Friday, September 30, 2005

NEWS FLASH from the Weasel News Network.

Yes, it's tawdry entertainment but it's sort of like a train wreck -- you can't avoid checking it out, can you? From the hermetically-sealed mind of WB himself:

When Bush-bashers complain about Roberts being from outside SCOTUS... as a caller on C-SPAN's Washington Journal did on September 12th (and was subsequently corrected by the host, which caused the caller to become quite amusingly flustered) and Shannon, a recent visitor to S&B, did on her own site, remind them that historically, chief justices have been chosen from outside the ranks of the Supreme Court...

So, the choice of "outsider" Roberts is really unremarkable and not the least bit controversial. It would seriously behoove people who make this complaint to actually take the time to research and study what they are complaining about. When they hurl insults at President Bush for his choice of Roberts for chief justice, they are exposing their ignorance and hurting only themselves.

Whew, that was close. If it wasn't for the Weasel News Network, you'd never have known about the anonymous caller making an inaccurate claim about U.S. Supreme Court appointments that was immediately corrected by the host on a TV program that hardly anyone watches.

We now return you to the reality that you actually give a shit about.

: What the hell, while we're here ... apparently, the level of sophistication over at Casa de Weasel has progressed to the point where WB now just makes fun of peoples' looks.

Luckily, we at CC HQ are above that sort of infantile snottiness. Well ... actually, no, we're not. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

The type of bloggie attention that makes you kind of nervous.

Not that I can pin any significance on it but, yesterday, sitemeter told me I had my very first visit from Yeah, that Halliburton. Can the black helicopters be far behind?

It's called "blowback," fellas.

Now here's a story that should utterly fail to tug at your heartstrings:

US forces 'out of control', says Reuters chief

Reuters has told the US government that American forces' conduct towards journalists in Iraq is "spiralling out of control" and preventing full coverage of the war reaching the public.

The detention and accidental shootings of journalists is limiting how journalists can operate, wrote David Schlesinger, the Reuters global managing editor, in a letter to Senator John Warner, head of the armed services committee.

Got any specific examples? CBS does:

The US network CBS has raised concerns over the arrest of its cameraman, Abdul Amir Younes, who was arrested in hospital in April after he was shot by US troops.

CBS said it is concerned that he had no legal representation at the hearing and has had no chance to see the evidence against him.

Um ... right. After years of patriotic, pro-administration, pro-invasion flag-waving, CBS is finally figuring out just what kind of thugs they've been cheerleading for. Man, that has to suck.

AFTERSNARK: One could only imagine the weirdness if the New York Times -- for whom hack journalist Judith Miller wrote such wretchedly dishonest swill promoting the notion of WMDs in Iraq -- lost a journalist to friendly U.S. fire. Wouldn't that be irony of the highest order?

Unintentional humour, Canadian style.

Over at the National Post, conservative columnist Andrew Coyne tries to put a happy face on sagging Canadian conservative fortunes:

Why there is much to be happy about

... Conservatives are inclined to look on the dark side at the best of times, but get them going on the subject of conservatism, and they turn suicidal. The right may have little use for self-pity in others, but if there's a culture of defeatism in this country, they've got it in spades.

Can I suggest a heresy? Things are not as bad as all that. Look around you. Conservative parties are in power in the United States, in France, Italy, Japan and Australia.

Why, yes, Andy boy, they are in power in the United States. And the masses are finally starting to twig to what kind of unmitigated disaster those people have been. This would, I guess, be the Andrew Coyne strategy for conservative cheerleading north of the border: Vote conservative -- fuck your country as badly as the Americans have.

This is a selling point?

Whoops ... did I say that out loud?

Remember back here when morals czar and gambling addict Bill Bennett suggested that aborting every black baby in the country would reduce the crime rate? Well, go figure, but a few people took exception to that:

Congressional Democrats blasted former Education Secretary William Bennett on Thursday for saying that aborting "every black baby in this country" would reduce the crime rate, and demanded their Republican counterparts do the same.

"This is precisely the kind of insensitive, hurtful and ignorant rhetoric that Americans have grown tired of," said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois.

Now, keep in mind, it's Bennett's current supporters who keep howling about Democratic Senator Robert Byrd's 50-year-old membership in the Klan. Apparently, overt racism is just fine as long as you're, you know, not an official member or anything. Then it's cool.

... here's the funniest, most mind-boggling part of the article:

Asked if he owed people an apology, Bennett replied, "I don't think I do. I think people who misrepresented my view owe me an apology."

That's right -- anyone offended by Bennett's asinine bigotry owes him an apology. Words fail me.

Katrina-related price gouging: Full speed ahead.

Go read.

Yeah. What he said.

Over at DailyKos, Hunter lets loose on Wankerville.

The terrorists have already won, you know.

Via Flash Point Canada, we have this story of security gone wild in London's underground. Somewhere, Osama bin Laden is laughing his nut sack off.

AFTERSNARK: The unspeakable stupidity of the British constabulary should be obvious to even someone as dense as Weasel Boy as, according to article author David Mery, those officers actually listed, in detail, what it was about Mery that aroused their suspicions, including things as innocuous as that he "kept [his] rucksack with [him] at all times." If this doesn't hand complete control over to the terrorists, I don't know what does.

On the one hand, potential suicide bombers now have a painfully-detailed list of what behaviour to avoid to keep from being stopped, which strikes me as a pretty brainless anti-terrorism strategy. But that's not the best part.

On the other hand, those same suicide bombers now know exactly what to do to shut down totally the London underground. By duplicating what Mery did, they can cause the constant disruption of underground traffic and, as long as they're not actually packing a bomb, the worst that will happen to them is that they'll be arrested, searched, perhaps detained for a few hours and then released, at which time they'll be free to do it all over again the next day, throwing the underground into constant turmoil.

Those British police couldn't have been more accommodating to potential bombers if they'd written a fucking pamphlet.

BY THE WAY ... is anyone else amused by the fact that, according to Mery, he was arrested for "suspicious behaviour and public nuisance"? Public nuisance? From whose paranoid imagination did that charge suddenly appear?

Countdown to 2,000

Democracy on the march:

... Also Thursday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of five U.S. soldiers Wednesday in a roadside bombing during combat in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, a hotbed of Iraq's insurgency.

It was the deadliest single attack against American troops in more than a month, bringing to 1,934 the number of U.S. service members who have died since Iraq's war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Mission accomplished, indeed. One wonders if the death toll reaching 2,000 will equate to some sort of snapping point for people who have tolerated this until now. And, if not, what about 3,000? What was once unthinkable now seems entirely within reach.

Remember that it was that magic number of 3,000 dead that this administration used to justify every one of their atrocities since 9/11. 3,000 dead. Horrific. Unimaginable. Mind-boggling. The reason "everything changed."

So what happens when Commander Chimpy's own "War on Terror" (not to mention non-existent WMDs) is personally responsible for more American deaths than the terrorist attacks of September, 2001? Will that change things yet again?

BANG, BANG ... YOU'RE DEAD: Apparently, that mystical figure of 3,000 American military dead could arrive a lot sooner than you think, what with the zippy, new Russian AN-94 "Abakan" assault rifle if it falls into the hands of the insurgency. And what's so special about this new toy? From the spec sheet:

The main Assault Rifle's feature is that it has two rate of fire modes. The first standard is 600 rpm that is equal to the AK-74 Assault Rifle while the other is 1 800 rpm. However it has no manual mode changer. The 1 800 rpm mode automatically turns on when Assault Rifle fires 2 shot burst. It also fires 1 800 rpm first two full-auto mode shots and after returns to the previous 600 rpm mode itself. Furthermore the process is repeated every time when shooter pushes a trigger. First two shots leave barrel in 1 800 rpm while their recoil power is felt only when rifle changes mode back to the 600 rpm. This feature provides very high fire accuracy in the first shots. Furthermore burst recoil power is so small that the AN-94 shooter is able to execute fire without grinding rifle into his shoulder, just right from his hands.

During this 2 shot burst at 1 800 rpm, shooter feels only a single recoil from the 2 shots combined only afterwards both bullets leave barrel. Furthermore these 2 shots sound like one. This feature is called asymmetric recoil.

In short, the first two rounds are fired so closely together, they sound and feel like one. And why is this such a big deal? Because, according to a snippet in the "Social Studies" section of today's Globe and Mail:

"The new Russian AN-94 Abakan rifle, which is replacing the Kalashnikov, can fire a very rapid burst of two bullets -- at 100 metres, both bullets will go through the same hole," reports BBC Focus magazine. "Body armour can only withstand a single bullet at one point, so the second will penetrate."

