Saturday, August 31, 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013

Learning From History



Not that such research was needed, since the evidence is contemporary and obvious. But here it is, anyway:


From the abstract of an influential 2002 paper, Patrick Regan:
Recent research has begun to focus on the role of outside interventions in the duration of civil conflicts. Assuming that interventions are a form of conflict management, ex ante expectations would be that they would reduce a conflict’s expected duration. Hypotheses relating the type and timing of outside interventions to the duration of civil conflicts are tested. The data incorporate 150 conflicts during the period from 1945 to 1999, 101 of which had outside interventions. Using a hazard analysis, the results suggest that third-party interventions tend to extend expected durations rather than shorten them.
From the paper:

The policy implications of these results are fairly stark. If the objective of an intervention is to shorten the length of a civil conflict, then an outside military or economic intervention is not a terribly effective strategy to do so. Regardless of how the intervention is conceived – or empirically operationalized—there seems to be no mix of strategies that lead to shorter expected durations. Even maintaining a neutral posture or organizing the intervention under the auspices of a multilateral rubric is not sufficient to form an effective means of conflict management (p. 31).

Thou Shalt Not Worship False Idols



Iran-Contra: treasonous. Ignoring AIDS: heartless. Running up debt: typical, and ignored. Planting the falsehood, now ingrained in teabaggR holy books like the word of god, that cutting taxes increases revenue: disastrous. Undoing every one of Jimmy Carter's energy initiatives: tragic. The list of harm is much longer. Why is this guy so revered?

And now, it turns out, Ronnie turned a blind eye to -- facilitated, in fact -- Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons against Iran. And, like Iran-Contra, denied it.

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq's war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein's military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent. 
The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq's favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration's long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn't disclose. 
U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein's government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture. "The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn't have to. We already knew," he told Foreign Policy.
I guess you can rationalize pretty much anything. Now, it appears, we're about to do something serious about Assad's use of nerve gas. When and where will it ever end? Human beings. Worse thing to happen to this lovely planet.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Godless Morality



The most common, and self-negating, trope that religionists toss at atheists is that without god (and, of course, only theirs, among the thousands from which to choose) and without the good book (only theirs, among many from which to choose and within which they tend to pick and choose like a kid with a plate of veggies) there's no morality. As I've written many times, I think it's the opposite: doing "good" because of fear of punishment or expectation of reward is no good at all. Doing so simply because it's obviously the right thing, based on observation and empathy, with no expectations at all, is the highest morality. To me, anyway. And, evidently, according to science.
... Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara set out to test this possibility. They hypothesized that there is a deep-seated perception of science as a moral pursuit — its emphasis on truth-seeking, impartiality and rationality privileges collective well-being above all else. Their new study, published in the journal PLOSOne, argues that the association between science and morality is so ingrained that merely thinking about it can trigger more moral behavior. 
The researchers conducted four separate studies to test this. The first sought to establish a simple correlation between the degree to which individuals believed in science and their likelihood of enforcing moral norms when presented with a hypothetical violation. Participants read a vignette of a date-rape and were asked to rate the “wrongness” of the offense before answering a questionnaire measuring their belief in science. Indeed, those reporting greater belief in science condemned the act more harshly...
I find this to be an altogether unsurprising result. I'll leave it to others to determine whether the study (behavioral studies are always a little suspect, to me) can be considered authoritative. But why would anyone expect a different result?

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Truth Is Hard



So Donald Rumsfeld says Obama hasn't made the case for attacking Syria. Guess attacks are easier to justify when you lie.

Which is not, I emphasize, to say I think we should start something with Syria. We lose no matter what we do. But it's another example of the shamelessness and lack of insight about themselves that characterizes today's Republicans.

Donald Fricking Rumsfeld. Perfect.

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From His Lips...



Mike Huckabee, no doubt after clearing it with god, has a plan.

Fox News host Mike Huckabee is advising Republicans to stop Obamacare by curing cancer. 
Huckabee claimed that in order to stop the government program, Obamacare, the GOP needs to start another government program to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease, notes ThinkProgress.org... 
...Huckabee did not mention how to actually bring down the costs of health insurance for 50 million uninsured Americans, but went on to advocate cures that the medical community has been working on for decades. 
“We said in 1961 we were going to put a man on the moon and in a decade we did it. We said we were going to cure Polio and we did it in the 50s. We said we were going to build an atom bomb in the 40s and we did it. Where is that kinds of focus, funding and fixing it?” asked Huckabee. 
However, Huckabee didn't mention that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) already spends billions on medical research.
Also, in May 2012, the Obama administration created and funded a National Alzheimer’s Plan to find new ways to prevent and treat the condition, noted Time.
Another thing he failed to mention is the cuts in medical research demanded by his fellow teabagging Republicans. But you gotta admit: in its simplicity, it's simply simple. Only thing I can't figure out, though, is why god gave us cancer in the first place. He could fix that himself, and that would be really low-cost. On the other hand, if he likes killing our kids with cancer, isn't it a little arrogant to say we can stop him? After all, Mike's pals say it's arrogant to think we can affect climate.

