SocraticGadfly: 5/25/08 - 6/1/08

May 31, 2008

California dreaming – Sonoma cheese and Point Reyes

I’m out in California for a bit of mini-vacation time plus attendance at a national conference of a nonprofit social agency. (Nice that it’s in the Bay Area, eh?)

Well, I’ve not gone to every conference session. I did say it was also mini-vacation.

And, yes, cheese.

The Sonoma area is the heart of California dairy farming and cheesemaking. Yes, Sonoma and Napa are also known for liquid substances, but I don’t imbibe.

I do eat real cheese, and NOT the “cheese-like substance” made by Kraft Krap.

So, I went to Vella. Just off the historic Bear Flag Republic town square in picturesque Sonoma.

If you like cheddar, you MUST get to this place sometime. Whole Foods Market, and also Central Market, Dallas’ other lux grocery with multiple stores, sell Vella’s dry Jack (itself a delight), but don’t sell …

Vella’s 5-year-old raw milk cheddar.

Vella calls it “sharp.” I would call it “extra extra sharp.”

For you Californios, and other aficionados, it kicks butt on Fiscalini bandage and anything else you can think of, in my book.

I bought 10 pounds of it.

(Warning – if you take cheese on an airplane … it looks like plastic explosives to X-ray viewers.)

And, Vella is also “green.” Sustainably produced cheese, no rBGH, antibiotics, etc. Single-source dairy. Low salt. No animal rennet. Great

And, after that, it was out to Point Reyes National Seashore. Where Francis Drake landed in 1580 as part of his circumnavigation of the globe.

Point Reyes is also the point where the San Andreas Fault goes out to sea. The foreground of the historic lighthouse is gnarled metamorphic rock that came from Southern California.

(The picture is also Photoshopped; it’s my shoot. I used Posterize Edges and other commands.)

And here’s the interior of the historic lighthouse, still maintained:

Noise pollution continues to rise while damaging wildlife

Wildlife biologists can’t even go to Amazonia without escaping it.

Bernie Kraus, who talks about “biophony,” says wildlife tends to naturally divvy up the acoustic spectrum, but man-made noise sprawls all over that. He thinks it’s a measurable cause of species decline, and no less a heavyweight than E.O. Wilson agrees.

Phoenix may find salt and not life on Mars

The Martian probe Phoenix first has to find water in the Martian Arctic. But, even if it does, it most likely will not find signs of ancient Martian life.

A new study says that any liquid water flowing on Mars in eons past was likely to have been very briny. That said, the researchers note that our own planet has halophilic bacteria, along with thermophilic and other exotic life.

Nonetheless, those are niche forms of life here, so the odds of past, let alone present, life on Mars probably just dropped a whole lot.

May 30, 2008

strike>Clean Less dirty coal faces more struggles

The New York Times explains the latest issues, specifically talking about underground storage of carbon dioxide from a carbon-capture power plant:
Scientists need to figure out which kinds of rock and soil formations are best at holding carbon dioxide. They need to be sure the gas will not bubble back to the surface. They need to find optimal designs for new power plants so as to cut costs. And some complex legal questions need to be resolved, such as who would be liable if such a project polluted the groundwater or caused other damage far from the power plant.

Also, big utility companies are backing off on coal gasification, even.

Someone alert Barack Obama.

Obama should raise the stakes on McCain Iraq invite

By talking Iran.

No, John McCain has not boxed Barack Obama into a corner with his invitation to visit Iraq.

Obama can up the stakes, if he’s willing to gamble, by asking McCain if he’s willing to meet Iranian leaders as part of the visit. He could spell out the details of WHY we should be meeting with them, etc.

It’s called seeing McCain’s bet and raising him.

The blank check to Israel goes on

Israel won’t let the most promising Palestinian university students leave the Gaza Strip. So, the U.S. has withdrawn their Fulbright scholarships.

Of course, U.S. and Israeli officials are now obliquely pointing fingers at each other. That will go on just long enough for the media to forget about the issue and Washington to cut another no-strings check to Tel Aviv.

Don’t pay inflated Texas higher ed costs …

For an overrated college diploma.

College is a business, and until parents of 18-year-old high school seniors, and those students:
A. Realize that fact;
B. Accept that fact;
C. Look at alternatives from a business-oriented mindset

Colleges will continue to prey on those students with an “American dream” as mythical as that of homeownership.

Read the full column for how little college is worth, especially with international outsourcing of more and more white-collar jobs.

And, look at Marty Nemko’s suggested student/parent “bill of rights.”

And then, hang your head low.

Natureblogging – Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro walls
Fade quickly from sunset red
As twilight sets in.

The day is over;
The cooling ev’ning feels fresh.
Enjoy the night air.

