Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Promiscuous cheetahs!

Somewhat off the beaten path for this blog, but a few months ago, while reading a book, probably one of Dawkins' more biology/genetics books, it popped into my head that, given that cheetahs had passed through a severe population bottleneck a long time ago, I would guess that they would probably be less choosy about their mates than they had been before the bottleneck. My thinking was, with so few potential partners around, those who were still picky would be less likely to meet up with another cheetah up to their standards, and therefore less likely to bear a litter that season. So you might end up with, well, promiscuous cheetahs:

For female cheetahs in the Serengeti, the call of the wild is just too hard to resist as new research shows nearly half of their litters are made up of cubs with different fathers.

And while the serial infidelities of the females does ensure a broader genetic mix to help the survival of the endangered species, it comes at a cost, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said on Wednesday.

Chalk up another one for evolution!

Well, technically, it isn't exactly the effect I was predicting. There's a distinction between pickiness and faithfulness, after all. But I do think it connects rather well, and could be explained in much the same manner.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Reasons for voting against

My take on why Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama decided to vote against the war funding bill, despite some prior ambiguity:

It certainly seems apparent that President Bush is hoping to just wear out the clock on Iraq, and be able to pass the problem on to the next President. I suspect people at the GOP might even be expecting the next President to be a Democrat, and plan accordingly, presenting whoever wins with a "poison pill" writ large, or a flaming bag of dog turd on their doorstep, if you prefer that metaphor. Whichever reasoning they might follow, they don't want to pull out a significant number of troops before the next election at the very least, almost as certainly before the next inauguration.

Because whenever we do start pulling out, yes, there will almost certainly be a bloodbath. And it won't look good for whoever's running things at the time. But it's going to happen sooner or later. Why not just put it off for a year or two, and who cares about the extra casualties in the interim? And maybe by then a Democrat can take the blame; they're probably hoping that that might help them recapture the Presidency in 2012 (assuming a Democrat wins in 2008), and Congress in 2010.

So the Senators might be looking at this, and thinking, if they are successful in their respective bids, that they're the ones who will be stuck holding the bag. And even if they don't win, either in the primaries or in the general election, Obama will be up for re-election in 2010, and Clinton in 2012. So they would have good reason for wanting to get it over with sometime before 2009.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Submitted (almost) without comment

Carter: Anti-Bush remarks 'careless or misinterpreted'

Deputy White House press secretary Tony Fratto, with Bush at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, said Monday: "I think it just highlights the importance of being careful in choosing your words. I'll just leave it at that."

Perhaps Fratto should have chosen his words more carefully.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Parsing, parsing, parsing

It's not so much that I like parsing and splitting hairs so finely (though I confess I do), as that with this crew in the Administration, they force you to, in order to figure out what they're really saying and meaning. From yesterday's White House press briefing (via Glenn Greenwald):

Q But you had the Acting Attorney General at the time saying, in regards to what Inspectors General -- the acting -- chief law enforcement officer in the country is saying in 2004, I've got problems with this, and then you've got the Chief of Staff and the Counsel, Alberto Gonzales at the time, going -- and according to James Comey, they were trying to take advantage of a sick man who was in intensive care.

MR. SNOW: Trying to take advantage of a sick man -- because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn't work?

Note that this response is coming from Press Secretary Tony Snow, of whom Wikipedia summarizes:

On 2007 March 27, the White House announced that the [abdominal] growth was cancerous and had metastasized. [6][7][8] In Snow's absence, the press briefings began to be covered by Deputy Dana Perino. On April 21, 2007, Snow made an appearance at the annual White House Correspondent's Association Dinner, where he introduced a joking tape by David Letterman. Snow returned to work on April 30, 2007.

Funny how a little thing like surgery can knock you out for a day or two, isn't it, Tony? Ha, ha. What's that? A whole month and then some? Gee, why were you slacking off for so long?

Added: Also, for the record, it was Ashcroft's gall bladder, not his appendix, that he was in for.

Q Yes, "I was very upset, I was angry." He was in intensive care at GW. "I thought I had just witnessed an effort" --

MR. SNOW: I --

Q -- let me just tell you -- "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man." Okay? Did any White House officials come and try to take advantage of you -- I mean, that's really not applicable in terms of this.

MR. SNOW: You know what, Ed --

Q They were trying to take advantage of him, according to James Comey.

MR. SNOW: Ed, I'm just telling you, I don't know anything about the conversations. I've also told you the relevant thing, which is, you wanted to ask from a substantive point of view, were there protections in terms of the terrorist surveillance program -- the answer is yes. It had multiple layers of review, both within the Department of Justice and the National Security Agency. Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had, but the fact is that there were strong protections in there....

And what of the fact that Attorney General Gonzales almost flatly denied (with weasel words) that anyone within the Department of Justice had any such reservations, back in February of 2006? (via Think Progress' Peter Swire)

SCHUMER: I concede all those points. Let me ask you about some specific reports.

It's been reported by multiple news outlets that the former number two man in the Justice Department, the premier terrorism prosecutor, Jim Comey, expressed grave reservations about the NSA program and at least once refused to give it his blessing. Is that true?

GONZALES: Senator, here's the response that I feel that I can give with respect to recent speculation or stories about disagreements.

There has not been any serious disagreement -- and I think this is accurate -- there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations which I cannot get into.

[LH: You can't get into the disagreements, the other matters, or the operations? I wish that sentence made clear to which object the clause applied. See amphiboly at the Fallacy Files.]

I will also say...

SCHUMER: But there was some -- I'm sorry to cut you off -- but there was some dissent within the administration. And Jim Comey did express, at some point -- that's all I asked you -- some reservations.

GONZALES: The point I want to make is that, to my knowledge, none of the reservations dealt with the program that we're talking about today. They dealt with operational capabilities that we're not talking about today.

[LH: It seems to make some sense, if Comey rushed to the hospital over some other "program" than the Terrorist Surveillance Program per se.

SCHUMER: I want to ask you, again, about -- we have limited time.

GONZALES: Yes, sir.

SCHUMER: It's also been reported that the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, respected lawyer and professor at Harvard Law School, expressed reservations about the program. Is that true?

GONZALES: Senator, rather than going individual by individual, let me just say that I think the differing views that have been the subject of some of these stories did not deal with the program that I'm here testifying about today.

SCHUMER: But you were telling us that none of these people expressed any reservations about the ultimate program, is that right?

GONZALES: Senator, I want to be very careful here, because, of course, I'm here only testifying about what the president has confirmed.

And with respect to what the president has confirmed, I do not believe that these DOJ officials that you're identifying had concerns about this program.

SCHUMER: There are other reports, I'm sorry to -- you're not giving me a yes-or-no answer here. I understand that.

Newsweek reported that several Department of Justice lawyers were so concerned about the legal basis for the NSA program that they went so far as to line up private lawyers. Do you know if that's true?

GONZALES: I do not know if that's true.

SCHUMER: Now, let me just ask you a question here.

You mentioned earlier that you had no problem with Attorney General Ashcroft, someone else -- I didn't want to ask you about him; he's your predecessor -- people have said have doubts. But you said that you had no problem with him coming before this committee and testifying when Senator Specter asked, is that right?