Archive for February, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Bobby

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Bobby Jindal gave the GOP response to Obama’s speech and what a disaster lil Bobby’s speech was! His awful delivery, Gomer Pyle wit and GOP world view made for a Bizarro-World counterpoint to Obama’s speech.

Amongst his canned anecdotes was a claim that “During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office I’d never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: ‘Well, I’m the Sheriff and if you don’t like it you can come and arrest me!’ I asked him: ‘Sheriff, what’s got you so mad?’ He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go – when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn’t go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, ‘Sheriff, that’s ridiculous.’ And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: ‘Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!’ Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.”

Only problem? It wasn’t true. As in he wasn’t in Sherrif Lee’s office “during Katrina”.

Oh and FOXnews claims that Bobby couldn’t attend CPAC because he was busy with State Business (he was actually at Disneyland with his family).

If this is the best you have GOP, prepare for a long time in the wilderness. A long, long time. Hopefully forever.

The Uncler

Monday, February 23rd, 2009


The Star Wars Pants Substitution List

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Janus/onan (who recently delurked to comment, hooray!) posted the following link to a multi-user dimension near you (for certain values of “near”), and I liked it a lot: Top 278 Star Wars Lines Improved By Replacing A Word With “Pants”.

Obama Talks Purty

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Speaking on the occasion of Lincoln’s 200th birthday, President Obama still saddens me with his willingness to invoke the state secrets privilege in defense of torturers (not that he does that here). But the man gives a good speech.

Update: Embedded video removed, since it seems to have exploded over at MSNBC. Sorry about that.

Steorn’s Perpetual Motion Machine

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Continuing the theme of the flowery descriptive language in the Lady Hope account of Darwin’s deathbed conversion, check out this explanation from would-be perpetual motion machine vendor Steorn: How Orbo Works.

Orbo is based upon time variant magnetic interactions, i.e. magnetic interactions whose efficiency varies as a function of transaction timeframes.

It is this variation of energy exchanged as a function of transaction time frame that lies at the heart of Orbo technology, and its ability to contravene the principle of the conservation of energy. Why? Conservation of energy requires that the total energy exchanged using interactions are invariant in time. This principle of time invariance is enshrined in Noether’s Theorem.

The time variant nature of Orbo interactions can be engineered using two basic techniques. The first technique utilizes a method of controlling the response time of magnetic materials to make them time variant. This is achieved by controlling the MH position of materials during permanent magnetic interactions.

The second technique decouples the Counter Electromotive Force (CEMF) from torque for electromagnet interactions. This decoupling of CEMF allows time variant magnetic interactions in electromagnetic systems.

If you hurry, you can be one of the first 300 lucky licensees to sign up to make and sell Orbo machines.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

A little light hearted distraction…

Darwin’s Deathbed Conversion

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

It’s comforting, in a way, to sit down with a good story. It helps build a wall against the troubles of the here and now, offering a pleasant escape into a distant country of mind.

In that spirit, I offer you this account of what is generally known as the “Lady Hope story”, from Pastor Grant Swank of New Hope Church in Windham, Maine: Darwin: ‘I was a young man with uninformed ideas’.

He was sitting up in bed, wearing a soft embroidered dressing gown, of rather a rich purple shade.

Propped up by pillows, he was gazing out on a far-stretching scene of woods and cornfields, which glowed in the light of one of those marvelous sunsets which are the beauty of Kent and Surrey. His noble forehead and fine features seem to be lit up with pleasure as I entered the room.

He waved his hand toward the window as he pointed out the scene beyond, while in the other hand he held an open Bible, which he was always studying.

“What are you reading now?” I asked as I seated myself beside his bedside. “Hebrews!” he answered — “still Hebrews. ‘The Royal Book’ I call it. Isn’t it grand?”

Sigh. I can almost hear the birds singing in the hedgerows. It seems a shame to puncture such a lovely thought bubble with hard-nosed observations like those of Simon Yates and PZ Myers.

David Roberts on Marc Morano

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

From David Roberts writing at Gristmill: Fred Barnes’ source for climate science.

Barnes gets his information on climate change the same place everyone in the right-wing media world gets it: from Marc Morano, the in-house blogger/agitator for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

The echoes bouncing around the echo chamber have to start somewhere, after all. Apparently a lot of them start with Morano.

He’s got a pretty interesting history, according to his SourceWatch bio:

Morano is a former journalist with Cybercast News Service (owned by the conservative Media Research Center). CNS and Morano were the first source in May 2004 of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claims against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election [1] and in January 2006 of similar smears against Vietnam war veteran John Murtha.

Morano was “previously known as Rush Limbaugh’s ‘Man in Washington,’ as reporter and producer for the Rush Limbaugh Television Show, as well as a former correspondent and producer for American Investigator, the nationally syndicated TV newsmagazine.” [2]


Mark Hoofnagle on Autism, Vaccines, and Conspiracy Theories

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

From Mark Hoofnagle, writing at the Denialism Blog: the autism/vaccines fraud.

It is obvious to me that no matter what the field, the problem is crankery – the defective thought processes that allow people to believe in nonsense, no matter what obstacles reality throws in their path. Every description of every crank in every field ultimately boils down to these same factors. Cranks believe in something contrary to observable reality. They will do anything to prove it. When reality gets in their way, they ignore, subvert, lie, cheat, or obfuscate to create confusion. And when it’s proven beyond all doubt they’re wrong? That’s when the conspiracies come out.

Pelosi’s Job Loss Graph vs. Justin Fox’s

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Maybe you saw this chart Nancy Pelosi has been flogging to the media?


Justin Fox made a more-honest version of it, doing the comparison in percentage terms and including the three previous recessions:


It’s a good example of how it’s possible to be completely dishonest without actually lying, at least from a technical standpoint. Pelosi’s graph is accurate as far as it goes. It uses real numbers. But it’s clear, when you compare it to Fox’s graph, that Pelosi’s was crafted for maximum emotional effect. “Oh my God!” one says when looking at Pelosi’s graph. “Employment is crashing with no end in sight! Who can save us?”

Fox’s graph makes it clear that yeah, employment is thoroughly befucked, and could well be heading for Great Depression territory. But it hasn’t quite outstripped the worst dip in the last 30 years. At least, not yet.

One of those graphs is conducive to fostering rational thought about where we’re at, historically speaking, and what our options might be. The other is conducive to stampeding people in the particular direction favored by the Speaker’s office this week.

We’re not going to get out of this by stampeding. We’re going to get out of it (if we are going to get out of it) through the application of rational thought.

Way to lead, Madame Speaker.

Update: More versions of the graph, with additional recessions, from Job losses during recessions.

Obama Invokes State Secrets Privilege to Cover Up Torture

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

This is horribly, horribly depressing.

If you asked me to pick three people whose views on the issue of torture and the rule of law I’ve come to respect, they would probably be Kevin Drum, Hilzoy, and yes, despite his habit of going all prosecutorial and one-sided on us, Glenn Greenwald. And if you told me that all three of them were appalled, on the same day, at the same action by the new Obama administration with regard to a matter of torture and the rule of law, I’d have to say that was pretty much game over for me in terms of my willingness to defend the Obama administration.

So: Elapsed time until losing my support: 2 weeks, 6 days.

Sigh. The torture presidency continues, apparently. Or, to extend him a whopping benefit of the doubt that I’m no longer at all sure he deserves, Obama has decided that he will stop torturing (which is a good thing). But he will also use the most questionable sorts of expansive imperial presidency power as pioneered by Bush to protect the perpetrators of torture from facing justice. No doubt Obama has determined that he would suffer politically from the perception that he was going after the torturers who preceded him in office. It would be a losing proposition for him, politically. He would be portrayed as weak on terror, a turncoat willing to burn his own people and prevent them from fighting the bad guys. So he takes the coward’s way out, presumably arguing to himself that he thereby preserves his ability to do good with his political capital, but at the same time allowing himself to become complicit with the worst sort of inhumanity.

Until now I was proud of Obama. Proud of what he had achieved, of what he stood for.

Now I’m ashamed.

Getting the Crap Scared Out of Me by Gwynne Dyer (Again)

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Gwynne Dyer is the guy whose PBS documentary series War is one of the scarier things I’ve ever seen on my bright-and-noisy-babble dispenser. Now he’s at it again, this time looking at the likely impacts of climate change. “Climate Wars”, he calls it. And no, he’s not talking hyperbolically.

You can download and listen to the podcast version of the three-part radio show he recently did for the CBC Ideas series, at Best of Ideas. (Apparently they purge that archive really quickly, though, so get it fast.) That’s the version that scared me, as I did my daily three-hour carbon-footprint-maximization exercise. Or you can get Dyer’s book at Amazon: Climate Wars. Or you can read the comments of a blogger with the unlikely name Yappa, who apparently attended a lecture Dyer gave in March, 2007, and did a really good job of summarizing the scarier parts: Climate wars.

I’d like to believe that Dyer is a raving alarmist who has no real idea what he’s talking about. I’d really like to.

I don’t.

Timothy Cole Exonerated — Ten Years After His Death in Prison

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

There are some rolls of the cosmic dice that really suck. Like being a black man accused of raping a white woman in Texas.

A case in point:

Some facts about Timothy Cole’s case that seem significant to me:

  • Michelle Malin, the rape victim, picked Cole out of a photo lineup, and identified him as the rapist again at the trial. Apparently that was good enough for Texas.
  • Cole steadfastly asserted his innocence. He did so even when offered a plea deal that would have given him probation, rather than a prison sentence. He did so after his conviction and incarceration, during annual parole hearings, when acknowledging guilt and expressing remorse could have led to his being paroled. He did so for fourteen years, until he died in prison from complications of asthma in 1999.
  • Jerry Wayne Johnson, the person DNA testing eventually proved had been the actual rapist, attempted to confess to the crime as early as 1995 — four years before Cole’s death. The authorities apparently weren’t interested in his story.

Sigh. That DNA testing came along and exposed a whole raft of injustices like this was unexpected. But from a scientific standpoint, it’s a golden opportunity. We’ve been given a chance to check a subset of our answers in the back of the book, and draw meaningful conclusions about the reliability of our other, unchecked answers.

A smart person would take advantage of that opportunity. A good person would view it as an ethical obligation, given what it says about the innocent people we are fining, imprisoning, and (especially) executing. A less-smart, less-good person would view it as being of passing, anecdotal interest, maybe, and then go back to surfing the Web.

What sort of people are we? What sort of person am I?

Good question.

LA Times: The Peanut Company Lied

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

From the LA Times today comes this fun article: Peanut company lied on salmonella testing, FDA finds.

Peanut Corp. of America, the company that produced the contaminated peanut butter now being widely recalled, lied to Food and Drug Administration investigators about shipping batches of the food known to be tainted with salmonella bacteria, the agency said Friday.

The company had previously told the FDA that some lots of peanut butter had initially tested positive for the bacterium, then were retested and found to be negative before they were shipped. But further investigation showed that the company actually shipped some of the lots before the second tests were completed. Other lots were shipped without testing and, in some cases, no second test was performed even after the first one came back positive.

So far there have been eight deaths and 575 illnesses linked to poisoning by the company’s peanut butter.

In the wake of the deaths, FDA inspectors went into the plant on Jan. 9 — the first time they had visited the plant since 2001 — and finished their inspection Jan. 27.

I guess the people running the FDA haven’t been big believers in the value of government oversight since about 2001 or so. Just like the people charged with oversight and regulation of the financial industry. Or the people running FEMA at the time of Katrina. Or the people evaluating possible government responses to climate change. I mean, if everyone knows that government is the problem, not the solution, then the answer is simple, right?

Go free market! Woo!

Romm on the Details of Global Warming Disbelief

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Writing at, Joseph Romm goes into more detail about that recent poll showing a decline in the public’s belief in global warming (Deniers are still mostly duping only GOP voters…). It turns out that since 2006, more Democrats now believe in global warming — but that shift is more than offset by the number of Republicans shifting the other way.

You can indeed fool some of the people all the time — if those people are conservatives.

Rasmussen Reports made headlines last month reporting that 41% of Americans blame global warming on human activity, down from 46% two years ago. The conservative pollster gleefully noted:

Al Gore’s side may be coming to power in Washington, but they appear to be losing the battle on the idea that humans are to blame for global warming.

It is, however, the details of the poll that are the most telling. In January 2009:

Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Democrats blame global warming on human activity, compared to 21% percent of Republicans. Two-thirds of GOP voters (67%) see long-term planetary trends as the cause versus 23% of Democrats.

This compares to December 2006 result:

Fifty-six percent (56%) of Democrats say human activity is the cause while 51% of Republicans identify long-term planetary trends as the culprit.

That’s right. Slightly more Democrats now understand that humans are the primary cause of global warming, whereas substantially more GOP voters — a full one-sixth — have been duped into thinking long-term planetary trends are the cause.

Why the growing divergence?

Romm goes into more detail about why he thinks that’s happening. Personally, I see it as a case of the “bullshit tax” our society pays in return for the dubious privilege of having ideologically skewed entertainment that passes itself off as news reporting.

Do those who watch the NFL have an obligation to tell those who watch the WWE that the matches they’re watching have predetermined outcomes? Probably not. If you enjoy watching guys dive off the top rope in a pro wrestling match, I think that’s your business.

Global warming is different, though. Those publicly denying it are doing harm to a lot of innocent people (like, all of them, for the next thousand years or more). That’s immoral. Your desire to be entertained by bullshit artists who cater to your needy ego does not trump my descendants’ right to a livable planet.

Bai on Obama’s Blackberry

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Continuing the theme of favorite witty bits: This is from A president and his BlackBerry, by Matt Bai in today’s LA Times op-ed section:

9:41 a.m.

To: Hillary Clinton

From: BHO

I’m sprawled out on the Oval Office rug, just luxuriating. Thought u’d like to know. LOL.

I did, in fact, LOL at that during breakfast today.

One Sentence Stories

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Hiro pointed out One Sentence to me, including this one by LaDeeDa, which is my current favorite from the most popular from the last 30 days page:

Shortly after a palliative care nurse suggested Preparation H as a treatment for my weeping induced under-eye bags, my mother, who was dying of cancer, opened her eyes and left me with these parting words of wisdom to sustain me after she died: “Whatever you do, Petunia, do NOT put ass cream on your face.”

Platt’s Life at Wal-Mart

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

I found this article by Charles Platt interesting: Life at Wal-Mart. Platt went undercover to find out just how bad it was working for the bane of unions everywhere: Wal-Mart.

The job was as dull as I expected, but I was stunned to discover how benign the workplace turned out to be. My supervisor was friendly, decent, and treated me as an equal. Wal-Mart allowed a liberal dress code. The company explained precisely what it expected from its employees, and adhered to this policy in every detail. I was unfailingly reminded to take paid rest breaks, and was also encouraged to take fully paid time, whenever I felt like it, to study topics such as job safety and customer relations via a series of well-produced interactive courses on computers in a room at the back of the store. Each successfully completed course added an increment to my hourly wage, a policy which Barbara Ehrenreich somehow forgot to mention in her book.

Pro- and anti-union readers: Feel free to have it out in the comments.