Archive for May, 2009

LAT on Obama on Mountaintop Removal

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Interesting article from the LA Times’ Tom Hamburger and Petter Wallsten today: Obama walks a fine line over mining.

Although environmentalists had expected the new administration to put the brakes on mountaintop removal, Rahall and other mining advocates have pointed out that Obama did not promise to end the practice and was more open to it than his Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

A review of Obama’s campaign statements show that he had expressed concern about the practice without promising to end it. On a West Virginia visit, when asked about the impact of the mining on the state’s streams, he said he wanted “strong enforcement of the Clean Water Act,” adding: “I will make sure the head of the Environmental Protection Agency believes in the environment.”

And his EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, has said that the agency had “considerable concern regarding the environmental impact these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams.” She pledged that the agency would “use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment.”

Soon afterward, the agency in effect blocked six major pending mountaintop removal projects in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

But this month, after a series of White House meetings with coal companies and advocates including Rahall and Democratic West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, the EPA released the little-noticed letter giving the green light to at least two dozen projects.

“It was a big disappointment,” said Joan Mulhern, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm that has led court challenges to mountaintop removal. “It’s disturbing and surprising that this administration, headed by a president who has expressed concern about mountaintop removal, would let such a large number of permits go forward without explanation.”

So, I have another case where Obama-the-president falls short of the hope crafted by Obama-the-candidate. Obama clearly is head and shoulders above the Bush administration in the areas of environmental protection and paying attention to science, but that doesn’t mean he’s everything I could hope for. Bush routinely approved these mountaintop removals; Obama made a show of opposition, then let the coal industry (and the unions who delivered the presidency to him in Appalachia) call in their chits.

So, it makes me sad, and draws down a little further my store of goodwill. The man is, above all, a pragmatist, and pragmatically, as with torture prosecutions and gay marriage and decriminalization of marijuana, he has more to lose than to gain if he decides this issue the way I think he should. So that’s what we can expect going forward.

It makes me wonder: On issues like universal healthcare and global warming, how far out on a limb will he be willing to go, really? When push comes to shove, and it looks like those who supported him most ardently in 2008 have nowhere else to go, will the energy interests and the drug companies and the unions and whoever else is willing to push hard against any significant change succeed in pulling him back? Sometimes a compromise isn’t good enough. Sometimes you’re better off risking it all, even if the odds are against you, because what looks like the “safer” choice really isn’t safe.

At the end of the day, what does Obama stand for? What does he actually care about enough to spend this political capital that he’s so carefully hoarding? Anything? Or is the gaining of power really its own end? Is this just a smarter, outwardly friendlier version of the Mayberry Machiavellis?

I guess I’ll have to wait to find out.

Hilzoy on Obama on the Uighurs

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Another item in my list of reasons to be disappointed in the Obama administration, and to fail to muster the True Believer zeal required to be fully onboard with supporting his agenda. As explained by Hilzoy, in Shameful:

We set up a system that gave people incentives to turn over people they claimed were foreign fighters, whether they were or not. We then dismantled all our normal procedures for separating combatants from non-combatants. It should not surprise anyone that we ended up detaining people who were innocent.

I have no problem with the government taking some reasonable period of time to try to identify another country that is willing to take detainees who cannot be returned to their own countries. But these detainees have been held for seven and a half years. That’s not a reasonable amount of time to tie up loose ends; it’s a tenth of a normal lifespan.

We screwed up. We should step up to the plate and do what’s right. Seven and a half years is too long.

That’s not change I can believe in. That’s continuing the worst aspects of the Bush administration. Briefly Hax0red; Now Back

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

For about 6 hours just now, you probably experienced trouble logging into if you are a registered user trying to log in. It looks like some lamely inadequate permissions by me made the site vulnerable to malicious manipulation by the script kiddies; I believe I’ve fixed that now. If you notice any problems still, please let me know.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Marshall on Olbermann on Mancow on Waterboarding

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Keith Olbermann makes good on his Hannity bet, sort of, by pledging to pay $10,000 to a veteran’s charity in honor of Mancow Muller, a conservative radio personality who apparently thought waterboarding was no big deal, and had it done to himself live on air. Josh Marshall talks about it in From Olbermann, including this part:

I must confess that when I see Hannity or the rest of these guys saying it’s no big deal and it’s not torture, I kind of figured they’re playing semantic games and essentially saying ‘I don’t care what we do to evil Muslim terrorist bad guys.’ Hang them from them toes, waterboard them, whatever, who cares? I don’t agree with that. It’s hideous. But I understand it. But here it turns out they’re just completely ignorant, just haven’t been paying attention. Just in the purest factual sense have no idea what they’re talking about.

I’d say that about sums it up.


