Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Peter Jackson's Honorary Doctorate in Zoology


Rewriting Evolutionary Theory*

I'm sitting down to write this an hour after seeing Peter Jackson's King Kong. I didn't like his Lord of the Rings, but that was because I'm a picky bastard who griped that they weren't exactly like the books.

I didn't like King Kong because it was a cinematic abomination. The car ride home from Corydon, where Benji and I saw the movie, takes about a half-hour. We spent the entire ride talking about how bad the movie was, and had no trouble continuing to find things that infuriated us.

The beginning of the film was dull, the characters flat and uninteresting. I had no reason to care about any of them--the only one to have any sort of depth was the lead woman, Ann Darrow, but absolutely nothing was done with it. This was a theme: they would do actions and scenes that would set the stage for a dramatic scene later, but do nothing with it. The film-maker, Carl Denham, was a two-bit sleaze who constantly swindled everyone in his attempt to strike it rich, but no-one ever really got mad at him for it. At one point the first mate of the ship talks about a cabin boy, Jim I think, saying that he was found as a stowaway on the ship, and was described as having been more savage than the caged lions and tigers on the ship. Nothing was done with that, either.

Other reviews talk about Jackson kicking the action into high gear by the second hour, described as "one of the greatest dizzying sprints in cinema history." It wasn't dizzying, nor exciting. It was boring. King Kong wasn't so much a movie as a two-hour chase scene with a set-up tacked on and cheesy dialogue stuffed in. The attacks from giant CG creatures were endless, obviously attempting to fill the movie with tension and drama, but did nothing but take up time that could have been used to add, say, a plot... interpersonal relationships... characterization.... As Benji said, Peter Jackson's meaning in making this film was, "I like making giant CG monsters."

The CG wasn't even all that good. Kong was impressive, sure, and I noticed several imperfections that made him more realistic: scars, bald spots, mats and crud in his fur, missing teeth, and a mangled ear. However, the other CG monsters weren't all that good. They looked funny and moved awkwardly. And I'm sure Jason could explain to me, in detail, just how badly they did Kong anyways.

But the worst part of this movie was that it made no freaking sense, either from an evolutionary, ecological, psychological, structural, ballistic or logical sense. Every creature on Skull Island was enormous, which leads to the obvious question of how their ecosystem works--what do they eat? Well, actually, Peter Jackson answers that... they eat people. And nothing else. Every animal in the movie is a pack animal, attacking their prey in huge droves--and their prey is always the tiny band of humans that manage to stumble onto the island. A handful of dinosaurs are seen hunting other dinosaurs, but when they catch sight of tasty human morsels, they immediately forget the enormous, already-slain carcass in their mouth to go after a tiny human that would be perhaps a mouthful. In fact, three Tyrannosaurs are so determined to get to Ann that they gang up on Kong, fighting him until they die in order to get this tasty little gum-drop. They're not trying to eat the giant monkey battling them, and they're not trying to survive by running away, they're only trying to get past Kong for that tasty, tasty human.

At one point, an endless swarm of giant things--cave crickets/roaches/arthropods of some sorts--are crawling over a band of humans who managed to survive crashing into a giant chasm that Kong threw them down, and the cabin boy Jim picks up a machine gun and manages to shoot them off without so much as nicking the person they were crawling atop. These creatures are but one species of endless swarming things, including bizarre enormous sea-urchin-like creatures, that crawl from the rock for minutes on end but don't attack each other. And yet an hour later, a single man (who has fallen desperately in love with Ann, a relationship that is never fleshed out) manages to trek through the jungle alone, at night, with neither backpack, nor food, nor weapon, nor light, and find the exact spot where Ann & Kong are sleeping without getting killed. At that point, however, they are attacked by swarms of giant bats that look like someone enlarged a bat's body and pasted the head of the Nosferatu onto them.

Early on, Kong crashes through the jungle with Ann in his paw, and yet miraculously manages neither to accidentally crush her, break her spine as he shakes her about like a rag doll, nor brain her against the endless branches. She doesn't even get cut. Kong gets bitten deeply several times by the Tyrannosaurs, without apparently being injured or even bothered, and is at one point shot by the party of men searching for Ann, and doesn't even notice. Yet a single harpoon gun in the leg that barely gets past his fur sends him howling in pain, and the guns of the planes manage to kill him at the end.

A group of savage natives kill a handful of people at the beginning, and then kidnap Ann and give her to Kong, but are never seen again... even when the crew are leading Kong back through their village. They manage to kidnap Ann by pole-vaulting across stones and onto the ship, steal the woman, and get dragged back to the shore by a rope without being dashed against the rocks. During the "sacrifice" scene, flaming liquid flows down an enormous stone wall built by people who wear bones and live in huts made of bundles of sticks. There is no volcano ever shown on the island, no reason to believe they have access to lava or any other kind of cascading, fiery water.

The boat that they take to the island is a small, dirty thing that doesn't seem to have enough room in it for many people. And yet they keep bringing extras (and even named characters!) onto the island to be killed by giant CG monstrosities. I was amazed that they had as many people on the boat as they managed to kill, and yet still had enough of a crew left to: fix a broken ship; rig it to be able to hold an enormous monkey (perhaps Kong didn't really weigh all that much, since he managed to leap on rooftops and walk across frozen ponds without breaking either); drag said enormous monkey onto the boat; and sail the boat back to New York. How they got the boat away from a place filled with fog and in which compasses go haywire is never explained, nor is it explained how they keep Kong docile and caged (and fed)--after they knock Kong out, they simply skip to the Broadway show where he breaks free.

And the (human) love interest for Ann, the play-write Jack Driscoll, was for some reason a super-writer. He was apparently a great athlete, a great shot, could drive a car backwards, quickly, through rush-hour traffic while evading Kong. This was done, by the way, to lure Kong away from the evacuated theater... and into other portions of the city that he probably wouldn't have been destroying otherwise. After they took Kong back to New York and everyone went their separate ways, Jack was regretting not telling Ann how he felt when he had the chance. What changed his mind was a play that he was watching... a play that he wrote. Normally one doesn't get epiphanies from things that one writes.

A complete lack of logic aside, the movie is claimed to be "jaw-dropping, eye-popping, heart-stopping"... and it's not. Oh, it attempts to be, but it fails. The end tries to be endearing, compassionate, heart-breaking, dramatic, and yet ends up trite. The final line, "It was Beauty that killed the Beast", is not the philosophical, inspiring quip that it aspires to be. The romance (both between Ann and Kong as well as between Ann and Jack) is handled in typical Hollywood fashion--two characters meet and both fall in love with each other for no reason at all. I'm sure we're supposed to feel bad for the ape's death, to feel that they're murdering a gentle giant who's been mistaken for a savage beast, but he is a savage beast. The movie makes it quite clear that he is a rampaging, murderous creature who kills everything around him except, for whatever reason, Ann herself (they state that seventeen people died trying to get him, which frankly seems like a very low estimation, and doesn't include the three Tyrannosaurs he messily killed).

I mentioned above that they simply skip the part where they load Kong onto the boat, returning to New York immediately. This skips what could have been the most dramatic and personal part of the movie--the betrayal Ann feels at Kong's treatment, how she leaves the crew, how Preston (Carl's assistant) finally gets fed up and abandons him, etc. But Peter Jackson wouldn't hear of giving his characters depth, not when he can have giant CG monsters attacking them for no reason!

This was the first time a movie was so bad that I seriously considered walking out in the middle of it. But then I would've missed the only good part of the movie: when Kong is rampaging through New York, chasing Jack's car, he finally smashes the car enough to knock Jack out and stop him. The front of the car is torn open, letting Kong see the unconscious Jack, and the beast is ready to kill him... and then he stops. The music changes, and Kong looks into the camera dolefully, apparently thinking: "Wait. If I kill him now... am I any better than they?"

*Thanks to Benji for the title

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Link dump!

GOP Investigated Pres. Clinton’s Cat But Only Plans ‘Oversight’ on Pres. Bush’s Admitted Illegal Spying

Welcome To ScAlito World: Abortion
Welp, I've managed to successfully hook parental units on Veronica Mars.

