May 17, 2013

"Fake" African-American names and assimilation

There's been a number of studies recently about how people with "obvious" African-American first names have more trouble getting hired and related issues. (You can do teh Google, but I'm sure you've read about at least one of these.)

That said, while having some degree of sympathy for, say, a 21-year-old kid who doesn't have money to legally change his or her name, I don't have total sympathy with the idea that HR folks, or general management in a company not big enough to have a separate HR department, should turn a totally blind eye to the name.

It's one thing, in my opinion, if the person has a traditional African first name, especially if it's also attached to a traditional African surname. That said, I'm venturing that said family's next generation will have kids with more WASP-ish first names, or at least, WASP-ish nicknames playing off African first names.

What I am talking about is African-Americans whose families have been in America since pre-Civil War days,  who have Anglo-Saxon type surnames, but who, today, invent fake African-sounding names for their kids.

You know what I'm talking about. "Shaniqua" or similar.

Speaking of teh Google, if you want to find a traditional African name, that's one thing. But, to make up something like that? I'll be honest, I know that on a subconscious level I couldn't ignore that, and maybe not on a conscious level.

Many people may say, "What about Hispanics"?

Ahh, usually, they do just what I mentioned earlier. By the third generation, if not the second, if they don't have WASP-ish first names, they do for either nicknames or shortened forms of their names. "Manuel" becomes "Manny." "Roberto" becomes "Bob."

And, it happens in other countries, with other ethnicities. I think of two tinhorn authoritarian jefes in South America, Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay and German heritage, and Alberto Fujimori of Peru and Japanes heritage. Stroessner didn't have the first name of Hans-Werner and Fujimori didn't have the first name of Takugawa.

So, sorry for the Shaniquas of the U.S. Sorry that your parents are often putting you behind an 8-ball in a country that's already got growing socioeconomic divisions.

But, per the examples above, maybe if you use a nickname, go by your middle name on a resume or whatever, you can partially get out from behind that 8-ball.

#DailyKos smokes Texas redistricting crap

Glad I got booted, or technically, my account got suspended, from the Daily Kos homepage years ago for being too liberal and too green. (It happens, folks; look for "Armando" on this blog and you'll find out the straw that broke the camel's back.)

Because, if I still had a usable account (and why not be straightforward and boot people rather than, like Team Obama, indefinitely suspending them), I'd go a mix of laughable and ballistic over a Texas Kossack posting shite like this.

The "shite like this" in question being a claim that Texas could have a 20-16 Democratic majority in Congress with just the right redistricting map.

As long as Daily Kos-type Texas Dems keep smoking crack, dropping acid tabs or whatever, we'll get nonsense like this. Yeah, Teh Texas Lege is going to pass redistricting that comes anywhere near close to producing a Dem majority for US Congress. 

There's more chance of Gohmert Pyle (Louie Gohmert) coming out of the closet as gay than there is of the Lege passing such a map.

Of course, the blogger says he's writing on the premise of Texas Dems having controlled the Lege for redistricting. Odds of that?

See "Pyle, Gohmert," above.

Second, the blogger in question overrates the chances of most those districts going Democratic.

Third, per this point in the post:
Incumbent preferences were mostly disregarded. If someone must insist on a >70% Obama district, well he or she doesn't have to be in Congress.
The blogger doesn't understand redistricting in general. SCOTUS has said incumbent protection is a legitimate angle in redistricting, and a House Dem in a 70 percent district would no way in hell go down to a 55 percent Democratic district on the non-guaranteed possibility of increasing Texas' House Democrats by 1, or 2. And, they would laugh their heads off at this Kossack saying that Texas could flip eight seats from the current standard.

The fact that Democrats haven't won a statewide election in 20 years now should be enough coffee-sniffing for even a numbnuts like this Kossack, but I guess not.

And, now, we have another nutbar in Kossackland.

To introduce this one: Thomas B. Edsall says that even getting Hispanic vote and registration rates up to national averages, with a presumed break of 71 percent Democrat, still leaves the Democrats and folks like Battleground Texas looking way up, way way up.

But a nutbar at Daily Kos claims Edsall says that Battleground Texas has Greg Abbott quaking. Other than Abbott's over-the-top comment that Edsall quoted, he said no such thing.
Of course, when the guy who founded you thinks there's a Fistful of Secret Libruls in the CIA, I supposed the hangers-on come by such fantasy thinking easily.

May 16, 2013

Did #WestTX paramedic cause fertilizer explosion?

Bryce Reed/photo via
Austin American-Statesman
Federal and local officials say that Bryce Reed, a West, Texas paramedic arrested for possession of an explosive device, has not been connected to the West Fertilizer Co. blast.

But, could he be?

Sure.

A number of wildfires in Western states, in the past, have been started by firefighters who were either:
1. Bored;
2. Hero-headline hunting;
3. Wanting more money with the extra work.

The humongous Rodeo-Chediski wildfire in 2002 in Arizona falls under that third category.

Urban firefighters have started the occasional blaze, too.

Yes, his friend got killed in the blast. That doesn't mean Bryce intended that.

That said, I'm not saying that he is involved. I am saying that he could be.

Update, May 16: Officials have tentatively narrowed causes of the blast down to three: A golf cart (WTF?), electrical, and ... an intentional blast.

Despite officials warning about speculation, it's fair game now.

Steven Miller is just the latest Obama cave-in; Shirley Sherrod? ACORN?

