SocraticGadfly: 3/3/13 - 3/10/13

March 09, 2013

Justice Kennedy, Fisher, and affirmative action

Dave Leonhardt from the New York Times says that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy could put an interesting wrinkle in the Fisher v. Texas affirmative action case about University of Texas admissions now before the Supreme Court.

And, depending on exactly how things play out, and who he could get to join him, Kennedy could perhaps preserve affirmative action, but with a twist ... a twist Kennedy probably wanted to see in Grutter.

And, that is that race really be a last resort, but that colleges be allowed to, even encouraged to, consider other factors in promoting diversity, like socioeconomic status, etc. Some of this would parallel current affirmative action.
The Kennedy dissent (in Grutter) leaves the door open to affirmative action, but only a form that makes the explicit consideration of race a last resort. Other factors would have to come first. As it happens, there are several officially race-neutral factors that would raise no constitutional risk — and help many minority applicants.

The most obvious is income. But others may be more important. If colleges gave students credit for coming from a low-income ZIP code, black and Latino students would benefit enormously, as they would from the consideration of wealth and family status. Only 27 percent of white students grow up in a single-parent family, compared with 60 percent of black children and 34 percent of Latino children.
Agreed, agreed, agreed.

For some time now, I've been wanting affirmative action in general to move beyond race.

It's good civil rights and civil justice, to get poor people of all races moved past rich legacy minorities, whether at the University of Texas or at Harvard.

It's also damned good politics. It might defang some racism of some tea partiers. It probably would have kept some of it from getting so entrenched, had Kennedy been able to get something similar a decade ago.

Thomas Jefferson, racist hypocrite

Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His SlavesMaster of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves by Henry Wiencek

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is at times a great book, and throughout, it's a thought-provoking and challenging book.

I couldn't quite rate it five stars, though, for a couple of reasons.

One is that he does appear to have committed intellectual plagiarism in not better referencing Annette Gordon-Reed's research on Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings.

Second is that, per some criticism, he appears to have vastly oversimplified the issue of Kosciuszko's will. On the other hand, Gordon-Reed has led the charge against Wiencek (more below), and he notes Jefferson's own son apparently was not unduly worried about Kosciuszko having multiple wills.

Third, per critique by Paul Finkelman, Wiencek may have been too kind to the younger Jefferson. Yes, he excoriated the slave trade at the time of the Declaration of Independence; yes, he pushed for a slave-free "Old Northwest." but, that was about it. Finkelman notes he was a "racist" and a "creep." While Wiencek looks "bluntly" at Jefferson's record, for some reason, he never uses the word "racist" in the book himself.

Fourth, he may, or may not, have oversimplified other things. Did Edwin Betts deliberately, or accidentally, omit things like whippings of small boys at Monticello's nail-making shop?

Overall, this book is at the edge of four stars, maybe 3.75, with allowances for everything above. And, not all the criticisms of Wiencek are right.

Take, for example, the "4 percent profit" statement. Wiencek shows it was more than a back-of-the-envelope calculation. That's based on things like Jefferson using slaves as collateral for loans from Dutch merchants, precision in to whom he rented out his slaves, the diversifying of economic activity at Monticello and more. That includes issues of Jefferson's instruction on how much and how severely to use the whip and more.

And, once he gets to the late 1780s and beyond, Wiencek does pick up to some degree on Finkelman's point of view.

Now, on to illegitimate complaints, in my opinion.

Complaints about him distorting the historical record at Monticello? I think James van Loewen, if he writes another "Lies ... " book about American history, would probably, and probably rightly, blast Lucia Stanton out of the water. Methinks she has a fair degree of Jeffersonian detachment, and doth protest too much.

Gordon-Reed? Other than the intellectual plagiarism, or whatever one should call it, I think she's full of hot air. She didn't romanticize the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings relationship as much as Fawn Brodie did, but she romanticized it more than enough. Without using Finkelman's word "creep," Wiencek portrays him as being at least near that in his later relations to his own kids.

Ta-Nehisi Coates at Atlantic Monthly also says she's been way to charitable to Jefferson.

Per Coates, and myself, I reject Gordon-Reed's "presentism" claims. With George Washington, Edward Coles, the French Revolution (until Napoleon) and more, we have many, many white Americas and Europeans (don't forget the 1772 Somerset ruling in Great Britain essentially abolishing slavery in the Isles themselves) who knew slavery was wrong back then.

This all said, I'd like to see Finkelman write a book specifically about Jefferson himself.

As for the rest of this?

I'm suspecting antipathy from the "academy" toward a non-academic historian, just like Jared Diamond's new book has gotten from cultural anthropologists.

View all my reviews

#WholeFoods ups ante on #GMO foods

A Santa Monica, Calif., Whole Foods Market. AP photo via NYT
America's luxury grocery giant, which had already started some labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms, especially in its "house" line of products, said Friday it will require such labeling in five years.

