Monthly Archives: December 2004

Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District

There’s a chance that the legal precedent most used in the coming years of the evolution/creationism controversy will bear the name of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District. That’s the name of the complaint filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State through the agency of the Pepper Hamilton LLP law firm.

The complaint compresses the history of “intelligent design” and its pedigree as an offshoot of the “creation science” movement into a surprisingly readable legal document. One can find in the complaint a number of issues which go toward showing that the Dover School District’s “intelligent design policy” (the combination of the adoption of Of Pandas and People as a reference text, the resolution that “intelligent design” is mandated for instruction when evolution is taught, and the further “guidance” that no crtiticism of “intelligent design” is to be done) does violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. There’s just about everything you can think of in the complaint, from the acknowledged religious motivation of the authors of the Pandas textbook through the identity of content between modern “intelligent design” and the “creation science” struck down in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) to the openly religious (and vicious) attitudes prevailing among the members of the Dover School Board in considering and adopting its “intelligent design policy”. There are several references to McLean v. Arkansas in the complaint.

The Discovery Institute and its Center for […] Science and Culture are given their due recognition as the fount and wellspring of modern “intelligent design”, and its “Wedge” document is also recognized for its explicit ties between “intelligent design” and religious belief. ID advocate Phillip Johnson likewise is quoted to good effect concerning the fact that “intelligent design” is at basis about getting recognition for a creator God. It is wonderful stuff, and there is little wonder that the Discovery Institute is taking pains — and press releases — to distance themselves from the action in Dover, Pennsylvania. The outcome of this lawsuit could set back their socio-political program long enough for some of them to think about whether they should have tried to have made a convincing argument to the scientific community in the first place, rather then try to force their views into school classrooms in advance of showing any scientific content.

At this point, I’m hoping that the Dover School District takes up the offer of free legal representation from the Thomas More Law Center and proceeds to try the suit rather than settle. There are a lot of legal arguments bound within the complaint upon which it would be good to have a ruling.

Some further links:
NCSE summary of action in Pennsylvania
NCSE resources on Of Pandas and People
York Daily Record article on the lawsuit
ACLU site on the case
Thread for discussion of the Dover case

Turrell on Perakh

On one of the Metanexus lists, there’s a review of Mark Perakh’s “Unintelligent Design” by David J. Turrell, M.D. Perakh’s book is a devastating critique of all sorts of pseudoscience, but the “intelligent design” and “bible code” arguments are strongly targeted.

Turrell, though, doesn’t think that Perakh is on target with various criticisms. In fact, Turrell tells the reader that Perakh presents some information that “is out-and-out wrong”.

The first example out of the gate from Turrell after this claim is as follows:

Some examples of the attacks: Against Hugh Ross, an old-earth creationist, Perakh changes the history of the Hebrew language, to challenge Ross’ interpretation of the Torah containing a limited working vocabulary of words with variable meanings. Perakh disagrees, and states the Torah contains 14,691 different words, when it is well known that a working vocabulary of 2,750 words will interpret 95 percent of the five books. Ancient Hebrew was very limited, requiring referral to other similar Semitic languages to be sure of word-root meanings. It fell into disuse in the Middle Ages and modern Israel revived a language, which had a working vocabulary of about 10,000 words. Perakh quotes a modern Israeli dictionary as having 70,000 entries, 50 years after the start of Israel, as if to reinforce his point. It appears that Perakh does not understand the complexities of the scholarship involved in investigating the interpretation of the ancient texts. There are other ways to try to refute Ross’ approach.

This was such an interesting take on things that I decided to look at another well known text, Moby Dick, to see how many words would “interpret” various percentages of the whole:

10% : About 2.5 words (“the”,”of”, and part of “and”)
25% : 12 words
50% : 91 words
75% : 851 words
80% : 1,434 words
85% : 2,420 words
90% : 4,186 words
95% : 7,905 words

The total number of words is 218,623, and the total number of unique words is 17,140.

Turrell’s argument in no way puts Perakh’s assertion at risk. Yeah, common words get used a lot in natural language. But that doesn’t mean that a wider vocabulary isn’t available, and Perakh’s uncontested observation of the size of the vocabulary evident from examination of the source documents themselves does go straight to the heart of any argument that is premised on a significantly smaller vocabulary being the only thing going. Certainly, other approaches might also be used, but so far Turrell hasn’t demonstrated any reason why this one from Perakh should be held suspect.

