January 31, 2015

Where are the moderate Muslims? About everywhere but in the #TxLege

They're all around. Contra people who claim they're not.

But, that's not stopping wingnuts, in the general public, in the media, and in the Modern Wingnut Hall of Fame Texas Legislature, above all, Molly White, per my Tweet, from continuing to see Sharia Agenda 21 everywhere. (Doorknob, I love being snarky.)


First, have a certain percentage of Muslims committed vicious attacks, sometimes against other people for their religion, and claiming the reasons for their attacks are based on Islam?

Absolutely.

Besides those Muslims, there's plenty other people who are, or claim to be, motivated by religion for gruesome behavior.

So are people, in part motivated by Hinduism, who invented the practice of suicide bombing in Sri Lanka.

So are "good Jews" like Meir Kahane, and the Dr. Baruch Goldstein he inspired to massacre Muslims.

So are allegedly peaceful Buddhists killing Muslims in Burma.

So, too, were the Christians of the Crusades, including those that committed cannibalism. (No, not an urban legend.) And, I could dig up white nationalism groups in America that have claimed Christian impetus, too.

Or, just mention the Ku Klux Klan.


As I have emailed and Facebooked various people, multiple websites recounted all sorts of moderate Muslims condemning the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Like here, and here.

Going beyond one email I sent out?

A number of Texas media outlets are in or near what the New York Times, the Houston Chronicle (warning — autoplay video) and other media have called the most ethnically diverse county in Texas, if not the nation, too, I'm sure there's plenty of Muslims in a county 19 percent Asian and 21 percent African, with a few of those being modern African immigrants, too. City-Data, which is usually out of date on some such things, lists two Muslim worship centers in the county. There's probably more than two.

And, the media, and and viewers, listeners adn readers in greater Houston, and to its immediate west-southwest, could probably find plenty of moderate Muslims within them.

That said, this attitude is by no means isolated.

All you have to do is look at those in attendance at Texas Muslim Capitol Day. Like the Muslims that wingnut state Rep. Molly White wanted to take an oath of allegiance to the US Constitution, when she obviously is violating the spirit of her own oath of allegiance, running over the First Amendment like fishwrap.

As well as seeming to think that Israel is part of the United States.

It's clear that a lot of people like to wear blinders.

Did you know, Molly or others, in your fearmongering about Sharia, that in Kiryas Joel, New York, since you're so Israelophilic, ultraorthodox Jews have been allowed to do the Jewish equivalent of Sharia?

It should also be noted, per the relevant link, that this year was the seventh such Texas Muslim Capitol Day. It's not like this is a "Sharia Surprise" sprung out of nowhere.

Oh, and like the Christian activist from Michigan who proclaimed Jesus' name over the Capitol as though conducting an exorcism, and now wants Franklin Graham to ... well, to kidnap a mosque, there's plenty of immoderate Christians around, too.

That said, as I Tweeted, doesn't Christine Weick seem vaguely like Sarah Palin after dipping into the meth jar?

As for CAIR? No, it's not perfect. It has, in the past, skirted at the edges of terrorist related connections, but it is not a terrorist group, and eventual sealing of documents in the Holy Land Foundation legal case means the US government doesn't see it as such.

And, I'll take Wikipedia on CAIR over ultrazionist Jews or teaparty fundamentalist Christians trying to redefine it.

January 28, 2015

Andrew Sullivan quits blogging; I shall cry no rivers for Sully's #hypocrisy

So Andrew Sullivan is giving up blogging? Boo hoo.

Because, Sully, I'm going to deconstruct your farewell post just like I was PolitiFact.

Let's start here:
(W)e experienced 9/11 together in real time – and all the fraught months and years after; and then the Iraq War; and the gay marriage struggles of the last fifteen historic years. We endured the Bush re-election together

A funny statement to make, as I just Tweeted Sully. Yes, per Wiki, he "repented" in time to vote for John Kerry in 2004. However, he was dumb enough to support a moral conservative in the first place in 2000.

Beyond that, his "four cardinal sins" on supporting the Iraq War in the first place show someone shockingly ignorant of geopolitics in general and the Arab world in particular, thus invoking some sort of Peter Principle issues.

Of course, that same general lack of brilliance led him to name his own personal "journalism" awards after Brat Pack "journalists" Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein.

