Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Now *this* is a triumph of science!

Some computer and sound-effect geniuses in California have invented a sort of local cone of silence, called Babble, that can be used to shut out sound from neighboring cubicles, keep a phone conversation private, and the like. It somehow scrambles sounds within its range and feeds them back as a randomized flow. Man, would that improve my life: I am virtually incapable of thought when there is ongoing noise in my vicinity.

(via boing boing)

Quote of the day

People travel to wonder at the height of mountains,
at the huge waves of the sea,philosopher's journey
at the long courses of rivers,
at the vast compass of the ocean,
at the circular motion of the stars;
And they pass by themselves without wondering.
- St. Augustine
(via whiskey river)

Forget "I told you so"...

Hunter at dailyKos precisely captures my frustration with people (read: commentators, pundits, bloggers, officials) who love every aspect of anything that the U.S. government does, up until the instant when they realize that some particular thing is over the line and shocking, terrible, making things worse, etc.
And now -- just now -- we still have pillars of international expertise figuring out that maybe, maybe this fine-tuned, no-trial, no-Geneva, torture-who-you-want policy wasn't so bright an idea after all.
Great tagline too: "Several Blindingly Obvious Conclusions Found Dead."

ouchI'm telling you, there's no glory in feeling right after the fact, only an increased sense of frustration and hopelessness. Long before Gitmo, long before Abu Ghraib, long before 1600 dead, there were lots of intelligence officials saying No WMD, tons of troops needed, plan for the long haul. And only now are we finding out that sometimes the experts are right, and sometimes having the smart people making the decisions might save us all a lot of woe. Grrrrrr....

Update: Bob Harris points out a list of folks who were talking right out in the open about this stuff -- real experts, not secret sources in a darkened garage -- and wonders when the press will begin to notice this "downpour of Deep Throats" . . .

Least likely to demonstrate sense of humor

School administrators at a Colorado highschool recalled copies of the yearbook for redaction after one student included under his picture the joke caption "most likely to assassinate President Bush." The Secret Service also got in on the act.
Gimme a break.

(via Follow Me Here)

Friday, May 27, 2005

A handful of tidbits

...for amusement in case you get rained in.
  • Here's a blog that presents photos and discussion of one egg cup per day. Great photos, but the discussion is all in Spanish, so I don't know much more about what he's up to or whose collection this is... (via boing boing)

  • A very entertaining project called "CameraMail," in which people rig up a camera as a piece of mail, encouraging the postal workers to snap pictures to record its progress (and handlers along the way). Sometimes acutely and entertainingly successful. (via a Medley furling)

  • Another installment of the ongoing project Postcard Secrets, with remarkable things that people will get off their chests under cover of anonymity.

  • Last, a photographer's blog, with some breathtaking pictures of ordinary and extraordinary things. I also love the artist's statement. Lots to wander here... (via Real Live Preacher)
Enough to while away a long weekend, if you can't get out in a kayak. Be well, all!

Untapped resources (in the air)

Some Stanford researchers have compiled a map of the world that shows the distribution of wind velocities at thousand of sites. They found that if only the top few percent of those sites were tapped for wind-derived energy, we could obtain multiples of the world's energy needs.wind turbine
The researchers readily admit that existing buildings, land rights and other obstacles would make it impossible to set up turbines in every single one of the identified regions. But they point out that even 20 percent of those sites could satisfy world energy consumption as it stands today.
Their estimates are probably conservative, as many open areas have no measurements being taken. But the big news is that the U.S. is a hot spot for potential wind energy.
Archer said it was "ironic and sad" that the United States wasn't doing more, given the resources available.

"But it's not too late," she said. "We can still do it and I really hope we do."
Amen to that. Forget coal, let's get some windfarms going!

(via NWgreens)

Government for the cameras

Governor Schwarzenegger is now having to wreck his own city streets in order to stage the symbolic filling-in of potholes. Eesh! And CA taxpayers are paying this farce.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Stem cell research takes center stage

The Carpetbagger has a good post summarizing the current state of legislative debate over stem cell research. PA Senator Arlen Specter is leading the charge, his chemo-bald head shining symbolically, claiming not only enough votes to overturn President Bush's prohibition on federal funding stem cell research, but enough in reserve to override a threatened veto. The measure has already passed the House, but [cue the irony] a Republican Senator is threatening a filibuster if it reaches the Senate floor -- of course, if they can beat a veto, they can swamp a filibuster, so really the spotlight is on Frist's unenviable choice of whether to bring the measure to a vote. Scorn the widespread public support, or the rabid right-wingers who are already mad at you?

(via The Daou Report)

Rocky road for EU?

The European Union has been getting a lot of admiring coverage lately, based in part upon the increasing shift of currency investors from the dollar to the Euro. However, that confidence may take a bit of a cautious shift if it turns out that the European Union has a hard time coming into official existence. With French officials now predicting that their national referendum will reject the EU constitution, it may be back to the drawing board for the internationalists. Those centuries of separate languages, cultures, and border envy may be harder to overcome than first thought...

(via pstupidonymous)

Update: the Euro is already taking a hit...

What have your legislators been up to?

A neat new service automatically converts congressional business into blog posts, which you can access by your district or representative -- find out what they've cosponsored or supported!the Capital Building


(via blinq)

It now includes all roll call votes, so you can find out where your legislators stand on any recent business (or bills that matter to you). Go, citizen access!

Quote for the day

Heresy is only another word for freedom of thought.
-Graham Greene,
novelist and journalist (1904-1991)
(via A.W.A.D.)

I'd be more chatty

...but I seem to keep getting distracted by thoughts about things like this.

unbelievably cute bengal kitten

I hope to have my brain back soon.

