Saturday, March 31, 2007

Jerry Wills: UFO contactee turned psychic healer

In the July/August 1988 issue of The Arizona Skeptic, I wrote an article called "A Visit to the 'Psychic Showcase.'" This article was about my visit in April 1988 to a psychic fair put on by "Truth Investigations Unlimited" at the Biltmore Commerce Center in Phoenix. In that article, I reported on a demonstration of "mind transference techniques" by Phoenix magician Lee Earle (who began by stating "I have been accused of being a fake, a fraud, a phony, and a cheat"), channeling of "Equinox" by Joan Scibienski, a UFO lecture by Brian Myers and Tina Choate of the Center for UFO Research, and a talk by Jerry Wills.

Here's the portion of the article about Jerry Wills:
As a special bonus, we were given a chance to hear from an actual UFO contactee named Jerry Wills. Wills claimed that his contacts began in 1965 in the woods of Kentucky and lasted about five years. He was contacted at least once a week, sometimes two or three times a week. He spent from an hour to a day in telepathic communication with aliens, and they gave him their theology, astrophysics, biology, physics, chemistry, sociology, and so on. Unfortunately, the only piece of alien technology he shared with us was a light-up crystal (called "The Guardian") that was for sale at a nearby table. Although Wills claimed aliens taught him how to make these crystals, literature on the table where they were being sold claimed that Wills was himself the inventor.

Wills gave a similar talk the second day, but this time he spoke of contacts with extraterrestrials taking place around 1971-1972. He also added new features, such as claiming that some of his friends were also contacted by extraterrestrials, and that the aliens gave him a ring. When asked where this ring was, he said he had traded it for an arrowhead and the ring was destroyed in a fire. He claimed that the aliens had given him information which he used to design a 3-D (television?) system for Toshiba and a Claymore mine detonator.

I should note that I met Wills at the "Focus on You" expo on December 5, 1987, at which time he was selling the lighted crystals (Jim Lowell of TUSKS was interested in purchasing one until he was told the price). At that time, he stated that he made no paranormal claims for his crystals. Now, however, the literature promoting these crystals states that "You can learn to use it to heal yourself and others as well as creating a sense of peace and well-being about the person wearing it" and "The Guardian is used like any crystal in healing, however, the light when it touches the skin has great healing effects." Further, it is claimed that The Guardian "is meant to be used by all who are to raise the consciousness of the planet."
In a later issue of the Arizona Skeptic (vol. 6, no. 3, November/December 1992), I gave an update on Jerry Wills from Saucer Smear:

Jim Moseley, "Beckley Does It Again!" Saucer Smear (November 1, 1992):3. Reports on Tim Beckley's "National New Age & Alien Agenda Conference" held in Phoenix, at which Jerry Wills played guitar in an impromptu rock session. Wills, whose story as a UFO abductee was reported in the pages of this newsletter (AS, July/August 1988, p. 3), now claims to have been one of the aliens who crashed and died at Roswell, New Mexico, but was reincarnated as a human. (See also Robert Sheaffer's "Psychic Vibrations" column in the Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1991, p. 33.)

A photo of this rock jam session may be found online here.

Jerry Wills now has a website with an "About Jerry Wills" page which tells a different set of stories:
I have always been able to feel the flow of life, or the life force essence, around and within living things. From an early age I have had the ability to join and experience life from different perspectives because of this intuitiveness. In the beginning I didn't know everyone wasn't capable of this. Innocently, I engaged the flow of life energy from everything around me.

Growing up on a remote farm in Kentucky provided many years of isolation from the rest of the world. During my teen years I started to better understand how energy moves through all living things - plant, animal and human. Eventually my abilities progressed to where I was able to help myself and others.

During the spring of 1973, I was exploring my belief system and those of others. It was quickly evident I had a gift for healing and was soon providing this as a ministry. I learned a valuable lesson about God and my association with the Creator. My gift only ask me to love, and be true to myself.

On November 11th at 11am 1981, I experienced a "near death" incident after falling from the top of an airplane hanger. During the experience I was shown and told by "someone" what my potential role in helping others would be, if I allowed my gift to fully mature. Thanks to another healer who had a similar gift, I was encouraged to help others.

In 1999 I became known to the public. This was quite by accident. A news story was brought to public attention after FOX TV aired a segment about my assistance to a near dead comatose man during the winter of 1998. The medical community had completely exhausted their attempts to help this man.

According to their records there was no hope he would ever regain consciousness. To complicate matters, there were serious infections which had further deteriorated his condition. His medical benefits exhausted, it was suggested his life support be terminated. Desperate for a miracle, his wife contacted me through a mutual friend. Until this time it was the only way I could be contacted - referrals from those who knew me... When I arrived to the hospice I found this man lying on his back, tubes and monitors attached to various areas of the body and head. Entering my state (that's what I call it...) I found him asleep, deep within his body. Tired and afraid, he had gone deeply into a coma not wanting to be aware of the activity around him. Placing my hands upon him I saw the problems and how to repair them - this is always how the process occurs. After spending about 50 minutes doing my work, he awoke from this terminal coma. Weeks later I visited him again to finish my work. Now he's doing really well - and is quite alive.

I enjoy this work. My greatest rewards come from seeing the faces of clients and their families once they realize the problem (or symptoms) have vanished. To date I have assisted in what many consider miracles. The blind have been brought from darkness, the near dead have returned to health and the terminally ill have recovered their lives. I have seen those with cancer, AID's and long lists of medical conditions with terms only doctors understand. These to me are miracles, a validation God exists. ...

In 2004 EarthWays was formed. It is my hope this organization will help educate those who are interested to advance their skills and be a source of hope for any who need it.

What has happened to "The Guardian" and the extraterrestrials? How come he wasn't making claims about a near-death experience in 1987, if it had happened just six years previously?

Author Rod Haberer has a forthcoming book titled "Healer: The Jerry Wills Story." Perhaps it will shed some light on these questions. I've emailed Rod Haberer to ask: "When will the Jerry Wills books be available? Does his story include any references to UFOs, aliens, or "The Guardian"?"

UPDATE (December 6, 2007): Rod Haberer never replied, which is perhaps not surprising considering that he has long been a purveyer of nonsense. In 1998, Haberer was the producer of the "10-Files" segment on Phoenix's Channel 10 News which promoted Jim Dilettoso's bogus pseudoscientific analysis of video footage of the "Phoenix Lights" UFO. In the New Times story "The Hack and the Quack" appeared the following regarding Haberer:
Rod Haberer, producer of the "10-Files" piece, says that he's "comfortable with what we put on the air." But when he's asked what software the station used to match and scale the daytime and nighttime shots, he admits that they didn't use a computer at all. Channel 10 simply laid one image from Krzyston's video atop another in a digital editing machine.
Haberer appears to be a guy who doesn't want critical examination of facts to get in the way of making a buck.

Latest Real Estate Market Info for Maricopa County

The count for March's Notices of Trustee's Sales in Maricopa County was 1720. Not a record beater, but certainly within sight of the summit.

Click to view full size
MC Trustee's Sale Notices (1995-Present)
Mean929.5
Median819
Mode746
Standard Deviation306.2041743
Range1256
Minimum482
Maximum1738
Sum135705
Count146

The daily average in March (78.18 Notices recorded per day) was also not a record beater.

Click for full-sized image
Here's an interesting chart I threw together based on sales data I pulled from the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service. The take-away from it is that, clearly, the inventory of unsold homes in the Phoenix area has been increasing for quite a while, now. The words "downward pressure" come to mind.

