Archive for May, 2007|Monthly archive page

Maybe She Should Have Appealed

It’s nice to know that the neo-feudalists are occasionally brought to justice. No, I’m not taking about the slave owners on Long Island. I’m talking about Antonin Scalia’s daughter.

A daughter of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia pleaded guilty Wednesday to drunken driving in Wheaton in February.

Ann S. Banaszewski, 45, a Wheaton mother of five, had three of her children in her van when she was stopped by police.

Banaszewski accepted a plea agreement with prosecutors and was sentenced by DuPage County Judge Daniel Guerin to 18 months of court supervision. She also was ordered to perform 140 hours of public service (of which 40 hours must be beneficial to children), attend counseling and treatment sessions, attend a victim-impact panel and pay $1,500 in fines and fees.

Assistant State’s Atty. Michael O’Donnell, as part of the agreement, dropped four other charges, including endangering the life of a child, failure to secure a child younger than age 8 in a child-restraint system, improper lane usage and driving an uninsured motor vehicle.

It’s good to see that in these kinds of cases, the law is strict and effective. Not like those lax laws in Virginia Beach. Oh. But wait! According to Bill O’Reilly that wasn’t a drunk driving issue. Well, maybe the borders were too porous but obviously the drunk driving laws were fine.

But imagine Ms Banaszewski actually going to court, being tried, convicted, appealing etc. It goes before SCOTUS – how far can states go in punishing mothers driving drunk? Then Antonin would have to recluse himself because of conflict of interests. (He could go to the bar. Bwahahaah.) American justice. Gotta love it.

I just wonder if she learned her lesson, if justice has been done.

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The Blob Speaks Russian

The robot moves forward in the concrete catastrophe zone, gamma radiation high enough to mean death to any human exposed; not an instant death but a slow agonizing demise as one organ after another fails; kidneys, liver, heart, lungs with the skin finally becoming an unrecognizable rotting black mask. The mechanical explorer takes a sample of a slime the same rotting, black color, growing on the wall of the chamber; thriving in this lightless, lonely spot.

Does that sound like I’m trying my hand at science fiction? Not exactly.

A new paper published last week describes just such a scenario. But the black slime isn’t something from a 1950’s science fiction movie, it’s a fungus apparently living from gamma radiation itself in a very unreal environment: inside the concrete coffin surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.

From the Eureakalert article,

Scientists have long assumed that fungi exist mainly to decompose matter into chemicals that other organisms can then use. But researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found evidence that fungi possess a previously undiscovered talent with profound implications: the ability to use radioactivity as an energy source for making food and spurring their growth.The fungal kingdom comprises more species than any other plant or animal kingdom, so finding that they’re making food in addition to breaking it down means that Earth’s energetics—in particular, the amount of radiation energy being converted to biological energy—may need to be recalculated,” says Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of microbiology & immunology at Einstein and senior author of the study, published May 23 in PLoS ONE.

The ability of fungi to live off radiation could also prove useful to people: “Since ionizing radiation is prevalent in outer space, astronauts might be able to rely on fungi as an inexhaustible food source on long missions or for colonizing other planets,” says Dr. Ekaterina Dadachova, associate professor of nuclear medicine and microbiology & immunology at Einstein and lead author of the study.

This isn’t the first time life forms have been found ‘feeding’ on radiation. (Who knew?) Last year researchers from Indiana University at Bloomington reported finding bacteria living in rocks over 2.8 kilometers below the surface of the earth. According to the press release,

Radiation emanating from uranium minerals in or near the fracture allows for the formation of hydrogen gas from decomposition of water and formation of sulfate from decomposition of sulfur minerals. Hydrogen gas is highly energetic if it reacts with oxygen or other oxidants like sulfate, as the Hindenburg disaster demonstrated. Firmicutes are able to harvest energy from the reaction of hydrogen and sulfate, allowing other microbes in the fracture community to use the chemical waste from the Firmicutes as food.

This new finding also has very important implications for the search for extraterrestrial life. If organisms can survive not only on sulphates and hydrogen but directly from radiation, that would greatly expand possible environments where life could form and be found.

I just hope that life doesn’t land on the earth, sealed in a meteor, near a diner in a small town – at night. As long as the fungus sticks to eating radiation and not B-Movie actors, I think this is a pretty cool find.

And on the bright side, now we know what language the Blob spoke – Russian. Doesn’t Condoleezza Rice speak Russian? All better then.

Will TB Become the Next Bird Flu?

The Washington Post is reporting today about a man being detained in Atlanta after travelling in Europe, Canada and the US even though he knew he was infected with an antibiotic resistant strain of tuberculosis – XDR-TB.

Although the CDC and the two airlines are attempting to contact the passengers who might have sat near the man on 2 separate commercial flights, health officials are playing down the possibility of transmission. While TB was present, officials are saying the man was not highly contagious.

Nevertheless, he was detained in New York City and then flown in a government plane to be quarantined in Atlanta. He hasn’t broken any laws, he is being forcibly detained and required to undergo treatment.

This isn’t the first time someone has been detained this year for the ‘crime’ of TB. Tara Smith, my go to – um – Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at ScienceBlogs, highlighted the case of Robert Daniels, being held against his will in Arizona because he refused to submit to treatment. From the AP story published in April,

Behind the county hospital’s tall cinderblock walls, a 27-year-old tuberculosis patient sits in a jail cell equipped with a ventilation system that keeps germs from escaping. Robert Daniels has been locked up indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of his life, since last July. But he has not been charged with a crime. Instead, he suffers from an extensively drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, or XDR-TB. It is considered virtually untreatable.

County health authorities obtained a court order to lock him up as a danger to the public because he failed to take precautions to avoid infecting others. Specifically, he said he did not heed doctors’ instructions to wear a mask in public.

“I’m being treated worse than an inmate,” Daniels said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press last month. “I’m all alone. Four walls. Even the door to my room has been locked. I haven’t seen my reflection in months.”

The article goes on to mention that Texas has detained 17 persons for TB while California hasn’t detained anyone this year but four persons last year.

While the rate of antibiotic resistant infections in America is still relatively low, about 2 percent of total TB cases, in some countries, such as Latvia, South Korea and South Africa, it is becoming a serious health threat. According to the March 2007 Fact Sheet from the Stop TB web site (WHO) all G8 countries have now had confirmed cases of XDR-TB.

To give you an idea of how serious this threat is, in its coverage of this story, the New York Times echoes Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control, during her Congressional testimony in March,

In one outbreak in South Africa, Dr. Gerberding testified, 41 percent of the 544 patients infected with tuberculosis were found to have multidrug-resistant strains; of those, 53 met the definition of XDR TB.

Of the latter group, all but one person died, on average just 16 days after health workers had tested them.

Finally, for all those wondering whether the federal government is getting the black helicopters out of mothballs to use this to create the New World Order, might I direct them to the oh-so-official booklet The Role of Law Enforcement in Public Health Emergencies ? This outlines just how local police departments should be prepared for these kinds of things.