Tend your own sheep

Apparently American evangelical Christians, in a rush to "enlighten the savages" in Iraq, are angering not only the Muslim population but the native Christians, who point out that Christianity in their region predates the foundation of our nation by some thousands of years...

(via Avedon at Eschaton)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Self-perpetuating misery

This interesting military study concludes what has become increasingly obvious: that the occupation and insurgency in Iraq are now in a viscous circle, where each motivates more of the other.
The occupation of Iraq is today less about rolling back Iraqi military power, dislodging a tyrant, or building a stable democracy than it is about fighting an insurgency -- an insurgency that is now driven substantially by the occupation, its practices, and policies.
It seems like a thorough study of the various motivations and groups involved; I hope that its future installments make some recommendations for undoing the damage.

(via upyernoz)

Because we're so certain of ourselves?

Apparently it's not enough that we've been holding people for years at Guantanamo Bay, just because we can't charge them with anything substantive and don't want to lose face by letting them go. Now we're apparently building facilities there to try and execute prisoners.
Pentagon rules for the tribunals permit death sentences to be passed and the construction of a death chamber at the camp is among options being considered.
sorrowDo the people in charge of our country even consider how things look to the outside world (let alone matters of human rights and the like)? Is anything ok, as long as it's not on American soil?

(via a furling at Medley)

As I stood before the gates I realized that I never want to be as certain
about anything as were the people who built this place.
-Rabbi Sheila Peltz,
on her visit to Auschwitz
(via A.W.A.D.)

This would really get the wires jumping...

There's speculation that the new "moderate compromisers" from the filibuster debate could be scheming about how to work out a compromise on Social Security. What, exactly, is the middle ground between "gut the New Deal" and "there's no crisis"??

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Rehnquist soon to bow out?

It's hard not to think so with little stories like this one. That also explains the impetus behind striking a deal in the Senate...

(via dragonballyee)

Pithily put

Eliot at Follow Me Here unearths an excellent article in Scientific American from a few years back, which could provide explanations to nonscientists and/or pithy arguments to those arguing with creationists (or advocates of Intelligent Design):
fossil skull
15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

(Of course, I don't know whether the author was prepared for the twist in which the opponents attempt to redefine science to encompass armchair philosophy... Sigh.)

Shattering that last illusion...

...of media fairness, that is. Several large advertisers have just put major newspapers on notice that their willingness to advertise is specifically linked to the absence of any negative coverage of their industries or companies.
Both broad and quite specific, the directives range from notifying the media agency prior to running any editorial that contains fuel, oil or energy news text or visuals to providing the agency the option to pull any advertising from the issue without penalty. If the ad cannot be pulled, then the agency “must receive notification immediately of the situation in order to alert BP and to manage the situation proactively,” the memo said. It also states that if MindShare is not notified of the mentions prior to the issue’s on-sale date, immediate advertising schedule suspension will “likely result.”
. . .
Another magazine executive who had not heard about BP’s policy or of Morgan Stanley’s said his company has unwritten guidelines with advertisers from several industries, including auto, airlines and tobacco, to pull their ads if related negative stories are in the issue. These cases, the executive said, occur more with news magazines than lifestyle ones.
It's been hard for a long time now for news agencies to keep a proper wall between their news and editorial wings and their advertising and circulation concerns, but . . . this just leaves me agape.

[Atrios also points out the irony of this revelation in light of accusations leveled at bloggers for possible tiny conflicts of interest...]

Everybody hates a compromise

matters of stateAs most people have probably heard by now, the Senate showdown over the filibuster/"nuclear option" came to an unexpected end last night with the announcement of a compromise brokered by moderates. Under this deal, three stymied appellate court nominees (Brown, Pryor, and Owen) will be given a vote (and presumed approval), the rest left stuck, and the right to filibuster is maintained, with Democrats promising to exercise it only "under extraordinary circumstances."

Nobody is happy: Feingold speaks for the left, saying that Democrats should have stayed united, and that this deal is a green light for more extremist nominations. On the right, Dobson declares betrayal by Republican leaders, and that an "unconsitutional" device has been left in place. I guess that the moderates who worked the deal are protected mainly by their numbers -- 14 were involved, 7 from each party, so the leadership can't begin the hangings right away. Heck, most of these are endangered already...

So, what does the agreement actually mean? It's a bit hard to tell; the Senate works on good faith to a far greater degree than the House or local governments, so it's probably enough that they have agreed to proceed as stated above. However, the actual document leaves some space:
But the compromise — a middle ground between Republicans who want to ban judicial filibusters and Democrats who want to retain them — includes two big loopholes that could come back to haunt the Senate: Democrats reserved the right to filibuster future judicial nominations in "extraordinary circumstances." Republicans kept the power to revisit the nuclear option if they believe Democrats are filibustering in circumstances that do not reach that standard.
Which means that we might face another showdown over the next Supreme Court Justice to come along -- where the Dems would be more likely to feel strongly, and the Repubs might be more afraid of public backlash (of all kinds).

The dealmakers (assembled from the Inquirer):
R: McCain, Chafee, DeWine (OH), Warner, Graham, Collins (ME), Snowe
D: Salazar, Byrd, Lieberman, Nelson (NE), Landrieu, Pryor (AR), Inouye

here's Markos' quick summation of how this played out, reasonably positive.

Update2: Digby captures my initial response here:
I suppose that they may have made some sort of informal agreement as to what constitutes a circumstance more "extraordinary" than this, but I don't know how much trust I would put in such a thing. If Brown, Owen and Pryor are confirmed, the bar has been set very, very low. It's hard to imagine how Bush could come up with anyone even less qualified or philosophically unacceptable than that, but they seem to be able to find the worst judicial freaks in the country so maybe they've been holding out on us. It also pays to remember that Earl Warren wasn't even a judge before he became Chief Justice. Bush could name James Dobson if he wanted to.
But he ends up calling the whole outcome a wash, because the right got some real nuts on the bench but failed to further disassemble our system of government. Pretty small crumbs...

