Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Supporting the troops

Fox news style.
There are other examples, with Fox in particular. Fox likes personalities, and Geraldo Rivera covered the war on my TV and was giving away future troop movements by drawing a map in the sand.

There was another case where a Fox reporter was reporting live from in front of an Abrams tank that was on fire. The conventional wisdom was that Abrams tanks were impervious to the technology that the fedayeen had, small arms. But it turns out that if you did hit an Abrams tank in a certain spot with a rocket-propelled grenade, you could stop it and destroy it. So the Fox correspondent is reporting that, live on television: where the weak spot is and how this must have happened. Anyone watching that stuff, Iraqi intelligence officials, fedayeen soldiers – and we know they were watching it – would be like 'great, next time I see an Abrams, I'm gonna save my shot until I see the money shot and aim for the vulnerable spot I saw on TV. Thank you, Fox News.' Or anyone being watching the live report from Geraldo – where he's drawing the map in the sand – could say 'great, I know where coming and they're bringing Geraldo with them.' There's a danger in that.

And the thing is, Fox likes to see themselves as so pro-military and patriotic and they like to share their knowledge, like they're one of the guys.


Bill O'Reilly loves Mexicans!

As long as he can keep an eye on them, o'course:
But, you know, look, I think most Americans, despite the heated rhetoric on this issue, most people watching us right now, Mr. Bermudez, don't want to hurt any poor Mexican people. They don't want to hurt them.

You know, they want to know who they are. They want to know where they are, what they're doing. They don't want them clustering in neighborhoods and changing the tempo of the whole neighborhood. They don't want certainly crimes being committed by people here illegally. That can't happen. That's got to be zero tolerance there.

I'm sure if I dug around, I could find someone justifying the Japanese internment camps for the same reason.

Or justifying the decision of people to refuse to sell homes to black people because they didn't want them uppity Negroes "changing the tempo of the whole [white] neighborhood."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Today's zombie racist: some Idahoans

Idahoans were relieved when the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations left the state in 2001 and its Hayden Lake compound was torn down, erasing a symbol of racism in the state.

But much work remains to be done, [president of the Idaho Black History Museum, Cherie] Buckner-Webb said. "We've said, great, the Nazis are gone. Well, no, their compound is gone, but racist attitudes are still alive and well in Idaho, and all over the world."

Really? How do you figure, Ms. Buckner-Webb?

Oh, right.
News of racist threats dogging a college football star and his fiancée may surprise most residents of one of the nation's whitest states.

But Idaho blacks have seen trouble coming ever since Boise State tailback Ian Johnson, who is black, got down on one knee Jan. 1 to propose to cheerleader Chrissy Popadics, who is white, on national TV after scoring the winning points at the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

The couple will marry today. Johnson has reported receiving more than 30 threatening letters and phone calls from inside and outside Idaho.

"When Ian did that on television, every black person I know said, 'He's a fool. That boy just asked for trouble,' " said Keith Anderson, a former Boise State football player who has been married to a white woman for 14 years and has two sons.

"I thought, 'Uh-oh, this is gonna bite him,' " said Mamie Oliver, a leader in Idaho's African-American community since she came to teach social work at Boise State in 1972.

The threats have been widely publicized this week on national sports-talk radio, with some speculating the incident will add to Idaho's reputation as a racist haven and hurt Boise State's recruiting efforts.


It's sweet of you, but...

...ultimately doomed to failure.
A self-identified "Christian, straight, married" father of nine and grandfather of seven said today he is filing what is likely to be the first lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's recently passed constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Bill McConkey, an instructor of political science at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and resident of Baileys Harbor, was planning to drop off his 14-page complaint this morning at the Dane County Courthouse. McConkey, who is not an attorney, prepared the lawsuit on his own.


McConkey said in an interview he is filing the lawsuit because the marriage ban violates the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

"Here is a law that denies equal protection," he said. "It cannot be constitutional, not in this country, not under the U.S. Constitution."

He also said the ban violates the First Amendment of the federal constitution that protects freedom of expression. Marriage, he said, "is an expression of trust and commitment to each other and to the community that we are now a married couple."

The first amendment attack is innovative, but almost certainly going to be tossed out. In fact, the entire thing is likely to be tossed out because he doesn't have standing to sue.

About right

SMITHERS: Now, I realize caring for Mr. Burns seems like a big job, but... actually it's just 2800 small jobs.


HOMER: Uh, Mr. Smithers? I don't understand 2700 of my new duties.
SMITHERS: Well, the van's leaving... which one duty is giving you the most trouble?
HOMER: Uh... what do I do in case of fire?
SMITHERS: [muffled as van door shuts] Sorry, can't hear you. Bye!
HOMER: [sits down, glances into office to see a blazing fire] Aww, just my luck.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: "That's unpossible!" Edition

Sorry folks, this one's not a dead racist. It's Henry Kissinger:
After the Biafran rebellion collapsed in January 1970, [National Security Council staff member Roger] Morris briefed Kissinger on the prospect for continued bloodshed between the victorious Nigerian troops and the defeated Ibos of Biafra. Morris explained, in response to Kissinger's question, that the Ibos of Biafra were more Negroid in appearance and the Nigerians tended to be more Semitic. Kissinger was visibly surprised and confused. "But you have always told me the Ibos were more gifted and accomplished than the others. What do you mean 'more Negroid'?"

--Seymour Hersh, "The United States President Who Liked to Call Blacks 'Jigaboos'", Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 23, Spring 1999, p. 139

Can you say "projection"?

Bill O'Reilly says: "[W]hat's the difference between David Duke" and Daily Kos?

And Bill should know; he's a real expert on white supremacy.

Next we stop teaching people to drive to bring down the number of car crashes

It's true; information never helped anybody make informed decisions.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

And around we go

Despite all the bluster about Iraq being the most horrible threat the U.S. of A. has ever faced, experts say that the terrorist groups most capable of striking here are in South Asia:
A day after President Bush sought to present evidence showing that Iraq is now the main battlefront against Al Qaeda, the chief US intelligence analyst for international terrorism told Congress that the network's growing ranks in Pakistan and Afghanistan pose a more immediate threat to the United States.

In rare testimony before two House committees, Edward Gistaro, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, said that Al Qaeda terrorists operating in South Asia are better equipped to attack the United States than the network's followers in Iraq are.

Asked which arm of Al Qaeda concerned him the most, Gistaro told a joint session of the House armed services and intelligence panels that it was South Asia.

"The primary concern is in Al Qaeda in South Asia organizing its own plots against the United States," he said. Al Qaeda planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks from its bases in Afghanistan.

The top leaders of the terrorist network, Gistaro added, are "able to exploit the comfort zone in the tribal areas" of Pakistan and Afghanistan and are "bringing people in to train for Western operations."

"We see increased efforts on the part of Al Qaeda to try and find, train, and deploy people who could get into this country," he testified.

Meanwhile, a top US general in Afghanistan told Pentagon reporters in a video teleconference that the number of Al Qaeda foot soldiers traveling to South Asia has increased up to 60 percent over the past year.

"It's increased probably 50 to 60 percent over what it was last year . . . and they come from multiple areas in the Middle East," said Army Major General David Rodriguez, commander of the 82d Airborne Division.

So it's clear what has to happen, right? The War on Terror™ has been such a success that now we'll have to do it again, driving al Qaida out of Afghanistan!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

But can it compute the power of love?

