Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Yes, the incessant advertising for prescription drugs DOES work. It makes people ask for pills they don't really need, for conditions they don't have. Or for minor things that don't really require medication. Or it makes people wonder if they are "sick" because their legs twitch a little while they sleep. And it convinces people that this is a wonder drug that will do something no other drug can do -- like Vioxx, which was no better than ibuprofene for arthritis pain but had the nifty added benefit of provoking strokes and heart attacks.

Monday, May 29, 2006

report on good news again obstructed by death of film crew

Rumsfeld and other members of the de facto administration have repeatedly claimed that journalists in Iraq aren't reporting on the good news because they stay in their safe hotels in their safe parts of Baghdad. Seems to me that whole concept is self-contradictory enough not to survive even the most cursory analysis. But if you need further proof that Iraq is, surprise surprise, an unsafe place to report, there is the not-good news that two members of a CBS crew were killed in Baghdad today when the military convoy they were riding with was hit by a bomb; correspondent Kimberly Dozier was seriously injured.

Oh, by the way Laura Ingraham, they weren't on their hotel balcony, but unfortunately an improvised explosive device does figure in this story.

As the MSNBC article notes, over 70 reporters (Iraqi and foreign) have been killed since the invasion in 2003, and that number doesn't include the many translators, drivers, and other assistants killed in the same time.

Sure is hard to report on all the good news when you keep getting blown up. Those damn insurgents keep on threatening and killing reporters right before they get to the happy-happy-glad-glad parts of Iraq.

the perils of reckless driving, afghanistan chapter

Oops. A US military convoy plows thru traffic in Kabul, kills a few people, and the next thing you know, they're shouting “Death to Karzai! Death to America!” Wonder if the drivers were talking on cell phones?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

more climate change skeptics

The "Washington Post Magazine" this weekend features a bunch of climate change skeptics, including one old scientist whose primary complaint (in addition to the fact that younger scientists ignore him) seems to be that the mathematically-minded climatologists today don't fly into hurricanes and focus on computer models.

He reminds me of some old crank baseball coach who complains about sabremetrics (that's the study of baseball stats) instead of just watching players. That misses the fact that while observation (in baseball or climate) are important, you are foregoing valuable tools if you decline to look at the statistics. Numbers, in baseball or in climatology, can help you discern trends and pick out developments that may not be visible to the naked eye, especially since no observer can watch everything that is happening.

Most of the other skeptics in the article are people opposed to climate change science on ideological or economic grounds, essentially wishing facts about climate change weren't real because to change would be inconvenient. As one scientist in the article noted, they are approaching the debate on climate change as lawyers rather than scientists, acting as if one fuzzy data point or unexplainable micro-phenomena disproves the entire body of science about climate change. And they are doing this to save the short-term profits of their corporate paymasters, in the process potentially ruining the planet and human civilization. I hope they sleep comfortably, their children may not.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

lies about iran

The de facto Bush Administration has criticized and threatened Iran for failing to be willing to talk seriously about its nuclear program. Well, it may surprise you to learn that is a lie. In 2003, Iran approache the US and was willing to talk, with everything including nukes on the table -- and offered concessions up front. But the Bushies (read, Cheney & Rumsfeld) nixed the idea.

So remember, when the Bushies bomb Iran, possibly with nuclear weapons, and claim they had no choice, they will again be spouting lies. And their lies will (again) cause many thousands of unnecessary deaths, in Iran and elsewhere. Iranian-backed terrorists (yes, Iran DOES back terrorist groups but as the former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said, diplomacy includes having to talk to people you don't like), will have nothing to lose since deterrence for Iran will have failed, and they'll conduct reprisal terrorist attacks against American interests.

Which will re-energize the war on terrorism and make it necessary to remove more of our freedoms, no doubt. I begin to wonder whether we can expect anything resembling a fair election in 2008.

live and let die on the world's roof

This climber was found alive -- barely -- but this guy was left for dead on Mt Everest. We are in the middle of the climbing season on the world's tallest peak, and there have been fifteen deaths so far.

To which I say, tough. I can't feel much sympathy for somebody who decides to spend $50,000 to hire trained mountaineers to help drag their ass up to Everest's peak, so they can go back to the country club and brag about their "exploits."

For a good look at the commercialization of climbing Mount Everest, and the risks included, read Jon Krakauer's classic "Into Thin Air," a harrowing, gripping account of a climb gone wrong, where Krakauer blames himself (wrongly, it appears from facts that became available after publication) for neglect in the death of a fellow climber, and discusses the dangers of unqualified climbers being dragged up the mountain.

Friday, May 26, 2006

stoners, rejoice

Interesting results from a study comparing tobacco smokers to marijuana smokers. People who smoke tobacco heavily (2+ packs per day) get cancer 20 times more often than non-tobacco smokers. But in people who smoke marijuana heavily, there was NO increase in cancer rates compared to the general public!

The results surprised the researchers, who expected to find elevated cancer rates among heavy pot smokers. They must not be Bush supporters, because they didn't fix their results to match their hypothesis or their politics.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

"to claim that fossil fuel emissions don't cause global warming is like saying cigarettes don't cause cancer."

