Monday, October 31, 2005

Reading up on some of the news about Samuel Alito, Jr. Not through yet, but I ran across this article and found a quote I found exceedingly amusing:

"Sam struck that down as a violation of free speech," Kmiec says. "That's not a conservative outcome."

Although, given what Bush has done to freedom of speech, that might not be so wrong....
Y'know, I have to wonder if all the people shrieking about Iran's call for the destruction of Israel gave a damn when Representative Tom Tancredo recommended nuking Mecca.
Today in Hebrew class, I think someone called me an anti-Semite.

It was most confusing.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I've heard right-wingers babble about "liberal elites". I've heard them saying that only red states are authentic America--the hard-working middle class.

It wasn't until today, however, that it occurred to me (via alicublog) how much that sounds like the Socialism they so despise.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Alaska High Court Backs Partner Benefits:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Gay rights advocates claimed a major victory after the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to deny benefits to same-sex partners of public employees.

In overturning a lower court ruling, the state high court said Friday that barring benefits for state and city employees' same-sex partners violates the Alaska constitution's equal protection clause.

The ruling could influence courts in other states, said Michael Macleod-Ball, director of the Alaska American Civil Liberties Union. Alaska was one of the first states to pass a constitutional ban on homosexual marriage.

Naturally I am greatly enamored of the judges who made this ruling--it was unanimous, according to the piece--and wriggle with schadenfreude because the Governor was apparently "outraged" (okay, I just wanted to use the word "schadenfreude").

But I wanted to point out something beyond all that:

In the 2001 Superior Court ruling overturned Friday, Judge Stephanie Joannides said the state and city did not have to extend benefits to same-sex couples, equating them with unmarried heterosexual couples who also are not eligible.

The high court said that comparison failed to acknowledge the fact that heterosexual couples can choose to get married, while homosexual couples cannot.

Bravo. These people prevent gays from marrying, and then try to take away more rights because they're not a married couple. I am most pleased that the judges refused to allow this.

Friday, October 28, 2005

For those who want to eat human flesh and stay healthy
Looking at the comments inspired by this cartoon, a great number of people answer the question with some variation on "to protect our freedoms!"

Unless, of course, you happen to be gay.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Documents Reveal Softer Side of Nominee
Friday, December 16, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) - In a development that Senate Judiciary staffers described as “troubling”, the White House today released a pile of documents in an attempt to bolster its nomination of Jesus Christ to the nation’s top court.

“The meek shall inherit the Earth? Turn the other cheek? I don’t think we can afford a Supreme Court justice who’s weak on terror,” a top Republican official said.

Though short on judicial experience, the documents reveal a nominee with a long career dedicated to helping the poor, comforting the afflicted, and spreading the word of god.

“He might as well have nominated Robin Hood,” joked one GOP leader. “Christ’s dedication to redistributing wealth puts him far outside the mainstream. He’s an extremist in the Souter/Kennedy mold.”
Doctors, Lawyers Create Credibility Test

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Doctors and lawyers — often natural-born enemies in the courtroom — are joining forces in Chattanooga in an experimental effort to keep junk science and dubious malpractice cases out of court.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Scientists to treat cancer by blowing up tumors
This sounds awesome:

ATSUGI, Japan - We wield remote controls to turn things on and off, make them advance, make them halt. Ground-bound pilots use remotes to fly drone airplanes, soldiers to maneuver battlefield robots.

But manipulating humans?

Prepare to be remotely controlled. I was.

Just imagine being rendered the rough equivalent of a radio-controlled toy car.

Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp., Japans top telephone company, says it is developing the technology to perhaps make video games more realistic. But more sinister applications also come to mind.

I can envision it being added to militaries' arsenals of so-called "non-lethal" weapons.

A special headset was placed on my cranium by my hosts during a recent demonstration at an NTT research center. It sent a very low voltage electric current from the back of my ears through my head — either from left to right or right to left, depending on which way the joystick on a remote-control was moved.

I found the experience unnerving and exhausting: I sought to step straight ahead but kept careening from side to side. Those alternating currents literally threw me off.

The technology is called galvanic vestibular stimulation — essentially, electricity messes with the delicate nerves inside the ear that help maintain balance.

I felt a mysterious, irresistible urge to start walking to the right whenever the researcher turned the switch to the right. I was convinced — mistakenly — that this was the only way to maintain my balance.

The phenomenon is painless but dramatic. Your feet start to move before you know it. I could even remote-control myself by taking the switch into my own hands.

There's no proven-beyond-a-doubt explanation yet as to why people start veering when electricity hits their ear. But NTT researchers say they were able to make a person walk along a route in the shape of a giant pretzel using this technique.

It's a mesmerizing sensation similar to being drunk or melting into sleep under the influence of anesthesia. But it's more definitive, as though an invisible hand were reaching inside your brain.

NTT says the feature may be used in video games and amusement park rides, although there are no plans so far for a commercial product.

Some people really enjoy the experience, researchers said while acknowledging that others feel uncomfortable.

I watched a simple racing-car game demonstration on a large screen while wearing a device programmed to synchronize the curves with galvanic vestibular stimulation. It accentuated the swaying as an imaginary racing car zipped through a virtual course, making me wobbly.

Another program had the electric current timed to music. My head was pulsating against my will, getting jerked around on my neck. I became so dizzy I could barely stand. I had to turn it off.

