April 30, 2011

Caldicott goes nuclear on nuclear

No surprise, this NYT op-ed, given Dr. Helen Caldicott's anti-nuclear background.

Two responses.

Fukishima has not negated the need for multiple sources of energy that don't add carbon contributions to the atmosphere. Nuclear power isn't perfect; it takes a lot of energy to build a power plant, much of that fossil fuels. Nonetheless, it is a great long-term advantage over coal, and some over natural gas. Solar, wind and geothermal, contra her claim, cannot realistically be part of that. And, in terms of net carbon footprint, it takes manufacturing processes to build wind and solar parts and erect them in place.

Plus, wind has its own NIMBY issues. Solar has big environmental issues as far as major installation siting in the U.S., in the desert southwest. Geothermal? You're NOT going to tap too close to Yellowstone, or Lassen, or you have environmental-type issues there.

Second, she "shades" much of her worrisomeness, with many a "may" in the column.

And, a few appear to be wrong. Do we "know" that radiation is cumulative? Let's take cosmic rays.

Finally, there's this last line:
They had hoped that peaceful nuclear energy would absolve their guilt over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it has only extended it.
Really? You're an emotional mind-reader?

Even child molesters need a patron saint?

Well, in just hours, their "man," Pope John Paul II, will be on the road to that distinction.

Wikipedia is in in the frenzy enough to have a new page just about Karol Wojtyla's beautification and (presumed) canonization, written by some Brit, I presume, using "s" for "z" in "canonization."

And, you'll find nothing about JPII's hiding, coddling, etc. of child molesters in his church's priesthood in Wikipedia's hagiography.

And, what "icon" will we have? Instead of a St. Christopher medal, a JPII phallus?

Rick Perry: West Texas is still waiting for rain

Yes, rain showers might have slowed the Possum Kingdom Lake fire. But, the even bigger fires in West Texas' Davis Mountains continue to burn, despite Texas Gov. Rick Perry's call for three days of prayer and attempts to defend him.

April 29, 2011

Mitch Daniels is running for Prez - drug history and all

The clearest sign? Pandering and fence-straddling.

Calling for a "truce" on social issues, immediately after signing into law an Indiana bill cutting off money for Planned Parenthood make the running, pandering and fence-straddling all clearer.

Now, given that federal Medicaid money is NOT fungible like Daniels and the Indiana Legislature would like, what happens if the feds cut off all Medicaid money to the state? Does Daniels adopt a Rick Perry pose? Or does Team Obama saw off the horns of the former George W. Bush director of the Office of Management and Budget for knowing better?

That said, what if Daniels, former Eli Lilly president for North America, tries to attack Obamacare? He's vulnerable, especially if many voters forget how much Obama sold out Obamacare to Big Pharma, etc.

And, speaking of pandering, the Religious Right, etc., how will Daniels' college-age possession, and presumed use, of not just marijuana but LSD, per Wikipedia, play within the GOP?

Add in the fact that he could have been charged with distribution, or intent to do so, given repeated buys from him by a narc, but that he got lucky to cop a much lower-level plea, the hypocrisy here could bite him, too.

April 28, 2011

The Civil War was about slavery, folks

Unfortunately, Gen Xers younger than me seem to have believed the Reagan/GOP propaganda - as a new Pew poll notes, while 48 percent of Americans overall say it was primarily about states rights:
Young people are more likely than older Americans to say that the war’s main cause was states’ rights – 60% of those younger than 30 express this view, the highest percentage of any age group.
Paging Tony Horwitz. Confederates aren't in the attic, they're at PlayStations.

At the same time, the poll says fewer people support public officials praising Confederates. But, we know people often give answers they think they "should" give in such cases.

That said, a NYT Opinionator column notes that we have the historical records, in this case from secession debates in Virginia, to show it was indeed about slavery:
The language of slavery is everywhere in the debates. It appears as an economic engine, a means of civilizing Africans, an essential security against black uprisings and as a right guaranteed in the United States Constitution. Secessionists and Unionists, who disagreed on so much, agreed on the necessity of slavery, a defining feature of Virginia for over 200 years.

The language of slavery, in fact, became ever more visible as the crisis mounted to the crescendo of secession in mid-April. Slavery in Virginia, delegates warned, would immediately decay if Virginia were cut off from fellow states that served as the market for their slaves and as their political allies against the Republicans. A Virginia trapped, alone, in the United States would find itself defenseless against runaways, abolitionists and slave rebellions.
Read the full column.

Peak Oil, Peak Commodities, China

Even if you just skim this long post at The Oil Drum, at least do that.

The post-Egypt, in-medias-res-Libya oil spikes, combined with slow, but semi-sustainable economic recovery in the U.S. and Western Europe, plus the continuously surging (on paper) Chinese juggernaut, has brought Peak Oil back to people's lips.