Update 3: Chris at dailyKos does a line-by-line analysis of the agreement and concludes that it is a significant win for the Democrats. Fairly compelling. If you have the time to wade through some chunk of the comments, there's good stuff in there too...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Seeing spots

[substitute image of] spotty Bengal cat!
Um, I want one of these...

Delayed gratification is hard...

Priceless headlines

Sometimes a few words can capture deeper truth...

Fox's Fall Schedule Is Light on Reality


What kind of lives do we value?

Two excellent posts about, well, values and values.
  • First Digby does a rant at Hullabaloo about the stem cell research debate, and makes a striking point about what kind of life we seem willing to sacrifice (think petri dish no, Iraqi kid yes).

  • Greg Saunders, temping at This Modern World, points out that this sort of dichotomy extends to the provision of subsidized medical care -- apparently it's ok to give viagra to sexual predators, but also ok to erect insurmountable barriers between homeless and destitute folks and allegedly free medicines.
We do indeed live in a doublethink world...

Update: Saletan at Slate looks at the stem cell arguments against the death penalty arguments and also comes up a bit short. (via the Daou Report)

Friday, May 20, 2005

For RM (two days early)

who else but you
please tell me who else
can ever take your place
cascade of flowers
now give yourself a smile
what is the worth of a diamond
if it doesn't smile

how can i ever put a price
on the diamond that you are
you are the entire treasure of the house
-- Rumi
(via A Mindful Life)

Simple solutions for world-wide problems

Every once in a while somebody comes up with a very simple suggestion that transforms life in the more challenging parts of the world -- whether it's overnight mosquito control in malaria-plagued regions, or ways to make inexpensive huts for refugee camps out of sandbags. Today's innovation is one that could benefit people in many parts of the world where clean water is difficult to come by: a water purifying filter made out of coffee grounds and clay, with a clod of cow manure to provide the heat that solidifies it. All things widely available in most of the relevant regions.
“They are very simple to explain and demonstrate and can be made by anyone, anywhere,” says Mr Flynn. “They don’t require any western technology. All you need is terracotta clay, a compliant cow and a match.”
Human ingenuity comes to aid of human need, once again. MacGyver would be proud.

(via boing boing)

Who cares?

Echidne points out how few people are even aware of the "hot topics" in the political realm; a Pew poll found that only a tiny percentage of people were on top of such news as the Tom Delay investigations or details of the filibuster debate. This should be a caution to those who make much of the break-down of opinion (among those who have one), or who think that such issues will come back to haunt the politicians involved... Not everybody is a political hobbyist, and the challenge to those of us who feel strongly is to convince the rest that such matters have any impact on their lives at all.

Two takes on difficult times

Oh to have a lodge in some vast wilderness. Where rumors of oppression and deceit, of unsuccessful and successful wars may never reach me anymore.
- William Cowper,
poet (1731-1800)
(via A.W.A.D.)

And yet, the world refuses to fail, is not past saving . . .

(thanks, kim)

What are you trying to say?

The last couple of years have seen an amazing proliferation of American flags, yellow ribbons, and other shows of patriotism on people's homes, cars, and lapels. peace ribbon To me, in the context of the Iraq war, it stinks of jingoism, but it also bugs me in some other way that I couldn't quite put my finger on, until I read this post, which excerpts a reflection from Bill Moyers on the symbols, the everyday devotion of civic duty, and thence on what it means to be patriotic (privately or publicly).
Until now I haven’t thought it necessary to display a little metallic icon of patriotism for everyone to see. It was enough to vote, pay my taxes, perform my civic duties, speak my mind and do my best to raise our kids to be good Americans. Sometimes I would offer a small prayer of gratitude that I had been born in a country whose institutions sustain me, whose armed forces protected me and whose ideals inspired me. I offered my heart’s affection in return. It no more occurred to me to flaunt the flag on my chest than it did to pin my mother’s picture on my lapel to prove her son’s love.
The whole thing is only a couple extra paragraphs -- go read it.

And the band played on . . .

Tom Tomorrow had a strong post yesterday warning against complacency in the face of the radical agenda of the political and religious right. There's a tendency to make concessions to those in power, biding your time, but he argues that we can't afford to be accomodationist, because when we realize that they're irrational and have gone too far, it will be too late.
The moderates and Sensible Liberals may be content to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, but our time would be much better spent trying to figure out how to steer course away from the iceberg, if such is still possible.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Today's quote

Since I seem to be squirreling away links for posting another day...

a lit candleLive as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.
- Viktor Frankl,
author, neurologist and psychiatrist,
Holocaust survivor (1905-1997)
(via A.W.A.D.)

Top ten filibuster falsehoods

Media Matter upacks and/or documents the falsity of these claims commonly made by Frist and other opponents of the filibuster, from historical precedents to recent polling data.

(via Follow Me Here)

Q: anybody know how the action in the Senate went yesterday?

A: Well, Reid is bringing his game now!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Telescoping time

Digby points out that the current frenzied focus on the judiciary is hardly without precedent, and he also reminds us what it looked like the last time around, say about 50 years ago . . .

There's always a next time (and it starts again tomorrow)

Patience is also a form of action.
- Auguste Rodin,
sculptor (1840-1917)
(via A Word A Day)

They picked the wrong fight this time

George Galloway, a British member of Parliament, testified before the Senate yesterday to rebut accusations that had been made about his possible involvement in an oil-for-food scandal. Possibly the GOP Senators hoped that this accusation would divert attention from the recent discovery that the US was behind and directing most of the embargo-defying oil purchases, but they found themselves at the receiving end of the sort of blistering attack that only a Scotsman can bring.

