Science Guardian

Truth, beauty and paradigm power in science and society

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News, views and reviews measured against professional literature in peer reviewed journals (adjusted for design flaws and bias), well researched books, authoritative encyclopedias (not the bowdlerized Wiki entries on controversial topics) and the investigative reporting and skeptical studies of courageous original thinkers among academics, philosophers, researchers, scholars, authors, filmmakers and journalists.

Supporting the right of exceptional minds to free speech, publication, media coverage and funding against the crowd prejudice, leadership resistance, monetary influences and internal professional politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, HIV(not)AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, information technology, religions and cults, health, medicine, diet and nutrition.

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HONOR ROLL OF SCIENTIFIC TRUTHSEEKERS

Halton C. Arp wki/obit/txt/vds/txt/txt/bk/bk, Henry Bauer txt/blg/ blg/bks/bk/txt/bk/vd, John Beard bk, Harvey Bialy bk/bk/txt/txt/rdo/vd, John Bockris bio/txt/ltr/bk, Donald W. Braben, Peter Breggin ste/fb/col/bks, Darin Brown txt/txt/txt/txt/txt/vd, Giordano Bruno bk/bio/bio, Frank R. Buianouckas, Stanislav Burzynski mov, Erwin Chargaff bio/bk/bio/prs, James Chin bk/vd, Nicolaus Copernicus bk, Mark Craddock, Francis Crick vd, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw txt/bk, Roger Cunningham, Charles Darwin txts/bk, Erasmus Darwin txt//bk/txt/hse/bks, Peter Duesberg ste/ste/bk/txt/vd/vd, Freeman Dyson, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman bio, John Fewster, Rosalind Franklin, Bernard Forscher tx, Galileo Galilei, Walter Gilbert vd, Goethe bio/bk/bio, Nicolas Gonzalez tlk/rec/stetxt/txt, Patricia Goodson txt/bk/bk, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Etienne de Harven bk/txt/vd, Alfred Hassig intw/txt, Robert G. Houston txt, Steven Jonas vd, Edward Jenner txt, Benjamin Jesty, Adrian Kent vd, Thomas Kuhn, Fred Kummerow, Stefan Lanka txt/txt/vd, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen vd, Paul Lauterbur vd, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, James Lovelock, Andrew Maniotis, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, Christi Meyer vd, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Luc Montagnier txt/txt/vd, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling prs/vd/vd, Eric Penrose, Roger Penrose vd, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick bio/vd/bk, Robert Root-Bernstein vd, Sherwood Rowland, Otto Rossler, Harry Rubin, Marco Ruggiero txt/txt/intw/vd, Bertrand Russell Carl Sagan vd, Erwin Schrodinger, Fred Singer, Barbara Starfield txt, Gordon Stewart txt/txt, Richard Strohman, Thomas Szasz, Nicola Tesla bio/bio, Charles Thomas intw/vd, Frank Tipler, James Watson vd/vd, Alfred Wegener vd, Edward O. Wilson vd.

ACADEMICS, DOCTORS, AUTHORS, FILMMAKERS, REPORTERS AND COMMENTATORS WHO HAVE NOBLY AIDED REVIEW OF THE STATUS QUO

Jad Adams bk, Marci Angell bk/txt/txt/txt, Clark Baker ste/txt/rdo/vd, James Blodgett, Tony Brown vd, Hiram Caton txt/txt/txt/bk/ste, Jonathan Collin ste , Marcus Cohen, David Crowe vd, Margaret Cuomo, Stephen Davis BK/BK,/rdo, Michael Ellner vd, Elizabeth Ely txt/txt/ste, Epicurus, Dean Esmay, Celia Farber bio/txt/txt/txt/vd, Jonathan Fishbein txt/txt/wk, T.C.Fry, Michael Fumento, Max Gerson txt, Charles Geshekter vd, Michael Geiger, Roberto Giraldo, David Healy txt, Bob Herbert, Mike Hersee ste/rdo, Neville Hodgkinson txt /vd, James P. Hogan, Richard Horton bio/vd/vd, Christopher Hitchens, Eric Johnson, Claus Jensen vd, Phillip Johnson, Coleman Jones vds, William Donald Kelley, Ernst T. Krebs Sr txt, Ernst T. Krebs Jr. txt,/bio/txt/txt/ltr, Paul Krugman, Brett Leung MOV/ste/txt/txt/tx+vd/txt, Katie Leishman, Anthony Liversidge blg/intv/intv/txt/txts/txt/intv/txt/vd/vd, Bruce Livesey txt, James W. Loewen, Frank Lusardi, Nathaniel Lehrman vd, Christine Maggiore bk/ste/rec/rdo/vd, Rouben Mamoulian txt/txt/txt/txt/txt/doc/flm/flm, Noreen Martin vd, Robert Maver txt/itw, Eric Merola MOV, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Michael Moore bio/MOV/MOV/MOV, Gordon Moran, Ralph Nader bk, Ralph Moss txt/blg/ste/bks, Gary Null /txt/rdo/vd, Dan Olmsted wki, Toby Ord vd, Charles Ortleb bk/txt/bk/intw/flm, Neenyah Ostrom bk, Dennis Overbye, Mehmet Dr Oz vd, Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos ste/vd, Maria Papagiannidou bk, Thomas Piketty bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk/bk, Robert Pollin txt/vd/bk, Jon Rappoport bio/bk/bk/ste/bk/bk/vd, Janine Roberts bk/bk, Luis Sancho vd, Liam Scheff ste/txt/bk/bk/rdio/vd, John Scythes, Casper Schmidt txt/txt, Joan Shenton vd/vd, Joseph Sonnabend vd, John Stauber, David Steele, Joseph Stiglitz bk/txt, Will Storr rdo Wolfgang Streeck, James P. Tankersley ste, Gary Taubes vd, Mwizenge S. Tembo, John Tierney vd, Michael Tracey, Valendar Turner rec, Jesse Ventura bk, Michael Verney-Elliott bio/vds/vd, Voltaire, Walter Wagner, Andrew Weil vd, David Weinberger bio/bk/blg/blg/BK/bk/pds, Robert Willner bk/txt/txt/vd, Howard Zinn.

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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

The progress of science is strewn, like an ancient desert trail, with the bleached skeletons of discarded theories which once seemed to possess eternal life. - Arthur Koestler

One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison. – Bertrand Russell

Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it. - Samuel Johnson

A sudden bold and unexpected question doth many times surprise a man and lay him open. – Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. – John Stuart Mill

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform. – Mark Twain

Although science has led to the generally high living standards that most of the industrialized world enjoys today, the astounding discoveries underpinning them were made by a tiny number of courageous, out-of-step, visionary, determined, and passionate scientists working to their own agenda and radically challenging the status quo. – Donald W. Braben

An old error is always more popular than a new truth. — German Proverb

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. – Mark Twain

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his income depends on his not understanding it. – Upton Sinclair

A clash of doctrines is not a disaster, but an opportunity. - Alfred North Whitehead

Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it. – Samuel Johnson

Man’s mind cannot grasp the causes of events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man’s soul. And without considering the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, he snatches at the first approximation to a cause that seems to him intelligible and says: “This is the cause!” – Leo Tolstoy

The evolution of the world tends to show the absolute importance of the category of the individual apart from the crowd. - Soren Kierkegaard

Who does not know the truth is simply a fool, yet who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a criminal. – Bertold Brecht

How easily the learned give up the evidence of their senses to preserve the coherence of ideas in their imagination. – Adam Smith

Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned. – Mark Twain

The mind likes a strange idea as little as the body likes a strange protein and resists it with similar energy. If we watch ourselves honestly, we shall often find that we have begun to argue against a new idea even before it has been completely stated. – Arthur Koestler

Whenever the human race assembles to a number exceeding four, it cannot stand free speech. – Mark Twain

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. - Adam Smith

There isn’t anything so grotesque or so incredible that the average human being can’t believe it. – Mark Twain

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. – John Stuart Mill

It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere. – Voltaire

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.- Blaise Pascal.

Illusion is the first of all pleasures. – Voltaire

The applause of a single human being is of great consequence. – Samuel Johnson

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Obama’s the One, barring a roadside bomb, or outright theft

October 29th, 2008

New Yorker does fine summary, explaining why Obama is the intelligent choice

McCain self-immolates with desperate anachronisms, Palin’s hotness glows

But have the Republicans guaranteed Obama will fail?

baracknyorkercartoon.jpgSince this blog for so long has been thoroughly distracted by the Election, we venture a quick final post on the topic a week before the climax, primarily to note how a uniquely articulate endorsement of Obama in the New Yorker last week set a high water mark for political journalism in graceful exposition of facts and perceptions which ring true without particular selectivity or axe grinding.

We challenge any reader, even one of those who have seemed so far immune to the virtues of one of the most talented candidates ever to run for President, to come up with any cogent objection to any of the following analysis in its accurate damning of the alternatives past (Bush) and present (McCain/Palin) :

Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching—that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a Presidency has—at the levels of competence, vision, and integrity—undermined the country and its ideals?

The incumbent Administration has distinguished itself for the ages. The Presidency of George W. Bush is the worst since Reconstruction, so there is no mystery about why the Republican Party—which has held dominion over the executive branch of the federal government for the past eight years and the legislative branch for most of that time—has little desire to defend its record, domestic or foreign. The only speaker at the Convention in St. Paul who uttered more than a sentence or two in support of the President was his wife, Laura. Meanwhile, the nominee, John McCain, played the part of a vaudeville illusionist, asking to be regarded as an apostle of change after years of embracing the essentials of the Bush agenda with ever-increasing ardor.

migrant_mother_1936__great_depression.jpgThe Republican disaster begins at home. Even before taking into account whatever fantastically expensive plan eventually emerges to help rescue the financial system from Wall Street’s long-running pyramid schemes, the economic and fiscal picture is bleak. During the Bush Administration, the national debt, now approaching ten trillion dollars, has nearly doubled. Next year’s federal budget is projected to run a half-trillion-dollar deficit, a precipitous fall from the seven-hundred-billion-dollar surplus that was projected when Bill Clinton left office. Private-sector job creation has been a sixth of what it was under President Clinton. Five million people have fallen into poverty. The number of Americans without health insurance has grown by seven million, while average premiums have nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the principal domestic achievement of the Bush Administration has been to shift the relative burden of taxation from the rich to the rest. For the top one per cent of us, the Bush tax cuts are worth, on average, about a thousand dollars a week; for the bottom fifth, about a dollar and a half. The unfairness will only increase if the painful, yet necessary, effort to rescue the credit markets ends up preventing the rescue of our health-care system, our environment, and our physical, educational, and industrial infrastructure.

At the same time, a hundred and fifty thousand American troops are in Iraq and thirty-three thousand are in Afghanistan. There is still disagreement about the wisdom of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his horrific regime, but there is no longer the slightest doubt that the Bush Administration manipulated, bullied, and lied the American public into this war and then mismanaged its prosecution in nearly every aspect. The direct costs, besides an expenditure of more than six hundred billion dollars, have included the loss of more than four thousand Americans, the wounding of thirty thousand, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, and the displacement of four and a half million men, women, and children. Only now, after American forces have been fighting for a year longer than they did in the Second World War, is there a glimmer of hope that the conflict in Iraq has entered a stage of fragile stability.

The indirect costs, both of the war in particular and of the Administration’s unilateralist approach to foreign policy in general, have also been immense. The torture of prisoners, authorized at the highest level, has been an ethical and a public-diplomacy catastrophe. At a moment when the global environment, the global economy, and global stability all demand a transition to new sources of energy, the United States has been a global retrograde, wasteful in its consumption and heedless in its policy. Strategically and morally, the Bush Administration has squandered the American capacity to counter the example and the swagger of its rivals. China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other illiberal states have concluded, each in its own way, that democratic principles and human rights need not be components of a stable, prosperous future. At recent meetings of the United Nations, emboldened despots like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran came to town sneering at our predicament and hailing the “end of the American era.”

globalsmoke.jpgThe election of 2008 is the first in more than half a century in which no incumbent President or Vice-President is on the ballot. There is, however, an incumbent party, and that party has been lucky enough to find itself, apparently against the wishes of its “base,” with a nominee who evidently disliked George W. Bush before it became fashionable to do so. In South Carolina in 2000, Bush crushed John McCain with a sub-rosa primary campaign of such viciousness that McCain lashed out memorably against Bush’s Christian-right allies. So profound was McCain’s anger that in 2004 he flirted with the possibility of joining the Democratic ticket under John Kerry. Bush, who took office as a “compassionate conservative,” governed immediately as a rightist ideologue. During that first term, McCain bolstered his reputation, sometimes deserved, as a “maverick” willing to work with Democrats on such issues as normalizing relations with Vietnam, campaign-finance reform, and immigration reform. He co-sponsored, with John Edwards and Edward Kennedy, a patients’ bill of rights. In 2001 and 2003, he voted against the Bush tax cuts. With John Kerry, he co-sponsored a bill raising auto-fuel efficiency standards and, with Joseph Lieberman, a cap-and-trade regime on carbon emissions. He was one of a minority of Republicans opposed to unlimited drilling for oil and gas off America’s shores.

Since the 2004 election, however, McCain has moved remorselessly rightward in his quest for the Republican nomination. He paid obeisance to Jerry Falwell and preachers of his ilk. He abandoned immigration reform, eventually coming out against his own bill. Most shocking, McCain, who had repeatedly denounced torture under all circumstances, voted in February against a ban on the very techniques of “enhanced interrogation” that he himself once endured in Vietnam—as long as the torturers were civilians employed by the C.I.A.

On almost every issue, McCain and the Democratic Party’s nominee, Barack Obama, speak the generalized language of “reform,” but only Obama has provided a convincing, rational, and fully developed vision. McCain has abandoned his opposition to the Bush-era tax cuts and has taken up the demagogic call—in the midst of recession and Wall Street calamity, with looming crises in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—for more tax cuts. Bush’s expire in 2011. If McCain, as he has proposed, cuts taxes for corporations and estates, the benefits once more would go disproportionately to the wealthy.

In Washington, the craze for pure market triumphalism is over. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson arrived in town (via Goldman Sachs) a Republican, but it seems that he will leave a Democrat. In other words, he has come to see that the abuses that led to the current financial crisis––not least, excessive speculation on borrowed capital––can be fixed only with government regulation and oversight. McCain, who has never evinced much interest in, or knowledge of, economic questions, has had little of substance to say about the crisis. His most notable gesture of concern—a melodramatic call last month to suspend his campaign and postpone the first Presidential debate until the government bailout plan was ready—soon revealed itself as an empty diversionary tactic.

By contrast, Obama has made a serious study of the mechanics and the history of this economic disaster and of the possibilities of stimulating a recovery. Last March, in New York, in a speech notable for its depth, balance, and foresight, he said, “A complete disdain for pay-as-you-go budgeting, coupled with a generally scornful attitude towards oversight and enforcement, allowed far too many to put short-term gain ahead of long-term consequences.” Obama is committed to reforms that value not only the restoration of stability but also the protection of the vast majority of the population, which did not partake of the fruits of the binge years. He has called for greater and more programmatic regulation of the financial system; the creation of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, which would help reverse the decay of our roads, bridges, and mass-transit systems, and create millions of jobs; and a major investment in the green-energy sector.

polarbearcaughtonfloe.jpgIn energy and global warming, Obama offers a set of forceful proposals. He supports a cap-and-trade program to reduce America’s carbon emissions by eighty per cent by 2050—an enormously ambitious goal, but one that many climate scientists say must be met if atmospheric carbon dioxide is to be kept below disastrous levels. Large emitters, like utilities, would acquire carbon allowances, and those which emit less carbon dioxide than their allotment could sell the resulting credits to those which emit more; over time, the available allowances would decline. Significantly, Obama wants to auction off the allowances; this would provide fifteen billion dollars a year for developing alternative-energy sources and creating job-training programs in green technologies. He also wants to raise federal fuel-economy standards and to require that ten per cent of America’s electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2012. Taken together, his proposals represent the most coherent and far-sighted strategy ever offered by a Presidential candidate for reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

There was once reason to hope that McCain and Obama would have a sensible debate about energy and climate policy. McCain was one of the first Republicans in the Senate to support federal limits on carbon dioxide, and he has touted his own support for a less ambitious cap-and-trade program as evidence of his independence from the White House. But, as polls showed Americans growing jittery about gasoline prices, McCain apparently found it expedient in this area, too, to shift course. He took a dubious idea—lifting the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling—and placed it at the very center of his campaign. Opening up America’s coastal waters to drilling would have no impact on gasoline prices in the short term, and, even over the long term, the effect, according to a recent analysis by the Department of Energy, would be “insignificant.” Such inconvenient facts, however, are waved away by a campaign that finally found its voice with the slogan “Drill, baby, drill!”
he contrast between the candidates is even sharper with respect to the third branch of government. A tense equipoise currently prevails among the Justices of the Supreme Court, where four hard-core conservatives face off against four moderate liberals. Anthony M. Kennedy is the swing vote, determining the outcome of case after case.

McCain cites Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, two reliable conservatives, as models for his own prospective appointments. If he means what he says, and if he replaces even one moderate on the current Supreme Court, then Roe v. Wade will be reversed, and states will again be allowed to impose absolute bans on abortion. McCain’s views have hardened on this issue. In 1999, he said he opposed overturning Roe; by 2006, he was saying that its demise “wouldn’t bother me any”; by 2008, he no longer supported adding rape and incest as exceptions to his party’s platform opposing abortion.
But scrapping Roe—which, after all, would leave states as free to permit abortion as to criminalize it—would be just the beginning. Given the ideological agenda that the existing conservative bloc has pursued, it’s safe to predict that affirmative action of all kinds would likely be outlawed by a McCain Court. Efforts to expand executive power, which, in recent years, certain Justices have nobly tried to resist, would likely increase. Barriers between church and state would fall; executions would soar; legal checks on corporate power would wither—all with just one new conservative nominee on the Court. And the next President is likely to make three appointments.

Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, voted against confirming not only Roberts and Alito but also several unqualified lower-court nominees. As an Illinois state senator, he won the support of prosecutors and police organizations for new protections against convicting the innocent in capital cases. While McCain voted to continue to deny habeas-corpus rights to detainees, perpetuating the Bush Administration’s regime of state-sponsored extra-legal detention, Obama took the opposite side, pushing to restore the right of all U.S.-held prisoners to a hearing. The judicial future would be safe in his care.

In the shorthand of political commentary, the Iraq war seems to leave McCain and Obama roughly even. Opposing it before the invasion, Obama had the prescience to warn of a costly and indefinite occupation and rising anti-American radicalism around the world; supporting it, McCain foresaw none of this. More recently, in early 2007 McCain risked his Presidential prospects on the proposition that five additional combat brigades could salvage a war that by then appeared hopeless. Obama, along with most of the country, had decided that it was time to cut American losses. Neither candidate’s calculations on Iraq have been as cheaply political as McCain’s repeated assertion that Obama values his career over his country; both men based their positions, right or wrong, on judgment and principle.

President Bush’s successor will inherit two wars and the realities of limited resources, flagging popular will, and the dwindling possibilities of what can be achieved by American power. McCain’s views on these subjects range from the simplistic to the unknown. In Iraq, he seeks “victory”—a word that General David Petraeus refuses to use, and one that fundamentally misrepresents the messy, open-ended nature of the conflict. As for Afghanistan, on the rare occasions when McCain mentions it he implies that the surge can be transferred directly from Iraq, which suggests that his grasp of counterinsurgency is not as firm as he insisted it was during the first Presidential debate. McCain always displays more faith in force than interest in its strategic consequences. Unlike Obama, McCain has no political strategy for either war, only the dubious hope that greater security will allow things to work out. Obama has long warned of deterioration along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and has a considered grasp of its vital importance. His strategy for both Afghanistan and Iraq shows an understanding of the role that internal politics, economics, corruption, and regional diplomacy play in wars where there is no battlefield victory.

john_mccain-thumbsup.jpgUnimaginably painful personal experience taught McCain that war is above all a test of honor: maintain the will to fight on, be prepared to risk everything, and you will prevail. Asked during the first debate to outline “the lessons of Iraq,” McCain said, “I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear: that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict.” A soldier’s answer––but a statesman must have a broader view of war and peace. The years ahead will demand not only determination but also diplomacy, flexibility, patience, judiciousness, and intellectual engagement. These are no more McCain’s strong suit than the current President’s. Obama, for his part, seems to know that more will be required than willpower and force to extract some advantage from the wreckage of the Bush years.

Obama is also better suited for the task of renewing the bedrock foundations of American influence. An American restoration in foreign affairs will require a commitment not only to international coöperation but also to international institutions that can address global warming, the dislocations of what will likely be a deepening global economic crisis, disease epidemics, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and other, more traditional security challenges. Many of the Cold War-era vehicles for engagement and negotiation—the United Nations, the World Bank, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—are moribund, tattered, or outdated. Obama has the generational outlook that will be required to revive or reinvent these compacts. He would be the first postwar American President unencumbered by the legacies of either Munich or Vietnam.

The next President must also restore American moral credibility. Closing Guantánamo, banning all torture, and ending the Iraq war as responsibly as possible will provide a start, but only that. The modern Presidency is as much a vehicle for communication as for decision-making, and the relevant audiences are global. Obama has inspired many Americans in part because he holds up a mirror to their own idealism. His election would do no less—and likely more—overseas.

What most distinguishes the candidates, however, is character—and here, contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama is clearly the stronger of the two. Not long ago, Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, said, “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” The view that this election is about personalities leaves out policy, complexity, and accountability. Even so, there’s some truth in what Davis said––but it hardly points to the conclusion that he intended.

Echoing Obama, McCain has made “change” one of his campaign mantras. But the change he has actually provided has been in himself, and it is not just a matter of altering his positions. A willingness to pander and even lie has come to define his Presidential campaign and its televised advertisements. A contemptuous duplicity, a meanness, has entered his talk on the stump—so much so that it seems obvious that, in the drive for victory, he is willing to replicate some of the same underhanded methods that defeated him eight years ago in South Carolina.

sarahpalin.jpgPerhaps nothing revealed McCain’s cynicism more than his choice of Sarah Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, who had been governor of that state for twenty-one months, as the Republican nominee for Vice-President. In the interviews she has given since her nomination, she has had difficulty uttering coherent unscripted responses about the most basic issues of the day. We are watching a candidate for Vice-President cram for her ongoing exam in elementary domestic and foreign policy. This is funny as a Tina Fey routine on “Saturday Night Live,” but as a vision of the political future it’s deeply unsettling. Palin has no business being the backup to a President of any age, much less to one who is seventy-two and in imperfect health. In choosing her, McCain committed an act of breathtaking heedlessness and irresponsibility. Obama’s choice, Joe Biden, is not without imperfections. His tongue sometimes runs in advance of his mind, providing his own fodder for late-night comedians, but there is no comparison with Palin. His deep experience in foreign affairs, the judiciary, and social policy makes him an assuring and complementary partner for Obama.

