Friday, August 31, 2007

telling the truth about lie detectors

ABC's Charles Gibson had a story, repeated here, about a new device that purports to look at the brain to tell when you're lying. On the web article, it comes complete with a nifty comparison of a lying brain and a truth-telling brain.

Nifty photos, yay. But boo to the complete and utter lack of research into this story.

Basically this article took the press releases from the company that calls itself "No Lie MRI" and reported it uncritically. Absolute bull with less actual reporting than you'd see in an average junior high school newspaper. You want a REAL article on this with actual original research, facts, interviews etc, read Margaret Talbot's recent article in the New Yorker. Talbot actually talks to other researchers. Talbot actually acknowledges the facts that the testing protocols for such lie detectors (brain-based like the No Lie MRI or others) are badly flawed and don't, for example, include testing on people who are drunk or on other drugs, who are psychotic or mentally unstable. Talbot points out that a claimed 90% success rate is (1) unverifiable; (2) exaggerated by the fact that many people will confess when confronted by a lie detector test - including occasionally people subsequently verified by other evidence or confessions to be INNOCENT; and (3) leaves a 10% failure rate that is far, far too high and can result in liars getting away with it and much worse, innocent people being tarred with some crime. She points out that all the stuff that a polygraph (beloved by so many, and so very unreliable) measures is just basically a measure of STRESS, which could just as easily be caused by being an honest person telling the truth in a hostile situation (ie, on a lie detector!) as it would be by lying. SHE points out that the so-called visual cues for lying are NOT in fact universal - some people don't like to make eye contact period, whether they are telling the truth or lying.

In other words, Talbot's article was a fine piece of reporting. ABC's segment is a sweet piece of PR for No Lie MRI. Unfortunately, the Charles Gibson "report" will be seen by probably 100 times as many people as will read the New Yorker article. And the lies about allegedly being able to mechanically detect lies will be perpetuated, to the benefit of those most interested in making a buck or closing a case.

This was a shoddy piece of journalism, even by mainstream media standards. No lie.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

one more republican scandal

I'd missed this one, but surprise surprise, the Republican governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, has been taking federal money supposed to be used to help reconstruction after Hurrican Katrina and is passing it out to friends and family. This is a more typical Republican scandal - good old fashioned graft and enriching the rich and well-connected. You and I need not apply - unless you can marry the remaining Bush twin or something.

how to expect the gop to respond to their growing unpopularity

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on polls showing how tremendously unpopular the Republicans have become among young Americans aged 18-29. The poll showed "that show two-thirds of young voters surveyed believe Democrats do a better job than Republicans of representing their views - even on issues Republicans once owned, such as terrorism and taxes."

So, if you are a Republican strategist, what to do? Change the GOP's positions on issues like climate change (it's real, and we're fucked if we don't respond, no matter what Exxon says)? Move away from it's far-right extremist views against helping the less fortunate and in favor of more more more tax cutting for the top 1% of us?

Nah, that would be no fun. Just look for them to continue to suppress the vote in this age group. Think it hasn't happened already? You didn't notice the long, long lines to vote on college campuses in Ohio in 2004? Think that was a coincidence?

That wasn't a coincidence. That, and the long lines in Democrati-supporting urban Ohio precincts, compared to the quick and easy vote in the pro-GOP suburbs and small towns, were not coincidence. They were part of the strategy.

the real scandal about republican scandals

Republican strategist Scott Reed is bemoaning the ever-expanding list of Republican scandals, with Larry "I'm Not Gay" joining Senator David "Good Times" Vitter and Senator Ted "The Buck Stops Here" Stevens in the most recent list update.

The real scandal about the Republicans however is all the stuff that somehow doesn't register as a scandal. You know, the policy decisions to approve the use of torture. The policy decisions to invade Iraq based on trumped-up evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. The policy decisions to suppress the vote by those unlikely to support the GOP, and to fire US attorneys that are insufficiently zealous in pursuing this goal and politically-inspired prosecutions of Democratic candidates. The fixing of elections in Florida 2000 and Ohio (and quite likely, other states) in 2004. The footdragging and obstructionism that have cost us at least 8 years to try to keep climate change from hitting a tipping point beyond which we will have no chance of slowing it down.

