Let Buchanan Equal Colmes

Pat BuchananFAIR has long reported on Fox News “liberals”—who are generally nothing more than conservatives in liberal clothing. The other side of this is not much discussed: conservatives on “liberal” shows are generally very conservative. Take Pat Buchanan’s longtime association with MSNBC.

It was only this year, after 10 years on the network, that MSNBC—that bastion of liberalism that Bill Clinton calls “our version of Fox”—fired the right wing hate monger. Can anyone imagine Fox News employing a similarly extreme pundit from the left? No one can, except for those who want to pretend that Alan Colmes is an extremist. (I like the mild-mannered slightly liberal Colmes, but he is exactly the kind of “liberal” Fox News loves: someone whose views don’t start very far to the left and can be battered rightward still.) So anyone who can equate Buchanan with Colmes (Bill Clinton?) has to be questioned.

Many of the 10 years during which Buchanan was doing his magic on MSNBC, the network was conservative—the “Fox Jr.” years. Still, MSNBC held onto to the bigot long after deciding that it could make a dime being “liberal.” So what was it that caused Buchanan to cross “that line”? It was the publication of his newest book, Suicide of a Superpower—or more to the point, the reaction to its publication.

Matt Taibbi reports on this new low for Pat Buchanan. This is amazing when you consider Buchanan’s spectacular history of zany bigotry.
He sums up Buchanan and his book very neatly:

[Buchanan] even wrote wistfully of the segregation era, seeming to suggest it was a time that even nonwhite Americans should remember with fondness.

Back then, black and white lived apart, went to different schools and churches, played on different playgrounds, and went to different restaurants, bars, theaters, and soda fountains. But we shared a country and a culture. We were one nation. We were Americans.

Right, except for the fire hoses and the lynchings, there was unity then! A sense of collective purpose! Sure, we used black men as lab rats for syphilis experiments, but dammit, we were all in this thing together. As Americans!

I have many problems with MSNBC. But these are nothing compared to my anger at the false equivalence of MSNBC and Fox News. The issue isn’t just Pat Buchanan. For three hours every weekday, actual conservative Joe Scarborough has his own show. And everyday S. E. Cupp gets to spew her fatuous conservative banality on The Cycle. (She recently claimed she would not vote for an atheist president because the president should “not represent only 10 to 15 percent of the American populace.” I get it! An atheist is so much more likely to stop people from being Christian than a Christian is to force everyone to be. But what do you expect when it is more important for a TV pundit to have cover-girl looks than college-graduate intelligence?)

ALEX Exposed

I’m a big fan of Schoolhouse Rock. In fact, in Otherwise Nice Guys, we used to do the Preamble of the Constitution as an encore—not that anyone ever requested an encore. Here is one of the Schoolhouse Rock videos called “I’m Just a Bill” that shows the traditional route from idea to federal law—the kind of thing you see in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Here it is:

ALEX Exposed has produced a video that shows how laws are really made. It’s great:

Government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations!

Jehovah’s Witness Bible Good?!

The Human BibleBiblical scholar Robert Price has recently started an excellent podcast called The Human Bible. It is a non-religious look at the Bible. I really like it because it explains the bible the same way one would any historically important book. It doesn’t require God to understand what the Bible is and how it was written. And Price is a real gem, because he truly loves the Bible. I’m not sure I can say the same thing for most Christians because they don’t really see the Bible as it is because of how they cloak it with their preconceptions about God. With the United States Constitution, most people admit that the slavery clauses were wrong. But with the Bible’s acceptance of slavery, most people just avoid the issue. If you are really going to appreciate the Bible, you have to admit that it approves of slavery not because God is mysterious but because the people at that time thought that slavery was just fine.

Wednesday marked the 11th episode of The Human Bible. In it, Price discussed different English translations of the Bible and he had a feature about the New World Translation—the Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had heard that the JW Bible was really bad. According to Price, this is not true. He says it is a very accurate:

The New World Translation is amazingly accurate in many places where the supposedly more legitimate translations are not… Charles Taze Russell—the son of a hell fire preacher—feeling he had to take a second look. He said, “I cannot believe the Bible teaches what dad says from the pulpit.” So he took a fresh new look at the thing and the doctrines he came up with were rather different and I think he had the better of the argument.

Note that Robert Price has no dog in this fight. He was once a Baptist pastor but is now an atheist. I’ve read several of his books and I always find him pretty even handed. And always interesting.

