SocraticGadfly: 2/12/12 - 2/19/12

February 18, 2012

Consciousness is not the same as attentiveness

It's long been established that we have what could be called "subconscious attentiveness," which can cause things such as certain types of psychological priming through images being presented to people, but too quickly for them to be consciously aware of the images.

It now appears, in the latest in attempts to unravel human consciousness, that this cuts both ways.

But, the story doesn't go as far as it could, both on speculation and on Wittgenstein-like questions on our use of language on these issues.

Perhaps "consciousness," "attentiveness" and "awareness" need more precision in usage in such aspects. Or maybe they need to be redefined to some degree. Or replaced.

Whether language will be crafted to this end remains to be seen.

Dear #Occupy - #OWS still sounds a bit unrealistic

An Occupy Wall Street group called "The 99 Declaration" has its latest political manifesto up. (Link is to another website since the source website has no individual posts at this time.) Again, there's a lot of good ideas, many of which, of course, were around before OWS was. And there's some that are at least partially new to them, perhaps.

And then there's some that are a bit less realistic. Let's look at a few. (Links here are to the 99 Declaration's sublinks on this blog post.

1. No private benefits for public servants? Telling a federal employee, whether elected or appointed, he or she can never later work for a private entity related to one's period of federal employment would certainly be unconstitutional with appointed federal employees, let alone hired staff.
2. Term limits? It's arguable that corporate interests can actually more easily control legislatures that have term limits in place; you also lose institutional knowledge with term limits. The link only covers the federal level, but, nonetheless, it's dumb.
3. Emergency reform of public education says NOTHING about extending the school year  to 200 days or more, a major reason we fall further and further behind other countries. To me, any serious education reform MUST start with a longer school year; anything else is playing around the edges.
4. Replacing the Fed with a "public bank"? The Fed's not perfect, no. Neither is an entirely public central bank, which could become even more politicized. Look at the Bank of England's history, among other things.

As someone like Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer would say, there's still not necessarily a lot of depth of thinking to Occupiers.

Also, the second link in the top paragraph claims this:
Think Occupy Wall Street has dribbled to the oblivion of political history?  Think again.  It seems an offshoot of the OWS movement, The 99 Percent Working Group, Ltd., a non-profit, came up with the 99% Declaration and National General Assembly. They published a PETITION FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES and are organizing delegates, complete with voting rights, to ratify their platform.  Yup, a real specific platform and agenda.  They even bought a commercial. 
Big deal. None of the declaration items is new, nor more specific than before.

'The Swerve' swerves into the ditch

The Swerve: How the World Became ModernThe Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is OK overall, no more, and IS deserving of the criticism Greenblatt has gotten, for overstating his case and more.

Greenblatt's good part is explaining how Poggio came across the book, his general hunting for books, what it was like to be an early Renaissance non-clerical humanist and similar things.

The not so good is overstating his case, and getting some things wrong, incomplete or unexplained.

First, the inventors of atomic theory, Democritus and Leucippus were pre-Epicurean and even pre-Socratic. Greenblatt never mentions this. Nor does he mention that Greek philosophers in general were anti-empirical, and therefore antiscientific, as we know science today. (Indeed, one could argue that Archimedes and Eratosthenes were the only two real scientists the Hellenistic world produced.)

Ergo, especially if we start "modernity" with the Enlightenment and not the Renaissance, Epicureanism was not "how the world became modern." Not even close.

Second, he cherry-picks who was influenced by Lucretius, and how much, and how much influence they had. The late Renaissance world didn't see a flowering of Giordano Brunos.

In this way, the book reminds me of a Ph.D. these written by either an English lit or a psychology grad student, trying to find something semi-outrageous to "break through."

View all my reviews

Environmentalism makes strange bedfellows

Or outright hypocrisy, in the case of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and the aqueduct piping its water from Yosemite National Park to San Francisco. GOP Congressman Dan Lundgren, whose district borders the park, wants the Interior Department to check if San Francisco is doing enough to find other water resources, such as water recycling and rainwater connection.

Nancy Pelosi is leading the opposition to San Francisco actually having to do something.

And, this is why "limousine liberal" is sometimes a stereotype and sometimes not.

Think of RFK Jr. fighting the wind farm offshore of Cape Cod. Or other instances.

It's also a reason to support smaller, non-Gang Green environmental groups that aren't in bed with the Democratic Party. 

It's also why, even if Lundgren is trying to score political points, one should never right Democrats a "liberal blank check."

February 17, 2012

Where's our articulate prez on the safety net?

