Sunday, February 28, 2010

The gist of this year's CPAC message

Shorter CPAC message: The nefarious Jew Progressive is destroying Germany America.

I think the last video is particularly revealing, as it gives some insight into why the anti-ACORN reality revision is so important to movement conservative mythology. For conservative supremacists, any election which is not won by "conservatives" is by definition illigitimate, a "hihack[ing]" of the country and the democratic process. Thus, the election must have been stolen by those dark skinned poor people at ACORN - part of the super secret sinister 100 year progressive commie atheist fascist one world government Freddy Krueger plot to destroy America.

Dave Niewert and David Sirota have more on Beck's eliminationist message.

The banality of the American news culture

As I've been rather busy and occupied for the last several months, I have not had the time to actively follow the news. But it has been quite illuminating to notice the "news" I still manage to pick up by a sort of process of cultural osmosis.

For instance, it has been impossible for me not to hear about the marital problems of Tiger Woods and the press conference that he held to discuss them. Call me crazy, but I was under the impression that the relevance of Tiger Woods was as a person capable of hitting a golf ball with great proficiency, not on his fidelity to his wife. Apparently, the sexual affairs of a professional golfer are of grave national importance.

Meanwhile, other than this post by Glenn Greenwald I have heard nothing about the UK inquiry into the legality of the invasion of Iraq. Obviously, the illegal invasion and destruction of another nation resulting in mass death and chaos, while creating a blackhole of financial loss and a perpetual source of anti-American global sentiment by comparison is insignificant to the Tiger Woods affair.

The rise of uncommon sense (and why that's a good thing)

From "The Mythbusters of Psychology" in eSkeptic

KARL POPPER WROTE: “SCIENCE MUST BEGIN WITH MYTHS and with the criticism of myths.” Popular psychology is a prolific source of myths. It has produced widely held beliefs that “everyone knows are true” but that are contradicted by psychological research. A new book does an excellent job of mythbusting: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and the late, great skeptic Barry L. Beyerstein ...

The authors start with a chapter explaining how myths and misconceptions arise.

1.Word of mouth. If we hear something repeated enough times, we tend to believe it.
2.Desire for easy answers and quick fixes.
3.Selective perception and memory. We remember our hits and forget our misses.
4.Inferring causation from correlation.
5.Post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning.
6.Exposure to a biased sample. Psychologists overestimate the difficulty of stopping smoking because they only see patients who come to them for help, not the many who stop on their own.
7.Reasoning by representativeness — evaluating the similarity between two things on the basis of superficial resemblance.
8.Misleading film and media portrayals.
9.Exaggeration of a kernel of truth.
10.Terminological confusion. Because of the etymology of the word schizophrenia, many people confuse it with multiple personality disorder.
The authors discuss our susceptibility to optical illusions and other cognitive illusions, our propensity to see patterns where they don’t exist, the unreliability of intuition, and the fact that common sense frequently misleads us. They characterize science as “uncommon sense” — it requires us to set aside our common sense preconceptions when evaluating evidence. They cover 50 myths in depth, explaining their origins, why people believe them, and what the published research has to say about the claims. Everything is meticulously documented with sources listed.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why do "centrists" always need to find a false equivalency between "right" and "left?"

I walked into the current affairs section of the book store the other day to see this book featured prominently. Please take a moment and look at the cover ...

Ok, anyone see something that doesn't fit in the cover picture of the book titled Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America? That's correct: Keith Olbermann is not a left-wing fringe lunatic who is hijacking America. Olbermann is not as far "left" as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are "right."

Keith Olbermann can be obnoxious and he can engage in hyperbole or go to far into over-the-top overhyped criticism (his freaking out over Hillary Clinton's remark about the Kennedy assasination comes to mind) but he is not an ideological left-winger who promotes bizarre, reality detached beliefs. Olbermann is, however, a vociferous critic of the former Bush administration, which I suppose makes him an evil, crazy, extremist by Beltway "centrist" logic.

Seeing this book reminded me of this book which lamented the silence of the "rational center." I had much the same feeling of frustration when I first noticed it in the book store as I flipped through it to come to a section where it said that the public was not serviced by a debate on Bush tax policies between Paul Krugman and Bill O'Reilly because both men are merely well-informed laypersons. Um, no. Bill O'Reilly is a sort of (mis)informed layperson. Paul Krugman is an expert in economics who has since won the Nobel Prize in economics.

