Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Schlafly in La La Land

This month's Living in La La Land award goes to Phyllis Schlafly, who's report on the first presidential debate defies explanation. It includes gems like this:

"The liberals have been marketing Barack Obama as the greatest orator of our times, but the public saw a different picture in the first presidential debate. Angry, perplexed and devoid of substance was the real Obama, whom the media could no longer hide.

By contrast, John McCain provided refreshing sincerity to Obama's incoherent subterfuges."

It sounds like Schlafly took a description of Sarah Palin and simply substituted Obama's name in there. Anyone who saw the debate through non-redcolored glasses will no doubt choke on their coffee reading this, given that McCain got angry enough to scare little children by the time the debate was over. As for substance, Schlafly must have added another term to the ever growing list that the Republicans have redefined. In GOPland, "gaffe" means "anything with which I disagree", "flip flop" means "any change or nuance in position", and "devoid of substance" means "never said anything with which I agreed.

Read the whole article. It is astonishing that someone who screeches about bias as much as Schlafly does could write such a reality-averse description of the debate. It is, however, illustrative of the sort of intellectual brick wall one is likely to run into trying to persuade such people what a stinker of a ticket McCain/Palin is.

Palin's Freudian Slip, and other Goofs

Not enough has been made of Sarah Palin's comment that Tina Fey's rendition of her was "spot on", even though she watched it with the volume turned down. Of course it was spot on that way, because Palin doesn't say anything when her mouth moves either.

That disability lifts when she's lying of course, which brings me to the bridge to nowhere, which she wants credit for stopping even though she started it in the first place, and then kept the money. That would be akin to a burglar breaking into a house, stealing the jewels, finding himself cornered by the police, and wanting to be given credit for stopping his own burglary when he puts back some of the jewels. Audacious is too kind a word for this woman.

Finally, if you can find it (I can't), get a clip of her three meetings with the poor foreign leaders, and watch carefully the face of Colombian President Uribe as he gets this distinct "you people can't be serious" look on his face.

What is it with Christians and Attacking the Koran

These days it seems that no one can criticize Christianity without being challenged to do the same for Islam. Criticize the Bible, and someone will invariably say "Oh yeah, I'll bet you wouldn't say that about the Koran!" It is an argument that is knee-jerk among the culture-war conservatives, and yet it exposes them once again as a group that operates via faith and speculation, not facts.

The ongoing saga of PZ Myers and the Catholic Eucharist illustrates this nicely. A quick summary:

A student got into trouble with his university, and was subjected to histrionic rage from Catholics and others for removing a Eucharist from a Catholic mass. PZ found this absurd that a university would punish a student, and people would go so far as to issue death threats, for essentially stealing a cracker. So he announced that he would desecrate a Eucharist if someone would send him one. Immediately the claims were made that PZ would dare not do the same to something holy in Islam.

Now, aren't the religious among us always talking about tolerance for their views? Why then, when one of them is attacked, would they retort by saying "attack those religious people over there"? Well, they did, and PZ, in usual form, desecrated not only the cracker, but a few pages from the Koran, and from the God Delusion by atheist Richard Dawkins. He captioned it with this:

"I didn't want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur'an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything."

You would think people would have gotten the message, but no. Now that some on Youtube are copying Myers action, his hate mail has started, and wouldn't you know it, he is STILL getting letters like this:

"Now that you have desecrated the Eucharist and offended me and over a billion Catholics, I would like you to publicly desecrate the Koran.

I'm waiting to see that marvelous display of 'academic freedom.'"

It just establishes what comes as no surprise to those of us in the reality-based community: social conservatives are not interested in facts. They couldn't even be bothered to read one article on what actually happened in this incident. They simply assumed what they wanted to be true was, and ignored all the rest. They want to be the persecuted minority, so they invent the persecution in their head. It is up to the rest of us to remind them just how full of shit they are, and PZ's latest post is a good start.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Obama Sets Record for Nobel endorsements

A record 61 nobel Laureates endorse Barack Obama. I don't understand it. I just don't understand it. McCain has run such an intellectually elevated campaign, chosen the most academically accomplished vice presidential candidate he could, and yet the cream of the cream of the scientific world sides with Obama. Of course, there's that little problem with the Bush administration's unprecedented interference and distortion of science, and McCain's likelihood of continuing the same policies:

"This year's presidential election is among the most significant in our nation's history. The country urgently needs a visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology and who can harness those strengths to address many of our greatest problems: energy, disease, climate change, security, and economic competitiveness.

We are convinced that Senator Barack Obama is such a leader, and we urge you to join us in supporting him.

During the administration of George W. Bush, vital parts of our country's scientific enterprise have been damaged by stagnant or declining federal support. The government's scientific advisory process has been distorted by political considerations. As a result, our once dominant position in the scientific world has been shaken and our prosperity has been placed at risk. We have lost time critical for the development of new ways to provide energy, treat disease, reverse climate change, strengthen our security, and improve our economy.

We have watched Senator Obama's approach to these issues with admiration. We especially applaud his emphasis during the campaign on the power of science and technology to enhance our nation's
competitiveness. In particular, we support the measures he plans to take – through new initiatives in education and training, expanded research funding, an unbiased process for obtaining scientific advice, and an appropriate balance of basic and applied research – to meet the nation's and the world's most urgent needs.

Senator Obama understands that Presidential leadership and federal investments in science and technology are crucial elements in successful governance of the world's leading country. We hope you will join us as we work together to ensure his election in November."

PETA's Open Letter to Ben and Jerry

Some things need no comment:

Dear Mr. Cohen and Mr. Greenfield,

On behalf of PETA and our more than 2 million members and supporters, I'd like to bring your attention to an innovative new idea from Switzerland that would bring a unique twist to Ben and Jerry's.

Storchen restaurant is set to unveil a menu that includes soups, stews, and sauces made with at least 75 percent breast milk procured from human donors who are paid in exchange for their milk. If Ben and Jerry's replaced the cow's milk in its ice cream with breast milk, your customers-and cows-would reap the benefits.

Using cow's milk for your ice cream is a hazard to your customer's health. Dairy products have been linked to juvenile diabetes, allergies, constipation, obesity, and prostate and ovarian cancer. The late Dr. Benjamin Spock, America's leading authority on child care, spoke out against feeding cow's milk to children, saying it may play a role in anemia, allergies, and juvenile diabetes and in the long term, will set kids up for obesity and heart disease-America's number one cause of death.

Animals will also benefit from the switch to breast milk. Like all mammals, cows only produce milk during and after pregnancy, so to be able to constantly milk them, cows are forcefully impregnated every nine months. After several years of living in filthy conditions and being forced to produce 10 times more milk than they would naturally, their exhausted bodies are turned into hamburgers or ground up for soup.

And of course, the veal industry could not survive without the dairy industry. Because male calves can't produce milk, dairy farmers take them from their mothers immediately after birth and sell them to veal farms, where they endure 14 to17 weeks of torment chained inside a crate so small that they can't even turn around.

The breast is best! Won't you give cows and their babies a break and our health a boost by switching from cow's milk to breast milk in Ben and Jerry's ice cream? Thank you for your consideration.


Tracy Reiman

Executive Vice President

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Townhall on Presidential Debate I

To see just how truly deluded some people can be by their political biases, check out the comments on the debate on Townhall. There you will learn:

Obama lost the debate because he is a socialist

He'll lose because he looked at McCain and agreed, just like Nixon did to Kennedy

That Obama is only winning because he's in cahoots with the mainstream media (abbreviated MSM in Wingnutland) who lets him lie

That the people will "get it" if they let Palin loose

Many chants of ACORN!

That to find out what really happened in the meeting with Bush we need to go to Rush Limbaugh's site, because of course the "MSM" is lying about it.

That Obama's use of the bracelet from a soldier's mother was "a gaffe" (anything they don't like is a "gaffe" to the nutters).

The repeated mantra that Obama hasn't done anything in the last 20 years. I guess to the wingnuts, nuclear proliferation and government accountability don't count, at least not when it isn't Palin mentioning it.

That Obama was angry and yelling.

Perhaps this will help those of you who have attempted without success to get dedicated lifelong Republicans to recognize the fiasco that their party has become. There is a point of no return in politics where people get so emotionally tied to their position and party that they could think, well, any of the above.

SEC Regulatory Exemptions and the Market Collapse

For a nice writeup of the influence of regulatory exemptions on the current financial meltdown, go here.

"the events of the past year are not a mere accident, but are the results of a conscious and willful SEC decision to allow these firms to legally violate existing net capital rules that, in the past 30 years, had limited broker dealers debt-to-net capital ratio to 12-to-1.

Instead, the 2004 exemption -- given only to 5 firms -- allowed them to lever up 30 and even 40 to 1.

Who were the five that received this special exemption? You won't be surprised to learn that they were Goldman, Merrill, Lehman, Bear Stearns, and Morgan Stanley.

As Mr. Pickard points out that "The proof is in the pudding — three of the five broker-dealers have blown up."

Read the rest, but don't do it if you are depressed, it won't help matters.

