All purpose vertically integrated publishing empire for cynicism, hopelessness and misanthropy. Mild nausea is common when using this product. Other symptoms may include, but are not limited to: dizzyness, headache, homicidal rage and yellow discharge. Rarely, users may begin to hear voices urging them to kill. If this occurs, discontinue use and seek psychiatric attention. Do not read when pregnant or nursing; the author thinks that's gross.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Ah, But Is It the Shortcut Into the Desert Full of Mutants?

Honestly, is Catholicism a religion or a tourism board?

Source: Raw Story

Mitt Romney Hates America

Also, he's a member of a lunatic cult. But that applies to most Americans, so it's hardly a specific criticism.

Facing the continued 'ick' factor that so many in his party feel about Mormons, Mitt Romney felt a need to make a JFK-style speech on religion.

In case you weren't clear that this was his intent, he gave the speech in Texas, not far from where JFK assured the nation that he was not, in fact, a papist spy.

Which was a good thing to know, I suppose.

Romney, on the other hand, wants to assure you that he'll be a double agent for ANY religious cause. So long as it's a Christian one.. well, at least if you consider Mormons Christian. Which many don't, which is, in fact, the crux of his problem with the 'Values Voters'.

Some highlights:

America is a Christian Nation, The Constitution is Quaint

"There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams' words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'

This is true, in the same way that our prisons are made for immoral and dangerous people; to CONTROL them. Remember, students of history, the Founders feared and to some degree despised the common American of that period, who was, admittedly, prone to anarchy, rabble rousing and militant insurrection. After all, that was how *they* got into power in the first place, exploiting those traits.

But I digress.

You Can't Be Free Without Church. Also, Freedom is Slavery

Try not to drink anything when you read this lest it come out your nose:

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

See, this assumes that the only purpose of Freedom is to go churchin'. Me, I think freedom is great for reading books, seeing movies, and hating jackasses like Mitt Romney. So we clearly have a difference of opinion here.

Also, since when has religion perished in the absence of freedom? Anyone remember the Dark Ages? How about the Wahabbists today? I don't recall a lot of civil rights amongst the Aztec either, but they did all right for centuries, human sacrifice and all notwithstanding.

Everything Good in History Ever Came from God

Another choice Romney quote:
"It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

Because all churches were in favor of abolition. Or civil rights. And none of them support the death penalty.

Firedoglake calls bullshit on this:

For all Romney says about history in this speech, this paragraph is proof that his knowledge is shallow indeed. Abolition of slavery, for instance, divided families, congregations, and entire denominations. The Presbyterians split in 1861, and didn't reunite until 1983, for crying out loud.

It's also proof of a subtle religious bigotry. Despite his claim of a "common course" based on "great moral principles," there continues to be great division among religious people over all kinds of issues. Committed Roman Catholics, for instance, interpret "right to life" to mean opposition to the death penalty; evangelical fundamentalists see the death penalty as a completely separate issue. Some religious groups embrace GLBTs, while others do not. Yet Romney, trying to reach the evangelicals who are moving toward Huckabee, blithely says in essence, "all religious folks have the same moral beliefs." Sorry, Governor, but your moral beliefs are much different than mine, and also much different from a lot of evangelicals.

Shove It, Unbelieving Scum

Romney the Conspiracy Nut:

But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

That is most easily countered with a quote from Atrios:

This kind of intolerant horseshit is basically gibberish, but since words mean things let's try to figure out the implications of what Mitt's saying.

It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

Really it would just be crazy if anyone tried to start a new religion in America... oh, wait.

Heh... teh funny.

But what about individual secularists?

Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me.

The rest of you pagans can go fornicate with an iron stick.

Europe Looks So Good When He Describes It

I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired ... so grand ... so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too 'enlightened' to venture inside and kneel in prayer. The establishment of state religions in Europe did no favor to Europe's churches. And though you will find many people of strong faith there, the churches themselves seem to be withering away.

Woo! Party time in Europe! I'll bring the beads, you bring the sinning!

Seriously, what a horrible world, a place where people spend their lives outside the imposing, ossified edifice of ancient, organized religion. Oh, the calamity!

Don't Worry, Mitt Hasn't Forgotten the Scary Brown People

"Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent Jihad, murder as martyrdom... killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.

INFINITELY worse. BOUNDLESS suffering. Mathematicians in the audience have probably felt their heads explode at this abuse of quantification.

