SocraticGadfly: 9/19/10 - 9/26/10

September 25, 2010

Goodbye, Larry Summers, you crock of shit

The fact that President Barack Obama hired him to run the National Economic Council even though most of his 10 worst clusterfucks were committed before he joined Team Obama was one of the biggest tells on Obama -- not that he was a sellout, but that he was a rhetorical gasbag all along (Obama, that is; with Summers, it was long obvious).

God's running out of money ...

Or, at the least, the entities that serve him are. And, no, it's not just the liberal mainline Protestant bodies It's evangelical churches of various stripes. And, it's not even churches, it's synagogues, too. (No word in the story on mosques, Hindu temples, etc.)

And, no, it's not the recession, either. Or not primarily.

It's two things.

One is the aging of baby boomers. As they retire, they cut back on giving of all sorts.

The second is, below the upper end of the baby boom, the ongoing decline in emotional and psychological investment in authoritative institutions of all sorts.
“When the foundation falls, when the base isn’t there, then you have problems,” said Elbert T. Chester, an accountant in Queens who has more than 60 churches along the Eastern Seaboard as clients. “And we haven’t even seen the worst of it.”

Don't expect this to change. Baby boomers aren't getting any younger, and the tail end of boomers, Gen Xers and younger yet, aren't gaining in enthusiasm for organized religion or even semi-organized spirituality.

Add in the Catholic priests' sexual abuse, more and more Protestant ministers getting flagged for the same, more and more ministers from conservative backgrounds getting exposed as gays (and perverted ones within their repressed sexuality), and you have even more reason for the trend to continue.

The Constitution isn't the Bible, TPers - or Scalia

Of course, the bible isn't the bible as far as infallibility, or divine inspiration, either, but, stay with me on this

The Economist is spot on: When people like the Tea Partiers (or Supreme Court INJustice Antonin Scalia) treat the Constitution like conservative Christians do the Bible, looking to it as both infallible and timeless, this is what happens:
When history is turned into scripture and men into deities, truth is the victim. The framers were giants, visionaries and polymaths. But they were also aristocrats, creatures of their time fearful of what they considered the excessive democracy taking hold in the states in the 1780s. They did not believe that poor men, or any women, let alone slaves, should have the vote. Many of their decisions, such as giving every state two senators regardless of population, were the product not of Olympian sagacity but of grubby power-struggles and compromises—exactly the sort of backroom dealmaking, in fact, in which today’s Congress excels and which is now so much out of favour with the tea-partiers.

With Nino Scalia, I think it's a product of his Catholic background, where priests need to interpret Scriptures in light of church tradition. So, St. Nino of Numbnuttery thinks he needs to interpret the Constitution in light of originalism.

And, it's not just Nino, but other intellectuals of the right:
Conservative think-tanks have the same dream of return to a prelapsarian innocence.

There is no such thing; governance, like Hobbes' state of nature, never was primeval.

Another way Obama blew out on healthcare "reform"

The NYT editorializes about all the whys in the recent spike in healthcare premiums.

Missing from the editorial, and from "Obamacare" as well? A national office of insurance regulation.

September 24, 2010

Let's tax these people MORE

Anybody in the market for a $50,000 mattress has wayyyy too much unproductive money.

For Xns or Jews worried about "American sharia"

Substitute "halaka" for "sharia" and this is what you get. "Halaka communities," already in existence.

Harry Reid, the man who makes Obama look 'manly'

The one Democrat with even fewer cojones than Barack Obama? (Not counting Blue Dogs in the House, who actually have cojones, but, they have deliberately parked them on the other side of the party line divide.)

You and I both know it’s Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Now, with Obama, he sold one of his nuts to Wall Street for neoliberal Democratic “purposes” and campaign cash that let him snooker John McCain and run for president without public campaign dollars, and he sold the other to Rahm Emanuel, the same “mastermind” of recruiting all those Blue Dogs.

That, at least, we know.

Harry Reid? I’m not even sure he sold his anywhere. I think they just shriveled.

That said, it’s not 100 percent his fault. The Batman-and-Robin duo of ObamNuel put Reid’s cojones in a vice on previous issues, including the stimulus and, above all, health care “reform.”