If you are at all interested in the Bible, I recommend listening to The Human Bible. It explains a whole lot about the Bible and (more important) its place in our culture. Price is also quite funny. He loads up his podcasts with lots of popular culture references. And whenever quoting God from the Bible, he rightly uses the only appropriate voice: Charlton Heston.

Whose Peer Review?

I am spending some time with family who are visiting from out of town. Sorry for being AWOL. But I managed to read a very good article by the ever excellent Dean Baker: Horrors! Unpublished Study Used to Raise Health Questions About Fracking. In it, he discusses a very important unpublished study by doctoral candidate Elaine K. Hill at Cornell University. She finds a shockingly high correlation between fracking and low birth weight babies. You should read the article.

Baker is mostly interested in Andrew Revkin at the New York Times who complains that Hill is unethical to circulate her unpublished research. I think that Revkin’s intentions are good, but he doesn’t understand how research works. Just on the most basic level, journal publication is so slow that for years it has acted as nothing more than a historical marker. All the real research dissemination is done at conferences and through the circulation of unpublished work. And even if time weren’t an issue, most research needs more than two reviewers. The new process allows many peers to comment and correct a paper before it is finalized in a form only later scientists are likely to read.

I commented on the article as it relates to my work in global warming. It mostly came out of my frustration with a friend who sent me a paper he had written about Christian ethics. In it, he discussed global warming. (He was a graduate student with me, but left the program before getting a degree.) But all of his science was based upon polemical pseudoscience by Arthur B. Robinson—all from papers in a supposedly peer reviewed journal. It calls into question the whole idea of “peer review.” Exactly who are these peers? Some people, like my friend, will okay bad science because they want to make a political point. And if enemies only review each other’s papers, nothing will ever be published. (Imagine Newton reviewing Leibniz!)

Here is my comment:

It has long bugged me that people make a big deal about global warming science coming from peer reviewed journals. It isn’t the paper-by-paper peer reviewing that makes the science valid. Global warming appears to be true because despite great effort, no one has been able to kick a hole in the data or the models.

In general, the peer review system works well. But there are plenty of problems with it. It is more troublesome in keeping controversial papers out of print than in letting bad papers in. For example, work like Hill could, under the right conditions, be kept out of print or relegated to a minor journal. Such is why powerful institutions and advisers are so important.

But lots of pseudoscience has been published in “peer reviewed,” if not reputable, journals. Some of the worst denial literature has been published in specialized “peer reviewed” journals. I was once the assistant to a conscientious journal editor, but I saw clearly that an unethical editor could send articles out to friendly colleagues who would sign off on total dreck. Want to “peer review” a denialist pseudoscientific paper? Send it to Arthur Robinson and Fred Singer for review! It’s like Mitt Romney getting his budget peer reviewed by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

Traditional peer review means little. But the kind of peer review that Hill is getting because of the wide circulation of her paper is the very best kind of peer review. What she has done is absolutely right, especially given the practical importance of her study’s results.

Friedman Embarrasses Us in New Zealand

Tom Friedman - Artist's ConceptionThomas Friedman was in New Zealand late last year and he did a radio interview with Kim Hill. She beats the shit out of him. From his first word Friedman is on the defense, I assume because he already knew who Hill was. It is nice to hear someone go after him. In the United States, I’ve only ever heard fawning interviews.

There are a couple of things that really stand out. One is how Friedman is constantly trying to walk back his entire career. A few times he says that he didn’t create globalization and (supposed) free market economics; he just reported on it. While this is technically true, Friedman has been one of the biggest and most influential cheerleaders for this conservative utopia.

He also claims that we went too far in the free market direction and that now we are adjusting in the other direction. He says this many times. But I don’t see the evidence for it. In fact, if Romney is elected President, we will push forward in the loony free market direction faster than we ever have before. But what is most annoying about Friedman’s comments is how his own writing has pushed against any trend to ameliorate the problems associated with his neo-liberal doctrine. The most obvious example of this is his constant wish that Obama would “move to the center!” But Obama is already radically free market. The only changes he’s made to the government have been very minor things around the edges. If Friedman can’t applaud these things, then he is not for curbing the abuses of the free market.

One thing he said really blew my mind, and it caused me to start writing this. He seems to think there are only two options. The first is his: free market radicalism with some (apparently) minor government programs to stop people from starving to death. The second is what he claims is the option of anyone who would question him: shut the borders. So it’s either America or North Korea: which would you rather have? This is a ridiculous comparison, of course. Canada is as globalized as the United States, but things are better there. Sweden is as globalized as the United States, but things are better there. Things are even better in the United Kingdom!

