Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Landmark Forum abuses copyright to suppress criticism

The San Francisco-based Landmark Education, an offshoot of Werner Erhard's est, has been misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to threaten online video providers and cause the removal of material critical of the organization. They've specifically targeted a film that was broadcast on French television titled "Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus" ("Voyage Au Pays Des Nouveaux Gourous") which was posted on Google Video, YouTube, and the Internet Archive. This film included footage shot undercover at Landmark events.

In addition to demanding removal of the film under the DMCA on the bogus ground that their copyright in the "Landmark forum leaders manual" is being infringed, they have issued subpoenas to try to identify the individuals who have uploaded the video.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has acted to support the Internet Archive and Google in actions to fight the subpoenas; YouTube has notified its user and given them an opportunity to quash the subpoena. The EFF's website documents their activities and the status of the case.

These three videos include part of the content that Landmark Education is trying to suppress. The first begins with some references to Scientology and a quote from Christian anti-cultist Walter Martin (the late "Bible Answer Man," whose successor was discredited creationist Hank Hanegraaf), followed by video footage of Anthony Rapp from "Rent" talking about Landmark Education. It then goes into "Voyage Au Pays Des Nouveaux Gourous" beginning at about 3 minutes in, which is French with English subtitles. Unfortunately, this is not the complete show, though it does show some interesting undercover footage of Alain Roth of Landmark Education verbally abusing a woman at a Landmark seminar.

Landmark Education Part 1


Landmark Education Part 2


Landmark Education Part 3


UPDATE (December 10, 2006): Landmark Forum has withdrawn its subpoena of Google.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

John Mackay and Answers in Genesis

The link regarding information about John Mackay wasn't working when I first posted information about the split between Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International, but it can now be seen here. This links to a set of web pages which makes some devastating charges about the circumstances under which Mackay left the Australian organization in 1987.

Creation Ministries International is composed of all of the non-U.S. groups which were formerly part of Answers in Genesis, based in the countries of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada; the U.S. group is the only one which continues to use the name Answers in Genesis.

The Creation Science Foundation came into existence in 1980 as the merger between Dr. Carl Wieland's Creation Science Association (which had a magazine called Ex Nihilo) and Ken Ham's Creation Science Supplies and Creation Science Educational Media Services. Ken Ham ran the CSF, and John Mackay became editor of its magazine, then called Creation Ex Nihilo.

In 1987, Mackay left the CSF and started another creationist organization called Creation Research, and Wieland took a leadership role as Ken Ham began spending more time in the United States. This history is recounted in the CreationWiki article on the Creation Science Foundation.

According to the information assembled on the CMI webpage, which was originally assembled in 1986-87:

The pack was originally prepared in response to the aftermath of a horrific attack (February, 1986) on our ministry (then called Creation Science Foundation) by Mr Mackay. The mechanism of attack involved a monstrous series of allegations without evidence—the basis was alleged ‘spiritual discernment’, involving ‘black cats’ and similar. These slanderous allegations concerned Margaret Buchanan, at the time a well-regarded Christian widow working for the ministry as Ken Ham’s personal secretary. John said she had been ‘specially sent by Satan’ to undermine him and the ministry, involved in covens, attending s√©ances, etc.—never was there any eyewitness testimony or other evidence, merely ‘discernment’.

When his attempt to sack her and take over the ministry failed, due to the Board’s refusal to violate biblical principle, Mr Mackay resigned. This was followed by a campaign of widespread innuendo and slander, involving actual fabrications which if accepted would tend to bolster his claim of ‘demonic infiltration’ of our ministry and thus would tend to undermine public confidence in our ministry. This included the bizarre and incredibly offensive claim that Margaret had claimed to have had intercourse with the corpse of her late husband (!).

Sadly, these horrific sins have never been repented of, nor forgiveness sought, nor restitution offered—despite a Baptist church excommunicating Mr Mackay and urging people to respect this decision in the Lord. When Ken Ham left ICR in about 1996, the rumour mill from this source again swung into action; the story this time was that Margaret was to blame for this ‘split’, somehow using demonic ‘powers’ to damage another creation ministry. Again, the real ‘target’ of the rumours was clearly public confidence in our ministry; if it could be undermined, it would be more likely to leave the Australian ‘creation public’ diverting the support in other directions. It might also be seen as a ‘vindication’ of the original offensive actions.

Currently, the issue has surfaced again in the context of the recent tensions between the Australian ministry and AiG-USA, with John Mackay’s newsletter suddenly urging supporters to pray for the ‘attack’ the US ministry is allegedly under.

In fact, it appears that new alliances are being forged, and talk of ‘reconciliation’ is being used to rehabilitate Mr Mackay in creationist circles—again the aim appears to be to undermine the Australian ministry, only from a different angle. Reconciliation is a wonderful and most desirable thing, but can never occur except on a biblical basis; the original slander must be withdrawn, and there must be a repentance and forgiveness sought from the main victim, Margaret, for a start.

No one likes to keep things alive that are best forgotten, but to cover up serious sin or attempt to sweep it under the carpet can never earn God’s approval. There is a cost to taking a strong stand in defence of truth and integrity, not the least being that it can easily be misrepresented.

However, we will quietly but persistently maintain our stand, especially as the ugly stain of these rumours is encouraged to resurface to once again undermine the ministry—until and unless these seriously sinful actions are dealt with under the cross, not whitewashed for ‘political’ convenience or excused on the basis of any ‘personalities’ involved. Anything less would not only dishonour God, it would ultimately be running away from our responsibility of Christian love to the perpetrator himself.

The web page with this text contains two documents--one with the text of an account of these attacks titled Salem Revisited (PDF, 59 pp.), by Margaret Buchanan, and the other additional supporting documentation (PDF, 63 pp.).

Buchanan, who was a widow at the time, is now the wife of CMI managing director Carl Wieland.

Mackay's charges seem a lot like the fabricated charges of Laurel Willson, a deeply disturbed woman better known as Lauren Stratford (pseudonym), author of Satan's Underground. Her account of being a victim of Satanic ritual abuse was debunked by Gretchen and Bob Passantino and Jon Trott, who were also instrumental in exposing the fake claims of "Satanist turned Christian comedian" Mike Warnke.

UPDATE (June 10, 2007): CMI's main point about Mackay is that (a) he made these charges and never apologized for them, (b) Ken Ham agreed that Mackay was in the wrong, and that he shouldn't be associated with until he retracted these charges, but (c) Ken Ham and AiG-US have been associating with Mackay despite his failure to retract, in order to use him as a conduit to supporters in Australia.

The CMI position on (c) is supported by the fact that when Mackay sent out the AiG "spiritual attack" email to his supporters, he left attached this email from Ken Ham:
From: Ken Ham Sent: Saturday, 2 June 2007 1:13 PM
To: John Mackay
Subject: Letter: AiG under Spiritual Attac


John-the attachment is the letter you are free to send to your entire
mailing list and anyone else you want to send it to. Also send to
pastors etc.



Ken

Monday, November 20, 2006

Loose Change vs. Popular Mechanics: The Debate

In five parts:

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5


Also see these resources and Matt Taibbi on 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

More from behind the scenes of the Australian/U.S. creationism schism at Answers in Genesis

More information has just come out about the split between the Kentucky-based Answers in Genesis and the Australia-based Creation Ministries International. (UPDATED for clarification: CMI is composed of organizations from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada which were all formerly united with the Kentucky group under the Answers in Genesis name. The Australian group was the Creation Science Foundation prior to the association of the groups under the Answers in Genesis name.) CMI has published a number of documents on its web site about the split. These documents, which I'll describe below, make the case that the U.S. group has acted in bad faith to appropriate for itself many of the resources of the Australian group, as well as to put it into an untenable position of being potentially liable for certain actions of the U.S. group without getting any financial benefits. These documents, on a website headed with tomorrow's date (today in Australia, where it's currently afternoon), were pointed out in comments on my blog post by "JaneD" (presumably the D is for "Doe"), who appears to have set up a new blogger account to bring the information to public attention.

