Archive for March 26th, 2009

Great Moments In Out-Of-Control Prudery

This is completely nuts:

My friends at the ACLU of Pennsylvania have filed a Complaint (PDF):

Plaintiffs in this civil rights action are three teenage girls and their parents. The Defendant, Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick, has threatened to prosecute the three girls for child pornography for their roles in the creation of two digital photographs unless the parents agree to place the girls on probation and send them to a five-week, ten-hour re-education program wherein the girls must discuss why their conduct was wrong and what it means to be a girl. One photo shows Marissa and Grace, from the waist up, lying side by side in their bras, with one talking on a telephone and the other making a peace sign. The other photo shows Nancy Doe standing upright, just emerged from the shower, with a white towel wrapped tightly around her body just below the breasts. The two photographs, which depict no sexual activity or display of pubic area, are not illegal under Pennsylvania’s crimes code and, indeed, are images protected by the First Amendment.

Skumanick nevertheless persists in threatening to prosecute the girls because he has deemed the photos “provocative.” Since there is no basis to prosecute the girls for posing in photographs that plainly are not child pornography, in terms of content or production, Skumanick’s threat to prosecute the girls must be considered retaliation against the plaintiffs for asserting their constitutional rights – the parents’ right to direct their children’s upbringing and the girls’ rights both to free expression and against compelled speech – in refusing Skumanick’s demands. Accordingly, plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to enjoin Skumanick from bringing the retaliatory criminal charges against plaintiffs based on their refusal to accede to his demand that they submit to probation and participate in the re-education program.

It appears that the only grounds for calling the photos “provocative” is Skumanick’s say-so:

One parent stood up during the meeting and asked how Skumanick could be prosecuting his daughter because, according to him, she was in the photograph wearing a bathing suit. Skumanick told the assembled crowd that she was posed “provocatively,” which made her subject to a child pornography charge.

In response to Skumanick’s comment, Marissa’s father stood up and asked who was deciding what was provocative. Skumanick replied that he was not going to argue and that he could charge all of the minors there that night but was instead offering them a plea deal. Skumanick also told Mr. Miller that, “these are the rules if you don’t like them, too bad.”

Awesome.  If I’m reading the description of the Nancy Doe photo correctly, I can see where that’s a little borderline, but calling a photo with zero nudity or sexual activity “child pornography”?  And using that to threaten 13-year-old girls with prosecution?  That’s insane.

This guy sounds like an unhinged misogynistic crusader who’s about two drinks away from screaming that teenage girls are dirty little whores who tempt the righteous into sin.

March 26th, 2009 at 09:36pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Republicans,Sexism,Wankers

Dogs: So Like Us

Not sure I totally buy this, but it’s interesting:

Chimpanzees share many of our genes, but dogs have lived with us for so long and undergone so much domestication that they are now serving as a model for understanding human social behavior, according to a new paper.

Cooperation, attachment to people, understanding human verbal and non-verbal communications, and the ability to imitate are just a handful of the social behaviors we share with dogs. They might even think like us at times too, according to the paper, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Advances in the Study of Behavior.


Topal, who is based at the Institute for Psychology at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, is one of the world’s leading canine researchers. He and his team argue that dogs should serve as the “new chimpanzees” in comparative studies designed to shed light on human uniqueness.

“In my view, pet dogs can be regarded in many respects as ‘preverbal infants in canine’s clothing,'” he said, adding that many dog-owner relationships mirror human parental bonds with children.

My money’s still on chimps as being far more human-like, but it’s certainly true that dogs are more integrated into our world, and probably have been for long enough that some sort of co-evolution with humans has occurred.

March 26th, 2009 at 08:38pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Science

Eric Cantor, Father Of The Year

This is cold:

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor — among the unlikeliest attendees at a Britney Spears concert earlier this week in Washington — told CNN Thursday he went to the teen-dominated show for a political event, to “help the team.”


According to a Republican aide, Cantor was specifically raising money at the concert for his political action committee, ERICPAC. The event was hosted by the Truckers Association, which has a box at the Verizon Center, where Spears was performing.


“I hand it to the performer, she was something,” he said.

The congressman also said his daughter was “really mad” he did not bring her to the concert. “She had school that day, and the next, and I wasn’t going to bring her up here to miss it.”

So he goes to the Spears concert to “help the team,” but doesn’t take his Britfan daughter along?  Niiiice.

“Sorry you missed it, kiddo – the performer was really something!”

March 26th, 2009 at 07:20pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Republicans,Wankers

Kristof Finally Notices

Welcome to the party, Nic.

The expert on experts is Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His 2005 book, “Expert Political Judgment,” is based on two decades of tracking some 82,000 predictions by 284 experts. The experts’ forecasts were tracked both on the subjects of their specialties and on subjects that they knew little about.

The result? The predictions of experts were, on average, only a tiny bit better than random guesses — the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board.

“It made virtually no difference whether participants had doctorates, whether they were economists, political scientists, journalists or historians, whether they had policy experience or access to classified information, or whether they had logged many or few years of experience,” Mr. Tetlock wrote.

Indeed, the only consistent predictor was fame — and it was an inverse relationship. The more famous experts did worse than unknown ones. That had to do with a fault in the media. Talent bookers for television shows and reporters tended to call up experts who provided strong, coherent points of view, who saw things in blacks and whites. People who shouted — like, yes, Jim Cramer!


The marketplace of ideas for now doesn’t clear out bad pundits and bad ideas partly because there’s no accountability. We trumpet our successes and ignore failures — or else attempt to explain that the failure doesn’t count because the situation changed or that we were basically right but the timing was off.


So what about a system to evaluate us prognosticators? Professor Tetlock suggests that various foundations might try to create a “trans-ideological Consumer Reports for punditry,” monitoring and evaluating the records of various experts and pundits as a public service. I agree: Hold us accountable!

Ah, accountability.  So very valuable, and yet so hard to find.  And its absence screws up everything.  If we had a culture of accountability instead of a culture of impunity, we wouldn’t be in Iraq, we wouldn’t be illegally spying or rendering or torturing, and our economy wouldn’t be in the toilet.

We’ve turned into a country-sized version of the guy who plays Xbox and watches TV all day and eats nothing but ice cream and junk food, and just can’t understand why he can’t get a date or walk around the block without wheezing.

1 comment March 26th, 2009 at 11:27am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media

Could This Work?

I sure hope so, ‘cuz it sounds way cool.  Basically, it’s an electric car plan where you buy everything but the battery, and there’s an infrastructure with not just charging stations, but switching stations, where you can get  a low battery swapped out quickly and completely rather than waiting for it to charge up.

I’m rooting for ’em, but I have no idea if it’s really feasible, especially on a national scale.  That’s a lot of charging and switching stations to build, and they don’t even have a car yet.

March 26th, 2009 at 06:50am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Energy,Environment,Technology

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