The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Inner Drive will be happy to help

The FBI spent $170 million on broken software, which it has since scrapped. Now it's planning to spend $450 million on, one hopes, working software:

Because of an open-ended contract with few safeguards, [San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp.] reaped more than $100 million as the project became bigger and more complicated, even though its software never worked properly. The company continued to meet the bureau's requests, accepting payments despite clear signs that the FBI's approach to the project was badly flawed, according to people who were involved in the project or later reviewed it for the government.
David Kay, a former SAIC senior vice president who did not work on the program but closely watched its development, said the company knew the FBI's plans were going awry but did not insist on changes because the bureau continued to pay the bills as the work piled up.
Along the way, the FBI made a fateful choice: It wanted SAIC to build the new software system from scratch rather than modifying commercially available, off-the-shelf software. Later, the company would say the FBI made that decision independently; FBI officials countered that SAIC pushed them into it.

Upton Sinclair's wisdom notwithstanding, consultants have an obligation to inform clients about problems before they become too large to solve. Consultants also have an obligation to make appropriate build-or-buy recommendations to clients; in this case, if SAIC made such recommendations, there doesn't seem to be any evidence.

On the other hand, the Post article suggests the FBI had almost no clue what they were doing, bolstering SAIC's claims that they told them so.

Still, even assuming the best possible facts in SAIC's favor, they should have done the right thing, whatever that "right thing" was at any point in the relationship. Like, for example, testing the software, even if the FBI didn't think testing was important.

When a project like that blows up, everyone looks bad. Sometimes the consultant just has to walk away before that happens.

At least we're not in last place

Only Turkey lags behind the U.S. in the proportion of people who believe the well-established fact that humans decended from apes:

Religious fundamentalism, bitter partisan politics and poor science education have all contributed to this denial of evolution in the US, says Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who conducted the survey with his colleagues. "The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicised," he says. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue."
Miller's report makes for grim reading for adherents of evolutionary theory. Even though the average American has more years of education than when Miller began his surveys 20 years ago, the percentage of people in the country who accept the idea of evolution has declined from 45 in 1985 to 40 in 2005 (Science, vol 313, p 765). That's despite a series of widely publicised advances in genetics, including genetic sequencing, which shows strong overlap of the human genome with those of chimpanzees and mice. "We don't seem to be going in the right direction," Miller says.

Approximately the same number of Americans accept evolution as who don't, but 10% aren't sure either way. In Turkey, more than half reject the theory.

Gotta love the fundies.


I'm actually enjoying the International Astronomical Union's discussions about what, actually, is a planet:

The part of "IAU Resolution 5 for GA-XXVI" that describes the planet definition, states: "A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet." Member of the Planet Definition Committee, Richard Binzel says: "Our goal was to find a scientific basis for a new definition of planet and we chose gravity as the determining factor. Nature decides whether or not an object is a planet."
The IAU draft Resolution also defines a new category of planet for official use: "pluton". Plutons are distinguished from classical planets in that they reside in orbits around the Sun that take longer than 200 years to complete (i.e. they orbit beyond Neptune). Plutons typically have orbits that are highly tilted with respect to the classical planets (technically referred to as a large orbital inclination). Plutons also typically have orbits that are far from being perfectly circular (technically referred to as having a large orbital eccentricity). All of these distinguishing characteristics for plutons are scientifically interesting in that they suggest a different origin from the classical planets.

By this definition the solar system has 12 planets, including Ceres, Charon, and UB313 (which one suspects will soon get a "real" name).

85 days, 15 hours and 50 minutes

The hypothesis that the Bush Administration (891 days, 3 hours and 50 minutes left) pumps up the volume on terrorism close to an election just got more evidence:

NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.
A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.

So all you people who had to throw out your expensive cologne this past week? You might want to write your congressman.

McKinney, Lieberman, DeLay...don't let the door hit you

It looks like the Democrats will hold the Georgia 4th after all: Rep. Cynthia McKinney lost her primary against challenger Hank Johnson. McKinney has found herself in the news more often for her antics than for her legislation, as in her recent altercation with a Capitol Police officer.