Ron Paul in Phoenix


Last night I attended a small event where Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) spoke about his candidacy for president as a Republican. I found it a bit of a disappointment. On the plus side, he is making opposition to both the drug war and the war in Iraq a major part of his campaign. He also opposes warrantless wiretapping, the USA PATRIOT Act, and the Military Commissions Act. And in response to a question from one of several atheists present, he indicated his support for the separation of church and state (and opposition to Bush's faith-based initiatives). On the minus side, his stance on illegal immigration is to "secure the border," deny benefits to illegal immigrants, and eliminate birthright citizenship. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's stance on illegal immigration (double Border Patrol officers, implement a guest worker program, and provide a mechanism for illegal immigrants to pay a fine and become legal residents) makes a whole lot more sense than that. Also on the minus side, as Sameer Parekh has pointed out at his blog, his stance on free trade is to oppose anything that he sees as a compromise on free trade (like major free trade agreements), which makes him look like he's pandering to protectionists--his web page makes no indication that he support free trade, which strikes me as dishonest.

Nutjob Arizona State Senator Karen Johnson was there, and she asked a question about Bush's "stealth campaign" to establish a North American Union; Paul responded that he opposes creation of such an entity and a common currency for such an economic area (the "amero"). This is going into WorldNetDaily and Alex Jones conspiracy theorist territory, conflating the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (a meeting between the three heads of state to increase economic cooperation) with the ideas of Robert Pastor, a professor at American University, about creating a political union. If the EU can't approve a Constitution (with France and the Netherlands rejecting it) and still has holdouts on the euro (Britain and Norway), how likely is it that countries as different as the U.S., Mexico, and Canada would combine into a single political entity?

I'm glad Ron Paul has provided a consistent voice in Congress against the war in Iraq and erosion of our civil liberties in the name of the global war on terror, but I'm afraid he probably wouldn't make a very good president (though I did make a small contribution to his campaign which I'm feeling some buyer's remorse for this morning). My preference is to see a Democratic president and split control of Congress--gridlock seems to be the most effective way of achieving economic growth and slowing the erosion of our civil liberties.

UPDATE (April 12, 2007): The argument that Paul makes about illegal immigration--that we should stop it because of the impact on welfare--is aptly turned on its head in this post from last year at David Friedman's blog.

UPDATE (February 11, 2008): Here's a debunking of a number of Ron Paul claims, including the NAFTA superhighway.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Arizona minimum wage increase put developmentally disabled out of work

Arizona's recent increase in the minimum wage to $6.75/hour put a bunch of developmentally disabled people out of work. The result--now the state Industrial Commission is proposing to call these people "trainees" and exempt them from the minimum wage so that they can go back to work.

(Via Creative Destruction.)

9/11 Conspiracy Nutball Convention in Chandler

I've just learned that I missed the "9/11 Accountability: Strategies and Solutions Conference" that was held in February in Chandler. The guest list is filled with the expected kooks like James Fetzer, Steven Jones, and Col. Robert Bowman from "Scholars for 9/11 Truth" (Jones apparently has withdrawn from co-chair of that group and started another of his own with a similar name after clashing with Fetzer), and Jim Marrs, among many others.

If there was any doubt that this is a collection of people with no concerns about their credibility, I was quite amused to see this entry on the speakers list:
Michael and Aurora Ellegion Michael and Aurora Ellegion, have been investigative reporters for over 25 years. They have insight into the powerful mind control aspect that 9-11 was utilized to create. They have appeared on numerous television programs, the BBC TV and Armed Forces Radio, newspapers and magazines. The Ellegions are also futurists and deeply desire to enlighten mankind, feeling that we must each play a part in directing our government. Michael and Aurora have spoke at cutting-edge conferences worldwide and at the Press Clubs throughout the U.S. on numerous social and political issues.
This description is remarkable for what it omits. I'm familiar with this couple under the name "El-Legion" rather than "Ellegion," from meeting them at a psychic fair in Phoenix around 1987 when I was head of the Phoenix Skeptics. There, they presented themselves as channelers of Lord Ashtar and other discarnate extraterrestrial entities from the Pleiades, along with the occasional Archangel. The website I've linked to, "channelforthemasters.com," seems to indicate that they are still in that business. Hopefully they've discontinued their side business of selling stolen telephone card numbers in Hawaii, for which they were arrested in 1987.

Admission to the psychic fair gave me a ticket for a reading from the psychic of my choice. I chose Michael El-Legion, thinking his reading would be the most likely to provide entertainment, and he did not disappoint. He told me I was an "Eagle Commander" of the Star People and a person of great cosmic importance. I'm pretty sure I still have an audio tape of that reading somewhere.

I wrote up my encounter with Michael El-Legion in the Arizona Skeptic, vol. 2, no. 1 (July/August 1988), which unfortunately I can't seem to find my copies of.

UPDATE (March 31, 2007): Found my copies of the Arizona Skeptic. Turns out I misremembered writing it up, and misread grep output from my search of the online index. The only reference to the El-Legions was in vol. 3, no. 3 (April 1990), in Mike Stackpole's "Editorial Blathering" column. The psychic fair I reported on in vol. 2, no. 1 didn't include anything about the El-Legions, though I did converse with a man who claimed to be an alien contactee, who now is claiming online to have had a near-death experience that have given him healing powers.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Sweet Lord

Various newspapers (including the Arizona Republic) are covering the story of Cosimo Cavallaro's life-sized statue of Jesus made out of 200 pounds of milk chocolate. All are giving prime coverage to the typical over-the-top rantings of William Donohue of the Catholic League, claiming that "this is one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever."

This Jesus, titled "My Sweet Lord" and hanging in a crucifixion position, is sans cross or loin cloth. For this reason newspapers are only showing it photographed from behind, so you can't see how anatomically accurate it is. A photograph of the work from the front can be found at the artist's website.

Why "the customer is always right" is wrong

At Alexander Kjerulf's Chief Happiness Officer blog is a list of the top five reasons why "the customer is always right" is bad for business:

1. It makes employees unhappy.
2. It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage.
3. Some customers are bad for business.
4. It results in worse customer service.
5. Some customers are just plain wrong.

I think these reasons hit the nail right on the head (and he includes some fun examples).

(Via a comment at Behind the Counter, a blog that often includes examples of the Florida Wal-Mart where its author works getting ripped off by horrible customers.)

A variant of "the customer is always right" that also drives companies in the wrong direction for some of the same reasons is "the executives are always right."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

McCain's MySpace page

Whoever maintains John McCain's MySpace page borrowed the template from another MySpace user without giving credit. That template included an image in the "Contacting " section, which was being pulled from the original user's page and had a list of menu items to click on.

The original user, upset at his template being used without credit, changed the image, so that it said: "Dear Supporters, Today I announce that I have reversed my position and come out in full support of gay marriage... particularly marriage between passionate females. John"

McCain's MySpace page has subsequently been fixed.

BTW, the Republican candidate for president with the most MySpace friends is libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, who has for some reason been removed from multiple online polls about candidate preferences (including Pajamas Media and Slate's reporting of the online idea futures).

UPDATE (March 30, 2007): Pajamas Media has re-listed Ron Paul and added Fred Thompson this week; Fred Thompson is leading and Ron Paul is in second for the Republicans; Bill Richardson is leading for the Democrats. Not that online, self-selected polling has any reflection on how an actual vote would go...

A lottery winner who's not blowing his money on strippers

Brad Duke, who managed 5 Gold's Gyms in Idaho, won a $220 million Powerball jackpot in 2005, which translated to an $85 million lump sum payment after taxes. He assembled a team of financial advisors before claiming the prize, and set a goal of turning that $85 million into $1 billion in the next 15 years. Here's what he's done with the money so far:

Investments:
$45 million in low-risk investments such as municipal bonds.
$35 million in aggressive, high-risk investments such as real estate, oil, and gas.

Donations:
$1.3 million creating a family foundation.

