Monday, June 30, 2008

How Not To Do Editing

One of the things you learn quickly doing blogging is how to quote what other people have written. It's pretty basic - you cut and paste it into matching BLOCKQUOTE macros. If there's anything that might be unclear, put the correction in square brackets. Here's an example of a quote from an earlier article:

[Obama could] just announce that it would happen over his cold, dead filibuster. Or he'd ask to put a hold on the bill. Even the dimmest majority leader, a category that probably includes Harry Reid, wouldn't risk an open fight with his party's presidential nominee. So if Obama had told Reid that the grotesquely-named "Protect America Act" was a non-starter, it would sit in committee until the end of the session.

Help Us, Obama-Wan

See how that works? The part in square brackets shows the meaning of the pronoun it replaced. There's a link to the source of the quote so that readers can verify that I got it right. I've checked links from quotes at dozens of websites. They don't all do it exactly the way I do, but they all do this somehow. I have yet to catch one changing words willy-nilly because they found them less satisfactory than other words.

Which brings us to these clowns. A group calling itself "American Family Association" has apparently decided it doesn't want to see the word "gay" anywhere on its website, preferring the word "homosexual". Hey, we all have style guides, but they're supposed to be applied to our own writing, not to someone else's when we're quoting them. To do otherwise is intellectually dishonest. Of course, as PZ Myers observes, intellectual dishonesty is the stock in trade of such groups:

It seems the American Family Association, which you can tell from the name is yet another institution that has mistaken "patriarchy" for "family"*, was a little overzealous in their use of search and replace, and renamed an athlete named Tyson Gay briefly.

*Try it! Just mentally substitute "patriarchy" for "family" in the title of every right-wing organization that uses the term in their name, and it will suddenly make so much more sense.

“Mr Homosexual” would be an awesome name

I must admit, it works for me.

Apparently, the AFA have been using some sort of automated editor on their site. Steve Benen notes:

But the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow website takes the phenomenon one step further with its AP articles. The far-right fundamentalist group replaces the word “gay” in the articles with the word “homosexual.” I’m not entirely sure why, but it seems to make the AFA happy. The group is, after all, pretty far out there.

Note to the religious right: auto-replace is not your friend

How intellectually dishonest do you have to be to do this sort of thing? I suppose it's to be expected of people who believe their god is both capable of designing a disease that will only kill the first born of one particular nation-state, and at the same time not be able to figure out how to get rid of "homosexuals" when they believe he despises them so much.

Whatever the twisted logic is that causes them to do this, it doesn't apply here. If I've misquoted something, let me know.

Fear And Loathing At Midnight

[The Doctor and another group of strangers try to solve a new mystery. Image credit: screenshot by Cujo359]

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. Ambrose Redmoon

Recently I saw what was probably the most interesting Dr. Who episode ever. For a show that has had thirty seasons, most of which I've seen at least once, that's saying something. It's also saying something when you think about the changes that have happened to this show recently. It's far more frenetic than it once was. It's more overtly sexual in tone. This year, the Doctor's companion, Donna Noble, is both over the age of thirty and, while attractive, not glamorous. You have to go back to the first couple of seasons, when Barbara and Ian were the Doctor's somewhat reluctant sidekicks, to see a similar character. Even there, the similarities aren't all that great. Unlike Billie, Donna, played marvelously by Catharine Tate, isn't athletic, and unlike Martha, she's not in the same mental class as the Doctor. Yet she doesn't hesitate to tell him when she thinks he's wrong. She's also not above poking fun at him. She is his equal in ways few of the previous companions ever were.

So it's already been a unique season. Yet even so, this show is a standout. For one thing, Donna isn't really in it. For another, neither is the TARDIS, the Doctor's time ship. And, in contrast to many episodes, all you really need to know about the Doctor to understand his role in this episode is that he's a very old, very intelligent alien time traveler who looks like a human being.

The plot of the episode, "Midnight", is a rather basic one. The Doctor decides to go on a trip in a spaceliner to see an interesting natural phenomenon on a planet with a poisonous atmosphere and radiation levels that are fatal for any known form of life. Nevertheless, the spaceliner makes an unplanned stop, a powerful and previously unknown form of life gets on board, and apparently takes over the body of one of the passengers. The other passengers have to figure out what to do.

So far, this sounds rather humdrum and ordinary, of course. What makes this show interesting is the interaction of the passengers in reaction to their predicament. As you'd expect to see on an airliner, the passengers are a varied group people of above-average intelligence. There's a professor and his grad student, a young man and his vaguely professional parents, a recently divorced woman, and the Doctor. They, plus the flight attendant, spend the remainder of the episode trying to figure out what has happened, and what to do.

The confined space of the cabin, combined with the helplessness of the ship and an unknown and potentially dangerous intruder, quickly brings emotions to a boil. The passengers start to panic, and despite the Doctor's experience and self assuredness, he cannot calm them down. They decide to throw the woman who has been possessed out the airlock, and over time it becomes tragically clear that the Doctor can't talk them out of it. Appealing to neither their reason nor their humanity can dissuade them.

The episode features taught dialog that is delivered beautifully by the actors. In particular, David Tennant, as the Doctor, and Lesley Sharp as the possessed passenger, do a wonderful job of delivering dialog not quite in unison, and then in unison, in a gradual transformation that shows the alien's gradual success in taking over the Doctor's mind.

There's no doubt that the writers had our times in mind when they wrote this episode. The last few years have seen the kind of ugliness that unreasoning fear causes in the form of useless restrictions on freedoms, unnecessary wars, and acquiescence to, and sometimes celebration of, torture. On a more personal level, people seem less inclined to trust their neighbors, particularly if they are somehow "different". The rhetoric against immigrants, Muslims in particular, has grown alarmingly ugly. It's considered a slur to imply that a Presidential candidate is a Muslim. Considering some of the events that have occurred in the United Kingdom, I doubt the writers needed to look far from home for inspiration.

Some days I feel like the Doctor, trapped on a ship of panicky nitwits who won't think even though their lives depend on it. Unlike the situation the Doctor was in, though, for us there seems to be no hope of rescue.

Those American viewers who have cable should be able to catch this episode on July 11 on the SciFi Channel. I think this one's worth setting the VCR for.

UPDATE (Jul.1): Added another sentence to the paragraph about the Doctor's efforts to dissuade the passengers. It reads better now, and doesn't seem to give any more of the plot away.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The World According To Yoo

Image credit: UCSB collection

(Updated introduction) According to the article I where I found that photo, it depicts five Chinese prisoners being buried alive by Japanese soldiers during the occupation of that country. Apparently, we're in this business now. Doesn't it make you proud to be an American? We're now acting like the Japanese when half the world hated them for what they'd done. (End of update)

Over at Folo, Lotus featured this bit of testimony from John Yoo before Congress:

Conyers: Could the President order a suspect buried alive?
Yoo: Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the President could order someone buried alive. . .
Conyers: I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the President could order a suspect buried alive.

