SocraticGadfly: 3/24/13 - 3/31/13

March 30, 2013

Douthat hits new low on gay marriage

Here's the shorter Ross Douthat this Sunday: Increased yearnings for gay marriage have been part of the reason for the decline of straight marriage.

Now ol Rossty later says he's just talking about correlation, not causation.

Bullshit. His "just saying" tongue is clearly thrust in the side of his cheek.

Given that he's written two straight columns about gay marriage issues, linking to hardcore social conservative traditional marriage think tanks, and been blogging about it, this is clearly a pony he intends to keep riding for some time.

And, also, just on causation, it's a flat-out lie.

The divorce rate was actually higher in the pre-World War I era than in the 1950s, and I know there there was no push for gay marriage when Taft was president.

I mean, ol Rossty writes some craptacular columns at times, but it's clear that, on this issue, he's going to tell half-truths, lies by insinuation and more, all he can.

Maybe his gay colleague Frank Bruni will actually find some balls and kick Douthat in his. I highly doubt that, though.


That said, it's a craptacular Sunday at the NYT op-ed page in general. Teapot Tommy Friedman tells us that we should all be able to just create our own jobs. Bet that sells well at Davos and Aspen, eh?

Should the Times tighten its paywall further, to defeat NoScript or simliar workarounds, I'll be no more likely to buy an online subscription than I am now.

Good effing doorknob: The Wyly Bros have written a "book"

Well, one of the two, Sam, with his son Andrew, has published a piece of Texas exceptionalism dreck called " Texas Got It Right."

And, Walter Isaacson, who I always thought was a puffball interviewer and literary poseur, went down even further in my book by writing the forward for this "thing" that I got at my office yesterday.

This is why, when I lived in south suburban Dallas, I told Downwinders at Risk representatives like the stubbornly semi-vacuous Katy Hubener their group was sleeping with the devil by selling people on Wyly-founded Green Mountain Energy, rather than promoting a "green" electric plan from Oncor.

March 29, 2013

#EPA: Draft sulfur rules vs. reality

First question is, will the EPA's new draft rules to cut sulfur in gasoline by 60 percent and nitrogen oxides by 80 percent see the light of day?

It's a legitimate question. Everything it's proposed during Team Obama years, with the exception of fuel economy requirements (and that's loaded with loopholes, including for E85 vehicles) has been proposed, then, as it came close to being reality, been "modified," been "delayed," been "put on hold," been "called back for rewriting" or whatever.

So, pun of sorts intended, don't hold your breath over this one for a while.

Of course, Big Oil is, as it does with every other environmental issue related to hydrocarbons, inflating the cost. It might be more than a penny a gallon, but it's highly unlikely to cost 6 cents and almost certainly not 9 cents.

And, since this would make California standards national, as the story notes, vehicle makers could build one set of cars for the full United States. That, in turn, could mean lower vehicle costs.

But, given that most of those "held" proposals have involved pushback from the likes of either Big Oil or Big Coal, let's just wait and see before touting this too much.

I mean, I too love the idea, especially because it also has a particulant pollutant standard. But the idea ain't yet reality.

March 28, 2013

Did beer give us civilization? I doubt it.

Beer — was grain domesticated for it to actually help create civilization?
Photo from National Post
The idea that man first decided to domesticate grain for some forerunner of today's beer, rather than food, sounds intriguing, and just enough against conventional wisdom for somebody to trot out "paradigm shift" ideas, quotes from famous dead scientists taken out of context, and more.

Here's a study about the research claims, coming from (you hosers, eh?) Canada! And, here's a New York Times column by a psychiatrist, making the social psychology claims for why this would be true.

But, in reality?

I think it's all foamy froth, punning idea highly intended.

Let me dissect the idea in general, then specifics of both links.

