Monday, September 29, 2008

HONK IF YOU HATE JESUS: National Heevahava Day. Hey, it didn't suck, said one

"It is important for your life not to have the wrath of God upon you for who you vote for in November," Gus Booth told the faithful. "That doesn't suck, does it?"

Just in time for yesterday's closing graf on evangelical Christian advocacy of God's word intolerance and social division came Reverend Gus Booth of Warroad Community Church. One might say he was custom-made for Honk If You Hate Jesus.

From this morning's Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota, a bale of quote, fresh as midwestern hay, perfectly sampling the national appeal of the heevahava. And the yen for a state religion, one which damns Democrats and anyone else who doesn't subscribe to it.

"Obama condones what the Bible condemns ... The person who’s going to get my vote is the one who’s the most biblical ... Democrats are ignorant in their Christianity ... Amen."

What more could there be to say? Rid us of the perverted poofs? Oh wait, yes, that's in there, too.

"[Gus Booth] is one of several clergy across the country to endorse a candidate from behind the pulpit on what was declared 'Pulpit Freedom Sunday' by the Alliance Defense Fund," wrote the newspaper. This was part of a nationwide operation designed to promote religious intolerance in the name of the Bible. And to provoke sanctions from the Internal Revenue Service on political preaching from a tax exempt shelter so that the issue can be dragged into court.

The story will continue to enjoy a high profile in the mainstream media. Other religious men will come forward to deliver opinion pieces on how thoughtless and wrong it is, that it peddles hate disguised as religious advice, like this excerpt on Google opinions:

"It’s disgraceful that the Religious Right is trying to forge America’s houses of worship into a partisan political machine. The good news is that a growing number of clergy are speaking out against it. They realize that a pastor’s job is to bring people together – Republicans, Democrats and independents – not use the pulpit to drive wedges into congregations. I am confident that the religious community and the American people at large will reject this reckless scheme." -- Rev. Barry W. Lynn

Or this, entitled the God Vote.

And then everything will go back to business as usual, the branding of the GOP as the exclusive party of God so as to make easier the denouncing of kuffars.

Right in there with the Third World

Chart at NY Times showing US religiosity mapped on par with Third World nations. Woo-hoo!

According to his Bible

"According to my Bible and in my opinion, there is no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barack Hussein Obama," said Reverend Wiley Drake of Buena Park, CA, Sunday. Drake advocated his congregation vote for him and Alan Keyes of the American Independent Party. (Drake calls for faithful to curse ungodly with imprecatory prayer here.)

"Mr. Obama is not standing up for anything that is tradition in America."

Source: Los Angeles Times.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

TO THE Q-MART FOR A S-CAP: The Sunday Heevahava

Yes, your host knows you must be aggrieved your long post on Sarah Palin's reasonable beliefs on creationism vis-a-vis public schooling, complete with links to websites advocating for creationism, was rejected.

But you're in good company. In the past I've tossed many crank posts. People who believed in cold fusion cried for pity last year. They demanded I change my unreasoning ways. They proved beyond doubt that I was heartless and opposed to free speech.

It's my real estate, so I can do what I want. Since the mid-Nineties, when I started getting paid to write for various subjects in cyberspace, I've never seen a shortage of burned-up anonymous commenters. Everything I've done has been wrong. The color of my shirt, my education, my style, my nickname, all of it. Just throw it all in a hole.

Sorry you've come late to the party now that I've finished with most of the free curses-on-you and battling-URLs passes. I don't do Crypt Newsletter, Vmyths, The Netly News, etc -- anymore. Surf out to the comments section for Friday's piece at el Reg.

Anyway, the creationist godly are having the stuffing beaten out of them by the Euros at The Reg. Stick up for your home team! Get in some astro-turfing. Don't let those gobshites get away with calling Americans stupid. They're just elitist snobs!

In today's Sunday LA Times, reporter Stephanie Braun turned in a story entitled "Palin canny on religion and politics." (It's been reprinted here.)

"Soon after Sarah Palin was elected mayor of the foothill town of Wasilla, Alaska, she startled a local music teacher by insisting in casual conversation that men and dinosaurs coexisted on an Earth created 6,000 years ago -- about 65 million years after scientists say most dinosaurs became extinct -- the teacher said," it begins. It lacks some of the zing transmitted by The Reg's mash-up of Palin as Betty Rubble on Friday.

The story was courteous but repeated a great deal of material covered previously in Honk If You Hate Jesus.

Included was a quote from Bill McAllister, "Sarah Palin's chief spokesman as governor."

"She understands that she's the governor and not preacher in chief," said McCallister to the newspaper. "Religion informs her decisions, but she is not out to impose her views on Alaska."

Even if some of them are ludicrous, someone might add.

McCallister added that "the only bigotry that's still safe is against Christians who believe in their faith."

And that's a standard tactic. Anyone who accuses someone else of stupidity, or who writes something critical of a person's very personal ignorance, is a bigot. In the US in 2008, this often works.

At the end of the news report, Braun writes:
But Douglas Wead, an author and former aide to President George H.W. Bush, argues that the campaign brush fires over Palin's religious background and pastors' statements ignores or trivializes the emergence of evangelical Christianity in the American mainstream.

"Are we saying they can't participate in public life?" Wead asked.

To the contrary, evangelical Christianity has been taken very seriously in the American mainstream. It's intrusion into the nation's political affairs, its role in social division, the fostering of intolerance, as well as cultural and class wars, have not been pushed back upon enough.

Hey heevahava! Park that thing right next to the "S-cap!"

Yes, dear reader from Pennsyltucky, DD reads your regular e-mails, the one's which are sent as attached PrintScreen picture file captures! And -- no -- DD will not be buying your T-shirt with the Confederate flag superimposed on the map of the state. .

Here's what you need to do.

Near Quakertown in southeast Pennsy is a place called the Q-mart. It's open every weekend and allows a variety of vendors to sell whatever they like, bazaar fashion. In fact, it's a wonderful bazaar for the inner heevahava hidden away in all of us white rednecks and assholes. DD used to go there often when he lived in Pennsyltucky. The Q-mart's used record bins and crap greasy food were the greatest.

