SocraticGadfly: 8/5/12 - 8/12/12

August 09, 2012

#Reid - #Romney: #PolitiFact whiffs with 'Pants on Fire'

Between deliberately slapping ESPN in the face at times just to prove it's a good contract/consultant ombudsman, between financially affiliated St. Petersburg Times getting ready to call itself the Tampa ("Bay, if you will") Times while the Tampa Tribune still publishes, and other things, I'm beyond skeptical to cynical about both the paper and the media institute.

The latest? Its/their PolitiFact have awarded the claim that the GOP wants to kill Medicare the lie of the year, then said that the raft of objections to that award is all just from liberals being in an echo chamber.

Oh, technically, the GOP doesn't want to directly kill Medicare. But, privatization of it? Everybody with a brain knows that is exactly what will happen.

Basically, PolitiFact descends into he said/she said journalism:
We stand by our story and our conclusion that the claim was the most significant falsehood of 2011. We made no judgments on the merits of the Ryan plan; we just said that the characterization by the Democrats was false.
That's exactly the problem: Politifact made no judgment on the merits of the Ryan plan. Krugman's right: RIP PolitiFact. And, as far as I am concerned, everything else in the Poynter/St. Pete Times stable.

Update, Aug. 8: If there is any truth to this, Markos Moulitsas (Kos) may well be on the right track, that Jon Huntsman Sr., father of the GOP presidential candidate and former Utah gov, is Reid's source. It's an inter-Mormon connectedness source (and an inter-Mormon grudge — don't forget how Huntsman Jr. felt about Romney) who has place, time, connections, more.

August 08, 2012

A brief overview of modern presidential lying

As the 2012 presidential campaign continues to deterioriate, I got to thinking about recent presidential lying and lying styles. Here's a few thoughts:

It’s arguable that the history of modern presidential lying begins with Jack Kennedy.

(For the purposes of this blog post, I’m ignoring Eisenhower’s “reasons of state” lies to Khrushchev about who ordered the fateful U2 flight of Francis Gary Powers.)

Kennedy lied for reasons of politics about his health, above all.

LBJ’s staff, during the Democratic race, had some inkling of his health problems, though it’s not clear they knew he had Addison’s disease.

Now, his affairs? That was more a conspiracy of silence by the few in the media (and the government, like J. Edgar Hoover, or pre-Veep nomination LBJ) who had any idea of how bad they were. Here, it’s more hypothetical, but the fact that he ditched the nuclear command codes “football” on at least one occasion assures me he would have lied if necessary, if confronted.

Two of his affairs were of particular concern: Ellen Rometsch and Judith Exner.

Rometsch was allegedly an East German spy; Jack left himself exposed, pun intended, to blackmail. Exner, of course, was a Mafia moll; while I don’t believe conspiracy theories about his assassination, he nonetheless made himself more of a possible Mob target because of this, or the Mob in combination with right-wing Cuban exiles. Short of assassination conspiracies, he was open to blackmail on this affair, too. And, such blackmail, in both cases, likely would involve forcing the president into certain executive actions, not seeking money.

Addison’s? The public had a right to know that it was voting for a man who might be incapacitated by the end of his (first) term. Not necessarily permanently incapacitated, but on an irregular basis, and before the passage of the 25th Amendment.

LBJ? Lied for his own version of reasons of state, which carried much less water than Ike’s.

I have no idea if Jack Kennedy would have kept troop levels steady in a second term, increased them, or tried to pull out, but I highly doubt the third option. I don’t know if he would have exploited the Gulf of Tonkin incident like Johnson, but it’s possible.

That said, we know that Johnson did. And, as the head of the rotting fish, he let pass and signed off on multitudinous lies about Vietnam by people in his charge.

David Halberstam notes he personified the war as a mano-a-mano contest with Ho Chi Minh. So the lies were on the line of macho brags. That makes it all the worse.

Richard Nixon? Lied from paranoia, couple with the brief that he deserved the same level of lying as his predecessors. (Sidebar: It’s too bad LBJ decided to let Nam chase him out of seeking renomination — the paranoia squared of him and Nixon would have been a Greek tragedy run through the filter of Marxian farce.

There’s no need to list further all his lies, but we should note they went far beyond Watergate, including his manifold campaign finance lies.

Jerry Ford? An honest, partisan (for that day) hack as House Minority Leader. That’s why Nixon nominated him as Veep, along with being almost as cynical about Ford’s brains as was LBJ. Nixon, from what I’ve read, honestly hoped that Ford as Veep would block impeachment moves.

Well, Ford started as a relatively guileless president. Did he believe that his pardon of Nixon would start a great national healing, or was he lying about that? The “no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe,” after the presidential debate, was stubbornness, not a lie.

Jimmy Carter? He lied, like he lusted, in his heart. In public, he wasn’t really a liar, as much as he was a literalistic truth-teller while shaving corners. Jesuitical, to use an old term.