Next phase of the spell involves them buying me $200 worth of D&D stuff!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Science and the private life of teaspoons

LONDON (Reuters) - Australian scientists have proved what is common knowledge to most people -- that teaspoons appear to have minds of their own.

In a study at their own facility, a group of scientists from the Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health in Melbourne secretly numbered 70 teaspoons and tracked their movements over five months.

Supporting their expectations, 80 percent of the spoons vanished during the period -- although those in private areas of the institute lasted nearly twice as long as those in communal sections.

"At this rate, an estimated 250 teaspoons would need to be purchased annually to maintain a workable population of 70 teaspoons," they wrote in Friday's festive edition of the British Medical Journal.

They said their research proved that teaspoons were an essential part of office life and the rapid rate of disappearance proved that this was under relentless assault.

Regretting that scientific literature was "strangely bereft" of teaspoon-related research, the scientists offered a few theories to explain the phenomenon.

Taking a tip from Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books, they suggested that the teaspoons were quietly migrating to a planet uniquely populated by "spoonoid" life forms living in a spoonish state of Nirvana.

They also offered the phenomenon of "resistentialism" in which inanimate objects like teaspoons have a natural aversion to humans.

On the other hand, they suggested, people might simply be taking them.

So Bush has been spying on Muslims, gays, and anyone who speaks to people outside our own country.

So what else is new?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

According to an MSNBC live poll, as of this afternoon, 86% of the 90,582 responses were in favor of impeaching Bush.

This of course doesn't really mean anything. But it makes me happy to think about it.
Why the hell is Ann Coulter allowed to publish anything?

Which brings me to this week's scandal about No Such Agency [NSA] spying on "Americans." I have difficulty ginning up much interest in this story inasmuch as I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo.

So y'all know by now that Bush has been spying on Americans. You probably have heard many of the excuses he's offered: it was actually legal, or we need to give up our freedoms or else the terrorists win, or we were only spying on people who were talking to foreigners.

But the best it this:

"The whole key here is agility," he said at a White House briefing before Bush's news conference. According to Hayden, most warrantless surveillance conducted under Bush's authorization lasts just days or weeks, and requires only the approval of a shift supervisor. Hayden said getting retroactive court approval is inefficient because it "involves marshaling arguments" and "looping paperwork around."

Right. "We didn't get approval because then we'd have to explain why this was necessary." Brilliant reasoning.


Purdue just got in a newspaper volume I'd requested via Interlibrary Loan several weeks ago.

I specified in the request that after December 10, I wouldn't want it.

Because they lock up the dorms and kick us all out over winter break. So there's no way I can get it now.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

In your face! In your face!

Judge Bars 'Intelligent Design' From Pa. Classes:

A federal judge ruled today that it is unconstitutional for a Pennsylvania school district to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in high school biology courses because intelligent design is a religious viewpoint that advances "a particular version of Christianity."


The judge also excoriated members of the school board in Dover, Pa., who he said lied to cover up their religious motives, made a decision of "breathtaking inanity" and "dragged" their community into "this legal maelstrom with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."


In his opinion, the judge traced the history of the intelligent design movement back to what he said were its roots in Christian fundamentalism. He seemed especially persuaded by the testimony of Barbara Forrest, a historian of science, that the authors of the "Pandas" textbook had removed the word "creationism" from an earlier edition and substituted it with "intelligent design" after the Supreme Court's ruling in 1987.

"We conclude that the religious nature of intelligent design would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child," he said. "The writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity."

And the response of the vapid imbeciles trying to force their narrow-minded evangelical dreck on us?

"A thousand opinions by a court that a particular scientific theory is invalid will not make that scientific theory invalid," said Mr. Thompson, the president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says it promotes Christian values. "It is going to be up to the scientists who are going to continue to do research in their labs that will ultimately determine that."

It sure would.

If you idiots ever bothered doing lab research instead of going on talk shows and bitching to schools and politicians. the by, it turns out that Judge Jones is a Republican who was appointed by Bush, Jr., and one of whose political sponsors is Rick Santorum. So normally one would refrain from bitching about liberal activist judges.

But the Discovery Institute shan't be swayed from its talking points.

Not only did Judge Jones refer to this specific complaint in his opinion, but I find also this:

[The ruling] has no precedential value at all, and binds nobody who wasn't a party to this case. (Even in the same judicial district, another school board could do the same thing Dover did and a different judge -- or even the same judge -- could rule the opposite way.)

Damn those activist judges!

And Michael Behe, the man who pulled the idea of irreducible complexity out of his ass, was a witness at the trial. He chortled with confidence typical of one who lives in an opiate delusion, foreseeing victory and vindication.

Judge Jones had a somewhat different perspective on his testimony.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Department of Homeland Security agents investigate a college student for checking out a book by Mao Tse-Tung and spending time in other countries

Sunday, December 18, 2005

President says eavesdropping policy is 'vital'

At least he's consistently contemptuous of any "right to privacy".

Saturday, December 17, 2005

There are no words

But wait, there's more!
Viggo Mortensen blasts President Bush

Viggo Mortensen isn’t backing off his stinging critique of George Bush.

The “Lord of the Rings” hottie took some heat for criticizing the president’s policies lately, and in a recent interview, Mortensen is unrepentant.

“I’m not anti-Bush; I’m anti-Bush behavior,” Mortensen told Progressive magazine. “In other words, I’m against cheating, greed, cruelty, racism, imperialism, religious fundamentalism, treason, and the seemingly limitless capacity for hypocrisy shown by Bush and his administration.”

Mortensen also blasted the administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and discussed why he supported anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, who has protested the war in Iraq since her son was killed there. “Cindy Sheehan and how badly Katrina was bungled are two shots to the heart,” he said. “I hope the beast does fall down soon."

As mom commented, "Makes the Dixie Chicks seem downright pleasant."
Report: Bush Had More Prewar Intelligence Than Congress

No shit.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

This is nothing new.

This, however, is a new one on me.

[Edit] And surprise, surprise, I get a "Breaking News" e-mail from AP telling me that "WASHINGTON (AP) After months of resistance, President Bush has accepted Sen. John McCain's measure to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of foreign suspects in the war against terror."

Well of course he's accepted it, now that he's completely undermined it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I think this beats your Fantastic Four story, Jason....

Superman's Penis Is Too Big For The Cinema

The new Superman film is turning out to be a bigger challenge then anticipated.

The problem is the size of the new Superman’s manhood…that is, his bulge is too big for cinema audiences.

Producers are worried that Brandon Routh’s packet in the new film may put audiences off as it is massive.

Bosses on the film are considering using digital technology to cover up the lunchbox in the new film ‘Superman Returns’.

Speaking to The Sun, a source said: "It's a major issue for the studio. Brandon is extremely well endowed and they don't want it up on the big screen.

"We may be forced to erase his package with digital effects."

I think they should definitely leave it in…who is with me????


Sunday, December 11, 2005

I was planning on making a post asking if anyone could help me find a copy of Noch etwas über die Menschenrassen (Still More About the Human Races) by Georg Forster.

I was even going to say that, at this point, it wouldn't matter much whether it was in German or English.

Then I found a German copy.

So... anybody got any leads on an English copy?

Bill O'Reilly Speaks Out of Both Sides of His Mouth


It's a day that ends in 'day'

On Friday's Radio Factor, O'Reilly got a caller who was in complete agreement with the "war on Christmas" meme. Recall some of what O'Reilly has said regarding this:

NULMAN: No, no, I don't think it's insane. I think that it's good business practice, actually. And many organizations are trying desperately to be inclusionary. They feel that the use of "Merry Christmas" in their packaging, their bags, their messages, their environment is just the opposite. It's exclusionary to the 15 or 20 percent of the customer base that is not Christian.

O'REILLY: And you agree with that?

NULMAN: I do, from a marketing standpoint.

O'REILLY: See, I think you're, I think you're crazy.


NULMAN: "Season's Greetings" and "Happy Holidays," Bill, does not offend Christians.

O'REILLY: Yes, it does. It absolutely does. And I know that for a fact.

So when this caller explains that when he went to an Olive Garden and the waitress told him "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", he wanted to hit her and did not leave a tip, O'Reilly sang his encomia, right?

Not exactly.

