SocraticGadfly: 3/10/13 - 3/17/13

March 16, 2013

I stopped the presidential campaign tax donation

You all probably know the one I'm talking about.

That little check box at top right of your federal income tax return where you can contribute up to $3 of your taxes to the federally-financed presidential re-election campaign fund.

Ever since Barack Obama escalated opting out of the system to a new level in 2008, and doing an ethnically dubious head fake on John McCain in the process, I've become less enamored of it.

The 2012 election, even setting aside Citizens United, raised those feelings even higher.

And, since things like the Federal Election Commission are stacked and biased in favor of the two major parties, why should I help something that Democrats as well as Republicans abuse, and that will never, ever, under current structure, help Greens.


This year, for the first time since I became an even halfway liberal adult, I refused to check the box. And will continue to not check it in the future.

But, I'll still vote for third-party options, and tout them, whenever and wherever I can.

If nothing else, just to be a pain in the ass to the bipartisan political establishment.

That, too, is part of my First Amendment right.

For now, at least.

From the same neolib that gave #Obamacare to #BigPharma

Now comes an even bigger giveaway: the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Doctors Without Borders explains just what's wrong with this baby.
The TPP negotiations, which currently involve eleven Asia-Pacific countries, are being conducted in secret, but leaked texts reveal the most aggressive intellectual property (IP) measures ever suggested in a trade deal with developing countries. The U.S. proposals threaten to roll back internationally-agreed public health safeguards and would put in place far-reaching monopoly protections that keep medicine prices high and out of the reach of millions in the Asia-Pacific region.
Gee, are you surprised?  Somewhere, somebody is again popping out the IOKIYAO line, but it's not OK.

How bad?

Bad enough that it sounds like Monsanto is writing some of this.
One proposed TPP provision would require governments to grant new 20-year patents for modifications of existing medicines, such as a new forms, uses or methods, even without improvement of therapeutic efficacy for patients. ...

Meanwhile, provisions in the proposed investment chapter would give pharmaceutical companies the right to sue governments for instituting any regulation that reduces their expected profits, using private tribunals that circumvent a country’s judicial process. U.S. pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly is using similar provisions in NAFTA to demand $100 million from the Canadian government for invalidating one of its patents.
That bad.

March 15, 2013

Joe Nocera gets teh stupids for Summit Power

I swear, every time Joe Nocera writes about climate change issues, he gets stupider:. And yes, he's probably topped his Keystone XL howlers with this paean to Summit Power and its proposed carbon capture coal-fired power plant near Odessa.

He gets two things wrong: Laura Miller and the "greenness" of the plant.

On Laura Miller, anybody who lived in Dallas for any length of time around the start of this century knows that the Laura Miller Nocera idolizes died, oh, about the time she decided to leave the Dallas Observer and run for mayor of Dallas. By the time her mayoral tenure ended, she had become a caricature of the politicians at Dallas City Hall she used to skewer.

On Summit, if it really were that green, since China is building so many plants from the ground up, don't you think it would? (I have lived in Odessa as well as the Metroplex, therefore I know well both hales of Nocera's wrongness.)

Or, if it's actually relatively energy efficient, ditto on China, since as JoePa says, it's worried about growth above all else.

So, either it's not that green, or carbon capture on coal sucks up a fair bit of energy.

That dichotomy doesn't exclude that a carbon-capture plant, at least with coal, actually could have problems on both sides of the street.

And, for those who know the reality of Summit, such appears to be the case.

But because Tricky Ricky Perry and others are in love with coal, still ... including Texas' dirty lignite, Summit, unlike the AEP-proposed plant in Illinois, will probably stick it to somebody somewhere on pricing.

Finally, while CO2 can indeed enhance oil recovery, we still have little guarantee about how long it will stay in the ground.

I mean, Joe Nocera knows not one fucking thing about the reality of this issue. Not one fucking thing.

Has Obama found some environmentalist gonads?

I definitely want to see the fine print, but if he takes a step 1/10th as strong as, say, NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, has been so far, this proposed executive order would be huge.