Palin on Couric: This is Painful, and it isn't a Beauty Pageant

I don't know how anyone could put lipstick on this stinker. The woman clearly doesn't know anything and is just parroting associated phrases. She sounds like we all did in high school when we got called to give an oral presentation of a book review of a book we didn't read:

COURIC: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land-- boundary that we have with-- Canada. It-- it's funny that a comment like that was-- kind of made to-- cari-- I don't know, you know? Reporters--


PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah.

COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our-- our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia--

COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We-- we do-- it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where-- where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is-- from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to-- to our state.

Great, she can't say "nuclear" or "caricature". And what's with the bizarro hand motions when she talks about Putin? Is she trying to cast a spell, or just distract us from the fact that she can't form coherent sentences? "...our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of"? Really? Canada and Russia are IN Alaska? She sounds like this. Sadly for those of us who might end up being ruled by this woman, this is a not a beauty contest.

But you think that part was bad? Watch her answer on the economy and the bailout. Translate this into conversational English if you can:

"That's why I say like every American I'm speaking with we're ill about this position that we have been put in, where it is the tax payers looking to bail out. But ultimately what the bail out does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. It's got to be all about job creation, shoring up our economy and putting it on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reigning in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. We've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive scary thing, but one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we've got to look at that as more opportunity, all those things under the umbrella of job creation."

So tax payers are looking to bail out, reducing taxes has to accompany tax reductions, health care reform shores up the economy, and trade is not scary. This is friggin amateur hour, and it's not funny any more.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Presidential Debate I Summary

A lot of people miss the point of political debates. These are not academic exercises determined by judges on content. They aren't about being right and wrong, and they sure as hell aren't about agreeing with you. If you are going to measure a debate by that standard, there's no point in watching it, because we usually know the positions ahead of time. No, a political debate is about one thing: keeping the voters you have, getting the rare few to change sides, and grab as many of the undecideds as you can. That is the relevant measure, and that is how I'm going to analyze this: who got the most voters.

When I was in college there was a rally for Walter Mondale, who was challenging Ronald Reagan. The city and university were dominated by Democrats, yet when we went to the rally, the Reagan people outnumbered the Mondale people. I knew then that Mondale was going to get massacred.

Watching the predebate coverage, I was thinking similar things. The MSNBC coverage was outside, with the live crowd behind them. It was predominantly Obama supporters, and when Chris Matthews took an affirmation poll, the pro-Obama response was considerably more enthused and loud compared to the McCain crew. On Fox, they were doing their broadcast inside the empty auditorium. Were they unable to find a crowd of enthusiastic McCain supporters to back them? It seems unlikely they would pass on the opportunity to have them there.

This is Mississippi folks. Mississippi, the state at the heart of the five states that voted for George Wallace, and the state that hasn't gone Democrat since Jimmy Carter. If the Obama people are outnumbering the McCain people in Mississippi, it shows that whatever support McCain has is lukewarm at best. Watch for Obama to greatly outperform McCain on election day where ever the weather is poor. Obama's people are fired up enough to brave wind and rain to cast their vote. McCain's will stay home.

The debate seemed uneventful compared to many past debates. There were no "You are no Jack Kennedy" moments, no knockout punches. Obama's approach was more general, McCain's more focused. McCain did not dodder, Obama was smoother off the cuff than some give him credit for. McCain mostly attacked, Obama countered. It was the verbal equivalent of Marciano against Ali. And there were several things I found interesting and likely to nab votes.

McCain kept using the phrase "Senator Obama doesn't understand...". He must have said it ten times. This is a very aggressive strategy. It will get him votes if people believed it, or if he repeated it enough times to have it sink into our collective consciousness. But it could easily come off as mean spirited, especially given McCain's less than perfect posture and near sneering demeanor. More on this later.

Obama' retort was usually to challenge McCain on the facts, which means the exchange will be decided by who the voters believe. This was exacerbated by McCain often defending his position with little more than a promise or his word. "I've known him for years...", "I assure you...". Prior to the Palin nomination and all the consequent controversy, I'd have seen this as a safe strategy. But I'm not sure how that is going to play given the intense scrutiny and criticism the McCain campaign has gotten across the political spectrum for, as Karl Rove put it, failing the "100% truth test" with its campaign ads. That's sort of like being told by Darth Vader that you are a little cruel. They say McCain is a big gambler, and this sure is one example. If his credibility was effected by the ad flap, he's going to lose all those exchanges.

It was interesting to note that there was exactly one flag pin worn, and it was on Obama. Hopefully that will put an end to that nonissue.

Obama definitely made gains with regard to some of the false rumors that had been floated about him with regard to his ability to speak knowledgeably about the issues, and without a teleprompter. It remains to be seen whether the voters agree with his views, but the idea that he is an empty rhetorical suit is dead for anyone who watched this debate.

It also put to rest the notion that Obama has done nothing but write books, as he managed to work into the conversation his work on nuclear proliferation, and government accountability with his google government idea. This was probably the biggest vote gainer of the evening. In some ways, while the debate was in a sense on McCain's turf, Obama really had an advantage because he is the newer player, and opinions of him have been shifted downward by some misinformation, leading to lower expectations (the same advantage Palin will have against Biden). McCain, being the more established candidate, didn't really have that opportunity. At best, barring a major gaffe from Obama, McCain could only hope to hold serve. There is no doubt that more people came away from the debate pleasantly surprised by Obama's performance than McCain's.

McCain had a distinct disadvantage on aesthetics going in, similar to what Nixon faced against the bronze god of JFK. But he didn't help matters by snickering at Obama (shades of al Gore's sighs), rarely looking in the camera (ie, at the viewers), and practically never at Obama. Obama played to the camera, speaking directly to the viewer, and restricted his reactions to McCain's comments to smiles. He had to avoid looking smug and aloof, and I think he succeeded, although he could have done without the off camera looks and smiles (I assume to his wife).

The one big mistake Obama may have made, and the McCain people are already making a lot of it, is that he kept saying when he agreed with McCain, or when he thought McCain was right. He must have done this a dozen times. Comments like that, while displaying a nonpartisan and intellectually honest approach, can easily be spliced into sound bites that make it look like Obama is deferring to McCain. McCain will gain ground with this from the undecideds who didn't watch the debate, or got bored with the slow start.

The potentially devastating comment McCain made, which could cost him mightily, was his remark that America will never again torture anyone. This is a tacit admission that America has tortured, which may not be well received.

My bet is that Obama will gain more votes from this debate, mostly because he had lower expectations and exceeded them. The initial poll from CBS supports this interpretation:

"Thirty-nine percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. Twenty-four percent thought John McCain won. Thirty-seven percent saw it as a draw.

Forty-six percent of uncommitted voters said their opinion of Obama got better tonight. Thirty-two percent said their opinion of McCain got better."

Now the roles reverse, as Biden goes into his debate with Palin as a huge favorite, far more than McCain was tonight. He will consequently face even bigger demands, and will lose votes if he fails to live up to them. The expectations for Palin couldn't be lower after her disastrous interviews, which means if she gets through the debate without looking like a complete idiot, she'll gain votes. We'll see in a week.

Wonderlick a Poor Measure of Quarterbacks

Check out this interesting discussion of the Wonderlic exam given pro football players. There has been much talk of the Wonderlic lately on the heals of Vince Young's difficulties, in light of Youngs's famously low score on the exam. However, there are good historical reasons to doubt whether the Wonderlic is a valuable indicator of QB success:

"They use the Wonderlic as a substitute, but there's plenty of to suggest that the Wonderlic doesn't actually predict success in the pros. For instance, Dan Marino scored 14. Brett Favre's Wonderlic score was 22, while Randall Cunningham and Terry Bradshaw both scored 15. All of these quarterbacks have been, or will be, inducted into the Hall of Fame. (In recent years, Favre has surpassed many of the passing records once held by Marino, such as most passing yards and touchdowns in a career.) Furthermore, several quarterbacks with unusually high Wonderlic scores - players like Alex Smith and Matt Leinart, who both scored above 35 on the test and were top ten picks in the 2005 NFL draft - have struggled in the NFL, largely because they make poor decisions on the field."

There are also sound psychological reasons to doubt the Wonderlic, as Jonah outlines. The position requires far too many instinctive, unconscious reactions which bear little resemblance to solving Wonderlic problems. As most who have played the game will tell you when you ask them what they were thinking during play X of the game, the answer you'll get is "I wasn't thinking anything". It's a good read.

I Want What Dick Morris is Smoking

I really want what Dick Morris is smoking. With the vapidity of Sarah Palin coming to light, and voters scurrying off the sinking bullshit express ship like rats, what is Mr. Consistent saying?

"To appreciate how McCain could surge into the lead in the debates, we need to focus on what has changed about the race in the past few months. McCain has emerged from the exchange of convention oratory with a much more solid reputation for reliability and judgment than Obama has."

On what planet Dick? Between his near continuous episodes of senility, and increasing criticism over him putting an ignorant loon within one vote and one heart attack from the presidency, McCain's reputation for reliability, what little he had, is evaporating. He's become the mainstay punchline of late night TV.