In his latest column, Paul Krugman asks why so many red-state voters are so fervently that way, even when it's against their economic self interest.

He first mentions Thomas Frank's idea, that they've been seduced by social conservativism talk. Second is taking social influences the other way, using this to explain why the rich in blue states are at least quasi-liberal, being repelled by that same social conservativism.

And, third is, well, denialism!

When 44 percent of those on Social Security, 43 percent on unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of Medicare users say "they've not used a government program," it's no wonder tea party-type wingnuts keep attacking the government.

Needed? Far beyond George Lakoff, an articulate president explaining these things. Allegedly, the country elected one. (Soft bigotry of low expectations strikes again, I guess.)

That said, it's not just Dear Leader. It was only the 2010 midterms that really brought this to the surface. On the other hand, that was nearly two years ago. And, where is Obama? Or other top Dems, for that matter?

#Yglesias prematurely mourns #Firefox death

Kiddie pool/inside DC über-blogger/news-lite reporter Matt Yglesias posted the chart above as part of a blog post mourning/lamenting the possible demise of Firefox.

Funny thing, though, I can easily deconstruct that chart, and his worries, at least in part.

First, let's give Firefox's more recent versions (hopefully with some new marketing) time to get some good PR  from general users, and from website and add-on developers. I think Mozeilla recognizes that versions 4 and 5 pretty much were teh suck.

Second, let's let Google's no-opt-out privacy policy sink in more; let's see if that reverses Chrome's upward trend. 

Third, let's let Google's no-opt-out hopefully put a dent in using Google for search, especially if FF nixes it as the default on future versions. Related to that, why wouldn't Microslob throw it a modicum of money to make Bing the default?

#NYTimes gives #Greens at least a bit of space

Dr. Jill Stein
The New York Times, on its "The Caucus" blog, is asking five questions, from time to time, of a variety of presidential candidates. Earlier this week, Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party's top candidate, got her turn.

When asked if Obama deserved credit for what he did on health care, or other accomplishments, she said:
Small time, sure. There are minor improvements. But on the other hand, he took single-payer off the table. ... And how about bringing Wall Street in, the guys who created the problem, among his first appointments. It was pretty clear right then that this was going to be business as usual on steroids.
Small time is about right. 

And, as for supporters of the bipartisan duopoly, who accuse people of me of "wasting votes," here's what she had to say on the differences between the parties;
You might look at one party as a rapidly sinking ship and say we’re going to vote for the other guy because the ship’s not going down so fast.We don’t like him but he’s not sinking the ship so fast. But the real question is, if both of those ships are heading for the bottom of the ocean, do you want to be on either of them? No.
Yep, that's the "Democrats right-or-wrong" comment I hear all the time.

And, note the the NYT: She's a medical doctor, so why isn't she called "Dr. Stein"?

February 16, 2012

Does Obama have 2012 locked up?

The Signal, Yahoo's under-the-radar political data-analysis blog, a lower-level comparison to Nate Silver's 58 blog at the New York Times, pretty much makes that claim.

Two of its writers claim that, as of right now, he would win 303 electoral votes. Now, in the sense that's tighter than in 2008, he's got nothing locked up.

But, in the sense the economy's still struggling, and could get better, while at the same time, whoever the eventual GOP nominee is has left a huge video trail to exploit, "locked up" might not overstate the case too much.

Here's a few major takeaways.
1. Florida ever so slightly tilts GOP this time, compared to 2008;
2. Virginia is still in Obama's camp, barely, and so is New Hampshire;
3. Just like the last three elections, Florida and Ohio will arguably be the biggest battlegrounds (Ohio tilts slightly Obama's way), followed by Virginia, Colorado and Missouri;
4. Suggesting Scott Brown was NOT a fluke, Massachusetts still polls less than 55 percent Obama. That's in part due to the Yahoo duo "plugging in" Romney as Obama's opponent.

And, that all said, Silver himself, while not making guesstimates on electoral votes, also likes Obama's chances.

This all said, if the economy doesn't get worse again, the 303 electoral votes sounds quite plausible.

Of course, if Obama's dumb enough to shoot himself in the economic foot by taking the Iran issue past current sanctions and thereby pushing gas past $4 a gallon ... 

HOF catcher Gary Carter dead at 57

Carter as an Expo, the only way his pic's here
Wow. When it was announced he had a brain tumor, it sounded, at least for public consumption, like the medical prognosis for Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter was good. And now, just nine months later, he's gone.