Watch the video or read the transcript; either way, it makes you long for shows of spine on our side of the pond. Among the highlights:
As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country - a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defense made of his.
. . .
I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.
You might think they'd have shouted him down or cut him off, but I think that the combination of their surprise and his righteous indignation was too much. Anyway, they opened the door. Yee-hah!

Frist bringing his game?

Rumblings on the street are that the GOP Senators will bring a judicial nominee today in order to roll out the nuclear option. Of course, the rumbling has been audible for some time without this occurring, so there may still be some doubts about the uncommitted Senators who stand between Frist and the rewriting of Senate rules. Meantime, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, has been getting a drubbing from the suddenly sentient press corps...

Update: oops! Frist's colleagues have some confounding questions for him too!

(via Atrios)

Update 2: more rumblings, with analysis

How time flies!

Happy anniversary indeed. (Close to mine too, and I continue to feel unthreatened.) wedding rings
Not from the same day, but I still get chokey over this photo gallery.

(via Follow Me Here)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Selling us down the river

Bob Harris points out a grim confluence of Mideast power, donations to Congress, and needless environmental disasters here at home. To boil it down: Congress protects Saudis over Americans. And I'm supposed to worry about small-time payola in the awarding of city contracts?!

Quote for the day/week

milkweed podTo live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your life depends on it; and when the time comes, to let it go.
-- Mary Oliver
(via A Mindful Life)

Tuesday snark

A little pot-kettle thing at the expense of Scott McClellan, over at dailyKos. Sources, schmorces, I always say. (mmm, schmores!)

As long as you're reforming...

Media Matters writes an open letter to the New York Times, pointing out some ways in which their handling of the news could be more balanced (in the crazy reality-based sense).
... Recently progressives, too, have begun to pay attention to the political effects of language, yet nowhere are these concerns reflected in the report. To take one well-known example, at some point conservatives decided to call tax cuts "tax relief," a moniker directly implying that all taxes are oppressive and burdensome. Barely a week goes by in which this phrase does not appear in the pages of The New York Times -- used not by a conservative activist or Republican politician, but by a reporter who undoubtedly repeats it without considering its political implications.
red-hot news!
We do not believe that you should be intimidated into changing your own language simply because conservative partisans decide to alter the lexicon. In many cases -- such as the administration's farcical renaming of "suicide bombings" to "homicide bombings" -- the Times has wisely resisted this pressure. But the Times has performed less well in soft-pedaling the administration's plans for Social Security as "personal accounts" rather than privatization, and in misattributing the phrase "nuclear option" to Democrats, when in fact the term was originated by Republicans before they thought better of it.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of a really good critique (it starts a bit snarky but tightens up in a hurry). Good stuff!

(via Suburban Guerilla)

Better to shake your fist in the wind...

...than sit out in the acid rain. (?)

Um, that is, in the good news column, a group of 132 mayors has gotten together to try to enforce the Kyoto accord rules on a local level, fighting against change in the climate that are already having noticeable effects in their regions (as well as because, you know, they believe the scientists when they say that global warming will become a grave problem without intervention).
The mayors, from cities as liberal as Los Angeles and as conservative as Hurst, Tex., represent nearly 29 million citizens in 35 states, according to Mayor Nickels's office. They are pledging to have their cities meet what would have been a binding requirement for the nation had the Bush administration not rejected the Kyoto Protocol: a reduction in heat-trapping gas emissions to levels 7 percent below those of 1990, by 2012.

On Thursday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg brought New York City into the coalition, the latest Republican mayor to join.
. . .
The coalition is not the first effort by local leaders to take up the initiative on climate change. California, under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is moving to limit carbon dioxide emissions, and Gov. George A. Pataki of New York, also a Republican, has led efforts to reduce power plant emissions in the Northeast. But the coalition is unusual in its open embrace of an international agreement that the Bush administration has spurned, Mayor Nickels's office said, and is significant because cities are huge contributors to the nation's emission of heat-trapping gases.
These mayors disagree with administration arguments that new restrictions will have adverse economic impact -- in fact, some of them think their cities' very existence is in question (due to flooding, hurricanes, or drying up of farmland). Also noteworthy is that many of them are ramping up their reliance on wind and other renewable energy sources in order to meet their own goals. Inspiring.

Best quote of the article? Score one for framing here:
Jerry Ryan, the Republican mayor of Bellevue, Neb., ... described himself as a strong Bush supporter, but said he felt that the president's approach to global warming should be more like his approach to terrorism.

"You've got to ask, 'Is it remotely possible that there is a threat?' " he said. "If the answer is yes, you've got to act now."

(via Follow Me Here)

It's primary day in Philadelphia

If you're a local reader/voter and either (a) considering skipping the tiny vote today or (b) frustrated about which judges to pick, I've posted my complete recommendations for the Democratic party options here. The D.A. race is actually an important one, and there are meaningful differences among the judges too, so take a minute to do your part.

A couple of blows to "lifestyle choice" crap

Two fascinating neuroscience studies this week give insight into the degree to which sexual orientation is biologically mediated.
  1. Last week, a study done at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden noted that men and women's brains respond differently to a suspected male pheromone, and that gay men's brains responded like those of the straight women to these signals.
    gender symbols"In contrast to heterosexual men, and in congruence with heterosexual women, homosexual men displayed hypothalamic activation in response to AND [the pheromone]," Savic's team wrote.

    And a region of the brain called the anterior hypothalamus responded most strongly -- an area that in animals "is highly involved in sexual behavior." But other smells were processed the same in all three groups.

    "These findings show that our brain reacts differently to the two putative pheromones compared with common odors, and suggest a link between sexual orientation and hypothalamic neuronal processes."

