Saturday, December 31, 2005

Who doesn't love Jodie Foster, especially nowadays?

The Washington Post reports on the rehabilitation of John Hinckley:

A federal judge yesterday granted presidential assailant John W. Hinckley Jr.'s request to leave a psychiatric hospital in the District to make several overnight visits to his parents at their home near Williamsburg.

The visits will be the most freedom Hinckley has had since his arrest in 1981 for shooting President Ronald Reagan, press secretary James S. Brady and two law enforcement officers. He has been held at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington since 1982, when he was found not guilty by reason of insanity...

Justice Department attorneys repeatedly raised concerns about whether he is capable of having normal relations with women. Hinckley has told his doctors that he wants more freedom so he can meet women and maybe find a wife.

It was Hinckley's "delusional" obsession with actress Jodie Foster that led him to try to assassinate Reagan. In addition to Reagan and Brady, the gunfire March 30, 1981, wounded D.C. police officer Thomas K. Delahanty and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy. A year ago, the judge declined to loosen restrictions on Hinckley, saying he had questions about his relationship with Leslie deVeau, a former mental patient who was Hinckley's girlfriend for much of the past two decades. Hinckley has since broken up with her, but prosecutors have questioned Hinckley's interactions with other women, especially hospital staff, saying he appears to misread their intentions.

Friedman's ruling yesterday stopped short of giving Hinckley broader freedoms envisioned by his defense team and the hospital. Hinckley's attorneys had hoped for longer visits, up to seven nights, outside the area. The hospital had suggested that Hinckley could embark on other activities during the extended stays with his family, such as seeking a driver's license, looking for employment or getting vocational training, but Friedman said that was premature.

The judge said Hinckley was ready, however, to walk unescorted around his parents' neighborhood for stretches of up to 90 minutes. And he said gardening, shopping and cooking could be suitable activities during the stays.

I understand though the Hinckley and Bush families were friends, according to some reports....

Ah, Jodie Foster...we need people who love you now more than ever...I better not write anything like that...not that there's anything wrong with fans of Jodie Foster...

John McCain is a crackpot...

I can't believe I'm linking to "Professor Bainbridge," but there you are.

HT: Panda's Thumb.

"Uncommon Descent" is "mothballed."

Dembski has really important work to do, evidently.
Well, Dembski, if you ever want to learn about information theory, I'll be here...

Tom DeLay: brought to you by Russian funding...

From the Washington Post:

The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.

During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins.

Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).

The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.

A spokesman for DeLay, who is fighting in a Texas state court unrelated charges of illegal fundraising, denied that the contributions influenced the former House majority leader's political activities. The Russian energy executives who worked with Abramoff denied yesterday knowing anything about the million-dollar London transaction described in tax documents.

Whatever the real motive for the contribution of $1 million -- a sum not prohibited by law but extraordinary for a small, nonprofit group -- the steady stream of corporate payments detailed on the donor list makes it clear that Abramoff's long-standing alliance with DeLay was sealed by a much more extensive web of financial ties than previously known.

Records and interviews also illuminate the mixture of influence and illusion that surrounded the U.S. Family Network. Despite the group's avowed purpose, records show it did little to promote conservative ideas through grass-roots advocacy. The money it raised came from businesses with no demonstrated interest in the conservative "moral fitness" agenda that was the group's professed aim.

In addition to the million-dollar payment involving the London law firm, for example, half a million dollars was donated to the U.S. Family Network by the owners of textile companies in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, according to the tax records. The textile owners -- with Abramoff's help -- solicited and received DeLay's public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs, according to Abramoff associates, one of the owners and a DeLay speech in 1997.

A quarter of a million dollars was donated over two years by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Abramoff's largest lobbying client, which counted DeLay as an ally in fighting legislation allowing the taxation of its gambling revenue.

Such nice moral, patriotic folks these Republicans aren't.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Bush and Pinochet...

George W. Bush, as 2005 comes to a close, increasingly reminds one of a bad Pinochet:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 - The Justice Department said today that it had opened a criminal investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a secret National Security Agency program under which President Bush authorized eavesdropping on people in the United States without a court warrant...

The investigation apparently began in recent days following a formal referral from the agency regarding the leak, federal officials said on condition of anonymity.

The program, whose existence was revealed in an article in The New York Times on Dec. 16, has provoked sharp criticism from civil liberties groups, some members of Congress and some former intelligence officials who believe it circumvents the law governing national security eavesdropping.

President Bush and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales have vigorously defended the program as a legal, critical defense against terrorism that has helped prevent attacks in the United States. They say the president's executive order authorizing the program is constitutional as part of his powers as commander in chief and under the resolution passed by Congress days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks authorizing the use of force against terrorists.

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, told reporters in Crawford, Tex., where the president is on vacation, that Mr. Bush did not request the investigation.

"The leaking of classified information is a serious issue," Mr. Duffy said. "The fact is that Al Qaeda's playbook is not printed on Page One, and when America's is, it has serious ramifications."

Privacy advocates said today that the leak investigation should be set aside, at least for now, in favor of an investigation of the warrantless eavesdropping itself.

"President Bush broke the law and lied to the American people when he unilaterally authorized secret wiretaps of U.S. citizens," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "But rather than focus on this constitutional crisis, Attorney General Gonzales is cracking down on critics of his friend and boss. Our nation is strengthened, not weakened, by those whistle-blowers who are courageous enough to speak out on violations of the law."

Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said his group believes "the priority at this point for the Department of Justice should be the appointment of an independent prosecutor to determine whether federal wiretap laws were violated" by the National Security Agency program.

Of course, the violation of 4th ammendment rights makes the leak look trivial by comparison, and besides, if they cacth the leaker, "defending against a bigger crime" will be the defense, and we can only hope the details are blazed in neon across the land.

Don't worry though if it's not. George W. Bush can't take comfort in the fact that it looks like justice will finally be meted out to Augusto Pinochet:

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - Ailing former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet suffered two legal setbacks on Friday -- he was stripped of his immunity in a fraud case and his house arrest was allowed to extend beyond the New Year's Eve, prompting his lawyer to decry his "unceasing persecution."

Pinochet, who ruled Chile for 17 years after leading a 1973 coup, has been under house arrest since November on a series of human rights charges related to the murder and disappearance of leftists during his dictatorship.

A Chilean appeals court stripped Pinochet, 90, of his immunity from prosecution so he can face new charges for abuse of funds in a $27 million (15.7 million pounds) tax fraud case.

Judges from the Santiago Court of Appeals voted 21-3 to strip the retired general of his immunity for a second time regarding charges related to millions of dollars he allegedly hid in foreign bank accounts.

He can appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Separately, the court said the Pinochet defence team's appeals of the house arrest order were left pending until next week.

George W. Bush can run but he can't hide. Eventually we'll smoke him out. Take the battle to him. Oh, and for the record? "Al Qaeda's playbook is not printed on Page One, and when America's is, it has serious ramifications" is bullshit. When proto-fascists break the law it has serious ramifications, and that's what makes it news. Duffy, go to work for Pinochet.

Conditional Predictions for 2006

What the heck; I might as well make a few:

  • If it looks like the Dems will take at least 1 house of Congress, American large cap equities markets (S&P 500 and Dow) will be up at least 6%; if the Dems take both houses, they will be up at least 10%. But if neither happens, equities will drop 5-10%.
  • The religious right will pick up some cause even more inane than Terri Schiavo, which will either cause George W. Bush supporters to collapse into irrelevance in supporting this cause or cause Bush to finally do a "Sister Souljah" moment with them.
  • The US will slide into recession with a bursting of the housing bubble unless some new bubble can be found.
  • Tom DeLay will cop a plea, and leave Congress.
  • "Scooter" Libby will cop a plea, and Rove will be indicted.
  • The domestic spying case will turn out to have been targetted on at least 2 US journalists, sending the mainstream media (finally) into a well-deserved attack on the Bush regime.
  • Bernanke's tenure at the Fed will, within 6 months, be highlighted by a dramatic drop in the dollar.

