Thursday, December 31, 2009

Quote of the day

"[W]hen the political/media elite come to view the possibility that Larry Craig tried to pick up a guy in an airport as more scandalous than Abu Ghraib, warrantless wiretapping of Americans, or the dishonest march to war against a country that didn't attack us, we're in pretty bad shape." - Jamison Foser

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Obama's political brain

Drew Westen, an Emory university psychologist and the author of The Political Brain, has written a lengthy article trying to figure out how it is that President Obama has managed to so quickly turn-off the very electorate that he was so good at mobilizing during the presidential campaign and election. The whole thing is worth perusal, but I'd like to highlight this portion:

Leadership means heading into the eye of the storm and bringing the vessel of state home safely, not going as far inland as you can because it's uncomfortable on the high seas. This president has a particular aversion to battling back gusting winds from his starboard side (the right, for the nautically challenged) and tends to give in to them. He just can't tolerate conflict, and the result is that he refuses to lead.

We have seen the same pattern of pretty speeches followed by empty exhortations on issue after issue. The president has, on more than one occasion, gone to Wall Street or called in its titans (who have often just ignored him and failed to show up) to exhort them to be nice to the people they're foreclosing at record rates, yet he has done virtually nothing for those people ...

The time for exhortation is over. FDR didn't exhort robber barons to stem the redistribution of wealth from working Americans to the upper 1 percent, and neither did his fifth cousin Teddy. Both men told the most powerful men in the United States that they weren't going to rip off the American people any more, and they backed up their words with actions.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Top science stories of the year

Scientific American's The Top 10 Science Stories of 2009 [Slide Show]

Discover's Top 100 Stories of 2009

As I'm writing this up, Discover has only posted up through story #65, but will be posting the rest of the stories through January. If you haven't already seen the list in the print copy, you may want to bookmark the page or subscribe to the feed to keep up with the list. The top 100 is always the issue I look forward to most.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Report absolves ACORN, Republican doesn't blink

From the Center for Media and Democracy

A newly-issued Congressional Research Service (CRS) study (pdf) on the activities of the community group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) found no evidence the group has engaged in fraudulent voting or violations of federal financing rules over the last five years.
The New York Times article that CMD uses as its source notes that

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa and one of the most vocal critics of Acorn in the House, said he found the report unconvincing.

“This report doesn’t begin to cover the transgressions of Acorn,” Mr. King said. “I think Acorn is bigger than Watergate.”
Right. Because the President ordering illegal activity is no big deal compared to imaginary fraud committed by a group that helps people keep their homes and registers minorities to vote.

Another political hack, untethered from reality

I've asked this question before, but I must ask again: what must an individual do in our political media culture - besides holding "left of center" views - to discredit oneself to the point that such an individual is no longer constantly called upon to offer commentary?

Is there any level of factual disconnect from reality that would merit this?

I mean, wouldn't this be getting kind of close?

On CNN today, GOP strategist and former Dick Cheney adviser Mary Matalin argued that President Obama is speaking too much about the severe debt, deficits, and economic recession he inherited from the previous administration. Defending her former boss, Matalin charged that President Bush had in fact “inherited a recession” and the September 11th attacks from President Clinton:

MATALIN: I was there, we inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation’s history. And President Bush dealt with it and within a year of his presidency within a comparable time, unemployment was at 5 percent.
Matalin joins the ranks of Dana Perino in attempting to white-wash the Bush administration's failure to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks out of history.

Also, I'm not sure what she's talking about with the unemployment rate. The rate was 4.7% in January 2001; 5% by October 2001. What's her point? That Bush inherited an employment rate just below 5 percent while Obama inherited one at 8.5%? That the recession Obama inherited from Bush is far graver than the one Bush inherited from Clinton?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Liberals killed Jesus?

I haven't written much about the right-wing postmodernist effort that is Conservapedia, a site which purports to answer the supposed bias of Wikipedia by creating a site which filters reality through a conservative ideological prism. There are mainly two reasons I've ignored the site:

1. It's too easy. The site is so poorly written, so factually challenged, that I can't bother with it. The writing level seems so juvenile and amateurish that it doesn't just feel right responding to it, kind of like how it wasn't right for Billy Madison to play dodgeball with his new classmates.

