Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Finally, a Little Taser Sanity

A federal judge has imposed limits on police use of tasers. The court sided with a man who claimed that the use of a taser by a police officer constituted excessive force. The taser attack left the man with broken teeth and a taser dart embedded in his arm.

The scary part of this article is that it mentions in passing that taser attacks were responsible for nine fatalities in just the Sacramento area. In other words, tasers allow police officers to act as judge, jury, and executioner, often simply because citizens are acting a bit strangely. Tasers are sold to police departments as a method of "non-lethal" control; clearly, this is untrue. Even if police officers could be trusted to use tasers only when they're called for (and they certainly can't), tasers often have deadly effects. Better that cops use guns, since they presumably know that gunshots are possibly fatal.

h/t Arkansas Times Blog.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ha! Ha! Hilarious!

My "local" newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has one of the most awful, right-leaning editorial pages one could hope to find. It includes the folksy blatherings of Paul Greenberg, the incoherent ravings of Bradley Gitz, and a selection of unedited, apparently unscreened, often racist and homophobic letters from the Demozette's faithful readers. Despite the goofy rants always found on these pages, the worst features are almost invariably the political cartoons. One artist in particular, a person named Michael Ramirez (a selection of his crap can be found here), should probably win a Pulitzer Prize in the Category of Unsubtle Illogic and General Stupidity. However, today, the Demozette has outdone themselves. They ran a political cartoon by their own artist, Roger Harvell, that seems to be supporting the police officer who tasered a ten-year old girl. That's right. Apparently, according to Harvell and his paper, if a child is unruly, or won't do what mom wants, it's okay to call in a police officer to taser the young ruffian. Clearly, the only way an adult police officer may possibly subdue a child is with 50,000 volts of angry electrons. If you had any suspicion that the editorial staff at the Democrat-Gazette was not insane, this should lay it to rest.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More on the Murder by the Texas Government

Talking Points Memo rounds up further details on the cover-up of Cameron Willingham's murder here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Covering Up a Murder

Texas governor Rick Perry has acted to cover up his role in the murder-by-the-state of an innocent man. Here, in its entirety, is an article from the September 30 edition of the New York Times:
Gov. Rick Perry replaced the chairman and two members of the state’s Forensic Science Commission, two days before the commission was to hear evidence that Texas executed an innocent man. The new chairman canceled the hearing, at which an arson expert was to present a report critical of the arson analysis that led to the conviction of the man, Cameron T. Willingham. Mr. Willingham, above, was executed in 2004 after being convicted of setting a 1991 fire in which his three children died. Governor Perry, who was in office at the time of the execution, has expressed confidence in Mr. Willingham’s guilt. “This is like the Saturday night massacre,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, which has been working on the case. “It’s like Nixon firing Archibald Cox to avoid turning over the Watergate tapes.” But a spokesman for the governor, Chris Cutrone, said the governor’s decision was “business as usual.” “Some people’s terms expired,” Mr. Cutrone said, “and we reappointed new people.”

h/t Tartuffe at BOTF.

Monday, August 31, 2009

"Characteristic of Mystics or Psychics"

Two years ago, I linked to an article about a man released from death row in Virginia after he was exonerated by DNA evidence. In that post, I mentioned the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed despite evidence that the fire he was accused of setting (and which killed his three young children) was accidental. A heart-breaking article in the New Yorker tells Willingham's story. One scientist says that the original arson investigator's methods "deny rational reasoning," and are "more characteristic of mystics or psychics." Read the article and be sickened.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Yeah, the Mets Pounded the Cards Yesterday

But we've got this guy coming up through the minors. So all is well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Oh, No! I'm Exposed!

My actual birth certificate has been discovered!

(Click it, and it gets big enough to read.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

No Need to Rearrange the Deck Chairs--the Iceberg's Melting.

Previous estimates of the effects of global climate change include the melting of the ice pack on Greenland as a "worst-case" scenario.  Guess what?  The climate models underestimate the rate at which the pack-ice is melting, and also the amount of carbon that melting permafrost will inject into the atmosphere.  Greenland is losing 52 cubic miles of ice each year, and the permafrost emits three to six times as much greenhouse gas as the entire U.S. car and light truck fleet.  Meanwhile, the G8 and the United States Congress fiddle while the planet burns.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Happy Courtney Love's Birthday!

It's been quite a five-week stretch for your favorite transitional fossil. Trips to New Mexico, Alberta, San Francisco, a couple of looming deadlines at work, and a total lack of anything to say have kept this blog eerily quiet. At least the travel is over, and the deadlines met.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gay Marriage--Five Years Later

With all the ruckus about Iowa, Maine, and Vermont legalizing gay marriage, it's a good idea to go back and check the results in Massachusetts, where gay marriage has been legal for five years now. MSNBC has done exactly that. Long story short: the world hasn't come to an end, society hasn't collapsed, and straight people aren't being forced to gay marry. All that's happened is that some people in committed relationships have been able to make their associations legal. In other words, the experiment has been a success. It's time for the other 45 states, and the federal government, to follow suit.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Llano Estacado

I often get homesick for the grasslands of southeastern New Mexico where I conducted my dissertation research. The area was called "llano estacado" by the first Spanish explorers, because the rolling, grass-covered sand dunes were so featureless that horsemen were compelled to mark their trail with wooden stakes to keep from becoming lost. It's not spectacular mountain scenery like the Rockies or moonscape desert like southern Arizona, but it has a subtle, quiet beauty that inspires you to stop and contemplate nature and time.

