January 03, 2015

Time to give PZ Myers another good swift kick

Or maybe not ... as he has avoided cranking up a petard in this case. Albeit under what seems like some version of duress, and with backhanding one of his tar babies in the process.

Update: See the bottom of this post; PZ's shown he has some ethics. Now, let's see if, in the future, he has some civility in believing that his critics may have similar ethics, at least.

The latest in PharyngulaLand, Gnu Atheist speak for la-la-land?

Well, as reported by Hement Mehta, one of Freethought Blogs other bloggers, "Avicenna," who runs A Million Gods, has been doing some serious plagiarism.

And, both he and PZ, co-owner of the whole schmeer of FTB along with Ed Brayton, have been doing a tap-dance around the truth.

Both have initially claimed that all that was being plagiarized was some hate mail.

Really?

As Mehta documents, Steve Gould, the AP, Reuters, AFP, and local newspaper reporters and editors, among others, are NOT hate mail, and not people with "burner" emails, but rather with stories posted online at actual newspaper websites.

Then, per an email exchange, Avicenna doubled down on lying through his teeth:
I have some problems with quotes markers going up and updates not going through. Also? I kind of have no reason to do this. I mean I link to even the most simple posts that I quote.
Oh and I have power cuts, the internet cuts out then and the post doesn’t update. Sometimes it reverts to older versions. Some errors may be due to that.
Yes, power in India isn't always reliable. But, for an MD making decent money, I'm sure it is. And, quote markers going up? Puhleeze. WordPress is like Blogger. All you do is highlight text that's a blockquote and click a button.

Per Mehta, here's what PZ says about any more serious allegations:
The examples cited above are seriously problematic. The executive committee at FtB is currently reviewing them. Avicenna will have an opportunity to respond, so don’t expect an instant reaction.
But, folks, don't hold your breath.

Instead, because schadenfreude's always a bitch?

Let's pile on top, because piling on top of PZ is always fun. Hey, all you far right conservatives at Minnesota-Morris? If PZ says that Avicenna's plagiarism is OK, you know what to do. Sign up for every class of his and plagiarize like hell. Then, wave PZ's blog in the face of the dean of students.

And, yes, per one commenter on Hemant's thread, somebody needs to contact the wingnuts' student newspaper at Minnesota-Morris and, if PZ defends Avicenna, invite them to plagiarize! 

So, PZ, and Ed? You're now officially "on the clock."

Because, even with some small blog, the Net caches older versions, I have struck though the grafs above, rather than deleting. 

Otherwise? Plagiarism is plagiarism; makes no matter if the "SlymePit" first started tracking it down. And, as a newspaper editor myself, I particularly don't like a bunch of this plagiarism being from newspapers. 

Finally, once more, I need to repeat this adage I created:

Atheism is no guarantor of either moral or intellectual superiority. 

Postscript:

 I'll give Ed Brayton, but not (yet?) a proper kudo now. (See, PZ, this is how it's done, even with someone you often disagree with.) Avicenna has been removed from the blogroll there.

That said, PZ — and Ed — remember that, plus my adage above. Non-Gnus, as well as Christians, even, can and do act with the same ethics on issues of plagiarism.

And, Ed still goes out of his way to backhand "SlymePit" types to some degree.

And, PZ himself has — almost as if under torture — posted as well. And, that's about what it reads like. Sorry to one of my FB friends, but, Krisjan, got to disagree with you in comments over there. I don't follow any atheist blogs, though I do look at various of them from time to time.

To the best of my knowledge, Mehta doesn't have any major anti-FtB bias. Maybe some small one; I don't know. But, I certainly don't see a major one.

Now, back to that tentative invite to the UMM student newspaper.

First, that was deliberate, knowing that PZ is Orwellian on issues of censorship and the First Amendment, and has been so with this paper.

Second, schadenfreude is the secular equivalent of karma. And, sometimes, it needs an activist push. That's no different than what SJWs would do, I think.

