Wednesday, February 28, 2007

OMG...This is the movie you chose to make?


I really hate to even talk about this movie. But I feel the need to make some comments, especially after some of the defensiveness that has arisen in defense of the movie.

Have you seen the ads yet? Woman running in terror, stopped by a chain around her waist, she's is then dragged back into a shack/cabin. That is the big grab. Please, imagine how this can go up from there.

And please, check out the film's website, where they love the image of a chained woman.

Here is the catch phrase after the page loads: "Everything is HOTTER down South." This beside the image of a woman (Christina Ricci) chained on the ground with a man (Samuel L. Jackson) standing over her with chain firmly clenched...What are they selling?

The basic idea in the film is that you have the girl, an abused child who uses sex to hide her pain. And is abused all the more. Then you have the haunted bluesman, who takes it upon himself to save her.

This involves the chains. Preventing her from going out for sex, or escaping his dank domicile. Then he teaches her...about love (the good pure kind). Then, in the end, she marries her dream guy. See chaining women up, praying and lecturing at them, and showing them you care enough to deny them real helps a girl. And she will really appreciate. Hey, guys with the blurred sense of reality...that's sarcasm, get real psychiatric help for yourself, and stay away from her...I know.

Here are some thoughts from Feministe:
From the acclaimed misogynist director of Hustle & Flow comes a new movie in which Samuel L. Jackson chains a skeletal Christina Ricci to his radiator and attempts to "cure her of promiscuity." I saw the trailer a few months ago and found it hard to believe. But seeing the film's website, which is up now, I realize they're completely serious. It's not even done in a pulp-y style.

Ricci told MTV her character is "a girl who suffers physical flashbacks to a childhood rape. Some women and young girls freak out, panic, and need to cut themselves. [My character] needs to cause herself the same kind of pain when she has panic attacks by having anonymous sex."

Sounds like being chained up in only her underwear and then preached to is exactly the kind of healing process this character needs.

The creepiest thing about the movie, or at least its marketing, is that it's not only about selling Ricci's body. It's about selling the idea of sex with a girl who's been abused and who's clearly got a lot of problems. There's even an interactive feature (if you click on "experience" in the upper left corner -- click here for a screenshot) that allows you to drag two pills across the screen and then watch a video of Ricci collapsing. Now she's yours for the violating! Plus, the "page loading" graphics that appear every time you click feature her silhouette struggling against the chain. A recurring image in the film as well, I'd imagine.


I'm sure this is going to go over well with the Axe-wearing crowd, but don't you worry, girls! There are also features for you, such as the "Hard Out Here for a Nymph" quiz (screenshot here), which basically glamorizes Ricci's emotionally disturbed, abused, and drug-addled. state. (It's also a nice reference to the hit Oscar-winning song from Hustle & Flow.) If your quiz results prove how slutty you are, the game will tell you "You ain't right yet" - which is apparently Samuel L. Jacksons refrain as he keeps Ricci chained up. Handily, the site also provides you with code so you can embed your "nymph" score in your MySpace page.

Too bad it's a bit late for you to send your special someone an official Black Snake Moan Valentine's Day e-cards, which allows you to upload a photo of yourself so that YOU appear chained to the radiator in a midriff top and cutoffs. Why say "I love you" when you can say: "They say if you love something / you gotta set it free/ but you and I know / that ain't right. / This Valentine's Day / if you love someone / chain 'em up / then they'll know how much / you really care." (I wish I was making this shit up.)

What bugs me more is as some people have complained about the imagery being used to sell this film, an almost naked girl whose chained and being dragged screaming into a shed. So people are countering and claiming racism. Obviously it is the fact that it is the black man, Samuel L. Jackson, dragging a screaming women, chained, into his home that bugs me. Not the whole notion in and of itself. Oh, no. It can't be that. Ridiculous!

But for many this film has caught on. Perhaps their is something to say for the idea it is all allegory, being chained and consumed by your "demons."

But, first selling this on the titillation factor, showing her near naked and being dragged...have I written this enough yet? I won't be writing this anymore, it is getting to me...that imagery that has been put out. It is about the basest of images. They could have focused on atonement or redemption, or the fact it has Samuel L. Jackson and Justin Timberlake in it.

Especially in this age we live in it is troubling. In the past few years we have been learning about a number of men, who kidnapped, chained up and kept women as sex slaves, in this country. So they want to go here with their what end? Those men had delusions about righteousness, about deserving what they...took. This movie, these bastards, to hades with them.

Like Snakes on a Plane, it will drag some butts to the seats. But propagating this imagery is just crappy.

This whole thing makes me sick and tired...

Just the idea. An abused, mentally troubled girl, being chained, lectured to, and prayed at to set her right...That isn't creepy? That isn't unhinged?

Iranian machinations in Iraq...or were on to something else?

Remember that slam dunk proof about Ira...n or q...the n one, Iran!

Yeah, remember that. The munitions? The IED (Improvised Explosive Device), now EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrators) were a big deal.

Well, things seem to have went a little caca.

From TPM Muchracker:
Two weeks ago, the Bush administration organized an intelligence briefing for journalists in Iraq to demonstrate that Iran was providing weapons to Iraqi insurgents. According to the anonymous briefers, the weapons -- particularly explosively formed penetrators or E.F.P.s -- were manufactured in Iran and provided to insurgents by the Quds Force -- a fact that meant direction for the operation was “coming from the highest levels of the Iranian government.”


A raid in southern Iraq on Saturday seems to have complicated the case. There, The Wall Street Journal reports ... troops "uncovered a makeshift factory used to construct advanced roadside bombs that the U.S. had thought were made only in Iran."


The New York Times reports, "while the find gave experts much more information on the makings of the E.F.P.’s, which the American military has repeatedly argued must originate in Iran, the cache also included items that appeared to cloud the issue."

Among those cloudy items were "cardboard boxes of the gray plastic PVC tubes used to make the canisters. The boxes appeared to contain shipments of tubes directly from factories in the Middle East, none of them in Iran."

Possibly, the Times muses, "the parts were purchased on the open market" and then "the liners were then manufactured to the right size to cap the fittings."

But where were the liners made? The Army captain who led the raid doesn't know.


Would you believe...the Iranian High Command is involved?

Would you is an evil plot by the evil vizier from Aladdin?

Would you believe...we don't know what is going on?

Girls are silly. They can't LIKE comics

Ragnell, at Written World is annoyed.

The problem:
But really, Comic Book Conventions should be a great place to meet guys. We're talking about a virtually untapped market. In theory: for a smart, (somewhat) attractive girl, getting a date should be like shooting fish in a barrel, no? Thousands of men are gathered in one place (granted, some of them are taken; some are gay; some, undoubtedly, live in their mothers' basements) with a very small proportion of available women around. The statistics alone would lead us to believe there have got to be a few good men in this crowd.

First, as a guy…Ow! Tiny few of us are not married or utterly pathetic wastes of space. Okay, true. But, still…Ow!

Now, in our sad,live in our mothers' basements, minds it might be nice to imagine the girls around you at a game, comic, or SciFi Con are on the prowl. Sure. It's just nice to be theoretically wanted. Ah, to be stalked amongst the long boxes.

But what about the girls and women there to game, to talk comics, or to enjoy the fantasy of the classic geek we...some of us are?

That is what is troubling Ragnell:
Gee, thanks for perpetuating the stereotype that women only pretend to like "guy things" in order to meet guys. I can tell you that I and my fellow real comic book fans so enjoy being hit on by guys when we're just trying to find our comics, because they think an unescorted woman can't possibly be there to actually buy the Green Lantern statue. We also adore being ignored in comics shops because they assume the guy who walked in after us is the comic-reading boyfriend, not to mention having such a hard time finding female-friendly superhero comics because our presence is minimized by such assumptions. Its a real fucking blast!

