Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Other Archys in the news
London's Natural History Museum has a new exhibit starring their own Archy (spelled with the more traditional "ie."
One of the biggest and most complete giant squids ever found is on display at London's Natural History Museum.

Measuring a monstrous 8.62m (28ft), the squid was caught off the coast of the Falkland Islands by a trawler.


The team nicknamed the creature Archie, after its Latin name Architeuthis dux, but they may have to revise this after finding out that the squid is probably female.

It took several months to prepare the squid for display.

The link has a picture and a video of the critter. I'm impressed.

Giant squids are in the news are always cool (being created in the image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and all). Now that there is one on public display, it's only a matter of time before PZ Myers organizes a pilgrimage.

Monday, February 27, 2006

There's nothing worth watching on TV
Over the weekend, Don Knotts, Darren McGavin, and Dennis Weaver all died. Between the three of them, their careers cover a chunk of television history from the fifties to the eighties and beyond. I'll be pulling the little tin foil antenna flags down to half-mast tonight.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Beware of frozen mammoths - part 2
The admiral and the mammoth

Here's one of my favorite frozen mammoth stories.

Most frozen mammoth theories use the presence of these mammoths corpses as evidence for some catastrophic event in the past: pole shift, near miss by rogue planets, explosion of errant ice moon, Noah's flood, or its aftermath. They agree that the mammoths were all frozen in a single event. If the mammoth is truly a separate species from other elephants (many theories say it is not), then the catastrophe was the cause of their extinction. The Hollow Earth theory is different.

According to the theory, the earth is a hollow shell. Gravity is just as strong on the inside of the shell as on the outside, so another unknown world exists there. A tiny sun sits at the center, illuminating this world in eternal daylight. Large openings connect the inner and outer worlds at the poles. The auroras are the light of the central sun, shining out through the polar opening, reflecting off high clouds.

The inner world is populated by exotic and primitive species, including mammoths. Different Hollow Earth theorists populate the inner world with a variety of interesting beings including Atlanteans, flying saucers, Nazis, long-lived vegetarians, giants, and mystic masters. Regardless of which human population is there, they all agree that there are mammoths there. Occasionally a mammoth wanders too close to the polar opening, falls in the ocean, drowns, gets frozen, and drifts out to wash up on the shores of Siberia.

Though Hollow Earth theories go back to the seventeenth century, mammoths have only been part of the story since the early twentieth century. In 1913, a sewing machine manufacturer named Marshall B. Gardner published A Journey to the Earth's Interior, or Have the Poles Really Been Discovered his hollow earth opus. In it, he assembled all of the themes that had been mentioned by earlier writers and emphasized the opportunity for imperial expansion. In a second edition, published in 1920, Gardner expanded his call to imperial action. With the other imperial powers exhausted by the Great War, the United States had a unique opportunity to claim the entire inner world for itself (and the good of mankind, of course).

Gardner was the first to bring up mammoths as a proof of the hollow earth. His book features an entire chapter (25 pages long) on mammoths. He recommends this chapter for the reader "in a hurry," because it provides proof "so startling, so incontrovertible, that [he] wonders how these observations could have been made by the regular scientists and their significance been overlooked." Gardner's is fairly typical of frozen mammoth lore. He asserts, with no proof, that the mammoth, as a breed of elephant, is a tropical animal and not sited to cold climates. He repeats explorer's reports of the sheer numbers of mammoth bones littering the Siberian landscape. He recounts the discovery of one of the more complete frozen mammoth carcasses, emphasizing the freshness of the meat. Gardner adds an original note here. He claims that the frozen mammoths have to be of recent origin. If they were old, he reasons, the flesh would have rotted away and the bones turned to fossils. Finally, he recounts many of the tall tales of explorers feasting on yummy mammoth steak (this is sub-genre of frozen mammoth lore that deserves a post of it's own).

Gardner's account is essentially the definitive account of the hollow earth. Later writers have added Nazis, Atlanteans, and flying saucers, but the geology and zoology have remained the same since Gardner's version.

Hollow Earth theorists have big advantage over all of the catastrophist theories. While they tell the usual stories about frozen mammoths and use them as proof-positive of their theories, they also have an eye-witness account of a living mammoth. And, their witness is a respected and unimpeachable authority on polar regions, none other than Admiral Richard E. Byrd, the first man to fly over both poles!

Adm. Byrd (1888-1957) entered the Hollow Earth pantheon in the early 1960's just a few years after his death. In 1963, the most famous hollow earth book a them all was published by Walter Seigmeister, a health food writer with a history of failed attempts to found a utopian colony in the tropics. Writing under the name Dr. Raymond Bernard, A.B., M.A., Ph.D., Seigmeister called his opus The Hollow Earth: The Greatest Discovery in History: Made by Admiral Richard E. Byrd in the Mysterious Land Beyond the Poles: The True Origin of the Flying Saucers. Seigmeister died two years after publishing The Hollow Earth and his publisher went out of business soon after that, but the book had become an instant classic among UFO buffs and one publisher or another has kept it in constant print for the last forty years.

During the 1950's, while trying to found yet another utopian colony, Seigmeister met some highly connected Theosophists in Brazil who had created a synthesis of hollow earth theory, the Theosophical Atlantis, and the new flying saucer craze. Seigmeister was an enthusiastic convert to their ideas and wrote a couple of pamphlets to publicize the theory among English-speaking American audiences. The Hollow Earth is nothing more than one of these pamphlets expanded by including vast block quotes from Gardner, one of his predecessors, William Reed, and others (Seigmeister's extensive use of block quotes probably qualifies him as one of the spiritual godfathers of blogging). So what's this about Admiral Byrd? Seigmeister picked the Byrd connection from an eccentric writer named F. Amadeo Giannini and one of the seminal writers on flying saucers, Ray Palmer.

Giannini was not a hollow earther, though what he did believe is hard to decrypt. In 1926, Giannini had some kind of mystical vision about the true nature of the universe and spent the rest of his life trying to tell the world about his revelation. In his struggle to tell people the "truth" Giannini did not compare himself to Galileo and Newton; he thought Galileo and Newton were just as wrong as everyone else and was prepared to set them straight. Giannini did not lack for confidence. Giannini's contribution to our lore was a book called Worlds Beyond the Poles, self-published in shorter and longer versions in 1958 and '59. Giannini seemed to believe that the world continued beyond the poles in some manner that connected all of the land in the universe. It should be possible to drive or sail to Mars and any other place in the universe. "Globularity" and "isolation" are illusions produced by the curvature of lenses (including the ones in our eyes). Everything you know is wrong. Byrd's flights "beyond the poles" proves it.

Giannini paid obsessive attention to news of polar exploration and seized on any bit of news that could be interpreted to support his theory. Much of what he considered support consisted of semantic parsings of the way explorers said things. When Carl Ben Eilson and Hubert George Wilkins flew over unexplored parts of the Antarctic Peninsula in 1928 and referred to it as new land, Giannini decided they must mean that they had discovered land that was not Antarctica. In his book he describes Adm. Byrd's February 1947 flight over the North Pole.

