Saturday, February 28, 2009

Flashback To 2004

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

I've finally connected my computer up to my stereo, and all the music I've been digitizing over the years is now being played through the biggest speakers in my house. I'm hearing many tunes that I haven't heard in a while. The great thing about computers is that you can just tell them to play a bunch of songs in random order. They can even learn what songs you like, and play those more often if you like it that way.

The one that came up just now is this one:

Don't want to be an American idiot.
Don't want a nation under the new mania
And can you hear the sound of hysteria?
The subliminal mind fuck America.

Welcome to a new kind of tension.
All across the alien nation.
Where everything isn't meant to be okay.
Television dreams of tomorrow.
We're not the ones who're meant to follow.
For that's enough to argue.

Green Day: American Idiot

Green Day's American Idiot was released in Fall, 2004. The first time I heard it was while I was on what was, by then, an interminable string of road trips for the company I was working for at the time. I was in Colorado Springs just before Thanksgiving. On a day off, I'd gone to one of the local music stores and bought the CD. I put the CD in my laptop computer, and when I heard these lyrics, all I could think was:

Yes, this is the America I'm living in.

This was a couple of weeks after John Kerry had lost his bid to replace George W. Bush as President. It was a time when you couldn't hear a single word on TV about how foolish the war in Iraq was, or how short-sighted nearly everything the Bush Administration had done to "fight terrorism" was. Anyone who criticized Bush or the "War On Terrorism" was an unpatriotic soft-headed pinko, according to the loud, thoughtless voices all around us, which seemed to be the only ones speaking. It was a time when I kept asking myself "Don't these people remember Vietnam and Communism?", and "Don't they know what freedom really means?"

There isn't a time in my life when I remember being more pessimistic about our future as a country than I was that year.

And then these kids, who were too young to remember Vietnam, probably too young to even remember how afraid we once were of Communism, and whom I'd only known as a group who wrote clever songs about teenage angst, showed that they got it. They understood, without having to live through the hysterias of our past, that we were in another full-blown hysteria then.

That realization restored what little optimism you who read this blog are seeing today.

For that I have to thank Green Day, and all the other young people who demonstrate that some of their elders really need to pay more attention to the world around them.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What Happened To The Button?

Strange bedfellows?

Longtime readers of this blog my have noticed that the Strange Bedfellows campaign button is no longer visible. That's because the art of that old site had been removed. Usually, in such situations I take the button down, but when I went over to the Accountability Now website, there was clearly something in the works.

So I left it up.

I now have an idea what the new Accountability Now will be like:

Accountability Now, which was co-founded by Jane Hamsher of, draws its inspiration from the way in which former Rep. Al Wynn, D-Md., was ousted from office in 2007 by current Rep. Donna Edwards, a more liberal Democrat, who portrayed Wynn as beholden to corporate interests.

The liberal group has been described as the liberal equivalent of the Club for Growth, an anti-tax group that backs primary challenges to Republican incumbents who vote for higher taxes.

The founders of Accountability Now, however, go to great pains to reject the comparison, saying that they are not interested in backing primary challengers with no chance of winning as the Club for Growth did in 2006 when it unsuccessfully backed Republican Steve Laffey in a primary challenge to Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a liberal Republican who voted against the Bush tax cuts.

"We're obsessed with polling," said Moulitsas.

Kos to Dems: Toe Populist Line -- or Else

This is what progressives need to do. In fact, it's been something I've suggested doing on a number of occasions, including this one:

Here's what we have to do, liberals. We have to be willing to vote strategically. Target one of these assholes, or several. Make them pay with their jobs, even if it means replacing them with Republicans. Until you prove that you can hurt them, these people will never respect you. They only respect power, and right now we haven't got any. That's why they piss on us and kiss up to the G.O.P. even though what those people have done to the country is the last things most Americans want any more of for a while.

I'm just going to keep repeating this message until you get it. I'm tired of losing, even after seemingly winning. When you decide you're tired of it, too, get back to me.

Meanwhile, I'm done with more useless pledges. When you're really willing to get rid of some of these assclowns, I'll be there. Until then, I'm sure there's something else I can be doing with my time.

What About This Surprises You?

It looks like they're catching on.

This is a workable strategy. The implementation is important, of course, but I feel better that, as Jane Hamsher puts it, this will be a transparent process:

We introduced people to our new Executive Director, Jeff Hauser (who some may remember when he ran Dennis Schulman's campaign). We have also begun reaching out to state and local blogs asking them to identify leaders in their communities they think we should be aware of so people will be telling us what they want and need in their own communities, not vice versa. And we'll be closely watching the voting patterns of House members to see if they're more concerned with representing lobbyists than the interests of their communities, and we ultimately hope to match up great challengers with communities that think they're not being well served by their representatives. Markos will be polling and publishing all the results on Daily Kos for everyone to see and Nate Silver will be analyzing the data. It's going to be a very transparent process.

Accountability Now — Democracy “Headache”

Open processes can be self-correcting in ways closed processes cannot. This is also a good thing.

The short version of the strategy is to find weak spots and exploit them. Identifying those weak spots, whores for corporate money like Al Wynn, whom Donna Edwards defeated in that primary challenge, who are vulnerable because they don't represent the values of their constituents is the important step. That requires polling and knowledge of the area. Cooperation with local blogs will help bring that about.

Atrios explains the reason why:

There's a difference between Democrats from more conservative districts who, while not representing my political views, do manage to represent their constituents' views, and Democrats who engage in "centrist" wankery despite representing liberal districts, or Democrats who use the conservative tilt of their district as an excuse to get on board with anything the Chamber of Commerce supports.

Does Not Compute

We're not going to be able to run progressives in conservative districts successfully. Still, there are many legislators, like Jane Harmon and Dianne Feinstein, who don't represent the views of their constituents, and yet are returned to Congress by those constituents anyway. Making those constituents aware of how little their congressmen support their views would make them more vulnerable. Ned Lamont beat Joe Lieberman in the primary for that very reason.

After that, local knowledge plus some money can bring about defeats of some of the targeted congressmen. We don't have to defeat all of them, but we do have to defeat some. Talking about how some of them might be a bit more careful about boning us after a primary challenge they won is, quite frankly, loser talk. We need to be dancing in the endzone and spiking the ball in their faces. At least, I think that's the terminology.

So, this initiative has this blog's tentative support, which I'm sure is an immense relief to the organizers ...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Where's Mine?

funny pictures
Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

From Talking Points Memo comes this gem:

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), on how hard it is to be a Republican:

"We have a tougher job than our friends across the aisle. They've been offering Americans a free lunch for the last 80 years, rather successfully."

Woe Is Me

So, where's mine, John? Where are the equivalent of the free lunches that you and the rest of Congress, not to mention the Fed, have been feeding to the banks in the last few months? Even assuming no one gives them any more, which I see no reason to assume, that's thousands of dollars per citizen. I could buy my lunch for the next few years on that.

I'm not seeing it.

