Archive for September 27th, 2006|Daily archive page

Russia losing the war on terror, demographically

Some journalists have the coolest foreign assignments.  At least that’s what you might think if the Telegraph’s Adrian Blomfield wasn’t reporting from Moscow but from Ulyanovsk:

The governor of a Russian province gave workers an afternoon off and told them to go home and multiply in the most direct attempt yet by officials seeking to tackle the country’s growing depopulation crisis.

Bureaucrats have been dreaming up ever more imaginative schemes to help reverse the trend ever since President Vladimir Putin identified Russia’s demographic crisis – caused in part by soaring levels of alcoholism – as the country’s biggest threat.

But few have been quite as blunt as Sergey Morozov, the governor of Ulyanovsk, a depressed region on the Volga.

Why hasn’t Bush thought of this to win the war in Iraq? Encourage the Iraqies to make babies instead of bombs. Can’t you see the PSA with ‘Big Dick’ Chaney?

 Hat Tip: Ehrensenf (German)

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Heads Up: Global Warming Graph and Paper

Global temperature change, Hansen et al.

Carl Zimmer has a post up showing the above graph and linking to a paper comparing current temperatures with temperatures over the last 1.35 Million years (kyr = 1000 years)

While I agree with what the graph is trying to show, I have a problem with the presentation. I feel it misrepresents the data. The re-scaling on the right of the graph from 1870 to present makes the current temperature change seem far more normal then it really is. If the current peak were scaled properly, it would look more like one of the minor ‘blips.’ (Look at the spike around 1000 kyrs) I would argue this would be OK. You are showing where we are now and the two blue lines give an excellent ‘where are we now’ comparision.

But more importantly, the inclusion of some other information, like ice ages would have helped this chart quite a bit. This is especially important when one thinks that the last ice age ended 10000 years ago. This is where the temperatures rose sharply to not quite current values.

But, please go read Carl’s article and the comments, he has far more readers than I and the discussion will be much more important there.

Weird Weeks for the ACLU

Last week I got grumpy about the ACLU having issues with a general policy for testing for HIV. I’m sure you remember the amazingly arsine quote from the ACLU lawyer

Patients, particularly teenagers, she said, “will be tested without an opportunity for understanding the magnitude of having a positive result.” [like spreading AIDs?]

Yesterday, Teresa weighed in by pointing to a NYT article highlighting some of the less than intelligent recent moves made by ACLU honchos. From the original article comes:

In interviews, some members of the group behind the Web site pointed to internal controversies that have been made public, starting with an agreement that obligated the A.C.L.U. to check its staff against government lists of suspected terrorists to participate in the federal employees’ annual fund-raising drive known as the Combined Federal Campaign at the same time it was criticizing the lists.

Finally, Nick Matzke weighs in at Panda’s Thumb with the story of how the Discovery Institute attacking the ACLU for trying to get that Icon of Idiocy, Of Pandas and People banned from the Dover school library. As Nick clarifies in his Panda entry:

The word “library” does not appear in the Complaint. In fact, before the case was filed, I specifically recall that the ACLU (one of many participants in the case, a fact universally ignored by the ID propagandists) made sure that everyone involved on the plaintiffs’ side understood that we were not trying to ban Pandas from the library, because the ACLU doesn’t do that sort of thing. There is actually a body of law on school libraries and book banning, and, roughly speaking, school libraries can and should include a variety of works – science, religion, creationism, whatever. Public school libraries have a specific educational mission and their collection should be aimed at that (graduate level textbooks are not appropriate, nor a library with all creationism books and no science books), but this does not exclude having some creationist books.

Now having the ID-iot’s harping on about the ACLU is par for the course. I wouldn’t expect anything else.

But having Teresa and I slightly irritated amazes me. Bad press is bad press. But Bad Blogs? From liberals (or at least the liberalish?) For shame ACLU. Weird week.

Quickie: Using the Record vs. Throwing Muck

If I read this New York Times article correctly, they are comparing the Democratic use of negative Republican records to the Republican use of Democratic personal issues.

At the national level, the two parties are battling over issues like national security and the war in Iraq. But Congressional races play out on local airwaves, and the flood of commercials amounts to a parallel campaign, one that is often about the characters of individual challengers and obscure votes cast by incumbents. Frequently lost in the back-and-forth are the protests of candidates who say the negative advertisements are full of deliberate distortions and exaggerations.

While Democrats have largely concentrated their efforts on the political records of Republicans, the Republicans have zeroed in more on candidates’ personal backgrounds.

Let me get this straight. The Democrats are using what the Republicans have done. The Republicans have spent a year digging into the candidates backgrounds to find mud to throw. Excuse me?

Oh. I get it. If it works, use it.

