SocraticGadfly: 4/18/10 - 4/25/10

April 24, 2010

Evolution defended - against misguided attack meant for Pop Ev Psych?

In The Nation, Jerry Coyne has a double book review: A thorough defense of Richard Dawkins' latest, while exposing the flaws in Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's new book, "What Darwin Got Wrong."

As to the latter, Fodor sums up by saying he thinks Fodor has jumped from an attack on Ev Psych (Coyne doesn't distinguish what's legit from Pop Ev Psych) to an attack on natural selection in general.

The Internet may be jacking with your TP

Cheap, soft toilet paper may be less and less likely. Why? The Internet reducing office paper and newsprint.

Graham ready to kill climate bill

South Carolina's Lindsey Graham shows that his persona as a "reasonable conservative" is bogus, as he threatens to derail Senate climate legislation over a claim that Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats want to focus more on immigration.

First, immigration is divisive, to some degree, in both parties. Reid would have no desire to move ahead on it without true bipartisanship.

Second, per Politico, is a mix of hypocrisy, BS and cluelessness.

So what if Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing immigration?
A. That's the House side.
B. You numnuts Graham, the House has already passed a climate bill. Months ago.
C. Just a month ago, Graham said Obama needed to push harder on immigration reform.

Survey says? Graham was, even after forcing nuclear power blank checks into a a proposed Senate bill, getting too much blowback for his liking. Survey two says Graham may be casting eyes higher than the U.S. Senate, hence his worries on such blowback.

Hey, Lindsey? A single, rumored gay GOP Senator? You ain't getting anywhere near a GOP presidential nod.

So ...

Third, sink the bill, Lindsey, please! It's bad and getting worse by the minute.

Paul Kurtz, still alive and kicking

His being pushed aside at CFI illustrates, as this article makes clear, the difference between secular humanism and atheism, on the one hand, and some partial difference between "old" and "new atheism, too.

Another broken Obama promise

Sorry, Mr Just.Another.Politician, and your schwaffling, but the Armenians sufferings at the hands of the Ottoman Empire was genocide.

April 23, 2010

Scatblogging all across the Internet

Want to take a cybercrap on a webpage? Click the link. And, yes, it does work.

Scatbacks go early in NFL draft

Two so-called scatbacks went in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday, as Buffalo, perhaps with a bit of a reach, or a bit of a puzzler, took C.J. Spiller, while Detroit, picking up a second first-rounder in a trade with the Vikings, may have capped a strong draft, based just on the first round, by picking up Cal's Jahvid Best.

Science smarts is no guarantee of ethics

What else can you say about a geneticist who says that, when taking people's DNA samples, "informed consent" does NOT include telling them what specific lines of study the research is intended to be about, or even, if such information is given, necessarily limiting oneself to such lines of study.
“I was doing good science,” Therese Markow, now a professor at the University of California, San Diego, said in a telephone interview.
Maybe you were doing going science, in a narrow definition, but you were doing terrible ethics.

Is it any wonder that indigenous people around the world, including the Havasupai Indians mentioned in the story, don't trust various life scientists treading into their homelands?

And, it gets worse.
“Everyone wants to be open and transparent,” said Dr. David Karp, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who has studied informed consent for DNA research. “The question is, how far do you have to go? Do you have to create some massive database of people’s wishes for their DNA specimens?”
Yes, you do!

And, while the question is foremost for and about indigenous peoples, I know full well that I don't want scientists with the ethical stances of Karp or Markow asking me to participate in DNA research, either.

And, the historical obtuseness doesn't just stop there. The exploitation of Henrietta Lack's DNA, without informing her or her family, some 50 years ago, just became public earlier this year.

Related to that, and back to the Havasupai and Therese Markow we haven't even talked about the monetary angle. If Markow had found some new genetic marker common to Havasupai, would she have tried to create research — money-making research — off of it? Would she even have tried to done some patentable reverse engineering? What do you think?

And, that's why Markow and Karp are bleating as their ox is being gored, at least in part, I'll wager.

David Brooks, possibly his dumbest ever

Is this "stupidest column week" at the New York Times? Earlier this week, Tom "My Head is Flat" Friedman may have outdone his usual inanity.

