Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Words Fail Me...

July, 2007, saw 2503 Notices of Trustee's Sales in Maricopa County - yet another record.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Dirty Politician: Ted Stevens

Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) home was raided today by the FBI. All of Alaska's federal legislators are now under investigation for corruption, as are some Alaskan state legislators, such as Ted Stevens' son Ben Stevens, president of the Alaska State Senate.

UPDATE (August 1, 2007): George W. Bush continued his habit of supporting legislators with criminal investigation and ethics problems by hosting a White House dinner in Ted Stevens' honor back on May 23 of this year.

UPDATE (October 28, 2008): Ted Stevens was convicted yesterday on seven charges, making him the fifth sitting Senator to be convicted of a felony.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A marketplace for software vulnerabilities

The July 21, 2007 issue of The Economist has an article about a Swiss company that has opened a market for software vulnerabilities:
Since economics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, a small industry of “security companies” has emerged to exploit the hackers' dilemma. These outfits buy bugs from hackers (euphemistically known as “security researchers”). They then either sell them to software companies affected by the flaws, sometimes with a corrective “patch” as a sweetener, or use them for further “research”, such as looking for more significant—and therefore more lucrative—bugs on their own account. Such firms seek to act as third parties that are trusted by hacker and target alike; the idea is that they know the market and thus know the price it will bear. Often, though, neither side trusts them. Hackers complain that, if they go to such companies to try to ascertain what represents a fair price, the value of their information plummets because too many people now know about it. Software companies, meanwhile, reckon such middlemen are offered only uninteresting information. They suspect, perhaps cynically, that the good stuff is going straight to the black market.Last week, therefore, saw the launch of a service intended to make the whole process of selling bugs more transparent while giving greater rewards to hackers who do the right thing. The company behind it, a Swiss firm called WabiSabiLabi, differs from traditional security companies in that it does not buy or sell information in its own right. Instead, it provides a marketplace for such transactions.

A bug-hunter can use this marketplace in one of three ways. He can offer his discovery in a straightforward auction, with the highest bidder getting exclusive rights. He can sell the bug at a fixed price to as many buyers as want it. Or he can try to sell the bug at a fixed price exclusively to one company, without going through an auction.

WabiSabiLabi brings two things to the process besides providing the marketplace. The first is an attempt to ensure that only legitimate traders can buy and sell information. (It does this by a vetting process similar to the one employed by banks to clamp down on money launderers.) The second is that it inspects the goods beforehand to make certain that they live up to the claims being made about them.

Herman Zampariolo, the head of WabiSabiLabi, says that hundreds of hackers have registered with the company since the marketplace was set up. So far only four bugs have been offered for sale, and the prices offered for them have been modest, perhaps because buyers are waiting to see how the system will work. A further 200 bugs, however, have been submitted and are currently being scrutinised.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Judge awards $101 million to men wrongly imprisoned for 35 years

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. government to pay $101 million to four men who were wrongly imprisoned for more than thirty years on murder convictions when the FBI withheld exculpatory evidence. Two of the four men died in prison. The Department of Justice argued that the federal government had no obligation to share information with state prosecutors even though they knew that the testimony identifying the men as the killers was false.

The judge declared that the DoJ's position was "absurd" and "The FBI's misconduct was clearly the sole cause of this conviction."

The FBI gave bonuses and commendations to its agents who were responsible for these erroneous convictions for the murder of Edward "Teddy" Deegan.

(Via The Agitator, who rightly asks why the FBI agents responsible for this travesty of justice are not themselves in jail.)

UPDATE (July 31, 2007): The Agitator reports on FBI Assistant Director Wayne Murphy's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the use and abuse of confidential drug informants, in which Murphy argues that the FBI should not be required to disclose evidence about wrongdoing by confidential informants to state prosecutors in order to prevent murders or to prevent people from being wrongly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Apparently the FBI considers the war on drugs so important that it is better to allow people to be murdered or people to be wrongly imprisoned than to jeopardize a drug investigation.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Arizona allows quacks to perform surgery

Orac at Respectful Insolence points out that a recent Arizona death after liposuction was a case of "minor surgery" being performed by a homeopath. And Arizona law permits these quacks to perform "minor surgery."