No matter whether one thinks worry over GMO foods is all-hype, a mix of hype and legit concern, or whatever, Whole Foods has changed the game, and I can't see how food companies can totally resist this at lower-level groceries, i.e., stuff for sale at Safeway and its twins, Kroger, WallyWorld, etc., even if it doesn't cause anything similar to full adoption.

It's drawing praise in some quarters:
Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, a campaign for a federal requirement to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients, called the Whole Foods decision a “game changer.” ...

He compared the potential impact of the Whole Foods announcement to Wal-Mart’s decision several years ago to stop selling milk from cows treated with growth hormone. Today, only a small number of milk cows are injected with the hormone.  
But it's certainly not getting praise everywhere.

Predictably, many food manufacturers (hey, manufacture is the right word), and the "conventional" grocers, are both resisting:
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents major food companies and retailers, issued a statement opposing the move. “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” Louis Finkel, the organization’s executive director of government affairs, said in the statement. 
Sorry, Charlie, but they ARE different.

As to special risk?

I think it's overblown by hardcore anti-GMO people, but that it's not nonexistent.

Insertion of Brazil nut genes into other food products, specifically soybeans in this case, does appear to cause allergy reactions in persons who suffer Brazil nut allergies when they consume these particular GMOs. And, that's the New England Journal of Medicine saying that, not a Mercola.

As for claims that GMO engineering is just another take on what Mother Nature does? Wrong.

Evolution by natural selection doesn't magically pluck a group of peanut genes and insert them into the rice genome or whatever.

Nor does it operate on anywhere the same speed, even within the same species, such as Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops.

Third, the success of GMO crops isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

Higher protein rice that also produces Vitamin A? I'm all for that, while still noting we need to monitor such crops for potential longer-term issues.

The Roundup Ready stuff? Already, Roundup-resistant weeds can be found throughout the US.

Plus, there's the economic imperialism of a Monsanto with its Roundup Ready crops. That especially plays out in the developing world.

That, in turn, relates to the "speed" issue of rate of genetic change. As I've blogged before, this parallels some climate change minimalists saying that we've had warming before.

So, GMA members on GMO? You need to start your bitching with Monsanto, not Whole Foods.

Anyway, how will this play out elsewhere? Given that WallyWorld actually helped lead the charge on bovine growth hormones and milk, if it even partially follows suit here, that's it. Game over.

And, here in Texas, I can offer more specifics. Whole Foods' luxe competitor, Central Market, will find no choice but to match this move. But because Central Markets' house-brand products also sell in its parent company's H-E-B mass-market grocery stores, this will affect larger H-E-B product display.

My thoughts on such labeling? 

At a bare, bare minimum, I think any GMO that has genes from an original species known to produce human allergens (such as the insertion of Brazil nut genes into other plant genomes) needs to be labeled across the board. 

Expect this all to be HUGELY resisted. That's because at least one former federal employee turned lobbyist has lied about the GMO allergen issue and related matters, the Department of Agriculture has repeatedly shown itself to be in bed with the likes of Monsanto and more.

That said, if there's really nothing wrong with GMOs in general, or some particular modification in specific, tell us! It's not like the GMA, let alone Archer Daniel Midlands, Monsanto or others don't have bazillions of dollars of marketing money to tell us that.

As for my personal take?

I view GMOs somewhat like nuclear power.

In the abstract, it sounds great, and I'm generally for it. When it comes to a specific issue, that's when the rubber hits the road, and often, in my opinion and to complete the analogy, the result is a flat tire or a blowout.

Another neolib sellout on the environment by Obama

Sally Jewell, Obama's nominee to head the Interior Department, has made clear she supports expanded oil and gas drilling on Bureau of Land Management land.

Here's Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski pushing for that and more:
“We need you to affirm that public lands provide not just a playground for recreational enthusiasts,” Ms. Murkowski said, “but also paychecks for countless energy producers, miners, loggers and ranchers.”  
Fine. Let's amend the 1872 Mining Act. Let's charge ranchers fair market rates for grazing leases. Oh, and since the National Park Service generates more than $30 billion a year from tourism and recreation, with Jewell's National Parks Conservation Association, where she is on the board, estimating a 4-1 return on federal dollars, let's see Murkowski match that.

I charge bullshit on a senator who's always helped Alaska, just like her daddy-o, pig out at the federal hog trough.

Unfortunately, Jewell said nothing, however, about increased regulation of such drilling, especially protection of water supplies in the largely semi-arid to arid West. Nor did she say anything about getting more federal dinero from such drilling.

She may be even more "industry-friendly" than Kenny Boy Salazar, in fact.

Here's a tell:
Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, noted that Ms. Jewell’s résumé cites her work as a young woman as a construction worker on the Alaska oil pipeline, as a petroleum engineer in Colorado, as a commercial banker for 19 years and as chief executive of a billion-dollar company. 

“My question is this,” Mr. Alexander said. “How’d you get appointed by this administration? You sound more like a nominee of a Republican administration.” 
Sounds about right.

Wingnut Republicans questioned her background as a member of the board of directors of the NPCA, which they're trying to paint as being as radical as, say, the Center for Biological Diversity.

