Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nothing More To Say

Time For Recess



For the record: I have no idea about the validity of "recess appointments," or of claiming the Senate is in session when everyone is, in fact, gone; which is what Rs had done before the appointments Obama made that have now been declared unconstitutional. If they are, I wouldn't defend them in any way; although if it turned on the definition of "recess," when, in fact, everyone had hightailed it except for a designated R stooge to go to the floor for a few seconds every three days, which is what happened, then I'd think it was pretty phony business.

Meanwhile, though, it's worth knowing a couple of things about the judge who made the ruling:

One of the most effective judges in implementing partisan Republican policies from the federal bench has been David Sentelle. He is like the Zelig of GOP judicial activism -- from appointing Ken Starr to exonerating Ollie North and Admiral Poindexter, from letting Dick Cheney keep the publics' energy papers secret to approving Bush secret search warrants: the guy seems to show up everywhere the GOP needs a judicial hatchet man. 

According to the book "The Hunting of the President," in an article written while he was on the U.S. Appeals Court, Sentelle "accused 'leftist heretics' of scheming to turn the United States into 'a collectivist, egalitarian, materialistic, race-conscious, hyper-secular, and socially permissive state.'" This is not Ann Coulter, who makes her living out of outrageous and often violent comments about liberals; this is a federal judge who played a key role in passing out Iran-Contra "get out of jail cards" and set-up the impeachment of Bill Clinton.


As you can see from the quotation in our excerpt, Sentelle's core beliefs amount to a Rush Limbaugh rant on a day when he is in his uber-demagogue mode. And remember Sentelle "accused 'leftist heretics' of scheming to turn the United States into 'a collectivist, egalitarian, materialistic, race-conscious, hyper-secular, and socially permissive state" while sitting as an active judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals!

To understand Sentelle a bit, you need to know his origins and chief political sponsor.Sentelle is a former North Carolina GOP state party official and attorney (Mecklenburg County Republican Chairman in 1979-1980). He was a Jesse Helms protege. Helms got Reagan's people to appoint Sentelle to the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. Ironically, when his wing nut soulmate, Antonin Scalia, was appointed to the Supreme Court, Sentelle was "moved up" to the D.C. Appellate Court to succeed him there. (It should be noted that former NC Senator Lauch Faircloth -- who John Edwards defeated in 1998 -- was also an active promoter of Sentelle and played a role in Sentelle's appointment of Ken Starr for the purpose of finding a legal toehold to impeach Bill Clinton.)

I'll note, in fairness, that it was a unanimous decision from a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit, a very conservative court in general (consisting of more than three judges); so it wasn't just the aforementioned reprobate. Did he hand-pick the other two? Are they as partisan as he? Well, who knows? It's probably moot, anyway; at this point I suppose it'd be up to the Supreme Court, if the administration appeals. And I'd guess that wouldn't get past the ferocious five.

Meanwhile, given the weak tea that is the so-called filibuster reform capitulated by agreed to by Harry Reid, and the Rs' continued prime directive to prevent our president from doing anything, government will remain hogtied by their refusal to approve appointments, even those cleared easily by the relevant committees.

[Image source]

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Personhood



Interesting: turns out, for the Catholic church, fetal personhood ends on the way to the bank. Maybe you've already heard: In a response to a wrongful death lawsuit against a Catholic hospital, wherein doctors failed to attempt to save the twin pregnancies of a woman who'd arrived in their ER with a massive heart attack, the church is defending itself on the grounds that the "twins were fetuses, and not people."


The hospital's defense, so far successful, is to claim that because the twins were fetuses and not people, this can't legally be viewed as a wrongful-death situation. 
Of course, the problem is that the hospital is run by Catholic Health Initiatives—Catholic, as in that religion whose leadership routinely claims that not only are fetuses people, but so are embryos, zygotes, and fertilized eggs. That claim is used to turn women into sacrificial lambs for the faith, denying them not just elective abortions but telling them that it's not OK to terminate pregnancies where there's no chance of producing a live baby. Women who go to Catholic hospitals in these situations have been denied procedures to save their fertility or even their lives. But, as this lawsuit shows, the passionate belief that anything post-fertilization is a "person" evaporates the second it stops being useful as a way to oppress women (and the second it starts possibly costing the Catholic hospital money).
Yikes. So much for morality and absolutism. Not when money is involved, anyway. But it's part and parcel of the whole debate: easier to tell other people how to behave than to behave that way yourself. It's useful to know that as the Church imposes its moral rhetoric on everyone else, it couldn't give less of a shit about it if it might cost them pieces of silver. I find it enlightening. And startling, matter of fact.

[Image source]

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dignity




Here is a very interesting rumination on today's American South. It reinforces and clarifies what has seemed obvious to me and, probably, everyone else who looks at it: their current intransigence is precisely about Obama. To receive help from a black guy offends their sense of dignity. It's encoded deeply enough there that it moves them to hurt themselves in the process.


