SocraticGadfly: 7/17/11 - 7/24/11

July 23, 2011

Teapot Tommy Friedman gets the stupidz on politics again

You know, Friedman, in my mind, is getting near Rich Cohen or David Broder level - not just stupid but phoning it in from inside the DC Village, albeit the NY suburbs of it.

His latest? Touting a "third way" party/candidacy in 2012? Hey, My Head is Flat? I thought neoliberalism WAS "the third way.

Thomas J. gives us the lowdown:
Thanks to a quiet political start-up that is now ready to show its hand, a viable, centrist, third presidential ticket, elected by an Internet convention, is going to emerge in 2012. I know it sounds gimmicky — an Internet convention — but an impressive group of frustrated Democrats, Republicans and independents, called Americans Elect, is really serious, and they have thought out this process well. In a few days, Americans Elect will formally submit the 1.6 million signatures it has gathered to get on the presidential ballot in California as part of its unfolding national effort to get on the ballots of all 50 states for 2012.
Well, first, new parties poll higher without a candidate, with a blank slate, than they do with an actual person.

Second, as those of us outside the duopoly know, for various reasons of political structure, mindless loyalty and slothful indulgence, America continues to gravitate to a third-party system.

Third, getting back to Point 1: If you're going to be so bold, Teapot Tommy, why don't you tell us if Americans Elect has tried to tap any candidates yet? If so, whom? If not, whom are your "third way squared" favorites?

That said, I urge my left-liberal friends to go to Americans Elect and spam it.

The latest refutation of Pop Ev Psych

Any more, this is getting to be like shooting fish in a barrel, but things like this SciAm blog are still worth reading, because Pop Ev Psychers continue to make loony claims.

Here's the nut graf:
"There's been a lot of recent evolution—far more than anyone envisioned in the 1980s when this idea came to prominence," says Kevin Laland, a professor at the University of Saint Andrew's School of Biology in Scotland and co-author of the new paper. He and his colleagues argue that today's better understanding of the pace of evolution, human adaptability and the way the mind works all suggest that, contrary to cartoon stereotypes, modern humans are not just primitive savages struggling to make psychological sense of an alien contemporary world.
Of course, that's not just "cartoon stereotypes," but pop evolutionary psychology stereotypes.

Rapidity of change is part of the key in why Pop Ev Psychers are wrong, notes Kevin Laland, a professor at the University of Saint Andrew's School of Biology in Scotland:
"It seems implausible that all of that change has been going on without changing how the brain works," Laland says. And if the brain has been changing over the millennia, along with the climate, culture and other environmental conditions, then there might be far less so-called "adaptive lag" than early evolutionary psychology researchers—and the broader public—had previously assumed.
Finally, Laland notes one other key "tell." That is that Pop Ev Psychers have made assumptions about human passivity in restructuring environments. Given that fire was tamed hundreds of thousands of years ago, cave paintings are 50,000 years old and tools, at least primitive ones, have about the same age, that is a laughable assumption.

Let's let Laland say more:
The inner sanctum of the suburban shopping mall might bear little resemblance to the African savanna on which our ancestors are thought to have evolved. But Laland notes that it is unlikely humans, imperfect though we might be, would consistently design environments to which we are ill suited.

A traditional, more passive take on evolutionary psychology "fails to recognize that humans are changing their environment," and not at all randomly or haphazardly, Laland says. "We've built environments that are well suited to our biology, so we don't find ourselves massively maladapted for the contemporary world."
Indeed. Indeed.

That said, per my series of blog posts on the Dark Side of the Internet, and per things such as anthropogenic global warming, we don't ALWAYS build well-adapted environments. But, generally, the idea is true.

Finally, Laland says Pop Ev Psychers, at least of the past, haven't given enough credit to brain plasticity:
Scientific views of the nature of the human mind may be changing rapidly in sync with better understanding of our capabilities. Early evolutionary psychologists have often favored something like a "jukebox" model of the brain, in which it contains any number of evolved, preprogrammed behaviors waiting to be set off by various stimuli, as if at the touch of a button. Laland and his colleagues instead argue for "a very different model of how the mind works," he says, in which the human mind is much more plastic, and perhaps more akin to a collection of musical instruments awaiting a jam session; the tune they will play depends more on developmental and cultural experiences than on engrained compositions.
Robert Kurzban, also cited in the story, claims ev psych has been evolving along with brain studies.

Well, that may be true, but "classic" Pop Ev Psych touters haven't been.

For some other recent thoughts on this and related issues in what real evolutionary psychology could and should be, versus what today's Pop Ev Pysch actually is, go here and here.