So, stop bitching if the shoe's on your foot and pinching. Fortunately, Pharyngulacs, this time, the guru pulled the shoe off his foot quickly enough.

What if that weren't the case? What if there is a next time? And, I guarantee you there will be. And, as with his past history with the wingnut student paper, it's usually when PZ is cranking his own petard.

There's also this.

Since that was Ed, not PZ, officially announcing Avicenna's removal, and I have no idea who if anybody besides Ed and PZ are on FtB's executive board, for all you and I know, PZ may still have opposed Avicenna's removal.

I'll take a gander at what PZ has to say himself in the next 12-24 hours.

January 02, 2015

Myths about the police abound from both New Left and libertarians

From both the New New Left and from libertarians, we're getting all sorts of teh stupidz on modern police being created as an instrument of control (labor control on the New New Left, general quasi-fascist control from libertarians) rather than what they really were created for by Robert Peel, and that was first and foremost as a way to control crime.

Showing again why I rightly removed Counterpunch from my blogroll, Sam Mitrani spouts the New New Left nonsense.

Edited from an exchange of emails, here's my refudiation of his piece.

First, something halfway like policing existed 2,500 years ago with the Shah's eyes and ears in the Achaemenid Empire, or the Imperial urban cohorts in Rome. Chinese of antiquity also had police forces that even did detective work. Roman vigiles and urban cohorts, Middle English constables and Chinese prefecture patrols did patrolling, and even did some criminal investigation. That and more (except the Persians, who were like a state trooper unit, not city police) are discussed in the "ancient policing" section of Wiki's generally good article.

So, right there, Mitrani is wrong as rain:
Before the nineteenth century, there were no police forces that we would recognize as such anywhere in the world. 
Simply not true. And, for a professor of history giving me an "invitation" to learn more about police history, an "invitation" that seemed a mix of earnestness and lecture, it's somewhat disconcerting to see him not just minorly wrong, but majorly wrong, even while issuing that "invitation."

Now, on to modern times, which is where Mitrani's "narrative" proper starts. Recent readers here will note that when I have the word "narrative" in scare quotes, I'm not talking about a literary device but rather, a sociological one.

That said, on to examination of Mitrani's "narrative."

In 19th century London, second, Robert Peel's Metropolitan Police weren't invented as the first modern police force as "an instrument of oppression" or whatever.

Sadly, I've seen this meme or variations of it running around both portions of the New New Left and libertarianism, and it's just not true.

It's true that Americans refused to follow Peel's attempts at professionalization. It's also true that, at times, police were used to "thump" labor. (As was the US Army, which Mitrani admits.)

The modern police weren't created for labor control in general as their primary focus, "oppression" or not. While the "betters" may have been worried about the "lessers" bringing more crime to the city, it was the influx of numbers in general that was part of the issue. That's why Paris, a major city before London, had a police force long before London did.

And, 17th century Paris wasn't the same thing as 19th century London, anyway. They were separated by a gulf of a steadily growing British democracy, and by nearly 200 years of British idea-making and philosophy.

In fact, Peel based his ideas in part on the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham. Far from being an oppressor, Bentham was a "leveler," if you will:
Bentham became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism. He advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalising of homosexual acts. He called for the abolition of slavery, the abolition of the death penalty, and the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.
Pretty hard to claim that's the stuff of "oppression." Peel's Nine Principles of policing make clear his pragmatic approach, and the desire to move police in a non-military, non-oppressive direction.

Now, it's true that 19th-century American policing leaders didn't want to follow the "professionalizing" ideas of Peel. That's because urban American police in the 19th century were part of urban political power and thus responsible for many other things, including ward heelers passing out the grafting favors to the working class in exchange for their vote.

Between various portions of the New Left and various portions of libertarians spreading memes in the last month about why the police were "really" created, including the slave patrols  claim, memes that meet on the far side of the circle, we've got plenty of ... to borrow from Chris Mooney ... "motivated reasoning" being spread around.

My motivated reasoning is looking at the actual history of police, both Peel's, and before and after, around the world, as I told Mitrani.