Google, blogs, and why both Kos and Hewitt are wrong

I don't know why this thought keeps popping up in my mind; maybe it's because I was too chicken to buy Google when it was $150 a share. But whatever. This triggered the latest recurrence of The Thought. Kos said:

I had a power point presentation which Matt Stoller helped me prepare. In it, I 1) explained what a blog was, with examples of comments, diaries, etc. 2) I said, "Blogs aren't ATMs, they are the beginning of a progressive noise machine. And 3) ignore blogs at your peril, see what happened to Daschle. There was nothing about confrontation or partisanship. I never spoke about strategy...

If I had to guess, I'd say the numbers are closer to 500K people who visit at least once a week. But that's at best an educated guess.

Those numbers are still probably more than the top opinion mags combined, however.

Anyway here's The Thought:

Blogs are "piecework" production of opinions, ideas and news; when accompanied by advertising, the writer is rewarded directly by the amount of click-throughs he gets generally, or the amount of eyeballs that visit the site (if its a big blog).

That's the real threat to the "mainstream media." Blogs screw up traditional media business models. Right wing blogs, like Hewitt's are an attempt to astroturf grassroots sentiment, but Hewitt's nonsense can't stop the upending of the traditional mainstream media business model, and its potential re-consolidation around content creators outside traditional venues.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Why I'm a Buddhist: What about the statues?

As I've noted earlier, one of the outcomes of my recent trip to New York was that it would be useful to put together a series of writings on Buddhism as I experience it. It's my words, not based on anyone's particular orthodoxy nor opposed to anyone's particular orthodoxy. So here's the first installment in a number of posts on the subject...

One of the things that non-Buddhists don't seem to get, especially if they are Christian, is what the statues are in Buddhist temples and what they mean to Buddhists. Like everyone else, Buddhists' opinions on this vary a great deal; and to the Western non-Buddhist, it doesn't help when names like Kwan-Yin or Tara are frequently denoted as "deities." These beings, are clearly not deities in the Western sense of the world; they lack unique personhood for one thing (the Buddhist view is that the "self" is a construct of the mind). In addition, in many temples there are statues of past masters as well. As a general rule of thumb, because of the prevalence of Boddhisattvas, Mahayana temples will have more statues than Theravada temples. The latter will at most have statues of the Buddha, as of course they do not have the Boddhisattva tradition.

Buddhists' use of statues probably did not begin until the Greeks invaded what is today Afghanistan; the first Buddhist statues are notably Greek-looking. The first Buddhist temples were in fact modeled on the tomb of the Buddha - the stupa that evolved into the pagoda in East Asia. This writer is no expert in ancient Western religious traditions, but if memory serves me right the religions of the Greeks and Romans had components of mythic qualities and perhaps personhood ascribed to deities like Apollo (the early statues of the Buddha taken from Transoxiana bear a resemblance to Apollo).

Many Western Buddhists, based on teachings from China and Japan, understand the statues to be representations of universal attributes of Buddha nature; and that these represenations and attributes are not separate from them. Indeed, when one looks at any statue, whatever it may be, it is perceived, and what the perceiver experiences is a confluence of whatever the statue is, how it appears based on the environment in which the statue is situated, and the overall state of the "aggregates" (form, feeling thought, volition, perceptions) of the "person" perceiving the statue.

Thus the statue for a Buddhist practicing mindfulness is a mindfulness of the representation of the form in the midst of the other aggregates of which the person is aware.

Often in Buddhist services and temples one bows or places palms together in front of a statue; this is to acknowledge the experience and accomplishment of those who have practiced the Buddha Way, and to acknowledge this capability from those who bow or place palms together. Buddhanet's FAQ says:

What about Buddhist shrines and images?

The shrine found in Buddhist homes or temples is a focal point of Buddhist observances. At the centre of the shrine, there is usually an image of the Buddha. This image may be made of a variety of materials such as marble, gold, wood or even clay. The image is a symbol that helps people to recall the qualities of the Buddha.

The shrine may also have such objects as a volume of Buddhist scriptures to represent the Dharma. Some shrines may include other items such as images, pictures or photographs of Buddhist monks and masters to represent the Sangha. When a Buddhist stands before a shrine, the objects he sees on it help him to recall the qualities that are found in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This inspires him to work towards cultivating these qualities in himself.

So in this sense it is clear that these statues do not represent the exact equivalent of deities in the Western sense. It is true that there are temples in which people "ask Buddha" for various things, and whether that involved a Buddhist evolution from Hinduism or the other way around is a unresolved matter. What can be said though, is that when someone "asks the Buddha" for some favor, they are not asking something from a being that is separate from themselves; they are in effect making a request from/to their own nature. Or, from another vantage point, the Diamond Sutra says:

(1) Thus have I heard. One morning, when the Buddha was staying near Shravasti in the jeta grove of Anathapindika's estate, He and His company of twelve hundred and fifty monks went into the city to beg for their breakfast; and after they returned and finished their meal, they put away their robes and bowls and washed their feet. Then the Buddha took His seat and the others sat down before Him.

(2) From the midst of this assembly rose the Venerable Subhuti. He bared his right shoulder, knelt upon his right knee, and, pressing his palms together, bowed to the Buddha. "Lord," he said, "Tathagata! World Honored One! How wonderful it is that by Thy mercy we are protected and Instructed! Lord, when men and women announce that they desire to follow the Bodhisattva Path and ask us how they should proceed, what should we tell them?"

(3) "Good Subhuti," answered the Buddha, "whenever someone announces, 'I want to follow the Bodhisattva Path because I want to save all sentient beings; and it does not matter whether they are creatures which are formed in a womb or hatched from an egg; whether their life cycles are as observable as those of garden worms, insects and butterflies; or whether they appear as miraculously as mushrooms or gods; or whether they are capable of profound thoughts or of no thoughts at all, for I vow to lead every individual being to Nirvana; and not until they are all safely there will I reap my reward and enter Nirvana!' then, Subhuti, you should remind such a vow-taker that even if such uncountable numbers of beings were so liberated, in reality no beings would have been liberated. A Bodhisattva does not cling to the illusion of separate individuality or ego-entity or personal identification. In reality, there is no "I" who liberates and no "they" who are liberated.

So the "referants" of the statues - the beings that the statues represents - are themselves not separate from those who pay homage to the beings or make requests, in the Mahayana tradition. To me, this seems somewhat more rational and "obvious" than the way in which statues are used in Christian churches. One might ask, then why have statues at all? That answer would lead to a discussion on forms for Buddhist practice and "worship," which, as you might have guessed from the quote marks, bears no resemblence to what Christians would call "worship." But that's a subject for another post...

Good read on Venezuela


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Good quote for the day...

I always love quantum physics, not because I'm a Buddhist and there's horrendous things said about the two things. No, I like quantum physics because it's elegant.

Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna said that he thought, "The world is not as real as we think.

"My personal opinion is that the world is even weirder than what quantum physics tells us," he added.

Any world in which George W. Bush is one of the most powerful men in it has to be pretty strange...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Progressive Mind Contrasted with the Conservative Mind.

As I had mentioned previously, this article by Jeffrey Hart deservers a response. Actually, the whole edition of the Wall Street Journal deserves a response; I never quite get why they don't like workers, but this article stands out in its disdain for individual liberty, and its own "utopianism," that in itself show that conservatism as these folks practice it is as dangerous at least as the Communism of Brezhnev. So without further ado, here's my thoughts on Jeffrey Hart's take on the "conservative" mind and how it contrasts with (my) progressive mind...

In "The Conservative Mind" (1953), a founding document of the American conservative movement, Russell Kirk assembled an array of major thinkers beginning with Edmund Burke and made a major statement. He proved that conservative thought in America existed, and even that such thought was highly intelligent--a demonstration very much needed at the time.

