Sunday, August 31, 2008

Palin lies about the bridge to nowhere

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars shows that McCain's VP nominee, Sarah Palin, didn't take long to utter her first falsehood as candidate. Near the beginning of her acceptance speech, she said:
And I championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. In fact, I told Congress -- I told Congress, "Thanks, but no thanks," on that bridge to nowhere.

(APPLAUSE)

If our state wanted a bridge, I said we'd build it ourselves.

But in fact, she actually did the opposite. During her 2006 gubernatorial campaign, here's how she answered a question about the bridge when addressing an audience of Alaskans:

5. Would you continue state funding for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges?

Yes. I would like to see Alaska's infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now--while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.

She went on to seek other projects not out of a desire for self-reliance and avoiding wasteful federal spending, but because she couldn't get enough federal funding:
"Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it's clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island," Governor Palin added. "Much of the public's attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened."
See the full story and references at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan's blog reposts this photo that shows Palin's support for the "bridge to nowhere."

UPDATE (September 14, 2008): Some Alaskans are not happy with Palin's claiming that she doesn't support what she told them she supported.

Left-wing conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theorists like to make arguments of the form "A is linked to B, B is linked to C, therefore A and C are in cahoots," where the links between each entity may be extremely tenuous.

P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula, following dogemperor at the DailyKos, maintains that "Sarah Palin's home church is dominionist, with connections to Joel's Army," for which the evidence dogemperor provides is the following:

A look at the home website of Palin's church tends to be revealing. Among other things, a particular Assemblies buzzword associated frequently with Hillsong A/G and New Zealand Assemblies churches shows up ("Destiny", here, is a buzzword for "Joel's Army", and is being preferred even as the phrase "Joel's Army" is getting enough negative spin that even the Assemblies is now having to do some rather massive spin control); cell churches are promoted (of the same sort that are linked to short-term and longterm psychological damage and are among the most coercive tactics ever documented in spiritually abusive groups). The church, like a number of other large Assemblies churches, is the center of a dominionist broadcast TV center whose programming is carried across multiple channels in Alaska.

In a trend that has been recently documented by no less than Southern Poverty Law Center (in its recent report on the Joel's Army movement), the church operates a Seven Project-esque targeted recruitment campaign aiming at teens (this is common across the Assemblies and across "Joel's Army" groups in general; fully a third of the documented national-level front groups operated by the Assemblies target teens).

And...believe you me, Palin's church is definitely "Joel's Army".

But hold on a minute here--the article on "Joel's Army" that Myers initially points readers to is a reasonable article at Alternet that points out that "Joel's Army" is a minority of Pentecostals that has been explicitly rejected by the Assemblies of God:

Not every five-fold ministry is connected to the Joel's Army movement, but the movement has spurred an interest in modern-day apostles and prophets that's troubling to the Assemblies of God, the world's largest Pentecostal church, which has officially disavowed the Joel's Army movement.

In a 2001 position paper, Assemblies of God leaders wrote that they do not recognize modern-day apostles or prophets and worried that "such leaders prefer more authoritarian structures where their own word or decrees are unchallenged." They are right to worry. Joel's Army followers believe that once democratic institutions are overthrown, their hierarchy of apostles and prophets will rule over the earth, with one church per city.

Yet dogemperor's evidence of a link to Joel's Army is:

1. The Juneau Christian Center website uses the word "Destiny." They have a link on the front page labeled "Building for Destiny," which links to a web page that says:

Destiny has begun! The new youth center for children through high school youth is taking shape.

The purpose of The Hub is reach out to youth and parents in Juneau, giving kids a positive place: to grow in safety, build strong relationships, be encouraged to learn in surroundings that match their interests, acquire confidence and prepare for fantastic futures...

The technology in these 21st century centers will encourage kids to enjoy learning in academics, sports, music, art, finances, computers, health, and life skills. From IPOD/study stations and video game terminals to a pool tables and plasma screen TV's there is something of interest for everyone. Oh yes, The Hub also provides a hip cafe serve smoothies, drinks and light food to encourage fellowship.

Sounds pretty scary, doesn't it?

2. The church is "the center of a dominionist broadcast TV center whose programming is carried across multiple channels in Alaska." This links to a page on the Juneau Christian Center website which says:
Pastor's [sic] Mike and Deenie Rose have been the senior Pastors of Juneau Christian Center since 1987. The theme of their ministry is to win the lost and make disciples. Pastor Rose's preaching inspires people to live the abundant life by receiving and using their God given authority, gifts and talents to advance God's Kingdom. Pastor Rose has daily television and radio programs which are broadcast throughout the state of Alaska, and throughout much of the lower 48.
All this says is that he preaches on TV and doesn't know how to use apostrophes. It doesn't say anything at all to support a claim that he's teaching dominionist theology or has any connection to "Joel's Army."

3. The church "operates a Seven Project-esque targeted recruitment campaign aiming at teens (this is common across the Assemblies and across "Joel's Army" groups in general; fully a third of the documented national-level front groups operated by the Assemblies target teens)."

Dogemperor's parenthetical remark undermines his claim that this supports a link to Joel's Army--if this is something common across the Assemblies of God, which rejects the authority of "Joel's Army," then it stands to reason that "Joel's Army" adopted it from the AOG, rather than the reverse. And targeting teens is common for all churches. None of that says anything about the Juneau Christian Center's theology or suggests a connections to "Joel's Army."

This is very weak and poorly reasoned "guilt by association" reasoning of the sort that justifies all sorts of lunatic claims, including fringe Christian arguments about secular humanists trying to take control of the U.S. government.

If Sarah Palin is an advocate of dominionist theology or Christian reconstructionism, I expect a lot better evidence than this to demonstrate it.

UPDATE: The "Secular Apostate," a retired psychophysicist who converted to Roman Catholicism as an adult, criticizes dogemperor's post as a "truthiness parfait." Note carefully what he says about the very term "dominionism"--it didn't used to be synonymous with or a superset of theocracy, theonomy, or Christian reconstructionism, and it appears to be a term applied as such only by its critics, not by those who actually hold any of those positions.

UPDATE: Commenter "raven" at Pharyngula shows clearly that he's applying the term "dominionist" in a very fast and loose fashion. He wrote:
Pretty much all the fundies are Doms. I'd never even heard of xian Dominionists a year or so ago. The difference between reconstructionists and dominionists is...nothing.
To which I replied:
If you're claiming that all fundamentalists are reconstructionists are dominionists, that is nonsense on a par with saying that all atheists are secular humanists are Marxists.
This was apparently sufficient for him to identify me as a dominionist! He responded with this:

Just stating a fact. There might be one or two who lie about it.

You are one, obviously. The tipoff is the raging hatred of everyone especially those coreligionists who differ in minute details of theology. A liberal Dom is one who might let the Jews live if they keep a low profile and all convert to fundie Death Cultism. The other Doms all hate them as blashemous heretics and apostates, of course.