I'll bet Jewell will push indeed for more drilling. And as a former CEO, for more corporate partnerships with the National Park Service. The NPS' centennial in 2016 will be dripping with capitalism, folks.

Meanwhile, when this happens, will Gang Green enviros like Michael Brune at Sierra Club be as surprised and miss smelling the coffee as much as they have with Keystone XL?

Beyond that, she kind of makes me want to barf by quoting Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg's half-baked, half-assed "leaning into" four times.

Killed because he was black? Or gay?

Marco McMillan/AP photo
The FBI has announced it is officially investigating the death of Mississippi mayoral candidate Marco McMillan as a hate crime.

Black politicians and black civil rights groups are heralding the move.

But, given that there's a black suspect already arrested, it seems that, if this is a hate crime, it's an anti-gay one, not an anti-black one.

Will black civil rights groups address the issue of homophobia among African-Americans? How this drives sex on the "down low," which in turn is driving spiking HIV rates among heterosexual black women? 

Or will many heads remain buried in the sand, the same head-burying that happened during and after the vote on California's Prop. 8? (And I've blogged before that higher black support for the narrowly voted issue was a significant matter.)

Let's see just how this plays out in days and weeks ahead.

Including getting McMillan's family to elaborate on this:
McMillian's family said the mayoral candidate in this town of 18,000 in the Mississippi Delta 70 miles southwest of Memphis had feared for his safety. They want authorities to investigate the murder as a hate crime.

"What's been reported is not the true story of what happened to him," said McMillian's godfather, Carter Womack.
What do they think happened? I hope this isn't the setup for conspiracy theory land, but it reads like it could be.

March 08, 2013

More election-related crony capitalism from Rick Perry

So, former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade has been nominated by Gov. Tricky Ricky Perry as Texas Workforce Commissioner for Employers? Less than 3.5 months after resigning her gummit job and becoming a "consultant" of some sort (read: lobbyist in training), and not having been a real private-sector employer for years, she gets this cushy job?

Meanwhile, if this is part of Tricky Ricky's bid for re-election in 2014, it seems to have worked.

Hispanics of all stripes are sucking up to the nomination.

When does Tony Sanchez write Gov. Helmethair a check?

And how sad is Greg Abbott that he doesn't have a fistful of (potential) Hispanic nominations?

March 07, 2013

Cal Dems, if Gavin Newsom is the future, you're headed to #Farmville hell

Gavin Newsom/Wikipedia photo
Apparently Newsom, now the Light Gov. of the Leaden State, has written something that he would call a "book."

And, Evgeny Morozov has shown just how idiotic he is, and in the process, reminded me that neoliberal geek politicians ought to be forcibly banned from using cyberproducts. (That's you, 44@1600, aka Dear Leader, I'm talking about.) He's also, per his Wikipedia bio, slick enough to have suckered Gordon Getty, of J. Paul Getty heirdom, to have financed a bunch of his business ventures.

Apparently, Newsom thinks the "wired" political world should be something like Farmville, the mindless Zynga game on Facebook. (Note: It's not mindless enough; Zynga stock has tanked in recent weeks.) More on this below, with comment from Morozov.

The takedown starts here, though, with references to the Aspen Institute and neolib forrunners of the man who once, and perhaps still, would be "The Gavinator":
Written in bombastic but wooden prose, this lazy tome of techno-populism consists of random entries from Newsom’s busy calendar (“Early in 2012, I spent a weekend at the Aspen Institute, discussing ideas about leadership and governance”), shameless name-dropping mixed with pseudo-intellectual gibberish (“as Abraham Lincoln used to say”; “David Cameron . . . described his own vision of a peoplecentric new era in a 2010 TED talk”; “social media, Al Gore told me, is a ‘saving grace for democracy’”) ...
Ahh, sounds like fun. Is it really that bad? Morozov says yes, and from the start:
Newsom’s intellectual plans unravel in the book’s very first paragraph, as he airs the profound question that prompted him—or perhaps his ghostwriter-cum-collaborator Lisa Dickey—to lift a pen (or iPad stylus) and start writing. “Over the past several years,” he notes, “I’ve found myself wondering: Why is it that people are more engaged than ever with each other—through Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, text messaging—but less engaged with their government?” Just a tiny hint from his publisher could have saved Newsom from composing this disaster of a book: Pinterest is more fun when used to alert buddies to funny pictures of cats than to liaise with anonymous government bureaucrats. Yes, it’s really that simple.
Morozov is actually charitable by crediting Newsome with "intellectual plans." There's more charity here:
Newsom’s political philosophy is the wisdom of crowds in action; most inanities in this book belong to someone else.
As I tweeted Morozov: If Newsom spouts the inanities long enough, he "owns" them himself.