Yoo: Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a President . . . no American President would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.
Conyers: I think we understand the games that are being played.


“I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the President could order someone buried alive”

Yoo is famous, one might even say infamous, for declaring publicly that if the President ordered it, crushing a child's testicles would be a legal act. Yet he's clearly reluctant to say that the President could have someone buried alive.

Does this strike anyone else as an odd ethical boundary?

If this man were merely a mental patient, or someone writing a blog, I'd find this distinction fascinating. But coming from one of the President's former legal counsels, it's just profoundly disturbing.

UPDATE: Apparently, it's not so much an ethical boundary as the difference between the hypothetical and the actual. The quote about boy testicles was a hypothetical posed during a debate. Apparently in the case of burying people alive, it wasn't so hypothetical. In the comments of that Folo article, Mary explains:

[cites a Vanity Fair article]

Bush’s lawyers (White House lawyers, as opposed to Dept of Justice lawyers - so people like Addington and Gonzales) approved live burial and the CIA had started to build the coffin for it when apparently some FBI agents put up a huge fight and the plan stopped. At least, for the time the FBI was still there.

There are other reports of a clash between FBI and CIA over some action which was so severe that FBI was on the verge of making arrests on site - if I had to bet, it would be that the live burial was what triggered that, but it would be just a guess.

Of course, there are also reports that Bush ok’d having the Taliban fighters who surrendered to US and Northern Alliance put in sealed shipping containers where many died

but I’m relatively sure that Conyers was getting at the Zubaydah situation.

Comments to “I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the President could order someone buried alive”

As critical as I've been of what's being done in our name, I'm still shocked by some of the those things. This is one of those times.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Roll Over And Beg Award: All But Seventeen Members Of The Senate

Today, the Democrats outdid themselves. With the exception of fifteen Senators who voted "nay" and a couple who had good excuses for not being there, the entire Senate once again disgraced themselves. Like the House before them, they puffed up their chests today to make us safe from a few religious fanatics who live in one of the poorest regions on Earth. All they had to do to achieve that lofty goal was take away our freedom. Here is the list of Democratic winners:

Max Baucus (D-MT)
Evan Bayh (D-IN)
Thomas Carper (D-DE)
Robert Casey (D-PA)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Herb Kohl (D-WI)
Joe (Short Ride) Lieberman (ID-CT)
Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Ben Nelson (D-NE)
Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
Ken Salazar (D-CO)
James Webb (D-VA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Harry Reid (D-NV)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Jon Tester (D-MT)

Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
Barack Obama (D-IL)

The first group are repeat winners from February. The second group are new, added because they can't seem to figure out that not calling something "immunity" doesn't mean it isn't immunity. The third group, which includes two Presidential candidates, simply didn't vote.

Clinton and Obama are particularly sorry cases. They wouldn't even stand up and be counted. This isn't unusual behavior for either one of them, but it's sad to think that these two were the ones left until the end of primary season. Far better people dropped out early. Ian Welsh sums up this situation pretty well:

Obama and McCain were both absent, as was Clinton. Unimpressive, but unsurprising, though I suppose I'm disappointed by Clinton (Obama has made it clear he didn't intend to try and stop the bill.) Clinton and Obama will claim there was no point since it wasn't close. But, with their leadership, it might well have gone the other way.

The Real FISA Vote Passes 80 to 15 With the Presidential Nominees Passing

I'm not in the least surprised that "Mr. Present" ducked under the couch again, and for McCain it was just another day of not being on the job, I'm sure.

That's some fine bunch we have running for the leadership of the Free World.

The Republicans all voted to break cloture. They deserve the award because they don't need to roll over for President Bush any more. He'll be gone in a few months, and those who haven't retired will be in the worst electoral trouble they've seen in many years.

All of these people have disgraced themselves and their party. As always, procurement of and payment for prizes are the responsibility of the winners. Enjoy your biscuits, ladies and gentlemen.

(h/t to Ian Welsh and commenters at FireDogLake who made those lists)

UPDATE (Jun. 26): Added a clause to the opening paragraph explaining what two Senators "had good excuses" for. Ted Kennedy has brain cancer and Robert Byrd has been ill of late.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

S**t, P**s, F**k, C**t, C********r, M*********r, Tits

I can't think of a better title for a goodbye to George Carlin. The man was as irreverent as he was funny. His humor masked a keen mind that never seemed to fail to grasp an irony. Here's one of my favorite monologues of his:

We're so self-important. So self-important. Everybody's going to save something now. "Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails." And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. What? Are these fucking people kidding me? Save the planet, we don't even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven't learned how to care for one another, we're gonna save the fucking planet?
Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet. Nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are fucked. Difference. Difference. The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here four and a half billion years. Did you ever think about the arithmetic? The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We've been here, what, a hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? And we've only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the CONCEIT to think that somehow we're a threat?
The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we're gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, 'cause that's what it does. It's a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it's true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new pardigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn't share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn't know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, "Why are we here?" Plastic...asshole.

George Carlin's "The Planet Is Fine"

A sense of irony helps when you need to see the big picture.

When Carlin joked about the airlines, he didn't mention the food or the seats. He skewered the overblown language:

As soon as they close the door to the aircraft, that's when they begin the safety lecture. I love the safety lecture. This is my favorite part of the airplane ride. I listen very carefully to the safety lecture, especially that part where they teach us how to use the seatbelts. Imagine this, here we are, a plane full of grown human beings, many of us partially educated, and they're actually taking time out to describe the intricate workings of a belt buckle.
The next sentence I hear is full of things that piss me off. "Before leaving the aircraft, please check around your immediate seating area for any personal belongings you might have brought onboard." Well, let's start with immediate seating area--SEAT! It's a goddamn seat! Check around your seat! "For any personal belongings." Well, what other kinds of belongings are there, besides personal--public belongings? Do these people honestly think I might be traveling with a fountain I stole from the park. "You might have brought onboard." Well.I might have brought my arrowhead collection--I didn't, so I'm not going to look for it! I am going to look for things I brought onboard, which seems to enhance my likelihood of finding something, wouldn't you say?

George Carlin on Airline Safety Lectures

Carlin, a fellow non-believer, was delightfully scathing about sacred cows. Know what he'd have to say about James Dobson?, Probably what he's had to say about guys like him all along:

In the Bullshit Department, a businessman can't hold a candle to a clergyman. 'Cause I gotta tell you the truth, folks. When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!