While some public officials have criticized negative advertisements as destructive and blamed them for discouraging voter turnout, other analysts say they have come, if only by default, to play an important role. At a time of diminishing local news coverage of House and Senate races, they are one of the few ways in which voters learn about the candidates and their positions.

So what someone wrote in a student editorial say 20 years ago has a major impact on their current stand on various issues? If my behaviour from 20 years ago were any accurate evaluation of my current standpoint, I’d probably be dead by now.

And people wonder why voters don’t vote.

Bush made me blog this

I really didn’t want to go here. I was going to ignore the whole ‘Gee, imagine that! There are more terrorists in the world because America invaded Iraq.’ thing. But Bush made me change my mind.

The telling quote comes from the New York Times 

“You know, to suggest that if we weren’t in Iraq we would see a rosier scenario, with fewer extremists joining the radical movement, requires us to ignore 20 years of experience,” Mr. Bush said. He added: “My judgment is: The only way to protect this country is to stay on the offense.”

 OK. George, as Jon Stewart would say, meet me at camera three. I’ve got a couple of tips for you.

 You and I, we probably think eye to eye on the issue of where Islamic fundamentalists stand. They hate anything western almost as much as – um – Jerry Falwell hates homosexuals.

But do you know what George? The US presence in Islamic countries is one of the most important factors in radicalizing the middle eastern world. 25 years ago America was in Lebanon; about 20 years ago it was the Sudan. One of Usama’s big draws is bitching about having the US in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. That was something your dad did. Remember that? About 12 years ago. You ignored more than 20 years of experience.

This whole mess was caused by your judgement. (well actually Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld, and the Lord of Darkness Chaney, but that’s not important right now.) Remember your judgement that Hamas would loose the election in Palestine? How about watching Israel ‘kick Hezbollah’s ass?’ Those didn’t work out very well. Do you think Hezbollah is just slightly more popular now that Israel kicked their asses. Do ya think?

Look at the quote in the Times, your own appointee reading from his report saying

“If this trend continues, threats to the U.S. at home and abroad will become more diverse and that could lead to increasing attacks worldwide,” General Hayden said, using the exact language of the intelligence assessment made public on Tuesday. General Hayden is now director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

You can only stop terrorism by removing as many dividing factors as possible. Spreading peace and not war. Might I suggest if you are going to listen to anyone’s judgement, try Colin Powell. He has a grasp on reality. You know – REALITY. It isn’t fun, just somewhere most of us try to live.

 Now George, please, don’t make me have to blog this again.

Ghost? Busted!

I admit it. I have a really vivid dream life. Fortunately, I usually forget what I’ve dreamt even before I finish dreaming it. Yesterday was a bit different. I had a dream about filming a sceptics program in India showing how dishonest the peddlers of healing crystals and Ayurveda are.

The dream started with me entering an esoteric shop and asking the healer to help me. I claimed I was having some problems and inquired what I’d need to do to get some relief. The shopkeeper was very calming and said I would need to hold a diagnosis stone in order for him to pick up the negative vibrations. He could then study the vibrations and prescribe a treatment. (And yes, I know Ayurveda doesn’t work this way. It was a dream.)

I should note here, that what I was dreaming wasn’t my going into the shop itself, but rather my reviewing my video, taped using a hidden camera, of my going into the shop. So we have a dream of a video of a shop selling imaginary charms. Wow, how anti-existential do you want to get for one night?

Back to the dream; I am handed a rather beat-up piece of dark glass and told to hold it while concentrating on my problems. I solemnly hold the piece of ‘crystal’ and pretend to concentrate on my problems while the shopkeeper/healer looks very concerned. While doing this, I mentally write the narration saying that the peddler would be better off selling this type of trinket to foolish tourists as an example of glass beads traded to Indian merchants by the British in the previous century. “These beads are very rare and highly valued”; sort of a reverse trading-worthless-trinkets-to-the-gullible kind of thing. But I digress. After a little while he remarks that it should be long enough and asks for the glass stone diagnostic crystal .

Looking very serious he holds the crystal in both hands, wringing it like a wet rag, moving his hands back and forth as if he were trying to wash any evil from the stone. He does an excellent job of pretending to pick up the vibrations from the stone and makes a really cool grunting/humming/tsking sounds before pronouncing his diagnosis.

I have an energy blockage of some kind. It is extremely serious and I am lucky to have come to his shop when I did, otherwise things would have gone very, very wrong. He is one of the few people who knows how to treat this and he proceeds to collect several different crystals, powders and herbs explaining what I need to do to ‘unblock’ and ‘recenter.’ None of his explanations seem either comforting or comfortable but I act relieved and pay a rather exorbitant sum for the rather worthless collection of dead plants and pebbles.

I later do the journalistic pounce thing, returning to the shop and forcing the poor guy into the defensive, mumbling and defending his way of life. I feel like the ‘Oh, aren’t I just the really impressive journalist, protecting you, dear viewer, from giving your hard earned tourist dollars to some impoverished healer/seller of stones.’ Color me Ralph Nader.