"I'd like to see that land beyond the Pole. That area beyond the Pole is the center of the great unknown." --Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, February, 1947


The words of the message were momentous: "I'd like to see that land beyond the Pole." There was nothing complex in that expressive statement of fact, yet despite its simplicity, the statement had to be misunderstood by the many who, unlike the admiral from Boston, feared the unknown. The simple announcement provided such impact on popular misconception that it was at once distorted that it might fit into the established fiction: there can be no land beyond the Pole; the admiral cannot possibly be going where he clearly states he is going.

Carefully note the remainder of the announcement: "That area beyond the Pole is the center of the great unknown." How could the admiral have had to reference to any mathematically established and then currently known area of the assumed "globe" Earth as prescribed by the theory of 1543? [i.e., the Copernican solar system -- ed.] It must be conceded that the land beyond to which Admiral Byrd referred had to land beyond and out of theoretic Earth extent. Had it been part of the mathematized Earth it would not have been referred to as "center of the great unknown." Were it part of the recognized "globe" Earth it would be known, not unknown.


Try to find any area of land, water, or ice which encroaches on the North Pole and which is not known.... Is Spitzbergen or Siberia unknown? Is Alaska or the Canadian Archipelago unknown? And do any such land areas extend north beyond the North Pole? They certainly do not.

Giannini's words sound like those of someone stalking a public figure. The stalker knows that the every word and gesture of the object of their affection is a coded message meant to be understood by them. The last paragraph sounds like a trick question. As soon as you point out something unknown, Giannini will say, "well we know about it now, don't we?"

Giannini belabors this point for another page and a half before he finally deals with the actual flight in one paragraph.
The admiral's plane pursued a course on the horizontal from the North Pole to a point 1,700 miles beyond the Earth. Then the course was retraced to the Arctic base. At no time did he "shoot up," or out, from the Earth level. As progress was made beyond the Pole point, there was observed directly under the plane's course iceless land and lakes, and mountains where land was abundant. Moreover, a brief newspaper account of the flight held that a member of the admiral's crew had observed a monstrous greenish-hued animal moving through the underbrush of that land beyond the Pole.

Giannini's self-published book would probably have faded into obscurity had he not sent a copy to Ray Palmer. Palmer was a publisher of science-fiction and adventure magazines who is one of the key figures in starting the flying saucer craze in 1947 and in molding the UFO mythos into its current form. Palmer's review of Giannini was worked into an all hollow earth issue of Flying Saucers magazine. Palmer retold Giannini's Byrd anecdote, changing the "greenish-hued animal" into a mammoth, and modifying his difficult cosmology into a hollow earth narrative.
Admiral Byrd's two flights over both Poles prove that there is a `strangeness' about the shape of the Earth in both polar areas. Byrd flew to the North Pole, but did not stop there and turn back, but went for 1,700 miles beyond it, and then retraced his course to his Arctic base (due to his gasoline supply running low). As progress was made beyond the Pole point, iceless land and lakes, mountains covered with trees, and even a monstrous animal, resembling the mammoth of antiquity, was seen moving through the underbrush; and all this was reported via radio by the plane occupants. For almost all of the 1,700 miles, the plane flew over land, mountains, trees, lakes and rivers.

"What was this unknown land? Did Byrd, in traveling due north, enter into the hollow interior of the Earth through the north polar opening?

At the end of his piece on Giannini, Palmer tied the whole story to his primary business.
The flying saucers could come from these two unknown lands `beyond the Poles'. It is the opinion of the editors of "Flying Saucers" magazine that the existence of these lands cannot be disproved by anyone, considering the facts of the two expeditions which we have outlined."

Aside from his tortured interpretation of Byrd's statements about his voyage, there are two significant objections to Giannini's story. First, no one has ever managed to turn up the newspaper account that describes the "iceless land" and "greenish-hued animal." When confronted with this in the early sixties, Giannini was of no help. Second and more damning, Byrd was at the South Pole in February 1947. When Palmer's readers pointed this out, Giannini suggested that Byrd may have made a secret trip to the North Pole and challenged Palmer's readers to prove where Byrd was for every single day of that month. He did not explain how he could have read newspaper reports of a secret trip.

By 1960, most of the final blank spots on the map, in the polar regions, had been filled in without finding great openings to the inner earth. What hadn't been explored and mapped by heroic efforts of ship, dogsled, and airplane would now be quietly photographed and surveyed by satellite. Before 1950, it was possible to believe in the hollow earth simply by believing that the openings were in a difficult to get to part of the world, still waiting to be found. By 1960, it was only possible to belive in it if you believed that there was a global conspiracy to suppress the knowledge. Seigmeister claimed that this was exactly the case, that the Cold War powers were playing a game at denying the existence of the inner world until they could beat the other powers there and establish their claims. A theory that began as a characteristic creature of the age of exploration transformed itself into a characteristic creature of the age of anxiety.

With Seigmeister's book eternally being reprinted, Palmer embarrassed, and Giannini silent, the whole business should have faded away to become a mere footnote in UFO literature, but there is an epilogue. And it still involves mammoths.

During the 1970's, a short manuscript began circulating in UFO circles. It was purported to be the secret diary of Admiral Byrd on his voyage into the inner world beyond the North Pole. It is now available in many places on the web.

A Copy Of Admiral Richard B. BYRD
foreword by: Dr. William Bernard Ph.d., D.D.

I've looked at dozens of copies on the web and they all give Byrd's middle initial as B. Byrd's full name was Richard Evelyn Byrd. The B in the web versions of the secret diary appears to be a scanning error produced by the first person who posted it online. Most versions have the same line breaks and other similarities. The dentist William Bernard who wrote the forward is probably supposed to be Seigmeister's nom de plume Raymond Bernard.
I must write this diary in secrecy and obscurity. It concerns my Arctic flight of the nineteenth day of February in the year of Nineteen and Forty Seven.



0600 Hours- All preparations are complete for our flight north ward and we are airborne with full fuel tanks at 0610 Hours.

0620 Hours- fuel mixture on starboard engine seems too rich, adjustment made and Pratt Whittneys are running smoothly.

0730 Hours- Radio Check with base camp. All is well and radio reception is normal.

0740 Hours- Note slight oil leak in starboard engine, oil pressure indicator seems normal, however.


0910 Hours- Vast Ice and snow below, note coloration of yellowish nature, and disperse in a linear pattern. Altering course foe a better examination of this color pattern below, note reddish or purple color also. Circle this area two full turns and return to assigned compass heading. Position check made again to base camp, and relay information concerning colorations in the Ice and snow below.

0910 Hours- Both Magnetic and Gyro compasses beginning to gyrate and wobble, we are unable to hold our heading by instrumentation. Take bearing with Sun compass, yet all seems well. The controls are seemingly slow to respond and have sluggish quality, but there is no indication of Icing!

0915 Hours- In the distance is what appears to be mountains.

0949 Hours- 29 minutes elapsed flight time from the first sighting of the mountains, it is no illusion. They are mountains and consisting of a small range that I have never seen before!

