blueollie

More Debate Stuff: Getting Democrats to Show Up!

Ok, the above wasn’t about the debate.

But: it was interesting that Republicans get upset when you say stuff about their proposals….which repeats how THEY described them to begin with:

Indeed, the official line seems to be that you’re a liar if you call a plan under which people receive a fixed sum to spend on insurance, as opposed to simply getting insurance, a voucher scheme.

Among the lying liars, then, is the guy who, back in 2009, described the Ryan plan as “converting Medicare into defined contribution sort of voucher system”. Oh, wait: that was Paul Ryan.

We’ve seen this movie before. For decades the right pushed for Social Security privatization — their own term for it. The Cato Institute even had a Project on Social Security Privatization. Then they found that the term polled badly, and tried to pretend that only evil liberals accused them of favoring such a terrible thing (Cato even tried, incompetently, to purge its web site of all references to the program’s previous name).

Apparently pundits squabbled about Biden’s delivery, and Fox’s Chris Wallace declared “I’ve never seen a candidate as disrespectful as Biden.” The pearl-clutchers might have the vapors, but Democrats are revived by Biden’s aggressive performance, in contrast with his boss’s listless one. In five days, Obama will face Romney again and all of this will matter much less. But Biden dialed down Democratic panic and reminded Americans he’s part of a team that’s fighting for them.

And please, none of this nonsense about how Mr. Ryan was somehow “too wonky”; the man is a fraud, as Paul Krugman points out:

Dave Weigel has some fun with credulous journalists who are sure that Paul Ryan must be a Very Serious Wonk because — wait for it — he uses PowerPoint. With pie charts!

This is really amazing.

Look, I know wonks. Ryan is not a wonk. Yes, he likes charts and slides. But he very clearly doesn’t know what his numbers actually mean. When the famous plan was unveiled, it was quite clear that he never even realized that the Heritage projection of his plan’s impact made a completely ridiculous assertion about what would happen to unemployment. Nor did he realize that his assumptions about discretionary spending would require cutting such spending — including defense! — to levels not seen since Calvin Coolidge.

One question one might ask is whether Ryan is aware that he isn’t actually a wonk, that he just plays one on TV. Maybe not; some of what he says suggests the Dunning-Kruger effect at work,: he may be so innumerate that he doesn’t realize that he has no idea what the numbers he throws around mean. And after all, why would he, given all the praise he’s received for putting up a line graph or pie chart here and there?

The bar is so low for Republicans such that if one of them talks about a policy without saying “and the Bible says”, they are viewed as an intellectual.

Anyway, back to the debate wrap up. Sure, the CNN poll (which oversampled Republicans) showed it 48-44 for Ryan whereas the CBS poll of undecideds showed it 50-31 for Biden. But here is the real take away (via Nate Silver):

There is a plausible hypothesis, however, that some of Mr. Romney’s recent surge in the polls reflects a growing “enthusiasm gap” between Democrats and Republicans. To the extent that Mr. Biden’s performance re-energized Democratic partisans, he may have left President Obama in a slightly better position than where he started the night.

Remember, there aren’t that many undecided voters out there and Mr. Romney’s poll gains have been among LIKELY voters, not registered voters. Anything that might increase turn out works to the Democrats’ advantage and Mr. Biden’s display of a “willingness to fight” might make a few more voters more willing to show up, even if it didn’t change anyone’s mind about who to vote for.

October 12, 2012

Ryan: the frat boy trying to bluff his way through….

I hope that President Obama was taking notes. Vice President Biden didn’t put up with BS; he called Ryan out on his lies and ignorance and did so repeatedly. President Obama viewed the debate as being an exchange of ideas whereas VP Biden used it to

1. Show how implausible Romney-Ryan’s plans are
2. Show how they were trying to bluff their way with the “unspecified loop hole closing” argument
3. Show how Ryan didn’t know what he was talking about (Afghanistan)
4. Expose Romney-Ryan as the the serial hypocrites liars that they are.

I enjoyed that completely. Paul Krugman said that Paul Ryan was a fraud…and he is.

October 12, 2012

4 December 2010 (AM)

Whine: it is snowing; the first real snow of the year. Yuck.

I slept reasonably late due to being up at the Bill Maher event followed by watching the last 3 quarters of the Illinois-Fresno State football game. Illinois lost 25-23; basically they fell behind 16-0 at the end of the first and couldn’t quite catch up even though they ran the ball well.

Currently I am watching the second half of Oregon-Oregon State
The silver and white scheme looks reasonably sharp, but it has nothing to do with yellow and green. Oregon State’s uniforms look bit like Halloween costumes.
The Ducks just broke a huge fake punt right up the middle for 68 yards even if they are only up 16-7.
(photo from here)

Workout notes
Rotator cuff routine (bands then home dumbbells) then 1:05 on the treadmill (6 miles)
10 minutes of walking, 40 minutes of run 1 minute, walk one minute, then 2-1, 2-1, 1-1-1-1, then 1 walk, 1 run, 1 walk, 1 run.

Then snow shoveling. Yuck.

Shoulder: I am almost at relapse stage; the night pain isn’t what it once was but it has gotten worse though I’ve done no lifting since Monday. My guess is that I got off of the anti inflammatory pills a bit too soon, did too much overhead lifting and used too much weight (5 pounds) for the rotator cuff exercises.

Posts

Economy
The job situation is grim:

(total jobs)

(private sector jobs)

Yes, this is way better than it was under President Bush, but not good enough to make up with those looking for work (people entering the work force and currently unemployed looking for work).

I think that Robert Reich has it right:

There are only four sources of demand. The biggest source is American consumers, who comprise about 70 percent of economic activity.

But the vast American middle and working class can’t and won’t buy enough to get people back to work. They’re still under a huge debt load.

Even if and when they pay it off, their buying days are gone. The Great Recession took away their last means of coping with years of stagnant wages — going deeper into debt by using their homes as collateral. The housing bubble burst, and home prices continue to drop.

The second source of domestic demand is business. But businesses won’t hire more workers without more customers.

(Republican supply-siders say businesses are not hiring because they’re uncertain about the effects of the new health care law and don’t know how much taxes they’ll have to pay. This is political claptrap. Supply-siders also say businesses would start hiring if their taxes were lower. But businesses are sitting on almost a trillion dollars of cash. They don’t need lower taxes in order to hire more Americans. They need more American customers.)

The third source of domestic demand is net exports. But they’re going nowhere. Although China, India, and Brazil are buying goods and services from American companies — and thereby boosting US profits — those US companies are making most of what they sell there in those countries. GM is selling more cars in China than in the US now, and manufacturing them in China.

That leaves the fourth source of domestic demand — government. But it’s not nearly filling the gap. To the contrary, state and local governments are broke, and are cutting spending and raising taxes to the tune of over \$110 billion this year. The federal government’s much-maligned stimulus is about gone (almost all economists believe it saved over 3 million jobs).

The Fed is pumping \$600 billion into the economy, but without an expansive fiscal policy this is only fueling speculation.

Instead, austerity and deficit reduction are the new buzz-words in Washington, as well as in Europe — which is absurd given what’s happening to the economy.

Republicans won’t even vote to extend unemployment benefits for the record number of Americans — almost half the unemployed — who have been out of work for six months or more. Starting today, 800,000 of the long-term unemployed lose their benefits. Unless Congress moves quickly, by the end of December, 2 million more will lose them.

Reich goes on to recommend a WPA like agency and to create a organization to rebuild infrastructure. He recommends no payroll tax on the first 20,000 dollars of income and tax breaks for those making up to 80,000. He helps pay for this with increased taxes on the very wealthy (1 million dollars and up) and a financial transaction tax.

Good luck with that given that the Republicans (with a few Democrats) managed to filibuster the “extend tax cuts only for the first 250,000 dollars of income for all Americans” and the “extend tax cuts for only the first 1,000,000 dollars of income for all Americans”.

Our Republicans have managed to turn selfishness and greed into virtues. And as Senator Harkin said: our side is really looking weak.

Outgoing Alan Grayson (D-Florida) got it right:

Sure, he got blistered in his reelection bid; his district (FL-8) barely went for Obama in 2008 and went for Bush in 2000 and 2004. In such a district, things that make people like me cheer will not be well received by most.

