Thursday, March 31, 2005

Something to be proud of.

Wow, among today's (7) hits on the Continuum, one of them was from a seeker for the words "analsex" and "sweden" in what I assume is a German search engine, Fireball. Tracking back, apparently (at least for today), I am #37 out of approximately 5,000 websites returning hits for this word combination. (Due to this post of mine on abstinence-only education leading to a higher rate of anal sex in pledgers to abstinence; and the Sweden link is apparently from this post on extraordinary rendition. Which you should go read, if for no other reason than the fact I get to use the expression "don't piss on me and tell me it's raining." And of course the analsex Sweden connection.) Of course, at #37, my fellow-travelers at that point are a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force webpage from Massachussetts (turning up on the search apparently because it addresses international stances on sodomy laws), a German webpage for abstracts from the 2002 International Conference on Labour and Social History (it's appearance in the websearch seems based on an abstract about sexual practices of Indian workers in West Bengal as it relates to STDs as well as an abstract on sex reform in Sweden), and followed by health, encyclopedia, and law references that apparently turn up "anal sex" and "Sweden" somewhere within their depths (as it were). In case any of you were worried, yes, there are more.... er, intuitive links in the search as well, but I'm not going to post them here (nor elsewhere, for that matter).

So, we're #37 (and by we are I mean I am)!!!! In a category that... well, we're sort of proud to be as far down as #37, though perhaps even farther down in this particular websearch combo would be better yet...

While the Coffee is cooling...

I need to get to work (today: identifying ants), but while my coffee is cooling sufficiently that I may chug it (Brasilians do not walk around eating or drinking), some more round ups of Today's Papers for those of you who, for some reason, find it instructive to come here rather than go to my near-exclusive source yourself.

March 30:

I hope for the best for the Iraqis, but doubts as to the effectiveness of the elite, confusingly-elected, featuring former CIA assets Iraqi Congress seem to be being born out:
"The LAT and NYT front the Iraqi national assembly again meeting and again breaking up without naming a government. With Kurdish and Shiite leaders still fighting over control of ministries and no Sunnis biting on the ceremonial leadership positions, the meeting degenerated within minutes into a shouting session. Then officials told the media to skedaddle. At that, says the Post, the local stations that had been carrying the meeting live dutifully switched to an Iraqi singer belting out, "My Homeland, My Homeland."

More importantly, the next paragraph in Today's Papers says:
"In a Page One piece, the NYT says flight records match up nearly perfectly with the recollections of a Canadian engineer, Maher Arar, who says he was grabbed by U.S. officials, tossed on a plane, and sent to Syria, where he was tortured. "I think that's it," he said, looking at a photo of the jet. "I think you've found the plane that took me.""

I haven't yet weighed in (in this forum) on the Terri Schiavo national inappropriate event, and am not going to now (but feel free to see some of my Slate Fray posts before I post them here), but surely extraordinary extralegal KIDNAPPING AND TORTURING of people warrants a BIT more attention than it's currently getting? People are dying in our prisons, many as a result of illegal practices, and other people are having their lives disrupted, if not ruined, by random and unjustifiable kidnapping. Let's not argue relative importance -- LET'S JUST AGREE THIS IS IMPORTANT TOO, AND GET SOME REAL PUBLIC OUTRAGE ABOUT IT. We don't have a nice, peaceful hospice to demonstrate in front of (note the sardonic tone here), but we need to get on this issue some more (unless, of course, there's a whole lot being said and done about it in the US that I'm missing here in Brasil -- which is entirely possible, but not very likely given that the US news comapanies get a horrible case of hives just THINKING about covering dissent in a meaningful way.)

Sigh. Next paragraph in TP: more rendition.
"The LAT fronts the case of a Yemeni who apparently faced reserve-rendition: He was somehow nabbed off the streets in Egypt in 2002—after which his family didn't hear from him for 19 months—and then turned up at a U.S. prison in Afghanistan. According to his latest letter, he's now at Gitmo."

In other March 30 news, "former Republican senator and recent ambassador to the United Nations John Danforth, goes after his own party, big-time: The GOP "has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement." ("Big-time" link added by yours truly.)

My best wishes of course also go out to Indonesia, and all others in the region suffering from the recent quake and of course the still-continuing tragedy of the tsunami (I encourage any and all readers -- and non-readers, too for that matter -- to continue to be involved with the tsunami as much as possible; an Indian friend recommended the Isha Foundation's Rural Rejuvenation project, from a previously established Indian NGO that thus already has cultural roots in the communities, and is also targeted towards building and rebuilding a sustainable, just, healthy, and quality way of life for rural Indians through long-term holistic work; as was pointed out at the time of the tsunami and now has been promptly forgotten, the emergency aid to the tsunami was no more important, if not less important, than sustained, attentive aid continuing during the rebuilding phase. So go to Rural Rejuvenation and read; if after reading you like, give...)

Much more on many more topics can and should be said (not least of which: TODAY IS THE LAST DAY OF AIR AMERICA'S UNFILTERED! BOOOOOO! But kudos to Rachel & Chuck D for putting out the news on our ever-more-destructive shadow Dem leader, Bill Clinton, who's becoming "our finest Republican ex-president," having encouraged Kerry to stay away from endorsing gay marriage (actually, he encouraged JFK to publicly denounce it), having lost Dem seats in Congress and in governorships during his terms, and having encouraged the Dems to keep quiet on the Terri Schiavo inappropriate public event -- and of course, Kudos to all of Unfiltered for the months of informative, lively, entertaining, and highly useful debate and commentary I've enjoyed -- I'll miss you Rachel, Chuck, and of course, Lizz!)

