Thursday, April 28, 2011

Donald Trump demands proof that Barack Obama actually exists

The intrepid Donald Trump, having forced Barack Obama to release the long form of his birth certificate, upped the ante yesterday and launched an investigation into how he got into Harvard University with allegedly bad grades.

Breaking news, exclusive to Balter's Blog: Trump will today challenge the White House to prove that Barack Obama is a real living, breathing human being, and not the result of holographic projections and other high-tech tricks by the Democratic Party, designed to create the illusion that a handsome, politically liberal Black man has actually been elected president of the United States when everyone knows that is impossible (or at least extremely unlikely.)

Obama supporters are likely to find this new challenge particularly daunting, especially since "birthers" have already demonstrated conclusively that the long-form birth certificate was an elaborate forgery. Trump and his investigative team have already found witnesses willing to testify that Obama was making campaign appearances at multiple places at the same time during the 2008 election battle; and they suspect that sophisticated electronic equipment in the White House basement, linked to orbiting satellites, might be responsible for this devious illusion.

Of course, Trump et al. say, the liberal news media has long been in on the plot, pretending to interview Obama and Photoshopping photos of the alleged president, coloring them in when they appear a little too transparent against bright backgrounds.

The White House has plans to counter these accusations in the coming days, and is reportedly considering releasing classified documents showing that "Donald Trump" is actually nothing more than a figment of his own demented imagination.

Update: Bad news, as a result of Obama's posting his long-form birth certificate, someone has already stolen his identity. This imposter is pretending to have the courage of his convictions, but wimping out and caving in whenever he is attacked by the Republicans.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Israel's deadly fire

A few days ago the excellent Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an investigative piece by Shay Fogelman into one of the deadliest massacres of the Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008/9. The "dek" on the story gives a good preview of what is to come:

Four mortar shells fired by the IDF 'at a military target' in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead landed on a busy Al-Fakhoura Street and killed dozens of civilians. An investigation by Haaretz finds that the army's answers are not consistent with its own reports about the day of the shelling and that there are also major contradictions with facts made public here for the first time.

If that's not enough to get you reading the piece, try the first paragraph:

"Looking at the photographs of the children who were killed on Al-Fakhoura Street in the Jabalya refugee camp during Operation Cast Lead just over two years ago, one is particularly struck by the face of Lina Hasan. All the children are innocent in the photos - some smiling, others offering a shy gaze. That's the way children are. But there is something about the look on Lina's face that makes you stop and look hard at the few photos that remain of her life. She was 10 years old when she died."

Most of the world sat by doing little or nothing while Israel launched an assault on Gaza that killed an estimated 1400 people, the overwhelming majority of them civilians. And yet, as David Remnick put it recently in a "Talk of the Town" piece in the New Yorker, "The Palestinian question is not an internal matter for Israel; it is an international matter."

Perhaps it's time that United Nations troops eject the Israeli military from the West Bank, end the siege of Gaza, and insure the security of both Israelis and Palestinians while a Palestinian state is set up? That would be a logical result of the likely declaration this September, by the UN General Assembly, of a Palestinian state on the occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It may be a fantasy, but sometimes dreams come true.


Al-Fakhoura Street in the Jabalya refugee camp after the mortars landed.
Photo by: AP

Monday, April 25, 2011

How about an editorial for Bradley Manning?

The New York Times and other publications have done a great job mining through the documents released by Wikileaks to find stories that readers need to know about. Yesterday, the Times published a trove of documents about the detention of alleged terrorist suspects at Guantanamo under both the Bush and Obama administrations; and in an accompanying editorial, the paper told us why their importance trumps the desire of the government to keep them secret:

They describe the chaos, lawlessness and incompetence in his administration’s system for deciding detainees’ guilt or innocence and assessing whether they would be a threat if released.

Readers' Comments

Share your thoughts.
Innocent men were picked up on the basis of scant or nonexistent evidence and subjected to lengthy detention and often to abuse and torture. Some people were released who later acted against the United States. Inmates who committed suicide were regarded only as a public relations problem. There are seriously dangerous prisoners at Guantánamo who cannot be released but may never get a real trial because the evidence is so tainted.

The documents have been made available to the press by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and his collaborators, and they were allegedly provided to Wikileaks by Bradley Manning. Wouldn't it be nice if the Times ran a series of editorials defending its sources and alleged sources from attempts to prosecute them for performing what is clearly a public service?

Update: Great leftists think alike. Some very similar thoughts from Robert Scheer at Truthdig.

What does IQ really measure?

That's the subject of my latest online story for ScienceNOW.

Please click the link to read, but here is the first paragraph:

Kids who score higher on IQ tests will, on average, go on to do better in conventional measures of success in life: academic achievement, economic success, even greater health, and longevity. Is that because they are more intelligent? Not necessarily. New research concludes that IQ scores are partly a measure of how motivated a child is to do well on the test. And harnessing that motivation might be as important to later success as so-called native intelligence.

Credit: Psychology Today

PS--Due to a technical glitch comments on this blog have not been posting. That should now be fixed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bradley Manning gets to mingle with Fort Leavenworth prisoners

Let's put things in perspective: Bradley Manning, if he is indeed the person behind the documents released by Wikileaks, is a hero. The revelations have led to hundreds of news and feature stories in major media outlets across the planet, and given us new information and insights into what our "leaders" were doing behind closed doors. He is a hero just as Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, was a hero to earlier generations.