Cry me a frickin' river, Big Fella. Maybe you should have done a better job of regulating those banks while you had the chance.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Good News, Bad News

There's good news and bad news from the U.S. Senate today. Both concern personnel decisions.

The good news is that the Senate finally confirmed Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor. Solis' nomination was being held up by a few Republicans, as Greg Sargent notes:

The GOPers on the Senate Labor Committee had previously been slowing Solis’ nomination, apparently because of questions about her position on labor’s priority, the Employee Free Choice Act. Yesterday, things got worse, with the committee canceling a session to consider Solis after the news broke about some tax troubles afflicting her husband.

Labor’s Opening Shot: Andy Stern Video Blasts GOP For Blocking Solis

Among other things, the EFCA would make it easier for workers to organize in their workplaces without intimidation or obstruction from their employers. So, congratulations, Secretary Solis.

In the bad news department, we have Senator Roland "What Shall I Write On My Giant Tombstone" Burris (D-IL). Apparently, even his fellow Illinois Senator has had enough:

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) just told reporters that he asked Roland Burris (in a very polite manner) to resign. And Burris said no.

"If I were in your shoes, I would consider resigning," Durbin said, reciting what he told Burris.

Durbin Asks Burris To Resign

I suspect a lot of things would be different if Dick Durbin were in Roland Burris' shoes, but it might be better not to go there. The bad news is, of course, that Burris has not yet decided to resign. I believe I remarked earlier that trying to shame Burris would be a waste of time. Yes, I did.

Meanwhile, it just gets better. Believe it or not, Sen. David "Huggies" Vitter (R-LA) has the same advice for Burris:

Senator David Vitter (R-LA), whose career became mired in controversy back in 2007 when he became implicated in the D.C. Madam prostitution ring, is now calling upon Roland Burris to resign.

Burris Told To Resign By...David Vitter

Vitter nearly earned himself a Hypocritical Wanker of the Day Award for his efforts, but on reflection I realized that his hypocrisy pales in comparison to the sheer, naked, polished hypocrisy that earned Rahm Emanuel his award. Emanuel, of course, proved his mettle by failing upwards into the White House. You're just going to have to work harder to run with the big dogs, Senator. But you do have potential.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

All Our Fossil Are Belong To Us

This fake motivational poster has apparently been around for quite a while, but was starting to disappear for reasons Ron Britton of Bay Of Fundie couldn't understand. He designed a new version, with the help of a site called MotiFake, and that one disappeared. Now he has asked folks to propagate it around the Internet to make sure it doesn't disappear again.

So here it is:

The fossil in the picture is a Tiktaalik. Tiktaalik is a transitional genus that is part way between being a fish and an amphibian. As the caption Ron put up with the MotiFake poster explained:

This is Tiktaalik. He is an example of a true Transitional Fossil. He has both fishy and lizardy parts. I really don’t know what more fundies want.

What rational people want is for schools to teach evolution and other aspects of scientific knowledge that various religious groups and other groups feel are offensive simply because it contradicts their beliefs. We don't want our copyrighted posters disappearing, either.

So Tiktaalik is now safely stored on my computer, where he can erupt onto the Internet any time he's needed.

If you want a more complete explanation of what Tiktaalik means to evolution, check out Dana Hunter's Sunday Science article.

UPDATE: Gen has a Spanish language version:

Muy caliente!

UPDATE 2: Believe it or not, there's a Tiktaalik Song, and music video.

Contrast In Styles

Peter Mansbridge interviews President Obama. Image credit: Canadian Broadcast Corp..

While searching for something else, I happened on an interview of Peter Mansbridge by David Shuster on Shuster's 1600 Pennsylvania from last Thursday. Mansbridge is a veteran news correspondent with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. His memory of U.S. Presidents, I dare say, goes back at least as long as mine. Here's what he had to say about interviewing President Obama earlier this week about issues between the U.S. and Canada:

SHUSTER: Peter, how well did President Obama seem to articulate some of these key issues for Canadians?

MANSBRIDGE: It was pretty impressive. You know, David, when you consider how much traveling he‘s doing and has been doing in the last 10 days, first selling the stimulus package and then signing it, when I talked to him in the White House on Tuesday, he was just about ready to head out west to sign the bill, yet he was totally up to speed on the issues that Canadians worry about.

You know, those interviews, as you know, they‘re not long, 10, 12 minutes. But I tried to make some headway on all the fronts—NAFTA, the stimulus package, the “Buy America” clause, which is a great deal of concern here, energy issues, the environment. And he knew the Canadian position on all of them and articulated not only Canada‘s position, but obviously where there was a fine line of difference between that and the American position.

So it was pretty impressive. You know, we‘re not always used to seeing that from an American president, and especially lately. We haven‘t seen that before Barack Obama, but we‘ve seen it this week.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for Thursday, February 19

[emphasis mine]

Ouch. What I get from this is that Obama was impressive in his own right, but what was really impressive was the contrast with his predecessor. Guess the old "alpha male" act wasn't playing so well north of the border, was it? Read the rest of that discussion between Shuster and Mansbridge, and I think you'll get the impression that Stephen Harper, Canada's Conservative Prime Minister, was getting along better with Obama than he had with Goerge W. Bush.

I doubt that I'll ever be really happy about Obama as President, but I'm happy that we at least have someone in the White House who can understand and talk with other countries.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nigeria Writes

Nigerian money. Apparently, I should be expecting some somewhere down the line. Image credit: Online Nigeria.

I'm going to have to put a big map on my wall and start putting pins in it for all the places that are sending me money:

From: Government of Nigeria <>
Date: Feb 21, 2009 4:36 PM
The Nigerian government in agreement with the directive of the IMF, World Bank, Paris Club and the G8 has through the federal Ministry of Finance and Federal Ministry of Justice handed over your payment file to the United States Consulate. In seeking for outright debt cancellation from the above world bodies, they have directed that due to so much fraud and scams perpetrated against foreign beneficiaries, and the bureaucracy in paying you and others involved, that the United States Consulate should take charge of your payment.

However, I, Umaru Musa yarAdua want you to note that your file is presently with the USA Consulate and you should contact them. As the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal republic of Nigeria, I want to inform you that there is no other office(s) or person his/her position in the government notwithstanding that is presently directly in charge of your payment. Therefore you are advised in your own interest to desist from making further contact with anyone or office with regards to your payment. We have instructed all bank, government offices previously involve of your payment to stop forthwith and you are ask to stop conversation with them as well.

We do have so many persons that there fund is still not transferred to them, and due to mix up, a lot of data from some files, so you will have to provide your complete data to the Consulate. The Nigerian people and government are not going to be liable to any money you may lose should you defile this Presidential order. It is also very important to inform you that anyone informing you that they are in charge of your payment outside the United States of America Consulate must be doing that to defraud you, so continue communication with such person(s) or office(s) is at your own peril.

Here are the contact details of the American Consulate in Lagos; you are advised to contact them.