Also, note: theocratic tyranny only comes in one flavor: Muslim. Nice to know that the Mormons don't, you know, oppress and control people or anything.

Argh. Stuff like this makes me want to drink. Drink a lot.

Afterword/Go Ahead and Try Us, Mitt

Just a bit of a positive note from Digby to help wash down this swill.

Update II: Here are some very interesting takes on Mitt's speech at BeliefNet.

Steve Waldman:

About three percent of the population are atheists or agnostics, according to a study by the Pew Religious Forum. Another 7.5% are “secularists” who have no religious affiliation and few or no religious beliefs or practices.

That means there are four or five times as many non-believers as there are Mormons.

Yeah. Bring it, God-boy.

The New York Times
Wikipedia (Wahabbism)

FUD Alert

If only stupidity came with obvious warning signs like rabies.

From the Department of Whoring for Blockbuster

Well, this astounded even me. The single most biased, least informative article I've ever seen on a technology issue. Ever.

And I've read RIAA shills rave about mp3s for a long, long time.

Still, this one takes the cake. Basically, an analyst at some investment firm notes that the Post Office is miffed about hand-sorted envelopes. That led the guy to rate Netflix's stock down, since their current envelope design often gets jammed in the machines and has to be hand sorted.

This in turn led a 'journalist' named Joanne L. Kaufman to write an anti-Netflix screed claiming that they're doomed, dooomed to lose to Blockbuster in the dvd rental wars because the Post Office might charge them more for shipping. Someone out there must not have been asleep at the switch because a Netflix spokesman did get to speak in the article, and notes that a: they've already changed their envelopes about five times since the company started and b: they'd be happy to do it again if it was necessary.

Despite this, err, making the whole thing a non-story, she then appends a paragraph right out of the Blockbuster media kit about how much more convenient Blockbuster is than Netflix:

Mr. Wible said in an interview that Blockbuster was edging in on Netflix: “They’ve got their store content, delivery by mail and downloaded delivery.”

Blockbuster, which has 3.1 million online subscribers and 60 million customers over all, is “offering more convenient access to media than Netflix,” Mr. Wible said. “Netflix either has to spend more on marketing or lower pricing to increase growth,” he added. “So they have these rising costs — including postage increases.”

You know what's missing from this discussion about convenience and trends vis a vis Blockbuster and Netflix?

A discussion perhaps of how well the two companies are actually DOING?

Or what about Netflix's Instant Viewer service, which requires no postage and is so convenient you never leave your couch? Take that, driving to the store.

Let's see what that sort of actual, informative journalism would look like:

According to web analytics firm Compete, by the end of October, Netflix was attracting four times as many unique visitors a month as Blockbuster. Since January of 2005 Netflix web traffic has steadily climbed, while Blockbuster's has dropped off.

Netflix's instant watch feature alone has attracted 450,000 users in the month of November, while Blockbuster struggles to get its direct-download service from Movielink off the ground. Adding to Blockbuster's troubles, Apple is expected to launch a movie rental service via iTunes any day now.

So, err, yeah. Blockbuster sure is winning that war you've got going in your head, Ms. Kaufman. Riiight.

Sources: The Washington Post

(I suppose for absolute full disclosure I should note that I am a Netflix customer, and have in the past been a Blockbuster customer as well. Though I stopped going to Blockbuster when they stopped catering to my needs in any way, instead choosing to fill their stores with ten thousand copies of the latest action movies and romance 'comedies', it wasn't a particularly bitter divorce. My sister on the other hand got forty dollars worth of false late fees stolen from her, twice, so hey, I guess that's a bias too.

My personal impression of the Netflix Instant Viewer feature is that it's whizzy but not really for me. Still, it's there and it works, once you get past the setup aches and pains, so that's something. Perfectly watchable if not nearly DVD quality. I saw the entirety of Jinki: Extend that way and it didn't make my eyes bleed.)

He's a Demon on Wheels

So here's the new Speed Racer movie's first trailer. Warning: It's in the insipid Quicktime HD format, which takes more processing power than a Los Alamos supercomputer to do its job. Aka, if you try to run the largest file, it's going to crash.

Doesn't matter if you have a 1920+1200 display. It's not going to fit properly, or work, half the time.

God I hate Quicktime.