Another skeptic on climate change has come over to see the science and evidence as too compelling to dismiss. Long-time BBC broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough joins the list of converts, speaking with The Independent about an upcoming climate change series. Attenborough said he was cautious abour crying wolf.
But I'm no longer sceptical. Now I do not have any doubt at all. I think climate change is the major challenge facing the world. I have waited until the proof was conclusive that it was humanity changing the climate. The thing that really convinced me was the graphs connecting the increase of carbon dioxide in the environment and the rise in temperature, with the growth of human population and industrialisation. The coincidence of the curves made it perfectly clear we have left the period of natural climatic oscillation behind and have begun on a steep curve, in terms of temperature rise, beyond anything in terms of increases that we have seen over many thousands of years.
Unlike this troglodyte Jesus-will-save-us, bring-on-Armageddon Administration and business-as-usual come hell or high water coal and oil industry apologists at the Competitive Enterprise Institute ("we call carbon dioxide life"), Attenborough is capable of understanding a basic scientific fact. CO2 rises when humans burn coal and oil. And average temperatures begin to rise, slowly but inexorably.

And speaking of those CEI ads, a scientist whose study of Antarctic glaciers was cited by the CEI denounces the advertisments as deceptive, and says he has absolutely no doubt that human-induced climate change is underway.

A good analogy from David Doniger (Natural Resources Defence Council) about the weak scientific position of climate change skeptics: "It's the same as with tobacco. To claim that fossil fuel emissions don't cause global warming is like saying cigarettes don't cause cancer."

97% perfect?

News -- the Federal database that legislation suggests be used to automatically check employees' immigration status is WRONG "only" 2-3 times out of every 100 names.

That raises some questions.

What if your name isn't on the list -- will you be able to get a job at all?

How will you prove that you are a legal resident or citizen?

How long will it take and how much will it cost? Who pays your bills in the meantime?

Another brilliant idea from the GOP. You know, if we are going to have a Big Brother government, it could at least be effective.

more proof cheney is nuts

You know, one of the funniest things about Plamegate is that de facto vice president Dick "Shotgun" Cheney asked "Did his (Ambassador Joe Wilson's) wife send him on a junket?"

A junket? To NIGER? How fucking out of it is Cheney to see that as a JUNKET? Look, I've never been to Niger, but I know it is a dirt poor desert country that is not high on the world list of tourist destinations. I mean, look at what the State Department web site says about Niger. Critical crime levels. Rampant malaria and other disease, with very poor medical facilities. Unsafe drinking water. Bad roads. Murdered foreign workers. Attacks against foreign tourists.

And I bet there isn't one single Starbucks, or casino, or Disney theme park, or cashmere store, or Augusta-quality golf course in the entire country. Niger is not a destination for a junket. Just one more snippet of proof that some time since he left the Pentagon in 1993, Dick Cheney has gone insane.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

bird flu in indonesia jumps human-human-human

This is not great news. It looks like bird flu H5N1 may have double-jumped from human to human to human in Indonesia. Now, this was admittedly a family group that spent a long weekend together in close quarters, not just somebody sneezing and a passer-by getting sick. But it's still disturbing the World Health Organization and the public health experts who run the blog, Effect Measure.

climate change -- a skeptic converts

Ok, climate change skeptics. Professional skeptic and climate change scoffer Gregg Easterbrook writes today in the New York Times to say he has been convinced -- human-caused climate change is real, and it is a threat. Easterbrook says that earlier, the evidence was ambiguous, but NOW he agrees it is nearly unanimous. As he wrote, the "research is now in, and it shows a strong scientific consensus that an artificially warming world is a real phenomenon posing real danger..."

Easterbrook flags my biggest concern -- not rising sea levels (which certainly will suck for many people), but the threat to the global food supply:
The greatest worry is that climate change will harm the agricultural system on which civilization is based. Suppose climate change shifted precipitation away from breadbasket regions, sending rain clouds instead to the world's deserts. Over generations, society would adjust — but years of global food shortages might occur during the adjustment, likely causing chaos in poor countries and armies of desperate refugees at the borders of wealthy nations.
Easterbrook is optimistic that we can meet this challenge, pointing out how environmental initiatives helped reduce acid rain and smog and reversed the deteroriation of the ozone layer by banning CFCs. But none of those things would have happened if today's moronic science-doubting oilman President and corrupt, supine Congress had been around then.

Tim Flannery (The Weather Makers) thinks we can save the planet if we begin to act soon. I hope Easterbrook throws himself into the debate with the zeal of a convert. His skeptical voice added to the side of reason can only help.

gonzales elaborates

Our beloved de facto attorney general reassures us that the Administration doesn't want to arrest journalists, but the focus is on getting those who leak classified info. Sayeth Gonzales, "Let me try to reassure journalists that my primary focus, quite frankly, is on the leak -- on leakers who share the information with journalists." He also said that he would prefer to persuade journalists "that it would be better not to publish those kind of stories."