NTT researchers suggested this may be a reflection of my lack of musical abilities. People in tune with freely expressing themselves love the sensation, they said.

"We call this a virtual dance experience although some people have mentioned it's more like a virtual drug experience," said Taro Maeda, senior research scientist at NTT. "I'm really hopeful Apple Computer will be interested in this technology to offer it in their iPod."

Research on using electricity to affect human balance has been going on around the world for some time.

James Collins, professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, has studied using the technology to prevent the elderly from falling and to help people with an impaired sense of balance. But he also believes the effect is suited for games and other entertainment.

"I suspect they'll probably get a kick out of the illusions that can be created to give them a more total immersion experience as part of virtual reality," Collins said.

The very low level of electricity required for the effect is unlikely to cause any health damage, Collins said. Still, NTT required me to sign a consent form, saying I was trying the device at my own risk.

And risk definitely comes to mind when playing around with this technology.

Timothy Hullar, assistant professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., believes finding the right way to deliver an electromagnetic field to the ear at a distance could turn the technology into a weapon for situations where "killing isn't the best solution."

"This would be the most logical situation for a nonlethal weapon that presumably would make your opponent dizzy," he said via e-mail. "If you find just the right frequency, energy, duration of application, you would hope to find something that doesn't permanently injure someone but would allow you to make someone temporarily off-balance."

Indeed, a small defense contractor in Texas, Invocon Inc., is exploring whether precisely tuned electromagnetic pulses could be safely fired into people's ears to temporarily subdue them.

NTT has friendlier uses in mind.

If the sensation of movement can be captured for playback, then people can better understand what a ballet dancer or an Olympian gymnast is doing, and that could come handy in teaching such skills.

And it may also help people dodge oncoming cars or direct a rescue worker in a dark tunnel, NTT researchers say. They maintain that the point is not to control people against their will.

If you're determined to fight the suggestive orders from the electric currents by clinging to a fence or just lying on your back, you simply won't move.

But from my experience, if the currents persist, you'd probably be persuaded to follow their orders. And I didn't like that sensation. At all.


[Edit] Of course, this is hardly any more bizarre than U.S. laws that held you couldn't teach in any language other than English.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Next we'll have snipers at Churchill Downs
According to a witness for the defense in the Dover trial, we should teach intelligent design in the classroom in order to recruit children to their side.

"Look, if you teach our theory in the classroom now, that'll get the next generation of scientists to do research into I.D. and come up with actual proof and theories, vindicating our putting it in the classroom."
From the Washington Post we learn that Cheney is trying to exempt the CIA from the legislation the Senate passed banning torture. Quite a step to take when we're supposedly not torturing people.

"This is the first time they've said explicitly that the intelligence community should be allowed to treat prisoners inhumanely," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "In the past, they've only said that the law does not forbid inhumane treatment." Now, he said, the administration is saying more concretely that it cannot be forbidden.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Satan's less well-known cousin: "Beelzebling: the Pimp of Darkness"
Today I return to two posts I've made earlier.

In this one, I mention an experiment where some engineering class attempted to verify the legend of Archimedes burning enemy ships using mirrors. Today there was an AP article about that:

SAN FRANCISCO - It wasn't exactly the ancient siege of Syracuse, but rather a curious quest for scientific validation. According to sparse historical writings, the Greek mathematician Archimedes torched a fleet of invading Roman ships by reflecting the sun's powerful rays with a mirrored device made of glass or bronze.

More than 2,000 years later, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona set out to recreate Archimedes' fabled death ray Saturday in an experiment sponsored by the Discovery Channel program "MythBusters." Their attempts to set fire to an 80-year-old fishing boat using their own versions of the device, however, failed to either prove or dispel the myth of the solar death ray.

The MIT team's first attempt with their contraption made of 300 square feet of bronze and glass failed to ignite a fire from 150 feet away. It produced smoldering on the boat's wooden surface but no open flame. A second attempt from about 75 feet away lit only a small fire that burned itself out.

Mike Bushroe of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory tried a mirrored system shaped like flower petals, but it failed to produce either smoke or flames.

Peter Rees, executive producer of "MythBusters," said the experiment showed Archimedes' death ray was most likely a myth.

"We're not saying it can't be done," Rees said. "We're just saying it's extremely impractical as a weapon of war."

And the second was about the possibility of cloning an extinct animal. According to Professor Steve Steve, it is possible to clone Tasmanian Tigers but not dinosaurs because the former went extinct only within the last century.

[Update] More on the possibility of cloning extinct animals here and here.
Christian group wants to 'redeem' US states:

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Cory Burnell wants to set up a Christian nation within the United States where abortion is illegal, gay marriage is banned, schools cannot teach evolution, children can pray to Jesus in public schools and the Ten Commandments are posted publicly.

To that end, Burnell, 29, left the Republican Party, moved from California and founded Christian Exodus two years ago with the goal of redirecting the United States by "redeeming" one state at a time.

First up for redemption is South Carolina.

And they say any comparisons to the Taliban are completely misguided.

Website here.
Does anyone else think James Carville looks a little like Mr. Rictus?

More evidence.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Referring to the recent Kansas court ruling,

"This is legislating from the bench that does not reflect the rule of the citizenry," Jerry Johnston, pastor of the First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas, told Reuters on Saturday.