Can we really expect any better?

Remember how our constitutional law scholar president caved on Congress passing an unconstitutional bill of attainder specificially aimed at ACORN, after one of Breitbart's pranks against it? Remember how he signed it into law?

Yes, the district court's ruling was overturned on appeal. I'm not sure what happened when it went back to district court.

I do know the Obama Administration was so craven as to appeal the original district court ruling.

Remember how he acquiesced in his Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, firing employee Shirley Sherrod, after Breitbart doctored video of comments she had made? (Of course, even the NAACP got fooled on that one.)

And now, under more conservative pressure, he's fired acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller, even though the IRS probe of 501(c)4 groups targeted liberal as well as conservative organizations.

That said, by this time, most of us have known better about these non-scandals.

But, Obama still won't fight fire with fire.

Why real liberals would believe that he will act any different on either of the current non-scandals, this or Benghazi, is beyond me.

And, on the one real scandal, snooping on the AP, we know how the Snoop-in-Chief will respond.

Meanwhile, the "caving" expands to the EPA.

And Obama says he's now going to, maybe, possibly, "go Bullworth." Yeah, right. And Harry Reid's going to end the filibuster in the Senate.

May 15, 2013

#Benghazi, #IRS, #Obamacare, #AP snooping: What Obama needs to do

Eric Hitler, er Holder has crossed a bridge too far.
Time for Dear Leader to push him out.
First of all, that political consultant is me.

And, he's going to give Obama some tough advice, starting with the guy in the picture.

Setting aside that, as a left-liberal in American terms, I've found his stimulus response to the Great Recession, the whole semi-bollocks of Obamacare, and other actions less than ideal, the constitutional law scholar president appears out of his element, even after four-plus years, at the hardball of elective politics.

So, he needs help.

That would start with bitch-slapping him a couple of times, or more than a couple, before he finally realizes, and admits, that "Kumbaya" ain't in the GOP hymnal, that his self-loved mellifluous voice sounds discordant to many on Capitol Hill, and that his White House staff could use somebody with more legislative experience to work the Hill.

Now, on to some specifics.


First, the AP snooping. I don't care if you're having gay sex with him on the down low, at a point not immediate, but after a reasonable amount of stonewalling, if Eric Holder was directly connected, plugged-in, etc., to the AP snooping, can his ass. Period. It's triage and you need to manage it. (As long as you weren't in the loop yourself, and nobody leaks that you were after he gets fired.)

Then, to shore yourself up with Democrats, especially more liberal ones, appoint a new AG with better civil liberties cred. Of course, Holder needs to go, anyway. And, you need to stop the snooping and leak-plugging, not that the non-political consultant me expects that.

IRS? Steven Miller is an acting commissioner. Schmooze GOP Senators about a permanent replacement while cutting the House GOP out of the loop. Hell, tell Mitch the Turtle you'll name his venal wife, Elaine Chao, to the position. (Well, that might be a bit much, but you get the idea. Schmooze.) And, it looks like Obama's made a start here by accepting Miller's resignation. That said, Holder's finger-wagging, again, about IRS criminality and investigations makes me want to fucking barf.

It makes me barf more now that we see this is less of a scandal than Benghazi, because liberal groups got the same treatment. The bigger scandal is that the IRS is overburdened, likely because the GOP wants to starve it. 

Beyond this, any other scandal is Dear Leader's reaction to what is even more a non-scandal than Benghazi is starting to look like the Shirley Sherrod fiasco when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, with some knowledge by Obama, threw her under the bus.

Obamacare? Namely, the concerns that Kathleen Sibelius shouldn't be soliciting money from health care organizations to help pay for educating the American public about this.

Ain't this what Organizing for Action is for? To shake down rich donors but outside of of electoral politics, as it reportedly says its about? Surely there's room to launder some money in a theoretically legal way.

Benghazi? Even if you don't want to be totally honest (as Republicans don't either) about what the fuck the CIA was doing there, roll out a sacrificial lamb. Or better yet, tell the GOP that you WILL spill the full beans unless it shuts up.

And, if not me, I'll bet Bill Clinton would give you advice halfway like this. Because, if nothing else, and speculation is true, he doesn't want your fortunes to be a lead anchor around Hillary 2016.

(Of course, the left-liberalish part of me, thinking of that, says "please don't take a word of advice, but instead, drag her down with you.")

Beyond that, Ambassador Stevens himself twice rejected additional military protection. 

I am beginning to think that no "scandal" story deserves attention until McClatchy writes something and gets at least in the reasonable ballpark of reality.

Wingnuts link #IRS and #Obamacare

Are you surprised?

President Obama's private-sector based health care reform legislation (let's not call it national health care, because it's not) has carrots of subsidies too rich to qualify for Medicaid, along with the state-level carrot of Medicaid expansion for states not too wingnut to take it.

It also has the sticks of financial penalties for people not covered by insurance and who refuse to buy it. These sticks are income tax-based penalties.

Hence, it should be no surprise that the likes of a Byron York is now claiming that the IRS investigation of the tax-exempt status of Tea Party-type 501(c)4 political advocacy groups should worry every red-blooded American when Obamacare starts hitting the streets next year.

Here's Byron:
The IRS is critical to Obamacare. The structure created by the Affordable Care Act requires the government to know about both the health care coverage (or lack of it) and the financial resources of every American. The IRS, which already knows the latter, was the only agency with the reach to do the job.

