A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Monday, November 21, 2005


America's most important allies:

1) Britain

2) Australia

3) Japan

4) South Korea


5) The Mongolian Hordes!

At last, we shall crush our enemies, see them driven before us, and hear the lamentation of their women!

In all seriousness, President Bush visited Mongolia earlier today to thank them for their contribution to the War on Terror. Per capita, Mongolia has the third-largest contingent in Iraq, and two of their soldiers recently killed a suicide car-bomber before he could carry out his attack. It's just not very often that you see a US President, you know ... shaking hands with a Mongolian horseman.

What a photo.



Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mean Old Willy Pete

It’s a testament to the intelligence level of pacifists and other assorted anti-victory simpletons: They’re now trying to pass off white phosphorus (termed “WP” or “Willy Pete” in military jargon) as a chemical weapon. And they’re trying to say we used it intentionally against civilians. It’s the ultimate charge the insurgents and their sympathizers could ever make, because it makes President Bush out to be every bit as evil as Saddam.

All the better to slander America with, my dear.

White phosphorus is not a chemical weapon (Wikipedia article here). It is an incendiary, and it has been used in conventional warfare since before WW II, most prevalently during the Viet Nam conflict. The United States of America is a signatory to no treaties banning its use – and never has been – but our military uses it primarily for smoke screens and target-marking, anyway. When it is used against enemy combatants, it is almost always to flush them out of a fortified position that normal high-explosive (HE) rounds are unable to penetrate.

The charge that chemical weapons were used in the battle of Fallujah is as opportunistic as it is ludicrous. It’s a propaganda attack by the insurgents, and a political one by the pacifist left here at home. If WP is a chemical weapon, so is gunpowder (sulphur + carbon + potassium nitrate), my pocket knife (iron + carbon + zinc), and the water balloon I hit my mother with when I was eight (hydrogen + oxygen). Everything in the universe is made of chemicals; when Sister Suzanne smacked my knuckles with a ruler in the second grade, one could say that she attacked me with a complicated arrangement of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen (plus some trace elements). Shall we charge her with war crimes, too?

Chemical weapons are not simply “weapons with chemicals in them”. They are a specific classification of device that kills indiscriminately over a wide area, almost always by poisoning on contact (sarin gas) or upon inhalation (mustard gas). Had we really wanted to use chemical agents in Fallujah, we could have air-bursted a couple canisters of sarin over the city and then walked in the following week without loosing a single soldier. But we didn’t. Those brave Marines fought the insurgents house to house, precisely to spare the civilian population as much harm as possible. If and when WP was used, it was used because our troops determined that a particular entrenched target wasn’t worth losing two dozen Marines over. I support such tactics completely.

But do you want to know how all the death in Fallujah could have been completely avoided? How 50 American soldiers, 1,200 Islamist insurgents, and an unknown number of Iraqi civilians could have been saved?

By the terrorists putting down their guns and picking up their voter IDs.

The Sunni and Islamist insurgents want to stop getting killed by American AR-15s, laser-guided bombs, and yes, white phosphorus shells? Fine. Great. Awesome. We want to stop killing them. All they need to do is disarm and join the political process (or, in the case of foreign fighters, go home). The war would be over tomorrow and American troops would begin leaving next year.

Democracy is coming to the Middle East. They’ve made huge leaps and bounds forward over there. But there will be bloodshed for as long as al-Zarqwai and his terrorists continue to wage their war on a democratic Iraq. And we’ll continue to use WP (and other) weapons on them when necessary. Not because we want to, but because they’ve chosen to fight a dirty and unnecessary war.

This war, like every other war, absolutely sucks. I hate it. But there it is anyway, like reality television, AIDS, and Dennis Rader. I wish there was a way to end it that brought democracy to Iraq without anyone else getting hurt … and as I’ve already mentioned, there actually is. But doing it is up to the insurgents, not to me.



Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Boo Jolie, Yay Aniston

I'm not one for popular culture, especially television. I couldn't tell you who's winning on Survivor this week or what city The Real World is in this season. Truth is, I don't know and I don't care.

However, people often do fascinate me ... even TV people.

I've kept half an eye on Angelia Jolie's career for years, because I find her interesting. Yes, she's really hot, but it's more than that (Hollywood, after all, is filled with beautiful women). Jolie always struck me as different; agressive, outspoken, and unafraid, not to mention tattooed and into knives. I never thought it was weird that she kept a vial of her lover's blood on a necklace, nor was I ever scandalized by her frank sexual openness. Those things are cool, I like them. Strong, unique women are sexy.