Of course, as Wiki also reminds, and I do too, only more bluntly, that's due to Sully's "Bell Curve" infatuation, which I must say is high-grade racialism and nothing less.

And, that led to some blog spoofing by me, here, for the blog post where my Photoshopping above first appeared.

That in turn was part of his general work for a racist magazine, which is what The New Republic was. Hell, maybe he was having gay sex with Marty Peretz (who is far more nutty than painted at that link) for all I know.

Speaking of, and back to that part of his farewell.

He wasn't fighting the struggles for gay marriage 15 years ago. As Wiki reminds, per this Salon piece, 12 years ago he was fighting the fight on the down low for bearback gay sex at a time when AIDS concerns in the gay community were still pretty damned high. (Showing the weirdness of Salon at times, two years earlier, another writer defended him.)

Yeah, he eventually got married. But, not until three years after Massachusetts legalized gay marriage. So, again, Sully, not in front on that fight.

It's all part of Sully's seeming hypocrisy, the hypocrisy that makes him at least as much a "cafeteria Catholic" as a John Kerry.

Next?

This:
You were there when I couldn’t believe Palin’s fantasies.
What about your own fantasies, namely that Bristol Palin was Trigg Palin's mom? I eventually repented of following you and the "Palin Deception" website down that rabbithole, finding more reasonable possible explanations for Sarah's nuttery around Trigg's birth. But you, apparently, never did. 

Then this:
You were there when … we live-blogged the Green Revolution for an entire month.
Ahh, yes, when Twitter was supposedly the force overturning Iran, then the whole non-democratic world.

That was a conceit that was being refuted even as Sully mouthed it. I tackled some of that nonsense here.

It's all part of Sully's seeming hypocrisy, the hypocrisy that makes him at least as much a "cafeteria Catholic" as a John Kerry.

I don't begrudge at all his personal reasons for leaving. But, per the hypocrisy, he probably was about to fracture his spine figuring out new ways to triangulate himself.

Also, I don't get some liberals who think he's the bees' knees.

Was money the reason to quit?

I am not sure.


His last post says he was making $1 million revenue/year. Now, deducting for assistance (staff of about 10 at peak, perhaps; 7 non-Sully plus one intern listed now) ... overhead, etc., could he afford all this? Assume Sully paid himself $150K. The seven others, on average, about $80K. That’s $700K; whatever he paid the intern and overhead... yea, he was making money. Maybe not as rich as whatever Atlantic paid him before, but I don’t think he was going broke.

On the other hand, a WaPost story says he took no salary in the first year. And, it's not clear how well he maintained his renewal rate. Matthew Ingram talked about some of this early on.

On the third hand, he doesn't mention finances as a reason to throw in the towel.

Beyond that, I don't get why he had so many followers.

Half of what he posted was too short for even a Tumblr. That's why, beyond not agreeing with much of what he said, I don't get why that many people would pay to read him. In that way, he reminded me of Duncan Black, aka Atrios, running the blog Eschaton, which, while more liberal than Sully, years ago became just as short if not shorter on a regular basis.

The only sidebar to this is that it shows his vaunted tip jar/self-subscription model for blogging may not be such a model. Here is my original thoughts on his setting up his subscription model riff on a tip jar. I didn't think about it at the time, but, on the model he proposed, it's "interesting" that he missed the whole "tragedy of the commons" angle.

Actually, it's not "interesting" — it's really a "no duh." Libertarian types in general refuse to acknowledge such a thing even exist. I love the sound of petards hoisting in the morning!

Paging $40 on #oilprices

If, per a previous blog post, $45 a barrel is the "break point" for a lot of US shale oil production, then we could be about to see a whole bunch more "breaking."

Goldman Sachs has pushed down its estimate on West Texas Intermediate prices to $40 for the next six months.

I'd blogged two weeks ago about this possibility, and how, if there were any realistic possibility of it being true, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar was full of Republicanism on his state budget revenue estimates.

Well, Glenn Hegar, you're full of Republicanism.

Sachs is tracking what I think will be the playout for the second half of the year, too, probably at $65 by the end of the year. But, it cautions that the timetable for a presumed rebound is still uncertain.