UPDATE (July 28, 2007): Orac has more on what Arizona allows via its regulation of "homeopathy."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Union hires homeless and unemployed at low wages to protest low wages

Outsourcing the Picket Line

The picketers marching in a circle in front of a downtown Washington office building chanting about low wages do not seem fully focused on their message.

Although their placards identify the picketers as being with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, they are not union members.

They’re hired feet, or, as the union calls them, temporary workers, paid $8 an hour to picket. Many were recruited from homeless shelters or transitional houses. Several have recently been released from prison. Others are between jobs.

“It’s about the cash,” said Tina Shaw, 44, who lives in a House of Ruth women’s shelter and has walked the line at various sites. “We’re against low wages, but I’m here for the cash.”

Via Long or Short Capital.

Nice list of questions for Democratic presidential candidates

Many of these, from Radley Balko at The Agitator, are also appropriate for Republicans. A few I especially liked:
  • A recent study found that over half the country now derives part or all of its income from the federal government. Three of the richest counties in the country are in the D.C. suburbs, a telling indicator of just how bloated with taxpayer dollars Washington has become. The federal government is today pervasive in our day-to-day lives, from cradle to grave, from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep. Do you think these trends are healthy? Looking at the premise of this question, would you agree or disagree federal government is getting too large, too influential, and too pervasive?
  • Do you think it's appropriate for drug cops to be making medical policy?
  • What is your philosophical approach to federalism? What issues do you feel are best decided at the national level? What issues should be left to the states? Is there any underlying principle you use in separating one from the other, or would you make such decisions ad hoc?
  • Do you believe the U.S. military should be deployed for humanitarian missions?
  • Do you think an atheist could be president? Do you think an atheist should be? Assuming you generally agreed with an atheist on more issues than the alternatives in a given election, would you vote for one?
  • Name five things you think are none of the federal government's business.
  • What is your view of the pardon power and executive clemency? Should it be used frequently? Should it be use to show mercy and forgiveness or to correct injustices that slip through the cracks? Neither? Both?
  • Is there any type of speech you believe should be criminalized?
  • Do you promise not to claim for yourself any of the executive powers you've criticized the Bush administration for claiming?
  • What is your position on Kelo vs. New London? Under what circumstances would it be appropriate for a government to seize land from one private party and give it to another?
  • What federal crimes will you instruct the Justice Department to make a priority during your administration?
  • Are there any currently private industries that you believe are "too important" to be left to the private sector? Oil and gas? Health care? Google?
  • America by far and away has the highest prison population in the world. Does this concern you? Are there any federal crimes you feel should be repealed from the books, or devolved to the states?
  • What's your philosophical approach to risk assessment and the precautionary principle? Do you think government should ban products, treatments, and procedures until they're proven safe, or permit them until they show signs of being unsafe?
  • Do you think it's a legitimate function of government to protect people from making bad decisions or prevent them from developing bad habits? Even if those habit or decisions don't directly affect anyone else? How far should the government in preventing bad habits and bad decisions? In other words, should the government's role be merely advisory, or should it criminalize things like gambling, pornography, drug use, or trans fats?
  • Should members of Congress be required to follow all of the laws that they pass?
  • Should members be required to read each bill before voting on it?
  • Would you support a sunset provision requiring Congress to revisit and re-pass each law after five years?
  • The complete list is here.

    Chicago PD fights to protect bad cops

    One out of every twenty police officers on the Chicago Police Department has received at least ten official written complaints filed against them in the last five years, but the only reason we know is because of a lawsuit. The Chicago PD is still fighting to prevent the release of these bad cops' names--yet average citizens accused of crimes are identified in newspapers. Shouldn't police be held to a higher standard?

    More at the Agitator, including links to some specific serious abuses that have come out of the Chicago PD.