This split, which I pointed out on my blog back in March 2006, along with some financial data about the U.S. group and some speculation about the causes, occurred in late 2005. In that post, I noted that certain information critical of other creationists (and convicted tax evader Kent Hovind in particular) had been removed from the U.S. group's site. A brochure from the CMI suggested that a difference of approach, including ethical considerations, was the primary reason for the split:
The AiG website was developed in the US and hosted there. It was largely dependent for its intellectual content on the scientists and thinkers in the parent corporation, in particular such as Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan Sarfati, and Dr Carl Wieland. These and other writers were heavily contributing to the site until late 2005/early 2006, when the US ministry withdrew themselves from the international ministry group (with the exception of the UK) with an expressed desire to operate autonomously, without e.g. website content being subject to an international representative system of checks/balances/peer review involving all the other offices bearing the same 'brand name'.

At that time, in the midst of discussions about this and other differences in operating philosophy (not involving the statement of faith or similar), the Australian office was formally invited to form its own website. This required a new name to avoid confusion.

The four national ministries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa) which were committed to continuing their focus and operational ^Qteam^R philosophy, and to continuing to forge and strengthen a representative international ministry alliance structure (based on Proverbs 11:14), then rebranded as Creation Ministries International (CMI).
The Australian group has long had a policy of publishing material critical of bad creationist work, and its journals have occasionally published some excellent debunkings of standard creationist arguments, such as the shrinking sun and moon dust arguments for a young earth. This apparently was considered by the U.S. group to be bad for business. (UPDATE: This was indeed a major issue in the dispute which led to the split. The Australian organization wanted more international control over the content of material to be distributed internationally, in the form of an international committee with votes weighted based on the size and seniority of the organization. The U.S. organization rejected this proposal, reserving most of the power to itself.)

Roger Stanyard has proposed that the Australian methodology was not actually peer review, but a form of shakedown against creationist authors who didn't toe the group's party line. He attributes the breakdown to the handling of Dennis Petersen's book, Unlocking the Mysteries, which was making money for Answers in Genesis but was criticized by the Australians. While I agree that the Australians' peer review was less-than-stellar (in what it let pass through uncritically), my interactions with the leadership of that group lead me to believe that they are honest and ethical in their behavior (though wrong in their beliefs). (UPDATE: The removal of material criticizing the Petersen book from the Answers in Genesis website occurred after the split. Stanyard appears to base his account on John Mackay, a source of highly dubious quality.)

The new information on CMI's website consists of the following:
1. A letter dated November 15, 2006 (PDF), from CMI to Answers in Genesis setting forth their complaint about a November 1, 2006 letter from Answers in Genesis to the general public, which CMI considers defamatory.
2. An email of November 21, 2006, alerting a number of people to the previous item, which had so far been ignored.
3. A summary of an October 2005 memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Australian and U.S. groups setting forth the conditions of their separation, explaining how it disadvantages the Australian group and why the Australian group's management attempted to reject and renegotiate it.
4. A section of the "Deed of Copyright License" (PDF) signed by the directors of both groups, with comments pointing out its unreasonable terms.
5. A PDF document setting forth a chronology of the relevant events.
6. The text of a letter from senior staff of the Australian group to their board of directors (PDF) prior to their trip to meet with the U.S. board, setting out their desired reforms.

As near as I can tell, the documents on the website suggest that the directors of the Australian group were induced to fly to the United States and sign the memorandum of agreement setting forth the terms of the separation of the groups without the knowledge of the management of the Australian group (e.g., Carl Wieland and the Australian staff). The MOA, drafted by the U.S. group's attorneys, set terms for the separation that were entirely favorable to the U.S. group. The Australian group's directors who signed the document then resigned en masse, under the condition that they be given indemnity for their actions--the letter suggests that they were in breach of their fiduciary duties to the Australian group for signing the agreements. (UPDATE: These Australian directors--John Thallon, Greg Peacock, Jim Kitson, and David Denner--asked for indemnity for their actions in return for their resignations after consulting with an attorney. Thallon then moved to Kentucky and is on the board of the U.S. group.)

The description of the MOA states that it gives perpetual license for all articles published by the Australian group's magazine and journal to the U.S. group, including the right to modify the articles and change the names of the authors, including a false statement that the authors had given permission for this. If anyone sues the U.S. group for copyright infringement, the Australian group agrees to pay all costs. All fees and costs for items are set unilaterally by the U.S. group, which the U.S. group has used to increase fees charged to the Australian group for materials (such as DVDs) by up to three times. The domain name answersingenesis.com, an asset of the Australian group, was transferred to the U.S. group, apparently without compensation.

Upon learning of these onerous terms, the Australian management attempted to reject the MOA and requested renegotiation of terms, to no avail; the U.S. group has refused to allow the participation of Carl Wieland in any negotiation.

In short, it looks like this was a struggle over money and control, with the Australian group out-maneuvered by the U.S. group. If the information in these documents is accurate--and I am inclined to believe that it is--it shows that Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis is as sleazy in its business dealings as it is in its misrepresentations of science.

I'll be digging further into this story... watch this blog for updates.

UPDATE (November 21, 2006): I've been informed by Carl Wieland that the page of documents on the website was not supposed to have been made available through the website, but only as individual items for recipients of the email referenced above as item 2 (and given below). The main page and several of the other items are no longer at the locations I had linked to, but I've updated the links based on the below email. Wieland has declined to comment on the actions or motivation of AiG, and expressed a desire to avoid anything that would be used "to smear all creation ministry in general."

The following is the text of that email:
Clarification re innuendo about CMI in email/letter from AiG-USA.

Sent 21 November 2006

From: the Board of Creation Ministries International (CMI)-publishers of Creation magazine (still available in the USA) and the Journal of Creation (formerly TJ) in Brisbane, Australia.

Dear colleague in creation outreach

We write this with considerable sadness. You are likely aware that there are some tensions between the ministries of CMI and AiG that go back some two years or so. We had hoped to be able to settle these peacefully, despite our ministry having suffered significant tangible losses at AiG's hands. We have repeatedly but unsuccessfully tried to get AiG to meet openly with all of us, or failing that, to have both our ministries submit to binding Christian arbitration to see things done justly.

We believe we have acted with considerable restraint in our public comments thus far, despite seriously provocative actions. These include substantial commercial ruthlessness against our ministry as part of what increasingly has the hallmarks of some sort of vendetta. Nevertheless, we have kept the details very quiet for a very long time, not wishing to cause harm or escalation, and hoping for 'peace with honour'.

A most unfortunate and unfair email

Unfortunately, a number of people have contacted us just now, saying they have received a brief email from AiG-USA's chairman (which we have seen) that casts serious slurs against our ministry. In effect, it engages in widespread public slander.

The email alleges that we have engaged in 'unbiblical' and 'factious' behaviour (a word applied in the NT to those who introduce doctrines contrary to the Gospel, and translated as 'heretic' in the KJV). This is an immensely serious and damaging allegation against an evangelical ministry and one that has not been substantiated, and is totally without foundation; our ministry's doctrine has not changed one iota, either in word or in practice.