But not in Dickland. There, we get this:

"With the designation of Palin, McCain has offered a credible vision of change that Obama will have a hard time disputing. "

Hard time disputing Dick? Every time the woman opens her mouth she loses credibility. She's got so many controversies I can't keep up. She lies, and is caught doing it, daily. The latest problem being her close relationship with witch-hunting hands-laying-on Pastor Muthee. The words "Sarah Palin" and "credibility" don't go together here on planet earth.

Whatever Morris is smoking, it won't change reality.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Howard Feinman Nails It

On MSNBC Howard Feinman said that politicians no longer feel a moral duty to talk to the press. And sadly, no one seems to care. It's not just the Republicans either, they are just worse. Worse about arresting protestors foir frivolous reasons, worse about avoiding questions from the press. It's good to see some repercussions finally to hit the McCain campaign for playing games with this most basic part of the puzzle.

Good News from Austin: Committee Recommends Removal of Creationist Language

A committee has recommended removing the "strengths and weaknesses" neocreationism from the Texas science curriculum:

The Texas Education Agency on Tuesday released to the public an early recommendation for the state's new science curriculum that would excise ideas "based upon purported forces outside of nature" from what Texas students are taught in biology classes.

The recommendation, which covers many courses, also removes language in the current curriculum requiring that students be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories. Several State Board of Education members have said they support that language. Critics of the teaching of intelligent design and creationism — ideas that hold that the universe was created by a higher power — say such language has been used to undermine the theory of evolution.

Way to call a spade a spade guys. Unfortunately, committee recommendations in the past have been changed wholesale at the last minute, so we should expect similar games with the science standards with leadership like state board chairman Don McLeroy parroting creationist nonsense like this:

I'd argue it doesn't make sense scientifically to take it out. Evolution shouldn't have anything to worry about — if there's no weaknesses, there's no weaknesses. But if there's scientifically testable explanations out there to refute it, shouldn't those be included too?

Yes Don, but all your years of dentistry haven't left you equipped to teach biologists biology. There are no scientifically testable explanations out there competing with evolution, as the paucity of ID research attests, a full 10 years after their shining moment, the publication of Michael Behe's "Darwin's Black Box". The weaknesses are all ID's: who, what, where, when, and how remain unanswered. Evolution, by contrast, answers many questions, and has opened numerous avenues for research. Science never has all the answers, McLeroy's ignorant criticisms to that point notwithstanding. Committee member Kevin Fisher put it well:

"We actually have more evidence for evolution occurring than we do for the law of gravity. ... Something doesn't become a theory if it's got weaknesses. There may be some questions that may yet to be answered, but nothing that's to the level of a weakness."

Pity the chairman of the board of education has to be educated on basic science. It is a serious threat to the education of future generations who will have to deal with ever-more-complicated scientific issues. The hearings on the science standards begins this fall. Make sure those involved know how important it is that everyone get a 21st century education instead of McLeroy's 19th century one.

Isolated Ancient Ant Found

A blind, pale any, of which only two specimens have been found, resurfaced in Brazil.

"Martialis is as ancient and as odd as an ant can be and still be called an ant. The lineage emerged right at the dawn of the family and provides a new line of sight back to the elusive ant ancestors.

What do we know about Martialis? Not all that much. We have a single insect that was found walking about in the leaf litter, away from its presumed nesting site. The details of its biology must be inferred from the morphology of the preserved specimen and the DNA sequence of a few genes. Until someone locates live colonies, the situation is a bit like having a well-preserved fossil with a smattering of genetic information.

We can say that Martialis really is an ant and not just another wayward wingless wasp."

Read the whole article, it is fascinating, particularly the fact that ants are essentially wingless wasps. That was something I had never put together before. It is also encouraging that an entire species of any could exist without our knowledge of a single nest. It's nice to still have some mystery in the world.

The Campaign McCain Denied Us

It would have had everything: the brash upstart vs the experienced insider, the Harvard man vs the war hero, the wisecracking curmudgeon vs the folksy ex-minister with the snappy comebacks, the fortysomething vs the seventysomething, the reality-based view (at lest as much as a good Christian can have one), vs the faith-based view, stay-in-Iraq-for-100-years vs get-the-hell-out-now. On and on and on it could have gone, pitting the major American values against each other, in good honest political battle. This is what McCain/Huckabee vs Obama/Biden could have been.

Instead, John McCain has robbed us of all that, first by choosing an incompetent loon as his VP, then attempting to hide her from the media so that her loony ignorance would not be exposed, then playing this fake emergency bolt to Washington for a photo op supposedly saving us from a crisis he had a hand in creating and has little power to correct being absent from all relevant committees. Knowing he couldn't win a straight up honest political contest with Barak Obama, McCain has resorted to kicking over the chess board every time Obama gets ahead and demanding to start over. Any other politician would have let Palin carry the load while McCain tended to business in Washington, but she proves herself to be absolutely clueless about everything, he can't risk that. Now he attempts a long timeout in the hopes of keeping Palin and himself from the scorcing crucible that is to be the debates. Sorry John McCain, the country knows cowardice when it sees it, even from someone who once showed more courage than 100 Americans combined.

Country before self? Are you kidding me? McCain's behavior is beginning to border on treasonous. I suggest McCain save us all the trouble of wearing out our blue markers on election day and just make the suspension of his candidacy permanent. THAT would be putting country before self. The bullshit express has embarrassed America enough for one election.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Go Campbell Brown: Free Sarah Palin

Go Campbell Brown"

"Tonight I call on the McCain campaign to stop treating Sarah Palin like she is a delicate flower that will wilt at any moment. This woman is from Alaska from crying out loud. She is strong. She is tough. She is confident. And you claim she is ready to be one heart beat away form the presidency. If that is the case, then end this chauvinistic treatment of her now...Let her have a real news conference with real questions. By treating Sarah Palin different from the other candidates in this race, you are not showing her the respect she deserves. Free Sarah Palin. Free her from the chauvinistic chain you are binding her with. Sexism in this campaign must come to an end. Sarah Palin has just as much a right to be a real candidate in this race as the men do. So let her act like one"

Hear hear!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Let's Hear it for Clay Aiken

Famous American Idol runner up Clay Aiken, who has a cult following to rival the Grateful Dead, has finally confirmed what so many of us suspected: he is gay. Congratulations to Mr. Aiken for having the courage to come out in the face of a sure backlash from some of his so-called Christian fans. Let's hope they are a small minority, and let's hope for a society where there is no need for these coming out events.

The Backfire Effect in Politics: Why Lying is Effective in Politics

If you are watching the current political fiasco known as our presidential election, and wonder why politicans would so prone to make erroneous claims (ie lie) that can be easily refuted, check out this study of how people's opinions were changed when given claims, and then refutations of those claims.

"In experiments conducted by political scientist John Bullock at Yale University, volunteers were given various items of political misinformation from real life. One group of volunteers was shown a transcript of an ad created by NARAL Pro-Choice America that accused John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court at the time, of "supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber."

A variety of psychological experiments have shown that political misinformation primarily works by feeding into people's preexisting views. People who did not like Roberts to begin with, then, ought to have been most receptive to the damaging allegation, and this is exactly what Bullock found. Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to disapprove of Roberts after hearing the allegation.

Bullock then showed volunteers a refutation of the ad by abortion-rights supporters. He also told the volunteers that the advocacy group had withdrawn the ad. Although 56 percent of Democrats had originally disapproved of Roberts before hearing the misinformation, 80 percent of Democrats disapproved of the Supreme Court nominee afterward. Upon hearing the refutation, Democratic disapproval of Roberts dropped only to 72 percent.

Republican disapproval of Roberts rose after hearing the misinformation but vanished upon hearing the correct information. The damaging charge, in other words, continued to have an effect even after it was debunked among precisely those people predisposed to buy the bad information in the first place."

That should have intuitive appeal: we are all guilty of cherry-picking our data, giving unwarranted credibility to that which confirms our bias, and heaping undue skepticism on that which we already doubted. And once an idea gets into our heads, it is sometimes hard to get out. However, there was an additional effect, known as the "backfire effect", where people's opinion's on a subject would move in the opposite direction of the data refuting it, and it was not spread evenly across the political spectrum.

"Bullock and others have also shown that some refutations can strengthen misinformation, especially among conservatives.

Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

A similar "backfire effect" also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.

In a paper approaching publication, Nyhan, a PhD student at Duke University, and Reifler, at Georgia State University, suggest that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might "argue back" against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Nyhan and Reifler did not see the same "backfire effect" when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration's stance on stem cell research."

If you have been watching the battle against the lies Palin and McCain has been spinning, this should come as no surprise. I would attribute it to the growing paranoid nature of conservatives, where criticism, especially from untrusted sources, equates to confirmation in their mind. Thus, if Media Matters criticizes something Sarah Palin says, that is processed as a confirmation, because of course every good conservative knows that the liberal media is out to get them. We see similar reasoning among Intelligent Design proponents. Since the scientific establishment is out to get them, any proclamations from said establishment is more proof they are right. One can also see this in the common refrain, from both the political and scientific right, that anger from one's opponents means one's arguments are sound. Those in the right, it is assumed, don't get angry or "negative".