The most laughable part of the book is the updated epilogue which celebrates how the Iraq Study Group represents the return of the "rational center" and the long arm of the George HW Bush administration reaching out to fix the Iraq debacle (how'd that work out?) Funny how the "centrist" position is only centrist by defining the acceptable spectrum as between those who are pro-war and those who are pro-war.

But the ultimate point I'm trying to make is exemplified by this post from Steve Benen about the latest crazy conspiracy theory from someone well positioned within the conservative movement

It's easy to laugh at the stupidity of all of this, but I think Max Bergmann's point is a good one: "Gaffney is a prominent member of the right wing security establishment. He writes a regular column for the Washington Times, is a frequent commentator on cable television, and runs his own right-wing defense organization. Just this past October, at Gaffney's Center for Security Policy 'Keeper of the Flame' annual award dinner, Vice President Cheney was the featured speaker and recipient of the reward. Other guest speakers included Sen. Jon Kyl and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld."

Right. It's tempting to think some paranoid nutjob with bizarre conspiracy theories is irrelevant in modern American politics. But prominent conservatives consider Frank Gaffney a credible figure.

The mainstream of fringe lunacy is one of the key differences between the left and right in contemporary politics. Both sides have their nutty fringe, but only side thinks its whackjobs are sane.

Quote of the day

From Democracy in America

[T]he BBC reporter asked [East Anglia climate scientist Phil] Jones whether he would concede that global warming since 1995 has not been statistically significant. Mr Jones replied: "Yes, but only just," and went on to note that there was a measured global warming of 0.12°C per decade since then, and that it tends to be harder to get statistical significance out of shorter time samples.

This led to a Daily Mail headline reading: "Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995."

Since I've advocated a more explicit use of the word "lie", I'll go ahead and follow my own advice: that Daily Mail headline is a lie. Phil Jones did not say there had been no global warming since 1995; he said the opposite. He said the world had been warming at 0.12°C per decade since 1995. However, over that time frame, he could not quite rule out at the traditional 95% confidence level that the warming since 1995 had not been a random fluke.

Anyone who has even a passing high-school familiarity with statistics should understand the difference between these two statements. At a longer time interval, say 30 or 50 or 100 years, Mr Jones could obviously demonstrate that global warming is a statistically significant trend. In the interview he stated that the warming since 1975 is statistically significant. Everyone, even climate-change sceptics, agrees that the earth has experienced a warming trend since the late 19th century. But if you take any short sample out of that trend (say, 1930-45 or 1960-75), you might not be able to guarantee that the particular warming observed in those years was not a statistical fluke. This is a simple truth about statistics: if you measure just ten children, the relationship between age and height might be a fluke. But obviously the fact remains that older children tend to be taller than younger ones, and if you measure 100 of them, you'll find the relationship quite statistically significant indeed.

What's truly infuriating about this episode of journalistic malpractice is that, once again, it illustrates the reasons why the East Anglia scientists adopted an adversarial attitude towards information management with regard to outsiders and the media. They were afraid that any data they allowed to be characterised by non-climate scientists would be vulnerable to propagandistic distortion. And they were right.
h/t Deltoid

A rule of thumb for tv news

If you're using footage from TMZ, there is a high probability (approaching 100%) that what you're running is not actual news.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Those old time commie Republicans

Take a look at the commie beliefs of the Republicans of 1956. Of course, the pseudo-conservatives of that era actually did consider those Republicans to be communists or communist dupes ... which is why the JBS was considered to be political extremists.

Now they're part of mainstream conservatism.

This comment from Dispatches gets it about right

There is something bizarre about listening to constant [Republican]* complaints that the Democrats are constantly moving ever further into the far left and comparing that to the reality that if Goldwater was still alive he would probably be classified as a liberal democrat.
*The commenter employed a common pejorative instead of "Republican" which I edited out since I don't approve of such usage.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Justice" Department considers illegal torture "poor judgement"

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Today's discount book purchase

Head and Heart: American Christianities (hc) by Gary Wills for 6 dollars.

I already read this a few years ago when I checked it out from the library, but it's such an excellent resource that I couldn't resist getting a copy for my personal collection.

See below for Wills's discussion of his book (which is about the history and conflict of evangelical and enlightened Christianity in America.) You can click the little button on the bottom right to get to the whole program.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Glenn Beck is the most delusional man on tv

Beck thinks that Thomas Paine was the Glenn Beck of his day.

Let's see: Thomas Paine, child of the Enlightenment, secular deist, advocate of social democracy and scientific enthusiast; the greatest avatar of democracy in American history.