The email also hints darkly at a 'spiritual problem' as a justification for their breaking off discussions with us. It also refers to a letter the AiG-Board sent us on November 1 to that effect, saying that that letter is available to enquirers upon request. That letter was essentially an expansion of their shorter email; it repeatedly affirmed their own righteousness, and that they were breaking off negotiations until we resolved our 'spiritual problems'. These 'problems' are not specified, which darkens the innuendo ('What? Who?').

Dismayed by this turn of events, we prepared a detailed response that was emailed to each of the Directors on AiG-USA's Board, on 15 November 2006. It outlined and clarified the issues in detail. In it we also pleaded for AiG to urgently withdraw from this action, giving them three days to respond-i.e. to contact us, to make some move to draw back from this abyss, to avoid us making our response public. We have received no response or acknowledgement from AiG, even to this date, some six days later.

Worldwide libel distribution

The same AiG email defaming our ministry has also been sent out by an Australian creationist running his own ministry, who had split with Ken Ham in 1986 (this man had been excommunicated by an Australian church, a still unresolved issue-see www.CreationOnTheWeb.com/mackay for Ken Ham's own words about the seriousness of these actions against our ministry and an individual at that time). So this defamation has been sent to a substantial worldwide email mailing list, which would include overlap with many of our own supporters. This AiG email was clearly sent to that 'distribution source' by AiG; the covering comments state that 'Ken Ham advises', and refer to AiG's permission for the recipient to spread it still further.

(The aim appears to be to encourage as many people as possible to lose confidence in our ministry, and of course AiG will have a commercial 'bonus' in that the more that are encouraged to 'enquire', the more email addresses they will have, making it easier to further undermine CMI ministry in this country.)

We deeply regret that AiG/Ken Ham have seen fit to engage in this most serious escalation. Even in the face of this defamation, our overwhelming preference would have been to have had AiG respond to our urgent letter, to continue talks in openness and light as the Scriptures enjoin us to do rather than for us to have to publically stand against the libel.

In the absence of any evidence of remorse or willingness to undo this most recent and grave public attempt to damage us, we solemnly, before the Lord, believe we now have no choice but to protect the public reputation of the ministry organisation that has been entrusted to us, in as dignified and God-honoring a way as we can.

So we have chosen in the first instance to provide, within this email, a website link (below) to the full text of our formal 15 November response to AiG, which should substantially clarify CMI's position.

Of course, we do not know who all the many folk to whom AiG's defamatory comments have been emailed are, or how many times it has multiplied on the internet. So we are sending this email you are reading to the following:

1) To any who actually enquire of us.

2) To our corporation's members (an outer layer of protection which holds the directors accountable), our staff and our volunteer workers/speakers, local reps, etc.

3) To the management of our four national affiliates (CMI offices in Canada, NZ, US and South Africa, as well as affiliates in the UK) for providing to their staff, so that they will be able to answer these allegations as they inevitably spread. Sadly, some mud always sticks, especially when it comes from a 'big name'.

4) To those we know of who are involved in creation outreach of any sort, since we are aware that at least some of these have been targeted with this AiG email and previous ones.

5) To any (including those within AiG itself) that we have reason to believe have been contacted by AiG with similar intent and have likely received similarly misleading statements and views.

The link

Our letter of response to AiG is reproduced at this link on our site, www.CreationOnTheWeb.com/dispute

If you did not receive the AiG email, we ask for your compassionate understanding of the dilemma we were facing; we know from those who have already contacted us that it went out widely to creationists, but do not know exactly who did and didn't receive it.

This sorry development will bring shame on the Name of our Lord and Saviour, and give cause for the enemies of God to gloat. Would you please consider committing these matters, which also have the potential do damage to creation ministry in general (even more than has already occurred), to prayer.

Yours very sincerely in Christ,

The Board of Creation Ministries International Ltd. (Australia)

Mr. Kerry Boettcher (Chairman)
Mrs. Carolyn McPherson (Vice-Chairman)
Dr. Carl Wieland, M.B., B.S. (Managing Director)
Dr. Dave Christie, B.Com, M.Admin, Ph.D., FAICD, FIMC (Director)
Mr. Fang, Chang Sha B.Sc (hons), M.Sc. (Director)
Rev. Dr. Don Hardgrave, B.D, M.A., D.B.S., Dip. Theol, Dip. R.E. (Director)

UPDATE (November 21, 2006): I have inserted a number of minor clarifications and updates throughout the above text.

Creation Ministries International has a USA branch now, in Atlanta, Georgia, to ensure distribution of its materials in the United States. This means that they will be competing for dollars with Answers in Genesis of Kentucky.

UPDATE: The link above regarding defamatory material from John Mackay and background information about Mackay was a broken link that has now been corrected, and I've devoted a separate post to this issue. The information there shows why Mackay left the Creation Science Foundation in 1987, and raises concern about Mackay's image being rehabilitated without having retracted the charges that he brought in the past. Mackay has now been attacking Creation Ministries International and siding with Ham and Answers in Genesis in the dispute--Answers in Genesis must be questioning whether having Mackay as a friend is a benefit.

UPDATE (December 29, 2006): I've added a new item to the list of materials now available on the AiG website, which is the text of a letter from the staff of the Australian group to their own board of directors listing the items of reform that they wanted from the international organization (and AiG-U.S.). This letter was sent to the Australian board members a few days before their flight to the U.S. in October 2005, which resulted in the separation agreement.

The letter specifically called for the creation of a class of non-director membership for the non-profit, composed of eight people to be chosen from a list of 20 suggestions, independent of each other and not employees of the organization, to provide better oversight and to adjudicate disputes between the board and the CEO. This group of people is intended to be analogous to the shareholders of a public company. This mechanism has now been put in place at CMI in the wake of their split from AiG-U.S.

Atheist missionaries

Part of the Australian series "John Safran vs. God," this video shows Safran ranting about Mormon missionaries bashing on his door before noon on Saturday, then him and his director seeking revenge by flying to Salt Lake City, putting on matching white shirts and "ATHEIST" badges, carrying some atheist tracts and a copy of Origin of Species, and going door to door.

(Hat tip to Pharyngula.)

Embarrassingly bad arguments in support of David Paszkiewicz

The website KearnyontheWeb.com is an online forum for people in Kearny, New Jersey, where U.S. History teacher and Baptist youth pastor David Paszkiewicz has used his Kearny High School classroom (apparently for years) to evangelize students with his own brand of Christianity and conservative politics. I've already commented on how some Kearny High School students have made a poor case defending Paszkiewicz, now I'm afraid the adults of Kearny are no better.

The adults posting at KearnyontheWeb.com are noteworthy (just like the students) for a complete failure to address the issues raised by Paszkiewicz's actions--they ignore the content of what he's been teaching, they ignore the fact that he lied about what he had done until confronted with the recordings, and they ignore the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Instead, they accuse Matthew LaClair of having set the teacher up, invent new "crimes" like "premeditated entrapment" that they accuse LaClair of having committed by recording the class, and say that he should have been suspended, expelled, or jailed for creating this issue and "embarrassing the town." They say that LaClair, by protesting the Bush administration by refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, "practically spits on our 'Pledge of Allegiance'" and "is free to leave this country if he does not agree with what we stand for!" They claim that Paszkiewicz is "the best teacher to hit town in years" and "A PROUD AMERICAN [who] IS 100% RIGHT!"

