31 December, 2008

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

Happy New Year's Eve, my darlings. If I wasn't at work, we'd do something a little special for the last Happy Hour of 2008, but as it is, we'll just have to content ourselves with the usual parade of idiocy.

For a change, let's start out with a little Dem fucktardedness. And what could be more fucktarded than the replacement for Obama's Senate seat playing the race card?

One can make a reasonable case that Roland Burris' appointment to the Senate should go through, Rod Blagojevich's scandal notwithstanding. But this is the wrong way to make the argument.

In an interview this morning on the CBS "Early Show," Rep. Bobby Rush compared Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's refusal to seat Roland Burris with the actions of leading segregationists from decades past, including George Wallace and Bull Connor.

Seriously, he did. Rush specifically said, "[T]he recent history of our nation has shown us that sometimes there could be individuals and there could be situations where school children -- where you have officials standing in the doorway of school children. You know, I'm talking about all of us back in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas. I'm talking about George Wallace, Bull Connors and I'm sure that the U.S. Senate don't want to see themselves placed in the same position."

Burris himself appeared on NBC's "Today" this morning, and raised the same point, though in a more passive way: "Is it racism that is taking place? That's a question that someone may raise."

This strategy is a mistake. Blagojevich almost certainly considered Burris' race before making his announcement, but there's no evidence at all that Senate Democrats or Barack Obama are basing their opposition on anything but the governor's corruption allegations. The comparison of modern-day Senate Democrats to George Wallace and Bull Connor is baseless and irresponsible. For Burris to even raise the possibility that racism is a factor here isn't much better.

You know, when Senate Dems said they weren't going to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich, they didn't say, "Unless, of course, we're accused of being racists." And running around screaming racism doesn't really fly when Obama himself is backing the Senate Dems. This is just spectacularly pathetic.

Burris may be qualified. But anyone who accepted a seat from a man who was trying to sell that seat calls his own integrity and motivations into question. And it really looks bad when the appointee has created a monument to himself. Seriously. Go look at it. Can anyone say "self-absorbed"?

For fuck's sake.

Of course, that drumbeat of inanity is rather drowned out by the thunder of Con dumbassitude. As always. Where to begin? How about with the Bush appointee who was literally asleep at the helm at OSHA:
From The Rachel Maddow Show Dec. 29, 2008. Sadly as someone who has read Molly Ivins' book Bushwhacked and after watching the debacle during Hurricane Katrina, nothing any Bush appointee does surprises me very much.

But first, it‘s time for a few underreported “holy mackerel” stories in today‘s news. The “Washington Post” front-pages a story today on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, the part of the federal government that deals with workplace safety. They provide information about workplace hazards. They regulate workplace conditions so that they are safer.

Of course, in the Bush administration, OSHA does a lot less of that. They do 86 percent less of that, if you want to be precise here. OSHA under President Bush issued 86 percent fewer significant workplace safety rules and regulations than OSHA under Bill Clinton. Now, that‘s not necessarily a big political surprise. Republicans are the pro-corporation, anti-regulation party even when they can‘t really agree on anything else.

But what is a surprise about OSHA under President Bush which we learned in today‘s “Washington Post” is—I‘m not actually sure that I can improve on the facts as they are presented in today‘s “Washington Post” article by the reporter, R. Jeffrey Smith.

Quote, “In 2006, Bush‘s first OSHA director, a former Monsanto employee was replaced by Edwin G. Foulke Jr., a South Carolina lawyer and former Bush fundraiser who spent years defending companies cited by OSHA for safety and health violations. Foulke quickly acquired a reputation inside the Labor Department as a man who literally fell asleep on the job.

Eyewitnesses said they saw him suddenly doze off at staff meetings, during teleconferences, in one-on-one briefings, at retreats involving senior deputies, on the dais at the conference, at an awards ceremony for a corporation, and during an interview with candidate for deputy regional administrator.

His top aides said they rustled papers, wore attention-getting garb, they pounded the table for emphasis or gently kicked his leg, all to keep him awake. But if these tactics failed, sometimes they just continued talking as if he were awake - ‘We‘ll be sitting there and things will fall out of his hands; people will go on talking like nothing ever happened,‘ said a career official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to a reporter.

In an interview, Foulke denied falling asleep at work, although he said he was often tired and sometimes listened with his eyes closed,” end quote.

Dear. Fucking. Gods. And people wonder why this country got so fucked up.

As for insight coming from these clowns, fuggedaboutit. Here's Gonzo, feeling all sorry for hisself because people hate him and he just can't understand why:

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales left office in disgrace 16 months ago, and has kept a low profile since. His reputation has not improved in the interim -- Gonzales has struggled to find a law firm willing to hire him -- but at least he hasn't said or done anything ridiculous since his departure from public life.

Gonzales, however, is apparently interested in some kind of comeback. The former A.G. is writing a book about his tenure in the Bush administration and chatted with the Wall Street Journal about how mean everyone has been to him.

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

Is Gonzales really that confused about what he did that was "so fundamentally wrong"? I suppose he proved during multiple congressional hearings that his memory is similar to that of someone who's suffered serious head trauma, but Gonzales' list of scandals is hard to forget.

Just off the top of my head, there was the U.S. Attorney purge scandal, Gonzales signing torture memos, his conduct in John Ashcroft's hospital room, his oversight of a Justice Department that was engaged in widespread employment discrimination, and his gutting of the DoJ's Civil Rights Division. Gonzales was even investigated by the department's Inspector General on allegations of perjury and obstruction.

Ah, well. At least the blogs are having fun reminding him just why he's so universally despised. That's something.

And here's the WSJ, ending their year as they began, spewing conservative talking points and doing their best to convince everyone that the world will end in mayhem and ruin if the Dems do what Americans want them to do, like ensure people have proper health care:
The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal took another shot at President elect Barack Obama’s health care proposal yesterday, warning readers that Obama’s appointed health care leaders — incoming Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Daschle and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes — “will ration your health care“:

People are policy. And now that President-elect Barack Obama has fielded his team of Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Services and Melody Barnes as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, we can predict both the strategy and substance of the new administration’s health-care reform.

The prognosis is not good for patients, physicians or taxpayers…. Americans can expect a quick, hard push to build more federal bureaucracy, impose price controls, restrict medicines and technology, boost taxes, mandate the purchase of health insurance, and expand government health care.

The Journal’s ‘predictions’ are as predictable as they are erroneous. Conservatives have spouted the same-old tired arguments against reform since President Clinton’s failed 1994 effort, and the Wonk Room, along with some other progressive blogs, has been actively disputing their assertions.

And Norm Coleman ends the year firmly in denial:

Norm Coleman has done it again: He's filed a lawsuit at the state Supreme Court.

This newest lawsuit is an attempt to force the inclusion of the 650 rejected absentee ballots that his campaign wants put into the count, which the local election officials from around Minnesota have not included in the lists of ballots that they say were thrown out because of clerical errors. In short, Coleman is suing to include ballots that the county officials say were thrown out properly -- and which local media analyses say are from areas that Coleman swept in the election.