Friday scatblogging — moose scat in New York

Moose are gaining population in New York, but how much? How well are they doing? Will global warming cause a population explosion or decline?

Moose scat can help answer these questions.
To better understand their lifestyle and behavior, the Wildlife Conservation Society sent specially trained dogs into the piney woods here recently, not in search of actual moose, but their scat, or excrement. One morning this month, Camas, a German shepherd who had traveled from Montana for the mission, traversed the dense wilderness around Moose Pond. The forest floor was just springing to life, with wood sorrel and striped maple saplings pushing up through dead leaves and ferns unfurling.

But in a sign of moose elusiveness, Camas found the scat of black bear and ruffed grouse but nothing redolent of moose, even though there had been recent sightings in the area. (The day before, a colleague of Camas had more luck, sniffing out nine discrete examples of moose scat; the conservationists organized 20 such outings between May 12 and May 25, in a program financed in part by the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, popularly known as the Wild Center, in nearby Tupper Lake.)

Predictions? State wildlife biologist Chuck Dente predicts a doubling in population. But, he notes global warming could increase a brain worm in moose.

Read the full story for more on the present and future of moose in New York’s Adirondacks.

May 29, 2008

Will Texas CPS learn from Supreme Court FLDS ruling as Act I ends?

The Texas Supreme Court today upheld the Texas Court of Appeals and said that Child Protective Services had no legal grounds to separate Fundamentalist Mormon children from their mothers, as the Yearning for Zion ranch case now officially ends Act I.

The opinion was unsigned, meaning the high court saw this as a no-brainer decision.

That said, three justices had a concurring opinion, in which they said CPS did have some evidence of the possibility of prepubescent sexual abuse, but failed to consider less-obtrusive options than mass removal. For example, CPS could have taken DNA samples of all men, all women believed to be under a certain age and all children those women birthed.

Now, as the story notes, CPS has options. It can restrict the movement of children reunited with their parents.

But, with $4/gallon gas and CPS workers already weeks behind in state travel voucher reimbursements, can CPS even afford to monitor something like that?

As for CPS’ fear the group would flee the state – to where? They’d have to fly WAYYY under the radar screen to hide themselves, and would soon be rediscovered again. Their Mexican counterparts don’t want them south of the border, either.

But, right now, all CPS will say is that it is “reviewing its options.”

We can only hope it does more than that. Unfortunately, the curtain will likely raise on a discombobulated Act II.

Just 236 days left

From the “George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown Calendar”:
“This administration is doing everything we can to end the stalemate in an efficient way. We’re making the right decisions to bring the solution to an end.”

From a 2001 speech.

Gay marriages enter NY back door

New York Gov. David Paterson has directed state agencies to officially recognize gay marriages from other states.

Will other more progressive governors look at this? Will this increase the pressure on state supreme courts around the country?

We can only hope.

Call it the Ginobili rule

Or the Anderson Varajao rule. Anyway, the NBA says it will fine floppers next year. Postgame tape will be analyzed to nail offenders.

It sounds like the fines could get progressive. Still no word on whether suspensions will be involved.

And, I can’t resist asking, rhetorically: Will the rule work, or will it …

Be a flop?

The NBA’s competition committee also recommended instant replay to determine 3-pointers and 3-pointer fouls, as well as get late-game clock time exactly right.

Exxon still funds global warming denialsts

Perhaps it doesn’t fund the most obnoxious ones, and perhaps its overall funding is down a bit, but it still funds plenty of denialists, many of whom have connections to the most nutbar denialist groups that Exxon has officially defunded.

Bob Barr having early effect on Schmuck Talk Express™?

Possibly. Or, he soon will.

Schmuck Talk Express™ has gotten out his Arizona sand flip-flops and let a top advisor suddenly get concerned about telecom immunity over telcos’ warrantless snooping on Americans.

McCain legal advisor Chuck Fish said telcos would need to explain themselves at Congressional hearings in order to justify immunity grants.
“There would need to be hearings, real hearings, to find out what actually happened, what harms actually occurred, rather than some sort of sweeping of things under the rug.”

But, Schmuck Talk has steadfastly and strenuously opposed telco immunity in the past.

His campaign sought to “clarify” Fish’s original comments on the issue last week, but the clarification actually made more of a muddle.

Further clarifications by McCain, or not, and any change in Fish’s status, or not, especially if Barr picks up on this, could be very interesting.

Jim Webb as Obama Veep? Feh - updated on Hong Le Webb

He does, obviously, offer Barack Obama “cover” on military issues and clearly puts Virginia in play. But, what else?

He was a registered Republican until after the Iraq War started, has no track record of any kind, let alone a liberal one, on domestic policy, and comes from a military family.