A look at the text of the health care law reveals that much of it consists of amending the Internal Revenue Code to give the IRS more power. When Obamacare goes fully into effect in January, every American will have to prove to the IRS that he or she has "qualifying" health coverage, meaning coverage with a list of features approved by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. That will be done by submitting a document to the IRS, something like a W-2, to confirm coverage.

The IRS will also decide who is, and who is not, eligible for Obamacare's subsidies. The law authorizes the IRS to share confidential taxpayer information with the Department of Health and Human Services for the purpose of determining those subsidies. And since subsidies don't just apply to a relatively small number of the nation's poorest citizens -- under the law, they can go to a family of four with a household income of nearly $90,000 -- they will affect a huge segment of the population.
The piece goes on in the same vein. 

Yeah, it's in part just more wingnut talking points to pour more gasoline on the fire.

But, it it totally wrong? No.

Per fellow blogger Brains and Eggs, nobody, liberal or conservative, should ever exult when the IRS sics itself, let alone is sicced by higher-ups, on any organization without good cause.

That said, given that wingnuts, or even just semi-wingnuts like Lamar Alexander, are hyperventiliating over HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius asking insurance execs to help foot the bill for educating people about Obamacare because Congresscritters won't, Obama doesn't need more gasoline on the health care fire.

Back to the IRS itself.

CNN is saying two "rogue agents" were allegedly primarily responsible for the snooping. Let's see how this washes out.

And, Obama needs to realize that everything he now says is going to get TWO fine-toothed combs run through it. Like his claim that the IRS is an independent agency. The Wall Street Journal rightly notes that's not true. And then, of course, goes on to make political hay.

It doesn't help that somebody like Slate's Dave Weigel smokes the crack pipe of "the IRS leans left" when we know that's simply not true.

Frankly, I'm not sure that he's capable of learning differently on some of his communication and messaging. Sure, the Congressional GOP and its vapor-locked outside media and think tank allies may deserve contempt, but even that can be delivered in a better way. And, Kumbaya is still not in the hymnal of those folks.

Were he to listen to me as a Machiavellian lay consultant, rather than a left-liberal who doesn't care for most of his neoliberal handling of the Great Recession, Obamacare or other things?

First, I don't care if you're having gay sex with him on the down low, at a point not immediate, but after a reasonable amount of stonewalling, if Eric Holder was directly connected, plugged-in, etc., to the AP snooping, can his ass. (As long as you weren't in the loop yourself, and nobody leaks that you were after he gets fired.)

IRS? Steven Miller is an acting commissioner. Schmooze GOP Senators about a permanent replacement while cutting the House GOP out of the loop. And, it looks like Obama's made a start here by accepting Miller's resignation. That said, Holder's finger-wagging, again, about IRS criminality and investigations makes me want to fucking barf.

It makes me barf more now that we see this is less of a scandal than Benghazi, because liberal groups got the same treatment. The bigger scandal is that the IRS is overburdened, likely because the GOP wants to starve it. 

Beyond this, any other scandal is Dear Leader's reaction to what is even more a non-scandal than Benghazi is starting to look like the Shirley Sherrod fiasco when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, with some knowledge by Obama, threw her under the bus.

Benghazi? Even if you don't want to be totally honest (as Republicans don't either) about what the fuck the CIA was doing there, roll out a sacrificial lamb. Or better yet, tell the GOP that you WILL spill the full beans unless it shuts up.

Beyond that, Ambassador Stevens himself twice rejected additional military protection. 

I am beginning to think that no "scandal" story deserves attention until McClatchy writes something and gets at least in the reasonable ballpark of reality.

Could a golf major come to Dallas?

First, it's interesting that the long-proposed idea of a championship-level golf course near Loop 12 and I-45 may finally come to fruition. Could help broader development issues in the area.

It's even more interesting that the Byron Nelson could move there from Los Colinas, starting in 2019. Will there be a bidding war?

More interesting yet is that AT&T is touting the idea of the course hosting a major championship at some point. Well, The Masters ain't leaving Augusta, Ga., and The Open will stay across the pond.

So, that leaves the U.S. Open, in June, or the PGA, in August.

Yeah, I know both have been played as far south as Southern Hills, in Tulsa, but, I'm kind of thinking the PGA and USGA ain't really looking fondly at the idea of golf in the potential summer sweatbox of Dallas.

Usually, the humidity has cut down in August; there, you're just facing the potential of an ongoing heat wave. So, the PGA is a bit more likely.

The U.S. Open? If the spring rainy season carries into early June, then gets followed by a heat wave right near solstice time, I'm sure golfers don't really want that.

Dear Leader spies on the AP

Eric Hitler, er, sorry, Holder! Attorney General
and Lord High Protectors of eroding of our
American civil liberties/SocraticGadfly Photoshop
Yes, you read that right.

Apparently as part of doubling down, or tripling down, on its witch hunt against leakers, The.Most.Transparent.Administration.In,HistoryTM sucked up phone conversations of multiple Associated Press editors and reporters.

Here's the details:
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of calls.
In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
Wow. Just wow. More than 100 people may have been spied on. That's pretty "unfettered," eh, Jay Carney, but "unfettered" for snoops and not the press.

And, the AP gets the non-Kumbaya back of the hand from Team Obama. (Per first link, again.)
The government would not say why it sought the records. U.S. officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.
Thinking about all this made me wonder if wingnuts aren't Photoshoppping Attorney General Eric Holder to have a much narrower moustache, and renaming him Eric Hitler. Oh, I guess somebody did that!

