Friday, July 31, 2009

Fungi That (Among Other Things) Partially Reprogram Their Insect Hosts

Cool.

Also:

Ew.

(Via Metafilter)

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Birtherism and the Birth Certificate

Hey, just out of curiosity: does anybody know why the actual hard copy of Obama's birth certificate hasn't been produced yet? I mean, I like to see the fever swamps thrown into an entertaining frenzy as much as the next rational person...but why not just put the whole thing to rest? There's so much stupid flying around over this that it's starting to give me a feckin' headache.

Some have hypothesized a rope-a-dope strategy.

I have two conjectures:

(1) he wants to make a point. (Since the available evidence is more than sufficient, he'll let the koox do their thing, then produce the conclusive evidence in an attempt to get them to do a little soul searching. Though really, it's not like these people are ever going to actually learn anything...)


(2) he's letting the issue fester because it's causing internal conflict in the fever swamps. Even Tranny Spice has said the birthers are too crazy for her taste. (!!!!)

But is it really worth it? Perhaps it's a way of bleeding off wingnut energy in the direction of the stupidest possible issue? Frankly, at this point it'd be nice to just get those morons to STFU.

Of course, it is interesting to see (er, yet again) just how crazy and evil some sectors of conservatism have become. For example, we've gotten a slightly better fix on what Liz Cheney is made of...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Freepers, Creepers!
Freepers, Birthers Edition
Or:
Ann Coulter...er..."Goes Over to the Dark Side"???

Oh man.

First, the excuses: I'm like a major insomniac. Like, close to off the scale, slash and burn, nuclear holocaust insomnia. So anyway. Sometimes instead of fighting the losing sleep battle yet another night, I just stay up. An all-nighter of guaranteed no sleep is often preferable to another night of tossing and turning in bed for eight hours pathetically trying to eek out a couple hours of shut-eye. So anyway, that's by way of explaining why I seem to drop by FreeRepublic so often...I mean, it's 5 a.m., I haven't slept in...well, basically eleven years...my brain can't really rise about the level of ridicule. Suddenly there I am at FreeRepublic...you know how it is...

So apparently it turns out that Tranny Spice said that the Obama birth certificate biz is "not an issue," and that it's just being pushed by "a few cranks."

In response, one Freeper says that she's "gone over to the Dark Side" like...Peggy Noonan...!

And, I mean, that's actually true...though I expect not for the reasons the freeper has in mind.

A few other choice bits:

Reagan Man sez:
Since is it ANN COULTER (!!!) I am certainly willing to allow that she has not been sufficiently informed on this

THIS DOES NOT NEGATE ALL THE EXCELLENT WORK THIS BRILLIANT WOMAN HAS DONE

Yes, all that...brilliant work... Indeed. If only she had all the copious information that the other koox have...

Then there's "Extremely Extreme Extremist" who writes:

Ann is a strategist. You don’t play your Spades first in a game of Spades. This birth certificate isssue [sic] is our Ace of Spades card. Sooner or later, the truth is going to come out. But it makes no sense to play it now, and I say this as someone who truly believes that Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen.

Yes, of course! Even though Obama could be removed from office immediately, it wouldn't be good strategery for them to do it now, because...because...er...because they want to, er, wait 'til health care reform is passed? Or something?

Gosh, it's stupid on stupid over there. So terribly pathetic and sad that it's not even any fun visiting anymore. You may not realize this, for example, but Obama is bad in every conceivable way! Yup. You name it, he's wrong about it. It is a little-known fact, but he has no redeeming characterisitcs. I mean, you may have known that he was a child-molesting antichrist...but if you didn't go freeping, you might think that he had some virtues tucked away somewhere. Which it turns out he does not.

You'd think that even the crazies would sometimes be tipped off by the relentlessness of their own craziness. But you'd be wrong.


So I think I'll just stop going over there.

Soon...real soon...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

'Theory' and 'Hypothesis' in Science, and in the Creationism Debate
And
Is Evolution "Just" a Theory?

Here's one of those things I've been meaning to comment on for years, but have never gotten around to. Biologists have recently gained a rhetorical advantage in the creationism debate by claiming the following:
A theory is a hypothesis that is fairly well-confirmed.
Why is this important? Because of the well-known creationist claim that:
Evolution is just a theory.
In response to this vexing bumper-sticker of a slogan, many now invoke the above neologistic definition of 'theory,' and respond:
No--to say that evolution is a theory is (by definition) to say that it is fairly well-confirmed. You mistakenly think that to call it a theory is to say that it is largely speculative.
It's amazing how well this shenanigan works.

But it's B.S.

'T is a theory' does not entail that T is fairly well-confirmed, and, as Carroll notes, even scientists don't use the term that way. In fact, there's no hard-and-fast line between being a theory and being a hypothesis. To the extent that there's any standardization here, it goes something like this: theories tend to be bigger than hypotheses. They tend to be systems of hypotheses, as opposed to single explanatory conclusions. But a hypothesis is a limiting case of a theory. If I hear a loud noise and conjecture that something blew up, then I can rightly say that I have a hypothesis, or I can rightly say that I have a theory. The imaginary definition of 'theory' above was apparently introduced specifically to trip up creationists.

Who--don't get me wrong--deserve to be tripped up. They routinely employ shenanigans way more reprehensible than this one, and we can hardly blame the scientists for firing back in kind every now and then.