Ooooooh ... I'm sure that's not what American troops fighting overseas wanted to hear. Bummer.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Double the pleasure, double the humiliation.

Is anyone else amused by the fact that both GOP Senate majority leader Bill "Cat Killer" Frist and GOP House majority leader Tom "The Hammer" DeLay are both under criminal investigation at the same time? Sure, it's embarrassing, but at least no blowjobs were involved.

Weasel Boy: Renaissance Man.

It's not like I live for this sort of thing but, really, for someone who once accused me of being his "obsessed stalker," Weasel Boy seems to make a living out of tracking my spoor around the Internets, apparently leaving a comment here shortly after I blogged about some postings on that site.

And WB's contribution to the lively and occasionally thought-provoking dialogue in the comments section there, regarding his opinion of award-winning economist Paul Krugman? Verbatim, in its entirety:

Having a degree and being a "professional economist" doesn't make one immune to having stupid ideas. All one has to do is be a liberal and the stupid ideas come naturally.

Yup. After having previously made snarky remarks about your humble scribe's mathematical ability, WB now disparages Krugman's economic expertise. Apparently, WB is a world class authority on, well, damned near everything. Can giving acting lessons to Robert DeNiro be far off? Perhaps a few guitar lessons for Eric Clapton if he can squeeze them into his hectic schedule of finding a cure for cancer.

It's not like this is an image I want to dwell on but one gets the impression that, when it comes to Weasel Boy having intimate relations with the missus, his idea of foreplay is to go on at length about just how great it's going to be. And his unfortunate wife being reminded, yet again, of just how over-inflated WB's opinion is of himself.

Intelligent Design: It's the Rael Thing.

Case Western's Mano Singham (of David Horowitz-bashing fame) takes it to the ID folks by doing them one better.

Part 1.
Part 2.
Part 3.

Bloggers who give good snark.

OK, this guy's amusing, and I'm not just saying that 'cuz I'm on his blogroll.

Sometimes, there's no real need to be even-handed.

Following a reference from a friend, I found this blog and this recent posting, which demonstrates the absurd lengths one can go to in order to fake being fair and balanced. Note the utterly bogus comparison in the following snippet:

Tom DeLay's indictment, and the response it is [sic] evoked, has unfolded in a manner that is entirely predictable. Republicans have reviled the prosecutor as a Democrat partisan with an obsession of bringing the House Majority Leader down. Democrats have spun the indictment as the work of a thoughtful and meticulous prosecutor who has complied unassailable evidence of DeLay's guilt. Both may be true.

Both may be true? Gee, maybe it's just me but all the facts seem to be on the Dems' side, with prosecutor Ronnie Earle having a long reputation for fairness and meticulous preparation, while the Republicans are simply whining about finally getting tripped up in their own corruption.

And yet, how are these two perspectives described above? Republicans have "reviled" the prosecutor, while Democrats have "spun" the indictment. This is what you call fair and balanced blogging, Fox News style. Quick -- get that man a contract.

AFTERSNARK: Sadly, the same blogger makes a total ass of himself taking a cheap shot at a by-far intellectual superior:

If Paul Krugman wasn't proof enough that most journalists don't know the first thing about economics, ...

It's always fun to see obvious morons take shots at New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, but it's rare to see someone describe Krugman so hilariously incorrectly. For the similarly airheaded, Krugman is not a journalist who writes about economics. Rather, he's an economist who happens to write, which is kind of obvious if one reads, oh, his biography at the New York Times:

Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed Page and continues as professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Mr. Krugman received his B.A. from Yale University in 1974 and his Ph.D. from MIT in 1977. He has taught at Yale, MIT and Stanford. At MIT he became the Ford International Professor of Economics.

Mr. Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes. His professional reputation rests largely on work in international trade and finance; he is one of the founders of the "new trade theory," a major rethinking of the theory of international trade. In recognition of that work, in 1991 the American Economic Association awarded him its John Bates Clark medal, a prize given every two years to "that economist under forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic knowledge." Mr. Krugman's current academic research is focused on economic and currency crises.

Oops. I wonder if it hurts to be that dense.

Bush to nominate far-left liberal to Supreme Court.

Just kidding. You know that's not going to happen but, if the Democrats had the collective sense that God gave a urinal deodorizer disc, they'd certainly be able to make Bush's life uncomfortable about that next choice.

Consider Commander Chimpy's opinion on Intelligent Design in public schools (emphasis added):

Although he said that curriculum decisions should be made by school districts rather than the federal government, Bush told Texas newspaper reporters in a group interview at the White House on Monday that he believes that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution as competing theories.

"Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about," he said, according to an official transcript of the session. Bush added: "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. . . . You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."

Well, gosh, if it makes sense for public schools, surely it would make sense for Bush to balance the appointment of the far-right Roberts with a far-left liberal for, you know, balance, being exposed to different ideas and so on.

It's hard to see how the Dems couldn't get some political mileage out of this but we are, after all, talking about a party that, most of the time, can't find its own ass cheeks with both hands. Count on them to fuck this up, too.

Moral relativism, GOP-style.

There's those gosh-darned partisan politics again:

On the ethics front, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is under investigation for selling stock in his family's medical business just before the price fell sharply. The probe of well-connected lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a former close associate of DeLay, threatens to create even more troubles for Republicans. Finally, the special counsel investigation into whether White House senior adviser Karl Rove or others in the administration broke the law by leaking the name of the CIA's Valerie Plame is nearing a conclusion.

Former representative Vin Weber (R-Minn.) said yesterday that he thinks DeLay and Frist are victims of "bum raps," but he nonetheless said that Republicans should be worried by the prospect that the issue of corruption will become a central theme in the upcoming campaigns.

Yeah. I mean, money laundering and insider trading. What's the big deal? Now, if they'd lied about getting blowjobs, well ...

Getting over it, conservative wingnut-style.

There's a certain amount of pathetic entertainment value to watching conservative wingnuts telling everyone else how a certain issue is done, it's history so, hey, just get over it, know what I mean?

In the same vein, one could suggest that "scientific" creationism has, in every single court case, been dismissed as the rancid, religious apologetic that it is, but does that stop these same yahoos from dragging it out, year after year, and trying to ram it into the public school system yet again?

To the citizens of Wankerville, let me make this so simple that even Weasel Boy could understand it: Creationism and Intelligent Design have been shown to be unscientific, ignorant, dishonest crap. Get over it, and move on. Please.

Your obligatory, not-so-obscure cinematic reference.

Britain says military action against Iran 'inconceivable'

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

More compassionate conservatism, Bush-style.

If you weren't so used to it, you'd swear I was making up stuff like this:

The White House is fighting a congressional effort that would give low-income hurricane victims the same access to health care under Medicaid that survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks received.

Gulf Coast governors pressed for action yesterday amid reports that hundreds of poor people in Louisiana had been denied Medicaid benefits.

So how expensive would this be?

The cost of the legislation, which includes other measures, is estimated at $9-billion.

Nine billion. Man, it's gotta hurt to realize that almost all of that coverage could have been free if the Republicans weren't such crooks:

Audit shows $8.8 billion in Iraq funds missing
Coalition official cites body for lax ‘stewardship

At least $8.8 billion in Iraqi funds that was given to Iraqi ministries by the former U.S.-led authority there cannot be accounted for, according to a draft U.S. audit set for release soon.

The audit by the Coalition Provisional Authority’s own inspector general blasts the CPA for “not providing adequate stewardship” of at least $8.8 billion from the Development Fund for Iraq that was given to Iraqi ministries.

I don't make this stuff up. I just report it.

Putting the idiots on the spot.

Now that bugman Tom DeLay has (finally) been indicted for being a completely vile, loathsome human being (and for actual law-breaking ... that, too), the rampant GOP spin is that the indictment by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is a Democrat-driven, partisan witch hunt.

Ignore, of course, that Earle has, over his 27-year career, prosecuted four times as many Democratic elected officials as Republicans. Simply pointing this out to GOP whiners in the crowd probably won't get you anywhere, as they'll just hem and haw and say something idiotic like, "Yeah, well ... he's still partisan. So there." This is why you have to phrase your defense differently.

Rather than just point out the facts, you should use them as the basis for a counter-challenge thusly:

"You're saying that Earle's indictment of Tom DeLay is just partisan politics? Well, that's interesting since Earle has prosecuted four times as many Democrats as Republicans. So, how many more times should he have prosecuted Democrats for you to accept that this is not partisan politics? Five? Six? Ten? Come on, give me a number. How thoroughly unbalanced would that ratio have to be for you to accept that Earle is just doing his job?"

See how that works? It puts the burden back on the sniveling GOP whiner to defend his accusations of bias by actually coming up with a number. Of course, you know the number won't be forthcoming but the subsequent squirming is worth it, just for the entertainment value.

