Archive for October, 2010

Russ Feingold knows where Washington, DC is on a map

October 26, 2010

This is just a very funny Onion article “by” Ron Johnson, the challenger to Russ Feingold’s US Senate seat. But seriously, he’s in a very close race. I don’t much care for the Democratic Party as a whole, but Feingold is one of the only high-ranking politicians with any sense at all. He was against NAFTA. He was the one and only Senate vote against the USA PATRIOT Act. He was against deregulation of the financial industry when both parties were for it. And if he loses, it’s going to have this nauseating effect on the news media where they adopt a narrative of progressives being left behind as the country moves even further to the right.

On the other hand, if Feingold wins and the more conservative / corporatist Democrats lose, that will indicate that sticking with real progressive values like Feingold has is a sure way to stay in office for an honest politician.

And by the way, Johnson is against prosecuting child rapists in the Catholic Church.

So please please PLEASE go and help Feingold out. And if you live in Wisconsin, you better fucking vote for him next week.

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Paladino’s love/hate relationship with the press

October 26, 2010

These two tweets were twitterered one after the other this past weekend by Carl Paladino, or maybe his staff.

So why isn’t a NY Sun endorsement a kiss of death for Paladino? I’m no big fan of our one and only major local daily newspaper, but it certainly has more substance to it than the NY Sun. There are probably a lot more New Yorkers alienated by a Sun endorsement than locals here in Buffalo who are alienated by an endorsement from the News. It’s really our only newspaper. There aren’t any readers of the local competition to appeal to in this case because there is no local competition.

It’s unreasonable to expect consistency from a politician like Paladino, especially during the home stretch of a campaign. But seriously – one right after the other? How dumb do you have to be to not notice that? Dumb enough to vote for Paladino, I guess.

Velociraptors will eviscerate us all

October 26, 2010

You guys remember Jurassic Park? OK, do you remember how the discovery of bugs encased in amber inevitably led to a horrible disasters? That’s right; it led to Jurassic Park II: The Lost World and *shudder*Jurassic Park III. But the trivia buffs out there might also remember that it also led to hermaphroditic dinosaurs almost killing Jeff Goldblum.

Now the Wired Science blog is reporting that scientists in India have discovered a whole bunch of amber with 50 million year old insects encased in them. And they might be able to find some DNA of other species within the samples, which they might then be able to analyze. The point being, it’s definitely Velociraptors the Mayans were talking about with their 2012 end of the world business.

Sure, that sounds crazy, especially since Velociraptors went extinct about 25,000,000 years before this amber existed, but who’s to say that there weren’t any 25 million year old bugs back then? Were you there? Then shut up and be afraid of Velociraptors already.

Wired is also claiming that they haven’t gotten any information on non-insect species. FOR NOW. And here’s one of the pics of the ancient bugs:

Please buy our useless junk so you can find nothing

October 26, 2010

Last year around this time of year I made fun of a Sun article which was essentially an advertisement for a theme park which was allegedly “haunted” by the “spirit world.” Since I am apparently very un-creative, I am going to do pretty much the same thing again this year.

But there’s a twist! This year’s Advertisement For Ghost-Related Business Disguised As A News Article (AFGRBDAANA) is from what’s supposed to be a more reputable newspaper, the Boston Globe.  The first problem here is with the headline:

So the obvious question here is this: Why do these gadgets only seem to work for those who already believe in wandering spirits? If they really did reveal evidence of ghosts, then they should help both believers and skeptics alike to find them. The fact that the headline needed to be qualified to apply only to believers implies that these gadgets only provide rationalizations for what the ghost hunters already decided to believe instead of real evidence which would then inform a belief one way or the other.

In the evolution-creationism “debate,” no scientist offers evidence for evolution on the condition that the audience already believe in evolution. The same is true for any other similar controversy. The evidence is supposed to be the basis for belief, not something you search for only after founding an opinion based on emotional whims.

