Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Justice theatre: Tsarnaev edition

What a waste of everyone's time and money, all to stage a justice theatrical to bolster the careers of the prosecutors. Too cynical? Maybe not. How else to explain the government's refusal of a deal in which Tsarnaev pleads guilty in exchange for life. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Irano delenda est

The tune is the same, the words are the same; all that's changed is the audience, which is growing bored and restive.
Netanyahu has made a career out of crusading against Iran. In 1992, as a member of parliament, he predicted that Iran was three to five years away from producing a nuclear weapon, and appealed for its program to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.” He cited the same time frame three years later, in his  book “Fighting Terrorism.”
Iran was actually more than a decade away from acquiring the technology and expertise to approach the threshold.  “It was not until the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that American experts concluded that Iran had developed a range of technologies, including uranium enrichment, nuclear-warhead mechanics, and delivery systems, that would give it the option to launch a nuclear-weapons development effort in a relatively short time frame “ ‘if it so chooses,’ ” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, told me today.
Netanyahu has long supported American military intervention. In 2002, he testified before Congress in favor of invading Iraq, and predicted that ousting Saddam Hussein would have “enormous positive reverberations on the region” and ripen Iran for revolt against the theocracy. “It’s not a question of whether you’d like to see a regime change in Iran but how to achieve it,” he said. Today, Iran holds more sway over Iraq than any other country.
Netanyahu has proved himself to be a liar and crook. Possibly also a performance artist, inhabiting the role of a mad clown. But one thing he is not: someone with the best interests of the US in mind. Nor is he someone with the best interests of Israel in mind. He is someone with the interests of his own political survival in mind, and he hopes he can leverage his bomb-bomb-Iran routine into electoral success one more time, something John Boehner saw as enhancing his own political survival. And why not? There's a pretty good track record. For example, in 2002 Karl Rove pushed for war against Iraq to win the mid-term elections.
What schmucks.
If this were a story arc in House of Cards, no one would believe it.

(eta) Charles Pierce reminds us of an earlier chapter in US-Iran-Israel relations, one called 'Iran Contra' in which Netanyahu played a supporting role in arms sales to Iran:
 The president embarks on delicate negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He allows his aides and underlings to do so because he is firm in his belief that in the presidency resides the sole power to conduct the foreign relations of the United States. A year or so earlier, his deputy national security advisor wrote a memo in which he said that the president "was ready to confront the Congress on the constitutional question of who controls foreign policy." The Office of Legal Counsel in his Department of Justice argues that the president had "far-reaching discretion to act on his own authority in managing the external relations of the country." When these negotiations are uncovered, this is the primary argument presented by the president and his defenders against the angry opposition of the Congress. The president is Ronald Reagan. The negotiations are regarding the exchange of weapons for American hostages, something the president vowed he never would do, and something he already told the country he hadn't done. The deal was facilitated in part by Israeli intelligence operatives, which is no surprise. Israel already agreed to sell Iran $40 million in weapons in a deal that had fallen through. Also, in deciding to sell the arms, the president was inspired partly by a book about combatting terrorism put together by an ambitious Israeli politician named Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tales of scientific misconduct: Soon edition

What do you do if your bought and paid for science business is uncovered? If you are Wei-Hock Soon, you go on attack. After reports that Soon's anti-climate change science was funded by coal and gas industry sources but he did not reveal this in his papers, leading the Smithsonian Institute, his employer to open an investigation, Soon charged that his critics are trying to silence him.
Wei-Hock Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, complained that he had been the subject of unfair attacks in the press. He ascribed them to “various radical environmental and politically motivated groups.”
Dr. Soon, who is known as Willie, added, “This effort should be seen for what it is: a shameless attempt to silence my scientific research and writings, and to make an example out of me as a warning to any other researcher who may dare question in the slightest their fervently held orthodoxy” on global warming.
Who released the statement? Not the Smithsonian or Harvard.

Instead, the statement was released by the Heartland Institute of Chicago, which supports and publicizes the work of scientists like Dr. Soon who deny the scientific consensus on climate change. Jim Lakely, a spokesman for the Heartland Institute, said Dr. Soon would not answer further questions.
I think we are in a position to make reasoned bets on who his new employer of record will be. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Universal conspiracy theorizing

At Daily Nous, Justin reports
Philosophers at St. Olaf College and Carleton College objected when a local pub, The Contented Cow, scheduled conspiracy theorist and Holocaust denier Jim Fetzer to give one in a series of “CowTalks” on assorted political issues. Alan Rubenstein (Carleton) withdrew from a debate with Fetzer at the Cow, and St. Olaf professors Gordon Marino, Danny Muñoz-Hutchinson, and Michael Fuerstein emailed the owner of the pub to complain. The owner sent the emails to Fetzer, who posted them online.
Those philosophers received threats, the FBI got involved and the event was canceled.

