SocraticGadfly: 1/30/11 - 2/6/11

February 05, 2011

Employment ethics issues at CFI?

The Center for Inquiry has hired a communications director, a position for which I applied when it was listed — four months ago!

That said, I am guessing Michelle Blackley was hired to work part-time at best, volunteer, or semi-volunteer, at worst, which was NOT mentioned in the job advertisement.

Why do I say that?

This is why:
After a decade of working in publicity for the book publishing industry in New York City and western Massachusetts, she returned to her hometown to develop her own public relations firm. ...

Blackley is also an adjunct instructor of communication at Buffalo State College, and her essay “Part-time Teaching Is a Full-time Job” was published in My First Year in the Classroom (Adams Media).

In the Western New York community, Blackley is active with the Buffalo Junior Chamber of Commerce and volunteers as a grant writer with the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation. A self-proclaimed foodie, she also bakes for Hospice Buffalo and writes about the local food movement in Western New York for Edible Buffalo and the blog CityGirlCountry.
First, unless she's giving something up, she doesn't have the time to do the CFI job full time.

Second, because she's doing the other work, I bet CFI saw her as an easy PT hire.

Third, she may be trying to leverage this into more work for her PR firm. Good luck there.

Assuming I'm right, why couldn't CFI have told us this up front?

Germany starts kids off 'green'

This is a GREAT idea: 'green,' environmentally sustainable toys for kids. I'd love some U.S. company — an American-based manufacturer, not just an American-incorporated Mattel or whatever — to start something similar. (It would have to be a U.S. company, because you know no Chinese manufacturer would do this.)

That said, in Germany as in America, there's a difference between what people will tell the general public, or even more, a pollster, and what they will actually do:
Robert von Goeben, co-founder of San Francisco-based Green Toys Inc., started making toys and other children's products from recycled milk jugs in 2008. Since then, he said, sales have exploded, recording 80 percent growth last year as demand for the toymaker's bright tugboats, pastel tea sets and colorful trucks surged.

"I think that the success of our company, shows that there is clearly a wide segment of the population that will pay a little more for environmentally friendly toys," said von Goeben, whose toys cost roughly a third more than comparable playthings made from conventional materials.

But Wild Toys, makers of animal figures and exploration sets, said their experience had shown otherwise.

The company, which sells mainly to zoos and museum shops, jumped on the green bandwagon two years ago, bringing out a line of purely organic plush animals, even making sure the cotton for the stuffing was grown with organic fertilizer. The toys cost about 25 percent more than their conventional counterparts.

"They are still sitting in our warehouse," said Wild Toys spokesman Valdemar Barde, adding that consumers are not yet ready to swallow the cost of going green in the toy box.

"We are still in that phase on toys that consumers say, 'Yes, we want to be green, but no, we don't want to pay for it."

But according to a survey conducted by the Nuremberg toy fair, roughly a third of consumers in Germany said they would pay 10 to 20 percent more for playthings made from sustainable products, also with an eye to their longevity.

Von Goeben notes the Chinese quality/safety concern, though, versus naysayers. And, in both Germany and America, the cost of "green" materials wouldn't add THAT much; the home manufacturing costs vs. Beijing would be half of the price difference, I'm sure. The flip side is that would be local, "green" jobs of a lower technical level than solar panels or something.

Pujols, Berkman, Edmonds - a Cardinals bank shot?

I am intrigued and interested by the fact that Jim Edmonds has signed a minor-league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The "intrigued" part of me thinks this furthers the idea that the Birds are ready for life without, and, despite his pledge to veto trades, will still try to pull off a deal if the team can.

How's Jimbo fit into this?

Simple. I thought all along that Lance Berkman was signed to be Plan B at first base and NOT a backup corner outfielder. If Edmonds makes the major-league squad, he can pick up 200-300 ABs no problem. The easy way for him to do that is if Fat Elvis is at first.

FiredogLake and 'membership' blogging

The theoretically progressive-ish group blog and community political portal and forum FiredogLake is looking to launch a membership model. Is this like NPR, with pledges? I thought FDL already had a PayPal link onsite; besides, I know I already get "pledge reguest" e-mails from the site.

Anyway, it sounds like this is something more. Is the "membership," though, NOT something like NPR, and rather, a subscription under another name? I mean, it's asking "members" to vote on a new logo;

If the logo is going to be used to "brand" FDL tchotchkes, it could be a subscription model, not a pledge model, anyway. That's the way enviro groups, especially, work.

A subscription/member model - will it work? Here's some skepticism, not just about the model, but about FDL.

Here's the link to what FDL calls the "membership association program." UGH. Anything with the word "association" like that sounds SO effing corporatized. Because, related to "association" in this context is "associates." Like Walmart "associates." Or Amway "associates."

Here's what FDL says:
When Craig Newmark of Craigslist predicted last October that NPR would be a “dominant force” in news in ten years because of its membership model, a lot of people were surprised. But behind the scenes at FDL, we had collectively come to the same conclusion after reading Jon Walker’s series on “Lessons From the Nonpartisan League.” For months now, we have all been working together to come up with a membership association program that will give our community members a way to increase their involvement with FDL as well as expand our ability to cover and impact public issues.
First, NPR has an oftimes dysfunctional relationship with member stations. That will probably get worse before it gets better, if it does. Second, just because Craig Newmark, an unethical advertising website operator who runs housing adds that violate the Fair Housing Act but gets to do it, a court has ruled, because he's not a newspaper, has succeeded in a niche with a one-time, unorganized site, makes him nowhere near a guru. Nor, with such an unprogressive attitude on this, sexual services ads and the sex worker industry and other things, does it make his advice something that should be followed with out moral skepticism anyway.

In either case, I'm curious ... is this an NPR membership program? If so, why? Just add logo-branded tchotchkes to a Paypal page. Or is this a subscription model for premium content. If that's the case, I expect the paywalled section to become about as relevant to opinion discourse as Times Select was.

