SocraticGadfly: 3/28/10 - 4/4/10

April 03, 2010

Herr Ratzinger, aka Benedict, has ANOTHER problem

Holy crap, Bavarian neo-Nazis and Catholics. Uhh, Herr Ratzinger, when you get a chance, between child sex abuse woes and getting Jews mad, and speaking of that, you might want to tackle this:
A chapel built on a mountainside in Germany is turning into a shrine for neo-Nazis after it emerged that it was built with marble and grainte taken from the ruins of Adolf Hitler's luxury retreat.

A swastika was reportedly found carved into one of the wooden beams of the Wegmacher Chapel, which was built in 1997, while local residents claim a number of shaven-headed, leather jacket-wearing 'pilgrims' leave behind notes of praise to Hitler and candles burning in his memory.

It was only recently that the Bavarian government admitted that material from the wreckage of Hitler's retreat, the Berghof in Berchtesgaden, was used in the construction of the chapel.

Some of the stones are from the terrace of the Berghof - quarried by Jewish slave labourers in concentration camps.
Oh. My. Fucking. Doorknob. Why the German Catholic Church hasn't taken the simple solution and just razed this place to the ground, I have no idea.

A collection plate for atheists

Not all atheists reject the "community" of organized religion, in the sense they recognize that the desire for community, while being addressed by organized religion, is not created by it. And, some of these atheists especially note that this "community" acts in part as a community of giving and caring.

And, one of them/us has now responded with, if you will, an online collection plate for atheists. At the same time, Dale McGowan defends past atheist giving levels, noting they haven't had this type of structure.

The story, that said, has a big empirical problem. It claims religious believers give more to charity, without parting out donations to religious denominations themselves.

Could iPad affect book copyright payments?

It's possible, and, per one non-fiction author, long overdue.

Obama WORSE than Bush on civil liberties

That's not just my word; that's from the guy who won the al-Haramain suit earlier this week.

April 02, 2010

Larry Lewis comes back to Best Southwest

You Lancasterites will love this one in south suburban Dallas.

The "late," not so lamented Larry Lewis, former Lancaster ISD superintendent, is now an interim assistant principal in Cedar Hill.

That said, showing how the Dallas Morning News' knowledge of the area has gotten ever thinner, and isn't challenged since I and Today Newspapers are no longer around, the Snooze story has one big error of commission and one of omission.

The error of commission claims Lewis hasn't worked since Lancaster let him go. NOT TRUE.

He was still peddling insurance, or consulting, or whatever, for AFLAC some time after that, because it became a matter of dispute in his settlement terms.

The error of ommission? Lewis' ex-wife, Sylvia (divorced after Lancaster canned him - I could say more) still works in Cedar Hill ISD as Highlands Elementary's principal.

"Ohhh, my," as George Takei would say!

Ohh, last I knew, Lewis' first ex-wife was still in Duncanville.

There's still DeSoto, Larry.

Also, per one commenter to the Snooze piece, why the rush, I rhetorically ask CHISD Superintendent Horace Williams? You've only got two months of school left. Second, did you talk to Sylvia about this at all? Third, as an interim hiring, did this dodge having to talk to the school board?

Tricky Ricky Perry tells insurance lies

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is almost getting to the point of making George W. Bush look honest.

His latest? He lies about the cost of health insurance, and the degree of its coverage, in Massachusetts after the passage of "RomneyCare."

Vatican 'double fail' on child sex abuse

Herr Ratzinger! Pope Benedict XVI shoots himself in the foot twice with his personal preacher comparing, undenied, the child abuse row to anti-Semitism. We DO KNOW what organization, for well more than a millennium, has been the leading purveyor of anti-Semitism, starting with the First Crusade also conducting the First Pogrom. I think this is called "double fail."

Scat, scat from the mat, cat, scat

This week's installment of Friday scatblogging is also Friday catblogging.

Because, if you cat lovers will buy the Scat Mat, you'll keep that darned cat off the kitchen counter, or wherever, and you'll not inflict quite so many tales of cat frustration on people who don't necessarily thrill at the cussed-mindedness of felines.

Literature meets science

And college and grad school English departments may just get a big win. Cognitive science is informing lit classes and profs on just how the human brain interprets "layers" of conversation amdn more.

