May 31, 2014

#NBAFinals: we have our rematch; will #Spurs turn the tables on the #Heat?

Well, after a hard-fought overtime battle, the San Antonio Spurs have dispatched the Oklahoma City Thunder (not helped by a number of turnovers by stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) and so, we get a rematch of last year's NBA Finals, won by the Miami Heat in a seven-game thriller.

The Spurs face one question going into Game 1 on Thursday - that's the health of Tony Parker and his ankle injury, after he missed the second half of tonight's game. I'll assume for now that he's at or near 100 percent in five days.

What's changed this year from last year, then?

First, the Spurs have home court this year, versus Miami last year. 

Second, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has rested his starters even more this year than last year. Since both teams are "veteran," but San Antonio arguably more so than Miami, this helps them more. Not that Eric Spolestra didn't do the same, especially with Dwyane Wade, but Pops did it more yet, with more players. In fact, not a single Spurs starter clocked more than 30 minutes a game in the regular season this year.

Third, Kawhi Leonard, with a year more of experience, adds more on offense, and more on defense to help guard LeBron James.

Fourth, the Spurs added depth this year, with Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills

Fifth, Miami's three-point artists are a year older, and one less. Shane Battier's been semi-nonexistent overall in the playoffs, and on defense, too. Rashard Lewis had a cameo of his old self against the Pacers, but don't count on him against the Spurs. Ray Allen seems timeless, but, he's probably not. And, of course, Mike Miller is gone. James Jones and Michael Beasley are NOT enough to pick up the slack.

And, because of all of that, I'm sure Pops has new ideas on how to handle Chris Bosh in corner 3 territory, among other things.

So, assuming TP's ankle is good to go?

I say Spurs in six. And, I didn't even mention Tim Duncan until here at the end. Or the one-of-a-kind Manu Ginobili.

Spurs in six.

#Cardinals call up Taveras - a good move IF ...

I totally agree with the call-up of OF Oscar Taveras, as well as that, for a second time, of Randal Grichuk. I wasn't expecting the Taveras tapping until a bit closer to their AL road trip, but, it's a good move IF ....

If, as Bernie Miklasz notes, Mike Matheny will actually play him that much. As Bernie notes, this is very much a John Mozeliak move, who wants to give Taveras a good eyeball. If both he and Grichuk get playing time and show they're the answers, Bernie's right. This solves the Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay conundrum in CF, and means that Allen Craig plays more at first, making Matt Adams either a "super-sub," per Bernie, or trade bait for the right deal.

Bernie talks more about the general outfield crowd here. This comment from Mozeliak is an important one:
“If we’re going to bring up somebody like a Taveras, it’s certainly going to be where everybody agrees with the plan,” Mozeliak said. “It’s not necessarily something I’m just going to dictate. I obviously want to talk to Mike and his staff and get their thoughts. But you’re not going to start somebody’s (arbitration) clock, and then have them sit. That makes no sense. If you get to the point where you feel he can help you, then you’ve got to be committed to him playing a certain amount of games.”

Bernie wrote this before either call-up, because in the next paragraph, he notes:
This could be exactly why the Cardinals promote Grichuk – again – instead of Taveras. I don’t think Mozeliak is willing to take the chance of having Taveras move to the majors, only to sit and chew sunflower seeds.
That said, he's right at the end. If Taveras and Grichuk both halfway pan out, right now, some trade is happening. Adams and Jay are the most likely to depart. Jay has somewhat boosted his trade value over last year. Adams has not, though. If anything, he's diminished his, with less overall power, and if possible, despite his spring training vows, a worse performance against lefties than last year.

Back to the main point, though, and Mo's main comment. On the main call-up? Matheny says Taveras will get his chances. And, indeed, he's starting today. And, has started his Cardinal career with a bit of a bang. But, let's let this play out.

Here, I pause to say nuts to a couple of commenters I ran into on NBC Sports last week who both think that Bernie doesn't know what he's talking about, and that Matheny is just a cog in a Mozeliak marching orders machine. Not true. Not from where I sit.

Bernie also gives a good round-up of our Sub-Genius Skipper's mismanagement of the bullpen so far this year. And, it's pretty bad mismanagement. He makes a good point especially about David Aardsma: is it time to call him up soon? And, that's where Matheny's stubbornness, hunches, or "my guys" stance show he's not a Mozeliak cog. Even as he continues into a third straight year of managerial performance at or below a team's Pythagorean expectations. The fact that Shane Robinson was called up earlier this month (why?) is another example I'll present of "my guys."

Sorry, folks, but I wasn't all huzzahs when he was signed to be manager. I wanted Terry Francona. I still kind of wonder what he would have done.

Also, to you Cards management defenders who nod your heads every time Mo talks about "junior GMs," especially on the idea that Taveras could play center? I've never made that claim myself.

That said, they're out there, and on Taveras, they're not limited to Cards fans. They include people like this willfully clueless Mets rooter.  He insists that Taveras "has to" play center.

So, let's hope that Mo's words and Matheny's "he'll play" all ring true. Let's hope that Taveras and Grichuk both show something. Then, let's hope that Matheny gets a clue on how to run a bullpen.

