Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ho Ho Ho

I saw him on the telly in the gym just yesterday: O'Reilly's busy every night lately dissing the disappearance of Christmas and what's the FOX News site selling? The O'Reilly Factory Holiday Ornament.
Put your holiday tree in "The No Spin Zone" with this silver glass "O'Reilly Factor" ornament.
Not one mention of Christmas on the entire page.

Bill O'Reilly: stop killing Christmas!

(Via Crooks and Liars)

Update: Of course, after the entire blogosphere noted this, Fox updated the website, so now it reads Christmas and Happy Channukah everywehere. The fact that they had it that way in the first place, of course, speaks to their desire to maximize commerce (most likely, at least from a cynical POV) without real concern for the conservative "principles" the network reputedly espouses. The fact that they had to change the content is a concession on their part. A concession for a different sort of Political Correctness, in other words, but a form of PC nonethless.

O'Reilly must've been livid!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

This iBelieve

This must be the penultimate cross between the commercial and the religious, the sacred and the secular.
Just toss your old cap habit, pop on the divine iBelieve and rejoice!
Apparently, for real.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Teenage Lobotomy

Speaking of bad science--really, really bad science--last week, NPR featured one of the most chilling stories I've ever heard on the radio. In it, with his slow, beautiful, gravelly voice 56-year-old Howard Dully detailed how at 12 years old he received a lobotomy at the hands of Walter Freeman, the inventor (or perpetrator) of the transorbital lobotomy. NPR details the story here, and links to an MP3 of the story as well as this somewhat graphic photo of Dully about to undergo the procedure, icepicks poised above each of his eyes.

Sound Portraits produced the story and provide much more information on the subject of Dully, Freeman and the history of the labotomoy on their site.

Some of the more disturbing details I found speak to the effects of what transpires when science is thrown out the window in favor of something more akin to witchcraft.

From Psychosurgery.org, a site dedicated to "remembering the tragedy of lobotomy":
Walter Freeman began to travel around the nation in his own personal van, which he called his “lobotomobile”, demonstrating transorbital lobotomy in any hospital that would have him. He even performed a few in hotel rooms, lobotomizing children as young as thirteen [try twelve] for “delinquent behavior” and housewives who had lost their zeal for domestic work.
Now, I heard someone discredit the idea that Freeman called his van "the lobotomobile" on NPR this afternoon, saying writers attributed it thusly later on. Nonetheless, "housewives who had lost their zeal for domestic work"? Sounds like he was in the business of creating Stepford Wives.

Freeman got to where his operations resembled more of a traveling show, or a horrifying assembly line, as these more detailed examples of his work reveal:
Patient number one was wheeled before him. He put the electrodes on her temples and shocked her into a faint, lifted her left eyelid, and plunged the ice pick into her head. He pulled it out. Another woman was brought before him. Again he shocked, and stabbed. And another, and then again another, and so on, and on, remorselessly, in a production line of controlled, casual violence until even the director of the hospital, near to passing out with nausea, left the room.
Freeman was also rumored to have performed a labotomy on the actress Frances Farmer, but it appears this has been effectively proven an urban legend.

These operations weren't taking place in the 1700s; they took place up until 1967, two years before I was born, when Freeman "used his ice pick for the last time," tearing a blood vessel in the patient's brain.

Apparently, some fifty thousand people were lobotomized by so-called "psychosurgeons," a term that seems freakishly appropriate in retrospect.

I often wonder what we're practising today that'll be considered barbaric a couple of decades from now?

Attn: John McCain

Maybe Ariel Sharon's leaving the Likud Party to lead a new centrist party should inspire John McCain. You know, the guy leading the anti-torture wing of the conservative movement.

McCain-Edwards in 2008 anybody?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

PR Photos




Lots more Puerto Rico photos posted to my flickr site. At right, one of my favorites. On a ferry from Old San Juan to Catano. Yes, that's a candy bar in her hair. What a woman!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

It's Science Week!



In memory of last week's depressing defeat of science in Kansas last week, I'm declaring this Science Week at Hitched to Everything.

Posts herein shall especially focus on our great nation's drift away from critical thinking, particularly where such thinking involves the benefits of science.

Here we go, kids!

Bad Science

A Google search on "bad science" reveals some interesting stuff:

This site explains simple points of bad science in the fields of meterology, astronomy and chemistry. For example, it explains here that raindrops never appear in the fashion they are so often depicted--as a teardrop.

Meanwhile, over at Bad Science Projects, we learn about the "non-lethal" laser rifle and studies at The University of Machester of the teaming life which can be found ... in our pillows.

And this bloke, The Guardian's Ben Goldacre, has an entire blog devoted to bashing bad science.