    Back from the Grand Canyon

    I spent most of the last nine days in the Grand Canyon, rafting down the Colorado River on the National Center for Science Education's 2007 trip. I met interesting people and made new friends, ate great food, and saw amazing sights. This was my third trip down the Canyon, but my first in the last two decades (my previous two were in August 1976 and June 1985).

    This trip included the presentation of both creationist flood geology and real geology, but there was no contest--when you have hundreds of feet of successive ocean floor beds full of fossils of marine life that has lived and died, and a large variety of completely different kinds of formations that have clearly been deposited in different kinds of events, it's transparently nonsense to claim that it was all laid down in a single year-long flood.

    Top photo: Grand Canyon about 25 miles downstream from Lee's Ferry (mile 0); bottom photo: downstream view of river from Nankoweap Canyon (mile 53).

    UPDATE (August 7, 2007): Here's a blog post about our trip by a member of the crew.

    Saturday, July 21, 2007

    Ron Paul, Religious Kook

    One of the serious problems I have with our democracy is that politicians are a package deal. When one gets elected we celebrate their good ideas, but we have to endure their idiotic ones. I think this could explain the popularity of the "lesser-of-evils" argument people often use to persuade others to vote for their pet candidate of the moment. Arguably, all politicians are idiots - to a greater or lesser degree.

    Case in point: Ron Paul. You can love him for his stance on the war in Iraq, but this sort of stuff really makes me wonder about the guy:
    The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion.
    WTF??? Isn't Ron Paul supposedly a constitutionalist?

    It's not a big surprise to me to find that the source of the above patent absurdity is an article posted at lewrockwell.com - home of the kookiest of the kooks in the "libertarian" world.

    Thanks to the no god zone, which has more to say on this topic.

    UPDATE by Jim (October 18, 2007): Dispatches from the Culture Wars has more on Ron Paul's views on religion and government, with lots of data in the comments.

    UPDATE by Jim (December 25, 2007): Ron Paul rejects evolution.

    Sunday, July 15, 2007

    Adopt Bully!

    Bully is about 4 years old, approximately 40-45 pounds. For most of his life, Bully and his caretaker have been homeless. Bully currently is kept outside, behind the store where his caretaker works. He has little shade or other comforts, and does not get the love and attention he deserves. I keep tabs on him and his ‘owner,’ but I’d like to find Bully a better home if possible.

    We tried to adopt him about 1 ½ years ago, but after two perfect months in our house, he began to attack one of our dogs. Neither dog was ever injured, but we could not trust Bully around our dogs. Other than that, he is a great dog. He loves attention and belly rubs, will come when called, won’t chew inappropriately, and never had an accident in the house. Despite his rather tough life, Bully always has a smile on his face and is happy to see you.

    Bully is: affectionate, lap dog, house broken, neutered, eager to please, unknown behavior with children, extremely intelligent, unpredictable aggression towards other dogs.

    In his ideal home he would be the only pet. As I have never seen him around children, I’d only want him to go to a home where any children are 16 or older. A prospective adopter home inspection is required. No adopters farther than 300-400 miles outside of Phoenix will be considered, as I will be unable to travel to inspect your home on Bully's behalf.

    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    Asking printer manufacturers to stop spying results in Secret Service visit?

    The fact that color printers print a pattern of yellow dots on all pages that indicate which printer was used, for the purposes of being able to track the identity of who has printed any page, has been known since the EFF decrypted the codes and publicized the information in 2005.

    Now, however, the MIT Media Lab has started a project called "Seeing Yellow" to encourage printer owners to contact the manufacturers and complain, after it has been found that those who do so get reported to the U.S. Secret Service as subversives. (There is one known case, in which someone called to ask a printer manufacturer if there was a way to turn off the "feature.")

    (Via Don Lloyd at Distributed Republic.)

    Friday, July 13, 2007

    DI promotes round 4 for creationism in public schools

    They plan to get Paul Nelson's Explore Evolution book used in a Tacoma, Washington public high school biology classroom.