Debt retirement:
$125,000 to pay off his mortgage (on a 1,400 sf house he still lives in)
$18,000 to pay off student loans

Purchases:
$65,000 on bicycles, including a $12,000 BMC road bike
$14,500 on a used VW Jetta

Gifts:
$12,000 annual gift to each member of his immediate family

Splurge:
$63,000 on a trip to Tahiti with 17 friends

The result so far--he's turned $85 million into $128-$130 million.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Viacom responds to EFF/MoveOn lawsuit

EFF filed a lawsuit against Viacom for abusing the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to cause the takedown of a YouTube video clip called "Stop the Falsiness" which used video from The Colbert Report within the boundaries of fair use.

Viacom has issued a pretty solid response (PDF)--that they issued no such DMCA notice, and if they had, YouTube should have notified the user who submitted the clip and given them a chance to file a counter-notice. Viacom further stated that they found the clip elsewhere, reviewed it, and agree that it constitutes fair use of their content and should be put back up. (YouTube has put the clip back up.)

This is not good news for YouTube--this is further evidence that they are taking down content without receiving DMCA notices, which means that they are exercising editorial control over their content, which places them at greater risk of failing to successfully defend their claim to be protected by the DMCA's "safe harbor" protections.

Other such evidence comes from Mark Cuban, who has been issuing DMCA subpoenas to YouTube users who have used his content (movies produced by his companies such as HDNet). He has also issued takedown notices for some such content, while explicitly choosing not to issue takedown notices for others--because he wants the promotion from YouTube, just not wholesale theft of his content. Yet YouTube has taken down clips that he has specifically chosen not to issue takedown notices for.

This looks like a misstep for the EFF.

UPDATE (March 28, 2007): As noted by commenter Jamie, there apparently was a DMCA notice issued by BayTSP, which was hired by Viacom to send out DMCA notices on its behalf, so Viacom may not be in the clear.

White House involvement in Duke Cunningham scandal

Talking Points Memo has been discussing the fact that the very first contract that Mitchell Wade's MZM, Inc. got with the federal government, back in July 2002, was with the Executive Office of the President, allegedly for office furniture.

It now turns out that it was actually to screen mail for anthrax.

How did MZM, Inc., which had no record or experience, get such an important contract? Who did Mitchell Wade bribe to get that one?

Rep. Henry Waxman is asking for answers.

And remember, the Cunningham/MZM scandal is what San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam was investigating when she was asked to resign, the day after she announced that she was going after "Dusty" Foggo, then #3 at the CIA.

More at Talking Points Memo.

Returned soldier killed by police in Delaware

Sgt. Derek Hale, returned from two tours of duty in Iraq, was in Wilmington, Delaware for a "Toys for Tots" campaign in November of last year sponsored by the Pagan Motorcycle Club, which he had recently joined. He was house-sitting for a friend, sitting on the steps outside the house, when the friend's ex-wife showed up with her two kids. An unmarked police car and black SUV also showed up, and Hale, clad in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, was told to take his hands out of his pockets. He was tasered less than a second later, which dropped him to the ground, with his right hand out of the pocket and spasming involuntarily. He was again asked to remove his hands from his pockets, and tasered again, causing him to roll onto his side and vomit. Howard Mixon, a contractor working nearby, shouted that this was "overkill," to which a black-clad officer responded, "I'll f*****g show you overkill!"

Lt. William Brown of the Wilmington Police Department proceeded to do just that--as Hale was being tasered a third time, and attempting unsuccessfully to extricate his left hand from his pocket as his body convulsed from the tasering, Brown shot Hale three times in the chest, killing him.

There were no drugs found, nor any evidence of a crime. There was no warrant for Hale's arrest--he was a "person of interest" in a drug investigation of his motorcycle club.

Wilmington police claim that Hale was killed because Lt. Brown "feared for the safety of his fellow officers and believed that the suspect was in a position to pose an imminent threat." Police say they recovered pepper spray and a switchblade from Hale's body, though Hale's stepbrother says he never carried a knife other than a Swiss Army knife.

Several Wilmington police falsely claimed that Hale had been charged with drug trafficking two days before he was killed, which was used by Virginia police to obtain a warrant to search Hale's home in Manassas, which found nothing incriminating.

Derek Hale's widow and parents have now filed a lawsuit against several Delaware police officers, with the support of the Rutherford Institute and a private lawfirm.

If the above details are accurate, why isn't Lt. William Brown on trial for murder?

(Details from Pro Libertate by way of The Agitator, the latter of which seems to have multiple stories like this every week. The comments of the former include some observations that the Pagan Motorcycle Club is heavily involved in criminal activity, which should be taken into consideration but still wouldn't justify a killing in cold blood.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Anti-Mormon DVDs distributed to home across Arizona

An anti-Mormon Christian ministry, "Concerned Christians," has distributed 18,000 DVDs to homes across Arizona, mainly targeting areas with high Mormon populations such as Mesa and Snowflake. 15,000 DVDs were distributed to homes in Mesa, Tempe, and Gilbert, 2,000 in Snowflake, and 1,000 in Tucson.

The DVD, titled "Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith," argues against the latter but not the former. The DVD was apparently produced by and distributed nationally by Living Hope Ministries of Brigham City, Utah, a Christian church that criticizes the Mormon religion. [UPDATE (July 6, 2007): My cousin and his wife inform me in the comments that this is not correct, contrary to the statement from the Arizona distributor in the Arizona Republic's report, and that this was produced and distributed by TriGrace Ministries and GoodnewsfortheLDS.com.]

That name was familiar to me--I suspected, and verified, that this is the same church that previously produced a DVD about how DNA evidence disproved Mormon claims about Native Americans being descendants of the lost tribe of Israel. In 2001, the pastor of Living Hope Ministries was Joel Kramer, who was the officiant at the wedding of my cousin Aaron Lippard, which I attended at their storefront church in Brigham City.

Kramer, a former Tucson resident, has authored a book, Beyond Fear, which tells the story of how Kramer and my cousin Aaron traveled across Papua New Guinea solely under their own power. I read the book after seeing my cousin present a slide presentation about his harrowing trip (and show off his septum piercing, which was pierced by a New Guinea aborigine with a bird bone, by sticking a meat thermometer through it). I found the book enjoyable, though preachy and annoying in spots. Kramer's voice as a writer struck me as arrogant and condescending towards my cousin, portraying himself as a Christian real-man and my cousin as an inexperienced, naive fellow who had much to learn about becoming a mature Christian male.

A film Kramer has produced is called The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon, which is reviewed here by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. This review makes a point that I've made about Living Hope's Mormons & DNA DVD and about Richard Abanes' One Nation Under Gods--they don't seem to apply the same standard of criticism to Christianity that they apply to Mormonism.

I'm sure the same is true of "Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The rsync.net warrant canary

You aren't allowed to say if you've received a National Security Letter. But there's no law that says you can't say that you haven't received one.

Thus, rsync.net has a "warrant canary"--they periodically post a cryptographically signed statement that they have not, to date, received any PATRIOT Act warrants or had any searches and seizures. If they stop updating the statement, then you can draw your own conclusions.

The second of these library signs uses the same principle: "The FBI has not been here [watch closely for removal of this sign]."

(Via jwz's blog, where some commenters question whether the recent Washington Post piece by the recipient of a National Security Letter is truthful. Note that the ACLU has a lawsuit going on about this case, which I previously noted back in 2005.)

NIST's 9/11 Investigation FAQ

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster has produced a FAQ about the causes of the WTC building collapses (along with other FAQs and factsheets):

NIST conducted an extremely thorough three-year investigation into what caused the WTC towers to collapse, as explained in NIST’s dedicated Web site, http://wtc.nist.gov. This included consideration of a number of hypotheses for the collapses of the towers.