But the correct answer to the "it's just a theory" assertion goes like this:
No, it's an extremely well-confirmed theory.
There are theories and theories. Some are well-confirmed, some are not. Evolution is one of the former (not that I think it has achieved its final form, for I do not.) To harp on the fact that it's a theory ("just" a theory) is to exploit the fact that, colloquially, to call T a theory is to assert that it is ipso facto particularly uncertain or in doubt. But that's not really how scientists use the term, either. They do like to keep their fallibilism front and center, so they do like to continue referring to things as theories far past the point at which most folk would have begun to refer to them as facts. (Though I did have a particularly dogmatic biology prof who insisted that everyone refer to evolution as "the fact of evolution." So that's another strategy, I guess...) But this doesn't change the fact that some theories are near certainties. Some theories are theories that are well-confirmed, and therefore (sometimes extremely) likely to be true at least in their broad outlines--and evolution is one of them.

This case really fascinates me because it caught my attention as soon as the "all theories are well-confirmed" meme began to circulate. I knew it was erroneous, of course, but was surprised at how effective it seemed to be. It's wrong, but it does the same job that the truth would do, and apparently does it better. So, I thought, why harp on the facts if they're just gonig to cause trouble for the good guys?

Well, I'm never happy about such compromises, and since Carroll has broached the subject, I suppose I might as well say my piece. So there it is.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Alberto Lopez, Rogue Cop?

If the facts are as reported here, and unless we're really missing something in the video, here's a cop who should go to jail for a long, long time. But it looks like he's going to get a slap on the wrist.

A policeman who does something like this should be treated exactly as a private citizen who did it would be treated.
Gatesgate
"Obama's Rush to Judgment" Edition

Maria Haberfeld, a political scientist, responds to the president's charge that the police acted "stupidly" in Gatesgate:
Was it stupid behavior or was it an understandable result of police procedure -- the culture, or rather sub-culture, of this profession. People depend on police in a time of trouble but are quicker than lightning to judge harshly when things go wrong. But the most important question in this case is: Did they go wrong?
That is, indeed, the central question.

"Culture" is the mantra of the contemporary social scientist (and many in the humanities), but appeals to culture cannot excuse every action. Actions can be common orthodox or downright holy in your culture or sub-culture, and still be stupid.

And, of course, were we to take the sub-culture of the policeman into account, we'd have to take Gates's most notable sub-culture into account. This sort of interaction has got to be more upsetting for the average black person than it would be for the average white person.

More relevant than knee-jerk appeals to culture is Haberfeld's appeal to the actual, physical facts about police work--it's sometimes dangerous, and the police have obligations that ordinary citizens do not. Those strike me as relevant points.

And if the officer had thought that Gates was dangerous, then I would be inclined to defend his actions.

However, he did not arrest Gates for any such reason. He arrested him for disorderly conduct. Gates was pushing it ("I'll speak to your mama outside"), and some people--academicians in particular, academicians at prestigious universities in particular--can be obnoxious and high-handed. You don't know Gates, I don't know Gates, maybe he's that kind of guy. But the man was in his own house. Sgt. Crowley admits that he had already concluded that Gates was in his own house. Crowley did not think Gates was dangerous. He just didn't like the way that Gates was talking to him.

My view, after perhaps insufficient thought, is that Crowley was probably rather more in the wrong than in the right, but this is a close enough call that we'd have to know more details about the situation. Degrees of belligerence matter in cases like this, and we don' t know exactly how belligerent Gates was being.

As for Obama's comment that the police acted "stupidly"...meh, it's not unreasonable given what we know, but it's not clearly spot-on, either. Crowley obviously went to the house with the best intentions, and was, no doubt, just trying to do his job. But for that matter Gates was just trying to get in his house, probably tired and cranky after just coming back from China. The situation was ripe for conflict.

I'm sure it hurt Crowley's feelings to be yelled at for just trying to do his job, but I'm sure it touched a nerve in Gates to be accused of breaking into his own house.

In a case like this, unless the invective is way, way over the top, I say the cops have to just apologize and move on. (Though some police officers believe they are due way more deference than they actually are.) Haberfeld writes that people are "quicker than lighting" to judge the police when something goes wrong, but that's not my experience. Many people are very sympathetic to the police. If anything, I think that the police probably get slightly more benefit of the doubt than is reasonable.

We may never know exactly what happened, and I'm not sure how important any of this really is anyway. I don't know how much information the president had when he made the claim about the police acting stupidly. His assertion seems to have been in the ballpark, but could turn out to be incorrect.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bush vs. Cheney

So...who will the wingnuts side with?
The (Poison) Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the (Poison) Tree

Liz Cheney, idiot, continues to throw red meat to the birthers and spew any anti-Obama hogwash she can think up.

What a despicable human being.
Back-Yard Chickens

Or "urban chickens" as the neo-yuppies seem to be calling them.

Well, we had chickens on the farm of course. I've got nothing against chickens. (Well, I didn't until I moved to the Shenandoah valley and encountered big chicken sheds, which stink like...well, a whole buttload of chickens all packed together in a big shed...)

(I mean, I don't exactly like chickens. They are extraordinarily stupid, for one thing. One friend of mine, in arguments with animal rights types, insists that chickens are actually just "fast plants.")

But man, I hope these folks understand that they aren't going to have a self-sustaining...er...flock or whatever you call a mess of chickens. Unless they think they're going to have roosters. Which they aren't going to have. Because even if they did have them, their neighbors would soon kill the things. Cartoons give people the idea that roosters crow exactly once, exactly at dawn. But those $*%&^#s actually crow all the @#*& time. Definitely not something you want in a city.
(Maybe there are non-crowing breeds, though?)

Our town just rejected an ordinance to allow 'em, though, so this won't be something we have to worry about.

I'm waiting for the urban pig and backyard beef movements.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Strange Allure of Word Magic

Well, there's this.

Can anyone explain to me why it is that so many people are so bloody eager to make patently ridiculous claims about the magical extra-super power of language? Even when the actual explanations of the phenomena they attribute to word magic are patently obvious?

