snapshots from OMSI, aka the screaming museum

Top: yours truly scrapes 65-million-year-old matrix away from a Triceratops prorsus bone (femur, I think). That made my day. Bottom: the spousal unit in touch with her inner 12-year-old. That contraption (around and through which, on intricate wire trackways and scaffolds, large metal ball bearings continually drop, roll and loop) is apparently a childhood favourite.

theocracy watch; or, galiel’s canaries are choking already

Via Kip and Majickthise (see also Steve Gilliard, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and George McEvoy in the Palm Beach Post): there are currently several bills in the House and Senate that need to be beaten into quivering blobs of American Taliban mush. Let’s take a look at them.
Constitution Restoration Act of 2004 (S. 2323/H. R. 3799=S.2082)
Title: A bill to limit the jurisdiction of Federal courts in certain cases and promote federalism.

Amends the Federal judicial code to prohibit the U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal district courts from exercising jurisdiction over any matter in which relief is sought against an entity of Federal, State, or local government or an officer or agent of such government by reason of that entity’s, officer’s, or agent’s acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.
Prohibits a court of the United States from relying upon any law, policy, or other action of a foreign state or international organization in interpreting and applying the Constitution, other than the constitutional law and English common law.
Provides that any Federal court decision relating to an issue removed from Federal jurisdiction by this Act is not binding precedent on State courts.
Provides that any Supreme Court justice or Federal court judge who exceeds the jurisdictional limitations of this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offense for which the justice or judge may be removed, and to have violated the standard of good behavior required of Article III judges by the Constitution.

Safeguarding Our Religious Liberties Act (H.R.3190)
Title: To safeguard our religious liberties.

Declares that among those powers reserved to the States and their political subdivisions are the powers to display the Ten Commandments, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and to recite the national motto on or within property owned or administered by them.
Declares that: (1) the Pledge of Allegiance shall be, “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and justice for all.”; and (2) the national motto shall be, “In God we trust.”
Excepts from the jurisdiction of Federal courts inferior to the Supreme Court the display of the Ten Commandments and the use of the word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Ten Commandments Defense Act of 2003 (H.R.2045)
Title: To defend the Ten Commandments.

Declares the following : (1) that the power to display the Ten Commandments on or within property owned or administered by the several States or their political subdivisions is among the powers reserved to the States respectively (under the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution); (2) that the expression of religious faith by individual persons on or within property owned or administered by the several States or their political subdivisions is among the rights secured (under the First Amendment) against laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion made or enforced by the Federal Government; and (3) that the expression of religious faith by individual persons on or within property owned or administered by the several States or their political subdivisions is among the liberties of which no State shall deprive any person without due process of law made in pursuance of powers reserved to the States respectively.

Marriage Protection Act of 2004 (H.R.3313)
Title: To amend title 28, United States Code, to limit Federal court jurisdiction over questions under the Defense of Marriage Act.

Amends the Federal judicial code to deny Federal courts jurisdiction to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of: (1) the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that provides that no State shall be required to give effect to any marriage between persons of the same sex under the laws of any other State; or (2) this Act.

These are the six bills you can oppose at a stroke by using AU’s one-stop emailer to contact your representatives. In addition, consider the following:
Pledge Protection Act of 2004 (H.R. 2028)
Title: To amend title 28, United States Code, with respect to the jurisdiction of Federal courts over certain cases and controversies involving the Pledge of Allegiance.

Amends the Federal judicial code to deny jurisdiction to any Federal court, and appellate jurisdiction to the Supreme Court, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of the Pledge of Allegiance or its validity under the Constitution. Makes this limitation inapplicable to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia or the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

Oppose this via AU here.
Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act (H.R. 235)
Title: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to protect the religious free exercise and free speech rights of churches and other houses of worship.

Amends the Internal Revenue Code to state that churches and other houses of worship shall not lose such designation because of the content, preparation, or presentation of any homily, sermon, teaching, dialectic, or other presentation made during religious services or gatherings.
States that such provision shall not affect campaign finance laws under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.