... They were defeated but not dumb. With dreams of an agrarian society, they might denounce the industrial north, but they got the funds to bring electricity to large parts of the South from the government’s Tennessee Valley Authority. ...
But the current South is willing to cut off its own nose to show contempt for the government. Governor Rick Scott of Florida turned down more than $2 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail system in Florida that would have created jobs and millions of dollars in revenues, just to show he was independent of the hated federal government. ... 
No part of the country will suffer the effects of global warming earlier or with more devastation than the South, yet its politicians resist measures to curb carbon emissions and deny the very existence of climate change ... But it just digs deeper in denial. The South has decided to be defeated and dumb.
... I was made aware of the odd mix of gain and loss when I went back to Atlanta to see my beloved grandmother. She told me not to hold change between my lips while groping for a pocket to put it in—“That might have been in a nigger’s mouth.” Once, when she took me to Mass, she walked out of the church when a black priest came out to celebrate. I wondered why, since she would sit and eat with a black woman who helped her with housework. “It is the dignity—I would not let him take the Lord in his hands.”
... That is why the worst aspects of the South are resurfacing under Obama’s presidency. It is the dignity. That a black should have not merely rights but prominence, authority, and even awe—that is what many Southerners cannot stomach. They would let him ride on the bus, or get into Ivy League schools. But he must be kept from the altar; he cannot perform the secular equivalent of taking the Lord in his hands. It is the dignity.
Up north, where the racists are more sprinkled about, it's just manifest in blind hate and conspiracy theories. They can accept the needed government programs with the luxury of railing about it at the same time.

There's false dignity, too; and it's just the inverse of self-esteem. You call upon your self-described "dignity" to convince yourself you're better than "they" are. It's always been the source of prejudice and bullying and the sort of formless rage we see directed at President Obama.

[Image source]

Reality Hurts



In 2012, US oil production increased faster than at any time in history. So much for teabagger/RWS™ claims that Obama is trying to shut it down.

So guess how the wingnuts have responded to the news, as a sampling of one of the wingnuttiest site's comments shows:


To: MinorityRepublican Not that the Obamatrons haven’t tried to stop it.  
To: Nachum
Not that the Obamatrons haven’t tried to stop it. I can only imagine how much American energy would be produced if the current regime weren't blocking it at every turn! We'd be independent of the middle eastern goons if a pro-energy, pro-business administration were in power. Instead, Obama fights the oil producers with absurd regulations and confiscatory taxes to keep his muzzie kinfolk enriched. And, We the People, suffer pain at the pump year after year with the pretender and his gang in charge.
"Blocking it at every turn." The proof of which, evidently, is the record-breaking increase. Amazing. The farce is strong in these people, and it's beyond comprehension. But it's also obvious that there'll never be a way to get through to them. No amount of facts, no amount of evidence to the contrary of everything they believe will change their minds. For some reason, they're unalterably invested in their hatreds and blindness. Clearly, their need arises from a very dark place. These are damaged people.

The irony, of course, is that isn't exactly good news to liberals concerned about greenhouse gas production. But the larger point is the extent to which our politics is poisoned, maybe irreparably, by people such as these. And the ones they elect to Congress.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fog


A bit of a change of pace, here's my latest Sunday newspaper column:

I’m writing this on the day the world disappeared. 

Beyond my low white fence is nothing; nothing but heavy fog and grey silence. Islands, water, mountains, as gone as if they were never there. It feels like riding the only bit of turf in the universe, or that there’s no universe at all except this little spot, disconnected, nothing above or below, in front or behind. Other than the cedar tree, visible only partway to its top, and the empty maple, only a step from passing into invisibility, there are no living things. Finding no markers between up and down, maybe the birds are disoriented. Whatever the reason, they’ve gone quiet, making isolation even more palpable.
 
