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Quick time:

  • Oh god someone religious has something weird on a plane TERRORIST:

    A passenger was alarmed by the phylacteries, religious items which observant Jews strap around their arms and heads as part of morning prayers, on the flight from New York's La Guardia airport heading to Louisville....

    Phylacteries, called tefillin in Hebrew, are two small black boxes with black straps attached to them. Observant Jewish men are required to place one box on their head and tie the other one on their arm each weekday morning.

    We really need to calm down as a country before we start stabbing each other in the eyes.

  • Speaking of calming the fuck down, a planned London mosque won't be built because people in Britain are scared shitless by Muslims:

    Alan Craig, a Christian Peoples' Alliance councillor, said: “I'm delighted that the council has finally seen the light on this. It's a key site for the local community that would have been lost if the mega-mosque had been built. It is a big step forward, but a lot could still happen.

    “The authorities use planning terms, but they've come to see the misogynist nature of the group themselves and don't want to give them that platform.” Newham council issued enforcement notices against Tablighi Jamaat on Thursday. The council is also considering compulsory purchase of the land where a temporary mosque has been operating illegally for three years.

    You don't want it because they're bad and wrong and it'll bring down the quality of the neighborhood. Typical racist nonsense.

    Funny thing is, although we've pegged the Muslim organization Tablighi Jamaat as having links to Al-Qaida (and what Muslim organization haven't we pegged that way), many people, including a former CIA agent, don't understand why we've done so, and the shoe bomber Richard Reid left the group because he didn't think it was violent enough. And still the article calls Tablighi Jamaat "Islamist" which is synonymous with "scary terrorists".

    Meanwhile, Al-Arabiya, a Saudi Arabian state-run media outlet, says the mosque won't be built for "technical" reasons. I lol'd.

  • Yemen right now is in the midst of a civil war and Tina has been directing me a lot of article about what's going on over there, so I'll write up something about it in the coming week, but right now I want to focus on this last paragraph in this article about Yemen's stricter international visitor regulations:

    Yemen, an impoverished country with a weak government whose authority does not extend far outside the capital, is Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland. The offshoot al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula was formed a year ago when Yemen and Saudi militant groups merged.

    I keep seeing articles refer to Yemen has "Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland" like it means anything. Bin laden's father moved from Yemen into Saudi Arabia, and Osama himself was born there, not Yemen, so why do we keep bringing this point up? Hitler's family came from Austria, but we don't see Austria referred to as "Hitler's ancestral homeland." I can only guess we're trying to vilify Yemen here as the homeland of terrorists, so we must continue the War on Terror there. How more propagandist can you be?
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Somebody is displaying their Viking girl fetish

Hmmm, today is Wednesday which means *flips to schedule he doesn't use* politics, but I already did one yesterday, and I missed Monday, so... *baloney detector dings for the fifteenth time today* Oh yeah, science blog time! Or did it accidentally microwave a chicken again.

Scicurious (who is seriously awesome) over at Neurotopia (a seriously awesome blog seriously) directed me to probably one ofthe worst pieces of science reporting I've ever seen and it'll will have to be in the running for the worst science article of the year (feast on those results, Google):

Blonde women born to be warrior princesses

Oh yeah, here we go.

IT really is a case of blonde ambition. Women with fair hair are more aggressive and determined to get their own way than brunettes or redheads, according to a study by the University of California.

Researchers claim that blondes are more likely to display a “warlike” streak because they attract more attention than other women and are used to getting their own way — the so-called “princess effect”.

ORLY. Because that's not what the study said at all, quote Sci:

1) Men who are physically stronger (presumably this means bigger as well, they tested lifting strength and bicep circumference), and have a history of fighting are more prone to anger, and feel entitled to better treatment.

2) Women who believe themselves to be physically attractive (regardless of strength) are more prone to anger and feel entitled to better treatment.

Basically what this study found out what that people who think themselves attractive feel more entitled, and thus may be more likely to get angry in an attempt to get their own way.

And it all deals with how many supporters you have in your camp:

Men who are strong and women who people to them, men because they can protect people and because you don't want to get in their way, and women because you want a piece of that. The attractive people can then draw on these social networks in the event of a fight, which might make them more likely to pick one, and therefore to get angry. Whether this is correct or not, I cannot say, but I do find it interesting that perceived attractiveness has a lot to do with a sense of entitlement (thought I also find it somewhat obvious).

That's kinda how behavioral science works, it gathers data on what we already take for granted as true. Though science doesn't work on anecdotes, so it seeks out evidence for the apparent (and maybe the apparent isn't all there is to the story).

Anyway, here's what the article had to say about the study, after speculating that this is why we all like Legally Blonde the Musical and female news reporters with dyed-blonde hair (talk about fucking anecdotal evidence, shit):

“We expected blondes to feel more entitled than other young women — this is southern California, the natural habitat of the privileged blonde,” said Aaron Sell, who led the study which has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. “What we did not expect to find was how much more warlike they are than their peers on campus.”...

The study, which examined links between confidence and aggression, involved 156 female undergraduates. It showed that blondes were more likely to be treated better than other women and were more willing to “go to war”. However, they were less likely than brunettes or redheads to get into a fight themselves — possibly to ensure they preserved their looks.

