Sunday, April 28, 2013

Selective Attention To Data

Caption: Richard Dawkins during a reading from his latest book, The Greatest Show On Earth at the University of Washington, October 8, 2009. I don't remember it, but he must have mentioned flying horses, since it's now widely known that he's obsessed with people who believe in them.

Image credit: Cujo359

As it did last year, Al Jazeera managed to bring some of Dan Hind's foolishness to my attention by publishing it. From the title alone, I figured this would be nonsense, with the promise of equating all sorts of things that not only aren't the same, but aren't even close. You know, like people who rail against bigots are bigots themselves, that sort of thing. Sure enough, he starts by getting it wrong regarding Richard Dawkins:

Richard Dawkins is having a busy time of it. Last weekend, he tweeted: "Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist." His many supporters saw this latest contribution as part of his brave campaign against irrational beliefs. The devout were infuriated, which, I suspect, only encourages him.

Varieties of Unreason

[unless otherwise noted, all links and italics are from original articles. See the attribution links to validate, since I transcribed them by hand.]

Hind continually cherry-picks information throughout this column. This is the first instance, and if one were to check the second link in that quote above, which is also the second link in the article, one would find that Hind is, so to speak, talking out his butt:

Yesterday, on Twitter, I wrote of the British journalist Mehdi Hasan’s belief that the Prophet Muhamed flew to Heaven on a winged horse. It is a belief at least as silly as [Arthur Conan] Doyle’s belief in fairies, and it merits the same “It’s a rum do comment on the paradox that Mehdi Hasan is simultaneously a very good journalist and political editor, who writes penetrating and sensible articles on current affairs and world politics. That such an effective critical intellect should simultaneously be capable of believing in winged horses seemed to me to merit some sort of wry comment, comment of the “It’s a rum do” variety: isn’t it odd, what a paradox, like Conan Doyle or Dowding and the fairies.

Away With The Fairies

[link added for the benefit of those who aren't British]

As Dawkins mentions in that essay, it's hard to express yourself in 140 characters so that everyone will understand, particularly if you're in a hurry. He'd written as much in later Twitter message on the subject, evidence that Hind also apparently chose to ignore.

Sadly, it gets worse. After giving that subject the once-over, Hind moves on to another subject he clearly didn't want to look at very much:

Let us turn now to another story, which might, at first glance, seem unconnected. In January 2010, Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff published "Growth in a Time of Debt". The paper seemed to show that countries with debt in excess of 90 percent of GDP grew far more slowly than those with lower debt burdens. Though they immediately faced criticism from other economists, politicians around the world seized on their findings to justify cuts in public spending. For example, a month after Rogoff and Reinhart announced their findings, George Osborne, the British Chancellor, told an audience that "the latest research suggests that once debt reaches more than about 90 percent of GDP, the risks of a large negative impact on long-term growth become highly significant".

...

So things stood until a graduate student, Thomas Herndon, went through Rogoff and Reinhart's figures and found that there were some worrying gaps.

Varieties of Unreason

Once again, we have an extremely selective view of events posing as a history. Here's what economics Professor Paul Krugman wrote on the subject in a recent New York Times column:

Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna on “expansionary austerity” and Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff on the dangerous debt “threshold” at 90 percent of G.D.P. — faced withering criticism [(PDF)] almost as soon as they came out.

And the studies did not hold up under scrutiny. By late 2010, the International Monetary Fund had reworked Alesina-Ardagna with better data and reversed their findings, while many economists raised fundamental questions about Reinhart-Rogoff long before we knew about the famous Excel error. Meanwhile, real-world events — stagnation in Ireland, the original poster child for austerity, falling interest rates in the United States, which was supposed to be facing an imminent fiscal crisis — quickly made nonsense of austerian predictions.

The 1 Percent’s Solution

Caption: The infamous Excel spreadsheet that was the basis for the Reinhart-Rogoff paper. Turns out, if you ignore the right data, and completely forget ideas about cause and effect, the paper made sense.

Image credit: Mike Konczal

One of the reasons that it's taken this long to discover the "Excel error" Krugman mentions, and the paper Hind refers to as the start of criticism of Reinhart-Rogoff (R&R), is that R&R initially refused to publish their data. This is the opposite of good science, and they were roundly criticized for that, too. Nevertheless, as Krugman mentions, there was plenty of criticism of the paper at the time, which should have left anyone who is even mildly intellectually honest with the notion that there were serious doubts among economists at the time. It should not have been the basis for any policy, based on the criticisms leveled on it at the time. This didn't stop politicians and pundits from quoting the paper, though, for reasons economist Dean Baker correctly diagnosed:

The discrediting of the R&R paper raises important questions for economic policy. This work was central to the argument against measures designed to boost the economy. Now that it has been discredited, one of the major intellectual pillars of the drive for austerity has been removed. In principle this should lead to a rethinking of economic policy.

Unfortunately that does not seem likely to be an outcome. The policy of austerity has produced winners and losers, and the winners seem to have considerably more power. The high unemployment and weak labor markets of the last five years leaves workers with little bargaining power.

Crashing the 90 Percent Club: The Importance of the Reinhart-Rogoff Error

Yet Hind pretends otherwise, as did many politicians and pundits at the time. A paper with dubious conclusions based on unpublished data isn't the basis of a serious intellectual discussion of economics, much less national economic policy. The politicians and pundits took it as a matter of faith, because they wanted to believe it, just as the reporter Dawkins referred to wanted to believe in a flying horse.

Which makes Hind's conclusion all the more ridiculous:

When properly accredited experts say things that the powerful want to hear, their word becomes a kind of gospel. It is immune to serious challenge unless it is shown to be grossly inept. Even when it is debunked, the people who own and run the world carry on doing what they want, confident that another plausible-sounding justification will surface soon. Meanwhile, the self-declared champions of reason and truth are too busy worrying about flying horses to notice.

Varieties of Unreason

Whether R&R's results were due merely to incompetence, or to deliberate fraud, their "accreditation" had more to do with accepting orthodoxy, no matter how absurd, and less to do with what Hind refers to as people obsessing about flying horses. The people who debunked R&R were people who compared that paper's dubious conclusions with reality, and found it wanting. The people "worrying about flying horses" are the ones who noticed this, not someone who doesn't think it's right (or in this case, helpful) to question certain things. R&R's effect on public policy has a lot more to do with self-serving attention to facts than it does with science.

And selective attention to facts is exactly what Hind is guilty of. To label Dawkins, a scientist with a long and distinguished career, as a "professional atheist" as Hind does in his article, who only pays attention to stories about flying horses and the like, is absurd to a degree even Glenn Beck might have trouble matching.

Dan Hind is the reigning answer to the question "How much of a moron can you be and still be published at Al Jazeera?" As bad as this and that previous article have been, I hope no one unseats him.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Enhanced Obfuscation

There's something sad about the hoopla surrounding the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library today, something beyond the humorous notion that a guy who seemed to place no value on intellectual attainment is now opening a library. That something is exemplified by this article in Foreign Policy by John Hudson:

Not sidestepping controversy, Condoleezza Rice will defend the Bush administration's enhanced interrogation and rendition program at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday.