But, then, if Reid wins, but Senate numbers sink low enough, who would challenge him, and how good of a replacement would they be? Whip Dick Durbin, for better or worse, would theoretically be more attuned to Obama, but perhaps a bit more able to “push” him, at least on the edges. Policy chair Byron Dorgan may not get re-elected. Conference secretary Patty Murray’s never been talked up as a leadership type. I could see Chuck Schumer angling for the job, and he’d be worse than Reid in kowtowing to Wall Street, but, given that he pushed for a tax vote, and can be feisty overall, he wouldn’t be the worst. Feinstein might be interested, but Californians running both houses probably wouldn’t fly, and ugh on Sen. Betty Crocker anyway.

Her stance on the tax vote? Tone deaf:
Feinstein, whose home-state Democratic colleague, Barbara Boxer , is locked in a battle for re-election, said she opposes taking a tax cut vote before the election. “I actually believe taking a vote on taxes right before the election is a mistake — and I’m not up,” she said. “Because the message can be manipulated.”

Dooooohhhhhh, you cabeza de vaca! YOUR PARTY can be the one manipulating the message! I agree with a blogger who said every Democrat who was in office before 1994 but has spent the majority of his or her career, or nearly that, in the post-Gingrich House/Senate, acts like they’ve been pistol-whipped or something.

That said, back to possible Reid challengers.

Jim Webb is the one other Democrat I could see making a leadership move, and he doesn’t thrill me either.

And, what’s with the claim that Barbara Boxer, of all people, was among those who pushed to push back any tax cut vote? Sounds like her ovaries shrank.

September 23, 2010

Pro-lifers too chickenshit for convictions

Virginia is about to execute Teresa Lewis for hiring hit men to kill her husband and stepson.

Slate's William Saletan wrote Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, asking why a woman should be executed for that, but not the abortion of her own child, especially when Virginia law calls partial-birth abortion "infanticide."

Well, the gov. didn't respond, but plenty of pro-livers e-mailed Saletan, and none of them want to fry a mom. They'll fry a doc for an abortion, but none of them have the courage of their convictions, at bottom line. In fact, the excuses they invent to justify not wanting to punish a woman who aborts her child just as much as they would an abortionist doctor are largely ludicrous. Plenty of respondents claim a mother is "coerced" by either doctor or boyfriend, or whatever.

Right. A mid-30s white collar career woman is "coerced." You lying sacks of shit. You call abortion murder, and a woman deliberately decides to have an abortion, and you are a chickenshit about your own ethics.

Part of me wonders of some of Saletan's respondents, unconsciously at least, don't accept that abortion is at least a bit more complicated than they make it out to be. Others, I'm guessing, have some inner moral recoil at prosecuting a mother. (Hey, read your bible; at one point in the Old Testament, Yahweh tells Israelites to kill even livestock, and in a psalm, they get to rejoice over the idea of babies' heads being bashed on rocks.)

That said, I believe, myself, that abortion is more complicated. And, that's why, post-viability, at around 22 weeks or so, I'm OK with state restrictions of some sort, as I've blogged before. But, even then, we're not charging mothers with felonies, in my book.

New GM? Not bankrupt, but a taxpayer loser

"New GM" may not be broke, but don't expect to get back taxpayer bailout money "we" invested in it.
A government watchdog says the U.S. Treasury would have to sell its General Motors stock for $133.78 each to get back the nearly $50 billion it spent bailing out the Detroit automaker.

Here's more.

Special Inspector General for bailout funds Neil Barofsky said, in a letter written to Sen. Chuck Grassley Aug. 30, that the government gave GM $49.5 billion to stay in business. GM repaid $6.7 billion and the rest was converted to preferred shares and a 61 percent stake in the company. The government plans to start selling its GM shares in mid-November.

Let's be blunt. With allowance for inflation, "New GM" will Never get that high.

Looking for generals in all the wrong places

Looks like Obama listened to the wrong generals on Afghanistan. Or, did he deliberately refuse to listen to the "right" ones because his mind was already made up?

Bob Woodward's book consistently shows three officers - retired Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, retired Gen. James L. Jones and Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute - all cautioned him about the "surge" advocated by Gen. David Petraeus. None more strongly than Lute, a holdover from the Bush Administration.

That, in turn led to spats with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Actually, it looks like he didn't listen to anybody, too much, other than accepting Petraeus' 30,000 minimum as his own and apparently committing in advance to a 40,000 maximum.
Despite the critiques from Lute, Jones and Eikenberry, the only options that were seriously considered in the White House involved 30,000 to 40,000 more troops. ...

In early November 2009, Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, drafted a cable that was sharply critical of the military's counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, saying it was likely to both "increase Afghan dependency" on the United States and force the U.S. government to incur "vastly increased costs." ...

