SocraticGadfly: 8/19/12 - 8/26/12

August 24, 2012

Incomes continue to decline as 'Lost Decade' looks more real

Median household incomes, when adjusted for inflation, have declined 5.2 percent during the past three years. That's worse than during the Great Recession itself.

It's more solid evidence that, like Japan, we may well be facing a "lost decade" of stagnation. With Obama's work to deal with the detritus of the housing bubble generally tepid, when not opposed by the GOP, this part of the economy is going to continue to struggle for some time.

Think about all that this involves. It includes carpenters, plumbers, electricians, cement companies, residential contractors, realtors and more.

I say halfway, but only halfway, in jest that maybe we need a national version of 1970s Cleveland, where officially "tolerated" arson fires in residential areas were seen as an "acceptable" way to open doors for gentrification and redevelopment.

More seriously yet, a "new CCC," besides repairing our national parks, could become a giant, oversized Habitat for Humanity-type organization, repairing a number of foreclosed-upon houses. Or heck, maybe we can get Jimmy Carter to get Habitat for Humanity directly involved.

And you over-65 tea partiers? Get on your knees and thank FDR for Social Security. By age group, you're the only demographic not to have your income decline.

Meanwhile, this has arguably been a "recovery of the rich." Why? In part, Ben Bernanke's quantitative easing. Once the GOP reads this story, it may stop opposing him, and instead begging for Round 3.

August 23, 2012

GnuAtheism rebrands with same old triumphalism as Atheism +

In what is the latest wink, wink, nudge, nudge kicking of non-atheists by inference since Dan Dennett invented the word "brights" then lied about what he was implying, the Freethought bloggers "bullies" are at it again, with "atheism plus," unveiled by Jen McCreight, then promoted further by Greta Christina, whom I've never cared for.

Now, it's rebranding GnuAtheism as "Atheism +." (Will Google + sue over trademark infringement?)

Two of the FtB folks most promoting this? Greta Christina, who is on ninth-wave feminism like Rebecca Watson, Stephanie Zvan and others of her ilk, and Ashley F. Miller.

And, Miller spills the beans right away, and why this is nothing other than good old, bad old Gnu Atheism: 
The desire to hold on to “atheism” rather than use the term “humanism” isn’t from a fundamental difference of goals and beliefs, but from a difference of self-definition. I personally like “atheism+” because it’s more confrontational, embraces a minority position that is loathed by many, and it is more transparent about the belief that religion is one of the root causes of many social injustices.  My humanism is more than just secular, it is anti-religion.
(Emphasis added above.) And, this is exactly why people like me and online (would-be that it were in person) friends like Leo Lincourt don't use the word "atheism."

Beyond that, this is a misuse of the word. There's hundreds of millions of atheist Buddhists; they don't believe in a deity, but they're definitely religious.

Beyond that, as for Miller tying this into gay rights, etc.? While she's not talking about violence, the confrontationalism, to some degree, goes back to the 1960s and violent vs. nonviolent approaches to black civil rights. Well, to the degree that black (and other) civil rights were advanced, it was the nonviolent approach that won.

But, Gnus like her seem fixated on confrontation as part of the message.
Greta Christina implies the rebranding is all needed due to things that are the fault of plain old vanilla atheists:
If you’ve been getting worn down and discouraged by the seemingly-endless barrage of misogyny and trolling and hateful stupid in atheism and skepticism lately.
Actually, yes, I noticed the tidal wave of all of that. Actually, because I don't read that much of "ninth wave atheism," and never go to FtB blogs unless a friend points out inanity like this, I had no idea. (Of course, what I've posted at her blog's and Miller's is certainly already being labeled trollery.)

(Update, Aug. 23: Greta now doubles down on "confrontational," with this statement:
Atheism is a slap in the face that wakes people up.
Again, if not 100 percent wrong, at least, "not necessarily so.")

Jen McCreight, whose "freethinking" T-shirt this summer about wanting to "destroy religion" showed more of what this game is about, has this list of secular humanist ideals with which, under the guise of sterner, stronger atheism, all others must be confronted:
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.
First, there's other atheists who do the same, without being confrontational. Second, you don't do the last point on your checklist, no matter your claim.