But really now, seriously, the time has come, the walrus said, to go count and identify ant species....

This Land is Not Your Land, This Land is My Land

J Continuum is on a bit of a hiatus, pending our return to the United States. Time permitting, we may "replay" here some more Slate rants, but in the mean time, here's something to keep all of you with as low a bullshit tolerance level as me.

From today's Slate's Today's Papers:

The NYT notices something that is finally bringing together some Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Jerusalem: homophobia. A few leaders from the three religions made a joint appearance decrying a planned 10-day "WorldPride" event slated for the city. "We can't permit anybody to come and make the Holy City dirty," said one Muslim cleric. "This is very ugly and very nasty to have these people come to Jerusalem." One fine American rabbi who helped organize yesterday's announcement concurred, explaining, "This is not the homo land, this is the Holy Land."


Isn't reactionary homophobia bad enough without tortured puns?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Abstinence: Less fun than it sounds

Ok, actually, this doesn't have much to do with how much "fun" abstinence is, but I thought it was more polite than titling this "Abstinence gets reamed" which was my first impulse (though now I get to have it both ways by talking about it).

In what would be a jolt to the non-reality-based community if they cared about reality, an 8 year study concluded that teens who take abstinence pledgers are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors. About 70% overall end up breaking their pledge anyway.

But in order to avoid breaking their pledge (in their weird little minds), as compared to the "Just 2 percent of youth who never took a pledge said they had had anal or oral sex but not intercourse, [...] 13 percent of "consistent pledgers [engaged in one or both of these activities]."

Ah! Apparently, when you vow "Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, and my future mate to be sexually pure until the day I enter marriage," you may end up viewing anal sex as sexually pure in order to avoid breaking the pledge by having "real sex." Or, put another way, I guess since purity is at stake here, the only type of sex that is "dirty" is vaginal -- everything else, pure as driven snow. (What does "pure as driven snow" mean anyway? Is driven snow particularly pure for some reason? Ok, ok, I have too many thoughts.)

This adds to the growing pile of evidence that abstinence-only-based programs and their ilk don't work as well; at the very least, it's been said, there's no scientific evidence they do work, and there IS evidence non-abstinence-only programs DO work. In fact, in a particularly heinous bit of information distortion, practically worthy of the "Bush as Kim Jong-Il" meme, the House Democrats page linked to above points out that the Center for Disease Control, until recently
"identified sex education programs that have been found to be effective in scientific studies and provided this information through its web site to interested communities.[8]
In 2002, all five “Programs That Work” provided comprehensive sex education to teenagers, and none were “abstinence-only.”
In the last year, and without scientific justification, CDC has ended this initiative and erased information about these proven sex education programs from its web site.[9]"

Ref. [8]: CDC, Programs That Work (archived version online at
Ref. [9]: Programs That Work (online at (“Thank you for your interest in Programs that Work (PTW). The CDC has discontinued PTW and is considering a new process that is more responsive to changing needs and concerns of state and local education and health agencies and community organizations”).
But I strongly recommend you also read the original article these are from, presented by the J Continuum's contuining largely unsong House Hero, Congressman Henry A. Waxman, who has been coming through in his position on the Government Reform Committee with reports about substantive lies about WMDs, the environment, and now this. Does he not get the mad mainstream news props because his message is too "radical", or because he doesn't seek it out enough? Whatever the case, we need more of him. Write him and tell him so!

Related to this nonsense is Bill Frist and his continuing, well, frankly, idiocy.

To the record:

In December, on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," he repeatedly declined to say whether he thought HIV-AIDS could be transmitted through tears or sweat. A much-disputed federal education program championed by some conservative groups had suggested that such transmissions occur.
After numerous challenges by Stephanopoulos, Frist said that "it would be very hard" for someone to contract AIDS via tears or sweat. The Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: "Contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV."

Yes Bill, very hard. In fact, there's no recorded cases, as pointed out. Air America Radio at the time rightly ridiculed this acclaimed doctor of the Senate.

Any conservative readers of J (all none of you), please remember this should Frist follow through on expectations to run in 2008. (Well, not to mention remembering all sorts of other bad things about Republicans, and frankly, centrist Democrats, but let's take this slowly, shall we?)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

From the Director of Road to Avonlea

Um. That's different.

A Beautiful Undermine

Bush's recent mercury rule will, according to a source I've yet to find online (heard on Unfiltered as well) allow 55,000 more tons of mercury into the air than what would've happened had the rule promulgated under Clinton been enacted and worked under until today. The additional problem: a University of Texas study (to be published in Health & Place) links mercury and autism. BUT, to me, the larger finding (missed on most of the news reports) is that mercury levels is more generally connected to the number of special education classes and autism. This aligns with a conference presentation I saw some years ago pointing out that living within 20-50 miles of a point source of air pollution (esp. lead) (a point source is simply a place where there is a localized output into a system, such as a smokestack) has an immensely strong correlation to lower test scores. As a percentage of population, minorities (blacks, latinos, and even, I believe, nth-generation Asians) are something like twice as likely to live within 50 miles of a point source; but the pattern holds for all races, it's simply that as a percentage, whites are much less likely to live that close to a point source. Relatedly, River Rouge here (er, home, there) in Michigan has, I think, the highest ground lead concentration in the US, and also has the lowest test scores (in Michigan or in the US, I don't remember). Coincidence? (Answer: no.)