And one of the Q-mart's best things, ever, was the "S-cap!" The "S-cap," or shit cap, was a baseball hat with a rubber dog turd glued to its bill. The shit cap immediately caught the eye like nothing else!

My woman friend used to always wince and steer me away from the shit cap as quickly as possible. She thought that if allowed to gaze upon it too long, I would be hypnotized into buying it. She might have been right.

My friend, you need to sell that T-shirt right next to the shit cap! They would make a near perfect fashion anti-statement.

Friday, September 26, 2008

HONK IF YOU HATE JESUS: More on creationism, Palin and the opinion of one trained in science

When your host was raised and educated in backward small-town Pine Grove, Pennsyltucky, decades ago, belief in science was a unifier, something modern and good which linked the nation in its forward thrust.

A dismaying facet of modern America is how this has been turned upside down by the religious right and taken as exclusive property by the GOP.

Kevin Phillips, a famous Republican historian, described it another way in American Theocracy, a book published in 2006. In referring to the current US, he wrote:

"No leading world power in modern history has become a captive, even a partial captive, of the sort of biblical inerrancy - backwater, not mainstream - that dismisses knowledge and science."

In the cultural and class war which marks the current election, it's an asset to be thought of as a stupid person.

See here at el Reg today. Be sure not to miss out on the comments.

Friday, September 19, 2008

HEY HEEVAHAVA! Tell us Scranton's opinion of Barack Obama again; We've heard it before but you just can't tell a good story too many times!

"Are they going to make it the Black House?" Ray McCormick asked, to embarrassed hushing from a half dozen others gathered around the rectory kitchen. Failed hushment furnished by alleged Democrats for McCain.

Your host is due to post the next chapter in the fabulous series dealing with those important newspaper and magazine reporters who scour the country for the salt-of-the-earth wisdom of nuts.

Actually, they don't scour the country. If they did, they'd come to California. But everyone knows McCain/Palin is trounced in Schwarzenegger-land. However, if the electoral college were abolished, and each state weren't a winner-take-all proposition, you'd bet their asses they'd be here in a flash to quiz us soCal heevahavas!

Instead, one gets the sham delivered -- again and again -- that some 'burg in the middle of nowhere in a state where the majority is mostly white and old and poorly educated, is the hinge of history. By circumstance for this election, it's turned out to be Scranton, Pennsyltucky!

Joe Biden's from Scranton! And Sarah Palin, and many others, told us the snooty Obama talked down to Scranton but not to those in San Francisco. Where, you know, all the homos live.

The story chosen for this week's edition of "Ask the Heevahava! (or "Hey Heevahava!) sets down in Scranton, particularly to take the pulse of Scranton Catholics!

"Once a reliable Democratic voting bloc (if you were a Democrat who was a Republican in sheep's clothing -- DD), [Pennsy] Catholics have emerged as a pivotal swing vote in recent presidential races," reported the Times. "Evenly divided in a New York Times-CBS News poll over the summer, Catholics make up about a quarter of the national electorate and about a third in the pivotal battleground states of Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania."

“Whoever wins the Catholic vote will generally win our state and, most of the time, the nation,” G. Terry Madonna, "a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa" told the newspaper.

Hey, you reading this! Don't even bother to vote. It's all going to be decided by Catholics in Scranton and the Pennsy hinterland.

"And Scranton, a city dominated by the kind of white working-class Catholics who have often defected from the Democrats in presidential elections, is a focus of special attention this year," continued the Times.

"Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who generally underperformed with Catholics in the Democratic primary, lost the surrounding Lackawanna County by a margin of three-to-one to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who has family in the area. Now, the Obama campaign often highlights Mr. Biden’s local roots — he was baptized and spent his early years in Scranton — in a bid for Pennsylvania voters."

DD was born and raised in Pennsyltucky. And is Catholic, too. And no one ever asks him for his opinion. I couldn't get picked for anything in Pennsyltucky. So I left.

But DD does know that a lot of the talk about cultural issues and Catholics in Pennsy is garbage hand-selected for consumption by idiots.

Growing up, none of the Catholics in Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, were particularly thoughtful in their belief or dogmatic in defense against the infidel and the encroachment of secular values.

Here's the thing: Attending the Catholic church in Tremont, a shire of Pine Grove area, wasn't an exercise in spiritual uplift. It was about hedging your bets, going to church as an exercise attendance, so when the guy at the door to eternity checked his ledger book to see if you'd been a good boy or girl, this is what'd he say: "Oh, you went to church every Sunday and on holy days! Right this way, sir."

"Getting into Augustine and Aquinas — it is just not helpful," babbled someone named Chris Korzen, "executive director of Catholics United, a progressive Catholic group" to the Times reporter.

"It would be wise for them to focus on how policies they are going to implement as leaders are going to move forward the church teachings they say they believe in."

That's real fine-sounding crap. But your standard Catholic in Lackawanna (or Schuylkill) couldn't tell Augustine from Aquinas from Saint Francis of Assisi.

DD remembers Catholic priors and their assistants trying to teach him many things, none of them useful. Since your host was married in the Catholic church, he had to pass a course on married-life basics given to couples wishing the beneficence of the church.

One part of the course was a real howler. Guess what it was!

Birth control.

Roman Catholic-approved birth control methods were taught by a fugleman for the local church. Obviously, the man was not a priest and he had seven children, conceived over the span of eight or nine years. He explained to us rubes that he had successfully implemented the rhythm method of contraception and then proceeded to explain how he'd done it.

If we had laughed out loud, my ex-wife and I probably would not haven been permitted to marry in the church. Perhaps that would have been better because we got divorced anyway. And since the Catholic church does not recognize such things, in the eyes of the God of Roman Catholicism -- spiritually although not legally, we are still married.

Oh, now my head's really twisted around! No wonder I'm such an annoying person.

"Dozens of interviews with Catholics in Scranton underscored the political tumult in the parish pews," explained the Times reporter.