2. The articles are so absurd that I have trouble believing that pranksters aren't editing them as satire.

For instance, when I wrote this I was trying to come up with the best way I could think of to satire the site's efforts to re-edit the Bible, conservatively. If I had actually gone about satirizing the enterprise itself, I would have joked about describing Satan as a liberal or writing that liberals put Jesus to death.

And then I actually come across this

“The trouble is, new translations of the Bible are done by professors at liberal universities who overwhelmingly voted for Obama,” Mr. Schlafly said. “Their political bias seeps into their translations and we felt it necessary to counteract that with one that uproots and eradicates any liberal bias.”

In Mark 3:6, for example, they have changed “Pharisees” – the Jews who were regarded as antagonists of Jesus – to “Liberals” though one user helpfully suggested “self-proclaimed elite.”
And the Conservapedia entry on "Pharisees" says that "they were the 'Democratic Party' of their day"

Right, see? Conservapedia has solved that pesky problem of the long history of various Christian sects blaming Jews for deicide. Jews didn't kill Jesus - liberals did. If you happen to have a Manichean, authoritarian framework of viewing the world - and the group that formerly was your scapegoat is no longer socially acceptable to hate - replacing them with a more generic group (i.e. "liberals" for "Jews") is about the only way that particular meme can survive.

Just tune into AM radio. You're not going to hear much talk about Jews waging war on Christianity and such, but you'll find no shortage of voices going on and on about "liberals" doing just that.

And this doesn't have to be any kind of conscience, explicit effort to hide anti-Semitic tendencies, so much a process of cognitive dissonance and rationalization that over time shifts the preferred scapegoat group from "Jews" to "liberals."

To see the transposed hate, consider this: when the Conservapedia crowd watches The Passion of the Christ - a film that seems quite apparently to have the marks of Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic upbringing - they must consider the movie's villains to be "liberals." Now, as Charles Krauthammer observed

In none of the Gospels does the high priest Caiaphas stand there with his cruel, impassive fellow priests witnessing the scourging. In Gibson's movie they do. When it comes to the Jews, Gibson deviates from the Gospels -- glorying in his artistic vision -- time and again. He bends, he stretches, he makes stuff up. And these deviations point overwhelmingly in a single direction -- to the villainy and culpability of the Jews.

The most subtle, and most revolting, of these has to my knowledge not been commented upon. In Gibson's movie, Satan appears four times. Not one of these appearances occurs in the four Gospels. They are pure invention. Twice, this sinister, hooded, androgynous embodiment of evil is found . . . where? Moving among the crowd of Jews. Gibson's camera follows close up, documentary style, as Satan glides among them, his face popping up among theirs -- merging with, indeed, defining the murderous Jewish crowd. After all, a perfect match: Satan's own people.
So I suppose"liberals" are Satan's people for the Conservapedia crowd. As Arthur Goldwag noted in Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies, a meme developed during the '08 election that Barack Obama was actually a literal minion of Satan via his admiration for Saul Alinksy, because Alinsky had made a dedication to Satan in Rules for Radicals. Nevermind that Alinsky made that dedication in the same spirit of various poets and artists (Goldwag cites William Blake) who made use of Satan as a symbol of rebellion against establishment or authority. A jaunt around Free Republic will find you several discussion threads about President Obama being a Satanic agent, based upon that very Alinsky dedication. The general perspective of such individuals, as Goldwag put it in an e-mail exchange is that, "Satan personifies liberalism--that's why Saul Alinsky liked him so much. Boil down the liberal enterprise to its essence and it's mostly infant sacrifice (legal abortion)--just like in the days of Moloch." This mentality is exemplified in Ann Coulter's Godless, in which she argues that "liberals" are monsterous, murderous atheists who worship abortion. (See here to view Goldwag's own post on the Conservapedia Bible project.)