This is why the refutations of right-wing political nonsense must come from those not considered "liberals" by the right-wingers, and why ads like this one featuring people like Rachel Maddow will not be effective.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Palin Vapidity in Front of the Homies, and my Debate Predictions

Sarah Palin made her first appearance at a controlled town hall full of McCain sycophants, and she still couldn't answer a simple question:

"UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor Palin, there has been quite a bit of discussion about your perceived lack of foreign policy experience. And I want to give you your chance. If you could please respond to that criticism and give us specific skills that you think you have to bring to the White House to rebut that or mitigate that concern.

PALIN: Well, I think because I’m a Washington outsider that opponents are going to be looking for a whole lot of things that they can criticize and they can kind of try to beat the candidates here, who chose me as his partner, to kind of tear down the ticket. But as for foreign policy, you know, I think that I am prepared and I know that on January 20th, if we are so blessed as to be sworn into office as your president and vice president, certainly we’ll be ready. I’ll be ready. I have that confidence. I have that readiness.

And if you want specifics with specific policy or countries, go ahead and you can ask me. You can even play stump the candidate if you want to. But we are ready to serve."

Pathetic. It's the only word that comes to mind. She sounds like the guy from Fargo who kept insisting that he was cooperating with the police while refusing to answer any question they asked him. Also, I wish someone would clue these people into the fact that confidence and readiness are only assets when you know what you are doing. A confident, ready ignoramus is BAD. It's dangerous. It leads to things like, well, Iraq. Would you submit to surgery by someone who knew nothing about medicine but was confident and ready? Confidence is no substitute for intelligence and skill.

She's going to get smashed in the debates, right? Of course she will, as will McCain, by any factual, substantive measure. But don't think that will matter at the ballot box. Don't you all remember Al Gore smashing Bush substantively while Dubya smirked and said nothing? No, it was Gore that lost at the polls because he rolled his eyes and sighed at Bush's vapidity. McCain and Palin will soundbite their way through the debates, all the intellectuals will laugh at them, and nothing else will change.

The only way the debates will have an effect on the election is if either Biden or Obama come off as condescending or arrogant (how dare you treat an idiot like one!), or if McCain has a senility meltdown that even AARP couldn't forgive. Otherwise, they'll just be a sideshow for each side to cheer on their champion.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hawkins Demonstrates the Weak Case Against Obama

Sometimes political attacks are so lame that they actually lend support to the other side. John Hawkins latest lame effort to smear Barak Obama. In it Hawkins describes Obama as "the single biggest gaffe machine to hit American politics since Howard Dean", which is quite a statement since Sarah Palin and John McCain are giving us daily material concerning their lack of knowledge of the world, if not the room they are in.

Reading the list is indeed illustrative, but not in the way Hawkins wants it to be. It is all completely trivial, and that is when it isn't bordering on a lie from lack of context (ie the "pig" and 'Muslim' comments), or a case of disagreement about the world around us (sorry John, but ignorant unemployed rednecks do cling to their guns and religion), or a virtue twisted into a fault (the flag pin/fake patriotism issue and his modesty in not playing God with the "abve my pay grade" comment).

There is simply no substance there, nothing to compare with Palin thinking she has international experience because she can see Russia, or that the earth is 6,000 years old, or McCain thinking Spain is in our hemisphere, or that Czechoslovakia is still around. This isn't even apples and oranges, it's apples and watermelons. If this is the best the Republicans can do, they lose, and lose badly. And if the latest polls are to be believed, they will.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Colbert and the Word: How Dare You

Colbert is pure genius, and as usual, shines the light more harshly in mock support than most can manage in outright opposition:

"John McCain and Sarah Palin are not only saying they won't give answers, they're saying you can't ask questions.

If there is any lingering confustion about what questions are off limits, just consult this helpful pamphlet from the McCain campaign:

How dare you question John McCain on [noun that's bothering you]. When he was a POW, he didn't have [same noun]."

Palin Verified as a Creationist - Factcheck, You Listening?

For verification that Sarah Palin is a creationist, and an us-vs-them black-and-whiteist, read this article discussing her with Howard Bess, a retired Baptist minister who lives in a neighboring town, and Valley activist Philip Munger, who have clashed with Palin over the years. Some notable quotes from the article:

"She's Jerry Falwell with a pretty face. [said Bess] At this point, people in this country don't grasp what this person is all about. The key to understanding Sarah Palin is understanding her radical theology."

"She wanted to get people who believed in creationism on the board," said Munger, a music composer and teacher. "I bumped into her once after my band played at a graduation ceremony at the Assembly of God. I said, 'Sarah, how can you believe in creationism -- your father's a science teacher.' And she said, 'We don't have to agree on everything.'

"I pushed her on the earth's creation, whether it was really less than 7,000 years old and whether dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. And she said yes, she'd seen images somewhere of dinosaur fossils with human footprints in them."

Munger also asked Palin if she truly believed in the End of Days, the doomsday scenario when the Messiah will return. "She looked in my eyes and said, 'Yes, I think I will see Jesus come back to earth in my lifetime.'

"It's truly frightening that someone like Sarah has risen to the national level," Bess said. "Like all religious fundamentalists -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim -- she is a dualist. They view life as an ongoing struggle to the finish between good and evil. Their mind-set is that you do not do business with evil -- you destroy it. Talking with the enemy is not part of their plan. That puts someone like Obama on the side of evil.

"Forget all this chatter about whether or not she knows what the Bush doctrine is. That's trivial. The real disturbing thing about Sarah is her mind-set. It's her underlying belief system that will influence how she responds in an international crisis, if she's ever in that position, and has the full might of the U.S. military in her hands. She gave some indication of that thinking in her ABC interview, when she suggested how willing she would be to go to war with Russia."

It's worth reading the whole article, which also covers her participation in anti-abortion protests and efforts to remove books with which she disagreed from the library.

I hope the people at Factcheck.org caught the article. When they say things like this:

"Palin has not pushed for teaching creationism in Alaska's schools. She has said that students should be allowed to "debate both sides" of the evolution question, but she also said creationism "doesn't have to be part of the curriculum."

They aren't correcting a misperception, but helping to spread one. Teaching both sides IS the creationist position, fallen back to after their more overt efforts failed. Come on guys, you can't check facts if you don't check them yourselves.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Palin Can See Russia, but McCain can't Find Spain

The hits just keep on coming. John McCain was interviewed on a Miami radio show, and after being asked about many South American countries, he was asked if he would meet with the Prime Minister of Spain, and proceeded to start rambling on about our friends in the hemisphere, and Latin America. Listen to the tape, from about 2:55 on. This wasn't a slip of the tongue. He was asked about the guy several times, and the interviewer clearly said "Spain". Did McCain not hear her, or is it possible that John McCain thinks Spain is in South America?

This is starting to not be funny. Let's review the McCain blunders, and this is just from memory, and only things I've actually seen clips of:

He thinks Czechoslovakia still exists (did this at least twice)
He referred to the border between Pakistan and Iraq
He referred to German President Putin
He can't seem to keep straight whether Al Quada is Sunni or Shia
He gets Sudan and Somalia mixed up

A gaffe or two, slips of the tongue, are one thing. These are another animal entirely. McCain either has very little knowledge of the world, or he does but his 72 year old faculties are failing him. This is not a trivial concern. A misstatement like that at a touchy diplomatic session with nervous allies or enemies could be extremely costly.

Will Brunswick be the Next Dover?

North Carlina could be the next great battle in the creationism wars, as the Brunswick school board is considering adding the pseudoscience to its curriculum:

"It's really a disgrace for the state school board to impose evolution on our students without teaching creationism," county school board member Jimmy Hobbs said at Tuesday's meeting. "The law says we can't have Bibles in schools, but we can have evolution, of the atheists."

Uh, yeah Jimmy, because evolution is science, and the Bible isn't. But evolution of the atheists? What are we evolving into pray tell? You are going to have to work on your fallacies, and take Joel Fanti with you:

The topic came up after county resident Joel Fanti told the board he thought it was unfair for evolution to be taught as fact, saying it should be taught as a theory because there's no tangible proof it's true.

"I wasn't here 2 million years ago," Fanti said. "If evolution is so slow, why don't we see anything evolving now?"

Um, what? Something that moves really slow would be hard to see. It's the fast moving stuff that strains our visual capacities. Terrifying, isn't it, that these people are in charge of children's education?

Board attorney Joseph Causey said it might be possible for the board to add creationism to the curriculum if it doesn't replace the teaching of evolution.

Schools' Superintendent Katie McGee said her staff would do research.

You do that Katie. Do lot's of research. You and your staff obviously need a primer on, well, everything. But beware of any packages from Seattle.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Ever wonder what ruled the planet between the dinosaurs and homo sapiens? Well, from 45 to 25 million years ago it was entelodonts, a family of very large (5 feet at the shoulder), fast, omnivorous, boarlike creature which hunted in groups.