Dozens of interviews, so you know the Times was working hard, getting real thoroughness going in its dig for heevahavas.

"I think that one of the teachings of God is to take care of the less fortunate,” one woman told the Times. The Times described her as an "insurance lawyer who identified herself as 'a folk Catholic, from the guitar-strumming social-justice side' of the church."

DD prefers heevahava. It's shorter and more descriptive.

Since this voter claimed to be aligned with those who take care of the less fortunate and who believe in social justice, naturally she was for McCain. Hey, everyone knows the GOP stands for social justice and helping the less fortunate! Shame on you if you don't think so! That'll be ten Hail Mary's and one Act of Contrition for your penance.

"One parishioner ruled out voting for Mr. Obama explicitly because he is black," reported the Times. "Are they going to make it the Black House?" Ray McCormick said to the newspaper.

The Times reported the man would not be hushed by an embarrassed "half dozen others gathered around the rectory kitchen."

See here. Along with more stink and bullshit about so-called religious values among rank-and-file Catholics in hinter-Pennsy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

IMMUNITY TO ANTHRAX FACT: A continuing story

Certain facts disseminated by the FBI continue to annoy many. As noted in a story DD wrote for the Reg recently, the fact that the FBI -- as well as other scientists called into consult on the case -- determined that the attack spores were not weaponized is an item of note few seem prepared to swallow.

When FBI microbiologist Douglas J. Beecher tangentially wrote about this in 2006 in the peer-reviewed article "Forensic Application of Microbiological Culture Analysis To Identify Mail Intentionally Contaminated with Bacillus anthracis Spores" for the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, it immediately became a bone of contention.

At the time, 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."

This didn't matter, Beecher reasoned.

Even when anthrax powder appeared to be in clumps, a rough product, "some fraction is composed of particles that are precisely in the size range that is most hazardous for transmission of disease by inhalation."

Beecher's peer-reviewed science immediately got in the way of a now infamous news report published in Science in 2003.

Written by journalist Gary Matsumoto, that Science news piece -- which, paradoxically, was not the result of peer-reviewed science, passed on an elaborate theory as to the nature of the attack anthrax.

The attack anthrax, it explained, was weaponized with a silicon additive, polymerized glass. This made it exceedingly dangerous and implied that only someone, or some state-run biowarfare operation, possessing an arcane knowledge into the use of anthrax as a weapon could have produced it.

"Two years on from the attacks, public discussion of the silica additive has all but ceased; the discussion about polymerized glass has yet to occur," wrote Matsumoto. "Instead, the FBI has devoted much of its effort to the idea that a low-budget amateur operation could have produced a 'weaponized' form of anthrax powder without a sophisticated additive."

It was a swipe at the FBI, an implication the agency was on the wrong track. Near the end of the piece, the author quoted experts on silica additives who reasoned that the specifics of the additive might lead to the killers.

Fast forward to the present.

With the suicide of Bruce Ivins, the FBI came forward with a very reasonable initial effort to explain the hard science behind some of its conclusions.

It had been obvious the FBI was acutely aware the over-heated rhetoric concerning whether or not the attack anthrax had been weaponized was going to be an issue. Beecher's article -- even though peer-reviewed -- hadn't made a dent.

Enter Sandia National Laboratories and materials scientist Dr. Joseph Michael. On hand for the FBI's recent science presentation, Michael unequivocally said that scientists at Ft. Detrick and another Army laboratory had been mistaken when they made statements years ago on alleged weaponization of the spores.

(To understand why this was important, one must familiarize oneself with Matsumoto's old piece from Science here as well as the much more recent science transcript from the FBI here. Taken together, for laymen these are difficult to bite down on. The jargon dealing with weaponized anthrax and speculation in the Science news piece is formidable and, perhaps, explains in part why the mainstream media and others have had such a hard time telling the story clearly.)

While these scientists had detected a silicon signal in the attack spores, they were operating from what turned out to be an insufficiently deep analysis. Subsequent research done by others showed the silicon trace more precisely, pinpointing it in the spore coat of the attack anthrax, not on its surface.

This is the way of science and it is not evidence of incompetence or conspiracy. Customarily, one makes the best of what one has in terms of experimental evidence and when better information is developed, the working explanation evolves to accomodate it.

In any case, more thorough analysis delivered a newer conclusion: The silicon present in the spore coat had no effect on the surface properties of the attack anthrax.

"Sandia's work demonstrated anthrax letters contained non-weaponized form," states this page maintained by the national laboratory.

Electron micrograph photos of the attack anthrax were furnished by Sandia. Similar photographic materials of anthrax spores specifically weaponized with silicon were also made available for comparative purpose. In no way do the attack spores resemble a weaponized sample. (This is well explained on a page maintained by author Ed Lake, here.)

The FBI's (and Sandia's} explanation is a logical and conservative analysis seemingly based on good science. One would assume it will eventually be published in some form and become the basis for further work on how and why anthrax spores take up silicon from the environment.

And it has basically been ignored by the mainstream media and others who, disappointingly, should know better.

This week the political process and the mainstream press have again illustrated how damaging the theory that the attack anthrax was weaponized has been.

So, to make clear once again, good scientific work, including electronic micrograph scanning of the attack anthrax, show it was not weaponized. This is in direct contradiction to much of the current received wisdom on the matter. This fact does not directly implicate Bruce Ivins as the anthrax mailer although it does have some meaning for the FBI's argument that he was the culprit.

Those arguing that the FBI has once again goofed everything up and that Bruce Ivins could not have been the anthrax terrorist rely strongly on the idea that the Detrick scientist could not have made the attack spores BECAUSE they were allegedly so advanced and deadly. They still argue that the presence of silicon means the spores were weaponized and that since Ivins had no experience in such matters, they must have been made by someone else (or a group of someone elses.)

On Tuesday, for example, Glenn Greenwald thundered:

"[Congressman Jerry Nadler] specifically focused on the fact that scientists (including in the FBI) had long claimed that the anthrax sent to Sen. Daschele was dried anthrax that had been coated with silica and was thus far too sophisticated for Ivins to have prepared, only for the FBI suddenly to reverse itself recently and claim that the anthrax was not coated with silica but had, instead, simply naturally absorbed silicon from the air."