    Round 4's strategy is to avoid mentioning creationism or intelligent design, but just present evolution badly, and let the students infer creationism or intelligent design on their own or with the help of materials supplied outside of the classroom.

    The successful defense this time may not be through the courts, but by refuting the material and getting schools to abandon it (or better, refuse to adopt it) because it contains errors and doesn't meet minimal standards of accuracy or value for the science curriculum.

    Google thinks I'm malware

    While looking through multiple pages of results from a Google query that contained some operators like negations and "site:" specifications, Google was periodically failing to give results or displaying raw HTML in my browser, then ultimately came back with:


    We're sorry...

    ... but your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application. To protect our users, we can't process your request right now.

    We'll restore your access as quickly as possible, so try again soon. In the meantime, if you suspect that your computer or network has been infected, you might want to run a virus checker or spyware remover to make sure that your systems are free of viruses and other spurious software.

    We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope we'll see you again on Google.

    But no, there's no malware doing these queries, it's just me.

    French market for driver's license points

    In France, the penalties for speeding are now so widely seen as unfair that there is now a market for selling and purchasing the deduction of points from your license for traffic offenses.

    Each driver starts with 12 points on their license, and loses points for violations. Exceeding the speed limit by 20 kph or less has a two-point penalty, for example. Once you get to zero, your license is automatically suspended for six months.

    But if you get a traffic citation, you can pay 300-1500 euros per point to someone who is willing to take the rap for you (either because they don't drive or are sufficiently far from zero that the penalty won't bother them), and they'll incur the points by sending in their information on your ticket. The French Interior Ministry is attempting to investigate means to crack down on this, but the volume of tickets is apparently making it difficult.

    More at the Reason blog. I think this mechanism could work well for photo radar speeding tickets in the U.S.

    Arizona bans anti-Bush t-shirts

    The Arizona legislature and the governor have passed legislation banning the sale of t-shirts that say "Bush Lied/They Died." The Arizona legislature voted unanimously in favor of the ban, which allows for the punishment of a year in jail for using the names of deceased soldiers to sell goods, and gives the families of such soldiers the right to collect civil damages.

    This is an outrageous violation of the First Amendment to prohibit perfectly legitimate political speech using factual information in the public domain. Similar bans have also been passed in Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma, and are in the works in Florida.

    In Arizona, this law also violates the state constitution (Article 2, Sections 1, 2, and 6, in my non-lawyerly opinion).

    Several Democrats who voted for the bill have now agreed that they should not have, and made excuses for why they did:
    "I shouldn't have voted the way I did," House Minority Leader Phil Lopes said. The Tucson Democrat blamed his vote in favor of Senate Bill 1014 on a "senior moment."
    Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, said he thought problems he originally had with the measure had been fixed. He acknowledged not reading the final version.
    And Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, conceded that she wasn't paying attention and was totally unaware of the contents of the bill on which she voted at least twice—once after a proponent of the measure gave a short floor speech explaining the essence of the bill and why he believed it was necessary.
    Our governor, also a Democrat, has given an equally lame response when asked why she signed such a clearly unconstitutional bill:
    ...gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L'Ecuyer said a divided vote would not have resulted in a veto.
    "Her concern is for the families who lost someone," L'Ecuyer said.
    Asked if Napolitano, a lawyer, believes the measure is unconstitutional, L'Ecuyer's only response was, "The governor signed the bill."
    Napolitano cannot be re-elected, and after this, she clearly should not be. Any legislator who voted for this bill should be given the boot, which means cleaning out the entire Arizona legislature. Toss the bums out!

    The shirts are being sold by Dan Frazier of Flagstaff, who also offers some different messages on top of the list of names of the fallen soldiers.

    The Arizona Civil Liberties Union has already filed a lawsuit to overturn the law (PDF).

    If anyone in Phoenix is interested in purchasing some of these shirts as part of a group purchase (or as my resale at cost to you, so I can work some civil disobedience of an unconstitutional law into it), please let me know.