And now, Dear Leader is saying the White House knows nothing about Holder's snooping. Yeah, right. And, in a later presser, the White House is saying "no comment" because, you know, there's an investigation. And Holder continues to defend this.

Also, in an NPR interview I just heard, the plot thickens. (Also covered in second link, about Carney and his and Holder's pressers.)

Holder said he was interviewed last year by the FBI over leaks issues, so he had his assistant, Jim Cole, handle the AP snooping. But, he says he saw himself one letter Cole sent to AP. Either you recuse yourself or you don't.

The latest? Dear Leader revives calls for a media shield law, which he has never pushed for in the past himself, and which still probably wouldn't put actions like the Justice Department's totally in the out of bounds anyway, the way this administration works.

Here's why:
It is not clear whether such a law would have changed the outcome of the subpoena involving The A.P. But it might have reduced the chances that the Justice Department would have demanded the records in secret, without any advance notice to the news organization, and it may have allowed a judge to review whether the scope of the request was justified by the facts.  

Under the 2009 bill, which was negotiated between the newspaper industry, the White House and the Judiciary Committee, the scope of protection for reporters seeking to shield the identities of their confidential sources or the calling records showing with whom they had communicated would vary according to whether it was a civil case, an ordinary criminal case or a national security case. 

The most protection would be given to civil cases, in which litigants seeking to force reporters to testify or seeking their information would first have to exhaust other means of obtaining the information before making the request. The burden would be on the information seekers to show why their need for the information outweighed the public’s interest in unfettered news gathering. 

Ordinary criminal cases would work in a similar fashion, except the burden would be on the reporter seeking to quash the subpoena to show by a “clear and convincing” standard that the public interest in the free flow of information should prevail over the needs of law enforcement. 

Cases involving the disclosure of classified information — as in the investigation into The A.P.'s disclosure of a failed bomb plot in Yemen last spring — would be even more heavily tilted toward the government. Judges could not quash a subpoena through a balancing test if prosecutors could show that the information sought might help prevent a future terrorist attack or other acts likely to harm national security. 

However, the prospect that a confidential source might leak something else in the future would not be enough to invoke that exception under the 2009 compromise legislation. 

It remains unclear what kind of legal device the Justice Department used to obtain The A.P.'s calling records from phone companies. It is not clear how the standards established by the media shield legislation would apply to administrative subpoenas called “national security letters” that the F.B.I. may issue to obtain customer records from a business without a judge’s permission. 
Hence, the AP would be in limbo, and in the journalism equivalent of a FISA court, the burden would fall in it, not Team Obama.

And, for people who think this is a tempest in a teapot, National Journal says this has implications for the general public.

Also, to guard against the snoops, the New Yorker has launched a new electronic system for leakers.

Meanwhile, the whole Benghazi brouhaha?

Both Tweedledee Congressional Republicans and Tweedledum White House Democrats refuse to address what should be the real brouhaha, and that's that Benghazi site wasn't an embassy or consulate, but was a CIA operation through and through. What was the CIA doing there? Did the terrorists who attacked it have some inkling it was a CIA operation?

These are serious questions not being asked, let alone answered, by either "mainstream" party.

And, on the IRS rifling through Tea Partier type returns? Uhh, in the 1960s, it happened to the Sierra Club, before it ultimately had its nonprofit status jerked. Liberals should always take such things seriously, no matter who the target was. I'm not saying that the Obama Administration was involved on that one, because I know it wasn't. But, Democrats should welcome any reasonable investigation. That said, such investigation is not likely to come from House Republicans.

May 14, 2013

Oil price rigging: A header you'll never see in the US

But it IS one we're now seeing in the European Union, which is investigating Shell and (shock me) BP for that practice.

And, no, this isn't a one-off practice:
The London offices of BP and Shell have been raided by European regulators investigating allegations they have "colluded" to rig oil prices for more than a decade.
"More than a decade."

Meanwhile, a former Liberal Democrat leader in the UK wants to know why his own government, since both oil companies are from there, haven't done anything themselves. Indeed, David Cameron's Conservative dog/shat-on LDP tail coalition explicitly rejected such an idea recently:
Just four months ago the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) ruled out an investigation into petrol price fixing after finding "very limited evidence" that pump prices rise quickly when the wholesale price goes up but fall more slowly when it drops.

That said, it's not just British. Per the Guardian story, Norway's Statoil and Platts, the world's leading oil price reporting agency, say they're being investigated, too. If this has spread to Platts, it's really, really big. Having worked at a daily newspaper in the Permian Basin of Texas, I know just how big a deal Platts is.

And, here's why it's in the mix:
"The suspected violations are related to the Platts' Market-On-Close (MOC) price assessment process, used to report prices in particular for crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels, and may have been ongoing since 2002."

Platts said the investigators had "undertaken a review at its premises in London this morning in relation to the Platts price-assessment process".
So, were editors or other staffers at Platts providing insider trading info to the oil giants? Jiggling the books in some way? Shaking down oil companies? What?

Meanwhile, Platts is all huffy that this is being compared to the Libor interest rate-fixing investigation. The fact that it's that indignant means that EU regulators must have struck ... er ...

Oil!

A Texas budget of sorts with $$ for water and schools is slouching toward Gomorrah

Reportedly, there's a deal for both water fund money and more schools money out of the Rainy Day Fund. Dunno whether it's enough or not to satisfy Democrats.