Your host reads Greenwald reguarly and admires his work greatly. But this statement does a bit of a disservice to readers in implying the FBI had pulled the information that the anthrax was not weaponized out of a hat, in contradiction to its earlier judgment, perhaps in order to accomodate an argument that Ivins had made the anthrax.

The FBI and the scientists working in consultation with it have not contended that silicon found in the spore coat of the attack material was "naturally absorbed" from the air. In matter of fact, they have pointed to a couple of publications from the peer-reviewed literature, each performed by different scientists, which describe a surprising incorporation of silicon into the spore coat of a species related to Bacillus anthracis.

From a scientific way of thinking, this is a reasonable way to make a point.

In the older literature, in an article from the Journal of Bacteriology published in 1964 ("Spectrochemical Analysis of Chemical Elements in Bacteria" by M. A. Rouf from Washington State University) and in another from 1980 ("Distribution of Calcium and other elements in cryosectioned B. cereus T spores, determined by high resolution scanning electron probe X-ray microanalysis," Murray Stewart, et al; Journal of Bacteriology) they presented two distinct sets of data. The data showed silicon in spores, a surprise to researchers, but nevertheless present. The researchers could not explain why the silicon was there nor did they have to. Science allows one to make an observation based on experiment evidence. In the second paper, the scientists speculated "the silicon content of the cortex coat layer may result from specific incorporation or from contamination from glassware or from silicone vacuum oils employed in the apparatus used to freeze-dry the spores."

In other words, FBI scientists attempted to elucidate the presence of silicon in the attack mixture by pinning down its precise location within or on the spore. Electronic micrography was used to do this. In parallel, the scientists looked for previously published science in the literature, not only to show that it was possible for bacterial spores to incorporate silicon, but also in attempt to get a handle on why this might be so.

In the space of a political argument or a newspaper article, these are hard things to explain. Perhaps readers have not even understood this bit written by their host!

It is far easier to maintain that silicon must equal weaponization because other experts have said so!

"Nadler had various good questions about that -- including wanting to know the level of concentration of silica found in the anthrax (since, if it were higher than 1/2 of 1%, it would mean it was impossible for it to have been naturally absorbed)," continued Greenwald.

Was it a good question? DD doesn't think so.

Jerry Nadler had no way of knowing what constitutes an unnaturally absorbed concentration of silicon in spores, or a concentration which presumably points to weaponization. While there is some data on the percentage of silicon found in the spore coat in the Rouf paper (about 1 percent/dry weight) and more diverging values expressed in a different way by Stewart, neither constitute any benchmarks for judgment on what makes a weaponized Bacillus spore.

These papers basically show silicon to be present using different methods and different quantitation. And since they show the silicon to be distinctly within the spore coat (not on the surface, which is where weaponization would presumably be found,) Nadler's statement -- if accurate -- seems to indicate that he's operating under an assumption in contradiction to the published science which exists on the subject.

FBI director Robert Mueller couldn't address the question and was shelled for it. And he should have been prepared to answer with something other than a deferment.

But it's also fair to make the observation that had scientists even been present to handle the question, no Congressmen would have accepted (any many would not have understood) any explanations having to do with the silicon signal present in the attack anthrax.

In today's Washington Post, Carrie Johnson worked over the same ground.

"Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) asked Mueller to explain discrepancies in bureau accounts of the potency of the anthrax spores in letters that were sent to lawmakers and media organizations," she wrote. "At one point, FBI officials said the substance was 'weaponized,' a step that made the powder more airy and required special scientific know-how. But in a briefing last month, government scientists said that silicon in the spores was a natural byproduct of the environment, not the result of deadly engineering.

"Nadler demanded information on the amount of silicon found in the spores ..."

Johnson's coverage was only sort of correct. It was right in giving the final impression that the FBI had explained silicon in its most recent science briefing.

But Johnson's piece also cast the impression the FBI recently and suddenly changed its mind about the nature of the anthrax. At the beginning of the article, DD cited that in 2006 -- in a scientific paper -- an FBI microbiologist had asserted the attack spores had no special properties.

If one returns to newspaper accounts, a nebulous -- but radically diverging timeline, one also influenced by reporting restricted to only a few sources not connected with the investigation, emerges.

"Investigators and experts have said the spores in the Daschle and Leahy letters were uniformly between 1 and 3 microns in size, and were coated with fine particles of frothy silica glass," wrote Guy Gugliotta and Ceci Connolly for the Washington Post in November of 2002. "The weaponized product was astonishingly pure ..."

The article, entitled "FBI Secretly Trying to Re-Create Anthrax from Mail Attacks" was mostly a collection of assertions from old bioweapons experts not connected to the case. The upshot was that the experts were convinced the anthrax was the work of a professional, or professionals, trained in the dark art of weaponization, a position many of them still maintain.

This article followed another by Gugliotta, Connolly and Gary Matsumoto in October, one which worked over the same territory, entitled "FBI's Theory on Anthrax Attacks is Doubted; Attacks Not Likely Work of 1 Person, Experts Say."

"[The Post's sources] say that making a weaponized aerosol of such sophistication and virulence would require scientific knowledge, technical competence, access to expensive equipment and safety know-how that are probably beyond the capabilities of a lone individual," they wrote.

"As a result, a consensus has emerged in recent months among experts familiar with the technology needed to turn anthrax spores into the deadly aerosol that was sent to Sens. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) that some of the fundamental assumptions driving the FBI's investigation may be flawed."

Why was it flawed? Because it did not take into account the alleged weaponization of the spores and skills needed to make them.

"The answer was silica -- the same silicon dioxide that comprises substances ranging from beach sand to window glass," reported the newspaper. "The attacker needed a special kind of silica, however, because the aerosol that delivered the spores was as sophisticated as any on the market."

Matusmoto would take a similar discussion to Science magazine for its news article published in 2003.

However, the same article had to grudgingly concede that the FBI had another explanation for the silicon signal in the attack spores.