On a conference call with reporters just now, lead Franken lawyer Marc Elias ridiculed the Coleman campaign for having throughout this whole recount dismissed the idea that there were any significant number of wrongly-rejected ballots, only to have a very sharp change of position now that they're behind in the latest count by 49 votes.

"This is a campaign - the Coleman campaign, that is - is a campaign that is remarkably fond of do-overs," Elias said. "Their strategy seems to be to first object to something, then when that something happens to fight it. Then when it's clear that they're not going to prevail, to start over again."

Sounds like a typical Con. And I'm sure we'll have plenty more to look forward to in the coming year. Some things never change.

I've Gots 'Splaining To Do

Regulars to the cantina have probably noticed a rather abrupt falling off in volume lately. There's a reason for that. I've just been too busy to 'splain.

Writing fiction again, you see.

My Christmas tradition for these many years has been to shut out the rest of the world and put the extra day or two off to good advantage. I haven't written fiction in months, didn't even have scenes running through my mind, but that was no reason not to write. I've missed fiction. So, instead of world-building, instead of research, instead of those one-billion-and-one things I should be doing, I just started writing scenes for the sheer delight of wordsmithing. I skipped around here, there and everywhere within my universe, playing with a description here, a metaphor there, savoring each sentence. And it felt fantastic.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped writing and started reading instead. Last year, I wrote several chapters in a book I wasn't even supposed to be working on because it comes so late in the sequence. But the scenes were there, demanding to be written. Total compulsion. I justified it by telling myself that I needed to get this stuff down while it was fresh in my mind, and the practice wouldn't hurt. After all, the first book in the series needs to be outstanding. It's going to take tremendous skill to pull off what I want to do. Skill is developed by practice. Ergo, use these scenes to practice.

As I was writing, it seemed as if things were inspired. Seemed like I could actually do a fair job of capturing this stuff.

Reading it now, I do not think I was wrong. I found plenty of rough edges - a writer worth their shit will always find flaws with their work. But I also found a lot to be excited about. I used to suck at the mushy-gushy stuff, for instance, which was unfortunate because so much hangs on the unique connections between certain of my characters, deeply emotional relationships beyond mere love and romantic entanglement. Those scenes are now starting to take on the transcendent quality they needed.

I've also had an enormously difficult time capturing grief, which was also vital to the story I wanted to tell. That's getting far easier. And I think I'm avoiding the wanker trap - I've never wanted my grieving characters to turn into o-woe-is-me sniveling weenies. They're stronger than that, despite crushing pain. And those scenes seem to be working too.

There's an enormous amount of work to be done. As I've mentioned before, certain assumptions have to be rethought. There's a vast amount of worldbuilding still unfinished. I have to go over everything from the beginning, decide what must stay and what can be safely discarded, strengthen the weak areas and figure out the science behind the fantasy. None of it will be easy, but it's going to be worth doing.

That being so, this blog is likely to see a bit less posting than usual. Apologies in advance, my darlings. I'll do my best.

(BTW, If anyone wins an insane amount of money in the lottery and wants to free me from my day job with a modest stipend, thus allowing me a full blogging schedule on top of my storytelling duties, I could be persuaded to accept such a thing. Just so's you know.)

Pardon Me - Your Logical Fallacy is Flapping in the Wind

I don't usually filch from PZ because I figure most of you have already been over to Pharyngula, but this little gem of a logical fallacy needs to be set like a solitaire. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rep. Mark Souder:
I personally believe that there is no issue more important to our society than intelligent design. I believe that if there wasn't a purpose in designing you — regardless of who you view the designer as being — then, from my perspective, you can't be fallen from that design. If you can't be fallen from that design, there's no point to evangelism.
You know what? He's absolutely right. Spot-on. I agree with his last two sentences without reservation.

Never mind that it's a big ol' logical fallacy (looks like the ol' appeal to consequences to me). Let's just take him at his word: if there's no design, you can't be fallen from that design, ergo evangelism has no point.

Hmm. Evolution has rather put paid to the whole design idea....

Huzzah! Fundamentalist religion is dead. No point in evangelism anymore - let's drink to it's demise!

I love it when someone's own logical fallacy works to our advantage. What a perfect way to start the New Year.

The Law of Unintended Consequences: Biting Israel's Butt

You'd think that Bush's Global War on Terror having turned in to the greatest single recruiting tool for al Qaeda would've given other world leaders a bit of a clue. Alas, stupidity knows no borders:
Benjamin Netanyahu was on CNN today saying "We'll have to bring down the Hamas regime."
And how's that going, Ben?

The disproportionate and heavy-handed Israeli attacks on Gaza have been a bonanza for Hamas. The movement has renewed its standing in the Arab world, secured international favor further afield and succeeded in scuttling indirect Israeli-Syrian talks and direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. It has also greatly embarrassed Israel's strongest Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan.

While it is not apparent how this violent confrontation will end, it is abundantly clear that the Islamic Hamas movement has been brought back from near political defeat while moderate Arab leaders have been forced to back away from their support for any reconciliation with Israel.

Epic fucking fail.

30 December, 2008

Carnival of the Elitist Bastards VIII: To Boldly Go

The HMS Elitist Bastard leaves the high seas for deep space over at Submitted to a Candid World. Captain Ames helms the ship as we explore strange new worlds, seek out ignorance, and then blast it into oblivion with phasers set to "vaporize." The only question remaining unanswered: how good is Ames at the Picard Maneuver?

Set a course for wisdom. Warp factor 9. Engage.

Postdated so as to leave no crew member behind.

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

If there wasn't so much Con stupidity happening today, I'd highlight Blagojevich's supreme fucknuttery. As it is, should you want to have fun laughing at his expense, see here and here. I have some Con bottoms to spank.

Allow me to start with John Bolton, who is one of the most ridiculous chickenhawks on the face of the earth. It's not enough for him that we're already stuck in two useless wars - he wants us to go for a triple:

Yesterday, on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes, Iran war hawk John Bolton said that Israel’s recent bombing campaign in Gaza is all the more reason for the United States to bomb Iran now. “So while our focus obviously is on Gaza right now, this could turn out to be a much larger conflict,” he said, adding that “we’re looking at potentially a multi-front war here.”

“You would strike Iran right now?” asked host Alan Colmes. “I would have done it before this,” Bolton responded. Colmes asked whether tensions and war across Middle East would escalate if the U.S. or Israel were to bomb Iran. Bolton said that the many Arab countries would secretly be cheering if Iran were attacked...


It’s hard to believe that the Arab world would be pulling out the party hats if Iran were attacked. Thanks to the policies of President Bush, the U.S is immensely unpopular across the Middle East. Iran, on the other hand, enjoys unprecedented support in Iraq, which is supposed to be America’s greatest ally in the region.

The stupidity here is overwhelming in its scope. I have no idea what sort of fantasy world this man is living in, but apparently it involves hallucinogens. Lots and lots of hallucinogens.

Speaking of overwhelming stupidity, some Cons apparently think that sending out a CD with "Barack the Magic Negro" on it is a fine joke and not worth worrying over:

Indeed, taking this to the next logical step, some RNC members are saying that Duncan and Anuzis may have hurt themselves by criticizing Saltsman's judgment. One RNC member told the Politico, "Those are two guys who just eliminated themselves from this race for jumping all over Chip on this. Mike Duncan is a nice guy, but he screwed up big time by pandering to the national press on this." Several more have "expressed anger toward Duncan and Anuzis 'for throwing a good Republican under the bus.'"

