Monday, January 31, 2005

Two Tons of Dumb

[P]olls consistently show that a plurality of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago, and about two-thirds believe that this belief should be taught along with evolution in public schools.

These findings set the United States apart from all other industrialized nations, said Dr. Jon Miller, director of the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University, who has studied public attitudes toward science. Americans, he said, have been evenly divided for years on the question of evolution, with about 45 percent accepting it, 45 percent rejecting it and the rest undecided.

In other industrialized countries, Dr. Miller said, 80 percent or more typically accept evolution, most of the others say they are not sure and very few people reject the idea outright.

"In Japan, something like 96 percent accept evolution," he said. Even in socially conservative, predominantly Catholic countries like Poland, perhaps 75 percent of people surveyed accept evolution, he said. "It has not been a Catholic issue or an Asian issue," he said.

Indeed, two popes, Pius XII in 1950 and John Paul II in 1996, have endorsed the idea that evolution and religion can coexist. "I have yet to meet a Catholic school teacher who skips evolution," Dr. Scott said.
Repeat after me. The world was not created by God 10,000 years ago. Want proof? Go to a museum. Read a book. Stop scaring science teachers into avoiding the subject when they teach biology. Otherwise, we're going to end up with a country chock full of stupid.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Garrison Rocks

Some much needed humor. Listen here. It's long but it's worth it.

In Name Only

While the images of Iraqis celebrating today's vote were heartening, stories like these show how far removed from actually democracy this election was:
At the Al-Khazrajiya school in the city's old quarter, Najat Ridha, 48, was ushered into a classroom and handed two ballots, one for the national assembly and another for the local provincial council.

An election worker suggested she vote for list 285 headed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and a local list headed by governor Duraid Kashmula.

She ticked the boxes obligingly and walked out - just as Zahra Ibrahim, 60, did before her.

"I really just did what they asked me to do," she said as the Iraqi national anthem crackled on a loudspeaker in the background.

Similar scenes unfolded at the Al-Fadhila school on the west side as men and women, perplexed over what the list numbers stood for, were offered suggestions and a helping hand by election workers.

"I want to vote for Allawi and Yawar," said a frustrated Fatima Hashim, 50.

Both Dr Allawi and interim President Ghazi al-Yawar, himself from Mosul, head competing lists for seats on the national assembly, but were popular choices in the city because of their high profile.

The lists, which only bear numbers and not candidate names for the most part, were published only two days before.

At a polling station in the New Mosul neighbourhood, Mahasin Ahmed, 37, a school teacher, wanted to vote for Yawar, a tribal leader, but did not know that his list number was 255 and neither did the election worker helping her.

He suggested she vote for list 188 because it had "tribes" in the title.

"I found most of the election workers unqualified and I observed many irregularities," said Guevara Yokhana, 34, a Christian running in the local elections, who visited seven of the 20 polling stations on the city's east side.

He said a lack of ballot papers sparked riots in the town of Qaraqush as thousands of furious Christians and Kurds realised they were unable to vote.

Quote of the Day

The myth [of evil] encourages people to believe that they are good and will remain good no matter what, even if they perpetrate severe harm on their opponents. Thus, the myth of pure evil confers a kind of moral immunity on people who believe in it...Belief in the myth is itself one recipe for evil, because it allows people to justify violent and oppressive actions. It allows evil to masquerade as good."
~ Roy Baumeister: Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty
Remind you of anyone?

Show Me The Money

I've misplaced a twenty or two in my day, but $9 billion? The Guardian has the scoop.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Inside Iraq

From Baghdad Burning:
Bleak Eid...
It's the third day of Eid. Eid is the Islamic holiday and usually it’s a time for families to get together, eat, drink and celebrate. Not this Eid. This Eid is unbearable. We managed a feeble gathering on the first day and no one was in a celebratory mood. There have been several explosions- some far and some near but even those aren't as worrisome as the tension that seems to be growing on a daily basis.