Oh, that's okay then. They don't want to arrest journalists, they just don't want them to publish any of "those kind of stories," in other words stories that point out crimes and screw-ups by this absurd administration. And if journalists have in the back of their mind that little nugget that AG once said that the law could be applied to journalists and they decide not to publish some revelation of malfeasance or incompetence, all the better, right Torturerer-Advocate?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

gonzales' selective commitment to enforce laws

The Washingon Post correctly thinks that if prosecutors acted on de facto Attorney General/apologist for torture Alberto Gonzales' insinuation that the 1917 Espionage Act could be used against journalists who publish classified information, it would be a radical and outrageous blow against freedom of the press. But I was also struck by how Gonzales' answered the question about this:
There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility. That's a policy judgment by the Congress in passing that kind of legislation. We have an obligation to enforce those laws.
So, can we take this as an indication that the de facto Administration WILL enforce laws passed by Congress? That their bullshit use of signing statements to essentially nullify laws duly passed by Congress is no longer Administration policy? That the Administration cares so much about how Congress feels about the laws it passes that it will, no matter how regretfully, feel obliged to enforce them all?

No. This is just another example of the hypocrisy and sheer disdain for the law of this Administration. They will use an obsolete law from the First World War to hush the press and make it harder for all of us to expose the Administration's illegal acts and numerous mistakes, piously claiming they are required to uphold the law.

But you know damn well they'll continue to ignore laws and regulations that make torture illegal, or that require warrants to do domestic wiretaps, or that require the identity of CIA undercover agents to be protected, or anything else that gets in the way of the Imperial Presidency that Cheney/Bush and their lawyer toady Gonzales/Yoo/Addington acolytes have been constructing.

identity theft again

Somebody at the Veterans Administration steals personal data including social security numbers for 26 million veterans home, and somebody breaks in and steals his PC harddrive and laptop. De facto Torturer Apologist/Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, said: "I've directed prosecutors to exercise zero tolerance for those who engage in identity theft that may be related to this incident."

Hey, Alberto -- what about OTHER cases of identity theft? No zero tolerance for THOSE victims? Prosecutors tend to avoid identity theft cases -- they are complicated, there isn't always physical evidence, and sometimes cops assume there is little damage because nobody has been (physically) injured. The Government and businesses need to get serious about protecting personally data, penalties for failure to protect our information need to be higher, and we need a serious privacy law that restores the power to control personal info to the TRUE owner of said information -- you and me.

Monday, May 22, 2006

rock me like a hurricane?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued its predictions for the 2006 hurricane season -- 13-16 named storms, of which 8-10 will be hurricanes, 4-6 of which will be major (Category 3 and above).

Last year NOAA predicted 12-15 named storms with 7-9 hurricanes and of course we ended up with 28 named storms and 15 hurricanes -- more than double the prediction.

So should we take comfort that this year's prediction is for fewer storms than we had last year -- or should we be worried that this year's prediction is for more storms than NOAA PREDICTED last year? The MSNBC piece refers to climatologists seeing indications that human induced climate change could be increasing the average intensity of tropical cyclones. Do the models adequately take that into account, I wonder?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

bonds and barbaro

It strikes me that the two biggest stories in sports this Saturday were both tragedies. Foremost of course was the thoroughbred Barbaro fracturing his right rear leg in the Preakness. They haven't killed him yet, but it doesn't look good. I must say though that the reaction of Barbaro's co-owner Roy Jackson (as reported in William Rhoden's behind-the-firewall column in the New York Times) kind of chilled me: "These things happen."

That's easy to say, and I imagine Jackson didn't mean to sound callous, but that's how it came across to me. I'm not a horseracing fan, and partly it's because "these things happen." Animals shouldn't be used in sports. Obviously things like dog-fighting and cock-fighting are worse since in those sports, pain and injury (and often death) are the expected outcomes. But it just doesn't seem right to me to use animals that have no say in things for human entertainment and gambling. Barbaro's injury just reconfirms this to me.

The other big sports story Saturday was Barry Bonds drawing even with Babe Ruth and hitting his 714th home run. Some have griped at Bonds' treatment by baseball as he approached Ruth. But hey, you don't get parades for tieing with second place. Hank Aaron wasn't feted for passing Willie Mays (then #2 on the home run charts) -- when HE hit 714 and 715, he tied and surpassed Ruth's then-record, which is why he got the big centerfield celebrations. If (big if) Bonds reaches 755/756, then we could talk.

I called Bonds' story a tragedy. It is. It's tragic how a magnificent, sure-fire Hall of Fame player already on way to maybe hitting 600 homers became consumed by jealousy at the attention andro-men like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa got when they passed Roger Maris' single season home run record in 1998. Bonds then of course, with his usual sense of purpose and commitment, turned to steroids to supplement his outstanding skills and became the slugging bulbous freak he is today.

But at least when Bonds ruined his body with steroids because of his jealousy and insecurity, he did it to himself.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

UN says, stop torturing

I remember the good old days -- say, the Clinton Administration -- when the United States was an advocate for human rights and urged other countries to improve their human rights records, to ban torture, etc.

Well, this is George W. Bush's America now. And in the New America, the United Nations criticizes the United States for running torture camps. Specifically, the UN Committee Against Torture called on the US to close down its terrorist prison at Guantanamo, to ban "controversial interrogation techniques" (things that you and I would call "torture" if used on us or our loved ones), and to quit sending detainees to countries that are known to torture prisoners.