There's a great monster movie waiting to feature these beasties.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Idiotic Fairness and Balance: Inaccurate = Negative?

I decided to watch Fox News tonight to see how the election was being covered there. I knew I'd be in for a lot of crap, but I didn't realize it would happen almost immediately. Here's Carl Cameron:

"...there have been about 25 John McCain falsehoods and about 15 Obama falsehoods...Now when you talk about their actual advertisements, it gets a little bit more complicated...77% of Obama's ads have been deemed negative, whereas the numbers are only 56% for John McCain. So you're right, they're trading blows and depending on whose numbers you look at, one's worse than the other."

There is your fair-and-balanced moral relativism on display: lying is the same as being critical. No doubt some of that negativity from Obama was noting that John McCain is a boldfaced liar. That's rich, McCain lies, Obama calls him on it, and the Idiot Scoreboard at Fox News is even. Alert Fox News, and all the rest of you with convenient moral relativity (ie when your guy is the guilty one), there is nothing wrong with being negative if you are accurate, and the subject is relevant. This is, after all, a political campaign. Pointing out one's opponent's flaws is part of the game. It's only when you claim he has flaws he doesn't, or reveal flaws that are irrelevant to being president, that you deserve scorn.

Note also that the Fox figures were completely binary: it's either a lie or it isn't. There is no way to account for severity and audacity of the falsehood. Especially relevant is whether the falsehood was an honest mistake since corrected, or whether it fully qualifies as a lie. When a falsehood is uttered, corrections are made, and the falsehood continues to be stated, it's no longer an honest mistake. It's a lie. The way their stats work, Obama misstating that more black men were in jail than in college once, and then ceasing after his error was pointed out, counts the same as Palin lying over and over again that she said "thanks but no thanks" to the bridge to nowhere.

Fair and balanced? Hardly. It couldn't have been more tilted to the Republicans, once, ahem, the facts are considered relevant. Let's see a tally of falsehoods stated more than twice and see how McCain/Palin do.

Scale Picture: Dinosaur, whale, elephant, man

For those of you who have always disappointed at not being able to get a good scale comparison of blue whales and elephants, or sauropods and humans, well, here you go.

John Fund on Bill Maher, Republican Mouthpiece, Human Evader

For a perfect example of the intellectually dishonest Republicanism that has taken over the once-proud party, the dodging of issues, the moral (yes I said moral) relativism, the speculation-in-place-of-facts, watch the performance of John Fund on this month's Real Time with Bill Maher. There, Fund performs all the tricks. In response to Janeane Garofalo stating that "Democrats, as people, are fundamentally more decent", says things like this:

"I have a theory that the side that most belittles and most underestimates their opposition in elections tends to lose...Saying that one party is fundamentally, inherently more decent...is not very tolerant."

Now let's just note in passing how absurd it is for someone who supports McCain to have this view. Notice the fair-and-balanced assumption that it simply can't be true that one side is more decent than the other (if you can't get your brain around this concept, think German politics circa 1934, or Russia circa 1922). This is the language of the thief who's first reaction to accusations of thievery isn't to deny the crime, but to claim everyone else is just as bad as he is. And finally, notice that Fund dodges the factual case, as he does throughout the video, and instead talks about who will get more votes as a result. It sounds like he is quoting Charlie Daniels from "What this World Needs is a Few More Rednecks":

"Now you intellectuals may not like it
But there ain't nothin' that you can do
Cause there's a whole lot more of us common-folks
Then there ever will be of you"

In other words, to Hell with what is true, more people agree with me. There's modern Republicanism in a nutshell. Later, he actually implies that Sarah Palin's gaffe about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being government entities was somehow correct because "it was inevitable" that they'd be taken over by the government. Maher rightly and frequently nails him for repeating stupid shit for the sake of votes. Speaking of which, try to choke this one down:

"I think they both want to take as much money from your wallet as possible, it's just the Republicans might feel a little bit more guilty about it."

Does Cheney looked choked up with guilt to you? Rumsfeld? And never mind whose pocket the money goes into as well. Fund then goes as far" as to claim that asking potential chief executives questions about policy positions is like running a "trivia contest". This is what the party of Bill Buckley has fallen to: excusing their ignorance by claiming it's just a trivia contest to know anything. Why not just say "We don't got book smarts, but we got common cents" and be done with it.

Fund then goes into Speculation Land and claims (I didn't verify this, but will grant it FTSOA) that whenever any question in the primary debates was asked about something like The Bush Doctrine, the candidates were given a description and, wait for it, had they not been, many of them wouldn't have known what it was either! [sigh] The Republicans have become the party of woulda, shoulda, coulda. Never use a fact when there is a speculation handy. Janeane's reponse was right on the mark: "That is such unbelievable bullshit!", but Maher delivered the knockout punch: He asked Fund which candidate wouldn't have known the answer, and of course Fund wouldn't answer with anything except to implicate himself in ignorance. Salman Rushdie asked the great question: "Wouldn't it be reasonable to expect [candidates for president] to read the newspapers?"

And as if to put a cherry on top of this giant sundae of shiftiness, Fund's reply to Maher's question of why Palin "doesn't know shit from shinola" was to note that she signed a deal for a natural gas pipeline. Garofalo's retort was priceless, writing on a piece of paper and saying: "Look, I just signed a deal for a pipeline! Woohoo!"

Then Rosanne Barr came on (Why Bill? Why?), which gave Fund a chance to play another trick: arguing that a racist implication can't be so if it isn't actually true. Sound stupid? That's because it is. Barr suggested that the demeaning comments the Republicans have been making about community organizers is veiled racism, and Fund claimed it couldn't be because most community organizers are white. Right John, and the arguments against welfare moms weren't racist because most mothers on welfare are white.

This is the Republicans game. They can't possibly defend McCain/Palin rationally with actual evidence, so they resort to changing topics, speculating, refusing to deal with straightforward questions, and clinging to lies that would make Bill Clinton blush. Maher summed it up, and it is the position we should all take with this crap:

"I don't believe you. John, take it as a complement that I say I don't believe you. You are way too smart for that."

It's time to call a spade a spade on this one (and to you people who don't understand what a metaphor is, that wasn't a racist dig at Obama. Please step away from the voting booth). People with IQs higher than a fence post who parrot this shit need to be called on it. They are LYING, simple as that. They don't deserve respect. They deserve to be called out, shamed, and ridiculed, for playing these ignorant fucking games with the most important decision we can all make. This isn't American Fucking Idol. In this contest, you don't vote for the cute incompetent girl just because you can relate to her background.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Intelligent Design/Creationism's Influence on our Politics

The Intelligent Design/creationism crew would have us believe their theories have influenced science, but where their behavior has really had influence would seem to be politics. Take the Gish Gallop, a favorite technique of creationist debater Duane Gish. Gish would rattle off as many lies about evolution and scientists as conceivable in a very short span of time to overwhelm his opponent's ability to refute them, since refuting a lie takes far more time than uttering it does. Thus, many of the lies would go uncorrected, and Gish would leave the debate audience under the impression that, even if Gish didn't win the debate per se, there was enough there to cause some doubt as to the validity of evolution.

Well, the Gish Gallop has become the Palin Prance. Further, Palin has, as Ann Coulter did before her, taken a page out of the ID playbook and refused to even acknowledge the corrections of her lies even exist. Coulter wrote an execrable chapter on evolution in her book "Godless", after being coached by prominent ID proponents, which was described by one biologist as "wall to wall error". Many bloggers and writers took the time to, point by point, refute Coulter's work. Yet Coulter to this day claims no one has ever criticized the science in her book. Likewise, Palin keeps repeating the same lies over and over again, completely ignoring the refutations that exist. And to no one's surprise, Palin is parroting the "teach the controversy" ID chant.

Those economic Republicans who dismiss the loony religious wing of the party, and it's religion-related errors in politics (resistance to abortion, stem cell research, etc.) as immaterial to the big picture make a substantial mistake. Such lazy thinking, and refusal to honestly engage one's intellectual opponents, will seep into every issue. Palin is Exhibit A of this problem. There is no corralling sloppy thinking, and it seems every time someone gets near the ID crowd, they get infected with it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Maher Best Line on Palin

"Last year the police found 42 meth labs in Sarah Palin's home county...There is so much meth in this town I'm surprised the Palins didn't have a kid named Tweeker."

McCain and War Video

Some things don't need commentary. Just watch and think:

McCain and war.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lie Fatigue, and the Threat to Democracy it Poses

OK folks, I am worn out trying to keep up with all the lies coming form the McCain/Palin campaign, and I'm not going to turn this into the Lying Republicans Blog. So, let's get all the new evidence of the lies out of the way:

Here's Palin praising earmarks when she ran for governor, proving she's lying when she says she opposed earmarks.

Here they are lying about Obama's support for teaching kindergartners how to recognize inappropriate touching and sexual advances.

Here's a nice summary of the lies, including Palin hiring lobbyists to get all the earmarks she could for her town, supporting the bridge to nowhere, and never having issued a single command as head of the Alaska National Guard.