So who is on your "To Kill" list? You all have them. Gays, Catholics, Episcopalians, Democrats, atheists, scientists, MDs, so many people to murder and so little time. The old record is Rushdooney, the founder of modern Dominionism who wanted to kill 297 million of the 300 million US residents alive today. The modern record is the "Nuke 'em all now and let god sort it out" crowd. Sounds like you want to stop that fooling around with armies of religious fanatics with automatic rifles and just go for the quick clean kill.

At this point, P.Z. Myers stepped in and let him know he was drawing some unwarranted inferences.

Raven has supplied a perfect example of the kind of erroneous reasoning that I'm trying to warn against with this post.

UPDATE: After raven learned he was mistaken about my views, rather than recognize that he's gone wrong somewhere and make an effort to learn from his mistake, he simply proclaimed me to be "an idiot" and went off on a rant. It's sad to see that kind of irrationality.

UPDATE: Here are some quotes at the Harper's Magazine blog from sermons of Pastor Mike Rose of Palin's current church and Pastor David Pepper of her previous church. Looks like standard evangelical Christianity, to me--nothing overtly political apart from a statement by Pepper that "I don't care what the ACLU says," though there's some anti-evolution. There's a claim here that Rose has "ties to Hagee's Christians United for Israel," without specifying what those ties are. Pepper, it is stated, "is outspoken on slavery, racism, and the massacres of Native Americans, all of which he terms 'sins' that still cast a long shadow on minority communities." The Harper's blog has links to "many hours of Mike Rose's sermons" and "numerous sermons of David Pepper's," so if there is anything to the dominionist claims, this is the place to look.

UPDATE (September 1, 2008): Although Palin sometimes attends the Juneau Christian Center and considers her home church to be The Church on the Rock in Wassila, both of which are members of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God of America, she does not consider herself to be a Pentecostal, according to Christianity Today, and her profile in the Wall Street Journal identified her as a Lutheran.

Another story, in the Boston Herald, says that Palin's home church is Wasilla Bible Church, headed by Pastor Larry Kroon. This has also been reported by Time magazine. The above claim about The Church on the Rock is a second-hand report by an Associated Press reporter, Eric Gorski, who heard it from Pastor Paul Riley of the Wasilla Assembly of God church, as also reported in the Christianity Today piece. It appears to be false, though no doubt she's visited that and other churches. If Wasilla Bible Church isn't Pentecostal (and it doesn't appear to be), that weakens the allegations of dogemperor even further.

In a Time interview, Palin stated that she attends "A non-denominational Bible church. I was baptized Catholic as a newborn and then my family started going to non-denominational churches throughout our life."

UPDATE (September 7, 2008): Yesterday's New York Times reports on Sarah Palin's church attendance:
One of the musical directors at the church, Adele Morgan, who has known Ms. Palin since the third grade, said the Palins moved to the nondenominational Wasilla Bible Church in 2002, in part because its ministry is less “extreme” than Pentecostal churches like the Assemblies of God, which practice speaking in tongues and miraculous healings.
I don't think the theocracy/reconstructionism/dominionism charge sticks at all. There are lots of good reasons to oppose Palin as vice president, but the idea that she wants to impose theocracy isn't one of them.

UPDATE (September 26, 2008): Palin's certainly a religious kook, as the video of her being blessed with a protection from witchcraft from a Kenyan minister and her subsequent touting of that blessing as a reason she's been selected for public office demonstrates:
The video shows Palin standing before Bishop Thomas Muthee in the pulpit of
the Wasilla Assembly of God church, holding her hands open as he asked Jesus
Christ to keep her safe from "every form of witchcraft."

"Come on, talk to God about this woman. We declare, save her from Satan!"
Muthee said as two attendants placed their hands on Palin's shoulders. "Make
her way my God. Bring finances her way even for the campaign in the name of
Jesus....Use her to turn this nation the other way around!"

On a visit to the church in June 2008, Palin spoke fondly of the Kenyan
pastor and told a group of young missionaries that Muthee's prayers had
helped her to become governor.
UPDATE (January 1, 2009): dogemperor now argues that Pastor Rick Warren is "connected to" Joel's Army--on the grounds that he once spoke at a 1997 conference of David Yonggi Cho, head of the largest Assemblies of God megachurch in South Korea, and that Cho has argued for Pentecostal revival. Uh, so what are the actual connections between Warren and the "Joel's Army" movement, the New Apostolic Reformation, the Five-fold Ministry, or the "latter rain" movement? What's key to all of these is that they are Pentecostal/charismatic movements that argue that there are new prophets and apostles coming who can perform miracles, signs, and wonders. Rick Warren isn't an advocate of speaking in tongues or performing healing miracles, rather, he relies on modern-day marketing techniques, modern music, and technology. This isn't to say he's not about using Christianity for political influence--he obviously is.

A Christian critique of the "Joel's Army" movement which explains it far better than dogemperor is Jewel Grewe's "Joel's Army." Also worth reading is this AlterNet article by Casey Sanchez of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Some people who really are advocates of the "Joel's Army" movement include Todd Bentley, John Crowder, Paul Cain, Mike Bickle, and Rick Joyner.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bank set up on Christian principles fails

Integrity Bank of Georgia, set up to run on Christian principles, has failed.

Integrity's employees regularly prayed before meetings or in branch lobbies with customers, while the bank gave 10 percent of its net income to charities.

"We felt if we prayed and obeyed God's word and did what He asked, that He would help us be successful," the bank's founder, Steve Skow, told the Journal-Constitution in 2005.

The executives seem to have done OK, though:
CEO Steve Skow earned $1.8 million that year, while senior lender and executive vice president Doug Ballard earned $847,222. A typical community bank CEO, banking consultants said, earn roughly $300,000 per year.
(Via Pharyngula.)

RNC protesters getting similar treatment as DNC protesters

P.Z. Myers reports on the behavior of police in Minneapolis, which looks similar to Denver.

Barack Obama answers the Sciencedebate 2008 questions

Barack Obama has supplied his answers to the fourteen questions from Sciencedebate 2008.

John McCain has said that he will also be supplying answers.

UPDATE (September 17, 2008): John McCain has also supplied his answers to the Sciencedebate 2008 questions. Click here to see their answers side-by-side.

Are the Republicans fans of Battlestar Galactica?


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

Unintended effects of Helicobacter pylori eradication

Since the Helicobacter pylori bacterium was discovered and proven to be the cause of gastric ulcers, it has been disappearing from the developed world as it's treated with antibiotics. But multiple studies are now showing that there can be negative side-effects from its disappearance, including acid reflux, asthma, and obesity.

