SocraticGadfly: 3/22/15 - 3/29/15

March 28, 2015

#ClintonEmails — Hillary doubles down on teh stupidz

I've blogged before that Hillary Clinton's worst enemy is none other than Hillary Clinton, and yesterday, she proved that in spades, when she deleted all the emails on her private server.

Unless her daddy Warbucks Eric Hothem is even more skilled at clean-wiping than is any of 100,000 wingnuts with computer expertise who are now surely racing to volunteer to help Trey Gowdy et al work on recovering information from that server, this is a stupid mistake of arrogance indeed. It's being compounded by old Clintonista hand David Kendall, who's her lawyer (guess that makes him a lawyer's lawyer, as the Tricky Dick/Slickstress Hillary analogies pile up) refusing to turn that server over to a State Department inspector general.

This is just the latest installment of her pretending to tell all while telling nothing.

Well, a subpoena's gonna come next.

And, then, the para-political apparatus behind Clinton will start the next round of kabuki. It's all about the money, followed by the access and "exposure," which pays diddly squat to peons on places like Puff Hoes but pays big for political insiders.

March 27, 2015

Colorado Springs paper full of hot air on anti-pot pieces

Columbia Journalism Review is the starting place for the hack job involved.

The initial problem? Pretending to be news stories, even investigative journalism, when it's not:
On Sunday, The Gazette, the daily newspaper here in Colorado’s second-largest city, published the first of a four-day series called “Clearing the Haze,” about the state’s marijuana legalization experiment. 
So far, based on much of the public reaction, it might have been better called “Blowing Smoke.” … 
By any measure it looks like a big investigation, coupled with a slick, parallax Web design. But casual readers of the series would be easily forgiven if they thought the four days of “Clearing the Haze” was compiled by a team of The Gazette’s reporters. It wasn’t. 
Instead, the series is a product of two of the paper’s editorial board members, Wayne Laugesen, and Pula Davis, along with a Denver-based freelancer hired by the paper.

Yes, it's a set of extended op-eds, using a hired gun to help. (More on the why of that in a moment.)

This wouldn't have happened five years ago, when the Gazette was part of the pre-breakup Freedom chain, a staunchly libertarian group whose chain in-house columnists practiced what the company preached on drugs, and even partially on reproductive choice issues.

But, it, like many, went into Chapter 11, more over feuding family heirs than bad business decisions or the newspaper industry in general.

And then got broken up for sale into pieces. The new Gazette, apparently, is pandering to the Religious Right nonprofit/lobbying ground zero in the Springs.

That brings us here:
The Gazette editorial board is staunchly anti-legalization, and the freelancer, Christine Tatum, is a legalization opponent—not identified as such by the paper—whose husband, quoted in the series, is an anti-pot addiction specialist, which is disclosed in one instance but not everywhere. 
“The general public reading this will have no idea that Christine is extremely opposed to marijuana legalization and that she’s married to a doctor that has been one of the most vocal voices in this whole process warning of the potential unintended consequences of all this,” says Ricardo Baca, editor of The Denver Post’s marijuana news and culture blog The Cannabist.
Journalism 101, Error 1 — nondisclosure. But, there's more.
When it comes to the content of The Gazette’s series, made up of some 20 individual stories, it reads like a fact-dumping, throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach to proving the argument that pot legalization in Colorado was a bad idea. 
Journalism 101, Error 2 — not even trying to make an op-ed look like news analysis, let alone straight news.

Which is why:

Not surprisingly, the series has come in for local criticism—outside and even inside the paper’s newsroom. 
The word “propaganda” pops up in the many negative comments on online pieces and on The Gazette’s Facebook page
As for the inside?

Let's go, via Romanesko, to the paper's alt-weekly, which reports staff have been threatened with dismissal for protesting. 

That said, I'm sure the op-ed series disguised as news is getting little play outside the Religious Right's ivory towers.

The second half of the CJR piece is an interview with Gazette publisher Dan Steever, who acts like a kid caught with his hand in a cookie jar. That includes never even answering the question about why Tatum was hired rather than the use of in-house staff. I think we know why, but Steever is clearly taking dishonesty in various directions.

Add in award-dropping and other things. Hey, Steever, if you're going to brag about having won a Pulitzer and, as it turns out, it was for investigative journalism, why didn't you use the investigative Pulitzer winner to lead the series? Oooops.

And, does this mean that Willie Nelson will not set up business (or perform) in the Springs?

#Oilprices poll — 1st quarter poll dead center

At right, for a few more days, still, you can see the poll I have up about where oil prices will be at the end of the first quarter.

Averaging the input has the "call" at about right at $50/bbl. Oil broke $51/bbl yesterday because of the outbreak of fighting in Yemen. I expect that to settle back down a bit soon enough. Meanwhile, settling of fighting in northern Iraq, or a nuclear deal with Iran, would drive prices even lower.

