Archive for: December, 2007

A Newsflash for Congress: Caving in didn't actually work.

Dec 28 2007 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops

The Democratic Congressional "leadership" apparently thought that they could get the defense bill passed and signed into law if they caved in and gave President Bush everything he asked for. As it turns out, they were wrong. The smirking sub-simian and his Merry Band of Machiavellian Men just announced that they have decided to veto the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008.

For those of you who don't remember this bill, it's the annual big money package that funds the military. It's one of the bills that the administration threatened to veto if Congress tried to actually exercise their theoretical power of the pursestrings to reign in the Iraq debacle. So they didn't. After all, they didn't want to look like they were holding the troops hostage to politics - so they let monkey boy get away with doing just that. They passed a bill that gave him the money he was looking for last week, without including any restrictions on how the Iraq money could be spent.

Besides the Iraq money, the NDAA has a bunch of money for other department of defense projects. It's got money for veterans programs. It's got a 0.5% increase in salary for the military in it that's supposed to take effect on Tuesday. (Fair disclosure: the vast bulk of our family income comes from my wife's military salary.) It's got a lot of goodies in it, almost all of which the President asked for.

That's the bill that he just decided to veto.

Why? Because it contains a provision - one that by the White House's own admission did not generate any specific veto threat before the bill was passed - that could result in US courts seizing Iraqi assets to provide compensation to victims of the previous regime. The victims in question, by the way, include former members of the US Military who were tortured and beaten by the Iraqis while prisoners of war during the 1st Gulf War.

That's right. The President is vetoing a bill that provides a pay increase for the US Military because the bill contains a provision that could allow US Veterans to recover some financial compensation for war crimes committed against them by a foreign government.

That jerk sure knows how to support the troops.

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Democracy can be a beautiful thing. But strange.

Dec 17 2007 Published by under Politics

One of the first pieces of legislation on the United States Senate's agenda for today will be the revision of the FISA wiretapping bill. The Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, is planning to move forward a bill that would retroactively grant immunity to the telecommunications companies who allegedly assisted the government by illegally handing over the phone records of millions of Americans. The "get out of jail free" provision in question is favored by the White House and Republicans, but opposed by many Democrats.

In bringing the bill to the floor, Reid is disregarding longstanding Senate tradition by disregarding the hold placed on the bill by Senator (and Presidential candidate) Chris Dodd. Dodd, however, is holding his ground. He's planning to filibuster the legislation - the old fashioned way. If you tune to CSPAN-2, you should shortly be treated to the sight of the Senator talking. And talking. And talking. And talking.

I've got no idea if this will accomplish anything significant, but it's still good to see someone from our side of the aisle actually standing firm on an issue for a change.

5 responses so far

Richard Dawkins, Bill O'Reilly, and Christmas in the Public Square.

Dec 16 2007 Published by under Church/State, Religion, Religion in Politics

When Richard Dawkins and Bill O'Reilly are on the same side of an issue, it's a surprise. When it's an issue that involves religion in the public sphere, it's quite possibly a sign that the apocalypse is drawing nigh. Nevertheless, that seems to be the case at the moment.

Bill O'Reilly's views on the Christmas season are well known. He thinks that the phrase "happy holidays" was cooked up by "secular progressives" in an attempt to wage some kind of "war on Christmas", and that all good Americans should fight back by saying "Merry Christmas" as loudly as possible. Most recently, he's declared victory in the "war on Christmas" because the ACLU is apparently not suing anyone over the issue this year. The whole "war on Christmas" thing is completely asinine, but it's been part of Bills schtick for a few years now, so it's no longer a surprise when he says things like this:

Well, former Philadelphia Daily News editorial board member Carol Towarnicky saw that and went wild, writing, "To that, this secularist pleads guilty. No religion should be in the public square, not even when the overwhelming majority of citizens practice it."

Is that unbelievable? Joseph Stalin, Mao, and Fidel salute you, Carol. Yes, that's the ticket. Let's ban all religion expression from the public square. Let's drive it indoors so it won't pollute the atmosphere.

There's no place in American public life for any expression of spirituality. No, because that's offensive to the secular-progressive movement, a beacon of tolerance.

What is surprising is that Richard Dawkins seems to have a similar view on the whole "happy holidays" thing:

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13 responses so far

Well, that stinks...

Dec 12 2007 Published by under Misc

Terry Pratchett just announced that he's been diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's. He's at least somewhat upbeat, though:

PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell. I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.

I'll resist that "very human thing" with difficulty. But best wishes to him and his family as they go through what must be a very difficult time.

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More incentive to improve my German

Dec 11 2007 Published by under Misc, Truly Misc

I took two years of German not all that long ago, but I can't really say I learned the language. I can pick out words here and there, make it to the bathroom, and say "I'm sorry, but my German is terrible". That last bit was the one that came most in handy when I was there for a couple of days last year.

Fortunately, I've got some incentive to improve my language skills. There's a good chance that we'll be moving out there in a couple of years, which wasn't a bad incentive, but hasn't been enough to get me off my butt yet. Fortunately, I've just been given another incentive: there's now a German-language ScienceBlogs site. The folks from Seed, who conceived of, designed, developed, and (most importantly) pay the bills for have formed a partnership with Hubert Burda Media, and this has lead to the opening of the new site.