    UPDATE (August 24, 2007): Dan Frazier has gone to court to get an injunction against the law, but it looks like the legislators wrote the law not only in ignorance of the Constitution, but in ignorance of what Frazier is doing--the law doesn't ban the sale of items using the names of fallen soldiers, it bans advertising using the names of fallen soldiers. The names are not legible on Frazier's website, so he may not fall afoul of the law. That doesn't change the fact that it's a bad, unconstitutional law, however.

    A difference between Christians and atheists

    Atheists, who see prayers in Congress as unconstitutional superstitious appeals to a fictional deity, have fought against them with arguments and lawsuits, observing that the First Amendment prohibits government establishment of religion.

    Some Christians, on the other hand, when they see unconstitutional superstitious appeals to a fictional deity that they don't believe in, attempt to disrupt and silence the invited speaker doing the praying.

    These individuals apparently think that there already is an established governmental religion of Christianity. It does seem like we've moved a long way in that direction under the Bush administration.

    And whatever happened to Matthew 6:5-6? Has it been removed from some Christians' Bibles?

    "And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you." (NASB)

    (Also see Pharyngula's take.)

    Quarter billion dollar bank robbery--in Iraq

    Yesterday's New York Times reports that two or three guards at the Dar Es Salaam bank in Baghdad successfully engineered the theft of $282 million in U.S. dollars from the bank. It's not been explained why the bank had that much money in U.S. dollars.

    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Messianic Jew issues death threats to Colorado University biologists

    For over a year, an individual has been harassing several evolutionary biologists at the Colorado University at Boulder about their "devilutionism," and has now crossed the line into threats. The Discovery Institute claims that whoever is doing this is clearly not a Christian, a creationist, or religious (of course, only atheists are capable of doing anything unethical or crazy, right?), but the identity of this individual is known to the people being harassed.

    The Panda's Thumb, Pharyngula, and Dispatches from the Culture Wars have more.

    UPDATE (July 13, 2007): The specific kook responsible has been identified as Michael Korn:
    Menacher “Michael” Korn is a 49-year-old Israeli national and former Messianic Jew who says he was baptized into Christianity in the Sea of Galilee seven years ago and is now on a mission to convert Jews and Muslims. His blog, JesusOverIsrael. blogspot.com, references CU-Boulder specifically and says he lives in Denver, although he has a North Carolina area code.
    See Pharyngula for links to Korn's website and other information.

    Bush doesn't care that his staff leaks the names of CIA agents

    Originally, he said that he would take action if he found that someone on his staff was responsible for leaking the fact that Valerie Plame was a CIA covert agent to the press. Then, he said he couldn't comment because an investigation was underway, then, that he couldn't comment because a trial was underway. Now that the trial is over and he can comment, he pretty much comes right out and says he doesn't give a damn.

    Man on religious mission struck by lightning

    From WSVN-TV (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale):
    Miami-Dade Air Rescue transported Hailu Kidane Marian, 40, to Jackson Memorial Hospital Sunday after he was struck by dry lightning while selling religious books. According to one customer, a lightning bolt struck as he walked door-to-door selling books along Northwest 199 Street and 78 Avenue Sunday afternoon. "I was buying a book from one of these guys, and there was one thunderstorm and thunder and then the second thunder, which was the lightning," explained Maria Martinez. "It was like a gunshot, and, when I turned around, I saw like a cloud of smoke and this one guy jumping, like basically being slammed on his feet. I guess he just fell back."
    The man, a Seventh-Day Adventist on a summer missionary trip, went into cardiac arrest but was revived by Miami Dade Fire Rescue. The lightning strike was a case of "dry lightning," when lightning strikes when it is not raining.

    The leader of the missionary group is described in the cited news article as saying "the group trusts God to provide a miracle" for Hailu Kidane Marian's recovery. (Why do they assume the lightning strike wasn't the miracle? As usual, God is given the credit for anything good, even if it's mere recovery from something bad that he's unaccountably not given any blame for.)