I've posted there to point out the issues they aren't addressing, to which the only response has not been any attempt to address those issues but to claim that there is no evidence that Paszkiewicz lied and to express doubt that I've actually listened to any of the recordings. (You can find a cleaned-up version of the first online recording here, some more recordings here, and a partial transcripts here and here and here. The November 22 issue of the Kearny Observer will include numerous transcripts from Paszkiewicz's classes based on LaClair's recordings. Also note that Kearny Observer editor Kevin Canessa has an online poll up on his blog about whether you support Paszkiewicz, LaClair, or neither. At the moment the results are 7 supporting Paszkiewicz, 8 supporting LaClair, 0 don't care and 0 don't know enough about the situation.)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Global Crossing criticizes wiretapping rules

News.com has a nice article about how Global Crossing (my employer) has criticized the extension of CALEA wiretapping rules to VoIP and broadband:

Paul Kouroupas, vice president of regulatory affairs for Global Crossing, strongly criticized the Federal Communications Commission's broadening of a 1994 law--originally intended to cover telephone providers--as disproportionately costly, complex, and riddled with privacy concerns. His company is one of the world's largest Internet backbone providers.

"Our customers are large Fortune 500 companies--not too many of those companies are conducting drug deals or terrorist activities out of Merrill Lynch's offices or using their phones in that way," Kouroupas said at an event here sponsored by the DC Bar Association. "By and large we don't get wiretap requests, yet we're faced with the costs to come into compliance," which he estimated at $1 million.

I think that's a conservative estimate.

Milton Friedman dead at 94 (1912-2006)

Famed economist and champion of freedom Milton Friedman has died.

Some nice obituaries:

The New York Times.
The Financial Times.
Catallarchy: "RIP: Milton Friedman (1912-2006)" and "Milton Friedman Video" (the latter posted by his grandson, Patri Friedman)
Long or Short Capital: "Long Milton Friedman."
David Friedman's Blog. (Milton Friedman's son)
The Agitator: "Milton Friedman, RIP"
Technology Liberation Front: "RIP Milton Friedman"
The Only Republican in San Francisco: "Friedman passes away"

UPDATE (November 27, 2006):
Catallarchy has produced a series of postings on various aspects of Milton Friedman's life and work from different perspectives as a tribute.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kearny High School students defend their teacher

A number of commenters who say they are students at Kearny High School have stopped by to offer support for their teacher, David Paszkiewicz. Unfortunately, they are making a strong case that instead of saying to his students "you belong in hell," Paszkiewicz should have said, "you belong in remedial English."

neo1123 writes:
Dude this is a fucking joke...... first off why the fuck would you want so much attention over stupid shit... and second... i know this teacher personally and know he is a good person and diddnt mean to offend ne one... and fuck the little bitch ass who recorded this shiit... im a senior @ khs and this just adds to all the fucking drama in this school.. so u know wat fuck all u bitch asses who want to see action taken... u r a sad sad person and need to fucking get a fucking life so ya im done here..... u wanna talk shit tell me @ neo1123@gmail.com
J.Cora writes:
I believe this is the most stupidiest thing ever. That kid is just trying to find attetntion for himself. I've had this teacher and he is one of the best teachers. He taught history the way it was and in group discussions he would view both points without no religion remarks. So who ever reads this, don't be ignorants and know the facts first. The kid who claimed this is the type of kid no one likes and wants to drive attention to hiself. I say to the father to drop it because that teacher is loved by many and going against it will cause much problems.
Both of these commenters seem to have missed a few key points here, such as:

(a) Paszkiewicz is the authority in the classroom, and is responsible for teaching what's in the curriculum.
(b) It is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause for a teacher in a public school classroom to endorse a particular religious viewpoint.
(c) Satan, the Big Bang, evolution, and Noah's Ark have nothing to do with U.S. history.
(d) Paszkiewicz lied when he told administrators he wasn't saying these things in the classroom.

It is irrelevant to any of these points whether Matthew LaClair wanted attention or isn't liked by his fellow students, or that he asked questions of Paszkiewicz which provoked some of his absurd statements (a point brought up by neo1123 in an email to me). The fact is that it was Paskiewicz's actions which were irresponsible and inappropriate--which he clearly recognized since he initially denied saying these things--and it is he who is responsible for the attention that is now being brought on Kearny High School.

On another note, now that some of the audio of Paszkiewicz is available online, you can find some additional commentary on the content of his teaching at Pharyngula. (A cleaned up version of the audio file may be found here. Thanks, Dave.)

Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars has also weighed in on this controversy, and you can find some more comments on the issue from Garden Staters at Blue Jersey.

And there are also now numerous comments at Metafilter.

UPDATE (November 16, 2006): If you can stand to listen to the audio all the way through, you will find that Paszkiewicz runs his classroom in a very disorganized manner, allowing multiple students to carry on conversations simultaneously and apparently without any kind of lesson plan. He also speaks authoritatively and confidently on a wide variety of subjects about which he is apparently ignorant, as Oolon Coluphid has pointed out in comments. And most of those subjects have little or nothing to do with the topic of U.S. History that he is supposedly teaching. Mr. Paskiewicz says in the class that he homeschools his own children, yet it is his teaching that exemplifies the worst of public school teaching--and there's no doubt his children do no better.

UPDATE: Mike Dunford at the Questionable Authority has transcribed a few pieces of the recording.

UPDATE (December 6, 2006): There is a complete transcript of the September 14 class at Stephen Dranger's site.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fratboy suing Borat exposed by The Smoking Gun

Justin Seay, one of the two "John Does" suing Sacha Baron Cohen and the producers of "Borat" for getting him and his pals drunk and inducing them to engage in "behavior that they otherwise would not have engaged in" has been tracked down by The Smoking Gun.

As The Smoking Gun puts it, Seay "does not seem like an amateur when it comes to partying." They found his MySpace page, which contains numerous photographs in which Seay is either carousing in a bar or has a clearly visible drink in his hand (which are helpfully pointed out with red arrows). His MySpace page has "gettin' drunk and having a good time" as one of his interests, and friends' comments include greetings like "Hi Drunk Friend!!!" and "Hey Hey Justin Seay, Drinks like a fish everyday!"

The Smoking Gun provides pages from the lawsuit and photos from his MySpace page for handy comparison.

(Hat tip to Dave Palmer on the SKEPTIC mailing list.)

UPDATE: Radley Balko makes some reasonable criticisms of the Borat movie (which I've not seen).

UPDATE: You can find more Borat backstory here. The deceit used to make this film strikes me as quite unethical, though I have little sympathy for Mr. Seay, described above.

The effects of same-sex marriage

Opponents of same-sex marriage claim that it will somehow destroy the institution of marriage and cause damage to heterosexual married couples. But a book that examines the data from Scandinavian countries that have had legal same-sex marriage for the last 17 years suggests otherwise--rather than destroying heterosexual marriage, those countries have seen higher heterosexual marriage rates, lower divorce rates, lower rates of out-of-wedlock births, lower rates of sexually transmitted disease, and more monogamy among gay couples.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Christian conservative arrested for sending threat letters and fake anthrax

Chad Conrad Castagana, 39, was arrested in Los Angeles for sending more than a dozen threatening letters containing white powder to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Sen. Charles Schumer, and Keith Olbermann. Some letters included phrases such as "Death to Demagogues."

Castagana was an active commenter on conservative blogs such as The Free Republic who described himself as "a lifelong Conservative Republican" who thinks that "Ann Coulter is a Goddess" and "worship[s] Laura Ingraham and Michele [sic] Malkin."

(Via Peek at Alternet.)

UPDATE (November 14, 2006): There's more at Raw Story.