Because I like living where the seasons change, I accept it. Until I don’t, at the point when it begins to feel claustrophobic. It’s been foggy for several days, now; this time around, it’s been lifting, or at least thinning to the point of moderated visibility, as the day rolls it up. It wasn’t too many years ago, if you remember, that we were fogged in, the whole city, for, maybe, a couple weeks straight, with no breaking through. That began to feel unearthly; a sense there was no way out, no direction to go. No direction at all, really. Just monochromatic nothing, with no points of reference. The mind needs horizons, and there were none. 
Driving, slowing for the bleakness, oncoming cars appear suddenly, too close. It’s unnatural, unmaking the rules of sight and distance, the expected timing and rhythms having disappeared with the horizon. Headlights take on a feral and feline aura, creeping into view before their cars, undimming their way out of the fog, coming in on Cheshire cat feet. Menacing. Trees, what can be seen of them, stand colorless in silence, and, because it’s winter, their grey nakedness feels ominous, feels like they’re waiting to step out of the fog (or further back into it), biding their time for something nasty. Unbounded by edges, imagination confounds. 
During my surgery training in San Francisco, our tiny mid-city house was right on the fog line. We could open the front door to the same sort of greyness I’m looking at now, except that our neighbors never quite disappeared. Out our back door, though, at the very same time, our Sunday morning coffee deck and Arizona-like rocky garden remained sunbathed. The house was magical in other ways, too, being our first. To get into the garage you lifted a trap door. Built right after the earthquake, the house was of wood, and low to the ground. Only 900 square feet, it had an improbably nice kitchen. And that yard. I wasn’t home much; but when I was, there were always sunny Sunday mornings, and coffee on the deck, and the fountain. 
Always, no matter the weather elsewhere, the back garden remained sunny. With its lilies and, until they gave themselves up, one day, to wandering raccoons, koi, our artificial pond, into which I’d built that fountain, sounded us a million miles from the city. In memory, the fog never made it past the front door, or robbed us of the view of our cypress tree. I could be wrong. 
Foghorns were more distant in San Francisco than they are here, far enough away to be always romantic, a reassuring foot- or mind-hold, orienting to direction, unlike the fog. Here we live not far from the Mukilteo Lighthouse with its foghorns, and the romance fades over the day; especially since – maybe because of the bluffs – it’s hard to tell from where the ever more intrusive moaning comes. But I know where it is; so the fact that the sound is directionless only magnifies the sense of disconnection. 
So, you might be asking, what is a fluff-piece like this doing in the opinion pages? Two things. For one, I don’t like being a scold all the time. For another, I’ve noticed something which, in my opinion, deserves consideration: without foghorns, there is no fog. The louder and more frequent the horns, the denser the fog. Think about it: if there were no fog, there’d be no need for the horns. “Big foghorn” is behind this. The fog comes in because of the horns, not the other way around.
 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Our Out Of Touch President



The above is from a Gallup poll. And the questions are a combination of President Obama's actions and proposals regarding guns. And yet, what we hear are the loudest voices of a distinct minority: the NRA as represented by its leadership, the crazies in Congress, and the paranoiacs at large in our midst.

It's in this context that I find particularly amusing John Boehner's latest bit of extracosmic thinking, when he claimed Barack Obama's agenda is to annihilate the Republican party. (One can hope!) It could be true, in effect if not in specific intent: as long as today's Republican party is so out of step with the needs and wants of America, then by proposing reasonable, popular, and necessary actions in all areas of our national discourse, our president will, merely because of reality, expose teabaggRs for the regressive and destructive actors that they are. If today's Republican party is heading toward annihilation, it's not by any actions the president is taking; it's by their own intransigent refusal to think beyond their most selfish self-interest; not to mention their theocratic intentions.

On the other hand, I don't see signs of it actually occurring. Because of their gerrymandering and on-going efforts at suppressing and degrading the votes of their opposition, they'll keep sending enough representatives of the Bachmann/Gohmert/Broun variety to derail progressive legislation, if not to advance their own. Which means, as I see it, their self destruction will coincide with their destruction of everything else.



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Vile And Disgusting



This makes me want to puke.

...The repugnant and absurd theories about the massacre of children in Newtown, Connecticut, last month seem like an obvious candidate for the first category, simply too insane to gain any sort of wide acceptance. But some of the factors that can bring theories in from the fringe appear to be driving its unexpected surge this month: a connection to America's intensely polarized political culture in general, and a message that appeals to a long-standing fear among gun owners, in particular.
The leading version of the "Sandy Hook Hoax" theory, such as it is, holds that the incident was staged by the White House as a prelude to disarming America...
There'll always be lunatics and conspiracists. And I have to admit I have no idea how many people they really represent nowadays. But it seems to have become rampant among the right-wing instinctive haters of Barack Obama; the same types who're convinced he's about to round up their guns and make them pray to Allah. And, of course, there's no more fertile soil, of late, than teabaggers.

There's a lot of them, for sure; some have even been elected to public office. National office! This vileness, this brain-eating force took over a former friend of mine a couple years back, and whereas I've long since stopped mourning for or caring about him, I'll always fear for a country in which this sort of thinking carries any sort of weight at all. And, perhaps more importantly, for a country that considers the worst propaganda machine since the heyday of the Soviet Union a credible news source. Given its reach and insanity, it might well be the biggest contributor of all to the rise in the phenomenon.

I wish I understood it. At minimum it speaks to the profound fallibility of the human brain. No wonder god hasn't showed up in a couple thousand years. I'd be embarrassed, too, it humans were the best I could do.

[Image source]

Heartless And Stupid



So great not-white hope #2 for the R party has decided to end Medicaid coverage for hospice care.


NEW ORLEANS -- Starting Feb. 1 Louisiana will stop offering hospice care services to most patients on medicaid.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is eliminating the service to families in the state due to state budget cuts.
...
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals say the elimination of hospice care for medicaid patients will mean nearly $3.3 million in savings this year alone. In 2014, it'll mean $8.3 million in savings.
However, Burns believes the state will end up paying much more with terminally ill patients forced to turn to local hospitals.
"They'll just go in and out of the hospitals, maybe go to icus, and they wont' be able to have their family around them with hospice care," said Burns.
This, I think, is a perfect metaphor for today's teabagger-based Republicans. They'd rather people die less humanely, more miserably, with less comfort, than raise the revenues to provide the needed care. And I think the comment at the end is right: it'll end up costing more, defeating its cold-hearted and ignorant (in the sense of ignoring the non-wealthy) purpose.