The numbers are $2 bil for water and $3.2 bil for education.

Yeah, it's not full restoration, but it's a solid half-loaf. Might be worth it, if it heads off a special session and the cans of worms that might open.

That's my .02, at least. Given the history of special sessions with Gov. Helmethair and the helm, even before Tea Party Squared gained a foothold this year, it just seems better to avoid clusterfucks when possible.

Jaron Lanier just went way down in my book

Jaron Lanier, not a visionary
And, it's because of his own new book, "Who Owns the Future?"

He's got some good things in it, but, even in his own words, here at Salon, he clearly doesn't have problems creating the occasional straw man:
We don’t realize that our society and our democracy ultimately rest on the stability of middle-class jobs. When I talk to libertarians and socialists, they have this weird belief that everybody’s this abstract robot that won’t ever get sick or have kids or get old. It’s like everybody’s this eternal freelancer who can afford downtime and can self-fund until they find their magic moment or something.
Well, yeah, libertarians may believe that. But, name names on any socialist who does. Especially that last sentence.

You can't.

And, for the real crushing, let's bring in the heavyweight crusher — Evgeny Morozov.

I had missed Morozov's review of the book, but it's well worth a read.

Near the bottom, he tackles the straw man issue:
Stingy with specifics — he rarely quotes his ideological opponents, opting for constructions like “I am often told” and “I continue to hear fairly often,” and introducing them as the “Pirate Party/Linux/openness crowd” — Lanier eagerly opines on dense economic matters. “Keynes was an unapologetic financial elitist and had no interest in a quest for income equality or a planned economy,” he informs us, without providing a source.
But, that's minor.

Lanier, contra my blog post about "We're not all in sales," apparently wants to commodify the Internet and turn us all into entrepreneurs. A neoliberal indeed, it seems, as Morozov nails him:
In Lanier’s ideal future, we would all be liking in the morning, texting in the afternoon and tweeting in the evening. Robots and 3-D printers would do all the hard work, allowing us to get rich simply by being ourselves. “In a humanistic digital economy,” he writes, “designers will still make a living, even when a dress is sewn in a home by a robot.” And the good news keeps coming: “Someone who wears the dress well might also make a little money inadvertently by popularizing it.” Go ahead: Get yourself another dress and get even richer!

To account for this lucrative wardrobe, Lanier proposes a system of ubiquitous surveillance, with cameras, databases and all. Since we can’t get any privacy, we might at least get paid. “Commercial rights,” he notes, “are better suited for the multitude of quirky little situations that will come up in real life than new kinds of civil rights along the lines of digital privacy.” 

Following Lanier’s logic, any correction in the market system — say, price adjustments based on changing demand — would require that extra profits be transferred to consumers. But should you expect a supermarket to send you a check simply because you chose to buy one brand of milk over another? Probably not. Why treat Amazon differently?
Even if there's a bit of over-the-top caricature in the first graf, the general gist is right.

First, who wants to be doing that all the time? If that's Lanier's solution, it's not very humanistic, and it's not very practical.

Second, per the third graf of the quote, Nike doesn't pay me to wear a Nike T-shirt right now, not even a micropayment an infinitesimal fraction of what it pays Tiger Woods. Why would any of this change, when big companies pay marketers to work to continue to get us to do this for free?

Third, and even more anti-humanistic, is this idea of "you can't fight the digital snooping, so you might as well join it." That mix of neoliberalism, libertarianism in drag, and outright antihumanism is some mix of depressing and disgusting.

Jaron Lanier just went way, way down in my book. Beyond the libertarianism and the antihumanism, the naivete level is just incredible.

He uses the word "hypercapitalism" in his Salon interview, yet is naive enough to believe that hypercapitalistic companies, especially those focusing on the "infowars" I've blogged about before, are actually going to give you and I a "cut."

I simply don't get how someone who has certainly in the past given such indications of brilliance can be that naive, or more bluntly, that dumb.

But, that's not all.

Lanier titled one of his previous books, "You Are Not a Gadget."

However, his ideas on how much we should commodify ourselves in the Internet world sure make it sound like he's done a 180 on the thesis of that book. Because, one way of reading that commodification idea is that Lanier is now saying we should just shrug our shoulders, accept defeat, and make ourselves into cybergadgets.

Finally, per this Smithsonian piece, it's arguable that Lanier isn't as much of an outsider/rebel on these issues as he makes himself out to be. I think he's generally done a very good job on diagnosing the problems, but his solutions are just all wrong. Maybe Morozov's worries about "solutionism" aren't all wrong.

No, we're not all working in sales these days

A former boss of mine told me that, a few months ago, when I announced I had been named editor and publisher at my current newspaper gig.

I am, in part, in sales now myself. That, I acknowledge.

So, I checked out a book at the nearest big-city library recently, that purported to have some new insights on sales.

First of all, after reading the first chapter, I noticed on the dust cover that he had previously written some pop science bullshit book to the effect of how right-brain people will rule the world in 50 years or similar. Skeptical antennae up.

Second, in the second chapter, he claimed teachers are in sales. He even got two teachers quoted as talking about "moving" students. Skeptical antennae way up.

So, went to Amazon (sorry, not doing the book the favor of giving it a link) and read reviews.

Less favorable reviewers, like me, noted:
1. The fusion of "sales" and "persuasion"
2. That the alleged "new stuff" wasn't
3. The pop-sci angle.