The de facto Administration said the UN report was unfair, contained errors, and that they didn't give the US Government enough opportunity to respond. Ah, the classic complaint of torture regimes all over the world -- "we are just misunderstood, and besides you made mistakes".

I don't care if the UN report facts are 90% false. ANY incident of torture carried out by agents of the Federal Government with the official blessing of the President and his agents is simply unacceptable. Isn't the United States supposed to be a special country, an example of freedom and democracy that others can admire and aspire to? So how on earth is any hint of torture and indefinite detention without trial (not to mention the domestic spying) remotely compatible with the vision of a free people advocated by the Founding Fathers and promoted and supported by most Presidents and other people for the past 230 years? For that matter, mister holier-than-thou Bush, how can torture be reconciled with the teachings of Christ?

Torture is wrong. Bush has defiled the United States.

Friday, May 19, 2006

"we consider the war in Iraq and the occupation of the country a grave error."

New Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi didn't mince words addressing Italy's Senate in describing his decision to begin withdrawing Italian troops from Iraq. Prodi said,
"We consider the war in Iraq and the occupation of the country a grave error."
"It has not resolved, but complicated, the situation of security."
"Terrorism has found a new base in Iraq and new excuses for terror attacks both inside and outside the country."
That's what I was telling people would be the outcome of a US invasion of Iraq back in 2002. But even if Prodi had been the Italian Prime Minister then instead of Bush's corrupt crony Silvio Berlusconi (who shares with Bush the attitude that if they do something it is by definition legal), it wouldn't have stopped Bush from invading Iraq. He ignored plenty of other foreign leaders (Schroeder, Chirac, Mubarak, etc) in getting us involved in this absurd, tragic folly.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

traitors to the human race

I'm copying this short piece in its entirety, from the Post's Washington in Brief news snippets.
Ad Campaign Targets 'Warming Alarmism'

The libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute is launching a national television ad campaign today attacking "global warming alarmism" and the calls for curbs on greenhouse gases linked to climate change.

The two 60-second spots -- which will air in 14 markets including Washington as well as Albany, Albuquerque, Anchorage and Dallas -- tout carbon dioxide as a harmless substance that humans breathe out and trees absorb.

"Carbon dioxide," the female announcer intones in each of the two ads, which cost $50,000 to produce and air. "They call it pollution. We call it life."

Pew Center on Global Climate Change President Eileen Claussen questioned the ads themselves, saying: "According to the CEI line of reasoning, you can never have too much of a good thing. Therefore what New England is experiencing is not so much disastrous flooding, but rather an abundance of life-sustaining rainwater."
Claussen has a nice analogy. Apparently the CEI has never heard of the idea that too much of a good thing might be bad for you.

It is criminal bordering on genocidal to not only ignore the compelling evidence that rising carbon dioxide levels ARE changing the planet's climate in unpredictable and likely deleterious ways, but to actually campaign AGAINST any efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. Look, we are going to have to change our fuel-burning habits starting pretty soon, and fairly drastically, or we could be well and truly screwed. How screwed? Oh, say collapse-of-global-civilization screwed, if we hit irreversible climate change points that work RAPIDLY, like the ones Tim Flannery identifies in 1976 and 1998 in his powerful book, "The Weather Makers".

If we don't at least TRY to reduce carbon emissions starting NOW to try to mitigate the effects of climate change, it will be global suicide. If the refusal to change from the "business as usual" attitude exemplified by short-sighted criminal morons like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, it will prove that humans are not as rational as we like to assume. I'd say we deserve our fate -- but the other species we are dragging into extinction shouldn't have to suffer with us.

your grandmother's a chimp!

No seriously -- your great-great-a-thousand-times-great-grandmother probably WAS a chimp, if the findings of this genetic research by scientists at MIT and Harvard are true. Mine probably was, too.

If species really were created in their current form by God/an Intelligent Designer/the Flying Spaghetti Monster/whatever, such research would be inconceivable because there would be no reason to expect humans and chimpanzees to share such a large portion of our genes -- let alone to have possibly had the ability in the far past to interbreed.

But I wouldn't recommend this trick now -- not all chimpanzees are as suave as Lancelot Link.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

gop lawbreaker, part 37

Republican National Committee regional political director James Tobin faces sentencing for his role in the 2002 election day phone jamming operations against Democrats in New Hampshire. The phone jamming made it hard for Democrat voters wanting a ride to the polls to get through, possibly contributing to Sununu's narrow victory.

Tobin's lawyers don't think he should face jail time. They think Tobin has "high ethical standards" and has suffered enough.

What happened to the law-and-order, throw-the-book-at-them GOP? Nothing. This is their standard relativism. Somebody robs a liquor store or smokes a little dope, they want a life sentence. Somebody fleeces employees of a few billion dollars (Ken Lay and company), heck that's just the risk you take on the free market.

Somebody tries to interfere with the basic operations of a democracy by illegally impeding a political party's get-out-the-vote operation -- heck, that's just politics as usual.

