Saturday, November 17, 2007

We have nothing to offer ...

- New Yorker

So much for "staying to keep the violence under control"

In Basra, violence is a tenth of what it was before British pullback, general says


Attacks against British and Iraqi forces have plunged by 90 percent in southern Iraq since London withdrew its troops from the main city of Basra, the commander of British forces there said Thursday.

The presence of British forces in downtown Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, was the single largest instigator of violence, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns told reporters Thursday on a visit to Baghdad's Green Zone.

"We thought, 'If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?'" Binns said.

Britain's 5,000 troops moved out of a former Saddam Hussein palace at Basra's heart in early September, setting up a garrison at an airport on the city's edge. Since that pullback, there's been a "remarkable and dramatic drop in attacks," Binns said.

"The motivation for attacking us was gone, because we're no longer patrolling the streets," he said.

Last spring, British troops' daily patrols through central Basra led to "steady toe to toe battles with militias fighting some of the most tactically demanding battles of the war," Binns said. Now British forces rarely enter the city center, an area patrolled only by Iraqis.

In mid-December, British forces are scheduled to return control of Basra province back to Iraqi officials — officially ending Britain's combat role in Iraq.

"We've been in that de facto role since we moved out of the palace...but we hope the (December) transfer will symbolize the end of a period many in Basra city perceived as occupation," Binns said.

With an overwhelmingly Shiite population, Basra has not seen the level of sectarian violence that has torn Iraq apart since the Feb. 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine north of Baghdad.

But it has seen major fighting between insurgents and coalition troops, as well as between Shiite militias vying for control of the city and its security forces.

British officials expected a spike in such "intra-militia violence" after they pulled back from the city's center, and were surprised to find none, Binns said.

More in the International Herald Tribune ... (emphasis added)

My comment: Fewer troops, less violence? No f@&%ing comment.

The people in Iraq don't hate us for our freedoms ... they hate us because we're there.

Al Qaeda doesn't hate us for our freedoms, either ... they said quite clearly in their initial statements that they hated us because we had troops stationed in their holiest of holy lands - Saudi Arabia.

Now, I don't put much credibility in anyone's religious silliness but, I do think it's probably a good idea to listen to people when they give us their reasons for hating us. If we actually listened, it would go a long way toward providing the proper solution.

My sense is that Bush's language comprehension is, unfortunately, on par with his verbal eloquence. Cheney just wants to be a regular Dick, shot something ... and ensure that Haliburton makes more profit than they know what to do with.

Intelligent Design on Trial

The story of the Dover Pennsylvania School Board and the fight to prevent the subversion of truth, science and education.

A two hour special in 12 digestible segments.

The rural community of Dover, Pennsylvania is torn apart in the latest battle over the teaching of evolution, and parents file a lawsuit against the town's school board in federal court.

Spoiler alert: Science: 1; Superstition: 0.

The full NOVA program after the click ...

The Names

Duke Cunningham
Tom DeLay
Jack Abramoff
Dennis Hassert
David Vitter
Mark Foley
Larry Craig
and that's without even thinking real hard about it ...

Not a list that engenders a great deal of pride.

These are the names that will go down in history. This is what has become of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

What will our children say when they study history? Is this the best we could do?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Religious scholars mull Flying Spaghetti Monster

(AP) --

When some of the world's leading religious scholars gather in San Diego this weekend, pasta will be on the intellectual menu. They'll be talking about a satirical pseudo-deity called the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose growing pop culture fame gets laughs but also raises serious questions about the essence of religion.

The appearance of the Flying Spaghetti Monster on the agenda of the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting gives a kind of scholarly imprimatur to a phenomenon that first emerged in 2005, during the debate in Kansas over whether intelligent design should be taught in public school sciences classes.

Supporters of intelligent design hold that the order and complexity of the universe is so great that science alone cannot explain it. The concept's critics see it as faith masquerading as science.

An Oregon State physics graduate named Bobby Henderson stepped into the debate by sending a letter to the Kansas School Board. With tongue in cheek, he purported to speak for 10 million followers of a being called the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- and demanded equal time for their

"We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it," Henderson wrote. As for scientific evidence to the contrary, "what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage."

The letter made the rounds on the Internet, prompting laughter from some and vilification from others. But it struck a chord and stuck around. In the great tradition of satire, its humor was in fact a clever and effective argument.

Between the lines, the point of the letter was this: There's no more scientific basis for intelligent design than there is for the idea an omniscient creature made of pasta created the universe. If intelligent design supporters could demand equal time in a science class, why not anyone else? The only reasonable solution is to put nothing into sciences classes but the best available science.

