Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Mars Pheonix to Land Today at North Pole


Watch it stream live today, directions here

The last attempt to land on Mars in 1999 went terribly, in fact, a good majority of missions have gone wrong due to difficulty landing on the damn thing (and thus the name "seven minutes of terror").

The Pheonix will be searching the North Pole for traces of organic compounds, the building blocks of life, in ice. More information here.

And the official site for the project is here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Libertarian Debate

Watching it right now. Can someone tell me how Gravel is a Libertarian? Check it out now on Cspan.

[UPDATE]

Live Blogging going on at the Liberty Papers

Hillary Clinton Speculates About an Obama Assassination

...and uses it as a reason she is staying in the race.


I'm getting sick and tired of hearing jokes, speculations, and allusions about Senator Obama and any potential assassinations. It would probably be a good idea for him to confront this kind of talk formally.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

U.S. Cannot Discharge Homosexuals?

From the AP:

SEATTLE (AP) -- The military cannot automatically discharge people because they're gay, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in the case of a decorated flight nurse who sued the Air Force over her dismissal.

This, following what happened in California, should give the LGBT(QISA) community a victory, as well as the sense that tides may be changing in their favor. The newest movement in civil rights issues may have struck two major victories in one week! However, the "Don't ask don't tell" policy may have a chance to stick, if and only if:

The three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not strike down the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But they reinstated Maj. Margaret Witt's lawsuit, saying the Air Force must prove that her dismissal furthered the military's goals of troop readiness and unit cohesion.

[...]

Under Wednesday's ruling, military officials "need to prove that having this particular gay person in the unit really hurts morale, and the only way to improve morale is to discharge this person," said Aaron Caplan, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state who worked on the case.
My bet is that they can't. I think that the era of institutionalized homophobia may be coming to an end. While we may still have a conservative leaning Supreme Court, I think that this issue is becoming more "gay-friendly." While it would be better to face these issues after the elections this fall, it seems that we are moving towards a more accepting (albeit reluctantly) outlook on LGBT issues in our nation.

From the 9th Court of Appeals:

"When the government attempts to intrude upon the personal and private lives of homosexuals, the government must advance an important governmental interest ... and the intrusion must be necessary to further that interest," wrote Judge Ronald M. Gould.

One of the judges, William C. Canby Jr., issued a partial dissent, saying that the ruling didn't go far enough. He argued that the Air Force should have to show that the policy itself "is necessary to serve a compelling governmental interest and that it sweeps no more broadly than necessary."
In other words, the right to privacy (the same right invoked in Roe v. Wade) is used as a buffer against governmental discrimination. However, unlike Roe v. Wade, I think there is a case here, since no one else's rights are involved. Therefore, the military has the burden of proof to show that being "gay" is a detriment to the military forces (which both I, and the courts I believe deny).

Could this be the beginning of the end for the movement? For sure this was a serious victory at the least.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Poor Are Getting Poorer? Maybe Not.


If only I had a nickel for every time I heard someone decry the situation of inequality today: "The rich get richer while the poor only get poorer!" But then, I would be the rich, and then I would be the bad guy.

I've always had a problem with this common complaint, and I have attempted to justify my positions. However, I am no economist, and thus my opinions are not made with the sharpest of prose.

I did get lucky though, to stumble upon a New York Times blog by Steven Levitt:

When people talk about inequality, they tend to focus exclusively on the income part of the equation. According to all our measures, the gap in income between the rich and the poor has been growing. What Broda and Romalis quite convincingly demonstrate, however, is that the prices of goods that poor people tend to consume have fallen sharply relative to the prices of goods that rich people consume. Consequently, when you measure the true buying power of the rich and the poor, inequality grew only one-third as fast as economists previously thought it did — or maybe didn’t grow at all.

Why did the prices of the things poor people buy fall relative to the stuff rich people buy? Lefties aren’t going to like the answers one bit: globalization and Wal-Mart!

[...]

Not only are Wal-Mart’s prices lower, but its entry also induces competitors to lower prices. The impact is much larger on the poor than the rich, both because the poor are more likely to shop at Wal-Mart and because they spend more of their income on food.
Here is a link to the study.

This is not meant to be a complete defense of those who make millions or perhaps billions of dollars a year (although I see no harm in it). I mean to show that the rich ARE getting richer, but not at the expense of the poor or middle class; instead the opposite is true: what benefits the rich in the end is directly tied to how they benefit all others. In other words, capitalism continues to be to the benefit of most (if not all) individuals, whether it is overtly evidential or not.