But in claiming that his free market utopia is the only possible future, he claims that people don’t want to go back. People don’t want to give up their iPhones. Okay. People don’t want to give up the internet. What?! The internet?! The internet came out of a government program. The web came out of work by a bunch of socialist European physicists. The internet is not the result of globalization and unregulated markets.

In addition to the complete stupidity of his claim, I think it is telling of Friedman and those of his ilk. For most of the people I know, the internet is best summed up by Wikipedia and YouTube (but not the professional YouTube, just the junk that people put out). For Friedman, the internet is about commerce. Before Amazon and iTunes, Friedman didn’t care about the internet, if he had even heard of it. If you can’t buy or sell things, what is the point?

This can be taken further. Friedman’s whole approach to the world is consumerism. It is all about getting more iPods in more hands. He has no interest in the music that is played on those devices. And frankly, he has no interest in technological development. As Ha-Joon Chang has documented, it is very often the case that only by limiting competition can we build new, vital industries. The MP3 player was around long before Apple entered the market. And all Apple did was package the device well and make it much, much, much less free with their licencing system.

I used to be embarrassed when George W. Bush went abroad. But the truth is there is an endless supply of American idiots to embarrass our country. I’m glad that Bush has mostly disappeared. But I fear we will be cursed with Friedman to his dying breathe.

Has anyone ever choked on a mustache?

Thanks to Glenn Greenwald on Salon for link to radio show.

Ad Revenue

ClickWhat I’m about to say has nothing to do with this site. The only ads on this site are for Amazon, and I only get money if you actually buy something. And then it is only 4% of the purchase price and that doesn’t include shipping which is often the most expensive part. I’m thinking of taking down the ads. But eventually, when the site is getting more than 1000 unique visitors per day (it is now at around 400), I will start doing regular ads. So what I’m about to say could some day affect me, but that isn’t why I’m talking about it.

Click on ads. And not just once. Click on the ad and click on one of the ad site’s links. Don’t click on an ad and click back. Google (and probably other ad companies) see this as a mistake and don’t credit the site. I also recommend clicking on political ads of things you find really vile. I know the natural tendency is to never click on such ads, but this is wrongheaded. Make them pay a dime for you having had to look at their awfulness.

I’m not telling you to do this as a scam. This is an effort to keep the internet strong. Ad revenue is falling fast. Some have suggested that Facebook is doomed in the long run (ten years). This is very important (but I’m not recommending that you click on Facebook ads—I don’t see Facebook’s demise being bad, but if ad revenue is hurting them, imagine what it is doing to everyone else). But it isn’t the only issue.

Many ads are just like billboards along the highway. For example, I just saw one for Ben & Jerry’s. I know from my own experience with Google AdSense, that at least most websites do not get paid for this ad unless someone clicks on it. Yet it works perfectly as an ad; having seen it, I am much more likely to buy ice cream tonight. So I clicked on the ad. I clicked around their site. I made sure that the website got its dime, but much more important, I made sure that Ben & Jerry’s paid their dime.

Don’t think of clicking on ads as a sign that you’re an easy mark. Think of it as a charitable contribution to making the internet viable. Think of it as a way to support the websites you like. Most of all, think of it as a way of making advertisers pay for the services they receive.

Update (25 July 2012 9:36 pm)

When I was at the grocery store early this evening, I stopped and checked out the ice cream. In particular, I was looking at the Ben & Jerry’s. (People who think advertising doesn’t affect them are fooling themselves.) It was only because I remembered seeing the ad that I decided not to buy any. And I’m regretting it right now!

BTW: Stephen Colbert’s AmeriCone Dream is a very good ice cream. Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Late Night Snack’ is as bad as it sounds. While it is true that I’m kind of a traditionalist when it comes to ice cream, you can trust me: you will like AmericCone Dream; you may not like Late Night Snack; and if you have taste, you will think that it is just weird (but not in a good way).

Psychopaths and Turtles

Cecil TurtleI’m not nearly one of the first to find this amazing video. And it probably won’t get that big because, you know, it’s amazing. It is really great. It has the two things that every great video needs: new information about something totally useless and humor of the nerd variety. On the second front, there are some jokes about what I assume are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I like this just from the standpoint that I don’t know what’s going on.