O'REILLY: Kevin, Los Angeles. What's going on, Kevin?

KEVIN: Yeah, Mr. O'Reilly, merry Christmas.

O'REILLY: Merry Christmas.

KEVIN: And, uh, wanted to say "dittoes" from the great state--blue state--of Los Angeles. Uh, wanted to let you know I went to a, uh, Olive Garden restaurant recently. And I thought this was a good, red company and what not, and, uh, had a very good meal, and the service was very good and et cetera, and then the waitress came up, at the end, and she said--she gave me the check, and she says "happy holidays". And I swear to God I-I, y'know, I thought, "Wh-Wh-What kind of American is this? And I gave her no tip, and I don't think any American should give a tip, and--

O'REILLY: But why though? Why? I mean, she's--whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa, Kevin, Kevin, Kevin, Kevin. Hold on, hold on, hold on. The little waitress comes up to you and says "happy holidays"--she doesn't know whether you're Jewish, whether you're a Muslim, whether you're... a Buddhist, or anything. So why would you be... why would you be offended by that?

KEVIN: Well I wanted to... I mean, I mean, I tell ya, I wanted to punch her in the face.


KEVIN: It was the same thing as going to the stores, y'know, where they don't say, uh... y'know, they--they don't know either whether you're Jewish or not or anything else....

O'REILLY: Well, wait a minute Kevin, I think you're outta line, man. I think you're outta line. I think you're outta line. And you wanna punch her in the face--that's ridiculous. Okay, don't... don't... I don't know whether you... y'know, you're being serious or not, y'might be one of these loons who calls up and tries to do this kinda stuff, but it... I'm gonna... err on the side of giving Kevin the benefit of the doubt--you're wrong. If some person says "happy holidays" to you, there's no reason to get offended, and there's no reason to not leave her a tip. You're a jerk. All right? Because that person doesn't know who you are. When we step in is when there's a company that says 'We ban any mention of Christmas.' That's when we step in. And we say, 'That's disrespectful. That ban across the board doesn't cut it.' And then we don't tell you not to buy, we don't tell you to--not to boycott, y'know, like a lotta the press has reported, they've all retracted that now, but... we don't tell you that. We just say, 'Here's what's going on. That's wrong.' But individually? Somebody gives you a nice greeting, you just say--if you wanna say "Merry Christmas" back, say "Merry Christmas" back!


An update!

In addition to Germany, Italy, and England all saying that Bush's pre-war intelligence was wrong, we now have France:

More than a year before President Bush declared in his State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation.

The previously undisclosed exchanges between the U.S. and the French, described by the retired chief of the French counter-intelligence service and a former CIA official during interviews last week, came on separate occasions in 2001 and 2002.

The French conclusions were reached after extensive on-the-ground investigations in Niger and other former French colonies, where the uranium mines are controlled by French companies, the official said. He said the French investigated at the CIA's request.


However, the essence of Chouet's account — that the French repeatedly investigated the Niger claim, found no evidence to support it and warned the CIA — was extensively corroborated by a former CIA official and a French government official.

One more country that didn't think Iraq had WMDs.

But, of course, France is our enemy. So we can't trust them.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Aslan? HA! You'll excuse me if I'm not intimidated by a MAGIC LION who leaves the dirty work to a bunch of British TEN-YEAR OLDS!


What could possess someone to leave an enormous battle to a bunch of schoolkids with nothing even remotely resembling combat experience?
And what could possess a writer to make them win?

Friday, December 9, 2005

Shorter Skemono: Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat, Idiot

So Rush Limbaugh seems to believe that McCain "admitted torture worked on him". Originally, this was reported by, who cited two things McCain said: one in which he eventually gave to the Vietnamese true information that was of no use (his ship's name and squadron number), or else lied to them, as recounted in his autobiography:

Once we were instructed to write summaries of our military histories. We invented all the details. Mine contained references to service in Antarctica and as a naval attaché in Oslo, two places, I am sorry to say, I had never visited. [Page 203]


Once I was instructed to draw a diagram of an aircraft carrier. I decided to comply with the order, but took considerable artistic license in the process. I drew a picture of a ship's deck with a large swimming pool on the fantail, the captain's quarters in a chain locker, and various other imagined embellishments.

Vietnamese propaganda about the soft, luxurious life that upper-class Westerners (a social class to which military officers were naturally thought to belong) made the interrogators easy marks for a lot of the b.s. we devised to avoid giving them any useful information. [Page 222]

The second example NewsMax cites is when McCain was beaten until he eventually signed a confession:

McCain was taken to an interrogation room and ordered to sign a document confessing to war crimes. "I signed it," he recalled. "It was in their language, and spoke about black crimes, and other generalities."

Those "other generalities" involve crimes that he never committed:

An interrogator had edited my last draft and decided to rewrite most of it himself. He then handed it to me and told me to copy it out in my own hand. I started to print in block letters, and he ordered me to write in script. He demanded that I add an admission that I had bombed a school. I refused, and we argued back and forth about the confession's contents for a time before I gave in to his demand. Finally, they had me sign the document. [Pages 243-244]

So there you have it. The right wing believes that torture gets good intelligence because it can be used to make people admit to things they didn't do, or couldn't possibly know.

After all, it worked to get Bush his pet war.
According to the Bible, happiness is smashing little children against the rocks.

So tempting to convert now....
Bush did NOT know there was difference between Sunni & Shiite Muslims until Jan '03

Thursday, December 8, 2005

From last night's Colbert Report, interviewing Craig Crawford, author of Attack the Messenger : How Politicians Turn You Against the Media:

Colbert: Has anyone done it as well as the--Bush and his people?

Crawford: Actually, the best was Abraham Lincoln. When a New York newspaper was publishing a document that had been forged, he hand-wrote an executive order and ordered his general to close the newspaper, and arrest all of the reporters and editors, even the newspaper boys who were delivering the papers.

Colbert: And he was the first Republican president.

So apparently there's a war being waged on Christmas. But by whom? What secret cabal is running the show? The ACLU? The liberal media?

No, as with most secret cabals, it's the Jews:

I am getting the idea that too many Jews won't be happy until they pull off their own version of the Spanish Inquisition, forcing Christians to either deny their faith and convert to agnosticism or suffer the consequences.

Interestingly, he seems to think the Spanish Inquisition converted Jews by changing all mention of "Happy Chanukah!" to "Happy Holidays!" in Spain.

But what really gets me is that he says in the same post "anti-Semitism is no longer a problem in society". What would you call this, then?

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

I'm not sure what the enema is for.
Well, I've been doing this multiple times to get a letter that really amused me... I kept giving people porn, which for some reason counted against me. I don't get that--isn't gift-giving a good thing? Same thing with Dutch ovens.
Stupid Santa.

But I finally got a good letter:

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa,

This year I've been busy!

Last week I ruled Iran as a cruel and heartless dictator (-700 points). In April droug and I donated clothes to the needy (11 points). Last Monday I gave deborajoy a Dutch Oven (-10 points). In January I gave wildaugust a kidney (1000 points). Last Sunday I helped kangrado hide a body (-173 points).

Overall, I've been nice (128 points). For Christmas I deserve an Easy-Bake Oven!


Write your letter to Santa! Enter your LJ username:

Apparently giving one person a kidney is better than oppressing an entire country for a week.
They never say that it was my kidney that I gave up, after all... cause last I checked, I still had all my organs.

Except a toenail. But that's not an organ.

And Europe thinks we're fucked up....

"Dirty negro" insult not always racist?

ROME (Reuters) - Calling a foreigner a "dirty negro" in Italian is not necessarily a racist insult, Italy's highest court has ruled.

The verdict, relating to a case where a group of Italian men punched and insulted some women from Colombia, caused deep unease at a time when Italy is struggling to contain racism.

The court on Monday ruled in favor of one of the men, who argued he was not being racist when he launched the assault with the words: "Sporche negre -- cosa ci fanno queste negre qua?" ("Dirty negroes -- what are these negroes doing here?")

Most Italians would have no doubt that calling someone a "dirty negro" was a racist insult. The term is seldom heard and is considered no more acceptable in Italy than it would be in Britain or the United States.