Mr. Mike Philip
Debts payment Unit
United sates Consulate
No: 2 Walter Carrington crescents, Victoria Island

Do not say that you were not warned to stop further communication or contacts with anyone. If you required further explanation, do get back to us.

Yours faithfully

Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi
Media Sec. to the President
Federal Republic of Nigeria

Apparently, I need to be patient with these folks ...

Recall that, as always, this came to my Cujo359 e-mail account. I never use it to transact financial business.

While I've removed the e-mail addresses, I left the domains on two of them just to show why this is an obvious fraud. The second one is the e-mail for the "U.S. Consul". It's an AOL address (I've added the .invalid to prevent automated software from using it.) People who work in U.S. consulates will have Department of State addresses ( I doubt that someone from an African government would be using an Australian e-mail address, either.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Steady As She Goes, Andy

Image credit: The Franklin Institute

Updated at 10:35PM PST

For a while, after the departure of the much celebrated Deborah "Lil Debbie" Howell, some among us were afraid that journalistic standards might be enforced by the next ombudsman of the Washington Post. Perhaps one of the best summations of the problem with Howell, and her role at the WaPo, was written by Jane Hamsher back in 2006, when many of us were trying to get the paper to correct an obviously false story about Jack Abramoff and the Indian tribes he was fleecing:

Somebody much more intelligent than Lil' Debbie obviously held her hand and put up some charts for her showing Democrats took money from the Indian tribes, listing Patrick Kennedy as one of the largest recipients. As they well know from their own reporting, Kennedy had a relationship with the tribes that predated the appearance of Abramoff. Do they have any evidence to support that Abramoff's "lists" were not somehow taking into account donations that the tribes themselves insisted on covering? Have they interviewed anyone at the tribes to see what their involvement was, were they the ones that demanded that Kennedy be included? We'll never know, at least not from the Post, because it clearly does not serve their purposes to ask these questions.

Somebody from the WaPo: please, please go check out Wampum. They are so far ahead of you on this one you should have the good sense to be embarrassed.

The propaganda assistance rendered to the White House and the GOP by such obfuscation is immeasurable. By pointing to carefully chosen "facts" which may be technically true (people like Kennedy did take money from the Indian tribes) without placing it in the proper context has lead to polling results that must have Ken Mehlman doing the lambada. According to the latest Diageo/Hotline Poll, a plurality of voters now do not associate Abramoff with any political party (PDF). That is just a remarkable achievement, considering everyone involved in this little wool-pulling scam -- with the exception of Lil' Debbie, of course, whom we assume is just too stupid -- knows that Abramoff was nothing but a bag man for the GOP.

WaPo You’ve Outdone Yourself

[links from original. My guess is that some don't work, but I didn't check. The Wampum link just leads to the blog address of that time. Please post any updates in comments.]

FDL was on them like a tick on a dog's back. Taylor Marsh was running a blog called Open Letter To The Washington Post, which administered almost daily brow beatings about its inaccuracy. Wampum and Think Progress, among others, were way ahead of them. The comments pages at the online WaPo were inundated with complaints and criticisms. Yet Lil' Debbie withstood all that, and kept her job. From this, you can only conclude that her employers felt she served them well.

Cynics among us noted that the same people who hired Howell hired her successor, Andy Alexander. Well, I know I did, anyway. I, and anyone cynical enough to agree with me, assumed things weren't going to change one bit.

Anyone who is still in doubt needs to read this article by Hilzoy at Washington Monthly, regarding Alexander's response to numerous complaints about George Will's preposterous column on climate change in last Sunday's WaPo:

Until I read this, I had been under the impression that newspapers didn't do as much fact-checking as magazines, because of deadline pressure; and I had imagined that the inaccuracies in George Will's column might result from applying standards designed for reported stories to columns. But on reading that Will's column had been subjected to a "multi-layer editing process", and that this "process" had checked the facts "to the fullest extent possible", I realized that I had been wrong. Naturally, I clicked the link Mr. Alexander provided, and read it. Did he? I don't know what would be worse: that he did, and takes it to support Will, or that he didn't take his job seriously enough to bother.

The Washington Post's "Multi-Layer Editing Process"

(h/t Dana Hunter)

(Hilzoy's article is well worth a read, by the way. It points out the sort of quote mining that is often used to justify climate change denialism.)

It doesn't matter what Alexander's motivation is, does it? From an organizational perspective, Alexander has found his niche. What the Washington Post expects of its ombudsman is to be the human equivalent of voice mail or those "webmaster@" e-mail addresses. He's an obstacle put in place to frustrate anyone trying to get the newspaper to correct itself when it quite clearly doesn't want to be corrected. Howell played that role admirably, and it appears that Alexander will be a worthy successor.

UPDATE: Apparently, I missed this article on my first pass through Pharyngula today. It's written by Carl Zimmer, a science writer who publishes in the New York Times, among other publications. Here is his description of how the fact checking by the WaPo should have gone:

If someone from the Post’s crackerjack multi-layer squad of fact-checkers had bothered to pick up the phone, they could have simply asked, “Is it indeed true that global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979?”

And they would have probably gotten an answer like this: “Well, what do you mean by now? Today? And what do you mean by 1979? Exactly thirty years ago today? If that’s what you mean, the answer is no.”

A good fact-checker would then say, “Well, it seems this claim is based on an article that came out January 1.”

To which the scientist would say something along the lines of, “At that point it was near or slightly lower what was observed in late 1979.”

At the very least, that discrepancy would have to be corrected. But a good fact-checker would see a deeper problem, saying, “Whoa, that changed a lot in a month and a half.”

Which would then lead to a discussion of the fact ice cover is such a noisy process that picking out a single day to compare these numbers does not say a lot about how it is affected by climate change. Climatologists look over longer time scales.

The Sea Ice Affair, Continued

This article is also worth reading, because it provides some insights into both the sea ice phenomenon, as well as how science articles are fact checked by serious publications.

It's hard to imagine that a science writer could get away with such a badly-researched piece, or even a sports writer. But political columnists write utter tripe on a daily basis and no one seems to think anything of it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Welcome Back, Junior

Image credit: Rich Pilling/MLB Photos/Getty Images

He's not the old Ken Griffey, Jr., the one who could hit 50-plus home runs a season. He's still the guy who takes joy in playing the game, and for that alone it's nice to see him back.

Let's face it, the Mariners lost 100 games last year. They aren't going anywhere this year unless half the other teams in the league implode or disappear, in which case they'd probably end up in the middle of the pack. Junior's enthusiasm for the game will be a joy to watch. It might even help some of the younger Mariners keep in mind why they are there. In contrast to Alex Rodriguez, the other star hitter who left town early in the decade, Griffey left so that he could be with his father, not so he could earn an even more ridiculous amount of money.

When he left town, Junior looked like a sure-fire Hall of Famer. By the time he'd left Seattle after eleven seasons, he'd hit 398 home runs. He was still in his late 20's, which is usually a baseball player's prime. It looked like he'd end up being the Major Leagues' leading home run hitter by the end of his career. Since then, he's been injured several times, and has really only played two full seasons. He's hit 213 home runs since leaving Seattle over ten seasons, and his slugging percentage is a shadow of its former self. He's now 39 years old, which is a time when most players have hung up their spikes already.