It was "needed" I guess because somebody would pay for (remember the Olin Foundation and all that?), and because the nasty accomodations to labor that had happened in Europe and to a lesser extent in Japan might have happened in the United States. Oh, yes in 1950 we had "lost" China - as though it was ours to begin with or at least as though it was ours rightfully after defeating Japan's imperialist ambitions...oh, whatever...and as for Korea, well, below I guess we'll pay no attention to the fact that the UN intervened in Korea against the Communists, but whatever...

Today we are in a very different and more complicated situation. Nevertheless, a synthesis is possible, based on what American conservatism has achieved and left unachieved since Kirk's volume. Any political position is only as important as the thought by which it is derived; the political philosopher presiding will be Burke, but a Burke interpreted for a new constitutional republic and for modern life. Here, then, is my assessment of the ideas held in balance in the American Conservative Mind today.

This sounds - and has sounded to moderates and progressives for a while, at least as far back as the 80s- to be an echo of the type of rhetoric we've heard from Marxists. The similarity to it is always remarkable.

Hard utopianism.
During the 20th century, socialism and communism tried to effect versions of their Perfect Man in the Perfect Society. But as Pascal had written, "Man is neither angel nor brute, and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the brute." In abstract theory was born the Gulag. One of conservatism's most noble enterprises from its beginning was its informed anti-communism.

This itself is a crude abstraction both of Communism and Socialism, but also a crude abstraction of any thought centrist and leftist. We can agree that "in abstract theory was born the Gulag," but we can also see that from its beginning- remember the John Birch Society, remember Father Coughlin, and yes, never forget the conservatism's historic ties to Fascism and Nazism- conservatism's militance against liberal and libertarian thought has been present.

Soft utopianism. Both hard and soft utopianism ignore flawed human nature. Soft utopianism believes in benevolent illusions, most abstractly stated in the proposition that all goals are reconcilable, as in such dreams as the Family of Man, World Peace, multiculturalism, pacifism and Wilsonian global democracy. To all of these the Conservative Mind objects. Men do not all desire the same things: Domination is a powerful desire. The phrase about the lion lying down with the lamb is commonly quoted; but Isaiah knew his vision of peace would take divine intervention, not at all to be counted on. Without such intervention, the lion dines well.

So here- if we are to take Hart at his word- "Conservatism" has always been opposed to a straw-man. Even Franklin D. Roosevelt in pursuing the New Deal admitted that he was experimenting, to see what works. The shorter version of this paragraph is "We're realists! They're not!" but in making this claim "conservatism" ignores the great thinkers of the center and left, as well as traditions outside of its own narrow western-centric sphere.

Conservatism can only make this claim provided the reader has no idea about what existentialism was, or postmodernism, or even what
Madhyamika Buddhism is

The nation. Soft utopianism speaks of the "nation-state" as if it were a passing nuisance. But the Conservative Mind knows that there must be much that is valid in the idea of the nation, because nations are rooted in history. Arising out of tribes, ancient cosmological empires, theocracies, city-states, imperial systems and feudal organization, we now have the nation. Imperfect as the nation may be, it alone--as far as we know--can protect many of the basic elements of civilized existence.

It follows that national defense remains a necessity, threatened almost always by "lie-down-with-the-lambism," as well as by recurrent, and more obviously hostile, hard utopianisms. In the earliest narratives of the West, both the Greek "Iliad" and the Hebrew Pentateuch, wars are central. Soft utopianism often has encouraged more frequent wars, as it is irresistibly tempting to the lion's claws and teeth. The Conservative Mind, most of the time, has shown a healthy resistance to utopianism and its various informing ideologies. Ideology is always wrong because it edits reality and paralyzes thought.

Progressives and liberals have never disputed that there was a role for nations in the world in which we find ourselves, and that we need to defend ourselves. But what we have noticed, and to which conservatives have never even lip service, except for Reagan at the brink, was that nations must be able to pull back from the brink of utter annihilation or we will go over that precipice. We must attempt to make peace, even though we're flawed, even though we might be cheated because the alternative might be mass suicide.

Constitutional government. Depending on English tradition and classical theory, the Founders designed a government by the "deliberate sense" of the people. The "sense" originated with the people, but it was made "deliberate" by the delaying institutions built into the constitutional structure. This system aims at government not by majorities alone but by stable consensus, because under the Constitution major changes almost always require a consensus that lasts over a considerable period of time. Though the Supreme Court stands as constitutional arbiter, it is not a legislature. The correct workings of the system depend upon mutual restraint among the branches. And the court, which is the weakest of the three, should behave with due modesty toward the legislature. The legislature is the closest to "We the people," the basis of legitimacy in a free society. Legislation is more easily revised or repealed than a court ruling, and therefore judicial restraint is necessary.

The absurdity of this paragraph is breathaking, but subtle, so let's coax it out: Conservatives believe that the Civil War never happened, that our "constitutional" structure would have solved the problem, that it didn't matter that untold slaves suffered, it didn't matter that the Klan ran rampant, it didn't matter that religious minorities' had lesser liberties than religious majorities. As for this progressive, I realize that there are indeed flaws in the US constitutional structure, and that they were put in to "seal the deal" between the free and slave states, and that the structure of the US constition was such as to favor wealthy interests over middle class and poorer classes. If you don't like the judiciary getting involved over seeing that the middle classes and poorer classes get whatever scraps of liberty this constitution entitles them to, then give them the liberty to which they're entitled. But otherwise, quit whining.

Free-market economics. American conservatism emerged during a period when socialism in various forms had become a tacit orthodoxy. The thought of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman informed its understanding of economic questions. At length, the free market triumphed through much of the world, and today there are very few socialists in major university economics departments, an almost total transformation since 1953. But the utopian temptation can turn such free-market thought into a utopianism of its own--that is, free markets to be effected even while excluding every other value and purpose . . .

. . . such as Beauty, broadly defined. The desire for Beauty may be natural to human beings, like other natural desires. It appeared early, in prehistoric cave murals. In literature (for example, Dante) and in other forms of representation--painting, sculpture, music, architecture--Heaven is always beautiful, Hell ugly. Plato taught that the love of Beauty led to the Good. Among the needs of civilization is what Burke called the "unbought grace of life."

So the free market is a god unless it interferes with an abstract notion of "beauty?" Huh? Progressives and liberals understand that the "free market" is an abstraction and is often used to swindle others. Period. People want to be able to earn a good living, to be healthy, and to make as many of their own decisions as possible, but they live with others.

Religion. Religion is an integral part of the distinctive identity of Western civilization. But this recognition is only manifest in traditional forms of religion--repeat, traditional, or intellectually and institutionally developed, not dependent upon spasms of emotion. This meant religion in its magisterial forms.

What the time calls for is a recovery of the great structure of metaphysics, with the Resurrection as its fulcrum, established as history, and interpreted through Greek philosophy. The representation of this metaphysics through language and ritual took 10 centuries to perfect. The dome of the sacred, however, has been shattered. The act of reconstruction will require a large effort of intellect, which is never populist and certainly not grounded on emotion, an unreliable guide. Religion not based on a structure of thought always exhibits wild inspired swings and fades in a generation or two.

This was one of the most interesting passages of the article to me, since it takes an implied swipe at Evangelicals as well as religious progressives and of course, Jews.

To "conservatives" then, there is no place for Buddhism, Taoism, Deism, Islam, Judaism, as well as Pentacostalism, Quakerism, and atheism and agnosticism, no matter how well informed or developed. Why? Because Jeffrey Hart said so.

Hart goes on to talk about how the right to life movement is "utopian," but to me it seems Hart's heart isn't in it, but he suspects that his position is open to precisly the attack I make here: conservatism is every bit as ideological is the straw-men ideologies it purports to attack.