More after the click ...


Lucas Johnston, the third Florida student, argues the Flying Spaghetti Monsterism exhibits at least some of the traits of a traditional religion -- including, perhaps, that deep human need to feel like there's something bigger than oneself out there.

He recognized the point when his neighbor, a militant atheist who sports a pro-Darwin bumper sticker on her car, tried recently to start her car on a dying battery.

As she turned the key, she murmured under her breath: "Come on Spaghetti Monster!"


As an added bonus, here's a link to the "Open Letter to the Kansas Board of Education" demanding equal time for the teaching of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as an alternative theory of Intelligent Design.

Cast as Witches, Then Cast Out

UIGE, Angola —

Domingos Pedro was only 12 years old when his father died. The passing was sudden; the cause was a mystery to doctors. But not to Domingos’s relatives.

They gathered that afternoon in Domingos’s mud-clay house, he said, seized him and bound his legs with rope. They tossed the rope over the house’s rafters and hoisted him up until he was suspended headfirst over the hard dirt floor. Then they told him they would cut the rope if he did not confess to murdering his father.

“They were yelling, ‘Witch! Witch!’” Domingos recalled, tears rolling down his face. “There were so many people all shouting at me at the same time.”

Terrified, Domingos told them what they wanted to hear, but his relatives were not appeased. Ferraz Bulio, the neighborhood’s traditional leader, said seven or eight captors were dragging Domingos down a dirt path to the river, apparently to drown him, when he intervened.

The rest after the click ...

My comment: Now substitute "Muslim" or "Christian" or "Jew" or "Mormon" for "Witch" and you get some sense of what religion has given us.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Think a 2,400 year old book has nothing to say to us?

  • an all powerful democracy attacked
  • civilian population targeted
  • a preemptive invasion launched with flawed intelligence
  • a promised quick success turned into a protracted war
  • leader's strategy questioned
  • a democratic society polarized
  • a world engulfed in a clash of civilizations

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

Shimer College, my old alma mater, is looking for a few good students capable of critical thought. They are using the handout above throughout the country - Guerrilla Marketing by students and alums.

If you know a young person who has potential, who understands that education is not preparation for life - that education IS life itself - have them look into Shimer. It was one of those life defining experiences for me. It doesn't get much better.

October 20, 2006
Shimer has been named one of the "Best Buys in College Education" by Barrons. Criteria used include tuition rates, campus setting, student/faculty ratio, and freshman and faculty profiles.

and from the New York Times:

THERE is a saying at Shimer College: If there are too many people to fit around the table, the class is too big. With an undergraduate student body of 70, this is one of the smallest liberal arts colleges in the United States. It has no lecture halls, and not just because of the enrollment. There are no lectures. Books, not professors, are considered the teachers, and the path to learning relies on the Socratic method of discussion.

Walk into a class at Shimer — with students talking earnestly, sometimes painfully, about the meaning of a classic — and you might think you had stumbled into a group therapy session for young literati.

“I’m standing on fragile ground when I say this,” began one student, sounding a bit tentative, straining to draw a connection between the writings of Primo Levi and Czeslaw Milosz. “So shoot me down if you think I’m wrong.”

Founded in 1853 in the Illinois prairie town of Mount Carroll, Shimer was reinvented as a great-books arm of the University of Chicago, nearly went belly up in the 1970s — it was $1 million in debt at one time — and has moved twice. Today, virtually all its classes and academic offices are housed on two floors it rents from the Illinois Institute of Technology in a building on Chicago's South Side.

If a student wants frat parties or football games, this is the wrong spot. For voracious readers, it could be paradise. Great-books colleges “are about the big questions of life,” says Ronald O. Champagne, interim president. “Our students learn that the questions are more important than the answers. Who are we? Where did we come from?”

When I attended in the 1960s, the student body numbered around 500. Today the student population is less than 20% of that number.

Shimer is one of the few institutions that premeditatedly sets out to teach people to think for themselves. It's an honorable tradition and one that should be maintained. The world needs more people who can think for themselves.

What I think it takes

In some quarters, party loyalty has trumped common sense. It happens on both sides of the aisle. It's what keeps me independent and suspicious of party politics - and allows me to always be throwing stones at the party in power without feeling I might be compromising my loyalty ... because, ya see, power really does corrupt. Always has, always will.

I believe the only "side" one should be on is the side of "We, the people". Both parties forget that on occasion. The Constitution is my guide - as it was written - not as some would re-write it. When that happens we end up with government abuse and that must be fought, tooth and nail.