Quite right. This doesn't reflect the rule of the citizenry--it reflects the rule of law, which is what the courts are supposed to adjudicate, you twit!
Wow. I've seen people disprove Michael Behe's theory of irreducible complexity before.

But I've never seen Michael Behe disprove it.

Oh, Kitzmiller v. Dover, what great lawyers you have.
Many of you probably have heard about how Miers' responses to the Supreme Court questionnaire "range from incomplete to insulting". As usual, Jon Stewart has a good piece about that, from his October 20th show:

Now, of course, Miers' ultimate success rests entirely with her. And to that end, the Senate Judiciary committee has now handed Miers the questionnaire it gives all would-be Supreme Court Justices. Her answers would be a chance for her to show her intellectual heft, and prove herself qualified to those who will be judging her.

How did it turn out?

[Patrick Leahy] The answers to the questionnaire that came up was, uh... the comments I've heard range from incomplete to insulting.


More relevantly, the questionnaire asked Miers to furnish information, quote, "Describing all communications by the Bush administration, or individuals acting on behalf of the administration, to any individuals or interest groups with respect to how you would rule."

Miers' written response, and we are not making this up, was: "No."

By the by, here's another one to add to the list of 'in-' words describing Miers' questionnaire: incorrect.
Trying to widen that 'conscience clause':

Doyle said Catholic Charities in Boston ought to have the benefit of a "conscience clause," exempting them from having to place foster children with any gay families.

"No religious organization ought to be forced to compromise its principle as a condition of its social services," he said.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Via Crooked Timber, I find this gem of a quote regarding the miscegenation analogy:

On the gender equality issue, here I think there are sharp differences between marriage as the union of husband and wife and bans on interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia). Marriage plays an integrative function with regard to gender: its a mixed sex institution. Moreover unlike bans on miscegenation (which were formally equal but substantively served to help keep the races separate so that one race can oppress the other), marriage not only formally, but substantively furthers gender equality, by helping reduce the likelihood that women as a class will bear the high and gendered costs of parenting alone.

The above link takes Ms. Gallagher to task for switching between two definitions of marriage: the traditional kind, which basically meant a transfer of property (the bride) between families; and the modern kind, which is, as someone else I quoted in a post below said, "about two human adults ... being joined together in equality until death, for the further well-being of them both".

But what stands out to me is the reason for her dismissal of the miscegenation analogy: "Race doesn't matter in marriage, but sex does because we only allow people of different sexes to marry."

Uh. Right.

And what about when people of different races weren't allowed to marry? Was race irrelevant then, or did it only become irrelevant in 1967?

These efforts to dismiss the precedent of anti-miscegenation laws are widespread--"race is irrelevant to marriage but sex is not". But nobody ever explains how sex is relevant, just that it is. The only way this could be true, of course, is if marriage is all about spitting out babies, which it isn't. And hasn't been for some time.

Originally marriage was all about procreation and political unions, which leads me to another quote from a different post:

Many, perhaps even most, men in earlier times avidly sought sexual pleasure prior to and outside of marriage.

Uh, yeah. It was common for men to have mistresses--even expected. The wife was for bearing your children, not for love or affection. If a man wanted love, he got a mistress; if he wanted sex, he got a whore; if he wanted children, he got a wife.
The Catholic Church: "The rights of lumps of cells brewing in a girl's womb override any rights a 'woman' might demand."
A while ago I posted an entry about what was being billed as state-sanctioned polygyny. I had posted then a quote from a man in the Netherlands who said that this was not in fact a marriage, and made a prediction that right-wing hacks would nevertheless point out that this justified all their slippery-slope arguments against gay marriage.

Well, the right-wing hacks did jump all over this.

And it still isn't true.

But it's just a single thread in the tapestry of deceit that concerns opposition to marriage.

I like it.

An immodest proposal:

Whenever the conversation gets down to brass tacks about gay marriage, the first thing out of opponents' mouths has been, "If we
allow that, then people are going to marry animals" -- and the exchange is over. Proponents just don't understand that statement!

Walk with me a bit, because I figured it out. Marriage, to a
right-winger, is about having one type of superior, all-knowing male
benevolence, assisted by a further higher power of masculine all-knowing benevolence, being joined until death to govern the actions of them both, especially over women.

Marriage, to a gay-rights activist, is about two human adults,
homosexual or heterosexual, being joined together in equality until death, for the further well-being of them both.

Some of you may disagree with this broad, blemishing brush that paints all people opposed to equality as misogynist overbearing pigs. And it's true that not all of them are that way--most of them are just idiots of the regular variety--but it certainly seems to be true of some of them.
Intelligent Design claims that it is science. If so, it would present papers that are peer-reviewed, right? Which is what Michael Behe, inventor of "irreducible complexity", claims is the case:

At the same time, Behe agreed, when asked by plaintiff's counsel Eric Rothschild if the "peer review for Darwin's Black Box was analogous to peer review in the [scientific] literature." It was, according to Behe, even more rigorous. There were more than twice standard the number of reviewers and "they read [the book] more carefully... because this was a controversial topic."

But I'm sure you've already realized better by now.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The only debate on Intelligent Design that is worthy of its subject
That's an... interesting viewpoint

In 1997, Smid described to the Memphis Flyer how he believed God helped people overcome homosexuality:

"I'm looking at that wall and suddenly I say it's blue. Someone else comes along and says, 'No, it's gold.' But I want to believe that wall is blue. Then God comes along and He says, 'You're right, John, [that yellow wall] is blue.' That's the help I need. God can help me make that [yellow] wall blue."

