Friday, December 30, 2005

The Chronic ..cles of Narnia

If you haven't seen it yet, click here to watch Andy Samberg's and Chris Parnell's "Lazy Sunday" Chronicles of Narnia rap, perhaps one of the funniest SNL skits this century.

Michelle Malkin is not a whistle-blower

"[T]he truth is that it's conservatives themselves who blow the whistle on their bad boys and go after the real extremism on their side of the aisle." - Michelle Malkin, Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild (2005)

"When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that John Walker is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors." - Ann Coulter in an address to the Conservative Political Action Conferance , Feb. 2, 2002

"I have a lot of respect for Ann Coulter" - Michelle Malkin, Nov. 28, 2004

"There are better ways to lay into liberals." - Michelle Malkin, linking to Ann Coulter's website, June 25, 2004


The purpose of a lawyer

"Well, I don't know as I want a lawyer to tell me what I cannot do. I hire him to tell me how to do what I want to do." - J.P. Morgan, quoted by Robert Heilbroner in The Worldly Philosophers

I don't think Mr. Morgan would have any complaints about President Bush's legal advisors.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

2005 Book of the Year

This one is sort of a no-brainer for The Daily Doubter, but the best doubt related book I've read in the past year has to be Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht. This is an amazing book that, as the title suggests, chronicles the global history of doubt and disbelief. In this work Hecht portrays doubt not as a negative force, but as a positive and creative tool that has generated discovery by driving individuals to think and question accepted thoughts about the world around them. Readers will be impressed with the rich history of doubt that extends from the time of the ancient Greeks all the way up to the present - and unlike many historical works Hecht does not focus simply on Western thought, but also traces doubt through eastern theology and philosophy.

The fact that it was six months ago that I finished this book coupled with my laziness does not allow me to do this work the justice of a proper review, so I will here defer to Tim Callahan's extensive eSkeptic review.

Do humanists believe caring = killing?

Given the low traffic of this blog, its not often that a dissenting view is expressed in the comments, so I feel compelled to link to this post since I today did happen to receive a such a comment. Join in if you like.

Online science reading

Browsing the Atheists of Silicon Valley science links this morning I came across an online edition of Richard Dawkins's 1986 publication The Blind Watchmaker. It it, Dawkins argues against teleology, i.e. the principle of directed design in nature, and explains how evolution can account for the apparent design that we observe in the world around us.

I've been meaning to read this book for sometime, so I was pleased to have come across it. From what I understand, this book would be an excellent read for those who find the claims of the Intelligent Design movement to have intuitive appeal.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Quote of the day

"Relative to the technology of the time, the Great Pyramid is the most ambitious project of man with the possible exception of the Great Wall of China; and it is certainly the most useless, without exception." - Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

On reading

"It remains that the largest and richest store of reflection on all questions of importance about the good life for humankind is literature - the novels, poems, plays, and essays that distil and debate the experience of mankind in its richest variety. It does not matter whether a literature work is tendentious or not, that is, urges a point of view or enjoins a way of life; from that point of view literature is a Babel of competing opinions and outlooks. For the earnest enquirer that is a good thing, because the more viewpoints, perspectives and experiences that come as grist to his mill through the medium of literature, the more chance he has of expanding his understanding, refining his sympathies, and considering his options. That is the great service of attentive and thoughtful reading: it educates and extends the moral imagination, affording insight into - and therefore the chance to be more tolerant of - other lives, other ways, other choices, most of which one will probably never directly experience oneself. And tolerance is a virtue which no list of virtues could well be without, and without which no human existence could be complete or good." - A.C. Grayling, What is Good?

Monday, December 26, 2005

*Sigh* ... two steps forward, five hundred years back

From Human Rights Watch

After months of opposition, President Bush yesterday accepted Senator John McCain’s amendment banning the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by U.S. personnel anywhere in the world, and prohibiting U.S. military interrogators from using interrogation techniques not listed in the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.

But the legislation containing the McCain Amendment currently includes another provision – the Graham-Levin Amendment – that would deny the five hundred-some detainees in Guantánamo Bay the ability to bring legal action seeking relief from the use of torture or cruel and inhumane treatment. And it implicitly authorizes the Department of Defense to consider evidence obtained through torture or other inhumane treatment in assessing the status of detainees held in Guantánamo Bay.

If passed into law, this would be the first time in American history that Congress has effectively permitted the use of evidence obtained through torture.
What is the point of passing legislation denouncing "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment if you simultaneously slip in an amendment that would render it toothless? Other than the obvious cynic's answer that it allows you to publically denounce abusive treatment and look good for the voters while not actually doing anything to stop abusive treatment.

An interesting post on Wikipedia

From The Long Tail

Q: Why are people so uncomfortable with Wikipedia? And Google? And, well, that whole blog thing?

A: Because these systems operate on the alien logic of probabilistic statistics, which sacrifices perfection at the microscale for optimization at the macroscale.

Q: Huh?

A: Exactly. Our brains aren't wired to think in terms of statistics and probability. We want to know whether an encyclopedia entry is right or wrong. We want to know that there's a wise hand (ideally human) guiding Google's results. We want to trust what we read.

When professionals--editors, academics, journalists--are running the show, we at least know that it's someone's job to look out for such things as accuracy. But now we're depending more and more on systems where nobody's in charge; the intelligence is simply emergent. These probabilistic systems aren't perfect, but they are statistically optimized to excel over time and large numbers. They're designed to scale, and to improve with size. And a little slop at the microscale is the price of such efficiency at the macroscale.

The whole thing is worth reading, and at the end, Anderson, the Wired editor behind the blog, links to numerous other blogs discussing his post, including this one which he highlights as a "clever and well-written response."

Friday, December 23, 2005

SC Fox News affiliate - making racism palatable

Up is down, we're living in a bizarro America, and I expect the Hatter will be here for tea, shortly.

Via Think Progress

South Carolina Fox affiliate station on the website.

It’s a web site with everything from dating advice and homemaking threads, to discussion boards that focus on news that white activists want to know. is a web site founded on the belief that the white race is a dying race.

One member says, “we really are just white folks that deeply care about preserving a future for our progeny.”

There are more than 65,000 members, and since Stormfront started in 1995 there have been more than 2,000,000 posts. Members live in all parts of the world, with close to 3,000 in and around South Carolina.

Bob Whitaker is a former Reagan administration cabinet member and an active member of Stormfront. He believes diversity and equal rights are at the center of a conspiracy against the white race. Whitaker says, “I’m worried about the disappearance of the white race.” Whitaker says too much is being done to diversify America and not enough is being done to protect people like him. “I’m worried about 2 things. I’m worried about the disappearance of the white race and I’m worried about the fact that no one is allowed to talk about the disappearance of the white race, which is even worse.”

But all Americans are provided equal protection under the law, which means equal treatment regardless of race, sex, religion or national origin.

Jamie Kelso is one of Stormfront’s senior moderators. He uses the screen name Charles A. Lindbergh, a well-known aviator who believed in the preservation of the white race. Kelso says, “I admire Charles Lindbergh as someone who throughout his life took pride in the white race and was very concerned about preserving it.”