A personal note. I got involved with FiredogLake after seeing that its founders were a touch more progressive, or whatever, than Josh Marshall or Kos. I got more involved, and started a diary after Josh eliminated them from TPM.

That said, overall, FDL isn't that much more progressive.

The CorrenteWire link above also opened my eyes in other ways. I didn't realize people had been banned from FDL in the past. Given that I was, if not technically banned, at least blocked from posting, at Kos, that's something very disquieting.

And, it's true that people like Jane Hamsher and Marcy Wheeler and still, at end of day, Democrats-right-or-wrong Democrats. Ditto on someone like Spencer Ackerman, i'm sure, coming from The New Republic, among other places.

Mona Charen lies about Jimmy Carter lying

I don't go out looking for wingnut columns and blogs. And, I'm not going to defend former president Jimmy Carter against a charge of smugness. But, because Zionist Mona Charen has a column in my newspaper today, calling a Carter liar in general, and with a lot of vitriol directed toward his stance on Middle East issues, I will indeed defend him against a claim of mendacity.

And, I'll go further. I'll point out her lies.

Let's start outside the Middle East:
Carter's apologies for the United States make Obama's seem chauvinistic. Meeting with Haiti's dictator Raoul Cedras, Carter allowed as how he was "ashamed of what my country has done to your country.
Sorry, but true. We could also apologize to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Guatemala, etc.

Of course, her bete noire is Carter's support for fair play in the Middle East. So, she has to lie about history there. She starts:
Carter repeatedly gets history wrong — as when he suggests that Israel attacked Jordan in the 1967 war. In fact, Israel pleaded with Jordan to remain neutral as it fought off Egypt and Syria.
Nope. First, Jordan never declared war. Neither did Israel. It just attacked. Per Wikipedia:
(O)n the morning of November 13, the Israel Defense Force mobilized, crossed the border into the West Bank and attacked Es Samu. The attacking force consisted of 3,000-4,000 soldiers backed by tanks and aircraft. They were divided into a reserve force, which remained on the Israeli side of the border, and two raiding parties, which crossed into the West Bank.
And, if we're talking about sneak attacks, Ms. Mendacity, let's not forget Israel attacking the USS Liberty while we're at it.

Charen continues with the lying:
Carter also repeatedly insinuates that U.N. Resolution 242 calls for such a withdrawal (to pre-1967 boundaries) — another lie. The resolution does speak of withdrawal, but was carefully crafted (against the objections of the Soviets) not to call for such a total pullout.
Yet another lie. Wikipedia quotes from the relevant section:
Operative Paragraph One "Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles: (i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.
In the Wikipedia story, then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk said that the resolution allowed for some limited land exchanges, but that was it:
But we never contemplated any significant grant of territory to Israel as a result of the June 1967 war. On that point we and the Israelis to this day remain sharply divided
So, you don't need to read the rest of the column.

Nor do you need to leave a comment on Charen's website at Creators. I took care of that for you. (I wasn't about to bother registering at Townhall.

February 04, 2011

Sam Harris' Immoral Landscape

Sam Harris' "The Moral Landscape," much lauded by many reflexive, relatively unthinking New Atheists who have made him into a rock star of the movement, falls far short of its hype. In fact, I one-starred it on Amazon.

What's wrong? Harris is a Platonic idealist in drag. He also engages in scientism. Related to both of these, despite his having an undergraduate degree in philosophy, he really appears not to understand a lot of philosophical issues relevant to this book's subject. Or else, he doesn't care to.

Beyond that, his Islamophobia in the early part of this book seems to largely come straight from the neoconservative playbook. Possibly related to that, he creates straw men out of liberals all allegedly being moral relativists.

Sam Harris tries to draw a hard-and-fast dichotomy between science-based morals and ethics and religious-based morals and ethics in this book.

However, this is the real world, not a Platonic idea (Harris comes off as quasi-Platonic in more than one way in parts of this book), and so, it's not totally amenable to Harris' bifurcation.

Take abortion. Many religious people support at least some right to abortion, but noted atheist Nat Hentoff is 100 percent prolife. Ditto on end of life issues. And, if I looked a little bit, I could surely find atheists and agnostics with less enlightened views on gay rights than many religious people.

Now, as to the science part ... the idea that we can have a science-based morality? Harris offers little in the way of actual neuroscience studies on the brain processing moral issues.

We may well get oodles more such studies in the future, but that's not today. Harris also doesn't address the issues of what MRIs measure, how well this correlates with thought output, etc.

Likewise, he discusses little in the field of well-done evolutionary psychology (to distinguish it from Pop Evolutionary Psychology).

Beyond that, he simply ignores that the study of the human mind, whether from the POV of cognitive neuroscience or evolutionary psychology, is at best in the Early Bronze Age and is arguably, at least on the matter of morality and ethics, still in the Neolithic.

So, while science may at some point (far?) in the future offer us significant oversight on specific moral issues, it doesn't today because it can't. And, per the specific moral issues I listed above, it may never be able to.

Indeed, with reference to that, Harris' approach to science and morality smacks of a fair degree of scientism. And, I write this as an irreligious, skeptical naturalist.

That said, there's several other problems with this book. Read on at the jump for the details! I'm going to address several overview issues first, before making any page-by-page critique of the book.

First is the matter of Harris' Islamophobia. Since Islam is in general cited regularly for examples of immoral behavior and beliefs, we need to examine this.

First of all, it seems much of Harris' Islamophobia comes from the neoconservative political playbook. He favorably references an off-the-wall neocon writer, Bat Ye'Or, whose book on Islam's alleged takeover of Europe was one-starred by me.

Secondly, he's confusing a static historic snapshot of history with a moving picture. If we went by snapshots, 900 years ago, Christian Crusaders would have been the poster boys for immoral behavior. 750 years ago it would have been pagan/animist Mongols. 600 years ago, polytheistic Aztecs.