. From an article in today's Mope and Wail:

Elected to the U.S. Congress in 1984, [DeLay] chafed under Democratic rule for a decade before the GOP seized control. In 1998, he led the charge in impeaching former president Bill Clinton.

Identifying the resounding hypocrisy of this situation is left as an exercise for the reader.

Compassionate conservatism and all them darkies.

This is priceless. And, by all means, follow the link to the original Media Matters piece where you can read the actual exchange between Bennett and the caller, where the caller is so obviously pulling his beliefs out of thin air, as in this excerpt:

BENNETT: Maybe, maybe, but we don't know what the costs would be, too. I think as -- abortion disproportionately occur among single women? No.

CALLER: I don't know the exact statistics, but quite a bit are, yeah.

BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don't know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don't know. I mean, it cuts both -- you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well --

: Well, I don't think that statistic is accurate.

See, in that first statement, the caller has no idea what the statistics are but he's not going to abandon his position. In that second statement, however, the caller is referred to a specific and published statistic but simply dismisses it because he doesn't like the implications.

Jesus, with that kind of selective analysis, the caller could have been Weasel Boy.

AFTERSNARK: You know, if you were totally tasteless, you could have some real fun with Bennett's abortion-based generalizations. Let's see here:

  • You could reduce political corruption by aborting every Republican fetus in the country.
  • You could reduce breathtaking stupidity by aborting every wingnut, fundamentalist Christian fetus in the country.

Man, the possibilities are endless, aren't they?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

When "Intelligent Design" meets really stupid people.

As the first in what should be a few posts on the current brouhaha regarding the teaching of "Intelligent Design" in public schools, let me dispense utterly with what is becoming an annoyingly common talking point -- that teachers in the United States have the right to introduce Intelligent Design into their classroom content because of their inherent right to free speech as guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution. (You can see the wingnuts all over this talking point in places like this, where rational discourse is nowhere to be found.)

Bullshit. Those teachers have no such right, and they never have.

Using just common sense, it should be obvious that public school teachers don't have the freedom to wax eloquent on anything they want in a classroom setting. A calculus teacher couldn't, for instance, suddenly change gears in mid-class and start extolling the virtues of Scientology. That you actually have to explain this to people is a depressing sign of the increasing rarity of critical thinking ability.

But you don't even need to use logic for this -- you can simply fall back on legal precedent as this argument has been tried before, and it's received the savage beating it so richly deserves. Consider the case of one John E. Peloza, who tried to get away with the "free speech" argument for creationism back in 1994.

You can scroll down yourself to read the "Free Speech" section, but I'll reproduce the salient bit here, in which the court lets Peloza know in no uncertain terms that he has no case with respect to free speech (emphasis added):

The school district's restriction on Peloza's ability to talk with students about religion during the school day is a restriction on his right of free speech. Nevertheless, "the Court has repeatedly emphasized the need for allowing the comprehensive authority of the States and of school officials, consistent with fundamental constitutional safeguards, to prescribe and control conduct in the schools." Tinker V. Des Moines Indep. Community School Dist, 393 U.S. 503, 506-O7, 89 S.Ct. 733, 737, 21 L.Ed.2d 731 (1969). "[T]he interest of the State in avoiding an Establishment Clause violation 'may be [a] compelling' one justifying an abridgment of free speech otherwise protected by the First Amendment...." Lamb's Chapel V. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist., - U.S., 113 S.Ct. 2141, 2148, 124 L.Ed.2d 352 (1993) (quoting Widmar V. Vincent, 4M U.S. 263, 271, 102 S.Ct. 269, 275, 70 L.Ed.2d 440 (1981)). This principle applies in this case. The school district's interest in avoiding an Establishment Clause violation trumps Peloza's right to free speech.

While at the high school, whether he is in the classroom or outside of it during contract time, Peloza is not just any ordinary citizen. He is a teacher. He is one of those especially respected persons chosen to teach in the high school's classroom. He is clothed with the mantle of one who imparts knowledge and wisdom. His expressions of opinion are all the more believable because he is a teacher. The likelihood of high school students equating his views with those of the school is substantial. To permit him to discuss his religious beliefs with students during school time on school grounds would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Such speech would not have a secular purpose, would have the primary effect of advancing religion, and would entangle the school with religion. In sum, it would flunk all three parts of the test articulated in Lemon V. Kurtzman,-403 U.S. 602, 91 S.Ct. 21O5, 29 L.Ed.2d 745 (1971). See Roberts V. Madigan, 921 F.2d 1047, 1O56-58 (loth Cir.1990) (teacher could be prohibited from reading Bible during silent reading period, and from stocking two books on Christianity on shelves, because these things could leave students with the impression that Christianity was officially sanctioned), cert. denied, -U.S. -, 112 S.Ct. 3025,120 L.Ed.2d 896 (1992).

The district court did not err in dismissing the part of Peloza's section 1983 claim that was predicated on an alleged violation of his right to free speech under the First Amendment.

So, no "free speech" argument. Period.

But wait, you say. That ruling was based on the understanding that "creationism" was a religious viewpoint and, if one proposes that Intelligent Design isn't religion but science instead, then the ruling wouldn't apply, would it?

In fact, that's a good point, but it would introduce another problem. If ID supporters want to bypass the Peloza case and claim that ID is science and nothing more, then they can't simultaneously claim that not being allowed to teach it infringes on their freedom of religious exercise, can they? Can't have it both ways, as they say.

And, no, we're not done here.

And suddenly, the "blame game" is in full swing.

And remember how White House Press Lizard Scott McClellan was adamant that, with respect to the stunning incompetence related to Hurricane Katrina, now was not the time for the "blame game," there would be plenty of time for that later and so on and so on. Remember that?

Well, apparently the blame game is now so in full bloom, according to this piece from the Mop and Pail:

Ousted FEMA head goes on offensive
Brown blames governor and mayor in hostile day-long congressional hearing

President George W. Bush's ousted emergency czar Michael Brown lashed out at Louisiana's governor and New Orleans's mayor yesterday, accusing them of dilly-dallying and bickering as a killer storm loomed, although he stopped just short of blaming them for the hundreds of deaths among those not evacuated.

Mr. Brown has been vilified as the personification of Washington's inadequate response to one of the country's worst natural disasters.

But he went on the offensive yesterday at Congressional hearings, accusing Louisiana's Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin of failing to recognize the severity of the threat.

"My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional," he said yesterday...

In a day-long, often-hostile session, Mr. Brown admitted to failures, but primarily blamed Ms. Blanco and Mr. Nagin.

Now, did all you White House Press Corpses catch that? Seriously, the next time Scottie tries this "we don't want to play the blame game now," he should be beaten bloody by at least the first three rows of reporters at that gaggle.

The gloves are off, children. Time to go to work.

The Globe weighs in on the Intelligent Design case.

The Grope and Flail covers the current ID lawsuit in Dover, PA. There will be more to say about this later, I promise.

: Another Canadian blogger, Tasteful Future, is keeping track of the Dover case as well.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Playing that "blame game."

Apparently, former FEMA director Michael "Brownie" Brown didn't quite get the memo on not playing the blame game:

Brown said Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin "sparred during the crisis and could not work together cooperatively." He also described Blanco as "indecisive" and refusing to cede control of the Louisiana National Guard to federal authorities because "it would have undercut her image politically."

But it's not like he's assigning blame or anything, understand? 'Cuz that would be wrong.

I also like Brown's defense of being stupefyingly ignorant of the thousands of evacuees holed up at the New Orleans Convention Center:

Embattled former FEMA director Michael Brown says he was initially unaware of desperate conditions at the New Orleans Convention Center because it was not a planned Hurricane Katrina evacuation site, according to a congressional memo.

After learning from television about the thousands of evacuees who gathered at the center, Brown ordered food and water be delivered there. But Brown, who on Tuesday faces a House inquiry into the government's slow response to the Aug. 29 disaster, told congressional aides that "there is no reason FEMA would have known about it beforehand."

Got that? It's not Brownie's fault since, in the midst of an overwhelming natural diasater, things didn't go according to his day planner. Dontcha just hate it when that happens?

Coming soon: Michael Brown criticizes poor, black residents of New Orleans for not evolving gills on the spot and swimming to safety.

From the Department of "You've got to be kidding me!", we learn (as commenter Scott points out) that miserable failure Michael Brown, despite having resigned, remains at FEMA as a contractor. Can a Presidential Medal of Freedom be far behind?

Monday, September 26, 2005

In defense of failure.

And wouldn't you know it would be Weasel Boy who would commend abject and total failure as being some sort of virtue? One now understands why he's such a Commander Chimpy fan.