But, should we really be talking about "Peak Commodities"? Possibly. Copper prices, and thefts, are rising again. Even if only a small portion of U.S. agricultural problems are due to climate change, that's more than zero.

And, as Japan definitely knows, China has a few commodities in its possession and can squeeze the taps.


Beyond that, Beijing is voracious with many items, perhaps due in part to inefficiencies.

And, those inefficiences mean that, if China stumbles, we can see international price bubbles:
Quite separately, several of my smart colleagues agree with Jim Chanos that China’s structural imbalances will cause at least one wheel to come off of their economy within the next 12 months. This is painful when traveling at warp speed – 10% a year in GDP growth. The litany of problems is as follows:

a) An unprecedented rise in wages has reduced China’s competitive strength.

b) The remarkable 50% of GDP going into capital spending was partly the result of a heroic and desperate effort to keep the ship afloat as the Western banking system collapsed. It cannot be sustained, and much of the spending is likely to have been wasted: unnecessary airports, roads, and railroads and unoccupied high-rise apartments.

c) Debt levels have grown much too fast.

d) House prices are deep into bubble territory and there is an unknown, though likely large, quantity of bad loans.

You have heard it all better and in more detail from both Edward Chancellor and Jim Chanos. The significance here is that given China’s overwhelming influence on so many commodities, especially in terms of the percentage China represents of new growth in global demand, any general economic stutter in China can mean very big declines in some of their prices.
The wage inflation, if combined with even more surge in oil prices, won't mean new manufacturing jobs in the U.S., at least not many.

It will, though, as I've said before, mean many new manufacturing jobs in Mexico. That could help its economy and stabilize the U.S.-Mexico border ... if ...

If Mexico can get reasonable oil supplies of its own.

Will 'Sign Pujols' movement work?

As Yahoo's Jeff Passan reports, a small group of St. Louis Cardinal fans has come up with a creative way to try to keep Albert Pujols in St. Louis.

These fans have created a website where Cards fans can buy a high-quality, facsimile-autographed, pencil-sketch picture of Prince Albert and the downtown skyline. Proceeds benefit the Pujols Family Foundation, which, as Passan notes, helps the impoverished in Pujols' native Dominican Republic and families of children with Down Syndrome.

The idea is that, by demonstrating fan loyalty to Pujols, it will persuade him to show his loyalty back by signing a new contract.

Well, unless Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak's lowball offer of last offseason was only a "placeholder," it's going to take more than the charity efforts of Ron Heinz and other fans to keep The Machine in St. Louis.

The Cubs, for revenge and savior factor options, still stand as the No. 1 alternative home for Pujols in my mind. The Angels are No. 2, still. Now that Brandon Belt has been sent back down to the minors, the Giants may be in play again. For that matter, the Dodgers may be, if the McCourt(s) vs. MLB fight gets settled soon enough. The BoSox are out, with Adrian Gonzales getting locked up.

I still say the Braves are a good outside possibility. Low payroll now, and Chipper Jones won't play, probably, more than one year past this one, freeing up more money and creating more need. His contract runs out after next year, though there is a low-budget vesting option for 2013.

Even one-quarter of GOP doesn't like tea partiers

Gallup has the details.

Gallup says older men have the highest percentage of favorable views; unfortunately, no racial/ethnic breakout.

But, if you note the favorables have slide and unfavorables have soared just since the start of this year, with a new Congress and state legislatures, it underscores Barack Obama's timing on release of his full birth certificate.

No healing in Chimayo? Not even for the priest?

On a recent vacation, I happened to stop at and visit, for the first time, the world-famous El Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico.

For those not familiar, the unincorporated community, and the Catholic sanctuary, are on the back road connection between Santa Fe and Taos, N.M.

For those unfamiliar with why it can be called world-famous, it is the second-most-popular Catholic pilgrimage site in the United States, and unarguably the top Catholic healing pilgrimage site.

In short, El Santuario de Chimayo is the Lourdes of the United States. Except at Chimayo, it's dirt, not water, that's supposed to have the healing properties.

Like Lourdes, it has an anteroom, to the side of the actual sanctuary but under the same roof, lined with dozens or more crutches. (There is a no-photo policy inside the sanctuary, which I respected.)

The parish priest at Chimayo, with cane.
The details of how this rural Spanish-American Catholic parish came to be a healing pilgrimage site are described at the top link.

That said, at such a place, like Lourdes, wouldn't you find it interesting, at least for the parish priest to be walking with a cane? Well, I did and he was. (Apologies for photo quality.)

I did a little journaling after I got to Taos, putting down some thoughts about how I felt about the priest, the church, and more.

1. Part of me was cynical, not just skeptical, after seeing not just the parish priest, but also an apparent parishioner, accompanied by a daughter or granddaughter, also on a cane. Now, the parishioner could perhaps be "excused" as elderly, but the priest was no older than I am. So, why did he still have the cane?

