Monday, October 31, 2005

Texas Pastor Electrocuted During Baptism

"A pastor performing a baptism was electrocuted inside his church Sunday morning after adjusting a nearby microphone while standing in water, a church employee said."

Rev. Kyle Lake of University Baptist Church was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital; the woman being baptised "was not seriously injured." More on Yahoo News, via Associated Press.

The story says that apparently the woman being baptised had not yet stepped into the water. No word on whether she will proceed with another pastor or church, or take it as a sign not to join this particular sect.

Consistent Kookery

You've got to hand it to the Amish. At least they are consistent, unlike the vast majority of the IDiots out there who poo poo the notions of evolution while at the same time readily partaking in its fruits--medicine that would be impossible were it not for our understanding of germs and genetics.

But not the Amish, who let their kids get polio rather than question "The Word." I'm not sure what you'd call them, but you can't call 'em hypocrites.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Deception by Dover Defendant William Buckingham

Dover Area School Board member William Buckingham gave testimony in the trial, contradicting his sworn depositions on a number of points. First, he had been quoted numerous times as calling for creationism to be taught in schools to balance out evolution, then denied it in deposition. On the stand, he admitted it, and that his statement in his sworn deposition was false. Second, he had claimed in deposition that he had no idea who purchased the 60 copies of Of Pandas and People which were donated to the school. On the stand, he admitted that he was the one who asked for donations in church and wrote the check to Donald Bonsall have the books purchased.

This is the same guy who stood up at a school board meeting and said, "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?"

Way to be a model of moral behavior, Bill!

Looks like Dover Area School Board member Heather Geesey has also contradicted her deposition statements. (More on Geesey at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Yet more on peer review of Michael Behe's book

Ed Brayton tracked down and got comments from the other two known reviewers of Behe's Darwin's Black Box, Robert Shapiro and K. John Morrow. Shapiro reviewed the origins of life aspect (his area of expertise), and though he disagreed with Behe's conclusions, thought it was the best argument from design he'd seen. Morrow, on the other hand, thought the book was poor and disingenuous, and believes that his review led an earlier publisher to reject it.

Ed's commentary at Dispatches from the Culture Wars includes the text of an email from Morrow about the book, along with the text of reviewer comments from biochemist Russell Doolittle. Both are quite damning.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Institutional Inertia

HBO’s The Wire is an absolutely fantastic show. Written by Ed Burns, a former policeman, the show is, on one level, about a Baltimore homicide detective’s monomaniacal pursuit of the leaders of a heroin cartel. On another level, the show is an exploration of how institutions impact the choices available to the individuals who make them up. Albert Jay Nock, in his essay Anarchist’s Progress, addressed this topic brilliantly. The message of both Burns and Nock is that people are often forced by circumstance (usually one contrived by the institutions they are a part of) to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do (of course, Max Stirner would justifiably declare these people to be "possessed by spooks").

Unfortunately this phenomenon extends beyond the bureaucratic hell that a city government must be. It seems it exists even in what I would imagine would be the least likely of all places for it to be: libertarian think tanks. I personally know several Cato staffers, for example, who are staunch anarchists, and yet, apparently from a need for Cato to appear “inside the beltway,” they often put out some seriously milquetoast policy recommendations.

Arizona’s Goldwater Institute, also staffed by a few anarchistas, provides another example. In private conversations with Vicky Murray, she has told me that she thinks school and state should be entirely separate. Yet, in her capacity as Goldwater’s Director of Educational Opportunity, she writes articles like this and this. It is understandable that Goldwater would want to pander to their financial base, which consists mostly of traditional conservatives, but it’s disappointing, nonetheless. Does taking a half-assed approach really "defend liberty"? (I'm actually not sure what, if anything, defends liberty nowadays. I am more and more convinced that Stirner is right when he says that all freedom is self liberation and must be taken.)

All of these issues were really brought into stark relief for me by the article they published today, which complains about Arizona’s salary grid for teachers. The article’s author, John Wenders, points to a school in Little Rock, Arkansas, where they “began tying teacher bonuses to students’ Stanford Achievement Test results. In just one year, overall student achievement increased 17 percent, and teachers received bonuses up to $8,600.”

I can’t believe that the article’s author, an economics professor, cites this literally incredible statistic so unquestioningly. As someone versed in economic theory, Professor Wenders should know better than most that incentives matter. I submit that the amazing 17 percent increase was probably achieved via some combination of cheating (and I specifically mean teacher cheating, not student), “teaching to the test”, statistical anomaly, and perhaps a small amount of legitimately better teaching.

I think that, in publishing this article, Goldwater does a disservice to themselves and the cause of liberty. Unfortunately, the article that should have been written, and the article that I can only hope Vicky Murray probably wanted to write – that schools should be entirely private and then the salaries of the teachers would suddenly no longer be a political hot-button – is one that we’re likely never to see. I think that’s a shame.

