Saturday, February 28, 2009

Maybe Gregg knew what he was doing

We've written about the weird Judd Gregg phenomenon before. You remember the story: When Obama's original pick for the Department of Commerce, Bill Richardson, cratered, Obama asked Judd Gregg to do it and Gregg agreed. Then, within days, Gregg announced that he wasn't taking the job because he had strong policy differences with Obama. The talk, especially from paranoid right-wing types, was that he was standing on the principle that the White House shouldn't be doing some kind of power grab over the Census. I'm not sure that ever made sense, but that was the story.

Now, another possibility emerges: Gregg knew what Obama didn't know, that the knock on the door was imminent.

I first heard this on WCAX last night: 11} GREGG_VO
An Associated Press investigation says New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg may have profited from earmarks. The report says Gregg won 66-million dollars for the former Pease Air Force base -- at the same time he and his brother were making real estate deals there. Gregg says he did not violate any laws -- or Senate rules. And he says his last minute decision to decline the President's appointment to Commerce Secretary was "soley due to differences in political ideology." But some Washington watchers believe his investments do not fit with the Obama administration's promise of greater transparency.

We now have more details:

Gregg, R-N.H., has personally invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Cyrus Gregg's office projects at the Pease International Tradeport, a Portsmouth business park built at the defunct Pease Air Force Base, once home to nuclear bombers. Judd Gregg has collected at least $240,017 to $651,801 from his investments there, Senate records show, while helping to arrange at least $66 million in federal aid for the former base.

Maybe he could have made the argument that even if he did make money on the deal, it was what Plunkitt of Tammany Hall would have called "honest graft", but in these times I don't think that would be a popular position.

As I said in my earlier post, I never had any use for the guy anyway. There is a point to bipartisanship, but loading your Cabinet with right-wing Republicans who don't support your policies hardly seems like the way to get your program through.

So now we have a new nominee, Gary Locke. I don't know much about him, but hopefully he's been vetted more than the prior two choices.

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Listen to The Bunk

Maybe like you, I'm a big fan of The Wire, the greatest show on television. Many people, including Barack Obama, say that Omar, the gay stick-up man, is their favorite character. Maybe it's because he's cool, unafraid. Maybe it's because he gets to take the revenge against what the "bad" drug dealers do that society misses out on.

I think it's mostly just because he's cool, though. And the fact that he never put a gun on anyone who's not in the game.

I've always liked him, too, and he does get some great lines. For instance, his comment to Bunk while he's sitting in jail, "If I'd known I was going to be sharing quarters with these boys I probably wouldn't have robbed so many of them."

Still, it never pays to ignore Bunk Moreland, the conscious of the series, or one of them. In this scene Bunk challenges Omar's idea that the drug business, and particularly his part of it, isn't hurting anybody that matters. We know this isn't true. We've seen what happened in Hamsterdam, and what happens to Michael's mother, or to Bubs and some of his friends, but it's important to hear it.

So I'm not telling you that you shouldn't like Omar. What I am saying is that, like most things on The Wire, if you ignore the moral ambiguity even of your favorite character, you're really missing something important.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Blowing my own horn

We had a huge day over at Green Mountain Daily today, over 7,500 visits and over 11,000 page views, mostly from referrals from Pharyngula.

Here's the diary that did it:

I don't know Jack McCullough, but he must be a very smart guy

Category: Creationism
Posted on: February 26, 2009 12:57 PM, by PZ Myers

After all, he says nice things about me and not-so-nice things about Ben Stein.

Hop on over to thank PZ for the help. And, click on the diary and enjoy the video.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


In reality, there's no such thing as clean coal.

More from the reality-challenged community

You may have seen this already, but if not you can thank me later.

In India there are people who are reasonably concerned with tiger attacks. You would be, too, if you lived in an area where tigers roam freely in close proximity to your house.

You might, however, have a different approach to protecting your children.

Boy marries dog to ward off tiger attacks
Wed Feb 18, 2009 2:02pm EST

By Jatindra Dash

BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) - An infant boy was married off to his neighbors' dog in eastern India by villagers, who said it will stop the groom from being killed by wild animals, officials and witnesses said on Wednesday.

