May 04, 2013

Move over, Pop Ev Psych, you may have a new bedfellow

The "replication" phenomena in social psychology, and first cousin behavioral psychology, depending on your phrase of choice, is getting to be bigger and bigger. The latest problem, or casualty? Research claiming to have demonstrated the priming effect.

Nearly as big a problem? The way supporters claim there's no problem. Or maybe a bigger one?
Bargh, Dijksterhuis and their supporters argue that social-priming results are hard to replicate because the slightest change in conditions can affect the outcome. “There are moderators that we are unaware of,” says Dijksterhuis.
Geez, this sounds just like psi phenomena researchers!

More evidence that's bollocks?
Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego — a long-time critic of social priming — notes that the effects reported in the original papers were huge. “If effects were that strong, it is unlikely they would abruptly disappear with subtle changes in procedure,” he says.
Bingo.

Then, there's more special pleading:
Dijksterhuis says that “focusing on a single phenomenon is not that helpful and won’t solve the problem”. He adds that social psychology needs to get more rigorous, but that the rigour should be applied to future, not historical, experiments. The social-priming debate will rumble on, he says, because “there is an ideology out there that doesn’t want to believe that our behaviour can be cued by the environment”.
You don't venture much closer to at least junk science, if not pseudoscience, with a Red Queen comment like that.

Now, the Nature story says there's no suspicion of fraud at this time. But, this did come from the Netherlands, and Nature mentions the name of known Dutch research fraudster Diederik Stapel.

I, like Daniel Kahnemann, would like (in part) to believe that priming is real. It fits with some ideas I have about subconscious or semiconscious subselves. But, my thoughts on subselves aren't dependent on ideas of priming. And, the whole idea of "pliability" behind priming may be more iffy in general than some would wish.

Per Kahneman's phrase, "fast thinking" is possible without any such pliability in general or priming in particular.

And, since both behavioral and social psychology are partial spinoffs and developments from good old fashioned B.F. Skinner behavioralism, there's other reasons to be skeptical, eh?

Even worse, they and ev psych are arguing the same issues from other ends of the stick. And they're both apparently making inflated claims, tho ev psych, especially in its pop version, still appears worse, and has started most of these tempests.

That said -
A: Two wrongs don't make a right;
B: This shows just how little we know, yet, about human mental development.

Dan Dennett, Doug Hofstadter get a double-barreled takedown

They've both got new books out, and one great paired set of reviews blasts both, especially Dennett.

It appears "Uncle Dan," as he suavely calls himself is being more snide than ever. And, yes (more below) he can be snide at times, and has been for some time. Hell, how do you think he got to be a Gnu Atheist "horseman"?

But, that snideness isn't just to the living. It also, per the review, includes the dead who can't speak back, like Steve Gould. For people familiar with their smash-ups over greedy reductionism, the formal structure of evolutionary theory and more, none of this is surprising:
Intuition Pumps is valuable in providing an overview of a body of recent work in the philosophy of mind, but it suffers as well from Dennett’s penchant for cleverness—no more egregiously than in his soi-disant playfulness in mapping nasty flaws on his favorite intellectual targets, like Stephen Jay Gould. It grows tiresome and tacky: He returns to a long-ago pissing match with Gould to discuss rhetorical sleights of hand, and even coins a new word to describe the tendency to advance straw-man arguments and false dichotomies—“Goulding.”
Can't believe Dennett has hit new levels of petty via-a-vis Steve Gould, for example, but he has. And, of course, he's pretty much been recycling old thoughts for more than a decade.

And, let me add that most of the time, re Gould, that Dennett was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Definitely on his claim that evolution is algorithmic. That statement's nowhere close to being provable, let alone proven. And I suspect it never will be. That statement is also an example of the greedy reductionism Dennett can see in others but never himself.

And, recycling? Hell, yes. Dennett hasn't had major new thoughts in 15 years. No, the idea of "brights" was not major. It arguably wasn't really thought, either, but just a subtler form of the polemics he seems to exhibit in this new book.

Meanwhile, beyond "Goulding," his intuition pumps sometime involve an element of straw-manning, if we're going to coin phrases.

Finally, Dennett didn't invent the concept of Cartesian theater, as philosopher of science Steve Toulmin noted 15 years ago. (After all, he wasn't the only smart student Gilbert Ryle ever had.) More, though, he failed to carry out the idea that we lack a Cartesian theater-running self to the next logical conclusion — there's no Cartesian free willer, either. Imperfectly, a Daniel Wegner has carried that ball further down the field, as have others. 

I thank Dan Dennett for giving me an introduction to modern philosophy of mind and related subjects in a nonformal way. I thank him for the general idea of intuition pumps (which he stole from Einstein's gedankenexperiment, of course). And, I thank myself for seeing how he can insert straw men into some of them. And, I thank myself for moving beyond Dennett's introduction to these modern philosophical issues.

Hofstadter gets off relatively lightly, but not unscathed.