I'm not entirely sure I understand this article, but it seems that there were (at least) two competing theories for how an infant learns sounds: one said that it was hard-wired in the brain, and another said that the child picks it up. Well, apparently someone made a computer program modeled off a child's learning patterns, and discovered that the computer picked up vowel sounds as well as the child did, giving some credence to the latter theory.
"The debate in language acquisition is around the question of how much specific information about language is hard-wired into the brain of the infant and how much of the knowledge that infants acquire about language is something that can be explained by relatively general purpose learning systems," said James McClelland, a psychology professor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

McClelland says his computer program supports the theory that babies systematically sort through sounds until they understand the structure of a language.

"The problem the child confronts is how many categories are there and how should I think about it. We're trying to propose a method that solves that problem," said McClelland, whose work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Expanding on some existing ideas, he and a team of international researchers developed a computer model that resembles the brain processes a baby uses when learning about speech.

He and colleagues tested their model by exposing it to "training sessions" that consisted of analyzing recorded speech in both English and Japanese between mothers and babies in a lab.

What they found is the computer was able to learn basic vowel sounds right along with baby.


Although it's not like this doesn't happen in the U.S.

A Spanish judge has ordered a woman to either enter a relationship with a man or turn her children over to her former husband after the court was told the woman is a lesbian.

Judge Fernando Ferrin Calamita said that having a lesbian mother would harm the children and "raised the risk" that the girls would also become gay the EFE news agency reported Monday.

"It is understood that [a parent's] drug addiction, child abuse, prostitution, belonging to a satanic sect or heterosexual affair would negatively affect the children and serve as a reason for a change of custody. Well, it's the same with homosexuality," EFE quoted him as saying."

Ferrin Calamita, who presides over family court in the eastern region of Murcia said he would allow the unnamed woman to keep the children only if she were in a heterosexual relationship.

Via Ed Brayton. Commenters on that post say that the judge has been disbarred, but the only article that anyone linked to only said that there was a unanimous decision to open an investigation.

This really makes less sense when you consider that Spain has legalized gay marriage, although the article doesn't say whether or not the women are married or not. And it does mention that Calamita railed against the liberal laws. But still....

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

He's not even the leader of Pottsylvania

What really bamboozles me about authoritarian nuts who follow lockstep whatever Bush wants, even if it is completely contradictory to opinions they held before he uttered a pronouncement on the issue, is... why Bush?

He doesn't seem particularly charismatic, certainly not competent, so why latch onto him as their Fearless Leader? Is it just because he was there at the time and said the things that they wanted to hear?

And does this mean he'll stop having Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin on his show?

Bill O'Reilly is apparently asking us to boycott his own show.

A thought

Hogwarts should be more like Castle Heterodyne: able to defend itself.

Monday, July 23, 2007

"This is not about gay or lesbian.... This is about the law being fair."

In New Jersey, a lot of companies haven't been giving out insurance to the partners of gay employees and so on because civil unions aren't marriage. And now, in Los Angeles, we see something similar. A married couple separated, and the woman is now living in a registered domestic partnership with another woman. However, the man has to continue paying alimony because, the judge ruled, domestic partnerships aren't marriage.
The judge ruled that a registered partnership is cohabitation, not marriage, and that Garber must keep writing the checks, $1,250 a month, to his ex-wife, Melinda Kirkwood. Gerber plans to appeal.


Lawyers arguing favor of same-sex marriage say they will cite the June ruling in the Orange County case as a reason to unite gay and heterosexual couples under one system: marriage.

In legal briefs due in August to the California Supreme Court, Therese Stewart, chief deputy city attorney for San Francisco, intends to argue that same sex couples should have access to marriage and that domestic partnership doesn't provide the same reverence and respect as marriage.

The alimony ruling shows "the irrationality of having a separate, unequal scheme" for same-sex partners, Stewart said.

I predict that the court could simply say "Well, yeah, but that's only because the judge in that case misapplied the domestic partnership law. Legally domestic partnerships and gay marriages are indistinguishable." Which would then bring up what conceivable, possible reason the legislature would have for denying gays "marriage" but giving them "domestic partnership". I don't think that could pass even the "rational basis" test.

Anywho. The man of the couple, Ron Garber, didn't much like the ruling and plans to appeal.
"This is not about gay or lesbian," Garber said. "This is about the law being fair."

Bingo, Mr. Garber.

Lord knows that'd be my ace legal defense

I'm not sure that "who cares" is a legal principle.

But dad may prove me wrong.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

No pithy title for you

This is horrible:
A mayor in eastern Germany has filed charges against workers at his local zoo for shooting animals and selling them as meat.

A spokeswoman for the mayor's office said deer were among the animals killed and sold by workers at Erfurt Zoo without permission over a number of years.


"We are worried this is only the tip of the iceberg," said Wolfgang Apel, president of the [German Animal Protection] League, who also said the case raised serious questions about the zoo's management.

Die Zeit newspaper quoted an anonymous zoo employee as saying the number of animals had been declining and: "It is high time something is done about it."


Wingnuts get it wrong once again, film at 11

When the Supreme Court struck down admissions systems for schools that took race into account, many conservatives were crowing in glee, and pronouncing themselves the true heirs of Dr. King's vision of a colorblind society. See, for example, the obnoxious screeds here and here.

However, as usual, these people have gotten it wrong. Dr. King wrote in Why We Can't Wait,
Among the many vital jobs to be done, the nation must not only radically readjust its attitude toward the Negro in the compelling present, but must incorporate into its planning some compensatory consideration for the handicaps he has inherited from the past. It is impossible to create a formula for the future which does not take into account that our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years. How then can he be absorbed into the mainstream of American life if we do not do something special for him now, in order to balance the equation and equip him to compete on a just and equal basis?

Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man is entered at the staffing line in a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.

It's sad that some people simply can't understand that.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: Autochthonous Edition

Instead of war and conquest through blood and fire and rapine, we would give, upon this continent, peaceful homes to the free white man of the Caucasian race in that zone where he was placed by the God of Heaven, and to which he is adapted by the laws of his constitution, so would we give homes to the free colored men of African descent in the zone of his fathers. By the operation of peaceful causes, by no infringements on the rights of states or individuals, by no stretch of constitutional authority on the part of the federal government, and by no immense expenditure, we propose to gain all, and even more than all, the benefits and blessings which the conquest and annexation of all the West Indies, and of the whole tropical regions of America would bring to us, without any of the expense and trouble and dangers of conquering, holding and governing them; while to the hopes and reasonable expectations of every lover of his country and his race, is held out the only practical solution of the gravest problem presented to the American statesman to-day; the ultimate destiny of the Anglo-American and the Afro-American races in this new world, and such a solution as will bring homesteads, prosperity, happiness, and ultimate freedom to all.

--Wisconsin Senator James Doolittle, in a speech at Warsaw, New York, as recorded by the Janesville, Wisconsin, Weekly Gazette and Free Press of September 16, 1859. Also partially reprinted in Race and the Rise of the Republican Party, p. 256.

"[T]he free white man of the Caucasian race ... was placed by the God of Heaven" "upon this continent"?

To paraphrase Bill Watterson, I'm not sure what's more troubling: his grasp of history or his grasp of theology.

One small step for--ah, you know how it goes

38 years ago today, man first walked on the moon.

"The Eagle has landed."

And yes, dammit, we landed on the moon. I think Buzz Aldrin has the right idea on how to deal with moon-deniers.

"Not every problem can be solved with chess, Deep Blue. Someday you'll learn that."

A computer, Chinook, has perfected the game of checkers:
An invincible checkers-playing program named Chinook has solved a game whose origins date back several millennia, scientists reported Thursday on the journal Science's Web site. By playing out every possible move — about 500 billion billion in all — the computer proved it can never be beaten. Even if its opponent also played flawlessly, the outcome would be a draw.