The three generals' efforts, however, seem to have had only a modest influence on the final war strategy - in part because top Pentagon officials such as Mullen, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates presented a united front in opposition to deploying any fewer than 30,000 additional troops.

So, if this is all true, why did Obama treat us to his drawn-out Hamlet-like handwringing?

You know the answer.

It was to try to convince more liberal parts of his base that he was, actually, handwringing. Nice try, but a fail.

September 22, 2010

Christina Hoff Sommers, the self-hating woman?

As soon as I saw the NYT column arguing against paycheck equality legislation that would make it easier for women to sue over gender discrimination, I wondered who wrote it.

My sneaking suspicions were answered. Hey, Christina, talk to Lily Ledbetter. And her hand.

September 21, 2010

Parental denial about parenting? NYT denial, too?

Two of the top five killers of children under 18? Homicide, which as the story notes, is usually caused by someone the child knows, and child abuse, which is ALSO usually caused by someone the child knows. Also in the top five? Suicide, which may at times be provoked by that child abuse, which the NYT yet again doesn't mention.

So, informative story, but not as informative as it could be.

Meanwhile, parents, the story notes, continue to worry about things like "stranger danger."

But, the Old Gray Lady again falls short, not investigating WHY there's this disconnect. In fact, contrary to the author saying the human brain isn't posed to analyze long-term or abstract dangers, there's nothing long-term or abstract about child abuse. Nor is there, usually, in the case of homicide caused by a known person.

Piss-poor, NYT.

Larry Summers is leaving the White House

After the November elections, one of the worst of the Goldman Sachs/Robert Rubin gang is reportedly out.

But, if Bloomberg is right on all of this, it may be to no real good:
Administration officials are weighing whether to put a prominent corporate executive in the NEC directors job to counter criticism that the administration is anti-business, one person familiar with White House discussions said.


Assuming that is Obama's thought, he's thinking of Wall Street campaign dinero, he's not thinking of drumming up support from whatever "base" he may still have, and he will go back to being Preznit Kumbaya about Nov. 10.

Should Obama "let" the GOP win the House?

Well, in terms of political chess, at first glance, I think this advice is about the stupidest thing he could listen to. At second glance, I note that Obama put himself in this position.

At third glance, I note that if he were to go back to being Preznit Kumbaya, rather than acting the way he has the last two weeks, it would be disastrous for his reelection and for We the People to boot. And, since I can't trust that his recent change will "stick," I don't know.

At fourth glance, I recognize having a Democratic House post-November, AND having a continued sluggish recovery, if it has one other problem added to it (a self-inflicted problem like Obama's debt commission certainly counts) then we get whatever nutbar the GOP nominates in two years as our next president.

At fifth glance, I think the Democratic Party would only move even further to the right at that point, and too many Democratic voters would keep enabling it.

So, at sixth glance, I think instead, Obama should have a heart attack so Joe Biden can become president and win the sympathy vote election in 2012.

September 20, 2010

Did the FBI spy on you?

Post 9/11, just like in the Sixties, if you were a peace activist, or some other liberal activist, the answer could be yes. This time around, it may even have labeled you a terrorist. Oh, but the AG's investigation allegedly found nothing criminal. Obama's looking forward, not backward, again.

And, as with torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, "looking forward" = "enabling." It's one more step away from the United States being a nation with the vaunted "rule of law," one more way for us to be called hypocritical.

Blackmore ignorant on both memes and religion

Susan Blackmore admits that religion isn’t a “virus of the mind.”
Are religions viruses of the mind? I would have replied with an unequivocal "yes" until a few days ago when some shocking data suggested I am wrong.

From a conference on “Explaining religion,” she cites the following reasons.

1. Religious activity correlates with more children.

And, no others.

Yep, that’s it.

First, despite her noting her previous mea culpa over believing in the reality of paranormal phenomena, it shows Blackmore might still lack intellectual rigor in some areas.

This is a prime example. She didn’t even look for additional information, like average lifespan of children from religious vs. nonreligious families.

Nor did she take a look at a single datum of cultural evolution that might be connected.

Nor did she acknowledge this might be an issue of cultural evolution trumping genetic evolution.

Shoddy, shoddy.

Beyond that, she didn’t even ask the most pertinent question:

Shouldn’t this put another nail in the coffin of “strong” theories of memes, at least?

Answer? Yes.

And, shouldn't this column show that Susan Blackmore is overrated as a skeptical thinker? Absolutely.

If not, this should.