The longer the campaign goes on, the more the issues of personality and character have reflected badly on McCain. Unless appearances are very deceiving, he is impulsive, impatient, self-dramatizing, erratic, and a compulsive risk-taker. These qualities may have contributed to his usefulness as a “maverick” senator. But in a President they would be a menace.
By contrast, Obama’s transformative message is accompanied by a sense of pragmatic calm. A tropism for unity is an essential part of his character and of his campaign. It is part of what allowed him to overcome a Democratic opponent who entered the race with tremendous advantages. It is what helped him forge a political career relying both on the liberals of Hyde Park and on the political regulars of downtown Chicago. His policy preferences are distinctly liberal, but he is determined to speak to a broad range of Americans who do not necessarily share his every value or opinion. For some who oppose him, his equanimity even under the ugliest attack seems like hauteur; for some who support him, his reluctance to counterattack in the same vein seems like self-defeating detachment. Yet it is Obama’s temperament—and not McCain’s—that seems appropriate for the office both men seek and for the volatile and dangerous era in which we live. Those who dismiss his centeredness as self-centeredness or his composure as indifference are as wrong as those who mistook Eisenhower’s stolidity for denseness or Lincoln’s humor for lack of seriousness.

Nowadays, almost every politician who thinks about running for President arranges to become an author. Obama’s books are different: he wrote them. “The Audacity of Hope” (2006) is a set of policy disquisitions loosely structured around an account of his freshman year in the United States Senate. Though a campaign manifesto of sorts, it is superior to that genre’s usual blowsy pastiche of ghostwritten speeches. But it is Obama’s first book, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” (1995), that offers an unprecedented glimpse into the mind and heart of a potential President. Obama began writing it in his early thirties, before he was a candidate for anything. Not since Theodore Roosevelt has an American politician this close to the pinnacle of power produced such a sustained, highly personal work of literary merit before being definitively swept up by the tides of political ambition.

votingmachineroberttsullivangetty.jpgA Presidential election is not the awarding of a Pulitzer Prize: we elect a politician and, we hope, a statesman, not an author. But Obama’s first book is valuable in the way that it reveals his fundamental attitudes of mind and spirit. “Dreams from My Father” is an illuminating memoir not only in the substance of Obama’s own peculiarly American story but also in the qualities he brings to the telling: a formidable intelligence, emotional empathy, self-reflection, balance, and a remarkable ability to see life and the world through the eyes of people very different from himself. In common with nearly all other senators and governors of his generation, Obama does not count military service as part of his biography. But his life has been full of tests—personal, spiritual, racial, political—that bear on his preparation for great responsibility.

It is perfectly legitimate to call attention, as McCain has done, to Obama’s lack of conventional national and international policymaking experience. We, too, wish he had more of it. But office-holding is not the only kind of experience relevant to the task of leading a wildly variegated nation. Obama’s immersion in diverse human environments (Hawaii’s racial rainbow, Chicago’s racial cauldron, countercultural New York, middle-class Kansas, predominantly Muslim Indonesia), his years of organizing among the poor, his taste of corporate law and his grounding in public-interest and constitutional law—these, too, are experiences. And his books show that he has wrung from them every drop of insight and breadth of perspective they contained.

The exhaustingly, sometimes infuriatingly long campaign of 2008 (and 2007) has had at least one virtue: it has demonstrated that Obama’s intelligence and steady temperament are not just figments of the writer’s craft. He has made mistakes, to be sure. (His failure to accept McCain’s imaginative proposal for a series of unmediated joint appearances was among them.) But, on the whole, his campaign has been marked by patience, planning, discipline, organization, technological proficiency, and strategic astuteness. Obama has often looked two or three moves ahead, relatively impervious to the permanent hysteria of the hourly news cycle and the cable-news shouters. And when crisis has struck, as it did when the divisive antics of his ex-pastor threatened to bring down his campaign, he has proved equal to the moment, rescuing himself with a speech that not only drew the poison but also demonstrated a profound respect for the electorate. Although his opponents have tried to attack him as a man of “mere” words, Obama has returned eloquence to its essential place in American politics. The choice between experience and eloquence is a false one––something that Lincoln, out of office after a single term in Congress, proved in his own campaign of political and national renewal. Obama’s “mere” speeches on everything from the economy and foreign affairs to race have been at the center of his campaign and its success; if he wins, his eloquence will be central to his ability to govern.

We cannot expect one man to heal every wound, to solve every major crisis of policy. So much of the Presidency, as they say, is a matter of waking up in the morning and trying to drink from a fire hydrant. In the quiet of the Oval Office, the noise of immediate demands can be deafening. And yet Obama has precisely the temperament to shut out the noise when necessary and concentrate on the essential. The election of Obama—a man of mixed ethnicity, at once comfortable in the world and utterly representative of twenty-first-century America—would, at a stroke, reverse our country’s image abroad and refresh its spirit at home. His ascendance to the Presidency would be a symbolic culmination of the civil- and voting-rights acts of the nineteen-sixties and the century-long struggles for equality that preceded them. It could not help but say something encouraging, even exhilarating, about the country, about its dedication to tolerance and inclusiveness, about its fidelity, after all, to the values it proclaims in its textbooks. At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure, and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama.
—The Editors

Of course, there is still a week before the final tally replaces what currently is a surprising 7-15% advantage for Obama in polling, and the arrest of a couple of ignorant white supremacists planning to end a murder rampage with the first African-American President-to-be brings home the threat that violence of one kind or another might disrupt his imminent victory in what looks to be a landslide.

It seems not unlikely to us that Osama Bin Laden might wish to let off a dirty bomb in New York if he can manage to arrange it, since Obama with his notoriously inclusive nature will surely not only bring red and white together in his renewal of 21st Century America but will bring America and the world together again as effectively as the Bush Administration and its neo-con policies have split them apart.

However, it is science and technology and politics which is the topic of this blog so we once again emphasize that one possibility remains the theft of the election by hacking as seems to have happened in 2004, according to the loser John Kerry and everyone else we have met who was involved in the practicalities of the campaign.

Still the unmentionable tiger in the booth

tigerinwater1.jpgThe fact that Obama looks like winning in a landslide makes the threat less likely, presumably, though the level of Republican desperation as embodied by the increasingly dishonorable MacCain and Palin will surely magnify the temptation to plan the tactic. (Click the pic to get a full view of exceptionally nice shot of a tiger in water from the wonderful selection at Bergiota). Coverage by the media seems to stop short of dealing with the possibility, as in the otherwise thorough Time cover story on 7 Things That Could Go Wrong on Election Day last week on Election Fraud which quietly bypassed the issue of purposeful hacking of the machines amid its dense coverage of other problems involving interference with free and fair voting by machine:

4. The Voting-Machine Fiasco
By Michael Scherer
As soon as the last chad was counted in Florida, Congress got to work on a new law that authorized $3.9 billion to buy new, high-tech voting equipment. On the whole, the new machines were an improvement over the old punch cards and levers, but many parts of the country now find themselves yearning for the old problems of paper.

About one-third of voters this fall will use electronic machines, usually touchscreen systems that produce no paper record of the vote. If the machines are miscalibrated, they are known to malfunction, sometimes causing the selection of one candidate to show as a vote for another. But the bigger concern, which has been echoed by computer scientists, is that the machines have no independent paper backup. A memory failure or a corruption of the data leaves no route for a recount. The 2006 congressional election in Florida’s 13th District produced the nightmare scenario. Republican Vern Buchanan won the contest by a margin of 369 votes. But in a single, Democratic-leaning county, more than 18,000 voters mysteriously failed to record a selection in the congressional race, an undervote as much as six times the rate of other counties. There is no way to know for sure what, if anything, went wrong.

Since that election, several states, including Florida and California, have required paper records for all electronic-voting devices. A bill in Congress that would mandate paper records of all machines nationwide has gathered 216 co-sponsors, including 20 Republicans.

Meanwhile, 11 million people live in counties that will use lever machines or punch-card ballots this year, even though the congressional deadline to replace that equipment passed in 2006.


Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008
Introduction
By Michael Scherer
We can go to the moon, split atoms to power submarines, squeeze profits from a 99 cent hamburger and watch football highlights on cell phones. But the most successful democracy in human history has yet to figure out how to conduct a proper election. As it stands, the American voting system is a worrisome mess, a labyrinth of local, state and federal laws spotted with bewildered volunteers, harried public officials, partisan distortions, misdesigned forms, malfunctioning machines and polling-place confusion. Each time, problems pop up on the margins; if the election is close, these problems matter a great deal. Republicans and Democrats predict record turnouts, perhaps 130 million people, including millions who have never voted before. The vast majority will cast their votes without a hitch. But some voters will find themselves at the mercy of registration rolls that have been poorly maintained or, in some cases, improperly handled. Others will endure long lines, too few voting machines and observers who challenge their identities. Long a prerogative of local government, the patchwork of election rules often defies logic. A convicted felon can vote in Maine, but not in Virginia. A government-issued photo ID is required of all voters at the polls in Indiana, but not in New York. Voting lines are shorter in the suburbs, and the rules governing when provisional ballots count sometimes vary from state to state. As Americans cast their ballots on Nov. 4, here are some problems that threaten to throw this election to the courts again.

1. The Database Dilemma
By Michael Scherer
“Joe the plumber” is not registered to vote. Or at least he is not registered under his own name. The man known to his mother as Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who has become a feature of John McCain’s stump speech, is inscribed in Ohio’s Lucas County registration records as “Worzelbacher,” a problem of penmanship more than anything else. “You can’t read his signature to tell if it is an o or a u,” explains Linda Howe, the local elections director.

Such mistakes riddle the nation’s voting rolls, but they did not matter much before computers digitized records. The misspelled Joes of America still got their ballots. But after the voting debacle in 2000, Congress required each state to create a single voter database, which could then be matched with other data, such as driver’s licenses, to detect false registrations, dead people and those who have moved or become “inactive.” In the marble halls of Congress, this sounded like a great idea — solve old problems with new technology. But in the hands of sometimes inept or partisan state officials, the database matches have become a practical nightmare that experts fear could disenfranchise thousands.

In Wisconsin, an August check of a new voter-registration database against other state records turned up a 22% match-failure rate. Around the time four of the six former judges who oversee state elections could not be matched with state driver’s license data, the board decided to suspend any database purges of new registrants. But database-matching continues elsewhere. In Florida, nearly 9,000 new registrants have been flagged through the state’s “No Match, No Vote” law. (Their votes will not be counted unless they prove their identity to a state worker in the coming weeks.) In Ohio, Republicans have repeatedly gone to court to make public a list of more than 200,000 unmatched registrations, presumably so that those voters can be challenged at the polls, even though most of them, like Joe, are probably legit. “It’s disenfranchisement by typo,” explains Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voting issues.

Elsewhere the purges are peremptory. A county official in Georgia this year removed 700 people from voter lists, even though some of those people had never received so much as a parking ticket. Another Georgia voter purge, which seeks to remove illegal immigrants from the rolls, has been challenged by voting-rights groups that say legal voters have been intimidated by repeated requests to prove their citizenship. Back in Mississippi last March, an election official wrongly purged 10,000 people from the voting rolls — including a Republican congressional candidate — while using her home computer. (The names were restored before the primary.)

With just days until the election, the scale of the database-purge problem is unknown. Millions have been stripped from voter rolls in key states, but the legitimacy of those eliminations remains unclear. The sheer volume of state voter checks against the federal Social Security Administration database, however, has raised concerns. Six states that are heavily using the federal database were recently warned by Social Security commissioner Michael Astrue about the danger of improperly blocking legitimate voters. “It is absolutely essential that people entitled to register to vote are allowed to do so,” he said in October.

2. ‘Mickey Mouse’ Registrations And Polling-Place Challenges
By Michael Scherer
Thanks to a few bad apples, ACORN is no longer just an oak-tree nut. McCain blames the group for “maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history.” Members of Congress have demanded investigations. The fbi is asking questions. Republican protesters have started crashing political events in squirrel costumes.

Yet the problem of registration fraud is age-old. For decades, both parties and many other groups have paid people to go out and register new voters. In the case of acorn, a community group that represents low-income and minority communities, this led to a massive registration drive this year, which signed up 1.3 million new people, mostly in swing states. The problem is that a small fraction of those new voters don’t exist. That’s because the 13,000 part-time workers conducting the acorn registration drive were paid on a quota system, providing them a clear incentive to fabricate registrations. Across the country, registrars have flagged thousands of acorn forms as suspect. In Florida, “Mickey Mouse” tried to register with an application stamped with the acorn logo. The starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys signed up to vote in Nevada. But there’s a difference between registration fraud and voter fraud; the latter has not been documented on any significant scale in decades. Phony registrations are difficult to translate into fraudulent votes. Under federal law, new registrants still have to provide election officials with identification before casting their first ballot. Unless Mickey Mouse has an ID, the chance that he’ll vote is slim.

Democrats complain that trumped-up charges of voting fraud could scare people from the polls. On the other hand, the acorn effect makes elections suspect — and that’s bad for everyone. Republicans in several key swing states have argued that the false registrations make it necessary to monitor polls and challenge suspect voters. If that happens on a grand scale, the voting process could become more like running a gauntlet than exercising a right, with polling-place delays and confrontations that could scare people off or just lead them to conclude it’s not worth the time.

3. Bad Forms
By Michael Scherer
Until the palm beach county butterfly ballot had its 15 minutes of fame, few believed that bad design could determine the fate of the world. But then a local election official created a form that confused elderly voters, causing thousands to mark both Al Gore and another candidate on the same form, disqualifying enough votes to put George W. Bush in the White House.

Eight years later, punch-card ballots are mostly a thing of the past, but bad design lives on. This summer, the McCain campaign sent poorly designed absentee-ballot forms to more than 1 million voters in Ohio. The form included a redundant box for voters to check if they were “qualified electors.” Though the box was not required by law, the Democratic secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, rejected thousands of otherwise complete forms with unchecked boxes. Luckily for the voters, the state supreme court stepped in to overrule Brunner’s order, which it noted “served no vital public purpose or interest.” A lawsuit has yet to be filed in a similar case in Colorado, where Republican secretary of state Mike Coffman, who is running for Congress, ruled that more than 6,400 new registrations should be rejected because people failed to check a box before providing the last four digits of their Social Security number. Again, the box was redundant, since new registrants provided all the other required information, yet Coffman has declared the forms incomplete and sent letters alerting voters that they have just a few days to fix the mistakes or be left off the rolls.

4. The Voting-Machine Fiasco
By Michael Scherer
As soon as the last chad was counted in Florida, Congress got to work on a new law that authorized $3.9 billion to buy new, high-tech voting equipment. On the whole, the new machines were an improvement over the old punch cards and levers, but many parts of the country now find themselves yearning for the old problems of paper.

About one-third of voters this fall will use electronic machines, usually touchscreen systems that produce no paper record of the vote. If the machines are miscalibrated, they are known to malfunction, sometimes causing the selection of one candidate to show as a vote for another. But the bigger concern, which has been echoed by computer scientists, is that the machines have no independent paper backup. A memory failure or a corruption of the data leaves no route for a recount. The 2006 congressional election in Florida’s 13th District produced the nightmare scenario. Republican Vern Buchanan won the contest by a margin of 369 votes. But in a single, Democratic-leaning county, more than 18,000 voters mysteriously failed to record a selection in the congressional race, an undervote as much as six times the rate of other counties. There is no way to know for sure what, if anything, went wrong.

Since that election, several states, including Florida and California, have required paper records for all electronic-voting devices. A bill in Congress that would mandate paper records of all machines nationwide has gathered 216 co-sponsors, including 20 Republicans.

Meanwhile, 11 million people live in counties that will use lever machines or punch-card ballots this year, even though the congressional deadline to replace that equipment passed in 2006.

5. Unequal Distribution of Resources
By Michael Scherer
This summer, a local democratic county clerk in Indiana noted a surprising increase in new registrations from the area around Ball State University. He suggested that a new early-voting location be set up on campus. But the county’s Republican chairwoman, Kaye Whitehead, opposed the plan, calling it a “political ploy” that would encourage students to vote in exchange for freebies like hot dogs. “This is a serious election,” she told the local newspaper, before the lone Republican on the election board blocked the site. “You need voters who are informed.”

Partisan squabbles about access occur regularly across the country, often with major effects on Election Day. In 2004 lines in Ohio’s Franklin County led some Democrats to complain that Republicans were using resources to affect the outcome of the vote. While suburban precincts had enough machines so voters didn’t have to wait, largely Democratic precincts in Columbus had lines with four-hour waits — often in the rain. Bipartisan estimates suggested that between 5,000 and 15,000 voters gave up on waiting and never voted. But even the question of which precincts get election machines is a maze: in Wisconsin, one voting machine is required for every 200 voters registered in a precinct. In Virginia, by contrast, the law calls for one machine for every 500 to 750 voters, depending on the size of the precinct. In Colorado, which saw six-hour waits for ballots in 2006, the law simply calls for a “sufficient” number of voting booths.

6. New Burdens of Proof
By Michael Scherer
The sisters of the holy cross in notre Dame, Ind., don’t have much use for driver’s licenses. Or at least that’s what a dozen of the nuns thought on May 6, when they went to vote in the presidential primary. They were each turned away as a result of a recently established ID-check requirement at Indiana polls.

In the intervening months, the elderly sisters have all had a chance to get government identification. But an explosion in voter-identification laws has raised the prospect that thousands will turn up to vote next month and find themselves turned away. Federal law now requires that all first-time voters who register by mail provide some sort of identification either when they register or when they vote. But states have applied that rule in markedly different ways. In Pennsylvania, first-time voters can use a firearm permit or a utility bill to identify themselves, and longtime voters don’t have to show anything at all. In Georgia and Florida, gun permits don’t help; all voters must show a state or federal photo ID at the polls. In Indiana, residents who attend state schools can use their student IDs in many cases, but students who attend private schools cannot. The laws have been established to prevent voter fraud, but some experts worry that voter suppression will result. “There is very little evidence of widespread voter fraud,” says R. Michael Alvarez, co-director of the Caltech/mit Voting Technology Project. “Imposing these additional barriers doesn’t seem terribly justified.”

How big a barrier? A 2001 study found that 6% to 10% of the voting-age population lacks driver’s licenses or other state-issued IDs. The most reasonable worry is that many local ID requirements are not well known to voters, which could lead to significant numbers of people leaving the polls frustrated on Election Day without casting their ballot. That should not happen: in all states, voters without IDs are permitted to cast a provisional ballot. But in many states, for the ballot to count they must bring a valid ID to election officials within days after the election, proving that they are the person they claim to be.

7. Confusing Rules, Bad Information
By Michael Scherer
As election day nears, dirty tricks surface. Flyers are left on cars telling Democrats that they should vote on Wednesday, not Tuesday. Anonymous automated phone calls warn people that they will be arrested at the polls or that their polling places have moved. The impact of such gambits is usually small, and in an increasing number of states, such tricks are punishable by law.

A more insidious type of misinformation starts months earlier with local officials. Last March, the president of Colorado College in Colorado Springs received a letter from the El Paso County clerk, Robert Balink, warning that out-of-state students cannot register to vote if their parents claim them as dependents in another state. This was false. The registrar of elections for the area around Virginia Tech issued other confusing messages to students there, obliquely suggesting that their parents’ tax status could be jeopardized based on vague state-board-of-elections guidelines.

A widely circulated anonymous e-mail warns voters that they will be turned away from polling places if they wear a barack obama button or a john mccain T shirt. This is true in only a minority of states. In Virginia, for instance, wearing a candidate’s T shirt or button can get you tossed from a polling place. After agreeing to the policy, Virginia Board of Elections officials said decisions about what to do will be subject to the interpretation of local poll workers and judges — which is a pretty good metaphor for the controlled electoral chaos that is about to unfold all over America in a few short days.

—with reporting by Marti Covington and Maya Curry / WashingtonThe one man in the country who still seems alert to the danger and willing to talk about it is Mark Crispin-Miller of New York University, but astonishingly in his appearance on Bill Moyers Journal last weekend the issue of outright machine hacking was not dealt with either, though every other angle of the tendency for Republicans to stymie Democratic voting was discussed.

Will Obama be robbed?

alexandralaviadapolarisvoting-machine.jpgThe efforts mounted by the Democrats to guard against fraud were reviewed on Sunday in Voting Machines Problems on Alternet by Steven Rosenfeld and while the planning and organization seems impressive the implementation is apparently less so, with the focus on unplanned glitches which may or may not be caught by checkers, so the chances of professional level purposeful and secret software manipulation seem as yet unchanged.

Certainly if election night sees the same sudden disappointing reversal as in 2004 of the apparently sure victory of Obama this time there will be a good deal longer and more determined outcry and insistence on proper recounts than in John Kerry’s case.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the Republicans inclined to win in this underhand manner may hold off on the instructions of their leaders, whoever they now are, since Bush is handing off the reins of a nation mired in political and economical quicksand so deep it is likely to “test” the resources of even an Obama in keeping his plans and vision for America from being buried forever in the next four years.

With Iraq withdrawal probably impossible in the near future and Afghanistan presenting an even more intractable problem that threatens to blossom into a poisonously Taliban ridden nuclear Pakistan, and the economy in the throes of an epileptic seizure that may keep it in bed for three years, this may spell just the right opportunity for Sarah Palin to win the Presidency in 2012.

Challenging God: CERN risks world in search for truth

October 27th, 2008

In lawsuits, qualified physicists say doomsday risk in CERN accelerator project not zero

PR machine labels critics nervous ninnies, but is Stephen Hawking infallible?

A-Bomb risked infinite chain reaction, Hans Bethe told us; are physicists irresponsible children with planet for plaything?

A very good rap video

nythadroncolliderpicbymaximilianbriceatcern.jpgIgnoring the warnings of critics who said it risked the entire planet shrinking to the size of a golf ball and disappearing into a black hole, the international consortium CERN built the world’s greatest particle accelerator outside Geneva and started it up seven weeks ago (September 10 Wed).

Unfortunately, things soon went wrong, multiplying the concern felt by many that in this case, humanity’s hubris may be punished as we peek under the skirts of the universe.

First, a thunderbolt struck an above ground transformer, and soon after an internal connection melted and forced the whole thing to be shut down as freezing helium leaked into the underground tunnel and caused damage which cannot be assessed until the contraption, aka as the Large Hadron Collider, is warmed up.

These indications of NASA-like incompetence (why wasn’t the transformer properly grounded?) in building the monster increased the alarm of skeptics but provided more time for them to press for a proper evaluation of the consequences of the project when it reaches full speed, after restart in the spring.

The more imaginative detected the response of a discomfited universe to the CERN initiative, a reaction from the future to prevent the achievement of what will otherwise pull it inside out. We are talking about physicists here, oddly enough. More about that later. The less expert may simply fear the onset of divine retribution.

A pajama party on the Titanic?

On the morning of the start up all was champagne and toasts, however. In the US a bitter sweet, early morning celebration was held by American nuclear physicists dressed in pajamas in Fermilab at Batavia as the new $8 billion, 10 trillion volt CERN particle smasher revved up for the first time, even though it meant that this nation is losing its preeminence in the field of high energy collision physics to Switzerland. Congress scotched a $20 trillion volt Texas project in 1993 after the enormous 54 mile long circular tunnel had been dug in Dallas, so the most powerful high energy particle collider here will remain the 2 trillion volt machine at Fermilab near Chicago.

Dennis Overbye, the New York Times man on the job, dutifully reported the glee felt by those involved as the Large Hadron Collider cranked up:

“It’s a fantastic moment,” said Lyn Evans, who has been the project director of the collider since its inception. “We can now look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe.”

Eventually, the collider is expected to accelerate protons to energies of 7 trillion electron volts and then smash them together, recreating conditions in the primordial fireball only a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Scientists hope the machine will be a sort of Hubble Space Telescope of inner space, allowing them to detect new subatomic particles and forces of nature.

