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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Stats, the Bible and the Christian Right

Some data to consider. These numbers were compiled by a Catholic priest.

1. There are more than 31,000 verses in the Bible.
2. Not one verse relates to gay marriage.
3. Only two verses could even remotely have anything to do with abortion.
4. Over 5,000 discuss alleviating poverty.
5. The number 1 item of the published Christian Coalition's agenda was preserving the Bush tax cuts.

Maybe the Christian right needs to reorient its priorities.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Slavery, Property, and Miscegenation

In 1662, the Virginia legislature passed a law that read, "Children got by an Englishman upon a Negro woman shall be bond or free according to the condition of the mother." Seems otherwise innocuous, but this statute reversed English common law under which the status of the child frollowed that of the father.

The implications were huge. It meant that slave owners could impregnate as many slave women as they wanted secure in the knowledge that the children that resulted would become their property, increasing their wealth and slave population. This provided a huge incentive for white men to sleep with their slave women.

This intertwined sex and race and led to the powerful taboo of black men marrying or even looking at a white woman. The long-term result of this taboo was the epidemic of the lynching of black men.

Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson

Sunday, November 05, 2006


"There's no doubt in my mind as a soldier that part of the responsibility for Abu Ghraib and for Afghanistan belongs with the secretary of defense and the president of the United States. There's an old aphorism: Keep it simple, stupid. KISS is the acronym. You always have personalities in uniform--I had them in Vietnam--who will take advantage of any ambiguity, any lack of clarification in the rules of engagement, and kill people, or whatever his particular psyche is liable to do. You don't have rules for your good people. You have rules for that five or six percent of your combat unit that are going to be weird. You need those people, because sometimes they're your best killers. But you need the rules. And when you make any kind of changes in them, any relaxation or even a hint of it, you're opening Pandora's box. And I fault Gonzalez, the president, the vice-president, the secretary of defense, the chain of command, Myers, Abizaid, Sanchez, the whole bunch of the them."

An administration official who had served in Vietnam explaining Abu Ghraib. Quoted by George Packer in The Assassin's Gate.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Well, after a substantial hiatus caused by the addition of major new responsibilities at work, it’s time to get back in the saddle, to use a Bushism. I have been reading as much as possible regarding the debacle in Iraq, and there are several really interesting and enlightening books that have been published in the last few months. I’m well into several.

The best from the perspective of what went wrong in Baghdad as far as the civil authorities is George Packer’s Assassin’s Gate. Packer, a staff writer at the New Yorker — along with the Atlantic must reading, writes well. Clearly the Bush administration was less interested in making sure things went well than in regarding loyalists. Bush et al just assumed everything would turn out well and if left alone, much like the Katrina disaster, would sort of fix itself. I mean, how hard can government be? There are numerous examples of bureaucrats with expert knowledge in civil affairs being replaced by someone with no experience, but who thought “right” on abortion or stem cell research, or who was a contributor. Even the Iraqis placed in power, were those who had been in exile for many years and had little first-hand knowledge of conditions in the country. They also lacked the respect of their compatriots. In the meantime they hunkered down in the Green Zone, slurping down martinis, eating pork (the Americans at least) and isolating themselves from the horror just outside the concrete barriers. It’s not a pretty picture.

Cobra II:The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor tells the story from the military perspective. Again, a case of wishful thinking from the Bush Cabinet. [ Speaking of his Cabinet, I happened to hear Elaine Chao, current Secretary of Labor, speak at a recent EEO conference, and she is living on another planet — something probably true of all of them. ]

I must say that while reading Robert McNamara’s In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, I continue to be struck by the terminology and similarities in the way our government massages the language. In 1967 and 1968 Johson and McNamara (he even looks like Rumsfeld) were discussing the problems caused by the “insurgency” and the “political instability” of the country. Not to mention that we now measure success by the number of bodies we count.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

George Lakoff on Democratic Party Renewal

Tobin Harshaw reviewed two books (New York Times Book Review, July 23, 2006) that prescribe remedies for the Democratic party, which seems to be floundering and unable to decide just what to do. One of the books, Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea by George Lakoff seemed the most interesting. He proposes that right-wing conservatives have a very different definition of freedom than progressives and liberals and that makes dialog difficult. He uses a metaphor to describe the difference: progressive thought "stems from the 'nurturant parent family' model (based on 'empathy and responsibility), while the conservative outlook is shaped by the 'strict father family' model (in which the 'moral authority. . . of the father must not be seriously challenged')."

