Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dark Matter Confirmed to Exist, and Other News

Another news dump, but you just cannot skip over this one. I don't care how geeky it is. And I've been mulling a more personal post for some time now, so keep checking in and you won't be disappointed. (Oh, I'll tell you allllll about it.)
The dark matter isn't just ordinary matter that's not shining; limits from primordial nucleosynthesis and the cosmic microwave background imply a strict upper bound on the amount of ordinary matter, and it's not nearly enough to account for all the matter we need. This new results doesn't tell us which particle the new dark matter is, but it confirms that there is such a particle. We're definitely making progress on the crucial project of understanding the inventory of the universe.
In other news...

Political Action Groups With No Ideas

The Sierra Club announced its endorsements for the year, and look who's with them.

"A Lot of People For Jeff Bingaman"
"A Lot of People for Dave Obey"
And when a lot won't do the job: "A Whole Lot of People for Grijalva Congressional Committee"

Mutant Creature Found in Maine

It's always Maine, isn't it?

Russian Solves Impossible Math Problem, Declines Award

It's always Russians, isn't it?
MADRID, Spain - A reclusive Russian won the math world's highest honor Tuesday for solving a problem that has stumped some of the discipline's greatest minds for a century — but he refused the award.

Grigory Perelman, a 40-year-old native of St. Petersburg, won a Fields Medal — often described as math's equivalent of the Nobel prize — for a breakthrough in the study of shapes that experts say might help scientists figure out the shape of the universe.
Ralph Nader Must Pay Accusers' Court Fees

Apparently, he cheated. (And a Green Party candidate in Pennsylvania is doing the same thing in a different way right now.)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his running mate must pay more than $80,000 in expenses for the lawsuit that challenged their nominating papers and kept them off the 2004 ballot, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a decision released Wednesday.

There was an implication of "fraud and deception" in their petition drive, the court said in its ruling.

A group of Pennsylvania voters sued to block Nader and Peter Miguel Camejo, who were running as independent candidates, from being placed on the ballot.

As a result of the lawsuit, the state Commonwealth Court found wide-ranging improprieties among Nader and Camejo's petition signatures and disqualified nearly two-thirds of the 51,000 signatures they submitted.
Bush Said Repeatedly Saddam Was With al-Qaeda

This isn't so much news as another place to point out publicly that Bush made crazy-ass claims and is now denying them. One of the most damning, and to the point, is from Oct. 28, 2002: "We know he's got connections with al-Qaeda."

Take Note if Your Special Friend Gets Out The Hair Dye

Redheads have screamingly high libidos, apparently.
The study by Hamburg Sex Researcher Professor Dr Werner Habermehl looked at the sex lives of hundreds of German women and compared them with their hair colour.

He said: "The sex lives of women with red hair were clearly more active than those with other hair colour, with more partners and having sex more often than the average. The research shows that the fiery redhead certainly lives up to her reputation."

He added that women who dyed their hair red from another colour were signalling they were looking for a partner, and added: "Even women in a fixed relationship are letting their partners know they are unhappy if they dye their hair red. They are saying that they are looking for something better."
The Price of A Lack of Freedom

Unprecedented claims of secrecy and a tendency to mistrust everyone are costing the Bush Administration and the country $9 billion a year, according to new information. Think of what we could be doing with that money. Helping rebuild New Orleans, for instance.

How Does One Put On The Pounds?

In a time of unbridled American bounty, the old chestnut about genes = obesity has tumbled for good, it looks like.
... death from excess has now overtaken that from deficiency. Eight hundred million people are hungry, but a billion are overweight - and the figure is rocketing up.

Medicine has long known how dangerous obesity can be: in the words of Hippocrates: "Corpulence is not only a disease itself, but the harbinger of others". Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers are all far more frequent in the fat than the thin.

Around 30,000 British deaths per year are due to an expanded waistline - and the figure is 10 times higher in the United States, where, last year, obesity overtook smoking as the main preventable cause of premature death.


