May 14, 2011

The South originally wasn't a 'one-drop' land

In the latest installment of its "Disunion" op-ed series about the Civil War, the New York Times describes how racial lines were a bit more fluid in the antebellum South.

But, the thread of the end of slavery, and its rigid borders, changed everything.

Read the column for a how a Louisiana white family with black ancestors in its bloodline reacted.

Prison 'reform' about budgets, not justice

Is it true that whites, or at least a majority of whites in positions of power, will support prison "reform" only as long as state budgets push for releasing nonviolent inmates?

Michelle Alexander, hinting that today's judicial system approaches a new Jim Crow, forcefully argues yes to that.

Telling me nothing new, but a stat to which many white Americans simply will not listen, she says:
African-Americans are far more likely to get prison sentences for drug offenses than white offenders, even though studies have consistently shown that they are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites.
Indeed.

The first time a state or federal government runs an undercover drug operation in a high-rise office tower is the day I start believing otherwise.

Huckabee says ...

Ted Nugent is running for president of the United States.

Nugent said he trained the Navy SEALs who took out Osama bin Laden to use deer-hunting crossbows to kill the al-Qaeda leader and that's why President Obama is hiding the Osama photos.

Donald Trump then immediately popped on Huck's show and said HE had killed bin Laden ... with his Trump-over hair.

Google creating a #fail?

Google may be right, to some degree at least, about the "torture" of Windows-based computing.

But, I'm with Computerworld's thoughts: a "locked" (as in locked like an iPhone is locked), cloud-based laptop ain't the answer.

The website notes that (as "jailbroken" iPhones show) people want control over their Internet devices. It also notes Chrome as a browser still falls short of Firefox in some ways. Finally, the website also notes, cloud-based computing WILL have various issues in the future, though it doesn't specifically talk about security breaches.
The Internet itself can't be trusted to handle 100% of our computing needs.

Google's own Blogger service went down for more than 24 hours this week. To restore service, Google rolled back to an older, backed-up version, which didn't include 30 hours of blog posts for Google's millions of users. As I was writing this column, Google was working to restore the lost posts.

Such disruptions happen all the time, even for cloud-based services that are supposed to be bulletproof. Amazon's EC2 website hosting service -- which exists to provide fail-safe, totally reliable hosting -- experiences catastrophic outages. The most recent outage occurred in April. The glitch took down Foursquare, Reddit, Quora and other major services. It took Amazon four days -- four days! -- to return service to normal.
The final question is, what if Google bails on this?

Thanks, Big Bad G, but I'll pass.

Cloud computing is great, but only in combination with "regular" computing. The only reliable way to manage data is to store and back up locally, and also to the cloud.

Jonathan Haidt is a #fail again — now on bin Laden

Once again, the conservative flak man of academic sociology blows it.

A month or so ago, he was criticizing academia for alleged bias against conservatives, as I blogged about, rather than looking at conservatives' possible (no, not possible, actual and huge) bias against academia.

Now?

As Massimo Pigliucci points out, he's saying it's a good thing to have celebrated Osama bin Laden's death — and making a hash of moral philosophy at the same time.

Per Massimo, his biggest failures are claiming you cannot "ramp up" moral interactions between individuals to a large-scale level and claiming nationalism and patriotism are two different things. On the former:
You can’t just scale up your ideas about morality at the individual level and apply them to groups and nations. If you do, you’ll miss all that was good, healthy and even altruistic about last week’s celebrations.
Empirical warrant offered for this statement in the first sentence? Zip.

So, he's a conservative moral relativist who, being a good conservative, would deny he's a moral relativist.

Obamacare probably won't save what it claims

I saw a good article on this a day or two ago and forgot to link it, let alone blog about it immediately.

Anyway, the article or column was not some red-state reflexively anti-Obama piece. But it pointed out a key issue at the heart of Obamacare, a key assumption/issue, is exactly why it likely won't save that much money.

And, that is the Medicare-like cost-containment measures for doctors.

The article noted that similar such measures in Medicare itself get waived, year after year, by Congress. (Medicare itself would surely be on sounder footing if Congress would actually get some cojones on this.)

So, what's to prevent something similar from happening with Obamacare?

Bupkis.

As I reflected on this, I realized the problem was, in part ...

American exceptionalism.

Americans expect healthcare dollars to magically materialize, just like they do new reserves of cheap oil, cheap food and other things.

In fact, to pick up on my last post about American exceptionalism, many Americans, even if not explicitly religious themselves, think they have a divine right to such cheap resources, I thin.

