Thursday, November 29, 2007

Texas Education Agency director of science curriculum fired for announcing Barbara Forrest talk

Chris Comer, the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency, was forced to resign from her position. Her offense? Forwarding an email from the National Center for Science Education announcing a talk by philosopher and intelligent design critic Barbara Forrest, and adding the text "FYI."

The call to fire Comer came from Lizzette Reynolds, formerly at the U.S. Department of Education and former deputy legislative director for Texas Gov. George W. Bush. She wrote in an email to Comer's supervisors that "This is highly inappropriate. I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities."

The movie "Expelled" makes a big deal about cases like the Sternberg affair, where nobody lost a job or responsibilities, and the denial of tenure to Guillermo Gonzales, whose publication record didn't merit tenure. But here's a case of someone who appears to have actually been removed from her position for sending out an announcement of a talk critical of intelligent design--a subject which the courts have already ruled is unconstitutional to teach in the science classroom. TEA officials claim that Comer was removed for "repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination," which Comer describes as really meaning her concerns about teaching creationism in schools. The Texas Republican Party platform explicitly advocates teaching intelligent design in public schools.

Wesley Elsberry has more about the Comer case at the Austringer blog, where he wonders whether the Discovery Institute will decry Comer's firing, since they've been willing to stretch the facts to complain about cases with far less substance to them:
Will the Discovery Institute come forward to say that the TEA is repressing Ms. Comer’s free speech rights? Will they urge her to become the star of the “Expelled” movie? After all, she did actually lose her job over her stance on evolution in education, as opposed to various people noted as being featured in the film who did not. But the DI is unlikely to do so because Ms. Comer is on the opposite side of the issue from them. They aren’t defending a principle, they are pushing a particular line of propaganda.
I agree with Wesley. The Discovery Institute has a long record of misrepresenting facts (and not just about science) in order to promote its views. I suspect they will either remain silent or try to defend Comer's removal.

Pharyngula also comments on Comer's removal, including the following explanation from Comer's boss:
the forwarding of this event announcement by Ms. Comer, as the Director of Science, from her TEA email account constitutes much more than just sharing information. Ms. Comer's email implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral. Thus, sending this email compromises the agency's role in the TEKS revision process by creating the perception that TEA has a biased position on a subject directly related to the science education TEKS.
As P.Z. Myers comments: "Whoa. The Texas Education Agency is neutral on the subject of teaching good science? It's bad if the TEA takes a position on the subject of science education? Apparently, TEA members are supposed to close their eyes and maximize ignorance before making decisions. I really feel sorry for Texas."

UPDATE (December 2, 2007): And more, from Texas Citizens for Science (via Pharyngula).

UPDATE (December 4, 2007): The New York Times editorializes on this subject.

UPDATE (December 6, 2007): DI Fellow John Mark Reynolds agrees that TEA is in the wrong here.

UPDATE (December 12, 2007): The Society for the Study of Evolution has sent an open letter to "Texas TEA."

UPDATE (December 20, 2007): Glenn Branch has written a nice blog post about his email that cost Comer her job.

UPDATE (July 3, 2008): Chris Comer has filed a lawsuit regarding her termination.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Theists and atheists less depressed than agnostics?

A letter in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine suggests that theism and atheism are both correlated with "fewer reported depressive symptoms than the in-between state of 'existential uncertainty'."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday School for Atheists

The November 21, 2007 issue of Time magazine includes a story titled "Sunday School for Atheists," about how the Humanist Community Center in Palo Alto, California has been offering Sunday school classes for kids for the last three years. The article notes that similar programs are under consideration in Albuquerque, NM, Portland, OR, and Phoenix. It doesn't mention it, but the Phoenix group considering offering such a program is the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, a group which has meetings for adults, often with quite interesting speakers, every two weeks. (Kat and I are members, but we have a pretty poor attendance record.)

Also mentioned in the article are Camp Quest, a summer camp program operating in five states and Ontario, Canada, and the Carl Sagan Academy in Tampa, FL, the nation's first humanist charter school.

UPDATE: Mark at Protestant Pontifications has written a blog post on this Time magazine article, and I've submitted this comment:

When you write “But there is danger in thinking one can siphon off certain aspects of community and still achieve the same result - especially when trying to mimic the benefits of religious community,” do you mean to suggest that any religion can have such benefits, or do you mean to restrict it to Christianity (and perhaps Judaism)?

It seems to me that other religions clearly have communities with the same social benefits and same self-ascriptions of worship and spiritual value. Yet clearly not all religions are true, which means that either some of the participants are self-deceived or that the benefits do not require the religion to be true. I think the latter is better supported by the evidence.

Since I happen to think that there is no true religion, I don’t see the problem with what these humanists are trying to do. I’ve recently attended memorial services of deeply religious evangelical Christians, of a liberal universalist Christian, and of an atheist, and they each evoked the same emotions and sense of community and fellowship with the people at the services; in my case, I felt a deeper fellowship and companionship with those at the atheist service since those are like-minded people. The emotions were the same–a combination of grief at the departure yet happiness at the memories of the departed’s life–yet there was no self-deception about seeing the departed again in the future.

BTW, it is somewhat ironic for a member of such a syncretistic religion as Christianity to criticize an atheist group for “trying to mimic” a religious practice. Virtually every component of the Christian religion was appropriated from other religions, and that’s not even counting holiday celebrations. The most rapidly growing religious sect in the world today, Pentecostalism (from 0 to 400 million members in about a century), is also quite syncretistic, appropriating components of local religions everywhere it spreads.

