Archive for March, 2005

What in Tarnation Was That?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2005

The military says it was a sonic boom caused by two F-18s. The babble on the net says otherwise. From Something went ‘boom’ near Tampa. Note this comment to that item:

I Live in Lutz, a town north of Tampa. I was in my vehicle during this incident. I observed an unknown type of aircraft flying at low levels over my subdivision.The craft was flying at very low speeds also between 60mph to 75mph. I am a retired police officer and I have been trained how mesure and guess ground speeds, so I know I am in the ball park for the true speed. The craft was at about 500 feet above the ground. What made me look at this craft was the lights, at the ends of the craft, the lights were pointed up like lanterns and were visable from 360 degrees, these were not landing lights. Also there were anywhere from 4 to 10 lights in the body of the craft that changed in color, intesity, and location. I heard no noise as the craft approached but as the craft was close/almost overhead, it sounded like an avalanche, not like jet engines, or a rotary aircraft. The aircraft came from the East and moved northeast and the turned and moved south/southwest along us Highway 41. as the craft traveled south, two aircraft came from the west and turned south and followed the unidentified craft. My wife was at home and under the flight path of the craft and as it passed it shook our entire house for 30 to 45 seconds. Shortly after the incident, 15 minutes after, the news stations had already recieved a press release about 2 F18’s, that is fast for an Airforce press release. The next day all of my trees had had been shaken and all dead leaves and branches had fallen off. After 15 years Military and civillian law enforcement i have never seen or felt anything like this. And this is not the first time that this happened in our area.

It’s the aliens!

Also, from Forida sonic/seismic event.

Markey’s Extraordinary Extraordinary Rendition Bill

Wednesday, March 16th, 2005

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D. — Mass.) is making a point of standing up to the Bush administration’s too-cozy relationship with torture. Here’s an op-ed piece he wrote for the Boston Globe: US must stop ‘outsourcing’ torture. And here’s a bunch of stuff from his web site: The torture plane must be grounded (etc.).

Jeanne of Body and Soul is all over this, naturally: The beast in US and Time bombs and torture bills. Another good post is from hilzoy at Obsidian Wings: Support a ban on extraordinary rendition.

The Markey bill will fail, no doubt, given the control that the Grand Ol’ Torture Party currently exercises over Congress. But this still is very much the right thing to do. The path back to power in this country for those with real moral values leads through this issue. Avoiding it (as Kerry largely did during the debates, and the campaign, presumably because market research told him it was going to be a loser with swing voters) is immoral. There are times when it is better to fight a losing battle than to back away from it. This is very much one of those times.

Frankly, madame, government torture is something up with which we should not put. Bush supporters like to make a big deal about their willingness to “defend America,” in contrast to those lily-livered liberals who would cave in to her enemies. But those who turn a blind eye toward Bush’s turning a blind eye toward torture are not defending America. They are abandoning her, caving in to her most insidious of enemies, dishonoring the blood spilled by generations of patriots. And they’re doing so without even a whimper of protest.

We will get the government we deserve. Those of you in the Bush camp who are not opposing him on this issue are not real Americans. You are Benedict Arnolds, one and all.

Non-Me Authors Can Publish Stories Again

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

In the past I’ve conferred on a number of users of the ability to post their own original items. Apparently I accidentally disabled that functionality with the recent upgrade to WordPress 1.5. I believe I’ve turned it back on again, so if you used to be able to post items to the site, you should now have that ability again. Sorry for the inadvertant silencing of the other voices.

A to the Motherf**kin’ K

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Big guns, chicks in bikinis, 20 gigs of storage. “Hopefully, from now on many Militants and Terrorists will use their AK47s to listen to music and audio books…They need to chill out and take it easy.”