On a less whiny note, the trailer actually lowers my expectations for the movie. It seems like they spent all that money on creating Wipeout: The Movie. I'm referring to the PSX game series with anti-grav racers and somewhat annoying techno music. Only about ten thousand times flashier and brighter than Wipeout. Which is saying something.

Eh. It might be like a 3D movie, in that it takes a few minutes for the eyes to adjust in the theatre and then it feels silky smooth and natural. One thing's for sure: see this one in DLP, or don't see it at all.

Source: Anime News Network

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thursday News

News news news

Department of Fatherland^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^hHomeland Insecurity

So it turns out that the Bush Administration's biggest and most lasting contribution to National Security, the formation of the DHS, has...... well, not so much worked out, as catastrophically failed. If this was a photo blog, you'd now be seeing a picture of a bus, comically submerged, and the words 'Epic Fail!' pasted over it.

Where, oh where lord, to begin.

Failure By Design

First, a study done by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has concluded that the DHS is full of massive, catastrophic waste.

Shocking, I know.

In its report, CREW documents billions of dollars in taxpayer money that was lost on poorly conceived or never-implemented DHS programs, including $1.3 billion on an immigration program aimed at tracking people coming to and leaving the US. The program "has never worked as Congress intended," CREW alleges, naming US-VISIT the top "Failed Program" in its report.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was widely charged with failing New Orleans' residents after Hurricane Katrina, was awarded the dubious distinction as "most troubled DHS component." And the US Customs and Border Protection agency was "most criminal," according to CREW, because of the number of officials charged with protecting the border who have subsequently be charged with aiding illegal immigrants.

“The Department of Homeland Security is an embarrassment that would be comical if only our national security were not at stake," Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, said in a news release. "The agency and its leadership must be held accountable for its failures and pushed to do better.”

Source: Raw Story

Republican Graft Sinks Ships

My personal favorite aspect of the failure of the DHS has to be the complete and spectacular blowout of the Coast Guard's Five Year Plan to upgrade its aging, creaky and overtaxed fleet.

It was a grand plan too. An entirely new set of ships, a massive upgrade to existing vessels, a state of the art, custom made intelligence gathering and surveillance system... the works.

But of course, being the Bush Administration, it had to flame out, and take your precious tax dollars down the drain with it.

First, being Bushies, they outsourced the entirety of design to private defense contractors and left it, unsupervised, in their 'capable' hands. Predictably, this was a very, very bad idea. The new flagship vessels turned out to have serious security flaws and be built out of components that, well, can't take the cold, despite being specced to withstand -40 below. Oops.

Then they started retrofitting the old vessels, according to plan. Only out of the first batch, 8 of them were so unseaworthy they had to be thrown away. They wouldn't actually, you know, float. At least, not for long, since they immediately started cracking apart. Another ship design is so heavy it's useless, and has been described as a 'brick'.

You know you want to have bricks instead of ships. Lolz.

The Coast Guard has since had to beg the Navy for ships to make up for these losses, and the program is SEVEN BILLION over-budget. The Coast Guard is now actually less effective than it was before.

Lovely, huh?

Source: The Economist
Source: CREW (Note: PDF)

Gutsy Move Department

I was impressed with Morales when I saw him on The Daily Show, and I'm even more impressed now.

Morales has apparently been in something of a power struggle with his political opposition, and he has a simple solution: Let the people decide. Right here, right now. The opposition holds the provincial governments, he holds the national one. So Morales has quite literally dared his opponents to hold a referendum, right now, to retain their offices, alongside himself, naturally.

That's just unheard of. It's like Russian Roulette with a vote.

Source: The Associated Press

Department of "Duhhh"

Results are in on the Bush Administration's anti-science, anti-reason, anti-education approach to sex and social policy.

Teen pregnancy is up! For the first time in 14 years!

The birth rate had been dropping since 1991. The decline had slowed in recent years, but government statisticians said Wednesday it jumped 3 percent from 2005 to 2006.

Wow. Lovely.

Source: Raw Story

Artistic Anarchy

So a world-famous graffiti artist has plastered a security wall designed to divide up, well, let's face it, Palestinian land from the pesky natives with some subversive art. It's hilarious stuff too. Not to mention, err, some security you have there. It probably takes less time to punch a small hole in a concrete wall than to paint an entire series of graffiti pictures.

