Gosh, what a surprise. Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff said in a recent interview that Bush’s knowledge of foreign policy was as bad as Sarah Palin’s:

We had this confluence of characters—and I use that term very carefully—that included people like Powell, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and so forth, which allowed one perception to be “the dream team.” It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin–like president—because, let’s face it, that’s what he was—was going to be protected by this national- security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire.

Thank God we’ll have someone other than an incurious, simpering idiot in charge of the White House for a while.

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Following upon countless studies that have consistently found that the abstinence-only sex “education” championed by the Bush administration have been ineffectual or counterproductive, a new comprehensive federal study finds that students who pledge abstinence until marriage engage in dangerous sex practices at a higher rate than other students. Quelle surprise!

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a “virginity pledge,” but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

“Taking a pledge doesn’t seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior,” said Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. “But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking.”

As Steve Benen puts it:

Got that? The difference between teens who make abstinence “pledges” and teens who don’t isn’t sexual conduct, it’s that those who make the “pledges” engage in more dangerous sexual conduct.

After a while, this just gets repetitious — the right insists that abstinence programs work, objective research shows they don’t. Conservatives, not satisfied, demand more objective research, which further proves abstinence programs don’t work. No evidence, no matter how overwhelming, seems to be enough.

But reality just won’t budge. The nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that abstinence programs do not affect teenager sexual behavior. A congressionally-mandated study, which was not only comprehensive but also included long-term follow-up, found the exact same thing. Researchers keep conducting studies, and the results are always the same.


I tried to watch Meet the Press a week or two ago but couldn’t get through more than 20 minutes of David Gregory as the new host. Although Tim Russert was deeply flawed in his own way, I could at least stomach him for an hour. Gregory I cannot abide. Glenn Greenwald sums up some of my thoughts on the matter here:

Several months before he was named as moderator of Meet the Press, David Gregory went on MSNBC to categorically reject Scott McClellan’s accusations that the American media failed to scrutinize the Bush administration’s pre-war claims. Gregory vigorously praised the job which he and his “journalistic” colleagues did in the run-up to the Iraq War — the period which Salon‘s Gary Kamiya called “one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media.”

Proclaimed Gregory, with a straight face: “Questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the President. Not only those of us in the White House Press Corps did that, but others in the media landscape did that. I think there are a lot of critics who think that . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you’re a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn’t do our job. I respectfully disagree. It’s not our role.

Perish the thought that a reporter should point out when government officials are making “bogus” claims and are lying a country into a war. That is “not their role,” says the New Tim Russert (and, unsurprisingly, the Old Tim Russert wholeheartedly agreed).

Greenwald goes on to sharply criticize Gregory’s interview with Israeli foreign Minister Tzipi Livni:

Whatever one’s views are on Israel’s attack on Gaza — pro, con or otherwise — there’s no denying that it’s an extremely controversial matter — at least it is in the world that exists outside of mainstream American political discourse. Even within Israel, there are scathing criticisms of what the Israeli Government is doing — on both strategic and moral grounds. Yet none of those objections made their way into David Gregory’s interview of Livni. He didn’t present her with a single argument against the Israeli attack. He didn’t challenge a single word she uttered. He was even more sycophantic with her than the average American journalist is with the average American political leader.

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Crooks and Liars found a heart-wrenching post from a social worker discussing the front-line effects of the recession on the most vulnerable among us. Although hard to read, we need more stories like this (e.g.) and less on how previously free-wheeling Wall Streeters are being mildly inconvenienced.

I have had a ringside seat to the economic downturn this year. It is not an abstraction to me. The folks at the bottom are always the first to feel the pinch, when it comes. Clients of the agency I work at come through our doors every day requesting assistance with basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter and medications. As the year has progressed and New York State has chosen to repeatedly victimize its most vulnerable citizens, it has become more difficult to help people meet these needs. I have visited food banks with empty shelves, been told clients were ineligible for help when I knew they were and had to challenge these decisions. I have sat with clients while their applications for public assistance were reviewed by fraud investigators at social services.

Our local social services department actually hired fraud investigators at the same time that it was laying off child protective workers demonstrating conclusively where our values lie and how genuinely mean spirited we are as a people. At the federal level Social Security routinely denies people eligible for benefits in the hopes that they will not reapply. Many people who receive benefits must hire a lawyer before social security will concede that they are indeed eligible. As the resources have become more limited, the level of scrutiny and inhumanity has risen accordingly.

