SocraticGadfly: 1/29/12 - 2/5/12

February 04, 2012

Color me skeptical on Romney win in Nevada

Everybody is talking about how big the win was for Romney, but getting only 42 percent of the vote in a state that trails only Utah and Idaho in percentage of Mormon population, especially given his years in neighboring Utah, and this was NOT a "big" victory. That said, a few other things show up:

1. The non-Mormon part of the Nevada GOP is pretty libertarian; the fact that Paul couldn't crack 20 percent shows (yes, Paul-tards) that he has a ceiling that's not all that high.

2. The fact that Gingrich got more than 25 percent in a four-person race with a dysfunctional state organization shows that Romney and the GOP establishment count him out at their peril.

The varieties of infinity, or why heaven won't work

I'm an avid nonfiction reader. So, especially at larger libraries, I just head to the new books display and grab what I want ...

While at the same time, knowing I can't read every book I want to.

That has an analogy to Western monotheisms' view of a perpetual, individual-soul afterlife. (Hinduism and some other religions besides the Judeo-Islamo-Christian tradition may fall here, too, but I'm focused on them.)

The analogy? Has roots in one Georg Cantor and the mathematics of infinity.

If you have any familiarity with this, you know there are different infinities of sets, such as
א-null, א-one and א-two. Well, picture your or my individual infinite life in heaven as א-null. Well, if the “set” of א-null is multiplied by itself, we get א-one, a different level of set-infinity. Arguably, even though the number of people in the Western version of heaven, with no procreation, will be finite, one could still say that all the works they will produce will be something like א-one to an individual person’s א-null.

So, heaven would be a sort of “bounded infinity,” and, aside from medieval Christian notions of the real greatness of heaven being to bask in the glory of god, we would see our individual infinities as essentially “bounded.” That, in turn, would be a sort of psychological pain.

Ron Paul tries to fudge on abortion

It sounds like the good doctor is perfectly OK with a "morning after injection" of estrogen for rape victims, while at the same time, with his "honest rape" comment, claiming many such women wanting to take him up on his pro-choice offer might lie about the reason why.

Hey, Paul-tards, your straight shooter is a panderer. Deal with it.

Shale gas - giant Ponzi scheme

The idea that the fracking-driven shale-based natural gas boom might be a giant Ponzi scheme surprises me not a bit. Having previously lived at the edge of the Barnett Shale in Dallas-Fort Worth, I have some degree of knowledge about exploration costs for shale gas, so I know it's often a marginal venture on dollars-and-cents right now, at least.

And, this is NOT the answer:
Federal and state lawmakers are considering drastically increasing subsidies for the natural gas business in the hope that it will provide low-cost energy for decades to come.
Yes, its cleaner, in terms of emissions, than coal. But, so are wind and solar, so let's give them more subsidies instead. They're cleaner than natural gas. And in the case of solar, at least, it's not that far from high population densities in the Desert Southwest and Texas.

And, there's the hypocrisy of hard-right Republicans in red states wanting to subsidize gas fracking in Wyoming and Texas, too.

And, that's not the only problem. Production estimates in many fields may have been overstated. That definitely appears true for the Barnett.

Then, there's the environmental issues. If most fields have a quick peak then quickly drop after that, there's a lot of "sunk" longer-term environmental costs for short-term gain, not even counting possible migration of fracking fluids.

CIA asshattery in censorship

I am currently reading Ali Soufan's "The Black Banners." To refresh the memory of some, or to inform others who don't know who he is, Soufan was the FBI's top Arabic-speaking agent, who was already on the trail of al-Qaeda's growth before the East African embassy bombings in 1998.

Well, the CIA felt "the need," as Soufan notes in the introduction, to redact/censor stuff that was already in the public record.

And, at times, this gets ridiculous.

In one chapter, describing the interrogation of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah, due to the details of the pages, we can tell just what the CIA insisted had to be blacked out. The first word in the chapter is "I," with Soufan talking about how he was packing a suitcase for a vacation when he was ordered off to Pakistan. Also censored are other individual words such as "we," "me," "my" and "us."

(Soufan is charitable in general in the book but has not a lot of good to say about the CIA.)

February 03, 2012

Neoliberal environmentalism - big bucks and cheapness

Or, the greatest example to date of how Gang Green enviromentalism's top dog, the Sierra Club, shows how a jokingly self-referential moniker from the start of the Clinton Administration well earns its deeper meeting.

