Friday, August 31, 2007

We Have Been Getting Swindled in Iraq

Go to Rollingstone Magazine and read "The Great Iraq Swindle". Learn how your tax dollars are being spent wasted by government "contractors". Where is the Bagdad police academy that we paid Parsons, a private construction company, at least $74 million to build?
In a report released yesterday, inspectors found that the Baghdad Police College posed a health risk after feces and urine leaked through the ceilings of student barracks. The facility, part of which will need to be demolished, also featured floors that heaved inches off the ground and a room where water dripped so heavily that it was known as "the rain forest."
And then you have the typical Bush loyalist appointing the inept to important positions in Iraq.
The day he arrived in Baghdad, he met with Thomas C. Foley, the CPA official in charge of privatizing state-owned enterprises. (Foley, a major Republican Party donor, went to Harvard Business School with President Bush.) Hallen was shocked to learn that Foley wanted him to take charge of reopening the stock exchange.

"Are you sure?" Hallen said to Foley. "I don't have a finance background."

It's fine, Foley replied.
How about the security contract won by Custer Battles?
The bid that Custer claimed to have spent "three sleepless nights" putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking "like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later." The two simply "presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract."
Or the contract Custer Battles got to "distribute" new Iraqi money?
The contract to help distribute the new currency was won by Custer Battles, a small American security company set up by Scott Custer and former Republican Congressional candidate Mike Battles. Under the terms of the contract, they would invoice the coalition for their costs and charge 25% on top as profit. But Custer Battles also set up fake companies to produce inflated invoices, which were then passed on to the Americans.
A jury finds Custer Battle guilty of cheating taxpayers but a Reagan-appointed judge sets the verdict aside.

All this just in the first two pages of a 5 page article. Oh yeah. This afternoon on NPR, I was listening to a soldier explaining how the VA will not pay for his prosthetic limbs because the "temporary" ones he had were good enough.

Is anyone else outraged by all this?

How is the Iraq War Going?

September is the month in which factions of our government will attempt to convince Americans that the Iraq War is going well or not so well. The Government Accountability Office says things are not going well. In fact, the GAO says 15 out of 18 benchmarks for political and military progress mandated by Congress have not been met in Iraq. The latest National Intelligence Estimate also thinks things could be going better in Iraq. Many military commanders say the Army cannot sustain the occupation of Iraq at its present levels.

On the other hand, President Bush continues to think the War is going well enough, that he is ready to request another $50 billion to proceed (at least $600 billion has already been spent). Bush is determined to get out of office without "defeat in Iraq" on his record. Many congressmen continue to return from trips to Iraq saying how quiet and how good things are going in places like Iraqi markets. Oddly, just as many congressman return from Iraq appalled at the lack of progress.

The surge is working. The surge isn't working. One thing I miss from the days of old is the kind of war coverage on TV that we saw during the Vietnam War. Every evening before dinner I'd sit with my friends in the TV room of Lehman Hall North (SUNY Potsdam) and listen to the latest war coverage by Walter Cronkite. He would always end the days coverage by stating the number of dead soldiers for the day. Of course we all had a vested interest in how things were going because we all carried draft cards.

There are no news programs like that to watch anymore. True evening news programs have been deemed not "entertaining" enough. So we are left with a lot of differing opinions about the progress or lack of progress in Iraq. One thing that has become increasingly clear is that we will remain in Iraq at least until the next President is elected. Maybe even longer.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Adirondack Earthquake

Yes I felt it. I was reading "The Book of Air and Shadows" by Michael Gruber. I thought it was a long rumble of thunder.

Go here to see a map of all earthquakes on earth that took place yesterday. In the picture above, you can see there were several earthquakes in California, Alaska and Hawaii (as well as NY) yesterday.

Our 3.2 magnitude earthquake took place at Wednesday, August 29, 2007 at 11:47:45 PM at epicenter. The location was 44.322°N, 74.359°W and the depth was 1.2 mi. More details can be found here.

