An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dear Wikipedia

This rant was inspired by the "Dear Wikipedia Readers" letter that has appeared the last time I tried to find something on wikipedia. I do fully realize the apparent contradiction in denouncing what I hate about wikipedia after I used it to look something up. Something like wikipedia but has adult supervision would greatly benefit everyone. As it stands now I will use wikipedia to remind myself of the name of a pagan goddess, the year Alaric and his Visigoths sacked Rome or some other such information that I once knew but the names, dates, or other details I have forgotten. I would never use it to learn something I had not already learned from the kinds of sources that wikipedia founders and editors think that wikipedia can or will someday replace. If that does not satisfactorily explain this contradiction - I don't care.

You can find one of the several odious versions of the appeal here. I can not find the text of the one that set me off as it was a pop-up/click away pushed in front of an article.


Dear Wikipedia:

So, you're a small non-profit that runs the #5 site in the world. Just goes to show that some suckers will believe anything. You say it's like a library or a public park? Really? You'd like to think so, wouldn't you? Trouble is, libraries and public parks cost money and require people with expertise to run them. You have attempted to replace traditional academic information sources based on an analogy to a guy who observed that the average guesses as to the weight of a cow at a county faire tended to be really close the the actual weight. Based on this you think that you can "crowd-source" an encyclopedia and have it provide verifiably accurate, reliable and authoritative information? Really?

People have typed in the plot to movies as if they were an accurate description of historical events. Block-headed ideologues have vandalized articles until the locked-down version does not tell the reader much of anything and often leaves out verifiably true information. Scholars who have worked long and hard to earn their Ph.D.s have tried correcting misconceptions but discovered that your "editors" do not understand primary source analysis; therefore, they will let an existing passage in an article "stand" because the author can quote a published secondary source. And while we're on the subject of published sources - if wikipedia is supposed to stand as a reliable, authoritative resource because of that whole average weight of the cow thing, then why do your editors give so much credence to those books and articles the traditional publishing industry generated that Wikipedia is supposed to replace?

Wikipedia editors, let me tell you something. "Traditional" publishing houses earned their reputations for turning out accurate, reliable and authoritative information because people called "copy editors" did something called "actual work." They fact-checked by consulting primary sources, sometimes even physically going to places like archives and public records offices. The writers and authors spent many years earning a degree which meant that they did many hours a day of "actual work" to learn the complexities of a given subject and its development over time as well as a huge boatload of factual information. Such are the innumerable years of difficult and intellectually honest work that other people have done to make the secondary sources Wikipedia relies on and why these sources stand as credible and accurate.

Despite all this scholars find new evidence all the time and add the implications of new evidence to the body of secondary work in their fields. That means that even the best work by the best experts published by the best publishers sometimes goes out of date - the top experts in the field no longer consider it the best explanation for whatever. And sometimes charlatans fool people, even experts, and sometimes sloppy work comes out of "iffy" publishers with lax standards. It takes years of training and hard work to know enough about a subject to be able to sort out the "good" information from the "bad."

Regarding your pompous quote:

 "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge."


— Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia
We have these hard-working people called "librarians" who earned masters degrees and do the actual work of evaluating information on a daily basis. They work in places called "libraries" where, at least in the U.S. and other free countries, a person already is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. But this comes at a cost; therefore, in most enlightened parts of the work libraries receive public funding. The idea that "access to the sum of human knowledge" can somehow happen "for free" in the sense that no one pays for any of the labor required to produce accurate, reliable sources of information shows a kind of naivete that would look endearing coming from a 10-year-old. Also, before you try to compare wikipedia to a library you might want to consider the work that goes into becoming a librarian and running a library. It's a lot more than checking out books and children's story hour. Librarians and scholars with verifiable credentials from a properly accredited school have the qualifications to evaluate information and its sources.

Someone pounding out misconceptions and/or lies on a keyboard who has never set foot in a grad school does not qualify. Even some well-meaning and sincere people who honestly think the they have accurate, credible information often do not. Reality is not a matter of opinion and if one side of an argument that has only hot air and shouting then you really do not have an "Alternative viewpoint" worth giving space in an information resource. And the term papers you wrote in college are really the training wheels of real, modern, scholarly research. Most importantly,  the analogies you use to make your points or justify the existence of wikipedia prove absolutely nothing. But then you would know that if you ever bothered to read either Bacon or Galileo. But I bet you didn't. That would be too much work.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Right-wing Radicals Have a Math Problem


Alternet's Joshua Holland reports on a brand new right wing lie. It goes something like this: [hair on fire] "Half of all our hard earned tax money goes to poor people who are not working!" Or, as stated by the liar in his own words: "Welfare spending per day per household in poverty is $168, which is higher than the $137 median income per day." [Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard].

This is a simple lie that divides one number - the money - by a smaller number than the actual recipients. Holland breaks it down neatly:


 But in Colorado, which I chose because it tends to be ideologically middle-of-the-road, the average eligibility cut-off for the 10 means-tested federal benefits listed  here is $18,075, or 62 percent above the federal poverty line.
The myth can be expressed mathematically like this: Total Spending On “Welfare”/Families in poverty = $168 per day. But these services benefit many more people than those struggling under the poverty line – one may as well divide those costs by the total number of rabbits or blue cars in the U.S.
The reality, expressed mathematically, is: Total Spending On “Welfare”/Those who receive benefits = $24.77 per day. That's a  lot less than $168. [emphasis mine]

So, we take X amount of money then

P = people under the federal poverty line.
N = All the recipients of X amount of money (which includes P).