But, the meat starts here, as Morozov exposes Newsom for being what most "neoliberals" really are — libertarians:
Newsom wants “people to bypass government” and “take matters into their own hands.” In a typical, Lincolnesque passage, he writes that “we have to disenthrall ourselves . . . of the notion that politicians and government institutions will solve our problems. . . . We have to be prepared to solve our own problems.” In short, we’ll all be like New Yorkers after Hurricane Sandy—only with better Wi-Fi coverage.
Margaret Thatcher would surely approve of Newsom’s message. So would David Cameron. In fact, many of Newsom’s proposals simply rehash Cameron’s idea of “the Big Society,” whereby instead of relying on the government to fix potholes in their neighborhoods, citizens are expected to do everything themselves, for the government has been starved to death and can’t do those things anyway. But since Newsom serves all these ideas under the spicy sauce of social media and technological progress, the underlying libertarianism of his program is far less visible.
Oy, at least. Morozov cites other ideas from the book that he notes generally support the idea that Newsom is a libertarian.

But, it gets worse. Newsom descends into what sounds like parody if it weren't so, er, "ernest," per one of Newsom's heroes, Al Gore.

First, the promised Farmville angle:
Newsom is impressed with online games such as FarmVille, in which players manage virtual farms and earn digital cash. For him, it’s the right model for getting people to care about local politics. “Instead of taking care of a fictional farm, why can’t we create a game in which you take care of your actual neighborhood or your town?” he wonders. Newsom is particularly excited about the possibility of rewarding citizens with virtual points—redeemable for real products or cash—for their good behavior.
Ugh. Just ugh. And that's putting it politely for now.

A very snarky take from Morozov gives us a very snarky take on where that could go.
Citizens, rejoice: Thanks to your smartphones, you can earn points—“innobucks”—for fixing those potholes (“Innobucks is like Angry Birds, but for democracy”). And, if Progress permits, soon you’ll be able to manufacture the tools for road repairs right inside your bedroom—just leave your 3-D printer on.
Friend Leo Lincourt says what's to stop Asian and East European hackers from creating fake "innobucks"? Or, I wonder, websites advertising for such things.

Even more, I wonder, what's to stop private prisons from renting out inmates to earn innobucks? Or private road companies to go raiding California farms for illegal immigrant day labor to the same end? Hell, the Silicon Valley that a lot of white Democrats in California love to fellate has a history of bad-to-horrible anti-labor stances.

Speaking of Silicon Valley, let's add this snark from Morozov:
Newsom has produced enough sound bites here to fill a TED talk (“One-way is dead”; “This is the age of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube”; “The future is sharing”; “PDF is a horse and buggy in a racecar world”).
Wow. I'm in awe of such bullshit in the guise of "brilliance."

Anyway, this is just a sampling of a book that Morozov has saved me from reading.

In short, libertarianism in Democratic drag, married to geekdom, is horrible. Regular readers know I generally thing Morozov is spot-on on his analysis of cyberworship in general. Morozov calls the marriage "vulgar and myopic utilitarianism." Sounds about right.

And people still wonder why I vote Green when I can?

Dear Leader must be jealous he hasn't thought of this at the federal level. Or, maybe he has? Isn't this same thing, on a much more mild level, the idea behind electronic patient records in Obamacare and how much money they'll allegedly save?

Good fucking doorknob, if this is the future of the national Democratic Party, poor to lower-middle-class, or even straight middle class, voters of all ethnicities, you need to stop pulling the "D" lever. I'm telling you.

March 06, 2013

#AtlanticMonthly: The sorry state of "big-brand" magazine journalism

So, the "global editor" at Atlantic Monthly (a likely inflated, definitely pretentiosu, title), Olga Khazan, emails a freelancer, Mate Thayer, with some decent high-level track wrecord as a writer, and asks him to reword a previously-published, 4,000-word piece, into 1,200 words, for the Atlantic, and do it for free.

Because it's all about the exposure, and Atlantic is offering so much of that.
We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.
To a guy who got paid, however much, for originally doing this as a 4,000-word story. And, as I said, has a track record:
I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children.
How do we know this? Thayer blogged about the issue, including posting an exchange of emails, which is where the info above comes from.

That, in turn, got the panties of Atlantic Senior Editor Alexis Madrigal in a knot. He takes about 1,200 words himself to bemoan his parlous situation, kick Thayer in the nuts adn at least partially throw Khazan under the bus.

Nice trifecta, Alex.

Here's a few thoughts of my own, taken from comments to that post.

Nate's response wasn't nasty at all. The only problem was that Nate didn't cc it higher up the Atlantic food chain. Oh, and he wasn't asked to write for peanuts, but literally nothing.

Otherwise, the real "answer" is stop asking people to write for "exposure" in the first place if you have a good idea they won't. Maybe somebody from Demand is that desperate, though.

Also, even if Khazan is new to the Atlantic, she didn't come up with that idea out of the blue. Either she's done that elsewhere, or that's been SOP at the Atlantic before her. If the latter, look in the mirror, Alex. If the former, you  all hired her probably knowing that.

And Madrigal strikes me as being like Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias and other Brat Pack types. They collectively illustrate the huge power of luck; secondarily, some of them, individually, illustrate the Peter Principle. The semi-incestuous mix of smug and self-congratulatory goes with the territory.

