Wednesday, March 28, 2007

This Is Amusement?

Water slides not exciting enough for you? Visit Parque EcoAlberto, where you can be an illegal immigrant life for a day.

10 Most Magnificent Trees in the World

Neatorama has some awe-inspiring photos of trees, some of which deserve the label "living art".

Death Threats in the Blogosphere

Blogger Kathy Sierra is canceling speaking engagements and hiding in her home after receiving death threats in the blogosphere. A police investigation seems to be ongoing. Love the "You just need thicker skin" blame the victim nonsense that seems to be the shrugging response of many to the increasing incivility and baseness of the blogoculture. This has gone way too far.

UPDATED: A call for a blogger's code of conduct?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

War with Iran?

Considering that Pentagon officials claimed long ago that Bush had ordered them to plan for an attack on Iran if the U.S. were attacked again (even if there was no evidence Iran was involved).

Considering that former military officers at the Pentagon have claimed that Bush political appointees manipulated intelligence to bolster the administration's justifications for an impending attack on Iraq even before 9/11 (See Why We Fight.)

Considering that Bush has been making similarunsubstantiated and potentially false claims about Iranian support for Shiite terrorists in Iraq.

Considering that the U.S. has been carrying out both a military buildup in the Persian Gulf and clandestine activities inside Iran (including picking targets).

Considering Iran's seizure of 15 British sailors and the confusion as to whether they were in Iraqi or Iranian waters.

Considering that the U.S. and her allies are under tremendous pressure to stop Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weaponry BEFORE Iran has enough enriched uranium to make such an attack unwise (given that an attack on a facility holding large amounts of enriched uranium could kill hundreds of thousands of civilians and would probably be interpreted as a nuclear attack).

Does anyone not think that we'll attack Iran within the year?

UPDATE: More hints of an impending attack (courtesy of Miss Cellania).

"Honoring" the Victims of 9/11?

Humans have devised thousands of different rituals for honoring and mourning the deceased. In most societies, including our own, the bodies of the dead are protected from post-mortem desecration, the definition of which varies by culture. In fact, our laws criminalize defiling a corpse. How, then do we explain this, that the New York City government may have allowed the remains of 9/11 victims, forever lost in the rubble, to be used to fill potholes?

I read this article with horror, considering myself in some way a permanent "New Yorker" since I experienced 9/11 on the streets of Manhattan and struggled through the aftermath with that city's residents. Perhaps one of the most heart-rending moments in the months following the attacks came when the city decided to stop the search for remains and simply removed the rubble to a landfill. I cried with millions of New Yorkers at the sight of NYC firefighters marching to the site and clashing with NYPD, demanding the right to bring their brothers home....

There simply is nothing else I can say, except that I cry with them again now.

La vérité est hors là-bas.

The CT's must be having a field day. First, the secret Marilyn Monroe FBI files. Now, 50 years of French OVNI (UFO) investigation files, 25% of which remain unexplained, have been released and made available on the internet. The details are astonishing.

I've been reading quite a few of the news stories provoked by the French revelation, including descriptions of many unexplained cases. Much of it is consistent with some of the CT stories we've heard over the years.

Take, for instance, the case of a French airplane crew that saw a strange object tracking their plane. When they reported the incident after landing, they found out that radar crews had been tracking the object. I'm not a radar expert, but as far as I know, radar cannot pick up swamp gas, ball lightning, strange cloud formations, optical illusions, high altitude hallucinations, or the planet Venus.

Obviously, we have no evidence that these unexplained phenomena are alien in origin or that they're not. However, I, for one, am happy that at least one government has opened these files for public inspection. Whatever the source of these "objects," open discussion and investigation may lead to the kind of solid answers that will resolve the issue once and for all. Keeping these documents as "classified national security information" encourages paranoid speculation and pseudoscientific theorizing on the part of both UFOlogists and skeptics.

We have the evidence. Now, we just have to figure out what it means.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Marilyn Conspiracy

It gets harder to mock conspiracy theorists when they're backed up by secret FBI files.