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman also lost against challenger Ned Lamont. Lieberman has supported the war and President Bush (895 days, 4 hours) more often than anyone else in the party—and more often than some Republicans as well. He now plans to run as an independent (of what, I wonder?) against Lamont and the nearly-anonymous guy the GOP put on the ballot as an afterthought.

The Lieberman campaigned turned silly Monday night when the Lieberman Website went down. Lieberman's people blame hackers; another story is more probable:

Lieberman's camp, whose candidate has since conceded the primary election to challenger Ned Lamont, charged Monday that the Lamont campaign was responsible for alleged cyberattacks which they said brought down their primary web site and email services. Such "dirty politics" were "a staple" of its operations, asserted Lieberman campaign manager Sean Smith. Later, Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein admitted to TPM's Greg Sargent that Lieberman's staff had no evidence Lamont's campaign was behind the alleged attacks.

The general election is in less than 90 days. With McKinney and Lieberman no longer running as Democrats, I think our chances of holding both seats just improved. Add to that Tom DeLay's and Bob Ney's (R-OH) troubles, and we might—just might—win the House this year.

David Mamet on Anti-Semitism

Excellent op-ed today by playwright David Mamet. He argues that anti-Semitism, not the Jews, is the problem:

There is no "cycle of violence." Israel wants peace behind the 1949 armistice borders, with some relatively minor variation. There is no indictable "disparity of force." Israeli civilians are being bombed. Hezbollah knows where the Israeli military bases are, but chooses to bomb civilians. Hezbollah puts its armaments exclusively in the midst of civilians. The Israeli aim is not to invade Lebanon (Israel left Lebanon) but to force Hezbollah to stop killing the Jews.
That the Western press consistently characterizes the Israeli actions as immoral is anti-Semitism. What state does not have the right to defend itself—it is the central tenet of statehood.
The Jews are not the victims of bad PR. They are the victims of anti-Semitism.

Global climate change causes heat waves. Really.

The six-day heat wave in Chicago finally broke Wednesday night, giving us delightful summer weather yesterday, but another heat wave is coming. We don't know when, of course; but it's looking more certain that human-caused climate change will give us more frequent and more severe weather events:

While it is impossible to attribute any one weather event to climate change, several recent studies suggest that human-generated emissions of heat-trapping gases have produced both higher overall temperatures and greater weather variability, which raise the odds of longer, more intense heat waves.
Last week, Paul Della-Marta, a researcher at Switzerland's Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology, presented findings at an international conference on climate science in Gwatt, Switzerland, showing that since 1880 the duration of heat waves in Western Europe has doubled and the number of unusually hot days in the region has nearly tripled.

Fortunately, fewer than 900 days remain in the Bush Administration, but those days include two more summers plus what's left of this one.

Nutty Melvin redux

In the continuing saga of Jew-hater Mel Gibson, a Jesuit priest wrote in Tribune op-ed today (reg.req.) that the Jewish deputy arresting Gibson was "the most Christian" in the whole story:

After the arrest, James Mee said that he held no grudge against Gibson and didn't want to see Gibson's career suffer, even though he's the guy in whose face Gibson spewed his invective. Despite that, this Jewish fellow gave Gibson a little lesson—a parable you might say—about Christian forgiveness.

Oy. Perhaps he showed Jewish forgiveness? Or maybe, faced with a drunken idiot, perhaps Deputy Mee merely showed professional restraint?

Other nuts in the news

Following up on my earlier post, I should mention a possibly-not-religious nut from academia. Fortunately, his 15 minutes are nearly up. I heard him on NPR this morning, because, well, they sometimes roast nuts on the air. The Tribune also picked up the story:

[University of Wisconsin lecturer Kevin] Barrett believes the U.S. government orchestrated the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to create support for a larger military budget and a long-term Middle East war. He believes the World Trade Center buildings fell after a controlled demolition and doubts that the hijacker believed to have flown the plane into the Pentagon had the skills to do it. He thinks Osama bin Laden is probably dead.
"I have always been trying to distinguish myself from all the weird people," he said, recalling past ventures as a writer. "Little did I imagine I would have become devoted to exposing what most people think of as a conspiracy theory."