Sarcasm aside, the last con I went to, WizardWorld Chicago 2006 and I noticed a lot of women at the panels I attended. My sister counted at one of the Writer's Workshops and concluded at least 25%. I could swear the DC panels were half and half. So, surely someone will set her straight on her misconceptions about Geekdom, right?


This is something to consider. Often in the comic/gaming/scifi worlds there is a presumption of masculinity. The focus goes there, the products are geared to a certain type, and others looking to get in are "barred".

This leads to women being left out, or pandered to in the most pathetic ways (barely covered girls with swords or Lois Lane, Superman’s Girlfriend), or even looked a girl at the Super Bowl…Granted, the sports world has been coming around, more and more, to appreciating women. It would be nice if the fan bases more fully embraced the whole of it's possible membership.

Then, maybe, the industry would truly acknowledge and appreciate these fans. And not trot out a weak genre bit, or try to sell ice to Inuits...whatever I mean by that. Cause, you know, too many times writers and publishers say and claim one thing, then write and draw a diametrically different book. We should do more than just shake out heads.

So, reaching out and taking in and facilitating the other half would be a blessing.

Even a little girl and women needs heroes...superheroes...superheroines.

Not to dismiss all the great non-super genre books.


(You know, like Khan.)

Ah, Oprah. Oprah, Oprah.

Should it be scary to point out her troubling activities? Or is it too easy?

The truth that far too many people slavishly follow her edicts leads me to think it is just necessary.

She has had a long history with TV. Long before her ascent to Godhood she was doing the standard odd and woo stories. Like Geraldo, that one big mouthed jerk, and others, she was doing sensational bits, with UFO's, psychics, New Agey crystal, and other crap. But that was a pathetic necessity of the talk show circuit.

She has gone far since those days. She is rich, popular, no matter her topic, and revered. She doesn't need to dig into the woo to get her audience.

So she never did those stories again. Right?


Let's start with the Secrets. Another of those keys to success in life. Man, their are so many keys and people keep finding them, people must be doing riding off to glory all over....

Seriously though, they pop up with this same, ancient and hidden, advice every few years. Then they pawn it off on the masses and make millions, before people get bored and move on to the next fad. Yeah, it is a lot like the diet fads. Sad.

Sadder, that Oprah spent 2 shows lauding this and promoting it. Plus, the authors knew enough to relate it to her. See, she unconsciously knew the secret and applied it to gain her glory. She is a success story. And those around her who aren't raking it in are jealous...Just what she loves to hear.

The basic idea of positive thinking is sound. But being positive isn't new, revelatory, or a SECRET. And it doesn't manifest money, power, or...whatever floats your boat. You can look up the book in plenty of places. But, please don't buy it. You will find plenty of copies in used bins of stores in a few months. They’ll be right by the See Food diet book.

Her supporting and promoting this con is revolting. She doesn’t need to do these shows. So does that mean she believes?

And...we are just starting.

How could she dig deeper? And, again, she has the money, fame, and power, she doesn't need to go to the woo.

Now, psychics. Yeah, I said that curse word. Psychics! She had two prime douches on her show. John Edwards (BOO!) and Allison DuBois (BOO!). The cream of the crop, when it comes to cons.

I've pointed people Stop Syliva Brown

Then theirs the infamous John Edward, a master Cold Reader. If you don't know what Cold Reading is go here. In brief, it's reading the subject's body language etc, and skillfully extracting information from the subject, which can then be fed back later, convincing the subject that the psychic has told them things they couldn't possibly have known! He has gotten rich making people cry and ball over their dearly departed. Jerk!

To get into all of the tomfoolery of Allison DuBois, go to Allison DuBois: Debunked!. She is shameless, and gotten rich being so.

Get to know the con, the con artist. Because waiting for Oprah to wise up will be a long wait.

I can have sympathy for naiveté, but Oprah is a different matter. She is affluent and a trend setter. And she is helping sell people on all these cons.

I fault the sheep for being sheep. But is there no scorn for the sheppardess who leads the sheep of a cliff or into the wolves den?

She should be ashamed.

Those noisy Atheist.

Council for Secular Humanism:
The recent publication of four books—The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins; The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, both by Sam Harris; and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett—has provoked great controversy and consternation.* The fact that books by Dawkins and Harris have made it to The New York Times best-seller list has apparently sent chills down the spines of many commentators; not only conservative religionists but also some otherwise liberal secularists are worried about this unexpected development. We note that the people now being attacked are affiliated with FREE INQUIRY and the Center for Inquiry. The editors of FREE INQUIRY, of course, are gratified that the views espoused in these pages have received a wider forum. What disturbs us is the preposterous outcry that atheists are “evangelical” and that they have gone too far in their criticism of religion.

Really? The public has been bombarded by pro-religious propaganda from time immemorial—today it comes from pulpits across the land, TV ministries, political hucksters, and best-selling books. Indeed, at the present moment, the apocalyptic Left Behind series, coauthored by evangelist Tim LaHaye, is an all-time blockbuster. Other best-sellers include The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren and a slew of books attacking liberal secularists and humanists by religious conservatives such as Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly.




Sunni versus Shiite Muslims


The Iraqi Bloodbath

It is, it's damn irritating.

The bleat of religion is constant and ear splitting. It is near impossible to escape in total. But the moment someone questions it, suggests its validity, things have gone out of control. Things have gotten shrill.

Person 1: [Whisper] [Whisper]

Person 2: [Quietly] What? Did you say something?

Person 1: [Quietly] Oh, I was just speculating on something...

Person 2: What?

Person 1: [Quietly] Oh, nothing you need to worry about.

Person 2: No tell me.

Person 1: [Quietly] Well, I was just considering that their seems to be no logic to believing in a god.

Person 2: Jesus Christ! Why do you want to push your dogma on me?

Person 1: [Double take] Wha...What?

I remember having on one of CNN's talking heads shows years back. They started going on about God in politics. And it just struck me, what would they do if one of the talking heads had actually asked, what does this matter as their is no God? They would have blown their tops.

You can't say that in polite society. The ladies will faint and the men will need to defend their honor, or something.

It is important for the Secular community to deal with and face this intolerance. It cannot be taken as just the accepted status quo.

I know the above may seem obvious. But time and again we are hearing from Secular allies, and from moderates in politic s that it is important for us to shut up and just go sit in the back of the room.

I think most of us have a response primed on the tip of our tongues when we are next asked to go so this.


The Toll on the Volunteers

The Armed Forces of this country are a volunteer force. We take a lot of pride in this.

The forces we put into harms way consist of primary force, and a secondary, National Guard.

It is this secondary force that has begun to concern many in the US. Sure we have had a lack of equipment and bodies to help with natural and manmade disasters these last few years, but the governors seemed to grit their teeth and smile. But the timescape and toll have grown.
Several governors told a top National Guard official Sunday they are concerned about the toll the Iraq war is taking on their state forces.

The governors said they were closely monitoring deployment of their troops, worn-out equipment and how ready they would be for domestic emergencies.

Forget readiness for a third or fourth war front. How about aid in the next blizzrds or massive forest fire.

Governors also hoped to persuade Congress to reverse a step taken last year in response to Hurricane Katrina that gave the president greater power to deploy troops for problems at home, a power previously reserved for the states' top leaders.

They want a restoration of state's rights. The Republicans snipped off a major state power? Shocking!