(I think one can safely say that WB is missing the point. As usual.)

AFTERSNARK: There's just so much idiocy in this new "failure is a virtue" meme that it demands a more thorough evisceration. Glad to oblige.

We've all heard how we learn from our mistakes so we don't make them a second time. What complete rubbish. Personally, I would rather learn from other peoples' mistakes so I don't even make them the first time. For instance, I'm not about to pour my life's savings into a high-tech startup company to develop an alternative office suite for Microsoft Windows. That way lies madness and certain financial disaster. Other people have tried that, and I can adequately learn the lesson by picking my way through their corporate corpses. I don't need to do it myself to know it's a bad idea.

Even more, some things are so obviously stupid that they need no example. I don't need to put my hand under the running power mower to know it's probably a dumb thing to do, if you catch my drift. One would think other people were similarly clever enough to figure out things like this all by themselves. (Commander Chimpy: "Well, gosh, guys, I guess it was a bad idea to populate the top levels of FEMA with political cronies and good ol' boys with no disaster recovery experience at all. Go figure. Who knew, huh?")

The comparison to Michael Jordan is similarly lame-brained. As a basketball player, Jordan was expected to miss a certain percentage of his shots. I mean, how much of a nitwit do you have to be to try to draw an analogy between someone missing basketball shots whose mistake might cost them a game, and the leader of the free world whose fuck-ups cost thousands of lives? I mean, Jesus, how pathetic is that?

One also wonders just how serious Weasel Boy is about this whole idea of "Hey, mistakes happen, forgive and forget." From his profile, Weasel Boy has apparently degraded the gene pool with two young'uns. One wonders what his reaction would be if, having left them with the sitter while he and Mrs. Weasel spent a rootin-tootin evening down at the monster truck rally, they returned home to find that the sitter had decided to dry off Weasel Jr. in the microwave oven after his bath?

Would Weasel Boy, as most of us would, explode in anger and rage and sorrow? Or would he, as he would like us to believe, take the high road: "Well, yes, I wish you hadn't microwaved little Weasie to death but, hey, 'Failure is a part of life. The only people who don't fail are the ones who don't try. Consequently, they don't succeed, either. They just exist.'" Sure, and I'm convinced he'd be the epitome of charm and understanding. It's amazing how forgiving some people can be as long as it doesn't actually affect them personally.

But the best part is this whole new meme of forgiving failure. Here we are, well into George W. Smirky's second term and the best his supporters can say about him is that, hey, failure is a part of life. Well, that's just fucking ducky if you're in grade school and your screwups don't affect the rest of the world and cost the lives of who knows how many other human beings.

"Failure is a part of life." This is what the Republican revolution and Bush's agenda of compassionate conservatism have turned into. A defense of failure. I'm pretty sure expectations don't get much lower than that, do they?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

We learned our lesson from Katrina, oh, yes, we did.

"Houston abandons its neediest ahead of Hurricane Rita":

HOUSTON, United States (AFP) - As the first winds of Hurricane Rita whipped at the power lines across the street, Virginia Lewis Mansfield huddled in a doorway with all her earthly possessions within arm's reach.

Homeless for the past three years, Mansfield found herself on the streets of Houston Friday night as many of her usual shelters were closed ahead of the hurricane.

Police officers parked a few blocks away had few suggestions: there was one women's shelter that might be open, or else she could ask at the police station nearby if it would be okay to sit in the lobby until the storm subsided.

But Mansfield had already tried the Salvation Army shelter.

"It's full," she said as she brushed her hair in front a soup kitchen door painted with the words "no trespassing or sleeping in doorway" in red capital letters.

"There's nothing I can do," the 44-year-old schizophrenic said, adding that she hadn't eaten in two days.

OK, maybe not so much.

Who is Bush going to blame THIS time?

Remember how quick the Bush administration was to blame Louisiana state officials in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, them being obvious (political) targets what with being Democrats and all? Well, one wonders just how quickly Bush will heap the same kind of blame on Texas officials, given that that state was also clearly unprepared for Hurricane Rita:

With Rita closing in, the family of Albert Ruben Sr. drove here this morning to a high school basketball auditorium turned hurricane shelter of last resort -- after taking the most maddening journey of their lives.

In a caravan of 20 cars, the Ruben family and their neighbors in the coastal town of Texas City had tried to obey the state's mandatory hurricane evacuation order. With full gas tanks, food and water, they left on a designated evacuation highway on Wednesday at 11:30 p.m., hoping to beat the rush and avoid the heat.

Seventeen hours later, they had traveled just 60 miles and were stuck in traffic. They had driven most of that time -- in daytime temperatures of about 100 degrees -- without air conditioning to save fuel. All public services along the evacuation route -- for gasoline, food, water, bathrooms -- were closed.

Ruben, 50, a juvenile-detention officer in Galveston County, said he saw three ambulances carry away elderly people who had collapsed in the heat of their unmoving cars. His grandchildren, 4 and 7, had put on baby diapers to avoid soiling the car.

"It was like the end of the world," Ruben said. "You know what it makes you want to do? It makes you want to go home and die. The government done us wrong."

And will Bush lay a Katrina-sized smackdown on Texas officials the way he did to Louisiana, and infuriate his Texas GOP base? Sure, and Weasel Boy will suddenly start to respect other peoples' religious viewpoints. Yeah, that's gonna happen.

Read the entire article to appreciate how disorganized Texas officials were, then watch the news to see how lightly they get off. With this crowd, everything is political. Absolutely everything.

Friday, September 23, 2005

So who's the target of God's wrath THIS time?

Place your bets quickly, you never know when the first fundamentalist wingnut is going to identify the target of God's wrath this time. With Hurricane Rita, who is God pissed off with? The oil industry? Fat chance. Ummm ... fishermen? Nah -- they're nowhere near gay enough.

So who is it?

Houston evacuation a disaster just looking to happen.

From this CNN piece, a description of what I was just listening to on NPR, relating how the evacuation of Houston by motorists is so hopelessly gridlocked that motorists are simply running out of gas while stuck in traffic, while there are precious few places to get gas anywhere along the evacuation routes:

... If motorists are still stuck in their cars when the storm hits, they could be in a dangerous situation, Ed Rappaport, the hurricane center's deputy director, said Friday.

"The hope, of course, is that this storm is off to the right as far as they're concerned," he said of Houston drivers. But "that just moves the problem to another community."...

As I recall, there was a mandatory evacuation in effect, but that plan's kind of changed now given the clusterfuck that the evacuation has turned into:

Late Thursday, Houston Mayor Bill White said that except for people who live in high-risk areas near the water, those still at home should stay put, especially given the traffic conditions and an unanticipated fuel shortage.

"Now is not the time to get into your car to start the evacuation," White said. "We will get people who are stranded on the roadside off the roadside before the storm comes in," he said. "That is our commitment."

Gas stations along some of the major roads out of Houston and Beaumont, to the east, were running low on gas, said Steven McCraw, director of the governor's division of emergency management.

The two National Guard tanker trucks, each carrying 5,000 gallons of gas, were sent at daybreak Friday to help thousands of people who had run low on gas while trying to evacuate, said Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada, spokeswoman for the national guard.

Moncada said that 10,000 gallons of gas might not be enough to help everyone who needs it.

Some Houston residents tried various routes out of the city only to become so flustered they returned home and thought about riding out the storm. Other Texans on gridlocked roads pushed their cars to help conserve fuel.

Oh, yeah, this is going just great. Nice to see they learned their lessons from Katrina.

AFTERSNARK: I'm wondering how many of those stranded motorists desperate for gas from those tanker trucks are well-to-do white folks who suddenly don't have a problem with getting a government "hand-out".

"THIS WAS NOT IN THE PLAN." No shit. And notice once again the GOP's reliance on faith-based planning, as Texas Gov. Rick Perry tells all and sundry that he is "certain that anyone who wants to evacuate will be out of the Gulf Coast area before tropical storm winds begin to kick up at midmorning today."

Yeah, who needs proper planning when you have faith?

NOW THERE'S PARODY: As of this moment, the CNN article here describing ongoing news related to Hurricane Rita is entitled "Say a prayer for Texas." Yeah, well, with these idiots in charge, that's as good a plan as any, I guess.

Sucking up to George Bush, Canadian style.

Available through subscription only from the Ottawa Citizen, the following recent piece by David Warren proves that you don't need to be an American to bend over for the Bush administration.

George Bush, the man
Sunday, Sept 11, 2005

There's plenty wrong with America, since you asked. I'm tempted to say that the only difference from Canada is that they have a few things right. That would be unfair, of course -- I am often pleased to discover things we still get right.