Here, Vice President Biden fills in for the President:

Religion

This benign sign has some fundies up in arms and talking about a boycott.

This sign really got under their skin:

Look: Churches and religions advertise year ’round. There is nothing wrong with that. But freedom of expression to us too and there is nothing wrong with saying “gee, believing that a human was born from a non-sexual process, died, but was resurrected and your swallowing this tale somehow imputes some virtue is ridiculous.” Note: I am NOT saying that it is bad to get some meaning and comfort from a religious story nor is it bad to extract good moral teaching from religious texts or to extract techniques to calm the mind (e. g., prayer, meditation, yoga); what I find absurd is viewing it as literal history.

December 4, 2010

12 May 2010 (am)

Workout notes 2650 swim; 500 pull (easy), 10 x (25 fist, 25 free) on the 1, 10 x (25 3g/25 free) on the 1:10, 10 x 50 free on the 1, then 3 x (100 pull, 100 paddle) + 50 back pull cool down.
Yes, this was the last morning swim of the semester and there were two women in little bikinis there! :) Ok, then two stinky guys showed up. :(

Afterward, I went upstairs, walked 2 miles (3.2 km) on the track at a 14:xx pace (some “form” 200 meter) then finished with 1 treadmill mile on an incline: 1, 2 , 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and focused on bending my knees.

Local at 6:15 the city had a riding power mower mowing the median in front of our house. Our neighborhood is never quiet during the day; there is a constant drone of power tools and lawn mowers. Reason: most people here can afford a lawn service or the landlords (who rent to students) contract out the lawn work. So during the day, there is ALWAYS droning and the whine of engines; you don’t hear this as much in the other neighborhoods I walk in.

I suppose this is one reason I love the long walks on trails; it is one of the few times one actually gets some semblance of quiet.

Posts:

Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house

Bill O’Reilly snivels about most Americans not being to name the 9 Supreme Court Justices. Ok, here is my confession: I could only name eight: Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Ginsberg, Stevens and Sotomayor. I missed one of the liberals: Breyer. But guess what: O’Reilly got it wrong too! He thought that Souter was still on the SCOTUS.

H Y P O C R I T E.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:

This is Justice Scalia:

(yes, he is a brilliant man)

This is from a tea-party rally in 2009:

Really conservatives: when it comes to physical unattractiveness, you have no room to throw stones.

Fun: A fellow progressive atheist blogger shows off her Joe Biden “HCR is a BFD” shirt. Yeah, she looks great in it.

Politics The UK had their elections. No party won a majority but the Conservatives won a clear plurality. So, after negotiations, the Liberal Democrats (who ARE liberal) formed a coalition government with them. Evidently, liberal-conservative coalition governments are not that uncommon in Europe.

Economy This is interesting: Senator Lincoln Blanche is under fire and is likely to be one blue dog who loses her seat. But she has a good idea. Robert Reich explains:

Right now, the biggest battle in bank reform is over a provision introduced by Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas that would force the giant Wall Street banks to give up their lucrative derivative trading businesses if they want the government (i.e. taxpayers) to continue insuring their commercial deposits.

The five biggest Wall Street banks have had the derivatives market (derivatives are bets on whether the price of certain assets will rise or fall, bets thereby “derived” from asset prices) almost entirely to themselves. Last year their revenues from derivatives trading totaled a whopping \$22.6 billion. Their advantage comes from their large size, plus government insurance of their commercial deposits that allows them to raise money more cheaply than other financial institutions.

Derivatives lie at the point where the basic saving-and-lending function of commercial banking meets the private casino of Wall Street investment banking. You and I subsidize the biggest players in the casino who, precisely because we subsidize them, have grown too big to fail. The Glass-Steagall Act once prevented the casino from using commercial deposits, but since 1999, when Glass-Steagall was repealed, the game has exploded. That’s part of the reason the giants on Wall Street could make wild bets that ended up threatening the entire economy, costing millions of Americans their jobs and savings, and requiring a massive taxpayer-financed bailout.

Lincoln wants to force the banks to put their derivatives into separate entities that aren’t subsidized by you and me. This is just common sense. Her move would also end the big banks’ monopoly over derivatives, thereby reducing their risk to the financial system. It would also cut dramatically into the big banks’ profits.

Professor Reich thinks that her idea has a chance of becoming law; surf to his blog (link above) to see his political analysis.

Religion
PZ Myers gets it right: violence is not free speech:

Lars Vilks, the cartoonist who drew Mohammed as a dog, has been attacked while lecturing on free speech. He was not seriously harmed. There is a video clip showing the attack, the chanting spectators, and the police quelling the mob.

Surf to the blog to see the “offending cartoon”; it really isn’t much. Also: hat tip to the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

May 12, 2010

On Finding Common Ground with Believers

Of course this number goes down with educational level, and scientists with Ph. D. degrees believe at a much lower rate:

Nearly 38 percent of natural scientists — people in disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology — said they do not believe in God. Only 31 percent of the social scientists do not believe.

In the new study, Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund surveyed 1,646 faculty members at elite research universities, asking 36 questions about belief and spiritual practices.

“Based on previous research, we thought that social scientists would be less likely to practice religion than natural scientists are, but our data showed just the opposite,” Ecklund said.

Some stand-out statistics: 41 percent of the biologists don’t believe, while that figure is just 27 percent among political scientists.

In separate work at the University of Chicago, released in June, 76 percent of doctors said they believed in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.

“Now we must examine the nature of these differences,” Ecklund said today. “Many scientists see themselves as having a spirituality not attached to a particular religious tradition. Some scientists who don’t believe in God see themselves as very spiritual people. They have a way outside of themselves that they use to understand the meaning of life.”

Ecklund and colleagues are now conducting longer interviews with some of the participants to try and figure it all out.

Of course, belief is even more scarce at the very elite levels: only 7 percent believe in a personal deity.

Of course, my “in person” friends tend to have Ph. D.’s and I hang around places like Richard Dawkins.net or Daily Kos where unbelief is the norm.

So, what do I have in common with believers? Well, at first glance, it appears that the answer is “not much”; though many educated believers (and clergy among the mainstream religions) claim to accept science (e. g., accept evolution), there are some big differences. Jerry Coyne discusses these here; he points out that while some at the pulpit may well accept a form of evolution, relatively few in the pews actually do. He also points out that those who claim to accept evolution really don’t accept the version that scientists do. For example, evolutionary theory has most mutations being random (save those induced, say, by a radiation accident); of course, which mutations get passed on via reproduction are NOT random; natural selection is a huge factor (though there is some scientific debate as to the relative magnitude of the influences of natural selection, genetic drift, changes in environment, etc.)

In short, if one views humans as the intended outcome of the evolutionary process, then one doesn’t accept scientific evolution; in fact experiments (such as the Michigan State experiment) show that evolution will advance down different paths if “started over”).

The fact that we humans are here now IS an accident and not the intent of some greater design!
Of course, some might believe in some type of deity that would have allowed such an accident to take place, but this isn’t the “god that cares about humans” deity of the Bible or the Koran.

Nevertheless, there are those believers that I have something in common with. For example, read this post by Brotherpeacemaker:

Someone was trying to tell me how powerful and omniscient god was and said that god knew when a sparrow fell from the sky. My first reaction was to laugh, not because I thought this person was wrong. But I have to ask the question, why would god be interested in a sparrow falling out of the sky? I don’t know too many people who believe in god and don’t believe that he is all powerful and all knowing but are we so arrogant to believe that we rate that high on god’s attention meter.

The universe is a seriously vast entity. According to the simple human interpretation of the space and time continuum, the universe stretches from one side of infinity to the other and god is working across it all. Throughout all of this there are countless galaxies with countless stars with a number of planets with a countless numbers of individuals and plants and animals and god is supposed to expend his limitless power on knowing when one of the countless sparrows on this single planet buys the farm. If such a concept was uttered by a five year old it would be cute in its total simplicity. Such a notion would rank right up there with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Great Pumpkin, the caring American, Peter Pan, Captain Crunch, and the like. As a people, we really need to do a better job developing our understanding of our relationship with the infinite being and grow out of the simple, feel good notions we learned back in Sunday school when we were knee high to our parents.