Frankly, compared to that a gay or bi senator who can't admit to himself or the rest of us the truth about his sexuality, a senator that visits hookers (you KNOW he isn't the only one, and Democrats are sure to also indulge on occasion), even a routine corruption scandal like Stevens' are frankly just not that important. But if the Democrats are to win in 2008, these venal things will perhaps help...

So if you know of any more GOP scandals, be sure to let everybody know!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

i'm not gay, i'm not gay

So says Larry Craig, the wide-stance crapper. Specifically, he said "Let me be clear: I am not gay. I never have been gay." Later, to be clear, he said "I wasn't eager to share this failure, but I should have anyway -- because I am not gay!"

So that's clear. Senator Larry Craig is not gay. Heck, if he were gay, he would have presumably supported gay marriage, right?

Nah, Larry Craig isn't gay. He just likes to screw and suck other men. Why is that so hard to understand?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

republican scandals updated with the very latest

A few months ago I excerpted a handy dandy list of Republican scandals. That list has become a bit outdated, so now I present an update to that list.

Hot off the presses: Larry Craig, uber-conservative staunch moralist Republican Senator from the great state of Idaho - arrested and now has plead guilty to disorderly conduct in the bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Apparently, the good Senator propositioned an undercover cop in an adjacent stall. This would appear to add some meat to the rumors of Craig being engaged in extramarital sexual activities, a common GOP hobby. The gay part of it though is a welcome twist that adds a little variety. And presumably, the guys Craig propositioned were at least over 18, unlike the objects of former Republican House member Mark Foley. People living in gay I mean glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Mark Vitter, Republican Senator from Louisiana, was recently ensnared in the Washington Madam case - the highest profile john revealed by the investigation into the call girl ring run by Deborah Palfrey. A bit earlier, another Republican, Randall Tobias, who was the head of the US Agency for International Development, quit his job when the records showed he was a regular customer of some call girl service that employed cheap Latina labor for his late night "massages."

These shenanigans are mostly amusing because the Republicans insist they are the party of morals and virtue. A more serious scandal is the one involving the entire Republican congressional delegation from the great state of Alaska. Senator Ted Stevens is the most tainted, now being investigated by the FBI and the IRS for good old fashioned tax evasion, bribe taking, and the like.

The rest of the GOP group that dominate Alaskan politics - Governor Frank Murkowski, Senator Lisa Murkowski (yes, it is nice when your dad leaves the Senate and becomes governor and can appoint his daughter to the family business), and Congressman Don Young - may also be tainted. There is a lot of oil money sloshing around Alaska, and a lot of handouts courtesy of the GOP-dominated Federal Government given to a state that not only doesn't use its oil wealth to fund its own projects, but even hands out cash payments to state residents and STILL has the nerve to beg for money from Washington for highways to nowhere and other big projects.

So much for the rugged individualists who want to be left alone. They DO want to be untaxed and unregulated - but keep those transfers of funds from taxpayers in states like California, New York, and Michigan coming.

Monday, August 27, 2007

gonzales was a symptom, not the cause

So Alberto Gonzales is going to resign. Good riddance. His lack of scruple was matched only by his lack of qualifications, save one - his utter loyalty to George W. Bush, the de facto President.

But don't think that Gonzales' resignation changes anything. It doesn't. Gonzales didn't make the decisions to implement the Great US Attorney Massacre in order to make attorneys conduct more overtly political prosecutions against Democrats, and to use the powers of the Department of Justice and other branches of the US government to suppress the vote along likely Democrats. It was the White House.

Gonzales wrote opinions justifying torture, but the decision was with the White House.

Gonzales argued for warrantless wiretaps and other intrusions without demonstrating cause into the lives of American citizens. But the decision was with the White House.

