Thursday, October 31, 2013

Demons in St. Louis

It's hard to believe that my point of origin in this country had one of the most famous exorcisms in history. Apparently, people are still talking about it.

One man described living near the suburban St. Louis home where the 13-year-old boy arrived in the winter of 1949 (his Lutheran mother was a St. Louis native who married a Catholic). Another said she was a distant cousin of Father William Bowdern, who led the exorcism ritual after consulting with the archbishop of St. Louis but remained publicly silent about his experiences — though he did tell Allen it was "the real thing.

I've heard the stories myself. My grandparents were in their 30s with two little girls in West County when it all happened. Everyone was talking about it and everyone believed it. Father William Bowdern, who performed the exorcism, was viewed as a savior to the community for many years.

He drove the devil out of the Gateway to the West!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Explaining the Zombie Apocalypse

It's Halloween and that means it's Zombie Apocalypse Time, and AMC's The Walking Dead is once again wildly popular. I stumbled upon an article that says that zombies are nothing to fear because bacteria, insects and animals would eat them alive. So to speak. David Mizejewski writes:
The thought of being eaten alive is a natural fear, and when it's your own species doing the eating, it's even more terrifying.

Relax. Next time you're lying in bed, unable to fall asleep thanks to the vague anxiety of half-rotten corpses munching on you in the dark, remember this: if there was ever a zombie uprising, wildlife would kick its ass.
I think Mizejewski has it all wrong way: bacteria, insects, and wildlife aren't chowing down on zombies because the infection has a superior design. It elegantly solves the two biggest problems faced by micro-organisms: competition and propagation.

(Note: very minor spoilers ahead if you've never watched The Walking Dead.)

There are many types of bacteria that produce highly toxic poisons: botulinum, tetanus, staph, salmonella, and so on. The Walking Dead infection could conceivably produce a toxin that renders zombie flesh repellent to all common bacteria. Animals chomping on them would immediately spit out the distasteful flesh.

That would give the zombie infection a huge competitive advantage: they would have human corpses all to themselves.

Viruses and bacteria propagate through the air, through food or by exchange of fluids. We know everyone in The Walking Dead is infected, but we don't know exactly how the infection spreads. We know a bite is required to turn a person directly (perhaps by delivering a lethal dose of the toxin). We know amputation can save a bite victim. We know everyone has either been drenched in zombie blood or has been in physical contact with someone who has. So it seems the infection is passed through fluid exchange.

The initial infection could have been through almost any means: toilet seats, unwashed lettuce, blood transfusion, super-soldier or immortality serum gone awry, a form of kuru transmitted by cannibalism, and so on. Anyone coming in contact with a carrier could be infected but would show no symptoms. Only when a carrier died would there be any clue that something was going on. The zombie plague could be worldwide before anyone had a clue.

One hurdle virulent blood-borne micro-organisms face is that when they kill their hosts they stop propagating. That's why ebola hasn't killed us all.

Not the zombie bug. Its carriers get up after they die and continue to spread the infection. It's an ingenious solution to the propagation problem. But how do zombies get up and walk around?

First, what's the energy source for the zombie? There's no blood circulation or respiration (zombies work just fine riddled with bullets), so there's no way to transport oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. That implies that the zombie bug is consuming the body of the zombie to provide energy.

Second, how does the zombie know what to do? How does it coordinate a broken body well enough to walk on two legs?

The zombie bug itself must provide the energy to infected tissue, perhaps some form of adenosine-triphosphate that's toxic to bacteria, allowing the corpse's most basic functions to proceed without heart or lung function.

Given that energy source the corpse's reptilian brain, eyes, ears and muscles could still function to allow the zombie to ambulate and seek food. Higher-level cognition is absent because the zombie bug feasts on the gray matter of the brain to provide that energy (naturally).

A Reprieve?
As the infection consumes its hosts, eventually the zombie hordes will wither to motionless husks. At which point the zombie problem becomes manageable.

But as the the series has shown, the biggest problem isn't the zombies, but other survivors. If they continue to behave like backwoods survivalists and shoot anything that moves, they're all doomed to chaos and solitary death.

Though The Walking Dead is fiction, it shows how important collaboration and compromise are essential for survival in dire situations, regardless of whatever differences we have.

I just wish the zombies in the Tea Party could understand this...

Trouble in Paradise

I am continually assured by my friends on the right that everything is just fine with their party and if they continue to run ultra conservative candidates, they are going to win. Yet two recent AP stories (here and here) suggest otherwise.

From the first piece...

A slice of corporate America thinks tea partyers have overstayed their welcome in Washington and should be shown the door in next year's congressional elections. In what could be a sign of challenges to come across the country, two U.S. House races in Michigan mark a turnabout from several years of widely heralded contests in which right-flank candidates have tried — sometimes successfully — to unseat Republican incumbents they perceive as not being conservative enough. 

In the Michigan races, longtime Republican businessmen are taking on two House incumbents — hardline conservative Reps. Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio — in GOP primaries. The 16-day partial government shutdown and the threatened national default are bringing to a head a lot of pent-up frustration over GOP insurgents roughing up the business community's agenda. 

So now the primariers are going to be primaried? Hee hee hee...

It actually makes sense when you think about it. Once the money goes away from the Tea Party (because it's not really a grass roots movement), that will pretty much be it for them.

From the second piece...

A year after losing a presidential race many Republicans thought was winnable, the party arguably is in worse shape than before. The GOP is struggling to control tensions between its tea party and establishment wings and watching approval ratings sink to record lows. It's almost quaint to recall that soon after Mitt Romney lost to President Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee recommended only one policy change: endorsing an immigration overhaul, in hopes of attracting Hispanic voters.

That immigration bill is now struggling for life and attention in the Republican-run House. The bigger worry for many party leaders is the growing rift between business-oriented Republicans and the GOP's more ideological wing. Each accuses the other of bungling the debt ceiling and government shutdown dramas, widely seen as a major Republican embarrassment.

This would be why the mistakes made by the Obama administration in regards to the ACA will largely be ignored. The American people have come to realize in the last month that the Republicans are not helping out anyone and are, in fact, causing most of the problems we have as well as actively preventing our country from solving them.

And when you lose the National Review, well, then you really up shit crick...

The Race is on...

Members of the House have been grilling administration officials over the website's problems, demanding apologies and complaining about the site's problems. This is completely hypocritical, considering that country has been mired in the sequester for more than a year, because Congress has been unable to pass a real budget.

By most accounts the negotiations of the House-Senate budget committee will not result in any grand plan, which means we could be struggling with threats of shutdowns and defaults well into the next year.

The committee has a deadline of Dec. 13. What are the odds that the health care website will be up and running smoothly before the same people complaining about it can get their act together and pass a budget?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Greenspan: Corporations Can't Be Trusted

The former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, has released a new book about how wrong he was about the crash in 2008, The Map and the Territory. In an interview on The Daily Show, he says that he always assumed that people in the markets would behave rationally, and that they wouldn't take risks that would destroy their own companies. He now understands how completely wrong he was.