H. pylori helps regulate stomach acidity, the byproduct of which is sometimes ulcers. But when it is taken out of the picture, stomach acidity can increase and cause esophageal reflux disease, a disease which has increased to match the decrease in ulcers as H. pylori has been eradicated.

The asthma mechanism is less clear, but may be from H. pylori stimulating immune response. The evidence supporting the link is that U.S. children aged 3-13 who have H. pylori are 60% less likely to have asthma than those who do not.

The obesity connection is also not definitively established, but people without H. pylori produce more grehlin (which makes you feel hungry) than those who have it.

(Via "The twists and turns of fate," about the work of Martin Blaser, a microbiologist at New York University School of Medicine, in The Economist, August 23, 2008, pp. 68-69.)

When t-shirts, coffee tables, and screws are munitions

One of my prized possessions, now in a box in a closet somewhere, is a T-shirt that says on its front "This T-shirt is a munition." Underneath it is some machine-readable barcode that encodes the RSA public-key encryption algorithm expressed in Perl. As the seller of the shirt advertised, "it's machine washable and machine readable."

When I bought and regularly wore that shirt, taking it out of the country was a crime punishable by up to a $1 million fine and 10 years in federal prison. This is because U.S. rules under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), then enforced by the Department of Commerce, ruled that strong encryption qualified as a munition subject to export controls and requiring a special license for export. After the Dan Bernstein case was decided in 1996, computer source code printed in a book (human readable format) was not subject to export controls, but computer source code in a machine readable format, such as on my shirt, still was. So I could wear my other T-shirt with RSA Perl code on it, which had a program in the shape of a dolphin, out of the country, but not the machine readable "This T-shirt is a munition" shirt. The implication was that you could take a copy of Bruce Schneier's Applied Cryptography out of the country without an export license, but not a disk containing the very same code fragments printed in the book. This website authored by Adam Back, written at the time, proposed some possible motives for government restrictions on cryptography.

What the ITAR regulations on cryptography did for Internet software development was prohibit web browsers and server software from implementing the strong encryption necessary to protect electronic commerce from being exported from the United States. The result was that this development work simply occurred offshore. There were no barriers to importation of the software into the U.S., only to export it out. So the software was developed and sold by companies in places like Canada, Russia, and Estonia, which had no such inane restrictions.

Finally, in 1999, the U.S. wised up and relaxed the ITAR restrictions on encryption, allowing export without a license to most countries (the exceptions being countries with links to state-sponsored terrorism).

But ITAR is still around, and still having the unintended effect of pushing business out of the United States. The current victim is commercial satellite production. In 1999, ITAR authority over satellite technology export was shifted from the Department of Commerce to the Department of State, and since that time the U.S. share of commercial satellite manufacturing has dropped from 83% to 50%. The company Alcatel Alenia Space, now known as Thales Alenia, took steps in the late nineties to eliminate all U.S.-manufactured components from its satellites, with the result that it has subsequently doubled its market share to over 20%. The European Space Agency, Canada's Telesat, and the French company EADS Sodern, that makes satellite control and positioning systems, have all been phasing out their use of U.S.-supplied components. They've done this because dealing with U.S. vendors increases costs (due to regulatory compliance costs) and causes unpredictable delays in the supply of parts.

Nevada's Bigelow Aerospace delivered an aluminum satellite stand to Russia in 2006, which Robert Bigelow described as "indistinguishable from a common coffee table." But because it's associated with a satellite and officially part of a satellite assembly, it is covered by ITAR and had to be guarded by two security guards at all times. Even commodity items like screws and wiring, when part of a satellite, are covered by ITAR regulations.

The purpose of ITAR is to prevent key U.S. technologies with military applications from being leaked out to other countries that might be hostile to the U.S. But the effect of its overly broad application has been to shift the development of that technology to other countries and reduce the ability of U.S. companies to compete in the commercial satellite business.

Congress should look to reform ITAR--when export controls are so badly broken as to have nearly the opposite of the intended effect, they clearly need to be relaxed.

(Satellite and ITAR info via "Earthbound," The Economist, August 23, 2008, pp. 66-67.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

ABC News producer arrested in Denver

Police told ABC News producer Asa Eslocker to move off a public sidewalk, pushed him into the street, and then arrested him after telling him he was trespassing and "impeding the flow of traffic." ABC has video at their site, which shows another police officer who needs to be fired.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Military botnets article

I'm quoted in Peter Buxbaum's "Battling Botnets" article in the August 20, 2008 Military Information Technology. It didn't really fully capture the points I made in the interview, and I don't remember saying the statement at the end about using botnets as an offensive measure as "a nuclear option." I said that nullrouting is a much better method of denial of service for network service providers than flooding attacks, and made a point similar to Schneier's about military attacks on the infrastructure of another nation that the U.S. is at war with--it would be more useful to obtain access to their systems, monitor, and disrupt than to just shut off access completely, but those points weren't reflected in the article.

I've written more about military use of botnets at this blog.

Obama sign stolen

We put a Barack Obama for President sign in front of our house on Sunday; it's already gone today.

A Google search for "Obama sign stolen" shows that thefts of Obama yard signs are occurring all over the place--Midland, TX; Staunton, VA; Springfield, MO; Ivins and St. George, UT; Sartell, MN; Upper Arlington, OH; and so on. A Google search for "McCain sign stolen" shows allegations about McCain stealing a prisoner of war story, Cindy McCain stealing a recipe, and stories of thefts of Obama yard signs--but no reports of stolen McCain signs.

I suppose either our sign was stolen by an unethical Obama supporter for their own use (in which case the stolen sign should be popping up elsewhere), or by an unethical McCain supporter who has no respect for freedom of speech or private property. I suspect it's probably the latter.

UPDATE (November 5, 2008): Here's a story about a university instructor who wrote about his stealing a McCain/Palin sign in Minnesota--he has resigned his visiting professorship at St. Olaf College as a result. Philip Busse is described in the article as a journalist and political activist from Portland, Oregon.

Lori Lipman Brown on the Colbert Report tonight

Lori Lipman Brown, the nonbelievers' lobbyist in Washington D.C., will appear on The Colbert Report tonight. She works for the Secular Coalition of America, an organization whose members include the American Humanist Association, the American Ethical Union, Atheist Alliance International, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Institute for Humanist Studies, the Internet Infidels, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, the Secular Students Alliance, and the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

UPDATE: She won't be on tonight--maybe next week?

UPDATE (August 30, 2008): She was on last night's show, which is online.

Rifftrax

Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is behind Rifftrax, a website that allows you to download commentaries to play along with DVDs you watch. One of the commentaries currently available is for Ocean's Eleven and features Mike Nelson and our friend Richard Cheese. Many of the commentaries also feature MST3K writer and the voice of Tom Servo, Kevin Murphy, and MST3K writer and the voice of Crow, Bill Corbett.

