Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Links of Interest

Political Links
More on the Bailout: Here.
Dumb Loans

Links of Interest
Fusion Man: Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here.
Element Collectors
Bailout Guts Science Funding?
More snow on Mars and here
Kid on Jetpack
Rocket Bike
Things to do with Coca Cola
Dolphin Obesity
Tomb Raiders
When Glaciers Retreat
Bacterial Training
Save the Planet: Eat more Kangaroo

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Post Turtle

This was so good I'm just putting it up as is:

While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75-year old Texas rancher whose hand was caught in a gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Sarah Palin and her bid to be a heartbeat away from being President.

The old rancher said, "Well, ya know, Palin is a post turtle."

Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a post turtle was.

The old rancher said, "When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle."

The old rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor's face, so he continued to explain. "You know she didn't get up there by herself. She doesn't belong up there. She doesn't know what to do while she is up there. You just wonder what kind of dumb ass put her up there to begin with."

Political Links

McCain/Palin's Anti-Science Views
When Atheists Attack
Candidates' Stance on Environment and Energy
Whoppers of 2008
Fact Check Wire

Links of Interes
Bacteria protect against type I diabetes: here. here. here. here.
Non-Explosive Fertilizers
Underwater Kite Power
Carbon Calculators

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Post Fact Society of Planet GOP

"The Post Fact Society". This brilliant term was created as far as I know by Farhad Manjoo and brought to my attention by John Gordon's blog entry. Gordon also talks about it here.

Essentially, if you go over the entires of FactCheck.org (among other places) you start to see a pattern in this election. Both candidates spin the facts to their own advantage but, by and large, the crown for bald face lying (and even lying about lying) lies with the McCain campaign.

What is so strange about this for me is that he is running a campaign about character. Both he and Palin are both liars. Yet, it seems to be working.

The lies are right in the heart of the rhetoric the right has been believing for decades. Right from "Reagan was the bestest president ever" to "There really are weapons of mass destruction out there. Honest. Believe me. I'll hold my lips still so you'll know I'm not lying." Since the lies conform to the rhetoric they are taken as gospel truth.

From what I can tell, a lot of the people who are supporting any of the candidates have parked their brain at the door.

For example, in a recent poll, "White women shifted from an eight-point pre-convention edge for Obama to a 12-point McCain advantage now."

What? The sound you hear is my jaw hitting the floor.

I mean, let's think about this. Let's look at Hillary who's interested in universal health care, getting out of Iraq and about as right wing as she is an armadillo. Now, let's look at Palin: creationist woman asking people to pray for her gas pipeline and thinks the war in Iraq is a task sent down by God. (Don't take my word for it. She said it herself. See here and here.)

Now, anyone who has an IQ over that of the average asperagus can see these are two completely different political points of view. It's clear which one I'm in favor of but that's not the point. This is every bit as different as Obama and McCain.

So, this means one of two things:

1) The voting constituencies that shifted never listened to either candidate
2) The voting constituencies that shifted didn't care what the candidate said or stood for. It's a woman and I'm voting for her.

In either case, the facts make no difference.

It gets even worse. The Bush campaign in 2000 was a diabolically brilliant network of lies and deception. The 2004 campaign was even more brilliant-- who would have thought that winning a medal in Viet Nam could become a liability? As articulated in South Park: When Hell wants something done in the living world it does what it has always done. It uses the Republicans.

But the lies coming out of the McCain/Palin ticket are silly lies. False on the face of it. Able to be shown as lies by the merest of efforts. Not even credible to the most casual of observers. And that's just the ones they say about themselves. The ones they say about Obama are real whoppers.

Yet, people believe them. Swallow them quicker than a brookie for a dry fly.

I don't have a problem with McCain/Palin's political views. I don't subscribe to them but so what? I have my own reasons for going with Obama and they don't involve color.

But these shenanigans make me realize for the first time the scale of the problem those of us that attempt rational thought have to confront.

It's why the Discovery Institute is so successful in convincing hearts and fails so miserably in a court of law. Hearts are won by faith and love. But you need to be able to actually think to win a court case or write a scientific paper.