Defending Against Botnets

I'll be speaking next week at Arizona State University's "Computer Security Awareness Week" on the above topic. My talk is on Wednesday, November 2 at 11 a.m. at the Polytechnic Campus in Union Ballroom C, and will be followed by Erik Graham of General Dynamics speaking on Wireless Security. I've been told to be as technically detailed as I like, though I think this is a problem which is in greater need of having its economic aspects addressed, in order to drive the implementation of the existing technical solutions. Bruce Schneier has suggested that ISPs need to be held liable for malicious traffic they originate; I'd amend that to say that they should be held liable to the extent there are commercially reasonable measures to prevent, detect, and respond to such traffic and they don't do it. I agree with Schneier that the ISPs whose end users have compromised machines are in the best position to address the problems those compromised machines create--along with the manufacturers of the operating systems they run.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I Am Speechless

Here it is, less than eight hours into Max's 199th and I'm already crowding it out. I'm sure Max doesn't mind.

If this blog had categories then this item would be filed in "WTF?"

I was pre-pubescent when Star Trek I came out, so I guess I was oblivious to the male camel toe fashion trend that seems to have been in full swing (if you'll pardon the pun) at the time.

That shocking image is courtesy the ladies over at Look At His Butt!, who swear that, as you might have hesitatingly concluded, that is a wet spot that Spock is sporting.

Happy 199th, Max!

What distinguishes a religious belief from, well, a non­-religious belief?

Is it belief in a god or gods? Belief in the super-natural? It seems to be something more than these things.

Aside from the usual suspects, examples of "religions" having a more secular flavor are legion. It isn't just the Christians who are screaming "The end is Nigh!" Witness those who believe in an impending technological singularity. Or those who think future technologies will be able to give us the naturalist's equivalent of an afterlife. Or those who think we're about to run out of oil. Or that our carbon emissions are causing global warming (for why I think that's bullshit, go here). Or that our very existence is causing mass extinctions (okay, maybe that one is supported by the evidence - just maybe).

And those are just the millennialists and chicken littles (and only a sample, at that)! Other "secular" beliefs that I think fall under the "religious" umbrella include SETI, Communism, Objectivism, natural rights theory...

There must be something deep in the human psyche that compels us to believe that we - meaning "we" as a species, or "we" as people living here, now - are somehow special, somehow chosen; that we have meaning; that we have import or intrinsic value, for those would appear to be some of the characteristics of the beliefs I mentioned. Another - perhaps more important - characteristic is that these beliefs are (generally) couched in terms that are not falsifiable, and hence rest ultimately on the basis of faith.

Given this apparently fundamental need to believe (i.e., "have faith") in something, it's not surprising that Max Stirner, born Johann Caspar Schmidt on October 25th, 1806, in Bayreuth, Germany, is all but forgotten.

A worthy introduction to Stirner and his thought is well beyond the scope of what I can present here. Wikipedia has a decent introductory essay about him, along with an excellent set of links to further reading (this one in particular I like!), and Svein Olav Nyberg's pages are comprehensive and indispensable.

For even more depth, I recommend as a starting point that you read the book Individuality and the Social Organism. Follow that link and you'll no doubt see my review of it, as well as my Listmania List of other Stirner-related books.

I will save a longer discussion of Stirner's ideas and influence for a later date (After all, I will need something new to say on his bicentennial) and confine myself in this post to touching on just one reason I think he is worth retrieving from the dustbin of history: his attack on "religious" thinking of all stripes.

Man, your head is haunted; you have wheels in your head! You imagine great things, and depict to yourself a whole world of gods that has an existence for you, a spirit-realm to which you suppose yourself to be called, an ideal that beckons you. You have a fixed idea!
With this thought, Stirner begins his attack upon an idea proposed by his friend and contemporary, Feuerbach, in his book The Essence of Christianity. Feuerbach's thesis was that all of the Christian notions of the "divine" rightfully belonged in the concept of Man. Stirner's counter (and, as it turned out, death-blow) was that this was simply a change of masters, and he would have none of it.
History seeks for man: but he is I, you, we. Sought as a mysterious essence, as the divine, first as God, then as man (humanity, humaneness, and mankind), he is found as the individual, the finite, the unique one [einzige].
Stirner cautioned that such an abstraction of "essences" was identical to religion, in spite of Feuerbach's attempt to eliminate God from the equation.

With the strength of despair Feuerbach clutches at the total substance of Christianity, not to throw it away, no, to drag it to himself, to draw it, the long-yearned-for, ever-distant, out of its heaven with a last effort, and keep it by him forever. Is not that a clutch of the uttermost dispair, a clutch for life or death, and is it not at the same time the Christian yearning and hungering for the other world?

So, Stirner was interested in freeing himself from all instances of dogmatic (i.e., religious) belief, and his book Der Einzige und sein Eigentum can be seen as an exploration and casting off of these "fixed ideas," or "spooks," as he called them, one by one.

Whether a poor fool of the insane asylum is possessed by the fancy that he is God the Father, Emperor of Japan, the Holy Spirit, or whatnot, or whether a citizen in comfortable circumstances conceives that it is his mission to be a good Christian, a faithful Protestant, a loyal citizen, a virtuous man - both these are one and the same "fixed idea".