In particular, string theorists looked forward to an annual pile of data equivalent to a stack of CDs rising 12 miles towards the moon which might yield evidence of the extra dimensions they need to validate the speculative mathematics of their theory of everything, which currently languishes for lack of any physical proof at all.

The project also excites physicists by holding out the promise of discovering the famously elusive Higgs particle, which will account for the existence of mass in the universe, and explain why one quarter of it is invisible.

As the first protons were hurled around the 17 miles long course, 300 feet deep under ground near a city whose electricity supply will be half used up by the lovely machine (see pic by Maximilian Brice) Google saluted the feat with a special logo which made it look as if it was bending under the huge forces generated by the LHC.lhccollidergooglelogo.gif

Here is Dennis Overbye’s full account:September 11, 2008
Scientists Activate Particle Collider

By DENNIS OVERBYE
BATAVIA, ILL. — Science rode a beam of subatomic particles and a river of champagne into the future on Wednesday.

After 14 years of labor, scientists at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva successfully activated the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest, most powerful particle collider and, at $8 billion, the most expensive scientific experiment to date.

At 4:28 a.m., Eastern time, scientists sent the beam of protons around the collider’s 17-mile-long racetrack, 300 feet underneath the Swiss-French border, and then sent another beam through again.

“It’s a fantastic moment,” said Lyn Evans, who has been the project director of the collider since its inception. “We can now look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe.”

Eventually, the collider is expected to accelerate protons to energies of 7 trillion electron volts and then smash them together, recreating conditions in the primordial fireball only a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Scientists hope the machine will be a sort of Hubble Space Telescope of inner space, allowing them to detect new subatomic particles and forces of nature.

An ocean away from Geneva, the L.H.C.’s activation was watched with bittersweet excitement here at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, which until that moment had the reigning particle collider.

Some 400 students and onlookers, and three local mayors, gathered overnight to watch the dawn of a new generation in high-energy physics, applauding each milestone of the night as the scientists slowly steered the protons on their course at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Many of them, including the lab’s director, Pier Oddone, were wearing pajamas or bathrobes or even night caps bearing Fermilab “Pajama Party” patches on them.

Outside, a half moon was hanging low in a cloudy sky as a reminder that the universe is beautiful and mysterious and that another small step into that mystery was about to be taken.

Dr. Oddone lauded the new machine as the result of “two and a half decades of dreams to open up this huge new territory in the exploration of the natural world.”

Roger Aymar, CERN’s director, called the new collider a “discovery machine.” The buzz was worldwide. Gordon Kane, of the University of Michigan called the new collider “a why machine,” in a posting on the blog “Cosmic Variance.”

Others, worried about speculation that a black hole could emerge from the proton collisions, have called it a doomsday machine, to the dismay of CERN physicists who can point to a variety of studies and reports that say that this fear is nothing but science fiction.

But Boaz Klima, a Fermilab particle physicist, said that the speculation had nevertheless helped create buzz and excitement about particle physics. “Bad publicity is still publicity,” he said. “This is something that people can talk to their neighbors about.”

The only thing physicists agree on is that they don’t know what will happen — what laws prevail — when the collisions reach the energies just after the Big Bang.

“That there are many theories means we don’t have a clue,” said Dr. Oddone. “That’s what makes it so exciting.”

Many physicists hope to materialize a hypothetical particle called the Higgs boson, which according to theory endows other particles with mass. They also hope to identify the nature of the mysterious invisible dark matter that makes up 25 percent of the universe and provides the scaffolding for galaxies. Some dream of revealing new dimensions of space-time.

But those discoveries are in the future. If the new collider is a car, then what physicists did today was turn on an engine, that will now sit and warm up for a couple of months before anybody drives it anywhere. The first meaningful collisions, at an energy of 5 trillion electron volts, will not happen until late fall.

Nevertheless, the symbolism of the moment was not lost on the experts and non-experts gathered here.

At 2 a.m. local time, Herman White, a physicist here, and master of ceremonies for the night, took the stage to announce the night’s schedule. For at least the next few hours, he said, “we are still the highest energy accelerator in the world,” to wild applause.

In an interview earlier that day, Dr. Oddone called it a “bittersweet moment.”

Once upon a time the United States ruled particle physics. For the last two decades, Fermilab’s Tevatron, which hurls protons and their mirror opposites, anti-protons, together at energies of a trillion electron volts was the world’s largest particle machine.

By the end of the year, when the CERN collider has revved up to 5 trillion electron volts, the Fermilab machine will be a distant second. Electron volts are the currency of choice in physics for both mass and energy. The more you have, the closer and hotter you can punch back in time towards the Big Bang.

In 1993, the United States Congress canceled plans for an even bigger collider and more powerful machine, the Superconducting Supercollider, after its cost ballooned to $11 billion. That collider, its former director Roy Schwitters of the University of Texas in Austin said recently, would have been in operation around 2001.

Dr. Schwitters said that American particle physics — the search for the most fundamental rules and constituents of nature — had never really recovered from the loss of the supercollider. “One non-renewable resource is a person’s time and good years,” he said, adding that many young people have left the field for astrophysics or cosmology.

Dr. Oddone, Fermilab’s director, said the uncertainties of steady Congressional funding made the situation at Fermilab and physics in general in the United States “suspenseful.”

CERN, on the other hand, is an organization of 20 countries, whose budget is determined by treaty and thus stable. The year after the supercollider was killed, CERN decided to go ahead with its own collider.

Fermilab and the United States, which eventually contributed $531 million for the collider, have not exactly been shut out. Dr. Oddone said that Americans constitute about a quarter of the scientists who have built the four giant detectors that sit at points around the racetrack to collect and analyze the debris from the primordial fireballs.

In fact, a remote control room for monitoring one of those experiments, known poetically as the Compact Muon Solenoid, was built at Fermilab, just off the lobby of the main building here.

“The mood is great at this place,” he said, noting that the Tevatron is humming productively and accumulating data at a much more rapid pace than the CERN collider will initially produce. There is even still a chance that Tevatron could find the sacred Higgs boson before the new hadron collider, which is bound to have a slow start.

Another target of physicists is a principle called supersymmetry, which predicts, among other things, that there is a vast population of new particle species left over from the Big Bang and waiting to be discovered, one of which could be the long-sought dark matter.

“It would be a very rich life if supersymmetry is found,” Dr. Oddone said. “It would amount to permanent employment for physicists for decades.”

“The truly surprising thing is if we don’t see anything.”

By the time festivities started, at 2 a.m. Chicago time, outside and inside the control room for the solenoid detector, Fermilab had been festooned with balloons and the accelerator was already half an hour late. The superconducting magnets that guide the protons around on their path have to be cooled to 1.9 degrees Kelvin, about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit above absolute zero, and one of the eight sectors of the underground ring was too warm, so they had to wait to cool it back down.

Then Lyn Evans, the collider project director, outlined the plan for the evening: sending a bunch of protons clockwise farther and farther around the collider until they made it all the way. He confessed to not knowing how long it would take, noting that for a previous CERN accelerator it had taken 12 hours. “I hope this will go much faster,” he said.

Twenty minutes later, when the displays in the control room showed that the beam had made it to its first stopping point, the crowd applauded. Twenty minutes after that, the physicists erupted in cheers when their consoles showed that the muon solenoid had detected collisions between the beam and stray gas molecules in the otherwise vacuum beam pipe. Their detector was alive and working.

Finally at 3:27 Chicago time, the display showed the protons had made it all the way around to another big detector named Atlas, whose members quickly confirmed that their experiment had also seen collisions.

At Fermilab, they broke out the champagne. Dr. Oddone congratulated his European colleagues. “We have all worked together and brought this machine to life,” he said. “We’re so excited about sending a beam around. Wait until we start having collisions and doing physics.”
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

What’s wrong with this picture? No one knows, that’s the point.

exploding-champagne.jpgAll in all, a marvelous moment in the history of science, you may think, promoted by CERN as a triumph of enlightened scientific exploration over the querulous caveats of outsiders, who have worried that that the whole thing may end in sending some or all of Creation down an army of black holes.

So what is the truth of the matter? It is this. A fundamental problem is clear to all that have studied the literature carefully. The unprecedentedly high new power level of 7 trillion volts will take us far into unknown atomic territory where if truth be told, no one knows for certain what will happen.

Some well qualified physicists are so worried they have initiated not one but two lawsuits to stop the start up until the underlying theory is reviewed and the risk involved properly assessed. They feel the review on safety unlike the CERN safety assessment must be independent of all the people on the payroll of one of the largest science projects ever undertaken, which has built up a powerful political lobby and whose international character (60 nations, including the US, have funded it) has given it diplomatic immunity from any individual government’s supervision and control. Many CERN vehicles have diplomatic license plates.

The essential issue is simple. If there is the smallest risk of enormous catastrophe, such as the planet being eaten up in anywhere from a few minutes to four or more years as some physicists have calculated, the risk by definition is large (because in standard risk assessment, the chance of damage result X is multiplied by the severity of X).

Is there a small risk, or no risk? In a New Yorker article last year, Elizabeth Kolbert recorded the fact that CERN officials had instructed personnel always to state the risk to the public as “zero”, whatever it actually was calculated to be.

Later in April this year Dennis Overbye in the New York Times wrote a telling piece about how little time scientists spent calculating their responsibility to the human race and planet, Gauging a Collider’s Odds of Creating a Black Hole:

In a paper published in 2000 with the title “Might a Laboratory Experiment Destroy Planet Earth?” Francesco Calogero, a nuclear physicist at the University of Rome and co-winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Pugwash conferences on arms control, deplored a tendency among his colleagues to promulgate a “leave it to the experts” attitude.

“Many, indeed most, of them,” he wrote, “seem to me to be more concerned with the public relations impact of what they, or others, say and write, than in making sure that the facts are presented with complete scientific objectivity.”

One problem is that society has never agreed on a standard of what is safe in these surreal realms when the odds of disaster might be tiny but the stakes are cosmically high. In such situations, probability estimates are often no more than “informed betting odds,” said Martin Rees, a Cambridge University cosmologist, the astronomer royal and the author of “Our Final Hour.” Adrian Kent, also of Cambridge, said in a paper in 2003 reviewing scientists’ failure to calculate adequately and characterize accurately risks to the public, that even the most basic question, “ ‘How improbable does a catastrophe have to be to justify proceeding with an experiment?’ seems never to have been seriously examined.”

April 15, 2008
ESSAY
Gauging a Collider’s Odds of Creating a Black Hole

By DENNIS OVERBYE
In Walker Percy’s “Love in the Ruins,” the protagonist, a doctor and an inventor, recites what he calls the scientist’s prayer. It goes like this:

“Lord, grant that my work increase knowledge and help other men.

“Failing that, Lord, grant that it will not lead to man’s destruction.

“Failing that, Lord, grant that my article in Brain be published before the destruction takes place.”

Today we require more than prayers that a scientific experiment will not lead to the end of the world. We demand hard-headed calculations. But whom can we trust to do them?

That question has been raised by the impending startup of the Large Hadron Collider. It starts smashing protons together this summer at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or Cern, outside Geneva, in hopes of grabbing a piece of the primordial fire, forces and particles that may have existed a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

Critics have contended that the machine could produce a black hole that could eat the Earth or something equally catastrophic.

To most physicists, this fear is more science fiction than science fact. At a recent open house weekend, 73,000 visitors, without pitchforks or torches, toured the collider without incident.

Nevertheless, some experts say too much hype and not enough candor on the part of scientists about the promises and perils of what they do could boomerang into a public relations disaster for science, opening the door for charlatans and demagogues.

In a paper published in 2000 with the title “Might a Laboratory Experiment Destroy Planet Earth?” Francesco Calogero, a nuclear physicist at the University of Rome and co-winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Pugwash conferences on arms control, deplored a tendency among his colleagues to promulgate a “leave it to the experts” attitude.

“Many, indeed most, of them,” he wrote, “seem to me to be more concerned with the public relations impact of what they, or others, say and write, than in making sure that the facts are presented with complete scientific objectivity.”

One problem is that society has never agreed on a standard of what is safe in these surreal realms when the odds of disaster might be tiny but the stakes are cosmically high. In such situations, probability estimates are often no more than “informed betting odds,” said Martin Rees, a Cambridge University cosmologist, the astronomer royal and the author of “Our Final Hour.” Adrian Kent, also of Cambridge, said in a paper in 2003 reviewing scientists’ failure to calculate adequately and characterize accurately risks to the public, that even the most basic question, “ ‘How improbable does a catastrophe have to be to justify proceeding with an experiment?’ seems never to have been seriously examined.”

Dr. Calogero commented, as did Dr. Kent, in 2000 after a very public battle on the safety of another accelerator, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or Rhic, at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. Dr. Calogero said he hoped to apply a gentle pressure on Cern to treat these issues with seriousness. “A crusade against it is a danger,” he said of the new collider. “It would not be based on rational argument.”

Fears about the Brookhaven collider first centered on black holes but soon shifted to the danger posed by weird hypothetical particles, strangelets, that critics said could transform the Earth almost instantly into a dead, dense lump. Ultimately, independent studies by two groups of physicists calculated that the chances of this catastrophe were negligible, based on astronomical evidence and assumptions about the physics of the strangelets. One report put the odds of a strangelet disaster at less than one in 50 million, less than a chance of winning some lottery jackpots. Dr. Kent, in a 2003 paper, used the standard insurance company method to calculate expected losses to explore how stringent this bound on danger was. He multiplied the disaster probability times the cost, in this case the loss of the global population, six billion. A result was that, in actuarial terms, the Rhic collider could kill up to 120 people in a decade of operation.

“Put this way, the bound seems far from adequately reassuring,” Dr. Kent wrote.

Alvaro de Rujula of Cern, who was involved in writing a safety report, said extending the insurance formula that way violated common sense. “Applied to all imaginable catastrophes, it would result in World Paralysis,” he wrote.

Besides, the random nature of quantum physics means that there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring, including that the new collider could spit out man-eating dragons.

Doomsday from particle physics is part of the culture.

Next year will see the release of the film version of “Angels and Demons,” the prequel to Dan Brown’s “DaVinci Code,” in which the bad guys use a Cern accelerator to gather antimatter for a bomb to blow up the Vatican, and it includes scenes at Cern.

In Douglas Preston’s “Blasphemy,” a best seller last winter, the operators of a giant particle collider in New Mexico find themselves talking to an entity that sounds like God before religious fanatics descend on the lab and destroy it.

Some physicists, who have been waiting 14 years for the new collider, have proclaimed in papers and press releases increasingly ambitious and unlikely hopes, including proving a long-shot version of string theory by producing microscopic black holes.

Inevitably, these black holes have taken center stage in the latest round of doomsday alarms. Most theorists will say the version of their theory that predicts black holes is extremely unlikely — though not impossible. But the chance that such a black hole would not instantly evaporate according to a theory famously propounded by Stephen Hawking in 1974 is even more weirdly unlikely, the theorists say.

Cern’s most recent safety report, in 2003, focused mostly on refuting the strangelet threat in the hadron collider and devoted just three pages to black holes, saying they “do not present a conceivable risk.” It gave no odds. An anonymous Cern committee is working on a final, more comprehensive report.

Neither Dr. Calogero nor Dr. Rees say they are losing sleep over the collider. Some risk is acceptable, even inevitable, in the pursuit of knowledge, they say, and they trust the physicists who have built it.

But it would be more reassuring in the long run, as Dr. Kent noted, if everybody agreed beforehand how much risk is acceptable, before spending billions of dollars and major political capital.

One popular option to determine acceptable risk is to demand that the chance of a man-made disaster be kept below the chance of a natural disaster like being obliterated by an asteroid. Astronomers estimate that chance as one in 50 million in any given year.

Of course, thanks to those pesky quantum laws, disaster could come anytime. Or not. It could happen that the scientist’s prayer will be answered and your discovery will indeed lead to knowledge, human happiness and a new killer ap for iPhones.

“As in all explorations of uncharted domains, there may be a risk,” Dr. Rees wrote, “but there is a hidden cost of saying no.”
Copyright 2008 The New York Times CompanyWe personally recall asking Hans Bethe if those involved in the Manhattan Project ever concluded with 100% certainty that there was no risk of a chain reaction extending to the atmosphere before they set off the first A-bomb and getting a frank admission that indeed no one could be absolutely sure that their calculation that it wouldn’t happen was infallible.

And if you noticed, in his coverage of the CERN startup above, Overbye was able to quote a scientist candidly admitting that “we don’t have a clue” as to what will happen when the LHC reaches maximum power.

“That there are many theories means we don’t have a clue,” said Dr. Oddone. “That’s what makes it so exciting.”

Stepping off the edge into the unknown

So the reality is that the world is watching the unfolding of a drama to end all dramas in science – not merely the replacement of the US by Europe as the superpower most willing to fund the world’s most expensive effort to find out more about the origin of the universe, but the gamble being taken by the builders that their unauthorized (by the Gods) penetration of the inner sanctum of physical reality will not touch off divine retribution in the form of the Earth being swallowed whole by the micro black holes they intend to create on the way.

For according to well qualified dissident physicists and other scientists the danger, however remote, includes the disappearance of our vulnerable planet down the gullets of an army of black holes conjured up by CERN in its presumptuous challenge to whatever mighty invisible beings rule us from above the ozone layer, or Mighty Being held by some to rule above them (we merely speak metaphorically; right wing religious fundamentalists are not yet involved in this debate, as far as we can tell, though perhaps only because they haven’t heard enough about it).

The arguments presented in the peer-reviewed (or not yet peer reviewed) papers published by these experts will be detailed in our following post. But it is noticeable that several dismiss the chief plank of the safety assessment of CERN, the idea that black holes emanate Hawking radiation and thus dissipate of their own accord, as questionable or even “nonsense” which depends on reversing time.

Not-to-worry-about-it CERN video

katemcalpine.jpgMeanwhile, for those who like not to worry about such things, a young physicist-writer working at CERN, birthplace of the Web, has produced a very good rap video, large Hadron Rap, describing what the LHC is all about in rhythm upbeat enough to make them forget that she is oblivious to the issue of how safe the world will be next spring.

For those who like their physics in rhyme, there is now a rap video. The author and rapper is Kate McAlpine, aka alpinekat, a science writer who works at CERN and who also has a rap about neurons on YouTube.

She says she wrote the lyrics during her 40-minute bus commute from Geneva out to the lab. In an e-mail message, she emphasized that this was not an official CERN project, and that in fact that she had to get CERN’s press office to vouch for her so she could go down into the tunnel where some filming took place.

“My friends took a bit of convincing before they’d dance on camera,” she added. “However, unlike the first rap video about the neurochip, there was no tequila involved.”(Let the Proton Smashing Begin. (The Rap Is Already Written.)

Others who might be more interested in the possibility of physicists with kindergarten levels of curiosity and immaturity sacrificing the planet and future generations in the cause of divining whether their latest unproven theory might have some substance can keep a wary eye on the date of May 1st, 2009, which is when CERN plans to start their microspace travel machine up again and slowly take it into realms of speed and power hitherto unexplored by humans in this universe, as they state:

LHC Commissioning with beam started on 10th September 2008. Initial beam commissioning progressed extremely well. However, during the commissioning of the main dipole circuit in sector 34 on the 19th September (without beam), a number of magnets were damaged in an incident that saw a large amount of Helium released into the tunnel. The repair of the damaged region of sector 34 will run into the planned winter shutdown. We go for circulating beam in the LHC from May 1st next at the earliest. (LHC Commissioning with Beam)

That is, they should mark the date with a large question mark in their calendars if they wish to take seriously the papers we shall detail in our next post.

Was 9/11 aided and abetted by heinous, brilliant co-conspirators in federal employ?

October 25th, 2008

We think not, but distinguished commentators wish to correct us, hence this post

We challenge them to produce any remaining instance of odd circumstance unexplained by official story

Comments will start at once but we plan to advance massive rebuttal here anon

In a world where the Bush administration has been increasingly exposed as radically untrustworthy and exploitive on so many fronts, at a cost of a trillion dollar war and a multi-trillion dollar recession, excessive suspicion of officialdom in every other area is understandable. No wonder conspiracy theory has flourished on the Web, especially 9/11.

guy_fawkes-conspirator.jpgCertainly, anyone who has caught up with the true situation in HIV/AIDS and understands that it is most certainly based on a false scientific hypothesis thoroughly rebutted in the scientific literature, but kept going with bureaucratic and political support and funding at the cost of ruining many lives and causing more than a few unnecessary deaths, is going to question officialdom on other fronts.

The question becomes, is there any good reason to dismiss 9/11 theories when the global scam in AIDS (non)science is such a huge error yet so well funded and endorsed by every government and so many charities in the world, with Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Taylor, Bono and many other well known medical authorities, er, celebrities joining in?

What a priori reason is there to discount the theory that there are many fishy things about the circumstances of 9/11 and they all point to the conclusion that the destruction was aided in advance by federal personnel who helped it come off in order to allow the US to invade Iraq and further global domination by the elite who have so successfully raided the coffers of the US and the pockets of the uninformed Wall Street investor and US motorist at the gas pump under the leadership of Bush and Cheney and their friends in high corporate places and in the Saudi Royal family etc etc etc.

Science heretics are not conspiracy theorists

As far as we are concerned, there is every reason not to think the two are comparable, starting with the fact that the HIV/ADS global scam is a simple matter of a medical theory arising out of a false claim which has been thoroughly disproven in the peer reviewed literature continuing to receive funding and political support because the reviews and gathering disproof have been concealed from the public by forcibly discouraging the mainstream media from reporting on the topic, and fomenting enormous public prejudice against the reviewers, including virtually ignoring the over thirty very good books which have been published on the topic (we plan to add a long page listing these books and short guides to each anon).

The 9/11 theories on the other hand, consist entirely of imaginative alternative explanations for the circumstances of 9/11 which may have looked odd and inconsistent with the official story to begin with but which have been exhaustively investigated and accounted for since. The residual oddities are trivial, since as we recently pointed out the thorough review of the collapse of WTC 7 published last month dispensed with the last major puzzle of the event.

However, we recognize that many of our commentators here have studied the topic with much greater enthusiasm and attention than we have and so there yet may be a gigantic conspiracy remaining to be uncovered which has so far resisted being pulled into the open despite the combined efforts of a million or more Web investigators who find the official story incredible because it doesn’t fit the facts as they understand them, or for more emotional reasons.

We therefore will be delighted to host any further comment along these lines under this post, which will have the effect of removing them from the comment threads on posts on other topics, which will be beneficial all round.

We look forward to seeing what if any credible statements and evidence can be produced to justify any further attention to the topic.

But we repeat that it seems important to separate skepticism on science and its paradigms, especially HIV/AIDS, from 9/11 conspiracy analysis, because the political and social disparagement of skeptics in science can only be magnified by association with the unscientific and imaginative elements in 9/11 theorizing, when the two issues are very different in substance.

Here are the comments on this topic so far, moved from the Debate, economy distract as political road bomb awaits post:

Baby Pong Says:
October 20th, 2008 at 12:51 pm

I completely agree with TS. Conspiracy theories are silly. Everybody knows that conspiracies don’t happen. And everybody knows that a US government agency like NIST is going to produce an objective investigation of alleged government wrongdoing, because, darn, it’s the right thing to do!

Debunking NIST’s Conclusions about WTC 7: Easy as Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Truthseeker Says:
October 20th, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Almost all conspiracy theories are silly. That’s what is so damaging about them – they let the true problems sneak through under the Crying Wolf camouflage, with the guards asleep at the post.

