SocraticGadfly: 12/12/10 - 12/19/10

December 18, 2010

Charles Blow, blowhard

The New York Times columnist Charles Blow is often OK, though seldom of much depth.

Today, he's not even that.

Blow reads the riot act to left-liberals, etc., who threaten to undermine the Democratic party, hand political victories to Republicans, etc. It's a screed that could have been written straight out of the Obama White House, and in fact, I wonder if it was.

Along the way, Blow perpetuates stereotypes such as left-liberalism is largely confined to the coasts (without talking about trying to educate the heartland better — Blow seriously needs to read "What's the Matter with Kansas"), and then gets worse, when he talks about whether a "purging" is imminent or not.

First, Mr. Blow-hard, Democrats don't have the balls to purge anybody.

Second, if there were a purge, Mr. Preznit Kumbaya would try to purge the left-liberals you demonize.

Third, you're right Obama doesn't have a progressive base. I "saw through him" three full years ago.

Fourth, if the progressives really aren't that numerous, how can they be the ones doing the "purging"? Talk about poor logic.

Finally, all of this is why I'm not a Democrat.

December 17, 2010

Congressional Dems put Obama on hook

Too bad it's "just" on the omnibus spending bill and not the tax-cut "compromise." But, Democrats have decided to instead support just a temporary spending measure.

So, in the new Congress next year, we'll get to see just how much Preznit Kumbaya is willing to degrade himself and political principle chasing after things like "bipartisanship" and "compromise." My guess is that we've not come close to seeing the end of his willingness to degrade himself. And, unless Senate Democrats can hold firm as a caucus on a lot of issues (insert laugh track here), he'll have plenty of opportunities to keep on not reaching the end of his willingnes.

That said, this is yet another argument, at the least, for an upper house of Congress with lesser powers, or, more, for parliamentary government. (Preznit Kumbaya would likely still be a backbencher in such a system, and NOT prime minister.)

A kudo to Cliff Lee - a baseball pitcher MAN

Reportedly, as he considered his free agency landing spot, his wife made a list of pros and cons for Dallas-Fort Worth, New York and then, of course, Philadelphia. No surprise that the traffic in the DFW Metromess was a big No.

That said, a big yes to Philly on the Lee list?

One reason he chose the Phillies over either the stRangers or Yankees?

It's a National League team and "he loves to hit."

Dear Judge Hudson

And supporters of his ruling against Obamacare on Commerce Clause grounds: Any psychologist with half a brain can and will tell you that no decision is itself a decision. Or, inactivity, in this case, is itself an activity.

December 16, 2010

The new GM? A lot like the old GM

And, like The Who, we won't be fooled again.

Living off SUVs? Check.

Not that "green"? Check. (See Volt, the hybrid that Chevy said wasn't, and that costs $8K more than the Nissan Leaf.)

Relying on rebates more heavily than Japan? Check.

None of this is surprising to those of us who raised our eyes at the bailout of GM and Chrysler, as well as raising our eyes at Obama's bloviating claims for what this means.

As Mr. Niedermeyer points out, Preznit Kumbaya has gone silent on "green" GM in a big way, now touting only the profit bottom line. That said, Niedermeyer also points out that bottom line is being short-term inflated so GM — I'm sorry, the "new GM" — can get off the government dole.

Of course, that may not happen quite so quickly. Besides, the detritus of old GM, while technically not "bankrupt," has gone to die the death of a thousand limbos.

Does WikiLeaks show U.S. is no longer a democracy?

Well, I've thought that, in practical terms, we've become ever more of an oligarchy all the time. And that, with the mythical pseudosuccess of Reagan's pee-down economics, unlike in the Gilded Age, too many sheeple actually refuse to see that.

Well, beyond economic royalists, of course, the U.S. has more and more imperialists more and more nakedly parading about in recent years. And, perhaps WikiLeaks has removed the emperor-by-Beltway-committee's clothes.

So ...