More I think about it, more I think the right reverend has committed blasphemy.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Damn Anti-Capitalist Democrats


[Source]

So Shall Ye Reap...



Seems anti-vaccination insanity is one of the few science-related issues that crosses party lines: the HuffPo, for example, has regularly given space to anti-vaxers. But, of course, it's easy until the shit hits the fan, as in Texas:
...The latest measles outbreak is in Texas, where the virus has sickened 25 people, most of whom are members or visitors of a church led by the daughter of televangelist Kenneth Copeland. Fifteen of the measles cases are centered around Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas, whose senior pastor, Terri Pearsons, has previously been critical of measles vaccinations...
I remember seeing a couple of kids with measles pneumonia when in med school, before the time came when it was virtually eradicated, due to vaccines. People die from it. We've had some cases of whooping cough, too, locally. Kids can die of that, too.

I like to say it's liberals who have open minds and are more resistant than conservatives to fact-free insanity. In our politics, it's self-evident. And, of course, the Texas example is on the right side of the spectrum. But people like Jenny McCarthy (I have no idea of her political leanings, but her anti-vax zealotry has been platformed frequently on liberal sites) ought to consider their responsibility when stories like this pop up.

No deaths, yet. Because, no doubt, god is watching over them.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Just A Thought...



Clearly, there are no good options for handing the Syria "situation." And "bad" doesn't describe the ones that are left: "horrendous," maybe, or "disastrous." "Impossible." But it occurs to me that that very truth is what's behind Assad's decision to, more unambiguously than last time, gas his people. It's deliberately aimed at us. At President Obama. It's really no-lose thing for Assad; or, more properly, maybe, for those whose aim is to destroy the U.S.

After all, look how a low-cost operation like 9/11 nearly destroyed us: got Bush to overreact, spend trillions of dollars, kill countless people, ruin the economy... Were we drawn into another war in another tribal country where there'd be no winners, only losers, it could be devastating. On the other hand, were we to do nothing, it'd make us look powerless. Any way you look at it, such a provocation seems purposeful. And now, he ups the ante, like B'rer Rabbit.

I think at the core of Obama's "failure" to intervene more directly is his cognizance that it's only lose-lose for us: economically, geopolitically. Even morally, when there's no identifiable "good" side, other than the innocent bystanders, children, a million of whom have fled already.

Anyone looking at the situation feels terrible. Other, maybe, than Congressional Rs and their pundits, who see an opportunity to paint Obama as feckless. Humans with hearts want the killing to stop. But, other than lobbing a cruise missile into Assad's headquarters, what, really, is there to do?

I have no idea, and I'm glad I'm not president. I'm also glad neither McCain nor Romney is; we'd be up to our necks in it long since. I tend to think that, at its most practical level, doing nothing is about the only real option. History has to play out, when it's civil war in tribal nations. Haven't we learned that? But it's hard, it looks bad, and it is bad.

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Message Control



The scourge of Obamacare:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A middle-aged man in a red golf shirt shuffles up to a small folding table with gold trim, in a booth adorned with a flotilla of helium balloons, where government workers at the Kentucky State Fair are hawking the virtues of Kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange established by Obamacare. 
The man is impressed. "This beats Obamacare I hope," he mutters to one of the workers.
For the gazillionth time: I'm no huge fan of Obamacare, having preferred -- and predicting the eventual emergence, out of necessity, of -- some form of single payer. But, clearly, the biggest problem with it is the inexplicable effectiveness of the teabaggRs' sales job against it. Convincing people to vote against their own interests is their well-honed specialty, and their attack on Obamacare is just one more example. People are agin' it, gol-darn it. Don't know why, natcherly, but dammit, they're agin' it.

What a world.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Column



My latest offering in our local newspaper begins with some esoteric references, but goes on to the obvious point: today's Republicans are averse to factual input, demand 100% agreement, and close their minds to sources of information that make them reconsider their preferred beliefs.