His numbers are still respectable, especially considering how much he hasn't played, but he's half the Junior of old.

Still, half a Ken Griffey, Jr. is a lot more ballplayer than most in the majors. He's a welcome addition.

Greenspan Joins The Chorus

The former head of the Federal Reserve Bank and a Republican Senator both said they're not opposed to nationalizing failing banks. The Financial Times reported yesterday:

The US government may have to nationalise some banks on a temporary basis to fix the financial system and restore the flow of credit, Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, has told the Financial Times.

In an interview, Mr Greenspan, who for decades was regarded as the high priest of laisser-faire [sic] capitalism, said nationalisation could be the least bad option left for policymakers.

”It may be necessary to temporarily nationalise some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring,” he said. “I understand that once in a hundred years this is what you do.”

Mr Greenspan’s comments capped a frenetic day in which policymakers across the political spectrum appeared to be moving towards accepting some form of bank nationalisation.

“We should be focusing on what works,” Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, told the FT. “We cannot keep pouring good money after bad.” He added, “If nationalisation is what works, then we should do it.”

Greenspan Backs Bank Nationalisation

I like Paul Krugman's quote on this:

Truly, it’s amazing how compelling the logic of temporary nationalization is. How long will it be before the Obama administration is ready to take the plunge?

Comrade Greenspan: Seize the economy’s commanding heights!

Actually, I love the title even more than the quote.

It's starting to look like the only people who aren't in favor of nationalizing the banks are the bankers and the White House.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Catching Up With An Old Comment

A few days ago, Dana Hunter left this request at my article on Darwin Day:

Grate. More books to add to the already-enormous list... does anyone have a pic of an LOL cat getting hit by a tremendous stack of tomes? ;-)

Sadly, given that most English-speaking countries have laws against such things, we probably won't ever have such a picture. I can offer this though:

funny pictures of cats with captions
Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

Maybe what you need is a research assistant.

Dr. Gotelli Explains The Difference

A Discovery Institute employee hammering out another treatise. (Image credit: Gabe.)

In two exquisite paragraphs, University of Vermont Professor Nicholas Gotelli explains the difference between real science and an imitation. He was responding to a request by David Klinghoffer, of the Discovery Institute, for a debate on creationism versus evolution at Prof. Gotelli's university:

Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren't members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences? If you want to be taken seriously by scientists and scholars, this is where you need to publish. Academic publishing is an intellectual free market, where ideas that have credible empirical support are carefully and thoroughly explored. Nothing could possibly be more exciting and electrifying to biology than scientific disproof of evolutionary theory or scientific proof of the existence of a god. That would be Nobel Prize winning work, and it would be eagerly published by any of the prominent mainstream journals.

"Conspiracy" is the predictable response by Ben Stein and the frustrated creationists. But conspiracy theories are a joke, because science places a high premium on intellectual honesty and on new empirical studies that overturn previously established principles. Creationism doesn't live up to these standards, so its proponents are relegated to the sidelines, publishing in books, blogs, websites, and obscure journals that don't maintain scientific standards.

How To Respond To Requests To Debate Creationists

Do yourself a favor and click on the link to read the whole thing.

As almost anyone who knows about the history of biology can tell you, the debate between creationism and evolution was settled among biologists within a couple of decades after Darwin and Wallace announced their theory. Two different scientists, with different personal backgrounds, both came to the conclusion that there was such a thing, based on the emerging knowledge of their time. In part, evolution became the preferred theory because the mental gymnastics biologists had to use to explain what they were learning about the world in creationist terms became increasingly obvious. It has withstood the questioning and skepticism of far better people than work at the Discovery Institute.

Conspiracy theories about scientific cabals suppressing embarrassing new hypotheses are no doubt satisfying to a certain segment of the public, but I have yet to encounter such a hypothesis that actually can stand the light of day. In the case of creationism, the pattern has held true.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Our Latest Obsession

Image credit: Screenshot of Google News by Cujo359.

This week, it's not a missing bikini model, it's a muscular guy in pinstripes that America is obsessed about:

Eight days after admitting his steroid use in a television interview, Alex Rodriguez offered more details in a news conference after his arrival at Yankees spring training camp on Tuesday. With dozens of teammates standing nearby and roughly 200 reporters watching, Rodriguez said he and a cousin obtained the drugs in the Dominican Republic and injected them for an energy boost.

“My mistake was because I was immature and I was stupid,” Rodriguez said. “I blame myself. For a week here, I kept looking for people to blame, and I keep looking at myself.”

Rodriguez Answers Questions About His Drug

I love baseball. I'm already getting excited that spring training's started, and that in a few weeks there will be baseball, possibly even on broadcast TV where I can watch it occasionally. Even so, to me this story doesn't matter. It's old news from so long ago that the last effects worked their way out of Rodriguez's body five seasons ago. Yet, this story is such a wonderful microcosm of the last couple of decades, I suppose it's worth a look on that basis.

As Rodriguez has alluded, this all started when he joined the Texas Rangers as a free agent in 2001. He had scorned the mere $10 million a year or so that his old team, the Seattle Mariners had offered, for an unprecedented $20 million a year that the Texas Rangers offered him.

Let's stop here for a moment and consider. He thought $10 million wasn't enough to stick with what was then a very successful franchise, and instead head to the losingest team in its division. So let's do the math here. You earn $10 million. The government gets roughly a third, so you're left with $7 million or so. Put that in a bank at 2 percent interest, which is a reasonable rate of return, and you're earning $140,000 a year in interest. Most of us could live quite comfortably on that. Yet this wasn't enough for A-Rod.

After taking this new job at a more acceptable salary, Rodriguez started to feel some added pressure to perform well. A new park takes some getting used to, even for a hitter, and it often takes a while to get acclimated. He decided to try steroids to enhance his performance. If his statistics are any indication, it didn't work. His average and home run production stayed about the same for his first two years, and then fell in 2003 and 2004. Those years are the years after he stopped using the drug, according to Rodriguez. If anything, his stats may have suffered thanks to the aftereffects of the drug.

Yet, the news seems to be obsessed with this story. It's the second story, right after the stimulus package, on Google News right now (see the image at the top of this article). Yet it's really about a guy who was paid an unreal amount of money to play a kid's game who cheated, partly because he was being paid an unreal amount of money.

OK, we've dealt with this now. Yes, he was greedy and self-involved. Yes, he cheated. Can we get back to what's important? This is important. This matters to us in our everyday lives. And this certainly matters. Can we pay attention to these things now? As emotionally satisfying as it might be for some, belittling someone for something he did five years ago, not too successfully I might add, while playing a game isn't going to matter to anyone in a few days, let alone five years from now.

Apparently, I've Converted

[Pound notes, plus a few dollars, at the donations box of the British Museum. Image credit: Lawrence OP.]