2. Part of me felt a bit sad for him. I looked at a bulletin, and saw that he did multiple Masses there and at nearby rural Truchas, as well as possibly at Espinola. And, he himself — had he ever tried the holy dirt or not? Was he a bit skeptical himself? Had anybody ever asked him about the cane? Even if not, he has to know that there are people like me. What's his attitude toward people like me in his mind — defensive? Apologetic?

A parishioner at Chimayo, also using a cane.
3. And what about his parishioners, even? Do any of them, even regular ones, wonder? How many of them eschew doctors entirely? How many, like among the world of New Agers and others, decry those who "just don't believe enough" as being the cause of their own lack of healing?

4. Part of me was cynical about the Catholic Church — starting with this parish, and not Benedict XVI in Rome or the soon-to-be beatified future patron saint of child molesters, John Paul II. The entire back page of the Santuario's bulletin was covered with ads for local businesses. To be snarky, I was kind of wondering if the Bingo sheet was missing from the inside of the bulletin. In the anteroom, along with crutches, were a variety of votary objects. I assumed they were all for sale, but didn't check on prices.

5. A skeptical part of me says, how can the dirt be so holy if it constantly has to be replaced? What would happen if we dug a second hole and did a double-blinded set of tests? A skeptical part of me also knows from Catholic history in the new world, Christian history in general, etc., that it's likely the Church appropriated a former Tewa shrine, just as did the particular appearance of Jesus in Guatemala with which the Santuario de Chimayo is connected. Meanwhile, a more cynical part of me notes that the Roman Catholic Church, as with Lourdes, takes no position on the actual occurrence of miracles. Perhaps the College of Cardinals doesn't want to be tested on the depth of its faith, either.

April 27, 2011

A seismic political shift in Canada?

A month ago, after Liberals and New Democrats in Ottawa combined to give Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper a backdoor no-confidence vote, I predicted Conservatives would win an absolute majority, mainly because Liberals looked weak and ineffectual.

Well, they still do.

But not the suddenly surging New Democrats.
A new Angus Reid poll done in partnership with the Toronto Star and La Presse puts Stephen Harper’s Conservatives at 35 per cent, the NDP close behind at 30 per cent, the Liberals at 22 per cent, the Bloc Québécois at 7 per cent and the Green Party at 5 per cent.

In Ontario, the Conservatives lead at 37 per cent, the Liberals are at 30 per cent and the NDP are just three points back at 27 per cent. In Quebec, the NDP are at 38 per cent, replacing the traditional front-runners, the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc are second with 29 per cent, the Liberals at 16 per cent and Conservatives at 14 per cent.

NDP leader Jack Layton campaigns./Photo Montreal Gazette.
Off the top of my head, that makes it look like the election could come down to British Columbia.

Unfortunately, in provincial elections there last year, the NDP for narrow political reasons opposed some renewable energy provisions supported by the Conservatives, who went on to win. Whether the NDP can recover or not, I don't know.

More on polling volatility from NOW Toronto:
(O)ne poll is indicating the Conservative will win only 133 seats; another goes as high as 162 (155 is a majority) for the Conservatives even though it projects 86 seats for the NDP.
In either case, the NDP looks like it will at least finish a solid second.

It also looks like Harper's Conservatives have learned another trick from the GOP: vote caging.

That said, I'll venture a new prediction: if the Liberals finish third, no matter who is first or who is second, Michael Ignatieff is out as party leader.

Speaking of, he's worried enough about the apparent NDP surge to attack NDP leader Jack Layton.

Why Obama's two-year wait?

David Dayen at FiredogLake tackles that issue. I have some additional thoughts.

I agree with the issue of "debasing" a president. It's all a matter of trust. It's not like Richard Nixon lying about tapes. It is not even Bill Clinton seeking to hide details of his anatomy.

Rather, it seems that because a President of the United States is black, and has a weird Muslim name, he is therefore inherently untrustworthy to a significant sector of the United States.

Again, per Dayen, that means we're NOT a "postracial society."

Surely, that too is part of why Obama held off on this step. He surely wanted to believe that even whites who weren't latte-sipping Volvo drivers had "evolved" since 1954.

And, truth is, many have not, including members of my own family and people younger than me than I have run into at previous newspapers.

Fatah, Hamas reach deal - an Israeli self-inflicted wound

And Bibi Netanyahu craps in pants.

Per the Times story, Netanyahu says that if this is a fait accompli, it will kill Middle East peace talks.
“You can’t have peace with both Israel and Hamas,” Haaretz quoted him as saying. “Choose peace with Israel.”
Actually, per the al Jazeera leaks, as I blogged here, here and here, Bibi plus current Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, with a significant assist from the United States, killed Middle East peace talks over the past two years and left Fatah (Palestinian Authority) leader Mahmoud Abbas no choice but to seek some sort of deal with Hamas.