X ÷ (N-P) = LIE

They're either really bad at math or they know that they're lying.


Friday, December 07, 2012

Pity the Multi-millionaires


In their effort to attack the Affordable Care Act, plutocrats have found a hostage to shoot. Last October Investor's Business Daily ran a story about how "Obamacare" hurts minorities. Darden industries, the parent of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and other restaurants, decided that because of the additional cost of providing health coverage to their full-time employees they must split up full time jobs into more part-time jobs which avoids the evil government mandated health coverage. Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers explained that the "razor thin profit margins" in this industry make additional costs far too burdensome.

"Razor thin profit margins" you say? Let's take a look at whot I found in the Mergent Online database of corporate SEC filing data. Salaries of the top management!

Clarence Otis, Chairman of the Board
$8,084,257

Andrew H. Madsen, President
$4,680,135

C. Bradford Richmond, Senior VP
$2,289.102

Robert McAdam, Senior VP
$1,051,272

Eugene I. Lee, Division officer
$2,904,519

Kim A. Lopdrup, Division officer
$1,973.503

These six out of eleven officers have their salaries listed. The other five officers do not. So we have $20,982,788 to pay just over half of the top management. The same report shows a $26,000,000 jump in their benefits costs in 2012 (this includes benefits of all kinds for all employees, not just the additional cost mandated by the Affordable Care Act - we have no break down of that specific cost).

They're not kidding. These multi-millionaires are wringing their hands (through their spokesman) over the "razor thin profit margins" of their industry? Really? Then quit and go lie on a beach for the rest of your lives - you can afford to.

In a recent segment of The Rachel Maddow Show, Ezra Klein explains how this blew up in Darden Industries face. Looks like the rest of the world, including their customers, realize that without hard-working people to cook and serve the food - and also fishermen, farmers, truck drivers and many others responsible for bringing the food to the table - people like Oits, Madsen and the rest have no income. People who do the work actually matter. Also, as Klein says, "No one wants sickly bus boys sneezing on their bread-sticks."


Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


One more important point usually missed in these discussions: there's more than two answers. There's more then three answers. There may even be more than four. If we actually work the problem - defined as how do we make sure everyone has health care - we have a better solution than the Affordable Care Act. The overhead, as measured by dollars per hundred dollars of reimbursement, for an HMO is about $15. Some a little more, others a little less. Back in the 90s when Consumer Reports studied health care the lowest overhead was Kaiser with $12. But even now Kaiser's costs have crept up. What's the overhead for the evil, inefficient government that can't do anything right for medicare and medicaid? $3. Not kidding. So, if all businesses put the same amount of money into Medicare as they spend on private insurance then, voila!, we extend medicare to everyone. Anyone who wants private insurance will pay a little more than the cost for medicare to obtain better care. But we have a floor no one sinks below and at break-even. If Investor's Business Daily and Darden Industries really cared about ordinary people like the ones who work in restaurant chains, this should not be a problem.

SPERRY, P. (2012, Oct 12). ObamaCare blow to minorities: Restaurants cut full-time slots. Investor's Business Daily. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1095724180?accountid=25283

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Paul Ryan asks for Obamacare funding.

(Updated below).

Take a look at Paul Ryan's letter requesting funds from the evil "socialist" program he would repeal the first chance he gets.

My favorite part comes from the Romney campaign's attempt to cry foul.

Brendan Buck, a spokesperson for the Mitt Romney campaign, responded to this story by claiming that this "grant program was created by President Bush, not Obamacare. This... type of misinformation is what you get from gotcha reporting on liberal blogs." Ryan's letter directly requests money from the HRSA-11-017 New Access Points program announced in August of 2010. This New Access Points grant program that Ryan requested money from is funded fully by the Affordable Care Act, a fact made clear on multiple government websites. The claim that Bush "created" this program is also unfounded. Federally-funded health centers were created through the Public Health Services Act, legislation signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944.  New Access Point grants have existed well before the Bush administration came to office.
(From The Nation, Paul Ryan quietly requested Obamacare cash)

Something like this has never been easier to fact check.

New Access Points Program and its funding sources (one of the multiple government web sites)

Public Health Services Act of 1944 (from the National Library of Medicine):

But then the Romney campaign has famously declared “We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.” Yes, we can see that, thank you.

We have not just a Presidential campaign but also a constituency of millions running of the fumes of a delusional alternate reality.

On December 12, 2012, AR added:

Paul Ryan is proving how he is like Ayn Rand.  It was pointed out to Ms. Rand in an interview that she was collecting government benefits near the end of her life.  Her unprincipled, but pragmatic response was something along the lines of how she'd be a fool not to take what was being offered.  This is the same kind of pragmatism that I heard Republicans use to justify taking advantage of the so called "cash for clunkers" program that president Obama had passed.  They may have voted against him and find his policies to be creeping socialism, but they sure won't pass up a chance at some free government "hand outs".  So Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand and the Republicans who took from "cash for clunkers" show their true colors.  They are pragmatists, rather than being principled Libertarians.  I have no problem with pragmatism, as I am proud to consider myself one.  I also actually believe in social programs and am happy to pay taxes for those programs.  I get angry when those programs are incompetently administered, but I don't believe in doing away with them.  I just think that they should get fixed with competent policies and/or have competent new people run them.  