In a word? Wrong.

And, as the American Empire continues a slow decline, that belief will be part of what fuels the decline.

Joe Barton admits to keeping himself uninformed

The National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences said, in a new report, that the need to take action to counteract global warming was "pressing."

The reaction of Smokey Joe Barton?
“I see nothing substantive in this report that adds to the knowledge base necessary to make an informed decision about what steps — if any — should be taken to address climate change.”
As I said, per his own words, he admits to keeping himself uninformed.

That said, there is a silver lining of sorts in the report — it inches toward supporting a carbon tax instead of cap-and-trade:
The report outlined four areas that demanded immediate action by the federal government.

For starters, it emphasized that reducing carbon emissions was critical to keeping the United States from having to make dire choices in the future. While stopping just short of recommending a carbon tax, the committee did praise its efficacy.

“Analyses suggest that the best way to amplify and accelerate such efforts, and to minimize overall costs (for any given national emissions reduction target), is with a comprehensive, nationally uniform, increasing price on” carbon emissions enough to “drive major investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies,” the report said.

It also called on the federal government to play a much more active role in researching new technologies and in helping the nation adapt to the changes in the natural world that are already inevitable. Even with a reduction in carbon output, the report said, some climate change will continue to occur.

“The federal government,” the report said, “should immediately undertake the development of a national adaptation strategy and build durable institutions to implement that strategy and improve it over time.”
That said, we'll all be dead, or sweltering to death, before wingnuts like Barton come close to accepting a carbon tax.

And, whenever I read a story like this, I think of The (THE!) Dallas Morning News firing columnists Jim Frisinger and Timothy O'Leary over Smokey Joe Barton. And the Snooze did that, even if it continues to lie about it.

May 13, 2011

Does Morales injury put Angels back in Pujols sweepstakes?

It's certainly possible.

Angels first baseman Kendrys Morales will be out the rest of the season for surgery on the ankle he broke last year.

Indeed, the SweetSpot blog wonders if this is career threatening.

And, of course, that's where Albert Pujols comes in.

True, they have the albatross contract of Vernon Wells. But Torii Hunter comes off after 2012 if they don't resign him. Fernando Rodney will be gone. Morales will have to take a cut on arbitration.

Next for Tiger - out of Top 10?

It's a serious question about Tiger Woods after his withdrawal from The Players.

The next three people behind him in the world rankings, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson, are all at The Players, and all playing for the weekend after making the cut.

Stricker and Kuchar are just one-tenth of a point behind Woods and Watson two-tenths.

Stricker's tied for third, so surely will pass Woods. Kuchar is tied for 28th and Watson tied for 34th. If not this week, soon enough, two other golfers besides Stricker will pass Woods.

Even if he does play in the U.S. Open, he surely won't win, or be that close. His 2009 win will come off the golf rankings, and then we'll see more of a slide.

Make that 10 billion!

Earlier world population predictions by the UN and affiliated organizations expected world population to peak around 2050 at around 9 billion.]

Not so fast.

The latest? We'll hit 10 billion by the end of the century - with more pressures on resources, more CO2 emissions, etc.

The story notes that anti-choice ideology has undercut U.S. family planning efforts abroad. And, speaking of the U.S., we could be at nearly 500 million by century's end.

George Mitchell retires of U.S.-inflicted wounds

Former Sen. George Mitchell is retiring as the U.S. special envoy for Middle East issues. Anybody who's read my blogging on the al-Jazeera leaks knows why, too — Team Obama kowtowed to hardliners of ALL major Israeli parties to undercut legitimate peace chances.

Here's the truth:
“What needs to change is Israeli behavior,” said Nabil Shaath, who heads the foreign affairs department of Fatah, the main party of the Palestinian Authority, in seeking to explain the stalled peace endeavor. “The man was not given any support and he failed,” he added of Mr. Mitchell, speaking by telephone. “I don’t really blame him. He found himself without any initiative or ability to move ahead. He found himself doing a futile job. I liked the man. He is honest and hard-working, with lots of experience.”
And here's the lies from Benjamin Netanyahu's staff:
Zalman Shoval, a special envoy of Mr. Netanyahu, who focuses on relations with the United States, said Mr. Mitchell “made a major effort to try to move peace between Israel and the Palestinians forward but, at the end of the day, his efforts were undermined by the Palestinians’ refusal to engage in meaningful negotiations. But he deserves the gratitude of Israel and the Palestinians for his efforts.”
With the presidential election growing larger, Obama will appoint a new envoy but won't change old administration behavior.