Here's how such an order would take off on NEPA's current regulations:
While some U.S. agencies already take climate change into account when assessing projects, the new guidelines would apply across-the-board to all federal reviews. Industry lobbyists say they worry that projects could be tied up in lawsuits or administrative delays. 

For example, Ambre Energy Ltd. is seeking a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to build a coal-export facility at the Port of Morrow in Oregon. Under existing rules, officials weighing approval would consider whether ships in the port would foul the water or generate air pollution locally. The Environmental Protection Agency and activist groups say that review should be broadened to account for the greenhouse gases emitted when exported coal is burned in power plants in Asia. 
But, here's where the fine print already comes in.
 Lawyers and lobbyists are now waiting for the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to issue the long bottled-up standards for how agencies should address climate change under the National Environmental Policy Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970.
And, that's why I think that's there will be more horsemeat than beef in this burger.

I bring to mind, say, the Consumer Finance Protection Agency. Still crafting legal standards. Ditto for other post-Great Recession Obama federal agencies on regulating banksters.

And, given the history of the Department of Interior under Obama, I'm not holding my breath too much.

That said, as the story notes, any executive order expansion of NEPA would invite citizen lawsuits just like NEPA's other protections. However, if a subsequent Republican president revokes that executive order, what happens?

Bloomberg's story says any court cases already decided would set precedent. But, the conservative activists on SCOTUS care little for precedent.

And, anti-Keystoners who, in their ongoing fight, think this would give them more ammunition? I doubt it.

And, Obama's plan to finance energy security could backfire; the funding depends on money from federal oil and gas drilling leases, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski has already explicitly tied it to ANWR being opened for drilling.

Texas drought, wildlife and more

Recently, endangered whooping cranes got a win in court, one that will have big fallout if drought continues.

Federal District Judge Janis Jack said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality failed to adequately manage Guadalupe River water flows, so that enough frewshwater reached the sea ot nourish crabs for the cranes' food.
“Inactions and refusal to act by the TCEQ defendants proximately caused an unlawful ‘take’ of at least twenty-three whooping cranes” in violation of the endangered species act, Jack held.
The biggie that she said drought was and is no excuse.

(And now, Attorney General Greg Abbott, who's never met a federal law he liked, is seeking a stay of the judge's ruling, while threatening to appeal if not — which he will anyway.)

And, speaking of, per the Lower Colorado River Authority, drought concerns are predicted this year on that neighboring lake.

Is LCRA right?

You bet your boots it is.

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, here's what spring-early summer looks like. More than 50 percent chance of above normal temps for the whole state, and 33 percent chance of below-normal precipitation for most of it, and that during Texas' rainy season. The height of summer has the same temperature predictions, and 33 percent chance for below normal rainfall over more than half the state.

No wonder ERCOT is warning of blackouts this summer, too.

And to the degree this reflects climate change, in the longer term, this will hurt Texas labor productivity.

And what that means is that if there's a lot more 100-degree days, a fair amount more 105 days and a few m ore 110 days, things like the economic miracle of oil and gas fracking are going to start melting like ice on a summer sidewalk.

March 14, 2013

More thoughts on #Francis the talking pope & #PZMyers

I blogged some initial thoughts about the election of Frances the Unnumbered yesterday.

Just a couple more, though, and a bit on the snarkier side.

First, whether in cardinals electing a pope, a high-church Protestant denomination calling a pastor, or similar, if it is really a "divine call," then why doesn't god make his divine will immediately clear?

Why do the cardinals have to cast multiple ballots?

Or why does the initial divinely called Protestant pastor turn down the call?

Well, you know the real answer: "God works in mysterious ways."

Followed by various declarations about how "his ways are above are ways," etc.

Yep, more of the inscrutability of god.

And, if the pope turned over some of his own priests to the Argentinian junta, then ... that, too, was god's will, right? Because god foresaw all of this.

I don't often venture into snarky Gnu Atheist territory, but I do on occasion.

And this is one of them.

This is a simple, and clear, illustration of the "problem of evil," and of what length orthodox Christians will go to in an attempt to dodge the issue.