The biggest criticism he gets is for taking the idea of analogies too far. For being too ... er, reductionistic with it! That said, it appears to be another book chock-full of his sense of word play in the service of analogies. But, with the reviewer, I think he's all wet if he really thinks analogical thinking is the core of human thinking. Ev psych is right when it points to pattern-detectors, agency-detectors, then discriminators, as being more core. And all of those are about concepts and categories first, analogies second.

May 03, 2013

The week in the most transparently slouching toward Gomorrah administration in history

OK, "the most transparent administration in history" is anything but that, in general, but it's been hitting a new pitch this week.

Let's start with this plan to force Facebook, Google, et al to cough up even more private information about us, when the gummint orders it. Again, if BushCo said that, liberals would be having a massive group coronary, but, once again, the "soft bigotry of low expectations" may come into play.

Next, and speaking of communications? A telecom mogul and lobbyist gets tabbed to be the fox watching the chickens at the Federal Communications Commission.

Tom Wheeler then gets topped.

The woman who foisted Dear Leader on the presidency, Penny Pritzker, gets a birthday president when he nominates her to run the Commerce Department. (Must be a Chicago deal, since Bill Daley did that gig before.)

Meanwhile, Obama's private banker, Jamie Dimon, where Dear Leader I believe still has a $500K checking account, is in a heap of new trouble. I'm sure slaps on the wrist are forthcoming.

Finally, Eric Posner says there's nothing stopping Obama from closing Gitmo.

No wonder Obama was his laughing self at the White House press gang's annual shindig. He cleared a whole lot of work off his plate.

May 02, 2013

Neonicotinoids off hook on bee collapse, USDA and EPA say

An official report, with "more study is needed" and "multiple causes," officially lets neonicotinoid pesticides off the hook.

Indeed, on the issue of pesticides, it said pyrethroids may be more to blame.
Pesticide exposure to pollinators continues to be an area of research and concern, particularly the systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids. Despite concerns regarding the potential hazard that systemic pesticides may represent to honey bee colonies, when pesticides are viewed in the aggregate at the national level, the frequency and quantity of residues of pyrethroids coupled with the toxicity of these insecticides to bees could pose a 3-fold greater hazard to the colony than the systemic neonicotinoids.
Now, it's true that the EU vote, after recommendation from the European Food Safety Authority, was a bare majority. And, it's also true that the USDA/EPA report doesn't give absolution to neonicotinoids. That said, the details of its "more study is needed" portion of the report seem to indicate it doesn't expect any major new findings will change its mind soon.

May 01, 2013

Does USGA golf have a "Tiger rules" ethics problem? Golf fraud?

Don't agree w/NY Post politics, but love its headers!
That said, the Masters and USGA misplaced theirs, too.
When Jim Nantz has more cojones ...
For true golf fans, you all know about Tiger Woods' questionable drop on the 15th hole, Round 2 of the Masters, the failure for it to originally be "caught" and the initial lack of enforcement fallout on that.

Well, at the time, when I blogged about it, I speculated it was some sort of pro golfer and NOT "Joe Fan" who caught it.

And, I was right; David Eger, a Champions Tour golfer, and a tournament director with both the USGA and PGA, flagged the violation and reported it.

And, from there, the story gets ... well, ultimately, it gets kind of ugly. Because, it looks like Augusta National, on a dark interpretation, was playing with "Tiger Rules." On the darkest interpretation, it was approaching attempted golf fraud. Whether for TV ratings or whatever.  Which would be funny, given Billy Payne's bluenosed, or brown-nosed, claim that it doesn't worry about TV.

Let's start with this quote:
It is a quirk of golf that anybody may report a possible rules infraction. It helps ensure accurate scorecards. Without the public's faith in the posted scores, tournament golf as we know it would not be possible. Eger and many people like him have an intuitive and deep understanding of that underlying principle.
So, therefore, the issue of TV watchers phoning in violations? Pro golfers need to deal with it. Rule 33, whether rightly or wrongly applied at Augusta, covers the general issue of a fan calling in something that either the individual or a rules official didn't catch immediately, even after a scorecard has been signed.

However, here's where it gets more sticky.

It looks like Masters rules officials planned on doing nothing, even after Eger's phone call AND text message to an official he personally knows, and who was at Augusta. That is, until Tiger's press room statements forced the issue.
Eger said he did not have a phone number for (Fred Ridley, the tournament's competition committee chairman), but he did have one for Mickey Bradley, a veteran PGA Tour official who he knew was working the Masters. ...

Eger described the drop to Bradley. Their call ended, and Eger sent Bradley a text message about it as well. ...

Bradley immediately called Ridley and Russell, the veteran PGA Tour administrator who is on the three-man Masters competition committee that is chaired by Ridley, a former U.S. Amateur champion and USGA president. Bradley also forwarded Eger's text to Russell and Ridley. In his text, Eger wrote that Woods "didn't appear to play by Rule 26-1-a." He wrote that he "appeared to be 3-4 feet back" from his divot mark. 

Bradley forwarded Eger's text message at 6:59 p.m. ...