I have to disagree with Massimo Pigliucci: a public intellectual misstep?

And, regular readers of this blog, or viewers of my comments on Google+, will probably be surprised. And they should be.

Oh, sure, we have some differences of opinion on what free will may or may not be. But, those are fairly nuanced positions on an issue where there's little certain knowledge at all.

Rather, I'm disagreeing a bit more substantially with ideas behind his latest post, On the Biology of Race.

Obviously, this can be an explosive issue. I certainly agree with the thumping he gives to Nicholas Wade's new book. He does acknowledge that Wade does give credence (if Wade isn't just using a rhetorical gambit; I've not yet read the book) to Hume's is/ought distinction.

But, trying to redefine the word "race"? No.

Massimo first notes this:
“Race” is a rather fuzzy concept in biology to begin with, even outside of the human case. More often than not, however, in biology a race is a subspecies, or incipient species
So far, so good.

But, then, we have at best, a stumble, at second best, a wrong turning, and at third best, a violation of at least the spirit of the Tractatus-era Wittgenstein and his famous quote, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Here's that wrong turning.
If human races are not subspecies, is there any scientifically meaningful way to recover the concept of “race” as it applies to our species, and how does this square with the “folk” concept of species (i.e., with talk of “blacks, Caucasians, Asians,” and so forth)?

Jonathan Kaplan and I (first reference mentioned in [6]) think there is. We suggested that human races are really what biologists call “ecotypes” [11], geographically distinct populations that have evolved some special way of adapting to their local environment.
I'm not disagreeing with him as a biologist. I have no academic standing to do so. And, I have no doubt the word "race" can be defined as an "ectype," as he does.

The real question is, Should it be?

In other words, should be be using the word "race" at all?

I say no, firmly so.

We've at least gotten past "race" used for a cultural grouping from one country, like "the English race" or the "British race," etc., that was common out of the mouth of a Teddy Roosevelt or a young Winston Churchill. It's time to take the next step, and, as much as possible, stop using "race" for people of different skin tones.

Unfortunately, Massimo focuses his ecotypes for human races exactly on generalized, or overgeneralized, or even stereotypical, racial characteristics:
The idea, then, is that certain superficial physical characteristics in humans — chiefly, but not exclusively, skin and eye color — did evolve genetically, likely in response to natural selection for adaptation to certain types of environments, most obviously dark skin to protect people from high levels of UV radiation, and light skin to minimize inability to synthesize vitamin D in places where high incidence of sunlight is not the most pressing problem.
Eye color may be a spandrel, or, at least, co-evolved.

Skin color? H. sapiens arctus could have evolved a different mechanism for Vitamin D needs, like more efficient obtaining of it from food sources. After all, Andeans and Himalayans have evolved different mechanisms for living at high altitude. And, Southeast Asians have evolved a rough parallel to West Africans' sickle-cell defense against malaria.

And, on skin tone, many East Asians, even ones at more northerly latitudes, are of slightly to moderately darker skin than many Europeans.

That said, he goes on to acknowledge some of this.
For instance, light skin evolved following different genetic pathways in Western and Eastern Eurasian populations. Moreover, although South Asian populations retained the ancestral dark pigmentation, its genetic modulation appears to be very different from that of, say, West African populations.
Fair enough? Well, maybe, maybe not. It's only a partial acknowledgement, not a full one. Nor is it an acknowledgement that by focusing on skin tone, Massimo's barking up the wrong ecotype tree.

Docgee in comments speaks for me here:
If you already have a perfectly good term, i.e., “ecotype,” then what’s the point of tacking “race” onto it? You admit that your definition has little in common with the “folk” definition, which is in fact very different. So what is there that’s so attractive about “race” that you feel the need to revive (and redefine) the term at all? Since most people feel they already know what “race” means, using it as an alternative to “ecotype” will only lead to confusion. And in the process, encourage the many racists among us.

Moreover, when you actually study the literature of population genetics you’ll see that there is no such thing as a human “ecotype” either. At least not in any sense remotely comparable to race. What “race” are the Ainu of Japan, who are phenotypically “caucasian”? What race are the Andaman Islanders, who look “just like” African Pygmies, but are much closer genetically to Asians. What “race” are American “blacks,” many of whom are primarily of European or British descent, yet simply look “negroid” to your typical American.
Exactly. While Massimo again gives a nod to a narrow focus on ecotypes:
As we have seen, insofar as biologically meaningful races are conceptualized as populations more like ecotypes than like incipient species, many of the arguments purporting to show that there are no human races miss their mark.
He still doesn't discuss why skin tone, contra a Docgee, should be the starting point for defining, or defining into existence, human ecotypes.

So, I correct myself. As a layperson, I'm not disagreeing with his knowledge of biology, I'm disagreeing with the way he's constructing definitions.

So, let's say that this is a philosophical disagreement. It's about philosophy of language, and since it's about said branch of philosophy in the use of science, it's a philosophy of science disagreement of sorts.

But, it's more than that.