Because this stuff just amazes me.
Is It Racist to Look Down on Neanderthals?

The Mystic (in a joke (?) in comments) raises a question I've actually wondered about before, namely: is it racist to look down on Neanderthals? (Cro-Magnons? Australopithecines? Extraterrestrials? Androids? Robots?)
Obama Wants to Kill Your Grandma

It's the obvious implication.

(Via Balloon Juice)
Koox!
The Born Ultimatum [1]

The birthers are getting restless, and Ambinder is concerned.

As well he should be.

One small quibble with one thing he writes, however. Ambinder:
Republicans have to be extra careful. If they give credence to the birthers, they're (not only advancing ignorance but also) betraying the narrowness of their base. If they dismiss this growing movement, they might drive birthers to find more extreme candidates, which will fragment a Republican political coalition.
But what's more important than how the GOP should finesse its lunatic fringe...which sometimes looks alarmingly like a lunatic base...is that there is a substantial and growing fringe in the GOP base that's crazy enough to take this birther claptrap seriously, demanding (yet more) proof of Obama's citizenship.

Rather than asking "how can we keep the extra-wingy nuts on board?", the GOP might want to consider asking itself "might the fact that a substantial part of our base is batshit crazy be some kind of indication that something about our approach and/or platform might be sub-optimal in some way?"

Just a thought.


[1] I just watched The Daily Show from...I dunno...a day or so ago...on tivo, and they made almost this joke. Though their version was "The Born Identity." Which is obviously the right joke, unlike "The Born Ultimatum." But I just want to make it clear that I didn't steal the joke. If I had, I would have stolen the good version.
Getting an Early Start on Fighting the Last War

I keep running across people piling on the F-22 because it hasn't been used in Iraq or Afghanistan, and because it's no help in "today's asymmetrical wars" and so forth. (I saw Barney Frank and Rachel Maddow cackling about this two nights ago, for example.) Now, I'm more anti-F-22 than pro-, I think it should be obvious to everyone that we need a leaner and more realistic defense budget, and so forth. Believe my non-pro-F-22 credentials are in order.

But for chrissake people, there is no reason to think that every war from here on will be against al Qaeda or some similarly pathetic bunch of Neanderthals.

This is the most obvious kind of idiocy. One might point out that there aren't any credible threats that require the F-22--that's a fair point. (Su-35s and MIG-35s are basically for show.) Or you might point out that we'd be better off building Stealth Eagles, or F-35s, or fighter drones or whatever...

But you cannot rely upon an argument which has as a suppressed premise that we will never fight another war against a country with an actual air force.

People seem to be getting an early start on fighting the last war next time. (
Gosh, Mr. President, we didn't think we'd need air superiority fighters against China...I mean, we didn't need them in Afghanistan...)

But this is par for the course with many professional chatterers and cacklers. What's important is the conclusion, not the reasoning. F-22 bad? Well, then, use any argument which has 'F-22 bad' as it's conclusion! (We'll never fight another major war, so the F-22 is bad! The F-22 is made of candy, so the F-22 is bad! If man were meant to fly, God would have given him wings, so the F-22 is bad!)

(Same thing always happens. Same thing happened with Iraq. The Iraq war was bad, so any old argument would do. You can't impose democracy at the point of a gun! (false. (See: WWII)); humanitarian interventions never work! (false.) We need more "realism" (i.e. anti-idealism, anti-humanitarianism, immoralism) in foreign policy! (false.). Violence never solved anything! (False. (See: American Civil War.)))

Thing is, when you let conclusions rather than premises govern your reasoning, adopting whatever premises will support the conclusion, then you become committed to the ad hoc premises you used. Then you raise the likelihood that the bogus premise will be used again. So if you reject the F-22 because it was not useful in a war against Medieval wackos living in caves, now you're committed to the principle that we should only build weapons that are useful against medieval wackos living in caves. A very dumb idea indeed.

Let's not get quite such an early start on fighting the last war next time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Adventures in Real Estate: Winston Smith and Johnny Quest Buy a House???

Well, today JQ and I made an offer on a house. The place looks like a total wreck, but so far it's checked out structurally. Part of it will have to be jacked up a bit...but it could be really cool if everything goes right.

We've also found out that one of our competitors for the place is a local creationist I've tangled with in the past, just to add a little extra excitement.

O.k., so wish us luck.
Senate Stops Production of F-22!

Wow.

I'm inclined to agree with this decision, but I'm far from certain about it. What's really positive here--even if it's the wrong decision about the Raptor in particular--is that Congress was stopped from forcing the production of a weapons system that pretty much everyone else has concluded is not cost-effective. Lockheed intentionally farmed the production out to 44 different states in order to insure that it would stay in production even if it didn't deserve to. Apparently this made quality control virtually impossible, and forced Lockheed to employ a massive shim line to rectify problems with parts.

I'm hoping that this will show Lockheed et. al. that they can't just routinely ramp up production costs secure in the knowledge that Congress and the Pentagon will just suck it up and pay anything.

I was surprised when Rumsfeld managed to kill the Crusader, but I'm way, way more surprised by this.
Sarah Palin's Resignation Speech
Edited by Vanity Fair

Wow. That's a tough job.

(h/t Taylor K.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Response to Andrew Sullivan's "Why Palin Matters":
Two words: Bush/Cheney

Sullivan writes of his continued focus on Sarah Palin:

I'm getting lots of emails telling me to move on. I will. But I want to explain why I think the Palin drama is actually important. It's not because of her: she's a delusional, narcissistic and disturbed person who would be voted off a reality show in the first rounds. It's because of John McCain, the Republican establishment and the mainstream media. What happened last fall was a warning sign to all of us about how corrupt and cynical the GOP, McCain and the MSM are. They colluded in such a way that this unstable, erratic, know-nothing beauty queen could actually have been president of the United States. What matters is that all those in on this scam be exposed and their way of conducting themselves be reformed until they stop risking the fate of the country and the world on their own vanities and cowardice.