As a Cards' fan, I hated his smarmy N.Y. Mets ass. (Before that, when he was with the Expos, he could be smarmy all he wanted, and who cared? It was the Expos.)

But, in reality, if not on the first ballot, it shouldn't have taken six years for him to get in the HOF. Probably, being the first major-level catcher to come up in the NL after Johnny Bench didn't help. And, yes, he's deserving; he "saved" as many career fielding runs as Bench, holds the NL records for games caught and putouts by a catcher, and his career slugging percentage is the near equal of Carlton Fisk.

(That said, per a comment on High Heat Stats, most catchers had to wait at least a little bit. Bench is the ONLY catcher to be a first-ballot HOFer. Yogi Berra took two years, Mickey Cochrane 6, Campanella 7, and Bill Dickey 9, among others.)

And, as player reaction to the news last May made clear, he was genuinely liked, even beloved; it was more than smarminess there.

It was more than just smarminess, I think, or smarminess with the Mets, that made him off-putting to me back then. It was the golden-boy look, with the SoCal frizzed hair and such, even while I was a more conservative person 30 years ago, myself, that was part of the mix.

It also reminds me that tragedy, sometimes but not always self-inflicted, hung over that '86 Mets team. As did the issue of unfulfilled potential. I'm glad the Cards beat them out in both 1985 and 1987. But, really, that team should have won more than it did.

Ralph Hall's $257B lie

I agree that we should not cut NASA's budget more. But, Ralph Hall claiming that NASA has a $257 billion private sector multiplier? Hell, why doesn't he make the same claim for non-regulation of derivatives, waging of aggressive war, etc?

February 15, 2012

Identical twins aren't so identical, not even their brains

That's been known to be true for some time. Depending on when the single fertilized egg divided, identical twins can have separarate amniotic sacs, umbilical cords and placentas, the same sac, the same cord as well, or even the same placenta.

And now, we're learning that identical twins may not have entirely the same genetic makeup, not even in brain cells. (And, perhaps this is due to chimera issues, which got new light in late 2013?)  As a result, twin studies for illnesses, behavior, etc., may be called into a bit of question, and future twin studies more carefully controlled for subjects.

At the same time, the authors occasionally slip into quasi-teleological language while wondering why evolution "allows" this. Their proposed answer as to why this may happen is interesting, but could serve to have that language nuanced better. Also, even if you allow for the teleological/personifying language, that may not be the reason why this happens; maybe epigenetic events are at least partially involved, even with identicals. After all, they don't share 100 percent the same environment.

And, it may turn out that on a statistical average, such transposition isn't favorable or unfavorable, and that we're talking about a ramped-up genetic drift. Or maybe more modest transposition was more favorable, and now, the degree of favorability has lessened. From what little I know, genetic studies like this are kind of like studying individual frames, or at best, snippets, from a movie, when the backdrop for the movie may have been radically different at another point.

Update, May 2, 2021: Fascinating Smithsonian piece here. If you're familiar with what chimeras are, namely a human fetus that has absorbed another in the womb, the discovery that moms can become chimeras from their fetuses is ... fascinating.

Shove those Texas elections back further

It looks like an April primary election in Texas is officially dead. That, in turn, could mean that the state Republican and Democratic parties are on the hook for major hotel and convention center reservation bills, if they have to push back their original convention dates. That's not to mention the waste of state moneys with delayed primaries, etc.

A May primary date would be "less bad" than a June one, and just maybe would allow the state parties to hold conventions on schedule. On the other hand, a June one would mean a shorter general election.

Now, will Texas Dems push this money mismanagement issue in the general election? Oh, I forgot, the Democratic Party is nearly dormant in Texas at the statewide level, so there may not be a lot of protesting from state-level candidates.

At least state senate District 10 appears to have been settled. That means we are primarily looking at Congressional districts, then state House ones.

Why I'm no big fan of Think Progress

Corrected Feb. 15: I meant to refer to Think Progress, not Media Matters, in this whole story. (That said, while Alan Dershowitz becomes more neo-con all the time, MM may be iffy on wanting to do oppo research on Faux broadcasters.)

Via Memorandum, the Think Progress story I was blogging about was immediately below Dershowitz's rant about Media Matters talking about doing personality-based oppo research on Faux broadcasters, and I conflated the two. This post is now edited.

Think Progress is Democratic Party establishmentarian mixing a bit a celebrity politics and cherry-picking from the Green Party to make a cheap political point, which ignores real politics, shows that TP is ultimately just another Democratic Party shill, and, like the mainstream media it professes to sometimes despise, willing to play horse-race politics coverage.