My theory: Occasionally, the CT's might be onto something. They just might be wrong as to what that something is.

Maybe there really was a crash at Roswell where bodies were recovered. It may simply have been an experimental spy plane rather than an alien spaceship. I think the whole thing about a "trigger happy" lieutenant firing off a press release is a bit suspicious myself. Having worked in PR for a small non-profit, I can tell you that it would be exceptional for someone to send out a press release even on a minor matter without it being checked by at least two other people. How much more so in the military?

Maybe there was a conspiracy to kill JFK that didn't involve high-level government agents. After all, the Justice Department has been under standing judicial order to reinvestigate for more than two decades. Or maybe the JFK conspiracy debunkers just haven't done a very good job. I saw one so-called "scientific" recreation of the assassination that proposed to prove the one-shooter theory by recreating it. Oddly, the dummies simulating the positions of the bodies in the car were wildly off the mark if you compare their relative locations to the Zapruder videos. It basically had JFK sitting nearly a foot higher relatively than he actually was.

The government has long held secret files on a variety of events and programs that they'd rather we not know about. So, conspiracy buffs aren't wildly off the mark about the limits to trusting the government. They just might not get the details right.

On the other hand:

Aliens building the pyramids? Yeah. That's just nuts. Everyone knows the aliens were unionized, so they never would have built them that fast under such poor working conditions. Aliens anal-probing rednecks? Maybe it's the intergalactic version of cow-tipping. Crop circles: Maybe "Condemned by the Intergalactic Board of Health" warnings? Or maybe it's some interstellar gangsta's tag: "Zeeblok was here, Dawg!".

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Japanese TV Show Fakes Science

Scientific American has a great blog post about a Japanese television show that has been cancelled and is being investigated for faking science in the name of entertainment. Both the post and the comments (Always read the comments.) have great points to make about the popularization of science as entertainment both in Japan and here in the U.S.

The pervasiveness of these types of manipulation reveals the complexity of the modern debate over science and its role in our society. All too often, the debate is presented as anti-scientific forces v. the defenders of reason or (as mentioned in my post on scientific illiteracy) g-dless science v. stupid religion.

These representations are highly unrealistic. The truth is that many who manipulate and distort science do so because they recognize the value of science as a tool for (at the very least) gaining public acceptance of their ideas or furthering their political, religious, ideological, and economic goals.

Science is valued in our society. We respect the authority of its practitioners. If this were not true, those who disseminate falsehoods in its name would not feel the need to claim membership in its ranks. Unfortunately, science is also poorly understood (much like religion ironically).

When those who manipulate science use it to promote unscientific theories, they are not opposing science, but taking advantage of general public ignorance about science to further their own interests (much like those who manipulate religion ironically). Even many who claim to be the great defenders of science and reason are merely using these tools to further their own agenda (much like those who claim to defend religion, ironically). Few are actually opposed to science itself.

Some examples:

Drug companies love the science that makes profits but hate the science that reveals the problems with their products.

Oil companies love the science that helps them find and exploit new oil fields cheaply and efficiently. They hate the science that shows how dangerous our dependence on fossil fuels is to our economy, our environment, our political autonomy and our national security.

"Documentary" makers love the science that makes a big splash and brings in the viewers and the money. They hate the science that demands boring caveats and explanations that detract from the big "Wow! Isn't this cool?" effect.

Some religious people use intelligent design to further their religious crusade. Others reject it in the name of faith in a G-d who is more than a garden shed tinkerer and in the name of a science that allows us to truly know creation and thus, perhaps, its creator.

Some atheists use the public's confusion over science to further their philosophy of reductivist materialism and their anti-religous crusade. Others revere science as the finest tool humans have ever devised for exploring the depth and complexity of the universe, regardless of its hands-off or "We just don't know." stances on existential questions.

Need I say more?

The Stigma of Sexual Abuse

A good friend of mine recently posted an emotional anti-porn argument that, unfortunately, really pissed me off, so much so that I had to give myself a few days to cool off before writing this.

