Cutting Through The Crap

Monday, April 30, 2012

Pretty Much Says It Most

Unvarnished



In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, formerly considered a liberal rag and now editorially conservative, two men have stated the obvious. It's titled "Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are The Problem," and one of its authors, Norman Ornstein, is a well-known conservative, who works for the well-known conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute. The other is Thomas E. Mann, who works for the more liberal Brookings Institution.

You can access the first couple of pages through the above link, but to read the whole piece, you need to sign up for free access. Suffice it to say, it's everything I've ever said here, with the advantage of being in a widely-read outlet. It will NOT, of course, make any damn difference at all, despite the fact that it'll no doubt be widely read and commented upon. Because, as I've said and as the article acknowledges (and which is as obvious as a saddle on a dinosaur), the current Republican Party has no interest in meaningful discussion, nor in actual facts.


We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
[...]

What happened? Of course, there were larger forces at work beyond the realignment of the South... But the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names: Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.

[...]

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. ... Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.

[...]

Republicans often dismiss nonpartisan analyses of the nature of problems and the impact of policies when those assessments don’t fit their ideology...
...This attitude filters down far deeper than the party leadership. Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted, eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock. Democratic voters, by contrast, along with self-identified independents, are more likely to favor deal-making over deadlock.
[...]
No doubt, Democrats were not exactly warm and fuzzy toward George W. Bush during his presidency. But recall that they worked hand in glove with the Republican president on the No Child Left Behind Act, provided crucial votes in the Senate for his tax cuts, joined with Republicans for all the steps taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and supplied the key votes for the Bush administration’s financial bailout at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. The difference is striking.
[...]
If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.

[...]

... If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.
Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?
Also, stop lending legitimacy to Senate filibusters by treating a 60-vote hurdle as routine...
Look ahead to the likely consequences of voters’ choices in the November elections. How would the candidates govern? What could they accomplish? What differences can people expect from a unified Republican or Democratic government, or one divided between the parties?

In just a few pages, the authors have hit on virtually every theme of my writings here: Republican intransigence, abuse of Senate rules, ignoring of facts; the laziness of the press; the skewed perception of what's really going on; the inherent dangers if it goes on much longer. Sadly, they seem also to share my pessimism that voters, already irreversibly brainwashed (my words), will wake to the reality and the danger and vote the motherfuckers out of office (also my words, one of which is getting more and more literally true, politico-economically speaking). From both sides of the political spectrum, they've seen and reported on the obvious: neither party is blameless, but the Rs have gone totally off the rails (a tired expression they use in the article), because of which we're headed toward disaster.

Democracy is built and depends upon two central platforms: a well-informed electorate (and legislative bodies!) and compromise. Of late, as undeniable as that the age of the earth is billions of years and that homosexuality is not a choice, one party has firmly and absolutely rejected both. We can't survive this way. The authors, conservative and liberal, see it, and have recounted it convincingly. Sadly, though, reading comments at the end of the piece, appearing as they do in a now right-wing rag (editorially speaking), makes it clear as unpolluted water that their words are already falling on deaf ears, dismissed reflexively (comments over at free republic are, as expected, even worse). Because if today's Republicans were capable of processing such information, the article would never have needed writing, and we wouldn't be on the brink of extinction.



Friday, April 27, 2012

Disconnected


Once again leaving no doubt about their priorities, congressional teabaggRs have announced the penalty for agreeing to keep student loan interest rates low: cutbacks on childhood immunization. And, to fund their testicular tendency toward ever-increasing military spending, they'll cut food stamps.

I suppose the first makes fiscal sense: if more children die, there'll be fewer needing future college loans. Which might be the only place in their budgets where the math might add up. The defense spending? Well, there's no other word for it, in these times, but insane. Heartless. Stupid. Selfish. Destructive. Deceptive. Bizarre. Naked military-industrial-lobbyist payola. Delusional. Paranoid. Unchristian. Upside-down. Suicidal. Homicidal. Fratricidal. Filicidal. Mentacidal. Parracidal. Senicidal. Anhistorical. Insane.

Meanwhile, ironicidal, after just appearing on Jay Leno, and evidently contemplating hosting SNL, Rominee is criticizing President Obama for spending twenty minutes on Jimmy Fallon's show.

How obvious does it have to be before people wake up? Really, is there no level of absurdity, no amount of heartless heaving to their hope of having havens for the most wealthy, beyond which their flock won't follow? Is there no point at which people would stop and think, if these guys get their way, there'll be nothing left of the country that once was? Can there be left, among so-called conservative Americans, no ability to recognize a set of priorities so skewed away from the needs of the country that they'd speak up? Rise from the soft mist of what they think is spray from the sea and discover that it's pollution of their minds instead?


Chutzpah


Here's a shocker, if it were the case that "shock" meant "duh:"

WASHINGTON D.C. -- As President Barack Obama was celebrating his inauguration at various balls, top Republican lawmakers and strategists were conjuring up ways to submarine his presidency at a private dinner in Washington, D.C.

The event -- which provides a telling revelation for how quickly the post-election climate soured -- serves as the prologue of Robert Draper's much-discussed and heavily-reported new book, "Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives."

[...]

For several hours in the Caucus Room (a high-end D.C. establishment), the book says they plotted out ways to not just win back political power, but to also put the brakes on Obama's legislative platform.


Read the whole revelatory article. It's the R game plan, doubly: first, do everything possible to make Obama's programs to fail; and, then, blame Obama for the failure (to the extent that they failed) of his programs. It's the twenty-first century version of that old definition of chutzpah: kill your parents, then plead for mercy on the grounds of being an orphan.