Also, at least as of 2006, he stlll supported the reasons we got into Vietnam in the first place. And, he has claimed, and never renounced the claim, that Democrats of the early 1970s “sold out the troops” in Vietnam. (Indeed, I halfway suspect he stil thinks Nam was “winnable.”)

And, still per Wiki, some women may remember what got brought up during Webb’s 2006 Senate run, that, while teaching at Annapolis, he penned a 1979 article entitled “Women Can’t Fight”

Now, in the Senate campaign, he eventually rounded up some female flack for cover, but I think it was pretty thin. I think he’s enough of a military traditionalist he still believes what he wrote nearly 30 years ago.

Plus, I think it’s an open question as to how much Webb actually opposed the Iraq War vs. how much he opposes our current operation of the war.

None of that says “Politics of Change” to me. And, the women’s issue certainly won’t help Obama solidify the support of Hillary Clinton supporters.

Besides, military service means nothing to Swift Boaters, unless Webb will be FAR more aggressive than John Kerry.

Correction: Per commenter Bo, I had the wrong Hong Le (not Webb) originally linked. Hong Lee Webb's law firm is here and her personal profile is here.

Of course, this firm is worse than the McKenna Long that Hong Le (not Webb) works for, that I mistakenly placed Hong Le Webb at.

I don’t know what Hong Le Webb does, exactly, in her securities/insurance/finance law work, but her company defends asbestos manufacturers, among other things:
Our experience in countering plaintiff's tabloid-type conspiracy claims of alleged corporate wrongdoing, putting profits ahead of safety, corner-cutting, and concealing harmful information allows us to coordinate winning defense themes, trial strategies, and to identify and prepare corporate and expert witnesses.

Dykema also defends Big Pharma, hospitals and docs against medical malpractice, etc.

In her own areas of securities and insurance, Dykema says it offers help with …
Proxy contests and dealing with dissident or activist shareholders.

In other words, it helps shut people up.

And, it even does subprime litigation, as in defending subprime mortgage brokers, etc.

In other words, Hong Le Webb could be Cindy McCain of a sort for all we know.

Finally, there’s the pander effect.

Webb just changed parties two years ago. He was sworn into his first elective office less than 18 months ago.

First, if he was as concerned about economic equality, as well as Iraq, as he claims, why didn’t he switch parties quicker?

Second, the time frame I just mentioned makes this look like a pretty naked lusting after the job.

Yes, I know every politician has an ego, etc., but this seems pretty high on the scale.

Final argument on Webb, to riff on George Wallace: Dems are not going to out-military the GOP.

I’m still thinking Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is Obama’s best bet. A female Veep would do a lot for intraparty Democratic healing.

Monkeys reverse phantom limb phenomenon

The fact that monkeys can control a mechanical arm with just brain waves has many different implications:
In the experiment, two macaques first used a joystick to gain a feel for the arm, which had shoulder joints, an elbow and a grasping claw with two mechanical fingers.

Then, just beneath the monkeys’ skulls, the scientists implanted a grid about the size of a large freckle. … The grid held 100 tiny electrodes, each connecting to a single neuron, its wires running out of the brain and to a computer.

The scientists used the computer to help the monkeys move the arm at first, essentially teaching them with biofeedback. After several days, the monkeys needed no help.

Eventually, the macaques got to the point of doing what the scientists called “freelancing.”

Researchers said they saw:
“Displays of embodiment that would never be seen in a virtual environment.”

First, this obviously underscores the materialist approach to the human mind, and the animal mind.

Second, the “freelancing” raises new questions about intentionality in animals, as well as self-reference and self-concept lessons.

Plus, the obvious fun they were having brings animal emotions to sharper focus, despite many evolutionary biologists’ desire to avoid that subject.

NOT on the coffee table – Larry Craig

Craig (R-Wide Stance), is writing a book.

And, yes, he’s going to give his version of “Moon over Minneapolis” as part of it.

This ought to be fun.

I wonder if he will drop his attempt to get the charge against him dropped; the book might out him as giving false information to a police officer.

May 28, 2008

Rust Belt help for Obama in general election

With right-wing bloggers and nutbar talk radio gabbers seeing al-Qaeda, Hezbullah or Hamas behind most Arab-Americans (even though the majority of them are Christians), John McCain’s got a big Arab-American vote problem.

And, as Juan Cole points out, a lot of them live in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Also remember Ohio has a Democratic governor this time around.

The poster child for housing irresponsibility …

Is Democratic Congresswoman Laura Richardson. Buying multiple houses, apparently as “flappable” investments? Check.

Defaulting on multiple mortgages? Check.

Lending money off these houses to her own Congressional campaign, while falling in default on the payments? Check.

