Friday, November 30

Pat Robertson blows other Fundamentalist's minds by suggesting Earth is more than 6,000 years old

Earlier this week, Pat Robertson pissed off a lot of Young-Earth Creationists:
"'You go back in time, you've got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things, and you've got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas,' Robertson said. 'They're out there. So, there was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible. So, don't try and cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years. That's not the Bible.'"
Robertson's statement didn't go long without a response. One of the most notable came from crazy Ken Ham. Here's a screenshot from his Facebook timeline earlier this week:

This has been a week for finding cracks in the armor. First, with Republicans (Tom Cole), now, with Young-Earth Creationists.

Pat Robertson Challenges Creationism

Thursday, November 29

The GOP is sealing its own fate if it does not become more attuned to the changing demographics of the United States

A graphic created by ThinkProgress, showing the diversity of the 113th Congress. Only 5 of these people are Republicans. Full graphic here.

Wednesday, November 28

We pay a high price for Wal-Mart's low prices. In this case, 112 human lives.

"Over the weekend, a horrific fire swept through a Bangladesh clothing factory, killing more than 100 workers, many of whose bodies were burnt so badly that they could not be identified. In its gruesome particulars — locked doors, no emergency exits, workers leaping to their deaths — the blaze seems a ghastly centennial reenactment of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, when 146 workers similarly jumped to their deaths or were incinerated after they found the exit doors were locked." ... 
"The Bangladesh factory supplied clothing to a range of retailers, and officials who have toured the site said they found clothing with a Faded Glory label — a Wal-Mart brand. Wal-Mart says that the factory, which had received at least one bad report for its fire-safety provisions, was no longer authorized to make its clothing but one of the suppliers in the company’s very long supply chain had subcontracted the work there 'in direct violation of our policies.' 
"If this were an isolated incident of Wal-Mart denying responsibility for the conditions under which the people who make and move its products labor, then the Bangladeshi disaster wouldn’t reflect quite so badly on the company. But the very essence of the Wal-Mart system is to employ thousands upon thousands of workers through contractors and subcontractors and sub-subcontractors, who are compelled by Wal-Mart’s market power and its demand for low prices to cut corners and skimp on safety. And because Wal-Mart isn’t the employer of record for these workers, the company can disavow responsibility for their conditions of work."
 Wal-Mart’s strategy of deniability for workers’ safety (Washington Post)

Related: Garment Workers Stage Angry Protest After Bangladesh Fire (New York Times)

Tuesday, November 27

Silence the corporations and the unions, because...

... Rome fell? Response to the most tortured attempt yet to make an "historical" case against the Citizens United decision.

Update/related: Floyd Abrams, who represented the New York Times in the landmark Pentagon Papers case, with a letter to the editor of that paper correcting its grasp of the issues in the Citizens United decision:
The law at issue in Citizens United permitted The Times to endorse candidates while making it a felony for nonmedia corporations to do so. It made it a crime for a union to distribute [the Times's] endorsement of President Obama for re-election to its members. It should come as no surprise that the same First Amendment that was held to shield the press in landmark cases of the past now shields such speech as well. 

On the matter of slowing, halting the aging process

Take the time to read the entire story linked at the end of this excerpt. As an optimistic believer in the ability of humans to create their own fate, this is one of the most beautiful things I've read.
"Stories about aging have traditionally focused on the need for graceful accommodation. The recommended solution to diminishing vigor and impending death was resignation coupled with an effort to achieve closure in practical affairs and personal relationships. Given that nothing could be done to prevent or retard aging, this focus made sense. Rather than fretting about the inevitable, one could aim for peace of mind. 
"Today we face a different situation. While we still lack effective and acceptable means for slowing the aging process, we can identify research directions that might lead to the development of such means in the foreseeable future. “Deathist” stories and ideologies, which counsel passive acceptance, are no longer harmless sources of consolation. They are fatal barriers to urgently needed action. 
"Many distinguished technologists and scientists tell us that it will become possible to retard, and eventually to halt and reverse, human senescence. At present, there is little agreement about the time-scale or the specific means, nor is there a consensus that the goal is even achievable in principle. In relation to the fable (where aging is, of course, represented by the dragon), we are therefore at a stage somewhere between that at which the lone sage predicted the dragon’s eventual demise and that at which the iconoclast dragonologists convinced their peers by demonstrating a composite material that was harder than dragon scales.
"The ethical argument that the fable presents is simple: There are obvious and compelling moral reasons for the people in the fable to get rid of the dragon. Our situation with regard to human senescence is closely analogous and ethically isomorphic to the situation of the people in the fable with regard to the dragon. Therefore, we have compelling moral reasons to get rid of human senescence. 
"The argument is not in favor or life-span extension per se. Adding extra years of sickness and debility at the end of life would be pointless. The argument is in favor of extending, as far as possible, the human health-span. By slowing or halting the aging process, the healthy human life span would be extended. Individuals would be able to remain healthy, vigorous, and productive at ages at which they would otherwise be dead."
The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