Does this make God some sort of hallucinogenic? Should it be outlawed?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

It is apparently possible to set fire to a boat using only mirrors.

Although I have to wonder how the boat being in water would affect this experiment.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Adventures of God-Man: The Superhero with Omnipotent Powers!
"In terms of the war on terror, who do you think should be the next country to invade?"
Toledo Mayor: Neo-Nazis Had Right to March:

"They do have a right to walk on the Toledo sidewalks," Mayor Jack Ford said Sunday.


"They don't have the right to bring hate to my front yard," said Terrance Anderson.

Who's right?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Condoleeza Rice all but admits verbatim that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, that pretty much every reason they gave us for the war to date wasn't the "real" reason they made the decision (of course, this may be one of their retroactive realities), and that they had decided to invade Iraq right after 9/11.
Miers likely chosen for her support of expanded presidential powers:

But the Miers nomination isn't about abortion at all. It's about putting somebody on the court who will protect the legacy Bush cares about most: the expansion of presidential power during the war on terrorism.

And who best to rule in favor of those expanded powers - the authority to detain "enemy combatants" indefinitely without trial; to prosecute them in Bush-created military tribunals and to limit their right of appeal; to quiz them under flexible rules of interrogation - than a jurist who had been legal counsel and staff aide to the president who sought those powers?

Clearly, the betting inside the White House is that Miers, a public defender of the Patriot Act and a legal adviser on wartime presidential powers, would be more dependable than the justice she would replace. It was Sandra Day O'Connor who warned, in a 2004 ruling that partly reined in Bush's expanded powers, that "a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

The administration's priorities were on full display last Tuesday, in a speech by White House chief of staff Andrew Card. While lauding Miers ("a pretty phenomenal woman") to a conservative gathering, he never mentioned abortion, gay marriage, church-state relations, or any other hot-button issue. All he mentioned was the importance of preserving presidential prerogatives.

Card told the Hudson Institute: "I have watched as she has counseled the president as he has had to address some of the most significant challenges in the history of our country - challenges, by the way, that require a constitutional understanding, because the demands on the president are frequently challenged by those who want to interrupt the president's ability to be president. ...

"Harriet Miers understands that Constitution, and she has helped guide the president ... (who) cannot keep his oath without a lot of help."

Ken Mehlman, the Republican Party chairman, has also weighed in, telling conservative leaders by phone that Miers, in the words of one report, "will not interfere with the administration's management of the war on terror."

This argument is echoed by pro-Miers conservatives. Says Hugh Hewitt, a blogger who worked as an assistant legal counsel under Ronald Reagan, "I suspect that the president thinks first and foremost about the global war on terror each morning," and "none of the justices, not even the new chief, has seen the battlefield in the global war on terror from the perspective, or with the depth of knowledge, as has the soon-to-be Justice Miers."

Many legal analysts agree that this is Bush's priority. Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, said Friday: "These issues, which will come before the court over the next few years, concern the power of the president to essentially suspend constitutional rights during the war on terror. The issues are critical to the structure of the American political system, and to the separation of powers. We haven't seen issues this important since the cases that arose out of World War II. ...

"And it almost seems that Bush has picked someone he considers to be his surrogate."

Miers' defenders also see her as a Bush surrogate; Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the other day, "She's going to basically do what the president thinks she should." And that raises all kinds of thorny issues - notably, whether Miers' role as a White House legal advocate for enhanced presidential power might raise conflict-of-interest questions when such cases come before the court.

I.E., she was chosen (allegedly) in order to make the Judicial Branch subservient to the Executive Branch. After all, that pesky little scrap of paper known as the Constitution keeps interfering with Bush doing whatever he pleases.
Carroll bans Human Rights Network from campus due to threats

Nancy Lee, spokeswoman for Carroll, said the purpose of the lecture is to promote tolerance. But the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, known for its strongly worded anti-gay literature, has threatened to picket the event. One flier from the group even makes reference to the use of "improvised explosive devices," Lee said.

Terrorism--it's not just for Muslims.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

You'd think I'd learn not to underestimate just how stupid some people can be.

But then I read things like these, and discover that there are entire subterranean caverns of idiocy whose murky depths have yet to be mapped.

Friday, October 14, 2005

When Roberts was nominated to be a Supreme Court justice, I was worried about the fact that he'd only had two years experience as a judge, but I didn't know how common that was. Then Bush named Miers, without any experience as a judge. I'd heard that Rehnquist also hadn't had any experience as a judge, but wasn't sure.

Turns out it's true. And Rehnquist is hardly alone.
Came across this argument against gay marriage today:

I have said in this blog many times that the very idea of homosexual marriage is incoherent, which is why I put the word “marriage” in quotation marks. I do the same for dog “voting.” If we took our dogs to the polls and got them to push levers with their paws, they would not be voting. They would be going through the motions of voting. It would be a charade. Voting is not made for dogs. They lack the capacity to participate in the institution. The same is true of homosexuals and marriage.

This seems to be related to the circular notion that marriage is defined as being between a man and woman, so gays can't marry by definition. This complete butchering of the analogy tool is dissected properly in that post, and leads the same person and others to dissect all arguments against gay marriage they can think of; the former philosophically, the latter more legally.

