Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stealing Yglesias

Because it's so good, I'm just going to quote Matthew Yglesias's entire post:

Ed Gillespie’s RealClearPolitics article on “Myths and Facts About the Real Bush Record” is about as stupid and dishonest as you’d expect. But after “debunking” five perfectly accurate alleged myths, Gillespie gets into the whopper that really gets my goat:

And one last fact: Our homeland has not suffered another terrorist attack since September 11, 2001. That, too, is part of the real Bush record.

This is like saying that except for the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover had a good economic record. The vast majority of Americans to have ever been killed by foreign terrorists were killed under George W. Bush’s watch. As Gillespie says, whether or not a president succeeds in preventing foreign terrorists from murdering thousands of American citizens is an important part of that president’s record. And Bush took office on January 20, 2001. Nine or so months later by far the largest terrorist attack on American soil was perpetrated. That’s a fantastically enormous failing. If you only look at Bush’s final seven years, you’ll see that he was as good as every other president at preventing terrorist attacks. And if you include his entire presidency, you’ll see that he was by far the worst.

Not suffered another terrorist attack since 9/11?

One word: Anthrax.

Remember, kids, it's only terrorism if it's done by a Muslim!

And from the comments:

...the conservatives never give Bill Clinton any love for preventing another terrorist attack after the first World Trade Center bombing that took place six weeks after his inauguration. You know, the one whose perpetrators are all in jail. Instead, they sneer at him for trating terrorism as a “law enforcement issue.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rick Warren: Bigoted Dumbass

Liberals everywhere are rather pissed off that Obama has chosen the odious Rick Warren to give his inauguration speech. David has a good post on the subject. One of the reasons Warren fought against Prop. 8 is that he claimed it would mean preachers that spoke out against gay marriage would go to jail since that would be hate speech, an out-and-out lie.

W.A. Criswell was a Southern Baptist preacher who Warren once described as "the greatest American pastor of the 20th Century." This is a quote from Criswell:

Don't force me by law, by statute, by Supreme Court decision ... to cross over in those intimate things where I don't want to go. Let me build my life. Let me have my church. Let me have my school. Let me have my friends. Let me have my home. Let me have my family

That sounds like pretty boilerplate text you could expect from any conservative Christian when it comes to the gay marriage issue, no? I really wouldn't bat an eye if I heard Warren or Pat Robertson say something like that. (One of the more ludicrous objections gay rights opponents come up with is that gay marriage would somehow hurt their marriages, though they never say exactly how.

But Criswell wasn't talking about gay marriage. He was supporting segregation.

That arguments for segregation seem so applicable to gay marriage opponents seems telling to me, somehow.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Math. It matters.

From a letter in today's News-Gazette

The reason that the Big 3 cannot compete is executive salaries. The math once again proves how wrong Kruse is for blaming the autoworkers. The top two General Motors executives combined salaries were over $22 million in 2007. Divide that by 3.8 million cars sold by GM in 2007, and you find that these two salaries added over $5,800 to the price of every car GM sold in America last year.

Yes, please. Divide $22 million by 3.8 million. Did you get 5,800?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Yokel gets his magical Mormon panties all in a bunch

Sigh. The yokels just keep writing. The literate ones, anyway. This week's yokel is Robert Dunn, who will be familiar with anyone that spends too much time on IlliniPundit. This particular letter to the editor of the N-G has got to be the biggest, most hysterical overreaction I've seen in ages. Mr. Dunn is all a lather about the uppity homosexuals not letting him persecute them like a good Christian should be able to.

I am appalled at the treatment that my church has received at the hands of radical homosexual groups

Well, that's fair. I'm appalled that your church would decide to poke it's nose into California politics that are really none of its business. Single-handedly hurting thousands of California families so you can feel all self-righteous is pretty appalling. I can only wonder how many hungry people could have been fed with the $20 million Mr. Dunn's church spent on it's campaign of lies and deceit.

Seriouly, Mr. Dunn is "appalled" at protests and demonstrations? The threshold for appall-dom is set pretty low these days. Personally, I'm more appalled at sick people dying alone while their loved ones are not allowed to be at their deathbeds because they're not "real family."

Notice how it's always "radical" homosexuals? The only non-radicals being the good little queers that just quietly bend over and let the Mormon Church give them the shaft, if you'll pardon the metaphor. The only way Dunn could have made that more of a cliche would have been to call them "radical homosexual activists." Now that's scary!

Now that conservatives are back in the wilderness, it is the time for all conservative Christians to unite beyond denominational and theological distinctions to defend our right to speak out on important moral issues.

Conservatives are back in the wilderness? I'm sorry, did FOX News go off the air while I wasn't looking? Did Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, World Net Daily, freerepublic.com, and even IlliniPundit suddenly get up and evaporate while I wasn't looking?

With liberal Democrats ... our First Amendment rights are in jeopardy.

Wait, whaaaaat? Liberal Democrats, the most free-speech political group you can think of are a threat to the First Amendment? Which party ran a candidate that wanted to get Harry Potter banned from the library? Which party is trying to ban the Kite Runner in local schools now?

With the possible implementation of the Fairness Doctrine, religious broadcasting is threatened.

Ohhh. Now it makes sense. The Fairness Doctrine is that ridiculous thing that Rush Limbaugh uses to frighten his listeners. It's a dead deal. No one is talking about bringing the Fairness Doctrine back. No one. Except Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, trying to scare their Dittoheads into being all mouth-frothy.

...we are one Supreme Court justice away from having an anti-life, anti-free speech, anti-traditional values majority in the nation's highest court.

Why do I think that, when the next piece of controversial religious art comes along, Dunn's new-found support of the First Amendment will evaporate like Ted Haggard's pants? An anti-life Supreme Court? What, would they suck the life force out of the lawyers arguing before them? I, for one, welcome our new black-robed, vampiric judicial overlords.

This is a call to unity among all of those who believe that our nation was founded as a Christian nation conceived in liberty.

Geez, all this "Christian nation" nonsense just chafes my butt. People like Dunn seem to think that, because their Christian God is the font of all goodness, and because America is by definition good, America must be Christian. That's poppycock and the founding fathers like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and the like knew it. In fact, they specificially rejected Christianity as the basis for our government.

Now here is the piece de resistance, where Dunn completely jumps the shark:

If we do not stand as one, we could be looking in the future when a letter like this is deemed a "hate crime" and the author is thrown in prison in our new Orwellian moment of "change and unity" under Obama.

Wow. Paranoid delusions much? Name me one public figure that has said that writing a ridiculous letter like Dunn's would be a hate crime. Find me one hate crimes statute that would classify Dunn's bigoted little rant as a hate crime. You can't, because they don't.

But these fundies hate having their bigotry called out as such. And anyone pointing it out is "persecuting them because they're Christians." We live in a country where religous conservatives regularly blame gays for everything from California wildfires to the current economic crisis. They're free to predict Gay Day at Disney would lead to meteor strikes. The Republican Party of Texas still has as part of its platform that gays should be put in prison. So get down off the cross, Mr. Dunn. Soylent Mormon is quite a ways off.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

False economy

One of the sillier things about the proposed auto manufacturer bailout is the noise that was made at the last hearing about the fact that the company CEOs took the company jets from Detroit to Washington, DC. In fact, I'm pretty sure I heard more about that fact than about what actually happened at the hearing. (Amusing fact. When Ford's CEO was asked if he would take a pay cut of his $2 million salary to a symbolic $1, his response was "I'm think I'm OK where I am." Uh, duh.)

Because of the bad PR last time, it's been announced that the Ford CEO will actually be driving to Washington, DC later this week. That has got to be the dumbest economic move ever. According to Google Maps, that's about a 9 hour drive. Let's say he's got an iron bladder like Dr. Fig (don't ask), and will make only the minimum of stops. So let's say it's a 10 hour drive, door-to-door.

Ford's CEO make a $2 million salary, but his total compensation package is $22 million. That means he gets paid $11,000 per hour. Nice work if you can get it, but that means just the time it will take to make this drive will cost Ford $110,000.