On the first front, this video offers up some excellent useless information. When I started reading the introduction to the video, I thought it was talking about how much people swerve to avoid hitting animals. It didn’t occur to me that people would swerve to hit an animal—at least beyond psychopaths. And yet, this guy finds that fully 6% of drivers will intentionally kill animals. This is shocking. And as he points out: turtles? Really?! Cecil Turtle? This makes me feel even worse about our society, and as you know, I wasn’t starting very high up the scale.

All the people who stop to help the animals are inspiring, however. Even people who are afraid! The woman with the plums is trying to disturb the snake to get it to move off the road. And I have a theory about the guy who threw rocks at the spider. He was trying to get it off the road—to save it. When that didn’t work, he assumed that the spider was fatally injured and so he killed it to end its suffering. So again: a fearful person nonetheless trying to help an animal.

Based upon his numbers, it looks like 25 out of his 1000 people sample stopped to help the animals. That’s 2.5% or less than half as many as intentionally killed animals. That’s not a happy thought.

Finally, there is the issue of what kinds of cars are driven by the animal murderers. He doesn’t provide us with information about what the distribution of all cars are, so we can’t be at all rigorous here. However, his data do indicate what we already know to be true: people in trucks and SUVs are more likely to be assholes. It is also true that men are more likely to drive trucks and SUVs. But then, that’s pretty much saying the same thing.

This video comes from The Undiscovered Space. I’m so impressed with him that I’m putting him on my Off Sites list.

Update (25 July 2012 11:27 am)

In a graph on the video, he indicates that 1.7% of snakes and 4.0% of turtles were saved. I don’t think he had equal numbers of tests for each animal. I say this, because he indicated that 4% of the animal savers were science haters. There was only one science hater, so there had to be 25 total animal savers. This is where I got the 2.5% number above. If there were equal numbers of tests for each animal, this number would be 1.4%.

EU Break Up and War

European Union Break UpThis morning, Paul Krugman speculates about how the impending Eurozone disaster will affect the political climate. In particular, since all of the “reasonable center” parties have been on board with the disastrous austerity program, once the end comes, the only political parties that won’t be soiled will be those on the far left and right.

I don’t doubt that this is correct. But it seems to me that we are looking at something far more dangerous: anger. Let’s suppose that Greece leaves the Euro. There will be much disruption, but the main thing that the Greek people will remember are the years that the European elites—especially Germany—made them suffer for nothing.

Sure, extremist political parties can be problematic. (See, for example, the United States under Bush, which went to war in Iraq when the people were against it.) But it is so much easier for these parties to really cause problems if the people themselves are angry. And when that anger is largely justifiable: watch out!

What is amazing about this is how the elites in Europe don’t see the problem. They don’t seem to be aware that their comfortable lifestyles are dependent upon the consent of weaker countries. Regardless of how morally superior those in northern Europe may feel compared to those in southern Europe (wrongly in my opinion), the people in southern Europe still need to live. And like all people, they will do what they must to survive and even thrive.

But I’ve seen the same thing within the United States. The rich are determined to turn this country into a banana republic. And as long as this system is stable, it is great for them. But people will only allow themselves to sink so low before they will rebel. The rich should want somewhat greater equality because it provides for stability of a society in which they do very well. But instead, they ignore this, in the name of shortsighted greed. They believe they are morally superior to the poor (wrongly in my opinion), but that won’t mean much if there is a revolution.

The same goes for Germany and frankly, all of Europe. They may survive the EU break up. But are they really confident that it won’t lead to war 20 or 30 years from now? I’m not.

Making Don Quixote Dramatic

QuixoticI just finished reading two translations of the first part of Don Quixote and I’ve begun to see it in a whole new way, at least in terms of theatrical production. Cervantes does something that was greatly improved upon by later writers: he brings a number of subplots together with the main plot. It isn’t clear that he knows that he’s doing this, because he doesn’t make good use of it.

Probably the most surprising thing he does is to reintroduce of the 15 year old lad from Chapter 4. When we first see him, his master is whipping him. Don Quixote, that righter of wrongs, makes the lad’s situation even worse. And Don Quixote, lost in his dream world, rides off thinking he has done a great deed.

Here the boy comes back and explains all that happened. Don Quixote wants to right this further wrong, the boy stops him. He explains that Don Quixote only makes bad situations even worse and that the best thing is to stay the hell out of other people’s business. This is the only time in the whole novel that Don Quixote seriously considers that he is not right.