If this is what Harvard-grad, Beltway-to-NYC-axis journalism is becoming, I hope the death it dies is slow and painful for the Alex Madrigals of the world. Because at some point, your libertarian Yglesias and Klein friends will give you the cold shoulder when you fail, too. Hell, even Clay Shirky thinks you have collectively screwed the pooch on this one.

And, speaking of, Olga Khazan? Unless you're giving Madrigal or somebody higher up blowjobs under the Atlantic coffee table, I'd advise you to get out now.

Update: Add Felix Salmon to the douchebag list:
The point of my piece is that the concept of "a writer" is becoming increasingly outdated. As Choire and Alex know, digital journalism is about so much more than just writing. But they do have this model where they solicit contributions from writers, and then do all the rest of the work themselves. I think Rob has much the same model. It's digital, but it has one foot in the old world of writers write, editors edit, etc. It's an interesting intermediate step. ... 

For people who don't need to pay rent from their freelance writing income, I'm a fan of paying in things like boozy lunches or cases of wine. It costs less and means more.

And, that Branch, where Salmon posted? Beyond the bullshit about paying people in booze, it seems like a more incestuous, more insider version of G+ or something. If people just stop fucking reading mags that primarily rely on such incestuous insiders, maybe they'll all die slow, painful deaths.

Anyway, this isn't only true of fancy-pants magazines. Smaller magazines, newspapers, etc., especially for online content, are trying to get more and more people to do more and more stuff for free.

And, it's clearly moved to the book-publishing world

In fact, John Scalzi addresses critics, claiming that he's trying to diss e-book publishing, by saying publishing houses have been pushing shite business models for decades.

And, beyond newspapers, that's happening more and more in America in general. 

Update 2: Ezra Kelin's also on the douche list. Again, just shock me, since I named him above. Thayer's reply to Atlantic also got Erza Klein's knickers in a knot.

Charles Pierce gives the likes of him a royal smackdown.
Ezra, dude, all of journalism is not the op-ed page. Most of the people you cite above couldn't cover a one-car fatal on 128 on a Sunday night. Somebody has to do the grunt work that involves calling the cops or the coroner, or the drunk high-school baseball coach, and not whoever is on call at the Center For American Progress that day.
It gets better, though!
I can assure you, Ezra, that out there in the wide world of journalism, reporters are now being required to do entirely too much work for free — whether that's Tweeting or uploading video or whatever else is demanded to fill the other "platforms" with "content"  — and they're being made to do it because their union protection is down to next to nothing, and because their benefits packages were (at best) gutted and (at worst) looted, and because the people who own the media companies know they have the whip hand on their employees as surely as the people at Hormel know it. I may not have a Wonk Blog, but I know how wages get suppressed, and why. And whatever happens at the upper levels of an industry invariably happens ten-fold at the lower levels, and that's only part of the reason why The Atlantic can go fk itself.

Meanwhile, being a Brat Pack libertarian means getting others to work for "exposure" so you can drop 1.2 million large on some exclusive Beltway digs, like Yglesias. 

March 05, 2013

About those Tim Tebow-Manti Te'o gay rumors

I have heard the occasional insinuation that Manti Te'o, the overrated Mormon linebacker from God's Catholic university, Notre Dame is gay, and that's why Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was able to prank him with a fake girlfriend, or even that the prank was Te'o's "beard."

I've also heard speculation that New York Jets (for now) quarterback Tim Tebow is hiding gay tendencies behind his conservative Christian sexual chastity.

And, more recently, there's even been rumors about the two of them together.

So, I'm here to put the kibosh on that.

Manti Te'o did not run an ungodly slow 4.8 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine because he and Tebow had a spat the night before.

Tebow has not promised to write Te'o's name on his shoes next year.

Te'o did not start crying recently because Tebow told him he'd always be a "bottom." Absolutely not true.

Tebow also has not said he will request the Jets trade him to whatever team drafts Te'o. Just not true.

Tebow did not cancel his speaking appearance at a Dallas Baptist church because he was worried about either one of them being outed. Absolutely incorrect.

Now that I've set you straight, heh, heh, back to your regular Internet programming.

Adios, Hugo Chavez

Surprisingly, Alternet's report of the Venezuelan president/quasi-strongman's death wasn't too fawning.

The Wall Street Journal's news page actually plays it pretty straight.

Counterpunch has yet to weigh in. I'm curious what it will say. (That said, last December, after Chavez's re-election, it did have some errors; for one, Guyana and Costa Rica, one next door and one arguably in the same region, both have lower inequality, as measured by Gini, than Venezuela. Both countries did it without the blessing, or the curse, of oil.)

And, the WSJ is right on some things. Chavez failed to significantly cut crime, among other things.

How bad is it? Slate says that, on an average weekend, more people are killed in Caracas than in Baghdad and Kabul combined.

Of course, both it AND Alternet ignore that the CIA may have been involved with the coup attempt against him in 2002. That's why I'm wondering what Counterpunch will say.I'm also wondering, because the way some "professional leftists" fawned over Chavez  is a good example of why I call myself a skeptical left-liberal. (I add that the December Counterpunch ignored any human rights or censorship issues from Chavez.)

