President Obama’s main weakness

It is no secret that I am a fan of the President. But like the rest of us, he has weaknesses. This is one of his: he seems to have a disdain for building the personal relationships with members of Congress that people like President Clinton did.

Now, I happen to PREFER working with someone who is curt and to the point so *I* could probably work with him. But I don’t have a politician’s personality.

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Barack Obama, politics, politics/social | | Leave a comment

I don’t have a good feel for this: Ferguson, Missouri

I sometimes use the St. Louis Airport (Lambert) and sometimes go to Rams games. So, I’ve been near Ferguson a few times.

This is where an unarmed African American was shot to death by police; I don’t know the full story; I’ve read a few accounts (did he struggle with the police? Was he shot while he was away from the police?)

I do know that there has been looting (undeniable) and that there are protests going on, which police swat teams (local, I think) are breaking up with tear gas and the like.

It appears TO ME that the police (the local police IN THIS AREA, not all police) are losing the PR war; they are coming across as overreacting thugs.

But I wonder if other people will focus on the looting and see the police response as, well, what you’d expect in such a “lawless area”.

I don’t know what to think; I do know that I’d hate this in my neighborhood and it would anger me to think that, say, some of the Jones Dome employees who were so good to us in the past were being mistreated.

August 14, 2014 Posted by | politics/social, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Most of the stupid people that I know are liberals! (that wasn’t always the case either…)

Yes, it is true: most of the stupid people I know are liberals. There was a time when most of the stupid people I knew were conservatives, but that has changed….a long time ago.

So what changed? What has changed is this: most of the people I “know” (“know”, as in, “have non-superficial conversations with”) are now mostly Democrats. So, most people that I *know* (by this definition) are Democrats…so I could have easily said that “most of the smart people I know are liberals” and also been accurate.

When I was at the Naval Academy and later in the Navy, most of the people I knew then were…well…conservative.

My point: drawing a conclusion about the intelligence of a group of people adhering to a political philosophy based on one’s personal experience is dangerous.

Think of it this way: suppose there is a CEO who hangs around …well….mostly other CEO level people. These people are largely conservative. Suppose the only Democrats that this person sees are, well, say, janitors and other such people. It would be easy for this person to conclude that conservatives are smarter based on what this person sees in their day to day life; one could probably say the same for, say, a highly successful scientist who mostly hangs around other scientists (who lean liberal) and only encounters conservatives at, say, the gas station, retail stores and the like.

August 8, 2014 Posted by | politics/social, social/political | | Leave a comment

Liberals and Conservatives

Well, is there a genetic difference between conservatives and liberals? The evidence for “yes” is piling up; here is something from last month and here is one of my favorite TED talks by Jonathan Haidt. Upshot: conservatives appear to be more concerned with order and concerned with negative consequences.

Why is order important? Well, where would we be without laws to govern traffic (air and vehicle), radio waves, standardized parts (construction, electrical, computer, etc.). No order means no society and little, if anything gets done.

Of course unnecessary order and enforced conformity is no good either.

But here is the value of such studies: they show that things like facts and logical arguments are unlikely to change anyone’s mind on public policy; if we are to understand each other we should see the goals. They aren’t always the same.


Far be it from me to praise anything on Fox News but this piece by Megyn Kelly isn’t that bad:

If anything, it explains why the conservative justices weren’t crazy. Oh, it turns out that they were wrong (and she is too) but it is subtle:

Kelly was dismayed that liberals would offer scientific information provided by actual doctors showing that “three of the[se] four contraceptives do not lead to abortion, even using the conservative definition of when life begins.” Kelly thinks that piece of science is just a “notion.” Gunter writes that Kelly bases her incorrect claims that Plan B and ella (levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate postcoital contraception, respectively), and Mirena IUS and ParaGard (both intrauterine devices or IUDs), “can and do end fertilized eggs”, on basic descriptions of the products and the opinion of the five men on the Supreme Court, whose — as Gunter wisely points out — “last biology class was likely 40 or more years ago (i.e., before the basic science evaluating these methods of contraception existed) and who do not practice medicine.”