These last chapters also set right the story of Cardenio, Lucinda, and Ferdinand. This involves Ferdinand’s first love, Dorothea, who he abandoned. They leave as two couples: Cardenio with Lucinda and Ferdinand with Dorothea. The evil Ferdinand gets no punishment for his actions, probably because he is of noble birth who are not only above the law but beyond moral expectations.

There is also yet another couple of young lovers who get together, but why they are thrown in the book is not clear. Gines de Pasamonte shows up long enough to return Sancho’s sometimes stolen sometimes not donkey. The barber whose basin Don Quixote stole is bought off. And the innkeepers are paid for Don Quixote’s lodgings and all the destruction he has caused.

The most important tying up is done with Don Quixote’s friends the priest and barber—but not the barber who lost his basin (this is very confusing when they are together in the story). They bring him home where he is cared for by his niece and housekeeper. The plot is left there, but Cervantes writes that he has heard of further adventures, but hasn’t been able to get his hands on them. So the book ends with as shameful a lead in to a sequel as the new Spider-Man film.

The main thing about all of this is that if plotted correctly, all of these story threads could come together to great comedic effect. The story does not have to be a sequence of adventures—it can have real dramatic momentum.

One thing though: the windmills have got to go!

Conservative Quixotes

QuixoticAll-star fucktard, Jonah Goldberg has something to say about the United Nations. You know conservatives: they don’t like the United Nations because it represents the promise of cooperation. And it goes against this ridiculous notion of American Exceptionalism. This is why conservatives get apoplectic when someone talks about using foreign legal precedents in the United States or suggests that maybe our 230 year old Constitution is not the best one ever created.

My point is: who cares what Jonah Goldberg has to say about the United Nations? I certainly don’t. But he used Don Quixote to discuss his ridiculous notion of starting a new United Nations—one that only includes the “morally and politically serious nations.” By that, he means nations that agree with his corporatocratic notions of freedom and democracy. And by that he means slavery and aristocracy. Regardless of his silly and evil ideas, I do wish he would keep Cervantes out of it—a man who appears to have been decent and who has provided much joy to the human race.

Goldberg doesn’t even get Don Quixote right. My guess is that he hasn’t read it. There are many documented cases of copies of the book bursting into flames when touched by conservatives. And by that I mean there haven’t been any, but it would make sense. Anyway, Goldberg writes:

The phrase “tilting at windmills” was inspired by the novel “Don Quixote,” and it means to fight something that doesn’t really deserve to be fought.

Really? Is that what it means? I find this surprising, because it is totally wrong. It means fighting a hopeless battle in a ridiculous manner. There is no romantic ideal here; this isn’t Battle of the Alamo.

There is, of course, another way to view the term—one that goes along with the book. Unfortunately, few have read it and so this idea doesn’t make sense anywhere but on a blog by a guy who has an unnatural affinity for the novel. It is implicit in Goldberg’s next sentence, which I’ll bet was added at the last minute by an editor who noted what I had:

Quixote mistook the windmills of the Spanish countryside for ravenous giants and set out to vanquish them.

I’ve previously written about what the word “quixotic” personally means to me. It is not what it generally means. Just the same, “tilting at windmills” to me means attacking phantoms—things that aren’t there. But there was nothing irrational about Don Quixote attacking those giants. The problem was that his perceptions were wrong because, you know, he was crazy.

In this way, Goldberg’s analogy is apt. The conservatives (like him) who want to create a United Morally and Politically Serious Nations are indeed attacking something that is only in their minds. By wanting to unite a number of like-minded nations, all they want is to create a power block. Their problem with the United Nations is that some nations don’t agree with them. I understand this. I agree with many of the things that Goldberg finds repugnant. But his solution is to get rid of the United Nations so that the stronger nations can bind together and conquer the other nations. Even apart from the fact that this in impossible given the nuclear stockpiles of “morally and politically unserious nations,” this would only takes us back to the days before the United Nations when we had, let’s see, two world wars.

Don Quixote works very well to explain conservative thought—just not in the way that Goldberg thinks. Don Quixote also works well to explain rigid ideologues on the left, although I don’t know any (they were fairly common 90 years ago). Don Quixote was the very definition of a ideologue. He was so committed to his vision of the ideal of knights errant that he could not see the world the way it actually is. Pragmatists, like the modern left do not suffer from this. Modern conservatives, however, are this way—at least the ones who aren’t just in it out of self-interest (not that the two don’t fuse together in many cases).