Interesting metaphor.

A Week in Washington and the National Park Service

I've been spending this week attending an annual conference for EEO officers (another of my myriad responsibilities) and took the opportunity to poke around the Mall and attend an organ recital at the National Cathedral. The former was disappointing; the latter extraordinary.

The Museums and Memorials surrounding the Mall are magnificent; the Vietnam Wall moving, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials impressive, the World War II Memorial lackluster, but what impressed me the most was the deplorable state of the grounds and obvious neglect of the public facilities. This is an extraordinarily popular site for foreign visitors and it would seem that we would want to show it off. Instead, the badly maintained lawns and flower beds surrounded by Homeland -- think Vaterland -- Security barriers and warning signs do not celebrate a wealthy democracy. They send just the opposite message.

The National Cathedral, on the other hand, is magnificent. I have been privileged to visit numerous cathedrals in Europe and this ranks right at the top. It's beautiful and immaculate, free and welcoming. Sunday evenings there are organ recitals and visitors are invited to sit right up under the pipes. The night I was there - very hot and humid outside, cool and refreshing inside -- Dr. Sean Jackson played a series of mostly 19th century virtuoso pieces that really showed off the capabilities of the organ. If you ever get the Washington, this should not be missed.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Great Review of Calvin Trilling's new Book

I ran across this review of A Heckuva Job: More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme on Amazon and it's a classic:

118 of 129 people found the following review helpful:

Our nation's second term-ite, June 1, 2006
Reviewer:Jon Hunt (Old Greenwich, Ct. USA) - See all my reviews
The president's a perfect foil
For author Calvin Trillin.
The nation's in a big turmoil
Thanks to our dimwit villain.

But to the rescue comes "C. T."
Who sheds some light on "Dub-ya".
Each page evokes a firm "teehee"
And will the right way rub ya.

His commentary lights upon
Those Bushies lacking shtick.
There's Mushroom Cloud and Orange John
And Five Deferments Dick.

Yet our commander is the one
That Trillin writes the most of.
It could be said that when he's done
The president's made toast of.

I highly recommend this work
For wit that's nicely offered.
And in '09 that White House jerk
Is goin' home to Crawford.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Are the Grunts Being Held to a Different Standard

On June 26th, KCRW's "To the Point" had a very interesting show discussing the increasing level of concern of troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan that they are being held to a different standard than the pilots of warplanes when it comes to the deaths of innocent civilians, so-called collateral damage. From a legal standpoint, if say Osama Ben Laden is targeted (and apparently Defense Department lawyers are involved in target decisions) but happens to be in an area with many civilians, the deaths of those civilians can be legally justified if he is killed in the process. Grunts on the ground have to make more difficult distinctions under far more difficult circumstances as to whether a given individual may or may not be a legitimate target.

The great irony is that aircraft pilots who have little role in the targeting decision and are rarely asked to make high level decisions, are all college grads, predominantly white, and upper middle class, and reasonably well paid. Those on the ground being asked to make split-second difficult moral decisions while they are under fire, a lower paid high school grads, often minority, and who may be subject to extreme punishment if they make the wrong decision.

And yet we spend millions to protect these pilots with drones, rescue missions, etc. Sounds a little screwy to me.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Latest from King George

Bush challenges hundreds of laws - The Boston Globe

I urge you to write your congressman protesting President Bush's attempts to accumulate extraordinary state powers normally reserved to Congress. This is a serious threat to the separation of powers and democracy as we have enjoyed it.

Link for additional information

Statement of conservative lawyer Bruce Fein's call for presidential censure based on his use of "signing statements."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fossils Across Geological Time and Evolution

Fossils Across Geological Time and Evolution

This is a great site. Fascinating!

Something to remember

Godwin's Law - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

and its corollary, the Jefferson Debate

Economics of Garbage

Elizabeth Royte has written a fascinating book about garbage. The quantities of waste that we produce each day is staggering and technological approaches to managing the waste have evolved rapidly even since the eighties. Sanitary landfills, invented during the fifties in an attempt to control leachate, the intermixing of chemicals and organic materials, and prevent it from entering the groundwater supply, have become hugely expensive to build and maintain. They contain pipes to collect the leachate and return it to the top of the landfill, believing that it stimulates the breakdown of organic materials and speeds up the creation of methane, a valuable that gas that is used to produce electricity in many locations.