Chinook, created by computer scientists from the University of Alberta in 1989, wrapped up its work less than three months ago. In doing so, its programmers say the newly crowned checkers king has solved the most challenging game yet cracked by a machine — even outdoing the chess-playing wizardry of IBM's Deep Blue.


Checkers — or draughts, as the game is known in Britain — is played on a board of 64 dark and light squares, though each opponent's 12 game pieces are allowed to move only diagonally along the dark squares. Chinook was not designed to "think" through all permitted strategies on its own but to memorize the consequences of every possible move, allowing it map out a start-to-finish strategy that would, at worst, result in a draw.

With assistance from some of the world's best checkers players, Schaeffer and his team introduced rules of thumb into their massive computer program and then allowed it to capture information about winning and losing moves, tweaking it along the way. In building the database, the program assembled the 39 trillion pieces of information needed to determine all possible outcomes when 10 or fewer checkers remain on the board.

Next, the team built a database of beginning moves that would eventually lead players to the endgame. The final challenge was to forge tight links between the game's start and finish.

"The whole strategy in solving a game is to shrink that middle part until it disappears, so your beginning game and your end game connect," Littman said.

On April 29, Chinook did exactly that when it determined that perfect play by both sides would always lead to a draw.

I think it's clear that the next step is global domination. We have no choice but to surrender to our robot, checkers-playing overlords.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I have no credentials to be speaking on this issue!

Denialism Blog has a post up, Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? This is a topic that's come up quite a bit in my house lately--specifically with regard to those who don't believe we landed on the moon--so I thought it might be of interest. One thing that they highlight that may be significant is this:
So what kind of thought processes contribute to belief in conspiracy theories? A study I carried out in 2002 explored a way of thinking sometimes called "major event - major cause" reasoning. Essentially, people often assume that an event with substantial, significant or wide-ranging consequences is likely to have been caused by something substantial, significant or wide-ranging.

I gave volunteers variations of a newspaper story describing an assassination attempt on a fictitious president. Those who were given the version where the president died were significantly more likely to attribute the event to a conspiracy than those who read the one where the president survived, even though all other aspects of the story were equivalent.

To appreciate why this form of reasoning is seductive, consider the alternative: major events having minor or mundane causes - for example, the assassination of a president by a single, possibly mentally unstable, gunman, or the death of a princess because of a drunk driver. This presents us with a rather chaotic and unpredictable relationship between cause and effect. Instability makes most of us uncomfortable; we prefer to imagine we live in a predictable, safe world, so in a strange way, some conspiracy theories offer us accounts of events that allow us to retain a sense of safety and predictability.

But I also found this very interesting:
Age is not the only demographic to influence conspiracy beliefs. Several US studies have found that ethnic minorities - particularly African and Hispanic Americans - are far more believing of conspiracy theories than white Americans. In our recent UK study, we found a similar race effect, coupled with an even stronger association between income and belief levels. People who describe themselves as "hard up" are more likely to believe in conspiracies than those with average income levels, while the least likely to believe are the well off.

How can we account for the link between race, income level and conspiracy theories? Theorists tend to show higher levels of anomie - a general disaffection or disempowerment from society. Perhaps this is the underlying factor that predisposes people more distant from centres of power - whether they be poorer people or those from ethnic minorities - to believe in conspiracies.

Essentially, societal disempowerment increases the probability of belief. One could read this two ways. First, that disempowerment leads to coping mechanisms to protect one's ego. You're not poor and powerless because you are unintelligent, or are lazy, or some other simple explanation. It's because the man is keeping you down. The system is against you. A perceived enemy at odds with you is easier to face than one's own defects.

A second explanation - that the wealthy and elite are no more rational than the disempowered, but because of their status, they have no desire to rock the boat.

In comments, someone offers a third possibility:
Third explanation: you are poor and disconnected, so you don't have access to education and trustworthy information, you cannot develop a rigorous, scientific way of thinking or a stock of general information for checking facts, and, ultimately, you believe the first load of BS you receive, because you cannot detect it.

And someone else touches on something that occurred to me in relation to the point in the main article:
It seems to me that most (if not all) of the wildest theories preface their particular version with stories about past government lies (or theories about lying). As if to say...'see, they've done it before'

For instance, when Spike Lee appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher in October, 2005, he (and Maher, to a degree) defended the wild theory that the government conspired to blow up the dams by pointing to other things that have gone wrong. A partial transcript:
Maher: And this past Saturday, Louis Farrakhan did a kind of reunion of the Million Man March--I don't think we got a million people this time. But, uh, he was saying, last Saturday in Washington, that he thinks that the federal government--there was a conspiracy to actually blow up those levees so that they would flood the poor, black districts in New Orleans. I have to tell you, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I don't believe it. But, when you see some of the things that have gone on in this country....

Lee: Exactly. It's not far-fetched.


Michel Martin: We can all understand, anybody with any knowledge of history can understand why a lot of people would feel this way. That that's a reasonable theory.

Martin also disagreed with the theory but prefaced her remarks with the above conciliatory message to Lee. And when she objected, Lee brought up the 2004 elections--"If they can rig an election, they can do anything!"

But furthermore, Lee went on to say that because blacks have traditionally suffered at the hands of whites, this theory was not beyond the pale, specifically bringing up the Tuskegee Experiment when another guest, Tucker Carlson, objected (and I never thought I'd be rooting for Tucker Carlson):
Lee: We're in L.A. And there's an emergency situation. We call from Beverly Hills, and we call from Compton, which one the cops coming to first? [Here the audience applauded]


Lee: [To Carlson, after he objected] With the history of this country... have you ever heard of the Tuskegee experiment?


Lee: I don't put anything past the American government when it comes to people of color in this country, I'm sorry.

To Lee, the fact that black people suffered--and continue to suffer--at the hands of larger society was proof enough that this conspiracy theory was feasible. So I might add that a fourth option is: those who are societally disempowered have learned to fear and distrust the power structure that shuns and rejects them and, because of their past experiences with the system, are willing to believe anything bad about it; that it has no limits.

It may also be that those who are disempowered tend to overestimate the power of the system, for any number of reasons (simply because they are not a part of it and can't objectively judge it; because it is larger than they are and therefore they project god-like size to it; etc.). This may help them to rationalize conspiracy theories which would require nigh-unfathomable resources, where "everyone is in on it." In fact, this conspiracy may simply reflect the power system that they are not a part of, which would again allow them to accept that "everyone is in on it."

Further, disenfranchised groups may be more likely to accept conspiracy theories like this, where there is not a shred of evidence and everything "logically" must be "covered up" because historically their voices have not been heard. So they don't find it so unreasonable that other voices have been silenced by "the Man" or whatever.

Well, that's a enough mindless speculation based on a single incident.... Besides, we all know that belief in conspiracy theories are caused by bumper stickers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Simpsons can be applied to any situation

"The War in Iraq prevents terrorists from attacking us here." (never mind the terrorists that struck Britain, the Fort Dix wannabes, the anthrax attacks, or anyone else)
"How does it work?"
"It doesn't. But I don't see any terrorists around...."

The White House faced fresh political peril yesterday in the form of a new intelligence assessment that raised sharp questions about the success of its counterterrorism strategy and judgment in making Iraq the focus of that effort.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush has been able to deflect criticism of his counterterrorism policy by repeatedly noting the absence of any new domestic attacks and by citing the continuing threat that terrorists in Iraq pose to U.S. interests.

