February 24, 2012

The Quitter with a Twitter™wanted to quit early

First, is this news surprising? Of course not. And, she brought this all on herself. If she had been more ethical in the first place, she would not have faced all the freedom of information requests. Ditto on "not being able to afford this job."

And, turns out her marriage allegedly was in trouble for years, despite her denials. And, yes, if you're running on issues of marital and sexual purity, it's a legitimate political issue.

February 23, 2012

Not needed: another car-fuel mandate

Yet, the NYT lets Tom Ridge and Mary Peters shill for a natural-gas front industry, wanting to expand the goverment's flex-fuel requirement for gasoline/ethanol cars to include methanol from natural gas.

Beyond the boondoggle that ethanol already has, beyond the possible Ponzi scheme of a fair amount of current shale gas production (which is why the Ridge/Peters backers want this expanded flex fuel requirement) we also have them ignoring other actual or potential problems with methanol except its lower energy output, which would be impossible to hide.

New NIE: Iran still not building a nuke; what about Dear Leader?

This news won't shut up Likud and further right in Israael, nor the neocons/Amen corner in the U.S. The big question is, will it give Dear Leader more backbone to not increase the already-ridiculous covert activity against Iran?

Answer: Not likely. More by far than Bill Clinton, Obama is our first, not neolib president, but first true techie president. Given that covert ops are now, more and more, stuff like drones, liberal fears that these toys would make war more appealing, like video war games, are coming home to roost.

Watch how Team Obama spins this story in coming days. Once again, you'll think you're listening to BushCo.

February 22, 2012

#SciAm - another ethics fail

A little over a year ago, Scientific American had a big puff piece special section on electric cars. The "featured" car was the Chevy Volt, which GM itself has admitted is a hybrid, not a true electric. All ads in the section? From GM. I got in a big back-and-forth with SciAm's blogging editor, who never could see the ethical issues.

Now? A multipart series on yeast, alcohol and human cultural development that looks like it could have been sponsored by the liquor industry. One segment claimed humans domesticated grains with the primary purpose of fermenting them.

Then, the last one had this laugher: That a paleolithic cave, alongside pictures of mammoth, bison, etc., had one of yeast! How could a cave have a painting of a microscopic species millennia before the microscope was invented?

As a friend of mine said, if you substituted "shitfaced" for "exhausted" in the headline, it would be about right.

In fact, I went back there later, just to check to see if it had any liquor industry ads on the pages.

SciAm blog editor Bora Zivkovic called me curmudgeonly when I commented on Google Plus. I said I wasn't the only person to publicly question the "grains domesticated for alcohol" thesis in earlier posts in the series.

Add to this, not an ethical issue, on the surface, thought it could turn out to be. It is, though, so elementary of an error of fact it leaves open the question as to whether or not this was deliberate.

Another new SciAm blog talked about how social capital and human capital trump money when it comes to national happiness. While Costa Rica isn't rich, the story cheated by looking at the *total* GDP of a small country, rather than the per-capita GDP. Elementary error. Why? Why? (Going by purchasing power parity, according to three different standards, Zimbabwe, Liberia and D.R. Congo are third-lowest in per capita GDP; I don't doubt that none of them rank high on happiness. Costa Rica ranks at the 40th percentile from the top.)

I mean, per total countries, ranking around No. 70 is FAR better than ranking around No. 180 in per capital GDP.

Obama tacks right on corporate taxes?

What else can you say about an allegedly revenue-neutral plan that could allow some big companies to cut taxes? It could be worse than it is, I suppose, but, it is clear that he still has an eye on centrism and compromise.

February 21, 2012

Ichiro at No. 3?

Tis a new day not in Mudville, but in the lineup of the Seattle Mariners. Manager Eric Wedge says that career lead-off hitter Ichiro will move down to No. 3 in the lineup.

Ichiro is rumored to have more power than he has shown at lead-off, and he is slowing down a touch in the field. Will he unveil a bat that, if not 25 HRs, belts at least 15? I find it interesting, but would only have dropped him to No. 2. Of course, Wedge may think that Ichiro would still think too much like a lead-off hitter in the 2 hole. 

Question No. 2: Is Ichiro really open to this, or is he just saying what he thinks he should say for public consumption?

Question No. 3: Couldn't Wedge do better than Chone Figgins at the top of the lineup instead of Ichiro?

Not that the M's are likely to make the postseason anyway, but still.

Will #SCOTUS gut affirmative action?

