Talking to your conservative friends about Syrian refugees…

Workout notes: swimming, then walking. The weather is supposed to turn bad tomorrow, so I pushed my lifting until tomorrow morning so I could enjoy the chilly, but pretty day.
Swim: 500 easy, then 5 x (100 free, 100 pull, 100 fins), 2 x 100 IM. This was a “fun” type workout for variety.

Walk: 5K hill course to Bradley Park and back. Not timed.


I am disappointed with the way my IL-17 US Representative (Cheri Bustos, Democrat) voted on the Syrian refugee bill. Yes, refugees should be vetted, but they ARE…extensively. See the reproduced post (from someone who practices immigration law) at the end of this post.

I do get at least some of the fears. It is true that an uncomfortably large percentage of Muslims in other countries hold values that are completely antithetical to American values of freedom of religion and freedom of speech (here and here)

So, of course, ANY immigrant (or settled refugee) has to conform to our values here. Then again, I’d imagine that most who want to come here understand that.

And, no process is foolproof; it is almost statistically certain that a tiny percentage of miscreants will be in the mix.

And yes, the Gulf States should step up and do their part.

I’d also add this: refugees coming to the US and doing well is a real slap in the face to groups like ISIL; they’ll learn that, yes, our culture is better than the one that ISIL wants to impose. And what a better example of “American Exceptionalism” is there than that? Aren’t we supposed to be the beacon of liberty for the rest of the world? I’d say that there is a great conservative case to be made for accepting refugees, and I am sorry that my blue dog Representative didn’t do that.

This is written by an immigration law attorney named Scott Hicks and posted on Facebook

Scott Hicks
Yesterday at 8:54am · Edited ·
Most of my friends know I practice Immigration law. As such, I have worked with the refugee community for over two decades. This post is long, but if you want actual information about the process, keep reading.

I can not tell you how frustrating it is to see the misinformation and outright lies that are being perpetuated about the refugee process and the Syrian refugees. So, here is a bit of information from the real world of someone who actually works and deals with this issue.

The refugee screening process is multi-layered and is very difficult to get through. Most people languish in temporary camps for months to years while their story is evaluated and checked.

First, you do not get to choose what country you might be resettled into. If you already have family (legal) in a country, that makes it more likely that you will go there to be with family, but other than that it is random. So, you can not simply walk into a refugee camp, show a document, and say, I want to go to America. Instead, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) works with the local authorities to try to take care of basic needs. Once the person/family is registered to receive basic necessities, they can be processed for resettlement. Many people are not interested in resettlement as they hope to return to their country and are hoping that the turmoil they fled will be resolved soon. In fact, most refugees in refugee events never resettle to a third country. Those that do want to resettle have to go through an extensive process.

Resettlement in the U.S. is a long process and takes many steps. The Refugee Admissions Program is jointly administered by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) in the Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and offices within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within DHS conducts refugee interviews and determines individual eligibility for refugee status in the United States.

We evaluate refugees on a tiered system with three levels of priority.

First Priority are people who have suffered compelling persecution or for whom no other durable solution exists. These individuals are referred to the United States by UNHCR, or they are identified by the U.S. embassy or a non-governmental organization (NGO).

Second priority are groups of “special concern” to the United States. The Department of State determines these groups, with input from USCIS, UNHCR, and designated NGOs. At present, we prioritize certain persons from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Iran, Burma, and Bhutan.

Third priority are relatives of refugees (parents, spouses, and unmarried children under 21) who are already settled in the United States may be admitted as refugees. The U.S.-based relative must file an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) and must be processed by DHS.

Before being allowed to come to the United States, each refugee must undergo an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process conducted by Regional Refugee Coordinators and overseas Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs). Individuals generally must not already be firmly resettled (a legal term of art that would be a separate article). Just because one falls into the three priorities above does not guarantee admission to the United States.

The Immigration laws require that the individuals prove that they have a “well-founded fear,” (another legal term which would be a book.) This fear must be proved regardless of the person’s country, circumstance, or classification in a priority category. There are multiple interviews and people are challenged on discrepancies. I had a client who was not telling the truth on her age and the agency challenged her on it. Refugees are not simply admitted because they have a well founded fear. They still must show that they are not subject to exclusion under Section 212(a) of the INA. These grounds include serious health matters, moral or criminal matters, as well as security issues. In addition, they can be excluded for such things as polygamy, misrepresentation of facts on visa applications, smuggling, or previous deportations. Under some circumstances, the person may be eligible to have the ground waived.

At this point, a refugee can be conditionally accepted for resettlement. Then, the RSC sends a request for assurance of placement to the United States, and the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) works with private voluntary agencies (VOLAG) to determine where the refugee will live. If the refugee does have family in the U.S., efforts will be made to resettle close to that family.

Every person accepted as a refugee for planned admission to the United States is conditional upon passing a medical examination and passing all security checks. Frankly, there is more screening of refugees than ever happens to get on an airplane. Of course, yes, no system can be 100% foolproof. But if that is your standard, then you better shut down the entire airline industry, close the borders, and stop all international commerce and shipping. Every one of those has been the source of entry of people and are much easier ways to gain access to the U.S. Only upon passing all of these checks (which involve basically every agency of the government involved in terrorist identification) can the person actually be approved to travel.

Before departing, refugees sign a promissory note to repay the United States for their travel costs. This travel loan is an interest-free loan that refugees begin to pay back six months after arriving in the country.

Once the VOLAG is notified of the travel plans, it must arrange for the reception of refugees at the airport and transportation to their housing at their final destination.
This process from start to finish averages 18 to 24 months, but I have seen it take years.

The reality is that about half of the refugees are children, another quarter are elderly. Almost all of the adults are either moms or couples coming with children. Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the proposed ceiling is 85,000. We have been averaging about 70,000 a year for the last number of years. (Source: Refugee Processing Center)

Over one-third of all refugee arrivals (35.1 percent, or 24,579) in FY 2015 came from the Near East/South Asia—a region that includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, and Afghanistan.
Another third of all refugee arrivals (32.1 percent, or 22,472) in FY 2015 came from Africa.
Over a quarter of all refugee arrivals (26.4 percent, or 18,469) in FY 2015 came from East Asia — a region that includes China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. (Source: Refugee Processing Center)

Finally, the process in Europe is different. I would be much more concerned that terrorists are infiltrating the European system because they are not nearly so extensive and thorough in their process.

November 20, 2015 Posted by | Cheri Bustos, IL-17, social/political, Spineless Democrats, swimming, walking | | Leave a comment

Paul Krugman: same as he ever was (grumpy and ….correct)

I love it:

P. K. on the thin-skinned ultra rich
P. K. on the milquetoast so-called left.



April 3, 2014 Posted by | economics, economy, social/political, Spineless Democrats | | Leave a comment

2014: midterms will probably be grim for me…

It is looking more and more like the Republicans will not only hold to the House (maybe even pad their margin) but also take the Senate. Well…I’d call it a “victory” if we can keep 50 in our Senate caucus where the VP would break a tie.

