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167 posts from February 2006

February 28, 2006

Zogby: Troops want a timetable for withdrawal

So much for the right wing myth that US troops support indefinite committment in Iraq:

Most American troops in Iraq believe that the US should withdraw within the next year, according to the first poll of US military personnel in Iraq.

President George W. Bush, whose overall approval rating fell to a new low of 34 per cent this week, has repeatedly said the US would finish the mission in Iraq. But a Zogby International/Le Moyne College poll found that only 23 per cent of US troops believed that they should stay “as long as they are needed”.
br>Seventy-two per cent of troops said the US should withdraw within 12 months; 29 per cent said they should pull out immediately. [Financial Times]

Another interesting finding from the poll of 944 American military personel:

Although Mr Bush has acknowledged that Iraq played no role in September 11, 85 per cent of the troops said the US mission was mainly “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks”.

The survey was conducted with the unofficial approval of the participants' military commanders and prior to the bombing of the Golden Mosque.

Bird flu spreads to cats

Depressing cat blogging: A German housecat has become the first mammal in the European Union to die of H5N1 influenzaH5N1 influenza, aka "bird flu."

According to the World Health Organization,59 tigers died of H5N1 in 2004 after being fed contaminated poultry carcasses. Probable tiger-to-tiger transmission has also been reported.

For a big-picture perspective on the pandemic, check out Revere's latest contributions at Effect Measure on Taking Stock of Bird Flu.

Squid news

It appears that New York City has ceased to be the greatest city in the world. I mean, the Big Apple is still great, but we lost the giant squid race. I hope our city officials will do whatever is necessary to close the Giant Squid Gap between us and London.

Reader Thom informs me that a giant squid is on display at the London's Natural History Museum. [BBC] Have any readers seen Archie the Squid first hand?

Also, I can't believe I missed this cool squid story in December: A research submarine recently captured the first known photos of baby squid care. [BBC]

NYU grad student strike update

As part of this week's Majikthise Pledge Drive, Lewis Powell requested an update on the NYU grad student strike.

The NYU grad student strike passed the 100 day mark on Thurdsay the 16 of February. Some striking students returned to work at the beginning of the term when the university administration threatened to yank their funding unless they returned to work, but others are continuing their job action. As of February 21, twenty-five strikers have had their pay docked.

Nerds on Strike reports that GSOC members showed up to picket President Sexton at the UN last week.

The students are striking for the recognition of their union. The university stopped recognizing the grad student union after the National Labor Relations Board ruled, incongruously, that teaching and research assistants at private universities aren't workers.

See NYU Strike Archive for regularly updated news on the strike. (NYU Inc.)

Thanks so much to pledge week supporters. Keep those requests coming. Remember, you don't have to make a donation to suggest a post topic:

Trader Joe's coundown

Excitement is building in the New York foodie blogosphere: In just a few weeks, New York's first Trader Joe's will open in Union Square. Trader Joe's is a chain of discount gourmet grocery stores that started in Los Angeles and spread across the U.S. The Joe M.O. is to hire buyers to scout out raw materials and then produce products under the store's house brand. They also pride themselves on fair labor practices and sustainable harvesting.

Whole Paycheck is on notice.

Utah whip strikes blow for the Enlightenment

On Monday, the Utah House of Representatives voted down a bill to challenge evolution in high school science classes.

Republican majority whip Stephen H. Urquhart killed the bill by amending out all the anti-evolution language. Urquhart , a Mormon, said he thought that God did not have an argument with science. [NYT]

February 27, 2006

The logic of impeachment

Finnegan has a very impressive post about the logic of impeaching George W. Bush for spying on Americans in violation of FISA: Put Your Modus Where Your Ponens Is.

Finn hammers home a point that can't be stressed forcefully enough or too often: Impeachment for FISA is a no-brainer. There's no question the president broke the law, and there's no question that his offense is a serious felony that he committed in his official capacity as POTUS. There are no nagging questions about whether his misconduct could be dismissed as a personal matter, or whether his misdeeds rise to the level of national importance. Nor is there any doubt that Congress has a duty to impeach any president who commits crimes on this scale--the alternative would be to put the president above the law.

Only practical questions remain: Do Democrats have the political power and the popular support to impeach George W. Bush. Right now, the answer is clearly no. However, the 2006 elections might drastically alter the balance of power in Washington. If and when they do, we should be ready. That means keeping the impeachment discussion alive until justice can be done.

The Alec Rawls Trap

The second pledge week post is a request from Rob Loftis of HelpyChalk (a blog about raising children and doing philosophy).

Rob asks: "What's it like growing up the child of an academic philosopher? As an academic philosopher with children, I am especially hoping for any anecdotes that say that the children of academics all grow up to be happy and well adjusted, despite what you might think."

Actually, I'm the niece of an academic philosopher and the daughter of a physiological psychologist. I come from an eccentric academic background. My paternal grandfather was, at various times, a right wing populist crusading against money and banks in the dirty thirties, an MP, a delegate to the UN, a traveling magician, and a chiropractor. My maternal grandfather graduated from medical school before he was 21. He went on to become a professor of ear nose and throat surgery, treat Joe DiMaggio, and scientifically document the effects of rock music on hearing.

My parents met in Berkeley in the 1960s while my dad was doing his PhD. Being raised by academic hippies is like being raised by wolves--with intensive socialization you can rejoin human society, but you can never integrate seamlessly.