I get annoyed with supposedly principled people who act the way Ryan, Rand and "cash for clunkers" Republicans have.  It's the hypocrisy that drives me crazy.  There is, in the case of the first two, a kind of intellectual edifice that rationalizes the often cruel results of the policies that come out of their philosophy.  Yet, that edifice is put aside for government money. To put  it another way, when financial reality and opportunity encounter this philosophy it causes it to disappear just long enough for the check to clear. That is less a philosophy and more like a racket.  Its a racket that one sees in many organized religions, as well as in cult like philosophies like Libertarianism, as its currently being proselytized and practiced in the US.  So Ryan, Rand and my "cash for clunkers" Republicans are actually those who Mitt Romney has called takers.  They are part of that 47% that just take from the government.  The funny thing is that if their policies were actually put in place they wouldn't be able to take anymore.  Then what?  Ryan's constituents in Racine and Belle City wouldn't get preventative and comprehensive care.  Rand might have been unable feed herself or in some other way improve her life without the benefits.  My "cash for clunkers" Republicans would still be driving around with air polluting, foreign oil consuming, road safety jeopardizing clunkers. That's what.




On December 12, 2012 Steven adds: 

This showcases the fundamental dishonesty of the overwhelming majority of "Libertarians." (I say majority just in case someday, somewhere we might find a truly honest one). Nevermind what they say - look at what they do




Monday, September 03, 2012

The American Taliban

A fictionalized "re-telling" of factual news stories. Aaron Sorkin has created another fantasy alternate reality TV show in which a mainstream television news anchor grows a backbone. The Brothers Grimm could not write something more of a fairy tale. That said, if you have any memory of the last 12 years or so the speech Jeff Daniels delivers contains verifiably true facts. I have seen plenty of evidence to support his character describing himself as a Republican, and not just some fantasy Republican from Sorkin's imagination. I recall reading some of the most eloquent denunciations of Bush's wars, on countries as well as on civil rights, written by self-described Republicans, both news people in the editorial pages and ordinary citizens in the letters to the editor. Kind, sane and intelligent Republicans still exist - it's just that none of them joined "the Tea Party." Here's the clip from YouTube: 
The fantasy here is the character of Will McAvoy (and his spine). All the statements of fact in this clip are verifiably true.

And for what it's worth, I second the matter of opinion as well: The Tea Party is the American Taliban.


Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Southern Question

When I was a teenager, growing up in New Jersey, I was surprised to learn in school one day that the town where I lived hosted the National Headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s - the height of the Klan's power and the high-water mark of its membership in all of U.S. history. Coming home from school that day, I mentioned my amazement at this to my family. My brother matter-of-factly told me that we lived next door to the building that was the National HQ. Sheet sheik central - right there.

Chuck Thompson recently wrote a book called Better Off Without ’Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession. Parts of that book he adapted for an article in Alternet.  My co-blogger AROY have frequently discussed this idea. Racism and idiocy happen on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. The U.S. has a dreadful and sordid history of racism that extends to all parts of the country at one time or another. We all have some toxic, venomous extremists among us, all over the U.S. But talking about the here and now, in 2012, we have to ask what is it about the majority of people in the South of the U.S. that leads them to vote their toxic, venomous extremists into public office?

Thompson attempts to explain this by way of Southern anger. I'm not sure I buy this.  Without a foundation of racism and/or belief in "the underserving other" no amount of anger can explain the support for the birther "movement" nor the belief that poor people remain so because they do not want jobs, or that women should not have the rights they have, much less acquire ones they should have had all along but still don't. Despite my disagreement on cause, the article (and maybe even the book) I find a worthwhile read. Thompson points out the disingenuousness (really outright dishonesty) of the southerners who attempt to distance themselves from the fanatics among them, and even work themselves up into a full-court press of martyrdom over anyone pointing out something such as "KKK-themed Redneck Shop" in their town.

In response to the martyrdom complex Thompson writes:


One wonders why this Southerner—and others who beat the same drum of outrage—are not instead asking, “Why is a KKK Grand Dragon able to operate a long-running business selling Klan robes, booklets outlining Klan rituals and related disease across from the courthouse in a town square in 2012?”
What prevents today's Southerners from asking this sort of question? (BTW, the old HQ in New Jersey served as a retirement home when we lived next door to it and you could not find any KKK themed anything sold anywhere).  

What makes me most interested in reading the book comes from this passage in which Thompson deconstructs the lame excuse of "Don’t Look at Me, I Didn’t do Nuthin’" 

[Emphasis mine]

However good and polite they may be, what the majority of Southerners are, and have always been, is willing to allow the most angry and “patriotic” firebrands among them to remain in control of their society’s most powerful and influential positions, be they in the realms of politics, business, education, religion or media. 
Just as it was angry Southern zealots who pushed the country into the Civil War, it was angry zealots who, while the rest of the South turned its back, were allowed to construct and maintain the legal foundations of Jim Crow; who were allowed to turn the Scopes Monkey Trial into a humiliating circus; who were allowed to circumvent Brown vs. Board of Education and school desegregation by calling out the National Guard and building segregation “academies”; who were allowed to resist Civil Rights with dogs and water cannons; who are still allowed to denounce science as a liberal conspiracy and proclaim without ridicule that a black president’s birth certificate is fake and throw secessionist balls and insist that slavery had nothing whatsoever to do with the Civil War, and swear that all of this was and is somehow being done in the name of a liberty to which they feel deprived due to their miserable lives of oppression and persecution beneath the stars and stripes. 
Embittered fanatics may represent a minority of Southerners. But they’re still an extremely powerful minority that the rest of the South enables—or succumbs to—or aligns with—or votes for—or prays alongside—or links arms in martyred brotherhood with—year after year, decade after decade, century after century.

Monday, August 06, 2012

How Much Does it Cost to Buy Reality?