Yet another widow needs my help. This time, the widow with questionable English skills is from London. Why would I expect someone from London to have a command of English prepositions? Clearly, I need to re-examine my prejudices:

From: mrsrose adams
Subject: Dear My Friend
Date: Feb 16, 2009 6:24 AM
Dear My Friend

Greetings in the name of God,Pls let this not sound strange to you for my only surviving lawyer who would have done this died early this year.i prayed and got your email id from your country guestbook. I am Mrs. ROSE ADAMS from London,I am 58 years old,i am suffering from a long time cancer of the lungs which also affected my brain,from all indication my conditions is really deteriorating and it is quite obvious that, according to my doctors they have advised me that i may not live for the next two months,this is because the cancer stage has gotten to a very bad stage.

I was brought up from a motherless babies home was married to my late husband for twenty years without a child,my husband died in a fatal motor accident Before his death we were true believers.Since his death I decided not to re-marry,I sold all my inherited belongings and deposited all the sum of 10million dollars with a Standard Finance Security Company. Presently, this money is still with them and the management just wrote me as the true owner to come forward to receive the money for keeping it so long or rather issue a letter of authorization to somebody to receive it on my behalf since I can not come over because of my illness or they get it confisticated.

Presently, I'm with my laptop in a hospital here in Switzerland where I have been undergoing treatment for cancer of the lungs. my doctors have told me that I have only a few months to live.It is my last wish to see that this money is invested to any organisation of your choice and distributed each year among the charity organization,the poor and the motherless babies home.

I want you as God fearing person, to also use this money to fund church,mosque, orphanages and widows,I took this decision, before i rest in peace because my time will so on be up. As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact of the Standard Finance Security Company.I will also issue you a letter of authority that will prove you as the new beneficiary of my fund. Please assure me that you will act accordingly as I stated herein.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

NAME: __________SURNAME:__________________SEX: _____ AGE: ______MARITAL:

_______________COUNTRY: _______CITY: _________ STATE _______
CODE: _______CONTACT ADDRESS: ________________________PHONE NO#___________FAX NO#_________________OCCUPATION:

______________POSITION: _____________
Waiting for your reply


So, just to review, someone sent this to an e-mail address for an internet persona of an avowed atheist. Apparently, the country guestbook isn't all that informative.

Sorry, Rose. What with the banks collapsing like a septuagenarian during the fourth hour of a viagra-induced erection, I doubt I'd be able to hold onto that money long enough to transfer it to my designated charity.

Monday, February 16, 2009

All The World Loves A Metaphor

In my readings today, I came across a wonderful contrast in the use of metaphors. The first is PZ Myer's description of a paleontologist's article:

I cannot bear it any more. I have to make a secondary complaint about Conway Morris's piece. He seems to regard the English language as an axe murderer would a corpse: as an awkward obect that must be hacked into fragments, and the ragged chunks tossed into a rusty oil drum he calls an article. Continuity and flow are something that can be added after the fact, by pouring in a bag of quicklime. Unfortunately, one difference between the two is that Conway Morris will subsequently proudly display his handiwork in a newspaper, while the axe murderer at least has the decency to cart the grisly carnage off to the local landfill for anonymous and clandestine disposal. One can only hope that someday the paleontologist will perfect his emulation and take his work to the same conclusion.

Convergence, Schmonvergence

What a lovely, consistent, and devastating metaphor!

Then Dana Hunter reminded me why I'm not a fan of CSPAN:

I'm a writer. Of course I'm going to zero in on the violence done to the common metaphor (metaporus metaphorus):

Madam Speaker, I stand here today because Americans face a fork in the road. One side leads to socialism and the other path leads to freedom. This nonstimulus bill is the road to socialism. It will give us a journey that includes bureaucratic controls, high taxes, government intervention, Cuba-style medicine and economic collapse of America. This steam roller of socialism is being shoved down our throats and it will strangle our economy. This porkulus bill has a few decent provisions in it but is mostly filled with mystery meat. Rancid meat. Like the millions for plug-in government cars and millions for mouse restoration, that will ruin the entire meal. The captivating rhetoric about openness and transparency is providing cover for the rancid meat.

(Excuse me. I seem to have fallen to the floor laughing, and I can't get up. Uno momento, por favor.)

What is it with Republicons and their inability to put together a coherent English sentence? They seems to have a disproportionate number of utter nimrods who, when called upon to speak with clarity and passion, end up with an incomprehensible babble in which only a few debunked talking points make it out alive, and then only just. It's pathetic.

Broun's metaphor isn't merely mixed. He seems to have dunked his hand in a bag of words, pulled a fistful out at random, dumped them in a blender, and set it to puree. We're left with the image of a rather large piece of road-building equipment with hands attempting to throttle the American economy whilst being energetically shoved down our collective throats by, one can only assume, a team of sumo wrestlers on steroids. Bring me the artist who can paint that, and I may just take up a second job to pay him for it. Such a painter would earn a place right alongside Picasso and Dali.

Cons Who Failed English 101

Unless it's for comic effect, I never try to mix metaphors. I hadn't even heard of this Rep. Broun before. I doubt I'll be hearing much of him in the future, unless Dana or Kagro X, who wrote the original article, decide to make his verbal flatulence a regular feature.

I sometimes suspect that congresspeople speak this way on purpose, so that no one can stand to keep watching them do what they do. It's hard to imagine that a scientist, however bright and communicative, could outdo someone who supposedly makes his living by communicating his thoughts to others. And yet, PZ wiped the floor with this clown.

OPR To Release Report On Torture Advocacy Soon

Image credit: GWU National Security Archive

The Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) has been reviewing the conduct of attorneys involved in the decision to sanction torture during the Bush Administration, according to a report by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff:

An internal Justice Department report on the conduct of senior lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials. H. Marshall Jarrett, chief of the department's ethics watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), confirmed last year he was investigating whether the legal advice in crucial interrogation memos "was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys." According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officials—Jay Bybee and John Yoo—as well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said. (Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

A Torture Report Could Spell Big Trouble For Bush Lawyers

It's too bad they couldn't reach Yoo. I just love listening to smirking sadists justifying their actions.

As befits their name, the OPR is investigating whether the DoJ opinion was, shall we say, fixed:

OPR investigators focused on whether the memo's authors deliberately slanted their legal advice to provide the White House with the conclusions it wanted, according to three former Bush lawyers who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing probe. One of the lawyers said he was stunned to discover how much material the investigators had gathered, including internal e-mails and multiple drafts that allowed OPR to reconstruct how the memos were crafted. In a departure from the norm, Jarrett also told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year he would inform them of his findings and would "consider" releasing a public version. If he does, it could be the most revealing public glimpse yet at how some of the major decisions of Bush-era counterterrorism policy were made.

A Torture Report Could Spell Big Trouble For Bush Lawyers

I and most folks who became cynical about the Bush Administration suspect this to be true already. What I expect will come out of this is proof. That reference to e-mails is crucial. One thing that became clear during the U.S. Attorneys scandal is that even though the principles found ways to eliminate their e-mails, the subordinates implementing policy did not. Their e-mails often told interesting tales.