And, Gnu Atheist kingpin P.Z. Myers is right on this issue of "crunchy theology" vs "squishy theology." And, like him, I actually prefer dealing with crunchy theology at times.

Of course, on the narrow issue of the election of a pope, I'm not being half as snarky as Taslima Nasreen.

Sayonara, Phoenix?

I've said more than once that the best economic stimulus for the Desert Southwest, with it being ground zero on the housing bubble bursting, would have been to move a lot of recent transplants to the Midwest. Those from SoCal would have to move elsewhere than back to LA-LA-Land, too.


In a word?

The climate horror story that Phoenix likely will be by mid-century.

Less rain. More water demands.

Either Lake Mead or Lake Powell going functionally dry, and cutting both water availability and hydroelectric availability. (This is why SoCal transplants to Phoenix can't move back there, either.)

Nights that don't cool off below 100 degrees.

The growing heat island effect.

And, not mentioned in the story:

The feedback effect of more heat causing more A/C use, which then pumps more heat back outside. More car A/C use causing more carbon emissions, which besides global problems, further intensify the heat island. Ground subsidence from groundwater overpumping making the Valley of the Sun an even deeper valley, retaining more heat.

Get the U-Hauls.

I will disagree with one way with William deBuys, specifically his link to Rebecca Solnit.

I do NOT expect Disaster: Phoenix to end with a heaping helping of communitarianism. At least not among the libertarian-conservative white folks who are the better-heeled transplants, and natives.

They'll refuse to pay more for "low lifes" to do outside work with greater weather danger, first. (And yes, the soaring heat will definitely hit labor productivity.) Second, they'll start preying on each other. Libertarian types generally do that.

Beyond that, I think Solnit is kind of misty-eyed on this subject in general ... like disaster porn watched through a soft-focus filter.

More Obama and the soft bigotry of low expectations

I've said more than once that one of Shrub Bush's most notorious phrases actualy fits Obam (and Obamiacs) quite well.

The latest proof?

Dear Leader's claim that "I'm no Dick Cheney" on drone warfare. Well, the actual direct quote was, "This is not Dick Cheney we're talking about here."

Well, Maximum Leader, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad could say "I'm no Adolf Hitler" on anti-Semitism, too, couldn't he?

That said, Dear Leader made his statement to a group of Democratic senators.

And when Jay Rockefeller — someone who exemplifies Teddy Roosevelt's "backbone of a chocolate eclair" — is the one to start expressing concerns, Obama's claim is weak tea indeed.

Of course, that's just part of this bigger issue:
While Obama defended his handling of the issue, he told his former Senate colleagues he understood their concerns about being left out of the loop on such sensitive decisions, senators said. The president noted that he would have “probably objected” over the White House’s handling of this issue if he were still a senator, they said. But, according to the sources, he noted his viewpoint changed now that he occupies the Oval Office — not a room in a Senate office building.
And, many Obamiacs still say, IOKIYAO.

And, that's part of the problem.

No it's not, first of all. Party affiliation does nothing to justify an imperial presidency. The back-to-back "reigns" of LBJ and Tricky Dick showed that 40 years ago.

Second, even if Rand Paul was grandstanding with his filibuster (and dumb enough, or venal enough) to accept AG Eric Holder's non-answer "answer," that doesn't excuse Obamiacs from playing CYA on Holder's fanny, let alone Obama's.

But, back to the main point.

Obama did do wel by raising EPA fuel standards. Arguably, though, that was for "energy independence" reasons more than environmental ones.

Other than that, his administration has generally been a string of sellouts, including recently, and that's exemplified but not limited to Keystone XL.

I'll say nothing too much about his love for the banksters beyond his ire at Frontline's report over his administration refusing to prosecute.

And, we all have heard about the sequester; between his Catfood Commission and other things, it's at least arguable Obama halfway likes the sequester as well as halfway causing it.

"Is we learning yet?" Jay Rockefeller finally started.

March 13, 2013

#Judas kisses a shape-shifting #Jesus

No, really!