There hasn’t been a drop of water in the faucets for six days. six days. Even at the beginning of the occupation, when the water would disappear in the summer, there was always a trickle that would come from one of the pipes in the garden. Now, even that is gone. We’ve been purchasing bottles of water (the price has gone up) to use for cooking and drinking. Forget about cleaning. It’s really frustrating because everyone cleans house during Eid. It’s like a part of the tradition. The days leading up to Eid are a frenzy of mops, brooms, dusting rags and disinfectant. The cleaning makes one feel like there's room for a fresh start. It's almost as if the house and its inhabitants are being reborn. Not this year. We’re managing just enough water to rinse dishes with. To bathe, we have to try to make-do with a few liters of water heated in pots on kerosene heaters.

Water is like peace- you never really know just how valuable it is until someone takes it away. It’s maddening to walk up to the sink, turn one of the faucets and hear the pipes groan with nothing. The toilets don’t function… the dishes sit piled up until two of us can manage to do them- one scrubbing and rinsing and the other pouring the water.

Why is this happening? Is it because of the electricity? If it is, we should at least be getting water a couple of hours a day- like before. Is it some sort of collective punishment leading up to the elections? It’s unbelievable. At first, I thought it was just our area but I’ve been asking around and apparently, almost all of the areas (if not all) are suffering this drought.

I’m sure people outside of the country are shaking their heads at the words ‘collective punishment’. “No, Riverbend,” they are saying, “That’s impossible.” But anything is possible these days. People in many areas are being told that if they don’t vote- Sunnis and Shia alike- the food and supply rations we are supposed to get monthly will be cut off. We’ve been getting these rations since the beginning of the nineties and for many families, it’s their main source of sustenance. What sort of democracy is it when you FORCE people to go vote for someone or another they don’t want?

Allawi’s people were passing out pamphlets a few days ago. I went out to the garden to check the low faucet, hoping to find a trickle of water and instead, I found some paper crushed under the garden gate. Upon studying it, it turned out to be some sort of “Elect Allawi” pamphlet promising security and prosperity, amongst other things, for occupied Iraq. I'd say it was a completely useless pamphlet but that isn't completely true. It fit nicely on the bottom of the cage of E.'s newly acquired pet parakeet.

They say the borders are closed with Jordan and possibly Syria. I also heard yesterday that people aren't being let into Baghdad. They have American check-points on the main roads leading into the city and they say that the cars are being turned back to wherever they came from. It's a bad situation and things are looking very bleak at this point.

It's amazing how as things get worse, you begin to require less and less. We have a saying for that in Iraq, "Ili yishoof il mawt, yirdha bil iskhooneh." Which means, "If you see death, you settle for a fever." We've given up on democracy, security and even electricity. Just bring back the water.

Bush Dollars

From MSNBC:
One simple way to figure the budget impact of Bush’s first term is to look at how much new Treasury debt the government has sold to make up for the deficits since he took office. In Jan. 2001, the total Treasury debt held by the public stood at $3.9 trillion. As of Wed. Jan. 19, the figure was $4,423,975,930,565.56 (or $4.4 trillion.)So regardless of whether you attribute this increase to tax cuts or war spending (or both), the U.S. government is $500 billion further in debt after Bush's first term.

As for the second term, the outlook isn’t much better. A lot depends on whether tax cuts scheduled to expire at the end of the decade are made permanent -– and on when U.S. troops finally leave Iraq. Last June, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the final bill for the war could hit nearly $400 billion.  The CBO figures the accumulated federal budget deficits will hit $2.3 trillion by the end of the decade. And the White House’s own estimates for the second term estimates the total Treasury debt held by the public will reach $5.5 trillion by 2008. (See Table 20, bottom of the page.) That would put the accumulated price tag for both terms at around $1.6 trillion, or a little over $200 billion a year.

That's not counting the White House plan to overhaul Social Security. Until the details of the proposal are formally unveiled, it's impossible to say what it will cost. But if some payroll taxes are diverted to individual accounts (the main idea behind the plan), Congress would have to kick in more money to pay for people who are already retired or expect to do so soon. That could easily add another $1 trillion or more to the Bush deficits.

i-toons

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Booh Hooh, He Lied To You, Too

Folks at Redstate are up in arms about Bush and those gay people
President to Conservatives: Screw You
By: Augustine · Section: Social Issues

On the domestic front, Bush said he would not lobby the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage. -The Washington Post

In one interview, the President has effectively undercut the entire movement in favor of traditional marriage - a movement that in no small part helped re-elect him in November.
- - - -
President Bush needs to decide what kind of President he is going to be in his second term. Is he going to be the kind of President who does what he says, or is he going to be the kind of President many of us thought John Kerry would be - one who oftentimes knows what is right, but lacks the will or the basic honesty to stand by his word?
Meow. Somebody pass the popcorn. This should be fun.

