Friday, August 28, 2009

I really don't want to be a conspiracy theorist

But then stories about fake moon rocks show up. I mean, really... is NASA trying to destroy itself?

Luckily, though, I'm not as crazy as some. I mean check out some of the comments posted in response to the articles about Lynn Jenkins. Really, I don't think she meant it as a racist comment... but I would accept an argument along the lines of underlying, unknowing racism (sort of logophallic, but about race - logoleukos?). However, most of these comments simply state "of course she's racist, she said 'white'!"

Moving on to even better ones. Wonderful Yahoo news article about those right wingers even more crazy than the birthers - who would have thought that was possible???

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Second run news


I was looking at the Odd News section of Yahoo, and I came across a couple stories:

"Retailers who sell children violent or pornographic videos will be immune from prosecution for the next three months after the discovery of a government blunder 25 years ago." - Apparently with the switch to the EU, there's some legal loophole which makes the old law invalid for three months. So here's my movie idea: these two boys have only three months to buy as much pornography as they can get their hands on. And here's the spin, they have to do it with Pounds Sterling.

The second story:

"Workers at a crisis-hit boiler factory in France have stripped off for a nude calendar in a bid to save 204 jobs slated for redundancy." - Huh, this sounds vaguely familiar. Except there's something in my head about music...

Finally, however, an original news story which is just full of hijinks:

"The deaths of no fewer than four people after being trampled by cows in the past two months has prompted Britain's main farming union to issue a warning about the dangers of provoking the normally docile animals."

Some of my other favorite sentences from that story:

"Barry Pilgrim, a 65-year old from the area, was trampled to death by a cow as his wife looked on." - I guess it was easier than filing the divorce papers...

"The cattle are interested in the dog, not the walker," said Robert Sheasby, Rural Surveyor at the NFU. "As the cattle try to get the dog, there's a high chance they will get the walker too." - I didn't know there was such animosity between the two species.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Get Over It

FBI Director Muller is outraged by the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.

You know, I think we tried moral outrage before, and it didn't really work. Are we worried that the cancer-infected al Megrahi has not suffered enough in British prison? Is that what prison is for, punishment and vengeance?

I don't know for certain, but I would be willing to bet that Mueller, appointed by Bush, has all the right Christian credentials for a Bush appointee...

Maybe he should try practicing some... isn't compassion one of the fundamentals of Christian belief?


I was reminded of this old movie by a headline I saw in the news yesterday: "Report: CIA conducted mock executions of detainees"

Now - is this really torture? There are some things which I believe are torture (waterboarding obviously being the most commonly discussed; but stress positions; lack of sleep, food, etc. are also pretty commonly placed in that category), and there are some things that are not, and then there's a large grey area. The problem as I see it is that discussions about that grey area need to be separated into two different categories:

A) When is torture valid?

B) What constitutes torture?

The answer to A is a simple ethics question, and I don't know if it can ever actually be answered for anyone except for the individual involved. Some might say "never," but others might have a difference of opinion. As Michael Levin has pointed out, the moral arguments for or against torture are (because they are moral arguments) necessarily relativistic. To paraphrase: we've established that torture can be justified, now we're just haggling over price.

Personally, I think torture is wrong not because of any inherent concerns for the victim, but for the torturer. We don't torture because we're Americans. Full Stop. However, each answer to this is unique to the individual, and arguing about it is similar to arguing about the existence of God - in the end it comes down to your own personal beliefs. However, the slope of "when is it justified" needs to be met consistently and heartily with "never!"

Question B, however, is more empirical, even if it's still not set in stone. If we can establish that torture is illegal in the United States, then we simply have to determine what is torture and what isn't. I'm not usually a big fan of magic lists, but it seems to me that sometimes we need stricter definitions of acceptable and unacceptable. This gets me to my next point, we need these definitions because our own personal definitions are so fungible.

Take mock executions, for example. The AP article presents mock executions as yet another in a long list of torture tactics labeled as "harsh interrogation measures." But is it? Yes, it is a bit shocking, but no physical harm comes to the subject (I am ignoring the combination of other techniques here - I only want to talk about mock executions). And just twenty years ago, mock executions were seen in a comedy to obtain information from a terrorist.