Wilsonianism. The Republican Party now presents itself as the party of Hard Wilsonianism, which is no more plausible than the original Soft Wilsonianism, which balkanized Central Europe with dire consequences. No one has ever thought Wilsonianism to be conservative, ignoring as it does the intractability of culture and people's high valuation of a modus vivendi. Wilsonianism derives from Locke and Rousseau in their belief in the fundamental goodness of mankind and hence in a convergence of interests.

Again, we're supposed to forget that it was the UN that went up against the North Koreans, and it was the UN that eradicated small pox, and it was the UN that did the successful Gulf War I, and it was the UN that has intervened in places to actually stop bloodshed.

There's more in Hart's article that attempts to fault the Republican party for not being PC from a conservative point of view, but it's irrelevant to my points here.

In summary then, with its own ideology and abstraction and selective reading of history, as well as its ad hoc justifications for its existence masking its real purposes for its existence, "conservatism" is an ideology, and one that seeks not to improve the lot in which we find ourselves, but to keep a status quo, even if that status quo is George Orwell's vision of a boot stomping on a human face for eternity.

A quickie post on upcoming items and random thoughts...

  • Getting back from NY, I read this article in the Wall Street Journal on the
    "Conservative Mind." It begs a response, and both that article and my response, IMO deserve to be seen and read juxtaposed against each other. In short, this article exposes why conservativism is intellectually untenable, and why there is such a thing as a progressivism distinct from the straw-man carricature of "liberalism," if not whatever genuine liberalism is.
  • From the above issue of the WSJ: economic trends: this year the US was the lousiest place to invest money all other things being equal, with the possible exceptions of the stock market in China taken as a whole (though FXI did well this year) and Venezuela. Pretty much everywhere else was head and shoulders gangbusters over the US. Emerging markets are trading places with energy, but little of it seems to be going to large cap US stocks, which to me says, that US equities will basically on the average remain in the dumpster until there's a change in policy in the US. But of course, you can't blame things like policy on Republicans, can you?
  • Aphorism gleaned from an airport bookstore and an airline restroom: People may decry the 60s and hippies and all that, but frankly, Hot Tuna's album entitled "First Pull Up Then Pull Down" has a far better title, in my opinion, than "Seinlanguage." But that's just me...
  • How can the US deny it tortures people when you can't find a parking space in downtown Flushing, Queens when you have to relieve yourself?
  • Tip for relieving yourself in downtown Flushing, Queens: while the churches are invariably closed, the Buddhist temples are open during the day. And their monks and nuns are indeed compassionate.
  • Because of all the family I met on this trip, it's clear that it'd be useful to put together a book, based on a series of posts (what else?) on "Why I'm a Buddhist." It amazes me how educated people for example, mistake images of Buddhas for western-like "deities," although they tend to lack things like omniscience, separateness, etc. So some simple explanation is needed. Heck, maybe it'd be an American Buddhist version of "Mere Christianity," which would actually suck; I can't pretend to speak for anyone other than myself, and usually not with a great deal of eloquence or profundity.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

More nonsense from the right...

It's Christmas Day, my wife and son are asleep, and while waiting for them to awake with a lousy cold likely picked up from a kid in a movie theater, I came upon this gem from the NY Times:

While attending a Pennsylvania Republican Party picnic, Jennie Mae Brown bumped into her state representative and started venting.

"How could this happen?" Ms. Brown asked Representative Gibson C. Armstrong two summers ago, complaining about a physics professor at the York campus of Pennsylvania State University who she said routinely used class time to belittle President Bush and the war in Iraq. As an Air Force veteran, Ms. Brown said she felt the teacher's comments were inappropriate for the classroom.

The encounter has blossomed into an official legislative inquiry, putting Pennsylvania in the middle of a national debate spurred by conservatives over whether public universities are promoting largely liberal positions and discriminating against students who disagree with them.

George W. Bush has been an unmitigated disaster for America, and it will be up to historians to judge just how close to the bottom his presidency will be put. But one thing is clear: Acadamic freedom demands that nobody muzzle academics. Especially if they don't like George W. Bush.

My doctoral thesis advisor was a survivor of a concentration camp, being a Jew from Lvov. I remember once in class he went on a digression for quite a few minutes, and invoked the company I.G. Farben, manufacturers of Zyclon-B, with the words "the bastards!" attached to it.

He was a generous man who had a very hard life, and I would never want him or anyone like him muzzled because some knee-jerk conservative idiots want don't like criticism of Dear Leader. If they want a country like that they should move to North Korea.

Harmonic Convergence: Christmas, Family, Evolution...

Despite the shrillness and whining of the Bill O'Reilly types, everyone appropriates a bit of Christmas in their own way, regardless of religion. And so it is with myself and my family, attempting to negotiate our way past the past in the present. It is Christmas, and for this Buddhist this means mindfulness of the fact that there is so much to not cling to, including not clinging to not clinging.

Yesterday, I brought my wife and son to the American Museum of Natural History, retracing a similar trip that I had when I was about 5 years old. I didn't understand much of the stuff there when I was a kid and neither did my son, but it clearly sparked something in me; a fascination with physics and science that continues to this day.

I was deeply honored to have the opportunity to bring my son to such a place; probably most American kids never see it. I was deeply honored to show my son where I grew up, where I was born, my history, his history.

And yet, despite all the emotion of it all - and a greater appreciation of my parents, who were crazy enough to take 5 or 6 kids into New York in the winter to do this sort of thing- I noticed something else.

As one sees from places like the Evangelical Outpost, (see also here) the blogosphere is chock full of people who are either unintentionally or willfully ignorant of basic science. The shrillness and arrogance and intellectual and other kinds of dishonesty that permeates this type of militance against science is astonishing. But it's about 100 or so years too late.

Claude Shannon developed information theory back in the 40s; in the 50 + years since then there have literally been tens of thousands of papers written on the subject and innumerable texts. (Of course Shannon wasn't alone; he had help from folks like Neyman and Pearson and Fisher and Kullback, Kolmogorov and a host of Russians, but if I were to add in statistical inference, that puts in about 10 years on the subject). In a nut, the theory's well developed.

And so it is also for evolutionary biology. The thing that any unbiased observer sees as he traverses the halls of the American Museum of Natural history is the sheer amount of detail and the currentness of the explanations of the exhibits. The unanswered questions are out there as well, not hidden away or denied. There is an abundance of transitional forms. There are very well developed theories about the taxonomy of dinosaurs. The very layout of the building's exhibits itself is mapped into the taxonomy of the evolutionary tree.

So what I said for information theory applies even more so to evolutionary biology. Despite the rantings of the fringe, and despite the attempts of the media to keep people ignorant (by presenting "balance" in the "debate" or "controversy" between "Intelligent" "Design" and evolutionary biology), any visitor to the AMNH can see what I saw. Just because of a few fringe nuts doesn't mean evolutionary biology is going away any time soon. That cat's been out of the bag for over a hundred years now, and despite the attempts of folks like the "Discovery Institute," it ain't going back.

They are, however, doing serious damage to the children by keeping them ignorant of evolution.

But rest assured, the folks of New York will still head over to 79th and Central Park West and be awed by the scope of science.

And I'll be bringing my son back again.

I wish everyone a peaceful holiday today, and everyday.

Friday, December 23, 2005

"Get me an engineer. Get me someone who understands Ohm's Law"

Such was the response of a colleague when told to do extremely stupid things by a hack engineer who was put into his job because a certain owner of a certain company didn't think that Civil Rights laws were good things.

But I had a similar response that day when I approached that colleague's manager and asked him a very simple question: if you transmit a bit sequence that flips the bits with probability = 1/2, can you design a coder to reliably transmit the sequence?

The answer, of course is "no."