0955 Hours- Altitude change to 2950 feet, encountering strong turbulence again.

1000 Hours- We are crossing over the small mountain range and still proceeding northward as best as can be ascertained. Beyond the mountain range is what appears to be a valley with a small river or stream running through the center portion. There should be no green valley below! Something is definitely wrong and abnormal here! We should be over Ice and Snow! To the portside are great forests growing on the mountain slopes. Our navigation Instruments are still spinning, the gyroscope is oscillating back and forth!

1005 Hours- I alter altitude to 1400 feet and execute a sharp left turn to better examine the valley below. It is green with either moss or a type of tight knit grass. The Light here seems different. I cannot see the Sun anymore. We make another left turn and we spot what seems to be a large animal of some kind below us. It appears to be an elephant! NO!!! It looks more like a mammoth! This is incredible! Yet, there it is! Decrease altitude to 1000 feet and take binoculars to better examine the animal. It is confirmed - it is definitely a mammoth-like animal! Report this to base camp.

At this point, his plane is captured by Nazi flying saucers who take him to their crystal city at the center of the earth, give him a message of peace, warn him that atomic bombs are bad, and send him home. I'm not kidding. When he gets home, he debriefed by President Truman and told never to speak of this again, in all capitals followed by many exclamation points.

In 2001, Dennis Crenshaw, the publisher of a hollow earth newsletter took the time to research the secret diary. After noting that the style bears no resemblance to Byrd's published writing--and, in fact, reads more like comic book prose--he points out that, even giving the document the greatest benefit of the doubt, none of the things the author claims to see should have visible because it's completely dark at the North Pole in February. He then points out two textual liftings. The oil leak at the beginning is taken from Byrd's memoirs of his 1926 Antarctic flight, Skyward. The warning from the Aryan master in crystal city (not repeated here) is from the 1937 MGM movie version of Lost Horizon starring Ronald Coleman.

Nazi flying saucers and crystal cities form separate sub-genres of hollow earth lore, but don't involve mammoths. I'll write separate posts on these another day. So far there is no Nazi mammoth genre, but I have faith that, given enough time, there will be one.

UPDATE: I ran part one of this piece back in December. It explains just what the deal is with frozen mammoths. Another piece I wrote about the misuse of mammoths to support fringe theories is here. It's not a frozen mammoth, so it's not technically part of the series, but it's the most popular post I've ever written, so I like to show it off.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bill O'Reilly is a Hitler-appeasing pinhead
But we already knew that.

O"Reilly on the Today Show, November 30, 2005:
These pinheads running around going, "Get out of Iraq now," don't know what they're talking about. These are the same people before Hitler invaded in World War II that were saying, "Ah, he's not such a bad guy." They don't get it.

The same guy on The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, today:
There are so many nuts in the country -- so many crazies -- that we can't control them. And I don't -- we're never gonna be able to control them. So the only solution to this is to hand over everything to the Iraqis as fast as humanly possible.

He just doesn't get it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Great news -- if true
Rumors are flying around the Balkans that Ratko Mladic has been arrested. Mladic is the greatest war criminal still at large from the Wars of Yugoslav Seccession. Mladic was the general who established himself in the Olympic ski lodge overlooking Sarajevo from which he oversaw the bombardment of the refugee-choked town. He also gave the orders for the Srebrenica massacre. All in all, the Hague war crimes tribunal credits him with the deaths of 20,000 civilians. For the last ten years he has been on the run, though he is reported to have spent most of that time being protected by influential Serbs in Serbia and Bosnia.

Helping to bring Mladic and other war criminals to justice has been a prerequisite for rehabilitating Serbia and bringing the country into Europe. Whenever a deadline of some sort approaches, rumors fly that this war criminal or that war criminal has been arrested. The problem for the Serbian government is that these murderers remain popular with nationalist groups and still wield a great deal of power in organized crime.

Mladic has been rumored to be in ill health for the last few years, raising the dual possibilities that he might surrender to get medical care, or that he might escape justice by dying.

I believe in the value of international tribunals, truth and reconcilliation commissions, and other judicial means for overcoming the past, so I think an open, public airing of Mladic's crimes could be a good thing for Serbia and for the whole region. It could also turn into a legalistic charade and complete waste of time. Seeing him dragged by the scruff of his neck and thrown in a cage will be worth something even if a trial doesn't accomplish everything it should. In any case, I would rather we, at least, have the chance of judicial catharsis.

Let's hope they really have him this time.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Non-partisan conservatives
There is a popular schtick among certain conservative pundits where they claim to be the only true non-partisan, independents left in the country. Their self-proclaimed independent status is supposed to lend a special aura of credibility to everything they say. While everyone else is blinded by partisanship, only they can speak the truth. For these non-partisan conservatives, the truth usually is that liberals, Democrats, and "the Left" are almost always wrong.

Today, Marshall Wittman, who calls himself the Moose, explains the Left's cult of Bush hatred.
The Moose opposes most of the economic agenda of the Administration. However, he critically supports the President in the war on terror - including the NSA program. This has won the Moose the visceral opprobrium of the left. Because in the left wing universe, one must oppose everything the President supports. The truth is that a good part of the left believes that George W. Bush is a greater threat to America than Osama bin Laden.

Got that? None of us are upset with the NSA wiretapping because of principled support for the Fourth Amendment, the right to privacy, or the rule of law; we hate it because we "must oppose everything the President supports." This is a classic example of the most basic propaganda message: our side believes in honorable things for good reasons; their side takes calculated positions out of ulterior motives.

Before he became an authority on the motivations of the Left, Wittman was Director of Communications for Sen. John McCain, Director of Legislative affairs for the Christian Coalition, Director of Congressional Relations for the Heritage Foundation's and served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration. With credentials like that, we know his position as the only true non-partisan voice is unassailable.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Salmon, caribou, and a possible dissertation topic

Last night after I went to bed, I started thinking about salmon. Before I went to bed, I was thinking about the population dynamics of caribou herds and the recent sequencing of mammoth DNA. These two thoughts led me start asking myself some questions about salmon for which I don't think we have answers yet (if we do, they are probably buried in some obscure journal of quaternary studies). I think these questions would make a great dissertation topic for the right biology student. Here's how it came to me.

In the Northwest, salmon are the most important fish that there is. The British and Icelanders might think that cod is important, Southerners think bass and catfish matter, and PZ Myers will tell you more about zebra fish than you ever thought possible, but we Northwesterners know that they have all misplaced their fishy affections. Salmon is the most important fish that there is. Commercial salmon fisheries are one of the biggest industries in any territory bordering the North Pacific. Tourists pay thousands to pilots and guides who will take them to streams where they can stand six feet from some other tourist trying to catch an eighty-pound king salmon. Salmon are the main food supply for all the bears in Pacific-draining territories. The Tlingit and Haida knew the importance of the salmon and made it one of the most important totems of their people.

In school, our biology classes spent a great deal of time telling us about the life cycle of the salmon. Adult salmon swim upstream each summer to spawn in the gravel of shallow and clear mountain streams. They have sex once and die. The newly hatched little salmon swim back to the sea and spend a few years eating and growing, and when they are fully adult, they return to the stream of their birth to spawn, starting the cycle anew. Each salmon swims thousands of miles and somehow manages to navigate back to the exact place where they were born and only saw that one time. This feat of navigation is one of the great miracles of nature. Unfortunately, it's also partly baloney.