But this line of defense seemed to unravel a bit yesterday with the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate that concludes that al-Qaeda "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" by reestablishing a haven in Pakistan and reconstituting its top leadership. The report also notes that al-Qaeda has been able "to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks," by associating itself with an Iraqi subsidiary.

These disclosures triggered a new round of criticism from Democrats and others who say that the administration took its eye off the ball by invading Iraq without first destroying Osama bin Laden's organization in Afghanistan.

The President has replied by focusing on a single paragraph that mentions al Qaeda in Iraq, trying once again to claim that everyone we're fighting in Iraq is al Qaeda.
Bush's top advisers also pushed back at the proposition from many Democrats that the White House allowed the pursuit of al-Qaeda to be diverted by going after Saddam Hussein. Briefing reporters yesterday, Frances Fragos Townsend, Bush's homeland security adviser, took issue with the suggestion that the president had ignored warnings from the intelligence community that attacking Iraq would stimulate al-Qaeda's drive for recruits and influence.

"You're assuming it's a zero-sum game, which is what I don't understand," Townsend said. "The fact is, we were harassing them in Afghanistan, we're harassing them in Iraq, we're harassing them in other ways, non-militarily, around the world. And the answer is, every time you poke the hornet's nest, they are bound to come back and push back on you. That doesn't suggest to me that we shouldn't be doing it."

No, Townsend, what you apparently don't understand is the passage of time. Now there's a group affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq; but before we invaded, there wasn't. Invading Iraq--you know, diverting our attention from al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein--is what caused this damn mess in the first place. Behold:
Some terrorism analysts say Bush has used inflated rhetoric to depict al-Qaeda in Iraq as part of the same group of extremists that attacked the United States on Sept. 11 -- noting that the group did not exist until after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. These analysts say Bush also has overlooked the contribution that U.S. actions have made to the growth of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has been described as kind of a franchise of the main al-Qaeda network headed by bin Laden.

Paul R. Pillar, a former CIA analyst who has been involved in previous intelligence estimates, said that the administration has correctly identified the danger posed by al-Qaeda in Iraq and that there are indeed links between the Iraq group and the larger international terrorist network. But he said the White House is drawing the wrong conclusion, and argued instead that it is the U.S. presence in Iraq that is fueling the terrorists' cause.

"Iraq matters because it has become a cause celebre and because groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda central exploit the image of the United States being out to occupy Muslim lands," Pillar said.

Referring to al-Qaeda in Iraq, Clinton administration official Daniel S. Benjamin, who has written books and articles on international terrorism, said: "These are bad guys. These are jihadists." He added: "That doesn't mean we [should] stay in Iraq the way we have been, because we are not making the situation any better. We're creating terrorists in Iraq, we are creating terrorists outside of Iraq who are inspired by what's going on in Iraq. . . . The longer we stay, the more terrorists we create."

Y'see? If we'd stop invading their countries and bombing the shit out of them, they might not be so pissy with us.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Oh, you mean those prostitutes...!

David Vitter, who acknowledged paying for the services of prostitutes in D.C., denies having done the same thing in New Orleans:
Republican Sen. David Vitter denied having relationships with New Orleans prostitutes, a week after admitting links to a Washington escort service that federal prosecutors allege was a prostitution ring.

Vitter emerged on Monday from a week of seclusion by appearing at a news conference in suburban Metairie while holding hands with his wife, Wendy.

He denied the New Orleans prostitution allegations and offered no indication that he would resign. He said he planned to fly Monday night to Washington to resume work in the Senate.


Also last week, the former madam of a New Orleans brothel that was shut down several years ago claimed Vitter was a client in the 1990s. However, her defense lawyer and a US attorney who prosecuted her said Vitter's name never came up in that investigation.

The Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans also reported that Vitter had used the services of another New Orleans prostitute.

Vitter, 46, referred vaguely to the New Orleans-based reports but said that "those stories are not true."

I don't have any clue whether the allegations are true, and I don't mean by posting this to insinuate that they are. I just wonder whether this will be one of those cases where the accused acknowledges just as much as has already been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt, and denies everything else... until new evidence shows up, in which case he suddenly acknowledges it again, but everything else is still a lie.

It doesn't have to be, but it would be amusing.

Who indeed?

A German man who threw his computer out the window in the middle of the night got nothing but sympathy from the police:
Police in the northern city of Hanover said they would not press charges after responding to calls made by residents in an apartment block who were woken by a loud crash in the early hours of Saturday.

Officers found the street and pavement covered in electronic parts and discovered who the culprit was.

Asked what had driven him to the night-time outburst, the 51-year-old man said he had simply got annoyed with his computer.

"Who hasn't felt like doing that?" said a police spokesman.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Good news in Oregon

An Oregon judge ruled that two laws related to parental rights violated the rights of gay and lesbian parents:
Jeana Frazzini and Kristin Parman had a son four years ago through artificial insemination but the child's birth certificate only listed Parman, the child's biological mother. Frazzini's name was crossed out.

Under one of the Oregon laws being challenged, a husband and wife are presumed to be the parents of a child born into a marriage, even if one is not the biological parent. Under the second law, the relationship between a child born as a result of artificial insemination and the husband is considered to be the same as if the husband was the biological father as long as the husband consented to the artificial insemination.

Frazzini and Parman filed suit a year ago, saying that earlier court decisions had found that denying a same-sex couple -- who is not allowed to marry legally -- the same benefits as a heterosexual couple was illegal discrimination under the Oregon constitution.

However, the judge said that Oregon's new domestic partnership law would fix the problem.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Today's zombie racist: some blog troll

In defence of the form of slavery practised by the American South, as compared to other societies around the Earth in those days, it was a very benelovent practise.

We keep alive the dream of an independent Southern nation, separated from you vile despicable yankees, so that we do not get swept up in your world meddling.

Yes, those two statements were written by the same person. Ed Brayton mentioned the Confederate Flag again and it brought the racists crawling out of their holes. I simply marvel that someone can foam at the mouth and rail for independence against that horrible Northern oppression while at the same defend slavery as "not so bad."

Of course, this particular lunatic continues to rant about the North "murdering" Southerners and how slavery couldn't possibly have been so evil as to justify that. It really shows that he considers Southern (read: white) lives as more important than black ones.

But this isn't a problem since we don't have racism anymore

We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.

In Sweatt v. Painter, supra, in finding that a segregated law school for Negroes could not provide them equal educational opportunities, this Court relied in large part on "those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school." In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, supra, the Court, in requiring that a Negro admitted to a white graduate school be treated like all other students, again resorted to intangible considerations: ". . . his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession." Such considerations apply with added force to children in grade and high schools. To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. The effect of this separation on their educational opportunities was well stated by a finding in the Kansas case by a court which nevertheless felt compelled to rule against the Negro plaintiffs:
"Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system."

Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority. Any language in Plessy v. Ferguson contrary to this finding is rejected.

We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

When Brown v. Board was handed down, it was widely derided for this language--relying on something as ethereal as the "feeling[s] of inferiority" of black schoolchildren who might feel bad because of segregation, despite having supposedly equal schools as whites.

However, not all of racism's effects are so intangible:
FOUR YEARS AGO, researchers identified a surprising price for being a black woman in America. The study of 334 midlife women, published in the journal Health Psychology, examined links between different kinds of stress and risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Black women who pointed to racism as a source of stress in their lives, the researchers found, developed more plaque in their carotid arteries -- an early sign of heart disease -- than black women who didn't. The difference was small but important -- making the report the first to link hardening of the arteries to racial discrimination.