Our self importance in the cosmos knows no limit as well. If we are taught to believe that god is some voyeur all up in our business because we are just so special then it is a prime example of humanity’s self centered-ism at its finest. God gets furious about our adultery. God hates our active sex lives without marriage. God punishes the evil that people do and is ready to pounce because we’re all that and then some. People need to learn a little more humility. God is a busy Supreme Being. As I write this and as you read it god is building entire galaxies at the outer edge of the universe. Millions of planets need forming and countless species need planning. And that’s in this universe alone. There are other universes and other realities that need his attention as well. And he’s supposed to stop all this activity to take note of a little birdie that’s about to hit dirt.

Ok, one might quibble with the notion of an infinite universe; it may well be a compact manifold of some sort. But here is the money quote:

We may pray for god to save all the little children. But truth be told, if god wanted to, he could keep every child safe from now to eternity. But why would god be so moved to do so? God knows about people dying everyday and he allows it to happen. Why? As a people we already have everything we need to keep our children, our family, our community, and our world safe. As a collective, we simply choose not to. It’s always somebody else’s problem. Rich people could share their wealth with the people in need, but that would be welfare and no good for anybody because it was tried before and failed. But people forget, the very people who work hard to keep racism alive are the very same people who were in charge of the welfare program; the white mindset. God cannot be prayed into wanting to help us more than we want to help ourselves. […]

God hasn’t charged anyone to stop abortion. God has never charged anyone with the duty to invade another country and kill thousands upon thousands of people while friends coincidentally get rich robbing the national coffer. God didn’t abandon the people in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. People who were in the position to help but didn’t abandoned the people in New Orleans. God doesn’t have to save every child on the planet. We need to change our collective spirit so that we can develop a global community that truly wants to leave no child behind instead of using it as a catchy slogan to obtain a political office.

God has already answered our prayers. We have everything we need. We simply choose to squander it in a system wrought with favoritism and privilege for the few and indifference and struggle for the masses. This isn’t god’s plan, it is our plan. We’re either going to stick to it and let civilization rot or change it for the better. Quite frankly I don’t see things changing anytime soon. Our very existence may now be in jeopardy with global warming and we are too shell shocked from our day-to-day life to do anything to stop it. But as soon as the point is reached where it appears that divine intervention is the only thing that will save us we’ll pray for god to save us and wonder why he doesn’t and say it’s the lord’s will when in all actuality it is our will that doomed us.

No, I don’t accept this notion of deity (which sounds a bit like a deist god). But I agree: the only thing that we can do is to work to change the things that we can; no deity is going to pull our fat out of the fire or save us. I think that then Senator Obama, Senator Edwards and Senator Biden got it right:

Of course differences remain; one can claim that some deity was responsible for the creation of our spacetime continuum. Of course, I’d like proof before I believe that, and I haven’t seen any.

But when it comes to our day to day life I agree with Mano Singham:

What atheists like me say to religious believers is simply the following: If the existence of your god has empirical consequences, then provide empirical evidence that supports your contention. If it has no empirical consequences whatsoever, then say so and we will not interfere with your theological and philosophical ruminations because we do not really care to speculate on the properties of what we consider to be a mythical entity.

Conclusion: if you believe in a deity that set things in motion and then let it go, we’ll agree to disagree (until I get some evidence to the contrary). But in our day to day lives, we have some common ground and can therefore have a very nice coexistence and even friendship!

May 12, 2010

Rove and rebuttal and other topics

Workout notes 5.3 mile walk (to lower Bradley Park then two 1.2 mile (2000 meter loops) of 2-1: 15:14, 14:35 (this course) Yes, I got caught in the rain, again. :) It wasn’t that bad though; I did some yoga afterward.

Running I know some people try to use running to keep weight off. Well, running can NOT make up for gross overeating. Here is one person’s experience.

Science

Science quiz: this isn’t really a technical quiz, but rather a quiz on some elementary facts. Astonishingly, only 10 percent of the adult population answered all 12 questions correctly.

(click the image to see a larger version)

Creativity in Science One of the things I never quite understood is the creativity that goes into even making a basic scientific observation. Here is an excellent case of that: a scientist proposes using the moon to help distinguish electrons from positrons when attempting to measure positrons in cosmic rays:

So now Pierre Colin and collaborators have hit upon a cute way to distinguish between electrons and positrons: treat the magnetosphere of the Earth like the interior of a giant particle detector. Ever since cloud chambers, physicists have put magnetic fields in their detectors to help distinguish between positively charged particles and negatively charged particles, which get pushed in opposite directions. Well, the Earth has a magnetic field, so maybe we can use that. The problem is that the positrons and electrons would still all hit a telescope such as MAGIC, so the fact that they were deflected by the magnetic field wouldn’t be very relevant.

But Colin et al. suggest a trick: using the Moon’s shadow. Let’s imagine that the excess positrons really are coming from dark matter annihilating in the galactic center. When the moon is near the position of the galactic center in the sky, it will block out some of those particles, casting a shadow on ground-based telescopes. That’s already interesting, but the fun part is that positrons and electrons will be deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field, so the positron shadow will be in a slightly different position than the electron shadow! Using that effect, it may be possible to distinguish between the signals.

Clever, no?

Science media

One problem with articles written about scientific papers: they are sometimes flat out wrong from the get-go.

In case you’re wondering why so many scientists are distrustful of science journalists, you should take a look at this account from Ben Goldacre. A masters student in psychology gave a talk at a science conference to present her preliminary findings, which, sad to say, were picked up by the Telegraph.

Here’s the title of the Telegraph story.

Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped, claim scientists
Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped, claim scientists at the University of Leicester

Here’s the actual title of the press release from the University of Leicester describing the work.

Promiscuous men more likely to rape

There seems to be a significant discrepancy in emphasis, yes?

Goldacre called up the student researcher, and got the straight story: the Telegraph title is factually wrong, they found no statistically significant result corresponding to that claim.

Headslap. Moral: if you read a headline about a science article that raises your eyebrow, either go to the source or at least check out an article from a competent science magazine.

Science and politics I’m sure that this doesn’t surprise you:

The comparable figure for Dems is 55%. Here’s the data:

%who are Public% Scientists%
Democratic 35 55
Republican 23 6
Independent 34 32

Ideolog. self-rating
Liberal 20 52
Moderate 38 35
Conservative 37 9

This is from a Pew Research piece on science and scientists, Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media

Most of the smartest people are liberal! :)

Politics
Karl Rove whines about “not being able to trust President Obama’s numbers“:

In February, President Barack Obama signed a \$787 billion stimulus bill while making lavish promises about the results. He pledged that “a new wave of innovation, activity and construction will be unleashed all across America.” He also said the stimulus would “save or create up to four million jobs.” Vice President Joe Biden said the massive federal spending plan would “drop-kick” the economy out of the recession.

But the unemployment rate today is 9.5% — nearly 20% higher than the Obama White House said it would be with the stimulus in place. Keith Hennessey, who worked at the Bush White House on economic policy, has noted that unemployment is now higher than the administration said it would be if nothing was done to revive the economy. There are 2.6 million fewer Americans working than Mr. Obama promised.

The economy takes unexpected turns on every president. But what is striking about this president is how quickly he turns away from his promises. He rushed the stimulus through Congress saying we couldn’t afford to wait. Now his administration is waiting to spend the money. Of the \$279 billion allocated to federal agencies, only \$56 billion has been paid out.

Go ahead and read the rest of the article; it is a valuable addition to the discussion. But I’ll focus on two things:

1. Unemployment: yes, the unemployment numbers are higher than expected; the Obama administration admits that but they claim that it was a matter of not getting the initial conditions right. But no economist expected the stimulus to have an effect on unemployment this early.

Still a long way to go: Of the \$787.2 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, \$499 billion is for stimulus projects, of which \$157.8 billion has been made available and \$56.3 billion has been spent. The biggest chunk, \$22 billion, has been spent by states for Medicare and Medicaid payments.

The other \$288 billion is for tax relief. The bill, starting March 1, eased burdens on some people receiving unemployment benefits, Cobra health insurance and food stamps.