"Sources on Capitol Hill say that in an FBI background briefing given in late 2002, Dwight Adams, one of the FBI’s topranking scientists, suggested that the silica discovered in the Senate anthrax was, in fact, silicon that occurred naturally in the organism’s subsurface spore coats," wrote Matsumoto. "To support his thesis, Adams cited a 1980 paper published by the Journal of Bacteriology ..."

This paper, it was implied, was old and out-of-date, perhaps not reproducible and its findings were possibly the result of a "contaminant." Which, by the way, is also to say that the silicon present in the attack spores could have been the same type of minor component, not an example of weaponization.

Nevertheless, for Science Matsumoto pursued the theory that the attack spores had been coated in polymerized glass.

So it is seen that the meme that the anthrax spores were weaponized has been notoriously difficult to dislodge.

In its recent science briefing, the FBI was confronted by a reporter -- probably Gary Matsumoto -- obsessed with the topic of weaponization. As a result, much of the subsequent discussion was hijacked.

Glenn Greenwald returned to the topic today in discussion of further congressional hearing.

"Senator Patrick Leahy] began the hearing by identifying the U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Ground and the private CIA contractor Battelle Corporation -- but not Fort Detrick -- as the only two institutions in the U.S. capable of producing anthrax of the strain that was sent to him and Sen. Daschele," Greenwald wrote.

"Leahy asked Mueller whether he was aware of any other institutions capable of producing the anthrax, and when Mueller -- amazingly though unsurprisingly -- claimed he couldn't answer, Leahy demanded that he obtain the answer during a break and tell the Committee today what the answer is."

In recent weeks and in Beecher's 2006 paper, the FBI has repeatedly attempted to show the attack anthrax was not so specially made that it could only have come from places like Dugway or Battelle.

In its recent presentations, the FBI's scientists -- not Robert Mueller, addressed these concerns in more concrete terms. There was no obvious attempt to mislead, so it is appalling, but perhaps unsurprising, that Robert Mueller would be so unprepared to answer questions on the same set of subjects. At the very least, it indicates an attitude in which the FBI director couldn't be bothered to do a better job, that even the facts as explained by his own people were of little interest to him.

Mueller has indicated he will seek independent evaluation of the FBI's work from the National Academy of Science. It's a good step to take. But it seems to have been interpreted as a reproach to the scientific analysis already performed. Scientists at the FBI's presentation have already indicated that they have plans for publishing in the peer-reviewed literature. And one -- Paul Keim -- has been regularly publishing articles on genomic analysis of Ames strain anthrax mixtures for some time.

Should've kept my big mouth shut

In the FBI's briefing on August 18th, agency employees and scientists were continually sidetracked by questioning about the spores' alleged weaponization. (See above.)

One exchange went like this:

Question: "Dr. Peter Jarling [sic] and Dr. Tom Geiserd [sic] of USAMRIID said that they both saw silica on the exosporium, and Dr. Frank Johnson and Dr. Florabel Mullick of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology both said that they found silica, not -- you know, in their elemental analysis at APHID. I went back to them several times and they both -- all these scientists insisted it was silica on the surface of these spores. So I was wondering what --

"Can you please account for the discrepancy between your findings and those of two U.S. Army laboratories?"

BACKGROUND OFFICIAL: "I can answer that for you. They did not have the technology to make those statements. They would not have been able to give an elemental analysis using the technology --"

And a couple of minutes later, after more argument:

QUESTION: "I appreciate that but obviously what Dr. Jarling [sic] and Dr. Geiserd said they actually saw the silica on the surface of the spores."

DR. MICHAEL: "But that's just not possible. It's not possible."

QUESTION: "You're saying they're mistaken?"

BACKGROUND OFFICIAL: "Yes, they are mistaken."

In today's Los Angeles Times, David Willman reports "Scientist admits mistake on anthrax." The scientist? Peter Jahrling, a famous virologist at Ft. Detrick, the same scientist mentioned in the FBI transcript.

"An acclaimed government scientist who assisted the federal investigation of the 2001anthrax mailings said Tuesday that he erred several years ago when he told top Bush administration officials that material he examimed had been altered to make it more deadly," reported Willman.

This was not such a scoop since the FBI had already gone to some length to prove the attack spores were not weaponized. However, as we've discussed, the facts in the matter just bounce off the meme. And they continue to do so, as evidenced by Tuesday's House hearing in which Jerry Nadler was still trying to tweeze out information about the amount of silicon in the anthrax mailings.

In today's LAT report Willman covers only briefly the magnitude of the damage caused by Jahrling's (as well as others') claim and its subsequent vigorous discussion in the mainstream media. When DD uses the term "vigorous discussion," he means vigorous discussion of only one side of the story, the side that maintained the anthrax was weaponized.

"I should never have ventured into this area," Jahrling told the LATimes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

ASK THE HEEVAHAVA: Journalist with nose to ground

"[Obama] don't believe in the hereafter, and the Lord, the way I look at it ... he's Muslim." -- from, no kiddin', Cranks, Kentucky. Ha-ha! Haw!

DD has said there will be no shortage of ask-the-heevahava stories from now until election day. They're just too easy to do, too tasty to pass up. The scripted procedure is sound: Pretend you're doing hard work criss-crossing the heartland divining the thoughts of the masses, one salt-of-the-earth nut at a time.

Go get 'em, Dan Hoyle. Have the heevahavas tell us like it is. None of us have ever been there or heard stuff like that.

"Obama isn't even really black -- Bill Clinton is more black than Obama," said Mike Wallace, a man from Dearborn, Michigan, to the Salon reporter.

"Several people, from Michigan to Alabama, referred to an insidious picture circulating on the Internet of Obama wearing a white head-wrap and a robe next to a photo of Osama bin Laden in similar dress, with the caption, 'What's the difference between Osama and Obama? Just a little B.S.'"

That's the first time I've seen it. Today.

Read the intellectual findings of he who didst stoop to drink the stale of horses, the yellow puddle here.