Is the U.S. government's recent actions against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange some indication we don't have a true democracy any more? Judy Bachrach says yes:
What constitutes a democracy? I’m beginning to think, thanks to WikiLeaks, that it’s not simply the right to vote. But the right to discover why you are voting for a specific individual and not voting for another. And there is absolutely no way to understand anything at all unless we are given the facts: names, quotes, background, color, and anecdotes included. You can decry WikiLeaks and Assange all you want. But they are the ones who give us what we need: the information to make intelligent choices about our leaders and what they’re quietly doing, whom to retain and whom to dismiss; the power returned to the people.

Shimon Peres, hypocrite?

Contra Simon Wiesenthal, who emphasized all 11 million the Nazis killed for reasons of ideology, the former Israeli prime minister seems to be telling Ukranians "fuggedaboutit" on the idea that something happened in 1932-33 at the hands of Joseph Stalin that could be called genocide or more.
(Scholars' support for calling Stalin's actions genocide) raise some troubling questions. After all, if Stalin committed genocide, then the individuals who executed, supported, and condoned it must be considered his collaborators. Russians need to ask whether the Russian Federation’s status as successor state to the Soviet Union entails moral responsibility for Stalin’s crimes. Is a formal apology necessary? Might reparations be in order? They also need to ask why and how Russians, and their language, culture, and identity, came to be so deeply implicated in, and supportive of, Soviet institutions of oppression.

Both Russians and non-Russians need to ask who among them pulled the triggers, ran the concentration camps, and starved the peasants. Most post-Soviet states have avoided “lustration” — exposing crimes and barring perpetrators from office — on the grounds that it would be destabilizing. The case for not rocking the boat was plausible when the crime wasn’t genocide. If it is, can silence still be justified?

Communists, Soviet sympathizers, and fellow travelers in Western Europe and the United States need to ask whether they bear some moral responsibility for Stalin’s genocides. They knew of dekulakization, the Holodomor, and the murderous campaigns — and did nothing. Worse, they defended Stalin and the Soviet Union. Are mere mea culpas enough?

Finally, Western policymakers need to explain just how they can justify turning a blind eye to the Kremlin’s rehabilitation of Stalin. Reset buttons and cheap gas are important, of course, but perhaps mass murder masquerading as Armageddon matters, too.

Or should one just forget? Too bad President Peres didn’t say how.

The whole article is well worth reading.

December 15, 2010

Howard Dean flunky doesn't speak for me

Levana Layendecker, the communications director of Democracy for America, a group that's the remnants of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, claims that Obama is still the progressives' man. In fact, Dean himself says that.

Well, Howie Dean built his "progressive cred" on a gay marriage bill in Vermont that he wasn't that thrilled about until it landed on his desk and he knew he'd have a shitstorm if he vetoed it. Other than that, he is bupkis as far as true liberalism.

Apparently Howie and his mouthpiece don't pay attention to places like Truthout and its new open letter to the "left establishment."

Now, that said, Howie probably DOES speak for Talking Points Memo; given a staff-generated piece that long, without any blog-editorializing to go along with it, could it be otherwise?

What Obama compromise is next?

He's going to speak to the Business Roundtable today about "competitiveness."

The EPA has already "pulled" a couple of its regulatory punches recently, so that should give you an idea ...

Mitt Romney — buy your own damned unemployment insurance

Or, in a euphemism alert, Mitt Romney supports voluntary unemployment benefits.

In a Facebook status update recently, I listed "voluntary healthcare benefits" as one of the most ugly of many recent euphemisms on SpammedIn, I mean LinkedIn.

Looks like the Mittster's got that spirit:
The system is also not designed for a flexible economy like ours in which some employees move from job to job for short periods, and are therefore ineligible for unemployment compensation when they are faced with a protracted spell without work.
To remedy such problems we need a very different model, perhaps establishing individual unemployment savings accounts over which employees would exercise direct control when they lose their jobs, or putting in place financial incentives for employers to hire and train the long-term unemployed.

Now I agree that the economy doesn't help workers. But, "flexible"? Euphemism No. 1. No. 2, and bigger, is wanting to privatize unemployment bennies as part of the "ownership economy.


Mitt Romney euphemises Mormonism

That's a polite way of saying he uses orthodox Christian terms to half-lie about Mormonism. He's already javascript:void(0)trying to soften up the Religious Right!

