Saturday, May 31, 2008

CIA operatives on trial in Italy

26 Americans, mostly CIA operatives, are currently on trial in absentia in Italy for the kidnapping and "extraordinary rendition" of a radical Muslim cleric, Abu Omar, who was taken to Egypt to be tortured. On Thursday, Italy's top counterterrorism official, Bruno Megale, explained in court how they identified the CIA operatives responsible for Omar's kidnapping:
Megale obtained records of all cellphone traffic from the transmission tower nearest the spot where Abu Omar was abducted, for a 2 1/2 -hour period around the time he disappeared. There were 2,000 calls.

Then, using a computer program, Megale was able to narrow down the pool by tracing the phones that had called each other, in other words, an indication of a group of people working together. Seventeen phone numbers, which showed intensifying use around the time of the abduction, were pinpointed. By following all other calls made from those phones, the investigators ultimately identified 60 numbers, including that of a CIA officer working undercover at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

In his testimony, Megale revealed that one telephone number he recognized was that of Robert Seldon Lady, then-CIA station chief in Milan. Lady and Megale had worked together in counter-terrorism investigations. It was a number, Megale said somberly, that he and his team knew.

(Via Talking Points Memo.)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Major League Baseball misuse of IP law

I saw on The Colbert Report that Major League Baseball is telling Little League teams that they can't use the names of MLB teams unless they purchase their uniforms from MLB-authorized licensees. Nonsense--a Little League team called the A's or the Twins or the Mariners is in no danger of confusion with the MLB team, so there's no infringement.

Techdirt reports on this issue, and also that MLB is also still trying to claim ownership over game statistics, even though facts cannot be copyrighted.

Little League teams should tell MLB to take a hike.

UPDATE (June 2, 2008): The Supreme Court denied cert on MLB's lawsuit against C.B.C. Distribution and Marketing for its use of the names of MLB players and statistics for fantasy baseball, without a license from MLB. The court of appeals in St. Louis had already ruled that C.B.C. has a free speech right to use player names and statistics, which have previously been regarded as facts not subject to copyright. Some have worried that this ruling will endanger licensing arrangements regarding the use of celebrity names, but cases that involve an endorsement of a product seem to me to be clearly distinguishable from this case.

Drug war led to Chicago PD corruption

Former Chicago police officer and FBI informant Keith Herrera told "60 Minutes" that pressure to get results in the war on drugs led to police officers lying about the facts in order to get arrests, and ultimately to a corrupt ring of officers engaging in thefts from drug dealers and a plot to kill two of fellow officers who weren't with the program and were prepared to testify against them. Herrera is one of seven officers in the Special Operations Section who have been charged with robbery, kidnapping, and other crimes.

(As reported by Reuters on Yahoo.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

MediaDefender launches denial of service attack against Revision3

Anti-piracy company MediaDefender, which defends its clients' intellectual property by disrupting the content on peer-to-peer networks, launched a denial of service attack (SYN flood) against Revision3 over Memorial Day weekend. The attack was launched after Revision3 discovered that their servers were being used by MediaDefender to post spoofed BitTorrent index files and Revision3 shut off their access.

Revision3, a legitimate company that distributes HD video over the Internet using BitTorrent, was not amused, and the FBI is investigating.

Any legitimate Internet provider should refuse to provide services to companies that engage in illegal or immoral tactics to try to stop peer-to-peer piracy of copyrighted content, such as denial of service attacks or interference with services that are being used legitimately, even if they are also being used for piracy. If they don't have methods which can be targeted specifically against the copyrighted content they are authorized to protect, then their methods cross the line, in my opinion.

MediaDefender's upstream network providers are Savvis (ASN 3561), Beyond the Network (ASN 3491), WV Fiber (ASN 19151), and SingTel (ASN 7473). They all should have a problem with denial of service attacks by their customer.

MediaDefender was previously in the news in September 2007 when its security was breached by hackers and 700 MB of executive emails and the content of VoIP telephone calls from the company were leaked to the Internet. This seems to me like a company that should not be in business.

Footage of Palestinian boy killed by Israeli fire apparent hoax

The footage from eight years ago of a Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, being killed by Israeli gunfire, which was used by the killers of reporter Daniel Pearl in the video they posted to the Internet of that murder, was apparently a hoax, as reported by Australia's Daily Telegraph.

In an appeals trial for a civil defamation lawsuit by the France 2 network and its cameraman, Charles Enderlin, against a media watchdog who claimed the footage was a hoax, the jury was shown 18 minutes of footage rather than the 57 seconds which were broadcast. That footage includes staged battle scenes, rehearsed ambulance evacuations, and even the boy--supposedly dead--moving and looking at the camera.

The French press, which had been siding with France 2 against Philippe Karsenty, director of the Media-Ratings watchdog group, appears to have been proven wrong and Karsenty vindicated.

Enderlin has apparently been caught fabricating other footage as well.

(This story also covered by the Wall Street Journal online, but apparently not by many other news sources, which is why I'm giving it attention.)

Richard Cheese in Phoenix

Today's Arizona Republic has an article about Richard Cheese, who will be appearing at the Celebrity Theater on June 7 with his Lounge Against the Machine band. The article describes his roots in Arizona and the man behind the leopard-print tuxedo--who shared a table with me (we didn't have desks) in sixth grade. (Mark and I attended the same schools and were friends from third through eighth grade, then went different ways, though we have crossed paths from time to time since then, including when he got me a DJ job for ASU's campus radio station, KASR-AM, when we were both undergrads there. Sadly, KASR's call letters now belong to a sports radio station in Arkansas.)

Einzige, Kat, and I will be at the show.

Phoenix New Times had a similar, more detailed story about Richard Cheese the week of May 19, 2005, "Big Cheese" by Jimmy Magahern.

Also watch for Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine on TV3's "Good Morning Arizona" program on Thursday, June 5, at around 8:30 a.m.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gary Habermas' D.D. degree

The Access Research Network, a young-earth creationist organization formerly known as Students for Origins Research, states the following in its description of a DVD it sells of the 2003 debate on the resurrection of Jesus between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas, a professor at Liberty University:
Dr. Habermas holds an M.A. in philosophical theology from the University of Detroit; a D.D. in theology from Emmanuel College, Oxford; and Ph.D. in history and philosophy of religion from Michigan Sate [sic] University.
The D.D. in theology from Emmanuel College, Oxford is also mentioned in the description of Habermas on a website advertising the DVD "Jesus: Fact or Fiction." It shows up in his bio for a talk he gave at First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas.

There's a slight problem with a doctorate of divinity in theology from Emmanuel College, Oxford--there is no such college at Oxford. This same false claim is made in the Wikipedia article for Gary Habermas, with a link from "Emmanuel College" to the Wikipedia entry for Emmanuel College at Cambridge University, not Oxford. (Emmanuel College at Cambridge does have a "sister college" at Oxford, but its name is Exeter College.)

Habermas's current online resume lists no D.D. degree at all.

So what's the story? Is this Habermas's error, or someone else's? And what kind of error is it? If Habermas has a D.D. degree from a UK school, why doesn't his current resume list it?

(Hat tip to Roger Stanyard, who pointed this out in a comment at last year.)

I once exchanged some letters with Gary Habermas, beginning with a critique I wrote of the first edition of the book on immortality that he co-wrote with J.P. Moreland. I don't believe anything in my critique was accounted for in the second edition of their book; the second edition still includes this false statement about psychic detective Peter Hurkos, even though I pointed them to critical material: "In carefully documented situations, Hurkos demonstrated very precise knowledge of cases as famous as the stolen Stone of Scone...and the Boston Strangler murders." Even if they rejected my criticism, shouldn't a matter of simple honesty to their readers have demanded that they include a reference to the existence of published rebuttals?

Phony financial planner defrauds churchgoers

James J. Buchanan of the Christ Life Church in Tempe, Arizona, is accused of defrauding 30-40 people out of over $5 million over the last ten years. He claimed to be a financial planner, and took many people's life's savings, as well as money from the church. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office says it's hard to tell where the money went, but it appears that he used some of it to pay off early investors in classic Ponzi scheme style, and spent the rest on himself. His scheme collapsed this March, after he refused to provide documentation to show where one investor's money was, and that investor refused a payoff to stay quiet and went to the police.