When I have degraded [the fixed idea] to a spook and its control over me to a cranky notion, then it is to be looked upon as having lost its sacredness, its holiness, its divinity, and then I use it, as one uses nature at pleasure without scruple.


Here would be the place to pass the haunting spirits in review... Sacred above all is the "Holy Spirit", sacred the truth, sacred are right, law, a good cause, majesty, marriage, the common good, order, the fatherland, and so on.

Stirner's message is ultimately one of profound empowerment and self-liberation, in spite of the charge of some that it is the pinnacle of "estrangement," "desolation," and "nihilism." Admittedly, it is few indeed who are willing to follow Stirner all the way along his path. What Stirner does, though, like all skeptics worth their mettle do, is make you fight hard for the spooks you want to keep. For some, I guess, the belief in the Easter bunny is too precious a thing to give up.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Christian Hackers' Association

I guess you'd call them "scripture kiddies." Their projects include transliterating the Bible into "leet" and praying for spammers. Their website is here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Top real-estate investor sells U.S. holdings

In another sign that the housing bubble is near an end, Tom Barrack is selling off his U.S. real estate holdings.

Unicef bombs the Smurfs

Via Wiley Wiggins' blog, here's a Belgian anti-war PSA in which the Smurf village gets bombed.

Kirk Cameron on Evolution (he's against it)

Dispatches from the Culture Wars points out a video available from Google's experimental video search, that features Kirk Cameron of "Growing Pains" arguing against atheism and evolution. The most entertaining argument in the video is the argument that the banana was clearly intelligently designed. Troy Britain quotes a more extensive list of banana features (several of which are used in this video):
The banana—the atheist's nightmare.

Note that the banana:

1. Is shaped for human hand

2. Has non-slip surface

3. Has outward indicators of inward content: Green—too early,Yellow—just right, Black—too late.

4. Has a tab for removal of wrapper

5. Is perforated on wrapper

6. Bio-degradable wrapper

7. Is shaped for human mouth

8. Has a point at top for ease of entry

9. Is pleasing to taste buds

10. Is curved towards the face to make eating process easy

To say that the banana happened by accident is even more unintelligent than to say that no one designed the Coca Cola can.

Troy's rebuttal: OK, now explain the pineapple.

There's also some amusing commentary on coconuts.

For more on Cavendish bananas (the particular variety Americans are familiar with), see this Popular Science article. They are seedless, sterile plants that are all clones of each other, and the variety familiar to us was, in fact, the product of human intervention (artificial selection).

The video is filled with the usual nonsense and misrepresentations--Darwin is quoted out-of-context about the eye, it's falsely claimed that Einstein wasn't an atheist, fails to recognize the differences between human artifacts and self-reproducing biological organisms, etc.

UPDATE (May 12, 2008): A 1954 letter from Einstein to philosopher Eric Gutkind says:
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.

UPDATE (June 25, 2008): Ray Comfort concedes that the banana argument is not a good one.

UPDATE (July 11, 2009): Ray Comfort has apologized for the bad argument, but is still completely clueless. Adding the Coke can back to the example doesn't improve the argument at all.

Michael Behe Disproves Irreducible Complexity

In the Dover trial, Behe was questioned at some length about what was demonstrated in the paper he co-authored with David Snoke, "Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Feature that Requires Multiple Amino Acid Residues," which the Discovery Institute lists as a peer-reviewed journal article supporting intelligent design.

At the Dispatches from the Culture Wars blog, Ed Brayton quotes a long section from Behe's cross-examination about this paper about what it actually demonstrates. It has been represented as demonstrating that a particular kind of irreducibly complex system cannot evolve. What it actually shows is something rather different. As Ed puts it:
Yet what does he admit under oath that his own study actually says? It says that IF you assume a population of bacteria on the entire earth that is 7 orders of magnitude less than the number of bacteria in a single ton of soil...and IF you assume that it undergoes only point mutations...and IF you rule out recombination, transposition, insertion/deletion, frame shift mutations and all of the other documented sources of mutation and genetic variation...and IF you assume that none of the intermediate steps would serve any function that might help them be preserved...THEN it would take 20,000 years (or 1/195,000th of the time bacteria have been on the earth) for a new complex trait requiring multiple interacting mutations - the very definition of an irreducibly complex system according to Behe - to develop and be fixed in a population.

In other words, even under the most absurd and other-worldly assumptions to make it as hard as possible, even while ruling out the most powerful sources of genetic variation, an irreducibly complex new trait requiring multiple unselected mutations can evolve within 20,000 years. And if you use more realistic population figures, in considerably less time than that. It sounds to me like this is a heck of an argument against irreducible complexity, not for it.
The full exchange quoted at Dispatches is worth reading, and more commentary can be found at The Panda's Thumb, where John Timmer points out that
Based on the math presented there [in Behe & Snoke], it appears that this sort of mutation combination could arise about 10^14 times a year, or something like 100 trillion times a year.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Cool toy

Speaking of old science fiction movies, there's a cool toy available from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, if you have a spare $50K.