And they kinda have a point. After all, the Republicans got away with fixing the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

immigration -- don't confuse motion with action

Last night de facto President George W. "Mexicans work for cheap" Bush said, "We do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that." Bush has been president for 5 1/2 years. Who to blame? In any case, sending 6000 Guards from other states is a dumb idea. It won't secure the border and it will stretch the Guard even further.

I agree with Elizabeth Flores, the mayor of Laredo, Texas, who said "The National Guard is trained to protect us from deadly people. People crossing over here to work are not our deadly enemy. . . . I think this is all about discrimination and nothing else." Militarizing the border is a bad idea, is just pandering to the anti-immigration crowd, and frankly is a waste of the Guards' time and training.

Post TV critic Tom Shales had the REAL reason for Bush's prime-time immigration special. It wasn't because of any change in immigration as an issue. It was simply an attempt to distract attention from everything else this administration has gotten wrong, with Iraq at the top of a long, long list, as reflected by its Nixonian 29% approval ratings. A good final line from Chris Matthews about Bush's initiative: "Don't confuse motion with action."

irs versus credit counseling centers

Good for the IRS, which said it plans to revoke tax-free status for all 41 of the credit counselors they have audited so far. These credit counselors are no more charitable than a used car dealership that helps arrange financing to buy that clunker you really can't afford anyway. Revoking their tax-free status is a start, but it's great to hear they are also opening some criminal investigations.

Now the question is, are there enough firms to provide the mandatory credit counseling Congress required in its new screw-the-poor-and-unlucky bankruptcy law that went into effect last year? Answer will be, nope... So how do they get the mandatory counseling before they can file for bankruptcy?

Monday, May 15, 2006

voodoo republicans

Sebastian Mallaby gets into the GOP's renewed attachment to voodoo economics. Mallaby lists a series of quotes from Republicans, about how cutting taxes raises revenues.
The de facto President George W. "Liar" Bush: "by cutting the taxes on the American people, this economy is strong, and the overall tax revenues have hit at record levels." And he also said, eloquently as ever "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase."

De facto vice president Dick "Shotgun" Cheney: "tax cuts have translated into higher federal revenues."

Senate Majority Leader and Presidential wannabe Bill "Skeletor" Frist: "Many people in Washington have long known a dirty little secret about tax-cut measures: When done right, they actually result in more money for the government."

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley: "There is a mindset in both branches of government that if you reduce taxes you have a net loss, if you increase taxes you have a net gain, and history does not show that relationship."

Pennsylvania Senator and notorious godboy Rick "I believe in intelligent design except when politically inconvenient" Santorum: "We've put these tax provisions in place and they've raised money."
Voodoo economics, indeed. In any cases, all of these quoted morons (maybe they aren't morons. In that case, they are liars. Your choice. I pick both -- lying morons.) are simply wrong. As Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw (a former Bush Administration official) points out, cutting taxes does NOT raise revenue -- using the most generous assumptions he could, Mankiw said you get about half the foregone tax revenue back through additional growth. Everybody is just repeating a fucking lie, pure and simple. They are literally making this shit up.

But Republican shenanigans about taxation will ultimately only ruin our nation's financial wellbeing. GOP voodoo science, especially on climate change, threatens to ruin our entire civilization and the lifes of humans, plants, and animals all over the planet, in OUR lifetimes. Remember that when voting.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

decoding da vinci

"The DaVinci Code" movie will open soon. I will give it precisely the same careful attention I gave to Dan Brown's book -- I will carefully avoid seeing it if at all possible.

But it's hard to ignore the hype about it. I frankly don't quite get why people are so hung up about the controversial points in the book -- you know, the idea that Christ was married and had kids, and that His descendants live among us, and that the people of Opus Dei are a bunch of reactionary nut jobs. Hey folks -- it's fiction. You know, that means it's made up? Like "The Lord of the Rings." Except for the bit about Opus Dei, that's true -- they are reactionary nut jobs.

Besides, Dan Brown's research didn't go far enough, because if it had, he would have discovered what I have learned -- Christ was an alien who traveled back in time and space to visit Earth. Unfortunately, his settings were off and instead of arriving just in time to watch Babe Ruth hit his home run against the Cubs in the World Series and satisfy for himself whether or not the Bambino called that shot, he ended up in the Roman Province of Palestine. But he made the best of it and enjoyed his gig as Messiah, and now that he is back in his true home on planet Qwerty, he is getting rave reviews for his excellent adventure.

At least, that's what I read on the internet somewhere.

luxury in the lavatory

This story may not warm your heart -- but it could warm your tush. The Japanese are world leaders in many areas of scientific and technological research -- including comfortable toilets that are heated and will wash and dry your nether regions for you. After all, when nature calls, you want to be comfortable, right? Ask Will Smith -- he ordered one of his very own after visiting Japan. Truly, he is a Fresh Prince.

cheney wanted wiretaps

I know, I know -- news that de facto Vice President Dick "Shotgun" Cheney (and his odious neo-monarchist lawyer, David Addington, who has eroded more constitutional rights than probably any other person that the average American has never heard of, more even than John Yoo) advocated illegal, warrantless wiretaps on domestic telephone communications in the aftermath of September 11 is only slightly less surprising than learning the Pope is, in fact, Catholic.