Even though Stormfront was created by former Ku Klux Klansman Don Black, Kelso says their message isn’t one of hate. “We’re called anti-Semitic, we’re called neo-Nazi, we’re called racist [but] we’re none of that.” Instead, Stormfront members say their message is much more simple. “We don’t hate anybody. The only thing we’re concerned with is that 100 years from now, 500 years from now that there will actually be the kind of white neighborhoods and white nations that our parents and ancestors gave to us.”

Kelso says Stormfront simply provides a safe forum for people to use without fear of retaliation. “Really the political correctness today, you could even call it vicious. On the Internet you can anonymously talk to other people and open up and say what you want to say. This has really opened up a new chance for people to have free speech.”

Stormfront is a nesting ground for racism, although you might not be able to tell from the Fox affiliate fluff piece. They are part of one of the only truely fascist movements in America. Here's a sampling of some comments from the forum.

"It's a moral dilemma, on one hand you get to save a piece of White History, on the other, you are putting money in the pocket of Abe Foxman and the Communist ADL scumbags. There has got to be a means of making it balance out, but I can't say it here." - Forum member responding to the profits of the auction of a Hitler gun going to the ADL

"We have failed to attract mainstream whites because of our strategy. We keep trying to sell some pretty radical ideas to a white guy who sits on a couch, eats food, drinks beer and roots for black athletes. He does not consider the Nazis, the Klan and the prospect of a racial war an appealing alternative to his hedonistic lifestyle. Obviously, we need to find some other way to connect with this guy. We also need an upbeat, positive message, instead of this never ending doom-and-gloom. Let’s figure out the way to repackage our ideas and make them palatable to common folks." - A particularly astute member in a moment of candor on how to manufacture consent for their racist agenda

"Being brutally honest about the reality of nature, equal does not exist no two people are equal, let alone Races. The non-White Races when compared to the White Race are marked by there own example as being inferior, with the black Race being the bottom feeders of the Racial totem pole."

"I must consider myself a Supremacist. This is only to fellow Stormfronters, mind you. When I am speaking to the unconverted, I preach separatism and equality of opportunity

However, we must look at the big picture. While it's nice to say that we believe in geographical separation, we must consider the following: 1) Negroes really serve no purpose on this planet, and 2) if Whites are to reach for the stars, we may need the resources of the entire planet for our own, which would certainly include mineral-rich Africa. Just one example, hypothetically speaking.

The key issue here is this: we must win, regardless of who suffers as a result."

"Eric Rudolph" - Forum member responding to the question, "who is your hero?"

"This country would be so much better off without blacks."

"True power comes from your ability to seize control of your world and to physically manipulate it so that you gain the advantage. It is the ability to make others do as you want them to do. To truly understand power, I suggest everyone should read Orwell's _1984_." - Forum member recommending 1984 as a how-to manual

"Yes, atrocities were committed, and yes families were sometimes broken up. But by and large, I think that the Black man gained vast amounts of knowledge through his experience as a slave." - Forum member, explaining how slavery was a good thing for black Africans

"The question is: what's better for the average negro: being a slave in a protected environment, with food and drink and no need for criminal behavior or living in the ghetto like he does today?"

"But let me first say I am a complete racist against blacks based on fact, reality, experience, culture, and a whole host of other issues. I say this so you understand that I do belong here even though I deeply disagree with most of you regarding Jews." - Forum member, justifying his presence on the boards despite not hating Jews

"My questions are: Do you think Emmanuel Goldstein is Big Brother? Was George Orwell satirising Zionism? ... It is curious that Orwell would choose such a Jewish name, and make him the centre of attention in 1984. I think that Orwell was trying to teach us something: Big Brother is International Jewry." - Forum member, interpreting 1984 as an anti-Semitic tract

Et cetera.

Canary in a coal mine

There are very few people around who have given much thought to the potential ramifications of the corporatization of the internet. But there are some individuals out there who are keeping up with this issue, such as Catherine Yang who has written in Business Week that

The Internet has always been a model of freedom. Today the Web is flourishing because anyone can click to any site or download any service they want on an open network. But now the phone and cable companies that operate broadband networks have a different vision. If they get their way, today's Information Highway could be laden with tollgates, express lanes, and traffic tie-ups -- all designed to make money for the network companies.
This has yet to come about, and we're still in the early stages of decidng how exactly to regulate the growing cable and DSL networks. But it would be nice to confront this issue before it becomes a full blown problem. One would think the 80's and the consolodation of all major media into the hands of a few corporate owners would have taught us a lesson.

Abominable quote of the day

"I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo." - Ann Coulter

That such views have been slowly migrating to the mainstream for the last fifty years is truly disturbing. I become increasingly worried that reactionaries, fundamentalists, oligarchs, and power-mongers are succeeding at turning back the clock on human progress, and that they will not stop until they have returned us to the Dark ages. I hope that I'm just being paranoid, yet fear that I'm not.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Democratic tool of the day

The U.S. Congress Votes Database

Brought to you by the Washington Post, the database catalogues every vote of Congress since 1991.

Book recommendation

In What is Good? The Search for the Best Way to Live, A. C. Grayling takes the reader on a broad yet clear and concise survey of the quest to define 'good' throughout Western man's intellectual history. Grayling starts with the classical Greeks and makes his way towards the present, stopping along the way to examine in brief major developments in ethical thought.

Looking at history, Grayling sees two major conficting views on the good: the humanistic and the theistic. He is by admission partisan, and views the humanistic conception of good, defined as pursuit of happiness so long as it does not intefere with the happiness of others, autonomy, independence, and the cultivation of the intellect, to be inherently superior to the theistic one, which Grayling sees as being about heteronomy, nihilism, and obediance to authority.

Where humanism premises autonomy as the basis of the good life, religion premises heteronomoy. In humanist ethics the individual is responsible for achieving the good as a free member of a community of free agents; in religious ethics he achieves the good by obediance to an authority that tells him what his goals are and how he should live. Given that the metaphysics of religion is man-made, and that human psychology is the source of belief in the power of transcendent authority to reward obediance or punish its opposite ('sin', one must remember, explicitly means disobediance) it follows that the chief motivation for religious ethics is the need felt by potentates of many kinds to exert control over individuals, to limit their freedom, to make them conform, obey, submit, follow where led, accept what is meted out to them, and resign themselves to their lot.
What's more, humanists ground their conception of what is good in the reality and facts of the human condition, while theists ground theirs in a transcendental realm which is out of reach of human experience. It is Grayling's opinion that the religious conception of good is thus at odds with the pursuit of knowledge, and must by necessity tend to be reactionary and fundamentalist in nature. But unlike some militant atheists (take Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins, for instance) Grayling presents his views in a a non antagonistic and non confrontational manner.

If you have ever been at a loss to explain to someone what or why exactly secular humanists feel the way they do about religion, then this would be the book to read or recommend to others. If you are a believer then this book is also for you, as it offers an insight into the perspective of the humanist non-believer.