A Foolproof Plan: Batteries Feel Included #309

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

I don’t know what Batteries Feel Included is, really, but I thought this was funny: Easy Solutions #1.

So, you’re in love with one of your friends, but she has a boyfriend and probably wouldn’t have sex with you anyway.

What you will need: 1 x knife, 1 x ring, access to a sunbed, the ability to grow a beard.

Ida: Very Cool Fossil, Yes. Missing Link, No.

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

So yeah, it’s a really, really cool fossil, this 47-million-year-old proto primate named “Ida”:


But no, breathless media hype to the contrary notwithstanding, it’s not “the missing link! omg!” Even Google climbs aboard the hype train, courtesy of today’s doodle, linked to search?q=missing+link+found:


Um, no.

Unfortunately, there is evidence that the hypemeisters pushing this meme aren’t just lazy reporters, or bored geeks; it seems that the actual scientists behind the recent Ida paper are part of the problem, with one of them defending their approach thusly, as quoted in the New York Times:

“Any pop band is doing the same thing,” said Jorn H. Hurum, a scientist at the University of Oslo who acquired the fossil and assembled the team of scientists that studied it. “Any athlete is doing the same thing. We have to start thinking the same way in science.”

No, you don’t. That’s what makes it science.

Interesting discussion of what’s actually interesting about Ida:

Thanks to Ed Yong for the links, which I shamelessly stole from Darwinius changes everything.

Jon Stewart on Obama’s Moral Kombat

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Barack Obama, tool:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Moral Kombat
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis Political Humor

Fake DHS “photography license” for fake no-photos laws – Boing Boing

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Awesome: Fake DHS “photography license” for fake no-photos laws.

Who knows if it’s legal to carry one of these — probably about as legal as taking away your camera and erasing your memory card for snapping a pic on the subway.

More Robots

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Mainly to annoy Clark, here’s another off-topic robot posting: Headthere: robots that let you be in two places at once.

I think this is real.

Wilkerson on Cheney, Pelosi on the CIA

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Some high-profile assertions of falsehood that have been floating around lately, and that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention:

From former Colin Powell aide Lawrence Wilkerson: The truth about Richard Bruce Cheney.

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee “was compliant” (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

So, let’s make sure that when we’re discussing the pros and cons of state-sponsored torture, we use real-world scenarios. It’s not (only) a question of whether we would be willing to turn a blind eye to government officials using torture to uncover the details of a ticking-bomb plot and save thousands of innocents. It’s a question of whether we would be willing to turn a blind eye to government officials using torture to extract false confessions of a connection between al Qaeda and Iraq in order to build political support for an invasion.

Are those really the sort of ends you want to use to justify these particular means?

And from Nancy Pelosi, who apparently is fighting back against those seeking to implicate her: At every step of the way, the administration was misleading the Congress.

I’m not at all sure I trust Pelosi’s claims of innocence here. I think we need to get the facts out into the open about just who said what (and who did what), when. And it seems increasingly likely to me that eventually we’re going to get some approximation of that. Not fast enough to make me happy. But eventually.

Understanding Information (sorting the signal from the noise)

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

One of these videos is propaganda and the other is information (and some entertainment). Both use statistics, but one draws scary conclusions and has a fundamental flaw in its ‘reasoning’. The other talks about how and why things change and new tools to help us understand statistics and spot fundamental trends.

shorter: boo!

information (ok, maybe a touch of infotainment)
shorter: it’ll be a big fat middle class world… liberal, happy and informed

I, For One, Welcome Our Tweenbot Overlords

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

A fun little item about some fun little items, and the people who help them: tweenbots | kacie kinzer.

The results were unexpected. Over the course of the following months, throughout numerous missions, the Tweenbots were successful in rolling from their start point to their far-away destination assisted only by strangers. Every time the robot got caught under a park bench, ground futilely against a curb, or became trapped in a pothole, some passerby would always rescue it and send it toward its goal. Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged. Often, people would ignore the instructions to aim the Tweenbot in the “right” direction, if that direction meant sending the robot into a perilous situation. One man turned the robot back in the direction from which it had just come, saying out loud to the Tweenbot, “You can’t go that way, it’s toward the road.”

Fox News Says Something Fair and Balanced

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

From the “Man Bites Dog” department:

I’m (obviously) not much of a Fox News watcher. Those of you who are: Is this typical behavior for Shepard Smith?

Free Basketball Hoop to Good Home

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

This story caught my eye, in part because I have a basketball hoop I want to get rid of. I should post an ad on Craigslist, like Sherry Huwitt did:

Free basket ball goal and tether ball pole. At dead end of roadway beside my home…(address) dont knock its placed out there for you to come get. will delete when gone. thanks.