Of course, I do have a better grasp of freedom and economics than most people, so when I saw the comments to the article I had to cringe:

At what point does Wal-Mart stop having the incentive to keep their prices low. If they become a towns only grocer they have complete price control and can at some future point raise prices artificially high.

— Posted by Billy

Actually Billy, their prices are that way for a reason: it makes them more money than it would if they raised it to a point at which fewer people could buy their goods. What would be the point in that?

Food prices are going up rapidly, correct? So this gap in equality will start to show up pretty damn soon, I would imagine.

— Posted by Grant

This is tied to gas prices, Grant, yet the general trend HAS been downward. Also, who do you think uses more gas? Poor or rich?

I believe that there’s a point missing. In principle, of course, you’re right in saying that the real income matters. What is missing though, is the fact that people who reside at the lower end of the income distribution would probably like to change their consumption patterns but aren’t capable of doing so.

— Posted by J0k3r

I hope you're joking, Jok3r; if not, then I call bullshit. What makes you think that someone cannot change their consumption patterns? In fact, many people are able to become rich because they don't spend their money as frivolously as many poor people (including me), and invest or save it intelligently until they are comfortable enough to be able to spend more on superior goods.

There are many more comments that I do not have the energy to comment on.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

McCain Looks to the Future in New Campaign Commercial: 2013

30,000 Burmese Children May Starve; UN Envoy Pleads Junta

30,000 children may starve in the crisis following Cyclone Nargis as Myanmar's Junta continues to create roadblocks to foreign aid and relief.

Save the Children said that under-fives living in the Irrawaddy delta were already "acutely malnourished" when the cyclone hit on May 2 and it believed some children in the stricken areas of Burma may now be dying from lack of food.

The foreign office minister Lord Malloch-Brown today criticised the "man-made bottlenecks" that were causing the crisis and preventing help from getting to the cyclone victims.

The delta is also a major rice producer for the region, a place previously undernourished and poor, yet so very important to the Burmese economy and food supply. Flood rains pelted the area the other day, worsening conditions, and many may only have a couple of days to live if conditions and aid proliferation do not improve. Things have gotten so bad the some are considering forced delivery of aid as conditions lay grounds for charges of crimes against humanity:

Yesterday, Gordon Brown said forced airdrops of aid were being considered, but noted that charities warned they could be "counter-productive".

"We rule nothing out and the reason we rule nothing out is that we want to get the aid directly to the people," he told the BBC's World Service.

[...]

The French ambassador to the UN, Jean-Maurice Ripert, warned that the junta's refusal to allow delivery of the supplies "could lead to a true crime against humanity".

All of this as a UN envoy traveled to Myanmar today to monitor current humanitarian conditions and plead for the Junta to allow foreign aid in, as the death toll climbs to 78,000. The Junta claim that they have all the aid that is needed.
The junta says it has completed relief operations and now will turn to reconstruction. It has barred foreign aid experts, including the U.N.'s international staff, from traveling to the worst-hit Irrawaddy delta.
Meanwhile, the Junta explained their reasoning for barring foreign aid and officials from entering the country:

On Sunday, the regime accused foreign news organizations of falsely reporting that the government was refusing or hindering international relief aid.

"Some foreign news agencies broadcast false information and thus some international and regional organizations are assuming that the government has been rejecting and preventing aid for storm victims," a government statement said. "Those who have been to Myanmar understand the actual fact."

And yet you wont let them in! Ok, you won't allow foreign media in because they falsely report, and yet you also say that only those that travel there can know the truth...? I smell Bullshit. Whats the real reason?
The military junta's xenophobia stems from the fear that allowing foreign aid workers to mingle with ordinary people will embolden them to rebel against 46 years of authoritarian rule.
And yet letting them starve to death is really going to embolden their support of the Junta?

UC Berkely Students Protest at Graduation


50 or so students decided to make a statement at the graduation ceremony of their fellow students, asking their administration to fire Prof. John Yoo for his support of the Bush Administration's torture policies.

"We want to see him fired and disbarred for being a war criminal," said Anne Weills, an Oakland attorney who said she was with the National Lawyers Guild, one of the groups that protested. "Academic freedom stops when you intend to harm or injure somebody."