Besides, an earlier "wave" of feminism, rather than turning to atheism, turned to putative pre-patriarchy mother goddesses. They saw atheism as being patriarchal also. (It's not today, but looked more that way "back then," tis true.)

Then, in another blog post, she makes this WAYYYYY over the top claim:
I don't feel safe as a woman in this community — and I feel less safe than I do as a woman in science, or a woman in gaming, or hell, as a woman walking down the fucking sidewalk.
Ignoring the rhetoric,  since she of course doesn't hold truck with the existence of hell, it's still generally laughable. Let's track this empirically — what are the rates of sexual harassment claims at conferences of atheism (skepticism isn't the same thing, and you ladies aren't claiming to be skeptics +) versus all conferences of nonprofit informational groups?

Otherwise, Gnu Atheism/Plusism mirrors the fundamentalist version of Christianity that most Gnus/Plusers substitute for all religion in their world views.  That's the way most "tar babies" work.

Another way of putting this, beyond "confrontationalism" or "triumphalism" is tribalism, as Shane Brady notes in a good take on this. There's also a maturity-level issue, as other skeptical friends and acquaintances of mine have noted online.

Meanwhile, in the older generation pool of Gnus, friendly fire continues! Per comments, here's the post where Sam Harris calls P.Z. Myers a troll. Who's the pot and who's the kettle? They're tied for insufferability, but in different ways. And, there's probably attention-seeking jealousy there, too. 

Anyway, I've had enough fun with this one. It's just the latest salvo in the skepatheistchick nonsense and I'll stop feeding the flames. 

I'll just want for R. Joseph Hoffmann to write 3K words about it in Elizabethan English, followed by blog groupie Steff praising it 12 times and being attacked by Ophelia Benson each time. Did I just shoot a three-bank cushion there? :)

Speaking of, R.J. does have a recent blog post about Michael Ruse's thoughts about Gnus. 

And, while this is my first post about Atheism+, it's far and away from being my first thoughts about Gnus. Click the "New Atheists" tag below for more, for much more. 

Now, have I taken potshots at fundamentalists from time to time? You bet; I blogged about Bob Jones University educational material just a month ago.

But, I didn't go "confronting" individual fundamentalists. Nor did I, say, take potshots at educational material used at, say ... Southern Methodist University, or used there for teaching ideas in K-12 private or parochial schools. I know the difference between United Methodists and fundamentalists. Gnu Atheists ignore that. P.Z. Myers has done so in the past even with Unitarians.

Update, Aug. 23: Richard Carrier is now an atheism + carpetbagger, apparently. Probably because he's a man, among other things.

Speaking of, the skeptatheistchick folks are right that secular humanism has had an old white male baggage problem. And? As Richard Dawkins has shown, so does Gnu Atheism. 

Apocalypse NOT? Well, I'll take Matt Ridley with grains of salt

Matt Ridley claims that the "secular four horsemen" of chemicals, disease, people and resources have all crapped out as liberal to left-liberal fears of a secular apocalypse.

But, it IS Matt Ridley, who's jumped into the shallow pools of both libertarianism and Pop Evolutionary Psychology after showing such hope with "Nature via Nurture" several years ago. He doesn't even tackle global warming. Now, I'm not James Kunstler on that issue, but ... 

And, he gives Peak Oil at least somewhat short shrift, too.


Chemicals? No, probably not going to kill us, but ... if they do enough damage to the non-human environment (hermaphroditic fish and amphibians), the domino effect will be more than Ridley allows.

Disease? Yes, mad cow causes fear out of proportion to reality. So does Ebola. But, things like an influenza pandemic? Arguably more likely now than in 1918.

People? Yes, the world's birth rate is slowing, but it's not slowed THAT much yet. And, as more people in the developing world get a few more dinero, they want things like cars, refrigerators and air conditioning. And, as I've blogged before, in India, especially, and a fair amount in China and Brazil, the last two could be huge global warming game changers.

That leads to ...

Resources. Here, Ridley is clearly all wet. No, we won't run out of oil in a decade. But oil prices will likely continue to rise above the rate of inflation, and as the world economy gets more whole, drag inflation with it. And, accelerated global warming will have all sorts of resource impacts.