AmEx sues Savvis CEO for nonpayment of strip club tab

American Express has filed a lawsuit against Savvis CEO Robert A. McCormick for his failure to pay a $241,000 credit card bill full of charges from the strip club Scores in October 2003, where he was present with "at least three other men."

I remember hearing stories of similar activity by sales executives at Genuity before the dot-com bust (no pun intended).

Savvis' deputy general counsel says that he disputed the charges with AmEx and that they believe he was the victim of fraud by Scores.

This is apparently the third such lawsuit from AmEx involving disputed Scores bills (the other two were for $28,000 and $129,000). Scores spokesman Lonnie Hanover says that high rollers who visit the "super elite President's Club" at Scores often spend thousands of dollars on single bottles of champagne and give strippers tips as large as $10,000. Sounds like a clip joint to me.

The Sanctity of Marriage

I just had to weigh in on the Maggie Gallagher post at Volokh. She's a wacko.

Nkem Owoh's "I Go Chop Your Dollar"

A Nigerian actor/musician/comedian has made a song and music video about 419 scams. The chorus is "Oyinbo man, I go chop your dollar, I take your money and disappear, 419 is just a game, you are the loser, I am the winner."

As this site complains (along with the next link), the video does nothing to raise confidence in Nigeria. The song is popular in Cameroon, and is apparently based on a tract authored by Nkem Owoh.

UPDATE (December 10, 2009): Nkem Owoh was recently kidnapped while driving down the highway in eastern Nigeria, and the original ransom was 15 million naira ($99,000), but allegedly reduced to 1.4 million naira and his car. (Source: "Go for the locals," The Economist, November 28-December 4, 2009, p. 56.)

More on Behe and "review"

This exchange occurred during Behe's cross examination:

Q But you actually were a critical reviewer of Pandas, correct; that’s what it says in the acknowledgments page of the book?

A that’s what it lists there, but that does not mean that I critically reviewed the whole book and commented on it in detail, yes.

Q What did you review and comment on, Professor Behe?

A I reviewed the literature concerning blood clotting, and worked with the editor on the section that became the blood clotting system. So I was principally responsible for that section.

Q So you were reviewing your own work?

A I was helping review or helping edit or helping write the section on blood clotting.

Q Which was your own contribution?

A that’s — yes, that’s correct.

Q that’s not typically how the term “critical review” is used; would you agree with that?

A Yeah, that’s correct.

Q So when the publishers of Pandas indicate that you were a critical reviewer of Pandas, that’s somewhat misleading, isn’t it?

MR. MUISE: Objection. Assumes that he understands what their purpose for listing him as a critical reviewer.

THE COURT: He just answered the question that that’s not a critical review, so the objection is overruled. You can ask that question.


Q Advertising you as a critical reviewer of this book is misleading to the students, isn’t it?

MR. MUISE: Objection, that’s argumentative.

THE COURT: it’s cross examination. it’s appropriate cross. Overruled.

THE WITNESS: I m sorry, could you repeat the question?


Q Telling the readers of Pandas that you were a critical reviewer of that book is misleading, isn’t it?

A I disagree. As I said, that’s not the typical way that the term “critical reviewer” is used, but nonetheless, in my opinion I don’t think it is misleading.

Nice optical illusion

Watch as a pink dot moves around a circle of pink dots, then becomes a green dot and the other pink dots disappear...

Intelligent Design and Rigorous Peer Review

In the Dover intelligent design trial, expert witness for the defense Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box, testified that his book received rigorous peer review--more rigorous than a paper in a scientific journal:
At the same time, Behe agreed, when asked by plaintiff's counsel Eric Rothschild if the "peer review for Darwin's Black Box was analogous to peer review in the [scientific] literature." It was, according to Behe, even more rigorous. There were more than twice standard the number of reviewers and "they read [the book] more carefully... because this was a controversial topic."
It turns out that the deciding factor in the book's being published came from the rigorous peer review of Dr. Michael Atchison of the University of Pennsylvania, who has described his involvement:
...I received a phone call from the publisher in New York. We spent approximately 10 minutes on the phone. After hearing a description of the work, I suggested that the editor should seriously consider publishing the manuscript. I told him that the origin of life issue was still up in the air. It sounded like this Behe fellow might have some good ideas, although I could not be certain since I had never seen the manuscript. We hung up and I never thought about it again. At least until two years later. [...]

In November 1998, I finally met Michael Behe when he visited Penn for a Faculty Outreach talk. He told me that yes, indeed, it was his book that the publisher called me about. In fact, he said my comments were the deciding factor in convincing the publisher to go ahead with the book.
The key reviewer, whose comments were the determining factor in the publication of the book, spent ten minutes on the telephone with the publisher, whose wife was a student in one of his classes, and he never saw the book itself until after it was published.

Ed Brayton and John Lynch give more detail and comment.

There were four other reviewers: Robert Shapiro (prof. of chemistry, NYU, author of Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth), K. John Morrow (formerly at Texas Tech University Health Sciences, published critic of Dembski and Behe), a forgotten Washington University biochemist, and another whom Behe has completely forgotten. Perhaps they gave it a more rigorous review than Atchison, who didn't actually review it at all.