At Bush library, Condoleezza Rice to defend enhanced interrogation practices

Right off the bat, we see the deliberately obfuscating reference to "enhanced interrogation", which is torture by both U.S. law and common sense. To me, that particular euphemism epitomizes the cowardice and complicity of the part of the U.S. press that covers the federal government. No one will dare call torture for what it is, if a U.S. government official insists otherwise. After all, no one wants to be judgmental, right?

By the logic of the U.S. press, murder could be re-labeled as "enhanced use of weapons".

Sadly, that's not the worst of it:

"The president asked two very important questions in the decision to use these techniques," says Rice of her former boss's interrogation program. "He asked the CIA if it was necessary and he asked the Justice Department if it was legal. Both departments answered yes."

"Only when he was satisfied that we could protect both our liberties and our security did he signal that we could go ahead," says the former secretary of state. "The fact that we have not had a successful attack on our territory traces directly to those difficult decisions." At Bush library, Condoleezza Rice to defend enhanced interrogation practices

Nowhere does the article point out the obvious flaws in this argument. Maybe the author thought they were as obvious as I do, but the use of the phrase "enhanced interrogation" suggests otherwise. So, let me point out a couple of rather obvious ones:

First, that a President could appoint unethical sycophants to run government agencies who will tell him exactly what he wants to hear, and then hears what he wants to, shouldn't be a justification for any idea, no matter how brilliant. There were plenty of folks both at the Defense Department and the Justice Department who knew that torture was both illegal and unproductive.

Second, and maybe this is more important in light of this next quote, torture was clearly illegal both by U.S. law and international treaties we had signed. What in the world would possess a leader to not seek out alternative opinions? Only two possibilities occur to me - either he didn't want to, or he didn't care. Neither strikes me as a particularly desirable trait for a national leader.

Finally, there's this bit, which is why Barack Obama's picture appears at the top of this article:

The remarks may cause something of an awkward moment today, as they coincide with Barack Obama's visit to the Bush library. Though Obama and Bush have shared many counterterrorism policies, enhanced interrogation remains a key sticking point between the two administrations, with the president on record opposing Bush administration policies. "I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationals were used, it was a mistake," Obama said in 2009.

At Bush library, Condoleezza Rice to defend enhanced interrogation practices

What President Obama also said is that he wouldn't "look backwards", which means he refused to prosecute anyone for the acts he admitted were illegal. That's why Condolezza Rice and all the other sorry excuses for human beings who peopled that administration can go around bragging about what a great job they were doing when they grabbed up groups of random foreigners and brought them to our various "Black Sites" to be tortured, instead of enjoying a stay at one of those institutions.

If there's any justice in the world, the Barack Obama Presidential Library will be built right across the street from the G.W. Bush Presidential Library. It will be constructed using the worst practices possible, with absolutely no quality assurance or safety inspections. No one will be prosecuted or sued for this shoddy work, of course, because that would be looking backward. And, of course, there will be no windows placed anywhere it's possible to see that earlier library.

Twitter Message(s) Of The Day

Believe it or not, these two messages were sitting together in my Twitter stream this morning regarding the imminent opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library:


Twitter message by @davidsirota, April 25, 2013



Twitter message by @TheTweetOfGod, April 25, 2013

There's something wrong with this idea, that's for sure. When someone who couldn't be bothered to read a book is given lots of money to open a library, it just seems wrong somehow.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Progressive Idiocy: What K Street Max And The NRA Know

Everybody's telling me how happy I should be that Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) is retiring from the U.S. Senate. To them, and anyone else of a progressive nature, I can only reply:

Caption: The "Baucus Wheel" of misfortune. This is a graphic that illustrates how much money Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has received from various health care-related corporations and their lobbyists in the last two years. It represents at least a quarter of his total campaign receipts.

Image credit: The Sunshine Foundation

Are you kidding me?

Yes, K Street Max is one of the worst Democratic Senators of the last generation if one is the least bit progressive. No one who remembers his role in the health care "reform" effort will mourn his loss. The problem is, he's a product of a very exclusive and selective ecosystem, and it will select his replacement, in terms of influence and committee chairmanships, in the same way it chose him.

To understand why, let's go back to the first principle of politics: Politicians need power to do their jobs. For any politician, in any system, to be effective, he must have enough power to get the things done that he wants to get done. That power could be persuasion, force, or the ability to recognize and exploit mutual self-interest, but without it a politician is just another guy lost in the hallways of some government building or other.

That's why politicians never worry about the people who will support them no matter what. There are plenty of folks whose support is conditional, who will only reward a politician who supports the things they want. Those are the people whom a politician must please. K Street knew who the people were who could take their support elsewhere, and he pleased them. They rewarded him with more campaign donations, and more power. Max Baucus, in short, knew how to play the game.

And now, thanks to the Democrats' policy of pay to play for committee assignments, you can be sure that whoever replaces Baucus will have the same willingness to take money from the very people he's supposed to regulate. The player may change, but the game is the same as it was.

Which brings us to the National Rifle Association. If there's one lobbying group in our nation's capital who exemplify success, it's the NRA. They are well known for punishing the congresspeople who don't vote their way. Few will cross them, even on votes like the recent one on background checks that failed to achieve cloture in the Senate, which was supported by 90 percent of the country and a wide majority of its own members.

The NRA knows how to get what it wants. The reason it does is because they are very effective at making enough politicians afraid of them that they won't vote against them. This is true despite the extreme views of the NRA. Progressives, on the other hand, keep telling me that what we have to do to get what we want is support all Democrats, no matter what their records, because if you have an "extreme" position you can't win. This is such obvious tripe that I think only progressives believe it. The NRA wins by taking extreme positions, and, worst case, compromising to something they can live with.

At least, I have yet to encounter a conservative who is that dumb.

This is why we are where we are. Progressives won't punish their politicians when they ignore what we want. Instead, what progressives do is ask for less than what any reasonable person would accept, and get even less, and call themselves "realists" for doing this.

It makes you wonder why we bother. Under these circumstances, "winning" is so much like losing that it scarcely seems worth the effort. So you'll forgive me if I don't cheer Max Baucus' exit. It seems a lot like cheering for more of the same.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Twitter Message Of The Day

Someone at the new MSNBC show All In With Chris Hayes summed up the real meaning of the word "center" in political discourse:


Twitter Message by @allinwithchris

At least in progressive discourse, this is true. It may mean something different on the conservative side, but I don't see folks over there using that term very much. For progressives, though, the "centrist" position is inevitably the one the movers and shakers in the Democratic Party want, which usually means whatever conservatives want.

I'm not going to bother with expository links for that one. There are about four years' worth of posts under the keyword "progressives" here that make that point, and a lot more under the keyword "Democrats".

