December 31, 2010

Larry Walker: Another non-HOFer getting fluffed

Once again, it's an ESPN columnist fluffing somebody who is a definite for the Hall of the Very Good, but NOT the Hall of Fame.

Jim Caple does the "honors" with Larry Walker.

I gave brief sketches here of why most the people eligible for the Hall on this year's ballot shouldn't get in. Let's look at what I said there about Walker:
Should not get in, any year, though I loved the guy as a Cards fan. Great fielder, but, outside of pre-humidor Colorado, he's a much more iffy batter, for his road splits as a Rocky, before that as an Expo, and after that. Had he not had injury problems, maybe he could have "sold us," but, he did and so he couldn't. (Todd Helton will face similar issues, and with the number of 1B in the league, probably won't qualify either.)

I think that's it in a nutshell.

Caple admits to Walker's injury history, but tries to downplay the nature of Walker's home-road splits. So, let's look at some key Walker stats:
                                                                        
Year Age Tm R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1989 22 MON 4 8 0 0 0 4 1 .170 .264 .170 .434 26
1990 23 MON 59 101 18 3 19 51 21 .241 .326 .434 .761 112
1991 24 MON 59 141 30 2 16 64 14 .290 .349 .458 .807 127
1992 25 MON 85 159 31 4 23 93 18 .301 .353 .506 .859 142
1993 26 MON 85 130 24 5 22 86 29 .265 .371 .469 .841 120
1994 27 MON 76 127 44 2 19 86 15 .322 .394 .587 .981 151
1995 28 COL 96 151 31 5 36 101 16 .306 .381 .607 .988 130
1996 29 COL 58 75 18 4 18 58 18 .276 .342 .570 .912 116
1997 30 COL 143 208 46 4 49 130 33 .366 .452 .720 1.172 178
1998 31 COL 113 165 46 3 23 67 14 .363 .445 .630 1.075 158
1999 32 COL 108 166 26 4 37 115 11 .379 .458 .710 1.168 163
2000 33 COL 64 97 21 7 9 51 5 .309 .409 .506 .915 110
2001 34 COL 107 174 35 3 38 123 14 .350 .449 .662 1.111 160
2002 35 COL 95 161 40 4 26 104 6 .338 .421 .602 1.023 150
2003 36 COL 86 129 25 7 16 79 7 .284 .422 .476 .898 121
2004 37 TOT 51 77 16 4 17 47 6 .298 .424 .589 1.013 153
2004 37 COL 22 35 9 3 6 20 2 .324 .464 .630 1.093 166
2004 37 STL 29 42 7 1 11 27 4 .280 .393 .560 .953 143
2005 38 STL 66 91 20 1 15 52 2 .289 .384 .502 .886 130
17 Seasons 1355 2160 471 62 383 1311 230 .313 .400 .565 .965 140
162 Game Avg. 110 176 38 5 31 107 19 .313 .400 .565 .965 140
R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
COL (10 yrs) 892 1361 297 44 258 848 126 .334 .426 .618 1.044 147
MON (6 yrs) 368 666 147 16 99 384 98 .281 .357 .483 .839 128
STL (2 yrs) 95 133 27 2 26 79 6 .286 .387 .520 .908 134


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/31/2010.

And, let's do my own thumbnail neutralization.

First, every player is going to have a bit of home-road split, just from the relaxation of not traveling, the support of home fans, etc. And, yes, some older parks may have had fairly serious boosts (or, in the case of DiMaggio in the original configuration of old Yankee Stadium, some detriment). But, Walker's is much greater than normal.

My guess?

His BA falls to about .308, his hit total to 2,050, his doubles to 450, his HRs to 350, his runs to 1,250 and his RBIs to 1,200. I think that's a reasonable normalization of his career numbers.

And, you don't just need my rule-of-thumb guesses. At Baseball-Reference, if you click the "more stats" link near the top of Walker's profile, you'll get much more of a profile, including neutralized states. They peg him at a .299 BA, 365 HRs, 1,201 runs and 1,175 RBIs.

Can you really say that's a Hall of Fame career? I won't. And, as for a string of dominance, with park normalization he might have lost the first of his batting titles, to John Olerud. And, lost his one home run title in 1997 to Jeff Bagwell, who was still playing in the Astrodome.

So, Mr. Jim Caple, and far from the first time for you or most ESPNers on the Hall of Fame, you're wrong.

As a Cards fan, I loved Walker's brief stay there. Hated that a variety of nagging, chronic injuries ended that, and his career, too soon.

But, they were nagging, chronic injuries. Not a sudden thing, like Sandy Koufax's arthritis or Kirby Puckett's vision. That said, Puckett wasn't an obvious HOF choice to me then, and still isn't now.

90 is NOT "the new 50"

Susan Jacoby, whose mother is 90 and grandmother lived to 100, tells us it 90 won't become the new 50 anytime soon, and offers other wisdom from the retirement cusp of the Baby Boom — wisdom you probably won't hear from the rest of her cohort.

Sixty-five-year-old Susan Jacoby says she hopes she doesn't live as long as her 90-year-old mom, noting that our incremental increases in average life expectancy have more and more elderly dealing with chronic pain and such.

And, it's not just that. She notes all the other problems facing the aging Boomers.

As I listed them elsewhere, they include:

Laid off. Forced to take lower-paying jobs. Still holding mortgages, which may be underwater. Stocks and 401(k)s that tanked in the recession. Some serious stuff.

That and more that the newly-retiring start of the Baby Boomer aging wave is all listed here.

Who wants to live to be 90 on Social Security and modest other benefits that are slowly trickling away, or that have to be spent down before Medicaid starts covering nursing home care?

December 30, 2010

Obama - Indian lover or Indian giver?

Don't believe all the rhetoric about President Obama's recent "Indian summit." His pledge to never forget Native Americans only applies to federally recognized tribes. If you ain't one of those, and can't get through the federal government's byzantine hoops (hoops that the Obama Administration has given no indication it plans on making easier), you're still just as SOL as before.

Official federal nonrecognition is probably most common in California, I am guessing, followed by New England, but it happens all over the country. And, no, it's not just about the right to build an Indian casino. It covers Indian Health Service issues and much more, such as issues over traditionally sacred sites.

Here's a specific example of a tribe that's hurt by nonrecogition. The Houma of Louisiana are state-recognized but NOT federally, and so can't (so far) get any special help for Deepwater Horizon-related damaged.

And, the idea that the federal government has ultimate power over this? It's a bit like old Southern state governments defining people as black on the one drop of blood rule, except now, it's defining that people aren't Indians.

And, it's "ironic," at least, that America's first black president apparently doesn't have a big problem with this.

Rosenthal gets principled on MLB HOF and roids

Ken Rosenthal, as a HOF voter, rightfully hates what the Steroid Era has done to the voting process. So much so that he vows to not vote for anybody in their first year of eligibility. That might be a bit harsh, but, I can understand it. And, he's right that the players' union, which includes the affected players, bears part of the burden of blame.

As for his ballot this year, he's still too much a maximalist for me and, I don't think Jeff Bagwell used, so I disagree with leaving him off, but Ken's making a principled stand there.

That said, here's who all that principled stand might include, depending on these people's likelihood of actual, not just alleged, steroid connection, and the likelihood of them remaining on the ballot more than one year.

Off the different sublists within that list, by my HOF metrics standards, I'd say there's 14-15 people on that list who would deserve semi-serious to serious consideration — if not for being on that list.

Tracy Ringolsby trots out the old "amphetamines in the 60s and 70s argument" to defend admitting roiders. Well, "some people" may say they were of more benefit, Tracy, but others don't. Frankly, too many greenies makes for a jittery batter and REDUCES his skills. And, illicit drug use is a red herring, except noting that the length of his using may have affected Tim Raines, did affect Dwight Gooden and possibly affected Keith Hernandez. That said, Ringolsby is more of a maximalist than Rosenthal. He's a Jack Morris booster, and I think he's being a "homer" on Larry Walker.

Favre to go out with whimper not bang?

Looks like Brett Favre's NFL career may have actually ended on frozen Minnesota turf a couple of weeks ago. He's still not been medically cleared to play from the concussion he suffered against the Chicago Bears.

Of course, the Favre skeptic in me expects a dramatic last-minute change.

And, the real Favre skeptic wonders if he's egotistic enough to come back next year, even if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, along with the fine for Favre in the Jenn Sterger case, told Brett it would be nice not to see him and his Wranglers next year.

Hubris doesn't always get smacked down; life isn't always a Greek tragedy written by Euripedes. But, in this case, it just may be.

By the way he's handled his multiple retirement teases, Favre has lost chances for a farewell tour that he deserved and more.

Rafael Palmeiro lies like a cheap rug

Alleged or believed baseball steroid users have taken different angles in the court of public opinion (and, in the case of Barry Bonds, in the court of legal record, too).

