New Phaedo

I apologize to my loyal fans for the light posting. I have been chosen to be a beta tester for TypePad, so I will be posting over at the new Phaedo. Hopefully, I will get back up to my former posting schedule. Unfortunately, most of my postings happen when I am procrastinating, and I don't have any work to do around here, so that is a problem.



Close scrutiny of the water quality standards for chemical contaminants reveals that bottled water quality standards are the same as tap water standards.

-- International Bottled Water Association


U.S. Vehicles Gain Iraq Role

(via WaPo) Under pressure from Michigan lawmakers, the State Department says it will no longer use foreign vehicles for the rebuilding effort in Iraq, Rep. Joe Knollenberg said yesterday.

Knollenberg (R-Mich.) and four other members of Congress met with officials from the State Department last month after learning that the bureau in charge of policing Iraq told its contractors to buy Japanese sport-utility vehicles instead of American ones.

Yesterday Knollenberg said Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage assured him that any vehicles bought from now on will be American. "What he told me, in no uncertain terms, is that this business of not buying American vehicles is gone," Knollenberg said.


Arabic Diva Watch

Elissa Khoury's Ajmal Ihssas, which I wrote about previously, has been officially banned by the Egyptian censors and is not being shown on most Lebanese channels according to Al Bawaba. I noted earlier that while the video was a bit kissy-kissy, the truly racy part was the feminist undertones, with Elissa playing a dominant role over her lover. Notably, the Bawaba report completely overlooked this angle in its description of the video (not that I expected anything else).
The couple portray lots of love, caring, affections, and honesty in their relationship that is full of laughter and tenderness. Throughout the video, the couple display a kind of bond that is shared by a married one, in which they act out kissing scenes to show the closeness between them.

Watch the video here. If I had a Moveable Type blog with my own server space, I would host the video myself (hint, hint...If you contribute to Phaedo's slush fund it will be easier for me to move, since it will cost me money to change, to the tune of a hundred or so a year. Not that I'm poor or anything, but if I had people giving me money I would have less of an excuse to sit on my butt).


Modification of Authorities on Explosive Materials

(via Secrecy News) The new 2004 Intelligence Authorization Act contains an disturbing section on allowing "qualified aliens" to transport "explosive materials" within the United States. This would allow the CIA and the US Military to train foreign paramilitary forces on US soil. Whether or not this is something which America should do (I don't think it should), this should at least be a matter of public debate. It should not be thrown in the middle of a boilerplate House bill with nary a word. Why aren't the Democrats hitting Bush on this? I'm a Republican and I think this is an outrage.

The following is the complete text of section 332:


(a) AUTHORITY TO DISTRIBUTE EXPLOSIVE MATERIALS TO QUALIFIED ALIENS- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, it shall be lawful for any person knowingly to distribute explosive materials to any qualified alien--

(1) if, in the case of a qualified alien described in subsection (c)(1), the distribution to, shipment to, transportation to, receipt by, or possession by the alien of the explosive materials is in furtherance of such cooperation; or

(2) if, in the case of a qualified alien described in subsection (c)(2), the distribution to, shipping to, transporting to, possession by, or receipt by the alien of explosive materials is in furtherance of the authorized military purpose.

(b) AUTHORITY FOR QUALIFIED ALIENS TO SHIP EXPLOSIVE MATERIALS- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, it shall be lawful for a qualified alien to ship or transport any explosive in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or to receive or possess any explosive which has been shipped or transported in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce--
(1) if, in the case of a qualified alien described in subsection (c)(1), the possession, shipment, or transportation by the alien of the explosive materials is in furtherance of such cooperation; or

(2) if, in the case of a qualified alien described in subsection (c)(2), the possession, shipment, or transportation by the alien of explosive materials is in furtherance of the authorized military purpose.

(c) QUALIFIED ALIEN DEFINED- In this section, the term `qualified alien' means an alien--

(1) who is lawfully present in the United States in cooperation with the Director of Central Intelligence; or

(2) who is a member of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), or other friendly foreign military force (as determined by the Attorney General with the concurrence of the Secretary of Defense) who is present in the United States under military orders for training or other military purpose authorized by the United States.