Bonus thing: didn't see it, but an Air America caller recommended listening to Roscoe Bartlett's (R-Maryland) floor speech in the House against ANWR drilling. (I assume all of you know ANWR drilling was approved today.) The caller said it was a great speech, sounding like the lectures the caller (an environmental geologist) used to give, or like "some radical environmentalist" like "Paul Ehrlich." (Paul, a Stanford professor of ecology and a relatively famous and widely cited member of the scientific academy, just doesn't fit my personal definition of an environmental radical. I'm pretty sure the number of research facilities he's broken into to free the animals plus the number of oil company executive offices he's firebombed is less than 3. EarthLiberationFront he's not (which is probably a good thing). But then again, he does propose "radical" breaks with current (anti-)environmental policies, and "radical" these days is anything straying out of rightist doctrine, so there you go. However, if you're daring enough to be interested in some of his better "radical" work, this is one of my "popular science" favorites. Judge for yourself.)

Super bonus thing: random old website I found with good, documented Bush problems (and a "countdown to redefeating Bush" clock increasing into the negatives). We still need to convince new people to our side, to oppose Bush in the present and to keep Jeb Bush the hell away from the White House! (Or big Bush supporter Rudy Giuliani.)

Remain a proud member of the reality-based community!

The best thing since senior year chemical engineering

A little punch happy, friends and I named some of our reports in chemical engineering "Laying Some Pipe: OR, I'll show YOU Schedule 40 Steel Piping" (on a city water-pumping design), and "We Give You Gas" (on an ethylene production plant).

Well, the EPA apparently has like minded folks. Annual pesticide report: "Taking Care of Business". (Heard on Unfiltered today from Rachel Maddow on Air America Radio.)

Of course, the "business" they're supposedly taking care of is health and safety in the US.... righhhhhhttttt... what's a cubit?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


I'm posting this here partly because it's important in its own right, partly because it's important in my line of study, and partly so I can have someplace to keep the link without keeping the whole email I received in my inbox that I'm cleaning out.

So, here, more proof/problems with the depth of committment of the Lula government to stay true to environmental causes in Brasil, at least when it comes into conflict with big Ag(ribusiness).

I want to give him leeway, and a lot of people still believe in him here, but between the various things like this, and the present debacle going down in Haiti... are they aiming to become a world power in the model of repression and greedy trade that the rest have used to achieve such heights?


Here's your healthy and nutritious embarrasing Fox News moment. It's old (from the Pres. inaugaration), but not stale.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

This is a real ad by conservatives, oh yes... oh, no. This is horrible! I quit (walks off eating frozen peas...)


ACTUAL ad used by USA Next (made from the ashes of the Swift Boat Vets' I think; who knew that shit could rise like a phoenix, too?)

The couple in the picture, from Oregon I think, are suing USA Next for its use of this picture -- remember, this is a real, actual ad by conservatives, illegally using a personal picture of real, actual gay people.

USA Next apparently believes, as playfully mentioned by the hosts of Unfiltered a bit back*, that the AARP has some plan to use their legion of aging persons to, I don't know, graffiti an X on all of our soldiers with spray paint, and then refuse to give their tax dollars for the US' defense so they can hold receptions for a legion of marrying gay men (with green checkmarks)?

(Of course it wasn't a picture of kissing lesbians -- not homophobic enough! What do "men" fear most other than other men kissing?)

The article about this couple suing USA Next is here on Salon, though Salon has a subscription or "watch this commercial" option before you can read it (sorry).

If I recall from the news I heard earlier, the judge in the suit's hearing (or some other preliminary procedure) felt they had a good case, since their permission wasn't asked, and it appears to be supporting a discriminatory message. Oops.



*I miss you LIzz Winstead!!!!

Oh... good.

Bernie Ebbers (Jr.) convicted.

There might still be a point to my previous entry on corporate corruption... though I hid the point in that late night entry so well that even I can't find it.

But what do you think? Martha Stewart, extra attention because she's a woman, she's famous, or because she's a famously successful (and cold-seeming) woman?

I still think there was disproportionate attention compared to the size of her crime, even considering her previous fame.


PS Oh, so so sad. Lewis Black and Marc Maron so bad on Randi Rhodes on AAR. They're mostly entertaining themselves. I got to hear their fake Swift Boat Veterans' for whatever cause the right wing is paying them for again, it's good every time, but still. Two such sharp guys, and they're mainly talking about "behind-the-industry" stuff on standup. Not that I don't enjoy this type of thing ever -- just, you know, not now. They're unfocused, and the whole, ya know, political side is kind of, you know, not there. C'mon Louis -- I know the angry guy thing is at least partly an act -- but get on it! There's a lot to be outraged about, don't leave the rest of us to bleed from our ears alone here!

What a wonderful idea you've discovered...

"The New Yorker, March 21

In a profile of "national security Democrats" that focuses sharply on Joseph Biden, Jeffrey Goldberg scrutinizes the Delaware senator's hawkish rhetoric. After talking to many of Biden's fellow hawkish Democrats and potential presidential candidates in 2008—such as Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson—Goldberg notes that Biden believes 75 percent of Americans would choose to "end all terror threats against the United States within the year" even if it meant "no help" for education, Social Security, and health care. "

From Slate's In Other Magazines.

