Saturday, August 30, 2008

HONK IF YOU HATE JESUS: Creationism enters the race

Just when DD thought he wouldn't have to see any more coddling of evangelicals for the week, John McCain surprises him and names a running mate who's beliefs include fiddling around with creationism.

The selection of Sarah Palin as running mate shows the Republican is not going to pay any attention to Barack Obama's yen for unity through a common humanity. It's just more of the same old us vs. them class/values/culture war shtick -- in this case, the political platform position which paints those who think real science and nothing else ought to be taught in science class, as those who allegedly threaten family religious values -- always the Democrats.

We'll skip right to the meat of the citations on Palin which stem from Anchorage Daily News coverage of her triumphant gubernatorial race in 2006.

When asked in debate whether creationism ought to be taught, Palin replied:

"Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. "Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject -- creationism and evolution. It's been a healthy foundation for me. But don't be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides."


Sadly, many who don't know much, and even some who do, continue to push the myth that there is scientific debate over evolution. There isn't. Evangelicals shovel it as part of a package of ideas designed to appeal to closed and unsophisticated minds.

One of the losing candidates, Democrat Tony Knowles had this to say:

"The answer is no. The reason why is we don't want politics in our science. We actually want more science in our politics. We don't want to just teach all things because it may be politically correct. We want to teach the best science there is, and there is overwhelming evidence, there's almost incontrovertible evidence that evolution is the science that, that we know. And that's what we should always teach, to never compromise on the principles just because it's politically popular."

The Anchorage Daily News noted that the Republican Party of Alaska's platform position on the issue was this:

"We support giving Creation Science equal representation with other theories of the origin of life. If evolution is taught, it should be presented as only a theory."

Palin clarified her position to the reporter in the same newspaper article.
In an interview Thursday, Palin said she meant only to say that discussion of alternative views should be allowed to arise in Alaska classrooms:

"I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn't have to be part of the curriculum."

She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state's required curriculum ... "I won't have religion as a litmus test, or anybody's personal opinion on evolution or creationism," Palin said.

This appeared to be a CYA moment brought on by damage perceived to have been caused by her debate answer.

In any case, in the rule of this country the VP is now much more than just someone who's stashed away until an emergency. They dictate and shape national policy. So ignorance on science for the sake of religion becomes one in another long list of bad things turned into standard operating procedure by the GOP.

The Anchorage Daily News article discussed a bit of the standard evangelical footprint in the making of mischief by meddling with state-written science education requirements. This is, of course, to change curricula to accomodate the cultural beliefs -- the religion -- of the locals even if the educational value of such additions is shit.

"In 2003 a curriculum reform panel recommended leaving evolution out of the [Alaskan] requirements to avoid controversy," reported the newspaper. "Their recommendation was accepted by the state Department of Education, but the state board -- which had the final say -- reinserted the term.

"Current state regulations allow local districts to add their own curriculum beyond the minimum state requirements, said Department of Education spokesman Eric Fry. That would arguably include some form of creation science, he said."

"They couldn't promote religion, but it's OK to teach about religion," Fry told the newspaper.

Alan Boraas, a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, wrote one comment piece for the newspaper a few days after Palin's debate answer on creationism.

"At a recent KAKM gubernatorial debate the issue of teaching creationism in public schools again emerged," Borass opened.

A paragraph further in, he continued: "The issue is volatile because it touches our core values ... Preaching belongs in church and religious schools. Placing either scientific creationism or intelligent design in science class on a par with evolutionary science mixes apples with oranges. Religious doctrine is not designed to be challenged by its adherents nor does it have to be verifiable to be valid for its practitioners."

Fundamentally, it's like this, Borass explained:

"Science, on the other hand is meant to be challenged with new ideas and paradigms regularly emerging. The issue is not how you feel about a subject. When I teach about messenger RNA carrying information from the cell nucleus to sequence enzyme production, I could care less what you feel about it. I want you to learn it. The issue is how well does theory account for observable phenomena and so far nothing better than evolutionary science has emerged to explain biological processes."

Earlier this week in Honk If You Hate Jesus -- coddling the children of evangelicals in science class.

Friday, August 29, 2008

THE GLORY DROOPETH TO THE DUST: Rock critics sent packing once again

Getty Images folded today for the commoner's sin of failing to make money.

PaperThinWalls was another of many music media sites done in by lack of any concrete way to monetize the Internet. As a publication devoted to fringe music, it gambled on being able to somehow capitalize on a niche audience -- indie music hipster/nerds -- an excessively fickle group least likely to part with cash for much of anything. The first company into it, Pitchfork Media, essentially owns this territory and shoving room for others has been very hard to come by.

The PTW website posted daily reviews of singles selected from bands and solo acts as well as links to news thought likely to be of interest to regular readers. It employed a handful of full-time staffers and about forty free-lancers. Your host was one of the latter. specialized in covering what I've disparaged here as nerd rock -- poverty-case art practiced by pale liberal arts grads and assorted flunkouts. It's a broad genre, spanning college radio alternative pop to microniche heavy metal bands fit only for booger collections.

If you think rock 'n' roll, people who can sing and a groove or steady beat are boring, then nerd rock is for you. (And you're probably reading this blog by mistake.)

My lack of enthusiasm for the genre is not only one of taste but also generational. Been there, done that in a crap noise rock band in the early Eighties. Then one didn't have the social networking power of the Internet at one's command, just fanzines to be mailed out with excess postage. This was actually a good thing. It served as a limiter on the number of poor groups making "records."

When the Internet removed physical and economic restraints on execution, being in a calculatingly wretched nerd rock band became something floods of young people aspire to.

In any case, DD reviewed records for PaperThinWalls for about a year and a half. The effort was sincere but always a juggling act in which one tried not to overly insult the readership and artist while at the same time fairly illustrating what one really thought of various CDs.

In other words, skill in the art of damning by faint praise.

Some examples (I challenge you not to smirk).

Jesse Sykes’s voice goes from hoarse to whispery, lugubrious the rest of the time, like a distraught frog if there were such a thing. 'Those were happy times,' she sings, sounding unsure of her convictions. -- from a review of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter here.

Beats listening to John Mellencamp singing about our country during a commercial for full-sized pickup trucks. -- on Blanche's “What This Town Needs.”

Not Blanche, that was for sure.

Masterplan sets guitars for the heart of the Milky Way, building stainless steel cathedrals in the pomp-rock-fried part of the your mind after 20 years of listening to Foreigner, Head East and Maurice Jarre’s soundtrack to Dr. Zhivago ... "Now it's time, I'm gonna win!" sings a poor man's Lou Gramm on a song of the same title ...