I want to focus on No. 1.

I'd agree that all of us are, part of the time, "persuaders." We're not sales people, though. And contra Net Economy 2.0 claims about multitasking, we're not all on our way to becoming sales people.

Here's how I define sales:
1. There has to be a transaction involving some material change
2. Between people of at least semi-equal sociological or psychological status.

I don't know if a quasi-official labor psychology or labor sociology definition of "sales" or "sales careers" exists, but this is my working one.

By this definition, teachers aren't sales people on either grounds.

They may get "warm fuzzies" from motivating kids, but that's not a material transaction. And, because of the unequal, legally-stipulated school classroom setting, there's no sociological or psychological equal footing.

Indeed, beyond a very general persuasion, teachers who talk about "moving," let along about "selling" in terms of their students are actually approaching the world of indoctrination, where I stand from. (That's not to mention that it's kind of scary that teachers today actually believe something like this.)

Meanwhile, back to the world of newspapers. When I, as part of wearing my publisher's hat, talk to local businesses about ads, yes, I'm selling.

When I, wearing my editor's hat, talk to readers in an op-ed about what I think they should do, or how I think they should think, I'm persuading, or at least trying to. The two are not the same thing.

And, contra advertising sales and other sales "gurus," who drink too much from the waters of pop psychology, the word "try" is a perfectly legitimate verb. There is no "you are doing X" vs. "you are not doing X" dichotomy. In an op-ed, I regularly try to persuade people. At the time, or immediately afterward, I have no way of knowing whether I'm totally successful, totally unsuccessful, or somewhere in between.

That's true of many things in life that are complex tasks. We try to do them, and we don't know immediately whether we fully succeeded, partially succeeded, or didn't succeed at all.

And, rejecting bullshit like that is probably part of why I don't think "we're all in sales."

I have other reasons for rejecting this idea, too.

A lot of people who peddle it are either the Silicon Valley type libertarian businessmen (not "-people" because they're almost all men) who peddled shite like Web 2.0 in the first place. Or, if not them, the peddlers are people like Tom "My Head is Flat" Friedman, who believe that not only are we all sales people, we're all budding entrepreneurs, waiting to blossom like a million post-Maoist blooms.

And, another corollary of that is the boom in career recruiters. (Note: If you've sent your resume off to a career reccruiter, and in months ahead, you notice that they're looking for new recruiters on a regular basis, that's a big red flag, isn't it?

In short, the "we're all in sales" is at bottom line the idea that "we're all commodities now." It's about the hollowing out of traditional humanist values, traditional liberal ones, and also some traditional conservative civil-religion American ones. (This is yet another argument for multiparty parliamentary government in America; tea partiers could ditch the GOP more readily, as true progressives could do with neoliberal Democrats. Because if anybody embodies the belief that "we're all in sales now," it's America's Tweedledee and Tweedledum political parties.)

Unfortunately, there's danger of this continuing to grow, grow, grow in coming years, if what I'm reading on a social media discussion about one private liberal arts college is becoming ever more true in general.

I "get," in a way, State U. becoming ever more wrapped into the academy-as-business model, and teaching classes that way, and promoting the general commodification of our modern world. I kind of "get" Ivys and other large, rich private schools doing the same. ("Get" does not mean "like.") I do NOT "get" small, private liberal arts colleges going down this road. It totally destroys what that sort of college education, and college experience, is supposed to be about.

Without naming which college is involved, even though the social media discussion is set to "public," let's just say that it's a member of the Five Colleges group.

Now, add this: Another college cheating scandal, or mini-scandal, at the University of Albany. Will students like this, if they even halfway get away with it, then take the lesson to the workforce, and try to bribe bosses for favorable reviews, bonuses, promotions, etc.? And, back at the colleges and universities, will at least a few low-paid adjunct faculty ditch some of their idealism, say "what the fuck," and stick out a hand themselves for ignoring such cheating when they find it?

After all, if it isn't illegal, isn't this just another form of sales? Per my definition, something of material value is changing hands, and college students, unlike K-12 ones, are legally adults and not required to be in whatever school they're attending, so there is no relationship imbalance.

And, related to that, we don't all want to be, nor are we all temperamentally suited for being, "entrepreneurs," either. It's how Maggie Thatcher wrecked Britain and how today's GOP, with the "lite" connivance of many neoliberals, is wrecking America.

To sum up: This mantra is about commodifying the non-material, including human lives, and hypercapitalizing what is material. And, per the two teachers quoted above, its insidiousness is already spreading.

But, back to individual lives.

If we're "all in sales," the next logical thing is that we should all be prepared to be "on."  And ready to make a sales pitch. And, if you can't be "on," often enough or well enough, maybe your stress/anxiety levels start zooming?

Of course, to some degree, this is nothing new. I said that this idea went against some traditional conservative civil-religion American values. But not all of them, and not among all conservative Christians.

The "success gospel" has been based on this for decades. And, if you believe somebody like Og Mandino, in "The World's Greatest Salesman," "persuasion" has been getting fused or confused with "sales" for 2,000 years. (And, the fact that old Og is kind of a biggie among older 12-Step folks is another reason to focus a skeptical eyeball on him and his contribution to this nonsense. As well as it being a reason to focus a skeptical eye on "success gospel" churches and preachers any time they try to moralize.)