The state of Texas' "top 10 rule," whereby the top 10 percent of graduates at any public high school automatically qualify for admission to state universities, and the state uses race as a guideline, but nowhere near the main one, and was sued against by a white student, will go before the Supreme Court.

Before Fisher, the last big affirmative action case like this was Grutter in 2003. The state says it's following the guidelines the Court, carefully controlled on this decision by Sandra Day O'Connor, wrote then. But, the court's changed a LOT in this area of the law. Samuel Alito is far more conservative than O'Connor. And John Roberts is arguably a few degrees further right than William Rehnquist as Chief.

I think the Obama White House is right to be worried. Especially if this gets the political backdrop of the Court hearing arguments in October, just before the election.

UT says it's not worried, but I think it should be. What do legislative Democrats like Royce West who sponsored the top-10 measure think?

I think there's no doubt the Court will "modify" the affirming of the ruling by the appellate court, even though the Fifth Circuit is itself highly conservative. The question is, will the "modify" be a trim, a cut, a slash, a whack or even worse?

I predict something around a "cut" on paper, but one that winds up being closer to a "slash" in reality. Of course, the state could go to a class-based affirmative action, but, the very pro-business SCOTUS probably wouldn't buy that, either.

February 20, 2012

Ends, means, justifications, #Heartland

Word is out that climate scientist Peter Gleick used subterfuge to get at least some of the damning emails about Heartland Institute's "BIg Tobacco" playbook to fund climate denialism in schools, etc.

Not saying it does in this case, but this does raise the old philosophical issue of "do the ends justify the mean?" But because of, in party politics, Repubs and Dems' different approaches to the issue, this becomes an IOKIYAR issue, at bottom line.

And, therefore, I'm  not saying that the ends DON'T justify the means, either. Not right now. And, even if he wasn't totally ethical, this only leaves his career in tatters if everybody wants to believe that i does.

Or, too look at it anyther way, the ends vs. means issue is, like so many other things, a vector, or a scale, not two polarities.

But, per Rosen/Shirky/Jarvis, we're all "citizen journalists." Snark at the three of them aside, and given that no "actual journalists" had tried something like this ... just where does this stand on the ethics scale of violations? Petty misdemeanor? Grand misdemeanor? Fourth-degree felony? (I don't know that I would put it any higher than that; if your state has more than four degrees of felonies, put it at fifth-degree, maybe.)

Per Zhou Enlai, from a utilitarian perspective, of course, it's too soon to tell. From a "virtue ethics" point of view, though, which is kind of where I'm coming from, maybe a fourth-degree felony, but no, no higher than that.

I'm thinking of an episode of the original Star Trek, where an "Abraham Lincoln" was created out of Kirk's mind, as part of an alien civilization trying to determine "the difference between good and evil."

And Lincoln told Kirk that, in fighting the four psychopaths or whatever on the other side, that one had to fight fire with fire, and even occasionally add a little gasoline to the fire.

"Bad astronomer" Phil Plait agrees that Gleick is not necessarily wrong in what he did or how he did it. That said, I'm curious as to why Gleick outed himself; that alone, if he did it for ethical reasons, certainly counters Andrew Revkin, who seems to be the leading "panicker" on this issue among enviros.

Contra Revkin, environmentalists and climate scientists should NOT go into an “apologetic shell” right now. No way. No how.

And here's why:

Per a link at Watt's Up:
Peter Gleick, a prominent figure in the global warming movement, confessed to stealing electronic documents ... 
Nooo, he never confessed to *stealing* anything. 

Let's also remember, per this letter from PEER to Heartland (PDF) that Heartland, et al, continue to post emails that WERE stolen, not just gotten under a pseudonym but by legitimate channels. Reason No. 2 that we should all be at least as tough-minded as PEER.

CAFO vs. test tubes

Even as a spokesperson for concentrated animal feedlot operations, Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst, bitches over McDonald's wanting slightly happy pigs, his industry has a much bigger problem -- exploding hog shit.

Meanwhile, it's beef, not bacon, but British scientists are ready to serve test-tube meat to the public this fall. Mmm, beefy!

Jokes aside, and Europeans' and some Americans' worry about Frankenfoods aside, if more and more people in the world want meat, or a facsimile  of it, things like this are the way we have to go. Not to mention reducing farm animal methane of global warming concerns.

We have to adequately regulate this, which is where Europe is ahead, of course. And, in both Europe and the U.S. this removes one more reason to keep subsidizing CAFOs.