Others include Weird Al Yankovic joining Nelson on Jurassic Park, Neil Patrick Harris joining Nelson on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and commentaries on Alien, Cloverfield, Forbidden Zone, I Am Legend, and the creepy short educational bicycle safety film from 1963, One Got Fat. Josh Fruhlinger, the Comics Cumudgeon, joins Nelson on the Spiderman 2 commentary.

Looks like they charge $2.99 or $3.99 for the feature film commentaries, $0.99 for the shorts, which are all DRM-free.

Check them out at Rifftrax.com.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DHS responds to my FOIA request for my travel dossier

On September 26, 2007, I submitted a request to the Department of Homeland Security requesting copies of information relating to me in the Automated Targeting System (ATS), a system that collects information about individuals who travel internationally. Travelers are then assigned a risk score; passengers who have higher scores are subjected to a higher level of screening, despite the fact that Congress has attached restrictions to its appropriations for passenger screening stating that "None of the funds provided in this or previous appropriations Acts may be utilized to develop or test algorithms assigning risk to passengers whose names are not on government watch lists."

Traveler risk scores are maintained for 40 years and individuals are not allowed to know their scores. The system has come under criticism for sometimes including information such as what books or magazines a passenger is carrying.

I followed the process suggested by The Identity Project, which stated that DHS was supposed to respond within 30 days. It took a little longer than expected--I just received my travel dossier today. It's fifteen pages of fairly cryptic documentation, with frequent short redactions. The redactions are each labeled with the section of 5 USC 552 which provides grounds for exemption from disclosure, (b)(2)(low), (b)(6), and (b)(7)(C). The first of those "exempts from disclosure records that are related to internal matters of a relatively trivial nature, such as internal administrative tracking," and accounts for the majority of the redactions. The other two are for "personnel or medical files and similar files the release of which would cause a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" and "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes that could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." I have a few of each of that type of redaction.

The documents include most--but not all--of my international air travel, including from as far back as 1984. There appear to be reports from two systems. There are four pages labeled "TECSII - PRIMARY QUERY HISTORY" and "PASSENGER ACTIVITY." TECS II is the Treasury Enforcement Communications System II, the primary database of IBIS, the Interagency Border Inspection System. This report lists a series of records of two lines each. The first line contains my name, date of birth, date and time of the query, the agency making a query, a result column (entirely redacted under (b)(2)), a column labeled "LNE TYP" that appears to use both of the two lines and has codes such as "API," "AIR," and "VEH." Finally on the first line are a completely redacted column labeled "TERM" and single-letter codes under the headings "API" and "DIM." The second line of each record contains airline flight numbers in some cases, and the name of the departure city in one case, a field labeled "DOC:" followed by a blank or my passport number, and, under the heading "LANE," the characters "INSP:" followed by a blank or a redacted field, probably the name of the agent making the query. At the bottom of each page of results are three or four lines that are completely redacted, probably part of a help screen or menu--the output looks like something from an IBM 3270 display terminal.

The other eleven pages of output look like IBM 3270-style output pasted into a single Word document that begins with my name and birthdate. It's divided into several sections, each headed with a date of travel and containing what appears to be passenger name records (PNR) taken directly from SABRE. The redactions in these sections seem to be somewhat haphazard--in one place part of my corporate email address was redacted, in another a different form of my corporate email addresses was not. My American Express card number is present, as is my Hertz #1 Club Gold membership number. It includes complete itineraries for the most recent travel, including hotel booking information (including type of room and bed), airline seat assignment information, and ticket price. There's less information for older travel, which is mostly obscure to me apart from dates and airport codes.

Next I'll have to check out my FBI file...

UPDATE (September 9, 2008): DHS has responded to charges that it is illegal for them to be recording and keeping certain border-crossing records in ATS by moving them to another database, called BCI.

UPDATE (December 31, 2008): DHS is in violation of its obligations to U.S. citizens under the Privacy Act, and to foreign nationals in Europe under the DHS-EU agreement on access to and use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data. DHS has not been complying with requests for data in the legally required time periods, nor with all of the relevant data. Data has also been illegally copied into other databases. Not surprisingly, the DHS's own internal review claims, even as the evidence contradicts the claim, that it is in compliance with the law.

Edward Hasbrouck has posted about the difference between American and European attitudes towards privacy and surveillance, and notes that at least one European airline, KLM, had never developed processes for complying with the law for passenger requests of records.

Simon Singh sued and silenced; Svetlana and Steinberg's speech surmounts suppression

Science writer Simon Singh (author of The Code Book on yesterday's list of science books) is a columnist for The Guardian, for which he wrote a column critical of chiropractic titled "Beware the spinal trap." The British Chiropractic Association sued him for the column, and it was withdrawn from the Guardian's website. Svetlana Pertsovich has posted the offending column from Internet cache on her website in Russia, James Steinberg has posted it at his blog, and I've included it below.

UK libel law is still in need of reform.

Beware the spinal trap
Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all but research suggests chiropractic therapy can be lethal
Simon Singh The Guardian, Saturday April 19 2008
This is Chiropractic Awareness Week. So let’s be aware. How about some awareness that may prevent harm and help you make truly informed choices? First, you might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that, “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.
In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.
You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.
I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.
But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.
In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.
More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.
Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.
Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”
This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Professor Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.
Bearing all of this in mind, I will leave you with one message for Chiropractic Awareness Week - if spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.
· Simon Singh is the co-author of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial
www.simonsingh.net


UPDATE: The part about chiropractic-induced stroke is of interest to me, as I had once heard of a case of chiropractic manipulation leading to blindness. When I mentioned it at a dinner of skeptics in Tempe, Arizona in 1987 that included James Randi and Jim Lowell of the National Council Against Health Fraud, both of them suggested that this was impossible because the optic nerves don't come anywhere near the spine. But nobody at the table (including me) thought about the possibility of spinal manipulation inducing a stroke causing damage to the visual system. This article from a chiropractic journal discusses cases of visual loss as a result of spinal surgery as a sort of tu quoque defense of chiropractic for similar problems, citing this article:
Myers M, Hamilton S, Bogosian A, Smith C, Wagner T Visual loss as a complication of spine surgery. Spine June 15, 1997;22(12).
So perhaps my remark from 21 years ago is vindicated?
UPDATE (November 4, 2009): Simon Singh gave an overview and update on his case on June 3.

Simon Singh fought against the libel claim despite the state of UK law, and has successfully won the right to appeal in October.


UPDATE (April 16, 2010): Simon Singh won his appeal, and the BCA dropped their suit.

