Among the remarkable things to come out of the Iranian presidential election, aside from the street demonstrations, is the emerging picture of the clerical regime's complex internal divisions. For years, Iran has been depicted in the Western press as a monolithic regime, but the range of opinions and surprising alliances born of last Friday's disputed election reveal a much more vibrant and nuanced society. Take this letter to the people of Iran from Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. A key figure in the 1979 Revolution, he's become a strong voice in support of the protesters, deriding election results which he alleges were "altered considerably." 

Excerpts from his letter, as translated by the Tehran Bureau:

Over the last several days I have been witnessing the glowing presence and the lively and sacrificial efforts of my dear and dignified sisters and brothers, old and young, in the campaign for the 10th presidential elections. Our youth also demonstrated their presence in the political scene with hope and good spirit, in order to achieve their rightful demands. They waited patiently night and day. This was an excellent occasion for the government’s officials to take advantage of and establish religious, emotional and nationalistic bonds with our youth and the rest of our people.

Unfortunately, however, this opportunity was wasted in the worst possible way. Such election results were declared that no wise person in their right mind can believe; results based on credible evidence and witnesses has been altered extensively, and after strong protests by the people against such acts — the same people who have carried the heavy weight and burden of the Revolution during eight years of war and resisted the tanks of the imperial government [of the Shah] and those of the enemy [Iraq] — they attacked the children of the same people and nation right in front of the domestic and foreign reporters, and used astonishing violence against defenseless men and women and the dear [university] students, injuring and arresting them. And, now, they are trying to purge activists, intellectuals, and political opponents by arresting a large number of them, some of whom have even held high positions in the government of the Islamic Republic.


Scientists Discover Super-Smarts in Tiny Fish

Note to humans: We've got some unusual competition in the battle for intellectual superiority, from an unlikely opponent: a 1.5" long fish called the nine-spined stickleback.

If you thought that animals could only learn by Pavlovian methods (just hearing the bell still makes me salivate, due to all of the psychology classes I slept through in college), think again. Earlier this year the stickleback proved itself to be a uniquely intelligent species, as researchers learned that these little fish are "much more willing to take risks in search of food in pairs than alone." But by golly, the little fellows aren't done yet.

DiscoveryNews reports that the nine-spined stickleback (try saying that 10 times fast), "possesses an unusually sophisticated capacity for learning not yet documented in any other animal, aside from humans." These creatures have learned to watch the mistakes of their peers so they don't repeat them, an achievement humans could learn from. This new knowledge was the result of a study done by University of St. Andrews research fellow Jeremy Kendal and his colleagues, who published their findings in Oxford University's Behavioral Ecology journal.

With this significant scientific breakthrough, who knows what else we will learn about our underestimation of animal intelligence in the near future?

There's the Beef! KFC's New Meaty Chicken

KFC's saucy new grilled chicken is made with a marinade of "secret herbs and spices," one of which is "beef powder." Hmm, is beef powder an herb, or a spice? This revelation apparently has people up in arms, and the chicken chain El Pollo Loco has even made commercials about what they are calling false advertising. KFC's response? "Small amounts of beef flavors are commonly used in seasonings for many food products, for both restaurant and retail use."

True.

Remember in 2002 when McDonald's settled a lawsuit (for $10 mil) brought by Hindus and vegetarians for the beef fat in their fries (after they promised they only used vegetable oil)? That companies beef up their products is not surprising: Beef makes things tastes good!

When I read the ingredients in KFC's "better-for-you option for health-conscious customers" grilled chicken I actually get stuck on the MSG (twice, in the marinade and in the seasoning) and the partially hydrogenated oil. Sure, other fast foods are just as bad if not worse. But there are all sorts of things in foods that aren't advertised well for consumers. For example, both Wendy's and Burger King, list "spices" as an ingredient in their chicken sandwiches. Which isn't all that descriptive, maybe they're slipping us the beef as well.

Soldiers of 154th Transportation Company from Fort Hood, Texas, stand in formation prior to leaving for Afghanistan at Baghdad International Airport, Iraq, April 14. The 154th Trans. Co. is the second 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) unit in three weeks to move directly to Afghanistan from Iraq. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

Kenneth Starr Endorses Sotomayor

Kenneth Starr, the lawyer who chased after President Bill Clinton and his wife, said on Thursday that he supports President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Starr voiced his backing of Sotomayor while delivering the keynote speech at a luncheon held in Los Angeles for Loyola Law School's program for journalists who cover legal issues. He said that he "thinks very well of her." He noted that he has not written any official endorsement letter for Sotomayor but that no one had asked him to do so—suggesting he would if requested. Starr said that he has told more than one US senator that he supports her nomination, but he wouldn't identify which senators he has spoken to about Sotomayor.