The Horsehead Nebula

After 23 years on the job, the Hubble Space Telescope is still taking some amazing pictures. Here's one that was featured in yesterday's APOD:

See the link for a full size version of the image, and for the caption that explains it all. The short version is that this is a composite image of the Horsehead Nebula, with infra-red and visible light represented.

Happy Twenty-Third, Hubble.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Factoid About West, Texas Explosion

Here's a bit of information to consider as you're looking over photos of the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. If you look at this photo, you may notice that in the lower left corner is a railroad car that was blown over by the explosion:



Image credit: Original picture: Associated Press/Tony Gutierrez. Annotated by Cujo359.

The railroad car is a three-bay covered hopper. Here's some information from a Union Pacific site on this type of car:

FeatureAttribute
Cubic CapacityRange from 4,600 to 5,200 cu. ft.
Gross Weight on RailRange from 263,000 to 286,000 lbs.
Load LimitRange from 197,000 to 224,000 lbs.

That car must have weighed at least thirty tons empty. Based on the pile next to it, it must have been at least partly full at the time. Yet the explosion knocked it off the rails and may have actually pushed it a little ways on its side.

It was one big explosion, particularly when you consider that this plant was operating on the edge of town, close to schools, apartments, and houses.

Twitter Message Of The Day

While we're on the subject of Earth Day, here's a Twitter message that sums our priorities up pretty well:


Twitter Message from @FearDept, April 22, 2013

The reason I find this message as profound is that it mocks the sort of values we so often see reflected in our government's policies these days, particularly the abject hysteria over deficits. Money isn't a thing, at least at the national level. Economists (the ones who don't have their heads up their butts, at least) refer to money as store of value, which is a way for us to benefit from our own contributions to the economy in ways of our choosing. Instead of paying me by giving me a chicken and some bread one day, and a tank full of gasoline the next, an employer can just give me a check, which I can then use to buy what I want or need, now or in the future. That is a far more efficient way of compensating me for my work, both from my perspective and an employer's. Money isn't a thing, at least not in the sense that dollars aren't resources that can be directly used for some purpose. Money is only useful when it is converted into something, like chickens or gasoline.

You can't eat money. You can't use it as fuel, or build something with it. It just makes it easier to do all those things by providing a means to transfer value from people who want something to those who can provide it.

When we have the resources to do something that's needed, like fix our infrastructure, educate our people, or defend ourselves, and we don't do it because "we can't afford it", meaning we can't persuade the rich to cough up money to pay for it, then we're being fools. Our future prosperity doesn't depend on our society having collected a lot of money. It depends on what we choose to do with that money.

Happy Earth Day, 2013

It's Earth Day again. For some reason this year, I can't think of anything to add to what I've written over the years. So how about I let this lady do some talking:

Her name is Sandra Steingraber, and she's in jail right now protesting against a company that moved into her state, bought up land, and started putting polluting chemicals into it. The video is an interview Bill Moyers did of her a few days ago.

You don't need to do that to make a difference. Most of us can do plenty of things that can make the world a cleaner place. Why not pick one or two that you haven't done yet?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Photo(s)

Today's Sunday Photos are not of something I photographed, though I did take the screenshots. They're screenshots of today's launch of the Antares rocket, a joint public-private project aimed at making it possible to resupply the International Space Station using privately owned spacecraft.

Today's flight was a test of the rocket itself, and was successful. This is a montage of views taken from ground-based cameras before and during liftoff:


Image credit: Screenshots of NASA TV broadcast taken and processed by Cujo359

This is a montage of views from onboard cameras. The first few show the rocket engine exhaust and the Virginia coast below. The rest are of various stage separations:

As always, click on the pictures to enlarge, and have a good Sunday.

Afterword: NASA has put up a Flickr set of Antares launch photos.

Word Use: Terrorism

Despite what some U.S. Senators seem to think (see NOTE 1), the U.S. code has a very specific meaning for terrorism:

(2) the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents; 22 USC § 2656f - Annual country reports on terrorism

I'd expand that slightly to include the same kind of violence, by the same means, for ideological reasons, such as religion. Beyond that, though, any use of the word is wrong, and has more to do with manipulating opinion than it does with trying to define or explain something.

Blowing up an abortion clinic for religious reasons, for instance could be considered terrorism. Blowing one up for the purpose of extorting money from others is extortion.

In the context of the bombing in Boston last Monday, whether or not it's terrorism depends on the motivations of the bombers, not on whether or not people were frightened by it. That is why I've avoided using the term, and will continue to until such time as the people responsible have been found and tried for what they've done, or until they admit what they've done and explain why in some other circumstance that doesn't involve duress.

Any opinions expressed using the word "terrorism" should, I think, be viewed in that context. Words mean particular things. When people use those words in other ways, then their opinions should be viewed more skeptically.

(h/t to Micah Zenko of Atlantic magazine for that USC link.)

NOTE 1: I'd advise any so-called progressives who think this is exclusively a Republican view of our rights (including the author of that link) to read Glenn Greenwald's analysis of that issue. Graham's opinions on due process for so-called "terrorists" has been the Obama Administration's since at least 2010.

UPDATE (Apr. 22): Glenn Greenwald provides another explanation for what is required to call acts such as the Boston Marathon bombings terrorism, responding to Andrew Sullivan's fatuous claim that the Tsarnaev brothers simply must have been terrorists because they're Muslims:

The only evidence he can point to shows that the older brother, Tamerlan, embraced a radical version of Islam, something I already noted. But - rather obviously - to prove that someone who commits violence is Muslim is not the same as proving that Islam was the prime motive for the violence (just as the aggressive attack by devout evangelical George Bush on Iraq was not proof of a rejuvenation of the Christian crusades, the attack by Timothy McVeigh was not proof of IRA violence, and the mass murder spree by homosexual Andrew Cunanan was not evidence that homosexuality motivated the violence). Islam or some related political ideology may have been the motive driving Tamerlan, as I acknowledge, but it also may not have. You have to produce evidence showing motive. You can't just assert it and demand that everyone accept it on faith. Specifically, to claim this is terrorism (in a way that those other incidents of mass murder were not), you have to identify the "political or social objective" the violence was intended to promote: what was that political or social objective here? Andrew doesn't have the slightest idea.

Why is Boston 'terrorism' but not Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson and Columbine?

This isn't even a question of law - it's a question of basic logic. No one can know what's going on in someone's mind based on a few, and possibly cherry-picked, facts about that person's life. Did the Tsarnaev brothers leave writings about why they did this? There are none that I've heard of. Has anyone who knew them been quoted as saying they'd told him that they were on a jihad? As I wrote in an unrelated incident, there are often alternative explanations when you look into a person's life.

And yes, plenty of people, as they always do, will talk about how if something quacks like a duck it simply must be a duck. These people are mindless, and, as with people who don't bother to use the word "terrorism" properly despite its obvious power, they are people who shouldn't be taken seriously in this context.