The big problem:
President Obama isn’t very popular right now:


No, he is NOT in President George W. Bush territory nor is he in President Truman territory. But he isn’t at 50 percent either.
On the other hand, he IS popular with the hard core people (like me) and his organization OFA is doing well, money wise:

Interviews with more than two dozen Democratic members of Congress, state party officials and strategists revealed a new urgency about the need to address the party’s prospects. One Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Obama was becoming “poisonous” to the party’s candidates. At the same time, Democrats are pressing senior aides to Mr. Obama for help from the political network.

“I’m a prolific fund-raiser, but I can’t compete with somebody who has got 50-some-odd billion dollars,” said Representative Joe Garcia of Florida, a vulnerable first-term member who has already faced more than $500,000 in negative TV ads from third-party conservative groups. “One hopes the cavalry is coming. One hopes the cavalry is coming.”

The gap is yawning. Outside Republican groups have spent about $40 million in this election cycle, compared with just $17 million by Democrats.

When two senior White House officials — Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director, and Phil Schiliro, the health care adviser — went to the Capitol late last month to address Senate Democrats about the Affordable Care Act, they were met with angry questions about why Mr. Obama’s well-funded advocacy group, Organizing for Action, was not airing commercials offering them cover on the health law.

Among those raising concerns was Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who also has a low-key style and warm relationship with Mr. Obama.

“They did not want to hear about health care enrollment,” one source familiar with the meeting said, describing “a high level of anxiety.”

In other words: “stay way but send $$$”. That is sort of the sense I am getting with respect to the small donors too: “we disrespect your values but we want your $$$.”

Yes, I give a small amount of money regularly to OFA. I gave a smaller amount to our IL-17 Congressional Representative Cheri Bustos, who is facing tea party challenger (and former representative) Bobby Schilling.

To say the least: I am not thrilled about her performance (President Obama carried her district by 17 points; she won by 6. Yet she joined the Blue Dogs. I UNDERSTAND a Montana Democrat or a Louisiana Democrat or an Arkansas Democrat being more conservative. Many of their constituents are backwards. This really doesn’t apply in IL-17: Ms. Bustos won primarily on the strength of the urban areas in her district:

It didn’t work and Bustos won 53-47 (18,500 votes); she picked up her margins in Rock Island as well as in sections of Rockford and Peoria:

She won Fulton county by 200, Knox county (Galesburg) by 1200, Peoria County (part of it; the other part is in IL-18) by 8400, Rock Island by 6600, Tazewell by 200 (part of the county), Whiteside by 200 and Winnebago (part of Rockford) by 8700. Or put another way, her margin came from Rock Island plus parts of two larger cities.

Her margin was about 18,000 votes.

Yet, she insists on trying to appeal to voters who…well, probably aren’t going to vote for her anyway.

That might be a big part of the problem. The Republicans are running toward their base and the Democrats are afraid of their base.

Anyhow, I predict that we are going to get creamed in the midterms. How bad: I cannot say.

I wish that more Democrats would remember what President Truman said:

I’ve seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the fair Deal, and says he really doesn’t believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.
But when a Democratic candidate goes out and explains what the New Deal and fair Deal really are–when he stands up like a man and puts the issues before the people–then Democrats can win, even in places where they have never won before. It has been proven time and again.

March 17, 2014 Posted by | 2014 midterm, Barack Obama, Cheri Bustos, politics, politics/social, social/political, Spineless Democrats | , , | Leave a comment

Affordable Care Act and current policy cancellations

So, why are we hearing stories of canceled policies?

So these insurance cancellation notices. I hear a lot about them. What’s the deal?
Let’s start with the very basics here. About 15 million people purchase health insurance policies on the individual market. That’s about 5 percent of the population. When they do so, they typically purchase a 12-month contract with an insurance company. And when that contract runs out, both the individual and the insurance plan have an escape hatch. The individual can decide to no longer purchase the plan — and the insurance company can decide to no longer offer the plan.
Most individuals don’t stay in the individual market very long: One study, published in the journal Health Affairs, found that 17 percent of individual market subscribers purchased the same plan for two straight years or longer.
There are some restrictions on how insurance companies can terminate products. HIPAA, a health law passed in the 1990s, does require that insurance companies offer subscribers the opportunity to renew their policy, so long as they continue to pay monthly premiums. If they want to discontinue a subscriber’s policy, the insurance plan must provide 90 days notice and “the option to purchase any other individual health insurance coverage currently being offered by the issuer for individuals in that market.”
And these are the notices that insurance plans are sending out right now, to hundreds of thousands of subscribers: notices saying that they do not plan to offer the policy anymore, and information about what policies will be available.
So why is this happening right now?
Some — or maybe even most — of the plans offered on the individual insurance market right now don’t meet certain requirements in the health-care law. They may not offer preventive care without co-payment, for example, or leave out coverage of maternity care, one of the health-care law’s 10 essential benefits.
Some of these plans have stuck around for a little bit. The health law allowed plans that existed back in March 2010, when it became a law, to keep selling coverage. These are known as “grandfathered plans:” They don’t meet the health law’s requirements, but as long as they don’t change much, insurers can keep offering them.
Insurance companies typically do like to change their insurance plans, making changes to cost-sharing or the benefits they offer. That means that grandfathered plans have disappeared. We don’t have great data about how quickly this is happening in the individual market, but we do see it in this Kaiser Family Foundation survey of the employer market.

click on the link to read more.

So, what is really going on? Via Matt Yglesias:

Rather than (foolishly) try to ensure that nobody could ever lose their insurance, the actual Affordable Care Act accelerated the demise of a certain class of plan. Politically, that’s now an embarrassment for the White House. Substantively, it’s a huge achievement.

The ACA cracks down on insurance rescission. It was famously difficult on the old market for people with “pre-existing conditions” to get coverage. That’s because insurance companies don’t want to cover people who are actually sick. Even healthy people generally want health insurance coverage because they might get sick. But an insurance company has no desire to actually foot the bill for a seriously ill person’s medical treatment. Hence, in the individual market the standard practice was to earn a profit selling peace of mind to healthy people, only to pivot as quickly as possible toward cancellation of the plan as soon as major bills started coming in. The ACA, rightly, puts a stop to this scam.

Since insurance companies now won’t be allowed to collect premiums while you’re healthy only to yank coverage when you get sick, they have no choice but to pre-emptively cancel plans that wouldn’t be financially beneficial to actually pay out.

That’s the story of Obamacare “victims” such as Lee Hammack and JoEllen Brothers, loyal Democrats aged 60 and 59 who enjoyed miraculously low premiums until the ACA ruined the party. Hammack and Brothers are certainly entitled to feel miffed about losing their apparently sweet deal. But they ought to reflect on the overwhelming likelihood that their pre-ACA circumstances were a happy illusion. They were both, by their own admission, quite healthy and thus profitable to insure. Had one of them actually fallen ill, the plan would have become a loss center for the insurer and canceled as swiftly as a pretext could be found. It’s being canceled now because under the new rules it’s now or never for the insurer. Charging premiums only to yank the policy retroactively is no longer on the table.

Insurance cancellation sob stories have been full of picayune details about new coverage mandates for services the policyholder doesn’t want: gender reassignment surgery, for example, or maternity care for women in their 50s. But no insurer worries about being forced to offer you services that you won’t want to use. New regulations will only lead to policy cancellation if they make the policy unprofitable to offer. And in the majority of cases, that’ll mean the policy is being canceled because it never made financial sense for the insurer to actually pay up in the case of major illness.