The New Normal

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Valued reader Rise Against commented this morning on how one can find all kinds of graphic video on p2p networks showing “US soldiers doing some pretty repulsive things to wounded and dead Iraqis.” That reminded me of this story I saw in the LA Times yesterday (login required, cypherpunk98/cypherpunk works, link subject to early-onset linkrot thanks to the Times’ bait-and-switch model of online revenue generation): Extreme cinema verite.

McCullough was surprised that his favorite video was disturbing to his loved ones back in Texas.

“You find out just how weird it is when you take it home,” said McCullough, whose screensaver is far more benign, showing him on his wedding day.

Brandi McCullough, then his fiancee and now his wife, said she had walked in as he was showing the videos to friends who were “whooping and hollering.”

The 18-year-old was shocked by images of “body parts missing, bombs going off and people getting shot.”

“They’re terrifying,” she said by phone from Texas. “Chase never talked about anything over there, and I watch the news, but not all the time. I didn’t realize there was that much” violence.

She also wondered why anyone would record it.

“I thought it was odd — a home video,” she said. “People getting shot and someone sitting there with a camera.”

McCullough said his father, a naval reserve captain, had told him, “You know, this isn’t normal.”

Well, it didn’t use to be normal. It’s the new normal, and it will be with us long after the war itself is over. The effects will linger in the lives and memories of those doing the fighting, who are being turned into different people than they otherwise would have been. It’s no mystery; we’ve been there, done that, before. And now we’re doing it again.

Update: Jeanne at Body and Soul was also struck by this article, and quoted from it more extensively than I did in her commentary: War-porn nation.

Wil Wheaton Hears Voices, Does Drugs; Millions Watch

Monday, March 14th, 2005

The CSI episode in which former Starfleet Ensign Crusher played a deranged killer aired the other day, though I didn’t watch it (I’ve seen about half of one CSI episode, ever; I have a high threshold for allowing new addictions into my life). Anyway, here’s his description of watching the episode, including his 22 seconds of I-am-not-just-a-child-actor validation: tall buildings shake voices escape. You can also read this recent New York Times piece about the former Wesley: A computer is also a screen, Wil Wheaton discovers.

(Oh, and courtesy of the newfound lack of topic icons, I easily create a new category for ‘television’. Yee ha.)

Tetra Vaal: Better Policing Through Robotics

Sunday, March 13th, 2005

Scary/cool video clip of a rabbit-ears-festooned RoboCop patrolling the streets of Johannesburg: Tetra Vaal robot. I especially like this comment:

I have played this video to quite a few people now. Technologically minded audience instantly tries to determine whether this is real or animated while the general audience (amazingly enough) accepts this footage as a fact! Scary isn’t it.

Saddam Spider-Hole Story a Fake?

Saturday, March 12th, 2005

How much of what we think we know is real? Especially in the realm of big media stories, how many are actually, if we knew the truth, more myth than reality?

I think the proportion is higher than many people believe. The latest odd piece of data to tickle that part of my suspicious nature: A former US Marine sergeant who says he was involved in Saddam Hussein’s capture, and that it actually took place the day before we were told it was, and that there was no “spider hole”; that that was just military propaganda: Ex-Marine says public version of Saddam capture fiction.

“Later on, a military production team fabricated the film of Saddam’s capture in a hole, which was in fact a deserted well,” Abou Rabeh said.

Rosie O’Donnell’s Weblog

Friday, March 11th, 2005

Seems to consist mostly of poetry, but I like it. Put Rosie O’Donnell up there with Wil Wheaton in the list of famous people who blog better than I do. A small sample, with interesting things to say about a recent Vanity Fair piece that she didn’t much like: blogging vf.

More Advances in Lie Detector Tech

Friday, March 11th, 2005

Another in a continuing series of items about new and improved ways to tell when someone’s lying: It’s written all over your face.

Link via Boing Boing, which likewise spotted the resemblance to one of the great opening scenes (well, almost) in movie history:

Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about… your mother.