In talking about his religious work, he says:
I served for 15 years as a lay pastor in my church and saw the heartbreak of joblessness up close.

Ahh, Wikipedia gives the short and sweet answer:
The church has no salaried ministry; however, general authorities who demonstrate need receive stipends from the church, using income from church-owned investments. All area and local authorities are unpaid and continue in their normal occupations while serving in leadership positions.

Nor does it have a "church" if by that he meant a congregation. It's called a "ward."

Nice try, Mittster.
In short, Mormonism has no lay pastors in the sense Christian churches do.

In fact, it has no pastors in the sense Christian churches do.

In fact, it doesn't even use the word.

Mormons are, in that way, most like Quakers amongst traditional Christian denominations. Maybe the Mittster wants to be the second Dick Nixon?

Al Franken, sucker

The Minnesota senator says he will vote for the Obama tax deal, but:
"I am taking the President at his word that he will fight harder to put an end to these wasteful tax breaks in 2012 than he did in 2010," Franken writes.

Hah, what a putz. I thought he was smarter than that.

A "taco" in the Rio Grande Valley, eh?

Texas State Rep. Aaron Peña, taco -- or whatever other Hispanic variant on "Oreo" you prefer.

With Peña jumping ship to the GOP, Republicans will have a 100-50 "supermajority" in the Texas House.

That said, blaming "trial lawyers" for Texas Democrats' problems? Sounds like he bought the GOP playbook well before the party switch.

He's got other nuttery, like saying it's Dems fault for chasing "swing voters" (again, GOP playbook) and "ignoring South Texas" (simply not true - did you forget your fellow taco from the Valley who was the Dems' 2002 gubernatorial candidate?). Anyway, the whole interview is in that vein.

Tax inheritances as income?

Yep, just get rid of the estate tax, and tax inheritances as income. Great idea by Ray D. Madoff which has no chance of becoming reality, not just with today's Republicans in general, but with neolib Dems like Preznit Kumbaya.

December 14, 2010

Southern Civil War lies, part 3

Boy, I guess you don't have to be down in the deep South to tell Civil War Richard Streiner, a professor at Washington College in Maryland, does the honors this time, claiming that Lincoln sabotaged Union-saving compromise in the winter of 1860-61 because he was an incipient abolitionist. lies. Yes, per the latter part of his letter to Horace Greeley, Lincoln's "druthers" were to save the Union sans slavery. But, he was committed to saving the Union, first. Second, in 1861, he was NOT an abolitionist, or even an immediate emancipationist, or anything near that. Third, re "white backlash," even AFTER the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln himself still wanted to get freed slaves to leave the U.S. Fourth, the later half of 1862, when he wrote Greeley, was NOT the winter of 1860-61.

Please, a history prof who doesn't tell mistruths.

Proving the not-so-good professor wrong? Northern blacks, whether free or escaped slaves. They knew better, even before but especially after they heard Lincoln's First Inaugural Address:
During these tense, violent days, Northern blacks anxiously awaited Lincoln’s inaugural address. No group was more disappointed by it than they were. Lincoln vowed to vigorously uphold the Fugitive Slave Act, suppress slave insurrections and never interfere with slavery in the slave states. He even supported the new 13th Amendment guaranteeing slavery in the states. Frederick Douglass spoke for most Northern blacks when he said that Lincoln’s inaugural “is little better than our worst fears.” In the days that followed, thousands more blacks began making plans to emigrate to another country.

That's the reality, Prof Streiner.

December 13, 2010

A serious nutbar

Ross Douthat spews all over himself in his political man-crush on Tom Coburn. "A Serious Man"? Not even close. A serious bat-shit crazy, antiscientific global warming denialist? A serious obstructionist of Congress less on idealistic principles than on gnat-straining for gnat-straining's sake? Check.

I would say Douthat hit a new low in shark-jumping, but this column isn't even that. Rather, it's a new low in intellectual laziness; he seemingly just mailed in this one.

December 12, 2010

Spare me the "Obama CAN'T get mad" because ...