May 12, 2013

Steve Thomas, Greg Abbott still wingnuts on Kountze ISD, 1st Amendment

This is not supposed to be religiously coercive???
Kountze football player #6 Jamazdon Powell carries a flag
as the team comes into the stadium (last fall). This was the first
home  game in Kountze since the sign controversy started
& since Thomas's injunction. Dave Ryan/Beaumont Enterprise
Thomas, the state district judge who granted a preliminary injunction last fall for Kountze ISD cheerleaders to proselytise for Christianity while "on the job," has made it official in ruling for the district against the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Here's his rationale:
In a copy of the ruling obtained by Beaumont station KFDM, Thomas determined that no law "prohibits cheerleaders from using religious-themed banners at school sporting events."
Oh, sure, no law does. But, the Constitution of the United States does. This is a clear example of how "illegal" and "unconstitutional" aren't the same thing, often.

This one will, of course, be appealed. 

Any religious activity by an officially school-sanctioned organization, while acting as an official organization, has the potential to be coercive and is therefore unconstitutional.

That's contrary Thomas' claims about the First Amendment, reported here:
"Neither the Establishment Clause nor any other law prohibits the cheerleaders from using religious-themed banners at school sporting events," according to the judgment order. "Neither the Establishment Clause nor any other law requires Kountze I.S.D. to prohibit the inclusion of religious-theme banners at school sporting events."
Wrong, wrong, wrong.

And, speaking of wingnuts, the chief wingnut gubernatorial candidate in waiting weighs in:
“This is a victory for religious liberties and for high school cheerleaders who stood up to powerful forces that tried to silence their voices. The Freedom From Religion Foundation was wrong in trying to bully Kountze ISD into prohibiting the cheerleaders from displaying banners with religious messages. Our Constitution has never demanded that students check their religious beliefs at the schoolhouse door. Students’ ability to express their religious views adds to the diversity of thought that has made this country so strong. The Kountze Cheerleaders are heroes who fought for principles, and won!"
"Nice" to know that Greg Abbott is as First Amendment illiterate as Steve Thomas.

First, note the old canard about "check their religious beliefs." Preventing religious coercion doesn't prevent individuals from exercising their individual beliefs.

Second, the "bully" part? Tosh. If anybody's a bully, it's usually the people behind promoting religiously coercive behavior.

Rick Perry weighed in later with his own bit of "school heroes" wingnuttia; surprisingly, Tom Pauken has yet to say anything. That said, he always struck me as a bit less beholden to the Religious Right types than a Perry, let alone an Abbott.

That said, this WILL be appealed; of that, I have no doubt. And appealed. And appealed. To SCOTUS level. And, like with Santa Fe ISD a few years back, a variety of allegedly fiscal conservative Texas wingnuts will waste a bunch of taxpayer dinero, once again. In fact, this layperson sees fairly close parallels between the two.

And, even with the conservative court shift, Santa Fe lost by a 6-3 margin, so, unless this case gets to the Supremes after 2017, Kountze ISD will lose, too, even if 5-4 rather than 6-3.

PZ Myers, aka Phrayngula, and 'scientific skepticism' - a true tar baby

Let's call this "two tribalisms clashing in the night"


So, PZ has officially divorced himself from the modern skeptical movement.

One part of me says, "well, boo hoo for PZ."

However, his criticisms, as well as those of a Pharyngulac in this follow-up guest post, aren't 100 percent wrong.

Oh, they're almost surely 75 percent wrong, if not higher.

But not 100 percent wrong.

And, I would have said that even before Brian Dunning's groupies unskeptically ralled to his defense after his guilty plea.

I'd definitely say that now.

Beyond some of Clark's criticisms, I'll add that I too find scientific skepticism narrow in focus, sometimes lacking in proper use of logic, and certainly needing to be more informed by philosophy, including but not limited to the philosophic school of skepticism. John Shook over at CFI agrees, though he seems to butter PZ's bread a bit too much, too.

(And, per Dunning and Michael Shermer, I've repeatedly blogged about the skepticism-libertarianism fusion issue. Even someone who isn't guilty of it himself, but seems to be too tolerant of it, adds to the problem.)

But, I've also thought that in spades for years about PZ and his fellow Gnu Atheists.

Hence, the "tar baby."

A pox on both houses, if not an equal pox?


Thank doorknob I've never been an insider with either group, or ever asked to be. Of course, it's easy for me, a bit of a loner, and a bit of a contrarian, to have had that happen, and to perhaps be a bit petulant at times. But, that's OK, too. I'm muddling through my own corner of life.

Somewhat a pox on both houses. More on Gnus' house. Even more a pox on the house of organizational entities for both. From what I've read about following such things, it seems like most official "scientific skeptic" conferences are inside baseball events of self-congratulations. And maybe that's why PZ said what he did, in part. He needs to build up the Gnu Atheism convention muscle, adulation, etc.

And, on the financial side, no, as I've said before, we're not "all in sales." But people who want to make money off swag, and commodify movements? Whether Gnu Atheists or Skeptics(TM), they're not much in the way of humanists, secular or otherwise.

Massimo Pigliucci doesn't go as far as a dual pox. But, while having little love lost for PZ, he still says professional skeptics need to listen to Phil Plait more, and stop being dickish, not just like Gnu Atheists, but even toward each other.

Tackling James Randi, because Skeptics™ won't


And, I didn't remember (Correction: I knew, I read about the original brouhaha) until reading his post that James Randi was some sort of climate change denier. And, speaking out of ignorance is no excuse; Randi should have been aware of Wittgenstein's famous dictum about silence.