Think Progress gets it right. That includes noting, with a World Bank report, that the decline in inequality was reflected throughout Latin America. As TP notes, that doesn't offset Chavez' political bullying, anti-Semitism and more.

But, shock me that Sean Penn is already gushing.

And Jimmy Carter, who talks about being allowed to monitor Venezuela's elections in 1998. (Think Progress notes that Jefe Chavez hasn't allowed that since 2006. And Carter cuts off his eulogy at 2004. Slick bastard.)

There are two questions.

One is, is Chavez better than what Venezuela had before? A very arguable, but nowhere near slam dunk, yes.

The second is, is he as good as Venezuela reasonably could have had? A very arguable no.

#Pujols bashing alive and well with #stlcards fans

The latest St. Louis Cardinals "homer," writing via Yahoo, to bash former Cardinals and current Angels slugger Albert Pujols, is Scott Wuerz, columnist for the Belleville News-Democrat.

He says that he's worried about Pujols' knee surgery, thinks his comment that he doesn't need a lot of prep because of his career at bats is a lie of sorts, and apparently thinks his numbers from last year will be a repeat this year. He also claims, which I've not heard, that Phat Albert has said he's OK playing second banana to Josh Hamilton. Wurtz clearly expects him to be third bananaa to both Hamilton and Mike Trout.

Here's my response, that I left on Yahoo, first:
I'm not so "down" on Pujols as Scott is. First, throw out the first month of last season, which probably, tho denied by Pujols, included some "pressing," and May-Sept. he was behind only Trout (who may not do so well this year) and Cabrera.
Second, a full year before talks broke down, the Cards made clear that not only would they not do a long-term deal in general, but that they wouldn't do a creative one that paid for career performance bonuses like 3K hits or 500 HRs.

I'm a lifelong Cards fan, but not such a "homer" as Scott is to know that it takes two to tangle as well as tango, and Cards management is not blameless.
Now, a bit more depth.

The Angels' lineup is even deeper than last year. Pujols has had that full season to adapt to the American League. And, "second banana" aside, he's got no reason to "press" this year.  (And wanting to "step out of the spotlight" is not the same as "playing second banana." Seems clear that Cards fans who want to hate on Pujols will look for new reasons to justify that.)

That said, in another piece, Wuerz does look more critically at how John Mozeliak handled Pujols negotiations.

Meanwhile, how accurate is Wuerz in expecting Pujols to keep sliding?

He's not, in my opinion.

Will the Angels have the Pujols of 2006 this year? No. But, I expect him to get his BA back above .300, his slugging back above .550, and to start taking more walks again this year, putting his OBP above .400 and his OPS above .950. He'll bust 100 on both runs and RBIs.

(Update, March 5: And, he's actually going to play in spring training, starting today. Take that, Mr. Wuerz.)

Last year? Of course, he had the April from hell. May was still slow, and September slid off. But, his 2012 splits show June, July and August all above .970 OPS. If he does that for three months, and the other three months are all above .800, he'll fulfill my predictions.

In short, the Angels may not have the Pujols of 2006, but they WILL have the Pujols of 2010 this year, in all likelihood. Maybe the Pujols of 2009.

Take that, Pujols haters. See here for my take on his performance last year.

Snoozing Obamiacs surprised by smell of Keystone coffee

I've blogged about this more than once in the past few weeks, that people shouldn't be surprised when Dear Leader green-lights the Keystone XL pipeline.

But, after the State Department's okey-dokey today, we have the likes of the Sierra Club engaged in either real or faux shock, and acting as if they can still change Obama's mind.

What part of "we're on the far side of Nov. 6, 2012" do you folks not get?

To be honest, I think it's a mix of real and faux shock.

The faux shock is the prelude to Sierra and other Gang Green environmentalists gearing up the fundraising machines. And, yeah, they're bad about it.

The real shock is realizing that Obama's less of an environmentalist than Bill Clinton. For a man who grew up in beautiful Hawaii, and saw at least a bit of the backcountry of Indonesia, it's a bit of an oddity, eh?

But, it is what it is. He's just not that interested in environmental issues.

I am separating climate change from other environmental issues on Keystone.

I am worry about leaks. Modern pipelines are built on the margins, on the cheap, often. And TransCanada has a reputation. Habitat disturbance is a lesser but still notable concern.

Climate change, though? Brune, McKibben, et al know that oil is fungible and that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made continued tar sands development a sine qua non of his government.

If the oil isn't piped this way, Harper WILL push for a Plan B that will be more harmful to the Canadian environment, and perhaps to world issues. He WILL get that oil pumped somewhere. Either across the Canadian Rockies to Vancouver, or to the Great Lakes, and building a refinery or 12 in Ontario, or else, speaking of climate change, to the Mackenzie River and then the Northwest Passage.

Or else more tar sands oil will continue to come to the US, but on railroad cars. Per Canada's National Post, though, denying Keystone would do little to cut tar sands oil production. That's fact, that's reality based.