 The same can be said of virtually their whole agenda: don't pay for things for the neediest among us; don't pay for the things we all need; provide happy tax rates for their big donors; and reap the costs downwind, when bridges crumble, medical costs rise, kids don't have the education to rise out of poverty. The costs deferred will only rise, and the problems will only become more difficult and expensive to solve.

Appalling. There's no other word for it.

Stupid. There's no other word for it.

Despicable. Selfish. Short-sighted. Ignorant. Indefensible. Unchristian. Mean-spirited.

There are no other words for it.

[Update: guess he reads this blog. He changed his mind, the same mind that thought it was okay in the first place.]

[Image source]

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mitchunderstanding



From the minority leader of the so-called greatest deliberative body in the world, comes this Rush Limbaugh-Glenn Beck-Wayne LaPierre lowest-depth straight-out scumbaggery. To raise money. For himself. The once (and future?), what, fourth? "most powerful" (whatever that means) person in our government. A national leader. A national Republican leader.


Dear Patriot,
You and I are literally surrounded.
The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out-assault on the Second Amendment. On your rights.
On your freedom.
Just the other night, President Obama urged them to act. And then he went one step further, spelling out the 23 different Executive Orders he will take to get your guns.
My friend, our freedom is under direct assault.
From those who want take your guns. From those who want to shred our Constitution, and as our good in friend Rand Paul from Kentucky says, from those who want to be King.
Let me tell you, Mitch McConnell is ready to lead the fight to protect your rights.
Will you stand with Mitch today?
Our Founders fought a revolution to secure our rights. They would have been appalled by what they heard from an American president the other day.
President Obama has the left wing media in a frenzy. And, like his old Chief of Staff, he is determined to not waste a crisis.
The gun-grabbers are in full battle mode. And they are serious.
What’s at stake?
There are almost too many schemes to list. But President Obama’s worst center around:
-The Feinstein Gun Ban, which will criminalize firearms by how they look.
-A thinly-veiled national gun registration scheme hidden under the guise of “background checks” to ensure federal government minders gain every bureaucratic tool they need for full-scale confiscation.
-An outright BAN on magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
-And that’s not even close to the end of it.
23 new Executive Orders.
It is almost hard to believe the sheer breadth and brazenness of this attempt to gut our Constitution.
Well, Mitch McConnell is not going to stand aside.
Mitch McConnell will stand and fight. He will lead the Senate Republicans against this unconstitutional agenda, and with your help, we will prevail.
But Mitch can’t do it alone.
That’s why I am asking you to sign the attached Defense of the Second Amendment pledge today to show that you stand with me in this vital fight.
Friend, from his very first run for office, Leader McConnell has always stood strong for your gun rights. Like you and me, he firmly believes that the Second Amendment protects YOU as an individual.
And, he absolutely will not let president Obama or the Senate Democrats take that right away from us.
So please help him fight back today.
For Freedom,
Jesse Benton
Campaign Manager
Sen. Mitch McConnell
P.S. President Obama and his allies are committed to eroding your Constitutional freedoms. Please sign your pledge TODAY to let him know that we stand with Mitch McConnell in opposing this gun grab.
It might well be that Dianne Feinstein's bill has some less-than-practical components; but I'd guess even a dishonest and cynical politician like McConnell knows he's lying here. But, as we've seen, appealing to fear and paranoia is the essence of the teabaggR game plan. Because, among other things, in this political climate, it works. Send money. Because Obama.

[Image source]

Moonstruck



Above is a highly entertaining video (thanks, Dougie) that debunks the fake-moon-landing conspiracies. It's worth watching to the end, which wraps it up in ways that ring true. In fact, a not-yet-published, still-in-progress Sunday column of mine ends (or probably will) thusly:


I’m not much for conspiracy theories, but since they’re such a part of what motivates people lately, consider this one: Those who have the most to gain from government ignoring the needs of its citizens, i.e., the tax-averse wealthy and those corporations which hate regulation, are peddling fear about the Second Amendment and other distractions (New Black Panthers! Hitler in the White House!!) to keep credulous people voting against themselves, afraid of that which isn’t, blind to that which is. Thus, the Tea Party, bought and taught by the Koch brothers and kept constantly befuddled by Fox “news.” And “patriot groups,” arming themselves against what they fear the most: the results of a democratic election. 
How’s that for a Doocy of a theory?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Big Guy Digs Guns



Well, I may have to rethink my position. Turns out guns are part of god's plan, essential to living the life he requires of us. (Because he screwed up so badly in making mankind so pathetically wanting?) So says a California lawmaker, anyway. And I assume he got the news straight from above. (Well, unless the devil, who stands with the most to gain, made him say it. I'm no theologian, but how ever can we tell?)