Celebrity Atheists: George Carlin

Think I'm going to pay attention to Dobson's interpretation of the Constitution? I'd rather go with Carlin's:

I love words. I thank you for hearing my words.
I want to tell you something about words that I think is important.
They're my work, they're my play, they're my passion.
Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts but thoughts are fluid.
then we assign a word to a thought and we're stuck with that word for
that thought, so be careful with words. I like to think that the same
words that hurt can heal, it is a matter of how you pick them.
There are some people that are not into all the words.
There are some that would have you not use certain words.
There are 400,000 words in the English language and there are 7
of them you can't say on television. What a ratio that is.

George Carlin Lyrics - The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television

You can thank clowns like Dobson for that irony.

I'm really going to miss this guy.

Burner And Massa On FISA

image credit:

Image credit: Massa For Congress. Reduced by Cujo359

Here's what Darcy Burner, a Slobber And Spittle Blue candidate for Washington's 8th Congressional district, had to say about the FISA bill passed by the House, according to Daily Kos:

Hi, this is Darcy Burner, running for Congress in Washington's 8th congressional district. Like many of you, I'm incredibly disappointed with today's vote on retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies. I've made my position on this issue very clear, and I've been happy to be fighting to ensure that we uphold the Constitution through all of this. But the real question is what we do going forward. We need to make sure that we elect people to Congress who are going to defend the Constitution at the same time that the keep this country safe. I promise you, I will never let you down on that. It's time for us to elect more and better Democrats.

WA-08: Darcy Burner on FISA

That's the entirety of the message, as I understand it. There's no equivocation, no nonsense about "compromise".

Here's SnS Blue candidate Eric Massa on the subject, also from Daily Kos:

Another fundamental injustice is the current and new ability of the government to wiretap, eavesdrop and record private conversations on cell phones, traditional phones, email and posted traditional mail. They can do this without a warrant because again they claim that that government ability is needed to be able to catch potential terrorists in the act before they strike. But, again this is just not true. The government already has that ability but under previous pre-Bush Administration law the enforcement agencies must seek a warrant within days of the action.

NY-29: Why I would have voted against new FISA rules

Once again, we have a clear statement of what's wrong with this bill. Massa is a former career naval officer - he understands what can happen if there is no way to catch terrorists before they act. Yet he is unequivocally against trashing the Constitution to do it.

Actually Massa had a good deal more to say on the subject. It's an article worth checking out.

Contrast these statements with the pathetic efforts of Barack Obama and the craven pandering that Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer engaged in to pass that bill in the House. This is why I'm not going to contribute to Obama's campaign, nor to group funds like the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). I'm putting my money where it will do the most good - supporting candidates like these.

You can do that, too, at Slobber And Spittle Blue. Part of the reason these people are on that list is because they've stood up and taken positions that are unpopular with the people who are running this country, and their sponsors. If that's not enough choices for you, check out Blue America '08. There are many good candidates there, as well.

If we're ever going to get our country back from the fools, cowards, and opportunists who are running it, we need to put our efforts into electing people who will make that happen.

UPDATE: Added a bit of explanation about what it takes to be listed on Slobber And Spittle Blue.

UPDATE 2: Forgot to mention that newly-elected SnS Blue candidate Donna Edwards voted against the FISA bill. She's making me proud already.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Help Us, Obama-Wan

Help us, Obama-wan. You're our only hope.

Image credit: screenshot by Cujo359 (See NOTE)

I've read several articles in the last couple of days hoping that Barack Obama will step up and nip this latest attempt to gut FISA in the bud. Like Princess Leia, they hope to inspire him to become a leader and stop this travesty. Some are hopeful, many sound resigned, but frankly, to me it's hardly worth bothering.

This is why I didn't support the guy in the first place.

There's no question that Obama, as the party's soon to be nominee, could stop this thing in its tracks if he wanted to. He'd just announce that it would happen over his cold, dead filibuster. Or he'd ask to put a hold on the bill. Even the dimmest majority leader, a category that probably includes Harry Reid, wouldn't risk an open fight with his party's presidential nominee. So if Obama had told Reid that the grotesquely-named "Protect America Act" was a non-starter, it would sit in committee until the end of the session.

But Obama won't do that. He made a living for a while as a constitutional lawyer. He knows how dangerous this act is. But Obama won't risk alienating Reid, whose help he might need later, nor some of the other opportunistic bastards who support the bill. Nothing lasts longer in politics than a grudge.

So Obama will vote against the bill, and maybe he'll even make a really inspiring speech about how wrong it is, but he won't put his foot down. I feel as safe in predicting this as I felt predicting that the Mariners wouldn't get anywhere near the post-season this year. As Jane Hamsher once wrote, we're led by moral pygmies. Nothing about that will change next year.

He won't risk a confrontation, even when he knows it needs to be done. His entire career has been built on avoiding risk. This is why I'm not going to go out of my way to support the man. There are too many good people who need all the support they can get to waste on someone who won't stand up.

If you want that to change, Senator, you know what you need to do tomorrow.

I'm pretty sure I'll see the Mariners in the World Series before I see you do something like that.

NOTE: Star Wars and its many sequels and prequels is a copyrighted work of Lucasfilms and a bunch of other folks. No one associated with this film endorses, supports, or is even aware of this article.

UPDATE: Christy Hardin Smith has another good article about the state of the FISA campaign - and it's been a campaign, folks. It's worth it just for the links. I'll pass along Sen. Russ Feingold's fact sheet on FISA.

UPDATE 2: The PAC Versus Retroactive Immunity is still accepting donations. If you haven't donated yet, please do. Small donations ($10, even $5) are welcome. This is a concrete way to show politicians that we mean business, in a language they understand.

UPDATE 3 (Jun. 25): Looks like "Mr. Present" lived up to his name today. He didn't vote on cloture, which passed easily. Now the Senate can get down the task of boning us once and for all.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mr. Karl Rove Requests Your Help

I have no idea where this really came from, but I it certainly made my day. Someone sent this e-mail to my real world altar ego:

Dear Friend,

My name is Mr Karl Rove, I am the personal adviser to President George Bush(President of the united state of America). I am so sorry for contacting you in this manner, due to the fact that my discussion with you is a matter of urgency, I decided to search for your email contact over the internet by contacting the Microsoft search team. The reason why i am contacting, you is in regards to the $499,000,000.00 (Four hundred and ninety nine million dollars) that was Deposited in a bank by President George bush in a foreign bank in the year 2000 while i was the director of finance at the BANK OF AMERICA(BOA). I was appointed as one of the special adviser on financial matter to President George Bush in the year 2004. I gave Mr. president the advice that we should look for a means to get the funds from the bank Due to the fact that Mr. Barrack Oboma has won the primaries in the just concluded primary election, it is obvious that he will be the next president of the united state of America. And as a Blackman in power, all Mr. Bush wealth will be investigated to prove the white wrong that the black are better than then. Thus i will like to seek for your assistant in moving this funds from the bank before the change of power. I know this is a huge amount of money that we are entrusting on you, and most bank will ask alot of question on where this funds are coming from. You do not have to worry as Our lawyer will be given you some document in that regards. Also I want to let you know that this project is capital intensive, as all expenses in transferring this funds, will be paid by you. We have also decided to give you 20% of this funds and any money you spend in making sure that the transfer of the funds to you is successful. I want you to send me the bellow information if you are willingly to help us in transferring this funds. I do not want you to take this mail as one of the usual mail that you receive over the internet, so i want you to treat this mail with respect.