Lots of letters lately complaining about The Herald’s “liberalism.” Was it something I said? 
The Herald, which endorsed Rob McKenna for governor. The Herald, without whose reporting Aaron Reardon would probably still be in office. The Herald, who recently lavished praise on John Koster, and which lauded the switch of two Democratic state senators to the Republican side, in hopes it might catalyze legislative effectiveness. The Herald, that publishes Charles Krauthammer, at the very appearance of whose column baby sparrows die in their nests, oxygen levels drop in every blue state, and ten liberal writers are neutralized, past and future. 
I rise not to defend this newspaper, but to make a point: in the words of Stephen Colbert, our country’s wisest commentator, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” And that’s the thing. There’s a reason Fox “news” is the number one “information” source for “conservatives.” It’s the flip side of why MSNBC has such pitiful ratings: today’s Republicans don’t seem to want to hear (or read) anything that contradicts their preferred beliefs, no matter the truth of it. Flock, is what they do, to sources that don’t challenge them. Cancel, is what they do, to those that do. Liberals, on the other hand, apparently more inquisitive and open to new ideas, don’t gravitate only to where there’s affirmation. I stopped watching MSNBC years ago, as it became Fox lite for lefties. The differences between today’s conservatives and liberals are observable, and fatidical. 
I assume there are Republicans who have open minds, especially when compared to their own kind. Conversely, there exist pig-headed Democrats. (In Congress, though, Rs pretty much have the pig’s head in a full Gohmert.) But – maybe I missed it – I don’t recall letters from Everett politicos, or liberals in general, announcing their cancelation after the takedown of our County Executive. Or because of Krauthammer and Debra Saunders. There are differences between conservatives and liberals beyond their preferred news sources. It’s inborn, part of the neural circuitry, like boys and girls. We gave up our hippie attempt to raise our kid gender-neutral when he chomped his toast into the shape of a pistol and went “Pew, pew.” 
In previous columns I’ve cited studies showing different parts of the liberal and conservative brain lighting up when presented with scary stuff. Other research demonstrates that, when shown facts that disprove assumptions, conservatives tend to hold even harder to those mistaken beliefs. Liberals don’t. Who knows why? Maybe it was a good thing to assume there were tigers behind every tree at some point in our evolution. But it’s hard to see the value today, when half the country demands to be shielded from discordant input. Brains work best when not rubber-stamped. In times like these, such denialism, political or scientific, is undeniably harmful. 
Here’s a recent example of modern-day right-wing thinking: of late, many Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing laws aimed at preventing voting by groups that traditionally vote Democratic. With the innocence of a child caught cookie-handed, they insist it’s to prevent illegal voting, which would be more believable were there numerically significant examples of it. So the Republican Secretary of State in Colorado sends a list of seventeen suspected illicit voters to the Democratic D.A. of Boulder County. Who finds, easily, that each one is lawful, and so reports. The response from the R sender? The D.A. is “trying to score partisan points.” 
Think about that: pointing out facts is called an attempt to score “partisan” points. If truth is “partisan,” it’s only to the extent that there’s opposing political effort to distort or deny it. I get, and admire, true conservatism; but it barely exists any more. To call yourself a Republican nowadays is to hold up a sign that says “I’d rather not know.” Time and again, whether it’s the wild claims of right-wing radio, or the trotting out of the latest conspiracy theorist or dishonestly edited video by Fox “news,” we see who’s interested in fact and who isn’t. Those letter writers confirm the obvious: today’s Republicans demand 100% agreement; especially the ones who consider Fox “news” either fair or balanced. They prefer limiting their world-view to sources which reinforce their pre-formed opinions, complaining when they can’t. They opt to live in a pleasant Foxobeckian bubble, where men are men and facts are frowned upon. Science is wrong. Reportage, and education, are liberal brainwashing. 
That may be Republican bliss, but our system depends on well-informed citizens. It’s time to face the muse: Colbert was right.
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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Aurora Australis


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Speaking Of Lies



Saw this on Pharyngula. There are three dishonest changes, not just the obvious one.

It's evidently from a Facebook page called "The Patriot Nation." Not gonna look it up. I could comment further, but I'd say it speaks loudly enough for itself.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Of Course He Was: He's Kenyan



Honestly. Are there blue states in which people are this dumb? Or, to be less provocative (if accurate), misinformed or confused to this degree, or blinded by hate?
The latest survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, provided exclusively to TPM, showed an eye-popping divide among Republicans in the Bayou State when it comes to accountability for the government's post-Katrina blunders. 
Twenty-eight percent said they think former President George W. Bush, who was in office at the time, was more responsible for the poor federal response while 29 percent said Obama, who was still a freshman U.S. Senator when the storm battered the Gulf Coast in 2005, was more responsible. Nearly half of Louisiana Republicans — 44 percent — said they aren't sure who to blame.
When you toss in the "not sure" category, that's 73% of Louisianians (sorry, Larry) who have their heads somewhere where news doesn't get in. I'd call it the Fox effect: the fact that viewers thereof are actually less well-informed than watchers of no news at all. Or, simply, the observable fact -- about which I'll be writing in my Sunday newspaper column -- that today's Republicans demonstrably and happily consider facts something to ignore.