Oy oy oy.

How many would choose "to end all terror threats against the United States within the year" even if it meant "no help" for the irradiated mutants in the rest of the world after a tactical nuclear strike against everyone in the world but us?

Biden BELIEVES this shit, does he? What about these apples?

True, the mere 25% of people most concerned with violent actions (19% war in Iraq, 6% terrorism in general) or the 30-45% people worried about those issues in other polls would come 'round if they knew there was a "final solution."

Ok, this is a bit hyperbolic (fictional ed. --Ya think?), but the point is -- does Biden think this is a GOOD thing (it seems so)? And if he had his way, does that mean we'll let the innards of our empire collapse to prop up it's world-spanning reach? Didn't that not work for previous civilizations? (fictional ed. --Maybe their endless states of war weren't endless enough?)

Sigh. Luckily, I'm pretty sure Biden is very very off. I'm pretty sure a lot of people in the US still want to, you know, "get theirs." (And then there's the fact that you can't abolish terrorism because terrorism is a tactic... unless we have telepaths on hand to erase the very concept, the best we could do is -- hey, maybe provide for global equity? ...Nah. Let's hear it for Armageddon and the Rapture!!)

Maybe this clutch of hawks will end up eating their own young. One can only hope.

Absolutely Fabulous

In today's New York Times:

"Judge Kramer's ruling left no argument against same-sex marriage unexamined, and virtually no glimmer of light for the attorney general's office or the other groups that filed briefs in support of current state law. At one point, Judge Kramer compared some of the arguments made by same-sex marriage opponents to those made in cases dealing with antimiscegenation laws."

This is only a preliminary ruling, and the "pro-Family" anti-equality groups are already foaming about the attack on marriage. Sauce for the goose, Mr. Staver...

Added bonus plus: Tom Delay ("The Bug-Killing Dwarf King of the NeoCon Death Cult") is having some problems (for example, being an ethical eunuch).

AND: catch Lewis Black, that's Lewis "I'm so T'd off I'm LACTATING!" Black of Daily Show fame, will be on Randi Rhodes' show today with Mark Maron on Air America Radio. Run, don't walk, to listen to this on the radio or stream online.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Never rains but it pours

Continuing on my weapons of mass posting tour, consistent J-Source Today's Papers has these tidbits:
"The New York Times leads with a senior Iraqi official's disclosure that after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, loads of machinery and equipment were looted from dozens of major weapons sites across Iraq, including "equipment that could be used to make missile parts, chemical weapons or centrifuges essential for enriching uranium for atom bombs." Most of the stolen items appear to have left the country, likely headed into the possession of foreign governments (Syria and Iran are mentioned), or onto the black market...
Both U.S. and U.N. officials have long known about the looting in Iraq—just a week ago the U.N. reported that 90 sites had been plundered—but yesterday's information highlighted the sweeping extent of the thefts, and the precision with which they were carried out. According to witnesses, teams of men in pickup trucks moved deliberately from site to site, carting off the most sophisticated machinery first. U.S. military officials couldn't be reached for comment, but, notes the NYT, in the past the military has claimed it simply didn't have enough troops to guard the sites."

I guess you go to war with the army you have, and not the army you need to complete your objectives. (Not that, of course, I believe our objectives are to bring democracy or find weapons we knew were probably not there rather than, frankly, global hegemony. But considering the rather massive and formally uncounted civilian casualties (at least uncounted by US & UK who say they "have no legal responsibility [to count civilian casualties]), I'd say that this exercise has been bad on just about all moral counts.) (Bonus moral strikes: Remember women's rights? Yeah, under the US occupation, not so much. Iraq needs proper recognition of International Women's Day too.)

For any out there who may think me a nattering nabob of negativity, yes democracy would be a great thing in Iraq. But I think, you know, they should decide on it without having US agents (achem, Allawi) running things for a while. I'll tell you when I'll stop being negative: when there's substantive equality in Iraq and democracy. It may be a high standard, but hey, don't piss on me and tell me it's raining.

Anyway, more news bits that fit in that just-mentioned category of "simulated weather" by our government (also from TP on Slate):

Apparently, under Bush "at least 20 federal agencies have released hundreds of phony news segments, many of which are broadcast without acknowledging their governmental origin." AAAAHHHHHH. (TP here, TP's source, the NYT story here.) To harken back to my infamous "Bush as Kim Jong-Il Meme: Know it, love, use it" from the Slate article by Jack Shafer on Bush's propaganda machine, some astute observers questioned this meme and its accuracy (and Shafer's journalistic ability), with one of the most pertinent questions being, "How does this compare to Clinton's propaganda, for example?" (from, of all sources, the National Review Online, arbiter of highbrow fair-handed coverage. (ed. --Snarky, snarky. --Sorry.) But Ladies & Germs, we have the answer: "The Bush administration spent $254 million in its first term on public relations contracts, nearly double what the last Clinton administration spent." (from TP again). (ed. --Isn't this type of stuff by Bush being investigated as illegal? --Yes. --Bubba C was investigated for a whole lot of things; was propaganda like this one of them? --Not that I can tell. Though who would've remembered that with all of the other Clinton-gates? --True. Different question: why are you using this pretentious fictional editor blogging device that one of your least favorite bloggers, Mickey Kaus, also pretentiously uses? --Don't know. Kind of useful though, don't you think? --Shut up. --OK.)