In a telephone interview on (April 28), Russell said the video of the drop was reviewed before Woods finished his round. Russell said he did not review the tape because he was on the course. He also said there were roving rules officials on the 15th hole and others stationed by the green, but they were too far away to see precisely where the ball was dropped. Woods did not request any help with the drop, neither from his playing partners nor from rules officials. That's not surprising. Golf has many complicated rules, but dropping under 26-1-a is not one of them.
That's all "set-up," but important enough.

Here's the nut graf related to my headline:
At 7:30 p.m., 10 minutes after Woods completed his round, Ridley responded by text to Bradley. Regarding Eger's estimate of three to four feet, Ridley wrote that Woods "was closer than that." To look at it closer, he wrote, would be "splitting hairs." Ridley determined that Woods had done nothing wrong, so there was no point in asking him about the drop.
Sure sounds like "Tiger Woods rules," doesn't it?

That is, until more golf fans, and media (even Jim Nantz has balls!) started pushing back:
At about 10:15 on Friday night, nearly three hours after his return text to Bradley, Ridley was informed of Woods's comments to ESPN, by way of a call from Jim Nantz of CBS. The network was taping its 11:30 p.m. Masters recap show when producers saw Twitter chatter questioning the legality of Woods's drop, on the basis of the ESPN interview, during which Woods essentially incriminated himself, unknowingly indicating he made an incorrect drop when he moved back those two yards.

Nantz asked Ridley if he was aware of the internet rumblings. He was not. On the recap show, David Feherty outlined the options Woods had available to play his fifth shot on 15 and questioned whether the drop was made correctly.

After the call from Nantz, Ridley contacted Woods's agent, Mark Steinberg, who was having dinner at jam-packed T-Bonz Steakhouse on Washington Road late on Friday. Steinberg forwarded Ridley's message to Woods, and Woods met with Ridley on Saturday morning. At that time, Woods was assessed the two-shot penalty.
In other words, Masters officials were ... prepared to commit golf fraud until called out about it. Period.

But wait, that's only the first half of the ugliness.

Because behind and beyond actual or attempted frauds, there's always the cover-up.

Per ESPN, the USGA and the R&A are now saying "we think this was handled fine." Boy, butt-kissing, "Tiger rules" squared and more.

For a sport that touts self-policing on ethics, etc., this really doesn't look so good. Really doesn't look so good.

Given what we now know, per the top link, IMO, maybe 33-7 should NOT have applied. And, if we need a DQ, Fred Ridley should DQ himself from running the Masters rules committee or having any part of it.

As part of that, per the story about Eger, let's reference the old proverb — "The guilty flee when no one pursues them." Then why is Ripley "fleeing"? As he is:
Last Friday, (April 26), Eger spoke about the drop. The next day, Mickey Bradley did. On Sunday, Mark Russell did. On Monday, Steve Ethun, an Augusta National spokesman, responded to an interview request sent to Fred Ridley by e-mail. Ethun said Ridley was traveling and would be unavailable.
Yeah, "traveling." Bullshit.

Beyond that, another ESPN column reminds us that "intentionality" isn't even an issue. Theoretically, not even with the new 33-7 overlay rule. It's a basic rule, that Tiger should know. He blew it. The "Tiger rules" folks at Augusta should have disqualified him. If not, he should have DQ-ed himself.

But wait, we're not done with the black eyes yet. Go below the fold.

Vijay Singh, Mr. Deer Antler (Spray) got a pass from PGA Commissioner Tim Finchen. Finchen says that because the WADA has removed the spray from its list, even though it was on the list at the time Singh used it, there's no penalty. That said, there was an initial sanction, but that was appealed. ESPN puts that in the passive, but you know who was appealing.

Several thoughts here. Golf, as an individual sport, has no union. So, Vijay may have threatened legal action as part of that appeal. Means good luck for the USGA and the R&A on trying to ban anchored putters as that issue heats up.

Second, per Bob Harig, it doesn't look good for the WADA and its vaunted hard line on doping. Why did it remove the spray from the list? If it doesn't offer a benefit, why was it on there? And, don't just ask Vijay Singh this one. Mr. Deer Antler Felon, Ray Lewis, when not becoming a football retirement punch line, might have more to say.

Third, per Fox Sports, here's how screwed up the WADA is:
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said Tuesday that while admission is tantamount to a failed drug test, WADA informed the tour late last week that it no longer considers the use of deer antler spray to be prohibited except for a positive test result.
So, WADA is saying, in a Kafkaesque way ... "take it, and take your chances, depending in part on the thoroughness of your sport's testing program."

Oh, loverly.

Autism tentatively linked to SSRI use

Swedish researches say they have found a tentative connection between autism and maternal use of either SSRI antidepressants or tricyclic ones while a mother is pregnant.

First, it's good that the study was cautiously worded. That's good research, not headline hunting.

Second, it's not the first study to find some sort of link.

Third, it doesn't claim this is the only link.

Fourth, it makes sense.

Throughout the developed world, antidepressant use has risen in the past couple of decades, as have births by older mothers, along with impregnation by older fathers, and age of both mothers and fathers has also been linked to autism.

Note: "Connection" or "association" are better words than "correlation" on this, as the degree of increase is quite small. Given that autism is a spectrum of disorders, somewhat of a grab bag, that's to be expected.