Film Review: New Muslim Cool

Growing up in a Puerto Rican-American family in a tough section of the Bronx, Jason “Hamza” Perez dreamed he would end up in jail and die young. Now he thinks he was right—sort of. When he meets some local Muslim sheikhs at 21, he converts to Islam and his gangbanger self “dies.” A few years later, he finds himself volunteering at a faith-based initiative program in a local prison. A sensitive and perceptive film, New Muslim Cool chronicles Hamza’s halting evolution from thug to Muslim leader and family man.

We meet Hamza in medias res: A single dad raising two kids, he’s about to get married to a woman he met on a Muslim dating website and move to a community of mostly Latino Muslim converts in Pittsburgh. Director Jennifer Maytorena Taylor deftly constructs a portrait of Hamza learning to build cultural bridges: He cooks “boricua halal” food (traditional Puerto Rican fare made according Muslim dietary code), ministers to teenagers with his hip hop group, the Mujahideen Team, and explains to his skeptical but curious mom why her granddaughter has started wearing a hijab to school.

But the film’s real strength is mixing the political with the domestic: Just as Hamza has learned to move among his own worlds, the outside world gets in the way. And that’s where things really start to get interesting: The police raid the new Pittsburgh mosque—the stated reason is a convicted child molester who worships there, but the community suspects the FBI had been watching them for a while. And later, the prison where Hamza volunteers suddenly revokes his security clearance without explanation (he eventually gets it back). New Muslim Cool shows how Bush-era Islamophobia affected one family’s daily life, but the most remarkable part is watching Hamza and his family take the turmoil in stride. “You know you’re not doing anything wrong,” says Hamza’s wife Rafia. “So you just live your life.”


New Muslim Cool debuts on PBS Tuesday, June 23 at 10 PM, and opens in select theaters nationwide this month.

 

CO2 Highest in 2 Million Years

Quick hit: an article in the June 19 issue of Science reports that : CO2 in the atmosphere is now at its highest concentration in 2.1 millions years. Also, that more recent ice ages may have been caused by changes in the Earth's tilt toward the sun, not : CO2 levels. So even though carbon dioxide is higher, it doesn't mean it's going to plunge us back into a cooling trend.

Philosophy!

Matt Yglesias translates some questions from Le Bac, France's college admission test/high school leaving exam.  These are from the philosophy test:

— Does objectivity in history presuppose the impartiality of the historian?

— Does language betray thought?

— Explicate an excerpt from Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation

— Are there questions that are un-answerable by science?

Matt says the correct answers are "no, no, I don’t know anything about Schopenhauer, and yes."  That's surely wrong.  The correct answers are no (but it helps); sometimes; I don’t know anything about Schopenhauer; and yes.

That last one is especially strange, isn't it?  The answer is obviously yes in a trivial sort of way: science will never determine whether chocolate ice cream tastes better than vanilla, for example.  But that's so dumb it makes you wonder if something got lost in translation.  So here's the original: "Y a-t-il des questions auxquelles aucune science ne répond?"  Anyone care to retranslate?

As for the question getting the most mockery — "Is it absurd to desire the impossible?" — I would use the standard dodge of philosophy students everywhere: please first define "absurd."  That should be sufficient to derail the conversation long enough for everyone to get bored of the whole topic.

Relatedly, Dana Goldstein asks, "Could you ever imagine the SAT or ACT asking students to write an essay on such complex, intellectual topics?"  No, I couldn't — though I could imagine questions of similar difficulty showing up on an AP philosophy test.  If there were an AP philosophy test, that is.  Which there isn't.  However, I'd be very careful before using this as evidence of the superiority of French education.  It's different, surely, but not necessarily better.

Pete Hoekstra "is a Meme" on Twitter

By now you may have seen the deluge of heckles on Twitter directed at  Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra since yesterday, when he tweeted, "Iranian twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House." Wha? Anyway, the resulting tweet storm has been fierce (example: "Arjunjaikumar @petehoekstra i spilled some lukewarm coffee on myself just now, which is somewhat analogous to being boiled in oil").

Capitalizing on the 140-word fury, a new website, Pere Hoekstra is a Meme, is now pairing the best twitter retorts to Hoekstra's gaff with photo illustrations:

 

 

 

Terrorists vs. Detainees

Here's something weird.  In a recent poll, the New York Times asked people if we should shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but they used slightly different wording for half the sample.  Here's the response:

People were actually more in favor of shutting down Guantanamo when told it was holding "suspected terrorists."  Granted, it was only a six point difference and might just be a statistical artifact, but it sure is the opposite of what you'd suspect.  Question: is this just some kind of strange outlier, or does it suggest that the events of the past eight years have actually made people more jaded about the supposed danger of "suspected terrorists" than they are about mere "detainees"?