Jennifer Aniston, on the other hand, was someone I cared little for. Once again, yes, she is easy on the eyes ... and once again, so is just about every woman in the entertainment industry. She was always just "the hot one from Friends" - a show I've seen maybe two dozen times, and most of those back in college - and the chick who married Brad Pitt. Other than her recent divorce, I can't think of a single time Aniston has made it onto my radar in the last five years.

But the aforementioned divorce did cause a blip. That's because Jolie was involved, though to what extent I'm leery of hazarding a guess. Did she intentionally pursue Pitt on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Or did she just befriend him while he happened to be falling out of love with Aniston? Knowing Jolie's media face, it's hard not to assume the former; one doubts there is anything accidental about her relationships. There's little evidence to support such a speculation - well, little that isn't purely circumstantial - but it feels correct.

My head tells me no one knows but the three of them. But my gut tells me Jolie saw something she wanted and took it. And I can't help but be dissapointed in that; I believe that loyalty and honesty are among the highest human virtues, and it sucks that someone I'd always crushed on a little has no regard for them. I'm trying hard to reserve judgement because Jolie really might not have done anything wrong ... I guess no one may ever know for sure.

But in any case, GQ has named Jennifer Antiston their "Man of the Year" because "she exhibited a lot of poise, unbelievable amount of grace and good humor this year." It's the first time in a decade that they've so honored a woman, and I think she does deserve it. And for precisely the reason mentioned: Grace and good humor in the face of great personal adversity. Kudos to Miss Aniston.



Thursday, November 10, 2005

BPCP Update

The Blogosphere Political Compass Project has been updated. Go to the BPCP permalink page for a complete list of participants and links to their sites.

New to the BPCP in October 2005:

281 Robert of Immature With No Conscience (0.4, -0.9)
282 Dane Bramage of Dane Bramage (4.1, 3.5)
283 Lost of Lost … in Lima Ohio (4, 4.1)
284 Peter Porcupine of Peter Porcupine (3.1, 1.1)
285 ir8-n8 of The Irate Nation (4.5, 2.5)

Small class last month; I'm wondering if it has anything to do with the fact that the BPCP link has been moved closer to the bottom of the sidebar. In any case, it's more important now than ever for participants to link back to the project. Just a quick post is all it takes!

And lest we forget: Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps!



Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Right to Remain Ignorant

As it did in 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education has voted (6-4) to incorporate anti-evolution teachings into science classrooms. Its actually gone even further this time, redefining science to allow for the inclusion of supernatural phenomena as explainations for natural events. Hands down, this is the worst blow to American scientific education in the last 50 years.

Here's a balanced roundup of what's being said about the decision:

John Rennie of Scientific American is unremittingly hostile to the new science standards, particularly over their redefinition of science.

It wasn't enough for them to undermine the teaching of biology by falsifying a scientific controversy over evolution. No, the Board of Education went as far as to redefine what science is: it's no longer just a search for natural explanations for natural phenomena. Now it's a search for... well, that's a bit hard to say. Any sort of explanation, apparently. Pixies, ghosts, telekinesis, auras, ancient astronauts, excesses of choleric humor, they all seem to be fair game in the interest of "academic freedom." Oh, and God, of course. The Board might not say that because it could get them into trouble with the Supreme Court, but can anyone say with a straight face that getting God into the science classes isn't the goal of the people who pushed for these changes?

AP reporter John Hanna is more objective, taking quotes from both sides of the debate and trying for a more even-handed presentation.

"This is a sad day. We're becoming a laughingstock of not only the nation, but of the world, and I hate that," said board member Janet Waugh, a Democrat.

Supporters of the new standards said they will promote academic freedom. "It gets rid of a lot of dogma that's being taught in the classroom today," said board member John Bacon.

And finally, Robert Crowther of Evolution News & Views (a website run by and for the pro-ID Discovery Institute) lauds the decision and believes it will lead to a greater diversity of ideas in the classroom.

“This is a big victory for the students of Kansas, providing them with full-disclosure of the scientific debate about Darwinism going on between scientists and in the scientific literature, so we’re very pleased” said Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

I think most of my readers know that I am a staunch evolutionist. It has nothing whatsoever to do with "belief" (since belief indicates faith) but rather with the fact that I am convinced of evolution's validity by the evidence presented thus far. I've studied anthropology, astronomy, and biology all of my life; I'm aware of the questions that evolution cannot answer as yet (dramatically touted as "gaps" and "controversies" by the Intelligent Design camp nowadays). I am also aware of the far, far larger set of questions that it can answer.

My position has always been that a proper understanding of evolution takes years of dedicated study, and you have to aquire such an understanding in order to genuinely trust the theory. Most people who don't believe in evolution simply don't understand evoltion; "God did it" (which is what both Creationism and Intelligent Design eventually boil down to) is a much simpler, easier, and more comfortable answer.