I remember no outcry about this particular scene, no ACLU or Amnesty International issues with the mock execution so vividly portrayed on the screen. In fact, all I remember is laughter when the reveal occurs and the helicopter is shown to not even be off the ground.

So, in twenty years our definition of a single act has been changed from comedy to torture. Obviously, we need to change with the times, and our definitions will need to change as well. Our morals should not.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hooray for translated grammar

this is the kind of stuff I deal with every day:

"two army officers and two soldiers were perished when a stationary car exploded on a road 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of the restive northern city of Mosul."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Optimist vs Pessimist

So, almost the exact same quotes, completely different headlines.

First, from the Financial Times:

US sees quick victory in Afghanistan

By Daniel Dombey in Washington

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, on Thursday rejected the idea of US troops staying in Afghanistan for decades, insisting the Taliban and al-Qaeda could be defeated in “a few years”, although he agreed development efforts would continue long afterwards.

Second, from AP (only in the Arizona Star Net, for some weird reason):

Downbeat Gates: Afghan war won't be won anytime soon

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon presented a grim portrait of the Afghanistan war Thursday, offering no assurances about how long Americans will be fighting there or how many U.S. combat troops it will take to win.
Defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida will take "a few years," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, with success on a larger scale in the desperately poor country a much longer proposition. He acknowledged that the Taliban have a firm hold on parts of the country President Obama has called vital to U.S. security.

Apparently whether "a few years" is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your perspective...

I think the Financial Times needs a better editor, though. Everyone knows that commas and periods go inside the quotation marks. (Unless you're linking to something, as I've discovered - it just looks wrong when the link includes the comma.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


So, I read this article on the post.

Here's a word game - replace "DC" with "Baghdad." It still works.

The funny thing is that when read the news stories, Iraqis are complaining all the time about corruption in Iraq. And then I read about this stuff happening in the States. And this wasn't even hidden - I'm always drawing comparisons with lobbyists and special interests, politicians flying to Italy, Spain, and Germany on "delegations" to investigate "port security". We just accept it in the States, in a way that Iraqis don't. And I don't know who's naive, us or them.

Should we expect as much out of our politicians as Iraqis seem to?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Blindness, the movie

So, I just got around to watching Blindness, a movie which uses the physical blindness of its characters as a metaphor for the inability of humans to "see" pain and suffering around them.

Apparently the National Federation of the Blind threw a hissyfit because the movie portrays blind people as "one dimensional" in their responses to blindness.

A) No, it doesn't. In fact there are a lot of different characters who react in very different ways to their blindness. Some assist one another, some look out for themselves. Some learn to adapt quicker than others. One even gets (understandably) upset at his wife (who can see) trying to help him do simple tasks.

B) I guess they might have noticed this if they had seen the movie.

(Bad Joke, but I couldn't help it)

This again

Ephebophilia is not pedophilia.

Whatever these men might have done, it is ridiculous to accuse them of a paraphilia associated with abuse and truly immoral (amoral?) activity. As the adult industry can attest, throw an ill fitting plaid skirt and pigtails on a twenty five year old, and you have "teen".

(Link is safe for work, my ISP over here limits even the hint of adult content)

So, to round this out, here is an excellent piece from the Economist on some of the other silliness we have in defining "sex offenders" and how we deal with them. My favorite line in the article (or at least the most relevant), is this:

Sex-offender registries are popular. Rape and child molestation are terrible crimes that can traumatise their victims for life. All parents want to protect their children from sexual predators, so politicians can nearly always win votes by promising curbs on them. Those who object can be called soft on child-molesters, a label most politicians would rather avoid. This creates a ratchet effect. Every lawmaker who wants to sound tough on sex offenders has to propose a law tougher than the one enacted by the last politician who wanted to sound tough on sex offenders.

As usual, it's "all about the children."

But what we end up with is a purely emotional response rather than looking at the actual scientific examination of many of these activities:

Politicians pushing the get-tough approach sometimes claim that sex offenders are mostly incorrigible: that three-quarters or even nine out of ten of them reoffend. It is not clear where they find such numbers. A study of nearly 10,000 male sex offenders in 15 American states found that 5% were rearrested for a sex crime within three years. A meta-analysis of 29,000 sex offenders in Canada, Britain and America found that 24% had reoffended after 15 years.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Saturday, August 1, 2009