The research did confirm one theory: when male students were asked to rate the attractiveness of their female counterparts, blondes gained the highest scores.

Sell suspects that blondes exist in a “bubble” where they have been treated better than other people for so long they do not realise that men, in particular, are more deferential towards them than other women. “They may not even realise they are treated like a princess,” Sell said.

If Sci's explanation doesn't sound like the Times Online article, then you've found the problem. It's not. At all. Hell here's an excerpt from the abstract and, if it speculates about anything, it's about the behavior of military forces. Not one word about blonde women being Xena:

Individuals with enhanced abilities to inflict costs (e.g., stronger individuals) or to confer benefits (e.g., attractive individuals) have a better bargaining position in conflicts; hence, it was predicted that such individuals will be more prone to anger, prevail more in conflicts of interest, and consider themselves entitled to better treatment. These predictions were confirmed. Consistent with an evolutionary analysis, the effect of strength on anger was greater for men and the effect of attractiveness on anger was greater for women. Also as predicted, stronger men had a greater history of fighting than weaker men, and more strongly endorsed the efficacy of force to resolve conflicts--both in interpersonal and international conflicts. The fact that stronger men favored greater use of military force in international conflicts provides evidence that the internal logic of the anger program reflects the ancestral payoffs characteristic of a small-scale social world rather than rational assessments of modern payoffs in large populations.

Something interesting in of itself, maybe with the (also wrong, but more accurate) headline of "Stronger, angrier leaders prefer larger armies thanks to evolution". So the Times Online not only dropped the ball, but batted it down a well with a grenade.

So where did they get those quotes from Aaron Sell on the study? The Times author John Harlow did interview him and Ryan Sager at True Slant called Sell up for more information:

The author of the Times article, apparently, asked Sell to break down the study by hair color — something that was not done for the published version. According to Sell, he was able to do this, using pictures of the participants to code for hair color.

What he found:

based on our data:

Blonde women do _not_ feel more entitled.
Blonde women are _not_ more prone to anger
Blonde women do _not_ feel more attractive than other women.
Blonde women are _not_ more militaristic.

And nor are they found to be more attractive than any other hair colors. It's all about perception, whether it's yours or somebody else's. If you feel more attractive, because you think so or you are a huge clique of adoring fans or both, you're more angry.

So who knows how "no" ended up being "yes" in Harlow's head, or even if this was a product of him at all -- executive meddling should also be considered.

Ryan Sager also points out the BBC ran this story with Sell's quotes from the Times article (which you can see from this Gawker post), but has changed "blonde" to the generic "pretty women" which is better-ish, but still ill-explained. And it still says this: "And so did hair colour - with blondes rated as more attractive than brunettes and redheads." Yeesh.

Bottom line: science reporting sucks. Don't believe what you read about science or medicine or even tech in major news outlets. Go to Scientific American, Discover, New Scientist, ScienceBlogs, skeptic organizations, or any other media outlet that deals exclusively with science (more of which you can find on my sidebar). You'll get an infinitely better picture out of them than CNN or the BBC.
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Aid to Haiti is becoming increasingly ridiculous, to the point where it streches believablity. Saudi Arabia's pledge of nothing seems better compared to shit like solar-power Bibles. Yeah, you heard me right:

These are solar-powered audible Bibles that can broadcast the holy scriptures in Haitian Creole to 300 people at a time.

Called the "Proclaimer," the audio Bible delivers "digital quality" and is designed for "poor and illiterate people", the Faith Comes By Hearing group said.

I know I don't need food or water or medical supplies or a place to shit when I hear the Scripture! Fuxk Maslow, God is all of MY basic needs!

Please. At least with a printed Bible you could eat the pages.

The website's blog entry on this is even more baffling, as it juxtaposes Haiti's immediate need for relief and shelter with their useless product:

This was my father's house," he said, matter-of-factly. Then the reality rolls over him like a wave, and his voice breaks, "My mother was in there. My family was…"

He is interrupted by another man who yells, "I can hear them in there. But we can't get to them. Without a loader, we can't move this."...

People have set up makeshift shelters, refugee camps and hospitals, as others dig through concrete mounds that once held their children, spouses, family, friends and neighbors. More than 100,000 people are sleeping on the streets.

Well let's get that loader in there! Move that rubble and start building their homes again! That's what they say, right?

Faith Comes By Hearing, the world's foremost Audio Bible ministry, is responding to this crisis by providing faith, hope and love through God's Word in audio.

... right.

Granted, they are actually helping in the relief efforts by distrubting basic needs from local churches, but then they say:

There is an immediate need for another 3,000 Proclaimers.

After already passing out 600 of them.

I'll tell you what they need. MORE FUCKING FOOD AND WATER AND SHELTER. Stop peddling your electronic scripture and focus on THAT.

As if that wasn't silly enough, Scientology is now down in Haiti, making sure people's thetans don't take advantage of the situation, led by one of the front people, John "Staying Alive" Travolta:

John Travolta is using his air miles to help the Haiti relief effort by planning a mercy mission to the earthquake ravaged nation.

The movie star and celebrity member of the Church of Scientology has become the latest big name to dig deep to help the victims of Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude tremor.

He says, "I have arranged for a plane to take down some volunteer ministers and some supplies and some medics.

"I hope that inspires others as well. It's needed."