Source: Raw Story

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Right Wing Journalism

What do you do if you're a right-wing paper and one of your local Republican bigwigs is accused of pedophilia, then arrested for the crime?

Cover it up, of course!

Seems the Orange County Register has some 'splainin to do.

Jeffrey Ray Nielsen—the well-connected Orange County conservative activist who claimed the so-called liberal media, specifically the Weekly, was out to get him by publishing a series of exposés on his pedophile activities—is expected to finally admit tomorrow that he used two boys for sex since 1994, according to law-enforcement sources.

A legal representative for Nielsen, who has extensive personal ties to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Orange County Republican Party boss Scott Baugh, told prosecutors early last week that Nielsen would plead guilty to two felony counts: committing lewd acts on a child under 15 years old and committing lewd acts on a child under 14 years old.


When police arrested Nielsen, a prominent GOP activist at the time, TheOrange County Register failed to tell its readers. In fact, the paper—some of whose staffers enjoy cozy relationships with local GOP leaders, including Rohrabacher and Baugh—waited more than three years to mention Nielsen’s arrest. Worse, while Nielsen awaited trial for molesting the Westminster boy, the Register’s Richard Chang helped to bolster the accused pedophile’s reputation in the community. In an article, Chang didn’t mention the charges, but rather praised Nielsen for volunteering to help homeless puppies from the Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

At this point I think it's fair to ask the question: Are ALL Republicans sexual deviants?

Source: Atrios

Failing Upwards: The Republican Way of Life

From Atrios:

Because Everything She Touches Turns to... Gold?

The NYT editorial board actually means this seriously.

Yesterday, Mr. Bush insisted that he believes in a carrot-and-stick approach. But he has yet to make a serious offer of comprehensive talks and real rewards if Iran is willing to give up its fuel program and cooperate fully with inspectors. He is going to have to send someone a lot higher ranking than the American ambassador in Baghdad to deliver the message. We suggest Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the job.

Our elite discourse is filled with fools.

I'm all for sending Condi on a trip, but I was thinking more of putting her on the first, inevitably doomed lunar colonization expedition El Presidente has forced NASA into planning. She could bring the Neoconservative vision of peace through eternal war to an already lifeless void, instead of turning a sovereign nation INTO a lifeless void first.

Just a thought.

Source: Atrios

Global Protests as Grain Prices Soar

Up yours, Ethanol 'farmers'!

This really says it all:

The forces pushing up food prices

1 Rising consumption: The appetite of fast-growing nations, such as China, is rising as economic booms cause a surge in demand for meat and dairy products

2 Competition from biofuels: The cars of the rich are now rivalling the bellies of the poor for corn, cane and edible oils

3 Climate change: Global warming is putting pressure on water needed to irrigate crops

It's more important for us to give farmers big subsidies to produce worthless fuel than, you know, feed people.

Update: Oops, forgot the source for this. Here you go.

Source: The Guardian

I'm Afraid of Americans

News like this makes me want to buy a gun.

New polling on just how crazy the people who share the road with you on the way to work or the sidewalk on the way to class are.

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God and signicant numbers also think that UFOs, the devil and ghosts exist, a poll showed Tuesday.

The survey by Harris Online showed that 82 percent of adult Americans believe in God and a slightly smaller percentage -- 79 percent -- believe in miracles.

Well, ok. That's not so bad. I should be safe with just a rifle or somet--

Almost equal numbers said they believe in Darwin's theory of evolution (42 percent) -- the belief that populations evolve over time through natural selection -- and creationism (39 percent) -- the theory that God created mankind.

Nuts. They're even crazier. Ok, a few guns and possibly a small compound, but still, not such a huge dea--

Seventy percent of Americans said they were very (21 percent) or somewhat (49 percent) religious, while around one-third of those polled also said they believe in UFOs, witches and astrology. (Emphasis added)

Do they... also want to, you know, put them 'to the question'? Yeesh

Wow. Time to start saving up for that end of the world compound built out of an old missile silo, huh?

Who wants to join me?

Update: Goddamnit, forgot this one too. Sorry.

Source: RawStory

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The University of Michigan: Higher Education for the Insane

Wow, the University of Michigan is an amazing research institution. Mere days after it was announced that two researchers there had proven violence in your media was only 'slightly' less dangerous than sucking down tobacco smoke, a Distinguished Professor and Department Chair at the same institution of higher learning has published a study proving that divorce is bad for the environment -- because divorced people have to have more than one place to live, and each place to live takes up room and electricity and water!