When Blackmore first developed the "meme" idea, within biology, epigenetics was barely on the horizon. Now, a decade-plus later, I've not seen her (or Dawkins, or others), improve the analogy to include something analogous to epigenetics. (And I haven't even thrown out the issue of what might be an analogy to prions.)

On modern mind analogies in general, I think we just don't know enough about the mind right now to throw out ANY analogies, though. Years ago, it was an engine or motor. Then, a computer. Then a parallel processor. Now, a quasi-biological replicator. Our analogies rise to the level of our technological advancement, but no higher, and so none of them are that strong in either direction.

If it doesn't, the vapidness of her "third replicator," "temes," as inarticulately discussed here, definitely should. It's so inarticulate she can't even really explain the analogy to memes, let alone to genes, very well.

Back to her skeptical starting point, though, her "repentance" of early thoughts over psi phenomena. What if, per the idea of one skeptical blogger, she never really rejected her original beliefs, but just said that psi phenomena weren't falsifiable?

Well, if that take is correct (and I can at least "see" that, yes) maybe she never should have been put on a skeptical pedestal in the first place.

That said, I have gotten some meditation and affirmation insights from ideas she put together after a Buddhist retreat. But, especially in light of this column of hers, would I ever consider her either a scientific or a philosophical "go-to" person on cognitive matters?

Big no on that.

Meanwhile, I can't wait for the Christian version of a Pop Ev Psycher to actually cite this column.

September 19, 2010

The FDA officially sells out to Big Food

How can a GMO salmon which not only has growth hormone from a different species of salmon but also a gene from a different genus of fish entirely not be "materially" different from other salmon?
The AquAdvantage salmon has been given a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish, and a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon.

When it's the FDA, in thrall to corporate giants from Big Pharma, through Big Tobacco, to Big Ag and Big Food, making the call, on what's "materially" different or not.

Doesn't Big Biz believe in the "marketplace"? Well, include the "marketplace of ideas." Label stuff as GMO, at least if it includes genes from another species, and certainly if from another genus, or higher up the taxonomical ladder.

And, then, try to market it.

Adam Smith has no monopoly on economic ideas

And, you don't have to oppose him with Karl Marx to demonstrate that. In fact, Adam Smith has no monopoly on GOOD economic ideas. In an excellent Atlantic article from a few years back, James Fallows reminds us of several important facts.

1. The England of Smith's time, and more than 50 years thereafter, was strongly mercantilist. England only really pushed free trade when it figured its economy was so strong free trade would help it, not hurt it. And Smith just ignored this. Well, not totally; he said "national defense" deserved mercantilist support, then broadly defined what that included.
2. The U.S. of Alexander Hamilton's time all the way up to Bretton Woods was similarly mercantilist. And, in its early days, especially, took a take similar to Smith's on "national defense."
3. Continental European economists of Smith's time up until Marx defended government intervention in a way that, especially via Germany, and its economic success after unification, went on to influence Asia. And, of course, none of the Asian tigers started their rises to power as free traders, and most haven't moved far in that direction even today.

Antisemitic, or just concerned about preservation?

I can see both sides of the issue in a long-ongoing standoff in Litchfield, Conn.

It's a complicated issue. Having seen communities try to preserve historic districts, I can appreciate Litchfield's stance. And, a swimming pool certainly doesn't fit the idea of "historic preservation."
The group's plans included a synagogue, living space for Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach and his large family and a swimming pool for the Chabad group's popular summer camp.

"This case is not about the construction of a synagogue," (Borough of Litchfield historic district commission attorney James) Stedronsky said recently. "It's about the construction of a personal palace for Rabbi Eisenbach, complete with a 4,500-square-foot apartment and an indoor swimming pool big enough to serve a summer camp."

At the same time, rich, WASPy Connecticut communities have some history of being antisemitic sundown towns. Including Litchfield. As the Hartford Courant notes, a Willson Whitman, visiting in 1943, discovered Jews were not allowed to own property there.

That said, on the next page of the Courant story, we find that Jews do live in Litchfield today, and at least some of them oppose the Lubavitcher Chabad project on grounds similar to the historic commission: it's too big and unfitting.

From what I read, I'd say the commission isn't being antisemitic. That said, I don't know if either side has discussed or offered compromises, or not. Unfortunately, a judge and court is not an arbitrator. All the judge can do is rule for either the commission or Chabad; he or she can't craft a compromise. (I wonder if in Continental European jurisprudence, as opposed to the Anglo-American model, judges can do that.)