I'll tell ya what's needed: SUPPLIES. Come ON, when a disaster happens, does every dog with a trick have to push their noses in it and smell?

John in the above Gawker article details the kind of bullshit nonsense they're inflicting on the people of Haiti. Here's my favorite that had me in both fits of laughter and wide-eyed disbelief:

Locational Assists": After traumas, people sometime's forget where they are maybe? To remind earthquake victims that they are still stuck in Haiti, volunteer ministers will be performing this vital medical procedure, quoted here verbatim from the Scientology Handbook:

5. Continue giving the command, directing the person's attention to different objects in the environment. Be sure to acknowledge the person each time after he has complied.

For instance, you say, "Look at that tree." "Thank you." "Look at that building." "Good." "Look at that street." "All right." "Look at that lawn." "Very good." You point each time to the object.

6. Keep this up until the person has good indicators and a cognition. You can end the assist at this point. Tell the person, "End of assist."

It's these kinds of things I discover about Scientology that further proves my point that L. Ron Hubbard was fucking stoned beyond all comprehension when he created Dianetics. Only someone on some serious hash feels the need for confirmation of the existence of things to keep establishing reality.

And this is what Scientology is giving Haiti. Oh, and here's some actual doctors too, but no psychiatrists. They are the work of Xenu.

WingNutDaily misses the point, which, granted, is something they're good at it, but they actually did some good here After the earthquake, Pat Robertson said something painfully stupid, something he is good at:

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it," he said. "They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' True story. And the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another."

And that's why bad things happen in Haiti, because they have a bank loan with Satan and they're overdue on the payments. Classic Pat.

Now, rational people fart in Robertson's general direction and move on with their lives, but other people in the paddy wagon take each other very seriously, and that thinking led WND to do research on whether Haiti actually made a deal with the devil. Yeah:

But Jean R. Gelin, a Ph.D and minister in Haiti, says he studied the issue and found no substantiation of the claim.

"Obviously, the idea that Haiti was dedicated to Satan prior to its indepednence is a very serious and profound statement with potentially grave consequences for its people in terms of how they are perceived by others or how the whole nation is understood outside its borders," Gelin wrote in a 2005 series of articles about his findings. "One would agree that such a strong affirmation should be based on solid historical and scriptural ground. But, although the satanic pact idea is by far the most popular explanation for Haiti's birth as a free nation, especially among Christian missionaries and some Haitian church leaders, it is nothing more than a fantastic opinion that ultimately dissipates upon close examination."

No fucking shit. But here's the weird and scary part of this -- Gelin published this in 2005. And she says that this is believed by Christian missionaries and a few church leaders in Haiti? Sadly, yes:

"The worst part of the whole picture is that the story is believed by many sincere Christians in America and around the world; and not only do they believe it, they also spread it as fact," he wrote. "The tragedy of our age is that repeated lies are often mistake for truth, especially when repeated long enough. That's particularly the case in religious circles where faith on the part of the audience is generally expected, but that should never be so for those who believe the Bible."

That... statement is true, but you expect some kind of threshold of believability to be crossed first. Deals with the devil are usually the subject of country songs, not to be taken seriously. But then remember, every group's threshold is different, and if you really believe Satan is a big, pervasive force of evil in the world, then...

In that case, I gotta hand it to WND, a site for that demographic, to inject a little rationalism into the group. And I can't believe I put "rationalism" and "WND" in the same sentence that wasn't sarcastic.

From the United Arab Emirates comes the first animated Arab television show to be distributed worldwide, called Freej:

"Freej" chronicles the adventures of Um Saeed, Um Saloom, Um Allawi and Um Khammas, four elderly women living on the outskirts of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as they attempt to reconcile their traditional ways of life with the city's fast-paced corporate culture.

Hilarity inevitably ensues, but viewers are often left wondering whether the joke is on these provincial grandmothers in their mud-brick homes or those living in the sterile high-rises that tower in the background.

From left to right: Um Khammas, Um Allawi, Um Saeed, Um Saloom

Babylon Beyond has the trailer:

Looks cute, I'd watch it. Created back in 2006, deals are in the works for its global broadcast, but no word on who they're talking to. Any American distributor will certainly have it dubbed in English, which be a unique experience since Arabic is a really hard language to translate accurately, especially with our own biases of the region in place. Dubai One already broadcasts it subbed, so hopefully the dubbing team will just read the subs.

Here's a taste of an episode:

In one episode, the women visit Dubai's Global Village, a sort of "Small World"-themed mall where Um Saeed tries to haggle with the owner of a textile shop. Um Saeed, who appears unfamiliar with the concept of price tags, eventually succeeds in driving the price down through sheer clueless obstinacy.

I lol'd a little.

By the way, in case you're wondering, those masks they're wearing are traditional Bedouin attire, to protect the face from wind-blown sand.

France wants to help you keep your secrets on the Internets. Apparently too many people are being stupid and posting personal information on the web, so France wants to implement a law that would require telecom companies to offer an option for its customers to delete their records after a certain period of time:

A proposed law in the country would give net users the option to have old data about themselves deleted.

This right-to-forget would force online and mobile firms to dispose of e-mails and text messages after an agreed length of time or on the request of the individual concerned.

Divina Frau-Meigs, Professor of American Studies and Media Sociology at the Paris Sorbonne University, believes the law would counter against unguarded communications becoming an official record.