That said, the "regime change" in the Middle East has to be staring over Abbas' shoulder. Per Glenn Greenwald, American popularity among Egyptians is even worse since Obama became president. That includes the fact that by a 54-36 percent margin, Egyptians favor junking the peace treaty with Israel.

With such numbers, Bibi will certainly be pushing Obama to lean on the eventual new leadership to stay in lockstep. And, much as Israel dislikes Syria, who knows what new leadership would emerge there if Bashar Assad is toppled?

Petraeus to run CIA? Ugh

Hell, if Obama is serious about this, we should just name Gen. David Petraeus the shadow president, the foreign policy president or whatever and be done with it.

Yet another good reason to vote Green in 2012.

Surely, Petraeus will push for continuation of counterinsurgency of some sort in Afghanistan, any sort of continued backdoor presence in Iraq and more that we don't even know about.

A Politico op-ed "agrees" to the point of noting Obama is more changed by, than changing, Washington:
President Barack Obama’s nominations of Leon Panetta as defense secretary and Gen. David Petraeus as director of central intelligence demonstrate that the president has abandoned his pledge to change U.S. foreign policy. In fact, these nominations show that Washington has changed Obama far more than he has changed Washington.

Obama long insisted that he wants to reorient America’s focus — moving it away from nation-building projects in the Islamic world and toward Asia. He also insists he wants to trim military spending. But if Petraeus heads CIA and Panetta becomes defense secretary, it’s unlikely either will happen.
As I noted above, Petraeus will certainly push for COIN under some name.

Re Petraeus, Politico also asks if the CIA wouldn't be better served by an East Asia (read "China") hand? Agreed.

Plus, Politico even accuses Obama of "blathering."
In fact, these nominations, combined with other evidence, strongly suggest that Obama views foreign policy primarily as an instrument of domestic politics — an opportunity to give soaring speeches about the grand sweep of history and his view of America’s role in it.
THAT assessment certainly gets no argument from me. That said, it's coming from somebody who works at Cato.

But, I agree with Logan on the need for a China focus rather than "Global War on Terror."

Obama's birth certificate - the political angle and timing

President Obama has finally released his full, long-form birth certificate.

And, as the Guardian notes, as of the moment before the official release, 4 in 10 Republicans believe he was not born in the United States.

And, with that release, birtherism as looniness vs. allegedly serious GOP candidates, especially just a week after Arizona Gov. Jan. Brewer veteod her legislature's birther bill, becomes more stark. Brewer herself served up a poster quote to that end:
"I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for President of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their 'early baptismal or circumcision certificates' among other records to the Arizona Secretary of State," Brewer wrote in her veto letter. "This is a bridge too far."
Now, the 2012 GOP presidential campaign is slowly starting to gain traction. And, in current governance, Obama faces a GOP-lead House with significant tea party elements pushing to slash, slash, slash on the budget.

So, "a bridge too far" has been exposed to the light of day. GOP presidential candidates and House leadership alike are going to have to decide not only how strongly they want to personally repudiate birtherism, but how strong they want to repudiate it within their party as a whole.

That said, Obama gets a political kudo for the timing of this issue. He knocks Donald Trump down a peg (not that what passes for seriousness in a GOP "establishment" was taking him seriously), invites other GOP presidential candidates to play with birtherism at even greater general-election peril, and sets up "serious" GOP candidates for other offices to deal more directly with tea partiers and other true loons.

Besides Trump, this could most hurt Huckabee, given his recent comments about Obama, Kenya and anti-American anti-colonialsm. He's been quietly fence-straddling the birther issue for some time, and he's now going to have to put up or shut up. I'm waiting for the first interview of him forthcoming to squarely ask him this issue. Also hurt? Sarah Palin. Contra Salon magazine thinking Andrew Sullivan is a wingnut for asking for more information about Trig Palin's birth, her already-shredded credibility will fall even lower if she raises the birther issue more.

"Helped"? The serious but Obamacaring Romney and the serious but bland Pawlenty. And, if you're Obama, you know Romney doesn't "rally the base," and Pawlenty's attempts to do so have pandering fingerprints all over them.

Now, is birtherism going away? No, because a fair strain of it has been a smokescreen for racism, unthinking anti-Muslim feelings or some combination thereof.

Assuming Texas state Rep. Leo Berman is typical, we have clear evidence of how birtherism will shift its goalposts.
I just got off the phone with Texas GOP State Rep. Leo Berman, sponsor of his state's birther bill, and a vocal proponent of the idea that the President was not born in this country. Berman, who has explained previously that he gets much of his news via "YouTubes," was not aware of the White House's release when I called him up, but his initial reaction more or less set the tone: "I wonder why it took them almost two years to release that? That seems kind of strange."