Other installations produce electricity by burning trash (WTE, or waste-to-energy, plants.) Metal and other obvious non-flammables are pulled from the huge daily loads by large magnets and recycled. The rest is burned and toxic chemicals (remember, people throw out all sorts of hazardous stuff in the trash) are scrubbed from the smoke (most of it anyway) and the resulting ash (at least that's the plan.) The problem is that evidence is mounting that people who live close to WTE plants and landfills (because methane that leaks out often contains a variety of really awful chemicals) show much higher incidence than normal of a variety of ailments.

The numbers are staggering and ironically the costs drive policy (so what else is new.) New York can no longer afford to recycle because the cost of shipping trash off to Pennsylvania (largest importer of trash in the country) is so high they can't afford the additional manpower and vehicles to process the recylables. That means more goes into the landfills or is burned, creating an even more bizarre mixture of chemicals to form who knows what in the landfill. And even 40 mm plastic sheathing at the bottom of these things is not 100% effective.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Too Much Time on Their Hands?

Of Clerks and Perks

A recent article in The Atlantic suggests that Supreme Court Justices have way too much time on their hands. They have moths off each year, spend a lot of time making money giving speeches, and generally running around arrogantly promoting themselves. Stuart Taylor and Bejamin Wittes suggest a novel solution: fire their clerks. It would force the Justice to do the research themselves, actually involve themselves in the process, and concentrate on what they were hired to do. Not a bad idea, I think.

Evolution is sooo cool.

More information is coming out about the research done by the Human Genome Project into our genetic history. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes with about 30,000 genes made up of DNA strands in a specific order. That order can change over time through mutation and mutations occur over time in a fairly constant rate. Because of that constant rate, genetic mutations can be used to measure when species became separate.

When comparing the genes of chimps and humans it was discovered that both species shared a common ancestor who supplied both their X chromosomes and that this occurred more recently than ancestors who supplied their other chromosomes. Their theory is that human and chimp species broke apart from each other on two different occasions. This leads to the assumption that humans and chimps actually may have interbred with each other for several millennia. This slower process of species differentiation was favored by Darwin, but had fallen out of favor more recently with scientists who believed that hybrid offspring, being infertile, would cause a more sudden break in species, It would appear now that Darwin may have been right again.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Finally Congress gets it right

Finally Congress has decided to do something about "Nipplegate." (link) Janet whatshername showing her nipples during the Superbowl -- sorry I missed it but football is sooooo boring -- resulted in uncounted cases of pedophilia and wife abuse, I'm sure, 50,000 seems like a good number so let's go with that. Lord knows that's the number of satanic ritual killings each year (link) [Isn't it funny that national crime statistics report only (link) 26,000 annual murders in the U.S., which means that satanic ritual murders account for twice the number of reported homicides. Somebody is missing the boat here!) But I digress, back to nipples and the degradation of American society. Now that we have some real bite in fines against broadcasters, we can go after the real sickos, those who say "fuck," like VP Cheney. Fine the bugger big time. After all he said it over C-Span. (link) I think it's time to go after the really bad words too, like "frigging, gosh darn, manure, and dam -- we all know what people really mean to say.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Good Old Days

For those of you wanting to return to the simpler days of yore, a few facts:

1. In mid-nineteenth century New York, residents simply threw their trash out the window for scavengers to ravage. Often, by spring, garbage and less savory material might be two to three feet deep on the streets. Only the wealthy could afford trash collection.

2. Horses left 500,000 pounds of manure a day on Manhattan streets, and 45,000 gallons of urine. Horses worked hard; their average life span was 2.5 years and in 1880 15,000 dead horses littered the streets. Again, wild animals were expected to make the carcasses more portable by stripping the flesh off them so they could be dumped into the bay.

3. Ocean dumping virtually destroyed the famous oyster beds, but provided the land for the World's Fair and today's airports. It wasn't until 1948 that the public opinion demanded the first city dump.

Don't forget that today is the good old days of tomorrow.

From Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte

Vietnam, Iraq and T.E. Lawrence

"Better to let them do it imperfectly than to do it perfectly yourself, for it is their country, their way, and your time is short."
T.E. Lawrence. Quotation found framed on a wall of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon after the fall in 1973. How apt.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Humans and Chimps

Next time you visit a zoo and the ape section, it might be worth noting that you are looking at your cousins. Recent studies of DNA and genomes reveal that those we now consider to be homo sapiens sapiens-- the sapiens part being lacking mostly in Washington -- are the result of early hominiae interbreeding with chimps. The interbreeding went on for several million years, with hominiae acquiring chromosomes from chimps until they split into species about 5.3 million years ago making us truly hybrids and an affront to fundamentalists and eugenicists. (link)

Mortal Allies

I have really begun to enjoy Brian Haig's books. Having shied away from him for several years, mostly because of the last name, his novels featuring JAG lawyer Sean Drummond are really lots of fun. Drummond is another one of those wise-cracking, self deprecating, protagonists that I enjoy.

