Archive for May 29th, 2008

Just What L.A. Needs…

Oh. My. God.

If you ever just pick a judicial candidate randomly at the polling place– I mean who really knows one from the other, right– I hope that after you read this, you’ll never do it again. On page 7 of the Los Angeles “Official Sample Ballot” for next Tuesday’s primary is a race for Judge of the Superior Court (Office number 125). The contest hasn’t gotten any publicity. But I want you to read this:

“No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race, in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood, nor more than one-eighth Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood, provided that Hispanic whites, defined as anyone with an Hispanic ancestor, may be citizens if, in addition to meeting the aforesaid ascertainable trace and percentage tests, they are in appearance indistinguishable from Americans whose ancestral home is in the British Isles or Northwestern Europe. Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.”

The man who wrote that– a proposed constitutional amendment– is asking for our votes for the Superior Court. His name– well he has many names– is Bill Johnson. He also goes by the names William Daniel Johnson, Daniel Johnson and James O. Pace. He’s an attorney, a Mormon, and, as you may have concluded, a white supremacist (and Ron Paulista). The paragraph comes from his 1985 book, Amendment to the Constitution– Averting The Decline And Fall Of America in which he urges the repeal of the 14th (which defines citizenship as well as due process and equal protection under the law) and 15th (which guarantees voting rights for all citizens) Amendments. He advocates deporting tens of millions of Americans within one year. That would include… well, read his little amendment again. American Indians, Eskimos, Hawaiians won’t be citizens but they’ll have to live on reservations.

(…)

This isn’t Johnson’s first bid for elective office. When Dick Cheney resigned from Congress to become Secretary of Defense in 1989, Johnson ran for his House seat in Wyoming. He didn’t win although a GOP front group publication, All the Way, strongly backed him.

The strongest pro-majority campaign in the nation is mounting here with far-reaching implications. Congressional candidate Daniel Johnson is being blasted as a ‘white supremacist’ because he favors repatriating non-whites to Africa and scrapping affirmative action programs.

People can be so unfair sometimes.

Aside from being active in Ron Paul’s campaign, he is also a Minuteman activist and exactly the kind of person made to feel empowered by CNN resident xenophobe Lou Dobbs. Johnson’s campaign manager, Holly Clearman is also state coordinator for the Ron Paul for President campaign and is herself is a candidate for the Republican L.A. County Central Committee. They are counting on Paulistas to put him over the top. Fortunately, there are legal community newspapers that actually do the research on judicial candidates. In L.A. we have the Metropolitan News Enterprise, which dug up a lot of the facts on Johnson’s multiple identities.

Oops, looks like Paul withdrew his endorsement, but it might be (conveniently) a little late.

Um, if you’re in L.A., please don’t vote for the crazy racist man, and tell all your hip L.A. friends not to vote for him either.

1 comment May 29th, 2008 at 11:38pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Elections,Judiciary,Racism,Republicans

Monkeys + Robots = AWESOME, Pt. II

Well, okay, it’s just a robot hand – but it’s still pretty cool:

In previous studies, researchers showed that humans who had been paralyzed for years could learn to control a cursor on a computer screen with their brain waves and that nonhuman primates could use their thoughts to move a mechanical arm, a robotic hand or a robot on a treadmill.

The new experiment goes a step further. In it, the monkeys’ brains seem to have adopted the mechanical appendage as their own, refining its movement as it interacted with real objects in real time. The monkeys had their own arms gently restrained while they learned to use the added one.

(…)

In the experiment, two macaques first used a joystick to gain a feel for the arm, which had shoulder joints, an elbow and a grasping claw with two mechanical fingers.

(…)

The scientists used the computer to help the monkeys move the arm at first, essentially teaching them with biofeedback.

After several days, the monkeys needed no help. They sat stationary in a chair, repeatedly manipulating the arm with their brain to reach out and grab grapes, marshmallows and other nuggets dangled in front of them. The snacks reached the mouths about two-thirds of the time — an impressive rate, compared with earlier work.

The monkeys learned to hold the grip open on approaching the food, close it just enough to hold the food and gradually loosen the grip when feeding.

On several occasions, a monkey kept its claw open on the way back, with the food stuck to one finger. At other times, a monkey moved the arm to lick the fingers clean or to push a bit of food into its mouth while ignoring a newly presented morsel.