Previously on "Ask the Heevahava"

And here. The energizing and entertaining novelty of reporting on stupid people.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The posting to the net of a transcript of the FBI's briefing to the press on the science behind the anthrax case is remarkable for two things: first, for its explanation of the development of microbial forensics and the team of scientists behind it; and second, for the determination of some members of the press to run off on a conspiracy theory hinging upon whether or not the anthrax was ever weaponized.

As to the second part, the FBI and its team of independent scientists unequivocally said it wasn't, after repeated badgering by one journalist - unnamed in the transcript - who insisted other scientists at Ft. Detrick and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology had determined the anthrax to be weaponized because silica was allegedly seen on the surface of the spores.

Dr. Joseph Michael, a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories who had, with others, analyzed the anthrax powders in depth, flatly denied this.

"They are mistaken," the man replied to repeated questioning.

Read the rest of DD's fascinating piece at el Reg here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

DESERVING OF BEATING WITH SHOES: The makers of "Fringe"; Authors of Homeland Security memo on "psychogenic illness"

The next two are linked by coincidence. Last night, your host wasted about an hour on "Fringe," a new sci-fi series not remotely believable.

One of the lead characters, Dr. Walter Bishop, is a nutcase rescued from an insane asylum. That's so he can rescue the rest of us from crazy weapons he thought up while at Harvard, weapons later minted by his labmate, the CEO of the biggest weapons developing corporation in the world, Massive Dynamics.

Bishop's purpose is to be the idiosyncratic savant and deus ex machina, producing magical solutions in the nick of time. As played, he's annoying, babbling about wanting an 850-lb. cow and a glass of ginger ale while he scrapes skin powder off a government agent turning to crystal on an operating table.

Bishop's first weapon was something called a "leprotic" flesh-eating disease caused by mixing industrial chemicals. Made for the Vietnam war, it's been stowed away at Massive Dynamics until their one of apparently many Bruce Ivinses, in this episode someone named Steig, gets it onto an airplane where it turns everyone into those transparent preserved bodies that have been the hot fad at "science" exhibitions for stupid people (and their stupid children) who despise science.

Near the end of the show, Bishop cures the crystallizing special agent with what might just as well have been an intravenous bag of catsup, a shot of anti-freeze and some vitamins. Five minutes later the show's writers kill the man off in a car crash, anyway.

Sadly, the show telegraphs a promise that this is one of those operations where even if someone dies, there's a plot device waiting to bring them back as needed.

When I realized that was the SOP for "Fringe" I stopped hoping everyone would die, including the bossy (and also really annoying) woman who plays the lead. Only bad ratings will drive a stake through "Fringe's" characters.

"Fringe" is "co-created" by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, two big nuisances we bagged on over the weekend here.

Orci and Kurtzman were rattled -- so rattled by what they read daily in the news their stomachs need manicures. No such luck for DD.

Tied in with "Fringe" is "Fear of Terrorist Attack Could Trigger Mass Psychogenic Illness," a document labelled "For Official Use Only" by the Dept of Homeland Security.

A pointer to the memo here was forwarded by the redoubtable Steve. (Thanks and a tip o' the hat!)

Psychogenic illness is when you think you're sick because something threatening is going on -- or just maybe going on, but not really. It's the clammy feeling when you're scared for no apparent reason. Take me down to the hospital, I've been exposed to a leprotic flesh-eating disease and it's making my skin crawl!

In olden days -- like the Seventies -- this was called hysteria. In really ancient times -- WWII -- it was fearing fear itself and listening to old wives' tales.

DD has a book on his shelf called "Invasion 1940" -- a personal account from Britain on the darkest days of the war. In it, it was said some people actually believed the Wehrmacht to be employing death rays, the German military winning so fast and what not.

Now, according to Homeland Security, this is all called psychogenic illness.

Psychogenic illness occurred in California in 2003, writes Homeland Security.

"In October 2003, a man entered a bank and sprayed an aerosol can into the air before departing," inform our anti-terror minders. "Bank employees and customers soon became ill ... although subsequent investigation determined that no chemical or biological agents were present..."

"An outbreak of mass psychogenic illness in the Homeland related to terrorism or the threat of terrorism is possible, and should be taken into account when planning and executing incident response."

It does no good at all to say the great government of the United States of America has worked overtime in the past eight years spreading fear of terror attack. In other words, it has prepped the homeland battle space for "psychogenic illness."

Now why did I ever write that stuff? Forgive me, I was out of my mind.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

ASK THE HEEVAHAVA! The preferred subject of the newspaper political reporter

Thinks Sarah Palin has more experience than Obama, McCain and Biden combined! Then again, might be found face down at The Red Lion on election day, too.

John McCain and Sarah Palin were in bad ol' Pennsyltucky today. And the travelling press corps has been checking in with its stories based on personality. In reporting on personality, it really doesn't matter what the policies of McCain and Palin are or that the latter is a creationist and a bit of a serial liar when it comes to her political accomplishments. (The Daily Howler owns the book on the dissection of Palin's scripted claims and comparisons with the historical record here.)

When personality rules the narrative, journalists excel at asking the heevahava -- the person with the ridiculous, crazy or uninformed and out-of-it opinion. And, lo, in this way the heevahava is used to tell us the way things are.

Pennsylvania's loaded with heevahavas. Politely -- it's Pennsylvania Dutch slang for a dolt or stupid person. And you're going to see quote from many of them from now until election day because Pennsyltucky is -- like -- important. It could be a hinge of history.

Of course, sometimes someone intelligent and boring will be asked for their view. But it's the heevahava who always inevitably wins the day in political reporting. The Net has another word for the practice. It's called nut-picking.

Anyway, McCain and Palin were in Lancaster County at Franklin & Marshall College. News stories said they drew 10,000. The upshot was that Sarah Palin had caused an explosion in attendance.

Of course, on Friday, the Los Angeles Times had quietly reported that an Obama appearance in Lancaster had drawn ten thousand. Reactionary Sarah Palin -- someone who irrationally went from a relative nobody to the most famous person in the western world in less than a week -- drawing ten thousand in lily-white Lancaster County isn't that remarkable.