Most of Lords’ "This Ain’t A Hate Thing, It’s A Love Thing" CD is ... a strong whiff of underemployed laborers from the ’71 rock vineyard, a field from which oddballs were handpicked and kept on major label retainers as long as they didn’t cost much and were able to sell ten thousand copies ... See here

With a burst of feedback, Monarch! slows to the speed of 18 minutes over breakfast porridge in a bowl and it’s raining outside. Cymbal strikes and snare drum shots —- in your ennui you toss spoonfuls of porridge at the wall. A banshee wails at the calumny. If you’d had “Speak Of The Devil, Speak Of The Sea” to listen to 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have made it to work in the morning. The economy would have collapsed as the polity stared into its morning mush, a collective tear falling to the table.

The first tune, “Geryon's Throne,” is 27 minutes [and] the Orthodoxies indicate it is their hardest song to play because one has to know where one's going to get somewhere -— and with a finish at the half-hour mark, a good short term memory, backward and forward, is required.

Face it though, you don't want to be buying albums of just the corny old-timey trad stuff when -- ho-ho-ho -- on Christmas you'll be watching porn on the net in the morning, masturbating alone and watching a third-rate bowl game over a few six packs to make the afternoon short. If lucky, by evening you'll have blacked out. -- On Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison's “Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk” from a CD entitled "Happy Holidays."

Turn the thing up real loud, mix with flashing lights, and if there are any epileptics in the vicinity, they'll hurl and seize. Burned to a CD and stuck in the house 500-watter, it made cats run for cover and hide for 15 minutes ... -- White Denim's “Let's Talk About It.”


On a song called "I Shit You Not" from the fringe death metal band, Daymares:

Without a lyric sheet you’ll not be able to ascertain what the singer is shitting-you-not about, although his conviction is obvious. “I shit you not!” shouts the entire band at the two-minute mark. For the remix, try “We shit you not!” guys. It'll add a little extra push and pull between choruses because it's a phrase everyone can enjoy.

DD's last dance with Paperthinwalls was over half a year ago, for an Israeli punk rock band called Monotonix, a name which gave them a little too much credit. Feeble foreign punk rock would have been well beyond lame even in 1988 so I chose not to fulfill the review.

Paperthinwalls, relatively uniquely among most music journalism sites which exist solely on the net, paid its contributors. And its end simply makes things more crabbed for its writers, diminishing music journalism by loss of a a place where you could, although somewhat cryptically, write what you thought, not what some band of silly people wanted for their scrap book.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

OBAMA'S PRIMARY TASK -- RECAPTURE THE LOST CLOSET BIGOT VOTE: Butthurt white still not impressed by Dem

Butthurt? Who's butt hurts? I dunno what that means.

Change has never been more evident at the American political convention, as the color and gender of Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton clearly show. Yet the most critical task ahead for the Democrats has not changed since the historic turns of the Johnson years: Get back the approval of white working-class bigots.

When the Great Society installed civil rights, the Dems lost much of the white working-class.

Barack Obama must emphasize the obvious appeal of his next-generation approach to the challenges of a new century. But he must also remember that Reagan Democrats will be the hinge of history. Angry and disgusted with limp-wristed Jimmy Carter, the white union men and their spouses voted in the profoundly anti-union Reagan.

Journalists and political scientists dissect this fickle but supremely important group. Yet for Obama — and for John McCain, too — the lunch-bucket butthurt bigot is a pivotal constituency that often votes for Democrats who behave like Republicans for Congress but dependably say "No!" to Democrat presidential candidates who act like themselves.

Since 1960, no dandy-fied northern Democrat has won the presidency; no Democrat associated with liberal and culturally corrupt elite values has scaled the mountain. Republicans have been masterful at appealing to white lunch-pailers. They've perfected a process in which the butthurt have been persuaded that voting for tax cuts for wealthy business kings at their expense is the right thing to do.

The dandy-fied Democrat is now seen as pro women's reproductive rights and against adoption of a national religion. He is insufficiently white, has homos for friends, uses too many big words, looks good in an expensive suit, enjoys visiting San Francisco and the rest of California, is a celebrity fop and employs too many big words. The effete Democrat might not have the stomach to ignite a thermonuclear war with the resurgent Russian bear and refuses to limit his answers to complex problems to fifteen seconds. He is a pantywaist on defense and can probably speak French.

This is a virtually insurmountable image problem.

Reshaping one's image into respectability and recapturing these lost and butthurt voters must be Barack Obama's foremost task. Everything else is secondary to their needs. The rally for 80,000 non-butthurt at Invesco stadium must be cancelled.
It will only pour gasoline on the smoldering fire of the alienated white working-class.

Large swaths of small-town Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri cast barely any votes for Barack Obama in the primary. And Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus said Obama's appeal to working-class whites may be toughest not because of his race but because he comes across as too perfect.

Quoting Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Marcus wrote, "With people who have a lot of gifts, it's hard for people to identify with them ... Barack Obama is handsome. He's bright. He's incredibly well spoken, and he's incredibly successful — not exactly the easiest guy in the world to identify with. This makes many feel poor about themselves. There is a natural resentment of someone who has done well and who is smart enough to run the country. This is a poor contrast with the Republican leaders of the last eight years. Their garments are rich but they look bad in them. They lack eloquence, frequently spout rubbish when not tongue-tied, and everything they've done has been 100 percent shitty. People can identify with that because their lives -- replete with alcoholism, downward mobility, bills piling up under the mail slot, failing marriages, homes swept away by nature, insufficiently grateful children and grandkids -- are pretty good examples of total shit, too."

"Shitty is good."

The unflappable Obama needs to get flapped or he'll never make it with this voting bloc. He needs to give these voters a shot at some SchadenFreude. Only then will the sun on the dunghill shine.

No apologies to this guy and the Minneapolis Post.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

HONK IF YOU HATE JESUS: Coddling the children of evangelicals in science class

Before getting to the meat of today's rant, a quick selection of sightings of Barack Obama's alleged "problem" with white working-class voters in today's Los Angeles Times.

Keep in mind, DD's best friends are (and were) LAT employees. And LAT editors and reporters have virtually nothing in common with the working class its political reporters seem to be so concerned with. A good number have salaries which hover just near six figures.

Today's paper featured a picture of James Rainey, one of the newspaper's swells riding in a limousine with famous rich person Arianna Huffington, pompously dubbed Queen of the Bloggers -- and celebrity Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live.

"[Pennsyltucky governor] Ed Rendell acknowledged that he remained antsy about the Obama campaign's difficulty connecting with traditional, working class Democratic voters ..." -- runover from page 1 in Obama backers want to move on.

"You ask [Obama] a question and he gives you a six-minute answer, and the six-minute answer is smart as all get out, it's intellectual ... But it's a lousy soundbite." -- Ed Rendell from With Pals Like These the same story.

To translate:

Dense white guys who blurt out whatever comes into their head ----> good leaders!

Smart people who take too long to answer a question ----> bad!