Several governors met privately on Sunday with Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

"There's a lot of concern about the resources already employed, manpower and equipment," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat. "How much equipment have we sent abroad, how much has returned, how much is usable?"

In Virginia, many of the 5,500 Guard members have been deployed more than once since September 11, 2001, said Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat. "Obviously, that's a problem."


But GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota said the administration has been listening to the governors' concerns, and has promised to better handle deployments and equipment usage so that states aren't left short-handed.

"We just want to make sure the words and the actions match up," Pawlenty said.

Blum, before closing doors for his meeting with governors, said that he came to assure them that he shared their concerns about equipment and would work with Pentagon leaders so governors' needs would be met.

"We have not delivered on equipment. We owe them better than that," he said.

Last year, governors unsuccessfully fought the change in federal law that gave President Bush the power to federalize the Guard without governors' consent. Historically, governors have maintained control in domestic emergencies, while the president's control over the Guard was reserved for overseas demands.

Now, state leaders hope to persuade congressional leaders to reverse the change.

"I have very strong concerns about how the federal government might abuse that authority," said Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat.

"Montana's constitution is very clear. We can't have folks come in who are armed," said Gov. Brian Schweitzer, D-Montana. "We're simply not going to accept it."

Ah, Tim Pawlenty...ever the apple polisher. Yeah, he'll get things fixed.

And one can only hope that the now Democratic led Congress can push back and restore the powers to the governships. I can't think o f a good reason to leave this power in the White House's hands.

But let us skip back over to our primary force, obviously inclusing the US Army.

The pressure to move forces back into the field has meant curtailing, not only time at home with family and friends, it has meant curtailing training.

Rushed by President Bush's decision to reinforce Baghdad with thousands more U.S. troops, two Army combat brigades are skipping their usual session at the Army's premier training range in California and instead are making final preparations at their home bases....

Army officials say the two brigades will be as ready as any others that deploy to Iraq, even though they will not have the benefit of training in counterinsurgency tactics at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., which has been outfitted to simulate conditions in Iraq for units that are heading there on year-long tours.

So they have to miss out on counterinsurgency training, because they have to go back to Iraq to counter the insurgency.


Biology and Bullshit

This is a link to an essay, on, on the turmoil that lies between science and religion.

Biology and Bullshit:
All books supporting religion are alike. All books attacking it do so in their own way (well, maybe not, but doesn't this start us off on a nice Tolstoyan note?). In any event, religion's interface with science - long fraught - seems especially so these days, with a bevy of books criticizing religion as well as defending it.

Why so much attention, just now? Exhibit A: creationist efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution, masquerading as "intelligent design." Next, the takeover of the US executive branch by right-wing ayatollahs, combined with presidential assertions that his policies are undertaken in furtherance of god's will, not to mention efforts to break down the Jeffersonian "wall of separation" between church and state. Add to this the so-called war on terror, which is largely a struggle with radical Islam in response to the latter's faith-based initiative against the United States.

Meanwhile, American stem-cell research continues to be hobbled by the insistence that every fertilized cell has been "ensouled" and is therefore human and holy. And don't forget the conspicuous rise of the right-wing evangelical movement in the United States – bastion of religiosity in the developed world - featuring such gems as Pat Robertson's assertion that catastrophes, from natural hurricanes to unnatural terrorism, are brought about by god's displeasure with the sexually or textually sinful.

In short, it is fair to say that "they" (religious zealots) started it, as they usually do. It was the Catholic Church that burned Bruno and persecuted Galileo, not the other way around. When have atheists claimed that religious devotees will burn in hell, or sought to hurry them along not with words but flaming faggots? Polls consistently show Americans more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is an anencephalic ax murderer (but religious) than the most admirable atheist. In any event, it appears that despite – or, perhaps, because of – being an oppressed minority, some atheists are finally madder than hell (and/or mad at hell) and unwilling to "take it" any more.


C-SPAN takes a Gavel to the head

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been under intermittent fire since she started up a Speaker's blog to detail events in the House. It is called The Gavel.

On the blog, she is placing stories about events, and also video. This lead the House Republican Study Committee to declare that Pelosi's office was pirating video of Congress, from C-SPAN. They then suggested that C-SPAN should go after her for this "crime". C-SPAN demurred form doing so. And the Republicans backed off, having failed to provoke and looking ridiculous for even suggesting recorded government business is in anyway a product to own. It is the people's business.

All is well...Oh wait.

From the New York Times:
But last week, as it happens, C-Span did contact the speaker’s office to have it take down a different clip from her blog — one shot by C-Span’s cameras at a House Science and Technology Committee hearing on global warming where Ms. Pelosi testified, Mr. Daly said. (The blog has substituted material filmed by the committee’s cameras, he said.)


“We are structurally burdened, in terms of people’s perception, because we are the only network that has such a big chunk of public domain material,” said Bruce Collins, the corporate vice president and general counsel of C-Span. He estimated that 5 to 15 percent of C-Span’s programming is from the House and Senate floor, and thus publicly available.

“It is perfectly understandable to me that people would be confused,” he said. “They say, ‘When a congressman says something on the floor it is public domain, but he walks down the street to a committee hearing or give a speech and it is not public domain?’ ”

The issue is of recent vintage for C-Span. In May, C-Span said that it had for first time asserted its copyright against a video-clip site, ordering YouTube to take down copies of Stephen Colbert’s pointed speech in front of President Bush at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Clips of the speech had been viewed 2.7 million times on YouTube in the 48 hours before it was taken down.

“What I think a lot of people don’t understand — C-Span is a business, just like CNN is,” Mr. Collins said. “If we don’t have a revenue stream, we wouldn’t have six crews ready to cover Congressional hearings.”

Without use of C-Span’s material, members of Congress will have to rely on government cameras to get their message out.

Mr. Daly said that the speaker’s office had its own camera operator and that 11 of 21 House committees can Webcast their hearings, with the goal that all will be able to do so.

So how much control can C-SPAN have over these public events? If they want to clamp down on use, and, as a result, its viewing, perhaps the government needs to increase the number of cameras used by it. Or perhaps remove C-SPAN, and sell it footage to show on it's network.

I do enjoy C-SPAN sometimes, and appreciate they have business problems, and a need to protect networks. They are a curious construct. But in trying to control the recording of the government's business...we aren't talking about the latest episode of Heroes.

It is the people's business, it should be spread far and wide. They need to tread lightly and think carefully.

Trouble for blogging in the Lower Kingdom

Meanwhile in Cairo...

From the BBC:
An Egyptian court has sentenced a blogger to four years' prison for insulting Islam and the president.

Hmm, England? Still feeling good about those blasphemy laws? This the example you want to follow?

He had used his web log to criticise the country's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator.


A former student at al-Azhar, he called the institution "the university of terrorism" and accused it of suppressing free thought.


During the five-minute court session the judge said Soliman was guilty and would serve three years for insulting Islam and inciting sedition, and one year for insulting Mr Mubarak.

Egypt arrested a number of bloggers who had been critical of the government during 2006, but they were all subsequently freed.

I could have some sympathy for the Egyptian position, as it faces a radical Islamic movement bent on assassination, terror, and overthrow. They are active and violent. So watching what is happening online on sites and blogs makes sense.

But this guy is not even remotely related to this. He is critical of the religion and radicals, and also of the government.

He is questioning the dictatorship...gulp..No, wait, I'm not in Egypt.

This is his crime. It's like the old joke, where the arrested person is guilty of revealing state secrets (Secret: The ruler is fat and stupid.).