Meanwhile, Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson thinks that eliminating the government's ban on crude exports will help.

Can't say that I agree, not totally.

As Chris notes, refined gasoline is already exportable.

And, while it may vary a bit from source to source, for California's oil, at least, a bit more than half of it is refined into gasoline, per the diagram at left, although the EIA says its 45 percent across the US.

That said, diesel and jet fuel can also be exported. EIA doesn't list percentages, but Wiki is our friend; it notes that transportation fuel makes up 70 percent of the refined portion of a barrel of oil here in the US, though more gets used for electricity production abroad. (That said, WTI wouldn't likely be wasted on electricity.)

Even if, per the Council on Foreign Relations, there's a "mismatch" between US oil and needs and such, it's still easily arguable that half our crude oil is already "fungible" for export via refined transportation products.

That also said, Tomlinson says this would lower the price of gasoline.  Well, Chris or a web editor say that.

I don't see how. I agree that it wouldn't increase it. But, I can't see that it would decrease it in any way. Because we still import gasoline, right now.

Now, ideas of "energy security"? I agree with Tomlinson and CFR that it's hooey. So, I'm not worried about holding on to oil right now — other than possibly using low prices to expand the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

In fact, I don't get why we aren't topping off our current reserve, which is still about 7-8 percent below capacity, then finding new storage options to expand it.

Free will, a confabulation? Or "mu," part 4

I've written two previous, or even three, blogposts on saying "mu" to the old, tired ideas of "free will versus determinism." (That doesn't count a sidebar piece.)

Now, per a new piece at Massimo Pigliucci's Scientia Salon, and comments there, including from Massimo, to whom I may not be as close on these issues as I thought a year ago, it's time for No. 4.

And, evolutionary psychology (done right, and not close to Pop Ev Pysch) is going to be even more part of the issue than in previous posts.

I want to pick up further on the issue of “confabulation” and free will.

The evolution of the brain to produce “pattern detectors” and “agency imputers” could also, whether as a spandrel, or a deliberate add-on for better running of the pattern and agency “programs,” have also created the idea of free will.

Per the likes of Elizabeth Loftus, on things like memory, our brain is a great big confabulator. Along with that, why wouldn’t we also confabulate our own sense of agency at times? In short, that “agency inputer” of evolutionary psychology fame may be imputing agency to ME, myself, as well as YOU.

Simple, simple concept. But, again, one that traditional defenders of a more robust version of free will might not like.

Wikipedia's piece on the neuroscience of free will addresses this, this issue of post-temporal confabulation, to some degree. Specifically, it's under the section on "retrospective construction," if one wants something more scientific than "confabulation."

It also leads into robust defenders of classical free will seemingly wanting to say that Benjamin Libet's famous experiments have very little to do with issues of free will. And, to keep on saying it, and saying it.

They are true to a degree. But not the degree that they believe, and would have others believe.

In one response, I've said it before and will say it again now. I think at least some of Eddy Nahmias’ claims are overstated. As part of that, I’ll stand by my idea that, at a minimum, Libet has shown (along with others, such as Daniel Kahnemann from psychology with his "fast" and "slow" thinking systems, and others with similar ideas) we need to narrow our ideas about the amount of human mental activity that is fully conscious.

So, for Massimo and others who look at free will to fair degree through the lens of consciousness, he and follow-ups do make a degree of difference. That’s especially true per my idea of self-imputation of agency, above.

This, in turn, is another reason I say “mu” to the issue more and more. Consciousness is of course not the same as free will. But, they are entangled enough that lack of knowledge in consciousness affects lack of knowledge elsewhere.

I think until we know more about the details of how tasks that start becoming habitual are eventually pushed into semantic memory to be run automatically, we should be a bit leery about talking about free will and conscious vs. autonomic, or subconscious or whatever term you prefer for less than fully conscious behavior.

Also, given the amount of follow-up experiments to Libet’s originals, and the interest in them by philosophers, too, I think this claim of commenter David Ottlinger:
It’s the the common opinion of philosophers that Libet is very little obstacle to free will.
Is overstated. I've said that before, too, and noted that I've tussled with Massimo over this issue before, too.

On my essay, I used the phrase “free willer of the gaps.”