Massimo stresses the value of public intellectuals, and that's the ultimate grounds of my disagreement. I think, again with Docgee having taken the words out of my mouth, that he is indeed erring as a public intellectual.

Two paragraphs above the last one, he says:
The upshot is that when people think of “blacks” as a race, they are not actually picking a scientifically coherent unit, only one that is defined by a mishmash of small and superficial set of biological traits (skin color etc.) and a convoluted cultural history.
Followed by this in the same paragraph of the "as we have seen" quote:
But again, biology provides no support for the very strong, essentialist-style conception of ‘race’ that has, both historically and at present, underwritten racism (of both the individual and institutional varieties), and indeed, biology reveals that the assumptions underlying such a conception of race are false.
So, why still use the word "race"?

I think Massimo is missing the boat on a branch of evolutionary biology that we both agree is often overblown. However, it is a branch that, with both the word "pop" and the idea of it removed, does have some legitimate contributions.

I'm talking about evolutionary psychology.

Xenophobia is an evolutionarily-guided human trait. The idea of the "outgroup" is deeply rooted.

And, skin color, when people from different parts of the world are thrown into close proximity, especially in larger numbers, is a mentally easy way to distinguish "outgroups."

And, those outgroups have been labeled with the word "race." Even as "we" know that there's no connection between skin tone and other heritable characteristics, people with PhDs still claim there are such connections.

Like Phillipe Rushton. Or, without a PhD, Steve Sailer, referenced as an expert by a Jamaican native, JayMan, who says he is of part African ancestry, here.

Massimo, if dipping into the waters of evolutionary psychology is too much, this might actually be a good time for a quaff of Dan Dennett and his observations about folk psychology. You use the word "folk" yourself, but don't seem to see this as an "aha" moment.

So, no, Massimo.

Because, pace Wittgenstein above and the later linguistic Wittgenstein, to speak of a term loaded with baggage that has sociological and political science connotations, is to speak of a word that, in the public square can't be so easily redefined, and certainly not unilaterally so. (The repeated comments of JayMan, complete with references to posts from his blog, to which I shall not link, are proof positive of this.) And, since political science, in a case like this might even connect to political philosophy, we're definitely back in public intellectual territory.

To riff on John Roberts, the way to stop talking about "race" is to stop talking about "race." Except when necessary to refute the traditional "folk" concept.

Period and end of story.

To try to redefine the word, still using biological concepts, still leaves the door open for the racialist Sailers of the world to commit deliberate bull's-eye fallacies by defining "ecotypes" the way they want to.

Per that later Wittgenstein, and ordinary language philosophy, simply deny that "race" as understood in common language has biological standing.

May 30, 2014

Texas early post-runoff election rumors

Kinky Friedman, moving from campaigner to general gadabout (for now), has reportedly borrowed an idea from Dan Patrick for his latest border-patrolling idea. Rather than "Five Mexican generals" being bribed to patrol the border better, it's "Five Mexican generals with bars of Ivory Soap" to keep out stinky Ill Eagles. A Texas Ranger will patrol for stinky Mexicans already here and report direct to The Stinking Anglo Formerly Known as Danny Goeb™. (Feel free to borrow.)

Joe Straus reportedly has bought a tranquilizer gun and Taser, and they're both located under the Speaker of the House's podium, within easy reach, just in case possible future Lt. Gov. Danny Goeb needs to be "managed" if he's ever in the Texas House. There's no word if he has a psychiatrist on cellphone speed dial.

Patrick, meanwhile, would reportedly set strict conditions on debating Democratic lite guv opponent Leticia Van de Putte. He allegedly would ask her to pass a "clean Mexican aroma test." Mental health issues were not going to be allowed to be part of any debate, he allegedly said.

Van de Putte, meanwhile, was rumored to be taking a page from LBJ's famous 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater, namely, a slogan: "In your guts, you know he's nuts."

David Alameel may have been overheard saying that he would spend "whatever it takes" to not lose to John Cornyn by more than 15 percentage points. 

Ken Paxton allegedly decided he would take Alameel's self-financing Senate campaign one better in his run for state AG. There were rumors he was discussing setting up a private trading site where he could sell investment shares in his campaign.

Greg Abbott denied rumors that The Stinking Anglo Formerly Known as Danny Goeb™ had asked if the wife that Abbott had recently discovered to be Mexican-American stank. He also denied rumors that he threatened to run over The Stinking Anglo with his wheelchair if The Stinking Anglo ever talked about his wife again.

May 29, 2014

No, we won't all be in driverless #GoogleBugs — I hope

News that Google actually plans a driverless car?

I had to blog about it, even after putting up a Facebook post, in part because part of the hype and touting from the smart-stupid I *** Love Science. (I'm not a prude, but expletives used just for "coolness" I have the option, and the sometimes desire, of deleting.)

Still MUCH more science fiction than science reality. There was a story a week or two ago, about exactly how Google's self-driving cars, to date, have had the success they have had. Answer? Massive, massive, massive amounts of data, even for a very limited, restricted area of driving, almost all in the Bay Area. To navigate the whole US with a driverless car? Such a critter won't be made for 50 years. Anything Google sells before then will have a "EULA" more than a mile long, which will include terms strictly limiting where you can drive one of its cars.

