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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.