I've read reviews and commentary on the idea in general. I find it interesting, at best, and almost SEO-hypish. If it had been about wine, or "wine" from other fruits, I'd be more likely to believe it. Humans would have seen drunk elephants or whatever, known something about the intoxication of rotten fruit, and gone from there. But, the only way they'd know about rotten grain becoming intoxicating is from that grain having first been stored. And, that storage would have been for food purposes.

First, those crazy Canadians:
While the SFU researchers say they haven’t found a “smoking brew pot” providing absolute proof that a thirst for beer drove the Natufian people to become farmers, they “conclude that feasting and brewing very likely provided a key link between increasing ‘complexity’ and the adoption of cereal cultivation.”
In other words, they haven't found anything. Certainly not anything new.

In fact, their study is that old bugaboo of research in the social sciences. It's ... wait for it ... it's ... metadata, or metaresearch, if you will!
The three Simon Fraser University researchers, led by SFU emeritus professor Brian Hayden, synthesized dozens of studies on the “Natufian” culture that, 10,000 years ago, occupied the region immediately east of the Mediterranean Sea, today’s Middle East.
Run like hell from hyped claims based on metadata. You don't believe me? Ask Bob Carroll at Skeptic's Dictionary.

The Canadians go on to talk about what they see as the importance of their unsubstantiated ideas:
Hayden told Postmedia News that “there are lots of implications” of the team’s findings, and that “brewing was just part of the picture” during humanity’s pivotal shift to settled, stable communities with enough food supplies to foster more complex cultural developments.

But beer-making, he added, was one factor “that we think was important in making feasts such powerful tools for attracting people and getting them committed to producing surpluses.”
In short, beer was the original opiate of the masses.

This, in turn, is based on the idea, powerful still in many left-liberal circles and claiming some weight with me, about the dark side of the agricultural revolution, namely, the development of class-based societies and the possession of private property.

That said, you'd really have to really want to get drunk to drink the ancient swill:
“Beers made in traditional tribal or village societies generally are quite different from modern industrial beers,” they state in the paper. “Traditional beers often have quite low alcohol contents (2 to 4 per cent) include lactic acid fermentation giving them a tangy and sour taste, contain various additives such as honey or fruits, and vary in viscosity from clear liquids, to soupy mixtures with suspended solids, to pastes.”
That, then, gets back to what I mentioned up top. Why not eat some semi-rotten, fermenting apples or peaches instead? Or, better yet, experiment with using cloth to filter solids out, and then fire for mild distillation?

Add in the fact that the authors talk about the addition of fruits, but fail to talk about fermented fruits, and it seems like an oversell.

At the NYT, Jeffrey Kahn picks up the social leveling idea and runs with it:
Once the effects of these early brews were discovered, the value of beer (as well as wine and other fermented potions) must have become immediately apparent. With the help of the new psychopharmacological brew, humans could quell the angst of defying those herd instincts. Conversations around the campfire, no doubt, took on a new dimension: the painfully shy, their angst suddenly quelled, could now speak their minds. 

But the alcohol would have had more far-ranging effects, too, reducing the strong herd instincts to maintain a rigid social structure. In time, humans became more expansive in their thinking, as well as more collaborative and creative. A night of modest tippling may have ushered in these feelings of freedom — though, the morning after, instincts to conform and submit would have kicked back in to restore the social order. 
But, if grain DID have any mind-altering effects, maybe it wasn't even from distillation.

Especially when colder and wetter periods hit the Fertile Crescent, can anybody say ergot fungus? St. Anthony's fire or ergotism as a result?

Many people think of medieval Europe and rye ergot. However, the fungus also grows fairly well on barley and wheat, the two common grains of the Middle East.

In short, if Neolithic Middle Easterners were getting wasted at the dawn of civilization, they may have been taking acid trips, not getting drunk.

So, for right now, my perspective? File this under Wolfgang Paul's "not even wrong."

Texas arson pseudoscience called out again

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did not set him free, but Waco-area resident Henry Graf will be getting a new trial, if the state chooses to retry him again.