McCain knew full well that Palin was unqualified to be commander-in-chief at this period of time; and he knew there was no way she could ever learn enough to do the job. So his decision to pick her was pure cynicism and irresponsibility.
Obviously I've got no love for Palin. Sullivan is absolutely right about her. It is insane that she was anywhere near the presidency. It would, quite literally, be better to choose someone at random out of the phone book. And I agree with Sullivan that this is not something simply to be forgotten. America really ought to have its nose rubbed in that mess until it gets the point.

However...

As I've said before, it's a little bit odd to obssess much over Palin's vice-presidential near miss when we actually did have eight years of George W. Bush as president--not to mention Cheney as veep. No doubt about it--Palin is a dangerous, empty-headed loon. But the probability of her doing as bad as Cheney or Bush are near zero. I mean...would she ignore experts warning of terrorist attacks? Fail to hold a meeting of terrorist principals until nine months into her term? Freak out and fly around the country in circles in Air Force One after an attack? Let the perpetrators get away by diverting resources from the war meant to capture or kill them? Begin a completely irrelevant war of choice against the enemies of those who attacked us?

Again: the odds of the radically unqualified Sarah Palin doing worse than Bush or Cheney are basically zero. If you had two options, (i) keep the last eight years or (ii) rewinde the tape of time and play it forward with Sarah Palin as president or vp, you'd have to be pretty stupid or uninformed to choose (i).

This doesn't mean we shouldn't use Palin as an illustration of contemporary conservative folly. Not at all. But let's keep things in perspective. The devil you know isn't necessarily better just because you know him. We're accustomed to the idea of Bush and Cheney--but viewed objectively, there's virtually no chance that anyone, Palin included, could ever be a worse president or VP than those two.

Sullivan then quotes Richard Cohen:
Naming Palin to the GOP ticket...was the most reckless decision any national politician has made in the longest time, and while it certainly says something about McCain, it says even more about his party. It has lost its mind. [my elipses]
Um, no, it wasn't. In fact, it wasn't really close. Unless 2002 was "the longest time" ago. Naming Palin was merely astonshingly irresponsible and stupid. It does not, however, compare to lying us into the disaster of Iraq. Sorry, Mr. Cohen--just because somehing is unutterably terrible doesn't mean that it's the worst.

And Sullivan again:
The reason we need to get to the truth of what happened is that these people nearly took this country off a cliff. They need to be held accountable. They need to be removed from their positions of power. We cannot move on until they are.
Yes, o.k., but don't forget about the ones who did take us over a cliff. Don't obsess so much over the eminently obsession-worthy Palin--the potential disaster--that you forget about the actual disaster, the fait accompli, the world-historical fuck-up that was the Bush-Cheney administration.
The Ultimate Test

Kind of amusing.

(I think they meant 'Alexander of Aphrodisias' in #6.)

(via Metafilter.)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Free Republic Founder Et Up By The Stupid

So, the founder of Free Republic, Jim Robinson, is calling for millions of people to march on Washington. This will, apparently, allow him to throw out the results of the last election, kick Obama, Biden, and all senators and representatives out of office. He'll also get rid of the 16th and 17th amendments as well as Roe v. Wade. He'll make Hillary Clinton president.

I am, hard as it is to believe, not making this up.

Eight years of Bush and Cheney running the country into a ditch and not a peep from these people. Six months of Obama trying to clean up the mess, and they're calling for revolution. The stupid is often indistinguishable from the crazy...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

NYT Opinionator Roundup: CIA Hit Squads

For some reason I can't put my finger on, I found this worth reading.

Most humorous part: report from the fever swamps, in particular, Jennifer Rubin at the now-just-slightly-less-comical-than-the-NRO Commentary, about how Holder is "marching forward, preparing prosecution with no legal basis," and how it's Obama who's "demoralizing our intelligence community." Not, say, Bush/Cheney, of course, who used them as political pawns, encouraged them to break the law and torture people, and encouraged them to lie to Congress. Nope. It's Obama for...um...saying that we shouldn't investigate Bush and Cheney for that? Hmm...that's quite possibly true...but not what Rubin means... (Let me say again: we really do need a loyal, rational opposition in the press.)

Most interesting part: Robert Baer [Jeremy Scahill], who says, in essence: this is undoubtedly small potatoes compared to the other laws Bush and Cheney were almost certainly breaking.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Might Palin Start A Third Party?

Don't get excited...I have no information to that effect.

I was just thinking that the GOP establishment is unlikely to accept her as a candidate, and that she might not be willing to play second fiddle again.

And she seems loony/narcissistic enough to do that even if it will clearly split the conservative vote.

A blogger can dream, can't he?
Pitchgate

The true mark of a good president, of course, is his pitching ability.

On the bright side, it is probably not possible for The Corner to get any more pathetic...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Student At The U of Oregon Wonders Whether It Matters That All His Profs Are Democrats;
In Response, Liberal Professors Ridicule and Scream At Him

Niiiiiice. (At the Christian Science Monitor.)

I've had similar experiences, actually, though the psychotic reactions have normally come from the far left--and I wonder whether the loony professors in this story might not actually be farther left than liberal. Just a hypothesis, of course. Some liberals are loony too.