Read the first ten amendments of the Constitution. They have one thing in common - and only one thing. Each is designed to protect the individual from the power of government - to protect the minority from the power of the majority.

I believe the Constitution of the United States of America is the single most brilliant, insightful and beautiful document in the history of politics, human relations and governance. I am very much against anyone who wants to monkey with it. My anger increases exponentially with their desire to alter it. The current administration has me absolutely livid!

We can disagree on virtually everything, but as long as we agree on the rules of disagreement ... and those rules are set down in the Constitution ... we can live together, work together, make progress together and even be friends.

"If I Get 10,000 Handwritten Letters, I'll Put Impeachment Back on the Table" - Nancy Pelosi

Don't send your handwritten letters to Pelosi's office, send them to Cindy Sheehan's office; she'll keep a GENUINE tally. Here's a note from Sheehan:

Tell Nancy to Impeach Dick Cheney
November 12, 2007

House Resolution 333 for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney is off the House floor, and has instead been sent to the Judiciary Committee for "further study." This maneuver, organized by Pelosi and the Democratic leadership, is consistent with their mantra that impeachment is "off the table." But, we are told Nancy Pelosi is reported to have replied to the question of impeachment that if she received 10,000 hand written letters she would proceed with it. What are we waiting for?

Cindy Sheehan wrote this:

Dear Friends

Instead of sending your impeachment letters for Dick Cheney to Nancy Pelosi's office, send them to my office so we can get an official count.

Please send them to:
Cindy for Congress
RE: Impeach Dick Cheney
1260 Mission Blvd
San Francisco, Ca 94103

Please pass this around and have them sent by Friday, November 16th and we will have them delivered to her office in San Francisco before Thanksgiving.


My comment: Thanks, Trudy.

Gonzo's Legal Defense Fund - find out where you can donate

Washington Post

Supporters of former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales have created a trust fund to help pay for his legal expenses, which are mounting in the face of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into whether Gonzales committed perjury or improperly tampered with a congressional witness.

The establishment of a legal defense fund for the nation's former chief law enforcement officer underscores the potential peril confronting Gonzales, who is one of a handful of attorneys general to face potential criminal charges for actions taken in office.

More after the click ...

My comment: I can't remember if I was going to donate. I can't recall if I did.

Why Science Will Triumph Only When Theory Becomes Law

Clive Thompson in Wired

Creationists and intelligent-design boosters have a guerrilla tactic to undermine textbooks that don't jibe with their beliefs. They slap a sticker on the cover that reads, EVOLUTION IS A THEORY, NOT A FACT, REGARDING THE ORIGIN OF LIVING THINGS.

This is the central argument of evolution deniers: Evolution is an unproven "theory." For science-savvy people, this is an incredibly annoying ploy. While it's true that scientists refer to evolution as a theory, in science the word theory means an explanation of how the world works that has stood up to repeated, rigorous testing. It's hardly a term of disparagement.

But for most people, theory means a haphazard guess you've pulled out of your, uh, hat. It's an insult, really, a glib way to dismiss a point of view: "Ah, well, that's just your theory." Scientists use theory in one specific way, the public another — and opponents of evolution have expertly exploited this disconnect.

Turns out, the real culture war in science isn't about science at all — it's about language. And to fight this war, we need to change the way we talk about scientific knowledge.

The rest after the click ...

Monday, November 12, 2007

John Edwards has the largest air conditioner in the world

or see the video here.

Tom Tomorrow Strikes Again

Conservatives ponder what Democrats will do if the win the 2008 elections

Click image for the full 'toon in the Village Voice.

A Brief History of Disbelief

Bill Moyers talks with British intellectual, Jonathan Miller about his upcoming PBS series, "A Brief History of Disbelief."

JONATHAN MILLER: The very first President of the United States, George Washington, for example, was a very unenthusiastic church-goer who always walked out of the service before the congregation took the Sacraments and when the Rector of the church admonished him for this, Washington accepted that his sudden departure might after all seem to be a bad example, and so he subsequently never bothered to attend the church at all, and the Presidents who closely followed him in that office, were often, on record, as being considerably less than devout Christians.

What would $611 billion buy?

Boston Globe

If the Bush administration succeeds in its latest request for funding for the war in Iraq, the total cost would rise to $611.5 billion, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit research group.

The amount got us wondering: What would $611 billion buy?

Question the priorities here ...

Learn more about the National Priorities Project here ...