Without doubt, a small minority of overweight people does have an inborn problem. A mouse mutation, dubbed obese, turned up in the Nineties. It makes a certain protein that controls the animal's appetite. When damaged, it leads to compulsive eating. A few children are born with the same mutation and, unless treated, become grossly overweight.

The gene has no relevance to most of the unduly large. It comes, like blood groups, in different versions that do slightly different things but there is no link at all between which you have and what you weigh. More than 70 other genes have now been blamed for obesity - but not one has stood up on further investigation.
But There May Be Other Unconsidered Factors

It's not just eat less, exercise more. You need good sleep, basic nutritional understanding and a bunch of other goodies that a new report says are just as important. (There's a free PDF link to the report.)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Going Through The "Neglect Until Further Notice" Folder

I've been slow the last few days when it comes to decorating the Lappland infotainment Festivus pole with new news , so let's catch up.

The Onion: I Just Assumed The Hobo With The Top Hat Was The One In Charge

In regards to our encounter this past Saturday, apologies are in order, the first, and not the least of which to the gentleman, Meat, whom I approached at the hobo encampment last Tuesday night looking to acquire some temporary labor in exchange for a hearty bean dinner. I leapt to certain conclusions about you based on your appearance, and I shudder to think of my rudeness. Primarily, I am sorry that I took for granted that you were the mayor of your hobo village.
Associated Press: Wyoming to sue over feds wolf management

I used to write about this before I became a paid, accredited journalist. A note on this story: it has the added benefit of sources named Pat Crank and Ed Bangs. No joke.

Last month, the federal government rejected Wyoming's petition to remove wolves in the state from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. In addition, the federal agency has yet to take action on the state's request to amend regulations.

[Democrat governor Dave] Freudenthal has said he sees the spread of wolves outside the national parks as a public safety concern.

State officials had proposed allowing trophy hunting of the animals in certain areas and classifying them as predators that could be shot on sight elsewhere. The plan would allow the wolves to live undisturbed in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.


I subscribe to this daily e-mailer at work to get the skinny on behind-the-scenes government research, backdoor policy changes and the like. Checking the blog is just as good, and free to boot. "Freedom of information law" boils down to the federal Freedom of Information Act (which hotshot journalists like me just call "foya" because it's cool) and similar state "sunshine" laws that mandate the release of many types of information. You'd be surprised how easy it is to request government records in some states. To me, for the most part that's a good thing. Note the Kafkaesque "information directorate" at the end.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) said this week that it will not administer a grant to a San Antonio, Texas law school to study state freedom of information laws.

In a story that prompted new concerns about official secrecy, USAToday reported last month that the government was going to pay St. Mary's University School of Law $1 million to reevaluate state freedom of information laws in light of the threat of terrorism.

But the proposed freedom of information study "doesn't fit with the information research and development that we do," said Dan Emlinof the AFRL Information Directorate in Rome, New York.
The New Republic: Republican Leaders May Back Lieberman

There's since been more hard evidence, but I thought I should still get the link out of my e-mail inbox.

On "Hardball" Chris Matthews just asked Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman what he will tell GOP donors who ask his advice: donate to Lieberman, or to the Connecticut Republican nominee, Alan Schlesinger? Mehlman dodged the question, saying he would tell just people to give cash to the RNC to spend strategically. When Matthews pressed him, Mehlman again refused the chance to say that the GOP clearly supports Schlesinger over Lieberman.
Lieberman on Kerry on Iraq: Retreat and Defeat

Note: this story goes into a small amount of interesting detail about Lieberman's current Senate committee positions, what he does on those committees and what would happen if the Democratic party leadership stripped him of those assignments. Because, win or lose, after November he's no longer a Democratic senator.
Do you remember Lieberman going after Kerry's amendment for a phased withdrawal, calling it "retreat and defeat" on the Senate floor? Or the headlines Lieberman generated in the 2004 campaign, saying that George W. Bush is good for Israel? Well if I remember it, John Kerry certainly remembers it.
Federation of American Scientists (again): Recipients of "Leaks" May Be Prosecuted, Court Rules

In a momentous expansion of the government's authority to regulate public disclosure of national security information, a federal court ruled that even private citizens who do not hold security clearances can be prosecuted for unauthorized receipt and disclosure of classified information.