The Christian CADRE blog has a post on the article titled "The Cult-like Culture of Atheism, Part II," which says that "If atheists cannot see how that is just another step on the road to finally recognizing themselves as a religion then they really need to think a little bit more about how they act." I've responded with this comment:
Humanism (which is not just atheism, it has specific positive tenets, and should be distinguished from "secular humanism") *does* recognize itself as a religion, and has for many years. The American Humanist Association is a 501(c)(3) *religious* organization. It has officiants who perform marriage and memorial services, it has groups that hold regular meetings and social events in most countries of the world. In the Netherlands, 26% of the population consider themselves humanists (vs. 31% Catholic, 13% Dutch Reformed, 7% Calvinist); another 18% are non-religious and non-Humanist.

BTW, "cult" is a term that, in my opinion, should be restricted to religious groups that have most or all of a set of features that include being centered around an authoritarian leader, requiring members to restrict contact with non-members, controlling all aspects of the group's lives, etc. Steve Hassan's book _Combatting Cult Mind Control_ has a good list of cult characteristics. Most sects of Christianity are not cults; there could certainly be atheist cults, and Madalyn Murray O'Hair's American Atheists group was probably close to one, if not one, while she was alive.

I disagree with Mr. Ragland [another commenter who said this shows man to be a religious creature] about what this particular evidence shows--I think it shows that man is a *social* creature, though I think there are other reasons (put forth in Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained book, for example) to think that man is, indeed, a religious creature.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fake weeping Virgin Mary painting

I wish I had seen this before my Channel 3 News interview about a similar painting coming to Phoenix.

From Associated Press, September 19, 2007:

BLANCO, Texas -- Samuel A. Greene Jr., the founder of a monastery that closed amid scandal over the alleged sexual abuse of novice monks and a fraudulent weeping Virgin Mary painting, has died. He was 63.

Greene's death was being investigated as a suicide, but officials were waiting for autopsy results before ruling on the cause of death. Greene's body was found Monday morning in his home on the grounds of Christ of the Hills Monastery.

The monastery was allied with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia from 1991 to 1999, but the church broke ties with the monastery when allegations surfaced of indecency by Greene with a juvenile novice monk.

Greene, who founded the monastery in 1981, pleaded guilty in 2000 to indecency and was sentenced to 10 years probation. In 2006, Greene told his probation officer in a secretly taped interview that he had sexual contact with boys over a 30-year period starting in the 1970s.

Greene also reportedly confirmed that the monastery's weeping painting was fake. Authorities seized the icon, which was said to cry tears of myrrh, a sign of divine intervention. It had drawn thousands of visitors, and their donations, to the area.

The interview also prompted authorities to file child sexual assault and organized crime charges against Greene and four other monks in July 2006. Greene maintained his innocence and was released on his own recognizance because of health problems.

Greene was due Friday in court, where prosecutors planned to seek to have his probation revoked. Assistant District Attorney Cheryl Nelson said she would have asked the judge to sentence him to the maximum 20-year term on each of his nine indecency counts.

This obituary omits what Time magazine reported (I don't have the exact issue, but it was cut-and-pasted into the November 20, 2007 issue of Saucer Smear):
When the compound was closed, investigators found eyedroppers and bottles of rosewater used to fake the tears that prompted donations. Last year Greene confessed to the ruse, and his sexual relations with teenage students, to his probation officer.
It's interesting how AP omitted that information.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Rise of Pentecostalism and the Economist Religion Wars issue

In 1901, Bible college students at Charles Fox Parham's Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas prayed to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. At a New Year's Eve service that year, as Parham preached, Agnes Ozman began to speak in tongues, and Pentecostalism was born.

William J. Seymour, a one-eyed black minister, attended Parham's college in Houston, Texas, though he had to sit in another room across the hall and listen in, due to Texas race laws of the time. Seymour moved to Los Angeles, where he sparked the Azusa Street Revival in 1906.

Today there are over 400 million Pentecostals in the world, and it is the world's fastest-growing religious sect. The Mormons are lightweights by comparison, having only reached 13 million followers worldwide after nearly twice as long an existence. In Guatemala, Pentecostals have built a 12,000 seat church; in Lagos, one church supposedly has 2 million followers; and South Korea is home to five of the world's ten largest megachurches.

What makes Pentecostalism successful? It's not intellectual argument. Pentecostalism is what The Economist's recent special report on "The new wars of religion" refers to as a "hot" religion. It's not particularly concerned about doctrinal details (which is not to say it doesn't have them), but about religious experience and personal interaction and participation. The Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest megachurch in South Korea, has 830,000 members (one in 20 Seoul residents is a member), holds seven Sunday services each of which has 12,000 people in the main auditorium and 20,000 watching on television in chapels in neighboring buildings. While you wait (and you will wait, especially if you want to attend one of the two services led by founder David Cho), you can listen to choirs sing, and sing along with the help of karaoke-style captions on TV screens. Translation is supplied to provide the services in English, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Malay, and Arabic.

The Yoido church, like many U.S. megachurches, works by organizing around many small groups. For Yoido, these are "home cells" of around a dozen people that meet in people's homes. Yoido has 68,000 female deacons and half as many male deacons, who may make 35 visits a week to parishioners. There's little hierarchy, and an emphasis on evangelizing, sending out missionaries, and producing more and more "home cells." And it's a methodology that appears to be winning the religious competition.

An earlier Economist story (from 2005, pay content) on the business practices of U.S. megachurches, likewise observed that they function by providing a diverse variety of services to lots of small niches, with groups for hikers, skateboarders, mountain bikers, book readers, and so forth, creating many small communities out of which a larger one is formed.