Note the extra bonus anti-southern comment by one of the profs in question. Lord knows we is all ignernt racists underneath that thar Manson-Dixie whatsis. Why, the average street person in Eugene Oregon is actually notably more intelligent than tenured professors at our best universities. True fact.
Meghan McCain: "Joe the Plumber--and you can quote me--is a Dumbass..."

Too funny.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Austin Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia / Big Ass Bear

My new Indian name should be Hikes With Wrong Lens... If I'd had the 300mm I'd have gotten a great shot.

Anyway, had a great hike today on Austin mountain. Four bear sightings, including the one in the lower three pix. I've been hiking around with my digital Rebel slung over my shoulder, which (given that I've already got at least a water pack on), is rather a pain. So this time I think to myself: those bears are always gone in an instant anyway...there's
never enough time to get a good shot. I'll just take the Sigma 17-200 in case I see another Timber rattler, and I'll keep it in my pack, as those things generally don't run off. So of course, less than a mile in, I see a BIG ASS BEAR (see pix right). And it just stands in the trail. I snap some shots, then start making some noise--it's apparently not good to sneak up on even mere black bears, and I don't want to get this one in trouble. Well, it trots down the trail a bit, but...doesn't really seem too concerned. In fact, it slows to a walk and just stays on the trail. In fact, it seems rather disinclined to make way. So, I'm making some noise and hanging back...
But the bear is acting a bit odd, and I want to see where it leaves the trail...there's lots of visibility forward here, and it's moving so slowly that I'm having a hard time walking more slowly than it is. I saw a big cub run across the trail awhile before I saw this animal, and so I'm treating it as if it's the sow of that cub...that is, giving it plenty of room.

Now, normally I have a can of bear spray clipped on my pack. You don't need it around these parts, but it's there and I don't take it off. But I noticed as I was leaving



this morning that it wasn't there. I made a cursory search, but had to get going...and, as I said, you don't really need it in the SNP. But I'm not wild about the way this bear is acting. At one point it semi-turns around and may or may not have taken a seemingly bad-natured swipe at a sapling. This I don't care for much. So I give up my strategy of hoping to see where it leaves the trail, and just stay put while it ambles over the next rise. As I walked on, I loudly explained to the local bears that my Indian name is actually Avoids Sneaking Up On Bears, or Greatly Admires Bears, or Tastes Really Bad... Soon the trail forked, and the grass going the other way indicated lots of traffic, so I hoped it went that way. Though for the next several miles, the Austin Mountain trail showed really heavy bear signs. Later on, I heard a bear making its way up the mountain toward the trail. I was a bit skittish from my earlier encounter, and as soon as it popped out onto the trail--looking away from me, so I would have had time to get a pic--I said "Hey, bear!" It was about a yearling cub, it looked around like WTF!!1 and took off post haste. If I'd have waited long enough to see that it was small I would have realized that I didn't need to say anything and could have gotten the shot. Ah well.

Austin Mountain--great hike, lots of bears, philosoraptor says: check it out.
Do Radical Professors Produce Radical Students?

Maybe not.

I haven't looked at the details of the study yet, so I don't have any opinion about its value...though, sadly, I have a sort of background skepticism about such studies...

There are still obvious reasons to be concerned about the prevalence of radical professors, of course. But it'd be a relief to find out that they weren't effectively brainwashing their students.

Howley refers to right-wing "hysteria" about this issue...and that's probably an accurate term. What puzzles me, however, is why liberals are so dismissive of the problem. (a) Radicals are not liberals; radicals tend to have decidedly illiberal views. So if liberals think that radical professors are their allies, they are largely mistaken. (b) Even if (and to the extent that) radical professors are the allies of liberals, I take it that liberalism is opposed to bias and brainwashing in all their forms. Ergo liberals shouldn't be sanguine about students being brainwashed, even if they are being brainwashed with liberal-friendly doctrines.

My own experience suggests that exposure to radical professors does influence students. Many students are savvy about this stuff, and just dismiss the brainwashers. On many students, the propaganda has the opposite of the intended effect, and they are driven to the right. But many students are led down a path to moonbatism...a path they would probably never discovered on their own. Perhaps it all balances out...but I'd be rather surprised if it did.

Guess I'd better actually read the paper in question, huh?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lockheed's F-22 Propaganda

I forgot to mention that after I posted on the F-22 question last year, I got an e-mail from a PR flack working for Lockheed, in which said flack sent me no less than three links to op-eds...all of which turned out to have been written by people with links to Lockheed-Martin...about how awesome the F-22 is. There were also the standard sophistical arguments about how many jobs would be lost if F-22 production were slowed or terminated.

But building ultra-high-tech fighters is a really bad way to create jobs. Those jobs tend to be highly-skilled, high-paying jobs...and so you make fewer of them. If you need an ultra-high-tech fighter, then by all means build one; but if you need to create jobs, build roads or something. Anything we build is going to create or sustain jobs, so that's not an argument for the F-22 as opposed to whatever else we might do with the money. But there probably aren't many things we could build that would make fewer jobs per dollar than an F-22.

The PR flack in question was nice enough, but I find it nauseating that companies like Lockheed spend money (money which ultimately probably came from our tax dollars) to buy ads trying to cajole us into buying weapons that we may not need...hence which may ultimately make the country less safe. (Of course I find it nauseating that anyone would ever be or hire a PR flack at all, but that's a whole other story...)