Tim Hudson not close to Hall of Fame

Except in the mind of ESPN fluffer David Schoenfield, Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson is NOT, NOT, NOT building a Hall of Fame career.

There has to be something in ESPN's water coolers to for them to consistently spout nonsense like this.

Schoenfield first reverts to the non-sabermetric stat of winning percentage, showing he knows he has a weak case. He at least admits Hudson is not there yet, though he insists he's "getting there" on a HOF career.

Wrong.

Per his Baseball-Reference page, he's got very little black ink, and not even a lot of gray ink. For not walking a lot of people, his WHIP is on the high-ish side. He's only been over 6 WAR twice in his career. And, at 37, the clock is ticking on him getting counting stats.

If he gets to 240 wins, which he could by the end of 2015, at age 39, then let's talk about how close he is.

And, it's in the water over there at ESPN, for sure. Jonah Keri thinks Kevin Brown is a HOFer.

Not.Even.Close.

#Tiger Woods, #Masters cheater

Don't agree w/NY Post politics, but love its headers!

Update, May 1: As I predicted, it was NOT Joe Fan, but a golf pro, who originally phoned in about Tiger Woods bad drop at the 15th hole of Round 2 at the Masters. It was a golf pro, still unidentified. More here, in which Augusta National looks more goofy. Again. And, possibly deeper into playing favorites.


Tiger Woods didn't get an "unlucky break" by how his ball bounced after hitting the flagstick on the 15th green in Friday's second round.

Instead, he got a lucky break by not being disqualified for cheating on where he took his drop after his ball bounced in the water.

Per Dan Wetzel's column (and Dan, for someone who could take on the "mighty" Bowl Championship System, you're an awful suck-up to Tiger and the Masters) Woods acknowledged deliberately improving his lie by not taking a drop allowed by golf rule standards. (Update: Wetzel has doubled down on the Tiger suck-up hypocrisy in a second column.)

And, per ESPN, the rule is pretty damned clear.

Therefore, a two-shot penalty, instead of disqualification, is clearly "Tiger favoratism."

The man knows the rules of golf. He deliberately broke this one.

Beyond that, another ESPN column reminds us that "intentionality" isn't even an issue. Theoretically, not even with the new 33-7 overlay rule. It's a basic rule, that Tiger should know. He blew it. The "Tiger rules" folks at Augusta should have disqualified him. If not, he should have DQ-ed himself.

Update, May 1. Given what we now know, per the top link, IMO, maybe 33-7 should NOT have applied. And, if we need a DQ, Fred Ridley should DQ himself from running the Masters rules committee or having any part of it. And worse, the USGA and the R&A are now "getting the back" of Ridley and Augusta National. A sport that has a lot of self-proclaimed ethics has got a bunch of issues with that now.


And, if a Chinese youth can get a bogus stroke penalty for delay, and if 45 years ago, Roberto de Vicenzo can get penalized for his playing partner's mistake at Augusta, then a cheater can get disqualified. Or a semi-cheater. Or somebody for whom ignorance is not an excuse and shouldn't be.

This isn't about Tiger's mistresses, etc. This is inside the gallery ropes. Let's see how many Tiger homers continue to defend him.

The fact that Tiger is taking to Twitter to defend himself shows he knows th score. And, in Wetzel's column, Ernie Els' shrug of the shoulders with his comment indicating "Yeah, it's Tiger," shows he knows it's another score.

And, it's not just Tiger. Any "ordinary" tournament, a favor like this would attract less scrutiny.

But, because the Masters puts itself on a pedestal, it's invited second-guessing.

I mean, for years, NBA writers talked about the "Jordan Rules" in basketball. We've now got evidence of similar.

I mean, this was phoned in yesterday, or emailed in, or whatever, by a fan. Masters officials claimed video evidence yesterday was inconclusive, but they reverse themselves today? On what grounds, other than Tiger's words? And, since those words indicate deliberation, then why no DQ?

And, if Bob Costas, yesterday, on Dan Patrick's radio show, could chide CBS and The Masters for not talking about racism and other issues? Bob, let's hear you now.

Update, 5:15 p.m. Saturday: Well, Nick Faldo had no problem weighing in from the CBS side. He just talked about "old rules" and "new rules" of golf, and said that, per his own thought and discussion with fellow pros of his age, that, under the "old rules," a golfer in Tiger's position would have DQ-ed himself.

Let's have somebody interview Jack Nicklaus on this!

And, as of April 25, he's now weighed in. He says he thinks the penalty was appropriate. OK, but then, his logic goes fuzzy. He says that if Tiger had DQ-ed himself, THAT would have been a statement by Tiger that he was above the rules.

Meanwhile, Masters rules officials screwed up on how they handled this. Tiger should immediately have been met by them, or as soon as they heard, with full review of video, instead of what actually happened.

Meanwhile, if not in a major, golfers have voluntarily withdrawn from other tournaments in similar situations, as John Feinstein notes. So, it's not rule 33-7, designed for TV viewers phoning in more iffy rules violations, that's at issue with "new rules" vs "old rules." Because this wasn't a call made by a viewer of Woods' drop, but of Woods' statement after his round. Maybe Sir Nick was referencing that, but the reality is this is Tiger rule vs. rules for others.

