Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Michelle Bachmann: Liar for Jesus

You may recall that the Obama administration, citing the same sort of "common sense" rhetoric that the Bush administration used to use to rationalize political decisions at odds with the science of an issue, recently overruled the FDA to prevent making Plan B pill an over-the-counter product available to those under 17 years of age.

Obama defended the decision of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, saying that she "could not be confident that a 10-year-old or 11-year-old going to a drug store would be able to, alongside bubble gum or batteriers be able to buy a medication that potentially if not used properly can have an adverse effect."

Nevermind the nonsense of that response given the science the FDA based its decision on has already found that Plan B does not pose a health risk to minors. Let's look as what Michelle Bachman had to say in response to this at an anti-abortion group sponsored GOP presidential candidate town-hall last night.

Each of the candidates, who spoke separately and took a couple of questions each, took the same hard-line position. The differences were on the margins. Bachmann distinguished herself with her dishonesty, claiming at one point that Obama is “putting abortion pills for young minors, girls as young as 8 years of age or 11 years of age, on [the] bubblegum aisle.” (Obama, of course, recently overrode an FDA recommendation to make emergency contraception available over the counter for all ages, infuriating women’s-health activists.)
Wow. Three staggering lies in one: 1)Plan B prevents pregnancy, it is not an abortifacient. 2)President Obama's administration blocked Plan B access to minors 3)President Obama defended that decision on the grounds that Plan B shouldn't be available to minors on the bubblegum aisle.

Really. The magnitude and audacity of this dishonesty is overwhelming - what can one even say to this, say to the fundamentalist base Bachmann is speaking to that has so worked itself into an alternate universe that it tolerates such lies as a virtue - and worse - accepts them as a truth more accurate than reality?

How ironic that a self-professed Christian who cries persecution that the Ten Commandments aren't featured in public schools and courtrooms can't seem to remember the injunction against bearing false witness.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Transposed hate

I've written numerous posts over the years here arguing that often the derogatory rhetoric directed towards "liberals" by movement conservatives looks and sounds like more obviously prejudicial hate rhetoric of the past; that this is part the result of parallel thinking, part meme evolution which finds a more socially acceptable target for hate.

I now have a perfect example of exactly what I've been talking about.

In at least three instances, Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism website has used an image connected to a Nazi-era German magazine noted for anti-Semitic cartoons and pro-Hitler leanings.
At that Media Matters link you will see that what Big Journalism did was post a slightly modified version of an anti-Semitic cartoon from a 1942 issue of a pro-Nazi magazine. In the original art, the American news press is depicted as being controlled by a giant Jewish figure (complete with a Star of David tie and a hook nose). In the Big Journalism version the Star of David has been removed,the nose has been straightened out, and the the phrase "Media Bias" appears on the figure's shirt.

Let's take a moment to look at the response from Big Journalism's editor, in which she asserts that there was no anti-Semitic intent in the cartoon and that it was taken down at the request of one of Breitbart's editors when he suspected it was a recycled anti-Jewish cartoon.

This misses a more interesting point: the users of the doctored image were attempting to spread the same prejudice towards Liberals that the original pro-Nazi German cartoonist was trying to spread towards Jews. That their new hate can be so easily transposed on old hate of the past is quite remarkable.

Speaking of which, I don't believe I have yet to plug Arthur Goldwag's next book, The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right. Dealing with this subject in depth, it will be out Feb. 7th and has gotten great advance reviews from Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly.

See here and here for sample excerpts.

[Disclosure: I've been informed that this blog is mentioned in the book.]

Good environmental news: new mercury and toxins regulations

Dave Roberts at Grist writes

Wednesday, at long last, the EPA unveiled its new rule covering mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

Anyone who pays attention to green news will have spent the last two years hearing a torrent of stories about EPA rules and the political fights over them. It can get tedious. After a certain point even my eyes glaze over, and I'm paid to follow this stuff.

But this one is a Big Deal. It's worth lifting our heads out of the news cycle and taking a moment to appreciate that history is being made. Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live.
Despite being deeply troubled by some of this administration's recent actions degrading scientific integrity for political reasons (see here for example) I must credit it for these new standards.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Credit where credit is due

From The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb

Consider ... what [John Philoponus (AD c.490 - c.530)] had to say about Aristotle's assertion that unsupported bodies fall towards the earth with a speed that is proportional to their weight - i.e., that heavy things fall faster than light ones:

But this is completely erroneous, and our view may be corroborated by actual observation more effectively than by any sort of verbal argument. For if you let fall from the same height two weights of which one is many times as heavy as the other, you will see that the ratio of the times required for the motion does not depend on the ration of the weights, but that the difference in time is a very small one.
Philoponus' own theory of falling bodies was not quite right, but the experiment he describes here (which does at least refute Aristotle's view) was heralded as a momentous scientific breakthrough when it was repeated in the seventeenth century. Nowadays the experiment is traditionally credited to Galileo, who lived more than 1,000 years later than Philoponus (and who knew his works well.)