However, an insult should be judged racist "only if it is motivated by real hatred," or is likely to cause racial hatred in others or lead to "discriminatory behavior for reasons of race, ethnicity, nationality or religion," the court ruled.

On the other hand, the crime of racism is not constituted by expressions of "generic dislike, intolerance or rejection based on race, ethnicity or religion," which appeared to fit the case in question, the court said.

Politicians across the political spectrum criticized the ruling and said it could not have come at a worse time.


Soccer matches around Italy began late on Sunday as players unfurled banners saying "No To Racism" in response to an episode on November 27 when Marc Zoro, Ivory Coast defender for Messina in Serie A, the top division, threatened to walk off the pitch because of racist chants from Inter Milan fans.

"This judicial interpretation is astonishing," said Green Party lawmaker Paolo Cento.

Luigi Bobbio, of the conservative National Alliance party, said the verdict was the result of "a subtle poison (that) has seeped into our jurisprudence: originality at all costs."

The supreme court is no stranger to controversial judgments.

In recent years it has ruled that "an isolated and impulsive" pat on a woman's bottom at work did not constitute sexual harassment, and returned a verdict that a woman could not have been raped because she was wearing skin-tight jeans.

Carlo Fucci, the vice president of Italy's national association of magistrates, warned that the court's ruling "could blunt the weapons that can be used against racism."

As part of the campaign against racism, all but one of the parties on Milan's city council this week appealed to the mayor to grant Zoro Milan's most prestigious award, a golden statue of its patron saint, Ambrogio.

The populist Northern League party, which is often accused of racism, dissociated itself from the appeal.


Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Huh. An Australian MP apparently said in parliament... about a week ago, I guess... that the Bible is bloodier than the Koran:

"Those who refer to Muslim fundamentalists may choose to quote from the Holy Koran and there are passages that might be taken to show a vengeful God," Ms Irwin told federal parliament.

"But when it comes to good old-fashioned violence, the Judaeo-Christian God is hard to beat.

"If I was to take those verses as written, I could easily associate any Christian fundamentalist with a dangerous and extreme mindset. But we are more likely to associate the term Christian fundamentalist with psalm singers and happy clappers."

Quoting from the Old Testament in the Bible, she drew attention to passages from referring to murders, massacres and God ordering Moses to "loot from their houses all their silver and clothing".

"And if that is not enough, the story continues as Moses ... is urged to hack women and children to death, rip unborn babies from their mother's womb and level the cities," she told parliament. "The virgins are taken at God's command for the pleasure of his holy warriors."

Which lead someone to do a very rough quantitative comparison of violence in each. And in that vein is the Whose God is More Vicious? quiz.

Which is basically what I've been saying all along. I mean, the Qu'ran is rather contradictory, naturally, but all I've read leads me to believe it's far more tolerant of other religions (at least Christianity and Judaism) than either of the other two major Abrahamic religions. Even if you believe the Qu'ran commands you to kill all non-believers, that's hardly worse than this: if there's a town in which people worship another religion, you have to kill not only them, but everyone in the town and all their cattle, then gather up all their belongings, set it on fire, and abandon the land forever.
I've heard of The God Who Wasn't There, and recently ran across its website. As far as I understand, it basically attempts to prove that there was no historical Jesus, and that the biblical Jesus was just a pastiche of other religions. Having not seen it, I can't comment, but the clips available on its website aren't terribly encouraging.

The Earth & The Sun is from the beginning of the film, and simply says "Christianity was wrong when it said that the Sun revolved around the Earth; what if they're wrong about their entire religion, too?" I don't think I have to explain what's stupid about that.

The Rapture doesn't even have anything to do with the question of whether Jesus was real. It's just talking about how many people believe the world will end in their lifetime, saying "Isn't it scary that people believe this? Believing the world will end in twenty years doesn't make good incentive for good long-term planning." Which is true, but hardly has anything to do with the supposed thesis of the movie.

Did Jesus Begin as a Myth? questions the accuracy of what we 'know' of the historical Jesus. A member of the Jesus Seminar cites things that make him skeptical--a council of Jews meeting on Passover Eve, Pontius Pilate releasing a known killer instead of a man he'd tried to get off the hook. Being a mathematician, I prefer more concrete things--perhaps if he'd said "There's no record of a Josh being executed by Pontius Pilate" (did Romans keep records like that? I'd imagine so). He did say something interesting, though, about contemporary contradictory beliefs regarding Josh's death:

And then when you realize, "Well, y'know, there were other ancient Jews and Jewish Christians that believed Jesus had been killed a century before, under King Alexander Genias [?]... o-or in the Gospel of Peter it says that Herod had Jesus killed." Well, what--how could this be, uh, a matter of-of such diversity if it was a recent event that people remembered? I-It just begins to make you wonder, "Is this man really part of the historical timestream, or does it--doesn't it begin to look like someone has tried to put, uh, a-a figure, originally mythical, into a historical framework, and made various stabs at it?"

Unfortunately, since he doesn't cite any of these other "ancient Jews and Jewish Christians", and I don't even know who this Alexander is, I'm not really sure what to say.

The Christs Before Christ is the most interesting, as it takes a brief look at the figures that predated Josh but might have been inspiration for some of the legends surrounding him:

The early Church fathers understood this was a problem because they were already getting the same objections from pagans. They said, "What you say about Jesus we've been saying about Dionysus and Hercules all the time, what's the big deal?" And they didn't believe in them either anymore. And so the Christian apologists, the defenders of the faith, would say "Well, yeah, but this one is true. And, uh, y'see, Satan counterfeited it in advance cause he knew this day would come.

At this point, instead of bad animation or the guy talking the screen shows the words:

"For when they say that Dionysus arose again and ascended to heaven, is it not evident the devil has imitated the prophecy?"
-Justin Martyr, church father

He continues talking:

Boy, I tell ya... that tells you two right there: that even they didn't deny that these other Jesus-like characters were before Jesus, or they never would have resorted to something like that--'Satan knew it would happen and counterfeited it in advance'?"

Finally the person who made the DVD (I assume) has his voice-over:

In case you're wondering... yes, this remains the explanation to this day.

And then it goes on to mock the ignorance of random Christians in the street by ambushing them with "Do you know about Osiris or Dionysus or Mithras?"

Well, I thought some of that was fairly interesting, but on the whole not terribly substantial.

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Well, according to C.S. Lewis's stepson, the Narnia books aren't Christian:

He has just flown in from Hollywood, where he is co-producer of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He has just seen the finished cut, which he says left him feeling "that no time has passed and suddenly it's two hours later - like Narnia-time in reverse".

The film is a triumph for Gresham, who charmed the movie industry into filming Lewis's first Narnia book; the other six will follow if the audience figures are good. But then he has enormous reserves of charm - though liberals and feminists who encounter the gale force of his born-again Christianity may disagree.

Paradoxically, Gresham has not joined the Christian bandwagon gearing up around the film. Won't it at least impart a subliminal Christian message to young audiences, I ask?

"I sincerely hope not," he snorts. "Because - and this is what people always get wrong - it's not a Christian film and the Narnia books aren't Christian novels."

This will come as news to the thousands of churches across Britain and America that are endorsing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because of its Christian message - and to the Disney organisation which, to the fury of liberal commentators, has appointed a Christian "outreach" organisation to promote the movie to British congregations (see breakout).

"Jack didn't intend the Narnia books to be an evangelistic fantasy," explains Gresham. "The myths of Narnia are partly those of the great man-made religions - Norse mythology, Hindu mythology, as well as the true myth of Christ. Exposure to man's myths will make young viewers ask questions about themselves - and only later will the seed of faith take root."

This is a man who knows he speaks with a special authority. He was responsible for ensuring the script stayed faithful to Lewis's vision - "and that meant resisting the temptation to insert my own Christianity into it".

Maybe he's wrong. But since people can distort anything to try and prove it espouses their faith (like my step-brother does, or those blockheads with The March of the Penguins) I'm rather more willing to believe him than not.
Just sent this letter to the Purdue Exponent:

Mr. Skaggs' idea of ridding ourselves of Purdue Pete is commendable. But to replace him with a squirrel? That's so pedestrian. No, my friends, what we require as a mascot is this:

The Purdue Pudu.