And now I see that Chuck Norris - who apparently is a credible conservative pundit because he's an accomplished martial artist and has starred in numerous bad action flicks - has imagined that liberals/progressives would have retroactively aborted Jesus.

I reiterate for the nth time, I find it remarkable how casually acceptable this sort of hate is in our society, that it has such currency.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Today's discount book purchases

The World Without Us (hc) by Alan Weisman for 5 dollars.

The Fall of the House of Bush: The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War, and Still Imperils America's Future (hc) by Craig Unger for 3 dollars.

I've already read The Fall of the House of Bush (an excellent summary of our disastrous invasion of Iraq) but didn't have a copy. The World Without Us I hadn't thought about reading before, but it seems interesting enough (especially for the bargain price)

In this far-reaching narrative, Weisman explains how our massive infrastructure would collapse and finally vanish without human presence; what of our everyday stuff may become immortalized as fossils; how copper pipes and wiring would be crushed into mere seams of reddish rock; why some of our earliest buildings might be the last architecture left; and how plastic, bronze sculpture, radio waves, and some man-made molecules may be our most lasting gifts to the universe.

The World Without Us reveals how, just days after humans disappear, floods in New York's subways would start eroding the city's foundations, and how, as the world’s cities crumble, asphalt jungles give way to real ones. It describes the distinct ways that organic and chemically-treated farms would revert to wild, how billions more birds would flourish, and how cockroaches in unheated cities would perish without us. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, religious leaders from rabbis to the Dalai Lama, and paleontologists – who describe a pre-human world inhabited by megafauna like giant sloths that stood taller than mammoths – Weisman illustrates what the planet might be like today, if not for us.
Blogger's Note: I had originally listed The World Without Us costing me four dollars. That was a mistake which I've obviously corrected.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Worse than War

One of the books that has deeply influenced my blogging (via my introduction to it through the work of Dave Niewert) has been Daniel J. Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, which sought to understand the Holocaust as a function of nationalistic anti-semitic eliminationism - the belief that a German nation could not truly exist until the Jewish population was literally eliminated.

Visiting the book store yesterday, I see that Goldhagen has written a sequel of sorts. In Worse than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity, he attempts to view genocide in general as a function of eliminationism. I'm also pleased to see that the book is already the basis of a same titled documentary that will debut on PBS on April 14th, 2010.

In the video below (1 hour run time), Goldhagen previews the documentary in addition to discussing the book and his previous work.

Blog roll update

I've added The Atheologian - a blog I've recommended before - to the blog roll. I would have added it long before, except Mr. Vuletic was fairly occupied with his academic pursuits and wasn't able to post all that often. I'm pleased to see that his schedule has opened up and interesting posts have followed.

The posting pick-up there coincides nicely with the posting slow-down at another blog in the blog roll, The Vanity Press, which appears to itself be on some sort of academic related hiatus. Since I'd like to keep the number of blogs I have in the blog roll limited so that each blog's postings don't get drowned in a sea of information, this works out perfectly.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Baleful quote of the day

"Using the military and our strategic command as a pawn. Threatening to weaken our national security defenses to fulfill your Utopian social justice agenda. To me that borders on treason." - Glenn Beck, passively aggressively accusing President Obama of treason (again)

How many people watching Beck will take seriously (and act upon?) this stabbed in the back smear?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mayr on Darwin's influence

I'm not sure how much longer Scientific American is going to make the article available (I would guess until the end of the year), so you might want to take advantage while you can and read the late Ernst Mayr's essay "Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought".

A 21st-century person looks at the world quite differently than a citizen of the Victorian era did. This shift had multiple sources, particularly the incredible advances in technology. But what is not at all appreciated is the great extent to which this shift in thinking indeed resulted from Darwin’s ideas.