Finally, if we confine ourselves to today, the Hindu Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka killed 30,000 in their civil war, far more than al-Qaeda has killed.

Second, whence comes Harris' moral stance, ultimately? I believe he is not just a moral objectivist, albeit a consequentialist (a stance more often associated with moral relativism but compatible with objectivism too), but a moral absolutist -- specifically a Platonic Idealist moral absolutist. There's irony there in spades, since the early and middle Platonic dialogues were devoted to Socrates, deconstruction of other people's definitions of moral issues such as justice. (Of course, Socrates usually doesn't offer his own idealist definition back; such things arise only in later dialogues.)

Third, what of Harris' claims to be examining morality and its foundations from a scientific perspective? 

First of all, he's not the first to do so. He didn't invent sociobiology or evolutionary psychology. (Let me be clear here -- much of what passes for science in alleged evolutionary psychology is actuallly the pseudoscience of Pop Evolutionary Psychology. However, unlike a P.Z. Myers, there is legitimate work being done in this field, albeit little and far between.) So, Harris isn't new in his effort and he's certainly not new in his hope.

That said, for someone who wants to be scientific, he seems often lacking. (No shock here; I saw the same problem way back in "The End of Faith." First, from an evolutionary standpoint, Harris doesn't address issues of individual vs. group selection. Now, I'm not as bullish on group selection as, say, David Sloan Wilson, but I do think it deserves more consideration than many evolutionary biologists give it. Second, Harris doesn't devote any scientific examination to cultural evolution. Admittedly, there's not a lot to really nail down ant this intersection of biology and sociology, but Harris doesn't even get into what is out there.

Beyond what I mention above, for someone with a graduate degree in neuroscience, he spends about ZERO time referencing actual neurological study of the brain. No V.S. Ramachandran here, folks! Not even close.

Fourth, Harris and philosophy, not just the "is-ought" issue, but certainly including that.

First of all, for people who have read previous works of his, and not embraced him as a bundle of light, his arrogance in dealing with the philosophical background should be of no surprise. But, it still needs quoting.

Page 197, footnote 1: "Many of my critics fault me for not engaging with the academic literature on moral philosophy. ... First ... I did not arrive at my position ... by reading the work of moral philosophers; I came to it by considering the logical implications of our making continual progress in the sciences of the mind. Second, I am convinced that every appearance of (academic terminology) directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe. ... (T)he professional philosophers I've consulted seem to understand and support what I'm doing"
Let's unpack what's wrong with this quote.

1. Harris might actually have learned something by engaging with other moral philosophers either of today or the past. That would include wrestling more with Hume's is-ought; that would certainly include a provocative AND nontechnical book like Walter Kaufmann's "Beyond Guilt and Justice."
2. Is Harris saying he's either too dumb or too lazy to "translate" language of academia to a general audience? Or a too-arrogant mix of both? One of the best classical philosophers on moral issues was Hume, precisely because he wrote in a way for the general public (of a certain educational level) to understand.
3. Neuroscience is a "hard" science with plenty of its own technical language. That doesn't stop Harris from wanting to focus on advances in scientific discovery, albeit while, rather than discussing them in a nontechnical level, not discussing them at all. I smell a HUGE steaming pile of hypocrisy here.
4. In light of what I noted above about Socratic dialogues, Harris never discusses what happens when two big moral issues, like "fairness" and "compassion," collide. This is one of the brilliancies of Kaufmann's book mentioned above.

In light of all that, let's look at Hume's famous is-ought issues.

Hume discusses the problem in book III, part I, section I of his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739):

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.
Hume calls for caution against such inferences in the absence of any explanation of how the ought-statements follow from the is-statements. But how exactly can an "ought" be derived from an "is"? The question, prompted by Hume's small paragraph, has become one of the central questions of ethical theory, and Hume is usually assigned the position that such a derivation is impossible. This complete severing of "is" from "ought" has been given the graphic designation of Hume's Guillotine.

See Wikipedia for more on the "is-ought" issue.

Several issues here:
1. "Ought" is multivalent. Sometimes, most notably in ethics, it has an explicitly moral tone. Other times, far from that. For instance, in late 19th-century physics, scientists said the ether, the luminiferous ether, "ought" to weigh a certain amount, even though experiment rebelled against that.
2. In the case of ethics, to worry about "is-ought" is to approach the issue the wrong way. Rather, staying within Hume, one can ask what ethics can be naturalistically devised and supported. In this case (contra what Harris seems to say) we turn to evolutionary psychology **properly done** (and not Pop Ev Psych), as well as evolutionary biology of non-hominids. We can, through cultural anthropology, partially reinforce hominid ev psych findings. That then said, we would note that often, there is not one "right" ethical answer to some issues of ethics. We also should note, per someone like Walter Kaufmann, sometimes there is no right answer at all, or that a "right" answer may be culturally determined, or that a "right" answer for an individual may be the "wrong" answer for society. In this last case, no science gives us "the answer" as to whether individual needs or societal needs should prevail. And, for that matter, different religions may give us different answers, or the same religion may give us different answers at different times, as they do on other issues such as collective guilt.

Re a critic of my Amazon review, who invited me to look at a Harris post on Huffington Post.

Harris' "refutation" of his critics actually confirms much of what they say about him on the Islamophobia. Ditto on his .... gullibility, for want of other words, on the credibility of the psi folks.

As for his stance on Buddhism, it seems clear he's trying to have his cake and eat it, too, by purporting to be on a search for "the authentic Buddha," in essence. Shades of Albert Schweitzer!

That said, the review by John Horgan, which Harris loathes? I think Horgan goes too far in taking science to the moral woodshed, but, in a general way, he's right. To this day, Western scientists still have few problems with exploiting indigenous peoples, for example. One might fault Horgan for failing to distinguish science from individual scientists, but this is part of connecting Harris' stance to scientism, I think.