The animals were apparently freelancing, discovering new uses for the arm, showing “displays of embodiment that would never be seen in a virtual environment,” the researchers wrote.

“In the real world, things don’t work as expected,” said the senior author of the paper, Dr. Andrew Schwartz, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh. “The marshmallow sticks to your hand or the food slips, and you can’t program a computer to anticipate all of that.

“But the monkeys’ brains adjusted. They were licking the marshmallow off the prosthetic gripper, pushing food into their mouth, as if it were their own hand.”

(…)

…Dr. Schwartz’s team, Dr. Donoghue’s group and others are working on all of the problems, and the two macaques’ rapid learning curve in taking ownership of a foreign limb gives scientists confidence that the main obstacles are technical and, thus, negotiable.

In an editorial accompanying the Nature study, Dr. John F. Kalaska, a neuroscientist at the University of Montreal, argued that after such bugs had been worked out, scientists might even discover areas of the cortex that allow more intimate, subtle control of prosthetic devices.

Such systems, Dr. Kalaska wrote, “would allow patients with severe motor deficits to interact and communicate with the world not only by the moment-to-moment control of the motion of robotic devices, but also in a more natural and intuitive manner that reflects their overall goals, needs and preferences.”

The potential really is amazing.  And, sadly, we have an ever-increasing group of combat veterans who could really benefit from it.

May 29th, 2008 at 10:29pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science,Technology

Guns Don’t Kill People…

…Shaking hands with American politicians kills people.

John McCain invited Barack Obama for a photo-op trip to Iraq together: (h/t Needlenose)

Over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of McCain’s top surrogates, laid the groundwork for McCain’s criticism in a television interview in which he noted Obama’s absence from Iraq and floated the idea that Obama and McCain should go together to be briefed by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Asked whether he’d be willing to take such a trip, McCain told the AP: “Sure. It would be fine.”

“I go back every few months because things are changing in Iraq,” he said. McCain questioned whether Obama has ever been briefed by Petraeus. “I would also seize that opportunity to educate Senator Obama along the way.”

The Obama campaign quickly responded in the negative:

(…)

Of course, Obama is right. This is nothing more than a cheap political stunt. But it’s worse than that. George Bush and John McCain love to take pictures with their Iraqi “friends” but those friends have a disturbing habit of turning up dead shortly thereafter:

The fact is, people are dying for these photo-ops. Being associated with the U.S. is bad enough in a country where every side seems to be against us. Being publicly photographed shaking the enemy’s hand is literally a death sentence.

Whatever the way forward is in Iraq, our politicians need to stop using Iraqi stooges for political gain. You don’t need to have been there to be taken seriously when talking about the war, and you certainly don’t need a picture of your with a scared looking sheik to be legitimate. So don’t go to Iraq! All you are doing is making your friends into targets.

Obama was right to deny McCain’s political stunt. These photo-ops kill people.

Hey, what’s a few more dead Iraqis when American votes are at stake?  Surely the competence and awesomeness of a McCain presidency would end up saving far more Iraqi lives than would be snuffed out by a thoughtless dog-and-pony tour, right?  Yes, I’m sure that must be correct.

May 29th, 2008 at 09:34pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Iraq,McCain,Politics,Republicans,Wankers,War

Vindication!

For over three years, I have been saying that the media isn’t pro-Republican because of incompetence or right-wing intimidation or even a mindless quest for ratings, but because it’s what their corporate ownership wants. Well, Jessica Yellin just confirmed it on Anderson Cooper 360:

COOPER: Jessica, [former White House press secretary Scott] McClellan took press to task for not upholding their reputation. He writes: “The national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. The ‘liberal media’ — in quotes — didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”

Dan Bartlett, former Bush adviser, called the allegation “total crap.”

What is your take? Did the press corps drop the ball?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I wouldn’t go that far.

I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings.

And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives — and I was not at this network at the time — but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president.

(…)

COOPER: You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?

YELLIN: Not in that exact — they wouldn’t say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces. They would push me in different directions. They would turn down stories that were more critical and try to put on pieces that were more positive, yes. That was my experience.