What is a pudu, you ask? Only the cutest animal on earth! Compare Pete ( to pudu ( The choice is obvious.

"But," I hear the protest on some lips, "what does a miniature deer, terminably cute though it be, have to do with our reputation as an engineering school?" A meritless complaint. Not all at Purdue major in Engineering. But to the point, how does Pete relate to chemical, nuclear, biomedical and biological engineering? The pudu has as much to do with modern engineering as the macrocephalic man he would replace. We have yet the Boilermaker Special to tie us to the Industrial Revolution.

Enough, though, of Pete. There are clear benefits to the Purdue Pudu. To begin, it rolls off the tongue smoothly, containing assonance, consonance, alliteration, and rhyming. "Purdue Pete", on the other hand, sports only alliteration.

Further, the pudu would be a unique mascot. Too many college mascots are disfigured men. But how many are deer? A scant number indeed.

Some may point out that all these arguments hold, to greater or lesser degree, also for Earl the Squirrel. True enough. Yet there are benefits the pudu brings that the squirrel cannot.

The pudu is an endangered species. Therefore by adopting it as our mascot, Purdue can appear concerned for threatened animals, and perhaps make it policy to remedy such endangerment. If so, Purdue would accomplish good and benefit from a humanitarian reputation.

Some may think I jest. Not so! I am serious enough to set up an on-line petition, available at

Spread the word of the Purdue Pudu!


Theological ponderings

Jesus's real name was, if I am not mistaken, Yehoshua bar Yosef.

If one were to skip the translation into Greek, then Roman, and finally English, one would usually translate this as Joshua, son of Joseph.

So the Christian messiah is Josh, son of Joe.

Armed with this, the next time somebody slurs "I was just joshing you" or some derivative thereof, I believe that I will angrily berate them for using the Lord's name in vain. I doubt I will bother explaining why.

And speaking of Christian linguistics, which I wasn't, it appears that, as an analogue to the dim-wittedness of Intelligent Design (whose SETI-analogy was dismissed by SETI researchers), fundamentalists have also tried forcing the theory of Wrathful Dispersion into schools.

Well, not really. This man was only joking.

This man, however, is not. Lord, he even bills it as "Intelligent Design in Language".

And speaking of what the Bible says about abortion (what? I don't want to make a lot of separate posts, gimme a break), I came across this today. So God only noticed people after they were a month old, eh? Hmm.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Enslave your friends. Destroy your enemies.

The disclaimers in that commercial:

  • Cthulu cannot be possessed. You can.

  • Actual toy does not shoot lightning.

  • Overly Expressive Child Not Included.

This wouldn't be so odd if they didn't keep yelling at him to get out of his office.
Oh, Japan, what wonderful drugs you must have.
Right-handed people are better at screwing than lefties.

No wonder I'm so lonely.
Shorter Americablog: We're Ford, and we've got a tradition of bigotry to maintain.
The latest in the meme that liberals, led by the ACLU, want to destroy Christmas is the idea that the post office has stopped selling religious stamps.

Of course, it's not true. No big surprise there.

But this information is fairly interesting:

"We had an overabundance of religiously based stamps from last year," she said. The Postal Service needed to sell its overstock of Madonna stamps and didn't want a fresh crop of outdated stamps sitting in the drawers for next year.

This year's cookie stamps were printed because last year's non-religiously themed stamps -- the service tries to keep each kind on hand for patrons -- sold out.

So people are more interested in buying 'secular' stamps rather than 'religious' ones. I wonder how this'll be blamed on the ACLU. Have they been intimidating letter-writers, now? Trying to shut up anyone they dislike, like they did with the Nazis in Skokie?

Friday, December 2, 2005

South Africa's Top Court Blesses Gay Marriage:

South Africa's highest court on Thursday recognized the marriage of two Pretoria women and gave Parliament a year to extend legal marital rights to all same-sex couples.


The court's judges unanimously agreed that South Africa's 1996 constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, guarantees the right of gay men and lesbians to marry. One justice, in a limited dissent, argued that the law should be overturned immediately rather than within a year.

That delay upset some activists, but both supporters and opponents of the ruling agreed there would be no way for Parliament to avoid approving the required amendments to the law.

South Africa has just recognized gay marriage before the U.S. will. Weren't we supposed to be leading those other, backwards nations in freedom and tolerance? Wasn't that one of the talking points Bush finally settled on to brainwash people into supporting the Iraq war?


At least they included this amusing quote:

"The church respects that people have certain sexual orientations, but we will never accept speaking in the same breath of same-sex unions and heterosexual marriage," Tresoldi said.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bush is determined to reshape Iraq in his image. This includes, of course, inserting American propaganda into their newspapers without any recognition.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I came across this most intriguing website that provides dummy accounts to subscription-only websites, such as the New York Times or Chicago Tribune. Felt like spreading the joy.
From Professor Myers, I find the website Fundies Say the Darndest Things. Professor Myers quotes some gems:

  • On evolution:
    god exists because evolution would have given me eyes in the back of my head if there really were such a thing.

  • In a similar vein, on genetics:
    What strikes me as odd that is, given the current state of genetics, no one has compared simian dna to homo sapien. The differences should be obvious and radical.

  • And in the comments of the post that introduced Professor Myers to this website, a close second favorite of mine about cows:
    "Did you know that all bulls are males? How can these bulls mate to have more bulls? It's your funeral evolutionists. Admit evolution is a pathetic fantasy created by scientists because they can't accept God."

    Eternal, Internet Infidels

    "[After being told 'they mate with cows, you idiot']

    Then, why don't the bulls that are born have some bull like features and cow spots? If a bull mates with a cow, wouldn't you get a female eventually? Evolution is dead water."

    Eternal, Internet Infidels

  • And my favorite, astronomy:
    One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn't possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it.

  • [Edit] Oooh... someone pointed out one in comments that may just top the above one:
    "[A series of posts submitted collectively]

    [Page 1]
    Note: Humans are mammals - not animals

    [Page 2]
    When you can show me an animal (that are not mammal) that its milk is produced by modified sweat glands called 'mammary' glands and have a diaphragm (which is a shelf of muscle extending across the bottom of the ribcage).

    If you can produce this animal (not mammal) then I'll consider your logic.. Until such time mammals are not animals..

    [Another post]
    This is what the evolutionists are reduced to Dion.. Debating whether mammals are animals.. Anyone that spends 5 sec in the dictionary and reads any science literature conclude mammals are not animals..

    [After someone mentions just going to a dictionary to seeKingdom Animalia includes mammals]
    Now Laoldar says "Kingdom Animalia" include mammals

    Lets go to the dictionary Animalia
    taxonomic kingdom comprising all living or extinct animals [syn: Animalia, kingdom Animalia, animal kingdom] Do you see mammals listed?.. Didn't think so
    Nobody in science would conclude mammals are animals - except atheists to push they're agenda and a few evolutionists trying to cover-up Darwin's error..

    [Page 5]
    Kingdom Animalia, just like any other word or phrase (such as God, or God's kingdom) is only valid for those that believe in it..

    [Another post]
    Oh, I see.. this is the same as motor vehicles (as Kingdom Animalia), under that comes trucks (as mammals) and motorcycles (as animals)"

The White House has a "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq"!, over two years after starting the damn war.
Amanda at Pandagon says:

That in mind, it's getting harder and harder to believe the abstinence-only crowd isn't as worried about teenagers suddenly having sexual urges they didn't have before so much as they are worried about the prevalence of people like me and probably most of the readership here--sexually active folks who don't suffer needlessly.

She also mentions two amusing events in that vein. One an anecdote concerning high schoolers in Tennessee, and the other a billboard that just has to be seen to be believed....
So... is there a single GOP official who isn't involved in an ethical/legal brouhaha?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

White House claims 'strong consensus' on Iraq pullout

By which they mean "That thing the Democrats have been pestering us to do for a while, pulling out of Iraq? Our idea all along. They're copycats."

The White House has for the first time claimed ownership of an
Iraq withdrawal plan, arguing that a troop pullout blueprint unveiled this past week by a Democratic senator was "remarkably similar" to its own.