The high-profile tax measure was the \$116 billion Making Work Pay tax credit that began appearing in workers’ paychecks on April 1.

The Joint Committee on Taxation did not have exact figures for how much in tax relief has been withheld so far, but estimated a total of about \$20 billion.

“It’s just not fast enough,” said Bob Brusca, economist with FAO Economics. “There’s a lot of political agenda associated with stimulus, on top of the fact that the economy is clearly in worse shape than administration thought.”

Part of the reason stimulus has been slow-going so far is the number of hurdles projects need to clear before money gets out the door. Projects need to meet certain guidelines, as the government seeks to ensure that the money is spent wisely.

For instance, the electronic health record program has been allocated \$20 billion, but the Health Department will not pay out the funds until October 2010 — until hospitals and physicians can demonstrate that they are using the records meaningfully.

Yes, the article I linked to presents the anti-stimulus argument made by some conservatives.

Here Paul Krugman talks about the conservative argument that the stimulus is a bad idea. Of course, he disagrees with it. :)

Speaking of Paul Krugman: he has yet another honor (of sorts).

Health Care

Here is a rather spirited exchange on health care:

I love the way that conservatives bring up “food”. This isn’t the same thing at all. Sure, it is an essential (and yes, we have food stamp programs). But

1. No one is going to go bankrupt because they suddenly need \$ 100,000 of food that they can’t afford or a 1000 dollars a month worth of drugs.

2. No food stamp program is going to turn someone way because they have “pre existing hunger”.

Speaking of Republicans:

Paul Krugman points out that it is nothing new for the Republicans to compare the Democrats to Nazis.

Yes, individual liberals did the same to Bush, but you didn’t see Congressional level Democrats doing that. You would see a blogger or a journalist here and there doing that (and of course, the comparison is beyond absurd).

More Republicans Not all of them like Sarah Palin. I am almost thinking that there needs to be some sort of Whig party; a party of economic and world affairs conservatism that attracts smart, reality based people would be a nice addition.

Republicans attempt to smear President Obama The Republicans show a still of President Obama that, well, is misleading at best. The video clears it up. But, to be fair, some liberals attempted to do something similar to Senator McCain (Senator McCain was merely trying to look at the notes on the lectern).

Nancy Pelosi: she got hammered for saying that the CIA mislead her. Now the CIA admits it. But at least one conservative media member piled on Representative Pelosi at that time:

Extremists in the military Yes, it is a problem. Click on the photos to see what some of our military members say. Sure, this represents a small minority.

July 10, 2009

30 April 2009 (am)

Workout notes light rain, 60s; I did 5 miles on a drenched riverpath course; a small part of the goose loop was underwater (at 1/2). I then walked one; Cathy lead the yoga class.

The geese and ducks appeared to be “enjoying” it.

Religion and Society
Here is a short note on how, as an ex-Christian, one can talk to Christians when debates over the validity of Christianity come up. Of course, one of the things one has to pay attention to is how the issues are framed.

Science: Some scientists are disgusted with Francis Collins’s campaign to reconcile religion with science; here is PZ Myers’s and Jerry Coyne’s take on this.

Politics

Here is President Obama’s press conference:

President Obama saying that he’ll consider serious ideas from the opposition but he won’t play games:

So How Is President Obama Doing? His approval ratings are still high, though some conservatives have trouble admitting this.

Many scientists are thrilled that President Obama is taking science and science funding seriously: (example one) (example two)

Senator Specter’s defection

First of all, he had been wooed by Vice President Biden. Yes, we know that we are getting a political opportunist (to put it politely) and note that one of his first votes as a Democrat was to vote against President Obama’s budget.

I admit that I am puzzled at the point that this Republican National Senate Committee ad is making:

Are they attempting to point out that Specter is still a Republican? I honestly miss the point of this ad.

Of course, some conservatives are saying “good riddance“.

More on the Republicans
BJ Stone points out that Newt Gingrich has put himself into a box; he is ready to blame President Obama if things don’t go well. So when asked if he would give President Obama credit if things went well…he said that he would but this isn’t going to happen. Let’s see; remember that they didn’t give President Clinton any credit at all.

Michelle Bachmann continues to be a source of great amusement.

The right wing media continues to play politics with the latest flu outbreak; some are blaming, well, the Mexicans:

Following an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and subsequent confirmation of dozens of cases in the United States, conservative media personalities have baselessly blamed Mexican immigrants for spreading the disease across the border, continuing their long-standing trend of scapegoating immigrants while discussing major news stories. However, Rear Adm. Anne Schuchat, M.D., the interim deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s science and public health program, stated in an April 26 media availability: “I know that we have confirmation of disease in people who have traveled to Mexico, and I don’t know the numbers, but I know that that is definitely the case in some of our cases, and that’s an important factor to consider.” Indeed, several media reports on U.S. swine flu patients indicated that they had recently traveled to Mexico.

Examples of conservative media figures blaming Mexican immigrants for the spread of swine flu into the United States include:

* During the April 24 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Michael Savage stated: “Make no mistake about it: Illegal aliens are the carriers of the new strain of human-swine avian flu from Mexico.” Savage also stated, “If we lived in saner times, the borders would be closed immediately.” Savage went on to theorize that the outbreak might be part of a bioterrorism threat: “[C]ould this be a terrorist attack through Mexico? Could our dear friends in the radical Islamic countries have concocted this virus and planted it in Mexico knowing that you, [Homeland Security Secretary] Janet Napolitano, would do nothing to stop the flow of human traffic from Mexico?” Savage continued: “[T]hey are a perfect mule — perfect mules for bringing this virus into America. But you wouldn’t think that way, would you? Because you are incapable of protecting America’s homeland, Napolitano.” Savage also stated: “How do you protect yourself? What can you do? I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, and I don’t give a damn if you don’t like what I’m going to say. I’m going to have no contact anywhere with an illegal alien, and that starts in the restaurants.” He added, “I will have no any illegal alien workers around me. I will not have them in any of my properties, I will not have them anywhere near me.”

* During the April 27 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Neal Boortz asked: “[W]hat better way to sneak a virus into this country than give it to Mexicans? Right? I mean, one out of every 10 people born in Mexico is already living up here, and the rest are trying to get here. So you give — you give — you let this virus just spread in Mexico, where they don’t have a CDC.” Boortz went on to say: “So if you want to get that epidemic into this country, get it going real good and hot south of the border. And, you know, then just spread a rumor that there’s construction jobs available somewhere, and here it comes. Because we’re not gonna do anything to stop them from coming across the border.”

* In an April 25 blog post titled “Hey, maybe we’ll finally get serious about borders now,” syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin suggested that the outbreak was due to the United States’ “uncontrolled immigration,” writing: “I’ve blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the U.S. as a result of uncontrolled immigration. We’ve heard for years from reckless open-borders ideologues who continue to insist there’s nothing to worry about. And we’ve heard for years that calling any attention to the dangers of allowing untold numbers of people to pass across our borders and through our other ports of entry without proper medical screening — as required of every legal visitor/immigrant to this country — is RAAAACIST.” Malkin added: “9/11 didn’t convince the open-borders zealots to put down their race cards and confront reality. Maybe the threat of their sons or daughters contracting a deadly virus spread from south of the border to their Manhattan prep schools will.” Contrary to Malkin’s suggestion, an April 27 Associated Press article reported of the New York City high school students infected with swine flu to whom she referred: “Officials think they started getting sick after some students returned from the spring break trip to Cancun.”

Additionally, on the April 27 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Fox News host Glenn Beck stated: “Gee, it would be nice if we had border security now, wouldn’t it?” Beck went on to assert: “But if you are a family and you’re down in Mexico and you’re dying and those in America are not, why wouldn’t you flood this border? Why wouldn’t you come across this border? It’s exactly what I warned of — different scenario, different reason of — I was talking about economic collapse. People start to come and rush this border, then what happens? Gee, it would be nice if we had some border security.”

Others see it as a phony fear mongering tactic to enable the government to gain more power (pots and kettles anyone? :) )

Summary: Rush Limbaugh claimed that the Obama administration’s response to cases of swine flu in the U.S. “is designed to expand the role and power of governments and schools,” while Glenn Beck said the motivation behind the response “could be to move [President Obama’s] Health and Human Services person into the office rapidly.”