April 01, 2010

A 3-1 split for Dems in Texas Congressional redistrcting?

Riffing on a post in Burnt Orange Report, with multiple links there, here's my take on how redistricting could play out, if Texas gains four seats.

Given the growth in Democratic voters (per Kuff) in suburban areas, the growth in Hispanics statewide, etc., a 3-1 split reflects realities better, especially if Dems can regain the Texas House this fall, let alone the governor's office.

Specifically, creating a Hispanic-friendly district in the Metroplex, adjusting south/southwest Texas districts to possibly create a Hispanic-leaning district, and then doing the same in the Houston area, in exchange for letting the GOP gain an exurban district somewhere, is fine.

A sidebar to Dems insisting on a 3-1 split would be the GOP likely pushing to make Edwards' district even more Republican, though. But, this is all part of horse trading.

Just how conscious are we?

New Scientist appears to transcend its slide into the crapper of the past few years with a serious of vignettes on different aspects of consciousness.

First, unconscious reactions that we later label as products of conscious free will appear to occur seconds before a "conscious determination," not just Benjamin Libet's well-known 300 millisecond delay.

Second, it appears that consciousness is not "vs." unconsciousness, but that the two are on a spectrum.

In light of all of this, in addition to it becoming clearer that the human mind does not operate like a computer, it's clearer that we are a long ways away from creating a conscious machine, something that would pass a Turing test when viewed by a true skeptic.

Team Obama stoops to attack a depressive who's also a progressive

Former Obama deputy Steve Hildebrand is proving to be a definite thorn in the left-hand side of The One.

And, because he, as a former insider, dare criticize Obama for not being that progressive, here's how Obamiacs inside the administration circle the wagons:
Obama officials -- mindful that the Hildebrand Strategies Web site promotes the consultant's connection to the president -- see Hildebrand's new phase differently and dismiss his admonishments as the ravings of a sick man.

"You get the good Steve and the bad Steve. When Steve is healthy, he's a world-class operative. And when he's not, things get pretty crazy," says a White House official, who would only speak about a former colleague anonymously. The official, who acknowledges that Hildebrand has never requested to join the White House, adds that given his behavior, "it's tough to see a role internally for Steve."
Yes, you read that right. Because Hildebrand battles with depression, he's "sick" and "bad," a rough interpretation of depression.

Hildebrand goes on to offer a laundry list of his upsets with the Obama Administration and with Obama himself:
"I'm disappointed that there's not a public option," he says, convinced it was an achievable goal if there had been "a serious push for it internally from Pelosi, Reid and the president."

The president is not absolved from blame, in Hildebrand's view, on a host of legislation.

"I didn't see him as rising to the occasion," Hildebrand says. "I didn't see him as bold. I hadn't seen him persuading the American people to the extent that he could have. If he was that person, Congress would follow suit. Instead, Congress held him back. He was bogged down."

He is especially frustrated about the lack of progress on gay rights, and he thinks a nationwide recognition of gay marriage is decades away.

"You think the president is going to get this Congress to do it? They're not going to," he says, adding he was disappointed by the president's failure to defend gay marriage during a referendum in Maine. "His leadership and voice could have made a difference."
He's certainly right, IMO, on lack of leadership.

Is some of this sour grapes? Well, possibly. That said, as the story makes clear, the Obama team had no desire to keep him around after November 2008. Yes, at that times at least, contra his current claims to be "stabilized," it might have been tough to keep him full time. But, a consulting position, or a slot with Organizing for America, could have been worked out.

Does Google dust-up show fear in Chinese eyes?

Despite many Westerners' view of China as "Behemoth, Inc." on the economic front, Nick Kristof argues there's plenty of angst indeed in the eyeballs of Chinese leadership. He compares China of today with the "paper tigers" of Taiwan and South Korea in the 1980s.

He then wraps up with a kicker of a summary graf:
The Communist Party’s greatest success is the extraordinary economic changes it has ushered in over the last three decades with visionary policies and impressive governance. Its greatest failing is its refusal to adjust politically to accommodate the middle class that it created. And its greatest vulnerability is the way it increasingly neither inspires people nor terrifies them, but rather simply annoys them.
That said, lest anybody is unaware, Kristof notes that both Taiwan and South Korea went down the path of full democracy, and did so successfully.