But there are even more costs to consider. Mulally is making this trip to ask Congress for the money that might mean the difference between staying in business and going under. (And Ford is probably in the best shape of the Big Three.) So if for some reason, he misses all or part of the hearings, the very future of Ford would be jeopardized. Makes the stakes of having a flat tire seem a lot higher, no? For want of a spare tire...

To get to DC, Mulally will have to drive through Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. In December. What are the odds that there might be several inches of snow just like we got in Illinois on Sunday somewhere in that 500 miles? Maybe one percent? And if that snow had a 50/50 chance of stopping the CEO to get to the hearing to beg for his company's future? That's a 1 in 200 chance that we'd lose a company worth $18 billion, even taking into account the recent troubles in the stock market. Alleviating that risk might be worth the price of a private jet.

Flying commercial isn't much better, either. It will take several more hours that flying in a private jet. (I'm guessing, never having flown in a Lear.) Remember that $11,000 an hour? Again, you have all the risk of being delayed because of weather, an oversold plane, mechanical problems, etc.

I'm not saying that the CEO getting to take the company jet on a weekend shopping trip to Rodeo Drive isn't extravagant and unnecessary. I'm just saying that sometimes spending money to save the time of an extremely valuable employee or in an incredibly high-risk situation is sometimes a sensible expense.

What's with salted butter?

Meijer had butter on sale the other day, so I was going to get a pound to stick in the freezer. I don't go in for any of that fancy gourmet butter, so I was just looking for my usual, 1-pound box of unsalted butter quarters. For some reason it seemed to me the section for salted butter was enormous compared to the one for unsalted butter. Why?

People put salt in butter before the days of refrigeration so it wouldn't spoil as fast. These days, it seems everyone has access to both a refrigerator and electricity; some people even have indoor plumbing. So the need to add salt to butter to stop if from spoiling is rather unnecessary. So why is there such a demand for salted butter?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Google just "gets it"

I don't have a home laptop, so when I travel, I'm pretty much either without Internet connectivity unless I can borrow a computer. It's not that I'm a luddite or anything, I'm just a cheap bastard. So, when my sister gave me her hand-me-down PDA to replace my old Palm, I thought it was just neat that it had built in wi-fi. I could check my email anywhere, even in a hotel while traveling. Now that wi-fi is available in the iTouch and probably state-of-the art toasters these days, that doesn't sound like much, but it was new to me.

I originally got a Yahoo email account many years ago because it was difficult for me to check my ISP email while traveling. Their web-based interface was accessible anywhere. Then I got a Gmail account becuase it was the new and shiny thing and I wanted to give it a try. So I check both now and then.

Or at least, I tried to. On the PDA, Google's apps load up very well. There's a mobile version of the search page and of the mail application. At my ISPs webmail interface it doesn't work quite as seamlessly, there's a lot of scrolling up and down and linebreaks are a bit screwy, but hey, it works.

Then I went to Yahoo. Did I get a poorly-laid out, but functional, page? Nope. I got a "Sorry, but you can't use this browser with Yahoo Mail" message and nothing else. It wouldn't even let me in.

This week, I got to sit in on a web and telephone based conference with someone at Google about cloud computing. In it, they talk about all the different ways people are accessing the Internet and what they're doing with it. It's very clear that Google is a company that just "gets it" when it comes to next-generation computing applications.

Honestly, I think that most people don't need the mega-functionality of Microsoft Office. I started using Google Docs when I was job-hunting and needed access to my documents both at home and at work. It's incredibly easy to use and the ability to have immediate access to your documents from anywhere can be invaluable. It would probably be perfect for most home users and even small businesses. Come on, when was the last time you needed to use the Mail Merge function of Word or inserted a Table of Authorities?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Computer woes

Well, this is frustrating. My computer has just recently taken to spontaneously shutting down for no apparent reason. No warning or anything, just in the middle of whatever I'm doing ... pfffft. I'm reasonably sure it just needs the power supply replaced, which is about a $100-150 fix.

But it's just over 3 years old and I had been thinking about replacing it this January. Replacing the power supply is a good 10-20% of the cost of a new computer. The idea of being without a computer for a protracted period strikes fear into my heart, so it seems reasonable to replace it early.

I haven't bought a computer in three years, so I've fallen behind in what's good, what's not, and what former players in the market are a shadow of themselves. I'm thinking about either going with a mail-order configurator like Cyberpower, but I've also considered getting a premade system at Circuit City or Best Buy and dropping in a decent graphics card. I'm avoiding Dell. I think their quality has improved over what it once was, but I think they're overpriced. Does anyone have any suggestions as to a vendor or experiences they'd like to share?

And just to stave off the inevitable, no a Mac is not an option.

UPDATE: No boot for me! It looks like the turning-off-unexpectedly problem has turned into a wont-even-boot problem. Nuts. Thank goodness for work laptops you can take home. Posting may be light for the next couple of weeks. Fortunately, I don't think I lost any data. Since this is probably a power supply problem, it should all be intact on the hard drive. When I get a new computer, I'll get an external drive encloser and drop my old hard drive into that. That way I'll have all my old data and a backup drive, too!

Hey, if you do mostly desktop applications, word processing, email and the like, a Mac is probably a good choice. On the other hand, you can get a decent PC suitable for doing all those things for a third of the price. Wow, it looks like you can even get an ultra-portable from Dell for $350. Admittedly that's probably not good for much other than web browsing and email, but damn, you can spend more than that on a PDA.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Get thee to IlliniPundit

I was going to put up a link to Glock21's post about Prop 8, in which he is both more verbose and more eloquent than me when it comes to the issue. But it looks like he cross-posted it to IlliniPundit, where there is a surprisingly long comment thread. Unfortunately, the anti-marriage crowd is fairly vocal and self-righteous. So, I encourage everyone to visit and chime in with their $0.02. Just please be civil.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Why do conservatives hate history?

Via Pharyngula, I found this conservative nitwit complaining that the Left is being discriminatory because ... they're opposed to discrimination:

Do the Left not understand that the majority of Californians want to keep the definition of marriage as it has been since the beginning of time?

From the Only True Bible(TM), 1 Kings 11:

And [Solomon] had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.

"Beginning of time" does not mean what you think it means, dumbass.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

My last thoughts on politics for a while

One, it's good for it to be over, finally.

Two, to the GOP: neener, neener, neener.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Peeking behind the curtain of "voter fraud"

Basically, what Ezra said:

All the evidence suggests that the actual threats to the "fabric of our democracy" come from disenfranchisement: Voter purges using programs with crude name-matching algorithms, insufficient voter machines in heavily populated urban centers, partisan challenges of individual voters when they attempt to vote. The literature leaves no doubt that huge numbers of legitimate voters lose the ability to weigh in on election day. By contrast, there's no empirical support for the idea that voter registration fraud is a significant factor in elections ("The only way Mickey Mouse could vote is if he shows up with a federally approved form of ID. And if they wanted to affect the election, they'd have to have multiple addresses and do it an incredible amount of times."). But by making noise about the rare instances of fraud rather than the constant instances of disenfranchisement, Republicans are able to frame the conversation around further restricting the ability to vote. The idea of expanding the franchise -- making it easier to vote and harder to be wrongfully purged -- is far from the conversation. And that's the point.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why are so many Republicans delusional?

I was watching Washington Journal on C-SPAN yesterday (sorry, their video server is down, so no link), when one of the callers said he could never vote for Obama because "he's convinced that there's Muslim money behind him." This seems to refer to some vague notion that he's a Manchurian Muslim or in the pocket of a conspiracy run by some sinister, shadowy Jews Muslims. It's similar, of course, to the claim that was being pushed by FOX News and the Republican Party a few months ago that Obama was himself a Muslim. My mother works with a guy that's also convinced Arabs have been plotting to put Obama in office for years.