The ruling (pdf) by Judge T.S. Ellis, III, denied a motion to dismiss the case of two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who were charged under the Espionage Act with illegally receiving and transmitting classified information.

The decision is a major interpretation of the Espionage Act with implications that extend far beyond this particular case.

The Judge ruled that any First Amendment concerns regarding freedom of speech involving national defense information can be superseded by national security considerations.
Update on the case here. It's not quite the Apocalypse yet.

Reuters: Guenter Grass, Famed German Author, Asked to Relinquish Polish Citizenship

The Polish ruling party is going very nationalist these days -- not enough to be genuinely scary, but enough so that things like this make perfect sense. On a personal note, The Tin Drum was one of the first serious books I ever bought. My dad took me to track down something of his at Barnes and Noble when he won the Nobel Prize in 1999.

GDANSK, Poland (Reuters) - Poland's ruling party called on German author Guenter Grass on Monday to give up his honorary citizenship of the port city Gdansk after his belated confession that he was once a member of Hitler's Waffen SS.

The admission from the 78-year-old, famous for his 1957 novel "The Tin Drum," came in a newspaper interview on Saturday before the release in September of his autobiography "Peeling Onions" in which he explains why he joined at age 17.

"It is unacceptable for a city where the first blood was shed, where World War Two began, to have a Waffen-SS member as an honorary citizen," Jacek Kurski, a member of the ruling Law and Justice party and parliamentary deputy from Gdansk, told a news conference.

"It would be good if Grass gave up the title voluntarily."
DailyKos: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Get a Grip

One second Reagan is up there standing toe-to-toe with the Rooskis, negotiating cool as a cucumber with 20,000 nukes pointed at him, and the next thing I know, the likes of Limbaugh or the crew at Powerwhine and Freeperland [two right-wing Web sites] are all shrieking like a class full of tweaked-out, neurotic fifth-graders having a panic attack every time OBL pops up in a grainy video with a rusty AK in the background. What the hell happened to the GOP I once knew?

Death and injury are every bit as tragic as they are inevitable for human beings. Understandably, we worry about both, we all cry and mourn when either strike, especially with ourselves or those we love playing the starring role. And I have no desire to down play the loss that anyone feels when someone they love is struck down, be it by terrorism or leukemia. But ... some perspective maybe?

Heart disease and cancer will claim about 1.5 million American lives each and every year. As far as accidental deaths (~100,000/year), motor vehicle accidents far and away lead the pack (+40,000/year), with accidental poisoning and falls in place and show. You can play with those stats all kinds of ways. But the bottom line is that over the course of a civilian lifetime, the odds of falling victim to Al Qaeda rank somewhere between falling off a ladder to your death and being struck by lightning inside your home.
Reuters (again): Possible Key Human Evolution Genes Identified

In the most active, identified as HAR1, they found 18 out of the 118 nucleotides had changed since evolutionary separation from chimps some 6 million years ago, while only two had changed in the 310 million years separating the evolutionary lines of chimps and chickens.

"Right now we have very suggestive evidence that it might be involved at a critical step in brain development, but we still need to prove that it really makes a difference," team leader David Haussler from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of California, Santa Cruz told Reuters.


"It is extremely unlikely that the evolution of just one region in the genome made the difference between our brains and the brains of non-human primates," he said.