The dry grasslands seem empty, but they're really crawling with animals, from big, impressive pronghorn to gleaming metallic tiger beetles. Much of the area is covered with shinnery oak, which are upside-down trees; the leaves and branches are only about a foot high, and the bulk of the tree is a massive root ball buried beneath the sands. A walk through the shinnery oak and desert bluestem grass will stir up black-tailed jackrabbits, scaled quail, sage thrashers, prairie rattlers, and, if you're lucky, the jewel of the staked plains, the lesser prairie-chicken. During mating season, these birds are easy to find. They gather in display grounds and warble their goofy calls that sound like a cross between a deranged turkey and a retarded loon. The rest of the year, they're like ghosts. They blend into the grass so well that one must nearly be a psychic to have a chance to find them. I spent several years studying these birds, and, in the spring, I grow restless, knowing that they're gathering in the frigid pre-dawn, hollering out their songs and performing their silly mating dance without me.

My friend Catnapping took pity on me, and created the drawing that accompanies this post to help ease my not-really-my-home-sickness. Unfortunately, her drawing is so good that it has the opposite effect. Catnapping has the ability to make simple drawings that capture birds and fill them with heart and humor. This picture (click on it to make it bigger) captures the prairie-chicken exactly--he's beautiful and silly, but he thinks he's a tough guy. Go here to see more of her work and read some of her great writing.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

All You Need To Know About The Tea Parties

Nate Silver has compiled a list of non-partisan estimates of attendance at last Wednesday's anti-tax "tea parties." Being a good Arkie who is interested in the dealings of my home state, I perused his list for the figures for cities in Arkansas. There's an interesting name at the top of the list. Here are the figures:

Baxter, Ark. 1000
Fayetteville, Ark. 700
Little Rock, Ark. 500
Fort Smith, Ark. 500
El Dorado, Ark. 300
Harrison, Ark. 300

Little Rock is the capital and largest city of the state. Fort Smith and Fayetteville are the second and third largest cities, respectively. El Dorado and Harrison are medium-sized towns (15 to 20 thousand residents). Where is Baxter? Why is it on the list? It's a tiny little community in northern Arkansas that is the home of the greatest concentration of Klan members in the state.

I'm sure it's just coincidence.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

If This Isn't Torture, What Is It?

I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed....

After some time, I think it was several days, but can't remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next 2 to 3 weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle. I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time....

The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every fifteen minutes twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise....The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks.....

During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face....

Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face....

I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside. They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury....

After the beating I was then placed in the small box. They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about 3 months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don't know how long I remained in the small box, I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.....

I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited. The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress....

I was then placed again in the tall box. While I was inside the box loud music was played again and somebody kept banging repeatedly on the box from the outside. I tried to sit down on the floor, but because of the small space the bucket with urine tipped over and spilt over me....

I was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before. I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold. This went on for approximately one week. During this time the whole procedure was repeated five times. On each occasion, apart from one, I was suffocated once or twice and was put in the vertical position on the bed in between. On one occasion the suffocation was repeated three times. I vomited each time I was put in the vertical position between the suffocation. During that week I was not given any solid food. I was only given Ensure to drink. My head and beard were shaved everyday. I collapsed and lost consciousness on several occasions. Eventually the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor. I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.--source here

“This government does not torture people,”--George W. Bush, October 5, 2007.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Turning Universities Into Trade Schools

Times are tough. Money is short. States all over the country are cutting the budget for higher education, and the result is often the loss of faculty, classes, and even entire departments. The University of Florida has been forced to accept a 10% cut in state funding, and part of their response is to discontinue their geology department. This is insane. Geology is one of the most basic of the natural sciences; biology, paleontology, meterology, and oceanography all depend on it. Who's at fault? P.Z. Myers has the answer:
...part of the problem is…you. Why do you keep electing cretins to your legislatures who despise the "intellectual elite", who think being smart is a sin, who are so short-sighted that they care nothing for investing in strengthening the country in ways that take ten or more years to pay off? Stop it! Your representatives should be people who value education enough to commit to at least maintaining the current meager level of funding, but instead we get chains of ignoramuses who want to demolish the universities…and simultaneously want to control them to support their favorite ideological nonsense, via "academic freedom" bills.

Read Myers' excellent rant here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Wouldn't Say the New Prez is Perfect...

...but damn if he ain't good. Today, Obama moved to reverse Dubya's gutting of the Endangered Species Act. Obama's taken the responsibility for determining whether or not a species is in peril out of the hands of political appointees and buearucrats, and put it back where it belongs--into the hands of scientists. We have a president now who appreciates and trusts the work of scientists. It's a nice change.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Okay, Just a Bit Late, Happy Darwin Day.

Last Thursday was Charles Darwin's 200th Birthday. We threw a little party for him at my university, but alas, the guest of honor didn't show up. We played Darwin trivia, listned to talks about Darwin's life and work, and then had Darwin snacks. A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Here's Why I Voted for Obama

It's going to take a long time to clean up the messes of the Bush Administration, but President Obama has gotten off to a good start, despite a few hiccups. Today, his Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar (a choice who made many environmentalists, including myself, a bit leery) announced that a number of last-minute Bush Administration leases to oil and gas drillers outside Utah national parks had been rescinded. Oil and gas companies don't drill on all the leases they have now. There's no reason to drill in our national parks or wildlife refuges. This move by the Obama Administration is an act of faith toward the environmentalists who worked their butts off for Obama's election. Undoubtedly, more will follow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What a Fantastic Day.

Our long national nightmare is over. Grown-ups are in charge.