Now, it's David Brooks with a double whopper in the same column.

First, Brooks claims to be a "centrist," then he blames Team Obama for starting a "war" of big government vs. small government, conveniently ignoring Medicare Part D, TARP, off-budget war spending and all the other BushCo big government moves.

Kevin Drum has more on the second half of the issue, the Obama started it angle.

On the "centrist" issue, maybe in Boboland, or else in Faux News/Tea Party worlds, but in the reality-based community, David Brooks is nowhere near being a "centrist."

The scary part, if something really is in the Times' op-ed drinking water? Mojo Dowd's worst-ever column could be lurking just around the corner.

April 22, 2010

Majority favors pot decriminaliziation

The AP tried to fudge poll information on this issue, as California heads into an initiative vote on this in November, and Raw Story busts its chops.

There's some other interesting poll findings at that link, which undercut the bipartisan War on Drugs. (Yes, PR aside, Team Obama is still fighting that war, even against pot.)

Now, if you're a marijuana cartel, since this is headed for the November ballot via initiative, do you fund a campaign against it, and if so, how?

Cameron up, Clegg flat, and Gordo?

Well if Tory leader David Cameron came out "up" in snap polls after the second British prime minister candidate debate, and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg held his own, then Labour leader and Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in more trouble, right?

And, Clegg was more than flat:
Mr. Clegg – standing between Mr. Cameron and Prime Minister Gordon Brown – put up a strong fight in response to attacks from both sides. He was pronounced the victor in one poll, and came in second, after Cameron,in another.
Looks like Gordo is in trouble indeed, as noted yesterday.

Meanwhile, back to Clegg:
After winning the first debate last week, expectations had been raised for Clegg, explains Andrew Russell, a lecturer in politics at Manchester University. “Clegg withstood the pressure and did a great job, which means Britain is all that much closer to getting a hung parliament.”
Cameron, especially, attacked him as anti-American. No, he's more pro-EU than the Tories, and more open about it than Labour.

The Telegraph has details on how all three answered the top questions.

For more on the election possibilities, go here.

Why Dems won't push real financial reform

Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs gave the party a 3-2 money raising edge in 2008 elections.

So, behind the faux populism of the current financial reform bill in the Senate is more business as usual.

Real populism would include public financing of Congressional campaigns.

Short of that, though, Simon Johnson says Dems could do more now.
"Show people, in gruesome detail, the money being spent by this part of big finance," he wrote Wednesday on his blog, "Go to the nonfinancial sector, to other parts of the financial system, and directly to individuals -- asking most clearly for contributions that would replace what the banks have withdrawn and offset what the banks are spending to defeat the president's reform agenda."
Don't hold your breath on that, either.

Chicken-hearted health care

Swap a chicken for a heart transplant? Somebody on Craigslist mocks GOP ideas of bartering for health care.

EPA grossly underestimates petrochemical pollution

And, especially, here in Texas. How bad is it? The EPA may be missing 90 percent of pollutants, and it knows it. The agency has stalled for years on using lasers and other modern measuring devices in use in much of Europe for years.

Meanwhile, with perfectly bad timing, or perhaps perfectly offensive timing for Earth Day, the Houston Chronicle comes out with an article attack advocacy piece arguing the Clean Air Act has outlived its usefulness.

The answer, of course, is "no." The answer is that the petrochemical industry will always whine about the cost of pollution regulations. If the Act is a "blunt tool," per one commenter, then it can be modified, adapted or expanded. The petrochemical industry wants it abolished, or at least neutered, instead.

What a hack job.

Poverty hits Japan Inc

The Japanese government has, for the first time ever, announced an official poverty line for the country, and nearly one in six are below it. And, the overall poverty rate is close to the U.S.

I had no idea it was like this. I had heard that, due to elder poverty, Japan had more senior citizen criminals, from theft, than juvenile ones.

Read the full story.

Sunday scatblog special – java gold version

The height of coffee civilization might just be lurking inside civet crap. No, I'm not shitting you.