Of course, some folks consider global warming "bad science." In fact, click over to Google News and the first result on the subject is "Thin green line is bad science" by Debra Saunders over at Townhall.com (purveyor of such fine goods as Michelle Malkin and Anne Coulter). Saunders throws global warming in with "fad science" like Y2K, as does Michael Crichton, whom she sympathizes with. 2000 scientists from over 100 countries she criticizes for groupthink, but she readily embraces a junk novelist.

Of course, she also sides with Republican Senator James Inhofe. I'm not aware that he has any scientific credentials.

So, the thesis of her piece, as stated in its very title is that global warming is bad science. However, Saunders offers not one flake of evidence to support that thesis. Just the opinions of a couple of people who happen to agree with her.

Now that's what I call "bad science."

Lewis & Clark's Excellent Adventure

The Teaching Company is offering a free lecture on Lewis and Clark by Emory professor Patrick N. Allitt. Haven't heard it yet, but their lecture series seldom dissapoint.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

ET, Phone Now!

In lighter, but nonetheless fascinating science news, SETI guru Frank Drake warns that aliens may soon be unable to detect us because we're using fewer and fewer technologies which allow radio waves to make it into space. Therefore, we may only be detectable by aliens for the incredibly short timeframe of about 100 years, a fraction of a blink in the history of the universe.

This may also go a long ways to explaining why we haven't heard from E.T. Advanced alien societies may have abandoned such technologies eons ago for inventions which limit the transmissions.

So, don't hope to find ALF via ancient alien transmissions of Fifth Rock from Alpha Centauri. Instead, we need to look for and send intentional beacons in order to detect our neighbors in the universe.

Removing Consequences

According to the New York Times, a Congressional inquiry has concluded that federal drug officials did in fact decide "to reject an application to allow over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill months before a government scientific review of the application was completed."

Why did top officials at the FDA intercede you ask, before a complete review had been conducted? Why, especially when the FDA itself had determined that the pill, Plan B, should be considered birth control and not an abortifacient?

One might be forgiven for thinking that these high-level officials were less interested in following whatever recommendations those reviewing the product made, based up on the evidence offered by the science at hand, and were more interested in attending to political concerns. One might also be suspicious of the fact that former agency commissioner, Dr. Mark B. McClellan's notes and emails on the subject were all destroyed.

Apparently, it doesn't matter what benefits to women Plan B may contain, doesn't matter if it prevents unwanted and accidental pregnancies before they occur. The facts of the situation and the benefits of the science are irrelevent if, in the minds of some, it makes it easier for folks, especially adolescents, to have sex without consequences.

This take on this subject, this brutish sensibility is also reflected by those who criticize efforts to vaccinate young girls against cervical cancer, for fear of promoting sexual activity.

I think that if you look at the evolution of sexual mores from a sociological perspective, you'll find that many of them simply evolved as a way to protect people from the consequences of having sex. Now that science has removed many of those consequences, social conservatives are in mourning rather than celebrating. They'd rather keep condoms and Plan B and vaccines from young people--and I know some would probably like to keep them from unmarried adults--in order to ensure punishment for an increasingly harmless pastime.

Now, that doesn't mean I would want my (non-existent) 16-year-old daughter having sex. I just mean that if she does, I don't think she ought to be punished for it with an unwanted pregnancy, a venereal disease or cervical cancer.

To attempt to maintain that sort of status quo when science offers simple and inexpensive solutions is utterly inhumane.

No ID Required, Thanks

At left, a dinosaur saddle as exhibited at the creation museum described on the PBS NewsHour earlier this year.
Even in the developing world, where I spend lots of time doing my work, if you tell them that you're from MIT and you tell them that you do science, it's a big deal. If I go to India and tell them I'm from MIT, it's a big deal. In Thailand, it's a big deal. If I go to Iowa, they could give a rat's ass. And that's a weird thing, that we're moving in that direction as a nation.
That's MIT professor Kip Hodges in Charles P. Pierce's "Greetings from Idiot America" in the November issue of Esquire (reprinted here). Now, it's possible that the reactions Hodges gets overseas simply reflect the more educated milieu he moves in when traveling, but I still think his point is well taken. In his article, Pierce reminds us that this country was founded by intellectually curious individuals and he decries the fall we've seen from "Jefferson's observatory and Franklin's kite to George W. Bush ... suggesting that intelligent design be taught alongside the theory of evolution in the nation's classes."

Pierce also points out that the fact that ID
enjoys a certain public cache is irrelevant; a higher percentage of Americans believes that a government conspiracy killed John F. Kennedy than believes in intelligent design, but there is no great effort abroad in the land to include that conspiracy theory in sixth-grade textbooks.
Good point, and as Pierce also points out, there is no real "debate" between ID and evolution anyway. ID simply isn't a theory because, as we should be teaching out elementary school students, a scientific theory must be testable, repeatable, verifiable--important characteristics that Intelligent Design simply doesn't reflect. ID, therefore is opinion or belief even, but not a theory. It's not fit for our science classes. Bible study, fine. Science class, no.