But one of them would not be disaster preparation. If something happened up here, on the scale of Katrina, we wouldn't even have the resources to arrive late. We would be waiting for the Americans to come save us, the same way the government in Louisiana just waved and pointed at Washington, D.C. The theory being that, when you're in real trouble, that's where the adults live.

And that isn't an exaggeration. Almost everything that has worked in the recovery operation along the U.S. Gulf Coast has been military and National Guard. Within a few days, under several commands, finally consolidated under the remarkable Lt.-Gen. Russell Honore, it was once again the U.S. military efficiently cobbling together a recovery operation on a scale beyond the capacity of any other earthly institution.

We hardly have a military up here. We have elected one feckless government after another that has cut corners until there is nothing substantial left. We don't have the ability even to transport and equip our few soldiers. Should disaster strike at home, on a big scale, we become a Third World country. At which point, our national smugness is of no avail.

From Democrats and the American Left -- the U.S. equivalent to the people who run Canada -- we are still hearing that the disaster in New Orleans showed that a heartless, white Republican America had abandoned its underclass.

This is garbage. The great majority of those not evacuated lived in assisted housing and receive food stamps, prescription medicine and government support through many other programs. Many have, all their lives, expected someone to lift them to safety, without input from themselves. And the demagogic mayor they elected left, quite literally, hundreds of transit and school buses that could have driven them out of town parked in rows, to be lost in the flood.

Yes, that was insensitive. But it is also the truth; and sooner or later we must acknowledge that welfare dependency creates exactly the sort of haplessness and social degeneration we saw on display, as the floodwaters rose. Many suffered terribly, and many died, and one's heart goes out. But already the survivors are being put up in new accommodations, and their various entitlements have been directed to new locations.

The scale of private charity has also been unprecedented. There are yet no statistics, but I'll wager the most generous state in the union will prove to have been arch-Republican Texas and that, nationally, contributions in cash and kind are coming disproportionately from people who vote Republican. For the world divides into "the mouths" and "the wallets."

The Bush-bashing, both down there and up here, has so far lost touch with reality, as to raise questions about the bashers' state of mind.

Consult any authoritative source on how government works in the United States and you will learn that the U.S. federal government's legal, constitutional, and institutional responsibility for first response to Katrina, as to any natural disaster, was zero.

Notwithstanding, President Bush took the prescient step of declaring a disaster, in order to begin deploying FEMA and other federal assets, two full days in advance of the storm fall. In the little time since, he has managed to co-ordinate an immense recovery operation -- the largest in human history -- without invoking martial powers. He has been sufficiently presidential to
respond, not even once, to the extraordinarily mendacious and childish blame-throwing.

One thinks of Kipling's poem If, which I learned to recite as a lad, and mention now in the full knowledge that it drives postmodern leftoids and gliberals to apoplexy -- as anything that is good, beautiful, or true:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise .

Unlike his critics, Bush is a man, in the full sense presented by these verses. A fallible man, like all the rest, but a man.

Where to begin, dear Lord, where to even begin? Take it away, readers.

9/11 changed nothing. Not a fucking thing.

If you're currently labouring under the pathetic delusion that anything -- any indescribable disaster, such as 9/11 or Katrina or whatever -- could change the behaviour of the unspeakably corrupt Bush administration, well, think again.

, does it?

The power of belief.

One of the more amusing (and disturbing) things about the worldview of George W. Bush is how often he prefaces something he's about to say with qualifiers like "I believe" or "I'm firmly convinced" or "I have no doubt" or "I'm absolutely certain". Witness, for example, the following meaningless bit of dialogue from 2004, when Bush is discussing Saddam Hussein's (mythical) weapons of mass destruction (emphasis added):

We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today, just like it would have bothered me then. He's a dangerous man. He's a man who actually -- not only had weapons of mass destruction -- the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm on America, because he hated us.

In a 2005 interview with Matt Lauer, Bush is again dead certain:

Lauer: Iraq was the turning point — wasn't it, really?

President Bush: Well, it depends on what country you're talking to. But yes, the decision in Iraq was a hard decision. There's no doubt in my mind we made the right decision, and there's no doubt in my mind the world is better off with Saddam Hussein in a prison cell. When Iraq emerges a free society, the people will see the wisdom of the decision we made.

So what does this mean? It means that, in George Bush's world, actual facts and evidence are not really that important. Both of those take a back seat to the strength of your personal belief. It doesn't matter whether you're right or wrong. Rather, what matters is the intensity with which you hold any given belief, despite it being based on the flimsiest of evidence (or no evidence at all).

And how does one end up living in this world of self-delusion and deception? Well, perhaps the same way Weasel Boy does -- by observing, taking a single example in our recent discussion regarding Wal-Mart and generalizing it to one's entire universe, as he does in the comments here. In responding to the claim that Wal-Mart "is absolutely devestating to local economies and tax bases," WB counters with:

I live in a small city that is quite vulnerable economically. We had a Wal-Mart move in a number of years ago and many people voiced the same opinion. To this day, none of the gloom-n-doom predictions for this town ever materialized. In fact, this city is growing.

See how that works? What you do is you ignore the numerous examples where Wal-Mart did damage the local economy, and concentrate instead on the the isolated instance where it (allegedly) did not. (I write "allegedly" since, given WB's track record, one can generally safely assume that what he writes is total swill, anyway.)

One wonders if this is how George Bush maintains his hallucinatory world view: "Well, that invasion of Grenada seemed to go well, so why shouldn't it work for Iraq, too?"

What do we call this? "Proof by carefully selected example." Sure, that'll work.

Blogging still sporadic for a few more days...

... until I return to reality. Reality being Canada.

Uh oh ... the start of Canadian science blogging wars.

I'm sure it's a coincidence that another Canadian blogger just started an apparent series on science and philosophy. Well, I can handle that. I'm sure I can see you your Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and raise you an article on intractability and NP-completeness or something.

Just don't make me stop this car and pull out that cryptography book. You'll regret it for sure.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wal-Mart: Destroying the local economy in surprising ways.

While this is a relatively old story, since Wal-Mart is in the news again, it's worth revisitng it just to see how devastating Wal-Mart can be to a local economy:

“It has been great for us,” says Pierre from the comfortable confines of his huge RV, parked in the corner of the Wal-Mart lot in Renton. “We stay at Wal-Marts all the time. They are very convenient.”

Pierre and his wife, retired French Canadians from Quebec, are on an extended trip across the US. Besides their spacious home-on-wheels, they piggy-back a full-size SUV behind. The mammoth outfit which results requires a truck tractor with a powerful diesel engine to pull it all. Pierre admits they could afford to stay in pay-for-use parks, and sometimes do so, but, “because we are self-contained, this works out fine for us.” They can go a full week before needing to empty their waste tanks. Besides, they like Wal-Mart’s prices and are happy to spend their money there. “Why not, if we are right here anyway?”

If you read the entire article, the effect of this Wal-Mart-based RV culture starts to become obvious:

  • Local retailers will suffer since those travellers will clearly find it more convenient to shop at the Wal-Mart.
  • Local RV parks will suffer since they have to pay taxes based on their business, while potential customers will pass them by to stay overnight at the Wal-Mart instead.
  • Given that, according to the story, one woman has been living in a single Wal-Mart parking lot for two years, it's likely she's not paying anything like property tax.

Wal-Mart. Not exactly the definition of a good corporate citizen.

Hurricane Rita: WHOSE state of emergency?

Part of the GOP spin in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was that it was Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco who dropped the ball in not declaring a state of emergency soon enough. Among others, the Washington Post (rapidly sinking into total irrelevancy) was suckered by such a claim as you can read here (note the correction at the top of that page where the WaPo had to eat crow after they learned they'd been bamboozled by the administration).

So how to explain what happens when it's Texas that's in the bullseye?

President Bush declared states of emergency in Texas and Louisiana. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) urged residents along a 250-mile swath, from Beaumont to Corpus Christi, to leave.

Yes, it's Commander Chimpster himself who is declaring a state of emergency. Apparently, he had the power to do that all along. Gee. Who knew?

(Heck, even that schizophrenic dimbulb Andrew Sullivan figured this one out. Well, OK, he needed some help from a reader but, when it comes to Sully, you have to be charitable.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Looking for that trifecta again?

Remember that alleged joke of Commander Chimpy's about how he hit the "trifecta" in terms of pure, unadulterated bad luck? Well, give him another couple of top-notch hurricanes or perhaps a terrorist attack and who's to say it won't happen all over again?

Not to sound cynical or anything (who? me?), but does anyone else get the impression that Chimpy's administration is actually enjoying the impending Cat 4-5 Hurricane Rita as the chance to redeem themselves?