The price of $225 a pound for undigested, but eaten, beans pooped out by civets should make that clear.
The civet eventually excretes the hard, indigestible innards of the fruit — essentially, incipient coffee beans — though only after they have been fermented in the animal’s stomach acids and enzymes to produce a brew described as smooth, chocolaty and devoid of any bitter aftertaste.
Of course, at that price, fakery abounds — including gluing scat of other animals to coffee beans.

And, there's also this:
Alberto Pat-og, 60, a retired school principal, said he did not understand why foreigners were willing to pay so much for a cup of the stuff.

“We are a bit surprised,” he said. “A bit perplexed.”

His son, Lambert, 20, added, with a big grin, “We are ignorant.”
Ignorant of Western, especially, American, taste for the nouvelle, just because it's rare, different and pricey. It's called keeping up with the Goldman Sachs Joneses, dear Pat-og family.

Plus, there's the question of whether the civet makes the coffee, or whether naturally high-grade beans attract a civilized civet palate.

Anyway, read the whole interesting story.

April 21, 2010

Could Gordon Brown stand down?

It certainly looks possible, as more and more Labour leaders mouth the word "coalition" in the face of what looks to be a continuing Liberal Democrat surge in advance of May 8 elections in the UK. Those voices include at least one cabinet minister.

As for Brown?
"I'm only here because I want to make a difference. If I cannot make a difference, I go," he said.
Sounds like he's resigned to the possibility of coalition, and the possibility that his head will be part of the price of it.

Meanwhile, debate goes on within Labour, not just about coalition, but overall conduct of the campaign. Sounds like rats and sinking ships.

Meanwhile, the Tories are resorting to scare tactics, saying any Lab-Lib alliance would force the IMF to take over British finance.

Tomorrow night, the three leading PM candidates hold their second televised debate, this one on foreign policy. Much of the debate hinges on whether Lib Dem candidate Nick Clegg can focus on British adventurism in Iraq, supported by both Labour and Tories, or whether Brown and Tory candidate David Cameron can raise Euroskeptics' fears by attacking the Lib Dems on their relatively greater support for EU-related issues.

What's likely to happen in the election, including hung parliment or coalition possibilities? Read here.

April 20, 2010

An alternative to "Net Neutrality"?

A group of U.S. business professors suggest the Federal Communications Commission should adopt the European Union model.

The EU probably has some regulations already in place that we don't, but nonetheless, it's at least something worth further consideration.

Reading Sarkozy's mind

A hilarious column by the French president, as played by Roger Cohen. And, it actually rings at least semi-true.

Dear Gizmodo: Don't return the Apple iPhone

Make Steve Jobs sweat for a while before you give this baby back.

Ask how much he'll pay.

Threaten to mail it to either Google or Microsoft.

Post it for auction on eBay or sale on Craigslist.

Sell it to Verizon or some other non-AT&T phone company.

Or, rather than money, put on the engineering thinking cap.

Reverse-engineer it so that every icon is either Google or Microsoft. Or put a bug in it to snoop on advance details of future top-secret tech news in advance of Apple rollouts.

In short, do what you can to make Steve Jobs crap his pants.

NYT a big fail on Earth Day ideas

Well, John Tierney is, at least. And, apparently, Stewart Brand along with him, for backing nucleaer power without discussing nuclear waste. Or the real costs of nuclear power. (Oh, and I don't care if Greenpeace likes nuclear power, either, unless it's willing to talk about the full nuclear issue.)

Meanwhile, Tierney disses green energy for, among other things ... costing too much!

Tierney can be kind of hit and miss, IMO, and this time, he's a pretty big "miss."

I'm OK with a VAT if

The "I'm not a neoliberal, but a pale American imitation of a social democrat" Michael Lind is pushing his "radical centrism" idea again.

And, one of the ideas he touts is a value-added tax.

My thoughts?

A VAT is OK if:

You eliminate food, for one thing, and other basic necessities. On the flip side, like some states that have a goods and services tax instead of a sales tax, it MUST tax things like consultation of lawyers and MUST be assessed on corporations, not just individuals.