But of course that grand wizard of "Intelligent" "Design" William Dembski ...well, he could have seen eye-to-eye with my colleague's manager:

How much energy is required to impart information? We have sensors that can detect quantum events and amplify them to the macroscopic level. What’s more, the energy in quantum events is proportional to frequency or inversely proportional to wavelength. And since there is no upper limit to the wavelength of, for instance, electromagnetic radiation, there is no lower limit to the energy required to impart information. In the limit, a designer could therefore impart information into the universe without inputting any energy at all.

This is just so wrong on so many points that it's wrongness is breathtaking. Not only as RBH observes:

That is, Dembski invokes a zero-energy (and therefore zero channel capacity) infinite wavelength (and therefore unfocusable) communication channel. One also wonders what sort of modulation of a zero-energy infinite-wavelength signal would encode the ‘information’.

But there's the problem of noise. Does Dembski deny that there is not noise involved in the channel involving the transfer of information for evolution? Of course he doesn't; elsewhere he (wrongly) argues that this noise carries no information (I wouldn't let him near any coder or radio design). But overcoming noise takes energy.

Moreover, I won't go into how sensors detect quantum events, but to put it briefly, it ain't the quantum events themselves that are being detected, because that would of course change the quantum events.

I had been on hiatus for a few days, but seeing this tripe from Dembski on Panda's Thumb, and folks on Evangelical Outpost defending this tripe, well, I had to put up something...

I feel better already

No more transit strike today.

So far so good.

Now the only thing is multiple competing demands for time.

Ah, well...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Transit Strikes, Blogging, and Christmas....

I will be in NY for the next few days and should resume semi-regular blogging by Tuesday or so.

In the meantime, ponder this:

For a day, maybe, it felt like a communal challenge, a dare to New Yorkers to demonstrate their pluck and ingenuity. But by yesterday, the reality of a transit strike had wiped away any sense that this was an adventure. It was an annoyance, a hardship, a source of suffering...

The economic burden was felt citywide, but there were other costs, too - hundreds of thousands of children missing school, commuters spending extra hours shuttling to work and back, and pervasive fear of how long this will go on.

"This should be our biggest week, but I had to shut down my business," said Olga Diaz, owner of Olga's Salon in the financial district in Lower Manhattan. "If it wasn't for the strike, I would be back to back, maybe 30 clients a day through here, but yesterday I had only one, and today only two. I could lose $3,000 worth of business this week."

The hairdressers in that shop, like Maria Lozano, earn only on commission. So no work, no pay. Ms. Lozano, who lives in Queens, was unable to get to work on Tuesday. So on Tuesday night, she left her children with her mother and went to her boyfriend's home on Staten Island. She commuted to work by ferry yesterday, but there was little to do.

"I still have to buy a lot of presents, and I'm stuck," she said. "I don't have any money."

Well, I would say that maybe just maybe Ms. Lozano might just be learning the First Noble Truth of Christmas: it doesn't go as planned, cannot be planned, and is so permeated by crass materialism and base instincts that to expect it to be anything other than disastrous is to court a severe letdown, whereas anything beyond a disaster has got to be enjoyable at least.

And so it is with my upcoming trip.

But first to Ms. Lozano I say, "Tear up that Christmas list." Free yourself.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bush must be impeached.

Impeachment is not only "back," but is absolutely necessary, and remember, if he's impeached there'd be a trial in the Senate, so if those who think it's no big deal and he's innocent anyway, why be afraid of a trial?

Ron Hutcheson writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers that "some legal experts asserted that Bush broke the law on a scale that could warrant his impeachment.

"(TM)'The president's dead wrong. It's not a close question. Federal law is clear,' said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and a specialist in surveillance law. 'When the president admits that he violated federal law, that raises serious constitutional questions of high crimes and misdemeanors.'

"There's little enthusiasm for impeachment in the Republican-controlled Congress, but few lawmakers have rallied to Bush's defense."

Here's commentator Jack Cafferty on CNN yesterday: "If you listen carefully, you can hear the word impeachment. Two congressional Democrats are using it. And they're not the only ones."

Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter writes about the spying program : "This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974."

This spying on our citizens is big stuff...

I heard Lowry on Fox News trying to justify this crap, saying that "maybe he didn't have probable cause" in trying to defend this lawlessness.

Earth to Lowry: if he didn't have probable cause he had no lawful justification to spy on US citizens.

So, if it's a Dem Congress in 06, impeachment is pretty certain. I guess the Repubs can run on a slogan of "Our guy is guilty, and vote for us if you don't want him brought to justice."

Freedom of Religion MUST Imply Freedom of Blasphemy

Thanks to this article at National Review, and thanks to Google, and PZ Meyers, I came across this blasphemous edit of the Passion of the Christ. And if you don't like that, remember, I don't like having creationists going around trying to spend taxpayers' money. As for me, though, yeah, I laughed out loud and long...

Those Dover board members shouldn't just be investigated for perjury. When they racked up those legal fees they were committing a wrongful act against the people of Dover PA, and in effect violated the civil rights of non-fundamentalists.

And that is truly blasphemous.

Dembski's smarter than I thought...

His colleague Luskin still doesn't get it. When you're in a hole, Luskin, stop digging.

In case you didn't realize it, when something is litigated, the court is obligated to make findings of fact.

You clowns made these issues for courts to make findings of facts by coming up with this silly "Intelligent" "Design" pretense in the first place.

Great summary article on the Dover case...

Thanks to Larry Lord, a voice of reason over at Evangelical Outpost (see the comments!), for bringing this article in the Skeptic to my attention.

Here's a snippet, where Michael Behe is torn apart on the stand:

It was clear that the defense had their work cut out for them to undercut this powerful testimony. It was also clear, as the defense began presenting its experts, how much the withdrawal of Dembski, Meyer, and Campbell had hurt the TMLC’s ability to mount a strong defense. They began with Michael Behe, a biochemist from Lehigh University and the author of Darwin’s Black Box. His testimony would continue for the better part of three days as the defense tried to establish the scientific credibility of ID. Unfortunately for the defense, it would also provide fertile ground for the plaintiffs to undermine that credibility.

On the stand, Behe tried to establish that his book had been subjected to peer review, one of the bedrock processes of vetting the credibility of scientific writings. He testified that his book had undergone even more thorough review than a normal journal article would have because of the controversial nature of the subject. He specifically named Dr. Michael Atchison of the University of Pennsylvania as one of the book’s reviewers. But NCSE’s Matzke remembered an article written by Atchison in which he stated that he had not reviewed the book at all but had only held a ten minute phone conversation with the book’s editor over the general content. When the plaintiffs’ attorney introduced this article during cross-examination, it was clearly a blow to Behe’s claim that his book had “received much more scrutiny and much more review before publication than the great majority of scientific journal articles.”

The cross examination of Behe also undermined the credibility of his testimony in several other ways. One of Behe’s central claims has been that there is no serious scientific work or progress on how complex biochemical systems like the flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system could have evolved, and he testified as much. Plaintiffs’ attorneys, in a Perry Mason-like flourish, pointedly dropped dozens of peer-reviewed books and journal articles about the evolution of such systems in front of him; Behe admitted that he had read virtually none of them. They also questioned him about a paper he had written in 2004, widely regarded by creationists as a peer-reviewed pro-ID paper. That cross examination established that, despite the fact that he and his co-author had essentially rigged the parameters of the simulation to make evolution as unlikely as possible, biochemical systems requiring multiple unselected mutations — the very type of system he claims could not have evolved in a stepwise fashion — could evolve in a relatively short period of time.

The article points out the idiocy of the Dover school board by their explicitly religious intentions, and the Pandas and People mad-libs of "creationism" and "intelligent" "design."

I think it's obvious now why Dembski et al. reputedly wanted their lawyers present at their depositions. If Dembski had been on record at all on this, it would have been the end of the line for his faux information theoretic gravy train.

So he likely needed a way of obscuring things.