I think it's safe to say that Republican leaders don't consider the above information problematical at all. Quite, I'm certain, the opposite. Long ago, they figured disinformation was the best kind of information when actual information worked against them. So if you're a Republican strategist, give yourself a high five. If you can count that high.

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The NRA Was Right



Wayne LaPierre, it turns out, can occasionally speak the truth. That massive data-base of gun owners about which he's warned us daily, used for political purposes among others, really does exist.

It's with the NRA:


The National Rifle Association has rallied gun owners — and raised tens of millions of dollars — campaigning against the threat of a national database of firearms or their owners. 
But in fact, the sort of vast, secret database the NRA often warns of already exists, despite having been assembled largely without the knowledge or consent of gun owners. It is housed in the Virginia offices of the NRA itself. The country’s largest privately held database of current, former, and prospective gun owners is one of the powerful lobby’s secret weapons, expanding its influence well beyond its estimated 3 million members and bolstering its political supremacy. 
That database has been built through years of acquiring gun permit registration lists from state and county offices, gathering names of new owners from the thousands of gun-safety classes taught by NRA-certified instructors and by buying lists of attendees of gun shows, subscribers to gun magazines, and more, BuzzFeed has learned. The result: a Big Data powerhouse that deploys the same high-tech tactics all year round that the vaunted Obama campaign used to win two presidential elections...

Probably not a big deal, and it certainly not surprising. But I wonder if any NRA members, who are sure the government would use such information only for nefarious Kenyan purposes, would find it disturbing.

Not, would be my guess.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Five Months? What Took Him So Long?




Although one well might wonder what happened recently that's any different from what's been going on at least since that black family moved into that white house, it's nice to see that clarity can still come to those who sit and wait. 
The co-chairman of the Polk County Republican Party has resigned and changed his party registration to independent, saying the GOP has become too conservative and is condoning “hateful” rhetoric.  
Chad Brown, 34, of Ankeny, had been party co-chairman since March. He said he resigned his position on Aug. 5.  His resignation letter is below... 
Dear Polk GOP Executive Committee Member, I am writing to inform you that I changed my voter registration to Independent today – severing all ties to the Republican Party. Having been a Republican all my life, I did not take this decision lightly. Having spoken with a pastor and having prayed about this for hours, I came to the conclusion that this is my only recourse. I’m disappointed with the Republican Party at the National level. I’m disappointed with the Republican Party at the Statewide level. I’m disappointed with the Republican Party at the Countywide level. I find it increasingly difficult to defend issues and statements made by Party leaders and officials from all three levels...
I fully understand how a person can call her/himself a conservative-- share, even, some of their principles. But to associate oneself with the term "Republican," as it applies to the current iteration of that formerly respectable party, is to announce one's okayness with insanity, with hate, with the deliberate rejection of reality, the proud and unrepentant derogation of education, and the lack of concern for anyone but those who look and think and pray exactly like you.

I don't think that's at all unfair: if you consider yourself a conservative, good for you. We need thoughtful ones. But if you accept the designation of "Republican" nowadays, you've said all I need to know about yourself: you're not to be trusted with our future, and don't deserve respectful inclusion in any part of our national debates.

There. I said it. And I feel better for it.


As Horrible As It Was...



That thrill killing of an Australian student studying in America by three teenagers, because they were bored, is a lot of horrible and depressing things. But one thing it's not is an example of black on white hate crime, proof of double standard by leaders who abhorred the killing of Trayvon Martin as racially motivated and haven't condemned this incident in the same terms. Because one of the three was white. That fact, of course, hasn't stopped the usual RWS™ from waving the incident like a red (or is it black?) flag, while claiming all three were black.

It could be an argument about guns. It could be an example of prejudice and the law, since the white kid is charged with a lesser crime despite his claim that he pulled the trigger. But it's not an example of hypocrisy on the part of black leaders. Not that that'll ever sink in among those who prefer to fit it into their world-view no matter what.

I'll say this, though: much as I agree with Eric Holder that drug laws need revising and that mandatory minimum sentences are a bad thing; much as I hate to see some kid who was caught with a joint have his whole future taken away because of it, I'd say these three kids are lost causes. Like certain sexual predators: whatever perversion allowed them to do what they did can't be punished away, or therapized away. In my view, anyway. Those three should never walk the earth outside of prison walls.