Lind gives no indication of just how "radical" his VAT ideas are, but, knowing him, I'm guessing the idea is quite possibly limited to individuals and does not include corporations.

That said, his larger conceit?

"Social democracy," even here in the US, is NOT the same as his radical centrism. Though his version of "radical centrism" is better than the corporatacracy's version. Also, while I agree on wanting to move the country to a "post-racial" stance, it isn't actually there yet. And, Lind is a Texas native and should know better. Plus, he gives no indication on how much more aggressive he would be on addressing class-based issues if race is removed from the picture.

Tricky Ricky Perry not a total nutbar

He just plays one on the campaign trail. But, when real nutbars in the Texas Lege try to push him to call a special session to consider "nullification" of Obamacare, Tricky Rick dropped the idea like a hot brick.

April 19, 2010

More reason to be wary of Google, cloud computing

That big December cyberattack on Google? It hit its internal password system, which, per the story, is designed to let both users and employees sign in with their password just once to run a number of services.

Even though individual users' passwords do not appear to be stolen, this is still serious:
The theft leaves open the possibility, however faint, that the intruders may find weaknesses that Google might not even be aware of, independent computer experts said.
And, hence, worries about the security of cloud computing, a concern I've already seen mentioned in tech magazines, since cloud computing hasn't really been "scaled up" yet.
The new details seem likely to increase the debate about the security and privacy of vast computing systems such as Google’s that now centralize the personal information of millions of individuals and businesses. Because vast amounts of digital information are stored in one place, popularly referred to as “cloud” computing, a single breach can lead to disastrous losses.
And, who knows if this is over yet?
Rodney Joffe, a vice president at Neustar, a developer of Internet infrastructure services, said, “It’s obviously a real issue if you can understand how the system works.” Understanding the algorithms on which the software is based might be of great value to an attacker looking for weak points in the system, he said.
Folks that's why I don't use Google Apps, Docs, Chrome etc.

Let's gett a criminal investigation of G. Sachs, too

Just click the link and sign the petition.

Ixnay on Grand Canyon, Arizona vacation trips

Now that Arizona will be allowing unpermitted carrying of concealed handguns, with Gov. Brewer signing a bill into law, I doubt I'll be vacationing there in the future.

Combine this bill with the cave-in of the Obama Administration on guns in national parks, and the result? Theoretically, people can now take concealed handguns, unpermitted, to Grand Canyon or Saguaro national parks, so I'll remind myself to to scratch visiting National Parks in Arizona off my to-do list.

Remind me to scratch Arizona off my list of states in which to seek jobs, as well.

Thanks, Arizona. And, thanks, Obama Administration.

CBS axes hundreds, pays millions

So, CBS, the economy, and the media world, is so bad you have to ax more people, yet CEO Les Moonves raked in more than $43 million last year, AND, and, you defend that by claiming much of it was performance based even while saying poor media numbers force you to ax people?

On OKC anniversary, don't forget domestic terror

Let's not forget the thoughts of a couple who lived there. Let's not forget a president dealing with domestic terrorism in the face of nationally elected conservative zanies almost as bad as what Obama faces.

Let's not forget Tim McVeigh's connection to some of today's militia groups.

Could Lib Dems win UK?

After Britain's historic first-ever television debate between prime ministerial candidates, it's certainly possible, with the Liberal Democrats moving into a polling lead.

But, with thinness on the ground, and other factors, Nick Clegg's party could finish first in total votes amassed but second or even third in number of parliamentary seats won. For possible MP breakouts, here's a good interactive page.

That said, the "surge" by Clegg, after what is widely considered him having a solid win in the debate last Thursday (the first of two) has put both Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour and David Cameron's Tories on the attack against Clegg.

Meanwhile, the debate and post-debate Lib Dem surge seem to reflect a few things:

1. Both "incumbent/mainstream" parties still have significant loathing over the expenses scandal.
2. The Lib Dem opposition to the Iraq War isn't useless with British withdrawal there; there's still Afghanistan, and broader foreign policy issues.
3. If Clegg can finesse Eurozone issues in the second debate, the Tories' bashing of him will boomerang, and the party's "old" and "new" wings will glare at each other.
4. If the Lib Dems can take half of those still "undecided," the party could have a clean win. If not, it's coalition time.