But beyond all that, I really wanted to link this post, which reveals the AnalPhilosopher's analogy to be flawed for a surprising reason:

Many authors have assumed despotism without testing, because the feasibility of democracy, which requires the ability to vote and to count votes, is not immediately obvious in non-humans. However, empirical examples of ‘voting’ behaviours include the use of specific body postures, ritualized movements, and specific vocalizations, whereas ‘counting of votes’ includes adding-up to a majority of cast votes, integration of voting signals until an intensity threshold is reached, and averaging over all votes. Thus, democracy may exist in a range of taxa and does not require advanced cognitive capacity.

This article is kinda interesting:

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian scientists have revived a project to try to bring an extinct animal, the fabled Tasmanian tiger, back to life, the team leader said.

I'm not sure that's even possible, actually. A while ago I read What Does a Martian Look Like?, an excellent book on what extraterrestrial life might look like and how it might be adapted to its world. Near the beginning of the book (around page 40, if Amazon can be trusted), the authors begin railing against Jurassic Park's idea that we could clone dinosaurs just from having samples of their DNA. Again trusting Amazon, since I don't have a copy with me, I'll try to excerpt some of the key passages and hope that I don't get sued. After a brief summary of Jurassic Park's premise, they write:

The scientific errors, unfortunately, are gross. In order to make a dinosaur, even nature needs more than its DNA sequence. In particular, it needs a female dinosaur to set the developing egg off on the correct trajectory. This 'dinosaur-and-egg' problem implies that you can't make a dinosaur unless you've already got one, in which case (give or take a male as well) you don't need to sequence ancient DNA in amber.

After this they unabashedly "rid[e] one of [their] scientific hobbyhorses"--the myth that once you know a creature's genome, you understand everything about it. After ranting for the better part of a paragraph (they do that a lot), they turn back to Jurassic Park:

This is the belief that lies at the core of Jurassic Park: that the genetic 'blueprint' for the organism determines everything about it. However, organisms are far more complicated than just a 'message' written in DNA.

We don't want to rehearse the biological arguments at any length, because we've already discussed them in The Collapse of Chaos, Figments of Reality, and The Science of Discworld--but the list of things that affect how an organism develops, but aren't DNA, is enormous. Parents often supply 'privilege'--extra food, such as yolk in an egg or milk. The example of the anglerfish, already mentioned, is instructive: here the fish's DNA does not even tell it which sex it should be....

Let's take this point one step further. All vertebrates start much the same: the embryos are very similar at what is called the phylotypic stage (stage typical of the phylum): all annelid worms look similar at their phylotypic stage, as do all gastropod molluscs (snails). Very different eggs (think of chicken egg, mammal egg, frog-spawn, caviar among vertebrates) all converge on to the phylotypic stage, and the strange thing is that they don't need their genetic instructions to do it. The egg architecture, plus a suite of clever molecules called informosomes copied from the mother's genetics, guides the pre-phyletic embryo to its phylum-typical shape, with its nuclei in lots of different kinds of cells. These different cells call up a different developmental programme from each of their nuclei, so that different genes are expressed in liver, kidney, nervous system and skin. In a very real sense, vertebrates are vertebrate because their mothers were: they made eggs that developed into vertebrate phylotypic embryos, which then read out their genes in the characteristic vertebrate way.

Because of this two-stage development, it is much easier to have a well-controlled passage of information: think of the egg as the tape-player, the chromosomal DNA information as the tape, which has on it instructions for making the ovary that makes eggs--tape-players--of the appropriate kind. That rather destroys the background 'science' of Jurassic Park, because it suggests that the tape player evolves as well as the DNA type. Ostrich eggs, and a bit of frog DNA to fill in the tape, just won't work. Nature agrees: rat nuclei (complete good-condition nuclei, not DNA that's been through a mosquito gut and then been bombarded by cosmic rays for 70 million years [--does that mean we'd get dinosaurs that could turn invisible? or stretch?] ...) won't develop properly in mouse eggs, and vice versa. And rat and mouse are a lot closer together than ostriches and tyrannosaurs, or frogs and velociraptors.

Perhaps the people trying to clone the Thylacine know a way around this. Perhaps they don't know what they're trying to do is impossible. Perhaps Misters Cohen and Stewart are the ones that are wrong. I'm certainly not qualified to say.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Scott McClellan Says Helen Thomas Opposes 'War on Terrorism'

(For those of you who don't follow the link, Helen Thomas is a White House reporter)

What exchange between the two of them drove Mr. McClellan to declare that Ms. Thomas opposes the war on terrorism? Here's an excerpt:

McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, the President recognizes that we are engaged in a global war on terrorism. And when you're engaged in a war, it's not always pleasant, and it's certainly a last resort. But when you engage in a war, you take the fight to the enemy, you go on the offense. And that's exactly what we are doing. We are fighting them there so that we don't have to fight them here. September 11th taught us --

THOMAS It has nothing to do with -- Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

McCLELLAN: Well, you have a very different view of the war on terrorism, and I'm sure you're opposed to the broader war on terrorism.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Noticed this article in USA Today. The opening paragraph is a pretty good summary of the entirety:

A newly released report published by the CIA rebukes the Bush administration for not paying enough attention to prewar intelligence that predicted the factional rivalries now threatening to split Iraq.

Which comes as no surprise. I'm no expert on Iraq, but even I knew enough about Arab cultures to predict that we certainly wouldn't be greeted with flowers. But this paragraph stuck out to me:

"In an ironic twist, the policy community was receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right," they write.