Amateur ghost hunters hope these gadgets, which typically cost less than $100 each, will help them spot ghosts in haunted houses.

Gosh, they’re “typically” less than $100? What a bargain!

That quote above is factually accurate. People who call themselves amateur ghost hunters (as opposed to the really seriously professional ones) really do hope that the equipment will help them spot ghosts. But it’s still another example of a journalist not investigating far enough for fear of appearing “biased.” The job of an actual reporter assigned to a story like this should be to actually find out whether or not the products do as they claim. When Mark Baard puts that question aside, as he does in this article, he steps outside of journalism and into the field of advertising.

“I don’t believe that they detect ghosts, per se,”’ said Belanger… “But they might detect something that’s happened before, during or after a paranormal event.”

Really? How do you distinguish between the two, Mr. Salesman? Baard fails to follow up on this distinction. He just uncritically accepts it at face value. But seriously, why hold back here? Is he seriously trying to inject nuances into his ghost hunting business? I mean, come one, let’s not be ridiculous and claim that we’re detecting ghosts here. That would be nuts! But yeah, sure, events leave paranormal evidence behind which my products can detect. Everyone knows that, right?

Juan Williams, not quite as much of a dick as you’d think

October 25, 2010

I like NPR. A lot. I like NPR probably more than is healthy. But this whole Juan Williams thing is kind of disturbing. He was fired from NPR for comments he made on Bill O’Reilly’s show about the Mohammmedans. Here is the quote as it appeared in the original video edited by ThinkProgress:

I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous. Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.

So that sounds really bad, right? We don’t all start distrusting Christians because of Timothy McVeigh, we don’t all start distrusting Jews because of Bernie Madoff, but apparently it’s OK to distrust Muslims because of al Qaeda? Should Muslims be afraid to rideon a plane with conservative public radio pundits? That’s kind of fucked up. Normal, sane people don’t take one specific group and extrapolate it in order to try to make it representative of a much larger group. That’s crazy.

But the thing is that the end of that paragraph was snipped off by ThinkProgress in their video. Here’s what he said next:

But I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all as President Bush did after 9/11, it’s not a war against Islam.

And then later O’Reilly, who of course has no problem at all with making the exact opposite case as Williams is here in context, tries to goad Williams into agreeing that it really is a war against Islam because “they” attacked us. Here is how Williams responded:

Hold on, because if you said Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals—very obnoxious—you don’t say first and foremost, “We got a problem with Christians.” That’s crazy.

That quote actually sounds a lot like the responses liberals gave to Williams’ out of context quote. But judging from the coverage I’ve seen of the whole affair, it appears that most of them aren’t even aware that Williams was agreeing with them when you read what he had to say in context.

In fact the coverage of these facts was so slim that I had to hear about it on NPR, which brings this post full circle into how awesome NPR is – except apparently in their upper-level editorial decisions. It’s funny how Fox News doesn’t seem to be making that big of a deal of this, isn’t it? I think that’s strange…

The position On The Media takes is that the higher-ups at NPR had been displeased with some of his more out-there statements (for example) and that they had used this instance as an opportunity to fire him for an accumulation of stupid things said by him. It would’ve all gone much more smoothly if they had just waited to shitcan him until the next time Williams actually said something stupid without any further context.

Ugandan newspaper lists their 100 most fabulous gays

October 21, 2010

A Ugandan newspaper called Rolling Stone (no relation to the real, i.e. American, one) published a front-page article listing the 100 most fabulous gays in the country. There’s an unfortunate typo where it says “HANG THEM,” when obviously it meant to suggest that the reader hang with them. That’s why they print the address of the “top homos,” so people can go and hang out with them if they want.

You might remember Uganda as the country which was considering criminalizing homosexuality with capital punishment in some cases, possibly based on interaction with US politicians. So now it’s nice that they’ve put that behind them and are starting to embrace their teh gheys.