So, to summarize, a leading candidate to lead the Republican National Committee promoted a song calling the next president a "magic negro." This has improved his chances of getting the job.

Only Cons could think that extraordinary racial insensitivity is a feature, not a bug, in a political leader.

And forget about Congress working quickly to rescue the economy from the catastrophe they let it become:

President-elect Obama has made it clear that one of his first priorities when he takes office will be an economic stimulus package that could reach around $800 billion. Top economists have said that such investment — in areas such as infrastructure, health care, energy, and education — is essential for boosting the economy. As Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman has stated, the “risks of being too small are much bigger than the risks of being too big.”

Despite the urgency after eight years of the Bush administration doing nothing, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now saying that he and his fellow conservatives are in no rush to provide this important economic relief and plan to put the brakes to attempts to quickly pass a package. From a statement he issued yesterday:

As of right now, Americans are left with more questions than answers about this unprecedented government spending, and I believe the taxpayers deserve to know a lot more about where it will be spent before we consider passing it.

According to the Washington Post, McConnell has also “called for a weeklong cooling off period between when the bill is drafted and when it is voted on, allowing time to dissect it for signs of ‘fraud and waste.’” Conservatives have the power to filibuster the legislation if they oppose it.

Funny how they only worry about "fraud and waste" when they're not the ones stuffing both hands in the cookie jar. After the last eight years of fraud, waste and fuckery, I really don't think these assclowns have any credibility when it comes to watching out for taxpayers' money.

And if I ever hear them howling over campaign finance improprieties again, I shall pee myself laughing:

For Republicans opposed to campaign finance regulations, it appears that enforcing the law is just so last year.

Bloomberg reports that the Federal Election Commission's three GOP members all voted against fining the Chamber of Commerce for illegally spending money in 2004 on attacks against John Edwards, that year's Democratic vice-presidential nominee. The 3-3 final vote tally meant the commission took the rare step of rejecting an FEC counsel recommendation to impose the fine.

The November Fund, a 527 group run by the Chamber, had been found to have broken campaign spending laws by using $3 million it received from the chamber to attack Edwards over his trial lawyer background. Bloomberg notes that 11 other 527s were accused of violating campaign spending laws, and all but the Chamber paid a fine.

I don't even know what to say. Apparently, the Cons in the FEC believe that finance fuckery is perfectly acceptable as long as it's Cons engaging in the fraud. Charming.

And, finally, reports of Bush's passion for reading have been greatly exaggerated:

As part of its end-of-presidency wrap-up, Vanity Fair notes this interesting tidbit from Richard Clarke, the former chief White House counterterrorism adviser.


"The contrast with having briefed his father and Clinton and Gore was so marked. And to be told, frankly, early in the administration, by Condi Rice and [her deputy] Steve Hadley, you know, Don't give the president a lot of long memos, he's not a big reader -- well, shit. I mean, the president of the United States is not a big reader?"

Funny, just last week Karl Rove told us the president is a voracious reader, who reads dense texts "to relax and because he's curious," and for 35 years, George W. Bush has "always had a book nearby."

I'm so sick of these lying morons I could scream. In fact, I think I'll go outside and do that right now.

A Bloody, Horrible Mess

I've wanted to blog on Gaza, but it's impossible to know where to begin. I have sympathies on both sides: I don't expect Israel to just absorb missiles without responding, but I don't expect Palestinians to blithely accept being starved, either. It's one of those tragedies with no clear right or wrong, no spotless heroes, no irredeemable villains.

I'm going to let Phoenix Woman take over from here:

As we hear that the IDF is bombing universities and killing United Nations personnel in addition to the hundreds of Gazans already dead in the three days of the Israeli attack on Gaza, we will hear the inevitable cry "but Hamas has been lobbing rockets at Israelis for years from Gaza!"

Juan Cole tells us about these rockets, and provides some perspective:

Israel blames Hamas for primitive homemade rocket attacks on the nearby Israeli city of Sederot. In 2001-2008, these rockets killed about 15 Israelis and injured 433, and they have damaged property. In the same period, Gazan mortar attacks on Israel have killed 8 Israelis.

Since the Second Intifada broke out in 2000, Israelis have killed nearly 5000 Palestinians, nearly a thousand of them minors. Since fall of 2007, Israel has kept the 1.5 million Gazans under a blockade, interdicting food, fuel and medical supplies to one degree or another. Wreaking collective punishment on civilian populations such as hospital patients denied needed electricity is a crime of war.

The Israelis on Saturday killed 5% of all the Palestinians they have killed since the beginning of 2001! 230 people were slaughtered in a day, over 70 of them innocent civilians. In contrast, from the ceasefire Hamas announced in June, 2008 until Saturday, no Israelis had been killed by Hamas. The infliction of this sort of death toll is known in the law of war as a disproportionate response, and it is a war crime.

But of course you won't see this on your evening news, not unless you live outside of the US. You're more likely to know about this if you live in Tel Aviv than if you live in Milwaukee.

There's more in that article that might be helpful in conversations with those who love to proclaim that Israel can do no wrong.

It's hard to find good in so many people dead. But it seems that Israel has taken things just one step too far. The carte blanche is being written on a rapidly-emptying bank account. And we can finally talk about Israel in more than simple black-and-white terms.

This was never that simple. It's a good thing we're no longer pretending it is.

J-Street has a petition ready to go (h/t):

At this moment of extreme crisis, J Street wants to demonstrate that, among those who care about Israel and its security, there is a constituency for sanity and moderation. There are many who recognize elements of truth on both sides of this gaping divide and who know that closing it requires strong American engagement and leadership. Click Here

I support immediate and strong U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to urgently reinstate a meaningful ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel and lifts the blockade of Gaza. This is in the best interests of Israel, the Palestinian people and the United States.

I'm going to leave you with what Hilzoy said yesterday, because she sums up my feelings on this rather better than I can:

One of the many things that makes the Israeli/Palestinian conflict so utterly dispiriting is that it's impossible to think of anything good coming of any of this. Worse than that, it's hard to imagine that even the people involved think anything good will come of it.

What, exactly, do the Palestinians lobbing rockets into Sderot think they will accomplish? That the Israelis will look about them and say: Holy Moly, I had no idea this place was so dangerous!, and leave? Do the Israelis think: even though we've bombed the Palestinians a whole lot, and it's never done much good before, maybe this time it will be different! Maybe Hamas will say: heavens, this is a pretty serious round of attacks; maybe we should just sue for peace -- ? Or what?

I imagine what people on both sides are thinking is something more like: do you expect us to just sit here and take it? Do you expect us to do nothing? To which my answer is: no, I expect you to try to figure out what has some prospect of actually making things better. Killing people out of anger, frustration, and the sense that you have to do something is just wrong. For both sides.


Playing Into Terrorists' Hands

I've had Thoughts over the past several years. I'd see some group do something outrageously evil, I'd watch leaders get all vengeance-minded on their asses, and I'd think, "That's exactly what the terrorists wanted you to do, dumbshit."