(A previous discussion of religious affinity fraud on the increase, at the Secular Outpost.)

UPDATE (11 February 2012): Also see "Affinity fraud: Fleecing the flock" from The Economist, January 28, 2012.

D'Souza dishonesty about Rev. Moon

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars tells how Dinesh D'Souza wrote an article in the 1980s about conservatives taking money from Rev. Sun Myung Moon, but then when he took money from Moon himself in 2007, denied that he knew anything about Moon.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Yahoo's mindless promotion of pseudoscience

Rottin' in Denmark points out Yahoo's absurd promotion of handwriting analysis of the presidential candidates.

ApostAZ podcast

Some Arizona atheists are putting together a regular podcast called "ApostAZ," including music from Greydon Square (who will be performing at The Amazing Meeting next month in Las Vegas).

Subscribe to the RSS feed here.

The first episode discusses a woman who killed her six-year-old daughter thinking she was killing a demon, upcoming Atheist Meetup events (Arizona Fetish Prom, ballroom dancing--which turned out to be swing dancing and was a fun event Kat, Einzige, and I attended, and a musical performance to benefit Ayaan Hirsi Ali), a baby-tossing event that they take issue with but seems unobjectionable to me, and more.

ApostAZ has a website here.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dave Palmer's review of Legacy of Ashes

Dave Palmer recently finished reading Tim Weiner's book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, and sent the following review to the SKEPTIC list on May 23. I liked it so much that I asked him if I could republish it here, and he agreed.


So back in April, I was in a bookshop, and my eyes fell on a meaty, red-covered book called Legacy of Ashes, the History of the CIA. "Huh, that looks interesting," sez I. Then a more rational voice in my head pops up. "Are you frakking nuts? You already know a bit about that spook house, reading a book like that will only piss you off." But it was my birthday, so I HAD to have me a little something.

Man, does it get tiresome being right ALL the time...

This is an appalling, sickening, infuriating book, particularly since its impeccable scholarship requires one to take it seriously. Unlike your average innuendo-and-hearsay CIA book, this one is based entirely on historical and declassified government documents and on-the-record interviews with named (and heavily-footnoted) sources, usually with the most senior personnel. The author, Tim Weiner, is a Pulitzer-winning NY Times reporter who has been covering US intelligence agencies for 20 years. He's the kind of guy who just pops out for lunch with current and past CIA Directors.

Like a lot of people, I had always assumed that the CIA might have a few massive public screwups (such as the Bay of Pigs), and there were surely times when Presidents ignored or twisted the CIA's intelligence to political ends (witness the current misadventure in Iraq), but underneath it all, there was at least SOME small bit of competence at work in the agency; there were people there who at least knew how to gather useful intelligence. Like the old quote about the CIA goes, their failures are all public, their successes are all secret.

OK, so maybe I'm not right ALL the time.

Turns out, the CIA is in fact a Mongolian clusterfuck of staggering, breathtaking proportions. And they always have been, all the way back to their founding in 1947 (and even the OSS, the agency's WWII precursor, wasn't quite as swift as they're made out to be on The History Channel). If the guy who coined the term "epic fail" had read this book, he wouldn't have bothered, there is no point in describing the ocean with teaspoon-sized words. As far as I can tell, they have had NO significant successes at all. Ever.

From the very start, they were constructed for failure. The main idea in founding the CIA was "to prevent another Pearl Harbor" by keeping a close eye on other nations and to distill those observations into a keen understanding of what those nations were actually up to. That notion (or at least, the actual practice of it) was pretty much tossed in the dumpster the day the doors opened. Instead, they jumped on the anti-Commie bandwagon like the rest of the government, and there they stayed until chunks of the Berlin Wall actually started falling on their heads some 30 years later. The black-or-white thinking that so characterizes the neocons of today was the CIA's one and only mode of thought. The rules that set the entire tone for the CIA were simple:

-There is ONE enemy in the world: the Commies.
-The Commies want to destroy us.
-If you're not with us, you're against us, and hence a Commie.
-The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

And that's it. No shades of gray, no questioning of those basic principles, no consideration of other possibilities (apparently, not even that the recently-defeated Axis powers might be a threat again). This thinking would blind the intelligence-gathering division almost until the 1990s.

Then it got worse. Almost immediately, the veterans of Wild Bill Donovan's he-man OSS corps elbowed their way to the table and decreed that clandestine operations should be the REAL focus of the CIA. Screw this reading other people's mail stuff, we've got to go and blow shit up, shoot people and sabotage the spread of communism wherever it shows its head. From that day on, the intelligence-gathering division was relegated to a barely-tolerated afterthought.

The major problem with this plan was that the CIA really sucked at it. No, I mean REALLY sucked...and I mean both the clandestine and the intelligence-gathering. From the start, the agency was run by smugger-than-thou Yalies and uppercrust preppies who felt they didn't need to actually KNOW about any of this stuff they were blowing up, it was Commie stuff, so it just needed blowing up. The willful ignorance and stupidity practiced by the CIA was just staggering.

Over and over and over again, the book lays out details of CIA foreign stations where not a single officer there spoke the local language, knew anything about the history of the region, or ever made any effort to learn anything that was going on outside of what could be picked up over cocktails at the country club. The CIA guys in Laos who were arming and training Hmong tribesmen to fight the North Vietnamese didn't even know the name "Hmong." They called them by a term that the author says was somewhere between "barbarian" and "nigger." In the 70s-80s, the agency's TOP Soviet expert spoke not a single word of Russian. And he had never even set foot there. The way the CIA learned that the Berlin Wall was falling--and I'm NOT making this up--was when somebody at headquarters happened to tune into CNN.

Over and over and over again, the book tells of CIA directors and top officers who were drunks, liars, con men. One CIA director was eventually committed to the happy home, and the guy who ran the counterintelligence division for years was widely regarded to be certifiable for most of his tenure.

Over and over and over again, the author details clandestine operations that went horribly, disastrously wrong. Massive clusterfucks like the Bay of Pigs were far more the rule than the exception. For years, the CIA was supplying money and weapons to a Polish resistance group fighting the Soviets. The only problem was, it didn't exist. It had been wiped out years earlier by the KGB, and the whole operation was just a scam on the CIA run by the Soviets. They even donated some of the CIA's money to the Italian Communist Party as a final dig.

One side aspect of the story is that any JFK conspiracy theories that claim the CIA planned the assassination have had a stake decisively hammered through them. If the CIA had planned the JFK assassination, the only result would have been that a goatherd in a small Congolese village would have become the village's head man when all seven other contenders for the job suddenly perished in a freak bobsled accident. And a baker in Skipros, Greece would have received a shipment of German anti-tank missiles in crates labeled in Linear B, and an envelope with 2 million Romanian Lei inside.

And speaking of presidents and murder plots, the book suggests that the famous plot by Saddam to kill Papa Bush might not have been what it appeared. The "confession" of the plotters that they were working for Saddam was tortured out of them by the Kuwaitis, and the author notes that the alleged conspirators were really just a bunch of hash smugglers and other low-level criminal types.

Meanwhile, over in the intelligence-gathering division (and of course, the two divisions did frequently overlap), things weren't going any better. Over and over and over again, we read of utter and complete failure to plant spies in Commie countries. Not a single one of the dozens and dozens of spies dropped into North Korea during the Korean war was ever heard from again. The same was true for just about every other spy dropped into every other country. In one case, after dozens of spies disappeared without a trace, it was discovered later that the clerk who typed up the orders for the insertion was working for the Commies, so the KGB was there to meet them when they hit the ground. Although the CIA managed to recruit a handful of low-level spies in the Soviet Union (one was a high school teacher, another a roofer), in the entire cold war, they only ever managed to recruit three--count em--THREE spies of any consequence. All were arrested and shot.