(If you really want to start a fuss, just call up your local sheriffs department, ask for the PR spokesperson and say, as a concerned citizen, you would like to know what plans your local police have made to combat a local contagious disease outbreak. Then just sit back and wait for the FBI to come knock on your door asking you about your religious affiliation. Want to make a bet?)

Remember, while the bird flu is still spreading around the world on the wings of birds, XDR-TB using jets. Expect to hear far more in the next weeks and years of the comeback of TB. Instead of simply being a possible danger like bird flu requiring a mutation to create a highly contagious human variant, XDR-TB is here. Now.

The lessons the public learns with XDR-TB will help cope with more serious outbreaks of other epidemics and pandemics in the near future.

Trickle Up Reality – A Difference of Opinion

Noah Shachtman, at Danger Room and my go-to guy for inside information about Pentagon shenanigans, has a post up praising an article in The Washington Monthly by Spencer Ackermann. Entitled The Bitter End and with the tagline “Democrats are right to push for an end to the Iraq war. But don’t expect the troops to be grateful,“ one can see where he is going.

Haunted by Vietnam, Democrats are determined to express support for the troops. This is admirable. The truth of the matter, however, is this: many troops in Iraq, perhaps even most of them, want to stay and fight. That doesn’t mean that we should stay in Iraq any longer. It does mean, however, that if Democrats want to bridge the divide between themselves and the military—an effort further complicated by their opposition to the war—they’re going to have to recognize that arguing in the name of the troops isn’t going to work.

If you spend as much time reading about Iraq as I do, you tend to get a very distorted image of reality (if there is such a thing).

At one level, there is the extreme devotion to duty, honor and team that is shown at the personal level. (This is very apparent if you read military blogs written by the people fighting every day. Read them now before they disappear. ) On another level, you see officers, military advisors and pundits pointing to the successes, incremental improvements across many ‘measurables.’

But you also get a sense of a football team in the last quarter, physically at the end of their chain but still willing to keep trying;. even if the game is obviously lost. (But then again the troops in the field didn’t even all know who Rumsfield is/was.)

Interestingly, most of the people quoted in Ackerman’s article are also officers. The only enlisted man seems more interested in being redeployed to Hawaii than staying in Iraq. (At least there are bikinis to go along with the sand.)

I’d contrast the view presented by Ackermann with two different viewpoints, also published in the last few days.

From a the international Herald Tribute story, With allies in enemy ranks, GIs in Iraq are no longer true believers,

But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this past February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber’s body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

“I thought, ‘What are we doing here? Why are we still here?’ ” said Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. “We’re helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us.”

His views are echoed by most of his fellow soldiers in Delta Company, renowned for its aggressiveness.

A small minority of Delta Company soldiers – the younger, more recent enlistees in particular – seem to still wholeheartedly support the war. Others are ambivalent, torn between fear of losing more friends in battle, longing for their families and a desire to complete their mission.

The focus of this story is on the erosion of ‘mission feeling’ when the mission is defined to be stand up until the Iraqi’s take over. Unfortunately, the lower level troops are increasingly discovering that the guys taking over are also the guys who shoot at Americans on their days off. They came with a sense of mission, but like a puddle under the Iraqi sun, that is slowly evaporating.

The other side of this is the cost on the home front. This comes from the front page feature at the Washington Post highlighting the plight of the families of the Minnesota National Guard troops attached to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th division.

Some 2,600 members of the Minnesota Guard are serving in Iraq, attached to the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division. Most of the Minnesotans from the rural northern part of the state around Crookston are in Bravo Company, whose 141 men range in age from 20 to 47 and represent a cross section of the small-town Midwest. One in seven has a college degree. One in three is married.

The citizen-soldiers of Bravo Company, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry, had been home 18 months from a tour in Bosnia and Kosovo when they mustered for war in October 2005. Reinforcing an active-duty Army stretched taut by a war longer and more ferocious than the White House expected, the Guard members checked out of their roles as students, farmers and workers.

Once deployed, they supported active-duty troops, largely in violent Anbar province, where the unit lost three soldiers to enemy explosives. After being granted two weeks’ leave and plane tickets home last year, Bravo’s soldiers returned to Iraq with the end of their mission in sight.

But shortly after Christmas, as friends and families counted the days until the planned March 28 homecoming, word came that the tour would be extended four months to support the effort to fortify Baghdad, a strategy designed to tip the balance against the insurgency.

News of the extension, which the families first heard about on television, was a rough blow. One wife likened it to nearing the end of a marathon and learning she would have to run eight more miles uphill. Another forgot that she had set her cellphone to ring on March 28, a cheerful reminder that her husband was homeward bound. When the alarm sounded, she called a friend and cursed: “Damn alarms.”

This is especially interesting because the MNG will probably become the longest serving unit in Iraq, reserve or active.

And what do these guys say about the war?

Days turn into weeks, weeks melt into months, and the months turn into a year and I am still in Iraq.

I have not yet reached a true state of apathy, but as the days pass I come closer and closer. I do my duty every day without complaint but I don’t give a damn anymore. I no longer care about the mission and I no longer care about the people I am supposed to be here to help.

I no longer give a fuck.

The above quote comes from Sixty-Six.org a milblog from an infantry man on his second deployment who was, in another world, a graduate student in Psychology. “I will not allow myself to have an opinion on the war. I have a job to do, and that job is not to agree or disagree with the politics of war. My job is to fight the war and come back to tell the story. ”

Interestingly, Ackerman even quotes a journalist who had been embedded with the Minnesota National Guard, NPR’s John McChesney.

Of course, military opinion varies greatly, and the mindset of the 57th could be atypical. But other journalists have picked up similar sentiments. In early April, National Public Radio’s John McChesney visited National Guard troops in Arkansas and found that, “to a man, they were gung-ho for the mission.” One specialist told McChesney, “I am looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great opportunity for me.” And news accounts regularly carry reports of soldiers who are eager to go to Iraq, whether out of a sense of duty or a sense of adventure. (More grimly, many obituaries also mention such eagerness.)

This was something I could fact check. Was Ackermann cherry- picking? Let’s take a look the original story,

Under new policy, the 39th’s second deployment would be limited to 12 months, according to Maj. Gen. Bill Wofford, who is the adjutant general of the Arkansas Guard. That would include training time in the States, so it’s possible the soldiers could be in Iraq for less than a year.

But Wofford acknowledged that they could be extended, like what recently happened to the Minnesota National Guard. “That would be up to the Department of Defense and what’s going on in theater at that time,” he said.

Immediately following a news conference in Little Rock, Wofford jumped in a Blackhawk helicopter and flew north to Fayetteville. Wofford was going to say goodbye to some men who will be leaving soon for their first deployment to Iraq.

Command gathered a group of them to talk to NPR about the trip. To a man, they were gung ho for the mission.” I am looking forward to it,” said Spec. John Martell. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for me.” He expects to return to be a full-time student at the University of Arkansas. In the meantime, he says, “I’ve always wanted to serve in this way.” [my emphasis]

It would seem Ackermann quoting people who are gung-ho on war. But those are officers, those recently arrived or the one’s who hadn’t gone yet. This let’s me wonder who he listened to in Iraq. Especially off the record Majors commenting in the US Embassy. If I contrast that with the feelings I read about at Sixty-Six, in the WP and the story in the International Herald Tribune, I feel a real reality disconnect here.