Consider: 20,000 years ago the Puget Sound region where I live was buried under a thousand feet of ice. The Cordilleran ice sheet spread out from the peaks of the coastal ranges and filled Puget Sound. It covered Seattle, Vancouver, Juneau, and Anchorage. It filled all of the valleys of the northwest coast and carved the fijords of British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska. It filled Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet. It covered the Alaska Peninsula out to the beginning of the Aleutian Islands and it reached out to cover the first few of those islands. But it didn't move north into Alaska. Most of the interior was a grassy steppe with mammoths and caribou and bears.

So much water was locked up in the Cordilleran ice sheet and its sister ice caps that the oceans were 600 feet lower. Great stretches of land were exposed. The North Sea was dry attaching Great Britain to Europe. The Falklands were indisputably part of Argentina. The islands of Indonesia were mountain peaks that surveyed a vast forested subcontinent. Alaska and Siberia were a single dry landmass that modern geologists call Beringia. Most of the rivers and streams between the Columbia and the Yukon rivers were buried under ice and could not have provided spawning ground for the salmon.

About twenty years ago, I saw a documentary on the population dynamics of caribou herds and their synchronization with the wolf population. The two populations rise and fall in a rather simple cycle. From a starting point with a low population of both, the caribou herd begins to grow. There are few competitors for the grazing land, so when the wolves are few the caribou begin a population explosion. However, when the numbers of caribou increase, that means more food for the wolves and they begin to have bigger litters and more frequent litters. The wolves embark on a population explosion of their own, lagging behind the caribou by a year or two. Eventually, the caribou population saturates its grazing land and has to face the rapidly growing wolf population. The growth of the caribou slows, stops, and then collapses. The wolf population, deprived of it's caribou smorgasbord, experiences the same stop and fall. Then the cycle starts over.

This is a very simplified version of the story. Wolves have other food sources, but prefer caribou when they can get it. People complicate matters considerably. Finally, there is not just one caribou population facing one wolf population. Across the Arctic North, there are a half dozen caribou herds. Each goes through the same cycle of population growth and collapse. But here's the kicker, they do it out of cycle with each other. When one herd reaches its maximum and competition for resources becomes rougher, some members will leave and join a neighboring smaller herd. Caribou are a migratory animal with set feeding and calving grounds, but they are able to overcome this and learn the ways of a new herd. This emigration gives valuable genetic diversity to the herds and often helps bring the declining herds back from the brink.

There are endless ecological points that I could make here, but let's get back to the salmon.

When the Cordilleran ice sheet melted 13,000 years ago, it exposed new valleys to the sea. Today these valleys are all stocked with salmon. How did they get there? Some salmon must have simply swam up the wrong streams, their famous navigation not being all we were taught. From the Yukon in the north and the Columbia in the south, salmon must have slowly stumbled onto new streams and colonized them. Was there a systematic overflow, like caribou at the top of their population cycle, or did they just get lost? Do salmon still wander into the wrong stream, or was this a temporary event limited to the period when the seas were rising and the coastlines changing?

That's question number one: how did the salmon colonize the northwest coast? Unless salmon have been observed colonizing new spaces, I'm not sure we can answer this one with anything other than just-so stories like the ones I just gave.

If you look at a textbook map of the last ice age, it will probably show the two North American ice sheets: the Laurentian, covering most of Canada, and the Cordilleran, which I described above. Your map will probably show the peak expansion of both when they touched and merged in Alberta. Your map probably will also show both coming right down to the oceans on the eastern and western margins of the continent. That detail is wrong.

The Cordilleran ice sheet probably met the sea in much the same way that the final remnants of it do today. That is, tongues of ice flow down valeys until they meet the sea, where they float and break off. Between these rivers of ice are un-glaciated ridges and bits of coastline that form islands in the sea of ice. Geoleogists are just beginning to map these islands. Many were large enough to hold entire small ecosystems that called refugia. One known refugia included Prince of Wales Island in Southeastern Alaska. The bears of some Southeastern islands were separated from their mainland brethren for long enough that they form a genetically distinct population. Did they have salmon to eat?

That's question number two: who were the salmon colonists of the northwest coast? Were they primarily from the Yukon and Columbia? Did they come more from one direction than from the other? Were there indigenous salmon in the coastal refugia to resist this invasion of yankee creek grabing aliens? Did they succeed? It seems to me that this is a doable dissertation or post-doc project. It requires mapping the DNA relationships between the local populations of one of the four species of salmon on the coast.

If you do this project, write me and let me know what you find out, because I really want to know how all of those salmon got where they are.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A prediction
Cheney's appearance on Fox today won't settle the shooting issue, but his people and the right-wing information machine will claim that it did.

Cheney's story is one more in competing set of narratives. Too many questions (mostly about alcohol) still linger. Did Cheney really only have one beer at lunch or did he have more than that? What time was lunch? Do any of his heart medications interact negatively with alcohol? Why did Armstrong and the police both make a point of saying he hadn't been drinking when he had? Why the delay in talking to the police? Why the delay in telling Bush? Why the delay in telling us?

The right-wing information machine is going to claim that the Fox interview settled everything and that the "liberal media" is keeping the issue alive just to hurt Bush. At some point they will discover Wittington's right to privacy and start waving it around. Wottington has a right to stay out of the news, but he doesn't have a not have his phone tapped. They will see no irony or humor in holding these positions.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Warm up the swiftboats
This is from the National Review via Kos. Mackubin Thomas Owens, one of NRO's contributing editors thinks the announcement of James Webb as a Democratic candidate in the Virginia Senate race might be trouble for the Republicans. I'm not so sure. Many republicans might look at Webb's resume and see nothing but liabilities.
Webb is an impressive man. He is a 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. As a Marine officer in Vietnam, he led an infantry platoon and company, was wounded twice...

Probably self inflicted.
...and was awarded the Navy Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor as a recognition of valor) and the Silver Star.

A glory hound. He no doubt lobbied his superiors for the medals because he was already looking forward to a political carreer.
After he was medically retired from the Marine Corps...

A quitter and a whiner.
...he attended Georgetown Law School and later served as counsel to the House Veterans Committee.

Oh my God, he's a lawyer!
He is the author of six novels, including Fields of Fire, the best novel there is about Vietnam.

A pointy-headed intellectual. Probably thinks he's better than us, like those America-hating college professors.
During the Reagan administration, he served as an assistant secretary of Defense and secretary of the Navy.

A big-government bureaucrat. Add to that the fact that he's now running as a Democrat. That kind of disloyalty and inconsistency is evidence of a disturbing lack of character.

I don't think the Republican slime machine will have much trouble finding material to work with. In no time at all we'll hear that Jim Webb is the most evil veteran to stalk the political stage since Max Cleland, John Kerry, or Jack Murtha.
Last post on Cheney
Unless some exciting development appears in the news, I can't imagine having much more to say about Dead-Eye Dick's big hunting adventure. However, If you can't get enough of it, go read the series of posts at Firedog Lake. They have covered most of the possible angles and have collected a nice set of letters from hunters commenting on this. Most agree that Cheney was completely irresponsible as a hunter.