"It is much more likely to be a series of many, many small changes, each very important, but none doing the entire job by itself," he added.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

NYTimes Cat Out Of The Bag: They Withheld Information For Bush's Political Benefit

Remember that flap over whether the New York Times voluntarily held its story about the NSA wiretapping case before the 2004 election? It looks like they did just that. (The evidence is damning enough that we can say case closed.) Even executive editor Bill Keller, who seemed like a boringly center-right kind of guy rather than someone who would actively shill for a lying president, takes it squarely on the chin.
It has now been confirmed by the New York Times Executive Editor, Bill Keller himself, that they had the story for weeks before the 2004 election and even had a draft for possible publication a week before election day. Not only that, he confirms that he was the one making the final decision to repeatedly kill the story.


Internal discussions about drafts of the article had been "dragging on for weeks" before the Nov. 2 election, Mr. Keller acknowledged. That process had included talks with the Bush administration. He said a fresh draft was the subject of internal deliberations "less than a week" before the election.
NYTimes ombudsman Byron Calame has this to say:

The article, written by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, has been honored with a Pulitzer and other journalistic prizes. But contradictory post-publication comments by Times editors and others about just how long the article was held have left me increasingly concerned about one key question: Did The Times mislead readers by stating that any delay in publication came after the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election?


But I have now learned from Bill Keller, the executive editor, that The Times delayed publication of drafts of the eavesdropping article before the 2004 election. This revelation confirms what anonymous sources had told other publications such as The Los Angeles Times and The New York Observer in December.


A number of readers critical of the Bush administration have remained particularly suspicious of the article's assertion that the publication delay dated back only "a year" to Dec. 16, 2004. They contend that pre-election disclosure of the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping could have changed the outcome of the election.


It was more than inelegant, however, to report flatly that the delay had lasted "a year." Characterizing it as "more than a year," as Mr. Keller and others later did, would have been technically accurate. But that phrase would have represented a fuzziness that Times readers shouldn't have to put up with when a hotly contested presidential election is involved.

Given the importance of this otherwise outstanding article on warrantless eavesdropping -- and now the confirmation of pre-election decisions to delay publication -- The Times owes it to readers to set the official record straight.

Bush Finding Ways to Save on War Costs!

This is the greatest thing ever. Greatest ever.
WASHINGTON -- While the British terror suspects were hatching their plot, the Bush administration was quietly seeking permission to divert $6 million that was supposed to be spent this year developing new homeland explosives detection technology. [...]

Lawmakers and recently retired Homeland Security officials say they are concerned the department's research and development effort is bogged down by bureaucracy, lack of strategic planning and failure to use money wisely.

The department failed to spend $200 million in research and development money from past years, forcing lawmakers to rescind the money this summer.

The administration also was slow to start testing a new liquid explosives detector that the Japanese government provided to the United States earlier this year.
As DailyKos points out:
The cost of the Iraq War is currently over three hundred billion dollars. The cost of ongoing Bush administration and Republican tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans is in the hundreds of billions. The cost of researching tools to better detect explosives known to be used by terrorists in the cut program was six million dollars.

Six million dollars for explosives detection is roughly two thousandths of one percent of the current cost of the Iraq War. The Bush administration wanted to cut it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Few Things on Lieberman

I don't know how closely you've been following l'affaire Lieberman, but the man has gone from center-right GOP enabler to raving hack in the time it takes a Maserati to go from zero to sixty. I had a "debate" of sorts about why he lost with a colleague the other day, and this guy -- who is smart, and has a law degree -- seemed to think it was pretty much the war thing and nothing else. I tried to disabuse him of that notion, but he wouldn't budge. I did some research and it didn't seem to matter. Well, let's go to the public record:
The thinking part of the country recognizes that the war was just a part of Tuesday's vote. It was also about Lieberman's general desire to do Bush's bidding and to attack fellow Democrats. Which he did full throttle, attacking [primary opponent Ned] Lamont for being about just one issue--Iraq, sounding suspiciously like a lot of Republicans in making that charge.