Rs particularly like to point out the failure of bipartisanship during Obama's tenure, and they don't just imply it's his fault; it's central to their message. Counting on the lack of memory of their dumbified audience, they ignore as if they never happened the efforts the president made at the beginning of his term. Efforts that led to Eric Cantor exclaiming that they'd had more face time with President Obama in a couple weeks than they'd had with George Bush in eight years. Ooops. Gotta shut that down in a hurry. And shut it they did. You can't blame the guy who got the door slammed in his face. Well, of course they can. But you can't -- assuming "you" means someone to whom truth has even the most minimal meaning.

Gotta hand it to R politicos: they correctly deduced the gullibility of their base -- especially the religiously inclined, whose need to trust in easy answers from pseudo-authorities they've been manipulating for decades, very, very successfully. Still, it's both breathtaking and deeply sad how completely their trashing of the process has been accepted by their audience.

I think it's unprecedented. For better or worse, even after the Supreme Court/Florida/losing the popular vote debacle, several congressional Dems felt obliged to go along with (way too much of) George Bush's agenda. That the Rs were already planning their monolithic obstruction literally on day one of Barack Obama's presidency says everything you need to know about their view of democracy and the electoral process. And it removes any doubt about who's been poisoning the well. And who's responsible for the total lack of respect that now characterizes the political process.

Whereas I think it's possible Obama could win in November -- hardly a slam-dunk -- I can't see the Ds regaining control of the House; and it's entirely possible they could lose the Senate. Why? Well, in part because they're so maddeningly inept at messaging; and because they deserve a certain amount of criticism for putting together the mishmash that is the Affordable Care Act, despite the good it's already doing, and about which they've been unable to get heard over the screams from the right. But, mainly, because Rs are willing to say anything, no matter how outrageous, about Ds; and because there are enough brainwashed people out there happy to accept it. People who'd elect such embarrassing legislators as Virginia Foxx or Louie Gohmert or Alan West the first time around will find no reason, ever, to un-elect them.

Born of Rovian cynicism and fueled by Foxian dishonesty, we've become an impossibly polarized country, where half the people are willing to believe the worst, no matter how outrageous. In real life, I'm a lot more moderate than I sound here. But when the plans of one side are based entirely upon obstructionism and lying about the other side, and upon cynical attempts, for their personal benefit above that of the country, to convince their voters -- yet again -- that their pre-failed policies deserve yet another chance, when the results can no longer be in question; and when it appears that their efforts to deceive have been wildly successful in getting the non-wealthy to vote against their own interests yet again, well, it's impossible to be even-handed. What's going on is obvious. What will happen if they prevail is not in doubt: we've seen what happens, just a handful of years ago.

In what universe can this be happening?




Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rudy! Rudy!


Switching from Gingrich once the die was cast, America's mayor has endorsed Mitt Romney.

Right after 9/11, I had some respect for Rudy Giuliani. As it became clear how he let his Newtonian ego get in the way of right decisions, it didn't last very long; and whatever remained disappeared when he stood up his gay friends, who let him stay at their place after his divorce, when they got married. Well, you know, he was running for national office, so what's a couple of friendships and self-respect?

Nevertheless, since he still seems to be held in esteem by Foxophiles, and since what he's saying in this case is verifiably true, I post the above. I wonder if anyone will ask him about it. In public. At Fox. On the air.


Waiting...


As the UK falls into what's now an officially-designated double-dip recession, I'm waiting to hear a couple of things from nominee Rominee (or is it NOMiny):

First, since the US is faring much better than any European country after the world-wide meltdown of 2008, I'd like him to specify in what ways President Obama has made things worse, as he's claimed, denied, and claimed again (along with his usual claim that Obama is anti-capitalist). And second, since all of Europe -- and especially Great Britain -- has already engaged, to disastrous effect, in the sort of austerity measures that Mitt and Ryan and the entire Republican party are advocating for the US, I'm waiting to hear them defend their plans in light of that, and to explain why it won't have the same effect here.

I suppose they could argue that since we're on much better economic footing now than we were in 2008 their drasticity won't impact us the way it has Europe. But then they' have to acknowledge....

For people able to breathe through their noses, the election ought not be a close call: the choice couldn't be clearer, and the dishonesty of the R side couldn't be more transparent. To teabaggRs, anyone who thinks the government ought to play a role in anything -- anything at all -- is now to be labeled a communist. Literally. And their foundational argument, that President Obama is a socialist hater of capitalism, is patently false by any measure. (It's also as plain as evolution that the claim he's made things worse is simply a lie, straight up.) And yet that's their pitch, and, certain it will be replayed, amplified, propagandized with the worst and most dishonest journalism possible, they'll repeat it over and over, knowing their lobotomized audience will accept it without challenge. Without thinking. Without wanting to think. Without the carefully eliminated ability to think.

Rominee's campaign began as a lie, prevailed over his laughable R opponents with lies, and will continue to be based squarely on lies so easily exposed that he should have been laughed off the stage from day one. Neither Mitt Romney nor the Barack Obama against whom he campaigns actually exists. In the case of Obama, it's because what he has and hasn't done bear no resemblance to Rominee's claims.

In the case of Mitt Romney, since he's never stood for anything that he wasn't happy to change with the political winds (he's already doing it again; don't doubt lots more is on the way), in a political sense he's never existed at all. And yet, in a testament to the power of disinformation and non-education, teabaggRs all across the country are ready to vote for him. Based on lies, about Obama and about the policies they've been convinced to support. Pretty damn depressing.




Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Marco...


Nobody's wrong all the time. Well, except maybe for every current and former R presidential candidate. In my case, I correctly predicted from the very beginning (me, and billions of others) that the nominee would be Mitt. Now for the second time: his veep choice will be Marco Rubio.