Below the fold — more modernistic presidential liars and styles.

It's official — hottest month ever in US

Despite much of the Pacific, especially the Northwest, not being that hot, July shattered the old record, held by July 1934 in the height of the Dust Bowl, as the hottest month in US history. And, the drought expanded to 63 percent of the country.

Now, it's arguable how much of this is directly attributable to global warming, as is how much more likely global warming made something like this.

But, to claim that global warming had zero effect on either the actual temperatures or the likelihood? That simply doesn't fly.

Not even if you're Jim Inhofe, and you claim that humans can't be causing this, because it's in god's control.

Not even if you make ludicrous claims about this all being out our hands. And, the the hardest-core religious right among them, if you don't want to blame your part in AGW, don't blame the "sins" of gays or whatever. First, there's plenty of gays (albeit worriedly anonymous) in rural Oklohoma. Second, as the divorce rate is higher in the Bible Belt than elsewhere, you've got other sins to worry about, including what often causes divorce, and that's especially when you drive a county away from your dry county for the nearest liquor store.

Don't know if he's a booze hypocrite or not, but Inhofe is one of those religious righters, otherwise. From that same top link:
While promoting his book in March, Inhofe denied the possibility of human-induced climate change, saying on a Christian radio program, "The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what [God] is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."
OK, by this same illogic:
1. It was arrogant to build atomic bombs and nuclear power plants to change what God was doing in the atom.
2. In his own state, it's arrogant to look for oil using modern geological techniques, and arrogant to pump for oil, because of what God did to the dinosaurs. (They, too, were surely killed for their sins. Insert picture of gay T. Rex here.) 
3. It's arrogant to use that oil to make plastics because ...  God will melt them, if they're plastic streetlamp shades, in the heat! (Maybe he's punishing you for buying Made in China plastics, too.)

So, red state Oklahomans? Don't ask for federal disaster aid from the drought. Ditto for Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska and other red states with shriveling corn. It would be arrogant to ask humans to bail you out from what God caused. Not if you believe like Inhofe.

Jokes aside, we need to stop federal disaster aid until we tie it to a carbon tax-and-tariff bill. Carbon taxes on domestic CO2 coupled with tariffs on the CO2 of imports. Clean up the US, and force China to do so, to itself.

August 07, 2012

Shock me: Bonds says 'I belong in the #HOF'

So Barry Bonds thinks he and his size 12 1/2 cranium (not the other head, the one whose "twin companions" and steroids, via Bonds, introduced the word "orchidometer" [and it ain't about flowers] to the wider public) belong in the Hall of Fame.

Actually, with an admission and an apology, I'd vote him in. But not until then.

He would have had, say, 3,200 hits at least without the roiding, due to fewer intentional walks. Still would have batted .300. Probably still would have had at least 500 HRs, quite possibly at least 550.

At least 1,800 runs and RBIs also possible. Don't forget his multiple Gold Gloves.

Here's his career line, with the roids.


Give him same games and plate appearances. Let's say maybe, as I said, 3,200 hits with fewer IBBs. Jump the doubles to 650 at least. runs at 1,900. RBIs at 1,800. Slugging at .550 and OBP at .425 still gives you .975 OPS, at No. 11, but over a lot longer career than all but three or four ahead of him.

And, it's not like he didn't have legit power pre-roiding. He led in slugging three timems and OPS five times at age 30 or younger.

Like Roger Clemens, he was a first-round HOFer without the roiding or HGHing or whatever the hell all was in the "clear" and the "cream." (Barry, if it really was flaxseed oil, where's your endorsement contract?)

But, like Clemens, until an apology, I don't want him in.

More below the fold.

A failed attempt at theodicy

Rev. Timothy Keller makes a nice try, when he says that if one uses the existence of suffering or natural evil, and its seeming unfairness, as part of rejecting the existence of god, it doesn't work, because the suffering remains senseless without a deity.

Not true; that's a framing mistake. It's really similar to Gilbert Ryle's idea of category mistakes.

"Sense" and "senseless" are both related, in general, to the issue of agency. And obviously, nature (unless one is a New Ager) isn't a personal being with powers of agency. A good existentialist could do more to straighten out Keller.

That's just the first of four straw men that Keller sets up to knock down.

The second is that this means that any god who exists is less than omnipotent.
But that kind of God doesn’t really fit our definition of “God.” So that thinking hardly helps us with reconciling God and suffering.
Well, maybe your definition is wrong. Isn't it arrogant to assume it isn't? And, that's a problem I have with theologically liberal Christians. It's for similar reasons I unfriended on Facebook, and eventually blocked there, a Harvard Divinity student who claimed Plato's famous Euthyphro dilemma (is "good" what it is because god orders it? then god can be capricious; is "good" what it is by its own nature? then "good" has moral standing independent of god) didn't apply to the god of Christianity.