His, it is clear, is indeed Mooneyite (love saying it that way!) motivated reasoning, which, contra Mooney, many liberals do plenty of. It's very clear that he wants to tell a narrative rather than (despite his earnestness of silken glove hiding small brass knuckles of a quasi-lecture inside in his reply to me) actually accurately discuss the history of modern policing.

So, spread the memes; spread them like fertilizer (hint, hint, Gentle Reader) to those who readily devour "narratives." But, I'm not buying.

This is why I call myself a skeptical left-liberal (for American political stances).

That said, he's not the only one spreading the memes. I reference libertarians as well.

Radley Balko, in his book last year on the militarization of modern American police, to which I gave an iffy three stars, makes some of the same errors. He gets ancient policing history wrong, and tries to shoehorn modern policing, specifically in America, into a preconceived narrative.

Behind this is the larger libertarian narrative, that "tyranny" is lurking in, under and around every actual or proposed action by any level of government. I sometimes think libertarians have wet dreams about the word. In fact, I have mentioned that before, as part of a discussion about libertarians' motivated reasoning on what counts as criminal behavior.

None of this is to say that "bad cops" don't exist. They do, and yes, I've blogged about it. However, contra another narrative that runs through certain portions of, again, both the New Left and libertarians, that doesn't mean that the majority of cops are bad. That said, neither are the vast majority of cops Santa Clauses in uniform. Rather, they're people who are doing a job with a fair amount of stress, and probably no more, if not less, racial bias than America as a whole, at least in police forces that have a certain amount of diversity.

I noted above that these two narratives meet in a circle on the far side of nutbardom.

The "class repression" myth ultimately opens the door for Black Bloc types to steal and vandalize in the name of economic justice and equality. The "tyranny" myth, as noted at that "discussion" link, ultimately opens the door for stealing from the government.

Oh, well, this post does fit with a New Year's resolution — to be even more resolute, as part of my developing neo-Cynicism, in rejecting "narratives."


December 31, 2014

My 2014 person of the year is ....

A guy who's influencing economies around the world right now, including internationally in Russia and domestically in Texas, and in other ways, around the world.

Who is the gentleman in that picture? Whom I have deliberately not captioned?

I'll explain that in a minute, and from there, you'll understand why he gets, and easily wins, the nomination for this important award.

So, with that said, that bit of suspense, let's move into the heart of things.

Drumroll?



Glad you asked for one?

It's Saudi Arabia's Minister of Petroleum Ali Al-Naimi.



Information/credit for photo above: Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi speaks to journalists ahead of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting on Nov. 27, 2014.

SAMUEL KUBANI / AFP/Getty Images

I deliberately looked for one with him in Western suit, to increase the suspense a bit, lest readers immediately guess, at a minimum, that "this guy has something to do with oil."

Well, Al-Naimi has plenty to do with oil, not just "something."

This is the man who is keeping Saudi Arabia in the oil driver's seat. Even if it means, per Business Insider, oil falling to $20/bbl. And, not cutting production even if surpluses grow. Period.

This is the man who could cause a recession in Texas. With more fighting over school funding and other things.

This is the man who could cause a Great Recession in Russia, and maybe already is, along with Western sanctions.

This is the man who could make it easier for Dear Leader to keep saying no to Keystone. (Unfortunately, it is the man who could also make climate change agreements, even relatively toothless ones, harder to achieve.)

This is the man who will help the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expand its influence throughout the Middle East, above all by weakening Iran, calling more shots in the Syrian civil war and leaning more on Israel to deal better with the Palestinian Authority in 2015.

Given that the global oil surplus was becoming evident by midyear of 2014, and that Al-Naami surely was already planning strategy, and talking strategy with King Abdullah himself by then, he's the winner.

Per the $20/bbl comment and the "we're not cutting" comment, he had to have Abdullah's stamp of approval. And, that means he's a powerful man with carte blanche.

Maybe I could almost be calling him, in advance, the frontrunner for 2015 person of the year. Let's actually hope not.