Which classic science fiction films have you seen?

From Pharyngula. Bold the ones you've seen.

* The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!
* Akira
* Alien
* Aliens
* Alphaville
* Back to the Future
* Blade Runner
* Brazil
* Bride of Frankenstein
* Brother From Another Planet
* A Clockwork Orange
* Close Encounters of the Third Kind
* Contact
* The Damned
* Destination Moon
* The Day The Earth Stood Still
* Delicatessen
* Escape From New York
* ET: The Extraterrestrial
* Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)
* The Fly (1985 version)
* Forbidden Planet
* Ghost in the Shell
* Gojira/Godzilla
* The Incredibles
* Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)
* Jurassic Park
* Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior
* The Matrix
* Metropolis
* On the Beach
* Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
* Robocop
* Sleeper
* Solaris (1972 version)
* Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
* Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
* Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
* The Stepford Wives
* Superman
* Terminator 2: Judgement Day
* The Thing From Another World
* Things to Come
* Tron
* 12 Monkeys
* 28 Days Later
* 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
* 2001: A Space Odyssey
* La Voyage Dans la Lune
* War of the Worlds (1953 version)

I'm assuming the 1954 version of Godzilla is intended (not the 1984 one or "Godzilla 2000"), the 1902 version of La Voyage Dans la Lune (not the 1986 TV version), and the 1975 version of The Stepford Wives (not the 2004 version). This is a rather weird list. I'd remove all the anime and add some more obscure stuff like Phase IV, Silent Running, The Cube, Logan's Run, Village of the Damned, 20 Million Miles to Earth, etc.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Impracticality of Space Travel

We better hope that one day either carbon nanotubes or plutonium can be purchased in bulk at the corner market, because otherwise, sadly, it looks like we ain't gettin' into space until the day when we're all as rich as Bill Gates.

(ht: Chicago Boyz)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

EFF Decrypts Laser Printer Codes

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published information about tracking codes printed in every document by laser printers from Xerox, Canon, Brother, Dell, Epson and other companies. These codes, which have been decrypted for one model of Xerox printer, indicate the date and time the document was printed and the serial number of the printer. The codes have apparently been in effect for at least a decade.

1st Lt. Gregg Murphy: Bush shill?

The Media Citizen blog has some background on one of the soldiers in the pre-rehearsed interaction with Bush that occurred last Thursday--it seems he's been appearing in pro-Bush pieces on Iraq since 2003.

Science catches up with Jules Verne...

On the 16th of January, the Nautilus seemed becalmed only a few yards beneath the surface of the waves. Her electric apparatus remained inactive and her motionless screw left her to drift at the mercy of the currents. I supposed that the crew was occupied with interior repairs, rendered necessary by the violence of the mechanical movements of the machine.

My companions and I then witnessed a curious spectacle. The hatches of the saloon were open, and, as the beacon light of the Nautilus was not in action, a dim obscurity reigned in the midst of the waters. I observed the state of the sea, under these conditions, and the largest fish appeared to me no more than scarcely defined shadows, when the Nautilus found herself suddenly transported into full light. I thought at first that the beacon had been lighted, and was casting its electric radiance into the liquid mass. I was mistaken, and after a rapid survey perceived my error.

The Nautilus floated in the midst of a phosphorescent bed which, in this obscurity, became quite dazzling. It was produced by myriads of luminous animalculae, whose brilliancy was increased as they glided over the metallic hull of the vessel. I was surprised by lightning in the midst of these luminous sheets, as though they had been rivulets of lead melted in an ardent furnace or metallic masses brought to a white heat, so that, by force of contrast, certain portions of light appeared to cast a shade in the midst of the general ignition, from which all shade seemed banished. No; this was not the calm irradiation of our ordinary lightning. There was unusual life and vigour: this was truly living light!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Arrested Development

I'm rather skeptical about whether this concept will actually accomplish anything, because, aside from the fact that Fox almost certainly makes orders of magnitude more revenue from commercial advertising than they do from DVD sales, advertisers don't care about DVD sales, they care about ratings.

But what the hell? I can't resist stumping for such a hilariously funny show.

What other broadcast television show on the Republican-shill Fox network can you think of that makes fun of Bush's absurd "Mission Accomplished" photo-op, the military's recruiting difficulties, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, "free speech zones", and the lack of WMDs in Iraq?

I suppose an argument could be made that more DVD sales now could translate to higher ratings in the future. But how is it that the DVD can be ranked #4 on Amazon but the TV show is still getting dismal (less than 4 mil/week) viewership? It's a mystery!

Anyway, I hope the show at least finishes out a fourth season.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Two Thousand?

This item, found via the blog, will probably be bouncing around the aether for the next few days. It strikes me, though, as far too antiseptic to be at all moving--not to mention the fact that it neglects the orders-of-magnitude more tragic, um, Iraqi side of the equation.