When they did gather intelligence, it was ludicrously wrong FAR more often than it was right. Indeed, I don't think the book details a single case where the CIA got its intelligence right on a major issue. In 1961, they reported that the Soviets had 500 nukes pointed at the US. They were just a tad high. 496 high, to be precise. The Soviets had a grand total of FOUR nukes pointed at us. Nonetheless, that report set of a frenzy of weapons building that brought us to the brink of nuclear war and economic collapse. Over and over again, the book tells of the CIA reporting that <X> will never do <Y>. And then two days later, <X> doing <Y> was on the front page of the daily paper. They confidently predicted the Russians wouldn't have a nuke for years just about 2 weeks before the Russians tested their first one. They said that Saddam was just bluffing when he massed tens of thousands of troops on the Kuwaiti border.

The few times they did score on a piece of correct intelligence, they got it from the spy agencies of other countries. In a 1956 speech to the Congress of the Communist Party, Khruschchev delivered a scathing denunciation of Stalin. The CIA had to get a copy of the speech from the Israeli secret service.

Even the things that the CIA defined as "successes" were questionable at best, particularly in the long run. What the CIA did have a fair record at was overthrowing democratically-elected governments and replacing them with right-wing despots. When the democratically-elected PM of Iran suggested to the Brits and Americans that maybe Iran should get a little more of all that oil money that they were taking out of his country, they laughed and told him to STFU/GBTW. So he suggested that maybe he might just nationalize the oil fields. WELL, that's your actual commie talk, of course, so the CIA overthrew him and put a puppet Shah in his place...and then trained and outfitted a brutal secret police to keep the sheeple in line. That is the chief reason why a lot of Iranians hate our guts today. The CIA considered their arming and training of Afghan Muslim fanatics to kill Russians to be a *spectacular* success...and I think we all know how that turned out in the third act.

That was the norm for the CIA. That "enemy of my enemy is my friend" thing led them into bed with every kind of lying, thieving, murdering drunken thug in the sewer, just as long as they were anti-Commie.The CIA cheerfully funded openly unrepentant Nazis just after the end of WWII, and actually went downhill from there. I can't think of any case where the CIA helped overthrow a government and then replaced it with a fair, lawful one.

And the thing is, they weren't even any good at overthrowing governments, they were just lucky. It wasn't a case of skillful psychological warfare and precisely-timed black ops, they basically just paid goons to start shooting people in the streets. At least one operation, an attempted coup in Indonesia, ended with the US military shooting at the CIA's own hired thugs.

Now, even though no President in the CIA's history comes off looking very good in this book, it wasn't as if nobody noticed how bad the CIA's record was. Over and over and over again, blue-ribbon panels, inspectors general, and even internal CIA reviewers were commissioned to report on the effectiveness of the agency, and like the reports were Xeroxed, they all reached the same conclusion: the CIA is seriously, SERIOUSLY broken, and probably the best thing we could do is just torch the place. These reports were all either just buried, or tut-tutted over in the press for a couple weeks, and then everything returned to incompetence as usual.

The punchline to all this is it really appears now that the Commies just weren't that much of a threat, even when Stalin was in power. Khruschchev himself wrote that the concept of an all-out war with the west terrified Stalin, and then later Khruschchev was making tentative peace feelers with the US when the CIA sent "just one more" U2 flight into Russian airspace, and that slammed the door for years. Sure, the Soviets were out to flatter, bribe, steal, or bully influence in countries all around the world that had oil, minerals, or a strategic location. Just as we were. Just as every other world power has done in history. I think that a great deal of the fault for the cold war has to be laid at the CIA's feet.

And since "the only enemy in the world" up and vanished, the rudderless ship of the CIA has been even more adrift. After the 9/11 attacks, the command structure of the agency was changed (think re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic), and the former position of CIA director was more-or-less replaced by the position of Director of National Intelligence. The last actual CIA director was Porter Goss, and his main contribution to the fun was to systematically sack everybody in the agency who disagreed with Dubya's policies. That got rid of the last people who might actually know something useful. After that, some 50% of the employees were so new as to be classified as "trainees." And then it got worse. Today, a number of private intelligence agencies have sprung up like weeds, and they all pay much better than the CIA. So the current career track there is to join the CIA, get the training, put in five years or so, quit, join Spooks R Us for double the pay...and then show up for work the next day at the CIA wearing a contractor badge instead of an employee badge.

Reading this book was a gut-wrenching, eye-opening experience. For the first couple hundred pages, I was outraged. Then, it just kept coming, it didn't let up, and I was eventually left with just a numb shock, and even a kind of disgust at being an American. The book really gives you a better perspective of what's been going on in the world for the last 60 years, and why we are where we are and why the people who hate us came to that opinion. The book has just been released in paperback, and it should be required reading in high school.

My opinion now (and I mean this with almost no sarcasm) is that one of the greatest threats--perhaps THE greatest threat--to America since 1947 has in fact been the CIA. They have spent uncounted billions of dollars, caused uncounted thousands, hundreds of thousands, of deaths, put America in bed with a staggeringly long list of murderers, liars, goons, rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, ...well, lots of bad guys. And through all that, they failed to predict even a SINGLE event of significance to the US (there have been a couple of cases where they got something right, but nobody listened because they were usually wrong). Instead, they tarnished our reputation around the world, and led us to the brink of both nuclear and conventional war too many times to comfortably recount. And so far, every single President has gotten disgusted with them, decided they weren't worth the powder and shot to put them down, and then increased their budget and left them as a mess for the next President to clean up. But the CIA HAS demonstrated a cheerful willingness to spy on Americans (they've been doing it at least since the 60s), and to do any vile thing they're called upon to do. So with the current neocon push for an Imperial President and a Big Brother state, they are in a perfect position to step up and become our very own KGB or Gestapo...but minus the competence.

[Previously at this blog on Weiner's book:
"Abolish the CIA"
"A Brief History of the CIA: 1945-1953 (Truman)"
"A Brief History of the CIA: 1953-1961 (Eisenhower)"
"The CIA in Venezuela in 2002"
Also Rottin' in Denmark has a review of the Weiner book similar in some respects to Dave's.]

Thursday, May 22, 2008

UK infringement of freedom of speech

The UK's ridiculous laws are not only being used to infringe free speech in the UK, as when a 15-year-old picketing the Church of Scientology is given a citation for a sign referring to Scientology as a "cult," but to chill speech elsewhere as a result of its bad libel laws, where it seems to be all-too-easy for a deep-pocketed plaintiff to get a judgment against publishers of legitimate criticism. Recent examples include Khalid Salim A. Bin Mahfouz's lawsuit against U.S. author Rachel Ehrenfeld for her book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, which resulted in a $225,000 default judgment against Ehrenfeld in London, even though she doesn't live there and the book wasn't published there; Bin Mahfouz obtained standing because some individuals in Britain purchased the book. This has led to the State of New York proposing an amendment to its code of civil practice to prohibit the enforcement of foreign libel judgments. Bin Mahfouz has similarly successfully sued in the UK against other writers 33 times for linking him to terrorism.

Similarly, a Ukrainian tycoon, Rinat Akhmetov, has sued in London against a Ukrainian newspaper, the Kyiv Post, owned by an American, even though it's not published in the UK, on the grounds that 100 subscribers are located in Britain. Akhmetov has also successfully sued Obozrevatel (Observer), a Ukrainian Internet news site that's not even in English, in the UK.

I think New York has the right idea. Better yet would be if Britain reforms its libel and insult laws.

UPDATE (May 23, 2008): The Crown Prosecution Service has declined to prosecute the boy with the "cult" sign, stating that "Our advice is that it is not abusive or insulting and there is no offensiveness (as opposed to criticism), neither in the idea expressed nor in the mode of expression." Yet abuse, insult, and offense should not be the standard in any case.

Ed Brayton has now commented on that story at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Dennis Prager on women and sex

Dennis Prager writes, regarding the California Supreme Court's decision to strike down a ban on same-sex marriage, that:
The sexual confusion that same-sex marriage will create among young people is not fully measurable. Suffice it to say that, contrary to the sexual know-nothings who believe that sexual orientation is fixed from birth and permanent, the fact is that sexual orientation is more of a continuum that ranges from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. Much of humanity - especially females - can enjoy homosexual sex. It is up to society to channel polymorphous human sexuality into an exclusively heterosexual direction - until now, accomplished through marriage.
It sounds like he thinks that female heterosexuality is so tenuous that it must be enforced by the power of law. Does he also think this is a justification for denying civil liberties and rights to women?