  2. Today, we hear that Philadelphia's own Monell Chemical Senses Center (down the block from where I work) has announced a related finding: that people's conscious responses to body odors also track with their gender and sexual orientation.
    Homosexual men and lesbian women had patterns of body odor preferences that were different from those of heterosexual men and women. In particular, gay men were strikingly different from heterosexual men and women and from lesbian women, both in terms of which body odors gay men preferred and how their own body odors were regarded by the other groups. Gay men preferred odors from gay men and heterosexual women, whereas odors from gay men were the least preferred by heterosexual men and women and by lesbian women.
    Basically, the response of others to gay male sweat was more negative than the response to that from straight men, indicating that there is tangible difference in their body chemistry.
    "Our findings support the contention that gender preference has a biological component that is reflected in both the production of different body odors and in the perception of and response to body odors," remarks Monell neuroscientist Charles Wysocki, PhD. Wysocki and Yolanda Martins, PhD co-directed the research effort.
    (Quotes taken from the Monell press release [PDF] here.)
Well, that puts things in a rather different light than people like these might think, eh?

Monday, May 16, 2005

What global warming?

foread-slap, taken from the linked cartoonVery apt, this four-year-old cartoon by Ampersand...

U.S. Global Warming Strategy


Technology meets the bag lunch

Better life through science! A new can includes the capability to heat the liquid inside before you consume it (through a simple chemical reaction, triggered by a push-button). Currently intended for canned coffee/latte drinks (ick!), this could easily be extended to soup, etc., although I don't know whether the reaction can generate enough heat to warm up a more solid meal such as a TV dinner... [The article also mentions baby formula, which could really be a boone to traveling parents, I'm sure.]

(via Althouse)

Anagram of the day

grin!Justice Antonin Scalia = Action! Nutcases in jail.

(via the Drinking Liberally mailing list)

Going against the grain

We plan well for today and maybe next week, but how well can we see forward or backward a generation? Is our narrow lens causing us to self-destruct, because of our inability to conserve today for generations hence, and our distaste for placing restrictions on the choices and freedoms of our neighbors? This article looks at those questions from logistical and philosophical perspectives, and mulls how they impact our private planning and public policy. It is probable that solutions will come more easily in some areas than others. Worth a read.

(via Follow Me Here)

Friday, May 13, 2005

Geek is the new studly?

Apparently math is now sufficiently cool that advertisers are using equations to promote drinks to guys. All that cool glass-writing from A Beautiful Mind? The lovable academics of Numb3rs? The mind reels . . .zoom chalkboard!

(via Follow Me Here)

Quote of the week (decade?)

Wah! The culture is responsible for the decline of the media!

Wah! the media is responsible for the decline of the culture!

Rinse and repeat.
(initially via Atrios)

What does "the nuclear option" mean?

gavelRubber hose has a good post explaining that the term "nuclear option" doesn't refer merely to the seriousness of eliminating the filibuster, but even more to the fall-out that might follow, as Democrats invoke little-used rights to bring business to a halt.
(See this previous post for a different strategy that has been mentioned along these lines.)

How to tell that the extremists are in control

When they start running attack ads against moderate members of their own party. Looks like the Wizard of Oz is being unveiled, and his name is Dobson . . .

Thursday, May 12, 2005

More chipper Iraq news

The establishment of a new government in Iraq seems to have made the daily violence there considerably worse, not better. A number of experts say that there's little distinction between current affairs and civil war, and the insurgents are learning fast...

(via Booknotes)

Update: news that Guantanamo humiliations included desecration of the Koran are causing riots in a number of nations. As Rafe said, "Looks like our hearts and minds campaign to win Muslims over to our side is going swimmingly."

Update 2: A week later, there's some doubt about the Koran story. Of course, the public relations battle may already be lost...

Quote of the day

How do we cultivate a kind heart? It is not enough to tell ourselves that we should be nice, because telling ourselves what we should or should not be, feel, or do doesn't make us become that way. Filling ourselves with "shoulds" often just makes us feel guilty because we never are what we think we should be. We need to know how to actually transform our mind. In other words, we must realize the disadvantages of being self-centered. We must truly want to develop a kind heart, not just keep thinking that we should develop a kind heart.enso In the morning, when we first wake up, before getting out of bed, before thinking about what we will eat for breakfast or which obnoxious jerk we will see at the office, we can start the day by thinking, "Today as much as possible, I won't harm anybody. Today as much as possible I am going to try be of service and benefit to others. Today I want to do all actions so that all living beings can attain the long-term happiness of enlightenment."
- Thubten Chodron
(via breath by breath)

They'll get over it...

Upyernoz has a rather sobering tale taken from NPR, about soldiers in Iraq and our efforts to improve relations with the locals. It's sobering both in what is actually depicted -- a blithe disregard for the negative effects of everyday operations -- and in the way it tells the story without actually talking to any Iraqis about their feelings. Of course, it's hard not to imagine their feelings about the events portrayed (and he points out that we had a Revolution over some of those same abuses here).

Bloggers on fire

A lot of really great stuff over the last two days, chewy and incisive, on a variety of topics, at both Hullabaloo and Echidne of the Snakes. I considered a post on so many of the things that one or the other of them covered, that I decided I should just send you directly. Not all cheery stuff, of course, but eye-opening.

Democracy for beginners

postcard opening(or, Let's not rush into things)

Check out this postcard sent to Tom Tomorrow (by Kurt Vonnegut?)-- some advice to Iraq on building up their new democracy gradually, like we did...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Once more down the rabbit hole

Common Cause points out that, even though multiple audits have found billions in funds lost by Haliburton in Iraq, and have recommended that the government suspend payment until they clean up their act, instead we are giving them a nice bonus for all their hard work. These Bush cronies give the term snafu a whole new meaning . . .