This is a dictatorship, and an American ally. And we like them the way they are. Sadly, it is what is holding back Islamic revolutionary. Of course, is it preventing the revolution or letting it build up a steam? Is this going to prevent it from ever happening, or just stalling?

Egypt doesn't seem to be working to end the threat (social change vs. military might). And that is the problem here. Tightening the reins is quick and easy. Leading your society away form the fundamentalists grip is hard. And it would also lead to less power for those on top. And in a dictatorship, doing the hard things and giving up power is rarely are rarely chosen options.

Fellow blogger Amr Gharbeia told the BBC it would not stop Egyptian bloggers from expressing opinions as "it is very difficult to control the blogosphere".

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sometimes war is just over our heads.

Right now Israel seems to be prepping. And when Israel starts prepping, it isn't good news.

From Talking Points Memo:
Three Arab states in the Persian Gulf would be willing to allow the Israel Air force to enter their airspace in order to reach Iran in case of an attack on its nuclear facilities, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasa reported on Sunday.

According to the report, a diplomat from one of the gulf states visiting Washington on Saturday said the three states, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, have told the United States that they would not object to Israel using their airspace, despite their fear of an Iranian response.

Al-Siyasa further reported that NATO leaders are urging Turkey to open its airspace for an Attack on Iran as well and to also open its airports and borders in case of a ground attack.

So the Sunni Arab nations are beginning to line up so they can get Israel to do their dirty work. And NATo is prepping for a following expanding war...


Israel is negotiating with the United States for permission to fly over Iraq as part of a plan to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.
To conduct surgical air strikes against Iran's nuclear programme, Israeli war planes would need to fly across Iraq. But to do so the Israeli military authorities in Tel Aviv need permission from the Pentagon.

A senior Israeli defence official said negotiations were now underway between the two countries for the US-led coalition in Iraq to provide an "air corridor" in the event of the Israeli government deciding on unilateral military action to prevent Teheran developing nuclear weapons.

I suppose the Iraqis themselves--a sovereign country, we are reminded by the Bush Administration when it's convenient--would be militarily helpless to stop Israeli overflights, but one can imagine that the backlash against U.S. troops by Iraqi Shiites would be swift and fierce. We might find ourselves longing for the days when we were merely caught in a civil war.

...and we are still out of our depths in Iraq, undermanned and slow to move troops in. So when the local Shia see this and see our inaction and passive support, what happens?

Oh, right they will start throwing flowers at our feet again.

Silly me.

Taking Stock and coming up Red

I f you have been watching the news today, you have noticed the stock market here in the United States, not to mention the markets across the globe are having a not so good day. It was not helped by the apparent failure of the US of electronic stop gaps.

Well, as the day and night progress here. The markets opening in Asia are suffering our troubles. In this age the concerns, fears, and panic ripples at the speed of our finest networks and phone lines.

Now we wait...for China to act. You see they have a large and powerful enough market that can help calm the troubled nerves of investors globally. And with the controls they have, they can stop or severely curtail the losses.

So, yeah, we sit and wait, hoping the Chinese government will step in and ensure that its market is not too much of a FREE MARKET. Cause that is just a buzz kill.

We wait, and hope China will help bail us out.

We've done a really great job with the US economy.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Blasphemy is not education.

PZ Meyer brings up an attempt to protest and prevent a play being put on at the University of Minnesota.

Blasphemy is not education.
I understand the University of Minnesota plans to stage an anti-Catholic play, "The Pope and the Witch" by Dario Fo, a communist playwright. … I believe this play is blasphemous and not a legitimate expression of academic freedom. I am deeply offended as a Catholic. Together with thousands of TFP Student Action members, I urge you to respect the Catholic Faith and cancel "The Pope and the Witch."

I beg to differ. Blasphemy is highly educational, and I hope our university can do more of it. We are not here to reassure you that your ignorance and prejudices are alright, we're supposed to shake up our students.

I'm also amused that all this indignant young person can say about Dario Fo is that he is a communist — right. Dario Fo, winner of the 1997 Nobel for literature. Religion does seem to make for a fine set of blinders, doesn't it?

It is silly. How dare ideas not commiserate with his be allowed to be displayed, discussed, or produced as art.

Apparently, education is about not discussing differences. Or at least it seems the differences he doesn't like. Now if there are lies in the work, he should out together a talk/panel and argue about the flaws and issues. But with faith, that is not an option. It is pray with me or shut your mouth.

The fact any college would do that (shut up), is disturbing. Thankfully the U of M is not doing this. Good for them. Have the play, and then let people discuss it. It is one of the great blessings of the college experience.

So tell me, what is wrong with blasphemy? It is highly educational.

Gun owners shoot their own...and eat them.

I am not a fan of hunting. It seems mean, pointless, and more about a blood lust then anything. I tried fishing as a kid, but you end up with a fish with a hook in it, and either have to rip it out and throw it back or keep and eat it, and I don't like fish all that much.

But, at least, when people have a love for the sport, the hunt, and/or intend to eat their There is something very off when it is all about some beer, buck shot, and getting to kill.

So, we have a story of one of those sort, the ones who have a love of the land, and living off it. A hero of sorts, to hunters.

Jim Zumbo. A mustachioed, barrel-chested outdoors entrepreneur who lives in a log cabin near Yellowstone National Park, he has spent much of his life writing for prominent outdoors magazines, delivering lectures across the country and starring in cable TV shows about big-game hunting in the West.

He was beloved. He was admired. Notice the word "was".
"Excuse me, maybe I'm a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity," Zumbo wrote in his blog on the Outdoor Life Web site. The Feb. 16 posting has since been taken down. "As hunters, we don't need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them. . . . I'll go so far as to call them 'terrorist' rifles."

A honest comment. An offered opinion about assault rifles, about their need in the general public's hands. What a great way to open a debate many are loathed to have start. Brought from within the community. Well...
The reaction -- from tens of thousands of owners of assault rifles across the country, from media and manufacturers rooted in the gun business, and from the National Rifle Association -- has been swift, severe and unforgiving. Despite a profuse public apology and a vow to go hunting soon with an assault weapon, Zumbo's career appears to be over.

His top-rated weekly TV program on the Outdoor Channel, his longtime career with Outdoor Life magazine and his corporate ties to the biggest names in gunmaking, including Remington Arms Co., have been terminated or are on the ropes.

The NRA on Thursday pointed to the collapse of Zumbo's career as an example of what can happen to anyone, including a "fellow gun owner," who challenges the right of Americans to own or hunt with assault-style firearms.

From his home near Cody, Wyo., Zumbo declined repeated telephone requests for comment. He is a 40-year NRA member and has appeared with NRA officials in 70 cities, according to his Web site.

Question the NRA in even the may as well be dead.
In announcing that it was suspending its professional ties with Zumbo, the NRA -- a well-financed gun lobby that for decades has fought attempts to regulate assault weapons -- noted that the new Congress should pay careful attention to the outdoors writer's fate.

"Our folks fully understand that their rights are at stake," the NRA statement said. It warned that the "grassroots" passion that brought down Zumbo shows that millions of people would "resist with an immense singular political will any attempts to create a new ban on semi-automatic firearms."

Some outdoors writers drew a different lesson from Zumbo's horrible week.

"This shows the zealousness of gun owners to the point of actual foolishness," said Pat Wray, a freelance outdoors writer in Corvallis, Ore., and author of "A Chukar Hunter's Companion."

Wray said that what happened to Zumbo is a case study in how the NRA has trained members to attack their perceived enemies without mercy.

Let us keep our guns or...

Nothing creepy there. It's not even about regular guns. It is the military class weapons. The average American needs a stinger set up, like the chicken in the pot.