What's interesting about his analysis of the crash is that he squarely places the blame for the crazy risk-taking on the fact that the brokerages were corporations and not partnerships (starting at about 3:20):

Greenspan: When we began to see what was going on, you couldn't believe that there would be people  that would be that disregarding of their own companies. How could you run, as you say, 30 times...
Stewart: Right. Thirty times on the leverage. Isn't it because they don't pay the penalty.
Greenspan: Yes.
Stewart: Isn't it the rewards that they were getting... the system was incentivized for these crazy short-term bursts of rewards.
Greenspan: Back in 1970, the New York Stock Exchange said that broker-dealers -- which is who all these people are -- could incorporate. Prior to then, they were all partnerships. And let me tell you something about a partnership: your partners don't let you take any risks that can affect them. And I remember they wouldn't lend you a nickel overnight.
And the system worked. You did not get anybody failing because the equity was protected. As soon as they started to go to corporations, they took risks for exactly the reason you suggest.
Here we have one of the foremost proponents of capitalism telling us that corporations cannot be trusted to do the right thing, because the people who make the decisions have no skin in the game.

The entire purpose of a corporation is to shield officers from any economic responsibility for the decisions they make. And it's even worse than that: officers of major corporations have contracts with golden parachutes that guarantee them a huge payoff no matter how much harm they cause the company. They have no incentives to do the right thing, and there are no consequences for incompetence and malfeasance.

When conservatives talk about personal responsibility it's always in the context of keeping poor people off welfare and denying abortions to women. But when BP is fined for ecological catastrophes in the Gulf, or JPMorgan Chase is fined for its economic calamities, conservatives characterize these slaps on the hand as revenge and shakedowns.

When are we going to hold CEOs to the same standards as welfare moms?

Did They Like It?

Lisa Myers current story about the ACA, the president and health insurance is sure to elicit many adolescent "n'yah n'yah's" from the right wing blogsphere. Yet all the hubbub over this is missing an answer to a key question: Did people like their health insurance?

Before we dive into answering that questions, let's remember a few key facts. First, the people in question who are "losing" their insurance are those in the individual market, not the majority of Americans (85-90%) who get their health insurance through their employers. For me, this translates into most Americans not really caring about "Gotcha #538 of Infinity" because it doesn't affect them. If they liked the president before this still will. If they didn't, they won't and will accuse him of being Richard Nixon. Oh well.

Second, people aren't actually having their policies cancelled as they did in the past. They are being brought up to a certain standard so if they do have have health issues at some point in the future, they aren't going to soak the rest of us. This is a correction to a massive flaw that was in the old system of insurance. That leads us to the third point and back to the question I posed at the start of this post. The market for individual coverage sucks. Premiums rise at the whim of the insurance company, people are kicked off plans or not allowed on for preexisting conditions, rates fluctuate wildly resulting 50 percent of the people in this market are churned through it every year.

So, when the president said, if you like your insurance, you get to keep it, I have to wonder, did people actually like their insurance coverage? Of those that did, how many watch Fox News and read right wing blogs? More importantly, did these people know what was in their policies and was it in their best interest to continue with such policy? I realize that bringing up the words "best interests" is sure to cause an explosive adolescent stomp down the hallway but people who make poor choices in terms of health care affect my life, with or without the ACA, so I welcome the regulation.

If the people in the individual market do not like their insurance or have issues with their current policies, that effectively means the president is not a liar. Did they really like it?

No Revolution

I poked my head into Kevin Baker's site, The Smallest Minority, for the first time since I was voted off and found this. Aside from the usual warped and psychotic rightwingblogspeak, I'm trying to figure out what he meant by this...

I'm reminded once again of Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, his magnum opus. I recommend you read (if you haven't) my ├╝berpost on it from January, 2010. 

This will not end well.

Obviously it could be the usual bloviating anger and irrational fear  backed up with absolutely nothing (why do they continue to think that posting on blogs makes you powerful and scary?) but I think perhaps that Kevin truly believes that he and his fellow cult members might need to "take back the country." To that, I say this..

There will be no revolution as long as men have titties. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Tale of Two Web Sites

Great piece on Bloomberg discussing how the state run sites are faring much better than those in the states who refused to set up their own exchanges.

Don’t tell Elisabeth Benjamin it’s tough to sign up for Obamacare. For two weeks, she has been enrolling uninsured people from her New York City office through an online marketplace created by the law.

Most recently, she helped a Bronx home-health worker in her 30s get health coverage for $70 a month. “By week two, the system was pretty smooth,” said Benjamin, who’s certified to assist people signing up for health insurance.

It does help if you live in a state that isn't actively trying to sabotage the ACA's efforts. Kentucky, the only southern state to set up their own exchange, is doing just fine.

Elizabeth Watts of Kentucky, which runs an independent exchange, had her application accepted at 12:04 a.m. on Oct. 1, making her one of the first to start the enrollment process. Because of a rare disorder, she has already had a heart attack and a stent put in place. She makes $220 a week working at a Shell service station. Previously, the only insurance she could find was for $300 a month, which was too much for her to afford. Using the exchange site, Watts learned she was eligible for Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor that was expanded under the law and will cover most of her costs. “It’s been such a relief,” said Watts, 31. The last time she saw her heart doctor, “it took 15 minutes and cost $160.”

Ms. Watts is a fantastic example of why the Right are shitting themselves right now. They know that once people like her in other deep red states start to sign up, they lose votes.

And then, they lose power.

This Is Spinal Fusion: a Medical Dilemma

The Washington Post has a major story about the increasing number of spinal fusions in the United States. Spinal fusion is a medical procedure that bolts vertebrae together to relieve pain and restore limb function.

The Post story looks at the large number of fusions done by a Florida neurosurgeon, Federico C. Vinas. There are suggestions that many of these procedures were not medically necessary, and Vinas did them just for profit (he makes $2 million a year). Spinal fusion is not cheap: in the United States it costs on average of $111,000.

Spinal fusion, like almost everything in American medicine, is overpriced. Based on outcomes from countries similar to the United States, the costs of medical procedures are artificially high: probably five to ten times what they should be (which is obvious from the fact that even within the United States they vary that much).

The Post talked to several patients who did not benefit from the surgery, some of whom are in severe pain and unable to walk. Others are now leading normal lives. These newspaper anecdotes are compelling, but don't really address the efficacy of spinal fusions. The problem is that there is no real consensus on the efficacy of fusion for treating nonspecific low back pain.

The Post story isn't the first on this topic: Bloomberg examined the same issue in 2010. The Bloomberg story is interesting because it's about the Twin Cities Spine Center and Ensor Transfeldt, a surgeon who examined me 20 years ago. Several years ago I had a minimally invasive cervical laminoforaminotomy by a different Twin Cities Spine surgeon. I passed on proposals by other surgeons for a fusion or a disc replacement: the Terminator-like spine model with the titanium ball-bearing design really creeped me out.

Limitations of Spinal Fusion
By its very nature spinal fusion reduces the patient's flexibility by bolting together two or three vertebrae with bone transplanted from the patient's hip or a cadaver. The fusion prevents rotation of the spine at those levels, putting stress on other parts of the spine, which can cause serious damage and pain, and potentially limits the patient's activities. It's therefore not something you should consider lightly. Other surgical procedures, such as disc replacement, still have serious limitations.

I'm therefore inclined to agree with the thrust of the Post and Bloomberg's reporting: some doctors are doing too many fusions.