“Guns are used an average of 3 million times a year according to the Clinton Justice Department,” Assemblyman Tim Donnelly told the Christian talk radio show The Bottom Line on Wednesday. “That’s like 6,900 times a day. That’s the high end of the statistics, other people say it’s only 200 times a day.” 
“Whatever that number is, they are used to defend human life,” he explained. “They are used to defend our property and our families and our faith and our freedom, and they are absolutely essential to living the way God intended for us to live.”

I particularly appreciate learning that they're being "used to defend human life." Because until now, I thought mass murders, gang violence, drive-bys, suicides, kids accidently killing themselves with Dad's gun, dads accidentally killing their kids with their guns, the killing of innocent bystanders, and idiots like these guys -- not to mention robberies and domestic violence -- were sort of downside kinds of things, and not exactly what I'd call defending human life. But, as I already said, I'm no theologian.

Mystery works in godly ways, I guess. Can I get an amen?

[Image source]

Take Two



Unlike so many right-wing nuts, I think our president's inauguration speech was meaty enough to deserve a little digestion. Speaking with their mouths full, some of the aforementioned headed to the twitterverse, even as the words were still on Barack Obama's lips, with claims that it was fascist, or worse. On Fox "news," talkers were declaiming his lack of reaching out to Republicans. As if he'd won the election by making clear the differences between him and Rs or something.

I agree with those who've characterized it as his most progressive speech; I think it was deep and comprehensive, too, laying out his priorities and where he differs from the goals of Rs. And why shouldn't he? How far to reach out to a party that, literally from day one, plotted to derail his agenda, to work against everything for which he stood? Like the concept that caring for those in need makes for a more healthy society, as opposed to a bunch of "takers." When visions diverge so much, with such different consequences for the country; and when one party has been entirely intransigent, voting en bloc against everything while the other has proffered compromise on every major initiative, I think the greater movement can only be from right to left. Obama has always started well to the right of the farthest left.

Bipartisanship remains a worthy goal; and Barack Obama has indicated his willingness to address "entitlements," with the reservation that any changes ought not affect those most in need. Hard to disagree. When today's R party, as constituted in Congress, refuses even to acknowledge that global warming exists (every one of their members of the science committee voted that it doesn't!), where are the opportunities for reaching out? It starts with Rs becoming willing to address it as real, a move only they can make.

Pundits say it was mostly a civil rights speech; it was that, all right. But it was a pretty clear laying out of economic issues as well: that we mustn't have to choose between educating our kids and caring for the elderly. In other words, the R budget ideas, as exemplified by the Ryan budget onto which Congressional Rs happily signed, is a false choice.

Nor was it in any way, as those RW tweeters concluded, anti-capitalist. As is so obvious that even I have said it here several times, the success of capitalism depends on its support of a viable and mobile middle class, able, among other things, to buy the stuff businesses make. The increasing sequestration of money among a very few is what's anti-capitalist, if the goal is maintaining it for more than the current generation. The speech was a call to our greater selves, and, I think, a plea to end the intransigence, in the name of our timely needs. And I liked his statement that the proper role of government will never be settled; because times will always dictate that. These times are these times. They require government, and its legislators, to do their job.

I relished the diversity of participants in the ceremony. America will never again be mostly white; and I think diversity is a fundament of our strength. Yet, without doubt, many on the right (those who could stomach watching) were repulsed by it. Watching Barack and Michele dance last night, I smiled. And, without doubt, vast numbers of our country threw stuff at their TVs. Likewise, I was moved that the President stopped, before exiting the stage, to take in the view of the National Mall crowed with people, one last time, wistful and, I think, deeply thoughtful. On the other hand, I don't doubt the haters saw it as nothing more than egotism.

It will ever be thus, until and unless the Republican party takes back its message from teabaggers and extremist haters, paranoiacs and conspiracy spinners.

[Image source]


Monday, January 21, 2013

Changes Up North



I make no claim fully to understand this article, but it sounds serious. And it seems to explain (far as I can tell) why global warming (note to Rick: there are times when it's the better term) can result in record cold temperatures (climate change) in some areas. Like Atlanta, Frankie.


Sudden stratospheric warming has split the polar vortex in two. The polar vortex, which forms and deepens as the atmosphere loses heat to space in the darkness of the long Arctic winter night, was split in two by massive heating from below. A series of intense storms in the far north Pacific intensified a very long wave in the lower atmosphere... 
... Major stratospheric warmings have taken place, on average, every other year over the past 50 years. The physics of these warmings is very complicated. Since 1998 these warmings have been more frequent and earlier in the winter. Previously, major warmings typically happened in February. Over the past decade they have happened in December and January, but this one is exceptional on all counts. This stratospheric warming is apparently the strongest ever observed in the first half of January according to the NOAA figure... 
...The vortex over north America has been pushing cold air over the United States.  Multiple outbreaks of Arctic air can be expected over the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada over the next ten days. A winter storm developing now over the southern Appalachians is forecast to bring snow to the DC area tomorrow afternoon. Then the storm is predicted to intensify over the north Atlantic. The amplifying energy of the southward displaced vortex over north America are forecast by the GFS model to make the storm "bomb" to a 944mb low south of Greenland. Huge waves are forecast to hit the Atlantic coast of Europe early next week.


