09 June 2006

Moving day

Well, it's moving day here at The Questionable Authority. I've been picked up as part of the newest group of bloggers to move over to scienceblogs.com. I've been working on the new site for a few days now, and I've actually got several posts up over there.

You can find the new blog at: http://scienceblogs.com/authority/

The posts that are already here will stay here, but I probably won't be updating much anymore. Hope to see you all at the new place!

07 June 2006

The hydra

It's just been reported that the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq has been killed by an American air strike. I hope it's true, but even if it is I don't know how much good it will do. We've lopped another head off the beast, but there are plenty more where that one came from.

05 June 2006

Elections, RFK, Rolling Stone, and Salon.com

A couple of days ago, I posted a link to a Rolling Stone article written by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. In that article, RFK Jr presented what he considered to be evidence that the Ohio presidential vote suffered from widespread fraud, and that Kerry was robbed of the presidency as a direct result. In the comments for that thread, Jason presented a link to an article at salon.com that rebutted the RFK piece. I had some time this weekend to read the salon article and to go back and re-read the Kennedy piece. Some thoughts:

There seems to be little doubt that RFK Jr. at best misinterpreted and at worst played fast and loose with his statistics. Many, if not most, of his most sweeping allegations seem to be much, much less well supported than he made them appear. Kennedy's conclusions - particularly the conclusion that the election was stolen - should be taken with a grain of salt.

At the same time, there also does seem to be more to some of the allegations than Manjoo's Salon article indicates. One example of this can be found in the county-by-county vote totals. Manjoo rightly points out that Kennedy's focus on how Kerry did compared to "down-ticket" candidates is not supported by past history. At the same time, there do seem to be some slightly strange numbers out there. In Agulaize County, for example, 3,142 more votes were cast in 2004 than in 2000. Bush received 3,246 more votes in 2004 than in 2000. Kerry received more votes than Gore did, but fewer than the total received by Gore and Nader in 2000 (Nader was not on the ballot in 2004 in Ohio. There were more registered voters in 2004, so the percentage turnout between the elections wasn't huge - it was 69.3% in 2000, and 70.4 in 2004. For the vote count in that county to be legitimate, the Democrats would have had to have had an enormous drop in turnout while the Republicans received a massive gain, or every single new voter would have had to vote for Bush, and 104 votes would have had to flip to Bush from the 3rd party candidates in 2000. Neither scenario is impossible, and the numbers are not a smoking gun. But they strike me as highly improbable.

Do I think that Bush stole the election in Ohio? I don't think that there's enough evidence to say that for certain. I do think that there is more than enough evidence of misconduct there to make watching them closely this year a very, very good idea.

02 June 2006

Read This

Go read this article. And remember it in November.

Friday Random Ten: The Conservative Edition

With the recent online publication of National Review's list of the top 50 Conservative Rock Songs, I decided to see if I could force a conservative worldview onto this weeks list of the ten songs randomly selected by my iPod.

1: Pave Paradise
Lilith Fair Live Version
This song has compelling lyrics ("Took all the trees, put 'em in a tree museum/charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em") that demonstrate the basic compatability between environmental conservation and an unregulated free market syste.

2: Life's Been Good to Me So Far
Joe Walsh
While some might see this as a being all about Hollywood values, it's really about that great American dream - wild success.

3: Cats in the Cradle
Harry Chapin
A sweet and loving tribute to the special relationship that fathers can have with their sons in modern suburban America

4: Radio Free Europe
Becaues Europe wouldn't have any freedoms without us, so they damn well better remember to agree with everything that we say and do.

5: Taxman
The Beatles
OK, this one's really on their list. Hell, it's probably Grover Norquist's ring tone.

6: Born in the USA
Bruce Springsteen
Conservative to the core, this song trumpets American Pride at full volume. Just remember to ignore the lyrics.

7: The Imperial March
John Williams
I can't do it. There's clearly no way I could possibly draw any kind of connection between this one and modern conservativism, no matter how hard I try.

8: Lola
The Kinks
A nice, traditional values account of boy meets girl, girl takes boy home, girl turns out...

9: The Times, They Are A Changing
Bob Dylan
That's right, you liberals have had it all your way for way too long now. We conservatives are gaining ground, and we'll start to govern any day now.

