Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Two Out of Three

According to the Houston Chronicle, prior to September 11, 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that the three most likely, most catastrophic disasters facing the United States were, in descending order:

  1. A terrorist attack on New York City.
  2. Flooding in New Orleans.
  3. A San Francisco earthquake.
Two of those three scenarios have now come to pass.

In addition to FEMA's warning of scenario number one, Pres. Bush's Aug. 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing explicitly warned him that al Qaeda was targeting New York City.

We know that Pres. Bush did nothing in response -- he said the warnings weren't specific enough. We also know, thanks primarily to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, that President Bush responded to scenario number two not with a plan of action to save New Orleans, but with funding cuts and diversion of resources that crippled prevention and reaction efforts.

So, what about number three? When a devastating earthquake opens the earth beneath San Francisco, what steps will Pres. Bush have taken, in response to the warning he got four years ago?

Here are some of them...

Every year since the 2001 warning from FEMA, Pres. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have appropriated less than one fifth of the previously authorized budget for the Advanced National Seismic System. What does the ANSS do? It studies earthquakes in order to improve quake-resistant building techniques and develop warning systems.

Pres. Bush also made good on his threat to eliminate Project Impact, a federal disaster-mitigation agency. Early in 2001, he had announced he would eliminate the agency -- so he could spend its $20 million budget elsewhere -- on the very same day Project Impact was credited with saving lives.

Then, just this year, after reducing the Federal Emergency Management Agency from a cabinet-level position, he announced that FEMA will no longer have anything to do with disaster preparedness, the very function for which it won so much praise since its rejuvenation after its lackluster response to Hurricane Andrew during the first Pres. Bush's term in office.

The list goes on. We don't know exactly how many professional and emergency responders may be far from San Francisco right now due to service in Iraq. We don't know exactly how many volunteer responders haven't been trained due to insufficient funding.

And we can never know the full impact of all these decisions -- financial, political decisions -- until it's too late. Until the third scenario out of three comes to pass. And, no, it's not right to blame Pres. Bush, or anyone, for hurricanes and earthquakes. But he and other politicians spend millions during their campaigns to convince us of their intelligence, foresight and dedication to the task of keeping us safe. That means they have to think about the threats that face us. It means paying attention to science, and heeding the warning signs -- particularly when they come in the convenient form of federal reports. And it certainly means taking measures to prevent or mitigate those threats. Pres. Bush has done none of these things, and for that we can blame him, and we should.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Night falls

Working on a list of what the new constitution does for Iraq -- the insinuation of religion into public life there and, interestingly, a host of benefits that you, John and Jane Q. American, don't get from your constitution.

However, couldn't work on it tonight, as I was at a party with various media people. What I gleaned: Don't expect any quick fixes (at least from within the shows) for CNN's primetime lineup any time soon.


Rachel on Al

All this week, I'll be working with Rachel Maddow as she fills in for Al Franken. If you don't normally get to hear Rachel in her 5-6a.m. slot, check her out.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

Iraq: It's Like America, but Earlier

President Bush wants Americans to be reassured that Iraq is heading toward a modern, open, minority-protecting democracy, much like America itself.

Here's the key language he used Sunday, August 28, 2005:

I want our folks to remember our own constitution was not unanimously received. Some delegates at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 refused to sign it, and the draft was vigorously debated in every state, and the outcome was not assured until all the votes were counted.

Let's assume a couple things. First, let's assume "our folks" refers to Americans. Second, let's assume Pres. Bush is suggesting that 2005 is the Iraqi equivalent of 1787. If President Bush is right, here's the timeframe we can look forward to:

2006 - Iraq ratifies its constitution.