Bush Lies (I Know, Like What Else Is New?)

A good article on the Social Security "crisis" (cough, "bullshit") from Time Canada:
At another appearance intended to promote federal standards for testing high school students, Bush went off script to warn a group of teenagers, “The system will be bankrupt by the year 2040.”

That sounds pretty scary—except that it’s not true. What will actually happen in 2018, according to the Social Security trustees who oversee the program, is that the money paid out in benefits will begin to exceed the amount collected in taxes. And since Social Security will run a surplus until then (and has been running one for some time), it has billions available that it can tap to fill the gap. Even under conservative estimates, the system as it stands will have enough money to pay all its promised benefits until 2042 and most of its obligations for decades after.

What’s more, even if you take the President at his word—that a crisis and bankruptcy are fast approaching—the introduction of private accounts does nothing to slow that process. On the contrary, it makes things worse, by diverting payroll taxes from current retiree benefits and bringing the end of surpluses that much closer. Given all that, what is the President after?

I Hope Bush Can Swim Part XII

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Comparing Israeli sunlight records from the 1950s with current ones, Dr Stanhill was astonished to find a large fall in solar radiation.

"There was a staggering 22% drop in the sunlight, and that really amazed me." Intrigued, he searched records from all around the world, and found the same story almost everywhere he looked.

Sunlight was falling by 10% over the USA, nearly 30% in parts of the former Soviet Union, and even by 16% in parts of the British Isles.

Although the effect varied greatly from place to place, overall the decline amounted to one to two per cent globally every decade between the 1950s and the 1990s.

Dr Stanhill called it "global dimming", but his research, published in 2001, met a sceptical response from other scientists.

It was only recently, when his conclusions were confirmed by Australian scientists using a completely different method to estimate solar radiation, that climate scientists at last woke up to the reality of global dimming.
- - - - -
But it now appears the warming from greenhouse gases has been offset by a strong cooling effect from dimming - in effect two of our pollutants have been cancelling each other out.

This means that the climate may in fact be more sensitive to the greenhouse effect than previously thought.

If so, then this is bad news, according to Dr Peter Cox, one of the world's leading climate modellers.

As things stand, CO2 levels are projected to rise strongly over coming decades, whereas there are encouraging signs that particle pollution is at last being brought under control.

"We're going to be in a situation unless we act where the cooling pollutant is dropping off while the warming pollutant is going up.

"That means we'll get reducing cooling and increased heating at the same time and that's a problem for us," says Dr Cox.

Even the most pessimistic forecasts of global warming may now have to be drastically revised upwards.

That means a temperature rise of 10 degrees Celsius by 2100 could be on the cards, giving the UK a climate like that of North Africa, and rendering many parts of the world uninhabitable.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Like, Duh

Some Iraq Areas May Be Too Unsafe to Vote

Question of the Day

From Today in Iraq:
Regular readers might recall that back on the 21st of December in our Happy Solstice Edition we took issue with a statement that Commander Bunnypants made to the effect that "...15 of Iraq's 18 provinces are relatively stable..." and we demonstrated to our entire satisfaction that he was full of it.

Now we find that he's at it again. He recently deigned to have a few words with the press and he said that 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces "appear to be relatively calm." Relative to what, we might well ask, but hey. We already know he's talking out his butt.

No, the question that burns in our minds is this: Which province did he decide went bad?

After all, fifteen provinces were 'relatively stable' just two weeks ago and now only fourteen are 'relatively calm'! And for the lives of us, we can't figure out which one he decided got worse!

Help us, dear readers! If you thought like GW Bush (try slugging down a fifth of cheap vodka and whapping yourself repeatedly in the forehead with a ball peen hammer) and you were looking at the situation in Iraq, which province would you choose as being relatively less calm? And why?