The study was just one in a fast-growing field of research documenting how racism literally hurts the body. More than 100 studies -- most published since 2000 -- now document the effects of racial discrimination on physical health. Some link blood pressure to recollected encounters with bigotry. Others record the cardiovascular reactions of volunteers subjected to racist imagery in a lab. Forthcoming research will even peek into the workings of the brain during exposure to racist provocations.

Scientists caution that the research is preliminary, and some of it is quite controversial, but they say the findings could profoundly change the way we look at both racism and health. It could unmask racism as a bona fide public health problem -- just as reframing child abuse and marital violence as public health concerns transformed the way we thought about these ubiquitous but often secret sources of suffering. Viewing racial discrimination as a health risk could open the door to understanding how other climates of chronic mistreatment or fear seep into the body -- why, for instance, pregnant women in California with Arabic names were suddenly more likely than any other group to deliver low birth-weight babies in the six months after 9/11.


For decades, experts have agreed that racial disparities in health spring from pervasive social and institutional forces. The scientific literature has linked higher rates of death and disease in American blacks to such "social determinants" as residential segregation, environmental waste, joblessness, unsafe housing, targeted marketing of alcohol and cigarettes, and other inequities.

But the new work draws on a different vein of research. In the early 1980s, Duke University social psychologist Sherman James, introduced his now-classic "John Henryism" hypothesis. The name comes from the legendary 19th-century "steel-driving" railroad worker who competed against a mechanical steam drill and won -- only to drop dead from what today would probably be diagnosed as a massive stroke or heart attack. In James's work, people who churn out prodigious physical and mental effort to cope with chronic life stresses are said to score high on John Henryism. James showed that blacks with high John Henryism but low socioeconomic position pay a physical price, with higher rates of blood pressure and hypertension.

Racism, other research suggests, acts as a classic chronic stressor, setting off the same physiological train wreck as job strain or marital conflict: higher blood pressure, elevated heart rate, increases in the stress hormone cortisol, suppressed immunity. Chronic stress is also known to encourage unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and eating too much, that themselves raise the risk of disease.

In the 1990s, Harvard School of Public Health social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger pushed the hypothesis further. She confirmed that experiences of race-based discrimination were associated with higher blood pressure, and that an internalized response -- not talking to others about the experience or not taking action against the inequity -- raised blood pressure even more. A controversial finding at the time, it has since been replicated by other investigators: The suppressed inner turmoil after a racist encounter can set off a cascade of ill effects.


Collectively, these studies of the racism-health link have tied experiences of discrimination to poorer self-reported health, smoking, low-birth-weight deliveries, depressive symptoms, and especially to cardiovascular effects. In the mid-1980s scientists began to take advantage of the controlled conditions of the laboratory. When African-American volunteers are hooked up to blood-pressure monitors, for example, and then exposed to a racially provocative vignette on tape or TV -- such as a white store clerk calling a black customer a racist epithet -- the volunteers' blood pressures rise, their heart rates jump, and they take longer than normal to recover from both reactions. Perhaps, scientists reasoned, the effort of a lifetime of bracing for such threats prolongs the effect.

More recently, the lab has moved out into the real world. Several investigations have linked blood pressure to real-time experiences of stress and discrimination as recorded in electronic diaries. In one yet-to-be-published study, Elizabeth Brondolo, a psychologist at St. John's University, found that daytime experiences of racism led to elevated nighttime blood pressure, suggesting that the body couldn't turn off its stress response.


They were right at home with the 13 monkeys

The Republic of Congo recently housed a group of 20 Pygmy musicians, part of a Festival of Pan-African Music, in the Brazzaville Zoological Park. All the other musicians were put up in hotels.

The Congolese officials' excuse? They wanted to put the Pygmies to be in their native environment.
Authorities said they were trying to make the indigenous musicians feel comfortable. But after a flurry of media coverage, they moved the visitors to a high school dormitory late Friday. The Pygmies are now being housed with musicians from elsewhere in the Republic of Congo, while foreign artists performing at the Festival of Pan-African Music were lodged in hotels.

The Pygmies' presence in a tent on the zoo grounds had attracted tourists, who came to stare and take pictures, the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement Friday.


Officials said they offered the accommodation on the forested zoo grounds so the 10 women, nine men and one baby would feel more at home.

"It's not a case of discrimination," said Yvette Lebondzo, the director of arts and culture for the Republic of Congo. "We lodged them in the park near running water and a forest simply because that will remind them of their usual surroundings — which is the forest."

"I think our intention was noble toward our brothers who came directly out of the forest and have never seen a city," she said.

Security barriers prevented reporters from being able to speak to the Pygmies before they were moved from the zoo.

"We would like to reassure people that our intention was simply to put them at ease in an environment that resembles their ecosystem," said Dieudonne Mouyongo, who directs the festival.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Too bad I already used up my one "Y: The Last Man" reference of the day

This doesn't sound good: one of FOX's new shows is titled "When Women Rule the World."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Holsinger speaks

The L.A. Times has an article about James Holsinger, who appeared before the Senate yesterday. In short: Holsinger says he's dedicated to defending science and the health of all Americans regardless of sexual orientation, and promised to resign if pressured to put politics before science.

Which, given what Bush did with his previous nominee, makes me wonder why the heck Bush would nominate him. Unless he (Holsinger, that is) were lying.

Anywho; some quotes from the article:
"I would use the science to attempt to educate the policymakers," said Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr., a prominent Kentucky physician, medical educator and former government official. "Quite candidly, if I were unable to do that and I was being overridden … I would resign."


Holsinger struck some independent notes Thursday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He said he supported an advertising ban on prescription drugs. He underscored his advocacy for higher tobacco taxes. And he said that using condoms was important for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and suggested condoms were appropriate for teens.

Those stands could put him at odds with administration positions.

But Holsinger also indicated support for the president's restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research — putting him at odds with a majority of lawmakers in Congress and many in the scientific community.

If confirmed as surgeon general, Holsinger has vowed to launch a national crusade against childhood obesity.

Sounds good, but what about the stuff you did when you weren't being interviewed for a job?
The paper [] has been taken out of context and "does not represent where I am today - who I am today," Holsinger said. But he did not spell out his current views, and the controversy has lingered.


Holsinger said that if confirmed as surgeon general, he would be an advocate for the health of all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation. As the top state health official in Kentucky, he said, he made sure the needs of lesbians were addressed in a major conference on women's health in 2002, despite strong political opposition from some state legislators.

Sounds nice. But this paragraph stood out to me:
"Everyone who is a [medical] practitioner needs to understand the health needs of our gay and lesbian community," he said.

That sounds like it could be coded language for saying that he doesn't repudiate his '91 paper, and that gay sex is "dangerous" and we need to warn everyone about how evil and filthy it is.

It might not be. But that was what occurred to me.

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: What's Love Got to Do With It? Edition

This is something of a sequel to last week's post. In addition to excising part of her husband's letter to his mother, Elizabeth Agassiz also selectively edited the correspondence between Louis Agassiz and Samuel Gridley Howe, then a member of the Inquiry Commission. For instance, Agassiz wrote a post-script to his first letter to Howe, which read:
You may perhaps ask how it is that the half breed population is so large in the U.S., if intercourse between white and black is unnatural. A glance at the conditions under which this takes place may suffice to settle this point. As soon as the sexual desires are awakening in the young men of the South, they find it easy to gratify them by the readiness with which they are met by colored house servants. There is no such restraint upon the early passions as exists everywhere in these communities in which both sexes are legally upon a footing of equality. The first gratification under the pressure of so great a stimulus as the advantages accruing to the family negress, from the connection with young masters, already blunts his better instincts in that direction and leads him gradually to seek more "spicy partners," as I have heard the full blacks called by fast young men. Moreover it is not difficult physiologically to understand why mulattoes with their peculiar constitution should be particularly attractive physically, even though that intercourse should be abhorrent to a refined moral sensibility. Again whatever be the merit of this explanation, one thing is certain that there is no elevating element whatever conceivable in the connection of individuals of different races; there is neither love, nor desire for improvement of any kind. It is altogether a physical connection and in the lowest condition of life we look for something more and something higher in the connection of two beings of different sexes. Therefore the absence of it in individuals of different races seems in itself a condemnation of the whole.