Alex Madrigal wrote about that data gathering at the Atlantic earlier this month, as part of the hype versus the reality on this issue. Beyond actual miniscule road testing, there's this:
Today, you could not take a Google car, set it down in Akron or Orlando or Oakland and expect it to perform as well as it does in Silicon Valley.

Here's why: Google has created a virtual track out of Mountain View.
And, do you and I really want Google taking a million times more photographs with 100 times more precision than Google Earth now does? And, no, those numbers aren't hyperbole; they're off-the-cuff guesstimates. Lots of red-state gun nuts would be shooting at Google Cars photographers, methinks.

More:
The key to Google's success has been that these cars aren't forced to process an entire scene from scratch. Instead, their teams travel and map each road that the car will travel. And these are not any old maps. They are not even the rich, road-logic-filled maps of consumer-grade Google Maps.

They're probably best thought of as ultra-precise digitizations of the physical world, all the way down to tiny details like the position and height of every single curb. A normal digital map would show a road intersection; these maps would have a precision measured in inches. 
In short, Google's modified commercial cars have been using a massive cheat sheet. But, the reality of trying to have cars impersonally drive the entire US is massively different. How different?

This much:
Very few companies, maybe only Google, could imagine digitizing all the surface streets of the United States as a key part of the solution of self-driving cars. Could any car company imagine that they have that kind of data collection and synthesis as part of their core competency?

Whereas, Chris Urmson, a former Carnegie Mellon professor who runs Google's self-driving car program, oozed confidence when asked about the question of mapping every single street where a Google car might want to operate.

So far, Google has mapped 2,000 miles of road. The US road network has something like 4 million miles of road.
Urgh.

And, the hype is worse elsewhere. The preview for last night's Charlie Rose had a clip of a guest talking about the GoogleBug learning from algorithms about how humans drive. Wrong! That will not be what's happening next to this car, because that's NOT what Google was doing.

Also, as far as the data, this is a Google Refrigerator on steroids. Do you want GOOGLE making a driverless car, one with telemetry that will tell you every destination to which you drive? I know I don't.


Beyond that, and in light of that, a GoogleBug, or, for the Atlantic story, Google's modified Lexuses, are about where moble robots were a decade or two ago with a massively higher learning curve. How much higher?

Besides, the average American in "flyover" territory is NOT buying this car. An all-electric that, even at its miniscule size, gets only 100 miles of range? And only goes 25 miles per hour?

The Guardian has more on the car side of the issue, namely the limitations Google hit with re-engineered street cars.

Hey, IFLS? Last I checked, sociology and psychology were sciences; you might want to bone up. It's not just IFLS, but, they're an easy target.

Besides, this leads to another bone to pick.

This car isn't really about science at all. It's about technology. That's entirely different. As is engineering. Which would have told you about those 3.998 million miles of unscanned roads.

That said, there is a science called "environmental science." Increasing use of mass transit is more environmentally sound than, even in the Bay Area, building a bunch of electric quasi-cars.
 

May 28, 2014

#Conspiracy thinking: What are high school students learning about US history?

No, this isn't a post from a wingnut angle, saying the Texas State Board of Education needs to get the last vestiges of evolution out of Texas textbooks.

Nor is it, exactly, on the other end of the stick, lamenting the degree evolution, or global warming, have already been banned in Texas, or other red states.

In fact, it's not a "red state" issue, really, other than it's about a red-state high school, and it's connected with a particular red state and a particular historic event in said state.

Seen on a Texas high school's website:
The U.S. History classes took a field trip to Dallas (recently) to the Sixth Floor Museum were (sic) JFK was assassinated. The sixth floor of the old Texas School Book Depository is where Lee Harvey Oswald is believed to have shot JFK just over 50 years ago. Many of the students stood on the street where the shots hit JFK. (Teacher XXX) and the history department have taken the juniors on this trip for (a number of) years. It teaches the students that historians do not have the answers to all the questions in history and that there are mysteries in history.
Underlining emphasis is mine.

The issue is obvious, for anyone who knows me regularly, and my love of history.

How many high school history teachers are conspiracy theorists? Whether it's over JFK's assassination, or FDR allegedly "dragging" the U.S. into World War II, or Mossad or somebody other than 19 suicide terrorists causing the events of 9/11, how many such teachers?  

Because, contra I see this history teacher believing, there are no "mysteries" about JFK's assassination. Nor about the other events I listed above. 

Of course there are mysteries in history. We still don't know what happened to the "lost colony" of Roanoke. Hell, there's historical mysteries here in Texas, like why Texas Anglos can't or won't pronounce "San Jacinto" correctly. Or, more seriously, Cabeza de Vaca's exact route. So, let's talk about them. Let's not use conspiracy thinking about JFK's assassination to wrongly try to make a point. 

Potentially good news for Brian Dunning

Brian Dunning
Dunning, alleged skeptic and he of federal Internet cookie-stuffing fraud, pled guilty just over a year ago to said charges and awaits sentencing.