Bonds has simply clammed up. Mark MacGwire gave a semi-apology, semi-tearful, pseudo-tearful or whatever. Roger Clemens got indignant and had a lawsuit backfire on him. Sammy Sosa forgot the English language, then bleached his face white in an apparent attempt to go undercover.

Meanwhile, nobody has lied about the issue as brazenly as Rafael Palmeiro, apparently, who gets more brazen, if anything, now that he's up for the Hall of Fame.

Here's a good example:
"I had no motivation to take steroids because I was at the end of my career."

Really? Canseco alleges he shot you up a full decade before the end of your career.

Raffy then says he doesn't understand why people don't believe him, and cites his own statistics as part of why he's believable.
"I don't want to take anything for granted, but there was a legitimate chance that I was going to get 3,000,"

I'm not arguing that, myself. I don't doubt Raffy would likely have had 3K hits without juicing. What IS in question is the source of a power surge that, throwing out 1991 as an outlier, began in 1993 at the relatively late age of 28, per your career record and actually got MORE unbelievable as you moved into your early, then middle, 30s. From the age of 30-38, Raffy, you hit 38 or more home runs nine straight seasons. Now, you may not have juiced as heavily as Bonds, but ...

These numbers are ... unusual, at the least, especially the homer numbers:

                                                     
Year Age Tm 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1995 30 BAL 30 2 39 104 .310 .380 .583 .963 145
1996 31 BAL 40 2 39 142 .289 .381 .546 .927 132
1997 32 BAL 24 2 38 110 .254 .329 .485 .815 113
1998 33 BAL 36 1 43 121 .296 .379 .565 .945 144
1999 34 TEX 30 1 47 148 .324 .420 .630 1.050 159
2000 35 TEX 29 3 39 120 .288 .397 .558 .954 137
2001 36 TEX 33 0 47 123 .273 .381 .563 .944 141
2002 37 TEX 34 0 43 105 .273 .391 .571 .962 146
2003 38 TEX 21 2 38 112 .260 .359 .508 .867 117


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/30/2010.

And, as I've blogged before, there's the issue of a healthy star athlete in his late 30s doing Viagra commercials. Is there a reason you might know that much about Viagra? Have to use it?

Interestingly, given Raffy's 3K hits/500HRs and 1,800 RBIs, his OPS+ is "only" 132 and his career offensive WAR ranks only No. 78. Makes you realize, on the OPS+, just how much steroids, and other offensive tweaks, screwed with the era of about 1994-2005.

December 29, 2010

Bad, or at least breathless, science, by NASA?

Update, Dec. 28: Here's a lot more on how NASA had motive to fluff this bad science. Read the whole thing, to be sure, but this image ought to say it all:
Inside NASA, some employees have taken to wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the letters "WWED," which stands for "What Would Elon Do?" — a reference to SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk, the Internet tycoon who invested his own fortune in pursuit of his dream of sending humans into space.
That's an agency hugely afraid for its future, and probably thinking it needs all the fluffery it can get, or do.

===

Fact is, as P.Z. Myers, Wikipedia and many other sites noted, arsenic replacing phosphorus in organic compounds, albeit much simpler ones than DNA, isn't even new. As for it actually doing so in DNA, well, the trumpeted NASA experiment doesn't necessarily prove that.

And, NASA's PR machine is still going, in this wire story that connects the iffy experiment to discovery of more habitable planets and more stares:

Meanwhile, more motive for NASA to trumpet itself? Perhaps worries about the successful orbital flight of SpaceX's Dragon. though NASA was kind enough to offer congratulations.

Remember, getting back to the budgetary motive angle, Obama has talked about leaning more on private services to head to the space station.

Update, Dec. 6: If shoddy research controls and mechanics make an experiment bad science, then this looks to pretty officially be bad science. Note to Greg Laden and other "fluffers" - why continue flogging this? Let's see some more posting at Science Blogs and Discover about how this baby ever saw the light of day, instead.

Update, Dec. 7: The Guardian has an excellent roundup of NASA's dissing of all the skeptics and naysayers. Again, fluffers ... more skepticism!

Update, Dec. 8: Slate has an excellent article about how NASA has sponsored not-so-good science AND blown the media coverage issues. And, at least one professor says NASA had motive for this fluffery. But, because of the reason for that motive, it could well backfire:
Some scientists are left wondering why NASA made such a big deal over a paper with so many flaws. "I suspect that NASA may be so desperate for a positive story that they didn't look for any serious advice from DNA or even microbiology people," says John Roth of UC-Davis. The experience reminded some of another press conference NASA held in 1996. Scientists unveiled a meteorite from Mars in which they said there were microscopic fossils. A number of critics condemned the report (also published in Science) for making claims it couldn't back up. And today many scientists think that all of the alleged signs of life in the rocks could have just as easily been made on a lifeless planet.

I didn't think so much about that as budgetary motives, but it makes sense. No big news from Mars probes for a while. Obama announces budget cuts and mission changes. The next planned shuttle flight keeps getting shoved back.

Yep, that's motive.

First, contra the breathlessness, at Gizmodo AND elsewhere (see below) — don't tell me that just because Gizmodo isn't a science site, that NASA had nothing to do with "framing." The evidence for that is becoming more and more clear, despite someone like Greg Laden at Scienceblogs, an unrepentant fluffer here and here. That said, Greg's definitely lost credibility in my eyes over this issue.

But, per the first of his linked blog posts:
I've asked for specific critiques of the NASA press release and have received one, which makes a good suggestion but hardly demonstrates that NASA lied or cheated or flim flamed.

You, on the other hand, are quickly making it onto my list.

I never said, myself, that NASA "lied or cheated." I didn't use the phrase "flim flamed" [sic] for its fluffery, either. But, if that's what you think fluff PR for apparently shoddy science should be called, OK!

The New York Times and Phil Plait both also, among others, seem to have gotten a bit breathless.

Second, it's simply untrue that it "doesn't share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth." As this Wikipedia page points out, arsenic substitution in some "sugars" in some bacteria is well-known. And, for readers who criticize Wiki, before this story, the three footnotes on the arsenic section prior to this story come from the University of Minnesota, NIH, and New Scientist. Got problems with all of them, too? Beyond that, Pharyngula, in his post about the NASA story, also has information on how arsenic in organic compounds is nothing new.

Third, I don't get why people have a blanket condemnation of Wikipedia. On current events/politics/living history, YES. But, in general, in the natural sciences, in more ancient history, and many other areas, Wikipedia is pretty reliable.

Fourth, ff NASA is using the same language as the Gizmodo post is, or left itself open to this, then, we're going past breathless science and getting close to bad science. That's what you get for hyping something you embargo, too, BTW.

Meanwhile, the PR should be labeled bullshit, not just breathless. More reality.

The New York Times notes this bacterium was CULTIVATED to substitute arsenic for phosphorus; it wasn't "discovered."
The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic, gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its little body for atoms of arsenic.

That said, the NYT opens its story with its own "breathlessness":
Scientists said Thursday that they had trained a bacterium to eat and grow on a diet of arsenic, in place of phosphorus — one of six elements considered essential for life — opening up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about.

It makes it sound like we're still largely clueless about chemical bonds and organic chemistry.

Again, though, this Wikipedia page says we aren't, listing other elements, like boron, in possible exotic life.

Finally, also from the NYT ... the DNA claims haven't fully tested out yet, so this might also be rushed science:
By labeling the arsenic with radioactivity, the researchers were able to conclude that arsenic atoms had taken up position in the microbe’s DNA as well as in other molecules within it. Dr. Joyce, however, said that the experimenters had yet to provide a “smoking gun” that there was arsenic in the backbone of working DNA.

And, still more.

Not quite "breathless," but close, here, as Astrobio's coverage also appears not to have read the material referenced by Wiki and Pharyngula.
The recent discovery by Felisa Wolfe-Simon of an organism that can utilize arsenic in place of phosphorus, however, has demonstrated that life is still capable of surprising us in fundamental ways.

Again, not quite so true.

In short, this is about 1/10 of what NASA led people to expect.

And, Astrobio does redeem itself by citing a skeptic:
Steven Benner, a distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Fla., remains skeptical. If you “replace all the phosphates by arsenates,” in the backbone of DNA, he says, “every bond in that chain is going to hydrolyze [react with water and fall apart] with a half-life on the order of minutes, say 10 minutes.” So “if there is an arsenate equivalent of DNA in that bug, it has to be seriously stabilized” by some as-yet-unknown mechanism.

Benner suggests that perhaps the trace contaminants in the growth medium Wolf-Simon uses in her lab cultures are sufficient to supply the phosphorus needed for the cells’ DNA. He thinks it’s more likely that arsenic is being used elsewhere in the cells, in lipids for example. “Arsenate in lipids would be stable,” he says, and would “not fall apart in water.” What appears in Wolfe-Simon's gel-purified extraction to be arsenate DNA, he says, may actually be DNA containing a standard phosphate-based backbone, but with arsenate associated with it in some unidentified way.