Because 9/11 is so fatuous a theory without any credibility or the smallest scrap of genuine evidence everyone is lulled into thinking that elections don’t get hacked.

Baby Pong Says:
October 21st, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Of course, conspiracies never happen. Two guys don’t plot to knock off a 7-Eleven on a Saturday night. And a guy in a cave (a most unusual cave, which would have needed to have been outfitted with the most sophisticated communications equipment capable of executing an elaborate plot on the other side of the world with split second timing, defeating the vast resources of the world’s most advanced defensive system, and also would have needed a dialysis machine in the cave to keep the guy alive…and lots of electricity to run all this technology…this conspiracy doesn’t happen either.

Truthseeker Says:
October 22nd, 2008 at 1:08 am

Gee, I guess the fact that they must have power sockets in the caves to run the video cameras proves beyond doubt that that the CIA supplied generators.

stevekj Says:
October 22nd, 2008 at 12:52 pm

TS, you must bear in mind that the story peddled by the U.S. government of what happened on 9/11 is itself a conspiracy theory. So the choice available to intelligent observers is not “should I believe the official account or some nutjob conspiracy theorists” but rather “*which* conspiracy theorists should I believe?” There is no reason to elevate the official story above the pejorative label “conspiracy theory” just because it happens to come from the government.

When you frame it this way, and look at the available evidence carefully, it quickly becomes obvious that the official story is a fabrication, and that whatever happened that day had a lot of inside help. It was very clearly not just a bunch of turban-wearing foreigners stealing a couple of planes. Where did that help come from? Since the government put a lot of effort into covering up and suppressing evidence, that’s who I would look at first.

Truthseeker Says:
October 22nd, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Well Steve, perhaps you are in possession of evidence that some known or unknown branch of the US government gave them inside help, but it appears that the New York Times does not have it. Would you care to forward it to us or them? Not sure that the government’s “conspiracy theory” and the 9/11 nutjob “conspiracy theory” are on the same plane as far as the definition of “conspiracy theory” goes. Buncha Al Quaeda loonies hitting at the Great Satan’s new brand symbol (G’bye Statue of Liberty) on the grounds it offended their idea of maintaining the innocence of Islam from Western values is hardly the same kind of thing as officials of the US federal government assisting the assault and if so how exactly? How did they assist them? They knew about them but they let them go ahead? OK so did they know it would demolish the WTC Twin Towers so dramatically and totally? If not, was it really such a great idea as it turned out to be? Not beforehand, clearly. It was small scale in prospect, even compared with boarding and downing many more planes at a time. Any Federal Government involvement would have escalated it to a decent level commensurate with the ambitions of the dastardly planners of world domination or whatever.

They weren’t wearing dish cloths anyhow, they were in jacket and trousers as we recall. The government motives in suppressing evidence presumably had a lot to do with various understandable political motives from crowd control and avoiding blame for incompetence to trying to get the Bush friends the Bin Ladens out of town before they got lynched, etc, just as the EPA assessment of the smoke as non toxic was to avoid panic and get business back ASAP. The list of such motives is easy to imagine. The possibility of a conspiracy within the US government executive branch of aiding and abetting a very low tech amateurish attack on the symbols of American global commercial power and keeping it concealed afterwards from the bloodhound media of the world all eager to expose any such thing is by comparison totally inconceivable on any rational basis, that is all we claim.

MacDonald Says:
October 23rd, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Any Federal Government involvement would have escalated it to a decent level commensurate with the ambitions of the dastardly planners of world domination or whatever.

I’m not sure what you’re gettign at here, TS 9/11 worked quite nicely for those dastardly planners of world domination. It ushered in an endless war against a phantom enemy plus Afghanistan, Iraq and soon Iran, unbridled executive powers, accelerated erosion of all civil liberties, got Buch elected twice, and is the only reason McCain is not light years behind in the polls.

Whaddaya mean it wasn’t enuff?

BY the way, why do we need somebody to come forward with evidence when the doting fools that runs the country spill the beans every time they forget to take their medicine on time?

If Rumsfeld himself told you that Flight 93 was shot down, would you believe it? If Bush told you that bombs inside the buildings were part of the terrorists’ plan, would that be convincing? Note, in the usual semantic mess that characterizes every Bush statement, there is an allusion to people trapped above not being allowed to escape. Guess which event. How about 9/11 comission testimony saying that Cheney knew that…. whatever hit Pentagon was coming, but declared that “the order stands” (obviously not the order to shoot the bugger down)? Here’s the trinity for ya:

Rumsfeld says Flight 93 was “shot down.”


Bush talks about EXPLOSIVES in building (on 9/11?)

Minetta tells 9/11 Commission Cheney knew exact flight path

Baby Pong Says:
October 24th, 2008 at 11:31 am

“Well Steve, perhaps you are in possession of evidence that some known or unknown branch of the US government gave them inside help, but it appears that the New York Times does not have it.”

Did you ever serve on a jury, TS? Have you never seen a prosecutor discredit the testimony of someone who is a known and proven liar? Ah, yes, if the NYT had evidence, you imply, they would publish it, even salivate at the prospect, being part of a “bloodhound media… eager to expose any such thing…”

These really shows your disconnect with reality. First, the NYT are known and proven liars, as any good intellectual should know. The media are only eager to expose scandals that involve illicit sex by world leaders and other titillating matters that make good headlines but do not seriously threaten to overturn the established order. The media themselves are the biggest scandal of all, for most of the time they act as though they were state-controlled, faithfully parrotting government’s self-serving stories, and do not dig to get at facts that would really stir the rabble to revolution.

The list of important stories they have censored would probably stretch from New York city to Crackley Falls, Maryland, were it set in 16 point justified Bodoni with 1-1/2 line spacing and 1/4 inch indents.

Okay, now I’m sure you will change your fanciful thinking. You just needed a knock on the head.

Truthseeker Says:
October 25th, 2008 at 2:05 am e

The list stretches from New York to Niagara Falls, yet you cannot name one favorite?

Yes, prosecutors are often liars and abet lying and manage to railroad innocents into jail for ever and then when they are proved innocent, resist the correction, as my next post will record when I return from life ie Photoplus 2008.

Yes, the media are captives of their system, as we all are except the few outside any system, as are the distinguished personnel and resolute commentators of the Guardian of Science.

But what has that got to do with the price of bats flying around your belfry, my distinguished commentator?

We requested evidence, and it appears you come up short. Do we have to laboriously post a list of all the proper explanations of all the supposed mysteries of 9/11?

We are willing to do that but other vital topics must take priority. To avoid confusion of topic, since this post concerns voting integrity, after all, not 9/11, perhaps you will allow us to start the post on 9/11 rebuttal with a couple of sentences and fill in later, and this important discussion can be moved there instead of forcing those printing out the comments on this post to waste paper (in their view) on the topic that concerns you, which is apparently your unlikely belief that those who occupy the top positions in US government and its executive can organize conspiracies of an intricate nature and vast consequence without being found out by any intern reporter on a provincial newspaper in Utah, which seems unlikely a priori but hey, always surprises in store as the planet rolls on in it as yet undisturbed orbit.

Swiss grant rights to plants, so Dr. Gallo, how about humans?

October 10th, 2008

WSJ’s Gautam Naik pens ridicule, but may miss the point

Well treated chickens, veg taste better, and are surely more nutritious

Respect for HIV patients could be health factor, too. Are you listening, Bob? Free Parenzee!

p1300778smaller.JPGHere for readers’ delectation is a picture of Dr Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier getting the Lasker prize together many years ago, at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan (click to enlarge). As you can see, this was before these two great scientists begged to differ over who exactly had priority in finding what was taken to be evidence of a retrovirus in the blood of French AIDS patients, an issue finally resolved this month by the award of a Nobel to Montagnier and his female colleague who actually did the work, whose name no one will ever remember, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi.

Suggested script for the above historical moment: Montagnier to Gallo, “Eesn’t thees vundereful? Zey say ze Lasker ees huff vay to zee Nobel!”

Stop humiliating plants
Meanwhile, today (Oct 10 Fri) the Wall Street Journal justifies its subscription by printing a front page alert that Switzerland has told its scientists to respect plant rights.

In Switzerland’s Green Power Revolution: Ethicists Ponder Plants’ Rights – Who Is to Say Flora Don’t Have Feelings? Figuring Out What Wheat Would Want , the Wall Street Journal’s Gautum Naik dutifully pokes fun at this novel initiative:

ZURICH — For years, Swiss scientists have blithely created genetically modified rice, corn and apples. But did they ever stop to consider just how humiliating such experiments may be to plants?

That’s a question they must now ask. Last spring, this small Alpine nation began mandating that geneticists conduct their research without trampling on a plant’s dignity.

“Unfortunately, we have to take it seriously,” Beat Keller, a molecular biologist at the University of Zurich. “It’s one more constraint on doing genetic research.”

Dr. Keller recently sought government permission to do a field trial of genetically modified wheat that has been bred to resist a fungus. He first had to debate the finer points of plant dignity with university ethicists. Then, in a written application to the government, he tried to explain why the planned trial wouldn’t “disturb the vital functions or lifestyle” of the plants. He eventually got the green light.


Switzerland’s Green Power Revolution: Ethicists Ponder Plants’ Rights – Who Is to Say Flora Don’t Have Feelings? Figuring Out What Wheat Would Want

By GAUTAM NAIK

ZURICH — For years, Swiss scientists have blithely created genetically modified rice, corn and apples. But did they ever stop to consider just how humiliating such experiments may be to plants?

That’s a question they must now ask. Last spring, this small Alpine nation began mandating that geneticists conduct their research without trampling on a plant’s dignity.

“Unfortunately, we have to take it seriously,” Beat Keller, a molecular biologist at the University of Zurich. “It’s one more constraint on doing genetic research.”

Dr. Keller recently sought government permission to do a field trial of genetically modified wheat that has been bred to resist a fungus. He first had to debate the finer points of plant dignity with university ethicists. Then, in a written application to the government, he tried to explain why the planned trial wouldn’t “disturb the vital functions or lifestyle” of the plants. He eventually got the green light.

The rule, based on a constitutional amendment, came into being after the Swiss Parliament asked a panel of philosophers, lawyers, geneticists and theologians to establish the meaning of flora’s dignity.

“We couldn’t start laughing and tell the government we’re not going to do anything about it,” says Markus Schefer, a member of the ethics panel and a professor of law at the University of Basel. “The constitution requires it.”

In April, the team published a 22-page treatise on “the moral consideration of plants for their own sake.” It stated that vegetation has an inherent value and that it is immoral to arbitrarily harm plants by, say, “decapitation of wildflowers at the roadside without rational reason.”

On the question of genetic modification, most of the panel argued that the dignity of plants could be safeguarded “as long as their independence, i.e., reproductive ability and adaptive ability, are ensured.” In other words: It’s wrong to genetically alter a plant and render it sterile.

Many scientists interpret the dignity rule as applying mainly to field trials like Dr. Keller’s, but some worry it may one day apply to lab studies as well. Another gripe: While Switzerland’s stern laws defend lab animals and now plants from genetic tweaking, similar protections haven’t been granted to snails and drosophila flies, which are commonly used in genetic experiments.

It also begs an obvious, if unrelated question: For a carrot, is there a more mortifying fate than being peeled, chopped and dropped into boiling water?

“Where does it stop?” asks Yves Poirier, a molecular biologist at the laboratory of plant biotechnology at the University of Lausanne. “Should we now defend the dignity of microbes and viruses?”

Seeking clarity, Dr. Poirier recently invited the head of the Swiss ethics panel to his university. In their public discussion, Dr. Poirier said the new rules are flawed because decades of traditional plant breeding had led to widely available sterile fruit, such as seedless grapes. Things took a surreal turn when it was disclosed that some panel members believe plants have feelings, Dr. Poirier says.

Back in the 1990s, the Swiss constitution was amended in order to defend the dignity of all creatures — including the leafy kind — against unwanted consequences of genetic manipulation. When the amendment was turned into a law — known as the Gene Technology Act — it didn’t say anything specific about plants. But earlier this year, the government asked the ethics panel to come up rules for plants as well.

The Swiss debate isn’t just academic twittering. Like other countries in Europe, Switzerland has long kept a tight rein on crop genetics, fearing that a mutant strain might run amok and harm the environment. Swiss geneticists say the dignity rule makes their job even harder.

Crazy Talk?

Several years ago, when Christof Sautter, a botanist at Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology, failed to get permission to do a local field trial on transgenic wheat, he moved the experiment to the U.S. He’s too embarrassed to mention the new dignity rule to his American colleagues. “They’ll think Swiss people are crazy,” he says.

Defenders of the law argue that it reflects a broader, progressive effort to protect the sanctity of living things. Last month, Switzerland granted new rights to all “social animals.” Prospective dog owners must take a four-hour course on pet care before they can buy a canine companion, while anglers must learn to catch fish humanely. Fish can’t be kept in aquariums that are transparent on all sides. The fish need some shelter. Nor can goldfish be flushed down a toilet to an inglorious end; they must first be anesthetized with special chemicals, and then killed.

Rhinoceroses can’t be kept in an enclosure smaller than 600 square yards. Failure to comply can lead to a fine of 200 Swiss francs, or about $175. “The rules apply for zoos and private owners,” says Marcel Falk, spokesman for the Federal Veterinary Office in Bern.

Are there pet rhinos in Switzerland? “I hope not,” he says.

New Constitution

In another unusual move, the people of Ecuador last month voted for a new constitution that is the first to recognize ecosystem rights enforceable in a court of law. Thus, the nation’s rivers, forests and air are no longer mere property, but right-bearing entities with “the right to exist, persist and…regenerate.”

Dr. Keller in Zurich has more mundane concerns. He wants to breed wheat that can resist powdery mildew. In lab experiments, Dr. Keller found that by transferring certain genes from barley to wheat, he could make the wheat resistant to disease.

When applying for a larger field trial, he ran into the thorny question of plant dignity. Plants don’t have a nervous system and probably can’t feel pain, but no one knows for sure. So Dr. Keller argued that by protecting wheat from fungus he was actually helping the plant, not violating its dignity — and helping society in the process.

One morning recently, he stood by a field near Zurich where the three-year trial with transgenic wheat is under way. His observations suggest that the transgenic wheat does well in the wild. Yet Dr. Keller’s troubles aren’t over.

In June, about 35 members of a group opposed to the genetic modification of crops, invaded the test field. Clad in white overalls and masks, they scythed and trampled the plants, causing plenty of damage.

“They just cut them,” says Dr. Keller, gesturing to wheat stumps left in the field. “Where’s the dignity in that?”

Write to Gautam Naik at gautam.naik@wsj.com

What this overlooks, of course, is that embodied in the somewhat schizophrenic treatment of animals and plants by humans – first fatten them up or water and fertilize them up, then execute them, cook and eat them – is the fact that the better animals and plants are treated when they are alive, the better they taste when dead and cooked.:

Niman Ranch, which takes in annual sales of $85 million, was founded on the notion that the better an animal is treated, the better the meat will be. His beef was so good that in the early 1980s Alice Waters made it the first proper-noun meat on the menu at her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. His pigs, raised humanely by 600 family farms in Iowa, provide pork for the Chipotle chain’s carnitas. Niman Ranch bacon, hot dogs and sausage fill grocery cases around the country.

October 15, 2008
With Goat, a Rancher Breaks Away From the Herd

By KIM SEVERSON
BOLINAS, Calif.

BILL NIMAN is not the rancher he once was.

Last year Mr. Niman walked away from the meat company he started in the 1970s with not much more than a handful of cattle and a political philosophy built on self-sufficiency.

Niman Ranch, which takes in annual sales of $85 million, was founded on the notion that the better an animal is treated, the better the meat will be. His beef was so good that in the early 1980s Alice Waters made it the first proper-noun meat on the menu at her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. His pigs, raised humanely by 600 family farms in Iowa, provide pork for the Chipotle chain’s carnitas. Niman Ranch bacon, hot dogs and sausage fill grocery cases around the country.

But Mr. Niman is no longer a part of the company. Angry and discouraged after prolonged battles with a new management team over money and animal protocols, he left in August 2007 with a modest severance check and a small amount of stock.

He can’t use his surname to sell meat, and he had to surrender the small herd of breeding cattle that lived on his ranch here, about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. The cattle were direct descendants of the ones he tended back in the days of counterculture, not profit margin.

But Mr. Niman, 63, is done licking his wounds. With a herd of goats and a young vegetarian wife he nicknamed Porkchop by his side, he is jumping back into the meat game.

“I think I am returning to my original roots,” said Mr. Niman, who still lives in the little house he built on ranchland that kisses the Pacific Ocean.

Mr. Niman was raised in Minnesota, and moved to California to teach poor children. It was better than being drafted. In 1968, he headed north to Bolinas, a refuge for poets and intellectuals, to practice the counterculture movement’s back-to-the-land philosophy.

His initial herd came in a barter with a local ranching family: his first wife, who died in a horseback riding accident in the 1970s, had tutored one of the family’s daughters; the Nimans were paid with six newborn calves.He has never left Bolinas, although now he watches over 1,000 acres instead of 11, and the land was turned over to the Point Reyes National Seashore.

He and Nicolette Hahn Niman, an environmental lawyer, were married five years ago, and now they are raising what they hope will be the best-tasting animals around. They have a handful of premier cattle that fatten only on pasture and a flock of traditional turkey breeds they personally chauffeured from Kansas to Bolinas last spring. Mr. Niman also has an organic pig project going in Iowa.

But he hopes goat will be the cornerstone of his comeback. That’s in part because he has more of them around, and because he sees a wide-open market for pristine, pasture-raised goat meat. The guy is, after all, a businessman.

“I don’t need to get 10 percent of the market anymore,” he said. “I just want to be the best.”

Chefs on both coasts are fast discovering his goat meat, although it is still available only in limited amounts, under the name BN Ranch.

In June, Mr. Niman stopped by Eccolo in Berkeley with a piece of shoulder, a loin, a leg and a rack of ribs. The chef and owner, Christopher Lee, now breaks down one or two of the 30-pound goat carcasses a week.

“It was succulent,” Mr. Lee said. “It was mild. It was just perfect.”

Like other chefs who have begun to cook with goat, Mr. Lee predicts a bright future for the meat.

“We’ve all cooked every part of the lamb a million times and we all know about grass-fed beef and aging beef,” he said. “The goat is the next thing.”

The meat Mr. Niman and a handful of other boutique farmers are producing is more delicate than the older, imported goat that is served at Pakistani curry houses, Jamaican jerk stands and taco trucks all over New York.

At a recent goat tasting in the Blue Hill at Stone Barns kitchen in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., Mr. Niman’s young goat was compared to pan-seared and roasted loin and shoulder cuts from both a small Vermont grower and what the chef Dan Barber called “commodity goat.”

The commodity goat was slightly musty and chewy. The Vermont goat was as tender and mild as lamb. The Niman goat was like lamb, too, but a lamb with a big personality. The meat was sweet and vegetal. The fat, what little of it there was, tasted rich but felt lighter than olive oil.

At Thyme for Goat, a recent collaboration between four goat farms within 25 miles of each other in Maine, goat is taking off, in a small way. People are attracted to the way it is raised and its healthful properties. Goat meat doesn’t have the tallow of lamb, and contains about half the fat of chicken, according to a Department of Agriculture analysis.

“A lot of folks said nobody in Maine is going to buy goat meat,” said Marge Kilkelly, who does marketing for the group. “We’ve found just the opposite.”

The breed of goat is important. Like the Maine collective, Mr. Niman raises some stout, muscular Boer goats. But he is particularly fond of meat from lighter framed Spanish goats, which sometimes mix with the Boer.

“What Bill is so good at is the genetics,” Mr. Barber said. “He’s the master.”

For about half the year, Mr. Niman lets the goats roam his California ranch. In the summer and fall, when the California grass is brown, they move to Oregon. He also works with ranchers raising two other herds to his specifications in California and Oregon.

Goats and cattle work particularly well together in a pasture. Goats don’t like clover or rye grass, which the cattle love, but they make fast work of scotch broom, poison oak and other plants that can take over good grassland.

“Nature is so perfect,” Mr. Niman said.

His longtime followers may be surprised that he is now raising his cattle entirely on pasture, without switching to a diet of grain a few months before slaughter.

He built Niman Ranch on the idea that raising a quality, year-round beef supply was like making dessert. You bake the cake with grass and frost it with grain. The method produces well-marbled meat with that traditional corn-fed flavor most Americans grew up eating. And it provides beef year-round. Animals that feed on pasture are fat enough to be slaughtered only at certain times of year.

But just as Niman Ranch was becoming a big, nationally recognized brand, Mr. Niman fell victim to a move toward meat purity that he and Orville Schell, his former partner, had started. Several chefs and food writers came to believe that a diet of corn was ruinous for cattle’s health and the environment.

Although Mr. Niman’s beef was quite different from conventional corn-fed beef, that he fed his animals with any grain at all was unacceptable to some chefs. Ms. Waters decided to drop it from the menu in 2002 and turn to more seasonal, all-grass options.

“It made me very sad but I just said we are at a moment in time and I just can’t do this anymore,” she said, adding that she “couldn’t be more delighted that he’s come back to his senses.”

Still, Mr. Niman continued to build the company. He took on a parade of investors. A new management team took over in 2006, led by Jeff Swain, who had been at the company that produces Coleman Natural Beef, Mr. Niman’s biggest competitor.

With the new team came changes, many of them made over Mr. Niman’s protests. The company sold its custom butchering plant in Oakland and prepared to sell its high-end feedlot in Idaho. Niman Ranch began to purchase cattle ready for slaughter from feedlots over which the company had little control, a practice that Mr. Niman said was “against my religion.”

Mr. Niman said feed standards dropped and animals were transported distances longer than 500 miles, which he said stresses them too much.

Mr. Swain said feed and care standards for the 400 head of cattle they process a week have not dropped. Contractors follow a list of protocols that are similar to those Mr. Niman developed.

And although some animals are being transported longer than 500 miles for slaughter, he said they are allowed to rest for 24 hours before they are dispatched.

The real issue, Mr. Swain said, is that Mr. Niman was a poor businessman. The cattle portion of the program was a money-loser, unlike the pork business, which processes about 3,200 animals a week. That remains unchanged, Mr. Swain said. “When we got involved, Niman would raise money and go through it and raise money and go through it,” he said. “Any change to Bill’s business model he didn’t like. We needed to make the company financially sustainable.”

The more Mr. Niman complained that the protocols he developed were being eased out, the more marginalized he became. Finally, Mr. Niman walked away, heading back to focus on the ranch where he has lived since the 1970s. Nicolette, 22 years his junior and a devout vegetarian, was there to comfort him. “It was such a dark time for Bill,” she said.

While Mr. Niman fought his battles, his wife learned how to work the ranch. She also finished her book, “Righteous Porkchop” (Collins Living, March). It is part memoir and part exposé, focusing on her work fighting industrial meat companies as a lawyer for the Waterkeeper Alliance, Robert Kennedy Jr.’s environmental organization.

So how does that vegetarian thing work out? She accepts the role animals play in the human food chain, and he never pressures her to eat meat. She doesn’t cook meat at home, but doesn’t forbid Mr. Niman from throwing some chorizo on a slice of homemade pizza. He tends to go out for steaks, especially when he travels.

The one place they compromised was over a couple of her favorite cattle. She became emotionally attached, so he promised the cow and steer will not die for meat.

