Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The importance of cultural knowledge

I was looking through the headlines at, as I often do, and I saw this headline, Husband charged over Pc's murder. I thought, "Gee, that's odd. Someone was charged because they killed a personal computer?" When I clicked on the article I quickly realized the error of my thinking. In the United Kingdom, a "Pc" is a police constable. It just goes to show that even if another country speaks the same language as you, they may not be speaking the same language as you. Cultural knowledge really is important.

Not good for PR

BBC News - US accused on 'missing' prisoners
Thirty eight people believed to have been held in secret CIA prisons - or black sites - are missing, according to a report by a US human rights group.

[. . .]

The group has asked US President George W Bush to reveal the location of these detainees and close all US black sites.
These are actually pretty strong allegations, considering that "missing" (used as a verb not an adjective) people is a practice generally associated with Third World authoritarian regimes.

However, what strikes me about the claim is that they don't seem to produce any hard evidence that the prisoners were ever in US custody. The argument seems to come from the story of a former prisoner.
Palestinian Islamic extremist Marwan al-Jabour told HRW he saw or spoke to a number of those named in the report while he was held by the CIA between 2004 and 2006.
I don't know if they have anything else they are basing their suspicions on or not.

Can you imagine?

NYT - DreamWorks Posts Loss
DreamWorks Animation SKG, the studio behind animated movies like “Shrek” and “Madagascar,” said Tuesday that it swung to a fourth-quarter loss on costs to write off “Flushed Away,” which performed poorly at the box office.
Can you imagine that? Flushed Away did poorly at the box office? Every time I see one of the those commercial I just cringe. Just the concept of the movie is gross. Okay, maybe little boys won't be deterred by that fact, but little girls will and so will moms.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A few answers to my questions

In a post yesterday, I mentioned a story from the BBC about the Discovery Channel's upcoming documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus. The article mentioned DNA testing, but gave no explanation of what DNA was tested and what it was compared to. A story in today's NYT gives a little more information. Crypt Held Bodies of Jesus and Family, Film Says
However, the documentary’s director and its driving force, Simcha Jacobovici, an Israeli-born Canadian, said there was enough mitochondrial DNA for a laboratory in Ontario to conclude that the bodies in the “Jesus” and “Mary Magdalene” ossuaries were not related on their mothers’ side. From this, Mr. Jacobovici deduced that they were a couple, because otherwise they would not have been buried together in a family tomb.

In an interview, Mr. Jacobovici was asked why the filmmakers did not conduct DNA testing on the other ossuaries to determine whether the one inscribed “Judah, son of Jesus” was genetically related to either the Jesus or Mary Magdalene boxes; or whether the Jesus remains were actually the offspring of Mary.

“We’re not scientists. At the end of the day we can’t wait till every ossuary is tested for DNA,” he said. “We took the story that far. At some point you have to say, ‘I’ve done my job as a journalist.’ ”
I find that very interesting. They want to make it sound like it is scientific, but then he plainly states "We're not scientists." It doesn't even sound to me like good journalism. If you are not going to wait for all the facts before you start making grand hypotheses, then you are just taking part in sensationalism, not real scientific documentary work.

I personally tend not to watch Discovery Channel documentaries anymore for that very reason. All of the ones that I've taken time to watch seem to follow that same formula. Hype something up like they really know something about it, and then when the show is over, you really have very few facts and a lot of speculation repeated over and over.

My guess is that all devout Christians that watch the show will realize that it is not scientific and won't allow it to affect their beliefs at all. However, many who regularly watch documentaries or shows on that same channel will continue to swear by the accuracy of their other stories. It seems to me, if you can't trust one of their documentaries, you should at least be skeptical of them all? Maybe that's just me.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Anna Nicole Circus continues - Lawyer hints at 'fraud' in baby's birth certificate
The title is somewhat misleading, as the story is mostly about custody of Anna Nicole's body. The thing that actually struck me in the article was this:
Arthur's attorneys asked Seidlin to stay his original order, but he denied the request Monday morning. The judge said he is concerned about the deterioration of Smith's body. She died February 8.
If he's so worried, I guess he needs to talk to James Brown's family.

Gore jokes about Presidential run

BBC News - Gore jokes over White House bid
DiCaprio, who was quizzing Mr Gore on stage during the Oscars ceremony, asked him if he had "any kind of major, major announcement" to make.

Mr Gore, who lost to George Bush in the 2000 US elections, said: "Even though I honestly had not planned on doing this, I guess, with a billion people watching it's as good a time as any.

"So, my fellow Americans, I'm going to take this opportunity right here and now, to formally announce my intention..."

Drowned out

However, he never got to finish his sentence, as the music used to make winners wrap up their speeches cut in and drowned him out.

He left the stage with DiCaprio laughing.
I doubt that Gore will run in 2008, but he has definitely moved back into the limelight recently. I feel like he has also lost some of that uptight, wooden image that he had back in the day. Could he win in 2008? I don't know, he almost did in 2000. As someone I know likes to point out, America doesn't like a loser. But we've elected them before so I wouldn't rule it out entirely.

Take it or leave it.

BBC News - 'Jesus tomb found' in Jerusalem
Jesus had a son named Judah and was buried alongside Mary Magdalene, according to a new documentary by Hollywood film director James Cameron.

It examines a tomb that, it is claimed, belonged to Jesus and his family, and was found near Jerusalem in 1980.

The Oscar-winning director of Titanic says statistical analysis and DNA show the tomb is that of Jesus.
I'd like to find out a little more information about this. I don't understand how DNA can even be an issue here. Where are they getting DNA that they "know" belonged to Jesus to test it against? Without something to test it against, DNA is useless. It's not going to affect my religious beliefs one way or the other, but it still would be interesting to know what they are basing it on.

Some good advice from the governors

NYT - Surveying ’08 Field, Governors Urge Moderation
Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado, a Democrat, said the party’s presidential candidates should study his election and the success of other moderate Democrats like Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.

“We have learned a way of speaking to the middle with a pragmatic, problem-solving agenda,” Mr. Ritter said. “We have something to teach the rest of the country.”

Ms. Sebelius said, “We have figured out a way to convince voters in our states to cross party lines.”
I think they have a real point here. In the past two presidential elections the Democratic candidates have tended toward the "me, too" school of campaigning. They have tried so hard to win over the independents and left-leaning Republicans that they have ultimately failed to distinguish themselves in many ways. This is really a poor strategy because the voters really have no incentive to cross party lines under these circumstances.

As these Democratic governors have proven, Democrats can win in some traditionally more conservative states if they speak to the right people in the right way. The Democratic Party has some really good points going for it, if they would just learn to play them up.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Oddest headline of the Day

CNN - Woman allegedly advised by geese not guilty in tot death
A 53-year-old woman who claimed she received spiritual messages from geese before allegedly stabbing her toddler granddaughter to death was found not guilty by reason of insanity Friday.
This is just a horribly sad story. It seems to me that the parents of this child should be found guilty of something for leaving the child alone with a person that they knew had a psychiatric disorder. Reckless endangerment or something.

Voter Error Determined in Florida

Once again, the voters take the blame. NYT - Panel Cites Voter Error, Not Software, in Loss of Votes
Florida election officials announced yesterday that an examination of voting software did not find any malfunctions that could have caused up to 18,000 votes to be lost in a disputed Congressional race in Sarasota County, and they suggested that voter confusion over a poor ballot design was mainly to blame.
The main problem with the vote in this Congressional race in Florida was that approximately 18,000 people voted in the other races on the ballot, but didn't cast a vote for this race. It's true that the ballot design is bad:Notice the lack of highlighting to clue voters to the race in question. But this still seems rather odd as an explanation for so many uncast votes, as the article points out:
While some voters in Sarasota bristled yesterday at the idea that they had done anything wrong in casting their votes, or that nearly 13 percent of all voters could have failed to spot the race on the ballot, members of the investigative team said that those remained the only plausible theories.
There is another explanation offered:
Edward W. Felten, a Princeton University computer scientist, wrote last night that the security weaknesses need to be fixed before this type of machine is used again. He also wrote: “The study claims to have ruled out reliability problems as a cause of the undervotes, but their evidence on this point is weak, and I think the jury is still out on whether voting machine malfunctions could be a significant cause of the undervotes.”
And some sort of malfunction, be it software or something else, would seem to be the only explanation for this type of problem;
Ms. Ward-Jenkins and more than 100 other voters contacted The Sarasota Herald-Tribune shortly after the election to complain that even though an “X” appeared on the touchscreen when they pressed the box for Ms. Jennings, their votes had disappeared by the time they got to a final screen for reviewing their choices.
I don't know what it is going to take for Florida to clean up its act when it comes to voting, but something has to be done. Additionally, if the problems really do come down to flawed ballot design, someone needs to start doing something to ballot designers and stop giving them a free pass when they screw things up so royally.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ceding control

BBC News - US cedes control of S Korea army
The US and South Korea have reached a deal to hand control of South Korea's military back to Seoul by 2012.