Claiming this made her well-qualified to understand homeowner woes? Priceless hypocricy:
Richardson last week told reporters in California that her experience makes her particularly well-suited to help Congress legislate a solution to the nation’s housing crisis, saying she hoped to testify before congressional committees on the issue.

Instead, she may be testifying before the Federal Elections Commission on campaign-finance questions.

Does God have car problems?

Maybe the Intelligent Designer hasn’t mastered fuel-injected engines?

Or, instead, do you take your car to “God’s Garage” for faith-based mechanics instead of the real deal?

From a business in Altus, Okla.:

A “laying on of hands” on a camshaft? An anointing with motor oil? Speaking in valve clatter tongues? The possibilities are endless.

Rockefeller backing and protests can’t sway Exxon shareholders

The proposal to split Exxon’s CEO and chairman of the board positions failed today, and, despite strong backing by countless Rockefellers, only did about as well as it did a year ago.

Protests by myself and others didn’t work, either.

Meanwhile, Rex Tillerson, the man who holds both spots, emerged unchastened and unrepentant from the meeting:
At a news conference after the vote, Tillerson said, “A lot of climate change policy is still up for debate” and that society must be “realistic” about the economic impact of policies aimed at curbing the burning of fossil fuels.


Exxon’s still doing to be denialists on global warming. And likely on Peak Oil, too. Just not so baldly as when led by Lee Raymond.

Rall says bury FBI not praise it

In the wake of mainstream news stories about how the FBI refused to participate in CIA-based torture of people at Gitmo or elsewhere, Ted Rall says these stories get it all wrong.

Instead of praising the FBI for not engaging in torture, we should be railing on it for being silent accomplices to torture, for not whistle-blowing to Congress or the media.

In other words, the FBI was more worried about its credibility (and yes, it was and is right on the lack of effectiveness of torture) than about morals and ethics.

Among the more bizarre fallout:
Like their Tibetan neighbors, the Uyghurs of western China are victims of government oppression, including mass executions. Throughout the 1990s, U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia urged Uyghurs to revolt against Chinese occupation. After 9/11, however, the U.S. agreed to help China capture and torture Uyghur independence activists — as a quid pro quo for not using its U.N. veto to stop the American invasion of Afghanistan.

“Uyghur detainees were kept awake for long periods, deprived of food and forced to endure cold for hours on end, just prior to questioning by Chinese interrogators,” said ABC. “When Uyghur detainees refused to talk to Chinese interrogators in 2002, U.S. military personnel put them in solitary confinement as punishment.”

It’s a tale bizarre enough to make Rush Limbaugh blush: intelligence agents from communist China invited to an American military base, where they’re allowed to torture political dissidents in American custody, with American soldiers as their sidekicks. In light of China’s crackdown on Tibet during the run-up to the Olympics, it’s a tasty news tidbit. But it didn’t run in The Times — as far as I can tell, it only ran in one newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor.

Yes, it’s stuff like that the FBI walked away from, but didn’t report.

Unfortunately, Ted Rall is too left-liberal for many “mainstream liberal” bloggers’ taste. But he is “spot on” here.

Texas – get the lead out and fight crime

Childhood lead exposure increases the likelihood of adult criminal behavior.

Lead literally kills not just individual brain cells — but cell blocks. And the damage is permanent, the study mentioned in the story says.

Even with the cleanup of the old Dallas lead smelter, there is still plenty of lead paint on windowsills and elsewhere in old rental houses and apartments.

And, old lead paint is still the top source of childhood exposure.

A problem waiting for an easy solution.

Climate change will leave Texas drier and Southwest worse yet

About 10 percent drier, according to this New York Times map of watersheds.

Of course, Texas should be thankful it’s not the Colorado River basin, projected to be 20 percent or so drier.

Since much of eastern Texas is non-irrigated agriculture, this has major farm and ranch fallout. If it’s four degrees warmer, and you also have four fewer inches of rain a year, well, plus more evaporation from higher temperatures, you’re looking at more crop failures.

That’s still better than the lower Colorado River basin. Since the river itself could be at 500-year low flow and Lake Mead could disappear by 2020, Southern California and Arizona farmers may not have ANY water for their crops by then.

Back in Texas, in west Texas to be precise, without more stinting use of water (and setting aside nuttery like transporting water to east Texas) the Ogallala Aquifer will probably be about played out at about the same time.

But, Ed Abbey told them 40 years ago that the desert ultimately wins. Heck, John Wesley Powell halfway said that more than 100 years ago.

The full report’s home page is here, with PDF links to individual sections.

Protesting Exxon in Dallas – with pix

I wasn’t here last year, but two years ago, I joined the protest in front of ExxonMobil’s annual shareholder meeting. The suburban Dallas-based eXXXon meets in downtown Dallas at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.