"This debate is also connected to the right of presumption of innocence in many ways, so that people are not found guilty even before they start on life," she explained.

"People and young people need to be protected by the State so that there is fairness in the way this protection is established," she added.

For fuck's sake, how about you DON'T POST INCRIMINATING THINGS ON THE INTERNET. The internet is EXACTLY like being out in public, and you don't go into Times Square and start shouting your credit card information to passersby. The answer is simple and doesn't require state intervention. DON'T DO STUPID THINGS ONLINE.

Naturally the white knights of the web are salivating over this, especially an official white knight organization called the Reputation Squad who's spokesperson is obviously Chris Crocker:

Alberic Guigou from online reputation management firm Reputation Squad said many people were becoming public figures on the internet.

"They are being on Facebook, on Twitter. They are communicating a lot of information about themselves," he said.

"But the issue is that a lot of people also remain anonymous. They take advantage of that to ruin other people's reputations," he said.


Just fuck you. You only exist on celebrity stupidity. Think about that. The Reputation Squad only exists because people think the Internet is their own personal laundry room. If people were more like this:

Carole Gay, from the French internet providers association AFA, said search engines made finding someone's details online very easy.

"So we have to be careful what we put online. Otherwise you risk being followed by something you did in the past. You have to be vigilant, just as you do in the real world," she said.

then no one would need you.

The Internet is a dark and scary place, and everyone needs to come to grips with that. Be vigilant, learn how the net actually works, and don't rely on white knights to swoop in to your rescue.
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Murder in Tehran

On January 12th, Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a scientist and university professor in Iran, was killed when a bomb in a motorcycle exploded near his car while on his way to work. The government of Iran, still drinking deep from the well of conspiracy against them from the fraudulent election, has blamed Israel and the US for it. Their thinking is that Mohammadi was killed in an attempt to stifle their scientific progress and, more importantly, to wound their nuclear program.

Makes sense, but the problem with that is Mohammadi was a particle physicist with interests in cosmology and theoretical physics -- NOT a nuclear physicist. Perusing the publications with his name attached you see paper titles with Yang-Mills theories, dark energy, and particle spins, or stuff you'd expect from these fields, and not from nuclear physics. He was also on the council for the Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science Applications in the Middle East, or SESAME, a facility used to study synchroton radiation produced by fast-moving particles, or something else a particle physicist would be involved in. Additionally, Iran's nuclear program is headed by nuclear engineers, not physicists, so even if that was his field, it still doesn't make sense because they don't need to reinvent the wheel. Nuclear physics has well-established applications which engineers can easily implement. So, despite claims that he was involved with Iran's nuclear program, it doesn't seem likely.

If Mossad or the CIA killed him over that, they were being incredibly stupid -- but there's precedent for that. Mossad once captured a farmer in a hospital because he had the name Hasan Nasrallah, the same as the leader of Hezbollah, assuming naturally that Nasrallah would be stupid enough to check into a public hospital, especially under his own name. In comparison, exploding a particle physicist because you think that means he's a nuclear physicist who works on Iran's nuclear program would actually be an improvement.

On the other hand, Mohammadi's students and colleagues suspect a darker tale that the reformist camp latched onto -- that Mohammadi was murdered by government supporters:

Reformist websites and acquaintances, on the other hand, accused hard-liners of killing Ali-Mohammadi as a means of spreading fear on restive campuses that have become hotbeds of anti-government activity.

This kind of thing isn't new, and Mohammadi was a reformist supporter. His friend and reformist member of parliament, Dr. Ahmad Shirzad, said he had been leaning that way for a while, voting and campaigning for reformist candidates and signing his name to a list of academics that supported Mousavi. He also claims Mohammadi actively protested against the election, something which is supported accounts of his students. One even said that Mohammadi remarked to him, "Young man, do not be scared. We must resist them [the hardliners]. A bullet hurts only at the beginning." However, Alireza Ronaghi, Al Jazeera reporter and another friend of Mohammadi, said he "never mixed it [his reformist political view] up with his professional character" and the physics department head at the University of Tehran, Ali Moghara, said he didn't participate in politics at all.

Meanwhile, the government and its supporters are attempting to portray him as entirely different with evidence that contradicts nearly everyone. They proudly proclaim Mohammadi's unwavering support for the Islamic Republic, which, according to Dr. Shirzad, was true in 1979, but that support waned over the years. Tehran University's student militia, or basiji, state that Mohammadi was on the blacklist of scientists linked to Iran's nuclear program, something provably false. (Iran Tracker looks like it's a weird anti-Iran site though, but it has compiled its info from government sources.) The basiji also said he was involved with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), specifically with their own universities like Imam Hossein University, something with Ali Shirzadian, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, says is not true.

Then Press TV, Iran's state media network, claimed that a group called the Iran Royal Association took responsibility for the murder. Their lot is to restore the Shah which the United States bolstered before the 1979 revolution, and their deeds include a bombing in Shiraz in April 2008 and explosion in a mosque in Zahedan in May 2009. On Mohammadi, they claimed he was a "sellout", which means... *shrug* Frankly, this doesn't make sense. I don't understand how killing a scientist would advance their cause, and the Association has since denied their claim. I feel as if the government is trying to pin the blame on somebody, and the article likes to make note of the fact that the Association's radio station broadcasts from the US. Still, I don't know what this whole thing means.