Oppose this via AU here.
Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2003 (S. 893)
Title: A bill to amend title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to establish provisions with respect to religious accommodation in employment, and for other purposes.

Amends the the Civil Rights Act of 1964 regarding religious observance in the workplace to declare that for an employer’s accommodation of an employee’s religious observance or practice to be considered reasonable, it must remove the conflict between employment requirements and the employee’s religious observance or practice.
Deems as an unlawful employment practice an employer’s refusal to permit an employee to use leave of general usage to remove the conflict solely because the leave will be used to accommodate the religious observance or practice of the employee.

Oppose this via AU here.
More to come on this, but not in a hurry as I’m swamped with work.

hippo birdies

Happy (belated; I suck; but you knew that) birthday to Brad, whom I regard with great affection and respect even though I never write and whom I consider a friend even though we have yet to meet in person.
I believe he’s, um, 25. Again.

Posted in joy

self-discovery: my buddha nature is a crank

It turns out (see the previous entry) that I rather enjoy writing letters, especially snotty ones, to people who probably won’t pay them the slightest bit of attention. It eases the pain of my frustration with stupid, selfish and otherwise bad people, very much in the manner of a laxative when one is constipated. In my defense, these are not really crank letters — or at least, the topics are real and important, even if my tiny voice stands no chance of being heard in this modern wilderness of self-regard and Mammon worship.
So, my latest cranky letter: it seems that MEMRI has threatened Juan Cole with a lawsuit. Fools. Prof Cole has replied in fine style (also here and here), which made it easy for me to comply with his request that readers contact MEMRI and ask that they drop the threat. I even went along, pretty much, with Prof Cole’s injunction to be polite:

I write to urge you to withdraw your preposterous threat of a libel action against Prof Juan Cole. There is no basis for such an action, as Prof Cole has ably explained on his weblog, and in particular the inclusion of the University of Michigan in the threat smacks of an attempt at intimidation.
I am not an expert on international media, the Arab world or any other aspect of this dispute. It is clear, however, even to me, that the lawsuit threat is an attempt to avoid having to engage Prof Cole on the substance of his remarks. You will only marginalise yourselves by continuing with this response, which is at stark odds with the workings and goals of an open, intellectually free society.
Please withdraw the threat and engage Prof Cole in a public debate, beginning with his weblog response to your threat letter. Not only will this allow you to present your side of the issue, but it will further your own goal of bridging the gap between the West and the Middle East — without bringing your organisation into disrepute.
Sincerely, etc.

I like this so much I may add a separate category for it. Where’s that address for the Oregonian editor again?
Update: Max weighs in. A momzer is a bastard (in both the literal “parents not married” and the colloquial “asshole” sense), afaik. From a trackback to Max, Chris of Explananda predicts that MEMRI will “rue the day”, and provides links to nearly a dozen other responses.

do this one small thing

Via T of The Republic of T, John at AMERICAblog provides a glimpse into the slimy shriveled heart of the anti-gay (marriage) movement (more here, here, here and here, and also coverage at the Blue Lemur). The Washington Post on Friday published a magazine ad supplement put together by “Grace Christian Church”; a viler and more despicable piece of homophobic race-baiting you will be hard pressed to find. John has pdfs linked from this post and a zip file hosted by RawStory is here. Read it; you’ll be astonished.
Please take a moment to write to the WaPo ombudsman, Mike Getler; what follows is the letter I sent.