Intelligent Designer of the gaps

The ID case
  1. Complex biological system is observed.
  2. Explanation for said biological system is lacking.
  3. It is concluded that an Intelligent Designer did it, but we don't know how the Intelligent Designer did it
In step 3 the proponent of intelligent design has made the Intelligent Designer a tautology for "I don't know" and attempted to pass that off as an explanation. This is the same argument that has been made throughout the ages; identify some mystery and then invoke God as the explanation ... that is until an actual explanation comes along.

Why is it thundering? Because Zeus is making it thunder.
How did this complex biological system develop? An intelligent designer developed it.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Blog post of the day

The Great Minnesota Progressive Newswire on the 57th anniversay of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Baleful quote of the day

"I've done it in the past, and I'll do it in the future" - Peter Farrara, on being paid (by lobbyst Jack Abramoff) to write op-eds favorable to clients of Abramoff

Nicholas Kristof challenges O'Reilly to visit Darfur

One of the things I miss most about the New York Times editorial section since it went to pay access only is being able to read the columns of Nicholas Kristof, one of the few members of the press who has consistently written about the genocide in Darfur.

Thanks to Raw Story, I see that Kristof has gotten fed up with the faux war on Christmas being sold at Fox News, and, like me, has challenged Bill O'Reilly to take a trip to Darfur to see "a real war against Christmas values." Kristof's frustration echoes the sentiment that I had expressed just days ago, and rightly urges O'Reilly to use his influence to help these people, instead of wasting time on a fictitious "war on Christmas."

So I have a challenge for you, Mr. O'Reilly: If you really want to defend traditional values, then come with me on a trip to Darfur. I'll introduce you to mothers who have had their babies clubbed to death in front of them, to teenage girls who have been gang-raped and then mutilated -- and to the government-armed thugs who do these things.

You'll have to leave your studio, Bill. You'll encounter pure evil. If you're like me, you'll be scared. If you try to bully some of the goons in Darfur, they'll just hack your head off. But you'll also meet some genuine conservative Christians -- aid workers who live the Gospel instead of sputtering about it -- and you'll finally be using your talents for an important cause.
Meanwhile, O'Reilly is now comparing the silence of Catholic leaders over the Christmas issue, the one he has almost single-handedly created, to their silence over the pedophilia scandal.

Music quote of the day

"And so castles made of sand, melts into the sea, eventually" - Jimi Hendrix, "Castles Made of Sand"

Friday, December 16, 2005

Plato's take on bullshit

Despite their somewhat differing philosphical views, one thing that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all shared in common was a great disdain for the Sophists. The Sophists were a professional group skilled in the art of rhetoric who taught debating skills, famous for being able to argue either side of any given issue persuasively.

What irked the three aforementioned philosphers a great deal was the Sophists purported ability to "prove" any position. Plato and Aristotle viewed sophists very much as the ancient equivalent of the bullshitter, a person to whom truth is incidental to his purposes. Indeed, it is through the works of Plato and Aristotle that the negative connotation of the word sophist has come into common usage.

In the dialogue Gorgias, Plato, using Socrates as a mouthpiece, questions Gorgias (who is based on a well known contemporary Sophist of the same name) about the nature of rhetoric. Gorgias admits to Socrates that the purpose of rhetoric is persuasion

After this admission Socrates begins to ask Gorgia if there is not any other means of persuasion besides rhetoric, and if there is a difference between "having learned" and "having believed." The point Socrates is making is that there are two forms of persuasion: one which leads to knowledge , and one which leads to belief without knowledge.

Up until this point Gorgias had maintained that rhetoric was the most noble of arts. Here Socrates begins to challenge that claim. The ultimate point that Plato seeks to make through Socrates is that the rhetoric of the Sophists, by its creation of belief irrespective of truth, is an ignoble art. Plato draws this charge out of his metaphysics, in which he believes the good is the pursuit of truth, to which Plato means a higher plane of transcendent reality (Plato's cave parable illustrates this view.)

While I don't think Plato's metaphysics has much merit - it was through the early Church fathers absorption of Plato's metaphysics (via Plotinus) that the notion of a "higher" Heavenly plane of reality, more real than this one, came to be a part of Church doctrine - I don't think one needs accept Plato's metaphysical beliefs to appreciate his criticism of rhetoric directed at getting someone to believe something irrespective of its truth value.

Apparently, bullshit was as irksome in Plato's day as it is now.

Blogger's Note - While the Sophists were heavily criticized, they were not completely without merit. In a future entry I'll explain what the Sophists got right.

Quote of the day

"The instinct of a religion, when it has power, is to coerce compliance with its orthodoxy, and to pursue or punish those who will not conform." - A.C. Grayling, What is Good?

On Wikipedia's reliability

Via Media Channel

While any user can theoretically change anything, the site doesn't run completely wild. Volunteer administrators mediate debates and require contributors to provide external sources on contentious assertions. Paragraphs that draw excessive debate may be temporarily removed to special "discussion" areas, where opposing contributors negotiate and hammer out paragraphs in ways that will satisfy both sides.

The process inevitably turns up a wealth of interesting background material, if not definitive conclusions. Because of the combative, quasi-democratic vetting and editing process, the quality of the entries actually improves when the topics are controversial and the readership is broad. Opposing sides fight to ferret out inconsistencies on the other side, as reputations are built up from scratch on the site.

Nothing new about torture

Naomi Klein, in an editorial for the Guardian, points out that American government has embraced the use of torture since the Vietnam war, and that the only thing new about the Bush administration's policy is it's open embrace of torture. What the Bush administration has attempted to do is to normalize and legalize these actions.

But let's be clear about what is unprecedented: not the torture, but the openness. Past administrations kept their "black ops" secret; the crimes were sanctioned but they were committed in the shadows, officially denied and condemned. The Bush administration has broken this deal: post-9/11, it demanded the right to torture without shame, legitimised by new definitions and new laws.

Despite all the talk of outsourced torture, the real innovation has been in-sourcing, with prisoners being abused by US citizens in US-run prisons and transported to third countries in US planes. It is this departure from clandestine etiquette that has so much of the military and intelligence community up in arms: Bush has robbed everyone of plausible deniability. This shift is of huge significance. When torture is covertly practised but officially and legally repudiated, there is still hope that if atrocities are exposed, justice could prevail. When torture is pseudo-legal and those responsible deny that it is torture, what dies is what Hannah Arendt called "the juridical person in man". Soon victims no longer bother to search for justice, so sure are they of the futility, and danger, of that quest. This is a larger mirror of what happens inside the torture chamber, when prisoners are told they can scream all they want because no one can hear them and no one is going to save them.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Quote of the Season

"I believe in Christmas and in every day that has been set apart for joy." - Robert Green Ingersoll, "A Christmas Sermon" (1892)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

DuPont settles with EPA for $16.5 million

From Reuters

Chemicals maker DuPont Co. agreed on Wednesday to pay $16.5 million to settle with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over reporting data about a potentially hazardous compound used to make non-stick cookware.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Song lyrics of the Day

From Monty Python's The Meaning of Life:

The Galaxy Song

[Spoken]: Whenever life gets you down Mrs. Brown,
And things seem hard or tough,
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft
And you feel that you've had quite enough...