In the end, a probably large factor in his death was politics. Even if he didn't teach at IRGC-affiliated universities or worked on the nuclear program, that doesn't mean he wasn't involved with the IRGC at some point or didn't know anything about the program, information that came to him probably when he was more supportive of the government. Unnamed sources (yeah, we all know about those, but we're speculating right now anyway) used by PBS's Frontline support this, and the program draws a simple conclusion:

Because it is likely that Professor Ali-Mohammadi was well informed about many IRGC projects, and a prominent academic supporter of the reformists and the Green Movement, his murder would send a message to others, particularly academics. If the hardliners were behind the murder, it would be a signal that they have started a campaign of assassination to silence the opposition.

Another characteristic of the hardliners is that they never forgive anyone who deserts them and joins the opposition. The deserters are usually dealt with much more harshly than bona fide members of the opposition. This only adds to the suspicion that the hardliners may have had something to do with Professor Ali-Mohammadi's murder.

A final twist comes from the manner in which he was murdered. Most killed by the hands of government supporters, according to Frontline, are taken out in one of two ways:

In one, the assassin directly shoots at the victim. Examples include Dr. Saeed Hajjarian, the leading reformist strategist who was the target of an assassination attempt in March 2000; Lieutenant General Ali Sayyad Shirazi, deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, who was assassinated in 1999; and Habibollah Ladjevardi, known as the "butcher of Evin" [Tehran's notorious prison], who was killed in September 1998. In the second method, the victim is kidnapped and killed secretly. Well-known examples of the latter include some of the victims of the infamous Chain Murders of the fall of 1998.

In Professor Ali-Mohammadi's case, the method was more similar to assassinations in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, or Afghanistan. That complicates the case; but then again, it may have been a deliberate tactic used to make it easier to point the finger elsewhere.

So we have a plot to kill an academic to make sure the students and faculty are kept in line. Tempting, but I'm not buying it entirely. The evidence building that conclusion is weak, I need more support. However, the government's claim seems even more spurious. A government investigation is underway, but they seem to be more focused on incriminating Israel and the US, while any other investigation probably will be tainted with their own biases. For right now then, Mohammadi's murder is a mystery, and a scientific mind is lost.
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Many countries have pledged aid and money to Haiti in the aftermath of their devastating earthquake last week, including several Middle Eastern countries, even those their own economic and political issues. Planes operated by the UAE are flying the injured into the Domican Republic for treatment, a mobile hospital roves the streets from Turkey with 20-person staff and 10 tons of medical equipment and drugs, basic supplies are flowing in from Iran and Qatar, and even stingy Kuwait is sending $1 million -- a paltry sum to them, but better than nothing.

And nothing is exactly what Saudi Arabia has sent:

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is one of the world's wealthiest countries. But though it's generous when it comes to building Islamic religious schools and mosques throughout the world, Saudi Arabia has been rather miserly when it comes to the suffering of the people of Haiti... Saudi King Abdullah, meanwhile, has sent a message of condolence to Haitian President René Préval.

Oh yeah, tell him you're sorry this has happened to him. That helps. I'm sure the nice you letter will keep Préval and his people warm and cozy has he operates his fragmented country out of the frickin' US embassy because his own capital building has partially collapsed while you lounge around on your yacht of the week. Fuck, if Kuwait, a country ruled by equally self-centered assholes, can send a million, then you have no excuse.

But they'll be fun to hear when you try to cough them up.

Speaking of Haiti, while Saudi Arabia does nothing, research fellow James M. Roberts of the conservative bastion the Heritage Foundation would like the US to take advantage of the situation:

The U.S. government response should be bold and decisive. It must mobilize U.S. civilian and military capabilities for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform.

i.e. stay there. Forever. Because occupying places in the world in a pathetic attempt to force our will down their throats is what America does best.

President Obama should tap high-level, bipartisan leadership. Clearly former President Clinton, who was already named as the U.N. envoy on Haiti, is a logical choice. President Obama should also reach out to a senior Republican figure, perhaps former President George W. Bush, to lead the bipartisan effort for the Republicans.

That's not a diplomatic envoy, it's a sitcom. A bad sitcom. Joey was better.

While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola.

Great, now Chavez can have more wet dreams about being apart of the Axis of Evil.

This U.S. military presence, which should also include a large contingent of U.S. Coast Guard assets, can also prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea in dangerous and rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

Ellian Part Duex, Creole style.

Thank you for suggesting that we continue cockblocking the Haitians best viable option for generating the cash needed to rebuild their country: GETTING FUCKING JOBS IN THE UNITED STATES. A third of the country's GDP comes from outside citizens sending money home, and now when they need it more than ever, you're going to deny them that? I wouldn't mind if the Coast Guard started ferrying people to the United States.

The U.S. should implement a strong and vigorous public diplomacy effort to counter the negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp. Such an effort will also demonstrate that the U.S.’s involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe.

And the Truman Doctrine arises again. Mr. Roberts, are you more concerned about Haiti or securing American interests in Haiti? Because it sounds like the latter. If so, please read up on what happened when we controlled Haiti from 1915 to 1934 . I'll give you a hint: it didn't end well.