And, per Golf Channel, it sounds like Masters officials are either kind of clueless, or were taking the lead in perpetuating Tiger rules. Maybe the unnamed caller threatened to go more public. And, had a name big enough that, if he did so, this would have been a hand grenade exploding.

That said, whether Tiger actually DID gain an advantage or not, I can't believe that he doesn't know that rule better. I'd like to also have his current caddy, Joe LaCava, talk (fat chance). I'd also like to hear his outspoken long-term former caddie, Stevie Williams, weigh in on if he, as Tiger's caddie in the past, knew the rules that clearly, and what he would have said to Tiger if he saw him trying to do something like that.

And, I got my wish for Adam Scott to win. Now, Stevie, even if nobody sticks a mic in your face, speak out anyway.

And, speaking once more of Williams, don't forget it was his read, based on his experience, of the putt Scott faced at No. 10 in the playoff that let Adam win.

Almost to a man, even the ones who think Tiger should have gotten a DQ, or else withdrawn, still think it wasn't deliberate, in the sense of trying to get a deliberate edge.

WTF? That's not what the unnamed caller thought, I think.

I'm not sure, overall, who has more egg on the face, Tiger or Augusta National. It's awfully damned close between a golfer thinking he's privileged and an alleged "major championship" that got busted in preferential treatment as well as second-rate management.

Meanwhile, you Tiger fellators who call people like me Tiger haters? Look in the mirror; your slobbering over him leads to disdainful reactions like this.

Ted Cruz for Prez?

Ted Cruz via National Review
Supposedly, Texas' highest-ranking, and second nuttiest (still behind Gohmert Pyle) true wingnut, is eying a presidential run in 2016.

Oh, I think this surprises none of us. But, to get the "imprimatur" of an official write-up in National Review means it's kind of serious. Semi-breathless, if you will.

That includes the seriousness and depth within the write-up.

It's clear that NR itself takes this seriously:
Republican power brokers from the early-primary states have noticed. They tell me that the Cruz factor is a frequent topic of discussion among state-based strategists.

“You bet, he’s on my radar,” says Chad Connelly, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. “Conservatives think he’s a rock star. I hear about him from everybody.”

Cruz’s allies whisper that the 42-year-old attorney, who holds degrees from Harvard Law and Princeton, doesn’t take the groundswell of enthusiasm lightly. Besides talking with conservative grandees, he has called his peers in the legal community and raised the prospect.

“We all see a path, and he does, too,” says a former Cruz colleague. “This isn’t someone who needs to be told the obvious. He didn’t run for the Senate to get cozy, so no one who knows him is surprised that he’s at least looking at it.”
Oh, boy.

Now, despite some GOPers seeing him as Barry Goldwater and loving that, others have to be seeing him as Barry Goldwater and seeing "39 percent." True, four years later, Tricky Dick had the GOP back in the White House. Of course that was in part by arguably committing treason over Vietnam peace talks, but that's another story.

That said, should the Tweedledum party, then, rejoice on that second half of the split and hope for a Cruz dogfight within the GOP? Possibly, but not necessarily.

Instead, it should worry about getting an actual liberal presidential candidate who will defend liberal values. You might actually get a Green voter like me interested.

If not, if Dems slide further right, then grassroots Democrats should worry indeed about Ted Cruz.

April 30, 2013

Ex-NRC head: NO nuke plants are safe in US - what next?

Wow, I somehow missed this one.

Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in early April that all 104 US nuclear power plants are flawed, namely that they have unfixable safety problems and (if we're going to continue to keep nuclear power as part of our mix) they should not have their lifespans extended and should be replaced with newer-technology plants.
Asked why he did not make these points when he was chairman, Dr. Jaczko said in an interview after his remarks, “I didn’t really come to it until recently.” 

“I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” which were made more evident by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, he said. “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.” 
This is a serious issue. 

The solution? He recommends making new plants smaller sized, for one thing.

Now, Jaczko's time at the NRC was contentious, as the story notes. But, there too, it was in the issue of safety. And anti-nuclear activists have long charged the NRC with being an industry lapdog.

That said, I'm one of those climate change worriers who says nuclear power needs to be part of the picture in our energy future. It needs to be safer, yes. It also could become even more efficient, ie, some sort of breeder reactor. Or maybe thorium-fueled reactors will turn out to be the real deal.

Renewables can't be all of the mix, unless you want to get rid of utility companies, period, or unless you're ready to start investing in storage. Nuclear power helps us transition further away from coal, and not rely almost solely on natural gas. Plus, as the western United States dries out more and more with climate change, there's going to be less and less hydropower available.

We should not see this as a chance to junk nuclear power once and for all.

Germany (vaunted by many American non-skeptical-thinking green types) did just that after Fukushima. Result? Despite its rooftop solar, it's greatly increased the amount of coal it burns, so that it's now the second largest importer of US coal, after China.