The Republicans like to create myths of their recent heroes. Reagan, instead of being saved from being responsible for truly impeachable offenses by suffering from Alzheimer's, is the great president all subsequent presidents should emulate. Bush the First, though nasty as hell, actually proved himself capable of pulling together a real coalition of the willing and deserves far more praise than his bumbling predecessor. His son, however, created a coalition of the copted and got us trapped in a war that sure didn't look like Viet Nam when he started. That didn't stop him. He made it into one anyway.

Myths don't need facts to support them.

You can't say from the campaign whether a candidate will be a good president or not. What you can say about presidential politics is they show the character of the candidates and that will inform the style of the presidency. Whatever they do in office will reflect the character of how they campaigned.

Eisenhower had a fairly formal but low key campaign and had a similar presidency.

Kennedy was rougher on his opponents and was all about looking graceful when he threw the sucker punch. That's they way he governed.

Johnson wanted to be everybody's Good Ole Boy. Didn't work very well.

Nixon-- well, you get what you pay for.

Carter campaigned on moral authority. But it didn't play well for him in the White House.

Reagan campaigned on gentility. He slept through most of his presidency.

Bush the First was every bit as nasty as Nixon. He started the current pattern of sleazy lying of Republican campaigns. Well, he lied. But he lied well.

Carter was slick willie and he was (I hear) hung for it.

Bush lies every time he opens his mouth. Once president, he tried to make everybody else lie like he did. Or at least spout the same lies. Poor Powell. He was torn to pieces trying to manage it.

Now: Instead of a president that spins, do you want a president who is so two faced he'll create lies that insult your intelligence?

Well, 47% of you do.
Links of Interest
DIY for Mad Scientists
The Triassic Marine Reptiles
Carnival of Space
Squirrel Smasher
Democrats, Lighten Up
Wonderkammering again
Plastic Logic
Container Based Computing
The Sleeping of Elephants. And others.
Possible Breast Cancer Vaccine
Hacking the Big Bang Machine
Creationism in Britain
Gasp! Republicans Don't Like Media to Question Palin

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Problem of Irrational Thinking

(Cartoon from the blog of James F. McGrath, here)

It's easy to dismiss irrational thinking.

Someone goes into a school and murders some kids. We think, what a tragedy. That's terrible. He must have been nuts. My kid/wife/mother/father would never do anything like that.

We preserve our own perception of ourselves by marginalizing the perpetrator.

When a large number of people do the same thing. Or people who are obviously not crazy, we marginalize them differently. If a large number of suicide bombers blow away civilians, we say either they're misled by something evil or or evil themselves.

The words "crazy" or "evil" now become a label, a box into which we can safely put an incomprehensible act and no longer think about it.

Recently, a young girl killed herself because she thought the world was coming to an end because the Large Hadron Collider was coming on line. See the link here. Thousands of people in east India are rushing to temples to pray and fast to prevent the end of the world. No doubt those that run the temples will take credit when the world doesn't (didn't, since it's now 9/12 and the collider came on line 9/10). No doubt, also, many westerners will dismiss their anguish as misguided. Probably many of those same westerners will then write their congressmen that evolution should not be taught in schools since it is so clear we didn't descend from apes. (In point of clarification: we didn't descend from apes. We are apes. But that's another column.)

The point I'm trying to make (and which was probably made better here) is that irrational or uncritical thinking is not benign. Whether it drives supporters of Hillary Clinton to support Sarah Palin on the mere biological fact both are women or prevents parents from vaccinating their children to protect them from polio because they think their children might become autistic, uncritical and irrational thinking have consequences. People make bad choices. Some of those bad choices are fatal. We lose thousands to quackery worldwide. (See here.) We lost nearly three thousand people on 9/11 due to uncritical acceptance of an irrational idea. (See here.) We lost over four thousand Americans and well over a hundred thousand Iraqis in an irrational response. (See here.) We might lose millions or billions (I am not exaggerating here) worldwide if we ignore the issues of global warming as alarmist or misguided.

We don't like to think critically. It hurts our pride and our self esteem.

But to not do so smacks of hubris.

And could be fatal.