The lesson I take from this for the nonreligious is that a diversity of groups that cooperate with each other on common causes is far more likely to grow and have influence than individual groups that take a hard line on admissions requirements and require conformity to a narrow notion of what it is to be a freethinker or a skeptic, such as an adherence to scientism or atheism. The late Clark Adams of the Internet Infidels and Las Vegas Freethought Society was a strong proponent of cooperation between a broad set of secular groups as a way of strengthening their influence and being able to create organizations like the Secular Coalition for America. He was also a supporter of groups that engaged in social activities rather than intellectual navel-gazing, and promoted his views with humor and popular culture references more than with step-by-step argument.

If you've thought about starting a secular, freethought, or skeptical group around some interest of your own that's not currently served by an existing group, go for it. is a great way to get started or to find an existing group--you can find atheist groups, agnostic groups, deism groups, ex-Christian groups, Discordian groups, humanist groups, secular humanist groups, brights groups, skeptics' groups, separation of church and state groups, and many more.

"Surfer dude" comes up with unified theory

The Telegraph reports on a "surfer dude" (who happens to have a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. though he spends his time surfing and snowboarding) who has come up with a unified theory of everything that is getting some serious attention from other physicists.

(Via The Agitator.)

Prohibition creates profitable black markets

As this story from the Boulder Weekly shows. (This link is to a copy since the Boulder Weekly's website has a database issue at the moment.)

(Via The Agitator.)

Discovery Institute loses, gains a Fellow

When law professor (and President of the Evangelical Theological Society) Francis Beckwith converted from evangelical Christianity to Catholicism earlier this year, he made somewhat of a public splash. When he subsequently resigned as a Fellow of the Discovery Institute in July, neither DI nor Beckwith made any public comment. But law professor Peter Irons writes at Ed Brayton's Dispatches from the Culture Wars blog:
Beckwith, who is a recognized scholar on church-state issues, has made no public statement on the reasons for his resignation (and his private comments on those reasons, while revealing, are not for publication, at least now). After Beckwith resigned, the DI quietly removed his bio from its website, and he just disappeared into the ether.
Ed Brayton's blog post is reporting on the addition of a new Discovery Institute Fellow, movie reviewer and culture critic Michael Medved, an intellectual lightweight who believes in Sasquatch. (The link here also includes criticism of Medved for an article about American slavery, but I actually think Medved's article is better than the critique of it.)

As Irons notes in his comment, "In replacing Beckwith with Medved, the DI has traded intellectual substance for Hollywood glitz."

And Medved isn't even a good movie reviewer.

Discovery Institute steals content and presents it as their own

ERV has found that William Dembski (and apparently other DI fellows) have misappropriated a computer animated video of the cell from Harvard and XVIVO, replaced the narration with their own, and presented it as though it's their own work without giving credit to the original source.

Her blog shows the original video and a presentation of the video at a lecture by William Dembski.

The Discovery Institute really is shameless.

(Via Pharyngula.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Earth setting as seen from lunar orbit

Some nice high-definition video images have been taken by the Japanese lunar orbiter "Kaguya," showing the earth setting behind the moon's surface.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

John Allen Paulos comes out with an atheism book

John Allen Paulos, the mathematician and author of such excellent books as Innumeracy, A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market, and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper (all three of which I recommend), has a new book coming out on January 3, 2008 titled Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up. Here's the review from Publishers Weekly:
Few of the recent books on atheism have been worth reading just for wit and style, but this is one of them: Paulos is truly funny. Despite the title, the Temple University math professor doesn't actually discuss mathematics much, which will be a relief to any numerically challenged readers who felt intimidated by his previous book Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences. In this short primer ("just the gist with an occasional jest") Paulos tackles 12 of the most common arguments for God, including the argument from design, the idea that a "moral universality" points to a creator God, the notion of first causes and the argument from coincidence, among others. Along the way, he intersperses irreverent and entertaining little chapterlets that contain his musings on various subjects, including a hilarious imagined IM exchange with God that slyly parodies Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God. "Why does solemnity tend to infect almost all discussions of religion?" Paulos asks, clearly bemoaning the dearth of humor. This little book goes a long way toward correcting the problem, and provides both atheists and religious apologists some digestible food for thought along the way. (Jan. 3)
I hope the IM exchange described is as witty and funny as Raymond Smullyan's dialogue with God, "Is God a Taoist?" (also found in his excellent book The Tao is Silent and in Daniel Dennett and Douglas Hofstadter's anthology, The Mind's I).

UPDATE (January 14, 2008): Jim Holt reviews Paulos' book for the New York Times.

Guantanamo Bay operations manual leaked to Internet

The unclassified, for official use only, operations manual for U.S. soldiers stationed at Guantanamo Bay has been leaked to the Internet on the website, which is being crushed by traffic at the moment.

The manual allegedly contradicts U.S. military claims that the International Committee of the Red Cross has not been denied access to some parts of the facility at Guantanamo.

The manual unsurprisingly prohibits soldiers from subjecting prisoners to "abuse, or any form of corporal punishment," since specific interrogation procedures are no doubt covered in separate classified documents. Still, it's a good thing to see in writing.

A Reuters story at Yahoo has more specifics, and I'm sure we'll see mirrored copies of the document appearing elsewhere to reduce the load on

Creation Ministries explains settlement breakdown

Creation Ministries International has put up a web page explaining the breakdown in settlement talks with Answers in Genesis:
Unfortunately, the actions of AiG-US since the ‘Hawaii handshake settlement’ have meant that, barring a near-miraculous change of heart on their part, the situation appears to have broken down once more.

The terms of settlement were, in the understanding of all parties present, effectively finalized and agreed upon in Hawaii in mid-August (see two ‘stop press’ announcements below) by duly authorized and empowered representatives of the ministries—even though Ken Ham was not present, although we had been led to believe that he would be.

The only thing left was to discuss the details of how to commit the handshake agreement to writing. Both sides agreed to reconvene in Hawaii 60 days later (at the latest), if absolutely necessary, if we failed to finish the process of committing it to writing.

The page goes on to explain that this has not happened, because AiG waited until after the 60 days was over to respond to CMI's written proposal based on the verbal agreement, and AiG's response was to invent an entirely new agreement which omitted conditions that had been verbally agreed to and inserted new conditions which had not been agreed to.

CMI proposed that they move forward by meeting again in person in a neutral country (such as Singapore or New Zealand) with an independent Christian arbitrator and hammering out an agreement in writing. AiG's lawyers responded with a rejection.

At the same time, John Mackay's mailing list in Australia has been ratcheting up the assault on the alleged "spiritual problems" of CMI, which CMI has responded to by sending out this email:
From: CMI INFObytes
Sent: Wednesday, November 14, 2007 7:53 AM
Subject: Serious slander issue against CMI

Serious slander issue against CMI

A short time ago, we were in receipt of a very vicious document circulating from a professing Christian ministry (which not many are aware is operated by an unrepentant church excommunicant) that made astonishing allegations against CMI-Australia and in particular its Managing Director, Dr Carl Wieland.

We did not react at the time, because the vendetta has been in operation for some 20 years now, and we assumed that surely people would have sufficient discernment to contact us to check the veracity of these allegations. However, we are concerned that some might think there might be some substance to the allegations, without understanding that they are clearly designed to undermine the confidence of the Christian public, and to thus attack CMI's ability to do outreach.

We have prepared a written response which makes it plain that these are falsehoods, documentable as such by eyewitness testimony. In it we have challenged the perpetrators to 'front up' and make these claims openly in a proper Christian forum, instead of by slanderous gossip techniques.

If you know of any person who has been in receipt of this particular 'spiritual-sounding' slander, or if your church leaders have heard these unfortunate allegations, please encourage them to email us at [mail at creation.NOSPAMinfo -- edited to prevent spam harvesting -jjl] and request our response to the article in question. If after reading that response, they have any further questions, we will be pleased to answer them. It is a real pity that we cannot just continue our ministry in peace and safety without such distractions.

If you are unaware of any such contemplated move against CMI in your circles, please just pray for this situation in general terms. Your ongoing support of the outreach is much appreciated.

Yours in Christ,

Gary Bates
Head of Ministry, CMI-Australia
It will be interesting to see if AiG makes any public comment.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Multics source code released

The full source code to the last official release of the Multics operating system has been released to the general public (though full source was always made available to all customers, except for specific "unbundled" applications). Multics, the predecessor system to Unix (and in a number of ways still its superior), was a general purpose commercial operating system best known for its security.

That release, Multics MR12.5 (MR = "Multics Release"), was released to customers in November 1992. The last Multics system was shut down in 2000.

The software can be downloaded from a website at MIT, though it requires specialized hardware to run on, so don't expect to be able to run it. My name appears a few times throughout the software, as I worked as a Multics software developer from 1983 to 1988. The MIT site incorrectly states that Multics development was ended by Bull in 1985--that may have been the time when Bull decided to pull the plug, but there was still development (though primarily bug fixing) going on in 1988 when I left.

One of the pieces I wrote was a rewrite of the interactive message facility, in some ways a predecessor of instant messaging (except that it operated on a single timesharing host rather than over a network between hosts).

Most of the software is in the "ldd" hierarchy (for library directory directory, the directory of directories of libraries). The software is in Multics "archive" format which is similar to Unix tar files. The message facility software is in /ldd/sss/source/bound_msg_facility_.s.archive.

Kudos to Group Bull, the copyright holder of Multics, for making the software open source. Bull purchased Multics as part of its acquisition of Honeywell's Large Computer Products Division in the mid-eighties.

AiG/CMI settlement seems to have fallen apart

After Answers in Genesis met with Creation Ministries International in Hawaii to hammer out their differences verbally in mid-August, CMI issued a statement indicating that they had agreed to convert their verbal agreement into a written one over the next 60 days. The time has come and gone, and apparently no written agreement has been reached.

CMI's web pages about their lawsuit are back online.

For more information about the dispute, see the "Answers in Genesis schism" label on this blog or the excellent summary at Duae Quartunciae.

UPDATE (November 16, 2007): I've posted a more detailed account of the settlement breakdown.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

How to improve education

The October 20, 2007 issue of The Economist has an interesting article about a study by McKinsey & Co. which looks for explanations of the differences in standards and performance of primary education systems between OECD nations, based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results.

The top performing countries are countries which do the three things the studies recommend: hire the best teachers, get them to do their best, and intervene when students fall behind. In South Korea, primary schools recruit teachers from the top 5% of college graduates, Singapore from the top 30%. Finland requires primary school teachers to have a master's degree. Yet they don't offer as much money as possible to attract the best, nor try to obtain as large a pool of teachers to choose from as possible--countries with the highest teacher salaries, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland, are not among those with the best-performing schools.

Singapore and Finland both provide significant teacher training and encourage teachers to share information and lesson plans. In Korea, secondary school teachers have lower status than primary school teachers: "Its primary school teachers have to pass a four-year undergraduate degree from one of only a dozen universities. ... In contrast, secondary-school teachers can get a diploma from any one of 350 colleges, with laxer selection criteria."

The McKinsey study offers an explanation for why there's no correlation between spending or class size and student performance. Increasing spending doesn't guarantee that you get the best teachers, train them well, or intervene appropriately for students who fall behind. Reducing class size means a need for more teachers, which all else being equal means lower salaries and lower status, when the apparent way to succeed is to be more selective about who is teaching, not less.

Phoenix-area foreclosures up 566 percent

From January through the end of October, there were 7,139 foreclosures in the metropolitan Phoenix area, compared to 1,072 foreclosures during the same period last year. It's expected to hit 10,000 by the end of the year, compared to fewer than 2,000 last year.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Fox News Anchor calls for U.S. to support terrorism in Iran

If you advocate torture and car bombs, how can you have any moral justification for saying that those who use such tactics against us are wrong or evil?

Parents Television Council demonstrates their own pointlessness

The Parents Television Council, the organization that is responsible for generating over 99.8% of all indecency complaints to the FCC, has further demonstrated its own complete pointlessness by putting out a website that assembles a collection of the most indecent clips from broadcast television, with no parental controls of any kind on the page. Each clip is categorized with labels like "sex," "violence," and "foul language."

What's a kid more likely to come across? A five-second bit in one of thousands of television shows, or a huge collection of the worst of the worst all in one place on the Internet?

It's high time for broadcast television indecency rules to be dropped.

(Via The Agitator.)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Americans are so fat...

...that they're now "bottoming out" the boats on the "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyland, for the first time in its 41-year history. Disneyland is now redesigning the ride, and preventing overweight patrons from bringing the ride to a halt is part of the plan.

Macintosh security lags behind Windows and BSD

Tom Ptacek at Matasano Chargen has a rundown on the new security features in Mac OS X Leopard, which are still not quite up to snuff with what's in Windows Vista or OpenBSD.

Here's a followup with more details.

Congress grills Yahoo over Chinese subpoenas

Declan McCullagh live-blogged the U.S. House of Representatives hearing on "Yahoo Inc.'s Provision of False Information to Congress," which was about an incident in which Yahoo responded to a subpoena from the Chinese government for the identity of a subscriber who turned out to be a Chinese reporter, who was convicted of leaking "state secrets."

Anybody note anything ironic or hypocritical in these excerpts?
10:20 a.m. ET:
Apparently, the Beijing State Security Bureau provided a document to Yahoo--similar to the FBI's national security letters--to Yahoo China on April 24, 2004. It invoked the term "state secrets" when demanding information about Shi Tao. Callahan never saw the document, which was written in Chinese, before testifying last year. Lantos says Callahan should have demanded a translation before his testimony, and Yahoo should have known that any request invoking state secrets is suspect because "state secrets is a trick phrase used to fabricate phony but devastating (charges against an) innocent person who shares our values in an open and free society."

10:30 a.m. ET
Now the two Yahoo execs are being asked to apologize to Shi Tao's mother, who is sitting in a front row of the hearing room. Lantos: "I would urge you to beg the forgiveness of the mother whose son is languishing behind bars thanks to Yahoo's actions." I wonder if Lantos and other Patriot Act supporters will apologize to Americans like Brandon Mayfield (falsely jailed under the Patriot Act) or Sami al-Hussayen (a Webmaster who provided hyperlinks to Muslim sites and was prosecuted under the Patriot Act).

10:45 a.m. ET
Rep. Chris Smith, the New Jersey Republican who was chairman of the Foreign Affairs panel last year, is now speaking. He's saying that "Yahoo knew the police requests had to do with 'state secrets.'" That may not be as descriptive as he (and the other panelists) seem to think. It seems to me that it's a catchall term that's probably invoked regularly by China's security apparatchiks. It's not like the police requests said "give us this information so we can put an innocent journalist in jail."

12:20 p.m. ET
Now it's Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican: "Were any of them fired?" He's referring to Yahoo employees. Rohrabacher again: "Are you going to comply with requests from authoritarian governments in the future?" Callahan replies: "We are looking at ways to operationally and legally structure the entity... so we would not have to do that."

12:52 p.m. ET
Lantos again, to Yahoo's Callahan, excerpted: "Morally you are pygmies... An appallingly disappointing performance. I think we cannot begin to tell you how disappointing Mr. Yang's and your performance was... attempt to obfuscate and divert... outrageous behavior."
Why don't we see some of this moral outrage from Congress directed at the executive branch of the United States, at a time when 64% of the country disapproves and 50% of the country strongly disapproves of the president's performance (beating Nixon's worst performance)?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More on waterboarding as torture

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars observes that "the US has not only always considered waterboarding to be torture, but has aggressively prosecuted other nation's for war crimes for using that technique on American POWs," quoting Judge Evan Wallach:

After World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. At the trial of his captors, then-Lt. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Forces officers who flew in the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, testified: "I was given several types of torture. . . . I was given what they call the water cure." He was asked what he felt when the Japanese soldiers poured the water. "Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning," he replied, "just gasping between life and death."

Nielsen's experience was not unique. Nor was the prosecution of his captors. After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan's military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding....

As a result of such accounts, a number of Japanese prison-camp officers and guards were convicted of torture that clearly violated the laws of war. They were not the only defendants convicted in such cases. As far back as the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War, U.S. soldiers were court-martialed for using the "water cure" to question Filipino guerrillas.

More recently, waterboarding cases have appeared in U.S. district courts. One was a civil action brought by several Filipinos seeking damages against the estate of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. The plaintiffs claimed they had been subjected to torture, including water torture. The court awarded $766 million in damages, noting in its findings that "the plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to . . . the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee's mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation."

In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with violating prisoners' civil rights by forcing confessions. The complaint alleged that the officers conspired to "subject prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning."

The four defendants were convicted, and the sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

And in the comments at Ed's blog, tacitus notes the following from a contributing editor at the National Review Online, Deroy Murdock:

While the White House must beware not to inform our enemies what to expect if captured, today's clueless anti-waterboarding rhetoric merits this tactic's vigorous defense. Waterboarding is something of which every American should be proud.


UPDATE (February 14, 2008): Happy Valentine's Day. The current head of the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, Steven G. Bradbury, USA Today reports, says that waterboarding is illegal and that "There has been no determination by the Justice Department that the use of waterboarding, under any circumstances, would be lawful under current law." The military banned such practices in 2006. Waterboarding is still "in the CIA toolkit" but requires approval by the president and the attorney general in order to be used, and has allegedly not been used since 2003. Congress is considering legislation to ban the CIA from using it at all; CIA Director Michael Hayden says current law already casts doubt on whether the CIA can legally use it.

UPDATE (March 9, 2008): George W. Bush has vetoed legislation which would have explicitly banned waterboarding from the CIA repertoire.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Spammers and criminals for Ron Paul

From metafilter:
When Ron Paul email spam started hitting inboxes in late October, UAB Computer Forensics Director Gary Warner published findings on the spam's textual patterns and the illicit botnet used to spread it -- findings which were picked up by media outlets and tech websites like Salon, Ars Technica, and Wired Magazine's "Threat Level" blog, the latter in a set of followup posts by writer Sarah Stirland: 1, 2, 3.

The Ron Paul fan response was swift and decisive: clearly the botnet was the work of anti-Ron Paul hackers trying to discredit his campaign, and Rudy Giuliani had paid Stirland (and not UAB Computer Forensics) to do a smear piece -- as claimed by a YouTube video pointing to posts on Thus proving, once again, that the Ron Paul campaign's greatest liability is not so much his far-right conspiracy-driven antifederal libertarianism, but rather the spittle-flecked anger of his own noisiest supporters.
There are definitely a lot of nuts among Ron Paul's supporters. Meanwhile, he raised $3.8 million yesterday (apparently a number revised downward from $4.3 million) in the largest one-day online political fundraiser ever. Intrade currently shows Paul as the third most likely GOP nominee, after Giuliani and Romney.

A few other Ron Paul-related blog posts that I realize I've neglected to mention here, from Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

"Is Ron Paul a Dominionist?"
Argues that Paul appears to have much in common with some theocrats.

"Sandefur on Ron Paul" Doubts that Paul is a dominionist, but suggests he might be a Thomas DiLorenzo-style neo-confederate who thinks we don't even need a federal government (in which case he wouldn't really be the supporter of the Constitution that he seems to be) and that the U.S. Civil War wasn't about slavery (which is pernicious nonsense).

I also just came across this story, which says that Paul would like to see the U.S. Constitution amended to remove the subject of abortion from the purview of the courts, which is yet more anti-constitutional insanity.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Best of the Lippard Blog Index

This is an index to some of the best posts of The Lippard Blog, which started in August of 2005.

Many posts on Network Neutrality
"Network Neutrality Index"

Many posts on Information Security
"Information Security Index"

Many posts summarizing conference presentations
"Index of Conference Summaries"

"Who are the climate skeptics?" December 16, 2009

A concise take-down of all three parts of "Zeitgeist: The Movie":
"Zeitgeist: The Movie" June 11, 2008

Posts on skepticism
"Arizona's homeopathic medical board" July 21, 2009
"Brian Dunning on debate" August 19, 2009
"Massimo Pigliucci on the scope of skeptical inquiry" October 21, 2009
"Skepticism, belief revision, and science" October 21, 2009
"What are the goals of Skepticism 2.0?" November 4, 2009
"Where is the academic literature on skepticism as a social movement?" November 4, 2009
"A few comments on the nature and scope of skepticism" January 6, 2010
"What to think vs. how to think" November 20, 2010

"Christian deception about The Art of Deception" June 23, 2007

David Paszkiewicz evangelizing to his public school classroom. The Lippard Blog broke this story to the blogosphere before the mainstream media picked it up.
"Public school teacher tells class: 'You belong in hell'" November 12, 2006
"Kearny High School students defend their teacher" November 15, 2006
"Embarrassingly bad arguments in support of David Paszkiewicz" November 20, 2006
"David Paszkiewicz makes the New York Times" December 18, 2006
"A Letter from Paul LaClair about David Paszkiewicz" December 18, 2006
"Kearny High School and David Paszkiewicz make the NY Times again" December 31, 2006
"David Paszkiewicz publicly displays his incompetence" January 14, 2007
"Letters to the editor about David Paszkiewicz" January 20, 2007
"Kearny Board of Education releases memo and statement" January 23, 2007
"David Paszkiewicz on global warming; Kearny High School bans recording" February 1, 2007
"Paszkiewicz has Matthew LaClair removed from his class" February 9, 2007
"ACLU, PFAW give notice of possible lawsuit against Kearny public schools district" February 19, 2007
"Recording proves Paszkiewicz denied making comments" February 24, 2007
"Kearny Board of Education and LaClairs settle case" May 9, 2007
"Kearny board of education member hasn't had enough controversy" May 15, 2007
"David Paszkiewicz takes students to Creation Museum" June 7, 2009

Matthew LaClair went on to generate more press by pointing out misrepresentations in a popular textbook.
"Faith-based U.S. history text exposed" April 9, 2008
"Matthew LaClair's speech from Freethought Today" April 10, 2008
"Matthew LaClair op-ed in Los Angeles Times" April 27, 2008

Answers in Genesis Schism: How Creation Ministries International split from Answers in Genesis.
"Answers in Genesis schism: U.S. group goes solo" March 3, 2006
"More from behind the scenes of the Australian/U.S. creationism schism at Answers in Genesis" November 20, 2006
"John Mackay and Answers in Genesis" November 21, 2006
"Answers in Genesis revenue declines by 50% in 2005" December 29, 2006 A huge mistake--this was a half-year financial report.
"Creation Ministries International gets into the UFO business" December 30, 2006
"Creation Ministries International sues Answers in Genesis" June 3, 2007
"Answers in Genesis responds to CMI" June 5, 2007
"Kentucky newspaper covers creationist lawsuit" June 17, 2007
"More disappearing content from the Answers in Genesis website" June 18, 2007
"Answers in Genesis hires Andrew Snelling" June 19, 2007
"NCSE on Answers in Genesis schism" June 21, 2007
"AiG/CMI reach verbal settlement" August 31, 2007
"AiG/CMI settlement seems to have fallen apart" November 13, 2007
"Creation Ministries explains settlement breakdown" November 15, 2007
"New summary of CMI-AiG dispute from CMI" January 8, 2008
"Update on CMI-AiG lawsuits" July 25, 2008
"CMI/AiG lawsuit update" August 9, 2008
"AiG/CMI: judge accepts, then withdraws mediation offer" August 12, 2008
"CMI responds to AiG dispute summary" August 15, 2008
"6th Circuit Court of Appeals tells AiG and CMI to go to arbitration" February 14, 2009
"AiG/CMI dispute settled" April 15, 2009

Creationist Finances
"Creationist finances: Some conclusions" January 8, 2007 Concluding post in a series of examinations of creationist organizations' finances.

"Derivative musical works and copyright" March 20, 2007

History of the CIA
"CIA employee identities discoverable via web searches" March 12, 2006
"Libby says Bush gave him permission to out Plame" April 6, 2006
"How planespotting uncovered CIA torture flights" October 20, 2006
"Redacted Iran op-ed shows Bush administration insanity" December 26, 2006
"CIA and White House block Cunningham investigation" January 12, 2007
"White House involvement in Duke Cunningham scandal" March 27, 2007
"BAE, Bandar, and Bush" June 12, 2007
"Abolish the CIA" August 1, 2007
"A Brief History of the CIA: 1945-1953 (Truman)" August 11, 2007
"The CIA in Venezuela in 2002" August 15, 2007
"A Brief History of the CIA: 1953-1961 (Eisenhower)" August 27, 2007
"Secret U.S. endorsement of severe interrogations" October 4, 2007
"CIA head investigates CIA Inspector General" October 13, 2007
"If you think waterboarding isn't torture..." November 4, 2007

"Tinfoil hat brigade generates fear about Infragard" February 8, 2008
"FBI responds to 'shoot to kill' claims about InfraGard" February 15, 2008
"More InfraGard FUD and misinformation" February 23, 2008
"New Mexico InfraGard conference" February 24, 2008
"Of course I'm right" February 26, 2008

"Scientology Sampler" March 4, 2006
"Arizona legislators sponsoring bills for Scientology front group" March 11, 2006
"Antony Flew on advisory board of Scientology front group" March 11, 2006
"Matt Stone calls Isaac Hayes on his double standard" March 13, 2006
"Comedy Central pulls Scientology episode from reruns" March 17, 2006
"'Industry sources' confirm Cruise role in 'South Park' controversy" March 20, 2006
"Fox News: Isaac Hayes did not quit South Park" March 21, 2006
"CBS series pilot based on Scientology?" March 28, 2006
"Scientologists pay another web visit" May 30, 2006
"Welcome, Church of Scientology visitors!" September 23, 2006
"Scientology-friendly Foley in rehab in Clearwater, Florida" October 2, 2006
"The Bridge: Attacked by Scientology" October 17, 2006
"Scientology 'Industry of Death' exhibit in Missouri capitol" January 11, 2007
"State legislator who supported Scientology also supports global warming denial" January 27, 2007
"Karen Johnson trying to become Arizona's dumbest legislator" February 1, 2007
"Keith Henson arrested in Prescott, Arizona" February 4, 2007
"Thayer Verschoor's latest attempt at censoring academia" February 17, 2007
"Christian ministers partnering with Scientology" November 4, 2007
"Andrew Morton's Tom Cruise tell-all" January 6, 2008
"'Anonymous' launches 'war' against Scientology" January 22, 2008
"Hoax white powder sent to Scientology" January 31, 2008
"Scientology protests" February 10, 2008
"Niece of David Miscavige speaks out against Scientology" February 12, 2008
"Dave Bird, RIP" February 13, 2008
"Michael Shermer on Anonymous protest of Scientology" February 20, 2008
"Scientology critic Shawn Lonsdale dies" February 20, 2008
"Millennium reruns" March 22, 2008
"Scientology sucks at JavaScript" March 25, 2008
"Scientology OT levels leaked through Wikileaks" March 28, 2008
"Mike Rinder left Scientology" March 28, 2008
"Scientology celebrity escapes" April 17, 2008
"Ex-Scientology Kids" April 24, 2008
"YouTube's double standard on Scientology" May 2, 2008
"A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant" December 3, 2008
"Jeff Jacobsen article on Anonymous protests against Scientology" December 17, 2008
"A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant" December 19, 2008
"Diskeeper sued for Scientology indoctrination" December 21, 2008
"Scientology v. the Internet history lesson" January 4, 2009
"Bart Simpson shilling for Scientology" January 29, 2009
"Scientology and religious visas" March 5, 2009
"Former high-ranking Scientologists speak out in SP Times" June 21, 2009
"SP Times Scientology article on Lisa McPherson" June 22, 2009

Pakistan and YouTube
"Pakistan takes out YouTube, gets taken out in return" February 25, 2008

Housing Bubble: Einzige's series on Maricopa County's preforeclosure rates.
"Maricopa County's Trustee's Sales Notices" September 30, 2006
"A Steep Cliff--Phoenix Notices of Trustee's Sales" December 12, 2006
"Update on Maricopa County Trustee Sale Notices" January 31, 2007
"Phoenix Foreclosure Update" March 1, 2007
"Latest Real Estate Market Info for Maricopa County" March 31, 2007
"Where Are We Headed?" April 30, 2007
"Maricopa County Trustee's Sale Notices for May 2007" May 31, 2007
"The Trend Continues" July 4, 2007
"Words Fail Me" July 31, 2007
"This is getting ridiculous" September 6, 2007
"September's Fall" September 28, 2007
"Back with a Vengeance" October 31, 2007
"Have things finally peaked?" December 2, 2007
"December's Phoenix Housing Stats Update" December 31, 2007
"February Maricopa County Notices Update" March 5, 2008
"March's Market Update" April 1, 2008
"April Trustee's Sale Notices" May 4, 2008
"Phoenix Trustee's Sale Notices for May, 2008" June 7, 2008
"July's Pre-foreclosure Numbers" August 3, 2008
"August's Notices of Trustee's Sales" September 14, 2008
"Phoenix-area foreclosures" November 30, 2008
"Maricopa County Notices of Trustee's Sales for October 2009" October 30, 2009

Atheism: Einzige's parable.
"The Parable of the Roommate" November 1, 2005

Antony Flew's new book

Today's New York Times has the story about how Roy Varghese wrote Antony Flew's new book for him, titled There Is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

Break-in at CI Host colo facility

The Register (UK) reports that C I Host, a webhosting provider, has now had a fourth break-in at its Chicago colocation facility. Someone cut through a wall with a saw and stole customer equipment (and the DVRs or tape recording devices for the CCTV system). C I Host apparently took days to inform its customers of the break-in, and some have voiced suspicions that it was an inside job.

UPDATE (February 4, 2007): There was some followup discussion.

Christian ministers partnering with Scientology

CNN reports that the Church of Scientology is partnering with ministers of low-income Christian churches to provide free tutoring, using L. Ron Hubbard's "study technology." More at the Secular Outpost.

If you think waterboarding isn't torture... this description of it from Malcolm Nance, former chief of training at the U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school in San Diego:
I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school's interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques employed by the Army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What is less frequently reported is that our training was designed to show how an evil totalitarian enemy would use torture at the slightest whim.

Having been subjected to this technique, I can say: It is risky but not entirely dangerous when applied in training for a very short period. However, when performed on an unsuspecting prisoner, waterboarding is a torture technique - without a doubt. There is no way to sugarcoat it.

In the media, waterboarding is called "simulated drowning," but that's a misnomer. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning.

Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

How much of this the victim is to endure depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim's face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs that show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow-motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of blackout and expiration. Usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch. If it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia - meaning, the loss of all oxygen to the cells.

(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

Most of the media discussions of waterboarding have completely omitted the part about the subject's lungs filling with water and made it sound like it's no more than having your head dunked under water, like bobbing for apples at Halloween.

UPDATE (November 14, 2007): Some doubts have been raised about Nance's reliability and whether waterboarding actually involves water filling the lungs (as opposed to triggering the gag reflex and some drops of water entering the lungs), though it's clear that the psychological effects are extremely strong, with the average CIA Officer able to withstand 18 seconds before begging for it to end. For the doubts on Nance and the details of waterboarding, see the comments on these posts at Positive Liberty and Captain's Quarters.

UPDATE (December 31, 2007): Here's a guy who experimented with waterboarding techniques on himself, and vividly explains the results.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Mikey Weinstein vs. Chuck Norris

Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation responds to criticisms from Chuck Norris.

Scary number quoted: Campus Crusade for Christ's 2006 annual revenue, $497,516,000.

(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

Max Blumenthal attends the Values Voters Summit

And boy, are they crazy.

(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Foreclosure rates double, one-third of Phoenix homes for sale vacant

U.S. foreclosure rates are double what they were last year, and the top states for foreclosures are:

1. Nevada
2. California
3. Florida
4. Michigan
5. Ohio
6. Colorado
7. Arizona
8. Georgia
9. Indiana
10. Texas

36% of homes for sale in Phoenix are vacant, either due to speculators getting caught holding the bag or people who have bought and moved to new homes without finding a buyer for their previous home. Average time to sell (for those houses that are actually selling) is 94 days, versus 73 days a year ago.

Zillow seemed to have stopped updating Phoenix-area home prices on September 11, but they've now given an update with October 25 data, and my home's "zestimate" value has dropped by 3.6% since the September 11 data.