It appears I'm not the only person who's been having such thoughts:

As Stirling pointed out earlier today, Terrorism works. The Mumbai attacks, targeted deliberately at both foreigners, and more importantly, India's own elites, led to an entirely predictable response: India started seriously threatening Pakistan and demanding Pakistani leaders do things (like turn over Pakistanis to the Indian legal system) which no Pakistani politician could do and stay in power. Indeed, it's unlikely they could do such a thing and stay alive.

So Pakistan moved its forces from the tribal areas to the border with India, in response to India's threats, and the terrorists no longer have to deal with the Pakistani military. This is, clearly, what they wanted. Terrorism worked.


Remember that 9/11 was also a great success, not just operationally, but strategically. It accomplished what bin Laden wanted—it got American troops in on the ground where they could be killed and the cost of the war put the American economy under great strain. It continues to pay dividends, as the US army, smarting from what it privately knows was a loss in Iraq (you don't pay people to stop attacking you if you won the war) wants a do-over in Afghanistan, not because it makes sense strategically (it's destabilizing Pakistan, a far more important place than Afghanistan) but becase their pride has been hurt.

Terrorism works. It works not because it can succeed operationally, but because elites play into the hands of terrorists and do strategically stupid and counterproductive things when terrorists prod them hard enough. Both the Mumbai attacks and 9/11 were aimed at people who mattered—wealthy and important people in both countries.

It's incredibly hard not to go screaming for vengeance when a group of evil fucktards with bombs blow apart your citizenry, but governments are going to have to start learning to respond a little less predictably. The solution to terrorism isn't more bombs, more invasions, and more vengeance. As hard as it is to put vengeance on the back burner, we need to do it. Send law enforcement after the fuckers, and work on creating a world where it's harder for them to find desperate, disaffected people to recruit.

Some of our more bloodthirsty chickenhawks see a devastating military response as "education," which is right up there among the dumbest things I've ever heard:

Commenting on Israel’s attack on Gaza, NRO’s Andy McCarthy wonders whether the strikes will “demonstrate that terrorism is a loser for those who vote for it.”

The question is whether the Palestinian people are educable. Which brings me back to the first point: the Palestinians voted to put in power — i.e., vest with the power of a quasi-sovereign government — a terrorist organization which thinks legitimate governing consists of bringing about the annihilation of its sovereign neighbor and, meantime, targeting the said neighbor’s civilian population with bombing attacks. When you do that, you make yourself a target.

It’s one thing to defend Israel’s disproportionate attacks as a legitimate attempt to destroy Hamas’ capacity to launch rockets into Israel, but it’s quite another to defend them as an attempt to “educate” the Palestinian people. The former is debatable, the latter is a forthright embrace of terrorism, the use of force against civilians to achieve a political goal.

McCarthy’s advocacy of violence against people who vote the wrong way raises an obvious question. Granting, for the moment, McCarthy’s simplistic interpretation of Hamas’ election, (which was more a vote against Fatah’s incompetence and corruption than it was for Israel’s destruction) if Palestinian civilians have made themselves targets by voting into power a party that advocates the destruction of Israel, have Israeli civilians made themselves targets by voting into power successive governments that have continued a military occupation while expropriating Palestinian land? Have Americans made themselves targets by voting in governments that support that occupation? According to McCarthy’s reasoning, the answer to both questions is yes.

Matt Duss points out that McCarthy's reasoning is precisely the same as Osama bin Laden's. The fact that one person is an American and the other a terrorist doesn't change the equation one fucking bit.

Our desire to "teach terrorists a lesson" isn't teaching them a damned thing other than how to manipulate our passions more adeptly. We teach them that their actions are justified, because we employ the same reasoning to justify attacking them. It gets us absolutely fucking nowhere, and more innocent people suffer and die.

At some point, we're going to have to break the cycle. That's going to take more self-control and insight than we've been capable of thus far, but it's the only way to even come close to reducing terrorism to managable levels.

The Long View Myth Gets Smacked Down

I love Digby. She's got a special gift for absolutely eviscerating stupid wingnut fantasies:
Condi Rice and Laura Bush are insisting that the administration will be vindicated by history for all the wonderful work it has done around the world. Rice, especially, is intent upon making the case that if the world gets better some time in the future, Bush will be given the credit for it. (This isn't the first time she and Bush have made this stupid comment.)

This definition of success would mean that you have to reevaluate Tojo since Japan has since become a prosperous, first world country. After all, if it weren't for him, the world wouldn't be where it is today. Hell, where would Western Europe be if it weren't for that bad man in the mustache -- or Eastern Europe if it hadn't been for Stalin? Hey, even Caligula can be seen to be a hero if you believe that the world is better off today than it was during Roman times.

It's not that Bush is necessarily as bad as those examples, but the logic behind Rice's view inexorably leads you to evaluate everyone in history through the lens of human progress --- which means that none of the great villains can be held responsible for their deeds and nothing can ever be learned from bad decisions of the past. As long as the world goes on you can always make the case that things will probably turn out ok in the long run. And that's hardly any comfort ---as the old saying goes, in the long run we'll all be dead.
That should rather put paid to the "Bush will be redeemed by history" myth. Not that it will, because these fuckwits are incapable of dealing with reality. But at least it's a nice, succinct reply to those unthinking idiots who still love their bullshit straight up. It could help a few of them wake up and smell what they've been drinking.

29 December, 2008

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

Bush's priorities:

In an effort to “prevent Palestinians from attacking towns in southern Israel” with rockets, Israel today undertook its third day of offensive military airstrikes in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, raising the death toll to more than 300. The Palestinian casualty numbers have been described as the highest over such a brief period since the 1967 Six-Day war. Scores of Israelis have been wounded — and at least one killed — by rocket attacks fired by Palestinians. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the situation “all out war.”

While Bush has been briefed on the situation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, he has opted not to interrupt his final vacation as president to make a public statement on the crisis. For someone who has enjoyed the most vacation days as sitting president — including days spent relaxing in comfort during Hurricane Katrina and in the lead-up to 9/11 — it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Bush prioritizes vacationing over crisis management. ABC News reports:

Even an emerging crisis in the Middle East, one he pledged to resolve just 13 months ago, has not drawn President George W. Bush from his final vacation before leaving office. Despite his personal pledge at Annapolis last year to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians before 2009, this weekend Bush sent his spokesmen to comment in his stead. […]

Since departing Washington for Crawford on Friday, President Bush has made no attempt to be seen in public. In fact, he has yet to leave his ranch.

Today, in a press briefing delivered from the “Western White House” in Crawford, TX, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe was asked what is on Bush’s schedule today. In addition to receiving “updates on the ongoing situation,” Johndroe said, “I expect he’ll probably ride his bicycle today and spend time with Mrs. Bush.”

Because that's exactly what the president of a superpower should do while the Middle East descends into chaos. And this is a man who thinks that history will be kind to him. I rather think not.

I suppose it won't surprise any of you to discover that the Bush regime has made a complete hash of OSHA:

The Bush gang? Ignoring the public's interests, politicizing a key federal agency, and advancing corporate interests above all else? You don't say.