I sent Berman the White House's statement and a copy of the certificate, and after a few minutes he called back ready to talk. "If this is the true birth certificate, I'm very happy to finally see it," he said. But today's news didn't answer his lingering doubts; if anything, it raised even more questions. Berman was comparing the White House release with another birth certificate he said was from Mombasa, Kenya. "There are two hospitals [in Honolulu] at the time and neither hospital will claim him," Berman said. "Today, if you have a hospital where the president was born they'd probably take the room where he was born and make a shrine out of it." Plus, the Kenyan certificate just seemed more compelling: "When I look at the one from Kenya, there is a British lord who is the clerk for registering all births in Kenya at that time." He added, "The one from Mombasa even has a footprint on it. Like a human footprint."
Note all the goalpost-shifting:
1. "If this is ... "
2. The reverse spinning of Obama hagiography
3. The "truthism" of the fake Kenyan certificate
4. An arguably racist (whether conscious or not) comment with "like a human footprint." Not "a human footprint," but "like" one.

Mojo is right on why this won't go away, too. Birtherism is just a smoke screen for even greater loonery. That said, Obama again gets the timing kudo.

Salon has a roundup of birther responses. A couple are fully accepting, others are splitting hairs and yet others are like Leo Berman. Those in Berman's league or beyond already had the next steps in their conspiracy thinking ready and have now unleashed them.

So, Huckabee will have to decide whether he wants to raise the Kenya issue any more.

John Boehner and Eric Cantor will have to decide how forceful they want to be when any of their caucus still spot birtherism - or when Obama's minions or other Democrats link birtherism to other tea party nonsense.

Per another story on the release and Obama's news conference.:
"We're not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers," Obama told reporters. "We're not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up, and pretend that facts are not facts."
And now, GOP leadership had to decide how much or how little slack to cut "carnival barkers" in its own ranks.

Well done, Mr. President, on the "timing."

Interestingly, wingnut blogger Hot Air agrees with me on the political timing issue.

More evidence that this is part of a plan? AlterNet notes that Obama seems to really want to campaign against Ayn Rand luster Paul Ryan. Now, Ryan hasn't come out as a birther, but, beyond his scorched-earth budget, he's played enough footsie with tea partiers that it's clear this is part of strategy.

Joan Walsh seems to speak for many when she talks about letting bullies win, but, you're wrong on this one, Joan.

That all said, per this history professor (and many others, including me), will Obama nonetheless find a way to blow this big gain in political capital? Or, more to the point, will he not blow it, as a campaign move, but yet not get serious with real liberal answers to the needs of everyday Americans?

Obama action won't dissuade birthers

President Obama has finally released his full, long-form birth certificate.

But, assuming Texas state Rep. Leo Berman is typical, it won't dent "birtherism."
I just got off the phone with Texas GOP State Rep. Leo Berman, sponsor of his state's birther bill, and a vocal proponent of the idea that the President was not born in this country. Berman, who has explained previously that he gets much of his news via "YouTubes," was not aware of the White House's release when I called him up, but his initial reaction more or less set the tone: "I wonder why it took them almost two years to release that? That seems kind of strange."

I sent Berman the White House's statement and a copy of the certificate, and after a few minutes he called back ready to talk. "If this is the true birth certificate, I'm very happy to finally see it," he said. But today's news didn't answer his lingering doubts; if anything, it raised even more questions. Berman was comparing the White House release with another birth certificate he said was from Mombasa, Kenya. "There are two hospitals [in Honolulu] at the time and neither hospital will claim him," Berman said. "Today, if you have a hospital where the president was born they'd probably take the room where he was born and make a shrine out of it." Plus, the Kenyan certificate just seemed more compelling: "When I look at the one from Kenya, there is a British lord who is the clerk for registering all births in Kenya at that time." He added, "The one from Mombasa even has a footprint on it. Like a human footprint."
That said, Obama gets a political kudo for the timing of this issue. He knocks Donald Trump down a peg, invites other GOP presidential candidates to play with birtherism at even greater general-election peril, and sets up "serious" GOP candidates for other offices to deal more directly with tea partiers and other true loons.

Birtherism as looniness vs. allegedly serious GOP candidates, especially just a week after Arizona Gov. Jan. Brewer veteod her legislature's birther bill, becomes more stark.

Besides Trump, this could most hurt Huckabee, given his recent comments. "Helped"? The serious but Obamacaring Romney and the serious but bland Pawlenty.

Mojo is right on why this won't go away, too. Birtherism is just a smoke screen for even greater loonery. That said, Obama again gets the timing kudo.

Salon has a roundup of birther responses. A couple are fully accepting, others are splitting hairs and yet others are like Leo Berman. Those in Berman's league or beyond already had the next steps in their conspiracy thinking ready and have now unleashed them.

More proof hardcore birthers won't be changed? WorldNutDaily head Joe Farah is digging in. And, per the story on that, remember, many birthers also believe Bill Clinton aide Vince Foster was murdered, or other nuttery.