Therefore, anti-Keystoners' belief that a possible expansion by the Obama Administration of the National Environmental Policy Act to include global warming would provide legal grounds for a suit, especially given the State Department's finding, seems a no-go. In fact, TransCanada (and folks drilling for shale oil in North Dakota whom could also benefit from the pipeline) could argue that shipping more "dirty" oil by rail would actually be more harmful to global warming than the pipeline.

So, on climate change, to protest against Keystone as a symbol? I can halfway buy that. To protest against Keystone per se? Stupid. And, why isn't Bill McKibben in Ottawa, not Washington, in the first place?

Speaking of such things, Joe Nocera, who had a godawful column about Keystone last week, even after owning up to a major error near the end, has an interesting one now about James Hansen. Does his protest activity interfere with his work at NASA? Per the column, it apparently feels that way, at least, to a lot of his colleagues, who apparently heavily bent Nocera's ear.

And, speaking of reality-based communities, Hansen appears to have taken flights of fancy:
(T)he carbon in the tar sands “exceeds that in all oil burned in human history.”
Simply not true, on proven plus probable reserves; not even close. "Dirtier" oil takes some extra energy to refine, but not THAT much. And, even that goes beyond his narrow statement. Oil is oil, in general. It's going to produce pretty much the same range of carbon dioxide when its refined products are burned.

If he meant the carbon of this particular type of oil, plus the extra energy extraction, he's closer to true, but, unless probable reserves greatly increase, not true, still. And, likely still not THAT close.

And, a better effort might be to get Canada to adopt US EPA standards for its vehicles, which, since the Canadian market practically is the US one on cars, anyway, wouldn't be that hard.

And, if Hansen is really, really worried about CO2, why have I never heard him talk openly about the need for next-generation nuclear power to be part of the mix?

March 04, 2013

Wingnuts in lege think districts more conservative than reality

A fascinating, in-depth study reported by the Washington Post says both liberals and conservatives in state legislatures think their districts are more conservative than reality, but that the perception problem is a LOT worse from wingnuts.

How much worse?
(C)onservative legislators generally overestimate the conservatism of their constituents by 20 points. “This difference is so large that nearly half of conservative politicians appear to believe that they represent a district that is more conservative on these issues than is the most conservative district in the entire country,” (David) Broockman and (Christopher) Skovron write. This finding held up across a range of issues.
That's huge.

So, no wonder John Cornyn worries about being "primaried," to jump to the federal office level. He thinks the state of Texas has 10 million Ted Cruzes.

More background here:
Is it just that legislators don’t talk to their constituents? Nope. Broockman and Skovron tried and failed to find any relationship between the amount of time legislators spend in their districts, going to community events, and so forth, and the accuracy of their reads on their districts. And this bias afflicts not just their view of their constituents, but their positions generally. 
In other words, they don't just pander to myth, they then help construct it.

At the same time, don't forget, liberals overestimate the conservativism of their representative areas, too. This probably is a partial explainer (though one should always follow the money first) of the rightward drift of many Democrats, especially on an issue that's both vocal and well-financed ... i.e, guns. Or oil-related issues.

I think that's the key. Issues like abortion don't get big dollars. A flat tax doesn't, totally, because big biz likes loopholes. And an occasional issue, like smoking, big bucks just can't overcome too poor an image.

But guns, oil and gas fracking and some related issues? The combination is there.

Amtrak does make a profit!

As long as you confine your focus to the Northeast Corridor.

And, this is a legitimate point of view, especially when it comes to high-speed rail.

Florida and Gov. Rick Scott, like the Texas Triangle here in Texas, actually are well-placed for high-speed rail. So is what's already being planned in California.

But most of the rest of the country isn't. Not without subsidies even bigger than we offer airlines today, by far.

The "flyover" territory has its name for a reason. With trains, even high-speed rail, it's an issue more serious yet. Even allowing for longer boarding and security times, on any route over 450 miles, a plane is clearly faster. It's a dead heat, on average, at 350-450 miles.

And, look at other countries with high-speed rail.

Besides clearly boondoggled China, most of their routes are ... under 450 miles as far as major city connections. The US Northeast is as densely populated as the denser parts of Western Europe. Most the midsection, even east of the 100th meridian, isn't close.

March 03, 2013

Even Krugman has a clunker at times - re #Obamacare

Paul Krugman's latest column is about "Medicaid moochers" like Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who are now willing to accept Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, IF it allows them to put Medicaid through private prividers only.

The column rightly derides such things, goes on to talk about how Medicare, and even more, Medicaid, have done better than the private sector at reigning in health care costs, etc.

So far, so good.

But then Krugman says:
You might ask why, in that case, much of Obamacare will run through private insurers. The answer is, raw political power. Letting the medical-industrial complex continue to get away with a lot of overcharging was, in effect, a price President Obama had to pay to get health reform passed. And since the reward was that tens of millions more Americans would gain insurance, it was a price worth paying.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Obama CHOSE that route. It wasn't a price he had to pay. Especially before Ted Kennedy's death, and the election of Scott Brown, he could have pushed through some form of single-payer, like the so-called ... speaking of money savers ... "Medicare for all."

