Categorizing Carl Linnaeus

Carl LinnaeusOn this day in 1883, swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks was born. Actor, dancer, and musician Scatman Crothers was born in 1910. The great meteorologist and Chaos Theory pioneer Edward Norton Lorenz was born in 1917. And singer Rosemary Clooney was born in 1928.

Actress Joan Collins is 80 today. Chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov is 62. Tuesdays with Morrie author Mitch Albom is 55. And Jewel is 39.

By a nose, the day belongs to botanist Carl Linnaeus who was born on this day in 1707. Linnaeus is the founder of the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature—the formal system for naming species. What I’ve always found so amazing is that the vast majority of species we categorized based upon attributes turned out to be dead right when we looked at genetics. As someone who is caught inside his own head and not very clear on the outside world, I find it amazing that others can see reality so clearly. It is hard to overstate his impact on biology.

Happy birthday Carl Linnaeus!

Chuck Grassley on Court Packing

Chuck GrassleyDuring the Great Depression, Roosevelt was very angry that the Supreme Court kept blocking his reforms. A slim majority on the Court was very conservative. (Sound familiar?) What could the president do? Well, he could pack the court. The number of people on the Supreme court is not stated in the Constitution. So Roosevelt threatened to add the number of seats on the court and fill them with pro-New Deal justices. Ultimately, this wasn’t done for a few reasons—most notably the retirement of a conservative judge that gave the liberals a small majority. But the point is, “court packing” does not refer to the normal procedure of presidents filling open seats.

Now you know more than Senator Chuck Grassley. In the debate over whether to allow Sri Srinivasan sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Grassley complained six times about Obama’s supposed efforts at “court packing.” He apparently thought that trying to fill vacancies was “court packing.” We see this problem again and again. Start with a Senator of relatively limited mental acumen. Let them age past the 70-year cognitive decline. And watch the stupid fly!

Dylan Matthews helpfully put together the following compilation of Grassley’s embarrassment:

Now, I don’t want to hear any complaints that most people don’t know what “court packing” was either. This is true. I’ve asked a number of people and there is widespread confusion on the matter. Just the same, none of these people go around complaining that Obama is engaged in “court packing.” They don’t even do it in private. And they certainly don’t have staffs that vet their talking points.

Of course, Grassley’s comments don’t exist in a vacuum. He probably got them from a Wall Street Journal editorial over the weekend, Packing the D.C. Circuit. The editors too are confused on the matter, thinking that liberals’ desire to fill the vacant seats as court packing. I am constantly amazed that modern conservatism has such a weak intellectual basis. Gone are the days of William F. Buckley. Now, the few good thinkers on the right are largely ignored. And the Wall Street Journal editorial page has long been nothing but a bastion of right wing freaks and conspiracy theorists.

I understand that Rush Limbaugh bases his talk show on the ravings of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. But Chuck Grassley? With his large taxpayer provided staff? This is just sad.


The Bell Curve author Charles A. Murray is actually making the argument that African Americans are poor because they are stupid. People get confused about this fact, thinking that he’s just some bigot. No. All the eugenic inspired ridiculousness is done in the name of an attack on Affirmative Action. But United States Senators (and plenty of other rich and “successful” people) are constantly showing that they are pretty dim. Where’s the outrage over that?

God’s Twitter Wisdom

Last week, God tweeted out the following:

Thus far, it has almost 10,000 retweets. Clearly, this is an example of retweet trolling. God knows how arrogant most atheists are. I am not, however. My mother used to say, “Don’t tempt the gods.” I think it’s good advice, even if I don’t happen to believe in any gods. Anyway, my ideas about the nature of reality are that even if this isn’t a universe in which you die and go to the heaven of the God of Abraham, such a universe must exist at some point somewhere. Or not. Regardless, I’m hedging my bets.

This morning, God tweeted another very smart thing (he’s God after all):

That explains everything! Millions live without healthcare so that Dick Cheney can get a new heart (regular or artificial) whenever he needs one. Thanks God!

Rand Paul’s Scary Numbers

Rand PaulSteven Dennis over at Roll Call goes after Rand Paul’s use of old talking points. Paul is going around saying, “We are now borrowing $40,000 a second. We are borrowing $4 billion a day.” Oh. My. God! Did he say “$4 billion a day”?! That’s a Very Large Number! And as normal with these kinds of pronouncements, there is no context at all.

Dennis reported that these numbers are no longer valid. With the huge decrease in the deficit, we are now borrowing half as much. But Rand Paul has not changed his talking points. I don’t know what Dennis is expecting. So the government is borrowing only $2 billion a day? The amount does not matter. It could be $2 million a day. What Paul is really saying is, “We are borrowing mumble mumble a day! Are you not outraged!”