UPDATE (May 13): Changed the third paragraph to end "is extortion." It originally said "is a crime", which is actually not a distinction. Both terrorism and extortion are crimes.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tutti A Roma

Some interesting developments are going on in Italy right now. Last night, Giorgio Napolitano was re-elected president:

Giorgio Napolitano, an 87-year-old political veteran who had been planning to embark on a well-earned retirement within weeks, has become the first Italian president to be re-elected to serve a second term, after squabbling and discredited party leaders who had failed to agree on his successor begged him to stay on "in the higher interests of the country".

In an unprecedented move which observers said raised Italy's chances of seeing the formation a broad coalition government, the widely-respected former Communist was re-elected with cross-party backing that included Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Freedom People (PDL) party and the centre-left Democratic party (PD).

Giorgio Napolitano re-elected as Italy's president, prompting relief and protests

Napolitano was one of the Italian leaders responsible for ushering in the recent austerity measures that have threatened to make Italy the latest economic basket case in Europe. Needless to say, he is less popular with ordinary Italians than he is with the folks who run things there.

A few hours ago, Italian comedian turned politician Beppe Grillo sent out this Twitter message:

Twitter message from Beppe Grillo, Apr. 20, 2013

Twitter message from Beppe Grillo, Apr. 20, 2013, prior to start of march on Rome

Google translate renders the text as this in English:

I'm going to Rome. I will be before the House tonight. We must be millions:

Within hours, people were marching on Rome, as this article illustrates:

Marchers on Rome, Apr. 20, 2013 photo via  @_0Marco0_
Caption: Tutti a Roma, April 20, photo via @_0Marco0_

Dear people,

It’s going down, right now, in Rome.

Seven years ago, the Berlusconi party cried wolf when Giorgio Napolitano was elected president without Berlusconi’s consent. I still remember the headline of his personal newspaper. “As from today, the hammer and the sickle are flying over the presidential palace”, in reference to Napolitano once having been a member of the Italian Communist Party.

Now, Berlusconi has been one of the architects of Napolitano’s re-election, together with Mario Monti and left wing leader Bersani. They hadn’t been able to convince their backbenchers to agree on two other candidates who would guarantee the status quo – and impunity for Berlusconi – so they settled on the 88-year old incumbent president, simply because he hasn’t made trouble for anyone during his first mandate.

The Italian gerontocrats will do everything to cling on to power, and to prevent change from happening.

Tutti a Roma!

As an update to that article, along with a video link make clear, things are just getting started there. Italians are used to dysfunctional government, but if ever there was an example of what the phrase "re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic" implies, it's this political situation.

Since I know almost nothing about Italian politics, I have no idea how this will turn out, but it's at least a hopeful sign that people there are determined to make things change, despite their alleged leaders' inability or unwillingness to have those changes come about.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Cartoon Of The Day

Well, it appears that maybe Blogger/Blogspot/Google got over the problem of earlier today. Let's test that, shall we? Here's a wonderful cartoon that captures perfectly our government's current relationship to torture, and to treaties we've signed that say we aren't going to torture people (see NOTE 1)


Image credit: Kade Crockford/(via Glenn Greenwald) (NOTE 2)

NOTE 1: In addition to that treaty, we signed the Geneva Convention of 1949, which among many other things says we won't mistreat our prisoners.

NOTE 2: I don't have an attribution link, nor am I sure what the copyright status is, so I'm trying to check both. As sometimes happens, this could disappear soon. Perhaps what I should take from Blogger's software issues with images is that they're kinda tricky.

Infrastructure Issues

Blogger and Google have finally managed to screw their interface up to such an extent that I can no longer load image files into articles here. Until either I figure out how to get around that, or they figure how to fix it, I'll be referring any articles that require graphics to an alternate site at Wordpress. We'll see how long that's necessary.

Looks like it's my turn now. Last time Blogger screwed with the editor interface, they mostly messed with the visual editor, which I don't use. A few weeks ago, though, they changed the image upload interface so that it was no longer possible to tell it how to format an image file. I just started cutting and pasting the style information from other articles, so clearly that wasn't good enough for them. Now, they make you upload everything to Google Docs, and, naturally, introduced Javascript code that NoScript interprets as a cross-site script attack.

So, at least for now, I'll be blogging mostly at the Wordpress site, but linking to the articles from here. We'll see what the next move is.

Moving GIF Image Of The Day

Don't know what a moving GIF image is? Don't worry. Go here. You're welcome.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Suggested Reading

These days, it seems to take sixty U.S. Senators to agree on legislation before it can be passed. Over at a site called Newsbound, someone has put together an explanation of why that is true. I learned a couple of things, like that cloture wasn't even added to the Senate rules until roughly 95 years ago. I've embedded it here, since there was a link at the site that tells you how to do it:

It's worth looking at, even if you think you're familiar with the issue.

For those using Javascript filtering software like NoScript, I'll just add that at a minimum you will need to enable these domains:

  • newsbound.org
  • typekit.net

It's also possible that you will have to approve using an encryption certificate that Firefox doesn't like. That happened to me in preview mode, but not when I just looked at the published version of this article.

In addition, I had to reduce the size of the slide show so that it would fit in this blog format. If you're having trouble seeing it here, go to the link for the slide show and watch it there. I didn't have the certificate problem there.

Quote Of The Day

Attaturk, at his FireDogLake location:

Ron Fournier of the National Journal manages to be more pathetic than Alex Jones over the Boston bombing.

Just take your soiled slacks and retire already

[links from original]

There isn't much I can add to that, really. At least Jones' fevered imagination was able to come up with a scary secret conspiracy we should all be peeing our pants over. Fournier's justification is that we weren't at work when it happened.

It's hard to be more pathetic than that, but I await our punditocracy's next attempt to surpass this. Just like the act that spawned this nonsense, there's clearly nothing we can do about this plague of idiocy. We might as well laugh about it, right?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Erroneous Assumptions

Image credit: Aaron Tang/Flickr

It's unlikely in the extreme that anyone who needs to be exposed to this information will be reading this blog, but I'll pass it on anyway. First off, that guy who was tackled by bystanders yesterday for looking Muslim didn't have anything to do with the Boston Marathon bombings:

The Saudi Arabian man whose apartment was searched by Boston Marathon bombing investigators is not a person of interest in the continuing search for the persons responsible for Monday’s terrorist attack.

“He has been checked out,’’ said a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. “He is not involved. He is just a victim.’’

Sources: Revere man not suspected in Boston Marathon bombings

Whoever it turns out to be, let's put that one to rest, shall we? And maybe we can note the law enforcement official's phrase "He is just a victim."

While we're on the subject of Muslims in Boston, a Huffington Post article notes:

Security officials at Boston's largest mosque requested police to guard its campus in the wake of Monday's deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon, a sobering reminder that Muslims in the U.S. often face threats after alleged terrorist attacks.

...

"We're Bostonians - we mourn with the city," said Suhaib Webb, the Oklahoma-born imam who leads the congregation. "We stand in support with the city, with the victims. We're hurt, equally shocked and equally pissed off."