Remember that in 1850 virtually all leading scientists and philosophers were Christian men. The world they inhabited had been created by God, and as the natural theologians claimed, He had instituted wise laws that brought about the perfect adaptation of all organisms to one another and to their environment. At the same time, the architects of the scientific revolution had constructed a worldview based on physicalism (a reduction to spatiotemporal things or events or their properties), teleology, determinism and other basic principles. Such was the thinking of Western man prior to the 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species. The basic principles proposed by Darwin would stand in total conflict with these prevailing ideas.
And from the conclusion

[T]his is perhaps Darwin’s greatest contribution—he developed a set of new principles that influence the thinking of every person: the living world, through evolution, can be explained without recourse to supernaturalism; essentialism or typology is invalid, and we must adopt population thinking, in which all individuals are unique (vital for education and the refutation of racism); natural selection, applied to social groups, is indeed sufficient to account for the origin and maintenance of altruistic ethical systems; cosmic teleology, an intrinsic process leading life automatically to ever greater perfection, is fallacious, with all seemingly teleological phenomena explicable by purely material processes; and determinism is thus repudiated, which places our fate squarely in our own evolved hands.
Update: The article can also be viewed at Botany Online. (h/t Oscar)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blogging less

From now until the end of March I am going to have considerably less time to read books and follow the news, much less blog. I'll still post items, but less frequently and more in the style that 3 Quarks Daily utilizes.

I have several posts in draft form (some very old) that I should be able to finish and post here and there (including the review of The Eliminationists that I've intended to finish for most of the year). Otherwise, you can still always take advantage of the blog roll feature that shows the most recent post of each of the linked blogs. I've chosen blogs that generally cover just about anything that I would be inclined to blog about in the first place.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Quote of the day

"The reasons the Founders barred ... bills of attainder are perfectly highlighted by the ACORN case. During the reign of abusive Kings, it was a favorite instrument for enabling unpopular parties to be convicted, punished and deprived without benefit of a trial. Under the Constitution, parties aren't supposed to be found guilty of wrongdoing as a result of a Fox-News-led witch hunt joined by cowardly members of Congress." - Glenn Greenwald

Today's discount book purchases

The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (pb) by Roger Penrose for 50 cents.

Kim (hc) by Rudyard Kipling for 1 dollar.

Julian (hc) by Gore Vidal for 1 dollar.

Main Street (pb) by Sinclair Lewis for 50 cents.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The two categories of global warming deniers

Tim Lambert of Deltoid reviewed Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming and found himself dividing the deniers into two categories: those who don't know they're lying and those who do.

In the first category we have Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, who has delusions of grandeur. He really is a Viscount, but he also claims to be a member of the House of Lords (he isn’t) and to have won a share in the Nobel Peace Prize (he didn’t). Monckton has a degree in classics and no training or experience in science or mathematics but he churns out papers full of equations (which he misinterprets) and graphs (which are wrong) that purport to show that global warming isn’t happening. Monckton recently gave a speech with 2 million viewings on youtube where he declared that that Copenhagen treaty will institute a COMMUNIST WORLD GOVERNMENT. In short, Monckton is a crank.

Now, if Monckton’s pet theory was, say, that the moon was made of cheese or the sun was made of iron nobody would pay any attention to him. But because his theory involves global warming denial, he is now chief policy advisor at a think tank called the Science and Public Policy Institute and touted as an expert on climate science. Hoggan describes a whole gaggle of such think tanks, all with fancy titles and funded by the fossil fuel industry. None of them produce science to be published in peer-reviewed journals but rather opinions than can be published in opeds or quotes for journalists to balance their stories and match a quote from a scientist at a research institute about their data shows global warming is a problem with a quote from a “policy analyst” from a think tank saying that no it isn’t.
In the other category, Lambert gives as an example Steve Milloy, who claimed to be attacking so-called junk science, but was in reality an effort to obfuscate the danger of cigarette smoking which was funded by the tobacco industry.

Lambert notes that

The same techniques used by tobacco companies to obscure the science that shows that cigarette smoke is bad for you is now being used to cover up the fact that human activities are warming the planet. In fact the same people and think tanks that argued against a link between cigarettes and disease are now arguing that against a link between carbon dioxide and global warming.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Quote of the day

"The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice." -Guardian editorial

How can anyone take him seriously

Ok, here is what the World Meteorological Organization said in a press release today.