Some 200 technical experts—including about 85 career NIST experts and 125 leading experts from the private sector and academia—reviewed tens of thousands of documents, interviewed more than 1,000 people, reviewed 7,000 segments of video footage and 7,000 photographs, analyzed 236 pieces of steel from the wreckage, performed laboratory tests and sophisticated computer simulations of the sequence of events that occurred from the moment the aircraft struck the towers until they began to collapse.

Based on this comprehensive investigation, NIST concluded that the WTC towers collapsed because: (1) the impact of the planes severed and damaged support columns, dislodged fireproofing insulation coating the steel floor trusses and steel columns, and widely dispersed jet fuel over multiple floors; and (2) the subsequent unusually large jet-fuel ignited multi-floor fires (which reached temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Celsius) significantly weakened the floors and columns with dislodged fireproofing to the point where floors sagged and pulled inward on the perimeter columns. This led to the inward bowing of the perimeter columns and failure of the south face of WTC 1 and the east face of WTC 2, initiating the collapse of each of the towers. Both photographic and video evidence—as well as accounts from the New York Police Department aviation unit during a half-hour period prior to collapse—support this sequence for each tower.

Their study doesn't support the "pancake" hypothesis of floor-by-floor collapse:

NIST’s findings do not support the “pancake theory” of collapse, which is premised on a progressive failure of the floor systems in the WTC towers (the composite floor system—that connected the core columns and the perimeter columns—consisted of a grid of steel “trusses” integrated with a concrete slab; see diagram below). Instead, the NIST investigation showed conclusively that the failure of the inwardly bowed perimeter columns initiated collapse and that the occurrence of this inward bowing required the sagging floors to remain connected to the columns and pull the columns inwards. Thus, the floors did not fail progressively to cause a pancaking phenomenon.

And the FAQ responds to "controlled demolition" claims:

NIST’s findings also do not support the “controlled demolition” theory since there is conclusive evidence that:

  • the collapse was initiated in the impact and fire floors of the WTC towers and nowhere else, and;

  • the time it took for the collapse to initiate (56 minutes for WTC 2 and 102 minutes for WTC 1) was dictated by (1) the extent of damage caused by the aircraft impact, and (2) the time it took for the fires to reach critical locations and weaken the structure to the point that the towers could not resist the tremendous energy released by the downward movement of the massive top section of the building at and above the fire and impact floors.

Video evidence also showed unambiguously that the collapse progressed from the top to the bottom, and there was no evidence (collected by NIST, or by the New York Police Department, the Port Authority Police Department or the Fire Department of New York) of any blast or explosions in the region below the impact and fire floors as the top building sections (including and above the 98th floor in WTC 1 and the 82nd floor in WTC 2) began their downward movement upon collapse initiation.

In summary, NIST found no corroborating evidence for alternative hypotheses suggesting that the WTC towers were brought down by controlled demolition using explosives planted prior to Sept. 11, 2001. NIST also did not find any evidence that missiles were fired at or hit the towers. Instead, photographs and videos from several angles clearly show that the collapse initiated at the fire and impact floors and that the collapse progressed from the initiating floors downward until the dust clouds obscured the view.

There's lots more in the NIST FAQs.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My National Security Letter Gag Order

Yesterday's Washington Post prints a first-hand anonymous account from the head of a small ISP who received a National Security Letter from the FBI, which was an apparent abuse of authority:
Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn't abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.
More at the Washington Post.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Trent Franks defends Egyptian blogger

Although I'm not generally a fan of Arizona's U.S. Rep. Trent Franks (R-District 2), I have to give him compliments for his stance on this issue. He's one of only two Congressmen who has reached out to the Egyptian ambassador to the United States on behalf of Egyptian blogger Abdul Kareem Nabil Soliman (also known as Kareem Amer), who was arrested, beaten, held in solitary confinement, and sentenced to four years in prison for criticizing his government in his blog. As the other Congressman is Massachusetts' Rep. Barney Frank (D-District 4), this is about as bipartisan as it gets.

Kudos to Franks and Frank.

(Via Tim Lee at the Technology Liberation Front.)

Daily Show on Viacom v. Google lawsuit

Here's Demetri Martin on the Daily Show commenting on the Viacom lawsuit against Google. This is one that's better to watch on YouTube than on Comedy Central...



(Via Tim Lee at the Technology Liberation Front.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Former Arizona governor endorses extraterrestrial spacecraft hypothesis

In a CNN interview, former Arizona governor and current pastry chef Fife Symington says he saw the "Phoenix lights" in 1997 and believes that the cause was an extraterrestrial spacecraft.

The CNN coverage fails to offer any alternative explanations (see the "Skepticism" section of the Wikipedia entry on the Phoenix lights and Tony Ortega's 1998 New Times story), or to note that Symington was the second Arizona Republican governor of the 1980s to be indicted on criminal charges, impeached, and removed from office.

Also see the Arizona Republic's coverage.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Derivative musical works and copyright

This morning on the Howard Stern Show, there was some discussion of Timothy English's book, Sounds Like Teen Spirit: Stolen Melodies, Ripped-Off Riffs, and the Secret History of Rock and Roll, along with playing some pairs of songs that had very strong resemblances. I didn't realize that Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" was a derivative work, with the main guitar line closely resembling that in Spirit's "Taurus"--and Spirit used to open for Led Zeppelin. (Apparently a lot of Led Zeppelin's songs are derivative works.)

An example of this kind of borrowing that I recognized myself was when Nirvana's "Come As You Are" first started getting airplay--I immediately thought that the main guitar riff sounded almost exactly like that in Killing Joke's "Eighties."

It's not clear which of these borrowings are intentional and which are accidental, but as English's book makes clear, this is an extremely common occurrence. Some of these have led to successful copyright infringement lawsuits, but most haven't--at least in the past. The Dr. Demento Show, which I used to listen to every week back in high school, used to have a regular feature called "Damaskas' Copycat Game" which would play short bits of songs in sequence, demonstrating their similarity.

Spider Robinson wrote a short story in 1983 called "Melancholy Elephants" which is a story about a woman who tries to persuade a Senator to oppose an extension of the term of copyright into perpetuity on the grounds that there are finite permutations of notes that are perceived as distinct musical melodies, and thus that the bill would result in an end to creation of new works. In the story, she succeeds in persuading him to kill the bill, while in reality, the equivalent bill--the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998--passed, and Larry Lessig and Eric Eldred failed to overturn it at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 (Eldred v. Ashcroft). While this didn't extend copyright to "in perpetuity," it has an economic effect virtually indistinguishable from copyright of infinite duration (as Justice Breyer's dissent recognized).

In 2005, arguments over the practice of sampling music came to a head, when the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that no sampling could take place without a license--not even for a 1.5-second, three-note guitar riff that N.W.A.'s 1990 song "100 Miles and Runnin'" sampled from Funkadelic's "Get Off Your Ass and Jam." This decision led to a protest in the form of a collection of songs composed solely of that sample. [The Downhill Battle organization's website has been down since November 2007, but can be found on the Internet Archive. -jjl, 6 Jan 2009.]

(Related: An excellent short video documentary about the use of a six-second drum sample from The Winstons' "Amen Brother.")

UPDATE (December 27, 2011): The Economist, Dec. 17-30, 2011 year-end issue features an excellent article, "Seven seconds of fire," about the Amen break.

UPDATE (May 18, 2014): The estate of Randy California, of Spirit, is suing Led Zeppelin over "Stairway to Heaven" being a derivative work of "Taurus."

The site whosampled.com has a list of songs which have sampled "Amen, Brother."

I should have noticed that the Killing Joke/Nirvana riff is also very close to an earlier (1982) riff in The Damned's "Life Goes On" (I certainly listened to the album "Strawberries" enough times...).