It was different this year, being back here!

Close-up of me:

This year, as opposed to two years ago, Dallas police etc.let us on the same side of the street as the Meyerson.

The big item on the shareholder agenda this year is the proposal to split eXXXon’s CEO and chairman of the board positions, to require them to be held by two different people. Current CEO and Chairman Rex Tillerson strongly opposes the move.

I had a chance to get interviewed about this, and more general comments on Peak Oil and global warming, for PBS’s Frontline. The episode, whether my comments make the cut or not, is supposed to air in October.

Me as part of the protest group:

The “division of powers” proposal, which most other Big Oil companies have already, got 42 percent a year ago, and with the backing of some 200 members of the Rockefeller family, maybe it will get over the top this time.

Assuming Tillerson would keep the CEO spot, a new chairman might do little more than give lip service to both global warming and Peak Oil.

But, lip service is better than no service.

Other protestors:

About 40 people were there at various times when I was there, including members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Southern Christian Leadership President Charles Steele Jr. was among people scheduled to speak later today.

More this evening.

Update, Oct. 16: The “Frontline” episode called “Heat,” originally scheduled for the day before yesterday, at least here in Dallas, will run Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. (I presume it was pre-empted nationally for the “Frontline” special on the dual biographies of Obama and McCain.)

Sharon Stone babble the real ‘bad karma’

Actress Sharon Stone wondered aloud whether the recent Chinese earthquake wasn’t bad karma over the country’s treatment of Tibetans.

So, let me see. 80,000 innocent people died over the policy of a government they were in no condition to control? Yep. That would be their bad karma.

On a more serious level, I find karma as intellectually unacceptable as fundamentalist monotheists’ belief in heaven and hell, and I also find it emotionally more repulsive.

How can you be punished for a past life you can’t readily remember (assuming for the argument there are past lives)? Or, even worse, per Buddhism, where many of its branches believe just a life force and no personal soul is reincarnated, how can you be punished for something it’s impossible to remember?

If NASA can’t fix a toilet right …

Why in the world should we trust it with manned flight to Mars? And, no, on the International Space Station, it can’t fix a toilet right .

Grandma Strayhorn’s sonny boy still hearts Bush

Despite admitting that George Bush and Dick Cheney themselves were behind the propaganda run-up to the Iraq war, Carole Keeton Rylander Strayhorn (but shorthorn, not longhorn) scion Scott McClellan, former White House press secretary still loves his old boss.

Yes, his new autobiography is a tell-all in many ways, but Scott still sounds like he’s been knocked around like one of the turncoat Texas House Dems from a few years back:
“I still like and admire President Bush,” McClellan writes. “But he and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war.”

Not only “like” but “admire.”

Scotty does get higher marks for calling the pre-war MSM to account:
“If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq.

“The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a surprise. … In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”

That said, I will get the book, checked out, that is, as soon as it becomes library-available.

Seriously, though.

You just admitted the man you refer to as “Bush” in the third person, not “the President,” lied us into war, and you still “admire” him?

More here, with video.

May 27, 2008

Financially illiterate parents raise kids the same?

That’s the worry, at least, of MP Dunleavey .

And, to me, it’s a very reasonable worry, the idea that adults who seem to think money grows on trees will teach their children the same ideas.

As far as the parents, here’s the depth of either financial illiteracy, financial laziness, or belief in a government financial sugar daddy:
• A third of Americans have no personal nonretirement savings.
• A quarter have saved nothing for retirement.
• One in 10 have trouble with mortgage payments.
• Millions struggle to pay bills on time, with 7 percent, or about 15 million adults, getting calls from collectors or considering bankruptcy.

I can more than halfway understand the quarter of the population who have saved nothing for retirement.

But the others? No, I don’t get them and I don’t feel sympathetic for them.

And, with that, it’s no wonder that people have fallen prey for these gimmick mortgages.

But, there is no shelf life or expiration date on the old saying, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Unfortunately, due to the localization of education, state requirements to teach financial literacy are still few.

And many of the classes don’t start with students young enough.

Still, it’s a start.

Hypocrisy – a poem

Is what makes the world go round;
It sure isn’t love.

Unless by “love”
You mean physical urges and drives
Better called “lust.”

“Under judgment”
Is the literal Greek word
As it is today.

Under social judgment
With its inner, internalized world,
As the Cynics knew.

The great majority
Fold and buckle at such pressure
And cannot stand.

Whether as a whole,
Or some smaller social group, tribe or cohort
Even voluntary,

The lash is stong;
The majoritarian whip
Rules many.

If you but accept that,
You can be idealistic
And still detached.