CAFO craps on the NYT op-ed page

The president of Missouri Farm Bureau claims that McDonald's planned mild requests in changes in farming practice from its pork suppliers will be the ruin of modern farming. Among the lies is predicting a catastrophic rise in bacon costs. Rather, the difference will be just a few pennies a pound. And both he and Chipotle know that.

Unfortunately, McDonald's push does nothing to address the air/odor pollution from factory farms and many other things. That's because while "happy pigs" may look cuter in an animation, nobody puts "happy neighbors" from cleaner CAFOs in cartoons.

February 19, 2012

4 strands of biology, sociology, economics, philosophy connect

The four strands? Competitiveness in general, capitalism, Pop Evolutionary Psychology and social Darwinism.

Regular readers know that I’ve recently written about No. 4, including listing one candidate most wouldn’t put there. I’ve regularly written about Pop Ev Psych and its largely unscientific, occasionally pseudoscientific claims; I’ve been wary of it even when less liberal than I am now, so this is not driven by political issues.

I am that liberal, though … left-liberal of a sort for America, at least. So, in various ways, I’ve definitely written about No. 2, capitalism?

No. 1, competitiveness, somewhat ties all the others together.

Evolution by natural selection does involve a degree of competitiveness, to be sure. However, that competitiveness is usually against members of other species, more than members of one’s own species. To the degree there is intraspecific competition, it’s often sexual selection that’s the driver. That said, at the same time, group selection can be a driver for collaboration with other members of the same species.

So, that’s biology. Pop Ev Psych is sociology, primarily in what it says about its adherents. Ditto for social Darwinism (the fourth modern variety of social Darwinism, New Atheism, has many libertarian adherents, and yes, adherents is the right word). Capitalism is obviously a matter of economics.

Philosophy? Trying to extrapolate from the biological basis of and need for competitiveness to the other three gets us to Davie Hume’s famous is-ought distinction. (It’s worth noting that, in my opinion, many people who claim that Hume’s comments on this are misconstrued, misinterpreted, wrongly implied, etc., have personal reasons for stating this; see ox, whose and goring.)

Just because we have to fight to escape a lion (or per the old joke, run faster than a companion also seeking to escape it) doesn’t mean that Wall Street plutocracy, Pop Ev Psych “just so” stories and the beliefs behind them, or the social Darwinism of either New Atheism or old-time religion has to be that way.

Because it doesn’t.

And, this is part of why the American education system is problematic, and not just K-12 education.

I don’t think I am overstating matters when I say 90 percent of Americans are unfamiliar with Hume’s is-ought distinction. And that’s sad. Hume is one of the most “approachable,” largely non-technical, philosophers in modern, or even modern plus ancient, philosophical history.

Friedman shills for 1970s GOP again, still, yet

Teapot Tommy, My Head is Flat, Tom Friedman continues to beat the drums for what could be little other than the 1970s GOP, if he wants a party halfway between today's GOP, which Paul Krugman rightly noted has the most conservative Congress since 1879, and today's centrist Democratic Party.

If that's what you want, fine. At least be honest about it, and be self-honest about how unlikely it is to happen, or to solve anything if it did.

Be honest about other things, too, including how Obama, at least, HAS put entitlements on the table, which is exactly one thing that scares real liberals about today's Democratic party.

Of course, Tom Friedman stumbles upon intellectual honesty like the proverbial stopped clock.

#Krugman was WAY too kind to Charles Murray

Coming Apart: The State Of White America, 1960-2010Coming Apart: The State Of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

"Coming Apart" is quite possibly more mendacious than "The Bell Curve." It's certainly more hypocritical, and given that Murray's whole thesis is ultimately a screed against the  Great Society more spiteful.

In this long review, I'm going to list in exquisite detail all the problems it has, which lead me to note that Paul Krugman, in an oped column about the book, was far, far too nice. (I blogged about his and Nick Kristof's columns on this book here.

The single biggest statistical/demographic/historical problem with “Coming Apart” is that the lesser income inequality and narrow class differential of the middle third of the 20th century is something that Charles Murray, with little evidence, assumes is the American norm.

Rather, in reality, large chunks of American history have shown as much if not more class differentiation than today, albeit without a specific knowledge (or alleged knowledge) caste at the top. And, yes, in other periods in history, classes were able to separate themselves, and were not confined to a “Northeastern establishment.” Coastal planters vs. Tidewater and further inland was a staple of the slave-era South. Being able to live further away from work due to ownership of horses or even a coach also allowed for separation.