[The image is from the linked article.]

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Teabags Of Denial



Here's my latest Sunday column in our local newspaper:
Hot off the presses, there’s a new report on the science and effects of climate change. (http://ncadac.globalchange.gov) As a physician I like to consider myself a scientist, but, compared to my niece, a PhD researcher at NYU (until Hurricane Sandy destroyed the labs there), I know I’m really not. Still, I think I understand how science works: It observes, investigates, self-corrects with new information. It invites criticism, demands proof. It’s unemotional, neutral.

Which is why I can’t understand how denial of human-caused climate change divides exclusively along party lines. Why should it be that Democrats accept it and today’s Republicans consider it a hoax? Where’s the politics in science? If folks are going to reject climate change (or, for that matter, the age of the earth, or evolution) they shouldn’t take antibiotics, fly in airplanes, or use electricity. To me, you can’t be selective about science. And yet, puzzlingly, they are.

Science measures stuff. It makes predictions and tests whether they’re correct. Finding carbon dioxide levels rising in the atmosphere, scientists seek the sources, predict and investigate the consequences. Greenhouse effects. Ice caps melting, and, as the rate of melting exposes more heat-absorbing terrain, even faster melting. Seas rising. Crazy weather, like droughts and floods, more and stronger hurricanes and tornados. It’s all happening.

Not mentioned as much as warming is acidification of the ocean. Because of increased levels of dissolved, human-produced, atmospheric carbon dioxide, that’s happening, too, and the results are devastating. Off Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is already half dead and gone. Effects are becoming evident right here in Puget Sound: Mussels aren’t clinging to rocks as well; shells of clams and oysters are dissolving; urchin larvae becoming misshapen, squid metabolism slowing down, barnacles dying off. More troubling, zooplankton, the first link in the food chain, are disappearing. That has huge upstream effects.

In the shadows of the Olympics and Cascades, although we keep breaking records, it hasn’t yet gotten really hot. Elsewhere, though, droughts are getting steadily worse in the midst of unprecedented heat waves. The past year, once again, was the hottest on record. And migration patterns are changing. As a kid I never saw pelicans in these parts; now, they’re chugging up the Oregon coast like Hells’ Angels with feathers. It’s impossible to make a credible argument that nothing is going on; yet, almost exclusively in the US, and limited to people in today’s Republican Party, people try: Elected people, like Gohmert, Broun, Coburn, McCain, and too many more to list; and the ones who vote for them. And, it goes without saying, Fox “news.”

Under the weight of the evidence, some deniers acknowledge changes, but refuse to admit they’re man-made. Sunspots, they argue, wrongly. In the seventies, they remind us, silly scientists were predicting another ice age. But if you look into it, only about ten percent were predicting that back then, some took no stance, and over sixty-percent predicted warming. Funny how many “facts” you hear from pundits (the cooling thing has been a favorite of George Will), turn out to be – what shall we call it? – hot air. Speaking of which, remember the Foxified conniption over those climate scientists’ emails? It’s been looked into, thoroughly. There was neither hanky nor panky involving results. 

Climate change denial fits with what I find so mystifying about today’s Republican party. They weren’t always this refractory to reality, and conservatism wasn’t always equated with denialism. Once, they proudly considered themselves the fact-based party. Now, like Sarah Palin and so many in Congress, they openly mock the very idea of expertise, literally denouncing science as the work of the devil. Every Republican on the House Energy Committee voted that the earth is not warming, by any cause. What happened?

I’ll never understand it. Maybe it’s that solutions are complicated and difficult, and those people only like simple and easy. You can’t fix climate change with a tax cut. You can’t respond to it, as George Bush asked of us after 9/11, by going shopping. Man-made climate change is going to be really difficult, and costly, to reverse; recent studies suggest it’ll become impossible if we wait much longer. So, to a political party with only one response to all problems, it simply doesn’t exist. Is that it?

Where did the great Republican thinkers go; and are they ever coming back?
[Image source]

Saturday, January 19, 2013

NRA-holes



You've heard of the NRA ad, right? Here's the better version, probably with an annoying ad at first.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Just For The Wonder Of It

A nice way to finish the week.

Failure


Bob Schieffer might be the current newsman with the most credibility. After this interview, whatever amount of it he has/had, there's less of it now. With me, at least. Jon Stewart asked him why the gun debate, as seen on TV, is so superficial and relies on the most loud and headline-grabbing among us. Why, he asked, is it so rare to see law enforcement officials invited to participate? Schieffer sort of acknowledged it's a problem, but tap-danced away from giving an answer. 