Given budget cut talks, I honestly wonder if there's an ulterior motive to all this breathlessness. Create an adapted form of life under lab conditions, drop hints that get some tech sites to call it "alien," hint that it might be useful for expanding the search for exobiology ...

And, then, ramp up the push for new Mars mission money or something.

====

A sidebar to this story, as written up in detail by Greg Laden, is whether this doesn't open the window to multiple lines of evolution.

I think that's unlikely, even though theoretically possible. Here's why.

Per Nature News, the arsenic-based bacteria were just 60 percent as efficient in growth rate as their original kin. That's a pretty huge efficiency difference. Given that few places on earth, if any, have significantly higher arsenic concentrations than Mono Lake, it would be hard for such bacteria to find an extremophilic location that exempted them from phosphorus-based competition.

Nature News has more on that line of thought:
For example, if phosphate in ATP was exchanged for arsenate, would the energy-transfer reaction that powers a cell be as efficient? In metabolic processes in which arsenate would bind with glucose, would the bonds it forms — weaker than those of phosphate — be as effective? And phosphate groups bind to proteins modify their function, but would arsenate work as well?

All good questions.

And, there's yet more skepticism from Nature News.

First, exactly how is the arsenic working?
To be truly convincing, however, the researchers must show the presence of arsenic not just in the microbial cells, but in specific biomolecules within them, says Barry Rosen, a biochemist at Florida International University, Miami. "It would be good if they could demonstrate that the arsenic in the DNA is actually in the backbone," he said.

Also, he says, the picture is still missing an understanding of what exactly the arsenic–phosphorus switch means for a cell, says Rosen. "What we really need to know is which molecules in the cell have arsenic in them, and whether these molecules are active and functional," he says.

And, how do the arsenic compounds avoid breaking down?
"It remains to be established that this bacterium uses arsenate as a replacement for phosphate in its DNA or in any other biomolecule found in 'standard' terran biology," says Steven Benner, who studies origin-of-life chemistry at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Florida.

Arsenate forms much weaker bonds in water than phosphate, that break apart on the order of minutes, he says, and though there might be other molecules stabilizing these bonds, the researchers would need to explain this discrepancy for the hypothesis to stand. Still, the discovery is "just phenomenal" if it holds up after further chemical analysis, Benner adds. "It means that many, many things are wrong in terms of how we view molecules in the biological system."

So, this needs a LOT more research. It ain't Pons-Fleischmann trotting out cold fusion, no, but, it does seem ... sketchy, so far. (That said, I'll admit that Wikipedia's article on cold fusion is iffy itself.)

===

Update, Dec. 20:Arsenic exobiology researcher Felisa Wolfe-Simon is dismissive, and in a wrongly, fudging, sense, concerns about hydrolysis of the arsenic compounds in DNA. Seriously, this has gone beyond breathless; this is indeed bad science.

Per Wikipedia's article on alternative life chemistry, linked above, the hydrolysis issue caught my attention the day of the announcement. Obviously, it caught the attention of science professionals, too, and Ms. Wolfe-Simon is left without explanation, so she bloviates.

Meanwhile, here's proof of NASA's fluffery on the arsenic compound/exobiology story that had nothing to do with alien life - the hed on NASA's announcement:
"Get Your Biology Textbook...and an Eraser!"

What if Pujols walks?

Jayson Stark reminds us that, per Prince Albert's own deadline, if spring training is the start of the season, the Cards have 10 weeks left to resign Albert Pujols.
I know Albert well enough that once he gets into spring training, he doesn't like distractions," (Cardinals manager Tony) La Russa said Wednesday. "I just know where the heart and heads of both the team and the player [are]. They want it to work out. They'll work at it, and we'll see what happens. Once we get ready officially for 2011, Albert's the strongest between the ears that you can find, and nothing's going to get in his way."

Period.

If not, he's gone. Because he has 10 years overall and 5 in St. Louis, he would have veto rights over any midseason deal, even if he would recognize it as a rent-a-player situation.

I see something in the neighborhood of 7 years, $200 million. And, except for some fielding decline in 2010, most his value numbers have held steady for 4-5 years and, I expect, these numbers will not significantly decline for the next 5, or the next 4 years into a new contract:

                                                 
Year Tm Rfield Rrep RAR WAR oRAR oWAR dWAR
2001 STL 6 19 69 6.9 63 6.4 0.5
2002 STL -4 18 56 5.8 60 6.2 -0.4
2003 STL 14 18 107 10.9 93 9.5 1.4
2004 STL 15 18 93 9.4 78 7.9 1.5
2005 STL 9 19 79 8.2 70 7.2 1.0
2006 STL 14 16 83 8.3 69 7.0 1.3
2007 STL 25 18 82 8.3 57 5.8 2.5
2008 STL 18 17 94 9.6 76 7.8 1.8
2009 STL 12 18 88 9.2 76 7.8 1.4
2010 STL -2 19 72 7.2 74 7.4 -0.2
10 Seasons 107 180 823 83.8 716 73.0 10.8


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/29/2010.

That said, who's got the money AND a location acceptable to Prince Albert if Mozeliak and DeWitt aren't going to cough up $200 million?

1. Chicago. And, a definite 1B opening. And, a fan base that after initial ooginess, would certainly welcome him. That one-year Carlos Pena contract is nothing.
2. Houston, if it wants to immediately vault to NL Central relevance. (Would probably piss off Brett Wallace to be stuck behind Pujols again.)
3. Atlanta? Definitely. With an aging Phillies team, a still-struggling Mets, and a who-knows Nats, a strong move.
4. The Dodgers - IF the McCourt fiasco gets wrapped up quickly enough. But, not sure that's a team Pujols would visit.
4. Mets - See Braves and Astros.
6. Baltimore badly needs a 1B, but not sure it wants to spend like that.
7. The Angels? If they thought they could move Kendry Morales, sure. Especially now that they lost the Crawford sweepstakes this year. But, that's kind of a big if.
8. The Giants. Hmm ... they've got new money, and Huff ain't getting younger.

My guess on Pujols' preferences? Chicago, then Houston. Just a hunch he might have some revenge factor. Folks at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch are thinking coastal only; a poll offers neither of those top options I suggest.

Meanwhile, via an excellent blog on team salaries, here's further assessment of the top contenders' chances.

The Cubs have a good financial setup for chasing Pujols.

Ramirez, Silva, Fukodome all come off after 2011; Dempster, Zambrano after 2012. Fukodome is out; Ramriez is out if not club friendly and ditto for Silva. Like the same on the 2012s.

Astros? Smaller payroll, but no big contracts end in 2011, and just Carlos Lee in 2012.

Braves? No big contracts end after 2011, but both Derek Lowe and Chipper Jones after 2012. They could take a big jump for one year for Pujols and then be better off.

Mets? Beltran's contract ends in 2011; so does Francisco Rodriguez and Oliver Perez.

Angels? Pineiro and Abreu end after this year, but neither has a huge contract and both could be resigned.

So, the Cubs will have a fair amount of free money and in a big market. Astros? It depends on their mentality. Mets will have plenty of money, but doesn't strike me as a Pujols top option. Braves would have to eat a one-year spike, but from 2013 on, would be better set.

So, with that in mind, I'll move Braves up to No. 2 in the running, drop the Astros to No. 3, put the Mets at 4 and Angels at 5.

As for the ridiculousness, seemingly, of paying Lance Berkman $8 million to play either LF or RF? Let's not forget that Fat Elvis can also play 1B, just in case the Cards are able to pull the trigger finger on a trade of Pujols.

And, John Mozeliak is an idiot for not working on a new contract for him at the same time the Phillies did for Howard.

The team as a whole still has the "huh?" factor. Owner Bill DeWitt says talks may not start until January.

That said, the odds that he is gone at or before the start of 2012? 50-50, in my book.

Meanwhile, if the management decides to pull the trigger on a trade, it's not trying to right now. That would be all over the rumor mills.

No, 42 percent of people do NOT go to church

For decades, poll after poll has said somewhere from 40-43 percent of Americans go to church on the average Sunday. It's actually HALF that, about 20 percent.

Pollsters have long known that on some things, most notably on racial preference issues, people will, well, they'll lie to an anonymous pollster on an anonymity-guaranteeing poll, producing the answer they think they "should" give to society.

So, rather than ask, "did you go to church in the last week," pollsters instead did a more extensive time-use set of questions, starting with pollees' Saturday nights.

And, with that, a lot of people didn't remember a Sunday activity called church.

That said, the Slate author is right that the ultimate question is, WHY is religiosity so tied to American identity, so much that many people lie about it?

I'll start it with Jan. 20, 1981, and Ronald Wilson Reagan and the Religious Right.

If any man lied about his religiosity, it's him. And, the Religious Right abetted this for ultimately nefarious ends, of pushing the idea of America as a Christian nation.

December 28, 2010

CFI and organization — Kurtz maybe DID need to go

I didn’t carefully and thoroughly follow every step of the Council for Inquiry’s organizational issues up to the time Paul Kurtz was pushed out as executive director.