Of course, there's no similarity at all to the modern slander that gays don't actually feel love and that they're only possessed by unnatural, irrational lust.

That's not good

Over a year ago, a government investigation found that they could--with no trouble at all--get enough radioactive material to make two "dirty bombs" through U.S. border investigations. And now, we find out that things don't seem to have improved too much in 15 ½ months:
Congressional investigators set up a bogus company with only a postal box and within a month obtained a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that allowed them to buy enough radioactive material for a small "dirty bomb."

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who will ask the NRC about the incident at a Senate hearing Thursday, said the sting operation raises concerns about terrorists obtaining such material just as easily.

Nobody at the NRC checked whether the company was legitimate and an agency official even helped the investigators fill out the application form, Coleman said in an interview Wednesday.


The license that was obtained allowed for the purchase of up to five portable moisture density gauges widely used in construction, in which are encased small amounts of cesium-137 and americium 241, two highly radioactive isotopes.

Individually, these devices pose little threat because of the small amount of radioactive material, radiation experts say. Still the devices require an NRC license to be purchased and must be closely safeguarded by companies that use them to avoid theft.

But the investigators from the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, found a way to purchase as many as 45 of the gauges and could have bought many more because they duplicated the NRC-issued license and removed the restrictions on the amount that could be purchased.

"With patience and the proper financial resources, we could have accumulated from other suppliers substantially more radioactive source material than what the two supplies initially agreed to ship to us," says the GAO in a report prepared for Thursday's hearing.


[Coleman] said "there is no question" they could have obtained enough radioactive material to make a dirty bomb because the GAO was able to duplicate the certificate and no one checked on the company or whether the counterfeit license was legitimate.


The GAO said that it contacted two suppliers of the gauges and that one "offered to provide twice as many machines as we requested and offered a discount for volume purchases." The investigators also were told that the supplier does not check with NRC to confirm the terms on the license, a copy of which was sent to the supplier along with the purchase order.

The NRC said that they've fixed the problem, though, so I'm sure we're safe forever.

Evolution in action

But nobody can witness evolution! Except, y'know, when we can:
A population of butterflies has evolved in a flash on a South Pacific island to fend off a deadly parasite.

The proportion of male Blue Moon butterflies dropped to a precarious 1 percent as the parasite targeted males. Then, within the span of a mere 10 generations, the males evolved an immunity that allowed their population share to soar to nearly 40 percent — all in less than a year.

"We usually think of natural selection as acting slowly, over hundreds or thousands of years," said study team member Gregory Hurst, an evolutionary geneticist at the University College London. "But the example in this study happened in a blink of the eye, in terms of evolutionary time."

The scientists think the males developed genes that hold a male-killing microbial parasite, called Wolbachia, at bay.


The team ran genetic analyses to see if the parasite had somehow vanished. It hadn't. Wolbachia was still present in butterflies from both islands. Other lab experiments indicated the males had evolved suppressor genes to shield against the parasite.


"The suppressor gene allows infected females to produce males," Charlat said. "These males will mate with many, many females, and the suppressor gene will therefore be in more and more individuals over generations."

P.Z. has some more, including a reference to Y: The Last Man. Of course, P.Z.'s complaint is silly--Yorick did sire a baby!

I think I'm having deja vu again

Via Kseniya in the comments at Pharyngula, I find that Mr. Zed isn't the first Hindu to lead a prayer in Congress--he was the first in the Senate, but Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala was the first in the House on September 14, 2000. And, just like now, that got the religious fundies pissed that other religions would dare think they're equal before the government:
Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala, a Hindu priest with the Shiva Vishnu Temple in Parma, Ohio, made history on Sept. 14 by becoming the first Hindu religious leader to offer an invocation before a session of Congress.

In response to the prayer, the Family Research Council, the most prominent Religious Right lobbying group in Washington, D.C., disparaged religious pluralism and said only Christianity deserves government support in this week's edition of the group's CultureFacts newsletter.

"(W)hile it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all," the FRC wrote, "that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country's heritage."

The group added, "Our Founders expected that Christianity -- and no other religion -- would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference."

Ah, refreshing honesty--apparently "religious freedom" means Christianity is sponsored by the government while other religions aren't. Well, what can you expect from a group that helped turn "family values" into "fag-bashing"?

"This is as close as we've ever come to a dictatorship."

Barbara Boxer thinks that we should keep impeachment 'on the table'.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

God will be pissed now

For the first time in our history, a Hindu chaplain gave the daily prayer that opened the Senate proceedings yesterday. According to Reuters Hajan Zed had been invited by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And it didn't sit well with people who don't seem to get that the Constitution nowhere says "for Christians only". Ed Brayton has several reactions already, along with a YouTube video of the prayer and concomitant disruption. I am endlessly amused by the bed-wetting fears that now that we have had a single prayer by a Hindu man in the Senate, after centuries of Christian prayers, this one event will incur God's wrath and is proof that the government is hostile to the Christian majority while coddling minority religions.

But my favorite response is that by David Barton, the man responsible for spreading numerous fraudulent quotes from the Founding Fathers trying to show that the United States was created a "Christian" country:
WallBuilders president David Barton is questioning why the U.S. government is seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god. Barton points out that since Hindus worship multiple gods, the prayer will be completely outside the American paradigm, flying in the face of the American motto "One Nation Under God."

Which, aside from being wrong, is exactly the reason that this sort of thing is unconstitutional. Because it does favor--rather unabashedly so--a monotheistic religion over a polytheistic, or even henotheistic, religion.

And the blind shouldn't be reading this

My brother and I found what may be the most bizarre warning label on a product ever. On a can of bug spray, there was this message:
TO THE USER: If you cannot read English, do not use this product until the label has been fully explained to you.

Granted, it did have a Spanish version of this message preceding the English translation, but still.

Here's a picture of the label:


"I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword"

A small group of religious terrorists planted a bomb at a house of worship, aiming to destroy rival religious groups and submit the secular world under a single world church.

But Christians don't do those things:
Three Burleson men who belong to a "radical Christian activist group" were in the Johnson County Jail on Friday night after a church deacon caught two of them attempting to ignite an explosive device on Independence Day at a church under construction in north Burleson, authorities said Friday.


Cmdr. Chris Havens, the Police Department spokesman, said the suspects boasted about belonging to a leaderless group of 10 or 15 who share a belief that society has become too focused on self-improvement and self-gratification and has lost focus on the glorification of God.

"They admit to being Christian and being brought up Christian, but they believe there should be one denomination and one church, not multiple denominations," Havens said.

"They did not say they had a name for their group, other than they were a radical Christian activist group. That was the way they explained their group," he said.

The suspects said the group has three levels of involvement: Bible study, consensual fighting and destructive acts. Because one of their beliefs is free thought, however, participation in all three levels is not mandatory, they told police.

The three admitted to being in a core group of seven that created the explosive weapon as a test to draw attention to the demise of society and to see whether the device would work, Havens said.