10: The Proclaimers
King of the Road
This remake of the depression-era hobo classic should make us downright nostalgic for the days before those communistic, New-Deal, so-called safty net programs.

01 June 2006

Me and the ESA

I've had a day or so to recover from yesterday's revelation that I have to get Endangered Species Research Permits to cover the possibility that I might take some of the newly-listed endangered Hawaiian Drosophila along with the ones that I'm after. The paperwork is definitely going to be a royal pain in the ass. That's absolutely certain. Because I am conducting scientific research, I need a scientific research permit; in order to get a scientific research permit, my research must have a conservation benefit for the involved species. This, in turn, means that I am actually going to have to pay more attention to the endangered species than I had initially intended.

As annoying as all of this is, it's a good thing.

The reason that we have the Endangered Species Act (if only for the moment) is not to penalize business and cripple America's ability to compete globally. The purpose of the ESA(wingnut objections notwithstanding) to permit the federal government to take private land without compensation. The purpose of the ESA is not to make it easier for us touchy-feely liberal types to get in touch with nature. The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to try and make sure that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in a country as rich in biodiversity as the one we have now. It's not perfect - we are still losing species. In fact, the ESA's more or less just a finger in the dike. But it's all the protection that many of these species have.

One of the botanists at UH told me that there was, about 100 years ago, a researcher there who liked to make "century collections" - collecting and preserving 100 samples of a plant, and sending the samples off to herbariums around the world. Apparently, there were a couple of cases where he only got up to about 80 or so, and nobody's ever been able to find the plant since. I don't know whether this is true or not, but either way it's a pretty damn good cautionary tale. As much as I'd like to follow the example Bill Murray set in Ghostbusters, things really shouldn't work that way. Scientists are perfectly capable of harming the environment if they are not careful. The ESA paperwork and oversight makes sure that our research will not just increase knowledge, but will also aid in the recovery of the endangered species, and this benefit far outweighs the inconvenience that results.

But the paperwork's still gonna suck.

31 May 2006

What are these people smoking?

New York City just lost a big chunk of federal homeland security money. According to the New York Times, this was at least in part because the federal government didn't like the way that the money was being spent, but an assessment of risk was also part of the equation. I'm not in a position right now to assess how the money was spent, but as a former New Yorker I was somewhat shocked by part of the risk assessment:
New York officials were given a one-page tally that explained, in part, how the region's risk-based standing was calculated. The document said the region had no "national monuments or icons," four banking or financial firms with assets of over $8 billion, 28 chemical or hazardous material sites, as well as nearly 7,000 other possible important, high-risk targets, like hospitals or major office buildings, a tally that some city officials said had major omissions or errors.

"It's outrageous that these bean counters don't think the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge are national monuments or icons," said Jordon Barowitz, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg.
Not to mention Times Square, the Broadway theaters (or, for that matter, Radio City Music Hall), the New York Stock Exchange, Yankee Stadium, Central Park, a couple of dozen world-famous museums, etc, etc, etc. I swear, this has to be a "small government" strategy - they're trying to make the federal government as incompetent as possible, in the hope that we give up on it instead of trying to fix the problems.

We interrupt this broadcast...

...for the following sounds:

*thud* *thud* *thud* *thud*

Thank you.

The preceeding sounds have been brought to you courtesy of a graduate student who has just discovered that the possibility that his study might result in the capture of insects newly-listed as endangered species almost certainly means that federal scientific permits will be required before fieldwork can begin.

We now return you to your regular blog, already in progress.

30 May 2006

For Congress, Wherever You Are:

First, they came for your library and bookstore records.
And Congress said, "Damn Straight. Anyone reading both the Koran and The Anarchists' Cookbook is clearly a terrorist, and needs to be shipped off to Gitmo."

Then they came to listen in on your overseas phone calls.
And Congress said, "Great idea. We need to know if that cab driver in New York is badmouthing the president to his parents back home."

Then they came to get your domestic phone records.
And Congress said, "That's right. We need to check on anyone placing frequent calls to the falafel joint down the street."

Then they came for some files in the office of a congressman who had just been caught on tape accepting a $100,000 bribe, $90,000 of which was found in his freezer.
And Congress said, "Hey, wait! You can't do that to us! We've got ill-defined and poorly spelled out Constitutional rights! We're going to hold hearings on this right away!"