The year 2009 is likely to rank in the top 10 warmest on record since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850, according to data sources compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The global combined sea surface and land surface air temperature for 2009 (January–October) is currently estimated at 0.44°C ± 0.11°C (0.79°F ± 0.20°F) above the 1961–1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.2°F. The current nominal ranking of 2009, which does not account for uncertainties in the annual averages, places it as the fifth-warmest year. The decade of the 2000s (2000–2009) was warmer than the decade spanning the 1990s (1990–1999), which in turn was warmer than the 1980s (1980–1989). More complete data for the remainder of the year 2009 will be analysed at the beginning of 2010 to update the current assessment.
And here is what global warming denier Sen. Jame Inhofe had to say, apparently about the same press release.

Hey, Kiran, if it was just me saying it’d be one thing, but all over the world they’re talking about this. And just this morning the meteorologists — one of the groups — has said that they’re changing their position.
What? How can anyone possibly be this intellectually dishonest and still be taken seriously by the electorate? I say "apparently" since Inhofe's statement is so wrong it's hard to conceive that he's actually alluding to the WMO, yet given that the meteorologists from WMO being the big story in the news today, it's quite clear that at the least he's creating the misleading and completely false impression that the WMO now believes the science of anthropogenic global warming is in doubt.

On religious "liberty"

From Atheist Ethicist's "The Manhattan Declaration Part X: Summary"

There are the absurdities of the authors' conception of religious liberty.

"Religious liberty means that I have the liberty to do whatever I want, and you have the obligation to do what I say. If you should ever refuse to do what I command, then you are violating my right to religious liberty - which is the right to order you around in whatever way I deem fit."

Religious liberty, according to the authors of the Manhattan Doctrine, means, "I get to take control of your life and dictate who you can sleep with, who you can marry, the sexual acts you perform, and what you watch and read regarding matters of sex and relationships."

Religious liberty, according to the authors of the Manhattan Doctrine, means, "I get to take control of your life and dictate what you may do to the entity lacking desires or interests growing inside of that body, deny you health care treatments that could save your life or treat massively debilitating injuries and illnesses, and deny you the option of avoiding a long and torturous death with a quick and painless death."

In short, "religious liberty" to the authors of the Manhattan Declaration is the tyrant's liberty - a liberty to do whatever the tyrant sees fit to do, combined with a duty on the part of his subjects to obey and carry out those wishes.

Study finds correlation between higher temperatures and violence in Africa

From 80sbeats

We’ve covered industries and species that climate change will affect, but is more war the next side effect of a warming world? A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ties warmer temperatures to higher incidence of civil wars in Africa. The scientists warn that the continent could see 54 percent more armed conflict—and almost 400,000 more war deaths—by 2030 if climate projections prove true.
More at the link.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Criminal anti-intellectualism

"Anti-intellectualism has long been the anti-Semitism of the businessman." - Arthur Schlesinger

"The theft and use of the emails does reveal something interesting about the social context. It's a symptom of something entirely new in the history of science: Aside from crackpots who complain that a conspiracy is suppressing their personal discoveries, we've never before seen a set of people accuse an entire community of scientists of deliberate deception and other professional malfeasance.

"Even the tobacco companies never tried to slander legitimate cancer researchers. In blogs, talk radio and other new media, we are told that the warnings about future global warming issued by the national science academies, scientific societies, and governments of all the leading nations are not only mistaken, but based on a hoax, indeed a conspiracy that must involve thousands of respected researchers. Extraordinary and, frankly, weird. Climate scientists are naturally upset, exasperated, and sometimes goaded into intemperate responses... but that was already easy to see in their blogs and other writings." - Science historian Spencer Weart

From Grist

Two weeks ago, thousands of illegally hacked emails from a British climate research center were dumped on a Russian webserver, timed to influence the politics of of the international climate negotiations commencing next week in Copenhagen, Denmark. Beginning Thanksgiving week, conservative media and Republican politicians have compared the climate scientists whose private emails were hacked to Hitler, Stalin, and eugenicists, saying they are involved in a global conspiracy to defraud and possibly take over the world. The Climategate “scandal”—a swiftboating intimidation and smear campaign against science—is the right-wing rage from Stephen Dubner to Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck to Lou Dobbs. Like the original Watergate scandal involving right-wing operatives who burglarized the offices of their political opponents, the real crime is the original break-in.

