment

Run Google Chrome on Your Mac Now (with Extensions)

Google Chrome runs on your Mac now. Google Chrome supports Extensions now. Unfortunately, Google Chrome on your Mac doesn’t support extensions now.

Well that’s not exactly true. It’s hard to find, but you can get the developer build of Chrome for the Mac. It’s prebuilt on the Chromium Buildbot Snapshots for Mac Page. Scroll to the bottom and download the latest Zip archive. It contains the app (Chromium) which you just drag to your Applications folder.

After it’s in place, use it to browse to the Official Google Chrome Extensions site. Then check out the Google Quick Scroll Extension, which continues your Google search beyond the results page, right on the third-party pages you jump to.

Posted in OS X, tool | Leave a comment

Go Quacks Right

In Ruby Module#include at Odds with Duck Typing I lamented the fact that Ruby wouldn’t treat an object as an Enumerable unless that object included the Enumerable interface explicitly.

Well Google’s new Go language has no such limitation. If it quacks, it really is a duck in Go:

Rather than requiring the programmer to declare ahead of time that two types are related, in Go a type automatically satisfies any interface that specifies a subset of its methods. Besides reducing the bookkeeping, this approach has real advantages. Types can satisfy many interfaces at once, without the complexities of traditional multiple inheritance. Interfaces can be very lightweight—having one or even zero methods in an interface can express useful concepts. Interfaces can be added after the fact if a new idea comes along or for testing—without annotating the original types. Because there are no explicit relationships between types and interfaces, there is no type hierarchy to manage or discuss.

Well…there it is.

Posted in Ruby | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Phil Schiller and Uncle Rico

Separated at birth?

Phil Schiller and guns

Phil Schiller and guns

Uncle Rico

Uncle Rico

Posted in Apple, diversion | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Upgrade OS X 10.5.8 to JDK 1.6

I didn’t find any clear instructions on upgrading the JDK on OS X so I thought I’d share my findings.

First off, apparently Software Update does not automatically update the JDK. You have to manually download and run the updates. There are four updates to “Java for Mac OS X 1.5”. Since I couldn’t tell whether they were cumulative or not, I just downloaded and installed each one in sequence:

update 1

update 2

update 3

update 4

Now you’d think you’d be done, but those updates only install JDK 1.6—they don’t make it the default. The way I did that was to change a link in the Framework:

cd /System/Library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework/Versions
sudo rm -fr CurrentJDK
sudo ln -s 1.6 CurrentJDK

Now I see:

$ java -version
java version "1.6.0_13"
Java(TM) SE Runtime Environment (build 1.6.0_13-b03-211)
Java HotSpot(TM) 64-Bit Server VM (build 11.3-b02-83, mixed mode)
Now to see if it really works…
Update 1 8/7/09: That link I created wasn’t quite right in the original post. It was creating a link with an absolute path. This apparently caused the Java Preferences app to fail to start and also caused WebKit/Safari to crash on all but the simplest web pages. Wierd. Corrected link creation above.
Posted in Apple, tool | Tagged , , | 16 Comments