And so it continues now. Clearly Dembski's cryptic comments are likely related to the fact that he could actually be deposed in a future case. Heck, I'd have called him as a plaintiff's witness. So Dembski's smart enough by now to realize that the "lesson of Dover" is don't put your creationist agenda on record.

Thing is, if you don't put your creationist agenda on record, nobody's going to believe you're a "real" creationist, so you have to put something out there.

And Dembski's already got enough out there to sink him, in my opinion; as the article points out Dembski's reported to have said“Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

That not only lets the cat out of the bag in a religious sense, but also in showing that "Intelligent" "Design" is not a science; any information theorist knows that real information theory doesn't have squat to do with metaphysics.

Little Dick-taters...

Random thoughts while I hear a recent spewage by McClellan at a press conference. Lots of projection here.

Dick Cheney, according to somebody at a recent White House press conference, has stated that he wants to turn the clock back to before Watergate, when Nixon stated things like he could do whatever he wanted.

Thus we see that the "War on Terrorism" is an act of terrorism itself.

Scotty McClellan is an embarassment for the United States of America.

We need to know all the details of the spying on Americans immediately. The "enemy" to these people is not bin Laden (that's our enemy) their enemy is us.

George W. Bush is a destabilizing force in a strategically important part of the world- our country. By advancing freedom in the United States, and helping to remove George W. Bush from power (legally) we are ensuring the safety of America.

Scotty McClellan's taking Helen Thomas and he's just repeating shit at random, in a way that's completely unrelated to what she said.


This diary at Kos explains why these thoughts came into my head; there's only so much bullshit a mind can take at a time.

And other righty agument bites the dust


WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 - A surveillance program approved by President Bush to conduct eavesdropping without warrants has captured what are purely domestic communications in some cases, despite a requirement by the White House that one end of the intercepted conversations take place on foreign soil, officials say.

The officials say the National Security Agency's interception of a small number of communications between people within the United States was apparently accidental, and was caused by technical glitches at the National Security Agency in determining whether a communication was in fact "international."

Telecommunications experts say the issue points up troubling logistical questions about the program. At a time when communications networks are increasingly globalized, it is sometimes difficult even for the N.S.A. to determine whether someone is inside or outside the United States when making a cellphone call or sending an e-mail message. As a result, people that the security agency may think are outside the United States are actually on American soil.

Vice President Dick Cheney entered the debate over the legality of the program on Tuesday, casting the program as part of the administration's efforts to assert broader presidential powers.

Eavesdropping on communications between two people who are both inside the United States is prohibited under Mr. Bush's order allowing some domestic surveillance.

But in at least one instance, someone using an international cellphone was thought to be outside the United States when in fact both people in the conversation were in the country. Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program remains classified, would not discuss the number of accidental intercepts, but the total is thought to represent a very small fraction of the total number of wiretaps that Mr. Bush has authorized without getting warrants. In all, officials say the program has been used to eavesdrop on as many as 500 people at any one time, with the total number of people reaching perhaps into the thousands in the last three years.

Mr. Bush and his senior aides have emphasized since the disclosure of the program's existence last week that the president's executive order applied only to cases where one party on a call or e-mail message was outside the United States.

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the former N.S.A. director who is now the second-ranking intelligence official in the country, was asked at a White House briefing this week whether there had been any "purely domestic" intercepts under the program.

"The authorization given to N.S.A. by the president requires that one end of these communications has to be outside the United States," General Hayden answered. "I can assure you, by the physics of the intercept, by how we actually conduct our activities, that one end of these communications are always outside the United States."

It ought to be rather easy to tell whether a call was inside or outside the US.

The plot thickens...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Nonsense on the right over eavesdropgate:

Powerline and Republican shill Hugh Hewitt don't expect you to read the fine print that Jonathan Alter reasonably provides (without asking the obvious question of why the Times story didn't run earlier, and therefore they interfered with the election):

The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists—in fact, all American Muslims, period—have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations. Bush claimed that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.

No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.

What is especially perplexing about this story is that the 1978 law set up a special court to approve eavesdropping in hours, even minutes, if necessary. In fact, the law allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact. Since 1979, the FISA court has approved tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests and rejected only four. There was no indication the existing system was slow—as the president seemed to claim in his press conference—or in any way required extra-constitutional action.

This will all play out eventually in congressional committees and in the United States Supreme Court. If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment introduced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.

So the idea that they didn't have time was nonsense, as was any implication that this was a "special one time" deal. This was a systematic violation of the law.

It's time for Bush to go, and that hopefully means to prison.

Must read on the rapidly growing "eavestropgate" scandal.

"You do not fuck with your own people."

Another benefit of Republican leadership:

Crippling transit strikes in NY.

Who can forget John V. Lindsay?

Advocates of rationality win one....the "Intelligent" "Design" ruling

Yes, "Intelligent" "Design" is not science. And a court agrees.

The prohibition against the establishment of religion applies to the states
through the Fourteenth Amendment. Modrovich v. Allegheny County, 385 F.3d 397, 400 (3d Cir. 2004); see also Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 49-50 (1985). The parties are in agreement that an applicable test in the case sub judice to ascertain whether the challenged ID Policy is unconstitutional under the First Amendment is that of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), (hereinafter “the Lemon test”). See Edwards, 482 U.S. 578 (applying Lemon test to strike down
Louisiana’s “Creationism Act”); see also Epperson, 393 U.S. 97 (considering the purpose and the primary effect of an Arkansas statute forbidding the teaching of evolution in public schools). Defendants, however, object to using the endorsement test, first arguing that it applies only to religious-display cases and most recently asserting that it applies to limited Establishment Clause cases, including a policy or practice in question that involves: a facially religious display, an overtly religious group or organization using government facilities, the provision of public funding or government resources to overly religious groups engaged in religious activity, or the permission of an overtly religious practice.

After a searching review of Supreme Court and Third Circuit Court of
Appeals precedent, it is apparent to this Court that both the endorsement test and the Lemon test should be employed in this case to analyze the constitutionality of the ID Policy under the Establishment Clause, for the reasons that follow.

Since a majority of the Supreme Court first implemented the endorsement
test in County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989), the Supreme Court and the Third Circuit have consistently applied the test to all types of
Establishment Clause cases, notably cases involving religion in public-school settings. In Santa Fe Independent Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000), the Supreme Court applied the endorsement test to school-sponsored prayer at high school football games. In Santa Fe, the Supreme Court clearly defined the endorsement test by noting that “[i]n cases involving state participation in a religious activity, one of the relevant questions is ‘whether an objective observer, acquainted with the text, legislative history, and implementation of the statute, would perceive it as a state endorsement of prayer in public schools.’” Id. at 308.
The Supreme Court then provided a more concrete explanation of how the test functions in the public-school context, explaining that:
School sponsorship of a religious message is
impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to
members of the audience who are nonadherents ‘that they
are outsiders, not full members of the political
community, and an accompanying message to adherents
that they are insiders, favored members of the political

Id. at 309-10 (quoting Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 688 (1984) (O’Connor, J., concurring)). In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639, 652-53 (2002), the Supreme Court applied the endorsement test to a school-voucher program. In Good News Club v. Milford Cent. Sch., 533 U.S. 98, 118-19 (2001), the Supreme Court applied the test to a school district’s policy regarding a religious student club meeting on school property. In Mitchell v. Helms, 530 U.S. 793 (2000), and Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203 (1997), the Supreme Court applied the test to
programs providing governmental aid to parochial schools. In Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia,

So the defendents wanted to attack Lemon v. Kurtzman...

But here's where the court got it right (that is, once they applied Lemon); and here's where I've been arguing against this nonsense for quite some time:

The court in McLean stated that creation science rested on a “contrived dualism” that recognized only two possible explanations for life, the scientific theory of evolution and biblical creationism, treated the two as mutually exclusive such that “one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution,” and accordingly viewed any critiques of evolution as evidence that necessarily supported biblical creationism. Id. at 1266. The court concluded that creation science “is simply not science” because it depends upon “supernatural intervention,” which cannot be explained by natural causes, or be proven through empirical investigation, and is therefore neither testable nor falsifiable.