Companies must allow national healthcare votes

The Securities and Exchange Commission, reversing a previous stance, says that companies must allow shareholder votes on corporate support for national healthcare:
The SEC has told Boeing, General Motors, United Technologies, Wendy’s International and Xcel Energy over the last several months that they may not omit the health care proposal from their proxy materials.

The SEC responded that, in that past, on other issues, it has reversed its stance on shareholder votes due to changing societal stances and that national healthcare fits that.

Very interesting.

And, in an election year, it’s certainly a campaign wedge issue. Perhaps Barack Obama will become less cautious in his healthcare recommendations.

Beyond that, it not only can, but should be, a wedge issue for activists to push companies that have already passed shareholder resolutions of support for national healthcare to go beyond that to outright lobbying in favor of it.

Vacation scatblogging bonus – Caprock Canyons

Who did this doo-doo in Caprock Canyons State Park?

Mindfulness meditation empirically empty

As the New York Times story notes, mindfulness meditation has been the hot stock in psychotherapy. But, that hype may be nothing more than, well, hype:
So far, the evidence that mindfulness meditation helps relieve psychiatric symptoms is thin, and in some cases, it may make people worse, some studies suggest. Many researchers now worry that the enthusiasm for Buddhist practice will run so far ahead of the science that this promising psychological tool could turn into another fad.

“I’m very open to the possibility that this approach could be effective, and it certainly should be studied,” said Scott Lilienfeld, a psychology professor at Emory. “What concerns me is the hype, the talk about changing the world, this allure of the guru that the field of psychotherapy has a tendency to cultivate.”

First, the research is too sketchy. Second, results that we do have so far say it could help depression, for example — or could worsen it.

To me, the first point reflects a larger problem with brain sciences in general.

Two many newspaper reporters write stories — and too many researchers phrase their comments in the same way — about how “fMRI shows depression does this to your brain,” or claims that go far beyond even that.

No, all fMRI does is show increased blood activity and oxygenation in a certain part of the brain. Even with that, it measures more of input into a brain area than output from it.

As Wikipedia notes, fMRI also has temporal resolution problems, doesn’t do much in the way of measuring distributed brain function across neural networks, and says nothing about the “how” or “why” of brain function, just the “that/where.”

And, while a network of companies called Big MedTech doesn’t trip off the tongue like Big Pharma, nonetheless, companies have big money invested in selling fMRI machines.

Bush is toxic even in Arizona

Tonight’s Bush/McCain fundraising dinner in Phoenix had to be cancelled due to low ticket sales.

Being moved to a private residence not only dodges the media, but lets you hide the poor sales; you don’t have people bouncing off the walls of a cavernous convention center.

Of course, this leads to a question.

Is this more an issue of Bush’s toxicity or of McCain’s bleahness to much of the GOP? Schmuck Talk had better hope it’s the former and not the latter.

Border Patrol — how unionism can go wrong over smuggling

President Bush got bashed, rightfully in many ways, in 2002 for trying to emasculate various unions that represented agencies that were folded into the Department of Homeland Security.

But, even before that point, the Border Patrol’s Union, already back in Clinton Administration times, was strongly resistant to the idea of mandatory rotation from post to post.

Well, this story about the prevalence of BP agents either taking bribes to let smugglers across the border, or even engaging in smuggling themselves, show it’s time, past time even, to revisit the issue.
James Tomsheck, the assistant commissioner for internal affairs at Customs and Border Protection, said the agency was “deeply concerned” that smugglers were sending operatives to take jobs with the Border Patrol and at ports.

Especially given that Texas has the longest border with Mexico of the four border states, and has the most documented problems with BP corruption, this is a must issue. And, it isn’t a Democrats vs. Republicans issue.

An old Dallas Morning News story provides more Texas-level details.

Some other things to note.

One is that the illegals are coming from as far south as Brazil.

Two is that guns and drugs are joining the human cargo as among items being smuggled.

Three, contrary to Tomsheck, it’s not just new agents turning bad cop, either. Several of the people in the story had a decade or more of experience, with the Border Patrol or elsewhere in Customs and Borders Protection.

That all said, I can understand the resistance of BP agents to being rotated to new patrol sectors. But, I’m not suggesting a one- or two-year rotation. Every three or four years should be good as part of working to keep bad agents from developing bad connections. Perhaps unannounced, “snap” temporary transfers could be used, too.

Dallas housing prices slip again; associated business also slips

The March S&P/Case-Shiller index showed a 3.3 percent year-over-year decline.

Still, that’s better than the 14.4 percent drop, not slip, for the top 20 markets. Charlotte was the only gainer; Denver, Portland and Seattle fell about the same amount as Dallas.

Meanwhile, the continued price slippage is hurting not just home builders, but a variety of related businesses such as glass companies.