At the time, lawyers for the National Security Agency pushed back, and the program was limited to calls involving at least one foreign phone number. Former intelligence officials and others are stressing that CIA nominee (at that time, NSA head honcho) General Michael Hayden was caught in the middle between the "I am the law" vice president and the professional lawyers at NSA. Guess they're trying to prepare a case for Hayden before Congress that even though he was the person who basically implemented the warrantless wiretapping, he was Just Following Orders.

Just Following Orders. I suspect that will become an increasingly common refrain as more of this regime's illegal and/or incompetent acts and crimes against the rule of law come to light.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

less secrecy, more secrecy

The trends appear to be contrary -- less secrecy in this context, but more secrecy here. But they aren't contrary. Less secrecy (or privacy) is what you and I and the pimply faced kid down the street who won't stop riding his boogie board in front of your house can expect. Yes, the NSA's data mining (without warrants, with the craven cooperation of most phone companies, despite a lack of a legal basis for this) of essentially ALL phone records is stripped of personal information. But it doesn't take much to attach a name to a phone number, now does it? Your personal secrecy/privacy diminishes further.

But when somebody is trying to get satisfaction for misdoings of the Federal government, then MORE secrecy is better. This German guy who was kidnapped in Serbia and hauled off to a CIA prison in Afghanistan under suspicion of being involved in terrorism (he isn't) wants redress. But the de facto Bush Administration's Justice Department is asking that the case be dismissed so that state secrets aren't revealed in the legal process -- a tactic the Bushistas are resorting to more and more often. Where does that end? Who decides what a "state secret" is? I dunno, but this is an area where more secrecy is corrosive to the operations of a free, democratic society.

Friday, May 12, 2006

paging mr. orwell

I don't care if 63% of those polled approve of this (I will be charitable and assume most people don't understand the full ramifications of this), I still have a problem with fishing for clues by looking at all of the data on our phone calls.

This isn't tapping the phones of 5000 or so suspicious people. This is acting as if we were ALL suspicious. And the de facto Bush Administration keeps saying they are only looking for terrorists -- but we know how broadly they sometimes define "terrorist," and what's to stop they from expanding that to "criminal" or "terrorist sympathizer" -- somebody like me, for example, who thinks that our government should obey the Constitution and laws passed by Congress.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

167,900 more quarters

The GOP Congress is putting the final ribbon on a nice $70 billion gift for the wealthy investor class, extending the allegedly "temporary" tax cuts from a few years ago. By "investor class" I don't mean folks with $1100 in an IRA accruing $15 a week if they're lucky. I mean those who have portfolios in the millions of dollars range, who get big bucks from their stocks.

According to figures from the Tax Policy Center, published in the Post today, people making $20,000 or less can expect average savings per year of $2. Yes, two dollars. Eight quarters. Enough for a small burger at McDonalds but with tax, you can't afford an order of fries or a drink with that burger so you better sip some water and put the 85 cents in change in your medical emergency savings account in case you ever need an aspirin.

People in the middle range -- households making $50/75,000 a year will see savings of $110. A bit better than eight quarters. For that much money you can take the wife and the two teenagers out to see Mission Impossible III, buy a couple of tubs of popcorn, soft drinks all around, and stop by Pizza Hut afterwards with a few bucks left in your pocket at the end of the evening. Not exactly a life-changing savings. Certainly won't cushion this family should some sort of disaster strike them. And it probably wouldn't allow them to reinvest much or launch a new business.

People that are pretty rich, making between $500,000 and $1 million, will do better. They can expect to save $5562. Not bad. They could take a nice family vacation to the Bahamas on that, although maybe not at the quality resort that they are used to.

But that figure pales to what those making over $1 million will save on average -- $41,977. That is 167,908 quarters, an even 167,900 more than that person making under $20,000 a year. $41,977 is a real chunk of change. Heck, with that much money the recipient of the tax cut could adopt a poverty-stricken family of four (maybe they lost their jobs, or had a devastating medical condition not covered by their Wal-Mart insurance, if they had any insurance at all) and pay all their expenses for an entire year.

But they won't, because that sort of thing is the duty of the government, and besides those poor people deserve it, they should have gone to Yale instead of getting that job in the textile mill that just closed, and isn't it really their own fault that Dad got that black lung disease or brain cancer?

Of course, the government won't be able to help either, because it just gave that $41,977 (annually) back to the Frists and Cheneys and Gateses and Buffets (Gates and Buffet have both spoken out in the past opposing additional tax cuts for the wealthy) so it won't have that $41,977 for unemployed people, or disaster relief, or repairing bridges, because it has given that money back to the rich in order to allow them to buy another Hummer II.

So there we see the priorities of the "compassionate conservative" wing of the Republican Party. They are for the regular person, long as that regular person makes more than $500,000 a year.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

vanishing sperm

Liz Mundy at Slate points to a possible reason for declining teen pregnancy rates. Not a greater commitment to abstinence by the kids, or more effective use of contraceptives, but declining sperm counts in Americans. US sperm counts are dropping by 1.5% per year - which is HUGE since it's been going on for decades, and humans (and gorillas) already have relatively low sperm counts compared to other animals. Other countries are seeing sperm counts drop at comparable rates.