You'll find conservatives are pushing the line that Obama isn't even African-American, he's really Arab-American. I guess being black isn't Muslim-scary enough. Here we see it at GOPUSA:

[Obama] is the illegitimate son of a Kenyan Arab; not of an American Black (so we don’t owe him apologies for slavery); and stepson of an Indonesian Moslem. Obama was a Moslem studying the Koran in a Madrassa when he was 10 and listed as a Moslem in his Catholic school later on.

Here is The Conservative Voice:

Does Arab ancestry explain Obama's Palestinian sympathy and opposition to deposing Saddam Hussein by force? ...

The Senator's background is: Caucasian from his mother [and] Arab African from his father. Before all the Obamiacs jump on the answer, the Kenyan Obamas are listed in the Kenyan census as Arab African not as Tribal 'Black' African. His father's great great grandmother was a Tribal African.

"Therefore by ethnic lines the Senator is 50% Caucasian, 43.75% Arab, and 6.25% Black African (from where the Senator gets his skin pigmentation).

Here's a picture of Obama with his "non-black" father:

Here's one blogger of some renown again claiming Obama is of Arab descent. Here's a commentator at World Net Daily (color me surprised) insinuating, as recently as September, that Obama really is a Muslim.

These people are clearly delusional. This stuff is so easily debunked, and has been so thoroughly debunked that their claims fall apart under even the most trivial of examination. So why is it so persistent?

But my larger question is why is this sort of lunacy particularly a Republican phenomenon? You don't see influential forces on the Democratic side speculating about whether McCain was turned by the Viet Cong during his capture and that he really is a Manchurian candidate. You don't see people suggesting that Sarah Palin's having spent her life within sight of Russia has made her into a Communist, her socialist redistribution of Alaskan oil monies notwithstanding. Honestly, I don't have an answer, why is it that this kind of foolishness is a purely Republican phenomenon?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How does this crap stay on the air?

Last week I had the pleasure of driving cross-country, which meant a lot of listening to the radio. I came across one radio show, which turned out to be The Glenn Beck Program. As most right-wing news broadcasters do, Beck has a radio show where he spouts off crap with no one to challenge him, usually telling us how smart he is in the process. It's the same with Limbaugh, Hannity, and O'Reilly.

But I was amazed at what he was saying. He was talking about Obama's economic plan, and allowing 401(k) withdrawals:

...he wants to make penalty-free withdrawals from retirement accounts up to $10,000. We should not be doing anything that encourages people to take money out of their 401(k). If you're in an emergency, I get it. If you are going to lose your house, I get it. If your spouse has died and buried them, you have to do it, I get it. But not to pay off your credit card bills. Why would you do that? Quite frankly it's not to help people. It's to enslave people. Because the more you can deplete your 401(k) to pay off things that are not dire emergencies like death or losing your home, you deplete your savings.

The right-wing complains about so-called liberal media bias all the time. At most, you'll find someone like Olbermann accusing Bush of being incompetent. I can't think of a single case, and I challenge someone to find me an example, of a supposedly liberally-biased news person accusing a Republican of actual malice in his policies.

And not just malice, but lily-white Beck saying that Obama, an African-American, wants to "enslave" America? That's just beyond tasteless. It's like accusing Joe Lieberman of wanting to start another Holocaust.

This week it was announced that Beck's show will be leaving CNN Headline News and moving to ... wait for it ... FOX News. Color me surprised.

Monday, October 06, 2008

My thoughts on Palin

Fig asks what I thought of the VP debate. I didn't want to bury my thoughts in the comments on a non-top-post, so I'm putting them here. Both she and David seem to have been traumatized by the debate.

Personally, it was about what I expected. I think by now it's pretty clear that Palin follows in Bush's intellectual footsteps: poorly informed, incurious, and ideological rigid. After the famous Couric interview Palin's main objective for this debate must have been not to embarrass her.

On the other hand, her comment that "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also" pretty much shows that she had nothing but contempt for the debate process. The debate wasn't so she could let the American people know about her track record, that's what the Internet is for. And newspapers. Which she should know, since she reads them all.

Palin's job in this interview was to not do anything embarrassing and repeat the campaign's talking points, which she did ad infinitum. Notice that whenever she was talking she never gave any specifics, just aw shucks, gee whiz, gosh darn, say-it-aint-so-joe soundbites intended to appeal to the so called "low information" voters, and I think that succeeded.

Fortunately, it looks like recent polling data shows she has turned off the voters that look for a bit more in their candidates than whether or not they would be a good person to have a beer with.

UPDATE: This piece by Radley Balko basically sums up what really bothers me about Republicans:

This growing anti-intellectualism on the right is alarming. It isn’t that Palin is dumb. I don’t think she is. It’s that she has no interest in learning, no interest in reading or experiencing anything that might challenge what she already knows she believes. She thinks with her gut, as Steven Colbert might put it. She’s a female W. And they seem to love her for it. The GOP has gone populist. Knowledge, worldliness, and learning are to be shunned, swept aside as East Coast elitism. It’s all about insularity, earthy values, and simpleness. Remember the beating John Kerry took in 2004 for daring to use the word “nuance?” There’s no room for complexity on the right anymore. It’s good and evil. Black and white. Us and them.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Drill, baby, drill

Sarah Palin wants energy independence. She wants more offshore drilling and Alaskan drilling. Here's her version on energy independence:

Energy independence simply isn't possible while we're dependent on petroleum. Alaskan production would be approximately the same size as the yellow areas.

Hat tip: Ezra Klein

Should I watch the debate?

I'm torn. It won't change who I vote for. On the other hand, if the Couric interview and the following, now-infamous SNL skit is anything to judge by, there is some possibility that it will be entertaining.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why won't the press cover this?

In this election season, we've seen expose after expose on Obama's church, Reverend White's teachings, Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy, John Edwards's affair, and so on. But virtually nothing about policy. Ezra Klein has an interesting piece about how John McCain's health care plan will massively raise taxes on everyone, result in 20 million Americans losing their health insurance, and basically end employer-based health insurance.

The individual insurance market is not the same as the employer-based insurance market. It sacrifices the bargaining powers of numbers for the cost-effectiveness of comparison shopping. It is fractured. It has higher administrative costs. Insurers can discriminate on the basis of preexisting conditions, geography, age, gender, and even simple whim. The risk pools are smaller. The deductibles are higher, as are the co-pays, and the spending caps are lower. And the individual insurance market is much more expensive: Buchmueller, Glied, Royalty, and Swartz estimate that "for a typical family that moves from group to individual coverage...the move to nongroup insurance will raise premiums for an identical policy by more than $2,000 per year." That increase alone chews up 40% of the family tax credit, and that's simply so the family does not lose ground. In addition, the tax credit is not indexed to health spending, and will sharply decline in value with each passing year. In sum, individuals will be in a costlier market, where insurers have more power to set prices and conditions, and McCain's tax credit will do less to help them with every passing year.

Yet, mark my words, the media narrative for this election will be that Obama is in favor of higher taxes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Putting things in perspective, the graphical version

I put together this little chart because I think it shows the impact of this bailout better than yesterday's post.

Crap, that's a lot of money.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just putting things in perspective

I feel like I should write a blog post about the financial bailout that was announced this week. I find it difficult, however, because I barely understand enough economics to balance my checkbook at the end of the month. I sort of get the impression that it's a Big Deal and, therefore, I should care about it, but I'm not entirely clear on what's going on, how we got here, and what's been proposed to do about it.

So I'm not going to talk about that. I just wanted to try to get an idea of the scale of the $700 billion bailout. Seven hundred billion dollars is a LOT of money. It's a bit enough number that I have difficulty wrapping my brain around it.

  • This bailout is the size of the cumulative cost of the Iraq war to date, plus 50%. David has a neat little widget that displays the cost of the Iraq War at any given instant, presumabely to show how fast the number is growing. This bailout is even bigger.
  • The bailout is four times larger than the cumulative cost of the War in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom, source). That's the war that we went into after, you know, a little thing called 9/11.
  • This is roughly fifty times larger than the airline bailout after 9/11. That's 5000%, mind you.
  • Remember the savings and loan crisis of the late 80s? (I don't, really. I was in high school and wasn't really paying attention.) That was about $125 billion. This is roughly six times larger than that.
  • The bailout alone will add an additional 7% to our national debt.