The relationship that a Muslim community has with the city it inhabits can often be tested in the aftermath of acts of terror. But in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon attacks, the prevailing sentiment inside this mosque was of shared grief rather than instinctive distrust.

Boston's Largest Mosque: 'We're Bostonians -- We Mourn With The City'

And this Twitter message came from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) yesterday:



Twitter message from CAIR, April 15, 2013

If you visit the byline link, you'll notice that at least one bigot made sure to explain how CAIR is a front for the Muslim League of World Conquest, or whatever. Nice to know ignorant clowns are everywhere, making sure we don't slip up and assume people are innocent until proved guilty, or some equally soft-headed liberal notion.

In short, American Muslims think the bombing sucks, too. That ought to be enough to let various folks, including Sam Harris, know how stupid it is to be profiling people because of how they look, but I'm sure it won't. Prejudice is pretty powerful, and it doesn't have the power it does because the people who have it are used to examining their assumptions. After all, smart people with Ph.D.s shouldn't have to accept the idea that they might be wrong, should they?



Image credit: OverpassLightBrigade/Twitpic

Now, I'm done with this subject, at least until something useful turns up.

UPDATE (Apr. 18): FireDogLake contributor CTuttle dropped by to let me know that the "Aloha Boston" sign in that last photograph was the work of Occupy Hilo. Good, work, OH.

What Courage Means

Yesterday, as I was enjoying a rare glimpse of baseball on the MLB's site, I saw these players all sporting numbers they don't normally wear:

Caption: Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman faces Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins in the top of the ninth inning in Cincinnati, April 15, 2013.

Image credit: Screenshot of Major League Baseball video by Cujo359

Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day, when all players in Major League baseball wear Jackie Robinson's number to celebrate his leading role in desegregating baseball.

What did Robinson have to endure to do this? It doesn't take much imagination to realize that he would bear the brunt of taunts from both the fans and his fellow players. Any fan of the game would know there would be lots of physical intimidation from the latter. What most of us might not have imagined was what was probably the hardest part of Robinson's experience:

[Dodgers general manager Branch] Rickey had warned Jack – that’s what his friends and family called him – that the worst kind of race-baiting would come his way, and that he’d have to keep his cool.

Are you looking, Robinson asked Rickey, for a black man “who is afraid to fight back?”

“I need,” Rickey replied, “a player who has the guts not to fight back.”

Jackie Robinson and Remaking of Baseball

Caption: Jackie Robinson in 1954.

Image credit: Bob Sandberg/Look/Wikimedia

That was the deal Rickey and Robinson struck. For the first year, Robinson couldn't retaliate. As that quote implies, this wasn't in Robinson's nature. He was a former football player, and someone used to responding to force with some of his own. Yet in the Major Leagues of 1947, he'd have to endure bean balls, spikings, and more for an entire season, and not retaliate. Rickey knew that if Robinson did retaliate, then they would be blamed, not the bigots and racists who committed the offenses.

Why did Rickey do this? No doubt, part of the answer is that he thought it was the right thing to do, but part was that the Dodgers were always the also-rans in New York City baseball behind the more successful Yankees and Giants, and black ballplayers were an untapped resource of talent. Why did Robinson do it? Reading his Wikipedia bio, it's clear that part of the reason was that he wanted to do something for his fellow African Americans. He was in the March on Washington long after his playing days were over. He remained both an outspoken critic of baseball's racism and a proponent of its reforms. But part of the answer also had to be that he loved playing the game.

Rickey and Robinson had personal and self-serving reasons for doing what they did. That doesn't change the fact that what they both did, particularly Robinson, took a lot of courage and fortitude. We seem to have a paper cutout idea of what courage means - that it only takes courage to do good things, or to do them for someone else's benefit. Nothing could be further from the truth. Courage is knowing it's likely you'll be hurt and suffer abuse, but doing what you need to do anyway. Courage is sometimes not hurting someone else, even when every part of your being screams that you should. Even if what those two men did had only been for their own self-interest, it still made our lives better, and it still would have taken more courage than many of us have had to summon for so long. That's why we honor them.

Jackie Robinson's life had many things to teach us, but in light of recent events, I think the most important lesson it taught us is what courage is, and how powerful a force it can be.

Twitter Conversation Of The Day

Proof that I am spending too much time watching Twitter today:


Twitter Conversation by emptywheel, April 16, 2013

The crap is going to happen anyway, so you might as well laugh about it.

I took a screenshot, because blogger still doesn't have a tool to include Twitter messages inline. If you want to follow the links, go to the link in the byline.

Cowards And Monsters

It seems as though I should write something about the events in Boston yesterday. How could I not have an opinion? Yet I seem to have few strongly held ones this time.

I feel sorry for the injured, for the people who lost someone, and for the people who were nearby and will likely see that scene in their nightmares for years. I feel sad that things like this keep happening.

Beyond that, though, I don't feel much. I'm told that the folks who did this are monsters and cowards, but the people telling me that know nothing about how they did it or why, so why should I believe that? Just because people do things that are awful doesn't make them monsters. Doing things that we don't see until it's too late doesn't make them cowards. Those are complexities that most folks seem to be able to avoid considering, but I can't seem to.

But then, I also feel sorry for these folks:

The New York Times this morning deserves credit for publishing one of the most powerful Op-Eds you will ever read. I urge you to read it in its entirety: it's by Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a Yemeni national who has been imprisoned at Guantánamo without charges of any kind for more than 11 years. He's one of the detainees participating in the escalating hunger strike to protest both horrible conditions and, particularly, the supreme injustice of being locked in a cage indefinitely without any evidence of wrongdoing presented or any opportunity to contest the accusations that have been made. The hunger strike escalated over the weekend when guards shot rubber bullets at some of the detainees and forced them into single cells.

...

I've written many times before why this claim, though grounded in some truth, is misleading in the extreme. I won't repeat all of that here; click the links and read the documentation proving its truth. In sum, Obama sought not to close Guantánamo but simply to re-locate it to Illinois, and in doing so, to preserve what makes it such a travesty of justice: its system of indefinite detention. The detainees there are not protesting in desperation because of their geographical location: we want to be in Illinois rather than a Cuban island. They are sacrificing their health and their lives in response to being locked in a cage for more than a decade without charges: a system Obama, independent of what Congress did, intended to preserve.

Obama, Guantánamo, and the enduring national shame

[links from original]

So, I ask you, what kind of cowards keep people imprisoned because they're afraid of the possible political consequences, or maybe the faint chance they'll manage to be involved in some future act of terrorism? What kind of monsters justify, or perform, the act of imprisoning these people and torturing them? Read this Twitter conversation between Glenn Greenwald and people who seem to think that this is perfectly OK, because someone somewhere in the military or the intelligence establishment decided we should do it without having to justify it to anyone. When Greenwald provides proof their objections are nonsense, they instantly grasp onto some other excuse.

What kind of monsters shoot rubber bullets at prisoners on hunger strikes, when those prisoners shouldn't be there in the first place? What sort of cowards order them to, or repeatedly vote for the people giving those orders?