Zumbo's fall highlights a fundamental concern of the NRA and many champions of military-style firearms, according to people who follow the organization closely. They do not want American gun owners to make a distinction between assault weapons and traditional hunting guns such as shotguns and rifles. If they did, a rift could emerge between hunters, who tend to have the most money for political contributions to gun rights causes, and assault-weapon owners, who tend to have lots of passion but less cash.

The NRA appeared to be saying as much in its statement Thursday, when it emphasized that the Zumbo affair shows there is "no chance" that a "divide and conquer propaganda strategy" could ever succeed.

Well, yeah. There is obviously no difference between a shotgun and an assault rifle. Obviously. I mean, why even bring it up. Man! The NRA tell us which weapons are bad. That should be good enough for anyone.

"Jim is a good guy, and I feel bad about this unfortunate situation," Smith said. "We are living in very delicate times. For someone to call these firearms 'terrorist' rifles, that is a flash-point word. You are painting a bunch of enthusiasts with the word. They don't like being called terrorists."

It's hard to feel sympathy for them. They want equipment meant for one reason, killing human beings, in large numbers. Yeah, they will be so hurt if they can't have these tools. It might actually take months to kill all the life in a given forest without these precious gifts from God.

Is Heston afraid the apes will get him if he doesn't have an assault rifle?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

IAEA and US Intel

A look at Intel being fed to the IAEA.

Although international concern is growing about Iran's nuclear program and its regional ambitions, diplomats here say most U.S. intelligence shared with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has proved inaccurate and none has led to significant discoveries inside Iran.
The officials said the CIA and other Western spy services had provided sensitive information to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency at least since 2002, when Iran's long-secret nuclear program was exposed. But none of the tips about supposed secret weapons sites provided clear evidence that the Islamic Republic was developing illicit weapons.

"Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that's come to us has proved to be wrong," a senior diplomat at the IAEA said. Another official here described the agency's intelligence stream as "very cold now" because "so little panned out."

Clinton and Obama

I would write in depth on the Clinton and Obama squabbles, but it really is not worth it. It is all petty and pointless.

To start we have the hit at Clinton. It was a bit childish, but had a bit of truth to it.

Clinton responded, and wanted Obama to either own or disown the words, and give back the money he got. That is just silly. It was donated to help him. It carried no taint. So it is more about the fact Hollywood money was going to him and not her. That is just petty.

Then Obama shot back. Including a crack about the Lincoln bedroom.

Lincoln bedroom? Is he Rush Limbaugh and is this 1997?

But Obama wanted to disown those words. Too late, no matter who in your campaign sent it out, you own them now.

This squabble is just silly. Argue about stands not this crap.

Which leads to a big problem I'm having with Clinton now.

Talk about taking up Republican talking points.
In response to an audience member’s question about the war — one of eight she fielded — Clinton said America faces a dire threat from terrorism.

“To underscore a point, some people may be running who tell you we don’t face a real threat from terrorism,” she said. “I’m not one of them. We have serious enemies who want to do us serious harm.”

WHAT!!! Who is saying this? This is the crap that the conservatives spout in a desperate attempt to mar liberals. Why is this crap coming from her mouth.

I am fucking insulted, personally and intellectually.

And before she said.
"As a senator from New York, I lived through 9/11 and I am still dealing with the aftereffects," Clinton said. "I may have a slightly different take on this from some of the other people who will be coming through here.... I do think we are engaged in a war against heartless, ruthless enemies," she said. "If they could come after us again tomorrow they would do so."

Then James Carville says...why the hell are you working with HIM! He is a joke and has screwed over the last candidate for president. Why? Fuck! You are making this hard for me!
Clinton voted for the war, even though other senators who had been given the same faulty intel she had, voted against it: "But they weren't from New York," [Carville] said. "Their state wasn't hit. They didn't have to deal with the grief of these 3,000 people."

I truly feel betrayed by Hillary Clinton now. She has time to mend things. And the R she faces, if chosen, could be a nightmare (Well, hell, all the candidates are passionately pro-Iraq War expansion, pro-taking rights from necessary, etc.). But I don't know who she is trying to woo right now. Maybe see thinks it is in the bag and is going on to try and win so conservatives (Or maybe she hopes to boost her numbers overall, so she can say she is the best hope for Nov. 7). Or perhaps she wants to scare voters. I hope it isn't that.

Medical Evolution

PZ Meyer looks at an irritating habit in journals today.

According to a report released last week in PLoS Biology, when medical journals publish studies about things like antibiotic resistance, they avoid using the "E-word." Instead, antimicrobial resistance is (euphemistically, I suppose) said to "emerge," "arise," or "spread" rather than "evolve."

This decision has consequences, too—popular press descriptions of the work then tend to avoid using the word "evolution", too. This is exactly the kind of run-around that allows kooks like Phil Skell to claim that modern biology doesn't actually need evolution (although, truth be told, Skell is so looney that he claims papers on evolutionary biology that use observations of fossils or gene frequencies don't really need evolutionary theory).

Of course, what this is all about is really just to have an opportunity to tweak the noses of the good doctors here at Scienceblogs, like Orac and Revere and Charles and Craig—what's wrong with these M.D.s? Are they poorly educated, cowardly, or do the granting agencies or journal publishers actually pressure them to avoid 'controversial' words?

There is some degree of seriousness to the question. This habit has effects; what can we do to correct it?

Promoting this ignorance of evolution, to try and let it slip out of common medical usage is sheer irresponsibility.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Treatment of veterans

A lot of talk has finally been broken on the conditions at Walter Reed Hospital.

But the Army Surgeon General, had more to say.

It may have been better to not do this.

But, remember, more than half the [soldiers'] rooms were actually perfectly OK.

Wow, more than half! That's really super! That's a bit like bragging that more than half of the pages WEREN'T sexually abused by Republican congressmen, or assuring your spouse that more than half the time you're NOT cheating on her (or as one of our readers commented, "And more than 95 percent of American cities HAVEN'T been flooded because of federal neglect of levees!")

Better to not speak indeed.

Bin Laden is back, not that anyone cares...

Word from the Pentagon.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

What is the response to this news at the Pentagon?
The Army's highest-ranking officer said Friday that he was unsure whether the U.S. military would capture or kill Osama bin Laden, adding, "I don't know that it's all that important, frankly."

"So we get him, and then what?" asked Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the outgoing Army chief of staff, at a Rotary Club of Fort Worth luncheon. "There's a temporary feeling of goodness, but in the long run, we may make him bigger than he is today.

"He's hiding, and he knows we're looking for him. We know he's not particularly effective. I'm not sure there's that great of a return" on capturing or killing bin Laden

Yeah, Bin Laden, who cares? Though only time that the RETURN is worth it is when their are votes at stake. If Bin Laden can get votes, say, in a presidential election...Bin Laden, Bin Laden, Bind Laden. If he could cost noises.

The Bush Administration didn't take Bin Laden seriously in early 2001. They're not taking him seriously now.

Instead, Bush and Cheney only invoke Bin Laden and al Qaeda for their own warped political purposes. Just this week, Dick Cheney had the audacity to bring up al Qaeda in yet another partisan political attack on Democrats. What a fraud. If Bush and Cheney had done their jobs, al Qaeda wouldn't be a force anymore. Instead, the Bush Administration has enabled and emboldened the terror network. Now, apparently, it's Bush policy to let Bin Laden get away with the mass murder of Americans. Beyond shocking.

Bush and Cheney have not only enabled Bin Laden, they've made him a legend.

Bush's Boogey Man.