I suppose I could be wrong. I guess they deserve some sort of hearing. But if any one of them were my kid, I think I'd kill myself.

[Update: on the other hand, there's this.]

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See, The Thing Is...



Running out of ways to obstruct President Obama's agenda and to screw the poor, and those who'd prefer to be educated, people who'd like to have roads and bridges to drive on, citizens who might benefit from medical and other scientific research, or access to health care, teabaggRs are offloading new forms of crazy.

At least, back in the day, Rs had a blowjob and a lie, of sorts, over which to impeach Bill Clinton. Nowadays, they really don't care over what offense to go about it; don't even seem to think there's a need, other than, well, let's just say they don't like him.

Their ranks now include presumptive presidential candidate, former Canadian, and not very well-informed Ted Cruz. There's some other guy, too. No doubt, given the characteristics of our teabagging legislators, many more as well.

But the thing is, hating the brother (same link, but the hate is clear) isn't enough, according to that pesky document to which teabaggers claim sole fealty among Americans. You'd think, therefore, that in a breath adjacent to the one that expired the thought, there'd be a couple of exhalations of high crimes and/or misdemeanors.

You'd be wrong.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Journalism



Yet another scandal rips through D.C. like a ripsaw ripping through D.C.; and the plucky reporters that cover it do so with their usual bravery and commitment to informing our citizens. Prepare to be scandalized like citizens reading about scandals:

There’s a brand new adorable member of the First Family, everyone, and if you read the Washington Post or the Huffington Post or Buzzfeed or whatever you’ll probably see all kinds of listicles and memes about how cute it is.
It’s a dog named “Sunny.” Apparently it’s a girl and it was born in 2012 in Michigan, where the unemployment rate was 8.8 percent last month. 
[...] 
With the addition of Sunny, the Obamas now have two black Portuguese water dogs. 
The Obamas do not have any white dogs.

This hard-hitting journalism comes from the brainspawn of Tucker Carlson, whose self-importance is exceeded only by his fame for being the recipient of this.

Really, does anyone still think there are serious journalists or thinkers within the right-wing media?

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Death Chemistry



I've always thought that people and their "near-death experiences" could be placed along a spectrum that begins with bogosity and charlatanism, and ends with neurophysiology. A recent study tends to confirm:
Although the experiments were done in rats, Borjigin thinks they have implications for the near-death experiences (NDEs) reported by one in five people who are resuscitated after their hearts stop. Although they were unconscious, unresponsive and clinically dead at the time, they come back with stories of bright lights, “realer than real” memories, and meetings with people they knew. Some scientists have dismissed these accounts outright. Others have taken NDEs as proof of a religious afterlife or a consciousness that lives on outside the body, as popularised in a recent bestseller of dubious provenance
But Borjigin’s research suggests that these experiences could just be a natural product of a dying brain. That doesn’t make them any less real, but it does root them in the natural world, without the need for a “super-“ prefix.
Of course people love to believe that NDEs are proof of an afterlife; and since no one seems to report (that I know of) scary experiences, it sounds pretty great. (Interesting: wonder what they think of people -- probably the vast majority -- who are resuscitated and have nothing to say on the subject.) Sure, it's only rats in the study. But it makes sense, either in evolutionary terms (last gasp of "clarity" to try to save oneself, maybe?) or just as a terminal event, the brain evacuating itself of chemicals as the rectum and bladder do of other excreta.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Good News?



Gotta admit I'm curious about Al-Jazeera America, launching today and, happily, viewable locally. They claim they're going to be straight news, more in depth, less fluff and shouting, fewer commercials. Think I'll give it a look or two. They've hired respectable American TV journalists, including a guy from around here. It'd be ironic, wouldn't it, if it took a non-American outfit to produce the sort of journalism America desperately needs, and which has long-since disappeared from nearly all of our media, print and otherwise.

I've stopped watching all TV news, preferring newspapers and various online sources. If Al-Jazeera turns out to be as it claims, that might change.

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The Reasonable One



Some Democrats think Chris Christie is a reasonable guy. And, by golly, he just signed a law banning gay conversion therapy in New Jersey. So, maybe he is. On the other hand, he's always been a teachers' union basher; and he just vetoed a law, passed by the state legislature, banning civilian sales of .50 caliber weapons. That's .50 caliber ammo on the right. It's shot from rifles like this. Reasonable? By what measure, in what world?

I suppose the guy deserves a modicum of sympathy, having presidential ambitions in a party that's lost its mind; in which some people hate him for partnering with the President of the United States of America to address the damage of Hurricane Sandy. How do you appeal to those sorts while still having a chance at enough votes from sane people to be elected nationally? He seems to have trouble walking the line (insert trouble walking joke here). To his credit, at least he may actually want to try; whereas the bulk of pretenders from his side are fine with spreading hardcore Santorum.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Scorched Earth



Is there anything more perfectly emblematic of the world as teabaggers see it than this?