In Mortal Allies, Drummond is ordered to Korea to defend a young captain charged with homosexual murder and necrophilia. He discovers his civilian co-counsel is an old adversary from law school. Drummond is soon involved with the CIA, corrupt cops and a North Korean conspiracy that he stumbles through quite entertainingly. Perhaps a bit preachy at times, it's still a fun read, something to take your mind off the mess in Iraq and the incompetence in Washington.

Reproduction at 600 degrees F without DNA?

Is It Raining Aliens? - Popular Science

Red rain that fell on India in 2001 defies normal explanations.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Gore has the wrong issue

I know that global warming is all the rage among the apocalyptic environmentalists, but they have the issue all wrong. They should be focusing on oil, a fossil fuel that no doubt contributes to global warming -- not that that's something I worry about since 55 million years ago there was a subtropical environment at the North Pole (link) and nature will survive anyway -- oil, on the other hand, or the lack of it, is driving our foreign policy, getting us into wars, and unless something is done very soon, will cause massive economic and cultural disruptions. A recent article in Airways Magazine predicts the demise of the air transport system within the next few years because of the impact of rising oil prices. Robert Baer, author of See No Evil and a CIA operative in Iran for 20 years said on the Brian Lehrer show (link) that Iran has plans to suicide bomb the Arab oil fields if they are invaded. That could cause a five-fold increase in oil prices resulting in economic Armageddon (something predicted as a 90% chance by a top Morgan Stanley economist).

So, guys and gals, running for president. Forget global warming and start planning for energy disruptions. If you solve that problem, global warming will go away anyhow.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Just what I always suspected

At a BBC studio a job applicant was mistaken for an expert who was to discuss the legal dispute between Apple Computer and the Apple Record label. Shepherded into the studio Guy Goma, an immigrant from the Congo who was applying for a job as a computer technician, was happy to reply to the questions posed by the host of the show in broad generalizations about the internet. The show's host nodded sagely and thanked Guy for his expert and keen observations, having no clue that he was not talking to the legal expert. Just goes to show that from the standpoint of the idiots that pass for TV hosts, you can say just about anything and be applauded for it. Fox does it all the time.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Immigration Facts and Trivia

1. The argument that previous waves of immigrants were "legal" makes little sense. Until the early twentieth century all an immigrant had to do was verify his/her name. Passports were not required. The southern border was not guarded and was crossed frequently in both directions.

2. Immigrants took a long time to assimilate. Germans and Italians were still speaking their native tongues some seventy years after the major waves of immigration from their home countries.

3. Literacy tests were done in the native tongue, not English.

4. Rates of return to the home country were often as high as fifty percent. Clearly many people came here not to stay, but to earn more money and then to return home.

5. Italians, Poles and Greeks took much longer to assimilate and join the middle class because most had come from illiterate rural backgrounds in their home countries. They typically stressed work over education.

6. Every generation of immigrants looks down on the following waves of immigrants.

7. Some scholars suggest the evidence points to waves of immigration as providing the vigorous periodic rejuvenation that has made the United States as strong as it is. Without it we would be languishing.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Cobra II

Cobra II was the name of the rush to Baghdad by General Franks et al. This enlightening book describes the intense negotiations and maneuvering that went on between Rumsfeld, Powell, and the Army (mostly General Franks) in the design of the invasion.

Lots of interesting tidbits:

1. Both Saddam and the United States failed on intelligence. Saddam was not worried about the U.S., but he was terrified of a Shiite rebellion in the south, similar to the one he put down so brutally after the first Gulf War.

2. Saddam wanted to show the world that he did not have any WMD. He sent orders to his commanders to make sure that the sites had been cleaned up and no WMD were present in preparation for weapons inspectors. He did not want to give the U.S. a casus belli. Unfortunately, the CIA misinterpreted data from spy satellites and assumed that Saddam was trucking the stuff away or hiding it.

3. No preparations were made for installing a government after a successful invasion. The Iraqis were looking for some kind of force to maintain order after the troop took Baghdad. U.S troops were under orders not to interfere, so looting quickly became uncontrollable sending the message to everyone that the U.S. had lost control.