Bin Laden - Psychic proof

If Tony Blair, PM of Britain, was looking for new ways to come off as pathetic, he has really hit the jackpot.

Apparently, his Ministry of Defence had sought psychic aid in finding Osama Bin Laden. They ran up a bill of £18,000 of taxpayers' money to learn, SHOCKER, the psychics couldn't find their backsides, let alone something in an envelope, or in a cave in Pakistan.

How do I read this?

Pathetic woo?

Panicked desperation?

Just pathetic. Oh wait. I bet Edward, Browne, DuBois, or Van Praagh could work it out in a second. Like they warned of 9/11. Of the ill fate of the Iraq War...

Insurance - private or public

Here is an interesting article on the topic of healthcare reform.

But is there only one way it should function?

Must it be a for-profit serivce?

Must it be a private (not public) service?

Surely, it is a good thing to provide coverage to the uninsured, but it is remarkable that almost everyone assumes that coverage has to come from for-profit (or, in some cases, private non-profit) providers. Despite the overwhelming evidence from other industrial countries—and even domestic programs such as Medicare—that government-run health plans are much more efficient, the U.S. political class seems to be on a mission to save private insurance.

This issue of how insurance, specifically health insurace, is made available is important and deserves a bit of thoughtfulness from us all.

Steny disappointments

Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer's travel plans have been a great disappointment to people looking for cleaner governance.

It was former Majority Leader Tom Delay's golf trip to Scotland — courtesy of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff — that inspired many recent reforms.

Still, that hasn't stopped Congressman Hoyer from planning his own lobbyist-financed, springtime getaway. He's headed to the Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort and Spa in Puerto Rico.

Hoyer would be quick to tell you that, unlike Delay's outing to Scotland, this golfing trip is strictly legal. And he's right. Because it's not really Hoyer that's doing this retreat. It's Hoyer's PAC.

This is the way the leadership PAC loophole works: Hoyer's guests give thousands of dollars to his PAC. Because there are few restrictions on how PAC money can be spent, Hoyer's PAC uses some of the cash to pay for the congressman's trip to Puerto Rico. The PAC also provides entertainment, golf, even nifty little gifts bags for all the guests.

In case you're wondering, Steny's guests -- sorry, I mean the guests of Steny's PAC -- are lobbyists. It's all nice and legal because, while Delay's golf outing was disguised as something educational, Hoyer's trip is supposed to be about the money. Do you understand that difference? Even if you do, do you think the public will?


Everything that Hoyer is doing may be -- in fact, surely is -- perfectly legal. But I think we can be forgiven in thinking that someone who pounded the table for reform and public financing of campaigns, should not be rushing to take advantage of one of the remaining loopholes. It may be legal, Steny, but it still stinks.

Is it too much to expect to shake our congressional leaders free of the gravy train overnight? Probably. But it's not too much to ask that the majority leader of the party act like a good example. Steny should be holding himself to a higher standard than the law requires, not trading chip shots while laughing over the idea of reform. Then again, maybe I'm just being a spoilsport.

It is not too much to hope for. Hoyer should know better.

Religious Law

PZ Meyer points to another troubling story.

This one from Pakistan.

Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province and an ally of President Pervez Musharraf, was killed as she was about to deliver a speech to dozens of party activists, by a "fanatic", who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and that women should not be involved in politics, officials said today.

Ms Usman, 35, was wearing the shalwar kameez worn by many professional women in Pakistan, but did not cover her head.

This is sick. Beyond the pale. He saw her, and decided it was his place to go up and MURDER her.

Mr Sarwar appeared relaxed and calm when he told a television channel that he had carried out God's order to kill women who sinned. "I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah's commandment," he said, adding that Islam did not allow women to hold positions of leadership. "I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again," he said.

Sadly,many fundamentalist fanatics have said this. From Gaza, to London, these men have stood up and decryed "their own women" for not following their edicts. Then they scream about "our women". How "we" don't keep them in place, dress them right, and...yeah, we aren't muslim. It's sad that their are people out there that are even more off kilter than Ann Coulter. That takes some work.

But analysts said that the murder of the female minister highlighted the failure of his government in curbing Islamic extremism. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a recent report said that violence against women had increased alarmingly, with some of the incidents incited by Mullahs opposed to women's emancipation.

PZ Meyer:
Executed for not having a piece of cloth on top of her head; what god looks down on our world from his cosmic perspective and thinks that is an important concern for humanity? Allah, apparently; I can find commandments in the Bible that make similar demands.


I'm sure religion's defenders will shout long and loud that this guy Sarwar is simply an isolated lunatic, and that if he'd been an atheist he would still have been a monster. True enough; one asshole might be an exception, and godlessness is no guarantee of goodness, but a series of incidents is a pattern, and we have to look at who is inciting it.


Face it, everyone. Religion is not a source of moral behavior. It's a source of tribalism and obedience to authority, which sometimes coincides with respectable morality, but isn't necessarily associated with it. We have to find our virtue in one true thing, our common humanity, and these ancient superstitions actually interfere with instruction in how to be good by encrusting it with nonsense.

And, as PZ Meyer points, out this is not exclusive to Muslims. Among the most noted would be Honor Killings, in a number of faiths. Sisters, strangled with a phone cord, hunted down on a back road a macheted! PLEASE, talk to me about piety.

Then in Israel, you have fundamentalist. They even have their OWN city buses. Why? Because women are impure and yucky, they need to go to the BACK OF THE BUS. Did you read that right? Women, to the back! And if you don't do this? The men on the bus will beat you to the ground and kick the tar out of you. How holy.

The point of pointing out all of these other bits of misogamy, is to hopefully point out the how sad it is to put faith and religious doctrine on pedestals. When we come across antiquated and bigoted facets of society, it is interesting. Interesting, in the sense of viewing a relic of the past. But it does not deserve fawning over. A culture that would still segrate women during mentration is a cultural oddity, but doesn't deserve respect for this, or becasue of it.

Starve yourself. Wear special accessories, and outfits (YOU wear them.). Have festivals. But DON'T push it on me. DON'T push it on the people around you. DON'T mutilate your kids genitals. DON'T declare your nation/continent a [INSERT RELIGION] nation/continent.

Is it so hard.

EU finds God, and wants to shove Him down your throat.

In Europe, their are some troubling developments in the question of the forging of a European Constitution. The trouble is coming from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, former gropee of the President of the United States of America, George Walker Bush.

Yeah, you remember Merkel.

Well, she has a BRILLIANT idea. And when I say brilliant, I mean GW brilliant.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the help of the churches, is reviving the European constitution - with God included.

After a meeting with the Pope, Merkel said "we need a European identity in the form of a constitutional treaty and I think it should be connected to Christianity and God, as Christianity has forged Europe in a decisive way." She is planning a "Berlin Declaration", claiming that Europe is based on Christian values.

People like to say that the United States is a Christian Nation. But look at our Constitution. Number of mentions of a God? Zero. ZERO!

There was a concerted effort to be sure that it was a secular work. A work for the ages.

The anniversary is stimulating concerted efforts by the Vatican and other churches in alliance with politicians, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds the current six-month presidency of the EU, to revive the project for a European constitution - with God included.

After a visit in August to Pope Benedict XVI Merkel said, "we need a European identity in the form of a constitutional treaty and I think it should be connected to Christianity and God, as Christianity has forged Europe in a decisive way."

She is planning a "Berlin Declaration", a statement of principles to underlie a new European constitution. EU heads of government have naturally been asked to contribute - but so have the churches: Germany's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told an assembly of church leaders on 15 January: "Churches have a specific role in the European integration process. . . Churches [are] important partners . . .in discussions on common European values and the future of the European integration process." According to a press release from COMECE, the conference of European Roman Catholic bishops: "Steinmeier highlighted [the churches' role] in respect to the Berlin Declaration."