The thing is, we don't have the right to force Kansans to accept a more complex answer (even if it obviously has far more validity than what they want to believe). I wish that their school board had made a different decision, but at least the one they did make was arrived at through transparent democracy. Wrong or not, the members of that school board voted as they believe their constituents would want them to; the people of Kansas have a right to remain ignorant.

Now, of course, their new scientific standards will have to compete in the marketplace of ideas. Given the public ridicule being heaped upon them already, I don't think they're going to do very well. Kansas is going to be a laughingstock, it's going to lose jobs and investment, and students from the state are going to lag behind in science education. This was a terrible decision, but one that, in a free country, Kansans had every right to make.


Update: Looks like the voters in Dover, PA feel differently. Not that I particularly like to see Democrats win elections, but in light of the Republican incumbents' anti-science position I'm glad they were ousted.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sidebar Changes

Just a quick notification about a couple changes to The Zoo's sidebar:

1) One of the "Five Great Causes" links is a floater; this year it has variously been for tsunami relief, hurricane relief, and earthquake relief. Now that the holiday season has rolled around, it will link to Tycho and Gabe's Child's Play Charity web site for the duration. You can count on that happening every year around this time.

2) Four blogs have been replaced on the blogroll: Arthur Chrenkoff quit blogging, as did Michelle of A Small Victory. Shane Moore of Liberty Dog has posted only once in the last five months, and the Freudian Slippers blog has disapeared completely. Replacing them are BlameBush! (satire), Conservative Punk (perhaps the blogosphere's best nonliberal punk site), Homocon (conservatism from a homosexual's perspective), and Iraq the Model (yes, I'm long overdue linking them).

BPCP update later today or tomorrow.



Monday, November 07, 2005

Sex and Violence

Not a hell of a lot more to say on this one: NFL cheerleaders party in Tampa. NFL cheerleaders get really drunk. NFL cheerleaders get frisky in the bathroom. NFL cheerleaders go to jail. Actually, it’s not even the sex that lead to the arrest; getting it on in a bathroom stall isn’t illegal here in Tampa. However, punching other bar patrons is.

Carolina Panthers cheerleaders Angela Keathley and Renee Thomas apparently couldn’t wait to get back to their hotel for some quality time together, so they locked themselves in a bathroom stall at Banana Joe’s (that’s in the Channelside District for those of you familiar with Tampa). Their attempt at a quickie wasn’t quick enough, however; other ladies waiting to use the bathroom got a little irritated at having to stand around for over 15 minutes, and a fight ensued. Thomas gave one of the complainers a knuckle sandwich, which subsequently brought a crowd, bar management, and police to the scene.

Now I have no problem at all with a little public naughtiness; sex should be adventurous sometimes. However, if you’re going to get up to such mischief, you must be big enough to laugh off the shock and anger you generate in others. Keathley and Thomas should have both straightened their skirts, touched up their lip gloss, and walked straight out of the stall into the bar, grinning the entire way. Indignant looks are easy to ignore, especially when you just got some.

Instead, our little hotheaded hotties threw punches at other bar patrons and gave the police a hard time when they arrived. The result: A media circus for the Panther’s cheerleading squad and lots of embarrassing publicity for the two of them to return home to.

Look for the Panthers to handle this quickly and without mercy, especially after the Viking's recent "party boat" scandle.


Update: Even though the alleged sex had nothing to do with the charges filed against Thomas or Keathley, the former is now denying that there was any sex. I suppose it is quite possible that two drunk girls in a bathroom stall, one of them perhaps getting sick, could look like sex to witnesses who couldn't really see what was happening. Either way, I thought her denial was worth an update.


Saturday, November 05, 2005

BREAKING: Scientists Discover "Warm Ice"

Well, you have to read between the lines, but that's got to be the only explanation for the Icesheet in Greenland growing, right?

I'm just snarking of course. There are all sorts of carefully-crafted computer models predicting just this sort of occurence should there be Global Warming. Of course, they have carefully-crafted computer models to account for any possible variation in support of one fundamental dogma. That's the great thing about computer models: They are malleable and easily discardable to suit the latest trend. Not much difference between computer and human models in that regard, come to think of it.

Here's a nice summary of the problems with computer modeling from Canada Free Press.

When I'm really concerned about global temperature, I like going to the guys that have the best wide-angle-view of it all. NASA.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

They live in caves, don't they?

Tossing aside decades of actual research and proven results, the environmental left argue that harvesting dead trees after catastrophic events are bad for the environment.

No, Really!

By God, if caves are good enough for them, they are good enough for us all! They do live in caves don't they? And don't use paper products. Right?


Next up, organic farming disrupts the natural balance by truamatizing corn. "Rows of corn are just another method the Man uses to force conformity on the natural world."