When you can answer those questions intelligently and without contradicting yourself, maybe I'll consider you calling the folks who planted the bombs in Boston cowards and monsters something other than absurd.

Meanwhile, I'll tell you the other thing I'm feeling. Envy. For the dead. Not for the pain and fear they went through, because that must have been terrible. I envy them, though, because they no longer need to see what a dreadful, hopeless place their country is becoming, and don't have to hear the screaming half-wits determined never to learn anything who are making it that way.

I'm almost hoping the next one that happens, I'll be unaware that I'm sitting on top of a big stack of C-4. Yes, I'm now really sick of this.

Afterword: Bruce Schneier sums things up pretty well:

If it's hard for us to keep this in perspective, it will be even harder for our leaders. They'll be afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism -- or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity -- they will be branded as "soft on terror." And they'll be afraid that Americans might vote them out of office. Perhaps they're right, but where are the leaders who aren't afraid? What has happened to "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"?

The Boston Marathon Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On

Those leaders are gone, I'm afraid, along with the tough-minded people who elected them. Now, we're just supposed to be afraid and angry all the time, a duty we're performing remarkably well.

UPDATE: Taylor Marsh has some wise words as well: "Boston Terrorist Attack Now Turns to Wallpaper". When you make things like this the wallpaper of your life, you are in danger of becoming what you behold.

UPDATE 2: While seeking out my favorite music video for times like this, I ran across this quote of mine:

To those who keep declaring that the world changed on 9/11 - no, it didn't. The world was like that already. Vietnam happened, so did Cambodia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Sarajevo, Tianamen Square, Persian Gulf, and scores of other slaughters that I've simply forgotten about, and that's just since I was born. Some America had a hand in, many we didn't. There were terrorist attacks, too. It's like that because, often as not, it's run by cold-hearted selfish bastards who are perfectly willing to climb to the top of the heap by making a ramp of the bodies they've created.

If you think the world changed, it was because you finally noticed what was going on in the rest of the world, after it finally happened here.

What changed was us. We changed, because we obsessed about what happened when we should have been thinking about so many other things, and because we were afraid. We didn't change for the better. People who obsess about things never do.

Don't tell me to remember. Tell me when you're ready to move on.

Wake Me Up...

So, moving on...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Photo(s)

For various reasons, this wasn't a good year to photograph the fruit tree blooms. Some of that had to do with the weather, which was generally miserable during the two weeks or so the blooms were out. It also had to do with the fact that on the rare days when it wasn't miserable, I often had things to do.

Nevertheless, I managed to catch a few. Here they are. The first three are from last week.



Image credit: Photos taken and processed by Cujo359

I don't know what kind of trees these are. Three years ago, the blooms were white. Now they're pinkish. Here's a closeup of the blossoms:

These are from the end of March. Some mountain managed to get itself in the background of one of them:

The not-quite world famous Climate Change Cherry tree was in full bloom that day, as were its neighbors:

Click on the pictures to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Riverbend Reappears

There was some good news today, whatever else happens. Riverbend, the young Iraqi woman who wrote so many poignant articles about her experiences during and after the Iraq War, has made another entry in her blog after an absence of several years.

As you might imagine, she has a quite a few things to say, among them, asking the question that any American who can still use his mind ought to be asking about now:

What about George Bush, Condi, Wolfowitz, and Powell? Will they ever be held accountable for the devastation and the death they wrought in Iraq? Saddam was held accountable for 300,000 Iraqis... Surely someone should be held accountable for the million or so?

Finally, after all is said and done, we shouldn't forget what this was about - making America safer... And are you safer Americans? If you are, why is it that we hear more and more about attacks on your embassies and diplomats? Why is it that you are constantly warned to not go to this country or that one? Is it better now, ten years down the line? Do you feel safer, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis out of the way (granted half of them were women and children, but children grow up, right?)?

Ten Years On...

We aren't safer, and there's no reason to think we will be any time soon. That alone should have made Americans hopping mad about the waste of life and money, but it hasn't. Not enough of us to matter, anyway. What we've learned here is that there are two sets of rules. Those in charge can screw up all they like, and there will always be plenty of people ready to make excuses for them. Those of us who aren't in charge don't get to make any mistakes at all, and all those people who are happy to make excuses for the rich and famous are equally glad to blame us for all our problems.

We've learned that the Land Of The Free and The Home Of The Brave is no longer either. Far too many of us lost our minds on September 11, 2001, and the rest of us were along for the ride. Our corrupt and ignorant leaders were glad to lead the crazy on a quest to do something insane.

But at least Riverbend and her family have survived. They seem to have become permanent refugees, more victims of our folly. She tells the story at her blog, and I'll link there so you can read it, too.

Saturday Entertainment: Rocket Sled Vs. Car

One of the more amusing claims I kept reading and hearing about the collapse of the World Trade Center back in 2001 was about how the "physics didn't add up", or some such phrase to indicate that what happened didn't make sense. I thought this was so much twaddle at the time, and said so. Of course, that meant I was a naive dupe of the New World Order, but I digress.

The important thing to remember here is that what we should have learned from 9/11 is that when particular things composed of particular materials come together at speeds and in ways we haven't experienced before, it's anyone's guess what will happen. What "physics" apply in a particular situation are often very different from what we assume will apply.

The show Mythbusters provides lessons in this sort of thing quite often. In it, they test some urban legend, bit of folklore, or seemingly outrageous claim to see if it makes sense. Whether the question is if a Saint Bernard bringing you a shot of cognac when you're trapped in a snowdrift is a good thing, or how plausible an anti-Gorn cannon is, they use science and mechanical abilities to see what might be true. Often, they do this by destroying something in pretty spectacular fashion.

Yes, I really like the show. It's one of the few things I miss about cable television.

This particular segment from Mythbusters features a rocket slide slamming into a car at 500 miles per hour, or thereabouts. The episode's premise was to test a claim that a snowplow had once cut a small imported car in two. The Mythbusters had already tried this out, and found that, sure enough, it wasn't possible. I think enough of us have seen auto accidents to visualize what would happen. We're used to what happens when steel vehicles collide at, say, 20 to 100 miles per hour. But, this being Mythbusters, they wondered if it was possible at any speed.

So, they hired a place with a rocket sled track to set up an experiment. Here it is:

The reason this episode reminded me of 9/11 is the speed with which the sled hit the car, and how this was outside the experience of all the testers. Both they and I made guesses about what would happen. Mine was that the engine would be either crushed or splintered, and the rest of the car more or less cut in two. Watch the video to see the Mythbusters' guesses. I'm an engineer with some experience with cars and aircraft. The people in the episode were experienced at destroying, working with, and building quite a few mechanical devices. None of us, though, is a materials scientist or an expert in the technologies and metals involved in car manufacturing. None of us was right, really. Those points are related.