Incredibly, Steinmeier has warned MEPs not to get involved. According to the EU Observer he told the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee on 23 January that MEPs will not have any major role in the EU's constitution revival project. He warned them not to try to overshadow Berlin's efforts to revive the EU charter, saying "there is no point if the professionals in Europe are competing with one another for the welfare of Europe's citizens".

The churches - not least in the UK - have recently been attacking "secularism" at the least opportunity, defending their privileges as they lose members. They would welcome an EU constitution that embeds yet more privilege on top of the ready access to the Commission they already enjoy.

But a constitution that highlights Europe's supposed Judaeo-Christian heritage will only serve to exacerbate cultural differences. Here and elsewhere there are loud demands from religious minorities to codify cultural differences into family law - even to accept Shari'ah law for Muslims. (A recent survey by NOP showed that some 30% of British Muslims would prefer to live under Shari'ah Law. Among young Muslims the percentage was even higher.)

The common beef of many Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders is Secularism. The intolerance to bowing to the old stories, old traditions (which make certain sections of society inferior), and old tenets. A Christian Europe can counter Shari'ah's worse bits, but so does a secular society. The Christian Europe can be sure to put itself above all others, squelchy dissent. This is about a look back to an earlier Europe, pre-Renaissance.

But it is not a surprise. When she came in their were warnings about her being deeply religious, evangelical levels. Like Blair, who has gotten more intense with the Bush effect. And his, soon to be, replacement, Brown, is a lot like Merkel. So this is just the start.

The centrepiece of the Vision is the "Brussels Declaration", a one-page restatement of our common values, the liberal values of individual freedom, democracy and the rule of law on which modern European civilisation is based. They are not the values of any single culture or tradition but are our shared values, the values that enable Europeans of all backgrounds, cultures and traditions to live together in peace and harmony.

The Brussels Declaration is the outcome of an unprecedented Europe-wide collaboration between humanists, Christians and Muslims, academics, politicians, writers, community leaders and both secular and religious non-governmental organisations.

It has already been endorsed by hundreds of European leaders - politicians, leading academics, commentators - of many different beliefs, and more are signing it every day, as I well know in my role as the co-ordinator for the UK of a team recruiting signatories. Several eminent academics have turned into recruiters themselves, e-mailing a dozen or more colleagues across the continent to recommend it.

The Brussels Declaration

We, the people of Europe, hereby affirm our common values. They are based not on a single culture or tradition but are founded in all of the cultures that make up modern Europe.

We affirm the worth, dignity and autonomy of every individual, and the right of everyone to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. We support democracy and human rights and aim at the fullest possible development of every human being.

We recognise our duty of care to all of humanity including future generations, and our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world.

We affirm the equality of men and women. All persons regardless of race, origin, religion or belief, language, gender, sexual orientation or ability must have equal treatment before the law.

We affirm the right of everyone to adopt and follow a religion or belief of their choosing. But the beliefs of any group may not be used to limit the rights of others.

We hold that the state must remain neutral in matters of religion and belief, favouring none and discriminating against none.

We hold that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. We seek to create a fair society based on reason and compassion, in which every citizen is enabled to play their full part.

We uphold both tolerance and freedom of expression.

We affirm the right of everyone to open and comprehensive education.

We reject intimidation, violence and incitement to violence in the furtherance of disputes, and hold that conflicts must be resolved through negotiation and by legal means.

We uphold freedom of inquiry in every sphere of human life, and the application of science in the service of human welfare. We seek to use science creatively, not destructively.

We uphold artistic freedom, value creativity and imagination, and recognise the transforming power of art. We affirm the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.

Made this 25th day of March 2007, being the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome and the foundation of the European Union.

Angela Merkel, deep drinker of the Kool Aid of faith.

Did I say deep drinker? Make that binge drinker of faith. Careful, that'll hurt you.

Religion and the Left

PZ Meyer is bothered by the silly enthused statements from's Jim Wallis.

Progressive politics is remembering its own religious history and recovering the language of faith. Democrats are learning to connect issues with values and are now engaging with the faith community. They are running more candidates who have been emboldened to come out of the closet as believers themselves.

PZ Meyer:
What planet is he from? Have American politicians of any party been afraid to label themselves as religious at any time in the past century? We see the opposite problem: they all declare themselves best buddies with a god.

He also goes on to do the usual post-hoc appropriation of every good idea that has ever come along to the credit of religion: abolition, civil rights, the overthrow of communism, on and on, glossing over the fact that we people of reason were fighting the good fight, too, and that religion seems to be one of those nonsensical foundations that allows people to argue any ol' which-way they want, and that there people of faith fighting against those same good ideas.

I think all religion is good for is moral thievery—stealing the credit for the good that human beings do and passing it along to their priests and fictitious gods.

NetTrends '08 - Keeping an eye on the race.

ThinkProgress is running a new subsite, NetTrends '08.

From now through the end of the 2008 election, NetTrends will be tracking how the candidates and their supporters are using the Internet. We’ll be updating the site regularly, and will direct you to the must-see web content we find. There’s also a handy graph making it easy to see who’s utilizing the Net and who’s not.


Rudy Giuliani continues in his quest for the presidency.

In this quest, he is seeking to emulate others to have the success rub off on him.

For instance, he's
More than the other major presidential candidates, Mr. Giuliani has limited himself to events with narrowly defined, friendly audiences, avoiding the kind of uncomfortable interrogations his rivals have occasionally faced.

Aww. Just like GW. Better not to actually face any rigor until you have to. He's waiting to take the America's Mayor out of the package, trying to keep it in mint condition as long as possible. Nerd.

And then, he is looking up to Rush Limbaugh.

"When "Giuliani Time" gives a glimpse of this Giuliani, it's mesmerizing. So, the smiling mayor fields a phone call during his weekly radio show. The caller is angry about city cuts to food stamps and Medicare aid for the disabled. Hizzoner is a pit bull to the chase.

"Hey, John," Giuliani tells his caller, "what kind of hole are you in? There's something that's really wrong with you. . . . We'll send you psychiatric help because you really need it."

As it happens, the caller, John Hynes, needs real help. A disabled lawyer, he suffers from Parkinson's disease, and he's had his benefits cut off and he's running out of medicine.

Nothing chills the blood so thoroughly as the sight of a powerful man turned gleeful bully."

And they have the video. Mocking the ill, Rush has a high five waiting for you when you go to pander to his audience.

What a guy, hmm?

Isolated, bullying, mocking, he is going to do GW SO PROUD!

Where's Al...

...going to pop up next?

This weekend his film is up for a number of awards at the Oscars, for An Inconvenient Truth. But what will follow. For some there is a hope he will announce his intention to run for president.

It is hard to imagine. He has rebuilt, and remodeled his image. He is no longer seen as just stiff, awkward, or the son of Clinton. He has paid his dues, spent his time in the wilderness, and taken on the good fights.

"People think that he's paid his dues, he's had more of an impact on issues that people care about than many people who have been in office and there's a feeling that he's finally lost that student council condescension that was fingernails on a blackboard to a lot of supporters," Kaplan said.

Democrats are desperate to win. Doubts have begun to surface about the electability of the party's current front-runners. How's this for an argument? Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.

"He was right on Iraq. He was right on global warming. He has an issue that is so formidable and has attacked it, tackled it," Bender said. "So I would love to see him run, sure, but I don't see that in the cards."