Playing Golf and Tennis
The increase in the number of fusions is by no means motivated solely by profit: many people are simply not willing to suffer excruciating pain, become dependent on narcotic painkillers, or become invalids, and they look to surgery to make them mobile (from the Post):
“Patients want to be able to play tennis and golf and go surfing at much higher ages than they did in the past,” said Gunnar Andersson, chairman emeritus of the department of orthopedic surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and president-elect of the International Society for the Advancement of Spine Surgery, a professional group. “They are more likely to seek out treatment and more likely to accept surgery as an option.”
This echoes a popular refrain: "Baby Boomers don't want to age gracefully." This attitude is dead wrong.

Keeping People Active and Healthy
Ask any doctor how to prevent diabetes and heart disease, and the top two answers go hand in hand: weight control and exercise.

If you can't walk, you can't run, and you can't do any serious exercise. If you don't exercise you gain weight and your heart and lung function decline. You get diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and are at increased risk of stroke and even cancer. You lose your sense of proprioception, which is essential to avoiding falls. You experience bone loss, which makes serious fractures from even minor falls likely. In particular, hip fractures are a major factor in the decline and death of the elderly ("ma was doing great until she fell and broke her hip").

In strictly monetary terms, the question is: Are the long-term costs of treating chronic organic problems like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease caused by being sedentary greater than the costs of correcting orthopedic conditions that exacerbate those organic problems?

The cheapest solution is to keep people active and healthy, and off expensive painkillers (with their addictive and debilitating side effects), and diabetes and blood pressure meds for as long as possible.

No Responsibility for Patient Healing
The motivation shouldn't be for surgeons to do spinal fusions because they make more money. The only motivation should be to restore good health and function to the patient.

The problem with our health care system is that it's so fragmented: no one entity is responsible for healing the patient; they're all focused on their own particular specialties. That pits caregivers in different specialty areas against each other as they try to sell their own solutions to patients. There's usually no neutral arbiter with sufficient medical expertise to help a patient decide on the best solution. Patients have to decide for themselves, with only the advice of the specialists with a vested interest to go on. Often the best salesman -- not the best solution -- will win.

Practices at the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic try to resolve that issue, but they're initially expensive and geographically limited.

The Health Care Cost Spiral
Ultimately, the question of spinal fusions cannot be simply characterized as "doctors are money grubbers" and "baby boomers are getting fusions so they can play tennis." Our health care system is not focused on healing people, but on making money. The profit motive distorts medical care.

On the other side, patients want to be able to work, pick up their grandchildren, use their hands and arms, walk on their own two feet, get themselves out of bed and into the bathroom and bathe themselves. Most people would pay anything to do that.

Whenever someone talks about fixing the first problem someone yells, "Free Market!" and whenever someone talks about fixing the second problem someone yells, "Death Panels!"

Hence the problem of ever-spiraling health-care costs.

Given all the fretting about the number of nursing assistants we'll need as baby boomers age, it will probably be cheaper in the long run to to fix orthopedic problems -- back, knee and hip -- by whatever means necessary to keep an aging population mobile, healthy and self-sufficient as long as possible.

A Change of Heart On Inflation

My latest installment on Stiglitz was heavily centered on the issue of inflation and how the Fed seems completely obsessed with keeping it low. Yet, a recent piece in the New York Times indicates that there might be a sea change with the appointment of Janet Yellin.

The Fed has worked for decades to suppress inflation, but economists, including Janet Yellen, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Fed starting next year, have long argued that a little inflation is particularly valuable when the economy is weak. Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly.

I agree. We have to end the inflation hawk hysteria and move towards a more balanced approach towards growth. This is exactly what Stiglitz was hoping would happen when he wrote his tome two years ago and we may finally be heading in that direction.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bill Echoes Nikto

Check out the video below. Does Bill read our site?:)


Your Lack Of Insight And Compassion Make You Ugly

Check out this piece from addictinginfo. Not only do the images discussed lack compassion and insight but they really show how self loathing the Right is today. I think the key to understanding why conservatives behave the way they do is to look at their relationship with their parents and how poorly the have developed as human beings after that.

Make sure you follow these four steps if you lose your job!

1. If / when you lose your job, be sure to sell all your nice electronics and luxury goods immediately and make sure you are always dressed well in public (but not too well, because then you are clearly not in need of any financial assistance and will be judged for not immediately selling all your nice clothing, too). 

2. Cover up your tattoos, or people will snark that you are spending your welfare money on body art, even if you have had those tattoos for years, or you have a friend who is a tattoo artist who did them for free. 

3. Are your shoes nice? Better not wear them in public, especially while at the grocery store paying for food with food stamps, because you MUST have somehow magically converted those food stamps into enough expendable income to buy those shoes. Never mind that they were a gift, or you bought them years ago, or that they actually have huge holes in the soles and tattered insoles because you can’t afford to replace them. 

4. As a bonus, be sure not to have a job with flexible hours or work from home or work as a stay-at-home parent, because judgmental people will be on your ass and assume you are on welfare based on limited or non-existent evidence (even if you are not) and whine bitterly about having to contribute to social safety nets for the needy. That is right: You don’t even have to be on welfare at all, you can simply be out in public with your kid(s) during normal business hours and have total strangers assume you are on government assistance if you don’t look prosperous. Isn’t that cute?

Click Below

If You're Young, This Is The Only Obamacare Infographic You Need. I Obamadare You To Click On It.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


A Software Developer's Take on

As a software developer I have some experience with projects like I worked for companies that provided computerized testing.  They had worldwide registration systems and transmitted exam databases and software to a network of autonomous testing centers across the world, where high-stakes exams were delivered under the supervision of proctors and the results transmitted back to our central hub.

The tragedy of software development is that the launch of the health care website is all too typical. That's not an excuse: it's a simple statement of fact.

When Target came out with its site in 2011 it had a ton of problems. Best Buy also had serious issues with its site. When United Airlines and Continental Airlines merged their reservation systems they had terrible problems (United was still having problems as recently as September, when it was charging customers $0 for tickets). Pretty much every online game has launch-day blues, ranging from minor issues to major meltdowns that can take weeks or months to fix. Who can forget the problems that Microsoft has had with every major revision of Windows, including Vista (which had a redo with Windows 7) and Windows 8 (which just came out with Windows 8.1).

And of course, there are the problems that George Bush's signature program, Medicare Part D, had when it came out. Instead of jeering on the sidelines, Democrats helped the Bush administration resolve those issues.

The reasons for these problems are usually the same: late starts, uncertain scope and scale, shifting requirements and inadequate testing. The site suffered from all of these problems, many of them foisted on the project by its detractors.

Late Starts, Cast-in-Concrete Deadlines
Most software projects don't get started on time, but the deadline rarely changes. This was especially true of the ACA, which had been delayed by legal action for years. The people who claim the developers had four years to write the software are flat-out wrong. Lawyers were still duking it out in the Supreme Court in June of last year, which meant that the software developers didn't even know whether the project would really happen until 16 months before launch date. At that time the justices threw out a major portion of the law -- the Medicaid expansion -- which  affected the design and implementation.

Shifting Requirements
Then there are imprecise requirements. The health care exchange was clouded by uncertainty over the exact scope of the website: the law gives the states the right to create their own exchanges, and many did so. If all the states had created their own sites, that would have dictated a much smaller design for, relegating it to a simple entry portal to the state exchanges and back-end data processor and validator.