I DID know, of course, that he's an unindicted accessory to an ongoing felony, the identity theft of his long-term gay lover, along with harboring an illegal alien. And, I do know that professional skeptics (I'm pretty well done using the term "scientific skeptics") treated him then with as much kid gloves, overall, as Dunning gets now, as that's become a bit of a talking point among people with minds like mine. Speaking of, makes me wonder how much of an overall libertarian Randi is.

Beyond that, as I read more about Randi, more stuff skeptical about him, like this, one has to wonder whether he's got, and had for years, a jonesing for groupie-fame, money, or both, himself. More here; and yeah, those who are groupies ... want to believe. (At the same time, note that these links have axe-grinding behind them, it seems; The Daily Grail has its own "angle," touting all sorts of paranormal baloney.)

That said, no, I don't think the difference between his case and Dunning's is all that different. And, no, it's not just paranormalists who tugged at the threads.

Anyway, f you look at the first of the two links, it's pretty reasonable to believe (speaking of) that Devyi Pena ("Jose Luis Alvarez") was Randi's business partner some time before the two became lovers. Now, once things progressed, as Randi knew more, I'm sure he felt kind of trapped.

That said (and we'll never be told, I'm sure), it's a legitimate line of questioning to ask not only what Randi knew about Pena's ID theft, but when he knew it, as the more he knew before the two became lovers, the more damning it is. It seems, from the second Daily Grail link, that Randi knew a fair amount early on, and may even have been complicit. At the least, he was "complicit" in getting Pena a paid position with the James Randi Education Foundation. In my world, that's called "nepotism."

 And, as with Dunning, harm was done, namely, to the real Jose Luis Alvarez.

Anyway, the point is (and there may be a follow-up post on this) is that  Skeptics™ can sometimes engage in special pleading for one of their own as much as Gnu Atheists do.
And, although I've never priced attending one of Randi's meetings, is there money behind this? Per comment at the second Daily Grail link, sure sounds like it:
Randi's long years of profiteering, glory-hogging, bullying, deceit, and distortion? Did you happen to notice that Randi makes a very fat chunk of change off all of this so-called skepticism? Have you seen how much he charges people to attend the Amazing Meetings?
Maybe I'll have to "go see." And I did. A price of $475 for this year's full conference isn't cheap, at the least.

And, it's not like there have been other financial questions raise about Randi and /or JREF, and these on a skeptics' website, not a paranormalist one.

The only other thing I don't know is, how true is Pena's claim that he feared persecution as a gay man if he remained in/went back to Venezuela?

And a few final thoughts


Meanwhile, as for  Skeptics™ who want to talk about "culling"? Let me know when that happens. Because, per  Skeptics™ and the old phrase "what's the harm?" there's harm to actual skeptical thinking, whether associated with a movement and/or a set of conferences, or not.

On the "culling," and my snarkiness over that? Non-libertarian  Skeptics™ like Jason Loxton are still part of Skepticblog, where Michael Shermer and Brian Dunning have regularly done the libertarian-skepticism mix in the past. And, a blog that's associated with Shermer's magazine with, as I've said before, racialists on the masthead. Sorry, but "culling" may run into the brick wall of "tribalism." (And when I do a follow-up post, that will be the topic.) As this post at Skepticblog shows, a Daniel Loxton has no real desire to engage in "culling." Not just tolerating being on the same cyberpage as Shermer, but promoting how you work together?
Meanwhile, is what this blogger calls "a priori skepticism" really just the scientific method, relabeled? And, if so, shouldn't those who call themselves "scientific skeptics" instead seek to create fields of study within mainstream science?

Ahh, but the crusading glamor, the conventions, the swag, the money, would all dry up. After all, who's ever heard of a James Randi of geology?

That said, it's the rhetorical question raised, albeit with more vitriol, by PZ himself. That's another reason why, though I say he's more wrong than right on this issue, he's not 100 percent wrong, either.

For one thing, it's more complicated than that. Some avenues of skeptical research might be hard to "pigeonhole" into traditional scientific structure.

That said, the idea that scientific skepticism is something special is still overstated.

It's part of why I prefer the term "critical thinking," and extend such critical thinking far beyond the narrow parameters of "scientific skepticism" to philosophy, political science, politics (including my own political stances, as I state here) and more. In turn, that's yet another reason I find "scientific skepticism" overrated, and why I say its some of its practitioners and even more of its fanboys, just like Gnu Atheists, could stand more immersion in at least a basic overview of philosophy.

Related to that, Loxton has doubled down with another new post at Skepticblog, which justifies the exclusion of religious claims from what "should be"  the purview of Skeptics™. Fair enough, if you're in the majority of leaders of the movement. And, if that's part of why PZ wants to take his ball and go to his Gnu home, that's his choice, too. That said, it's another good reason I like the broader focus of "critical thinking," which includes religious claims, political claims and more.

That said, related to this fight? I'll admit I'm a bit "tribal" myself. Of course, per John Horgan, how much alleged tribalism in human society is "nature" and how much is "nurture"? An interesting issue there, and one that needs to be further discussed.

After all, I just used it myself as an epithet at the top of this post. Besides racial group issues, the degree to which perception of "the other" drives human nature is still somewhat up in the air.

And, maybe PZ can replace Genie Scott as head of the NCSE, now that she's retiring. Hah! What a clusterfuck that would likely be.