Last TP bit:
"European law enforcement officials are investigating several instances in which the CIA may have illegally detained terror suspects on European soil and then flown them to other countries for interrogation. This WP front documents cases in Italy, Germany, and Sweden, where Arab men appear to have been seized by CIA agents, then "rendered" to secret locations and brutally interrogated (read: tortured). Parts of the claims appear to be corroborated by available evidence."

There's been a whole lot of extraordinarily evil rendition going on recently ("extraordinary rendition" being the practice of sending our prisoners to other countries to be tortured; it was formally started, and used a lot, under Clinton, but by all reports it's only increased under GWB -- which doesn't make it any more legal or moral, September 11th or no.) The J Continuum hopes to come back and address this more later. (At least it's not napalm.)

LAST Last thing, I MEAN it!*

Another related religion post from me.

BenK: I really want to know:
Feb 18 2005 8:13AM

What your response is/would be to my earlier [] post replying to you.

In your post I'm replying to here, you say:
"Secularism does not, I agree, have much in the way of ritual. Many religions have very little ritual, in fact. And as for God, the conceptions of God/Gods/higher powers/immanent deities... there are so many views as to be almost impossible to recount. Secularists don't necessarily hold to one or another view - they simply assert that these views are all fine and totally irrelevant."
Some secularists may assert this, fine, granted. Some Christians profess there is no Jesus and some Jews profess Jesus is the Messiah: these are not mainstream, or, arguably, logical views of their own religions. Secularists who assert the moral relativism of all religions and also their irrelevance do not follow what I consider to secularism proper, as described in my post. Religion is NOT irrelevant, and they are all fine in that I won't presume to choose one or ascribe rightness to any of them in particular in the abstract. In their practices, well, see little below.

You say:
"God can be anything as long as he/she/it/them doesn't demand any action of any group of people."
Poppycock. This is simply a denial of religion, that is, a denial of the idea or validity of divine revelation. Some secularists may do this -- as can people of any persuasion -- but this is not the key to secularism. I believe God may have demanded things of various people, and for them to live by these demands is fine. On no grounds of faith, only personal preference, I would like a world in which the most people can have the highest quality of life. Different religions and philosophies describe these differently -- and here is where we must negotiate with one another. My morality is based on this idea simply for expediency -- along with minority rights even in majority rule -- I don't claim I'm right, that it applies to other people, or that I have unmoveable undoubtable source for this. But given some of the more secular parts of our Constitution, it is clearly a valid interpretation under modern democratic understanding that society should be based on providing well-being for as many people as possible as fairly as is possible. I'm willing to argue all of this -- who is this dogmatic? I want health and happiness for all people, and this is the goal I think society and government should have, and I think it can be done with a government professing no alliance with religion but saying rather that, just like it can't tell you with whom you can associate outside of school, what job you have to take in the economy, how you should fashion your hair, who should be your model in life, or what lies beyond the universe, it can't and shouldn't tell you which, if any, religion is right, or more right.

>But there are many religions that allow some diversity in 'non->critical' beliefs. Secularism is unique, I think, in that the belief in >God is one of those non-critical beliefs.
I believe it is critical to many people. But not professing any religion, I can't dictate to others which form of belief in God, if any, is critical. Government shouldn't either, implicitly or explicitly.

>There are, however, plenty of dogmas and lots of prosetylization, >contrary to some assertions you have made. These dogmas include >beliefs about good and evil, beliefs about the nature and >inalienable rights of man (such as self-determination, free speech, >etc), etc.These are spread quite vocally, advanced quite fervently, >and enforced fiercely. All sorts of apologetics are created on their >behalf"
Hmm... I think you're talking about natural law people, and really annoying secularists. I don't believe in absolute good or evil -- based, as in my other post I wish you'd respond to -- on the fact that science has nothing useful to say on it and I personally don't view it as a concept that has been ultimately useful or productive in the extreme version.
I don't believe in "inalienable rights" -- I believe this is beautiful prose meaning that there are certain rights so basic to providing human well being (baseable on observable/scientific precedents) that if we wish to provide well being, certain rights, from experience, are an irreplaceable bedrock.
Natural law advocates and some libertarians believe in the literalness of these... I do not.

And I don't think I'm the only secularist who espouses these views []. So are we not secularist? Do you have other arguments to direct towards this different "sect" of secularism? Or what? Because the arguments you give don't seem to hold water for my "faith."

*anybody want a peanut?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Last thing for tonight...

Hopefully this will put me but on an up-pulse on the steadily declining readership this month (for some reason, when there's no new content, less people read. Who knew?)

A copy of a rumination on secularism, one of my better attempts I think, in response to an article here and BenK of the Slate Fray's post here.

What is Religion if not Faith? What is secul

Feb 17 2005 1:26PM

What is religion if not faith? What is secularism, properly practiced, but based on verifiable facts such that a community can function with different faiths?

M-W defines secularism as "not overtly religious", which actually quite well describes our system, as it is obviously Christian, but only at times overtly so.

Maybe you wrote in full what you call secularism and I missed it, but one of your comments I did see is that it is dogmatic and divorced from science.

Two questions: what are the secularist dogmas you perceive? (Please don't say that one of the dogmas is Christianity is bad, I'll be really disappointed.)