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It's a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us it's just three thousand light years wide.
We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Abominable quote of the day

"Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war!" - Michael Reagan

Why should Dean be put to death or put in prison? For commiting a thought crime. For stating that we can't win the war in Iraq. Nevermind that his statement has been misconstrued(Dean actually meant we can't "win" following the current course of action). According to Reagan, real Americans, true patriots, are not allowed to hold the belief that the war in Iraq is unwinnable. No, to think that is equal to treason.

Quotes like this frighten me. They are a window into a mindset where beliefs have become absolute, where doubt is never entertained. Its a mindset which leads to authoritarianism, because hegemony of belief can only be maintained through manipulation, supression, and violence directed at those who would challenge orthodox beliefs.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Literary quote of the day

"'But I don’t want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
'Oh, you can’t help that,' said the Cat. 'We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.'
'How do you know I’m mad?' said Alice.
'You must be,” said the Cat. 'or you wouldn’t have come here.'" - Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Inspired by Gawker's response in the open letter to Christmas-under-attack pundits entry.

Enough! An open letter to the Christmas-under-attack pundits

Stop with the "war on Christmas". You guys don't know what war is. War isn't the cashier at Wal-mart wishing you a "happy holidays" instead of a merry Christmas. War isn't overzealous politically correct officials renaming Christmas trees Holiday trees.

Want to know what war is? Go to Darfur. Ask a local woman who has been raped and mutilated, who has had her husband and children murdered, who has been driven from her home and made a refugee if she would consider being wished happy holidays "war" on her values.

From Nov. 28 to Dec. 2 Fox News ran 58 segments on the "war on Christmas". 58. How many segments did they run on Darfur in that time period? I don't have figures in front of me, but I'm guessing they range from 0 to 0.

Quit fabricating a culture "war" and do your jobs. I used the lack of coverage on Darfur since it so dramatically highlights the banality of this issue, but there are plenty of other legitimate news stories which are not getting the coverage they deserve.

Quote of the day

"Though propaganda and spin exist on a continuum, they are different in essence. To spin is to offer a contention, usually specious, in response to a critical argument or a negative news story. It does not necessarily involve lying or misleading anyone about factual matters. Habitual spin is irksome, especially to the journalists upon whom it is practiced, but it does not threaten democracy. Propaganda is far more malignant. A calculated and systematic effort to manage public opinion, it transcends mere lying and routine political dishonesty. When the Bush administration manufactures fake 'news,' suppresses real news, disguises the former as the latter, and challenges the legitimacy of the independent press, it corrodes trust in leaders, institutions, and, to the rest of the world, the United States as a whole." - Jacob Weisberg, from his Slate piece "Beyond Spin"

Update for the New American Newspeak Dictionary

Via Howard Kurtz, today's addition to the New American Newspeak Dictionary is:

Reporter compensation: payoff

The pragmatic case against torture

From the New York Times

The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.

The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.

The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.
This begs the question: how much of this administration's case for war with Iraq was based on testimony obtained under "enhanced interrogation" techniques, techniques that have gone so far as to result in at least eight deaths.

Edit - And let's not forget Mathew Yglesias's idea that this could actually be construed as the pragmatic case for torture, depending on your methodology.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

An essay on Doubt

I'm green with envy, as I just got done reading the Dec. 8th, 2005 eSkeptic (not yet added to the website) which contains an essay on doubt which is quite cleverly composed entirely of quotes, one of which happens to be the the tagline of this blog. I wish I had written it myself.

a Very Short Essay on Doubt
(composed of very famous quotes)

by Michael Canfield

I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.

— Bertrand Russell

To have doubted one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.

— Descartes


The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

— Bertrand Russell

The best lack all convictions, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

— Yeats

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.

— Voltaire


Doubt ‘til thou canst doubt no more … doubt is thought and thought is life. Systems which end doubt are devices for drugging thought.

— Albert Guerard

DuPont update

Previously I blogged about a little known of case in which DuPont had allegedly covered up (for 20 years) the toxicity of the C8 chemical which it had been putting into Wood County West Virginia as a consequence of its teflon production.

Following up on that story, I see that the EPA and DuPont have reached a settlement, but that the details of the deal will not be released until Jan. 13.

Amazing how DuPont is able to minimize negative publicity from things like this ... in all likelihood they were aware they were putting a cancer causing agent into the local environment, and for 20 years they withheld this information from the local residents and the EPA.

For example, back in 1999, DuPont dumped C8 into a local landfill, which then leaked into the near by Dry Run Creek. 280 cows who drank from stream died as a result of ingesting c8. The Tennant family, who owned the farm the cows belonged to, sued DuPont and settled with them, but part of the settlement agreement was that the Tennant's remain silent about the case.

Dig some more and you'll start turning up cases like this.

Here's another example

An oyster fisherman from Mississippi who claimed chemicals from a DuPont factory caused his rare blood cancer was awarded $14 million in actual damages in the first of 1,996 lawsuits involving the plant.

A jury found DuPont DeLisle at fault Friday for Glen Strong's multiple myeloma. Strong's wife received $1.5 million for loss of "love and companionship." The jury was scheduled to meet again Monday to decide on punitive damages.

This might be an opportune time to note that the EPA is currently reviewing plans to relax the requirements of the Toxic Release Inventory which requires companies to disclose the chemicals they produce, release, and dispose of.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Peter Singer on the hidden costs of factory farmed animals

In his first article for his new syndicated column The Ethics of Life, Peter Singer makes an interesting case for improving the living conditions of factory farm livestock which, despite Singer being well known as a defender of animal rights, is not grounded in an appeal for the ethical treatment of animals, but instead is based in economics and health concerns.

Singer writes that the cramped living conditions of chickens who are fed antibiotics to keep them growing in such a squalid environment is a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant disease and potentially deadly viruses such as the avian bird flu, and that government spending for preparations against a possible epidemic is "a kind of subsidy to the poultry industry."

And ultimately, these subsidies shift the burden of paying the cost of bringing their product to market onto the taxpayer.

Like most subsidies, it is bad economics. Factory farming spread because it seemed to be cheaper than more traditional methods. In fact, it was cheaper only because it passed some of its costs on to others – for example, to people who lived downstream or downwind from the factory farms, and could no longer enjoy clean water and air.

Now we see that these were only a small part of the total costs. Factory farming is passing far bigger costs – and risks – on to all of us. In economic terms, these costs should be “internalized” by the factory farmers rather than being shifted onto the rest of us.

That won’t be easy to do, but we could make a start by imposing a tax on factory-farm products until enough revenue is raised to pay for the precautions that governments now have to take against avian influenza. Then we might finally see that chicken from the factory farm really isn’t so cheap after all.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Two new resources

Phylotaxis - This is an extremely cool feature from Seed Magazine which allows you to browse the day's science news. Just look at this description of the device from their About page

The individual beads of the Phylotaxis represent an ever-changing zeitgeist of science news in our world, populated automatically every few hours by a computer program that scours a slew of online news sources and blogs that focus on science. The Phylotaxis is therefore beyond human control, autonomously composing its own new identity, based on what's happening in the world of science.
Seriously, check this site out. (Thanks to Chris Mooney for the recommendation.)