Meanwhile, don't look for things to get better in the near future. Chris Tomlinson notes that US shale oil (and gas) drillers are probably full of bluster more than reality in talking about finding efficiencies in shale drilling costs. He notes that for US shale oil and gas:
The full cost of producing oil and natural gas at a representative sample of U.S. companies, including capital spent to build the company and buy assets, is about $80 per barrel of oil equivalent, according to a new study from the Bureau of Economic Geology's Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas. The analysis of 2014 corporate financial data from 15 of the top publicly traded producers, which I got an exclusive look at before it's published next week, determined that companies will have a hard time recovering the capital spent that year and maintaining production unless prices rise above $80 a barrel.
Now, things aren’t total doom and gloom, at least not at already-producing wells, as Tomlinson explains:
Low prices, though, won't mean that producers will shut in existing wells. Many of these same companies can keep pumping to keep cash coming into the company and they can still collect a 10 percent return above the well's operating costs at $50 a barrel of oil. They just won't make enough money to invest in new wells or recover the capital already spent.
That leaves this as the bottom line:
This harsh reality of what it will take to keep the shale revolution going shows how vulnerable it is to competition from cheap overseas oil.
Of course, the “shale revolution” is a lot more bubbly than a lot of  its proponents want to publicly admit.

As I have blogged previously, before the bursting of the latest oil bubble, the Eagle Ford play in Texas was expected to peak in 2016, as analyzed by an outside expert. The bubble surely shoved that back to 2017 and most likely to 2018, but it’s still a sobering thought.

Anyway, on prices? I'd take the Saudi guesstimates as solid — oil won't hit $100/bbl again for five years. There's flat demand and ready supply cooked into the books for years ahead.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, are you paying attention? Probably not; it's hard to extract one's head from being buried in a hole in the sand, ostrich-like.

Chris goes on to note an extended shale oil drilling slump will also affect natural gas prices because many shale oil wells are "wet gas" wells, producing various hydrocarbon condensates. Dry gas wells will be the worst off in the new environment.

March 24, 2015

Morozov goes a bridge too far vs. Nicholas Carr

I don't put Carr on a pedestal, whether because of "speak no ill of the (recently) dead" (oops, was thinking of David Carr) or other reasons, and it's possible indeed that he is not much more than a left-neoliberal in his critique of creeping salvific technologism.

That said, Evgeny Morozov's Baffler critique of Carr's final latest book, "The Glass Cage," seems indeed to be a bridge too far. (Or a branch sawn off under oneself.)

I do agree with much of the first half of the essay, whose thought probably culminates here:

For Carr, the true Stakhanovite, work is a much better drug than the soma of Huxley’s Brave New World.
It does seem that Carr, to a degree, more bemoans how automation is eliminating jobs, rather than the larger issues of management, in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, disempowering employees in general, and larger structural issues.

That said, at about this point:
Take our supposed overreliance on apps, the favorite subject of many contemporary critics, Carr included. How, the critics ask, could we be so blind to the deeply alienating effects of modern technology? Their tentative answer—that we are simply lazy suckers for technologically mediated convenience—reveals many of them to be insufferable, pompous moralizers. The more plausible thesis—that the growing demands on our time probably have something to do with the uptake of apps and the substitution of the real (say, parenting) with the virtual (say, the many apps that allow us to monitor kids remotely)—is not even broached.
Morozov starts to lose me.

First, he portrays this as a zero sum game, then he dismisses the first sum. Frankly, I think there's some truth to the "sucker" argument. Plus, Morozov's second sum gives more credit to the worthiness of apps than the earlier part of the screed would indicate.

(Update, Nov. 12, 2017: It was already starting to become evident at that time, but seems even more clear now, that, much of this technology is addictive. Morozov simply missed that, it seems, and surprisingly for the man who, in the past at least, has said he unhooks his internet cables and puts them in a time-lock safe.)

He doubles down on undercutting himself with this:
Suppose consumers and companies did know better.
If they do, and I think they do, then yes, Silicon Valley is playing us for lazy suckers. It may also be in part due to time issues, but, c'mon, Evgeny, how much time does a typical app actually save a person? Again, your half of the sum, if you really want to make this a zero-sum issue, is giving more credit to the utility of apps than they warrant.

Related to that, as a non-Marxist, but one who is some sort of left-liberal or social Democrat in terms of today's America, I think Morozov is portraying the broader political concerns in too black and white terms, or too zero-sum of terms, again. I can have some degree of rage against the machine of Silicon Valley without being either a Marxist or an anarchist.

Related to that, Morozov has not yet started to wear thin. But, he's getting closer to that point. (That said, I agree with him about Jaron Lanier, as I noted two years ago. Almost four years ago, even, Lanier seemed to be looking at tech usage rather than the big picture.)

In other words, Morozov's right about his "solutionism." But, when tied with a zero-sum, and polarities, approach to the big picture, he's wrong. Even though Robert Wright is a one-trick pony himself, Morozov may need to read "Nonzero."