The agreement ends a 50-year pact that gave the US wartime command of South Korea's army, dating to the Korean War.
I was aware that the Korean War had never officially ended and that it has just been a really long cease-fire. I did not realize that the US still had control of the S. Korean Army. So if it took us from 1953 until 2012 to finally get out of Korea, just how long can we expect to be in Iraq? It doesn't look too promising, does it?

Okay, so I'm a sick individual

When I saw this commercial for the first time I laughed so hard I almost cried. I just had to share.

Update on Babineaux arrest

Here are some more specifics about Jonathan Babineaux's arrest on felony animal abuse charges. - Couple had argued: Falcons' Babineaux denies abusing girlfriend's dog
Gwinnett County police said officers were dispatched Sunday evening to the Animal Emergency Center, where the staff told them that 24-year-old Blair Anderson had arrived with a pit bull mix that was dead upon arrival.

Police said Anderson told them she and Babineaux, 25, had argued at their home. She said she went to the movies, and upon returning found Kilo, her year-and-a-half old dog, in "severe physical distress."

Babineaux, a second-round draft pick from Iowa in 2005, met with officers at the hospital, where he said he was not responsible for the dog's death. Police said his account of what happened was inconsistent with the information about the dog's injuries provided by the animal hospital. He was arrested.

Police said they are still awaiting test results, but added that preliminary information indicates Kilo died from a massive blow to the head.
To some degree it seems like a case of 'he said, she said', but if the evidence supports her side of the story and refute his, Babineaux could be in some real trouble here.

Our newest edition

To the family room that is. After much looking in both Troy and Montgomery we finally decided to buy a new recliner. We had originally planned to buy a whole new living room suit, but after being disappointed with the options out there, and after having the latch break on our dishwasher (which will either have to be replaced or repaired), we decided to go with just a recliner. And it just seems so much bigger at home than it did in the store. It sure is comfy, though. It's a La-Z-Boy "Gibson" in Merlot fabric.

Vilsack Calls it a Day

CNN - Ex-Iowa governor drops 2008 presidential bid
Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said Friday he is pulling out of the 2008 Democratic race for president, citing financial difficulties in a campaign that lasted 15 weeks.

[. . .]

"The reality, however, is that this process has become to a great extent about money, a lot of money," he said. "And it is clear to me that we would not be able to continue to raise money in the amounts necessary to sustain, not just a campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, but a campaign across this country.

"It is money -- and only money -- the reason we are leaving today."
It is a shame, at least to some degree, that we don't really get a choice of the best possible candidates, we get a choice of the best possible fundraisers. (Not that I am in anyway implying that Vilsack is the best possible candidate.) However, to some degree, the viability of a candidate is predicated on convincing the people who have money that he or she is the right person for the job.

In addition, as I noted on Wednesday on the related issue of media coverage, there are ways for the little guy to get attention, it has happened in the past. But to some degree, if you want the job, you have to be willing and able to work the system that we are currently stuck with.

Revising the 2002 Authorization for War?

WaPo - Senators aim to revise Iraq mission, reduce troops
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Key U.S. Senate Democrats are preparing a proposal to start bringing U.S. combat troops home from Iraq by rewriting Congress' 2002 authorization for the war, which many now view as a mistake, aides said on Thursday.

Undeterred by Senate Republicans who halted a non-binding resolution opposing President George W. Bush's troop buildup in Iraq, the Democrats are determined to challenge Bush anew by replacing the 2002 authorization of force in Iraq with a narrower mission statement for U.S. troops, the aides said.

The newly defined U.S. mission would involve denying terrorists a safe haven in Iraq, training Iraqi troops and helping Iraqis protect their own borders, said one Democratic aide. The proposal would be binding and a draft calls for U.S. troops not involved in the narrower mission to come home by early 2008, he said.
The argument is that the original authorization was to find and destroy the WMDs, which ultimately didn't exist, and to depose Saddam Hussein, who is now dead. The argument makes sense logically, but we are dealing with partisan politics, not logic.

The article also notes:
If passed by the Senate, the revised authorization would also have to be approved by the House. Bush would then either have to sign it or Congress would have to override his veto for it to go into effect -- and it is far from clear such a measure could attract enough support to survive a veto.
So really it is probably a moot point unless they find a way to attach it to another bill that Bush will have to sign. And I have to wonder, what does Joe Lieberman think of all this?

The Wikipedia Debate Continues

NYT - A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia as a Research Source
When half a dozen students in Neil Waters’s Japanese history class at Middlebury College asserted on exams that the Jesuits supported the Shimabara Rebellion in 17th-century Japan, he knew something was wrong. The Jesuits were in “no position to aid a revolution,” he said; the few of them in Japan were in hiding.

He figured out the problem soon enough. The obscure, though incorrect, information was from Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, and the students had picked it up cramming for his exam.

Dr. Waters and other professors in the history department had begun noticing about a year ago that students were citing Wikipedia as a source in their papers. When confronted, many would say that their high school teachers had allowed the practice.

But the errors on the Japanese history test last semester were the last straw. At Dr. Waters’s urging, the Middlebury history department notified its students this month that Wikipedia could not be cited in papers or exams, and that students could not “point to Wikipedia or any similar source that may appear in the future to escape the consequences of errors.”
Considering the fact that anybody can edit Wikipedia and Wikipedia itself includes the disclaimer that all the information it provides cannot be guaranteed to be correct, I can't see why any educated individual, especially a professor, would ever argue in favor of using Wikipedia as a valid research source. But apparently some do:
Jason Mittell, an assistant professor of American studies and film and media culture at Middlebury, said he planned to take the pro-Wikipedia side in the campus debate. “The message that is being sent is that ultimately they see it as a threat to traditional knowledge,” he said. “I see it as an opportunity. What does that mean for traditional scholarship? Does traditional scholarship lose value?”
It seems to me that it means that if student consult Wikipedia without looking any farther to actually varify the information, they are likely to end up misinformed. Isn't that one of the roles of a university, to teach students to tell the difference between accurate information and misinformation? If it isn't, it should be. If you are going to cite Wikipedia, why not just cite some guy off the street?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Property Rights and Murder

CNN - Jury takes just an hour to return death verdict
Bixby and his parents were upset that the state wanted a 20-foot strip of land near their home to widen a highway. Authorities said he and his father, who also is charged with murder, threatened to attack any officer who set foot on their property.

Wilson was shot on Dec. 8, 2003, while standing on the front porch of Bixby's parents' home. Authorities say Ouzts, who arrived to check on Wilson once radio contact with the officer was lost, was shot as he stepped out of his patrol car.
Now I know that John Locke argued that property rights were at the very center of the formation of society and what it stands for and all that, but this is ridiculous. I can't see how 20 feet of land is worth 2 lives.

I know that property issues can cause a lot of hard feelings. My dad got in a property dispute with one of his neighbors way back before I can even really remember and I think he still hates the man to this day.

A beautiful Day

It is a beautiful day here in Troy, Alabama. One of the only advantages of living in the deep south is that you can get days in the mid-seventies in February. It is just too nice a day to say inside on the computer. Note to self: buy wireless router soon!

Update on Prince Harry

Earlier speculations have now been confirmed, Prince Harry will be headed to Iraq later this year. Via CNN - Iraq tank command for Prince Harry
Britain's Prince Harry will be sent to Iraq to command a tank unit, the Defense Ministry confirmed Thursday.

Harry -- third in line to the throne -- is expected to be deployed with his Royals and Blues regiment near the southern city of Basra.

[. . .]

Clarence House, which speaks on behalf of the prince, and the Ministry of Defense said that the prince would carry out a "normal troop commander's role."

In a joint statement, they said: "We can confirm today that Prince Harry will deploy to Iraq later this year in command of a troop from 'A Squadron' of the Household Cavalry Regiment.