He'd be seen as an angry black man. Unfortunately, the NYT let that craptacular idea run in its Sunday op-eds.

Ismael Reed needs to read the new book by WaPost columnist Eugene Robinson, "DisIntegration."

Memory, time and change

A poem on change, influenced by the book, "How Philosophy can Change Your Life."

Memory's malleability and time's tempo
Play out life in complex 7/8 rhythm
Like free verse that shifts mood, mode and meaning
An unconscious under-rhythm, more than mere backbeat,
Is each individual's I Ching
A changing round of changes on the them of change.
Nature is a humanist, with contradictions writ large.

Assange, the MSM, the Constitution and more

First, a British newspaper knows the Constitution of the United States better than many top-level American journalists, or politicians -- both of whom, in incestuous embrace, salivate over the possibility of us "getting" WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange.

Just one problem — any crimes allegedly committed by Assange are extraterritorial of the United States, therefore, as the Guardian notes, it would be unconstitutional to prosecute him.
It's well established that the due process clause places limits on such sweeping assertions of power. For example, when foreign monopolies manipulate prices overseas, it's not enough to show that they have hurt American consumers. Courts insist on evidence that they had fair notice that American anti-trust laws would govern their activity.

Of course, with U.S. courts showing a fellatio-level degree of subservience to "executive authority," especially as part of the hyperinflationary "War on Terror," the theoretical is likely to have little effect on the actual.

Next, the latest WikiLeaks revelations roundup:

The U.S. has been even more active in bolstering authoritarian governments in Muslim-majority nations than previously revealed.

Two problems with this.

The first:
"This kind of feeds the al Qaida narrative, that we're doing it everywhere," said Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington and a former Pentagon official in the Reagan administration.

And the second:
Peter Singer, the director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the center-left Brookings Institution in Washington, said(this type and degree of support) illustrates the dangers of U.S. forces relying on local allies who have other objectives.
"There are no guarantees that our ally might not also use the tools against another of their enemies — indeed, they would be almost remiss not to," Singer said. "The end result is that you may get the action you may have wanted, but you also incur all sorts of unexpected side effects, including in these cases being drawn into local disputes that aren't fully in our strategic interests."

AND, **big kudo** to McClatchy in this story for identifying the Brookings Institution as "center-left." (It's not that liberal.) Here's its WikiLeaks coverage webpage. Since it's better than general than most MSM newspaper companies on challenging the conventional Beltway wisdom, a good one to bookmark.

It gets worse ...

We had an Afghan drug lord on the CIA *and* DEA payroll.

If Amazon caved to the U.S. government (which it did, despite its denial), would it cave to China? Not sell certain books there? What does this say for cloud computing in the future? More questions the Guardian asks that U.S. media largely aren't.

Tying Pfc. Manning to Assange might be difficult. Plus, are all the cables from Manning anyway?

Additional thoughts from Australia's The Age on Anna Ardin and the allegations against Assange.

And from founder Jessica Valenti, who isn't as strident on this issue and gender feminism as a certain Stephanie Zvan.

Salon's theater critic knows bupkis

First, on page 2 of a 10-page slideshow about the best Shakespearean movies, Matt Zoller Seitz insults Orson Welles in his weighty later life, apparently believing he was born fat:
I must acknowledge Orson Welles' 1966 epic "Chimes at Midnight," a low-budget labor of love that stitches together bits of several Shakespeare plays, including "Henry IV Parts I and II," "Henry V," "Richard II" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor." Welles wrote the script, directed and costars as Falstaff — pretty much the only great Shakespeare part that such a huge actor could convincingly play.

But, it gets much worse.

Omitting Welles' Macbeth entirely in his discussion of best movie versions of that play?

Instead, Welles' Macbeth, with his excellent use of shadows, Jacques Ibere's excellent musical score and more, is head and shoulders above Polanski's version, with Seitz ignorantly tabs as his No. 1.

Add in the fact that he omits the Burton/Taylor version of Taming of the Shrew, even from his "Wild Card" (the wild card here being the fact of art imitating life) and he appears even more clueless.