So, just like we'd never seen anything like an airliner loaded with fuel hitting a skyscraper with a steel external structure at more than 350 miles per hour, this experiment had a result few laymen, if any, would have guessed correctly. As NASA demonstrated during the Columbia accident investigation, even the experts can be wrong sometimes. They didn't think the foam that covered the main tank could damage the Shuttle if it broke off in a launch, but it turns out that's exactly what happened. That's why talking about how the physics don't add up in a new situation like this is nonsense.

Enjoy the explosions.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mt. Rainier In The Sunshine

Haven't felt much like writing lately, as you might have guessed. By way of apology, here's a photo of Mt. Rainier on one of those extremely rare clear spring days:

Image credit: Cujo359

It's been a crappy day, both in the news and otherwise. I'm sure there are plenty of folks who want to tell you about that, but today I'm not one of them.

Click on the picture to enlarge. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Quote Of The Day

Paul Rosenberg, discussing how both political parties are failing in America, cuts to the heart of Barack Obama's "pragmatism" by contrasting him with Franklin Roosevelt (FDR):

It is not that FDR was an ideologue - quite the opposite. FDR was a profound pragmatist, whereas Obama is a centrist, neoliberal ideologue, whose thinking is so rigid that he won't even consider empowering his own more leftish supporters, even to strategically counterbalance hard right Republicans, who still do not regard his presidency as legitimate.

Regardless of your own ideology - conscious or unconscious - you just have to wonder why Obama clings so doggedly to both substantive policies and political strategies that repeatedly fail so profoundly. No doubt there are multiple factors involved, but the most compelling answer, I have come to believe, comes down to a lack of vision: Obama quite simply cannot see any alternative. His politics are drastically confined by the crabbed nature of his neoliberal imagination, formed in the shadows of Reagan and Thatcher.

...

There was a time when virtually every Democratic officeholder, from dogcatcher on up, realised that their party's fate was inextricably linked to the welfare of its core constituencies. FDR Democrats knew that in the marrow of their bones. But Obama is a neoliberal Reagan Democrat, who knows nothing of the sort.

Double trouble: In US both political parties are failing - and in denial

I disagree with his assertion that the Democrats focused solely on diversity as a political goal; it's just something that the rich don't oppose enough to punish them for, so it's an easy goal. It's pretty clear that's all they have left at this point. Nonetheless, Rosenberg's conclusion that we're all going to end up equal in the poorhouse is all too true. Nor do I disagree with him at all about his conclusion about the state of the two parties:

The Republicans were once the Party of Lincoln, but they are that no longer. They are much, much closer to being the Party of Jefferson Davis, with their government hatred, animosity towards minorities and their knee-jerk fealty to the idea of states' rights.

Meanwhile, Democrats, under Barack Obama, are no longer the Party of FDR. They are much, much closer to being the Party of Herbert Hoover, following Obama's initial protection of the bankers and neglect of foreclosed and imperiled homeowners, and his persistent obsession placing budget-balancing over job-creation and caring for the most urgent needs of tens of millions, victimised by the bad behaviour, bad judgment and bad ideas of their so-called "betters".

Double trouble: In US both political parties are failing - and in denial

At least, other than to nit-pick that at least Hoover was willing to consider strong regulation of the banks after that collapse. Neither of our current political parties, nor our President, appear to care about that goal at all.

It's a sad place we've gotten ourselves to, that's for sure. It's worth reading Rosenberg's essay, if for no other reason than for a quick itemization of where our politics are these days.

UPDATE: Altered the second paragraph to say what I meant about Democrats and diversity.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bill Maher Smacks Down Libertarianism

Bill Maher lays a well-deserved smackdown on what may be the silliest of modern political philosophies:
"Somewhere along the way [libertarianism] morphed into some creepy philosophy based on a novel by Ayn Rand"

I don't know that libertarianism ever made much sense really, but the idea that the government that governs best governs least has been a guiding principle that Americans have applied to their political philosophies for a long time. Even we liberals tend to think that there are times, as in the case of making marijuana illegal, where too much government activism isn't a good thing.

Unfortunately, applying that idea as some form of absolute, and particularly saying that the government has no business regulating a magical fairyland called "the free market" is complete nonsense. When the marketplace can't take care of something vital in our lives like health care, then using the government to fix it is not only OK, it's quite often essential. Markets don't fix themselves. That's particularly true of markets where there are economies of scale, because it is quite often the most ruthless people who end up running them.

"Libertarians also hate Medicare and Social Security, and there are problems with those programs, but .. it beats stepping over lepers and watching human skeletons shit in the river, and I also like not seeing those things. I'm selfish that way."

As far as I'm concerned, liberalism (or socialism, if it goes a little further) makes sense from a selfish perspective as well as from a humane one, as Maher alludes in that quote. When the world around us is full of safe, healthy, and secure people it's a better place than when it isn't. I sometimes wonder if most Americans will ever grapple with that notion, let alone embrace it.

For that, and many other reasons, libertarianism justly deserves this smackdown. It really is the province of people who have never had reason to find out how arbitrary and capricious life can be. In other words, it's for people who have yet to grow up, in at least some sense of that phrase.

Progressive Idiocy: Who Could Have Predicted?

Image credit: Twitter image via Matt Stoller

Over the next few days, there will be an opportunity to discover which progressive political commentators have been paying attention and which ones haven't. That opportunity is described by Jon Walker at FireDogLake:

If it wasn’t already abundantly clear there is now more proof President Obama really really really wants to cut Social Security benefits for current retirees. Obama will include the chained-CPI, which is a yearly and continuously growing cut to your Social Security benefits, in his budget.

Obama Is the Driving Force Behind Cutting Your Social Security

He quotes this Politico piece:

The budget proposal sets Obama up for major fights on his right and left. Republicans will not accept any new tax revenues and liberal Democrats have already signaled they will resist any cuts to Social Security and other entitlement programs that Obama is proposing.

The White House says the budget proposal would reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion over 10 years, but it assumes the elimination of the sequester, which would otherwise account for $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.

Already, Obama’s budget proposal goes farther than many in his own party and base said they would bear by including “chained CPI,” the adjustment that would over time reduce cost-of-living increases to Social Security and other federal benefit programs — effectively, a cut to Social Security benefits by tying them to inflation.

Boehner rejects Obama cuts-revenue proposal

The only good news there is that, once again, the Republicans are playing hard to get.

Still, Walker is one of the people who have been paying attention. It's not hard to figure out that President Obama has had a fetish for cutting Social Security since the Democratic presidential primary back in 2008. In his interview with George Will, he said quite clearly that something needed to be done about Social Security to "save" it. Why someone feels the need to "save" a program that's been funded for the next few decades is beyond me, other than as an excuse to cut it. Since then, he's hired Wall Street pirates as economic advisers, and set up a commission to resolve the "budget crisis" that was stacked with folks well known for their desire to cut entitlement programs.

So, if you're surprised that Obama would be cutting Social Security now that he doesn't have to worry about being re-elected, you weren't paying attention.