"Whilst in Iraq Cornet Wales (Harry's regimental title) will carry out a normal troop commander's role, involving leading a troop of 12 men in four Scimitar armored reconnaissance vehicles, each with a crew of three.
It is interesting that his deployment seems to coincide with British troop reductions in the area. However, just the fact that he wants to fight and has rejected the idea of preferential treatment says a lot about his character. I know that British Royals are expected to serve in the military, but I feel like Harry going beyond the minimum that is expected of him. At least that is the impression that I get from the stories I've read.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

In honor of Ash Wednesday, a reading from Genesis 3:17-19 (The Revised English Bible version):
And to the man he said: 'Because you have listened to your wife and have eaten from the tree which I forbade you,
on your account the earth will be cursed.
You will get your food from it only by labour
all the days of your life;
it will yield thorns and thistles for you.
You will eat of the produce of the field,
and only by the sweat of your brow will you win your bread
until you return to the earth;
for from it you were taken.
Dust you are, to dust you will return.'
This is God's commandment to Adam after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. It is this that we are reminded of in the Ash Wednesday ceremony. In the Episcopal church the ashes are imposed with these words:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Let us all remember to be humble during this holy Lenten season.

Richardson for President

For those of you who are interested in more information about Bill Richardson, his qualification for being president, and his current campaign, check out his official campaign website - Bill Richardson for President. Considering the fact that I'm not too thrilled with Hillary, I think Obama is waaaay too inexperienced, and my enthusiasm for Edwards has wained considerably since the last presidential election, I hope that Richardson can find a way to garner more media attention in the months to come. I think he is probably the best candidates the Democrats have in the race right now.

Troop increases and troop decreases

While the United States carries on with its troop surge plan, other countries begin to scale back, including our closest ally Great Britian.

Via the BBC - Blair announces Iraq troops cut
Prime Minister Tony Blair has told MPs that 1,600 British troops will return from Iraq within the next few months.

He said the 7,100 serving troops would be cut to 5,500 soon, with hopes that 500 more will leave by late summer.

Mr Blair said some soldiers, stationed at Basra air base, would remain into 2008 to help secure supply routes, the Iran border and to support Iraqis.
And in related news, also via the BBC, Denmark to pull troops from Iraq
Denmark will withdraw its troops from Iraq by August, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said.

The troops, numbering about 460, will be replaced by a unit of about 50 soldiers manning four observational helicopters, he said.
It makes it sound like we are sending soldiers to the proverbial sinking ship.

But the Denmark article does note:
Mr Rasmussen said the withdrawal from Iraq would enable Denmark to increase its troop deployment to Afghanistan.
So it is not a complete abandonment of the situation in the Middle East.

For more discussion of the Iraq part of the story, check out Poliblog.

Senator Johnson leave the hospital

Via All Headline News - Update: Sen. Johnson Out Of Hospital And In Rehabilitation
Sen. Tim Johnson, who suffered a brain hemorrhage two months ago, was released from a Washington hospital and has begun what his office described as "the next phase of his therapy."

[. . .]

Johnson's recovery is expected to take several months, during which time he will undergo physical, speech and occupational therapy, his office said. Johnson has been doing some work from his bed.
I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

May he rest in peace, soon

Via CNN News - James Brown's burial expected in next few days
The six adult children of singer James Brown have agreed with his partner, Tomi Rae Hynie, on where the entertainer will be buried, an attorney for the woman said Tuesday.

Robert Rosen said the resting place is being kept confidential at the request of Brown's children. He said the burial may take place in the "next few days."

Brown died Christmas Day at age 73.
That was almost exactly 2 months ago! That just seems so odd. I guess one can't be buried until the burial site is chosen, but to take two whole months to decide seems excessive.

And this struck me as odd too:
He said he checked on Brown on Tuesday, opening the gold casket to view the body.

"I do that constantly," Reid said. "That's the only way I can actually check him ... go in, open the casket and close it. And he's fine."
Okay, one, a gold casket? But then again it is James Brown. And two, what does he mean "he's fine"? Yep, he's still dead. What does he expect other than that? Now that I think about it, I'm not sure I want to know. . .

Richardson as a serious candidate

Matthew Yglesias has an excellent article over at The American Prospect about Bill Richardson's lack of media attention. In the article he talks about Richardson's many qualifications for President:
as governor, Richardson "has been lauded by traditionally right-leaning publications and organizations such as Forbes Magazine and the Cato Institute for reforming New Mexico's economy," traditionally the sort of thing that would create some buzz given that we are, after all, talking about a fairly progressive Democrat.

Here's something else you might expect to garner some buzz: If that same Democrat also found some spare time in January to broker a cease-fire between the government of Sudan and some major rebel factions in Darfur. That kind of person might be someone who understands that these sort of humanitarian tragedies can't just be ended purely through righteous indignation.

But now we're getting back to the small matter of qualifications. Traditionally, Americans have turned to governors to serve as president, thinking that experience in executive office and with complicated managerial tasks outweighs the experience with federal policy issues that members of Congress can count in their favor. Happily, Richardson spent over a decade in the House of Representatives before becoming governor. In between, he was America's ambassador the United Nations, wracking up a level of national security experience that none of the other contenders can match. And did I mention he was also Secretary of Energy? Too bad nobody thinks energy independence and global climate change are important policy areas in which it would be good for the chief executive to have some knowledge. Oh, well.
The whole article is definitely work reading if you are interested in presidential candidates at this stage of the game.

He also makes a point about the media's bias coverage of candidates. They don't cover all the candidates, just the ones the media deems worthwhile. Now I don't watch news shows on television or listen to them on the radio (I get my news almost exclusively from the Internet) but my sister does and she has made a similar complaint. She feels like ever Edwards has been passed over by the media in favor of Hillary and Obama.

The media does play a very powerful role in the process by choosing who to spotlight and who to ignore, but are the other candidates doing their part to draw some attention to themselves? Maybe Richardson needs to be having living room parties in Iowa. If Richardson, or others, can take their campaign to the people and get a good showing in an early primary they can get the press's attention. It's not fair that they have to do more to get that attention, it's true. But the world is not fair. The press covers what they think the public wants to hear about. And at least right now, the public wants to hear about the superstar candidates. It's not the best way to elect a president, as Matthew Yglesias notes, but it is the system we are stuck with at the moment. If someone wants the job, they have to learn to work the system.

H/T: Matthew Yglesias via Poliblog (who at the time of my reading didn't include an actual link to the article but I'm sure will be adding one shortly).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Via the International Herald Tribune - U.S. court deals a setback to Guantánamo prisoners

The article is about the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that said detainees can no longer sue in federal courts and the appeal that is being planned. One statement in the article struck me as odd:
Attorneys argued that the detainees were not covered by that provision and that the law was unconstitutional.

"The arguments are creative but not cogent," Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote. "To accept them would be to defy the will of Congress."
What strikes me as odd is that "defy the will of Congress" statement. Isn't that what the Supreme Court is ALWAYS doing when it finds a law unconstitutional? I mean, what kind of argument is that?

It's almost like that e-bay commercial

Okay, not really.

CNN - Lost ring comes full circle 20 years later
A college ring lost more than 20 years ago by a former undercover officer for the CIA has been found in an underwater cave off the coast of Africa.

[. . .]

Lopez, a 1976 Notre Dame College graduate and former CIA undercover officer, was stationed at Port Louis, Mauritius, from 1983 to 1985. During a dive, the ring slipped from her finger.

Ruic sent Thiesen's address to Lopez. She has exchanged e-mails with Thiesen, she said Monday, and they're arranging for him to mail it.
Quite an amazing story, especially considering that the ring did not have a name on it. It's actually surprising to me that the one who found it actually made an effort to find the owner.

wireless blogging

I couldn't resist. I had to dash off a quick post wirelessly. I'm such a technology novice that it just seems cool to be blogging from a laptop at a coffee shop. And of course I had to check out the laptop before I drove all the way back to Troy with it. It would definitely take some getting used to.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Jonathan Babineaux arrested reports - Babineaux arrested for animal abuse
Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux was arrested by Gwinnett County police on Monday morning and charged with one count of felony animal abuse.

[. . .]

Gwinnett County police spokesman Darren Moloney said Babineaux was arrested early Monday. Moloney said he did not know any specifics about the case and a report and details concerning the case would not be released Monday.
I was curious as to what constituted felony animal abuse in Georgia so I decided to look it up. Here is what I found (via the Humane Association of Georgia Inc's website)
Aggravated Cruelty to Animals (felony charge): A person commits the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals when he or she knowingly and maliciously causes death or physical harm to an animal by rendering a part of such animal's body useless or by seriously disfiguringsuch animal…[paraphrased] except for conduct otherwise permitted under state or federal law. O.C.G.A. §16-12-4
I wonder what they are accusing him of doing exactly.

Update: more information here.


BBC News - Miami baby sets premature record
Amillia Taylor is believed to be the first baby ever known to have survived after a gestation period of less than 23 weeks.