May 11, 2011

Boo hoo for the NCAA and BCS

A $1 million fine for the Fiesta Bowl for past misconduct? They'll make that up in new and more discreet ways in a year or two.

Now, if the NCAA suspended without pay for a year Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, then we'd know it was serious.

Don't get fooled again - by Obama

It's easy for Obama to look "populist" by taunting the GOP on immigration like this:
President says, “You know, they said we needed to triple the Border Patrol. Or now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol. Or they’ll want a higher fence. Maybe they’ll need a moat. Maybe they want alligators in the moat. They’ll never be satisfied.”
Or for his Justice Department to hang a hedge fund trader's head on the wall:
US Attorney Preet Baharara (said) in a statement, “There are rules and there are laws, and they apply to everyone, no matter who you are or how much money you have.”
But, this is still the same president who plans to run a $1 billion re-election campaign without any public financing. He'll need some hedge fund money for that; he'll need some independents who are worried about immigration.

May 10, 2011

Richard Cohen — Am exceptionalism is Am narcissism

And, not just a little, a LOT indeed.

The Washington Post columnist, in what has to be his best effort in years, totally "nails it" in talking about a bete noire of mine, American exceptionalism.

Regular readers of my blog know that I scold a fair amount of liberals as well as the great mass of conservatives on this issue.

Well, let's see what Cohen has to say, starting here:
It turns out, however, that some of those most inclined to exalt American exceptionalism are simply using the imaginary past to defend their cultural tics — conventional marriage or school prayer or, for some odd reason, a furious antipathy to the notion that mankind has contributed (just a bit) to global warming. Their enemy is what Gingrich calls “the secular left” — people who not only approve of gay marriage but also apparently don’t fly charter as he does.
Cohen seems to be talking about more than cranky conservative curmudgeonliness. Rather, this is the "our shit don't stink" part of American exceptionalism, in part, that he seems to be criticizing. It's certainly a large part of what I criticize in American exceptionalism.

Anyway, he next says:
The huge role of religion in American politics is nothing new but always a matter for concern nonetheless. In the years preceding the Civil War, both sides of the slavery issue claimed the endorsement of God. The 1856 Republican convention concluded with a song that ended like this: “We’ve truth on our side/ We’ve God for our guide.” Within five years, Americans were slaughtering one another on the battlefield.
I immediately thought of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. ... The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. ... Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
I am of course not religious at all myself. Lincoln was some sort of fatalistic Deist and I am guessing Cohen is of more liberal Jewish beliefs to the degree he is religious. The religious angle of American exceptionalism comes off today as largely a fundamentalist Christian enterprise, but really, it's not totally so. More liberal Christians, of mainline denominations, can be not only exceptionalists but ground that in their religious belief. I say that President Obama, United Church of Christ attender in Chicago, exemplifies that. Certainly, some degree of belief in American exceptionalism comes from "holiness" bodies that were considered more liberal at one time.

That said, the religious angle reminds me that some of the first Anglo settlers in the U.S. tried to make American exceptionalism part of the narrative even before a United States existed. Who can forget John Winthrop's "shining city on a hill"? Ronald Reagan certainly wouldn't let us, and so, reinvigorated American exceptionalism.

Anyway, back to Cohen, for his last graf is the nut graf indeed:
Therein lies the danger of American exceptionalism. It discourages compromise, for what God has made exceptional, man must not alter. And yet clearly America must change fundamentally or continue to decline. It could begin by junking a phase that reeks of arrogance and discourages compromise. American exceptionalism ought to be called American narcissism. We look perfect only to ourselves.
BOOM! "American narcissism."

It's this, more than anything else, that I think led to the "we got him" celebrations or whatever you will call them after President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden.

But, that's just the latest in a long line.

  • Sneering at French "surrender monkeys."
  • Sneering at "old Europe."
  • Belittling "gooks" in Vietnam and Korea.
  • Laughing at "made in japan" long after it was high quality. ("Made in China" is still different.)
  • Laughing at the mere idea of a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • Trying to bar the immigration door, with Anglo-Saxons first fearing Irish, then Germans, then East Europeans, Jews above all, and finally succeeding in barring Chinese, then restricting Japanese.

A common thread in much of that is, obviously racial and ethnic issues, one thing that Cohen only touched on in brief. I'm not saying the U.S. is more racially biased than other places and countries, but I am saying claims that it is less biased are certainly, based on our history, nothing more than another bit of the mythos of American exceptionalism.

No NFL season good for America?