And, to my delight, the court actually nails down this non-scientist Philip Johnson:

Phillip Johnson, considered to be the father of the IDM, developer of ID’s
“Wedge Strategy,” which will be discussed below, and author of the 1991 book entitled Darwin on Trial, has written that “theistic realism” or “mere creation” are defining concepts of the IDM. This means “that God is objectively real as Creator and recorded in the biological evidence . . .” (Trial Tr. vol. 10, Forrest Test., 80-81, Oct. 5, 2005; P-328). In addition, Phillip Johnson states that the “Darwinian theory of evolution contradicts not just the Book of Genesis, but every word in the Bible from beginning to end.
Well, maybe if they pack the Supreme Court with extremists this might not stand, but hopefully they'll filibuster Alito.

Panda's Thumb has its take here.

"Conservative" "Christian" Joe Carter, recycling again, puts up a post that seems to attack "Intelligent" "Deisgn."

Ed Brayton's take is here.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The thing to remember about the latest Bush scandal:

David Sirtoa nails it:

The truth is, domestic surveillance operations happen all the time. They are such a part of our culture, they are a regular topic of television shows and movies (think Serpico or Stakeout). But they are also governed by the U.S. Constitution's 4th Amendment, which explicitly protects citizens against "unreasonable search and seizures" and requires the executive branch to obtain a warrant from the objective judiciary branch in order to do surveillance operations.

So the question reporters should be asking the White House isn't why the president thinks there should be domestic efforts to track and stop terrorists. The vast majority of Americans think that. The question reporters should be asking is "Why did the President order domestic surveillance operations without obtaining constitutionally-required warrants?" That is behavior that most Americans who believe in the Constitution likely do not support at all.

Make no mistake about it - this is an especially poignant question considering that, under the Patriot Act's weakened standards, the government can now circumvent the traditional (and more rigorous) judicial system and obtain a warrant directly from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Remember, this is a court almost completely skewed in favor of the government. As Slate Magazine correctly noted, getting a warrant from that judge requires "no need for evidence or probable cause" and the judge has almost no authority to reject the government's request for a warrant, unless the government's request are extraordinarily outlandish. It is why, as Josh Marshall reports, the government's own data shows that "in a quarter century, the FISA Court has rejected four government applications for warrants." It is also why Members of Congress of both parties have tried to repeal the Patriot Act sections that allow the administration to use FISA warrants for domestic surveillance.

In his defense, the President has tried to deflect attention by repeatedly saying he needed to order these operations to protect Americans. Fine – but it still doesn't answer the real question. If the surveillance operations he ordered were so crucial and so important to protecting our country, how come he didn't get a warrant? Surely something so critical to our security would have easily elicited a warrant from a FISA court already inclined to issue warrants in the first place, right?

And that gets us right back to the most important question: why would the President deliberately circumvent a court that was already wholly inclined to grant him domestic surveillance warrants? The answer is obvious, though as yet largely unstated in the mainstream media: because the President was likely ordering surveillance operations that were so outrageous, so unrelated to the War on Terror, and, to put it in Constitutional terms, so "unreasonable" that even a FISA court would not have granted them.

This is no conspiracy theory - all the signs point right to this conclusion. In fact, it would be a conspiracy theory to say otherwise, because it would be ignoring the cold, hard facts that we already know.

Yep. The burden of proof at this point is for the Bush apologists to 'splain this one. If the hurdle's (deliberatley set) so low, the only reason they would want to avoid the hurdle is that they simply couldn't meet it; the logic is inexorable.

And that pretty much tells you all you need to know about it.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The First Noble Truth of Christmas:

Nobody gets what they want.


A puff piece on Mannheim Steamroller?

Ye gods, my upcoming trip to New York is not looking very auspicious at the moment...I'm not a fan of Mannheim Steamroller, and therefore I mourn the trees that were sacrificed to make this:

What he has done out in the sticks is corner a market. "Chip Davis owns Christmas," says Sean Compton, programming vice president of Clear Channel Communications, which owns more than 1,200 commercial radio stations. "He is the Christmas king." Years ago, Mannheim Steamroller surpassed Elvis Presley as the top-selling Christmas artist of all time; even those who've never heard of Mannheim Steamroller have most likely heard its music. This year, more than 160 radio stations around the country have switched to an all-Christmas music format during the holiday season, some beginning as early as the first week of November. Mannheim Steamroller dominates those radio playlists, with as many as 15 songs in regular rotation on some stations. If you've wandered down a department-store aisle in the last few weeks, Davis's versions of "Silent Night" or "Deck the Halls" have probably drifted into earshot. The music is strange: a hodgepodge of rock rhythms, blipping synthesizers, Renaissance instrumentation and orchestral extravagance - a big, bright and, even by Christmas standards, fearlessly schlocky sound that Davis has called "18th-century classical rock." In Davis's reworked carols, the showy time-signature changes and keyboard passages of 70's progressive rock rub up against lutes, cornemuses and other 15th-century instruments; classical piano filigrees and gusty Muzak strings rise over a thudding backbeat.

For years, critics have savaged this music, dismissing Mannheim Steamroller as "the Lawrence Welk of New Age." "I've read some of the headlines, things like 'Commercial Musical Stew,"' Davis says. "All I know is that 15,000 people came to my concert, and I saw them stand up. And they weren't standing up to leave."

I like them almost as much as Thomas Kinkade musical snowy globes.

Ah, but let us rather sing the praises of the Chia pet, which is actually less bothersome than Mannheim steamroller.

Let us return to the simpler days of the Salad Shooter.

Or is that too violent?

I know a really off-color joke involving a certain digestive tract malady, which features the aforementioned product as a punchline, but I won't be repeating it here.

I only wish there was such a joke about Mannheim Steamroller.

Uh-oh, Sunday New York Times Tibetan Buddhism...

Whatever the depth of support this has in the Tibetan exile community, and despite the author's misapprehension of "true Buddhism," this doesn't look good:

A true Buddhist is expected to bear with equanimity the prospect of an endless exile, but Tsundue's friends spoke approvingly of violence as a possible means to Tibetan freedom. One talked of the "many Chinese embassies in the world that could be targets," naming possible sites with disturbing precision. Another interjected: "Look at Palestine and Israel. Such small places compared to Tibet, but the world pays them so much attention because of the Intifada, the suicide bombers and Osama bin Laden. What has nonviolence achieved for the Tibetan cause, apart from some converts to Buddhism in the West?" The passionate voices of the Tibetans echoed in the small cafe. But they knew, and it was easy to see, that violence does not come easily to a Buddhist. Walking up a steep mountain path earlier that evening, I saw one of Tsundue's friends stop to pick up an ant and place it gently to one side, out of harm's way.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Impeach, try, convict, and punish the perp

Atrios sums it up:

  • FISA makes it a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, to conduct electronic surveillance except as provided for by statute. The only defense is for law government agents engaged in official duties conducting “surveillance authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order.” [50 U.S.C. § 1809]

  • Congress has specifically stated, in statute, that the criminal wiretap statute and FISA “shall be the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.” [18 U.S.C. § 2518(f)]

  • The target of a FISA wiretap is never given notice that he or she was subject to surveillance, unless the evidence obtained through the electronic surveillance is ultimately used against the target in a criminal trial.

I had seen, via, an English documentary saying that al Qaeda is much less than it's cracked up to be, that like the Soviets in the 70s & 80s, this threat is more pumped than you can imagine, only orders of magnitude worse.

I'll be having more to say on that.

6 degrees of separation does not a clear link make.

Otherwise, I'm guilty of killing the Kennedys.

Which I'm not.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Leo Strauss & the Neocons...

This guy (lyson or Iyson?) explains it all for you.