Yoo, a tenured constitutional law professor at Boalt Hall, took a leave of absence from 2001 to 2003 to work for the U.S. Department of Justice. During that time, he wrote what critics call the "torture memos," which protesters say outlined the legal basis for the use of torture at the Abu Ghraib (Iraq) and Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) military prisons.

The students, dressed as Guantanamo Detainees and sitting in makeshift cages, called Yoo a war-criminal and called for him to be disbarred, fired, and tried.

Yoo drafted an August 2002 memo, signed by his boss, former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, providing the legal basis to justify torture in interrogating terrorism suspects. Among other things, Yoo argued that habeas corpus and other legal protections don't apply to CIA detainees because Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are not on U.S. soil.

While I would disagree with Yoo substantially, I don't think it was prudent to make such an elaborate protest (even flying a plane with an anti-Yoo banner overhead) while my fellow students are trying to celebrate the culmination of four (or more) years of hard work and dedication. For some, this could be one of the happiest days of their life. I guess it doesn't surprise me though, we've seen actions like this from many fringe liberal crazies, as well as the nuts religious right (Westboro Baptists anyone?). It would be insane to fire him from the job, much less disbar or indite him just because of his political views.

William Upshaw of Oakland, who was at the event to see his wife graduate, was unhappy with the hoopla outside the theater.

"It's interesting, but unexpected," he said as he filed past the protest, carrying a bouquet for his wife, "and, actually, I don't think it's appropriate."

No shit.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

12,000 Dead in China Today


As a result of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake:


The Chinese people have become panicked over a powerful earthquake that claimed about 10,000 lives and trapped untold numbers under debris in central China on Monday. First our hearts go out to the families of the victims. And we hope that those trapped in the rubble will be rescued as soon as possible. The quake reminds us that humans are vulnerable to the "rage of nature.''
As of right now, 12,000 dead and counting:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Too Funny Not to Post

Every now and then I can't help but take time off from serious news to showcase something funny. Yes, believe it or not, I have a sense of humor. Anyways, whilst traversing the internets I came across a gem called Horribleville, and decided to rummage.

So I bring to you from the Archives of Horribleville:




She Just Doesn't Give Up

Yep. And now that Obama is in the lead with Superdelegates as well, she's toast. The media has even started calling en masse for her to call it quits before she becomes even more of a joke. Just check out the new SNL clip (priceless).

Obama did just what he needed to do today: Pretend Hillary does not exist.
There’s something missing from the Barack Obama campaign this weekend: virtually all mention of his primary opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton. In speeches and in brief press conferences, Senator Obama has been pounding away on the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, often using the identical rhetoric that was served up against Mrs. Clinton just days ago.

8 Reasons Why My Generation is Dumb...

From Boston.com:
Take a look at eight reasons the Emory University English professor gives to ''not trust anyone under 30'' -- see which you think is the best. Disagree, or have your own spin?
Their reasons are as follows:
  1. They make excellent "Jaywalking'' targets
  2. 2. They don't read books -- and don't want to, either
  3. They can't spell
  4. They get ridiculed for original thought, good writing
  5. Grand Theft Auto IV, etc.
  6. They don't store the information
  7. Because their teachers don't tell them so
  8. Because they're young
They also introduced a poll to see what readers thought was the biggest reason:

What reason makes the most sense for "The Dumbest Generation?"

2. Books? No thanks!
26.6%
7. Easy teachers, parents
19.9%
4. Clear thought ridiculed by peers
13.3%
8. Just age
12.4%
6. Don't retain information (who needs to?)
10.4%
3. Can't spell
6.7%
1. "Jaywalking'' gaps in knowledge
6.2%
5. Grand Theft Auto, etc.
4.6%
Total votes: 21783

I voted for "Books" and it appears a plurality of readers would agree. With 21783 votes, its doubtful that the margin of error is too large to overturn that.

However, I would not be so quick as to say our generation is dumb in the first place. I believe that we may be lazy, but I have also heard that Intelligence quotients have been rising over the years. I think it is easy to point out the failures of the young, especially if older people are alienated by the increasingly fast pace at which culture is reinventing itself (mostly attributable to increases in the speed and efficiency of communication mediums). While I can agree to a point that people my age do not read as much or know as much as older folks (hell, I read more than most people, but I still wish I read more), I have doubts as to how "dumb" we are.

Also, if there is a decrease in the level of intelligence in our age, why not look to the institution of public education? God knows that this institution sucks too, and continues to degenerate.