It has now been reported that the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Center is not the only victim of such a criminal invasion: burglars and hackers have also attacked the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis at the University of Victoria in British Columbia:

Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria scientist and key contributor to the Nobel prize-winning work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says there have been a number of attempted breaches in recent months, including two successful break-ins at his campus office in which a dead computer was stolen and papers were rummaged through.
These attacks go beyond simple burglary. University of Victoria spokeswoman Patty Pitts told the National Post “there have also been attempts to hack into climate scientists’ computers, as well as incidents in which people impersonated network technicians to try to gain access to campus offices and data.”
I can't express how deeply disturbing I find that there is a significant political faction in the United States which believes that climate scientists are involved in a planetary conspiracy to install a one world totalitarian government by fabricating a global warming hoax in order to stab America in the back. And this is why I consider the Schlesinger quote so apt: you've got people promoting the interests of the business sector by promoting a conspiracy theory about nefarious forces plotting to rule the world, where scientists have taken the place ususally held by Jews, Illuminati, Masons or some such.

That virtually the entire scientific enterprise at a planetary level is involved in a conspiracy to hoax the planet in order to overthrow capitalism and install planetary totalitarian rule is every bit as absurd as the conspiracy posited in The Protocols of Zion. What's more, it's just about as hateful.

For the most comprehensive response to the hacked UK e-mails, see here.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

My sci-fi nightmare

Currently reading (and just about finished with) the second of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series prequels - Forward the Foundation - I was thinking to myself what a shame it is that no one has done for Asimov's rich sci-fi universe what Peter Jackson did for J.R.R. Tolkien. And then I noticed that someone actually does plan on translating the origional Foundation trilogy into a movie trilogy: Roland Emmerich.

Fantastic. A director who specializes in mindless, special effects and action driven Hollywood blockbusters (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Patriot, 2012, etc.) now apparently has the rights to the entire Foundation series, one of the greatest series in the history of science fiction, written by a brilliant polymath humanist who was a prolific author, writing hundreds and hundreds of books on just about every subject you can imagine - with the uniting ingredient in all of his writings being that they engendered thinking and intelligence.

It's a toss up between whether Emmerich or Michael Bay would be the worst choice possible to head up such a project. On the other hand, someone like Darren Aronofsky might have been perfect.

5 Books, 3 bucks

Today I purchased the following books at the library book store for a total of 3 dollars (0.50 dollars per paperback, 1 dollar per hardcover):

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (pb) by Ken Kesey

The Magician's Nephew (pb) by C.S. Lewis

Arrowsmith (pb) by Sinclair Lewis

The Autobiography of Benjamin Frankilin (pb) by Ben Franklin

Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story (hc) by Kurt Eichenwald

I'd like to give a tip of the hat to David Cay Johnston, as if it was not for having read his book Free Lunch, I would not have heard of Eichenwald's investigative journalism and would have most likely overlooked his tome (Conspiracy of Fools) on the Enron scandal. You can view the Eichenwald related passage of Free Lunch, here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Quote of the day

"A fair reading of the e-mails reveals nothing to support the denialists' conspiracy theories." - Nature, editorial in response to claims that hacked Climatic Research Unit e-mails provide "smoking gun" evidence that global warming is a hoax

More quote-mining from Fox "News"

Last night during the Reality Check segment of The O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly ran the same cropped Jon Stewart clip that Fox and Friends quote-mined to make it seem like Stewart is now a global warming denier who thinks Al Gore's climate change advocacy has been discredited.

That's at least twice that this alleged news network completely distorted Stewart's segment. I have to wonder if this was one of the top down, Memo decisions. Noticing that the Fox News website also used the same quote-mine (plus another) leads me to suspect that this was indeed the case.