Quebec to Wal-Mart: Bite me.

Quebec's labor relations board apparently recognizes when it's being handed a load of horseshit:

Quebec's labor relations board has rejected Wal-Mart Canada's claim that it closed a unionized store in that province for economic reasons, saying instead that there was evidence the store might reopen.

In a decision released late last week, the board said that it did not find the April closing of the store in Jonquière to be "real, genuine and definitive" under the province's law. The decision makes it possible that the company could be fined and that compensation could be ordered for about 190 former employees.

And if you're Wal-Mart, what do you do? Why, lie, of course:

The Canadian arm of Wal-Mart Stores has vigorously denied suggestions that the store's closing, an unusual act for the company, was related to the successful drive to organize its employees by the United Food and Commercial Workers-Canada. Rather, it said, the outlet was unprofitable.

The labor board's decision did not look at the store's financial results, however. The board said it heard evidence that Wal-Mart had made no real effort to find another tenant to assume its 20-year lease on the store and that the building had neither been sold nor demolished. That, the board said, indicated that the closing was not permanent, making the dismissal of its workers illegal under Quebec law.

"The company is still the tenant," Pierre Flageole, vice president of the Quebec Labor Board, wrote in the board's decision. "Every indication is the company has left the door open to resume the same business in the same space."

Oooooh. Busted. And, of course, this has nothing -- nothing, I tell you -- to do with that whole unionization thing. Why, it's not even an issue. Oh, wait ...

In one very modest victory for the union, eight workers in the tire shop of a Wal-Mart in Cranbrook, British Columbia, voted last week to organize, the union said. Wal-Mart is appealing that vote.

Coincidence? Hmmmmmm ...

JUST PLAIN CREEPY: Need an Internet stalker? Here, take mine.

P.S. Take the time to appreciate the utter uselessness of a fundamentalist, nutbar blogger in Minnesota telling people they shouldn't do business in Quebec. Yeah, I'm sure that province is devastated by the smackdown. Really.

P.P.S. If you truly need to see the stupidity of Weasel Boy's position, read the Globe and Mail's write-up of the ruling, particularly this part:

The labour board concluded that Wal-Mart Canada, Inc., failed to prove that the closing of its store in Jonquière in April was "real, genuine and definitive" as required under the Quebec Labour Code.

That's right -- under Quebec law, it is the responsibility of the company to prove that it was a genuine closing, not the responsibility of the labour board. And Wal-Mart failed utterly to establish such a case.

Jesus H. Christ, Jinx, is there nothing so stupid that you won't write it on your blog? (No, no, don't answer that. Please.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Yet more open thread.

As I will be kind of tied up today grappling with a wireless network. Feel free to discuss "entropy" amongst yourselves. :-)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Complexity, "design" and watching Weasel Boy embarrass his species.

As much as I have other things I can be blogging about, it's just too much fun to slap Weasel Boy around the room. Consider one of his recent illiterate rants here, which I will dissect sentence by sentence to show WB for the ignorant buffoon that he is. No, no, don't thank me -- the satisfaction I get out of this is reward enough. Let us begin:

Apparently, some people think I've ended up arguing for their own case here. My point obviously went over their heads.

Ah, so WB's analysis was simply too sophisticated for my meagre mathematical background. Yeah, that's going to happen in my lifetime, isn't it? Whatever. Onward.

See, you and I recognize the difference between the Gettysburg Address and random gibberish.

Do we? Do we really? And why would that be?

That's because the Gettysburg Address is obviously designed.

It is? And what leads one to make that claim? Recall from previous posts here that we can measure "complexity". We can also, in a sense, mathematically measure "randomness." But what is this "design" thing, so that it can be measured? More to the point, what is it about the Gettysburg Address (GA) that makes it so "obviously designed"? Amazingly, WB gets it right, for all the wrong reasons:

Plus, we understand the English language.

This appears to be WB's fundamental argument for why the GA is "designed" -- because, since we understand the English language, it looks designed. In short, Weasel Boy can't define "design" -- he just knows it when he sees it. How thoroughly wishy-washy. WB's next statement is utter rubbish and doesn't appear to have any connection with what came before it:

Could a person who does not understand English see the difference between "fourscoreandsevenyearsago" and "klasmcoyqwebnkqwoiblklswq?" Of course not.

If that's the case, then is there anything about that first phrase that is inherently more "designed" than the second phrase? If you don't understand English, not at all -- they'd both be gibberish and equally meaningless. But here's where it gets good, as Weasel Boy decides to quote Shakespeare:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;

Now, based on WB's own logic, the above would be an example of "design" (a word that WB bandies about with great abandon without having made any attempt to define it, unlike my use of the word "complexity" which I can, in fact, mathematically calculate. See the difference? Unlike WB, I don't just make shit up.)

Now, if the above is an example of meaningful and obvious design, I challenge Weasel Boy to explain why what follows is somehow less of an example of that very same thing. If I read WB correctly, the fact that the following is not English (or any other existing language) somehow makes it less designed. I want him (or anyone else) to explain why that is.


So ... who wants to explain why this second chunk of prose has less "design" than the first? (Having you first define the word "design" would be just ducky but I'm being charitable here.)

Any takers? The answer may surprise you.

SPOILER: If you want to know what's going on above, keep reading.

Let us now explain why Weasel Boy's rantings are so much gibberish. Recall that, in an alleged explanation of "design," WB wrote the following idiocy:

See, you and I recognize the difference between the Gettysburg Address and random gibberish. That's because the Gettysburg Address is obviously designed. Plus, we understand the English language.

In short, Weasel Boy claims that the GA clearly differs from "random gibberish." And why is that? Why, because it was "designed". And what is about the GA that makes it "designed"? I'm assuming it's because, since we know English, we understand it. And how is it that we understand it? Naturally, because it's designed. (Yes, it's a circular argument and, yes, WB is a moron. But let that not stop us from explaining what happened above.)

So ... if we examine the two passages above, we can ask what is fundamentally different between them and the answer is -- absolutely nothing. In fact, the second passage is simply an encoding of the first one, using a circular mapping with the space character just happening to be mapped to "M". And what exactly does this mean?

First and foremost, it means that those two passages have exactly the same complexity. A simple remapping of a character set cannot possibly change the complexity of a sequence, in the same way that just remapping colours in an image can't change its complexity. Either sequence would require precisely the same minimal amount of information to transmit it to another person so, to that extent, from an information theoretic perspective, the two passages are equivalent.

But how is that possible if, as WB proposes, the first clearly shows "design" while the second does not? Simple. WB is a moron. (Yes, we've established that.) The only reason one ascribes "design" to the first passage is that
we understand English and, therefore, it makes sense to us. Conversely, if an alien race had evolved which had created an alphabet with the same circular transformation I used above, they would think the second passage was designed while the first was random gibberish. Isn't that special?

In short, the concept of "design" as proposed by Weasel Boy is simply a figment of his imagination. Not only can he not even define the term, he can't even recognize similar design when it walks up to him and kicks him in the nuts.

And so endeth today's lesson in information theory.

COMING SOON: The universe, order, chaos and why creationists are imbeciles.

What to think of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

While it's almost certainly too late to stop the train wreck that is Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, the local independent weekly gives you a good look at him. And a sorry excuse for a human being he is.

(Note: the link to that article seems kind of generic, so it might very well change without warning.)

A couple loose ends on complexity and order.

Just to tie up a couple of loose ends from back here, as long as you're with me so far, let's summarize, the relationship between complexity and "design" -- if there is one.

The less-educated creationists (read: morons) have an annoying tendency to link complexity with design or with some vague notion of a "pattern" that they claim requires a designer of some kind. In a word, crap.

Using the notions explained in that previous article, consider a simple binary sequence that begins (spaces are added just for the aesthetic value and clarity) "11 00 111 000 11111 00000 1111111 0000000 ..." What would be the most obvious continuation of that sequence?

Most people would recognize the series of prime numbers (2, 3, 5, 7 ...) and, based on our earlier definition of "complexity," we could say that this sequence had a fairly low complexity value since I could explain the sequence to you by stating simply, "Alternating groups of ones and zeroes, with each pair of those groups having the next prime number of elements" or something to that effect that makes it clear what the sequence is.

But even though this sequence has a low complexity, chances are it wouldn't occur naturally in nature. If you came across this sequence somewhere, you'd be fairly safe in assuming that it had a "designer" or author. In other words, even something with low complexity might have a "pattern" that suggests a designer of some kind.

On the other hand, if you consider a lengthy, totally random sequence of bits, this sequence might easily occur in nature without any designer, but it would (because of its randomness) have a very high complexity. In short, even something with high complexity does not necessarily need a designer.