I like him, and would like to see him to run. He is far from perfect, but we all know that well enough. What is right in his work makes up for much of it.

Will he run, is he a pancea, or what the market wants? Really, it is hard to say.

To arrest or not arrest.

At Informed Comment, their is talk of the arrest of Ammar al-Hakim.

Well, now he isn't under arrest, and has been apologized to by the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Juan Cole:
The US military is giving three reasons for his arrest: He entered Iraq at a closed border station, his passport was expired, and his party was armed to the teeth. In fact, however, his passport was valid until September 17, 2007, and nobody travels overland in Iraq without being armed. It is most likely that the US doesn't want Shiite leaders slipping over to Iran in this way, because it is trying to reduce Iranian influence with US allies in Iraq. That is, al-Hakim's offense was probably his trip itself, though that cannot be admitted by Washington.

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that al-Hakim complained of being hooded and treated roughly while in US custody. Al-Zaman says that al-Hakim's cell phone eas confiscated, and hints broadly that the real reason for the arrest was to get access to his telephone records and the documents he had with him. The US suspects the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq of getting aid from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Washington wants it stopped.

Al-Zaman provides two other interesting but unconfirmed narratives. One is that al-Hakim's party came under fire as they entered Iraq near Kut and one or two of his guards were actually killed. The paper also reports an allegation that the US in arresting al-Hakim was acting on a tip from the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr, which is popular in the Kut region and is a rival of the al-Hakims.

In contrast, al-Hayat reports that the US may have been hoping that the convoy coming from Iran was that of Muqtada al-Sadr, whom they have determined to arrest. In that case, the incident would be a case of mistaken identity.

Al-Hakim says his guards were abused and still have not been released. US military sources say that they were following procedure in verifying his identity, since passports can be forged, and that the issue had to go to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for resolution since the latter had prohibited lower-level officials from just releasing detainees.

I am unconvinced by this explanation, since there was not good reason to doubt al-Hakim's passport, and it can't have taken 12 hours to call al-Maliki. There is also the question of why US troops were even in the area, since it is a Polish sphere of operations. They had to have come over for some specific purpose. The likelihood is that it was an intelligence operation of some sort.

The incident, which produced a small demonstration in Basra and a lot of bad feeling among Iraqi Shiites, demonstrates the dangers of Bush's cowboy policies in Iraq, such that he recently urged suspected Iranian agents be shot on sight. If Ammar had been killed instead of arrested for 12 hours, there would have been hell to pay.

This could have gone much much worse. The army got lucky.

Breaking news on Spears-Hair Gate!

BIG MAJOR NEWS on Britney Spears, her hair, and...

Okay, I'm lying.

Matt Taibbi, wonders why any thing about her is such critical news of the day?

What was she thinking? How about nothing? How about who gives a shit? How's that for an answer, Sheila Marikar of ABC news, you pinhead?

I'm not one of those curmudgeons who freaks out every time that Bradgelina moves the war off the front page of the Post, or Katie Couric decides to usher in a whole new era of network news with photos of the imbecile demon-spawn of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. I understand that we live in a demand-based economy and that there is far more demand for brainless celebrity bullshit than there is, say, for the fine print of the Health and Human Services budget.


On the same day that Britney was shaving her head, a guy I know who works in the office of Senator Bernie Sanders sent me an email. He was trying very hard to get news organizations interested in some research his office had done about George Bush's proposed 2008 budget, which was unveiled two weeks ago and received relatively little press, mainly because of the controversy over the Iraq war resolution. All the same, the Bush budget is an amazing document. It would be hard to imagine a document that more clearly articulates the priorities of our current political elite.

Not only does it make many of Bush's tax cuts permanent, but it envisions a complete repeal of the Estate Tax, which mainly affects only those who are in the top two-tenths of the top one percent of the richest people in this country. The proposed savings from the cuts over the next decade are about $442 billion, or just slightly less than the amount of the annual defense budget (minus Iraq war expenses). But what's interesting about these cuts are how Bush plans to pay for them.

The article goes in to how this breaks down.

Included, Walton (Wal-Mart) family, $32.7 billion over the next 10 years.

Medicaid planned loses for the next ten years? $28 billion.

The Cox family (Cox cable TV) would receive $9.7 billion.

Education department loses would be $1.5 billion.

And so on. The article as more examples. All these savings to these rich families and businesses, while child education, medical support, heating for the poor, etc, all suffer and are diminished. But I'm sure it will trickle down one day. Sure, and we'll win and be out of Iraq in a few months.

That's not only bad government, it's bad capitalism. It makes legalized bribery and political connections more important factors than performance and competition in the corporate marketplace. Beyond that, it's just plain fucking offensive to ordinary people. It's one thing to complain about paying taxes when those taxes are buying a bag of groceries once a month for some struggling single mom in eastern Kentucky. But when your taxes are buying a yacht for some asshole who hires African eight year-olds to pick cocoa beans for two cents an hour ... I sure don't remember reading an excuse for that anywhere in the Federalist Papers.

I also don't remember reading much about this year's budget. It was a story for about half a minute when it came out two weeks ago. It barely made TV newscasts, and even when it did, only the broad strokes made it on air. There was some fuss about the Alternative Minimum Tax and a mild uproar over the fact that the 2008 budget failed to account for estimates of the costs for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But overall, the budget was a non-starter as a news story. As it does every year, it takes a back seat to hot-button issues like gay marriage, the latest election scandal, etc. Already, the 2008 election presidential campaign has gotten far more ink than the 2008 budget. As entertainment, bullshit politics always triumphs over real politics.

Here's the thing about the system of news coverage we have today. If the Walton family, or Lee Raymond, or the heirs to the Mars fortune actually needed the news media to work better than it does now, believe me, it would work better. But they have no such need, because the system is working just fine for them as is. The people it's failing are the rest of us, and most of the rest of us, apparently, would rather sniff Anna Nicole Smith's corpse or watch Britney Spears hump a fire hydrant than find out what our tax dollars are actually paying for.

Too many of us turn the channel or mute the sound when the news comes on, or it gets heavy.

We are mutually damned by our ignorance, and our zeal to be so ignorant.

A wonderous sight

Chimps, hunting with weapons.

Chimpanzees have been seen using spears to hunt bush babies, U.S. researchers said on Thursday in a study that demonstrates a whole new level of tool use and planning by our closest living relatives.


The chimps apparently had to invent new ways to gather food because they live in an unusual area for their species, the researchers report in the journal Current Biology.

"This is just an innovative way of having to make up for a pretty harsh environment," Pruetz said in a telephone interview. The chimps must come down from trees to gather food and rest in dry caves during the hot season.

"It is similar to what we say about early hominids that lived maybe 6 million years ago and were basically the precursors to humans."

Chimpanzees are genetically the closest living relatives to human beings, sharing more than 98 percent of our DNA. Scientists believe the precursors to chimps and humans split off from a common ancestor about 7 million years ago.

Chimps are known to use tools to crack open nuts and fish for termites. Some birds use tools, as do other animals such as gorillas, orangutans and even naked mole rats.

But the sophisticated use of a tool to hunt with had never been seen.

Pruetz thought it was a fluke when Bertolani saw the adolescent female hunt and kill the bush baby, a tiny nocturnal primate.

But then she saw almost the same thing. "I saw the behavior over the course of 19 days almost daily," she said.


Check out the article for more.

It is amazing to view this, a step our own predecessors went through so long ago. It is a thing of beauty and wonder.

"The observation that individuals hunting with tools include females and immature chimpanzees suggests that we should rethink traditional explanations for the evolution of such behavior in our own lineage," she concluded in her paper.

It gives us plenty to think about.