Ed Brayton gives a good fisking to Prager's entire crazy essay on this subject, showing that his arguments are very similar to arguments that were made against integration and interracial marriage in response to Supreme Court decisions.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Phoenix Lights of 1997, explained yet again

The latest e-Skeptic from the Skeptics Society features an article by former Phoenix New Times investigative reporter (and now editor of the Village Voice), Tony Ortega, titled "The Phoenix Lights Explained (Again)." Ortega already published the best explanation to date in Phoenix New Times shortly after the two events took place.

He doesn't mention the "new Phoenix Lights" that appeared this year, which turned out to be flares tied to helium balloons, nor last year's reappearances of the "Phoenix Lights," which corresponded with Air Force training with flares, nor former Arizona Governor Fife Symington's claim that he saw the original lights and thinks it was an extraterrestrial spacecraft, which shows that he's an idiot.

Tony Ortega is also known for his hard-hitting investigative reporting on the Church of Scientology, and his work has been referenced at this blog regarding both subjects, along with the case of the killer who ran for state legislature in 2006.

UPDATE (July 20, 2009): Tim Printy has more detail on the explanation of the Phoenix Lights than I've seen elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

16% of U.S. science teachers are creationists

New Scientist reports that a poll of 2000 high school teachers in 2007 with 939 respondents found that 2% did not cover evolution at all, the majority spent 3-10 classroom hours on evolution, about a quarter reported spending some time on creationism or intelligent design, and of those, 48% (12.5% of the respondents) taught it as a "valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species."

16% of high school science teachers in the sample said that they believed human beings were created in their current form by God within the last 10,000 years. Teachers who believed in young-earth creationism spent 35% fewer hours teaching evolution than other teachers.

The study in question, from PLoS Biology, may be found online.

Further summary may be found at Pharyngula.

Intelligent design = creationism, NCSE video

The National Center for Science Education has a new YouTube video about how they proved in the Dover trial that the "intelligent design" in the book Of Pandas and People was simply old-school creationism under a different name.

ASU director of real-estate studies uses bogus stats

The Arizona Republic reports today that Arizona State University's director of real estate studies at the Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness has been presenting an unrealistically rosy picture of home resales in Maricopa County by including trustee sales as resales.

Trustee's sales are when banks take possession of a property from a borrower in default. As readers of this blog are aware, trustee's sales have been going through the roof--Einzige has been reporting notices of trustee's sales, issued when borrowers fall 90 days past due on their mortgages. The most recent such report was for April.

By including trustee's sales, Butler's numbers showed home resales up 15 percent in April 2008, year over year, the first uptick for year-over-year resales since July 2005. The Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, on the other hand, showed a 12 percent decrease.

Apparently Butler failed to notice--or didn't see the point in telling--that over a third of his reported resales were trustee's sales (2,025 of 5,585). The corrected number for actual sales was 3,565 (lower than ARMLS's number of 4,874).

Compare that to April's notices of trustee's sales--6,184--and you see the the immediate future prospects are bleak, not rosy. Homes are going on the resale market much faster than they are selling, which means further inventory growth and home prices have farther to fall.

Butler has agreed that he made a mistake and will report trustee's sales separately from now on.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Secret lawsuits

The director of "The Secret" video, Drew Heriot, is suing its author, Rhonda Byrne, for $150 million. Heriot claims he co-authored the screenplay and the book and is thus owed half of what the book and DVD have earned.

"The Secret" advocates the "law of attraction," which claims that everybody always gets what they deserve because what you think about comes to you. Apparently Heriot and Byrne have been thinking a lot about giving money to lawyers.

Byrne previously settled another legal case with "holistic healer" Vanessa Bonnette in Australia, and is facing two other lawsuits in the United States.

Previous critiques of the utter nonsense that is "The Secret" may be found here. The fact that this claptrap has made so much money is a poor reflection on the gullibility and idiocy of far too many people on this planet.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Canal ducks

One of our Highline Canal ducks has had some children, which is probably why they're still around even though temperatures hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Phoenix today.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dirty Politician: Vito Fossella

Conservative "family values" Republican Congressman Vito Fossella (R-NY) was arrested on DUI charges on May 1, 2008, and released to the custody of retired Air Force Lt. Col. Laura Fay. He originally claimed that he had been driving to pick up his sick daughter, then revised his story the next day to claim he was going to visit a sick friend. During his press conference, he refused to deny that he had previously driven under the influence of alcohol.

In fact, he had been having an extramarital affair with Fay for years, and had fathered an illegitimate child with her, which he admitted on May 8 after days of denials. He had essentially been living a double life, with his wife in New York City and with Fay and their now 3-year-old daughter in Washington, D.C.

Fossella has a lesbian sister, with whom he cut off all contact, and refuses to attend any family events if she is present with her partner.

Some "family values."

His Wikipedia page lists several other controversies regarding the Congressman, including financial misconduct. No doubt more will be found as his record is scrutinized further.

(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars and Wikipedia.)

The Battle for Athens, Tennessee, 1946

I was telling a coworker about the book A Planet for Texans, in which citizens sometimes have the right to assassinate politicians, and he told me about a little-known piece of U.S. history.

In 1936, political power in McMinn County, Tennessee was obtained by Paul Cantrell of Etowah, who ran as the Democratic candidate for county sheriff and successfully seized power from what had been a Republican-dominated county since the Civil War. Cantrell ended up putting in place a thoroughly corrupt political machine that retained power for a decade--a crony of his, George Woods, was sent to the state legislature, and the county was redistricted to reduce the number of voting precincts and justices of the peace, and Cantrell's power was solidified. There were unresolved reports of county election fraud in 1940, 1942, and 1944. The McMinn County Court, still dominated by Republicans, attempted to purchase voting machines to eliminate the fraud, but Woods, with the support of Democrats in the state legislature, responded by abolishing the county court. It all came to an end when Cantrell's machine attempted to steal the 1946 election and was stopped with armed force in a battle involving more than 500 armed men with guns and dynamite who weren't afraid to use them--yet remarkably, no one was killed.

What happened in 1946 was that a bunch of GIs returned home from the war. A group of them decided that they didn't just fight for liberty in WWII to come back home to be governed by corrupt leadership, so they put together a slate to run for five county offices, including sheriff, under their own independent party. The GIs put an ad in the newspaper and drove around the county with a loudspeaker repeating their slogan, "your vote will be counted as cast." Veterans from neighboring Blount County volunteered to help the McMinn County GIs in monitoring the election.

On the day of the election, August 1, 1946, the county saw the largest voter turnout in its history. In the afternoon, the Cantrell machine posted its own armed guards at each precinct, in preparation for transporting the ballot boxes to the county jail in Athens for counting. The GIs began assembling in Otto Kennedy's Essankay Garage and Tire shop. At that meeting, it was reported that telegrams had been sent in late July to Gov. Jim McCord in Nashville and Tom Clark, the U.S. attorney general, asking for assistance to ensure a fair election, but neither had been answered. Those at the meeting agreed that those present who didn't have their weapons with them should go home and get them. Most were back and armed by 3 p.m.

At that time, an elderly black farmer, Tom Gillespie, was told by Windy Wise, a Cantrell armed guard, that he could not vote, and Wise ended up beating him with brass knuckles and shooting him in the back. The two GI poll watchers at the precinct were taken hostage by Wise and Karl Neill, another Cantrell guard, and an angry crowd began to gather outside the polling place, the Athens Water Works. The two GIs ended up breaking through a plate glass window to escape into the crowd, and someone in the crowd shouted, "Let's go get our guns!" When the Chief Deputy Boe Dunn and other Cantrell men showed up to get the ballot box to transport to the jail, they heard of this statement from Wise, and Dunn sent two deputies to the GI headquarters to make arrests. Those deputies were no match for the GIs, however, and were disarmed and taken hostage along with two others sent as reinforcements, and another three sent shortly thereafter. Those seven were beaten and then taken out to the woods and shackled to trees.