Note how non-intuitive this might be to some people -- sequences of low complexity might strongly suggest a designer, while other things with high complexity might occur naturally without any help. This is totally confusing to those who seem to think that complexity necessarily requires a designer, or vice versa.

See how tricky things get when you're forced to actually understand what you're talking about? Coming next: Applying complexity to real objects, and why Weasel Boy is a dick. (OK, I'll admit that doesn't logically follow: Weasel Boy is a dick regardless of the complexity of objects. But you knew that already, didn't you?)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Randomness, complexity, design and people who should not be allowed to comment on any of them.

It's been a while since I've pored over my information theory notes but, since the topic has arisen lately, I thought I'd give those of you who are interested a quick primer (at least part one) in information theory and complexity, at least in the way it pertains to biological evolution and the hideously-misunderstood idea of "design." This is just the first post -- we'll take this as far as readers want to follow it before their brains explode.

In terms of a really fundamental introduction to randomness and design, go here and read that post carefully. Now, forget it entirely as it is complete crap, written by someone who doesn't have the first clue about mathematics or information theory. Let me explain to you how things really work.

What is "complexity"? More to the point, what does it mean to say something is "complex" and, furthermore, how could you measure that? In the mathematical sense, it's not enough to say that something is either complex or not complex -- such a property should be precisely measurable in the mathematical sense. And, amazingly, it is.

At the risk of over-simplifying (and if you're an information theory (IT) wizard, I'm sure you'll be wincing a bit), let's define "complexity" more specifically as something called "Kolmogorov complexity," whose definition is actually fairly straight-forward:

The minimum number of bits into which a string can be compressed without losing information. This is defined with respect to a fixed, but universal decompression scheme, given by a universal Turing machine.

Um ... what does this mean? Let me give you an example.

Say I had a sequence of one million bits and I wanted to transmit that string to you in its entirety. How efficiently could I do that? Obviously, I could just sent the entire one million bits -- that would be the most obvious and brute force way to do it. But what if the string had a pattern to it?

What if the string consisted entirely of one bits? In that case, I could transmit that string, without any loss of information, just by sending the text "A string of one million one bits." And wasn't that simple? Notice how I managed to get the message transmitted using way less than one million bits of data. What that means is that the Kolmogorov complexity of that string was really, really low, simply because it could be encoded using far fewer than the original one million bits.

What if, instead, the string consisted of alternating ones and zeroes? Again, I could be dumb enough to send the entire string but, again, I could save piles of bandwidth and just send "One million alternating ones and zeroes." And note how that second string needed just a little more information than the first. This implies that, depending on how we calculate it, the Kolmogorov complexity of that second string was undeniably slightly higher than the first, but still remarkably low.

And what if we had a string of one million bits that were legitimately randomly generated? Well, if there was no obvious pattern to the bits, it's quite possible that there would be no way to send the string any more efficiently than literally transmitting all one million bits, because this last string has a very high complexity value. Relating back to the definition above, there might be no way to transmit those one million bits short of, well, transmitting all one million bits. No pattern, no short cuts. See how that works? That's what we mean by "complexity."

Any questions? More to come shortly, as we relate complexity to design, order and really, really bad creationist mathematics.

The schizophrenia of the scientifically illiterate.

It's always amusing to watch the two halves of someone's brain in mortal combat with one another. See, back here, Weasel Boy poked fun at me for my unseemly obsession with him:

You've obviously decided to make me the center of your life, but you're going to have to suffer with your morbid infatuation. My wife and I are in love and very happily dedicated to one another, but even if I weren't married, I still would have to break your heart.

Which, of course, explains one of WB's most recent posts addressing (what else?) something on this site.

Sorry, what was all that about "infatuation" again?

P.S. And no, Jinx, you still have no clue what means "design" or "randomness." Let it go. Some people were born to understand actual science and some folks weren't. Just appreciate your limitations and move on.

Some things never change ...

... like the GOP profiting off the misery of others.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The sound of goalposts being moved.

In case you haven't read it yet, let me recommend this piece by James Wolcott. More on this shortly.

Open thread.

Off this morning for another debilitating bike ride. I'm sure you can amuse yourselves by appreciating how Karl Rove is clearly the best person to supervise Gulf Coast reconstruction.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Just more right-wing, Christian hypocrisy.

If you ever needed more evidence of the hypocritical, two-faced approach to discourse emanating from the hard right, look no further than this recent U.S. legal decision:

Setting up another likely Supreme Court showdown over the Pledge of Allegiance, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that reciting the pledge in public schools is unconstitutional.

The judge granted legal standing to two families represented by an atheist who lost his previous pledge case before the Supreme Court, and ruled that the reference to one nation "under God" violates their children's right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."

And where is the hypocrisy, you ask? I'm glad you asked. An excerpt further down in that article describes the legal "rationale" that previous courts have used to defend the inclusion of the religious phrase:

The decisions by Karlton and the 9th Circuit conflict with an August opinion by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. That court upheld a Virginia law requiring public schools lead daily Pledge of Allegiance recitation, which is similar to the requirement in California.

A three-judge panel of that circuit ruled that the pledge is a patriotic exercise, not a religious affirmation similar to a prayer.

That is, in that previous case and many other cases, the defense has been that the phrase "under God" is no big deal, it's innocuous, it's not actually forcing a religious belief on anyone, it's just a couple of words, no big deal. However, for something that is supposedly no big deal, if you suggest that it then be removed, well, be prepared for an absolute shitstorm of protest and outrage.

You can't be serious, the mouth-breathers will say. How heretical! Why, this is showing sheer contempt for the Judeo-Christian principles on which this great country was founded! This would be kicking God out of the public square and would inevitably lead to moral decline, more teenage pregnancies, abortions, and God only knows what, undoubtedly culminating in the total collapse of Western civilization and the ultimate heat death of the universe! But, they'll say, in the same breath, it's not like those two words are any big deal so we can just leave them in, right?

A related defense is to suggest that the word "God" in that instance isn't really a religious reference -- that it's more some kind of abstract, philosophical, non-religious concept. In other words, to defend the inclusion of the phrase "under God," the religious right take the bizarre approach of suggesting that the word "God" is inherently non-religious. On the other hand, use that word improperly and witness the outrage.

Say, "God damn it!" and have those same folks berate you for intolerable blasphemy. Get a bit pissed and swear, "Jesus H. Christ!" and prepare for the fundamentalist fury that is about to descend. Watch prime time TV and note how, even in an age of increasing profanity, you'll rarely hear phrases like that because it would simply offend too many people -- the same people, of course, who will happily insist that the word "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance has nothing, nothing I tell you, to do with the Judeo-Christian religion and that it's just a generic, feel-good word.

It would be nice if for once, just once, the right-wing nutbars could come up with a coherent argument. And, while we're at it, for me to get a hot stone massage from Eva Longoria. I'm betting on the Eva thing happening first.

BONUS TRACK: The so-called thought process that went into the previous legal decision defending inclusion of the phrase can be found here:

The decisions by Karlton and the 9th Circuit conflict with an August opinion by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. That court upheld a Virginia law requiring public schools lead daily Pledge of Allegiance recitation, which is similar to the requirement in California.

A three-judge panel of that circuit ruled that the pledge is a patriotic exercise, not a religious affirmation similar to a prayer.

"Undoubtedly, the pledge contains a religious phrase, and it is demeaning to persons of any faith to assert that the words `under God' contain no religious significance," Judge Karen Williams wrote for the 4th Circuit. "The inclusion of those two words, however, does not alter the nature of the pledge as a patriotic activity."

So, even though that lower court clearly understood the idiocy of claiming that the phrase had no religious significance, apparently it was all right to leave it in as long as it was attached to something non-offensive -- the patriotic pledge.

Your American judicial system. The best evidence for the evolutionary missing link there is.

Unintentional humour, I'm sure.

It's almost painful to watch the intellectual meltdown of someone who's in way over his head. Recall from back here my challenge to Weasel Boy (and anyone else who wanted to play) to identify the one sequence out of the four that represented the opening to human chromosome 6.

Well, apparently, such challenges are just not fair, as Weasel Boy himself explains here. What's amusing is his rationale, which I swear I am not making up:

Remember, if you have an infinite number of monkeys bashing away at an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite amount of time, they will eventually produce - without any sort of design - not only the Gettysburg Address, but also the Bible, the complete works of Shakespeare, your Aunt Fanny's recipe for pineapple upsidedown cake and the entire nucleotide sequences for the DNA of every living thing on the Earth.

Yeah, that's kind of what we scientists have been saying all along. I just never figured Weasel Boy would get so thoroughly confused that he'd end up making our case for us.

