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