So, it is Beijing's ultimate fear: the fear of losing power.

Of course, Democratic Party neoliberals will say this shows the power of "engagement." It actually does no such thing. As Kristof notes, Team Obama really doesn't want to go to the mat for Google on a possible WTO case or anything else. "Engagement" only means, "let's engage China in replacing U.S. blue-collar jobs."

Tiger Woods: The Natural

Robert Wright has a great column comparing Tiger Woods to "The Natural," Roy Hobbs.

That said, there were two of Roy Hobbs. That's because Bernard Malamud's book, unlike the later movie, doesn't have a happy ending for Hobbs. So, Wright is saying, in essence, Tiger is at a fork in the road, as to whether either Calvinist damnation or Buddhist karma will get him, on the one fork, or whether pious platitudinality plus continued selfishness, covered in an oleaginous sheen, will triumph over all.

Anyway, go read the full column to see how Wright plays this out.

As for me, I don't want to see Tiger just drive into some of Augusta's pines — I'd like to see him play Amen Corner about 2-over on Thursday, maybe even more on Friday, and miss the cut.

March 31, 2010

Tiger Woods still isn't forthcoming

Vanity Fair talked to four of his mistresses, and it's clear this lifestyle of his was far more in depth than he's let on. Besides an old childhood friend doing some of his "schedule fixing," it also looks like Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan hooked up Tiger with a lot of gambling.

Tiger's dad, Earl, doesn't come off so well, either, according to VF's teaser.

At the same time, I commend VF for business sense. The tease is all we get until the story comes out in the May issue.

Kay Bailey to stay in Senate

No shock there, her official announcement today. I predicted as much after her loss to Rick Perry. Contra Burnt Orange Report, she will no more make a splash in her final 2.5 years or so there (assuming she doesn't run again) than she has in the more than 15 to date.

And, I stand by my prediction that, despite her and hubby Ray selling their DC-area house, she's at least as likely to retire there as back in Texas.

That said, it's funny reading John "Doofus" Cornyn call this a "selfless act" on Kay Bailey Cheerleader's part.

Judge slaps down biopatent for pseudowork

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet that just because you isolate a gene doesn't mean you can patent it sounds like it's entirely on the right track. The genes in question were not re-engineered, inserted into a chromosome of another species or otherwise had anything done to them to add to their value.

March 30, 2010

The (Non) History Channel strikes again

With a new drivelish show hinting that the Shroud of Turin is something other than a medieval relic forgery.

It's Holy Week; time for stuff like this.

That said, The History Channel has fallen short, even far short, of its name for a number of years. This is nothing new. Search this blog for "The History Channel" for more examples.

Obama diversity nominee is autism nutter

Well, yes, Mr. Ne’eman, most everybody in our society can get better at "accepting" people with autism. But, to elevate this above looking for a cure?
Mr. Ne’eman is at the forefront of a growing movement that describes autism as a form of “neurodiversity” that should be embraced and accommodated, just as physical disabilities have led to the construction of ramps and stalls in public restrooms for people with disabilities. Autism, he and others say, is a part of their identity.
Uhh, so people with MS or ALS want to just be "accepted," then, too? Rather than have research continue on their syndromes? Or people with amputations for whatever reasons just want to be "accepted" rather than have work done on improving artificial legs?

Jenny vs. Jenny on autism nuttery

Salon does a great job of showing how she can't even keep her nuttery straight.

Maybe she's a bit open to reason, although I highly doubt that. It's more likely that she's simply lost track of everything she's claimed over the years.

Update, Jan. 6, 2011: Well, we know now that the lies of Andrew Wakefield involved deliberate fraud.

Computers will NOT save economics

Andrew Leonard is right on this, as far as he goes; massive computer power didn't rein in Wall Street greed. In fact, many trading programs were "gamed," "rigged," or otherwise tweaked inside some of these companies.

But, to not use this as a starting point for a talk on behavioral economics is just not excusable, Andrew. Any economic theorizing that doesn't incorporate elements of it is still stuck in the 20th century.

March 28, 2010

Yet another reason to idealistically question Obama

Why do the Obama Administration FBI, CIA and Pentagon hate WikiLeaks so much? And, why isn't The One actually addressing that?

You know the answer. This is the latest manifestation of how he was, and is, largely full of hot air on civil liberties.