And in the always necessary quotes from heevahavas, or "nut-picking:"

"Still in the Democratic convention's host community, it is not hard to find voters who speak candidly about the role of race ... Guy Harvey and some friends, for example, drove north ... to the Denver suburbs last weekend to shop for western wear... Harvey is a Republican who said the country is not ready for Obama ... One of his friends who did not give his name shouted a more blunt reason for supporting McCain ... 'He's white.'" -- Union chiefs rail at racism, page 14.

The Sunday New York Times featured a frontpage story on how one biology teacher in Florida approached teaching evolution in a class filled with children of evangelicals. We'll cut to the chase and call it what it was: An exercise in coddling, however well meant, of walking on egg-shells so that students aren't turned off by "science."

The story was entitled "A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash" and it is here.

Such stories never cease to startle your Ph.D-in-chemistry-holding host.

To consider the subject as part of the front-line in a phony war between science and religion is to show how crabbed and backward this country has become.

DD graduated from Pine Grove Area High School in Pennsyltucky in 1974 and had four years of college prep biology there. There was no war between religion and science. There was no special care taken in the teaching of evolution, steps taken to avoid hurting the feelings and sensibilities of the orthodox believers in scripture. There was no hand-wringing over high school science being seen as an assault on one's culture and values.

If you didn't get biology you received a mediocre or failing grade, which is -- traditionally -- how all students of science must be treated.

The New York Times reporter writes:

"Some [students] come armed with Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution, a document circulated on the Internet that highlights supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory ... Others scrawl their opposition on homework assignments. Many just tune out."

This supposes that high school students can think critically and that they should have a say in what they are taught, if only as a matter of correction and oversight.

A superficial reading of such a pamphlet as mentioned by the Times, or another called "Evolution Exposed" -- said to have been furnished by a local mischief-making pastor, can create the impression in those who cannot think objectively, but who think they can, that such gazettes are critical examinations of evolution. And that they foster independent and probing minds.

It casts the impression students are in a position to distinguish utter rubbish from careful thought when just the opposite is true. If there were some validity to this practice, then there should be no problem with teaching from things like "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" -- one of the more infamous and discredited hoax texts -- in history class.

What evangelicals, and by extension -- the current Republican party, have been successful in doing is a type of brain-washing. In the case of evolution, they have re-framed science for people who do not know science, labelling it as something which attacks their culture and values.

However, this has never been the case.

DD spent four years at Albright College in Pennsylvania, earning a degree in biochemistry, and another five at Lehigh University, adding a masters and doctorate in chemistry. Belief was not at all an uncommon thing among his professors. Religion, or belief in Jesus, did not impede their teaching of science, their research or damage the way of life.

An excellent but curious and very germane example is illustrated in the case of Michael Behe, a scientist who was hired by Lehigh's Department of Chemistry the same year DD was graduating.

Behe became one of the principal advocates of intelligent design -- that ideology which a judge in Pennsylvania found to be the same as creationism, not science but a part of religious belief.

However, when Behe came to Lehigh, none of this was known. DD's advisor was part of the search committee and the department was quite taken with his record of academic achievement and research publication. None of it dealt with a so-called debunking of evolution.

And Lehigh hired Behe.

In the late Nineties, after Behe had tenure, Darwin's Black Box -- his first book on ID as an alleged alternative to Darwinian evolution, was published by the Free Press. At the time, the Dept. of Chemistry was infrequently mailing an alumni letter to its graduates. In it, the head of the department marvelled at the book's achievement as a bestseller. This only illustrated that not many scientists at Lehigh had bothered to initially read it.

"Darwin's Black Box was not well received by the scientific community, [which]overwhelmingly rejected Behe's premises and arguments," states Wikipedia, in a somewhat understated fashion.

Eventually, Lehigh's biology department took the extraordinary step of putting a disclaimer about Michael Behe and intelligent design on its website.

"It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific," it reads.

For high school students, the lesson is that science does not preclude a belief in God because there is no way to test for the existence of a supreme being. One might even go so far to say that science -- at least in this case -- is fairly tolerant of the dogmatic true-believer, even when he tries to confuse the issue for laymen.

The New York Times article goes on to illustrate the strenuous task faced by the sincere teacher of biology in Orange Park, Florida. Down the hall is another science high school teacher jamming proper instruction.

Now, it comes as no surprise that high school science teachers aren't always what they're cracked up to be.

In truth it's not particularly hard to find those who are unfit for the job, often because public school education -- although it professes the opposite -- doesn't put any real premium on science education.

For example, even venerable Pine Grove Area High School was susceptible to padding the staff with scrubs. When DD graduated from Lehigh, Pine Grove high's chemistry teacher was actually one of its former shop instructors.

"[A] biology teacher down the hall ... taught a unit she called 'Evolution or NOT'," reported the Times.

The teacher left it up to her students "to draw their own conclusion," added the Times. "But when pressed she tells them: 'I think God did it.'"

"I don't think we have this massive change over time where we go from fish to amphibians, from monkeys to man ... We see lizards with different-shaped tails, we don't see blizzards -- the lizard bird."

What the Times' reporter fails to inform readers is that refuting links between dinosaurs and birds is a stock tactic of believers in creationism.

However, it takes but a moment to find a recent article from Science magazine here, one addressing the issue for the peer-reviewed journal.

If you don't have a subscription, try this summary at NPR.

"We determined that T. rex, in fact, grouped with birds — ostrich and chicken — better than any other organism that we studied," John Asara, one of the researchers for the article in Science. "We also show that it groups better with birds than modern reptiles, such as alligators and green anole lizards," the scientist told NPR.

In relation to the current presidential elections, both candidates could go a long way toward pushing back on the damage done by evangelicals and stock Republican voter-pandering policy during the last eight years. They could unequivocally state that the federal government believes in the primacy of science education in this country and that religion has no part in it. And, therefore, that states should in no way be in the business of determining separate standards in this area, particularly when the standards are written to accommodate cultural beliefs.

"The science standards that govern how public schools teach biological evolution -- the idea that life in all its forms has evolved over billions of years through mutation and natural selection -- have improved in many states since 2000," reported the NYT. "But most states standards do not explicitly require teachers to explain that humans evolved from earlier life forms."

This is no record to be proud of, particularly in contrast with DD's experience in public school in the early Seventies.

What it really comes down to is this: Sometimes parents and students need to have the boots put to them. High school biology students aren't in demonstrated need of a coddling so that their lack of enjoyment of the subject material doesn't close their unformed minds even more tightly.


Class and cultural wars -- from the archives.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Look at the sissy, drinkin' beer with women! Real men don't drink beer with women! When I was in Bethlehem south side bars, us working-class men beat up, hit on or heckled the women! F--- that guy.

"There's something egotistical about him," a Sheridan, Colo., retiree said to a reporter from the Kansas City Star. "It's the way he struts around." (See here.)

"Many swing voters here and throughout the country consider the presumptive Democratic nominee distant, pompous, arrogant, even elitist," reported the newspaper, another in the wave of "me too" stories on how the butthurt older white-trash voter chooses to express why he or she won't vote for someone who's black.