I guess I will just have to read the book. That is of course, unless I'm too lazy, haha.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Hezbollah Gunmen Take Over Parts of Lebanese Capitol

The new fighting threatens to re-engulf the nation in civil war:
Hizbollah swept through major areas of Beirut in an overnight push that resulted in the deaths of 11 and forced Lebanese MPs out of the capital.


[...]

But the army has largely avoided getting involved in the street battles, preferring to remain above the political fray for fear of being dragged into the conflict. The institution could break up on sectarian lines if it takes on the powerful Hizbollah, which survived a war with Israel in 2006.
As if the Shiite terrorist group wasn't bad enough, it appears they're getting help from a neighboring terror sponsor:
Dozens of fighters from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a Hizbollah ally, also appeared in the streets off Hamra, some masked and carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
As time has shown, a conflict anywhere in the Middle East involves all Arabs, particularly when it breaks down to Pro-West/Anti-West lines. As the Arab world looks for some sort of resolution, Bush rattles sabers:

“Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere," U.S. President George W. Bush said in a speech in the United Arab Emirates in January. "So the United States is strengthening our longstanding security commitments with our friends in the Gulf and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late.”

In the same speech, Bush also accused Iran of exporting terror. He did not have to specify for his audience the destinations. Washington has often charged Iran and Syria with helping to arm the Lebanese Shi’ite Hizballah and of using it to destabilize the Western-leaning government in Beirut.

Fortunately, some countries are calling for an Arab meeting to discuss the situation, although I have some doubts as to how effective they will be.

Egypt and Jordan voiced support for an Arab meeting.

"Egypt and other Arab countries are very concerned by the actions of Hezbollah in Lebanon," an Egyptian diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"A party backed by Iran cannot be allowed to take control of the running of Lebanon.

"The situation today in Lebanon is 10 times worse than it was yesterday and we are very concerned at what is happening, because that means that Iran wants to control the country."

President Shimon Peres of Israel - whose country fought a war against Hezbollah in 2006 - claimed the violence was fomented by arch foe Iran to further what he said was Tehran's goal to control all the Middle East.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose country long dominated its smaller neighbour, said the political crisis there was an "internal matter" and called for it to be resolved through dialogue.

A statement by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said he was "profoundly worried" at the fighting and said the rival factions should start a dialogue to overcome their differences.

Jordan also backed the proposal for a foreign ministers meeting in order to "bring to an end the political crisis and restore calm," Foreign Minister Salah Bashir said in a statement to news state agency Petra.

Yemen contacted rival Lebanese factions and regional governments outlining an alternative plan involving mandating Lebanon's army chief Michel Sleiman to chair a dialogue to halt the fighting, the state Saba news agency reported.

Soviets Conjure Up Images of the Motherland, Show Off Weaponry


Dmitry Medvedev was sworn in Wednesday as Russia's new President:
Forced out of the presidency by constitutional term limits, Putin on Wednesday handed off his title to a longtime protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, who in turn nominated his old boss as prime minister.

[...]

Putin's nomination never was in doubt. His party, United Russia, holds more than three-quarters of the Duma seats.

Thursday's debate was the final, theatrical exercise in the long-guaranteed ascension to the job he chose for himself.

Sworn in on Wednesday, appoint Putin on Thursday, and on Friday conjure up memories of Old Motherland in the international community:



Russia celebrated Victory Day today with a show of military might not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The annual parade marks the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, and remembers almost 27 million Soviets who perished in World War II. Russia has not displayed heavy weaponry at the parade in Red Square since 1990.

[...]

It was Putin who, before stepping down as president, ordered generals to revive the Soviet-era tradition of driving tanks, howitzers and missile launchers through Red Square on May 9.
Video:



Myanmar Junta Seizes Foreign Aid, UN to Halt Shipments

The United Nations World Food Program, one agency that finally was approved to distribute foreign aid in Myanmar, had shipments seized by the Junta today.

"All of the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated," U.N. World Food Program spokesman Risley said.

"For the time being, we have no choice but to end further efforts to bring critical needed food aid into Myanmar at this time," he said.

The Junta told the U.N. that it wants supplies, not people, sent to the country.
Myanmar deported a search and rescue team and reporters who arrived on a May 7 flight from Qatar because it expected the plane to carry only emergency aid, not workers, AFP cited the Foreign Ministry as saying.
Perhaps the Junta is embarrassed that they cannot effectively govern?
Myanmar will distribute international supplies itself and ``is not ready to receive search and rescue teams as well as media teams from foreign countries,'' Agence France-Presse cited the government as saying today.
Yep, I thought so.