A newly-deciphered Coptic gospel-type text tells us exactly like that, and should reignite discussions about whose interpretation of the recently translated and interpreted Gospel of Judas is correct.

Here's the nut graf:
(T)he ancient text tells of Pontius Pilate, the judge who authorized Jesus' crucifixion, having dinner with Jesus before his crucifixion and offering to sacrifice his own son in the place of Jesus. It also explains why Judas used a kiss, specifically, to betray Jesus — because Jesus had the ability to change shape, according to the text.
Note TWO bizarro things there.

One is a shape-shifting Jesus, which is actually the less bizarre of the two.

The more notable one is Pilate offering his own son in place of Jesus.

First, why is the shape-shifting less bizarre?

In canonical gospels, in post-resurrection appearances, Jesus appears to have powers at least vaguely similar. In Luke, the Emmaus disciples don't recognize Jesus until he seemingly allows it. And in John 20, in the "upper room appearance," he pops in out of nowhere. And in the apocryphal, but early, Gospel of Peter, Jesus becomes mega-giant sized.

Here's the specifics of the shape changing here:
"Then the Jews said to Judas: How shall we arrest him [Jesus], for he does not have a single shape but his appearance changes. Sometimes he is ruddy, sometimes he is white, sometimes he is red, sometimes he is wheat coloured, sometimes he is pallid like ascetics, sometimes he is a youth, sometimes an old man ..."  
That said, the story notes that this idea goes back at least to the Egyptian Christian Origen, who died in 254. So, even if the text is "newer," the tradition is not THAT new. That said, as the story notes, the text is written pseudepigraphally in the name of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril  lived during the fourth century, so this text is surely at least 100 years later than Origin's death. That said, it may have a "history," beyond the Judas kiss, that goes back earlier.

More on this, and the Pilate offer, after I mention it.

As for Pilate?
"Without further ado, Pilate prepared a table and he ate with Jesus on the fifth day of the week. And Jesus blessed Pilate and his whole house," reads part of the text in translation. Pilate later tells Jesus, "well then, behold, the night has come, rise and withdraw, and when the morning comes and they accuse me because of you, I shall give them the only son I have so that they can kill him in your place."
That said, in the story about this text, a scholar notes Pilate had higher, even much higher, standing in early Coptic Egyptian and Ethiopian Christianity than elsewhere, even being regarded as a saint.

Still, there's been nothing like this in any Coptic text that I know of. The level of ridiculousness of this part of the story indicates that while part of it could have older roots, the current version of this text has undergone plenty of history.

As for the tie-ins with the Gospel of Judas and its interpretation? It may bear some light as to whether that Gospel should be interpreted as Judas being Jesus' enemy rather than a being, a person, specially enlightened by Jesus. The fact that at least one quasi-semi-Gnosticizing text, the one at hand, points to Judas as an enemy means that this interpretation of the Gospel of Judas, contra a Bart Ehrman, is more likely.

As for the reality of the existence of Judas (operating on the assumption of the existence of Jesus) and Jesus' betrayal by Judas?

That's below the fold.

Francis the talking pope?

Pope Francis/via Wikipedia
And, yes, I'm punning off an old, old movie serial set. Do teh Google for yourself.

Anyway, Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who apparently has a dark history in covering up for thuggery of the 1970s-80s Argentinian military junta, has been elected as Pope Francis.

Great. Divert the eyes of the public from sex abuse scandals to human rights abuse scandals.

That said, defenders of him on this and other issues say this is overblown, per a "fact list" about Francis. On the other hand, the Guardian's reporter, on the first link, has been reporting on Latin American issues for decades.

The AP has more. Any things Francis did on the plus side in helping people vis-a-vis the junta seem to fall short on the claims of how he kowtowed.

I'm venturing liberation theology Catholics in Latin America are especially unhappy, if the more recent smoke is white smoke, not black smoke, about his problems. That's despite his sympathy for the poor otherwise.