Why do we all obsess over lying so? Because democracy depends on voters being informed on the issues, and on what the politicians plan to do about them. Without knowledge of that, we cannot make informed choices. Politicians that lie to us about their record, and their plans, short-circuit the process. Hilzoy put it best:

"When politicians lie -- and here I mean not just putting the best spin on things, but out and out lying -- they might as well walk up to each and every one of us and say: Hello! I have no respect for the value of your time! ... I'm going to put you in a position where you're going to have to research everything I say, or else just give up on your civic duty. You don't get to assume that my words are, if not exactly true, at least somewhere in the general vicinity of the truth, and decide whether or not to vote for me. If you want to be an informed citizen, you'll have to become obsessive, like hilzoy.

They might as well add: I have no respect for democracy. In a democracy, citizens listen to what each side has to say and decide who to vote for. To work, it requires that what each side says bears some resemblance to the truth. If I cared about democracy, I'd respect those limits -- maybe stretching the truth every now and then, but generally maintaining some sort of relationship between what I say and reality. But guess what? I don't care about democracy! If winning requires that I make things up out of whole cloth and hope that I'm successful enough to frustrate the popular will, then that's what I'll do. Don't like it? Think democracy is a good system, one that we should cherish? That's just too bad.

But Palin has gone beyond this. She is not just telling lies; she's telling lies that have been exposed as lies, and that have gotten a lot of attention. Assuming she does not actually want to lose, she must assume that her audience either doesn't know that she's lying, or doesn't care. In either case, it's deeply cynical, and deeply insulting."

And looking at the latest electoral projections, which have McCain ahead in most of them for the first time, it looks like she's right. The Founding Fathers are no doubt turning over in their graves.

Hawaii and Alaska, Welcome to the Relevance!

I always had a little pity for Hawaii and Alaska during election times. There they were, out there in their distant time zones, waking up on their election day to hear who won, sometimes before they even got a chance to vote. I'm not one that is silly enough to think that somehow robs them of their right to choose, because your power to influence the outcome of the game is not changed one iota by knowing the score. But it certainly takes some of the fun out of it.

Yet the one thing I always kept in mind was that the one time their votes did make the difference, Hawaii and Alaska would hold the nation in their hands.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Stewart on Small Town Values

You have to wonder about people who are so absurd they can't be parodied. Witness the Small Town Values (tm) crowd, brilliantly lampooned by John Stewart. A good discussion can be found here and here.

My favorite: "I come from a small town, so I can tell you exactly what that means: it's real people, real values, common sense..."

This is the Palin contingent: ignorant, but making plenty of sounds and pretending they are communicating.

Questions the View should have asked McCain

It is a sign of how upside down our society is that the View, of all places, was the first to challenge McCain head-on about the lying, dishonest nature his campaign has assumed since Sarah Palin was nominated.

As well as the View gals did (and having Barbara Walters there certainly didn't hurt), there were a few moments that McCain left his chin hanging out there where they didn't pop him like they could have.

Whoopi attempted to get at the issue of Sarah Palin's mingling of religion and government by asking McCain if he believed in separation of church and state. However, she wasn't specific enough, and it allowed McCain to ramble on about the religiosity of past presidents without answering the question. She should have stuck with "Would you govern as God would have you do it, or would you govern this nation for the greater good of the people in it?". His answer was basically "I pray to do the best for the people", which doesn't get at the choice every politician who is religious has to make, and it should have been asked like this:

"If your understanding of your religious views mandated that you do X, but in your judgement doing X would NOT be in the interests of the general welfare of the people of this nation, would you do X?"

As a followup, they should have asked this:

"If your understanding of the Bible's message was that X is wrong, but the constitution said X should be allowed, would you allow X, or would you support laws to outlaw it?"

Whoever has the balls to ask these questions should NOT allow the dodge of claiming there couldn't be such a conflict. Any politician truly on board with separation of church and state should have no problem saying that they would, in their role as president, support the constitution over any religious text, the general welfare of the nation over any religious edicts, regardless of what those priorities might be in their private lives.

On the topic of Roe vs Wade, McCain, to his credit, was up front about his belief that it was a bad ruling. On the subject of appointing judges, he said he wanted judges that strictly interpret the Constitution, but would have no litmus test re Roe v Wade. So, the question they should have asked was:

"Do you think it is possible for a strict constructionist judge to conclude that Roe vs Wade is solid law, and if so, would you appoint such a judge?"

The claim that there is no litmus test with his judicial appointments re Roe vs Wade is hollow if by "strict contructionist" he means "those that would conclude Roe v. Wade is bad law". Walters made a quip about this, but should have pursued it further.

It was also interesting to note that McCain said he respects people's views who disagree with him on abortion, which I take to mean he won't argue nastily with them or think ill of them. Yet he supports it being made illegal. So apparently it shows people more respect to make what they do illegal, with the resultant enforcement of legal penalties, than it does to argue with them about the rightness of it or think poorly of it. There is no greater example of the feelings-over-reality mindset of Republican party today.

The only straight answer McCain gave was on the one area he could claim expertise: the politics of being a prisoner of war. He was asked why his jailers didn't just force him to leave rather than giving him a choice. It would have been interesting to see some of the hostesses ask him about the psychological damage being tortured as a prisoner for so long.

When Cindy McCain said that a McCain administration would include all different sorts of people, I couldn't help thinking of the bartender in the Blues Brothers movie who answered the question of what sort of music they played there with "We got both kinds. We got country, and Western". Someone should have asked her if pro-choice, anti-Iraq war people would be included.

In total, McCain's performance had to be viewed negatively. He was taken to task by (with the exception of Walters) a bunch of amateur interviewers. One can only imagine what would happen to him were he subjected to such a Q & A by serious reporters determined to get to the essentials of the issues. Any takers?

Shimmering Bee Defense against Giant Wasps

Here is a great article on a new bee defense against hornets: shimmering. When the hornet, or even a larger predator like a bird approaches, the bees do a type of booty dance, raising their abdomens and shaking them in unison. To our eyes it is somewhat beautiful, but to a hornet it is either threatening or confusing, depending on how many bees are taking part. Be sure to watch the action sequences linked in the middle of the article.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Opposing Views ID Discussion

For a rare head to head discussion between leading ID proponents and those who defend sound science, check out the debate. It will be nice to see IDers have to defend their views in a forum where opposing views aren't arbitrarily censored, as they are on most ID sites.

A Blizzard of Ignorance: Gibson Exposes Palin

Watch Charlie Gibson expose Palin's complete ignorance of practically everything. She clearly didn't know what the Bush Doctrine was, and tried to double-talk her way through it. She also couldn't give a substantive answer to whether we had the right to go across the Pakistani border, but kept repeating cute little catch phrases like "doing whatever it takes", "exercising all options", and "hell-bent on destroying America". She's neocon talking wind up doll.

It is once again, the height of hypocrisy that those who claimed Obama was all fluff and no substance could support this woman. I'm with you Matt Damon. This is terrifying, and it is absurd. A bad Disney movie indeed.

Lipstick? Oh, they are Pigs all Right, Lying Pigs

Just when you thought the McCain campaign couldn't sink any lower, or lie any more blatantly, now we get the "lipstick on a pig controversy". There really shouldn't be any controversy for anyone interested in facts, which I'm being persuaded is a minority of the electorate. If you watch the video of Obama's comments, he was talking about McCain's policies, and how calling them something different doesn't make them different. Palin wasn't even part of the discussion.

But apparently never to let a low blow go unthrown, McCain comes out with this ad which labels Obama's comment as "Obama: on Sarah Palin".

This ladles and germs, is what is known as a lie, plain and simple. Oh, was Obama thinking about Sarah Palin? Was lipstick on his mind? Who knows? I don't, John McCain sure doesn't either, and you can't run an ad like that if you don't KNOW. It's over the line, but then, McCain/Palin are making a mockery of our election process by doing exactly that.

Finally, since Republicans like basing their views on speculation so much, imagine that it had been Cindy McCain, instead of Sarah Palin, that had made a lipstick reference in her speech. Would we have immediately thought of Cindy McCain when Obama made his remark, the way we all though of Sarah Palin? Of course not. Now ask yourself why, and you'll fully understand the false outrage coming from the Republicans.

Who are the Fiscal Conservatives?

Some things just don't need an explanation.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Insane Base, and Why McCain Needs Fraud to Win

It is obvious by his choice of Sarah "I don't need to answer no steenking questions" Palin as Veep that John McCain's strategy is to focus on his Creationist, AGW denialist, tax-cut worshipping base at the expense of everything else. This can't work, because there just aren't enough votes there. Look at this graphic:

Sure, it shows that the Republican voters, especially the delegates, are out to lunch, especially the last one. No one, no one, in their right mind with all the information available, can think that going into Iraq was a good idea, regardless of what we need to do now to dislodge ourself from it. There is a reason the Republicans sold the war by claiming it would be easy and quick.