"They believe that the past generations have accumulated trash and are responsible for making younger generations clean up their mess," he said. "They're trying to make a statement and get society's attention regarding that."

The authorities seem to be taking the right attitude about all this, at least:
"We put them in the category of a domestic terrorist group," Havens said. "We hope to discover the names of other individuals involved and if other devices have been prepared along with any plans they may be talking about to further their cause."

Terrorism--it's not just for brown people anymore!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

This should come as no surprise to anyone

Louisiana Senator David Vitter, who recently admitted to paying for prostitutes from "DC Madam" Deborah Jeane Palfrey, was of course against gay marriage.

But it's okay, because God forgave him! And it's not as though Jesus ever had anything to say about adultery--he was much too busy fag-bashing.

Belated update on Holsinger

I'm late coming to this, but I just found this post at Pandagon, revealing that Fred Phelps supports James Holsinger as nominee for surgeon general.

That's kinda scary.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

No Catholics in Hell, Michigan either, then?

The theological implications are staggering:
The Hell family has protested to a Catholic school in Australia after it objected to enrolling their son because of his name.

Officials said the boy had been offered a place at the St. Peter the Apostle school in the southern city of Melbourne after discussions among the principal, the parish priest and the family over his last name.

But Alex Hell, 45, said he would rather send 5-year-old Max elsewhere because the school balked at taking the boy because of his family name. Hell said he had Austrian heritage and that the name means "bright."

You'd think a boy like that would need more religious indoctrination than otherwise.

"I gots to tek you to a party! Wheee!"

Woot! The entire Girl Genius archives are now on-line!

Start here; "Advanced Class" starts here; and yesterday's 101 Class is here.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A pox on their house!

Damn the Australian Age!

This article opens with the promise of meerkats. Its title is "Meerkats cuddle up as big chill bites". I never would have clicked on it were it not for the temptation of meerkats.

And yet only the first four paragraphs are about meerkats! They were shamelessly used to be a segue to discussing Australia's weather. Who cares about that?

Damn Australia's non-meerkat-related weather system.

Update on the biker lesbians

Pam tells us that the SPLC is covering the whole thing up.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

We're not bigots, we just hate you because you're different

This page dissects a New York Times column that was basically a shill for a new book out against gay marriage. The premise of the gay marriage fight, in the words of the author of the book, "the equal dignity of all persons and the worth of homosexual love, versus the flourishing of children. On each side, the threat to something important is real." Which is nonsense--opposing gay marriage only harms children.

But later on the column quotes again from the book author denying that he's a bigot: "being opposed to gay marriage is not necessarily the expression of bigotry."

Well, this article quotes a letter to the paper that shreds that fairly nicely, I thought:
[S]ince Blankenhorn did not extend those arguments to childless heterosexuals, the "basis of the discrimination he advocates, in other words, is homosexuality," the couple wrote.


More on Libbian hypocrisy

Ed Brayton found a much better case--one involving the same crimes, similar sentence and an actual opinion from the Bush administration. Let's watch:
The defendant was Victor Rita, a military veteran who was accused or perjury and obstruction of justice and received a 33 month sentence (Libby received 30 months for the same offense). He asked that the sentence be reduced in light of his long military service. Bush's DOJ filed an amicus brief arguing against giving him a lighter sentence and in favor of upholding the Federal sentencing guidelines.

And when you read that brief you see just how deep the hypocrisy goes. In that brief, the Bush administration argued that the sentencing guidelines must be upheld because failure to do so would result in those accused of the same crime being treated differently. "A system that permits significant disparity in sentences imposed on similarly situated offenders," the administration argued, "fails to 'promote respect for the law' or 'provide just punishment.'" They urged the Court to uphold those guidelines in order to fulfill "the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct."

The brief also notes that 33 months for the crime or perjury and obstruction of justice was at "the bottom of the advisory guidelines range." Libby's sentence was 3 months shorter than that. And the defendant in that case could point to a lifetime of military service as a compensating factor; Libby cannot. Yet we still hear from his defenders that his work in the administration amounts to "public service" and should weight against his sentence. This whole thing is hypocritical on so many levels that it almost boggles the mind.


Friday, July 6, 2007

Maybe if we stop invading their countries they won't be so mad at us. What an idea!

Political, not religious, issues are motivating terrorists:
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to President Carter, carries this analysis to address the question that obsesses us as a nation: What truly motivates the "terrorists," the insurgents, the suicide bombers, all those people who apparently hate us for one reason or another?

The commonly accepted knowledge in the administration and in the Pentagon is that this is a religious war, that these men blow themselves up for God. Not at all, says Brzezinski: "These are political questions. They may seen religious, but in reality they are directly related to our policies. Look at who they are against: the U.S., the Brits, the Israelis. We are seen as the new British colonialists, just as in Vietnam we were seen as the continuation of French colonialism."

Actually, all the investigations into who the terrorists are and what inspires them are clear about the fact that their primary inspiration is not religious, but political. The study of 300 suicide bombers made by professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago found that virtually none of them was religiously inspired; they were communists, socialists, Muslim Brothers, Arab nationalists, but above all, they were inspired by Western occupation and dominance of their lands.

Last week, at a meeting at the New America Foundation, CNN's seasoned terrorist specialist, Peter Bergen, impatiently told a group of us after someone brought up the old question of Islamic madrassah schools inspiring terrorists: "Of all the terrorists that I have known, almost none were from the madrassahs. If they were educated, they were usually from Western universities; they were engineers ..."

But all those racists like Naomi Ragen keep insisting that Islam is to blame!

How on earth can he manage to reconcile all this crap?

David Brooks has a column up about the Valerie Plame / Scooter Libby scandal--the only scandal in his mind being that poor Libby should be slandered and demonized by that hellish fiend, Joe Wilson. David Corn eviscerates the piece, but this part really stands out to me: David Brooks defends Libby's commutation by arguing, as Bush did, that this whole affair somehow damaged Libby's reputation and career:
His decision to commute Libby's sentence but not erase his conviction was exactly right. It punishes him for his perjury, but not for the phantasmagorical political farce that grew to surround him. It takes away his career, but not his family.

Nevermind that all the howls of outrage in Libby's defense that contradict this fantastical view of a damaged reputation--including Brooks' entire column, wherein Libby is characterized as "the only normal person" in the whole affair, and as "discreet, honest and admirable." Nor the fact that Libby--as Corn points out--got a prestigious job with a conservative think tank, which shows that his career is hardly damaged.

No, Brooks also has to end his column with this:
The farce is over. It has no significance. Nobody but Libby's family will remember it in a few weeks time. Everyone else will have moved on to other fiascos, other poses, fresher manias.

So nobody will remember it in a few weeks... which shows that Libby's reputation will have been irreversibly damaged!

It's like he just pasted together every right-wing talking point on the entire scenario that he could find without any concept of whether they form a coherent story.

Essays on two-facedness

Scooter Libby was tried and convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice; yet many people still insist that there was no crime and that the entire investigation was politically motivated.

Governor Siegelman of Alabama, meanwhile, was acquitted of a crime and yet the prosecution insists that he either pay a restitution fee or go to jail.

No double standards here.

