Friday, September 07, 2012

The US government is punishing whistleblowers and protecting criminals

Alright, I've finally gotten mad enough to be broken out of my blog hiatus (slash-abandonment). Here's the situation: The US government has now blocked all prosecution of people who have committed war crimes, including torture, under the Bush administration. I don't mean that these people were tried in court and found innocent. I mean that the Obama administration went into court and argued that they shouldn't be tried at all. Not one person has even been tried for committing torture in the name of the US government. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has gone ahead and prosecuted whistleblowers who have exposed war crimes committed by the government and its agents. John Kiriakou revealed the torture techniques being used by the Bush administration, and he's being tried for it. Bradley Manning revealed various war crimes being committed by soldiers in Iraq, and has been subject to inhumane conditions of imprisonment for months on end before even facing trial. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Want to argue that these people deserved to be tried, as their revelations of classified information can indeed do real harm? Fine, that's an argument we can have. Want to argue that they deserve to be prosecuted, while those who committed the various harms they exposed should be protected? No. The US government has made it the case where you're safer committing a war crime than you are exposing one. If this doesn't stop, future generations of government agents will feel they can get away with anything, and the government will protect them for it. I've had enough. I've started a petition on to demand a response on this issue. You can find it here, and I strongly encourage you to sign it, and to spread word of it. I need your help to get the Obama administration to respond to this. We have a chance to make sure they listen. Let's take it. Now, I know people have a lot of reasons why they don't sign petitions like this, so I'll take a moment to address them: 1. It probably won't do any good. This may be true. But it also may be wrong. In the end, this is often pulled out as an excuse not to try to make a difference. I've done it myself, I admit, and I've come to regret those decisions. There are many types of "slacktivism" that have little to no chance of making a difference, such as forwarding chain letter petitions, changing your Facebook picture for a day, etc. With this one, if it reaches 25,000 signatures within the next 29 days (from the time of posting this), we can at least make someone in the administration realize that people care about this. At the very least, they'll have to try to explain their logic to us. Hopefully this will make them think twice about prosecuting whistleblowers or blocking prosecution of war criminals in the future. They might even drop prosecution of current whistleblowers, or not put as much effort into it. It's too late to go back and prosecute most war criminals that have gotten off, but that doesn't mean we can't help protect those who exposed these crimes. 2. I'm not a US citizen/resident. The website does not actually require a US citizenship to sign a petition. You can see the terms of participation here. Nothing about citizenship or residency is ever mentioned. There is a field for entering a zip code when registering, but it's not a required-entry field. In short, non-citizens and non-residents are allowed to use the website, just as citizens and residents are. 3. It's a hassle to sign up. Perhaps it is. It wasn't that hard for me, but it's possible that other people with different browsers will have more issues. I encourage you to at least try. Think about it this way: If 25,000 people go through the hassle of signing, the total time they've used up will only be a small fraction of the amount of time Bradley Manning has spent in solitary confinement for exposing US war crimes, and it could save people in the future from having to put up with this. (At two minutes per person, that's about a month worth of time used, compared to over a year of solitary confinement for Manning.) To add to this, once you've signed up once, it's a lot easier to sign future petitions on the site. You only have to go through this "hassle" once. Please, sign this petition, and then help spread the word about it.

Proceed with your information binge...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's the difference, really?

It seems the US has let its bigotry seep through once again, in refusing to sign a UN resolution against it:

According to some of the declaration's backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In numerous states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of race; on the federal level, blacks are not allowed to serve in the military.

Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., stressed that the United States -- despite its unwillingness to sign -- condemned any human rights violations related to race.

EDIT: After copying this, I noticed that there may have been a couple of transcription errors in the quote. I apologize for any factual errors, but I do not apologize for the overall message, which remains unchanged.

Hat tip to Ed Brayton for bringing this to my attention.

Proceed with your information binge...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Six random things

*is stirred from sleep by a metallic canine*


1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them. (let's pretend this one doesn't exist, okay?)
5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

In any case, here we are:

1. I haven't stopped reading skeptical blogs, I just don't have time to post anymore.

2. The reason I haven't had time to post is that I'm deep into graduate school, studying astrophysics.

3. To keep sane in what spare time I have, I mostly occupy myself with video games.

4. I do still get ideas for posts every once in a while, but I'm never able to get myself to sit at the computer long enough to write them without being dragged into work I still have to do.