(via The Daou Report)

Very spiffy neuroscience news

A research team at Duke has been working with monkeys and studying their ability to control a robot arm. First they implanted some very fine electrodes into the monkeys' brains and found that they could learn to control the arm through neural signals only. Second, they separated the action of the monkeys' own arms from that of the robotic arms by getting rid of the joystick -- the animals took a couple of days to discover that they could "reach" with the robotic arm while not moving their own arms. But they figured it out, in essence adding the new "limb" to their repetoire of personal tools.
"Mikhail's analysis of the brain signals associated with use of the robotic and animals' actual arms revealed that the animal was simultaneously doing one thing with its own arm and something else with the robotic arm," he said. "So, our hypothesis is that the adaptation of brain structures allows the expansion of capability to use an artificial appendage with no loss of function, because the animal can flip back and forth between using the two. Depending on the goal, the animal could use its own arm or the robotic arm, and in some cases both."
This is really neat in terms both of its clinical potential and in what it says about the adaptability of the (adult) primate brain.

(via boing boing)

Poem for the week

If I die, survive me with such sheer force
that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold,
from south to south lift your indelible eyes,
from sun to sun dream through your singing mouth.
I don't want your laughter or your steps to waver,
spring flowerI don't want my heritage of joy to die.
Don't call up my person. I am absent.
Live in my absence as if in a house.
Absence is a house so vast
that inside you will pass through its walls
and hang pictures on the air
Absence is a house so transparent
that I, lifeless, will see you, living,
and if you suffer, my love, I will die again.
- Pablo Neruda
(via whiskey river)

The Devil's in the details

I noted recently that the appropriations bill just passed included a rather frightening provision for establishment of a national ID card, the RealID program. What I didn't realize was that the same bill contained an even more alarming (and potentially dangerous) innovation -- an attempt to make itself immune from judicial review. As Digby points out,
The right has held for decades that judicial review has no constitutional foundation. Because of various rulings over the past 50 years on civil and individual rights with which they disagree, they have developed the dogma that the courts do not have the right to determine if a law is unconstitutional, despite more than 200 years of acceptance of Marbury vs Madison and the debate that came before. This is what Pat Robertson is talking about when he says, "if you look over the course of a hundred years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings." (It's actually the last 200 years he's trying to overturn, but what's a century or two?)
These hubristic legislators just can't get enough of their conviction that the framers of the Constitution always meant to exclude them from the balance of powers among the branches of government, and they're really running with it these days.
As far as I've been able to ascertain, nobody has ever actually passed and signed a bill that would explicitly exempt legislation from judicial review. This is unprecedented and if it happens it should trigger a constitutional crisis. If congress can pass any laws it wants and declare them exempt from judicial review --- as with the Real ID bill -- and also peremptorily "bar judicially ordered compensation or injunction or other remedy for damages" then our system of checks and balances has been gutted. There will be nothing to stop a majority, particularly if it ends the filibuster, from passing any laws it chooses with a simple majority and exempting all of them from judicial review for constitutionality. In other words, the constitution says what the majority says it says.
In all honesty, the idea of laws being free from court challenge is quite scary, but when you add to that the arbitrary acts of the Department of Homeland Security (particularly in light of recent abuses carried out in the name of the War on Terror), then I'm really not sleeping well...

[and that's without considering the even more alarming issues suggested by Digby's piece.]

(via Hullabaloo)

Anything that can be privatized...

Kos has a pointed note about military staffing through contractors, and a comparison between the pay scales of the same jobs in the military versus private sectors (see previous worry on the same topic here). How can this make sense to anybody, especially given the problems with contractor discipline, and the increasing difficulty of military recruitment...? Somebody's making a bundle, so let's not worry about the boys on the line.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Goodbye to a long-time friend

Buddy Pal, 1988-2005

You had a huge fan-base, pal, and well deserved.
We'll sure miss your insistent companionship and creaky voice.
Thanks for giving us time to say goodbye...

(He pretty much just gave out. Kidney failure at the end, but essentially a long, slow decline. Only uncomfortable for the last few days, gradually quieter. He just wisped away.)

Despite our cares and woes

The world renews. Thanks to Paula's House of Toast for this wonderful array of signs of spring breaking forth, the world giving itself another chance. I needed it today.

Belated support for a beleagured institution

It's very trendy to bash the United Nations, pointing out that it, like all human institutions, is prone to graft and other sins. However, it's worth remembering that there is much that the organization does well that nobody else is well placed to do. Suzanne at Democracy Arsenal offers a Top 10 List of Things the UN Does Well. It's a powerful list, ranging from peacekeeping efforts to immunizations, as well as being an outlet for issues and circumstances that would otherwise be invisible to the outside world. Worth checking it out -- short and sweet, with links and more.

(via Alas, a blog)

Some thoughts on science

Two things encountered recently:
  1. Spiked asked a group of eminent scientists what they would choose if they could teach the world just one thing, and presents the answers. Some take a factual bent, others more philosophical...
    I should teach the world that science is the art of doubt, not of certainty. Science is the antithesis of faith, and of the popular view that science provides immutable theories and fixed facts about the world in which we live.
    - Frances M Ashcroft
    (via boing boing)

  2. A Canadian site documents the critical role that volunteers play in much environmental research. Their examples are all from Canadian studies, but similar "lay scientists" provide invaluable assistance to scientists in other nations and fields, especially in tracking migratory birds throughout the world. It's heartening to see the amount of effort that people are willing to put into such efforts, fueled merely by a sense of civic contribution and curiosity about the natural world.
    For some, these observations have been a ritual for over 50 years or a duty passed down through their family for three generations. Either way, long-term, continuous observations of specific regions of Canada add an important page to the story of our climatic past—a story that is not only crucial to understanding climate change, but is also used in myriad ways by city planners, policy makers, engineers, farmers, insurance companies, the tourism industry and others.
    (via Rebecca's Pocket)

Another kind of shell game

President Bush likes to talk about finding "new sources of energy," a laudable goal. But not all energy is equal -- not just in price or environmental cleanliness, but even in purposes to which it can be put. For example, making more electricity with nuclear plants may help reduce dependence on coal, but it does nothing about oil consumption, because most oil is not used to make electricity. That seems obvious when you spell it out, but the distinction gets lost in most lines of discussion, and it's hard not to think that the confusion is beneficial to those with friends in the nuclear industry and investments of a different sort in the Middle East...watch the pea...