Newt for dictator (to save the Republic!)

Steve Benen

Just so we’re clear, this week, a leading presidential candidate articulated his belief that, if elected, he might (1) eliminate courts he doesn’t like; (2) ignore court rulings he doesn’t like; and (3) take judges into custody if he disapproves of their legal analyses.

I hope it’s unnecessary to note that Gingrich’s vision is stark raving mad.

I’ll just conclude with this observation: Newt Gingrich believes Barack Obama is a wild-eyed fanatic, guided by an extremist ideology, hell bent on overseeing a radical overhaul of the American system of government.

The irony is rich.
I call it depressing - and a sad reflection of how poorly major news media is serving this country.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Anaximander of Miletus as First Scientist

Carlo Rovelli at Scientific American writes

Modern science is a vast activity which has many fathers. Many could be named “the first scientist,” and I am sure you have your favorite one. By focusing on Anaximander, I wish to illustrate and emphasize one characteristic of scientific thinking that is even more fundamental, I believe, than Galileo’s introduction of modern experimentation, or Newton’s dynamical laws, or even Ptolemy and Ipparchus’ predictive mathematical astronomy or Aristotle’s keen observation of nature. What Anaximander started is the process of questioning common knowledge in depth, subverting the shared vision of the world, and proposing a novel conceptual structure for understanding reality. Observed from the particular perspective of a scientist of today, the ideas of Anaximander acquire a new sense, and the immensity of their legacy becomes evident.

Anaximander lived 26 centuries ago in Miletus, a Greek city on the coast of modern Turkey. He understood a surprising number of facts that we consider obvious today, but which had taken humanity millennia to figure out. Foremost, he is the one that first realized (and who was able to convince the world) that the Earth is not lying on something else (columns, turtles, an ocean, earth down forever), bur rather it floats free in space. The sky is not just above our heads: it is all around us, including under our feet.

Karl Popper, the famous philosopher of science, called this idea “one of the boldest, most revolutionary, and most portentous ideas in the whole history of human thinking.”
There is much more at the link explaining why Rovelli considers Anaximander to be exemplary of the core of the scientific endeavor ("the process of questioning common knowledge in depth ... and proposing novel re-conceptualizations of the world"; "a deep acceptance of our persisting uncertainty, and our vast ignorance").

Rovelli covers the topic in even greater depth in his newly released book The First Scientist: Anaximander and his Legacy.

As an aside, note that Rovelli draws a link between the birth of science and democracy

[S]cience started precisely at the same time when democracy was being born. Anaximander was a contemporary of Solon, who wrote the first democratic constitution in Athens. Anaximander’s Miletus was part of the Ionian league, whose delegates met in the Panionium sanctuary: perhaps the first parliament in the history of humanity. At the very same time when they get rid of kings and emperors, people started looking the world with new eyes and discovered something very new about it. The idea that common decisions are better found in an open discussion where everybody can listen to others and is ready to change his (and, later, her) mind was born together with the idea that we can increase our knowledge by observing, discussing and by changing our minds about the world. Democracy and science are close sisters.
Timothy Ferris argued a similar point in his excellent The Science of Liberty, but focused on the modern birth of democracy at around the time of the scientific revolution.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bill O'Reilly's crybaby conservatism

One of the character defects that seems to be nearly universal to many of the conservative media stars that dominate Fox News and AM radio is an ability to be brutally mean-spirited and vicious towards others, only to then turn around when called on it or when someone responds in kind and cry about how mean and unfair and hateful that person or category (e.g. "liberals") is.

Witness Bill O'Reilly, who routinely sends out slimeball producers to stalk and confront people going about their normal business, like when he had Jesse Waters stake our Amanda Terkel's apartment, follow her several hours across state lines, then start questioning her after she checked into a hotel; or when Jesse Waters confronted a judge in a gas station, then stuck his foot in the judge's car door in an attempt to prevent him from driving off. (In both instances, O'Reilly and partners were dishonest.)

So imagine what Bill O'Reilly's reaction was when he walked out of a hotel in D.C. and was approached by an Occupy Wall Street protester with a camera asking him if he attended a Newt Gingrich fundraiser. O'Reilly shoved his umbrella into the guy's face, then he tried to have him arrested by White House police. Then he went on his tv show and complained that if he had punched the protester like he wanted to he would have been charged for assault. My favorite part, though, is O'Reilly asserting that had the person identified himself before asking the question he would have been glad to respond.

So O'Reilly is perfectly fine with sending his minions out to interrupt people's lives and put them in extremely uncomfortable situations, but when someone tries to ask him a single question after accidentally coming across him (as opposed to the deliberate stalking that O'Reilly's team engages in) he considers it a criminal threat to himself and laments that the law doesn't enable him to physically assault the individual.

I actually do sympathize with O'Reilly's fear that some random person could come up to him and do him harm. I detest the tactics of paparazzi and believe the protester who approached O'Reilly could (and should) have identified himself and asked O'Reilly if he minded being asked a question and/or filmed - to which O'Reilly almost certainly would have said yes. (Or would have done the same exact thing, regardless, I'm guessing.)