State History Museum - Albany

The State History Museum in Albany is worth a visit (and it's free). The 9/11 exhibit was the most interesting although there was also a very interesting exhibit on WWII Nazi holocaust survivors who had been sent to NY as refugees. Oh yeah, also a real cool exhibit of look-alikes by Joan Steiner.

Albany from the "Plaza".

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nuclear Holocaust or Crying Wolf Yet Again?

Here is our dear leader:
And Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere.

And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.

How many of us will fall for this "warning" from Bush again?

Science Education - DNA

I found this on Pharyngula.

If you do not have the knowledge you can always show a film. Here's one about DNA. Caution, it is a bit very irreverent.

Pat Hogan for Saranac Lake School District Superintendent

Who could be more qualified for SLCSD Superintendent? He's a long-time resident of Saranac Lake, Principle of the Bloomingdale School, an ex-Dean at North Country Community College and I believe even once coached the SLHS Track and Field team. He has raised two boys, both of whom have been through our school system and graduated from SLHS. He was an applicant for Superintendent the last go around.

Here's an idea. School tax bills will soon need to be paid. How about adding a short note requesting that the school board appoint Pat Hogan superintendent of our school district?

You could also email members of the school boa....oops, no you can't. No email addresses.

In Search of Good Teachers - A Laugh and A Half

That's the title of an editorial in todays NYT.
The problem was underscored by a front page article in The Times this week by Sam Dillon, which describes shortages so severe that some officials were seeking to fill positions by scooping up any warm body they could find. Better overall salaries and financial incentives for teachers who work in demanding areas are necessary. But the country must also adopt measures that increase the supply of high-quality teachers — especially in math and science — while cutting down on the distressingly large number of teachers who bail out of the profession early.

Please excuse me if I take some time to laugh. There are probably plenty of qualified, experienced scientists and mathmaticians that would love to teach school, including me. Unfortunately, these people may be a bit older or even retired. But they are still willing to pass on what they know about science and math. So what's stopping them? One word.....certification. You can't teach without being "certified" to teach. This means completing college courses such as "Adolescent Psychology and Learning Theory"; "Technology Foundations for Education; "Analysis of Teaching"; "Reading/Literacy"; "Issues in Science-Technology-Society" etc.

How many scientists, retired or not, are going to want to return to college to get a Masters in Teaching? Four years of undergraduate study, a year or two for a Masters Degree and 4-6 years spent getting a Ph.D. (not including several years of post-doc study) are not enough to qualify one to teach biology or chemistry or physics?

Most scientists are already capable teachers due to the amount of time required making presentations, writing grant applications and training technicians, post-docs and students. They may not be "expert" teachers in the secondary school sense. But does the curriculum presented in schools of education make one an "expert" teacher?

Sorry, but most scientists willing to teach probably do not want to return to college to get "certified" to teach.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

This Seems About Right

"Religions are not revealed: they are evolved. If a religion were revealed by God, that religion would be perfect in whole and in part, and would be as perfect at the first moment of its revelation as after ten thousand years of practice. There has never been a religion which fulfills those conditions." — Robert Blatchford, "God and My Neighbor," 1903.

"Brownie's Law"

Presidential candidate John Edwards proposes the "Brownie's Law". Make sure political appointees at agencies like FEMA are actually qualified for the jobs to which they are appointed.
Edwards said:
"It's an absolute travesty to have people who are essentially political hacks in a very responsible position,"
That is something that is difficult to disagree with.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Penalty for Illegal Abortion?

What if abortion were made illegal? Who should be punished and what should be the penalty? According to these people, the women who aborts her fetus should not be punished even though they all think it's murder.

McKenzie Pond

Village water supply. Looking north from McKenzie development access (private).

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fishing on the Saranac River

I spent the morning fishing. No, no, not me. I took my two elder uncles (70 and 84). Above are a few shots.