Again, the signs are obvious. Rubio has gone from "no way" to "no comment." He's about to give a "major" foreign policy speech. He's shadowing Romney all over the map. He's Latino. He's from Florida. He's a teabagger favorite. He's a Mormon-Evangelical-Catholic. What's not to like?

And he's hard-line on hard-right issues: abortion, immigration, taxes. Nor is he much enamored of compromise or bipartisanship, far as I can tell. He's also good-looking, smart, and unlike Romney is charismatic and a good speaker.

I think he'd be a brilliant choice for Romney, and it'd relieve a lot of anxiety on the right. With Rubio on it, it'd be a tougher ticket to beat.

Still, it will (or ought to) come down to message, and to the very different priorities of the two main candidates. The question (to which the answer, I'm pretty sure, is "no") is whether Ds will be able to be heard over the coming blast of negative and dishonest ads ready to be financed by a handful of billionaires behind Romney; the question (to which I'm pretty sure the answer is "yes") is whether voters are okay with a small group of very rich men (the link is to an excellent, if chilling, article by Frank Rich) with a very self-centered agenda determining our next president, and having him beholden to them ever after.

As Ye Sew


I wouldn't say Mormonism is stranger than any other faith, although it does share with Scientology the fairly unique status of latter-day whole-cloth creations (but aren't they all? To every thing, Turin, Turin, Turin...) by people known in their day as charlatans. But who's to say one religious belief system makes any more or less sense than another? Other than any believer in any one, that is, vis a vis any believer in any other.

The reason I posted the above video -- not intending to single out his religion -- is just that it's in keeping with my theme of the obvious: Mitt Romney is a liar the likes of which we've not seen in a politician. Sure, they all lie; but for Mitt it seems a way of life, or a strategy, or a business plan. Or a deep character defect. So I find it amusing to see a person toss Mitt's own religion at him, quoting its gospel on liars. Since, evidently, we all must profess allegiance to our particular brand of Christianity to be considered worthy, it seems reasonable to apply a candidate's own religious standards to his behavior.

On which basis one might conclude either that Mitt isn't all that true a believer, or that he accepts his fate as the price he's willing to pay for earthly accolade; or that his lying is so pathological that he doesn't recognize it as such, its demonstrable undeniability notwithstanding. But the latter (no pun) would imply a cognitive breech so egregious that everyone ought to consider disqualifying for the highest office in the land, the guy in charge of Planet Earth's most expensive and powerful military. I wish I could figure out which it is.

It's repetitively obvious that I'm having a hard time getting my mind around the fact that we have a candidate like Mitt, let alone the real possibility that he could become our president. His lying is so unprecedented I find myself simply unable to process it. I guess it shouldn't surprise me about today's Republican Party; but this is like nothing we've ever seen.

But I don't suppose he watches MSNBC.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Tough Guy


Teabagger and RWS™ hero, Ted Nugent: draft dodger by excrement. Plus bonus coverage...

When I got drafted and ordered to Vietnam, and various people told me what I should do to try to get out of it, I figured if I wiggle loose someone else will have to in my place. How can I justify that? Not that I consider myself heroic: compared to most who served in Vietnam I had it pretty good, nightly rocket attacks notwithstanding. But it sort of puts into perspective the dishonesty of the America-fuck-yeah contingent on the right, and of those who revere them.

We loves us some war as long as someone else does the fighting. And we hates us some liberals, especially when they call us on our bullshit.


Priority One


I took this picture from my front yard the other day, as the USS Nimitz drove by. It lives here now, having just replaced the Abe Lincoln, site of GWB's "Mission Accomplished" overstatement. It's a damn big boat. On this occasion, Chester just cruised on by, but sometimes Abe would grace us with full regalia: fighter-bombers on deck, sailors lined up in full dress, tugs firing water cannons into the air. Impressive, is the word that comes to mind.

Mitt Romney thinks we need to build more of these boats, and is happy to cut funding for pretty much everything else to do so: education, medicaid, food stamps, highway funds, housing. And, of course, Planned Parenthood, which goes without saying: "get rid of that," you can pay for a couple of toilets on a carrier. I don't doubt the AFYP™ love his priorities. (It's a new acronym: "America-Fuck-Yeah-People.") But people with gyri instead of gonads inside their cranii? I guess we'll find out in a few months.

It's not that I don't think a strong military is important: I do. It is. But, like the ability to nuke the planet, how many multiples are necessary? We can do the nuking many times over. Do we need more than twice the military spending of every other nation put together? When it's not invasion that threatens us? When, in fact, we're more threatened by the teabaggR priorities than we are by foreign enemies? To me the answer is obvious. I wonder if it is to Mitt, too, and he just doesn't care. It's what he thinks he needs to do to get elected, so that's all that matters. That sort of thinking will be the end of us, though. Of that, I have no doubt.

But, lest anyone think my priorities are unAmerican, here's what I see from our place as well, this time in our maple tree, and I think it's beautiful:



It's a bald eagle, in case it's not clear from the picture. They fly by daily, nesting about fifty yards away. Sitting in our cedar or maple is a rare event, preferring as they do their spar tree and its nest, in which they've home-ported for years, while we've watched babies grow, fledge, and fly away. Maybe they stop by our place when they think I need an emotional lift. But if that were the case, they'd be knocking on the door or leaving fish on our deck.

Here's the funny thing ("funny," in the sense of "not funny:") people on the right think Obama is an anti-American who wants to destroy us, despite the fact (the Republican Party is where facts go to die) that everything he's done is a capitalist's dream, and has helped turn the economy around, while making bankers and CEOs very rich. Romney, on the other hand, has his actually destructive plans spelled out in black and white: of the devastation they'll wreak on our future there's no doubt.

Mitt, you craven deceiver; your budget will take us down from within. But I guess you'll be able to bury us all at sea, like Obama did bin Laden, once you get us enough aircraft carriers.