This tendency has been mocked and ridiculed in “poe blogs” (e. g., here, here and here)

Dick Cheney has been noisy. Some in the media are telling him to just “go away”. Frankly, I hope that he doesn’t; I hope he continues to run off at the mouth.

Torture This Wall Street Journal editorial makes the point that some Democrats are complicit in this. Sure, some of the article is poorly argued:

Or maybe the speaker missed what former CIA Director (and Bill Clinton appointee) George Tenet writes in his memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” about the CIA interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

“I believe none of these successes [in foiling terrorist plots] would have happened if we had had to treat KSM like a white-collar criminal — read him his Miranda rights and get him a lawyer who surely would have insisted his client simply shut up. In his initial interrogation by CIA officers, KSM was defiant. ‘I’ll talk to you guys,’ he said, ‘after I get to New York and see my lawyer.’ Apparently he thought he would be immediately shipped to the United States and indicted in the Southern District of New York. Had that happened, I am confident that we would have obtained none of the information he had in his head about imminent threats to the American people.”

Mr. Tenet continues: “From our interrogation of KSM and other senior al Qaeda members . . . we learned many things — not just tactical information leading to the next capture. For example, more than 20 plots had been put in motion by al Qaeda against U.S. infrastructure targets, including communications nodes, nuclear power plants, dams, bridges and tunnels.”

Did you catch that? This article appears to set up an artificial dichotomy between “being in the criminal justice system” and allowing for torture. In fact, not being in the criminal justice system does not mean that one has to torture; there are other interrogation techniques:

The techniques are controversial among experienced intelligence agency and military interrogators. Many feel that a confession obtained this way is an unreliable tool. Two experienced officers have told ABC that there is little to be gained by these techniques that could not be more effectively gained by a methodical, careful, psychologically based interrogation. According to a classified report prepared by the CIA Inspector General John Helgerwon and issued in 2004, the techniques “appeared to constitute cruel, and degrading treatment under the (Geneva) convention,” the New York Times reported on Nov. 9, 2005.

It is “bad interrogation. I mean you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture’s bad enough,” said former CIA officer Bob Baer.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and a deputy director of the State Department’s office of counterterrorism, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust … than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets.”

One argument in favor of their use: time. In the early days of al Qaeda captures, it was hoped that speeding confessions would result in the development of important operational knowledge in a timely fashion.

However, ABC News was told that at least three CIA officers declined to be trained in the techniques before a cadre of 14 were selected to use them on a dozen top al Qaeda suspects in order to obtain critical information. In at least one instance, ABC News was told that the techniques led to questionable information aimed at pleasing the interrogators and that this information had a significant impact on U.S. actions in Iraq.

April 30, 2009

A Cold Walk, A Lamarckian Result, Conservative Lust for Porn and other topics

Workout notes It was 17 F when I left for my training walk; it was down to the Riverfront, around the gooseloop and back. I started at 9:01 and finished the 10.x mile course at 11:23, and I made two pit stops (thanks kidneys! :) ) and had to stop for traffic from time to time. It was sunny and breezy and I wore hiking boots.

Then I jogged an easy 3 miles on the treadmill; my left leg (behind the knee) was somewhat stiff; my feet felt fine.

Films I watched the film “W” on DVD this afternoon. I can recommend it though I can say that President Bush was portrayed in the manner that I imagine him to be.

Funny, but I didn’t find the character to be sympathetic at all.

Mathematics Cosmic variance has a thread on people’s favorite mathematical functions.
Here is one of mine:
$g(x) = exp(-1/x^2)$ for $x \neq 0$ and $g(0) = 0$

This function has a derivative of all orders everywhere (and hence is called “smooth”) but doesn’t have a Taylor series representation valid on an open interval containing zero. It is used as the basis of the “bump function” which allows for surgery in differential topology and accounts for the difference between the topology of smooth manifolds and analytic ones.

Science: Lamarck gains some level of vindication? (hat tip: 3-quarks daily)

Lamarckian theories about the influence of the environment were largely abandoned after scientists discovered that heritable traits are carried on the genes encoded by our DNA. A recent study, however, published by neuroscientists Junko A. Arai, Shaomin Li and colleagues at Tufts University, shows that not only does the environment an animal is reared in have marked effects on its ability to learn and remember, but also that these effects are inherited. The study suggests that we are not the mere sum of our genes: what we do can make a difference.

The neurobiological investigation of environmental effects on learning and memory began in the late Sixties and early Seventies, when Mark Rosenzweig and colleagues examined how manipulating levels of sensory stimulation, exercise and social interaction affected rats’ behavior. Laboratory rats typically live in a cage with bedding, food and water but little else. In the enriched environments (EE) that Rosenzweig’s group created, animals got access to a changing roster of toys, and increased opportunities for socialization and exercise. The brains of EE rats were larger and they outperformed controls (which were housed in typical cages) in learning and memory tasks. Subsequent work by researchers looking at the cellular level has shown that EE triggers changes in neural morphology (shape), resistance to neurodegenerative disease and learning-related neural activity.

Rescuing Memory

Recently, Arai, Li and colleagues extended this line of inquiry, examining the role that EE plays in long-term potentiation (LTP), a form of synaptic strengthening that supports learning and memory. The physiological signature of LTP is an increase in the baseline level of a neuron’s electrical activity. Arai and Li showed that LTP in the hippocampus, a key brain structure involved in learning and memory processes, is greater in mice reared in EE.

What’s more surprising, however, is that EE is also sufficient to “rescue” a memory defect present in genetically altered mice. Parent mice born with the defect that were then exposed to EE as juveniles did not pass the same memory defects to their offspring. Their enriched surroundings corrected their genetic deficit.

How does this correction occur? Specific molecular pathways are required to generate LTP. When scientists silence the parts of the DNA code involved in the function of one of these pathways using what geneticists call “knock out” technology, as was the case in the mutant mice with a memory defect, both LTP and memory functioning are impaired. Arai and Li showed that EE increased LTP volume in wild-type (non-mutant) mice. Interestingly, mice that have had a standard molecular pathway required to induce LTP knocked out can still induce LTP. The researchers found that this EE-related LTP is induced via a novel molecular pathway that arises as a direct result of EE exposure. Moreover, they found that the enhanced LTP capacity of wild-type mice, and the rescued capacity for LTP in knock-out mice, can be transmitted epigenetically (that is, without any changes in their genetic code) from mother to offspring. Surprisingly, this transmission was true even when their offspring were raised in a conventional environment.

There is much more here; the situation that the offspring could have merely learned from the “learned behavior” of their mothers was accounted for; this inherited “repair” actually stood up when the offspring of the EE parent was raised by a non-EE parent.

Of course, a caveat was issued:

Although these implications are seductive, these specific results usually aren’t easily generalized, or broadly applied, to human populations, however. EE seemed to rescue the memory impaired phenotype of the non-enriched knock-outs, but it bears reiterating that under this manipulation, the wild-type mice that demonstrated improved contextual memory following fear-conditioning did not demonstrate enhanced LTP.

What is true for highly derived lines of conventionally housed (read: sensory deprived) laboratory mice may not generalize to non-deprived humans. We should not assume that children born to mothers who were chronically bored during their adolescence will have memory deficits. Second, in order to generate conclusions, scientists must control the number of variables in the experiment. In these experiments, scientists only analyzed one type of learning under a very specific set of parameters. It is entirely possible that these same knock-out mice raised in the enriched environment would be unable to learn if the stimulus—the context association tested—was for an emotionally positive, rather than a negative, event. On a related note, there are many ways to induce LTP. Thus, it’s at least possible that the molecular pathways explored by Arai, Li and colleagues might mediate LTP specific to contextual memory formation following fear conditioning.

Despite these caveats, this study provides some posthumous vindication of Lamarck’s theories of change and inheritance. Although Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection is still dogma, modern science is hinting that there is nevertheless a place for some of Lamarck’s intuitions in a complete account of the mechanisms of inheritance.

But the implications for those of us who were utterly turned off by “studies” such as The Bell Curve are obvious.