Lest you think this was the sort of 'state the obvious' study that has no purpose other than to prove a universally accepted truth in scientific terms (water is wet, up is the opposite of down, twice as much housing is twice as much housing), fear not, intrepid readers. The Professor has some policy suggestions to make as well.

"Hopefully this will inform people about the environmental impact of divorce," Liu said in an interview yesterday. "For a long time we've blamed industries for environmental problems. One thing we've ignored is the household."

Yes, silly us! Here we've been focusing on fuel efficiency, coal fired power plants, sustainable energy production, conservation, when all along we've ignored the household! Won't somebody please think of the children? And their laundry needs?


Ah, but, astute readers, how should we address this glaring omission in our public policy? How do you address the fact that more homes equals more resource use? Do you encourage apartment living? Do you encourage water efficient devices, electricity saving appliances, weatherproofing, less intensive landscaping? The Kyoto Accords? Pushing the United States to actually SIGN the Kyoto Accords? Carbon offsets? Dare I say it, voting for greener political candidates?

No! Of course not. That's how we got into this mess in the first place. The answer, of course, is to stay in your miserable marriages! Failing that, you pathetic failure of a human being, you need to find someone ELSE to marry!

There is one solution to this conundrum, the study's authors found: Individuals who remarry soon establish new households that use the same amount of resources as married couples who have never divorced.

Liu, who recently celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary, said he also tries to practice what he preaches. "I'm not divorced, and I've not thought about divorce," he said.

I don't actually recall asking, Professor, but that's nice to know! I bet your wife enjoys the fact that your marriage doubles as a cost-saving measure as well.

There's really not much else to say here, except to marvel at how bad the press is out of the University of Michigan lately. As my roommate said, their degrees will have all the value of toilet paper in a few years if this keeps up. Excellent job there!

Sources: The Washington Post
The Sierra Club
Wikipedia (Sustainable Energy)
ABC News
The New York Times (Editorial Page)
EPA Mid Atlantic Region (Green Landscaping)
Natural Resources Defense Council

News Update

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Pineapple Conspiracy but were afraid to ask.

Ok, so nothing on the PC; it's too dangerous. Instead, have some news.

Scientology is Bad for You, Mmmkay?

A German official is pushing to have Scientology, which is already considered a for-profit enterprise and swindle machine in the country, banned. Presumably from the country. Initially that strikes me as being a bit much, but then again, we ban the Mafia and other criminal organizations that have killed innocent people for money.

Source: The Associated Press

Brains, the Other White Meat

So a mysterious neurological illness is sweeping the employees at a meat processing plant who, until recently, were charged with removing the brains of pigs with compressed air guns. A lovely task I'm sure. Doctors are baffled, but the symptoms match a more or less incurable autoimmune disorder; the patients seem to recover, which leads them to conclude it isn't likely a prion disease like Mad Cow (though I think it's a bit soon, really; the proper incubation period on some of those prion diseases is several years, so these people might all drop dead half a decade from now).

Of course, the plant is still operating and selling to the public. Because, you know, we can't take any proactive health measures whatsoever. Mystery plague in a meat packing plant? No positive ID on cause? Could be a contagion wending its way through the food supply? NO PROBLEMS!


Source: AP Features/Raw Story

Golden Compass Movie Removes Troublesome Atheism

So the author of the Golden Compass and its two sequels is a public Atheist. His books are full of bitter religious critique, against Christianity in particular. Hollywood wants to make them into a Narnia style blockbuster. The solution: remove all his ideas on religion!

Yeah. Ok. That doesn't smack of crass conformism at all. Meanwhile we have Dominionist whackos who scream bloody murder if they can't put their nativity scene on the courthouse lawn, and who fret endlessly about there being enough Christ in Christmas.

Gag me. Not the way Pullman's being gagged, but gag me nonetheless.


Middle East Roundup

Let's see. Helen Thomas took Dana Peroxide to task a few days ago, and the video has been making the blog rounds. Basically Thomas had the gall to ask our Press Secretary if we'll ever be out of IraqIranWherever, and it led to a nasty spat. Thomas got off the best line by far of course, a simple statement about the Administration's supposed regret over civilian casualties:

'Your regret doesn't bring back a life'

That should go on bumper stickers.