Dear Mr Getler,
I am writing to express my anger and astonishment over the magazine ad supplement “Both Sides Magazine” published by the Washington Post on Friday 11/19/2004. The advertisement is a hateful screed aimed at inciting anti-gay prejudice in the African American community. It relies heavily on unsupported and bigoted opinions presented as facts, on the nonsense masquerading as science peddled by discredited quack Paul Cameron and on deliberate misinterpretation of Martin Luther King Jr’s message of hope and justice for all. (An informative look at what MLK actually might have had to say about gay rights, courtesy of his widow Coretta Scott King, can be seen here.)
Gay marriage is clearly a contentious issue in America today, and if reasonable people are to disagree in a constructive manner it is vital that respectable publications should not lend their circulations, to say nothing of their tacit approval, to organisations determined to sow hatred and division by means of deception. If the Post would not — and I am confident that it would not — accept a paid advertisement from, say, the KKK claiming that Blacks are inferior to whites, why then did it run a paid attack on gays?
I am anxious to hear how the Post will deal with this issue.
Sincerely, etc.

Update 041123: The Post’s response is to shrug and say, “but it was an ad”. John’s not happy and neither am I. Letter number two:

Dear Mr Getler:
If I understand it correctly, your response to my — and many others’ — anger over the “BothSides Magazine” issue is to absolve the Post of responsibility on the grounds that they were paid to run that vile piece of race-baiting pseudoscientific hatemongering. I look forward, inter alia, to the Holocaust revisionism, eugenics and white supremacy “advertisements” that will certainly be run in a newspaper which has made clear and public its policy that all money is good money. I do not believe it is any exaggeration to compare such ideologies to a publication which relies on the hateful and discredited sophistries of professional homophobe Paul Cameron and blatantly targets Blacks in an attempt to drive a wedge between two minority groups. Having accepted “Both Sides Magazine”, I do not see how the Post can turn down David Duke or David Irving.
I’m sure you know what happens, Mr Getler, when one lies down with dogs.
Sincerely, etc.


Clarification the first; or, “responsibility”. There’s a lot of talk going around about how we (meaning variously “the left” or “blogs”) should “be responsible” and not toss around accusations of fraud without hard evidence. I have some disagreement with the way that view has been put forward, but the basic point is sound. It seldom hurts to be precise in one’s language, so mea culpa: I jumped the gun too. I agree in principle that I should have talked about “apparent discrepancies among voting tallies, exit polls and voter registration data” and avoided words like “rigged”. Here’s the disagreement though: someone has to be disreputable and shrill and jump up and down pointing at the numbers yelling something’s not right here. If not blogs, then who? Weblogs are not an official anything and they never will be: blogs are just people with web sites which, as an information source, differs from people around the water cooler only in that blogs offer faster, wider dissemination. I’ve said before that I view the blogosphere as a sort of extended conversation, in which light bringing up the question of electoral fraud without taking the time to be professorially careful in our language is a faux pas, not a gross dereliction of bloggerly duty.
Clarification the second; or, “the questions are still open”. There’s also been some talk about “reasonable explanations being offered”; this is either simply wrong, or I’ve missed said explanations. For instance, Brad Leiter linked to this ABC story, saying that it “reviews the charges and seems to put them to rest plausibly enough”. With all due respect, he’s just wrong about that, and Jeanne of Body and Soul is right. The ABC piece was a disgusting hack job designed to smear “conspiracy theory” across any suggestion of electoral dysfunction and repeat the canard that exit polls are inherently unreliable (or, as they put it, ” exit polls are not hard data, they are as accurate as polling” — which is, again, just plain wrong: any poll is hard data, and exit polls are more reliable than projection polls because the population tested is known voters not likely voters). Some of the discrepancies have been accounted for — for instance, there were some really odd numbers recurring in different counties in Ohio and Florida, which turned out to be an understandable glitch having to do with absentee ballots and placeholder figures (I can’t find the damn link now). Others, however, have not been addressed or explained — take a look at Radagast’s data (see the post below), and then show me the explanation. I have yet to see one. So, when someone claims “oh, those conspiracy theories have all been debunked”, they’re either mislead themselves or they’re trying to mislead you. Which brings me to:
Clarification the third; or, “the larger issue here is electoral reform”. There is fraud in nearly every large election, committed on behalf of nearly every candidate. In the case of this election, however, preliminary evidence suggests that the fraud may have been organised and systematically committed by one side. The only way to be sure is to conduct a transparent public investigation, and I think there is sufficient evidence to justify such an investigation. Now, even if the fix was in, it’s entirely possible that what will turn up, rather than anything dramatic, is either evidence of fraud that was not enough to overturn the result, or statistical evidence which might convince a wonk like me but won’t be enough to prompt Kerry to sue for a recount or second election. Nonetheless, the very need for an investigation strengthens the case for a much-needed overhaul of the US election system. We should never reach the point where there is preliminary evidence of fraud; no such investigation should ever be necessary! Your vote should be as secure as your money: if banks can account for your money down to the penny, the election system should be able to account for every vote. There should be a paper audit trail on every voting station, and random audits should be a routine part of the process, as well as audits of obviously pivotal tallies such as Florida and Ohio this year. In addition, official exit polls should be conducted by several independent organisations and their data made immediately and permanently public. Finally, issues of voter intimidation and misinformation have to be addressed, and though I don’t see quite so clearly how to go about that I am certain it can be done. We cannot have any kind of democracy without free and fair elections, and the technology and expertise already exist to make certain we get them. I can imagine that some might prefer to leave the system as it is with all its deep flaws intact, but that would be a difficult position to defend. With a little determination and media savvy, it should be possible to use this mess of an election as a catalyst for electoral reform.