Even though President George W. Bush has never publicly issued his own withdrawal plan and criticized calls for an early exit, the White House said many of the ideas expressed by the senator were its own.

I'm not sure whether that's chutzpah or a desperate hope that nobody in the country has a memory longer than thirty minutes. Cause if they do, they might remember Bush proclaiming that they won't "cut and run".
The most recent episode of Veronica Mars involved a gay student who went to a reparative therapy camp. I find this interesting.

...what? Did you expect more bloviation?
Kansas University introduces another class that teaches Intelligent Design

Teaches that it's psuedoscience, not real science, that is.
A glimpse at the intelligent design of mankind

Saturday, November 26, 2005

On Thanksgiving, my step-brother, his girlfriend and I were discussing Harry Potter.

I raised the question of whether there are any Jewish students at Hogwarts. Every year they have a dozen giant Christmas trees, but no giant menorahs. Don't any of the students complain about discrimination? This led to us considering who at Hogwarts might be Jewish.

Benji suggested that if there were a giant menorah, it should be in Hagrid's window. He also thought Lockhart might be Jewish... I still don't get that. He also found very amusing the mental image of Shacklebolt, sitting stiffly at a typewriter in the Prime Minister's office, with a kippah on his head. But then again, Benji also thinks that Shacklebolt doesn't look like this; which is ridiculous. Of course Shacklebolt looks like that! Saying otherwise is like saying that Jason Carter wouldn't have made the perfect Sirius Black! He even looks like a Sirius.

I suggested Mad-Eye Moody was Jewish. It would explain his paranoia: "The Arabs are out to get me... the Christians are out to get me... the Muggles are out to get me... the Death Eaters are out to get me..." In that vain, Benji suggested Filch, saying it could contribute to his sense of persecution.

I also brought up my theory that the students at Hogwarts are pansies. They know the Summoning Charm, but what do they use it for? Fetching their brooms. Never fetching a Death Eater's heart (Ha! Let's see you hang onto that, Bellatrix!). And when surrounded by twenty Death Eaters, what do they use the Reductor Curse for? Blowing up bookshelves! Why not use it to blow up the Death Eaters? Or at the very least their wands!

These powers are wasted on those dull-witted, unimaginative ninnies! I could kill people so efficiently if I were them!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Evidence that I am... different

I turned 21 today.

Allegedly, this event is accompanied by a tradition of having 21 shots of alcohol.
(I know this only because it seems Purdue feels this tradition enough of a threat to its source of money as to send all who are about to turn 21 a birthday card warning them not to drink)

And I?

In addition to this, I spent today today in the library, looking through a roll of microfilm that I brought with me from home.

Clearly, I know how to party.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I am so fucking pissed off at this, I can barely unclench my mouth:

The state’s gay marriage panel will recommend that New Hampshire’s same sex couples be denied legal status, and be allowed only a minimum of the benefits available to married heterosexual couples, according to a draft report obtained by The Associated Press.

Representing the commission’s conservative majority, the draft concludes that same sex marriage is not a right, because homosexuality is a choice, not a genetic predisposition. The report’s authors also said the absence of any mention of gay marriage in New Hampshire’s history weakened proponents’ arguments for it.


The final version of the report, which is undergoing minor revisions, is to be released to the Legislature on Dec. 1.


The report’s authors, representing the majority views of Sen. Jack Barnes, Reps. Paul Brassard, Tony Soltani, Maureen Mooney, public member Jack Fredyma and former state Sen. Russell Prescott, acknowledge that it’s up to elected officials and the public to decide how same sex couples should be treated in New Hampshire. But they say gay marriage is not a civil rights issue, and has no similarity to the fight to legalize interracial marriage nearly 30 years ago.

"Race unlike sexual orientation is ... immutable and an innate characteristic and not something that is acquired and changeable," reads the draft report.

"Merry Christmas! You're perverted trash that don't deserve happiness!
We're going after those filthy kikes' marriages next."
A very interesting article. Many snippets:

Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

The information was provided to Bush on September 21, 2001 during the "President's Daily Brief," a 30- to 45-minute early-morning national security briefing. Information for PDBs has routinely been derived from electronic intercepts, human agents, and reports from foreign intelligence services, as well as more mundane sources such as news reports and public statements by foreign leaders.

One of the more intriguing things that Bush was told during the briefing was that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime. At one point, analysts believed, Saddam considered infiltrating the ranks of Al Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or even Iraqi intelligence operatives to learn more about its inner workings, according to records and sources.

The September 21, 2001, briefing was prepared at the request of the president, who was eager in the days following the terrorist attacks to learn all that he could about any possible connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda.


The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the White House for the CIA assessment, the PDB of September 21, 2001, and dozens of other PDBs as part of the committee's ongoing investigation into whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in the run-up to war with Iraq. The Bush administration has refused to turn over these documents.

Indeed, the existence of the September 21 PDB was not disclosed to the Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004, according to congressional sources. Both Republicans and Democrats requested then that it be turned over. The administration has refused to provide it, even on a classified basis, and won't say anything more about it other than to acknowledge that it exists.


The conclusions drawn in the lengthier CIA assessment-which has also been denied to the committee-were strikingly similar to those provided to President Bush in the September 21 PDB, according to records and sources. In the four years since Bush received the briefing, according to highly placed government officials, little evidence has come to light to contradict the CIA's original conclusion that no collaborative relationship existed between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

"What the President was told on September 21," said one former high-level official, "was consistent with everything he has been told since-that the evidence was just not there."

In arguing their case for war with Iraq, the president and vice president said after the September 11 attacks that Al Qaeda and Iraq had significant ties, and they cited the possibility that Iraq might share chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons with Al Qaeda for a terrorist attack against the United States.

Democrats in Congress, as well as other critics of the Bush administration, charge that Bush and Cheney misrepresented and distorted intelligence information to bolster their case for war with Iraq. The president and vice president have insisted that they unknowingly relied on faulty and erroneous intelligence, provided mostly by the CIA.

The new information on the September 21 PDB and the subsequent CIA analysis bears on the question of what the CIA told the president and how the administration used that information as it made its case for war with Iraq.


The most explosive of allegations came from Cheney, who said that September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, the pilot of the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center, had met in Prague, in the Czech Republic, with a senior Iraqi intelligence agent, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, five months before the attacks. On December 9, 2001, Cheney said on NBC's Meet the Press: "[I]t's pretty well confirmed that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in [the Czech Republic] last April, several months before the attack."

Cheney continued to make the charge, even after he was briefed, according to government records and officials, that both the CIA and the FBI discounted the possibility of such a meeting.

Credit card and phone records appear to demonstrate that Atta was in Virginia Beach, Va., at the time of the alleged meeting, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials. Al-Ani, the Iraqi intelligence official with whom Atta was said to have met in Prague, was later taken into custody by U.S. authorities. He not only denied the report of the meeting with Atta, but said that he was not in Prague at the time of the supposed meeting, according to published reports.


One reason that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld made statements that contradicted what they were told in CIA briefings might have been that they were receiving information from another source that purported to have evidence of Al Qaeda-Iraq ties. The information came from a covert intelligence unit set up shortly after the September 11 attacks by then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith.

Feith was a protégé of, and intensely loyal to, Cheney, Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, and Cheney's then-chief of staff and national security adviser, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. The secretive unit was set up because Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Libby did not believe the CIA would be able to get to the bottom of the matter of Iraq-Al Qaeda ties. The four men shared a long-standing distrust of the CIA from their earlier positions in government, and felt that the agency had failed massively by not predicting the September 11 attacks.


At first, the Feith-directed unit primarily consisted of two men, former journalist Michael Maloof and David Wurmser, a veteran of neoconservative think tanks. They liked to refer to themselves as the "Iraqi intelligence cell" of the Pentagon. And they took pride in the fact that their office was in an out-of-the-way cipher-locked room, with "charts that rung the room from one end to the other" showing the "interconnections of various terrorist groups" with one another and, most important, with Iraq, Maloof recalled in an interview.

They also had the heady experience of briefing Rumsfeld twice, and Feith more frequently, Maloof said. The vice president's office also showed great interest in their work. On at least three occasions, Maloof said, Samantha Ravich, then-national security adviser for terrorism to Cheney, visited their windowless offices for a briefing.