Clearing the landscape of this kind of mirage insurance and making sure that everyone has proper coverage—which, yes, may be more expensive—is a feature of the Affordable Care Act, not a bug. The White House has every reason to hold its head in shame over the shambolic state of, but the wave of cancellation letters is part of Obamacare doing what it was supposed to do. There’s little to regret about these plans vanishing from the earth.

But these stories are making the ACA unpopular and many Democrats are picking up on that.

This bit of weak-knees disgusts Robert Reich:

Democrats are showing once again they have the backbones of banana slugs.

The Affordable Care Act was meant to hold insurers to a higher standards. So it stands to reason that some insurers will have to cancel their lousy sub-standard policies.

But spineless Democrats (including my old boss Bill Clinton) are caving in to the Republican-fueled outrage that the President “misled” Americans into thinking they could keep their old lousy policies — and are now urging the White House to forget the new standards and let people keep what they had before.

And some congressional Republicans are all too eager to join them, and allow insurers to offer whatever crap they were offering before — exposing families to more than $12,700 in out-of-pocket expenses, canceling policies of people who get seriously sick, failing to cover prescription drugs, and so on.

Can we please get a grip? Whenever industry standards are lifted — a higher minimum wage, safer workplaces, non-toxic foods and drugs, safer cars — people no longer have the “freedom” to contract for the sub-standard goods and services.

But that freedom is usually a mirage because big businesses have most of the power and average people don’t have much of a choice. This has been especially the case with health insurance, which is why minimum standards here are essential.

And I can see the point of view of the politicians: they don’t want to hear it. If you tell someone what the policy that they liked really might have bit them had they really gotten sick…well, they won’t hear any of it.

Groan; this sort of change is never easy.

Personally, I’d prefer single payer but there is zero chance of getting that right now.

November 14, 2013 Posted by | health, politics, politics/social, social/political, Spineless Democrats | , , | 2 Comments

DOMA, climate change and all that

Workout notes
weights: usual hip hikes, achilles, rotator cuff, ab sets (3 sets of 10: crunch, v. crunch, sit back)
squats: 4 sets of 5: 45, 75, 95, 95
pull ups: 2 sets of (4 x 5 reps (tiny rests; change grip), 1 set of 10 (burn!)
dumbbell military/row super set: 3 sets each (12 x 50 military, 10 x 65 row)
incline: 10 x 135, 5 x 155, 7 x 150
curl/pull down super set: 3 sets each: 10 x 160 pull down, 10 x 30 dumbbell curls
back, etc.

See a butterfly that appears to be right side up when it is actually upside down; this fools predators.

President Obama’s climate change battle plan: involves executive orders and science. Here is a short Scientific American write up:

The plan, which consists of a long list of actions the executive branch can take with no help or hindrance from Congress, has three “pillars.” One is to cut carbon dioxide emissions, two is to “prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change,” and three is lead international efforts to achieve the same two goals.

Many of the preview stories streaming across the media focus on the first goal, which includes a reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions of 17 percent by 2020, below 2005 levels. The big provisions there are to have the Environmental Protection Agency limit CO2 emissions from power plants, especially coal-fired plants, and from heavy trucks, buses and vans. But little is being written about how the plan intends to reduce death and destruction from the ravages of climate change, including heat waves, more severe storms, storm surges and sea level rise—what Obama calls “American’s climate resilience.”

The plan, released to the media before the speech, calls for conserving land and water, making agriculture more sustainable, reducing the effects of drought and wildfires, improving flood protection, and hardening power plants, hospitals and fuel-supply channels against extreme weather of all kinds. The key to all of that, the plan notes in surprising detail, is more science.

For example, to ensure that flood barriers provide protection long-term, federal agencies will update their standards to account “for sea-level rise and other factors affecting flood risk. This effort will incorporate the most recent science on expected rates of sea-level rise (which vary by region)…” Another example: The Department of Agriculture will create seven new “regional climate hubs” to deliver “tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.”


Weather: we seem to be getting pounded unusually often by lines of thunderstorms. The cause: unusual sinusoidal path of the jet stream. Instead of staying on more or less the same latitude, it is dipping and rising in a circular wave pattern.


Yes, the loss of Arctic sea ice is affecting the path of the jet stream, and did last year (felt mostly in Europe).

Social/Political Issues
No, Keynesianism doesn’t mean “always run deficits” and “always spend”. “Spending for the bust, austerity for the boom”, is the motto.

Gay Marriage: the SCOTUS decision is good news:

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

He said the law was motivated by a desire to harm gay and lesbian couples and their families, demeaning the “moral and sexual choices” of such couples and humiliating “tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

The constitutional basis for striking down the law was not entirely clear, as it had elements of federalism, equal protection and due process. Justice Kennedy said the law’s basic flaw was in its “deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”

He added that the ruling applied only to marriages in states that allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

The part of DOMA that says that states don’t have to recognize same sex marriages made in other states was allowed to stand:

The decision leaves in place another provision in the law that says no state is required to recognize gay marriages performed in any other state. That provision was not under challenge.

Still, we need to pass gay marriage in Illinois; the roadblock is the Democratically controlled State House (it has passed the State Senate and the Governor said he’d sign it); the churches are the fly in the ointment.

Of course, some are throwing a tantrum:

Screen shot 2013-06-26 at 10.36.06 AM

Sorry, but religions that posit a deity that has “a will” ARE dangerous. Imagine: policy is being decided, in part, by what someone thinks that their imaginary entity thinks.

June 27, 2013 Posted by | civil liberties, climate change, economics, economy, evolution, huckabee, human sexuality, science, social/political, Spineless Democrats, weight training | , , , | Leave a comment

Politics Saturday: is the 99 percent movement a liberal tea party?

If you follow my blog at all, you aren’t one of those 47 percent of Americans who can’t name a single Republican candidate for office. Note: I’d wager that those with more education would do much better. But neither of my parents made it past junior high, and they followed politics closely. How the elections were going was a frequent topic of discussion at our dinner table. Of course we followed the Democrats more than the Republicans. But we still knew who was running, even in the primary season.

The Value Voter Summit: few voters, and crappy values.

Running Government as a Business
I’ve never been a fan of “let’s model government after a business”. In fact, I think that the only things that ought to be run like businesses are, well, businesses. This article describes some of my feelings on the matter. Here is what I’d add: business leaders succeed by getting people on the same page and by firing non-performers. A government can’t “fire” non-productive citizens, nor should they (think: the elderly, the handicapped, the sick). A government can’t run competitors out of business…nor can a government expect everyone to conform to some culture standard. It really isn’t a “top-down” system.

The 99 percent/occupy movement
Paul Krugman points out that this movement is largely in response to the non-responsiveness of the “policy elite” (aka “Very Serious People”):

What can we say about the protests? First things first: The protesters’ indictment of Wall Street as a destructive force, economically and politically, is completely right.

A weary cynicism, a belief that justice will never get served, has taken over much of our political debate — and, yes, I myself have sometimes succumbed. In the process, it has been easy to forget just how outrageous the story of our economic woes really is. So, in case you’ve forgotten, it was a play in three acts.