Head Start programs across the country eliminated services for 57,000 children in the coming school year to balance budgets diminished by the federal sequester, cutting 1.3 million days from Head Start center calendars and laying off or reducing pay for more than 18,000 employees, according to federal government data scheduled for release Monday.
But think of the money saved. Future lives? Not so much. But, you know, they're poor and mostly black. So who gives a shit. Right? Money well not-spent. Gotta have those tax cuts. And tanks. And farm subsidies. Their world. Our future.

Added: Or, as our president says,


Oops. Didn't have Head Start, evidently.

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Brains



I know some pretty brilliant religious people, and have encountered, in various media, some pretty stupid atheists. As I've written here many times, many ways, it's clear the need for belief is deeply embedded in the human mind, for whatever reasons; and that need crosses all intellectual boundaries. In that sense, atheists are outliers. But I think there are generalities to be drawn; this study seems only to have demonstrated (to whatever extent one might accept the results) what I'd have considered obvious:

A meta-analysis of 63 studies showed a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity. The association was stronger for college students and the general population than for participants younger than college age; it was also stronger for religious beliefs than religious behavior. For college students and the general population, means of weighted and unweighted correlations between intelligence and the strength of religious beliefs ranged from −.20 to −.25 ... Three possible interpretations were discussed. First, intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Second, intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs. Third, several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence. Intelligent people may therefore have less need for religious beliefs and practices.

The question to be asked, I guess, is "so what?" If true, of what value is the finding? Another way to put it is something I've pondered ever since it became undeniable that, by deliberate political action, our country is becoming dumber, our education structure being systematically dismantled: how many genii does a society require to survive?

It's fair to ask what one means by intelligence, too; and to criticize the study as meta-analysis. Maybe, by definition, religious people have certain blanks in their thinking that they fill in ways others don't. Does that equate to lower intelligence, or is it merely different? Still, the suggestions in the summary make intuitive sense: the smarter a person is, the more likely (one must assume) that the person asks questions and seeks answers, ones based in the observable.

It's probably no coincidence that teabaggRs like to refer to "godless liberals." There are, of course, plenty of liberal believers. But isn't it interesting that wingnuts are so quick to label liberals as godless while acknowledging that it's liberals who seem to care more for the poor and the needy; those, in other words, on whose behalf Jesus called upon others to act.

No matter the subtleties of defining intelligence, however, one thing is clear: the most hyper-religious people in our Congress are also, demonstrably, the dumbest, the most narrow-minded, the ones who cling most tightly to falsehood and reject most strongly new information. In that, the correlation seems pretty much one to one, and not hard at all to understand. The importance, therefore, is regarding how we can keep people like that from affecting the laws of our land, and the future. And, given the way they've managed to gerrymander the stupidest form of religiosity into perpetually safe districts, getting themselves reelected by huge margins every time, the answer is: we can't.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Column



My latest in our local newspaper:

