Monday, June 30, 2014

Still unanswered questions

In all the hullaballoo over the Hobby Lobby decision, I still haven't heard anybody — not Hobby Lobby or its allies, certainly not the Justices in the majority — answer the objection that many of us have raised from the beginning. To quote myself:
To object to healthcare insurance premiums because the insurance might pay for contraception is as nonsensical as objecting to paying the employee at all because he might use his salary to pay for contraception at the drugstore.
How does it impermissibly burden Hobby Lobby's founder to pay an insurance premium for a policy that covers, but does not require, contraception? He's already paying his employees straight salaries that — gasp! — they might use to buy contraceptives at the drugstore. How do these situations differ from the founder's perspective?
  • In both cases, it's the employee's choice to purchase the contraception. Nobody is holding a gun to Hobby Lobby's founder's head to buy it.
  • In both cases, the employer is simply paying the employee; the only difference is the form of the compensation.
  • Since when has it been acceptable for your boss to dictate how you spend your pay? You are not an indentured servant and the boss is not a plantation owner.
Why are the boss's qualms more important than my legal rights? Hell, why are the boss's qualms more important than mine? Answer me that, O Justices in the majority.

They can't. This case should never have been accepted for adjudication by the High Court. Hobby Lobby's arguments were so fatuous that they could only be taken seriously by ideologues seeking any excuse (1) to undermine a law they didn't like, and (2) to confuse contraception with abortion in hopes of delegitimizing the former. The second goal is widely supported by Catholics, and it's hard not to believe that Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito and Roberts weren't unduly influenced by their Catholicism.

Finally, here's a bigger question: if it's impermissible to constrain the expression of religious belief in the context of business, then where is it permissible to constrain the expression of religious belief? What is the religious equivalent of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater? Where may I seek relief from being subjected to another's religious views and behavior?

With the verdict in ...

As I promised:

A pox on Justices Alito, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts.

You five elevated the rights of religious believers above the good of dependents (employees), and reinforced the intellectually bankrupt notion of corporate personhood in the process. You also permitted bogus science to rule the day, possibly an even more heinous crime. You didn't even pretend to struggle with your own pro-religious bias to interpret the Constitution faithfully.

This decision is reprehensible, and so are you.

(Read the New York Times' summary of the decision.)

Question for TNT

Hey TNT, how long are you going to run the promo that reads "waiver" when it should be "waver"?

(No wonder your new slogan is "Boom": one syllable's all you can handle.)

[Update, 13 July 2014: Congratulations, TNT, for finally fixing the promo. What finally prompted you to do so after three weeks?]

Sunday, June 29, 2014

On the eve of the Hobby Lobby decision

With the Supreme Court poised to deliver its decision in this case on Monday, I remind you of what I've already said about the case.
  • Here is what I think of corporations and religious beliefs. The short take? Corporations don't have any. Nor should they be permitted to have any under the law.
  • Here were my thoughts after oral arguments in the case.
As I wrote in the second post:
The observed attitude during oral arguments is ominous, suggesting the Court is going to make a pernicious and deeply wrongheaded decision in these cases. I hope I'm wrong, but if not, a pox on the majority.

Tech culture versus social morés

Facebook manipulated some of its users' news feeds as part of an internal research study. What really got people brassed off — people other than the researchers, anyway — was that Facebook didn't get permission from the affected users.

In the course of discussing the study and the reaction to it, one of the researchers, Adam Kramer, wrote (on Facebook, of course):

Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused.
Observations:
  1. Nobody thinks the goal was to upset people. To disclaim that non-goal is pointless.
  2. You clearly don't understand why people have concerns, or you would have issued a genuine apology.
  3. Being sorry for the way the research was described is not the same as being sorry for the research itself.
It's rare to see cluelessness about human nature this extreme — except in high technology.

That's why the phenomenon of "social media" has been so delightfully weird for me to watch unfold. Some of the most socially unaware yet high functioning people in our society are crafting the ways we interact with one another through technology. It's a standing wonder that the idea of "social media" has succeeded so well.

For your benefit, Adam Kramer, let me spell things out unambiguously:

Subjecting people to experimentation without their consent is WRONG. Human beings are not lab rats. Experimenting on people without their knowledge is unethical, even if you don't commit Mengele-inspired atrocities. And before you object, deliberately messing with the data they consume is experimenting on them.

That it never occurred to you your "research" was unethical speaks volumes about your and your colleagues' worrisome ignorance of the norms of human society. That you still seem befuddled by the uproar tells me your authority to conduct "research" must be revoked, and must not be returned until you demonstrate you understand at least the legal rules that govern research on human beings. (It's too much for me to hope you'll actually become acquainted with the subtler, more complex and thoroughly unofficial rules of human behavior.)

Facebook's management is also partly responsible for this fiasco: apparently nobody in charge understood or cared how wrong this research was. The appropriate punishment is to abandon the service unless it owns up to what a colossal violation of human decency this "study" was.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The right-wing Supremes and abortion

I really ought to read the so-called conservatives' concurrences to today's Supreme Court decision in McCullen v. Coakley. The excerpts in the New York Times' piece on the case, though, leave me too steamed to bother.