Science, scientism, skepticism, atheism, ethics

I'd been meaning to write a post like this for some time. Various issues within the worlds of science, philosophy, skepticism (which has a foot in both science and philosophy) and related issues have finally nudged me forward.

The first biggie was Sam Harris' "The Moral Landscape." I was pleasantly surprised when philosopher Massimo Pigliucci's review on Amazon largely agreed with mine in not only noting that Harris didn't have a good handle on morals and ethics issues in general, but also engaged in thought processes that rightfully could be called scientism.

Then, having read P.Z. Myers (he denies it, but Bob Carroll has a similar take on P.Z.) and Vic Stenger, amongst so-called Gnu Atheists, at least halfway claim to have proved the nonexistence of god, led me a bit further forward in this direction.

Add in the fact that, on a few recent posts on Skepticblog, some commenters there don't get, or else choose to ignore, the difference between empirical evidence for/against a particular idea of god vs. philosophical issues about what versions of a deity might logically be able to exist, and the issue grows.

Add in that a Michael Shermer post about SETI adds to what I see as one problem with many of its most ardent boosters: a quasi-religious faith that extraterrestrial life must exist.

Finally, some browsing on Amazon today, where a couple of reviews of a couple of books, bring back to mind claims that fundamentalist Christians make about horrific atheist murderers, i.e., Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and atheists, especially but not just Gnu Atheists, claiming that none of that terrible trio were atheists.

Well, now that I've laid all that out, here's where my thoughts go.

I'm going to tackle issues of religious belief, or lack thereof, and morality.

First, the "terrible trio."

Hitler? Yes, we know that he had a Catholic background and upbringing. What his adult religious beliefs are, we don't know. He cozied up to the Catholic church enough to get it to cozy up to him, while yet, early in his reign, ignoring it when he euthanized the mentally handicapped and others. So, let's bracket him.

Stalin? Yes, he went to an Orthdox seminary as a juvenile. So what. John Loftus went to a seminary. So did I. By this weak argument of atheists, John and I are both still Christians. Fact of the matter is, Stalin actively clamped down on Christianity in the Soviet Union, and otherwise gives clear indications of being an atheist. Beyond that, as Wikipedia notes in its article on Marxism and religion, the USSR was officially atheist.

Mao? We still don't know a lot about his personal life, but he gives no indication of being religious in any way.

As for studies which show that fundamentalist and evangelical Christians divorce as much as atheists in particular or nonreligious in general, that's also true. Two observations, though. Details below the fold.

Amy Winehouse is dead ... and?

Amy Winehouse dead? It was Mooslim terrirsts? I can haz heroin cheezbrgr?

More seriously ... I don't listen to too much "modern" rock, so I don't "get" the degree to which some people miss her.

The real issue, besides putting entertainers, and athletes, on stupid pedestals, is ...

She was an addict who probably, in some way, shape or form, refused to admit she was an addict.

The second point is that addiction is tricky and difficult.

The third point, before "Steppers" start speaking out, is that 12-Step methodologies don't work that well, and aren't the only way to get peer-group addiction recovery support.

The fourth point is that there's a fine line on satire, yes. But, satire in some way, shape or form is almost always appropriate.

The fifth, related point is that ... she's DEAD. If you had her on a pedestal as a musician, find someone better. If you had her as a pedestal as a naive waif or whatever, get a clue about Amy Winehouse, about addiction and about your own life.

Ripped from the headlines: #Obama attacks #Yemen over #Norway

Breaking: President Obama announced he has sent Predator Drone attacks against Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, and threatened the same against Syria, due to "Muslim extremist terrorists" being behind the Norway attacks, per the "terrorism expert" Will McCants. Informed that McCants had been decisively refuted on this claim, Obama said, "You go to war with the army you have, including unknown knowns and unknown unknowns." He then promised to officially surrender to John Boehner and Eric Cantor in contrition.

Yes, the second sentence is a bit too snarky to be true, and the third one way too much so.

The first one? Let's say that Anders Breivik had not been immediately fingered as the Oslo/camp suspect, but that the "Muslim terrorist" claim floated out there without any fingering of an actual suspect.

How likely would Obama's first action be? I could seriously give it at least 10 percent probability.

Sarah Palin gets another grandkid outside of marriage

To put it bluntly in terms teabaggers and Palinistas will understand, and need to be slapped down with:

First, Bristol Palin got herself knocked up outside of marriage. Now, son Track admits, after extended Alaskan Addams Family denials, that he knocked up his wife before they got married.
The Palins make an excellent example for the latest research on abstinence education. The National Sexuality Resource Center's Sexuality Research and Social Policy completed a recent study that showed abstinence-only education does not delay or prevent teens from having sex. These same programs that Palin and many other conservatives support have received $1.5 billion in federal funding.