This is apparently more of the white-washing premise that "The administration believed Iraq was a threat, so they couldn't take the chance." In effect, they're pinning this debacle (oh, that's such a fun word to say) on the lower-echelons of the intelligence community in a move that A Tiny Revolution has dubbed the reverse-Nuremberg defense:

It's obvious I had to order the extermination of six million Jews. My underlings had given me intelligence that they were subhumans scheming to destroy the master race.

He then goes on to explain how this 'fact'--that it was the intelligence that was wrong, not the policy--is utter nonsense.
"Gays are trying to change the institution of marriage!"


About that....
In Roman society, only the upper one-third of the population had the legal right to marry. Christians thought marriage was a tainted institution and didn’t declare it a sacrament until the 13th century. The early Roman Catholic Church sanctioned same-sex unions from the fourth through the 14th centuries. From the 1690s through the 1870s it was common for men in rural England to sell their wives in the town square. Slaves were not permitted to marry as they were considered “property.” Interracial couples were not permitted to marry in some states until as late as 1967.

And then there's this.

And these too.
Jason, they beat you to it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A while ago, I posted about people claiming that religious freedom allows them not to distribute contraceptives. When these stories were circulating in the blogs I read, I remember someone (possibly many someones) asking the hypothetical question "What if my religion involves discriminating against blacks? If I were a surgeon, could I refuse to operate on someone if I found out they were homosexual?"

Some people may dismiss that as a slippery-slope.

Others, however, think it eminently reasonable.
I was in a truck stop recently; one of those gas station/restaurant combinations filled with all sorts of trinkets.

In one area, near the restrooms, they had a display of "Stylin' Ringz"--another item that someone thinks people will buy just because it has their name on it. Normally I wouldn't have paid any attention to this, but at a glance I noticed one ring that jumped out at me.

I had to get it.
It occurred to me that Intelligent Design has got to be the laziest explanation for the origin of life anywhere. All it says is that "we were designed". Professor Myers had an opportunity to ask Michael Behe, a proponent of I.D., for a little more, and was expectedly disappointed:

What was his specific, testable hypothesis for the origin of the blood clotting system? His answer: "It was designed." I hammered a little harder, and said that was neither specific nor testable—when, where, how was it designed? How would I test it or find evidence for it? He mumbled something very peculiar..."That's about origins. We don't speculate about origins."

So they don't mention who designed us, how they did it, when they did it, why they did it. Every religion and mythology gives you some answer to any, if not all, of those questions, but I.D. won't even bother to do that.

I used to visit the HonestReporting's weblog, MediaBackspin. Eventually I became disgusted with the rampant anti-Arab venom being spewed everywhere, the alacrity with which they would shrilly shriek "Anti-Semitism!" for reasons as stupid as a mural depicting Sharon with a kippa (along with their hypocritic demand that "Jews use the cry of anti-Semitism all the time" is a myth), their use of single incidents to slander entire countries and peoples, and their bizarre obsession with slipping insults against "the Left" into every rant they make, like some modern-day Cato.

Most of the time they will try to convince you that they are not, in fact, vile hate-mongers--it is rather you who are the bigot, because not agreeing with them completely means you are clearly opposed to the Jewish State which means you are clearly opposed to Jews which means you're a hateful anti-Semite. And they try to justify their bigotry by claiming that Islam is an oppressive, belligerent religion (consisting only, they seem to think, of a handful of quotes taken out of context).

And they completely ignore how oppressive all other religions, including their own, are.
Iraq rebuilding slows as U.S. money for projects dries up

The U.S. government is running out of money. The higher than expected cost of protecting workers against insurgent attacks — about 25 cents of every reconstruction dollar now pays for security — has sent the cost of projects skyward.

The result: Some projects have been eliminated and others cut back.

"American money has dried up," says Brent Rose, chief of program/project management for the Army Corps of Engineers in southern Iraq.

And tracking the billions of dollars that flooded into a war zone in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion has proved difficult, too. Nearly $100 million in reconstruction money is unaccounted for.


But there are signs that some of the early momentum is gone, particularly for big infrastructure projects. The Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works initially planned to use U.S. funds for 81 much-needed water and sewage treatment projects across the country, says Humam Misconi, a ministry official. That list has dwindled to 13.

Canceled projects include the $50 million project that was supposed to provide potable water to the second-largest city in the Kurdish region, and a $60 million water treatment plant in Babil province, which would have served about 360,000 residents, Misconi says.

Some progress has been made. More than 2,800 projects have begun since the transfer of sovereignty last summer, and 1,700 of those have been completed, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. They include refurbished schools, new police stations, hospitals, bridges and new roads.

It is the larger, more expensive projects such as water treatment plants, sewage networks and power grids that are being cut back.

Congress appropriated $18.4 billion for Iraq reconstruction in November 2003, but last year nearly $5 billion of it was diverted to help train and equip Iraq's security forces as the insurgency grew in strength.

And the security costs keep increasing. Originally estimated at 9% of total project costs, security costs have risen to between 20% and 30%, says Brig. Gen. William McCoy Jr., commander of the Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq.


Nearly half of all of Iraqi households still don't have access to clean water, and only 8% of the country, excluding the capital, is connected to sewage networks.