So while some might still support the mission. I get the impression, even under the troops who are the last to lose faith, gung ho isn’t the phrase I’d use for those on repeated deployments.

It would seem to me, those in Iraq are no longer fighting an enemy. They are fighting to support each other. They follow orders because that is what orders are for; they do their job with pride: clear an IED, search a house or help in the reconstruction; not to help the Iraqi’s, not because someone in Washington wants them to – but because there are fellow Americans doing the same thing and they need help.

Ackerman points out that the Democrats do themselves a disservice by claiming to help the troops and wanting them to withdraw. His point is that the ‘troops’ don’t want to withdraw. I think the troops want to stay together. No-one wants to be the first to leave or the last to go. But I disagree that there is still a strong feeling of mission.

Returning to the Washington Post feature,

Last winter, with her husband due home in 100 days, Modeen and the kids put 100 M&Ms in a jar. Every day, they took one out; as the pile got smaller, Staff Sgt. Nathan Modeen was closer to coming home. Sam was growing excited. Then came news of the 125-day extension.

Jennifer Modeen could hardly stand it: “We just threw the M&Ms away.”

While Ackerman may be right and the soldiers still haven’t lost hope in the mission, I’d argue that they have lost their M&Ms.

Thermonuclear Escalation

An image highlighting the dangers of nuking things…

microwavewars1.jpg

From Kathleen: “‘No Smelly Foods’ was the first one, and then it just escalated. ”

(Hat Tip: passive-aggressive notes from roommates, neighbors, coworkers and strangers and BitchPhd)

Cheney Predicts, The Lights Go Out and Reality Prevails

MSNBC is reporting that another part of the infamous Senate Intelligence committee’s “Phase II” investigation on Iraq will be released on Friday.

You remember this report right? This was the report that was so important the Democrats staged an orgy turned off the lights forced a closed-door session of the Senate to get the Republicans to finally finish it.

Well they’ve gotten around to looking at the predictions about how things would go after Sadaam hit the road.

According to MSNBC, “people” in the administration (perhaps the unnameable, invisible senior officials at the DOJ?) were informed that things in Iraq might not end up being all that rosy.

In January 2003, two months before the invasion, the intelligence community’s think tank — the National Intelligence Council — issued an assessment warning that after Saddam was toppled, there was “a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other and that rogue Saddam loyalists would wage guerilla warfare either by themselves or in alliance with terrorists.”

It also warned that “many angry young recruits” would fuel the rank of Islamic extremists and “Iraqi political culture is so embued with mores (opposed) to the democratic experience … that it may resist the most rigorous and prolonged democratic tutorials.”

None of those warnings were reflected in the administration’s predictions about the war.

In fact, Vice President Cheney stated the day before the war, “Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

Perhaps Cheney did a conference call with Sylvia Brown and she just mischanneled the vibes.

I’m sure the timing here is completely random. It’s obviously merely an attempt remind everyone just how bad a job the Whitehouse has done and not an attempt to distract everyone from just how bad the Democrats are failing at stopping them; remind everyone of the day the Lights Went Out in Georgia the day Democrats actually forced the Republicans to do something.

Nah! I’m sure that’s just me.

(Hat Tip: Laura Rosen/War and Piece)

Upturn in Economic Outlooks

Yesterday, Michael van der Galiën wrote a comment about an editorial which appeared in the WSJ. Even though I can’t read the entire editorial because I don’t have a subscription (recent confessions aside, the Numbers Guy is free), I’d like to point out something.The WSJ editorial starts with

It’s been a rough week for John Edwards, and now comes more bad news for his “two Americas” campaign theme. A new study by the Congressional Budget Office says the poor have been getting less poor. On average, CBO found that low-wage households with children had incomes after inflation that were more than one-third higher in 2005 than in 1991.

That sounds cheery. Michael echos Jonathan Chait from the New Republic in pointing out the disingenuousness of the editorial. While income did increase between 1991 and 2005, it seems to have peaked in 2000. I wonder what happened in 2000? Oh yeah. Katherine Harris elected George W. Bush.

But looking at the study and perhaps casting a sidelong glance at today’s New York Times might point out a few more interesting tid-bits.

Let’t start the CRS study. This is the graph shown on the very first page.

Changes in the Economic Resources of Low-Income Households with Children

While I might be a bit myopic, The total government financial aid dropped between 1991 and 2006, it seems to have remained fairly constant since George W. took office. I wonder why the Republicans don’t seem to want to lower that number since the poor are obviously earning so much? Don’t they want their tax dollars spent wisely? Aren’t the Democrats the ones who spend and run? What about the welfare queens in pink caddies?!

But wait. It gets better. Now let’s compare this with the graph on page 11. This chart shows increase in real income of households with children.

Growth in Real Income and Earnings of Households with Children, by Quintile

While the report is titled Changes in the Economic Resources of Low-Income Households with Children, [my emphasis] this chart includes all economic income brackets from the lowest to the highest. (Note: I edited the graph to include the the income levels.)

So while lower class income does seem to have improved, the over-pressured, much maligned, highest-income bracket is doing much better. Thank goodness! I was starting to think the Republicans hadn’t achieved anything.

And remember, the scale on that graphic is percent. That means not only are the top 20% doing better in an absolute sense, they are doing better in a relative sense. That means not only were the best of the best earning much more to begin with, they get even more income now. Cool huh? Bush II is my hero!

And who might these poor, deprived super-rich be?

Eduardo Porter gives us a glimpse in today’s New York Times.

As executive pay has surged in most American companies, attention has focused on the growing gap between the earnings of top executives and the average wage of workers in cubicles or on the shop floor. Little noticed, though, is how much the gap has also widened between the summit and the next few echelons down.
[…]
Few are deprived in corporate suites, of course. But the widening disparities in business, which show up in a variety of other ways, reflect a dynamic that is taking hold across the economy: the growing concentration of wealth and income among a select group at the pinnacle of success, leaving many others with similar talents and experience well behind.

In the 1960s and ’70s, chief executives running the nation’s biggest companies earned 80 percent more, on average, than the third-highest-paid executives, according to a recent study by Carola Frydman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Raven E. Saks at the Federal Reserve. By the early part of this decade, the gap in the executive suite between No. 1 and No. 3 [poor little guy] had swollen to 260 percent. [my emphasis]

Perhaps we need to change from calling these people neo-conservatives to calling them “neo-feudalists:” people creating a super rich elite able to change justice to keep them in power and suit their lifestyles .

While even those one or two titles – um – ranks down are left to deal with the unruly serfdom, the CEOs (Barons?) and Presidents (Kings?) can truely say – the economic outlook of the serfs has never been better; much better now, than under that pesky democracy thing.

An Alligator, A Pool, and News at 11:00

Even though many people complain about the amount of bad news in newspapers, if one looks closely there is an amazing amount of fluff. Take for example, The Fugitive like story of Reggie the alligator being reported in Los Angeles today,

Reggie the alligator’s two years of freedom ended this afternoon when the coldblooded fugitive left the chilly waters of Lake Machado and was taken into custody on the shore.