Apparently the lad is thought to be in particular danger because of an extra tooth growing out of his upper gum, so I guess the question really is: are they doing this because they believe in some bizarre and delusional religion, or just because of a lack of modern dental techniques?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Time for reality?

You know things have changed when even Republicans start to notice some basic aspects of reality. Even though when it happens you start wondering about water flowing uphill, cocks crowing at midnight, and the sun rising in the west, this may be one of those times.

Lugar Urges Reconsideration of US-Cuba Relations
By VOA News
22 February 2009

Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican Senator, is urging the United States to reconsider its relations with Cuba.

US Senator Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee US Senator Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee The Indiana lawmaker says restrictive U.S. policies have failed to achieve their stated goal of promoting democracy in Cuba.

He hasn't gone so far as to propose ending the economic warfare--oops, trade embargo-- against Cuba, but this is a start.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

NPR covers breaking economic news

In another update on the effects of the economy on small businesses, NPR this morning ran a story on how things have been going for a fortune teller in Washington. She says that her business has picked up, which has surprised her.

Surprised? I thought she was a fortune teller!

I look forward to more NPR stories on how the economy has affected work levels for three-card monte players, Ponzi scheme developers, and other small and big time frauds and grifters.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Creationism, UVM, and (we hope) the last chapter on Ben Stein

I don't have to go over the whole Ben Stein/creationist/graduation disinvitation thing do I? I didn't think so.

The latest chapter is that the creationist Discovery Institute, always with an eye open for publicity, is still trying to elbow its way onto campus at UVM. Following on the disinvitation of their buddy Ben Stein, they've written to Nicholas Gotelli, a biology proessor at Groovy UV who published an op-ed piece in the Burlington Free Press about the Stein affair, to try to get themselves invited to debate creationism and evolution.

Among skeptic and freethinking circles there is a debate about whether to debate these clowns. On the one hand, they can't go into a legitimate debate and stand up to any criticism; thus, any educated person who watches the debate will see that they have, once again, been thoroughly discredited. On the other hand, even appearing on the same stage with them enables them to claim a degree of undeserved credibility, and to maintain the fraudulent claim that there is a scientific debate in which creationism and evolution are equal competitors.

In this case, Professor Gotelli has it exactly right:

Academic debate on controversial topics is fine, but those topics need to have a basis in reality. I would not invite a creationist to a debate on campus for the same reason that I would not invite an alchemist, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a psychic, or a Holocaust revisionist. These ideas have no scientific support, and that is why they have all been discarded by credible scholars. Creationism is in the same category.

Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren't members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences? If you want to be taken seriously by scientists and scholars, this is where you need to publish. Academic publishing is an intellectual free market, where ideas that have credible empirical support are carefully and thoroughly explored. Nothing could possibly be more exciting and electrifying to biology than scientific disproof of evolutionary theory or scientific proof of the existence of a god. That would be Nobel Prize winning work, and it would be eagerly published by any of the prominent mainstream journals.

Follow the link for the rest of the story at Pharyngula.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tom Rush has a new album coming out

For the many who don't know the name, Tom Rush is one of the last men standing from the Great Folk Music Scare of the 1960's. He became famous for recording great songs, by songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and Murray McLaughlin before anyone else had ever heard of them. Tom's also from just over the river in Merrimack, New Hampshire, although he's lived in Wyoming for several years.

Tom has a new album coming out, his first studio album in thirty-five years. You can get a preview of it here. Even though he hasn't been recording in the studio, he's been touring, and he's going to be playing at Lyndon State College on Saturday, March 7, as part of the Catamount Arts series.Maybe I'll see you there.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Autism activists, meet science.

Another step to discrediting the claims that vaccines are what cause autism came in a court decision today. In a blow to the movement arguing that vaccines lead to autism, a special court ruled on Thursday against three families seeking compensation from the federal vaccine-injury fund.

Both sides in the debate have been awaiting decisions in these test cases since hearings began in 2007; more than 5,000 similar claims have been filed.