Newt For President (So Buy My Book)

Monkey See Monkey Do

Allawi group slips cash to reporters. Bush must be so proud that his offspring is following in Dear Leader's footsteps.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Your Taxpayer Dollars At Work

In addition to paying Armstrong Williams a quarter million to shill for NCLB -
The department already has paid [PR Firm] Ketchum $700,000 to rate journalists on how positively or negatively they report on No Child Left Behind, and to produce a video release on the law that was used by some television stations as if it were real news. Other government agencies -- including the Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- also have distributed such prepackaged videos, a practice that congressional auditors have described as illegal in some cases.

President Chicken Little

A damn fine article in the WPost about Bush's cynical use of crises to sell his agenda.

Pave The Earth, Baby

For the first time in three decades, critics of the Endangered Species Act are building momentum to rewrite the law implemented to save America's threatened flora and fauna, from the star cactus to the grizzly bear.

Weakening the law has been a priority for Republican Western governors, and a second Bush term provides critics of the act a prime opportunity to push the U.S. Congress for changes that would help open up vast stretches of wilderness for development.
Read on.

Science Friday

Albert Einstein began working at the patent office in Bern, Switzerland, a little more than a century ago, with an undistinguished academic record. He had flunked the entrance exam for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and took the job evaluating inventions because it paid a regular salary.

Yet in 1905 he made discoveries that dwarfed anything passing through the patent office. Between March and September, he published five papers, any one of which would have won the Nobel Prize. They revolutionised our understanding of the cosmos. He was 26.
Read on.

Covering (Up) Iraq

Five Embeds Booted Out of Iraq in Recent Months

Thursday, January 06, 2005

i-toons

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

MemoGate Revisited

A great analysis from Columbia Journalism Review.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does Part III

It's like some Bizzaro World Hope/Crosby Road Movie:
"Who are you?" asked one slightly bemused Australian consular official as the large-girthed US stranger pumped his hand.

"I'm Jeb Bush."

"Oh, are you a relative of the president?" said the interlocuter, jokingly.

"Yes I am. I am his little brother."

"Oh," came the reply. "Good for you."
- - - - -
Jeb Bush was not the only senior US official who appeared to feel awkward.

The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, came close to damaging his reputation as the Bush administration's leading diplomat when he walked into the room, strolled to the US desk, shook the hands of the people working there and then walked straight back out again. It was only when he was downstairs that an aide suggested he "might like" to meet the volunteers from some of the other countries, too. Reminded that he is part of an international relief mission, Mr Powell promptly turned on his heels once again and marched back up the stairs to belatedly press some non-American flesh.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Iraqi Elections

From Baghdad Burning:
There are several problems. The first is the fact that, technically, we don't know the candidates. We know the principal heads of the lists but we don't know who exactly will be running. It really is confusing. They aren't making the lists public because they are afraid the candidates will be assassinated.

Another problem is the selling of ballots. We're getting our ballots through the people who give out the food rations in the varying areas. The whole family is registered with this person(s) and the ages of the varying family members are known. Many, many, many people are not going to vote. Some of those people are selling their voting cards for up to $400. The word on the street is that these ballots are being bought by people coming in from Iran. They will purchase the ballots, make false IDs (which is ridiculously easy these days) and vote for SCIRI or Daawa candidates. Sunnis are receiving their ballots although they don't intend to vote, just so that they won't be sold.

Yet another issue is the fact that on all the voting cards, the gender of the voter, regardless of sex, is labeled "male". Now, call me insane, but I found this slightly disturbing. Why was that done? Was it some sort of a mistake? Why is the sex on the card anyway? What difference does it make? There are some theories about this. Some are saying that many of the more religiously inclined families won't want their womenfolk voting so it might be permissible for the head of the family to take the women's ID and her ballot and do the voting for her. Another theory is that this 'mistake' will make things easier for people making fake IDs to vote in place of females.

All of this has given the coming elections a sort of sinister cloak. There is too much mystery involved and too little transparency. It is more than a little bit worrisome.

American politicians seem to be very confident that Iraq is going to come out of these elections with a secular government. How is that going to happen when many Shia Iraqis are being driven to vote with various fatwas from Sistani and gang? Sistani and some others of Iranian inclination came out with fatwas claiming that non-voters will burn in the hottest fires of the underworld for an eternity if they don't vote (I'm wondering- was this a fatwa borrowed from right-wing Bushies during the American elections?). So someone fuelled with a scorching fatwa like that one- how will they vote? Secular? Yeah, right.