Arizona rises to #7 in the nation for mortgage fraud

Arizona has risen from #23 for reported mortgage fraud in 2005 to #7 in 2006, based on number of fraud cases out of the total number of home loans in the state:

The top 10 states for 2006:

1. Utah
2. Florida
3. California
4. New York
5. Idaho
6. Michigan
7. Arizona
8. Georgia
9. Minnesota
10. Illinois

Monday, March 19, 2007

Flatland: The Movie

Edwin A. Abbott's classic story has been turned into a movie, and it's received a rave, 5-star review from Film Threat.

It's going to be available this spring on a DVD which includes the original text (though you can also find that online, as it's in the public domain). This animated film features the voices of Martin Sheen as Arthur Square, Kristen Bell as Hex, Tony Hale from Arrested Development as the King of Pointland, and Michael York as Spherius. Joe Estevez, Martin Sheen's brother, is Abbott Square--although he's been doing tons of movies (IMDB shows 160 titles, 22 of which are dated 2006 or 2007), I haven't seen any since MST3K covered 1990's "Soultaker."

If you check out the movie website, you can register for a discount on the DVD when it becomes available.

UPDATE (March 20, 2007): Thanks to Gourami118, who points out in the comments that there are two Flatland movies. The five-star Film Threat review is of this movie by Ladd Ehlinger, Jr., which completed in January and is already available on DVD in a limited run of 1,000 copies. Call this one "Flatland: The Film" (based on its website), while the Martin Sheen one is "Flatland: The Movie."

The political reasons behind the firing of the U.S. Attorney from Arizona

Radley Balko reports at the Agitator on the political reasons behind the firing of U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton of Arizona.

The only reason for his filing in documents released from the Justice Department is that former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert complained that Charlton refused to pursue marijuana cases unless they involved at least 500 pounds of marijuana. This seems like a reasonable strategy for something that shouldn't even be illegal in the first place, and certainly should be a lower priority than other issues.

But it also seems that the White House was not happy that Charlton and one of the other fired U.S. Attorneys were not pursuing obscenity cases that were being sent to them by the Justice Department. The Justice Department's "porn czar," Brent Ward, sent a memo to recently resigned DOJ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson titled "Obscenity Cases" which said:
We have two U.S. Attorneys who are unwilling to take good cases we have presented to them. They are Paul Charlton in Phoenix (this is urgent) and Dan Bogden in Las Vegas. In light of the AG's [Attorney General's] comments at the NAC to 'kick butt and take names', what do you suggest I do? Do you think at this point that these names should go through channels to reach the AG, or is it enough for me to give the names to you? If you want to act on what I give you, I will be glad to provide a little more context for each of the two situations."
Adult Video News did further investigation, and found that Charlton had taken an obscenity case, but it would be far-fetched to call it a "good case." It was an obscenity case against an adult video store in Arizona, while simultaneously another video store chain was selling and renting the same titles that the first video store was indicted for selling. The reason the second chain wasn't also prosecuted? It had recently declared bankruptcy and was being run by trustees from the federal government. And it appears that this inequity in treatment may be the reason why Charlton declined to pursue the original case, after it was brought to his attention by attorneys from the indicted store.

More details and links at The Agitator.

And there's more on the other attorney firings at TPM Muckraker.

UPDATE (March 26, 2007): Balko has further comments on Charlton's firing based on the emails that have been released from the DOJ. Charlton was the #1 prosecutor in the nation for number of cases, and had the backing of Sen. Jon Kyl, but was fired anyway. Was it for his refusal to prosecute low-level pot cases, for his investigation of Rep. Rick Renzi, or was it because he was promoting the idea that the FBI should videotape interrogations and interviews of suspects, an idea which was scuttled because the FBI and DOJ didn't want juries to see what actually happens in such interrogations.

UPDATE (April 27, 2007): The New York Times editorialized yesterday about the connection between Charlton's firing and his investigation of Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi:

Congressman Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican, was locked in a close re-election battle last fall when the local United States attorney, Paul Charlton, was investigating him for corruption. The investigation appears to have been slowed before Election Day, Mr. Renzi retained his seat, and Mr. Charlton ended up out of a job — one of eight prosecutors purged by the White House and the Justice Department.

The Arizona case adds a disturbing new chapter to that scandal. Congress needs to determine whether Mr. Charlton was fired for any reason other than threatening the Republican Party’s hold on a Congressional seat.

Mr. Renzi was fighting for his political life when the local press reported that he was facing indictment for a suspect land deal. According to The Wall Street Journal, federal investigators met unexpected resistance from the Justice Department in getting approval to proceed and, perhaps as a result, the investigation was pushed past the election.

TPM Muckraker reports that Renzi failed to disclose a $200,000 payment he received, in violation of House ethics rules. This is in addition to his other issues, previously reported here.




Saturday, March 17, 2007

We live in the land of biblical idiots

That's the title of an opinion piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, which I borrowed for a comment of my own at the Secular Outpost. Check it out.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Conservatives pile on Dinesh D'Souza

Over at Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Blog, Tim Lee points us to a dogpile of conservative criticism of Dinesh D'Souza's book, The Enemy at Home. Some choice quotes:
D’Souza has written a very bad book. If one were to take his NRO apologia seriously, his dishonesty would appear to be an issue secondary to his grandiosity. But he is not to be taken seriously and his dishonesty is the primary issue. Thus in his apologia D’Souza fails to address the thesis that frames his book. His thesis, let it be remembered, is this: “The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11.” It is a thesis, he states in the very first sentence of the book, “that will seem startling at the outset.” It is startling because he is the first writer commenting on 9/11 to have tumbled to its cause. [Scott Johnson]
and
“When in doubt, change the subject.” I don’t really blame Dinesh D’Souza for following that cynical bit of debater’s advice. Had I written The Enemy at Home, I would be tempted to try it, too. Alas, I fear that his 6,800-word effort to stimulate, er, “civil discussion” has failed. Why? It has nothing to do with “heresy,” as D’Souza suggests. He comes much closer when he mentions “massive errors of fact or logic.” The problem with The Enemy at Home is . . . well, everything. (I put this more politely in my original review.) What I mean is that it’s not a matter of this or that argument going astray. It’s rather that D’Souza’s major premise—that “the cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11”—is wildly at odds with reality. Starting out from that mistake, D’Souza takes readers on a fantastical voyage in which white is black, day is night, and a dozen jihadists plowed jetliners into skyscrapers because of Britney Spears—or maybe it was because of Hillary Clinton, America’s high divorce-rate, or its lamentable practice of tolerating homosexuals instead of stoning them to death. [Roger Kimball]
More at Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Blog, including a link to the full set of criticisms.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

David Friedman on global warming

David Friedman has put up a few thoughtful posts about global warming on his own blog, as well as engaged in some discussions in the comments at another blog. He summarizes his own position as:
global warming is probably real, is probably but not certainly anthropogenic, is probably not going to have large effects on size and frequency of hurricanes and is probably not going to have large effects on sea level. It is a real problem but not, on current evidence, an impending catastrophe.
The posts at his own blog are:
  1. "Global Warming, Nanotech, and Who to Believe"
  2. "Global Warming, Carbon Taxes, and Public Choice"
  3. "Physics, Economics, Hurricanes, and Mistakes"
and the two discussions in comments on the Backseat Driving blog are:
  1. "Responding to the 'no big deal' denialists"
  2. "The Duke lacrosse controversy and attitudes to global warming"
Brian at Backseat Driving says on the first post that "Friedman responds in the comments to this post. The people replying to him in the follow-up comments do a far better job of it than I would." In my opinion, Friedman completely wipes the floor with those who replied to him.