Update, March 28: Carr has responded to Morozov. He rightly notes that Morozov is using his book as a stalking horse for a larger critique of tech critics. Beyond that, he notes how Morozov can create straw men, which I kind of touch on, and even more, but indirectly from his POV, the zero-sum and polarities angles of Morozov's thought.

The writer Steven Johnson has summed up Morozov’s modus operandi with precision: “He’s like a vampire slayer that has to keep planting capes and plastic fangs on his victims to stay in business.” With Morozov, a fierce intellect and a childish combativeness would seem to be two sides of the same personality, so it’s probably best to ignore the latter and concentrate on the former.
It's worth a read back.

And, since Carr analyzed Johnson's quote about Morozov, I will do the same with his. Maybe the childish combativeness is part of growing up in the former USSR?

March 23, 2015

Food — it's full of chemicals! Even non-#GMO food!

The FDA has now approved genetically modified apples and potatoes for sale, which means it's time to ramp up the anti-GMO outrage machine.

Because GMOs might have all sorts of chemicals, of course.

First, Simplot notes that the GMO taters have genetic changes that come only from domestic potato varieties out there already.

The non-browning apples? The company that created them would actually reduce chemicals, because these apples wouldn't have to have sliced or chunked versions dusted with antioxidants to prevent browning in commercial salad packs, etc.

The above picture doesn't tell the full story.
A banana also has more radioactivity
than a basement full of radon.
The real fact is, as the two photos show, that "natural" non-GMO foods, something as basic as a nanner or an egg, is loaded with "chemicals." Of course, the "chemical" issue goes beyond anti-GMOers to "nothing but organic" types.

Let's call them true-blue anti-GMOers, and proceed from there. I could call them "food simpletons," but there are lots of other people who are simpletons about food in other ways beyond the "chemicals" issue. Of course, that itself may be part of the problem.  And, it could be that many true-bluers are also New Agey types who believe that everything "real" is Platonic-idealism-type "spirit," and that matter is just a façade.

I know that true-blue anti-GMOers won't be persuaded by this any more than climate change denialists or anti-vaxxers are by scientific evidence. And, it's sad.

That said, some blanket pro-GMOers do, to some degree, ignore the big business concerns some of us liberals have about GMOs as a business concern, even more in the developing world.  It's not as bad as blanket anti-GMOers claim, though, as the original Green Revolution demonstrated.

As for the overall politics and public policy, as well as the science?

Grist Magazine, no conservative outlet by any means, had a long series of mini-articles just over a year ago.

It says about two-thirds of anti-GMOers concerns about alleged lack of testing, danger of GMOs, and other issues are 100 percent false. About 20 percent is primarily untrue. That leaves about one-eighth of issues that have what, on average, would be a moderate level of concern.

It even covers the business issues. For example, certain non-GMO plant modifications can be patented just like GMOs, per one piece.

In another piece, another Grist writer notes that what's really at stake is "narratives." Regular readers here know what I think about hardened narratives in general.

Anti-GMOers need to click that first Grist link and read each article before talking further about GMOs. And, if you think Grist is part of a conspiracy, you've got problems indeed.

And, don't eat eggs or bananas, in the meantime, if you're worried about "chemicals."

That too, is a narrative.

The reality, though, is from synthetic vitamins to many other chemicals, the man-made ones are often no different than what's in food. Sometimes, they're even better.

"Mother Nature" is an evolutionary kludge, after all; it's no more an idealistic, omnibenevolent, omnipotent creator than is Yahweh, God the Father or Allah.

Period and end of story.

March 22, 2015

Havana Ted is running for Prez

Sen. "Havana" Ted Cruz
Calling him either that, as a riff on Tailgunner Joe McCarthy, or the Havana Ham as a riff on his oversized ego, is appropriate at all times, but especially since Ted Cruz is going to announce he's running for president on Monday.

The Houston Chronicle has a good news analysis piece, especially about what' moved from becoming the mother's milk to the Jack Daniel's of modern politics — money and Cruz's chance of raising a lot of it. Since one Daddy Warbucks, himself pretty much a wingnut, Sheldon Adelson, thinks Cruz is too much a wingnut to win, he probably won't get much of that.

Speaking of, I want him to make his officially announcement at a golf course, so somebody can ask him about Agenda 21.

Gromer Jeffers, meanwhile, notes that Havana Ted is directly modeling his move after the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania, namely, Dear Leader.

Perry's got a full piece with more thoughts. I know the mainstream media always salivates over a brokered convention possibility; maybe Perry's right and Rafael Teddy can make their day. At least, give us a 1964 Cow Palace brouhaha.

Speaking of, if Cruz can't cobble something together to force a brokered convention, any chance he runs on his own in the general?

Finally, one other angle. Constitutional scholars agree that Ted Cruz is a "natural born" American citizen, but will some tea partiers haul out the "birther" artillery?

And, can we have a "Natural Born Wingnut" parady biopic?