It also calls to mind this Herbert Spencer quote, from his essay "Patriotism," found in this book:
"When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don't care if they are shot themselves."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Bush talks to God / Karen Hughes adds "under God" to the Constitution

Former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath confirms that George W. Bush told him that he had been given a mission by God to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and then create a Palestinian state to bring peace to the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes, in addition to acting as "bin Laden's little helper" by spreading the message to Arab nations that the U.S. is acting out of Christian impulses, has also added the phrase "one nation under God" to the U.S. Constitution in her conversations with officials in Egypt.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Bush's jaw twitch

Harry Shearer has pointed out (via video samples) that Bush seems to have developed an unusual jaw twitch. TMJ? A reaction to medication?

Cops on bad behavior

This first-hand account of a person in a wheelchair (Preston Craig) being abused by cops (Atlanta PD) shows why some people don't like the police. He saw a police cruiser parked in a handicapped space and blocking the handicapped ramp for a coffee place, confronted the officer about it, and took photos with his camera phone. He ended up getting arrested, and the group of cops present agreed to lie about what happened (which included taking his cell phone and deleting the pictures).

The Tucson anarchist magazine The Match! has a regular feature each issue called "Who the Police Beat" that contains multiple stories that are at least as outrageous as this one. Although I'm sure the bad cops who engage in such behavior are a minority, it's a minority that is almost always allowed to get away with it. (Via Catallarchy.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Student's Bill of Rights project gets investigated by Secret Service

A student of Selina Jarvis in North Carolina took a photograph of George W. Bush from a magazine, tacked it to a wall (through his head), and photographed his hand giving a thumbs-down gesture next to the Bush photo.

Someone at the Kitty Hawk, NC Wal-Mart thought this was suspicious, and the student got a visit from the U.S. Secret Service, which confiscated his project. The above story doesn't say whether it was returned, but at least they decided not to indict him.

Southwest Airlines kicks off passenger for anti-Bush T-shirt

CNN's story says that Lorrie Heasley's shirt featured pictures of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice along with "a phrase similar to the popular film title 'Meet the Fockers.'" I'm guessing that it said "Meet the Fuckers," similar to this shirt (which doesn't have the same people on it). She was made to leave the Los Angeles-to-Portland flight during a stop in Reno, Nevada.

She says she will sue for reimbursement for her hotel, rental car, and gasoline costs for the last leg of her trip.

Southwest claims they are obligated under FAA rules to deny boarding to any passenger "whose conduct is offensive, abusive, disorderly or violent or for clothing that is 'lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.'" An FAA spokesperson says there are no such federal rules. Historically the FAA has required airlines to operate by rules which the airlines are not allowed to publicly reveal, such as those about requiring identification that were at issue in John Gilmore's lawsuit.

If Southwest's claim about an FAA rule is correct, they had already violated it since they allowed her to board and fly half of the journey. Unless she was creating some kind of a new disturbance, putting her off half way through the flight seems pretty outrageous.

Level 3 depeers Cogent

A financial dispute between two major Internet backbones has led to dropped traffic between their networks, a high-stakes game of chicken that's angering customers affected by the network disruptions.

Early Wednesday morning Level 3 Communications Inc. terminated its "peering" agreement with Cogent Communications Inc., a step Level 3 says it took after months of fruitless negotiations.
This has had no effect on customers of any tier-1 providers other than Level 3. It only affects customers (and customers of customers, ad infinitum) who purchase service only from Level 3 or Cogent, without purchasing transit service from someone who has reachability to the other.

Tier-1 providers are those that connect to each other (to all other tier-1's) with settlement-free interconnections (SFI); these include MCI, AT&T, Sprint, Qwest, Verio, and Global Crossing. Part of the agreement is usually that the amount of traffic passed in each direction is on a par--the reason for entering into such an arrangement without exchanging money is that the connectivity is considered of equal value to both parties. To quote a paper by Geoff Huston,
The bottom line is that a true peer relationship is based on the supposition that either party can terminate the interconnection relationship and that the other party does not consider such an action a competitively hostile act. If one party has a high reliance on the interconnection arrangement and the other does not, then the most stable business outcome is that this reliance is expressed in terms of a service contract with the other party, and a provider/client relationship is established. If a balance of mutual requirement exists between both parties, then a stable basis for a peer interconnection relationship also exists. Such a statement has no intrinsic metrics that allow the requirements to be quantified. Peering in such an environment is best expressed as the balance of perceptions, in which each party perceives an acceptable approximation of equal benefit in the interconnection relationship in their own terms.
Cogent, unlike Level 3, is not a tier-1 provider; they purchase transit from Verio in order to get to Sprint and AOL, among other places. Cogent has applied filters to announcements of their routes to their transit providers for all of its peers, so that traffic to those peers can only go over the links where they don't pay for traffic (the peering links) rather than the ones where they do have to pay (the transit links).

Level 3 has apparently decided that it is not getting as much as it's giving from the peer relationship with Cogent, and so has ended it, with 75 days notice. This is a situation which Cogent could rectify by entering into a customer relationship with Level 3 or by removing their filters on Level 3 to use a transit provider such as Verio to reach Level 3.