The 7-foot alligator was taken to the Los Angeles Zoo, where he will be quarantined for up to 60 days to make sure he isn’t carrying any diseases.

Still, by all appearances, “he’s in good shape,” said Karen Knipscheer, a spokeswoman for the city’s Animal Services Department.

The capture came as experts from Australia were meeting with Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and her aides on how to capture the alligator, which had been spotted recently in the lake near the Harbor Freeway in Harbor City.

I always feel safter when duck and fish serial killers end up behind bars where they belong. I guess the CADFG feels the same way. But the media seems to think that finally putting a stop to the rampage amoung aquatic wildlife by this illegal alien is a sad tale of ended freedoms.

The Times story goes on to point out that one of the local television stations (Channel 7) interrupted normal broadcasting to broadcast Reggie’s trip to the zoo in the back of a pickup live. A stunt the Times laconically compares to “a certain chase of a white Bronco.” As a matter of fact ABC7 in LA still seems to think this was the most important thing that happened yesterday. As can be seen from a screen shot taken from their home page.

Reggie and Channel 7 - Oh, Where the decorum?

Returning to the LA Times for a moment though, they point out a couple of things the ABC reporter “forgot.” If you watch the video, the reporter mentions that the city spent about $180,000 trying to recapture just this one illegal alien. What the reporter doesn’t mention is the fact that one of the people who released Reggie in the first place is a former LAPD officer. Ouch.

But speaking of money, I wonder how much it cost ABC to cover the Reggie drama. And perhaps even more importantly, why did it take 2 reporters (with a hat tip to a third) to do the story at the LA Times?

Wouldn’t one assume a pool reporter would have done a good enough job covering a pool fugitive and the News at 11:00? Apparently not.

A Fair(y) Use Tale

(Hat Tip: Ralph E. Luker/Cliopatria)

Totally Meta

For a poor an economically challenged liberal, I have a dirty secret. I sneak over to the WSJ about once a day.

Well, the secret isn’t that dirty: I don’t read the editorials (ick, ick, ick). Nope. I’m a fan of Carl Bialik, The Numbers Guy.

I’m more or less against fact-based science discussions. Especially when statistics are used by people who haven’t looked at the work. But Bailik has a great way of making numbers seem accessable. His discussion of the meta-analysis on the disparaged drug Avandia is a case in point.

The big news yesterday that the diabetes drug Avandia may pose cardiac risks was based on something called a meta-analysis. It’s a type of research that has some significant drawbacks, but also some unique advantages.

In a meta-analysis, researchers pool results from different studies — in this case, Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steven Nissen and statistician Kathy Wolski analyzed 42 studies. Those studies were done by many different people, and as you might expect, there was wide variation between them. Sometimes Avandia was compared with a placebo and sometimes with alternate treatments. Adverse events — namely heart attacks shown to occur with higher frequency among Avandia users — may not have been identified consistently across the different trials. And if they weren’t, Dr. Nissen would have no way to know, because he was looking at study summaries and not patient-level data. The limitations of this “study of studies” filled a lengthy third paragraph in an accompanying New England Journal of Medicine editorial.

So why, then, use meta-analysis at all? Because for drug dangers that are rare enough, even studies of thousands of patients might not suffice to separate a real risk from random statistical variation. Combining tens of thousands of patients who underwent the treatment separately, under different protocols and supervision, may be the only way to clear thresholds for statistical significance.

He goes on to clearly describe the strengths and weaknesses of the technique; explaining the importance of the variable currently called p; when meta-analysis are useful and to explain why both sides tend to fight over the issue of whether a meta-analysis is valid.

I love statistics. (Actually, since I haven’t discussed this face to face with statistics, I should probably call it a crush, but you get the idea.)

As an example, most people, when confronted with a statistics example involving doctors, cancer patients and risk would probably change the channel. Me – I buy the book! From Joel Best’s More Damn Lies and Statistics (the sequel to Damn Lies and Statistics),

Consider the following word problem about women receiving mammograms to screen for breast cancer (the statements are, by the way, roughly accurate in regard to women in their forties who have no other symptoms):

The probability that [a woman] has breast cancer is 0.08 percent. If a woman has breast cancer, the probability is 90 percent that she will have a positive mammogram. If a woman does not have breast cancer, the probability is 7 percent that she will still have a positive mammogram. Imagine a woman who has a positive mammogram. What is the probability that she actually has breast cancer.

Confused? Don’t be ashamed. When this problem was posed to twenty-four physicians, exactly two managed to come up with the right answer. Most were wildly off: one-third answered that there was a 90 percent probability that a positive mammogram denoted actual breast cancer; and another third gave figures of 50 to 80 percent. The correct answer is about 9 percent.

Let’s look carefully at the problem. Not that breast cancer is actually rather rare (0.8 percent); that is, for every 1,000 women, 8 will have breast cancer. There is a 90 percent probability that those women will receive positive mammograms – say, 7 of the 8. That leaves 992 women who do not have breast cancer. Of this group 7 percent will also receive positive mammograms – about 69 cases of what are called false positives. Thus a total of 76 (7+69=76) women will receive positive mammograms, yet only 7 of those – about 9 percent – will actually have breast cancer. The point is that measuring risk often requires a string of calculations. Even trained professionals (such as doctors) are not used to calculating and find it easy to make mistakes. [my emphasis]

That is why fact-based science discussions fail. Not because the facts are wrong, but because any discussion of the issue won’t fit into a 30 second interview and boil down to a 25 word text snippet.

This is where framing science needs to be used. You need to be able to tell a story about how science works, how scientific uncertainty works without getting people nervous. Perhaps the fundamental difference between a scientist and a non-scientist is that the latter sees danger in uncertainty, the former sees an opportunity to write a grant proposal.

To be able to frame science, you need ideas, examples, and good stories. Like the Avandia study discussed by the Numbers Guy or some of the topics on the very entertaining Freakonomics blog by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

But sometimes – I just love the idea for itself. Statistics about statistics. Because that is just sooo totally meta.

When Less Is Moore

I am not a big Michael Moore fan.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand what he’s trying to do – balance right wing demagoguery with hard-core, left-wing propaganda. Most of his documentaries leave me sputtering something along the lines of ”But, but, but… of course they did that! They’re scum. That’s obvious.”

But even when Moore starts burning the Bush, I still can’t seem to start waving the flag.

That’s why my ears perked up when a report was aired on German radio about two Canadian filmmakers, Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk, setting out to follow in Michael Moore’s footsteps. No, not just the documentary-making ones, the physical ones.

Caine and Melnyk, self admitted Canadian lefties, started out to make a documentary about their hero, Michael Moore. It didn’t go well. John Anderson at the International Herald (or AP?) interviewed the husband and wife team,

“What he’s done for documentaries is amazing,” said Melnyk, 48, a native of Toronto and a freelance TV producer, who even now expounds on the good she says Moore has done. “People go to see documentaries now and, as documentary makers, we’re grateful.”

