"The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." Orwell
"“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Plato
"The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant" Robespierre
Monday, April 30, 2012
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.
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.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
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.
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.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
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):
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
As Ye Sew
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
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.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Saturday, April 21, 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.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
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.”
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.
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.
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.)
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
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
Monday, April 16, 2012
Speaking Of Footprints...
“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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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."
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
Here's a list, just released by the CDC, of teen pregnancy rates per 1000, by state:
1. Mississippi 55Isn'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.
2. New Mexico 52.9
3. Arkansas 52.5
4. Texas 52.2
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
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
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."
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.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
(Here's a map of the 15,000 high temperature records set in the US last month.)
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.
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