My last question is this: how is this going over with the masses of red state hunters? Most of the NRA card-carrying faithful vote Republican. Will they delude themselves like good little followers and say, "well golly, accidents do happen," or will the real hunters sit up and say "he was doing WHAT?" It still might not make any political difference, but it should take a little of the glow off of their opinion of Cheney as a person.
Hunting with Cheney
I've spent my entire life in the Northwest among hunting people. Most of my male relatives hunted and many of my friends do. Though I don't hunt myself, I did learn safe gun handling at a very early age. My father was a cowboy and was very serious about such things. Every so often one of my friends takes me out target shooting, just to make sure I remember which end of the gun to point away from myself (despite their best efforts, I remain a terrible shot. I blame my vision; they blame my attention span). Consequently, I'm not especially impressed with the tales of Cheney's "hunting trips."

Every hunter I know hunts for food or as an excuse to spend a day in the woods. A large percentage of the meat I ate growing up was game: deer, elk, moose, caribou, and, once, bear. With that background, I find trophy hunting a little creepy, and what Cheney does, not hunting at all. As the Humane Society noted after a 2003 "hunting" trip of Cheney's:
Monday's hunting trip to Pennsylvania by Vice President Dick Cheney in which he reportedly shot more than 70 stocked pheasants and an unknown number of mallard ducks at an exclusive private club places a spotlight on an increasingly popular and deplorable form of hunting, in which birds are pen-reared and released to be shot in large numbers by patrons. The ethics of these hunts are called into question by rank-and-file sportsmen, who hunt animals in their native habitat and do not shoot confined or pen-raised animals that cannot escape.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today that 500 farm-raised pheasants were released yesterday morning at the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township for the benefit of Cheney's 10-person hunting party. The group killed at least 417 of the birds, illustrating the unsporting nature of canned hunts. The party also shot an unknown number of captive mallards in the afternoon.

"This wasn't a hunting ground. It was an open-air abattoir, and the vice president should be ashamed to have patronized this operation and then slaughtered so many animals," states Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of The Humane Society of the United States.

This is not hunting. It's not really sport unless you call it something like "organic skeet shooting." It's blood sport. Cheney killed "70 stocked pheasants and an unknown number of mallard ducks" in one afternoon. There's no way he was planning to eat all of those birds. The object is simply to rack up an impressive kill score. Real hunting involves--well--hunting for things, actually walking around and looking for game, not loitering around the buffet, making small talk, and waiting for the help to hold something in front of your gun so you can shoot it.

This kind of mass game killing was popular among Europe's royals before the First World War. It forms a fairly convincing data point for any argument comparing the current United States to a decadent imperial power. The Bushes are our Habsburgs and the Cheneys are our Bathorys.

Once we're done making jokes about the VP shooting a major donor to his party (and there are enough potential jokes that everyone gets a--um--shot at Cheney), it's worth taking a moment to look at the actual event and how it's being handled. Why did eighteen hours pass before the press found out and why was there no official statement until after it had appeared in the news? What are the Texas laws regarding accidental shootings? Did Cheney get any sort of special treatment from the local police (I'm not suggesting that he did; we haven't heard one way or the other yet)?

The statement by the shooting party's hostess is rather curious.
According to Katharine Armstrong, the daughter of Anne Armstrong, Mr. Whittington broke away from a line of three hunters, including Mr. Cheney, and failed to announce that he was returning to the group. When he approached, Mr. Cheney had already begun to shoot into a covey of quail that was taking off from the ground.

"This all happened pretty quickly," Ms. Armstrong said in a telephone interview from her ranch. Mr. Whittington, she said, "did not announce — which would be protocol — 'Hey, it's me, I'm coming up,' " she said.

"He didn't do what he was supposed to do," she added, referring to Mr. Whittington. "So when a bird flushed and the vice president swung in to shoot it, Harry was where the bird was."

Mr. Whittington was "sprayed — peppered, is what we call it — on his right side, on part of his face, neck, shoulder and rib cage," she said, noting that she, too, had been sprayed on her leg in a hunting accident.


"Mr. Whittington is fine," Ms. Armstrong said. "He's sitting up in bed, yakking and cracking jokes."

Cheney swung around, tracking the quail, and the Quail flew behind Whittington just as Cheney pulled the trigger. It has the light and humorous sound of a Bugs and Daffy moment or maybe the Three Stooges. Notice the use of euphemism and carefully selected details to minimize the reality of someone being shot: he was just "peppered," it happens all the time, he's up and joking. Also notice that she paints this unimportant thing which happened as not the Vice President's fault: Whittington "didn't do what he was supposed to do." When the White House did get around to commenting on the shooting, Mary Matalin put the expected spin on the matter:
He felt badly, obviously. On the other hand, he was not careless or incautious or violate any of the [rules]. He didn't do anything he wasn't supposed to do.

Nothin' to look at here, folks. Keep moving.

I don't know where Ms. Armstrong learned her hunting rules. In my part of the country, it is the hunter's responsibility to know what he's shooting at and to keep track of his companions. Real hunting involves a certain amount of stealth and quiet. Walking up and shouting "hey everybody, I'm back" is more likely to make people want to shoot you than to keep them from shooting you. Accidents still happen and people get shot, but these are usually the result of inexperience, thick brush, and/or alcohol.

Another member of the shooting party suggested that Cheney might have been blinded when he shot.
[Ambassador Pamela] Willeford added that the sun was behind Whittington, possibly making him difficult to see.

Blasting away at something you can't see, that sounds responsible.

Finally, Armstrong's story has a tribute to the Vice President's capability as a hunter.
Cheney has come down to her ranch to hunt quail once a year for at least 15 years, and she called him "a very conscientious hunter." "I would shoot with Dick Cheney everywhere, anywhere, and not think twice about it."

This has echoes of the reports of Bush's frequent bicycle accidents, which always include a description of what an aggressive and manly bicyclist he is.

This is all very interesting to people like me who are interested in the construction of news and propaganda and the psychology of leadership, but will this have any real-world consequences. Maybe. Jane Hamsher is hearing rumors that Cheney's enemies in the Republican Party are looking at the possibility of using this as an excuse to get rid of Cheney. Enough people in this administration are looking at criminal charges that they might want to put a Gerald Ford figure in place to provide them with pardons down the road. In addition, a lot of people in the party would be comforted to have an heir in place long before 2008.

Of more immediate import is the eighteen hour delay in mentioning the event to the public, and then only issuing a statement because it had already appeared on the television news. If they had not been pushed, would they have mentioned it at all. I don't think a sitting Vice President has shot anyone since Aaron Burr blew away Alexander Hamilton. This should be news. Just because it was an accident doesn't make it less newsworthy. It's certainly more newsworthy than the state of Jessica and Nick's marriage.