In the first act, bankers took advantage of deregulation to run wild (and pay themselves princely sums), […]

Now, it’s true that some of the protesters are oddly dressed or have silly-sounding slogans, which is inevitable given the open character of the events. But so what? I, at least, am a lot more offended by the sight of exquisitely tailored plutocrats, who owe their continued wealth to government guarantees, whining that President Obama has said mean things about them than I am by the sight of ragtag young people denouncing consumerism.

Bear in mind, too, that experience has made it painfully clear that men in suits not only don’t have any monopoly on wisdom, they have very little wisdom to offer. When talking heads on, say, CNBC mock the protesters as unserious, remember how many serious people assured us that there was no housing bubble, that Alan Greenspan was an oracle and that budget deficits would send interest rates soaring.

A better critique of the protests is the absence of specific policy demands. It would probably be helpful if protesters could agree on at least a few main policy changes they would like to see enacted. But we shouldn’t make too much of the lack of specifics. It’s clear what kinds of things the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators want, and it’s really the job of policy intellectuals and politicians to fill in the details.

Now when it comes to “the elite”: I am FOR a truly elite: people who have a great deal of knowledge and GET THINGS RIGHT. The best example of this: scientists. The results are there for all to see: cures, technology, reduced mortality rates, etc. So, when an untrained person reacts to a well established scientific result with “this must be BS because it doesn’t make sense to me” I laugh at them. Note: I said “well established”….of course the media frequently announces results before they’ve had time to be checked and replicated.

But for the “Very Serious” in economics: they have been failures. They have no room for arrogance. Consequently this amused me:

So, will this 99 percent/occupy movement become the Tea Party of the Left? Robert Reich argues: probably not. The only thing I’d add to what Professor Reich said is that one must remember how truly horrible things were during the 1930’s: unemployment reached TWENTY FIVE PERCENT. Think about it: we are at 9.1 percent (way too high, of course).

There is a few rays of hope: we did add 100,000 jobs in September (though barely at break-even level when one considers those new job seekers). And some manufacturing jobs are returning from China to the United States.

October 8, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, Barack Obama, Democrats, economics, economy, political/social, politics, politics/social, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, science, social/political, Spineless Democrats | Leave a comment

Farewell to August 2011

We’ll have politics (what else), a cool space photo of the earth and the moon together…and then a photo of a different sort of “moon”. 🙂

Moon one: science
Via Richard Dawkins: a NASA photo from the Jupiter probe showing the earth and our moon.

Barack Obama campaigned on “bringing people together” and working with Republicans. I felt that it was important that we had to try. There were those who said that it wouldn’t work:

But she managed to turn a huge lead in the primary campaign into a loss. So while she was right here…could she have won the general? Probably. But I wonder how she would gotten the Republicans out of their stubbornness.
In any event, though she has been classy, she has room to say “I was right and you were wrong”. Paul Krugman certainly says so:

Just go read his column today, which is very close to my own thinking. And not just on the economics. Martin is usually cautious on matters political, but this time he lets fly:

Mr Obama wishes to be president of a country that does not exist. In his fantasy US, politicians bury differences in bipartisan harmony. In fact, he faces an opposition that would prefer their country to fail than their president to succeed. […]

Quite. And yes, this was what worried me about Obama from the beginning, way back in 2007-2008, when I got huge grief from progressives for criticizing him.

Of course when you call the Republicans on this, they lie and scream bloody murder:

In Obama’s recounting, however, luck is only half the story. His economic recovery was ruined not just by acts of God and (foreign) men, but by Americans who care nothing for their country. These people, who inhabit Congress (guess what party?), refuse to set aside “politics” for the good of the nation. They serve special interests and lobbyists, care only about the next election, place party ahead of country. Indeed, they “would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.” The blaggards!

Yes, that asshole overrated hack Krauthammer actually told the truth for once, though he was intending to be sarcastic.

Darth Vader’s New Book
Ms. Condoleezza Rice Rice begs to differ with Mr. Cheney’s account of things.

Poor Drunken Ladybug (“drunken ladybug” reference from here)

She has had her troubles…but at least she was re-invited to a tea-bagger event that she was uninvited to:

In the tea party, one day you’re in, and the next you’re out:

Former U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell will not speak at a tea party event featuring former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in Indianola, Iowa, this weekend, an organizer told Washington Wire. “I made a mistake,” said Ken Crow, president of Tea Party of America. “I assumed there was an open slot and there wasn’t.”Monday night, Mr. Crow told Washington Wire that Ms. O’Donnell would appear.

Tea Party of America’s cofounder, Charlie Gruschow, said the group withdrew Ms. O’Donnell’s after receiving numerous “emails from a lot of tea party folks that were very disappointed that she would be speaking.”

And then? You’re in again:

Former Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell will speak at a tea party rally Saturday in Iowa after organizers Tuesday night reversed themselves again and re-invited her, CNN has learned.

What do I take from all the drama? […]

Go ahead and read. Frankly, I find this to be more entertaining than anything else. Ms. O’Donnell is, well, dumb, but so are Palin supporters. She is closer to the average Republican primary voter than Jon Huntsman is.

Update The poor Ladybug is out again:


* In case you’re confused, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is planning to speak at a tea party rally in Indianola, Iowa this Saturday after considering pulling out. Former Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell was invited, disinvited, re-invited, and re-disinvited from the event. Tea Party of America President Ken Crow told NBC News that he had to ditch O’Donnell after talking to Palin aides. On Palin’s side, staffers say there were also sorts of logistical issues. Crow appears not to really know what he’s doing.

Now what about the race?
Nate Silver (politely) calls BS on a model that predicts an Obama victory. Of course, Mr. Silver is right; this “model” is really classic overfitting. He goes on to make a statement that wouldn’t make sense to many but is true nonetheless:

These types of problems, which are technically known as overfitting and data dredging, are among the most important things you ought to learn about in a well-taught econometrics class — but many published economists and political scientists seem to ignore them when it comes to elections forecasting.

In short, be suspicious of results that seem too good to be true. I’m probably in the minority here, but if two interns applied to FiveThirtyEight, and one of them claimed to have a formula that predicted 33 of the last 38 elections correctly, and the other one said they had gotten all 38 right, I’d hire the first one without giving it a second thought — it’s far more likely that she understood the limitations of empirical and statistical analysis.

AMEN. This lesson can’t be stressed too much!!!

I am not saying that President Obama won’t be reelected; he still stands a decent chance, especially if Mr. Perry or Ms. Bachmann is the GOP nominee. Mr. Romney or Mr. Huntsman would be trouble. But could either make it past the primary?

I think that the Republicans are worried that Mr. Perry is gaining too much traction. This alarms Dick Morris (who badmouthed Mr. Romney’s chances, at first). Mr. Morris writes for the Newsmax crowd (uneducated Republicans) and frequently shills rather than reports. I think he is doing just that right now:

Governor Perry clearly did better than Governor Romney at creating jobs. But it is not two governors who will square off over the issue, it is two men with two lifetimes of experience to look at.

Ever since President Clinton drummed the concept of net job creation into our heads with his mounting claims of the millions of jobs “I created,” we have become accustomed to monitoring this figure as evidence of executive economic skill. But, in this case, Romney can point to a lifetime of actually creating jobs while Governor Perry can only cite his role in presiding over their creation as head of state.