She weighed a mere 284 grams (10 ounces) at birth on 24 October.

Doctors generally consider that babies weighing less than 400g at birth are not viable.
Miraculous is the only word to describe the survival of this child. I'm sure she still has a long battle ahead of her. A friend of mine was just telling me last week that her niece's premature baby was coming from the hospital and she was born at about 25 or 27 weeks, I forget which. I though that was amazing. Modern medicine has come a long way.

Over-dramatic headline of the day

Via The New Zealand Herald - Asteroid on collision path with Earth

My sister IM'd me saying that she had heard Paul Harvey say that an asteroid was on a collision course with Earth and it was going to hit on April 13, 2036. My initial response was, "and how certain are they?"

Here's what I found:
Underscoring the peril, an asteroid named Apophis risks passing very close to Earth on 13 April, 2036.

Astronomers warn that as of now, there is a 1 in 45,000 chance of a direct hit.

Its impact would be enough to wipe out a country as large as England.
I'll admit that an asteroid big enough to wipe out England is major. There is no doubt about that. But think about it this way, if your odds of winning a million dollars was 1 in 45000 would you announce that you were winning a million dollars? Would you quit your job or buy an expensive new car banking on winning that money? I know I wouldn't.

Do I think that some serious consideration should go into a plan for dealing with such a disaster? Probably. Do I think that headline is way out of proportion? Yes.

The livingroom campaign

NYT - In Iowa, the Living Room Has Fallen Out of Favor
Iowa, with its first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, has been celebrated for 30 years for its intimate campaigns where future presidents would perch on living room couches or sit at kitchen tables and take questions from 20 or 30 people late into the night.

[. . .]

A chapter in American political history that began in 1976 when Jimmy Carter rose from obscurity by working the living rooms and kitchens of Iowa may be drawing to a end. It is, at least for this election cycle, the victim of an era of celebrity candidates tracked by busloads of reporters, and of intense interest in the 2008 race among voters, who are turning out in numbers that would fill many, many living rooms.
It seems to me that the living room campaign, invented by an obscure candidate, is best used by the obscure candidate. The living room campaign is not likely to work too well for this election. There are many big-name candidates and with the shift forward of many primary elections, they just don't have the time to sit around in people living rooms.

But I wouldn't count this method of campaigning out all together. It worked in 1976 for the little guy. The one that needed to do something special to get people's attention. If this tool stops being the norm, it can once again be the tool of the little guy who needs special attention. If the "rock star" candidates neglect the personal aspect of campaigning for several election cycles, it just might open the door for the obscure candidate to use it as something special (and nostalgic) to get the voters' attention in the future.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

And on the flipside

You Are 48% Democrat

You aren't a full fledged Democrat yet, but it's likely the party that fits you best.
You probably consider yourself an independent Democrat. You usually support the party, but you also think for yourself!

Also, not too surprising. I think it is interesting that having a graduate degree is one of things that makes me more likely to be a democrat by their quiz.

How Republican are you?

You Are 4% Republican

If you have anything in common with the Republican party, it's by sheer chance.
You're a staunch liberal, and nothing is going to change that!

Hum, that's not too surprising. And that 4% was only because I mostly shop at Wal-Mart.

H/T: Thurman Munson's Brother even if he did have fun at my expense.

More Salmonella related food recalls

MSN - Tainted Cantaloupe, Baby Food Recalled
The tainted-food scare widened Saturday with the recall of fresh cantaloupe and selected jars of organic baby food.

Dole Fresh Fruit Co. recalled several thousand cartons of imported cantaloupes after the fruit tested positive for salmonella, the bacteria involved in the nationwide peanut butter recall earlier this week.

Dole late Friday said the recall covered roughly 6,104 cartons of Costa Rican cantaloupes distributed to wholesalers in the eastern United States and Quebec between Feb. 5 and Feb. 8, the Associated Press reported. There were no reports of illness.
And Salmonella is not the only contaminate causing problems these days:
Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers late Friday not to use certain jars of Earth's Best Organic 2 Apple Peach Barley Wholesome Breakfast baby food because they may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism, a life-threatening illness.
So much for "organic" being safer. In reality, I've heard before that "organic" foods actually have more of a tendency to be tainted with germs because of the organic nature of the fertilizers used to grow them.

Prince Harry may be headed for Iraq

CNN - Report: Prince Harry due in Iraq
Prince Harry, a 2006 graduate of Britain's prestigious Sandhurst military academy, will soon go to Iraq with his military unit, a British military source told CNN.

The posting to Iraq, something Prince Harry has been actively seeking since being commissioned, is expected in April or May, the unidentified military source told CNN.

[. . .]

His father, Prince Charles, was a pilot with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. Harry's grandfather, Prince Philip, had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy. Harry's uncle, Prince Andrew, was a Royal Navy pilot and served in the Falklands War against Argentina.

As the second in line to the British crown, Harry's older brother, William -- while also a military officer -- is not eligible for combat service.
People often joke, or maybe not really joke, about the fact that Bush is not willing to send his twin daughters to Iraq. Obviously the British royal tradition of military service has survived quite well.

Morphine, for a cough?

BBC News - Tests show morphine eases coughs
The patients responded quickly to the morphine treatment, which started at 5mg twice daily.

This benefit peaked after five days of treatment and continued through the remaining four weeks of the trial.

All of the patients had suffered from their persistent cough for at least three months.

[. . .]

Dr Morice explained: "Chronic cough can have a devastating effect on the quality of life of sufferers.
I'm sure that a chronic cough is miserable, but morphine seems like an awfully strong and potentially dangerous drug to prescribe for a cough. But then again, I'm no doctor.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith's Will

BBC News - Smith left her estate to dead son
Deceased former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith left her entire estate to her dead son, excluding any other heir from inheritance, it has emerged.

[. . .]

"I have intentionally omitted to provide for my spouse and other heirs, including future spouses and children and other descendants now living and those hereafter born or adopted," Smith said in the will, under her real name of Vickie Lynn Marshall.

[. . .]

The lawyer for Smith's estranged mother, Virgie Arthur, said the will was not filed in any court, so it is not valid.
It seems odd that she would explicitly exclude all future children. I know that Dannielynn was not born yet when the will was written (2001) but still. I would think that most people would include a provision in their will to include future children, not exclude them. I know that's what my father did. (I'm actually still just "any subsequent children" in my father's will and I'm 35 years old.) It actually makes me wonder a bit about her relationship with Daniel.

I wonder how this fact will affect the paternity claims. I'm sure it will be in court for years.

Updated Address for Peanut Butter Recall

ConAgra has now updated the address for sending in lids to receive a refund from the recalled Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter. ConAgra's website reports:
If consumers have this product, they should discard it, but save the product lid. For a full refund, consumers must return the Peter Pan Peanut Butter or Great Value Peanut Butter product lid along with their name and mailing address to ConAgra Foods, P.O. Box 3768, Omaha, NE 68103.
I'm glad I didn't go ahead and mail mine yesterday.

Today I'm reminded of a poem

Today we received a phone call from my mother-in-law saying that her sister had died this morning. She had only been sick for about 2 weeks, or at least we had only known for that amount of time. She had colon cancer that had spread and there was really nothing that could be done about it at that point. She was a very nice woman and we will miss her. But upon hearing the news my husband did not cry and was more concerned about how his mother was taking the news. It reminded me of a poem by Randall Jarrell called "Losses"

I'm kinda surprised

BBC News - Libel damages for US actress Diaz
Actress Cameron Diaz has accepted "substantial" libel damages from a US tabloid over a false claim that she was having an affair with a married man.

[. . .]

The magazine has apologised to Ms Diaz and accepted the story was untrue.
I'm kinda surprised that she got any money out of them. I thought tabloids lived by made up stories and misrepresentations of photos. If they had to pay damages for every lie they told you would think they all would be out of business by now. I'm glad to see someone fight back and win, though.

Not so easy after all

Apparently things aren't so easy in the Big Easy these days. NYT - In Setback for New Orleans, Fed-Up Residents Give Up
After nearly a decade in the city of their dreams, Kasandra Larsen and her fiancé, Dylan Langlois, climbed into a rented moving truck on Marais Street last Sunday, pointed it toward New Hampshire, and said goodbye.