In a ruling released Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said Edward Graf deserves a new trial because the scientific testimony used to convict him of arson murder has been proved false. But the court refused to find Graf actually innocent, as Graf’s attorney 
The ruling places the case back in the hands of McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna. If he chooses not to re-try Graf, the 60-year-old would automatically be released. He has been serving a life sentence at a prison in nearby Gatesville since his 1988 conviction.
How many cases will it take before CCA does the smart thing, the legally, logically and scientifically  correct thing, and starts not just vacating the original cases, but finding the defendants innocent, at least in cases where their original convictions was largely based on arson pseudoscience?

I mean, in Graf's case, the whole original trial was a piece of shite:
At Graf’s original trial, 
prosecutors alleged he somehow knocked out 8-year-old Jason Graf and 9-year-old Joby Graf, then carried them to a backyard storage shed before setting it on fire with the help of gasoline.

But prosecutors provided no evidence Edward Graf rendered the boys unconscious and the expert testimony about the fire was based on “arson indicators” that have since been declared bogus.

All the indicators prove, research has shown, is that a fire occurred. They can’t reveal whether it was an accident or intentionally set.

All five experts who newly reviewed the case agree such indicators were incorrectly used in the Graf case. They also questioned other parts of the prosecution’s theory.

For example, several of the experts said the door to the shed could not have been closed. If it was, the fire would not have grown to the point where it consumed the entire structure, because of a lack of oxygen, they said.

One defense expert went as far as to rule out the possibility the fire was intentionally set with an accelerant. Such a fire would have quickly generated intense flames, killing the boys before they could have inhaled the amount of carbon monoxide found in their blood, he said.
The CCA had plenty of room beyond the arson pseudoscience to not just throw out the original verdict but have Graf walk.

#Stlcards make smart new deal with Wainwright

Adam Wainwright, apparant Cardinal lifer.
I'm in total agreement with the new contract the St. Louis Cardinals and Adam Wainwright have agreed on.

 Five years and $97.5 million is a lot cheaper than 6/$147 for the comparable Zach Greinke. Sorry, Angels fans, but Moreno overpaid.

If Waino hits 85-90 percent of his 2011 level this year, we'll pencil him in for 130 ERA+, 17-18 wins, 5 WAR and 3.5 WAA. Except for his long-ago career year of 2009, Greinke has never, ever busted any of those marks.

It pretty much wraps up Waino's productive career at relatively cheap value. Even if he's down to 3 WAR, not counting any injuries, by the end of the contract, it's still no more than market value.

March 27, 2013

Gohmert Pyle parks illegally, lies about it

Louie Gohmert (R-Whackjob), who still outranks Ted Cruz in the Lone Star State's nutbar scale, has hit a new low. The GOP Congresscritter, according to Politico, first parked illegally by the Lincoln Memorial, then lied about why he had the right to do so, in his own self-inflated mind, all while browbeating Park  Police:
He told the Park Police that his congressional parking placard allows him to park in that spot, and he’s on the committee that oversees the agency.

Gohmert took the ticket off his windshield and placed it on a police car along with his business card with a written message: “Oversight of Park Service is my job! Natural Resources Thus the Congressional Plate in window.”

“I was issued a ticket and I am a congressman and parked my vehicle in the NPS parking only because I have a Congress placard, see,” Gohmert told one officer, according to the report. “I am going to a meeting on the Hill and I am the one who oversees the National Park Services Natural Resources.”
The latter is a lie:
A Park Police spokesman and Capitol Hill source said a congressional plate would not allow a lawmaker to park in a reserved spot near the Lincoln Memorial.
But, why are you surprised?

Nutjob Congresscritters like Gohmert, who claim to represent the Teabagger people, have no problem with RHIP stances inside the Beltway, whenever they think they can get away with it.

And, of course, he sells this stuff to the at-home nutjobs by saying the government is persecuting him, the Obama Administration is siccing the Park Police on him, etc.