I've also noticed via Google search a number of deniers who seem to think Stewart is questioning the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming despite even seeing the quote in context. This reminds me of Chapter 3 of The Authoritarians

The need for social reinforcement runs so deeply in authoritarians, they will believe someone who says what they want to hear even if you tell them they should not. I have several times asked students or parents to judge the sincerity of a universitystudent who wrote arguments either condemning, or supporting, homosexuals. Butsome subjects were told the student had been assigned to condemn (or support) homosexuals as part of a philosophy test to see how well the student could make up arguments for anything, on the spot. Other subjects were told the student could chooseto write on either side of the issue, and had chosen to make the case she did.

Obviously, you can’t tell anything about the real opinions of someone who was assigned the point of view of her essay. But high RWAs believed that the antihomosexual essay that a student was forced to write reflected that student’s personal views almost as much as when a student had chosen this point of view. In other words,as in the previous experiments, the authoritarians ignored the circumstances and believed the student really meant what she had been assigned to say--when they liked what she said. Low RWAs, in comparison, paid attention to the circumstances.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Rationally Speaking to become a podcast

Rationally Speaking, one of the blogs featured in my blogroll, will shortly become also a podcast.

Dear readers, Rationally Speaking is soon going to be (also) a podcast, produced by New York City Skeptics, and co-hosted by Julia Galef and yours truly. Before each (initially biweekly, starting at the end of January) episode we will publish a “teaser” like the one below, introducing the topic of that episode and inviting comments from our readers. Your comments will provide us with additional food for thought, and the most interesting ones will be read and discussed during the show.

For our inaugural episode, we’re going to kick things off by asking: Why is “speaking rationally” a worthwhile goal, anyway?
Prof. Massimo Pigliucci is well qualified to host such a show, given his background of being both a scientist and a philosopher. I'll definitely be adding it to the list of podcasts I subscribe to.

To get an idea of what to expect, of course see his current writings at his blog, but also see the archive of his original Rationally Speaking column, which was one of the first inspirations for this blog.

Justice deferred for Bhopal

Via 3 Quarks Daily

Did you know that there is an international arrest warrant out for the man who was chief executive of Union Carbide at the time of the Bhopal disaster which killed and injured thousands of Indians and still has not been fully cleaned up, but that he's been living luxuriously in the Hamptons?

In 2001, the maker of napalm married the bane of Bhopal: Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide for $11.6 billion and promptly distanced itself from the disaster. If Union Carbide was at fault, that was too bad; it had just ceased to exist. In 2002, Dow set aside $2.2 billion to cover potential liabilities arising from Union Carbide’s American asbestos production. By comparison, the total settlement for Bhopal was $470 million. The families of the dead got an average of $2,200; the wounded got $550; a Dow spokeswoman explained, that amount “is plenty good for an Indian.” As Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey observed in 2006, “In Bhopal, some of the world’s poorest people are being mistreated by one of the world’s richest corporations.”

Union Carbide and Dow were allowed to get away with it because of the international legal structures that protect multinationals from liability. Union Carbide sold its Indian subsidiary and pulled out of India. Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide chief executive at the time of the gas leak, lives in luxurious exile in the Hamptons, even though there’s an international arrest warrant out for him for culpable homicide. The Indian government has yet to pursue an extradition request. Imagine if an Indian chief executive had jumped bail for causing an industrial disaster that killed tens of thousands of Americans. What are the chances he’d be sunning himself in Goa?

Fox and Friends quote-mine Stewart to support their phoney quote-mined outrage

I made mention of the latest imaginary mega scandal that the usual suspects in the Drudge-Hannity-Limbaugh-Malkin axis of misinformation have worked themselves into a furor over regarding hacked e-mails from a UK climate research center.