In early 2001, an epidemiologist at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration sought to publish a special bulletin warning dental technicians that they could be exposed to dangerous beryllium alloys while grinding fillings. Health studies showed that even a single day's exposure at the agency's permitted level could lead to incurable lung disease.

After the bulletin was drafted, political appointees at the agency gave a copy to a lobbying firm hired by the country's principal beryllium manufacturer, according to internal OSHA documents. The epidemiologist, Peter Infante, incorporated what he considered reasonable changes requested by the company and won approval from key directorates, but he bristled when the private firm complained again.


Current and former career officials at OSHA say that such sagas were a recurrent feature during the Bush administration, as political appointees ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations, slow-rolled others, and altered the reach of its warnings and rules in response to industry pressure.


By all appearances, this administration barely wants OSHA to even exist, so I suppose it stands to reason that Bush political appointees would gut the agency and turn to lobbyists to help guide OSHA's decision making. Indeed, it's hard to count just how many regulatory agencies have, under this president, effectively been run by the business interests it was supposed to be regulating.

This administration will go down in history as one of the most inane, insane, and generally incompetent misadventures in American government since the Revolution. They're banking on 9/11 to save them:

With President Bush’s time in office rapidly coming to an end, his loyal supporters are working overtime to spin his legacy positively. In an interview with the Telegraph, Bush’s former UN ambassador, John Bolton, claims that “in 100 years,” people won’t remember two of the biggest stains on Bush’s record, Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib:

“In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he was strong and decisive and that was critical for both the country and for the Western world,” believes John Bolton. “In 100 years people aren’t going to remember Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib, they’re going to remember 9/11 and Bush’s reaction to it.”

Yes, they'll remember his reaction to it. They'll remember that he started two wars, one with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. They'll remember that he authorized torture, thus ensuring terrorists had something to spice up their recruiting posters with. They'll remember that al Qaeda in Iraq didn't exist until Bush created the conditions that allowed them to flourish there.

People will remember plenty in 100 years. I doubt even the veils of history can put a shine on this pile of shit.

At least it seems there will be plenty of people to remember:
I don't want to alarm anyone, but it appears that teenagers sometimes have sex, even if they "pledge" not to.

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge," but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

"Taking a pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior," said Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. "But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking."

Got that? The difference between teens who make abstinence "pledges" and teens who don't isn't sexual conduct, it's that those who make the "pledges" engage in more dangerous sexual conduct.

After a while, this just gets repetitious -- the right insists that abstinence programs work, objective research shows they don't. Conservatives, not satisfied, demand more objective research, which further proves abstinence programs don't work. No evidence, no matter how overwhelming, seems to be enough.

But reality just won't budge. The nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that abstinence programs do not affect teenager sexual behavior. A congressionally-mandated study, which was not only comprehensive but also included long-term follow-up, found the exact same thing. Researchers keep conducting studies, and the results are always the same.

I've been alive for over 30 years. I cannot remember another time in this country when our leaders were so overwhelmingly, relentlessly stupid.

Can we just let Bush stay in hiding on his pretend ranch and install the grownup in the White House now, please?

What Fucking Bipartisanship?

We're hearing a lot about "bipartisanship" and "post-partisanship" and "working together despite disagreements" (like, oh, say, the little tiff we're having over whether gays are nasty incestuous pedophiles or decent people who should be allowed to suffer marriage just like heteros). We're hearing it mostly from Republicons who think they can get their way with the new administration and, of course, Obama. The "Kumbaya" singing is notably lacking when it comes to folks like Rep. Jon Kyl and other leading Con lights whose raison d'etre is to fuck up a Democrat's day whilst raiding a blue collar worker's pension fund.

Digby's take on the situation refreshed me like a pleasant morning breeze:
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I think Americans are probably not destined to all come together in comity and good will to work toward the common good any time soon. And you also know that I don't think there's anything especially wrong with that. If politics is war by other means then that's the way things are supposed to work.


As Ezra says, it's not enough that everyone has their views "respected" in any case. I don't even know what that means when it comes to fundamental issues of freedom, liberty, faith, duty etc. Of course I respect everyone's right to their beliefs and I will fight the proverbial fight for them to be allowed to express them. But I don't have to respect every view that comes down the pike and I certainly don't have to willingly make room in my political coalition for people to enact their agenda if it goes against what I believe in. Why would anyone think I should?

The truth is that it's disrespectful to sincere people on all sides to suggest their disagreements are so shallow that they can be dealt with by pretending that all we need to do is proclaim that we respect one another. Even if you respect someone, sometimes there's no avoiding a fight.
Exactly so. That's precisely the problem, and why this reaching out to homophobic fucknuggets like Rick Warren is so damned odious to me.

Believe it or not, economist Paul Krugman has a little something to say on the subject as well:

Guest host Chip Reid asks Krugman if the recession is actually a blessing in disguise, because it opens the door for a 21st Century New Deal. Krugman agrees, but only if we let go of the myth of "bipartisan agreement":

He’s [..] not going to get bipartisan consensus. He may be able to get some moderate Republicans votes. He may be able to get the moderate Republicans in the Senate – both of them -- to go…vote with the Democrats. The point is, you look at what John Boehner is doing in the House right now, the House Republican Leader. He’s dead set against doing anything constructive right now. He’s actually soliciting on his website, saying if there are any credentialed economists who are willing to you know, say negative things about stimulus plans, please contact me. So no, it’s not going to be bipartisan, in the sense that leaders of both parties are going to get together. Reaching out across the aisle, trying to find some sensible people on the Republican side is not the same thing.

I find it hilarious that after all of the petty partisanship of the last eight years that somehow it's incumbent upon the Democrats to be the grown-ups in Washington and reach across the aisle. Where was all the talk in the media circles of bipartisanship for the last eight years? Is it that the media knows that Republicans aren't mature enough to do so? And where, in all their history, have the Republicans shown themselves to be able to do anything for the good of the country instead of their party, as Krugman so aptly describes?

Krugman is dead on right. There will be no bipartisan consensus. The Republicans' agenda will be to obstruct and hobble as much of the Obama plans as possible to regain the majority in 2010 with the argument that the Democrats couldn't do anything. Boehner has all but admitted it. So let's let go of the notion of "bipartisanship" and get the majorities necessary to get things done.

All too true. And I love how despairing Krugman sounds when he talks of "trying to find some sensible people" among the Cons.

The truth is that the sensible Republicans have pretty much been booted out. What we've got left to work with is a bunch of posturing, histrionic, fucktarded loons.

That doesn't exactly make for ideal bipartisan efforts, now, does it? It's good to see folks who realize that. I think Obama does, too, but he's going to try to force the other side to break the "truce," and if he's more skilled than previous Dems, he'll be able to make that blow up in the Cons' faces for once. Which would be delightful.