And, yes, he wants kids to be baptized even if born out of marriage, but doesn't want gays to adopt kids like that (per the second link):
In 2010, he said allowing gay couples to adopt is a form of discrimination against children, earning a rebuke from the country's president. 
Yes, that's why he's "conservative and orthodox." You were expecting something different, after all the Cardinals John Paul II and Benedict XVI named?

Charles Pierce has more on his conservative Catholic network connections.
So, at first glance, we have a deft clerical politician with a long track record of managing to straddle controversial issues while leaning always toward the powers in Rome. We also have someone who may not be pope for very long. We also have the perfect product of the Church produced by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Their papacies continue unabated.
Sounds about right.

Trivia/history: First non-European pope in more than a century. First "Francis" ever. No word yet on why he chose that "style." And, first Jesuit pope ever.

Add the "Jesuit" part on top of all the other stuff above ... and ... don't expect the Vatican to become any more "open," whether to change, whether for transparency, or in general.

Have fun bitching about him, Garry Wills and all other Catholics who still refuse to up and leave.

Of course, with his age, he's arguably somewhat a "caretaker" pope. So Wills can bitch for 7-10 years, unless at his own age of 78, he dies before the pope does.

As for people who point out his condemnations of neoliberal capitalism as practiced by the World Bank et al? Big deal. John Paul II was already doing that, and conservative Catholics in the First World (that's you, Rick Santorum) ignored this and other calls for social justice then.

Beyond that, if Francis really does care more about the poor, freeing up money from the Vatican Bank would be a starter. Partnering with secular NGOs on microloans in the developing world would be another.

And, in general, trying to help the poor, as long as they're heterosexual and inside God's plan, doesn't erase anti-gay bigotry.

(Of course, since there's no god and no plan, from where I stand, it doesn't matter. Just saying that Catholic defenders of Francis shouldn't claim too much for him.)

And, a bit of "funny," per a G+ acquaintance:
VATICAN CITY - College of Cardinals says white smoke was false alarm: "We were just burning documents and evidence."
Sounds about right.

And, maybe his style should have been Pope Evito? As in, "Don't cry for him, Argentina."

Texas state budget up to $94B in senate; whooping cranes and water

The Texas Senate Finance Committee has added $5B to its original plan. That includes what is still too tittle, but an additional $1.4B in education spending.

The budget really needs to be on the high side of $95B, but the Senate Finance Committee has at least partially unknotted its panties.

Yes, sales tax returns are tapering off, but the economy in general still looks good.


Meanwhile, endangered whooping cranes have a win in court, one that will have big fallout if drought continues.

Federal District Judge Janis Jack said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality failed to adequately manage Guadalupe River water flows, so thast enough frewshwater reached the sea ot nourish crabs for the cranes' food.
“Inactions and refusal to act by the TCEQ defendants proximately caused an unlawful ‘take’ of at least twenty-three whooping cranes” in violation of the endangered species act, Jack held.
The biggie that she said drought was and is no excuse.

And, speaking of, per the Lower Colorado River Authority, drought concerns are predicted this year on that neighboring lake.

March 12, 2013

Evgeny #Morozov weirds out

Evgeny Morozov, one of the leading Cassandras of what I call "the Dark Side of the Internet," has an interesting, quite interesting, interview in The Guardian.

Among the things in it is this nugget:
I've become very strategic about my use of technology as life is short and I want to use it wisely. I have bought myself a type of laptop from which it was very easy to remove the Wi-Fi card – so when I go to a coffee shop or the library I have no way to get online. However, at home I have cable connection. So I bought a safe with a timed combination lock. It is basically the most useful artefact in my life. I lock my phone and my router cable in my safe so I'm completely free from any interruption and I can spend the entire day, weekend or week reading and writing.
He was then asked if the timer has a workaround. To which, he replied:
To circumvent my safe I have to open a panel with a screwdriver, so I have to hide all my screwdrivers in the safe as well. So I would have to leave home to buy a screwdriver – the time and cost of doing this is what stops me. It's not that I can't say "no" to myself. I just waste too much energy having the internal conversation. I'd rather delegate the control to my safe and use my remaining willpower to get something done. I find it a very effective system.
Sounds like some version of Internet addiction, if you buy that as a real issue. (As I sit here typing out a blog post.)