Questions about his treatment in detention, which some have branded as torture, continue to be raised. Now he is to be moved from Quantico to Ft. Leavenworth. Government officials deny that this is because his conditions of detention at Quantico were criticized, saying that his needs as a prisoner can be better handled in this high-security federal lockup.

But I think there is great reason for concern. This chilling passage in the Washington Post story linked to above is just one example of what I mean:

The new facility, they said, will be more open, have more space, and Manning will have a greater opportunity to eat and interact with other prisoners there.

I don't know about you, but the opportunity to mingle with the other prisoners at Ft. Leavenworth doesn't sound like an improvement in conditions for someone accused of a strictly political crime and who is still innocent in the eyes of the law.

A number of organizations have been active in defending Bradley Manning, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich has been particularly vocal about his case. Here is the latest statement from Kucinich on the move to Ft. Leavenworth. At the very least, the Obama administration knows that we are paying very close attention to how Bradley Manning is treated.

Kucinich Responds to Defense Department Moving Pfc. Bradley Manning to a Maximum Security Prison at Fort Leavenworth

Demands Written Assurances of Protection of Rights and of Person

Washington D.C. (April 19, 2011) - Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today issued the following statement in response to a report by the Associated Press that the Department of Defense will move Private First Class Bradley Manning from Marine Corp Base Quantico to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, a maximum security prison.

"Absolutely nothing the Department of Defense has done so far with respect to Pfc. Manning provides any assurance that his basic human and constitutional rights are being protected. The Department of Defense has refused to provide timely answers to even the most basic questions and have thus far refused to allow me to meet with him.

"Any move of Pfc. Manning does not change the underlying fact, which has not been disputed by the Department of Defense, that he has been held under conditions which may in fact constitute 'cruel and unusual punishment' in violation of the 8th amendment.

"I will demand assurances in writing from the highest levels of the Department of Defense that moving Pfc. Manning will ensure his rights are better protected than they were when he was at Marine Corp Base Quantico and he will be kept safe under all circumstances.

"I will continue my demands that the Department of Defense grant my legitimate request to meet with Pfc. Bradley Manning to fulfill my oversight responsibilities as a member of Congress and a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The American people demand accountability," said Kucinich.

More on why we owe thanks to Bradley Manning. Earlier this week Foreign Policy published a piece by Colum Lynch exposing what it calls the "heavy-handed" attempts by the U.S. to help Israel at the United Nations, mostly behind the scenes of course--including attempts to prevent the Goldstone report from being forwarded to the Hague. The source for the story: Wikileaks cables.

Wave of vandalism hits non-Orthodox synagogues in Israel. So reports Haaretz. Ultra-Orthodox youth apparently responsible. Welcome to the Jewish state, where little Nazis decide who is Jewish.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mass Killings of Gazelles Marked Rise of Human Civilization

This has been turning into a science blog lately, but no worries, I will be getting back to politics soon.

Meanwhile my latest online ScienceNOW can be read at this link. As always, the first paragraph:

The mass killing of wildlife by humans is not a modern phenomenon. A new study concludes that around the time the first cities were founded in the Near East, people herded hundreds of gazelles into long stone passageways that ended in circular pits, where they would slaughter every animal. These massive hunts may have been rich with symbolism at the time, yet the authors argue that they have left the gazelles of the Near East a highly endangered species today.

Photos: Death traps. Migrating gazelles were caught and slaughtered in long stone structures called desert kites (upper right.)
Credit: Nigel Cattlin/Alamy; (map insets) Google Earth

20 things to do with Matzah. Brought to you by Michelle Citrin and William Levin.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Language May Have Helped Early Humans Spread Out of Africa

Here is my latest contribution to science journalism. Click the link to read the whole thing, but here as usual is the first paragraph to get you started:

The story of humanity's prehistoric expansion across the planet is recorded in our genes. And, apparently, the story of the spread of language is hidden in the sounds of our words. That's the finding of a new study, which concludes that both people and languages spread out from an African homeland by a similar process—and that language may have been the cultural innovation that fueled our ancestors' momentous migrations.

Credit: Mark Dingemanse/Wikipedia

Goldstone report accurate say other members of investigating team. The coverage of this in the U.S. media has been very poor, but the UK's Guardian carries an important story regarding the original conclusions.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Early Birds Smelled Good

I've been very busy lately between trips to South Africa, Nantes, and now Toulouse for a prehistory meeting--so little time to do political comment right now.

But since I make most of my living as a science writer, I can at least share my latest contribution to that literature: A story on the olfactory abilities of early birds, nothing to sniff at!

You can read it at the link, here's the first paragraph to get you started:

About 65 million years ago, most of the dinosaurs and many other animals and plants were wiped off Earth, probably due to an asteroid hitting our planet. Researchers have long debated how and why some species survived the so-called Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction, marked in ancient rocks by a transition called the K-T boundary. A new study suggests that one group of survivors, the birds, may have sniffed their way across by evolving an enhanced sense of smell.

Credit: Courtesy of Witmer Lab/Ohio University