On a related subject, Chris Mooney gives his take on William Broad's article in the New York Times about criticism of Al Gore's movie:
Let me be clear: I have seen An Inconvenient Truth, and I found it almost entirely accurate. Gore has done a tremendous job of drawing attention to this issue and he gets the science right by and large. But my question as a point of strategy has always been: Why include the 1 to 5 percent of more questionable stuff, and so leave onself open to this kind of attack? Given how incredibly smart and talented Al Gore is, didn't he see this coming?
He points out some specific areas where Gore got it wrong (which Chris also pointed out to me in conversation at last summer's Skeptics Society conference--this is no change of position for him).

John Horgan picks up on the same Broad story, and notes that:
What fascinates me about Broad’s stories is that they seemed to at least implicitly contradict the view of global warming purveyed by his Times colleague Andrew Revkin, who spoke about global warming at Stevens in December 2005. Blogging on Broad’s article last fall, I wondered, “Is there dissension at the New York Times on the issue of global warming”? I’m still wondering. Maybe I should try to get Broad and Revkin to visit Stevens again and hash this out. Brian would love that.
And goes on in a subsequent post to quote from and refer to Chris Mooney's blog post.

Paul and Pat Churchland on folk psychology

Via Will Wilkinson, the February 12, 2007 issue of The New Yorker has a nice profile of the Churchlands (PDF) which discusses their history and views on mind and brain (without once mentioning the term "eliminative materialism"):
One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. “She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven my car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.’”
Wilkinson points out that he has adopted similar use of scientific language about physical states to describe his mental states, and agrees with the Churchlands that this enhances the ability to describe what he's feeling:
I think that once one gets a subjective grasp of the difference between the effects of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, adrenaline, glucocorticoids, prolactin, testosterone, etc., monistic conceptions of pleasure and happiness become almost self-evidently false, and a kind of pluralism comes to seem almost inevitable as the trade-offs between different kinds of physical/qualitative states become apparent.
Wilkinson's blog post on the subject is here.

I was also interested to see that the Churchlands are advocates of using the evidence from neuroscience in ethical and legal contexts, which brings to mind Jeffrey Rosen's recent article in the New York Times (March 11, 2007) on "The Brain on the Stand."

Rich Writer, Poor Thinker

Mr. Juggles at Long or Short Capital takes on Robert Kiyosaki:
Robert Kiyosaki is a maroon.
...

This is idiotic. In fact, this article is so terrible, I find it difficult to even know how to properly form an argument against it. It doesn’t even make sense.

But here is more evidence to unback-up the truck on Rich Dad Poor Dad guy.

...
While he is effectively mananaging his intelligence, and I applaud that, what exactly does this leave people to do with their money? He advocates against cash, stocks, bonds, saving money, buying things, the US, real estate, etc etc. What is left? Brine shrimp futures? Short or long positions in abstract ideas like Perf?
Go to Long or Short Capital to see the nonsense they're criticizing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Are you on the TSA no-fly list?

Check it out here. I'm not on the list, but my 13-year-old nephew is, due to his common last name.

(Via Bruce Schneier's Blog.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rundown of Bush administration falsehoods in the U.S. Attorney purge scandal

Sen. Charles Schumer has provided a nice list of how the Bush administration has lied to Congress so far about the U.S. Attorney purge:
Schumer: Here are some of the falsehoods we've been told that are now unraveling.

First, we were told that the seven of the eight U.S. attorneys were fired for performance reasons.

It now turns out this was a falsehood, as the glowing performance evaluations attest.

Second, we were told by the attorney general that he would, quote, "never, ever make a change for political reasons."

It now turns out that this was a falsehood, as all the evidence makes clear that this purge was based purely on politics, to punish prosecutors who were perceived to be too light on Democrats or too tough on Republicans.

Third, we were told by the attorney general that this was just an overblown personnel matter.

It now turns out that far from being a low-level personnel matter, this was a longstanding plan to exact political vendettas or to make political pay-offs.

Fourth, we were told that the White House was not really involved in the plan to fire U.S. attorneys. This, too, turns out to be false.

Harriet Miers was one of the masterminds of this plan, as demonstrated by numerous e-mails made public today. She communicated extensively with Kyle Sampson about the firings of the U.S. attorneys. In fact, she originally wanted to fire and replace the top prosecutors in all 93 districts across the country.

Fifth, we were told that Karl Rove had no involvement in getting his protege appointed U.S. attorney in Arkansas.

In fact, here is a letter from the Department of Justice. Quote: "The department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin."

It now turns out that this was a falsehood, as demonstrated by Mr. Sampson's own e-mail. Quote: "Getting him, Griffin, appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, et cetera.

Sixth, we were told to change the Patriot Act was an innocent attempt to fix a legal loophole, not a cynical strategy to bypass the Senate's role in serving as a check and balance.

It was Senator Feinstein who discovered that issue. She'll talk more about it.

So there has been misleading statement after misleading statement -- deliberate misleading statements. And we haven't gotten to the bottom of this yet, but believe me, we will pursue it.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has committed a felony by lying to Congress and needs to be removed from office immediately. And can we please get to the impeachment proceedings before Bush leaves office?

BTW, kudos is due to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo for his continued digging and coverage of this story, which has demonstrated that his early intuitions were right on the money. He'll be on Keith Olbermann's Countdown tonight.

Taxonomy of questions about global warming

Glen Whitman has assembled "a taxonomy of all the questions that ought to affect our choices about dealing with global warming." His list so far includes:

1. The existence of global warming. (He assigns a 95%+ confidence level to this.)
2. Human contribution to global warming. (He assigns 90% confidence to this, but is uncertain about how much of the effect is due to human activity, though he references David Friedman's point that this doesn't make much difference to whether or not we should do anything about it.)
3. Magnitude of the warming effect.
4. Net harms or benefits due to warming. (He observes that the latter is often ignored.)
5. Extent of decentralized response. (How much will be done in the form of individual activity, changes in land prices, etc. to reduce negative impacts?)
6. Marginal impact of collective abatement efforts. (If all nations cooperated, how much of the negative effects could be abated or mitigated?)
7. Marginal impact of unilateral abatement efforts. (What can the United States do on its own, or at least without the assistance of emerging economies not likely to cooperate, and how much effect could that have?)

To which he adds that there are many more questions about specific proposed responses, their marginal efficacy, and costs.

If you have further suggestions for his list, post comments at Agoraphilia.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A few reasons Rudy Giuliani shouldn't be president