But according to Caine, 46, an Ohio-born journalist and cameraman, the freewheeling persona cultivated by Moore, and the free-thinking rhetoric expounded by his friends and associates were not quite what they encountered when they decided to examine his work. “As investigative documentarists we always thought we could look at anything we wanted,” Caine said. “But when we turned the cameras on one of the leading figures in our own industry, the people we wanted to talk to were like: ‘What are you doing? Why are you throwing stones at the parade leader?'”

Melnyk added, “We were very lonely.”

The movie Manufacturing Dissent was born.

Moore’s missteps included faked footage, creative editing (who’d a thought?!) and perhaps most damning, leaving out the interview that was the premise for Moore’s first big hit, Roger & Me. Apparently Moore did actually get an interview with GM CEO Roger Smith, he just didn’t include the footage in the movie. The Canadian filmmakers swept the cutting room floor and included the ‘lost’ scenes in their documentary. Ouch.

They tried to get an interview or at least a little camera time with the ‘giant’ of documentary filmmaking. But even after staging several Moore-ian stunts, Caine and Melnyk’s efforts were apparently less successful than the supersized, lefty superhero.

Having lefties attack Michael Moore (well, having anyone attack Michal Moore) is a highlight in any Fox “News” cycle. But the filmmakers, after seeing the distortion a few nips and tucks their hero could produce, were marginally sceptical about appearing on an edited Fox broadcast. They did however agree to appear live. The result was – well – interesting.

Even more interesting is the resultant comment produced after they appeared with Martha MacCallum on Fox’s “The Live Desk.”

“We said: ‘This is crap. We do not want to become poster kids for the right-wing media. No, we haven’t seen the light and converted.’ That is exactly what they were thinking,” Melnyk says. “But we were intent on telling them that it’s not only Michael Moore who is lying and cheating, it’s mainstream news organizations and George Bush.”

Adds Caine with a laugh: “I could hear a person in New York screaming into my earpiece: ‘Get that asshole off the air.’ They cut us off.”

The couple, in short, refused to bitterly attack Moore, even though his handlers once had them kicked out of the audience at one of his speeches.

Sicko

Now Moore is headlining again with his newest effort Sicko.

The documentary premiered on May 20 in Cannes to fairly good reviews. According to the Guardian,

Michael Moore’s Sicko, which received its first-ever screening in front of a packed, early-morning audience in Cannes yesterday, is a far more thoughtful and measured piece of film making than his Palme d’Or winning rant, Fahrenheit 9/11It is, however, unlikely to repeat the commercial success and global notoriety of its predecessor simply because its concerns are more parochial, focusing on the American health service and the system’s iniquities compared with those of Cuba, Canada, France and the UK.

The film is a campaigning attack on the profit-driven US healthcare system which, argues Moore, is weighted in favour of the drugs and insurance companies rather than the patients. He begins by saying that 50 million Americans can’t afford health cover and goes on to state that many of the 250 million who do pay insurance are not as well-protected as they might think.

Always good for a controversy or two, Moore filmed  a brief segment, in Cuba with 9/11 responders. This was to highlight the differences in healthcare between the ‘richest nation in the world’ and – well – Cuba.

Unfortunately, or perhaps predictably, this got the US Treasury Department in a huff; Moore might not have gotten the appropriate licenses. (It should be noted that this would have even irritated the USTD under Clinton who famously tightened the embargo in 1996.) One effect the Moore visit to Cuba will likely have is to make the exile Cubans in Florida grumpy. Probably not a good way to get more liberal/democratic support so close to an important presidential election in that swing state. But hey; let’s let embargos be embargos, shall we?

It remains to be seen what effect this movie will have. I’m sure the British will smirk when watching Moore wax poetic on their much maligned National Health System since the NHS is usually described in the British press as one of the roots of all evil. As a matter of fact, some have already started smirking,

Our own dear National Health Service also comes in for lavish praise. There’s a particularly comic sequence in which Moore marches round Hammersmith hospital in London searching for the payments section. Eventually he finds the cashier’s office: much mock incredulity ensues when he discovers its purpose is not to receive money from patients, but to pay out cash to those of them who cannot afford their travel expenses.

I guess I could hope though. I’d like to see Michael Moore’s next effort be about the food industry; a major campaign to get people in America to lose weight.

Then we might finally get what I’d really enjoy – less of Moore. That would be a documentary I’d go watch.

Time Is Going Really Slowly…

OK. You’re a Dearborn cop.

OK. You’re a corrupt Dearborn cop.

Now you bust some people with a little pot and decide to make not a booking but a batch of brownies. You and your wife do a little taste testing…

And time starts going really, really, really, really slowly. What do you do? You call 911.

I love the off camera snort from one of the anchors. These people have obviously also experienced time distortion. The really cool part? The video clip is from a Fox station.

What are they doing at Fox?!

Oh! And the cop? He and his wife got off.

Dearborn police declined to pursue criminal charges against an officer last year, even after the cop admitted to taking marijuana from criminal suspects and, with his wife, cooking it up in brownies.

Then-Cpl. Edward Sanchez was allowed to resign from the department, but he was not charged with a crime. He declined to comment Wednesday.

His wife, Stacy Sanchez, admitted to police investigators that on another occasion she removed cocaine from her husband’s police cruiser — drugs purportedly earmarked to train police dogs — and used it during a three-week binge. She, too, has not been charged criminally. Dearborn Police Cmdr. Jeff Geisinger left a phone message with Free Press reporting partner WDIV-TV Local 4 saying Sanchez resigned during an internal investigation. Geisinger did not return subsequent calls asking why Sanchez was not prosecuted.

American Justice – always good for a laugh.

(Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish)

Sniffex – Probably Just Had Hayfever (Updated)

Update: A commenter pointed me to the very useful Sniffexquestions blog. Not that you shouldn’t read my stuff. But any Sniffexquestions you might have, will be answered there. (S)he even has the report of the test shown below.

James Randi, of JREF, Sharon Weinberger, lover of government mind control stories and Imaginary Weapons (now in paperback!) and Bruce Schneier, crypto-guy have all pointed to the Sniffex modern munitions dowsing rod foolishness.

As Sharon put it over at Danger Room

Penny stock schemes are a dime a dozen, but you gotta love ones that involve far-fetched military technology. A few months ago, I received in the mail information on Sniffex, a company touting a dream technology in the age of terror: a hand-held explosive sniffer. The company’s claims about its uses — sniffing through concrete and at great distances, sounded a bit too wonderful. I tossed the brochure — labeled “hot stocks on the street”– in my pile of possibly stupid weapons, and promptly forgot about it.

Others didn’t. Famed magician and uber-Skeptic James Randi unearthed a Navy report evaluating Sniffex, and from the snippets he published online, it’s rather damning

Bruce Schnieder picked up the story. His intrepid commenters found the more interesting stuff. One reader describes a blind test of the Sniffex ‘product’ conducted at Bob Hope airport . “Tourism and Safety 2006”, a conference for law enforcement professionals held at the Anaheim Hilton Hotel in April of 2006 [Updated: See Comments – Thanks MY]. Now the videos of this blind test of ‘detection equipment’ are up at YouTube. The test is simple. Several envelopes, 9 filled with salt, 1 filled with gun powder – now use the Sniffex ‘device’ to find the dangerous one.