But say it is just about Iraq. Well, then let's talk about Iraq. The Republican Party and its newest best friend are with Bush 100% and want to stay the course in Iraq.
And Darth Cheney still thinks supporting the Iraq Debacle is part of being aggressively in favor of national security, when it's clear to anyone with half a brain that it was based on lies from the start:
"It's an unfortunate development, I think, from the standpoint of the Democratic Party, to see a man like Lieberman pushed aside because of his willingness to support an aggressive posture in terms of our national security strategy," Mr. Cheney said in a telephone interview with news service reporters. . . . He cast Mr. Lieberman's loss in ominous terms, suggesting that it would hearten American terrorist enemies. Terrorists, he said, are "betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task."
And Lieberman says a vote for Lamont is a vote for terrorism:
If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out [of Iraq] by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again.
And elsewhere Lieberman comes further off the rails:
"I'm worried that too many people, both in politics and out, don't appreciate the seriousness of the threat to American security and the evil of the enemy that faces us -- more evil, or as evil, as Nazism and probably more dangerous than the Soviet Communists we fought during the long Cold War," Mr. Lieberman said.
At the same link Mark Schmitt, a good commentator, echoes my thoughts on this point:
I'm sorry, but this is just a deranged, or at best deeply confused and manic, thing to say. It shows a lack of perspective and reality and responsibility, even in its lack of clarity about what exactly the threat is and how to defeat it. Why does anyone accept that this kind of blather can be considered taking the threat more "seriously"? It's not. It's hugely unserious in its trivialization of the great moral challenges of the Twentieth Century and its bald politicization of the current challenge [...] This is a man who has become so deeply unserious that I don't think he should be a U.S. Senator, from either party.
Write it down because you heard it here first. Lieberman is going to lose this election.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

James Inhofe, Morals Monger And Sometime Porno King

This had the office in stitches the other day. If you don't know, Inhofe is the farthest out there Republican nutball in the bunch, and that's saying a whole lot. Scoop courtesy of Mother Jones.
Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.): After having put a hold on ambassadorial nominee James Hormel because Hormel is gay, Inhofe had to explain how three of his staffers reportedly crashed his office computers by downloading too much porn. Inhofe, who had pilloried Hormel's private life, refused to comment upon his Hot Nude Babe-loving staffers out of "deference to legitimate privacy concerns."

Friday, August 04, 2006

What Happens When You Don't Pay Attention to Mid-Level Political Appointees?

We all know about hurricane season and what happened when they put an ethically impaired jerk in charge of FEMA. But what other kinds of damage can invisible bureaucratic hacks do? Let's find out, shall we?

When senators spent two hours yesterday grilling President Bush's choice to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, perhaps the happiest person in the room was Paul DeCamp, whose nomination to a key Labor Department post was also up for confirmation.

Now a senior policy adviser in the department, DeCamp shared the witness table but escaped unscathed, but for a handful of barbed questions from Democrats who are opposed to his nomination to be wage and hour administrator -- the official who enforces rules governing minimum wages, overtime and other workplace issues affecting 130 million American workers.


DeCamp also drew criticism for having represented Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in a class-action lawsuit by 1.6 million low-wage female workers over alleged sex discrimination.

"Have you ever defended a worker in a lawsuit against an employer?" asked Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

"I have not," DeCamp replied.

These are the sorts of people, lost in middle federal management, that actually oversee implementation of laws, no matter what they are; and if they are accidentally or willfully incompetent, and politicians don't pay attention, it doesn't matter if we mandate a chicken in every pot because they will find ways to screw it up. It's no different than packing the courts, really, except you probably won't get a lot of chain e-mails about the dangers of nominating Paul DeCamp to be wage and hours administrator at DOL.

A Burning Conversation

Well, not yet. But if there's one thread I'm hoping will prompt a real chat, it's in the comments to the last post re: space aliens and the "paramanormal." It will be paranormal if you do not attend. I don't care if you haven't seen "The X-Files" in 10 years -- you have something to say, trust me.