Dunning and his fans may have some reason to be hopeful on that count. Dunning's accomplice in crime, Shawn Hogan, was just sentenced and the terms are light.

If he's getting five months, unless there's other circumstances for a judge to consider, I guess Dunning gets four?

For the complete background on Dunning, including his fusion of libertarianism with skepticism, his seeming monetary empire off his alleged skepticism (not to mention the cookie stuffing) and more, see this blog post.

NOTE: Any comments claiming Dunning is not a criminal will be deleted.

May 27, 2014

Texas GOP leaders comment on runoff elections

Texas Republican leaders took stock of where the party stands for the general election after Saturday's runoffs.


Rick Perry said: "What happened to the good old days when a college cheerleader with alleged homosexual tendencies could get nominated for governor? NO, not me. Didn't that guy before me cheer at Yale? Besides, I don't paint." After that, he was told to shut up, on advice of counsel who realized his pain meds were on overdose and thought something Perry might say would guarantee a first-degree felony indictment.

Ted Cruz said: "I applaud Texas Republican voters for nominating the moderate conservative Dan Patrick to run for lieutenant governor. I will do anything I can to help make him as solid in conservativism as I am."

John Cornyn said, "I believe exactly what Ted Cruz said. But I deny that I said that because I have voluntarily put his pecker in Cruz's pocket."

David Alameel said: "I'm not a Republican any more, but I used to be one, before the party got too conservative for me and I saw what I thought was an easy, vanity-fueled chance to run against John Cornyn, who still won't give me a refund on my old campaign donations."

Kesha Rogers said: "I'm just a crazy fucking loon. I'm crazy enough I should be a Republican, although I'm not."

Louie Gohmert said: "I'm glad I didn't face a runoff. Someday, there's going to be a stealth religious conservative who tries to run to my right. And we'll find out he's a dark-skinned stealth Mooslim like that Bobby Jindal guy."

Greg Abbott said: "Oh, Lord? Ken Paxton beat Dan Branch in the attorney general runoff and I have to face five months of possible questions as to why I, the current AG, never noticed any of his securities violations." He then denied he had a double standard on law enforcement and said it was a dirty liberal trick to talk about him and a  "stand"-ard for anything.

Dan Patrick said: "I'm grateful to be mentioned by Ted Cruz and in the same breath as him. I promise my statewide campaign supporters that no stinking Ill Eagles will pick up your old signs or set out new ones. Patrick also admitted that the hard campaign left him facing "fatigue and exhaustion," while saying he would be outraged by any blogger that suggested a fitting headline for his win would be: "GOP nutbars nominate true-blue nutbar."

David Dewhurst said: "I can't even have gay lieutenant governor rumors. How low has my career sunk?" He then went off to play 36 holes of golf at River Oaks Country Club, hoping to spot one of the Ill Eagles  Patrick allegedly hired long ago at his sports bar, who might caddy for cheap.

Jerry Patterson said: "I'm sorry my endorsement didn't help David Dewhurst get the lieutenant governor's nomination." He then asked the Dew if he wanted him to whip out his hogleg and scare the shit out of Patrick. Like one of the guns in the video below ...



Ken Paxton said: "I'm glad that the people helped by my under-the-table financial genius were enough to get me nominated." He then offered to cut Dan Branch in on a venture capital sweetheart deal.

Ralph Hall woke up from his nap and said: "I'm glad to be a part of the leadership of the Democratic party in Texas." His staff didn't have the heart to tell him the election results, let alone that he was either Rip van Winkle or else was showing the onset of senility.

Abbott and Patrick were both asked, since Abbott recently discovered he has a Mexican wife, what they thought about Patrick using the phrase "dirty Mexican" in the past. Patrick said that because he was facing fatigue and exhaustion, just as he said he was at the time he talked about a "dirty Mexican," he was unable to answer. Abbott threatened to stand up and punch Patrick even as his right arm started doing some Strangelovian crazy behavior.

Joe Straus said to himself, under his breath: "Good Lord, this means I have to run the Lege along with Dan Patrick?" He then said, doubly under his breath, "Well, at least Patrick didn't lose; we might have had to put him on suicide watch again."

SCOTUS further guts the First Amendment

This time, all nine justices were involved, ruling that, in 2004, the Secret Service didn't violate the First Amendment when it moved demonstrators rallying against President George W. Bush further away from him than pro-Bush demonstrators.

Here's the full ruling, which describes exactly why the Secret Service violated the most overlooked part of the First Amendment, the right to assembly, in conjunction with free speech:
When the President made a last-minute decision to have dinner at the outdoor patio area of the Jacksonville Inn’s restaurant before resuming the drive to the cottage, the protesters moved to an area in front of the Inn, which placed them within weapons range of the President. The supporters remained in their original location, where a two-story building blocked sight of, and weapons access to, the patio. At the direction of two Secret Service agents responsible for the President’s security, petitioners here (the agents), local police cleared the area where the protesters had gathered, eventually moving them two blocks away to a street beyond weapons reach of the President. The agents did not require the guests already inside the Inn to leave, stay clear of the patio, or go through a security screening.
And, that's the discrimination part. It assumes that nobody in the restaurant would be a protestor. It also assumes that protestors, as a group, would be more likely to be disposed to violence than the general population. And said ideas run throughout the ruling.