4. Franks tried to fire one of top corps commanders who recommended a pause during the invasion because it was becoming apparent that the Fedayeen were a force to be reckoned with behind the lines. Franks wanted the fastest trip to Baghdad possible with no stops along the way. This decision came back to haunt them.

5. Rumsfeld continually tried to trim the size of the invading force despite concerns of the top U.S. commanders.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer

George Packer has written a truly enlightening and intriguing book about our descent into Iraq. Packer is a lucid and engaging writer who can clearly summarize the intellectual debate between the neoconservatives and the realists. It's also a sad book. Learning how policy is arrived out and then justified and implemented can be very discouraging.

The neocons and Bush had decided to go after Iraq for a variety of reasons before 9/11. The concern then became how to sell that decision. Shortly after the fall of Baghdad Paul Wolfowitz fold an interviewer: "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S, government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction." The real rationale for the war was to realign American power in the Middle East, toward a democratic society and away from Saudi Arabia, home of the Wahhabi sect that virtually controlled Saudi society and government and had been the home to almost all of the 9/11 terrorists. (See Sandra MacKey's very excellent book on Saudi Arabia -- The Saudis -- for a detailed view of what it's like to live in such a theocracy.)

The job then became to selectively use pieces of intelligence that supported their common justification. "Just a year earlier, Iraq had been viewed as an outlaw state that was beginning to slip free of international constraints and might present a threat to the region or, more remotely, the United States in five years or so. Now, suddenly, there wasn't a day to be lost. . . It didn't matter that there was no strong evidence to back up the doomsday prognosis."

Sunday, May 07, 2006 News - International - Creationism dismissed as 'a kind of paganism' by Vatican's astronomer News - International - Creationism dismissed as 'a kind of paganism' by Vatican's astronomer

Other "creationism is nonsense" links:

"Don't distort science to promote religious beliefs, say scientists"

Excellent screed

This guy nails it. I heard a great line the other day. It's about as impossible to teach Democrats fiscal responsibility as it is to teach Republicans decency.

Christian Republicans?

Other comments:

John Adams: ""This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."

""Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects." - James Madison

"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all." - Thomas Paine

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Familiar names

[we advocate] . ..the spread of democratic forms of government and open economic systems. . . our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region's oil."
from the Defense Planning Guidance, 1992, of which Paul Wolfowitz was an architect.

The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was founded in 1997 by Robert Kagan (erstwhile Wilsonian Democrat who believed the lesson learned in Vietnam was not to withdraw from the world, but to promote American values and democracy hegemonically throughout the world) and William Kristol. Early members included Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. (Sound familiar?) They signed a document recommending to President Clinton that a change of regime was needed in Iraq. Iraq had been on the mind of Wolfowitz as early as the late 70's when he was an official in the Carter administration. He authored the Limited Contingency Study that argued for an invasion of Iraq to seize and thus control the oil fields of Iraq. And who said oil had nothing to do with the invasion? How convenient was 9/11 for these folks to provide the justification for what they had always wanted to do anyway.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Vietnam by Any Other Name


In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam
by Robert McNamara

Dereliction of Duty : Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam by H.R. McMaster (written as a dissertation by a colonel who just finished a tour of duty at Tal Afar, Iraq, the city cited recently by President Bush as a measurable success, it castigates the generals during the Vietnam War who avoided telling the truth to their political superiors with disastrous results.)

Edward Lansdale: The Unquiet American by Cecil Currey

American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips

The Assassin's Gate by George Packer

"Changing the Army for Counter-Insurgency Operations" by Brigadier General Nigel Aylwin-Foster. (This article was sent to every general in the US Army by the Army chief of Staff. Much of it was publicly disavowed but privately applauded. It was published in Military Review, a US Army publication. The link is to a pdf copy of the article)

I know the administration and other representing the head-in-the-sand approach to foreign policy remain committed to the idea that parallels to Vietnam are fallacious. I cannot help but being struck - as one who lived through Vietnam as a very draftable college study - by the similarities of language and participants. Just look at Rumsfeld, he even resembles McNamara. Both had similar ideological agendas: to reform the military and make it right and efficient; both used language to obfuscate reality ("They didn't even want to say the 'i' word," 'one officer in Iraq told me' "It was the specter of Vietnam... The next word is 'quagmire.'" **. ; and Rumsfeld is well on the well to being discarded the way McNamara was on the slag heap of history. Whether he'll have the fortitude or guts to do a mea culpa as did McNamara remains to be seen. And this ghastly "Coalition of the Willing" for heaven's sake. Twelve soldiers from El Salvador? Vietnam's obloquy to multi-nationalism all over again

Now that we are building permanent bases in Iraq, the future is dim, I fear. Can we never learn from the past? The Communists in Vietnam knew they would win; all they had to do was wait us out. It was, after all, their country. Sooner or later we would have to leave. The insurgents - oh, excuse me, the "enemies of the legitimate government of Iraq - know that too.