Not because of some great betrayal — they had, after all, come back after losing everything in Hurricane Katrina — but a series of escalating indignities: the attempted carjacking of a pregnant friend; the announced move to Nashville by Ms. Larsen’s employer; the human feces deposited on their roof by, they suspect, the contractors next door; the two burglaries in the space of a week; and, not least, the overnight wait for the police to respond.
The story does make it sound like things are pretty rough down there. The article also points out that a lot of the people leaving are well educated, higher paid citizen, while the recent influx is from a poorer demographic. Not exactly a recipe for success. I'm sure it will take many years (decades?) for the city to fully recover from the devastation it received from Katrina, but barring another complete flooding of the area, I'm sure it will eventually claw its way back. Southerners don't give up too easily. And of course there is always the irrational attachment factor
Ms. Brite said, “If a place takes you in and you take it into yourself, you don’t desert it just because it can kill you. There are some things more valuable than life.”

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Moving forward or slipping back?

NYT - Russians to Vote, but Some Parties Lose in Advance
Two candidates in local elections here in March, a soccer star and figure skating champion, have no known intention of giving up sports for legislative politics. If they win, as they almost certainly will, their Kremlin-friendly parties, not the voters, will choose the candidates to fill their seats.

An opposition party was kicked off the ballot for forging signatures but given little chance to prove otherwise. Government-controlled television has effectively barred parties except those loyal to President Vladimir V. Putin from the airwaves.

The elections here on March 11, like those in 13 other regions, will preview coming national elections in which voters’ choices will be severely limited at best. “Democracy?” asked Vladimir I. Fyodorov, a leader of the Communist Party here, which faces an uphill task of winning any seats to the city’s 50-member legislature. “I would not call the process under way in our country democracy.”
Others have a different explanation for what is going on
Vadim A. Tulpanov, the incumbent chairman of St. Petersburg’s legislature, dismissed criticism of Yabloko’s registration troubles, calling them self-inflicted. He said the election simply reflected the natural evolution of Russia’s young democracy, with the old parties like Yabloko and the Communists losing their popular appeal.

“Gradually in Russia, as I understand it, a two-party system is being created, like in America,” he said.
Since I am not that familiar with how the party system in Russia has worked since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is difficult for me to comment on which explanation is best, at this point. However, given Putin's recent return to anti-US rhetoric, I think it is something that bears watching closely.

The extremes of authoritarianism

BBC News - Chinese man to hang for ant scam
A Chinese company chairman has been sentenced to death for running a scam involving giant ants.

Wang Zhendong promised investors returns of up to 60% if they put money into the fictitious ant-breeding project, the court heard.
I guess it is a good thing for Kenneth Lay that he doesn't live in China.

Peanut butter recall update

Via the ConAgra Website - News Release: Peter Pan Peanut Butter and Great Value Peanut Butter Products Beginning with Product Code 2111 Recalled for Possible Salmonella Contamination
If consumers have this product, they should discard it, but save the product lid. For a full refund, consumers must return the Peter Pan Peanut Butter or Great Value Peanut Butter product lid along with their name and mailing address to ConAgra Foods, P.O. Box 57078, Irvine, CA 92619-7078.
Now that is what I needed to know.

Update: ConAgra has now changed the address people should send the lids to: ConAgra Foods, P.O. Box 3768, Omaha, NE 68103.

Happy Fourth!

My blogfather turns 4 today. Well, actually his blog (Poliblog) does. I just wanted to say Happy Blogiversary and to wish him may more years of happy blogging.

In his "state of blog" post he notes some of the pluses he has realized through blogging. It is funny he should mention them, because I was recently thinking about some of those same things myself (although not all of the ones he mentions).


CNN - Salmonella outbreak linked to 2 peanut butter brands
A salmonella outbreak that has slowly grown to nearly 300 cases in 39 states since August has been linked to tainted peanut butter, federal health officials said Wednesday.

[. . .]

About 85 percent of the infected people said they ate peanut butter, CDC officials said.

How salmonella got into peanut butter is still under investigation, Lynch said.

[. . .]

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to eat certain jars of Peter Pan or Great Value peanut butter because of the risk of contamination.

The affected jars have a product code on the lid that begins with the number "2111." The affected jars are made by ConAgra in a single facility in Sylvester, Georgia, the FDA said.
First of all, it seems odd that salmonella would be in peanut putter. Second, it seems odd that only 85 percent of the people effected said they ate peanut butter. Third, I have a half-eaten jar of Peter Pan peanut butter with a product code beginning "2111". Since no one got sick eating the first half does that mean it is safe to finish or should I just throw it out?

UPDATE: This article at Market Watch says:
The company added that consumers should discard the affected peanut butter, but save the product lid to get a full refund.
The problem is it doesn't tell you what to do with the lid to get the refund. (Updated info here)


BBC - Iraq invasion plan 'delusional'
The commanders predicted that after the fighting was over there would be a two- to three-month "stabilisation" phase, followed by an 18- to 24-month "recovery" stage.

They projected that the US forces would be almost completely "re-deployed" out of Iraq at the end of the "transition" phase - within 45 months of invasion.

"Completely unrealistic assumptions about a post-Saddam Iraq permeate these war plans," NSA executive director Thomas Blanton said in a statement posted on the organisation's website.
One has to wonder just who it was that Franks was getting his information from. I do not personally have an in depth knowledge of the region, but one of my former professors, who has studied the region in depth, seemed to realize that deposing Hussein would lead to further instability in the region and possibly civil war. It would seem that experts on the region would have been consulted on the matter and at least the possibility of such an outcome would have been suggested. It would seem to me that only an ideologue who was totally sold on the universal goodness and applicability of democracy could have come up with that time line.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

This was necessary?

Like we really needed to know why - Study finds out why it's gross to kiss your sister (CNN)

The Power of Greed?

CNN - Father of Smith's baby may get less than hoped
Men are lining up to claim they are the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby. But they could be mistaken if they think paternity will automatically mean a pot of gold.

Instead, they could be stepping into a monumentally complex, multinational legal fight over the child. Moreover, it is not at all clear whether the little girl is a million-dollar baby, as some seem to think.
I feel sorry for this baby girl. She will never know her mother and now men are lining up to claim her just to get money. It is quite sad. I hope she will end up with someone who really will care about her and not just her money.

If anyone out there is thinking it's not about the money, this statement really sums it up:
"The other motive is money. You wonder if so many fathers would be coming forward if this was a child born in a tenement on the south side of Chicago."
Speaking from experience, they wouldn't.

Another step closer

I don't know if this study (BBC - Scientists expose HIV weak spot) is in any way related to the vaccine being tested in Africa, but it seems to indicate that there could be real hope of finding a vaccine for HIV at some point in the future.
Developing a vaccine for HIV has proved extremely difficult.

The virus is able to mutate rapidly to avoid detection by the immune system, and is also swathed by a near-impenetrable cloak of sugary molecules which block access by antibodies.

But certain parts of the virus must remain relatively unchanged so that it can continue to bind to and enter human cells.

A protein, gp120, that juts out from the surface of the virus and binds to receptors on host cells, is one such region, making it a target for vaccine development.
Hopefully one of these vaccine will eventually pan out.

What does this say about my family?

Tonight my middle son (15 years old) brought his girlfriend over for dinner for the first time. I have to wonder what she thought of our suppertime conversation. We ended up talking about millenarianism, how presidential primaries work, spelling skills, and The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. What does this say about me and my family?

Franken for Senate

CNN - Ex-SNL comic Al Franken running for Senate
Outspoken comedian and liberal radio host Al Franken announced Wednesday that he intends to run for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Minnesota.

On his Web site the NBC "Saturday Night Live" veteran said he will vie for the seat now held by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

Franken also confirmed that he is running for Senate during his final show on the liberal Air America radio network. He announced last month that he was leaving Air America after his February 14 broadcast.
Well, it's not exactly new news at this point, but I guess this does make it official.

Franken had this to say about the battle that lies ahead of him:
"I'm not a typical politician," Franken said in an 8½ minute video message on his Web site. "I've spent my career as a comedian. Minnesotans have a right to be skeptical about whether I'm ready for this challenge, and to wonder how seriously I would take the responsibility that I'm asking you to give me."
I'm sure there will be skeptics. Going from being a comedian to a serious politicians would seem like quite a leap. I will admit, I did like his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. He does at least have some qualifications for the job
Franken is a graduate of Harvard University with a degree in government.

Addicted to Love

I guess Robert Palmer was right. According to a recent study conducted at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York being in love has the same effect as taking cocaine. CNN - Loving with all your ... brain reports:
While being scanned, the students looked at a photo of their beloved. The scientists found that the caudate area of the brain -- which is involved in cravings -- became very active. Another area that lit up: the ventral tegmental, which produces dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that affects pleasure and motivation.

Dr. Brown said scientists believe that when you fall in love, the ventral tegmental floods the caudate with dopamine. The caudate then sends signals for more dopamine.