Rather, this is a call to do nuclear better and safer. If that means, to prevent private lobbying, the nuclear power industry in the US gets nationalized, that's fine by me.

Why papers dying matters to other news sources

Most Americans probably don't realize it, but most their local TV news is ripped from the headlines of the newspaper.

Proof? In this article on how half the LA Times staff may quit if the Koch Bros. buy the paper is this tidbit:
The LA Times largely decides what is LA news. The opening segment of LA's public radio programs, such as AirTalk and Which Way, LA, is generally a story on page one of the Times that day. All LA news outlets follow and cover at least some of what the Times reports.
So, if a newspaper dies, whether immediately or in the longer term, that affects TV and radio news.

And, no, bloggers can NOT fill all that void. Are they/you going to work for even more peanuts than today's journalists do on things like long investigative projects?

Yes, I recently ranted, primarily about cable TV news, but about "defending" the mainstream media in general. But, bloggers, Redditors, etc., aren't a replacement. Period. And a slimmer paper means less for bloggers to link to. Because, this one included, most of us are doing analysis, not reporting. Let's be honest.

Unfortunately, the alternative seems to be a return to pre-World War II, with civic magnates owning newspapers, but with just one or two left in even the biggest of our cities.

And, let's be honest, like Matt Ingram (wow, I actually like something he wrote) calls on newspapers to be honest. Newspapers have always fudged, inflated, or ginned up their circulation numbers. Counting an online subscriber who also has a hardcopy as two different subscribers (or three if they're also on mobile) only makes it worse. And, per Matt, no, it's not justified by past practices.

The #KochBros must be stopped? But how? And why?

Image via FreePress.net
Just about every liberal activist knows by now that the billionaire climate-denying oil barons, Charles and David Koch, want to buy the suite of newspapers in the Tribune Company, including the L.A. Times and Chicago Trib. Mother Jones has a good profile of what's at stake here.

First, on the "they must be stopped" is ... maybe not. Maybe they don't need to be stopped.

Garance Franke-Ruta, at the Atlantic, argues that as regional papers (yes, the gutted L.A. Times, since the Trib takeover followed by the Sam Zell demoltion, is that; it's not a national newspaper anymore, if it was at one time), they can't go too conservative, or the market forces that the likes of the Kochs like to tout (until folding, spindling and mutilating them) will demolish them.

She has a good point. Nowhere in the U.S. is an avowedly conservative paper the leading paper in a city. The Washington Times is obliterated. The New York Post is a laughingstock to all but true believers. Phil Anschutz's  Examiner stable are also-rans in all locations.

In the two biggest cities in question, there's other issues. The L.A. Daily News and the Orange County Register are already more conservative than the Times, definitely with the OCR, arguably with the Daily News. If the Kochs try to go right of both of them, the Times will tank for sure. In Chicago, the Sun-Times is arguably more conservative.

In Baltimore, if they take the Sun too far right, a Washington Post with brains, and a gamble, could start a Baltimore edition.

And, especially with a fair amount of news not paywalled, including all AP and Reuters news via news aggregators, it would be easy for a lot of readers to ditch them for non-local news anyway, and then, if they don't live in the central city, rely on their suburban weeklies for print news and radio or TV for big local or regional news.

Speaking from my personal-professional knowledge of the industry, the Kochs could take a bloodbath in L.A. and Chicago.

If Dean Singleton finds more brains than he's shown in the past, or his hedge fund stakeholders force him to, the Daily News could take a half-step to the left in L.A., while beefing up local coverage, and obliterate a partisanly-hacked Times.

And, reflecting this? Yes, wingnut claims aside, the typical reporter or editor at a big-city paper is probably at least a bit more liberal than the general readership, but reportedly, HALF of Times staffers indicate they'll quit if the Kochs buy the paper.

In Chicago, the Sun-Times isn't as much more conservative as the OCR is in greater Los Angeles; it may be more so than the Daily News, but it still wouldn't be too hard of a step. Heck, some Trib readers might go there by default. Let's not forget, either, that Chicago has a set of suburban daily papers. If a Koch-owned Trib flushes real journalism down the terlit, they'll be set to pounce.

Of course, the counterargument is "Sun Myung Moon." He willingly took a bloodbath, year after year, over the Washington Times.  The Kochs could do so for even longer. And, if L.A. Times staffers are dead set on quitting, if the Kochs buy the paper, they'll hire replacements for less. In fact, they probably welcome you quitting just as much as you welcome the idea of quitting.

So, perhaps Franke-Ruta is just half right.

That said, beyond money, there's the issue of "reach," of influence.

If the Koch Bros. make a knee-jerk change of direction with these papers, even if they don't care about financial losses, the loss of readership will mean loss of influence.

That said, I don't think the Kochs do "nuance" very well. But, since the average newspaper reader is better educated than the average general American, and the Koch Bros. have a reputation, the only way to get past that is by doing "nuance."

Again, back to Moon and the Moonie Times. It did nothing but preach to the choir in an echo chamber.

Now, what if this isn't good enough, and you think the Koch Bros. must be "stopped."