It starts off with a description of how Sniffex works (like the energy source – YOU!).

Then a simple test is proposed

And they huff, and they puff, and huff again. But they can’t find the explosive.

My favourite part? Perhaps the ever-present elevator music in the background. Like some surreal cross between Heidi and 24, frantically search for the nuke while “What A Wonderful World” plays as a soundtrack. Perfect.

Despite all the negative waves being sent their way, Sniffex is still being pushed on it’s European site with a “patented method based on detection of magnetic interference.” As a matter of fact, they even have a patent number: 6,344,818. See – down at the bottom

Oh!. Maybe they don’t have that patent any more.

Status: Patent Expired Due to NonPayment of
Maintenance Fees Under 37 CFR 1.362
Status Date: 03-08-2006

So not only do they have a device that doesn’t work, they can’t even keep their patent “working”.

The Resignation of Uncle Wolfi

The news of Wolfowitz’s resignation seems to be less a success than the end of a bad fairy tale

I am reminded of one of my favorite children’s books, Ian Whybrow’s Little Wolf’s Book of Badness

This is the story of little wolf, sent off into the great big world to make his way to his uncles boarding school, Cunning College. It is told through the perspective of a young wolf who was too nice and told through his letters home to mum and dad. Little Wolf is not happy to be sent away,

Dear Mum and Dad,

Please please PLEEEEZ let me come home. You just think I am a goody-goody, I bet. Is that the reason why I have to go away for badness lessons? I only cleaned my teeth last week for a joke. And brushing my fur, and going to bed early, that was just tricks to trick you! Why must I go to Cunning College to learn Uncle Bigbad’s 9 Rules of Badness? Please let me come home and learn to be bad at home. PLEE-E-EEZ.

Yours fedupply Little Wolf

As the story progresses, we learn exactly what happened to the big bad wolf after his run in with that little harlot with the red cloak. Poorly stiched back together and banished into the wilderness, Bigbad Wolf is forced teach little brats the arts of deception. A task he has mastered but is ill suited to teach. All goes well until his nephew, the pesky Little Wolf shows up to ruin things.

I ask you. When and where will Wolfowitz take over his teaching duties? Were I to guess, it will either be Georgetown or perhaps Chicago. I doubt he would fit into one of the Boston universities.

But unlike Uncle Bigbad, Uncle Wolfi managed to survive the attack by the hunters largely unscathed. He could claim he did nothing wrong, the White House will again circle the wagons, the Neo-Con’s or Post-Con’s or Con-Artists or whatever they call themselves now will decry this to be yet another terrorist attack on America by an Old Europe. Wolfowitz doesn’t believe he did anything wrong, the directors of the World Bank largely toothless in forcing him to admit wrong doing.

Wolfowitz will remain in power until the end of the summer, enough time to find a teaching position and decorate a nice office in one of the conservative think-tanks. And there he will await the coming of this own Little Wolf.

Voyeurism for the Truly Lazy

Got an hour?

This is just … WOW!  A map of the world showing each flickr picture as it is posted.

And for those who don’t just live in 2 dimensions… how about the world? (I’m not sure this pulls new pictures all the time though.)

What kind of atheist are you?

  You scored as Scientific Atheist. These guys rule. I’m not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist
 
58%
Agnostic
 
50%
Apathetic Atheist
 
42%
Spiritual Atheist
 
33%
Theist
 
25%
Angry Atheist
 
17%
Militant Atheist
 
17%

What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Would You Work for Wolfowitz?

Remember those days when George W. Bush was presented as the kind of guy you could sit down and drink a beer with? Kerry was the aloof windsurfer pretending to know what a feathered duck actually looks like?

(Interestingly when I went to find conservative quotes to support that statement – um – I came up empty. I found lots of Democrats claiming that Republicans voted for Bush because ‘they’d drink a beer with him.’ I even found a transcript of Al Sharpton on CNN claiming ‘people’ thought that. What I didn’t find was that impression in the general conservative camp. Was George W. Bush more accessible than Kerry; was Robocop more cuddly? Seriously? But in researching conservative, cuddly, beer drinker quotes for Bush, I came up empty. Is this an urban legend?)

The problem I see here is that Democrats are framing the issue for an appropriate president incorrectly. They shouldn’t keep hammering on whether you would want the next president as your drinking buddy, ask if you’d want him as your boss. But don’t mention beer. Every time you do, you reenforce Bush’s buddy image.

And while loyally to the top level is important, what kind of boss does Bush support?

Bush has until perhaps today (Washington Post , NYT), Bush has refused to remove support for Wolfowitz. Would you want to work for someone who thinks Wolfowitz makes a good manager?

Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the Iraq war and a man with a sock problem, has been under fire at the World Bank for weeks. But the current controversy, whether he got his current partner/significant other/womanfriend an inappropriate raise, isn’t the internal issue at the World Bank. People were mad at Wolfowitz and found this excuse. (A good excuse, but an excuse nontheless.)

The people working for the World Bank, not the political appointees, the ones who have worked at the World Bank for years, have seen program after program cancelled or delayed because Wolfowitz chose to change priorities according to his rather strange world view. To accomplish this, he brought in a number of well paid henchpersons, Kevin Kellems, Robin Cleveland and Karl Jackson. That lead to claims that Wolfowitz had separated himself from the Bank, from the employees. (Although I did find press accounts from 2005 that Wolfowitz ate in the ‘normal’ cafeteria. I wonder if he still goes there?)

Let’s look at the aides briefly.

Kellems was brought by Wolfowitz from the Pentagon and given a job at the world bank that wasn’t defined as an appointment (unlimited contract). He recently resigned due to ‘poor working atmosphere.’ Look at this from the perspective of an employee. Someone gets brought in and starts to just change things, no explanation and no excuses, just do it ‘his way.’ Not for the better, but because power must be centered on the president; in this case Wolfowitz. Poor working atmosphere. I’m sure that’s true.

For me most damaging is when a senor World Bank vice president talked up Kellems’s ‘team-building skills’ and ‘grace under pressure.’ I have respect for senior management, but when was the last time you saw someone in that kind position accurately judge team-building skills? This is like the captain of a Roman galley pointing out that the guy at the drum is great at “coordinating group activities.”

Wolfowitz’s choice of Robin Cleveland came under attack almost from the day it was announced. According to MSNBC at the time,

Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. nominee to head the World Bank, has recruited Robin Cleveland, a senior White House official involved in post-war Iraq planning, as his staff assistant.

His choice, even for a temporary adviser, has drawn comment in Washington, where Ms. Cleveland is seen as a widely experienced policymaker but a somewhat polarizing figure. One staff member at the World Bank described her as a “wild-eyed” conservative whose expertise lay in national security, not development.

Post War Iraq “planning?!” That went well, didn’t it? But that was then – let’s let bygones be bygones. Look at what she has done since then.

She was involved in creating the ‘background’ for the initial public World Bank stance on the Riza scandal. The original statement claimed that the ethics committee and the general counsel signed off on the pay raise arrangement and that there had been no wrong doing. The liberal rag, the Financial Times, reported the issue slightly differently,

Ms Cleveland met Marwan Muasher [the senior vp mentioned above], the newly arrived director for external relations, on April 4 to discuss how to respond to leaks about the terms and conditions awarded to Ms Riza.