That pair of paragraphs then, speaking of blogs, led to a long blog post with even longer comment section, by Nicholas Carr, another Dark Sider, but one perhaps somewhat more nuanced, and more broad-minded in the range of his critiques at the same time, than Morozov.

I love reading a lot of Morozov. His putdowns of Jeff Jarvis and Clay Shirky are simply excellent, and I wish he'd do more of the same to Jay Rosen.

But, as the dialogue goes on and on, a lot of his comments to Carr sound more and more like special pleading.

And, ipso facto, proving Morozov wrong, and that there is a real thing called "the Internet," albeit with sometimes fuzzy borders.

I also don't get why Morozov, if he is that worried about the Internet whose existence as a more than just a message medium he denies, has a smartphone, even if he locks it up along with his computer cable.

Or, if he thinks the problem is overreliance on technology in general, the critique still partially applies.

That said, vis-a-vis Carr, and some others, I think his critiques are too narrowly focused at times.

March 11, 2013

David Brooks tells new lies about oil, ignores #PeakOil

I don't care that the International Energy Agency claims the US will pass Saudi Arabia in oil production by 2020, or that it will become energy independent in five years, according to Citigroup, as David Brooks breathlessly reports.

Both (all three, counting Brooks himself) are wrong.

The shale gas boom appears Ponzi-like. As blogged here before, Chesapeake is drilling for gas because lenders are forcing it to, based on previous reports.

Oil? Even with the fracking boom, we still import 40 percent of our oil needs. Bakken in North Dakota, and Eagle Ford in Texas, are not THAT big of plays. Neither are renewed finds in the Permian Basin. 

More Brooks:
Joel Kotkin identified America’s epicenters of economic dynamism in a study for the Manhattan Institute. It is like a giant arc of unfashionableness. You start at the Dakotas where unemployment rates are at microscopic levels. You drop straight down through the energy belts of the Great Plains until you hit Texas. Occasionally, you turn left to touch the spots where fertilizer output and other manufacturing plants are on the rebound, like the Third Coast areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Northern Florida. 
In short, this is where Brooks wants to believe he'll find "heartland boboes." Rather, he'll find "Cancer Alley" on the Louisiana (and Texas) part of that Third Coast. He'll find well-paying, for blue collar, but grinding, drug-use-heavy oilfield jobs by people who have no use for his boboism.

Beyond that, Brooks lies about the IEA lies. Its full report says the Saudis will surpass the US again after a short US "triumph" of less than a decade.

Here's IEA details, per the top link:
The IEA said it saw US oil production rising to 10 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2015 and 11.1 million bpd in 2020 before slipping to 9.2 million bpd by 2035.

Saudi Arabian oil output would be 10.9 million bpd by 2015, the IEA said, 10.6 million bpd in 2020 but would rise to 12.3 million bpd by 2035.

That would see the world relying increasingly on OPEC after 2020 as, in addition to increases from Saudi Arabia, Iraq will account for 45 percent of the growth in global oil production to 2035 and become the second-largest exporter, overtaking Russia.

OPEC's share of world oil production will rise to 48 percent from 42 percent now.
Of course, Brooks thinks incestuous prognosticators like IEA, EIA and Daniel Yergin are just the starting point, anyway, I'm sure.(And I wrote that without reading all the way through his column to see if he had mentioned Yergin or not. He did, prominently.

Brooks also lies by omission by not mentioning the rising EPA fuel standards in years ahead as a factor.

Brooks on energy? A kinder, gentler Dick Cheney.

And Yergin's told his own oil-related lies over the years.

This is your brain on #spirituality? Well ....

A human brain allegedly hooked on "spirituality."
Ocean/Corbis photo via Daily Mail
Not totally. Perhaps not even close to totally. So, not quite really, despite the breathless hype.

The only parts of this research that I would accept as true are:
1. That, however "spirituality" is defined, it is driven by more parts of the brain than previously believed;
2. That, speaking of the above, there are all sorts of experiences we might define as "spiritual."