Democrats prepare to squander their opportunity to reform Congress

Nancy Pelosi is backing John Murtha for House Majority Leader, despite the fact that he is on the "dishonorable mention list" of CREW's most corrupt Congressmen and has actively worked with Republicans to block fraud investigations and prevent lobbying reform.

Looks like we'll need to kick out some more incumbents in 2008. (Was there ever any doubt?)

Ann Coulter misleads on Diebold

Ann Coulter's column last week was titled "Historic victory for Diebold!" She claims that "For the first time in four election cycles, Democrats are not attacking the Diebold Corp. the day after the election, accusing it of rigging its voting machines. I guess Diebold has finally been vindicated."

Just because the election wasn't clearly rigged doesn't mean that Diebold has been remotely vindicated, and the 2006 election continued to produce evidence that Diebold e-voting machines should not be used.

As Brad Friedman points out at the Huffington Post, there were major problems with electronic voting machines in Denver, as well as problems opening the polls on time in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio. Problems with early voting using electronic voting machines occurred in Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and California. The Electronic Frontier Foundation received about 17,000 complaints by 8 p.m. on election day; Common Cause received 14,000 by 4 p.m. John Gideon of VotersUnite.org put together a searchable database of reported election problems.

Bruce Schneier also gives a recap of electronic voting machine problems at his blog, with Florida's 13th District presenting the biggest issues, where 18,000 votes apparently disappeared in a race where a difference of 386 votes decided the outcome (described in a separate post).

The outcome of the election doesn't change any of the existing data about the problems with Diebold voting machines.

As usual, Coulter gets it all wrong. When it comes to voting, she should worry more about her own problems than comment on a controversy where she's clearly completely ignorant.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Public school teacher tells class: "You belong in hell"

The following is from Paul L. LaClair, a NYC attorney who lives in Kearny, New Jersey, and is posted with his permission. David Paszkiewicz, the teacher described here engaging in incompetent teaching and dishonesty, is apparently a youth pastor at Kearny Baptist Church in addition to being a public school teacher. LaClair's son Matthew has previously garnered attention for protesting Bush administration activities by refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. He seems to be a principled and courageous young man who has caught a really bad teacher:
Kearny, New Jersey
November 10, 2006

A history teacher at the local public high school here may have bitten off more than he cares to chew this fall. Self-described conservative Baptist David Paszkiewicz used his history class to proselytize biblical fundamentalism over the course of several days at the beginning of this school year.

Among his remarks in open class were statements that a being must have created the universe, that the Christian Bible is the word of God, and that dinosaurs were aboard Noah's ark. If you do not accept Jesus, he flatly proclaimed to his class, "you belong in hell." Referring to a Muslim student who had been mentioned by name, he lamented what he saw as her inevitable fate should she not convert. In an attempt to promote biblical creationism, he also dismissed evolution and the Big Bang as non-scientific, arguing by contrast that the Bible is supported by what he calls confirmed biblical prophecies.

After taking the matter to the school administration, one of Paszkiewicz's students, junior Matthew LaClair, requested a meeting with the teacher and the school principal. LaClair, a non-Christian, was requesting an apology and correction of false and anti-scientific statements. After two weeks, a meeting took place in the principal's office, wherein Paszkiewicz denied making many of these comments, claiming that LaClair had taken his remarks out of context. Paszkiewicz specifically denied using the phrase, "you belong in hell." He also asserted that he did nothing different in this class than he has been doing in fifteen years of teaching.

At the end of the meeting, LaClair revealed that he had recorded the remarks, and presented the principal with two compact discs. The teacher then declined to comment further without his union representative. However, he fired one last shot at the student, saying, "You got the big fish ... you got the big Christian guy who is a teacher...!"

Commenting on the situation, LaClair's father, attorney Paul LaClair said, "In a few short weeks, this teacher has displayed bigotry, hypocrisy, arrogance and an appalling ignorance of science. The school's administrators seem not to appreciate the damage this man is doing to young minds. He has some real abilities as a teacher, but this conduct is the intellectual equivalent of the school cafeteria serving sawdust."

The student and his parents have requested that the teacher's anti-scientific remarks be corrected in open class, and that the school develop quality control procedures to ensure that future classes are not proselytized and misinformed. They have also referred the matter for disciplinary action. No apology has been forthcoming from the teacher or from the school. The parents state that because of the administration's inaction, they have taken the matter to the school board this week, from whom they are awaiting a response.
Some local press from this story is expected this week; the blogosphere may generate more attention.

(This came to my attention from a post on the SKEPTIC list by Paul Harrison--thanks, Paul.)

UPDATE (November 15, 2006): This story has now been reported in the Newark Star-Ledger.

UPDATE: The Jersey Journal has picked up the story and put some of the audio online. The story is also being picked up by NYC-area radio and television--the LaClairs have been interviewed by or have scheduled interviews with WCBS radio, 1010 WINS radio, Fox 5 News, and NBC 4 News.

UPDATE (November 22, 2006): The Observer (the weekly newspaper for Kearny, NJ) has published some quotes from the recordings and a few letters to the editor.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Republicans off to a lousy start in dealing with corruption

The Republicans, like the Democrats, are off to a lousy start in dealing with corruption in response to the mid-term election results. One of the worst Republican sleazy tricks in this election (along with the harassing robocalls designed to appear like they were coming from the Democrats, mailers designed to look like sex offender notices, mailers from fake "progressive" organizations, calling Democrats and telling them that their polling places had changed, and other deceptive calls and vote suppression tactics) was Michael Steele's hiring homeless people from Philadelphia to hand out flyers to voters in Maryland, telling them that Steele was the Democratic candidate. This was a repeat of a tactic Steele also used in the 2002 election.

It didn't work, but the Republicans thought highly enough of it to ask him to be the next chairman of the Republican National Committee.

The Republicans need to stop being so quick to forgive their own for moral failings and corruption and start showing some accountability and principle. A good start would be getting rid of Karl Rove, who has been right in the middle of the sleaziest of the sleaze.

UPDATE (November 13, 2006): Looks like Steele will not be the next RNC chairman after all--it will go to Rep. Mel Martinez of Florida instead. But the point still holds, as Martinez is connected to Jack Abramoff via former Rep. Bob Ney (who resigned after pleading guilty to corruption charges in the Abramoff scandal) and is in the middle of his own campaign finance scandal.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What American accent do you have?

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

Boston
The West
North Central
The Northeast
Philadelphia
The Inland North
The South
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

Legal ruling: A burrito is not a sandwich

A Superior Court judge in Worcester, Massachusetts has issued a legal ruling that a burrito is not a sandwich. I think that's pretty sound legal judgment--a sandwich has at least one piece of bread, and a tortilla, while having some bread-like properties and functions, is not bread.

The ruling occurred because Panera Bread Co. was trying to prevent the White City Shopping Center in Shrewsbury from leasing space to Qdoba Mexican Grill. Panera Bread's lease agreement stated that White City Shopping Center would not lease space to any other sandwich shop.

The legal ruling stated that "A sandwich is not commonly understood to include burritos, tacos and quesadillas, which are typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice, and beans."

Expert witness Chris Schlesinger stated in an affidavit that "I know of no chef or culinary historian who would call a burrito a sandwich. Indeed, the notion would be absurd to any credible chef or culinary historian."

Indeed.

UPDATE (November 13, 2006): The commenters at Jamie Zawinski's blog take the discussion much further.

Democrats off to a lousy start in dealing with Congressional corruption

It looks like the Democrats are all set to put some of the most corrupt Democrats in Congress into leadership positions in the House.