"The more dopamine you get, the more of a high you feel," Dr. Brown says.

Or as her colleague, Dr. Helen Fisher put it: When you fall in love, "exactly the same system becomes active as when you take cocaine. You can feel intense elation when you're in love. You can feel intense elation when you're high on cocaine."
And if you are thinking that it is really all about the sex then think again.
The answer is: Brains in love and brains in lust don't look too much alike.

In studies when researchers showed erotic photos to people as they underwent brain scans, they found activity in the hypothalamus and amygdala areas of the brain. The hypothalamus controls drives like hunger and thirst and the amygdala handles arousal, among other things.

In the studies of people in love, "we didn't find activity in either," according to Dr. Fisher, an anthropologist and author of "Why We Love -- the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love."

"We now have physiological data that suggests there are different brain systems for sex and love," says Dr. Fisher.

At some point, the two do become linked. People in love have elevated levels of dopamine. Lots of dopamine, in turn, triggers the production of testosterone, which is responsible for the sex drive in both men and women.

This helps explain why falling in love can make someone all of a sudden seem sexy.

"Three weeks ago he was just another nice guy in the office and now everything about him is sexual," says Dr. Fisher.
If you read the whole article, you find that rejection and losing someone's love creates an actual pain response in the brain as well. It's all quite interesting, to me anyway.

Happy Valentine's Day!

I just want to say Happy Valentine's to all. This morning has been very hectic and I'm sure the rest of the day will not be particularly conducive to blogging either. I may get in a few quick posts before lunch at 1:00, but don't expect much today. I hope everyone's Valentine's Day is happy and less hectic than mine.

As a side note, if you didn't have to clean and disinfect your kitchen counter top first thing this morning because your cat left you an unwanted Valentine's Day present, you're most likely having a better day than me already.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A note on the importance of education

Earlier today in the comment section of a post over at Poliblog I was part of a conversation dealing with the importance of students actually learning information instead of simply having access to the knowledge via some external source. In the original post, Dr. Taylor laments the inability of his students to locate Iraq on an unlabeled map.

Another reader ended his comment by saying:
Apologies for the simple rhetorical arguments, but frankly, map skills–though indeed fundamental–met their obsolescence some time ago with the marketing of affordable and clearly labeled globes.
I in turn responded with this comment:
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really tired of the argument that people no longer need to actually learn anything, because all information is now so readily available. It is just a crutch, in my opinion. Should elementary schools stop teaching addition and multiplication because calculators are readily available? Should we not teach spelling because of dictionaries and spell-check?

I wish these people would give it a rest already!
The commenter in question then decided to continue the conversation in a comment to this post here at Irrational Woman. Since the comment was really only tangentially related to that post, I thought I would address the issue in depth in a post of its own. So here goes.

My comments about calculator and spell check were to some extent hyperbole, but they do have some relevance. The reference to spell check in particular. I'm not a good speller and I am overjoyed to have access to spell check, and a dictionary for that matter, on a regular basis. But you have to know at least generally how to spell the word before either resource can be of any assistance to you. I have been know to misspell words so badly that even spell check had no idea what I was talking about. This is relevant to the map question because if you don't have at least some idea where Iraq is, you won't even know what area of the globe to look on. Some knowledge is necessary before references can be used effectively.

In addition, my comment was not only directed at Jimmy's comment. Previously on Poliblog a reader had made a comment about the ready availability of information devaluing the study of history:
Now it’s too easy to find lots of stuff available about any historical subject. If I chose to, I could know more about the Christian Emperors of Constantinople than 99% of the population with only a single day’s study.
These kinds of statements irritate me. It is like saying education doesn't matter anymore. Or that the subjects that I have spent many long years studying and attempting to understand in depth can be mastered in a day. It just is not the same. The readily available information does not always tell the whole story or in some cases may not even be accurate. In the case of maps, they are probably accurate, but it was the overall attitude I was objecting to as much as anything else.

And just for the record, I did use spell check during the writing of this post, and will use it again many times in the future.

Cool Space Pic

For those of you out there that like really cool pictures from outer space, check this one out.
The dusty dead star appears as a dot in the middle of the nebula, like a red pupil in a green monster's eye.

Romney makes it official

CNN - Romney kicks off White House bid
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney returned to his native state of Michigan on Tuesday to kick off his bid officially for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

[. . .]

For the past two years, Romney -- who was seen as a moderate when he was elected in 2002 -- has been trying to buff up his credentials with conservatives, leading some critics to accuse him of changing his positions in anticipation of a White House bid.
The article continues with several examples of this flip-flopping on important social issues. If you are interested in the subject, the article is worth reading.

Braves to be Sold

WSFA - Atlanta Braves To Be Sold
Time Warner finalized an agreement Monday to sell the Atlanta Braves to Liberty Media after more than a year of negotiations.

[. . .]

Under the agreement, Terry McGuirk will remain in charge of the team after the sale. General manager John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox also are expected to remain.

The Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site that the deal would involve Time Warner transferring the Braves, a group of craft magazines and one billion dollars in cash to Liberty in exchange for about 60 million Time Warner shares now owned by Liberty.
Hum, the Braves and craft magazines, what an interesting combination.

US trade still in deficit

BBC News - US trade deficit hits fresh high
The US trade deficit rose 6.5% last year to hit a new record high of $763.6bn (£393bn).

Fuelled by last year's rise in global oil prices and the surge in Chinese imports, it was the fifth record annual US trade deficit in succession.

The gap with China alone was $232.5bn last year, the largest imbalance the US has ever recorded with one country.
Now I'll start by admitting that I hate IPE with a purple passion. Anyway, I've been told on multiple occasions that the fact that the US has a trade deficit only means that we have lots of money to spend so we spend it on things made in other countries. Okay, I get that, but how long can we maintain such a growing imbalance? It would seem there would have to be some outer limit or threshold.

What's on your plate?

WaPo - On Fla. Menus, a Favorite Fish Experiences Identity Theft
The alleged grouper at 17 of 24 area restaurants sampled by the investigators was actually another, less desirable species, according to a DNA analysis conducted for the state attorney general's office and released earlier this month. Asian catfish. Emperor. Painted sweetlips. And twice, types of fish that could not be identified.
I guess my grandmother should stop worrying so much about what the Chinese restaurant might be serving her and start worrying about what the seafood restaurant is serving instead.

I always thought the reason for eating seafood when in Florida was because the food would be fresher, but apparently not:
Much of the reason for the questionable grouper, red snapper and other fish stems from a simple matter of supply and demand, regulators and industry officials say.

With the popularity of grouper rising nationwide and the domestic catch at times limited by federal guidelines, restaurateurs have relied on imports to fill the gap.
If I'm not going to be served fresh seafood that is actually caught off the coast of Florida, I might as well just go to Red Lobster, or better yet, just stay home and fix something I bought frozen at the grocery store.

I don't really want to be a cynic, but I think I'm becoming one anyway. Trust no one and expect very little. Sad.

All are agreed on N. Korea disarmament

WaPo - N. Korea Agrees to Nuclear Disarmament
North Korea agreed Tuesday after arduous talks to shut down its main nuclear reactor and eventually dismantle its atomic weapons program, just four months after the communist state shocked the world by testing a nuclear bomb.

The deal marks the first concrete plan for disarmament in more than three years of six-nation negotiations, and could potentially herald a new era of cooperation in the region with the North's longtime foes _ the United States and Japan _ also agreeing to discuss normalizing relations with Pyongyang.

Under the deal, the North will receive initial aid equal to 50,000 tons heavy fuel oil within 60 days for shutting down and sealing its main nuclear reactor and related facilities at Yongbyon, north of the capital, to be confirmed by international inspectors.

For irreversibly disabling the reactor and declaring all nuclear programs, the North will eventually receive another 950,000 tons in aid.
I honestly don't know how the final agreement compares to what each side wanted in the negotiations, but it sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I don't know that the aid for N. Korea is equivalent to energy they could produce with nuclear energy, but I don't really think nuclear energy was their main goal anyway. If relations can be normalized between N. Korea and the rest of the world, however, that could ultimately equate to much better windfall than the aid upfront.

North Korea and United States also will embark on talks aimed at resolving disputes and restarting diplomatic relations, Wu said. The Korean peninsula has technically remained in a state of war for more than a half-century since the Korean War ended in a 1953 cease-fire.