What I'm less sure of is what will become of all this. Despite Attorney General Eric Holder's declaration that waterboarding is torture, and that the President has no right to authorize it, it's pretty clear to me that President Obama and Holder would just as soon wash their hands of the issue of torture during the Bush Administration. If this reports is damning enough they might not be able to, but I'm not holding my breath. Sad to say, the spirit of justice is a very weak one in DC.

(h/t: Hilzoy)

UPDATE: Over at FireDogLake, Selise provides another possible explanation for why the urge to make all this torture and rendition stuff go away is so bipartisan:

Did the USA engage in torture by proxy during the Clinton years? A criminal investigation into published reports could answer that question. And if such an investigation were to show that torture was used, then we ought to hold Democrats as well as Republicans accountable for their crimes. Only if we, the citizens who have donated, volunteered and voted for Democrats, refuse to apply the same standards of accountability to both the Clinton and Bush administrations can [Salon columnist Joe] Conason fairly make the claim that it's about partisanship and not accountability.

A Challenge For Joe Conason And For Us

Personally, I see no difference practical difference between some of the alleged abuses Selise cites and the ones perpetrated by the Bush Administration. Both should be prosecuted, if it's possible. These abuses are a stain we'll wear as a country for a long time, and they seem to have netted us absolutely nothing. The more likely people underneath a President fear they may be prosecuted for doing something illegal on his behalf, the less willing they'll be to do it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"We're All Swedes Now"

The Swedish Bikini Team. Sadly, this isn't how we're becoming Swedes.

So says an op-ed in today's Washington Post:

The U.S. banking system is close to being insolvent, and unless we want to become like Japan in the 1990s -- or the United States in the 1930s -- the only way to save it is to nationalize it.

As free-market economists teaching at a business school in the heart of the world's financial capital, we feel downright blasphemous proposing an all-out government takeover of the banking system. But the U.S. financial system has reached such a dangerous tipping point that little choice remains. And while Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's recent plan to save it has many of the right elements, it's basically too late.

Nationalize the Banks! We're all Swedes Now

Note the term "free market economists". These are the sorts of folks who were telling us a few months ago that everything would right itself in the end, if only we trusted the magic of the markets. Guess what, there was no magic there. As Richard Sale wrote the other day:

The middle class is anxious, the rich are defensive, the poor are humiliated angry and suspicious. The national outlook is grim and the bulk of Americans are having to endure a period of contraction and anxious fear. But leaving out the anguish of the human toll of this vast economic failure, one of the most dismaying feature[s] of the current discussion of our plight in the media is the ineradicable staleness of its terms – it is as though the crisis of the 1930s had not happened.

Richard Sale: Dead Dogmas Of The Past

Today in the Allentown, Pennsylvania Morning Call, there is an article about job hunting in the Lehigh Valley:

Nationwide, employers cut nearly 600,000 jobs in January alone, the most since 1974.

In the Lehigh Valley as well, 2008 has been one of the worst years in decades for the local job market. The number of local residents out of work was the most since at least 1990. In 2008, the region's employers cut 4,700 jobs, the most in at least 18 years.

"It's getting very hard," [Lehigh CareerSight overseer Nancy] Dischinat said. "Even employers that are holding their own -- that usually at this time would be hiring -- just aren't."

The labor market is unlikely to recover soon. Hiring usually is among the last components of the economy to recover after a recession.

Job hunting Tough But Not Impossible

Approximately 250,000 people live in that area. To lose 4,700 jobs is a considerable setback. In the Puget Sound region of Washington, which has roughly 1.5 million people, the outlooks is much the same. Both Boeing and Microsoft have announced layoffs of at least 5,000 workers in the last month. The only good news I can find is that, according to Caspio, an online database that tracks layoff announcements, there were no new ones this week. The Los Angeles Times has a story today about a lawyer who has been looking for work for a year. The story notes that there have been significant layoffs of lawyers across the country. Lawyers are usually "recession proof".

Even to an idiot savant economist, it's clear we haven't hit bottom yet.

The WaPo article was written by Matthew Richardson and Nouriel Roubini, two professors from New York University. They go on to write that the banks are in so much trouble right now is that there is just too much unsecured, and presently unpayable, debt out there:

The subprime mortgage mess alone does not force our hand; the $1.2 trillion it involves is just the beginning of the problem. Another $7 trillion -- including commercial real estate loans, consumer credit-card debt and high-yield bonds and leveraged loans -- is at risk of losing much of its value. Then there are trillions more in high-grade corporate bonds and loans and jumbo prime mortgages, whose worth will also drop precipitously as the recession deepens and more firms and households default on their loans and mortgages.

Last year we predicted that losses by U.S. financial institutions would hit $1 trillion and possibly go as high as $2 trillion. We were accused of exaggerating. But since then, write-downs by U.S. banks have passed the $1 trillion mark, and now institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and Goldman Sachs predict losses of more than $2 trillion.

But if you think that $2 trillion is high, consider our latest estimates at the financial Web site RGE Monitor: They suggest that total losses on loans made by U.S. banks and the fall in the market value of the assets they are holding will reach about $3.6 trillion. The U.S. banking sector is exposed to half that figure, or $1.8 trillion. Even with the original federal bailout funds from last fall, the capital backing the banks' assets was only $1.4 trillion, leaving the U.S. banking system about $400 billion in the hole.

Nationalize the Banks! We're all Swedes Now

The irresponsibility required to create so much bad debt is breathtaking. According to the CIA World Factbook entry for the United States, our total gross domestic product was about $14.5 trillion last year. The sums Richardson and Roubini are talking about come to more than half of that. Needless to say, the banks and other financial institutions deserve much of the blame. They're not the only ones, however. As I've written before, some of the blame goes to Congress and previous presidential administrations for allowing the industry to go unmonitored for so long. But then, we Americans are the ones who, as a group, continued to borrow even when we shouldn't, and we are also the ones who didn't pay enough attention to what our government was doing. In the end, the responsibility is ours.

We were also the ones who allowed our manufacturing and services industries to be shipped overseas. Rather than fix the environmental problems with the semiconductor and steel industries, we let them be shipped elsewhere. The employment that created the highest-paying jobs for us working stiffs were shipped to countries that didn't bother to enforce employment laws, and took a dim view of labor unions. Now we know the answer to a question that's been on my mind for some time: How can an economy cast off its ability to make things, and instead live on ever-cleverer "financial instruments" and "intellectual property" to sustain itself?

The answer is now clear: It can't.

My entirely uninformed opinion is that what we're going to see is our perceived economy and wealth shrinking to something close to its true size. That process in itself won't be pretty, but we can make it a less painful one. The question is whether Americans will take their attention away from chicks in bikinis, celebrity gossip, and other meaningless tripe long enough to make those decisions.