So the cost of this thing is staggering. And it's not limited to American banks, either. It turns out we will be bailing out lots of foreign-owned banks as well, as long as they have "significant operations" in the US. Excuse me, but when was the financial well-being of Swiss banks an American problem? Why isn't the Swiss government doing their part of the bailout?

All the decisions about who will be bailed out and for how much is left up to one, unelected guy. As Glenn Greenwald points out:

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency." Put another way, this authorizes Hank Paulson to transfer $700 billion of taxpayer money to private industry in his sole discretion, and nobody has the right or ability to review or challenge any decision he makes.

So who thinks we should privatize Social Security next?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Something's wrong with these numbers

OK, So I'm kinda confused about something. The hurricane warning I saw for Ike insisted that Galveston residents faced "CERTAIN DEATH."* Somewhere between 20-50% of Galveston residents did not evacuate, or between 10,000 and 30,000 people. Rescuers have searched about 90% of Galveston and evacuated about another 1,500 people. The official death toll varies a bit, but is on the order of a dozen people.

So what happened to the other 8,500 - 28,500 people? Either I'm missing something, or these numbers just don't match up.

[*] Actually, the warning I saw said that residents "MAY FACE CERTAIN DEATH," which leaves open the possibility that they may not, making me wonder about what definition of "certain" was being used. Imminent natural disaster is no excuse for bad grammar.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Things I never thought I'd hear a Senator say

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse at the hearings on the politicization of the Justice Department:

When it comes to politics, this is an administration that has no gag reflex.

(Oops, wrote this a while back but forgot to publish it.)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Congratulations to people I've never met!

It appears that moon-grrl and Jonathan have gotten married. I'm assuming to each other. Congratulations!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Remember, shiny side out

IlliniPundit really has descended into tinfoil hat territory. He's now complaining about what is, apparently, a media conspiracy to win Obama the election.

I doubt Palin, or the overblown and transparent media bloviation surrounding her, will seriously impact the dynamics of the race ... But I wonder, as I have for a while, if at some point the public tide will turn on this obvious and over-the-top media worship of Obama ... But I wonder, as I have for a while, if at some point the public tide will turn on this obvious and over-the-top media worship of Obama.

We've had to deal with non-stop allegations that ohmygod Barack Obama is a Muslim, he's not a US citizen, he's a Marxist, he's a socialist, he wasn't born in the United States, his wife hates whitey, his wife hates America, he doesn't say the Pledge, etc. This is apparently "media worship." For Odin's sake, major news outlets are having debates about whether Obama is actually the fucking Anti-christ.

Seriously, what did you expect would happen when McCain nominated, lets face it, a basically-unheard-of state governor for the second most powerful political position in the world, especially considering she's the first woman that Republicans have nominated to this level and that McCain passed over his own preferred candidate for her sake? That everyone would just ignore her?

I'm sorry, but the fact that her unmarried, minor daughter is pregnant is indeed news, particularly in light of her anti-sex-education and anti-teenage-mother policies. The fact that her husband hates America and wants to secede from the United Stats is news. The fact that she abused the power of her office to settle a family vendetta is news. The fact that she has been part of an anti-Semitic church for most of her adult life is news. Does Gordy really expect us to ignore all of these things?

Yeah, I'll grant that she's not a member of Alaska Independence Party and that early reports were mistaken. But her husband was.

That's the great thing about the myth of the "liberal media." It insulates Republicans from any criticism. It allows the faithful, when they are confronted by anything they find unpleasant, to simply avert their eyes and chant "media bias." And the media is so paralyzed with fear of accusations of being "liberal" from the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity that they bend over backwards to accommodate them.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Behold the power of the comma

I was asked to fill out a job application web form the other day. Right below the title of the form was this:

Do not answer questions, which may be contrary to existing laws or regulations.

(I guess it's not just the comma, but the fact that whoever wrote this used "which" when he meant "that.")

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

By their headlines, shall ye know them

IlliniPundit over at, um, IlliniPundit has on several occasions, claimed that Democrats are being overly-sensitive when it comes to race in this election. (Example.)

That's the advantage of privilege, isn't it? Whether is white privilege, heterosexual privilege, or male privilege, one of the benefits is that you don't even have to realize it's there. A corollary to that is that you don't have to wonder about those borderline cases. Until I'd read a few feminist blogs, I'd never actually noticed that paper towel commercials always show a smiling woman mopping up some mess or another, either made by a child or while some hapless male looks on in bewilderment. I'd never even thought about how our society often makes jokes that imply that rape is a complement.

So maybe it's easy for the (I assume) white IlliniPundit to pooh-pooh the racism that may be inherent in political ads this season. But think about this: Ann Coulter's August 20th column was titled "Constitutional Scholar Obama Questions Legality Of Slavery Ban."

Really. One of the most visible and most syndicated conservative writers in our country just wrote a column suggesting that a black Presidential candidate might approve of slavery.

No, race won't be a factor in this election. Not at all.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The definition of useless

This weekend, I ran by the bank to cash in several jars of change I had accumulated. I think it was five to ten pounds worth. All in all, it wound up being $40 in coins, roughly half in dimes, and the rest split between nickels and pennies. Most of the volume by far, however, was pennies. (I hoard quarters because I need them to do laundry.)

This got me to thinking, I can't even remember the last time I used a penny for any purpose other than making exact change just so I didn't get more pennies. You can't use them in any vending machine. I can't imagine anyone using them to pay for anything even as trivial as a Coke from a 7-11. So what's the point of keeping them in circulation?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why can't you buy plain yogurt in small containers?

When I was shopping for ingredients to make a recipe the other day, I needed to buy plain yogurt, something I don't often buy. In the yogurt isle of the supermarket there were a wealth of options. Even in plain yogurt there was plain, vanilla (pretty close), whole-milk, low-fat, nonfat, organic, and regular. But that kind of yogurt is only sold by the bucketful.

Sure, the flavored yogurt is sold in smaller containers. If I wanted Banana Berry Rhubarb Delight instead of plain, I could have bought individual 8 oz. containers, four-packs, six-packs, whipped, blended, sugar-free, drinkable smoothies, and even freakin' yogurt-in-a-tube. But, no, I needed plain yogurt, and the smallest container they seem to sell is two pounds.

So I have two-pound-minus-a-cup of plain, whole milk yogurt and no idea what to do with it. I've made yogurt cheese before, and that worked fine, I just don't have a lot of use for it. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Just how crappy is Conservapedia?

No, that's not a rhetorical question. Just how crappy is the world's crappiest encyclopedia? Pretty crappy, it turns out. In a solar-flare-sized burst of irony, Conservapedia actually accuses Wikipedia of being "anti-intellectual."

In looking up stuff for my previous post about Conservapedia, I poked around a bit. The John McCain article is reasonably level-headed, if not balanced. There's nothing in there that's particularly kook-worthy.

Oh, but just take a look at the Barack Obama article. It's not just biased, it's spittle-flecked, conspiracy-mongeringly, unhinged. Here are some of the good bits, with the craptastic segments bolded.

Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. (allegedly born in Honolulu, August 4, 1961) is the presumptive 2008 nominee of the Democratic Party for president... In 2007, Obama was the most liberal Senator. If elected, Obama would be the first Affirmative Action President.

You have to love the subtle Muslim-baiting in the comment that he is only "allegedly" born in Hawaii. Kind of like commenting that John McCain is only allegedly not a shape-shifting alien come to steal Earth's water. The "most liberal Senator bit?" That's based on a conservative hit piece that cherry-picked votes, I can only suspect, deliberately to portray Obama as the most liberal Senator, just as they did to John Kerry last election. One of the "liberal" bills he voted for was the one to implement the 9/11 committee's suggestions. The "Affirmative Action President" comment is so blatantly racist, I just can't think of any way to respond.