Also note that Paul tweeted, “We borrow from China just to run the ordinary functions of government.” That’s technically true. But it is deceptive. The Chinese portion of government borrowing is 8%. The point is that Rand Paul has no interest in the budget or government borrowing. He just wants to scare everyone. “Look: big number!” It doesn’t matter whether the number is right or not. He’s deceiving people whatever the numbers are.

A similar thing happened last year. Rand Paul was on a talk show with Paul Krugman. Paul said that government spending was up; Krugman corrected him. Afterwords, Paul found out the truth: while Federal spending was up, total government spending was down. He then proceeded to dismiss this because apparently, only federal government spending counts. Rand Paul never lets the facts get in the way of his talking points.

Like most conservative zealots, Rand Paul is in a constant state of outrage about the government. Since he is ideologically committed to the idea that the government is by definition bad, he never looks at what the government does to figure out if any given part of it is good or bad. He just knows that it is all bad. And thus we get the comments like, “Do you know how much the government is borrowing?!” It’s all context free. Rand Paul adds nothing to the policy debate, even when he’s right about a particular policy.

Tea Partier: Louder Shouting Republican

Tea PartyYesterday, Ed Kilgore wrote, Please Listen Up, Political Reporters: What Ted Cruz Means When He Says He Mistrusts Both Parties. In it, he took on Ted Cruz and his habit of claiming that he doesn’t trust either political party. As Kilgore noted, “Does it mean, as political reporters often blandly repeat, that ‘Tea Party’ pols like Cruz are hardy independents who care about principle rather than about the GOP, and represent a constituency that is up in the air?” He provided two answers: “No” and “Hell no!”

This is an issue that I’ve been hammering on for a while. The only difference between the Tea Party and the Republican Party is that the Tea Party is only made up of the stronger Republicans. So it makes no sense to even have a different name for the Tea Party; they are just the base of the Republican Party. What’s interesting is that the Democratic Party has a progressive base too but no one labels it as a separate party. And that’s strange when you consider that the this base is far more likely to abandon its party than the Tea Party is.

As you all know, I am constantly disappointed in the Democratic Party. Yet when someone asks me, I tell them I am a Democrat. I think it is disingenuous to say otherwise. This comes from my many conversations with conservatives who claim to be “independent.” (This doesn’t tend to happen with liberals; the independents who tend toward the Democrats really are in the muddled middle.) You aren’t an independent if you agree with everything the Republicans say but think they aren’t quite pure enough. And that is exactly what Ted Cruz is all about.

What the Tea Party movement was about from the beginning was the Republican base upset that it lost big in 2008. It was the outgrowth of the widely held opinion that the 2008 crisis and the presidency of George W. Bush were caused by not being conservative enough. There was also all that racial insecurity. “I’m losing control of my country!” I won’t go as far as Bobcat Goldthwait who says they are just racists, “Obama’s a… a… a Socialist! What’s a Socialist? I don’t know, but they like fried chicken.” But there is a lot of that. The whole birther movement is not because Obama is black but because he is “other.”

Whenever talking about the modern Republican Party, all roads lead back to Life of Brian. The only ones the People’s Front of Judea hate more than the Romans are the Judean People’s Front. So it is madness to suggest that the Tea Party is somehow independent of the parties. That makes it sound as if its members disagree equally with the two parties. But the fact is that they always (By definition!) disagree with the Democratic Party. And they always agree with the Republican Party. Except, of course, they shout louder. But what they shout is same thing.

27 Times a Charm

BroccoliWhen my son was not quite two, a friend told me it can take up to 27 times of trying a particular food before you like it. This might be daunting to people who think they have to feed full portions of “yucky” spinach to their picky four-year-olds 27 times. When I heard this amazing fact, however, it was heartening to me. I thought, “You mean I can train my child to like healthy foods?” Instead of trying to feed full portions of a new food to my son, I would just have him take a tiny bite of it. That is all I required. Over time, some of these foods he would eat a little more until he eventually ate full portions of the stuff.

Fortunately, it has not taken 27 times of eating most foods for my son to like them. Though I haven’t yet gotten him to like sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, beets, and acorn squash, there are lots of other foods he does like. He happily eats broccoli, Greek olives, various greens, including spinach, carrots, sweet peppers, and fish.

So what about the healthy things my son won’t eat? Possibly the reason he doesn’t yet like some of them is because he hasn’t tried them the full 27 times. I’m going to continue having him try just one little bite each time I prepare the food. As with everything, it is a process. I will not give up, and I encourage you to not give up either. Be heartened by the fact that it didn’t take nearly 27 times of trying for my son to like most of the foods he eats. I would love to hear how it goes with you, and I will keep you posted about the Brussels sprouts.

(Image courtesy of Toa55 and