Yes, homo sapiens or ancestral species have moved before. But, those past climate changes weren't as rapid as this one could well be. Nor were our ancestors tied to modern homes, modern jobs in modern offices, etc. Unless Matt Ridley is a survivalist himself, he probably should be more pessimistic.

Wired Magazine should, too, but it's a firm believer in libertarian type stances, especially when it includes "salvific technologism." Click the tag to see more of what I've written about that.

August 22, 2012

More Texans in the #fracking PR tank, but no salamanders!

Norm Augustine thinks deep
fracking thoughts/Wikipedia
It turns out that not just University of Texas professor Charles Groat is "in the PR tank" on a study that claims fracking is no environmental big deal. So is his overseer.

In case you don't remember, the Energy Commission at UT that used Groat as its principle investigator said that fracking didn't contaminate groundwater. Then, it came out that he had been paid, last year alone, more than $400,000 by Plains Exploration, and that Plains was doing fracking in a site he had touted, too. There were other problems with the study, including claims of peer review that didn't stand up.

The chairman of the board of that commission is in that same tank, too. If you're a well-read progressive, you know that Norm Augustine has "issues," including being a big, big businessman in the defense industry. And ... was on the board of directors at oil biggie ConocoPhillips.

Here's the key points:
ConocoPhillips, whose work includes natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, donated $1.5 million to the Energy Institute in 2010. The company’s own fracking website cites the 2012 University of Texas study to stave off claims of environmental problems, as reported by Texas State Impact

While Augustine no longer serves on the board of ConocoPhillips, he continues to be paid by the company. According to a 2009 proxy statement, he elected to defer compensation of roughly $3.1 million in 10 annual installments beginning in July 2009. (More information on page 62 of that proxy statement.)
So, he's got a personal financial stake in a misleading report, too.  And, as "connected" as he is, he wasn't operating in a non-Big Oil vacuum.

Meanwhile, speaking of environmental problems, Texas' highest-ranking political numbnut, Sen. John Cornyn, is leading the opposition to more environmental protection for four salamander species north of Austin.
"Instead of hastily proposing these listings based on limited data, the administration should allow conservation efforts underway to continue without hindering Central Texas from creating jobs," Cornyn said Tuesday in a statement. "We'll press forward with our efforts to block this foolish plan." 
"Limited data" means "any amount of data that doesn't agree with modern Republican anti-environmentalism." (Trust me, or else go to Google Translator and try for yourself!)

#Autism — blame "dear OLD dad"?

There's more evidence coming in, topping some preliminary early findings, that paternal age is a definite contributor to autism.

It's not surprising. In the future, I hope we revisit more genetic syndromes that have been blamed on maternal birth age and ask to what degree dear OLD dad is at fault.

Because this surely applies:
The research team found that the average child born to a 20-year-old father had 25 random mutations that could be traced to paternal genetic material. The number increased steadily by two mutations a year, reaching 65 mutations for offspring of 40-year-old men.
In other conditions as well.

August 21, 2012

Autonomy, humanism and a sleep like unto death

Trust me, I'll tie all of this together in just a few paragraphs.

Secular humanism is, among other things, about human autonomy and choice (to the degree there's an "I" which has a conscious choice, which is by no means likely to be the case, but that's a whole nother issue).

And, where are two cases where such autonomy comes most clearly to mind? And, brings in other issues of secular humanism, namely, social justice and equality?

Assisted suicide and sleep patterns.

Dr. Richard Wesley/New York Times
The New York Times shows that, despite fear-mongering that largely was driven by religious conservatives, the assisted suicide laws in Oregon and then Washington state have not seen their use primarily by poor, often minority poor, who might be getting pushed into a final decision by relatives who couldn't afford their care, either financially or timewise.

Rather, it's largely white, upper middle class folks who are opting to take the final step into their own hands.

Including, in Washington, a physician who pushed for its law.
Dr. Wesley is emblematic of those who have taken advantage of the law. They are overwhelmingly white, well educated and financially comfortable. And they are making the choice not because they are in pain but because they want to have the same control over their deaths that they have had over their lives. 
And, it's also not about fear of one big issue related to dying.
Dr. Linda Ganzini, a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, published a study in 2009 of 56 Oregonians who were in the process of requesting physician-aided dying. 