“You’ve got the rancher who came back home and the lovely, smart animal welfare girl who is 20 years younger and has really gone to work on him,” said Betty Fussell, who writes about Mr. Niman in her new book, “Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef” (Harcourt, October). “It is the story of the cowboy and the lady, in a way.”

Other people at his stage of life might be planning how to ride off into the beautiful Pacific sunset, satisfied with having made a real change in how people eat. But not Mr. Niman, who acts as if he’s just getting started.

“It’s the first time I’ve had a true partner at my side,” he said of the last five years. “I feel like together, we are pioneering the next generation of animal husbandry.”
In general, we go along with the tree huggers in Switzerland who have cooked up and legislated this novel approach to improving the quality of chicken and broccoli. It is time to respect animals and plants as part of the same glorious life process as humans, and stop abusing them needlessly, before eating them.

As the modern update to Sinclair Lewis’ The Jungle, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, made clear there is nothing more disgusting that the conditions suffered by most animals and plants on the now mostly factory farms of America. One point that the recent excellent documentary King Corn makes is that the corn grown in Iowa under the lure of subsidy by the US government is so nutritionally deficient and tastes so bad accordingly that the farmers and their wives won’t eat it themselves (the life filled kernels are bred to be tiny relative to the rest of the bean, which is thus mostly sugary carbohydrate destined to fill the soft drink bottles (corn syrup) and $1 MacDonalds hamburgers of the Bronx (corn fed beef) where half the population will contract diabetes as a result, many of them losing body parts.

Organic tastes much better

Taste is individually subjective of course but after extended research our own unscientific conclusion is that organic meat and vegetables taste better and are more nourishing.

To those that argue that it is a little inconsistent to mollycoddle pigs and chickens and then eat them we can point out that if the resultant food is more nourishing less of it will have to be eaten to get us through the day.

So going organic and raising the bar to meet the new Swiss standards will save the lives of many animals and quite a few individual plants, assuming that the same number are farmed, which of course is questionable.

How about humans, too?

Moreover, this advance in the ethics of planetary conservation seems to us to fit in very well with the improvement in patient treatment by doctors and scientists we have long called for on this blog.

Surely if doctors and scientists had more respect for the rights of patients in the realm of HIV/AIDS they would be less inclined to feed them unpleasant and sometimes fatal drugs on the pretext that the current scientific paradigm is inviolable, even though it has been thoroughly trashed over two decades by the best mind in the field.

Leave mothers in their wisdom alone

Of course they would have to experience a decline in authority and arrogance but that is precisely what the new ethic dictates – greater respect for Nature and the planet, not to mention other human beings, and less of the widespread but misleading medical practitioners’ conviction that political power confers scientific authority and that widespread social belief confers truth, particularly in medicine and science.

Perhaps then mothers who instinctively refuse to dose themselves or their babies with AZT after they experience the side effects would be allowed their rights:

In the Eye of the Storm: A Mother’s True Story of Confronting AIDS, Fate, and the State – By Kathleen Tyson

September 17, 1998, is a date I will always remember. I was six months pregnant, and at 38 feeling a little old for the rigors of pregnancy, a full-time job, and the care of our ten-year-old daughter. But my husband, David, and I were joyfully anticipating the birth of our son. Then I received a call from my midwife at the Peace Health Birth Center. She told me my test results were in and asked if I could come down immediately and talk. This was worrisome. I located David, and we went to the birth center, where I was led to a private room. There the midwife told me gently that my HIV test had come back positive.

I was incredulous, then devastated. The next day, we consulted a high-risk perinatologist, who told us that his suggested course of treatment would be repeated doses of the drugs AZT and nelfinavir (a protease inhibitor). These, he said, would help to reduce the risk of transmission of the HIV virus to my unborn child. Of course, he added, I also would have to have a cesarean section at birth.

I walked out in a daze. I had been feeling so healthy. Since high school I had been a vegetarian, practiced yoga, studied dance. I ran about ten to 16 miles per week, gardened, played with Faye. I was in the best, most vigorous shape of my life.

But that ended after I started on the prescribed drugs. Every morning, as I arrived at work, the first dosages would hit my bloodstream, and I’d be overcome by incredible exhaustion. The sicker I felt, the more I worried about the safety of the drugs and their effect on my unborn son.

My doctors brushed aside my concerns, telling me that the consequences of transmitting HIV to my son would be much more devastating than any possible side effects from the drugs. He added that children born to mothers who had used AZT were fine, even though he could not give me any studies to prove this.

I remained worried, haunted by thoughts of thalidomide and birth defects. Six weeks into my antiretroviral medication regime, having read everything I could find about AZT and pregnancy – and having found most of it extremely disquieting – I made the wrenching decision to discontinue the drugs.

Then with the support of my midwives, we started formulating a birth plan: vaginal delivery, no AZT during delivery, and no AZT for our newborn son. We felt confident we were doing the right thing, since we had been unable to find any studies showing that AZT, an extremely toxic drug, was safe for newborns.

Finally, after carefully weighing all of the apparent costs and benefits (based on what little research we could find), I decided to breastfeed. The thought of not nursing had been so painful to me. Now, knowing I would nurse, I felt relieved and joyful.

Two weeks before my due date, I went into labor. Ironically, I had an emergency C-section; my son’s umbilical cord was prolapsed. The first thing I saw after I woke from the anesthesia was Faye holding our beautiful newborn, Felix. I held him and nursed him. All was well.

However, the personal trauma and upheaval we had gone through before the birth of Felix was nothing compared to what came after.

Less than 24 hours after Felix’s delivery, an infectious-diseases pediatrician stopped by our room, supposedly to counsel us about treatment for our son. Immediately she launched into a lecture about the importance of AZT. Then she told me I must stop breastfeeding at once. We listened politely, then told her we felt well informed on the issues and, because of that, were declining drug treatment for Felix and would continue breastfeeding.

The pediatrician became hostile and argumentative, telling us we were relying on biased information and were endangering our son. Later that evening she returned, ostensibly to see if we had changed our minds. I was alone, David having gone home briefly. Feeling weak, vulnerable, and exhausted, I was in tears by the time she left, warning me, as she walked out the door, that she would now be going to the Ethics Board of the hospital and their corporate lawyer.

Within an hour, a petitioner from Juvenile Court, escorted by an armed police officer, came to my room. I was issued a summons to appear in court two days hence at 8:30 a.m.

Dumbstruck, I stared at the paper. On it, the state was charging us with “Intent to Harm” and threatening to take custody of our baby.

What I then found – and still find – the most horrible aspect of this moment was that I could not imagine anything more harmful than shooting my son full of dangerous, toxic drugs, while also denying him the known immune-supporting effects of breastmilk. And what of the incredible nurturing effects of nursing? I simply could not conceive of denying my son that.

But at that moment, I also felt powerless and profoundly afraid. I did not want to lose custody of my newborn son. With the child-welfare petitioner still in the room, I called the nurses to bring formula and bottles. Felix had his first taste of formula that day, as I cried.

Several days afterward, we went to court. There, based on testimony from one doctor, I was ordered to stop breastfeeding completely and to begin administering AZT to Felix every six hours around the clock for six weeks.

I was heartbroken. But we also decided to fight on.

Today, we’re still in the middle of that fight. As our case has gotten national attention, we have received, in turn, an astonishing outpouring of support from people everywhere.

Soon after the first hearing, the local child-welfare agency offered us a deal: If I would agree not to breastfeed, the child endangerment case against us would be dropped, and we would be allowed to go on with our lives.

I refused. I did not want to be a martyr. And God knows, I don’t want to lose custody of my son. But the issue of how to treat Felix and the broader issue of whether the state can mandate medical treatment for anyone’s child are simply too important to ignore. I sincerely believe that light needs to be shed on this topic, and that the practice of ignoring the well-considered and deeply reasoned plans parents have for the care of their children has to stop.

My experience is not unique. I wish it were. I would not wish for any other parent to be in my situation. It’s a terrible thing to have to make life and death decisions about the welfare of your child. But I’m the one who should make those decisions. No one else ever will love or worry about my child as I do. And with that knowledge to buoy us, I hope – and firmly believe – that we will prevail.

Kathleen Tyson was scheduled to have another hearing before the Eugene, Oregon Juvenile Court in April. For additional information about the results of that hearing and other aspects of the case, you can log on to the Web site www.televar.com/~tysn

Note:

That url is defunct now, but continuing commentary can be found at HIV-positive Women: Birthing Outside the System – Susan Gerhard on how grave injustices for many HIV-positive moms and their families into hiding.:

HIV-positive Women
Birthing Outside the System
Susan Gerhard on how grave injustices for many HIV-positive moms and their families into hiding.
side bars:
MOMM’s Advice
Is Breast Still Best?

Mothering Magazine
September/October 2001
Special Report:
HIV, Families & Medical Justice.
By Susan Gerhard

If Dana had conceived her child just one month earlier, she might have had the birth experience she had always imagined. Instead, she found herself in a cramped hospital office being informed by the Chief of Pediatric Immunology that if she decided to breastfeed her two-day-old daughter, Nia, or did not follow any other of her doctor’s recommendations — he wanted to immediately give Nia a potent cell-killer, AZT — Dana would be reported for neglect, and her daughter could be taken away. Dana, a single mother, asked if she could call her family and get their advice, but the doctor told her that she had no time; she had to concede immediately or be turned over to the authorities. Three other doctors stood in the doorway in suits and lab coats as Dana, dressed only in her pajamas, was given the ultimatum. She had not slept for three and a half days.

One month earlier, New York State had begun implementing a new requirement in its mandatory newborn HIV testing laws. Results of the tests would have to come back within 48 hours so that the child could be treated, and the mother “advised,” before they even left the hospital. Dana (not her real name) got caught in the dragnet. Nine years earlier she had tested positive for HIV. Doctors initially told her she had too many T cells to medicate, however, and she wondered whether her HIV result might have been an error. Dana had Epstein-Barr virus, which is known to create false positives on certain HIV tests.(1) She had remained healthy without medication, and she felt the HIV she supposedly carried might never actually make her sick. So she hadn’t planned to reveal her HIV status to her doctors. But when she received a letter from the hospital informing her of changes in the law, she realized she would be one of its first targets.

Faced with the choice of either following instructions she felt would cause immediate harm to her baby or losing her child altogether, Dana did what many HIV-positive mothers feel they must do: she faked it. She agreed to follow the doctors’ instructions. But when she walked down the hallway to her room, she was greeted by a lactation consultant, who apparently hadn’t gotten word of Dana’s predicament and was there to assist her with breastfeeding Nia. Dana didn’t see any reason why she shouldn’t. She just pulled the curtain around the bed and went with it.

When treating pregnant women who test positive for HIV, most physicians follow US Public Health Service guidelines, which include aggressive combinations of anti-HIV drugs during pregnancy and AZT administered intravenously during labor, followed by formula feeding and six weeks of AZT for newborns, whether or not they test positive.(2) But many doctors, like Dana’s add their own codicil — a call to Child Protective Services if the parent doesn’t comply.

The only way to avoid such Orwellian scenarios, many HIV-positive parents feel, is to go underground. They decline tests in 48 states where that is still allowable, look for the rare midwife knowledgeable about the reasons why a person would test HIV-positive but still be healthy, buy the AZT their doctors prescribe and flush it down the toilet, and stock formula and bottles in their cabinets while breastfeeding on he sly. They want to avoid the fate of the defiant mothers whose stories haunt the internet and talk-show circuits — Sophie Brassard in Montreal, whose two sons were taken away when she refused to treat them with AIDS drugs; Kathleen Tyson in Eugene, Oregon, who was court-ordered not to breastfeed her new son; and the Camden, UK, family who decided to flee the country to avoid having their child tested for HIV.(3)

Dana found out that she didn’t have to get tested (although Nia did) by talking to a lawyer from the HIV Law Project in Manhattan, which joins patient-advocate groups in opposing mandatory testing. She was therefore able to avoid the routine AZT drip during delivery. To avoid raising suspicion, she allowed Nia to be given three doses of AZT in the hospital, but she didn’t give her any medications at home. Instead of breastfeeding, which would create breastfeeding behaviors in her baby, such as reaching for the nipple or under the shirt in public, she pumped her milk and fed Nia through a bottle. She never changed her baby’s diaper in a doctor’s office, where the breastfeeding tell-all, the milky orange poop, would be noticed. And she didn’t let on what she had been doing when, two weeks later, her pediatrician reluctantly gave her the good news: Nia had no detectable HIV virus. The doctor admitted he hadn’t wanted to tell her, because he was worried she would stop giving Nia the prescribed AZT. She did not inform him that she had already done so.

If she were to have another child, Dana says, she would not give birth in a hospital. “When the pediatrician first came in to talk to me about my test results,” she remembers, “I was in a room with three other women, and he was just discussing it in front of them.” Later, the hospital ended up keeping Nia an extra day after Dana herself went home. “They said it was because of jaundice,” Dana says. But she believes it was to ensure the child got her AZT dose. “If I had to do it again, I would want the baby in my physical control rather than theirs.”

* * *

Safety in Numbers?

Just how sound is the advice these doctors are giving? Health professionals may not volunteer the information, but studies show that AZT, the drug that was pushed on two-day-old Nia, can be extremely damaging. AZT has been shown to cause cancer and fetal deformities in animals, and the FDA states that it should not be used unless the potential benefit to the fetus outweighs the potential risk.(4)

Studies of hundreds of children who received AZT find them in worse health than their HIV-positive but less-medicated counterparts. According to one study, children born to mothers who received AZT during pregnancy showed a much higher probability of getting sick and dying by age three than children born to mothers who did not take AZT.(5) Another study found that HIV-positive children who took AZT were three times more likely to develop AIDS or die by 18 months than those who did not.(6) And a 1999 Columbia University observational study that adjusted for the health of the mother found children receiving AZT 1.8 times more likely to get an AIDS-defining illness or die in their first year than their counterparts who did not get the drug.(7) Researchers have speculated that these results might depend on whether a child’s “infection” occurred in utero or during delivery, but so far they have not come to an agreement.(8)

Even in the 1994 benchmark study that opened the floodgates for AZT use among pregnant women and their newborns showed that with no drug treatment at all, only 25 percent of the women passed HIV along to their babies.(9) Because the study, sponsored by AZT’s manufacturer, showed that the drug reduced transmission from 25 percent to 8 percent, the drug has become standard treatment.(10) But what those numbers really mean is that only 17 out of 100 children are theoretically helped by AZT. That leaves 83 percent needlessly medicated, during the most fragile moments of their lives, with a drug whose “side effects” are so debilitating it’s been rejected by members of every other treatment group.(11)

The consequences of breastfeeding, a taboo for HIV-positive mothers in the industrialized world, are no clearer. A study of 551 HIV-positive pregnant women presented last year at the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, showed that, at six months, infants who were exclusively breastfed for three months or more were no more likely to get HIV from their mothers than those who were not given any mother’s milk at all.(12) (See sidebar “Is Breast Still Best?”)

Dana’s daughter, Nia, is now two years old. She drank breastmilk for four months but is now weaned and healthy, and tests for the virus still come back “undetectable.” Would she have been better off if she had been taken from her mother on the second day of her life and placed on a diet of formula and AZT with foster parents? As one researcher stated, “Put simply, from a fetal viewpoint, the risk of intervention needs to be less than the risk of…transmission.”(13) Despite the dire predictions of the past 20 years, not every pregnant woman who is HIV-positive passes HIV along to her child, and not everyone with HIV goes on to get AIDS.(14)

In February 2001 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued new treatment guidelines for adults and adolescents, the gist of which was not “hit hard, hit early” but rather, wait.(15) NIH was worried about the toxicities of the new combination therapies, which were not curing patients as expected.(16) NIH did not, however, revise its thinking on pregnant women or newborns taking these same toxic meds. In January 2001 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a special warning to pregnant women taking nucleoside analogues ddI and d4T after three women died.(17) The same month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that the popular HIV-pregnancy drug nevirapine can produce liver damage severe enough to require liver transplants. CDC recommends against the use of nevirapine for health professionals who get accidental needle sticks, but still continues to recommend it for fetuses.(18)

There seem to be plenty of legitimate reasons to question whatever today’s “promising new therapy” is. Yet when parents are the ones asking the questions, doctors have threatened to have their children taken away. The CDC maintains that HIV testing should be voluntary, treatment decisions should be made with fully-informed consent, and a woman’s decision to refuse treatment should not result in punitive actions or denial of care.(19) There are some parents who have had to go to court to win such basic rights, however.

It was the Maine Supreme Court that upheld Valerie Emerson’s right to refuse to give AZT to her second child. Emerson’s first child had died after using the medication, and both she and the judge felt that the research was conflicting enough that her second should be offered the chance to survive without it. Three years later, Emerson’s unmedicated, HIV-positive son is healthy and has recovered from a learning disability once attributed to his HIV.(20)

Mandated to follow up on every accusation of potential child abuse or neglect, social service agencies don’t fight those medical authorities who are determined to oppose all skeptics. All it takes, HIV-positive parents note with fear, is one anonymous phone call to transform their lives into a bureaucratic nightmare.

Christine Maggiore is the outspoken nucleus of a movement to help HIV-positive mothers who question medication. Author of the book “What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?” (published by the American Foundation for AIDS Alternatives), Maggiore runs the group Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives from her suburban Los Angeles home. She also founded a service called Mothers Opposing Mandatory Medicine (MOMM) to help guide other HIV-positive mothers through some of the major minefields.

But even Maggiore, armed with all the right information and contacts, received a phone call from a social worker that still chills her to the bone when she recounts it. An anonymous informant had told social services that Maggiore’s son Charlie’s life was in danger — that he was malnourished and being exclusively breastfed past the age of two by his HIV-positive mother. Knowing she would need legal advice to counter the charges, Maggiore asked when the investigators would be coming by. The answer was, “Now.” Maggiore managed to call a lawyer as well as her mother in the intervening minutes. She also had a backup plan involving a friend, car keys, a backyard fence, and some liquid assets, but was fortunate enough not to have to use it.

When the social worker arrived, recalls Maggiore, “I saw in her face that she was probably one of those people who goes into this kind of work for all the right reasons.” The woman observed that Charlie was a happy, rosy-cheeked, active, and well-nourished boy, and she conscientiously followed up with Maggiore’s pediatrician to find out that not only was Charlie eating solid foods, he had actually never even been sick in his two-plus years. Maggiore never heard from the agency again and assumes the episode is over. But she spent two weeks in hell worrying about it.

“We didn’t know if we were going to stay in the country,” she says. “Every time someone knocked on the door, it was like I had taken a diuretic.” One day, some people with clipboards came to the house. Still in a general state of panic, Maggiore ran to get her son’s shoes so they could leave if necessary, before realizing that the people at the door were her own volunteers coming to help with some paperwork.

The idyllic family portrait that Maggiore presented isn’t an option for every woman. Maggiore knows she is lucky, particularly because she has helped so many women who aren’t. (See sidebar “MOMM’s Advice.”) A New York woman lost her child for months simply because she sought a second opinion about whether to give drugs to the boy, who had alternately tested HIV-positive, -negative, and -indeterminate. Police took the boy and his HIV-negative sister away in squad cars, while health officials demanded that the mother, a registered nurse, get a psychiatric evaluation as well as an HIV test; long before the results came back, they recommended that she write up a will. Her family was reunited when attorneys were able to prove that indeed she was not crazy.(21)

Medical authorities do not even need an HIV test in hand to complicate children’s lives. Pam Anderson, an Indiana woman, got caught up in one hospital’s hysteria when she innocently took her son to the emergency room after he stepped on a nail. Asked by the doctor what happened, the five year old mistakenly said he’d stepped on a “needle,” later explaining that it was “the kind you hammer in a board.” But it was already too late. Child Protective Services (CPS) was called in, and the doctor, without even giving the boy a tetanus shot or knowing the results of his HIV test, began administering AZT. When the mother questioned the logic of all this, both in the hospital and during a follow-up appointment, squad cars with police dogs showed up at her home to take the child away. Anderson and her son were lucky enough to be away from home at that particular moment.

With legal help from the International Coalition for Medical Justice (ICMJ, an advocacy group that lost its funding last year), CPS backed down. But they warned that if Anderson’s child tested positive for HIV within the next year, they would charge her with a felony: criminal intent to harm her child. Anderson told me she still does not know why the hospital jumped to such wild conclusions in the first place. But she wonders, “Is it because I’m black?” Says Anderson, whose method of payment at the hospital was Medicaid, and who herself tests negative, “I thought I was doing the right thing by taking him to get a tetanus shot.”(22)

* * *

Policing the Breast

“The minute social services takes custody of a child,” warns Deane Collie, former executive director of ICMJ, “it becomes impossible in court. The longer the due process, the harder it is to get the child back.”(23) Collie noted that in some cases doctors have ordered psychological competency tests for parents who questioned treatment guidelines. If the parent is diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, the authorities take over health decisions for the child.

Drastic measures are becoming more common, however. For those who helped pass New York’s “Baby AIDS Law” five years ago, August 1, 1999 was supposed to mark another major victory. That was the date the state adjusted its mandatory newborn testing program so that all women entering hospitals in labor who hadn’t previously been tested for HIV would be offered a quick and easy “rapid” HIV test. Results would have to be made available to all mothers and babies before they even left the hospital; that way, no children of HIV-positive mothers would fall through the cracks.

As it turned out, there was little to celebrate. In the first three months of the program, the period when Dana and her daughter Nia became involved, 24 percent of the positive rapid “Single-Use Diagnostic System” (SUDS) HIV tests collected by the state health department turned out to be false on second check.(24) Thirteen of the 17 newborns who received those inaccurate results needlessly started on toxic treatments of AZT and were not permitted to breastfeed while they waited days or weeks for HIV confirmation. One New York study showed a 67 percent false positive rate with the SUDS test.(25)

Even routine voluntary testing creates problems for non-risk groups. On the frightening end of the spectrum, researchers estimated in 1987 that an HIV test that was supposed to have a specificity of 99.8 percent and a sensitivity of 98.3 percent would come up with a whopping 85 percent false positive rate if applied to low-risk groups in premarital HIV screening.(26) Pregnancy itself can create false positive results on some tests.(27)

Kathleen Tyson is one woman whose life became bizarrely complicated by routine HIV testing. The Eugene, Oregon, resident does not know why she tested HIV-positive while she was pregnant with her second child in 1997. She doesn’t even know why she allowed herself to be tested in the first place. She had absolutely no reason to worry about getting a sexually transmitted disease. She had been in a monogamous relationship with her husband for a decade. They had a nine-year-old daughter together, and two teenage stepdaughters. Tyson felt healthy; her hobbies included running, organic gardening, and hiking. But she was 38 when she became pregnant with Felix, and her midwives, who were affiliated with a hospital where the Tysons’ insurance could cover the birth, convinced Tyson that, because of her age, she should take a variety of genetic and other tests. The HIV test just happened to be one of them.