And who hasn't been paying attention? Let's start with Paul Krugman. After offering a good explanation for why cutting the CPI is a bad idea (worth reading, if you're not familiar with the concept), he then writes:

So what’s this about? The answer, I fear, is that Obama is still trying to win over the Serious People, by showing that he’s willing to do what they consider Serious — which just about always means sticking it to the poor and the middle class. The idea is that they will finally drop the false equivalence, and admit that he’s reasonable while the GOP is mean-spirited and crazy.

Desperately Seeking “Serious” Approval

Of course, this is absurd. President Obama is one of the "Serious People". He always has been. He has never said otherwise, near as I can recall. Yes, he promised not to cut Social Security once back in 2008, but he clearly misspoke. He was going to "save" Social Security and Medicare, even if he had to destroy them.

Over at Talking Points Memo, Brian Beutler seems similarly confused. He starts out well enough, explaining that Obama has always had a hankering to mess with Social Security, then goes off the rails:

First, policy. Obama has been clear about his willingness to reduce cost of living increases to Social Security for years — but only if Republicans agree to higher taxes on rich people simultaneously The not-so-secret truth is that some people in the Obama administration simply think it’s a good idea, which is why you occasionally hear them slip and call it “correcting the CPI” or some other euphemism.

But for some reason this has never been good enough for Republicans and media elites many of whom continue to act as if Obama’s never given an inch to Republicans on entitlement spending. So now it’s officially official. And the good news is we’ll soon have some closure on this frustrating chapter in U.S. politics. If throwing a benefit cut into his budget was the Kabuki concession Republicans needed to cut a deal, we’ll know soon. If they remain adamant that rich people’s taxes aren’t going up anymore under their watch, then this charade can come to an end and everyone can move on. That would leave sequestration in place, and thus many more months of weak job growth in the months ahead. But, the Obama administration hopes, at least opinion makers would have to stop playing the false equivalence game and tell the country who’s really at fault.

Bad News Friday

Yes, to some extent this is Beutler explicitly passing on conventional wisdom from the Obama Administration, but does anyone really believe that things are going to in some different direction if the press, which in DC is largely owned by conservatives, gives up on portraying this as "both sides" being unreasonable? There's not a chance of that happening.

As an aside, Robert Reich posted a video, explaining what the CPI is. He seems to have figured out the politics, too:

Why are Democrats even suggesting the inflation adjustment be reduced? Republicans aren’t asking for it. Not even Paul Ryan’s draconian budget includes it.

What’s The “Chained CPI,” Why It's Bad For Social Security, And Why The White House Shouldn't Be Touting It

So, for the moment at least, Reich appears to get it. He describes this budget proposal as clearly Democratic in origin, that the GOP had nothing to do with it beyond being intransigent supporters of the rich. These days, though, it's getting really hard for anyone with any sense of perspective to think they're the only major party who are on board with that platform.

Speaking of having no sense of perspective, several outlets, including NPR, have quoted MoveOn.org as saying:

From the liberal group MoveOn.org's Executive Director Anna Galland:
"Millions of MoveOn members did not work night and day to put President Obama into office so that he could propose policies that would hurt some of our most vulnerable people. Just as we fought and defeated President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, we will mobilize and stop this attempt to diminish the vital guarantee of Social Security."


Obama Riles His Own Party With Social Security Offer
Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE)

Now, let me just pause for a moment, Dear Reader, and explain to you why MoveOn.org are idiots. When a political candidate tells you over and over and over again that he is going to cut Social Security when he gets into office, and you work for him anyway, you put him in office so he could do that. There were alternatives, including not supporting any candidate because they all suck too much, should MoveOn's membership have felt that way, yet they supported this con artist. This is obvious to the point of absurdity, yet MoveOn still seems unable to grasp this basic fact.

That's why they're idiots.

Oh, and another bit about perspective - note NPR's lovely headline. If NPR ever got over its urge to punch hippies I swear I'd never be able to stand up again, the vertigo would be so bad.

So, there you have it, a small sampling of the genius that makes progressivism the powerful force in politics that it is today. Ever onward, ever downward. As soon as the Progressive Caucus folds, we can get on with the process of lowering our expectations.

UPDATE: The often-entertaining Class War Kitteh gets the last word, at least for now:


Image credit: Class War Kitteh

Check the image credit link for commentary, and you can "like" it there, or some such.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Saturday Entertainment: Gorn To Be Wild

About the last thing I figured I'd be doing here is embedding a video of a commercial, but there's a good reason for this one. It's a video game commercial that features William Shatner in a parody from one of the more famous (or infamous, depending on your artistic sensibilities) scenes in the original Star Trek series. If you don't recognize it, and who could blame you, check out the Wired article a friend steered me to where I first saw it:

Sadly, this was one of those episodes where the story was more than the special effects and costume budgets of the time could plausibly portray. The original fight scene was hilarious by modern day standards, though at the time I suspect it was about the best they could do. After all, they were trying to have a personal combat between Kirk and a creature far stronger than he was that lasted more than five seconds and didn't end with Kirk a puddle of goo on the ground. Quite the dramatic quandary.

The story of that episode, "Arena", at least as it was presented in the James Blish adaptation that I remember vividly to this day, was one that impressed me by its ambitions. The idea that Kirk, as a military commander, would spare an enemy when he had the chance to have them destroyed, and preferred trying to negotiate with them when they'd savagely attacked a Federation outpost was a thought nearly as foreign to most Americans back then as it seems to be today. Gene Roddenberry, who was a World War II veteran, perhaps understood the implications of both war and negotiation better than most people in this day of professional expeditionary forces. When a President is applauded for not negotiating with a country that isn't actually harming us but is doing something we don't approve of, as George W. Bush was with Iran, then I think maybe there are a few people who ought to watch the end of that episode and think about what real courage in the face of an enemy is. Often in war, being humane is the toughest thing to do.

Afterword: Believe it or not, Mythbusters looked into the plausibility of the "Gorn cannon" from "Arena".

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Punctuated Political Equilibrium

Caption: Stephen Jay Gould. I'm not sure that he wanted his work applied to the sphere of politics, but it could be.

Image credit: Kathy Chapman/Wikimedia

Too bad Stephen Jay Gould didn't manage to live long enough to see this:

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson reversed his opposition to gay marriage on Thursday, joining a swell of moderate Democrats to do so recently as public support for gay marriage has grown.

Bill Nelson reverses opposition to gay marriage

Which, when you add it to the recent conversions of Republican Senators Rob Portman and Mark Kirk (IL), and Democratic Senators Tom Carper (DE), Bob Casey (PA), and Kay Hagan (NC), looks like there's a whole lot of evolution going on regarding this issue.

Back in the 1980s, Dr. Gould had proposed that evolution happens mostly in spurts, when something in the ecosystem changes. That idea was known as punctuated equilibrium. Many other biologists, Richard Dawkins being one of the more prominent, felt that this wasn't true, that evolution is just something that mostly happens gradually.

At least in the case of political ecosystems, it looks like Gould was right. Folks sure are evolving quickly, now that the ecosystem has changed.