In his decision, the special master, George L. Hastings Jr., ruled that the government’s expert witnesses were “far better qualified, far more experienced and far more persuasive” than the Cedillos’. Although the family had to show only that the preponderance of evidence was on their side, Mr. Hastings ruled that the evidence was “overwhelmingly contrary” to their argument.

While expressing “deep sympathy and admiration” for the family, he ruled that they had been “misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment.”

The judges considered 5,000 pages of testimony from experts and 939 medical articles.

This decision follows a report earlier this week that a researcher whose findings had given support to autism activists might have falsified--the word they used was "altered"--his evidence.

I have no doubt that it can be incredibly difficult to raise an autistic child, and I am familiar with the natural human drive to seek patterns and causes to phenomena. Unfortunately, for years the science has been clear that there is no basis to conclude that vaccines are the cause of autism. During that time, we have seen parents refuse to immunize their children, causing epidemics of measles and other extremely dangerous diseases even in the United States.

Although today's rulings will undoubtedly be challenged, we can hope that we are turning the corner and the anti-vaccine superstition will start to fade into history.

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A few quick notes

What's the story with Judd Gregg? I mean, I couldn't figure out what use Obama had for him from the beginning, but what could lead him to pull out today? What could there possibly be that he didn't know before he told Obama he would take the job?

Two judges are accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes to send teenagers to private prisons in Pennsylvania. This is beyond mind-boggling. In the last thirty years or so I've known lots of judges, many of whom have been intolerant, bigoted, and absolutely biased against my clients from the word "Go". But I've never know one who would do this.
UPDATED: They've already pled guilty.

They say sports build character? No, they reveal it. The Vermont Principals' Association has imposed a lifetime ban on a basketball coach who intentionally tripped an opposing player running down the court.

Steve Shepardson was coaching the Poultney boys junior varsity team in a home game against Proctor on Jan. 5 when the incident occurred, VPA Director of Activities Bob Johnson said.

And then in today's paper: A Poultney High School basketball coach who was issued a lifetime coaching ban by the Vermont Principals’ Association on Friday for intentionally tripping an opposing player during a game was ejected for misconduct as a fan Tuesday evening from a Fair Haven Middle School tournament, officials said Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Darwin and Lincoln

I've previously written about the fact that these two great men were born on the same day.

Today I came across another item that bears consideration. It is a review of a book that examines Darwin's attitude toward slavery. The thesis of the book is that Darwin's hatred of slavery was as important a force in his life as his commitment to scientific inquiry.

Here's an example: At the end of Voyage of the Beagle are Darwin's most powerful words towards the racism he observed.

chapter 21
"On the 19th of August we finally left the shores of Brazil. I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate."

Worth a look.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

No comment here, just good news

Voodoo! It's back.

You may have gotten the impression that I have some passing familiarity with the Catholic church. (How else would you explain the hostility, right?) Well, it's true. Like everybody else, I was born an atheist, but then turned over to Mother Church to get the real story. I can still recite snippets of the Baltimore Catechism (although, as far as I recall, neither Brooks Robinson nor Cal Ripken is mentioned even once) and the Latin mass, but beyond that I've ditched all that stuff.

It's good to know about, though, because, like just about every other religion, Catholicism is chock full with these bizarre little ideas that you would never believe unless you heard it from the horse's mouth. For example, we had a nun at our school who taught us all that Jesus Christ was the only person who was ever exactly six feet tall. How could she possibly know that, you might wonder? Well, it's quite simple, really. You see, six feet is the perfect height for a man, and obviously there has only been one perfect human, so who else could possibly be precisely six feet tall except for one Middle Eastern guy who may or may not have existed centuries before this particular system of measurement was devised.

Or, and it was commonly repeated by the nuns at our school, that the Virgin Mary sheds a tear whenever a girl whistles.

Stop, I know what you're going to say: there are always superstitious people, even among the sincerely religious; you can't tag the whole religion with a few crackpot ideas.

Okay, even if I give you that, here's something you can't dismiss: indulgences.