SkepticWiki - This is a recently launched wiki which, as the name implies, is devoted to skepticism. It looks to be a promising tool in the skeptic's arsenal, but what also intrigues me is that since this site is in its early stage of development we'll be able to chart the development of the wiki. Wiki's fascinate me; they seem to be a near perfect example of John Dewey's view of the democratic process as the communal pursuit and construction of truth. (Thanks to Skeptico for bringing this to my attention)

Hitchens defends Iraq's free press

Chris Hitchens has received much criticism for his writings on Iraq (including some from me), but I can't find much to criticize in his latest piece denouncing the propaganda planted by the Department of Defense in Iraq. Hitchens, unlike several apologists for this propaganda, recognizes that it is both wrong in itself (for both practical and ethical reasons) and that this sort of activity can not be aimed solely at the people of Iraq, but must inevitably be directed at the American public as well.

It is not just a matter of lying to the Iraqis and to neighboring countries, bad as that would be. The feedback must also have been intended to deceive the American taxpayers whose money was used for the fraud in the first place.
Now I just wonder how long it is before Chris realizes that this administration has been doing this from the start.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The War on Christmas

If you've been watching much Fox News this holiday season then you "know" that liberals and secular humanists are at war with Christmas.

The Green Knight has written an excellent rebuttal of this ridiculous meme.

As I've noted before, the denigration of "liberals" is a form of out-group politics in which all of societies ills are projected onto a particular group. The textbook example of this phenomena is the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Nazis. To bring this point round full circle, the folks over at News Hounds have noticed that at one point, the Jewish were accused of plotting a conspiracy against Christmas, too.

Bill O'Reilly has joined the chorus of FOX commentators who bemoan the fact that poor old Christmas is under attack. The following words, I believe, sum up his position pretty well, even though they are not his:

"And it has become pretty general. Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth. Easter they will have the same difficulty in finding Easter cards that contain any suggestion that Easter commemorates a certain event. There will be rabbits and eggs and spring flowers, but a hint of the Resurrection will be hard to find. Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards."

To whom do these words belong?

Sean Hannity? John Gibson? Jerry Falwell? Pat Robertson? Ann Coulter? Michelle Malkin? Newt Gingrich? Brent Bozell? Mark Hyman? Rush Limbaugh? Davis Asman? John Kasich?

None of the above.

They were penned by Henry Ford in 1921 in his tract "The International Jew," a vile piece of anti-semitic garbage written by someone who blamed the International Jew Conspiracy for every ill that has ever befallen mankind.
And its also interesting to see that the author of that blog entry states that the pundits at Fox remind her of the John Birch Society. Its interesting because in the 1960's the John Birch Society was the group that was claiming Christmas was under attack (it was the Communists who were doing the attacking, of course.) The only significant difference was that back then it was rightfully considered conspiracy nonsense.

Genocide for sale

If the world's only superpower says you're committing genocide and should stop what do you do? In today's modern world, you hire a lobbyist. Of course, if US companies were barred from doing business with you Condoleeza Rice would have to grant you a State Department waiver to do so.

Fortunately for the Khartoum government - the one which has sponsored the Janjaweed militia responsible for the genocide in Darfur - our State Department did grant them a waiver to hire Robert Cabelly of C/R International for $530,000 a year.

On K Street, even genocide can be purchased, apparently.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Quote of the day

"A sword put into salt water will rust" - Lao-tzu

Edit - Since John so kindly pointed out that this quote doesn't make much sense without any context, I'll now provide some. The first I'd heard this quote referenced was by military historian Martin Van Creveld who used the metaphor to describe what happens to military forces which find themselves fighting a nonconventional insurgency (France in Algeria, Soviet Union in Afghanistan, United States in Vietnam, etc.) Van Creveld was one of the first military scholars to recognize and identify that interstate warfare would be replaced by small scale intrastate conflicts and that the role of the military would shift towards global policework, and that the military was thus trained for the wrong kind of war.

According to Van Creveld, it is very difficult (nigh impossible) for a strong nation to occupy a weaker nation and fight an insurgency for any extended period of time and win.

In private life, an adult who keeps beating down on a five year old – even such a one as originally attacked him with a knife – will be perceived as committing a crime; therefore he will lose the support of bystanders and end up by being arrested, tried and convicted. In international life, an armed force that keeps beating down on a weaker opponent will be seen as committing a series of crimes; therefore it will end up by losing the support of its allies, its own people, and its own troops. Depending on the quality of the forces – whether they are draftees or professionals, the effectiveness of the propaganda machine, the nature of the political process, and so on – things may happen quickly or take a long time to mature. However, the outcome is always the same. He (or she) who does not understand this does not understand anything about war; or, indeed, human nature.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lite blogging

Blogging will be lite (if at all) over the next few days. In the meanwhile, here is a link to the Sudan Tribune, a site which compiles the latest news coming out of Sudan and neighboring regions.

The situation in Darfur is still bad

Who would have thought that a genocide could become worse? But after two years of heartbreaking slaughter, rape and mayhem, the situation in Darfur is now spiraling downward.

More villages are again being attacked and burned - over the last week thatch-roof huts have been burning near the town of Gereida and far to the northwest near Jebel Mun.

Aid workers have been stripped, beaten and robbed. A few more attacks on aid workers, and agencies may pull out - leaving the hapless people of Darfur with no buffer between themselves and the butchers.

The international community has delegated security to the African Union, but its 7,000 troops can’t even defend themselves, let alone protect civilians. One group of 18 peacekeepers was kidnapped last month, and then 20 soldiers sent to rescue them were kidnapped as well; four other soldiers and two contractors were killed in a separate incident.

What will happen if the situation continues to deteriorate sharply and aid groups pull out? The U.N. has estimated that the death toll could then rise to 100,000 a month.

The turmoil has also infected neighboring Chad, which is inhabited by some of the same tribes as Sudan. Diplomats and U.N. officials are increasingly worried that Chad could tumble back into its own horrific civil war as well.

This downward spiral has happened because for more than two years, the international community has treated this as a tolerable genocide. In my next column, my last from Darfur, I’ll outline the steps we need to take. But the essential starting point is outrage: a recognition that countering genocide must be a global priority.

Update for the New American Newspeak Dictionary

Thanks to the Cunning Realist for catching this one. Today's edition to the New American Newspeak Dictionary is:

Rejectionist: insurgent

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How we got our legs

This article from Scientific American is about how developmental evolutionary biologists have come to their current understanding about the way in which our tetrapod ancenstors moved out of the sea and began walking on land.

What's more, it demonstrates the process by which scientists construct an understanding of our world through interpretation of available evidence, and how they revise it accordingly in the face of new discoveries.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A "flaw" to be respected

From the LA Times article on Col. Ted Westhusing who committed suicide in Iraq

Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.
Right, what a terrible flaw, thinking that in time of war morals should be the determinant factor rather than monetary concerns.

"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses."
Have we turned a corner here? This psychologist thinks there was something wrong with Westhusing because he believed that war profiteering was unethical, that the primary motivational factor in a time of war should be whether the action is right or not, not whether the action will make a profit or not.*

If I had assessed his case I would have possibly concluded that he was unable to cope with perceived ethical violations, but I would not have gone so far as to say there was something wrong with him for believing there is something fundamentally amoral about doing an action because it is profitable rather than because its right.