But the developers of had to wait for all the states to decide what they were going to do -- and many of them didn't make a decision until December of 2012, after the Republican Governor's Association asked the Obama administration multiple times to delay the deadline. That gave only 10 months after finally learning the true scope of the project. At that point they learned that they had to set up exchanges for 38 states. And only 10 months to do it. Imagine how difficult it would be to design a skyscraper without knowing how many floors it was going to have.

It's rather hypocritical that the Republicans who forced delays in the development of -- through lawsuits and dillydallying on deciding whether they would create their own exchanges -- are now complaining about its rocky start.

Full-Bore Launch vs. Incremental Development
Websites that people compare to --, for example -- have been developed incrementally, and have been up and running for more than a decade. When Amazon began they had few customers and little visibility. They had low volume on launch day and were able to fix their problems in obscurity. They had no deadline other than their own internally imposed one. They could push the launch back without any repercussions. They could grow slowly and incrementally.

The website was a huge deal that everyone was watching. Its start date was dictated by law. Millions of people and thousands of companies are depending on it. The site got hammered by millions of hits on day one, and it collapsed -- just like thousands of smaller-scale private software projects before it.

Inherently Messy Project
The job this site is trying to accomplish is much messier than ordering a coffee maker. It's not trivial to find out whether people qualify for tax credits, and you can't find out the real cost of a policy without that information. You have to make sure that the person really is who they say they are, and you have to be concerned with privacy and security. Making something simple to use and making it confidential and secure are competing -- almost contradictory -- requirements.

I'm not making excuses for the problems. I'm just saying that we've seen them before, in thousands of private and government software launches. But we've got time -- two more months before any insurance policies issued under the ACA actually go live, and three more months after that for people to sign up.

People should give Jeff Zients his month to get the problems fixed. If we're still having these problems on Dec. 1, then we can go into full histrionics mode. Until then, isn't all that different from many other software launches that limp along in their early days. Except that the project is beset by millions of people hoping desperately for it to fail and actively trying to sabotage it.

The real reason that this health care rollout is so messy is that it's basically the Heritage Institute and Mitt Romney's plan to keep the insurance industry profitable. Obama didn't originally want an individual mandate; he preferred a public option that would have looked a lot like Medicare, which would have eliminated many of the problems with

Thus, the left criticizes Obama for selling out to insurance execs, and the right criticizes him for a socialist takeover of health care.

I guess that's the definition of compromise: nobody is happy.

The Gun Free Zone Lie

The evidence continues to mount that the emotionally fueled and asinine idea that gun free zones are the proverbial honey to killer bees is completely ridiculous. A disgruntled National Guard recruiter shot two military personnel at an armory outside a Navy facility near Memphis on Thursday. Yes, that's ARMORY.

Let's see...that's Kirkwood City Hall, Fort Hood, the Navy Yard in DC, the gun range in Texas where Chris Kyle was killed and now this. Those are just the ones off of the top of my head. A little research shows that there have been many more.

Of course Media Matters did a piece after the Navy Yard shooting that pretty much torpedoed the gun free zone lament. This study and this study point out that there is not a single case from 1982 to 2012 that contains evidence that the shooters chose their targets because they were "gun free" and that fewer that one quarter of mass shootings in public spaces from January 2009 through January 2013 occurred in gun-free zones.

Whether or not a facility is armed is inconsequential. We should be spending more time on the mental health aspects of these cases (and keeping guns out of the hands of said individuals) and zero time entertaining the adolescent feelings of the gun community who don't like being told what to do and where. I wish they would just be honest and admit that they want to be able to carry their gun wherever they want because they have a problem with authority and are fucking children who need to have their toys with them at all times.

Friday, October 25, 2013

More Backdoor Corporate Welfare

In the last election one party chose to portray people who receive public assistance as lazy moochers and takers. But the fact is, the companies that employ those same people are mooching off the government. More than half of fast-food workers are forced to receive some sort of public assistance, according to a study from the UC Berkeley Labor Center. That includes SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, earned income tax credits, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The McDonald's employee help line McResources even advises workers to go on food stamps and Medicaid.

The total cost to American taxpayers is $7 billion a year.

And it's not just McDonald's. It's Wendy's and Burger King and Walmart, whose employees also suck up billions of dollars of public assistance annually.

These are highly profitable companies that have grown almost exponentially over the past few decades. Walmart has put thousands of smaller retailers of all types across the country out of business, sending the profits to Arkansas. McDonald's has replaced thousands of independent restaurants with franchisees who are pressured to treat employees like cattle, siphoning billions of dollars of local profits to Chicago. Profits that had previously been spent and taxed locally and contributed to the local economy.

The business models of McDonald's and Walmart are based on paying workers slave wages, forcing federal and local governments step in to make sure these workers and their children are clothed and housed and don't starve. That is an indirect government subsidy to those companies: these people couldn't work at McDonald's and Walmart without government help.

If you buy what McDonald's pretends is food or the cheap cost-reduced junk that Walmart pawns off on their customers, you too are getting a handout from the federal government. Because these companies couldn't provide you these products at the prices they do if they paid their employees what they actually cost the economy at large.

Well, actually they could quite handily: but it would require lowering their profit margins. Other companies, like Costco, Trader Joe's and QuickTrip, give their employees decent wages and benefits and still make a profit. Not quite as much as Walmart and McDonald's, admittedly. But WMT/MCD business practices are costing all of us money, not just the people who buy their stuff.

If we really need the products that those companies sell, we should be willing to pay their actual costs. It's not right that our tax dollars subsidize the incomes of the McDonald's and Walmart employees who actually do the work, while all the profits go into the pockets of the guys at the top.

It Begins (And Ends) With The Parents

Nearly all of the challenges I face as an instructor are due to poor parenting. Parents do indeed really suck and they are getting worse. Even the number of sucky parents are on the rise as our culture becomes more and more cemented in the misplaced and harmful values of the Michael Jordan Generation. It's very clear that parents are just not doing their job.

Never was this statement more true than with the parents of the shooter in the recent Sparks, Nevada Middle School shooting. While it hasn't been fully confirmed yet, the student who killed teacher and vet Michael Landsberry and wounded two other students likely got the semi-auto 9mm from his parents. What the hell were they thinking? And what kind of a fucking country do we live in where a guy who does tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan lives through that but gets shot in his hometown? It's stuff like this that completely disgusts me.

This would be a clear example of people who should not be allowed to own guns and why our laws regarding arms need to be changed. Their license to own a gun should be taken away and they should face criminal charges. I'm wondering if they were "live free or die" types like Nancy Lanza who also thought it would be nifty to let her mentally ill sun have access to her guns.

The facts of this case have been very slow in coming but my takeaways are that it's clear there was some sort of bullying involved (more on that later), the shooter was mentally ill, and his parents are directly responsible. Further, this latest incident has led me to reflect about Newton and come to the conclusion the ideology that bloviates from the gun community is also responsible. This is particularly true in the case of Nancy Lanza who bought their lies to such a degree that she felt she needed a fucking arsenal to protect herself.