Let me say again that I'm not anti-F-22; I'm just against spending defense dollars in suboptimal ways, and I'm not convinced that money spent on the F-22 is money optimally spent.
Irish Anti-Blasphemy Law Passes

Wow. Here's something alarming: Ireland apparently just passed an anti-blasphemy law. An excerpt, from the other end of the link:

Section 36

(1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000. [Amended to €25,000]

(2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

There are lots of loose criticisms of this law flying around on the web...but, contrary to what some are saying, e.g. denying the infallibility of the Pope, or denying that Joseph Smith was visited by a flaming salamander or making fun of atheism or whatever doesn't seem to be prohibited by this law. Rather you've got to:

(i) Write or say something "grossly abusive or insulting in matters held sacred" by some religion or other,

and

(ii) Intend to cause outrage by the writing or utterance,

and

(iii) The writing or utterance must, in fact, cause "outrage among a substantial number" of adherents of the religion in question

So, basically, you can't say something really obnoxious about some religion in an attempt to stir up its adherents...or, rather, you can, but if you're successful, you've broken the law.

So the law is far less outrageous that some would have us believe. Apparently all genuine, serious criticisms of any religion are still lawful.

I mean, don't get me wrong, it still looks like an utterly mad law to me--a blatant violation of one's inalienable right to free speech. But this is the sort of thing legal scholars will have something interesting to say about, and there's no reason for folks like me to spend any time on it until such folks have had their say. There's no doubt there are some well-known and important issues in play here, and legal scholars are the ones who'll know the lay of that land.

(Via Sullivan's digs.)
Shorter "Sarah Palin"

So here's a piece from the Post by "Sarah Palin"--who, weirdly, writes like 7,000 times more coherently than she speaks! (Though, to tell the truth, still not that coherently...) And who also weirdly seems to have suddenly taken an interest in and learned something about energy policy! What could possibly account for these facts about this editorial with her name on it???

Anyway, shorter "Sarah Palin":
Because they all hate the baby Jesus, those Washington bureaucrats don't want us to use the energy sources that He put right under our feet, and which he explicitly intended for us to burn in order to warm the atmosphere! Obama's atheist, anti-Jesistical "cap-and-tax" policy is intended to send your hard-earned money straight to the commies so they can clobber or bushwack or do other folksily violent things to us.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Politicians Hitting on David Brooks
and
Some Unfair Criticism From Hilzoy

L
O
L

BROOKS: You know, all three of us spend a lot of time covering politicians and I don’t know about you guys, but in my view, they’re all emotional freaks of one sort or another. They’re guaranteed to invade your personal space, touch you. I sat next to a Republican senator once at dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time. I was like, ehh, get me out of here.
Hilzoy apparently thinks it's not o.k. for Brooks to mention this given that women have to put up with much worse...which is ridiculous.

Brooks mentions all this by way of supporting his claim that politicians are emotional freaks who invade your personal space. In a few seconds he says "I can only imagine what happens to you guys"--that is, apparently, women. Then he again indicates that it's a problem for females:
I’ve spoken to a lot of young women who are Senate staffers and they’ll have these middle age guys who are sort of in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Emotionally needy, they don’t know how to do it and sort of like these St. Bernards drooling everywhere. And you find a lot of this happens in mid-life and among very powerful people who are extremely lonely.
Brooks's words and actions are unimpeachable here. He just mentions this in passing, because it's funny and supports his point. (And look--it's important for us to know that our politicians are freaks!) He immediately makes it clear that he knows women have it worse. Heck, in what seems to be a response to what seems to be a question about why he didn't ask the senator to remove his hand from his (Brooks's) "inner thigh," he (Brooks) says "I’m trying not to be too dignified and stuffy." So it seems that Brooks is even trying to be cool about this possibly-homoerotic invasion of his personal space. You'd think a conservative American male would get some props for that from liberals...but apparently not.

Hilzoy:
News flash: This has been happening to people forever, at least if you count women as people. Back when George Washington was writing out his "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation", which Brooks cites as an example of the Dignity Code, Thomas Jefferson was hitting on Sally Hemings. A professor whose class I was enrolled in once grabbed my breasts at a party. Every woman I know has stories like this. Maybe being groped in a public setting is a novel experience for straight guys; not being a straight guy, I wouldn't know. But if it is, that isn't because no one ever groped anyone in a public setting before.
Chill out, sister Hilzoy. Nobody's denying any of that stuff, least of all Brooks. It's just not relevant here. The professor who grabbed you deserves an ass-kicking--we're all on board with that. But that has nothing to do with what Brooks is saying.

Me, I firmly believe that all guys who grope or otherwise sexually harass women ought to be punched squarely in the nose. I have a kind of zero tolerance policy about this kind of thing. (Though you have to watch out not to get overly zealous, interfering with normal human consensual flirting and all that...but that goes without saying.)
But it's absolutely unfair to unload on Brooks with all this stuff. He's in no way denying that women have it worse--in fact he explicitly acknowledges it. He mentions a hilarious anecdote in passing, and that's all.

Cut him some slack.

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More Bad News About BPA

At Science News.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Holder To Investigate Bush Administration Torture?

I'm probably the last to hear about this:
Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama's domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform.
Well, that about sums up the situation, yes?

My standard line is roughly:

(a) Moral consideration trump prudential considerations.

(b) We're asking whether we should investigate, not whether we should convict.

(c) Discovering the truth about such matters is, actually, in the long-term prudential interest of the country.

(See how I get to have my cake ((a)) and eat it too ((c))? Clever, eh?)

Questions of this kind are at the heart of who we are as a nation. I'm inclined to think that we have to find out the truth here, whatever it may be. By this point I am, of course, ready to believe almost anything about Bush, Cheney and company--but if I'm wrong, I certainly want to know it. And even I cannot really believe e.g. that Cheney encouraged torture after the invasion to bolster his unwarranted assertions about an Iran-al Qaeda link. That really is Papa Doc territory.