I don't know enough to say whether nationalizing banks is the best approach to this situation or not. Some would observe that there are at least a few banks that are effectively nationalized already. All I know is that I'm by no means opposed to it, as long as it's a temporary measure, and is followed with a more diverse and well-regulated financial industry when it's returned to private hands. The banks became too concentrated, and thus too big to fail. That's one clear lesson from all of this. We can talk about letting those banks fail, but the cost of that seems potentially much greater than the cost of propping them up or absorbing them into the government.

What I am sure of is that the idea of treating much of this debt as somehow "toxic", as though someone drove a single-hulled tanker of it into the banks and sank it, is wrong both rhetorically and in practice. Whatever can be salvaged must be, either at the same price over a longer payment period, or at a diminished price. President Obama is talking about some sort of mortgage relief for consumers, and this would be a big part of resolving that issue.

But we must never forget that these "toxic" assets were created by our often deliberate lack of foresight, not an accident of nature.

For quite some time now, it's been fashionable to bash the inefficiency and clumsiness of government institutions. Speaking as someone who has had an up-close look at how the government operates, I can tell you that much of it is well deserved. But what should be abundantly clear from all this is that saying that businesses are more efficient is disingenuous at best. As Patrick Lang observes:

Roubini and Naseem Taleb (the Black Swan man) were on CNBC last week impatiently explaining to the money honeys and intellectually challenged staff pomposities that the financial system is so broken that it will not reconstruct itself and that the reason the financial system is broken is the unfortunate truth that it is largely populated by even greater (and often equally challenged) pomposities as the staffs of the 24/7 business news channels. The news pomposities are those men of wisdom who bleat the numbers of the day and hope for a rise in the markets.

The big beggar banks are driven by people for whom greed and arrogance are the hallmarks of likely success in the "bidness." Roubini says it simply - "Nationalize the big banks now, or nationalize them later under worse conditions."

Nationalize The Beggar Banks

Greed and stupidity at many levels, and among many different groups of people, contributed to this problem. While it's sad that this is so, very few of us have cause for complaint. This is why paying attention is so important. This is why being involved is so important. It's also sad that the ones who were paying the least attention will be among the ones complaining the most about whatever solutions are attempted.

I wonder how much the Swedes complained ...

UPDATE (Feb. 16): Cross posted to FireDogLake.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day.

funny pictures of dogs with captions
Image credit: I Has A Hotdog

While I'm not in the habit of linking to YouTubes here, for this I had to make an exception:

Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

You're probably asking yourself, if a cat and a rat can get along so well, why can't we? I suppose the answer is that they started out with fewer preconceptions.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Don't I Feel Silly

Image credit: ThinkGeek

You'd think that with as much time as I've spent around Unix and its imitators, I'd have known about this by now:

Unix weenies everywhere will be partying like it's 1234567890 this Friday.

That's because, at precisely 3:31:30 p.m. Pacific time on February 13, 2009, the 10-digit "epoch time" clock used by most Unix computers will display all ten decimal digits in sequence. (That's 6:31:30 Eastern, or 23:31:30 UTC.)

Unix Lovers to Party Like It's 1234567890

This momentous event has now passed, and the only thing I did to celebrate was finish my lunch.

In my defense, I'm not used to seeing Unix time in decimal. 0x499602D2 doesn't strike me as a terribly interesting number for some reason. Guess I need one of those fancy clocks.

By the way, I have somewhere I need to be at 1234582290. Remind me, will you?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Richard Sale: Dead Dogmas Of The Past

Over at Sic Semper Tyrannis, Richard Sale has posted an excellent article on Republican economic philosophy. Reading through, I realize that he's covered just about all the reasons that when I encounter someone who espouses the idea that free markets will make everything OK in the end, I assume this individual is either a purebred idiot or barking mad.

I've reprinted this without permission here. (See UPDATE below) The only thing I've altered is that I've added paragraphs where it seems appropriate, and some obvious typos, which, as always, are in square brackets ('[]'). The original did not have paragraph breaks, and was thus very difficult to read. Any mistakes in the location of paragraphs are mine alone. Please let me know if any corrections are required.

The middle class is anxious, the rich are defensive, the poor are humiliated angry and suspicious. The national outlook is grim and the bulk of Americans are having to endure a period of contraction and anxious fear. But leaving out the anguish of the human toll of this vast economic failure, one of the most dismaying feature[s] of the current discussion of our plight in the media is the ineradicable staleness of its terms – it is as though the crisis of the 1930s had not happened.

For example, when Sen. Shelby came out a day ago and described gov[ernmen]t intervention in the form of spending for relief as “socialism”, he sounded as if he had just stepped out of a time capsule – as if the operations of business, finance and the banks were spontaneous responses to free market stimuli, free of manipulation or corruption. One truly wonder[s] what reality does this reflect except Sen. Shelby’s own?

It appears to me that the Republicans appear to have found the only way to try and tarnish President Obama is to attack him in terms of the Calvin Coolidge Presidency. We are a civilization of business, Coolidge said and such a civilization must have a business government, he said. Such a government would run itself for the benefit of business, and it justified itself only to the extent that it did. In the 1920s, before the crash, there were many business spokesmen who claimed that business had purged itself of the gross and greedy aspects of its realm. The spur of profit was pure, an ennobling force, they said. This complacent conceit was not unusual to the community of business.

The Republicans have always been full of flattering illusions about themselves. For decades, [R]epublicans have claimed that business was the noblest and most authentic expression of the American soul. Just before the First World War, JP Morgan was asked by a congressional committee whether commercial credit was not based primarily on property. Morgan replied, “The first thing is character.” Before money or property? “Before money or anything else,” said Morgan. In 1925, the Chamber of commerce of the United States called the American businessman, the most influential person in our nation.” Richard Whitney president of the New York Stock Exchange said the exchange was “one of the most perfect instruments created by man.” (Whitney would do five years in prison for fraud.) Yet at the time when it was exalting itself as the ultimate expression of man’s aspiring impulses, business in fact, was attempting to rig the operations of the free market in its favor in an effort to suppress competition and the actual operation of free and competing interests.

The swindle began with sec of commerce Andrew Mellon’s incessant attempts to lower income taxes for the rich. Mellon himself Jerry-rigged a tax break for himself that gave him “a larger personal reduction than the aggregate of practically all the taxpayers of the State of Nebraska,” said George Norris, a congressman from that state. Mellon employed all sorts of methods of tax avoidance, including one still current – selling hundreds of millions of stock to a relative for a dollar and then buying it back later on. And let us not forget the “broker’s loan,” insiders getting money without adequate collateral, added to a wave of consolidation, of a complex and impenetrable web of holding companies and investment trusts that sought to ensure that profit earned by a business was siphoned off to its other such companies and kept out of the hands of stock holders. That was not all. Speculation ran wild. The banking system was a wreck, the corporate structure was tottering and about to fall, profits went to the richest portion of the country. The idea that the challenge of earning wealth might not consist of sitting back and growing fat on it but to distribute the gains of productivity in a manner that would maintain employment and prosperity sank out of sight.