(3) AGE
(6) cell phone number

Also all more information's will be given to you as soon as i receive your

You can contact me on my private email Thank you so much for your time and understanding.

Mr Karl Rove

Thank you, anonymous prankster, wherever you are. You brought a little laughter on a day that really needed some.

As a public service, not to mention eliminating the possibility that someone will be fool enough to believe this note and answer, and then try to sue me - it's a (fake) scam, based on the Nigerian scam.

Iraq's Refugees, Eight Months Later

Image credit: UNHCR

Today is the United Nations' World Refugee Day. As part of that day, I thought it would be a good time to review what's been happening with Iraq's refugees since the last time I wrote about this issue.

In short, nothing's gotten better, and some things have gotten worse.

In a report just released fourteen months ago, Amnesty International wrote this:

The continuing conflict in Iraq has caused some one and a half million Iraqis to become internally displaced and some two million others to become refugees, raising concern of a burgeoning humanitarian crisis not only in Iraq but also in Syria and Jordan as these countries struggle to meet the challenges posed by major influxes of Iraqi refugees.
The numbers of people who have fled Iraq are immense and continue to rise. While there are no official statistics publicly available regarding the number of Iraqis living in Jordan, UNHCR estimates that there are around 750,000 to one million. In mid-February 2007 the Jordanian Government announced that it would carry out a survey of Iraqis in Jordan, including those with valid residencies and those without. This is expected to be conducted with the assistance of the Norway-based Institute for Applied International Studies (FAFO).

Iraq: A deepening refugee crisis - Media Briefing (April 16, 2007)

In my article from last October, which was based on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report of September, I wrote:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) now estimates that 4.4 million Iraqis have fled their homes. Roughly half, 2.2 million, are displaced within Iraq[.]

Iraq's Refugees

Part of the reason for that increase in the estimated size of the refugee population, I suspect, is that the U.N. did a thorough survey to come to their number. Amnesty International may not have been able to do as thorough a study. Even so, that's an alarming increase in the numbers. The U.N. thougth that at least part of that increase was real:

The humanitarian situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate with the number of displaced Iraqis, both inside and outside the country, rising. Now, an estimated 4.2 million Iraqis are have been uprooted from their homes, with the monthly rate of displacement climbing to over 60,000 people compared to 50,000 previously, according to UNHCR and the Iraqi Red Crescent. Displacement is rising as Iraqis are finding it harder to get access to social services inside Iraq and many Iraqis are choosing to leave ethnically mixed areas before they are forced to do so. Some Iraqis who stayed in the country until the end of the school year recently started leaving the country with their families.

Iraq: Rate of displacement rising (August 28, 2007)

At 60,000 per month, that would have meant that an additional 200,000 or so would have been displaced between the end of April and the end of August. That still leaves about 600,000 refugees that probably just weren't counted by AI for its report.

All this is background to what the new AI report says:

Iraq remains one of the most dangerous places in the world. Its refugee crisis is worsening. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, an estimated 4.7 million have been displaced both within and outside Iraq and for many the situation is desperate.

Iraqi refugees facing desperate situation

It seems reasonable to assume that since last September, 300,000 more Iraqis have been displaced.

Of course, that should probably say "at least 300,000 more Iraqis", since one of the problems facing Iraqi refugees is that they're running out of places to go:

Apart from failing to provide adequate practical and financial support, some states are also rejecting the asylum claims of Iraqis at an alarming rate. More European states are deporting rejected asylum-seekers to Iraq, including countries like Sweden, once a positive example to its European neighbours. Some states are using indirect ways to return people to Iraq, for example cutting off assistance to rejected Iraqi asylum-seekers and therefore forcing them to return "voluntarily".

Iraqi refugees facing desperate situation

I'd written back in October that the rest of the world beyond Syria and Jordan haven't been doing nearly enough. Nothing about that seems to have chenged. Reports on treatment of Kurdish refugees would suggest that little has changed. From Britain comes this report:

52 Iraqi Kurdish Asylum Seekers forcibly deported to Sulaimania Airport on Tuesday, according to a communiqué of the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, which is released on Wednesday and received a copy.
Soran Ibrahim from Kurdistan stated to the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees, “After they [the British Police] handcuffed us [the failed asylum seekers], they took us to an airport outside London. I thought it was Stansted Airport . The [British] guards were very rough with us. An arm lock was put in round his neck of one the returnees as he was forced on to the plane. We were escorted by more than 100 guards on to a German plane. When we arrived at Sulaimania Airport they gave us $100 each and pushed us off the plane. We are not from Sulaimania.

52 Iraqi Kurdish Asylum Seekers forcibly deported to Sulaimania Airport

Jordan and Syria continue to shoulder the load, and other governments continue to go to a great deal of trouble to make sure Iraqis don't end up in their country. As I noted in April, "other govnernments" includes our own.

While most refugees are fleeing from the dreadful security situation in Iraq, some are refugees for what could be termed political reasons. As I wrote last year, some Kurdish refugees are in camps because they were asked to resettle to affirm Kurdish claims on territory. The New York Times wrote:

Even by the skewed standards of a country where millions are homeless or in exile, the squalor of the Kirkuk soccer stadium is a startling sight.

On the outskirts of a city adjoining some of Iraq’s most lucrative oil reserves, a rivulet of urine flows past the entrance to the barren playing field.

There are no spectators, only 2,200 Kurdish squatters who have converted the dugouts, stands and parking lot into a refugee city of cinder-block hovels covered in Kurdish political graffiti, some for President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

These homeless Kurds are here not for soccer but for politics. They are reluctant players in a future referendum to decide whether oil-rich Tamim Province in the north and its capital, Kirkuk, will become part of the semiautonomous Kurdish regional government or remain under administration by Baghdad.

As Iraqis Vie for Kirkuk’s Oil, Kurds Are Pawns (December 9, 2007)

Has their plight improved any in the last six months? In March, the Idaho Statesman wrote:

Kirkuk, Iraq --There's not much soccer played at the Kirkuk soccer stadium. The bleachers are empty except for laundry hanging to dry. A red car is parked on the upper deck with someone living in it. Satellite dishes sprout like mushrooms from the cheap seats.