The Equatorial Ridge on Iapetus

Wednesday, March 9th, 2005

Where was I back in early January when all the other obsessives were talking about the newly discovered equatorial ridge on Saturn’s moon Iapetus? Check out this Cassini image: Encountering Iapetus:

Iapetus\'s equatorial ridge

You can also read some of the initial news coverage: Saturn’s moon reveals bulging equator.

Fortunately, I recently renewed my subscription to Sky & Telescope, one of the greatest magazines ever, so even though I missed this story when it broke, I caught it on the rebound. Turning to the Net to see what planetary scientists have come up with since the photos originally rocked their worlds back on New Year’s Eve, there’s not a whole lot. A few theories being floated around among the less-responsible types:

It’s really too early to say, but Marshall Eubanks’ informed hunch is that the ridge and the moon’s odd light/dark bifurcation will turn out to be related: Strange equatorial feature on Iapetus. His reasoning is that it’s unlikely that the same small moon would have two weirdly anomalous global features without their being related. (Iapetus’ previous claim to fame was that the leading hemisphere — that is, the hemisphere that goes first as the tidally-locked moon orbits Saturn with the same face always facing forward — is extremely dark, while the trailing hemisphere is extremely bright.)

While they may well be related, though, I think there’s evidence in the latest images that the two features were created at different times. At least, that’s my interpretation of the following:

This is a close-up from the same image I posted, above, showing the region from the left side of the frame where the ridge reaches the moon’s limb. If you look closely, I think you can see several places where impact craters overlay the ridge, obliterating parts of it. To me, that says that the ridge predates those impacts, possibly being a relic from a time relatively early in the moon’s history.

Then there’s this close-up, which I took from another Cassini image (Dark-stained Iapetus):

This shows part of the dark-to-light transition from the area above that really big impact crater that is just above the center of the first image. It looks to me like the dark material is forming streaks “downwind” (that is, trailing off to the upper right) from some of the impact craters. This would imply (to me, at least) that the dark material was overlaid on the moon’s surface after the time when most of the impact craters were created. In other words, we could divide Iapetus’ history into at least three periods:

  • An early period, during which the equatorial ridge formed.
  • A middle period, during which most of the cratering occurred.
  • A late period, during which the dark material was deposited.

If that’s true, then while the ridge and the dark/light appearance of the moon could still turn out to be related in some way, they didn’t come into existence at the same time, with their creations having been separated by many tens or hundreds of millions, or maybe even billions, of years.

The thing I love most about a story like this is not the way it reliably brings the kooks out of the woodwork (people like Richard “Face on Mars” Hoagland, whose Moon with a view starts with some really interesting material about Arthur C. Clarke and the history of our knowledge about Iapetus, before veering into his trademark wishful fantasizing). No, what gets me is that very real moment of shock when smart, sober, well-informed people who’ve spent their entire lives studying a subject are suddenly confronted by something they never in their wildest dreams imagined. Anyway, I look forward to getting better pictures when Cassini visits Iapetus again in 2007.

Philosoraptor on Bush’s Giving Aid and Comfort to al Qaeda in Iraq

Monday, March 7th, 2005

Winston Smith of Philosoraptor hates having been right in this case, but two years post-Iraq-invasion, it’s fairly obvious that he was: Iraq war helps to recruit terrorists.

Jeanne on Bush’s Torture Memo

Monday, March 7th, 2005

More from Jeanne of Body and Soul on the torture story: Panic.

You know, opposition to the use of torture as an interrogation technique is a moral value. And it can kick the gays-shouldn’t-be-allowed-to-marry moral value’s ass with one hand tied behind its back.

The High Cost of Death-Penalty Ambivalence

Sunday, March 6th, 2005

I glanced at this headline over my cereal, but didn’t bother to read the article. But then my better half left it in the bathroom, where I was forced to read it, and found the numbers it contains to actually be kind of surprising. From the LA Times: Death row often means a long life.

According to state and federal records obtained by The Times, maintaining the California death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for life and not counting the millions more in court costs needed to prosecute capital cases and hold post-conviction hearings in state and federal courts.