So, Chesapeake, one of the biggies in natural gas fracking, was a biggie in funding Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign, eh? And, former executive director Carl Pope was fine with sucking up to Sierra execs? (What, no Clorox branding campaign?) And, kept a lot of Chesapeake giving to Sierra secret.

Fortunately, new executive director Michael Brune has put the kibosh on such money, though there's no word if he'll also kill the Clorox branding. But, I wouldn't hold my breath.

As the story notes, Brune is only talking about this decision 18 months after it happened. Plus, he's claiming the decision was Sierra's alone while Chesapeake says it was mutual.

Maybe it was mutual because Chesapeake knows it's part of a giant Ponzi scheme. (Having previously lived at the edge of the Barnett Shale in Dallas-Fort Worth, I have little doubt this is true,at least to a degree, from what I know about shale gas.)

So, while Brune, who came to Sierra from Rainforest Action Network, may be step up on Pope, how much of a step up, and how co-opted he has been, remains to be seen.

That said, with all this money, Sierra Club, even before the recession, was cheap. I know that because I applied for a job copy editing "Sierra," the club's magazine, back in 2005 or so. And, they were offering $33,000 a year for a job located in San Francisco. Really.

Then came the Clorox branding fiasco, the suspension of the charter for the Florida chapter for protesting that and other things, and more. Before that application, IIRC, came Sierra being asked if the tschotschke backpack it was peddling came from China, and Pope telling members "trust us, it's ethically made," but not saying more.

Sierra's got a long ways to go. David Brower is surely turning over in his grave.

#RickPerrysTexasMiracle: Texas regressive taxes

Turns out Texas is one of the most regressive states in the nation on the burden of its various state taxes. Surprised?

Did #Komen "cave"? Maybe not

Everybody is talking about how the Susan G. Komen Foundation "caved" to public pressure over cutting off grants to Planned Parenthood because they're  under federal investigation. But, if you read the fine print in this story, there may not be much "cave." Komen simply says no current grants will be terminated, and Planned Parenthood will remain eligible for future grants. There's no guarantee that Planned Parenthood's applications will get any sort of favorable review, though:
We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities. 

It is our hope and we believe it is time for everyone involved to pause, slow down and reflect on how grants can most effectively and directly be administered without controversies that hurt the cause of women. We urge everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country over the last few days to help us move past this issue. We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics - anyone's politics. 
What you have is a mix of boilerplate PR and a "STFU you agitators" comment inside a velvet glove. Don't be fooled. At all.

Komen's new pink handgun for breast cancer awareness is another reason to think its new, wingnut VP and leadership haven't "caved" on anything.

Good news for the economy

And for Obama. The unemployment rate has fallen again, to 8.3 percent, and new hiring exceeded expectations.

Not to be too Herbert Hoover-ish, but, expectations are an economic issue in and of themselves. And, therefore, news like this is doubly good. The "expectations" angle should improve more again, if only a bit.

And, as noted, it's good news for Obama. If the unemployment rate can drop another three-tenths of a percent by Labor Day, to 8.0, he will have "momentum" headed into the general election. And, with more people paying more taxes, the deficits will narrow.

February 02, 2012

Maybe the Rangers should have signed Fielder

The Texas Rangers focused their offseason free-agent moves on the fees and contracts for wunderkind pitcher Yu Darvish, rather than chasing either Albert Pujols, who scared the hell out of Rangers manager Ron Washington in the World Series, or Prince Fielder.

And now, Josh Hamilton has reportedly had another relapse with alcohol. And, per Fox, this was getting drunk, not just a "slip." Given that this is the second (known) such event in three years, plus his injury history, I can't see the Rangers giving him a major free-agent offer in a year.

So what will they do? If Nelson Cruz has injury problems again, all of a sudden, the division is the Angels' to win, not theirs to lose.

Don't get me wrong; Darvish has the potential to be a great pitcher. But, potential isn't reality, and especially in a hitter-friendly park, I think the Rangers would have been better off beefing up the batting order. And, with his glove, Pujols would have been the better addition. (Not to mention a marketing hit from last year's World Series and his Hispanic background.)

Speaking of, will the Rangers consider a trade for one of the Angels' glut of hitters now?

I'll pass on Hamilton saying God told him he would hit a home run in Game 6 of that World Series vs. god and addictive behavior.

Buckley: An honest biography

Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American ConservatismBuckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism by Carl T. Bogus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent overview of Buckley, and his particular flavor of conservativism, and how he was able to unite disparate wings of conservativism into one "movement."