Food for thought

Modern Chemicals Brought Cancer Epidemic
First tobacco. Then asbestos. Now we're awash in a sea of new poisons.

by Pamela Weintraub / Discover

For those involved in the ongoing drama of cancer research, a pressing mystery remains: While treatments are better and survival times longer, there are far more newly diagnosed cancers than ever before. One reason for the upsurge, say experts, is a revolution in imaging. From MRI scans to digital mammograms, our high-tech wizardry makes tumors visible at ever smaller stages, so that we’re catching some that previously would not have come to light at all. Now comes Devra Davis, a preeminent cancer epidemiologist and environmentalist, to challenge that notion. The increase in cancer is real, she says, caused in large part by the daily allotment of poison that is the price of admission to our 21st-century world.

More following the click ...

So, who are we fighting, anyway?

Richard Dreyfuss on AntiWar

Who is the enemy? Who, exactly, are we fighting in Iraq? Why are we there? And what's our objective?

Nearly five years into the war, the answers to basic questions like these ought to be obvious. In the Alice in Wonderland-like wilderness of mirrors that is Iraq, though, they're anything but.

We aren't fighting the Sunnis. Not any more, anyway. Virtually the entire Sunni establishment, from the moderate Muslim Brotherhood-linked Iraqi Islamic Party (which has been part of every Iraqi government since 2003) to the Anbar tribal alliance (which has been begging for U.S. support since 2004 and only recently got it) is either actively cooperating with the American military or sullenly tolerating what it hopes will be a receding occupation. Across Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq, the United States is helping to build army and police units as well as neighborhood patrols – the Pentagon calls them "concerned citizens" – out of former resistance fighters, with the blessing of tribal leaders in Anbar, Diyala, and Salahuddin provinces, parts of Baghdad, and areas to the south of the capital. We have met the enemy, and – surprise! – they are friends or, if not that, at least not active enemies. Attacks on U.S. forces in Sunni-dominated areas, including the once-violent hotbed city of Ramadi, Anbar's capital, have fallen dramatically.

Among the hard-core Sunni resistance, there is also significant movement toward a political accord – if the United States were willing to accept it. Twenty-two Iraqi insurgent groups announced the creation of a united front, under the leadership of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former top Ba'ath Party official of the Saddam era, and they have opened talks with Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia who was Iraq's first post-Saddam prime minister.

We aren't fighting the Shia. The Shia merchant class and elite, organized into the mostly pro-Iranian Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and the Islamic Dawa Party, are part of the Iraqi government that the United States created and supports – and whose army and police are armed and trained by the United States. The far more popular forces of Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army aren't the enemy either. In late August, Sadr declared a cease-fire, ordering his militia to stand down; and, since then, attacks on U.S. forces in Shia-dominated areas of Iraq have fallen off very sharply, too. Though recent, provocative attacks by U.S. troops, in conjunction with Iraqi forces, on Sadr strongholds in Baghdad, Diwaniya, and Karbala have caused Sadr to threaten to cancel the cease-fire order, and though intra-Shia fighting is still occurring in many parts of southern Iraq, there is no Shia enemy that justifies a continued American presence in Iraq, either.

And we certainly aren't fighting the Kurds. For decades, the Kurds have been America's (and Israel's) closest allies in Iraq. Since 2003, the three Kurdish-dominated provinces have been relatively peaceful.

We're not exactly fighting al-Qaeda any more either. Despite President Bush's near-frantic efforts to portray the war in Iraq as a last-ditch, Alamo-like stand against Osama bin Laden's army, U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq are having a hard time finding pockets of al-Qaeda to attack these days, though the group still has the power to conduct deadly attacks now and then. In recent weeks, Gen. David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and other authorities have pretty much declared al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) dead and buried. That happy funeral is the result not of brilliant U.S. counterinsurgency efforts, but of the determination of our newfound Sunni allies to exterminate the group. No lesser authority than Gen. Petraeus himself now admits that al-Qaeda has been expelled from every single one of its strongholds in Baghdad. In Anbar province, according to Crocker, "People do feel the weight's off. Al-Qaeda is simply gone."

More after the click ...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Psychology Behind Cults/Religion

from Hypnosis

Cults maintain their following by putting members through a cycle of ups and downs. There is a psychology behind these tactics and it is to exploit the the members and keep them dependent on the cult. This brainwashing is very effective and it is important for people to understand how it works.

To follow up from my last post let me reiterate:

From Wikipedia, “Cult roughly refers to a cohesive social group devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture considers outside the mainstream.”

Thus all religions are cults. Whether or not a particular cult is considered a religion depends on the local customs and traditions of the area.

Read the rest after the click ...