Obama has declared himself to be a Christian, yet never replaced his Muslim name with a Christian one as many do, casting doubt on his politically self-serving claim.

See, he's not really a Christian, he just claims to be one for political reasons. More Muslim-baiting.

Obama wore an American flag lapel pin after 9/11, but later stopped wearing it without adequate explanation. Presumably it would have hurt him with anti-military campaign donors. Recently, he has begun wearing one again, for explained reasons, though it is likely a political pander.

How dare he change his choice in jewelry without getting permission first! Plus, his supporters hate the military. Continuing the Obama-hates-the-military theme:

Obama's campaign has been financed largely by leftist donors opposed to the war and to the American military in general. Obama has encouraged this by refusing to wear the customary flag on his lapel during appearances...

Note how his supporters are no longer "liberals" but "leftists." I'd be a "leftist," too, but my Che Guevara beret is in the wash.

In the context of sex, he quipped about his daughters, "if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby." Obama makes it clear if his daughters had an unplanned pregnancy, he would support terminating the life of his grandchild and it is undeniable that Michelle Obama agrees with that decision.

"Undeniable," you see. The conservatwats are apparently mind readers, to boot.

He has no clear personal achievement that cannot be explained as the likely result of affirmative action.

Boggle.

Nonetheless, he asserted that elements of sex education should be taught in kindergarten.

Wow, that sounds terrible! Perverted, even! Or maybe not. Crapapedia gives that statement without explanation or context. The citation it claims it comes from quotes Obama as saying this:

Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it ... If they ask a teacher 'where do babies come from,' that providing information that the fact is that it's not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing.

The fact is that it's not inappropriate to talk to even preschool kids about where babies come from. The key is to do it in an age-appropriate manner. In about five seconds of internet searching, I found a number of family-oriented websites discussing how to do it. Here's the baby-hating DrSpock.com, an excerpt from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler, and something on ehow.com.

I wish I could remember where I read it, but it's been said that when liberals see something that's biased, they want to make it more accurate. When conservatives see something that's biased, they want to make it more conservative. Even if Conservapedia's thesis that Wikipedia is liberally biased were true, just piling on more bias, as they've done, isn't the answer. Conservapedia sells itself as a scholarly website, fit for teaching students. You don't get quality academic material by framing things you don't agree with in the most inflammatory way possible.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The pentayokel

OK, this has gone from amusing to depressing to downright annoying. Yet another letter by a yokel from the Ghetto of Ignorance® was in the News-Gazette. This one by Mark Thompson of Dewey. As before, since these people aren't capable of having an original thought, the standard creationist claims are identified by a link.

Au contraire, evolution as a theory is entirely inconclusive. For all they preach the evolutionists have little evidence for the record.

Let's ignore for the moment the fact that "inconclusive" doesn't make sense in this sentence. I imagine he's trying to say it's not backed up by evidence. The only reason evolution is the dominant theory in biology is that it is consistent with the evidence. It's the only theory that's consistent with all the evidence.

Universal reproduction could not have evolved randomly; it is beyond scientific probability (insert DNA, any organ, voluntary and involuntary bodily systems, flora and fauna).

I have a hard time fisking this because ... what the hell is "universal reproduction?" Is he talking about sexual reproduction? If so, I guess he has no problem with organisms that reproduce asexually having evolved? Ghetto of Incoherence is more like it.

Creationists, especially the casual, letter-to-the-editor writing kind like to talk about things being beyond some level of probability and therefore impossible. It's a crock, of course. You can't calculate the probability of events like that. (We'll ignore again whatever the hell he means by "scientific" probability.) The head yokels, the ones that write the books for the yokel audience, come up with metaphors like a tornado in a junkyard constructing a 747. But that's a false analogy. Evolution isn't random. It's stochastic. It has an element of randomness, but it's not a random process.

Could one person win the lottery every day of his life, unaided, probability or impossibility? Math science suggests "random evolution" as one chance in trillions.

What the hell is "math science?" Again, you can't calculate the odds for evolution. It's not a probabilistic event. It's like saying, "What's are the odds of gravity?"

On the other hand, evolution theorists can't rule God out of the equation statistically. After all, they believe in "any" chance.

And here, of course, we have it. Mr. Thompson equates evolution with atheism. Since he knows atheism is teh evil, so evolution must be, too.

"Random" evolution didn't create this marvelous, interwoven, natural world from a crucible of metals and gases; statistically and scientifically impossible, beyond reason.

Scientifically impossible, huh? So I guess all those, you know, scientists just missed that fact. That God we have Mr. Thompson of Dewey, Illinois, to tell us what is scientifically possible.

Math science favors this hypothesis, as does reason, as miraculous design is everywhere. Open your eyes, see?

There's that "math science" thing again. I guess this whole line of argument is the "stamp your foot and shout, 'It is too created!'" method of rhetoric. To paraphrase the Goblin King, if design is apparent and obvious literally everywhere, from every biological species to subatomic particles to even the very laws of physics that make the whole thing possible, what's your basis for comparison? If literally everything is designed, how do you know what a non-designed thing looks like?

Creationism does not refute science; it guides it, quite logically, on an enlightened level that stands the test of reason. No spin, just reasonable logic and math science, a theory that should be taught in school, alongside the random evolution theory, given the lack of conclusive facts. A totally reasonable stalemate.

Well, no, actually. Creationism does not guide science. There is nothing in science that requires religious belief. You don't need to be a Christian for an electron microscope to work, nor do you have to be a Hindu to study the human genome.

We're not at a stalemate. Creationism lost the game over a hundred years ago, and now they're just trying to change the rules.

Previous yokels:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Buy three yokels, get one free

The News-Gazette is trying to kill me. That's the only explanation I can think of for them publishing another creationist letter to the editor. This time it's by Dee Mulligan of Urbana. As usual, I'll give links to the Index to Creationist Claims for each bogus statement she makes.

It has been wonderful to see the debate over the theory of evolution and creationism once again emerging.

Not really, since there isn't any such debate. The debate, such as it was, was settled nearly a century ago. The only "debate" that rages is that ignorant Christians just keep demanding that their theology be treated as science.

I have a graduate degree and aced all the biology classes by feeding back answers the professors wanted. But they never convinced me that evolution makes any sense.

I'm sorry to see that Ms. Mulligan wasted this part of her education. Rather than actually learn anything, she treated her university as a series of hoops that needed to be blindly jumped through.

A friend of mine in college took Physics 101 as a pass/fail course. For him, it was just a mandatory prerequisite, and he didn't really care. His grades were reasonably good, so for the final exam, he just sat down and memorized a bunch of relevant equations without any actual understanding of what they were for. Ms. Mulligan apparently not only did the same this for her biology classes, but has the absolute hubris to demand that her pretend-knowledge be treated on the same level as actual experts in the subject.

My objection is that it is a theory. It is not taught as such in most cases. It is taught as fact.

Evolution is both theory and fact. We also teach atomic theory, quantum theory, the theory of relativity, and the germ theory of disease. Ms. Mulligan doesn't really understand the technical definition of the work "theory." That's what comes of blowing off your biology classes and getting your science lessons from your preacher.

I remember sitting in high school biology and looking at pictures of Cro-Magnon man.

It was absolutely taught as fact. Of course, we all know now it was just a hoax.

Whaaaaat? Cro-Magnons aren't a hoax. They were the first Homo sapiens to inhabit Europe, alongside the Neanderthals. It's kind of an archaic term, sure, but it's hardly fraudulent.

The saddest part of this is that literally 10 seconds of searching the Internet would have shown here this. There's Wikipedia article and the Britannica article. Hell, even the laughable Conservapedia has a stub article on Cro-Magnon man. But no, Ms. Mulligan couldn't be bothered. She's comfortable wearing her ignorance on her sleeve.