They agreed on a statement that was to be briefed on an anonymous or “background” basis by senior bank officials. This included the apparently misleading claim that “after consultation with the then general counsel, the ethics committee of the board approved an external assignment agreement which was reached with the staff member”.

Mr Muasher confirmed the agreed text with Ms Cleveland in an e-mail, a copy of which has been seen by the FT, and its authenticity has been attested to by two bank officials. The statement was then briefed to the FT and other media organisations by senior bank officials.

The claim that the agreement was approved by the ethics committee after consultation with the general counsel was immediately disputed by Roberto Danino, then general counsel, and Ad Melkert, then chairing the ethics committee.

Compared to these two, Karl Jackson is just a mini-problem. He just gets paid too well. According to the internal anonymous e-mail that got the scandal rolling,

Karl Jackson was given an Extended Term Consultant contract to provide policy advice to the President. Under ETC rules, an ETC must work full-time for the Bank. However, it appears that Karl Jackson has maintained (and plans to maintain) a fairly busy schedule as course instructor and program director at the School of Advanced International Studies. He taught two courses in the fall of 2005, and teaches 2 courses in the spring of 2006. […] The problem is that Karl Jackson is paid US$210,000 (gross) on a yearly basis. If one prorates this fee level for the effective amount of time he can reasonably be expected to work (3 out of 5 days), his fees are the equivalent of US$350,000 (gross) per year.

No tendancy to overpay friends and assistants is there? The people working directly for Wolfowitz haven’t exactly created an atmosphere of love and respect. Wolfowitz either doesn’t care or doesn’t hear the criticisms. Perhaps he is just used to hearing that everything he touches turns to lead not gold.

And the one the people elect; the one who recommended Wolfowitz; the President. The one ‘people would drink a beer with;’ what is he saying? Directly – nothing. Indirectly?

“[T]he President has confidence in Paul Wolfowitz and his work at the World Bank.” (Dana Perino, April 13)

“[T]here’s no change — the President still has confidence in him.” (Dana Perino, April 20)

“We still fully support him” (Tony Snow, May 9)

Well, maybe we’ll throw him to the sharks.

“Again we support him, but we also know, and he has said that he is willing to be sitting down with members of the World Bank to try to figure out the proper way to serve the best interests of the institution,” (Tony Snow, May 17)

So think of the CEO of a company. supporting a manager (need I even mention Rumsfeld?) long after his expiration date has passed. Think of the CEO of a company who refuses to admit that anything is wrong even in the face of the most blatant difficulties. Would it matter if you want to drink a beer with him? No. Now ask yourself if you want kind of person to be your boss.

Would you work for Wolfowitz? Neither would I. And I wouldn’t want to work for Bush either.

[Aside]
Perhaps the most complete coverage of the internal brouhaha can be found, strangely enough, at Wonkette. (The tone is irreverent but they do tend to get the facts pretty straight – and first) / They love scandals, and scandals about people who have holes in their socks – well let’s just say ecstasy doesn’t describe it. For example, Wonkette is the only online outlet I can find that reproduced the internal e-mail attacking Wolfowitz that got the whole thing rolling in the first place.

Whence cometh evil?

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

Epicurus – Greek philosopher, BC 341-270

Hugs – A YouTube meme

Bubba – Get your gun

I’m not sure which part of this story I find more disturbing,

According to Fox News, a 10 month old baby in Illinois has been issued a Firearm Owners Identification Card.

Daily Southtown columnist Howard Ludwig registered his son —- Howard David Ludwig, nicknamed “Bubba” — online after the child’s grandfather bought him a gun shortly after the baby’s birth. Ludwig chronicled the road to gun ownership in a story that appeared in the Southtown on Sunday.

“Anyone who wants to own a firearm or purchase a firearm needs a FOID card,” Ludwig told FOX News. “I applied for one of these for my son. Now ironically he can’t buy a gun until he’s 18 years old, but if he wants to own one — which he does thanks to Grandpa — he needs one of these cards anyhow.”

The ID card, complete with a photo of the tot, allows the child to own a firearm and ammunition, and legally transport an unloaded weapon, even though Bubba has yet to learn how to walk.

Apparently this was neither a joke, nor an oversite, the father duly gave the weight and height – um – length of the new owner of a 686-model Beretta 12-guage Beretta, a birthday present from his grandfather. After a couple of hiccups (Ludwig didn’t check the citizenship box and didn’t notifiy the police that he was doing the registering), the card duely arrived.

The future NRA’s was also required to sign – well –scribble the card with some form of identifying mark.

Howard Ludwig, the proud father, does have a point though,

Really, there’s no reason why Bubba should not have a FOID card.

The program is designed to keep guns away from convicted felons, those convicted of domestic battery or domestic violence and anyone subject to an active Order of Protection.

My 10-month-old son hasn’t broken any of these rules — yet.

But why would the state police issue a FOID card to anyone younger than 18?

I called the state police, who said they followed the law as it’s written.

“There is nothing in the FOID Act or any of the rules that says anything about age restrictions,” said Lt. Scott Compton, of the Illinois State Police.

But honestly? I don’t know what bothers me more. I’m not sure whether I’m more concerned that Illinois feels 10 month old babies are appropriate firearm owners or the fact that Fox News is reporting this.

The very idea that Fox is pushing this would lead me to be believe this is a legitimate right wing idea. That is just so viscerally wrong, that I have to give the brain-dead clerk at the Illinois State PD, who issued the ID card, a pass.

Of course, perhaps the family is planing to move to Tenessee in the near future where teachers stage fake gun attacks.

Two school employees who staged a fake gun attack on a group of students during a field trip have been suspended, school officials said Monday.

During the last night of a weeklong trip to a state park, staff members convinced 69 sixth-grade students from Scales Elementary School that there was a gunman on the loose. One official has said the exercise was intended as a teaching tool.

At least Bubba would have been able to show them teachers a thang or two!

(Hat Tip: Wonkette)

Mr. Giggles goes to Washington

I didn’t watch Gonzales’ testimony yesterday and haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but my favorite court reporter jurisprudence verbal virtuoso, Dahlia Lithwick, sure makes me want to.

Her discussion of Gonzales latest day of testimony not answering questions sounds priceless. She let’s us know that Gonzales isn’t even trying anymore.

The laugh line comes at the end.

Instead of letting the president throw him under the bus to protect Karl Rove, Gonzales just lies down in the road, then giggles as the bus runs over his head.

That’s him – Alberto Gonzales, aka. Mr. Giggles.

Librl’s Just Another Word for Gay

Well – of course it is.

Didn’t you learn anything from Mike Foley and the invesigative subtitlers at Fox News?

(Hat Tip: BitchPhD)

Time Magazine – Scum of the Week

It was awfully nice of Time Magazine to choose Richard Dawkins to be one of the Times 100 . Apparently they thought it was too nice.