Science books

From Cocktail Party Physics by way of Stranger Fruit... bold the ones you've read, asterisk the ones you intend to read:
  1. Micrographia, Robert Hooke
  2. The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin
  3. Never at Rest, Richard Westfall
  4. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
  5. Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney
  6. The Devil's Doctor, Philip Ball
  7. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
  8. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, Dennis Overbye
  9. Physics for Entertainment, Yakov Perelman
  10. 1-2-3 Infinity, George Gamow (I've not read this, but I've read Mr. Tompkins in Paperback)
  11. The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
  12. Warmth Disperses, Time Passes, Hans Christian von Bayer
  13. Alice in Quantumland, Robert Gilmore
  14. Where Does the Weirdness Go? David Lindley
  15. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
  16. A Force of Nature, Richard Rhodes
  17. Black Holes and Time Warps, Kip Thorne
  18. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking (I listened to it on tape on a drive to the Dallas CSICOP conference in 1992)
  19. Universal Foam, Sidney Perkowitz
  20. Vermeer's Camera, Philip Steadman
  21. The Code Book, Simon Singh
  22. The Elements of Murder, John Emsley
  23. *Soul Made Flesh, Carl Zimmer (I'm currently reading this)
  24. Time's Arrow, Martin Amis
  25. The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, George Johnson
  26. Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman
  27. Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
  28. The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, Lisa Jardine
  29. A Matter of Degrees, Gino Segre
  30. The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Krauss
  31. E=mc<2>, David Bodanis
  32. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, Charles Seife
  33. Absolute Zero: The Conquest of Cold, Tom Shachtman
  34. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, Janna Levin
  35. Warped Passages, Lisa Randall
  36. Apollo's Fire, Michael Sims
  37. Flatland, Edward Abbott
  38. Fermat's Last Theorem, Amir Aczel
  39. Stiff, Mary Roach
  40. Astroturf, M.G. Lord
  41. The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
  42. Longitude, Dava Sobel
  43. The First Three Minutes, Steven Weinberg
  44. The Mummy Congress, Heather Pringle
  45. The Accelerating Universe, Mario Livio
  46. Math and the Mona Lisa, Bulent Atalay
  47. This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin
  48. The Executioner's Current, Richard Moran
  49. Krakatoa, Simon Winchester
  50. Pythagorus' Trousers, Margaret Wertheim
  51. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  52. The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios
  53. The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump, Sandra Hempel
  54. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Katrina Firlik
  55. Einstein's Clocks and Poincare's Maps, Peter Galison
  56. The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan
  57. The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins
  58. The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
  59. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
  60. Consilience, E.O. Wilson
  61. Wonderful Life, Stephen J. Gould (haven't read this, but I've read all of his books of collected Natural History articles)
  62. Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard
  63. Fire in the Brain, Ronald K. Siegel
  64. The Life of a Cell, Lewis Thomas
  65. Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris
  66. Storm World, Chris Mooney
  67. The Carbon Age, Eric Roston
  68. The Black Hole Wars, Leonard Susskind
  69. Copenhagen, Michael Frayn
  70. From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne
  71. Gut Symmetries, Jeanette Winterson
  72. Chaos, James Gleick
  73. Innumeracy, John Allen Paulos
  74. The Physics of NASCAR, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky
  75. Subtle is the Lord, Abraham Pais
I'd add some Oliver Sacks and A.R. Luria (neuroscience case studies), V.S. Ramachandran's A Brief Tour of Consciousness, Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and some philosophy of science like Larry Laudan's Science and Relativism (nicely written in the form of a dialogue between advocates of different views), Philip Kitcher's The Advancement of Science, Thomas Kuhn's The Copernican Revolution, John Losee's A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, and Ian Hacking's Representing and Intervening. There are lots more to list, but those are a few that I've read. My science reading has leaned very strongly towards cognitive psychology, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science, which is only weakly represented on the above list, and on the creation/evolution debate, which isn't really represented on the above list at all, except by Darwin himself.

Now John Lynch can tell me that I really need to read Origin of Species.

UPDATE (August 28, 2008):

Enhanced with P.Z. Myers' additions:
  1. Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski
  2. Basin and Range, John McPhee
  3. Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner
  4. Chance and Necessity, Jacques Monod
  5. *Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, Olivia Judson (reading now)
  6. *Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean Carroll
  7. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, Carl Zimmer
  8. Genome, Matt Ridley
  9. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
  10. It Ain't Necessarily So, Richard Lewontin
  11. On Growth and Form, D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson
  12. Phantoms in the Brain, VS Ramachandran
  13. The Ancestor's Tale, Richard Dawkins
  14. The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution, Elisabeth Lloyd
  15. The Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Freeland Judson
  16. The Great Devonian Controversy, Martin Rudwick
  17. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Oliver Sacks
  18. The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould
  19. The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment, Richard Lewontin
  20. Time, Love, Memory, Jonathan Weiner
  21. Voyaging and The Power of Place, Janet Browne
  22. Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier

Police violating rights at the Democratic National Convention?

P.Z. Myers has a post at Pharyngula about how the Democratic National Convention itself is prioritizing religious speakers who disagree with planks of the party platform over non-religious speakers who do not, which goes on to report allegations from an attorney that police from the Aurora, Colorado Police Department have been arresting peaceful protesters on bogus charges, apparently confiscating a compact flash card documenting police behavior, shooting pepper spray into the face of a protester who was obeying police instructions, and illegally not wearing badges or using means to obstruct their names and badge numbers.

Cops who act illegally should be fired and prosecuted, every time. They hold a position of public trust and need to be held to a higher standard than civilians, not a lower one.

UPDATE: Police claim protesters were carrying rocks. They arrested about 100 protesters. The group Recreate '68 says it was denied its use of a legal permit for the use of Civic Center Park, while police helped to protect and bring in Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. About a dozen abortion protesters were arrested on Tuesday, so they weren't being given special treatment.

In the Denver Post's photos, I don't see any cops without visible badges, though in only a few photos of cops with riot gear are the pictures close enough to see the numbers in white on the front of their uniforms.

Focus on the Family's prayers answered

Focus on the Family told its followers to pray for rain on Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention, and as it turns out, there was some flooding. But the flooding filled the Fox skybox in the Pepsi Center with 50 to 100 gallons of water per minute for about five minutes when the fire suppression sprinkler system went off. A little bit off from the desired location in both time and space, yet somehow more appropriate.

God works in mysterious ways.

Obama speaks tomorrow evening at Invesco Field. California pastor Wiley Drake has been praying for rain every morning for the past two weeks, and is inviting Christians from around the country to join him tomorrow night on a two-hour conference call to pray for rain on Obama.

Weather.com's forecast for Denver tomorrow is sunny with a high of 82 degrees Fahrenheit and 0% change of precipitation, though it's partly cloudy with 10% chance of precipitation tonight.

(Hat tip to John Hummel.)