No federal agency or congressional body has taken responsibility for tracking the mortgage foreclosure disaster. This, according to an investigative report by AlterNet, effectively puts the fox in charge of investigating his incursions into the chicken coop. To wit:



The government is instead [of doing its own work] relying on the expensive, potentially biased and seemingly inaccurate information amassed by mortgage bankers, real estate hawks and credit reporting agencies. How this happened is a story of congressional warnings and broken promises, of lack of funding, and ultimately, the increasing dependence on the for-profit sector to quantify and analyze our lives. In this sense, it’s not only a story of the government’s failure, but also of Wall Street’s almost unquestioned power to determine not only value, but reality itself. [Emphasis mine]

I predict that well within 10 years libertarians and rightwing Republicans will make statements to the effect that the economic crisis of 2008 was no big deal and attempts to make reference to it in public policy debates is just hysterical liberal exaggerations and conspiracy theories.

This constitutes the most insidious form of censorship: not gathering the information in the first place.

If the government stopped tracking information about abortion, to paraphrase one of my favorite bloggers, "The hissing and howling from the right would frighten wildlife."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fighting A Forcefield of Tediousness

Ben Goldacre, a British medical doctor and researcher, has crusaded for the opening up of information and for freeing vitally important information from the clutches of governments, the pharmaceutical industry, and others. He has worked with Simon Singh and many others to reform British libel laws which created the problem of "libel tourism" in which frauds, charlatans and corporations can inflict Britain's bizarre libel laws upon people who publish or state factually accurate information.

He gave this TED talk about epidemiology in which he describes quickly and in a very entertaining fashion the problem of pharmaceutical industry and government withholding information from doctors. This is the TED talks at its best.



Link to the talk on the TED site.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

The 2010 Tea Party Takeover: Happy Now?

I understand the frustration with President Obama in 2010. Having failed to take advantage of the populist outrage in the aftermath of the 2008 crash - mostly by taking into his administration many of the people who caused it - voters had only Republicans as a viable alternative. The Republicans candidates who convincingly promoted themselves as not the same as the Republicans who created the mess in the first place named themselves after the Boston Tea Party. These "Tea Partiers" over the last two years, most of them anyway, have shown themselves to be barking mad. This we all know.

But the new crazy looks the same as the old. As this faction continues to drag the political discourse and policy further to the right, I find it worth analyzing what sort of political and economic philosophy we're banging up against. The case for today: Joe Walsh. I know it's old news to most that he blew up at an "informal" meeting with his constituents last year and that the video has long since gone viral. But given the fact that most Ron Paul supporters share the beliefs which led to this outburst we can look forward to more of the same, even if the Tea Party's sun does set this November.

The scene:  November 6, 2011, Uno Bar and Grill in Illinois, "Cup of Joe" meeting with constituents. One of the attendees asked Rep. Joe Walsh a question concerning Bank lobbyists. Before the person even finished asking the question, he blew up:

[…] Thats not the problem! [Lobbyists] The problem is you’ve got to be consistent. And I don't want government meddling in the marketplace. Yeah, they move from Goldman Sachs to the White House, I understand all of that. But you gotta’ be consistent. And it’s not the private marketplace that created this mess. What created mess was your government, which has demanded for years that everybody be in a home. And we’ve made it easy as possible for people to be in homes. [...] Don’t blame banks, and don’t blame the marketplace for the mess we’re in right now! I am tired of hearing that crap! This pisses me off! Too many people don’t listen. […]

Let's parse this out bit by bit. "you’ve got to be consistent" refers to government "interference" in the free market. That the "private marketplace" will run perfectly well if you just leave it alone fits into every libertarian utopian claim ever. But it's the next sentence when this gets interesting: "Yeah, they move from Goldman Sachs to the White House, I understand all of that." English translation: wealthy people game the government by becoming part of the government. And we can not and will not do anything about that. The inherent paradox of "the free market will work if you throw off all controls" comes from the impossibility of keeping rich people out of the government either as officials or through influence. If you do not regulate the economy, there will exist no government activity to influence, voila! Free markets! (In this view of the 19th century, company towns and child labor either did not really happen or - for reasons never made clear - won't happen again if we remove all regulations). The real meaty part here comes from the fact that in Walsh's philosophy the wealthy gaming the government is a distasteful but unavoidable reality (" … I understand all of that") but for the rest of us, well, let's continue.

"… it’s not the private marketplace that created this mess." An article of faith. Only good can come from the private marketplace. Disagree with this and you're a commie.

"What created mess was your government, which has demanded for years that everybody be in a home. And we’ve made it easy as possible for people to be in homes."

As opposed to where, Mr. Walsh?

Tent city in Sacramento, CA 2009
Perhaps this is what you had in mind?

As his rant turns to tantrum, we get this gem: "Don’t blame banks, and don’t blame the marketplace for the mess we’re in right now! I am tired of hearing that crap! This pisses me off! Too many people don’t listen."

He thinks people don't listen to the the wise and sage libertarians. If only the rest of us would only listen, then, then we could have the libertarian utopia. Free markets and banks don't create problems - people who want the government to do something for them instead of doing it themselves - they created the problem. I find so many assumptions of facts no in evidence I hardly know where to begin. Jobs exists (even when they obviously do not) so if you do not have one it's your fault. If a job sucks, then go get yourself another job (structural unemployment does not exist in this alternate reality). If you can't then you are not working hard enough or you are not capable enough so the nasty boss is your just punishment for your personal failure. Because the unrestricted free market can not fail to provide for all hard-working capable people, then all instances of anyone's needs not met in this utopia has to result from personal failure. Since it can not ever be the private marketplace's fault, it has to be yours. If you can not afford housing - you screwed up! So go live in a tent.