Here's where the over-hyped rubber hits the road, though.
1. Various electronically-driven brain scans, whether fMRI, CAT, or SPECT, are still, to use a Photoshop word, very "bitmappy" in terms of low spatial resolution, and quite time delayed to boot.
2. This particular study, even with the allowance it was specifically designed to focus on people with parietal lobe injury, only studied 20 people. Wayyyy too small of a sampling sizes.

And, that's just on "measurement error" problems.

We haven't even talked about research bias problems. Like this, from University of Missouri researcher Brick Johnstone:
He surveyed participants on characteristics of spirituality, such as how close they felt to a higher power and if they felt their lives were part of a divine plan. 
Johnstone later tries to claim that the non-religious also experience "spirituality." But, since he's definining spirituality in metaphyiscal terms, religious ones if we count New Ageism, 12-Steppism and "atheistic" varieties of Buddhism as religion, then he's skewing his research.

That means this statement by the reporter:
The research indicated that there are all kinds of spiritual experiences that Christians might call closeness to God and atheists might call an awareness of themselves.
Simply isn't true; or at least, it's only "true" in a question-begging light. 

And, since it's bylined only as "Daily Mail Reporter," I don't even know who to blame.

But, it's simply not true. 

Even worse, neither the reporter nor the researcher mentions the likely role of the temporal lobe in generating such experiences. Temporal lobe epilepsy has long been associated with religious ecstasy and visionary experience.

Oh, and per a former acquaintance on an email list, who was from the British Isles? While US newspapers often aren't great, this is why your touting of the greatness of British journalism is pretty much wrong. 

#Bloomberg, anti-sugar idiot

I didn't realize until today, when I read that a New York judge struck down New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's anti-sugary-drinks law, that:

1. It only applies to sodas and not other sugar-laden drinks (that's YOU, Starbucks, we're talking about, among top offenders with sugar-laden dairy drinks) and
2. It only applies to restaurants, not convenience stores.

The first is bad enough, and per a Facebook friend, appears to have been influenced by New York's dairy lobby.

The second is simply idiotic.

If Bloomberg is really worried about sugar intake, then wouldn't C-store "Big Gulps" be No. 1 on the "hit list"?

Does 7-Eleven have lobbying office in Gracie Mansion?

Then there's this:
The ruling stunned the Bloomberg administration, which was deep into preparations to begin enforcing the ban and had even boasted on Monday that it should be applied nationally as a remedy to rising obesity rates. Mr. Bloomberg had scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning to celebrate the inauguration of the new rule, when he would stand with lawmakers who supported the initiative, according to a person told of the plans. 
"Stunned"? Why? Justice Milton Tingling's ruling is, frankly, absolutely correct legally on Item 1. It's absolutely correct morally on Item 2, if not legally as well.

Now, the $64 question. Is Bloomberg a political naïf (to be polite), or is he Just.Another.Politician.™?

I lean more toward the former, based on this:
At a news conference on Monday, hours before the ruling, Mr. Bloomberg predicted little resistance to the measure. “I think you’re not going to see a lot of push back here at all,” he said. “I think everybody across this country should do it.”  
Earth to Bloomberg? Maybe you didn't tax Starbucks Frappucinos because you need to smell the coffee yourself?

That said, I think the judge is wrong on another point:
The judge also appeared to be skeptical of the purview of the city’s Board of Health, which the Bloomberg administration had maintained has broad powers to seek to better the public’s health. That interpretation, the judge wrote, “would leave its authority to define, create, mandate and enforce limited only by its own imagination,” and “create an administrative Leviathan.” 
Regulatory agencies in general have powers that are often broad, and sometimes "latitudinarian."

Meanwhile, it appears this is just part of a larger pattern of behavior by Bloomberg, making decisions without city council members' approval. It's why, going back to Ross Perot, this idea of a big businessman having some magical skills to use as president, is laughable. They all want to be like Bloomberg or Perot — authoritarians ignoring Congress.

Which doesn't work, at least not on domestic policy.