“Everybody thought this was going to be about pain,” Dr. Ganzini said. “It turns out pain is kind of irrelevant.” 
A proposed similar bill in Massachusetts may be attracting some conservative support. Meanwhile, the AMA opposes such ideas, while many individual doctors, the ones who have shed the Superman idealism, favor them. That too makes it clear this is an issue of autonomy.

So, too, is sleep comfort — at least if you're a minority.

Moleendo Steward, sleep-challenged./New York Times
I think this issue is almost certainly nurture-driven. I simply cannot imagine any great evolutionary environmental pressure, or even the likelihood of evolutionary drift that got selected for, that would say why black Americans such as Moleendo Stewart have more trouble sleeping than their white counterparts. 

I deliberately don't say "peers" because of the higher poverty rates, which often mean housing situations less adequate for quality sleeping. Beyond that, the story notes that minorities often have less structured bedtime patterns for children, another environmental effect.

Of course, there's an easy way to study this. Take two or three relative "primitive" groups, from different ethnic backgrounds, such as the San! people of the Kalahari's edges and Siberian reindeer herders, and compare their sleep patterns.

Ultimately, the different socioeconomic groups in America have different degrees of autonomy.

And, true secular humanism still has its work cut out there. That includes "friendly fire" from confrontationalist Gnu Atheists, or Center for Inquiry suck-ups like Ron Lindsay, unworried about high income inequality, which directly undercuts autonomy.

The second story, in addition, is a reminder of how little we still really know about sleep, and why it, or its lack, has the effects it does.

August 20, 2012

Reporters to be paid by the page read at new #NOLA?

There's been speculation for several years within the newspaper world that some newspaper might eventually, in its online version, base at least a part of reporters' salaries based on how many page hits their stories get.

And, now, this job ad at the "new" New Orleans Times-Picayune makes me wonder if that day isn't now upon us.

When I see the word "metrics" for a position like this, especially with a newspaper that has just decided to become a non-daily in its hardcover operations, that’s the first thought that comes to mind. This line from the job's description only reinforces that:
As the Staff Performance Measurement and Development Specialist, you will be responsible for developing and implementing performance objectives to keep members of the team motivated and our organization on target and productive. Working closely with the Director of Digital Operations in this high profile, consultative role, you will leverage your strong knowledge of content objectives and data analysis tools to shape actionable goals and metrics for performance. 
Let’s translate and unpack that, while noting that, per the job ad, this is a newly-created position.

Here's what it really means:
  1. The person in this role will monitor page views.
  2. The person in this role will use tools like Google Analytics to see where such page views are coming from, for different stories, different reporters, etc.
  3. The person in this role will, in conjuction with the director of digital operations, discuss how to use SEO keywords in the body of the story and SEO search population boxes, Twitter-trending words in headlines, etc., to maximize page hits.
  4. The person in this role will “train,” that is, push reporters and online editors toward doing this.
  5. The person in this role will use these metrics to “motivate” the “team,” whomever the team is, that is, will use metrics to tell reporters and editors, if you’re not on target, you’re not here.

In other words, NOLA is now going to be Demand Media. Or maybe even something worse.

That, in turn, explains why there's still no paywall at NOLA. Because they know that nobody would want to pay.


And, mourn.

Rioger Clemens — worse than Michael Jordan?

Can somebody please chloroform Roger Clemens, or something, rather than him pitching minor league baseball?

Please, please, somebody, just make him go away. Especially before Barry Bonds gets any similar ideas in his head. 

I have no idea why he is doing this, and he didn't say so in the story. That said, I'm not sure I want to know why. 

Oops, maybe we do know ... this could be his entree back to the big leagues. Please, please, somebody stop the madness. Seeing him back on a big-league mound would be too much. Plus, if he does halfway well, it just starts the roiding accusations all over.

And if so, there may be some deviousness behind that. By coming back to the big leagues, Clemens wouldn't be eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot this year, but would have to wait five years until he re-retired.

So, he wouldn't come up for consideration at the same time as Bonds. In fact, he wouldn't come up into the roiding issue had gotten a fair hashing out.

Oh, and Baseball Reference? Clemens hasn't weighed 205, nor Bonds 185, for 15 years or more. Please update your stats to at least reflect late-career playing weight, not rookie numbers.