It's yet another example of this administration's fetish with secrecy and yet another data point of our transformation into a fin de siècle empire. It reminds me of all the conspiracy theories about Jack the Ripper being a member of the British royal family. Suppose Cheney had killed Whittington, would they have thought we had a right to know about that or would they have hushed it up? Which is more important, the man who is next in line for the presidency shooting people or Michelle Kwan's groin muscle?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Two weeks ago Halliburton was given a $385 million contract to build concentration camps on US soil in case of an undefined "immigration emergency."

Less than two weeks ago the acting head of the acting the State Department's Office of Legal Counsel, told a senate committee that Bush has the power to order the assassination of people on US territory.

Today, Cheney has started shooting people. Needless to say, he did not bother to get a warrent first.

Update: Cheney shot his friend yesterday. The White House managed to keep it out of the news for a full day.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Another Bush lie?
John Averosis thinks so, but the truth might be more complicated than that.
Earlier today, Bush made a speech in which he seemed to give out details of a previously unknown terrorist plot that his administration saved us from.
President Bush today disclosed new details of a foiled terrorist plot to fly a hijacked airliner into a skyscraper on the West Coast, crediting international cooperation in the war on terrorism with thwarting the 2002 scheme.

In a speech to the National Guard Association in Washington, Bush said Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network planned to follow up its Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon by sending young men from Southeast Asia to hijack a plane using shoe bombs to break into the cockpit. He said the plot called for the hijackers to then fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast, a 73-story structure in Los Angeles now known as US Bank Tower.

Bush said the plot was broken up in early 2002 when a "key al Qaeda operative" was arrested by a Southeast Asian nation.

At first glance, this would apper to be the usual scare tactics by the Bush administration. They are under siege for undermining the constitution with their illegal wiretapping program. members of the administration, like Cheney, have claimed that the program has thwarted terror attacks and saved lives. This time, for a change, Cheney's vague claims haven't been enough to quiet the criticism. So something scarier was needed. Bush went out today and mentioned specific details of a plot that would have killed specific people. While he didn't actually claim that his wiretapping program was responsible for foiling the evil-doers, he allowed that impression to be made with the usual unspoken message of "Only I can keep you safe."

The trouble is, someone is calling his bluff.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Thursday he was blindsided by President Bush's announcement of new details on a purported 2002 hijacking plot aimed at a downtown skyscraper, and described communication with the White House as "nonexistent."

"I'm amazed that the president would make this (announcement) on national TV and not inform us of these details through the appropriate channels," the mayor said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I don't expect a call from the president — but somebody."

Averosis is calling Bush a liar (and with good reason), but Bush is actually describing a real plot--one that was foiled when Clinton was president.

On January 6, 1995, the police in Manila, Philippines examined the aftermath of a fire in Suite 603 of the Doña Josefa Apartments. They found bomb making supplies, fake passports, and an off-white Toshiba laptop computer. Over the next few days they put together detail of a plot that included three waves of attacks. The first was a plan to assassinate Pope John Paul II when he visited Manila on January 15, 1995. The second was a plan to blow up destroy eleven airliners as they crossed the Pacific on January 21 and 22. Some of the bomb components would be smuggled on to the planes in the bomber's shoes. The third, was to hijack airliners in the United States and fly them into prominent American monuments including the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, CIA headquarters, the Sears Tower, the Transamerica Tower in San Francisco, and others. The entire plan, called Operation Bojinka, was funded by al-Qayda. This is what Condoleeza Rice meant when she told us no one ever imagined that terrorists might fly planes into buildings.

Bush is using details of a plot foiled by Phillipine police during Clinton's presidency and and trying to claim credit for it. That's pretty low.

Update: Holden plucked this out of today's White House press gaggle. It's not clear who the reporter is, but it seems others are finding Bush's story unlikely.
Q Scott, I wanted to just ask a follow-up about the LA plot. Is there something missing from this story, a practical application, a few facts? Because if you want to commandeer a plane and fly it into a tower, if you used shoe bombs, wouldn't you blow off the cockpit? Or is there something missing from this story?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you're referring to about missing. I mean, I think we provided you a detailed briefing earlier today about the plot. And Fran Townsend, our Homeland Security Advisor, talked about it. So I'm not sure what you're suggesting it.

Q Think about it, if you're wearing shoe bombs, you either blow off your feet or you blow off the front of the airplane.

MR. McCLELLAN: There was a briefing for you earlier today. I think that's one way to look at it. There are a lot of ways to look at it, and she explained it earlier today, Alexis, so I would refer you very much back to what she said, what she said earlier today.


Q On the subject of information-sharing, the Mayor of Los Angeles, Mr. Villaraigosa, today is complaining that he got no notification at all that the President planned to disclose this information about an alleged attack plot on his city. In fact, he said, "I'm amazed the President would make this announcement on national television and not inform us of the details through appropriate channels." Insofar as you said earlier that the White House is always looking for ways to inform the American people and keep them up to speed, why disclose the details of a plot that's now four years old?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Carl, first of all, in terms of -- I haven't seen what the Mayor said, I've been in meetings with the President, so I'll take a look at that. But my understanding was that we did reach out to officials in California and Los Angeles to let them know, I think it was yesterday, that the President would be talking about this. And the word I heard was that there was great appreciation for the notification that we provided. That's very important.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Their hearts are in the right places*...
...but it's still a bad idea.

This news just came in from the Wisconsin legislature, and the science blogs are all abuzz over it.
Two Democratic lawmakers introduced a plan Tuesday that would ban public schools from teaching intelligent design as science, saying "pseudo-science" should have no place in the classroom. The proposal is the first of its kind in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and comes as a debate over how to teach the origins of human life rages in local school districts.... The measure would force material included in science curriculums to describe only natural processes. The material also would need to follow the definitions of science adopted by the National Academy of Sciences.

In other words, they only want science taught in the science classes. I'm all for that, but this is the wrong way to go about it.

Creationism is a religious belief that has no place in a science curriculum. Intelligent Design is a marketing campaign to sneak creationism into the classroom by disguising it as science. It's really nothing more than a new name for Creation Science, the failed effort to to do the exact same thing during the seventies and eighties. Because creationism under any name is just religion and never science, and engaging in religious indoctrination in public schools is illegal, it's supporters need to engage in this kind of suberterfuge in order to try and force their religion on other peoples' kids.

Unfortunately for them, the marketing campaign alone has never been enough to fool the science community into supporting their claims, so they have resorted to legislation and litigation to force their way into the classroom. This is one place where conservatives love politicians and trial lawyers telling us what to believe.

For decades, history and literature teachers have had to contend with legislators and interest groups attempting to dictate what to teach, how to teach it, what kind of emphasis to put on which details, what readings to use, which counter-arguments are allowed and which are not, what can be portrayed as "good," and what must always be condemned. Textbooks and curricula are subject to change after every election. The result is a controversy-averse education that gives kids a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a lot of nothing. Science teaches in places like Kansas have only begun to get a taste of this kind of abuse.

It would be nice if we could pass a law telling them to knock it off, but it won't work and is almost certain to make things worse. The legislature is the wrong place to write a curriculum. Laws like this invite retaliation and make the content of education another political spoil to share out after each election to the detriment of the students.