The editor of the academic journal of SRSP, Brian Devries, stated, "Sex educators know. Teens know. Parents know. And the research shows it. When will our policies and interventions reflect what science, research and best practices demonstrate? We need comprehensive sexuality education that is truly comprehensive."

With a second premarital pregnancy in the Palin family, how much more proof do our hypocritical politicians and ultra conservative right-wing Christians need?
The Palinistas tried to defend Mama Grizz before the Alaska Addams Family fessed up. How long before more cultists start questioning her family values bona fides? How long before the MSM admits ppl like Andrew Sullivan and myself weren't wrong in raising questions about the Trig pregnancy?

These are the GOPers with whom Obama is negotiating

Joe Nocera's newest column, detailing the shameless bullying to which various House and Senate Republicans subjected Elizabeth Warren, should further lead every semi-liberal person of sound mind to ask "Why, why, why" our Peace Prize Prez continues to seek compromise, or "compromise," with such nutters.

These are people not only not interested in compromise, but largely interested in twisting Obama's words every chance they get.

And, if not them, the wingnut bloggers behind them are interested in spades in doing that.

July 22, 2011

Greenwald fillets Obama AND neolib bloggingheads

I have GOT to love, and blog about, a Glenn Greenwald column in The Guardian.

Glenn Greenwald
Greenwald not only fillets the Peace Prize Prez like a cheap carp, he also nails Duncan Black, aka Atrios, by name, and by implication, Josh "the pontificating online publisher" Marshall, Kevin Drum, Steve "former Democratic party operative" Benen (Washington Monthly), Markos "I ban real liberals" Moulitsas (Kos) and other neoliberal/tribal Democratic blogging heads.

And, deservedly so, on the group filleting of a bunch of willingly co-opted DC Village types.

First, the specific takedown of Atrios, which Glenn does simply by quoting old Duncan:
The left ... will create an epic 360-degree shitstorm if Obama and the Dems decide that cutting social security benefits is a good idea.
To which, Glenn says, but a bit more politely: Where's your shitstorm, Atrios?

Greenwald next gives us the specific bill of charges against Obama worthy of being shitstormed:
Fast forward to 2011: it is now beyond dispute that President Obama not only favours, but is the leading force in Washington pushing for, serious benefit cuts to both social security and Medicare.

This week, even as GOP leaders offered schemes to raise the debt ceiling with no cuts, the White House expressed support for the Senate's so-called "gang of six" plan that includes substantial cuts in those programmes.

The same Democratic president who supported the transfer of $700bn to bail out Wall Street banks, who earlier this year signed an extension of Bush's massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and who has escalated America's bankruptcy-inducing posture of Endless War, is now trying to reduce the debt by cutting benefits for America's most vulnerable – at the exact time that economic insecurity and income inequality are at all-time highs.
That then leads to the broader takedown:
Therein lies one of the most enduring attributes of Obama's legacy: in many crucial areas, he has done more to subvert and weaken the left's political agenda than a GOP president could have dreamed of achieving. So potent, so overarching, are tribal loyalties in American politics that partisans will support, or at least tolerate, any and all policies their party's leader endorses – even if those policies are ones they long claimed to loathe.
Atrios? Mr. Drummeister? Josh the blog-publishing pedant Marshall? Markos the banner of true liberals Kos? What's that I hear from you? Crickets? Oh, Kossacks, if not Markos himself, will occasionally criticize Dear Leader, but that's about it. Marshall runs White House press office photography slide shows like he's either addicted to them or getting paid for it. Benen, befitting a former Dem operative, will never bite the hand that once fed him. Drum has focused less on DC Village-type politics lately, but, I have no doubt where his loyalties are. And Atrios is already hoist by his own petard.

July 21, 2011

EU agrees to let Greece 'default'

In exchange for more loans to Greece, the European Union has agreed to let it technically default.

Here's how this played out:
In a declaration crafted here after hours of haggling, and a whirlwind trip Wednesday to Berlin by the French president, the leaders put forward billions more in new loans to Greece. But they extracted a price: Greece's private-sector creditors will accept a bond exchange that gives them less than originally promised. ...

Greece was reeling under its huge burden, and its woes were threatening to engulf other countries.

To push back against that contagion, the euro zone also agreed Thursday to a wide expansion of its €440 billion bailout fund. ...

"We created a solid firewall and better fire-brigade equipment," said Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union president.

That creation had been a long time coming. In spring of 2010, when the euro zone was debating the first Greek bailout, the countries—at the firm insistence of Germany— insisted that rescue loans would come only when absolutely needed, and would be issued at punitive rates to discourage countries from slacking on reforms and falling back on cheap aid.