That includes ignoring facts on the ground that were attached to the appeal after the original district court ruling:
The amended complaint also included an excerpt from a White House manual instructing the President’s advance team to “work with the Secret Service and have them ask the local police department to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed; preferably not in view of the event site or motorcade route.
None of this is new to many of us, and that's why ...

Sorry, but this is wrong, wrong, wrong. Future Secret Service directors and White House detail directors, in conjunction with presidents, will use this ruling to extend the use of "cattle pens," politely known as "free speech zones," and similar to move protestors even further away from presidents at public events. Soon, I'll be lucky to be in the same city. Having protested against Bush numerous times, and being near to the point of hoping Obama is in Dallas or Austin some weekend, for similar protesting, I might be lucky to be allowed in the same city.

I don't buy the Secret Service argument that a last-minute route change by Bush forced it to take the actions it did. And, like with Citizens United and McCutcheon vs. FCC, this will just become one brick in further restricting protestors' freedom of assembly.

If weapons is the concern, why, there's plenty of weapons besides guns. Molotov cocktails can be thrown a block. Vials of sarin or canisters of mustard gas can spread quickly.  And, especially since the last two presidents have upped the "War on Terror" ante, this is kind of like them being hosted by their own joint petard on non-gun weapons, weapons often associated with terror.

But, that's not the only part of Supreme Court stupidity.

Especially were I to have such a non-gun weapon, or even if I wanted to try to slip a gun into such a situation?

I could just hide on the "supporters" side of the street.

Also, given that, as noted, these actions in 2004 led to further envelope-pushing by the Secret Service, including further use of "free speech zones" to separate people from the president,  and that both "free speech zones" and given that the Secret Service's sister agency, the FBI, conducted pre-emptive raids of supposed dissidents and agitators before the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, this is a slippery slope indeed.

And, now, all a president has to do is change his route in some city, somehow, some way, sometime, and voila, We the Protestors can be moved.

Why not do what some people laughed at, when India's new prime minister did it, and just beam an image of the President to some spot as a hologram? I mean, that's about how much bubble presidents are going to want, and seek, in light of this ruling.

It's not just horrible in general, it's horrible that allegedly liberal judges, and/or their clerks, have such limited critical thinking skills. So, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, shame on you. Double shame on Ginsberg for authoring the opinion.

Beyond that, it's wrong in continuing the trend of SCOTUS giving too much power to the executive branch. Pre-empting free speech in support of pre-emptive warmongers.

And, since the First Amendment is the most "federalized" amendment of the Constitution's Bill of Rights, what's to stop governors of states for making similar claims for their security details?

Per P.Diddie's comment below, here is the Greenwald list possibility he's referring to.

May 26, 2014

Is Dan Patrick fit to be Texas' Lite Guv?

Per David Jennings' Big Jolly blog with the Houston Chronicle, the answer, as he shows, is a very arguable no.

One could argue that a Greg Abbott, the fox guarding the henhouse of CPRIT and such, isn't 100 percent ethically fit to be governor, but this goes beyond that.

If Dan Patrick is lying about the extent of his mental health problems, as well as lying about what exactly his mental health problems are, then obviously, he's not 100 percent ethically fit.

But, per the extent of the mental health problems themselves, one can argue that he's simply not 100 percent fit.

Stigmatizing depression is one thing. Raising serious questions about just how manic Patrick can be in manic phases of bipolar disorder, assuming that that is what he has, is another.

Per being lieutenant governor? The lite guv presides over the Texas Senate. As such, he has to cooperate with the Speaker of the House on some legislative calendar issues. He has to work with the House and the Speaker on conference committees for bills that have passed the two houses in different versions. And, that's where his old rubber hits the road. Per Big Jolly:
During the 2011 session Patrick was carrying the sonogram bill and got into argument with House Sonogram sponsor Sid Miller. Patrick blew his cork one day and walked over to House where he threatened, in front of House members, to beat up Sid Miller. The House then got mad at Patrick; he went to see (Speaker Joe) Straus and they had an argument and Straus told Patrick to stay away from the House.
Does Straus still want him off the floor of the House? Metaphorically as well as literally? How can Patrick actually work with him?

Meawhile, at Jennings' personal Big Jolly blog, the rats are coming out of the woodwork, the sewer and other spots to defend Patrick. No surprise there.

That said, both David Dewhurst and Jerry Patterson brought this on themselves.

If Patterson thought this was that important, why not bring it up in the original primary? The issue of Danny Boy hiring Ill Eagles was nice, but, Jerry, even when you had it prepared, you had no guarantee it would have that much impact. Why didn't you, your private eye and whomever else, have this one also ready to release in March?