(Honest grasping of the dilemma, perhaps through distinguishing between contingent and necessary moral truths, while ultimately a failure, would still be an effort, at least, not a craven dismissal. The "false dilemma" claims of some Christian Fathers, as listed on Wikipedia, aren't very good, either; they're halfway on the road to the ontological argument for god's existence, and it's no wonder Anselm is among those making this claim.)

The third one is that some people suffer because they're more evil. Well, about no nontheist claims that. Many of us do claim that, within a monotheistic theodicy, it sure looks that way, though, even if we're not Gnu Atheist knife-twisters.

Fourth is what he says is a half-answer; it's the will of god, we have to but accept.

He spins on this to go to us needing to be like children before god.

Not true. In fact, a god who creates sentient, curious, thinking beings, but then says "hey, wait a minute" and hides behind inscrutability is ultimately guilty of inflicting psychological evil on those creatures, thereby making the "problem of evil" worse, if anything.

Now Keller is just a parish pastor, not a theologian. Nonetheless, he's a pastor in New York City for a mainline, vaguely liberal Protestant denomination. And, he can't do better than this?

August 06, 2012

I have #Curiosity about #NASA, #Mars and superstition

NASA's 'good luck peanuts.' ( photo)
Yes, the landing of the new Mars rover from NASA, Curiosity, was an incredible triumph.

But, with such technological skill, does NASA (technically, JPL) really need its good Mission Control staff ... keeping a jar of "good luck peanuts"? No, I'm not joking. (Click No. 3 above the top of the first roll-through photo and caption to get the details.)

Oh, sure, one could easily say it's a "harmless tradition."

One could also look at how it got started, then try to remove all jars of peanuts from Mission Control during the next Mars mission and see just how much of a superstition it is.

One could also note that there have been unsuccessful Mars missions since Ranger 7. The Mars Climate Orbiter, which crashed because different engineers used a mix of metric and ASE (feet/inches) measurements and didn't communicate this to one another, immediately comes to mind.
On November 10, 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter Mishap Investigation Board released a Phase I report, detailing the suspected issues encountered with the loss of the spacecraft. Previously, on September 8, 1999, Trajectory Correction Maneuver-4 was computed and then executed on September 15, 1999. It was intended to place the spacecraft at an optimal position for an orbital insertion maneuver that would bring the spacecraft around Mars at an altitude of 226 kilometers on September 23, 1999.

However, during the week between TCM-4 and the orbital insertion maneuver, the navigation team indicated the altitude may be much lower than intended at 150 to 170 kilometers. Twenty-four hours prior to orbital insertion, calculations placed the orbiter at an altitude of 110 kilometers; 80 kilometers is the minimum altitude that Mars Climate Orbiter was thought to be capable of surviving during this maneuver. Final calculations placed the spacecraft in a trajectory that would have taken the orbiter within 57 kilometers of the surface where the spacecraft likely disintegrated because of atmospheric stresses.

The primary cause of this discrepancy was engineering error. Specifically, the flight system software on the Mars Climate Orbiter was written to take thrust instructions using the metric unit newtons (N), while the software on the ground that generated those instructions used the Imperial measure pound-force (lbf). This error has since been known as the metric mixup.
 Now, this could be a "teaching moment" for NASA/JPL, where top brass, at a minimum, says something like this:
While we at NASA are not about to restrict individual employees' behavior, we do not condone it, either, and we certainly do not support the thought processes behind it.
Then, blast that jar out to space along with all the old sweaters of Gene Kranz.

Of course, speaking of sweaters and other sartorial issues, as a segue, my friend Leo Lincourt mentions that JPL even has a history of connection to the occult.

August 05, 2012

Yes, another new Alamo book ... but you can skip it

James Donovan is the latest to come out with an Alamo book, but, I've saved you the trouble of reading it yourself. From my Goodreads review:

The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo--and the Sacrifice That Forged a NationThe Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo--and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation by James Donovan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, this isn't as bad as Donovan's Custer book. (Which I feared it would be, when I saw the author, and the similarly poor in style paragraph-length subtitle. [In "A Terrible Glory" Donovan goes back to old time Custer-defending on the amount of discretion he allegedly had in his orders, blaming Reno for many of his problems, etc., while failing to take full account of the latest findings in battlefield ballistic analysis to show that Custer's troopers were shellshocked as soon as they realized he'd led them into hell on earth.])

No, this book isn't that bad. But, there's not really anything new here. Crockett, Bowie and Travis aren't 2-dimensional, but they're not more than 2.5 dimensions, either. The narrative is decent, but nothing spectacular. I didn't know every detail of 1835 revolutionary actions before reading this book, but could have read them elsewhere. I had read the latest findings about Moses Rose before reading this book, so that wasn't new, either.

Anyway, be advised.

View all my reviews