I worry that Republicans have an inclination to a kind of thuggish authoritarianism that, personified, would say something like: "We'll do what we want, and if you gain power and try to hold us accountable, we'll demagogue the issue and take control again." The Dems, on the other hand, seem to be motivate by some mixture of forgiveness and cowardice that I can't quite sort out, which, if personified, would say something like: "maybe if we just let them get away with this one they won't get any madder." (That type of mixture, incidentally, seems common to me.)

Part of the Republican base is easily angered. Heck, they seem to be always already mad. And the worse elements of the GOP will be able to whip them into a frenzy if this investigation spins up. And that will be bad. But if we allow ourselvs to take that into account, we are basically saying that we can never investigate any major Republican wrong-doing. That is to give them carte blanche to do whatever they like. And that would mean the end of the rule of law in America. The sane parts of the GOP don't want that, either, and it's time for those sane parts to assert themselves rather more forcefully.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Some F-22 vs. SU-35 BVR Simulation Data

Simulation data from DERA gives the following win %s [beyond visual range] against the SU-35:

[So this is not dogfighting. But, then, part of the point of the F-22 is to kill targets before they see you.]

F-22: 91%
Eurofighter: 82%
Rafale: 50%
F-15(C?): 43%
F-18+: 25%
F-18(C?): 21%
F-16(C?): 21%

(Incidentally: looks like the Russians finally have something that can best the F-15...)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Freepers, Creepers
They're Crazier Than You Think...

I'm not wasting any time or mental energy on this kind of thing.

These people are flat-out lunatics.
F-22 Pr0n

When you can get 'em in the air, they are bad ass.
Pierre Sprey: Does The JSF Face Even Bigger Problems Than The F-22?

For your consideration.

Ugh. Sprey knows his stuff--nobody would deny that. But let's hope he's uncharacteristically wrong about all this.

The aerospace industry and the military have combined to produce some real dogs in the past, and there's no reason to think that those days are over. The planes always sound good when you listen to industry and military propaganda about them...but somehow we still keep getting stuck with P-39s, F-4s, FB-111s and the like. Planes which may have certain virtues (heck, the Russians even found something the P-39 was good for), but which just can't really do the job they were built to do. And then there are the ones that do the job, but at a much higher cost than they were supposed to do it at.

Flawed as it is, though, the system has given us F6Fs, P-51s, B-52s, and F-15s. If we could just get more of those, and fewer of the other kind...
F-22 Follies

I recommend this piece on the F-22 in the Washington Post.

No time now, but something on it later.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

How Do You Find A Good Credit Card?

So Citibank sent me a letter a couple of months back informing me that...though I hadn't missed payments nor any similar thing...the interest rate on my credit card would be going up at the end of July. I, unsurprisingly, informed them that they were cordially invited to go screw themselves.

So now I have to find a new credit card. I almost always pay off the balance at the end of the month, but now and then don't, ergo I don't want some preposterous, predatory, parasitic interest rate waiting in the wings to suck away my hard-earned $$.

Anybody know how one goes about finding a good card? There are lots of websites that allege to help you out, but they all look to me as if they're run by the companies themselves or other shady agents.

Any advice would be appreciated.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009



Timber Rattler, Bearfence Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, VA

Like the second time in two years I go into the park without my trusty Sigma 18-200 zoom, and I run into this ( --> ) timber rattler. (Last time I missed a bear shot b/c I had too big a lens, this time I miss good rattler pix because I have too small a lens.)

This bad boy was stretched out with his tail practically on the trail, and the three people in front of me walked right past him without even seeing him. This is notable because, though you can't tell it from these pix, he was substantial. Only about 2.5' long...but, as is common with timber rattlers, he was massive--about as big around as my forearm. I had only slapped a Canon 50mm on my digital Rebel, and Johnny Quest freaked out whenever I tried to get close enough to get a good shot... So these poor efforts will have to do. He got annoyed with our presence fairly quickly, and coiled up and cut loose with his rattle--and lemme tell ya, that's a sound that gets your attention. For one thing, it's loud.

Bearfence Mountain is one of my favorite hikes, even though it's super-short...not much more than a mile round-trip. But about half of the hike is sweet scrambling. We were accompanied by the mighty Armenius, and his mighty offspring, the most intrepid seven-year-old girl in the known universe. She confessed to getting "a little scared" when the rattling started, but she scrambled over the rocks like a pro.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

David Kahane, Winner of the Intertubes?
Or
The Republicans Are Just Too Dang Civil and Honorable

If you've got two minutes and nothing to do, you might as well read this at the possibly-finally-bottomed-out NRO.

If the purpose of the intertubes (other than the pr0n) is the dissemination of stark, raving nonsense, then, well, we may have a winner.

See, apparently the party of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove is just too dang nice and honorable to win against the ruthless and fiendishly clever DEMONOCRATS!!!11 Apparently the GOP...wait for it...brought a knife to a gunfight. See, the GOP just hasn't been vicious enough.

Jeez, these people. Actually, for fifteen years or so, the GOP has been bringing a shotgun to an ice cream social...and they still lost three-fifths of the time. See, sometimes you can be really, really vicious and dishonorable and still lose.

And on a similar note:

You have no fear of the underdog. That's why you will not survive.
Holy Mackerel Barracuda! Palin's Incoherent Resignation Speech
And How To See Into The Unreality-Based Community

Wow. I hadn't actually seen the speech until just now. Palin is, of course, naturally incoherent, and I'd heard that this speech was particularly incoherent, but I was still a bit surprised. She goes out of hre way to assert that she's given reasons for her resignation, but none of them make any real sense, and most are patent BS.

As painful as it is to watch--or, for that matter, even think about--Sarah Palin, I actually think she provides us with an interesting opportunity to learn something about a particularly feverish bit of the fever swamps, a sector that doesn't just vote for her but apparently loves and admires her.