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    Jon Swift on how conservatives really want another U.S. terrorist attack

    Blogger Jon Swift observes how a number of conservatives have stated that if only we have another successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil, George W. Bush will regain popularity, public support for the war in Iraq will be restored, and all will be right with the world.

    Rick Santorum, Michael Fumento, Alexander Cornswalled, Jonah Goldberg, Rudy Giuliani, and Arkansas Republican Party chairman Dennis Milligan are quoted. Milligan's quote:
    "At the end of the day, I believe fully the president is doing the right thing, and I think all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [Sept. 11, 2001 ]," said the chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party, Dennis Milligan, last month, "and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country."
    The 29% of Americans who support Bush should apparently pray for terrorist death to be rained down upon us. Perhaps they can all join Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church, whose members also believe that God hates America and that terrorist attacks are in support of his will.

    (Via Radley Balko at the Reason Blog.)

    Monday, July 09, 2007

    DoJ attorney criticizes Bush administration

    Department of Justice civil appellate attorney John S. Koppel has written a scathing editorial in The Denver Post:

    As a longtime attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, I can honestly say that I have never been as ashamed of the department and government that I serve as I am at this time.

    The public record now plainly demonstrates that both the DOJ and the government as a whole have been thoroughly politicized in a manner that is inappropriate, unethical and indeed unlawful. The unconscionable commutation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's sentence, the misuse of warrantless investigative powers under the Patriot Act and the deplorable treatment of U.S. attorneys all point to an unmistakable pattern of abuse.

    In the course of its tenure since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has turned the entire government (and the DOJ in particular) into a veritable Augean stable on issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, international law and basic human rights, as well as criminal prosecution and federal employment and contracting practices. It has systematically undermined the rule of law in the name of fighting terrorism, and it has sought to insulate its actions from legislative or judicial scrutiny and accountability by invoking national security at every turn, engaging in persistent fearmongering, routinely impugning the integrity and/or patriotism of its critics, and protecting its own lawbreakers. This is neither normal government conduct nor "politics as usual," but a national disgrace of a magnitude unseen since the days of Watergate - which, in fact, I believe it eclipses.

    In more than a quarter of a century at the DOJ, I have never before seen such consistent and marked disrespect on the part of the highest ranking government policymakers for both law and ethics. It is especially unheard of for U.S. attorneys to be targeted and removed on the basis of pressure and complaints from political figures dissatisfied with their handling of politically sensitive investigations and their unwillingness to "play ball." Enough information has already been disclosed to support the conclusion that this is exactly what happened here, at least in the case of former U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico (and quite possibly in several others as well). Law enforcement is not supposed to be a political team sport, and prosecutorial independence and integrity are not "performance problems."


    As usual, the administration has attempted to minimize the significance of its malfeasance and misfeasance, reciting its now-customary "mistakes were made" mantra, accepting purely abstract responsibility without consequences for its actions, and making hollow vows to do better. However, the DOJ Inspector General's Patriot Act report (which would not even have existed if the administration had not been forced to grudgingly accept a very modest legislative reporting requirement, instead of being allowed to operate in its preferred secrecy), the White House-DOJ e-mails, and now the Libby commutation merely highlight yet again the lawlessness, incompetence and dishonesty of the present executive branch leadership.

    They also underscore Congress' lack of wisdom in blindly trusting the administration, largely rubber-stamping its legislative proposals, and essentially abandoning the congressional oversight function for most of the last six years. These are, after all, the same leaders who brought us the WMD fiasco, the unnecessary and disastrous Iraq war, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, warrantless domestic NSA surveillance, the Valerie Wilson leak, the arrest of Brandon Mayfield, and the Katrina response failure. The last thing they deserve is trust.


    I realize that this constitutionally protected statement subjects me to a substantial risk of unlawful reprisal from extremely ruthless people who have repeatedly taken such action in the past. But I am confident that I am speaking on behalf of countless thousands of honorable public servants, at Justice and elsewhere, who take their responsibilities seriously and share these views. And some things must be said, whatever the risk.