Sunday, April 22, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Going To The Dogs


When I was, oh, maybe six or seven, a friend and I were playing outside, doing something fun enough that when he said he had to go home to poop, I talked him into doing it under a tree instead. I was a year older than he. "Dogs do it," I pointed out. Accurately, I might add.

When I was in my surgical residency, a friend's house was robbed. Whoever did it, in addition to taking her stuff, took a dump on her bed.

If I correctly understand the RWS™ position on the fact that, as a nine-year old, Barack Obama did what his dad told him and tasted dog meat, the two acts of toiletry are equivalent. They're telling us, after all, that a nine-year-old agreeing to dog-nibbling is the moral equivalent (worse, actually) of an adult choosing to strap his dog to the roof of his car and driving thusly for twelve hours.

And now you know what to look forward to for the next six-and-a-half months. I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I can last that long.


Hubba-Hubba


Above is one of the latest from Hubble. (It gets bigger when you click on it.) My cosmologist friend knows more about what we're looking at than I do, but I know this much: it's spectacular. If the word "awesome" has any meaning left, it should apply only to things like this. Our minds can't contain, let alone fully comprehend it. Amazing as it is, this picture is like trying to understand a desert by looking at a grain of sand.

And here's another thing: the light from these images has traveled for billions of years. We know this. It's measurable; there's no other way to explain it. To look at this picture and still believe the universe is six thousand years old is not only to be willfully ignorant, it's to lose the opportunity for inspiration and wonder -- at what is, at how we know it, and how much more there is to know. All you need of gratitude and joy of being here is in that picture.

Guy I went to college with was one of the astronauts who did the first fix on Hubble, floating out there in space, making one of humankind's greatest achievements closer to perfect. Haven't seen him since college. Can't imagine what it must have been like to be him at that moment. How did his heart not burst? (Other than the pressurized suit, I mean.)


Thursday, April 19, 2012

15 Seconds


A valued reader let me know that an essay I wrote on this blog several months ago made its way to one of the most widely-read blogs there is, and a favorite of mine, namely Pharyngula. It was edited some, eliminating a reference I'd made to Pharyngula itself. Anyhow, since I sort of like it in the re-reading, and since, as usual, it didn't get much notice here, I'm printing the referred-to version below. By way of bragging, I guess:

Here’s a confession: I find myself resisting describing myself as an atheist, and I wonder why that is. Since I can’t claim certainty, I suppose I could use the rubbery rubric of agnosticism. But right or wrong, I can’t believe there are gods (and there have been times when I’d have liked to). So why the reticence? Maybe it’s fear of reprisal; it is, after all, an untidy time for people like me, whose offense is only looking at the world with clear eyes, neither willing nor able to go beyond reality and the observable; the constitutional inability to make a leap of faith, even as our country seems unstoppably heading toward theocracy. But I think it’s something different.

As I’ve thought about it, it seems that atheism ought to be the default assumption, for anyone. Certain things ought to go without saying. One should not have to describe oneself, for example, as a mathist. Or a gravitist. (Yes, I realize the analogy is sort of a semantic contradiction, but you get the picture.) I believe the grass grows; I believe in chlorophyll. I (sort of) understand radioactive decay, and I understand (to a degree) its relation to measuring the age of the earth. I know (mostly) why planes fly and I don’t need to claim an angel holds them up; I don’t think the earth rides on the back of a turtle, and it seems reasonable that anyone would assume that about me. Nor does the fact that I don’t know everything lead me to fill in the blanks with imaginary answers. I can wait. Belief in the demonstrable ought to be the default baseline for anyone, and it shouldn’t need a particular label.

Okay, maybe “realist.”

Or “normal.”

It’s when you begin to come up with magical explanations (ones, I must point out, that other believers in other magic will decry ferociously and consider false magic, capital blasphemy, compared to their version of it, with no sense of irony whatever), that it seems labels should be applied. I think of those judges who sentence people to wearing a sign after they stole something. People who didn’t steal anything don’t need a sign saying so. Not believing in gods oughtn’t need particularizing any more than breathing does. I do breathe; I admit it. But it’d be strange to identify me as a breather, wouldn’t it?

A world-view ought to start with reality. Reality is enough. Reality is, for one thing, real. Realists shouldn’t need to explain it, or to have (loaded) labels applied. Nor, for that matter, should they feel the need to brag about it, or get in the faces of others. Why should the world need a movement that announces its commitment to reality?

Except for the fact that any realist can’t help being shocked, worried, and appalled at the direction we’re headed in the US, as magical thinking has become the basis for a major political party; as intelligence, the quest for knowledge, are considered elitist and abhorrent, actively and proudly mocked and scorned. In that party, belief in god seems to have become synonymous with rejection of science, with denialism, with economic amnesia. It needn’t be thus; it wasn’t always so. But those who wonder why there are suddenly a few highly outspoken and, as some have called them, “militant” atheists out there need only look at today’s Republican party, its teabaggers, its “values voters” for the answer. Scary, hateful, regressive, aggressively ill-informed people.

There’s where labels belong, seems to me.



When I posted it here, it was called "Labels." It was a good title, too.

Sometimes I wish I had more readership -- I had a lot more on Surgeonsblog -- but this one is mostly a way toward personal depressurization after I read another day's worth of what's going on out there. Few minds, including mine, I'm sure, are changeable anymore, so the writing is just because I seem to need to.

I will say, though, with respect to changing minds, since mine is among those that believe in chlorophyll and carbon-dating and provable stuff like the failure of Reaganomics, it's not the one that needs changing.



Bad Science


For the reviled-by-Republicans and decreasing number of us that still believe in the value of science, this is disturbing:

In the fall of 2010, Dr. Ferric C. Fang made an unsettling discovery. Dr. Fang, who is editor in chief of the journal Infection and Immunity, found that one of his authors had doctored several papers.