And finally, someone admits this war is just about protecting our supplies of oil. Bravo Kevin. Any moron could see that formed a major undeclared justification, even if most reporters ignored Cheney's comments years ago about it being a way to protect our source of oil.

It's all so sad.

** The New Yorker, April 10, 2006, p. 51

Monday, March 27, 2006

Cheney and Torture

(Interrupting) That's Cheney's pursuit. The only reason anyone tortures is because they like to do it. It's about vengeance, it's about revenge, or it's about cover-up. You don't gain intelligence that way. Everyone in the world knows that. It's worse than small-minded, and look what it does.

I've argued this on Bill O'Reilly and other Fox News shows. I ask, who would you want to pay to be a torturer? Do you want someone that the American public pays to torture? He's an employee of yours. It's worse than ridiculous. It's criminal; it's utterly criminal. This administration has been masters of diverting attention away from real issues and debating the silly. Debating what constitutes torture: Mistreatment of helpless people in your power is torture, period. And (I'm saying this as) a man who has been involved in the most pointed of our activities. I know it, and all of my mates know it. You don't do it. It's an act of cowardice. I hear apologists for torture say, "Well, they do it to us." Which is a ludicrous argument. ... The Saddam Husseins of the world are not our teachers. Christ almighty, we wrote a Constitution saying what's legal and what we believed in. Now we're going to throw it away.

Interview with Eric Haney, a retired command sergeant major of the U.S. Army, was a founding member of Delta Force, the military's elite covert counter-terrorist unit

Sunday, March 26, 2006


I have always been a fan of historical mysteries, particularly those that provide a plethora of authentic period detail, in addition to a good yarn. Sharon Kay Penman is wonderful and Sunne in Splendour, a story built around Richard III, is terrific. Ellis Peters' medieval Brother Cadfael detective stories are wonderful. Now comes C. J. Sansom, whose 16th century hunchback lawyer-detective Matthew Shardlake is sent by Henry VIII's Thomas Cromwell to investigate the murder of one of his royal commissioners at a monastery. Tensions are high as Henry attempts to eliminate the power of the Church as the Reformation takes hold in England. Good detective story set in the corruption plagued 1500's.

2182 Khz

David Masiel, the author of 2182 Khz, worked on a salvage tug in the Alaskan waters. I hope the experience of Harry Seine, the deckhand protagonist of this riveting story, does not reflect a real event in Masiel's life, for the knockdown of the salvage tug he is the only survivor of, is described in horrific detail. Seine, who's wife has left him for her real estate salesman boss, feels the pull of the arctic where he had worked before in desperately cold conditions. Assigned this time to dismantle an unproductive oil drilling site, Seine keeps the radio tuned to 2182 Khz, the international distress frequency. He begins to hear the ramblings of a scientist named Louis Moneymaker who claims to be marooned on a rapidly deteriorating ice floe. Seine gathers a rescue force of misfits together, and they Lemming-like set out to rescue the scientist .

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Offense v Harm

I must admit to not having blogged as regularly as I suppose I should be. I could say I haven't had the time, but that would be bullshit because it has been my observation that people always find the time to do the things they really want to do. Telling someone you don't have time is simply to avoid saying it's not a priority for you. So anyway, I've been doing a lot of reading and listening to books and some really excellent political analysis podcasts out of WNYC, KQED and KCRW.

Several incidents over the past couple of years and my work as an EEO officer (part-time) dealing matters of offense and harassment, coupled with the "Piss Christ" painting and anti-Moslem cartoons, have made me realize it's time to redefine offense and harm.

Offense is self-inflicted and causes no harm. After all, we can chose not to be offended by a painting, a word, a picture, a gesture, a cartoon. We chose to be offended by something because of what we bring to the item, not because of anything intrinsic to the item itself. I find the Confederate Battle Flag offensive because of what it symbolizes to me even though the displayer may have an entirely different mindset as to what it means to them. No harm is caused by seeing that flag.