That’s why they chose Michael Behe to write the article. Yes – that Michael Behe,

Of Richard Dawkins’ nine books, none caused as much controversy or sold as well as last year’s The God Delusion. The central idea—popular among readers and deeply unsettling among proponents of intelligent design like myself—is that religion is a so-called virus of the mind, a simple artefact of cultural evolution, no more or less meaningful than eye color or height.

It is a measure of the artful way Dawkins, 66, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford, tells a tale and the rigor he brings to his thinking that even those of us who profoundly disagree with what he has to say can tip our hats to the way he has invigorated the larger debate.

Dawkins had a mild Anglican youth but at 16 discovered Charles Darwin and believed he’d found a pearl of great price. I believe his new book follows much less from his data than from his premises, and yet I admire his determination. Concerning the big questions, the Bible advises us to be hot or cold but not lukewarm. Whatever the merit of his ideas, Richard Dawkins is not lukewarm.

Uh. Time. Was this really necessary? I’m not exactly a Richard Dawkins fan boy but still. Could you have picked someone marginally neutral. You know like Paula Zahn?

Of course they seem to always try to find someone from the ‘Dark Side’ to write these things. That way they don’t end up being too glowing. But still – Michael Behe?

Terrorism, it’s only a problem …

…if ‘mericans are targeted.

Apparently the MSM (WP, NYT, LAT, …) and the blogosphere just about freaked out yesterday when, as Wonkette so aptly put it, the Feds Nixed Dix Six.

Bloggers like Ed Morrissey at Captains Quarters and The Moderate Voice’s Shaun Mullen are wondering if this is just another repeat of the famous Miami mixup.

But that is only a small part of the story. These were foreigners, Albanians and ‘muslims’ (abet with no direct connection to al Quaeda) and are thus big news.

The real story is that this only makes national news if the ‘terrorists’ are *gasp* foreign and the targets American. If they’d have been just a couple of good ol’ boys from Alabama out to kill Mexicans … no big deal. Right?

From the Huntsville Times

Five members of a self-styled militia were denied bail Tuesday after a federal agent testified they planned a machine gun attack on Mexicans, but a judge approved bail for a sixth man.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Armstrong said at a hearing in Birmingham federal court he could not grant bail to the five because of the agent’s testimony and the amount of weapons – including about 200 homemade hand grenades – that were seized in raids Friday in DeKalb County.

“I’m going to be worried if I let these individuals go at this time,” he said.
[…]
During the raids last week, agents recovered 130 homemade hand grenades, a grenade launcher, about 70 hand grenades rigged to be fired from a rifle, a machine gun, a short-barrel shotgun and 2,500 rounds of ammunition, authorities said.

Go back and re-read that last paragraph: 130 homemade hand grenades, a grenade laucher, a machine gun? And the guys planning to hit Fort Dix make the front pages. The arrests in DeKalb County. happened May 2nd.

Um – Folks, can we please take a reality break.

Where were the press releases, the front page headlines, the bloggers terrified of homegrown American militias? Where was Tony Snow Dana Perino pointing out that ATF&E had stopped a terrorist plot?

Was Fort Dix a real plot? Time will tell. Was Birmingham a real plot? Sure looks like it.

Should MSM be ashamed that they are pushing the Fort Dix plot? Look, I have a question for you. Why is America only worried about foreigners, muslims?

There seem to be real terrorist attacks planned and stopped, but no one notices. Just as long as the ‘terrorists’ are Americans.

Isn’t that the real shame?

(Hat Tip: Dave Neiwert/Orcinus)

The Path Leading to a Laneway

Anya Peters is both a very strong person and a someone who has a very long journey both behind and ahead of her.

She first came to my attention through her blog, WanderingScribe about her life, living alone, in her car on at the end of a lane somewhere in England. It was well written, moving and extremely powerful. I have written about her before.

abandoned-anya-peters1.jpgHer book, Abandoned, the Story about a Little Girl Who Didn’t Belong, finally came out at the beginning of the month and I was literally unable to put it down. What I expected was a little background about how she had ended up at the end of her rope and more about what her writing had given her. What I got was an amazingly powerfully written book about how she came to believe that there was no help; there was no one to turn to; no one she could trust. Worse she felt she didn’t deserve any help. It is a story of child abuse, mental, physical and sexual, of abandonment, and eventually betrayal. It is the story of one child’s torturous journey to adulthood.

There were times when the book was amazingly difficult to read, Peters does not hide what goes on behind a smokescreen of innuendo. She clearly and bluntly tells the reader what it is like to be sexually abused before she even understands what is happening. When the abuse is finally exposed, her worst nightmares come to pass, she is separated from the woman she feels is her mother. It is heartbreaking – you will cry.

The tale of abuse explains how she ends up living in her car and to how she came to write a blog. In contrast to the first part of the book, this part is told almost breathlessly, as if it were only half remembered. The tale of her childhood is etched upon her very being. But the struggle to exist once she became homeless – the stress, the cold, the worry, the shame – all conspired to force her to live day to day and to concentrate not on self-reflection, but on survival.

For those interested in the day to day story of how she survived, those tales can be found not in the book but in the blog. It is a tale everyone should also read.

On a personal note, reading this book reminded me of something I have heard Richard Dawkins say repeatedly; that religious education is a form of child abuse. It would be nice if someone would send this book to him. I understand his rhetoric, he wants to shock. But in doing so he merely harms his own cause by belittling the real damage, the absolute hate, that occurs during child abuse. It is one of the reasons I find Dawkins so objectionable. Anyone who reads this book will realise the rage I feel when I hear Richard Dawkins relate religion with child abuse – it is not.

I urge everyone to order this book. Peters has a long journey ahead of her. She must readjust not only to day to day living, the commonplace ecstasy felt simply when standing barefoot on a carpeted floor holding a warm cup of tea, not only the struggle to find a job and healthy companionship. She must learn to trust herself; not to look into her own soul to try to determine what she did wrong, but to accept that others have harmed her.

To get a taste of her writing, you should read her reaction to seeing her book for the first time in a shop. It is very indicative of how she writes,

It was the weirdest thing. I think my heart stopped at least two beats.

I’ve had a copy of that cover pinned to the noticeboard in my room for months now, and it’s here on the blog as well, so the image on the front of the book is very familiar to me by now. But in the shop today, seeing it there for the first time — and a day too soon! — for a moment I was completely disorientated and just stared up at it frowning, thinking ‘what’s that doing there?’ I recognised it as my book, but, for a split second that’s all I did, just recognised it as mine — a possession, something belonging to me. It was almost as if I had left my own copy — which just happened to be in my bag at the time — there on the shelf by mistake. ‘How did that get there?’ my head was trying to say, as my hand almost got ready to grab it off the shelf and put it back into my bag. As soon as my head caught up and I realised why it was there I turned and left the shop without even taking it down to look at it. Very, very odd reaction.

But it’s there, my life in a book on a bookshelf somewhere, and it’s bizarre seeing it, but I was right: it doesn’t belong to me anymore, it’s somebody else’s book now. My life is just a story now, out there with all the other stories. And hopefully now, at long, long last, I can finally be free of it and move on.

I hope she can move on and I wish her the very best of luck.

She is an excellent author and sounds like a wonderful person.