*My conscience won't let me say this without qualification. The psychologist did not explicitly say this. She specifically stated Westhusing's problem was that he was unable to get past the concept that rightness should be "the sole motivator for businesses." This strikes me as spin and rationalization, though, as I find it difficult to believe that Westhusing was unfamiliar with the basic prinicples of capitalism and that at age 44 he would be driven to suicide by the discovery that businesses don't operate with the sole motivation that their actions are good.

Baleful quotes of the day

"If Jose Padilla lives in a police state, then so do you." - Eric Alterman, from his Altercation blog

"The position of the executive branch is that it can be judge, jury and executioner" - Eric M. Freedman, defense attorney quoted in this New York Times article regarding the indefinite detention of Jose Padilla

Jose Padilla is a US citizen. The Bush administration has denied him his 5th Amendment right for two years.

"Throwing their own words back at them"

"There's overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government" - Vice President Cheney, Jan. 22, 2004

"Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence, and were free to draw their own conclusion" - Vice President Cheney, in a speech at the Frontiers of Freedom Institute 2005 Ronald Reagan Regala

From the National Journal (via Media Channel)

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


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

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

Monday, November 28, 2005

A fair request, in my opinion

Don't Bomb US

This is the blog started as a protest by Al Jazeera staffers in response to allegations that George Bush wanted to bomb the Al Jazeera news station in Qatar (which is an allied nation) back in April of 2004. Since Prime Minister Blair has threatened to prosecute anyone who leaks the memo which allegedly details the conversation in which Blair talks Bush out of this idea we have no way of knowing to what extent it is true.

As usual, our media here has shown a lack of interest in the story, which is truly disheartening considering this is a matter relevant to the freedom of the press.

But what is perhaps most disturbing to me, is that I have heard people who believe that there would have been nothing wrong with bombing Al Jazeera, because Al Jazeera is "anti-American."

First, despite how the station is portrayed here in the States, Al Jazeera is a credible news agency. The Economist, possibly the most respected and middle of center news mag around, a few months back had a special feature detailing this, and how the station is fairer than they are credited with being.

*According to the Feb. 26 - March 24 edition of the magazine writes that Al Jazeera was the first channel to provide a diversity of voices for Arab peoples, and that it grants air time to contrasting opinions (at one point being accused of Zionism for interviewing Israeli officials.) And a Brookings Institution survey found that there was little difference in opinions towards Americans between al-Jazeera viewers and nonviewers.

Secondly, so what if they are anti-American? Are they not entitled to that perspective? I don't think it sets a terriby good example of spreading freedom and democracy to be blowing up news stations that broadcast things you find disagreeable. Nevermind that bombing a civilian news agency, disregardless of what propaganda they may or may not be disseminating, is illegal, as far as I'm aware.

*Section added Dec. 9th (as promised)

Paul Kurtz on "the pursuit of excellence"

Whenever I receive a new issue of Free Inquiry in the mail, the first thing I do is flip it open to that issue's editorial by Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Kurtz is, in my opinion, the most reasonable voice of humanism on the planet alive today. He manages to express his views and defend his values without resorting to vitriol and without insulting those he disagrees with.

Which is why everytime I hear someone like Bill O'Reilly talk about the way in which secular humanists are ruining this country I have to wonder if he knows any actual secular humanists or if he's ever read an issue of Free Inquiry.

Take for example, the latest editorial by Kurtz, "The Pursuit of Excellence." In it, Kurtz explains that although humanists value toleration and defend the right to privacy, that does not mean we necessarily condone or remain uncritical of vulgarity and violence in society. He suggests that humanists must encourage a cultural Renaissance and reminds that "caring for others is essential."

I ask, is there really anyone that disagrees with such sentiment?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Blogger's Correction

I ran the following correction in my post on the use of white phosphorous in Fallujah, but since most readers aren't going to be looking back at that post I'm recopying it here since I'd hate to think I had helped spread erroneous information.

This [citing 50,000 civilians remaining in Fallujah at the time of the seige] is an error on my part for using the first figure I saw without checking other sources, especially given the source I used for the 50,000 figure was Project Censored. I've since seen sources estimate that the civilians in Fallujah numbered as low as 5,000 at the time of attack, most notably by Middle East expert Juan Cole, so the number is likely somewhere in between those two estimates.

And to keep the discussion going, here is a link to Juan Cole's post on this subject which I referenced above. There's good debate in the comments of that thread, also.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Art of the Day

Don Quixote (1955) - Pablo Picasso

This is another painting from my youth. My parents had it up in our living room.

What impresses me about the style displayed here is that although it seems almost amateurish and "scribbly" it still manages to evoke amost perfectly the Quixotic feel of the novel it was commisioned as tribute to (Picasso painted this for the 350th anniversay of the publication of Part 1 of Don Quixote by Cervantes.) What is really neat about the picture, to me as least, was that I grew up with this picture not knowing what it was from, since, as I did not develop an appreciation for art until later in life, I was never inclined to bother to pay any attention to such a thing as that. But when I first was exposed to the novel I immediately recognized that the painting was about the novel. Good job, Picasso.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Blogging Hiatus

I'll be out of town visiting relatives for the holiday and will likely not being blogging again until next week.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Teddy Roosevelt's ghost responds to Dick Cheney

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else." - Theodore Roosevelt, from a 1918 editorial for the Kansas City Star

Dick Cheney versus truth, decency, and democracy

At some point in the future I'd like my blogging to center around things like art, literature, science, philosophy, history, etc. but so long as there are anti-humanists in politics like Dick Cheney making speeches like this one then I feel compelled to respond.

The suggestion that’s been made by some U.S. senators that the President of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city
The suggestion that the President and his administration misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is without question true. That Cheney, a man who on Sept. 8, 2002 said, "we do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to aquire the equipment he needs ... to build a nuclear weapon" and on Jan. 22, 2004 said that, "there's overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government" would have the audacity to call anyone who questioned this administration's pre-war intelligence claims "dishonest and reprehensible" is beyond description.

Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence, and were free to draw their own conclusions.

The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out. American soldiers and Marines are out there every day in dangerous conditions and desert temperatures –- conducting raids, training Iraqi forces, countering attacks, seizing weapons, and capturing killers –- and back home a few opportunists are suggesting they were sent into battle for a lie.
Allright, now this is where I really start to get ticked off. Cheney is here saying that the deaths of our soldiers is the fault of persons who have criticized and questioned this administration. Of course, Cheney doesn't believe their deaths is the fault of the people who sent them to a country to fight a war driven by blind ideological belief and which was executed with utter incompetence. No. It's the fault of the people who excersise their democratic right of voicing discontent. If we would all just become loyal subjects who accepted the truth as handed down by our philosopher kings Iraq would turn into magic fantasy land.

The President and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone -– but we’re not going to sit by and let them rewrite history.
See? He's a bully. Democrats (and the few Republicans - Chuck Hagel) who stand up to him are without backbone. Real men don't question leaders, they follow. Or maybe, real men understand that to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs, or 30,000 to 100,000 lives.