Germany has made a stark reversal. Chancellor Angela Merkel, once the euro zone's "Madame Non," led a push to assemble the new Greek bailout program. In the face of stiff domestic opposition to creating what the German press dubbed a "Transferunion," she opened the door to far greater fiscal aid than her country had once contemplated. In return, she won a commitment that banks and other creditors—and not just taxpayers—would have to bear some of the burden.
Here's the details, with euphemisms, of how this will allegedly work:
Private creditors who hold Greek debt that matures in the coming years will "voluntarily" turn in their bonds and accept new ones that mature far in the future. The Institute of International Finance, a banking trade group, said its members had committed to participate in the exchange.

The banks, Germany and France's largest institutions among them, offered to take new 30-year or 15-year Greek bonds. The offer includes a menu of four different flavors of bonds with varying coupons and types of insurance—some would be backed by triple-A-rated collateral. Some of the bonds on the menu include a 20% discount to principal.

The euro-zone leaders said the private sector's "contribution" would amount to €37 billion through 2014 and €106 billion through 2019, though it didn't detail the calculation. They also said a debt buyback program would yield an additional €12.6 billion by taking Greek debt off the markets at discount prices.
That said, is this going to work, or is it pounding more sand down a bottomless rathole?

I vote the latter.

Greece's problems are not just due to Europe's version of financial and housing bubbles. Tax evasion and general corruption have been rampant there for decades. Until there's reform in Athens, all we have here is a larger Band-Aid.

That said, kudos to German Chancellor for making private lenders talking a haircut on stupid loans to a country that was corrupt before it joined the eurozoneand never reformed itself.

But, whither Germany? And Merkel's coalition with Free Democrats? At least one Free Democrat in parliament has called for Greece to be booted from the eurozone. Can her coalition hold? Will a push develop within the EU to force a confidence vote?

And, can the EU hold? Can the eurozone hold? Will German bankers and businesses continue their push to invest further east in Europe rather than to expand their involvement in a morass?

More on #TigerWoods - #SteveWilliams split

Guess we won't be seeing this any more.
Yesterday, I blogged the basics of Tiger Woods firing long-time caddie Steve Williams, who was on the bag for all but one of his 14 majors titles.

Fired him, not released him to look for other golfers while Tiger continues to rehab. That this was a stunner is clear from Williams' comments, even though he knew about it a couple of weeks ago (see further below):
"Needless to say this came as a shock," Williams said. "Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger's scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries, I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time."
WTF? As in "fired," not let him go to work for other golfers as Tiger's rehab time lengthens.

There's been about nobody more loyal, at least on the surface, to Tiger the last 2 years. Is he trying to hit new personal lows?

That said, ESPN (above) trimmed some parts of the AP story, which says Williams knew about this two weeks ago.
Williams told The Associated Press that he met with Woods in a board room at Aronimink after the final round of the AT&T National and told him they would no longer work together. Williams said he chose to keep quiet out of respect to Scott, not wanting the Australian to face queries from the British media at Royal St. George’s.
That's class. Real class on Williams' part and "class" with snark on Woods' part.

Williams reveals more on class vs. "class":
In a telephone interview, Williams said he was not upset by being fired and said he was proud to have been fired only twice in his 33 years as a caddie—by Woods and Norman.

“But I’m disappointed in the timing of it,” he said. “To be as loyal as someone can be, and with what one had to go through over the last 18 months . . . “
Move on, Stevie. Oh, and don't be such a cameraman thug for Adam Scott. Lighten up. (I think you will.)

Williams is commenting yet more today.
"I've stuck by him through and through," Williams told 3 News. "Now he decides things aren't going well for him, and I'm down the road, so the timing's very disappointing."

He suggested that Woods would need to work hard to rebuild their friendship.

"First of all, the person has to gain your respect, and that's something that I feel Tiger has to work hard on," he added, while confirming he will choose his words carefully when he comes to tell his side of golf's most famous modern partnership.
But wait, that's not all.

Robert Lusetich has more on Williams' loyalty after the Escalade escapade, even though it was unrewarded.
At first glance, he can come off as Luca Brasi to Woods’ Don Corleone — a one–dimensional brutish enforcer — but in reality Williams, while unapologetically loyal, is a far more nuanced man. ...

While researching “Unplayable,” my 2010 book on Woods, I asked someone close to him for one word to describe what he was really like.

Complicated, came the answer.

Just how complicated is now obvious for all to see, because there was no rational reason for Woods to end the most successful golfer–caddie team in history.
Finally, Lusetich has the best answer for the "why" question I've seen yet:
But end it he did, out of nothing more substantial than hubris.

Neither Woods nor Williams is publicly talking about what prompted the split.