(via dangerous meta)

Redefinition: it's not just for science any more

Turns out that it's not just the definition of science that's in trouble (see next post down), but history itself is being rewritten. Where, China? Russia? No, Virginia, where school textbooks take the safest tack in handling the delicate subjects of the Civil War and Reconstruction, by omitting them entirely. Backward, ho, from the Enlightenment into the Dark Ages!

(via Alas, a blog)

Monday, May 09, 2005

Coming out in the open

The creationists and proponents of Intelligent Design are discovering that nobody buys their "alternate scientific theory" veil for religious dogma. So they take the next logical step, proposing that Kansas "alter the definition of science, not limiting it to theories based on natural explanations." Well, that would be a change!

I'm with Hunter at dailyKos, who opines
My problem with this debate is that this isn't about being pro-religion or anti-religion or faith-neutral; it's about institutionalizing stupidity as a valid lifestyle choice.
And I'm less worried about stupidity as a lifestyle choice (which natural selection can handle) than with institutionalized stupidity as a societal choice, which means we could all go down in flames together, comfortably free of any pesky notions of action and consequence . . .

Friday, May 06, 2005

Geek versimilitude

let your geek flag fly!There's now a consultancy firm in Hollywood that specializes in providing science and math consultants to movie and TV production firms, so that they can be sure that the blackboard scribbles bear some resemblance to real equations or diagrams, and that the academic or other scientific settings have the right equipment and feel. Great gig for poor graduate students, and it could prevent some of the scientific gaffs that I recall from Star Trek NG or X-Files episodes past...

How did I miss the passage of this?!?!

Apparently the military spending bill just passed by the House includes the creation of a national ID card.
Starting three years from now, if you live or work in the United States, you'll need a federally approved ID card to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments, or take advantage of nearly any government service. Practically speaking, your driver's license likely will have to be reissued to meet federal standards.
. . .
Homeland Security is permitted to add additional requirements--such as a fingerprint or retinal scan--on top of those [name, photo, number, security features, etc.]. We won't know for a while what these additional requirements will be.
The program (Real ID) also includes some burdensome requirements for immigrants and overrides some provisions of the Intelligence Reform Act. As Congressman Wexler says,
The Republican leadership shamelessly chose to bundle important aid with controversial new legislation forcing members of Congress to thoughtlessly consent to REAL ID in order to support tsunami assistance, increased funding for military personnel - including increased military death gratuities and life insurance benefits for active duty troops.
It is expected that Senators will be loath to vote against military and tsunami aid, and Bush is eager to sign such legislation, so this may be a done deal. But perhaps there is room for opposition, either legislative or legal, before the provision would go into effect.

(via boing boing)

Update: yup, the Senate passed it, 100 to 0. Nobody wants a vote "against the troops" on their record...

Congratulations, Karen!

artist's pallet
Our imagination flies;
we are its shadow
on the earth.
- Vladimir Nabokov
(via whiskey river)

Hear no evil...

The British press has made much of a recent memo that indicated their diplomats' awareness that the Bush administration was headed to war in Iraq whether or not there was evidence to support it.
"C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. ..."
And yet, a week and a whole British election have gone by and the American media seems not to have noticed this striking piece of evidence. Is Bush malfeasance just old news? the public perceived as tired of reading about it? or do they want to stay far away from the smoking gun when it arrives? Strange.

It feels like a part of me dies when I read this

A church in North Carolina has decided to give up on asking its liberal members to repent of their misguided notions, and has asked all Democrats to leave the church for good. A number of others left in protest, but the majority of the congregation apparently rose and applauded. I find this chilling -- forget tax-exemption and separation of church and state, what happened to peacemaking, loving the unlovable, and that other crazy stuff that Jesus preached? The kos blogger refers to eliminationist tendencies, which are undeniably and frighteningly spreading on the right in this country, but I just think of a religion of acceptance and renewal that is increasingly comfortable writing off or cutting off whole swaths of itself and the world that just seem too challenging. When will they recognize that they are eviscerating their own faith?
jarring Signe cartoon...
(via Medley)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Who supports the troops?

Just two tidbits, offered to speak for themselves:
  1. The summary of who voted for or against authorization of more armor for military vehicles in Iraq (with affiliation of each).

  2. A revisitation of the apocryphal stories of anti-war citizens spitting on troops returning from Vietnam.
As The Liberal Avenger says, "The enemy is the system that sends men into battle in pointless wars of choice that are doomed from the start." Sometimes we just love those kids to death.

One man's free speech...

A few months back the networks refused to air an ad from the United Church of Christ (an old mainstream denomination) touting its acceptance and welcome, ostensibly because they don't accept ads from religious organizations, but really because it offered tacit acceptance to gays seeking the church as well. Now the double-standard is revealed, as those same networks happily accept an ad from Focus on the Family, an organization with a stated religious agenda. (kos captures the hypocrisy with pithy out-takes.) TV! hmmm.