As to the "how"? There's nothing illegal about them buying the papers. There's also no civil monopoly at stake or conflict of interest at stake. In short, unless some liberal group wants to outbid them, they have a right to do what they want.

A better starter project would be to write PBS, protesting the David H. Koch Fund for Science's continued sponsorship of Nova.

Tom Pauken joins #WestTX exploitation

Gee, Tom, what took you so fricking long?

Not to be squeezed out of the limelight of exploiting the West Fertilizer Co. plant explosion, already-announced GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Pauken, who has never in reality met a regulation he actually liked, is jumping on the exploitation bandwagon with both feet. From a press release of his:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Pauken called on state leaders to release information regarding compliance of West Fertilizer with applicable state and federal rules regarding highly hazardous materials. As reported by the Dallas Morning News, efforts to get such information from Texas A&M AgriLife Research, “which houses the office in charge of the documents”, have been denied by state authorities, citing confidentiality in refusing to make public these records.

Pauken stated, “It is important for Texans to know whether West Fertilizer was compliant with applicable state and federal regulations regarding the safety of the facility which maintained highly hazardous materials. Were state officials aware of problems at that facility in advance of this disaster?”

Pauken continued, “Texans deserve to know the full context surrounding this tragic event and should see steps taken by state leadership to avoid similar occurrences elsewhere around the state. I call on the Governor and Attorney General to move quickly to release any information that may explain how this tragedy unfolded and what the state might do from a safety standpoint to be better prepared in the future.”
No other officials, i.e, TCEQ Exccutive Director Zak Covar, need worry about being on the Pauken hot seat. Only Messrs Perry and Abbott, per this press release. That's the clearest sign this is all about politics.

Per his heartless extra-legal opinion yesterday, what's Abbott going to do next, claim that gay domestic partners caused the explosion?

April 29, 2013

Abbott's running for Texas gov - he's outwingnutting Perry

For a number of weeks now, people have been speculating whether or not Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was running for governor in 2014. They would compare his donor totals to Rick Perry's, and even ask if he had poached any A-list donors from Tricky Ricky.

But, in Texas far-right politics, sometimes, you have to follow other things besides the money.

And, today, Abbott showed he's almost surely running for governor, without us having to do a money count.

Abbott today said that local governments cannot offer domestic partners insurance benefits. Now, this is technically targeted at either straight or gay domestic partnerships, but really? Being led in, and led on, by the even more homophobic Dan Patric, we all know the score.

Here's the details:
In the nonbinding opinion, Abbott determined that local jurisdictions that offer such benefits “have created and recognized something” — domestic partnerships — “not established by Texas law.” 

“A court is likely to conclude that the domestic partnership legal status about which you inquire is ‘similar to marriage’ and therefore barred” by the state Constitution, he wrote. 

The opinion was a response to a question asked by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who had raised concerns about the Pflugerville school district, as well as the cities of El Paso, Austin and Fort Worth, extending such benefits to domestic partners.
Of course it was Dan Patrick who asked him for his opinion. It's in light of House Bill 1568. Per the Trib, the bill would "revoke the accreditation and withhold funding from Texas school districts that allow employees to add a domestic partner to their health care plan." It's passed committee level and is headed to the floor.

Doorknob forbid two Mooslims want to have domestic partner benefits. Patrick and Abbott should shit on each other.

So, why didn't Abbott and Costello target just gay partnership benefits?

Simple. Abbott doesn't know how the US Supreme Court's going to rule on the Defense of Marriage Act. Oh, it's going to get shot down in some way, but how broadly is anybody's guess. Assuming there's a wide ruling, there's no way aiming at gay domestic partner benefits only is going to pass a federal constitutional test, and even Abbott knows that.

Beyond that, Abbott's all but said that the job, especially because he's two-dimensioned it down to suing the Obama Administration, has left him bored. I think that he sees diminishing returns in suing too much.

That said, hey, Republicans, when are you going to ask Abbott how much this all costs? I've blogged before about "fiscally conservative Republicans" wasting money on suits against the feds, or, at the local level as well as the state level, deliberately passing laws they know are going to get rejected.

Plus, as shown by him beating Perry to West, Abbott knows he's got to expand his profile and his schtick. Expect him to emphasize consumer protection more, unless it involves enforcing new regs he doesn't like (like if a real payday loan bill passes the Senate and somehow gets Tricky Ricky's signature). So, if you see Abbott traveling more in Texas, and leaving any lawsuits (especially ones he knows are a loser) to assistants, that's another sign.

Burnt Orange Report, on behalf of Equality Texas, tries to put a nice smiley face on Abbott's stateent. Doesn't fly with me.

Update, April 30: Not to be squeezed out of the limelight, already-announced GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Pauken, who has never in reality met a regulation he actually liked, is jumping on the West exploitation bandwagon. From a press release of his:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Pauken called on state leaders to release information regarding compliance of West Fertilizer with applicable state and federal rules regarding highly hazardous materials. As reported by the Dallas Morning News, efforts to get such information from Texas A&M AgriLife Research, “which houses the office in charge of the documents”, have been denied by state authorities, citing confidentiality in refusing to make public these records.