Meanwhile, even with the budgetary challenges, Saudi Arabia itself is likely among the net winners, primarily for all these geo-petro-political reasons. 

No Democrat soup for you, Bernie Sanders!

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders
MSNBC reports that potential Democratic alternatives to Hillary Clinton, namely, officially Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Democratic Sen. Jim Webb and outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, are getting no love from either national Dem muckety-mucks or from MoveOn.

Let's break this all out.

First, why doesn't MSNBC mention former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer at all? As I've blogged about before, he's dropped a few hints about a possible run, and if not as much of an enviro as a Sanders, is certainly as much anti-establishmentarian as him or Webb, and more so than O'Malley.

Second, MoveOn? That's exactly what you need to do. Elizabeth Warren knows about timetables for presidential campaigns. In other words, "no means no."

Third, Sanders is officially an Independent as a Senator. He fully caucuses with Dems, yes, but still. It's a reasonable reason for him to get a bit of a cold shoulder. That said, he ought to take Howard Dean's non-support as a badge of honor.

Fourth, as far as campaign building? It's true that Sanders comes from a small state. It's also true that Webb's been out of politics for a while (and I don't think has the temperament for a presidential campaign). Nonetheless, contra national Dems' sniffing, as reported by MSNBC, I know we had similar comments about an Illinois state senator, no matter his stage popularity, in 2006 at year end.

As for me? Sanders would be someone for whom I'd vote Democratic, not Green. Webb? I'd have to hear him suss some things out more. Webb, despite his populism on some economic issues, has indicated little about what the government's role is in addressing those issues. O'Malley? He's got the "presidential look" more than the other two, but he might be too establishmentarian.

Schweitzer the unmentioned? If he weren't so weak on environmental issues, I'd definitely vote for him in the general election. I'd still vote for him over Hillary in a primary.

Back to an earlier point, though.

If Bernie does run, how much will it hurt him in Democratic primaries being an Independent as a senator? I think it's a question he has to figure out, at least to some degree, before running.

December 30, 2014

Dear #WendyDavis — just go away

Wendy Davis ponders becoming Texas' Harold Stassen.
(Look him up, you kiddies.) San Antonio Express-News
And, do not cross "go" of any election campaign lines until after November 2016.

No wonder you sent out the occasional email after this year's cluster****: more than retiring campaign debt, you're "keeping the door open," as you've now made semi-official, along with yet another flip-flop.

So, we'll get what?

More of a moderate pandering for moderates and even conservatives? Pass.

Especially when you did this as "lather, rinse, repeat."

And, doubled down on specific pandering, like over the border non-crisis, or packing hoglegs in public, or endorsing the most conservative Dem Senatorial candidate (while still in the primaries stage), presumably just because he was Daddy Warbucks, or going more conservative than Rick Perry on pot, you did it all in spades.

All while your financial past of being a rainmaker did enough pandering to conservatives, or at least to their wallets.

Therefore, saying this in your interview at the top link:
Pointing to one thing she’d change, Davis said in the exclusive interview with the Express-News that she wishes she had a do-over on her campaign decision to support open carry of handguns. Her position put her at odds with her party and alarmed a number of supporters. She said Monday that she opposes open carry. 
 “What I do know is that as an elected public servant, I’ve always been true to my core beliefs. Always. And I’m so proud of that,” she said. “And this was the only time I felt like I’d strayed a bit from that.”

Is simply stuff from off the floor of the Fort Worth Stockyards in your own backyard. Don’t try to sell it to us.

Oh well, at least you didn't (yet?) sue any newspapers over their editorials, unlike the way you did years ago.

But please, just go away. To some place like Zimbabwe. You're about to make my ears bleed.

$60 oil looks locked in for next year — consequences both good and bad

First, Saudi Arabia has planned for oil to trade from the upper $50s to the low $60s next year. (And, in case it's not clear, when I talk about "$60 ... locked in," I'm talking about a range. Details of my guesstimates near the bottom.)