The business community is more capable of self-insight now tha[n] it was then. When the country was afflicted with soup kitchens, breadlines, hours of waiting to eat a bowl of tasteless gruel without seasoning, the congress invited Walter S. Gifford, president of AT&T to testify. It was a truly memorable performance: he did not know how many people were unemployed, he did not know how many were receiving aid, he did not know what standards of assistance were in the various states, he knew nothing of the ability of local communities to raise relief, he did not know relief needs in rural or urban areas, he did not consider this information important to his job. When he said,”I hope you’re not criticizing me for looking at life optimistically,” a congressman asked him if he could supply the committee with the reports on which his optimism is based, he replied, “I have none, Senator.” Gifford, like today’s Republicans, did know one thing; Federal aid was sinister. “I think there is a grave danger in taking the determination of these things into the federal government,” said Gifford. He hadn’t bothered about such things, but somehow he knew that it would prove dangerous if the government did. And hence we got a flood of bigoted sewage from businessmen of the day who said that giving relief to common people so that they might eat would undermine the national character of self help and sturdy self reliance. It’s pathetic enough to bring tear to the eyes.

The business community of the 1920s didn’t even pay attention to one of their own who was farsighted -- Henry Ford, whose grasp of essentials far exceeded theirs. Ford is not an entirely savory figure, he carried a gun, hated Jews and bankers, believed in reincarnation and personally spoke to God, believed that mass production was capable of anything and in his philosophy of business prized these things: the new objectives of business had to be high output, low prices, and high wages. Only if wages kept rising and only if prices fell could the business community command the buying power of the mass of people. Expand credit, Ford said, boost purchasing power at all hazards. The goal was to keep demand high. Ford was ignored, of course. The Republican dogma was to balance the budget, adhere to the gold standard, have a healthy foreign trade balance and to direct federal government to help to the poor was “meant to poison people’s minds” and rot the national character in all its soundness.

It is not surprising that Coolidge, who had worked hard to weaken any regulation of business, would be Reagan’s favorite president. Reagan, like Coolidge, felt business represented what was most noble and energetic in America, and thus he dismantled or weakened any government controls over it. Thus, we had the wonderful era of junk bonds, billions of dollars of mergers and acquisitions financed by mountains of new debt which had the first claim on earnings, leveraged buy outs, the S&L crisis – the single worst financial scandal in U.S. history up to that time –worst in U.S. Treasury losses, worst in the number of institutions involved, worst in the sheer extent of sheer fraud that was involved except this time government aid was not despised, just as it wasn’t despised in the stock market crash of 1987 when a complicated jumble of financial structures used to finance profits by debt suddenly nose-dived on Oct. 19-20 when all trading in stocks came to a halt,, inflicting the largest stock market losses since 1929, the crisis ended only when the government did exactly what Reagan had mocked it for doing – it intervened. The Federal Reserve stepped in decisively to ensure there was plenty of liquidity.

Now we are in the soup again, and once again government aid is being called “socialism.”

It seems to me that once again we are witnessing a flood of corporate larceny, and it’s clear that, not only the Republicans but vast portions of the population have surrendered to lures of getting rich without spending any effort, rewards to come from an ever increasing series of credit mechanisms of tortured ingenuity. We saw in it in the 1920s, the 1990s, in 2001 and Silicon Valley, the advent of derivatives, which truly are sinister, and finally the collapse of the housing market, always touted as the one sure thing to bet on.

It seems to me that the goal of any economic system is to produce and distribute sufficient goods and services and to distribute these in a way that allows a people, through work, to be able to live an ample and secure standard of life. Clearly, it is not simply greed, but grave structural flaws that lie at the basis of our crisis, and if the government is the most efficient agent to correct these then let the government do it. Instead we have let petty bickering over outworn principles, dogma so old that it has frayed to ribbons in our day, take over the debate which should be centering on tactics. It is time for all factions to do away with self righteousness, to rid themselves of whatever prompts them to belittle another while they blindly think well of itself. As John Kennedy said, We are all in this together an we will all rise or fall together.”

With good wishes to all,
Richard Sale

The original article can still be viewed at Sic Semper Tyrannis.

UPDATE (Feb. 13): I left a comment over at the original article pointing to this one, which Patrick Lang, at least, has read. He moderates all comments. So, I now feel that I have implicit permission to post this here. Corrections, either to my assumption or the text, may be left in comments here or in e-mail.

Happy Darwin Day

Charles Darwin at age 51, soon after the publication of The Origin Of Species. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin, the 19th Century naturalist who first worked out the principles of evolution. Thanks to his studies and his discovery of species in the Galapagos Islands that were similar to species on the South American coast, Darwin worked out that many forms of life, by reproducing imperfect copies of themselves, can evolve new species over sufficient numbers of generations. Much as it is today, this concept was deeply offensive to the religions of his time. They assumed, as had William Paley, an early influence on Darwin, that all forms of life were the result of design by a deity.

Darwin's concept of evolution, confirmed independently by Welsh naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace, transformed his science almost overnight. I think it's fair to say that it was the start of the modern science of biology. It's certainly fair to say that evolution is one of the fundamental assumptions of all forms of biology. It's influence is felt even in the study of biochemistry, the study chemicals that support life, as well as molecular biology, the study of DNA and other genetic materials. Neither of those sciences existed in Darwin's day.

Since I'm not a biologist, I'm not going to be able to write much more about Darwin. I'll just recommend some reading on the subject. Dana Hunter has an interesting collection of quotes and facts over at En Tequila Es Verdad. The science blog Seed has an index of articles celebrating Darwin. It includes "Darwin Slept Here", an essay with photographs on Darwin's voyage on H.M.S. Beagle, which took him to the Galapagos, and around the world. It shows some of the places in South America where Darwin must have stayed, based on his autobiography.

Micheal Shermer has written an article on the relationship between Darwin and Wallace, showing that the two developed their ideas on evolution independently, yet both were eager to share credit with each other for the result. Shermer has written at length on Darwin and Wallace in the past, particularly in his book The Borderlands Of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense. In that book, Shermer uses Darwin and Wallace as excellent examples of scientific thinking and unscientific thinking. Wallace, in contrast to Darwin, was prone to belief in supernatural phenomena, and much of his later life was spent doing things that today would perhaps best be described as a bad idea for a cable TV show. Shermer has also written Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design. I haven't read that book, but based on his past work, I suspect it's a good one.

UPDATE: Turns out that the study of DNA and other molecules that influence genetics is considered a separate science. I've rewritten the second paragraph to reflect this. Did I mention that I'm not a biologist? ;)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I Can't Call This Resting ...

In case anyone's wondering what's become of me, I'm OK. I've just been very busy doing things that aren't connected to the Internet. Hopefully, that will change in a day or two. Meanwhile, there are plenty of good blogs in the blogroll. Check out some of them if you haven't.

For instance, you can check out this variation on the standard "we won't be posting much around Christmas time" post, which is where I found this illustration.