For most people that would have been enough for one dream. Me? I’m just getting warmed up. Now enter the second shopkeeper.

This time it is not a he but a she. We have moved to a new town and are in a much more middle class, upscale shopping district. The woman is the image of the professional sub-continental business woman, well-dressed, urban, intelligent and confident. She greets me, listens to my claims and hands me a stone. I can already tell, for whatever reason, she just isn’t buying my baloney; a reverse sceptic if you will.

I hold the stone while she watches more distracted and annoyed than helpful. I make a show of trying to imbibe the rock with whatever bad vibrations I might have, attempting to wring the stone just like the guy in the previous shop. It worked for him, right?

I give the stone back to the woman who holds it briefly in both hands. No wringing or grunting here, just a slight frown. She shifts position slightly, grasping the stone tighter, then places the stone to her forehead, pretending that the proximity to her brain will help her pick up any negativity. I can tell she hasn’t bought my charade and is simply going through the motions of her own play-acting. Sure enough after a few seconds, she coolly informs me that she can detect no problem. Perhaps I should try western medicine. The sceptic exposed!  She’s really good; I am majorly impressed with the up-market quackery.

Ha! But I have a back up plan. I pretend to be really relieved to hear this. You see, I’ve only been living in India for about 3 months. A few weeks ago, a co-worker had invited me to a wedding in his village. I had been honoured and went along for the experience. For some reason, during the ceremony I managed to disgruntle the village witch who proceeded to curse me. Actually, she hadn’t cursed me; she had called upon some ghost to haunt me. Ever since then absolutely nothing has gone right. My project is behind schedule, I feel sick, and my sex life has gone downhill into a valley of nothingness. I hadn’t quite believed in the witch and am just so relieved that the healer is on the same wavelength. All this gushes out in a too fast, “Thank God I’m not possessed!” kind of speech. Excellent acting if I do say so myself.

This is not what the woman had expected. Now she looks rather nonplussed and a slight look of doubt crosses her face. She recovers immediately and responds with the perfect explanation. She couldn’t use the stone to test whether I was being haunted or not. The stone only works for finding internal problems. She would need a much more complicated ritual to find out whether my problems were spectral, not spiritual. I would need to return later after she had made certain arrangements. She warns me this ceremony would not be without risk to her and is fairly expensive. She’d need some money up front to prepare but, as she hastened to point out, she wouldn’t charge me for my previous consultation if I go ahead with the next step. I just need to spend some money to save some money. Nice bait and switch.

What’s the sceptical journalist to do? I’m in. The rest is fairly predictable. I return later to incense and nonsense. The standard semi-serious mumbo-jumbo* but I am impressed by the really nice outfit the healer wears during the second session. After declaring me to be ghost ridden, she tells me of a priest I must immediately visit to rid my self of evil spirits. I go to priest, get exorcised. Finally, I return doing the journalistic pounce thing all over again. Pow! Zap! Aren’t I just the investigative reporter?

*I know. This is Hindu not voodoo, but what’s mumbo-jumbo in Hindi?

This dream was weird on a number of levels. I don’t mean the sceptic thing. Just think what Freud (Verry, Verry interesting. I zink ve must follow ze reason for ze stones. Vhat do stones say to you?) or Moses (You will think you are sick in the first season of the year. After feeling better, a more dangerous and foreboding illness will encroach in the second season. This too will pass.) might have said about this.

What I find strange is the absolute lack of inducing factors for this dream. Sure, I’m a sceptic but I’m neither a journalist nor a fan of India. The closest I’ve come to seeing anything about India in resent months was a program about horse racing in Uzbekistan. And I haven’t even started looking at Ayurveda silliness yet. So what caused this dream? Perhaps it was the mind-warping, kamikaze memory molecule from earlier.

I have to say, I don’t have even a ghost of an idea.

Anti-Déjà vu

I had a strange experience last night while shopping. I was waiting in the checkout line and had this really weird thought. I remembered the memory of never having seen the person in front of me. It was true. I had never seen the person before yesterday. 

But what caused this? Was it a thought and an anti-thought colliding and producing a feeling of unease and a couple of strange quirks? Sort of a mini black hole imploding in my mind, sucking down reality into a kind of mental event horizon? 

Or perhaps it was some mind-altering molecule that has lurked in my brain since a misspent youth, like some molecular sleeper cell waiting to attack some unsuspecting neuron. Did it have a little calendar, marking off the days until the finale? Perhaps it wore a little molecular kamikaze headband and prayed using miniscule incense sticks just prior to tossing itself into some vital thought process.

If déjà vu is the memory of something that couldn’t have happened previously, is anti- déjà vu the memory of something that hasn’t happened?