Yep, that's the equivalent of a nutty AM radio host who thinks that reading old John Birch Society literature makes him a polymath.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More on the bizarro backlash

I didn't have time yesterday to mention the "2" in Glenn Beck's 1-2 punch of bizarro populism. Namely: cutting spending.

So while the tax burden on the not rich increases while the tax burden on the rich decreases, the not rich will concomitantly get less out of their tax dollars as spending on public infrastructure, the welfare state, totalitarian* environmental and worker protections and such are reduced. Their money will instead go towards subsidizing the corporations that will get the lucrative contracts as a result of the privatization of government functions and the always increasing military budget.

That's the thing about Laffer's supply side economics. Despite their having failed disastrously time and again, they are quite proficient at siphoning wealth from the many to the very few.

It's why I keep going back to the following Thomas Frank quote from What's the Matter with Kansas? which I find so very perspicacious:

Like a French Revolution in reverse - one in which the sans-culottes pour down the streets demanding more power for the aristocracy - the backlash pushes the spectrum of the acceptable to the right, to the right, father to the right. It may never bring prayer back to the public schools, but it has rescued all manner of right-wing nostrums from history's dustbin. Having rolled back the landmark economic reforms of the sixties (the war on poverty) and those of the thirties (labor law, agricultural price supports, banking regulation), its leaders now turn their guns on the accomplishments of the earliest years of progressivism (Woodrow Wilson's estate tax; Theodore Roosevelt's antitrust measures). With a little more effort, the backlash might repeal the entire twentieth century.
Glenn Beck wants to return his audience to the days of Upton Sinclair's jungle.

Again: this is populism?


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This is populism?

I caught another one of Glenn Beck's zany, extended rants that open up his Fox tv show today. He was saying that to solve America's economic crisis taxes should be lowered. Specifically, that taxes on the rich should go down and taxes on the poor and lower working class should go up.

Then he brought on Arthur Laffer to explain how to fix the economy. That would be the same Arthur Laffer who inspired the economic policies of the Bush administration which transformed a large budget surplus into a large budget deficit and helped crash the economy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Only in right-wing world

A scientist makes a statement completely consistent with the IPCC report on anthropogenic global warming, gets the statement distorted by a dishonest propaganda mag, and the usual idiots,* who have no understanding of science what-so-ever, yet speak authoritatively on the subject to their audience, proclaim that the scientist has admitted that there is no warming.

*As I type this I'm watching Glenn Beck in the background smugly repeating everyone of these falsehoods(plus more). I've never seen anyone so confidently stupid before in my life.

Quote of the day

"What prosecutor can look away when a perpetrator mocks the law itself and revels in his role in violating it? Such cases cry out for prosecution. Dick Cheney wants to be prosecuted. And prosecutors should give him what he wants." - Scott Horton, commenting on Dick Cheney bragging about his advocacy of torture

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Funny because it's true

Quote of the day

"The very same people who have been demanding for years that Muslims be imprisoned for life, tortured and killed with no trials or charges of any kind suddenly become extremely sensitive to the nuances of due process and humane detention conditions -- they start sounding like Amnesty International civil liberties extremists -- the minute it's a Christian, rather than a Muslim, who is subjected to such treatment." - Glenn Greenwald

It really is quite a spectable watching people who champion the chargeless/trialless indefinite detention and torture of Muslims by Americans complain of lesser human rights abuses committed by other nations against Americans or Christians.

It's kind of like how Abraham Lincoln put it in his letter to Henry Pierce.

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.

All honor to Jefferson--to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.
In other words, if you don't want to be held without charges and tortured, you shouldn't consent to have others held without charges and tortured; furthermore, to do so violates the spirit of universal human rights which was the bedrock principle of the Declaration of Independence, i.e. "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

The hypocrites who believe in rights for some but not for others seem to prefer the maxim of the ruling pigs in Orwell's Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A literal market place of ideas

From The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank

Like many winger ideas – anticommunism, for example – it sounds good at first. A “free market of ideas” sounds like “free inquiry,” or a "free exchange of ideas”; an environment in which hypothesis are tested and bad ones are weeded out while good ones go on to earn the respect of the community of scholars. But this is not what the phrase means at all. Markets do not determine the objective merit of things, only their price, which is to say, their merit in the eyes of capital or consumers. To cast intellectual life as a “market” is to set up a standard for measuring ideas quite different from the standard of truthfulness. Here ideas are bid up or down depending on how well they please those with the funds to underwrite inquiry – which effectively means, how well they please large corporations and the very wealthy.
From "The Lobbying-Media Complex" by Sebastian Jones in The Nation.