Except Huwitt didn’t post the ad. Her neighbor, who didn’t want her to keep the hoop and tetherball in her yard, did. And he succeeded: By the end of the day, the hoop and tetherball were gone. Oh, and the neighbor who placed the fraudulent ad… is a cop.

Details: Mansfield woman says Arlington officer offered her possessions on Craigslist without her consent.

I like the quote from the district attorney’s office:

We don’t really know what the offense is yet. There are several different offenses that might fit. That’s why the district attorney is reviewing it, to find out if there is a criminal offense and, if so, to find out which offense fits the best.

Or the county prosecutor:

“I’m having to look up a lot of the law,” she said, “to determine one, if the law was broken, and what that law is.”

Nice of the DA and prosecutor to give the perpetrator the benefit of the doubt like that. But do you suppose the wheels of justice would be grinding in that particular way if he wasn’t a police officer? What if he had given away, say, Huwitt’s car?

Not the biggest outrage in the world, obviously. But interesting.

Stemwedel on Elsevier and Merck’s Fake Medical Journal

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Janet D. Stemwedel talks about the recently uncovered case of pharmaceutical giant Merck paying publisher Elsevier to produce a fake medical journal:

Clearly putting together something that looked like a medical journal and that contained articles (and excerpts from articles) that had only good things to say about Merck products reflects an intent to deceive. A real medical journal, one would assume, contains articles that have been scrutinized by scientists who are concerned to uphold standards of evidence and sound scientific reasoning. Peer review by experts lets the consumer of the articles in the journal regard the articles as legitimate contributions to a body of scientific knowledge. Moreover, real medical journals consider manuscripts examining the safety and efficacy of drugs from a number of competing manufacturers, and, presumably, manuscripts reporting problems with drugs, not just successes with them.

Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine was a fake journal. But, because it was put together to look like a real one, it was intended to capitalize on the credibility that articles in a real medical journal would command.

Merck, obviously, crossed an ethical line here. So did publisher Elsevier.

Gourevitch on Torture

Monday, May 4th, 2009

A well-argued short item by Philip Gourevitch in The New Yorker: Interrogating Torture. It makes the case that so far, we’ve held the lowly Abu Ghraib foot soldiers to be responsible for their actions, while letting those who created and implemented the policies they were following get off scott free.

Which is wrong.

Kamiya: The Case for Investigations

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

I can’t find any particular part of this essay by Gary Kamiya to excerpt — the whole thing is too awesome to lend itself to summarizing: America’s necessary dark night of the soul.

I think Kamiya’s argument is a compelling response to Obama’s “we need to look forward” position. Yes, we have many other crucial matters we need to deal with. Yes, Obama does not have limitless political capital. Yes, there are many powerful people on both sides of the aisle who are implicated in the bad things that happened over the last eight years, and who can be expected to be about as cooperative in the investigation as the Sunni insurgents were in the reconstruction of Iraq.

This investigation will not happen because Obama wants it; he doesn’t want it. It is not in his interest. Neither is it in the interest of the current Democratic leadership in Congress, nor that of congressional Republicans. It will not come from the people represented by the blue line in this recent Pew Research graph, nor from those represented by the red line.

It will come from those of us represented by the avocado green line:


It will not be easy. It will not be pretty. But only once we’ve dragged this sordid, festering truth out into the sunlight will we be able to see it for what it really is, and move on.

Hannity, Olbermann, Scylla on Waterboarding

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Sean Hannity says waterboarding is not torture, and is an appropriate tool for the US government to employ against suspected terrorists. In case you haven’t noticed, Sean Hannity is also something of a jackass.

Charles Grodin was challenging Hannity on the issue on Fox last week, and asked whether he would consent to be waterboarded.

“Sure,” Hannity said. “I’ll do it for charity … I’ll do it for the troops’ families.”

It wasn’t exactly clear how serious the conversation was, since Grodin joked, “Are you busy on Sunday?” and Hannity laughed.

“I’ll let you do it,” Hannity said.

“I wouldn’t do it,” Grodin said. “I’ll hand you a towel when you come out of the shower.”

Olbermann’s offer was quick. Besides the $1,000 per second, Olbermann said he’d double it if Hannity acknowledges he feared for his life and admits that waterboarding is torture.

More, if you’re interested, in this AP article: Olbermann presses Hannity on his waterboard offer.

For the record, I think Keith Olbermann is also something of a jackass, albeit a different kind of jackass than Hannity.

If you get tired of waiting for Hannity to follow through on his offer, there are plenty of other firsthand accounts of waterboarding online. One of the more interesting ones I’ve read lately is by Scylla, a politically conservative user of The Straight Dope: I waterboard!