link dump; more later

I’m falling into the same old trap of wanting to have everything in order before posting anything, so here is a more or less random assortment of links worth following on the question of fraud in the 2004 election:
Radagast is doing a mighty job: data, data, data, data and yet more data, plus a whole bunch of links and a summary of the Ohio and New Hampshire recounts.
More data here, and a visual representation of same here.
Around the blogosphere: Sean Carroll, Lawrence Lessig, Brad Friedman, Eliot Gelwan and Kevin Druminter, of course, many alia.
Media matters points out that mainstream media has given the question scant attention; indeed, articles like this and this seem mainly designed to throw around the phrase “conspiracy theory” enough that it will start to stick. Better coverage at the New Standard, but they’re hardly mainstream, and Consortium News are part of the choir they’re preaching to. Kudos to the principled exception to that rule, Keith Olbermann.
Miscellaneous: Schneier on the problems with e-voting, Buzzflash reports that RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie wants to eliminate exit polls, and the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project has some calm and presumably competent analysis.
Finally, LooterScibby at has a good argument indicating that I owe John Kerry another apology. We’ll see.
[Update: the spousal unit points out that, if Looter’s right, we may well not see. Looter’s argument is that, by conceding, Kerry did not compromise any of the efforts to validate the vote but he did take the focus off himself: rather than “Kerry the sore loser”, the story is the vote. This could be true even if Kerry does not have any further obvious, public involvement in vote counting/checking or the push for free and fair elections. It’s certainly the sort of canny move I’d expect from a long-serving Senator, and fits much more closely with my (pre-tantrum) assessment of Kerry’s character. Dave Johnson of Seeing The Forest makes the point that holding off on the concession might have made a stronger point that it was a close election and did not give Smirky the mandate he keeps claiming. I frankly think that any win, any margin at all, would have been viewed by the Republican party (at least, the far-right faction that seems to have taken over) as a license to print money and turn the social justice clock back a century or two; there was no avoiding the smug talk of “mandates” and “the will of the people”. I was bitterly disappointed when Kerry conceded, but I’m beginning to think I was wrong about that too. Will I ever be right about anything again?]

I call it Veteran’s Day now

In Australia, throughout the Commonwealth and in a few places in Europe, the eleventh day of the eleventh month is called Remembrance Day and is marked by, among other things, a two-minute silence at the eleventh hour. Here in my new home we call it Veteran’s Day, so I’ll do that, but there is no silence at 11 am. The two minutes of solemn remembrance has meant a great deal to me since I was a child, and I do not think it will hurt anything if I continue the custom. Today I put aside my troubles and remember the many dead of both World Wars — indeed, of all wars — for their sacrifice.
Lest we forget.
For The Fallen
(21st September, 1914)
WITH proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England