My two favorite science bloggers are on opposite sides on this one. Ed Brayton thinks it's a great idea and points out the usual hypocrisy from William Dembski and the Discovery Institute. PZ Myers thinks it's a horrible idea for the same reasons I just gave. He is obviously a very wise man (so is Brayton, I just don't agree with him on this one).

Afarensis points out that the passage of this bill could provide major propaganda material for the creationism crowd. The religious right likes to portray themselves as persecuted minority. The creationism crowd carry this narrative forward by speaking of and evolutionary dogma ruthlessly maintained by a Darwinist mafia that allows no dissent. Actually passing a law that specifically bans their beliefs plays right into this narrative and will be called up for years as evidence of how intolerant the Darwinists are and how afraid of ID they are. It's already too late to stop this narrative; just proposing the bill will be enough to set of their persecution alarms.

I predict that by the end of the week at least one of bill O'Reilly, John Gibson, or Rush Limbaugh will have made an issue of this (so will the World Net Daily crowd, but who really cares?).

* Just to the left of their esophaguses. Esophagi? Whatever.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Crank up the paranoia meter to eleven
Last week, just a few days before Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the acting the State Department's Office of Legal Counsel, told a senate committee that Bush has the power to order the assassination of people on US territory, Halliburton was given a $385 million contract to build concentration camps on US soil in case of an undefined "immigration emergency." Now, Halliburton received about ten million to build the Guantanamo Bay prison camp which houses 700. Thirty-eight times that much should provide cots, barbed wire, and interrogation facilities for about 26,000 people. What kind of "immigration emergency" are they expecting?
Mock, but pay attention
By now you've all read, heard, or seen Gonzales' two great moments of "huh?" inducing silliness at yesterday's senate hearings.

His first moments was this exchange with Sen. Biden:
BIDEN: I'm almost confused by it but, I mean, it seems to presuppose that these very sophisticated Al Qaida folks didn't think we were intercepting their phone calls. I mean, I'm a little confused. How did it damage this?


GONZALES: I think, based on my experience, it is true -- you would assume that the enemy is presuming that we are engaged in some kind of surveillance. But if they're not reminded about it all the time in the newspapers and in stories, they sometimes forget.

The Senators and the spectators laughed at Gonzales for this dumb statement, and rightly so.

His second moment was this appeal to precedent:
GONZALES: President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale.

I think we are all agreed, that George Washington never listened in on people's phone calls. Gonzales needs to be mocked for this slip, but, when we're done laughing and pointing, we need to address the point he was trying to make. That point is part of the official narrative that the administration is trying to sell and must be repudiated if we are to stop the administration's decent into lawlessness and the subversion of our rights.

Gonzales doesn't perform very well in the hot seat. He's not very quick to counter unexpected turns in the direction of the argument and he fumbles. From his written statement and the rest of his testimony, it's clear that he meant to say "warrentless" surveillance, not "electronic" surveillance. It was a slip of the tongue, that's all. He meant to say:
President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized warrentless surveillance on a far broader scale.

There are really two propaganda points in that sentence: other presidents did it too, so it's okay for Bush to do it, and other presidents did lots more, so Bush's crime is really insignificant. Let's look at those in reverse order.

Whether what the other presidents did was "on a far broader scale" or not is something we just don't know at the present. The administration has more than one program of illegal surveillance in progress. The Pentagon is watching protestors and the NSA is wiretapping electronic communication (not just phone calls, but e-mails and financial transactions, too). The administration won't tell us the full scale of these operations. The specific program in question, the NSA wiretapping, has several layers. A vast amount of information is sucked in at the top and filtered by computers before a much smaller number are tagged for attention by human agents.

In Washington's time there were only a few million people on the entire North American continent. Washington had some people's letters opened and read. The NSA computers are vacuuming in hundreds of millions of communications at the top level. Before we believe any statement from this administration comparing the size of their operation with the actions of past presidents, we need to know what part of the current operation they are comparing, over what time period, and which actions of the past presidents they are comparing it to.

When Gonzales, or anyone else in the administration, says "other presidents did it, too" they are, of course, trying to fog the issue with a whole slew of childish falacies. I'm tempted to leave it at "if George Washington jumped off a cliff, would George Bush jump off one, too?"* We shouldn't even need to deal with this one, but here goes: it's illegal, dammit. Just because someone else might have done something similar doesn't make it less illegal. Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's move on to the more subtle dishonesties of the administration's "they did it, too" argument.

Many of the examples of other administrations (especially those of Carter and Clinton) conducting some form of warrentless surveillance involve actions that were not illegal at the time, but that have since become illegal. This is an important distinction. Carter and Clinton did not commit crimes; Bush did. Washington did many things that are now illegal but were not when he did them, including grow marijuana and buy human beings to use as slaves. Washington did not commit a crime in either of those cases, but if Bush tried them, it would be a crime.

Finally, while it is well documented that Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR ignored due process and violated rights to pursue their wars, these actions are considered shameful moments in US history. The Bush administration wants to normalize the worst moments of previous administrations and claim them as the only standard that they should be measured against. America deserves better and Americans should demand better.

On a bizarre side note, via Stephen Bates and a bunch of other stops, is this passage from the official defense of the NSA project (Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Security Agency Described by the President):
More specifically, warrantless electronic surveillance of wartime communications has been conducted in the United States since electronic communications have existed, i.e., since at least the Civil War, when "[t]elegraph wiretapping was common, and an important intelligence source for both sides." G.J.A. O’Toole, The Encyclopedia of American Intelligence and Espionage 498 (1988). Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart even “had his own personal wiretapper travel along with him in the field” to intercept military telegraphic communications. Samuel Dash, et al., The Eavesdroppers 23 (1971); see also O’Toole, supra, at 121, 385-88, 496-98 (discussing Civil War surveillance methods such as wiretaps, reconnaissance balloons, semaphore interception, and cryptanalysis).

Let that one roll around in your brain for a minute and see if it doesn't also hit the "huh?" reflex. The Bush administration is calling the actions of someone engaged in armed rebellion against the legal government of the United States (the very textbook definition of treason) a valid precedent for their actions. Maybe that makes sense to the kind of Texans that Bush surrounds himself with, but most Southerners I know would consider that a bad example to call up in his defense.

* If the answer is "yes," how can we arrange for George Washington to jump off a cliff? That's just a hypothetical question. I would never really try to get a president (living or dead) to jump off a cliff. That would be wrong.

Monday, February 06, 2006

License to kill
When did we start living in a comic book?
In the latest twist in the debate over presidential powers, a Justice Department official suggested that in certain circumstances, the president might have the power to order the killing of terrorist suspects inside the United States. Steven Bradbury, acting head of the department's Office of Legal Counsel, went to a closed-door Senate intelligence committee meeting last week to defend President George W. Bush's surveillance program. During the briefing, said administration and Capitol Hill officials (who declined to be identified because the session was private), California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bradbury questions about the extent of presidential powers to fight Al Qaeda; could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil? Bradbury replied that he believed Bush could indeed do this, at least in certain circumstances.