Without using either "success gospel" or "social Darwinism," Robert Lipsyte says that's exactly part of why an NFL shutdown for 2011 would be good for the country.

He notes that it would be a good chance to study football and traumatic brain injury, etc., but, he focuses on the ever-growing fascination the great majority of football fans apparently have for billionaire owners at the expense of millionaire players.

And, though he uses neither phrase, how else to explain said fascination without the first (if you're a Religious Rightist) or the second (if you're a Heritage Foundation type with a bit of pseudoscience knowledge)?

Of course, as far as the idea of taking a certain preconceived teleological tack to try to explain certain outcomes, "success gospel" is the same as "social Darwinism," albeit with a different teleological starting point — Christian belief power vs. pseudoscience applied to "nature red in tooth and claw" misunderstood as "society red in tooth and claw."

Lipsyte does make a bit of reference to possible racism as a factor, and definitely says sexism of cheerleaders could also be scrutinized more with a year off of football.

Bin Laden's death boosted economic confidence??

Well, SOMETHING in the last week-plus caused this huge uptick in Americans' economic confidence.

If it was killing bin Laden, that says a lot of different things about average American mentality. I'll leave you the reader to fill in the blanks.

Dear David Brooks: It's called "unemployment"

Even for him, Brooks is teh stupid today.

He bemoans that, while in 1954, 96 percent of American men 25-54 were working, today it's only 80 percent.

Without noting that we're in the worst economic situation since the Depression. Without noting why the "structural changes" he cites later occurred.

To be fair, he does talk about structural changes in the economy.

That said, let's look at his proposed solutions:
It will probably require a broad menu of policies attacking the problem all at once: expanding community colleges and online learning; changing the corporate tax code and labor market rules to stimulate investment; adopting German-style labor market practices like apprenticeship programs, wage subsidies and programs that extend benefits to the unemployed for six months as they start small businesses.
The first? Many U.S. jobs don't need college or even associate's degrees. In many cases, there's a glut now. This is the faint neolib, or more accurately, for Brooks, technoconservatism answer. Or, nonanswer; it's no more an "answer" comiong off Brooks' lips than off Obama's.

Neither one addresses, meanwhile, how college costs are spiraling out of control even as the federal government has cut back on financial support for college students over more than a decade.

The second? Brooks is saying put even more loopholes in the corporate tax code, and probably saying, make it easier to fire people in more unionized states. So, totally wrong.

The first part of No. 3 is great, but, Brooks ignores that we do have a certain amount of vo-tech at the high school level and more at the community college level. He also ignores that there's no way in hell conservatives will sign off on "social engineering" at the high school level or paying for the number of and quality of high school career/guidance counselors to actually make this work. It also ignores the degree of labor-management cooperation in German-style apprenticeships; in America, the business class would convert this into serfdom.

Wage subsidies? Especially for small-biz startups? When one out of three fails per year in a good economy? Sand down a rathole. Besides, the recession has already driven many into small-biz startups.

Damn, Brooks forgot to talk to his boboes.

I have a better idea.

Let's force every bank that got bailout money to hire unemployed construction workers. They'd surely be more honest than the bullshit peddlers who got us in this mess in the first place.

There, Mr. Bobo. How's THAT for societal transformation?

Because, societal transformations are about societies, which are made up of people, not Taylorite units of work.

Beyond stupid, a fair amount of Brooks' proposal is ... well, sterile.

We could say that about both the neolib and the technocrat conservative sides of this issue, pretty much.

Finally, showing its own level of dummitude, or inside-the-corridor thinking, Atlantic considers this one of the five best columns of the day.

May 09, 2011

Tradition! — New Mexico style

In dusty, high-country towns
Off the more-beaten path of northern New Mexico
Acequias still channel water from trickling streams
As they have for three hundred years.
Majordomos still oversee gates
While users maintain the precious ditches,
Along with log aqueducts
And anything else to redistribute liquid gold
In a dry, ancient land.
In the surrounding forests
Remnants of old Spanish land grants remain
With logging sections still parceled out
To descendents of 1700s settlers
Still holding on to old family rights
And old family tradition!
Tradition!
I could never bind myself to the land like that,
But I don’t have three hundred years
Of tradition to teach me how, and maybe even why.
I would, though, like to find a place
Where I would want to settle down
And establish a tradition, a tradition for one.

Draw a Gnu Atheist Day

No date announced here yet, but for Gnu Atheists, Gnu Anti-Religionists, etc., who love Draw Muhammad Day, etc., this could be a nice bit of turnabout.