UPDATE (August 30, 2008): And now it looks like Hurricane Gustav may cause the Republican National Convention to be suspended!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Arizona Republic on FFRF billboards in Phoenix

The Arizona Republic has a story up about the FFRF billboards coming to Phoenix, with quotes from a local atheist, clergy, and a legislator. The quotes from the atheist, Harold Saferstein of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, and the clergyman, Bob Mitchell, senior pastor at Central United Methodist Church, are both quite reasonable. The quote from the legislator, Sen. Linda Gray, not so much. She is quoted as writing in an email that "The FFRF fails to acknowledge history which recognized the strong Christian commitment of those who attended the Constitutional Convention." First of all, how does she know what FFRF "fails to acknowledge" unless she is very familiar with the organization, which I doubt. Second, it's Gray who's talking out of her hat. While most of America's Founding Fathers were nominally Christian, this was the same Constitutional Convention that voted against opening its meetings with prayers and produced a document that contains no references to a deity except in the year before the signatures ("Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth"). It is a document which explicitly says in Article VI that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Its primary author, James Madison, was a strong advocate of strict separation of church and state who thought that even government-paid legislative chaplains were a violation of religious liberty.

Mitchell, the pastor quoted in the story, is quoted as saying "I don't have a problem with people expressing their points of view in public. ... I would prefer that there was serious tolerant dialogue that might emerge from this publicity campaign because it is much needed." The article says he hoped that there would be no backlash against the billboards, but would not be surprised if it happened. I agree with him.

(My previous posts on the FFRF billboards coming to Phoenix are here, here, and here.)

UPDATE: The Arizona Republic fails to note that much of the money for these billboards was raised by the Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group.

Here are the specific billboard locations:
The five new billboard locations are confirmed and approved by CBS Outdoor. They are on surface streets all within 1 to 3 miles of central Phoenix. Billboards are numbered and say CBS on them.

#2501 Start Date: August 29
Cross Streets: 19th Ave & Fillmore. Located just west of the State Capital area on 19th Ave. Best viewing occurs while traveling northbound on 19th Ave just prior to Fillmore. The sign is on the west side of 19th Ave. This location is within a few blocks of the Capital Complex.

#2701 Start Date: August 29
Cross Streets: Van Buren & 15th Ave. Located just north east of the State Capital area on Van Buren. Best viewing occurs while traveling eastbound on Van Buren just prior to 15th Ave. The sign is on the south side of Van Buren and is located within a few blocks of the State Capital complex.

#2821 Start Date: August 29
Cross Streets: Indian School & 23rd St. Best viewing occurs while traveling westbound on Indian School Rd just after 23rd St. The sign is on the south side of Indian School Rd.

#2911 Start Date: August 29
Cross streets: McDowell & 14th St. Located just northwest of the downtown area on McDowell Rd. Best viewing occurs while traveling eastbound on McDowell just after 14th St. The sign is on the north side of McDowell. The Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center is within a few blocks.

#2945 Start Date: August 29
Cross Streets: McDowell & 3rd St. Best viewing occurs while traveling westbound on McDowell. The sign is on the southwest corner of McDowell and 3rd St.
UPDATE: I was interviewed today by Brian Webb of KNXV-TV ABC 15 News and by Melissa Gonzalo of KPNX NBC 12 News about the billboards, as a local member of FFRF and the Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group. Their stories should air tonight, at 5 or 6 p.m. on 15 and at 6 p.m. on 12. The NBC story should appear on their website after it airs, and both suspected that the stories would air again with footage of the actual billboards on Friday.

This story has also been covered by NPR locally, and is the subject of a very poorly worded poll on Fox News 10, which seems to think that the only two possible reactions to the billboard are not be offended because it's free speech (not because you agree with it) or to be offended because America needs religion. P.Z. Myers has pointed Pharyngulites to the poll, so at least it has a sizable majority supporting freedom of speech.

UPDATE: The Channel 15 interview aired at 5 p.m. and I was happy with the result. (This video is two segments, one 0:41 segment that I'm not in, and a 1:36 segment where I appear from about 0:49 to 0:52.) Here's the video I appear in:



The Channel 12 interview aired at 6 p.m., and Melissa Gonzalo did a better job--she spent more time in the interview, and her piece came out better, in my opinion (but what's with the "Billboard Battle" tagline? What battle?). It's here:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tom Willis suggests labor camps for evolutionists

Tom Willis, the creationist behind the "Lucy's knee joint" claim I debunked in a Talk Origins FAQ, who in June stated that evolutionists should be "violently expelled" from the United States or denied the right to vote, now says that evolutionists should be imprisoned in labor camps.

I think Mr. Willis is either a lunatic or desperate for attention. I think he should get the latter, as a poster boy for creationist rationality.

I discussed Willis and the Lucy's knee joint claim in the fourth ApostAZ podcast.

(Willis is not actually in Kansas, but in Missouri, where he runs "The Berry Patch.")

UPDATE: Ed Brayton has a more detailed take-down of Willis' latest at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Friday, August 22, 2008

McCain another Bush?

Jack Cafferty writes at CNN about how McCain seems to be as intellectually vacuous as George W. Bush.

Obama resume-padding

Abraham Katsman and Kory Bardash point out several instances of Obama inflating his resumé with bogus claims about his record in The Jerusalem Post. They argue that he is doing this because despite holding multiple noteworthy positions, he really hasn't accomplished much of anything in any of them. He's published not a single academic paper while Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, published nothing while Harvard Law Review President, and can't point to any significant legislation he spearheaded in the U.S. Senate or in the Illinois State Senate.

UPDATE: John Lynch, in the comments, has, to my mind, refuted the concerns about publications (a Lecturer is not expected to publish, nor is the Harvard Law Review President), but my main concern was about the false statements. Two of the false statements are that he claimed to have "passed laws" that "extended healthcare for wounded troops who'd been neglected" when he didn't vote on the bill in question, and his statement that "Just this past week, we passed out of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee--which is my committee--a bill to call for divestment from Iran as a way of ratcheting up the pressure to ensure that they don't obtain a nuclear weapon" when he's not even on the Senate Banking Committee.

On the latter point, Obama's campaign says he meant to say "my bill" rather than "my committee," in which case the statement becomes somewhat more accurate, as Obama did supply some of the provisions to the bill in question. But it isn't really Obama's bill, despite his contributions. It's more accurately described as Christopher Dodd and Richard Shelby's bill.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Back from Maryland



We got back from Maryland last night, after spending most of a week at Deep Creek Lake and making day trips to D.C. and Baltimore. The Deep Creek Lake time was mostly relaxing, spending some time on the lake, visiting a few sites in nearby Oakland, visiting Swallow Falls and Muddy Creek Falls, and attending the Garrett County Fair, where I viewed my first demolition derby and pig and duck races. We went to a few of the less common attractions in D.C.--the crystal skull exhibit in the basement of the National Museum of Natural History, Owney the dog at the National Postal Museum, and had an excellent lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian. In Baltimore, we visited Fort McHenry, Poe's grave, and Fells Point.