This is not a pundit saying what they think the Pesident should do or a talk-radio host saying hwt they think would be cool. This is not John "five to the melon" Gibson shooting off his mouth without first checking to see if it's loaded. This is the acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. This is one of the most authoritative legal opinions in the country. He just said he thinks it's okay for the president to order assassinations on US territory.

Of course, he would never, ever do such a thing. The President stands second to none in his regard for due process, seperation of powers, and the Constitution, so we have nothing to worry about. And yet, when I close my eyes, all I can see are the last bits of a 200 year experiment in democracy swirling around a few times and then disappearing down the toilet. Bastards!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Culture of corruption
They do it out of habit.
House Republicans are taking a mulligan on the first ballot for Majority Leader. The first count showed more votes cast than Republicans present at the Conference meeting.
Praying for death
Here's another minister asking his flock to pray for God to kill people whose opinions he doesn't approve of. Jay Stapleton is the pastor of Calvary Christian Fellowship in northern Virginia and he writes in World Net Daily:
In Roberts and Alito, Bush got what he requested and conservatives got what they wanted: a crime-fighting duo of young, bright, originalist justices able to slap down the court jesters who've lampooned American jurisprudence the last 50 years.


Here's my prayer list: Ginsburg – gone! Stevens, Souter, and Kennedy – gone! Installed in their place: God-fearing, Constitution-loving justices flanking Roberts on both right and left! There are four remaining liberal judges on the nation's high court. That equates to four justices who are anti-life (in the name of choice), pro-perversion (in the name of privacy) and anti-American (in the name of progress). May God banish them from the court.

Remove from power, oh Lord, those who hate You and have used their power to abolish Your name from the ears, minds and hearts of our nation's children.

God, give us more justices who fear You and respect Your law. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Pastor Stapleton never explicitly says kill; he's more subtle than Ann Coulter. He allows himself plausible deniability. When confronted by people like me, he can claim to have never to have though of such a thing and reverse the accusation by saying that I must be the one with homicidal fantasys to have jumped to that conclusion. But his flock knows what he means and we know what he means. After all, he could have asked God (in good biblical language) to change the hearts of those judges and make them his kind of conservatives. Stapleton didn't ask for that; he wants those judges gone.

Murder in the name of the prince of peace is hardly a new hypocrisy. What is a little more original is the cheerful vindictiveness that has become such a strong element in American fundamentalism. One of the attractions of rapture theology, is the image of being safely whisked away from danger and then having a front-row seat to watch all those other people suffer through the tribulation. They don't want to win over the other side; they want to vanquish them. They want to hear the sweet sound of wailings and lamentations.

Stapleton describes how the prospect of getting rid of their enemies animates his flock.
During a time of prayer in our church this past Sunday evening, we brought the various issues and needs of our country before the Lord, including thanks for judge Alito's confirmation. Someone then asked God to replace a particular liberal judge on the court (I won't mention her name) with a God-fearing one. It was a simple request, but a breath of enthusiasm entered the meeting.

He "won't mention her name." Isn't that cute? I wonder which one of the remaining liberal, female justices that they could have been talking about.

The "needs of the country"--whatever he sees those as (feeding the hungry? clothing the naked? comforting the afflicted?)--didn't catch the imagination of his flock. But getting rid of a liberal? That brought "a breath of enthusiasm" to the meeting.

Ed Brayton comments on some of the other theological aspects of Stapleton's prayers.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What the President really meant to say
I've mentioned this before. I always thought Ronald Reagan's press conferences were great fun. It looked like it was almost impossible to keep the great communicator on script. After most press conferences, Ronnie would wander off to take a nap, and someone would have to hold a follow up press conference to explain what the President really meant to say. Sometimes the Bush staff has that same problem.

Last night:
President Bush called in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night for the United States to break its "addiction" to Middle Eastern oil using technological solutions.

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy," Bush told Americans, who are paying more than $2 a gallon for gasoline. "Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world."

"The best way to break this addiction is through technology," he said, adding that technological advances will help achieve a "great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."

One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.
What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.


"This was purely an example," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.

He said the broad goal was to displace foreign oil imports, from anywhere, with domestic alternatives. He acknowledged that oil is a freely traded commodity bought and sold globally by private firms. Consequently, it would be very difficult to reduce imports from any single region, especially the most oil-rich region on Earth.

In other words, Bush's old family friends, the House of Saud, had a few words to say about losing our business. So, when Bush said "unstable parts of the world" and "the Middle East" what he really meant to say was "Canada" and "I'll be long gone by then; it's not my problem."
More on human-animal hybrids
After making the same sarcastic point I did (only funnier than me), PZ Myers explains what's really at stake with the "human-animal hybrids" reference in Bush's SOTU speech last night. It's not a reference to mad scientists, it's a callous suggestion that we ban a line of research that is already helping people.
We would love to have an animal model of Down syndrome, so that, for example, we could figure out exactly what gene overdose is causing the immune system problems or the heart defects, and develop better treatments for them.

So what scientists have been doing is inserting human genes into mice, to produce similar genetic overdoses in their development. As I reported before, there have been partial insertions, but now a team of researchers has inserted a complete human chromosome 21 into mouse embryonic stem cells, and from those generated a line of aneuploid mice that have many of the symptoms of Down syndrome, including the heart defects. They also have problems in spatial learning and memory that have been traced back to defects in long-term potentiation in the central nervous system.

These mice are a tool to help us understand a debilitating human problem.

George W. Bush would like to make them illegal.

The whole sentence, with it's multiple references to embryos was a bone to the pro-life religious right crowd.
Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research, human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling or patenting human embryos.

Prohibiting "human cloning in all its forms" would shut down research on things like growing skin for burn victims as well as several types of non-embryonic stem-cell research. Banning the buying or selling of human embryos should also close down a number of fertility treatments (or at least the ability of clinics to make a profit).

The religious right fears almost everything that deals with human genetics. It comes too close to defying the will of God and it stinks of evolution. They suspect that treating Grandma's Parkinson's will be the beginning of a slippery slope descent into breeding soulless super-soldiers and growing babies in order to harvest their parts. It makes them queasy. If they condemn millions of others to painful lives and early deaths in order to avoid that queasyness, they're will to sacrifice those others.
Three times is a pattern
It used to be that Presidents tried to introduce one grand and inspiring new idea into each of their State of the Union addresses. It seems that Bush's goal is to introduce one baffling and off-the-wall idea into each of his State of the Union addresses. 2004--The nation is bogged down in a foreign war, the economy is weak, millions of Americans are without healthcare, and Bush wants to go to Mars. 2005--The nation is bogged down in a foreign war, the economy is weak, millions of Americans are without healthcare, and Bush thinks it's time we did something about steroids in sports. 2006--The nation is bogged down in a foreign war, the economy is weak, millions of Americans are without healthcare, and Bush...
Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research -- human cloning in all its forms -- creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos.

Isn't it time we did something about these human-animal hybrids? Haven't we been terrorized by mutant supervillans long enough?

Someone needs to keep a close eye on the President's reading material when he's working on his SOTU speech or next year we might find ourselves sending a bold team of explorers to the center of the earth in a rocket-powered mechanical mole.