Monday, November 26

Higher marginal tax rates do not stop wealthy people from investing

Warren Buffett's op-ed in yesterday's New York Times is well worth reading. His common sense cuts through all of the political posturing, straight to the heart of the matter:
"SUPPOSE that an investor you admire and trust comes to you with an investment idea. 'This is a good one,' he says enthusiastically. 'I'm in it, and I think you should be, too. 
"Would your reply possibly be this? 'Well, it all depends on what my tax rate will be on the gain you're saying we're going to make. If the taxes are too high, I would rather leave the money in my savings account, earning a quarter of 1 percent.' Only in Grover Norquist’s imagination does such a response exist. 
"Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent — and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered."
A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy (New York Times)

Friday, November 23

No worries, everything is fine, just KEEP SHOPPING.

Seventy percent of the U.S. economy's lifeblood (measured in GDP) is dependent on consumer spending. I've frequently made the point that this fact supports policies which keep purchasing power in the hands of middle and working-class households. While this is true, I cannot help but recognize the sad conundrum we're in: Our economy is dependent on consumption, but aggressive consumer spending (particularly when it puts people in debt) is very bad for individual households (and all these products eventually make their way to landfills). 

Over time, we must structurally rebuild our economy so that is not so dependent on growth in spending from the consumer sector. We need an economy that can be healthy while still allowing people to live within their means. We need an economy that minimizes the impact of our consumer needs and wants on the environment. How exactly we do this, I don't know. It's extraordinarily complex. But it's a problem worthy of the undivided attention of our best minds. 

Buy Nothing Day (Adbusters)

Thursday, November 22

Gratitude can do wonders for the human brain, as long as it doesn't fade away when Thanksgiving ends.

"...researchers at the University of California-Berkeley report mounting scientific evidence that thankfulness also has concrete health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, stronger disease immunity and fewer symptoms of depression.
"Their research is a product of UC-Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which recently launched a three-year, $5.6 million project to 'expand the scientific database of gratitude, particularly in the key areas of human health, personal and relational well-being, and developmental science.' As part of this project, the GGSC has also created, a 'sharable gratitude journal' that aims to teach people the tangible power of thankfulness while also helping scientists better understand it.
"GGSC research on this topic began several years ago, as an assignment for Berkeley students to keep gratitude journals in spiral-bound notebooks. By writing down everything for which they were grateful, the students boosted their 'overall resilience,' according to a university news release, and reportedly grew less susceptible to daily stresses as well as minor maladies like rashes and headaches." ...
" is just one piece in the fast-growing field of gratitude science. In one recent study, for example, scientists found that teenagers who reported the most gratitude after a four-year research period became '17 percent more happy and more hopeful about their lives' while experiencing 'a 13 percent drop in negative emotions and a 15 percent drop in depressive symptoms.'"
The science of being thankful

Wednesday, November 21

Republican consultants admit the party appears as 'loons & wackos' to swing-voters

Steve Schmidt, manager of John McCain’s 2008 campaign: "To too many swing voters in the country, when you hear the word 'conservative' now, they think of loons and wackos."

Mike Murphy, adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign: "We alienate young voters because of gay marriage, we have a policy problem. We alienate Latinos — the fastest growing voter group in the country, because of our fetish on so-called amnesty, when we should be for a path to immigration. And we’ve lost our connection to middle-class economics."

GOP civil war: Limbaugh vs. the consultants (Salon)

Warren Rudman's Passing Reminds Senators of What They Can Be

" was a time when the national interest was identified; science, economics, and arithmetic were respected; Republicans sat down to negotiate with Democrats; argument raged, and compromise ensued. There were bitter partisan battles over military spending, Supreme Court nominations and other weighty issues, but no one dreamed of destroying the country in order to save it. The Senate had a big, rowdy bloc of centrists who would not recognize, and would no doubt deplore, the political polarization that stifles initiative today."
National Journal

Friday, November 16

A Benghazi cover-up makes no sense, and could not have had any conceivable goal.