And, of course, because they want to believe this, the at-home nutjobs do. Because, of course, somebody as saintly sanctimonious as Gohmert Pyle would never lie to them.

Meanwhile, why wasn't Gohmert Pyle invited to this Texas wingnut all-stars event?

March 26, 2013

Gay marriage and black opposition ... still an issue?

At the time that California voters approved Proposition 8, there was debate over the "whys" of it losing.

Mormons were blamed for pumping a bunch of money into the race, first of all. Whether that had any over-the-top help was unclear.

Some pointed the finger in part at black opposition. I was among those.

And I still am, due in part to research aggregation by Nate Silver at the New York Times' 538 blog.

For projected gay marriage support in Mississippi to be at just 21 percent in 2008, or 26 percent now, involves more than just white Republican opposition.

I'm not saying that black Democrats have the same degree of opposition, but simple demographics says they have to be more opposed than white Democrats.

That's supported by, in order from the bottom, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina being next in degree of opposition. All are "original Confederacy" states, along with Texas, separated from them by just Oklahoma. All have large black populations.

But that's not all.

In Maryland, we saw black elected officials oppose gay marriage legalization, as I blogged here. And, as Matthew Lind noted at the time Prop. 8 won, only 31 percent of blacks supported gay marriage in general, as I noted here.

On my first link, I note the especial opposition of black churches, who are going to be more concentrated in the South. So, this could become more and more of a flash point within the Democratic Party for some time. That said, this is nothing new. The start of both women's liberation and gay rights movements 45-50 years ago saw tensions between white women, or gays and lesbians, and minority members of those groups.

Will SCOTUS decide not to decide Prop 8?

That appears to be the fervent hope of one New York Times guest columnist.

Who amazes me, by showing that a law professor can so blatantly let the emotions of wishful thinking trump rational thought processes.

If the Supreme Court really wanted to dodge the issue for now, it could have simply refused to grant certiatori on the case on the first place.

But, instead, the Chicago Black Sox Nine in Black have decided they want to say something, whatever that "something" turns out to be.

As I've said before, the "target" and kingmaker is Justice Anthony Kennedy. The Obama Administration showed that in its amicus brief.

Here's the heart of the amicus:
The government’s brief concludes with a ringing denunciation of the California ban on same-sex marriage, which it said is based in “impermissible prejudice.” 

It then cited a concurrence in a 2001 Supreme Court case that said prejudice might not rise “from malice or hostile animus,” and might well be the result of “insensitivity caused by simple want of careful, rational reflection or from some instinctive mechanism to guard against people who appear to be different in some respects from ourselves.” 

No matter, the brief said. “Prejudice may not, however, be the basis for differential treatment under the law.” 

The author of that concurrence is Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who is expected to be a crucial voice within the court in both of the current cases. (That argument is similar to the one made in the administration’s brief in a second case before the Supreme Court concerning the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.)
Will Kennedy mind being referenced so directly? Actually, he may be flattered; he's got one of the bigger egos on the court.

That said, will the trick work?

I'd say yes, in part because the Administration narrowly tailored the amicus to the state (pun intended) at hand, rather than going national.

I predict Kennedy votes as part of a 5-4 majority to boot Prop. 8. And, even if the ruling is tailored to California, it will be a precedent of sorts.

Some indication of how Kennedy may be leaning might be inferred from the Nine giving the Department of Justice speaking time on its amicus brief.

Meanwhile, per Lyle Denniston and others, it looks like DOMA is toast, toast, toast. Again, Kennedy seems to be leading the charge on killing it in some way, shape or form.

Per Denniston, though, the "killing" could be even narrower than the Court's Prop. 8 ruling. As he notes with DOMA, the issue hangs on what level of "scrutiny" sexual orientation should get from the court. For example, racial-related issues get "strict scrutiny" while gender-related issues get a somewhat looser "high scrutiny." The Court has never ruled what level of scrutiny should attend sexual orientation cases.