Gunter dispels the idea that product descriptions should be used as a basis for these decisions:

“Product monographs do not contain the latest research; they are a compilation of FDA labeling requirements and corporate legal lingo used to deflect lawsuits. As more and more data emerges after a product goes to market, monographs become outdated because updating them offers no financial gain. Since I’m a doctor, not a lawyer, I’ll leave the specifics of how the case was argued to lawyers, but if the product monographs of Plan B, ella, Mirena IUS, and ParaGard were used as evidence to support the government’s case, then the government was relying on outdated and inaccurate information.”

Gunter cites a “plethora of medical evidence” and references showing that Plan B and ella are not abortifacients, and says that the idea that postcoital contraception and IUDs affect a fertilized egg is antiquated and not based on today’s technology. She writes, “If using the wealth of scientific data (multiple basic science articles, statements of experts in peer-reviewed journals, and international organizations) makes me an ideologue, I’m fine with that. However, I’m not sure that I’d use ‘liberal’ as the label, I think ‘evidence-based’ ideologue is more accurate.”

So the justices, and Kelly, were relying on outdated information that is on an official monograph and are therefore wrong.

But they weren’t crazy to make the argument.

And, sadly, it isn’t just conservatives that often get science wrong. I’ve seen non-scientists get offended by, well, what they think that a scientist said when, in fact, they don’t understand the statement and they make the wrong inference from their incorrect understanding of the statement. Sometimes talking to the general public is very painful.

August 8, 2014 Posted by | politics, politics/social, social/political | | Leave a comment

Modern Conservative Culture: dupe the gullible out of their money

The Guardian is having a field day with the new Sarah Palin channel:

Given the content available and the affectedly simple presentation, it’s hard not to see the new Sarah Palin Channel as simply a moneymaking enterprise.

Her competitor Glenn Beck’s vertically integrated TV-website-dogwhistle aggregator, the Blaze, takes in $36m per year before ad revenue. And, as both Rick Perlstein and Alex Pareene have noted, one of the animating principles of the conservative movement over the last 40 years has been soaking every last dollar out of people whose intellectual incuriosity has never been an impediment to further rage and paranoia. It’s why places like WorldNetDaily run obnoxious flash ads in columns that, top to bottom, tell you to buy and hoard gold, to click here to join a paid newsletter that outlines the UN/Agenda 21 plans to annex Joe’s Crab Shack, and how your $25 check to FreedomWorks is the only thing standing between repealing Obamacare or toiling in the lesbian nose-earring mines while wearing Soviet-style tracksuits that give everyone frontbutt.

I wanted to see for myself, but I still can’t even sign in for the free sample of the Sarah Palin Channel. Each attempt ends with a server error and my desultorily trying to glean something from available teaser videos.

The author of this article went on to get a one month subscription (cheaper than the NYT!) and describes what he saw.

I am too cheap to subscribe to a pay service. But I do know that I get “buy gold now” and “your doctor doesn’t want you to read this” advertisements from things like and the like. They are *always* hawking something and they do this in a way that liberal groups do not. Liberal groups also constantly ask for money, but it is always to “fight those evil Republicans”, etc. It is never to buy this or that investment, health secret, blah, blah, blah.

But it isn’t just the lower economic class of conservatives who get conned. Consider this Paul Krugman article about Karl Rove and the ultra-wealthy conservative establishment..and this article was written days PRIOR to the 2012 general election:

The estimable Rick Perlstein has a fascinating essay about the seamless continuum from direct-mail marketing scams to direct-mail right-wing fundraising, and from there to the whole character of modern movement conservatism. Go read. I didn’t know, for example, that heroes of direct-mail fundraising like Richard Viguerie ended up delivering hardly any of the money to political causes; somehow it ended up swallowed by overhead, otherwise known as the fundraisers themselves.

And although Perlstein doesn’t make this point, I suspect that his analysis explains one of the great mysteries of 2012: the failure of the great Rove/Citizens United juggernaut to materialize.

Remember how Rove and others were supposed to raise vast sums from billionaires and corporations, then totally saturate the country with GOP messaging, drowning out Obama’s message? Well, they certainly raised a lot of money, and ran a lot of ads. But in terms of actual number of ads the battle has been, if anything, an Obama advantage.

Krugman admits that he didn’t know how the election would actually go…not for sure anyway. But he had a great idea. But then:

Well, what if we’ve been misunderstanding Rove? We’ve been seeing him as a man dedicated to helping angry right-wing billionaires take over America. But maybe he’s best thought of instead as an entrepreneur in the business of selling his services to angry right-wing billionaires, who believe that he can help them take over America. It’s not the same thing.