It’s quite a difference. Perry’s Texas has had historically low taxes for decades and is one of only a handful of states without an income tax. In 1970, for example, Texas had 11 million people and Michigan had 10 million. Now Texas has 25 million while Michigan cannot find jobs for its current population of 11 million. The credit for Texas’ low taxes belongs not just to Perry, but to Governors George W. Bush and Bill Clements before him. (And even a nod is due Governor Ann Richards in between).

The job creation record is partially due to a surge in oil demand (one quarter of the new Texas jobs are in the energy sector) and some of the new jobs are due to the efforts of former Governor (and client) Mark White in getting the chip research industry to locate in Austin in the 80s.

Romney has actually, personally, financially created tens of thousands of jobs. His record of buying companies, fixing them up, selling off the unprofitable parts, obtaining financing to grow the money-making parts is invaluable in helping us to get out of the current job creation funk.

Just a note: I find the claim that Mr. Romney “created jobs” is a bit disingenuous given that what Mr. Romney did was what current CEO’s are doing: merging and laying people off thereby reaping a huge profit…for themselves. No wonder big money loves Mr. Romney.

Mr. Morris goes on in this pre-analysis of the upcoming debate video:

Social Humor
Some isn’t really that funny but….

Headline FAIL (via Friendly Atheist)

Yes, I get it. Some well intentioned people of the church decided to start a food bank, and the challenge of running it proved to be more than that group was capable of. No shame there; they tried (which is more than I am doing now…). But still the headline is a classic.

Computers: why your geeky friend who fixed your computer really doesn’t like you. 🙂
Yes, there is some truth there, but this article is written in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

Moon II: volleyball.

Yes, there is more at this link; this is a “what color of spandex do you like” post. ALL of them, of course!!! 🙂

September 1, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, astronomy, Barack Obama, big butts, hillary clinton, humor, Mitt Romney, obama, political humor, political/social, politics, politics/social, Republican, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, rick perry, sarah palin, science, Science Friday teachers, social/political, space, spandex, Spineless Democrats | Leave a comment

15 August PM

Workout notes Swim; 250 of fist/free, 250 of kick/free, 250 of fist/free, 250 of kick/free (kick sets with fins) Then 10 x 100 on the 2: disappointing. Then I did 200 cool down (back with a pull buoy).

1:42, 39, 39, 40, 39, 39, 38, 39, 39, 39. Well, I was consistent but slow; my guess is that my upper body was fatigued from yesterday’s weights and I was slowed by the choppy pool.

I then walked just over 4 miles outside (hodgepodge). It was a pretty day.

This is a fascinating post about the search for life’s origins; evidently scientists have found that molecules that are simpler than RNA can self replicate…and such replication might have taken place in ice instead of in hot water.

Rick Perry’s Texas record is way overstated; his joblessness rate is roughly that of New York and Massachusetts (and follows roughly the same trajectory) and, as is often the case with states, one can sometimes lure jobs from another state.

Warren Buffett: says that we are too easy, tax wise, on millionaires:

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

Now before conservatives cluck “well, let him give more money to the government”, ask yourself: well, gee, if you want a speed limit, why don’t you drive slower?” We, as a people, sometimes have to ask people to do what they might not want to do.

Jobs agenda: come on people!

In what can only be described as a triumph of bad policy and craven politics, Congress and the Obama administration have spent the year focused on budget cuts, as the economy has faltered and unemployment has worsened. Official unemployment is 9.1 percent, but it would be 16.1 percent, or 25.1 million people, if it included those who can only find part-time jobs and those who have given up looking for work. For the past two and a half years, there have been more than four unemployed workers for every job opening, a record high, by far. In a healthy market, the ratio would be about one to one.

By a large margin, Americans have told pollsters that job creation is more important than budget cuts. Yet Republican leaders are wedded to austerity and appear to think that high unemployment will hurt President Obama politically more than it will hurt them, so they will likely resist efforts to create jobs, no matter how great the need.

Without more jobs, both the economy and the budget will deteriorate further. It is past time for Mr. Obama to send a jobs plan to Congress that has popular appeal, one that he can use to try to shame Republicans. He will need cooperation from the Senate, which should bring one jobs-related bill after another to the floor, forcing its members to approve jobs initiatives or go on the record to show that they just don’t care. […]

But it is possible that those of us who are pushing President Obama from the left might be misreading him:

The predominately white progressive intelligentsia don’t see Obama clearly because of our racial blind spot. We don’t see the role of race in how he seems to understand himself and how other perceive him.

First of all, we think that he understands himself as one of us. A progressive activist, heir to the radical and New Left movements most of us were raised in. He is not; I think that he understands himself (and certainly his real base understands him) as the first African American President. We’re thinking Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. We should be thinking about Harold Washington, the first African American mayor of Chicago. Washington was elected and immediately faced a solid wall of opposition from most white aldermen in the city. Washington understood his role as breaking down that wall of opposition and assembling a governing majority, which he finally did after his re-election. Unfortunately, he died shortly thereafter. By the way, one of Washington’s political strategists was David Axelrod.[…]

White progressives often think that African American elected officials are politically naive. We will far more credit to Cornel West, who has never been elected to anything, than to an elected state senator, or even the President of the United States. We think that Obama does not understand the nature of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell or Eric Cantor, as though he has not sat across the table from them. He doesn’t understand how mean they are, we think.

Obama acts entirely within the tradition of mainstream African American political strategy and tactics. The epitome of that tradition was the non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement, but goes back much further in time. It recognizes the inequality of power between whites and blacks. Number one: maintain your dignity. Number two: call your adversaries to the highest principles they hold. Number three: Seize the moral high ground and Number four: Win by winning over your adversaries, by revealing the contradiction between their own ideals and their actions. It is one way that a oppressed people struggle.

Obama has taken a seat at the negotiating table and said “There is no reason why we cannot work out solutions to our problems by acting like responsible adults. That is what people expect us to do and that is why we have entered into public service.” That is the moral high ground.

Read the rest; it is interesting perspective. I am reminded of one of the State of the Union Addresses where the (mostly white) Republicans were standing, smirking, and waving pieces of paper. What assholes.

This New York Times editorial gets the statistics right, but I think draws the wrong conclusion. It is true that many (most?) of us live in partisan districts (e. g., live in neighborhoods that vote the same way; mine went for President O by 70 percent or so). Many of us shop at places were like minded meet (Whole Foods and Indian restaurants vs. Cracker Barrels and Sam’s Clubs). But what the author misses is that an inherent part of liberalism involves pragmatism and compromise; it is the conservatives that get all dewy eyed over the “courage of one’s convictions”:

August 16, 2011 Posted by | Barack Obama, biology, Democrats, economics, economy, nature, political/social, politics, politics/social, republican senate minority leader, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, science, Spineless Democrats, swimming, training, walking | 1 Comment

14 August 2011: Ding Dong, the Wicked T-Paw is dead…sort of (and other topics)

Non Political
The lady in this video just got her 10’th degree black belt (10 Dan) at 98 years of age. This clip is about her making it to the 9’th degree; note that the 10’th Dan wears a white belt (albeit a wider one) to symbolize the completing of the cycle.