Prop 8: Bet You Didn't Realize There's a Lesson to be Learned from the Romans

EmperorHadrian at Daily Kos has a wicked cool diary up exploring how the tyranny of the majority ends up affecting democracy:

We might be prone to be sympathetic to the Roman assemblies, and certainly its members were not nearly as powerful as the senators. The problem, however, is that democracies then as now can be manipulated by demagogues, sometimes even those with dictatorial ambitions (as we saw in the 2004 election). This was what helped Julius Caesar rise and overthrow the republic. The constitutional balance between the democracy and the aristocracy was what prevented a tyrannical leader, with no one's interest in mind other than his own, from seizing power. The point of any constitutional system is to place checks and balances so that no source of authority (executive, aristocratic, or democratic) can achieve unchecked power. For this, look no further than our constitution. Our constitution is designed so that, say, some 52% majority can't just invalidate the equal protection clauses in the constitution and thus deny rights, say marriage rights, to some unpopular minority group.


In effect, Tiberius used the same theory of popular sovereignty that Julius Caesar would later use, and that the supporters of Prop 8 in California used. The theory, that laws and constitutional mandates can simply be ignored when popular majorities disagree with them, was (is) repugnant to the genius' of both the Roman and American constitutional systems, and if carried to their logical ends, would put the state under the absolute control of any temporary popular majority. Replace "popular majority" with "president", and you get Nixon's famous decree that "if the president does it, that means it is not illegal".

Deary, deary me.

He makes a good case that following the popular will without respecting minority rights can weaken and eventually topple a democracy. Go have a read. It's another good arrow to have in the quiver.

Prop H8ers Eating Their Own

I am amused.

It's a fact of human nature that you shouldn't mistake haters uniting against a common hatred for friendship. Once the object of their mutual hatred is vanquished, they go right back to despising each other.

After the success of the Evangelical-Mormon lovefest otherwise known as Prop 8, I was really looking forward to reading what Glenn Beck might write over at James Dobson's place. Would Glenn use the opportunity to ask Dr. Dobson about that time back in 2004 when Dobson's wife, Shirley, excluded Mormons from the National Day of Prayer? And would Glenn suggest that maybe, in the afterglow of Prop 8, now was a good time for Dr. Dobson to offer an apology to Mormons for not letting them use the word "Christian" to describe themselves? And would it be an apology as heartfelt as the one that Beck delivered to Dobson on-air in 2007? And, considering how successful the Mormons were at helping the Evangelicals keep the word "marriage" all to themselves out in California, would Dr. Dobson perhaps finally be moved to graciously begin sharing the "C" word with the Mormons? I mean, Beck and Dobson are both good "Christians" right?

The potential was there for an absolutely riveting read.

So, what happened?

Well, it turns out that apparently Dr. Dobson has agreed that the "C" word does apply to Mormons. The problem now is that it's that other "C" word. See if you can spot it while I try to sort out the story behind this gripping tale of a dead link.

December 19: A story goes up on Focus on the Family's CitizenLink website promoting Mormon TV host Glenn Beck's latest book, "The Christmas Sweater."

Later that same day, a Christian blogger pens a brief diary under the title Focus on the Family Embraces Mormonism.


December 22: A press release goes out over the ChristianNewsWire announcing that Focus on the Family Promotes Mormon Glenn Beck at CitizenLink and that:

Clearly, Mormonism is a cult. The CitizenLink story does not mention Beck's Mormon faith, however, the story makes it look as if Beck is a Christian who believes in the essential doctrines of the faith ... to promote a Mormon as a Christian is not helpful to the cause of Jesus Christ. For Christians to influence society, Christians should be promoting the central issues of the faith properly without opening the door to false religions.
And by December 24th, Beck had been booted. Merry Christmas, Glenn!

I think this sordid little tale illuminates our path. If we want to eliminate the threat posed our liberties and our civil rights from fundamentalist bullshit religious groups, all we have to do is stir things up again. Whisper in some ears. "Did you know the Mormon cult has a plan to take over the US government and sell all evangelical Christians into slavery?" "Focus on the Family axed Glenn Beck - you're next!"

Then sit back and watch them tear each other apart. Brilliant!

There's one disturbing coda to this happy tale. You see, Glenn Beck was up on the FotF site to promote his new book. Here's what he said about it whilst responding to Dobson's snubbing:

Beck bites back:

The Christmas Sweater is a story about the idea of Christmas as a time for redemption and atonement. Whatever your beliefs about my religion, the concept of religious tolerance is too important to be sacrificed in response to pressure from special interest groups, especially when it means bowing to censorship. I'm humbled and grateful that hundreds of thousands of people from different faiths have read the book and have appreciated its uplifting message for themselves. At a time when the world is so full of fear, despair, and divisions, it is my hope that all of those who believe in a loving and peaceful God would stand together on the universal message of hope and forgiveness.
Glenn Beck thinks he can preach a "universal message of hope and forgiveness?" Is he insane?

I think his book provides clear evidence in the affirmative.

(Tip o' the shot glass to Ed Brayton)

28 December, 2008

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

Celebrity Death Match time! And what better way to play than to pit two dead presidents against each other?

What an odd poll from Rasmussen.

It's a showdown between the two most influential presidents of the 20th Century. Franklin D. Roosevelt versus Ronald W. Reagan.

Forty-five percent (45%) of U.S. voters say FDR, the Democratic father of the big government New Deal who led the country to victory in World War II, was the better president of the two.

But 40% say Reagan, the Republican champion of small-government conservatism and the winner of the Cold War, was a better president. Fifteen percent (15%) aren't sure which of the two they like better in a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

As befits the times, there's a gender gap -- men narrowly preferred Reagan, while women overwhelmingly preferred FDR. Whites were split, while African-American voters backed FDR by more than a two-to-one margin. Dems, liberals, the unmarried, and those who attend worship services less often went with Roosevelt, while Republicans, conservatives, married voters, and evangelicals supported Reagan.

I can appreciate the fact that fawning, sycophantic, and generally embarrassing conservative cheerleading has helped bolster Reagan's image in the wake of his presidency. I also realize that Reagan, more than any modern leader, is the only GOP figure who's claimed by every wing of the Republican Party as their own -- from New England moderates to Deep South far-right conservatives.

But up against FDR, how is this even a contest?

How, indeed. Steve mentions a variety of embarrassments from the Reagan presidency, and Crooks and Liars details some of the "benefits" of Reaganomics:

I, too, have fond memories of Reaganomics. Why, until Reagan waved his magic wand, our unemployment checks weren't even taxed! I was absolutely thrilled to be able to make that sacrifice to fund tax cuts for the wealthy:

Another Reagan proposal that came in for criticism was the plan to tax all unemployment compensation.

[...] "What he's doing is taxing something to a person who is under a rough time to begin with," noted Herbert Paul, a New York tax lawyer. "But you don't seem to have a strong lobby group to push to eliminate that, so I think it may well stick."

And stick it did. Why, thanks to Reagan's Tax Reform Act of 1986, I only recently finished paying the taxes (and interest) due on unemployment income from 2001 - and here I am, unemployed again, thanks to yet another Republican-sponsored economic crash.

But I digress. The fact is, facts simply aren't relevant to Republicans, since their economic views and objects of veneration are more appropriate to a religious cult than intellectual rigor. (You might want to get Will Bunch's new book for a look at this phenomena - and why it's so important.)