As for Dewhurst, to riff on Sean Connery in "The Untouchables," in the whole campaign, he's brought a knife to a gun fight. That said, in good country club style, he has stuck his pinkie out away from the knife while holding it. When you did finally bring a gun, it wasn't your own, but the hired hogleg Patterson keeps in his boot. In any election not involving Dan Patrick, Patterson would have a good chance of being a loose cannon.

Instead, due to bungling by Dudley Dewless compounded by that of Señor Hogleg, Dan Patrick, of all people, may get a sympathy backlash tomorrow. If he gets the GOP nod, this is an issue that obviously won't go away, but while it will make the Lite Guv general race tighter than the guv's election between Abbott and Wendy Davis, I doubt it will be enough to unhorse Patrick in November.

That said, if there is some chance he would lose in November, and GOP wingnuts want to double down on him tomorrow, by all means, go ahead. And, non-wingnuts in the GOP have brought this on himself. Per Jolly's laundry list, there's clearly enough misconduct of lack of decorum as a state senator that he could have been officially censured or something. Instead, to riff on another blog post of Perry's, you have someone unfit even to be the Houston Astros GM running for lieutenant governor. He's also not fit to be dogcather of Utopia, though maybe Kinky Friedman and his Utopia rescue society would take him in.

Can we remove an asterisk from Memorial Day?

Maybe even a couple?

But, definitely one.

I am officially still not a fan of the idea, after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, of adding "first responders" to those honored on Memorial Day. After World War I, when Memorial Day became a day to honor the dead of all wars, it was for war dead. The honoring of first responders runs the risk of marking 9/11 as part of the "Global War on Terror." Given how much police departments have militarized since that time, in part due to the "War on Terra," and in larger part in reaction to, and with money generated from, the "War on Drugs," this is kind of slippery slope territory.

That's the big asterisk.

Second one?

Per what I said above, I'd be OK with moving Memorial Day back to honoring Civil War dead, since they still make up half our war dead, and by weighted percentage of population, much more. (Imagine 3.5 million Americans dying in World War II, which is still far short of USSR war deaths, and you get the idea.)

I'd favor this idea in part due to the rise of the Tea Party and associated states rightsism. Since Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic started the idea of commemoration of Union war dead, it would remind various nutbars of who won that war.

That said, per Abraham Lincoln's words at Gettysburg, we need to be rededicated to that issue.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And, part of that is erasing the 125 years or so of Northern appeasement and amnesia, from about 1880 on, over why the war was fought, and the rise of the Klan and other Southern reaction to Reconstruction. (Sic on the text, for some people who note two missing words.)

Third asterisk? Especially in small towns of America, can we remove the religious steepings of the day? There's obvious First Amendment issues for me and other secularists. Beyond that, though. I am again reminded of Lincoln, this time in his Second Inaugural Address:
"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.
Bingo. Invoking god in the picture often runs hand in hand with American exceptionalism. And, given that the Mexican War and Spanish-American War were both wars of imperialism, and that we really had no business in World War I, a little less American exceptionalism would be good. 

And, distantly related to that? Did anybody from the CIA die in the overthrow of Mossadegh or Arbenz, like we know died in Libya? If we're going to be honest about American wars and American imperialism (these covert operations are also the flip side of Eisenhower's warning about the "military-industry complex," his development of the "covert-underhanded complex) maybe we ought to be saluting the CIA and waving a CIA flag along with military service flags.

That said, since it was a Yankee abolitionist song, if we are going to keep religious elements at Memorial Day events, I'm all for singing every verse of "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Finally, a related asterisk.

If it takes you more than 2 minutes to sing the national anthem, off you go into a penalty box.

May 25, 2014

Did FDR do all he reasonably could to save the Jews?

FDR and the JewsFDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


An excellent, balanced book that shows that, on trying to save Europe's Jews, FDR was neither calloused and indifferent nor a saint.

The authors divide his presidency into four, roughly but not exactly matching his four terms in office, and look at what he did in each period. They also refute a number of myths, including one medium-sized and one big one.

The first roughly matches his first term. The second runs to about the time of the St. Louis liner in 1939. The third runs to about the time Nazi Germany overran Hungary in spring 1944. And, the fourth from there.

The authors note that the US economy was the first FDR's main concern. Even so, they say that he probably could have done a little bit more in chiding Hitler or more. That said, no country wanted to take in a lot of refugees in general during the Great Depression. That's not to mention anti-Semitism in the US, which was at roughly the level of pre-Vichy France, on average, I think we could say. If I were to give a grade, it would be a C-minus.

On the refugees, post-1924 immigration law had strict country quotas, and an anti-immigrationist Congress, not even counting hardcore segregationists, was in little mood to lift those quotas. This is something to remember later on.

Reassured of re-election, FDR II did challenge the Germans more, and did work, within in the system, to work around those quotas, and to pressure the British to do all they would and could to open up Palestine. FDR was also the only world leader to recall his country's ambassador for consultations after Kristallnacht. A solid B-plus, maybe higher, if I'm giving grades.