You know what they are? Under Catholic mythology, after you die, even if you've led a good life, you are bound to have committed some sins, and you still have to be punished for them. Yes, even if you're not bad enough to go to hell, you're pretty much guaranteed to be bad enough to deserve punishment in Purgatory. The nuns told us that it was even worse than hell, although it was only temporary; once you were all done you'd get to go to Heaven. We could never know how long our stint in Purgatory would be, but we knew one thing: you could do various things to cut time off your sentence by getting indulgences. An indulgence is, quite simply, time off your sentence in Purgatory. They got kind of a bad image back in the Middle Ages, back when the priests and bishops would go around selling indulgences, with the slogan that your sins would be wiped out as soon as your coins were heard to clink in the box.

Even though you're dead, and beyond the count of human time, apparently time in Purgatory is measured in human time. On occasion you could get a plenary indulgence, which is a total get out of Purgatory free card; if you get a plenary indulgence and then die, you rocket straight up to Heaven, no sweating it out in Purgatory. But usually, you would get partial indulgences. We had prayer books in our school and church that would tell us the value of various things. For instance, you might get a year's indulgence for saying a rosary, or maybe a month's indulgence for going to Mass when you don't have to, but they also had these little short prayers, called "ejaculations" (stop that, I am not making this up!) that might only be worth three days, or even one day. Not much of a reward, but how much effort did you have to put out to get it?

Well, guess what. Indulgences are back. Its revival has been viewed as part of a conservative resurgence that has brought some quiet changes and some highly controversial ones, like Pope Benedict XVI’s recent decision to lift the excommunications of four schismatic bishops who reject the council’s reforms.

Yes, they're back, along with the tables that enable you to compute your good time and everything. And, what about this: You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that sounds like buying them to me.

So that's the story for the day. Don't want to undergo excruciating agony after you die (and really, who does?)? Then get your hands on the prayer book and start racking up those indulgences.

Your future, deceased self will thank you for it.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Once more from those law-abiding Republicans

You know how fond the Republicans are of claiming to be law-abiding and respectful of our democratic institutions? Well, even though it's tempting to really root for the Palin/Limbaugh wing of the Republican Party to take over, it's very possible that we've seen the end of the Sarah Palin phonomenon. Fifteen minutes, a couple of hundred large in fancy clothes, and you're done.

But before we bid adieu to Caribou Barbie, let's savor this last moment.

The State Senate found Gov. Sarah Palin’s husband, Todd Palin, and nine state employees, including some of her top aides, in contempt for ignoring subpoenas to testify in the Legislature’s investigation into the governor’s firing of her public safety commissioner. But the Senate said it would seek no punishment for the witnesses’ failure to appear before the Judiciary Committee last fall.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

U.S. Out of Cuba!

Nick Kristof had an interesting column in Wednesday's Times about how we need to have some kind of inquiry about the use of torture during the Bush years in order to avoid doing it again.

I really can't go along with all of it. For instance, he recommends that it be run by Brent Scowcroft and John McCain, "dominated by military and security experts". Somehow that's supposed to add up to nonpartisan, even though we know that McCain, while making a show of being against torture, supported the Bush regime in the Senate when it came down to it.

Maybe this is the best we can do. I hope not. I would think that a federal grand jury might be a more appropriate body to investigate, or, even better, the International Court of Justice. Probably he's right that that isn't going to happen, but we don't have to like it.

Buried in the column, though, is a great suggestion. In the context of Obama's order to close the detention facility in Guantanamo, he makes the following suggestion:

So let’s do more than just close the prison. The best move would be to hand Guantánamo back to the Cubans.

Why spend tens of millions each year for a naval base that has very little military utility? We can project power in the region from Florida, and the main effect of the base has been to bolster Cuba’s Communist regime by creating a nationalist backlash and a scapegoat for the Castros’ repression and incompetence.

So how about it? Can anyone think of any foreign policy benefit the United States derives from spending whatever we spend to maintain the naval base? It's got to be an irritant to the Cuban government and it doesn't advance our ability to defend ourselves (assuming we're ready to stop pretending Cuba is any kind of threat to the United States).

Let's just do it.

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