Gonzales doesn't have the basic wit to do any of this. He is the quintessential empty suit, with a pleasingly Spanish sounding name so he could double as a demonstration of Republican "diversity." But he was the quintessential "yes-man", unwilling to say NO to anything, no matter how immoral, illegal, or unconstitutional.

He was a symptom of the infection of the US body politic by extremist elements on the far right of the Republican Party. A symptom, not the cause.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

sic 'em on vick?

Michael Wilbon pronounces his suggestion for punishing self-confessed dog-fighting impresario (and dog-killer, dog-starver, and gambler) Michael Vick:
Personally, I'd like to see Vick locked in a cage with six to eight of those pit bulls and nothing but his hands to use in his own defense.
That said, Wilbon also thinks that Vick should be allowed to return to the NFL at some point.

He also notes what the NFL only dares whisper - the biggest concern for the football establishment isn't the starvation and torture of dogs for financial gain. As horrible as that is, it doesn't directly touch on the NFL. Consorting this closely with gamblers, however, is a much bigger deal. Just ask Pete Rose. THAT could be the NFL's hook for trying to make a lifetime ban stick.

But I suspect they won't have to. I doubt that any NFL team - not even Al Davis' Oakland Raiders - would want to take the hit for hiring Michael Vick.

But I won't bet on it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

two things i have no reason to believe

Two completely unconnected news items that I have no reason to believe.

The first - this Post piece titled "Younger Crowd Losing Appetite for Edwards." A journalist in Iowa cites four people -- yes, FOUR people -- who say they probably won't support John Edwards in the Democratic caucus in Iowa. In her "by no means a scientific survey of the Democratic field," Anne Kornblut says Edwards is losing his Iowa lead.

That may be the case. But THIS article does nothing to establish that, but the Post still manage to run a big headline stating as a fact that young people are abandoning Edwards. Fine, fine journalism.

The second bit is the unhappy report out of Iraq that 14 US troops have died in a helicopter crash. I believe the chopper crashed and 14 died. But I don't feel like I can believe that it was an accident just because the military has said so. Remember, this military has reported before that helicopters crashed only to admit later that they were shot down. And they lied (along with the White House) about the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

I once used to assume that government spokesmen were probably telling the truth. Now, I assume that any representative of the de facto Bush Administration who speaks is lying.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

the wrong war

Interesting article from Misha Glenny in today's Post about "The Lost War" -- that is, the so-called war on drugs. She points out the basic fact that it isn't the sale of these drugs per se that causes violence and crime. It is the fact that these drugs, ranging from the mild like marijuana to the hard-core like heroine, are all ILLEGAL that drives the trade underground and brings violence into the scene. After all, there isn't much violence associated with the trade in legal mind-altering substances, like alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine.

Remember that insidious advertisement from the de facto Bush Administration a few years ago that subtly implied (as subtle as Carrot-Top's humor) that smoking pot meant you were supporting terrorists? Actually, you can make a better case that conducting the war on drugs supports terrorists, by giving them a lucrative illegal trade to conduct, and giving them the chance to get on the good side of peasants and farmers from Columbia to Afghanistan, by protecting their opium and coca crops.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

fred thompson apoligizes, says america is bloodthirsty

At the Iowa State fair, Fred Thompson had some awful things to say about the good old US of A. Specifically, Thompson, that Hollywood America-hater, said "I ... apologize for the United States of America. This country has shed more blood ... of other people than all the other nations in the history of the world combined, and I ... got to apologize for America."

Thompson also implied that he planned on acting without regard for Constitutional restraint, just like de facto President George Bush. He said, "I wasn't there when they made those rules, so I'm not abiding by them." Thompson also doesn't plan to abide by past American policies, saying " doesn't really matter what anybody else has done."

Yes, that's what he said. More or less. I mean, I might have removed one or two other words to make the quote more concise, and I might have not exactly quite remembered the actual context of the quotes, but hey that's what respected news outlets like Fox News and the Washington Times do all the time.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

watch what you do

The de facto Bush Administration's CIA and Department of Homeland Security plan to use our spy satellites to spy on us. Satellites and aircraft "that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers."