Source: RawStory

In other news, a reporter covering Lebanon for The National Review Online, a right wing lunatic site attached to a right wing lunatic magazine, has been outed as a fabulist and hoaxer after a series of his wild stories were debunked or came into question. Amongst the questionable items? That Hezbollah had developed a 'delayed-acid' bomb that when detonated would make a car's chassis melt in half and the back fall off, Loony Tunes style.

Seriously. They published this.


The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post (Specifics on the Acid Bomb)
Jesus' General

Finally, Harry Reid is supposedly considering yet another vote on Iraq, presumably to force El Presidente yet again to dash the hopes of everyone in uniform right before Christmas. This is the right track; I'd say, in fact, don't hold votes on anything else. Just Iraq, every day, all through December and January. People are sick of this insanity, and if they're reminded of it often enough, they just might do something about it. Now's the ideal time, the pro-GOP media conglomerates are running out of TV shows to dull the collective wit.

Source: The Hill

Monday, December 3, 2007

Democracy Redux

Two countries, two presidents, one who follows the rule of law..

So there's been a lot of bad-mouthing of Venezuela in the West, ever since the US-backed coup failed to kill and oust Hugo Chavez a few years ago. You get a lot of fairly high strung rhetoric, ranging from 'He's a dictator!' to 'He's going to declare war on the United States because he bought some guns for his Army!' to 'He's actually Satan in disguise!'

Basically, the argument goes, he's a powermad despot with his Machiavellian plots to control the country operating like a well-oiled machine, and oh, isn't it such a tragedy that we have such a man in charge of a country in our hemisphere?

A country full of oil no less......

Of course, reality is more complicated, as it often is. The US backed a bloody coup against Chavez because he wants to give the country's oil wealth back to the people of, well, his own damn country. He's proceeded to do so with an array of populist programs for the poor, as well as the gradual nationalization of Venezuela's oil assets. Gasp.

By the end of the first three years of his presidency, Chávez had successfully initiated a land transfer program and had introduced several reforms aimed at improving the social welfare of the population. These reforms entailed the lowering of infant mortality rates; the implementation of a free, government-funded healthcare system; and free education up to the university level. By December of 2001, inflation fell to 12.3% the lowest since 1986,[14] while economic growth was steady at four percent.[15]Chávez's administration also reported an increase in primary school enrollment by one million students.[15]

Source: Wikipedia

Ideas like these led us to try to remove his government by force, or at least, help those who would do so. Sigh.

Chavez has, since the coup, taken every opportunity to thumb his nose at the United States while building regional power and alliances. He's got programs going to trade oil, gas, fuels and so forth amongst South American nations, helped to push socialist leaders into power (through elections I might add, not coups) across the continent, and generally proven to be a competent player in the old Spheres of Influence/Great Powers game that Churchill loved so much.

For that of course, he must pay. American 'journalism' has been trying to plant a dagger in his back ever since.

In particular, the part that drives most American journalists red with rage is that Chavez has closed down some tv stations in Venezuela that were, well, anti-Chavez. By anti-Chavez, I don't mean they played news critical of Chavez. Or anti-Chavez propaganda. True, they did all that. By anti-Chavez I mean they were active conspirators in the US coup against him, took over the airwaves when the coup was in process, pronounced the coup a success and helped the would be new President to roll back all the results of those pesky elections of the last few years, starting of course with that money going from the big foreign oil concerns to the poor.

That didn't work, and needless to say, it left a sour taste in Chavez' mouth. Still, he didn't do anything in retaliation for some time, until they kept pouring the propaganda out over the air and he couldn't take it anymore.

Shocking I know.

At any rate, this all comes up because the latest anti-Chavez crusade was started by various news outlets getting huffy over a couple of constitutional referendums Chavez was pushing in the next election. One was to remove term limits for his office; the other was to hand control of the Central Bank over to the executive branch.

We got the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth on this one. Oh, he's wants to be President for Life, oh this is a power grab, oh woe for democracy.

Woe for Democracy that people are allowed to vote? Does this also mean that all US presidents before Truman were Presidents for Life because they lacked term limits?

The results of the referendum would surprise you, if you only watched the American news.

CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) -- Venezuelan voters narrowly rejected a constitutional referendum that would have bolstered President Hugo Chavez's embrace of socialism and granted an indefinite extension of his eligibility to serve as president, the National Electoral Council reported early Monday.