And while Rove the crusader is looking — provisionally, of course, until the votes are in — like a failure, Rove the businessman has just had an amazing, banner year.

And you know something: there is part of me, albeit a small part, that envies the people that con these fearful idiots out of their money. There are times when I wish that I had that skill. :-)

July 31, 2014 Posted by | 2012 election, politics, politics/social, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Obama’s so called “Muslims built the very fabric of our Nation” remarks contrasted with Bush’s remarks

Yes, the White House released this statement (shown in full) on the 27’th of July:

Statement by the President on the Occasion of Eid-al-Fitr

As Muslims throughout the United States and around the world celebrate Eid-al-Fitr, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to them and their families. This last month has been a time of fasting, reflection, spiritual renewal, and service to the less fortunate. While Eid marks the completion of Ramadan, it also celebrates the common values that unite us in our humanity and reinforces the obligations that people of all faiths have to each other, especially those impacted by poverty, conflict, and disease.

In the United States, Eid also reminds us of the many achievements and contributions of Muslim Americans to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy. That is why we stand with people of all faiths, here at home and around the world, to protect and advance their rights to prosper, and we welcome their commitment to giving back to their communities.

On behalf of the Administration, we wish Muslims in the United States and around the world a blessed and joyous celebration. Eid Mubarak.

Emphasis mine.

Of course right wing “sources” such as Breitbart (shown in this screen shot) played this statement in this manner:

Screen shot 2014-07-30 at 3.46.04 PM

And of course, we see the spreading of outrage from the morons conservatives all over the internet.

For comparison, this is what President George W. Bush said:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, sir. It’s good to be with you again. And it is my honor to visit the Islamic Center of Washington once again.

For half a century, this beautiful mosque has served as a place of worship for Muslims and has helped to advance understanding between people of different faiths. Millions of our fellow Americans practice the Muslim faith. They lead lives of honesty and justice and compassion.

President George W. Bush marks Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with an address at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., Thursday, Dec. 5. White House photo by Paul Morse I am pleased to join you today in the celebration of Eid, the culmination of the Holy Month of Ramadan. I appreciate so very much Dr. Khouj, and I want to thank the other distinguished imam from the Washington, D.C. area. Thank you all for being here. And I enjoyed our visit. I also appreciate the Muslim schoolchildren who are here, telling me stories and reading poems and showing the art work. Please tell them thanks again for their hospitality.

Islam traces its origins back to God’s call on Abraham. And Ramadan commemorates the revelation of God’s word in the Holy Koran to the prophet Mohammad — a word that is read and recited with special attention and reverence by Muslims during this season.

Over the past month, Muslims have fasted, taking no food or water during daylight hours, in order to refocus their minds on faith and redirect their hearts to charity. Muslims worldwide have stretched out a hand of mercy to those in need. Charity tables at which the poor can break their fast line the streets of cities and towns. And gifts of food and clothing and money are distributed to ensure that all share in God’s abundance. Muslims often invite members of other families to their evening iftar meals, demonstrating a spirit of tolerance.

During Eid al-Fitr, Muslims celebrate the completion of their fast and the blessings of renewed faith that have come with it. Customs vary between countries — from illuminating lanterns in Egypt to lighting firecrackers in Pakistan, to inviting elders to traditional feasts in Niger. Around the world, families and neighbors and friends gather to share traditional foods, and congratulate each other on meeting the test of Ramadan.

The spirit behind this holiday is a reminder that Islam brings hope and comfort to more than a billion people worldwide. Islam affirms God’s justice and insists on man’s moral responsibility. This holiday is also an occasion to remember that Islam gave birth to a rich civilization of learning that has benefitted mankind.

Here in the United States our Muslim citizens are making many contributions in business, science and law, medicine and education, and in other fields. Muslim members of our Armed Forces and of my administration are serving their fellow Americans with distinction, upholding our nation’s ideals of liberty and justice in a world at peace. And in our Nation’s Capital, this center contributes greatly to our spiritual and cultural life.

On behalf of Laura and our family and the American people, I bring our best wishes to all who worship here, and to Muslims throughout the world for a joyous Eid, and for health and happiness and prosperity in the year to come.