Politics
The public is not falling for right wing claptrap about President Obama:

Hope really is on the way! A tiny bit of good news via Vice President Biden:

Vice President Biden Commends the Reopening of a Chicago Window Factory Thanks to Recovery Act Funding; Company Will Rehire Laid-off Workers for Green Jobs

The Vice President and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) Note that \$16 Billion for Weatherization Projects Will Save or Create Good-Paying Jobs in Illinois and Across the Country
(Washington, DC) The Vice President today commended the new owners of Republic Windows and Doors, a Chicago window manufacturing plant that was shuttered late last year, resulting in the lay-off of its 250 union workers. Republic was purchased in bankruptcy court last week by Serious Materials, a California-based company that makes energy efficient windows. Serious Materials has announced plans to reopen the Republic factory and to eventually rehire all 250 of its laid-off workers at their former pay levels. Serious Materials said it purchased Republic because the Recovery Act will increase demand for its products.

“The reopening of this factory and the rehiring of these workers provide an excellent example of how the money in the Recovery Act is targeted to spur job creation quickly,” said Vice President Biden. “These workers will not only earn a paycheck again; they will go back to work creating products that will benefit America’s long-term economic future.”

At the request of President Obama, Vice President Biden is overseeing the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, working with federal, state and local officials to ensure that money moves quickly and is spent appropriately so that the President’s goal of saving or creating 3.5 million jobs is achieved.

“When Republic shut its doors in December, the jobs Illinois lost were not only good paying jobs, they were good for the environment too,” said Senator Durbin. “Those are the very jobs we need to preserve in order to put our economy back on track. The economic recovery package has recreated a market for energy efficient materials that virtually disappeared as our economic crisis deepened. With \$16 billion available for weatherization programs, companies like Republic will be able to reopen their doors and put people back to work.”

Last Friday the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Energy announced an historic partnership to streamline and better coordinate federal weatherization efforts to make it much easier for families to weatherize their homes and spur a new home energy efficiency industry that could create tens of thousands of jobs.

HUD and DOE have created a high level interagency task force to coordinate home weatherization efforts under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and to leverage those funds to build a home energy efficiency industry in the U.S. that will: create or retain tens of thousands of jobs, lower energy costs of vulnerable low-income households, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. HUD and DOE will allocate \$16 billion in economic recovery funds to retrofit existing homes.

Religion and Society:
Friendly Atheist comments on a report that women are more likely to be religious and attend church than men are.

I don’t know what this means but I have some wild guesses (socialization reasons?)

Right Wing Idiots FA also points out that Glen Beck has some sort of plan to “take back our country”. What does he mean by “take back” and who is “we”?

Do you watch the direction that America is being taken in and feel powerless to stop it?

Do you believe that your voice isn’t loud enough to be heard above the noise anymore?

Do you read the headlines everyday and feel an empty pit in your stomach…as if you’re completely alone?

From about 2003 to 2008, the answer to the above questions was “yes”; I felt as if our country had been hijacked by right wing lunatics (such as Beck). But we took a big step toward taking things back by finally electing an intelligent President.

If so, then you’ve fallen for the Wizard of Oz lie. While the voices you hear in the distance may sound intimidating, as if they surround us from all sides—the reality is very different. Once you pull the curtain away you realize that there are only a few people pressing the buttons, and their voices are weak. The truth is that they don’t surround us at all.

We surround them.

Ok, let’s make a deal: you religious fundies can do without everything that you thinks spawns from an atheistic/naturalistic approach to things (which includes just about every modern medicine, vaccine and piece of technology) and we’ll do without all of the discoveries of fundamentalist religion. :)

But let us give the social conservatives their due: they, in fact, do lead us in one thing: consumption of pornography on the internet!

This finding made the rounds in the blogs that I read and my sister sent me a nice article on this as well. A law-oriented blog conjectured that this may well be related to the “people are going to want what the state tells them that they can’t have” tendency in humans.

From the newser story:

Church-going Republicans are more likely than liberals to buy pornography online, New Scientist reports. In a nationwide study of purchases at an adult entertainment company, researchers found that eight in 10 of the most porno-consuming states voted for John McCain last year. “One natural hypothesis is something like repression: if you’re told you can’t have this, then you want it more,” one researcher said.

The range between the most and least porno-loving states was slim but noticeable: Utah topped the list with 5.47 adult subscriptions per 1,000 users of broadband at home; Montana came up last with 1.92 per 1,000. But church-goers knew when to lay off, purchasing less porn on Sundays, and making up for it with buys during the rest of the week.

Of course, my temptation was to react in a “see, this is just what I thought” manner; there is a conjecture that conservatives are hard wired differently than liberals are. This video is 20 minutes long and is worth watching, but the first 2-3 minutes are especially relevant here.

Example: I watched the “obscene” video “2 girls, one cup”. This video was declared “legally obscene” in a court.

Update: a reader (author of the article that I linked to) who is an expert on these sort of cases gave a welcome correction:

Slight correction: 2G1C wasn’t declared obscene by a court — the defendant pled guilty rather than face trial. Yes, part of that included him admitting to it being obscene.

This video showed a woman defecating into a cup, then cut away to a shot of two women eating brown stuff in a similar cup, kissing and passing this stuff between their mouths, and then regurgitating this into each other’s mouths. Note: the brown stuff in the cup looked a lot like frozen yogurt to me, but never mind.

If you watch some reaction videos (videos of people watching this porn video) you’ll see people actually getting sick.

Not me; whereas I realized that by watching this video I had wasted 90 seconds of my life, I had no deep desire to eat anyone else’s poop for any reason. :) Hence I really didn’t care who watches this video; I saw no reason for the law to step in and tell us what to do.

But my guess is that some social conservatives see it differently and telling them “if you don’t like it, don’t watch it” wouldn’t satisfy them. I suppose it is just a genetic defect of some sort. :)

Note: I watched it and I watched my wife watch it; she gave me a “what the heck is this” frown but not much more. As far as other reactions go:

(note; if you are dying to see the video, google “2 girls, 1 cup” and scroll through about two pages; you can find it on a British website)

But I digress. What is going on with this internet porn data? Here is my guess: a Kossak pointed out that the list of the higher internet porn sale states bore a similarity to a list of states that pron companies wouldn’t send mail to:

Believe me, I love to poke the social conservatives in the eye with a stick. But fair is fair and I don’t want our side advancing bogus arguments to embarrass people we don’t like, even if they wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to us.

March 2, 2009

2 February 2009 Part II

Our break in the weather is all but over; we should get some snow and single digit temperatures tonight. :(

So to warm you up, I’ll post links to some articles that I found interesting.

A Bit of Academic Humor Professors should watch what the post on public forums. :)

Venting to her friends on Facebook one night, a religion professor at Dartmouth College updated her profile to say that she had just consulted an online encyclopedia entry on “modernity” to prepare for her class the next day.

“I feel like such a fraud,” she wrote on her profile. “Do you think dartmouth parents would be upset about paying \$40,000 a year for their children to go here if they knew that certain professors were looking up stuff on Wikipedia and asking for advice from their Facebook friends on the night before the lecture?”

Her profile featured other comments as well, including a dig at her colleagues: “Some day, when i am chair, we’re all going to JOG IN PLACE throughout the meeting. this should knock out at least half of the faculty within 10 minutes (especially the blowhards) & then the meeting can be ended in a timely manner.”

The problem is, she didn’t realize her settings were set such that anyone could read what she wrote! :) Ooops!

Racist Right Wing No, I am not talking about mainstream Republicans; in fact I think that it is great that they elected an African American as RNC chair (though he is still a conservative nutjob).

So far, we haven’t seen any press releases or commentary from other Religious Right groups and leaders, which makes us suspect that they are none-too-pleased with the RNC’s choice … but at least they are not losing their minds, like David Duke:

I am glad these traitorous leaders of the Republican Party appointed this Black racist, affirmative action advocate to the head of the Republican party because this will lead to a huge revolt among the Republican base. As a former Republican official, I can tell you that millions of rank-and-file Republicans are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore! We will either take the Republican Party back over the next four years or we will say, “To Hell With the Republican Party!” And we will take 90 percent of Republicans with us into a New Party that will take its current place!