Second question: since you say... let's find the quote... "It is tied up with and preoccupied by science, although the sciences are not themselves tied to it." I suppose this needs clarification -- do you mean it concerns itself with science, but that it doesn't follow the true tenets of science, or that in your opinion science can in no way logically be connected to secularism?

Whatever the case, you and others maintain that no choice is a choice. In a way, you're right, but in a different, more important way, you're wrong. To say that you do not know the conclusions and would not presume to make them with the present amount of information is, yes, a choice -- but is it a belief, that is, dogmatic faith? I take the approach that it is beyond the reach of science to determine the existence of a God or Gods that are above the laws of science. As such, a proper scientific question cannot be posed or answered. (The intelligent-design type arguments, that God can be proved by essentially finding hints in Her work, or finding questions that are unanswerable, are flawed in a similar way: science has often had questions that seemed intractable, unanswerable, or accorded to one pattern or another -- to conclude it is beyond science, or is an intential act from beyond science, is a leap of faith -- which is fine, but not science. Only in the long term, ~infinity, can it be determined that some scientific questions have absolutely no answers.)

To say, as (I believe... is this faith?) that secularism properly practiced refrains from making a conclusion is not a religion. It can be called fuzzy-headed or persecutory or what have you, but it is not a faith -- it is an independent evaluation of the evidence, i.e. self-directed critical thinking, which is acclaimed even in religions (i.e. the oft practiced part of Bar Mitzvah where the young man/boy must read and discuss sections of the Torah... even to the extent of doubting their interpretation, or even validity), and is certainly an acclaimed and necessary part of democracy. Your (kind of) correct point about the simplest government is a government of one holds (given that one leaves out the real-life problems of being a one-person government, from rebellions to betrayal to satire to growing old), but a democracy where people do not evaluate the facts for themselves is no better, in the end, than one run by one man or woman who dictates what the facts are.

This, in the end, is I think the positive and vital part of secularism (properly practiced) in our system: only by questioning (the news, your parents, the Bible, the Qu'ran, the Torah, your president, yourself, your coach, etc.) can you arrive at intelligent decisions about how to participate in your democracy. You may determine, after questioning, that the Bible's law is above "(hu)man's law", and then you have to deal with living in a government of, by, and for (humans). But if you assume it true, just as if you assume Rush, Randi, Brit, Jon, or Dan, you cannot deal with, much less contribute to, a strong and just government.

The point of secularism (esp. as practiced in the gov't and schools) should be: there are some questions science can't answer. What is blue, really? (Try describing it without referencing other objects as in "the sky is blue".) What is beyond the universe? What happens when you faster than the speed of light? What would the world have been like if (I, you, the President, Churchill, whomever) had never lived? IS THERE A GOD? What are His/Her teachings? Are they true literally or as allegory? For someone to say, "This is math class, I don't know if God exists in infinity because that questioni goes beyond what math can do," "this is biology, we can't make a determined conclusion of how evolutions fits with the Bible because we can test evolutionary theory and we can't test the Bible: the Bible may be true, it may not, but that is an answer you find outside of school, just because this subject cannot tell you the Truth on it", "this is politcal science; while many laws are based on religion, they were also enacted by men and women -- we can suss out their reasoning, even if we cannot determine the metaphysical truth, and we can discuss whether or not a given law serves different interests -- including religious interests -- but we cannot differentiate between which religion is right or wrong or if none are."

How are these dogmatic beliefs? I see how they threaten people who feel religion should be in every part of life, but I believe a secularist state of people who can discuss issues in canonical terms AS WELL AS terms of secular morals, where the ultimate goal is how to provide the best quality of life for the most people for the most time. The facets that make up this quality of life may include religion -- but it's not a faith to say that the government should not dictate that quality of life depends on religion within the school or government. Practice what you wish; practice as you want or may or have to in non-instruction time in school; but we cannot tell you which to practice just as we can't tell you why Mom loves Dad, why bad things happen to good people and vice versa, if you will live after death, or why Donald Trump thinks his hair looks "natural".

Where was I...

Oh, yes, International Women's Day. (This link is for this year's sight.)

A belated "parabéns" to all of my female friends and/or readers out there. "Parabéns" is more or less portuguese for "Congratulations," which you also say for birthdays, so I would translate it as sort of a "best wishes", but maybe we are meant to congratulate women (not today -- it was on March 8th). At least within the government office where I am studying, it's a big deal -- everyone congratulated (parabénsed) all the women, the Secretary of Food Security gave flowers to all the women, and there was a "manifestação" (rally(?)) outside the prefeitura (municipal gov't) offices.

It was also interesting that the Brasileiras (as the women were the main ones discussing this, alas) traced back IWD's history to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, where on March 25, 1911 146 of the 500 workers died. Many were women, many were children. The doors to the factory had been locked (possibly for the discernably-less-but-still sinister purpose of keeping workers from leaving or taking unauthorized (any?) breaks), the fire escape led to nowhere, and broke and buckled during the fire anyhow, if I'm not mistaken the doors only opened inwards, and the firefighters were unable to reach the top floors of the building (where the fire was) with water or ladder.