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I came across this discovery a few months ago and am still absolutely fascinated. In essence, scientists have discovered a mass of galaxies at the edge of the observable universe* that all appear to be pulled in a particular direction by what they hypothesize may be some enormously massive object.

Patches of matter in the universe [i.e. galaxy clusters] seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can’t be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon “dark flow.” The stuff that’s pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe, researchers conclude…

Scientists discovered the flow by studying some of the largest structures in the cosmos: giant clusters of galaxies. These clusters are conglomerations of about a thousand galaxies, as well as very hot gas which emits X-rays. By observing the interaction of the X-rays with the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is leftover radiation from the Big Bang, scientists can study the movement of clusters.

The scientists deduced that whatever is driving the movements of the clusters must lie beyond the known universe.

A theory called inflation posits that the universe we see is just a small bubble of space-time that got rapidly expanded after the Big Bang. There could be other parts of the cosmos beyond this bubble that we cannot see.

In these regions, space-time might be very different, and likely doesn’t contain stars and galaxies (which only formed because of the particular density pattern of mass in our bubble). It could include giant, massive structures much larger than anything in our own observable universe. These structures are what researchers suspect are tugging on the galaxy clusters, causing the dark flow.

“The structures responsible for this motion have been pushed so far away by inflation, I would guesstimate they may be hundreds of billions of light years away, that we cannot see even with the deepest telescopes because the light emitted there could not have reached us in the age of the universe,” Kashlinsky said in a telephone interview. “Most likely to create such a coherent flow they would have to be some very strange structures, maybe some warped space time. But this is just pure speculation.”

While you’re on the topic, I suggest reading up on the Great Attractor.

* – Note the article’s description of the “observable universe”:

When scientists talk about the observable universe, they don’t just mean as far out as the eye, or even the most powerful telescope, can see. In fact there’s a fundamental limit to how much of the universe we could ever observe, no matter how advanced our visual instruments. The universe is thought to have formed about 13.7 billion years ago. So even if light started travelling toward us immediately after the Big Bang, the farthest it could ever get is 13.7 billion light-years in distance. There may be parts of the universe that are farther away (we can’t know how big the whole universe is), but we can’t see farther than light could travel over the entire age of the universe.

Just ponder that for a second. Even though I’m something of an armchair cosmography hobbyist, I still so rarely sit back and think deeply about the contours of our universe as such. Reflect on the fact that there is an entire portion of our universe that is impossible for us to ever observe (although technically in our past light cone) but yet still appears to be exerting influence on the parts of the universe we can see.

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It just sounds too good to be true:

In early December, in a highly unusual move, a federal court in New York agreed to rehear a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft brought by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar. (Arar was a victim of the administration’s extraordinary rendition program: he was seized by U.S. officials in 2002 while in transit through Kennedy Airport and deported to Syria, where he was tortured.) Then, on Dec. 15, the Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld by four Guantánamo detainees alleging abuse there—a reminder that the court, unlike the White House, will extend Constitutional protections to foreigners at Gitmo.

Finally, in the same week the Senate Armed Service Committee, led by Carl Levin and John McCain, released a blistering report specifically blaming key administration figures for prisoner mistreatment and interrogation techniques that broke the law. The bipartisan report reads like a brief for the prosecution—calling, for example, Rumsfeld’s behavior a “direct cause” of abuse. Analysts say it gives a green light to prosecutors, and supplies them with political cover and factual ammunition. Administration officials, with a few exceptions, deny wrongdoing. Vice President Dick Cheney says there was nothing improper with U.S. interrogation techniques—”we don’t do torture,” he repeated in an ABC interview on Dec. 15. The government blamed the worst abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, on a few bad apples…

A growing group of advocates are now instead calling for a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, says that although “we know what went on,” “knowledge and a change in practices are not sufficient: there must be acknowledgment and repudiation as well.” He favors the creation of a nonpartisan commission of inquiry with a professional staff and subpoena power, calling it “the only way to definitively repudiate this ugly chapter in U.S. history.”

But for those interested in tougher sanctions, one other possibility looms. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and author of “The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld,” points out that over 20 countries now have universal jurisdiction laws that would allow them to indict U.S. officials for torture if America doesn’t do it itself.