No, mainstream Republicans, I don’t think that David Duke represents you or anyone else who should be allowed to walk around unsupervised. I am not talking about you here. :)

But I will have some fun at the expense of the religious right wing fundies.

What do professors at Liberty University (founded by Jerry Falwell) do with their research time?

That’s right, they search for Noah’s ark!

What do Liberty University professors do when they are not teaching? Search for Noah’s Ark, of course. Archaeologist Randall Price is set to travel to Mt. Ararat in Turkey to search for it based on claims by a Kurdish shepherd who says he has seen the ark, and even climbed on top of it, when he was a boy: “They found the spot, Price said, but it now is covered by an estimated 60-foot-deep pile of boulders. Price believes the landslide may have resulted from attacks against Kurdish rebels on the mountain, or perhaps from explosives that were set off to cover up the ark.”

All I can say is:

Of course, climate change skeptics aren’t above lying when it suits them.

The climate change denialists have been whooping it up in my email lately, crowing in triumph over the fact that James Hansen’s former “supervisor” has disavowed his work and claims there were no political efforts to suppress the scientific facts. I haven’t really cared — it’s an argument from imaginary authority, nothing more — but I was very amused to learn that this “fact” is in the same category as other denialist “facts”: it isn’t. This fellow, John Theron, is a cranky old gomer who retired 15 years ago, and was thus not even present in the oppressive Bush administration, and never had supervisory authority over Hansen at all.

Why anyone listens to these clowns is beyond me. :)

Mainstream Republicans In general, mainstream Republican political leaders are rather shameless as far as having one set of ethics for themselves and a much higher set for others. Here is a recent example.

When Bush was President:

Back when it launched in 2005, the Judicial Confirmation Network burst onto the scene when it unveiled a study that claimed to show that “the American people are tired of the partisan, political maneuvering and the unwarranted character assassinations against qualified candidates for the federal bench.”

The JCN explained that voters wanted “Senators to do their jobs and hold a straight, up or down vote on nominees based on their qualifications” and thought that those who opposed President Bush’s judicial nominees were “just playing partisan politics”:

Judicial nomination battles are winning issues for Republicans. Voters overwhelmingly endorse the Republicans’ fundamental argument that qualified nominees deserve an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. Because they reject so strongly recent examples of judicial activism, voters want judges who apply rather than make new law, and they want decisions about controversial issues made by their elected representatives rather than unelected judges. They want politics out of the courts and the confirmation process; therefore they reject the suggestion that pro-life views should disqualify a judicial nominee. Republicans and Independents overwhelmingly reject the arguments of the left that a conservative nominee will roll back the clock on constitutional rights, and even Democrats barely endorse that assertion. Republicans, Independents, and Democrats all believe that opponents of judicial nominees are just playing partisan politics.

But that was then; what about now?

Now that the White House and Senate have changed hands, the JCN is back and this time touting a new Rasmussen Report survey, which we debunked last week, that they claim demonstrates that what voters really want is for President Obama’s judicial nominees to receive an “unprecedented level of Senate scrutiny”:

The U.S. Senate will have the responsibility of evaluating and voting on President Obama’s judicial nominees. President Obama has advanced the most radical judicial activist philosophy of any president in American history. He said that judges should decide cases based on their own “deepest values,” “core concerns,” and “the depth and breadth of [their] empathy.” According to President Obama, “the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart” — not what is in the text, principles, and history of our Constitution and other laws.

President Obama’s unprecedented call for judicial activism must be met with an unprecedented level of Senate scrutiny. For every nominee, there should be a presumption that he would — as President Obama has told us he prefers — decide cases based on his personal views. It should be up to each individual nominee to rebut the presumption and to prove that he would rule on the basis of what the law actually provides, as two-thirds of Americans believe judges should.

In other words, they are blatant hypocrites. Remember the rule IIOKIYAAR (it is ok if you are a Republican).

Economics/Stimulus

Our Executive Branch; this takes just under 20 minutes total.

Articles:

Glen Beck is either incompetent or a liar (or both). On his show, he mocks the name of a proposed program. Ok, there is nothing wrong with that except….well, the proposed program doesn’t have the name that he is mocking.

Summary: On his Fox News program, Glenn Beck reported as true the idea floated on Forbes.com that a program the Obama administration is reportedly considering should be called the “Bad Asset Repository Fund.” Without noting that the reported program has not in fact been named, Beck then ridiculed the creators of the nonexistent name for failing to recognize that the acronym is “BARF.” […]

But the January 29 Forbes.com article that referenced the acronym BARF did not attribute it to the Obama administration, as Beck suggested. In fact, in the article — titled “Here Comes the BARF” — reporter Liz Moyer specifically noted that “[t]hey haven’t named it yet” before going on to write that it “would be truth in advertising” to call “a federal ‘bad bank’ to soak up toxic assets the Bad Asset Repository Fund.”

Of course, Beck’s normal audience probably couldn’t follow all of that. :)

Ok, who is suffering under this economic downturn? Mano Singham talks about keeping things in perspective:

Change is difficult to deal with, especially if it is a change for the worse in one’s financial status. Losing one’s job and being forced to accept a lower paying one or having to lower one’s lifestyle is not easy to accept, irrespective of what one’s initial and final level of living was.

In the wake of the Bernie Madoff fraud, we hear of many people saying that they are ‘financially ruined’, that they have ‘lost everything’. When looked at closely, though, some of those descriptions seem to be based on a relative rather than an absolute scale.

For example, take this article by someone named Alexandra Penney who was a Madoff victim and was so traumatized by the prospect of her loss that she did not leave her apartment for days. But when you read her piece, you realize that she lives in a nice New York apartment, has another studio for her work, a cottage in Florida, and employs a maid who comes in three times a week to, among other things, iron her 40 ‘classic white shirts’ because she likes to wear a clean new one every day. Every year Penney travels to many exotic countries.

Penney will now have to give up some of these things, and she is so traumatized that she thinks of suicide.

I’ve lived a great and interesting life. I love beautiful things: high thread count sheets, old china, watches, jewelry, Hermes purses, and Louboutin shoes. I like expensive French milled soap, good wines, and white truffles. I have given extravagant gifts like diamond earrings. I traveled a lot. In this last year, I’ve been Laos, Cambodia, India, Russia, and Berlin for my first solo art show. Will I ever be able to explore exotic places again?

The article reeks with self-pity and in doing so betrays a certain lack of awareness and sensitivity of how it might be perceived by people for whom the words ‘lost everything’ or ‘financial ruin’ may mean becoming homeless or going hungry, and not the loss of a maid or a beach vacation home or trips to exotic locales.

And I suppose for some, “losing everything” might mean not getting that extra million dollar bonus. :)

Of course, there are those wealthy who say “tough beans”; we’re doing great (with taxpayer money helping us out too) and you aren’t doing so hot. So what?

Bink at the Daily Kos has a few things to say.. Note that during the “primary wars” between Clinton and Obama, I called bink a troll. :)

I’m getting pretty damn sick and tired of it.

Sick and tired of being lectured by rich people that the Good Times are over and it’s time for Americans to accept a lower standard of living. We need to get used to the idea that we all won’t be wearing furs and jewels going forward. We need to get back to work and work hard, says Tom Friedman!

The champagne has stopped flowing.

The party has ended.

The bubble has burst.

The balloon has popped!

Sure.

But what good times is Tom Friedman talking about?

During the last eight years, incomes for working people have stagnated or declined. Poverty rose. We had eight years with no net job creation. The nutrition problem in our country grew worse, culminating with ten percent of the population on food stamps — and this was before the financial collapse! We experienced skyrocketing costs for housing, higher education and medical care at the same time government was threatening to yank away safety net programs like Social Security.

The last eight years weren’t a party for most Americans.

They were a time of constantly working harder for smaller rewards, a time of ever-increasing financial and social anxiety, a time of disruption and precarity.

Now …

Now, rich people like Tom Friedman are calling for austerity?

Americans have to be punished for the Sybaritic orgy of the last eight years?

I have news for Tom Friedman:

We didn’t participate in it. […]

Robert Creamer at the Huffington Post has a few thoughts to share as well.