It's hard to believe that anyone could really think that she is qualified to be president. Or that she is close to being qualified. Or that she is close to being close to being qualified. For that matter, it's hard to believe that anyone could think that Sarah Palin will ever be qualified to be president. Or vice-president. Or governor... She just doesn't have it in her, and that's not a particularly obscure or well-concealed fact. (On the other hand, I'm not sure she's clearly any less intelligent than Bush...so there's that sobering fact to deal with...)

But I think it's important to ask how it is that so many people do think she's qualified, or at least that she's somewhere vaguely in the vicinity of being qualified. What is it about this person--this not very bright, not very knowledgeable, not very nice, not very honest person--that resonates with a surprisingly large chunk of the population? How is it that this revolting political figure seems attractive--and, apparently extremely so--to so many?

(This is the flip side of the Obama puzzle--how it is that someone who is so clearly admirable can evoke not merely indifference but frothing, sputtering, seething hatred from so many?)

One of my more astute friends has suggested that Palin is successful because she represents and is supported by "the stupid faction." She's clueless and proud of it, and that resonates with the large population of proudly clueless people that our country--like every country--is saddled with. All I can really say about that is that I can't rule out the hypothesis...

The standard explanation seems to be that Palinites like Palin because she's a regular Joe. But if that really mean sthat she seems like a regular Joe to her supporters, and that just means that she reminds them of them, then we're still left with the puzzle--what, exactly, is it of themselves that her supporters think they see in her? That is, we still don't know which of her characteristics are attracting her followers.

One might say it's her lack of airs...but that doesn't seem right either--there's a lot of space between putting on airs and being a dunderhead. So an aversion to snobs--something I share, incidentally--can't explain the phenomenon. Aversion to snobbery doesn't entail affinity for idiocy.

So I dunno the answer. Not that I've thought about it very hard, admittedly...

But I remain convinced that there's something to be learned in this vicinity.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Aluminum Tubes Fiasco in the Lead-Up to Iraq (I)

So currently I'm working on a project for the DIA that's forcing me to analyze some of the reasoning in the pre-invasion intelligence concerning the infamous aluminum tubes. One really helpful summary and analysis of that mess is in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence publication 108-301, Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Pre-War Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.

It's extremely interesting stuff. I sped through some of the report when it came out, but that's virtually valueless. Anyway, now I've spent a little time with it, and I just want to make one tiny little observation: the CIA, DIA, NGIC, INR, DOE, IAEA and a few other agencies all had at least something to say about the question of the aluminum tubes, but the DOE seems to have been head and shoulders above the others in its analysis of this issue.

In particular, the CIA seems to have relied very heavily on a couple of faulty propositions and conclusions. Perhaps most notably that there was no other known, reasonable use for the tubes other than in centrifuges. That is, in fact, a claim that repeatedly plays an important role in the reasoning about the tubes.

The DOE, however, was very clear from very early on about a few critical facts--that the tubes were poorly-suited for use in centrifuges, that they were incompatible with Iraq's known centrifuge technology, that they were perfectly suited for making rockets, that Iraq used rockets of that size (81mm), and that the tests that allegedly showed that the tubes were suitable for centrifuges were radically flawed.

So props to the DOE. Too bad their excellent analysis seems not to have been weighed as heavily as it ought to have been.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hiking/Camping Query: Where To Go Out West To See Big Trees And Bears

Yo, JQ and I are headed out west before the summer's over. We'll be doing some hiking in the Rockies, but also want to get farther out west. With the exception of last year's Grand Canyon hike, I've never done any hiking farther west than the Rockies (ridiculous, I know, but it's a fact).

What I really want to see is BIG TREES, and I wouldn't mind catching a glimpse of a grizzly. The first place that comes to mind is Yosemite...but that's probably the first place that comes to everyone's mind, and I'm wondering whether anyone knows of anyplace that might be less crowded. (Or perhaps Yosemite isn't crowded...I have no idea, really.)

Any info or suggestions would be great.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Inhabitants of the Fever Swamps Hoping for al Qaeda Attack

It's "the only chance we have as a country right now."

These people are insane.
SarahPac Independence Day Vid

LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL

ZOMFG

These people are utterly delusional.
Sure Palin's a Whack Job...But Could She Possibly Be Worse Than Bush?

So there's yet another collective sigh of relief thing going on in response to Purdum's article on Palin in Vanity Fair (Should you read it? Here's the summary...)

She's an idiot; she's ignorant; she's narcissistic and vindictive; she's a religious loon; she's utterly unqualified to be anywhere near the presidency, and probably anywhere near the governorship, even of Alaska. In fact, you really wouldn't want her to be second assistant dog catcher.

No news there.

But seriously--I don't see why anyone thinks she'd be worse than Bush. So...she'd ignore warnings about impending attacks on the country? She'd divert resources from the search for the attackers in order to start a $2-3 trillion optional war...against the enemies of the attackers? She'd divide the country, shred the Constitution, destroy our moral authority in the world? Act so irrationally as to strengthen our enemies? Smash the economy? Expand the powers of the presidency to frightening proportions?

I mean, I'm not denying that a Palin presidency would be a terrible risk, and probably a disaster...but let's get a little perspective here. As frightening as that prospect would be, we've actually had a presidency that was in actual fact much worse than anything that would be likely even from Palin.

Of course these are two different subjects, and we can fret about them both. I just think our nervous energies would be better used fretting about the megadisaster that actually happened rather than the other disaster that didn't.

Those who forget history etc., etc.

Presumably one might respond that a Palin candidacy remains a live possibility, and that's indeed cause for concern. So if your fretting is prospective rather than retrospective, fret away.