Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Brains and morality

The Washington Post has an interesting story about the possibility that our moral compass could be hard-wired into our brains.
The more researchers learn, the more it appears that the foundation of morality is empathy. Being able to recognize -- even experience vicariously -- what another creature is going through was an important leap in the evolution of social behavior. And it is only a short step from this awareness to many human notions of right and wrong, says Jean Decety, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago.

Moral decisions can often feel like abstract intellectual challenges, but a number of experiments such as the one by Grafman have shown that emotions are central to moral thinking. In another experiment published in March, University of Southern California neuroscientist Antonio R. Damasio and his colleagues showed that patients with damage to an area of the brain known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex lack the ability to feel their way to moral answers.

When confronted with moral dilemmas, the brain-damaged patients coldly came up with "end-justifies-the-means" answers. Damasio said the point was not that they reached immoral conclusions, but that when confronted by a difficult issue -- such as whether to shoot down a passenger plane hijacked by terrorists before it hits a major city -- these patients appear to reach decisions without the anguish that afflicts those with normally functioning brains.
That scenario raises the question of whether the editors looked into their own paper's archives, where they would have found this:
The Vice President in the Bunker: 'Should We Engage?' 'Yes.'

Once airborne, Bush spoke again to Cheney, who said the combat air patrol needed rules of engagement if pilots encountered an aircraft that might be under the control of hijackers. Cheney recommended that Bush authorize the military to shoot down any such civilian airliners-as momentous a decision as the president was asked to make in those first hours. "I said, 'You bet,'" Bush recalled. "We had a little discussion, but not much."
Raises a few interesting questions, and answers, huh?

G.I. Joe

Here's how well things are going in Iraq: More than four years after "Mission Accomplished" and two years after "last throes," politicians still can't announce their visits to Iraq in advance.

Nevertheless, the war's supporters like to go there to "prove" how much the security situation in Iraq has improved (the irony that they don't dare announce their visits in advance notwithstanding), and invariably the photo-op doesn't go so well:

Somewhere, Michael Dukakis is chuckling.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Feeling safer yet?

Your government at work.

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. But Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone tested its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive test, too.

The Agriculture Department argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry.
There's some solid fucking logic. To avoid false positives, don't test. Incidentally, that's also how to avoid real positives.

Of course, consumers' deaths and a massive recall also would harm the industry. But a one-time recall costs a lot less than ongoing widespread testing.

As for the people who die, fuck 'em, right BushCo?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Happy Memorial Day

Please take a moment to remember the people who have died in service to this country, and the unfathomable pain and sadness that those they left behind will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Remember the babies who will never see their fathers, the folded flag and medals that are the last remembrances of a big sister, the parents buying flowers for their sons' and daughters' graves today.

Remember the people who suffered horrific physical and mental scars, for whom every day is a struggle. Remember what a profanity war is.

I hope the obscenely empty gesture of the photo-op doesn't interfere too much with George Bush's holiday. I hear Camp David is beautiful this time of year. It must kill him to have to fly to Arlington.

This war may be is a mistake and the civilian leadership behind it (nearly all of them draft dodgers, by the way) may be are incompetent, amoral criminals, but that does nothing to tarnish the valor of the men and women who wear the uniform. They face longer tours, shorter dwell time, shortages of urgently needed equipment, abysmal healthcare and dwindling benefits. And yet they answer the call. They are true American heroes, and they deserve so much better.

God bless and protect every one of them. May they all return home quickly and safely.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Profiles in arrogance

Haven't you heard, judge? We're above the law.

Attorneys for Vice President Cheney and top White House officials told a federal judge yesterday that they cannot be held liable for anything they disclosed to reporters about covert CIA officer Valerie Plame or her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

The officials, who include senior White House adviser Karl Rove and Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, argued that the judge should dismiss a lawsuit filed by the couple that stemmed from the disclosure of Plame's identity to the media.

The lawyers said any conversations Cheney and the officials had about Plame with one another or with reporters were part of their normal duties because they were discussing foreign policy and engaging in an appropriate "policy dispute." Cheney's attorney went further, arguing that Cheney is legally akin to the president because of his unique government role and has absolute immunity from any lawsuit.
You realize, of course, that this means the administration believes it can do or say anything in attack response to anyone who disagrees with anything it does. Lets hope the courts disagree.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Purely coincidental

Unnamed "senior" officials tell media outlets about an "imminent" terror attack in Germany that the US Embassy in Berlin and the German Interior Ministry know nothing about. And just as George Bush needs to ramp up pressure on Congress over an Iraq war funding bill.

How strange.

Perhaps tomorrow someone will dust off the colorful DHS terror advisory system and raise the threat level from whatever color it is today to whatever the next to highest color is.

Do they really expect anyone to believe their bullshit anymore?

Of course, the real danger here is that, if they ever do uncover a real plot, all the adminstration's crying wolf over fake terror alerts leading up to the 2004 presidential election, all the fake thwarted plots against the Liberty Library Tower in Los Angeles, all the fake "dirty bomb" allegations against Jose Padilla, all the fake hysteria over the "Miami 7" nitwits and the fake danger from pizza-delivery jihadists will cause nobody to take them seriously.

Then again, given their track record, there probably isn't any real danger of them uncovering anything real.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

You mean they lied?

Don't you just wish you were suprised by this?

The Army is sending a company of Europe-based soldiers back to Iraq before the unit has had a full 12 months of “dwell time,” or at-home rest.

Members of the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, Company A, learned Tuesday that they are scheduled to head back to Iraq in November, just nine months after the 150-soldier company left the combat zone in February after a 13-month deployment.

A recent Pentagon report concluded that soldiers on extended and repeated deployments “were more likely to suffer acute stress, and that mental health problems correlated with higher rates of battlefield misconduct.”

When asked yesterday about this nine-month deployment, Gates simply replied, “I’ll be very interested in finding out more about that.” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman’s response was that “there are some people, just by the nature of transferring units and things like that may not end up with the full 12 months.”

According to Whitman, the 12-month rest period between deployments “is a goal,” not a guarantee.
I think we know what kind of treatment the troops are guaranteed to receive from the Bush administration.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Smile, disaster victims's the Apperance of Concern Show.

Stepping through rubble and generously offering hugs, President Bush tried Wednesday to lift the spirits of a community in disbelief after last week's killer tornado destroyed nearly all of this town of 1,600.

The president said he came to Kansas to tour the wreckage in the hopes that he could "touch somebody's soul by representing the country."

At one point, Bush stopped at a tractor dealership, the building gutted and its plows mangled. It had been a major employer in town, and the president freely dished out hugs.

The president ambled down the road to a house with no roof, almost slipping as he picked his way across a chunk of metal on the lawn. He briefly grabbed a chain saw, ripping it into action for the cameras and other media that accompanied him.

"How are you all?" Bush asked as he moved among residents.

The president spent about 20 minutes at a second house, where he posed for photos and listened to survivors. It was there that he addressed a clump of reporters for his only public words of the day. For his backdrop, a yellow crane in the home's driveway suspended an American flag while the trees in the front lawn had metal and plastic debris wedged into what remained of their branches.
Like New Orleans, Kansas gets a national guardsman shortage and photo-ops.

Good luck, Greensburg. It probably won't be long before you, too, aren't mentioned in the State of the Union address and are considered by the press too rude a topic to raise to a person who was decent enough to offer invitations to dinner with the queen.

By the way, Bush's five-day delay in getting to Greensburg would be galling if his presence actaully made a shit of difference.