[...]

The journal wound up retracting six of the papers from the author, Naoki Mori of the University of the Ryukyus in Japan. ...

Dr. Fang became curious how far the rot extended. To find out, he teamed up with a fellow editor at the journal, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. And before long they reached a troubling conclusion: not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem — “a symptom of a dysfunctional scientific climate,” as Dr. Fang put it.

Dr. Casadevall, now editor in chief of the journal mBio, said he feared that science had turned into a winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct.

“This is a tremendous threat,” he said.


The thing about science that so many fail to understand (other than the whole thing) is that it is, as opposed to political dogma and by definition, self-correcting. That's how this sort of stuff is discovered, and expunged. Still, as standards of truth and honesty seem to be eroding steadily and irreversibly, it's worrisome. (Yes, the quoted paragraph refers to a Japanese researcher, but the article identifies the trend across the board; and, by its measure, the greatest number of retractions come from The New England Journal of Medicine, of all places.)

The flaws aren't in the scientific process: they're in the people doing it. People cheat everywhere, in all things. But when it happens in science, the implications are global. Honest errors are another matter, and are expected; which is why the scientific method includes efforts to corroborate and to falsify. It's part of the deal. But you'd think the incidence would be sort of steady-state. If people are becoming more greedy, less careful, more deliberately dishonest, or just less well-trained, it bodes ill. (Interestingly, one explanation for the increased number of retractions that the authors mention is the internet: papers are now readily available to countless more people, making errors more likely to be discovered.)

Far be it from me to extrapolate overmuch. But in the US, the climate of derogation of expertise, of displacing science with religion, of failing to teach people rigorous science -- not to mention the political modeling of lying and deception -- is hardly conducive to producing good science from good scientists. Nor is the increasing trend of rejecting data that might prevent one from cleaving to their preferred misconceptions.

I guess I can't say the two trends -- bad science and bad politics -- are clearly related. Much as I'd like to blame it all on the right-wing march to theocracy while trampling on facts (much as wingers are blaming the Secret Service scandal on homosexuals), I don't have the data. Call it a hunch. It'd make a good study, if we could find some reputable people to do it.

(And, sure, I realize I'm opening myself to the random rantings of those who deny anthropomorphic climate change. But that's, in fact, an example of good science: proposed, predictions made and confirmed, studied, collated, challenged, tested and re-tested, and nearly universally agreed upon across the planet. It's not that we have no good scientists left. Just that it's possibly a trend, one which, in the current political millieu is unlikely to improve, if the RWS™ and their oh-WTF-he'll-have-to-do candidate have their way.)


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Floating Turd


I can't say for sure, but I think there was a time when I sort of admired Jerry Riviera. Unless I'm wrong, he used to do some actual reporting. What I find most amazing about the above is how he's become the perfectly Platonic ideal of a Fox "news" person: He's going for the fuck-yeah watcher. Which, I'm betting -- if I'm wrong, convince me -- was the reaction of most of his viewers.

Of course it would have been predictable that the Taliban guy (assuming he was real) would use the opportunity to propagandize. One might ask, therefore, what was the point in the first place. But whereas it might have been a bit of a coup to have had an opportunity to hear from one of those guys, it's clear Mr Fox had no intention of using it to produce any kind of insight. As usual, Geraldo made the whole thing about himself. And, following the Fox-what-Ailes-us model, knowing he had no reason to respect his audience, he went for the gut reaction. Right-wing America's trusted (what word comes next?) source.

In a catalog of pathetic examples Fox abandoning any pretense of news, so long as to be impossible to list, this floats to the top like turds (don't click that link) produced by pancreatic insufficiency.


Ads Up


If I had the skills, I'd make a campaign ad for President Obama, post it to YouTube, and make it go viral. Like the videos I posted recently, it'd show a few of Mitt Romney's most staggering lies, maybe a silent clip of him talking, or a picture with mouth moving, Jib-Jab-like, with titled words coming out of his mouth, his lies, one after the other, plastered over his picture until it's entirely covered by them. (There wouldn't be room for them all.) And there'd be a voice-over saying something like this:


In America we've gotten used to politicians lying. We give a pass to those who exaggerate, who stretch the truth. We've even made sure it's legal to do so. But Mitt Romney's lies are different. They're constant, they're obvious, they're beyond anything we've ever seen. He seems physically unable to tell the truth, about himself, about his opponents. Think about it. Do we really want such a blatant and easy liar sitting in the Oval Office? Someone to whom the truth seems to be literally irrelevant? Seriously. Think about it.


Do I harp on Romney's lies too much? Maybe, although I think it's central to who he is. And it's not just me who sees it and finds it alarming. Here's one who may have a better way of looking at it than my view that it's pathological:

A marathon of debates and an eon of campaigning have toughened and honed Romney. He commands the heights of great assurance, and he knows, as some of us learn too late in life, that the truth is not always a moral obligation but sometimes merely what works. He often cites his business background as commending him for the presidency. That’s his forgivable absurdity. Instead, what his career has given him is the businessman’s concept of self — that what he does is not who he is. This is what enables the slumlord to be a charitable man. This is what enables the corporate raider to endow his university. Business is business. It’s what you do. It is not who you are. Lying isn’t a sin. It’s a business plan.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Capitalist


Mitt Romney and the RWS™ will push any lie they think people will buy. Top of the list, other than, you know, the Muslim Kenyan terrorist thing, is that President Obama is a socialist, a hater of capitalism. Not that it would matter to them or their true believers, but this runs in the face of about a billion facts, not the least of which is that the Dow has nearly doubled since Obama took office, Wall Street profits are at all-time highs, corporate taxes are lower, hundreds of regulations have been removed or simplified...