Myanmar has been under international sanctions since the military rejected the results of elections in 1990, won by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

The junta plans to press ahead with a referendum tomorrow for a new constitution before elections in 2010. The ballot will be delayed until May 24 in the worst-affected areas.

All the more reason for them not to involve the international community.

Now, normally I completely respect the sovereignty of a nation-state, and I generally do not endorse meddling in their affairs. However, when an illegitimate government cannot provide for it's people, and a humanitarian crises of this proportion emerges, it is no longer meddling, it's a damn tragedy. The world must step in the help the 1.5 million in need of aid before the situation deteriorates, and if the Junta had decency (they wouldn't be a Junta then, would they?) they would suspend the referendum Saturday.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

100,000 Dead and Counting; The Junta Place Elections Before Foreign Aid


The Cyclone that hit Myanmar last week has killed more than first suspected, and I expect more to come as the ruling Junta blocks the United States and other nations from sending foriegn aid and providing airlifts:

YANGON (Reuters) - Desperate survivors cried out for aid on Thursday nearly a week after Cyclone Nargis killed up to 100,000 people, as pressure piled up on Myanmar to throw its doors open to an international relief operation.
The United Nations was able to get in after some delays, but the overt distrust between Junta generals and the U.S. may further prolong aid efforts. Apparently however, the U.S. is not the only country having problems:
The WFP's Risley said aid agencies normally expect to fly in experts and supplies within 48 hours of a disaster, but nearly a week after this cyclone, few international groups have been able to send reinforcements into Myanmar.
The Junta continues to under-exaggerate the loss of life as well.

State media had reported a death toll of 22,980 with 42,119 missing as of Tuesday, but diplomats and disaster experts said the real figure is likely to be much higher.

"The information that we're receiving indicates that there may well be over 100,000 deaths in the delta area," said Shari Villarosa, charge d'affaires of the U.S. embassy in Myanmar.

Whether this is the work of incompetent dictators, or a function of an overinflated ego being faced with its own ineptitude and inadequacy, I cannot say. Probably both, I presume, and I don't know how long it will be before the Burmese people take matters into their own hands. However, some think that the Junta is dropping the ball on foreign aid in order to juggle the referendum coming up this Saturday.

BANGKOK - Disregarding the disaster caused by Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar's military rulers are bent on holding a constitutional referendum on Saturday, said to be designed to enhance the junta's grip over the country.

"The relief efforts are being hampered by the junta's obsession with getting the referendum vote over and done with," a Western diplomat based in the former capital Yangon told Inter Press Service (IPS) on condition of anonymity.

[...]

"The government's attitude is that the referendum is the top priority and the cyclone is an inconvenience; we believe any government's priority should be the humanitarian response rather than the referendum," the diplomat said.
And why is that? With the international eye upon them, the Junta want to move quick before their "democracy" game is exposed for the fraud it really is. Most voters have absolutely no clue as to what they are voting on:
Burma News International (BNI) - an umbrella group of more than 10 publications and agencies - which interviewed more than 2,000 voters across the county, before the cyclone struck, produced startling results.

BNI secretary Mu Hlaing Theint told IPS that a two-page questionnaire, to ensure statistical consistency, was used to compile the results from telephone and face-to-face interviews.

Almost seven out of 10 interviewed said they had no idea what was in the constitution. One in four voters had still to make up their minds which way they would vote. So, despite the regime's intensive propaganda campaign there remains a significant number of undecided voters.
Don't worry about the opposition though:
There is no doubt though that the real vote is not going to be announced - it has been rigged from the start. The junta has carried out a concerted campaign of harassing and intimidating voters. "The police called on our family last week and told us we had to vote 'Yes' or we'd go to jail for three years," a middle-aged mother in Yangon said over phone, on condition of anonymity.
In true Junta fashion, they have made sure that the voters don't know what they're voting on, by keeping it available only to those few who actually have money in a country where many live on as little as $2 a day, by overwhelming the public with state-run newspaper propaganda, and by using threat and coercion to drive away those who oppose the Junta's draft constitution, which in the end will change only one thing: it will make permanent and "legitimate" what has been forcibly institutionalized for too long in Burma.