Ergo, Murray’s relatively narrow slicing of American history is either ignorant or mendacious. Given an almost visceral dislike he has for European social democracy and its paler U.S. cousin that culminated in the Great Society, one must say that mendaciousness is the likely candidate.
In fact, that leads to another lie. Murray claims he’s not primarily discussing the “whys” of this allegedly new class divide. But, in reality, America’s Great Society “wrong turn” lies behind his starting date for all his comparisons and more.

All other errors, misconstruings of fact and misstatements in this book flow from that.

1.    Murray goes wrong from his prologue, claiming illegal drugs were rare in 1963, among other laughers. Heroin was starting to gain underground popularity by then, marijuana never went away, and cocaine never totally did, either. This also shows the problem with arbitrary timelines, something that plagues this book in general. If we want to go pre-1914 and various criminalization laws, of course, cocaine was all over the place among the well-to-do white upper class, which in turn feared blacks’ alleged increased use of pot, etc. Cocaine itself was prescribed by Freud, among others, as treatment for morphine addiction., But, because Murray uses the day before Kennedy’s assassination (and the day before LBJ could be in office to start that evil, individualism-sapping Great Society), you won’t hear about illegitimacy in the 19th century. You won’t hear about the Gilded Age. You won’t hear about a lot of other sociological American history. (One of the few things about which Murray is right is also in the prologue, namely that Camelot was largely a myth and that JFK never would have pushed for a Great Society.)
2.    It’s arguable that the separation of America into upper and lower classes with largely different values, contra Murray, is nothing new. He likes to cite things like rising illegitimacy rates, but again, what about pre-New Deal days, or certainly, pre-Progressive days? (We know from Britain that in Victorian Scotland, 1 in 3 brides was pregnant at her wedding. I don’t know, the story I saw that didn’t say, how many women had their first child, at least, out of wedlock back then.) The point is, Murray’s careful slicing dates give the impression that mid-20th century America was the norm, rather than, quite possibly, an exception of sort, as far as divisions by economic class, social class, and more. (This is certainly true of religiosity; the mid-20th century’s high point is a definite anomaly compared to much of the 19th century.)
3.    In his take on the modern “elite,” Murray claims that the rich of the 1950s likely ate much the same types of food as the rest of America. The Kennedy White House puts a partial lie to that.
4.    In looking at the new upper class and elite colleges, Murray ignores the “legacies” effect of Ivy League and near-Ivy schools. There isn’t a tremendous amount of information to support his claim that elite schools have, in recent years, engaged in major talent segregation vs. lesser ones. Rather, and contra claims he makes against liberals elsewhere, the combination of legacies and the effects for random chance in a population more than 50 percent greater than in 1960 must be taken into consideration.
5.    On marriage being upheld more in the early U.S. than in Europe, Murray again glides over something that should, from the Bell Curve if nothing else, star him in the face – the number of Southern planters having “affairs” with slave women, and even the occasional planter’s wife doing that with a male slave. In many ways, on how early Europeans viewed early Americans, in fact, one wonders whether Europeans, in something similar to poll bias today, weren’t in fact reporting what they thought their fellow Europeans wanted to hear.
6.    His claim that lower crime rates mean nothing, and that, since in part they’re due to high incarceration rates, that means we actually have higher criminality levels among whites, is tendentious at best and mendacious at worst. This ignores that much of the incarcaration is for drugs, which Murray, a professed libertarian (I love staunchly religious people who nonetheless claim to be libertarians) should well know. Also, he knows well that many of those drug-related incarcerations are of minorities, and therefore, the argument about incarceration meaning higher criminality is more tendentious yet in a book focusing on white America.
7.    Second, his statement that it’s hard to believe more Americans are on disability today than in 1960. First, a graying population alone explains it. So too does the fact that while manufacturing as a percentage of jobs has declined, a smaller percentage of manufacturing jobs are unionized than 50 years ago and that federal safety enforcement started declining in the 1980s. Finally, Murray ignores the great rise in depression and lesser rises in other mental health problems, some severe enough to indeed qualify people for federal disability filing.
8.    His lamenting of lower-class whites not taking more involvement in social programs like PTA ignores issues like the possibility of them working more than 40 hours a week, working split shifts or other “non-traditional schedules,” working two jobs, etc.
9.    Yet more cherry-picking – Murray talks about how presidential election voting declined 22 points from 1960 to 1996, and STOPS THERE! (He also ignores the high turnout of 1960.) We know it went up again after that.  In fairness, he stops other data on changes in communitarian participation in the mid-1990s, but that fairness is just a thimbleful – it’s possible that he did that to cherry-pick a lot. He does go to 2008 in a later graph, which also looks at income disparities in voting, but again, presents no “whys.” For a political scientist, this is again, mendacious, or cherry-picking, or, for someone who worked with a professional statistician on The Bell Curve, simple laziness.