The stadium, which looks to be about twice the size of BSU's Bronco Stadium, has become home to Kurdish refugees returning to Kirkuk after being driven out during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Soldiers from the Idaho National Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team occasionally patrol the refugee camp, making sure insurgents aren't launching rockets or mortars. The soldiers also check to see that refugees are getting food and water. On one recent visit, Idaho soldiers with Bravo Company passed out coloring books and crayons to refugee children.

Idaho soldiers see how Kurdish refugees live

I couldn't find a later reference. It looks as though they, too, are no better off.

UPDATE: If you want to help out Iraqi refugees with a monetary contribution, you can do it through this site, which is for the International Red Crescent. Siun explains how to do it at FireDogLake:

To send a donation, click here and select “Iraq Humanitarian Response” in the “I want my contribution to go here” box. 100% of your donation will go directly to assisting Iraq Red Crescent’s work.

Sending a Better Message to the People of Iraq

I can't vouch for the monetary transactions service they're using, but I used it.

UPDATE 2: Added the link to the Idaho Statesman article on Kirkuk. A commenter at Siun's article and CTuttle at Main and Central have mentioned that the UNHCR is also accepting donations.

UPDATE 3: One of the things that prompted my first article on this subject was the last blog entry of Riverbend, the young, articulate Iraqi woman who had become a refugee in Iraq. While nothing has been heard from her since, Laura Doty pointed to an article about another smart young Iraqi woman who has made it to America along with her surviving son, and now has a visa.

Roll Over And Beg Award: Two Thirds Of The House Of Representatives

Image credit: National Archives

This is the Constitution. The House took a giant dump on it today. When the Senate gets through with it next week, it really will be just a goddamned piece of paper.

These people voted to destroy our country. There's really no other way to put it. To "protect" us from some religious fanatics who live in caves, these representatives voted to amend FISA in a way that essentially guts it. You now have no right of privacy from the government. Keep that in mind the next time you do some online banking.

For their complete and utter fecklessness, not to mention their cowardice, these lowest forms of the human species deserve their very own Beggies. Never before has such a large group of people been awarded this dishonor, and few have deserved it more. Except maybe the Senate, who may soon be repeat winners.

From the roll call, where "Yea" means "Yes, I'm pissing my pants because a few nuts think America is Satan", and "Nay" means "No, I remember the last time you people wanted me to give up my rights, and it wasn't worth it then, either":

Barrett (SC)
Bartlett (MD)
Barton (TX)
Bishop (GA)
Bishop (NY)
Bishop (UT)
Bono Mack
Boyd (FL)
Boyda (KS)
Brady (TX)
Broun (GA)
Brown (SC)
Brown, Corrine
Burton (IN)
Camp (MI)
Campbell (CA)
Cole (OK)
Davis (AL)
Davis (KY)
Davis, David
Davis, Lincoln
Davis, Tom
Deal (GA)
Diaz-Balart, L.
Diaz-Balart, M.
Edwards (TX)
English (PA)
Franks (AZ)
Garrett (NJ)
Green, Al
Green, Gene
Hall (TX)
Hastings (FL)
Hastings (WA)
Herseth Sandlin
Inglis (SC)
Johnson, Sam
King (IA)
King (NY)
Klein (FL)
Kline (MN)
Kuhl (NY)
Lewis (CA)
Lewis (KY)
Lungren, Daniel E.
Mahoney (FL)
McCarthy (CA)
McCarthy (NY)
McCaul (TX)
McMorris Rodgers
Meeks (NY)
Miller (FL)
Miller (MI)
Miller, Gary
Moore (KS)
Moran (KS)
Murphy, Patrick
Murphy, Tim
Peterson (MN)
Price (GA)
Pryce (OH)
Rogers (AL)
Rogers (KY)
Rogers (MI)
Ryan (WI)
Scott (GA)
Smith (NE)
Smith (NJ)
Smith (TX)
Smith (WA)
Thompson (MS)
Udall (CO)
Walden (OR)
Walsh (NY)
Weldon (FL)
Whitfield (KY)
Wilson (NM)
Wilson (OH)
Wilson (SC)
Wittman (VA)
Young (AK)
Young (FL)

I'm not going to bother with first names. The people who did this don't deserve that much consideration. They aren't worth the oxygen they consume.

What they deserve is their just reward, a dog biscuit, procurement of and payment for which is the responsibility of the awardees. Enjoy your biscuits ladies and gentlemen. I'm sure it must be hard work destroying a country as big as this one.

UPDATE: I'd like to thank whoever visited from the House this afternoon. Always nice to see our government paying attention to us citizens.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sixty Senators Won't Be Enough

Despite what I wrote this morning, Glenn Greenwald really hasn't calmed down. In fact, it was his day to hit the nail squarely on the head:

I'd like to underscore the fact that in 2006, when the Congress was controlled by Bill Frist and Denny Hastert, the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to accomplish that.

George Bush's latest powers, courtesy of the Democratic Congress

This is why I want better Democrats in Congress, not more of them. When they were the opposition, they occasionally acted the part. Now, in the majority, they're more dangerous than the Republicans. Why would I want more of that?

A friend who is much more politically astute than I am told me that the last time the Democratic Party called him up asking for money, they used the line about needing sixty Democratic Senators. "No, you don't", my friend replied, "you have all the Senators you need right now." To understand why that's true, all you have to realize is that they are the majority party. That means they, or more properly, Harry Reid, get to decide what the legislative schedule is. If the Democrats don't want a bill to see the light of day, it won't. Simple as that. That's one reason that sixty Senators isn't going to make a difference.

The other reason is based on mathematics, so it was the one I caught onto on my own. Look at this list, which I've reprinted from an earlier article:

Max Baucus (D-MT)
Evan Bayh (D-IN)
Thomas Carper (D-DE)
Robert Casey (D-PA)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Herb Kohl (D-WI)
Joe (Short Ride) Lieberman (ID-CT)
Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Ben Nelson (D-NE)
Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
Ken Salazar (D-CO)
James Webb (D-VA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Roll Over And Beg Award: Just About The Entire U.S. Senate

That's the list of Democratic Senators, plus Joe Lieberman, who voted for the telecom immunity and blanket warrant bill the last time it came around. That's nineteen Democrats, plus Joe Lieberman. Do you think they voted against cloture on this bill? Of course they didn't. So, assuming that no new Democrats of this sort show up in the Senate, in order to have a "filibuster proof" Democratic majority, we'd need to have:

60 + 19 = 79 Democratic Senators

In case you're a little rusty at arithmetic, that's 2930 more Democrats than are in the Senate now. It's also reasomably certain that some of those new Democrats would be receiving their own Roll Over And Beg Award some day. In short, no majority, if it's filled with these sorts of people, will be enough.