Libertarianism, skepticism shouldn't be mixed

A point for pondering: Maybe worries about conflating libertarianism and skepticism by some skeptics are of more concern in the abstract than in the concrete.

A second point for pondering: Specific to SkepticBlog and potential racialism issues, not libertarian ones, don't you think the NAACP, etc., and not just some of your readers, would vehemently protest an attempt at a PBS show, if they knew that?

A third point, which I won't try to cram in this blog is — let's not forget the third person of the unholy trinity, Pop Evolutionary Psychology. It, like racialism, IMO, has a fair amount of overlap with libertarian political beliefs.

The potentially extended about dangers of mixing libertarianism and skepticism? Look at SkepticBlog and some of its recent posts, especially by Michael Shermer and Brian Dunning.

Dunning first, to focus on him and the issue of whether or not he's a libertarian.

Brian Dunning is currently engaged in bald-faced denialism of his libertarian sourcing, especially Steve Milloy's JunkScience.

Of course, here's why Dunning's such a denialist — Milloy's blatant denialism on global warming is trumpeted on the front page of JunkScience:
Now that the most absurd but potentially catastrophic junk science in human history is unraveling and we are preparing to declare victory over gorebull warbling we can devote more attention to neglected junk.

Taking Liberty -- How Private Property is being Abolished in America

Click here to jump straight to the global warming (a.k.a. "climate change", "global weirding", "people are icky, nasty, weather-breaking critters"... ) section if you so desire.

It's clear from that that Milloy engages in pseudoscience. Dunning was busted on using this website as a source, so hides his embarrassment at his ideological bias being discovered by raging against critics allegedly engaged in conspiracy theories, distortions, not telling him his errors and more.

Steven Novella originally got snookered by Milloy years ago and refusing to weigh in on Dunning's defense of "accidentally using" Milloy now.

Regarding that:
An irony in all of this is that if you go back and listen to early episodes of SGU, the Novella gang praised junkscience as a reputable website. They even had Milloy on to talk about his website (didn't discuss DDT, as far as I can remember). But you can tell that red flags were raised during the interview with Steve Novella, when Milloy was using language suggesting an ideological bias when discussing certain issues. And after that interview, SGU never mentioned junkscience again, except when criticizing it in an interview (I think, with Christopher Mooney). If only Brian had been privy to those early episodes, he may have steered away from the site all-together.

Well, considering that Dunning refuses to pull in his horns, AND that Novella has yet to put up his own post on Skepticblog about this at all, I doubt Dunning would have "steered away." Shermer hasn't steered away from worse; rather, he's gone swimming in it again.

Now Shermer, on issues of both libertarianism and racialism.

Shermer has been a libertarian of long standing. Outside this blog, as editor of Skeptic magazine, he's been an "enabler" of racialist Frank Miele for what, more than a decade now. Fellow racialist and co-author of "Race" with Miele, Vincent Sarich, is on the editorial board; Miele is listed as "senior editor."

(Related to this, here's my review of the Miele/Sarich book "Race."

And, my post on how this relates to Shermer ... which in turn relates to the analogies I'm drawing in this post.)

And, in for a penny, in for a pound on racialism. Dunning's snarky comment, on his website, about U.S. white liberals' alleged pseudo-concern for sub-Saharan Africans, not only is to me incidental supporting evidence for him being a libertarian, it also raises the question, to me, of whether he has any racialist thoughts rattling around in his braincage. (See how racialism can at least piggyback on libertarianism in one of my comments below.)

That said, the snark goes less to raising the flag of what his stance on racial issues might be than it goes to support for his being a libertarian (other incidental support, I mention in another comment), but, in part given that Shermer's fluffing of Miele on SkepticBlog is what really set me off, it raises my antennae.

Add, speaking of that, Skepticblog partner No. 4 (more on "partner" below) Daniel Loxton claimed that Shermer was past that, on a comment to a skeptic friend's Facebook post about a month ago. That makes almost half of the group, four of ten, having some degree of question mark over their heads on conflating libertarianism and skepticism.

Now, about that "partner" talk?

With 10 different members, I say it's a legitimate analogy to compare SkepticBlog to a law firm, with each blogger a "partner" similar to those at a law firm.