What’s not so clear is how the esteemed publication researched the matter insofar as they quantify being a “top homo.” The immediate implication is that they’re referring to those who prefer to “pitch” instead of “catch,” but I’m guessing that’s probably 50% of all teh ghey in Uganda and there’s got to be more than 200 of them in the country.

So they must mean something else by “top homos.” It must be that these guys are really good at it or something, I guess. That must mean the reporters did a lot of research (buttsecks!) in order to compile their list. It’s a good thing that the anti-homosexuality bill isn’t law yet, or else all of their research could be punishable by death.

The Beast is on the Twitter

October 20, 2010

Follow us here.

Astrology-based politics

October 19, 2010

The 2010 mid-term elections has been a massive coming-out party for all kinds of crackpots. HIV deniers, creationists, anti-condom activists, and every other brand of conspiracy theorist have been nominated by their party to run for alarmingly high public offices. Journalists usually try to use reasonable methods to understand this unreasonable trend. At the very least, they try to make it sound like that’s what they’re doing.

But the innovative folks at AOLNews are taking a different path in their political reporting today. A guy who works there (I’m deliberately not calling him a reporter) talked to an astrologer named Shelley Ackerman about the elections and called it an article. Here’s how it begins:

Some swear by astrology. Others scoff at it.

That’s the beginning and end of Barry Weintraub’s investigation into the validity of astrology. It’s not like it’s his job to find out whether or not astrology actually works. That would be biased.

But here’s what’s not biased, for some reason: Pretending that an astrologer’s opinion of US politics is newsworthy.

Traditionally astrologers look to the lunation just before we go to the polls on Nov. 2 (in this case, the Oct. 22 full moon) to determine which party will fare better. And it’s no surprise that the elevation of Jupiter in the chart cast for Washington at 9:37 p.m. favors gains for the GOP, but how many?

Who among us didn’t know that the elevation of Jupiter means a Republican-controlled House? If you raised your hand just now, stop reading this now – for you are ignorant in the ways of astrology. It’s like the first rule: Most gas giants are very conservative. Those of us who were following this last election cycle may recall Saturn’s 2008 racist gaffe on CNN with Wolf Blitzer which many expert astrologers say cost John McCain the presidential election.

Ackerman later turns her focus to the Connecticut Senate race:

I’m having second thoughts about this one. Blumenthal (b. Feb. 13, 1946) was practically a shoo-in before he fibbed about serving in Vietnam. Bad move.

But why didn’t the stars tell her that this was going to happen? I thought this was the whole point of having professional astrologers in the first place. I am shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU that this astrologer only discovered this by reading it in the news instead of reading it from Neptune’s magical aura.

Will Neptune give Blumenthal the same magical aura that it provided for Palin in 2008, or will Saturn in Libra deliver the victory that McMahon has earned (and/or paid for)? It’s Blumenthal’s to lose: One false move and he will.

Come on, Ackerman! Don’t keep us in suspense! I really want to know about that magical aura’s political leanings. Maybe the entry on Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin will provide better information:

Astrologically aligned with the United States’ Aquarian moon, and buoyed by Neptune’s transit in Aquarius since 1998, will their popularity wane when Neptune enters Pisces for the first time (since 1860) in April 2011, or will their influence hold through the presidential election of 2012?

That’s where that entry ends. And then she goes on to another issue. She wouldn’t risk all of her well-deserved credibility on the election. But what else can you expect from a Libra?

I’m not a writer, so please read this

October 13, 2010

Art Robinson (visual approximation)

Last week Rachel Maddow had this amazing interview with a Republican congressional candidate called Art Robinson. He’s a funny guy who reminds me a lot of Lenny Horowitz in both his views and how he presents them. And there’s a lot of funny things to be said about him, but there’s this one line in his campaign ad I wanted to focus on. It’s also on his website:

Send an independent American to Washington, NOT a career politician

Carl Paladino also toes this line along with many other candidates. And it’s not a new thing either. But I seriously don’t get it. What’s wrong with hiring someone for a job with experience?Is there any other job where the fact that a candidate has no experience is a selling point and not a disincentive?