But if you know the county -- and DD's father worked in it for a long time -- large attendance for a political rally in which a black man is the star, is stunning.

But the reporters from the nation's press corps filed their McCain/Palin tales.

The heevahava was always present against the background of a script, one which played all day: All women were running to support Sarah Palin, a common sense-defying and intelligence-insulting lie, propagated as an exciting window on the raging political battle.

"I was really undecided, but I think she (Palin) has swayed me," said Susan Engle, a 42-year-old registered Democrat from Lancaster (to the a reporter from the Kansas City Star). "It's not so much her politics as it is her personality ... I'm not up on her politics, honestly, it was more the fact she has a family and a career."

Another woman somewhat gnomically told the newspaper: "Her shoe is our shoe." (See here.)

DD spent more than half his life in southeastern Pennsylvania. And that one, even by his relaxed standards, pegs the fruitcake meter.

The Allentown Morning Call, however, judged the crowd to be somewhat less than 10k -- quoting 7,500.

"The visit by McCain and Palin came less than a week after Obama addressed a crowd of 10,000 supporters at a park just blocks from the site of today's rally," reported the newspaper.

On board for a quip was the heevahava -- this time a sixty-three year-old man.

Playing the fool, someone we'll bet will be face down in a bar on election day, said: "[Sarah Palin] has 'more experience than all three of them combined,' referring to McCain, Obama and Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden ..."

A reporter from a newspaper called The Oxford Press wasn't at the rally but found an idiot in need of pulse-taking from Dayton, Ohio.

"I was going to vote for McCain, but I wasn't very enthusiastic," said "an independent" woman voter to the newspaper. "But when I found out that Palin was named, well, I literally felt the excitement go through me. I haven't been this excited about anyone since the John and Bobby Kennedy."

Since the John and Bobby Kennedy.

To invoke Bob Somerby of the Howler, it's hard to tell what's actually going on when your mainstream press displays such inanity, broadcasting words of clowns as earthy wisdom.

Is this what most people really think? Is it what they've really said?

Or is it equally likely -- perhaps more likely -- that when people of well-reasoned opinion now see a newspaper reporter coming, they go the other way because they know from reading the product that most reporters just don't like hearing from them that much.

Hard as it is for many to grasp, newspaper reporters looking for color prefer the words of heevahavas. It makes the reading more thrilling. DD knows. He was there, working for a newspaper where the heevahava was regarded as philosopher king. My friends, some who still work there, will back me up on it.

Jonathan Freedland, a Brit writing for the Guardian, was puzzled and dismayed: "Even if it's not ethnic prejudice, but some other aspect of the culture wars, that proves decisive ... For America to make a decision as grave as this one - while the planet boils and with the US fighting two wars - on the trivial basis that a hockey mom is likable and seems down to earth, would be to convey a lack of seriousness, a fleeing from reality ..."

The man just hasn't lived in Heevahava County long enough.

Southern California has no shortage of heevahavas. They're just higher class.

The Times had Rachel Abramowitz to act the clown late last week in a column which asked the question, "Which actress should play Sarah Palin in a movie about her life?"

The newspaper furnished a picture of Demi Moore because "as veteran comedy writer and MASH co-creator Larry Gelbart pointed out when we were discussing this, Moore could really capture what he sees as Palin's 'mixture of sensuality and dominatrix.' And just think, Moore's husband, Ashton Kutcher, could play the 'first dude,' Todd Palin."

While it was supposed to be a humor column, the celebrity journalist just couldn't resist playing the court jester a little too much. Because, well, writing about what Palin as a vice-president really means just doesn't have the same zing.

So hysterically funny, the pretty babblers will undo us all.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

BURN BEFORE VIEWING: Your job, should you choose to accept it -- Suck up to this week's platter of the bloated and obvious from Hollywood

The OBJECTIVE, Leonardo DiCaprio told the LA Times stenographer: "To make a highly intelligent film with today's politics." DD thought a more modest objective could be to keep Ridley Scott away from the studio's lavish party spreads.

Sometimes it's difficult to feel sorry for the plight of newspapers. Losing circulation to the Internet, they've been unfairly shelled into giving away their work for free to a demographic in cyberspace least likely to pay for anything.

And then one reads the Sunday features section, one in which a bunch of staffers are sent to unblinkingly copy down whatever trash is spoonfed them by Hollywood swells no matter how obvious and intelligence-insulting.

At a time when the heaping of ridicule upon the scripted and empty-headed bragging of Hollywood celebrities might be seen as a slight civic service, the Los Angeles Times -- so frightened that it might lose readers by being supercilious -- often seems to go in the opposite direction.

Moving along, DD wrote about the Hollywood fantasy of striking pay dirt with movies about the war on terror a couple months ago.

The formula's beyond moldy: Option a book that wasn't quite a bestseller, one by some pundit or first-string reporter from the country's top five newspapers. Hire a couple stars for marquee value, make the same movie fifty or sixty times, and don't forget to line up the newspaper features reporters and magazine writers to say how good it will be before the critics check in and spoil it all after theatrical release.

There were two gobblers rolled out for your scorn in today's newspaper: Ridley Scott's "Body of Lies" and D. J. Caruso's "Eagle Eye."

To read Scott's comments in the Times was to laugh. A normal person, instead of obediently writing everything down, might have been moved to say: "C'mon, today you're just another famous blowhard. You need a sound thrashing for trying to pass off this rubbish as something fresh."

"My gut tells me [this is] a commercial movie," Scott told the Times.

"The film ... offers plenty of other visceral stimulations as well," writes the Times. "[Tautly] paced shootouts, car chases and lushly photographed explosions ... Big ideas, too."

"[Leonardo DiCaprio] says he checked his political agenda at the door ... But researching his character with a former head of the CIA (whom the actor declined to name) and coming to understand something of how agency operations are run in the Middle East gave him a new perspective on the peace process."

DiCaprio, adds the Times, really was tortured during the making of the movie. In the sidebar, "Acting can be a torturous process," readers are told one eye-rolling whopper after another: "For an excruciating sequence in 'Body of Lies' in which his cover operative is tortured by terrorists, [DiCaprio] had to psyche himself up for months prior to shooting. But even with all his mental preparation, the experience of shooting in an old prison in Rabat, Morocco, left him sickened and spent ... [The] combination of the intense physical mental stress of the scene, coupled with ... dust particles lodging in his lungs, left DiCaprio worse for wear."

No word on torturing audiences, after at least fifty movies and television dramas, all including the same thing.

Ridley Scott tells the Times he needs to make movies that are "about something." Perish forbid they be about nothing.

It is intended that "Body of Lies" "voice certain hard truths about the United States -- even if that means ruffling some feathers ..."

How fiery and forward!

The other piece of hagiography was furnished by Geoff Boucher, who usually writes about comic books or that Metallica's new album will be really great.

"Early in the upcoming tech-thriller 'Eagle Eye,' a suspected terrorist is in the back seat of an SUV bouncing along a rugged road in Afghanistan as a US spy drone follows it from the sky overhead," writes Boucher.

Haven't seen that before, have ya?

"Even with this eye-popping technology, the world is still complicated," it is said.

Starring Shia LaBeouf, the producer tells the reporter, who fails to let on whether he laughed or not, that "the film is very much of the moment with its web of political intrigue and sleek high-tech sensibility."

D. J. Caruso adds: "What I didn't want to happen is that it get so big with the hardware and action and the stunts that the people get lost, that it turned into something like a video game."

Presumably, this is why the man hired Shia LaBeouf, an actor who is most well known for starring in movies that are video games.

"Eagle Eye producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman -- who were part of the writing team on 'Transformers' -- said that they found inspiration in the news coverage of the war on terrorism and that exploring the topics left them a little bit rattled," informs Boucher.

Rattled, they tell ya. They were rattled by news of the war on terror while making a big movie!

Ah, asses are made to bear and so is anyone who has to listen to this stuff sans the option of leaving the room or hanging up the phone.

Sucking up to the swells at the Times. And here.

Friday, September 05, 2008

VOTE FOR THE REAL MAVRICK [SIC]: Get one with your inner stupid

At one point during McCain's speech last night, CNN's camera zoomed in a poster-waving booster. The poster, hand-made, read -- "the real mavrick." [sic]

In a sea of official campaign signs, the fellow still couldn't get the simplest of things right. It was a good metaphor for eight years of Republican rule.

It reminded me of a moment from small town America.

Flashback to Pine Grove, Pennsyltucky, in the early Seventies.

The local high school cheerleaders had been prepping the spirit bus for a Saturday afternoon football game with Tri-Valley, in Hegins, known as the town in "the valley over."

The pep squad had painted a big victory sign, three feet high -- made to run the length of the vehicle.

The sign read, and I would never kid you: VICTOY!

The "VICTOY!" banner was mindlessly plastered on the side panel of the spirit bus. Too much time had been spent getting it wrong to waste any more making it right.

It was humiliating.

Our enemies in Hegins thought so, too. The athletes of Tri-Valley were not impressed and spent the remainder of the afternoon totally denying the Pine Grove High football Cardinals "VICTOY!"

There's a lesson here for what went on at the GOP convention.

The Republicans have won so many times during the last eight years while still getting everything wrong, why change now?

It's still US VERSUS THEM. If you're from a small town, you're salt-of-the-earth patriotic and hard-working. Your hands are dirty and calloused; you like to hear myths about your greatness, the ones your minders sing to you on TV. Only you have worked for an honest living.

The rest of us are lazy elites who earn all our crusts off your strong backs. We're secretly dealing with your enemies in foreign lands, too. The plan is to sell out the country to Iran or Russia as soon as our guy is in power. Our favorite leader from history is Neville Chamberlain.

If we went to school to better ourselves, they weren't the right schools. They were the schools for kids who sleep all afternoon and party all night. And when we deigned to learn something, it was evolution in biology, just so we could come back,
attack your faith and brainwash your kids in public school.

"We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco," said Sarah the Barracuda.

Yes, absolutely, snaggle-toothed fish. Don't forget, San Francisco is where all the homos live. Their sole purpose: To harass and plague the middle class of small town America. The aim is to get a cruising bar called the Manhole in every 'burg. And California -- let's not get started -- those homos can even get married there!

May you spend winter in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It needs the tourism more than we do.

The class war strategy is a good one. It frequently wins because the Democrats are too delicate to play it. One who was not was Hillary Clinton. And so now the Dems have had the opportunity to endure it twice in one election cycle: Once during the primary and now for the main course.

"Cultural affinities, which President Bush played on heavily to paint Democratic nominee John F. Kerry as elite and out-of-touch, are now central to the campaign strategy of of GOP presidential nominee, John McCain," wrote the Los Angeles Times on page 1, today.

In playing the part of the obvious hypocrite, "The Arizona senator appeared to float above the culture wars Thursday night in a nomination acceptance speech that criticized 'partisan rancor' and promoted his history of working with Democrats," the newspaper continued. "And he is an unlikely standard-bearer for the forces of family values, given his admissions over the years of his failures as a husband, or for the advocates of small-town living, with his millionaire wife and multiple homes."

"The word class is fraught with unpleasing associations, so that to linger upon it is apt to be interpreted as the symptom of a perverted mind and a jaundiced spirit," said someone once, quoted in this blog a few months ago. In America, one can add the "cultural affinity" conflict -- a media weasel-phrase for the blunter class war -- enjoys a double standard. You can use it to club your foe in the opposing tribe. But if he employs class and culture war to paint you as the unwanted other, the enemy of the nation, he's scum.

The middle class, the demographic at which the "cultural affinities" war is aimed at, is a group which is not the critically-thinking bloc those trying to woo it paint it as.

It is a class identifiable as people who have things done to them:. "They are in bondage -- to monetary policy, rip-off advertising, crazes and delusions ... " (See here.)

The McCain campaign is precisely about these things -- an exercise in rip-off advertising as well as an operation for the fostering of crazes and delusions.