But, with whom?

I really can't see a Lib Dem-Tory mix. The Conservatives, in such a case, will be splitting more and more into "old" and "new" factions, and the "old" faction might not want to stay in coalition very long.

Lib Dem-Labour is more likely, but with more serious wrangling over portfolios, the amount of "reform" and more. Given that current election inequities most favor Labour, this could also be a sticky wicket.

That leaves two possibilities.

One is a minority government. However, in contradistinction to Canada, for example, I don't see that happening in Britain.

The other? A la Germany, a "grand coalition" of Labour and Tories, cutting the Lib Dems out.

Don't laugh. Cameron is almost alcoholically thirsty for something he can call a win, even if Brown gets to stay as PM. Brown wants a win in his own right. Simple enough.

April 18, 2010

Can a college discriminate against a religious group?

Even when the religious group itself has anti-gay policies? And, it's a public university which has anti-anti-gay policies? California's Hastings College of the Law is about to find out the Supreme Court verdict.

That said, given one previous case, won before SCOTUS by the lawyer now representing Christian Legal Society, says that Hastings is probably up a creek without a paddle.

That all said, Hastings has an easy answer: Refuse to give official recognition to any on-campus group. The flip side is that many groups don't have the financial backing of conservative religious organizations.

On a more serious note yet, contra what some atheists might think, and even without previous SCOTUS ruling, I don't think this is a cut-and-dried issue. If anything, I learn toward the side of the religious organization.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick notes that SCOTUS is a "fine" place to learn about the realities of free association. At the same time, it looks like both sides botched their oral arguments pretty badly.

Update: SCOTUS, on the "normal" 5-4 count in the Kennedy era, ruled for Hastings.

Junior philosophers at work

Can 8-year-olds learn and discuss the elements of philosophy? Contra Jean Piaget's age-level theories of learning, some philosophy professors working with charter school students say yes, they can.

And, it's not that they're looking at terminology and such as much as debating principles of things like ethics. Too bad the philosophy is primarily focused on that, though; we need to start 8-year-olds onto critical thinking about metaphysics, to really get some young skeptics going.

Why you shouldn't use Internet coupons

It's called zero privacy PLUS tracking your purchasing habits far more than Google does.

There's also some sneakiness:
The coupons, for companies as diverse as Ruby Tuesday and Lord & Taylor, are handled by a company called RevTrax, which displays them on the retailers’ sites or on coupon Web sites, not its own site.
It's even worse if you fan a company on Facebook, use their Web-based coupons, and a company like RevTrax is the coupon originator/handler:
“When the consumer redeems the offer in store, we can track it back, in this case, not to the Google search term but to the actual Facebook user ID that was signing up,” he said. Although Facebook does not signal that Amy Smith responded to a given ad, Filene’s could look up the user ID connected to the coupon and “do some more manual-type research — you could easily see your sex, your location and what you’re interested in,” Jonathan Treiber, RevTrax’s co-founder, said. (Rob O’Neil, director of online marketing at Tag New Media, which works with Filene’s Basement, said Filene’s did not do this at the moment.)
If you've been a cyberclipper, read for yourself and perhaps think again.

I had yet to use any Web coupons before reading this, and I sure as hell won't now.

Tom Friedman – even dumber than usual

So, Mr. Earth Head is Flat, how is a medical device made in Uruguay, at least in prototype (and why would it move here if successful) whose U.S. company has the white/tech collar expertise scattered around the world, not just in the U.S., supposed to be an exemplar for future American jobs?
If EndoStim works out, its tiny headquarters in St. Louis will grow much larger. St. Louis is where the best jobs — top management, marketing, design — and shareholders will be, said Bevil Hogg.
Color me skeptical. Given the input from foreigners on design, who says that much if it will be in St. Louie? "Shareholders"? All they do is make manipulate money, rather than actually building anything.

Marketing? Can also be done elsewhere, from any country with a reasonable supply of English speakers. Good effing doorknob, Friedman.