So what if Roseanne Barr (who is on the Green Party presidential ballot) would pull 6 percent against Mitt Romney and Barack Obama? In the real Green Party world, she didn't even win 6 percent of the Green Party vote in the Greens' first primary, in Ohio.

And, Think Progress folks KNOW that this is just celebrity name recognition. If they know she couldn't pull 6 percent in the Green primary, then they're guilty as hell of setting up a straw man. If they DON'T know that, they're even more guilty of political ignorance in the name of focusing on the bipartisan duopoly.

Yes, they're riffing off a poll by Public Policy Polling, and it's just a blog post, not a full story. But, this Alyssa didn't have to go there. And, she certainly didn't have to "go there" without actually writing about the Green party. That's because the same arguments against including Barr, two paragraphs up, apply to PPP just as much as TP. Ditto, the condemnations of TP in the paragraph immediately above apply to PPP. When folks like this refuse to take politics outside the bipartisan duopoly seriously, I refuse to take them seriously.

Jill Stein, who won the Greens' Ohio primary with 90 percent of the vote, is nowhere mentioned in the poll.

But, the burden is more on Think Progress. It didn't have to have a silly blog post about this. It didn't have to play all these political games. But it did.

February 14, 2012

Chris Mooney hearts Sam Harris - yikes!

I think Chris Mooney has had some good research on statistical information about psychological differences, on average, between liberal and conservative thought processes, etc. But, I'd agree with both Massimo Pigliucci and even Jerry Coyne that, basically, Mooney is making a couple of mistakes as he goes further down this road.

The first is that he's committing Science Error 101: Conflating statistical and causal correlation.

The second is that he's leaning too hard on the "nature" side of nature vs. nurture, including not noting that, to the degree some of these psychological differences evolved, they did long, long before Aristotle said man was an animal of society, let alone one who formed political parties and alliances.

Lesser critiques are that he's relying on thin reeds of single studies, and that he presents stuff, then won't defend it, claiming he just threw it out there. Another thicker reed is that Mooney may be getting too wrapped up in the agenda of a liberal think tank -- in other words, he's "pulling a Chris Mooney," engaged in the same time of motivated reasoning he's pointed out in other individuals and groups; stay tuned on this one.

But, that's nothing compared to Mooney saying this:
I’ve been in vigorous debates with the “New Atheists” in the past; but frankly, researching The Republican Brain pushed me a lot further towards their camp than I had been before. They’re upset with religion; I’m highly critical of psychological conservatism; and there turn out to be big overlaps between the two. Indeed, conservative religiosity also appears to have a genetic component to it. Liberal religiosity strikes me as also being psychologically liberal, and therefore quite a different beast; but conservative or authoritarian religion reflects much of the rigidity (and denial of reality) of psychological conservatism.

In other words, I’d be surprised if the New Atheists–especially folks like Sam Harris, who have tried to figure out the neuroscience of the religious mind–weren’t in agreement on this one. More soon.
 Good fucking doorknob.

Fiorst, Harris' "research" has largely pushed the envelope of "scientism," as Massimo, for one, and me for another, both well know.

Second, many Gnus don't regularly distinguish between more liberal and more conservative versions of religion. (Example A: P.Z. Myers' twisting poll results to claim atheist were more sexually liberated from guilt than anybody, when Unitarians and Reform Jews actually topped them.)

Third, Gnus in general have never cracked a page of a book on psychology or sociology of religion. Ergo ...

Fourth, re religion and genetic influences, they make the same types of mistakes as Chris appears to be making on Point No. 2 above the pull quote.

Nice company, Chris.

Gayness probably isn't 100 percent genetic

From the fact that there's more male bisexuality in societies other than America to a long history of situational homosexuality, from Greek pederasty to American West "brokeback mountain" moments, it's clear that, while inclinations to a gay/lesbian orientation are primarily genetic (and, in gay males, also, likely to some degree "environmental," but womb-environment affected) this is NOT a 100 percent genetic issue.

And I am totally with Frank Bruni -- a "gay orthodoxy" that says a Cynthia Nixon simply can't choose to be a lesbian is very, very, very wrong, in a number of ways.

Gay rights advocates should instead, in my opinion celebrate choice as well as nature in this issue. After all, this is ultimately about freedom, isn't it?

Even professional philosophers, or one at least, has/have the same take. Buying into the "it's in my gay genes" comes close to fundamentalist Christian ideas about original sin. It also undercuts claims of having science on one's side, if the science shows that choice is involved to a degree on sexual preference, level of activity within sexual preference, etc.