And historal accuracy is now rewriting history? Cheney is well into Orwell territory here.

We’re going to continue throwing their own words back at them.
Please, do. So that perhaps they will throw his own words back at him so that Cheney will be crushed under the weight of his own lies. At any rate, the general American populace understands that this issue is not about whether Democrats or Republicans were right about the war or whether Democrats believed the intelligence or not, its about whether or not the administration was justified in making the claims it did or not.

And this nation will stand behind our fighting forces with pride and without wavering until the day of victory.
See the subtle insertion of Newspeak? If you're not on the look out for it you'd almost think Cheney was speaking regular English. "Without wavering" means without questioning our leadership or rethinking our policy. This administration would rather doom our soldiers to a decade of death and chaos than to tacitly admit an error by changing our strategy in Iraq.

And here I'm going to borrow my ending from the Rude Pundit's take on this speech (because I'm in a particularly foul mood)

And when it was over, Cheney was whisked away where he could give off his shape, melt back into the pool of vile, gelatinous savagery that is his true form, and be stored away until he is needed again.

Bush versus science

President Bush is one of, if not the most, anti-science presidents we've had in United States history. And the polls reflect that. Bush has a 6% approval rating among scientists/engineers and an 87% disapproval rating.

Meanwhile, the GAO recently released a report detailing the FDA's "unusual" behavior regarding its failure to approve the Plan B contraception pill.

Quote of the day

"When you are born, you are given the key to the gates of heaven. Unfortunately, the same key opens the gates of hell." - Unknown ancient Buddhist and physicist and Richard Feynman's favorite quote (as quoted in Dreaming the Future by Clifford Pickover)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Et tu Bob Woodward?

Bob Woodward was leaked the identity of Valerie Plame "more than two years ago" yet kept this information to himself. How sad is that? A man who had been one of the exemplars of the value of investigative journalism now appears to have fallen down to the level of being a shill for those in power - its almost operatic. That's the exact opposite reason to keep a source secret than when Woodward was protecting "Deep Throat." How could Woodward allow himself to fall into a position so similar to that of Judy Miller ... I would hate to think that what I said about Miller goes ditto for Woodward.

I would be more inclined to give Woodward the benefit of the doubt if he had simply remained silent about the case, but Woodward has been vocally critical of the investigation. Something just seems wrong to me about Woodward having insider information, withholding it from the public, requesting Walter Pincus keep silent about his involvement* so as to avoid being subpoened by Fitzgerald while at the same time taking the liberty to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Blogger's Note- After writing this I noticed that Rory O'Connor had drawn the same comparison (although in a much more detailed and thought out fashion), and beat me by a day.

*I had mistakenly written that Woodward made this request to his editor. In actuality, Woodward withheld this information from his editor, as well.

Remembering a leader in the area of religious freedom

Reason magazine on Roger Williams

Americans don’t know much about history. Polls regularly indicate that upward of 95 percent of us can’t even name the century in which we were born or say whether we fought the Nazis or the Soviets during the Battle of New Orleans.

None of which excuses our collective amnesia regarding Roger Williams, the first American explicator of religious tolerance and secular government. If ever there was a time to recover his legacy, it’s now, with Christian zealots at home pushing creation science in schools and, far more important, Islamic fundamentalists abroad swearing death to godless infidels.

It’s a national shame that Williams is remembered, if at all, as the namesake of a low-ranked law school and the founder of Providence, Rhode Island, the grim port town whose main growth industry is serving as the backdrop for gross-out comedies by the Farrelly brothers.
Read on to see how Williams was one of the first men in the colonies to argue for the property rights of Indians and to argue that civil magistrates had no business enforcing religious rules, and how Williams helped establish Rhode Island with the first fully secular charter granted by the English government.


Via Media Channel (from the Washington Post)

A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress.

The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.

The CIA's secret budget

Probably common knowledge to most, but I was unaware that the CIA budget is kept secret until recently. Now, when I heard that, my immediate thought was, "um, shouldn't the public have some idea of how much money we're spending on the CIA?" And looking at the Mother Jones blog today, it turns out that the answer is, "yes, we should." As Bradford Plumer points out, article 1, section 9, clause 7 of the Constitution says

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.
So the CIA's secret budget (44 billion - it was leaked this year) is in violation of the Constitution. But this is nothing new, Plumer notes, as government spending secrecy has been a norm ever since the days of George Washington.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Halliburton's new low

War-profiteering and illegal business with regimes under sanction wasn't making Halliburton enough money, apparently, so they've added a new profit making tool to their arsenal: not paying workers. Read about it.

Update for the New American Newspeak Dictionary

Via the Brad Blog, today's edition to the New American newspeak dictionary

Enhanced interrogation technique: torture

War is profit

From Corpwatch

Even without all the specifics, it is clear that Lockheed is supplying the U.S. war in Iraq with a vast range of both personnel and materiel. In addition providing interrogators, it is currently seeking retired Army majors or lieutenant colonels to develop short- and long-range planning at the biggest U.S. base in Iraq: Camp Anaconda, in Balad, northern Iraq. Also being courted for work in Iraq are "red switch" experts to run the military's secure communications systems.

On the materiel side, Lockheed's Keyhole and Lacrosse satellites beam images from the war back to the military; its U-2 and the SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, F-16, F/A-22 jet fighters, and F-117 stealth attack fighters were used to "shock and awe" the Iraqis at the start of the US invasion; and ground troops employed its Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and the Javelin portable missiles in the invasion of Fallujah last year.

The company's reach and influence go far beyond the military. A New York Times profile of the company in 2004 opened with the sentence: "Lockheed Martin doesn't run the United States. But it does help run a breathtakingly big part of it."

"Over the last decade, Lockheed, the nation's largest military contractor, has built a formidable information-technology empire that now stretches from the Pentagon to the Post Office. It sorts your mail and totals your taxes. It cuts Social Security checks and counts the United States census. It runs space flights and monitors air traffic. To make all that happen, Lockheed writes more computer code than Microsoft" writes Tim Weiner.

The national security reporter for the New York Times explains how Lockheed gets its business: "Men who have worked, lobbied and lawyered for Lockheed hold the posts of secretary of the Navy, secretary of transportation, director of the national nuclear weapons complex, and director of the national spy satellite agency."

"Giving one company this much power in matters of war and peace is as dangerous as it is undemocratic," says Bill Hartung, senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York. "Lockheed Martin is now positioned to profit from every level of the war on terror from targeting to intervention, and from occupation to interrogation.
And sometimes War is Profit combines with War is Sell. For example, General Electic owns NBC. General Electric manufactures weapons parts for Lockheed Martin and itself has military contracts. GE stands to profit from a war. NBC news covers that war. Conflict of interest?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Asbestos "reform"

If you're like me, you may have been scratching your head when you heard President Bush cite the need for tort reform in the area of asbestos litigation last January in his State of the Union address. Although I did not doubt that there may have been need for preventing frivolous law suits, I could not imagine it was enough of a problem to merit mention in such an important speech.

That was, of course, before I spent approximately two minutes on Google and found that Halliburton inherited a bulk of asbestos claims (some 300,000) through its purchase of DII Industries in 1998 under CEO Dick Cheney. Yes, this administration is that shameless.