On the good side, though, he does some great petard-hoisting on Harris:
Some will complain that it is unfair to hold science accountable for the misdeeds of a minority. It is not only fair, it is essential, especially when scientists as prominent as Harris are talking about creating a universal, scientifically validated morality. Moreover, Harris blames Islam and Catholicism for the actions of suicide bombers and pedophilic priests, so why should science be exempt from this same treatment?
And more:
Harris asserts in Moral Landscape that ignorance and humility are inversely proportional to each other; whereas religious know-nothings are often arrogant, scientists tend to be humble, because they know enough to know their limitations. "Arrogance is about as common at a scientific conference as nudity," Harris states. Yet he is anything but humble in his opus. He castigates not only religious believers but even nonbelieving scientists and philosophers who don't share his hostility toward religion.
Finally, Horgan raises the same concerns about neuroscience I do:
Harris further shows his arrogance when he claims that neuroscience, his own field, is best positioned to help us achieve a universal morality. "The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values." Neuroscience can't even tell me how I can know the big, black, hairy thing on my couch is my dog Merlin. And we're going to trust neuroscience to tell us how we should resolve debates over the morality of abortion, euthanasia and armed intervention in other nations' affairs?
Indeed. But, that, too, is part of Harris' scientism. That said, P.Z. Myers and Vic Stenger, on their claims to have proved the nonexistence of god, show that Harris isn't alone among New Atheists in falling into the pit of scientism.

BLM gets enviromental slapdown on ORVs

(Again.) Federal judge Susan Illston said the agency didn't follow environmental standards in laying out ORV trails in SoCal.

That said, the agency has three-plus years for a redo, upsetting, rightly, most enviros.

Death by GPS

More and more tourists are blindly trusting GPS systems in places like Death Valley and getting led down roads that, if not technically closed, may be too advanced for their rental vehicles.
Increasingly, park rangers say tourists are being led into danger by technology, especially satellite-based GPS units designed to guide them to unfamiliar destinations along a network of roads in a navigation database.

In Death Valley, many roads shown on some GPS systems are no longer passable. Some have been officially closed. Others are simply too rough for most vehicles and pose serious danger.

"People are so reliant on their GPS that they fail to look out the windshield and make wise decisions based on what they're seeing," said Alley.

One case happened last summer, when visitors arriving from the west on Highway 190 told their GPS to take them to Scotty's Castle, a popular tourist destination at the north end of the park, which is easily accessible by paved road.

Instead, the unit directed them over an unpaved, winding, washboard road toward Saline Valley, where they turned right onto an even rougher four-wheel-drive road and became stuck near a remote abandoned mine site called Lippincott.

"People don't realize that if they tell the unit to find the shortest route to somewhere, it's not necessarily finding the shortest, safe, paved route," Callagan said.
"One of the healthier ones walked out, 20 to 25 miles, and made contact with one of our rangers," he added. "Everybody survived, but they weren't in great shape."
And, in some cases, it's killing people.

If you're new to a national park or monument that has lots of backcountry, stop at a visitor center first. Besides DV, that would include places like Joshua Tree, Mohave National Preserve, Canyonlands and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

And, admit when you've gone beyond your backcountry nature and/or driving skills level:
"A lot of people don't realize you should just turn around and go back the way you came," (Death Valley ranger Amber Natress) said. "We see that a lot here."
And, if you're too stubborn for that, consider not visiting one of the aforementioned parks. Many such people think that, if they do get stuck or lost, all they need to do is whip out their cell phones. Well, in larger, remote parks and monuments, you may not get cell service. Inside a deep canyon, since electromagnetic waves don't bend, you CAN'T get cell service unless you're on a satellite phone.

Oil, Egypt and Obama at a crossroads

Now that it seems the Egyptian Army's no-fire policy is designed to help pro-Mubarak protesters, will President Obama push Mubarak to stop? How much are U.S. oil concerns, Israeli fears and Arab petrodollars intersecting here? Arguably, a fair amount.

Goddam Sachs is playing with your food

GoldmanGoddam Sachs is into speculating on everything, including something as innocuous as wheat futures prices. And, that's part of what's wrong with world food prices today.

For over a century, farmers in wealthy countries have been able to engage in a process where they protect themselves against risk. Farmer Giles can agree in January to sell his crop to a trader in August at a fixed price. If he has a great summer and the global price is high, he'll lose some cash, but if there's a lousy summer or the price collapses, he'll do well from the deal. When this process was tightly regulated and only companies with a direct interest in the field could get involved, it worked well.

Then, through the 1990s, Goldman Sachs and others lobbied hard and the regulations were abolished. Suddenly, these contracts were turned into 'derivatives' that could be bought and sold among traders who had nothing to do with agriculture. A market in "food speculation" was born.
The fallout? Soaring food prices is part of what fuels unrest in places like Egypt, as Truthout explains. It also notes that folks like Goddam Sachs can probably work around obstacles or through loophole in last year's financial regulation reform bill.

Pettitte is NOT a Hall of Famer

Jayson Stark gets this one right. Andy Pettitte is NOT a Hall of Famer.

The biggies that Stark notes on the sabermetric scale:
• Pettitte finishes his career with a WHIP of 1.36.
• Pettitte gave up 1.04 hits per inning. Now it's true there are nine Hall of Famers who served up more hits than they pitched innings. Unfortunately, none of them has appeared in a box score in 65 years (since Ted Lyons in 1946).
Beyond that, Stark notes that he had only two "big" years, 1997 and 2005. Those were two of the only three years he was below 1.25 in WHIP.

And, to me, that's the career breakoff for WHIP and HOF admittance, unless a pitcher has some other great stats. And, while Pettitte's 117 ERA+ beats my minimum of 110, it's not eye-opening.