Links of Interest
The Stroking Nerve
The Evolution of Hands and Feet
Wolves for Obama
Higgs Boson! $9.75! Buy Now!
The Edge of Research in Microbiology
My Favorite Dinosaur: Parasaurolophus
Lies Anti-Evolutionists Told Me and here
Who Did 9/11?
Educational Attainment Scores by State
How Dinosaurs Won the West
Lost Bid for World Speed Record for a Wind Powered Car Blamed on Global Warming
Uncritical Thinking Kills
Madonna and Horsefly
Contaminated Soil Cleanup by Earthworms

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Bridge to Planet GOP

On Planet GOP things come into existence fully formed as imagined in the Mind of GOP. The absurdity of the thing is unimportant. GOP can imagine anything. GOP is in charge of the debate.

Change means no change. Somewhere means nowhere. Support means denial. References to facts checked by FactCheck.org reference no fact from FactCheck.org.

Let us consider the Gravina Island Bridge. Something that must be important since it is in every speech Sarah Palin has made. Usually more than once.

Ketchikan is the fifth most populous state in Alaska. The Ketchikan Airport is on Gravina Island. The only means by which the Ketchican Airport can be reached by the rest of the state of Alaska, other than by plane, is by ferry. It can't run year round.

The bridge was to be pretty damned long and pretty damned big. It might have been useful. Might not. We'll never know.

October 2005, a proposal surfaces to shift the bridge funds to help support aid to Katrina. Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens opposes it. Congress strips the specific earmarks for federal funds but doesn't reduce the allocation of federal money for Alaska. It still gets about 12% of its money from the feds.

September 2006, Sarah Palin runs for governer. She supports the bridge. It's part of her campaign platform. At this point, on a T-Shirt held up, Nowhere, Alaska is introduced, Nowhere being a euphemism for Ketchikan. The term "Bridge to Nowhere" is created.

October, 2006: Sarah Palin says about the bridge: "I would like to see Alaska's infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now - while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist." (See here.) Later that month she is criticized for supporting the Knik Arm Bridge, the Gravina Island Bridge and other projects instead of rebuilding the Parks Highway. She is noted as being consistently in support of all project. (See here.)

November, 2006: Sara Palin wins the election.

August, 2007: Alaska's DOT is leaning against the bridge for cost reasons and towards alternative ferry options. The federal funds for the bridge have been delivered. Public support turns against the bridge.

September, 2007: Sarah Palin redirects the project. (See here.) Much of the money given for the bridge is retained.

There are liars, damned liars, statisticians and Republican candidate speak.

But never on Planet GOP.

Links of Interest
Diatomic Light
My Vote for Ugliest Bird on the Planet and here
Creationism. Again. Or Why I really Love Living in a Blue State
Ghandi Pills
Gamma Burst Aimed at Earth: Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here.
Self Surgery. This is nasty.
God Particle and here.
NASA's Future Forum: Boston
The 24 Hours Pedometer
The Singularity via Neuroengineering
Neal Stephenson reads from Anathem
Classical MP3s for Purchase
Inheritance of Herpes
Ancient Southwest Art
More on Neanderthals

Seventh Anniversary of 9/11

9/11 From Space

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The View from Planet GOP

Once when I was visiting my Dad I found him listening Rush Limbaugh on the radio.

(If I subscribed to the Anne Coulter school of essays I would be referring to him as Rush Limburger-- oh, wait. That's reserved for Liberals. It would be Saint Rush.)

Now my Dad wasn't what you would call a conservative. As far as he was concerned, Roosevelt and Truman pulled him up out of the farm and put him in a nice engineering job. So listening to Rush was a surprise.

"So, Dad," I said, trying to be nonchalant. "What the Hell is this?" Subtle. I'm good at subtle.

He looked me straight in the eye and said: "You got to keep an eye on bozos like this."

Which is why I subscribe to various conservative newsletters.

Sarah Palin is a rather nondescript right wing republican. Shethinks Creationism should be taught in schools and has exhorted her constituents to pray for the new Alaskan gas pipeline. Personally, I think the pipeline is a good idea provided it follows environmental guidelines. I just don't think the Big Hairy Thunderer needs to be bothered with sweating the small stuff.

It did not bother me to hear about her pregnant daughter-- I thought it interesting that the daughter of an avowed proponent of abstinence education is unmarried and pregnant. It reminded me of the old joke: What do you call a user of the rhythym method of birth control? Pregnant. You can update it to abstinence education as an exercise in creativity.