At another precinct, the polling place had been set up at the Dixie Cafe across an alley from the jail, where the GIs monitoring had seen a Cantrell man, Minus Wilburn, allowing minors to vote and giving cash to voters throughout the day. At about 3:45 p.m. when he attempted to allow a young woman to vote despite her name not appearing on the voter registration list and not having a poll tax receipt, one of the GIs protested and attempted to physically prevent Wilburn from depositing her ballot. Wilburn hit him in the head with a blackjack and kicked him in the face as he fell to the floor. Wilburn closed the polling place, put guards at both ends of the alley, and transported the ballot box to the jail and took the two GI poll-watchers prisoner.

It looked like Cantrell was about to successfully steal another election:
The Cantrell forces had calculated that if they could control the first, eleventh and twelfth precincts in Athens and the one in Etowah, the election was theirs. The ballot boxes from the Water Works (the eleventh) and the Dixie Cafe (the twelfth) were safely in the jail. The voting place for the first precinct, the courthouse, was barricaded by deputies who held four GIs hostage, and Paul Cantrell himself had Etowah under control.
For what happened next (and a better account of what I've just described), I recommend this account from American Heritage Magazine by Lones Selber, who watched the battle of Athens first-hand as a seven-year-old child.

Although the GIs were widely criticized for their actions, they seem quite justified to me--their actions strike me as exactly what the 2nd Amendment is supposed to allow citizens to do in response to a corrupt government, remove it from power. (And really, if you read the full account, it was the fair outcome of the election that removed the corrupt officials from power, the GIs really just prevented the election from being stolen.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pre-flight cocktails

The Washington Post reports that there have been more than 250 recent cases of the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency giving "pre-flight cocktail" injections of psychotropic drugs to foreigners being deported. These injections of antipsychotic drugs have been given to people with no history of mental illness and for no medical justification, with the only apparent purpose to sedate them during their flights.

The practice of "involuntary chemical restraint of detainees" without medical justification violates some international human rights codes, according to the Post, and is banned in several countries. Confidential documents obtained by the newspaper indicate that in some of the cases they report, detainees were not able to be given additional injections during layovers because to do so would be illegal in the countries in question.

These sedations violate the government's own rules, which only permit sedation if the individual has a mental illness which requires the drugs or if the person is aggressive to the point of creating a danger to those around them.

The Post reports that during 2007, there were 67 people deported with medical escorts with no medical justification, 53 of whom were given psychiatric drugs, and 48 of whom had no documented history of violence. Most of those given drugs appear to be individuals who had previously resisted deportation.

One man deported to Nigeria was still under the effects of the drugs for four days after his arrival.

One drug often reported used was Haldol, which created some controversy during George H.W. Bush's presidency when it was reported that he took the drug to avoid jet lag; some speculated that this drug was the cause of his vomiting at a dinner with (and vomiting on) the Prime Minister of Japan.

A related story in the Post looks at 80 cases of deaths of immigration detainees, of which 30 were found to be "questionable," including two in Arizona.

(Via The Agitator.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Einstein's God

There's been a lot of commentary in the blogosphere about a January 3, 1954 letter from Albert Einstein to philosopher Eric Gutkind which contains the following statements:
The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.
For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them.
Einstein expressed similar sentiments in a pair of letters he wrote on July 2, 1945 and September 28, 1949 to Ensign Guy H. Raner of the U.S.S. Bougainville which were first published in Skeptic magazine in 1997:
From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist. Your counter-arguments seem to me very correct and could hardly be better formulated. It is always misleading to use anthropomorphical concepts in dealing with things outside the human sphere--childish analogies. We have to admire in humility the beautiful harmony of the structure of the world--as far was we can grasp it, and that is all. [July 2, 1945]
I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being. [September 28, 1949]
Einstein didn't consider himself an atheist in the common usage of the term (his 1945 letter restricts the term to "from the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest"), though he was clearly comfortable being called an agnostic. He rejected the idea of a personal god, but was apparently willing to accept the possibility of Spinoza's pantheistic god.

UPDATE (May 14, 2008): ERV quotes this description of a statement by Oxford historian and theologian John Hedley Brooke, and describes it in a comment as "a 'respected' theologian lying to try to 'keep him'" (emphasis hers):
"Like other great scientists he does not fit the boxes in which popular polemicists like to pigeonhole him," said Brooke. "It is clear for example that he had respect for the religious values enshrined within Judaic and Christian traditions ... but what he understood by religion was something far more subtle than what is usually meant by the word in popular discussion."

Despite his categorical rejection of conventional religion, Brooke said that Einstein became angry when his views were appropriated by evangelists for atheism. He was offended by their lack of humility and once wrote. "The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility."

ERV also writes, after giving this quote, "Evangelical Atheism!!!! During the MCCARTHY ERA!!!! AAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA! w00t!"

But she's clearly wrong and Brooke is clearly right, if you read the quotation I gave from the 1949 letter. Einstein said "professional atheist" rather than "evangelical atheist," but the point Brooke describes is exactly the point Einstein made.

Some have argued that the newer 1954 letter is clearly more atheistic than the older letters I've quoted from above, in that it removes the qualifier "personal" from its expression of distaste about the use of the word "god." But if Einstein continued to use the word "god" himself after the 1954 letter, then it's not clear to me that he's not simply continuing to make the same point about the word "god" as it's normally used, to refer to the gods of the major world religions. Other than the lack of the qualifier "personal" in one sentence, the quotes from the new letter strike me as consistent with his position in the previous letters.

UPDATE (October 27, 2009): Images of the Gutkind letter, its translation into English, and a transcription of the original German may be found here.

Bad military botnet proposal

An article by Col. Charles W. Williamson III titled "Carpet bombing in cyberspace: Why America needs a military botnet" has been published by the Armed Forces Journal.

Col. Williamson, seeing that miscreants are using compromised machines all over the Internet to create botnets used for malicious purposes, has decided that the military needs to create its own, legitimate botnet. He proposes that this would be used in order to respond to online attacks from foreign countries by attacking the attackers, including both government and civilian attacking machines as necessary. He specifically proposes not using compromised machines (which would be illegal), but using machines on the (U.S. Air Force) network, including all hosts on the NIPRNet (Nonsecret IP Network).

The proposal doesn't really make any sense to me.

First of all, attacks from hostile compromised machines on the Internet occur on a daily basis and are already handled by network service providers. These attacks are never likely to be initiated specifically from an individual attacking country's systems, but rather from compromised systems all over the world--sometimes including compromised systems belonging to the U.S. military. Second, the best way to respond to attacking systems is not by launching hostile traffic back at them, but by filtering them or nullrouting them. Again, network service providers already do this today, and cooperate with each other in addressing major attacks. Thirdly, if the U.S. military sets up a botnet and uses it to launch denial of service attacks, it will be in violation of its own contracts with its network service providers--I don't know of any network service provider that offers a military exception to its terms of service regarding denial of service attacks. Fourth, if all of the U.S. military bots are on its own network, their aggregate bandwidth still can't exceed the bandwidth of its connections to other networks. Fifth, if there are attacks coming from another country that the U.S. is at war with, the recent subsea cable outages in the Middle East suggest that there are other effective mechanisms for disabling their ability to engage in Internet attacks.

Finally, it's not clear to me what benefit would be obtained from the military setting up its own botnet on its own network using its own IPs. Botnets offer two main benefits--(1) offering a distributed platform for computing and traffic generation and (2) creating a buffer of separation between the agent performing an action and the action itself. The second benefit occurs because the miscreant doesn't own the machines that make up the botnet, lots of other people do. A botnet composed entirely of hosts on the military's network is relatively easy to identify, filter, and block--the second benefit doesn't exist. The first benefit is also mostly lost if you use your own network and hosts. The point of a distributed denial of service attack is to use up the other guy's bandwidth, but not your own. That's very easy to do if you're not using your own resources, which is why distributed denial of service attacks use compromised systems and, sometimes, methods to amplify attacks using other people's servers that send out responses that are larger than the requests that prompt them. But if you're using your own resources on your own networks, you're limited to the bandwidth you have at your network interconnection points, and multiplying hosts inside that perimeter gains you nothing except a guarantee that you can saturate your own internetwork connectivity and cut yourself off from the outside unless your target has less bandwidth than you do. It's ironic that Williamson complains about a "fortress mentality," while making a proposal to create a gigantic bot army inside the military's own perimeter. A million-man army doesn't help you if they're inside a fortress with exits that restrict its ability to be deployed, except when you can win the battle with the number of men who can leave the exits at any one time.