Owney the dog traveled the world from 1888 to 1897, when, as the National Postal Museum's website says, "Owney became ill tempered and although the exact circumstances were not satisfactorily reported, Owney died in Toledo of a bullet wound on June 11, 1897."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Daniel Radosh's Rapture Ready

Daniel Radosh has a new book out titled Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture, which might be entertaining. There's a chapter on creationism that talks about Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, and possibly the split by Creation Ministries International, since Google Books tells me my name is mentioned on p. 279.

Anybody at Scribner want to send me a review copy?

Based on the reviews at Amazon.com, it sounds like Radosh gives Christian pop culture a sympathetic and even-handed portrayal that also points out its absurdities and self-contradictions, similar to the excellent documentary Hell House.

ApostAZ podcast #7

The latest ApostAZ podcast is out:
Episode 007 Atheism and Freethought in Phoenix- Go to atheists.meetup.com/157 for group events! Monthly Meetup Epilogue. Debate Tactics and Rhetoric. Sweden Rules Against Prayer as Truth: http://www.guardian.co.uk/. Prayer and Aggression. Obama and Faith Based Initiatives. Pickett Church? http://www.atheistrev.com/ Aggression study: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/120083092/abstract. Greydon Square's Album 'The Compton Effect'
Funny analogy from Shannon: "Prayer is a homeless dude on your couch."

Charity Navigator is another site similar to CharityWatch.

Shannon incorrectly states that McCain is a creationist. He's not. And the Creation Museum is in Kentucky, not Tennessee.

Picketing churches on the basis of its beliefs and doctrines is a terrible idea that should be left to Fred Phelps and similar kooks. The picketing of the Church of Scientology has generally been based on its behavior, not its doctrines--to the extent the focus is on opposing criminal behavior, that's reasonable.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Another lottery loser

Via the Arizona Republic:
A man who won $10 million in a California lottery game has been sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for a drunken-driving crash that killed three people.

Thomas Turnour had pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and causing injury while driving intoxicated.

The winner of a SuperLotto game in 2001 was sentenced Friday in San Bernardino.

Authorities say the 52-year-old man from Victorville was driving a pickup truck that hit a car stopped at a red light in San Bernardino three years ago. Three people inside the first car died.

His attorney says Turnour essentially "turned over everything he has" to settle a lawsuit filed by the victims' families.

Atheists' questions for candidates

The Phoenix Atheists Meetup Group has sent a letter (PDF) and ten questions (PDF) to John McCain, Barack Obama, and the 114 candidates for the Arizona State Senate and House of Representatives who are listed in the Citizens Clean Election Commission candidate statement booklet. Any received answers will be posted here.

The ten questions are:

1) Given a legislative voting scenario that presents you with a direct conflict between your religious beliefs/values and your duties to uphold the Constitution which do you choose and how would you make that decision?

2) What is your position regarding prayer while acting in your official capacity as an elected official and what role if any do you think prayer should play in the legislative body you wish to hold?

3) What is your position on enacting law that has religious tenets and/or dogma as its main motivation and reasoning?

4) Is it acceptable for elected officials to hold back or alter scientific reports if they conflict with their own views, and how will you balance scientific information with politics and personal beliefs in your decision-making?

5) Should the modern synthesis of Creationism known as “Intelligent Design” be taught in the public school and is it acceptable for religious ideology to interfere in science?

6) Would you allow a non theistic individual (atheist, humanist, freethinker, etc) to openly serve on your staff?

7) What is your position on a constitutional amendment to define marriage and if in favor of a constitutional amendment to define marriage are your motivations religious or secular?

8) What is your position on abstinence-only sex education?

9) What is your position on government regulation and funding of stem cell research?

10) With regards specifically to the establishment of the United States as a nation, the history of the United States, and the law of the United States do you consider our country to be a “Christian Nation”?

FFRF billboards delayed due to CBS Outdoor cowardice

The FFRF billboards planned for Phoenix that were supposed to be launched on August 18 have been postponed after CBS Outdoor became uncomfortable with the "Imagine No Religion" slogan. They have decided to apply an analogue of their policy requiring that billboards advertising alcohol and tobacco, which must be at least 1000 feet from any school or church.

Apparently CBS Outdoor considers atheism to be equivalent to alcohol or tobacco, unfit to be advertised near sensitive churchgoers or students.

They are probably within their rights to do this--they own the billboards--but their belief that this is a sound business decision is pretty absurd and cowardly. (I haven't actually seen the contracts, but I suspect they are crafted in such a way to leave themselves the option to move locations or even cancel the contract if there's a whiff of controversy that they'd prefer to avoid.)

I suspect the locations of the billboards are unlikely to make much difference about whether controversy is generated, but this change gives CBS Outdoor something they can appeal to in response to criticism--see, we tried to be sensitive to religious concerns about the expression of disagreement.

The new locations are likely to be approved on Monday, and I'll report here what they are. I'm actually surprised that there are any billboard locations in Phoenix that aren't within 1000 feet of a church or a school.

(Previously, previously, subsequently.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Food tasting

Via Stranger Fruit.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding (in Buenos Aires)
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp (fish allergy)
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche (in Buenos Aires)
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (chocolate covered ants/grasshoppers/crickets)
43. Phaal
44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV (Elephant beer at Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores (last night)
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (Beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (I'd rather try Kopi Luwak)
100. Snake Fried rattlesnake at Rustler's Rooste

Candy cigarettes are now "quality sticks"


Photograph taken at the Farmer's Market "Candyland" near Deep Creek Lake, August 14, 2008.

They also make candy "crayons" that are packaged much like candy cigarettes, and also called "quality sticks."

Arizona Republicans turn on themselves

On August 7, the Arizona Republic reported:

The race for a state Senate seat in west Mesa broke out into a wide-open brawl Wednesday, with allegations that Rep. Russell Pearce attacked his wife nearly three decades ago and Pearce's campaign firing back that the charge is false and the height of sleazy campaigning.

A mailer sent to voters in west Mesa cited a divorce petition that LuAnne Pearce filed in 1980. In it, she charges that her husband had a violent temper, hit her and shoved her. The petition also says that two days before the filing, Pearce "grabbed the wife by the throat and threw her down."

The petition was later withdrawn, and the Pearces remain married.
This mailer came from an organization called Mesa Deserves Better, chaired by Republican fundraiser and dirty tricks operator Nathan Sproul, who is former head of the Arizona Republican Party and former head of the Arizona Christian Coalition. Sproul was previously mentioned on this blog during his support of the failed gubernatorial campaign of Len Munsil, when he was complaining about a campaign by a deceptively-named group called the "Arizona Conservative Trust" that criticized Munsil.