Eid Mubarak. God bless.

The Bush statement is longer but, if anything, is a bit more specific with respect to the contributions made by American Muslims.

July 30, 2014 Posted by | Barack Obama, politics, politics/social, republicans | , , , | Leave a comment

GOP irritation over impeachment talk

John Boehner appears irritated that President Obama’s staff is using “impeachment” as a fundraising and “get out the vote” tool for 2014. Yes, he said that impeachment is NOT being planned.


1) Several in his own caucus have openly talked about it.
2) Republican leaders have talked about it, openly.
3) The rank and file Republicans favor it.
4) Boehner has not been able to control his caucus.

More here.

Yes, it takes 67 votes in the Senate to actually remove the President and that isn’t going to happen, even if the Republicans throw themselves on the floor and turn blue.

July 29, 2014 Posted by | politics, politics/social, republicans, republicans politics | , | Leave a comment

Politics: emotional issues robs us of abstract reasoning ability…

Good Vox article here. Moral (for me): mathematical and statistical reasoning really disciplines our thinking, BUT does not convince non-technical people.

This is one reason discussing issues with people outside of math, science and engineering departments is so difficult for me.

July 29, 2014 Posted by | mathematics, politics, politics/social, social/political, statistics | | Leave a comment

Topics I won’t discuss in public….

It is 59 F right now and sunny! So I am running my intervals outside (old Woodruff track) and will probably jog there from the Riverplex an then use the exercise bike afterward.

Maybe hiking later with my wife? Oddly enough, I appear to be enjoying her retirement almost as much as she is.

I’ve also refined a math idea I had; the way it works with me is that I get an idea, then I see how it works with an example. But when I attempt to write it down, I THEN see my “hidden assumptions” appear, almost as if by magic. THAT is when it gets tough..and if the idea can survive this phase decides whether the idea is going to lead to a publishable article or not.

And no, I will not submit my stuff to “crap” journals (journals that exist to make money off of page charges but have questionable editing and refereeing; such journals do exist), nor will I submit my stuff to journals that don’t have moderately high standards. No, my stuff isn’t nearly good enough to make, say, Annals of Mathematics but I don’t want to waste my time with journals that take anything that isn’t wrong. :-)

You can see what I’ve published here; most of it appears either in MAA journals or in the Journal of Knot Theory and its Ramifications.

Topics I won’t touch in public

There are some hot button issues which people react strongly to; it appears to me that some see a key word which sets them off and completely overrides their desire (or ability) to use their critical reasoning skills. It might be snarky to say that such people simply don’t have much of the latter, but I’ve seen cases in which a normally bright person simply falls apart when a sensitive pet issue is discussed.

If you follow Richard Dawkins on Twitter, you can see him dealing with this here. His point: there are degrees of offense and evil; the point being, say, that while “stealing is stealing”, it is more evil to embezzle someone’s life savings than to steal a pack of gum from a store.

While that example is benign, tempers flare when sexual assault is mentioned and when the Middle East in mentioned.

Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 7.09.03 AM

Of course he is right here; to see why, compare this situation to, say, being violently sodomized by a steel rod:

Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. “sexual assault.” Herewith, a Philadelphia magazine report about Swarthmore College, where in 2013 a student “was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months”:

“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. . . . And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.’”

But this whole twitter discussion started with the Israel vs. Hamas in Palestine violence, which, of course, is deplorable.

The fact is that there is plenty of blame to go around, and plenty of justified resentments starting with how modern Israel was created to begin with.

I won’t get into discussions here, as there is a lot of complexity and I don’t know all of the ins and outs; I’ve seen many “reasonable sounding” arguments from many sides. Some of the best discussion I’ve seen is here. If you want to jump in, don’t go in with simplistic slogans and metaphors. Those discussing the issues know their stuff.

What I will weigh in on is this: in most wars, civilians in the battle regions typically suffer more than the fighters (WW I was a huge exception). You can find more about that in the book The Great Big Book of Horrible Things by Matthew White. So sadly, the horrible civilian death and injury toll we see in Gaza is more par for the course in war than exceptional.

July 29, 2014 Posted by | politics, politics/social, social/political | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tina Fey’s anticipation of Sarah Palin’s network..

July 28, 2014 Posted by | 2012 election, humor, political humor, politics, politics/social | , | Leave a comment


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