Since that time, I started paying more attention, for a number of reasons.

First is related to the reasons Kurtz was allegedly pushed out — the difference between “confrontationalists” (especially among “New Atheists”) and “accommodationalists” as far as how to deal with the nonatheist world in general and especially its more hostile elements. I lean toward the accommodationalist side but, per Ecclesiastes, know there is a time for everything.

Second is related to the organizational issues themselves, specifically, the loss of a $2 million a year donor, because of losing Kurtz. And, there are two subissues here.

No. 1? Orac (sorry, didn’t bookmark a link) is right: You do NOT use the money of one donor in your general fund when that donor’s contributions make up a full one-quarter of your total income. You put that in a trust and use the interest, after a couple of years. OR, as many environmental groups do, you try to set up a matching fund drive between small donors and this guy. You could then use that portion of his $2M a year donation in your general fund but bank the rest.

That one hangs totally on Kurtz’s shoulders. My impression is that he ran CFI too much like a ma-and-pa shop long after it had expanded beyond that point. He obviously needed a full-time director of development who would know this, know how to do this, and tell Kurtz that.

If Kurtz resisted any of this, then he needed to go.

Update, Dec. 28: I have more CFI governance and funding questions.
  • For how long had this one major donor been contributing?
  • Who besides Kurtz was involved with development/funraising, whether the actual work involved, or at least having a general idea of revenues? Did anybody even consider the matching fund drive idea?
  • Who besides Kurtz and (I assume, but maybe I shouldn't) the board of directors) was involved with annual budgeting? Did any of them EVER think to ask the Orac question about why the organization was using all this person's money? Did anybody on the board wonder if, when it decided to escort Kurtz out the door, this donor might object? Did anybody on the board even know who this donor was?
  • Again, if there's a lot of "blank spaces" answers for these questions, the problems they represent are still lurking within CFI as an organization.

No. 2? The donor dropoff has led to a number of other issues, one related to a CFI job for which I applied, the position of director of communications.

Now, this spring, Nathan Bupp was still listed as vice president of communications. I assume his position was cut in the financial turmoil, and now, the director of communications opening is a partial replacement, at lower salary.

That said, it’s been going on eight weeks now since the application deadline for that job. I have no idea of where Barry Karr of CFI is at in the process. My guess is that, based on the number of resumes he got early on, a CFI disorganizational disorder has overwhelmed him. I’m assuming that he, and any assistant(s) he has in the hiring process, did NOT start a “preliminary cull” of resumes after getting more than 120 in the first 36-48 hours after announcing the opening. Assuming they didn’t, that’s another organizational black mark.

If CFI doesn't have the money to hire more staffers to help organization, then it needs to focus solely on development issues (along with narrower PR issues in the sense of perception) before anything else.

If staff levels are semi-adequate, then Ron Lindsay needs to do a better job as new CEO, or hire an assistant, with appropriate title, who knows more about management and organizational issues.

Anyway, I have no idea of I will get the CFI position. I know I’m well-qualified for it.

But, in any case, CFI has issues it needs to address.

Beyond the organizational ones, it still needs to address the confrontationalist vs. accommodationalist issue. It also needs to address just what skepticism is and who a skeptic is. It also needs to address legitimate claims for the explanatory power of science vs. “scientism,” as my recent blog on a John Shook post shows.

And, that kind of reflects on why CFI needs a director of communications. Bloggers and online columnists there are kind of scattershot, and the thought quality isn't always that high. If you want to continue to be, and to be seen as, America's top secular humanist organization, well, you have at least some of your work cut out for you.

Update, Dec. 28: Also, in today's online world, with other atheist and secular humanist organizations, what does CFI stand for? What sets it apart from other such groups? With Kurtz now gone, does it have a mission? Until these questions are answered, its funding struggles are likely to continue

Does NASA 'new' life form signal multiple evolutionary tracks

Update, Dec. 28: Here's a lot more on how NASA had motive to fluff this bad science. Read the whole thing, to be sure, but this image ought to say it all:
Inside NASA, some employees have taken to wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the letters "WWED," which stands for "What Would Elon Do?" — a reference to SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk, the Internet tycoon who invested his own fortune in pursuit of his dream of sending humans into space.
That's an agency hugely afraid for its future, and probably thinking it needs all the fluffery it can get, or do.

===

As reported in the New York Times and plenty of places elsewhere, NASA today unveiled the "discovery" of a new bacterium in which arsenic appears to substitute for phosphorus in both DNA and ATP.

First, before getting to the meat of the header, let's explain the scare quote first, then the italics.

The New York Times notes this bacterium was CULTIVATED to substitute arsenic for phosphorus; it wasn't "discovered."
The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic, gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its little body for atoms of arsenic.

OK, so that would leave us a bit skeptical about how relevant this is to multiple evolutionary tracks.

Second, also from the NYT ... the DNA claims haven't fully tested out yet, so this might also be rushed science:
By labeling the arsenic with radioactivity, the researchers were able to conclude that arsenic atoms had taken up position in the microbe’s DNA as well as in other molecules within it. Dr. Joyce, however, said that the experimenters had yet to provide a “smoking gun” that there was arsenic in the backbone of working DNA.

That addresses the appears to replace phosphorus.

Now, let's get to the meat of the header.

A notable sidebar to this story, as written up in detail by Greg Laden, is whether this doesn't open the window to multiple lines of evolution.

I think that's unlikely, even though theoretically possible. Here's why.

Per Nature News, the arsenic-based bacteria were just 60 percent as efficient in growth rate as their original kin. That's a pretty huge efficiency difference. Given that few places on earth, if any, have significantly higher arsenic concentrations than Mono Lake, it would be hard for such bacteria to find an extremophilic location that exempted them from phosphorus-based competition.

Nature News has more on that line of thought:
For example, if phosphate in ATP was exchanged for arsenate, would the energy-transfer reaction that powers a cell be as efficient? In metabolic processes in which arsenate would bind with glucose, would the bonds it forms — weaker than those of phosphate — be as effective? And phosphate groups bind to proteins modify their function, but would arsenate work as well?

All good questions.

And, there's yet more skepticism from Nature News.

First, exactly how is the arsenic working?
To be truly convincing, however, the researchers must show the presence of arsenic not just in the microbial cells, but in specific biomolecules within them, says Barry Rosen, a biochemist at Florida International University, Miami. "It would be good if they could demonstrate that the arsenic in the DNA is actually in the backbone," he said.

Also, he says, the picture is still missing an understanding of what exactly the arsenic–phosphorus switch means for a cell, says Rosen. "What we really need to know is which molecules in the cell have arsenic in them, and whether these molecules are active and functional," he says.

And, how do the arsenic compounds avoid breaking down?
"It remains to be established that this bacterium uses arsenate as a replacement for phosphate in its DNA or in any other biomolecule found in 'standard' terran biology," says Steven Benner, who studies origin-of-life chemistry at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Florida.

Arsenate forms much weaker bonds in water than phosphate, that break apart on the order of minutes, he says, and though there might be other molecules stabilizing these bonds, the researchers would need to explain this discrepancy for the hypothesis to stand. Still, the discovery is "just phenomenal" if it holds up after further chemical analysis, Benner adds. "It means that many, many things are wrong in terms of how we view molecules in the biological system."

That then said, per the specifics of how arsenic is poisonous to multicellular life, as (gasp, I'm referencing it again) Wikipedia's arsenic article notes, while this theoretically opens the door to multiple evolutionary pathways, in reality, I can't see that there's a great likelihood of it, at least this particular pathway.

So, this needs a LOT more research. It ain't Pons-Fleischmann trotting out cold fusion, no, but, it does seem ... sketchy, so far. (That said, I'll admit that Wikipedia's article on cold fusion is iffy itself.)

That said, I'm boosting part of my response to Greg into the body of the post here.

First, I am by no means the only person who has said he or she thought the paper, etc., was rushed. To analogize: Bite size chunks can be undercooked and, IMO, this chunk needed more time on the grill.

Second, per me, PZ Myers and many others, there's disagreement on how "spectacular" the trick is, especially given that this was a trick induced in a controlled environment. Again, I note: Mono Lake already has a high arsenic level, and (so far at least) no similar arsenophilic bacteria have been found in the natural environment of the lake. Add in the relative weakness of arsenic bond to phosphorus ones in water, and, at least on Earth, that leaves open the question of just how likely it is.

Now, tying that to exobiology. I don't know what difference, if any, Mars has from Earth in As/P ratios. Given the fact that wasn't mentioned in the presser, the answer is either "little difference" or else "oops, big NASA error." But, short of something like that, a talk of environmental differences, NASA erred again, or "fluffed/hyped," in making the exobiology link.

Oh, and a final note for Greg the commenter - possibly Greg Laden?

From a commenter at Pharyngula:
1) The best As:P ratio they got was 7.3:1 in dry cell weight. They are using media with phosphate contaminants (~3 uM). The extremely slow growth rate (20-fold in six days; compared to E. coli roughly 20-fold in 90 min) suggests limited growth that is occurring from phosphate salvage. ...