The United States will begin the process of removing North Korea from its designation as a terror-sponsoring state and also on ending U.S. trade sanctions, but no deadlines was set, according to the agreement.
If the Korean conflict can finally be completely put to bed, that would be good too. Maybe (but I'm not holding my breathe) the US could actually join the agreement on removing land mines, since we would no longer have to maintain the mines along the border between North and South Korea.

To some degree I agree with John Bolton here, although I don't agree that Bush should reject the offer:
"I am very disturbed by this deal," Bolton told CNN. "It sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world: 'If we hold out long enough, wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded,' in this case with massive shipments of heavy fuel oil for doing only partially what needs to be done."
I think that it does, to some degree, send that message, but there is really no other choice. We knew that Iraq didn't have nuclear capabilities so we took over their country in an attempt to keep them from attaining them. That hasn't worked out so well for us, now has it. Once N. Korea exhibited its nuclear power (or at least claimed that's what it was), we were much more willing to talk.

When you are only willing to talk with those who wield power, you encourage other states to seek power if they want to talk. If you attack those who don't have power, you encourage those who don't have power to seek power if they don't want to be attacked. To me the solution is not what Bolton suggests, but talking instead of bullying. Just because we have raw power doesn't necessarily mean we can use it effectively to achieve our goals.

Monday, February 12, 2007

You know a show is popular when (Heroes Edition)

You know a show is popular when they are advertising its commercials. Last night while watching Crossing Jordan, NBC advertised that a commercial for Heroes would be on during Deal or No Deal and that it would reveal a new hero. This is not the first time they have done such a thing and advertised it in advance. If the fact that a commercial for Heroes will air during Deal or No Deal is a reason to watch Deal or No Deal, then you know that Heroes must be a big deal. (Whew, did you follow that?) It doesn't work on me, because I watch CBS from 7 to 8 and then switch over for Heroes at 8, but it gets my sister to watch NBC from 7 to 8.

A Deal with N. Korea?

NYT - Tentative Deal Reached With North Korea, Envoy Says
BEIJING, Tuesday, Feb. 13 — Negotiators reached a draft agreement early this morning on a deal to begin disarming North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the chief American negotiator to the talks said.

“We feel it’s an excellent draft,” said the American envoy, Christopher R. Hill, an assistant secretary of state.

The deal is now being reviewed by the governments of the six nations involved in the talks — the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia — and could be announced as soon as late morning. Negotiators agreed to reconvene at 10:30 a.m. today in Beijing (9:30 p.m. Monday, Eastern time).
If it truly is a good deal, I hope that it will go ahead. Although I can easily understand N. Korea's desire to have nuclear weapons, I'm not actually in favor of them having them.

I'm sure there will be more news on the subject this evening.

A New Dollar Coin Series

CNN Money - Presidential dollar coin on the way
Hoping to replicate the success of the state-quarter program, the U.S. Mint tries again to make the dollar-coin work.

The U.S. Mint will issue a dollar coin featuring the likeness of George Washington this Thursday, the first in the series of presidential coin dollars.
I'm not sure that Presidential coins will have the draw that state quarters have had. It seems to me that many people that aren't normally coin collects are likely to collect quarters that represent their home state or states where they have lived, etc. But no one really has a "home president," do they? I'm not saying it won't work at all, just that I don't think it will meet with equivalent demand.

Plus, I think, the fact that it is a dollar, not a quarter will factor in as well, for this reason:
The coins, which will be the size, weight and metal composition of the Sacagawea $1 coin will feature the portraits of U.S. presidents in the order they served.
I know that I personally don't like the fact that the current dollar coin is too close in size to the quarter. People want money that is easily distinguishable so that we don't have to think too hard when we pay for things. And nobody wants to accidentally give someone a dollar when they mean to only give them a quarter.

There were some things about the coin series that I found particularly interesting:
Gerald Ford is currently the last president on the release schedule. Under the Presidential Coin Act of 2005, none of the coins will bear the image of any living former or current President. Coins of deceased former presidents won't be made until two years following the date of death.
I assume he is the last because, although Reagan is dead, Carter, who served before him, is not. And if you are going to go in order, you can't have Reagan without Carter. And there was also this fact:
Each president will be honored with only one coin regardless of the number of consecutive terms they served. President Grover Cleveland, who served two non-consecutive terms, will be featured on two coins.
Again, if you are going to do it in order, Cleveland has to get two.

The final interesting fact in the article is this:
The Mint says that the coins are not meant to be a replacement of paper dollar bills. But there is a cost difference between paper and coin dollars, which can last longer in circulation.

A 2002 Government Accounting Office report released in 2002 concluded that if dollar coins replaced the paper dollar, the government would save $500 million annually.
My question is, why the heck not? If it would save $500 million annually, why not get rid of the paper dollar? Is the paper dollar really that important?

Lost laptops. . .and weapons!

CNN - FBI loses laptops with classified information
The FBI lost at least 10 laptop computers containing classified information during a four-year period ending in 2005, the Justice Department's inspector general has found.

The 10 were among the 160 laptops lost or stolen during a 44-month period ending September 30, 2005, Inspector General Glenn Fine reported. Along with the laptops, an equal numbers of weapons were also missing.
One's initial response might be that this sounds bad, but you haven't heard the best part yet:
The report said the number of missing items, while still a problem, represents a sharp improvement since a 2002 audit, which found more than 300 laptops and 300 weapons lost or stolen during the previous 28-month period.
Now as a percentage of the total laptops and weapons they are responsible for, this may seem small, but it still seems like it is way higher than it should be considering the sensitive nature of the items in question.

Okay. . .

BBC News - Uncircumcised pupils sent home
A Kenyan secondary school has sent home 20 boys because they were not circumcised, saying it feared they would be bullied by other students.
And this is an issue at school because??? Maybe they have communal showers, but still.

Intellectual honesty?

NYT - Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules
There is nothing much unusual about the 197-page dissertation Marcus R. Ross submitted in December to complete his doctoral degree in geosciences here at the University of Rhode Island.

His subject was the abundance and spread of mosasaurs, marine reptiles that, as he wrote, vanished at the end of the Cretaceous era about 65 million years ago. The work is “impeccable,” said David E. Fastovsky, a paleontologist and professor of geosciences at the university who was Dr. Ross’s dissertation adviser. “He was working within a strictly scientific framework, a conventional scientific framework.”

But Dr. Ross is hardly a conventional paleontologist. He is a “young earth creationist” — he believes that the Bible is a literally true account of the creation of the universe, and that the earth is at most 10,000 years old.

For him, Dr. Ross said, the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. The fact that as a young earth creationist he has a different view just means, he said, “that I am separating the different paradigms.”
The article continues on to discuss the use of scientific degrees by creationists to somehow validate their positions as scientific, and the ability (or lack thereof) of universities to use the religious beliefs of degree candidates as criteria for awarding or withholding degrees.

It just seems to me that student here is being intellectually dishonest. He is unwilling to be honest with himself. Either he believes what his dissertation says or he doesn't. All of this "one paradigm or another" business doesn't cut it for me in this circumstance. Now I can say "if one follows a realist paradigm" even if I'm not a realist, but I'm not going to write a dissertation arguing in favor of that paradigm.

I suppose that the universities shouldn't be able to deny people degrees based on their religious beliefs on the one hand, but if the candidates have truly steeled themselves against believing what they are being taught, it seems that they don't really deserve the degree in the first place. Ultimately, it just seems like a really odd thing to do.

Clinton reception in NH

WaPo - Clinton's Search for Common Ground Gets Mixed Reviews in N.H.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) touted the politics of the possible Sunday during her inaugural visit to New Hampshire as a presidential candidate, a message that found an energetic but not ecstatic reception in town-hall meetings and house parties across the state.

Clinton veered away from drawing simple conclusions on issues such as the war in Iraq and health care, insisting that each is a complex problem that does not lend itself to a simple solution.
It is certainly true that there is no simple solution, and I believe I've made that very point here on the blog before. However, that is not what the American people like to here. We like for things to be simple and clean cut. Don't confuse us with the facts.

This quote surprised me a bit when I read it:
Clinton is sending a message to primary voters as well as to her opponents that governing -- unlike campaigning -- is about finding common ground and forging compromise, not making difficult promises. It's a message she believes is striking fear in Republicans. "I'm the one person they are most afraid of," she said during a stop in Nashua. "Bill and I have beaten them before, and we will again."
I suppose it makes since that she would want to draw attention to her experience in the White House as first lady, but to invoke Bill in that way seemed a bit odd to me. It's almost like saying he will be helping her do the job or something. Maybe that's just me.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Geez, he even gets international attention

BBC News - Australia head slams US candidate
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has claimed US presidential hopeful Barack Obama's stance on Iraq will benefit those seeking to destroy it.