In my family, even pets and infants are addressed in complete sentences. There are no taboo subjects, except when the conservative relatives visit from the interior. Then we can't talk about religion.

I remember the day in kindergarden when one little boy announced that he had a baby brother. How did that happen, someone asked. The kid said something about God. Other kids were floating theories about angel-storks. I felt I had to set the record straight.

Many children cried. My mom was called in for a parent-teacher conference. The teacher was very upset.

"Did she tell the truth?" Mom asked.
"Oh, yes," the teacher said, "In great detail."
"I don't think we have a problem, then," Mom said.

My uncle, the philosopher, used to be a heavy smoker. One day when I was about six, I said, no doubt irritatingly,

"If I were you, I wouldn't smoke."

He answered, "If you were me, you'd smoke. I smoke."

I thought about that for a long time.

Another early philosophical memory is from a long car trip. My mom sent my dad to the library to get some books on tape to amuse me (10), and my brother (7). He came back with "The Death of Socrates" and "On The Road." By the time we reached southern Washington my brother and I were sobbing inconsolably and mom looked about ready to kill dad. The mood brightened after we popped in "On the Road" and mocked the dated sex scenes as a family.

Day-to-day life in my parents' house was very interesting. We had a lot of company. The best houseguests were the magicians. My father and my uncle are involved in the skeptics movement. Once we hosted an Indian magician called Premanand who collaborating with my uncle on an expose of the fraudulent Indian mystic, Sai Baba. One of Premanand's tricks is fire-eating. Basically, you light a brick of camphor and pop it into your mouth where it immediately smothers. I volunteered to eat some fire. I became such an enthusiastic fire eater that I got to eat flaming camphor on local TV when Premanand made an appearance on CBC television.

I hope all this is reassuring to Rob. I have a wonderful family. I still look forward to coming home for the holidays. Amanda and I were chatting about families while we were in Amsterdam and she said, "I think you like your family so much because you know them as well as you know your friends." I think that's exactly it.

I'll let readers decide whether I escaped the Alec Rawls trap.

Keep those post requests coming, and thanks for supporting Pledge Week at Majikthise.

How to end the war on drugs

Amanda of Pandagon often says that the far right taught us everything we need to revolutionize society. I agree. The Repubican Noise Machine and What's the Matter With Kansas have strongly influenced my thinking on tactics for drug sanity.

This is a post about concrete action to help end the drug war while where a minority that's out of power. Obviously, if we retake control of Congress in 2006, or the White House in 2008 all kinds of new options will become available. But here's what we can start doing right away.

1. Local action. The religious right wasn't afraid to start small. At first, they started taking over school boards, city councils, and other relatively low-profile offices. We could use a similar approach improve drug policy. If we can get accurate drug education materials into school health curriculums, we'd help protect the next generation from drug abuse and help diffuse the hysteria that fuels the drug war. At this point, it's probably not realistic to run school board candidates on "accurate drug information" platforms, but we progressives should still try to build relationships with progressive local politicians.

Depending on the jurisdiction, local authorities may have even more direct control drug policy. For example, if judges and prosecutors are elected in our area, these races would be a logical place to start agitating for change. In some places, coroner and medical examiner are elected offices. These officials don't necessarily set policy but they can have a significant impact by calling inquests, interacting with the media, liaising with law enforcement, etc.

2. Another way to leverage power for drug sanity is to forge deeper ties with existing institutions. The key is to cultivate alliances based on common interests. As usual, there's a union angle here. First off, most unions are unfriendly to random workplace drug testing. It's intrusive and unreliable and it gives management an excuse to fire people. Second, teachers' unions are among the most powerful unions in America. Teachers are acutely concerned about the health and well-being of young people, and many are in a position to see how the current drug policies are failing young people.

Those of us who are already union members can get involved directly. Otherwise, reform-Democrats can raise drug issues as part of our general outreach to the unions.

3. As the friends of Intelligent Design discovered in the 20th century, it is vital to cloak your radical ideal in a mantle of legitimacy in order to gain widespread acceptance. We want to make sane drug policy the conventional wisdom. One way to do that is to fostering more think tanks and research organizations like The Drug Policy Alliance. We need to hire people with academic credentials to create policy reports, scholarly books, and popular resource materials. We must also train these experts to be media savvy and to present their views forcefully in the mainstream media. Thinktanks can also sponsor innovative educational and outreach programs. For example, essay contests or conferences on alternative drug policy solutions for criminal justice majors.

4. Approaching the mainstream media. Write letters to the editor about drug issues your local paper. Don't pull punches, but don't forget to offer praise where it's due. If a reporter does an especially good piece, send them an email of congratulations.

5. Blog. Here are a few bloggers who are doing outstanding work on drug war issues: TalkLeft, Drug War Rant, and Grits for Breakfast. Feel free to suggest your favorite voices of reason in the comments below.

Keep those post requests coming. Thanks so much for your support.

February 26, 2006

Pledge week at Majikthise

My computer is in a very bad way and I'm looking at substantial repair bill in order to get it working again and recover my files.

So, it's pledge week at Majikthise. For the next week, I'll be taking reader requests for posts. Leave your requests in the comments below or send me an email with "Pledge Week" in the title.

Thanks so much for your support.

Update: Several people requested a review of Daniel Dennett's new book Breaking the Spell. I'm very pleased to report that Dennett arranged for his publisher to send me a review copy, which is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. I hope to have a review ready by Wednesday or Thursday, assuming I have a functional computer by then.