Talking Points Memo has a list of reasons Giuliani shouldn't be president based on his association with and continued giving of high-profile jobs to Bernie Kerik:
They seem to be stipulating to their knowing about and being untroubled by a) Kerik's long-standing ties to an allegedly mobbed-up Jersey construction company (see yesterday's piece in the Daily News and tomorrow's in the Times), sub-a) that Kerik received numerous unreported cash gifts from Lawrence Ray, an executive at said Jersey construction company (Ray was later indicted along with Edward Garafola, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano's brother-in-law, and Daniel Persico, nephew of Colombo Family Godfather Carmine "The Snake" Persico and others on unrelated federal charges tied to what the Daily News called a "$40 million, mob-run, pump-and-dump stock swindle." b) that Riker's Island prison became a hotbed of political corruption and cronyism on his watch, c) that he is accused by nine employees of the hospital he worked at providing security in Saudi Arabia of using his policing powers to pursue the personal agenda of his immediate boss, d) that a warrant for his arrest (albeit in a civil case) was issued in New Jersey as recently as six years ago, e) that as recently as last week he was forced to testify in a civil suit in a case covering the period in which he was New York City correction commissioner, in which the plaintiff, "former deputy warden Eric DeRavin III contends Kerik kept him from getting promoted because he had reprimanded the woman [Kerik was allegedly having an affair with], Correction Officer Jeanette Pinero," or f) his rapid and unexplained departure from Baghdad.
...
Pretty much the most generous interpretation of all this is that Giuliani was guilty of amazingly poor judgment in giving Kerik all these plum assignments. And it strongly points to a tendency on Giuliani's part of bad judgment with a strong penchant for surrounding himself with cronies and yes-men.
...
TPM Reader RR notes that the list above is by no means exhaustive. And he's definitely right. This was just the most convenient catalog of sins and ridiculousness that I found with the TPM search function. For instance it doesn't include the Judith Regan/Luv Shack scandal that broke I think the day after post above ran. This was the case in which an apartment near ground zero -- made available by a New York real estate developer -- for off-duty cops to relax while taking a break from clean up duties ended up being commandered by Kerik so he could use it as his off the books bachelor pad for doing the wild thing with celebrity book editor Judith Regan.
To add to that list, The Smoking Gun obtained a copy of the April 8, 1993 "Rudolph W. Giuliani Vulnerability Study" which was commissioned by Giuliani's NYC mayoral campaign, all copies of which were supposed to be destroyed. The Smoking Gun comments:
He surely could not have been pleased to read that his "personal life raises questions about a 'weirdness factor.'" That weirdness, aides reported, stemmed from Giuliani's 14-year marriage to his second cousin, a union that he got annulled by claiming to have never received proper dispensation from the Catholic Church for the unorthodox nuptials. "When asked about his personal life, Giuliani gives a wide array of conflicting answers," the campaign report stated. "All of this brings the soundness of his judgement into question--and the veracity of his answers." The internal study also addresses prospective charges that Giuliani dodged the Vietnam draft and was a "man without convictions" because of his transformation from George McGovern voter to a Reagan-era Justice Department appointee. "In many ways Rudy Giuliani is a political contradiction...He doesn't really fit with the Republicans. Too liberal. Giuliani has troubles with the Democrats, too."
Also at The Smoking Gun is a summary of some of the revelations in Wayne Barrett's biography of Giuliani.

The one member of Congress willing to admit nonbelief

The Secular Coalition of America is throwing its support behind the one member of Congress who has expressed a willingness to be identified as not having a belief in God or gods.

It's Rep. Pete Stark (D-California, District 13, which covers the east Bay--Oakland, Fremont, Alameda, Union City, etc.).

Stark, born in 1931, was first elected to Congress in 1973. He earned a B.S. in general engineering from MIT in 1953 and an M.B.A. from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley in 1960. Prior to entering politics, he served in the Air Force and was a bank executive.

He is currently a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the Health subcommittee.

He's pro-choice, anti-war, he opposed making the USA PATRIOT Act permanent, he supports medical marijuana, opposes the death penalty, and opposes Internet gambling bans.

He's unfortunately also a big advocate of regulation, opposes free trade, advocates gun control, supports network neutrality, and appears to oppose both legal and tax reform.

A list of his positions on issues as of 2000 may be found here.

His Wikipedia entry gives the following ratings that he's received from various groups on the basis of his voting record, from Project Vote Smart:
The Center for Public Integrity's "Well Connected" project has a record of contributions Stark has received from media companies.

(Via Pharyngula.)

UPDATE: Wonkette offers snarky comment.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Battlestar Galactica, CSI: Miami, and the semiotics of shades

Check out this hilarious compilation of David Caruso one-liner clips from CSI: Miami. (Caruso aspires to fill Shatner's shoes, as Kat likes to point out.)

Next, this Warren Ellis commentary on the role of sunglasses in CSI: Miami.

Then, this review of tonight's Battlestar Galactica (which contains spoilers, and if you've already seen it, pay close attention to the remarks about the opening credit survivor count).

And Warren Ellis's response.

(Via Wolven's LiveJournal.)

Which SF classics have you read?

The meme is to bold the ones you've read....

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
Dune, Frank Herbert
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
Neuromancer, William Gibson
Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
Cities in Flight, James Blish
The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
Gateway, Frederik Pohl
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Little, Big, John Crowley
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
Ringworld, Larry Niven
Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks (like P.Z. Myers, I started this one and found it unreadable)
Timescape, Gregory Benford
To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

Some missing: John Brunner The Shockwave Rider, Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books, Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad or Solaris, Rudy Rucker's work, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus!, D.F. Jones' Colossus, Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes, H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, Zelazny's Jack of Shadows, Cory Doctorow's work, Fritz Leiber's work, LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven, John Varley's work, etc. For younger readers, notably missing are Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Eleanor Cameron's The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Alexander Key's The Forgotten Door, and a book which I have only a vague memory of involving encoded messages in seashells, chess, and unicorns (sorry, no author, title, or further details come to mind).

(Via Pharyngula, Respectful Insolence, Evolving Thoughts, A Blog Around the Clock, etc.)

UPDATE: And Stranger Fruit, Good Math, Bad Math, and Afarensis...

Looks like Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math has gone to the most trouble of annotating his list, as well as having read more of these books than anyone else.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Secret/The Law of Attraction critiqued

"Oprah's ugly secret" at Salon.com.
"There Is No 'Secret'" at The Simple Dollar.
"The Secret Behind The Secret" at eSKEPTIC.
"Shame on Oprah" at Pharyngula.

Here's a quote from the Salon story, which pulls no punches on this nonsense:
Worse than "The Secret's" blame-the-victim idiocy is its baldfaced bullshitting. The titular "secret" of the book is something the authors call the Law of Attraction. They maintain that the universe is governed by the principle that "like attracts like" and that our thoughts are like magnets: Positive thoughts attract positive events and negative thoughts attract negative events. Of course, magnets do exactly the opposite -- positively charged magnets attract negatively charged particles -- and the rest of "The Secret" has a similar relationship to the truth.
Unfortunately, the author made somewhat of a hash of his statement about magnets. He should have said either that like magnetic poles repel and opposite magnetic poles attract or that like-charged particles repel each other and oppositely-charged particles attract. The effect of magnets on charged particles is the same regardless of charge (and it's not attraction or repulsion--remember the mnemonic device of making a fist with your right hand, with your thumb pointing up, representing the direction of the current from positive to negative and the other fingers showing the direction of the magnetic field?).

The Arizona Republic's editors are (expletives)

Under the headline "Sienna Miller's rabbit sex" on the azcentral.com website appeared the following expurgated story, which seems dirtier to me than the unexpurgated one:
Sienna Miller enjoys watching rabbits have sex.
...
"At least we got a (expletive)[1] bunny out of it."

Meanwhile, Sienna has revealed her motto for 2007 is to be a (expletive)[2].
...
Sienna said: "Apparently, I've (expletive)[3] half of Hollywood. And it's not true. This year is the Year of the (expletive)[4] Spread 'em! That's my motto for 2007.
I mentally filled those blanks with words more extreme than what she actually said--I only got the first one right. The Guardian published the unexpurgated and boring details, under the less titillating headline "'I always end up putting my big fat foot in it'":

[1] fucking (I got this one right)
[2] slut
[3] shagged
[4] slut

So which newspaper is pandering more to prurient interests?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bob Hagen on botnet evolution

Bob Hagen has put up a post on the evolution of botnets at the Global Crossing blog.

(BTW, I'm hoping to have future opportunity to use titles like "Where the bots are", "The bots from Brazil", and "The bots of summer".)

UPDATE (August 27, 2009): I've replaced the above link with one to the Internet Archive, since the blog post is no longer present at its original location.

Why Arizona doesn't go on daylight savings time

The Arizona Republic has a story on why Arizona doesn't go on daylight savings time--it was attempted in 1967 and reversed by the state legislature in 1968, when Sandra Day O'Connor was Senate Majority Leader. The feds gave Arizona an exemption from daylight savings time on January 4, 1974, two days before a mandate for states to go on daylight savings time.