It's not as bad as "green" types excoriating the GOP for being anti-climate science while they're antivaxxers themselves. But, it's going down that type of road, at least to a degree.

Equal opportunity political teh stupid

Your teh stupid of the day, also showing that Republicans have no monopoly on American exceptionalism/cheap patriotism. Surprised Rahm Emanuel didn't recruit this guy to run for Congress a few years ago.

February 13, 2012

Neolibs: Manufacturing doesn't matter

And, to think that Christina Romer was supposedly one of the real liberals among Obama's economic advisers. Then, she craps the bedsheet with dreck like this, saying, in essence, don't worry about manufacturing jobs; as long as we have FIRE and related high-dollar services, we're  fine.

Well, Ms. Romer ... more and more of that is being offshored, or else, in the case of law, done by computers. Think again. And, exporting architectural plans to China? Soon enough, China will either have more of its own architects, or else be stealing things like that.

Whazzup, #Tiger touters?

I agree with Fox's Robert Lusetich; It seems like Tiger Woods had stage fright at Pebble Beach yesterday. He's still scared of the flatstick when the heat is on, at the least. Compared to Phil Mickelson, the collapse was, as Lusetich also notes, as bad as Greg Norman vs. Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters.

And, speaking of ...

Which means that, at Augusta National, CBS will have to dig into tapes for Tiger memories again. Have fun, Jim Nantz.

I'm crying my heart out.

Will Obama stand by tax tough talk?

Right now, the president is saying a lot of the right things, such as increasing taxes on top-end dividends. (Well,  it's halfway right; when we start taxing all income as income, then, it will really be right.)

Anyway, the proof will be in the pudding ... will we have a summer backtrack/compromise, or something after the election, win lose or draw? Assuming that the author of "Obama on the Couch" (recently reviewed here) is right, Obama isn't a confrontationalist in general, so backtrack is a definite possibility.

Election-year fundraising, as well as shoring up of voter support, will also be a factor.

February 12, 2012

The conscience of a budding American socialist

Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family--a Test of Will and Faith in World War IConscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family--a Test of Will and Faith in World War I by Louisa Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting story about the upbringing of perennial Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas and his three brothers, written by Norman's great-granddaughter. The four all went to Princeton when Woodrow Wilson was president, but split over Wilson's push for WWI. Norman saw that Wilson's own actions would lead toward crushing of dissent and likely not make the world that safe for democracy. Evan, a true idealist, became a conscientious objector, even going on a hunger strike. Arthur immediately signed up and became an officer, getting wounded. And Ryan, who muddled the most at Princeton, muddled in his angle on the war before enlisting.

It was good but not quite great, in that the book didn't seem to have enough "frisson."

View all my reviews

Is the Chinese building bubble bursting?

It gives every appearance of that. China's economic boom has largely been based on a construction surge every bit as bubbly as the U.S. housing bubble of the previous decade. So, if only one month's figures, a notable cutback on construction activity is cause for concern indeed.

And, because of globalization, for better and often for worse, things like this don't stay in Beijing.

A tea-party type hypocrite for you

Says he doesn't need government help, but, he has his hand out for plenty of it. Mr. Gulbranson applies for the earned income tax credit every year, and free school lunches for his kids. And, although the story doesn't mention it, he probably doesn't think there's too much income inequality in the U.S., either.

Worst part? At the end of the story, he says he feels sorry for his kids, with the implication that it's because of the "other" type freeloaders (ie, black/Mexican chiselers) ruining the country.

I feel sorry for his kids too, for getting indoctrinated by someone like him who believes in American exceptionalism, believes the trickle-down lies of the GOP, believes the "socialism" lies told about an almost conservative Democratic president who has the backbone of a chocolate eclair, and who is working to enshrine sentiment like this in a majority of Americans.

I feel sorry for his kids if Mr. Gulbranson comes even close to success in brainwashing his kids into adulthood. I feel sorry for his kids that their dad is so guilt-tripped over all the brainwashing he's already bought into. I feel sorry for kids being raised in such a milieu in general.

And, I feel sorry for the kids of all such parents who believe that any protest against such a guilt tripping system is "class warfare."

Two more takeaways, from linked stories.

1. A lot of the Gulbransons of the world live in red states.

2. Much of these program is, indeed, going to the middle class, not the poor.

Meanwhile, Toby Mcguire tries to claim Dems/liberals are hypocrites on the issue because Social Security and Medicare are earned benefits, not a safety not.

WRONG, el doofus. An "earned benefit" can still be one that was created as part of a safety net.