A few years back, it seemed Republican politicians might have been considering trying to win elections based on economic policy, until enough voters did the math and realized their budget plans and economic claims didn’t add up. So now, just as when Karl Rove was calling the campaign shots for George Bush, it appears they’ve concluded all they’ve got left is the anger stuff. The them-against-us stuff, the scary, Fox “news” stuff. I hope I’m not the only one who finds it disheartening, because I still cling to the belief that having two strong opposing parties, each with good ideas and a desire for honest discourse, is what, in times long gone, accounted for America’s greatness. 
Well, as they say, when all you’ve got is a hammer (in this case, economic policies that have failed every time they’ve been tried), everything starts to look like a nail. Today’s Tea-Party-dominated Republican party, rife with “poor-me”-ism, has tossed the towel and resumed pounding the reliable ralliers of retrograde revanchists: immigration, sex, and religious paranoia. (North Carolina, fast becoming a singularity of insanity, recently disgorged a dazzling legislative twofer: restricting abortion and banning Sharia law in the same bill. Sharia law! North Carolinians must be sleeping much better now.) 
There’s not room here to cover it all, so let’s observe our self-described fiscal conservatives as they deal with the fast-disappearing problem of immigration. What got them to agree to consider legislation that tries to address illegal immigrants already here and contributing? Militarizing our southern border. Adding twenty thousand more guards: one about every 275 feet. Spending billions of dollars, much of which will go to giant defense contractors: Northrup Grumman radar systems, Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters, others made by American Eurocopter and Bell. (Yes: manufacturers are specifically named in the bill. Anyone wonder why?) 
At this point it’s worth reminding everyone that, under President Obama, there have been more deportations of illegals than during any previous presidency. And that crossings of our border with Mexico have dropped to a net of zero. I’m not suggesting it’s easy to deal with the issue of undocumented immigrants already here; but as an ongoing problem, illegal immigration has moved way down the list of things we desperately need to address. And yet, if you listen to Congressional Republicans, you’d think we’re still being overrun. When the problems we have are too tall for single-story thinkers, all you can do to rally the troops, evidently, is turn to the tried and true tropes of tactical trickery. It’s what you do when you figure your voters are too dumb to notice, or too frightened to care. 
A few years ago I volunteered as a community observer of culminating projects by graduating high school seniors. It was an eye-opener. (I’ll stipulate that I only saw a few, hardly a representative sample.) One was a girl who’d spent months in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia, having escaped the war in Iraq. Required to include a slideshow, she’d made impressive multi-functional ones, and spoke in considerable detail, in perfect English, about the work she’d done, with obvious pride. Following her was a US-born girl, who, it was clear, had slapped something together at the last minute, her slides minimal and uninformative, her affect disinterested. I saw a Hispanic boy, many of whose immigrant family came, too, beaming with pride. Same with an Asian kid. Not a single US-born (dare I add “white?”) student was accompanied by family. The contrast was startling. 
There’s nothing more destructive to our future than the anti-immigrant fire burning amongst so many of us (except, maybe, the recently reported halting of medical and scientific research due to forced budget cuts), fanned by the unformed anger of the wrongest of our rightest wing, and manipulated for electoral advantage by their cynical political leaders. If the American dream survives anywhere, it’s in our immigrant community. Look at the names of students winning spelling bees, science and math awards, giving valedictory speeches, earning scholarships. Without them, our country would become locked in a time warp; fulfilling Tea Party dreams, while creating a nightmare for our kids.
Illegal is illegal. No one (except, maybe, conservative agri-businessmen) is in favor of illegal immigration. But the wholesale rejection of immigration by large chunks of today’s Republican Party, as it sees its relevance fading like aging drapery, is the most pernicious thing they propose. Other than the rest of their agenda, like the aforementioned defunding of everything we need to survive as a nation.
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Friday, August 16, 2013

Water: Duck's Back



Unlike here, before I kiboshed the vanishingly small number of comments, I get lots of email responses to my weekly newspaper column. Surprisingly, they run about three or four to one positive. What the negative ones lack in quantity, they compensate in vitriol; and, predictably, in pig-headed aversion to attempts to disabuse the authors of their Foxified fallacies. One example was the forwarding of the usual right-wing mass email, the kind that begins with "If you do nothing else today, read this and forward it to everyone you know," then proceeding to announce, usually in full caps, the latest -- and easily debunked, first, by a moment's thought, and, then, by checking it out online -- outrage believed by the willingly credulous.

One such emailer forwarded a boilerplate claim of massive voter fraud which won reelection for President Obama. Claims so wild as to be obvious fantasy to all but the most blinded by hate. Nevertheless, patiently and respectfully, I forwarded to the man an article that disproved every claim, datum by datum, with links and cross references. His response? "If you don't believe there was fraud, you're dumber than I thought you were."

In that context comes this article, from the Denver Post:


Last month, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler gave Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett a list of 17 names, all suspected of voting in the November election despite being non-citizens. 
... But an investigation by Garnett's office found that all 17 people were citizens and were able to easily verify their status, the district attorney said Wednesday. 
Garnett said the outcome shows Gessler's emphasis on finding ineligible voters is a waste of resources and politically motivated... 
...  A spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office said Gessler is trying to address the matter in a methodical way while Garnett is trying to score partisan points.
Partisan points. The truth. Facts. Derided as mere partisan point-scoring. It sort of confirms the scholarly words of the respected theorist, Stephen Colbert, when he stated that reality has a well-known liberal bias.

This is why I see no reason to be optimistic about our future. Facts, routinely rejected, like a mismatched kidney, by members of one party. Partisanship above all; lying to score points with those who've made it perfectly clear they prefer lies to truth, when the lies make them happy and the truth makes them sad.

Knowing the potentially inexhaustible goldmine they have in such voters, Rs are doing everything they can to make sure there's an endless supply; by feeding them nonstop propaganda on their airwaves, and by "methodically" destroying public education, the last remaining place where it's possible to educate people to think for themselves.

We are so screwed...

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hillbillies



Wisdom. Especially from the guy at the very end.