5. I have a book open to where I need it for work next to me at this moment, and my work in another window.

6. Okay, something that doesn't have to do with work... I got a new girlfriend a bit over a month ago.

Proceed with your information binge...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reverse Censorship, Reborn

With the death of George Carlin, I've decided to come out of pseudo-blogging-retirement to honor him in the only way appropriate: By declaring a week of Reverse Censorship. For this week, I will consider the use of any letter profane. They must instead be replaced by the following alternatives: (The list has been changed a bit in honor of George.)

A as "The Asshole-letter"
B as "The Bitch-letter"
C as "The Cunt/Cocksucker-letter"
D as "The Damn-letter"
E as "The Epidermis-letter"
F as "The Fuck-letter"
G as "The God-letter"
H as "The Hell-letter"
I as "The IDiot-letter"
J as "The Jesus-letter"
K as "The Knockers-letter"
L as "The Lesbian-letter"
M as "The Motherfucker-letter"
N as "The Nigger-letter"
O as "The Orgasm-letter"
P as "The Piss-letter"
Q as "The Queer-letter"
R as "The Retard-letter"
S as "The Shit-letter"
T as "The Tits-letter"
U as "The Unclefucker-letter"
V as "The Vagina-letter"
W as "The Whore-letter"
X as "The XXX-letter"
Y as "The Yarbles-letter"
Z as "The Zuffle-letter"

Proceed with your information binge...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Poll Crashing, Astro-Style

It appears that the poll of the day over at GameFAQs is "Do you believe humans actually landed on the moon?" PZed seems to have a lot of fun with poll crashing, but I suspect that if he landed on this one, he'd ask people to choose the "I don't believe the moon actually exists" option just to mess with Phil. I won't tell you guys what to vote for, though. you know what to do.

Proceed with your information binge...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Lessons in quote-mining #1

Lesson #1: Don't quote-mine the person you're trying to convince

You may remember Dana Ullman, noted homeopath who doesn't know the difference between this page and this page, and who thinks magic water can cure cancer. Well, he's now taken the stupid to another level.

Right at the moment, an arbitration case is going on at Wikipedia looking specifically at his behavior (arbitration is Wikipedia's equivalent of the Supreme Court), and also surrounding issues related to Homeopathy. To put it metaphorically, Dana's in a hole. Now, everyone knows that the first thing you're supposed to do when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. However, Dana's a homeopath, and he believes that like cures like. So he keeps digging himself deeper. (He did consider briefly diluting the digging process, but he reminded himself that dilution was only to remove side-effects. It's the succussion (shaking) that does all the work, so he mixes in beating himself in the head with his shovel.)

To break from the metaphor, what a smart person would do when they find themself in this position would be to refrain from any possibly argumentative behavior and compose themself as well as possible. Not Dana. He keeps up arguing all over the place, causing just the same problem. You know, in case the other evidence against him gets stale. I could dig into a lot of it, but I'll stick the one most idiotic example. In this, Dana quote-mines the very person he's arguing with, and then argues that his quote-mined version is correct and this person is wrong about what he means.

The idiocy in question takes place at the talk page for Potassium dichromate. You can read through the linked section yourself to get the full picture, but allow me to sum events up. On this page, one editor, Scientizzle, made the following comment:

I am not as against the inclusion of homeopathy information as others here...Assuming the case for this being a remedy of note is solid, I support a simple inclusion that directs the reader to List of homeopathic preparations, which is an appropriate place to deal with the topic. (Even at List of homeopathic preparations, I can't see the published state of the research--i.e., Frass et al, & nothing else--meriting more than a minimalist "it's use has been investigated to treat COPD symptoms.[ref]" statement). — Scientizzle 22:48, 21 April 2008 (UTC)

Later on, Dana tries to use this to justify including a mention on the current article:

Scientizzle, no, not at all. Did you see your words: "I am not as against the inclusion of homeopathy information as others here...Assuming the case for this being a remedy of note is solid, I support a simple inclusion that directs the reader to List of homeopathic preparations, which is an appropriate place to deal with the topic.... I can't see the published state of the research--i.e., Frass et al, & nothing else--meriting more than a minimalist "it's use has been investigated to treat COPD symptoms. " [30] It is interesting how you chose to not give the entire quote from your posting at that same time. You clearly say that you're NOT against inclusion...this strongly suggests that the conversation is open. I hope that you will stop stonewalling. You did recommend providing reference to this study in at least a minimalistic way. Therefore, I continue to assert that the archiving of the active conversation is part of a bullying behavior conducted without consensus, in a WP:TE manner with the audacity to inaccurately blame me for TE. DanaUllmanTalk 05:38, 27 April 2008 (UTC)

Note the ellipsis in Dana's quote. Now go back to what Scientizzle actually said (section that was cut out now bolded):

I am not as against the inclusion of homeopathy information as others here...Assuming the case for this being a remedy of note is solid, I support a simple inclusion that directs the reader to List of homeopathic preparations, which is an appropriate place to deal with the topic. (Even at List of homeopathic preparations, I can't see the published state of the research--i.e., Frass et al, & nothing else--meriting more than a minimalist "it's use has been investigated to treat COPD symptoms.[ref]" statement).