As for the fact that Libet and post-Libet experiments only cover a limited range of actions? Well, that’s about current limitations in neuroscience research; it doesn’t mean that what Libet found is guaranteed to only apply to such a limited range of mental actions.

And, again, let’s note that phrase “post-Libet.” Per Wiki, there has been a lot of additional study here. A lot.

Defenders of a robust version of "classical" free will who say the "Libet experiments" don't prove much? Libet's initial experiments are 30 years old. Even with neuroscience still being limited, even only in the Early Bronze Age today, it has still built on that — including with research experiments that have addressed the issue of whether people had enough time to "decide" to undertake an action.


Beyond that, I’ve read Daniel Wegner and others who have built philosophizing ideas about free will on post-Libet experiment findings.

First, as for the issue of consciousness?

To riff on the New Agey mantra, while we use much more than 10 percent of our brain at a time, the amount of our brain that is engaged in conscious deliberational processes may be closer to 10 percent than 90 percent, and surely isn’t 90 percent.

This relates to issues of free will as choice, and choice based on modeling alternative behaviors and their likely playouts.

First, of course, we often don't have time for such detailed modeling.

Second, when we do, if the situation's not totally novel, the modeling is usually at least in part subconscious.

I think much of the “choice” being made is not at a fully conscious level. Modern psychology would indicate this is certainly true in things like habitual behavior, which somewhat shades into my article here (thanks for the link) about psychological determinism.

Per that, and bringing in the evolutionary angle, we know that our brain tries to automate, or at least semi-automate, as many processes as it can, to save energy consumption. And, this process results in some of this modeling being done at a less than fully conscious level.

Libet-type experiments, as I note, yes, have their limitations. That doesn't mean they're foundational limitations; they're quite possibly just structural limitations of the current level of research ability. As for those structural limitations, per the fact that we're 30 years on from the actual Libet experiments, when neuroscience was, if not Paleolithic, then Mesolithic, says something. The Early Bronze Age of today may not sound fantastic, but it's steps forward.

(After all, did we reject Dalton or Mendeleev because their theories about periodicity in chemistry had structural limitations?)

Martin Seligmann would try to rescue free will with the idea of prospection, back-formed off retrospection. Big problems, though, as I see it.

It's heavily invested in teleology, which is no wonder he's getting Templeton money for it. Beyond the religious overtones of Templeton, not to mention the fundraising overtones (and other ethical issues in his past) of Marty Seligmann, I have non-religious issues with teleology.

In ev psych done right, while we may have evolved "pattern detectors" and "agency imputers" hundreds of thousands of years ago, I doubt that we have evolved "teleology focusers" before the last 100,000 years, if we have at all. I think homo sapiens would have had to evolve not only at least a firm level of second-order thought, but even a tentative degree of third-order thought, for such. (A blue jay may be able to think about another blue jay stealing nuts, but not (at least not non-instinctually) about how it should try to prevent that in a goal-oriented way. In turn, this is why, although I have no problems seeing some degree of consciousness in many "higher" mammals and birds, I don't see something like volitional action in most of them.

A rise in third-order thinking among humans would then likely have gone hand in hand with, among other things, a rise in teleological thinking. But teleological foci wouldn’t have happened before that, I don’t think.

Of course, these are all just speculations on my part; fMRIs of animals that can't communicate with us avail nothing, and while old fMRIs showed action in the brain of a dead salmon, real fMRIs, should we find the brain of a dead Homo erectus, will show us nothing.

That said, if neuroscience can't necessarily tell us a lot about what IS involved with issues of volition in general, and what variety of free will, or something like free will, we may have actually evolved, before that, it can tell us more and more what varieties of free will we don't have.

And, to riff on Dan Dennett, it can tell us about what varieties of free will, or something like free will, that we may actually have, whether we consider them "worth having" or not. It will certainly contribute, per a blog post on this issue a month ago, about the varieties of free will worth discussing.

===


Finally, and once again, none of these critiques of current ideas of free will mean that determinism is “the default option.” Again, let’s please stop thinking inside old two-position polarity boxes. And, let's not forget that determinism, as classically stated, is simplistic in the extreme and has worse issues than classical versions of free will.

This cannot be stressed enough. The limitations in various ways of current theories on free will have nothing to offer to boost the viability of determinism.

Nothing. Period.