As I like to say, Arizona has so much daylight we don't bother to save any.

One positive side-effect--no issues over this year's DST changes in Arizona (except for companies that operate across multiple states).

UPDATE (March 13, 2007): Long or Short Capital offers some funny additional speculation on why Arizona doesn't go on Daylight Savings Time.

Daniel Dennett on religion

This YouTube video is of a talk by Daniel Dennett at the TED conference in 2006, following (and commenting on) Pastor Rick Warren.

Books for infidels at top of NYT bestseller lists

Mark Vuletic points out that the March 11 New York Times hardcover bestseller list includes five books of interest to infidels in the top 25:

7. Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel
12. Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion
13. Chris Hedges' American Fascists
21. Victor Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis
24. Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation

FBI breaking the law with National Security Letters?

A Justice Department review of 293 National Security Letters issued by the FBI found 22 instances (7.5%) of apparent violations of FBI and Justice Department regulations. The FBI issued more than 19,000 National Security Letters in 2005.

UPDATE: This story has now hit CNN, which has more details. The Justice Department's inspector general says the FBI is guilty of "serious misuse" of National Security Letters and that use of them may be underreported by as much as 20%. The audit found that more than half of NSLs were used to get information about U.S. citizens.

CNN reports 26 violations, of which 22 were the FBI's fault and 4 were caused by errors by the recipients of the National Security Letters.

UPDATE (March 10, 2007): FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have acknowledged that the FBI broke the law, apologized, and promised to stop further such intrusions. Gonzales left open the possibility of criminal prosecutions against FBI agents or lawyers who misused their PATRIOT Act powers.

UPDATE (June 14, 2007): An audit has discovered that the above-reported 26 violations were the tip of the iceberg. 10% of National Security Letters have been reviewed, and the total number of violations is now over 1,000.

UPDATE (March 7, 2008): This year's audit has shown that the NSL abuses continued through 2006 and that the FBI underreported to Congress the number of NSLs by more than 4,600.

UPDATE (January 20, 2010): Yet further evidence of FBI abuses in collecting telephone records has been uncovered.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Windows, Mac, and BSD security

Kearny's mayor speaks out

Alberto Santos, the mayor of Kearny, New Jersey, has spoken out on the David Paszkiewicz affair, with a cogent statement.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Was the Death Star attack an inside job?

Websurdity asks some uncomfortable questions...

(Via An Information Security Place.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Inside the TSA

Barbara Peterson took a job as a TSA screener and has written an interesting description of her experience for Conde Nast Traveler. She blames TSA's incompetence not on the individual screeners (who are generally doing as well as they could be hoped to under the demands of the job) but on Congress.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Religion and sex

Glendale Community College philosophy professor Victor Reppert posted at his blog, Dangerous Idea, about whether there is a secular argument against homosexuality. He concluded that there doesn't seem to be a plausible case (at least, not based merely on evolution), which prompted this comment from ex-Jehovah's Witness Derek Barefoot:
I agree with you partly. However, people who defend homosexuality from a naturalist perspective almost without exception also see nothing perverse about transsexulaity. That one is baffling. It is one thing to dislike some feature of one's body that falls short of a societal ideal. A person with an unusual nose may want a usual one. A shorter than average person may understandably wish they were taller. But for someone to feel that he or she has literally been "born into the wrong body," as transsexuals often put it, is naturalistically unfathomable. Perhaps a wasp has by mistake been born into the body of a mouse. Perhaps the tomato plant yearns in some inarticulate vegetative fashion to be an oak. Transexuality is literally a rebellion against nature, yet somehow it is included (commonly) with homosexuality. So perhaps the argument that homosexuality is just an expression of nature is called into question by the related phenomenon of transsexuality.
The problem with this response is that Barefoot is making erroneous assumptions about sex in nature. There are not always well-defined boundaries between male and female. I responded in the comments:
I think that Darek Barefoot's analogies of tomato/oak and wasp/mouse are inapt--sexual differences within a species are commonly smaller than genetic and morphological differences across species. There are human individuals whose genetic makeup puts them into categories which are outside of or span the normal male/female boundaries. For example, those with XXY chromosomes may visibly appear to be male or female, and there are those who have both male and female genitalia. Further, there is far more variety to the sexes than mere duality within the animal kingdom. I recommend Olivia Judson's book, Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation for an entertaining look at some of that variety.

Transsexuality, like homosexuality, is evidence against an oversimplified view of sex in nature, not against naturalism itself.
And I followed that up with another comment:
I was looking for but unable to find a set of online forum postings I came across a year or two ago from an intersexed individual who was a Christian, and honestly had no idea what was appropriate dating for her. I believe the church she was involved with took the position that she was not permitted to date or have sex with anyone. It seems to me that most Christians have a real problem with the existence of such individuals, and have a very poor record of inhumane response to them.

I did find this post from an individual raising the question of how religious views can make sense of such individuals. It's an excellent and interesting question. Here's a brief quote from that post (rest of this comment is quoted from it):

The english language has no gender terms we can use for intersex people, instead why try to force them into either female or male which may not be appropriate.

Here is a run down of only some intersex conditions:

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)
XX (female) fetus ovaries produce a masculising hormone that results in ambigious external genitals . normally the ovaries do not produce hormones as the female is the default sex, none are needed to create a female fetus. the addition of the masculising hormone therefor creates a female with some male charactistics

Testosterone Biosynthetic Defects
an XY(male) fetus does not produce testosterone, therefor,as female is the `default setting` it is born with full female parts, or parts rudimentary malformed female parts, despite being genetically male.

Androgen sensivity syndrome
Testes in the abdomen, external female parts.
they also grow brests but do not have cycles (note: im trying to avoid using catch words here, as im not sure what is allowed and what isnt!)
Klinefelter Syndrome
Genically 47 chromosomes XXY and classed as men. They are males with a female chromosome attatched, small male parts, my develop female characteristics in teenage years.

Turner Syndrome
45 chromosomes, XO. Turner women have female external parts but illformed ovaries and no estrogen.

"Hermaphroditism"
can be EXACTLY one ovary, one teste a small penis AND a female genitalia. Their genetic makeup can be a mosaic of XY and XX genes, they truly are not male or female, but both.

Roughly one in a thousand births is an intersex child. so it isnt that rare.

The issue this presents to religion is that here we have a group of people who are neither here nor there and will grow up with issues to do with their sexual aurientation. What is the view of religions on say an XXY male, who looks mostly male but wishes to date other men? What is the view on a XY female who feels she is a lesbian (after all she is genitcally male) These are issues many people with intersex come up agaisnt. often their parents assign them a gender at birth and corrective surgery is given to `make` them into a gender (usually female) This quite often results in the girl growing up feeling male and later on reqesting a sex change.

Its a tricky issue. Many Intersex people wish they had not been assigned a gender and feel their body is their right and they should have been left to choose a gender when they were older.

But anyway, To me,(I am theist, not religious and very firmly rooted in science) it shows how our gentically evolved bodies can and do go wrong, for a religious person I think it presents an issue worth thinking about. I dont know of any biblical reference to intersex, nor what the christian take is on people who are not male or female but are a bit of this a bit of that, netiehr here nor there or exactly half of each gender. What is their take on how these people should "morally" behave?
Heres what I think it boils down to.

1 God doesnt exist
2 God exists but is fallable and makes mistakes
3 god exists and does not make mistakes, therefor, he wishes intersex conditions to exist , but condemns them to hell if they choose the wrong aurientation later in life to what they look like externally
4. He wishes intersex to exist, either because he has no issues with gender and sexuality .

....feel free to add more...
There are some further comments at Victor's blog.