This is all for our protection, of course. I mean, the Bush Administration says so, so it must be true, right?

Not necessarily. The satellites and their imagery are secret. The local cops won't get them unless the people in charge of the images decide to give it to them. It would be naive to imagine that they won't be selective in choosing what images to give to cops to address what crimes. For example, don't you think this bunch would be far more likely to give local cops images of marijuana growing in a field than to reveal illegal logging?

Damn right. I don't trust a damn thing this Administration does, and there has been absolutely no reason for any of us (those of us outside the inside circle, that is) to do so.

One nonprofit activist group leader (Kate Martin, Center for national Security Studies) said "They are laying the bricks one at a time for a police state."

I'm afraid I agree.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

a dishonest republican?

Former White House aid Mike Scully (not the same guy who writes for the Simpsons, I'm guessing) says that former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has taken credit for things he didn't write. Scully says Gerson dropped him and others from authorship of various speeches, allowed others to credit him with things he didn't write, played to the media by posing for photos while pretending to write speeches, and generally was a big twit.

I've been reading his columns in the Washington Post. They are pretty awful. So I'm prepared to believe he did write those Bush speeches.

Friday, August 10, 2007

an obit that caught my eye

Sometimes obituaries are kind of uplifting. You learn about somebody who had a long life, did some neat things, and finally died in their 80s. This one wasn't so inspiring. Not because of the person - Captain Maria I. Ortiz (US Army) sounds like she was a heck of a person. Joined the reserves, then the regular Army. Trained as a nurse. Volunteered to go to Iraq. And unfortunately became the first Army nurse to be killed in combat since Vietnam.

And yes, she definitely died too young. Ortiz was just 40. So it wasn't really uplifting so much as it was just plain sad.

And Ortiz died in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Yes, the Green Zone. That's the "safe" place in Iraq. She died from a mortar attack.

We can't even keep the Green Zone in Baghdad safe. Some surge.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Children, I hate to tell you, but life isn't always fair. The most outrageous current example is the ongoing reign of de facto President George W. Bush and his evil sidekick/puppetmaster Dick Cheney, still in office after fixing two elections.

And the example du jour is Barry Bonds, the new home run king.

In a just world, Bush would have remained in Texas in 2001 instead of taking over as President under dubious circumstances. And Bonds would have ended up his career with around 600 home runs and a greatly reduced hat size, still a sure-fire Hall of Famer and on the short list of all-time great hitters. But not home run king and not the strangely bloated figure he has become.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

i'm comforted

From Walter Pincus: The Bush administration plans to leave oversight of its expanded foreign eavesdropping program to the same government officials who supervise the surveillance activities and to the intelligence personnel who carry them out, senior government officials said yesterday.

Oh, I'm comforted. The Bush Administration has been so scrupulous in making sure it has full accountability for how it runs its programs, especially things related to intelligence and torture I mean interrogations, how can anybody possibly doubt that extending the right-wing concept of voluntary self-enforcement (their preferred approach to regulating the private sector, when the private sector is willing) to the government could possibly be a problem?

weekly world news, r.i.p.

Peter Carlson eulogizes the late Weekly World News. You know the WWN. It was the one at the supermarket checkout lane with the REALLY outrageous headlines, like "12 U.S. SENATORS ARE SPACE ALIENS!" or "HEAVEN PHOTOGRAPHED BY HUBBLE TELESCOPE."

The odd/sad thing is, if the Weekly World News had died in 1990, the net credibility of the US news media would have improved a little. But in the land of corporate-owned conservative mouthpieces trumpeting conspiracy theories about Bill Clinton, Mass Murderer, or about how invading and bombing the shit out of Iraq will bring peace and stability and democracy to the Middle East and will make the Iraqis love us like little brothers, I'm not so sure the Weekly World News' headlines were the most ridiculous ones on the newsstand, radio, or TV.