That's why we need better Democrats. I'd rather have fifty-one Chris Dodds in the Senate than one hundred Dianne Feinsteins. If you're interested in government that works for you rather than the powerful, so will you.

UPDATE: Fixed the count of additional Democrats needed. I'm good at arithmetic, but not so good at rememering things. Bernie Sanders is also an independent, although he's a pretty reliable progressive.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Strange Bedfellows

Hey, where is everybody?

Me in bed with Jane Hamsher? Whoda thunkit? Of course, she had to invite all these other people. Hey, Greenwald, watch the tail!

What am I babbling about? It all started with this:

It is now definitively clear that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is the driving force behind a bill -- written by GOP Sen. Kit Bond -- to vest the President with vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers and to vest lawbreaking telecoms with amnesty. Even as his office dishonestly denies that he is doing so, still more reports yesterday -- this one from the NYT and this one from Roll Call (sub req'd) -- confirm that a so-called "compromise" is being spearheaded by Hoyer and the House Democratic leadership. The ACLU and EFF are holding a joint call tomorrow to denounce Hoyer's "compromise" as nothing more than disguised guaranteed immunity for telecoms and, further, because "the proposed deal could be used to authorize dragnet surveillance of Americans' communications in violation of the Fourth Amendment."

Targeting Steny Hoyer for his contempt for the rule of law

[links from original]

If you're read this blog, or FireDogLake, or Glenn Greenwald's blog, you may have noticed quite a few articles on this subject. Mine generally start with this graphic:

then explain how this goddamned piece of paper needs our help, and then go on and on about how you would think by now Congress would remember the oath they took, and so on.

It looks like I'm not the only one who's tired of having to do this:

The deal that's been cut by the Democratic leadership to give George Bush everything he wants and grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms is an outrageous betrayal of the public trust. With the passage of this bill, we'll never be able to discover the extent of the lawbreaking that the Bush Administration and the telecos engaged in as they spied on American citizens.

Strange Bedfellows, Indeed

From another blog:

I wrote last week that the Democratic Party is far from a lost cause for freedom lovers in America. Not the corrupt establishment leadership of the party, of course-- those people are lost forever. Nancy Pelosi should always be remembered for her "impeachment is off the table" comment regarding George Bush, and Steny Hoyer (Democratic House Majority Leader) has now become the driving force behind a bogus "compromise" on a Republican sponsored bill that would create vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers in the President and grant amnesty to lawbreaking telecom companies. These people-- the Pelosis and Hoyers of the world-- are beyond saving, but there's a new movement growing in the Democratic Party among online bloggers and freedom lovers who stand strongly in favor of constitutional rights and civil liberties.

Announcing: Strangebedfellows!

No, that isn't Jane Hamsher, or Glenn Greenwald. That was written by someone named Rick Williams at a libertarian blog called Break The Matrix. As strange as this arrangement of bedfellows might seem, it's really not all that strange. We're both interested in freedom. We both want to continue to be able to speak our minds. On this issue, at least, those minds are the same.

We're tired of Congresspeople who don't seem to feel that they work for us.

Greenwald's view is particularly cynical, at least for him. I'm saddened to say that I agree with him:

The message of the campaign we are going to launch will be that ordinary Americans who run afoul even of the pettiest laws, such as alleged minor drug possession offenses and the like, have the full weight of the criminal justice system smash mercilessly down upon them. People and small businesses who are sued in court are required to defend themselves no matter the expense. Steny Hoyer and his comrades do nothing to oppose that.

Instead, Hoyer spends his time in Washington expending enormous amounts of his political capital and energy working to obtain amnesty for the nation's richest and most powerful telecom corporations which, for years, broke far more serious laws in enabling the Bush administration illegally to spy on Americans. Hoyer is working to perpetuate a two-tiered system of justice in America where rich corporations with lobbyists and big campaign contributions are literally allowed to break our most serious laws and receive retroactive amnesty, while ordinary citizens have their lives destroyed over the pettiest offenses, as America turns itself into the world's largest prison state.


No matter what, the Democrats are going to control the House and Senate after the 2008 election. What people like Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel are pursuing is the consolidation of their power so that they become entrenched and can control Congress for the next decade, at least. That's obviously their first and only objective, and they are willing to sacrifice anything that they perceive at all threatening to that goal -- including efforts to stop the war in Iraq, basic constitutional liberties, protections against warrantless eavesdropping, and the equal and firm application of the rule of law.

Targeting Steny Hoyer for his contempt for the rule of law

[link from original, emphasis mine]

We're really, really tired of this crap. I don't vote Democratic because I like blue more than red. I don't do it to make Steny Hoyer more powerful than Duncan Hunter. I do it because they represent my interests better than the other party. If they're going to sell my country out for a little added power, they're worse than not worth supporting - they're dangerous.

The one thing that Congress swore to do was protect and defend the Constitution. If these people won't do that, they don't deserve those jobs. If you agree, I suggest you do four things:

  • write or call your Representative and Senators this week and explain in no uncertain terms that this alleged "compromise" is not satisfactory. Amend that to now. The vote will probably be tonight (Thursday).

  • Give to the Blue America PAC Versus Retroactive Immunity. The money will be used to oppose Hoyer in this election, and those who have enabled him. The more money there is, the better chance we have of making some of these people pay with their jobs.

  • Sign this online petition at

  • If you're a blogger, sign on as a Strange Bedfellow. Hey, who can resist this fur?

Do it soon, though. It looks like there will be a vote sometime this week. Now more than ever, that goddamned piece of paper needs your help.

UPDATE: Emptywheel thinks that the vote in the House could be as early as tomorrow night (Thursday, June 19). That means calls or e-mails need to be done now.

UPDATE 2 (Jun. 19): One player in this coalition of the unwilling is the American Civil Liberties Union. Over at Blogasm, Simon Owens covers that part of the story:

Liz Rose, a spokesperson for the ACLU, told me today that it’s not uncommon for the special interest group to work with people from both the right and left on civil liberties issues. “In this case, a vote is coming up in Congress on this bad FISA bill and we need to convince the Democratic leadership not to go forward with what we think is an unconstitutional bill,” she said. “So this Strange Bedfellows presented itself as a great opportunity to get involved with the right and left who are against the bill. And eventually we’d collaborate on other civil liberties concerns.”

Strange Bedfellows: Bloggers from the left and right team up with the ACLU to fight telecom immunity

Ms. Rose is correct, of course. Their stand on free speech often pits the ACLU against other progressive organizations along with more right-wing ones. Free speech is like that - everyone gets to have it or it's not free.