But what bothers me is O'Reilly's own inability to take the feelings he has about being confronted and extend them to others put in a similar situation by his own crew. In other words, to empathize and exercise the Golden Rule which a self-proclaimed Christian like O'Reilly is supposed to hold as the bedrock foundation of his ethics.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

More Bizarro Change

Obama administration continues Bush administration policy of Plan B restrictions for political, not scientific, reasons

In 2005, Susan Wood resigned her job as the top women’s-health official at the FDA, claiming that the agency’s refusal to allow over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception was the result of political pressure by the Bush administration. “The decision, which left women of all ages without appropriate and timely access to emergency contraception, was a clear rejection of recommendations that had been based on extensive review and evaluation of the pertinent data,” she wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This controversy was constantly cited in feminist indictments of the previous president. It was usually mentioned in critiques of Bush’s ideological, anti-empirical approach to science. That’s why women’s-health advocates and other progressives were so shocked yesterday when the Obama administration overruled an FDA recommendation to expand over-the-counter access to Plan B One-Step, a type of morning-after pill.

Quote of the day

"Plato's invention of Atlantis was so vivid that scholars and lunatics have looked for it ever since." - Anthony Gottlieb, The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance

Monday, December 05, 2011

Garry Wills reviews Doonesbury

Somehow it had escaped my notice until now that the eminent historian Gary Wills wrote a review of one of my all-time favorite comic strips - Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury"- in The New York Review of Books for 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective celebrating four decades of the strip. (Also see Slate's 40th anniversary celebration.)

An excerpt

There have been other comic strips that dealt with politics, but they did so sporadically, and as one-trick diversions—Al Capp satirizing the welfare state with his schmoos, Walt Kelly turning Senator Joseph McCarthy into Simple J. Malarkey—but Trudeau has reflected on politics at a depth and with a breadth no one else has achieved. No wonder he won the first Pulitzer Prize given to a comic strip (in 1975). When Nixon bombed Cambodia without telling Congress that he was invading another country, Trudeau sent his terrorist character Phred to the bomb site. When he sees a couple standing American Gothic–style before a leveled museum, he asks if this happened during the secret bombing of Cambodia. The man says it was no secret. “I said ‘Look Martha, here come the bombs.’” Nothing could say more succinctly that many of our national security secrets are not meant to deceive the enemy, but to keep Congress and the American people in the dark about what our government is doing in our name. (I liked this strip so well that I asked Trudeau for the original, and it now hangs on my wall.)

Over and over Trudeau pinpoints governmental absurdities. After Mike and a friend have discussed the casualties of the Iraq war, in a strip that ran in 2005, they wonder if the dead cause any anguish in the President. The last panel shows voices coming from the White House in the night. Laura asks, “What’s wrong, dear?” and Bush answers, “It’s the stem cells. I hear their cries.” Another strip shows a soldier coming home. His wife asks who that is arriving with him. He says it is the terrorist following him home, as Bush had claimed they would.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Blog interrupted

I've been working much overtime recently, which has been good for my pocket, terrible for my neglected blog. I have however, finished Glenn Greenwald's Liberty and Justice for Some and drafted out an outline of notes for a review which I hope to write as soon as my batteries recharge.

I also have my 2010 Book of the Year pick (I know, inexcusably late) which I've drafted up but have found many excuses to hold off on finishing that I would like to have up soon.

Those two items and another post about Rush Limbaugh and another about what really bothered me about President Obama's response to Donald Trump's bitherism are in the pipeline. I may end up working a good deal more overtime before the end of the year, however.

In the meanwhile, I can whole-heartedly recommend NOVA's The Fabric of the Cosmos series. Very well done; entertaining and inspiring.

I can also note that if you have a mobile device that you read texts on and have not already downloaded a Google books app, you may want to add that, as I've been able to find a couple of e-texts that I had been having difficulty locating. Namely: Justice in War Time by Bertrand Russell, The Brass Check by Upton Sinclair, and An Historical and Critical Dictionary by Pierre Bayle.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Rush Limbaugh's Other-World

As I turned on Rush Limbaugh's radio program today - randomly - I was met by Limbaugh saying that liberals have been openly advocating communism for two decades now and that Barack Obama wants to be re-elected so that he can install a communist regime.

I'm not sure how to respond, as having never visited this parallel, alternate dimension Earth that Limbaugh broadcasts from, I'm not really in a position to comment.

On this Earth, however

A new report shows that despite a campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the Obama White House has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests more than the Bush administration. The study, "Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment,” examines more than a thousand meetings that took place over a decade between lobbyists and a little known regulatory office, then checks to see how proposed rules were weakened to accommodate industry requests. It found the Obama White House changed rules 76 percent of the time, while Bush changed them just 64 percent of the time. EPA rules were changed at a significantly higher rate — 84 percent.
And the President Obama on this Earth kept in key financial positions in his administration the men responsible for this

The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing.

The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.

Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse.