Friday, December 22, 2006


Like any good atheist I've been busy fighting the War on Christmas, of course.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I am converting this blog to the new Blogger beta, so things might be wonky for a few days while I find time to tweak it. I apologize.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kucinich runs again

» Cleveland Plain Dealer: Kucinich, Talking of Peace, to Run Again for President

Dennis Kucinich is running for president a second time. I think this is great.

Let's be honest: he's not going to win the Democratic nomination, not by a long shot. But he will be spreading his message, and he will be there in the debates to provide a voice further to the left of any of the other candidates. Of all the Democrats serving in Congress, Kucinich is certainly the one whose policy goals and beliefs are closest to my own.

In a master stroke of journalistic integrity, the local paper announcing the candidacy decided to devote their coverage to insulting the candidate.
Democrats jazzed by the hype that political stars Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton might run for president will have to settle for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, at least for now.
What a great, unbiased lead to a story about a presidential candidate! It's certainly true that Kucinich lacks the hype of Obama or Clinton, but articles like this are exactly the reason. How many articles have been published in newspapers about Obama or Clinton? Those articles are called "hype." In fact, this article is enhancing the hype for them and it isn't even about them.
"What he has got is a name that's hard to pronounce and an ideology that's pretty far to the margins of his party," Hess said.
Kucinich is hard to pronounce? Really? By whom, third-graders? Koo-SIN-itch. What do Kucinich's fellow Ohioans do when they see Cincinnati on a map? Shriek and hide? And I suppose this is the kluh-VAY-lund newspaper, since consonants and vowels are so hard to figure out.

As for whether he's far to the margins of his party, that may be the case —
but then, the Clintons and Obamas are far to the opposite margin. You know, the one that borders the Republicans.
"After a while, Congressman Kucinich's Don Quixote-like struggle starts to appear kind of goofy," Rothenberg said.
Sure, nothing could be served by actually presenting an alternate viewpoint during the campaign! What we really need are candidates who will say the exact same thing with different words and pretend to be different from one another! That's much better than diversity of opinion!
"Everyone deserves a shot to run for president, but I am not sure everyone deserves two shots," he said.
Yes, democracy works best when you limit people's options!
Republican Mike Dovilla, who was crushed by Kucinich in the Nov. 7 election, complained bitterly Monday that Kucinich misled voters.

"It's too bad that during this year's congressional campaign, Dennis Kucinich did not have the decency to be honest with the people of Ohio's 10th District," he said in a statement. "For two more years, we will have an absentee congressman as Dennis runs around the nation to indulge his insatiable ego and advance his personal, extremist agenda in another futile run for the White House."
Good thing they got someone whose opinion matters to close out the story and leave a good lasting impression. But seriously, insatiable ego? Does Dovilla actually know who Kucinich is?

This article, and all of the others like it that will appear during the next two years, are testaments to the celebrity culture of politics. Candidates for public office do not become popular because their ideas are popular, they become popular because they're given a lot of attention, or because they have the money to get a lot of attention. Kucinich might not have a shot in a fair fight, but that's even more reason not to insult the value of his candidacy.

Monday, December 11, 2006

For us, the living

» NPR: Wreaths Donated to Arlington National Cemetery

I heard a story on NPR about a guy who is spending thousands of dollars on 5,000 Christmas wreaths for Arlington National Cemetery. Not the cemetery as a whole, mind you, but for the Civil War and World War I sections. The sections that, as the story noted, wouldn't get many visitors to adorn the graves or enjoy the decorations. While rather pointless in my view, what interested me about the story is that this act was described as philanthropy.

Philanthropy literally means "loving humans," and I suppose technically the mostly-decomposed remains of soldiers are human, but who exactly is to benefit from this donation? It is generally understood that philanthropy helps someone. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds health care and poverty-reduction programs. Andrew Carnegie built 2,500 libraries around the world.

Decorating graves is not philanthropy. Maybe — maybe! — if he were donating wreaths to the oft-visited graves of the recently deceased one could stretch the bounds of philanthropy to include making people smile. But even if we grant that some holiday decorations are as worthy of the moniker as curing plagues and perpetuating world knowledge, these decorations are unlikely to even be seen by more than a handful of actual mourners. Is philanthropy really the word for it?

In fact, I'll go so far as to say that this man is wasting money that could be used for actual philanthropy that helps actual living people.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Fly me to the Moon

» NASA Unveils Strategy for Return to the Moon
NASA has decided to pursue a base on the Moon. The space agency rolled out today a strategy and rationale for robotic and human exploration of the Moon — determining that a lunar outpost is the best approach to achieve a sustained, human presence on the Moon.