There you have it.  It’s not bad or lazy or timid reporting; the editorial direction is actually coming from corporate and news executives who are actively promoting a pro-Republican bias.  The good news is that stories like McClellan’s and Yellin’s are seeping out, on top of the propaganda generals and Tim Russert’s role as a safe haven for White House talking points.

All of this erodes the corporate media’s credibility as objective, much less liberal, news sources – which will hopefully lead to more and more people seeking out alternatives.  We’ll be here, waiting.

1 comment May 29th, 2008 at 08:37pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Politics,Republicans

Incurious Howie

I meant to touch on this yesterday, but couldn’t find the time.  Howie Kurtz has a piece in which he very sympathetically covers Republican accusations that MSNBC is too liberal (and Clinton campaign accusations that it’s too Pro-bama):

MSNBC, which bills itself as “the place for politics,” is being pummeled by political practitioners.

“It’s an organ of the Democratic National Committee,” says Steve Schmidt, a senior strategist for John McCain’s campaign. “It’s a partisan advocacy organization that exists for the purpose of attacking John McCain.”

Ed Gillespie, President Bush’s counselor, says there is an “increasing blurring” of the line between NBC News and MSNBC’s “blatantly partisan talk show hosts like Christopher Matthews and Keith Olbermann.”

Terry McAuliffe, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, says Matthews has been “in the tank” for Barack Obama “from Day One” and is practically “the Obama campaign chair.”

Why are operatives from across the political spectrum suddenly beating up on the third-place cable channel? Phil Griffin, the NBC senior vice president who runs MSNBC, dismisses the criticism, calling Schmidt’s broadsides “pretty outrageous accusations.”

“To call us an arm of the DNC is a joke,” he says. “We have people with multiple points of view. Everyone is getting a little thin-skinned. We argue and debate every topic.”

The focus of the attacks is MSNBC’s evening lineup, where the channel has clearly gravitated to the left in recent years and often seems to regard itself as the antithesis of Fox News. Schmidt, for instance, says he regards MSNBC’s daytime reporting as fair, but that it would be “delusional” to view its nighttime operation as anything other than a “partisan entity.”

(…)

NBC News President Steve Capus says the distinctions between reporting and opinion are clear. “We happen to have programs that at times are driven by opinion on MSNBC, and we have a worldwide news organization driven by NBC News,” he says. “The only people trying to lump it all together are people who tend to view these things through a political filter or are our competitors.”

But news and opinion often seem to merge on primary nights. MSNBC’s coverage is anchored by Matthews, a onetime Democratic operative, and Olbermann, the “Countdown” host who recently finished one anti-Bush commentary by instructing the president to “shut the hell up.”

Oh, I see.  Because Matthews is “a onetime Democratic operative,” that makes him a liberal?  He does call Republicans out on obvious bullshit, but his embarrassing man-crushes on Dubya and Mitt Romney make the idea that he’s a liberal simply laughable.  And I don’t think he’s Pro-bama so much as just ridiculously misogynistic.  As for Olbermann being a liberal, well… yeah.

But here’s the bit that struck me as intriguing, but apparently not Howie:

NBC executives say the ratings growth at MSNBC — up 61 percent this month in prime time, compared with a year ago — has made it a target.

Huh.  61% seems like a pretty big increase to me.  Funny that Howie chooses not to explore that growth at all.  Could it be that MSNBC is attracting viewers who don’t want all-GOP-talking-points, all the time?  It certainly seems like there should be a market for a news channel like that, especially as those GOP talking points get more shrill and less credible.

Now that would have made an interesting story.

2 comments May 29th, 2008 at 07:42pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Politics,Republicans,Wankers

Strange-But-Cool

Here’s a little bit of lunchtime coolness/weirdness:

CARRIE DASHOW dropped a large dollop of lemon sorbet into a glass of Guinness, stirred, drank and proclaimed that it tasted like a “chocolate shake.”

Nearby, Yuka Yoneda tilted her head back as her boyfriend, Albert Yuen, drizzled Tabasco sauce onto her tongue. She swallowed and considered the flavor: “Doughnut glaze, hot doughnut glaze!”

They were among 40 or so people who were tasting under the influence of a small red berry called miracle fruit at a rooftop party in Long Island City, Queens, last Friday night. The berry rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy.

The host was Franz Aliquo, 32, a lawyer who styles himself Supreme Commander (Supreme for short) when he’s presiding over what he calls “flavor tripping parties.” Mr. Aliquo greeted new arrivals and took their $15 entrance fees. In return, he handed each one a single berry from his jacket pocket.

“You pop it in your mouth and scrape the pulp off the seed, swirl it around and hold it in your mouth for about a minute,” he said. “Then you’re ready to go.” He ushered his guests to a table piled with citrus wedges, cheeses, Brussels sprouts, mustard, vinegars, pickles, dark beers, strawberries and cheap tequila, which Mr. Aliquo promised would now taste like top-shelf Patrón.

The miracle fruit, Synsepalum dulcificum, is native to West Africa and has been known to Westerners since the 18th century. The cause of the reaction is a protein called miraculin, which binds with the taste buds and acts as a sweetness inducer when it comes in contact with acids, according to a scientist who has studied the fruit, Linda Bartoshuk at the University of Florida’s Center for Smell and Taste. Dr. Bartoshuk said she did not know of any dangers associated with eating miracle fruit.

During the 1970s, a ruling by the Food and Drug Administration dashed hopes that an extract of miraculin could be sold as a sugar substitute. In the absence of any plausible commercial application, the miracle fruit has acquired a bit of a cult following.

(…)

[Aliquo] believes that the best way to encounter the fruit is in a group. “You need other people to benchmark the experience,” he said. At his first party, a small gathering at his apartment in January, guests murmured with delight as they tasted citrus wedges and goat cheese. Then things got trippy.

“You kept hearing ‘oh, oh, oh,’ ” he said, and then the guests became “literally like wild animals, tearing apart everything on the table.”

“It was like no holds barred in terms of what people would try to eat, so they opened my fridge and started downing Tabasco and maple syrup,” he said.

(…)

The fruits are available by special order from specialty suppliers in New York, including Baldor Specialty Foods and S. Katzman Produce. Katzman sells the berries for about $2.50 a piece, and has been offering them to chefs.

Mr. Aliquo gets his miracle fruit from Curtis Mozie, 64, a Florida grower who sells thousands of the berries each year through his Web site, www.miraclefruitman.com. (A freezer pack of 30 berries costs about $90 with overnight shipping.) Mr. Mozie, who was in New York for Mr. Gollner’s reading, stopped by the flavor-tripping party.

Mr. Mozie listed his favorite miracle fruit pairings, which included green mangoes and raw aloe. “I like oysters with some lemon juice,” he said. “Usually you just swallow them, but I just chew like it was chewing gum.”

A large group of guests reached its own consensus: limes were candied, vinegar resembled apple juice, goat cheese tasted like cheesecake on the tongue and goat cheese on the throat. Bananas were just bananas.

Amazing, and hard to imagine.  I’m tempted to try this someday.

4 comments May 29th, 2008 at 11:19am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Weirdness

No Silver Lining

As much as I like Olivia Judson, I think she’s kinda off the mark here:

…[E]ach mass extinction has been followed by a pulse of fresh evolutionary change: large numbers of new forms appear. The reason is that before the mass extinction, most niches are occupied — a situation that typically prevents radical changes. Afterwards, many niches are empty and available for re-occupation — which promotes rapid change….

Taking the long view, then, the extinctions we are causing may open the way to a burst of evolutionary invention, the creation of new forms even more remarkable than those around today.

I really wish that I could believe that.  The problem is, as long as humans go on being humans, the manmade stresses on – or outright destruction of – those niches will continue, and will kill off any emerging species just as surely as they killed off the existing ones.  This clean slate/renewal model only works when the mass extinctions are caused by a one-time catastrophic event, not a catastrophic event that hangs around, continuing to be catastrophic, for millenia upon millenia.

To be completely fair, Judson talks about a 10 million year timeframe for new species to emerge, so there’s a chance that mankind will have either died out, moved on, or changed its ways by then.  Although there’s an even better chance that we will have wrecked the planet beyond repair well before then, leaving nothing but wasteland behind for prospective new species to occupy.

And that’s your cheery thought for the day.

2 comments May 29th, 2008 at 07:18am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Science


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