Myanmar junta keeps priorities straight

Weeks to accept foreign aid after a cyclone smashes your country? Check. Immediate decision to keep Nobel Peace Prize winner under house arrest? Check.

Myanmar’s military junta has extended the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi. Don’t forget John McCain’s former lobbyist connections to these folks.

Cyclone Nargis’ aftermath raised international hopes she would be released; instead, the military stepped up security around her place.

Ben Stein ventures into new stupidities

If being the mouthpiece for fundamentalists with “Expelled” wasn’t enough, he now is channeling Dick Cheney with a “let’s drill for oil everywhere” op-ed.

Palo Duro – still looks great and still broke

An overview of one of Texas' top tourist attractions, especially at a time like Memorial Day. I went on past Caprock Canyons and out to Palo Duro this weekend.

And more, from on the Lighthouse/Castle trail:

Looks great, indeed. But, on the ground?

It’s been three or four years since my previous trip to Palo Duro, one of the crown jewels of the Texas State Park system.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get treated that way.

The water fountains at various restrooms that were broken at my last visit? Still broken.

The high-water crossings of the river? Most of them are at least partially blocked right now.

This is one of the top signs of why the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department needs to get 100 percent of the gun sales tax money.

For more on the modern history of the canyon, in its larger ecoregion, and how it just missed out on being made a national park (possibly including Caprock Canyons as well), read Dan Flores’ “Caprock Canyonlands,” “The Natural Wes.t” or “Horizontal Yellow”, all five-starred by me on Amazon.

Military-industrial complex bigwig — $15 gas ahead

In a word? Peak Oil. (Yes, two words.)

Who’s saying it? Robert Hirsch, senior advisor for Science Applications International Corporation. You don’t get much more into the military-industrial complex than SAIC.

And, Hirsch says it’s coming SOON:
“It could happen within a matter of months. It could happen within a matter of a few years. But it’s essentially certain that we are at the maximum of world oil production. And after that, we’ll go into decline, and when there’s much less oil available, then, of course, the price of oil is going to increase dramatically.”

Already, the story at Raw Story has gotten tin-foilers discounting it because it comes from SAIC, or claiming it’s part of a Bush-Cheney plot, etc. Nice to know not all nutbars are on the “right.”

I think Hirsch is being somewhat over-dramatic; $15/gal gas won’t be here in months. Could it be here by 2015, though?

Absolutely, depending on how entrenched Big Oil, especially eXXXon, is on Peak Oil denialism, followed by how well they can work with nationalized oil companies to develop heavy-grade and sour oils.

May 26, 2008

A century ago – Middle East enters world stage

As gas prices break $4/gallon in most the country, take note than on May 26, 1908, the British discovered oil in Iran, the first payout in the Middle East.

Of course, Iran also, over the past 2,500 years, has given the West:
• Crucifixion (no, the Romans didn’t invent it);
• Heaven/hell and apocalyptic dualism (the Bridge of Peril from Monty Python’s “The Holy Grain” comes from the Zoroastrian Last Judgment);
• Pasta (no, not the Chinese, though that’s where Marco Polo first had it).

Well, one out of three isn’t bad.

Recession prompts government look at charities

It’s about time charities got a good looking-at , anyway, in my opinion.

At the state government level, since Texas doesn’t have state property taxes, this doesn’t have statewide fallout. But, it could certainly have local fallout if the state starts doing whats’ happening elsewhere.

Here’s the bottom line:
Almost 88 percent of overall nonprofit revenues in 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available, came from fees for services, sales and sources other than charitable contributions, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Nonprofit health care providers, day care centers and retirement homes, among others, are often difficult to distinguish from their tax-paying competitors.

That’s a lot of dinero. Add to it new things like the Sierra Club selling its name, and yes, you do have to take a harder look at charities.

And, as I noted in my header, governments are always on the looking for new sources of revenue in recessions anyway.

Success on Mars – the Phoenix has landed

So far, so good, as NASA appears to have nailed, the landing of the Phoenix, which will explore the Martian Arctic.

Phoenix is designed to dig down directly to the level of water in the Martian Arctic soil and explore for signs of life.
Instruments on the spacecraft include a small oven that will heat the scooped-up dirt and ice to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Analyzing the vapors will provide information on the minerals, and that will, in turn, provide clues about whether the ice ever melted and whether this region was habitable. The mission is to last three months, with the possibility of a two-month extension.

NASA sees it as an obvious stepping-stone to future missions.

Next step, in my book? One more Phoenix-like mission, then a land-and-return mission. NO, not a manned mission.

Hypocrisy – a poem

Is what makes the world go round;
It sure isn’t love.

Unless by “love”
You mean physical urges and drives
Better called “lust.”

“Under judgment”
Is the literal Greek word
As it is today.

Under social judgment
With its inner, internalized world,
As the Cynics knew.