From this we can deduce...what, class? Number one: Barrett has not done a good job distinguishing himself from the weird people. Number two: most people think of his hypothesis as a conspiracy theory because it imagines—wait for it—a conspiracy. We should keep in mind that the generally-accepted theory of 9/11 (stupidity at the highest levels of government, 19 fanatical terrorists with no regard for human life, airplanes as guided missiles, Osama bin Laden behind it all) also imagines a conspiracy, so I'm wondering if Barrett might have forgotten an adjective to differentiate his conspiracy theory from the others. (I can think of one.)

Number three: the generally-accepted theory of 9/11 has volumes of corroborating evidence, and his hypothesis has none, which we take to mean the generally-accepted theory may be more correct. Number four: even absent said volumes of corroborating evidence, the generally-accepted theory sounds a lot more plausible on its face. (Kevin Barrett, meet William of Ockham. William, Kevin. You guys really need to have a chat.)

So, yes, even in academia, kooks abound. And because academic nut-jobs rarely have heavily-armed followers, it's OK to laugh at them.

Religious nuts in the news

Two related stories about religious fundamentalists appeared in the news this week.

First, it turns out that Mel Gibson really is an anti-Semitic religious nut who believes millions of witnesses somehow hoodwinked the world about millions of murders. I, for one, find this shocking. Gibson has shown nothing but sensitivity and a desire for accuracy in his historical films, give or take an ancient dialect, and he has gone to great lengths to distance himself from his nutter father, so it really must have been the booze talking over the weekend.

Sometimes the booze talks through me, too. So I understand. One time, the booze not only talked through me, it talked to a really gorgeous young lady whose booze had nothing to say in return. Though I don't remember what the booze said, I'm pretty sure it had something to do with a hypothetical plan for the evening with the gorgeous young lady but, instead of talking, her booze wound up in my face. So yes, booze says bad things. Or, at least, ill-advised things, because if I'm not mistaken, my hypothetical plans for the evening with said gorgeous young lady did, in fact, reflect my deeply-held convictions at the time; I just didn't phrase them appropriately. Or, more to the point, I didn't keep them to myself, which may have saved me a few bucks in dry-cleaning the next day.

In other words, booze may talk, but it doesn't have any ideas of its own, so it borrows them from the boozer. I believe people who spoke Aramaic for real knew this, too. No, I think we've learned in the thousands years of experience with booze that when booze talks, it's really you talking, no matter how offensive it sounds.

Like many successful religious nutters, Gibson probably also believes that his religion has gotten him where he is today. Being a fundamentalist crackpot takes a certain willfulness, a certain élan, a certain myopia, that tends to self-reinforcement. Once you believe that things happen directly because God makes them happen, you start to believe that God sanctions your fundamentalist crackpottery. You start to believe that you won an Oscar for Braveheart because God loves you, rather than that it grossed more than Babe and Tom Hanks. You start to believe that God directed the steps of all the other religious nutters who made Passion of the Christ such a bonanza for the studio, rather than realizing you're in a fundamentalist echo chamber.

In short, you start to believe people support your religious ideas, rather than people simply put up with your religious ideas because you're making them rich. It's just business.

Kind of like in Kansas. An apparent fundamentalist nutter there got un-elected from the school board, meaning children in Kansas may soon resume learning something about science as scientists actually see it. But whatever Brad Patzer's true beliefs, I'm under the impression that the anti-evolution Republicans on the Kansas school board were actually there to distract attention from the other, quite sober Republicans in the Kansas legislature who have systematically ground Kansas into poverty in the name of free enterprise. For that story, I recommend What's the Matter with Kansas.

So, this week, our fundamentalist kooks suffered some setbacks, but don't worry. There are plenty of them to go around.