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), one of CREW's top 20 most corrupt Congressmen, is set to become leader of the House Appropriations committee. His sleazy deals and earmarks have already caused him to be a target of an FBI investigation.

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), another of CREW's top 20 most corrupt Congressmen, is set to become leader of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. He was caught on tape in Abscam explaining how he works scams.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) will chair the House Permanent Standing Committee on Intelligence, despite no intelligence background, charges of accepting bribes while a judge, and being the sixth federal judge to be removed from office by Congress on charges of perjury and conspiracy to obtain a bribe.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) may become the House Majority Leader. He actively seeks funds from K Street lobbyists, and voted for last year's bankruptcy bill.

This is ridiculous--the major campaign issue in the mid-term election this week was corruption, and the Democrats are already doing their best to put their worst offenders in control.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gridlock helps slow government growth

The most recent issue of The Economist, which arrived last weekend, correctly called the outcome of the U.S. elections and the reasons (corruption, incompetence, Iraq). In the special report on the U.S. mid-term elections appears this box of data taken from Stephen Slivinski's book Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, which shows the benefit of having control of the executive and legislative branches of the government in the hands of different parties:

Divide and save
Annual growth in federal spending per head under recent administrations

Unified government* Growth, %
Lyndon Johnson 4.6
George Bush junior 3.1**
Jimmy Carter 2.9

Divided government Growth, %
Richard Nixon/Gerald Ford 1.9
Ronald Reagan 1.7
George Bush senior 0.6
Bill Clinton 0.3

* President's party controlled House and Senate during most of term.
** First five years.

I'm looking forward to some gridlock.

How well connected is your zip code?

The Center for Public Integrity has set up a "Media Tracker" based on FCC data by zip code which allows you to see how well-connected your zip code is. For each zip code, it will list the number of broadband providers and the number of owners of various media resources in your area (newspapers, radio and television stations. My zip code comes up as "well connected" with 18 broadband providers (a few more than the ones I identified in my survey of Phoenix-area broadband providers).

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

HBO "Hacking Democracy" documentary online

You can watch it at Google Video. Everyone should be aware of the issues raised in this documentary.

Rumsfeld stepping down

An unexpected bonus for today.

A few from CREW's list of corrupt politicians given the boot

Of CREW's list of the twenty most corrupt politicians in Congress, seven or eight will no longer be in office next term. While it is extremely disappointing that so many sleazy politicians get re-elected, it is at least gratifying that the re-election rate for incumbents on this list is significantly lower than average.

Sen. Conrad Burns' (R-MT) race against Jon Tester is still too close to call, but Tester has a slight lead.
Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) has retired, and will be replaced by Bob Corker (R).
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) was voted out, and will be replaced by Bob Casey, Jr. (D).
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) was re-elected.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) was re-elected.
Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) was re-elected.
Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL) was re-elected.
Rep. Katharine Harris (R-FL) failed in her attempt to win a position in the Senate, defeated by Bill Nelson (D).
Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) was re-elected.
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) was re-elected.
Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA) was re-elected (and unopposed in the general election).
Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) was re-elected.
Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) was re-elected.
Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) was voted out, and will be replaced by Jerry McNerny (D).
Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) was re-elected.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) was re-elected.
Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) was voted out, and will be replaced by Kirsten Gillibrand (D).
Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC) was voted out, and will be replaced by Joseph Shuler (D).
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) was re-elected.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) was voted out, and will be replaced by Joe Sestak (D).

CREW's dishonorable mentions also saw two removals from a list of five:

Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) was re-elected.
Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was re-elected.
Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) was voted out, and will be replaced by Harry Mitchell (D).
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) was re-elected.
Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA) was voted out, and will be replaced by Carney (D).

Arizona election results

The good news: Arizona did not elect aspiring theocrat Len Munsil (who was soundly defeated by incumbent Governor Janet Napolitano), got rid of corrupt Congressman J.D. Hayworth (replacing him with former Tempe Mayor Harry Mitchell), narrowly voted down an amendment to the state Constitution to ban gay marriage and anything "similar to" it, and voted in favor of greater protections against eminent domain abuse.

The bad news: Arizona re-elected Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. Rick Renzi, approved the creation of a new bureaucracy to continually raise the minimum wage (the main effect of which is to reduce teen employment; it has negligible positive effects for low wage earners, versus something that would genuinely be effective like reducing payroll taxes), passed the worse of the two anti-smoking measures, banned probation for methamphetamine abuse offenses, and passed all of the anti-illegal immigration measures (declaring English the official language, prohibiting illegal immigrants from posting bail or being awarded certain kinds of damages in court, and limiting educational services to illegal immigrants).

Teenager Jarrett Maupin (Al Sharpton, Jr.) was elected to the Phoenix Union High School District Board in Ward 2. Maupin, who was a member of the Republican club at Brophy College Prep before switching schools to St. Mary's and becoming a Democrat and protege of Sharpton, charged that Brophy students demonstrated their racism by referring to "blackboards."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Le Nature's water company used for a Christian Republican's scam

La Trobe, Pennsylvania's Le Nature's water company, run by Republican and aspiring evangelical leader Gregory Podlucky, was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy by creditors after it's turned out the CEO was engaged in major fraud. Le Nature's reported $275 million in revenue when it only had $35 million in revenue. The company kept two sets of books, and has less than $1 million in cash and over $750 million in bank and bond debt, lease obligations, and other liabilities. Two safes at the company headquarters were found to contain about $1 million in gold watches and jewelry.

Podlucky is accused of falsifying board minutes and defrauding a lender in a lawsuit filed against him by two private equity firms that are minority shareholders. Podlucky was being defended by Albert Manwaring of Pepper Hamilton's Wilmington, Delaware office, but he withdrew from the case on November 1.

$440,000 of the company's money was donated to the Missy's Place Foundation, named after Podlucky's deceased daughter Melissa, and that Foundation purchased land for Podlucky's proposed Grace Community Church of the Valley in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

More details at the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, Long or Short Capital, and at MIT student Jay Silver's website, who reviewed Le Nature's water only to be harassed by someone apparently associated with the company.

Le Nature's is closing its Phoenix plant and laying off 85 workers.

Republican dirty tricks in New Mexico

In New Mexico, the state Republican Party has been calling registered Democrats and telling them that their polling places have changed, giving them incorrect information. The NM Republican Party head says it was just one instance, but the Democratic Party has identified at least five, and is seeking an injunction.

UPDATE: This has now been reported to have occurred in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York in addition to New Mexico.

1999 U.S. war games showed at least 400,000 troops needed in Iraq

In 1999, a set of secret U.S. war games conducted as part of a simulation called Desert Crossing showed that more than 400,000 troops would be needed for an invasion and post-war administration of Iraq to prevent it from falling into chaos. That number is three times the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Yet Donald Rumsfeld refused to even listen to any of his subordinates who thought a plan was needed for post-invasion Iraq.

Army recruiters telling kids the war in Iraq is over

Military recruiters lying to recruits is not a new problem, but this is pretty extreme. ABC News sent students with hidden cameras to 10 Army recruiting offices in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The students were told that no one is going over to Iraq any more, that the soldiers are being brought back. One recruiter told students that if they didn't like the Army, they could just quit.

Deceptive and harassing Republican pre-recorded political calls

The Republicans have been hitting voters over the last week or so with repeated pre-recorded political calls beginning with the phrase, "Hi, I'm calling with information about ," which have fooled many recipients into thinking that they are being harassed by the campaign of that Democratic candidate. Some recipients have received dozens of repeated calls or more.

