An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

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!



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.