As for the "why did it take so long" question that birthers have raised? They know the answer, for the most part: Hawaii state law only provides for computer-generated facsimiles. Obama himself was granted the first, and likely last, waiver since the law was enacted in 2001.

That all said, Joan Walsh speaks for many when she talks about letting bullies win.

Sorry, Joan, but I disagree. This was more an event of political timing than anything else, as to the "when" of Obama's decision.

And, the Guardian has a good story on the announcement, too.

April 26, 2011

Organized labor gives Dems a wake-up

Or, one organization does. The International Association of Fire Fighters has put a freeze on contributions to federal candidates, which means a freeze on contributions to Democrats. (h/t Salon)

Here's the nut grafs:
Not only are extremist Republicans trying to destroy us -- too few Democrats are standing up and fighting for us.

Over the past two years, politicians from both parties have failed to address our issues in Washington, DC.
Boy, I'd love to see more actions like this.

Petroleum reserve or recession? Strategy?

Steven Kopitz, affiliated with the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, argues a good case that President Obama might need to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if oil prices rise much higher, in order to prevent a new recession.

But, what would the details of that be? Kopitz has several questions:
(I)f the SPR were deployed, what should be the means? How many barrels should be sold? For how long? At what price? How will we know if we are succeeding? How should we coordinate with other holders of oil reserves like the EU and China? Should we coordinate at all or go it alone? How should we coordinate with Saudi Arabia? Do we ignore them or collaborate?
And, those are all good ones.

Actually, though, that's not, to me, the main thrust of his post.

Rather, it's this series of rhetorical questions:
(D)o we even have a thesis on oil markets and recession? If so, where is that housed in the government? Who is the government expert coordinating oil markets, economic management, and oil diplomacy? Does the function even exist?
He tries to answer all the questions, but, can't do so that well. It is not a limitation on Kopitz but rather a reflection on the government.

Religious rights exemption goes too far

I don't believe that a minister also working as a bus driver has a religious right not to drive a woman to Planned Parenthood because he's worried she'll get an abortion.

But, Austin, Texas' bus system is apparently worried a federal court would feel that way, so they settled a suit against them by the fired driver, Edwin Graning. Or, at the least, a bus system that's possibly strapped for cash was worried about the financial impact of fighting.
Blanco County Commissioner Paul Granberg, who is also on the board, said attorneys made the decision to settle.

"They advised the board that it would cost a lot more in attorney fees than it would cost to settle," said Granberg.
It's a shame; now the American Center for Law and Justice will trumpet this as a "victory."

Gary Johnson for Prez?

Sounds beautiful to progressives, right? An antiwar candidate who's also some sort of libertarian on drug issues, even as he runs as a Republican.

First, he'll never win as a Republican. Even less chance than Ron Paul, with whom he will split (2-1 for Paul) libertarian votes inside the GOP.

Second, he's not all that.

How many governors do you know of that have vetoed bills supported by their own wives? It's true, and I was a newspaper editor in New Mexico at the time.

It's true that, in states with open primaries, especially, he could be a stalking horse. New Hampshire will be very interesting.

Beyond that? If the GOP establishment remains pro-war, Johnson's entry into the race means nothing.

That said, Johnson isn't nutbar on "fiat money" and doesn't have a quasi-racist past (and present, for all we know). He also is a more thoroughgoing social libertarian than Paul, favoring legalization of marijuana and other classic social libertarian issues, as this profile notes. Those "other" issues include being pro-choice, as noted in this series of pullouts. So, if you want a stalking horse for antiwar voting and you're in an open primary state, vote Johnson and not Paul.

But, a serious GOP candidate? He's both pro-choice and pro-legalization. Even though more charming, and younger, than Paul, his outspoken stances on these issues will sink him.

That said, per a WSJ profile, Johnson supports gay civil unions but not gay marriage, will not run a third-party campaign, and supported Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin in 2008. Speaking of ...

(Sidebar: Paul is no true libertarian. He's really a "Christianist" who, if not seeking the GOP nod, should work for the Constitution Party nomination, not the Libertarian Party one. The Constitution Party is really the Religious Right party.)

That all said, because he's pro-legalization on pot, and OK with at least civil unions for gays (he's kind of down on state-sanctioned marriage for anybody), he could undercut Paul on the "hip" factor.

Salon continues to get Trig Palin birth wrong

Justin Elliott argues there's no reason for Sarah Palin to open her medical records about Trig because there's no question Sarah's the mother.
(I)n the case of Obama, his place of birth presented a potentially urgent constitutional problem. ... The parentage of Trig Palin presents no similarly urgent issue.
That's not the urgent issue at hand. Elliott seems to simply ignore the degree of weirdness behind, ultimately, Sarah Palin's flight from Texas NOT back to Anchorage but back to Wasilla to allegedly give birth to Trig, and the fact hat she won't open her medical records on this issue.

Justin, try barking up a different tree.