Pauken stated, “It is important for Texans to know whether West Fertilizer was compliant with applicable state and federal regulations regarding the safety of the facility which maintained highly hazardous materials. Were state officials aware of problems at that facility in advance of this disaster?”

Pauken continued, “Texans deserve to know the full context surrounding this tragic event and should see steps taken by state leadership to avoid similar occurrences elsewhere around the state. I call on the Governor and Attorney General to move quickly to release any information that may explain how this tragedy unfolded and what the state might do from a safety standpoint to be better prepared in the future.”
No other officials, i.e, TCEQ Exccutive Director Zak Covar, need worry about being on the Pauken hot seat. Only Messrs Perry and Abbott, per this press release.

First gay athelete comes "out of the closet" in major team sport

Jason Collins / Kwaku Alston for Sports Illustrated
No, not a retired athlete. An active player.

Jason Collins, I stand up and salute you. This is a must read.
I didn't set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I'm happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn't the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, "I'm different." If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand.
Add in that Collins is black ... and how black males, sex on the down low, and related issues have been land mines on gay, black, and intertwined issues, including California's Proposition 8, and this is doubly huge.

Fortunately, as far as easing his journey, both Kobe Bryant and Commissioner David Stern have his back. Kobe's Kobe, and, who knows what really happened in Colorado years ago. But, kudos to him to speaking up in support right away, too.

Meanwhile, a snippet of his "journey":
The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. "I've known you were gay for years," she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you're in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know -- I baked for 33 years. 
So, if you don't know someone who's gay, that's a snippet of what it's like.

At the same time, Collins is not your typical US pro athlete, black or white:
I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston's 2012 Gay Pride Parade.  
Nor is he your "stereotypical gay," per his own words:
Though Shaquille O'Neal is a Hall of Famer, I never shirked from the challenge of trying to frustrate the heck out of him. (Note to Shaq: My flopping has nothing to do with being gay.)  ...


I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school.  
Well, and simply, put.

Finally, he knows his "position." And, although due to team loyalty, he felt he couldn't "come out" during the season, he was still sending a message, or trying to, with his jersey playing number of 98, which is not the norm in the NBA, or any sport:
My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found.
I hope what seems to be an engaging personality, along with his intelligence, transfers to support in the locker room. His No. 98 gesture has touched Shepard's parents.

One issue, though. He's technically not an active player. He's a free agent. But, with his background, even if he's the last man on the bench, dammit, some team had better sign him.

Nonetheless, it's a bit of fly in the ointment that he's technically not an active player. A 12-year vet like him, as a role player reserve, might not have gotten a new contract without this, and his announcement is going to complexify things.

On that note, ESPN's Mark Stein says it's about 50-50, among 14 NBA representatives in an anonymous survey, that he's back next year.

And, I've blogged before about black gay men, especially, and the issue of sex on the down low. Collins had a fiancee at one time, in an 8-year-relationship. She says she never knew, never even suspected.

And, per Jason Whitlock, the "haters" are out, too. Wow, Tim Brando just went WAY down in my book.

===

Meanwhile, back in the state of Texas, the homophobic Greg Abbott says that local governments cannot offer domestic partners insurance benefits.

Here's the details:
In the nonbinding opinion, Abbott determined that local jurisdictions that offer such benefits “have created and recognized something” — domestic partnerships — “not established by Texas law.” 

“A court is likely to conclude that the domestic partnership legal status about which you inquire is ‘similar to marriage’ and therefore barred” by the state Constitution, he wrote. 

The opinion was a response to a question asked by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who had raised concerns about the Pflugerville school district, as well as the cities of El Paso, Austin and Fort Worth, extending such benefits to domestic partners.
Of course it was Dan Patrick who asked him for his opinion. It's in light of House Bill 1568. Per the Trib, the bill would "revoke the accreditation and withhold funding from Texas school districts that allow employees to add a domestic partner to their health care plan." It's passed committee level and is headed to the floor.

April 28, 2013

NO, NO, NO to "boots on ground" in Syria

I can't believe that people with brains from either major political party are proposing this. But, a Democrat like Claire McCaskill, is showing a new lack of brains. The GOP, in general shows a mix of "distancing" from this idea while demanding Obama say how he's address the problems in Syria.

I don't care if Syria did use chemical weapons, and if Dear Leader made that a "bright line." The idea of "boots on the ground" in a place whose variety of Muslim traditions (some, like President Assad's Alawites, not even considered Muslim by all others), variety of Islamist groups, and outright terrorists make Iraq look like an island of sanity, is ridiculous. 

It's been 20 years, almost to the dot, to the US Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, a bombing ultimately with Syrian connections. The country's a cesspool of conflicting drives, angles, and emotions.

At a minimum, any US ground-force involvement should be secondary to any troops organized by the Arab League in conjunction with Turkey.

Realpolitik, folks, realpolitik.

There's little we can do at ground level, without serious complications. And, we have no compelling national interests.

Now, if we want to do limited bombing of Assad government troops, that's one thing. Boots on the ground is hugely another thing, and hugely stupid.