So science can be wrong. As a matter of fact, Karl Popper argues that a hypothesis or theory must be falsifiable if it is does not admit the possibility of being false.

The "science can be wrong" gambit is a classic one. It's basically just a way of saying "since we don't know everything, we know nothing." Can we assume that if Ms. Mulligan is diagnosed with cancer she won't accept treatment for it since we don't know everything about cancer? I suspect we were wrong once or twice there.

If education is to be complete, then all theories on the beginning of the world and we mortals should at least be explored or mentioned. It cannot be proved that we evolved from a single cell.

Uh, no. We don't study rejected theories except to mention that they are incorrect. Unless Ms. Mulligan is suggesting medical schools should have to explore the theory that disease is caused by bad air? Should science classes have to teach alternatives to atomic theory? No, of course not.

And what's with this fascination with "proof," anyway? It's something that's come up in a couple of the previous yokel letters. Science doesn't deal in proof; it deals in evidence. You want proof, go study mathematics.

By the way, where did that cell come from? And it cannot be proved that God created the world. They both take faith to believe. The creation story has been around for at least 6,000 years. How long has the theory of evolution been around? As for me, I choose God.

People, please, repeat after me: evolution is not abiogenesis. Or for those of you that don't know words not found in your hymnals, evolution has to do with how life changed on this planet, not where it came from. I guess these people fixate on this point since, in their creation story, everything was created in its current form, and so they don't see any difference between the history of life and the beginning of life.

You know what else has been around for a long time? The four elements. And guess what? It's wrong. It's the product of a time where people were ignorant about the world and how it worked. With the limited information they had at the time, it might not have been a crazy idea, but that doesn't mean it was right.

Yeesh, I'm not even sure why I bother. As the quote goes, you can't argue someone out of a position they didn't argue themselves into.

Previous yokels:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The third yokel's the charm

I had enough fun poking fun at the first two creationist yokels that wrote in to the News-Gazette, I thought I'd wrap up by looking at the letter from the third. This one is by Dan Yagow of Champaign:

Can a Christian accept evolution as fact? Can we believe human existence evolved from lower forms of life? Many say it is possible, but I see conflict. If a Christian accepts evolution, then what purpose or credibility does the Bible serve us?

One thing that's interesting about this line of "argument" is that it focuses entirely on human evolution. But evolution isn't just about how H. sapiens arose, it's about every species on the planet, from the towering dinosaurs to the bacteria that live all around us. They're every bit as evolved as we are. In the creationist mind, humans are special, dammit. We're not one of those dirty monkeys!

Notice the argument implicit in his last statement: if evolution is true, then the Bible is of no use. But that's not really an argument, is it? It's like saying that if the Earth isn't the center of the universe, then we're not special in the eyes of God, therefore the Earth is fixed in space and everything revolves around it.

A Christian follows Christ, claiming him to be holy and one with God the Creator... [snip irrelevant Bible quotes] If we embrace evolution, it's impossible to give God the credit he deserves. We would diminish his awesome power and exchange it for a faith in man's accomplishments.

Again, note the same implicit assumption as before. If evolution is true, my faith will be challenged, therefore evolution isn't true.

Why would evolution being true require awesome faith in man's accomplishments? It seems to me that if evolution were true, the credit belongs to all the billions of critters worldwide that crawled around in the muck and slime and dirt, from Tiktaalik to Archaeopteryx.

We would say that man's interpretation of how life originated makes more sense than the infallible intelligence of God. To claim that man evolved from lower forms of life does not fit with God's inerrant words.

In other words, "If it contradicts my interpretation of the Bible, it must not be true." A better excuse for intentional ignorance has never been spoken.

Consider this. There has been no scientific experiment that has successfully produced living cells from an arrangement of molecules evolution suggests.

Consider this. You haven't a freaking clue what you're talking about. Evolution doesn't say that a random arrangement of molecules got together to make a cell. Evolution isn't about the dawn of life. Even if God said "poof" and suddenly there was life on a barren Earth, evolution still could have caused that life to grow and develop into what we are now.

The odds of it happening are remote. To believe that it can be done and that it occurred by accident over millions of years without any intelligence behind it would require immense faith.

Now wait a minute. We just went from "it couldn't happen" to "it couldn't happen without any intelligence behind it." So God-driven evolution is possible? Somehow I don't think that's what Mr. Yagow is saying.

Again, we see that there's nothing new under the sun when it comes to creationist claims. Maybe evolution isn't true; otherwise, we'd expect to see their arguments (ahem) evolve to more persuasive forms.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Another local yokel

The editors at the News-Gazette are clearly conspiring to give me a coronary, because they published not one, but two, creationist letters to the editor last Friday. I'm not sure which is worse: that fact, or that these two pathetic examples are the best that the local forces of ignorance could muster. You know their arguments are tedious when they've been rehashed so many times they can be referred to by number. Let's take a look at the first, written by Mr. (Ms?) Kerwin Brown of Champaign:

Zielinski should know that theology is the branch of science that deals with God.

Really? That's really odd, because I just checked, and we don't seem to teach a single class on it in any of our science departments. I only missed a few classes, but if they covered transubstantiation in my Physical Chemistry course, it must have been in one of the few classes I missed. Maybe they covered rivers of blood in Environmental Engineering; I didn't take any of those classes. Funny, for theology being a branch of science, we do seem to have a lot of courses in the Religious Studies department.

Intelligent design is just an answer to how some particular events happen. A plausible answer to an event is called a hypothesis.

Well, no. Intelligent design is just repackaged creationism. Kitzmiller vs. Dover proved that pretty much conclusively. That monkeys flew out of my butt is an answer to where monkeys came from, but that doesn't make it a reasonable hypothesis.

A person who backed the hypothesis of intelligent design as regards the beginning of life would propose that someone spontaneously changed the non-living matter into living matter.

Uh, yeah, that's what makes it creationism. This next bit may come as a news flash to Kerwin, but there's no difference between "non-living matter" and "living" matter. Life is not a property of matter like mass or color is.

They would back up their hypothesis by pointing to the fact that DNA requires enzymes in order to reproduce, and it is scientifically impossible for enzymes to get together with DNA by random chance.

Seeing as how evolution doesn't suggest things happen by "random chance," this really doesn't have anything to do with his argument.

No theory, including the atheistic/agnostic theory of evolution, can be proven even though it can be tested.

Since the Catholic Church doesn't have a problem with evolution, someone really tell the Pope that he's an atheist. Does this mean we're going to go back to teaching that the Sun goes around the Earth? After all, if that can't be proven, I guess we have to teach all theories. And lest you think I'm exaggerating, there really are fundamentalist Christians that are modern-day geocentrists.

In schools, they do not mention God when teaching the theory of evolution, which means they are teaching the atheistic theory of evolution.

Folks, I think we have an entry for the 2008 Dumbest Argument of the Year contest. We may even have such a stupid statement here that no one else need bother to enter. It you don't mention God, you're teaching atheism? So if we don't teach that God wanted the United States to exist are we teaching the atheistic Civil War? If we talk about antibiotics without mentioning Jesus, are we practicing atheistic medicine? Secular is not atheist.

Sigh.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The world's crappiest encyclopedia just got crappier

Unless you're an ignorant Luddite who's just learning to "get on the Internet," you're familiar with Conservapedia, a right-wing attempt to create an Internet Ghetto of Ignorance. It is a place where they can go to not be confronted by facts or be disturbed by reality's well-known liberal bias. It is a place where ideology trumps reality. But now they've set their sights on actually interfering with the scientific process.

Let me explain. No there is too much. Let me sum up. Richard Lenski at Michigan State University has been performing an experiment on E. coli for the past twenty years. Recently, they published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the E. coli had evolved an entirely new feature; namely, that the bacteria could eat the citrate present in the cell medium, where it normally just subsists on glucose that's in there. Here is the New York Times article and here is one of the many good blog articles about his research.