G.I. Judith

Howard Kurtz's column in the Post today is thick with angry quotes from American soldiers regarding the role Judith Miller played in influencing the mission of her embedded unit, Mobile Exploitation Unit Alpha. Kurtz quotes from a note that Miller sent to two officers, asserting that if MET Alpha didn't get the missions she wanted, that fact would be reported unfavorably in the New York Times.
I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil. . . . Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel til MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the NY Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made.

I'll ignore for a moment, the fact that Miller apparently knows better than the officer corps how our soldiers' time is best spent. The amazing thing is that Kurtz managed to get several officers to say that MET Alpha was essentially a rogue operation, and it appears, at least the way I read it, that Miller exerted almost as much influence as the commanding officers. The core of the story (that Miller, with Chalabi's assistance, basically set MET Alpha's agenda) was essentially confirmed by one of Chalabi's top aides, Zaab Sethna. However, one particularly curious point mentioned in the article was Miller's relationship with the leader of MET Alpha, CWO Richard Gonzales.
Miller formed a friendship with MET Alpha's leader, Chief Warrant Officer Gonzales, and several officers said they were surprised when she participated in a Baghdad ceremony in which Gonzales was promoted. She pinned the rank to his uniform, an eyewitness said, and Gonzales thanked Miller for her contributions. Gonzales did not respond to a request for comment.

Was Miller screwing the leader of MET Alpha in order to get her access? I hope not. Hopefully, this implication is just Kurtz being a snarky asshole. Still, I don't think the possibility that she used her womanly ways can be ruled out of court. If it is true, Miller is more inethical than I ever imagined.

Clarification: I just re-read that last part about Miller and Gonzales, and I think I read a little too much into the text. Kurtz himself never implied that there was something untoward in the relationship. I'm not going to retract/delete the statement, but I think I should point out that is not the most obvious reading of the paragraph.


Hayfa Wehbe

I'm getting traffic from all over the Arab world due to my posting on Elissa and the other gaggle of pop cuties. Folks from Lebanon, Syria, even Saudi Arabia come looking for things as diverse as "hayfa fucking," "hayfa wehbe sex pictures," "hayfa wehbe images," and "hayfa wehbe sex" (yeah, so that really isn't all that diverse, but Hayfa is a hottie). If you're looking for Arab porn, I really don't have any (I do have a copy of the famous Dina-Hossam screw, but my computer is in storage). Send me an email though, I like people to talk to me. People from Saudi looking for woman-on-horse action have to be worth talking to.



This month's American Scientist has an intriguing article by Peter Kareiva and Michelle Marvier critiquing the notion of biodiversity hotspots. They propose that more resources should be shifted to so-called "coldspots," which are overlooked by current biodiversity vogue. The current method for designating hotspots is laid out here, by Conservation International:
Plant diversity is the biological basis for hotspot designation; to qualify as a hotspot, a region must support 1,500 endemic plant species, 0.5 percent of the global total. Existing primary vegetation is the basis for assessing human impact in a region; to qualify as a hotspot, a region must have lost more than 70 percent of its original habitat. Plants have been used as qualifiers because they are the basis for diversity in other taxonomic groups and are well-known to researchers.

The bias in this approach becomes obvious simply by taking a look at a global map of hotspots. They are concentrated almost exclusively along the equatorial belt, completely ignoring regions like Siberia (and, by extension, ignoring endangered species like the polar bear). This is not just an academic question either, since these hotspot maps are used by conservation groups to determine which areas will receive resources.

The problem is that by looking for massive concentrations of species in a small area, the current method overlooks larger, more spread-out areas with low species diversity that are being hit by human development even harder (relatively) than the tropical rainforests. To illustrate the impact of this bias the authors take a hypothetical case comparing Montana with the country of Ecuador.

Consider two areas of roughly equal size, the country of Ecuador and the state of Montana. Ecuador is a renowned biodiversity hotspot, harboring 2,466 vertebrate species and 19,362 vascular plant species. In contrast, Montana is a biodiversity coldspot, with only 12 percent of Ecuador's species richness. Clearly, if one measures success as protecting the largest number of species in the smallest possible area, it makes sense to ignore Montana and to concentrate solely on Ecuador. But assume for the moment that we desire some level of conservation effort in both places. Suppose we set a goal of ensuring protection for 20,000 total species from these two areas. We could attain that outcome by preserving 18,000 species in Ecuador and 2,000 species in Montana, or, alternatively, by safeguarding 19,000 species in Ecuador and 1,000 species in Montana. If all that matters is the total number of species protected, these two strategies are equivalent.