Note how the section that Dana cut out completely changes the meaning (which is exactly what you want to do when quote-mining). The problem, however, was that he was quote-mining the very person he was arguing with. Of course Scientizzle knew that wasn't what he meant, and he could easily point out this quote-mine. How the hell did Dana expect this to convince him of anything?

Let me spell this out: Quote-mining is a dishonest tactic that makes you look bad when it's discovered. When you quote-mine the person you're arguing with, you're not only guaranteeing you'll be found out, but you're also ensuring that you'll not only look dishonest, but stupid too. That, in a nutshell, is Dana Ullman.

Proceed with your information binge...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Maybe they're just stupid

A lot of skeptics have written about how intelligent people can be tricked into believing incredibly stupid things. But I think that sometimes, we get so caught up in listing the human fallacies in thinking that lead to such conclusions that we fail Occam's Razor: Maybe these people are just stupid.

Bringing this to mind is the recent event you've all surely heard of by now: PZ Myers was expelled from Expelled, while Richard Dawkins wasn't. There's no way around that one. It was simply a stupid move.

However, a few other examples you probably haven't heard of, coming from my dealing with homeopaths over at Wikipedia:

First, there are my interactions with Dana Ullman, prominent homeopath. There are many things I can point to, but I'll limit it to one instance completely divorced from homeopathy. In this portion of a conversation, I try to explain to him how to link to a specific edit made on Wikipedia, and he's completely unable to see how this is different from linking to a section of a page. The conversation on Wikipedia is a bit disjointed, but you can see it here and here. Piecing together the relevant portions of the conversation (with some formatting changes):

...For future reference, when discussing particular actions, what's most useful to others here is pointing them to the record of the specific edit which was made (the "diff"). In this case, it's at I generally get these by going to either the modification history of the article or the user's contributions, and then clicking on "last" of the line of the applicable edit and copy that address. The advantage to this method is that it goes directly to the relevant message and you also don't have to worry about forgeries, deletions, or archiving. --Infophile (Talk) (Contribs) 00:39, 10 March 2008 (UTC)

I got your response. Thanx...but didn't I do just what you have suggested in the original posting that I made at Randy's user-page to which I linked in my Incident report. I am relatively new to wiki and am trying to be as collaborative as possible. Even though you and I don't usually agree, I hope that we can move beyond our own POV to create good NPOV stuff. DanaUllmanTalk 00:44, 10 March 2008 (UTC)

The difference is that you're linking to the sections in which the comment is made. When these are large, it can be harder to find the relevant comment. Try comparing the link you used with the link I showed you above. You see how the one I used shows his comment directly?

Also, be careful about exaggerating. On the admin's noticeboard, you claimed that Randy was wishing death, though I see none of this here. Though if he did do this someplace else, I (and some admins as well) would be interested in seeing it. --Infophile (Talk) (Contribs) 00:50, 10 March 2008 (UTC)

(I posted this at my user-page, but to make your life easier, here it is) I assume that you somehow didn't read what Randy wrote: "You are a monster who sells nonsense to the sick, and the sooner you die the sooner the world will be a better place. Randy Blackamoor (talk) 00:23, 9 March 2008 (UTC)

Is being called a "monster" and wishing me to die soon any type of civility? Do you still think that this is civil and that it warrants a simple week's penalty, while many anti-homeopathy editors are seeking to ban Whig primarily because he has a good backbone for defending a minority viewpoint. DanaUllmanTalk 01:10, 10 March 2008 (UTC)

Witness how in his last comment, Dana doesn't make any further reference to how to use Diffs, and demonstrates that he still doesn't get it by failing to use one where it would be appropriate. Maybe he's just stupid.

And for a final example, I present to you a homeopath who doesn't understand what it means to be banned: Dr. Jhingadé. There's just no way to sum up the distilled stupid of this "doctor." I'd recommend you simply read the following sections of the talk pages: "Placebo? Quackery!!", "Read this Dr. Jhingadé", and finally, proving that even Dana Ullman thinks he's an idiot: "Hmm..."