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: First Contact Edition

Stephen Jay Gould, reading up on the life of another Harvard scientist, Louis Agassiz, noticed that there were some discrepancies between the biographies of this Swiss scientist published by E. Lurie (Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science) and that of Agassiz's widow, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz (Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence). Investigating further, he noticed that the letters that Mrs. Agassiz published often had passages removed without even an ellipsis to make mention of it.
The first passage [that Gould considers], almost shocking in its force, even 130 years later, recounts Agassiz's first experience with black people (he had never encountered blacks in Europe). He first visited America in 1846 and sent his mother a long letter detailing his experiences. In the section about Philadelphia, Elizabeth Agassiz records only his visits to museums and the private homes of scientists. She expunges, without ellipses, his first impression of blacks—a visceral reaction to waiters in a hotel restaurant. In 1846 Agassiz still believed in human unity, but this passage exposes an explicit, stunningly nonscientific basis for his conversion to polygeny. For the first time, then, without omissions:
It was in Philadelphia that I first found myself in prolonged contact with negroes; all the domestics in my hotel were men of color. I can scarcely express to you the painful impression that I received, especially since the sentiment that they inspired in me is contrary to all our ideas about the confraternity of the human type and the unique origin of our species. But truth before all. Nevertheless, I experienced pity at the sight of this degraded and degenerate race, and their lot inspired compassion in me in thinking that they are really men. Nonetheless, it is impossible for me to repress the feeling that they are not of the same blood as us. In seeing their black faces with their thick lips and grimacing teeth, the wool on their head, their bent knees, their elongated hands, their large curved nails, and especially the livid color of the palms of their hands, I could not take my eyes off their faces in order to tell them to stay far away. And when they advanced that hideous hand towards my plate in order to serve me, I wished I were able to depart in order to eat a piece of bread elsewhere, rather than to dine with such service. What unhappiness for the white race—to have tied their existence so closely with that of negroes in certain countries! God preserve us from such a contact!

--Stephen Jay Gould, "Flaws in a Victorian Veil", The Panda's Thumb, pp. 172-73. The passage is also reprinted in Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man.

Now, some of you may wonder if Dr. Gould is being honest here—you know how he was. I happen to have a copy of the letter Agassiz sent to his mother, and the passage above is in there. And from what my brother and I could wrangle out, the translation is accurate. You just can't make up stuff like this.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

How else do you explain pygmies + dwarfs??

Quoth the dinosaur denier (link is to person debunking dinosaur denier, not dinosaur denier hisself):
Why were there no discoveries by native Americans in all the years previous when they roamed the North American continent? There is no belief of dinosaurs in the native American religion or tradition.

For that matter, why were there no discoveries prior to the nineteenth century in any part of the world? According to the World Book Encyclopedia, "before the 1800's, no one ever knew that dinosaurs ever existed..".


Why has man suddenly made all these discoveries? Belgium, Mongolia, Tanzania, West Germany (and North America as well) were inhabited and very well explored for thousands of years and there were no discoveries until the nineteenth century. Why?

Answer: They did discover bones. They just thought they were dragons.

And used them as medicine.
Villagers in central China spent decades digging up bones they believed belonged to flying dragons and using them in traditional medicines. Turns out the bones belonged to dinosaurs, and now scientists are doing the digging.


"They had believed that the 'dragon bones' were from the dragons flying in the sky," said Dong [Zhiming], a professor with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Wednesday Dead Racist Blogging: Independence Day Edition

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Well, except for darkies:
I am aware that all the Abolition lecturers that you find traveling about through the country, are in the habit of reading the Declaration of Independence to prove that all men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Mr. Lincoln is very much in the habit of following in the track of Lovejoy in this particular, by reading that part of the Declaration of Independence to prove that the negro was endowed by the Almighty with the inalienable right of equality with white men. Now, I say to you, my fellow-citizens, that in my opinion, the signers of the Declaration had no reference to the negro whatever, when they declared all men to be created equal. They desired to express by that phrase white men, men of European birth and European descent, and had no reference either to the negro, the savage Indians, the Fejee, the Malay, or any other inferior and degraded race, when they spoke of the equality of men. One great evidence that such was their understanding, is to be found in the fact that at that time every one of the thirteen colonies was a slaveholding colony, every signer of the Declaration represented a slaveholding constituency, and we know that no one of them emancipated his slaves, much less offered citizenship to them when they signed the Declaration; and yet, if they intended to declare that the negro was the equal of the white man, and entitled by divine right to an equality with him, they were bound, as honest men, that day and hour to have put their negroes on an equality with themselves.

--Stephen Douglas, speech at Jonesboro Illinois, September 15, 1858.

[Edit] And another one, just because of the use of the phrase "self-evident lie":
It is alleged that all men are created equal, and the Declaration of Independence is referred to, to sustain that position. However unpopular, or however displeasing it may be to the mass of my fellow-citizens, I am constrained to dissent from any such position or dogma. It is not true in fact; it is not true in law; it is not true physically, mentally, or morally that all men are created equal. ... [H]owever egotistical or absurd it may appear in me to venture to contradict or dispute the language of the Declaration of Independence, I proceed to do it fearlessly. I cannot, in the first place, believe that Mr. Jefferson ever intended to give the meaning or force which is attempted now to be applied to this language when he said: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I hold it to be a self-evident lie.

--Appendix to the Congressional Globe, 33rd Congress, 1st Session, p. 214

Monday, July 2, 2007

Now how long until someone decries this as "bad for women" or some other garbage....

Awesome news on the reproductive science front:
The first baby created from an egg matured in the lab, frozen, thawed and then fertilised, has been born.

Until now it was not known whether eggs obtained in this way could survive thawing to be fertilised.


Canadian researchers told a fertility conference in Lyon three others were expecting babies by the same process.

Why is this important?
The advance spares women from taking risky fertility drugs that can cause a rare, yet deadly condition - ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).


The findings hold particular hope for patients with cancer-related fertility problems.

Chemotherapy can cause infertility and, therefore, some women with cancer opt to have their eggs collected and frozen before they start their cancer treatment.

But not all women will want or be able to delay having chemotherapy to undergo ovarian stimulation.

Certain tumours, including some breast cancers, can grow if the woman takes drugs to stimulate the ovaries, for example.

Although one of the doctors involved cautioned that the technique hadn't yet been tried on women with cancer.

Not a pardon, but close enough

Breaking news alert from the Seattle Times:
President Bush commuted the sentence of former aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Monday, sparing him from a 21/2-year prison term in the CIA leak case.

Bush left intact a $250,000 fine and two years probation for Libby, according to a senior White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced.

Bush's move came hours after a federal appeals panel ruled Libby could not delay his prison term in the CIA leak case. That decision put the pressure on the president, who had been sidestepping calls by Libby's allies to pardon the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby was convicted in March of lying to authorities and obstructing the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative's identity. He was the highest-ranking White House official ordered to prison since the Iran-Contra affair.

[Edit] And now via Yahoo breaking news alerts I find that "The White House won't rule out an eventual full pardon" for Libby, though Bush is "satisfied" with getting rid of the prison sentence.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

If you're not part of the solution...

The local paper had an insert today for the Flintstones Creation "Museum", in anticipation of their dinosaur exhibit opening July 4:

As my brother noted, they seem to be really stressing dinosaurs, perhaps to disassociate themselves from the real lunatics.

What really offended me was that they've gotten deals with various hotels that will offer reduced rates if you mention the "museum":

Country Inn & Suites, Drawbridge Inn, Sheraton, Courtyard Marriott, Hyatt Place, are rewarding indoctrinating people with the belief that the universe is only 10,000 years old by offering them reduced rates. Possibly more than those; their website lists a few other hotels on its website, telling people to "Be sure to ask for the 'Creation Museum' rate."

On the positive side, two of those coupons are discounts to establishments inside the "museum" itself: Noah's Café and the Dragon Hall Bookstore.

And as an aside, I am bemused by the notion of biblical literalists advertising that they are open 7 days a week.