As with the Communists during the 20th century, we're met with a righteous demand to sign on to a social and economic experiment of another's choosing, an "infallible" system immune to criticism owing to its obvious perfection. And when someone does criticize it, its adherents react with inchoate rage. I see a kind of beautiful symmetry in the way each extreme reflects the other.

There has to be a better way to respond to Goldman Sachs taking over the Obama Treasury Department than electing a load of tea partiers to Congress, but voters across the country did exactly that.

Happy now?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bifurcation of reality

Rachel Maddow reports on the latest departure from reality in politics with a hilarious opening segment of her Tuesday, June 20th show. This is the stuff that 2+2=4 (both the web site from the 90s and this blog now) was made for.

The segment takes about 18 minutes and I highly recommend it. But here's the quick summary: a right-wing blogger who incited people to throw rocks through the windows of Democratic party offices cooked up a conspiracy theory that the Obama Administration seeks to overturn the 2nd amendment by not going after anyone's guns but by following through with a sting started during the Bush administration to attempt to track suspicious gun sales. The guns in question will (according to the theory) lead to more gun violence which will justify stringent gun control. Not kidding, that's the theory, and Members of Congress have taken this ball and run with it. You see, they're going after your guns by not going after your guns - yet. Sneaky liberals!

To describe how this sounds to her, Maddow told the most wonderful story about a long bus ride in which the person sitting next to her spent the whole time talking loudly into a cell phone. At the end of the trip Maddow noticed that the "cell phone" was actually a hunk of aluminum foil crumpled then fashioned into the shape of a cell phone. Fox News and Republicans have reached that point in crazy.

Maddow's summation of this phenomenon deserves a full transcription:

Fox News and the right wing echo chamber that it elevates is an important phenomenon in American politics. There is a whole world of news and things that are presented as plausible over there that do not translate at all to the rest of the world that does not watch Fox News. But inside that bizarre, factually suffocated bubble of opportunistic, paranoid, cockamamie, fact-less, break-their-windows nonsense is most of the republican party of the United States of America. [emphasis mine]


The whole segment:



Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Al Who? Bin What? CIA docs show Bush ignored warnings

The CIA has declassified over a hundred documents in response to an FOI request by the National Security Archive.

Footnotes in the 911 committee report led the National Security Archive to make the requests. The formerly top secret documents show that Bush ignored Bin Laden and al-Qaeda as well as disregarded numerous warnings of an imminent attack. In August 2001 no one could reach him because he was taking the longest vacation of any sitting President since Nixon. I suspect very few people will actually look at these. But the right-wing meme that "no one could have foreseen" the attacks pretty well crumbles when you see evidence of unsuccessful attempts to get W's attention. We knew this already as as result of Richard Clarke's book. Now we have more.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Loch Ness Monster real, Great Depression not


Louisiana's tax money at work. Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed through a voucher program that directs state tax money to private Christian schools. It's worse than you think.

Some of these private religious schools use the Christian fundamentalist A Beka Book, Bob Jones University Press, and Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum.

Alternet has published an expose on the contents of the "A Beka Book" and the ACE curriculum.  From the ACE curriculum:


  • Science Proves Homosexuality is a Learned Behavior
  • The Second Law of Thermodynamics Disproves Evolution
  • No Transitional Fossils Exist
  • Humans and Dinosaurs Co-Existed
  • Evolution Has Been Disproved
  • A Japanese Whaling Boat Found a Dinosaur
  • Solar Fusion is a Myth


And it gets worse. From the Bob Jones book:


  • Only ten percent of Africans can read or write, because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists.
  • "the [Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross... In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians."  
  • "God used the 'Trail of Tears' to bring many Indians to Christ." 
  • It "cannot be shown scientifically that that man-made pollutants will one day drastically reduce the depth of the atmosphere's ozone layer."
  • "God has provided certain 'checks and balances' in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists." 
  • the Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to advance a socialist agenda.
  • "Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created."
  • Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential win was due to an imaginary economic crisis created by the media.
  • "The greatest struggle of all time, the Battle of Armageddon, will occur in the Middle East when Christ returns to set up his kingdom on earth."

Saturday, June 09, 2012

There are more than 2 answers

Yesterday a U.S. Federal judge dismissed a patent suit between Apple and Google. That's a big news item in itself. What's most interesting is that U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner subsequently wrote a blog post providing background to his thinking on the matter which states the "radical" idea that there exist more than two answers. He did not write those exact words, but the post expresses this most eloquently.

First, read Posner's blog post: "Capitalism."

Most public discussion of economics presents the idea that we have only two choices: free, unrestricted, unregulated capitalism on the one hand, or heavy-handed, over-regulated, even "socialist" government intervention on the the other. In his discussion of "The Nirvana fallacy" and the "reverse Nirvana fallacy" Posner explains an idea I have wanted to see injected into public discourse for years: there exist more than only two answers - more than a choice between unrestricted free-enterprise or "socialism." In between these we find something called "modern liberalism." Posner's post treats us to a reasoned and thoughtful defense of modern liberalism (although he never uses those exact words).

We can look at specific examples. I like to use Hong Kong: you have more millionaires per capita than any other place in the world, lots of small independent businesses, no homeless beggars all over the place, public works projects and government housing subsidies for lower-paid workers. Not that Hong Kong has no problems or provides a boiler-plate for everyone to follow. It's just that free-market forces with some controls actually works. We need to be able to tweak the "controls" for local situations without the simplistic call to do away with them entirely whenever even just one fails to work as well as we'd like.