(You'll notice, of course, that WB bandies about the word "design" without really defining or even understanding it. This is what happens when children try to play with grown-ups.)

P.S. I swear, I really am going to have to give you folks a primer on information theory one of these days. It's not that complicated. Really.

P.P.S. If you're feeling ambitious, feel free to point out how WB thoroughly misunderstands the entire concept of design in the first place. That's not that hard, either.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Ms. Z's take on the Roberts piece.

Once upon a time, I referred readers to a lengthy piece by Paul William Roberts in the Globe. I hadn't finished reading it yet but I thought it had enough substance that I recommended it, my recommendation reading in its entirety, "Make yourself comfortable. It's a long read."

In all honesty, while I thought the first part of the article had some interesting things to say, I thought the last part started to wander a bit far afield. And Ms. Z weighs in as well. Apparently, there's two sides to every story.

And that's why Ms. Z is a professional at this, while the rest of us are just hacks.

What is the probability of God?

As a logical continuation of the fascinating dialogue we're having back here regarding creationism and probability, I'm going to throw out a question to the religiously inclined who get such a kick out of calculating the (alleged) improbability of life/evolution/complexity/design/whatever.

What is the mathematical probability of God?

No, I'm not kidding. If you're so keen on running the numbers on the statistical probability of the formation of DNA or stuff like that there, then I want to see you calculate, strictly mathematically, the probability of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, Supreme theological deity.

Show your work, including all intermediate results and underlying assumptions, and show how this probability compares favourably with your calculations for the probability of biological evolution. Intermediate steps of the form "And then a miracle occurs here ..." will not be tolerated.

Any comments of the form "Well, that's just silly" will be ridiculed mercilessly, then deleted.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Well, that didn't last long, did it?

Briefly, it was a promising beginning:

Bush: 'I Take Responsibility'

President Bush Tuesday took responsibility for government failures in dealing with Hurricane Katrina and said the disaster raised broader questions about the government's ability to respond to natural disasters as well as terror attacks...

"I want to know what went right and what went wrong," the president said. "I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked, 'Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm?'"

But you knew that wasn't going to last long:

Senate Kills Bid for Katrina Commission

Senate Republicans on Wednesday scuttled an attempt by Sen. Hillary Clinton to establish an independent, bipartisan panel patterned after the 9/11 Commission to investigate what went wrong with federal, state and local governments' response to Hurricane Katrina.

Nothing ever changes, does it?

Words that should come back to haunt for a long time.

"What didn't go right?", asked the Boy King regarding the response to Hurricane Katrina. Well, how about this for a start?

Deepak Chopra and the atrocity that is creationist mathematics.

Having taken a myriad of post-grad courses in mathematics, your humble correspondent has a fundamental love for all things mathematical, which is why shit like this really gripes my wagger.

Deepak Chopra is a New Age spiritual wingnut and con artist. More to the point, he is no mathematician, as he demonstrated not that long ago on the Larry King Show (the one forum where one can show up, say the stupidest goddamned things imaginable, and have Larry just nod in bogus understanding and go on to the next question).

Specifically, the topic was creationism/Intelligent Design, during which Chopra dragged out that hopelessly irrelevant non-analogy about the improbability of life and evolution:

CHOPRA: You know, I think it shows such a lot of arrogance, such a lot arrogance and no humility whatsoever to assume that this multiple universes that are right now exploding and dissolving into singularities and all the workings of nature are accidental. It's like a hurricane blew through your junkyard and it left and now you have a Boeing 747 and it's all accidental. It shows tremendous arrogance, Larry.

This is a very popular analogy amongst the unwashed masses -- the hurricane, the junkyard, the 747. Calculating huge probabilities are wonderfully popular among the creationist lower classes. They like nothing better than claiming that the chance of something like DNA forming totally "at random" is, like, 10 to the power lots and lots and lots of zeroes, and stuff equally misinformed.

Let me eviscerate this idiocy once and for all. And for this, I will need a simple deck of playing cards. Feel free to play along at home.

Say I take a regular deck of 52 cards, shuffle it thoroughly and deal out a regular 5-card poker hand. Now, being someone that understands simple probability, I can tell you that there are exactly 2,598,960 different possible hands (ignoring the order in which the cards were dealt). Consequently, it means that the probability of dealing exactly the hand that I just dealt would be, of course, one in 2,598,960. With me so far?

Well, then, if you agree with that (and you really have no choice), then you have to agree that I just did something amazingly improbable, don't you? Huh, you say? Sure, I say, based on only the math, I just dealt a poker hand whose chance of being dealt was a miniscule one in 2,598,960. Is that incredible or what? Man, talk about the odds of that! Are you impressed?

Of course not, you'll say, what's to be impressed with? Wait, I say, you don't think what I just did is an amazing statistical feat, it having the odds of about one in two and a half million? No, you'll say. At which point, I'll take all the cards, shuffle the deck again, hand it to you and say, all right, smartass, you do it.

In other words, from a thoroughly shuffled deck, if you're not impressed with what I just did, you do it -- deal out exactly the same 5-card hand. Not so easy now, is it?

Hold on, you'll complain, that's not fair. Why, yes, you're right -- it isn't fair. And why not? It's because, when I dealt my hand, I never made any predictions or put any conditions on the outcome beforehand. I just dealt the hand and, after the fact, went back to rationalize (in a totally meaningless way) the odds of that having happened.

When I shuffle the deck and hand it to you, though, I'm asking you to duplicate, at random, what I just did. And that's a whole new problem.

You can see the same statistical misunderstanding if you walk up to a bridge game, look at each of the players' initial hand of 13 cards, and calculate the incredibly low probability of a random dealing having come up with exactly that set of hands.

Finally, others have referred to this mathematical misunderstanding as the "blade of grass" fallacy, in which a golfer hits a ball onto the green, walks up to his ball and stands there marveling that, out of all of the blades of grass the ball might have come to rest on, it stopped on just that one. How amazing. How incredibly improbable. How thoroughly bogus, as I'm sure you're starting to understand by now.

The mathematical fallacy should now be obvious -- there's no point in calculating the odds of something happening if it's just being done after the fact and there were no pre-conditions to start with. And this is precisely what the creationists/ID proponents do with things like the structure of DNA.

Look, they'll say, DNA is so marvelously complex. It has exactly these components in exactly this order. What are the odds of that? To which the correct answer is, that question is meaningless. It might have been just as likely some other structure that worked equally well.

At this point, I'm assuming most moderately sentient readers will understand the logical flaw in this creationist argument. And for those of you who don't, well, I have a deck of cards with your mathematically illiterate name on it.

FYI: PZ Myers (among many others) laid a beating on Chopra as well.

WEASEL BOY UPDATE: Apparently, Weasel Boy himself takes exception with my mathematical analysis in the comments section, proving only that he still doesn't get the point, referring to some sort of analogous "royal flush" of DNA. So here's what I'm going to do.

From a site on the net, I downloaded the human chromosome 6 sequence file. According to that site:

Chromosome 6 is a submetacentric chromosome that constitutes about 6% of the human genome. The finished sequence comprises 166,880,988 base pairs, representing the largest chromosome sequenced so far. The entire sequence has been subjected to high-quality manual annotation, resulting in the evidence-supported identification of 1,557 genes and 633 pseudogenes.

I downloaded the entire (174M) uncompressed sequence file and, from the four choices below, I want Weasel Boy to select the one that corresponds to the opening sequence of that chromosome. No cheating by looking it up. WB seems to think it should be obvious to distinguish a "royal flush" from meaningless random data so it should be a snap for him to pick out the actual opening sequence from the other three choices which are just random strings I pulled out of my ass.

So, Jinx, just from visual inspection, which of these strings actually corresponds to the beginning of human chromosome 6? Which of these, as you would put it, is the obvious "royal flush" as compared to the others?

Go on, Jinx. Which one is it? Surely a clever boy like you can pick out the actual sequence from all that random data.

AFTERSNARK: I know that Jinx is going to hideously misunderstand this last challenge so let me clarify the point that is being made here for those of you whose brain stems are still functioning and have not been deadened by years of immersion in anti-intellectual fundamentalist Christianity.

The proponents of ID are constantly yammering on about how there is such obvious "design" or "complexity" in nature that it simply could not have arisen by chance. If this is indeed the case, then it should be simple to look at such examples and point out what it is about them that makes them "complex" or "designed" (whatever that means since these same proponents are singularly unable to provide even a vague working definition.)

With that in mind, I want Weasel Boy to pick out, from the four sequences above, the one that has that inherent "design" or "complexity" that distinguishes it from the random noise of the other three sequences. If he can't, then all of his arguments regarding probability and design are total hoo-hah.

Have I made my point?