And another rule of thumb is it's bad to be smart.

Better to be an insincere but folksy white son-of-the-ruling-class oaf masquerading as someone who'll join you clearing brush back near the shed. That's if you have a shed. And you probably do because all real American working-class white people have a shed for their tools. If you don't have a shed, you're probably a liberal Democrat. While we're at it, let me feel your hands. No callouses, huh? I thought as much!

Anyway, the bright and well-spoken have no business running the most powerful country in the world. Alfred E. Newman would make the best president. This way of things keeps the rest of the world on its toes.

Newspaper political reporters and editors love this story because it affords them the opportunity to interview heevahavas nationwide, presenting their views as if they're reasonable descriptions of Barack Obama's personal flaws and why he ought not to be president.

Invariably, the university expert must be produced to explain the wisdom of this to those of us with rather less wisdom.

" 'It's a big issue that he needs to address,'" said Eric Davis, a professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College," reported the newspaper.

"Obama's selection of Delaware Senator Joe Biden may be an acknowledgment that he still has a ways to go to win over white working-class voters," explained an upper middle-class weenie at the Boston Globe today.

"Biden hails from gritty Scranton, Pennsylvania -- the same city where Hillary Clinton's grandfather worked in a factory."

Yes, Scranton's gritty -- but not in a good way. Gritty as in there are cinders on its streets eight months out of every twelve. A good insult would be: May you spend a winter in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

To recap: stupid white people ---> good leaders!

Smart people ----> bad and lazy and liberal. And probably secretly despise Jesus, too.

Previously proven by DD:

From the archives -- Dick Destiny from Pennsyltucky.

Item from the Los Angeles Times book review of Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew:

"How did [the Republicans] get ordinary people to vote for tax cuts for the rich? His answer was that Republicans confused [the easily confused -- DD's addition] with a phony kind of class-war rhetoric and with the culture wars. Close a town's factory, he observed, and the next week the workers are picketing the local abortion clinic -- as if that was the source of their problems."

Hey, we lived it.

Friday, August 22, 2008


A survey has found that John McCain holds a commanding lead over Barack Obama in the race to become president — among Pennsylvania's pigeon-shooters.

Given that there are millions of hunters of voting age, and about five to ten percent of them may be pigeon-shooters, there’s some significance to the thinking that an extra half a million to a million votes nationally might swing a tight election. In Pennsylvania, a battleground state, a couple thousand pigeon-shooters and their spouses could easily be the hinge of history.

Many Americans consider hunting and, by extension, pigeon-shooting, part of their lifestyle. If you won't shoot a pigeon at point blank range with a shotgun, what kind of man are you?

Not one we want to share a case of beer with. Someone who wants to take away our shotguns and polishing boxes!

The survey, conducted by Braun Research, found that a hefty 90 percent of Pennsylvania's pigeon-shooters said they would vote for John McCain. The remaining ten percent preferred not to say, indicated they were concerned about privacy and the potential hazard of being prosecuted for felonious animal cruelty.

"I was ripping heads off winged pigeons when I was twelve," said Eldon Kutzman of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Association of Bird Polishers, the state trade group which paid for the poll. Dispatching maimed pigeons is a rite of passage for many young boys brought up within the tight and family-minded culture of pigeon-shooters.

"Now our members know John McCain would be right there with us, drinking and smoking and shooting birds for good fellowship and sport," continued Kutzman. "But that Barack Hussein Obama, he would be afraid to get some blood on his suit. And if he can't stand pigeon blood, how could we ever trust him in war?"

"Plus, I read in an e-mail that he wants to outlaw lead pellets."

The political tilt is unsurprising, since many serious pigeon-shooters are dickheads and that voting block has never been impressed by fancypants types, especially thin guys who don't have to struggle with obesity, alcoholism and heart disease in middle age.

No apologies to the Los Angeles Times.

Next week: Braun Research polls Rattlesnake baggers in Pennsylvania.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

STILL FLUMMOXED BY THE BUTTHURT CODGERS OF PENNSYLTUCKY: Big media only cares what the white trash think when it affords an opportunity to speak of Obama

“There’s this e-mail that he didn’t shake hands with the troops,” Mr. Stickles said of a rumor that is false. “I don’t have the time to check out if it’s true, but if it is, it’s very offensive.”

Today the New York Times went back to Pennysltucky to cover what DD knows as the bitter white codger demographic. Those are the people who may have voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary, alleged salt-of-the-earth folk, located between Philly and inner Pittsburgh (but not from Steelton-Highspire in Dauphin County, or State College) who don't dig Barack Obama. The Washington Post covered the same demographic last week. The Times went to the western part of the state. The Post went to York and Lancaster.

The bitter codgers confuse the mainstream media because it's difficult to come out and call them precisely what they are: closet racists who are old, white, poorly educated, and deeply suspicious of people not like them.

This was a great way to be if you lived in Pennsy in the Seventies and even during much of the time of Ronald Reagan. You weren't yet old or middle-aged and things, in general, seemed very good.

In the steel-manufacturing hot spots of Bethlehem, western Pennsy and a couple of other locales, one could go from high school right into the mills and earn $20/hour. This afforded a good living, more than enough to raise a family and, in many places, just about enough to get you into the upper middle class. In Schuylkill County, where DD was born, ALCOA had the biggest aluminum extrusion plant in the world. In Bethlehem, where your host earned his doctorate, Bethlehem Steel furnished the economic drive.

But in reality, things were slowly starting to go to hell by the mid-Eighties. And ALCOA had been an early warning, closing its Cressona facility by the mid-Seventies. (The history of the plant is here. DD's father worked in administration for ALCOA and the plant's closing was a disaster for everyone. Only the senior staff was preserved, being offered jobs at a much smaller ALCOA factory near Lancaster, one in the business of stamping bottle caps. Cressona Works was bought by another owner but it was never the same. Currently, it is still in operation under ALCOA and another entity, but it is not much of an economic driver in the county.)

As for Bethlehem Steel in the Lehigh Valley, it is now long gone.

The New York Times, for its part, travelled to the absurdly named Raccoon Township. (The Resident Evil movies, tales in which all are turned into the walking dead by a virus escaped from a giant corporate arms developer, now come to mind when seeing any use of the word "raccoon" as a proper name. Resident Evil's Raccoon City might as well be a metaphor for Pennsyltucky.)

"Many voters talk of reading a stream of false and shadowy rumors purveyed by e-mail: Mr. Obama does not put his hand on his heart during the national anthem, he is a Muslim, he did not say hello to enlisted men in Afghanistan," reports the Times, re-circulating the same old crap from a few months back. "Some disregard these rumors; some do not."

Mr. Obama is an Ivy League-educated lawyer campaigning in towns where an eighth-grade education and a sturdy back once purchased a good life. And he talks of soaring hope to people mistrustful of the same."