The St. Louis liner incident, while leading to FDR III, is more complex than many histories appear. Cuban strongman Bautista did not have absolute control of his country's wheels of power, and Cuba's president and foreign minister rejected the backdoor deal he had cut with Americans with some connection with FDR.

Myth says that all of the passengers went back to Germany and most died in the Holocaust. Reality is that while all went back to Europe, none went to Germany and almost 3/4 survived.

That said, why didn't FDR do more? Because, at this time, he was trying to get Congress to loosen up the Neutrality Act. He was afraid that intervening in the St. Louis would make the desired Neutrality Act changes look too narrowly pro-Jewish.

As the authors note, FDR III was about having the US ready for war, helping Britain be ready for war, and fight the war after September 1939, etc. Jewish issues in Europe were focused through this prism.

At the same time, FDR was already working around the anti-Semites among career staff in the State Department to do something to keep Jewish immigration hopes alive. At the same time, this is when Breckenridge Long, anti-Semitism at State personified, was appointed to one of the top political, non-careerist positions there. The authors don't make clear if this was part of solidifying his in-party stance before officially running for a third term (which he seems to have decided on after Kristallnacht) or what; that's a minor missing point.

After war started, it became harder to do much about Jews still in occupied Nazi territory. But, there was Vichy, before the North African invasion, Spain, and the moral voice of the Vatican. FDR did a moderate job with all.

Grade for FDR III? Flat C?

FDR IV, as noted, was at the tail end of the war. Here we run into the big myth, one that the authors note President George W. Bush perpetuated on a visit to Auschwitz: FDR decided not to bomb Auschwitz, or rail lines from Hungary.

After the Nazis took over Hungary, they did all they could, with Admiral Horthy slowing things for a while in the summer of 1944, to kill its 800,000 or so Jews. Why didn't FDR order bombing of the train lines to Auschwitz or even, even at the cost in Jewish life, Auschwitz itself? (Even some Jews supported this.)

First, FDR himself never heard about this. The idea of doing this got killed in upper levels of the War Department and Army. The authors note that John McCloy's late-life comments otherwise are highly self-serving and unreliable. (After April 1944 or so, the rail lines themselves were very reachable, and Auschwitz itself barely so, by bombers from Italy.)

Possible anti-Semitism of military folks aside, they were already overloaded with targeting requests for their bombers. And both they and FDR felt that winning the war was the surest way to save Jews.

Beyond that, the Nazis quite likely would have found some other way to kill Jews. Pre-Auschwitz, they used guns and mobile CO2 vans in the USSR, after all.

(As for the myth of bombing Auschwitz? Bibi Netanyahu also made that claim, in part to try to justify an attack on Iran. With both him and Bush, the specter of pre-emptive war was in the background.)

The Nazis then thought about negotiating over Hungary's Jews. But the price in US military material plus ideas of a separate peace with the West were far too high to pay, and were otherwise shady.

After that, Hungarians themselves tried some negotiations, but the Nazis ultimately quashed them. As any Jews set free would have to cross German-occupied territory, that was the end of that.

Otherwise, FDR's War Refugee Board, created at this time, did have regular contact with Raoul Wallenberg and helped him with his mission. The authors say that 100,000 Jews may have been saved from Hungary, and 200,000 overall.

Yes, a small amount out of 6 million, or even 800,000. But not negligible. Yes, FDR needed a nudge or two to create this board. But, he did so, he stood by it, and the nudges weren't that hard.

The fourth FDR gets a solid B.

In all of this, FDR continued to run the multiple gantlets (that's the right spelling, folks) of anti-Semitism in general, anti-Semitism and anti-immigrationism in Congress, and the fractiousness of various Jewish organizations, all while pushing against what seemed like the rock of Sisyphus, the anti-Semitism at State. A lot of people don't understand how deep this was. It was the traditional WASPs' anti-Semitism, one that sympathized hard with Britain and tried to get Roosevelt to agree to back a British white paper that would have officially retreated from the Balfour Declaration.

This isn't a whitewash by the authors; it's an honest evaluation of what FDR did, and didn't do, and why, and whether he could have done more.

Over all four terms, within the realities of American politics, the Depression and war, he probably gets a B, no lower than a B-minus.

===

As for FDR's alleged anti-Semitism? This is largely not true, but rather, people who want to guilt-trip FDR for not doing much, much more to save European Jews, and who pick certain comments of his out of context and distort them. Many of them use Peter Bergson, who comes off in this book as having a tiny following within Palestine and being generally untrustworthy, as a "foil" to show just what FDR could have done. Hogwash. Bergson did help push for the War Refugee Board. He did show other American Jews that they could perhaps be more vocal. Otherwise, he was regarded as an irritant by Jews in both the US and Palestine.

For a good refutation of all of these claims, see this excellent piece in The Nation, that came out at about the time of this book. In general, per this review, be wary of any piece by, or favorably touting, Rafael Medoff.

===

As for one-star reviewers of this book, on either Goodreads or Amazon? Well, there's Holocaust deniers everywhere. There's also ultra-Zionists everywhere, per the link to The Nation. You'll find other lowball reviewers, that aren't Holocaust deniers, are ultra-Zionists.



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