As of 10:45 AM, the fund is up over $205K. That's good, because I think we're going to need a bigger bed soon.

Monday, June 16, 2008

No More Associated Press

Until this situation is resolved:

Bloggers beware, Associated Press are on the warpath, starting bogus copryright suits against those linking and quoting even the merest fraction of an AP news report. Roger Cadenhead of the Drudge Retort:

I'm currently engaged in a legal disagreement with the Associated Press, which claims that Drudge Retort users linking to its stories are violating its copyright and committing "'hot news' misappropriation under New York state law." An AP attorney filed six Digital Millenium Copyright Act takedown requests this week demanding the removal of blog entries and another for a user comment.

Fair Use And The Associated Press

Atrios named the AP Wankers Of the Day. Since I haven't noted any hypocrisy here, I can't oblige by naming them the "Hypocritical Wanker(s) of the Day", but stay tuned. Looks like Rahm Emanuel will hold that title for a while longer.

My policy has always been to be to follow the rules of fair use that I learned - for any story longer than a few paragraphs, only quote a small part that gets the idea across, then provide a link. This is a system that works well on the Internet. It allows me to make a point, and it gives the creator of that article traffic, and potential revenue. If the AP doesn't want to play that way, I can live without them, as can most bloggers.

Over at FireDogLake, Jane Hamsher adds:

The AP will probably be slow to learn the lesson, because it will see no immediate impact if people like me won't link to them any more because we don't want to be sued. I mean in our world, how crazy is that? Like I'm going to sue Atrios for linking to me? That's just insane. We live on traffic, our revenues are based on pageviews. The same can be said for the online outlets that the AP is selling its product to -- newspapers across the country. It's the Washington Post and the Houston Chronicle who will feel it if nobody will link to their AP stories. They are, in effect, buying a product that will not generate traffic they need in order to sell ads to support themselves.

Associated Press: Dinosaurs of the Internet

That's it in a nutshell - the AP is screwing its own customers by doing this. Be sure to let your local paper know what the AP thinks of them.

By the way, please do not quote the AP in the comments at SnS, either. I'll have to remove the comment if you do.

UPDATE: Clicking on the "Boycott AP" banner above will take you to the UnAssociated Press, a site that's keeping track of this issue. Of course, it also has an online petition you can sign. (h/t Lindy)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sometimes, Sanity Prevails

Image credit: National Park Service

Last week I received an e-mail from The Skeptic. Two things were unusual about this:

  • This is an e-mail list I deliberately joined.
  • They had something optimistic to say that didn't look like it was so forced that it could have pushed cement through a thimble.

The blurb discussed the 9/11 "Truther" movement, and how in the end, it appears that for once sane people were actually part of the majority opinion:

Skeptics today bemoan the overwhelming proportion of people who claim to believe in all manner of conspiracy theories from the JFK assassination to the origins of HIV-AIDS. For that reason, it may be worthwhile to take a moment to stop and celebrate one area in which skeptical advocacy has been overwhelming successful: the world of 9/11 conspiracies. Through the work of scholars like Michael Shermer and James Meigs, along with everyday skeptics on the grassroots level, critical inquiry has been overwhelmingly successful in calling these conspiracy theorists to task.

How Skeptics Confronted 9/11 Denialism

They went on to mention the work of and Thinking Blogger awardees Screw Loose Change as being among the blogs that helped set the record straight. It then goes on to describe the special role a Popular Mechanics article played in setting the record straight:

What should go down as a knockout blow to the 9/11 denier movement, what Michael Shermer called “just about one of the best things ever done in the history of skepticism,” is the now-famous Popular Mechanics article turned into a best-selling book that debunked many of the top points the conspiracy theorists relied on. Joining a chorus of mainstream publications including Skeptic and taking the central claims head on, the Popular Mechanics article became a cornerstone for the 9/11 denier movement’s undoing.

The spike in 2006, prompted by the live debate between the editors of Popular Mechanics and the producers of the documentary Loose Change, shows that not only was the skeptical perspective more well-accepted than the conspiracy perspective, it began to dictate the conversation. (Graph produced using Google Trends by the author.)

The Popular Mechanics article was published in its March 2005 issue and became an Internet hit after the live debate hosted by Democracy Now! between Popular Mechanics editors Jim Meigs and David Dunbar and Loose Change creators Dylan Avery and Jason Bermas. In the aftermath of that debate — if this is any indicator of which side presented the better case — that article became the most popularly searched item pertaining to 9/11 conspiracies and, from that point on, the skeptical perspective became the dominant voice pertaining to the movement. The conversation was brought to the mainstream, and the mainstream made its decision.

How Skeptics Confronted 9/11 Denialism

The 9/11 conspiracy theories started out as nonsense, and then became progressively worse. They started with some physics professor who didn't seem to know that steel softens at temperatures well below its melting point. If it didn't, you'd have to think that we'd still be cutting our cheese with bronze flatware, and we'd still be riding horses to work. At least, I can't imagine all those blacksmiths and swordmakers making a living if they had to melt steel to change its shape. If I had ten dollars for every time some clown tried to tell me that the "physics just didn't add up" I'd be able to retire by now.

The theories just got wilder from there. It was suggested that there was some secret government program with the purpose of flying aircraft into buildings so that it could assume more powers, or get us involved in a war with Iraq. Quite clearly, that wasn't necessary. Bush was well on his way to lying us into that war even before the Towers fell. One could perhaps speculate that they were willing to ignore warnings about terrorism with that in mind, but given how compliant the press in this country has been, the excuses they already had would have been enough. It was also seizing powers that it shouldn't have before the attacks. Once again, no attack was necessary, because neither the press nor the Congress were going to get in the way.

Eventually, we were expected to believe that trained professionals, who already had more work than they could handle, would have rushed into burning, collapsing buildings to set explosives. Or, we were expected to believe that they set all those explosives in occupied buildings without anyone knowing about it. Anyone who spent even a little time finding out how controlled demolitions experts work would have known just how preposterous an idea that was. As I mentioned before, someone produced a terrific video explaining all that.

Of course, there will always be a few people who believe this nonsense. It's inevitable, I think, given how much some people have invested emotionally in the idea that this could have happened. All the facts and knowledge in the world won't convince them. It's nice to know, though, that if outlandish ideas are confronted, sanity can prevail.