And here's where much of Pennsyltucky goes south.

In Schuylkill County, you were deeply distrusted, even despised, if you had more than a high school education. Learning of any kind was seen as an indication of many bad things: One, you were lazy, because you didn't go out and get a job right after school. Two, you were rich and lazy, because you went to college. And three, because you had the temerity to go college when everyone else had their nose to the grindstone, you thought you were better than everyone else.

There was no reasoning with these attitudes.

Hand-in-hand with such beliefs was the drinking in of one's own bathwater mythology, that one was part of the hard-working, God-fearing bedrock of the nation.

However, America hasn't been good to the white trash of Pennsyltucky. The current plan doesn't include them. But it does not include many classes.

Still, in Pennsyltucky, they're pissed off about it. The disgruntled codgers, soon-to-be-codgers and middle-aged-who-might-as-well-be-codgers think they're entitled to something. They reckon they've been cheated out of dreams that were their birthright. And in some ways, they have been robbed.

But they also must carry some of blame for their predicament.

"Few want a handout, but fewer want government to abandon them," reports the Times. "A simmering hurt suffuses their words, a sense that neither hard work nor their unions could save them."

What isn't really mentioned is that while Democrats can win in Pennsylvania, they do so by being Republican.

And that registered Democrats, old union men and factory workers in the gone-bust steel towns, often voted for the party -- the GOP -- most inimical to their way of life. In this way, for example, one could have Democrats regularly elect the most parsimonious and reactionary politicians from the Republican right.

Ronald Reagan. Tom Ridge. Rick Santorum. Curt Weldon. Chris Carney (technically a Democrat, but a politician who is simply a rubber-stamp for strict Republican policy).

"Despite the advantage in Democratic voter registration, Lehigh County (and Northampton County) ... elected Republicans Charlie Dent in 2004 and 2006 and Pat Toomey in 1998, 2000, and 2002 to Congress," relates Wikipedia. "In 2004, however, the county did narrowly vote for John Kerry over George W. Bush for President."

And here is the dilemma, one which tends to baffle political reporters from big city newspapers.

The New York Times states it thusly:
Raccoon Township, with a population just over 3,000, sprawls atop a hill in Beaver County, a 92 percent white and deeply blue-collar province. For a century it formed a stud in the Steel Necklace, a stretch of Pennsylvania and Ohio defined by belching steel mills and robust union wages. But as the mills shuttered, voters tipped Democratic by ever-narrower margins: Al Gore bested George W. Bush by eight percentage points in 2000; John Kerry took Mr. Bush by fewer than three in 2004.

In other words, they sent more and more votes to the people most likely to screw them over worse. And, as it turned out, who did.

Well, what're you gonna do?

In the New York Times story, the example is given of the classic steel man, gone from a good hourly wage to crap.

"Mr. Sylvester -- [76]-- labored in a steel mill for 42 years," the paper reports. "Then the mill owner declared bankruptcy. Now he was bent over a chipped fire hydrant, putting down a coat of yellow paint for $7 an hour."

The Times piece reveals a wishful thinking from those interviewed, a desire to see some type of political strategy, one delivered in simple language (there's that resentment of the educated, again) -- a plan to explain how the the manufacturing base and economic success are to be restored.

Might as well ask for magic and miracles. Ain't going to happen. Not from either party. But will they vote for the guy, John McCain, who's tax plan "would erase the burden on the rich"? (Page 1, today's Los Angeles Times.)

From the "This must prove the guy's a girl" poll:

"A survey has found that John McCain holds a considerable lead over Barack Obama in the race to become president - among hunters and fishermen." Absolutely brilliant work, reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Someone who don't know the difference between a crappie and a lunker as president? That just wouldn't be right.

Update: This next fragment comes from the media practice of allowing Republican political hacks to explain why Barack Obama needs to erase the impression that he's an over-educated, over-achieving, intelligent Ivy League scumbag grad. As opposed to being a real American like the modern plutocrat salt-of-the-earth Republican party appointees who graduated from piss ant Bible colleges where they learned to be intolerant, ignorant and crooked in the name of Jesus.

"While Obama is likely to pick up the votes of almost everybody who voted in the Democratic primaries, there are plenty of older white working-class voters who are still far from sold on him, if not downright suspicious," writes someone named Mike Murphy for TIME magazine.

"Democratic strategists often make the mistake of assuming that these white, economically downscale voters will automatically make their ballot choices on the basis of class. In fact, many vote on culture. Obama's academic style is much of his problem. For many, Obama reminds them of the Ivy League whiz kids they've dealt with at work during the latest downsizing. They look at him and see another bloodless young achiever coming down from the top floor to fix the ailing machine-tool company."

Obama won't share "a cheesesteak and beer with the hourly workforce."

This is another take, one with less character-assassinating language, than the Pennsyltucky Barflies for Clinton or McCain demographic DD went on about months ago here.

In other words, Democrats -- particularly educated people -- don't like cheesesteaks and beer. And then it only follows that they're not good Americans, either.

Translated: If you're a product of the Ivy League, or someone who uses too many three and four-syllable words, make more like some white dumbass from the interior of Pennsyltucky. In a Presidential election, it's best to appear to be a slightly stupid person. Not so stupid as to be crippling, don't overdo it, but still...

Delivered by "a consultant who has worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. In 2000 he was senior strategist for Senator John McCain's presidential race."

See here.

Agonizing over the white codger vote in Pennsy.

Angry white Pennsyltucky codger-man -- from the Dick Destiny reading room.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

BULL, REDEFINED: LA Times fears cyberwar, Bruce Willis arrives on cable

In today's lead editorial, the Los Angeles Times lays it on thick.

"Among the more disturbing aspects of Russia's invasion of Georgia (other than the usual bombing and shooting of people -- added by DD) is that it was accompanied by a wave of cyberattacks on government websites," wrote an editor. "The combination of electronic and physical punches illuminated how ill-prepared the world is for this new kind of warfare."

Yes, not being able to see a government website sure is hell.

(The piece is here -- entitled "Georgia under cyberattack." In the paper edition, it's the much more pompous "War, redefined." Additionally, you can't find the article from the frontpage of the newspaper's website. This is unintentionally funny since the piece purports to be about conflict in cyberspace and the newspaper, as part of its new makeover, is always shilling its bloated web presence as a source of extra content distinct from the delivered edition.)

Here's a question for the poobahs in the newspaper's editorial section. And it's not a trick one.

How many people have died or been maimed in cyberattacks in the last fifteen years?

If you read this blog regularly, you know that DD was among the first to write authoritatively on cyberwar. First in the pages of the Crypt Newsletter, later for other well-known web security publications and, especially, for the National Academy of Science publication, Issues in Science & Technology. Fourteen years ago, I thoroughly dissected the mythology of cyberwar, then called "electronic Pearl Harbor" by the US government.