2007 - Iraq gets a Bill of Rights

2079 - Civil war consumes Iraq in its bloodiest conflict ever

2081 - Iraq's president issues a proclamation granting equal rights to minorities

2114 - Iraq's ruling clerics decree that Iraq's minorities can be "separate but equal"

2138 - Women get the vote

2173 - Iraq's high court desegregates Iraq's schools

2190 - Iraq's high court bans executions

???? - Iraq grants equal rights to gays


If... (Meditation on Reaction to the Reverend Fred Phelps)

If you believe in Yahweh...

If you believe Yahweh gives a shit what we do...

If you believe Yahweh takes specific interest in the implementation of our genitalia...

If you believe Leviticus prohibits gay sex...

If you believe that America tolerates gay sex...

and if you believe the war in Iraq is somehow defending America...

then why are you surprised at what your beliefs have wrought?


Why Does Ann Coulter Hate Our Troops?

Ann Coulter recently confirmed her position as spokesperson for the ranks of Osama bin Laden and others who hate America, by assaulting the integrity, bravery and fortitude of New Yorkers. (She said residents of New York would "immediately surrender" to terrorists.)

Here are some New Yorkers who can't defend themselves because they died defending Ann Coulter's right to be a sniveling, disgusting, Lovecraftian horror. And if you want a better overall picture, as well as a more up-to-date accounting, of the sacrifice made by New Yorkers, click here.


Faith-Based Math

Do Americans believe in evolution or creationism?


That's the answer according to Gallup, which conducted its poll in cooperation with CNN and USA Today. Here's how USA Today reported the findings, without comment...

Percentage of adults nationally that are "very" or "somewhat" familiar with:

  • Evolution: 82%
  • Creationism: 74%
  • Intelligent design: 45%

Percentage that believe the following are "definitely" or "probabaly" [sic] true:

  • Evolution: 55%
  • Creationism: 58%
  • Intelligent design: 31%

Source: USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll Aug. 5-7 of 1,004 adults nationally. Margin of error: =/- 3 percentage points.

If you've done the math, you're probabaly a little confused by now. According to Gallup, 55% of Americans believe evolution has the best claim to factuality. And 58% of Americans believe that not-evolution has the best claim to factuality. According to a Me/Myself/I poll, that means at least 13% of Americans are deeply and truly confused. How does Gallup read the numbers? In lockstep with the mainstream media's conflict-avoidance attempt to somehow reconcile science and supersti...magi...religion.
A majority of Americans say both creationism and evolution are true explanations for the origin and development of life. Americans are divided as to whether intelligent design is true or false.

Imagine the head-scratching, finger-pointing and other anatomy-doing that would have ensued if Gallup had announced, "A majority of Americans say both Bush and Kerry are the best man for the presidency." Who could possibly ascribe any significance to this numerical gibberish?Glad you asked.Meet Rick Scarborough, amateur mathematician.In his latest newsletter (at this writing he hasn't posted it yet -- due, surely, to an extensive vetting process -- but you'll be able to find it here when he does), he shares his take on the poll's findings:
A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll shows that while 55% of the American people believe in evolution, an even higher percentage (58%) believe in Creationism - this despite decades of pro-Darwinian propaganda.

This despite millennia of pro-math propaganda. Set aside, for the moment, the laughable notion that pro-Darwinian propaganda (aka schoolbooks?) constitutes a blip next to two millennia of occasionally armed pro-theocracy propaganda. Instead, you might ask, who is Rick Scarborough and why does he get his own newsletter? In metaphorically secular terms, he's one of Satan's minions. Specifically, he's the chairman of the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration (also known by its phonetic acronym: J-KKKer). In other words, he's the leader of an anti-American attempt to subvert the U.S. government and replace it with a theocracy. And all this would-be illegitimate father of His country can deduce from a 55-58 split is that his side is winning, not that Gallup has figured out how to poll 113% of all Americans.


Why Does the New York Times Hate Science?

This is actually a trend that permeates most, if not all, of the mainstream media. But today's New York Times is particularly eggregious in its celebration of bullshit. Only one prominent counter-example popped out at me: This important explanation (by Daniel Dennett, my college faculty advisor, actually) of why so-called "intelligent design" ought not be taught in schools.