Checking Mass Media Funk over at the Skeptic's Refuge I see that Robert Carrol is skeptical of the tort reform movement, too, and has written on the asbestos issue. What Carroll asks is why should these companies be protected "from suffering serious financial consequences for their assault upon millions of Americans."

War is sell

First, a quick note - I've been a bit too occupied over the last several days to blog much, and the next few days look to be just as hectic. I'll try to fit some blogging in where I can.

Firm Helps U.S. Mold News Abroad

The Rendon Group, directed by former Democratic Party political operative John Rendon, has garnered more than $56 million in Pentagon work since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Those contracts list such activities as tracking foreign reporters; "pushing" news favorable to U.S. forces; planting television news segments that promote U.S. positions; and creating a grass-roots voting effort in Puerto Rico on behalf of the Navy, Pentagon records show.

The contracts, some of which were obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that the Bush administration is engaged in a war of images and words with Al Qaeda and other radical groups.
This is why the Center for Media and Democracy is such an excellent resource. I'd heard of the Rendon Group well before seeing this article. Stauber and Rampton cited the PR work of this group in selling the war in Iraq in their book Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's war on Iraq.

Also in the world of spin, the Bush administration has launched its new war on history in order to resell the war with Iraq. Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan parses this new line of rhetoric.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Freethought quote of the Day

"Perchance you who pronounce my sentence are in greater fear than I who receive it." - Giordano Bruno, on being sentenced to death for heresy

Friday, November 11, 2005

If I were Michelle Malkin

I found this quote at a forum discussion today

ACLU enemy within

They are the biggest barrier to decency and attack everything that is American. They are a communist organization and they are destroying this country. The defend terrorists, pedophiles, the one world government and get way too involved with the government. If I was President, they would have to be taken down. I seriously would round them up and put them in jail. It's actually legal you can do it under the sedition act. But rest assured that I wouldn’t do it with people that I just disagree with. They interfere with government time and time again and that is the main reason we couldn’t get the 9-11 terrorists because they defended them to the core.

It sounds drastic but it has to be done. Now I know I am going to get crucified for this but I see no other way. They completely hijacked our judicial system as you will see many judges side with the ACLU and are members. There is not much you can do except take extreme measures.
Now, if I were like Malkin I'd write a book alleging that conservatives are "unhinged" fascists. But I'm not, and I don't think that. See, unlike Michelle, I'm able to distinguish between a set of philosophical principles (conservatism in this case) and particular individuals with rude, ignorant, and/or hateful opinions.

For more on Malkin and her brand of "journalism" check out David Neiwert's posts on her (like this for example) over at his blog, Orcinus.

Bush versus reality

"We will never back down. We will never give in. We will never accept anything less than complete victory" George W. Bush in his defense of the war in Iraq

Unsaid, "we will never face reality. I will never admit a mistake. I will never acknowledge the death and chaos that has resulted from my administration's blind indeological drive to invade a sovereign nation in spite of the entire world's opinion to do otherwise. I will never apologize for my administration attacking, smearing, and firing any dissenting rational opinion in the lead up to the war who turned out to be right."

Quote of the day

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." Dwight D. Eisenhower

I suppose this an awkward shift from my post on Fallujah to the Art of the Day back to this quote, but its appropriate I feel, since in today's political environment expressing this sentiment will likely gain one the label of a "liberal" pacificist, so its important to remember one of the first individuals to call attention to the threat to democracy that the military-industrial complex poised was a Republican president and general.

Art of the Day

A Girl with Watering Can (1876) - Renoir

(Because my grandmother had this painting in her house when I was growing up)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fallujah: What the hell did we do?

I just got done watching the video where the Italian RAI News alleges that the US military used white phosporous, an incediary device which melts away human flesh (to the bone), and MK 77, which is similar to napalm, during its seige on the city of Fallujah. The images are graphic and horrifying (scroll down.) In the video you see a US military helicopter spraying round after round of something into the city. Despite this, I hoped it wasn't true. Sadly though, it probably is true. What remains to be answered, is to what extent could their usage have impacted the civilian population who remained in Fallujah (around 50,000 individuals.*)

In 1980 the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons banned the use of such weapons against civilian targets. The US did not sign that treaty.

I expect this will be updated to Project Censored's account from its 2006 #2 story Media Coverage Fails on Iraq: Fallujah and Civilian Deathtoll. I still hold out hope that it isn't true, but if the media never digs into the story how will anyone ever know either way for certain?

EDIT: Here are two skeptical questions I would have for the film makers.
- If white phosphorous can burn through to the bone, why did the corpses still have clothing?
- Several of the corpses were covered in maggots and looked to be in advanced stages of decomposition, what distinguishes these corpses from corpses burned from white phosphorous or MK 77?

Update - It doesn't help that the US military denied using white phosphorous for anything more than illumination purposes, since as seen at the Daily Kos entry linked above, that is not true, as the March edition of the army publication of Field Artillery Magazine writes

WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.
Americablog points out that the government response to these allegations had been

Phosphorus shells are not outlawed. U.S. forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.
*This is an error on my part for using the first figure I saw without checking other sources, especially given the source I used for the 50,000 figure was Project Censored. I've since seen sources estimate that the civilians in Fallujah numbered as low as 5,000 at the time of attack, most notably by Middle East expert Juan Cole, so the number is likely somewhere in between those two estimates.

Salon on torture

A common response I am given when I complain about the rule of law not being applied to detainees is, "why should we by sympathetic to terrorists," to which I reply, "how do you know that every detainee is a terrorist if they have not recieved due process?"Perhaps I'm naive, but abandoning the principles we aim to preserve in the name of protecting them just does not seem right.

A defense attorney who has been fighting the Bush administration on this very subject has written an editorial for Salon that is worth reading.

Since 9/11, I've found myself swept up in defending basic human rights and the rule of law against a relentless onslaught by the Bush administration. We've brought suit on behalf of 500 nameless "John Doe" prisoners held at Guantánamo in defiance of the Geneva Conventions; we've fought the indefinite detention of American citizens; we're challenging the Defense Department and private contractors over the horrendous abuses at Abu Ghraib. We've uncovered terrible stories about cruelty and torture carried out by our country, like that of Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian citizen kidnapped and "rendered" to Syria by American forces, who was kept an underground cell for over 10 months and beaten for weeks on end with a thick cable. I represented three young men from England who were released from Guantánamo when it was finally proved they'd made false confessions -- after being stripped, hooded, isolated, chained to the floor for 12 hours at stifling temperatures and threatened by snarling dogs.
And Ratner, the author of the piece, points out what the Bush administration is really saying by seeking to veto McCain's anti-torture amendment

But this administration is now openly and baldly saying that it claims the right to torture, at its discretion. All the fictions that sustained the war on terror -- that abuses were one-time mistakes by low-level grunts; that the rules about human rights weren't clear; that soldiers didn't understand the parameters when they beat and humiliated and tortured prisoners -- have been replaced by a clear declaration: The United States is going to torture people as it sees fit, to subject them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment wherever and whenever it decides to.