Since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials--people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests--have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them. Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable networks, turning in dozens--and in some cases hundreds--of appearances.

For lobbyists, PR firms and corporate officials, going on cable television is a chance to promote clients and their interests on the most widely cited source of news in the United States. These appearances also generate good will and access to major players inside the Democratic and Republican parties. For their part, the cable networks, eager to fill time and afraid of upsetting the political elite, have often looked the other way. At times, the networks have even disregarded their own written ethics guidelines. Just about everyone involved is heavily invested in maintaining the current system, with the exception of the viewer.

Was Abe Lincoln a communist?

"The only question is as to sustaining the change [an increase in taxation] before the people. I believe it can be sustained, because it does not increase the tax upon the 'many poor' but upon the 'wealthy few' by taxing the land that is worth $50 or $100 per acre, in proportion to its value, instead of, as heretofore, nor more than that which was worth but $5 per acre. This valuable land, as is well known, belongs, not to the poor, but to the wealthy citizen.

"On the other hand, the wealthy can not justly complain, because the change is equitable within itself, and also a sine qua non to a compliance with the Constitution." - Abraham Lincoln, letter to William S. Wait (March 2, 1839)

Lincoln goes on to cynically observe that even if the wealthy do complain, regardless of fairness, there aren't enough of them to carry an election. But that's beside the point: I bring this up as further evidence of how utterly stupid and ridiculous it is for Barack Obama to be called a communist, Marxist, or socialist simply because of his "spread the wealth" remark (which is almost always cited by critics out of context.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

A parsimonious argument for acknowledging the reality of global warming

Mark Vuletic explains why it is more absurd to deny the reality of global warming than to accept it. (And also provides a link to the humorous yet useful Global Warming Sceptic Bingo.)

A nice supplement to Vuletic's article is this post from Arthur Goldwag.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

An age of American unreason

I really can't think of a more exemplary demonstration of the triumph of unreason in America than the sad fact that someone who runs a blog that features on a daily basis shrieking hysterical right-wing craziness that leaps off the page at you is asked to discuss politics on a major pretend news network on a pretend news show hosted by a comedian.

Update: To elaborate, here is a post where Geller says that President Obama is attempting to create a Nazi brownshirt youth movement which employs "thuggery and intimidation" to indoctrinate children into national socialism. That's insane, ok? Why is someone with no intellectual or academic accomplishments besides a demonstrated ability to say rabidly insane things about "liberals" and who wants to exterminate Muslims appearing on national tv? What's worse, what does it say about us as a society that someone who herself has an affinity for crypto-fascists and believes the absurd conspiracy theory that the President is a foreign agent (non-citizen)*, writes a book arguing that the Obama administration is waging "war on America" and gets a forward written by a former United States ambassador to the UN.

Are you kidding me? Is there anything short of flat-out white supremacism that would discredit a "conservative?" It's as if as long as you're saying terrible, horrible things about "liberals" - regardless of factuality or any kind of connection to reality - there is a place for you somewhere in the conservative movement.

*Here is a charming post where she suggests that the Obama administration is killing people to hide the fact that President Obama's birth certificate is a forgery.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The mobocratic spirit

"When men take it in their heads to day, to hang gamblers, to hang murderers, they should recollect, that, in the confusion usually attending such transactions, they will be as likely to hang or burn some one, who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is; and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of to-morrow, may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against violations of law in every shape, alike with the guilty, fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus it goes on, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defence of the persons and property of individuals, are trodden down, and disregarded. But all this even, is not the full extent of the evil. By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint, but dread of punishment, they thus become, absolutely unrestrained." - Abraham Lincoln, "The Political Religion of the Nation" (Jan. 27, 1838)

Although Lincoln was speaking to citizen organized vigilante justice, I find the point equally applicable to government organized vigilante justice.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

My latest discount book purchase

Flirting with Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental (hc) by Marc Gerstein (with Michael Ellsberg) for 2 dollars.

The book's website has some good resources, too.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Bizarro quote of the day

"I think - for justice and for the sheer fun of it - that once we gain a commanding majority in the Senate, we should void the censure of Joe McCarthy (arguably liberal fascism’s most prominent American victim) and have him set up with a Presidential Medal of Freedom." - Mark Noonan

It's like a dispatch from some Twilight Zone-like alternate dimension.