It begins and ends with the parents, folks. If they don't do their job, we end up with situations like this. And more and more of them these days are failing miserably.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Good Words

"In theory, lawmakers should hope that government programs work well, and if they don't, work to fix them. Elected representatives should hope that government agencies carry out their missions smoothly, and if something goes wrong, try to figure out what happened to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Obviously that's not how things work in the United States, where one of the two parties doesn't actually believe in government. Republicans want to shrink government until it's small enough to drown in a bathtub! They think there's nothing scarier than the prospect of a government employee trying to help! With beliefs like those, it's perhaps not surprising that -- with disturbing frequency -- they root for failure in order to score points." --- JULIET LAPIDOS, October 24, 2013

Demons of Progess

A recent discussion on Facebook made me realize that my frustration with conservatives has two levels. The first is that I simply don't understand how they can believe the lies that are peddled to them inside of the bubble. These fictional tales can easily be torpedoed by a simple check of the facts. But that's not even the worst part.

The second level is what really drives me nuts. That's when they very erroneously believe that liberals are the ones that are actually brainwashed. Their media are the ones telling the lies and only conservative media tells the truth. They essentially turn it around (Projection/Flipping) and truly think people like me are the ones that have fallen victim to the "liberal" media. This notion is completely false.

With each level, no amount of reality will persuade them yet I think we are coming to a turning point in this country in terms of information gathering. The conservative bubble isn't going to hold for all that much longer as reality comes crashing in (climate change, antiquated gun laws, poor macroeconomic policy etc) and destroys it. I already know that, while there is certainly liberal bias out there, it's not the out and out lying and propaganda that we see coming from the Right. Liberals, by nature and definition, are very reflective people and recognize the shortcomings of their own views and policies. That's where the over-analysis comes in to play. Conservatives are the exact opposite. They don't reflect at all, are set in their ways, never change and under analyze.

They are, in short, the demon to progress and that's why I can never be one.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Good Words

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." ~John Kenneth Galbraith, 2002

Own It

I thought it was the right move for the president to hold a presser about the problems with the ACA web site but he needs to go even further. Jeffrey Zients (aka Mr. Fixit) should hold daily briefings on the progress towards all the fixes and debugging. In short, the administration needs to own it more than they are right now.

Another thing that needs to be pointed out that people keep forgetting is that this is only affecting about 10 percent of Americans. The rest of us already have health care plans that work just fine and aren't going to change. Even if the problems with the web site persist, most people are not going to care because it doesn't affect them. Look for conservatives to (again) overplay their hand and continue to obsess (see: sore losers) about the law while completely losing focus on what the majority of Americans care about which is the economy and jobs.

One final note on the ACA, I caught this story this morning and am wondering if the fix is as simple as it was for Randall Bennett.

Bennett's solution was to open a Google Chrome browser in incognito mode, which allows users to browse the Internet without recording the website and download history. It also deletes cookies, or information storage, after a window is closed. “I was using it for debugging in my software to try something out, as if I were a fresh user," he said. Bennett said he happened to go back to and logged in. The white screen then redirected him to the main page. Now he, his wife and 2-year-old son are ready for Jan. 1, when their new insurance will go into effect.

And he lives in deep red Utah...whoda thunk it?:)

My Trip South

I recently took a trip to the state of my birth, Missouri. It was for my grandmother's 96th birthday and many of my extended family relatives were there. Most were very old and, well, very white. Previous years have included long tirades against President Obama that are clearly being fed directly from the right wing media industrial complex. One year, my cousin Jim from Texas said that if Barack Obama were in the room, he would put a stick up his ass. I didn't think too much of it because Jim hates nearly all politicians.

This year, however, there was a noticeable change among all the conservatives in my family. There was a lot of grumbling about the shutdown and how it personally affected all of them. At one point, someone mentioned immigration and my cousin Jim said, "Well the Republicans will just try and block it. That's all they really do." The room was quiet for a minute and then everyone sunk their heads a little bit and agreed. The rest of the conversation turned to a discussion of how frustrated they all were that the Republicans have no real plan of their own and refused to compromise. In fact, it was a real pile on against the GOP with nary a mention of President Obama except when the conversation turned to entitlements. That's when some admitted that the GOP's ideas for reforming entitlements were not at all desirable. Some even expressed the simple fact that the president was in their corner on this one. Honestly, I was completely blown away by the sea change.

The one thing we can always rely on in this country is for old people to get scared and act out of fear. It's not surprising when you consider that people are nearing their twilight years and have so many unknowns. Of course, that's no excuse for them to act irrationally and like children. In some ways, though, they can't help it because that's how their minds are developing at such a later stage in life. It truly sickens me that outlets like Fox News and the various right wing blogs take full advantage of this and peddle their lies for dollars. It's no lie, though, that the Republicans want to fuck around with entitlements and send more money into the private sector where the already ridiculously wealthy can have even more money. They do so at their own peril as old, white people are now their entire base. Lose them and you never win another election again.

I was also quite heartened to hear that many of my younger relatives signed up for the ACA and, interestingly, had no problems doing it. Some used the web site, others used the phone, and my Uncle John did the whole thing via old fashioned mail. They all asked me if I was going to sign up and I told them what I tell everyone else.

I like the health care I currently have and (gasp!) I get to keep it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On Stiglitz: Part Nine

The penultimate chapter in Joseph Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality illustrates how macroeconomic policy in this country is essentially made for the 1 percent because macroecomic policy, in a broad sense, affects distribution of income. Stiglitz notes that policymakers are not often aware of this and that's why we have the problems we have. People worked hard, studied hard and played by the rules but the best most can hope for in the last decade+ is just to get by. Worse, many were not even doing that as we have seen in earlier chapters in the book. 

A basic rule of economics is that life involves tradeoffs. One alleged tradeoff is the balance between inflation and unemployment. If there is low unemployment, generally speaking, there is inflation because there are more people buying things. If there is high unemployment, inflation is low as there are less people fueling the economy. In some ways, this is exactly what the 1 percent (see: financial sector) want. They make more money if inflation is low so the bondholders interest is for the focus is on inflation, not unemployment. This is where the structural problems with our economy begin. According to Stiglitz, and I agree with him wholeheartedly, there is no such tradeoff.

Imagine, Stiglitz notes, if the focus were on unemployment instead. Finding that right number on the lower end (4%?, 5%?) of unemployment that still keeps inflation low is tricky but if you start from the other side (inflation), the policy that is made tends to benefit the least amount of people...those in the financial sector. If you start from the side of unemployment, or at the very least, look for a balance, you benefit more people and the macroeconomic policy of the country as a whole. This is why the Fed fell asleep in the collapse of 2008. They had no balance, Further, they thought the banks could take care of themselves and needed no oversight. When solutions to the crisis were presented, they focused on inflation (the interests of the bankers and the financial sector) not everyone else.

But the problem, as I have always said, was really with the regulations themselves. The obsessive focus on interest rates erroneously led to the Fed believing that they had some sort of magic "lever," as Stiglitz puts it, that can manipulate the economy.

Lower the interest rate and the economy expand; raise the interest rate and it slows down. And though there are times and circumstances in which the interest rate may have those effects, at other times the links are at beast weak and other instruments might have been more effective. For instance, in response to the real estate bubble , it would have made more sense to raise the down payment requirements for mortgages than to raise the interest rates; one didn't want to slow down productive investments, just to dampen the bubble. Such regulations were anathema to the Fed, with its religious devotion to the price system and the wonders of the market.

Exactly. We're talking about a massively rigid ideology here that sadly, to this day, has not been broken.

Getting back to unemployment, such a high level of joblessness doesn't simply hurt those who are unemployed. It also hurts the rest of us because a natural effect of this is lower wages. People entering the work force for the first time are forced to take a salary that they simply can't live on. Less money goes into the economy as consumer confidence and spending shrinks due to a lack of aggregate demand. The financial sector may enjoy this "labor market flexibility" but the rest of us do not. And it's clear that the economy has suffered due to these magnanimous gifts bestowed to bankers from our monetary policy. This policy, supported by both Republicans and Democrats, has been a disaster.

The Fed's low interest rate policy hadn't led to the resurgence of investment as it had hoped. It did encourage those who were planning investments to substitute cheap capital labor. Capital was, in effect, at a temporary artificially low price , and one might as well take advantage of an unusual situation. This reinforced distorted patterns of innovation that focused on saving labor at a time when it was increasingly in abundance. It is curious that at a time when unemployment among the unskilled is so high, grocery and drug stores are replacing checkout clerks with automatic machines. The Fed was making it more and more likely that, when recovery set in, it would be a jobless one.

My only gripe about this line of thought is that it really isn't a good thing to fight progress. This is the same complaint I have about the Right on issues such as energy, climate change, and education. Our nation has one direction: forward. If low skilled workers are losing their jobs to innovation, then it's time that we retrain them and give them the skills they need to compete in the age of globalization. Other than that, though, Stiglitz is spot on.

How did we get such a crappy monetary policy? Deregulation. I've talked about this extensively so there's no need to repeat myself. Instead, let's take a look at the consequences, via Stiglitz.

This deregulation had two related consequences. First, it led to the increasing financialization of the economy-with all its distortions and inequities. Second, it allowed the banks to exploit the rest of society-through predatory lending, abusive credit card fees, and other practices. The banks shifted risk toward the poor and toward the taxpayer: when things didn't go as lenders had predicted, others had to bear the consequences. The Fed not only didn't discourage this; it encouraged it. It is clear that, from a social perspective, the banks did not help people manage their risk; they created it. But when it came to managing their own risk, the bankers were more successful. They didn't bear the consequences of their actions. 

Stiglitz identifies a common ground here where liberals and conservatives could work together. At the time of the crisis, there wasn't really a choice in terms of letting the banks fail. It would have collapsed the economy. Now, however, we can regulate the industry so that none of these institutions are "too big to fail" or, better yet, too interconnected to fail. In short, Glass-Steagall for the 21st Century. Dodd-Frank is a start but it still gives the Fed responsibility for implementing the new regulations. Its track record thus far has shown that it is less than average in doing this.

At this point in the chapter I realized that Mr. Stiglitz should be the new Fed Chair! Obviously, it's never going to happen especially now that we have Janet Yellin but we do need someone who will kick the inflation obsession.

It should be apparent at this point that the banks should be focusing on banking and not macroecomic policy. How did we get to this point? More importantly, can we ever break free of this framework and have government leaders who are not influenced by the financial sector of this country? Even the evidence that the Fed was forced to reveal, which showed that the large banks were both borrowing substantial amounts of money from them while also claiming publicly that they were in great shape, was not enough to change the system. Indeed, our problem, as Stiglitz notes, is "more ideological conviction than economic analysis." This, of course, comes directly from the NUMERO UNO free market fundamentalist himself, Milton Friedman, a colleague of Stiglitz.

I remember long discussions with him on the consequences of imperfect information or incomplete risk markets; my own work and that of numerous colleagues had shown that in these conditions, markets typically didn't work well. Friedman simply couldn't or wouldn't grasp the results. He couldn't refute them. He simply knew they had to be wrong. He, and other free market economists, had two other replies: even if the theoretical results were true, they were "curiosities," exceptions that proved the rule; and even if the problems were pervasive, one couldn't rely on government to fix them.

Sounds familiar, eh?:) Many of the problems we have with our modern economic policy can be attributed directly to Mr. Friedman. His cult-like worship of the free market has led to far too many people turning brain dead in terms of economic analysis.

Recall that the Fed's main purpose should be focused on inflation, employment and growth. The second of these three has fallen by the wayside as the bankers have more or less taken over the show. So, the government is the problem but not in the way conservatives would have you believe. It's not that it's too big. It's that it simply doesn't function in the way it is supposed to function due to monetarists' obsession with inflation and their complete ignorance of unemployment. This obsession is based on three very questionable hypotheses. First, inflation is the supreme evil. Second, maintaining low and stable inflation is necessary and almost sufficient for maintaining a high and stable real growth rate. Third, everyone benefits from low inflation. Stiglitz wraps up the chapter explaining that none of these beliefs are true and that inflation hawks have been basically telling tales out of school.

For inflation hawks economy is always at the edge of a precipice: once inflation starts, it will be difficult to control. And since the cost of reversing inflation-disinflation, as it's called-is so large, it is best to address it immediately. But these views are not based on a careful assessment of the evidence. There is no precipice, and mild upticks in inflation, if they look as if they might become persistent, can easily be reversed by tightening credit availability. In short, it was simply wrong that the best way to maintain high employment and strong growth as to focus on inflation. The focus on inflation distracted attention from things that were far more important: the losses from even moderate inflation were negligible in comparison to the losses from financial collapse.

So, we need to remove ourselves from the shackles of obsession over inflation. Our monetary policy should strive for the best possible balance between inflation, employment, and growth. We can't continue to make trickle down policy that is made specifically for the benefits of the banks. In a preview of the last chapter, Stiglitz argues that there is no single best policy. Certainly the obsession with inflation has proved that. Further, there is nothing natural about our currently very high state of unemployment or the low level of aggregate demand. It is the result of policy that caters to serve the small number of people in the financial sector in this country and they have scammed us into thinking that any changes will result in another economic collapse.

Therefore, the first step in changing the system is to not believe them anymore.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Link Between Sleep and Football Dementia?

Scientists have long wondered why people and animals need to sleep. We all know that not sleeping is bad for us, but we didn't know exactly why.

For decades scientists have known that sleep is associated with the consolidation of short-term to long term memory. Recently they discovered that during sleep neurons fire backwards, which they think strengthens the electrical signals of nearby and frees up space in the brain for new memories (sort of like defragging your computer's hard disk).

But a new study has found an even more basic mechanism that explains the need for sleep: housecleaning. While asleep, brain cells appear to shrink and cerebrospinal fluid is pumped through the brain to wash out toxins that accumulate during wakefulness. These toxins are beta amyloids, the proteins that are associated with dementias like Alzheimer's.

Interestingly, dementias are frequently associated with sleep disorders, which could explain why Alzheimer's occurs in the first place. With this information new therapies may be developed to prevent dementias that leave their victims empty husks of the people they once were.

And this may explain other forms of dementia. A few weeks ago PBS aired a Frontline special on concussions in football called "League of Denial." It documents the stories of numerous football players who suffered various forms of dementia after taking dozens of knocks to the head every day they play, from the age of eight or ten until they retire at 30 or 40. That results in literally thousands of minor concussions over a career. Many football players have become confused, short-tempered violent and some have even committed suicide and murder.

When the brains of these players have been examined after death, they were found riddled with the same beta amyloid plaques that affect Alzheimer's patients, though their brains looked otherwise normal. With this new understanding of how the brain normally cleans these plaques out, the exact mechanism for dementia in football players may become clearer.

When you get a concussion, your brain is slammed against the inside of your skull, essentially bruising it and rupturing capillaries, which causes swelling and inflammation. This may in turn prevent the brain cells from shrinking during sleep and interfere with the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid that should remove the beta amyloid plaques.

The NFL has downplayed the effects of concussion on football players for years, but last August they settled a lawsuit brought by 4,500 former players for $765 million dollars. And it's not just football that has this problem, we've known forever that boxing causes dementia, and hockey and rugby have the same problem.

This new science may explain why dementia occurs, but it doesn't provide any solutions for preventing concussions in the first place. No matter how much you change helmet design, the basic problem is the rapid deceleration of the brain when it hits the inside of the skull as the head collides with another player or slams into the ground.

The only real way to prevent concussions is to reduce the overall velocity of the skull, which means eliminating crushing tackles and brutal takedowns. But many football fans would say that changing the rules to minimize concussions would turn it into touch football and rip the heart out of the game. Because, though they say they love watching the skill and speed of the players on the gridiron, what they really love is the brutal hammering the players take.

As we understand the connection of minor brain trauma to dementia, the question now is how many parents will be willing to sacrifice their children's futures so that football fans can watch them get pounded into the astroturf?

Give That Man A Medal

Apparently, someone at the WWII memorial rally (see: co-opted, takeover, without permission) shouted that Sarah Palin was an idiot. That man should get a medal.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Good Words

“The legislature of the United States shall pass no law on the subject of religion.” ~Charles Pinckney, Constitutional Convention, 1787

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What Passes for "Science" at the Creation Museum

The Creation Museum has obtained a dinosaur fossil that they claim "proves" their theory that the world was created only a few thousand years ago. According to a statement from the museum,
As a geologist, Dr. Snelling added that unlike the way most of the Morrison Formation bones had been found scattered and mixed, the intact skeleton of this allosaur is testimony to extremely rapid burial, which is a confirmation of the global catastrophe of a Flood a few thousand years ago.
This is an example of the worst kind of intellectual dishonesty and fallacious "science."

First off, there's more than one way a skeleton can remain intact. The dinosaur could have fallen off a cliff and into a lake, where it drowned. It could have been chased into a swamp by a larger predator and been stuck in the mud. It could have been standing at the bottom of a hill and buried alive by a landslide. There are millions of possible ways that a skeleton could remain intact.

And let's say it did die in a flood. Was Noah's flood the only flood that ever occurred? There are thousands of floods every year, caused by thunderstorms, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on. How do they know that this one dinosaur died in Noah's flood? Because Dr. Snelling says most of the bones -- but not all -- were found properly articulated. That's it. That's the "evidence." But all that proves is that the body wasn't torn apart by scavengers.

Did they use radiocarbon dating to determine that the dinosaur died exactly 4,500 years old, and was therefore killed in Noah's flood? Did they find spearheads from human hunters in the dinosaur's skeleton, or toolmarks on the bones, or potsherds scattered among them? No? I didn't think so.

They have presented no forensic evidence obtained during the excavation of this fossil that proved it died when they claim it did. They provided no stratigraphic analysis that proved this fossil was concurrent with humanity. (The "human" footprints at the unrelated Paluxy riverbed site were shown to be dinosaur footprints almost 30 years ago.)

We now know that DNA breaks down over time, and under perfect conditions it can survive for at most 1.5 million years (it has a half life of 521 years). Did the creationists find any DNA in the bones of this supposed 4,500-year-old dinosaur?

Scientists have found intact DNA in the bones of Neandertals from 30,000 years ago, and woolly mammoths that have been frozen for 39,000 years. They have even found soft tissue inside the bones of dinosaurs, which creationists falsely claimed as their proof. Scientists have also found organic material inside the bones of dinosaur embryos. And recently a mosquito was discovered with blood in guts (shades of Jurassic Park!).

However, no intact dinosaur DNA has ever been found. The material found in the bones was deteriorated organic goo. Yet we have found 10,000-year-old human mummies in peat bogs. We have found skeletons of a woman, giant sloths, camels, bear, sabre-tooth cats, birds and so on in the La Brea tar pits. We have found hundreds of extinct animals like woolly mammoths frozen in the arctic tundra. Buried everywhere we have found intact DNA in the bones of every kind of creature that has lived over the past 10,000 years, many of them extinct for centuries like the moas of New Zealand, giant ground sloths and sabre-toothed cats. But we've never found a frozen or mummified dinosaur. We've only found fossilized bones, in which the actual bone is replaced with minerals deposited by water that permeates the structure. And there is never any DNA.

And it's not like scientists don't want to find dinosaur DNA. Dinosaur DNA would be the paleontologist's holy grail. It would answer so many questions: were they related to birds (as most scientists now think), or reptiles? Were they warm-blooded? Did they have feathers or reptilian skin? We don't even know this basic information because we've never found an intact dinosaur: only fossilized bones.

In 1991 two German tourists found a frozen mummy in the Alps. Scientists determined he died about 3,300 BCE, or 5,3000 years ago (well before the time of the supposed flood). They know how he was killed (blood loss from an arrow wound). They knew how lived (around a campire that blackened his lungs). They know what tools he used (his axe was 99.7% pure copper). They analyzed his DNA (he belonged to Haplogroup K, maybe European, Kurdish, Ashkenazi or Middle-Eastern). They even know what he ate for breakfast -- an ibex (they analyzed the DNA).

From this it's obvious that scientists can glean a great detail of information from even a frozen human mummy. But we have never found dinosaurs under any such conditions.

There is no shortage of dinosaur remains: we've found thousands of them, on every continent, pretty much everywhere conditions were conducive to preserving their remains. If they lived concurrently with mankind for 1,500 years, why are they the only creatures from that era whose flesh and DNA have never been preserved? Why are dinosaur skeletons always encased in stone and never in loose soil?

Let me guess: Lucifer and his minions have been destroying dinosaur mummies in peat bogs and planting evidence in solid rock to trick scientists since before science even existed...

How To FactCheck Health Care

Eric Stern over at gives a shining example of how to expose the bullshit being peddled about the Affordable Care Act. This was my favorite one.

When I spoke to Robbie, he said he and Tina have been paying a little over $800 a month for their plan, about $10,000 a year. And the ACA-compliant policy will cost 50-75 percent more? They said this information was related to them by their insurance agent. Had they shopped on the exchange yet, I asked? No, Tina said, nor would they. They oppose Obamacare and want nothing to do with it. Fair enough, but they should know that I found a plan for them for, at most, $3,700 a year, a 63 percent less than their current bill. It might cover things that they don’t need, but so does every insurance policy.

A great example of willful ignorance and the very real monetary cost it brings with it. More importantly, however, this illustrates the trap that people can fall into when they believe the Big Lie. Stern echoes this as well.

Strangely, the recent shutdown was based almost entirely on a small percentage of Congress’s belief that Obamacare, as Ted Cruz puts it, “is destroying America.” Cruz has rarely given us an example of what he’s talking about. That’s because the best he can do is what Hannity did—exploit people’s ignorance and falsely point to imaginary boogeymen.

Once people realize how the law works, the ignorance will fall away and there won't be any more boogeyman they can pull out of their hat.

Gerson Nails It

Micheal Gerson is one of the good ones on the Right and his latest piece on climate change is brilliant. His second paragraph pretty much nails it.

The intersection of science and policy, of climate and politics, has become a bloody crossroads. Blog-based arguments over ocean temperatures and the thickness of the Greenland ice sheet are as shrill and personal as any Tea Party primary challenge. And the IPCC report — designed to describe areas of scientific consensus — has become an occasion for polarization.

Shrill, indeed. Scientific matters and their validity should not be decided based on fucking blog posts or comments. These sorts of discussions should be looked upon in the same way one views TMZ news on Molly Ray Cyrus.

Gerson astutely points out that the warming hiatus, which has elicited adolescent cries of GOTCHA!, is misleading and quite irrelevant. Climate change is something that occurs over several decades, not one and a half. And this trend doesn't take away from obvious facts.

The IPCC report is used or abused, it represents a consensus and not a conspiracy. “Each of the last three decades,” it concludes, “has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.” The oceans have warmed and grown more acidic. Ice sheets are losing mass. Sea ice and snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere are shrinking. Ocean levels are rising.

This is what is meant be settled science.

The rest of his piece defines the political problems that climate change has caused and, I hope, a solution to solving them.

Friday, October 18, 2013

No Shit

Turning Our Attention To Health Care

Now that Shutdown 2013 is over the political world's attention will turn to Affordable Care Act. The Right are likely kicking themselves for wasting two weeks of being able to hyper-obsessively focus on the three people out there whose rates are (allegedly) going up now that the exchanges are open (see: Hasty Generalization). Yet their bloviating does bring up an interesting puzzle. How does one honestly gauge the effects of the ACA in an unbiased fashion? It is it even possible? If such a site exists, I'd sure like a link.

Obviously the Right is going to blow a bowel if anyone suggests that the president himself is an unbiased source. But he (like myself) finds the problems with the web portal to be more than just glitches and completely unacceptable. Apparently, the primary reason for these issues have to do with last minute changes requested by HHS and a substandard contractor (CGI). Of course, those people that live in states that aren't actively trying to destroy the ACA seem to have few problems using the website. Strange, I know:) Stranger still is that a website rollout with major demand and traffic has significant problems. That NEVER happens in the private sector, only with the government! And who in the fuck wants to sign up via phone (where there are very few problems) in this day and age?

As they do with everything else, we are already beginning to see the strategy that the Right is going to employ to try to prevent this law from working (see: sore losers, can't stand being wrong, fret over irrelevance). Any small problem with the law is going to be blown up to Biblical proportions. It's not a few people whose rates (may or may not) have gone up. It's millions. The people whose rates are going down are lazy, poor people who are spooning off our hard earned money. Anyone who is being helped by the ACA is not what they seem. They are the OTHER. This is generally true for any positive news about the law. Any information that puts the ACA in a positive light. It's all propaganda meant to send us all into government enslavement.

Things sure would be a lot easier if they didn't have such a pathological hatred of the federal government.

Good Grief

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Big Lie Again

The last two weeks of shutdown have seen several mentions of the Big Lie that government spending does not increase economic activity nor is it a jobs program. It would be fine if those in the Tea Party said, instead, "I don't like the fact that government spending increases economic activity and is a jobs program" because that would be more accurate.

I've explained previously exactly how government spending increases economic activity and can create wealth, offering the example of the Grand Coulee Dam. The same hysterical complaints were heard then and were proven completely wrong. Even today, the government spends money in many sectors of our economy and is a partner in increasing economic activity and creating jobs. The defense industry stands as a shining example of how this works. So do the energy industry and the National Institute of Health. The list on return to government investment is quite impressive, actually, and it's very clear that they naysayers are having trouble with their emotions about government. One would think that they Right understands return on investment but I guess they don't.

The next few weeks will show what kind of an economic hit we are going to take as a result of the shutdown. I've talked about this before as well and, honestly, Americans are clearly understanding what life looks like when you aren't rational about the federal government. If the Right wants something to worry about, I think it should be this.

What exactly is sedition?

According to the US Code (18 U.S.C. § 2384 ), seditious conspiracy is a crime under United States law. The law states in part that, “If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to… prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States… they shall each be fined or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

That's exactly what Ted Cruz and his merry band of moonbats have done in the last few weeks. In fact, they attempted to hinder many laws, not just the Affordable Care Act. No doubt, if people like Darrell Issa were faced with these facts, a committee would have been formed yesterday. I think that the Right should be thankful that the president and the Democrats are much nicer and forgiving people. 

So, moonbats, I wouldn't rock the boat if I were you.

The Rant

Mark has been posting numerous quotes from the Founding Fathers about separation of Church and State, and I haven't commented much on them. There seems to be little point, because it's so obvious that single-party, single-denomination governments and theocracies are inherently evil: modern Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, the Soviet Union, England under Henry VIII, Italy under the medieval popes, and so on.

But there are still some Americans who still disagree. They are epitomized by the woman who started ranting on the House floor during the vote on reopening the government.
He will not be mocked. He will not be mocked. [to someone next to her] Don't touch me. [to the chamber] He will not be mocked. The greatest deception here is this is not one nation under God. It never was. Had it been, it would not have been— no. It would not have been— constitution would not have been written by Freemasons. They go against God. You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God, Lord Jesus Christ.
This poor woman's emotions are clearly being manipulated by self-serving politicians and theocrats with ulterior motives that have nothing to do with god.

How does reopening the government mock him? In any case, why would the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful creator of the universe -- which contains billions of galaxies that each contain billions of stars and billions of planets -- give one whit about a political scuffle between groups of insignificant creatures like us?

What's really at stake here is the pride of the people who shut down the government. They are projecting all their own demands and desires on god, justifying their beliefs by dint of constant repetition that it's what god wants. They endlessly twist the teachings of the bible to rationalize whatever political agenda they have.

The irony is that the man they worship was famous for healing the sick and the poor. Yet they are heartbroken that they have failed to prevent our government from healing the sick and the poor.

They argue that healing is not the government's place. Yet they want the government to be "Christian," which would dictate that it do everything to help the sick and the poor. They only want separation of Church and State when the state is helping the less fortunate.

The men who wrote the Constitution (many of them in fact Freemasons) knew a few things about the history of religion, and that's why they kept Church and State separate. The Founders realized that members of religions endlessly compete for power, and use their own interpretations of scripture to justify why they should be in control. These personal ambitions and power struggles splinter religions from the inside out, over and over and over.

Christianity split off from Judaism, currently fractured into three main sects: Conservative, Reform and Orthodox. Christianity continued to splinter, resulting in countless Christian denominations -- the Catholic Church, the national Orthodox Churches (one per country, including Russia, Greece, Armenia, Romania, etc.), the Lutheran Synod, the Anglican Church, the Calvinist Reformed Tradition, various Baptists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. And then you have the kooks, like the Branch Davidians and Warren Jeffs' FLDS.

And though most Tea Party types don't seem to to understand it, even Islam split off from Christianity. In the 14 centuries since then, it has also broken into numerous sects, including Shiites, Sunnis, Sufis, Alawites, and on and on.

Government cannot be controlled by religion because religion is too unstable. You can't give popes, archbishops and ayatollahs that kind of temporal power. Theistic religions are too autocratic and dictatorial, they cannot brook dissent nor allow heresy to go unpunished.

In short, the Founders knew that religion is incompatible with democracy.

An Excellent Summation of the Last Two Weeks