Conservapedia can't let this stand. A demonstration of evolution in action is a direct threat to their creationist views. So Andrew Schlafly, head Conservapedia wingnut, started trying to discredit the paper. He first wrote Lenski demanding his data. Lenski responded saying that all the relevant data was in the PNAS paper. Schlafly wrote again, demanding Lenski's data apparently claiming that he has some sort of right to it since Lenski's work was "taxpayer funded." (As if a scientist working on a government grant has a responsibility to copy decades of work for any yahoo that stops by his lab.) He's even threatened legal action. Lenski responded again with a letter that I can only describe as a thing of beauty. RationalWiki has the entire exchange archived, but it's Lenski's second response that has got to be one of the best takedowns of such an ignoramus I've ever seen. Give it a read.

Oh, but it gets better!

Conservapedia now has a Flaws in Richard Lenski Study page, as well as trying to claim they found lots of errors in his paper at their Richard Lenski page. They're also threatening to write a Letter to PNAS for publication (not unusual if someone wishes to respond to a published paper) pointing out all the "flaws." If they do, just them displaying their ignorance to the scientific community and reading what I'm sure would be an entertaining response letter by Lenski would be so entertaining that it might go a long way to convincing me that there really is a God and he wants me to be amused.

But there's a bigger point here. These people are trying to interfere in the very process that makes science work. That there is this big pseudoscience resource on the Internet -- and let me point out that Conservapedia is intended to be a resource for homeschooled children. They're not making these criticisms in an attempt to forward our understanding of the world; they're making them because this is evidence in support of evolution, and they dare not let it go unchallenged because that would put their religious beliefs in danger. So they throw up a smokescreen and they hound the researchers with spurious demands for "data."

Science is hard. It requires years of study, dedication and then it takes more years of doing research, building a reputation and only then might you come across something really new and interesting. Religion is easy. It just requires a suspension of disbelief and obedience to doctrine. The problem is that science is a tool that leads our society and our knowledge into the future. It's what lets us build new technology, develop new drugs, shrink our transistors, all of which develop our economy. These religious nitwits stand in the way of all that. They attack not just the scientific process, but the population's confidence in its trustworthiness. They are a threat to our future and a threat to our superiority in the world. The sad part is that I think we're outnumbered.

Good posts on the subject:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Ezra said

I'm working on a real blog post, but in the meantime, Ezra Klein has a good post:

[McCain's] statement, in other words, made no sense. It was a war against Arabs, and maybe some Persians. not a limited conflict against al Qaeda. As Obama says, one of the clear distinctions between the Left's approach to terrorism and the Right's approach to terrorism is that the Left wants to limit the scope of the conflict, while the Right wants to expand it. So though it was only al Qaeda who attacked us on 9/11, Romney and Giuliani and McCain and plenty of their colleagues want to zoom out from al Qaeda to terrorism, and from terrorism to Islamic extremism. Rather than this being an effort to hunt down al Qaeda, it becomes a war to hunt down al Qaeda, destroy Hezbollah, eradicate Hamas, overthrow Saddam Hussein, change the regime in Tehran, crush the Muslim Brotherhood, and confront Syria, and whatever else Bill Kristol thought of while eating his Cheerios that week. It is an incredibly dangerous and incoherent approach. And it marks a genuine difference between Obama and McCain.

Of course, acknowleging that those brown people over there aren't a monolithic block would require having a "nuanced" view of the world, something Republicans aren't too keen on.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Call in FEMA! No, better hold off on that...

Rather than blog about anything, I'm just going to leave you with this video:

And yet it's still better than FOX News.

Friday, June 27, 2008

ANWR: In Perspective

In all the arguments about high gas prices and whether it's the fault of the Republicans or Democrats, one of the solutions being put forth is drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Take a look at this graph and try to decide whether it's going to have a big effect on anything:

Energy independence, it ain't.

UPDATE: I posted this same graphic at Illinipundit, because I figured it's Republicans that seem to be pushing the ANWR drilling, so that crowd might be interested. Instead of interest, all I got was "Liberals are teh suck!" OK, so I'm naive.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Local yokel disproves evolution?

No, just kidding. There was a letter to the editor in the News-Gazette the other day that was just so stunningly arrogant, misled, and flat-out wrong, that I couldn't resist responding here. Mr. Justin Bleich of Gibson City writes:

It has been proven many times that creationists appeal to the facts of science to support their view, while evolutionists appeal to the philosophical assumptions from outside science.

Creationists appeal to the facts of science? Um ... really? Maybe it's been proven in your Bible study group, Mr. Bleich, but among rational people, that's a load of hooey. Take this load of "proofs" for the existence of God. Go take a look through the literature sometime. You'll find lots of experiments, data, photographs, even. You won't find many creationists doing the same because they have no experiments. They have no data. They can only appeal to the ignorance and gullibility in their listeners and their religious beliefs.

When it has been proven that energy cannot be created or destroyed, how in the world would a single-celled organism, by chance, appear from nothing and eventually evolve into a multi-celled organism, like a fish?

What? Unless these single-celled organisms have internal fusion reactors, the creation or destruction of energy has nothing to do with evolution.

How, also, would this fish then evolve into a lion? Humans were not yet here to prove this.

I can't even tell if he's arguing that fish couldn't evolve into tetrapods like Tiktaalik because humans weren't around, or if he's arguing that if humans weren't around, nothing can be "proven." The latter, of course, would mean we can't know anything about astrophysics, geology, or who really built the Pyramids. After all, were you there? Did you know that it wasn't aliens with tractor beams coming out of their flying saucers?

Evolutionary scientists often use their assumptions to formulate the idea that nonliving organisms gave life to living organisms, and humans came from apes.

Um, huh? I'd love to find one of those "nonliving organisms" someday. I guess in his own incoherent way, Mr. Bleich is talking about abiogenesis, which has nothing to do with evolution.

Humans didn't evolve from apes! God, have these people learned nothing since the Scopes Monkey Trials? Mr. Bleich's assignment is to write "Humans and apes diverged from a common ancestor millions of years ago. One did not evolve from the other" one hundred times or until his crayon runs out.

Creation scientists have just as much right to our opinion as do evolutionary scientists.

No one is saying that creation scientists don't have their right to their opinion. Christian Scientists and modern geocentrists have the right to their opinion, too. They don't have the right to demand their weird beliefs taught in science classes as science.

The fact that rank ignorance survives even in this day and age frightens me. People like Mr. Bleich really want to drag us down back into the Dark Ages. And while he and his religious brethren are being so smug and self-righteous about their Godly beliefs, the rest of the world is going to pass us by in scientific knowledge.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My sympathies

I've given News-Gazette blogger Rhonda Robinson some crap over the years, but I'd like to offer my sympathies over the recent accidental death of her son.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Inconvenient ellipses

I was looking at the local Freecycle group, and noticed that this message had been posted, saying that something previously offered was no longer available. I do hope it's incomplete. (Click to embiggen.)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Something to look forward to for the next six months

I'm glad Obama got the nomination. I think he stands a pretty good chance at winning. But for the next six months (and possibly longer after that) don't expect to hear him referred to by a lot of Republicans as anything other than Barack Hussein Obama. They are going to push it relentlessly. You won't hear them refer to John Sidney McCain, however. The reasons are obvious. Racism and xenophobia. It's happening locally and at the national level.

I disagree with him on a number of issues, but Glock21 has a great post about the phenomenon.

... his name is pretty irrelevant beyond "branding" that has become such an important part of American politics. People who try to exploit that are essentially kowtowing to the worst of our society in order to win an election, and that's pretty disgusting no matter how much one wants to claim two wrongs make a right. If you don't want to be associated with the racist and prejudiced nimrods that flock to such childish reasoning when they go the ballot booth... stop using their arguments.

Friday, June 06, 2008

My God, it's full of torture!

Various people have testified in front of Congress that it's OK that we waterboard, because we've only done it to three people, and they were the worst of the worst. Well, it looks like those officials may have been "bending the truth" a bit.