    How long will Mr. Koppel remain at the DoJ before he receives retribution for expressing these opinions?

    Sunday, July 08, 2007

    Creation Museum's foundation disproves its content

    The Kentucky Creation Museum is built upon a foundation (literally) that disproves its contents--alternating layers of limestone and shale filled with fossils of ancient marine creatures. This video gives you a tutorial (and is a demonstration of what Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis don't want people to learn).

    The economics of pirate practices

    Peter Leeson, an economist at West Virginia University, is writing a three-part series on the economics of pirate behavior and institutions. The first two parts are available online.

    Part 1, "An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization," describes how pirates solved the problem of predation by captains that was common among naval and merchant ships by a system of checks and balances involving written constitutions and democratically elected captains and quarter-masters--in the 1670s, before England and a century before the United States introduced similar political developments.

    Part 2, "Pirational Choice: The Economics of Infamous Pirate Practices," looks at the reasons for the use of the "Jolly Roger" as a pirate flag and the practices of pirate torture and pirate conscription.

    Part 3 has been promised for the fall of 2007...

    These papers are an addition to the literature about non-governmental institutions of law and order that arise within criminal organizations, in the fringes between government jurisdictions, and in areas of governmental neglect. Some other works addressing these topics include Diego Gambetta's excellent book The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection, Robert Neuwirth's book Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, Ian Lambot and Greg Girard's City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City, and the HBO series Deadwood and The Wire.

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    Crazy things Kent Hovind believes

    Nathan Zamprogno has put together a nice list of the craziness that Kent Hovind purports to believe.

    (Via Pharyngula.)

    Kent Hovind music video

    (Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

    Fred Thompson: Watergate Weasel

    Fred Thompson was minority counsel on the House committee investigating the Watergate break-in. In that role, he regularly leaked information about the investigation to the White House--in effect, he was Nixon's "Deep Throat."

    Mike Gravel performance art video #2: Fire

    How Jeff Harshbarger convinced himself he was possessed by demons

    A piece at the 700 Club describes Jeff Harshbarger's childhood acquisition of a Ouija board, which he convinced himself was being used by demons to communicate with and ultimately possess him:
    Jeff: It scared me beyond anything I’d ever experienced but at the same time, it was like a rollercoaster ride. You’re scared to death but you’re thrilled. I began to recognize that there was a presence that began to develop in my house. I would wake up in the middle of the night and literally feel somebody’s watching me. I basically felt like someone was with me. I would wake up and walk through the house in order to experience that because I liked it.
    Of course, the movement of a Ouija board planchette is well-known to be caused by subconscious ideomotor movements by the people using it, as are similar phenomena like table-tipping. Table tipping was studied by the 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, who demonstrated that the forces applied to the table were coming from the people with their hands upon it.

    But Harshbarger convinced himself that he was accompanied by a presence that was controlling the planchette, and then that he was freed from demons by the intervention of a woman who led him to Jesus (and who he may have then married--the story's not clear on that).

    (Via The Agitator.)

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007

    Ben takes a picture of himself every day

    Similar to the woman who took a picture of herself every day for three years and Noah who took a picture of himself every day for six years, Ben did something similar...

    The Trend Continues...

    Maricopa County's Notices of Trustee's Sales, 1993 - 2007
    June's Notices of Trustee's Sales for the Phoenix metro area topped out at 2330, continuing the trend line set a year or so ago. At this point I can't help thinking we've got nowhere to go but up. Even the scammers are saying that Phoenix is a bad market.