If you want to buy a book, it’s probably a good idea to go to a bookstore. Also, the author of the book should be literate. And if you need surgery, it might be a good idea to go to a hospital with a good surgical team and not someone who’s never been to medical school. If your car won’t start, you take it to a mechanic. You wouldn’t spend your money on someone who doesn’t understand how cars work.

Now one might argue that people distrust politicians more than they do doctors and writers and even mechanics. But there is just as much, if not more hatred for lawyers than there are for politicians.

“Hello, my name’s Josh. I understand you are on trial for murder and require legal representation. You should hire me, because I am NOT a career attorney.”

How many defendants would take that offer? Would you? Of course you wouldn’t. Nobody would. That would be insane, because the cost of losing that case in court is too great. But for some reason enough people make an exception in the case of politics so that a candidate can make the fact that they have no qualifications into a qualification on its own.

This post is about Israel but has nothing to do with the Palestine issue

October 5, 2010

… which makes it a rarity as far as blogs in general go, I guess.

OK so there’s this lesson we here in America ought to take from Israel, and that is that we should fire government officials who are in charge of science education and yet oppose the whole idea of science education. We haven’t had much of this at the federal level lately, but under Bush this was part of this drearily predictable pattern of appointing people to head departments who had the goal of undermining said department.

For example Bush’s Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao never had a labor job. She was always on the side of management. The Department of Justice was staffed with Liberty “University” grads who wanted to replace the Constitution with the Ten Commandments. The EPA was stripped of whistleblower protection, which also kind of undermines the point of having an EPA.

But this isn’t about early 2000s America. It’s about Israel in 2010. So I’ll try to get to the point.

Gavriel Avital was Israel’s chief scientist in its Ministry of Education until recently. He was fired for denying evolution and global warming. In other words he was fired for incompetence.

YNet News claims in its headline that he was fired for questioning evolution, which makes it seem as if he were fired for having an open mind. This seems like an injustice since science really depends on scientists having an open mind and being open to having even our most strongly-held beliefs challenged. But then you skim down the article a bit and you get a more accurate representation of his views:

“If textbooks state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct,” he said.

There are two logical fallacies in as many sentences here. The first is a strawman, since nobody but ignorant creationists claim that evolution means that humans evolved from monkeys. What it means is that humans and other apes share a common ancestor. So since textbooks don’t “state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys,” it’s safe to presume that he wouldn’t want students to “peruse and grapple with other opinions.” But probably not, I’m guessing.

The other logical fallacy is an argument ad populum. From a scientific perspective (and certainly for someone in charge of science education), it doesn’t matter if there are “many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct.” What matters is the evidence. But creationists don’t like to talk about evidence, so they try to make their weird conspiracy theories seem plausible by focusing on aspects of the discussion other than the evidence.

This is something we ought to learn from. It’s OK to fire someone for incompetence, even when their incompetence results from their religious beliefs. That doesn’t interfere with their freedom to believe whatever they want – it only interferes with their ability to get paid for a job for which they are clearly unqualified.

Dennis Markuze / David Mabus

October 3, 2010

So there’s this guy who spams atheist blogs pretty much full time with these incoherent, repetitive and vaguely violent posts. I’ve gotten a few, and it’s kind of amusing. Less amusing are his death threats occasionally attached to his rantings.

Anyway, he managed to get into an AAI conference where he lives in Montreal. He tried to troll it IRL but failed in doing anything but possibly pulling a fire alarm. And then he ran away without talking to any of the people he obsesses over. Oh, and someone got a picture of him, too. This is what he looks like:

What’s funny about this character is that he gives lie to the idea that the only unhinged lunatics who hate atheists are fundamentalist Baptist types. Mabus seems to tie his theology into this ridiculous mix of postmodernism and Marxism – which is funny since Marx was so clearly himself an atheist.