Now, I'm not a big fan of porn, rejecting it not so much from an ideological perspective as from an aesthetic one. It's hard to enjoy watching two women having sex when they're doing it wrong. (That's a topic for another day.)

Anyway, the post angered me because the arguments she used relied upon long-discredited theories that have stigmatized survivors of sexual abuse for far too long. Like many long-discredited ideas, the stigmatization of sexual abuse survivors begins with the often misogynistic, sex-obsessed theories of Sigmund Freud.

Thanks to the 20th century's favorite Victorian era pseudoscientist, survivors have long been pegged as mentally ill, infantilized, etc. In a popular imagination infused with Freudian psychobabble, they are viewed as deprived of agency, autonomy, and self-determination. The survivor is thus treated as a permanent child who must be protected from those who would exploit her weakness.

On the opposite pole from Freud are people like Alfred Kinsey, who argued that abused children were traumatized not by the abuse (which shouldn't upset them in his mind) but by the "prudish" sexual attitudes that stigmatized incest and pedophilia. Kinsey often belittled survivors as "hysterical."

The truth is that sexual abuse of children is a horrible crime that affects one in three girls and one in seven boys by the time they turn 18. It can, but does not always, have lasting psychological effects. Only 40% of survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience long-lasting effects serious enough to require therapy in adulthood. Few experience long-lasting effects severe enough to permanently deprive them of the ability to live a normal, healthy life. Few if any are traumatized enough to become "permanent children" unless pre-existing or independent psychological conditions are exacerbated by the abuse.

Which brings us back to why I'm angry. Studies, like those quoted by my friend, depend not on the solid evidence but on the "permanent child" psychobabble that stigmatizes survivors. If a porn actress was abused, well, she's a porn actress because she was abused and is incapable of knowing any better. If a woman who was abused is promiscuous, well, it's because she was abused and is incapable of knowing any better. If you watch a porn actress who was abused or sleep with a promiscuous woman who was abused, you're exploiting a "child."

There's no one to one abused child to slut/porn actress/drug addict/mental patient/abuser ratio. Too many people pretend that there is one. Some do so out of genuine compassion and empathy and have all the best intentions. Others do so because it's convenient for their ideological crusades. (I would place my friend among the former.) Either way, it really ticks me off.

Treating adult abuse survivors as if they are children demeans and degrades them. It contributes to the unwarranted shame they often feel, leading far too many to a permanent silence that effects their self-image and ability to have healthy relationships.

It's damned hard to have a healthy, adult relationship with someone when you think that if they knew about your "secret," they'd treat you as if you were a child or a retard or a mental patient. It's damned hard to have a healthy, adult relationship with someone who finds out and begins to treat you just that way.

I can hear some of you now, fuming at me for being so damned insensitive to the poor, innocent abuse survivors who need our constant "support" as they struggle to live life despite their "infirmity." Well, let me give you this preemptive response:

My name's Melinda Barton and I'm a survivor of childhood physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. I refuse to be ashamed of what happened then. I refuse to be ashamed of what I am now. I am not a porn actress, a slut, a drug addict, a child abuser, a mental patient, or a child. I am not a symbol for your crusade. I'm a mature, responsible, human adult with a free will and a strong, healthy mind.

I was a child then and did not have the power to stop what happened, but I am damned proud that at nine years old, I had the courage to speak out. I am an adult now and the power is mine. I will not grant power over my destiny to a man not worthy to lick the dirt from my boots. I will not, under any circumstances, accept being treated as a child or as some pet-project like a baby bird with a broken wing. I reject your pity and your judgment. I demand that which is mine by right as a human being: dignity and respect.

To my fellow survivors: You don't have to accept being stigmatized or traumatized. If you've experienced childhood sexual abuse and feel that it is effecting your ability to live your life as you choose, please seek help. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network is there for you. If someone tries to treat you like there's something wrong with you because of what happened or like you should feel shame for what you are, tell them to kiss your ass. Claim your power.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Lesbian Sex in a Cage

Five lesbians having an orgy in a cage. So, what's the big deal? There was this one Saturday night in Florida... Oh. Never mind. They're talking about koalas.