So when editors at big daily newspapers start writing about war redefined and dubbing, what with regards to what has happened in Georgia, only qualifies as a minor nuisance, you know they're -- like -- making the shit up wholesale.

Which brings us to Live Free or Die Hard, the Bruce Willis movie on "electronic Pearl Harbor," which aired on extended cable last night.

Last year, DD wrote about it here.

Part of the script was attributed to an old piece of exaggerations and fictions --John Carlin's "Farewell to Arms" -- published in a 1997 issue of Wired magazine.

Promising cyberwar, virtually nothing in it was prescient in any realistic way.

However, the article ignited part of the script for Live Free or Die Hard. And DD enjoyed watching the movie in which Willis, as John McClane, drags around a dweeby hacker as cyberterrorists assault the United States.

In the script, the cyberterror operation functions as the power of God, furnishing catastrophes to dog McClane, always narrowly failing to kill him while tearing up the landscape, gunning down others, and paralyzing the country.

The cyberterror operation is run by a former good guy, a Pentagon advisor who tried to stiffen national cybersecurity but was laughed at for his trouble. So the man, named Thomas Gabriel, goes to the darkside and launches electronic Pearl Harbor as cover for downloading all the country's electronic money to his hard drive.

Gabriel has a henchwoman, a hot but small girl dressed in tight black who is also a kick-boxer. Making the best of a bad acting situation, Tim Olyphant hams it up as Gabriel until the very end of the movie when, as everyone knows, John McClane gets to kill him.

As seen on TV, Live Free or Die Hard is eminently satisfying.

Willis, in playing McClane, has his own God-like power. He flings a car he's driving at a helicopter, downing it to the surprise and shock of the evildoers. Later, the kick-boxing hot chick almost gets the better of him. But you know she's inevitably done for, too.

In fact, one of the best parts of the movie is how without resource the cyberwarriors turn out to be in the face of the erupting volcano that is the John McClane character. Everyone else on the good side stands around looking puzzled as traffic lights absurdly turn green everywhere, or computer screens go wonky. But not Bruce Willis, who delights in taunting the head cyberterrorist over the cellular phone.

And with all their access to personal and government databases, not one of the cyberterrorists says: "Hey, wait a minute. This McClane guy has single-handedly chopped down three other major terror operations in the last fifteen years, killing every single one of the people involved -- including a small army of special forces men. Maybe we should stop aggravating him and run for it!"

John McClane obviously knows more about cyberterror than LA Times opinion page men.

DD won't spoil any more of the movie, should you have cable. Look for the small part played by the actor formerly known as Tuvok, the nerd African-American Vulcan science officer from the old Star Trek Voyager series. Sadly, he is not afforded much in the way of a comeback opportunity.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

IVINS AFFIDAVITS TO WEB: Crux of case seems to rest on scientist's time in source lab

Update: Thursday 10:07 Pacific Times

DD's longer analysis was posted to the Reg today here.

It covers what was addressed yesterday in greater detail and includes things which my preliminary write-up did not encompass. And the Wednesday afternoon blog entry includes some comment not carried over to the Reg piece. If readers look over both, they can see -- at least DD believes they can -- that the FBI's story against Ivins was strong. And DD believes it would have been enough to convince a grand jury to sign off on charges. However, it is the FBI's story and cannot now be tested by trial. Therefore, nagging questions remain. And they will not be easily dispelled due to the way this has gone down. It is a story where many can choose to take away from it those "facts" which most jibe with what their gut tells them because it is not (and may never be) an incontrovertible presentation.

In many ways, it's still something of mess. Or to paraphrase Tommy Lee Jones from No Country For Old Men after another policeman says the movie's slaughter- in-the-desert crime scene is a mess: If it's not, it'll do until the real one comes along.

The government has dumped a large number of search warrants and affidavits on the Ivins case to the web. A great deal of it either shows searches which came up empty or psychological material on Ivins mental health, which -- while interesting, doesn't conclusively link him to the anthrax mailings.

The most damning evidence, if it's entirely true, lies in FBI assertions -- found in affidavit -- that the unique anthrax mixture used in the mailings came from a flask in Ivins' lab. Ivins was the caretaker of it although he was not the only one with access to it. This flask was the source of two sets of anthrax mailings, one which produced pure anthrax spores, and a second which was slightly contaminated with Bacillus subtilis. This indicated to the FBI that the flask had been sampled from at least two distinct times.

The other set of FBI statements allegedly connecting Ivins to the mailings have to do with his time in a lab suite -- called B3 -- where the anthrax used in the mailings was stored. Fort Detrick has an access system which maps the times of its employees in the lab by card key. And it reveals the patterns of its employees' work afterhours.

Now, scientists almost always work afterhours. So the FBI mapped Ivins afterhour access over two years, 2000 and 2001, with 2000 acting as control period in which the scientists' comings and goings were very regular. Graphing it, Ivins' presence in suite B3 at night spiked directly before the start of the two sets of anthrax mailings in September and October. The FBI states Ivins could not adequately explain what he was doing in suite B3 at the time except to say he was using the lab as a refuge from a stressed homelife.

This is not an entirely unreasonable explanation. Scientists often go into labs late at night and do virtually nothing, for any number of reasons. However, the timing of Ivins in the implicated lab just prior to the mailings is part of the FBI's argument that he was engaged in preparatory work.

More damning, the FBI states no one else was in the lab at the time and no one witnessed Ivins' work.

Another FBI assertion involves statements having to do with Ivins handling of the anthrax sample implicated in the mailings and its turnover to the FBI. On two occasions Ivins was asked to furnish samples from the flask which was determined to be the source of the anthrax used in the mailings. Both samples returned by Ivins did not genetically match the mailed anthrax. When the FBI subsequently seized the anthrax flask which it had asked Ivins to provide samples from, its sampling showed the flask was an exact match.

Ivins could not explain the discrepancy between his samples and the FBI's. The upshot was that he was trying to avoid having the flask fall directly into the hands of those who would furnish independent assays. At some point Ivins said to the FBI he knew that the lab suite B3 anthrax was identical to that used in the mailings. The FBI indicates this was tightly controlled information and agents asked Ivins how he knew it. Ivins replied first that a special agent with the FBI task force had told him. Later, he said that other scientists at Fort Detrick had informed him. The FBI interviewed the special agent and other scientists, who all denied informing Ivins.

Read the documents yourself at here.

The collection of evidence is not a 100 percent lock. But these items are incriminating because they show a pattern of access to materials at pinpoint times and subsequent inadequately explained dealings with the FBI which look like evasion. There will, no doubt, be a great deal of argument over these assertions in the coming days, perhaps focusing on whether or not the window of times in the critical B3 lab at night afforded Ivins enough time to do his work. DD would estimate, perhaps just enough.

If the FBI is entirely correct and nothing is made up, while circumstantial, it still is a compelling case pointing at Bruce E. Ivins.