Woods’ statement that “it’s time for a change” is as laughably generic as the old standard, “irreconcilable differences,” offered up in Hollywood divorces.

Though it’s true that they’ve grown somewhat apart over the past 18 months — Woods relies almost entirely these days on his manager, Mark Steinberg — those close to the situation say that Williams was fired simply because he’d filled in as a caddie for Adam Scott.

Last month, Williams had flown from New Zealand to his summer home in Oregon believing he’d be joining Woods at Congressional Country Club.

But a day after he arrived came the news that the injuries to Woods’ left leg were going to keep him out of the US Open.

With Woods sidelined, and seeing that he was already in the US, it seemed innocuous enough to Williams to answer an SOS from his old friend, (Adam) Scott, who’d just parted ways with longtime caddie Tony Navarro and needed someone to step in while he looked for a permanent replacement.

But it wasn’t innocuous to Woods, who wasn’t happy to be sharing his caddie with another player.
Hubris, or jealousy? Sounds like that is the bottom line.
Williams is clearly, to use his word, “disappointed,” but he shouldn’t be.

He should’ve known there was every chance that this day would come because Woods is a control freak and Williams won’t be controlled.
One big takeaway? The Tiger Woods of the past 18 months, post-Escalade, is just as much a fake, a persona, as pre-crash Tiger.

Those of us who aren't Woodsaholics probably had some suspicion of that already but, like Williams, were giving Tiger the benefit of the doubt. That said, I'm interested in how many Woodsaholics will give up the addiction now.

That said, there's other takeaways, namely one big one.

Tiger's done for the year. He's not going to pick up a new looper on the fly and be competitive in the PGA Championship or even at Firestone. And, he'll finish outside the top 125 on the FedEx chase anyway. So, he's done for the year, as far as results, even if he plays.

And, speaking of that? Lusetich continues:
Scott gladly has hired Williams but the word is Woods wants to play at the Bridgestone Invitational in the first week of August but doesn’t yet have a caddie.

The two loopers he most respects, Billy Foster and Joe LaCava, he may not be able to get.

The happy–go–lucky Englishman Foster isn’t likely to leave Lee Westwood and doesn’t want to relocate to the United States. LaCava’s just left his longtime employer, Fred Couples, to start with Dustin Johnson, a player with tremendous upside.
And, a Tiger who could still do nothing more than putt two weeks ago wants to play at Firestone anyway? He'll get smoked. I actually hope he does play, and does worse than a year ago.

And, I hope Adam Scott wins a major, soon, with Williams on his bag.

Yahoo's Devil Ball Golf has another takeaway:
The loss of Williams could be hugely damaging on the course as well as in the court of public opinion. Williams is 13 years older than Woods, and while he didn't give off a "father figure" vibe, he certainly had it in him to guide Woods in certain directions -- on the course, at least -- while keeping more intrusive elements like the media and the galleries at bay. Whoever takes on the job of caddying Woods, and there are no serious candidates as yet, will have to be part psychologist, part bouncer, an enforcer with Zen calm.
Yeah, Williams was a photographer bruiser. And Tiger benefited from it. Let's see what his next caddy does.

Elsewhere, Rick Reilly has advice for Tiger that he'll likely never follow.

At the same time, he offers a further window yet onto Woods:
New Normal #5: Spread it around a little.

Look, everybody knows you're the cheapest guy on tour. Some people are sure your wallet is sewn shut. I know a car valet in L.A. that you've stiffed so many times, he feels like he's full of embalming fluid. The last time he saw you, he stood in front of the car door, making small talk until you made with a fiver.
A person like that ain't changing that much that easily.

Finally, could Tiger have won all 13 majors for which Williams looped using any caddy? Contra Michael Collins at ESPN, I doubt it.

I very much doubt he would have won the 2008 U.S. Open without Williams, off the top of my head. Ditto on some of his other close victories. Let's not forget that only four of his 10 majors wins since 2000 were by more than 2 shots.

In fact, in this ESPN story, Tiger admits that Williams' one club call, alone, was key to getting him into a playoff with Rocco Mediate.

Here's Hank Haney pointing out Williams as part of Tiger's success:
"He was just a great caddie, especially under pressure. Everyone is nervous when the tournament is on the line. The players are nervous, the caddies are nervous. I never sensed that Steve Williams had any choke in him at all. Do you know how many tournaments he won [as a caddie]? It was over 100 [144 total]. How many with Raymond Floyd? With Greg Norman? He's not just getting lucky all the time.''
I would be fairly surprised if Tiger wins another major; I'd be hugely surprised if he passes Nicklaus.