The cause? Hormone disrupting chemicals in the environment. Sperm counts among men living in rural areas are dropping quicker than for guys living in the big city, and for men in developed countries compared to those in poor places, pointing to chemicals used in modern agriculture as a likely suspect, although there are plenty of other chemicals that are neutering us and retarding our mental development. There are similar problems with dropping fecundity levels in women.

For a sobering read, try this book: Our Stolen Future, How We Are Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival. It's full of cheerful news about deformation of genitals in human and animal offspring, etc. This could be a big part of the reason for dropping birth rates in Europe, Japan, Korea, and other countries around the world.

Monday, May 08, 2006

muslims are sisters, too

A Muslim sorority opens a chapter at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Rules include, no booze and no guys.

I don't begrudge the young ladies of Gamma Gamma Chi setting up their own sorority. Good luck to them. But I will boldly predict that Gamma Gamma Chi House will not be UMBC's hot party spot on Saturday nights.

snooping cops

Cops like to spy on groups they think are dangerous, and since 9/11 that tendency has been reinforced. Groups they are watching? Vegans. Animal-rights activists. Antiwar protesters. Union organizers. People surfing the web at the library. Police "intelligence" units use money from the Department of Homeland Security not just to watch out for would-be jihadist mass murderers, but for all these other groups -- none of whom have been involved in major terrorist acts.

Absurdities: in Texas,
in 2004 investigators identified 2,052 potential threat elements. One top veteran of the FBI's counterterrorism force calls the Texas number "absurd." Included among the threats cited by the states, sources say, are biker gangs, militia groups, and "save the whales" environmentalists.
Threats???? The real threat is the use of cops to watch to see whether the district attorney's office is trailing an elected official suspected of crimes. The real threat is infiltrating legal, peaceful anti-war movements, or intimidating union organizers. The real threat is the marriage of an officially-sanctioned paranoid mindset plus big budgets and computer power linking official and private records to indulge in fishing expeditions to snare people who are NOT terrorist threats.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

hayden, goss, eavesdropping, hookers

Sounds like the White House is ready to fight for General Michael Hayden, de facto President Bush's expected choice to succeed the ousted Porter Goss as the director of the CIA. Hayden of course oversaw the warrantless domestic spying program that most sane Americans agreed was an unnecessary, gratuitous overreach by the regime.

The White House looks like it is picking a fight, and hopes to make the nomination hearings into a forum for "proving" the Democrats are Soft on Terrorism. But Arlen Specter and other GOP senators have their own questions about the legality and constitutionality of the domestic eavesdropping program.

As for why Porter Goss left, it seems obvious from the suddenness and the timing that it is related to the participation of CIA #3 (Dusty Foggo) in lobbyist-funded booze, poker, and prostitute parties at the Watergate. Ex-CIA guy Larry Johnson doesn't think Goss himself was involved, but it's getting awful close to him. The Duke Cunningham scandal is slowly oozing farther and farther, implicating more Republicans every week.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

blair fires straw

The most surprising thing about the British cabinet shake-up after a very poor showing for Labor in local elections was that Tony Blair fired Jack Straw as foreign minister. Straw has gotten good reviews for his work, so what gives? I suspect it's because he has had the nerve to speak the truth about the possibility that the US might attack Iran if Iran doesn't stop working towards nuclear weapons. Straw has said he thinks a military attack is inconceivable, and that a nuclear strike would be "completely nuts," undermining the party line from de facto president Bush and Blair that all options are on the table.

If Blair is really considering supporting an attack against Iran, he really is insane. Blair needs to realize that there is a point where supporting an ally while that ally is doing something incredibly stupid and dangerous is not longer helpful or wise.

The conventional wisdom is that after 1956, when Eisenhower ordered Britain, France, and Israel to stop their attack on Egypt to seize the Suez Canal, British prime ministers have decided to never be on the opposite side of a major foreign policy issue from the United States. That's all well and good but Blair is taking it much too far. Joining in the Iraq War was bad enough. Supporting a Bush attack against Iran, or worse yet, actually participating in it, will NOT help the bombing on Iran go any better, will NOT significantly reduce America's isolation or global condemnation, and will only drag Britain into whatever the aftermath of such an attack might be.

Maybe it's time for Blair to go.

Friday, May 05, 2006

bad russia

De facto vice president, old-man-shooter Dick "Darth" Cheney dinged Russia for not being democratic enough -- an understatement but for once, Cheney is right, if you will.

The de facto Bush Administration wants Russia to act more like a democracy, but Putin's Russia bears some resemblence to Bushista America. Maybe Russia could invade a country to pre-empt a potential threat to Russian security as a way of acting like a democracy? (Does destroying Chechnya count? Or not, because it is part of Russia?) Otherwise, Russia already has the election-fixing thing down pat, and are pretty good at torture and secret prisons and detentions without trial and spying on their own people.