"...the reason it is absurd to suspect the existence of a "cover-up" over the Benghazi attack is that such a cover-up could not have had any conceivable goal. Back to the beginning: the underlying accusation about Benghazi is that the Obama administration deliberately mischaracterised the terrorist attack there as having grown out of a spontaneous demonstration because that would be less politically damaging. Such a cover-up would have made no sense because the attack would not have been less politically damaging had it grown out of a spontaneous demonstration. The attack on the Benghazi compound would not have been any less politically difficult for the administration if it had grown out of a riot, nor would any normal voter have expected it to be less politically damaging, nor would any normal campaign strategist have expected any normal voter to have expected it to be less politically damaging."
Benghazi-gate gets even more ludicrous (Economist)

A monument to superstition and illiteracy: Ten Commandments monument installed at Oklahoma state Capitol, with spelling errors.

"A Ten Commandments monument is up on the grounds of the state Capitol, but it didn't pass spell check.
"'Remember the Sabbeth day, to keep it holy,' reads one.
"'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidseruent,' reads the last one."
I don't have a whole lot to add to this story; the situation speaks for itself.

Ten Commandments monument is installed at Oklahoma state Capitol

Wednesday, November 14

UN declares access to contraception a human right

"The United Nations says access to contraception is a universal human right that could dramatically improve the lives of women and children in poor countries. 
It is the first time the U.N. Population Fund's annual report explicitly describes family planning as a human right. 
It effectively declares that legal, cultural and financial barriers to accessing contraception and other family planning measures are an infringement of women's rights. 
The report released Wednesday isn't binding and has no legal effect on national laws. 
The global body also says increasing funding for family planning by a further $4.1 billion could save $11.3 billion annually in health bills for mothers and newborns in poor countries."
There's little questioning the cultural and health benefits that come with access to contraception, but is it going to far to declare such access a 'human right'? (Link to AP news story)

Tuesday, November 13

This is the first intelligent thing I've heard a Republican say since election day

"Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Monday called on Republicans to 'stop being the stupid party' and make a concerted effort to reach a broader swath of voters with an inclusive economic message that pre-empts efforts to caricature the GOP as the party of the rich.
"In his first interview since his party’s electoral thumping last week, Jindal urged Republicans to both reject anti-intellectualism and embrace a populist-tinged reform approach that he said would mitigate what exit polls show was one of President Barack Obama’s most effective lines of attack against Mitt Romney."
Jindal: End 'dumbed-down conservatism'

Turns out telling people that they may go to Hell if they vote for Obama may not be a good idea

"Political watchdog and secularist groups are asking the U.S. government to investigate whether Catholic bishops and a Christian evangelical group headed by preacher Billy Graham should lose tax breaks for telling followers how to vote in this year's election.
"Under constitutional protections of free speech and separation of church and state, churches are free to speak on any issue. But they risk losing tax breaks worth $145 billion in the past decade if they violate Internal Revenue Service rules by promoting or opposing any particular candidate."
This is particularly disturbing:
"Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Thomas Paprocki who warned his flock in a letter of 'intrinsic evils' in the Democratic platform's support of abortion and same-sex marriage. A vote for someone who promotes such actions 'places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy,' he said."
Election blurring of church, state separation draws complaints.

Increasing tax rates on incomes over $250,000/year has almost no impact on the economy

The Congressional Budget Office has found that increasing tax rates on incomes over $250,000/year has almost no impact on the economy:
"Extending all expiring tax provisions other than the cut in the payroll tax and indexing the AMT for inflation—except for allowing the expiration of lower tax rates on income above $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for single taxpayers—would boost real GDP by about 1¼ percent by the end of 2013. That effect is nearly as large as the effect of making all of those changes in law and extending the lower tax rates on higher incomes as well (which CBO estimates to be a little less than 1½ percent, as noted above), primarily because the budgetary impact would be nearly as large (and secondarily because the extension of lower tax rates on higher incomes would have a relatively small effect on output per dollar of budgetary cost)."
This affirms a previous study by the Congressional Research Service. Bad news for GOP propaganda.

Talk, Petition, Publish Freely

More evidence that money has little measurable effect on the outcome of US political campaigns (lots of links).