Two weeks later, Tyson learned her child was fine but that she had tested positive for HIV. Her doctor told her that her viral load was so tiny that if she weren’t pregnant, he wouldn’t recommend any treatment at all. But since she was pregnant, it was deemed appropriate that she immediately begin taking a combination of drugs — the safety of which in human pregnancy has not been determined — so that she wouldn’t transmit the virus to her baby. Many pregnant women have been afraid to pop so much as an aspirin since the thalidomide and DES tragedies. But Tyson immediately began taking her prescription of Combivir, whose components AZT and 3TC have caused fetal deformities and cancers in laboratory animals, and she was given the protease inhibitor nelfinavir, whose effects in human pregnancy have yet to be fully understood.(28)

Tyson took the drugs for six weeks until she was too sick and too disillusioned with her doctor to go on. She told her midwives of her decision to stop, and the hospital staff also went along with her birth plan — no AZT during delivery and no AZT for the child afterward. No one gave her trouble over breastfeeding, until a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases walked into the room and spotted a book, Peter Duesberg’s “Inventing the AIDS Virus,” and threatened to talk to the hospital’s lawyers. Soon armed guards were standing in the hospital hallways as a police officer and petitioner from juvenile court delivered a summons. Tyson was being charged with threatening to harm her child. After the hearing, the boy would be legally turned over to the state. He would be allowed to stay with his family, but only under strict conditions: A social worker would visit weekly to watch Felix get his AZT and make sure no breastfeeding was happening on the premises.

It didn’t matter that Tyson’s husband tested negative, or that their daughter, whom Kathleen had nursed for three years, tested negative.(29) It didn’t matter that Tyson’s breastmilk tested negative, or even that Felix himself tested negative time after time. The judge was not aware of the South African study showing that exclusively breastfed children were no more likely to get HIV than their formula-fed counterparts.(30) He had decided that Tyson’s breastfeeding would endanger her son’s life.(31)

CNN and every other news outlet descended on the formerly quiet Tyson household. Kathleen’s husband was an electrician; she had worked in a coffee house; now they were being turned into unwilling celebrities. Many people told them if they had had a religious rather than philosophical objection to AZT, they would not have had such a problem. In retrospect, Tyson says, “I would have engaged an independent midwife, had a home birth, and avoided the medical establishment like the plague. I would have done anything to avoid the conflict.” The Tysons continued to argue in court for their right to question their doctors, but the straightforward approach didn’t work out too well for them in the end. A full year after her son became a ward of the state, Tyson won full legal custody but was ordered to continue to follow doctors’ orders.

* * *

Mandatory Medicine

Counterintuitive as it may be to generations raised on free speech and patients’ rights, avoidance is actually the best way to dodge trouble with medical authorities over questions about children and HIV medication. When it’s the state vs. the parent, you’re not looking at a battle of equals. The state has the power to take custody of children; even when parents succeed in getting their children back, they end up paying legal fees and a huge emotional toll.

Mandated medicine is not limited to HIV, of course. In New York alone, three recent cases point to alarming directions in the law. Amika Phifer was put in foster care when her mother, Tina (who homeschooled the girl), sought a second opinion about treatment of her daughter’s ulcerative colitis.(32) Parents of middle-school children who didn’t want to vaccinate for hepatitis B were threatened with neglect charges by their local child welfare agency.(33) One judge actually ordered a boy’s parents to give the child the controversial psychoactive drug Ritalin.(34)

Legal standards for removing a child vary from state to state, according to Hilary Billings, who’s helped HIV-positive clients successfully contest doctors’ orders. In Maine, where Valerie Emerson won the right not to medicate her child, Billings says the standard is whether or not the parent is neglectful. In Oregon, where Kathleen Tyson fought the law and lost, the standard is, roughly, “what is in the best interest of the child” — meaning it just doesn’t matter how much the parent knows or cares. Billings, who represented both women in court, says simply, “Don’t take the tests. Just don’t take them.” He advises women to be specific when refusing to authorize HIV testing, so that nothing falls through the cracks.(35)

Currently only New York and Connecticut require tests, but more “Baby AIDS” laws are in the works, cautions Andrea Williams, public policy coordinator of the HIV Law Project. Williams notes that Alabama passed a bill last year allowing the state to test newborns for “sexually transmitted diseases,” and Indiana allows HIV testing within 48 hours of birth if the physician feels a newborn is at risk and the mother’s status is unknown.(36) Of course, doctors in any state can, without the consent of the parents, order a test on a newborn if they feel it is medically necessary.

Maggiore’s Mothers Opposing Mandatory Medicine aims to help women avoid finding themselves in a position in which medical procedures are conducted on a child without the mother’s consent. Her basic principles are discretion and circumvention. She counsels women to withdraw from conflicts with doctors, family, or even spouses over the issue of HIV while they look for sympathetic, alternative caretakers.

Southern schoolteacher Stacy (who does not want to use her real name) was lucky enough to hear from Maggiore in the first week after she got her HIV test results. Before the results came back, her obstetrician, whom she’d been seeing for the past eight years, told her that she had done everything “right,” establishing her career and being married for several years before thinking of having a baby. “If every one of my patients did that,” he told her, “this world would be a better place. All the children would be happy.” But when Stacy tested positive for HIV, her doctor formed a completely different opinion of her and her decisions. Suddenly, she was “in denial.”

“Of course,” Stacy remembers, “I did the normal freaking out. I considered suicide. I considered abortion. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. Then I started manifesting symptoms. I had sore lymph nodes within two days.” She was scheduled to begin AZT treatment within a matter of weeks. Finally, however, she began questioning the test and found some literature that seconded her gut feeling. She got in touch with Michael Ellner of Health Education AIDS Liaison (HEAL), New York, who got her in touch with Christine Maggiore. Maggiore’s advice would prove to be vital.

Stacy found an open-minded midwife. As it turned out, however, she wasn’t able to deliver in the privacy of her home. Her child turned breech, with one foot, not two, pressed against her cervix. She would have to be delivered C-section, by a doctor, in the place she feared the most, a hospital. She had been nonconfrontational with her former doctor as she switched over to midwife care, telling him she was opting to use a medical professional more experienced with women in her situation. And she followed through in this second round of birth-plan changes with the same polite tactics. She didn’t alert her new hospital’s doctor to her HIV test, and they didn’t question her. When they offered to test for HIV, she declined, and told the truth — she’d already been tested. Her baby, the doctor declared when it was born, was the healthiest she had seen in a long time.

Stacy now uses a holistic MD and doesn’t talk about that HIV test except with the closest of friends. Both her original doctor and the infectious disease specialist she was sent to have written to her and even called her husband at work to check up; they have been told everyone is doing just fine.

Maggiore advises women to avoid emergency rooms unless they have an actual emergency, because ER staffers are quick to involve social services in cases involving HIV. She reminds women that if they accept public benefits, government agencies can easily intervene if doctors’ orders are not followed.

Colleen, who doesn’t want to use her real name because she still fears the authorities, found this last piece of advice extremely difficult to follow. She’d been in abusive relationships, worked at low-paying jobs, and was planning on paying with Medicaid at the beginning of her pregnancy. But when the nurses at the hospital wanted her to get on medication before she even saw a doctor, she began doubting their advice. She felt healthy. By the time she started talking to a social worker about her situation, she said, she “felt like a bunny walking into a trap, with the door about to close up on me.” She slid out of the system by telling her doctor she was moving to another town to be near her aunt and uncle. Colleen ended up having a safe homebirth and, though it was emotionally challenging, decided to live with her parents until she could get on her feet again financially, instead of relying on the federal government’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program for help.

Just the first step, finding that sympathetic physician or midwife, can be a soul-sapping experience for HIV-positive women. “I would get off the phone and cry,” recalls Christine Maggiore. “I tried calling a naturopathic doctor I know; I called a clinic that helps lesbians artificially inseminate; they didn’t even call me back.” Others told her that they wanted her on treatment — the “if you can’t be responsible, we can’t be responsible for you” model.

“It made me realize the tremendous pressure I was under to have a perfect baby. No matter what happened, if it wasn’t absolutely perfect, it was going to be blamed on HIV. If it was the stress of going through this, it would have been blamed on HIV. My midwife ran all the tests and always expected them to come back with something wrong, which was a bummer.” Christine’s baby, now more than three years old, is ahead of his peers in just about every important category that can be measured.

* * *

A Bad Dream

Even HIV-positive women who follow doctors’ orders aren’t necessarily treated well by the healthcare system when it comes to pregnancy. Rebecca Denison is the founder and executive director of Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases (WORLD) and speaks frequently on patients’ rights issues. Although she herself has remained healthy for years without taking anti-HIV drugs, she believes the short course of AZT she took late in pregnancy and the single dose of nevirapine before delivery helped her not give HIV to her twins, and she counsels other positives seeking treatment. She finds some doctors are very supportive and understanding of an HIV-positive woman’s desire to get pregnant, but others, she’s heard from women over the years, are not. “When a 41-year-old woman tries to get pregnant, people are concerned about Down Syndrome,” she says, “but they don’t push the woman into the realm of being a monster. Some HIV-positive women who choose to get pregnant get treated as though they’re very unethical.”(37)

Doctors rarely suggest abortion to a woman with the possibility of passing on a hereditary disease to her child, but such advice is not unusual when it comes to HIV. Add to that the stigma conveyed by a medical establishment convinced that women who don’t seek treatment are trying to actually hurt — they might even say “kill” — their children, and you have some deep and lasting scars.

Still living in Eugene, Kathleen Tyson has to face, on a weekly basis, the townspeople who wanted to take her child away. She saw one of the state employees she had dealings with in a grocery store. The doctor who reported her in the first place lives in her neighborhood. She brought her daughter to the hospital where Felix was born for an appendectomy and crossed paths with one of the doctors who testified for the state. Tyson does considerable work to vent her anger in the privacy of her home and knows that her continued good health, and that of Felix (now two and a half years old), will be the final word in those disagreements.

“I believe the interference of the state caused Felix and me some difficulty in the beginning as far as bonding and attachment go,” she says. “But I knew I had to fight that and make an extra effort to allow what should have been a very natural process to occur.”

Dana, in contrast, filed a complaint against the doctor who tried to force AZT on her daughter. The response she got over the phone was that it was unfortunate she had been treated so harshly, but that such treatment is sometimes necessary in order to get parents to comply with treatment recommendations. Says Dana, “Someone should tell the department of health what ‘recommendation’ means.”

Dana’s daughter, Nia, had three “viral load” tests that came back undetectable, but that was not enough for her doctors. The hospital social worker would not leave Dana alone, calling her at work and sending a certified letter demanding that she bring her daughter in for follow-ups, even when Nia was under the care of another doctor. It was hospital policy to test nine times (at birth, two weeks, and one, two, three, six, nine, 12, and 18 months), though New York law only mandates newborn testing twice: once at birth and once before the age of six months, according to Andrea Williams. “It’s funny,” Dana says. “Now that it looks like I am done with all of this, I have more nightmares than when it was happening.”

Other women who, like Sophie Brassard, have come up against the medical establishment and lost, might love to be able to have that nightmare, if they could wake up in the company of their children. Christine Maggiore says, “I don’t know how the women I’ve known who have lost the custody of their children have lived through it. I don’t know what part of yourself you have to shut down in order to live for the day when you’ll get them back — and I don’t ever want to find out.”

* * *

Susan Gerhard is a San Francisco-based mother, writer, and editor whose work has appeared in Salon.com, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, POZ, MAMM, and other media.

side bars:
MOMM’s Advice
Is Breast Still Best?

Notes
1. G. Ozanne and M. Fauvel, “Performance and Reliability of Five Commercial Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbant Assay Kits in Screening for Anti-Human Immunodeficiency Virus Antibody in High-Risk Subjects,” Journal of Clinical Microbiology 26 (1988): 1496.

2. CDC (Centers for Disease Control), “Public Health Service Task Force Recommendations for Use of Antiretroviral Drugs in Pregnant HIV-1-Infected Women for Maternal Health and Interventions to Reduce Perinatal HIV-1 Transmission in the United States,” (January 24, 2001): 15.

3. AP, “Judge Orders HIV Test for Baby,” (September 3, 1999); Alyson Mead, “Sophie’s Choice,” Salon.com (December 8, 1999); CNN San Francisco reporter Don Knapp, “Oregon Mom Forced to Treat Baby for HIV,” (February 18, 1999).

4. See Note 2, 3-5.

5. Centres of the Italian register for HIV Infection in Children, “Rapid Disease Progression in HIV-1 Perinatally Infected Children Born to Mothers Receiving Zidovudine Monotherapy During Pregnancy,” AIDS 13 (1999): 927-933.

6. Ricardo S. De Souza, “Effect of Prenatal Zidovudine on Disease Progression in Perinatally HIV-1-Infected Infants.” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 24 (2000): 154-161.

7. Louise Kuhn et al., “Disease Progression and Early Viral Dynamics in Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Infected Children Exposed to Zidovudine during Prenatal and Perinatal Periods,” Journal of Infectious Diseases 182 (2000): 104-111.

8. Ibid.

9. Edward M. Connor et al., “Reduction of Maternal-Infant Transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 with Zidovudine Treatment,” New England Journal of Medicine 331, no. 18 (1994): 1173-1180.

10. See Note 2.

11. Note: AZT monotherapy is not the standard of care for infants over six weeks: US Public Health Service, “Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in Pediatric HIV Infections,” (January 7, 2000): 13-14. See also Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society, “AZT: Unsafe at Any Dose?,” www.aras.ab.ca/azt.html.

12. Anna Coutsoudis et al., “Method of Feeding and Transmission of HIV-1 from Mothers to Children by 15 Months of Age: Prospective Cohort Study from Durban, South Africa,” AIDS 15 (2001): 379-387. The study was first published in The Lancet (August 7, 1999).

13. R. Kumar et al., “Zidovudine Use in Pregnancy: A Report on 104 Cases and the Occurrence of Birth Defects,” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 7 (1994): 1034-1039.

14. Lawrence K. Altman, “AIDS: Long-Term Survivors,” New York Times (January 24, 1995); Ellen McGarrahan, “The Living Daylights,” San Francisco Weekly (April 24, 1996); Christine Maggiore, “What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?” revised (Studio City, CA: The American Foundation for AIDS Alternatives, 1999), 94-126.

15. Jay Levy, “The Big Question Now in Anti-HIV Therapy — When?,” San Francisco Chronicle (February 23, 2001): A25.

16. Ibid.

17. AP, “Combination of AIDS Drugs Deadly,” (January 9, 2001).

18. New York Times wire service, “US Warns Doctors to Limit Use of Anti-AIDS Drug,” San Francisco Chronicle (January 5, 2001): A8.

19. CDC, “US Public Health Service Recommendations for Human Immunodeficiency Virus Counseling and Voluntary Testing for Pregnant Women,” (1995): 10. See also Note 2.

20. Patrick Rogers, Tom Duffy, and Mark Dagostino, “A Mother’s Instinct,” People (October 5, 1998). Personal follow-up interview by phone.

21. “Police Take Baby from Mother ‘In Denial,'” www.aliveandwell.org.

22. Personal interview.

23. Personal interview.

24. Jamie Talan, “Newborns and AIDS: To Test or Not to test,” Newsday (January 20, 2000).

25. Mayris P. Webber et al., “Pilot Study of Expedited HIV-1 Testing of Women in Labor at an Inner-City Hospital in New York City,” American Journal of Perinatology 18, no. 1 (2001): 49-56.

26. P. D. Cleary et al., “Compulsory Premarital Screening for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus,” Journal of the American Medical Association 258, no. 13 (1987): 1757-1762.

27. Max R. Proffitt and Belinda Yen-Lieberman, “Laboratory Diagnosis of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection,” Infectious Disease Clinics of North America 7, no. 2 (June 1993): 203-219.

28. See Note 2.

29. Conversation with Kathleen Tyson; the evidence was not admitted in court. See also “In the Eye of the Storm,” Mothering (May-June 1999): 68.

30. See Note 12.

31. George Kent, “Tested in Court: The Right to Breastfeed,” “SCN News” (newsletter of the UN’s Subcommittee on Nutrition) no. 18 (July 1999): 89-90.

32. Conversation with Tina Phifer.

33. Brian Doherty, “Doctor’s Orders,” Reason (February 2001).

34. Ibid.

35. Personal interview.

36. Personal interview.

37. Personal interview.

Jailed for love, needs rescue by Gallo

Of course, the predicament of those arrested for making love to others without telling them they have been tested and found “HIV positive” is even worse, a grotesquerie of misguided zeal.

We wonder what happened to the unfortunate Australian Andre Chad Parenzee whose fate was decided by the absurd Australian court judgment last year that critics of the current HIV/AIDS paradigm were uninformed and deserved no respect compared to Dr Robert “I admit I didn’t find HIV first, sorry!” Gallo.

Perhaps Bob would care to rescue Parenzee now from languishing in jail for at least three more years on the basis of his (Gallo’s) scientific fairy tale for which Luc Montagnier has now been awarded the Nobel.

(The case is described briefly by a Wiki entry at Andre Chad Parenzee which reports the judge’s reasonable conclusion that HIV exists and has been isolated, but unfortunately also carries his misleading finding that HIV causes AIDS by causing the “depletion of the T cells” for which there is no good evidence or scientific argument yet in the scientific literature after 24 years and counting. The court’s premise that HIV is highly transmissible is also roundly contradicted by the research of Nancy Padian, who for some reason was not called to give evidence).

Perhaps Bob and the army of scientists and legions of doctors he has misled would care finally to accord with the principle laid down by the Swiss, which could be paraphrased as follows:

Respect the life of other organic beings.

Voting machines are front burner concern, but not hacking them

October 9th, 2008

American culture of liberal politesse mutes explicit alarm from leaders

But Times, Common Cause quietly mention theft as a concern

Chances that 2008 will be heavily guarded look small, however

votecheck1.jpgToday (Oct 9 Thu) a Times editorial focuses on the gathering concern over the Diebold machines which might “drop votes”, and both chatter on NPR and at an American University conference today in Washington reviewed all the interferences with voting which are taking place or are in view as the Presidential election reaches climax.

But it is noticeable that the dread possibility of hacking these machines as everyone including the Simpsons seems to acknowledge probably robbed Kerry of the election in 2004 remains in the background.

Here is the Times editorial today, That’s A Pretty Big Glitch:

Election officials, who will have plenty on their minds on Nov. 4, have one more thing to worry about: Diebold electronic voting machines that drop votes. Ohio’s secretary of state raised the alarm after local officials reported problems with the March primary count. Diebold has since notified more than 30 states to be on the lookout for missing votes.

In the early days of electronic voting, critics who warned that it was unreliable were dismissed as alarmist. Now it seems that hardly an election goes by without reports of serious vulnerabilities or malfunctions.

In the case of Diebold, votes are being dropped when they are transferred from individual machines to the central server in a county’s election headquarters. When an election worker inserts the memory card from a machine into the server, a green arrow is supposed to light up after all of the votes have been uploaded and added to the county’s totals. In some cases, the green arrow is wrong, and none of the votes have been added.

When election officials in Ohio’s Butler County first spotted the problem, Premier Election Solutions — a unit of Diebold — suggested that antivirus software on the voting machines or human error was at fault. That turned out not to be true; the fault was Diebold’s. In August, the company notified clients of the software glitch, advising election officials not to rely on the green arrow, but to use alternative methods of checking that every memory card — and every vote — is counted.

When dropped votes are noticed — and so far they appear to have been — they can be recovered. But the flaw is troubling, the latest in a long line of problems.

Computer scientists have shown that electronic voting machines are easy to hack. And voters report errors like vote flipping, in which the vote they cast for one candidate is recorded for another. Ohio’s secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, is suing Diebold over the vote-dropping and noted that its machines crashed repeatedly during last year’s voting in Cuyahoga County.

There is no time left between now and Election Day for states and localities to upgrade their machines or even to fix the vote-dropping software. All they can do is double-check their vote totals, audit their paper trails and be on the lookout for the next, as-yet-undiscovered computer glitch. After that, Congress must require that all states adopt voting systems that include voter-verifiable paper records for every electronic vote cast.

In other words, the danger of hacking the machines is recognized at the Times (the boldface is ours) but it is too late to do much about the vulnerability!

Common Cause is aware of potential

At American University in Washington today sessions were held on the topic of voting and improving the sorry state of affairs in this regard in the US, and at one point an unidentified but heroic gray haired dark suited gentleman in the audience won the microphone and asked the crucial question: how did the panelists account for the wide gap that opened up between exit polling and the official results in recent elections?

“If the past is prologue, I think much of the distrust in the system has been because there has been no rational explanation for the disparity between the exit polling data in 2004 and the actual vote count particularly in eleven swing states if not more. And I wonder why – well perhaps that information is available but can you offer any basic understanding as to what that disparity represented and why is it in other countrioes like the Ukraine we throw out an election on the basis of thayt disparity whereas in this country it goes relatively unnoticed in the academic literature or in the media?”

The first panel member, Bob Edgar, president and CEO of the Common Cause advocacy group, replied by saying that Common Cause had just held a book party in New York for Mark Crispin-Miller of NYU whose analysis in detail of Florida and Ohio in 2004 had convinced him that “an election stealing took place”.

Edgar believed the book was a

“helpful review of the actual details and I would hope if that occurs at the local Congressional Senate or Presidential level that the person who loses that close election would pause before they stand before the cameras and concede. Because I think not only is it important for us to know that each and every vote is counted but it is also important for us to see where possible manipulation could take place, because Senator Kerry conceded so quickly it wasn’t until years after the 2004 election that a careful analysis could take place. And in some instances because of the concession ballots were destroyed quickly and you could not monitor the issue.

“You raise an important issue and I am troubled we are not more concerned about it. In other countries they obviously are more concerned about the manipulation of the vote but Common Cause and the League of Women Voters and others are committed to making sure we get it straight in 2008.”

Right on, Bob. Let’s hope that Common Cause and the League of Women Voters in alliance with the Times and anyone else who is mildly concerned about this issue – mild in tone if (we hope) not in intent – will do enough about it to spike the guns of those waiting to do the same thing and repeat their successes of 2004 and 2000 which landed the world in the gargantuan mess it now finds itself in.

League of Women Voters are not

However, judging by the lame brained response of the lady sitting next to Edgar in response to the same question, and the feebleness of the Times call to arms today, we fear that the general level of caution in addressing this concern forcibly for fear of disenchanting the voters who still believe in the system will see too little done.

Said lady in a light blue tailored suit, Nancy Tate, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters, opined as follows:

“I think what I recall as the explanation of some of that was faulty statistical practice. I mean they were polling people that were coming out that turned out later to be too heavily weighted toward the Democratic candidate and thought that would be representative of the larger sample. I can’t really speak to that in detail but that’s the explanation they gave and I guess we all accepted it.

“I think on our end even if they would be accurate we would be inclined to think it would be better if they didn’t release the polls because it influences v oters one way or the other. Whether accurate or not a lot of people if their candidates ahead maybe say well I don’t have to go you know or if your candidate’s too far behind maybe I don’t have to go. It kind of undermines the one person one vote idea.

“We are also not crazy about the idea of calling the election when people in California and Hawaii havern’t voted. So even if the data is correct this can have psychological impacts on people and we think it is important for everyone to participate, that the actual numbers do matter whether its close or large you’ll feel better participating and you’ll know you have participated and everyone else will know when the system will be better for that.”

A pretty young blonde’s head nodded in the audience at this tripe which actually revealed that the League of Women Voters is led by a lady who has overlooked the salient fact that exit polling going awry is the only canary in the coal mine of election machine tampering, and without it there will be no signal whatsoever of that malfeasance. Any Republican operatives in the audience planning such thievery were probably beside themselves with glee over her comments.

Surely what is needed is an armed guard standing over every voting machine day and night throughout the voting and counting process, with an expert bonded computer programmer to check the software before, after and during its operation.

If this sounds expensive, let’s acknowledge it is easily manageable by an Obama campaign which raised $60 million last month and is probably doing even better in October.