July 20, 2011

More on why the Drake equation is problematic

Detailed readers of this blog know, or show, that I consider SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, to have thin scientific foundations at best and to be quasi-religious at worst, just as the cartoon above from XKCD shows.

Well, a recent post at Skepticblog has only reinforced this. And, yes, it's by ... cornucopian futurist Michael Shermer.

Here's Wiki on the Drake equation and its background:
Considerable disagreement on the values of most of these parameters exists, but the values used by Drake and his colleagues in 1961 were:

R* = 10/year (10 stars formed per year, on the average over the life of the galaxy)
fp = 0.5 (half of all stars formed will have planets)
ne = 2 (stars with planets will have 2 planets capable of developing life)
fl = 1 (100% of these planets will develop life)
fi = 0.01 (1% of which will be intelligent life)
fc = 0.01 (1% of which will be able to communicate)
L = 10,000 years (which will last 10,000 years.
The first two parameters' estimates aren't controversial to me. From what we've seen of early exoplanetary findings, the third could be moderately too high.

From there, we really have shinola hitting the fan, IMO.

Fl at 100 percent? No way, Jose. Let's put it at 10 percent instead. Fi at 1 percent? No way again. Even if "intelligent" is defined loosely, let's take that down to 0.1 percent.

And, there again, we have problems with the "sieve," which modern evolutionary biology teaches us.

What's "intelligent" mean? Crows, ravens and other corvids are arguably intelligent, we now know. What's "communicate"? An animal like a vervet monkey not only has different calls/alerts for different predators, members of a tribe can fake the calls to steal food.

And "L"? Given exactly how we define "civilization," our own 10,000 years may be just about up, if we start with the development of agriculture. If we start with, say, the steam engine, we have plenty of life left. This is just Drake spitting in the wind on this number.

Another commenter there calls the set of equations a sieve. Well, that may or may not be true, but, shouldn't one show more rigor with defining a sieve? The numbers up to "L" could be more legitimately argued, but that one? Since it's so problematic, why didn't Drake leave its value blank.

(That said, Shermer is much more pessimistic on "L" than Drake, once setting it at just 420 years.)

Per Wiki, Michael Crichton notes:
The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. [...] As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from "billions and billions" to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless...
A basically undefinable sieve isn't much of one.

Beyond that, here's the bottom line on SETI, and the interpretation of the Drake equations that began with Frank Drake and extend to it:

If the unspoken presupposition of L is "communication with aliens," Davies covers all the *problems* with that one, too.

How do we know that aliens communicate the same way we do? Take the gold "CD" sent with Voyager. If aliens don't "hear" at all ... the music and other sounds on it mean not a damned thing to them.

In other words, I think SETI is still too anthropocentric and so does Paul Davies, as he discusses in detail in "The Eerie Silence."

Tiger says bye-bye Stevie

In a stunner, Tiger Woods has fired long-time caddie Steve Williams, who was on the bag for all but one of his 14 majors titles.

Fired him, not released him to look for other golfers while Tiger continues to rehab. That this was a stunner is clear from Williams' comments:
"Needless to say this came as a shock," Williams said. "Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger's scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries, I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time."
WTF? Even if they had some turbulence and fallout after Tiger's Escalade escapade, nobody (other than agent Mark Steinberg, for mercenary reasons) has been more loyal (at least seemingly) to Woods than Williams. If he's trying to reach new personal lows, Tiger's doing quite well at it.

WTF? As in "fired," not let him go to work for other golfers as Tiger's rehab time lengthens.

There's been about nobody more loyal, at least on the surface, to Tiger the last 2 years. Is he trying to hit new personal lows?

That said, ESPN interestingly trimmed some parts of the AP story, which says Williams knew about this two weeks ago.
Williams told The Associated Press that he met with Woods in a board room at Aronimink after the final round of the AT&T National and told him they would no longer work together. Williams said he chose to keep quiet out of respect to Scott, not wanting the Australian to face queries from the British media at Royal St. George’s.
That's class. Real class on Williams' part and "class" with snark on Woods' part.

Williams reveals more on class vs. "class":
In a telephone interview, Williams said he was not upset by being fired and said he was proud to have been fired only twice in his 33 years as a caddie—by Woods and Norman.

“But I’m disappointed in the timing of it,” he said. “To be as loyal as someone can be, and with what one had to go through over the last 18 months . . . “
Move on, Stevie. Oh, and don't be such a cameraman thug for Adam Scott. Lighten up. (I think you will.)

Yahoo's golf blog says it's not a surprise. Still, Tiger could have handled this better.

That said, there's other takeaways, namely one big one.

Tiger's done for the year. He's not going to pick up a new looper on the fly and be competitive in the PGA Championship or even at Firestone. And, he'll finish outside the top 125 on the FedEx chase anyway. So, he'd done for the year.