I am of two minds on the issue of prosecuting Bush Administration officials for the war crimes that they so obviously committed. I believe that in specific instances where we have actionable evidence against a particular individual (e.g., Vice President Cheney brazenly admitting that he authorized and approved of torture), a prosecution should be untertaken.

However, in the more nebulous realm of who-authorized-what-when, I can understand the incoming Obama administration’s hesitancy to be seen as opening wide the floodgates of Democratic Prosecution Fiesta 2009. In the broader case against the wide-ranging illegality of Bush and his cronies, I agree with the approach of a South Africa-style truth and reconcilation commission. The biggest thing we need to do in this effort is bring sunshine to the darkest, dankest corners of criminality the Bush administration let loose upon the world. Although stringing all of the evildoers up by their toes for their crimes would be satisfying in the extreme, if we are somehow able to find out the full extent of America’s crimes in the War on Terror (TM), this would probably be enough for me.

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Still-President Bush can’t be bothered to cut his final vacation short by a few days to address the hundreds of people killed in the latest round of violence and attacks in Gaza (or even appear at a presser):

Even an emerging crisis in the Middle East, one he pledged to resolve just 13 months ago, has not drawn President George W. Bush from his final vacation before leaving office. Despite his personal pledge at Annapolis last year to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians before 2009, this weekend Bush sent his spokesmen to comment in his stead.

The spokesman’s statement, while blaming Hamas for the outbreak of violence, did not signal that the United States is prepared to step in to resolve the conflict, suggesting that this president is content to leave the matter for his successor.

Since departing Washington for Crawford on Friday, President Bush has made no attempt to be seen in public. In fact, he has yet to leave his ranch.

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Your author, who goes by the pen name Metavirus, started blogging in 2007 at Why We Need Obama, a moderately successful blog that followed the 2008 election cycle.

After the election, Metavirus lowered a more permanent anchor into the blogosphere. Library Grape covers a broad range of topics, including politics, atheism, religion, technology, physics, literature and other assorted themes that cross his mind.

If you’re interested in reading more about your author’s political evolution over the years, please check out the following posts: A Heartfelt Testament from Someone Who Lost Faith in the GOP and The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Today’s GOP.


A “library grape” is a fictional fruit introduced in Neal Stephenson‘s latest epic novel Anathem. In essence, the library grape is a pure aggregation of the genetic codes of all naturally-occurring grape species that was perfected over time by the diligent efforts of a sect of cloistered monks.

Here’s how the library grape is described on Page 175 of Anathem (a few words of Stephenson’s argot are replaced with something more approachable):

The library grape had been sequenced by the [monks] of the [Monastery] of the Lower Vrone in the days before the Second Sack. Every cell carried in its nucleus the genetic sequences, not just of a single species, but of every naturally occurring species of grape that the Vrone [monks] had ever heard of — and if those people hadn’t heard of a grape, it wasn’t worth knowing about. In addition, it carried excerpts from the genetic sequences of thousands of different berries, fruits, flowers, and herbs: just those snatches of data that, when invoked by the biochemical messaging system of the host cell, produced flavorful molecules. Each nucleus was an archive, vaster than the Great Library of Baz, storing codes for shaping almost every molecule nature had ever produced that left an impression on the human olfactory system.

A given vine could not express all of those genes at once — it could not be a hundred different species of grape at the same time — so it “decided” which of those genes to express — what grape to be, and what flavors to borrow — based on some impossibly murky and ambiguous data-gathering and decision-making process that the Vrone [monks] had hand-coded into its proteins. No nuance of the sun, soil, weather, or wind was too subtle for the library grape to take into account. Nothing that the cultivator did, or failed to do, went undetected or failed to have consequences in the flavor of the juice. The library grape was legendary for its skill in penetrating the subterfuges of winemakers who were so arrogant as to believe they could trick it into being the same grape two seasons in a row.

In some small way, this blog will attempt to mimic the library grape by pulling together as many variegated strains of knowledge that your author, in his often-cloistered state, can manage. As a winemaker of sorts, he will try to take into account the nuances of the sun, soil, weather, and wind of our age and restrain himself from being so arrogant as to believe that this blog will be the same two seasons in a row.

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