He's a svengali!

Meanwhile, Putin in Russia, Musharraf in Pakistan, they're great guys. Allies of the US of A. Bush has looked into their souls, and they're just awesome dudes.


One final note. What's Chavez's response to losing this referendum? Violence in the streets? Threats? Ignoring the rule of law with some sort of signing statement?

Chavez, in what he called a talk "from my heart" acknowledging the results, thanked those who opposed his proposal, saying the election had proven that Venezuelan democracy is maturing.


What a monster.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

News of the Weekend

Blah blah blah, I've got your lovey-dovey sad and loney...

Let's see what's up.

Iraq has turned into Somalia with better militias. Score!

Source: The New York Times

El Presidente's Legacy Obsession has led NASA to abandon 'basic science' on the International Space Station in order to divert funds to the ludicrous scheme to mine the moon, put Hello Kitty on Mars, or whatever the hell we're supposedly trying to do up there. As a result, a 1.5 billion dollar international instrument to do hard science on the ISS has been grounded, more or less forever, because we can't afford to fly it into space.

How lovely that Commander Codpiece gets his Mars Playset at the expense of, you know, the mission of the entire space agency.

Source: The Washington Post

In other El Presidente related news, the United States has asserted in a British court the right to kidnap British citizens rather than extradite them, for any crime, or rather, allegation of criminal activity, that it sees fit.


Source: The Times Online

Speaking of dictatorial madmen, Putin has decided that a sure thing isn't good enough for a rigged election -- it has to be rigged by a wide margin, to make him look more regal. So everyone who works for the government is being told to vote for Putin's slate in the election, or else. In a novel twist, some are being told they have to take a camera phone into the voting booth and photograph their ballots. It's nice to see Russia modernize their corruption.

Source: The Times Online

Finally, for a light-hearted story about how it's ok to treat men as overgrown children who need to be cared for by a responsible adult (misandry, in other words), look no further than Salzburg, Germany, where enterprising retailers have set up a 'Men's Creche' to put your shopping averse spouses into daycare while you burn the plastic on useless crap. They can hang out with other guys, drink and read Playboy! In a particularly cutesy touch, the women receive a numbered tag and have to use it to pick their man up, valet parking style.

Ye gods. This is insulting on so many levels at once it's quite frankly hard to parse. The worst part is, these men submit themselves to it. Face it, you Teutonic twits, if your wife has so little respect for you that she thinks you need to be warehoused out of the way so she can spend spend spend, you don't need daycare. You need a divorce.

Source: Raw Story

Steaming Pile of Psuedo-Science

Sometimes it's hard work, evaluating a claim about the world, even a scientific one. You have to look at the evidence, the data being presented; the methodologies employed, both in sampling and analysis; the reasoning and hypotheses used in that analysis; then you have to be aware of potential biases, in the researchers and their backers, both ideological and financial.

Other times you can read a stupefyingly ridiculous, mentally defective idea and think to yourself, "Wow, these people are complete fucking morons."

Like when a 'scientist' claims that violent media is a health threat on par, only slightly less damaging... than smoking cigarettes.

Yes, you read that correctly. A 'scientist', or at least a man occupying an office in a university and probably utilizing the title 'Professor', claims to have evaluated fifty years worth of studies on the relationship between viewing violent media and aggression and come to a shocking conclusion -- that violent media, be it movies, television or videogames, is almost as bad for the public health as smoking cigarettes.

Now now, stop laughing. Let's see what he's saying in his press rounds.

After reviewing more than 50 years of research on the impact of violence in the media, L. Rowell Huesmann, of the University of Michigan, and his colleague Brad Bushman concluded that only smoking posed a greater danger.

"Exposure to violent electronic media has a larger effect than all but one other well known threat to public health. The only effect slightly larger than the effect of media violence on aggression is that of cigarette smoking on lung cancer," he said in a statement.

Source: Yahoo News

So, ok. We have a claim here. Smoking deathsticks is only *slightly* worse for the public than watching violence of any sort. We can evaluate that.

How damaging is smoking to the American public?