However the really revealing thing about the graph is that in each question the "Democratic voters" figures are closer to the "All voters" figure than is the "Republican voters" figure. This suggests there are more Democratic voters, or that the independents agree more with the Democrats. Either way McCain is screwed. If we assume the proportion of independents is zero, and estimate the D/R percentages from the polling data, we get somewhere between 54.0% and 60.6% Democrat.

There is not a shred of evidence so far that McCain will win this election. Every piece of polling data I have seen that didn't use grotesquely flawed techniques (like Gallup polling equal numbers of both parties) shows Obama clearly ahead in electoral votes (countrywide polls are meaningless), and prior to the GOP convention bounce, the gap was widening. If none of that changes, and that's a big if, and we get a McCain surprise victory in November, we'll for the first time in my political life have iron-clad evidence of voter fraud. The Gore-really-won crowd has some interesting circumstantial evidence, but nothing like this would be. Gore wasn't consistently beating Bush in the polls while everyone but Bush's base laughed at the GOP as they are now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Darwin Wall Stain Satire Sails over IDers Heads

The Onion strikes again with a wonderful satire of the religious tendency to see holy figures in everything, and the contrast of this behavior with how scientists act. It shows just how ridiculous the notion that evolution or science are religions. Try to imagine the following exchange actually occurring:

"I have never felt closer to Darwin's ideas," said zoologist Fred Granger, who waited in line for 16 hours to view the stain. "May his name be praised and his theories on natural selection echo in all the halls of naturalistic observation forever."

Despite the enthusiasm the so-called "Darwin Smudge" has generated among the evolutionary faithful, disagreement remains as to its origin. Some believe the image is actually closer to the visage of Stephen Jay Gould, longtime columnist for Natural History magazine and originator of the theory of punctuated equilibrium, and is therefore proof of rapid cladogenesis. A smaller minority contend it is the face of Carl Sagan, and should be viewed as a warning to those nonbelievers who have not yet seen his hit PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.

Still others have attempted to discredit the miracle entirely, claiming that there are several alternate explanations for the appearance of the unexplained discoloration.

"It's a stain on a wall, and nothing more," said the Rev. Clement McCoy, a professor at Oral Roberts University and prominent opponent of evolutionary theory. "Anything else is the delusional fantasy of a fanatical evolutionist mindset that sees only what it wishes to see in the hopes of validating a baseless, illogical belief system. I only hope these heretics see the error of their ways before our Most Powerful God smites them all in His vengeance."

Satire is merely proof by contradiction in artistic form. Of course, the Intelligent Design crew misses the point entirely, which was completely predictable.

The Fraud Continues: Palin Repeats the Script, Refuses to Take Questions

The fraud of the Sarah Palin candidacy continues, as she makes her little fake political tour making speeches while avoiding the critical component of such tours: answering questions from the media and voters:

"So far, Palin has barely spoken with voters either. Since the convention, she and McCain have breezed through a Wisconsin ice cream shop, a New Mexico restaurant and a Missouri barbecue place, shaking hands with diners but not taking any questions. Photographers and television cameras have been allowed full view while reporters are typically ushered too far away to ask questions or hear most of the conversations.

To be sure, all candidates running for office give the same remarks over and over — Barack Obama's stump speech has hardly changed throughout the campaign, and McCain has been telling familiar stories and jokes for months.

But none of the candidates in this race has been so shielded from the media, so protected from any spontaneous situation, and Palin's unvarying remarks give the impression that she and her message are being tightly controlled. As before her convention speech, McCain's campaign is briefing Palin for her first TV interview."

"Tightly controlled" is a euphemism for "keeping her from revealing her ignorance and unfitness for office", as her clueless comments about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac illustrate. You can read a more detailed analysis here, where even conservatives admit her statements made no sense. The ignoramus clearly speaks as though they are government programs.

The Sarah Palin candidacy is a fraud, identity politics and nothing else, as anyone with two brain cells to rub together, and unencumbered with GOP bloodlines, should clearly see. In these troubled times, we cannot afford a vice president who is image and nothing else.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bush and Dole Jeopardy

The answer: 36 years

The question: How long has it been since the Republicans did not have a Bush or a Dole on the ticket.

Don't forget too that the Kennedies and Clintons had their share of ruling time at various levels. Didn't we fight a war a few centuries ago, in part, to get away from inherited political power? America the Beautiful, meet America the Oligarchy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Palin: McCain's Challenge for America, but its not What You Think

John McCain has challenged America. He has challenged our identity politics in the most extreme way, by choosing a VP candidate who has little else to offer. Sarah Palin's speech was so much bluster and so little substance. Who with two brain cells to rub together really cares that much about her family, even granting the entertainment value of seeing the Family Values (tm) candidate sporting the first baby daddy in modern political history? It was a speech aimed right at the choir, offering nothing of substance to those with doubts about her, aside from all her blatantly lying about her supposed opposition to earmarks and the infamous bridge to nowhere. She is being carefully kept away from live reporters who (gasp) might want to see exactly what the potential Vice President of the United States knows, and how she handles herself in the face of antagonism. We already know she is a creationist and global warming denialist, and there is considerable reason to wonder what her secessionist and dominionist views are. Her views on warring for the sake of what you think your gods are telling you seem more in line with Osama Bin Laden than John McCain.

John McCain has, at the most essential level, selected the most deranged, unqualified candidate ever for the office of Vice President solely because she shares attributes with a key voting demographic. He has her lie about her record in a way that any grade schooler should be able to see through, and hides her from the press. John McCain has thrown down the gauntlet to the few thinking Republicans left. Will you really debase yourself that much over your hatred of the Democrats and your confidence in the Republicans. Will you REALLY vote Republican no matter what they do? Cause brother, it doesn't get much worse than this.

Luckily, so far the polls are returning to their pre-olympic levels with Obama having a small-to-comfortable lead in the projected electoral votes. So there is room for optimism. There is also a ton of pessimism in the fact that the issue is in doubt at all.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Republican Pundits say Palin Shouldn't Have to Answer Questions about her Pro-Life Stance: and for Good Reason

Friday I watched a couple of Republican pundits on MSNBC, Joe Watkins, and Ron 'I'm not going to fall for the banana in the tailpipe' Christie, wiggle around madly as to why Sarah Palin shouldn't have to explain her pro-life position. Christie was asked if she would criminalize doctors who performed abortions, and had the audacity to claim he didn't "understand the premise of the question".

OK Ron, let me explain it to you. No pro-life politician really wants to get into detail about what she believes, because when one gets into the gory details, it gets ugly. She wants to overturn Roe Vs Wade and make abortion a state issue, sure to be illegal in some states. But then what happens? If we are to treat fetuses as babies, then is not a woman getting an abortion in a state where it is illegal an accomplice to murder? After all, if she took her one year old child to an executioner, she would be so charged, and rightly so. The pro-life position leads inexorably to this, which is why they avoid talking about it like the plague.

But it is logically unavoidable. Making abortion illegal turns women who seek them accomplices to murder, and makes the doctors that perform them murderers. Pro-life people are loath to accept or talk about this, which is why Sarah Palin should be asked this question as often as possible, at least, if she ever allows reporters to ask her any questions.

O'Reilly Complains about NBC Coverage of Obama, Exposes Flaw of "Fair and Balanced" Approach

Bill O'Reilly's latest article complaining about NBC's coverage of Barak Obama sums up the vacuous, speculation-over-facts approach of modern Republicanism. Here's Bill's idea of a sound statistical argument:

"According to a recent study by the Media Research Center, 'NBC Nightly News' has the most lopsided pro-Obama coverage among national TV news operations. The MRC found that pro-Obama reports outnumber anti-Obama reports by 10 to one on 'NBC Nightly News' -- an amazing statistic."

Amazing? Why? What should the number be Bill? Why should it be that number Bill? Where is your data? There is none of course. This is just another typical half-argument from O'Reilly. He of course is just depending on his readership to make the same assumptions he did, that since Obama is such a horrible candidate, having such favorable coverage is ipso facto evidence that the network is biased. Never mind that the basic assumption is left unproven. Speculation in place of evidence, again.

And then as if to accentuate the point, O'Reilly weaves a completely fictional NBC newscast, once again as if this speculation counts as evidence. It is as if the evolution deniers have infected the party's psyche to the point that it has forgotten what evidence means. Making shit up rules the day.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gun Death Demographics: A Challenge to the Gun Control Crowd

I have a challenge for the gun control crowd. Motivated by discussions like this one, I would like some data. The contention is often made that buying a gun in and of itself increases the odds of one getting shot. "A gun in the home is 22x more likely..." blah blah blah. I reject this argument without reservation, and I have never seen a shred of evidence that supported it. The gun control people are making a fallacy of composition mistake. While it is true that guns are the primary cause of death in some segments of society, that doesn't translate to an increased risk for ME if I purchase a gun. Even if it were true, as they argue, that guns in society general correlates with increased death, that still doesn't necessarily translate to the individual case.

My contention is that the data show very strong demographic trends of gun death rates within our population with regard to age, psychological health, gender, and race, and that these differences along with many others demonstrate that, or at least make it reasonable to presume, that for some segments of the population the risk of buying a gun TO THEM is so negligible as to not warrant a discussion with one's physician, or any other special considerations in their lives. My challenge for the gun control crowd is: show me the data that says otherwise.