Senator Claire McCaskill took to the Senate floor last week and put into words what most Americans know, but much of the economic and media elite systematically ignore: there is no economic or social justification for the massive incomes earned by the barons of Wall Street – especially when their companies continue to exist solely because of massive infusions of taxpayer dollars.

Last week it was announced that Wall Street gave out \$18.4 billion in bonuses – presumably to reward executives for their performance in 2008 when the markets lost 30% of their value – and when their irresponsible risk-taking threw the world economy into a nose dive.

This comes on the heels of the spectacle of Wall Street firms coming with tin cups to Congress while it rewarded itself with million-dollar CEO bathroom make-overs, swank executive get-aways, \$35,000 office couches and new \$50 million corporate jets.

What are they thinking? The answer is that they live on anther planet — one where they tell each other that they actually “deserve” their massively disproportionate share of the society’s good and services. The decades-long explosion of executive compensation – especially on Wall Street – has convinced many of them that the gravy train can – and should – go on forever. It’s about time that someone like Senator McCaskill made it clear that the executive compensation “emperor” has no clothes. […]

Many of these Wall Street insiders, CEO’s, commentators and “experts” think of themselves as being more “sophisticated” and “cosmopolitan” than ordinary Americans. In fact, they spend their time in the isolated cocoon of corporate jet travel, luxury condos, private schools, exclusive resorts, private clubs, and fancy cocktail parties. They talk to other people like themselves who are perfectly happy to validate their view that they “deserve” multimillion dollar compensation – that they deserve to be driven around in limousines and live in estates that are valued in eight figures.

They convince themselves that if the benighted masses just knew all that they know about credit default swaps or mark-to–market accounting practices, they would understand why it is somehow in America’s interest that they should continue to be given a massively disproportionate share of the wealth created by our economy.

It would probably do them some good to become “cosmopolitan” enough to get out and talk to ordinary Americans. Ordinary Americans who work hard every day have a hard time justifying why the very people who caused the economic disaster–that may have cost them their job or their home– deserve to be paid millions and millions of dollars.

They might also take time to study some history. Marie Antoinette would be a good place to start. She and her husband, King Louis XVI of France, shared their “cosmopolitan” attitudes. It didn’t work out so well for them.

I am wondering what it will take for these arrogant assholes more clueless financial elites to listen up?

I know one thing: this economy really has the potential to pit citizens against each other, as brotherpeacemaker points out.

I was listening to National Public Radio Super Bowl Sunday morning. The topic of discussion was how economics actually destroy community. The speaker, I forgot his name, gave the analogy of the Quaker family who lost their barn. The Quaker community would get together and have a barn raising where everyone in the community would come together for the aid of the neighbor. No muss and no fuss. Everyone has the common goal of helping a neighbor raise a barn. There is a socially common goal.

Now, compare that to the modern farmer family who loses their barn. They call their insurance company. The insurance company sends out an adjuster who makes sure to minimize the insurance company’s financial exposure in a mutually fair deal. The farmer family then takes the check and finds a contractor. The contractor and the farmer family have to negotiate price to assure a fair deal. The contractor then hires subcontractors or employees and negotiates fair deals for all. Everyone is negotiating a fair deal in an attempt to make sure they maximize their profits at the expense of their neighbor. There is no real socially common goal. The welfare of the community is lost to the welfare of the individual.

Indeed, so much of the community’s welfare simply doesn’t measure up to the welfare of individuals. Even when there is a clear individual benefit to complement the community benefit, we have been programmed to think social consciousness is some nefarious plan to undermine our capitalistic system. The moment someone mentions something like universal healthcare or a education financing system that is truly equitable and suddenly the fabric of America’s social system is under threat of unraveling. But the only thing that is really unraveling is somebody’s opportunity to make profit and capitalize on economics.

Corporate America is notorious for putting the welfare of their profits ahead of the welfare of the community. Bank of America gets part of the stimulus payout to help put America’s economy back on its feet and what does management do? Management decides to make accelerated bonus payments to their executive officers to the tune of four billion dollars in order to keep talent. Spending good money to retain the talent that drove the company into the ground seems awfully self defeating. I know if I cost my company billions of dollars in value I would expect to be fired. But these people will actually use money intended for the benefit of the community to enrich the personal economics of a relatively few. […]

Speaking of the stimulus package, go here if you want to see the official estimates of the cost of the various provisions.

February 3, 2009

Obama Infomercial and Other topics

In case you missed it, the “almost 30 minutes” Obama informercial.

Good stuff; I am not sure if they got the live shot at the end though. In the “real time” version, they ended it with a shot from a Florida rally.

Some non politics

Richard Dawkins: this parody article has Dawkins dying only to be resurrected and getting Jesus-like qualities. Of course, he claims that there is a “natural explanation.

A book I need to read: a book about dumbness in politics, from both the left and the right. The book is Dumokoracy by Beckerman.

A socially liberal person talks about the balance between compassion for others and living responsibility. Highly recommended. Mano Singham’s writing has been exceptionally good lately.

2008 Election and Politics

Humor: A comment on just who is counting your votes. Feel better?

Obama: “Am I a socialist? I did share my toys when I was in kindergarten.”

Feel Good story
Daughter of a man who was born into slavery votes for Obama in Texas. Yes, she is 109 years old!

Yes, I lived close to her (she lives near Bastrop, Texas, which is 30 miles outside of Austin).

How is the campaign going?

Bill and Hillary Clinton are going all out.

Ari at Edge of the American West comments that Obama is running an exceptional campaign.

John McCain’s commercials continue to misfire:

Since when did Obama indicate that he’d meet Iranian preconditions?

By the way, the McCain camp still gets it wrong:

What is up with the Republicans?

North Carolina Senate Race
Elizabeth Dole is desperate; she is attempting to slur Kay Hagan by calling her “an atheist”

I find this comical. Of course there are two non-comical things:
1. Dole is lying and
2. She thinks that being “an atheist” is a bad thing; she is using the cry “atheist” as a slur (and it is a slur with many people).

But from my point of view imagine this:

“My opponent doesn’t believe in Zeus!” If you were “that opponent”, would you be offended by that remark? Well, religious wingnuts, your god is to me as Zeus is to you. :)

Ugliness continues at McCain rallies: this one is in North Carolina.

A fellow central Illinois resident has had their Obama sign stolen.

But this tops them all: watch as disgraced former Representative Tom Delay (indicted for violating campaign finance law) as he flings monkey feces at Obama: he cries that Obama is a socialist, anti-American, a radical, etc.

Isn’t Tom Delay just the perfect representative of the Republican party as it is today: utterly ignorant, classless and corrupt! Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz destroys him afterward; that alone is worth watching.

Things might not be changing for the better either. Sarah Palin sees the handwriting on the wall and is already thinking of 2012.

Talk about being disloyal to the top of the ticket! But she is the perfect “new Republican” isn’t she: selfish, narcissistic and completely anti-intellectual.

Update: ABC News had admitted that they made a mistake. See here. Palin did NOT say that she was giving up on the election; the “going through this for naught” remark was more about her response to the sexism that she has encountered while in politics and not her time with McCain.

A commenter to a Linda Chavez talks about what is going on:
(Linda Chavez article)

“We need conservative leaders to put the brakes on liberal over reaching. When conservatives are in power, the nation needs liberal leaders to put the brakes on conservatives. That’s a scenario that serves America. The main problem, and it shows up in almost every poll today and every scan of voter attitude, is that Americans simply can’t stomach any more conservative BS.

No more BS that small town America is the ‘real’ America, and that I am not a ‘real’ America because I live in a city. No more BS that Congress needs to be investigated for ‘anti-Americanism.’ No more BS that your opponent, whomever he is, is a Communist or a Socialist. No more BS that your next door neighbor hates America because his political views are to the left of yours. No more BS that science and evidence don’t matter, as long as ideological purity is upheld. No more BS about being privy to the Truth because you are a Christian.

That is the Conservatism that is being rejected. You do not need to believe or agree. But if you don’t see that reality then you are divorced from the reality of this election. As long as your standard bearers are Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter, you will lose.”

(Hat tip to Science Avenger)

October 30, 2008