After you've lived long enough, you can observe this same pattern repeating itself over and over again - first wide-eyed acceptance, followed by poorly researched coverage by the "news", or downright pandering. Then serious people start looking at the issue, and most people move on to new fantasies, or in some cases, a greater appreciation of reality. In the end, only a stubborn few believers remain. I've seen this happen with the Bermuda Triangle, Ancient Astronauts, and the UFO movement. While the latter certainly still has adherents, for the most part I think they're made up of people who just can't quite believe that we're alone in the Universe, but just don't realize how rare and fleeting intelligence in a species can be. It's hard to blame them, I suppose, until you realize how rare and fleeting intelligence is in our own species.

I think part of the reason this keeps happening relates to what Brian Greene was referring to last week - science education is so bad, and so pointless, that people can't be expected to know any better. I think, if nothing else, the time and effort spent on arguing about nonsense could be better spent confronting our real problems.

That alone should justify the added effort.

UPDATE (Jun. 16): I finally realized I hadn't provided a link to the Popular Mechanics article. I've now fixed that oversight.

UPDATE (July 25): Changed the sentence about the physics professor's distressing lack of awareness of the properties of steel. It is now more precise.

Wonderful Thought For Father's Day

PZ Myers just published a terrific essay on his father, and what fathers mean in general. Rather than quote from it, I'll just tell you go read it.

While you're at it, go read One Fly's thoughts on the day.

Happy Father's Day, everyone.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Week On Mars

Image credit: NASA Phoenix Mission. The caption reads: This image shows NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander’s solar panel and the lander’s Robotic Arm with a sample in the scoop. The image was taken by the lander’s Surface Stereo Imager looking west during Phoenix’s Sol 16 (June 10, 2008), or the 16th Martian day after landing. The image was taken just before the sample was delivered to the Optical Microscope. Click on the link to be taken to NASA's page about the image, which links to a full-sized version suitable for wallpaper.

It was a good week, although it didn't start out too well:

Dirt that the Phoenix Mars Lander scooped recently from the planet's surface may be too clumpy to be analyzed by the machine's onboard system, NASA reported on Saturday.

A robotic arm retrieved a cup-sized sample of Martian dirt on Friday and placed it on the lander's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, which was scheduled to spend about a week determining the soil's water and mineral content.

The TEGA features a screened opening that prevents large particles from clogging it. Only those thinner than 1 mm (0.04 of an inch) can pass through, and an infrared beam verifies whether they have entered the instrument.

The beam has not yet confirmed any activity and researchers are not sure why, NASA said in a statement.

Mars lander's 1st soil sample may not be analyzed

The problem turned out to be something that even the most inexperienced gardeners would be familiar with:

Images taken on Friday show soil resting on the screen over an open sample-delivery door of TEGA, which is designed to heat up soil samples and analyze the vapors they give off to determine the soil's composition.

The researchers have not yet determined why none of the sample appears to have gotten past the screen, but they have begun proposing possibilities.

"I think it's the cloddiness of the soil and not having enough fine granular material," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, the digging czar for the $420 million Phoenix mission.

Martian Soil Sample Clogs Phoenix Probe's Oven

Apparently, NASA has at least a few gardeners on its tech teams. It had put the TEGA oven entrance on a vibrator, which finally succeeded in breaking up the clumps:

After days of struggling with sticky Martian dirt, the Phoenix Mars Lander has unexpectedly succeeded in getting its first soil sample into an onboard laboratory for analysis, jubilant NASA scientists said on Wednesday.

The breakthrough came after the lander spent days vibrating a screen over its onboard Thermal Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) in hopes that the clumpy soil would break loose and fall into the onboard ovens. The scientists were caught by surprise when the trick worked on the seventh, and likely last, try.

Martian soil falls into Phoenix oven at last

So, by Wednesday they were baking that dirt. According to that New Scientist article, it will take a week to analyze the data. That means we'll probably be hearing something by this Thursday, maybe sooner.

Meanwhile, they put some other dirt under a microscope yesterday:

Images from Phoenix's Optical Microscope show nearly 1,000 separate soil particles, down to sizes smaller than one-tenth the diameter of a human hair. At least four distinct minerals are seen.

"It's been more than 11 years since we had the idea to send a microscope to Mars and I'm absolutely gobsmacked that we're now looking at the soil of Mars at a resolution that has never been seen before," said Tom Pike of Imperial College London. He is a Phoenix co-investigator working on the lander's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer.

The sample includes some larger, black, glassy particles as well as smaller reddish ones. "We may be looking at a history of the soil," said Pike. "It appears that original particles of volcanic glass have weathered down to smaller particles with higher concentration of iron."

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander Delivers Soil Sample to Microscope

Why study all this Martian dirt? One of the reasons is to better understand what's happening on our own planet, and why:

The fine particles in the soil sample closely resemble particles of airborne dust examined earlier by the microscope.

Atmospheric dust at the Phoenix site has remained about the same day-to-day so far, said Phoenix co-investigator and atmospheric scientist Nilton Renno of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

"We've seen no major dust clouds at the landing site during the mission so far," Renno said. "That's not a surprise because we landed when dust activity is at a minimum. But we expect to see big dust storms at the end of the mission. Some of us will be very excited to see some of those dust storms reach the lander."

Studying dust on Mars helps scientists understand atmospheric dust on Earth, which is important because dust is a significant factor in global climate change.

"We've learned there is well-mixed dust in the Martian atmosphere, much more mixed than on Earth, and that's a surprise," Renno said. Rather than particles settling into dust layers, strong turbulence mixes them uniformly from the surface to a few kilometers above the surface.

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander Delivers Soil Sample to Microscope

So far, we're only familiar with how things work on one planet with an atmosphere. To have a better understanding of how the peculiarities of our atmosphere affect its behavior, studying another is essential. It's also essential if we want to understand how changes in our atmosphere will affect other things. The same is true of geology.

While this group of NASA people were playing in the dirt, another was bringing the shuttle back to earth:

Space shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven returned to Earth on Saturday and capped a successful expansion job at the international space station, more spacious and robust thanks to a new billion-dollar science lab.

Shuttle returns to Earth after 14-day mission

That new science lab is the Kibo, Japan's science laboratory. Here it is in a NASA photo from last week. The full size version is here. Speaking of gardens, it will eventually have its own box garden on its own porch:

The Exposed Facility, or EF, is a unique platform on the ISS that is located outside of the Pressurized Module and is continuously exposed to the space environment. Astronauts exchange experiment payloads or hardware from the Pressurized Module through the scientific airlock using the Kibo Remote Manipulator System. Items positioned on the exterior platform focus on Earth observation as well as communication, scientific, engineering and materials science experiments.

The EF is a platform that can hold up to 10 experiment payloads at a time and measures 5.6 meters (18.4 feet) wide, 5 meters (16.4 feet) high and 4 meters (13.1 feet) long.

NASA Page: Kibo Japanese Experiment Module

That section will be brought up in a later shuttle flight.

On the whole it was a very successful week.