Mr Obama, currently a Democrat senator, said that US troops should withdraw from the troubled nation next year.

Mr Howard said al-Qaeda should be "praying as many times as possible" for an Obama victory in the 2008 elections.

But Mr Obama reacted by saying Australia should increase its troops in Iraq, if Mr Howard was so concerned.
I can just hear the Republican ads now:
"Obama sounds like Osama . . ."

At this stage of the game, what difference does it make to Australia what one Democratic candidate thinks about Iraq, even if he is also a Senator? I can see other countries weighing in on the campaign once we are down to the general election, but what's up with making a big deal out of it now?

I did like Obama's come back line, though. Sort of a "put up or shut up" kinda thing.

Ya think?

NYT - Troubles Grow for a University Built on Profits
The University of Phoenix became the nation’s largest private university by delivering high profits to investors and a solid, albeit low-overhead, education to midcareer workers seeking college degrees.

But its reputation is fraying as prominent educators, students and some of its own former administrators say the relentless pressure for higher profits, at a university that gets more federal student financial aid than any other, has eroded academic quality.
Imagine that, when a university focuses too much on profit academic quality decreases. Who would have guessed?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Very dangerous"

BBC - Putin attacks 'very dangerous' US
Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticised the United States for what he said was its "almost uncontained" use of force around the world.

Washington's "very dangerous" approach to global relations was fuelling a nuclear arms race, he told a security summit in Munich.

Correspondents say the strident speech may signal a more assertive Russia.
First of all, I don't think Putin has ever been happy with Russia's diminished position in global politics since the end of the Cold War. The idea that he would like to use the current state of global public opinion about the US to his advantage should come as no surprise. It seems to me like a case of running the idea up the flagpole to see who will salute.

The article goes on to say:
And Republican Senator John McCain added: "Moscow must understand that it cannot enjoy a genuine partnership with the West so long as its actions at home and abroad conflict fundamentally with the core values of the Euro-Atlantic democracies. In today's multi-polar world there is no place for needless confrontation."
This whole quote is bothersome to me. First of all, just the idea that we are trying to force "the values of Euro-Atlantic democracies" on the rest of the world is part of our problem. I know that ideally it would be nice if everyone else held those values, but it really is not our place to force them on others, unless we are advocating an end to the sovereign state system as we know it. Second, to call our current international system "multi-polar" is something of a misnomer. I'm aware that some people view it that way, and it is to some degree true economically. However, in terms of military might we are quite close to unipolarity in the international system with the US as the single pole.

If one thinks about the poles in the international system as legs on a chair, the US, although not the only leg on the chair, is certainly the longest leg, which makes the chair very unstable. If one takes a realist view of the international system, Putin is certainly correct. Other powers will try to build their strength in an effort to balance against the strength of the US. And whether one is inclined to balance power or threat, the US has, in recent years, shown itself to be both a power and a threat. And Iranian and N. Korean desires to possess nuclear weapons can arguably be related to that threat.

As if we didn't already know

CNN - Obama declares he's running for president
Sen. Barack Obama stood before a cheering crowd at the Capitol in his home state Saturday and announced he will seek the 2008 Democratic nomination for president.

Invoking the memory of fellow Illinoisan and the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the first-term senator addressed thousands packed into the Springfield, Illinois, town square on a chilly day in America's heartland.
Well, I guess it is now completely official. I still don't understand what all the hype is about. He's a first term senator, just like Edwards was last time around. Everyone acted, and still acts, like Edwards is too inexperienced and doesn't stand a chance, and yet everytime you turn on the TV someone is talking about Obama. Let's stop acting like an articulate black man is something new or special. He seems like a nice guy and he doesn't carry with him all the baggage of someone like Jesse Jackson, but that doesn't mean that he can automatically win because of it. Someone please tell me what makes this man seem so electable all of a sudden.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Great News

As an update to this post from last month, I'm thrilled to announce that my eldest son recieved notification today that he is being awarded a full scholarship to Troy University, including room and board! I'm very proud of him and I'm also happy to not have to pay tuition. Since we live here in town, room and board was only an issue if he got the scholarship to cover it. He's particularly happy that he got it.

Just say no. . .to cheerleaders?

Fox Sports - Crowe's rugby team cuts cheerleaders
Russell Crowe says his rugby league club's cheerleading squad is being cut because skimpily clad cheerleaders detract from the game and make spectators uncomfortable.

The Oscar-winning actor, who is part-owner in the South Sydney Rabbitohs club, said the club had become concerned that the cheerleaders - whose uniform includes fishnet stockings and tasseled miniskirts in the white, green and red team colors - were inappropriate entertainment.
I can't imagine that would ever happen in this country.

Who's the Daddy?

And the plot thickens over the identity of the late Anna Nicole Smith's baby daughter.

MSNBC - Zsa Zsa’s husband says he could be baby’s dad
The husband of actress Zsa Zsa Gabor said Friday that he had a decade-long affair with Anna Nicole Smith and may be her infant daughter’s father.

The claim by Prince Frederick von Anhalt comes amid a paternity suit over Smith’s 5-month-old daughter, Dannielynn. The birth certificate lists Dannielynn’s father as attorney Howard K. Stern, but former Smith boyfriend Larry Birkhead is waging a legal challenge, saying he is the father.

“If you go back from September, she wasn’t with one of those guys, she was with me,” von Anhalt told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.
And he waits until now to mention this? I wonder if it is for real or just a publicity stunt.

Twisting the facts

BBC News - Pentagon 'twisted Iraq findings'
The Democratic chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee has suggested intelligence was twisted in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

[. . .]

Under repeated questioning by Sen Levin, Mr Gimble said the conclusions reached in reports by Mr Feith were not fully supported by the available intelligence.

'Relationship' unproven

In particular, his conclusion there was a "mature and symbiotic relationship" between Iraq and al-Qaeda could not be justified on the basis of the available intelligence.

And an alleged meeting between an Iraqi intelligence officer and a leader of the 9/11 attacks, Mohamed Atta, never took place.
This comes as no major surprise. I assumed they were twisting evidence from the beginning.

Update: After reading a post over at Poliblog on a similar article from the Washington Post, I was inspired to point out the lame excuse used in this article:
Mr Feith told the inspector general his reports never pretended to be intelligence assessments, the report's executive summary says.

Peace among Palestinians

NYT - Accord Is Signed by Palestinians to Stop Feuding
The main rival Palestinian factions agreed late Thursday to form a government of national unity aimed at ending a wave of violence between them and an international boycott.

The agreement, signed here in Islam’s holiest city under Saudi auspices, appeared likely to end, at least for now, weeks of fighting that had ravaged the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Still, it seemed to stop short of meeting the demands of the international community for resuming relations and support for the Palestinian Authority.

[. . .]

Israel and international powers have said that they would lift their boycott of the Palestinian government imposed after the victory by the militant group Hamas a year ago only if it agreed to three conditions: recognize Israel, renounce violence against Israel and abide by previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
This would seem to be at least a step in the right direction for Palestine, if it ever hopes to gain its own state. Learning to work together and showing a respect for the opposition party are actually steps toward democratization which the rest of the international community wants to foster in Palestine.

There are still road blocks in the way however:
Hamas officials in Mecca bristled at the insistence of accepting Israel, insisting that any concessions they offered would not be enough.

“I wonder why the issue of recognizing Israel is the key to everything?” Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas government, said earlier Thursday. “We are interested to end the siege but not at any cost.”

[. . .]

Hamas rejects Israel’s very existence and calls for its destruction. Fatah, which began with that same philosophy in the late 1950s, favors a two-state solution with Israel returning to its borders from before the 1967 war and a Palestinian state built in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
This is a good illustration of what I was trying to point out before in this post. Some Palestinian groups want more than just their own state. They want Israel GONE! Period! As noted above, Hamas is one of these groups and Hamas won a majority of seats in the last election, which would seem to indicate that many Palestinians agree with them.

One of the most pressing issues at the moment, however, is whether or not this peace will even last:
Mostly, the Mecca accord promises to end the fighting that has claimed the lives of more than 90 Palestinians, with each side pledging to ease the tensions and turn a new page in their history. The two sides have signed several truces, but each one has broken down.

“These dark days will be completely gone,” Mr. Meshal announced in signing the agreement. “Our Arabic, Islamic unity has brought us together, shining again.” He added that having signed the accord in the holy city lent it greater significance.
The significance of signing the accord in Mecca occurred to me almost immediately. Hopefully Mr. Meshal is correct that it will lend the agreement enough credibility for it to hold this time.