Meanwhile, further thoughts per my previous touting of Kennedy's vote. Flipping religious right arguments on their head, he asked whether kids of gay parents might not be harmed by blocking the parents from getting married. 

Michael McConnell has a different tack. He notes that SCOTUS could, in the Prop. 8 case, find that the Californians suing to uphold it don't have legal standing. It seems to be a a strong argument legally, but I think actually suffers the same problems as Cole's top-linked column, or at least similar ones.

None of the lower courts even considered the "standing" issue. Frankly, I don't think the plaintiffs do have standing, but, if the lower courts haven't raised this issue, it would seem weird that the Supremes would now inject it.

Second, a denial of cert would have been an even easier route to take to kick hard decisions down the road.

So, bottom line is that the Nine in Black won't do what McConnell wants, or Cole.

So, what will happen?

I predict the court will take a middle ground, ruling Prop. 8 unconstitutional while paving the way for some sort of quasi-precedent on the DOMA case and how it affects states that have civil unions but not gay marriages.

And, general papers like the New York Times and insiders like The Hill both indicate that SCOTUS appears likely to rule against Prop. 8, but to keep a fairly narrow ruling. Whether it's California-only, or the "middle ground," remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Team Obama is still chickenshit on DOMA. It will no longer defend it, but it won't give back Ms. Thayer's $360,000 in federal taxes she had to pay because she wasn't legally married. 

This all misses the bigger issue, and that's the "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution. What happens when a gay couple married in Massachusetts moves to a "red" state that bans gay marriage, but has different state income tax rates for married couples filing jointly, like the federal tax returns? Or bars a gay spouse from a hospital room? Etc., etc.

At some point, the Nine in Black will have to tackle that issue.

And, assuming I'm right, fellow people concerned with gay rights should stop cringing so much, unlike Cole and McConnell.

And polls, even at Faux News, show that gay marriage opponents are a minority, and one that's growing ever smaller.

At the same time, that research shows that the South is hugely anti-gay marriage, so hugely that it can't be all white opposition. It has to be blacks, too.

This again goes to Prop. 8, and some PC liberals wanting to say black opposition had nothing to do with it losing. Bullshit. Sorry, but that's what it is.

March 25, 2013

400 million Chinese cars in 15 years - there goes the climate

A crappy Beijing smog day in 2013, like this one, may just be the new normal
in 15 years or so./New York Times photo
Well, 17 years, if you want to be technical, according to the New York Times.

Since China has just 90 million now, that means that the world will, from China alone, get another United States or so of vehicles added to world roadways by 2030.

Actually, given that Chinese emissions controls are far worse than US ones, and no better than Chinese controls of pollutants in general, as far as general pollution, we'll probably get the equivalent of about 3 United States' worth of drivers added to roads. And, on things like diesel, particulants from it may be 5-10 times worse.

And, just as here in the US, EPA mileage standards kind of "cook in" current pollution levels for some time, because people don't buy new cars every year, failure to require new pollution controls in China will "cook in" its dirty air for years, even decades, to come.

There's another factor. Per the story, a fair amount of China's oil production industry, along with its electric power industry, is state-owned. Requiring more efficiency and more cleanliness might show just how fragile the Chinese economic boom really is.

That said, this will make for a unique scientific experiment of sorts.

We already have some idea that particulate pollutants reduce global warming by reflecting sunlight. Given the dirtiness of Chinese diesel, but its leaders' recognition it will have to clean that up to prevent massive health problems, we're going to learn more and more about just how much it does, or does not do, to affect global warming.

We're also going to learn more about how a relatively less polluting (not counting carbon dioxide) China affects global warming once it adds more and more drivers. And, such learning will probably let us project more what India's eventual driver explosion will do.

Beyond that, the surge in particulate pollutants, before China tackles dirty diesel and dirty coal, will surely affect weather patterns in the region. Probably not so much China itself, except coastal areas, as it will Japan and North and South Korea, further to the east. And maybe even Canada and the US.