Cute how the Cons can snow authoritarian types into believing that the man who raped them economically was actually a great president. Sadly for them, their influence is on the wane:

David Broder highlights an increasingly obvious political reality about the regional power of the Republican Party.


The Southern domination of the congressional Republican Party has become more complete with each and every election. This year, Republicans suffered a net loss of two Senate and three House seats in the South, but they lost five Senate seats and 18 House seats in other sections. No Republican House members are left in New England, and they have become ever scarcer in New York and Pennsylvania and across the Midwest.
Kinda hard to be a national party when most of the nation wants nothing to do with you, innit?

And poor Dick Cheney has no idea why he and his party are reviled:

Only 29 percent of Americans approve of the job Dick Cheney is doing as Vice President. In an interview with his hometown Wyoming newspaper, The Caspar Star-Tribune, Cheney expressed his bewilderment over his low approval numbers:

QUESTION: How do you explain your low approval rating?

CHENEY: I don’t have any idea. I don’t follow the polls.

Perhaps we can clue him in:
In addition to his well-documented abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, Cheney’s public disapproval ratings might be explained in part by his own personal disregard for the public. When told that two-thirds of Americans disapproved of the Iraq war, Cheney responded “so?,” adding that he didn’t care what the American people thought.

That might have a little something to do with it, yes.

Condi's just as clueless:
This morning on CBS, Sunday Morning’s Rita Braver interviewed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In a portion of the interview that does not appear to have aired, Braver noted the results of the recent Pew Global Attitudes survey which found that “the U.S. image abroad is suffering almost everywhere.” Braver prompted Rice saying, “It has to be more than just a perception problem.” Rice dismissed the poll’s results, claiming that the Bush administration has “left a lot of good foundations”:

Q: Looking at the big picture of what’s the whole foreign policy of this Administration – you come out of the academic tradition so I think it’s fair to ask, what kind of grade do you give yourself and this Administration on foreign policy?

RICE: Oh, I don’t know. It depends on the subject. I’m sure that there are some that deserve an A-plus and some that deserve a lot less. … We’ve left a lot of good foundations.

Q: You know, you say that, but the Pew Global Attitudes Project released a new report very recently. On the very first page it says, “The U.S. image abroad is suffering almost everywhere.” … It has to be more than just a perception problem.

RICE: No. Rita, first of all, it depends on where you’re talking about. In two of the most populous countries, China and India, the United States is not just well regarded for its policies, but well regarded.

When pressed further, Rice responded by saying, “It’s not a popularity contest.”

There's this thing about governing, Condi. It's not a popularity contest, no, but a) in a democracy, there's this little "will of the people" thing to contend with because, well, it's government "of the people, for the people, by the people," and b) if the world hates you, good fucking luck getting anything done in it. Just sayin'.

Funny how Cons never seem to learn that.

Sunday Sensational Science

Unsung Women of Science

The history of science, you may have noticed, is dominated by men. When we're pulling names of famous scientists from the tops of our heads, the vast majority are male: Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein. If women come up at all, it's a paltry few: Madame Curie, of course. Perhaps Vera Rubin, Dian Fossey, Mary Leakey or Rosalind Franklin, if you know your science well. But you'd be forgiven for thinking that women were vanishing rare in science before the mid-to-late 20th Century.

But delve deeper, and you find women there from the very beginning. Their work went unnoticed, unappreciated, or usurped by a male-dominated world, yet they worked on, performing experiments, making discoveries, fleshing out theories. You never realize how much women have contributed to science until you look.

While I was reading E = mc²: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation, I stumbled across three extraordinary women who contributed to Einstein's revolutionary physics. They prove beyond a reasonable doubt that science isn't just for the men.

Emilie du Chatelet

History knows her as Voltaire's mistress, conveniently forgetting that she more than any other person was responsible for bringing the gospel of Newton to passionately Cartesian France.

Born in 1706, she lived in a time when women were expected to become nothing much more than wives, mothers and mistresses. Education for women was limited, but her father, seeing her intelligence, had her privately tutored. He also gave her fencing lessons to help her develop graceful movement - lessons which she later put to good use fending off annoying suitors. Not many men were willing to pursue an unwanted relationship with a woman who could best them with the foil.

She married the Marquis Florent-Claude du Chastellet, whom she knew would be away on military campaigns much of the time and thus leave her to her own devices, which consisted of a series of liasons that not only fed her need for male companionship, but furthered her scientific education. One lover, the Duc de Richelieu, encouraged her to learn higher mathematics. She became fascinated by Newton in her 20s, and spent the rest of her life bringing his elegant theories of gravity to France.

She met and fell in love with Voltaire after he returned from exile in England. They set about turning her husband's disused country chateau into their own laboratory, stocking it with over 21,000 books - far more than some universities contained. She tested Newton's theories in the great hall, swinging wooden balls from the rafters. Together, in 1738, she and Voltaire wrote Elements of Newton's Philosophy, although "together" may be the wrong word. Voltaire said of their collaboration, "She dictated and I wrote." His name appears as the sole author, but the book was illustrated with an image of Emilie shining Newton's knowledge on Voltaire's hand. The book brought Newton to France, explaining his discoveries in light, optics, and astronomy for a wide audience. It was the beginning of the end for Descartes as France's premier scientific theorist.

Emilie wrote her own book, The Foundations of Physics, which combined the theories of Descartes, Leibniz, and Newton into an elegant whole. The book, published anonymously, resolved previously intractable problems in describing force and movement.

Her most prestigious work was undertaken at the end of her life. She translated Newton's Principia into French from the original Latin. Her translation, which is not merely a rendition of Newton's text but also translated Newton's geometry into the new algebra then current on the Continent, converted the complex mathematics into prose, and summarized recent research and experimental confirmations of Newton's work. Her translation is still the standard translation of Principia into French.

As she was writing the book, she discovered she was pregnant - a virtual death sentence for a forty-two year-old woman in that age. She pushed herself to work eighteen-hour days, and finished the book on September 1st, 1749. Three days later, she went into labor; less than a week later, she died from either infection or embolism, leaving Voltaire distraught.

Aside from her books, her most astounding contribution to physics was the realization that Newton was wrong. She discovered the experimental results of William s'Gravesande, who had discovered by dropping brass balls into a clay floor that something moving twice as fast will bury itself twice as deep - energy doesn't merely equal mass times velocity, but mass times velocity squared. With those results in hand, she was able to prove that Leibniz had been right: E ∝ mv². Scientists now started thinking in squares.

I think you know where that led.

Further reading:

Wikipedia entry
Physicsworld: "The Genius Without a Beard"

Lise Meitner

Born in 1878, Lise Meitner cracked a lot of glass ceilings and should have won a Nobel Prize. She discovered nuclear fission, which earned her the unwanted title of "Mother of the Atomic Bomb."

She studied physics at the University of Berlin. At that time, women in science, especially the hard sciences, was nearly unheard of - she had to get permission to attend classes. Max Planck didn't believe it was right or natural for women to do more than become housewives and mothers, but he let Lise in - and she did so well she ended up becoming his research assistant.