But neither Maloof nor Wurmser had any experience or formal training in intelligence analysis. Maloof later lost his security clearance, for allegedly failing to disclose a relationship with a woman who is a foreigner, and after allegations that he leaked classified information to the press. Maloof said in the interview that he has done nothing wrong and was simply being punished for his controversial theories. Wurmser has since been named as Cheney's Middle East adviser.

Internal Pentagon records show not only that the small Pentagon unit had the ear of the highest officials in the government, but also that Rumsfeld and others considered the unit as a virtual alternative to intelligence analyses provided by the CIA.

On July 22, 2002, as the run-up to war with Iraq was underway, one of the Naval Reserve officers detailed to the unit sent Feith an e-mail saying that he had just heard that then-Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz wanted "the Iraqi intelligence cell … to prepare an intel briefing on Iraq and links to al-Qaida for the SecDef" and that he was not to tell anyone about it.


In a memorandum to Wolfowitz, Feith wrote: "The briefing went very well and generated further interest from Mr. Hadley and Mr. Libby." Both men, the memo went on, requested follow-up material, most notably a "chronology of Atta's travels," a reference to the discredited allegation of an Atta-Iraqi meeting in Prague.

In their presentation, the naval reserve briefers excluded the fact that the FBI and CIA had developed evidence that the alleged meeting had never taken place, and that even the Czechs had disavowed it.

The Pentagon unit also routinely second-guessed the CIA's highly classified assessments. Regarding one report titled "Iraq and al-Qaeda: Interpreting a Murky Relationship," one of the Naval Reserve officers wrote: "The report provides evidence from numerous intelligence sources over the course of a decade on interactions between Iraq and al-Qaida. In this regard, the report is excellent. Then in its interpretation of this information, CIA attempts to discredit, dismiss, or downgrade much of this reporting, resulting in inconsistent conclusions in many instances. Therefore, the CIA report should be read for content only-and CIA's interpretation ought to be ignored."


The Plame affair was not so much a reflection of any personal animus toward Wilson or Plame, says one former senior administration official who knows most of the principals involved, but rather the direct result of long-standing antipathy toward the CIA by Cheney, Libby, and others involved. They viewed Wilson's outspoken criticism of the Bush administration as an indirect attack by the spy agency.

Those grievances were also perhaps illustrated by comments that Vice President Cheney himself wrote on one of Feith's reports detailing purported evidence of links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. In barely legible handwriting, Cheney wrote in the margin of the report:

"This is very good indeed … Encouraging … Not like the crap we are all so used to getting out of CIA."

So there goes the whole "Iraq had ties to al-Qaida", "Congress had the same intelligence as the President", "it was the intelligence that was bad", "we didn't manipulate the intelligence", and most other bullshit talking points the right wing vomits forth.
A fascinating tidbit apparently hidden within a new scientific paper that will, I'm sure, delight my step-brother to no end:

This tasty bit of information involved monitor lizards, such as the Komodo dragon. The conventional wisdom has been that these lizards kill by infecting their prey with bactera during a bite, featured on many sites such as this one:

[The komodo dragon] can run as fast as a dog for short stretches and prey they merely injure are brought down shortly by the deadly bacteria in their mouths.

and this one:

[The komodo dragon's] saliva is not venomous, but the mouth of a Komodo dragon is so full of bacteria that a bite from one almost always leads to infection. If untreated, the infection is usually fatal.

Only thing is, it's wrong. I can't say how much bacterial infection plays a role in the killing of a komodo dragon's prey, but the research by Fry's group shows that indeed, these lizards are capable of producing venom, via previously undescribed venom glands. (Carl Zimmer has posted a figure from the Nature paper; the komodo dragon is in the Varanidae group).

Mighty Mice Regrow Organs

Mice discovered accidentally at the Wistar Institute in Pennsylvania have the seemingly miraculous ability to regenerate like a salamander, and even regrow vital organs.

Researchers systematically amputated digits and damaged various organs of the mice, including the heart, liver and brain, most of which grew back.

The next step for the scientists is fusing adamantium to their tiny mouse bones.

Monday, November 21, 2005

One-third of Britons blame rape on woman, study finds
Bush: "The whole world thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction!"

Right, I remember that's why France and Germany unilaterally invaded Iraq--wait.

Let's see what some foreign countries really thought:

  • Germany:

    The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

    Five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.

    According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said.

    Curveball's German handlers for the last six years said his information was often vague, mostly secondhand and impossible to confirm.

  • Italy:

    Italian intelligence warned the United States about bogus information on Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions at about the time President Bush cited them as a crucial reason for invading Iraq, an Italian parliamentarian said yesterday.


    The Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi was and remains a key ally of the Bush administration. Italian intelligence has been linked to a dossier alleged to have been forged by an Italian that purported to show that Iraq had been seeking to buy uranium from Niger to make nuclear weapons.

    In his State of the Union address in January 2003 President Bush repeated a similar claim to bolster his case for war. "At about the same as the State of the Union address," Senator Brutti told reporters after listening to Gen Pollari's evidence, the Italian intelligence services "said that the dossier didn't correspond to the truth".

  • England:

    Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.


    It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

"My honored mayor (may Allah bless him with sons in abundance) agrees that we must recognize and respect each other's ways.
He promises to respect your venerable custom to keep slaves."


"In return he trusts you'll respect our venerable custom to hang slavers wheresoever we find them."
More reasons not to use torture:

"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," he said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said -- echoing Gerber's comments -- "torture becomes an end unto itself."

Once I stumbled across a forum where somebody (possibly more than one bodies) were arguing that torture obviously works because we haven't given it up yet. Since people have been using it since the before recorded history, their reasoning went, that obviously showed that it was effective--otherwise we would have stopped using it. Which is true, to some degree--torture is very effective at what it does. What they apparently failed to understand, though, is that what torture does is force people to say what we want them to say, not give us good intelligence:

the Pentagon cannot point to any intelligence gains resulting from the techniques that have so tarnished America's image. That's because the techniques designed by communist interrogators were created to control a prisoner's will rather than to extract useful intelligence.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Jewish Leader Blasts 'Religious Right':

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, said "religious right" leaders believe "unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person."

"What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God?" he said during the movement's national assembly in Houston, which runs through Sunday.


Yoffie said liberals and conservatives share some concerns, such as the potential damage to children from violent or highly sexual TV shows and other popular media. But he said, overall, conservatives too narrowly define family values, making a "frozen embryo in a fertility clinic" more important than a child, and ignoring poverty and other social ills.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

An interesting article. Some excerpts:

In the early hours of Nov. 18, 1755, the most destructive earthquake ever recorded in the eastern United States struck at Cape Ann, about 30 miles north of Boston.


For Bostonians, the experience was unlike anything they had been through and their reactions varied widely. On the one side were a few who absorbed the experience with keen interest; as a natural phenomenon with natural causes. In this group were people like Adams and his favorite Harvard professor, John Winthrop, who gave a lecture on the science of earthquakes the following week.

To such people, the Cape Ann quake was an opportunity to learn something about a kind of event that was quite rare in their part of the world. While they knew nothing of plate tectonics and fault lines, the written accounts of these observers are replete with the sort of details that a modern seismologist would value. This was the reaction of men inspired by the still-new principles of natural philosophy, as science was called then, to believe that there were laws governing the operations of the world and that man could come to understand these laws through careful observation and reason.

The more typical mid-18th-century response to these kinds of events, however, was a desire to find supernatural explanations that while short on empirical detail, were usually long on ominous foreboding. To these folks earthquakes and hurricanes were simply just deserts for sins ranging from loose morals to having strayed from the true religion of their pilgrim forefathers.

The weeks after Nov. 18 saw an outpouring of sermons preached and articles published on the subject of the quake's divine origin. One strain of faith-based explanation, however, stands apart from the rest, not only for its popularity but also for its downright strangeness. According to a prominent Boston minister, the Rev. Thomas Prince of South Church, and his adherents, one novel practice in particular, together with its originator, was to blame for provoking this act of divine wrath; no, not that unlucky Boston distiller, but the lightning rod and its famous inventor, Benjamin Franklin.