Another way of putting this is that determinists are like Jesus denialists. They think that every brick removed from the wall of classical versions of free will not only proves classical free will in its various incarnations wrong, but proves the possibility of anything like free will wrong, and proves determinism right.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

January 27, 2015

Bernie Sanders: Poised to take wrong fork in political road

Sen. Bernie Sanders
The Vermont Senator, officially an Independent by party classification, said yesterday that if he does run for president in 2016, it won't be on a third-party ticket because "I'm not a spoiler."

First, Sen. Sanders, we need a reality check.

Do you really think you have that much of a shot at the Democratic party nomination? I don't, unless you change some of your current core values. I've blogged about some parts of this before, but it bears repeating. Sen. Sanders, as an official Independent, and one from a small state like Vermont, you'd be sledding uphill, not just against Hillary Clinton, but also, other official Democrats.

Even if Clinton doesn't run, you'd have to fight Joe Biden, Martin O'Malley, and others. And, I just don't see you prevailing unless you suck up to Wall Street types enough to become less desirable as a candidate.

Second, "spoiler" is the wrong word.

Call yourself a "shock therapist" instead.

If you dropped hints now that you were running as a Green, you'd be able to build up the best Green presidential campaign ever. That might trickle down lower in the party. That might get you to running as a co-nominee of Socialists in some states.

As for your fear of electing a right-wing Republican? People like me will vote Green instead of Democrat, if the Democrat is somebody like Hillary Clinton, even in Ohio or Florida or Pennsylvania.

January 26, 2015

Saint Stonewall of Jackson — S.G. Gwynne swings and misses on yet another bio

Type your summary here Type rest of the post hereRebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall JacksonRebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Once again, as with previous book, Gwynne had taken a charismatic figure of American history, and delivered some good insights, but made some major, elemental errors at the same time, along with doing some major punch-pulling on interpretive history.

In "Empire of the Summer Moon," it was giving Comanche chief Quanah a white man's last name that he never had, and knowing better than to do that, being a Texan.

This time, the main factual error, or constellation of errors, in this book is promoting Jackson at the expense of James Longstreet, basically indulging old myths about Old Pete.

He perpetuates the myth that Longstreet was somehow "less than" or that Lee was often disappointed.

He also gets something flat-out wrong when claiming Lee had both promoted to lieutenant general on Oct. 10, 1862.

Longstreet's promotion was a day earlier, and Gwynne either should have known it and was lackadaisical in not actually knowing it, or else he's deliberately perpetuating a falsehood.

Indeed, most modern histories that don't have such bias make clear that Longstreet's earlier promotion was deliberate, by Lee's design.

Also, at 2nd Manassas, confuses D.H. Hill with A.P. Hill in one reference. He later corrects that, but it really shouldn't have been made in the first place. (And, per an ongoing lament of mine about the book industry, it shouldn't have gotten past copy editors, either.)

Gwynne does show that Jackson's cantankerousness toward fellow officers started long before the Civil War. He also notes that he had too much secrecy about battle plans with sub-commanders. However, in his downplaying Longstreet, he also fails to note that not only was Old Pete better at this, but that he had a better, more professional, staff in general.

That said, he also could have critiqued Jackson more than he did for not recognizing that fast pursuit against retreating foes by large "civilian" armies in the Civil War just wasn't as possible as Jackson might have wished. And, while he mentions Jackson's "black flag" ideas at the start of the war, he doesn't critique them as much as he could.

Finally, while noting Jackson's kindliness as a slaveowner, Gwynne doesn't go more into his attitude toward slavery as a whole. (As best we can tell, he "accepted" it as under the control of the same predestinarian Calvinist God that informed his religious beliefs in general.)

And, while noting Jackson's religiosity, and its depth, Gwynne has a surprisingly narrow interaction with it; besides how it impacted his views on slavery, how did it impact his views on rebellion? How did he square it with his "black flag," ie, "no quarter" ideas — already at the start of the war — for invading the North?

In short, since Gwynne is a Texan, why doesn't he look in more depth at the idea that Stonewall Jackson wanted to be some sort of Santa Anna?

I was originally going to 3-star this, but thinking more and more on how Gwynne didn't delve into these and other issues related to Jackson's known religiosity, it goes down another star.


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