In reality these two choices would have vastly different consequences on the ground. Both would leave Ecuador with the bulk of its biodiversity intact (82 percent or 87 percent, if, for argument's sake, one considers just vertebrates and vascular plants) and, presumably, with reasonably well-functioning ecosystems. But shifting from the first to the second strategy cuts the fraction of species protected in Montana severely (from 74 percent to 37 percent). You wouldn't have to be a scientist to notice the difference between saving three-quarters versus two-fifths of the species in the state. But even the best-designed scientific monitoring programs would be hard pressed to register the difference between having 87 percent or 82 percent of the species under protection in Ecuador.

This example illuminates a major flaw with approaches to conservation that are solely based on hotspots. If we measure success simply by tallying up total species protected, we risk the folly of allowing major ecosystems to degrade beyond repair simply because they do not provide lengthy species lists.


Redneck Yuri

There is must be something in the air, or in the water, but once a Southerner (no matter how secular or modernized) heads below the Mason-Dixon, a magical transformation occurs. Then again, it could also be the stacks of Budweiser that greet you immediately upon entering the grocery store. Or the country music blasting through the car stereo: "I may be bad, bad boy/but, baby, I'm a real good man..." Or the billboards on the side of the road blaring: "Nervous Charlie's: Beer, Gas, Fireworks" (no wonder Charlie's nervous!). Whatever it is, if you've been here, you know what I'm talking about.

Today I went shootin' with my 10/.22 and my 9mm at the rifle range. There was a sign hanging up at the shooting gallery that could only exist in this half of America: "RIFLE RANGE: There is no shooting before noon on Sundays due to local church services." What kind of fucking redneck is going to go shooting on Sunday morning anyway? Well...I say that, but I know for a fact that there had to be people going out there doing it before they would have put up a sign. Just don't judge us all by those folk.

It was pretty fun, though, and it helped to clear my mind. There is just something soothing about taking a case of ammo and some soda (and/or beer), and popping off rounds until sunset. I don't get nearly as much of a kick out of it as my dad does though. Everytime I come home, he has a new gun, or a new scope, or... I mean the people at the local Hunting/Fishing store know him by name, and they are always talking to him about a new Keltec or a new Glock. ALWAYS! He is a true-blue gun fanatic: member of the NRA (naturally), member of the American Legion, member of (fill in blank with random right-wing gun lovers group). It provides for a nice contrast with all those lilly-livered anti-gun fanatics in California, but personally I don't get either one of 'em. Guns are useful, and I think everyone should know how to use one, but I don't feel the need to hunt deer at every opportunity, or have a massive gun safe in the living room (like my dad).


Back Home

On the plane ride back home I was reading through James Kugel's magisterial The Bible As It Was, which brought back memories of religion classes of yore. It really is a fantastic book, though, even for the irreligious. It dissects various interpretive traditions in the Hebrew Bible to the smallest gory detail, but it does it in a way that is actually interesting at the same time. The book is a charm, and the scholarship is unbelievable (he mentions, and quotes from, nearly every obscure resource imaginable). The kind of gymnastics that religious Jews and Christians have to go through to maintain belief can only be appreciated when it is laid out by a book like this (of course, in my experience, most of them don't even know all that much about their own sacred texts).

On non-book related matters, I had a layover at the Phoenix airport before going on to Nashville, and the place was stacked with dreamy girls for some reason. While I was standing in line to get on the plane, I felt someone's eyes walking over my body and I turned around to see who it was. She was pretty cute with blond hair and dreamy blue eyes, but I'm a loser, so I don't know what to say to girls like that. So she took the initiative, and dropped her purse at my feet (totally on purpose) and said something funny. I talked to her for a few minutes, but I didn't try and kick any game since my parents were picking me up (ughh...that's the worst. I hate not having a car). Still, after being at Caltech for a year, even this was awesome.

I have to admit that being home is pretty sweet, but I hate not having my own computer. I can only steal a few minutes a day on the comp, to check my email and blog a tad. No KaZaa, no WinAmp, no AIM, no Shakira (can you believe that!), no Elissa. I guess it's for the better though, it gives me time to read (in addition to Kugel, I'm flipping through David Edward's Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad). People should send me email, since I'll be reading those more often than blogs (this means you wendot).

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