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    Olympic gold medalist abandons God, has never been happier

    British Olympic gold medalist Jonathan Edwards, whose faith in Christianity led him to excel in sports, has abandoned his Christianity in his retirement. The Times Online has a very interesting interview with him, in which he says that he didn't take time to consider the philosophical foundations or evidence for Christianity when he was so focused on his sports career, but once he retired from athletics, he found the time to question, which led him to nonbelief:
    “But when I retired, something happened that took me by complete surprise. I quickly realised that athletics was more important to my identity than I believed possible. I was the best in the world at what I did and suddenly that was not true any more. With one facet of my identity stripped away, I began to question the others and, from there, there was no stopping. The foundations of my world were slowly crumbling.”
    “Once you start asking yourself questions like, ‘How do I really know there is a God?’ you are already on the path to unbelief,” Edwards says. “During my documentary on St Paul, some experts raised the possibility that his spectacular conversion on the road to Damascus might have been caused by an epileptic fit. It made me realise that I had taken things for granted that were taught to me as a child without subjecting them to any kind of analysis. When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God.”
    Now that he has abandoned his faith, he is not unhappy about it:
    The upheaval of recent months has not left Edwards emotionally scarred, at least not visibly. “I am not unhappy about the fact that there might not be a God,” he says. “I don’t feel that my life has a big, gaping hole in it. In some ways I feel more human than I ever have. There is more reality in my existence than when I was full-on as a believer. It is a completely different world to the one I inhabited for 37 years, so there are feelings of unfamiliarity.
    I've posted some different quotes from the interview at the Secular Outpost.

    It's my impression that Edwards was a typical Christian in that his faith was not a position he held on the basis of evidence, but one he found himself in because of his upbringing, but never challenged. Once in a position where he began to question, he found he didn't have good reasons for what he believed, and had the integrity to stop believing.

    (Hat tip to Ed Babinski.)

    Mitt Romney's dog

    David at Blue Mass Group offers comment on the Boston Globe's story which reveals that Mitt Romney used to strap his dog's carrier to the roof of the car and put the dog in it for 12-hour trips from Boston to Ontario (the specific story takes place in the mid-1980s). In the story, the children are disgusted because the dog, Seamus, has emptied his bowels in his crate, and the animal waste is dripping off the back of the car:
    As the oldest son, Tagg Romney commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. ''Dad!'' he yelled. ''Gross!'' A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.
    As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.
    David at Blue Mass Group, quoting Ana Marie Cox:
    Massachusetts's animal cruelty laws specifically prohibit anyone from carrying an animal "in or upon a vehicle, or otherwise, in an unnecessarily cruel or inhuman manner or in a way and manner which might endanger the animal carried thereon." An officer for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals responded to a description of the situation saying "it's definitely something I'd want to check out." The officer, Nadia Branca, declined to give a definitive opinion on whether Romney broke the law but did note that it's against state law to have a dog in an open bed of a pick-up truck, and "if the dog was being carried in a way that endangers it, that would be illegal." And while it appears that the statute of limitations has probably passed, Stacey Wolf, attorney and legislative director for the ASPCA, said "even if it turns out to not be against the law at the time, in the district, we'd hope that people would use common sense...Any manner of transporting a dog that places the animal in serious danger is something that we'd think is inappropriate...I can't speak to the accuracy of the case, but it raises concerns about the judgment used in this particular situation."
    In the comments, several people correctly observe that a crate-trained dog won't relieve itself in its own crate unless it absolutely has to or is under extreme stress.

    Not surprising from a man who wants to double the size of Guantanamo.

    Sunday, July 01, 2007

    New: CNN for morons

    CNN has updated its website so that stories are accompanied by a set of simplified bullet points, suitable for PowerPoint presentations, even if the stories themselves are only seven sentences long.

    For example, here are the "story highlights" for the seven-sentence story, "Man pummels 'vampire' peacock":
    • A man beat up a peacock that had wandered into a Burger King parking lot
    • The peacock was beaten so badly it had to be euthanized
    • Witnesses said the man claimed to be killing a "vampire"
    At least there's the benefit that sometimes individual bullet points can be unintentionally amusing, such as this one from a story about Jenna Bush traveling to Africa, which suggests some inappropriate behavior:

    • She lit up when interacting with children, CNN correspondent says