But that's not all. In addition to a clear and well reasoned defense of more than two answers, a person holding federal office in the U.S. actually wrote the following:

The institutional structure of the United States is under stress. We might be in dangerous economic straits if the dollar were not the principal international reserve currency and the eurozone in deep fiscal trouble. We have a huge public debt, dangerously neglected infrastructure, a greatly overextended system of criminal punishment, a seeming inability to come to grips with grave environmental problems such as global warming, a very costly but inadequate educational system, unsound immigration policies, an embarrassing obesity epidemic, an excessively costly health care system, a possible rise in structural unemployment, fiscal crises in state and local governments, a screwed-up tax system, a dysfunctional patent system, and growing economic inequality that may soon create serious social tensions. Our capitalist system needs a lot of work to achieve proper capitalist goals.
I wonder how many people will pay attention?

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Great raw material for a critical reading exercise

Ben Goldacre deconstructs a hilariously awful private consulting firm's "report" about government spending in the UK.

But nobody loses their job over this crap? Yikes! I say, yikes!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Politicians and their stenographers

I'm going to stop using the word "journalist" soon.








Romney dishonesty enabled by artificial reality

EJ Dionne, columnist for the Washington Post and author of "Our Divided Political Heart," talks with Rachel Maddow about the challenge facing the media in dealing with politicians like Mitt Romney who employ the context of an artificial reality to lie with impunity.

And if any mainstream media stenographer does report this s/he will search for a case of someone on the left - regardless of how obscure and unconnected that person may be - to show "balance" and say "see, both sides lie - now go back to sleep." Keep in mind this means ignoring the Obama Administration claims that all military age males they kill in are all "militants." 




Saturday, June 02, 2012

Summary Execution and its Apologists

[Updated with corrections] The Obama Administration has practiced summary execution, including U.S. citizens, since January 2008 2009. The U.S. military or C.I.A. use drones to blow up buildings killing everyone inside. This practice has the "advantage" of no U.S. casualties (except, of course, the U.S. citizen targeted). But the ever growing number of foreigners killed results in a bit of a public relations problem for the Administration. That the administration and its supporters treat this as a PR problem in itself shows an astonishing level of psychopathic disregard for human life. But the attempt to deal with the "public relations" problem looks like something out of Dadaist theater.

For those who have not read the New York Times article in which the Administration attempts to allay the public's concerns over the mass killing of civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen here is the summary:


That's really the best description of the Obama Administration's policy in all its homicidal absurdity.

In the U.S. we have what I call the "only Nixon could go to China" problem. Public perception of Democrats, all evidence to the contrary, follows the meme that Democrats are somehow "soft" or "lack the courage to stand up for America," etc.

Here's a comparison/contrast of the wars the U.S started or joined in by Democratic and Republican Presidents (let me know of any errors or omissions in the comments, please):

Democrats    Republicans  
World War I(Wilson)  Grenada(Reagan)
World War II(Roosevelt)  Panama(Bush I)
Korea(Truman)  Afghanistan(Bush II)
Vietnam(Kennedy)  Iraq(Bush II)
Somalia(Clinton)  Somalia(Bush II)
Bosnia(Clinton)  Yemen(Bush II)

[from AR: you did not include the first Gulf War, the Kuwait-Iraq war, under Bush I]

Nonetheless the meme lives on. President Obama does not dare allow even the possibility of a terrorist attack or he will face a storm of reelection-destroying criticism. President Bush ignored Bin Laden and Al Queda before Sept. 11th, ignored warnings of airplanes vs. buildings attacks (which I remember reading about before Sept. 11th) - but none of that stuck to him. A Democratic President's fear of "looking weak" kills lots of people who have no idea why they come under fire.

All this fear justifies the destruction of the 5th and 6th amendments, which made the U.S. unique in all the world and used to inspire people in other countries with hope that someday their governments would be more like ours. Well, as inspector Clouseau once said: "Not anymore!"

5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.


The Obama Administration has already summarily executed a U.S. citizen (see al Alwaki). The Administration claims to have the right and has appropriated the power to do so again. Real terror is waking up one morning to find that the finest judicial system of the world has been taken over by the bandits from the Treasure of the Sierra Madres. We don't need to show you any stink'in due process!

Update:

AR:

The Colbert comment about Comic-con is brilliant. Satire is the only way to expose the craziness of some of these policies. If you don't laugh at the laughable you often legitimize it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Fake Healthcare for People Who Don't Matter Anyway

The Doctor who assisted the C.I.A. to find Bin Laden faces a 33 year prison sentence. Glenn Greenwald at salon.com pointed out that Dr. Afridi perpetrated a fake vaccination program as part of his work for the C.I.A. to hunt for Bin Laden. The vaccination injections did no harm in themselves, but did not really vaccinate anyone either.

You would never know this if you watch the mainstream news media.


Despite the harmlessness of the injections, the fake program has increased distrust by Moslems in developing countries of U.S. aid workers and set back Polio eradication efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The President of Doctors without Borders commented:  “The potential consequence is that even basic healthcare, including vaccination, does not reach those who need it most.” 


That the C.I.A. has infiltrated do-gooder U.S. organizations before in order to spy in foreign countries at least since the founding of the Peace Corps. (For a hilarious satire of the Peace Corps including its infiltration by the C.I.A. see the movie Volunteers, an early Tom Hanks comedy). Even when U.S. citizens try to do something good, something poisons it.