It was a widespread belief in the 18th century that lightning was God's instrument of choice when manifesting his displeasure. In fact, it was a common practice to ring a town's church bells upon a storm's approach in an 11th-hour plea for mercy. To the grief of many a poor bell-ringer's widow, it was not a tactic that met with much success. But Franklin's idea of mounting pointed iron rods to the tops of tall buildings was so effective that their use quickly spread around the globe, making Franklin internationally famous two decades before he fixed his name to the Declaration of Independence.

And it was precisely the effectiveness of Franklin's invention that drew the blame of some in the city he had run away from at the age of 17. Lightning rods meddled with God's usual mode of reprimand, went this line of thinking, causing God to reach for another, more terrible weapon in his arsenal. "God shakes the earth because he is wroth," insisted Prince in a sermon he published soon after the quake. He warned his flock that the more lightning rods were erected around Boston, the more earthquakes would afflict the city as a result.

While not present at this sermon, Adams wrote that he heard idle talk of the "presumption of philosophers in erecting iron tods ... attempting to control the artillery of heaven," and dismissed it a drunken nonsense. For his part, Franklin was amused by the reaction. Why, he wryly asked, was it acceptable to build a roof to keep out the rain but blasphemy to place a rod upon the roof to keep out the lightning?

Survey Reveals Geographic Illiteracy

But hey, at least the U.S. is smarter than Mexico.

They have a sample survey available on-line, and I'm pleased to note that I got all the questions right (although some had to be by process of elimination). The on-line sample gives the questions in multiple-choice format, then the correct answer, and then a graph showing the percentage of people who got the question correct, based on nationality. They have data on nine countries: Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, and the U.S.

What's amazing is how many people got some of these questions wrong. Now, of course, I'd expect that for some of these--such as the locations of Afghanistan, India, or Argentina.

But the first question is "What is the current population of the United States?"

And only 1/4 of Americans know. Every other country on the survey scored better on that than we did.

The second question is "Which religion has the largest number of follows world-wide?" And I am stunned by the number of people who got it wrong. Mexico actually scored best (92%), with Italy second (73%) and the U.S. and Canada tying for third (62%).

Despite the fact that we waged two incompetent wars against the Taliban and al Qaida, not even 3/5 of Americans know which country they were based in. And less than half know "which organization endorses the euro as the common currency for its members".

I know I shouldn't be... but I'm still stunned by our amazing ignorance.

But I at least found this tidbit, um... vindicating? I'm not sure:

Americans who reported that they accessed the Internet within the last 30 days scored 65 percent higher than those who did not.

Chuck Norris was the fourth Wiseman. He brought baby Jesus the gift of "beard". Jesus wore it proudly to his dying day. The other Wisemen, jealous of Jesus' obvious gift favoritism, used their combined influence to have Chuck omitted from the Bible. Shortly after all three died of roundhouse kick related deaths.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Came across this post today, and this letter to the editor showed up in today's Exponent.

I still marvel at the idiocy of some people.
Another Republican idea with no basis in reality. I'm shocked:

Despite considerable opposition from lawmakers, including some within his Republican party, President George W. Bush seems determined to push ahead with plans to introduce further cuts in taxes for the rich, continuing to assert that it would create more jobs for the poor.

But the findings of a new study suggest that Bush's claim on job creation is based more on political rhetoric than actual facts related to the nation's economic realities.

"It's a great sound bite that unfortunately does not hold true in the real world economy," say authors of the report, entitled, "Nothing to Be Thankful For: Tax Cuts and the Deteriorating U.S. Job Market."

Changes in tax policy suggest no evidence of their impact on job creation or destruction, according to the 22-page study released Tuesday by United for a Fair Economy (UFE), an independent group that tracks the growing economic divide between the nation's haves and have-nots.

Since 1950, significant tax increases and decreases have both been followed by job losses and job gains, say the researchers.

Based on statistical analysis of changes in tax polices and rates of job growth in the past 60 years, the report points out that tax reduction does, however, disproportionately lead to economic disparity between the rich and poor.

"No workers have really benefited from President Bush's tax policy," says Gloribell Mota, a bilingual education specialist at UFE. "But Blacks and Latinos have suffered disproportionately."

The study shows that African American unemployment remains about twice as high as that of White workers. Moreover, it indicates no sign of growth in quality jobs (defined as paying at least 16 dollars per hour and including health benefits and a pension plan) for workers from any racial background, including Whites.

Last year, one million people fell below the poverty line, a disproportionate number of them children, while the number of billionaires rose to 374, the study says, adding that the number of people living in poverty rose from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 12.7 percent in 2004.

The study also shows that the percentage of American workers benefiting from employment-based health insurance was down from 63 percent in 2000 to less than 60 percent in 2004. This despite the fact that U.S. workers are spending more than 1800 hours per year at work while their counterparts in other technologically advanced nations work for 1600 hours a year--a difference of five full work weeks.

In June 2003, the Bush administration had claimed that the president's tax cut policy would create more than five million jobs by the end of 2004, but the study shows that only 2.6 million jobs were created--1.6 million less than what would have been expected without any special economic stimulus.

"Contrary to what President Bush and his policy makers are saying, tax cuts do not automatically create jobs," said Liz Stanton, director of research at UFE and co-author of the report.

"Their policy is bankrupt," she added. "It is time to recognize that jobs are both created and destroyed during times of tax decreases."

Stanton and other researchers say the weakening of job creation during an economic recovery such as the one currently being experienced by the country is "unprecedented since the First World War."

On Tuesday, Republicans tried hard to advance their tax cut plans, but failed to muster enough support in a Senate body to extend tax cuts for capital gains and dividends beyond their planned expiration in 2008.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 14-6 to endorse a package that would cut taxes by $80 billion over five years but would omit the administration's priority of preserving reduced tax rates for investment income.

Some Republicans who voted for the bill later indicated that they would try to reinstate the extension before the legislation is debated by the full Senate or signed by the president.

Meanwhile, critics of the administration's policies are wary that millions of Americans would not be able to participate in the national feast of Thanksgiving next week.

"This is because the multiple breadwinners each family needs these days don't have jobs," said Anisha Desai, co-author of the study. "Of those that do, many are not making enough money to pay for turkey and trimmings for everybody in the family."


Thursday, November 17, 2005

A breakthrough!

I think I finally know why we invaded Iraq!

Saddam -> Sodom -> Sodomy -> Lawrence v. Texas -> "State laws against... same-sex marriage... are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers' validation of laws based on moral choices"

We invaded Iraq to protect the institution of marriage!
I wasn't aware there was much of anything in Canada, much less a "rogue, corrupt and repressive" regime.
A while ago (July 25, it looks like), Rick Santorum appeared on The Daily Show as that day's guest. One of the topics that came up gay marriage. Here's an excerpt of the exchange, beginning around six minutes into the clip:

Stewart: But wouldn't you say that society has an interest in understanding that the homosexual community also wants to form those same bonds, and raise children, and wouldn't, uh... a monogamous, good-hearted, virtuous, homosexual couple be in society's best interests in raising a child rather than, uh... a-a heterosexual couple with adultery, with alcohol issues, with other things--? By the way, I don't even mean to make that sound as though a gay couple can only raise a child given failures in other couples.

Santorum: Well that's--you're, you're matching up best-case versus worst-case.

Which is the entire frigging point. Enacting a blanket ban on gay marriage is degrading in the same way that the Jim Crow laws were--it says that the best gay couple is not worth as much as even the lowliest straight couple.

Case in point:

I've seen some stupid people in my life, but this one just may take the cake. A woman in California was shot 4 times by her boyfriend. He and his family then held her hostage, refusing to take her to the hospital. The idiot who shot her happened to mention to a family friend that he was holding his critically wounded girlfriend to a family friend, and that friend called the police. The boyfriend was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but the idiot girlfriend wrote a letter to the judge asking him to go easy on the guy:

"I love Christian today as deeply as I loved him before this awful thing happened to us," Stebbins wrote in a victim impact statement. "We are soul mates."


And here's the kicker - the law would allow them to get married because they're straight, but gay couples who've been together for years and love one another - and, ya know, have never shot one another 4 times and held them hostage - why, we can't allow that to happen. That would undermine the "sanctity of marriage."