So, therefore, it's wrong in other ways as well. With no cost controls of note (as I blogged two weeks ago, the electronic patient records are instead, so far, a lobbyist world boondoggle), no federal department of insurance regulation, etc., and also questions on just how much Obamacare will actually extend coverage, the price it's worth is actually pretty marginal, and Krugman should know that, too.

Can't believe Krugman wrote that. While he will at times poke Obama from the left, I'm going to have to give him a closer reading in the future, to make sure he's not got one foot in Obamiac land.

Blackouts in Texas this summer?

The state's electric reliability council is warning about the possibility, even with un-mothballing two old coal-fired plants.

And, 2012, actuually, wasn't that bad a summer. We don't have to be as bad as 2011 for us to face problems.

And, speaking of 2011, don't forget, these electric plants need water. If the drought is worse this year than 2012, even if it doesn't approach 2011, that's an additional complication.

That said, we progressives like to deride Dick Cheney for not talking about conservation. Will you raise your A/C thermostat, even before an official ERCOT warning?

Two twins — 1-plus brain(s); how many minds?

Tatiana and Krista Logan/NYTimes picture
This in-depth New York Times story about a pair of craniopagus, or head-conjoined, "Siamese" twins, Krista and Tatiana Hogan, raises the issues I note in the header. Here's why, in background:
Twins joined at the head — the medical term is craniopagus — are one in 2.5 million, of which only a fraction survive. The way the girls’ brains formed beneath the surface of their fused skulls, however, makes them beyond rare: their neural anatomy is unique, at least in the annals of recorded scientific literature. Their brain images reveal what looks like an attenuated line stretching between the two organs, a piece of anatomy their neurosurgeon, Douglas Cochrane of British Columbia Children’s Hospital, has called a thalamic bridge, because he believes it links the thalamus of one girl to the thalamus of her sister. The thalamus is a kind of switchboard, a two-lobed organ that filters most sensory input and has long been thought to be essential in the neural loops that create consciousness. Because the thalamus functions as a relay station, the girls’ doctors believe it is entirely possible that the sensory input that one girl receives could somehow cross that bridge into the brain of the other. One girl drinks, another girl feels it. 
Well, this gets to the question of whether a "self" exists or not, and ties in with sharing a mind, as to whether it's like pregnancy or not ... do you share a mind *all the time* with different "subminds" not shared, or do you NOT share a mind all the time?

And, then, with use of language, this raises another issue. Do you rightly call them "twins"? Of course, per Plato, that shows the problem with language at times.

I think they are twins, but it shows that consciousness is indeed based on embodied cognition, and is more than "just" the brain, though still materialist at bottom line.

But, with a hat tip to Plato's concerns about language's sometime obscurity, just how much of twins are they? Here's this:
‘I have two pieces of paper,” Krista announced. The girls sat at a small table in the living room, drawing, their faces, as always, angled away from each other. Each had one piece of paper. So I was surprised by Krista’s certainty: She had two pieces of paper? “Yeah,” the girls affirmed in their frequent singsong unison, nodding together. It was one of those moments that a neurologist or psychologist or any curious observer could spend hours contemplating. Was Krista using “I” to refer to both her and her sister? Is Tatiana agreeing with her sister’s assessment at a cognitive level or uttering the same word simultaneously for reasons unknown to her? 
The only thing wrong with the reporting here is that it doesn't include "philosopher" along with "neurologist" and "psychologist."

That said, it should put even my comment about "I think they are twins" under the microscope itself. Maybe they are 1.9 people? Everybody this side of Peter Singer, speaking of philosophers, might flinch at that, but, what if that is the best, albeit still rough, descrip tion?

The two themselves, or 1.9 themselves, appear to struggle a bit with the issue:
Although each girl often used “I” when she spoke, I never heard either say “we,” for all their collaboration. It was as if even they seemed confused by how to think of themselves, with the right language perhaps eluding them at this stage of development, under these unusual circumstances — or maybe not existing at all. “It’s like they are one and two people at the same time,” said Feinberg, the professor of psychiatry and neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. What pronoun captures that? 
That said, the story is two years old. As they are now in school and interacting with more people outside the home, it would be interesting to see the personality development. And, then, wonder more about how many people there are ... 2? 1.9? 1.94?

On the one hand, such precision loops back onto Plato's complaints about language.

However, it also fits with my stance that there is no such thing as a unitary self. It's hard enough, in the light of modern cognitive science, to believe such a thing exists in a "singleton" like me; for these unique craniopagus twins, that's even more the case.

I can understand the parents' feelings:
To the family, questions about whether the girls are two or one are so absurd as to be insulting. They are “two normal little girls who happen to go through life sharing a bubble,” Simms said. The family sees their unusual neural connections as something “neat,” as Louise, the grandmother, puts it, providing fascinating moments they notice but hardly lie awake at night contemplating. Of far greater concern to them is the girls’ physical health. “Every day when I wake up and they’re still alive — that’s a good day,” Simms told me. 
However ... the questions aren't absurd, no matter how "protective" the parents want to be.