While the true origin of IWD seems to lie more in the socialist organizings of some years before, starting nominally with the declaration of the Socialist Party of America in 1909, as well as with the "decision taken at [the Socialist Internation of 1910 in] Copenhagen the previous year, International Women's Day was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies." It is notable that the proposal of IWD was met with unanimous approval at the Socialist International, including by the first 3 Finnish women members of Parliament. (It was 16 years later in 1917 when the US had their 1st woman congressperson; 1920 when the 19th Amendment finally deigned to give women the right to vote under law (which sounds somehow still condescending -- it was given to them? It wasn't exactly a gift, you know? It is a right... but I digress). 1931 when the first woman was appointed to Senate (through her husband's death -- somewhat later she was the first woman elected to Senate... (as you may recall from reading an earlier post of mine, the US is still not exactly women in government world leader... we're beating Brasil (to use possibly inappropriate competitive terminology), at 14% women in congress, but there's around 30% in Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia; 36% in Cuba; 20% in Nicaragua. A) These are all way too low b) We're way WAY too low.

End umpteenth digression. The fall of the Czar in Russia in 1917 also helped solidify IWD:
"With 2 million Russian soldiers dead in the war, Russian women again chose the last Sunday in February to strike for "bread and peace". Political leaders opposed the timing of the strike, but the women went on anyway. The rest is history: Four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. That historic Sunday fell on 23 February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia, but on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere."

Maybe it's simply the socialist/communist imprimatur on the day that keeps present day US-er's away from it, but JEEZ, we could use a little women's day going on, especially what with the Triangle Fire being related to IWD's history. (Raise your hand if you remember the Triangle Fire from school and/or Howard Zinn's book. Ok, raise your hand if you think more than 1/5 of your peers could say what it was in at least a vague sense. Ok, lower your hands. All several of you. I thought so.) Of course, that repugnant Republiconservative meme that by emphasizing our differences, we're exacerbating sexual/racial discord would probably dampen a present day IWD big fest in the US. This is a rant for another time, but dude -- being different isn't what causes discord -- it's disliking or fearing that difference. (Haven't the X-Men taught us anything? To me, my X-Men!)

Anyway, considering the still going-on inequality (not to mention the Larry Summers claptrap... read me argue this in Slate... or don't, that's ok... I'll try and repost it here... so keep reading here, ok?) of today, even in that great "we're number 2... or 3 or 4... after Canada and Belgium and Finland and a couple others in terms of women holding congressional office..." US of A, I'm just sayin' we could use some IWD. Nuff said.


Something smells rotten in the state of... err... federal courts

Ah, fine readers, so little to do, so much time to do it in.

Strike that, reverse it.

(Ok so it's not the exact quote. Sue me. It's not that original in the blogosphere either, apparently.)

Much I should be writing about/want to be writing about, but due to visits from J-Parents and J-Friend L, plus trying to finish up some experimental work (or, frankly, get a good start and middle on some experimental work) that I need to complete in the next month, well... Even I had trouble finding a way to fit more procrastination in there (at least in the form of blogging... until now.)

Let's see, let's see...

First thing on my mind, was thinking about Martha Stewart's release and all... I have to tell you, I was somewhat skeptical of the meme that she was heavily prosecuted because she was a successful and uncompromising businesswomen. I would of course agree that there is huge bias against successful and uncompromising women (in general) (not to mention the generally subtle institutional and not-so-subtle bias), but it just seemed to me... well, it does sound like she may have committed a crime, right? I've never been one for the "by paying attention to problem X we're ignoring problem Y" as a knee-jerk response, but it does happen and such things require examination. So, as I said, with her release, and the many obligatory news stories, it got me thinking... What happened to the real criminals? You know, the ones who didn't have a fairly ambiguous he-said-she-said case of relatively lower importance felonies, at least in comparison to massive investor bilking and fraud?

What'ssay we do an (trumpet fanfare): UNSCIENTIFIC QUICK COMPARISON!:

Ms. Stewart (MS): Indicted originally on "securities fraud, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy." If convicted on all counts, it appears the maximum penalty is a total of 30 years in jail (plus $1 million fine). Securities fraud charge dropped by the judge because it was, basically, ridiculous (apparently), taking 10 years and the $1 million fine off the table.

MAX SENTENCE: 20 years, $1 million fine
ACTUAL SENTENCE: five months in prison, five months of home confinement, and two years probation, +$30,000 fine
MONEY RIPPED OFF: Apparently, "By selling when she did, the government alleged Stewart avoided losses of $45,673."
Information ripped off from Wikipedia, the free encylcopedia, from the entry Martha Stewart (duh).

Dennis Kozlowski (DK) (and finance chief Mark Swartz (MSW)): On the docket, 1 count securities fraud, 1 count conspiracy, 13 counts grand larceny, and 9 counts falsifying business records (from CNN). If convicted on all counts in the original trial, it appears his maximum jail time may have been 30 years each. (Only?) They previously had a charge of enterprise corruption, which the judge dismissed (it would have carried a maximum sentence of 25 years). (all this from CNN as well). A mistrial was declared last year in April. Trial is set to resume soon.

MAX SENTENCE: 30 years, fine of ??
ACTUAL SENTENCE: TBD; mistrial was declared
MONEY RIPPED OFF: Apparently around $600 mill.

Ok... so the point I was going to make is, MS seems lower on the rung of bad deeds, but has had much more attention. BUT, looking here, it still seems premature to make many conclusions since DK and MSW had a mistrial, the Rigases were convicted (except for Michael Rigas), as was Frank Quattrone, the former Credit Suisse First Boston financier.