These differences are not trivial. Males are 6x as likely to be killed by a gun than females. Blacks are 6x as likely as Asians.
Black males vs Asian females? It's about 33x as high. The death rate also drops dramatically by age. Nonsuicidal death rates by gun for 20 year olds is three times as high as it is for 40 year olds. Compared to 60-year-olds, it's nine times as high. I don't have the data, but I'll bet someone out there does that shows it also correlates negatively with income and education level.

So my argument is that gun ownership does NOT "carry inherent statistical dangers" as some would assert. The data clearly shows that it does so significantly for a 20 year old poor suicidal white male drop out. But does it show any significant risk to a 60 year old retired wealthy college-educated Asian woman? I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't even one of those all year in the US. Show me the data that says otherwise.

Note also that this is not an argument that we should not have any gun control. I think the 2nd amendment should be rewritten to say something like this:

"The right of the people to be armed with weapons capable of successfully firing at, and only at, a single human target, shall not be infringed, without due process..."

I would argue strongly that this is in the spirit of what the founders intended. So I support restricting private gun ownership to nonautomatic small arms (pistols and rifles). My contention in the broader sense, of which this article is but a part, is that we should also, and in some ways more importantly, focus on the demographic facts as well, and make restrictions where morally and constitutionally appropriate. The data is there, we ignore it at our own peril. Telling everyone who buys a gun that it poses a risk to them, in defiance of the facts, wastes time and whittles away credibility where we need it most.

Does McCain Have Alzheimers?

This is not funny at all. It is a series of clips of John McCain making various confused, sometimes completely senseless mistakes, and sometimes just being confused. I've had some medical people take a look at it and they seem convinced the man has serious, mental medical problems.

Let's be clear here and dispense with the knee-jerk retort that everyone makes mistakes. These are not the sorts of flubs we've all made, and we see politicians make, an Obama "57 states", or a Quayle "potatoe". Those are easily dismissable as the sorts of mistakes healthy people will make when under duress, or when having an extreme lack of sleep. McCain goes to a completely different level. He repeatedly refers to Czechoslovakia, which hasn't existed in over a decade. He begins to talk of paying $4 a box for gas, calls himself a conservative liberal Republican, and can't seem to remember whether Al Quaeda is Sunni or Shia.

America can't afford to have a president who is losing his faculties, with a backup VP who is the least qualified in history.

Friday, September 5, 2008

That Darned Liberal Bias of Reality

Over at Uncommon Descent, we see a classic example of the common flawed reasoning behind many accusations of bias. Whether it is Intelligent Design or neoconservative politics, the logical flaw is the same: assuming the intellectual legitimacy of ideas without demonstrating them.

Intelligent Design advocates do this constantly with their charges of an unfair bias against them. They assume the legitimacy of their position, and dismiss arbitrarily the possibility that ID and its advocates are reviled in the scientific community simply because the scientists have found ID wanting. Conspiracy is the only option they'll consider.

The same goes for politics. Conservatives can't seem to consider the notion that many of their ideas are dismissed because, as Stephen Colbert so eloquently put it, "reality has a liberal bias". Thus, places like scienceblogs get accused of being politically biased:

"Science is just a cover at scienceblogs.com to give it an air of legitimacy. It was never really about science. It’s all about promoting leftwing politics.

Don’t believe me? I challenge you to show me a single scienceblog.com website that supports anything on the conservative side of the political spectrum."

See the implicit and unjustified assumption? It's not possible all those nutty conservative theories are rejected on their merits, no, no, no, no. There must be some sort of bias. Thus, the near uniform rejection of conservative ideas by those most qualified to judge them is prima facie evidence that they are biased. It is a tight little circle, completely insulating true believers from criticism, from evidence, from reality. The more evidence that mounts up against them, the greater the conspiracy is. Of course, the damning question they can't answer is why there aren't any conservative equivalents of Scienceblogs. Where are all the conservative scientists? Pretty rare are they? Now why do you suppose that is. The answer is obvious, but one has to be willing to deal honestly with the evidence.

They Wouldn't Ask That of a Man? But You Don't Think They Should!

I'm sure you've all heard the claim by Republicans that it is sexist to ask the question of whether Sarah Palin, being the mother of five children, could perform as Vice President given that burdon of motherhood. Yet aren't these the very same people who claim that one way the evil libruls have ruined society is by claiming men and women aren't different, and are interchangable? So which is it Republicans? Can Palin's husband take up the slack? I suspect he can, but your own bronze-age views about parenting say he can't!

I'll understand if that contradiction isn't at the top of your list of ones to sort out, there are after all, so many.

Prominent Republicans Opine on Women in Politics and Small Town Mayors

Karl Rove: "[This person] has been a governor for 3 years...mayor of the 105th largest city in America...it's smaller than Chula Vista California, Aurora, Colorado, Mesa or Gilbert, Arizona, Las Vegas or Henderson, Nevada, it's not a big town. So if you were to pick [this person] it would be an intensely political choice that says I'm really not first and foremost concerned with is this person capable of being president of the United States."

Bill O'Reilly: "On the pinhead front, [this teenage girl] is pregnant...Here the blame falls primarily on the parents of the girl, who obviously have little control over her."

Dick Morris: "When a woman wants to be president, she shouldn't complain based on gender. I'm going to take my toys and go home because the big boys are picking on me. What happens when the boys in the middle east, or the boys who run Russia, or the boys who run China start picking on you. Are we going to have the president of the United States saying "the boys are picking on me". This is what [she] always does. Whenever she gets under fire, she retreats behind the aprin strings.

Nancy Pfotenhaur: "People who think they are helping her by playing this gender card are hurting her. It would be a terrible mistake for her to play this victimology or victimization card, because it's just not what we want in a president."

Sarah Palin: "When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate, with any kind of peceived whine about that excess critcizim or a sharper microscope put on her, I think 'man, that doesn't do us any good'. Work harder, prove yourself to an even greater degree that you're capable, that you are going to be the best candidate"

Watch here to see who and what they were talking about, and how quickly the tune changed when it was their ox getting gored. Shame people, try to have some.

A Few Words on the Republican Convention

Subdued - the commenters used this word over and over again, even the ones on Fox News, although they were quick to ask the people who looked bored how they felt, which prompted them to act more excited. During the major speeches, the applause was so sudden and short, I kept expecting to see a "Clap Now Damnit!" prompter.

Yawn - Right in the middle of telling us how excited and energized the crowd was, we get a shot of a guy yawning for at least 10 seconds. Mike Judge would have been proud.

Redneck - From the national anthem (boy I'll bet they wish they had scheduled Jennifer Hudson right about now) to the introduction, to everything in between, this convention screamed "redneck", when it wasn't screaming:

White - It is truly remarkable in the modern era to see a political party that is THAT white. It became like a treasure hunt for us to try to find any face in the crowd that wasn't lily white. One could easily have mistaken this for the a Swedish national convention, were it not for all the people who were:

Old - I would love to know the average age of attendees, it looked like about 60. From the selections of music (how many voters know "Johnny B. Goode" anymore) it might have been even older than that. McCain didn't help matters with his doddering disjointed speech, and strained fake smiles. When we did find young people, we found:

Dorks - The shots of the white boys trying to dance in the crowd brought howls of laughter from my live audience. They looked like the dork former (or maybe current) frat boys they were. Just think Eddie Murphy's white people dancing routine. The only youg guys there that weren't dorks were:

Military - Few respect military service as I do. If anyone in society deserves to live at the public trough for the rest of their lives, it is those who have seen military combat in defense of this country. Easily the most uplifting segment of the convention was the review of John McCain's service, which should have brought a tear to any American eye. He was a hero, everything a soldier should be. But being a military hero does not automatically translate into political greatness (ask Patton), this is not a nation founded to be based on the military*, and we are not supposed to be constantly at war, heavily armed fanatic Muslim vandals notwithstanding. The founding fathers would NOT be pleased at a major political party that is that much about the military. Eisenhower was right.

Green screen - After this directorial fiasco, one would think McCain's people would have made sure to have an appropriate background. Say what you will about Greek columns, they are better than this. I guess the new Republican philosophy of hiring based on ideology rather than talent applies to production crew as well as the Vice Presidency.

USA!! USA!! - These were easily the creepiest moments I can recall from any political convention. This is contest between Americans, so just who are they shouting at, the Canadians next door? They were, after all, right up there by Canada in Minnesota. Do they somehow think the Democrats are NOT pro-USA? If that isn't approaching the status of a cult, I don't know what would persuade you. The Repblican party has left the real world.

Embarrassed - This is the word that kept coming to my mouth. From the countless goobers in the crowd, to the contentless speeches, to the fact that the Republicans are hiding Palin from the media, "embarrassed" is the only word I could think of, and it was not with amusement or pride that I thought it.


*The common use of "commander in chief" in referring to the president is a fairly recent addition to our political vocabulary.