The great majority
Fold and buckle at such pressure
And cannot stand.

Whether as a whole,
Or some smaller social group, tribe or cohort
Even voluntary,

The lash is stong;
The majoritarian whip
Rules many.

If you but accept that,
You can be idealistic
And still detached.

Dillard’s latest to feel recession pain

Major department store Dillard’s, not upper-level but certainly on the higher side of mid-level department stores, saw its year-over-year first-quarter net earnings
fall 94 percent.

The recession’s effects are clearly not just going to be limited to lower income levels.

Schizoid Tom Dispatch article on Iraq

I agree that, as we all know, this has been the neocons’ clusterfuck. I strongly disagree with Michael Schwartz, though, that the rest of the world has any obligation to get involved.

Morally? To riff on Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn, neither the EU nor the Arab League “broke” Iraq. We did.

Realpolitik? Iraq ain’t that big on China’s radar screen other than to watch us waste money and help out their soft power drive here and in sub-Saharan Africa. Russia? Green light to do biz as usual in Chechnya. EU? They want to keep a 10-foot-pole distance between Euro foreign policy and ours.

May 25, 2008

Steve Chapman gets Iran right

No navy and 1/145 the military budget of the U.S.? Not nearly the same threat as the Soviet Union; if Schmuck Talk Express™ actually thinks that, he’s getting more unhinged by the day, no matter what his doctors say.

Pre-emptive Obama pander alert on ‘clean coal’

Here’s the latest from DeSmog Blog on clean slightly less dirty coal.

Nickel version: Big Coal is trotting out the less dirty coal hucksterism in West Virginia. And they’re laying it on thick:
We believe that technology within the next 10 to 15 years will be developed and tested so that we will be able to produce near-zero emission-free electricity from coal.

That’s not to mention lies about its efficiency. DeSmog Blog says 2040 is more likely for anything, let alone the pie in the sky of Big Coal’s Big Sheiss.

West Virginia, of course, is a swing state for the presidential election. Obama’s been soft on Big Coal before.

Anyway, as for Clean Coal USA, show spinmeister Cathy Coffey some e-mail love.

Elbow grease makes for healthy skin

The inside of your and my elbow literally supplies the grease, and some of the bacteria whose cells on our bodies outnumber “human” cells by 10-1,
make the healthy skin.

Why would an “intelligent designer” need to go to such length?

You know the answer.

Toyota ups green car race with battery plant

Toyota will build a new
$192 million battery plant in Japan for nickel-hydride batteries.

And, it’s supposed to be eyeing a 2010 date to start work on a lithium-ion battery plant. I imagine Toyota has been doing it’s own quiet, close-to-the-vest lithium-ion research.

Meanwhile, Wired continues to show some sort of anti-green bias by calling Prius a “niche” market; this after 500,000 have been sold in North America. Is the Ford Extinction a “niche market”?

Irony alert – James Ragland on urban black names

(And maybe a bit of hypocrisy or pander, too.)

Dallas Morning News metropolitan columnists Steve Blow and James Ragland recently had a multipart joint column series on the issue of race relations in today’s America.

One thing that caught my eye was Ragland’s comment about how certain first names can hurt your employment chances:
And, Steve, what do you make of the issue of discrimination in the workplace? Are you of the mind that it doesn't exist? Change your name from Steve to Shaquille (or from Sally to Shaquana) and see how that coveted job interview goes – if you get a callback, that is.

Several comments.

First, I would be leery of hiring someone named “Billy Bob” or “Bubba,” too, Mr. Ragland.

Second, a lot of African-Americans don’t have “urban black” pseudo-African names. It would be one thing if, per your question to Steve Blow about reading black experience books, if more black Americans gave their kids actual sub-Saharan African names.

The irony is only increased in another column in the series:
Yet, whites must understand that watching Roots is far from living Roots. Black folks can't just click on the remote and change the dynamic forces of history that thrust us into the 21st century, baggage and all.

I doubt the majority blacks under the age of 21 have even SEEN “Roots.” I’ll even bet at least 20 percent of black youth 13-18 don’t even know what it is.

Third, I don’t have a problem with modern African emigrants to America using traditional first names. I think that, unlike urban blacks with made-up names, many African emigrants will adopt “majority American” first names in coming generations. In fact, it’s already happening, and not just among African emigrants. It’s south Asians, etc.

And, it’s happened in the past. Not a lot of Japanese-Americans have first names like “Hideki.” Not a lot of Italian-Americans named “Giovanni” are running around on our streets.

Fourth, at my media office, we have black and white reporters alike commenting on “urban black” names.

Fifth, isn’t it kind of hypocritical, as well as ironic, for you to weigh in on this issue with the first name of “James”?