This is a scenario that either party has the power to resolve--Level 3 by allowing peering from Cogent (which they have already clearly indicated is not a high priority for them); Cogent by purchasing service from Level 3 or reaching Level 3 by purchasing IP transit from someone else.

Cogent has been caught in this situation at least three times previously--it was depeered by OpenTransit (France Telecom) on April 14, 2005. Cogent gave in on April 17 by removing its filters that prevented traffic to OpenTransit from going across transit links. Teleglobe apparently attempted a similar move, but after paying Savvis for transit to resolve the issue, decided the peering was worthwhile. Back in 2002, AOL ended its peering with Cogent. So of these three peering battles, Cogent lost two and won one.

It's possible that Cogent generates more outbound than inbound traffic on its peering connection with Level 3; that kind of imbalance can be caused by, say, Cogent having more websites than individual customers on its network. Websites receive very small requests for pages, and send back very large amounts of data (web pages, images, streaming audio and video). Individual customers typically send out small requests (for web pages or files to download) and receive back large amounts of data. Peer-to-peer traffic can have high volume in either direction, but tends to cancel out since it's usually between individual customers. (UPDATE: Cogent denies that this is the case, saying that their inbound and outbound traffic with Level 3 was balanced.)

Cogent has been aggressive in price reductions on IP transit costs, allowing them to take customers from providers that they peer with; this is also being attributed as a reason for Level 3 to want to depeer with them.

It remains to be seen who will blink first this time. We may see calls for government regulation to address this issue, but those who have lost connectivity should complain to their upstream providers; those complaints will pass up to either Level 3 or Cogent. (And, if you are one of those affected, that means your provider is not purchasing sufficient connectivity to be able to withstand an issue like this.)

UPDATE (July 25, 2008): It was Level 3 that blinked first (back in 2005; I neglected to update this post), and as of June 2008, Cogent is no longer buying transit from anyone, joining the ranks of tier-1 providers.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Harriet Miers' church supports the crankiest of young-earth creationists

Harriet Miers attends Valley View Christian Church. Their website's "links" page links to Carl Baugh's Creation Evidence Museum. Baugh, a cranky young-earth creationist with diploma mill credentials, is notorious for making claims so bogus that his fellow young-earth creationists debunk them.

Harriet Miers thinks Bush is an intellectual giant

David Frum of the National Review, who has personal experience with Miers, says: "In a White House that hero-worshiped the president, Miers was distinguished by the intensity of her zeal: She once told me that the president was the most brilliant man she had ever met."

She's clearly unqualified for the Supreme Court, as she's either deluded or dishonest.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

French fry vending machine

Patatas Chef is a device ("like a clean and small sophisticated factory") that makes and sells french fries. Expect late-night TV ads on how to make millions from the comfort of your home, along with your WiFi hotspot and Internet kiosk.

Neurological evidence for the placebo effect

Research by Jon-Kar Zubieta at the University of Michigan published in The Journal of Neuroscience shows that subjects told they were receiving pain medication produced more "opioid" activity in the brain, as measured by PET scans showing activation of "mu-opioid receptors." Subjects given the placebo showed higher such receptor activation and reported greater pain relief, and had to be given higher levels of pain stimulus to maintain the same reported level of pain.

So it's not just mind over matter magic.

Bush to consider using military to enforce quarantines if Avian flu epidemic breaks out

The Seattle Times reports:
President Bush, increasingly concerned about a possible avian flu pandemic, revealed today that any part of the country where the virus breaks out could likely be quarantined and that he is considering using the military to enforce it.

"The best way to deal with a pandemic is to isolate it and keep it isolated in the region in which it begins," he said during a wide-ranging Rose Garden news conference.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Housing bubble losing volume in Phoenix

MLS listings for metropolitan Phoenix area, from Inventory has increased by 79% in a little over two months.

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Bush Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers

Bush is expected to nominate former Texas Lottery Commission head and current White House counsel Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. She has no experience as a judge, and was head of the Texas Lottery Commission during Bush's term as governor of Texas, when Ben Barnes, the guy who got Bush into the Texas Air National Guard, received a gigantic severance payment from Gtech, the company with the contract to run the Texas Lottery, followed by Gtech getting it's contract extended without having to bid for it. Miers was in charge of the commission when it chose to extend Gtech's contract despite the fact that the company was involved in a bribery scandal. I'm sure there will be some interesting questions at the confirmation hearings if Miers is really the nominee.

BTW, Gtech has quite a history... in 1993, Virgin billionaire Richard Branson accused its founder, Guy Snowden, of trying to bribe him in relation to the UK national lottery.

Gtech also runs the state lottery in Jeb "Chang" Bush's state, Florida, as well.

(Note added 8:29 a.m.: Bush has announced the nomination.)

While on the Topic...

Speaking of Bush speeches, get ready for a "significant" one, according to this article.

Yeah, I'm sure it's going to be erudite, persuasive, and chock full of talking points we've never heard before. It seems that Condoleeza "Guru" Rice and "a senior Bush administration official" have even given us a little preview.

"If we abandon future generations in the Middle East to despair and terror, we also condemn future generations in the United States to insecurity and fear."
I see. So, continuing to shoot at, blow up, torture, and intimidate Iraqis will avoid "abandoning [them] to terror"? Building permanent military bases over there will ensure future security here?