Not news: teabaggRs will believe anything. News: Obama has managed to play it in such a way as to lose people on the left and the right. As Gov. Spitzer says, his words piss off Wall-Streeters, his actions piss off liberals. Despite flourishing under his presidency, the über-capitalists are sending their money to Mitt. And liberals are adding this to their growing list of disappointments.

In the same zone: the romneying of Obama's energy policies. You hear Mitt talk, our president has all but completely corked the flow of oil. You learn the facts, you know that under Obama, drilling has quadrupled compared to Bush, and that we're closer to energy independence than we've been in a generation. And yet, proving the success of the deliberate dumbification by RWS™ and Fox "news," there was a letter to the editor in my local newspaper the other day, asking when liberals would demand Obama end the ban on drilling so gas prices can go down.

The made-up Obama has been an awful president, a destroyer. A communiss. Never the far-lefty he was called by Fox "news" and the rest of the RWS™, the real one has been a middle-of-the-road disappointment to many liberals. So he's fighting lies from one side and truth from the other. Tough gig. (If you want an even more compelling look at how Obama is anything but a socialist, and is, in fact, an economic conservative, read this amazing article. And yet, the lies from the right take hold like crabgrass.)

By far, the best thing Obama has going for him in the general election against Mitt Romney is Mitt Romney. A Romney presidency -- since he believes in nothing -- would be an unencumbered breezeway for takeover by people like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Wayne LaPierre and Louie Gohmert and Virginia Foxx and Michele Bachmann... god, the mind reels. Dark ages theocracy. Zombie economics. A hatefest. A lost future.

That's why Obama deserves to win. Well, that, and ending the war in Iraq, the Ledbetter law, health care (which could have been way better), the automobile industry, reversing the economic collapse, progress on equality (but not enough), believing in science (but kind of ignoring it, vis â vis climate change)... So, yeah, I'll vote for him, and not really reluctantly. But wishing he'd been stronger in many things, while certain it'd have been much worse under McCain/Palin, and would be even more so were Mitt to sit in the Oval Office.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Speaking Of Footprints...


I think we need a definition of "Romney," like we have for "Santorum." Could be an adjective, meaning something that can't be made to stand up. "Cook the noodles until they're romney." A noun would work there, too: "We were making love, but then I got a romney." Or maybe a verb, referring to lying so transparently that some people nearby laugh out loud, while others have their heads explode. As in, "Caught with a bagful of jewels outside the jewelry store, Joe denied everything. This isn't me, he romneyed. I'm across town having a beer."


Beyond Parody


The above clip is more documentary than satire. The latest pander (although by the time this is published there'll undoubtedly be more) is Mitt's talk to the NRA, where he channeled Wayne LaPierre and announced that if he's reelected, Barack Obama will take away our gun rights. He also announced that Obama hasn't done enough to protect them, either. Which is pretty weird, when you consider how he's pissed off liberals for doing nothing at all to regulate guns, and that his only actual action was to allow them in National Parks.

Rising to the top of my reasons to want President Obama to be reelected is to see what the insane paranoiacs will say when none of their dire predictions come to pass. I'm sure they'll come up with something. They always do.

Meanwhile, it'll be really entertaining to see Romney backtrack during the general election phase, like I used to do, as a kid, in my snow footprints. I could never make my footprints look undisturbed, though. He won't either.

“According to a Romney adviser, his private view of immigration isn’t as anti-immigrant as he often sounded.”

What exactly does that mean? Does it mean Romney said things that he doesn’t really believe? What are we supposed to make of a candidate who takes certain public positions to court one group of voters — and then tries to reassure an entirely different group of voters by leaking the fact that he doesn’t really believe what he said to win votes from the first group? How many other “private” positions does Romney hold that we don’t know about?



Sunday, April 15, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Science, It Burns


Comes another study explaining the existence of conservatism:
The authors test the hypothesis that low-effort thought promotes political conservatism. In Study 1, alcohol intoxication was measured among bar patrons; as blood alcohol level increased, so did political conservatism (controlling for sex, education, and political identification). In Study 2, participants under cognitive load reported more conservative attitudes than their no-load counterparts. In Study 3, time pressure increased participants’ endorsement of conservative terms. In Study 4, participants considering political terms in a cursory manner endorsed conservative terms more than those asked to cogitate; an indicator of effortful thought (recognition memory) partially mediated the relationship between processing effort and conservatism. Together these data suggest that political conservatism may be a process consequence of low-effort thought; when effortful, deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases.
Add it to the list, I guess. Not long ago, there was this:
Despite their important implications for interpersonal behaviors and relations, cognitive abilities have been largely ignored as explanations of prejudice. ... In an analysis of two large-scale, nationally representative United Kingdom data sets (N = 15,874), we found that lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology. A secondary analysis of a U.S. data set confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice, ... All analyses controlled for education and socioeconomic status. Our results suggest that cognitive abilities play a critical, albeit underappreciated, role in prejudice. Consequently, we recommend a heightened focus on cognitive ability in research on prejudice and a better integration of cognitive ability into prejudice models.

And I've written here (so often that there are links within links within links) of many other studies confirming inborn neurophysiological difference between liberals and conservatives.

So we should accept that, barring the advent of forward-thinking eugenics, they'll always be around; and that it's not their fault. If their defects were just a harmless curiosity, like two-headed cows or polydactyly, we could cherish conservatives as a sort of colorful part of an often grey political landscape. But we keep letting them take charge of things, even after they've screwed it all up.

What does that say about the rest of us???


Glimmer?