A German-born Turkish citizen ... said that in 2002 in Afghanistan, U.S. interrogators subjected him to beatings, electrical shocks and, on one occasion, a technique he said was referred to as "water treatment." He said his head was held under water in a bucket while he was punched in the stomach, forcing him to inhale. On another occasion, he was hung by his arms for five days, he said.

Republicans have constantly been downplaying the extent of the torture we've been committing by referring to waterboarding as a "swimming lesson" and trivializing the pain that's caused by stress position techniques. Now we find they may have been lying all along as to the extent.

It gets even more Kafkaesque. The guy in the above passage was completely innocent of all terrorism charges. US officials even knew he was innocent, held him anyway, and it still took a personal appeal from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to get them to let him go. Think about that. It took an appeal from a head of state of one of our allies to get the US to free a torture victim from detention.

And to make matters even worse, a UK human rights group has accused the US of using ships to detain and secretly interrogate prisoners.

A British human rights organization claimed Monday that the United States had used military ships to secretly detain and interrogate terrorism suspects. U.S. officials denied using ship as prisons.

I imagine any US Navy vessel holding a prisoner would be subject to US military law. But what about a Halliburton-owned ship, in international waters, crewed by civilian contractors, registered in say, Liberia?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Brokeback Island

First there was Brokeback to the Future. Then there was Star Wars: The Empire Brokeback. Then there were a whole lot of others and the joke got old. But this is pretty good:

I can't decide if I like this one better:

Hat tip: David.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Charity suggestions

Most of us are about to get a fairly hefty check from the government as an "economic stimulus." Personally, I think they money could have been better spent on, say, a major public works project in New Orleans, but hey, you work with the economy you have, not the one you'd have had if Gore had been elected you wish you had.

So my options are pretty much: save it, spend it, or give it away. I could save it, sure. Spending it means basically buying stuff made in China. So I'm thinking about giving a big chunk of it away, but I'm not sure where to. Can anyone suggest any worthy charities?

On the other hand, I'm also thinking about buying a Wii.

UPDATE: I guess I should have said some of the charities I had in mind already. My list now includes: Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, The Wounded Warriors Project, America's Second Harvest, Planned Parenthood, Electronic Frontier Foundation, ACLU, the Democratic National Committee, and probably one or two others I can't think of right now. I think two or three, at most, is what I need to decide on. Thanks for your suggestions.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Calm down, the queer sky is not falling

Glenn Greenwald has an insightful-as-usual post up about the California gay marriage ruling. He basically points out that the CA Supreme Court's recent ruling basically requiring CA's civil unions to be now made equal marriages is fully in accordance with CA law and the state constitution. His points are:

  1. As the court found, this ruling must be based on California law and the California Constitution, not whether or not you think gay marriage in CA should or should not be legal
  2. This ruling is not in violation of the "will of the people." He points out that the CA legislature has, not once, but twice approved a gay marriage bill vetoed by the governor, who said that the issue must be settled by the CA Supreme Court.
  3. The ruling doesn't legalize gay marriage. It just says that separate-but-equal civil unions are unconstitutional.
  4. Lastly, he predicts all sort of ignorant and hystical political overreaction to this ruling from the right-wingnuts.

So, let's look for the hysteria.

World Nut Daily quoting some hate-filled preacher:

Now activist judges are overruling the will of the people...

Of course, to get to the really good stuff, you have to head over to Free Republic:

Queerly beloved in the land of fruit, nuts and cereal.

Sodom, Gomorrah and Kalifornia too!

I’d say the odds of the Next “ Big One “ just shot off the charts..

We need a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution to end this judicial tyranny.

I’m going to marry my gun and take it everywhere I go.

And that's not the bad stuff. These people really have a fascination with bestiality and incest:

And now you can marry the Sheep of your choice, because to prohibit such would of course be a violation of your right to Equal Protection of the Laws.

There is no argument for gay marriage that does not equally support marriage between two people who are already related by blood.

If the legislature now strikes “between a man and a woman” and does not replace it with something like “between one human and another” things will get interesting.

remember their argum,ent is they love each other ... well you can love a sheep

so by that logic marriage could be anything people marrying animals, as what as happened elsewhere in the world namely India [WTF?] we can have more than one wife or husband Kids as young 5 could get married

That's from the first 100 postings on Free Republic. There are over five hundred more. Republicans disgust me. I'm going to go shower now.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Our Brave New World x3

The things that are happening around us, in our names, are just becoming too numerous to even pay attention to. So here are just three things I think are important enough you should pay attention to:

1) On being ashamed of one's country at Balkanization: An innocent Italian man is disappeared into our new immigration obliettes.

2) Attempt at Show Trials--US Military--And Why it Failed also at Balkinization: The (a?) Chief Prosecutor of the Guantanamo military tribunals had to resign in protest at the political maneuvering and manipulation of the process. The judge had to remove one of the Legal Advisors from the case and ordered the DoD not to persecute any of the prosecuters for objecting to his manipulations.

3) Lastly, Glenn Greenwald links to a briefing given to the Pentagon's TV military analysts about abuses witnessed by the FBI at Guantanamo:

In GTMO, that translated into ... strip search[es] for control measures and he was forced to perform dog tricks on a leash.

Christ. What the fuck is this country coming to?

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's only a matter of time

Just how long do you think it will be before some preacher somewhere attributes the Myanmar cyclone and the Chinese earthquake to some sin or another, or the fact that those countries are not primarily Christian? I give it maybe a week.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Weird emails

I occasionally get misdirected emails. My name is a combination of a fairly common first and last one, so people often mistype what they meant and get me. This is one of the weirder ones I've gotten lately.

To: me
Subject: AK-47

This is X, if you dont have my email address. So im starting to think about accesorizing my AK. When you come home before graduation can you help me take it apart and clean everything on it? I havent even done that yet. I know and can see that there are not very many parts to it but I dont know much about it and dont want to screw anything up on it.

I just hope me posting this email doesn't make him angry. After all, I know he's armed.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Interesting TV watching

Via Ex-Gay Watch, I see 20/20 updates a show they did previously by examine how people react to public displays of affection -- by gay people. According to EGW, "The setting is NJ for lesbian wives and Alabama for a gay couple. Guess where the 911 call happens."

That this is happening on the Day of Silence just can't be a coincidence. Appropriate timing.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

My five

The mighty Gamera tagged me with this a while ago and I'm just now getting around to it. So here are five facts about myself:

five things:

1. I really hate tomatoes. When raw, anyway. It's something about the texture, I think. Cooked, I have no objection. Which is odd, since I have a friend who hates cooked tomatoes in any form, but has no objection to raw ones. I think I'm learning to like olives (except for those nasty things that come on frozen pizza), but tomatoes are more of a challenge.

2. I don't like California. There's nothing actually wrong with it; something about it just grates on me the wrong way. Maybe it's the fact that the weather is always insufferably perfect, or that they don't always number their highway exits. Or maybe it's that there are just so damn many people everywhere. We always joke that Champaign-Urbana is a city surrounded by a sea of corn, but in Southern California, you're always in a suburb surrounded by an sea of more suburbs.

3. I'm terrified to fly. It used to be that I didn't mind it at all, then became gradually worse. And now I can't really get on a plane at all. It's getting affecting where I look for jobs, even. I probably should do something about it, but not dealing with the problem is always easier than doing something about it.

4. When I was a freshman in college, I dislocated my kneecap while playing racquetball. (The really embarrassing part is that I was playing alone.) Two years later, I slipped on some wet concrete, fell down and either dislocated it again or wrenched it badly. I wound up having surgery on it a year later. It's better; I can go up stairs without it sounding like I have a ratchet in my pants, but getting up from a squatting position can be distinctly uncomfortable.

5. There are only four interesting things about me. Yes, I know this is a total cop-out, but I really cant think of anything else.

Since all the bloggers I know have done this already I'm going to tag PZ Myers, Atrios, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Tobias, and Dr. Fig. People, of which, only one reads this blog. See if you can figure out which. One of these things is not like the other...