Evolution/ID debate No, there is no debate in research circles. But the ID/creationist types aren’t shy about taking their “case” to the mostly ill informed, untrained public. And one must remember the Dunning-Kruger effect: people tend to think that they are smart and at least as smart as those egg-headed professors who, while educated, don’t have that there COMMON SENSE that the “real folk” have.

So, at times, the genuine scientists lose their temper at the snake oil salesmen of creationism.

Social I understand that poverty is a large, major problem that has no easy, bumper-sticker solution. Yes, sometimes anti-poverty job measures are thwarted by, well, the behavior of some of the poor who ARE given a chance. That is, some who get job offer don’t show up for work!

But there is another side: once you get stuck in the “poor/unemployed” situation, it is difficult to get out of it.

Here is another person’s take; it is very telling:

Being poor is being fetishized, demonized, and infantilized by teams of “poverty experts” from the middle and upper classes.

Being poor is hoping you and your disabled spouse make it through winter alive without freezing to death, or dying in a house fire from a space heater mishap after your gas got cut off because they raised the rates by 20% and you can’t afford the bill.

Being poor means nothing around your run-down home ever works and everything is in serious disrepair because there’s no money, or way of getting money, to fix what’s in disrepair.

Being poor and white means being an invisible non-person.

Being poor means you have no pictures of your “ancestors” — or even of yourself and your sister — after being evicted where anything you might have had got taken away from you when your roach-infested ghetto apartment got padlocked.

Being poor is a lifetime of everything always getting taken away from you.

Being poor is being wrong even when you’re right.

Being poor is never fitting in.

Being poor is guilty until proven innocent and still getting slapped with unaffordable fines or a criminal conviction regardless.

Being poor means never getting a chance your entire life, and then having some self-centered privileged person tell you how poor they are when they enjoy far more economic opportunity, comfort, and security than you will ever get a chance to have — especially if you’re still poor by the time you’re middle-aged (and therefore unemployable) after an entire lifetime of never getting a chance for a good job, no matter how hard you tried.

Being poor means going hungry at least two or three days out of each month for years.

Being poor is living in a neighborhood where you can’t put chairs or a couch near the window because of the drive-by shootings.

Being poor is dying or becoming permanently disabled from pregnancy and childbirth complications.

Being poor is facing having to go blind from glaucoma because there really isn’t “all this help out there.”

Being poor is losing a leg from diabetes complications because you couldn’t get the help you needed to afford diabetic supplies and the low starch/low carb low MSG diabetic-friendly foods so you could manage your diabetes better in the first place.

Being poor means that your only interactions with middle class “professionals” are through bullet-proof glass windows at government agencies and welfare offices after waiting all day to be “served”, and then being told “sorry, we can’t help you.”

Being poor is everyone who isn’t poor wondering why you went back to the abusive asshole (whom you hope won’t kill you) who gave you that black eye when it’s either that or live on the streets with NO way to get a living wage job and get on your feet and support yourself after your 30 day time limit at the battered women’s shelter is up.

Being poor means you have to choose whether you have electric or gas, or food or a roof over your head.

Being poor means you don’t get the early preventive glaucoma treatment options to save your eyesight, while being told that you don’t deserve your eyesight because you’re just a “loser” who “blames everyone else for your problems” — it’s never the fault of employers who refused to hire you at a good job with health benefits, and it’s never society’s fault for being too selfish and punitive to have a safety net for the economically excluded.

Being poor means access to dental care is a luxury that is as far out of reach for you as a day trip to Sedna.

Being poor is getting denied even a minimum wage job in retail or as a supermarket cashier where you must face the public because of your visibly decayed/broken/missing teeth as a result of never having access to decent dental care — while everybody else who has never been anywhere near as poor as you or for as long as you, tells you that it’s all your own damn fault that you don’t have any teeth and lack the “right image” to be “deserving” of a job because you were “too stupid to brush your teeth properly.”

Being poor means dying a lot younger than those who lived in middle class comfort for most, if not all of their lives.

Being poor means suffering with an untreated UTI until it goes into your kidneys because you couldn’t afford antibiotics.

Being poor means you can’t even get a chance for a minimum wage job at Wal-Mart because your credit is poor due to poverty — which is, by definition, not enough income to afford your basic needs, including utilities, let alone afford an expensive emergency room bill because you didn’t have a good job with health insurance when you got that UTI or that abscessed tooth.

Being poor means that even if you go into unaffordable debt for a Bachelors degree from a state college in order to be “worthy” of a chance for a job, you still won’t get one because your visibly decayed/broken/missing teeth, a big gap in your work history of menial jobs, your lack of the proper clothing and a car, and your address is in the “wrong” side of town — all which serves to alert the employers’ middle class gatekeepers that you’re “not a good fit” for the office culture and that you “lack work ethic.”

Being poor means that nobody cares about you, your problems don’t matter.

Being poor means that no matter how hard you try and whatever you try, you never get a break but you sure get a generous helping of middle/upper class social Darwinist lip service, condescension, and personal value judgments that they call “advice.”

This is just a small part of her post; I recommend that you read ALL of it.

Yes, the Republican stance on the economy (no stimulus other than tax cuts and no tax increases on the wealthy) is drawing more and more criticism.

But even before that, macroeconomists and private sector forecasters were warning that the direction in which the new House Republican majority had pushed the White House and Congress this year — for immediate spending cuts, no further stimulus measures and no tax increases, ever — was wrong for addressing the nation’s two main ills, a weak economy now and projections of unsustainably high federal debt in coming years.

Instead, these critics say, Washington should be focusing on stimulating the economy in the near term to induce people to spend money and create jobs, while settling on a long-term plan for spending cuts and tax increases to take effect only after the economy recovers.

But Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail refuse to back down.

Economists disagree about the proper balance between spending cuts and tax increases in reducing a government’s debts. Some studies by both liberal and conservative economists suggest that emphasizing spending cuts is better for long-term growth. But there are few if any precedents for paying down such a large debt solely through spending cuts.

Among those calling for a mix of cuts and revenue are onetime standard-bearers of Republican economic philosophy like Martin Feldstein, an adviser to President Ronald Reagan, and Henry M. Paulson Jr., Treasury secretary to President George W. Bush, underscoring the deepening divide between party establishment figures and the Tea Party-inspired Republicans in Congress and running for the White House.

“I think the U.S. has every chance of having a good year next year, but the politicians are doing their damnedest to prevent it from happening — the Republicans are — and the Democrats to my eternal bafflement have not stood their ground,” Ian C. Shepherdson, chief United States economist for High Frequency Economics, a research firm, said in an interview.

I hope that the Democrats read this; the Republicans need to be stood up to.

Yes, there is some debate among those in the Obama team:

Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Plouffe, and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, want him to maintain a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they may not have much economic impact. These include free trade agreements and improved patent protections for inventors.

But others, including Gene Sperling, Mr. Obama’s chief economic adviser, say public anger over the debt ceiling debate has weakened Republicans and created an opening for bigger ideas like tax incentives for businesses that hire more workers, according to Congressional Democrats who share that view. Democrats are also pushing the White House to help homeowners facing foreclosure.

Even if the ideas cannot pass Congress, they say, the president would gain a campaign issue by pushing for them.