Libya - the 'rough beast'

Former Lt. Gen. Robert Dubik has both advice and hindsight on Libya for President Obama. Among the best hindsight, that Juan Cole and other liberal interventionists need to heed, comes from Bosnia, per Dubik, but could also come from Afghanistan or even, to some degree, Iraq, and that is — air power doesn't "win" anything. Libya once again shows that, if not boots, tanks and Bradleys on the ground are necessary.

The advice? If we're not going to pull out or just "avoid losing," then we have to do more, he says:
To give (rebels) a fighting chance, NATO must put military advisers and combat air controllers on the ground — not just British, French and Italian, but also a small number of American ones.
Try selling that to Congress and the American public, Mr. Nobel Peace Prize. Actually, no, let war hawks Lindsey Graham and John McCain go on the sales line first.

Then, let's see the Juan Coles of the world are still so gung-ho about interventionism.

The "rough beast"? Riffing on W.B. Yeats, Libya is part of the Arab gyre of Roger Cohen's focus. And, Bethlehems in the Middle East as birthplaces for world-transforming events are few and far between. The actual site is the birthplace, if anything, to riff on the Arab world, of Israeli perfidy, Palestinian Authority ineptness, corruption and weakness and ... a Hamas threatening to be born with more virulence than ever.

With that in mind, Preznit Kumbaya had better be damned sure he gets different rebels in Libya straightened out before further intervening.

April 25, 2011

Don't like media paywalls? Then product placement is what you get

This is a great post from the Atlantic, and illustrates in another way why I say the American Netizen public is dumb and shortsighted for resisting Internet paywalls on media websites.

If it's not that, at least some newspapers are going to get into product placement/branding.

The blog post linked above mentions Target getting its logo on the front page of the New Yorker. Those "overlay" ads that you and I see will become more and more and more common if you don't want to pay for online newspapers and magazines. I wouldn't be surprised if every story on a newspaper's website gets one of those by the end of the decade, if paywalls don't take off.

Fact is that overseas, circulation, vs. ad revenues, always made up a more significant part of a newspaper's revenue stream than here. With ads online continuing to spiral toward zero on revenues, paywalls or wall-to-wall product placement saturation are about the only choices there are. And, no, bloggers, whether more amateur or more professional, can't fill all the gap.

As for wire news vs local newspaper copy? If more and more AP member newspapers either disappear or cut back on wire services, then, AP online will either have to charge more to the Googles of the world or else insist on tighter control of related ads ... with product placement surely part of that.

Douthat hits yet another new low in idiocy

In a post-Easter column, Ross Douthat tries to defend the need for hell as well as in heaven in the Christian canon of beliefs. (He theoretically talks about religion in general, but it's clear he's talking about monotheism with a one-shot afterlife, which, for all practical purposes with a conservative columnists in the US, really means Christianity. And, of course, even if he's right about hell's need in monotheisms, he could at least be honest that it's limited to there, and not Hinduism, etc. But, when has intellectual honesty ever stopped Douthat before?)

That said, he goes from dishonesty to worse dishonesty quickly enough.
(A) doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.
I had no idea "scientific materialism" was so deterministic.

He then goes on to say hell gives meaning to life. No really!
As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism. It’s a way of asserting that “things have meaning.”
In a weird sense, he's right. The belief in hell does give meaning to life for many Christians, including Dante. The Inferno is exciting, bloody and vengeance-filled. The Purgatorio is kind of bland and the Paradiso is positively insipid.

In short, for conservative Christians, hell is the ultimate revenge fantasy.

Just how irrational are we? Very?

Very, or potentially very irrational, defining "irrational" and "rational" in terms of the great project of Descartes and followers, it seems.

In a blog post at Discover, in follow-up to his column last week at Mother Jones, Chris Mooney notes that the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences has devoted an entire issue to what he covered at Mojo, with links to summaries of key content.

Here's a couple of key outtakes:

First:
Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given the exceptional dependence of humans on communication and their vulnerability to misinformation. A wide range of evidence in the psychology of reasoning and decision making can be reinterpreted and better explained in the light of this hypothesis. Poor performance in standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias. This bias is apparent not only when people are actually arguing, but also when they are reasoning proactively from the perspective of having to defend their opinions.
And more, from a response to some of the issues:
When people reason alone, there will often be nothing to hold their confirmation bias in check. This might lead to distortions of their beliefs. As mentioned above, this is very much the case. When people reason alone, they are prone to all sorts of biases.

In short, as Mooney notes, classical Cartesianism appears m ore and more dead in the water. First, Dan Dennett (and others) said there is no little man, no Cartesian homunculus, making magic rationality decisions inside us.

Now, BBS et al say that, even if there were such a critter, he wouldn't be a disinterested rationalist anyway.

(The argumentative theory of reasoning is explained more here.)

But, not all commenters on Mooney's post want to accept that, it seems.