Valerie Plame: the gift that keeps on giving...

Bye bye Bob Novak.

Your bad comb-over and your worse politics will not be forgotten.

Harmonic Convergence of the War on Christmas, New Spying Allegations, and a Failed I-Tunes Search

They're destroying our culture, bit by bit, the righties...

But I still remember this:

This next song we're going to dedicate to a great American
organization. Tonight I'd like to dedicate this to our boys
in the FBI.

Well, wait a minute. It's hard to be an FBI man. I mean, first
of all, being an FBI man, you have to be over 40 years old.
And the reason is that it takes at least 25 years with the
organization to be that much of a bastard. It's true. You just
can't join, you know. It needs an atmosphere where your
natural bastardness can grow and develop and take a
meaningful shape in today's complex society.

But that's not why I want to dedicate the song to the FBI. I
mean, the job that they have to do is a drag. I mean, they have
to follow people around, you know. That's part of their job.
Follow me around.

I'm out on the highway and I'm drivin' down the road and I
run out of gasoline. I pull over to the side of the road. They
gotta pull over too - make believe that they ran out, you

I go to get some gasoline. They have to figure out whether
they should stick with the car or follow me. Suppose I don't
come back and they're stayin' with the car.

Or if I fly on the airplanes, I could fly half fare because I'm 12
to 22. And they gotta pay the full fare. But the thing is that
when you pay the full fare, you have to get on the airplane
first, so that they know how many seats are left over for the
half fare kids. Right? And sometimes there aren't any seats
left over, and sometimes there are, but that doesn't mean that
you have to go.

Suppose that he gets on and fills up the last seat, so you can't
get on. Then he gets off then you can get on. What's he gonna

Well, it's a drag for him. But that's not why I want to dedicate
the song to the FBI.

During these hard days and hard weeks, everybody always
has it bad once in a while. You know, you have a bad time of
it, and you always have a friend who says "Hey man, you
ain't got it that bad. Look at that guy." And you at that
guy, and he's got it worse than you. And it makes you feel
better that there's somebody that's got it worse than you.

But think of the last guy. For one minute, think of the last
guy. Nobody's got it worse than that guy. Nobody in the
whole world. That guy...he's so alone in the world that he
doesn't even have a street to lay in for a truck to run him over.
He's out there with nothin'. Nothin's happenin' for that cat.

And all that he has to do to create a little excitement in his
own life is to bum a dime from somewhere, call up the FBI.
Say "FBl?", they say "Yes", say "I think Uncle Ho and Chair-
man Mao and their friends are comin' over for dinner" (click)
Hang up the phone.

And within two minutes, and not two minutes from when he
hangs up the phone, but two minutes from when he first put
the dime in, they got 30,000 feet of tape rollin'; files on tape;
pictures, movies, dramas, actions on tape. But then they send
out a half a million people all over the entire world, the globe,
they find out all they can about this guy.

'Cause there's a number of questions involved in the guy. I
mean, if he was the last guy in the world, how'd he get a dime
to call the FBI? There are plenty of people that aren't the last
guys that can't get dimes. He comes along and he gets a dime.

I mean, if he had to bum a dime to call the FBI, how was he
gonna serve dinner for all of those people? How could the
last guy make dinner for all those people. And if he could
make dinner, and was gonna make dinner, then why did he
call the FBI?

They find out all of those questions within two minutes. And
that's a great thing about America. I mean, this is the only
country in the world...l mean, well, it's not the only country
in the world that could find stuff out in two minutes, but it's
the only country in the world that would take two minutes
for that guy.

Other countries would say "Hey, he's the last guy...screw
him", you know? But in America, there is no discrimination,
and there is no hypocrisy,'cause they'll get anybody. And that's
a wonderful thing about America.

And that's why tonight I'd like to dedicate it to every FBI
man in the audience. I know you can't say nothin', you know,
you can't get up and say "Hi!" cause then everybody knows
that you're an FBI man and that's a drag for you and your

They're not really your friends, are they? I mean, so you can't
get up and say nothin' 'cause other wise, you gotta get sent
back to the factory and that's a drag for you and it's an
expense for the government, and that's a drag for you.

We're gonna sing you this Christmas carol. It's for all you
bastards out there in the audience tonight. It's called "The
Pause of Mr. Claus".

Why do you sit there so strange?
Is it because you are beautiful?
You must think you are deranged
Why do police guys beat on peace guys?

You must think Santa Clause weird
He has long hair and a beard
Giving his presents for free
Why do police guys mess with peace guys?

Let's get Santa Clause 'cause;
Santa Clause has a red suit
He's a communist
And a beard, and long hair
Must be a pacifist
What's in the pipe that he's smoking?

Mister Clause sneaks in your home at night.
He must be a dope fiend, to put you up tight
Why do police guys beat on peace guys?

Arlo Guthrie is an American patriot, even if he is a litterbug.

Fun with Google Scholar...

Yes, Virginia, there is absurdity in academia; for example, consider the cornucopia that results when you input "lesbian feminist Marxist hip-hop" into Google Scholar.

And the folks at Panda's Thumb (rightly) wonder why America's losing its edge in the sciences.

Raw Story on its track record.

Read it here.

Consider why Drudge never puts out anything like this.

Makes you glad there's no flag burning amendment...

You can't make stuff like this up.

WASHINGTON -- Saying Christmas is under attack, Virginia Rep. Jo Ann Davis sought passage Wednesday night of a resolution expressing support for "the symbols and traditions of Christmas."

The largely symbolic resolution, scheduled for a House vote as early as today, triggered a partisan culture clash in the House chamber. Conservative Republicans applauded the measure, but many Democrats criticized it as religiously insensitive...

Her resolution, if adopted, would put the House on record as supporting the use of Christmas symbols and traditions, while opposing "attempts to ban references to Christmas."

"It was just something that was burning inside me," Davis said in an earlier interview.

"At what point did Christmas become so offensive?"

But many Democrats protested the resolution, saying that Congress has no business praising one religious holiday over others.

"I'm offended by this," said Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., who's Jewish. "You've drawn me out. Why not protect my symbols?"

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y, asked Davis to amend her resolution to include symbols of other holidays, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but Davis refused.

"The attack has not been on the menorah or any symbols of the other religions," Davis said, referring to the Jewish candelabrum used to celebrate Hanukkah.

"I will leave it as the resolution stands."

The divisive public battle appeared to surprise Davis, a Republican and member of the Assembly of God church.

"I didn't realize there would be some opposition, but apparently, there is," she said before the House floor debate.

An amended version of her resolution, which expressed support for Christmas symbols "for those who celebrate Christmas," did little to dampen the opposition.

"You can always tell when the right wing is in trouble," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., who's Presbyterian. "They invariably cook up some kind of culture war."

Yep, these people want special rights for Christians.

Why not express support for those who ridicule religions?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Maybe they are getting "democracy" in Iraq

From the Guardian:

Up until now, Iraq's political parties have been able to whip up enough enthusiasm to turn every dinner conversation to politics, but not this time. After spending most of September having rows about the constitution, in the Pax household we seem to be happy to ignore politics and just do chitchat. On the street there doesn't seem to be much interest in the elections either. A note for future "democracy-advancing projects": fast-tracking democracy means you also fast-track political apathy.

The only people who are excited at the prospect of new elections are the politicians themselves. Iraq's independent electoral commission has registered more than 400 political entities, both parties and independent individuals. The number of participants is so overwhelming that the national TV station has decided to impose a strict three-minute length on all party-political broadcasts. Even so, if all 400 entities take their three minutes, it will mean 20 hours of mind-numbing electioneering.

Kinda like "democracy" in the US these days, where about 1/2 of everyone who can vote doesn't, likely because they don't want to encourage anyone. Which is why, despite all the prognostications of pollsters saying the demographics for the Dems are difficult, I still hope for democracy in the USA: people do get pissed off and put that to good use every so often.