But as Paul Krugman points out, it might be a debate between the degrees of tepidness:

Calculated Risk says it perfectly: this report in the Times on economic debate within the White House shows a fierce argument between those who want to do very little on jobs and those who want to do nothing at all.[…]

Plouffe and Daley, macroeconomic theorists! (And no, that’s not rank-pulling; it’s not about credentials, it’s whether these men have actually put in the kind of homework that would qualify them to oppose what amounts to standard textbook macro).

And as for the political side, I guess I’m puzzled: you have an obstructionist GOP, and rather than point out that obstruction, you restrict yourself to calling for measures that this obstructionist opposition might actually accept. Doesn’t this mean that voters learn nothing about the extent to which the GOP is in fact blocking job creation? [….]

2012 Republican race
Tim Pawlenty is out. Paul Krugman misses the comedy. But don’t worry; there is plenty of lunacy left. As far as the straw poll goes: it does have good predictive value…for the outcome of the Iowa caucuses. For the outcome of the primary itself, not so much.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, Democrats, economics, economy, education, political/social, politics, politics/social, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, Spineless Democrats | Leave a comment

13 August 2011 Posts (non-jock)

Ok, today posts will be all over the place. I’ll clump all of the science/math/medicine/geek stuff together, the political “facts” stuff together and the political/social commentary stuff together.

This is very promising: evidently there is now a way to chemically “train” our antibody cells to target and kill leukemia cells:

A step toward a new possible treatment for leukemia, one that uses patients’ own immune cells to target and destroy cancer is getting a lot of media attention.

It should be noted, however, that the therapy, however promising, has been tested in only three patients, who had varying side effects such as fevers as high as 104 degrees, heart dysfunction and breathlessness. Most of the side effects resolved themselves within a matter of weeks.

A year after the therapy, two of the patients had complete remission of leukemia and one had a partial response to the therapy (meaning the patient still has cancer, but a less severe case). All three were suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, one of the most common types of the disease that affects blood and bone marrow.

Published Wednesday in both the New England Journal of Medicine and Science Translational Medicine, researchers reported that they had been able to engineer the patients’ own white blood cells into “serial killers” to destroy the cancer cells.

The research team from the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center and Perelman School of Medicine extracted white blood cells from the patients and genetically reprogrammed them to attack tumor cells.

They programmed the T cells, which are a blood cell type that protects the body from infection, to bind to a protein that is expressed in chronic lymphocytic leukemia tumor cells. Doctors infused the modified T cells back into the patients’ bodies.

“Within three weeks, the tumors had been blown away, in a way that was much more violent than we ever expected,” said Dr. Carl June, senior author of the study, in a university press release. “It worked much better than we thought it would.”[…]

There is more there; of interest is how the patient feels just after a success. It has been described as being like a terrible flu.

For those who know medicine and biology, here is a technical review of the paper.

Yes, I know, n = 3 and this is too early to draw a firm conclusion. And yes, those pesky statistical tests can be a problem. It is entirely possible for one to run a biological experiment honestly and competently, analyze the data honestly and competently, and still end up with a “false positive” result.

Example: one can say, test a “cure for a disease” against a placebo group in a controlled study. It is possible to find out that one group (the treated group) recovers and the other doesn’t and to calculate that the probability of this result happening by chance is less than, say, 5 percent (we say p = .05). But if you run this experiment 100 times, well, you can expect 5 false positives. And given that there are thousands of experiments being run…well, you get the idea.

Here is one of the worst cases of that:

Many scientific papers make 20 or 40 or even hundreds of comparisons. In such cases, researchers who do not adjust the standard p-value threshold of 0.05 are virtually guaranteed to find statistical significance in results that are meaningless statistical flukes. A study that ran in the February issue of the American Journal
of Clinical Nutrition tested dozens of compounds and concluded that those found in blueberries lower the risk of high blood pressure, with a p-value of 0.03. But the researchers looked at so many compounds and made so many comparisons (more than 50), that it was almost a sure thing that some of the p-values in the paper would be less than 0.05 just by chance.

The same applies to a well-publicized study that a team of neuroscientists once conducted on a salmon. When they presented the fish with pictures of people expressing emotions, regions of the salmon’s brain lit up. The result was statistically signif­icant with a p-value of less than 0.001; however, as the researchers argued, there are so many possible patterns that a statistically significant result was virtually guaranteed, so the result was totally worthless. p-value notwithstanding, there was no way that the fish could have reacted to human emotions. The salmon in the fMRI happened to be dead.

Evolution in Action
Schneier’s security blog isn’t a place that most would expect to find interesting stuff on evolution, but it is. However, when one thinks about it, Nature is in an arms race of sorts and therefore living things are constantly evolving ways of attacking and ways of defending.

He points us to an article that talks about an orchid that lures wasps to pollinating it…by mimicking a meat smell!

A common wasp on a foraging mission catches an enticing scent on the breeze. It’s a set of chemicals given off by plants that are besieged by hungry insects and it means that there is food nearby for the wasp’s grubs – caterpillars. The wasp tracks the smell to its source – a flower – and while it finds nectar, there are no caterpillars and it leaves empty-mandibled. The smell was a trick, used to dupe the wasp into becoming a unwitting pollinator for the broad-leaved helleborine.

The broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) is an orchid that grows throughout Europe and Asia. It is but one deceiver in a family that is rife with them. About 10,000 species of orchids trick pollinators into visiting their flowers. Some attract males by mimicking the sight and smells of females. Others resemble orchid species that provide rich nectar rewards, while providing none themselves. But while thousands of species offer the potential for sex or food, only the broad-leaved helleborine advertises itself by promising fresh meat.

Darwin himself noted that even though the helleborine packs a substantial reservoir of nectar, it is pollinated by only two species of insects – the common wasp and the European wasp. Until now, no one knew how the orchid was attracting its pollinators. Jennifer Brodmann from the University of Ulm in Germany solved the mystery by testing how wasps responded to the smells and sights of orchids.

She found that the smell of the helleborine alone attracted just as many wasps as the whole flowers. In contrast, the sight of a flower in a glass box that didn’t let any scents through was far less attractive. Luring wasps with odours makes sense for the helleborine, for it grows in shady parts of dark coniferous forests, where they are difficult to see. […]

Mr. Schneier also points to an interesting article about rats that have somehow learned to apply a poison to their hair:

A porcupine-like rat turns its quills into lethal weapons by coating them with a plant toxin, a new study says. Neighboring African hunters use the same substance to make elephant-grade poison arrows.

No other animals are known to use a truly deadly external poison, researchers say.

Scientists have long suspected that the crested rat might be using poison because of stories of dogs becoming ill or dying after encounters with the rodent, and because it has a distinct black-and-white warning coloration seen in other species.

It was unclear until now, however, where the nocturnal rat got its poison.

The researchers made their discovery after presenting a wild-caught crested rat with branches and roots of the Acokanthera tree, whose bark includes the toxin ouabain.