The "treason" Breitbart speaks of? Someone hacked the e-mails of the climate scientists at England's University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (where Hansen doesn't work) at which point movement conservatives quote-mined the e-mails until they could stupidly convince themselves of the nefarious conspiracy they already believed in. I've intended to write a post on this topic (of the hacked e-mails) so I won't go much further into it than to say that it's another instance of the never-ending stream of manufactured controversy and outrage that such persons traffic in.
Apparently, quote-mining the e-mails themselves wasn't enough for the crew at Fox and Friends. They took it a step further and quote-mined someone mocking their quote-mined hysteria to make it seem as if he agreed with them. Here is the way Fox and Friends presented Jon Stewart's remark

DOOCY: Speaking of which, next week, you know the president of the United States is going to be heading to Copenhagen en route to pick up his Nobel Peace prize. Extraordinarily -- Copenhagen is going to be all about global warming and climate change and stuff like that. Extraordinarily, take a look at this. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, which has historically bashed Republicans and, you know, not bashed Democrats, really took a shot at Al Gore. Look at this.

STEWART [video clip]: Poor Al Gore. Global warming completely debunked via the very Internet you invented. Oh, oh the irony. The iron-y.

DOOCY: It is pretty extraordinary that Jon Stewart would be taking a shot at Al Gore, who's been on his program a couple of times. But at the same time, the mainstream media for the most part not covering this whole "climate-gate" thing. It just seems to be us and bloggers like you.
In reality, Stewart was being sarcastic. The dishonest hacks at Fox and Friends working at a supposed news network left out this line, "Actually, the real story is not quite that sensational," and this one, "Now, does it disprove global warming? No, of course not."

Tim Lambert has more on the quote-mining of the hacked e-mails, with the quote-miner in question believing this is evidence of a crypto-Soviet communist psyops conspiracy. You can't make this stuff up.

Ronald Reagan too much of a bleeding heart liberal terrorist sympathist for most Americans

Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory, commenting on a Pew poll finding that only 1 in 4 Americans believe torture is never justified.

Just think about that. Torture is one of the most universal taboos in the civilized world. The treaty championed by Ronald Reagan declares that "no exceptional circumstances" can justify it, and requires that every state criminalize it and prosecute those who authorize or engage in it. But only 25% of Americans agree with Ronald Reagan and this Western consensus that torture is never justifiable. Worse, 54% of Americans believe torture is "often" or "sometimes" justified. When it comes to torture, the vast bulk of the country is now to the "right" (for lack of a better term) of Ronald Reagan, who at least in words (if not in deeds) insisted upon an absolute prohibition on the practice and mandatory prosecution for those responsible.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Within days of PGA golfer Tiger Woods crashing his car, the press has hounded him into disclosing in so many words that he's had some sort of affair.

Now imagine if the press (generally) pursued with the same vigor and tenacity stories that actually serve the public interest and have value for a democratic society. For instance, consider how sad a reflection it is that the personal life of a professional golfer is bigger news than the CIA destroying evidence of illegal activity (i.e. abusive and/or torturous interrogation) and lying to a court about it.

"Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations." - Joseph Pulitzer, The North American Review (May 1904)

Flip sides of the same coin

Rush Limbaugh hopes that West Point will "detain" President Obama.

Christ Mathews calls West Point Obama's "enemy camp."

Better pundits, please.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Quote of the day

"[A] religious government depends for its existence on the belief of the people - preservation of the faith is the ratio summa status, to which everything else must yield. Therefore not only the civil power enforces the religious law, but the transgressions of the religious must be watched and denounced - therefore espionage and religious detectives, and the use of the peculiar means of information religion provides to give warning to the police. The domain of conscience [is] not distinct therefore from the domain of the State; sins = crimes, and sins against faith, even when private, are acts of treason. Seclusion from the rest of the world necessarily follows, if the rest of the world has not the same religion, or even if it is not governed on the same principles. For liberty is extremely contagious ... Poverty and stationary cultivation, this is to say, in comparison to the rest of the world, retrogression, [are] the price ..." - Lord Acton

The quote is from "Letter on Self-Government and State Absolutism" in the Abbot Gasquet edited Lord Acton and His Circle. And my particular quote of the quote is from AC Grayling's Toward The Light of Liberty.