So, though I expected some heat in my mailbox from the right, I was a little surprise by Pat Buchanan's article. Here are a few quotes:

What did Sarah Palin ever do to inspire the rage and bile that exploded on her selection by John McCain?

What inspired Pat Buchanan to think there was any? Rage and Bile? Huh. Maybe a little from Hillary supporters who thought selection of Palin was so cynical as to be insulting. But rage and bile? Not so much. He goes on to list a lot of irrelevant or untrue information about Palin that had pretty much nothing to do with any rage and bile. It's worth checking out Anne Kilkenny's letter regarding Palin's actual record. It's been pretty well verified.

No. Sarah Palin is not resented for what she has done, but for who she is: a Christian conservative who believes unborn children are gifts of God, even those with birth defects, and have a God-given right to life.

Well, Duh. She's exactly what we expect from the Repulicans. She's a right to lifer Christian conservative that does not let facts sway her from a higher truth. But Rage and Bile?

Yet, no sooner was Palin introduced, than the media went berserk over the news that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. As one in three births in America is out-of-wedlock and Hollywood celebrates this lifestyle, why did The New York Times and The Washington Post splash this "news" on page one above the fold?

Again, duh. This is the same country that brought up the same material with Giuliani, hunted down Gary Hart and looks in on the Bush girls. Remember Clinton getting impeached for getting a Hummer in the Whitehouse? What makes Palin deserve special treatment?

How does Bristol Palin's pregnancy disqualify Sarah Palin to be vice president? Why is it even relevant?

It's not but then, nobody but Pat suggests anyone thinks it is.

Normally, the press is reluctant to rummage into the private lives of public servants, unless their conduct affects their duties or they preach virtues they hypocritically do not practice.

At this point I realized that Pat Buchanan was not on this planet. This was Planet GOP, where the media is made up of foaming liberals, the democrats are traitors and the single bastion between the Blessed United States and complete ruin, along with the ruin of the entire world, is the Republican Party.

Consider the next few quotes:

Sarah ran her own fishing fleet, was mayor for six years and runs the largest state in the union.

  • Palin helped in Todd Palin's salmon fishing. This happens once a year and he declared income from it (and from BP) of $92,790. Must be a pretty small fleet. Maybe an rowboat and a trolling motor.
  • Check out Anne Kilkenny's letter regarding Palin's experience of mayor.
  • Well, yeah. Largest area with the least population. Alaska averages slightly less than 1 person/square mile. It's also a state that is incredibly subsidized. Look at the Alaska Revenue Source Book of 2007 (under Palin's leadership). Page 3. Total state revenue: $12.3 billion. Source, federal: $2 billion. Oil, $5.2 billion. That means the more than half of the income from Alaska comes not from its citizens but from federal subsidy and oil taxes on oil corporations. Far be it from me to criticize taxing Big Oil but this is the same sort of economy as Saudi Arabia and Iran and about as self-sufficient. What it really indicates is that the rest of the country (and the world) subsidizes Alaska in buying oil. Alaska doesn't pay its own way. In no way does this prepare a candidate for being president of a country the must learn to be self-sufficient. This is negative executive experience. It's better to have no experience than this.
I don't want Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from being president. I don't hate her. I'm not angry at her. I listened to her speech and I don't think she's much of a speaker. I actually read her speech and I find it pretty vapid, content free and about as inspring as an Ann Coulter article. The hype around the speech bears no resemblance to the speech's content. Read Obama's speech here if you want content.

But informed debate and differing opions between equals has no place on Planet GOP.

So: Pat the B sees rage and bile. I don't see it. At least, I see no more than might be directed at someone, like, say, Pat Buchanan.

Wait a minute. Maybe she is Pat Buchanan! I've never seen the two of them together. Their ancient and hidebound ideas are the same. The vapid phrases are similar. She looks better but we live in the days of miracles and wonder and photoshop.

Anything is possible on Planet GOP.

Links of Interest
Anne Kilkenny's Letter
More on Tardigrades in Space
The Mutable Brain
LHC: Here. Here. Here. Here.
Worst Headline of the Week
Memory Maps
Solar Sailing on Solar Panels
More on Neanderthals
The Making of a Terrorist
The End of the World: Why We Love It