Cowardly "official":
"If you think by going home, you buy peace, it is wrong-headed."
But it's not wrong-headed to think that keeping the military there and continuing to shoot at, blow up, torture, and intimidate Iraqis--um, dare I say, continuing the "war"?--will "buy" peace?

Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
- George Orwell

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Learn English from the speeches of George W. Bush

I've been listening to the podcasts of 2600 magazine ("The Hacker Quarterly"), which are quite good. Emmanuel Goldstein (real name Eric Corley) has been traveling the world by land and sea, and reporting back on the state of freedom and technology via satellite phone, cell phone, or land line, as available. The August 30, 2005 podcast of "Off the Wall" was recorded in Tiananmen Square. Among observations about Chinese kite flying at busy intersections, their appreciation for ice and the sale of bottles of frozen mineral water, Chinese throat clearing noises, and the surprising modernity of Beijing, they reported on the wide availability of books in English. One bookstore of 6 or 7 floors was reported to have an entire floor on books for learning English. One of the books, which Emmanuel's companion Sasja purchased for its humor value, was a book to learn English through reading the speeches of George W. Bush. Quite amusing, given his poor ability to speak the language. (This topic occurs about 26:30 into the August 30 "Off the Wall" podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple's iTunes.)

Porn availability goes up, crime goes down in U.S.

Radley Balko at The Agitator points out that as pornography has become more and more widely available in the U.S. with the rise of the Internet, sex crimes against children, abortions, teen pregnancy, divorce, crimes against women, and rape have dropped. Of course, the U.S. is still worse than many countries on several of those attributes, as the earlier study about rates of religiosity showed. This would be interesting to compare across countries with different levels of Internet connectivity. This item via Ed Brayton's Dispatches from the Culture Wars, where you can find further commentary.

A pointed lesson

The Catholic Diocese of Austin, Texas, is investigating after a priest called about 15 children to come forward during evening Mass so he could prick them with an unsterilised pin to demonstrate the pain Jesus suffered during crucifixion.

"What I was trying to teach them is that suffering is a part of life," said the Reverend Arthur Michalka, 78, Associated Press reports.

No one reacted strongly during the incident at Holy Trinity Catholic Church on Wednesday, a diocese spokeswoman said. But one mother said later: "Apparently our father has lost his mind."

Haven't enough Catholic priests taught enough children that "suffering is a part of life"? From the Sydney Morning Herald via Jack Kolb on the SKEPTIC list as part of a nice series of absurdities from Texas which also included this piece on a judge ordering a girl not to have sex.

Where's Wanchick?

I'm sure this is a tired argument - but then again, what argument isn't tired when you're dealing with creationists?

Take a look at these optical illusions. On the one hand, they're fun and kinda neat, but on the other hand, they're profoundly disturbing. Most importantly, however, they are persuasive evidence against any sort of "intelligent" designer. For me, the second one (the one with the blue and yellow boxes) is particularly compelling. What kind of intelligent, all-powerful, loving God would make motion detection color-blind?

In thinking about this, the problem extends well beyond visual perception. Why would an intelligent designer make our memories so imperfect? For example, I can recall absolutely nothing about second grade--and much of what I recall about first grade is probably wildly inaccurate (hell, much of what I recall about last week is probably wrong). Why is that (assuming a loving God, I mean)?

I bet I know the answer already: we "fell from grace" and we're being punished because of it. Right?

(Hat tip: Steve's No Direction Home)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

More evidence that intelligent design evolved from young-earth creationism

Panda's Thumb has some more evidence showing that the book Of Pandas and People, the subject of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, was originally explicitly creationist. Parts of the book by Nancy Pearcey were originally published in the Bible-Science Newsletter, which was one of the worst young-earth creationist publications in terms of poor quality of arguments and evidence. For example, it published Tom Willis' "Lucy Goes to College," which originated the bogus creationist claim that Lucy's knee joint was found 2 km from the rest of the skeleton. This is a bogus claim I've been trying to get creationists to stop making for the last ten years, with few successes.

Baylor student accused of terrorism for parody email

After an offended student, Christopher Stone, walked out of an Intro to Neuroscience lecture when the professor stated that the Bible is not a science textbook, he sent an email to his classmates explaining his actions. Another student, Cody Cobb, sent out a parody email, which led to a visit from the Baylor police. The latter student has blogged the details. Via Pharyngula.

Companies under fire for religiously themed ads

A number of companies have recently come under fire for using religious themes in advertising. Sony and Ikea both ran ads in Italy which have been criticized. Sony's ad for the Playstation showed a boy wearing a crown of thorns with the slogan "Ten Years of Passion." The crown of thorns was made of the geometric shapes that make up the Playstation logo. Ikea ran an ad saying "There's no religion anymore" to advertise that their stores are open on Sundays.

In Ireland, bookmaker Paddy Power ran a billboard depicting the Last Supper, with poker chips and cards, featuring the slogan "There's a place for fun and games."