Regular smokers are estimated to live to 2.5[3] to 10[4] years less than nonsmokers.[3] About one-half of male smokers will die of illness due to smoking.[5]

Tobacco related illnesses kill 440,000 USA citizens per year,[6] about 1,205 per day, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Source: Wikipedia (Health Effects of Tobacco Smoking)

Now, of course, we want to be fair. What does the Wikipedia article mean by 'tobacco related illnesses' and how much of that can be attributed to smoking, directly?

Well, if you do a little googling on the Wikipedia source, and its source, you can find yourself at the current CDC page on the subject, which reads, in part:

Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causing many diseases and reducing quality of life and life expectancy (1). This report assesses the health consequences and productivity losses attributable to smoking in the United States during 1997--2001. CDC calculated national estimates of annual smoking-attributable mortality (SAM), years of potential life lost (YPLL) for adults and infants, and productivity losses for adults. The findings indicated that, during 1997--2001, cigarette smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke resulted in approximately 438,000 premature deaths in the United States, 5.5 million YPLL, and $92 billion in productivity losses annually.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control

So as it turns out, pretty much the whole figure. Smoking ciggies kills 438k Americans every year, shortens lifespan by 5.5 million man-years, and costs us 92 billion dollars in lost productivity alone.

This ignores health-care costs of course. But surely those can't be that high, can the---

Wait, wait, here we are.

Cigarette smoking continues to impose substantial health and financial costs on society. In 1998, smoking-attributable health-care expenditures were estimated at $75.5 billion (2). During 1997--2001, these expenditures plus the productivity losses ($92 billion) exceeded $167 billion per year.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control

So now we have some figures for how much damage smoking does to the well-being of the American public. Massive, tragic loss of blood and treasure, lives thrown into the meat-grinder at a truly staggering rate. Every single one of the premature deaths preventable.

But what about all those murders that occur across this country? The slayings, the stabbings, the killing sprees, the rampages? The Columbines, the robberies gone wrong, the stick-ups, the road rage? The fruit of an Evil and Corrupt Society? Why, 438 thousand deaths is probably just a drop in the bucket compared with what CNN and the local news tells me is a neverending tide of blood.

Let's inquire as to just how much carnage is being visited upon the American people, every year. We'll assume that all murder, all non-negligent manslaughter, in short, every single death caused by one American upon another intentionally, is caused by those foul purveyors of filth in Hollywood, New York and Tokyo. It's only fair; surely everyone has seen something violent, and therefore at least the violent media *contributed* to their path to self-destruction, according to the esteemed researchers. So what's the damage?

From the Uniform Crime Report for 2006, a year in which approximately 438k Americans died from smoking...

17,034 Murders/Non-Negligent Manslaughters

Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report 2006

Err... wow.

I think we have enough information to evaluate these claims now. Watching violent media, ie, television, movies, videogames, reading comic books, one presumes regular books as well, has been labeled as a threat to public health only 'slightly' less dangerous than smoking cigarettes.

Smoking causes 438k deaths in America per year, costs 167 billion in combined health and productivity costs, spends 5 million man-years of life in premature death. Assuming every violent death in America was the direct result of a violent type of media, it would still only account for 18k deaths a year; the television, movie and videogame industries are all profit-generation centers rather than cost-centers to society, with billions of dollars in income. They pay wages to thousands, even if, as the WGA strike shows, sometimes not nearly enough of a wage.

For example:

Movie Industry Revenue, 2006: 42.6 Billion
Source: Hollywood Reporter

To see on the other hand how little the people who write those movies get, go see the good folks at United Hollywood.

Source: United Hollywood

This leaves out entirely any cultural contribution these industries provide, any of the intangible benefits that you might get from enjoying a good book with some Bad Things in it, or seeing a movie with friends, or watching a television show after a long day's slog. We don't need to get into a debate on utilitarian benefits, on the marketplace of ideas, in order to debunk this so-called study. The First Amendment never comes into play, nor Orwell or Bradbury, Stalin or book burning. We can judge this matter solely on the basis of lives lost, dollars spent, and work down the sewer. What a large, large sewer it is, too.

There is simply no basis in objective reality for the idea that watching Pulp Fiction is in the same class of behavior as lighting up. These people are on the screaming lunatic fringe, and should be ashamed. I could go into a moral tirade about all the people who've lost friends and family to lung cancer, throat cancer, mouth cancer, colon cancer, etc, from smoking, but I won't stoop to theatrics like these sad individuals.

We deserve better when it comes to discussions of public policy than that. We deserve better science than this.