If I thought Democrats were capable of a coherent message and making an obvious case, this would be encouraging:

... the fervor and enthusiasm spurred by the tea party in 2010 appears to have dissipated, with no major tea party rallies taking place this year and fewer Republican candidates latching on to the label. On the presidential campaign trail, the tea party is rarely mentioned.

In contrast, Democrats are actually starting to wield the tea party label as a tool in their campaigns.

[...]

“It’s no longer viewed as a populist, grass-roots organization, but a dangerous group with extremist views that don’t reflect the mainstream values of America’s middle class,” Democratic media strategist John Lapp said.

Well, the fact is that, looking at its congressional representatives anyway, it is a dangerous extremist group, one that's done more damage to our future than any attack on buildings in New York and D.C. could do. It's not a hard case to make. Were the parties reversed, you know Republicans, aided by their 24/7 propaganda network, would be doing it with as much coordination as the landing on Omaha beach.

Experience tells us Democrats are unable to muster such message-effectiveness, even when, as in this case (and health care), the facts are on their side. But teabaggR intransigence and insistence on pre-failed ideas and unworkable numbers, their disbelief in the fundamental need for compromise in a democracy are so obvious that you'd think even Ds could manage to convince enough voters to right the ship.

I take it on faith that people capable of understanding still exist. Right? Right?


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Could Be Interesting


Reportedly, there's a liberal mole inside the Fox empire. Since I doubt moles stand much of a chance against foxes, I doubt s/he'll be there for long. Meanwhile, it might be fun, although based on the first report from behind the lines, all s/he can do is confirm what's obvious to every breathing human not in the thrall of their steady stream of bullshit. Referring to "Fox Nation," a gathering place for the lowest of the already low Foxophiles, the writer writes:

The post that broke the camel's back might be familiar to some of you, because it garnered a lot of attention and (well-deserved) ridicule when it hit last August. The item was aggregating several news sources that were reporting innocuously on President Obama's 50th birthday party, which was attended by the usual mix of White House staffers, DC politicos and Dem-friendly celebs. The Fox Nation, naturally, chose to illustrate the story with a photo montage of Obama, Charles Barkley, Chris Rock, and Jay Z, and the headline "Obama's Hip Hop BBQ Didn't Create Jobs."

The post neatly summed up everything that had been troubling me about my employer: Non sequitur, ad hominem attacks on the president; gleeful race baiting; a willful disregard for facts; and so on. It came close on the heels of the Common controversy, which exhibited a lot of the same ugly traits. (See also: terrorist fist jabs; Fox & Friends madrassa accusations; etc.)


(I mentioned that little BBQ gem, myself.)

To prove insider access, the linked article includes video of Romney and Hannity chatting before going live, Romney talking about his and his wife's horses (don't we all?), and dissing Donald Trump before going on the air and praising him. The expected stuff.

So I doubt it'll break any new ground; and even if it does, nothing will stop Fox viewers from considering it their most trusted news source. But at least -- were they capable of it, that is -- they might have to admit what they like about it is exactly the fact that it's unfair, biased, and mainlining its propaganda straight into their SVCs, reinforcing their low-information prejudices and false beliefs, narcotizing them in the process.

[Update: I wrote the above a couple of days ago. The guy mustn't be all that brilliant, tech-wise, because he got discovered and fired pretty quickly. On the other hand, unless Fox has one of these (they do, effectively: it's called their "news" programming) he can keep on writing about his experiences. Maybe from jail.)




JOBS


Other than a vague awareness that many unions and lots of liberals aren't happy with the just-signed JOBS act, I haven't been paying much attention. But I admit I took a little more notice when I saw the leering face of Eric Cantor hovering over Obama as he signed the bill. Can't be a good sign, I thought. Turns out I may have been right. Matt Taibbi thinks so, anyway.

The "Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act" (in addition to everything else, the Act has an annoying, redundant title) will very nearly legalize fraud in the stock market.

In fact, one could say this law is not just a sweeping piece of deregulation that will have an increase in securities fraud as an accidental, ancillary consequence. No, this law actually appears to have been specifically written to encourage fraud in the stock markets.

Ostensibly, the law makes it easier for startup companies (particularly tech companies, whose lobbyists were a driving force behind its passage) to attract capital by, among other things, exempting them from independent accounting requirements for up to five years after they first begin selling shares in the stock market.

The law also rolls back rules designed to prevent bank analysts from talking up a stock just to win business, a practice that was so pervasive in the tech-boom years as to be almost industry standard.

Even worse, the JOBS Act, incredibly, will allow executives to give "pre-prospectus" presentations to investors using PowerPoint and other tools in which they will not be held liable for misrepresentations. These firms will still be obligated to submit prospectuses before their IPOs, and they'll still be held liable for what's in those. But it'll be up to the investor to check and make sure that the prospectus matches the "pre-presentation."

Without spending way more time than I want to, I'm in no position to comment on the claim (not that that's ever stopped me before). But Matt Taibbi has written some pretty impressive articles, and seems to be an actual reporter of the type that pretty much no longer exists: one who digs deep and asks hard questions of all parties. So it concerns me.

I still believe that the whole idea of encouraging businesses to hire people makes no sense. Unless they're stupid, they hire when there is work to be done, not because they get a tax break or other considerations. The way government creates jobs is to create jobs. Projects, for which it pays.

Meanwhile, it seems Barack Obama is, once again, giving in to right-wingers and their long-since debunked claims that deregulation is the honey that greases the duck. Is it political? To say he's for jobs? Is he still thinking if he just bends over farther still they'll finally start kissing his ass?

Whatever it is, until I learn otherwise, count me disappointed. Again.

You can watch a video of Matt Taibbi on the subject here. Meanwhile, tell me again: in what way is President Obama a socialist???