I've also posted a comment on the Armed Forces Journal article at the AFJ's forum where I make a few additional points. I also agree with many of the other critical remarks that have been made in the thread there. "Crass Spektakel"'s point that "Whoever controls BGP and the backbone routers controls the internet" and that most of the control of BGP routing and the routing registries resides in the U.S. is a good one. A similar point could be made about DNS.

Other posts on this subject:

Kevin Poulsen at the Wired blog
Jon Stokes at Ars Technica

UPDATE (May 14, 2008): I may take some heat for even suggesting this, but an idea which actually takes advantage of both of the characteristic benefits of botnets I listed above and would be far, far more effective than Williamson's proposal would be if the military produced bot software along the lines of SETI@Home and Folding@Home, which anyone could volunteer to download and run on their home or corporate machines (or better still, made available to run on XBoxes and Play Station 3s), for use by the military when needed. Some of the abuse worries could be defeated if the activation and deactivation of the software was fully under the control of the end user, and the military obtained appropriate permission from upstream ISPs for activities which would otherwise constitute AUP violations by end users.

I hasten to add that this is still a terrible idea--putting such software out in public makes it a certainty that it would be reverse-engineered, and the probability of it being compromised by third parties for their own abuses would correspondingly increase.

UPDATE: Looks like Paul Raven beat me to the "Milnet@Home" idea, as he dubs it. A commenter at Bruce Schneier's blog also came up with the same idea.

F-Secure's blog also offers some good criticisms of Williamson's proposal.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Same-sex marriage ban amendment may go to voters again

The Arizona House has passed SB 10242 and sent it on to the Senate. This would put a measure to the voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. A similar proposal was voted down in 2006, but that measure included a provision that would have prohibited state benefits to domestic partners--this one doesn't.

Unfortunately, I think this has a good chance of passing.

Arizona already bans same-sex marriage by statute, but not in its Constitution.

Bill McCauley, RIP

I was saddened to learn this morning of the death of Bill McCauley, who was my boss when he was Vice President of Operations for GlobalCenter for a year or so around 1999-2000. I last saw him in 2001 at NANOG 21, when he was working for a company called iAsiaWorks, and we chatted briefly. I never knew him well, but when I worked for him he would occasionally chat with me about network security.

Bill had left the technology field to run a food distributorship, Red Rock Foods, and recently opened a coffee shop in Queen Creek called Daily Buzz. Unfortunately, he was having financial troubles, and chose a gruesome and horrible way to end his own life, by backing his car into a storage area at his food distribution business, pouring gasoline behind his car, and setting it on fire. The fire burned him and his dachshund, Millikin, killing his dog and leading to his death in a hospital several hours after firefighters pulled him from his car, mortally injured but still alive.

His death has been reported at the Arizona-Coffee blog where he frequently posted. He apparently left no suicide note. It's very sad that he chose to end his life this way, as well as that of his dog.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Another creationist goes to prison

Turkish creationist "Harun Yahya" (pseudonym for Adnan Oktar) has been sentenced to three years in prison for "creating an illegal organization for personal gain," according to Reuters:

Oktar had been tried with 17 other defendants in an Istanbul court. The verdict and sentence came after a previous trial that began in 2000 after Oktar, along with 50 members of his foundation, was arrested in 1999.

In that court case, Oktar had been charged with using threats for personal benefit and creating an organization with the intent to commit a crime. The charges were dropped but another court picked them up resulting in the latest case.

Oktar planned to appeal the sentence, a BAV [Turkish acronym for Oktar's Science Research Foundation] spokeswoman said. No further details were immediately available.

Oktar, born in 1956, is the driving force behind a richly funded movement based in Turkey that champions creationism, the belief that God literally created the world in six days as told in the Bible and the Koran.

Istanbul-based Oktar, who writes under the pen name Harun Yahya, has created waves in the past few years by sending out thousands of unsolicited texts advocating Islamic creationism to schools in several European countries.

I've heard that many of "Harun Yahya"'s works are contain plagiarized bits of translations of books and articles from the Institute for Creation Research, minus the arguments for a young earth.

Another creationist currently in prison is young-earth creationist Kent Hovind, convicted for tax evasion.

According to Adnan Oktar's Wikipedia page, he was a former student of Edip Yuksel, a promoter of the works of Muslim imam Rashad Khalifa, who was murdered in Tucson, Arizona in 1990 by Islamic radicals. (One Islamic radical allegedly involved was Wadih el-Hage, a former Tucson resident who was Osama bin Laden's secretary in Sudan.) I met Yuksel at the University of Arizona, when he attended some of the same philosophy classes I did, and he gave me some pamphlets which touted Khalifa's claim that the Koran is demonstrably the word of God on the basis of numeric codes (similar to the Bible Codes), specifically involving multiples of 19.

The websites of Edip Yuksel criticizing Oktar are the reason why is blocked in Turkey, as the result of a legal action by Oktar in that country. Yuksel describes his relationship with Oktar here.

Senior McCain advisor helped arrange Rev. Moon coronation

Charlie Black, a senior advisor to the McCain campaign, lent his name to and helped arrange the bizarre March 23, 2004 event on Capitol Hill in which Rev. Sun Myung Moon was crowned King of America and declared himself to be the Messiah.

Rev. Moon is a very powerful, wealthy man who has been regularly supported at public events by people such as former President George H. W. Bush and evangelical Christians like Tim and Beverly LaHaye (he helped found the Institute for Creation Research through his Christian Heritage College, co-author of Left Behind; she is the head of Concerned Women for America) and Jerry Falwell. Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute is a member of Moon's Unification Church, which makes DI another organization where evangelical Christians join hands with members of Moon's cult. Most of these people probably don't agree with Moon's nonsense, but they like his money and aren't above prostituting themselves in order to receive some of it.

UPDATE (May 13, 2008): More on Charlie Black, from

Charlie Black, McCain’s senior counsel and spokesman, began his lobbying career by representing numerous dictators and repressive regimes

  • Black’s firm represented the governor of Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. According to a 1985 report, the firm Black, Manafort & Stone earned $950,000 plus expenses for its work to provide “advice and assistance on matters relating to the media, public relations and public affairs interests.”1
  • Black’s firm lobbied on behalf of Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire, earning $1 million a year for his efforts.2
  • Black’s firm lobbied on behalf of Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.3
  • Black’s firm represented Nigerian dictator Ibrahim Babangida, earning at least $1 million for his efforts.4
  • Black’s firm has represented Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich state “best known for the outlandish brutality of its rulers.”5
  • Black represented Angolan rebel and “classical terrorist” Jonas Savimbi, a job that earned him $600,000.6 “We have to call him Africa’s classical terrorist,” Makau Mutua, a professor of law and Africa specialist told the New York Times. “In the history of the continent, I think he’s unique because of the degree of suffering he caused without showing any remorse.”7
  • In recent years his client list has also included the Iraqi National Congress8, Friends of Blackwater9, and the China National Off-Shore Oil Corp.10
  • Since 2005, BKSH has received more than $700,000 in fees from foreign entities.11
And Black is only one of several lobbyists for scumbags working on McCain's campaign.

McCain questionable land swap deal

Friday's Washington Post describes an Arizona land swap deal--the largest in Arizona history--pushed through Congress by John McCain which had the effect of transferring valuable federal land to Fred Ruskin's Yavapai Ranch Limited Partnership, that ended up being developed by SunCor Development, owned by McCain supporter Steven A. Betts.

The Post article describes past land swap deals that McCain has also pushed through, which have benefited McCain donors Donald R. Diamond and Carl H. Lindner, Jr.