Meanwhile, the smog will provide fertile ground for other medical experiments. Like how carcinogenic particulate pollutants are or not. We'll possibly get information related to the EPA's 2.5 micrometer (2.5-10 micrometer, to be precise) fine particulates standard, even if the Chinese are primarily pumping out larger particulates. We may get information on how particulates beyond sulfur and nitrogen oxides contribute to acid rain. (I'll bet Japan and South Korea are soooo looking forward to that.)

We may even get geopolitical research information ... i.e., a World Trade Organization complaint from one or the other of those countries over Chinese "exportation" of pollution.

#Southwest, your new ads suck

Sorry, but an ad like this:

Does not say Southwest Airlines. And, I'm far from alone. (It actually says something like, "We're American Airlines in 2009, pretending that our market share isn't about to go into the toilet and that we're about to file Chapter 11.)

Herb Kelleher's probably doing a slow burn on his Harley.

You ought to fire TBWA and go back to GSD&M.

The iconoclasm that used to be part of Southwest's "branding" is gone, simply gone.

Of course, TBWA will probably spin this as a "success" because everybody and his dog is talking about how much your ads suck.

Whoever signed off on that ... Chief Information Officer Randy Sloan? Vice President Linda B. Rutherford? ... needs an injection of Southwest DNA.

Or, if this is ultimately Gary Kelly's idea, to somehow make Southwest more "respectable," maybe HE needs an injection.

Bags may fly free, but bad commercials sink like a sack of hammers.

The basic "your own path" idea is good. THAT "backbone" does say Southwest. But, the conceptualization, the visualization, the attempt at realization? That says anything BUT Southwest.

Rather than "generic basketball" player, why not Dennis Rodman? Or if that's too much, Charles Barkley?

The actors playing Southwest employees? NOTHING like you've had in the past, on the "bags fly free" series, above all. Paint drying on walls would be more exciting.

Per my "American Airlines" crack above, this commercial screams complacency. Settling. Traditionalism. Three words that, until now, were never in the Southwest playbook.

And, yeah, I never thought I'd be putting Southwest and the Dipshit Double A on a level playing field for anything.

Hey, #BrewCrew? #Stlcards say you have Lohse at that price

Bye, bye, Lohse./Image via Yahoo Sports
Word is that former St. Louis Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse has signed a three-year, $33 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Sure, he was 16-3 last year. Can anybody say "career year"? Or "contract year"?

How about saying that's the first time he's ever had more than 2.5 WAR in a season? His first 2-WAA season? His first time to hit 200 innings since 2008? Only his second-ever season of 110 or more on ERA+?

And that he's 34 years old and starting a three-year contract? And that the Brewers don't have Dave Duncan as their pitching coach?

That's a LOT to pay for a guy who may only be your No. 4 starter. It's also a lot to pay when, in terms of Brewer salaries for this year, you just made him your top-paid pitcher, or tied for No. 1.

He's certainly not better than Yovani Gallardo. Probably not that Marco Estrada. Possibly not better than Mike Fiers.

Oh, I look at the Brewers' depth chart on the mound and understand why they would want Lohse for this year. Their starting pitching is young, young, young, overall. They're looking for depth plus "veteran leadership." But, they overpaid to the tune of a three-year contract for that.

We in St. Louis will gladly take the No. 17 pick in the draft next year. Considering Yahoo's depth chart for the Cards lists six starting pitchers, he wasn't needed on one year at $13M, let alone the overpay the Brewers are doing.

So, Tim Brown at Yahoo is wrong when he says:
Those details aside, the pitching-poor Brewers have added one of the better available pitchers at what likely will be well below market value.
I could see a 1, even a 2 year deal to help nurture their young pitching staff. But, before the end of year 2, and all of year 3, this will be an albatross. Plus, some of those youngsters will be wanting some fat arbitration deals in light of this.