These aren't the robot girls anime promised me:

Hard... night I guess...

A New Jersey company says it has developed "the world's first sex robot," a life-size rubber doll that's designed to engage the owner with conversation rather than lifelike movement.

At a demonstration at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas on Saturday, the dark-haired, negligee-clad robot said "I love holding hands with you" when it sensed that its creator touched its hand.

Another action, this one unprintable, elicited a different vocal response from Roxxxy the robot.



The level of sophistication demonstrated was not beyond that of a child's talking toy, but Roxxxy has a lot more brains than that – there's a laptop connected to cables coming out of its back. It has touch sensors at strategic locations and can sense when it's being moved. But it can't move on its own, not even to turn its head or move its lips. The sound comes out of an internal loudspeaker.

You mean... it's a furbie? OH GOD ITS A FURBIE.

Owners will also be able to select different personalities for Roxxxy, from "Wild Wendy" to "Frigid Farrah," Hines said.

Oh what's next on the male fantasy list, "Housewife Hannah"? "Skanky Sally"? Or maybe "Lesbian Luanne" so you can fuck her straight as she goes to town on Wild Wendy.

Jesus it's also a dating sim. IN REAL LIFE.

An engineer, Hines said he was inspired to create the robot after a friend died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. That got him thinking about preserving his friend's personality, to give his children a chance to interact with him as they're growing up. Looking around for commercial applications for artificial personalities, he initially thought he might create a home health care aide for the elderly.

"But there was tremendous regulatory and bureaucratic paperwork to get through. We were stuck," Hines said. "So I looked at other markets."

..So... you wanted to make a robot of your friend, which inspired you to make robotic aides for nursing homes, but when they failed you decided for robot sex slave. Right. Because when I want to remember my friend, I end up making a porno. Look, be honest and say you wanted to make a robot girl. You're a geek, we all have this fantasy, let's move on.

But please, could you have made it look better? C'mon now.

Because it gives you breaking news, the Huffington Post has this covered with more pictures than anyone needs to see of this thing, two of which I've already posted, and for completeness sake, here's a video. Oh the horror...

The United States sucks at history:

In 11th grade history classes, Iranian high school students are required to read a textbook that devotes 100 pages to the history between the United States and Iran, citing 32 different sources painstakingly footnoted.

American high school history classes, by contrast, devote little if anything to the history of Iran, said Mohammad Marandi (above center), the head of North American studies at Tehran University, who was in Beirut recently for a conference.

Just how bad do we suck? Marandi studied several US textbooks and found in one, A People and a Nation, had two paragraphs about Iran's history, the most detailed of which was two lines according to Marandi:

A revolution led by Shia fundamentalists forced the Shah to flee to Europe. The new head of Iran was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a 79-year- old and a religious zealot who rapidly turned the government into a theocracy that condemned modernization and preached against traits of the West.

Another didn't even mention the revolution, only talking about the Iran-Contra scandal. Another didn't even mention that, just that Iran was part of the "Axis of Evil". And hell, even in that short paragraph above, the attitude about Iran in the US is pretty evident -- Iran hates us.

Iranian coverage of American history isn't perfect either, but according to Marandi at least it's more comprehensive and, basically, it's correct. 100 pages and 32 sources versus two paragraphs or nothing at all -- yeah, he's got a point.

God forbid we try to understand other cultures and peoples.

C'mon on down to NASA Big Bargain Hanger, and grab ya a couple of slightly used space shuttles!

NASA has cut the price of a space shuttle to $28.8 million. The vehicles will go on sale after they finish constructing the International Space Station, scheduled to be later this year. The New York Times reports that NASA had hoped to get $42 million for each vehicle but lowered the cost in the hope of sealing a deal.

$28.8 mill too much for ya? Maybe you'd like a genyoowine space shuttle main engine! It's absolutely, totally free! For ya, right now! (plus shipping and handling). What're ya waiting for?!
Steamroller WRRRRRY

Giving thanks to those who deserve it

As I sit here stuffing my craw with delicious and tender bird meat, I'm also stuffing my mental craw by reading my main blogs and caching up on a few that I don't (though really should) read regularly. (That means you Orac, you're a full-course, intellectual meal every day. I've learned a few things about how pharmaceutical companies can be complete and utter assholes, but that's for later.) So I came across both Phil Plait's and PZ's thoughts on this day, and they ultimately agree.

Phil is straightforward and poetic, and fills you with an inspiring, warm feeling:

The world is what we make it. It’s the people who make the difference. I am who I am today — we’re all who we are today — because of people, both good and bad, influencing us, both in good ways and bad.

And it’s what we’ve done with that experience. Events happen, but it’s up to us to do with them what we can. Be glad for that, be thankful.

The world is what we make of it. Make it a good one.

PZ is more blunt, but unlike some of his commenters, I don't agree he's curmudgeonly. He's just telling it like it is:

So don't sit at your table and think you're being good by warmly thanking an indifferent universe for whatever. It doesn't care. Don't beam happy thoughts at the farmers who stocked your larder — they can't hear you, and they did it for their own personal profit anyway. Above all, don't be hypocritical and radiate gratitude at the corpse of the turkey, since it's dead and during its brief life would rather you hadn't fueled the market forces that led to its execution.