Of most interest is Greenwald's re-framing of the matter. Hopefully this will give some people in the U.S. some perspective (if they ever read it):

In light of all the righteous American outrage over this prison sentence, let’s consider what the U.S. Government would do if the situation were reversed: namely, if an American citizen secretly cooperated with a foreign intelligence service to conduct clandestine operations on U.S. soil, all without the knowledge or consent of the U.S. Government, and let’s further consider what would happen if the American citizen’s role in those operations involved administering a fake vaccine program to unwitting American children. Might any serious punishment ensue? Does anyone view that as anything more than an obvious rhetorical question?
… American lives are inherently more valuable; foreign lives are expendable in pursuit of American interests; the U.S. has the inalienable right to take action in other countries that nobody is allowed to take in the U.S. (just imagine: “An Iranian drone fired two missiles at a bakery in the northwest U.S. Saturday and killed four suspected militants, Iranian officials said, as Iran pushed on with its drone campaign despite American demands to stop. This was the third such strike in the country in less than a week").


I suggest you read Greenwald's entire post: The Imperial Mind.

By the way, this "it's OK when the U.S. does it" mindset I find most disturbing where-ever I encounter it. Despite how much I like the Rachel Maddow Show I can barely contain my disgust with the liberal-hawk bias in her reporting: she ignores innocent civilians' deaths inflicted by drone attacks while celebrating victories by the Obama administration in the War on an abstract concept Terrorism. Both on the left as well as on the right in U.S. politics and political reporting American lives matter - others well not so much.

They hate us for our freedoms. Oh, and because they think we're weak.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Google is evil


Most have heard the phrase "high treason." Does that mean there's such as thing as "low treason?" Actually, yes. In  medieval society in which dueling is legal, the law specified that "low treason" was "killing a relative of the king." Why make this treason? Because by selectively eliminating heirs to the throne through dueling one could determine the succession - pick the next monarch.


A thought experiment.

Let's say you do something that most other people would find strange (or so you think). Let's say you like to watch antelope porn. No one harmed. You just get off on watching antelopes mating.

Now let's say you find yourself fed up with all the rogues in politics: the culture warrior republicans, the spineless democrats, the fragmented left, the looney right, all of it. You start talking to friends and acquaintances about running for office. You're well-liked and make for a good candidate. After winning a low level local race you start campaigning for state-wide or national office. Your record as a county or city official indicates that you remain above all the corruption and reject traditional party loyalties.

Now let's say you win a congressional seat. Once in Washington you start raising holy hell about the traditional way of doing business. You go to the press about a meeting between business leaders and congressional reps in which the business people give  insider trading information to the politicians, and how your colleagues cash in. Or something. It does not matter what. Not part of the existing beltway society, you stand up for what you think is right and do not cave in to pressures to conform. The wealthy and powerful donate to your opponent during your re-election. Outspent a thousand to one you somehow manage to encourage enough people to look at your record, your youtube videos, come to your campaign events that you convince a majority to reject the candidate with the multi-million dollar campaign. You win re-election.

But then Google gives all your personal information it has gathered to the CIA, your web surfing and video viewing history then finds its way into the hands of the media. Your antelope fetish becomes public knowledge. You never touched an antelope in your life - you just watched them do it. Doesn't matter. No one will vote for you now.

This may sound far-fetched in a lot of respects. I purposely made the details a bit silly for entertainment. But the part that's not far-fetched? That Google has already entered into an arrangement with the CIA to share everyone's personal digital histories. That sounds like conspiracy theory but it's actually a matter of fact. (See the alternet news report about Google: The Terrifying Ways Google Is Destroying Your Privacy. Well worth the read).

The destruction of privacy runs only in one direction. That's the real problem. Google, (and people staffing the national security agencies) can release an individual's personal information in ways that can damage that person's reputation or livelihood or political prospects. But the rest of us can not see the same for the people on the other side of the one-way mirror.

Eric Schmidt, one of Google's founders, one of the 'do not evil' guys, stated in 2010: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." But can we see what he's been up to online? Is that information available freely to the rest of us, as our information is available to him? I didn't think so.

I realize all of this exists now as a thought experiment. We may not even realize the abuse of this power when and if it happens. But the obvious power that comes from eliminating persons from even potentially serving in government already has a name.  Although no longer applied to dueling, the concept of "low" treason, unused for centuries, is coming back. But this time it's legal.

Friday, May 18, 2012

TED organizers never heard of the Streisand effect?

[Updated below] Here's the TED talk that the people at TED did not want you to see. According to a story in Salon.com, TED Even more elitist than we thought, multimillionaire Seattle venture capitalist named Nick Hanauer gave a TED talk on income inequality in which he blasted conventional wisdom (the meme that fabulously rich people "create jobs") in no uncertain terms. He bluntly calls this dishonest. My favorite part is the following:

...when businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it's a little like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it's the other way around.

It's hard to call this censorship - no government agency has ordered TED not to post Hanauer's talk. Commercial censorship maybe. Limiting access to information most librarians consider censorship and we do not care about dictionary definitions. Language evolves. Kind of like Squirrels. The trouble comes mostly from the behavior of the TED organizers, TED curator Chris Anderson in particular. As Lauren Kelley of Alternet has pointed out, "... TED’s stance on the talk went from “The world must see this!” to “We’ll get to it later…” to “Actually it’s too partisan” to “It might upset businessmen.”" Strange.