It's one of the best and most important questions I've seen Stewart ask. Good for him for asking it. Bad for him for not pressing Schieffer for a meaningful answer. He (Jon) suggested one; that sober discussion doesn't get the ratings. But I'd sure like to know if there's anything else going on. Are they afraid to appear? For reasons of their local politics? For fear of physical harm? Are they, as Stewart wondered, prohibited from it by their superiors? Or have networks, for some reason, just decided it's not good for their bottom line? The fact is, far as I can tell, a majority of cops think there need to be stricter laws regarding guns (handguns, too!) and better ways to enforce them. You can read about it sometimes. But you practically never hear it discussed on air, by cops. It seems the media are in some way complicit; or simply don't care.

Puzzling. And Bob Schieffer did nothing to enlighten us.

[The International Association of Chiefs of Police has weighed in on Obama's plan. Wonder it it'll be covered on air. What'll Fox "news" have to say about it? Any guesses?]


Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Biggest Con





Once again, The Daily Show puts the rest of our "media" to shame by actual reporting. While being funny. I only laughed a little, though.


Delusional


Whatever these people are, they're not, as they describe themselves, patriots. In addition to being ridiculously paranoid (didn't their mommies look under their beds for them when they were kids?), certain Nazi-Kenyan-Muslim-atheist-communist-UN-led tanks are about to roll into their towns, impose Sharia law, confiscate their guns, and haul them to concentration camps, they're entirely and thoroughly unAmerican. Not to mention the teensiest bit unrealistic. Fortress-wise.

I mean, if they are right, what stupider plan could they gin up than locating themselves in one place, where a couple of smart bombs -- or dumb ones, for that matter -- would take them out before they yanked their teabags out of the hot water? In 1776 it was "one if by land, two if by sea." "Three if by air" wasn't in the lexicon. But it is now. They should stick that under their tri-corners.

No doubt they'll be digging bunkers, too. I guess if they stay in them it'll keep them from voting for more teabagging know-nothings in Congress. So maybe it's not all bad, after all.

Seeing black tentacles reaching from the White House, unilaterally removing their guns by executive order, they fail to understand, evidently, the most basic principles of the country for the love of which they claim sole possession. Ain't no way Obama or any other president can unicamerally pass such a law. And if Congress were to pass, and the people were to approve, a Constitutional Amendment repealing the Second (ain't gonna happen until and unless humanity evolves several stages; and the way were headed, we don't have the time), well, that's the way the Constitution they think they're defending works. Right?

Their discombobulated delusions would be laughable if they weren't so pathetic. And harmful to the body politic. But I do hope they all go there, every last one of them. Then the rest of us would breathe a little easier.

[Adding a new level of egotism to the extant crazy, Glenn Beck's into it, too! You take 'em, Glenn. Take 'em away with you. Need a map?]

[Image from linked article]

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wishful



From what I can tell, the President's proposals and executive actions on gun control are sensible. Those that require Congressional action, of course, don't have an armor-piercing chance in hell. Which won't keep the NRA and its crazy wing from screaming, "See, we told you so. He's coming for our guns."

Because "he" can't. Congress could, but won't. Even then, they really couldn't "come for them," even if they passed a law. Nor, with the current Supreme Court, is an assault weapons ban likely to be upheld. And if it were, people would have a choice: keep their weapons or turn them in. I don't see those "patriot" groups having a problem with holding on to their firepower even if it were declared illegal. But it'll sure as hell be a money-raiser, won't it?

As to the rest, what can possibly be wrong with background checks, resuming research on gun violence, with police agencies sharing information, and with providing more security?

I suppose if there were a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity clips it might make it slightly harder for an individual with no connections to get them. So, go for it, Congress. But there are so many out there that it's silly to think a ban would make much difference. And, given that inarguable fact, I'd like to see the President use his political capital (whatever that is) on the things that might make a difference. In his executive orders, he might have done all that's possible in our current political climate, skewed as it is toward the crazy.

Absent voluntary action by gun owners (ain't gonna happen) we'll never get rid of those military grade weapons. And no one is talking about ending recreational or hunter-gatherer ownership, monster-under-the-bed fantasies notwithstanding.

So, let Congress do its inevitable time-wasting and posturing on gun control. Let the crazies craze. The president took what action is possible, and I think it was bold and brave and admirable of him. And, no doubt, he'll suffer consequences. (We will, too, but less than him, as we'll hear the doomsday and hateful rhetoric flowing from the sewers of society.) But we have an economy to deal with. And education. And infrastructure that's falling apart.

[Image source]

Chicken



I think the debt ceiling debate is about teabaggRs trying to get the Ds to do their work for them, and to take the heat. It's a game of chicken in more ways than one.

As Rs threaten to bring down the government if Ds don't come up with spending cuts, some have noticed that those same Rs aren't really sticking their necks out (other than spending for  Hurricane Sandy relief!) and saying what they think should be cut. Rs, simply said, are trying to have it both ways. They want spending cuts but don't want to bear the electoral consequences. Because, as everyone knows (even teabaggers can read certain tea leaves), people like the idea of reducing the size of government until it comes to reducing the size of government.