And despite progress in fixing Iraq's antiquated oil production system, the country's oil wells produce about 1.9 million barrels of crude oil a day, lower than 2003 levels and well under the 3.5 million barrels Iraq was producing before the 1991 Gulf War.

Iraqi households still endure about 10 hours a day of power outages. In Baghdad, the power is out about 14 hours a day, according to the Electricity Ministry. Iraqi power plants are now generating nearly 4,800 megawatts, up from 4,400 before the U.S.-led invasion.

The increase hasn't been enough to keep up with demand. Since the end of the war, demand for electricity has increased by about 60% as Iraqis have bought new refrigerators, televisions, air conditioners and satellite dishes, says a Corps of Engineers spokesman.


Besides escalating security costs, reconstruction also has been dogged by allegations of fraud and mismanagement. Nearly $100 million in Iraqi funds distributed by the Coalition Provisional Authority for reconstruction was either spent without supporting receipts or vanished, according to an April audit by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq reconstruction.

The U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation, says Jim Mitchell, a spokesman for the office.

The White House said it hasn't decided whether to request additional funds from Congress. "It is too early to know what may be needed," McClellan said.

If President Bush does ask Congress for more money, there will probably be tough questions about oversight and rising security costs.

"Reconstruction in Iraq has been slower, more painful, more complex, more fragmented and more inefficient than anyone in Washington or Baghdad could have imagined," said Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, during a subcommittee meeting last month. [--only after you fired everyone who did imagine that]

To wit: reconstruction is going horribly, thanks in large part to the insurgency that's "in its last throes", as well as rampant corruption (gee, who would ever anticipate that from the Bush administration?).

On a semi-related note, in addition to the 100 million "missing" dollars mentioned in the article, another 1 billion dollars have been stolen in this ridiculous farce of a war.
The Questionable Authority dissects some moron's essay on why I.D. will win over evolution.

My favorite bit from the moron:

So you've discovered the missing link? Proven that viruses distribute super-complex DNA proteins? Shown that fractals can produce evolution-friendly three-dimensional shapes? It doesn't matter. To the ID mind, you're just pushing the question further down the road. How was the missing link designed? What is the origin of the viruses? Who designed the fractals? ID has already made its peace with natural selection and the irrefutable aspects of Darwinism. By contrast, Darwinism cannot accept even the slightest possibility that it has failed to explain any significant dimension of evolution. It must dogmatically insist that it will resolve all of its ambiguities and shortcomings -- even the ones that have lingered since the beginning of Darwinism. The entire edifice of Darwinian theory comes crashing down with even a single credible demonstration of design in any living thing. Can science really plug a finger into every hole in the Darwinian dyke for the next fifty years?

Which just proves the point that I.D. isn't science--it is magic: "Whatever we discover, that's exactly the way our Unspecified-Omnipotent-Being-Who-Isn't-God-Wink-Wink designed it!"

Monday, October 10, 2005

Sumo is, allegedly, awesome.

This is as yet unconfirmed.
This is the first time that I have seen a conservative pundit literally stick their fingers in their ears and shout "I can't hear you!" in order to avoid listening to someone deconstruct their bullshit.

But most of them do more or less the same thing.

Friday, October 7, 2005

Is this going to be indicative of the style of Miers' rulings if she's confirmed?

Thursday, October 6, 2005

An article about Phillip Johnson, someone who doesn't believe HIV causes AIDS, has this quip:

He went on to say that one of the major flaws of the theory of evolution is that it excludes the possibility of divine intervention within the creation of living organisms.

To which P.Z. Myers says:

As for the exclusion of divine intervention, that's true enough, but is not a flaw. Science tries to restrict itself to the observable and the testable. God is neither. As soon as the IDists manage to scrape up some evidence for their designer, we'll use it. Personally, I'd like nothing better than to strap an angel down, take some dental drills to its skull, clamp it into a stereotaxic, and start diddling about in its divine cerebrum. But then I have a rather sadistic attitude towards religious concepts.

That makes me think of Amrit: "It's gorgeous! I think I'll dissect it."
This is almost as good as Noah battling dinosaurs to keep them off the ark.
This isn't exactly a new story, but it seems one of the more plausible explanations of why we went to war.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

The Church acknowledges common sense!

Enough, Fitzgerald! The suspense is killing us!

Please be true....
I really wouldn't recommend reading "The People's Voice on Gay Marriage". I couldn't stomach all of the drivel he was spewing, but the gist of his argument is thus:

But today liberalism all too often displays a strong antidemocratic streak, and nowhere is it more blatant than on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Every time voters have been asked whether the fundamental definition of marriage -- the legal union of a man and woman -- should be radically redefined, they have given the same answer, and generally in a landslide. In the past five years, voters in 16 states have adopted constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage. (Statewide votes are pending in five more states.) Those who believe that gender should be irrelevant to marriage may be passionately convinced of the justice of their cause. But they have not managed to convince a majority of their fellow citizens.

Faced with such strong and consistent electoral opposition, same-sex marriage advocates ought to be reworking their arguments and finding better ways to make their case. They could be trying harder to understand the concerns and depth of feeling on the other side. Or they could decide to wait until public sentiment has shifted, and then go back to the voters with a new referendum.

Instead they seem to have decided that if they can't win democratically, winning undemocratically will suffice.

Which is complete, utter incompetence.

This isn't the first time I've been subjected to such inanity, and my response now is as then: a democracy enforces the will of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority. If the majority wants to take away the rights of the minority, that's not democratic!