Home To Roost



A major theme here has been the destructive effects of teabaggR economic policies; namely, their only-too-happy-to-do-it defunding of everything we need to have a future. Hard to imagine, therefore, that anyone on that side of the aisle cares about this (every damn one of them on the House Science Committee is, after all, a climate-change denier and -- I'd bet -- a young-earther):


... Inside these incubators Dr. Anindya Dutta stores cell cultures that he believes hold the key to a massive advancement in health care. He has identified the specific strands of microRNA, the molecule that plays a large role in gene expression, that are responsible for promoting the formation and fusion of muscular tissue... 

... Late last month he was told that there would be no funding. UVA has stepped in to help, but Dutta estimates that 40 of his colleagues are in the same boat. "I am living off of fumes," he says.
 
A feeling of despair has taken hold within research communities like Dutta's, Top officials at academic and medical institutions have grown convinced that years of stagnant budgets and recent cuts have ushered in the dark ages of science in America. 
"It is like a slowly growing cancer," Steven Warren, vice chancellor for research at the University of Kansas said of sequestration at a recent gathering of academic officials in Washington, D.C. "It's going to do a lot of destruction over time."
Oh well. Long as the oligarchy gets their tax cuts, and the military gets its unwanted tanks, we're cool. Right?

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Charles In Charge



Other than being a much better and wittier writer, and having an immeasurably larger audience, Charles P. Pierce, whom I've quoted more than once here, and I could be superimposable:

... I continue to maintain that, when the history of this administration is written, its primary flaw is going to be reckoned as having been its assumption that the political opposition was made up of rational men dedicated to the public good. This belief was pretty hilarious to start with, and has only become more laughable the longer we go since the day the country has the audacity to re-elect a (black) president of whom these people, and the shoeless, Bible-bashing mouthbreathers many of them represent, represent. 
(Is that harsh? Tough. We are talking about voters who, by and large, vote against their own economic self-interest time and time again and who, quite honestly, are the biggest suckers in the history of representative democracy. They continue to support policies that render their states into third-world sweatshops for corporations headquartered thousands of miles away. They doom their kids to inadequate schools and themselves to the whims of free-market medicine. The problem, of course, is that the rest of us have to live with the consequences and, it should be noted, pay a fkload of the bills for it besides. You're welcome, idiots.) ...

You gotta love writing like that, and not just because it's 100% accurate and pretty much covers everything I've been trying to say here.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Everything In Its Path


The entire cartoon is here.


Consequences


Duty hour restrictions on first-year general surgery residents have been linked to a 25.8% reduction in operating case load, according to a study published online July 10 in JAMA Surgery. 
The findings represent the first published data on the effects of the 16-hour cap implemented by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in July 2011, the authors report. 
"If the 16-hour shift were to be extended to all postgraduate year levels, one can anticipate that additional years of training will be needed to maintain the same operative volume," write Samuel I. Schwartz, MD, from the Harbor-University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, Torrance, and colleagues.
An old guy like me can't write about this without sounding like an old guy like me. But from the moment these restrictions were put in place, I predicted such consequences. Yeah, yeah, I trained in the days of the iron men (and, not all that frequently back then, women.) If it was borderline crazy to be in the hospital as much as I was -- on some rotations 12 out of 14 nights (the easier ones were 36+ hours of 48); and, as chief resident of the trauma service, for two months straight -- I always thought it was the only way I was going to learn everything I needed to learn, to see everything I needed to see before foisting myself upon a trusting public.

Friends in the world of academic surgery have told me of their concerns for years: that trainees behave as if it's shift work; that they're not getting the kind of experience we got when we were in residency. And it's been evident in those finishing their training: for one thing, they're not willing (not universally true, of course) to work as hard in practice as people of my generation did. Maybe that's not entirely bad: I burned out younger than I'd have thought. But they're also opting for post-residency fellowships in surgical sub-specialties: cancer, biliary, breast, etc. It has impacts both good and bad: the good is, probably, better training in those particular areas; the bad is the lack of surgeons capable of doing a broad range of things, which particularly affects smaller towns.

I've spoken a couple of times to friends I have in the American College of Surgeons, suggesting what's needed is a mentoring program for people just out of training, given the lower level of experience. It'd be a perfect thing for recently retired surgeons to do. But, far as I know, there's not any major movement afoot. I recognize the logistics would be difficult, especially in smaller locations.

The good news: I guess I don't have to care anymore. Until I need an operation. On the other hand, even if a fabulous surgeon were available, I'm half of a mind to let nature take its course and let Medicare spend its money on someone more deserving.

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If You Can't Persuade Them, Threaten Them

Well, of course he was kidding . I mean, after all, it's not like his entire career was one of bullying, suing, threatening, and lyin...