Monday, August 06, 2007

sports and religion shouldn't mix

So the home-town Washington Nationals have joined the trend and held a "Faith Night" at RFK Stadium, after their win against the St Louis Cardinals.* Featured some Christian rock act called MercyMe (nope, I don't find them on my CD rack between Mercury Rev and Midlake) and other religious (as in, "Christian") events.

I don't see the need. There is no shortage of venues in the United States for Christians and indeed other religions to hold events. Let's not taint the true American religion, baseball, with lesser faiths. Shame on the Nationals. And on baseball. Oh sure they say this isn't about favoring one religion over the other. But do you think if Washington's Muslim community wanted to book Cat Stevens to sing songs extolling Mohammed and the Islam faith after a Nationals-Padres game that they would be accommodated so easily? Somehow I wonder.

*Named for the nifty red bird, not the muckety-mucks in Rome that pick popes.

who's arming the insurgents in iraq?

So, where DO those nasty anti-American, freedom-hating Iraqi insurgents get their weapons? Iran? Syria?

Maybe. But a survey by the independent Government Accountability Office says that the US military has no idea where 30% of the weapons given to Iraqi government forces are. So not only is that a huge waste of money, odds are damn good that many of those weapons end up in the hands of the unfriendlies.

So, add the US to the list of countries arming the insurgents. Nifty.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

scientologists not a cult?

So argues Mark Oppenheimer in the Post today. He does admit that the Scientologists and their beliefs are weird. And Oppenheimer makes the argument (correctly) that new religions seem weirder than old ones simply because the old ones have stood the test of time and the "weird" things (killing the son of God, for example) are simply accepted and seem "normal" nowadays.

But some of Oppenheimer's points don't work. He says the Scientologists have to charge big bucks to catch up with the Catholics, who have been getting donations for nearly 2000 years. Of course, the Catholics have had nearly 2000 years worth of expenses, too. And they do lots of charitable work. And Oppenheimer says Scientology is no different than Judaism since many Jews pay admission fees for certain high-holiday services. But if you need advice from a rabbi, priest, or imam he or she isn't going to charge you $200 for 12 sessions.

Oppenheimer also skips one of the key differences between Scientology and other religions. Scientology began as a self-help book (Dianetics) written by L. Ron Hubbard. Then old L. Ron realized that if this was a RELIGIOUS text rather than a classic self-help book, he could catch some tax breaks.

So I guess I could agree in one way - Scientology isn't a cult. It's a financial scam.


jeri thompson is lucky karl rove is a republican

Interesting article about the much-younger wife of Republican pseudo-candidate Fred Thompson, Jeri Thompson nee Kehn. Let's see. She's 20 years younger than Fred. Busty and blonde. No obvious job skills, no career, no children. Several court orders to pay off debts, some of which apparently haven't been satisfied. She may have started dating Fred before breaking up with her long-time partner (the former partner, also with financial problems, says he doesn't remember).

Jeri Thompson is probably a fine and intelligent person. I hope she and Fred are happy together. Clearly, she doesn't fit the typical mold for a First Lady, should Ugly Fred* get that far, but in a fair world that wouldn't be held against her or Fred (plenty of other reasons not to vote for Fred).

But Jeri and Ugly Fred should thank their lucky stars Karl Rove is a Republican who likely won't be involved in the 2008 campaign and therefore won't be doing oppo research on Jeri...

*Yes, Ugly Fred. I fail to see how anybody can honestly find this guy attractive. Giuliani? Not bad looking in a weaselly sort of way. Edwards, Obama, Romney - all good looking guys. But Fred Thompson? No way.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

difficult to believe

So de facto President Bush has called a meeting of major greenhouse gas emitters for September to talk about voluntary goals for lowering greenhouse gas emissions. And to do so while sustaining growth, because after all that marginal 0.5% growth in the economy in the year 2008 is certainly worth much much more than the effects of southern Florida being completely under water in 2108.

So, should we trust Bush's motives? I'd sooner trust the fox to run a seminar on improving security at the henhouse.