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Teen Angels



Here's a list, just released by the CDC, of teen pregnancy rates per 1000, by state:

1. Mississippi 55
2. New Mexico 52.9
3. Arkansas 52.5
4. Texas 52.2
5.Oklahoma 50.4
6. Louisiana 47.7
7. Kentucky 46.2
8. West Virginia 44.8
9. Alabama 43.6
10. Tennessee 43.2
11. South Carolina 42.5
12. Arizona 42.4
13. Georgia 41.4
14. Kansas 39.2
15.Wyoming 39
16. Nevada 38.6
17. Alaska 38.3
17. North Carolina 38.3
19. Indiana 37.3
20. Missouri 37.1
21. Montana 35
22. South Dakota 34.9
23. Ohio 34.2
24. Colorado 33.4
25. Idaho 33
26. Illinois 33
27. Hawaii 32.5
28. Florida 32
29. California 31.5
30. Nebraska 31.1
31. Delaware 30.5
32. Michigan 30.1
33. North Dakota 28.8
34. Iowa 28.6
35. Oregon 28.1
36. Utah 27.9
37. Virginia 27.4
38. Maryland 27.2
39. Pennsylvania 27
40. Washington 26.7
41. Wisconsin 26.2
42. New York 22.6
43. Minnesota 22.5
44. Rhode Island 22.3
45. Maine 21.4
46. New Jersey 20.3
47. Connecticut 18.9
48. Vermont 17.9
49. Massachusetts 17.1
50. New Hampshire 15.7


Isn't hard to notice, is it, that from highest to lowest is pretty much a trip from the reddest of the red, the Christianist, we're-the-ones-with-family-values, abstinence-only states, to the bluest of the blue, liberal, anti-family not-real-American ones.

Not that it means anything.

(Important side note: when singing that song [I do like to sing], I changed the opening line to "That fateful night we parked the car upon the railroad track; I tied you down, you broke away, I dragged you screaming back."


Supreme Irony



If you parse President Obama's comments regarding the Supreme Court and the ACA, they're hardly as egregious as the RWS™ would have us believe. Still, it'd have been better to have stayed out of it, even if all he said, basically, was that he was confident (I'm not) they'd uphold the law.

But if his decision to address them more or less directly was imprudent, the reaction to it from the right is, well, re-fucking-diculous. At the time of the arguments in court, I commented (as have others -- nothing I say is unique, even if it's first, which it generally isn't) on the blatantly political tone of Scalia's questions. Abandoning any pretense of judicial impartiality, he sounded like a right-wing talking point in black robes. Suddenly the party that's decried "judicial activism" for decades, that's listened, of late, to a potential leader call for the arrest of judges with whom he disagrees and has remained silent -- suddenly that party thinks judicial activism is the greatest thing since sliced Reagan.

Democrats, of course, aren't above criticism; they've done pretty much a one-eigthy on the subject themselves. But at least "their" judges, as in Roe v. Wade, tried to fit a constitutional argument into their positions. Scalia, and Roberts, and Alito, seemed to be arguing the wisdom of the health care law, and its politics. Which is decidedly not their job. The Constitution doesn't say laws must be smart.

If he'd listened to liberals and included a public option in the law, Barack Obama wouldn't be in this position now. Nobody, other than every Republican just a few years ago, likes the idea of mandates (Newt still does). But it is what it is; and now an undisguisedly politicized Supreme Court will decide, likely by a 5-4 vote as usual, whose preferred meanings get applied to the words of the Constitution. Humpties vs Dumpties.

In the meantime, the party that until only very recently has viewed the federal judiciary as literal criminals is rising to its defense, now that they think it might activate in their general direction.

What a politically fucked-up country we've become. And though there's blame to go around, I'd say it falls mostly on teabaggRs, RWS™, and Republicans' concept of governance, ever since Newt Gingrich became Speaker.

By a lot more than 5-4.




Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Don't Worry




Yep, nothing to worry about. Just keep listening to Fox "news" and turn the sound to eleven.

WASHINGTON — It’s been so warm in the United States this year, especially in March, that national records weren’t just broken, they were deep-fried.

Temperatures in the lower 48 states were 8.6 degrees above normal for March and 6 degrees higher than average for the first three months of the year, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That far exceeds the old records.

The magnitude of how unusual the year has been in the U.S. has alarmed some meteorologists who have warned about global warming. One climate scientist said it’s the weather equivalent of a baseball player on steroids, with old records obliterated.

“Everybody has this uneasy feeling. This is weird. This is not good,” said Jerry Meehl, a climate scientist who specializes in extreme weather at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

(Here's a map of the 15,000 high temperature records set in the US last month.)

If there are humans around in a century or so, or when the alien overlords finally arrive and dig around in the rubble, surely there'll be amazement that on the planet there was one country among all others where climate change denial was dominant, and remained so, the hotter it got. Where it was possible to predict a person's denialism by his or her membership in a single political party; where that party not only rejected the truth in this matter, but, in astounding numbers, rejected science altogether. And they'll stagger away (feet protected from the burbling asphalt), stunned, realizing that this was occurring not in the Dark Ages, nor when the Catholic Church was killing people for saying the earth revolved around the sun; but in a so-called enlightened period, when the discoveries of science were causing a technological revolution, reaching into outer space, wiping out diseases that had killed millions of people for generations.

And yet, here we are, the United States of America, the formerly great, the cradle of discovery and invention, where its universities were once envied around the world, where education was sought after -- and is now derided. Where experts were turned to for their ideas -- and now the whole idea of expertise is laughed at unapologetically, as political strategy, by a party that's hitched its future to ignorance, because its ideas would never be accepted without it. An entire political party whose foundation is disbelief in science. It's simply incomprehensible. Now. In the twenty-first century.

If I didn't have a kid with a fabulous fiancé and the prospect of grandkids, I'd say efforts to save this place were a waste of time.