These campaigns are paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and have occurred in at least Illinois, New York, and New Hampshire. They've been partially stopped in New Hampshire after intervention by the state Attorney General--but only by discontinuing calls to voters on the national Do Not Call list.

One of the New York calls can be heard here (WAV file).

UPDATE: Here's a list of the twenty districts where these calls are occurring and which Democrats they are attacking. They're in California, Illinois, Florida, New York, Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Connecticut, Kansas, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

UPDATE: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has sent the National Republican Congressional Committee a cease and desist letter.

UPDATE (November 7, 2006): The New York Times and the Washington Post have covered the story. Michigan Representatives Conyers and Dingell have asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate the issue.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Two Faces of Diebold

SAIC was commissioned to perform a study on security issues in Diebold voting machines by the State of Maryland. One of the conditions Diebold set on the report in return for allowing access to their machines for the study was the right to redact whatever they wanted from the public version of the report.

The public version of the report (PDF) was 38 pages. The unredacted version was 152 pages plus 41 pages of appendices.

The private version of the report has now been leaked, and Rebecca Abrahams writes about the differences.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Adrienne Shelly died

Adrienne Shelly, an actress who starred in Hal Hartley's films The Unbelievable Trust and Truth, was found dead in her NYC office by her husband. She was 40.

Shelly, an agnostic, was a writer and director of independent films as well as an actress.

UPDATE (November 7, 2006): A 19-year-old worker, Diego Pillco, who was helping renovate the Manhattan apartment that was Shelly's office, has confessed to killing her and hanging her from the shower rod in the apartment bathroom.

Very sad.

UPDATE (February 18, 2007): Adrienne Shelly's murder has now been fictionalized into an episode of Law & Order that aired last week, titled "Melting Pot." The episode is really a mix of Adrienne Shelly's murder and Theo van Gogh's murder after making the film "Submission" with Ayaan Hirsi Ali--the character Erin Garrett is a combination of Shelly and Hirsi Ali. She is found hanged in her film office, and to have recently made a documentary film called "Fire Under the Veil." (Shelly and Hirsi Ali are both known for being atheists, but atheism doesn't factor in the Law & Order episode.)

This may be the first time when the murder of someone who appeared on Law & Order was fictionalized in an episode of the show. She appeared in the episode "High & Low" in 2000.

Amway president and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos caught lying

Amway president and creationist Dick DeVos told a story about his high school football coach giving him an inspiring talk as he started him as quarterback. The football coach says it never happened, DeVos was never a starting quarterback on the varsity squad, and that he wasn't a star on the field.

Disclosure: It's my opinion that Amway is a sleazy company run by dishonest and paranoid people. I was served with a subpoena in a lawsuit Amway filed against Proctor & Gamble which was trying to claim that P&G was involved in a conspiracy against Amway's business by paying people to post Amway-critical information on the Internet. That subpoena was part of a fishing expedition and intimidation campaign; Amway tried to get access to the complete contents of my computer hard drives. The case was eventually thrown out of court. I spent a few thousand dollars to protect my rights; Amway spent a whole lot more.

UPDATE (November 8, 2006): Incumbent Governor Jennifer Granholm defeated DeVos in yesterday's election.

IDiots

ID advocates Tim McGrew and Sal Cordova have accused P.Z. Myers of misrepresenting Jonathan Wells when he pointed out that Wells had selectively edited a quote from a paper by William Ballard in BioScience. McGrew wrote that "Myers is lying through his teeth" about the quotation appearing on p. 35 of Wells' Politically Incorrect Guide to Intelligent Design.

Myers points out that McGrew and Cordova have failed to see what's right in front of them, and adds some red arrows to a scan of the page to help them see.

Will either of them apologize for their IDiocy?

UPDATE: They've admitted they were wrong about the quotation on p. 35, but argue that the text on the earlier pages is not guilty of the misrepresentation that Myers claimed with regard to the p. 35 quote.

ACLU incompetence and misinformation on net neutrality

I received an email from the ACLU yesterday, informing me that they've jumped in on the net neutrality debate. Unfortunately, they badly misrepresent the facts:
FREE THE NET: WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT NET NEUTRALITY

The keys to the Internet have always been safely in public hands - until last year, when the FCC suddenly repealed longstanding Internet principles of "neutrality" and non-discrimination.
The ACLU is going to make the erroneous claim that I've debunked repeatedly on my blog (see the Net Neutrality Index)--that the common carriage requirements on telcos constitute "net neutrality." They will ignore the fact that cable companies--the main providers of consumer broadband Internet access in the U.S.--have never been common carriers and have never been bound by these requirements.
With the blessing of the Supreme Court, a handful of profit-driven telecoms and cable companies now could effectively shut down the 21st Century marketplace of ideas by screening Internet e-mail traffic, blocking what they deem to be undesirable content, or pricing users out of the marketplace.
The ACLU is going to argue that we need to create a new bureaucratic regulatory apparatus, giving sweeping new powers to the FCC to interfere with freedom of Internet providers to enter into voluntary contracts with each other and manage their own networks, and specifically prohibiting differential pricing on tiered levels of service and the ability for providers to enter into arrangements with content providers to subsidize consumer bandwidth.
Historically, Net Neutrality protections filled the free speech gap. Since those protections were removed last year, nothing prevents network providers from discriminating against Internet users and application and service providers in terms of content, quality of access, and choice of equipment.
This is doubly false--the common carriage requirements applied only to the last-mile consumer network connections, not to the ability of ISPs to filter; and it is false that "nothing prevents" ISPs from taking actions which would cause them to lose customers.
If you're like many people using the Internet, you don't think about whether your Internet Service Provider is intentionally slowing down or speeding up your access to Yahoo! versus Google. Without Net Neutrality, your ISP could do just that.

Imagine if your phone company was allowed to own restaurants and then provided good service and clear signals to customers who called Dominos and static and frequent busy signals for those calling Pizza Hut.

It sounds outrageous, but it would be entirely possible if the telephone system wasn't regulated under the "common carrier" framework. The telecoms and cable companies that provide Internet network services, including AT&T, BellSouth, Comcast, Qwest, Sprint, Time-Warner/AOL, and Verizon, have spent over $100 million lobbying Congress and the FCC to eliminate established Net Neutrality protections.
Remember, cable companies have never been common carriers, yet this hasn't been a problem. Why create new regulations and give more power to a government agency that has a history of not only working on behalf of the big incumbents (rather than promoting competition, which is what is needed) but of engaging in actions designed to cause discrimination against certain forms of content through censorship? It makes no sense.
The assault on Internet freedom will only get worse. The FCC imposed Net Neutrality protections in merger agreements for certain network providers such as SBC/AT&T and Verizon/MCI, but those protections expire in 2007. And in July 2006, the FCC declined to include any Net Neutrality protections in Comcast and Time-Warner's acquisition of Adelphia Cable. The pattern of the FCC opposing Net Neutrality is expected to continue, as network providers continue to consolidate into an even smaller pool of Internet gatekeepers.

Without the vigorous non-discrimination principles in place before 2005, a few corporate conglomerates will control everything that you can say or do on the Internet. Net Neutrality is needed, and it is needed now.
The above argument is a mish-mash of fear-mongering about things that haven't been an issue, misrepresentation of what regulations have been in place, wild unsubstantiated claims ("a few corporate conglomerates will control everything that you can say or do on the Internet"?), and a failure to look at the actual substantive issues in the network neutrality debate.