You Woodsaholics, who are as nutso as Obamiacs? Deal with it. And, I hope Adam Scott wins a major, soon, with Williams on his bag.

"Emotional dissonance" - a term that needs more use?

I have briefly mentioned the phrase, as a parallel to "cognitive dissonance," with support groups and friends.

In a comment on a SkepticBlog post about The Amazing Meeting 9 and cognitive dissonance, I mentioned the idea there.
As cognition is not done as a sterile intellectual exercise ... I think we need to stress this more.
One person responded that s/he thought that "emotions" were included in cognition, and in cognitive dissonance. I responded:
Understood on what “cognitive” entails. That said, it’s my guess that the “average Joe/Jane” thinks “intellectual” when they hear the term “cognitive,” though, or may at the least think the “intellectual” is being emphasized to the degree of less to much less attention on the emotions.

And, that, in term, gets to the “image of skepticism,” if you will. My skepticism (or better yet, per David Hume, my empirical stance) is driven by the interaction of the passions and reason.

Obviously, emotions are visible when one is being a dick, rather than when one is not … but showing positive emotional reasons for skepticism is the “hearts” of the “hearts and minds” battle.
This person then, in my opinion, undercut her previous comment. I will quote this person:
“(E)motional dissonance” implies that emotions are to blame for poor reasoning, which is usually not the case.
I humbly but firmly beg to differ.

Look at the religious right segment of the GOP, which continually votes on emotion even though the party's corporatist leaders really don't care about it that much. Ditto on tea partiers letting themselves be astroturfed and not starting a third party. Many "moderate" antivaxxers who aren't into conspiracy theories let themselves be swayed by emotions even though they know, intellectually, that expert medical opinion is usually right.

Hume reminded us, after all, that reason needs to follow the passions, not the other way around. This doesn't mean that reason accepts what the passions within us say, but it does mean it accepts as a starting point what the passions are saying to us.

If we want to take "emotional dissonance" more narrowly .... it affects our decision making all the time. We're conflicted about going to a family gathering because we like some people but hate others. We're emotionally conflicted about taking a new job. Etc.

July 19, 2011

What happened to antiwar protesters? Barack Obama

Both Todd Gitlin and Medea Benjamin, in response, wrestle with that issue.

Gitlin cites a host of factors as to why the movement has fizzled. That said, a rural all-volunteer military was in place 10 years ago, Todd. Obama as well as Bush has been a fear-monger. And, if "out" is a goal, not a plan, the same was true about Vietnam.

Gitlin is slipping if he's writing dreck like this.

Benjamin claims the movement is still "on," just more silent. Her pointing to things like the Jones Amendment are weak tea, though, I think.

Besides that, though?

Both miss a huge chunk of the issue, though.

Obamiacs who give him a pass on warmongering are a definite part of the demise. Example A: Juan Cole. Nuff said.

Updating T.S. Eliot's "Hippopotamus" - "The Hippocampus"

Updating TS Eliot, on the hippocampus and fearmongering. I kept in the "god" references so I didn't have to edit more, to change more rhymes, but I was actually thinking more of secular fearmongering such as the "War on Terror."

The broad-backed hippocampus
Rests on its axis in the brain;
Although it seems so firm to us
It is hard to explain.
Flesh-and-blood is weak and frail,
Susceptible to nervous shock;
While the True Fear can never fail
For it is based upon a rock.

The hippo's feeble steps may err
In compassing material ends,
While the True Fear need never stir
To gather in its dividends.

The 'campus can never reach
The mango on the mango-tree;
But fruits of pomegranate and peach
Refresh the Fear from over sea.

At mating time the hippo's voice
Betrays inflexions hoarse and odd,
But every week we hear rejoice
The Fear, at being one with God.

The hippocampus's day
Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;
God works in a mysterious way --
The Fear can sleep and feed at once.

I saw the 'campus take wing
Ascending from the damp savannas,
And quiring angels round him sing
The praise of God, in loud hosannas.

Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean
And him shall heavenly arms enfold,
Among the saints he shall be seen
Performing on a harp of gold.

He shall be washed as white as snow,
By all the martyr'd virgins kist,
While the True Fear remains below
Wrapt in the old miasmal mist.

Obama lies and fact check July 19

"Obama lies, people die?" Many people who would have said similar with the name of (George W.) Bush a few years ago are silent as Obama and his administration lie about drones killing civilians in Pakistan, CIA black sites in Somalia and more.

Jeremy Scahill says on MSNBC that Obama is able to get away with stuff that McCain wouldn't have been able to, because he had been elected. Essentially, the antiwar movement was defanged by Obama's election, with a fair chunk of it being Obamiacs.