Choosing to be offended and demanding that retribution be inflicted on the offended is simply a manifestation of trying to gain power for a particular point of view. That's wrong. Let's, as a society, decide not to be offended, turn our heads or look away, and concentrate on doing away with harmful acts, wars, injuries, physically hurting others. We would be a better and more peaceful world.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Will Cheney be the next target of the Fitzgerald investigation?

NATIONAL JOURNAL: Cheney 'Authorized' Libby to Leak Classified Information (02/09/2006)

Apparently, Libby has revealed to investigators, that VP Cheney had authorized him to reveal classified information in order to defend administration policy.

Regarding the shooting accident: Perhaps one bright outcome will be that Supreme Court Justice Scalia might be less inclined to go hunting with Cheney permitting fewer opportunities for Cheney to attempt influencing court decisions.

Arrogance Leading to Ignorance

Foreign Affairs - Intelligence, Policy,and the War in Iraq - Paul R. Pillar

Paul Pillar was a senior Middle East analyst for the intelligence community. In this paper published in Foreign Affairs he argues that the Bush Administration ignored the expert analysis of the Middle East that was readily available to them and had made the decision to go to war long before 9/11 and irrespective of the WMD debate.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Pay More; Get Less

James Surowiecki considers the state of executive compensation in the most recent issue of The New Yorker. The SEC, dominated by Republicans, has issued new rules that require companies to tell us what they pay their C.E.O.s. This should have been a cause for celebration. Companies can still pay whatever they want, they just have to tell about it now. Shareholders are becoming concerned and it would appear with good reason. The immense pay packages are affecting the bottom line. Consider the following:

>A study done recently at Rutgers that examined company performance from 1992 to 2001, found that the more a C.E.O. was paid relative to his peers, "the more likely his company was to underperform in the stock market;

>some packages, especially those with "golden parachutes" which guarantee huge payoffs if their companies are acquiired, encourage executives to sell out;

>there is evidence that exeuctives whose pay is linked to stock performance are more likely to commit fraud to jack up the stock portfolios;

>between 1993 and 2003 "the top five executives at fifteen hundred companies in the U.S. were paid $350,000,000,000 [yes, you read that correctly, billion].

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Feynman quote

"Not knowing is much more interesting than believing something that might be wrong."

The beauty of physics is that it is a journey not a destination.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Truthdig - President Jonah

Truthdig - President Jonah

Has the United States under Bush come to resemble Rome before the fall? Gore Vidal thinks so.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Mark Twain and Joseph Smith

Mark Twain on the Book of Mormon: "Chloroform in print."

String Theory, God, and Intelligent Design

I won't pretend to come even close to understanding string theory. The New York Times Book Review just published a review of The Cosmic Landscape by Leonard Susskind that contains some interesting observations. I'll quote:

"Although string theory resists translation into ordinary language, its central conceit boils down to this: All the different particles and forces in the universe are composed of wriggling strands of energy whose properties depend solely on the mode of their vibration. Understand the properties of those strands, the thinking once went, and you will understand why the universe is the way it is. Recent work, most notably by Joseph Polchinski of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has dashed that hope. The latest version of string theory (now rechristened M-theory for reasons that even the founder of M-theory cannot explain) does not yield a single model of physics. Rather, it yields a gargantuan number of models: about 10500, give or take a few trillion.

Not one to despair over lemons, Susskind finds lemonade in that insane-sounding result. He proposes that those 10500 possibilities represent not a flaw in string theory but a profound insight into the nature of reality. Each potential model, he suggests, corresponds to an actual place - another universe as real as our own. In the spirit of kooky science and good science fiction, he coins new names to go with these new possibilities. He calls the enormous range of environments governed by all the possible laws of physics the "Landscape." The near-infinite collection of pocket universes described by those various laws becomes the "megaverse."

Susskind eagerly embraces the megaverse interpretation because it offers a way to blow right through the intelligent design challenge. If every type of universe exists, there is no need to invoke God (or an unknown master theory of physics) to explain why one of them ended up like ours. Furthermore, it is inevitable that we would find ourselves in a universe well suited to life, since life can arise only in those types of universes. This circular-sounding argument - that the universe we inhabit is fine-tuned for human biology because otherwise we would not be here to see it - is known as the Anthropic Principle and is reviled by many cosmologists as a piece of vacuous sophistry. But if ours is just one of a near-infinite variety of universes, the Anthropic Principle starts to sound more reasonable, akin to saying that we find ourselves on Earth rather than on Jupiter because Earth has the mild temperatures and liquid water needed for our kind of life."