After university, she and her research partner Otto Hahn moved to the new radiation research unit at the Kaiser-Willhelm Institute. Lise came as his "unpaid guest" - women could not be official employees of the Institute. She did the lion's share of the work, while Hahn's name ended up as senior author on all of their papers, and she ended up with only a copy of the award their work won.

Her fortunes changed after WWI, when she became Germany's first woman professor. She became a full professor of physics at the University of Berlin, where she continued her studies of radiation, atomic theory, and quantum mechanics. But her Jewish heritage caught up with her: she was forced to flee Berlin, leaving Hahn and all of her work behind. She ended up in Stockholm, Sweden, where she discovered that mass is lost when a nucleus splits, released as energy. Einstein's E = mc² told her how much energy would be released: using his theory, she was able to predict that a chain reaction could result. She wrote to Hahn to share her theory: he did the experiments and published the results - without mentioning her name. Later, he convinced himself that his work alone had resulted in the discover of nuclear fission, for which he won the Nobel Prize.

Franklin Roosevelt invited Lise to work at Los Alamos, where the first atomic bomb was being developed. Lise refused. She would have no hand in using her discovery to kill.

Later in life, she finally received the honors she deserved. Appropriately enough, she received the Max Planck Medal. She also won the Enrico Fermi Award and was elected to the Swedish Academy of Science. Only two other women had ever earned a position at the Academy before her. Long after her death, the 109th element, meitnerium, was named for her.

The inscription on her headstone was written by her nephew, Otto Frisch. It sums her up perfectly: "Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity."

Further reading:

Wikipedia entry

Neatorama, "Lise Meitner: Mother of the Atomic Bomb"

Lise Meitner Online

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

Born in 1900, Cecilia ended up coming to America from England for the freedom to be a woman and a scientist.

She completed her early education at Cambridge, but earned no degree - degrees weren't awarded to women at that time. Fortunately, she met Harlow Shapley, director of the Harvard College Observatory, and realized that Harvard was far more open to women. She crossed the pond and, with Shapley's encouragement, wrote her doctoral dissertation on "Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars." It marked a huge turning point for women in science: before then, women didn't do PhD's, but more than that, her dissertation was very nearly a bombshell:
Astronomer Otto Struve characterized it as "undoubtedly the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy". By applying the ionization theory developed by Indian physicist Megh Nad Saha she was able to accurately relate the spectral classes of stars to their actual temperatures. She showed that the great variation in stellar absorption lines was due to differing amounts of ionization that occurred at different temperatures, and not due to the different abundances of elements. She correctly suggested that silicon, carbon, and other common metals seen in the sun were found in about the same relative amounts as on earth but the helium and particularly hydrogen were vastly more abundant (by about a factor of one million in the case of hydrogen). The thesis thus established that hydrogen was the overwhelming constituent of the stars. When her thesis was reviewed, she was dissuaded by Henry Norris Russell from concluding that the composition of the sun is different from the earth, which was the accepted wisdom at the time. However Russell changed his mind four years later when other evidence emerged.
Until Cecilia's work, no one had considered that the sun might be mostly hydrogen and helium. The realization to the contrary revolutionized the way we think of stars - after folks started accepting the evidence.

She spent the rest of her life studying stars and teaching astronomy students. Her work on high-luminosity stars, along with the surveys she and her husband did on stars brighter than the tenth magnitude - a staggering 3,250,000 or so observations - helped astrophysicists understand stellar evolution.

Further reading:

Wikipedia entry

Notable American Unitarians, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: Astronomer and Astrophysicist

Many women have now followed the trails these extraordinary females blazed. Science is indebted to their discoveries. It's never been just a man's world, as these three women and countless others prove. Science wouldn't be the same without them. That being so, it's time to start singing their praises.

"The reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something. Nothing can compare with that experience... The reward of the old scientist is the sense of having seen a vague sketch grow into a masterly landscape."

—Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (accepting the Henry Norris Russell Prize from the American Astronomical Society)

Elitist Bastardry: The Reprise

Anyone need a chaser after our latest COTEB sailing? I have just the thing:

One of my hopes for the New Year would be for a substantial decline of the anti-intellectual fervor that has been dominant in our public discourse since the early 1980's.

I am defining anti-intellectualism as blatant hostility toward intellectuals, along with the incessant attacks on science, education, and the arts. The anti intellectual critiques suggest that highly educated people are an isolated social group removed from the realities of Main Street.


Intellectualism should not mean that one must possesses a graduate degree in order to embrace it. It means we cannot allow oversimplification to trump responses to complex issues that require more than a sound bite.

It also means that our civic duty did not end on November 4, 2008. Our elected officials will treat us however we dictate. If rote, simplistic responses will suffice that is what we will get. But we should demand more because we deserve it.

And at least with Obama, if we demand more, we might just get it. He has, after all, not been afraid to surround himself with elitist bastards. Let the intellectuals rule and the fundies drool!

Hilzoy Schools the Pope

Excuse me a moment while I curse out a "holy" man. I can't stand Pope Beenadick XVI, who used to be Cardinal Ratfucker, and likely has always been an insufferable ass. It seems like every few days, we're treated to a new bit of wankery, whether it be bawling people out for buying stuff, or saying that Native Americans were "silently longing"for Christianity, or saying that only the Roman Catholic Church brings hope, or yawping about how Catholics must put a stop to child abuse (without, of course, mentioning that they might best begin by, y'know, not fucking sheltering child raping priests). The man is a complete prick.

Which is why I'm so delighted that Hilzoy once again borrowed the Smack-o-Matic and schooled the Pope with it:

I see that while I was away celebrating Christmas, Pope Benedict decided, as Time put it, to take "a subtle swipe at those who might undergo sex-change operations or otherwise attempt to alter their God-given gender." Here's what he said:

"What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term "gender", results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator. The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition.


It is not true that the natural world teaches us that marriage is between a man and a woman -- it doesn't have teachings on the subject of either human or divine institutions, and it surely does not teach us that homosexuality is unknown in nature. (The Pope is reputedly very smart and intellectually curious; did he somehow miss the stories about gay penguins, fruit flies, bonobos, and even, topically enough, black swans?) Lots of fish change sex, as did this ex-hen. There are male animals who act like females, and vice versa.

More to the point: so what? Lots of things that we find immoral are widespread in nature. Spiders eat their mates, for instance, but that doesn't imply that it's OK for us. Lots of things we think are just fine are unknown in animals -- number theory, for instance, or blogging. If you want to argue about what we learn when we "listen to the language of creation", you need to explain how we distinguish it from, say, the language of prejudice. Does the fact that the purpose of eating seems to be nourishment imply that it is immoral to drink diet soda? Does the fact that we 'naturally' get around using our legs imply that we were wrong to invent the bicycle, or, for that matter, the wheelchair? Does the fact that we are born vulnerable to a whole host of diseases mean that we should not develop vaccines and cures?

Personally, I think that the idea of defining what's "natural" for human beings is generally confused. What's natural is often contrasted to what's cultural, but human beings are social animals. If anything is natural for human beings, it is being raised by other human beings, and learning things from them: if we tried to find out what's 'natural' for human beings by dropping an infant into an unpopulated wilderness, we'd have to conclude that what comes naturally to us is starvation.

I stand in awe.