Bogus has written for The Nation, among other things, but, from my POV, there's no liberal ax-grinding; Buckley is acknowledged for his successes, while still criticized for his flaws.

Besides the "political sociology" success of creating this modern movement, Bogus notes that Buckley himself was primarily a libertarian, but with social conservative leanings to, albeit of a religious nature. He was NOT, Bogus says, a Burkean, in his take on individualistic vs. collective strands in conservativism. Bogus says that Americans' "rugged individuality" probably has militated against a Burkean line of thought gaining too much steam in America. And, after Russell Kirk decided to pitch his tent under Buckley's Burkeans had no independent leader in the U.S. (And really still don't today.)

Buckley's biggest failing? That of Ron Paul today - race issues. I knew about mid-1950s National Review issues, which were bad enough to be called, if not racist, at least pandering to racists. But, as late as the late 1960s, Buckley was lamenting that too many blacks were in leadership positions in the fight against the Vietnam War, and claimed they were communist dupes, in part because they weren't smarter. THAT I did not know.

And, that was Buckley's second-biggest mistake - Vietnam. He never did admit he was wrong for backing that war to the bitter end. Bogus says that's because Buckley, beyond "evil empire" takes on monolithic communism, had no coherent foreign policy, nor did he attempt to make one.'

That, in turn reflects not a single mistake, but a larger failing. Bogus rightly calls Buckley not a deep thinker. (There are conservative deep thinkers, but, to riff on Bogus, they're not to be found at the main conservative opinion journals.)

Anyway, I don't want to give away too much about the book. Moderates, liberals, and even honest conservatives who don't worship at Buckley's altar will find plenty to like here.

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January 31, 2012

The varieties of Social Darwinism worth rejecting

This post starts with three main observations.

One is that Social Darwinism, whether under that name or not, has a long history in America.

The second is that, in general, this has been more a respected than a disrespected position in American social, political and even religious thought.

The third is that, along with increasing income inequality, a renewed focus on Social Darwinism started in Reagan's time.

That said, let's jump to the theme of the header.

I see modern American Social Darwinism falling into four main streams.

One of them is definitely rooted in its earliest days. The second, under somewhat different guises, is, too. The third goes back a century or so, longer than most people think, and has permutated since then. And the fourth is brand new, and will probably shock some people to be listed here.

More on all four, how and why each qualifies as Social Darwinistic, etc., below the fold.

Texas redistricting, DC track

Well, well, well. So far, the D.C. Court of Appeals is pretty skeptical of Texas' redistricting maps. Now, with this in mind, we have to turn our eyes back to San Antonio. To me, it sounds like plaintiffs have good reason NOT to sign off on a Feb. 6 settlement deadline if the D.C. Court is likely to make an unfavorable preclearance ruling just days after that.

Did God only talk to 1 of 2 pastors?

Did the message to 1 get garbled? Was only 1 listening?

I'm normally not like Gnu Atheists, taking cheap potshots at organized religion. But, per this interesting substory within last week's Florida traffic accident tragic pile-up, this is one time to partially set aside those rules.

For the omnipotent god of conservative Christians, of course, the only answer is that "god is inscrutable." Really? Well, as I have said before, then such a god causes psychological pain to his creatures, at least those who would like to believe in some higher order in the universe, but can't blindly accept "inscrutable."

And, contra Gnu Atheists, but contra stereotyped conservative Christian beliefs, there are people who at times wish such psychological comforts existed, but not on terms of blind faith. To use human parenting language, children have blind faith in a parent only to the point in their maturity in learning what non-blind levels of trust are, and are to be offered.

That said, non-literalist Christianity hasn't, for people in the pews, figured out a way beyond this, at least for thinking people in the pews who would still like some sort of "higher order." If this order, power, or divinity is less than omnipotent, while we might yearn for it/him/her to do something, how much can actually be expected?

In short, without endorsing ideas of "progress," in the modern social world, many people who are willing to think these things are at least 16 years old, psychologically. We're old enough to see that, if there is any "higher order," it may not be that much above our heads, and that alleged "answers" for these issues aren't, either.

But, many of us also aren't social Darwinist Gnu Atheists, either. We reject the idea that it's "weak" to feel the need for religious solace (or solace of support/comfort groups in general). And, yes, Gnu Atheists, "name it and claim it" New Agers, and success gospel Christians are all social Darwinists, or the psychological equivalents thereof.