10.    He does little to discuss the role of the rise of the Net in “online communitarianism.” He offers little explanation of the “why” of these changes, otherwise. In many cases, most likely, though, these declines are in part due to what I note in point 3, above. If you’re working extra hours, multiple jobs, or whatever, you can’t be so involved. Murray also ignores that, whether many Americans are truly conscious of what it means to live in a nation of 310 million people today vs. less than 200 million in 1960,  and maybe have gotten less involved either because they feel their voice gets less hearing in a bigger population or because “somebody else will do it.” These stats are also mendacious in a book about growing white class divisions because Murray presents them by all races/ethnic groups, ignoring the likelihood in this case that Hispanic immigration, especially of the illegal kind, has an influence on the numbers.
11.    His chapter on happiness is flawed from the start since it has “faith” as one of its four domains of happiness. Arguably, the “vocation” domain relies in part on the “Protestant work ethic,” and on naïve views about how easy it is to find FULFILLING work. He does claim this can include “avocations” or “causes,” but that’s lame. I could say that “ideals” should be a fifth domain, and included avocations, causes, and other things, too. This chapter also ignores the psychological and philosophical fact that some people are more introspective, internally motivated, etc. Besides that, we will always have less desirable jobs. There will never be a Lake Wobegon of the American labor market, where all the jobs are above average. And, it’s not just Europeans who think we work too much; so do Japanese, Australians and others. American “industriousness” could rather be seen as a a fault, or even worse – a symptom of psychological neurosis, of a people culturally unable to relax.
12.    And, two chapters later, when comparing America’s past, present and future to “the European option,” it seems clear that Murray deliberately stacked the deck on how one can achieve happiness. As a libertarian, he hates social democracy. As a libertarian who’s also religious, he hates the fact that many countries of western Europe have higher happiness levels than the U.S. HATE is not too strong of a word, here, since there’s plenty of sociological statistics to undercut Murray, hate is a driver. His claim that European social democracy restricts human freedom is, overall, laughable. Rather, it’s arguable that many aspects of social democracy, such as extended family leave time, are liberating and that they might even encourage some of the communitarianism whose American decline Murray regrets. Even more laughably, in the next breath, Murray exalts the general rise in fortunes of African-Americans and women while ignoring that this happened through massive government intervention.
13.    Related to the two points immediately above, Murray has a simplistic understanding of religion, and certainly of its development. He has zero “informing” from sociologists of religion or psychologists of religion. A Scott Atran would rip his ideas to little shreds.
14.    Murray claims that, at one time, using Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story as an example, that all American social classes adhered to the same moral codes. Outside of ignoring Jim Crow, etc., this too is laughable. Robber barons and the organized theft, no robbery, of company towns, payment in script rather than money, etc., are just two of many counterexamples.
15.    Related to that, his scolding of today’s upper class for the unseemingly gaucherie of how they parade their wealth ostentatiously? Again, nothing new. Happened in the Gilded Age and later. Murray ignores that the massive government intervention of a federal income tax, making it stronger during WWII, and the start of a true social safety net during the Depression were part of what reined in previous such gaucherie.
16.    Finally, he ignores that his libertarian capitalism is what produces the problems of the two points above, plus other unseeminglyness like massive CEO pay.
17.    Related to that, on the issue of business ethics, he cites the fact of fewer IRS tax fraud actions against businesses. However, this ignores the IRS’s declining audit rate in recent years, especially against businesses and upper-income individuals.
18.    In this chapter on “alternative futures,” he chides opponents of his point of view on some issues for not being able to prove a negative. We all know the response to that in formal logic, at least. And, in excoriating “old Europe,” he ignores that both government and business leaders of old Europe excoriate not only huge CEO pay, but the perceived over-abundance of managers in U.S. businesses. Actually, in a number of ways, in a quasi-Jeffersonianism updated for the 20th century, “old Europe” meets some American ideals from the past in some ways better than America does.
19.    His claims about American exceptionalism ignores the “whys” of it, as well as fatuously claiming Americans have never had “class envy.”

In sum, then, this book, as it progresses, demonstrates again that Charles Murray is not only a liar but also a hypocrite.

It’s also interesting to see how many libertarian types simply can’t bring themselves to openly condemn the New Deal, because of the third rail of Social Security, even though unemployment benefits also stem from then.

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