Why six of ten Board of Education members in Kansas didn't understand these elementary and fundamental concepts of scientific theory, I couldn't say.

Oh, and on the subject of evolution, Pierce quotes that great American intellect Larry King as saying,
All right, hold on. Dr. Forrest, your concept of how can you out-and-out turn down creationism, since if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?
Is it any wonder there's a surfeit of ignorance in what should be one of the world's best educated countries when the most prominent of our media so profoundly don't get the more elementary principles of evolution and natural selection?

And King asked that question as if he'd wrapped his hands around a "gotcha!" moment.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Once Upon a Time

Carbon-based life begat silicon-based life.
If we’re gonna create a robot species, we oughta take a vote first.
That's Bill Joy, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, as quoted in a Steve Reich video piece "Three Tales: Dolly" from the fascinating collection OHM+: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, which I'm reviewing for Skyscraper. Inspired--or maybe horrified--by Ray Kurzweil's speculative non/fiction, Joy wrote a widely-read article back at the turn of the century (doesn't it still sound weird to say that?) for Wired called "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us."
I don’t think robots are going to take over from us because there isn’t going to an an "us." Because we are starting to bring technology into our bodies.

- Rod Brooks, Panasonic Professor of Robotics and Director of MIT's CSAIL program
Me, I agree with Kent Brockman, who said, "I, for one, welcome our robot overlords."

Full transcript of Reich's piece here (PDF).

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work

brownie points
Digital evidence of the kinda stuff we all know goes on in politics every day.

To Hell With the Huddled Masses

Via The Carpetbagger Report:
"There is a general agreement about the fact that citizenship in this country should not be bestowed on people who are the children of folks who come into this country illegally."

- Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, who is participating in the "unity dinners," the group of Republicans trying to find consensus on immigration.
"General agreement"? Really? There's general agreement that the 14th amendment, Section 1 to the U.S. Constitution needs excising? Here's Section 1 of that amendment:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Seems to me there are better ways to prevent illegal immigration than rolling back the Constitution.

And I say that as a legal immigrant who spent years filling out forms, jumping through bureaucratic hoops and waiting, waiting, waiting in order to get my citizenship.

Maybe Tancredo and co could brainstorm some alterations to that pesky text which appears on the Statue of Liberty, too:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Or maybe we should just dismantle Liberty and ship her back to France if we're not buying her message anymore.

Friday, November 04, 2005

See a Chance, You Take It

You take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan.

- Frank Drebin in Naked Gun
Just made me laugh is all.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Network Hellevision

We watched Network in the film class I'm taking tonight. I'd seen the 1976 flick before, but seeing it so soon after watching the excellent but intermittently chilling documentary The Corporation last week made the scene where the UBS President Arthur Jensen inveighs against Howard Beale seem all the more prescient:
You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, Reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels.

It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! ...

You get up on your little 21-inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. ...

We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale.
Thirty years on and things are the same only more so.

You can read the full diatribe and hear Ned Beatty deliver it as Arthur Jensen (mp3). Here's the whole script.

Tangentially, word on the street is, George Clooney plans on doing a live TV remake of Network.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Closed for Business

Yesterday Democratic Senator Harry Reid surprised the Hill by demanding that the Senate be closed for private sessions in order to pressure Republicans into properly considering the intelligence which prompted the United States invasion of Iraq.

Senate Republicans were shocked, shocked. Their dismay is understandable as the Senate hadn't been closed for private sessions since the Senate agreed in 1999 bipartisan fashion to close sessions in order to consider Bill Clinton's impeachment. This only happened six times during Clinton's impeachment trial, so it's easy to understand how the Republicans might forget.

In one of those political matter meets antimatter moments, Senator Bill Frist, currently under investigation for insider trading, declared,
They have no conviction. They have no principles. They have no ideas. This is a pure stunt.
Another bastion of decency, Senator Trent Lott also declared the Democrat's actions, "a stunt."

Possibly, Mr. Lott. Possibly, Mr Frist. And this may have been a stunt, too:



Harry Reid responded:
There's nothing more important to a Congress or a president than war. I think the American people are entitled to know how we got there. That's what this is all about.
Maybe, Mr. Reid, maybe. Or you may just be trying to distract us from the Bush administration's timely announcement of a billion dollar pandemic bird flu plan. Which rightly returned the nation's attention to an imminent crisis after last week's distractions involving Scooter, Karl and Dick. And the intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction, which lead United States to invade Iraq.