Drought forces water trucking in Texas

Yes a community water well has fallen so low that its supplier the Lower Colorado River Authority, is having to truck water to Spicewood Beach. More interestingly yet, the unincorporated community of Spicewood Beach isn't out in the semidesert or desert of Far West Texas. It's in the Hill Country, less than 35 miles from Austin. And, as the LCRA name should indicate, it's near a decent-sized river.

How much this will parlay into ongoing drought in the state is unknown, as is how much of this is semi-natural variation in Texas (plus La Niña) and how much is related to anthropogenic change.

But, it should remind Texans that:
1. It's semi-insane to farm irrigated rice on a river that starts in a semidesert and runs through major metropolitan areas
2. The last serious drought in the state was when it had one-third the population it does now, at best, and less demand for water for industrial uses;
3. That, as with changing USDA planting maps, climate change is here in some way. How long it takes deniers to accept it is key; until then, to riff on a state slogan, "They're messing with Texas."

And, since La Niña is expected to stay around until at least mid-April, this isn't going away. Last week's rain primarily benefited the Red River and the southeast. All of the state west of I-35 is still hurting. And will continue to do so, it seems.

That said, contra James Hansen, from whom I find a lot of good, to put a blanket label of global warming over the current Texas drought is both unhelpful and not fully scientific. There's no reason La Niña can't be the primary cause, but one exacerbated by global warming. And, as for his claim it couldn't have occurred without global warming, I'm not absolutely saying he's wrong, but I am saying he has VERY little evidentiary basis for such a claim. As the link notes, La Niña was behind the state's 1950s drought.

Meanwhile, speaking of winger-type conservatives, State Sen. Troy Fraser has now sent a letter to LCRA asking questions that have been at least 50 percent answered.

January 30, 2012

The state of consciousness studies

Science News has two excellent articles on where we are at, part of a just-started ongoing series.

The first, by Tom Siegfried, follows in many of the footsteps of Douglas Hofstadter to talk about consciousness and self-referential systems. The title of "Self as Symbol" gives some hint of where he's headed. And, he says self-referentiality may actually deepen our eventual understanding of consciousness rather than acting as a barrier.

Laura Sanders looks at the neuroscience side of the coin, and what brain studies are telling us these days. Not too much of high specificity, but we're getting ideas on how to refine, and in some ways change, our searching.

Siegried, especially, complements the "mu" I have said to free will VERSUS determinism. In a self-referential loop, especially one as complex as consciousness, free will VERSUS determinism sounds way too linear.

Part of Newt's housing advice?

Turns out Freddie Mac is betting that many underwater homeowners will lose their homes, and that it started increasing securities trades toward this end in the middle of the recession, running counter to its mission to boost affordable housing AND the general needs of the economy. And, it's made refinancing almost impossible to get. Even if the trading division didn't get  work by the "main division" coordinated, it still smells to high heaven. And, so does the oversight that won't let even the president take much action.

January 29, 2012

Big Pharma really does kill

Blood Feud: The Man Who Blew the Whistle on One of the Deadliest Prescription Drugs EverBlood Feud: The Man Who Blew the Whistle on One of the Deadliest Prescription Drugs Ever by Kathleen Sharp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, the label of "Big Pharma" can be thrown around indiscriminately.

Then, a book like this suggests we need to use it even more.

There's an ugly world out there of drug company sales reps essentially bribing doctors, hospitals and clinics to use their brand of drugs. There's gimmes galore, and far beyond note pads or pens. Add in lines of credit, rebates, discounts, free initial supplies of drugs and more, and its sickening.

Then, the George Bush FDA decided to roll back most of the limited amount of regulation the agency had done before.

Sickening, and more. Ultimately, deadly, in the case of "epo," the drug at the center of this book.

It's within this background that Mark Duxbury gets trapped in a corporate web of pressure, eventually being forcibly extricated by firing after Ortho, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, decides to dump him on the curb because it didn't like his testimony in a sales territory legal hearing vis-a-vis Amgen. But, he wasn't fired until he'd undergone an extensive "gaslighting" campaign by his bosses.

Duxbury ultimately got legal standing for a whistle-blower suit against the "venerable" but not-worth-venerating J&J. But, it was too late.

Essentially a victim of PTSD, he died just months later, not yet 60 years old.

If this sounds like a novel, it's not.

That said, some of the "touches" in the book came off as too "featury." The author, or an editor, should have whacked down more. And, I would have liked to have heard more from Duxbury's early sales compadre at Ortho, Mark McClellan.

It's still a five-star book, though. Including five stars of Big Pharma disgust.

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