It's true, free speech is precious, but, like anything else, it can become a dogwhistle, a shibboleth or what have you. And, at that point, you're close to a new fundamentalism.

Noting the just-passed 300th anniversary of David Hume's birth, I wonder if this, namely the "PR image" of self-declared French philosophy atheists such as d'Holbach, as much as any fear of the Brtish crown and government, was why Hume never used the word "atheist" about himself.

That said, maybe I'll start by Photoshopping PZ Myers' face onto a squid being eaten for dinner by Benedict XVI.

Or, anally sexed by Benedict XVI, or crucified by him.

Or, given the "gnu vs. accommodationist" dust-ups, if Ratzi the Nazi sodomizing PZ weren't it, how about PZ fellating Chris Mooney? AND Jerry Coyne doing the same to Josh Rosenau?

Better yet ... if I could lay my hands on a clip, maybe some videoshopping.

Like of PZ giving Ken Ham a big hug. Or George W. Bush.

Anyway, this idea is intended as a deliberate spoof, and a sarcastic one, of Draw Muhammad Day

And, as I said on my Draw Muhammad post, "cui bono"? To what benefit is the Draw Muhammad Day?

Does it, in and of itself, actually bolster free speech that much? Probably not much more than Justice Holmes' famous dictum about yelling fire in a crowded theater. What would probably help more is writing the U.S. and UN embassies of relatively moderate Islamic-majority countries, encouraging them to be more supportive of free speech, countries such as, say Jordan or Turkey.

Does it benefit more liberal-minded Muslims? Of course not. Especially in countries of some openness in the Muslim world, by painting a picture of yet more Americans tarring all Muslims with the same brush, it backfires, and potentially hurts them. That said, the majority of Gnu ringleaders, or "cadre formers," if you're P.Z. Myers (his post on the Mooney-Lindsey interview), prefer to lump the masses of believers of any religion with the most regressive elements within them.

Does it actually do anything vis-a-vis fundamentalist Muslim leaders? Of course not. It won't get them to suddenly "repent" of violence, narrow-mindedness, misogyny or other actual or alleged defects.

Does it benefit atheism or secular humanism in general? Absolutely not, and especially not in those countries I just mentioned.

Draw Muhammad Day is like using a shotgun instead of a rifle. Of course, for PZ, Jerry Coyne, et al, seem to like confrontation for confrontation's sake. Like ... Lenin! Another "cadre former" was he, after all.

That said, per the comment of Aquaria, I'm treating a somewhat childish original idea and an even more often and largely childish leadership cadre ("that word ... stop saying that word!" — Monty Python/Holy Grail/Knights Who Say Nee riff) with a somewhat childishly oriented version of sarcasm. Because that's about what it deserves.

Also per Aquaria's comment, no, the Gnus may not have started Draw Muhammad Day. BUT ... like ducks to water, like confrontationalists for confrontation's sake, I think it's been a thing many of them like pushing.

That said, is every Gnu that bad? No, I know that.

But, Gnus who readily have a "connectionist" mindset, "moderate" Gnus, are probably about as common as "moderate" mullahs on Iran's Supreme Council.

Nature is tenacious

A pinon pine on a crag above Wolf Creek Pass/My pic

Tenacious grasp
Pinon pine on mountain crag;
Solitary life.

That lone rugged tree
Lives without one remembrance,
Growing but dumbly.

A lesson for life
That roots are oft unconscious
But still need much luck,

Refuting some rich
Who social Darwinism
Gave them all their wealth.

Dear Rick Perry: 15 days and counting — no rain

Dear Gov. Perry:

Much of Texas, especially West Texas remains parched, dry to the bone, after your three-day pre-Easter call for prayers for rain.

I could recommend to you what Elijah recommended to the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.

BPA - or worse?

With the federal government refusing to act, some states are moving on their own to require replacements for bisphenol-A in many consumer plastics.

Unfortunately, some of the substitutes might be not much better. And, as the column notes, we're still doing this all in a bass-ackwards way.

A new Godwin's Law — Holocaust analogizing needs a name

With a hat tip to Ed Brayton, I note that Michelle Bachmann has compared raising taxes to the Holocaust, and now Mike Huckabee has compared raising the debt ceiling to that.

So, whether we call this a corollary to Godwin's Law or a whole new law, it needs a name. Hit me up in comments with your suggestions.

The one possible consolation? Israeli Jews, including even the most Christian-tolerant among the Zionists, say "enough" to Religious Righters who keep up the Holocaust comparisons.

That said, not all inane Holocaust analogies are by political wingnuts. Hardcore antivaxxers apparently do the same.