To read the entire fascinating review, click here.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bees and Intelligent Design

A tenet of Intelligent Design supporters has always been that only a creator or intelligence could have designed how bees fly and no one until now had actually figured out how they do it. Now they have:

James Frey and Times Warner

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey sold many thousands of copies, especially after the author appeared on Oprah's show and she picked his book for her book club. Recently, The Smoking Gun (an investigative web site owned by Court TV - the channel that brought us The Psychic Detective) claimed on their website that Frey had invented incidents he had related in his book. It's a "memoir" about his "redemption" from alcohol and drug addiction. Frey went on the Larry King Show and said basically that he had originally wanted to publish the book as fiction (the 1st edition of the book was so labeled) but that the editors thought it should be promoted as a non-fiction memoir (the paperback Oprah edition was so labeled.) His defenders have rushed to support him (a particularly amusing moment of mutual self-promotion occurred when Oprah called Larry King and claimed his lines has been so busy she couldn't get through - yeah right.)

In a little noticed disclaimer at the beginning of his show, King went through the companies that owned his show, Random House, etc. and low and behold, Time/Warner owns Court TV, CNN, Oprah's Channel, Random House and Warner Bros, the studio that will soon release a movie version of Frey's book.

Makes you wonder. Personally, I think the whole brouhaha is a cleverly orchestrated marketing ploy to hype Frey's book and generate interest in the movie. All memoirs embellish and recount memories selectively. What's the big deal, here? Making money is what it's all about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Chance and the Dover School Board

Intelligent Design theory postulates that complexity requires intelligence, i.e. that life is too improbably to have come about by chance and therefore must have been “created” by an intelligent designer. Leaving aside the issue of the Intelligent Designer’s complexity and how logically that “being” must have therefore been created as well, and ignoring the arrogant yet prosaic definition of life contained in their assumptions, using the Discovery Institute’s (the foundation devoted to promotion of creationist and intelligent design theories) own numbers, chance and random becomes quite likely rather than improbable. For example, if so called coincidences or “miracles” have a one in a million chance of occurrence per day, an extremely unlikely event, then a country with a population of 280 million will have a likelihood of 280 such unlikely events each day.

The Discovery Institute’s film “The Privileged Planet” argues that the chances of the conditions for life (oxygen –although many microbes and other life forms can exist in an anaerobic environment, -- a sun, recycling carbon, etc.,) are 1/100,000,000,000,000. The chances of that happening are so remote that they must have been controlled by an intelligent designer. That means the odds of there being another habitable planet are .0000000000001%. Assuming that a star system contains a habitable planet are 1/1000000000, a very conservative estimate (astronomers actually find planets in 1 in 10 star systems). There are conservatively about 10,000 billion star systems. Simple math then tells us that by chance alone there should be one billion habitable planets.

Using coincidence to prove a point is dangerous indeed. Lincoln was elected in 1846, Kennedy in 1964. Both were shot in the head, both were succeeded by Johnsons, both of whom were southerners and both were shot by southerners. Both were killed by men with 15 letters in their names; Booth was born in 1839 and Oswald in 1939, etc. The conclusion inevitably must be there lies an Intelligent Assassin behind it all.

Liberally borrowed from eskeptic

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Philip Pullman's Anti-Narnia

An article in a recent New Yorker contrasts C.S. Lewis fantasy writing with that of Philip Pullman. It contains some delicious quotes:

On the Oxford library where he was a student: "It was intimidating. It's a place of strict rules and arcane ceremonies."

"One of Pullman's beliefs is that your life begins when you are born, but your life story begins when you realize that you were delivered into the wrong family by mistake."

"The 'Lord of the Rings,'" he says, "is fundamentally an infantile work. Tolkien is not interested in the way grownup, adult human beings interact with each other. He's interested in maps and plans and languages and codes."

Pullman finds C.S. Lewis's Narnia series to be "morally loathsome." It contains "misogyny, racism, and a sado-masochistic relish for violence that permeates the whole cycle." The series teaches that "death is better than life, boys are better than girls. . . . and so on There are no shortages of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it."

Pullman writes largely fictional books for children (although they are quite popular with adults - great stories dealing with complex issues ) he told a group of British librarians who had given him an award that, "There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book. In adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. . . .The present-day would be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs."