Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Intelligent Design

Day No. 1:

And the Lord God said, “Let there be light,” and lo, there was light. But then the Lord God said, “Wait, what if I make it a sort of rosy, sunset-at-the-beach, filtered half-light, so that everything else I design will look younger?”

“I’m loving that,” said Buddha. “It’s new.”

“You should design a restaurant,” added Allah.

Day No. 2:

“Today,” the Lord God said, “let’s do land.” And lo, there was land.

“Well, it’s really not just land,” noted Vishnu. “You’ve got mountains and valleys and—is that lava?”

“It’s not a single statement,” said the Lord God. “I want it to say, ‘Yes, this is land, but it’s not afraid to ooze.’ ”

“It’s really a backdrop, a sort of blank canvas,” put in Apollo. “It’s, like, minimalism, only with scale.”

“But—brown?” Buddha asked.

“Brown with infinite variations,” said the Lord God. “Taupe, ochre, burnt umber—they’re called earth tones.”

“I wasn’t criticizing,” said Buddha. “I was just noticing.”
[Read the rest in The New Yorker]
Permalink 9:22 AM

Monday, September 26, 2005

Don Adams 1923?-2005

Actor Don Adams passed away on Sunday, September 25. Adams was best known for the character of Maxwell Smart in the 60's sitcom, "Get Smart" where he played a bumbling spy, working for an intelligence agency that was centuries ahead of its time. Ok, would you believe decades?

He'll be missed.
Permalink 8:32 PM

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Hitting the nail

Conservatives often complain about the liberal 'love' of taxes. Taxes, they say, are like a hammer--and to a liberal everything looks like a nail. But more and more, Republicans are looking like a bunch of carpenters who absolutely refuse to touch a hammer. They'll use a screwdriver, pair of pliers, the back of a wrench... anything but the accursed hammer! We are running unsustainable deficits, we will continue to run into 'unforseen' expenses, and the Republican leadership doesn't even think there's anything that can be cut! Somethings got to give, and I think it's the conservative fantasy that the Republicans are 'conservative' in any meaningful sense of the word--and that they even have a clue what good governance means.
Permalink 9:36 PM

George Bush in Ithaca

George Bush made a surprise stop in Ithaca, NY last week and gave a short speech about recent events. He dressed strangely for the occasion, wearing thigh-high rubber wader boots, a fireman's jacket, and a foxskin hat, complete with a fox's tail hanging down the back. After the speech, he took a few questions from the mostly liberal audience:

Question: Mr. President, could you explain why you are wearing rubber boots?
Answer: These boots are in honor of the rescue workers who waded through waist-high water and muck to save the lives of the victims of hurricane Katrina.

Question: Mr. President, could you also explain why you are wearing a fireman's jacket?
Answer: This jacket is in honor of the first responders, who risk their lives to save others in times of fire, terrorist attack, or natural disasters.

Question: What about that hat?
Answer: That was Laura's suggestion. When I told her that I was giving a speech in Ithaca, she said "Ithaca? Wear the fox hat!"

...told at a wedding I attended Saturday. Congratulations, Ted and Marne!
Permalink 4:55 PM

Impeach Jackson!

Impeach President Jackson (posthumously)! Get that butcher off the twenty dollar bill!

I'm actually surprised that there isn't such a movement. I just listened to a book on tape, Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis, and I found his recounting of Andrew Jackson's treatment of the Indians to be completely horrifying. The Cherokee of Georgia, especially, were completely assimilated. It wasn't a matter of them riding around on horseback and shooting arrows into backs of white settlers; the Cherokee adopted European style clothing and houses. They had a written language and they had schools. They were prosperous farmers not very different from the whites living in Georgia at the time. But they were dragged from their homes, and forced to march 2000 miles on foot to a god-forsaken land that they had never been to before. Jackson claimed it was to "protect" them from the white settlers, although the normal procedure in using force to protect people is to use that force against the agressors, rather than the victims.

I wish that ATMs would dispense money in denominations other than twenties.
Permalink 3:12 PM

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Paranoia Strikes Deep: Voting Machines

Via Avedon Carol's The Sideshow, the Brad Blog reports about an unpublicized flaw in the Diebold voting machines. This flaw was known to both Diebold and the US government prior to the use of those machines in the 2004 elections. From a US "Cyber Alert":

A vulnerability due to an undocumented backdoor account which could [allow] a local or remote authenticated malicious user [to] modify votes.
No workaround or patch available at time of publishing.
(The words in [] are my insertions to make the announcement grammatical)

Another entry for "Rate your liberal paranoia".
Permalink 8:52 AM

FEMA Weirdness

From Bob Harris:

I'm sure there is some explanation for why FEMA would have failed to include the most-threatened areas (those actually on the ocean) in the state of emergency declaration, but it's hard to imagine what it might be.
Permalink 8:48 AM

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Victory on Wasteful Spending!

Some good news, for a change:
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget…Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good."
Wow! No more government waste! I didn’t expect to see that in my lifetime.
Permalink 3:12 PM

Half-formed Idea 2: Debunkers Wiki

In this post, Kevin Drum compiles a list of "Urban Legends" associated with Hurrican Katrina and its aftermath. It occurred to me that it would be very useful to have a "wiki" that kept track of all the urban legends and false stories associated with politics: (You know: John Kerry saying "Who amongst us does not love NASCAR?", Clinton holding up airport traffic to get a haircut, etc.) As a wiki, it would be accessible to people of any political persuasion to make contributions, so it wouldn't have to just be liberal debunking of conservative talking points or vice-versa.

A lot of this work is already done at Snopes Urban Legends Reference Pages and by Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler, but it would be nice to have a collaborative project to gather such information.

What's a wiki? From wikipedia, the online wiki-based encyclopedia,

A wiki is a web application that allows users to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also allows anyone to edit the content. The term Wiki also refers to the collaborative software used to create such a website (see Wiki software).
Permalink 2:33 PM

Half-formed Idea 1: Rate your liberal paranoia

Kyle and I had been kicking this idea around for months, but we never got around to implementing it. The idea would be to have an online quiz called "Rate your liberal paranoia" that asked questions about the 2000 election, 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the 2004 election, Ohio, Florida, etc. Based on your answers, you would get a liberal paranoia rating, which would reflect the extent to which you believe that everything is the result of a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Unfortunately for us, Avedon Carol beat us to the punch. Well, she didn't actually implement it, either, but she made a post about it. I still think it would be worth-while to actually implement it as an online quiz, though.
Permalink 2:26 PM

Oriole Musical Ability Overrated

Click here to hear the song of the Baltimore Oriole (the bird, not the baseball player). It's very pretty, but I think that people make too much of the "beautiful melody" of bird song. As melodies, they really are not very good. At best, they are musical phrases or "hooks". Calling them a melody is like calling "Shave and a haircut, two bits!" a melody.

I think that people who praise the beautiful melodies of birds are being patronizing; what they're really saying is "That's a great melody, for a composer with such a tiny brain."
Permalink 11:16 AM


My wife recently called an exterminator to help get rid of the mice that have recently infested our home. The problem with mice is that they leave their droppings everywhere---I wouldn't mind them so much if they used Fafard's litter box. Fafard is 16 years old, which is much too old to chase, or even frighten, mice.

Well, the issue is not the mice. When the exterminators came, they discovered that our home and yard were the breeding grounds for millions of spiders, and they helpfully eradicated the spiders, their nests, their egg sacs, etc. I never even kill spiders in the house---I catch them in jars and take them outside. But now the outside has turned from a refugee camp for exiled spiders to a death camp. I'm so ashamed.
Permalink 11:02 AM

Evolution for Free-Marketeers

via 3QuarksDaily

For some reason, many of the same conservatives who believe that the complexity of the natural world is not possible without an intelligent designer are also convinced that the miracle of the marketplace will solve all economic problems without the need for intervention. The mathematician John Allen Paulos describes the analogy between evolution and the free market in this entry in the Edge:

Let me begin by asking how it is that modern free market economies are as complex as they are, boasting amazingly elaborate production, distribution and communication systems? Go into almost any drug store and you can find your favourite candy bar. And what's true at the personal level is true at the industrial level. Somehow there are enough ball bearings and computer chips in just the right places in factories all over the country. The physical infrastructure and communication networks are also marvels of integrated complexity. Fuel supplies are, by and large, where they're needed. Email reaches you in Miami as well as in Milwaukee, not to mention Barcelona and Bangkok.

The natural question, discussed first by Adam Smith and later by Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper among others, is who designed this marvel of complexity? Which commissar decreed the number of packets of dental floss for each retail outlet? The answer, of course, is that no economic god designed this system. It emerged and grew by itself. No one argues that all the components of the candy bar distribution system must have been put into place at once, or else there would be no Snickers at the corner store.

So far, so good. What is more than a bit odd, however, is that some of the most ardent opponents of Darwinian evolution for example, many fundamentalist Christians are among the most ardent supporters of the free market. They accept the market's complexity without qualm, yet insist the complexity of biological phenomena requires a designer. MORE
I have my doubts that this line of reasoning will be convincing to creationists, though. They will point out that even though nobody designed the entire economy of the planet, each of the individual decisions, e.g. whether to order more Snickers or not, was made by an intelligent decision-maker.

So a fallback position for creationists is that maybe there is no designer for the whole natural world, but each ecological niche might have an intelligent designer. So there might be a god of frogs taking care of frog business, and a god of penguins taking care of penguin business, etc. Maybe it is the free market competition among these gods that produced the wonders of nature?

Daryl McCullough
Ithaca, NY
Permalink 10:49 AM

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Ideology vs Competence

Here is Avedon Carol quoting Eric Alterman quoting somebody who calls himself "Stupid":
Who is all this Katrina criticism helping to elect in 2008: Hillary/Richardson or McCain/Giuliani? Sure, I feel the rage about this: the incompetence, the racism, the arrogance, all of it. But let's not forget that Dubya isn't running in 2008! Making this all about him and not the --ideologies-- behind FEMA's non-response will only land a glancing blow on the GOP.

Good point. Whether George W. Bush is incompetent or not, we are, unfortunately, stuck with him until January 2009. That's another reason not to focus too much on Bush's competence. In the minds of many people, the word "competence" brings up issues of personal virtues or lack thereof. The personal qualities of George W. Bush are all water under the bridge now, or over the levees as the case may be.

The more important question for the future is to what extent do ideology affect competence? More specifically, is George W. Bush's kind of incompetence unique, or can we expect a different Republican President to be incompetent in the same way? I believe that Republican ideology (or at least a particular type of Republican ideology) makes it much more likely that a politician will be incompetent about certain things.
  • If you are convinced, for ideological reasons, that government can never be a force for good in the country, then you are very unlikely to use it as a force for good. If you believe that evolution and global warming are myths, then you are very unlikely to base your policies on sound science.
  • If you believe that there is no such thing as "competent government", then you are more likely to appoint your pals to positions of power without regard to their qualifications.
  • If you believe that diplomacy is a farce, then you are unlikely to appoint someone with diplomatic skills to be ambassador.
  • If you believe that environmentalism is foolish, then you are unlikely to appoint qualified people to the EPA.
  • If you believe that the economic health of the country depends on the prosperity of the richest people and the biggest corporations, then you are likely to rely on tax cuts to these groups as your major economic policy.
  • If you believe that diplomacy is a waste of time, and that the military is the purest and best expression of American greatness, then you are much more likely to get us into wars.

We (that is, people who agree with me) need to point out, again and again, that ideology affects competence.
Permalink 10:01 AM

Friday, September 09, 2005


I've been as quick as anyone to accuse the Bush administration and Republicans in general of incompetence. They screwed up in getting involved in Iraq, they screwed up the response to Hurrican Katrina. Their tax cuts have failed to bring people out of poverty, or to produce new jobs. Their policies have bankrupted the government and tarnished America's image in the world. They deny evolution and global warming. They seem like idiots and incompetents.

However, that is really an unwarranted conclusion. To be incompetent means that you are incapable of accomplishing your goals. Before we can conclude that the Republicans are incompetent, we need to know what their goals are, and whether any of the bad things that have happened under their watch are at odds with those goals.

If the goals are simply to elect more Republicans and to enrich campaign contributors, then as far as I know, they have accomplished their goals with amazing competence.

[Update] Okay, after a discussion in comments about the meaning of the word "competent", I've come to the conclusion that Bush really is incompetent. He cannot be relied on to do the job that he was hired to do, and that's the only measure of competence that matters. The fact that he doesn't actually care about doing a better job is not relevant.
Permalink 9:21 AM

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Breaking News: Chief Justice Rehnquist Dies

I would post a link, but it seems not to be covered on the internet yet. I just heard about it on TV.
Permalink 11:17 PM

Randist Daoism

From the mind of Andrew Plotkin:

"The A that equals A is not the true A."
Permalink 8:14 PM

Last 300 Refugees Leave Superdome

By MARY FOSTER, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS - The last 300 refugees in the Superdome climbed aboard buses Saturday bound for new temporary shelter, leaving behind a darkened and stinking arena strewn with trash.

The sight of the last person — an elderly man wearing a Houston Rockets cap — prompted cheers from members of the Texas National Guard who were guarding the facility.

Why in the world did it take 5 days to accomplish this?
Permalink 7:47 PM

Friday, September 02, 2005

Emo Phillips Quote of the Day

People always ask me, "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" Well, I don't have an alibi.
Permalink 12:43 PM

Schwarzeneggar Threatens Veto of Gay Marriage Bill

By Jordan Rau and Nancy Vogel, LA Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — The California Senate voted Thursday to allow homosexuals to marry, becoming the first legislative body in the United States to embrace the idea and setting off a scramble for three votes needed for passage in the Assembly...

Signaling a likely veto if it does pass, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's spokeswoman said he preferred to let judges sort out the legality of gay marriage; such a case is moving toward the state Supreme Court.

This is consistent with Schwazeneggar's long-standing position of gay marriage:
"I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman,"
Permalink 12:37 PM

Unreading the Morning Paper

In the movie "Roxanne" (a modern-day "Cyrano de Bergerac"), there is a throw-away bit of schtick in which Steve Martin (playing the Cyrano character) puts a quarter into a machine to get a newspaper, looks at the front page, gasps, puts another quarter into the machine, and tosses the newspaper back. All in about 3 seconds.

I have certainly felt that way about the New York Times in recent days. I take one look at the front page pictures of the disaster in New Orleans, and I want to toss it back and forget that I ever looked at it.

When will it be safe to look at papers again?
Permalink 12:18 PM

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Completely Untrue Rumors about Large Corporations

Here's a web page devoted to Libelous Claims About Large Corporations (with illustrations). Bizarre, and yet...No, they're just bizarre.
Permalink 5:16 PM

Miscellaneous Katrina News

Permalink 2:01 PM

Bush Boosters Bailing

TBogg has quotes from Bush cheerleaders in NRO (National Review Online) that sound as if they are as thoroughly disappointed in Bush as I am...
Permalink 12:55 PM

Neologism of the Day: Lipocrite

(Via Saheli Datta)

Definition from SnarkMarket:

Lipocrite n. (LIPP - o - kritt) A person who negates health-conscious food and lifestyle choices with corresponding unhealthy behavior. That lipocrite totally just smothered his green salad in ranch dressing, cheddar cheese and bacon bits.

I'm not sure if it's the same thing, but I always have Diet Coke with my double cheeseburger.
Permalink 12:41 PM

New Orleans Blogger Found Alive

One of the many dramas surrounding Hurricane Katrina was the fate of New Orleans blogger Kat (of the blog Raven on a Writing Desk). On the day the hurricane hit, August 29, her three entries read:
  • in old apt. rainy windy, still power. worst is yet to come. yet try sleep. very well sheltered for now. zzz...

  • power out now. things going thud outside.

  • building next door collapsed. this may go soon wall missing big cracks. fun trip love you
The last entry was at 6:43 am. There was nothing from her for the rest of the day. Good news, though: Kat is alive, and heading for Texas in a pickup truck, after her apartment building literally fell down around her. Read more here and here.
Permalink 12:27 PM

Chertoff Scolds the Poor and the Dead

Via Atrios

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff speaks:

"The critical thing was to get people out of there before the disaster," he said on NBC's "Today" program. "Some people chose not to obey that order. That was a mistake on their part."
Right. Choosing to be poor is a big mistake: no car, no credit cards, nowhere to go in case of a disaster. Those are the people who didn't evacuate.

What a heartless, idiotic thing to say.
Permalink 12:12 PM

Emo Phillips Quote of the Day

In a conversation with a suicidal man threatening to jump off a bridge:
I said, 'Are you a Christian or a Jew?' He said, 'A Christian.'
I said, 'Me too. Protestant or Catholic?' He said, 'Protestant.'
I said, 'Me too. What franchise?' He says, 'Baptist.'
I said, 'Me too. Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?' He says, 'Northern Baptist.'
I said, 'Me too. Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?' He says, 'Northern Conservative Baptist.'
I said, 'Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reformed Baptist?' He says, 'Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist.'
I said, 'Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Eastern Region?' He says, 'Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region.'
I said, 'Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912?' He says, Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912.'
I said, 'Die, heretic!' and I pushed him over.
Permalink 11:29 AM

Susan Wood Quits FDA Over "Morning After" Pill

Knight Ridder Newspapers and Los Angeles Times (via the Seattle Times)

A longtime women's health advocate [Susan Wood] quit her high-level Food and Drug Administration (FDA) post yesterday to protest the agency's refusal to allow over-the-counter sales of the "morning-after" pill to women over 16.
Permalink 8:55 AM