With 11 executions spread over 27 years, on a per-execution basis, California and federal taxpayers have paid more than a quarter of a billion dollars for each life taken at state hands.

Now, I realize that those numbers are skewed by the history of the Rose Bird court, when no executions at all were conducted for a long time, even though the law provided for them. But even so, $250 million per execution is an awful lot of money to be spending, don’t you think?

Two Years In

Saturday, March 5th, 2005

The war in Iraq has now lasted two years. US military deaths in the conflict during the month of February were down a bit; for the first time in a number of months the count dipped (barely) below 60, to 58.

Again, I’m getting these figures from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the first 24 months of each war. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the same chart, with the Vietnam numbers extended out to cover the first four years of the war:

Finally, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Disclaimer: I’m aware that we have more troops in-theater in Iraq than we had during the corresponding parts of the Vietnam War graph. Vietnam didn’t get numbers of US troops comparable to the number currently in Iraq until shortly after Johnson won the 1964 election, some three-and-a-half years after the starting point of the Vietnam graphs above.

These graphs are not intended to show the relative lethality of the two conflicts on a per-soldier basis. I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and these graphs let me see that. You are free to draw your own conclusions.

Noah Calls Bullshit

Thursday, March 3rd, 2005

Courtesy Jeanne of Body and Soul in the piece I just linked to, here’s Slate’s Timothy Noah with something very much up the alley: Defining bullshit.

Jeanne: Extraordinary Rendition and the Geography of Hell

Thursday, March 3rd, 2005

I’m really glad that Jeanne of Body and Soul takes the time to think about these things, and comment on them publicly in the honest way she does: Lasciate ogni speranza.

Among the questions raised by the Bush team’s casual attitude toward human rights is this one, voiced by an ex-CIA official, quoted in Newsweek, then by Jeanne, and now by me:

“Where’s the off button?” says one retired CIA official. “They asked the White House for direction on how to dispose of these detainees back when they asked for [interrogation] guidance. The answer was, ‘We’ll worry about that later.’ Now we don’t know what to do with these guys. People keep saying, ‘We’re not going to shoot them’.”

Something to think about.

David Rees Interviewed

Thursday, March 3rd, 2005

Here’s a nice interview with the creator of Get Your War On: An interview with cartoonist David Rees. Then catch up on the latest from the strip at Page 44.

Baby Got Bible

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2005

Words fail me: Baby got Bible.

New Theme, Various Things Broken

Tuesday, March 1st, 2005

ymatt did some more awesome CSS-slinging on our collective behalf, and the result is now before you: the Kubrick-derived theme.

Some things are broken in the new version of the site. Some of them turn out to have been broken in the old version of the site, too, since the upgrade to WordPress 1.5; I just hadn’t noticed before now. Among the things that are broken, and that I intend to fix:

  • The graphic header isn’t linking to the site’s top-level page.
  • Only 20 posts are being shown on any archive page, with no working link being given to view more of them.
  • The “Previous” links above and below certain pages are giving 404 errors when you try to follow them.
  • There’s no explicit permalink link being given for each item on archive pages.
  • The blogroll and contact info pages aren’t being linked to from the template sidebar.
  • Categories aren’t being displayed in alphabetical order in the sidebar.
  • The old, circular category icons aren’t being used (though I’m currently debating with various interested parties whether this is a bug or a feature).

(Update: And now, all of those except the last one have been fixed, I believe.)

Those are all the things I know about as of now. Please add any that you notice using the comments (assuming that isn’t broken, too). Thanks.

Everything should be spiffy soon. Please just bear with me.

Oh, and I wanted to include the very cool original image that ymatt used to make the new header:

Oliver North and Brendan Sullivan

For you young whippersnappers who don’t know your recent history, that’s Oliver North conferring with his lawyer, Brendan “What am I, a potted plant?” Sullivan.