I responded to one:
Nullius, (you seem to present) a great defense of the “traditional” view of reasoning or whatever …

BUT, I’m going to argue with you.

First, the “reasoning as argumentation” model I think explicitly says this is NOT, NOT, NOT, a “human failing.” Rather, it is, if I may, “human ISness.”

I won’t propose abandoning “rationalism,” but I will say that it is even more unnatural than you may want to admit.

And, that IS a conflict with Cartesianism, which postulates rationality is a cornerstone of homo sapiens.

Sorry, but, either you don’t get the degree of implications this involves, or …
You DO, unconsciously, understand precisely what is up and by your conscious argumentation, actually support the fact at hand.
Of course, maybe I have reasons for my argumentation. And, I do.

One is to get people to accept that a Cartesian, or Platonic, idea of humans as homo rationalis simply doesn't exist. Not even in the most notable of today's skeptics. Witness Lawrence Krauss defending his billionaire hedge fund buddy.

That said, should we stop trying to be more rational? No. But, we should recognize that even apparent growth in rationality may have ulterior motives.

That said, Nullius has responded to me, and I offered some thoughts in return:
Since, contra certain Pop Ev Psychers, we evolved various mental skills over different environments and different times in the past, I would say it can't be called a "failing" today either. We didn't evolve *for* any particular time in the future, just to better adapt to the time at hand.

So, in light of human "reasoning" and today's issues, I don't consider the relative lack of rationality a "failure" primarily because I think the concept is unapplicable. So, to that, per Doug Hofstader, I apply the Zen Buddhist "mu."

Next ...

As you note, rationalism is a skill. And, per your note on Descartes, the question is, how easy to learn, or difficult to learn, is this skill? Is it like learning to throw a bowling ball at a set of pins, or to hit a major-league curveball? More like high-school algebra or advanced differential equations? I opt for the latter. (Of course, it may be some point in between.) Where you, and others, fall on how you understand this relates in part to the "failure" above and to broader issues about how much we should expect from rationality.

One implication, per the link on the argumentation view of reasoning, is when two groups both come to a theoretically well-reasoned decision within their group, is asking about how likely we can apply "metarationality."

Examples would be global warming and vaccination. In both cases (largely for mercenary reasons in the first, but largely for sincere reasons in the second) "doubters" have focused on the uncertainty issue, while to some semi-deliberate degree, at least, the scientific side has downplayed the issue.

Some examples are already at hand. Kahnemann et al in behavioral economics have *hugely* debunked the idea of man as a rational actor there. There's many implications, but basically none of them have made it to the level of changing political policy.

Reasoning within a group, vs. alone, vs. "to" another group has implications for sociology and out-groups, and how much or little we can expect people's behavior, and more, attitudes, to change.
I'm sure the dialogue will continue.

Meanwhile, this SciAm blog explains some of the reasons for our irrationality, in terms of motivators.

And, Stanley Fish's column is partially relevant, even:
(C)hanges of mind tend to be local and piecemeal, not systemic. Wholesale conversions like Paul’s on the road to Damascus do occur, but more often a change will affect only a small corner of one’s conceptual universe.
So, even if rationality spreads, it won't grow by leaps and bounds.

Political briefs - Norquist, DOMA, Utah enviros

First, a falling out between anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist and wingnut Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn? So sad. Interesting that Corbin is leaving the door open for some sort of tax increases. Wow.

Second, Speaker John Boehner's defend DOMA firm, King & Spaulding, has quit the project. In turn, former George W. Bush Solicitor General Paul Clement has quit the firm.

Meanwhile, Utah environmentalists and the oil & gas industry are finding room for compromise.

Definitely a News of the Weird day.

Five years until China is No. 1 and passes U.S.?

Yes, if you go by purchasing power parity, it will be just five years until the Chinese economy overtakes the U.S. as the world's largest.

As either Obama's second term, or some lame-o GOPer's first one, winds down, the Cold War "who lost China" arguments will be nothing compared to the "who lost TO China" ones.

On the surface, that one is easy — U.S. hypercapitalism, offshoring jobs like no other Western economy, lost and lost to China. One the move started with manufacturers, it was accelerated in fair part due to the push of WallyWorld, followed by Dolar General, etc.

But, is the Chinese economy that "real," vs. "hollow" or "Potemkin"? The article linked above doesn't address that, but from corruption on high-speed rail to man other issues, there's a good argument that this is exactly the case — bubbles abound everywhere, and, if PPP as a measurement comes to the surface, so will more of those bubbles.

But, the story does refer obliquly to China possibly "blowing a tire" and notes that will set back the denouement by only a decade.

But, what about Peak Oil? If it becomes too expensive to import the cheaper crap, at least, from China, where does that leave its economy? Slumping more, but of little help to us. Jobs won't return to the U.S. from China; rather, at the risk of druglords, they'll go to Mexico.