Anyway, I guess Bush was wrong when he gazed into Putin's eyes and looked at his soul. Clearly, something was lost in translation from KGB Spymaster Russian to Texas Bullying Fratboy English, and the Russian word for "Slavic autocratic nationalistic thug" got misstranslated as "Slavic good old boy that is more or less democratic, at least democratic enough for us to buddy up to".

Anyway, the idea that the G8 Summit in St Petersburg (Russia, not Florida) could become a debacle if Russia doesn't take some steps soon is silly. It is already guaranteed to be a debacle. It is utterly absurd that Russia was admitted to the G8 in the first place It wasn't yet a democracy, and it sure as hell didn't qualify in terms of being one of the biggest economies in the world -- heck, Spain has a bigger economy than Russia. The Clinton Administration was wrong to push for Yeltsin's admission to the club.

And second, these annual meetings are increasingly irrelevant anyway. It's just a giant photo-op with some hot air emanating from the mouths of leaders, and increasing numbers of leaders from other countries being invited to hang out on the periphery as a way of demonstrating that the US and the other rich countries (and Russia) care about the developing world -- when in fact, they really don't, as long as the oil and gas keep flowing to us, and the poor people don't.

Don't expect Putin to do anything positive in response to Cheney's calls for them to lighten up on NGOs and opposition parties. He'll probably throw a few more people in the slammer, just to remind the Russian people that he is the one they need to pay attention to and please, not Dick Cheney or any other American.

tropical diseases in canada

Another side effect of climate change -- tropical diseases are expanding their range into places like Canada, and in higher elevations in the tropics that used to be free of malaria and other nasty diseases.

But surely there must be a positive angle to this? Let's see. If such diseases become re-established in the US and Europe due to global warming, they will get more attention from medical researchers than is currently the case.

Hey, I'm working hard to find a silver lining here! Meanwhile, do us all a favor and don't leave any standing water on your deck, that just breeds mosquitoes. (Yes, you fat slob of a neighbor, I'm talking to you.)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

the nationals are freed!

So the Nationals have an owner at last -- the local Lerner group, headed by a real estate bazillionaire family. The racial angle is being grotesquely overplayed by Marion Barry. The Lerner group does include a couple of black partners, including former Clinton Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, as well as a couple of Latinos. I think Barry and others are just mad that Theodore Lerner (obeying Bud Selig's edict to leave negotiations with the city to Major League Baseball) didn't spend a lot of time wining and dining the DC Board and local politicians.

The quiet Lerner spoke publicly today:
"First of all, this is a 'Wow' type of a day. We're delighted to receive the opportunity to own this franchise," he said today. "It's something I've been thinking about all my life, from the time I used to pay 25 cents to sit in the bleachers at Griffith Stadium. . . . We're delighted."
I'm pleased too. I'm just glad the Nixonian Malek group didn't win.

More positively, this profile of the quiet Lerner makes me hope that between him, his son, and former Braves' executive Stan Kasten, the team will be run competently and will have stable long-term ownership. For me, they could make a good start on proving their competence by relieving Jim Bowden of his duties.

humans are responsible for climate change

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program says that there are NOT discrepancies in rates of warming. As the Post noted, "the observed patterns of change over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural processes alone, nor by the effects of short-lived atmospheric constituents such as aerosols and tropospheric ozone alone."

In other words, climate change IS being pushed by human actions. But no doubt Cheney-Bush, Exxon and others will still argue that the science isn't conclusive and will resist meaningful action, maybe only agreeing that climate change is a problem when St Louis is on the much-enlarged Gulf of Mexico. Oklahoma Senator Inhofe, who has called climate change the "biggest hoax in history," has already disputed the idea that this study confirms humanity's role in global warming.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

geography for dummies

Americans are dummies when it comes to geography. Among the more surprising (to me) findings from a study by (naturally) the National Geographic Society among 18-24 year olds:
- 60% can't find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.
- 75% think English is the most widely-spoken language in the world.
- and most surprisingly, 25% can't tell their heads from their asses.

Monday, May 01, 2006

more reasons to hate polygraph tests

I loath polygraph tests, and this Post article about their use by Federal agencies like the CIA and FBI underscores why I hate them. It's because they are essentially bullshit.

For example, 25% of FBI applicants fail them -- do you think that's because the FBI draws an unusually untrustworthy bunch of people applying for jobs, or because there is a high false-negative rate? Well, a study in 2002 said that if you gave polygraphs to 10,000 people includine 10 spies, 1600 people would FAIL -- and two spies would PASS. Is a false-positive rate of 16% worth it when even the bad guys in question get away with it fully 20% of the time, in this sample? Couldn't that even foster a false sense of security -- "hey, this one passed, she must be innocent" -- while inspiring wasteful and destructive witch hunts against people innocent of all espionage charges who simply get nervous when asked if they are spies?

How is that useful? Some Federal agencies and private businesses like it as a deterrent, a way to get some people to confess and a way to make people think twice about doing something they wouldn't want to be asked about under the wire. But it's just a bunch of crap and the results of a polygraph vary widely depending on who is administering it -- it's an art, not a science, and leading questions can greatly skew the results -- and on how anxiety-prone the person taking it is. It's an easy cop-out, and no substitute for adequate security procedures and old-fashioned investigative skills.