3) There is no evidence that As is incorporated into functional DNA or RNA and that such As-nucleotide is competent in replication/translation. They have evidence that As is incorporated into nucleic acids. That’s a major leap from there to functionally competent DNA/RNA.

4) Arsenate diesters are unstable in water. The hydrolysis rates for arsenate esters are 10,000 – 1,000,000 times faster than the corresponding phosphate esters. No stability; no genetic information. The notion that water is kept away is curious at best and the hallmark of pathological science at worst. ...

6) It’s been known that arseno-ADP, the ATP analog, is not stable in water. ... How do you get to arseno-DNA without arsenic analogs of ATP?

So, sorry, Greg, nice try but you're flogging a dead horse.

Update, Dec. 6: If shoddy research controls and mechanics make an experiment bad science, then this looks to pretty officially be bad science. Note to Greg Laden and other "fluffers" - why continue flogging this? Let's see some more posting at Science Blogs and Discover about how this baby ever saw the light of day, instead.

Update, Dec. 9:More yet on the NASA fluffery angle:

Here's proof of the fluffery - the hed on NASA's annoucement:
"Get Your Biology Textbook...and an Eraser!"

Fact is, as P.Z. Myers, Wikipedia and many other sites noted, arsenic replacing phosphorus in organic compounds, albeit much simpler ones than DNA, isn't even new. As for it actually doing so in DNA, well, the trumpeted NASA experiment doesn't necessarily prove that.

And, NASA's PR machine is still going, in this wire story that connects the iffy experiment to discovery of more habitable planets and more stares:

Meanwhile, more motive for NASA to trumpet itself? Perhaps worries about the successful orbital flight of SpaceX's Dragon. though NASA was kind enough to offer congratulations.

Remember, getting back to the budgetary motive angle, Obama has talked about leaning more on private services to head to the space station.

===

Update, Dec. 20:Arsenic exobiology researcher Felisa Wolfe-Simon is dismissive, and in a wrongly, fudging, sense, concerns about hydrolysis of the arsenic compounds in DNA. Seriously, this has gone beyond breathless; this is indeed bad science.

Per Wikipedia's article on alternative life chemistry, linked below, the hydrolysis issue caught y attention the day of the announcement. Obviously, it caught the attention of science professionals, too, and Ms. Wolfe-Simon is left without explanation, so she bloviates.

More on the Texas economic miracle mirage

The average sale price on a pre-existing home in Dallas-Fort Worth, the state's largest metropolitan area, declined for the fourth straight month after going up in the first half of the year. While not a California, Arizona, Nevada or Florida-level problem, nonetheless, prices are off almost 10 percent form 2007. And, while the October decline wasn't the worst in the nation, it was worse than the national average. That's why it's funny, almost laughable, to read major DFW real estate agents essentially whistle in the dark about 2011.

That said, most of them probably voted for the eternally lucky Tricky Ricky Perry, and therefore have no choice but to whistle in the dark.

More on NASA's motives to fluff ArsenicGate

When the story now deservedly known as ArsenicGate broke, with NASA "fluffing" a mid-level exobiology story into something it wasn't even close to being, I blogged both about the bad science involved and how NASA's fluffery didn't stack up to the reality of claims about things like multiple evolutionary pathways.

In both posts, I said that NASA had "good" motive for such fluffery, including, above all, the success at that very time of the first privately-funded orbital space flight.

Well, here's a lot more on how NASA had motive to fluff this bad science. Read the whole thing, to be sure, but this image ought to say it all:
Inside NASA, some employees have taken to wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the letters "WWED," which stands for "What Would Elon Do?" — a reference to SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk, the Internet tycoon who invested his own fortune in pursuit of his dream of sending humans into space.
That's an agency hugely afraid for its future, and probably thinking it needs all the fluffery it can get, or do.

But, per the story, NASA can do all the fluffery it want; that doesn't guarantee results.

December 27, 2010

Does Scientific American have a ScienceBlogs problem?

Updated at bottom with addition information that, in my opinion, makes Scientific American look even worse.

A few months back, ScienceBlogs was in full revolt over Pepsi being asked, by SciBlogs' top brass, to sponsor a health blog. Well, what's up with SciAm having Chevy Volt sponsor a special section on electric cars?

Add in the fact that the stories linked off the online cover page of the special section are a mix of SciAm-reported stories and Chevy PR, and it really doesn't look good.

Also, not good? SciAm's stories all talk about "electric cars" when the Chevy Volt isn't. It's a hybrid, and Chevy has finally admitted that. In short, it's bad PR, bad journalism, and if we're counting tech as science, bad science, too.

And, no, it's not the deal that this was "sneaky" like the Pepsi/SciBlogs deal. Sorry, @BoraZ. (That said, depending on who in Scientific American's editorial hierarchy knew about this, and who didn't, and when, it may well be sneaky, for all I know.)

That wasn't the only thing wrong with the Pepsi issue at ScienceBlogs, although it was the first problem and the first-visible one. There was also the question about Pepsi, rather than, say, FiberOne, sponsoring a health-related blog.

So, in line with that, if Scientific American was going to sell itself out for sponsorship from an electric car, then why didn't it get an actual electric car, i.e., the Nissan Leaf, and not the Chevy Volt, which is a hybrid? Right there is an indication of how the "sponsorship" has affected the reporting.

Since the Volt isn't a pure electric ... I'd have to say this is a version of greenwash. It also, besides ethics, makes me wonder just how intelligent about auto tech some SciAm editors are.

I hadn't originally intended to name Bora, former ScienceBlogs blogger of "A Blog around the Clock" and now at Scientific American. BUT ... he just either doesn't get it, or is being defensive about Scientific American. An exchange of several Twitters over more than 24 hours leads me to believe that while it may be primarily the former, it could well be in part the latter.

If it is, Bora, you need to talk to other people at Scientific American rather than being defensive.

After all, you left SciBlogs in part over the Pepsi fiasco. I quote from your post about your leaving:
What is relevant is that a corporation paid to have a seat at the table with us. And that Seed made that happen.

What is relevant is that this event severely undermined the reputation of all of us. Who can trust anything we say in the future?

Even if you already know me and trust me, can people arriving here by random searches trust me? Once they look around the site and see that Pepsi has a blog here, why would they believe I am not exactly the same, some kind of shill for some kind of industry?

At the end, you said Seed's image is permanently damaged.

Well didn't Volt, in this case, also pay "to have a seat at the table"? Doesn't that affect SciAm's reputation?

Answers? Yes and yes.

Update, Dec. 28:/ Apparently, I've gotten a bit under Bora's skin, as he thinks I am just pot stirring. In his last Tweet on the subject though, he adds one more point that makes SciAm look even worse, in my book.
He notes that the special project from August! I usually don't read the mag stem-to-stern online or off, but for it to be still promoted 4 months later? And, after GM brass officially admitted the Volt is a hybrid, to STILL, with the side-by-side presentation and the content of the articles, to STILL leave standing the implication that SciAm believes the Volt is an electric car, not a hybrid, AND that Volt could buy such favorable coverage in general.

Also, Bora, this is NOT about "investigative journalism." I know, because, I've actually DONE investigative journalism.

And, do you really think knowing the difference between a hybrid-drive vehicle and a truly electric is "too geeky" for Scientific American?

Wowsa.

Methinks thee doth indeed protest too much. Talk to the hand, Bora, on this one. Better yet? Seriously? Talk to some Scientific American editorial management, as I said when I first wrote this post, before updating it.

And, if this is pot stirring, I take that as a compliment.

AND, per the "lifting up" of new media? Or new-type media venues? The medium is NOT the message, contra McLuhan. New media faces the same ethical responsibilities and issues as old media.

In this case, in fact, since this is an easy issue to address, even solve, online, it's arguably worse than in the pre-Internet age. If I'm going to be in for a pot-stirring penny, I'm in for a pot-stirring pound. My forthrightness in not swooning over new media is probably why Jay Rosens and others don't like what I say on the subject either.

UPdate, Oct. 3, 2011:  The Leaf is beating the sales pants off the Volt.

Baby Boomers face retirement bust

Laid off. Forced to take lower-paying jobs. Still holding mortgages, which may be underwater. Stocks and 401(k)s that tanked in the recession. Some serious stuff.

That and more that the newly-retiring start of the Baby Boomer aging wave is all listed here.
• Mortgage Debt. Nearly two in three people age 55 to 64 had a mortgage in 2007, with a median debt of $85,000.

• Social Security. Nearly 3 out of 4 people file to claim Social Security benefits as soon as they're eligible at age 62. That locks them in at a much lower amount than they would get if they waited.

The monthly checks are about 25 percent less if you retire at 62 instead of full retirement age, which is 66 for those born from 1943 to 1954. If you wait until 70, your check can be 75 to 80 percent more than at 62. So, a boomer who claimed a $1,200 monthly benefit in 2008 at age 62 could have received about $2,000 by holding off until 70.