The animal gnawed and chewed the tree’s bark but avoided the nontoxic leaves and fruit. The rat then applied the pasty, deadly drool to spiky flank hairs. Microscopes later revealed that the hairs are actually hollow quills that rapidly absorb the ouabain-saliva mixture, offering an unpleasant surprise to predators attempt to taste the rat. […]

There is more here about the rat and other animals that use toxic or repelling stuff. Note: yes, poison frogs are made so by their diets in the wild (they lose their toxicity when in captivity). But the frogs themselves are poisonous; a predator gets sick (or dies) when they eat the frog.

Of course, Mr. Schneier still has the interesting technical stuff too; here he leads us to an article about two engineers who made a drone that can fly and hack into computer systems. It is horribly sophisticated but…home made.

Bottom line: if the professionals really want to hack you, they can. Your precautions will help keep the amateurs away, and yes, that is worth doing.


Keep the pressure on, Mr. President.

Now the President is under fire from some liberals. I am not talking about that principled criticism that points out that the policies that he is pushing for is inadequate or that he has adopted the Republican narrative. Example: Paul Krugman has hammered him over his too timid stimulus package; while this was probably the biggest one we could get through for political reasons, it would have been helpful for him to be on record as saying that it was too small. But Krugman also urged the House to pass the Senate health care bill, even that was way too watered down for liberal tastes (e. g., my taste).

But there are some who want liberal members of Congress to, well, act like the Tea Party caucus. Fareed Zakaria tells such people to “grow up”:

Over the last week, liberal politicians and commentators took to the airwaves and op-ed pages to criticize the debt deal that Congress reached. But their ire was directed not at the Tea Party or even the Republicans but rather at Barack Obama, who they concluded had failed as a President because of his persistent tendency to compromise. This has been a running theme ever since Obama took office.

I think that liberals need to grow up.

As the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait brilliantly points out, there is a recurring liberal fantasy that if only the President would give a stirring speech, he would sweep the country along with the sheer power of his poetry. In this view, writes Chait, “Every known impediment to the legislative process – special interest lobbying, the filibuster, macroeconomic conditions, not to mention certain settled beliefs of public opinion-are but tiny stick huts trembling in the face of the atomic bomb of the presidential speech.” […]

Obama passed a large stimulus package within weeks of taking office. Perhaps it should have been bigger, but despite a Democratic House and Senate, it passed by just one vote. He signed into law an unprecedented expansion of regulations in the financial-services industry, though one that did not break up the large banks. He enacted universal health care, through a complex program modeled after Mitt Romney’s plan in Massachusetts. And he has advocated a balanced approach to deficit reduction that combines tax increases with spending cuts.

Maybe he believes in all these things. Maybe he understands that with a budget deficit of 10% of GDP, the second highest in the industrialized world, and a debt that will rise to almost 100% of GDP in a few years, we cannot cavalierly spend another few trillion dollars hoping that will jump-start the economy.


He might understand that Larry Summers and Tim Geithner are smart people who, in long careers in public service, got some things wrong but also got many things right. Perhaps he understands that getting entitlement costs under control is in fact a crucial part of stabilizing our fiscal situation, and that you do need both tax increases and spending cuts-cuts that are smaller than they appear because they all start with the 2010 budget, which was boosted by the stimulus.

I am going to make trouble by posting this on Daily Kos, where I am certain to get flamed. 🙂

Newest Republican Entrant
Governor Rick Perry is making all sorts of claims about jobs in Texas. Here are a couple things to remember:
1. A state can “poach” jobs from another state; that doesn’t help the job rate in the United States.
2. Some claims are, well, misleading (at best):

As Paul Krugman writes:

Funny how Deval Patrick isn’t running for President on the strength of the Massachusetts economic miracle.

Yes, Texas has added more jobs — but it has to, to keep up with population growth. And bear in mind that if you lose your job in Texas, there isn’t much of a safety net.

OMG: I agree with Rush Limbaugh!!!! (sort of)

Rush Limbaugh shredded Fox News over their questions for the Republican presidential candidates in the debate on Thursday night.

Speaking on his radio show on Friday, Limbaugh blasted the network, which co-hosted the debate in Iowa. He blamed the candidates’ attacks on each other on what he believes was the hosts’ attempt to gain the approval of mainstream media.

“My gosh, does nobody on this panel remember that we’re running against Obama?” he thundered. “What is this business that these guys are trying to tear each other up?”

Then, he alleged, “Fox wants these people to tear each other up. Cause they want approval from the mainstream media, cause that’s what the mainstream media would do.” He added, “You never see the Democrats pitted against each other, not like this was.”

Uh, ok, yes you do see Democrats pitted against each other; witness the 2008 Democratic debates. But yes, while some of the questions were pretty stupid (e. g., the one where Ms. Bachmann was asked if “she was submissive to her husband”) and some were contrived for entertainment purposes.

BUT…notice that Mr. Limbaugh seems to assume that Fox News would have an interest in making the Republicans look good. “Fair and Balanced?” 🙂

Social Commentary
9-11 remembrances: I agree that Ted Rall has a point.

Liberals vs. Conservatives: they are NOT mirror images of each other; as Paul Krugman says, this misconception leads to misunderstandings:

I’m not the first person to notice this, but whenever you read conservatives trying to critique what they think the other side believes, you find them assuming that their opponents must be mirror images of themselves. The right believes that less government spending is always good, regardless of circumstances, so it assumes that the other side must always favor more government spending. The right says that deficits are always evil (unless they’re caused by tax cuts), so they assume that the center-left must favor deficits in all conditions.

I personally get this a lot, of course. Not a day goes by without someone blithely asserting that I have never called for spending cuts on anything, and that I have never called for action against budget deficits. A few minutes searching this blog would disabuse them of these beliefs, but they don’t need to check — they know.

What seems beyond their intellectual range is the notion that other people might have subtler beliefs than their own. Keynesianism, in particular, is not about chanting “big government good”. It’s about viewing recessions through the lens of an economic model under which temporary increases in government spending can, under certain circumstances, help reduce unemployment. Indeed, not all recessions call for fiscal stimulus; it’s the special conditions of the liquidity trap that make it essential now — which is why the Bush deficits, run under non-liquidity trap conditions, say nothing at all about the desirability of deficits now.[…]

I’ve seen this in my own interactions. For example, many of my conservative friends see taxes as nothing more than taking from the hard working and giving to the slackers. Because I think that we should have some safety nets, they think that I am ok with cheaters and slackers (I am not).
What they don’t seem to understand is that I see taxes as a way to pay for government services (military, roads, police, public education, NSF, NASA, FAA, etc.) and I know that the safety net programs are but a tiny percentage of what we pay for.

That does NOT mean that I think that we shouldn’t look for waste and inefficiencies; we should. That does NOT mean that I think that we shouldn’t do some reforms to Medicare and Social Security (especially Medicare); we should.

Talking to them can be so frustrating; there are times where it would just be simpler to dismiss them as evil and stupid though in reality, they are neither. Many give generously of their time and money to charity, and many of them have found successes in business and in the military that I’d never find.

Still, it is hard to talk to them; it is almost as if they are from different planets.

Humor: here is one way to get guys to read the newspaper:

click on the photo to see it at its source in full size.

(the above from here)

August 13, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, biology, evolution, human sexuality, humor, political/social, politics, politics/social, Republican, republican party, republican senate minority leader, republicans, science, spandex, Spineless Democrats, technology | 1 Comment