As for motivation, Ivins had been distraught over the failure of anthrax vaccine work at Ft. Detrick, vaccine work he and his colleagues had spent years of labor upon. And his mental state was fragile. Ivins expressed great concern in e-mail evidence that the work would be for nought and that the Army would drop plans to adopt the vaccine. The anthrax mailings changed everything. The vaccine was quickly adopted.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

ALL WET? Leakers and mass media thrash anthrax case

"God save the FBI if they're wrong again."

That's how your host ended his article on Bruce Ivins and the anthrax at the Reg yesterday. (See here.)

In the meantime, a great deal of information has been leaked willy-nilly to the big newspapers. However, while suggestive, none of it incontrovertibly pins the anthrax attacks on Bruce Ivins. What's to be believed? What will the FBI officially produce and stand behind which constitutes blockbuster proof?

Today, the Washington Post focused on a freeze-dryer.

"Bruce E. Ivins, the government's leading suspect in the 2001 anthrax killings, borrowed from a bioweapons lab that fall freeze-drying equipment that allows scientists to quickly convert wet germ cultures into dry spores, according to sources briefed on the case," wrote the post in Anthrax Dryer Key to Probe.

"Ivins's possession of the drying device, known as a lyopholizer, could help investigators explain how he might have been able to send letters containing deadly anthrax spores to U.S. senators and news organizations ... The device was not commonly used by researchers at the Army's sprawling biodefense complex at Fort Detrick, Md., where Ivins worked as a scientist, employees at the base said. Instead, sources said, Ivins had to go through a formal process to check out the lyopholizer, creating a record on which authorities are now relying. He did at least one project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that would have given him reason to use the drying equipment, according to a former colleague in his lab."

However, in the bacteriology and protein chemistry labs DD has worked in, freeze-dryers were prosaic -- common equipment. They have multiple uses, blandishments of some unique quality from a Washington Post story not withstanding.

Reporters, who do not know what constitutes scientific hardware, are not in a position to make a judgment on it as some sort of unique component in a crime.

In fact, a freeze-dryer is not particularly difficult to build from scratch. Many scientists know how to do it. And, yes, it can be used to dry bacterial samples. However, absent someone seeing Bruce Ivins specifically drying samples of what would become mailed anthrax powder, a lyophilizer in a microbiology lab is not necessarily a smoking gun.

See here for an explanation on how one works and is built.

While use of a freeze-dryer may be suggestive, it is not more than circumstantial at a facility like Fort Detrick. Lab freeze-dryers are not always specifically just for one individual's private use. Quite often they can be used by anyone in the lab.

See the Washington Post piece here.

In other matters, Richard Spertzel wrote an audacious column for the Wall Street Journal. Entitled Bruce Ivins Wasn't the Anthrax Culprit, Spertzel -- who was an expert scientist in the Iraq Survey Group -- points toward weaponization of anthrax.

Arguments over weaponization of the samples have always left your host cold but many people put great stock in them.

"Information released by the FBI over the past seven years indicates a product of exceptional quality," wrote Spertzel. "The product contained essentially pure spores. The particle size was 1.5 to 3 microns in diameter. There are several methods used to produce anthrax that small. But most of them require milling the spores to a size small enough that it can be inhaled into the lower reaches of the lungs. In this case, however, the anthrax spores were not milled.

"What's more, they were also tailored to make them potentially more dangerous. According to a FBI news release from November 2001, the particles were coated by a 'product not seen previously to be used in this fashion before.' Apparently, the spores were coated with a polyglass which tightly bound hydrophilic silica to each particle. That's what was briefed (according to one of my former weapons inspectors at the United Nations Special Commission) by the FBI to the German Foreign Ministry at the time."

However, this culling of information is selective. Five years later, in 2006, FBI scientist Doug Beecher published the forbiddingly entitled "Forensic Application of Microbiological Culture Analysis To Identify Mail Intentionally Contaminated with Bacillus anthracis Spores."

Published in the August 2006 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a peer-reviewed journal, the article was fascinating for the many things it said about mailed anthrax, specifically that which was found in a letter mailed to Senator Patrick Leahy.

Beecher wrote: " . . . a widely circulated misconception is the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production. This idea is usually the basis for implying that the powders were inordinately dangerous compared to spores alone."

The FBI scientist found that such things didn't matter.

Even if the anthrax powder appeared to be in clumps, "some fraction is composed of particles that are precisely in the size range that is most hazardous for transmission of disease by inhalation." And that number is a large one.

The above three grafs come reprinted from an older piece DD prepared at the Reg on the FBI's conclusions here.

Spertzel op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

Monday, August 04, 2008

SAME OLD RUBBISH: US government sources peddle slain al Qaeda duffer as bio and chemical weapons specialist; anything to keep the old myths propped up

Lost amid the news of our own special psychopath at Fort Detrick, US government sources were still singing the tune about an al Qaeda duffer who tried to make chemical and biological weapons between the dirt piles of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"In a blow to al Qaeda in Pakistan, the terrorist group confirmed Sunday that one of its top weapons researchers, Abu Khabab al-Masri, was killed, apparently in a U.S. missile strike," reported the Wall Street Journal.

For about a year US government sources have tried to peddle stories about Khabal al-Masri's talent for chemical and biological weapons. Anyone who has actually followed what Islamic terrorists have NOT been able to do with such weapons, despite a great deal of wishful thinking, must marvel at the efforts expended to prop up the distortions and myths.

"A chemist by training, Mr. Masri started in al Qaeda as a bomb maker but branched out into the development of biological and chemical weapons after the terror group settled in Afghanistan in the 1990s," continued the Journal. "There he was entrusted with part of al Qaeda's so-called yogurt project to develop weapons of mass destruction, and operated a training camp in the village of Derunta. He tried unsuccessfully to develop an anthrax weapon and, with Dr. Zawahri, tried to develop poisons that could kill more quickly by mixing them with chemicals that caused them to be absorbed into the skin more rapidly."

"It isn't clear how much of the research bore results, though U.S. authorities said Mr. Masri did gas some dogs at the Derunta training camp."

"U.S. authorities said he provided hundreds of mujahedeen with hands-on training in the use of poisons and explosives and distributed training manuals showing how to make chemical and biological weapons."

That would be the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, about which must has already been said here, here and here.

In other words, duffer Khabab al-Masri's best p.r. men for the WMD business remain sources within the US government, or advisers to it. He had no expertise. That's a big zero.

Yet it remains important to glean some sort of trophy from his dispatch by Predator missile. It does no good to tell of a more prosaic al Qaeda clown, whose name no one can remember longer than the time it takes to read the story, burned up in a strike inside Pakistan.

"Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism specialist and professor at Georgetown University in Washington, noted that one of Mr. Masri's students was Kamal Bourgass, who was convicted in 2005 of trying to spread poisons on streets in the U.K.," continued the newspaper.

You don't say!