As CNN says, "Two of this year's biggest trials -- against Martha Stewart and her former Merrill Lynch stockbroker and against Quattrone, the former Credit Suisse First Boston financier -- did not involve charges of fraud. Instead, prosecutors brought narrow cases centered on easier-to-prove allegations of obstruction of justice." So, perhaps MS, The Rigaii, and FQ were just, as people in bureaucracies love to say, "low-hanging fruit." Ok, ok. Our friends DK, MSW, (former HealthSouth Corporation CEO ) Richard Scrushy, (ex-WorldCom CEO) Bernard Ebbers Jr., and former Enron chiefs Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Richard Causey. For the previous 4, DK, MSW, RS, and BEJ, max's range from 10 years (BEJ; BJ?) to 450 for RS (isn't Scrushy just an automatic nickname? Hey Scrush, the Scroosh, Scrushinomatic, Scrushy... hey, it's late).

So I think two things are at work here. First, I think there really is some sexism going on here (yeah, yeah, I know, I'm late to the party in a way, I should've done the research earlier), as MS did seem especially hunted considering all the other shit flying through the air. And while her public stature made her a nice obvious topic, Kenny-Boy Lay nicely disappeared from our "too-rich-and-too-close-to-the-president-not-to-be-suspicious" radars, didn't it? That made a good story? But, of course, there's no news like celebrity news, and MS is more of a celeb than Kenny (Oh my God! They killed... nah, it's been done.) (That joke'll have to wait at least until it ends "convicted Kenny!"), not to mention this press, well, they're kind of scared of asking the President questions... shh.... Anyway, all this is to say, I'm not sure why all the attention is on MS in any sort of legitimate way... perhaps if a fashionable celeb mail CEO had been charged with something, it would be a better comparison but... the very least, even if all the government working on MS (and Quattrone and the Rigaii) was not sex-related, even institutionally, the press coverage seems to certainly be so. Part of this, like I said, is clearly based on her relative celebrity. But don't you think ripping off $600 million or so and/or being up for 450 years in jail, not to mention crashing Enron into the ground and being part of a wave of scandals affecting accounting, energy, trade, and more should be enough to MAKE you a lasting "celebrity"? I know our media isn't interested in, let's say, pertinent background facts (let alone pertinent foreground facts), not when they're boring or come at the expense of anything that is more salacious, but really. Martha Stewart. Big mogul. Convicted of maybe, kind of having tried to cover up a possibly mistaken attempt to save $45,000 dollars. Frankly, this is pretty much along the lines of Chris Rock's comments on Clinton's sex scandal: "You could've taken this to the PEOPLE'S Court!" Seriously.

Meanwhile, when's the last time you heard about Quattrone, the Rigaii, or our other biggies? (More unscience: Google stats I just made up, in the form of # of hits with Name + "crime"/# of hits with Name.
6,070/106,000 (5.7%)

814/21,200 (3.8%)

BJ (ok, BEJ):
10,500/67,000 (15.7% -- under "Bernie Ebbers";
6,340/150,000=4.2% for "Bernard Ebbers",
9/16=56% for "Bernard Ebbers Jr")

John Rigas:
681/75,000 = 0.9%

Timothy Rigas:
504/4,730 = 10.1% (his relative anonymity doesn't help in this non-scientific method!)

Michael Rigas:
516/6630= 7.8% (ditto)

Kenneth Lay (KL):
Woo-hoo! Not sure this helps my discrimination-against-MS theory, but it's nice to see Kenny Boy's racking up the infamy (in a relatively quiet, non front page news way...) (the %age is about the same for googling ["kenny boy" lay crime]/["kenny boy" lay])

The Srushinator (now makes Julienne fries):
982/91,400= 1.1%
Whew! Maybe the celeb theory has some legs... Kenny Boy is famous through his connection to Bush, so despite the fact that Sruchinator might get 450 years in prison (probably not), he's not generating so much interest.

Jeffrey Skilling:

Richard Causey:
2,340/6,140 = 38% (Damn, that relative anonymity just kills you!)

And, for the closest MS comparison, her co-convictee,
Peter Bacanovic (her stockbroker involved in that whole "ImClone" thing and also convicted with the same sentence):
4,220/18,100 = 23%

363,000/2,300,000 = 15.8%

Ding ding ding ding. And the (somewhat useless) results are in. Quick (bad?) conclusions: Celebrity helps you out, it seems, that is, pre-celebrity. If you get your 15 minutes of fame while being accused of something, eh, not so good on you.

MS comes in at 5th highest percentage out of 12 people (I think... it's later than before when it was already late)... of people over the 10,000 hits range, she's 4th of 11. 25,000, 3rd of 7; 50,000, 2 of 6. Only Kenny Boy has her beat dead to rights... perhaps as it should be.

Ok, this is chuck full of caveats, including that many of these articles could say "MARTHA STEWART, convicted for a fairly minor CRIME..." or maybe there's a different RICHARD CAUSEY who serially committed the CRIME of grand theft auto, or even on the same page "MARTHA STEWART, all sweetness and light, page 8; Local CRIME, which clearly doesn't involve Ms. Stewart, page 9."

Nonetheless, I think the media, if nothing else, is emphasizing her a whole bunches. Of course, a lot of it now is about her comeback, so....

Maybe this shouldn't have been my first post back. Maybe I'm out of practice. Well, it was a novel exercise, you gotta give me that?

Having thoroughly obscured my point, I'll move on.


Alright, not precisely a different topic, but an important one. Thanks for hanging with me.

Actually -- to be continued, in a new post...