Wednesday, November 7

2012 is a year chock-full of religious insanity

Inspired by my high school friends on Facebook who are calling for the Rapture after Obama's reelection yesterday (I'm not joking), I present this little bit of 'news':
"World Bible Society President Dr. F. Kenton Beshore has said that based on a lifetime of study, he believes that the 'Rapture' is likely to occur before the year 2021, while the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will happen between 2018 and 2028."
Toss in the Mayan 2012 end-of-world date, and our brush with electing a Mormon President, and you've got a full court press of religious insanity for the year. (I'm sure I'm forgetting a few things.)

Tuesday, November 6


What most of us think we're endorsing at the polls is mainly a function of partisan branding. Admittedly, it's rather more fun to vote expressively—to make a statement to oneself about the kind of person one likes to imagine oneself to be—than to vote based on a realistic appraisal of the actual difference between the candidates' approaches to governance. So I suppose it's not really surprising that political commentators offer us almost no help at all in making such appraisals. There's no demand! Unionised teachers don't want to think of themselves as voting Democratic because Democrats protect the interests of unionised teachers, just as rich people don't want to think of themselves as voting Republican because Republicans protect the interests of rich people. We like to see ourselves as voting according to conscience. The branding function of philosophy in politics is to give individual conscience a form congruent with group interest, to transform the mathematical necessities of coalitional partisan politics into many millions of separate acts of self-congratulating private virtue. It's a neat trick.
On the choices of the day.

Monday, November 5

Gouging in theory and in practice

The cost of fueling up has really exploded here in Brooklyn!
With the price remaining in the mid $4 range, the result is a big gas line at the station in my neighborhood - multi hour wait times for paltry amounts of gas!
Hmm, so while the price in $ reamins the same, the amount of time one needs to invest (time being the most non-recoverable resource there is) to get some fuel, has greatly increased.
Decree can hold down prices, but it would be foolish to think that decree can also hold down real costs.
Deeper thoughts on experiences with "gouging"  here.

Origins of the saying, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

The saying, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," which Carl Sagan popularized, has a heritage. Sagan's phrasing was inspired by Marcello Truzzi, founding co-chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP):
"In science, the burden of proof falls upon the claimant; and the more extraordinary a claim, the heavier is the burden of proof demanded. The true skeptic takes an agnostic position, one that says the claim is not proved rather than disproved. He asserts that the claimant has not borne the burden of proof and that science must continue to build its cognitive map of reality without incorporating the extraordinary claim as a new "fact." Since the true skeptic does not assert a claim, he has no burden to prove anything. He just goes on using the established theories of "conventional science" as usual. But if a critic asserts that there is evidence for disproof, that he has a negative hypothesis—saying, for instance, that a seeming psi result was actually due to an artifact—he is making a claim and therefore also has to bear a burden of proof."
Marcello Truzzi, On Pseudo-Skepticism, Zetetic Scholar, 12/13, pp3-4, 1987

Friday, November 2

Krugman: The hard men of the Republican Party must be appeased, or their wrath will rain down upon us.

"If President Obama is re-elected, health care coverage will expand dramatically, taxes on the wealthy will go up and Wall Street will face tougher regulation. If Mitt Romney wins instead, health coverage will shrink substantially, taxes on the wealthy will fall to levels not seen in 80 years and financial regulation will be rolled back.
"Given the starkness of this difference, you might have expected to see people from both sides of the political divide urging voters to cast their ballots based on the issues. Lately, however, I’ve seen a growing number of Romney supporters making a quite different argument. Vote for Mr. Romney, they say, because if he loses, Republicans will destroy the economy."
The Blackmail Caucus (Paul Krugman in the New York Times)

The way we fund and publish science encourages fraud

"Science is broken. Psychology was rocked recently by stories of academics making up data, sometimes overshadowing whole careers. And it isn't the only discipline with problems - the current record for fraudulent papers is held by anaesthesiologist Yoshitaka Fujii, with 172 faked articles.
"These scandals highlight deeper cultural problems in academia. Pressure to turn out lots of high-quality publications not only promotes extreme behaviours, it normalises the little things, like the selective publication of positive novel findings – which leads to "non-significant" but possibly true findings sitting unpublished on shelves, and a lack of much needed replication studies.
"Why does this matter? Science is about furthering our collective knowledge, and it happens in increments. Successive generations of scientists build upon theoretical foundations set by their predecessors. If those foundations are made of sand, though, then time and money will be wasted in the pursuit of ideas that simply aren't right."
Scientific fraud is rife: it's time to stand up for good science (Guardian)