• Medical Costs. Health care expenses are soaring, and the availability of retiree benefits is declining.

"People cannot fathom how much money will be needed to simply cover out-of-pocket medical care costs," says Mitchell of the University of Pennsylvania.

A 55-year-old man with typical drug expenses needs to have about $187,000 just to cover future medical costs. That's if he wants to be 90 percent certain to have enough money to supplement Medicare coverage in retirement, the EBRI said. Because of greater longevity, a 65-year-old woman would need even more to cover her health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health expenses: an estimated $213,000.

• Employment. Boomers both need and want to work longer than previous generations. But unemployment is near 10 percent, and many have lost their jobs.

First, how much of this is the boomers' fault? I'd say a fair amount, beyond the obvious of boomers, as one admitted in the story, not saving enough, at least in a certain subsegment of boomers who thought they could "have it all."

How many boomers actually believed the pre-phrase-invention "ownership society" of how great 401s would be? How many one-time 1960s radicals willingly voted for Reagan? Or more? Of course, many of the people "selling" the ownership society under Shrub were also boomers.

How many have been unrealistic about the whole aging and self-discipline processes? How many still are?

A LOT:
Many seem to view their plight through rose-colored granny glasses. An AARP survey last month of boomers turning 65 next year found that they worry no more about money than they did at age 60 — before the recession or the collapse of home prices. But in an acknowledgment of reality, 40 percent said they plan to work "until I drop."

As someone technically a boomer by demographics, but really more a Gen-Xer in more ways, by outlook on life (except not so politically conservative as the average Xer) I don't feel a lot of sympathy for the average retiring boomer, in the abstract.

I don't want to be too harsh, but it gets back to that "have it all" phrase, even more than rose-colored glasses in general. And, not just "have it all," but have it all relatively effortlessly.

A rewarding motherhood AND a full-time career relatively effortlessly? That idea was started by boomers.

The former hippies who voted for Reagan and probably believed they could effortlessly have it all of getting rich yet holding on to at least a few 60s values?

(I won't even ask about how many boomers opposed Vietnam but supported Grenada or Panama.)

Or, to get past stereotyping boomers, how many of the rose-colored glasses wearers have been Republicans for years, and, like Reagan, have never stopped searching for the magical pony amidst all the crap? Too bad the story didn't do a breakout on attitudes.

There's several other issues at stake, too. Two of the biggies are American exceptionalism followed by American historical amnesia, including about our own history, let alone world history.

There was a time before the boomers were born when America had bad problems with income inequality. And now, those times have returned. Boomers apparently didn't learn that this was a possibility.

At the same time, the post-WWII era of massive American economic dominance was an anomaly, NOT a Teilhard-like Omega Point of the exceptionality of America, city on a hill. And, starting with Vietnam (remember that, Boomers?) most American military involvement, for better and often not for better, have been predicated in part on American exceptionalism.

Finally, what does the future hold for following cohorts? To answer that, first, some demarcations.

The Baby Boom has traditionally been considered to run 1946-1964. Why the Census and others use 1964 as the end point, I don't know. (The peak birth year of the boom was 1958.)

I'm going to take 1961 as the cutoff. Either Kennedy or Nixon would have been the first president born in the 20th century, so, it's a good sociological break.

But, I will NOT start GenX there. Instead, I propose a Transitionals mini-generation running 1961-1969. This cutoff point still leaves this cohort old enough to at least vaguely remember the end of Vietnam and the end of Ford, if not of Nixon. It also leaves even the young end old enough to be in junior high school by the time Reagan was elected and in adulthood by the time he was gone. In short, less affected by Reaganism than actual GenXers. I base this not just on me, but anecdotal experience of friends my age. (Personally, I can't identify with the increased materialism or the increased conservativism, on average, of true GenXers.)

I run GenX at 1969-1985. That leaves even the youngest entering high school by the time of 9/11. And, I run Millennials from 1985 to 2003, tentatively, using the Iraq war as a break point. The degree to which American politics has changed since then correlates to that.

Libertarianism - teens still needing to grow up? Trotskyists?

Christopher Beam has a generally good (albeit badly flawed in two ways, see below) overview of where today's libertarians in the U.S. stand, from individual Libertarian rebel types through Paul pere and fils and on to the Free State Project in New Hampshire, and, above all, what might be the Libertarian ground zero of the Cato Institute and Liberty magazine.

The Peter-Pannish teens might well apply to the Free State Project types. (Maybe even a bit to Rand Paul!) And, to the individualistic rebels.

That said, it's arguable, at least, that a place like Cato, or similar ones that are even more hardcore, are Trotskyist in spirit. Witness the "purges" of folks like Will Wilkerson. And, especially among Randians, there's a history of Trotskyist purges, starting with her own background from Old Russia, running through her own personal purge of Nathaniel Branden, and going on from there.

That said, the article's got a couple of BIG flaws, too.

First, Mr. Beam, civil libertarians are NOT the same as economic libertarians, let alone bigger "movement" libertarians. And, not all economic libertarians, even, follow Straus/Mises/Hayek, let alone Rand.

I have no idea why he threw in the observation and "lumping in" of civil libertarians on the first page of the story. Maybe as a "hook" of some sort? But, places like the ACLU and CCR have plenty of good old-fashioned economic liberals who also proudly identify as civil libertarians, but have no truck for the people he profiles in the article.

Second, and even worse, on the last page? Mr. Beam? The Constitution is not, and was not, a "libertarian" document.

Marty Peretz - bigot, Zionist nut, more.

NYMag has a good, but occasionally flawed in-depth profile on the man who has gotten ever more extreme in his Zionism, even while dissing not only all Arabs but claiming even upper-income blacks don't go to classical concerts or museums.

His fixed-idea nuttery on Israel? Here's how wrong he is:
"Obama has committed himself to a contiguous Palestine: Gaza and the West Bank. That means a discontiguous Israel.”
That said, Benjamin Wallace-Wells "fluffs" TNR as a magazine with the claim that, since he's taken it over, he's generally kept its politics well to the left of his own.

HUH?

It's neolib dreck, if it's that liberal, on general politics.

More specifically, can we talk about Andrew Sullivan's "Bell Curve issue"? Oy.

Douthat gets out teh bipartisan stupid

Ross Douthat is back to his junior David Brooks worst, spinning imaginary story lines that just aren't true. The newest entry? His lauding the bipartisanship of the lame-duck Congress.

First is the backstory that the midterm elections killed a "liberal fantasy." What's liberal about Obamacare, a sellout to private insurers? Answer: Zero. Other than Obamacare, what major item on his agenda could you call liberal? Cap-and-trade rather than straight-up carbon taxes were going to be a sellout to certain lines of big business. Obama's worse than Bush on civil liberties.

So, this "liberal fantasy" was actually a wet dream of the semi-nutbar Douthat and the full-nutbar GOP.

Now, the "bipartisanship"? A good majority of the GOP voted against cloture on the New START treaty. A still-strong majority voted against the treaty itself. The DREAM Act was NOT, contra Ross, killed by bipartisanship, unless a curmudgeon, GOP-in-drag Democrat like Ben Nelson counts as "bipartisan."

The "bipartisan" tax deal? Only "bipartisan" because Democrats have no balls. If that's part of how we define "bipartisan," well, stand by for plenty more.

December 26, 2010

I give the UK coalition six more months

To speak British-style, the Lib Dems have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories on the massive budget cuts in the service sectors and elsewhere in government.

But, Prime Minister David Cameron has yet to deliver to Nick Clegg on the electoral reform that was the Lib Dems price for joining coalition.

I give Cameron six months to deliver that. Why that long? I'm guessing that if it doesn't come by then, Lib Dems will sack Clegg as party leader. And, any promise he made to Cameron to see through the coalition for the full five years will not be binding on his successor.

Even now, the Guardian notes that support for the coalition, primarily within the Lib Dems but also from Conservatives, is falling sharply:
The latest Guardian/ICM poll finds that after six months of Conservative-LibDem rule just 43% think coalition government was the right decision for Britain while 47% now disagree. In May, in answer to a slightly differently worded question, 59% backed the coalition while 32% disagreed with the decision to form it.

Among LibDem voters, support is 50-50.

Meanwhile, Labour's Ed Miliband waits in the wings:
Asked about the party leaders, only 12% thought Nick Clegg's prospects would improve in 2011, against 47% who think he will have a worse year. For David Cameron, 23% think 2011 will be better and 36% worse. Only Ed Miliband can look forward to a happier new year. While 27% think the coming year will be worse for him than the one before, 29% think it will be better – the only net positive score on all the issues asked in the survey.

And, so, Labour hopes to peel off dissatisfied Lib Dem voters.

At the same time, Lib Dem and Tory ministers in government seem to be having more distance developing. (Speaking to a media roundtable where you as a politician think you're off the record and the media thinks you're not doesn't help!)

December 25, 2010

How tasty are your taste buds?