Yes, that means a budget deficit for the government, but "only" about 15 percent, which is still a bit less than the current US deficit, and easily handled by the Saudis.

Second, the Saudis are OK with the price going even lower. It's probably true that Russia and Iran are their main targets, but per this story, US fracking may be in their gunsights as well.

That said, I doubt that oil prices take a sustained drop below $55, but, it's certainly possible they flirt with $50/bbl for the next few months, with them continuing to slide now.

Effect? While it may be good overall globally, it will have fallout otherwise.

Russia is probably headed not just for recession, but a near-depression recession. Given today's Russian political news, more unrest is possible, as is harsher crackdown by Vlad the Impaler Putin.

Venezuela is likely headed in the same direction financially. Possibly a milder version of the same political results.

Not sure how this might affect religious tensions in Nigeria.

I'm sure that it won't be fantastic for Mexico.

And, domestically? Texas may also face some sort of recession even as Tricky Ricky Perry, with his exit, dodges the consequences of his alleged "miracle" collapsing.

Given that Gov. Greg Strangeabbott appealed John Dietz's Texas school finance ruling, weaker oil revenues could be a signal for him to side with wingnuts in the Texas Lege and slash at schools and other portions of the state budget.

The Texas state revenue stream faces a bit of a double whammy here, per the Dallas Morning News. First, state production taxes are based on the per-barrel price, which has of course nose-dived. Second, if less is being produced, of course, there's less to tax. That means the idea of giving TxDOT extra money out of the Rainy Day Fund (rather than something sensical like mandate 100 percent of state gas tax money go to transportation, then raise TAXES! elsewhere as needed), roads could get hamstrung again. (Cue up the toll roads Batsignal.)

That said, it's ridiculous that the state gas tax, which is a per-gallon rate, not a price-based rate, hasn't been changed since 1991.

Oil just has to stay at around the $60 for a couple more months to put significant crimps on US fracking for another six months after that. (I disagree with the SMU prof in the Snooze piece who expects oil to bottom out in another month or two and hit $75 relatively quickly thereafter.)

I wouldn't be surprised if it's at $65 or a touch higher by midsummer, but, it could slump back to near $60 again by September 2015.

It should be noted that tar sands oil will likely NOT be greatly affected at current prices; it would probably take sustained prices of $45 or so for that to happen. Therefore, with a new Congress about to enter into office, President Obama will have to face Keystone XL issues once again.

Meanwhile, even with the budgetary challenges, Saudi Arabia itself is likely among the net winners, primarily for all these geo-petro-political reasons.

December 29, 2014

West explosion lawsuit defendants renew stall tactics

Not yet satisfied with getting civil suits delayed until September 2015 or later, the Adair Grain Co., which had the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, its suppliers, and others, are seeking to delay their suits further.

They claim they can't prepare a proper defense because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms won't release information from its criminal probe and that it may extend that.

That's all well and good, but let's not be too sympathetic, certainly not to two fertilizer company defendants, since they blame the city of West for causing this:
El Dorado and CF Industries contend the city was negligent because it failed to properly train the first responders and had insufficient protocols in place to battle the blaze at West Fertilizer that triggered the explosion.
A motion from CF Industries also seeks to designate as a responsible party an unknown “John Doe,” who the motion said may have started the fire, and the makers of a golf cart, which was inside the plant and may have caused the fire through a potential electrical short, the State Fire Marshal’s Office has said. A motion from El Dorado also alleges that the city should be named as a responsible third party because it failed to protect its citizens by allowing through its zoning authority schools and a nursing home to operate in a close proximity to the plant.
You don't get much sicker than that.

Was John Doe on the grassy knoll? Are you sure there wasn't a second golf cart driver as well?

It's the civil law equivalent of the joke about the guy murdering his parents then asking the court for mercy because he's an orphan.

And, unless the State Fire Marshal's office has HUGELY improved over its Cameron Todd Willingham performance, I wouldn't really trust its claims too much, you know?