It would be far wiser to sit at that table and contemplate the threats to your existence, and scheme about how you're going to get them first.

Oh, and you probably do have people who have done good things for you, at personal cost, and without carrying out the calculus of profit. If you want to have a day of thankfulness, thank them personally. None of this nonsense of bland, undirected, unfocused, smug gratitude. Share human feelings with other human beings.

Both are saying it's pointless to be thankful to a universe with no special disposition to life. Given the right conditions, self-replicating chemicals and constructs coalesce into cells. Eventually they start working together into larger and larger creatures and evolution driven by random mutations shaped by provisional natural selection with some wildcard events along the way developed into us some 4 billion years later. Despite that predictions that say life forms pretty readily, it is not a guarantee in the universe, and neither are intelligence or humans. Rewinding and replaying the tape of Earth's history would probably yield entirely different things. Our species is a product of a series of events, nothing more.

I am also a product of series of events. The entire history of humans on Earth, the settlement of the New World, the genetic swapping of my family from various strands moving there and the few strands that were already here, the birth of my parents, their life histories, their meeting and marriage, and the birth of me. Then my history, my relationship with Tina and those close to me, and a myriad of events that has shaped my personality and brain development, leading me to reading these blogs and clattering out my thoughts of them on a blog of my own. Any one of those events didn't have to happen. None of it was predestined or planned out.

The tradition of slaughtering a particular galliforme that happens to be my favorite food is also a product of a series of events that culminated into a feast with the delicacy of choice in the area at the time as the central dish. The meme passed down the generations, being praised an honored by officials and presidents until it became an official, federal holiday in 1941. Industries rose to fuel the demand for the bird, and thus we all enjoy turkey with all the trimmings today.

I can't be thankful for series of events. Blind forces of nature, actions of humans long since dead, even my immediate family save perhaps my father and mother some months before my conception -- they couldn't possibly know about me to care. The universe has no feelings, and the vast majority of humanity will never hear of me.

I'm certainly happy that I and Tina and my friends and family exist and I have the relationships I have with them, but truly I have nothing to compare it to. I can't pop over to another universe or timeline to see what a different world it would be if any of the above didn't happen. I can imagine, and really none of those imaginings turn out well in my mind, because something always breaks down. But I can never know for sure. In the end, it makes the point moot, but still it's impossible for me to be thankful.

But I can still give thanks. I thank my friends for their support, concern, and just being my friends, and I only hope I do the same in return. I thank my mother for her support, infinite kindness and blunt honesty, which I try to emulate. I thank my father for being quite meticulous and observant of my health, and going out of his way to make sure I did what I could. I thank my brother and sister for their care in dealing with me as a kid, entertaining me when I know I was being silly (for which they get back at me now with their kids). I thank those like Phil, Orac, and PZ, who fight the good fight in dispelling myth and pseudoscience and promoting science and skepticism which enriches and saves lives. And Tina, I thank her beautiful love, her amazing knowledge and experience she graciously shares with me, and her compassion and concern over my health.

It's only human to assign human traits to events and think they've come together in some way for us as a species, or a family, or a love. But in doing so I think we lose sight of the grand reality that the universe and history are uncaring and that we only occupy a microscopic dot in a microscopic timeframe and understate those we should really be thanking. I am thankful for the actions of those humans who have made my and their lives richer and fuller than what I could imagine to be otherwise.

Here is where I agree with Phil and PZ. We have forged our own lives in the face of events we cannot change in a universe that doesn't care. That is what we do as humans, and we should be thankful for those people around us that help make it happen.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Steamroller WRRRRRY


Other animals have given our species a wide variety of fun diseases, everything from AIDS to monkeypox, but what isn't as well known is that we're capable of doing the same. Virologists in Germany infected pigs with the H1N1 strain circulating as the swine flu, and they passed it on to other pigs in the population, meaning that humans can give the flu to other pigs. But this isn't a new phenomenon, as Bethan Lowder from the University of Edinburgh has discovered. Chicken farmers in the 1970's Poland unwittingly passed on a strain of Staphylococcus aureus that caused severe bone infections to their flock, and it spread at the rising pace of globalization. Ed Yong describes it:

Lowder traced the common ancestry of S.aureus in chickens by analysing the genes of 57 samples. Of these, 48 came from healthy and diseased chickens across eight countries and four continents, and 9 were taken from different species of wild and domesticated birds. Amazingly, she found that two-thirds of all the broiler chicken samples came from a single strain of the bacterium called ST5.

ST5 infects humans all over the world and is one of the most successful strains of S.aureus to do so. But Lowder found that all of the chicken samples were more closely related to each other than they were to any of the human bacteria from the same strain. They all shared a common ancestor - a lineage of ST5 found only in Poland. Around 38 years ago, this pioneering bacterium made the leap from humans to chickens and its descendants have spread from Poland to countries as far as the US and Japan.

It's mutated since, adding a few genes thanks to horizontal gene transfer from other bird bacteria. Those changes are wholly unique to that strain and make it more resistant to antibiotics. Lowder thinks that studying the changes to this strain can help us understand its human-based ancestor and why it's particularly adaptable compared to other Staphylococcus aureus strains.

What we receive we can easily deal back.