Via fellow skeptical blogger Kristjan Wager:

Rules:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding (Assuming this is blood pudding, ate it as a child, would never do so as an adult!
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses [I presume this refers to the cheese, not the French village]
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (Would do so no more)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper [I like hot stuff, but I'm not suicidal] (I've done raw Habanero and am taking it as an equivalent)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda [No, but it sounds quite good]
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu [I prefer food which you can eat without risk of death]
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut [Not impressed]
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear [Careful of thorns when you eat them] (I've had the tunas, the fruits [similar to white grapes, but milder yet] as well as the nopales)
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (other than the clay, not sure what this could be
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong (not a tea fanatic, unlike with coffee)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano (I've never gotten into mole in Mexican food)
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta (Never understood the food snobbery surrounding what, as a lower-classes food in the U.S., is simply called cornmeal mush.)
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

December 24, 2010

John Steinbeck - fabulist; maybe plain old liar

So, it turns out "Travels with Charley" isn't true. It's not even "true to life." Not even close. That said, because it's deliberate confabulation, it's not really a novel, either, is it? It's a lie. Should we then re-address the motive behind Steinbeck's actual novels? Did he actually sympathize with Joad-type characters, or did he just think it was a good storyline?

I mean, "Grapes of Wrath" and "Cannery Row" are powerful and stirring. But, reading just how much Steinbeck fabulized, or just made stuff up, in "Travels with Charley," seriously makes me wonder if he was writing them for the story line more than the message.

AND ... although the Nobel Literature committee, unlike the Downtown Athletic Club with a Heisman Trophy, doesn't seem like it would ever revoke an awarded prize, IF Steinbeck was writing his novels for story lines more than any "message," should we reconsider his place in the literary canon?

That said, per Leo on Facebook, The Harvest Gypsies (the series of articles about migrant workers Steinbeck wrote for the San Francisco News) was the nonfiction basis for "The Grapes of Wrath." As Leo notes, what if Steinbeck faked that, too?

An 'aha' moment from 'It's a Wonderful Life'

At the end of George's extended vision, when he goes back to the bridge and discovers he's still alive? I believe the music at that point is a major-key variation on the medieval Dies Irae melody. (Doubt the average watcher would even pick up on that.)

The occurrence is just before Bert pulls up and says, "Where have you been, George"?" It just caught my ear. [That said, that's part of why I love Rachmaninoff, and I will hear the Dies Irae wherever it pops up.] Given that Dmitri Tiomkin, who wrote the score, was born in Old Russia 21 years after Rachmaninoff, and studies there under Alexander Glazunov and later, in Berlin, under Ferruccio Busoni, it adds to the possibility.

Apparently, it was his idea, and part of a darker original score, too, which got prettied up when the movie's Christmas sections were seen as the thematic core. See here for more on the score.

That said, what if Capra had ended the movie with George jumping? Or, had run it out another 30 minutes after the tear-jerker ending?

If you want to get more thought on that line, go here; is it "the most terrifying movie ever"?

Per the link, which talks about George's "resurrection," I think that IS a Dies Irae riff. That said, to riff on some of the ideas in the link ... it would have been interesting if, in the "salvation by friends" scene at the end, the actual Dies Irae had been playing, sotto voce.

Or, maybe it's time to do a remake?

Meet the Obama birthers' new enemy

Hawaii's new governor, Neil Abercrombie, took office Dec. 6, and has declared himself determined to shoot down birther nuttery. Given that he knew Obama's parents, he's probably in good position to fight the birthers.
Abercrombie, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., arrived in 1959 to study sociology at the University of Hawaii. As a teaching assistant, he met and befriended Obama's father, a native of Kenya.

That said, as the story notes, with this as with most conspiracy theories (which are usually as evidence-free and nonamenable to reason as fundamentalist versions of other faith-based ideas), Abercrombie is likely to produce a backlash.

"Sure, you were born in Buffalo, Mr. Governor ... "

MMM, the smell of tax-cut compromise pork

That tax-cut compromise that Stockholm Syndrome Preznit Kumbaya hailed? It's loaded with pork for the rich and corporations. Per the AP, that includes tax breaks for producing TV shows, rum subsidies for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, an exemption for banks, insurance companies and other financial firms to shield foreign profits from U.S. taxes, and a tax break for people who buy race horses.

Why?

The answer:
Most of the business tax breaks — about 50 in all — are part of a package that expires each year, creating uncertainty for tax planners but lots of business for lobbyists.

I added the emphasis, because it's what happens elsewhere. It's what will happen in 2012 with the next threatened expiration of the "Bush" tax cuts. (Hey, Kumbaya, just like the senseless war in Afghanistan, you officially "own" these tax cuts now.) It's what happens every year with threatened Medicare cuts.

Is filibuster reform just around the corner?

Could the filibuster finally get reformed? Senate Democrats made a unanimous noise in that direction, with the exception of the none-too-soon departing Chris "Housing Stud" Dodd.
Among the chief revisions that Democrats say will likely be offered: Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they first muster 40 votes for it, and they would have to remain on the floor to sustain it. That is a change from current rules, which require the majority leader to file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed, and then wait 30 hours for a vote on it.

Secret "holds" also could be eliminated under the proposed changes in Senate procedures. Holds would still be allowed, but not in private.

Boy, Harry Reid has had as successful a lame-duck session in terms of political skills as Obama has, arguably. Does he want to roll the dice Jan. 5?

That said, it's ultimately not Reid's call; he's not the Speaker of the Senate. And, IIRC, to the best of my knowledge, the man who is the presiding officer, Vice President Joe Biden, has never been "warm" about such reforms. With a smaller Democratic majority this time around, too, it could be hard to do.

And, outside of a Mark Udall, a Jeff Merkley and a Tom Harkin, where the hell were the rest of you 23 months ago?

Update, Dec. 24: Merkley speaks with Ezra Klein about his "modest proposal." Near the end, he notes that without the current pseudo-filibustering, Obamacare would have been four separate bills.

Surely, on at least one of those four parts, moderate Republicans might have been able to get changes they didn't to an omnibus bill. Hence, they're occasionally shooting themselves in the foot.

December 23, 2010

Gang Green struggles to accept Team Obama diffidence

Yeah, the "soft bigotry of low expectations" vis-a-vis the Bush Administration has finally worn off Gang Green environmental groups as the face the reality of President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Kenny Boy Salazar on environmental issues.

They're still working to accept this reality.

And, here's why -- they're a bunch of fricking insiders!

Big Green's response to the failures of its strategies in Washington is, for the most part, disoriented silence. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) did not respond to requests for comment. Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), offered some thoughts in a widely read piece for The Huffington Post, in which he wrote, "While being more aggressive and vigorously fighting to achieve critical emissions reductions, we—the environmental community—must be more open." In an interview for this article Krupp said, "We need to do more to make existing laws function well. That means defending the EPA, working with states and public utility commissions. But we are also going to shift emphasis toward suing polluters even as we will continue to cooperate with corporations that are trying to reduce emissions."

There are structural factors, though, that will make it difficult for Big Green groups like the NRDC to join the Sierra Club and Greenpeace in a more confrontational and local approach. Big Green groups are heavily invested in fundraising (including from the fossil fuel industry) and DC lobbying. To get serious about organizing would require their leaders to first fire all their lobbyists (who are often their friends) and then probably fire themselves. As one leader, speaking off the record, put it, "It would mean they'd have to totally restructure themselves away from getting Senator Scott Brown to say this and not that. Their priorities would have to be something other than rubbing elbows with lawmakers." Greens need a presence in Washington, but it will produce nothing if the movement is not willing and able to threaten industry and mainstream politicians with serious disruption—meaning slow, expensive court cases, loss of profits, public humiliation and electoral defeat.

Smaller enviro groups have recognized the stupidity of chaining themselves to the Democratic Party.

And, they're not the first "special interest" to see that. Back in the 1940s, United Mine Workers boss John L. Lewis warned about the same thing.

Past Saharan change has global warming implications

A slight change in Earth's axial tilt has been implicated in the drying of the Sahara to today's conditions.

And, it has implications for global warming. Why?
Scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory say that the current melting of ice in Greenland is already causing the tilt to change at a rate of approximately 2.6 centimeters each year. They predict that his change could increase in the years ahead.

Now, this change may seem slight. But, not to anybody who knows anything about Milankovich cycles and Earth's ice ages and warming periods in the past.

Gallup: Very religious are healthier

Gallup notes, in a new research poll:
Very religious Americans are less likely to report that they smoke and are more likely to say they eat well and exercise regularly than those who are moderately religious or nonreligious. Nonreligious Americans have the worst health habits of the three groups.