Stranger still are the insinuations that the talk did not meet some sort of high quality standards that TED supposedly sets to post talks online. Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy posted a howler of an article picking out 10 TED Talks They Should Have Censored. This reminds me of the newspaper that defends its choice of what stories to run with the argument that they have to sort out what's important from what's not but they run Lady Gaga saying something outlandish on the front page.

Well, alls well that ends sort of well, I guess. Despite refusing to post the video on its own web site, Anderson nonetheless (after a barrage of criticism and accusations of censorship) posted Hanauer's talk on YouTube. (You can also read a transcript here).






AROY found this segment of the Lawrence O'Donnell show in which Hanauer expands on some of the ideas in his TED talk.



The segment runs about 7 and a half minutes.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Divide and Conquer

This 30 second video speaks volumes. Scott Walker talking to one of his billionaire supporters.




Use of the agency of government to assist your friends and cronies always looks a bit murky: you can not tell definitively in many cases. You can make whatever arguments you like for how getting rid of unions will somehow benefit everyone. You can make arguments that the unions support politicians who enact policies favorable to unions. The lines between policy, politics and personal friendships here lack clarity. Fine.

Here's what's not murky: Gov. Walker has stated that he eliminated public sector collective bargaining in Wisconsin due to fiscal pressures. But his union stripping also left alone those public sector unions which supported him in his election. Now this "divide and conquer" explanation to a billionaire supporter. Clear enough?


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Student debt crisis

Maybe now people can see the obvious. A recent article in Salon.com Protester's furious new front, documents the history of the student loan programs and how it turned into a corrupt and deceitful industry. This also led me to a new (to me) web site: StudentLoanJustice.org. Starting in 2009 student loans surpassed credit card debt in the U.S. at $830 billion (footnote: Wall Street Journal). Browse through the stories on this site. Check out the footnotes.

The Salon.com article is a bit long but well worth reading in full. Here's a couple of highlights:

(The Reagan administration engineered the transition from need-based grants to interest-based loans.)

No one understood the profit potential of this [transition] better than an ambitious Sallie Mae executive named Albert Lord. Within a decade of joining the company as comptroller in 1981, Lord rose to CEO with a plan to take Sallie Mae private and shift the company’s center of gravity from Washington to Wall Street. The desire was mutual. Sallie Mae’s assets multiplied eightfold during the Reagan years. Investors were salivating over the chance to get a piece of Sallie Mae’s expanding $15 billion portfolio of government-backed loans.
... 
In 1993, [President] Clinton instituted the Direct Loan program in the Department of Education. The intent of allowing the Department of Education to issue loans was to cut out middlemen like Sallie Mae and save money. But the industry’s friends in the newly Republican Congress successfully undermined the program. 

Oh, thank you for that. With this assistance from Newt Gingrich's Republican Congressional majority Lord took Sallie Mae public in 1996. He had a personal fortune of $230 million by the early 2000s. And it gets worse:

Sallie Mae had just spearhead the lending industry’s lobby effort behind the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, which stripped private student loans of bankruptcy protection. (Such protections around federal loans had long been chipped away.) Leading the effort in Congress was Lord’s golfing buddy and current majority leader, John Boehner. It was around this time that Sallie Mae hired Boehner’s daughter as an executive at one of its largest collection companies. Sallie Mae remains the largest donor in the history of Boehner’s PAC...

Yes, that John Boehner.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Silly Semantics

The week of April 9th Ann Rosen, a democratic talking head, blurted out during an interview that Mitt Romney's wife Ann, "… hasn't worked a day in her life." Predictably, the Republicans rolled out the outrage. Supposedly Rosen and by extension all democrats and the Obama administration have no respect for the work of raising children. Ann Romney tweeted: "I made a choice to stay at home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work."

Republicans trying to position themselves as champions of women in general and stay-at-home mothers in particular hits a few snags. Chris Hayes, filling in for Rachel Maddow, does a wonderful job of deconstructing the fake outrage. From Romney's own book, No Apology, p. 251:
Welfare without work erodes the spirit and the sense of self-worth of the recipient. And it conditions the children of nonworking parents to an indolent and unproductive life. Hardworking parents raise hardworking kids; we should recognize that the opposite is also true. 

And then there's this delightful clip of Romney on the campaign trail:
… even if you have a child, 2 years of age, you need to go to work. and people said, "well, that's heartless." And I said, no no, I'm willing to spend more providing day care to allow those parent to go back to work. It will cost the state more providing that day care, but  I want the individuals to have the dignity work.
The entire segment is worth viewing. You can see a parade of this year's Republican Presidential candidates saying much the same verbiage about the dignity of working for a paycheck. If you're not rich, the work of raising children is just not good enough.





I will nitpick on only one point in this interview: it was not Connie Schultz's mother who first made the observation that how we treat people we do not have to treat well says a lot about us. I do like the aphorism that you should not marry anyone until you see how s/he treats the waitress. But credit where it's due - Dostoevsky : "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reverse the colors, see what happens

Those following the Trayvon Martin murder may be interested to know that an inversion of this "stand your ground" case has already happened. A black man defended himself from an armed attack by a white man, on the black man's property. After a warning shot he killed his armed assailant. There was even a witness. The dead white guy even had a record of terrorizing people. What do you think happened as a result?

If you guessed that the black man is serving a life sentence - you would be correct.

When "stand your ground" fails (appearing in Salon.com April 11, 2012) presents the basic facts of the case of John McNeil shooting Brian Epp which demonstrates that the application of these laws has a color bar. Now we have an additional element of verification (as if we needed one) that "stand your ground" laws, although not overtly racist in their inception, have proven blatantly racist in their implementation.