Sgt. Jason Hawk and his bride met for the first time when he picked her up at a bus stop near his Army base a day before their wedding. Prosecutors say the speedy romance was echoed by a fast honeymoon: Ayna Ivanova returned to New York soon after.

Two other paratroopers who served with Hawk and three women now each face up to five years in federal prison when sentenced for their roles in what authorities say was a marriage scheme that garnered U.S. citizenship for Russian brides and coveted housing allowances for junior enlisted men. Prosecutors said the marriages cost the government at least $200,000 in wages and benefits.

Two brothers, Alexander and Pavel Manin, from Kazakhstan headed the scheme, joining the military after immigrating to the US in 2001. One was discharged and found immigrants who wanted citizenship in New York, while the other remained in service to sign on soldiers to the plan:

All the soldiers had to do was marry the women, who returned to New York City after the nuptials, and file immigration papers stating that they were married. In exchange, the soldiers would get more than $600 a month as a living allowance from the Army and permission to live off post.

The brothers will be tried next year and the soldiers involved will be fined -- Sgt. Hawk had to pay $20,000.

It's kinda ingenious in its simplicity, which no doubt made it easier to keep under wraps for so long. I wonder what happened exactly that got them caught. Borat would be proud.

Those hikers being held in Iran on charges of, basically, trespassing have released some videos on YouTube of them goofing around:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last week that investigators are still questioning the three and that their fate rests with judicial authorities.

Mottaki gave no other details on the case. But his comments suggested that formal charges could still be possible against the Americans, although Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview with The Associated Press last month that he could ask the judiciary to "take a look at the case with maximum leniency."...

One of the videos, set for release on YouTube Tuesday, shows Fattal performing an impromptu rap song — "Yo, it's hot/It's 'cos I'm in Iraq." — against a backdrop of the city of Irbil in Iraq. A second video shows Fattal, Bauer and Shourd dancing in an unfinished cinder block building.

"These kids were on vacation. They were just traveling; they were having a good time," Nora Shourd, Shourd's mother, said in a phone interview Monday.

And hell, that's true. But the fact remains that you need to be incredibly vigilant because you're in freaking Iraq next to the Iranian border. Tread INCREDIBLY lightly, because things like this WILL happen. Iran has made it abundantly clear in several occasions that they will snatch your ass if you if do so much as sneeze across the border, so BE FUCKINGLY-ULTRA CAREFUL. Obviously they didn't, and they should be grateful Ahmedinejad is helping them out. That's really the only reason I'm including this article in the Bits, a warning for situational awareness

All religions have their fundie wackos:

An activist in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit community was conditionally released from prison Monday, a day after his arrest for allegedly spraying an ultra-Orthodox woman with tear gas in the capital's Mea She'arim neighborhood.

Yoel Kraus was arrested after the woman filed a police complaint. The alleged attack occurred about two weeks ago, during the Sukkot holiday, as the woman was walking on a "men only" sidewalk, and refused Kraus' demand that she move to the women's side.

I like how people complain about how rabid and crazed Muslims are while ignoring the total bullshit spewed forth by other religions. Christianity and Judaism too have their insane, ugly corners, you don't hear about it as often because, well, "DEM MUSLIMS DEY HAET OUR FREEDOMISMS" or something equally unintelligible. All crazy nonsense need to be denounced.

Because of the crowds, community leaders decided three years ago that to preserve the community's standard of modesty, men and women would walk on separate sides of the street. Parents were permitted to walk together with their children on one of the side streets.

Calling the Taliban/mutawa/Puritans/Westboro Baptist Church.

Ed Yon relates the story of how chimpanzee technology reflects their culture. Yes, chimps have culture:

Chimps from the Sonso community in Uganda are skilled at the use of sticks and unsurprisingly, they manufacture stick-based tools to reach the honey. Chimps from the Kanyawara community in a different part of Uganda have never been seen to use sticks in the wild. Instead, they bring their considerable leaf-based technology to the fore, using leaves a sponges to soak up the hidden honey.

This is in relation to their diet. Sonso chimps eat honey a lot more than Kanyawara chimps, so they use a more efficient way of extracting honey from holes, namely swirling it around on sticks, than using leaves to dab it up.

Critics have pointed out that the environment or genetics plays more of a role in determining which tools the chimps use to collect honey, so Thibaud Gruber of the University of St. Andrews decided to test it. He gathered a bunch of Sonso and Kanyawara chimps and placed them in the same environment -- a forest -- and made sure their genetic makeups were similar. He drilled holes in trees and filled them with honey. The holes were the same depth, and deep enough so that the chimps had to use something to get the honey out besides their fingers. He waited and watched.

Without fail, the Sonso chimp used sticks and the Kanyawara chimps used leaves:

Gruber thinks that it's extremely unlikely that the chimps were using a trial-and-error method to extract the honey, for they solved the problem both quickly and accurately. Despite having similar environments, genes and tasks, the two communities had their own specific approaches to the task. Their divergent cultures are reflected not just in the tools they used, but their [methods].

I don't understand why this isn't too far off for people to accept. Chimps aren't that far removed from us on the evolutionary tree, so why can't they have a culture? I'd argue that many mammals that display rudimentary intelligence and self-awareness, like elephants and cetaceans, have a culture of sorts like the chimps, with simple skills passed on to future generations. I don't have any real evidence to support that, but I'd love to see the results of similar experiments on them.