And, based on my experience with a with a particular political blog, Daily Kos, we're going to take that analogy in a particular direction.

Back about four years ago, Armando Llorens-Sar was Kos founder Markos Moulitsas' right-hand man. But, many people including me, asked and kept asking why he was refusing to reveal the name of the law firm where he "worked." He claimed it was because it could hurt his business.

Not quite. It turned out he was a partner at the firm, as opposed to "working" there. It a corporate representational firm which had some clients, such as Clorox and Walmart, taboo to many liberals.

I noted on Kos, before being banned, that Armando could have sold out of his partnership or asked to be bought out and how he ignored this idea. Note that a similar analogy applies here, to getting rid of Shermer and Dunning, or else others starting a new group blog. The six "silent partners," or the six + two, if you count the "abetting" duo of Loxton and Novella, have their chance to stand up for skeptical credibility, principle and practice. (Note: The "abetting" is in scare quotes; per Leo's comment below, Loxton at least has spoken on SkepticBlog about this and been ridiculed. That, in turn, gets back to the "partnership" issue and whether, or not, he and Novella believe further action on their part is warranted.)

Next, I'm going to move beyond analogies to personal experience.

I can speak about the down side, or simply the "groups representation" issues, of group blogging from a personal perspective.

About four years ago, I was asked to become part of a joint political blog. But, on a number of specific issues and ultimately, on the rise of Obama, it became clear that others there, especially the co-founders of the blog, were "Democrats right or wrong" type liberals, who didn't to engage in critical analysis of politics and stances in general, or just who Obama was — or was not — in particular.

So, I was eventually "asked to leave." (The primary co-founder wound up becoming Steve Benen's "woman Friday" at Washington Monthly, illustrating just how much of a craptacular "Democrats right or wrong" person she was, and is.

Anyway, I realized I was a square peg in a Kos-type blog, and wasn't going to convert any other bloggers. And, especially not being a "senior partner," I accept that others had the right to boot me, etc.

So, the law-partnership analogy has a personal side.

And, that's the other place in which my observations are grounded. Ergo, by analogy with my group blogging experience, contra Loxton and Novella writings elsewhere, my observation is that the libertarian "issue" on SkepticBlog must not be THAT big of a deal to them there. Or, to put it another way, maybe the worries about conflating libertarianism and skepticism are of more concern in the abstract than in the concrete.

Yes, that is provocative beyond the original version of this post. And, it's meant to be, but NOT in a Brian Dunning way.

I'll now wrap up with a few final thoughts.

As it stands, this conflation of skepticism and libertariansim is bad for skepticism in a number of ways. Credibility, confusion of what skepticism is and more all result.


Some people may thing that there's a litmus test on political skepticism, i.e., you're not a good enough skeptic unless you're a libertarian. Others may think that the skeptical enterprise has an inherent bias. (Note the explicit libertarianism of Pop Ev Psycher Steve Pinker, for a parallel.) And more.

Now, if like Howard Gardiner apparently did on religious belief to a degree, if Shermer and Dunning want to compartmentalize their skepticism, fine. Just be honest about it!

And, if you ARE going to do that, then you can't judge other people's skepticism, either.

UPDATE, Oct. 29, 2011: Welcome, Skeptic's Guide to the Universe readers. I don't have a "vendetta" against Skepticblog, just against ideology masquerading as skepticism. Brian Dunning and Michael Shermer both do it regularly with their libertarianism. (So does non-Skepticblog Skeptic Penn Jillette, the magician.) Shermer also leaves himself "open" to critical purview otherwise, for having known racialists on his magazine's masthead.

Why pointing these things out should be considered a possible "problem," I don't know.

And, if you'll click either the skepticism or pseudoskepticism tags, you'll note that I take a skeptical eye at skeptics outside the magazine, like the above-named Penn and others who are Gnu Atheist evangelists, or even occasionally a Chris Mooney type.

UPDATE, Dec. 3, 2011: And now, claiming the Kyoto Accord was more politics than science, Dunning once again shows us why he's NOT a real skeptic. If we're lucky, a federal court will put him on ice for a few years.