So, who is Pettitte? Baseball-Reference lists Jack Morris as second-most similar through age 38. Hard to argue with that, and, that should be the final note on how close to the HOF Pettitte is.

Stark has the last word:
(C)ome 2015, our job as voters won't be merely to look back just at those epic nights in October. It will be to judge the entirety of Pettitte's career.And when that time comes, I expect the words at the top of this column will still be swirling in my brain:
The greatest No. 3 starter of his generation.
That sums it up.

Tricky Ricky Perry: 'Budget cuts for thee, but not for me'

Proof that Rick Perry, like Barack Obama, is Just.Another.Politician? Proof there's nothing compassionate about his conservativism?

The budget proposals being batted around the Texas Lege have nary a cent of money being cut from his salary.
House and Senate draft budgets make no cuts to the salaries of Texas' statewide elected officials — all Republicans — and the leaders of the state's largest agencies, including the Texas Education Agency, the department of Health and Human Services, and the departments of Aging and Disability Services and Family Protective Services.
Yes, the Lege, not the Gov., marks up preliminary budgets. But, where's Perry's voice, now that a budget first draft is on the table, saying, "Take 10 percent off my salary"?

Answer: Nowhere.

That said, I was ready, when I first saw this, for some CONservatives to say it wouldn't matter.

Sure enough, other elected folks say even if you trim these salaries, it wouldn't make a real budget dent.
Lawmakers didn't reduce salaries because "even if you cut 'em in half, it's not going to be that much money" in a two-year budget that currently spends $182 billion ... the Senate's chief budget writer, Sen. Steve Ogden of Bryan, said.
Like other Just.Another.Politician types, Ogden refuses to see that it's a perception issue.

And, here's the numbers:
As governor, Perry is paid $150,000 annually, the same salary paid to Attorney General Greg Abbott, Comptroller Susan Combs and 16 of the state's 18 judges on the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. The chief justice of the Supreme Court and presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals make $152,500.

State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones, Michael Williams and David Porter all make $137,500.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst , who is elected statewide and presides over the Senate, is paid a state senator's salary of $7,200.

Agency heads typically make much more than Perry and the other elected officials.
That said, former state rep. Talmadge Heflin, although claiming last week the state doesn't face a real deficit, DOES grasp the symbolism. Let's see how much the tea partiers push this one.

That said, why haven't Texas Dems picked up on the symbolism angle yet?

White House sells out Egyptians

Supposedly the White House is negotiating a transitional government for Egypt. Will it be led by Mohamed ElBaradei?

The Obama administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately, turning over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military, administration officials and Arab diplomats said Thursday.
That's our bipartisan foreign policy establishment!

The story does note that this decision could be contingent on the mood in the "Egyptian street." That said, for Team Obama to even consider this - and even more, to announce its decision for public consumption - is pure-D dumb.

February 03, 2011

Wired goes 'American exceptionalist' on space

Wired magazine is either dumb enough, hubristic enough, or a bit of both to claim that, besides Sputnik, the Russians have always played catch-up in space.

Right, right. Yuri Gagarin played catch-up to Scott Carpenter and John Glenn. Laika played catch-up to Ham. The Luna probes found Rangers or others already on the moon.

Forgot about all of that, Wired. Thanks for correcting me.

Oh, and even in other cases, the Russians didn't just copy us. Mir went far beyond Skylab.

Guillen, Leyland, Sciosia — HOF managers or not?

Great column here about whether or not Jim Leyland, Mike Sciosia and Ozzie Guillen are Hall of Fame managers, or not.

The "hook" of the article is that each managed a World Series winner that, in all likelihood, did not have a single HOF player on it, a definite rarity.

That said, overall?

Leyland is below .500 for his career. Even balancing that with winning a pennant in both leagues, and coming close with the Pirates, and I'd say no.

Guillen hasn't managed long enough for us to say one way or another, but, stay tuned. Could he survive some other place besides the South Side? How long will he stay there?

Sciosia? A second pennant, even without a WS, would probably boost him over the edge. A second WS would make him a lock, I think.

Muslim Brotherhood - incompetent, not evil

As we wonder if and when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will depart and who will replace him, one question in the air is: What of the Muslim Brotherhood? Is it eeevvulll like neocons say?

Anthropologist and scholar of religion Scott Atran says it's incompetent, if anything, so such co-opting is unlikely. And, Atran says it's a "carpetbagger" as much as some claim ElBaradei is:
Ever since its founding in 1928 as a rival to Western-inspired nationalist movements that had failed to free Egypt from foreign powers, the Muslim Brotherhood has tried to revive Islamic power. Yet in 83 years it has botched every opportunity. In Egypt today, the Brotherhood counts perhaps some 100,000 adherents out of a population of over 80 million. And its failure to support the initial uprising in Cairo on Jan. 25 has made it marginal to the spirit of revolt now spreading through the Arab world.
That said, Atran adds that this is two wrongs definitely not making a right.
This error was compounded when the Brotherhood threw in its lot with ElBaradei, the former diplomat and Nobel Prize winner. (W)hen ElBaradei strode into Tahrir Square, many ignored him and few rallied to his side despite the enormous publicity he was receiving in the Western press. The Brotherhood realized that in addition to being late, it might be backing the wrong horse.
Very, very interesting.

If this is all the case, then how did we get here? Atran goes on, to talk about exactly that:
The British, King Farouk, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar el-Sadat all faced the same problem that Hisham Kaseem, a newspaper editor and human rights activist, described playing out under Mr. Mubarak. “If people met in a cafe and talked about things the regime didn’t like, he would just shut down the cafe and arrest us,” Mr. Kaseem said. “But you can’t close mosques, so the Brotherhood survived.”