If you speak the language, go on over and enjoy the new blogs. I'll be with you just as soon as I go back through my old textbook a couple of more times. And if you want to see another version of ScienceBlogs in a different language, head on over to Page 3.14 and take the language poll there.

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"We are what is wrong, and we must make it right"

Last night, in Oslo, Al Gore delivered a simple, powerful message. It's a familiar message to anyone who has watched him speak since 2000, or watched his movie, or read his books. It's simply a call for nothing more or less than the need for all of us to accept responsibility for the effects of our actions:

So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.

All that Gore is asking is that people accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. We - particularly those of us in the industrialized world - are the ones responsible for climate change. It is only fair for us to accept the responsibility for mitigating the problems that we have caused. It may cost us something to do that. It will not be easy for us, and it may well require each of us to make some sacrifices.

But nobody ever said that accepting responsibility is supposed to come without costs.

It's somewhat ironic that most of the political opposition to taking action on climate change comes (at least in the United States) from the conservative side of the political spectrum. Some of the most vocal opponents of taking action to mitigate our impact on the climate are some of the same people who have, time and again, castigated their political opponents for being unwilling to subject people to the consequences of their actions. They are big on making other people accept the alleged consequences for their actions (many of which involve such heinous deeds as daring to be poor), but when it comes time to face up to things that they have been involved in, they take refuge in the claim that their responsibility has only been proven beyond reasonable doubt - but it hasn't yet been shown to be beyond unreasonable doubt.

That claim was addressed (indirectly) by R. K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in his own Nobel Lecture last night:

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8 responses so far


Dec 10 2007 Published by under Do Something, Political, Science, Science and Politics

Why - and when - do bridges fail? How and why does veterinary usage of some medications pose a risk to humans? How important is it to be absolutely certain that global warming is causing an increase in hurricane strength before taking action on the issue? How important is space exploration? How much money should we spend on science education? Do we need to re-examine the way the federal government handles its many science research agencies?

All of those questions - and many, many others that involve science - have the potential to shape the future of the United States for better or worse. The President of the United States makes decisions (either directly from the Oval Office or through appointments) on how to address all of those questions. Science policy may not get as much attention as foreign policy or the domestic agenda, but it's at least as important a part of the President's job.

That's why I was thrilled to learn that there's a serious effort underway to push for a Presidential debate that will focus on issues of science and technology. The ScienceDebate2008 initiative was mentioned by Physicist Lawrence Krauss in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Thursday, and formally launched today.

You'll be hearing more about this over the coming days and weeks, as more details are worked out and more people sign on to the effort. For now, go on over to the website, read the statement, and sign on yourself.

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Religion and Freedom. Or: Why Freedom Requires Secularism.

Dec 07 2007 Published by under Religion, Religion in Politics

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated eleven years, four months, and one day before I was born, but I miss him. There are issues today where his voice is needed even more than it was needed in 1960. But Kennedy is dead and buried, but the issues of religion he had to confront are not. And his voice needs to be heard, because Kennedy was firm in his stand, he was eloquent in the way he expressed it, and he was right.

Yesterday, Mitt Romney gave a speech on religion that many have compared to Kennedy's. And it's not an entirely unreasonable comparison. Like Kennedy, Romney gave his address in response to difficulties that he faces because he is a member of a minority religion. Like Kennedy, Romney expressed is stand firmly. Like Kennedy, Romney was eloquent and well spoken. But he was wrong:

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16 responses so far

Discovery Institute to Ames Tribune: Report what we say, not what we do!!

Dec 06 2007 Published by under Accidental, Humor, Religion

Poor Rob Crowther seems to be having a bad week. First, his big Iowa press conference turned out to be a total non-event. Then, it turned out that some of the people who did mention the press conference didn't quite manage to spin it the way he was hoping for. The Ames Tribune, in particular, seems to have sparked his ire. His response to them is well worth the read - the first sentence, in particular, is quite simply one of the most (unintentionally, of course) funny things I've seen in a long time:

The Ames Tribune editorial today tries to make out that Discovery Institute is more interested in headlines than in truth.

In other news, they also reported that the sky is blue, the ocean is wet, and the sun is big.

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Tenure and Money

With all of the renewed fuss the Discovery Institute is trying to stir up over the Gonzalez tenure thing, this seems like a really good time to talk about the role of money in the tenure process. I'm not going to do this because the money issue is one that the Discovery folks are frantically trying to distract attention from (they are) or because Gonzalez's inability to land external funds means that he'd be a very weak candidate for tenure even if he wasn't involved in ID (it does). I'm going to look at the role of money in the process because it's hugely important, for more reasons than people unfamiliar with the inner workings of science realize.

The best place to start is probably with a rough description of what's expected from tenure-track faculty at a research university. Undergraduate teaching, which is probably the first thing that jumps to mind for most people when they hear "professor" is a relatively small part of that. A professor at a research university is expected to direct a research program - and there's a lot more to that than just doing research on your own. A good research program consists of a number of people working on either different aspects of a single question or on a group of related research questions. The professor who serves as the primary investigator running the program shapes the research, but doesn't work alone. Sometimes, there will be other faculty members who collaborate on some aspects. Sometimes, there will be postdocs who work on the project. There will almost always be students who are involved at different levels. There are as many ways to set up a research program as there are scientists with research programs, but they all have one thing in common: they involve more than one person. And that's where the money gets important.

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9 responses so far

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