(See previous discussion of the banned ad and rationale offered then here.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Wednesday quote

A short day today, so I fill in with this thought:

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
(via Rebecca's Pocket)

Modern-day McCarthyism

Plenty of people look askance at free speech when they don't agree with it, and in this period of increasing loyalty-test-level discussions, just putting up a yard sign may mean you're taking a risk. One woman found that out when the Secret Service and state troopers showed up at her door wanting to know more about her political views, asking for her medical records, and taking pictures around her house . . . It's easy for the disgruntled to point a finger, as many found out in Salem a few centuries back.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Whose truth?

Via a sidebar (furling) of Medley, this fascinating article about the assault of Christian fundamentalists on the neutrality of the state with regard to religion, and about what that means about their ultimate goals and approach to truth. The entire thing is great, so it's tough to pick pull-quotes, but here are a few:
America, which separated church and state precisely to protect the private right to worship, has long had its share of religious absolutists who have wanted to harness the power of the state to their own view of revealed truth. But never before in our history has the government deliberately and cynically intervened on the side of the zealots.
. . .
The philosophers of the Enlightenment were men of science who understood that faith could not be disputed but that reason could be subjected to the test of logic and evidence. The American Revolution was a triple triumph -- for political democracy, religious tolerance, and for the free inquiry demanded by the scientific method.

shredding the flagToday's religious extremists are not only trying to use the state, with all its power, as religious proselytizer. They oppose science when it happens to conflict with their version of revealed truth. They twist history to claim that the Republic's freethinking Founders, like Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, were really theocrats like themselves. They long for the predemocratic world of absolutes circa 1500.
And, perhaps to sum it all up,
I never thought I'd live to see a time when the Enlightenment -- the Enlightenment! -- was politically controversial. Democracy, like science, depends on debate, tolerance, and evidence. And in a democracy, nothing is scarier than a political force convinced it is getting irrefutable truth directly from God.
Too, too true.

Aside: Not to make light of the above (go! read it!), but I was reminded of this painful quip from some time back:
At lunch today, a colleague sat down at the table, opened the NY Times, sighed, and remarked: "19th century economic policy, 16th century domestic policy, and 11th century foreign policy -— that’s the Bush administration."

Coming back to yourself (poem of the day)

Love After Love

The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other's welcome,

And say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you

All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
stencil flower
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
-- Derek Walcott
(via whiskey river)

Theory versus practice

Most people trust their own judgment; a subset of those presume that nobody else's judgment can be trusted. This is most jarring when it results in a glaring hypocrisy, as in the case of these pro-life activists getting abortions (and asking the staff to help them sneak in and out of the clinic, etc.). You have to read a few of the stories to see how completely these women are able to privilegs their own experience; even after getting into an unforeseen situation themselves, they seem incapable of the empathy required to imagine that most of the people sharing the waiting room might be in exactly the same (or similarly justifiable) circumstances.
She told me that she had been offended by the other women in the abortion clinic waiting room because they were using abortion as a form of birth control, but her condom had broken so she had no choice! I had real difficulty not pointing out that she did have a choice, and she had made it! (Ontario physician)
The stories are really jaw-dropping. I'm sure that there are principled members of the pro-life camp, but there are plenty of folks for whom it's just about punishing women whose morals they suspect. You can see why dialogue might be difficult . . .

Monday, May 02, 2005

Today's dose of randomness

Maybe this idea comes from the old advice to put a cold steak on a black eye. Or maybe its creators are just badly in need of sleep. In either case...

Bacon strips bandages

(via boing boing)

Hunting down the last imagined witches

Echidne reports that the new uber-head of PBS is attempting to instill greater "balance" by getting GOP operatives to help monitor the content of shows and give advice on future decisions. Among other things.
Mr. Tomlinson wants to make the PBS fairer and more balanced. I agree with him. It would be nice to have the same number of liberal and lefty interviewees as those from the wingnut side. But this is not where Mr. Tomlinson sees problems. Rather, he thinks the PBS is a vile left-wing plot, the beating heart of the so-called liberal media, the oppressor of all things right and wingnutty, and he wants to stop this horrible state of affairs.oh help/ack
I found the whole report depressing, but it's important to pay attention to what they're up to. One can only wonder whether NPR will be next on the block...

Update: For more on what counts as "balance" these days, see this cartoon.
...magical elves will soon eat the entire deficit!

Rhetorical warfare continues

...as Pat Roberston defines the judiciary as the greatest threat to our way of life in the history of our nation.
Confronted by Stephanopoulos on his claims that an out-of-control liberal judiciary is the worst threat America has faced in 400 years - worse than Nazi Germany, Japan and the Civil War - Robertson didn't back down.

"Yes, I really believe that," he said. "I think they are destroying the fabric that holds our nation together."
Why do we only recognize the spittle when it comes from a face overseas? These guys are starting to make me lose sleep...

Update: Mithras points out that these guys have had this agenda for several years now...

This time it will be different

Because, you know, we're building democracy in Iraq. And there aren't any jungles. And our guys aren't smoking dope and listening to the Doors.

But they're still scared kids, far from home and under attack at unpredictable intervals. It was bound to happen that they would become increasingly hostile to their situation and eventually dehumanize the population around them.
"Guys in my unit, particularly the younger guys, would drive by in their Humvee and shatter bottles over the heads of Iraqi civilians passing by. They'd keep a bunch of empty Coke bottles in the Humvee to break over people's heads."

He said he had confronted guys who were his friends about this practice. "I said to them: 'What the hell are you doing? Like, what does this accomplish?' And they responded just completely openly. They said: 'Look, I hate being in Iraq. I hate being stuck here. And I hate being surrounded by hajis.' "
Hajis. Ragheads. Gooks. Kikes. It's not new, but it's not good. And right now it's the public face of our nation. Those guys need to come home, for all of our sakes.

(via Atrios)