Perhaps Perakh “does not understand the complexities of the scholarship involved in investigating the interpretation of the ancient texts”, but the argument given in the review by Turrell goes nowhere in getting me to concur with Turrell.

Spreading that Holiday Spirit…

I had to go on an errand today, and as I was pulling into a parking space, the woman who was leaving it paused to make a comment to me.

“You know,” she said, “you look just like Yasser Arafat in that hat.”

OK, I know that I’ve been sickly, but I hadn’t realized just how bad it’s been.

FreeBSD 5.3

A couple of weeks ago, FreeBSD 5.3 was released, marking the first such release of 5.x marked as “stable”. So I got a copy of the installation and started on my own. I’m looking to replace the distinctly aged 4.4 server here, and also the base install at is a creaky 4.5. First stop: find a spare box and a reasonable sized disk. The box turned out to be a 900 MHz AMD CPU on a PCChips M810LR motherboard, and the disk a 20GB Western Digital.

The installation CD came up to the point where the FreeBSD “Chucky” daemon in ASCII art graced the right side of the screen, and a boot options menu showed up on the left. (There has been a request from the touchy to make “Chucky”‘s appearance optional.) I simply left it to do its default thing, which was to… Panic: pmap_mapdev: Cannot allocate kernel virtual memory.

This led to my first round of hair-pulling, which anyone who has seen me lately knows I should avoid. The up-shot was that in order for FreeBSD to boot relibably on this machine, the ACPI loading had to be turned off:

/boot/device.hints: hint.acpi.0.disabled=”1”

It took a lot of Googling and paying attention to a Spanish-language post to find that tidbit of information.

From there, the install went the usual way FreeBSD installs go, pretty smoothly. The trick, I’ve found, is that once your base set of stuff has been written to disk, immediately move to reboot the machine. Do not adjust options, do not fiddle with X, go directly to exiting the install and rebooting. You see, until that magical first reboot happens, nothing you’ve done seems to been written in stone, or in magnetic domains on the drive, whatever. Bomb out of X with a misplaced parameter, and you have the whole install to do over. Once that first reboot happens, you can fiddle with things to your heart’s content (well, modulo any of the usual ways to make a Unix box unbootable).

I install ports. In fact, I’ve come to regard the ports distribution as my primary source of software for FreeBSD. And the first thing to do with ports is to install cvsup. Go to /usr/ports/net/cvsup-without-gui, then “make” and “make install”. And then I update the ports tree with cvsup, bringing things up to date there. So after that I got to browse through ports and install the various things I want.

Once I’ve got my 20GB disk the way I want it, my plan is to clone it to larger-capacity disks for various sites. FreeBSD, at least in the past, has been quite tolerant of changing between systems. (Except X windows, which needs to know exactly what hardware is under the hood. Fortunately, most of the time nobody needs to use X on these machines.) 20GB drive out, new 120GB drive in. Step 1 in cloning: put a minimal install on the new drive, establishing the partition, marking as bootable, etc. FreeBSD complains that the drive geometry it got handed was nonsensical and that it would be using its own. The rest of the install went fine, then reboot and … Read Error. Reboot again, and this time the system acted like the drive didn’t even exist. I’ll reduce hours of repetitive rounds of installing and fiddling with geometry to a brief synopsis. No, the MB BIOS and FreeBSD could not come to an agreement on what the drive geometry should look like. However, by going into the BIOS immediately after an install, I was able to mark it as a “User” drive, turn off LBA addressing, and change the PIO mode to AUTO. This combination appeared to do the trick. I was able to reboot successively and successfully several times.

With Samba loaded, I’m aiming to use this as a central file server for our various machines here.

More Adventures in Recuperation, #9

More of the same. Basically, the Lomotil and Imodium are doing what they do best, and keeping my number of trips to the bathroom down pretty well. While I still have more pain on moving about than I would like, I do think there is a trend toward improvement going on. I’ll be visiting with my surgeon next week. We’ll see what he thinks about things.

One thing I’ve been using is Nestle’s NuBasic brand of liquid nutrition. Apparently, “NuBasic” simply doesn’t have the name brand appeal of rival product “Ensure”. So this week at the pharmacy, I find that there are cases of “Nestle Nutrition Carnation Instant Breakfast” instead. The ingredient list is the same all the way down to “potassium phsophate”. Oh, and with the label reprinting, the price went up a couple of bucks. Thanks, guys.