Probably all just politics as usual.

UPDATE (May 15, 2008): The Arizona Republic finally gets around to covering the story--by reprinting a story from USA Today.

McCain dishonesty

Arianna Huffington has given a list of occasions on which Arizona Sen. John McCain has "issued heartfelt denials of things that were actually true":

* That he had talked with John Kerry about possibly leaving the Republican Party to become his vice presidential running mate in 2004.
* That he had claimed he didn't know much about economics.
* That he had ever asked for a budget earmark for Arizona.
* That he'd ever had a meeting with lobbyist Vicky Iseman.

Back from Seattle

We're back from a week of vacation in Seattle--this was my third time in the city, but my first time with free time to do touristy things. We saw the usual sights--the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square and the Underground Tour, and we took a Snoqualmie Falls/winery tour and paid a visit to Bainbridge Island. We also saw the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Garden, the UPS Waterfall Garden, the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum, and the oddities at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, including the feejee-mermaid-like objects pictured and a collection of tsantsas (shrunken heads). We also managed to see some local crazies--a 9/11 conspiracy theorist outside Pike Place Market, Lyndon LaRouchies at Westlake Center, a Church of Scientology "free stress test" center, and building housing the Discovery Institute.

And we had plenty of great meals, including a few with friends we haven't seen in a while (or hadn't met before in person). Lots of Thai and Indian food.

We didn't get around to visiting the Seattle Aquarium, the Museum of Flight, the fish ladder at the Ballard Locks, the Roman exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, or trying a doughnut at Top Pot Doughnuts. Maybe next time for most of those.

Seattle is a fun city, we had great weather almost the entire time, and we were happy to see how dog-friendly it is. I'm sure we'll return.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Ken Miller op-ed on "Expelled"

Brown University biology professor, textbook author, and Catholic Ken Miller has written an op-ed about "Expelled."

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Scott Bloch gets raided by the FBI

Bush's head of the Office of Special Counsel at the Department of Justice, Scott Bloch, has had his offices and home raided by the FBI. The FBI raided his offices in D.C. yesterday, seizing computers and shutting off email. Bloch himself was interviewed. It's not clear exactly what prompted the raid, but Bloch has long been under fire for refusing to investigate claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation. There are also allegations that he has retaliated against employees and obstructed investigations.

Bloch also has a tie to the Sternberg case, the crown jewel of "Expelled," in that one of his like-minded appointees, James McVay, a man with no previous experience in employment law, whistleblower law, or federal sector work, took on the Sternberg case and wrote a preliminary report on it despite having no jurisdiction. His preliminary report managed to draw conclusions in contradiction to the actual evidence.

UPDATE: The New York Times also covers the story.

UPDATE (October 27, 2008): Scott Bloch has been fired.

UPDATE (March 30, 2011): Scott Bloch has been sentenced to a month in jail for destroying evidence on his computer.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The superstitions of John McCain

John McCain carries thirty-one cents of lucky change, a lucky compass, and a lucky feather. He won't throw a hat on a bed, or pick up a new lucky coin that's showing tails instead of heads. He won't take a salt shaker passed to him; it has to be set on the table first. He carries a laminated four-leaf clover in his wallet. He wears lucky shoes. He makes use of a magical lizard belonging to his trip director, Lanny Wiles, to help win golf bets and cause the right college sports teams to win.

John McCain is a superstitious nut.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

April's Trustee's Sale Notices

Based on this chart, Ray Kurzweil would undoubtedly predict that in late 2009 or early 2010, Maricopa County will reach its foreclosure singularity - the moment at which all homes will simultaneously be served notices of foreclosure and beyond which it is impossible to predict what will happen.

April's 6184 notices were yet another unprecedented high.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Michael Behe: Expelled from Expelled

Intelligent design advocate Michael Behe was interviewed for the film "Expelled," and even included in one of the trailer previews, but does not appear in the final film, even though he has been one of the most prominent ID advocates. Why not?

There are several likely explanations:

1. He is a counter-example to the claim that intelligent design advocates are being persecuted by academia. He is an intelligent design advocate who is also a professor at Lehigh University. (Point due to Tegamai Bopsulai.)

2. He has become something of a heretic in intelligent design circles as a result of his latest book, The Edge of Evolution, in which he affirms common ancestry, he calls using the Bible as a science textbook "silly," he doesn't think intelligent design is necessary to explain lower taxonomic levels of life such as species, genera, families, and orders, and he doesn't see the need for continued miraculous interventions into the process of evolution by God. (Points due to Larry Arnhart.)

3. His latest book conflicts with the idea of The Fall when he argues that malaria was intentionally designed to kill people. (Where's Ben Stein on this one? Point due to RBH.)

It appears that ID's big tent has become too small to allow Michael Behe to remain inside.


Larry Arnhart at Darwinian Conservatism
Brian Switek at Laelaps
John Lynch at Stranger Fruit

Gene Healy on The Cult of the Presidency

Last night I went to hear Gene Healy of the Cato Institute speak about his new book, The Cult of the Presidency, at the Goldwater Institute. I had a chance to speak to him briefly before his talk, and said I'd buy a copy of his book if I liked his talk. I did like his talk, and did buy his book--the clincher was the "illegal" cover of his book. He said that he had sent the galleys to John Dean, former Nixon White House counsel who has become a vocal critic of overreaching executive power, for a blurb, only to receive word back from Dean that his book cover violates U.S. law regarding the use of the presidential seal. (This was ironic in light of Healy's previous book, Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything.) The Onion was sent a cease-and-desist letter by the Bush administration in 2005 for using the presidential seal on its website. In my non-lawyerly opinion, neither The Onion nor the book are actually in violation of the law since the law prohibits the use of the presidential seal in a commercial context that suggests presidential endorsement or approval, and it's pretty obvious in both cases that no presidential endorsement or approval is implied.

Healy's talk criticized the expansion of executive power from the original description in the U.S. Constitution. While George Washington described himself as "chief magistrate" and refused to start wars with the Indians without Congressional approval, subsequent presidents have expanded their power. Academics of both conservative and liberal stripes have ranked as the "best presidents" those who have engaged in bold exercises of power, while those who have taken more limited roles in line with the Constitution are ranked among the worst (such as Warren G. Harding, whom Healy identified as the best president). Even William Henry Harrison, who served only 30 days as president, receives low poll rankings. By contrast, presidents such as Woodrow Wilson (whom Healy identified as the worst president, for actions such as throwing Eugene V. Debs in jail for criticizing the draft) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who put 110,000 Japanese into internment camps and attempted to subvert the U.S. Supreme Court by packing it with six additional appointees loyal to him) are identified as among the best presidents in polls.

And today, we have Hillary Clinton saying that she's prepared to be "commander-in-chief of our economy" from the moment she takes office, yet that's clearly not the job of the president described in the Constitution, where the only reference to CIC is "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." Healy identified his first moment of apprehension that things had gotten ridiculous about public expectations of the role of the president as a 1992 presidential town hall debate, in which Denton Walthall said (p. 132 of Healy's book):
The focus of my work as a domestic mediator is meeting the needs of children that I work with, by way of their parents, and not the wants of their parents. And I ask the three of you, how can we, as symbolically the children of the future president, expect the two of you, the three of you to met our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it ... [emphasis in Healy]
None of the candidates challenged Walthall's assumption that citizens of the United States should be treated "symbolically" as children of a president-father.

Healy also spoke about what he called "situational Constitutionalism," where Republicans oppose expansions of executive power when a Democrat is president, but are happy to expand it with a Republican president, and Democrats do the opposite. It occurred to me that the timing of his book could lead to such a criticism of his work, except that he has been a consistent critic of the Bush administration's abuses. It's too bad it didn't come out before Bush's re-election, though I doubt it would have made any more difference to the outcome than James Bovard's The Bush Betrayal, which came out in August 2004, just before that election.