The base would be built in incremental steps, starting with four-person crews making several seven-day visits. The first mission would begin by 2020, with the base growing over time, beefed up with more power, mobility rovers and living quarters.

The Moon base would eventually support 180-day lunar stays, a stretch of time seen as the best avenue to establish a permanent presence there, as well as prepare for future human exploration of Mars.

I'm actually slightly conflicted about the idea of a Moon base being the "big goal" for NASA, and I'm certainly concerned about how they plan to pursue it.

Here's the thing. In 1961, President Kennedy sparked the Apollo project. Starting with essentially no initial practical experience, humans were stepping foot on lunar soil eight years later. We went back six more times, and there were plans for a Moon base by 1975 and human missions to Mars in the early 1980s. Then President Nixon scrubbed the program and the ultimate result was NASA's primary mission consisting of sending up an overpriced reusable shuttle to low orbit for two three decades.

Now I for one am supportive of the spirit of President Bush's "Vision for Space Exploration." But just making a speech isn't going to cut it. Why is it that the first time, starting from scratch, it only took eight years to go to the Moon, but it will now take 15 years to go back using what amounts to upgraded versions of the same hardware? And when was the last time you saw a multi-decade, non-crucial government program not get cancelled or have its budget slashed?

NASA's Moon plan is just that: a plan. It's not a mission. It's not a challenge. It's something that can be sent through fifteen more congressional sessions and a couple more presidential administrations to get hacked and neutered. If any part of this effort actually becomes reality (anyone remember Bush I's plan to go back to the Moon and Mars from 1989?) I can almost guarantee it will be a fraction of the plan's potential.

The International Space Station went through dozens of iterations, but even its final configuration when construction began was to be a fairly well-equipped space laboratory with a crew of seven or more. Now the only thing keeping construction moving forward at all is the fact that enough hardware is already in orbit that it has to be finished, its crew reduced to three, more than a decade late and billions of dollars over budget. This is the future that awaits the Moon base.

What made Kennedy's vision distinct from Bush's is that Kennedy's was audacious. It was almost absurd to think that we could build up the technology to send a human to the Moon in less than a decade. But the challenge was put in place and we did it. There was never a chance to shut down the program, because once it started moving the momentum was there. NASA's proposed Moon base is a project operating on what amounts to a shoestring budget with deadlines so far ahead that half the engineers that will meet them are still in high school.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

I'd believe it!

» The Onion: Kansas Outlaws Practice of Evolution
The sweeping new law prohibits all living beings within state borders from being born with random genetic mutations that could make them better suited to evade predators, secure a mate, or, adapt to a changing environment. In addition, it bars any sexual reproduction, battles for survival, or instances of pure happenstance that might lead, after several generations, to a more well-adapted species or subspecies.
"No species is exempt," said Marcus Holloway, a state police spokesman. "Whether you're a human being or a fruit fly—if we detect one homologous chromosome trying to cross over during the process of meiosis, you will be punished to the full extent of the law."
Seriously, this could be an actual headline at an actual newspaper and I'd believe somebody was nuts enough to have done it.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Cows are worse than cars for Earth

» UN: Livestock a major threat to environment

You don't have to care about animals to find reasons to stop eating them. From Vegan Porn we learn of a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report finding that cattle-rearing produces more greenhouse gases than all the cars on the road.

Your hamburger and steak are responsible for 9% of human carbon dioxide production, 65% of nitrous oxide production, 37% of methane production, and 64% of ammonia production. In addition, raising livestock uses 30% of the entire land surface area of the Earth. The study finds that "the environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level."

But a roast beef sandwich is more important than all that, right?

No, GENERAL interest

» Washington Post: Science a la Joe Camel

I just caught a post by Dale Carrico at Amor Mundi reacting to the National Science Teachers' Association's decision to turn down 50,000 free copies of An Inconvenient Truth on DVD. Their reason? They don't want to accept donations from special interests for fear of appearing to endorse a political position.

Sweet zombie Jesus, the game of pretending that the fact that humans are creating planet-wide climate change is a "special interest" of the environmental movement is growing increasingly tiresome. Would the National Council for the Social Studies turn down free copies of an Auschwitz documentary because a few assholes don't believe in death camps? At this point, pretending that human-caused global warming is one group's pet theory is intellectually equivalent to Holocaust denial, almost to the mind-numbing ridiculousness of creationism.

Make no mistake, people have died and will continue to die because of the head-in-the-sand ignorance and willful stupidity of many people in positions of power on the issue of climate change. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to fix.