If Egyptians are given political breathing space, Mr. Kaseem told me, the Brotherhood’s importance will rapidly fade. “In this uprising the Brotherhood is almost invisible,” Mr. Kaseem said, “but not in America and Europe, which fear them as the bogeyman.”
Atran adds that, in the wake of 9/11, President Mubarak had good reason to demonize the Brotherhood as well as pump up its alleged size — that meant more military aid from Bush, and more of a license to crush dissent of all stripes. Which he did in spades.

Kaseem wants his countrymen to go slow on the transition, too:
“Egypt is missing instruments essential to any functioning democracy and these must be established in the transition period — an independent judiciary, a representative Parliament, an open press,” Mr. Kaseem said. “If you try to push democracy tomorrow we’ll end up like Mauritania or Sudan,” both of which in recent decades have had coups on the heels of democratic elections.
If there's enough people like him around, there's hope for Egypt's future indeed.

Egypt ... post-Mubarak? In 48 hours? And, who leads?

What could Egypt look like after the departure of President Hosni Mubarak? And how close, or far away, is that day?

A post-Mubarak Egypt, assuming it's not run by son Gamal or CIA-loving thug Omar Suleiman, will probably be a lot like Turkey. Unless you're an American exceptionalist of the bipartistan foreign policy establishment, there's nothing wrong with that. Might even be some good in it.

Anyway, if the bipartisans think we can't live with that, we'll have to learn. And, maybe Israel needs to start being less intransigent with Palestinians about now, if Egypt does become another Turkey. In light of Al Jazeera's Palestine papers, might be some good there, too.

And, how close are we to that post-Mubarak era?

Well, de facto opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei reportedly gave Mubarak 48 hours to get out, from Wednesday night. And, Obama's having a designee meet with ElBaradei.

What of the Muslim Brotherhood? Is it eeevvulll like neocons say? Will it co-opt Mubarak, and make him Egypt's Abolhassan Bansadr?

Scholar of religion Scott Atran says it's incompetent, if anything, so such co-opting is unlikely. And, Atran says it's a "carpetbagger" as much as some claim ElBaradei is:
Ever since its founding in 1928 as a rival to Western-inspired nationalist movements that had failed to free Egypt from foreign powers, the Muslim Brotherhood has tried to revive Islamic power. Yet in 83 years it has botched every opportunity. In Egypt today, the Brotherhood counts perhaps some 100,000 adherents out of a population of over 80 million. And its failure to support the initial uprising in Cairo on Jan. 25 has made it marginal to the spirit of revolt now spreading through the Arab world.
That said, Atran adds that this is two wrongs definitely not making a right.
This error was compounded when the Brotherhood threw in its lot with ElBaradei, the former diplomat and Nobel Prize winner. (W)hen ElBaradei strode into Tahrir Square, many ignored him and few rallied to his side despite the enormous publicity he was receiving in the Western press. The Brotherhood realized that in addition to being late, it might be backing the wrong horse.
Very, very interesting.

Meanwhile, if ElBaradei is "the man" ... and it may be somebody flying below the West's radar screen, instead, Juan Cole says Egypt is not Iran 1979.

I know a lot of people have said that's the case because Egypt doesn't have oil.

No, but it does have other resources, like tourism. And, a theocratic Egypt could decide to deliberately cut off the West, while marketing to the Muslim world.

We shall see.

And, let's hope ElBaradei or whomever has a thicker skin than the criticism-sensitive Mubarak. Looks like Hosni has a thin skin.

February 02, 2011

What's behind the change in Egyptian army?

Has the Egyptian military reached an accord with President Hosni Mubarak and/or his apparent designated successor, Omar Suleiman, already? I can't see what else would lead the army, after saying Monday it wouldn't fire on protesters, to now tell them, in essence, they've been heard and they need to go home.

And, how many will listen? How many will listen if the bullets start flying? How many soldiers will start the bullets flying?

So far, the military hasn't fired those bullets; violence has been between pro- and anti-Mubarak citizen groups, the former allegedly largely comprised of paid young street toughs.

As I said yesterday, I think something further "gives," one way or other, by the end of this week.

I expect that by Friday evening, the army will have taken a good measure of both Mubarak and the opposition, any promises by Mubarak and other issues, and will know more about where it wants to stand.

Instant sports bets - next Net addiction?

Given that gambling in general can become, if not addictive, a clearly compulsive behavior, the possible future of sports betting sounds .... interesting.

Instant betting on sports? During the game? Yes, Les Carpenter is surely right -- it could be addictive indeed.

Will 2012 be a 'normal' election year?

The last three general elections have all been "wave" elections," with strong changes in Congressional representation. It's unusual to have that type of change election after election.

So, will 2012 be a "normal" election? Prominent analyst Charlie Cook thinks so. My first oddsmaking is 50-50 Obama vs. generic GOP opponent, 50-50 on Dems keeping control of the Senate, including by tie, and 3-1 on GOP keeping the House. At the same time, I'll put 50-50 on 15-20 Democratic seat pick-ups there.

Neolib takeover of Democrats is nearly complete

The Democratic National Committee has opted on Charlotte, N.C., as site of the 2012 convention. What's so special about Charlotte?

North Carolina is the least-unionized state in the U.S., which is part of why union leaders had been pleading against the decision. Specifically, Charlotte has zero union-organized hotels. It's convention center is also nonunion.

In Carter's re-election bid 32 years ago, this never would have happened. Even in Clinton's re-election bid 16 years ago, no. But, even though Obama's re-election is far, far from a slam dunk, he and the DNC are OK with telling unions they don't count too much.

Supposedly, Obama had his eye on North Carolina's larger black population. But, at 20 percent vs. 11 percent, it's not like Missouri is lily white. However, North Carolina also has about double the Hispanic population percentage of Missouri. Neither of the other finalists, Minneapolis or Cleveland, could offer as strong of Hispanic demographics, either.

Beyond the ethnic angles, it seems that Obama and the DNC think North Carolina as well as neighboring Virginia will be "in play" in 2012. I kind of doubt that.

January 31, 2011

Egypt 1-31 — what's next?