Another mailer from Mesa Deserves Better made reference to Pearce's connection to J.T. Ready of Mesa, a white supremacist who has taken part in neo-Nazi rallies. Mesa Deserves Better also rightly opposes Pearce's anti-immigration stance.

Sproul is known nationally for engaging in deceptive tactics in multiple states to help George W. Bush and other Republicans get elected by forming "get out the vote" organizations which worked to get Republicans registered to vote and to deter or discard Democrative voter registrations.

In reality, the Republican would be better off without Pearce or Sproul.

CMI responds to AiG dispute summary

Creation Ministries International has updated its website to respond to the trove of documents released by Answers in Genesis. The Answers in Genesis site now includes the U.S. judge's order to compel arbitration in the U.S. (PDF). The court's order requires arbitration to occur in the U.S., but does not put a stop to the legal action in Australia, on the grounds that one of the documents at issue (the Deed of Copyright License or DOCL) says that the parties do "not object to the exercise of jurisdiction by [the Australian courts] on any basis" (to quote the judge's quotation from the document). The judge describes his order as granting in part and denying in part the Answers in Genesis petition, though Answers in Genesis describes it merely as granting their petition to compel arbitration.

The CMI update has a lengthy list of "WHAT AIG IS CAREFUL NOT TO TELL YOU" that makes the point that the U.S. and Australian groups were not as separate as AiG has tried to convey, with interesting examples such as that the U.S. group had appointed a CEO/COO to report to Ken Ham as president, and Carl Wieland of the Australian group was given the task of firing this person. Another is that the letter from Wieland to the U.S. board that AiG describes as "unsolicited" was actually specifically requested by the U.S. board in response to Wieland's criticisms that he had previously made to the Australian board (three members of which were also on the U.S. board).

AiG describes its former executive VP, Brandon Vallorani, as a dupe or co-conspirator with Carl Wieland, but doesn't note that when he was terminated he was given a payment in return for being bound to silence, and so is unable to comment on what actually happened without breaching that agreement.

The CMI summary notes (as I mentioned, via Kevin Henke, in my previous post) that the Thallon document contradicts other testimony from Thallon about whether the Australian board was pressured to accept the October 2005 agreement: "Ironically, there is eyewitness testimony of people having heard Thallon himself claim that they acted under duress in signing, and we have in writing (written back at the time) from a leading creation scientist and professor that Thallon personally told him that Ken Ham had threatened to not buy the next issue of the magazine if they failed to sign. So Thallon is either telling the truth to this scientist, or he is telling the truth in these documents–it’s hard to see how both can be the case." It's also interesting to note that the Thallon document alternates between U.S. and Australian spellings of some words (e.g. "organization" and "organisation" are both used in paragraph 22), which probably indicates a document prepared by Thallon (an Australian) and one or more Americans (such as AiG's attorneys) that was not fully reviewed carefully for consistency.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The dangers of digital drugs

Kim Komando (who at least used to be based here in Phoenix) is promoting nonsense about "digital drugs":

But websites are targeting your children with so-called digital drugs. These are audio files designed to induce drug-like effects.

All your child needs is a music player and headphones.

Digital drugs supposedly synchronize your brain waves with the sound. Hence, they allegedly alter your mental state.

Binaural beats create a beating sound. Other noises may be included with binaural beats. This is intended to mask their unpleasant sound.

Some sites provide binaural beats that have innocuous effects. For example, some claim to help you develop extrasensory powers like telepathy and psychokinesis.

Other sites offer therapeutic binaural beats. They help you relax or meditate. Some allegedly help you overcome addiction or anxiety. Others purport to help you lose weight or eliminate gray hair.

However, most sites are more sinister. They sell audio files ("doses") that supposedly mimic the effects of alcohol and marijuana.

But it doesn't end there. You'll find doses that purportedly mimic the effects of LSD, crack, heroin and other hard drugs. There are also doses of a sexual nature. I even found ones that supposedly simulate heaven and hell.

Many are skeptical about the effects of digital drugs. Few scientific studies have been conducted on binaural beats. However, a Duke University study suggests that they can affect mood and motor performance.

Dr. Nicholas Theodore, a brain surgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, said there is no real evidence that idosers work. [emphasis added] But he noted that musical preference is indicative of emotional vulnerability. Trying idosers could indicate a willingness to experiment with drugs and other dangerous behavior.

Theodore added that idosers are another reason to monitor kids' Internet usage. And, he said, kids need frank talks with their parents about correct choices.

...

Let's think about this for a moment. The sites claim binaural beats cause the same effects as illegal drugs. These drugs impair coordination and can cause hallucinations. They've caused countless fatal accidents, like traffic collisions.

If binaural beats work as promised, they are not safe. They could also create a placebo effect. The expectation elicits the response. Again, this is unsafe.

At the very least, digital drugs promote drug use. Some sites say binaural beats can be used with illegal drugs.

At least she doesn't call for new laws. I'd endorse consumer civil complaints, if not fraud charges, against sellers of bogus products, which would include the so-called "therapeutic" binaural beats just as much as the allegedly "sinister" ones.

(Via The Agitator.)

AiG/CMI: judge accepts, then withdraws mediation offer

The judge in the U.S. lawsuit filed by Answers in Genesis against Creation Ministries International said that he intended to rule that the groups go into arbitration in Kentucky, under the rules of the American Arbitration Association. But he rejected AiG's demands to stop the legal proceeding in Australia or to force arbitration by Peacemakers/ICC, the organization they had selected for Christian arbitration.

After the hearing, CMI's attorney proposed that the judge himself mediate a one-day attempt to resolve the dispute more quickly, and the judge agreed on the condition that the mediation meeting be limited to Carl Wieland, Ken Ham, and their respective attorneys. CMI agreed, posted a note to that effect on their website, and booked airfare.

AiG, however, objected to the restriction to one person, and requested that an additional person participate, on the grounds that Ken Ham is not a member of the AiG board of directors.

The judge then withdrew the mediation offer, and the case will continue in the U.S., without going to Christian arbitration.

CMI has a new web page up describing the mediation offer and speculating on the next steps. They observe that the judge has made multiple statements to the effect that the only jurisdiction mentioned in the legal documents between the groups is Australia, and point out that they have already filed an appeal on that basis regarding the judge's decision to require arbitration in the United States.

CMI has also updated their main web page on the dispute.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Robert Neuwirth at TED

This is a video of a presentation at the TED conference by Robert Neuwirth, author of Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, about how the growth of squatter cities represents the cities of the future, as a growing percentage of the world's population will live in such cities. I find it fascinating how such extra-legal cities which tend to operate beyond the fringes of the law, are places of considerable freedom and opportunity despite their poverty. Another similar book is Ian Lambot and Greg Girard's City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon City, about the squatter city of Kowloon Walled City on the peninsula south of Hong Kong, where squatters developed their own systems of property rights and rules in the absence of government intervention.