Catch Stealing America for free October 21

When even Bart Simpson has his vote switched and nearly gets eaten by a voting machine, it is time to take the kid gloves off. Someone should send When Even The Simpsons Make Fun Of E-Voting Machines to Nancy. Unfortunately, Twentieth Century Fox have suppressed the actual clip on YouTube.

Or better, here is where she can obtain a $5 copy of Stealing America, the film which says it all.

Note that on October 21st this film will be available for free viewing and download.

Meanwhile, techdirt ran a pretty good little mention of the New Jersey debacle last Friday in Judge Won’t Allow Researchers To Reveal Report On E-Voting Machines

From the it’s-not-like-we-have-an-election-coming-up-that-use-these-machines dept

You may recall that earlier this year, after some serious problems were discovered with Sequoia’s e-voting machines in New Jersey, that the state asked a group of independent researchers to investigate the machines and prepare a report. Sequoia threatened to sue the researchers though. Luckily, a court allowed the researchers to investigate the machines, and said that 30 days after the court had received the report, it could be released. However, Sequoia, in its usual “It can’t be our fault, no, no!” fashion, has convinced the judge to suppress the report.

Despite the fact that we’re a month away from an election that will use these machines that time and time again have been shown to have problems accurately and reliably counting votes, no one is allowed to see the report. Voters in New Jersey won’t be told the results of the report until after it’s too late to request absentee ballots. As the head researcher on the report notes, even New Jersey’s governor and secretary of state are not allowed to read the report and use it to make public policy decisions that would more likely create a fair election. For so many years now, the e-voting companies have dismissed concerns, blocked attempts to investigate, threatened investigators and almost never admitted any fault, despite tons and tons of evidence that the machines simply do not work that well. It’s a travesty that this report is being suppressed.

Clearly the American system will soon become the laughing stock of the world but for the incipient enthroning of Barack Obama, that is, assuming all these last minute defensive efforts of the Republicans fail.

Given the feeble response so far as outlined above, there is still cause for worry.

An amusing look at the shenanigans in Colorado is at the Colorado Independent, Amid scandal, Colorado is at election storm central: Are we ready?:

• Last December the Colorado State Auditor issued a blistering report on the management of the Secretary of State’s Office under Coffman. As the Colorado Independent’s Dan Whipple reported, the auditor’s report found eight major areas of failures in the office, including duplicate voter registration records, voting by dead people and felons, failing to account for $445,000 in federal funds, and numerous conflict-of-interest violations among employees, at least some of which Coffman was aware of. The most widely covered conflict of interest was the allegation that former employee Dan Kopelman had used state voter data in an outside business, a political consulting website Political Live Wire, which serves primarily Republicans…

• Then there was the electronic ballot machine decertification and subsequent recertification fiasco that stretched out over several months. Last Dec. 17, Coffman announced he was decertifying three of four types of election machines currently in use in all but 12 of Colorado’s 64 counties — including six of the state’s 10 most populous counties. In layman’s terms, Coffman declared that the electronic machines were unreliable and that they could potentially be hacked. The announcement left clerks and recorders across Colorado scrambling to figure out how they could possibly make necessary adjustments in time for this year’s August primary and November general elections. The day after Christmas last year, Coffman’s office announced his recommendation that voters cast paper ballots at polling places for the 2008 presidential election. Two months later, after the Legislature jumped in, Coffman recertified the machines, deeming them reliable after all.

• A month ago — just weeks before the election — Coffman’s state elections director, Holly Lowder, abruptly resigned amid an outside inquiry involving her longtime relationship with John Paulsen, who has received $183,800 in election-related contracts from the state of Colorado. Turns out, as the Rocky Mountain News reported, that Lowder also lived in a Denver condominium owned by Paulsen and that the two have shared the same phone number.

All this raises the interesting question, what will happen if miscreants try it on this time, and actually succeed in flipping the results in the US electronically as they seem to have done so brazenly in 2004 and got away with it?

This time one imagines Obama will not immediately concede, and nor will the Supreme Court be able to cut the review short.

Crash crushes McCain chances, highlights Obama appeal

October 9th, 2008

With mindless markets now revealed as Republican time bomb, Barack’s calm intelligence seems reassuring

Perhaps ability to think will become valued by voters, not seen as defect

Need for new President to realize that science has fallen into the same hole

stockfreefall.jpgWith manufacturing indices falling everywhere, the global recession has arrived, and the credit seizure threatens an aura of oncoming economic depression will surround the Presidential election in less than a month.

The dead heat that some analysts were predicting as a real possibility only a few days ago, making voting machine mischief aimed at flipping votes to McCain possible if not likely, now seems more and more out of the question. We predict a landslide in Obama’s favor, as we hopefully forecast many months ago, and as the 7/11 coffee drinkers poll confirms.

Long live smart presidents

In this light, it now becomes clear that some fundamental principles long emphasized by this blog are not anachronistic after all, but rule the world of politics and good government as strongly as ever. Among them are the simple propositions that greed needs regulation and oversight, and that if crooks take over the first lamb to be sacrificed is truth. Most victorious of all, to our mind, is the principle that complex 21st Century problems require analytical intelligence and an objective temperament which is inclusive rather than partisan or clubby, and Obama incarnates all of this and more.

In particular we would emphasize analytical intelligence, which we believe is wrongly the most underemphasized competitive quality in American public life. For some reason it seems to be considered essentially undemocratic to call attention to whether someone is smart in the academic, analytical and abstract sense, except by disparaging him or her as professorial, wonky, geeky or snobby. In general a high level of intelligence seems to be suspect, as if it indicates an antisocial personality, one of “them” rather than “us”. Such is the narcissism of American voters that one must get elected by pretending not to be too bright, so they can see the candidate as sharing their own unwillingness or inability to think clearly and unemotionally.

We feel differently. We highly value analytical intelligence, and the willingness to apply it to politics as much as science. Faced with the raft of global problems that will face the next president, we are glad that Barack Obama has the kind of intelligence which goes with articulate and fluent speaking and writing, the capacity of thinking on his feet in addressing major issues and the ability to see many sides of a debate and draw on a wide range of smart advisors and other sources in coming to his own conclusions.

Seems to us that the great contrast between Obama and Biden as a team and McCain and Palin as their opponents is a matter of mind. On the one hand you have two good minds, one exceptionally capable and one sure in his grasp of topics in which he, Biden, has been immersed for many years and on the other two very mediocre minds, which McCain shows with the verbal and grammatical stumbles – “Ahkmenidandydad”! – which still beset his speech on topics like the economy and defense in which he should be able to show how seasoned he is, and which Palin shows not only with her mindless “You betcha!” and “Doggone it!” fillers but with her revelation that she cannot name a single paper or periodical she reads.

Now the economic free fall has stripped away the petty election scoreboards of the media it is possible to see all this more clearly. People are fearful now and in that state they see what really matters, and in this case we believe that more and more are finding the eloquent, thoughtful, earnest, cool, dignified, careful and judicious style of Obama suggests the presidential substance they need, and rejecting the essentially irresponsible modern Republican propaganda emphasis on the markets solving all our problems and making us all rich – some more quickly than others – and the corollary that we don’t even need an intelligent and literate President because after all Reagan was successful while he slept through Cabinet meetings and Bush Junior can save Iraq and the Middle East even though famous for his literal inability to talk straight.

Science also has its foolish greed

In many ways this only seems to mirror the situation in HIV/AIDS where a large field of science has gone galloping off in the wrong direction for twenty five years followed by the entire country and world, which to a large extent has happened mainly because second rate minds have occupied the leadership positions of the field and their position has been continually strengthened and shored up and protected from criticism by the vast pyramid of money which has accumulated under them.

We suspect that their reign would end in a few weeks if sufficient money could be applied to reviewing their program and performance in the manner that democracy funds a reassessment and review of presidential performance here every four years.

Duesberg suggests strange effect of Montagnier’s misleading Nobel

October 6th, 2008

Paradoxically, truth’s chains may be loosened, some suggest

Duesberg, saluted by flurry of email from supporters, gives reaction

He fights new battle against the money pyramid in cancer

The Nobel for medicine given Luc Montagnier and Francoise Barré-Sinoussi for her detection of what was later labeled HIV in the blood of French AIDS patients lances a certain boil in the body politic of science.

No longer will Montagnier and Gallo have to fret over why they have been so long ignored by Stockholm – was it because of their undignified public battle over priority, or more specifically, because of the bogus work said to have been carried out in Gallo’s NIH lab?

Now Montagnier’s priority is correctly recognized by the Karolinska gong, and Gallo can retreat to the firm ground of not having to make claims which tread the thin crust of suspension of disbelief over the bog of proven scientific insanity.

But what of the larger context? Is this part of a larger trend in the twentieth century of virus hunters galloping far along a track into the desert in pursuit of a mirage, and still awarding themselves the Nobel for achievement in medicine when they return empty handed?

Some might say this is what Duesberg means when he wrote the following email reply today to an earnest enquirer who wanted to know if the Nobel was justified or did the HIV/AIDS tale remain unproven, posing his question as follows:

Although I am not a scientist, I have been convinced that you have been right all along regarding the AIDS virus and HIV. However, I now see that two Europeans (whom I presume you know) have been awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering the HIV virus.

“In its citation, the Nobel Assembly said Barre-Sinoussi and Montagnier’s discovery was one prerequisite for understanding the biology of AIDS and its treatment with antiviral drugs. The pair’s work in the early 1980s made it possible to study the virus closely.

That in turn let scientists identify important details in how HIV replicates and how it interacts with the cells it infects, the citation said. It also led to ways to diagnose infected people and to screen blood for HIV, which has limited spread of the epidemic, and helped scientists develop anti-HIV drugs, the citation said.

“The combination of prevention and treatment has substantially decreased spread of the disease and dramatically increased life expectancy among treated patients,” the citation said.

So basically they are receiving the Nobel prize for assuming that HIV is the root cause of AIDS, which gave rise to wrong-headed attempts to cure it based on an incorrect premise. Unless HIV is no longer a passenger virus? My question is, did these two gentlemen actually observe an HIV virus infecting another cell? If HIV is a passive passenger virus that 11% of the population is born with how can it infect other cells? Now that these gentlemen’s work has been given the imprimatur of the Nobel Committee, I am afraid there is less hope than ever for a real cure for AIDS.

So, have things changed? Was HIV proven to be the cause of AIDS?

To which Duesberg, possibly the world’s leading expert on viruses, cancer and AIDS politics, replied:

You are right, the HIV-AIDS hypothesis remains unproven but hundreds of thousands are prescribed inevitably toxic anti-HIV DNA chain terminators on its basis. Likewise the HPV-cervical hypothesis is unproven, but hundred thousands are now vaccinated against the predicted cancer 30-50 years (!) after infection. Indeed this is the 7th Nobel in the last 50 years for viruses causing cancer (Rous, Temin, Baltimore, Dulbecco, Bishop, Varmus and now Zur Hausen), although cancer is not an infectious disease!

Ever since funding for research has been nationalized in the US and elsewhere, just like licensing and even paying for drugs and vaccines, science is controlled and judged by majority/political consensus, rather than by scientific evidence. The national HIV-AIDS and HPV-cervical cancer programs and the resulting Nobels are perfect examples.

We are treating with DNA chain-terminators a virus that has yet to be proven to cause AIDS, and we are vaccinating against another virus that has yet to be shown to cause cervical cancer 30-50 years after infection.

There is, however, an olive twig for the rest of scientists after a Nobel prize: Since the pressure to win the prize and justify the treatments is gone, there are new opportunities for post-Nobelists to speak up and make “unexpected” discoveries on why the vaccines and drugs didn’t work.

By the last remark we take him to mean that with the Nobel finally in hand, Montagnier, who has always been inclined to pursue co-factors as the explanation for the mysterious absence of any proof that HIV actually does anything at all to man or beast or cell, may open the lid to that Pandora’s box of alternative explanations for AIDS in its various manifestations, which so remarkably match the symptoms of familiar causes of illness and ailments of all kinds.

Gallo, after all, may be in the same boat in a sense, since now having to give up any hope of a Nobel, he too is freer to cook up an alternative mental framework in which to view the familiar symptoms of AIDS, each of which can then be caused by something else other than HIV.

After all, Duesberg reminded us today, Gallo is the one who kept saying early on in this grand paradigm dispute, “Peter doesn’t understand co-factors!”.

That of course was before Gallo and Fauci and the rest of the HIV-at-any-cost/AIDS gang ran Montagnier out of town in the San Francisco AIDS Conference for daring to come up with a cofactor in the form of a mycoplasma and present it to the media.

Montagnier flew in from Paris and wound up having to address the press in a hotel room far outside the annual “it’s The Virus Stupid AIDS Conference and then, finding no one who would have dinner with him among this disreputable lot, had to fly back to Paris.

Viewing the current developments from this long perspective, one can see that this Nobel might in a paradoxical way amount to a crack in the massive monetary-governmental pyramid that is HIV/AIDS, a crack just wide enough for a little light to creep into the tomb of good science that it marks.

We wish Duesberg had time to write a new and slimmer book now, lest his contextual wisdom be lost, but he is too busy fighting a new Stalingrad, he says, taking a moment from our conversation to inspect his latest lab result.

The forces protecting the oncogene paradigm are busy counter attacking him for his incontrovertibly promising aneuploidy theory, which if it had money attached to it in the same proportion as the oncogene paradigm defense fort would prevail in an instant, since as far as we can tell every good honest scientist at the top of the field is interested in pursuing it if only they can find a way.

Meanwhile, his email says it all about the day’s headline.

Montagnier wins Nobel, Stockholm leaves Gallo in the cold

October 6th, 2008

Prize goes to French researchers for HIV discovery, ignoring Gallo’s part in opening Fedex packages from Paris

Gallo may object that he and Duesberg deserve prize instead, having proved to world in 1984 and 1986 that HIV is not responsible for AIDS

John Crewdson expected to win belated Pulitzer, but HIV dissenters otherwise confounded

francoise-barre-sinoussi.jpgThe Nobel prize in medicine was awarded today to Luc Montagnier (76) and a colleague – the real discoverer – Francoise Barré-Sinoussi (61) (Click pic to enlarge) for discovering HIV, “the virus that causes AIDS” according to conventional wisdom among scientists and echoed tonight by PBS and the New York Times, not to mention virtually every publication and television station in the world.

The $800,000 prize money (10 million kronor) is to be shared with Harald zur Hausen (71) of the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, the discoverer of the Human Papilloma Virus’ not entirely convincing association in some forms with cervical cancer, though the link is more impressive than the causal association of HIV with AIDS, which has been convincingly exploded in the scientific literature and about thirty books since 1986.

The endorsement of HIV as the cause of AIDS by the scientific elders of Stockholm, however, will probably defeat the efforts of a few thousand people in science, medicine and other professions who think otherwise, having studied the papers of Dr. Peter Duesberg of Berkeley, who has reviewed the case since 1986 in peer reviewed papers in leading scientiific journals and in an excellent book, Inventing the AIDS Virus.

Gallo undoubtedly seriously upset

montagniergallo.jpgIn their unhappiness with this final insult to good science in AIDS this diverse band of informed but ignored heretics will be joined by Dr Robert Gallo, whose tussle with Montagnier over who had discovered HIV in 1984 (before it was ever named self-servingly the Human Immunodefiency Virus) became an international fight between the US and French governments, first declared a tie and then when Gallo’s lab activities were analyzed in an NIH investigation, handed to the French.

Nobel medicine prize reopens old AIDS wounds

WASHINGTON, Oct 6 (Reuters) – The decision on Monday to award the Nobel Prize for Medicine to Luc Montagnier and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi for their discovery of the AIDS virus was a snub to U.S. virologist Dr. Robert Gallo, and reopened a bitter and painful dispute over the research.

From the beginning, Gallo and Montagnier were rivals who raced to discover the cause of a mysterious illness that was killing gay men and injecting drug users in the 1980s.

In the end, the Nobel committee had the final say on who deserved the most credit for the work.

“There was no doubt as to who made the fundamental discoveries,” Nobel Assembly member Maria Masucci told Reuters.

Montagnier and Barre-Sinoussi were more generous, both giving Gallo credit.

“It is a conflict to be forgotten. It is also true that American teams were important in the discovery of the virus, and that should be recognized,” Barre-Sinoussi said in a telephone interview with RTL radio.

Gallo was equally polite.

“I am pleased my long-time friend and colleague Dr. Luc Montagnier, as well as his colleague Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, have received this honor,” he said in a statement. “I was gratified to read Dr. Montagnier’s kind statement this morning expressing that I was equally deserving.”

But National Cancer Institute director Dr. John Niederhuber noted that Gallo and Montagnier had shared credit for years. (cont. in Tab)
PLEASED BUT DISAPPOINTED

“While we are pleased that two scientists who contributed so much to AIDS research were recognized today, I am extremely disappointed that the NCI and all of the resources it brought to bear on the discovery of the AIDS virus — along with the technology to make blood banking safe and the drugs that have made AIDS a chronic disease — weren’t, in some fashion, recognized,” Niederhuber said in a statement.

“Additionally, Dr. Gallo discovered the blood test for AIDS.”

In the early 1980s, researchers around the world were trying to discover what was causing the mysterious and fatal disease that came to be known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.

Gallo and Montagnier both homed in a possible retrovirus and exchanged samples.

Gallo, then at the National Cancer Institute, announced in April 1984 that he had discovered the virus that causes AIDS. He said the virus was different from one identified by the French researchers.

It turned out that Gallo was working with a sample contaminated in Montagnier’s lab and it took years for the U.S. National Institutes of Health and France’s Institut Pasteur to agree to split the credit and the royalties.

“I think Bob made a very, very important contribution to the field of HIV by making the strongest evidence for … the virus, which was first identified by Montagnier, as the causative agent of HIV,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a telephone interview.

“It is unfortunate that the committee cannot give the award to more than three people,” Fauci added. “If they could, then I am sure Bob would have been very, very deserving.”

The third winner of the 2008 medicine prize was Dr. Harald zur Hausen of the University of Duesseldorf for his discovery that the human papillomavirus, or HPV, causes cervical cancer. (Editing by Will Dunham)
© Reuters 2008

Dr Gallo however has famously lived off this claim for the last two and a half decades, and is bound to be extremely indignant and disappointed by the Nobel Committee’s decision finally to take sides and endorse the account of the French, which was backed by the extraordinary investigative journalism of John Crewdson of the Chicago Tribune (see Science Fictions), which explains Gallo’s achievement as “discovering the virus in the mail”, as Peter Duesberg and other wits have put it.

Gallo’s moral obligation to speak up

Is it entirely impossible that Gallo might be so upset at his life long rival being awarded the top prize, and it being withheld from him, that he might finally come clean and in a fit of pique fess up to the plain fact that he was the first scientist ijn the world to demonstrate that HIV certainly did not cause AIDS, since his 1984 paper found it present in only a third of the blood samples from AIDS patients his lab examined?

We think and hope not. We hope that at long last Robert Gallo, for whatever reason, even if it has to be a fit of envious fury, will now finally come forward and state what everyone in the higher levels of HIV/AIDS science have known consciously or unconsciously for a very long time, that HIV has no causal role in AIDS whatsoever.

peterduesberg.jpgIn fact, since he has priority over Peter Duesberg (pic) for writing a paper which demonstrated this conclusion, he can properly suggest that the prize for Montagnier, now director of the World Foundation for Aids Research and Prevention in Paris, be cancelled and both Gallo and Duesberg mount the stage at the award ceremony in Stockholm this winter.

In fact it would not be inappropriate for the two to receive a double Nobel at that time, sharing the prize for Medicine and the prize for Peace, since Gallo would deserve the latter with Duesberg for being first trying to save the world from the HIV/AIDS meme which has so tragically spread from North America to Africa and other less informed continents around the world, who depend on the leadership of American scientists for their scientific and medical beliefs.

Gallo’s moral obligation to speak up is large, since there are many lives at stake, to borrow a phrase from the millions who walk and work on behalf of an AIDS cure, whose efforts would be better directed at the direct causes of the various ailments now counted under the “AIDS umbrella.

But what if he doesn’t?

davidbaltimore.jpgIn that unhappy event, we predict that the Nobel committee has set back the urgent correction of science in AIDS by another ten or twenty years. The already uphill battle of the critics of what they convincingly say is the absurd fairy tale of HIV will be even steeper, if not vertical.

Since the situation in HPV is deplorable in the same way, though relatively minor in its impact, involving the unncessary marketing of possibly deleterious vaccines to female minors, one wonders again on what or whom the Nobel prize committee relies on for its wisdom.

One point to bear in mind is that it tends to rely on letters from past winners of the prize, such as Dr David Baltimore (pic).

Naturally this introduces a certain log rolling bias, and for this and other reasons the Nobel prizes, Alas, are sometimes flawed in their choices, perhaps inevitably. Here is a Scientific American list of scientists who have lost out.

Debate, economy distract as political road bomb awaits

October 2nd, 2008

Wall Street collapse and Palin soap opera hide danger of election chicanery

Reviews of Stealing America, Able Danger reveal topic is anathema to system

But will election once again be stolen? Times seems concerned

p1013244.JPG(2pm Thu Oct 2) Like 70 million other inhabitants of this great democracy we can hardly wait for tonight’s Washington University debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, which currently scores 3000+ related news articles on Google (Click pic to enlarge) .

Undoubtedly this is the entertainment highlight of the week, though we don’t really care who the analysts will say has “won”. Palin was manifestly out of her depth in the three media interviews she has done so far with news presenters who so rudely exposed her ignorance of national affairs, but at least one voter in Scranton demonstrated to CBS that this matters not to some (“I’ll be switching between her and sports!” guffawed that fathead).

But we await with interest to see the amiable Joe Biden show how to score points without being ungentlemanly to a woman he outclasses in almost every parameter ie without being a bully and without being patronizing, which will be a trick. Here’s the BBC on the coaching going on:

Biden and Palin prepare for TV clash

This year, Mr Biden is preparing for the debate by going up against Michigan’s Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm.
Ms Granholm, and the Biden aides watching the debates, will no doubt be paying particular attention to how Mr Biden handles debating a woman.
Mr Biden’s biggest worry might be that he will come across as a bully or a show-off if he disputes Mrs Palin’s answers, or patronising if he ignores any potential Palin mistakes.
In previous years, it was Bob Bennett’s job to assume the role of the candidate’s opponent.
He played George H W Bush for Geraldine Ferraro and Michael Dukakis, and Dick Cheney for Joe Lieberman and John Edwards.
Sometimes playing a candidate’s opponent got him into trouble. “When you’re arguing really hard against your candidate, they can get annoyed,” he says.
“Geraldine Ferraro punched me several times during debate prep.”

We are sure that Biden, like Palin currently sequestered with a training group, will be up to it. He is advised by one Alaskan politician who lost to Palin that he should watch out. She proved herself capable of winning a debate with a more experienced pol in her path to the governorship, borrowing blatantly from Ronald Reagan (‘There you go again”) and others.

Of course Palin failing to ruin McCain’s chances won’t be a surprise to those who recall Dan Quayle, a vice-president who corrected a student’s spelling from ‘potato’ to ‘potatoe’ and informed the United Negro College Fund (slogan “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”) that “You take the United Negro College Fund model that what a waste it is to lose one’s mind or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is!”

What this absurd spectacle draws attention away from which is far more important to our mind is the so far very weak response in the media and other arenas to the very real possibility that Republican operatives may again tinker with the electronic voting machines and unless Obama wins by a landslide, flip the results at the last moment for a repeat of 2004.