But then there's this. It's a front-page look at "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You To Know About." After devoting the top grafs to its wondrous success, the Times puts on its white gloves to deliver some balanced, delicate caveats about author Kevin Trudeau. One of them informs us that "he served two years in federal prison for credit-card fraud." It almost sounds noble. A real newspaper would simply say, "he committed fraud." Or refer to him as a convicted con-man. Not the Times, which lacks the balls to call a fraud a fraud.

And it gets worse. With this piece of evil shit. Writer Stephanie Rosenbloom looks at the impact on astrologers of the discovery of a new planet (or, perhaps, proto-planet). Rosenbloom brings to her work the seriousness you would expect from the reporter whose most recent past works include: "Outfitting Yourself from the Easy Chair," and an anatomy of a girl crush.

It takes Rosenbloom about halfway through the piece to devote a whopping four paragraphs to the notion that astrology might, just might, be horseshit (that it's DESTRUCTIVE horseshit doesn't seem to enter her mind). Here's how Rosenbloom deals off-handedly with the concept of rationality:

But to some critics, the discovery of a potential 10th planet is just more evidence that astrology is humbug. If astrologers were able to detect the influences of planets on people's lives accurately, should they not have noticed the influence of a 10th planet long before astronomers detected it?
"You would think astrologers would have noticed after 2,000 years of making predictions that every 20 years or so things would get messed up," said Phil Plait, an astronomer at Sonoma State University, in Rohnert Park, Calif. "And then someone would say, 'Maybe there's another planet out there.'"
Astrologists argue that they have never asserted that the known planets and stars account for every last detail of human life. "We assume there are going to be other planets," said Deb McBride, an astrologer in Brooklyn.
Leigh Oswald, an astrologer in London, said unknown forces may determine when scientists discover new planets. "A planet is discovered when it's appropriate for humanity to understand it," she said. "In other words, when we are ready for it."
If the condescending phrase "some critics" doesn't make you want to log off so you can hunt and kill Rosenbloom yourself, take a look at just how hard she has to work to insult astrology from its obvious and common-sense rebuttals. She ignores such howling claims as the notion that some cosmic force is regularly assessing humanity's state of mind to determine the species' collective discovery-of-new-planet readiness (and then apparently manipulating individual astronomers -- or the course of scientific progress itself -- to bring about planetary revelation). Rosenbloom's first actively dishonest move, though, is to mischaracterize the criticism, by giving astrologers the rebuttal that they've never claimed to predict every element of human existence. Well, shithead, the critic of astrology never said you did. In other words, Rosenbloom, who's supposed to be aiming for truth and balance here, gives astrologers the last word on this point by letting them rebut a criticism that wasn't even leveled at them.

In fact, Rosenbloom and the (faux) editorial team behind this crap are clearly on the side of astrology. They clearly reject the obvious point that astrology, if it had a basis in reality, should have foretold the existence of this body. It starts with the headline: "Today's Horoscope: Now Unsure." NOW unsure??? Was it sure yesterday? If so, shouldn't that have been the A1 lede, upper right, banner headline yesterday?

The entire thing is a journalistic embarrassment made possible only by the Times' knowing reliance on the general, pervading ignorance and misunderstanding of science and, it would seem, the universe. And if you think enabling that mindset is harmless fun, you've missed the point that Rosenbloom's rape of logic is precisely the same kind of strategy that's enabled the assault on evolution to succeed (thereby crippling our country's scientific competitiveness and the progress of medicine overall; dismiss that the next time your doctor says you need to come in for a talk).

(Oh, and if you want to make your feelings on this known to the paper of record, here's the contact info: Public editor, Byron Calame, or (212) 556-7652).


Friday, August 26, 2005


At last, there's a blog in which a media professional takes on the excesses of the Bush administration.

Now we'll see some changes around here.

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