March 10, 2013

Rand Paul, hypocrite, meet David Corn, idiot / #Obamiac

I agree to some degree with David Corn that Rand Paul comes off as some degree of hypocrite for accepting part of Attorney General Eric Holder's explanation about the use of drones inside US borders, for things like shooting down rogue planes.

That said, if it was a political move, it seems to have worked.

But note that I only agree to some degree.

I disagree with this:
But decrying the administration for possible drone assaults against noncombatant American citizens within the United States is a phony issue, a modern-day equivalent of black-helicopter-phobia.
Sorry, it's not.

Given that the Texas Department of Public Safety used a helicopter to lethally fire on a truck allegedly carrying illegal immigrants last year, it's not a phony issue at all. We know Obama is, at bottom line, as nutbar about the War on Drugs as most Republicans, and is like a weather vane on immigration issues.

Besides, as the Guardian notes, Holder carefully couched his language:
Attorney general Eric Holder then clarified the administration's policy on Thursday and said that Obama would not use his authority to order a drone to kill an American on US soil who was "not engaged in combat."
But it's still the White House that defines, on American soil as well as outside, who's a "combatant."

And, as the New York Times notes, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
What, exactly, does the Obama administration mean by “engaged in combat”? The extraordinary secrecy of this White House makes the answer difficult to know. We have some clues, and they are troubling. 
Troubling indeed, given everything in Afghanistan.

What if the Texas DPS said: "We believed that truck had illegal immigrants in it, therefore everybody we shot is an illegal immigrant"? Well, that's what Obama has consistently claimed about "combatants" and drone strikes in Afghanistan, and it's a claim that Holder very carefully refused to surrender inside US borders.

As Ryan Goodman notes in that New York Times piece:
Is there any reason to believe that military drones will soon be hovering over Manhattan, aiming to kill Americans believed to be involved in terrorist financing? No. 

But is it well past time for the United States government to specify, precisely, its views on whom it thinks it can kill in the struggle against Al Qaeda and other terrorist forces? The answer is yes.

The Obama administration’s continued refusal to do so should alarm any American concerned about the constitutional right of our citizens — no matter what evil they may or may not be engaged in — to due process under the law. For those Americans, Mr. Holder’s seemingly simple but maddeningly vague letter offers no reassurance.
And David Corn gave Obama and Holder a "pass" for another refusal to offer such specificity.

This is also why, for years, I've considered David Corn overrated. As an investigative journalist, he's good at getting tips, but not so good, a lot of times, on connecting the dots.

And, here's Glenn Greenwald, actually connecting the dots while calling shenanigans on the likes of Corn, his scoffing at Paul, and his apparently deliberate misreading of Holder.

And, the Economist calls shenanigans on Paul. Great takedown here:
The problem with Mr Paul's filibuster was that it was small. He is a man of tender conscience with some legitimate concerns about the legal mess that is the war on terror. But though he may claim, as here to Fox News, that he has clarified those questions, he has not....

He secured no answers at all about the legality of drone strikes overseas (which are, let us not forget, the only drone strikes to have ever happened, outside the feverish imaginations of the black-helicopters crowd). Nor did he extract any information from the government about the wider legality of that post September 11th assertion of world-wide war powers. ...

There is an urgent need for better oversight of America's war on terror. ... Ignore the praise for Mr Paul this week. He has proved nothing about the right's appetite for such hard, risky work, and shown instead a movement excited by any chance to rally round a popular cause, and feel good about itself.
Bingo. And, David Corn, in halfway recognizing that, at the same time, underscored what the Economist said about liberals having even weaker knees on this issue:
Conservatives are well placed to provide that oversight, because most Democrats are disinclined to criticise Mr Obama in public over his use of drones, secret detentions and intelligence sharing with legally dodgy foreign agencies.
That's you being criticized, David Corn.

Meanwhile, the Times now has an in-depth story about the US hunt for Anwar Al-Awlaki, speaking of US citizens killed by drones without legal due process. As Greenwald notes, it's pretty "sympathetic" to Team Obama, especially in the legal rationalizations area.