First, will Egyptians really accept Mohamed ElBaradei as possible leader of a new government, or will they treat him as a Johnny-come-lately and carpetbagger?

Meanwhile, with the Egyptian military, for now at least, not firing on protesters, this may not be just an academic question.

And, Salon has an excellent piece on ElBaradei's partner, for now at least, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Time frame? I would say that, by the end of this week, President Hosni Mubarak is either back in the saddle firmly, or else negotiating an exit.

Huntsman move could backfire on Obama

Former Utah Gov. John Huntsman, now Barack Obama's ambassador to China, is making noises about entering the presidential race.

At the time Obama nominated him to go to China, it was rumored this was in part to get him out of the U.S. and the presidential hunt. Huntsman, definitely conservative, javascript:void(0)but definitely sane, or sane-sounding, compared to much of today's GOP, was rumored to be a serious worry for Obama.

Instead, Obama may have given Huntsman an out, or cover, for avoiding much of that GOP nuttery while being an "above the fray" type candidate on things such as tea partiers, etc., while also allowing Huntsman to burnish foreign policy credentials.

That said, if he does enter, how hard will other GOPers hit him on Mormonism? As hard as Mitt Romney? Harder?

And, seriously, given his positions on things like gay rights, does he really expect to be able to win the GOP nomination?

Egypt, the U.S., Mubarak, 9/11, Arab democracy

Ross Douthat, in what might just be his best column ever, completes a circle of sorts by reminding us that the U.S.'s continued propping up of Mubarak was surely a major factor in 9/11. Remember, mastermind Mohamed Atta, among others, was Egyptian. He notes that the thuggish nature of Mubarak's crackdown on the Muslim Brotehrhood, as we turned a blind eye to that, caused people like Atta to develop.

The column is good enough, as far as it goes.

But, it gets better, as he calls out the neocons and other democracy-promoting idealists who lose their idealism when Islamic political parties become part of the mix. Or, when other things don't go according to the plans on paper.

I'm making a long, deserved, quote:
The memory of Nasser is a reminder that even if post-Mubarak Egypt doesn’t descend into religious dictatorship, it’s still likely to lurch in a more anti-American direction. The long-term consequences of a more populist and nationalistic Egypt might be better for the United States than the stasis of the Mubarak era, and the terrorism that it helped inspire. But then again they might be worse. There are devils behind every door.

Americans don’t like to admit this. We take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don’t meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.

But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.

Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils.
To me, this is another part of American exceptionalism — the idea that American politics, and foreign policy, is so great that other nations should just automatically line up. It's also another part of American exceptionalism — that the general public, as well as the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, can maintain directly contradictory ideas in place at the same time, because we're America, dammit.

January 30, 2011

ElBaradei, Muslim Brotherhood rapproach in Egypt

Both the New York Times and Ha'aretz from Israel report that Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Muslim Brotherhood have reached rapproachment on forming a national unity government, broad based, to include everybody but current Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

From Ha'aretz:
"I have been authorized -- mandated -- by the people who organized these demonstrations and many other parties to agree on a national unity government," (ElBaradei) told CNN.
The NYT notes that ElBaradei is not afraid to call out the Obama Administration for continuing to prop up Mubarak.
“It’s better for President Obama not to appear that he is the last one to say to President Mubarak, it’s time for you to go,” Dr. ElBaradei said.
Given how he refused to sign off on BushCo bullshit in Iraq, while running the IAEA, this should be of no surprise.

It is seeming more and more clear that the police aren't strongly in Mubarak's corner. The military, with hardware largely paid for by the U.S., still seems strong for the moment. But, remember, Nicholas II lost the gendarmes first, then the military, in 1917.

So, too, did a certain Reza Pahlavi in 1979. Will Mubarak's path follow the late Shah of Iran's, who, ironically, lived his last days in Egypt, which led the Muslim Brotherhood to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, which put Mubarak in power?

Former President Jimmy Carter, who is certainly in a position to remember Iran and the Shah's fall in 1979, agrees that Mubarak is eventually likely to go.

And, speaking of that, will ElBaradei pull this off? Or, will Mubarak try to co-opt him, to make him, in essence, Egypt's Shapour Bakhtiar? I doubt ElBaradei can be co-opted. If we were talking about former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, that would be different. Indeed, that might be Mubarak's next move.

And, Ross Douthat completes a circle of sorts by reminding us that the U.S.'s continued propping up of Mubarak was surely a major factor in 9/11. Remember, mastermind Mohamed Atta, among others, was Egyptian.

However, it is possible that ElBaradie could be undercut by the Brotherhood at some point, and become Egypt's equivalent of Abolhassan Banisadr.

Meanwhile, here's more on Omar Suleman, the thuggish CIA pal that Mjbarak has lined up to replace him, it seems.

And, further meanwhile, here's Hillary Clinton pushing for "real democracy" in Egypt. (Muslim parties, of course, need not apply.)

El Baradei, Muslim Brotherhood rapproach in Egypt

Both the Newy York Times and Ha'aretz from Israel are reporting that former International Atomic Energy Association head M

When the protests in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak first started increasing in intensity, I thought — this could be like Iran 1979.

Turns out I'm not alone — former President Jimmy Carer, who is certainly in a position to remember Iran and the Shah's fall, agrees that Mubarak is eventually likely to go.

Mubarak, Egypt, The Shah, Iran

When the protests in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak first started increasing in intensity, I thought — this could be like Iran 1979.

Turns out I'm not alone — former President Jimmy Carer, who is certainly in a position to remember Iran and the Shah's fall, agrees that Mubarak is eventually likely to go.