Fortunately, Gallup recognizes that a statistical correlation is not necessarily a causal one:
There are a number of factors that could contribute to very religious Americans' healthier lifestyle choices. Some of these factors are likely overt products of religious doctrine itself, including rules related to smoking and substance abuse. Seventh-Day Adventists, for example, strictly adhere to vegetarian lifestyles free of alcohol and smoking, while orthodox Mormons and Muslims do not drink alcohol. In some Christian denominations, gluttony and sloth are considered two of the seven deadly sins, and many evangelical faiths frown on drinking and smoking. The Bible indicates that one's body is the "temple of God," which could in turn help explain the relationship between religious orthodoxy and exercise and certain types of food consumption. It is possible, of course, that the noted relationship between health and religiosity could go in the other direction -- that people who are healthier are the most likely to make the decision to be religious. This could be particularly relevant in terms of church attendance, one of the constituent components of Gallup's definition of religiousness. Healthier people may be more likely and able to attend religious services than those who are less healthy.

It also notes that, if there is a causal correlation, it could go in the other direction than fundamentalist types will claim?
It may also be possible that certain types of individuals are more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices and more likely to choose to be highly religious. The most parsimonious explanation, however, may be the most intuitive: Those who capitalize on the social and moral outcomes of religious norms and acts are more likely to lead lives filled with healthier choices.

That said, besides allowing for Mormons and Adventists, how much of this is age-specific? I'll bet that once we get past the age of 40 or so, the gap narrows a fair degree.

Wil Glenn Greenwald cut ties to the ACLU, too?

Update, Dec. 14: Greenwald's resignation letter is here. It addresses JUST the WikiLeaks issues, and nothing else of CREW's recent problems. Sorry, Glenn but that is a half-fail.

Update, Dec. 22: CREW head Melanie Sloan's guypal, former Congressman and current DC fixer Lanny Davis, is now running flak for Ivory Coast's authoritarian ruler. Again, Glenn, leaving CREW's board over WikiLeaks is "nice," but what did you know, and when, about Sloan's dealings with Lanny Davis? Or for-profit schools?

First, Glenn, while it's nice, and I mean taht non-sarcastically, that you're upset enough about Citizens for Responsibiliity and Ethics in Washington's statements on WikiLeaks that you might resign from the board of directors, aren't you a bit late to the concern party? Why weren't you this vocal (as far as I know, and I have your RSS feed on my My Yahoo homepage) when your own online mag first exposed Melanie Sloan's ties to lobbyist/fixer Lanny Davis, along with questions of better board oversight of her, and, of course, her eventual successor? Or when CREW's fluffing of for-profit schools came to notice?

Or, per FiredogLake, why haven't you talked more, given that it's a War on Terror-related issue, about Sloan's husband working for SAIC?
SAIC is a parallel privatized secret government that promotes neo-con war policies and does the more dirty of the Cheney Dirty Tricks. SAIC has been involved in COINTELPRO, spying on Americans who protest the criminal wars that are so profitable for SAIC. Would SAIC target organizations to use against anti-war leaders such as Maxine Waters? Did SAIC and Porter Goss and Melanie Sloan collaborate to destroy Maxine Waters? Those questions might be answered if CREW would reveal its donors instead of keeping them secret. A common method used by oppressive Secret Police Organizations, such as SAIC, is to subvert organizations, turning them into a zombie, which then self destructs.

With the departure of Melanie Sloan, CREW seems to be in zombie mode. For the last six months CREW has used its resources to help corrupt corporations. CREW has attempted to falsely convict Maxine Waters in a Kangaroo Court run by Porter Goss. It may not be too much longer before CREW self-destructs. For Melanie Sloan’s replacement, I suggest Glen Greenwald or Steve Eisman.

I can't agree with the FDL blogger on recommending you as her replacement, though. (I'll also say that his style, at least, is a bit over the top!) I don't know what Gleenn has known or suspected, and when, about Sloan, and if he's called for an audit of CREW, changes in internal regs or anything else.

Hence, until I know more about what Glenn has known, and when, on these other CREW issues, and what comments he has made in either public or private, while his stance on CREW re WikiLeaks is nice, it is also ... "nice."

And, there's another reason to not put Glenn on a pedestal either — his continued, apparently uncritical, support for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Glenn, if you're looking to sever ties to organizations that don't support free speech, you should have stopped supporting the ACLU years ago. Teaching groups how to comply with the Patriot Act? Censoring its own board members, or trying to, by Excutive Director Anthony Romero and President Nadine Strossen? It's all here.
Since 2001, under the leadership of Romero, Strossen, and her successor Susan Herman, the ACLU has repeatedly been caught practicing the opposite of what it preaches.

In July 2004, the board learned that Romero had quietly agreed to screen the organization's employees against terrorist "watch lists" — the same lists the ACLU has condemned — in order to qualify as an officially approved charity for federal employees. Strossen characterized Romero's action as "clever," but it was quickly rescinded after exposure in the Times.

This report was followed by Romero's admission that early in his tenure at the ACLU, he had privately advised the Ford Foundation to "parrot" the Patriot Act in formulating controversial new restrictions on the speech of its grantees — restrictions Romero then quietly accepted on the ACLU's behalf. (After a protracted debate, the board approved the Ford restrictions and then narrowly reversed itself, after embarrassing publicity about the ACLU’s watch list agreement with the government.)

A year later, in 2005, Romero was caught trying to impose very broad confidentiality agreements and technology rules on ACLU employees, similar to workplace rules that the ACLU officially opposes. Like the proposal governing board members' rights to speak, the agreements nearljavascript:void(0)y imposed on the staff (but withdrawn after they became public) included a virtual gag rule; they also would have required the staff to acknowledge that all their communications on ACLU systems were subject to surveillance. Nadine Strossen defended these proposals in an email to the board, cheerfully noting her bizarre "presumption" that they "facilitate the ACLU’s commitment to both privacy and free speech."

And, that makes Glenn's ACLU column of a year ago a bit ... ironic, at least? Unless Glenn has said something about Romero and Strossen that I don't know about, that is.

For anybody wondering about me? I've not given the ACLU money in three full years, in fair part due to these concerns. Oh, I'll still do the e-mail activism. But, for money? There's still the Center for Constitutional Rights. Less sclerotic.

I'm blogging again - and holiday cooking for 1

For any followers or others, apparently somebody hacked my account early today. Had to get an authorization code from Google, then reset my password after I logged in with that code.

Anyway, I'm copecetic now.

Holiday cooking? I found a boneless pork loin on sale for $1.99/pound last night. I sliced it up and made a marinade from cinnamon, a bit of allspice, ginger and glove, apple cider and worcestershire, all diluted a touch with water.

It's going to soak until I get home from work tonight, then slow cook for a couple of hours.

I made some homemade potato soup earlier in the week, so, got a good combo. Kept skins on the potatoes and threw in some brown rice and flaxseed for a bit of extra fiber. No milk, so I used a mix of butter, cream cheese and cheddar in the broth. Added about 3/4 an onion, healthy amount of black pepper and a bit of Italian herbs mix.

More thoughts on why Blyleven isn't yet in the HOF

Bert Blyleven is UNarguably, in my book, the greatest living (and eligible) player not yet in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. (Remove the "eligible" part and we're talking Albert Pujols, of course. And, no, we're NOT talking Pete Rose.)

So, why isn't he there?

Per his Wikipedia page, is Blyleven's history of disgruntlement as a player part of why he's still not in the HOF? Could be a part of it; supposedly, some voters still hold Ron Santo's 1969 heel-clicking against him.

Add in that he played for five teams, and none of them for more than 40 percent of his career, and that might be a bit of a factor. However, he's a broadcaster now for the Twinkies, who were his "primary" team, albeit before he hit his prime.

Plus, another overlooked area ... look at Blyleven's career fielding stats ... how did he never win a Gold Glove?

At the least, 1976 and 1989, he could have won vs. Palmer and Saberhagen, respectively.

Given that, for his career, he has above-average range factor AND fielding percentage, how did he never get a reputation as a good-fielding pitcher?

For people who continue to insist on win-loss percentage as a HOF qualifier for pitchers, hopefully King Felix winning this year's AL Cy Young award will help Blyleven too, if the same logic is applied.

For HOF voters who claim "he didn't dominate" season-to-season .... err, neither did Don Sutton! Of course, this is from a HOF voter enough of an idiot, jackass, etc., to think Jack Morris deserves in and Blyleven doesn't.

On the flip side, Rob Neyer makes the favorable Blyleven-Sutton comparison.

===

Robbie Alomar deserves in, too, but, if anybody gets in this year, it should be the Dutchman.

===

Here's the official 2011 HOF ballot. Other worthies? Bagwell, yes, although I don't think he's a first-year induction worth. Ditto on Larkin. Raines is just short of the cutoff for me. Everybody else is a bit further back.

===

Meanwhile ...

No wonder so many ESPN readers think Neyer's a douche. Not only Jack Morris, but Keith Hernandez and Dave Parker get a HOF shoutout from him. He even says a "possible case" could be made by unnamed "others" for Kevin Brown.

Jim Caple is another HOF maximalist. Must be something in the ESPN Kool-Aid.

He won't exclude roiders. Wants to vote in the vastly overrated Jack Morris. And Alan Trammell. And Edgar Martinez.