One doesn’t have to be a bug eyed conspiracy nut to believe this is a possibility, given that so many people in politics seem to agree that it goes without saying that the 2004 election was probably stolen in this way, and so little has been done or said about it since, a point that the recent excellent documentary Stealing America drew attention to.

The extraordinary reviews that this movie drew in New York, uniformly (and quite unfairly) castigating its production values while admitting the topic was a very important one, led us to check out what was going on here, and we have to say that it is a very troubling landscape.

(8.45pm) We will continue this theme after the debate, which has rendered the streets of the Upper East Side deserted.

Silly diversion from the elephantine ghost in the machine

(11 pm Thu) OK, we were wrong, a dull 90 minutes indeed. Sarah Palin’s coaches did a grand job and so did Joe Biden’s, so there were not too many big moments in this debate, just a series of resolutely misleading and distastefully chirpy assertions by a more confident Palin (accusing her political and personal better Obama of “beyond bad judgment” among other sillinesses) which added up to pushing the media hounds back far enough for the increasingly erratic McCain to hope for a little coverage himself, and Biden easily fending off her cheeky sallies with his dazzling smile and able to get in a few good jabs himself but stopped from holding up the abysmal (“hugely blundering” as Palin herself put it) Bush record on war and money high enough to confound anyone who would even think of voting in four more years of American counterjihad and financial mismanagement.

Here’s an FT correspondent’s quick blog take, The Palin-Biden debate and the poverty of low expectations

Well, I have just finished watching the vice-presidential debate – and I must admit I feel a bit cheated. I didn’t tune in because I was hoping for enlightenment. I wanted car-crash television – gaffes galore, the implosion of Sarah Palin, something weird from Joe Biden. But – judged by those standards – the debate was a huge disappointment. Palin was, of course, profoundly unimpressive. But she didn’t mess up – she even managed to say “Ahmadinejad”, without stumbling or hesitating. And Biden also avoided any of his trademark gaffes.
The fact that both candidates will be judged to have done OK is – I think – a sorry commentary on how low expectations have sunk. Because by any reasonable standard, it was a pretty sorry performance. Neither candidate even came close to answering the first question – on whether the House of Representatives had been right to reject the bail-out bill. At that point, I longed for the moderator to jump right in and do a Jeremy Paxman – and insist, preferably with a sneer, that they actually answer the question. But no such luck.
So what did we learn? Well, it turns out that both candidates hate Wall Street and Iran; and love Israel and the American middle-class.
I thought that Palin gained in confidence as the debate continued. And some of her most effective moments came on foreign policy, which is meant to be her biggest weakness. She did quite a good job in exposing the awkward fact that Joe Biden supported the Iraq war, while Obama opposed it. Biden occasionally broke the informal rules of the debate, by speaking coherently and making sense – and I thought he was pretty effective in hitting his theme that Obama’s tax proposals were about fairness. At one point, I thought he was actually going to cry when he recalled the injuries his children had suffered in a car crash. How the Obama campaign must have been willing him on! But he pulled himself together and the moment passed.

Well, we are not sure that Palin hit Ahmadinejad with bullseye pronunciation (is there really a K to be inserted after the “Ah-“, as she, McCain and Biden seem to think?) but it was certainly better than McCain’s flub the other day of “Akmedennydandy”, which made even those who cannot pronounce the name correctly themselves (99% of viewers, probably) laugh.

There’s still a big elephant in the room

However, despite Biden’s admirable restraint the economic news will no doubt do the Bush bashing job for him and Obama over the next month, and since the approval rating for Bush is already the lowest ever, with McCain’s sinking too, we rate the debate a failure on all fronts from entertainment value to game changing electoral significance, with one important exception: it serves as yet another distraction from the ghost in the machines, the bull elephant in the back room of American democracy, the troubling evidence that Republicans have stolen recent elections and may do it again, without the mainstream media keeping the topic on the front burner and determinedly investigating what really happened and whether the action taken so far is sufficient.

In this respect we are glad to see the Times making some noises in this regard in its editorial last week, Certified but Not Guaranteed

Electronic voting machines are notoriously unreliable, but their defenders insist that they can be trusted because they are rigorously tested before they are certified for use. Now Congressional investigators have issued a report confirming that the federal certification program needs work.

The serious problems with electronic voting machines are well-known. They are prone to miscounts — including “vote flipping,” in which votes for one candidate are recorded for another — and computer scientists have shown how easy it is to hack these machines and change the vote totals.

We agree with the many computer scientists, voting rights activists and voters who insist that there must be voter-verified paper records. Still, no state or locality should be using machines that have not met rigorous certification standards.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded that the Election Assistance Commission, which is in charge of certification, has improved the system, but it still identified serious problems.

It found that the commission has failed to establish a central repository where copies of all certified software would be available for inspection and cross-checking. States and localities need to be able to ensure that the software they get from voting machine manufacturers is identical to the software that has been tested and certified. The commission has also failed to set up an adequate system for tracking and resolving problems with machines once they are certified and in use.

The Election Assistance Commission says it wants to do better. Congress should monitor its progress and make sure that the certification system is strengthened. Still, the best way to ensure the integrity of the vote is for Congress to require voter-verified paper records for every electronic ballot cast.

Only the lightest touch on the possibility of real, election changing skulduggery, which is simply not enough in an era where hidden excesses in so many areas are constantly being uncovered. Bottom line: the checks and controls are too weak to prevent another attack in November.

Strange contortions of the Manhattan critics

The best sign of the defensive blindness of the media towards this concern might be the very odd reviews received by Stealing America: Vote by Vote, the latest film to sum up the circumstantial and actual evidence for theft by electronic manipulation by Republican operatives of Democratic votes in 2000, 2004 and possibly 2006.

As we noted in our previous post on the topic on July 31st Stealing America: hacking put Bush in office, Stealing America was a prize example of good movie-bad review in the copycat and insular world of Manhattan media critics. The pans by the Times and the New York Sun were followed by another in the Village Voice, all of them complaining that an all important topic had been short changed by the terrible graphics, music and other production values they deplored in what any reasonable person would have appreciated as an alarmingly effective and well presented documentary account, both methodical and persuasive.

Here is James Snyder in The New York Sun, perhaps the most intellectually thoughtful daily newspaper in the US or even the world before its sad demise on Tuesday (Sept 30) for lack of subsidy (its original investors were financially exhausted by the tens of millions needed annually to sustain its conservative mindset in a city where most opinion makers and educated readers are Democrats, and its last minute appeal for additional donors garnered only lavish compliments from such as billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, but insufficient monies. Thus died the last brave effort at serving up truly thoughtful and literate printed material daily on culture and politics at the breakfast tables of America.

All readers are urgently directed to the The New York Sun web site as a rare collection of timely and often timeless reference commentary and opinion on current affairs and culture that may not last much longer there, much of which is worth downloading. Try entering your favorite author in literature, for instance.)

Stealing America’: When Democracy Loses the Vote
By S. JAMES SNYDER | August 1, 2008

“Stealing America: Vote by Vote,” a compelling examination of modern-day voting practices that opens Friday at Quad Cinemas, is a bold, if slightly dry, act of journalism. The documentary begins with a rather straightforward thesis that has not been examined as thoroughly as it should be: The past two presidential elections, in which victory has been determined by razor-thin margins, have been beset by a skyrocketing number of mishaps at the polls. The mainstream press often dubs them “voting irregularities,” and one doesn’t have to be a supporter of any of the candidates involved to know that they are damaging our concept of free and fair elections.

It wasn’t until the infamous re-count of 2000 and the difficulty in deciding whether, for example, a dimpled chad indicated voter intent, that the average American became familiar with the weaknesses inherent in our voting infrastructure. For her part, “Stealing America” director Dorothy Fadiman became infuriated during the 2004 presidential election about the way in which the confusion, fear, and outright suspicion felt by so many voters went all but unaddressed by major news organizations.

Ms. Fadiman was working as a volunteer at the polls in Florida on Election Day in 2004 when she heard numerous reports of citizens voting for one candidate, only to have another name light up on the electronic screen before them. The director was struck by the mounting frustration of the voters, who could not find acceptable solutions to the problems they had encountered at the polls.

The documentary is quick to point out that manipulating election results is as old as elections themselves, but conspiracy theories of corruption are not the goal here, despite the ring of the title. What has changed in recent years is the degree of reliance on technology, which is more vulnerable to sabotage and less helpful in terms of verifying or scrutinizing results — not to mention in clarifying who has won a tight race.

Not surprisingly, given the results of the 2000 and 2004 elections, the majority of the voters and election volunteers interviewed by Ms. Fadiman are Democrats. But she takes pains to balance the voices in her film in order to show that the irregularities that have come to plague our electoral system represent a bipartisan concern. The dozens of interviewees include state Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat, who witnessed on-screen vote switching; the BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast; Avi Rubin, who runs the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University; the pollster John Zogby, and Ion Sancho, who was appointed to conduct the 2000 Florida recount by the state’s Supreme Court.

“Stealing America” aligns these interviews to support a couple of distinct arguments. First, Ms. Fadiman argues, technological upgrades in the polling booth have left our elections more susceptible to interference, malfunctions, and tampering. In some cases, analysts attempting to re-examine past election results have been told that the raw voting data are proprietary information owned by a private company, and that the only figures available for study are the summaries the company delivered to election officials.

Moreover, the costly equipment and software upgrades for the new machines have not been evenly distributed, leaving many precincts underserved. In 2004, various reports out of Florida and Ohio described citizens waiting in excess of six hours to vote — and in some cases longer.

Ultimately, though, Ms. Fadiman’s ire (as communicated through Peter Coyote’s narration) is directed firmly at the press. Using the firsthand evidence of what she witnessed, not only unreliable computer terminals but election-night results that deviated widely, for the first time in history, from exit polls — a fact that alone should have drawn greater scrutiny — “Stealing America” lambastes the press for its failure to properly dissect the problem. Juxtaposing the exasperation of voters and election volunteers with the calm and steady news reports of the same day in 2004, it’s clear that these are two versions of Election Day that do not mesh.

“Stealing America” suffers from limited production values, arriving complete with canned music, second-rate graphics, and awkward segues between interview and archival footage. It also lacks the flair of a singular personality, such as Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock. But perhaps that’s precisely the point. The movie almost goes out of its way to avoid being provocative for the sake of provocation. It substantiates its arguments, and though it asks big questions, Ms. Fadiman offers a virtual bullet-point list defending why they deserve to be asked.

The 21st century has become an era of neck-and-neck elections that play out moment by moment on 24/7 cable news — elections run by machines and managed by people fixed in the political structure. Ms. Fadiman doesn’t want to sell us on the theory of a swindled populace, but she makes a compelling argument that now is not the time to take the right to the vote, or the security of our voting apparatus, for granted. – ssnyder@nysun.com

One Comment: Submitted by Michael, Aug 15, 2008 14:40

It’s about time someone held the press’ feet to and in the fire. I have noticed that CNN, for instance, spends an inordinate amount of time talking about what a great job they do, summarily dismissing critics. The Murdoch press venues such as Fox are paragons of swiftboating. There is no doubt that partisans such as Katherine Harris in FL and Ken Blackwell in OH interfered in elections and this is in addition to the comments of the CEO of Diebold (the manufacturer of electronic voting machines) that he could make sure Republicans won crucial elections.

There’s no difference between third world countries’ stuffing of ballot boxes and tampering with electronics. And there’s no excuse in the national press not reporting it — except that members of the press now work for multi-national corporations and defense contractors which themselves are the beneficiaries of governmental (especially the Bush administration’s) largess. As always, if you want to understand what goes on in Washington, follow the money, not the Constitution.

As the last sentence of his review shows us (the boldface is ours), Mr Snyder is loathe to be too explicit or forward in endorsing the film director’s alarm at the state of affairs she has unearthed and tagged, but he cannot conceal it either. The reader who comments is not in the same indecisive state.

The same ambivalence was shown in more blatantly schizophrenic style in the two other key commercial mainstream reviews mentioned. Instead of pussyfooting the critics reject the film outright as a total failure for what they see as its unforgivable artistic and craft flaws, never mind its message.

Here is the Times notice, as earlier posted here:

A Glitch in the System

August 1, 2008
A Glitch in the System
By NATHAN LEE
New York Times August 1, 2008

“Stealing America: Vote by Vote” might have been this year’s most alarming and patriotic documentary if it weren’t so shoddy and dull. Remember all those complaints about “An Inconvenient Truth” playing like an aggrandized PowerPoint presentation? “Stealing America,” by comparison, barely qualifies as a glorified Google search.

The filmmaker, Dorothy Fadiman, would argue that that’s exactly the point. In reporting on the suspicious circumstances of recent elections, she relies on information gathered by bloggers, local newspapers and personal testimony as opposed to the “mainstream media” — those TV networks and national newspapers, which supposedly ignored or dismissed evidence of electoral malfeasance.

Ah, “supposedly”! There I go being a tool of the hegemonic MSM.

Personally, I happen to share Ms. Fadiman’s outrage over certain details: the unprecedented discrepancies between exit polls and final vote tallies, the wildly divergent wait times for differing populations, the anecdotal frequency of “vote switching” on machines designed as if to encourage hacking.

Professionally, I prefer to have my paranoid liberal indignation enflamed by a little cinematic savoir faire. A call to arms, then: Let us reform our glitch-ridden electoral system, and while we’re at it retire the cheesy computer effects, graceless rhetoric and preaching-to-the-choir irrelevancy of the awkward advocacy doc.

This juvenile effort is a tour de force in self-contradiction, since if Mr. Lee is outraged over the probability that votes and elections are being stolen and the most powerful country in the world has been shanghaied for eight years, these are hardly “details”.

The details are the minor deficiencies he is preoccupied with, which would be more excusable for a movie critic if his comments were accurate, which they are not. The computer effects amusingly point up the outrageous simplicity of the steal, the rhetoric is needed to drive the points home to newcomers to the topic and to the already well informed sophisticate that Mr Lee is apparently anxious to play, and the preaching confined to a momentary flourish at the end of a balanced presentation, forgivable for the director and participants of a conclusive summary of what looks like the greatest three card monte ever perpetrated on the hapless US voter.

How consequential does such a conclusion have to be before Mr Lee abandons his seen-it-all-before, let’s-have-some-Hollywood-production-values-please posture – a trillion dollar war with 4000 American deaths and 100,000 casualties, and the greatest credit crisis since the Great Depression is not enough?

Finally, there was the blithely insulting Village Voice dismissal, as follows:

Power Point Conspiracy Theories in Stealing America: Vote by Vote by Vadim Rizov (Tuesday, July 29th 2008)

Never mind that in trying to establish that voter fraud in American elections is a national problem, Stealing America: Vote by Vote mostly relies on insinuation, anecdotes, and quotes from blogs. Never mind that it trusts the viewer’s intelligence so little that the opening Thomas Paine quote isn’t just shown on-screen but also read out loud (including the author’s name) for the presumably illiterate by narrator Peter Coyote. Never mind that it follows that insult with an unsubtle shot of the White House behind bars. Never mind that much of the footage—when it’s not talking heads, news clips, or bar graphs—consists simply of Daily Show excerpts taken as the last word in incisive media commentary. Never mind that in the rush to make its case, the movie forgoes any serious investigation and treats paranoid liberal conspiracy theories as fact. Never mind that the film complains at one point that allegations of electronic-voting screw-ups were completely ignored by the mainstream media, only to use clips from CNN and Fox News to validate itself. Never mind any of this. What matters is that Stealing America: Vote by Vote—even by the political video documentary’s meager standards—plays like a particularly dull PowerPoint presentation. The case it lays out is factually sketchy, but as a movie, it’s unforgivable.

In other words, an unforgivably dull witted parade of sketchy paranoid conspiracy theory material which omitted any serious investigation, such as Congressional committee testimony, from the horse’s mouth expert explanation and on camera demonstration of the vulnerability of the machines to vote flipping in less than a minute of untraceable manipulation, or bipartisan testimony from voters high and low who experienced vote changes before their very eyes? In fact, all of the latter were included.

It is hard not to conclude that serious documentary material involving careful sequential presentation that argues a case for mighty suspicion of concealed skulduggery is unacceptable unless its point of view is already pc, in the manner of Gore’s man made global warming Powerpoint, and entertaining and well executed to boot, and that Vadim’s editors are not going to accept praise for anything that remotely smacks of “conspiracy theory”, even though it is inevitable that paranoia will be vindicated in some case sooner or later, and that this particular case seems the best case to date.

Able Danger another case study in media prejudice

The media prejudice against conspiracy theory (one which we share) is most lately excited by the utter inability of 9/11 paranoids to produce a logical case or any hard evidence to support it, in the face of overwhelming investigation and fact checking by establishment political and engineering groups in response.

The latest of these is the report issued a month ago dismissing the sudden downfall of WTC 7 seven hours after the Twin Towers as any kind of evidence that explosive material had been installed in advance.

August 22, 2008
Fire, Not Explosives, Felled 3rd Tower on 9/11, Report Says
By Eric Lipton

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Fires in the 47-story office tower at the edge of the World Trade Center site undermined floor beams and a critical structural column, federal investigators concluded on Thursday, as they attempted to curb still-rampant speculation that explosives caused the building’s collapse on Sept. 11, 2001.

No one died when the tower, 7 World Trade Center, tumbled, as the estimated 4,000 office workers there at the time had evacuated before it gave way, nearly seven hours after the second of the twin towers came down.

But the collapse of 7 World Trade Center — home at the time to branch offices of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Secret Service and the Giuliani administration’s emergency operations center — is cited in hundreds of Web sites and books as perhaps the most compelling evidence that an insider secretly planted explosives, intentionally destroying the tower.

A separate, preliminary report issued in 2002 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency questioned whether diesel fuel tanks installed in the tower to supply backup generators — including one that powered the Giuliani administration’s emergency “bunker” — might have been to blame.

But S. Shyam Sunder, the lead investigator from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, based here in the suburbs of Washington, also rejected that theory on Thursday, even as he acknowledged that the collapse had been something of a puzzle.

“Our take-home message today is the reason for the collapse of World Trade Center 7 is no longer a mystery,” Dr. Sunder said at a news conference at the institute’s headquarters. “It did not collapse from explosives or fuel oil fires.”

The institute’s findings were released on Thursday as part of a 915-page report resulting from the work of more than 50 federal investigators and a dozen contractors over three years.

Conspiracy theorists have pointed to the fact that the building fell straight down, instead of tumbling, as proof that explosives were used to topple it, as well as to bring down the twin towers. Sixteen percent of the respondents in a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll said it was very likely or somewhat likely that explosives were planted.

During the last four decades, other towers in New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles have remained standing through catastrophic blazes that burned out of control for hours because of malfunctioning or nonexistent sprinkler systems. But 7 World Trade Center, which was not struck by a plane, is the first skyscraper in modern times to collapse primarily as a result of a fire. Adding to the suspicion is the fact that in the rush to clean up the site, almost all of the steel remains of the tower were disposed of, leaving investigators in later years with little forensic evidence.

Using videos, photographs and building design documents, the investigators at the National Institute spent the last three years building an elaborate computer model of 7 World Trade Center that they used to test various chains of events to figure out what caused the collapse, Dr. Sunder said.

The investigators determined that debris from the falling twin towers damaged structural columns and ignited fires on at least 10 floors at 7 World Trade Center, which stood about 400 feet north of the twin towers. But the structural damage from the falling debris was not significant enough to threaten the tower’s stability, Dr. Sunder said.

The fires on six of the lower floors burned with particular intensity because the water supply for the sprinkler system had been cut off — the upper floors had a backup water supply — and the Fire Department, devastated by the collapse of the twin towers, stopped trying to fight the blaze.

Normally, fireproofing on a skyscraper should have been sufficient to allow such a blaze to burn itself out and leave the building damaged but still standing. But investigators determined that the heat from the fire caused girders in the steel floor of 7 World Trade Center to expand. As a result, steel beams underneath the floors that provided lateral support for the tower’s structural columns began to buckle or put pressure against the vertical structural columns.

These fires might have been fed partly by the diesel from tanks and a pressurized fuel line, which were on the fifth to the ninth floors, Dr. Sunder said. But the analysis showed that even in the worst case, the diesel fuel-fed fire would not have burned hot enough or long enough to have played a major role in weakening the structure. The investigators determined that the fire that day was fed mainly by office paper and furnishings.

The collapse started when a girder on the 13th floor disconnected from a critical column — listed as Column 79 — that supported a long open floor span, the report said. Once that floor gave way, the floors below it down to the fifth floor also collapsed, although this was not visible from the building’s exterior.

Without lateral support for nine stories, Column 79 buckled, and the floors above gave way all the way up to the roof. Only then did the collapse become visible from the exterior with a penthouse area on the roof first falling in, followed by what looked like the sudden implosion of the tower, Dr. Sunder said. “The physics is consistent, it is sound, it has been analyzed,” he said.

Skeptics have questioned whether explosives were planted at the three towers at ground zero, and at the Pentagon as well, often contending that the Bush administration had planned the catastrophes to provide a justification to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. What started as a small number of such conspiracy theorists ballooned into a movement of sorts, largely fed by Internet sites and homemade videos.

Dr. Sunder said the investigators considered the possibility that explosives were used, but ruled it out because the noise associated with such an explosion would have been 10 times louder than being in front of the speakers at a rock concert, he said, and detectable from as far as a half a mile away. He said that interviews with eyewitnesses and a review of video taken that day provided no evidence of a sound that loud just before the collapse.

The skeptics — including several who attended Thursday’s news conference — were unimpressed. They have long argued that an incendiary material called thermite, made of aluminum powder and a metal oxide, was used to take down the trade center towers, an approach that would not necessarily result in an explosive boom. They also have argued that a sulfur residue found at the World Trade Center site is evidence of an inside job.

Dr. Sunder said the investigators chose not to use the computer model to evaluate whether a thermite-fueled fire might have brought down the tower, since 100 pounds of it would have had to have been stacked directly against the critical column that gave way, which he said they did not believe had occurred.

To the skeptics, it was a glaring omission.

“It is very difficult to find what you are not looking for,” said Shane Geiger, who contributes to a Web site that follows the topic and who had come to Maryland from Texas to quiz Dr. Sunder about his findings, with a bumper sticker on his laptop computer that says, “9-11 was an inside job.”

Dr. Sunder attempted to patiently answer the questions that Mr. Geiger and another obvious critic presented to him during the news conference. Five armed police officers and a bomb-sniffing dog stood guard near the rear of the room.

Dr. Sunder said there were no apparent flaws in 7 World Trade Center’s design that contributed to its collapse and that it met New York City codes. But there are some important lessons for other skyscrapers, he said, as engineers and architects should consider how the heat from fires can weaken structural elements, potentially causing a so-called progressive collapse.

Owners of tall buildings with a similar floor design — he could not estimate how many such towers exist in the United States — should immediately consider whether to install reinforcements, he said, and perhaps codes should be changed to address the weakness.

A new, substantially different 7 World Trade Center — now 52 stories — reopened at roughly the same site in 2006. The new building has extra safety features, including wider emergency stairwells and a fire-resistant refuge area on each floor.

Within moments after the news conference ended, leaders of a group called Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth held their own telephone conference briefing, dismissing the investigation as flawed.

“How much longer do we have to endure the coverup of how Building 7 was destroyed?” said Richard Gage, a California architect and leader of the group.

Told of the doubts, Dr. Sunder said he could not explain why the skepticism would not die.

“I am really not a psychologist,” he said. “Our job was to come up with the best science.”

(To be cont.)


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