Perhaps expecting a retort of this nature, the article ends with this bullshit:

And it is no answer to say that gay and lesbian marriage is a matter of civil rights, and no one's civil rights should be put to a vote. Whether same-sex marriage should be thought of as a civil right is precisely the question to be decided. The way to decide it fairly is to decide it democratically.

What a joke. There isn't any question here--the Supreme Court has several times declared marriage to be a fundamental right. How much clearer can it get, you obfuscating prick?

In the beginning of the article he attempts to contrast the desire for equality today with yesteryear's desire for equality, making the ridiculous claim that somehow the push for women's suffrage was different than the push for gay marriage.

Yeah. Right.

Say what?

Say what???

How would that even be constitutional, what with Eisenstadt v. Baird?

Why are comedians the best source of news?

"A debate has arisen over a Pennsylvania school board's decision to teach both intelligent design and evolution in the classroom. Here are some highlights from the trial."

Tuesday, October 4, 2005


First Trio Married in the Netherlands

And now every lunatic will turn to this as vindication for their slippery-slope argument of "gay marriage leads to polygamy".

Never explaining, of course, why either of them is intrinsically wrong.

But never mind that. It seems that this is not actually a marriage, nor even a civil union. Frans has more:
This is not an official marriage or an official civil union (there is a slight difference, but I won't bore you with the details). This is just a "samenlevingscontract" which "von" correctly translates as "cohabitation contract". It has no official standing. Trust me - I know.

Given that Frans has an e-mail address with a .nl suffix, I suppose he probably does know, at that.

Monday, October 3, 2005

What was the Republicans had to say about the filibuster and not knowing a damn thing about a nominee's views, again?
Are gays more likely to be pedophiles?

Hint: No.
Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Came across this today.

Makes me wonder what exactly the professor said... even if I were to try thinking like a creationist, I couldn't begin to fathom what about "the Bible is not a science book" might make one storm out of class and later fume "my beliefs were... attacked." One would think that, if you're taking a course in neuroscience, you'd be bright enough to understand the distinction between the Bible and science books.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

An interesting article on the equation E=mc2
Al Qaeda: Get out of our land!
Right wing: What could possibly be motivating these people?
Al Qaeda: We're not kidding, get your troops out of our countries!
Right wing: It can't be anything we've done.
Al Qaeda: You've got thousands of troops in our land, get rid of them!
Right wing: They must hate freedom.
Al Qaeda: Cease your imperialist aggression against our sovereign countries!
Right wing: They must hate democracy, too.
Al Qaeda: Get the hell out of our country!
Right wing: Lalalalala~! I can't hear you!
Top generals: Our presence in Iraq is fueling the insurgency. It is imperative that we decreasing the level of troops.
Right wing: You're just a bunch of quitters. We have to stay and beat up them fanatics!
Robert Pape: My research has shown that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.
Right wing: Nonsense! They're terrorists out to kill us, you can't bargain with them.
Israel and Saudi Arabia: Actually, the vast majority of them weren't involved in terrorism of any sort until you invaded their country.
Right wing: Why do you hate America?
And so it goes....

I've come to the conclusion that many of the people who support the Iraq war aren't really concerned with being effective or actually defeating terrorism; they're more concerned with being "tough". We've got people who defend torture despite its being morally repugnant and completely effectless (in the comments):

Funny how support for strong tactics against terrorists is aligned with lower intelligence. You either adapt and survive or die, in which case I guess all the intellectual liberals (misnomer) would disappear. Yes, if we just cut off spending on the military and set all the detainees free, I will feel so much safer, and I'm sure the terrorists would just leave us alone.
Do you think the fact that we have not experienced a terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11 is just a fluke? No - these guys are busy fighting in Iraq or else they are stuck in Gitmo.

Since you are so quick to condemn these tactics - tell me how you would deal with islamic extremist terrorists you have in custody? Would you invite him to lunch? Do you think slapping him with wet noodles will make him tell you where that dirty bomb is? Oh that's right, we cannot embarass or harass this wonderful example of a human being.
How would you deal with Taliban fighters arrested while firing on our troops? And I am referring to the real world here - not the liberal wet dream of a peaceful world where no fatwas have been issued against all things American.

Basically, anything short of abusing them is coddling them. And we can't have that, because we need "strong tactics against terrorists"--strong implying that we have to show them how tough we are, instead of actually using tactics that are effective. The same thinking is espoused by administration members: most recently Condoleeza Rice ("Any champion of democracy who promotes principles without power can make no real difference in the lives of oppressed people."), but also by Karl Rove ("Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."), and repeatedly by Bush and Cheney. I think it was put most bluntly by Michael Ledeen, though: "Every 10 years or so, the US needs to pick up some small crappy little country & throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

It's not about protecting our country. It's not about reducing terrorism. It's about being the toughest kid on the block.

P.S.: The paper by Robert Pape is available in PDF format. I do have a problem with it, in that it seems to focus only on suicide-terrorism; I have to wonder if including all forms of terrorism would change the results any.

"Compassionate conservatism" at work

Bush threatens defense bill veto, warning on prisoners:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday threatened to veto a $440.2 billion defense spending bill in the Senate because it wasn't enough money for the Pentagon and also warned lawmakers not to add any amendments to regulate the treatment of detainees or set up a commission to probe abuse.