Their website contains further misinformation:

Massive innovation on the Internet since its creation is in part the result of pre-2005 Net Neutrality protections. Starting nearly forty years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concluded that under Title II of the Communications Act, telephone companies and network owners were prohibited from interfering with or discriminating against "telecommunications services" offering computer network access. The availability of common carrier telephone networks to independent equipment manufacturers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) led to the Internet's birth. Entrepreneurs freely developed pioneering services and products resulting in a technological revolution driving our Nation's economic growth in the last decade.

Again, Title II has never applied to cable companies (or to ISPs that aren't telcos).

All of those protections were suddenly lost last year after the Supreme Court's decision in NCTA v. Brand X. Since 2002, the FCC attempted to reverse decades of applying Title II's nondiscrimination principles to net providers by reclassifying cable modem services as unregulated "information services."
ISPs and cable companies have never been Title II common carriers.
Federal courts initially rejected the FCC's efforts to strip long-standing Net Neutrality protections. In mid-2005, the Supreme Court abruptly reversed course in Brand X by concluding that the FCC had that discretion, notwithstanding well-established consumer protections.

Following that ruling, network owners began taking steps to stifle innovation and freedom on the Internet.

No examples are provided. Actual cases of discrimination are very few and far between, and have been quickly resolved.
They have stated their intent to establish tollbooths on the Information Superhighway by restricting fast lanes to those willing and able to pay high premiums.
It has always been the case that you have to pay more for more bandwidth and to put your content closer to your users, and that will not change with network neutrality regulations. This description fails to present the point of tiered services, which are necessary to deploy new kinds of services on the network (such as those dependent on near-real-time packet delivery) without allowing them to be disrupted by services which don't have such dependencies. By prohibiting tiered services, you prohibit the development and innovation that they can bring, and will doom us to VoIP telephony that is inferior to old-fashioned telephone service.
Some network owners, such as Time Warner's AOL and BellSouth, have already blocked user content.
The AOL case was an inadvertent blocking of email from a particular domain that was quickly corrected; I don't know what BellSouth instance is referred to. Probably most, if not all ISPs and content providers have blocked access to some user content at some point, due to that content being illegal (e.g., copyright infringement, child porn).
Internet discrimination will only increase after the 2007 expiration of Net Neutrality restrictions in merger agreements for other network owners such as SBC/AT&T and Verizon/MCI.
Why? Any provider that blocks content that its customers want to access puts itself at a competitive disadvantage.

S. 2917, the Snowe-Dorgan "Internet Freedom Preservation Act," restores longstanding Net Neutrality protections missing from S. 2686.

In its current form, S. 2686, the Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006, permits Net discrimination to continue unabated. The bill provides no protection for Internet users and entrepreneurs. Instead, it merely includes a toothless requirement that the FCC study the Internet market for five years and file annual reports to Congress on the activities of network owners.

This is not true--it contains the FCC "four freedoms" including nondiscrimination, and provides for fines for providers who discriminate. What it doesn't do that the Snowe-Dorgan bill does is prohibit tiered classes of service.

In sharp contrast, S. 2917, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act offered by Senators Snowe and Dorgan, restores Network Neutrality protections in place before June 2005.

This is inaccurate--it does not reverse Brand X (which would amount to a new requirement--that has never previously been in effect--for cable companies to allow any ISP to sell Internet service through their networks). It creates new restrictions on broadband Internet that have never previously existed, affecting non-telco ISPs as well as cable providers.
It requires that any content, application, or service offered through the Internet be provided on a basis that is "reasonable and non-discriminatory" and equivalent to the access, speed, quality of service, and bandwidth of services offered by network owners. It further prohibits network providers from blocking or degrading lawful Internet content. Finally, it leaves the choice for attaching legal devices to networks squarely in the hands of consumers, where it rightfully belongs.

If it only prohibited providers from blocking or degrading lawful content, I'd have no problem with it--but it goes far beyond that.

It is disappointing to see the ACLU get this issue so wrong.

Ted Haggard resigns as head of NAE over gay prostitution claims

Ted Haggard, head of the New Life megachurch in Colorado Springs, has resigned as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals over accusations that he paid for gay sex and methamphetamines. He denies the allegations, but says he is stepping aside to maintain the integrity of the organization while an investigation occurs. Ross Parsley, the acting senior pastor at New Life Church, says that Haggard has admitted that some of the allegations are true. "I just know that there has been some admission of indiscretion, not admission to all of the material that has been discussed but there is an admission of some guilt," Parsley told KKTV-TV of Colorado Springs.

Haggard and his church have been outspoken in opposition to gay marriage.

As Radley Balko points out, this provides further evidence for the thesis that the loudest of the anti-gay crowd are fighting their own urges.

UPDATE: It appears that he has confessed to buying methamphetamine, but not the gay sex.

UPDATE (November 3, 2006): The accuser has failed a polygraph test (not that that actually means much more than if he had failed a tea-leaf reading or astrological horoscope). Haggard has admitted to buying, but not using meth. Which raises the question--who was he buying meth for, if not for his own use?

UPDATE: Haggard is clearly lying about not using the meth he bought (his voice message says he's buying more), and his claim that he only bought a massage rather than engaged in sex is implausible based on the ad he answered. He claims he bought the meth for his own use out of curiosity, but threw it away.

UPDATE (November 4, 2006): Haggard has been dismissed from his church for "sexual immorality." Looks like either his church's leaders don't buy his denials of gay sex or consider a massage to be sexual immorality.

UPDATE (November 5, 2006): Haggard has admitted that he's a liar and a deceiver, though still claims that "not all" of the accusations against him are true, "but enough of them are that I was appropriately removed from [his] church leadership position." He admitted to being "guilty of sexual immorality."

UPDATE (December 28, 2006): Haggard's dope dealer and masseuse, Mike Jones, has signed a book deal. It will be published by Seven Stories Press.

Sen. Jon Kyl a target after Internet gambling ban

Sen. Jon Kyl, a strong supporter of banning Internet gambling, is a target of online poker players upset at the sleazy way the recent law prohibiting banks from engaging in financial transactions with online gaming sites was passed. That law was snuck into a port security bill in the night by Bill Frist, with no opportunity to vote on the amendment. The effect of that law has been to cause all of the largest legitimate online gaming sites (such as those publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange) to decline to permit Americans to use their sites, while those that are on the shadier side continue to take American business. In other words, the effect has been to make online gaming more dangerous for Americans, and to have less accountability about where the profits go.

Kyl has seen his lead in the polls over Jim Pederson decline, though he is still, unfortunately, likely to win.

Dr. Dino guilty of tax fraud

Creationist huckster Kent Hovind and his wife Jo have been found guilty of tax fraud in Florida, and each face over 200 years in prison.

For more reactions to the verdict:
Dispatches from the Culture Wars
Pharyngula
The Panda's Thumb

More on the trial may be found here.

Hovind's appearance on the Ali G Show may be found here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Richard Carrier blog

Former Internet Infidels President Richard Carrier now has a blog.

Female soldier committed suicide over interrogation techniques in Iraq

The third woman to die in Iraq, Army Specialist Alyssa Peterson, 27, from Flagstaff, Arizona, was reported as having died from a "non-hostile weapons discharge." A reporter who dug further, Kevin Elston, found that she committed suicide on September 15, 2003, after becoming distraught from working in an interrogation unit known as "the cage." Peterson, a devout Mormon who was working as an Arabic translator, was upset by the methods of interrogation being used on Iraqi prisoners. After two days in the unit, she refused to participate further, was reassigned, and was sent to suicide prevention training.

Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques that Peterson objected to, and say that all records of them have been destroyed.