But, of course, as Rs demand Ds come up with cuts, they glide past the fact that since it's they who want the cuts, they are obliged to propose them. It's not that Obama hasn't said he agrees that spending cuts are needed; he has. But he and Ds, believe spending must be retained for things essential to our future, and that increasing revenue beyond what Rs want is a necessary part of the equation. So, it seems to me, since Rs are the ones pounding the drums for cuts over revenue, it should be incumbent upon them to provide specifics. That they don't, and won't, is revelatory of their cynicism. Not even Paul Ryan was willing to specify, preferring to propose magic and extraplanetary math instead. Leadership? Yeah. Right.

I'm glad that President Obama, so far anyhow, has refused to play their game of hostage-taking. I hope -- but am not sure -- he doesn't cave on that. But I think he should go one step further: in addition to refusing to use the debt ceiling, poorly understood as it is, as a negotiating tool, he should pressure Rs to put up specific plans for spending cuts. They're the ones taking revenue off the table. They should let people know how they think it can be done.

[Image source]

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Out Of The Park

A River Of Denial



Now that reader PT has joined the rational community on economic policy, the above may not be necessary. Perhaps his credulous claim about lack of climate change in the last sixteen years has succumbed to whatever clearing of the fog occurred, allowing his monetary awakening.

I saw the video in this article, worth reading in full, which has much more to say about climate change denialism. I will, too, in an upcoming newspaper column which, among other things, puzzles over the fact that denialism is exclusively a Republican thing. I'm starting to think they're a different species, at least when it comes to brain function. I guess maybe shoot-first-damn-the-facters were necessary back in the days when we rode dinosaurs to get away from aliens. But nowadays, they're just getting in the way.


Monday, January 14, 2013

The Facts

And There's This...



Seems like a nice followup to my previous post.

Richard Feynman, of course, is the Nobel Prize winning physicist whose statement about his atheism (nice little video) is one of my favorites, and which I've paraphrased many times as, "I'd rather live with doubt than have answers which might be wrong."

Or we could just watch this and enjoy it for its own sake.




Sunday, January 13, 2013

A True Christian (?)



I followed the link to this essay from Andrew Sullivan's place. If this man's Christianity were the norm, and if, to the extent that "Christianity" has come to infuse our nation's politics, it were of his variety rather than that of today's teabagging, hateful, regressive, denialist, theocratic, anti-science Republican party, I'd have a hell of a lot less to write about. It's a long essay, which ends thusly:


... I know that I am picking and choosing, and that by many standards I've failed to meet the requirements of being a Christian. Many, like those with the banners at the sports events, take John 3:16 to contain the core message of the Gospels. I also claim to know what the core message of the Bible is: love and forgiveness (1 John 4:8, 1 Corinthians 13:13, Matthew 5:38), and I claim that there is much extraneous stuff too, which can have little to do with our understanding of the essence of Christianity: the rules concerning marriage, the disregard for animals, the cosmic significance of crucifixion. How do I justify my picking and choosing? Well, who wants me to justify it? The hoarse-voiced goon at the sports match shouting about how Jesus Christ died for my sins? What concern is he of mine? 
Those who know me or have read me will probably know that I have often claimed that I am an atheist. I would like to stop doing this, but if I had to justify myself, I would say that it is for fear of being confused with that blowhard with the 'John 3:16' banner that I am unforthcoming about what I actually believe. I am infinitely closer, in the condition of my soul, to the people who feel God's absence-- the reasons for this feeling are a profound theological problem, and one might say that it is only smugness that enables people, atheists and dogmatists alike, to avoid grappling with this problem. I am with the people who detect God's hand, perhaps without even realizing it, where the smug banner-holder sees only sin: in jungle music, dirty jokes, seduction, and swearing. I am with the preacher who puts out a gospel album, then goes to prison on fraud and drug charges for a while, then puts out a hip-grinding soul album, and then another gospel album. I am with the animals, who can't even read, but can still talk to the saints of divine things. I am sooner an atheist, if what we understand by Christianity is a sort of supernatural monarchism; if we understand by it that God is love, though, then, I say, I am a Christian.


Of course, it's sort of a copout: God is love. Who isn't down with that? With no difficulty or cynicism whatsoever, I can look around me and feel what some might call love, for the world in which we live (especially if you took a few of its humans out of it.) That sense of pleasure, or spirituality, or luckiness to be alive -- at least for those lucky enough to be able to live without (much) fear, with enough to eat, and with shelter -- as easily sits with non-believers as with believers of whatever faith. So the writer, typically, glosses over a lot; but not near as much as the guy with the sign at the game.

[Image source]

If You Can't Persuade Them, Threaten Them

Well, of course he was kidding . I mean, after all, it's not like his entire career was one of bullying, suing, threatening, and lyin...