Hypocrisy 1, New York Times 0

The "old gray clusterfuck" can write a semi-libelous screed about Al Jazeera with a straight face.
Al Jazeera’s opaque loyalties and motives are as closely scrutinized as its reporting. It is accused of tailoring its coverage to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza against their Lebanese and Palestinian rivals. Its reporter in Tunisia became a leading partisan in the uprising there. 
Lemme see, if I changed "Al Jazeera" to "New York Times" and "its reporter in Tunisia" to "Judith Miller," I could write the exact same story about the NYT.

The NYT does note Al Jazeera's power in the recent Palestine papers. But, even there, it can't admit that the NYT itself has been part of why the Palestinian Authority has become a paper tiger at best.

This is why the NYT and the rest of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment is so afraid of what could happen in Egypt.  It's why we say, at the State Department, we can "do business" with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's flunky Omar Suleman — our CIA rendition folks have already done business with him.

But, don't expect the NYT to mention that. Its non-opaque loyalties are toward propping up people like Mubarak.

Pujols ups ante on Cardinals

Albert Pujols says "no dice" on any trade possibilities, and as a 10-year veteran and having five years with the Cards, he can veto any such trade.

So, Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak, time to shit or get off the pot, it looks like. You're down to three weeks left.

It would be sad to see this sight. Will we?
That said, contra to St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jeff Gordon, in analyzing financial ramifications of contract talks, who says that Cardinal CEO DeWitt can financially afford to let Pujols walk, mentioning the team has drawn at least 2.4 million a year for 15 years straight, it may well make good business sense to resign him.

Yes, but ....

Let's say it falls back to 2.4 million instead of 3.2 million, That's 800K fans at about $20 a ticket, plus an average of $5 of auxiliary spending on concessions, etc.? (And, those are all surely lowball numbers right there.)

That's $20 million a year. And, Pujols wants just $15 million a year more than he's making now. Add in the possibility of fewer postseason appearances, etc. Even if we factor out business taxes, etc., Joe, the Cards might just lose money by not meeting Pujols' terms.

But, that doesn't appear to be DeWitt's mentality.

See the poll at right to vote on how likely you think it is Pujols inks a new deal. Right now, I put the odds at about 25 percent.

I have said it again and again — the Cards did NOT (necessarily) sign Lance Berkman to play corner outfield positions. Of course, with Pujols saying no to any trade, Fat Elvis won't play much 1B THIS year.

Faux News caves on GOP vs Tea Party

A few months back, I blogged wondering where Faux News would butter its bread if Tea Party stridency or craziness butted heads with what passes today for more mainstream GOP ideology. Well, as Frank Rich points out, through Faux shoving Michelle Bachmann's Tea Party response to President Obama's State of the Union address onto web feed only, we now know.

And, as Rich also points out, the other Rupert Murdoch organ, the Wall Street Journal, gave her little more than footnote status in print.

Why? Rich again:
What were they all afraid of? The answer cuts to the crux of the right’s plight less than three months after its supposed restoration. Having sold itself in 2010 as the uncompromising champion of Tea Party-fueled fiscal austerity, the enhanced G.O.P. caucus arrived in Washington in 2011 to discover that most Americans prefer compromise to confrontation and favor balanced budgets in name only.

But, crazy aunts can't always be trapped in cyberattics in the 21st century. Besides, as Rich adds, the GOP has many, many crazy aunts and uncles. And, like whack-a-mole, Faux and the WSJ can't keep them all batted down forever.

Neither can Speaker Permatan, John "Cry Me A" Boehner.

Realistically, this is a no duh, eh? The Tea Party's been used by the astroturfers, just like the Religious Right 30 years ago.  It's all about viability, power, money to burn, etc.

That said, the next 12-18 months will be fun to watch. What if Mama Bear Palin starts pushing publicly on Faux News for it to air the likes of Bachmann more? Will Rupert Murdoch have a meltdown? It would be fun to watch ... the immovable force of unfair meet the irresistible object of unbalanced.

Get your bankster's attention with Twitter

Yeah, it's only for John/Jane Doe accounts, but ... allegedly ... it gets their attention. (Of course, they then ask you to go private with a direct Tweet.)

Of course, you can always threaten to stop playing along.

Issuer / network User name and/or hashtag
American Express @AmericanExpress, @AskAmex, @AskAmex_UK, #amex, #americanexpress
Bank of America @BofA_Help, @BofA_News, @bankofamerica (inactive), #BOFA, #bankofamerica
Capital One @AskCapitalOne
Chase @chasebank
Citi @Citi, @Citi_Forward, @CitiGTS, @CitiCardsCanada, #citi
Discover @Discover
MasterCard @mastercard, @MasterCardNews, #mastercard
PNC Bank @PNCNews
USAA @usaa_help, @usaa
Visa #visa (No official Twitter handle)
Wachovia @Wachovia, #wachovia
Wells Fargo @Ask_WellsFargo, @WellsFargo
Other credit card-related hashtags #credit, #creditcard, #creditcards, #personalfinance, #debit, #giftcards

Egypt and US hypocrisy - a thumbnail

First, what every story has been saying the past 24 hours — US demands real reform in Egypt rather than the fake reform we've tolerated for years.
The State Department's chief spokesman, Philip Crowley, said in a Twitter message that the Egyptian government "can't reshuffle the deck and then stand pat. President Mubarak's pledging reform must be followed by action."

But, the reality was expressed by Crowley just seconds later, when Hosni Mubarak named his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, as vice president. The story notes that his is despite the fact he's never held that post during his tenure.
The administration appeared to react positively to Suleiman's choice. Crowley said in another Twitter message that Suleiman "is somebody we know well and have worked closely with."

I.e., someone "we can do business with."

Real message of Crowley? Between the lines:
Reshuffle the deck, then visibly cut the cards twice, to avoid the appearance of standing pat.

And, what if the Muslim Brotherhood gets elected in free elections? What then, self-righteously opining Elliott Abrams and other Bush-loving neocons? We've already seen how precious you and Chimpster consider democracy when it involves Hezbollah or Hamas.

So STFU and shut your piehole.