In the Q&A, a self-identified liberal* asked if Healy thought that Bush was the worst abuser of executive power in light of his signing statements refusing to enforce, follow, or be bound by various laws. Healy answered that he didn't consider the signing statements to be the worst of Bush's actions, since at least they were written openly and not hidden. He said he considered the internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII to be worse than anything Bush has done to date, and that he found other actions of Bush's to be worse than the signing statements, such as his warrantless wiretapping, his misuse of military commissions, elimination of habeas corpus, etc. He followed that up by saying that what he fears most from Bush's legacy is that by expanding executive power under a "time of war" doctrine for the "war on terror"--a war that will likely never end--he has effectively made the powers permanent. The similar abuses of the past were during wars that at least were temporary conditions.

I look forward to reading his book.

* There were a few liberals in attendance, including a member of the Green Party who asked me if it was considered gauche to go for seconds on the food provided--I said no, I was taking seconds myself.

UPDATE (May 6, 2008): Also see Mike Linksvayer's report on Healy's talk in San Francisco.

YouTube's double standard on Scientology

A couple weeks ago, YouTube removed Mark Bunker's xenutv1 account on the grounds that his previous account, xenutv, had contained copyright infringements and thus violated YouTube's terms of service--even though his xenutv1 account did not. This caused a video interview of actor Jason Beghe, who recently left Scientology, to be temporarily unavailable.

YouTube has also removed an account that the Church of Scientology was using to attack its Anonymous critics, anonymousfacts, for terms of service violations because it personally identified some individuals and referred to them as "terrorists."

But now that Scientology is paying for an account (and for ads on YouTube), it's being allowed to stay.

(Hat tip to Bob Hagen.)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Heartland Institute publishes bogus list of 500 scientists who doubt anthropogenic climate change

Dennis Avery and the Heartland Institute issued a list of "500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares" earlier this week. DeSmogBlog contacted 122 of the people on the list that they found email addresses for, and received replies from 45 of them within 24 hours, indicating that they did not agree to be on such a list and felt that the Heartland Institute had misrepresented their views.

Here are some of the quoted responses:

"I am horrified to find my name on such a list. I have spent the last 20 years arguing the opposite."

Dr. David Sugden. Professor of Geography, University of Edinburgh

"I have NO doubts ..the recent changes in global climate ARE man-induced. I insist that you immediately remove my name from this list since I did not give you permission to put it there."

Dr. Gregory Cutter, Professor, Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University

"I don't believe any of my work can be used to support any of the statements listed in the article."

Dr. Robert Whittaker, Professor of Biogeography, University of Oxford

"Please remove my name. What you have done is totally unethical!!"

Dr. Svante Bjorck, Geo Biosphere Science Centre, Lund University

"I'm outraged that they've included me as an "author" of this report. I do not share the views expressed in the summary."

Dr. John Clague, Shrum Research Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University

"I am very shocked to see my name in the list of "500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares". Because none of my research publications has ever indicated that the global warming is not as a consequence of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, I view that the inclusion of my name in such list without my permission or consensus has damaged my professional reputation as an atmospheric scientist."

Dr. Ming Cai, Associate Professor, Department of Meteorology, Florida State University.

"Just because you document natural climate variability doesn't mean anthropogenic global warming is not a threat. In fact I would venture that most on that list believe a natural cycle and anthropogenic change combined represent a greater threat."

Peter F. Almasi, PhD Candidate in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Columbia University

"Why can't people spend their time trying to identify and evaluate the facts concerning climate change rather than trying to obscure them?"

Dr. James P. Berry, Senior Scientist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

"They have taken our ice core research in Wyoming and twisted it to meet their own agenda. This is not science."

Dr. Paul F. Schuster, Hydrologist, US Geological Survey

"Please remove my name IMMEDIATELY from the following article and from the list which misrepresents my research."

Dr. Mary Alice Coffroth, Department of Geology, State University of New York at Buffalo

This demonstrates a very serious ethical lapse by the Heartland Institute--they've clearly tried to pull a fast one and been caught on it.

Arizona State Rep. Pamela Gorman (R-District 6, Anthem) is on the Legislative Advisory Board to the Heartland Institute; her hobbies as a legislator apparently include both denying the existence of anthropogenic climate change and promoting legislation for the Church of Scientology.

UPDATE (May 11, 2008): Pharyngula comments. The Heartland Institute, rather than issue a retraction or apology, has simply renamed their list to "500 Scientists Whose Research Contradicts Man-Made Global Warming Scares."

UPDATE (August 1, 2009): The Center for Inquiry has released its analysis of a similar list of dissenters promoted by Sen. James Inhofe.

Ben Stein thinks science leads to killing people

In an interview in Christianity Today:
I believe God created the heavens and the earth, and it doesn’t scare me when scientists say that can’t be proved. I couldn’t give a [profanity] whether a person calls himself a scientist. Science has covered itself with glory, morally, in my time. Scientists were the people in Germany telling Hitler that it was a good idea to kill all the Jews. Scientists told Stalin it was a good idea to wipe out the middle-class peasants. Scientists told Mao Tse-Tung it was fine to kill 50,000,000 people in order to further the revolution.
In an interview on the Trinity Broadcasting Network with Paul Crouch, Jr. (video is available if you follow the link):
Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.
Note that he offers no qualifiers. He doesn't say science must be complemented with ethics. He doesn't say that science (like any knowledge of truths about the universe) may have negative as well as positive consequences. He simply says that science leads to mass murder.

If Stein really believes this, then he must be a genuine opponent of the practice of science, and his promotion of "Expelled" can be seen as an aspect of that anti-scientific attitude, despite the fact that he certainly takes personal advantage of many of the positive contributions of science. If he doesn't genuinely believe it, then he's not only engaging in a defamatory slur against scientists, he's also dishonest.

Either way, he's demonstrated that he is a despicable character.

And some people claim not to understand why scientists are angered by this film and its creators.

Others on this subject:
John Lynch at Stranger Fruit
Larry Moran at The Sandwalk
P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula
Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Institute for Justice wins San Tan Flat outdoor dance ban case

Yesterday, Arizona Superior Court Judge William O'Neill struck down a Pinal County Court ruling that Dale Bell's San Tan Flat steakhouse is a "dance hall," freeing Bell from a ban against customers dancing outside his establishment. Pinal County's attempt to ban dancing and extract fines from Bell had been hanging over his business since he opened in 2005.

Max Dunlap clemency hearing

Max Dunlap, the convicted killer of Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles, is seeking clemency in a hearing tomorrow. He would like to be released from his life sentence because he is 78 years old, suffering from incontinence from diabetes, and unable to walk easily due to a head injury received in prison. He was sentenced to life in prison for his role in paying two men (John Harvey Adamson and James Robison) to kill Bolles with a car bomb. Bolles died 11 days after the explosion, which took place on June 2, 1976 in the parking lot of the Clarendon Hotel in downtown Phoenix.

Although Dunlap has never fingered him, it is widely believed that the hit was ordered and paid for by Arizona liquor wholesaler, land magnate, and organized crime figure Kemper Marley, who was a primary target of Bolles' investigative reporting. (Adamson testified that Marley was behind the murder.) Not only did Marley never spend a day of his life in jail for his role in Bolles' murder or any other crime, he has a building named after him at the University of Arizona--the Kemper Marley College of Agriculture building. He also has a building named after him at my high school alma mater, Brophy College Preparatory, called the Ethel and Kemper Marley Information Commons. He died in 1990 at the age of 83 at a beach home in La Jolla, CA.

Kemper Marley employed former bootlegger Jim Hensley in one of his wholesale liquor businesses, United Liquor, which had a monopoly on liquor distribution in Arizona. In 1948, Hensley was convicted on seven counts of filing false liquor records, and was charged again in 1953, but was found not guilty that time thanks to a defense from attorney William Rehnquist, future chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. By 1955 Hensley had his own Budweiser distributorship.

Hensley's daughter Cindy inherited his fortune in 2000. She now shares it with her husband, Arizona Senator John McCain.

The story of the Hensley fortune--and of how McCain is beholden to liquor interests--is told in a February 17, 2000 Phoenix New Times story, "Haunted by Spirits."

The Arizona Project of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., is a package of stories, photos, and audio about Don Bolles, who was a member of the organization.

UPDATE (July 22, 2009): Max Dunlap died in prison yesterday.