Kamel Bourgass' jewelry tin of death and mass destruction. Quite the evidence of chemical and biological weapons training. Lord, please save us from the 'experts' of Georgetown University.

Khabab al Masriflogged as chem boogeyman earlier this year.

Wall Street Journal articlehere.
THE BEST BIOTERRORIST MONEY COULD BUY: Can reliability be ensured?

When Bruce Ivins, presumed psycho amateur juggler/church keyboardist/government scientist/bioterrorist, committed suicide by drug overdose and died two days later, everyone was taken by surprise by an FBI effort notable for almost complete information secrecy until the shoe was about to drop. In early July, many had commented, including this writer, on the huge payout to Steven Hatfill, a former "person of interest" in the anthrax investigation, assuming it meant that the case was all screwed up. Apparently, just the opposite!

Since 2006, the agency had refocused its investigation on Ivins. The story, broken by the Los Angeles Times, was a major scoop. It outlined how the feds had placed the 62-year-old Ivins in an investigative vice, one which led to him being kicked out of the US Army's biodefense research facility at Fort Detrick for threatening to kill co-workers and himself. Ivins was then briefly admitted to a local psychiatric unit, where he continued to menace people. With a grand jury hearing witnesses and scientists sworn to secrecy, the government had notified Ivins' lawyer, Paul Kemp, that charges were coming down.

If the government is successful in locking up the case in coming days, Ivins was apparently the best bioterrorist our money could buy, rewarded for developing an improved vaccine against the very thing he stands accused of killing five people with.

Read the rest at the Reg here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

MEET THE NEW FEARMONGER: Same as the old fearmonger

Updated 3:30 PST.

In a speech on security policy a couple weeks ago, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama signaled that a change in administration probably wouldn't change the way the establishment views threats.

"In a globalized world, the power to destroy can lie with individuals - not just states," the man said. This was supposed to show some unique vision setting him apart from Republican rule, but it indicated quite a bit of the opposite.

Nuclear, biological and cyber threats - "three 21st Century threats that have been neglected over the last eight years," Obama said. "It is time to break out of Washington's conventional thinking that has failed to keep pace with unconventional threats," he added. Obama's breaking out, however, really means the opposite - adhering to groupthink that views apocalyptic attacks as only a matter of when, not if.

Anthrax needs more attention, he said, lest an attack kill "tens of thousands" and smash the economy. Keep in mind the quoted part, because it's a specific part of a well-used script.

"To protect against bioterrorism we need to invest in our analysis..." Obama added. So what analysis is that?

It's prognostication delivered courtesy of Richard Danzig, now an Obama advisor, and one of the true-believers in catastrophic bioterrorism. Read the entire piece at el Reg here.

However, the real news of the day was the major scoop that someone who was probably the Amerithraxer had committed suicide. Delivered by David Willman and the Los Angeles Times, the frontpage story informed that a scientist within the US's main biodefense research facility, USAMRIID at Fort Detrick, MD, had killed himself as the FBI was preparing to file murder charges against him.

The man's name was Bruce Ivins.

In this remarkable news, it was said that after 2006 and the Steven Hatfill imbroglio, the FBI put a clamp on scientists interviewed before a grand jury, compelling them to sign non-disclosure agreements to curb their leaking of news on the investigation. Ivins, according to Willman and the Times, had been involved in a cover-up involving anthrax contaminations at the defense lab in 2001, around the same time he had been a consultant in the case.

Reports on this have surfaced intermittently in the news since 2002. We'll sample from the most recent, an AP news piece in 2006 which directly mentions Ivins.

From Fort Detrick had multiple anthrax leaks in 2001-02, report finds

In December 2001, a USAMRIID technician told Dr. Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist in USAMRIID's Division of Bacteriology, that she may have been exposed to anthrax spores when handling an anthrax-laced letter, the report says. [The report] said Ivins tested the technician's desk area and found growth that had the earmarks of anthrax. He decontaminated her desk, computer, keypad and monitor, but didn't notify his superiors.

Ivins later told Army investigators he did the unauthorized testing because he was concerned that the powdered anthrax in the letters might not be adequately contained.

(At the time, USAMRIID had been processing a large amount of mail, contaminated and not from the anthrax case. -- DD)

[Ivins] said he again became suspicious of contamination April 8, 2002, when two researchers reported potential exposures after noticing that flasks they were working with had leaked anthrax, causing crusting on the outside of the glass. Ivins reported the concerns to USAMRIID officials, who then found spores on nasal swabs from one scientist involved in the incident. The scientist had been vaccinated and did not contract the disease.

The report says Ivins performed more unauthorized sampling of areas outside containment April 15 and found anthrax spores in his office area; in a passbox, which allows workers to safely transfer materials from labs to outside areas such as hallways; and in a room where male workers change from civilian clothing into laboratory garb.

The report says Ivins found heavy growth of Ames-strain anthrax, a pathogenic or disease-causing form of the agent, on rubber molding surrounding the noncontainment side of a passbox. His office area also tested positive for Ames anthrax spores. The changing room tested positive for Ames spores and Vollum 1B, another pathogenic form.

The upshot here, one implied in some of today's news reports, is that this is being viewed as Ivins covering up -- swabbing for Ames, the strain used in the mailings, then sanitizing the surfaces in his office, and not immediately telling superiors.

After 2006 and more interviews with government scientists, the FBI became convinced Ivins was the instigator of the anthrax mailings, attacks which killed five and tipped the nation over into a bioterror hysteria.

The implication of Ivins as potentially the worst bioterrorist in world history has some rather obvious implications.

It destroys many of the arguments on the nature of bioterror delivered by government-approved scenario. Ivins' attacks, while provoking great fear, were not catastrophic and did not involve the many kilograms of material the government has long assumed an outside terror agency would find easy to obtain and use on American cities. Amerithrax was an inside job and Ivins was our very special fiend, one from the heart of the US biodefense establishment, equipped with the best tools of the trade, experience and science at his disposal. It shows that a rogue American scientist, one hidden within the trusted environs of a most sensitive biodefense facility, could go to the dark side.

Preliminary news implies that members of Ivins' family and associates may have come to know that he was the culprit. "I was questioned by the feds and I sung like a canary," Thomas Ivins -- a brother -- told the Los Angeles Times.

See here for the story at the Times.

Hats off to the FBI.

From a press release, hot off the presses of the Department of Justice today:

Statement by the Department of Justice on the Anthrax Investigation
The Justice Department, the FBI, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) today announced that there have been significant developments in the investigation into the 2001 anthrax mailings, which killed five individuals and injured 17 others. In particular, we are able to confirm that substantial progress has been made in the investigation by bringing to bear new and sophisticated scientific tools.

We are unable to provide additional information at this time. The Department, the FBI, and the USPIS have significant obligations to the victims of these attacks and their families that must be fulfilled before any additional information on the investigation can be made public. In addition, investigative documents remain under court seal.

We anticipate being able to provide additional details in the near future.