If there's a lesson to take here, it's that not all woos are simply deluded by fallacies. Some are simply idiots.

Proceed with your information binge...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Even when ghosts exist, psychics are still useless

Sometimes you find a good dose of skepticism in the oddest places. Take today's Order of the Stick comic. (Spoiler warning if you intend to read it, which is why I'm not copying the image here.)

Proceed with your information binge...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Skeptic's Guide to Wikipedia (Part 1)

Why Wikipedia Matters

Imagine, if you will, a Mr. Joe Blow. Joe's your typical guy, unversed in the complexities of medicine, who one day finds an odd rash on his neck. He shows it to a couple of colleagues at work. One of them recommends he goes in to have a dermatologist look at it. The other, however, argues that that would be a waste of money. It would be a lot cheaper for Joe to go to the alternative medicine portion of his local pharmacy. There are plenty of things there that could cure a rash like that. Maybe some Homeopathy would be all he really needs.

Now, Joe hasn't heard much about Homeopathy before, and he's getting conflicting messages from his colleagues on whether it's worth trying. So, when he gets home from work, he logs onto the internet and runs a quick Google search for Homeopathy. The first search result is from "Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Well, that sounds good, so Joe goes to read Wikipedia's article on Homeopathy. He starts by just reading the first paragraph:

Homeopathy (also homœopathy or homoeopathy; from the Greek ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar" + πάθος, páthos, "suffering" or "disease") is a form of alternative medicine first defined by Samuel Hahnemann in the 18th century.[1] Homeopathic practitioners contend that remedies for diseases can be created by ingesting substances that can produce, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those of the disease. According to homeopaths, serial dilution, with shaking between each dilution, removes any negative effects of the remedy while the qualities of the substance are retained by the diluent (water, sugar, or alcohol). The end product is often so diluted that it is indistinguishable from pure water, sugar or alcohol by laboratory tests but is still claimed to have an effect on consumers.[2][3][4] Practitioners select treatments according to a patient consultation that explores the physical and psychological state of the patient, both of which are considered important to selecting the remedy.

Now, what Joe takes from this paragraph depends a lot on his previous biases and knowledge. He might zero in on the part which says that homeopathic remedies generally are nothing but diluted water, and if there is anything left, it would just harm him. Or, he might focus on how it's been used since the 18th century and is argued to be able to cure his ailment. Or maybe he'll note from the last sentence that if he really wants it to work, he should be visiting a professional homeopath rather than simply picking something out from the drug store.

Each person will be different here. Many will only read the lead section, a few will read the whole article, while others might skip down to sections that interest them to read about it. But the net result is that Wikipedia is the primary source of information for many people in the current age of the internet.

Homeopaths realize this. So do Chiropractors, Creationists, Scientologists, and people who think Waterboarding isn't torture (or at least don't want others to think it is). You can see their incentive to go in and edit Wikipedia to be more favorable to their viewpoints, so that people who read these articles will come out with a positive view of their subject, and maybe then they'll go see a Homeopath to treat their ailments.

On the other hand, the pro-reality viewpoint doesn't have quite the same incentive to edit there. There's no direct benefit to us like there is for the anti-reality types. All we have to go on is the general incentive for why we do this: To help others avoid wasting their money or risking their lives. All of our reasons for blogging on skeptical topics apply also to Wikipedia. It's just one more place to reach an audience who's seeking information.

But most don't bother. In a conversation on Wikipedia recently, one notable skeptic described editing Wikipedia as seeming like "a long run for a short slide." Personally, I disagree. If we put as much effort into improving Wikipedia's articles as we did into blogging, I think it would have just as much, if not more, impact. The other problem he raised was that it just seemed futile. Well, maybe alone it is. That's why I'm making this post, so that perhaps as a group, we can make a difference.

So, I'm now encouraging all of you to start editing Wikipedia in order to bring its articles more in line with reality. I plan to make further posts on this subject, time permitting, in order to give you all a brief primer on Wikipedia editing and some brief tips that I've gleaned from experience. If you'd prefer to just jump in right away, though, then go here to start off, then register an account and get to work.

Proceed with your information binge...

Friday, February 01, 2008

My job in a nutshell

Any Unix-using programmer should get a kick out of the latest xkcd comic. Now if I can just find the butterfly key on my keyboard, I'm set...

Proceed with your information binge...