Scahill adds that, in terms of things like lack of secrecy, the CIA is as much a clusterfuck as ever.

Meanwhile, in the fact check world, the Pea Party gets a name. It's the "austerians," led on the right-neoliberal/now-neoconservative Democratic side by ... shock me ... Robert Rubin and acolytes and on the GOP side by Pete Peterson. All of their major claims about the debt are partially to totally wrong, yet Obama still worships them.

More fact check. Obama mangles Lincoln's relationship to the press over the Emancipation Proclamation. I don't know whether he's that historically uninformed, or this was a deliberate play to compare himself to Lincoln, mixed with his typical thin-skinnedness about criticism from the "left" that he once, for public consumption at least, welcomed. That said, "left" is in scare quotes because Arianna Huffington ain't Left.

Is David Leonhardt still thinking in too small a box?

Last week, in a NYT op-ed, Leonhardt said today's consumer-economy bubbles, beginning with but by no means limited to housing, were going to stick around a while.

He cites a variety of statistics to back this up:
The auto industry is on pace to sell 28 percent fewer new vehicles this year than it did 10 years ago — and 10 years ago was 2001, when the country was in recession. Sales of ovens and stoves are on pace to be at their lowest level since 1992. Home sales over the past year have fallen back to their lowest point since the crisis began. And big-ticket items are hardly the only problem.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently published a jarring report on what it calls discretionary service spending, a category that excludes housing, food and health care and includes restaurant meals, entertainment, education and even insurance. Going back decades, such spending had never fallen more than 3 percent per capita in a recession. In this slump, it is down almost 7 percent, and still has not really begun to recover.
And then reminds us of more liberal means that businesses are only, in light of this, acting rationally in not hiring more people:
If you’re looking for one overarching explanation for the still-terrible job market, it is this great consumer bust. Business executives are only rational to hold back on hiring if they do not know when their customers will fully return. Consumers, for their part, are coping with a sharp loss of wealth and an uncertain future (and many have discovered that they don’t need to buy a new car or stove every few years). Both consumers and executives are easily frightened by the latest economic problem, be it rising gas prices or the debt-ceiling impasse.
So, maybe Krugman is right in calling the current times the "Little Depression" now instead of the "Great Recession."

And it may stick around a while, Leonhardt says:
Sure, house and car sales will eventually surpass their old highs, as the economy slowly recovers and the population continues expanding. But consumer spending will not soon return to the growth rates of the 1980s and ’90s. They depended on income people didn’t have.
His solution? Tax cuts, but ones targeted to businesses who hire, and more stimulus, but targeted to industries of the future.

In short, Leonhardt is saying, don't abandon Keynesian ideas, but get smarter about how to use them.

However, this all seems to be pretty weak tea. Keynesianism was only one tool that Roosevelt used. Direct labor policy was at least as large of a tool, and even Krugman didn't initially push this one. We could certainly use a new WPA to fix trails, roads, buildings and more in today's national parks. But, not just that.

Everybody talks about how crappy our infrastructure is, but Obama didn't do anything about it. I'm not talking about "shovel ready" NEW construction, I'm talking about repairs to bridges, dams, etc. Unemployed carpenters and other construction industry workers wouldn't need too much retraining for this.

And more. Part of rehabilitation for low-level drug offenders could be not just probation, but WPA-type work. We might still want to keep them "segregated" from other employees, but, it would get them into work again, and teach some actual skills, like running a road grader, not just a shovel.

Last but not least, when Dems took control of Congress in 2007, I said they not only needed to up the minimum wage, but they needed to build a COLA into it. I stand by that today.

As for people not buying anything, part of it is quality has improved, too. Beyond that, maybe we need to go to a 35-hour work week, get Americans from CEOs through new high school grads to drop some of the materialism, and socially reinvent America. (But NOT in a wingnut/Xn right/tea party way!)

Beyond that, Leonhardt, Obama and others also need to be thinking about how to reinvent work, the workplace and similar issues. A good primer on that is right here, ranging from new ideas in post-cubicle workplaces to play in the office and on to job retraining.

July 18, 2011

Texas IS No. 1 - in minimum-wage jobs

Dave Mann of the Texas Observer, as part of a NYT op-ed roundtable about Rick Perry's alleged, but actually mythical, Svengali-like economic powers, notes that Texas leads the nation in minimum wage jobs. 550,000 now.

But Mann is too optimistic for Texas in general, in part. Our "mild climate"? Sure doesn't seem like it this year, and, assuming this is partially related to global warming, won't be in the future.

And, as Ruben Navarette knows, Perry is an asshole when you challenge him on things like this.