Justin might not know that Jim Fetzer is not only a prominent conspiracy theorist, whose 'work' spans the JFK assassination (of course) to 9/11 denial (including a flirtation with 'no planes theories': the claim that no large passenger planes hit the Twin Towers)  he is also a retired professor of philosophy, having taught at the department of philosophy of the University of MN at Duluth for many years. Besides conspiracy theorizing, he worked  and published in philosophy of science. Really.

I wasn't aware that he was also into Holocaust denialism, but it figures. He also believes that the massacre at Sandy Hook was a fabrication. Once you get good at setting aside the bulk of empirical evidence in favor of a few anomalies, explaining the latter in terms of the agency of immensely powerful hidden groups of people, and re-explaining the wide acceptance of the empirical evidence as a product of those same groups, you can use this explanatory device on just about anything. And he does.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Spring greetings from fake academic journal

I always associate the beginning of March with spring, or at least a reasonable hope for its appearance. This first day of March also brings an email solicitation from something called Sociology Mind, another title of our  friends at SCIRP (headquartered the email tells me in tiny print at the bottom, in Wuhan, China, with a PO box in Irvine, California. This email is signed by Prof. Asafa Jalata (University of Tennessee, USA), who really is listed on the website of the University of Tennessee Knoxville as Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Africana Studies, where he has been on the faculty since 1991, according to his CV, on which he also lists his status as 'editor in chief' of Sociology Mind. I only hope he doesn't steer his grad students into publishing there.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Music for purring

Here's something that might help Henri with his ennui:
Music that incorporates everything from purrs to meow-like sounds is gaining feline fans, according to a new study that suggests cats enjoy tunes that are crafted just for them.
The study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Applied Animal Behavioral Science, adds to the growing body of evidence that many animals respond favorably to species-specific music. This is music that takes into account a particular animal's favorite sounds, hearing range, commonly used tones and other factors.
"Here we found that cats showed orientation and approach behavior toward the speaker with the cat music, often rubbing against the speaker while the music was on," lead author Charles Snowdon of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told Discovery News.

Snowdon and colleague Megan Savage worked with composer and musician David Teie, who created the cat-centric music.
"We looked at the natural vocalizations of cats and matched our music to the same frequency range, which is about an octave or more higher than human voices," Snowdon said. "We incorporated tempos that we thought cats would find interesting -- the tempo of purring in one piece and the tempo of suckling in another -- and since cats use lots of sliding frequencies in their calls, the cat music had many more sliding notes than the human music."
The researchers then played this music for 47 domestic cats in their homes with their owners present. As a comparison, Snowdon and his colleagues also played "human" music for the cats. This consisted of two pieces that have been highly rated as being "pleasing and affiliative to humans": Gabriel Fauré's Elegie and Johann Sebastian Bach's Air on a G String.
 While the relaxing classical music did not freak out the felines, they basically ignored it, showing no interest whatsoever. The special "cat music," however, grabbed their attention and led to head-rubbing against the speaker.
 Cats possess scent glands along their tails, on each side of their head, between their front paws and on other parts of their body. When a cat rubs something or someone, prior research concludes this means the cat is claiming that thing or individual. In this case, the cats appeared to be trying to claim the music, represented by the speaker playing it. They did not rub against the speakers when the Bach and Fauré pieces were played.
Give a listen here. I must disclose that when I did, my feline masters assiduously did not respond. But the life of a cat is marked by futilite´, as Henri has taught us.

His service honored us

He lived long and prospered.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tales of fake international universities

Fake universities are preying on would-be students in the Arab world, as this report from Al Fanar Media, published in the Chronicle, reveals.
The universities in the network, which typically say they are based in the United States, actively encourage students from the Arab world to enroll by offering what appear to be generous scholarships after just a few minutes of exchanging instant messages online. But that financial aid comes with a hook—the students are supposed to pay the rest of the fees immediately.
Some of the students who fall prey to these tactics don’t realize their degrees are worthless until after receiving them. Studying at the universities is a lonely experience—students at one of the schools in the network said they had no contact with professors at all.
At least some of the universities in the network appear to be entirely fraudulent although they try to give the appearance of quality by citing an accreditation organization that is actually part of their network. (See accompanying article, “Faking Quality Control for Universities.”)
Accreditation, a practice more common in Europe and North America, audits the quality of universities to ensure students are getting a proper standard of education. Several different associations do this and some of them also accredit universities in the Arab world.
But academics listed as working for the accreditation organization in the fraudulent network said they had no idea they were named as consultants until contacted by a reporter for an interview.