Here's Scalia:

“Protecting people from speech they do not want to hear is not a function that the First Amendment allows the government to undertake in the public streets and sidewalks.”
It borders on outright lying to claim that what anti-abortion protesters do is mere "speech". They engage in intimidation and verbal abuse that stops just short of violence. All too often, in fact, their conduct doesn't stop short of violence. That Nino righteously harrumphs this absolute horseshit is all the proof you need that he is hopelessly beholden to his own prejudices.

He goes on:

“It blinks reality to say, as the majority does, that a blanket prohibition on the use of streets and sidewalks where speech on only one politically controversial topic is likely to occur — and where that speech can most effectively be communicated — is not content based.”
That statement "blinks reality". It is not speech the law in question (and similar laws elsewhere) is trying to address. It is conduct. What anti-abortion protesters seek is to change behavior not by persuasion, but by intimidation. Again, Nino's defense of that behavior is the attitude of one who has already made up his mind — and who knows he will never have to face the intimidation himself.

If I could wave a magic wand, I'd make him a woman. No, not just a woman, a poor pregnant woman in need of an abortion. I'd like to see you bleat your lofty rhetoric while running the gauntlet in front of most abortion clinics, you arrogant swine. Mere "speech", my ass.

[ADDENDUM: More than one observer has noted the irony that while the Supreme Court struck down "buffer zones" around abortion clinics with today's decision, it maintains a buffer zone around its own premises in Washington, D.C. What's the matter, o black-robed ones? Afraid of a little free speech?]

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Tea Party isn't Republican?

I guess maybe Chris McDaniel's fury at losing his runoff election to Thad Cochran kind of answers my question.

However, Dave Brat, the guy who knocked off Eric Cantor in that Republican primary, is making it explicit.

Brat admitted he had strong tea party and grassroots support, but he said he ran on the “Republican creed.”

“I ran on Republican principles, and those principles are what matter,” he said.

So, how exactly do Republican principles and Tea Party principles differ?

And aren't the Tea Partiers who despise establishment Republicans going to be pissed at Brat for essentially disavowing them and their principles?

The trendy cause and silly season

Gay marriage — it's the trendy cause of the day, right?

And then there's the NRA, that never passes up brain-dead reasons to justify squashing even the most reasonable gun control legislation.

And so we have the spectacle of the NRA arguing that proposed gun control legislation would unfairly burden gay couples. (The NRA also contends that convicted stalkers, who would be forbidden to buy firearms under the new law, shouldn't be unfairly punished because not all of them are violent. Let's hear it for the poor nonviolent stalkers.)

I guess it's always silly season, isn't it?

The Mississippi Republican runoff

This was such a weird primary.

Thad Cochran seemingly had been sleepwalking his way through it. There were even suggestions he wasn't much interested in running for another term. He certainly didn't act like he was interested, not until Chris McDaniel narrowly beat him in the first go-round.

McDaniel's narrow loss to Cochran in the run-off has the challenger making loud noises about voter fraud while letting surrogates make the more inflammatory suggestion that blacks essentially stole the election from him. Rush Limbaugh, for instance, mocked Cochran's campaign slogan as "Uncle Toms for Thad". You're a class act, Rush.

I actually wouldn't give a shit about this — I don't live there and anybody Mississippi sends to the Senate is likely to piss me off anyway — except that I find myself on the horns of an ethical dilemma.

McDaniel is not that far from David Duke as far as I'm concerned. He consorts with neo-Confederates and his rhetoric is dog-whistle racist. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, despicable. (I don't agree with his policies, either, but bad policies don't make somebody despicable.)

Yet I can't help feeling viscerally in agreement with him that Republicans ought to decide who their candidate will be.

Mississippi may have a good reason for not restricting voters to their own party in a primary election. I'm darned if I can guess what it is, though. It just seems logical that the opposition party shouldn't be allowed to play spoiler.

Now, to play devil's advocate for a moment: is it possible disgruntled or alarmed Republicans were actually the key to Cochran's victory? Josh Marshall thinks it is. We won't know unless somebody does a close (and non-partisan) investigation of the results. But even if that turns out to be the case, Democrats will have helped.

I'll be happy if Chris McDaniel never attains national public office. He shows every indication that if elected to the U.S. Senate, he would be a mindlessly obstructive clown along the lines of Ted Cruz (not to mention an unapologetically prejudiced twit). But the way he was kept from being the Republican nominee yesterday doesn't sit well with me.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Religious freedom is not absolute

I'm delighted that a judge in New York City upheld the city's policy on banning unvaccinated children from school when there are outbreaks of communicable diseases. Those objecting to the policy appear to be motivated largely by religious belief. (Some children can't be vaccinated for health reasons — they're allergic to the vaccine, for instance — and I don't include them in the following discussion.)

There's a pernicious idea circulating among those who make religion the central priority of their lives: that the First Amendment gives them unfettered freedom to do what they like in the name of their religion. I'll grant that the bare wording of the amendment can lead to that conclusion:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
However, those who seek to use the First Amendment as a club to shatter any law they don't like are wrong on both juridical and practical grounds.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld curbs on the First Amendment, and indeed, on every right granted by the Constitution. The Court has understood, and in its rulings has sought to explain to the rest of us, that different rights granted by the Constitution can come into conflict. When they do, it's the job of either Congress or the Court to sort out priorities. This is merely the Constitutional expression of a larger principle: in a large society, not everyone's interests can be simultaneously given free rein.

Those who seek absolute freedom to express their religious beliefs simply — and I suspect, knowingly — misread the application of the Constitution to our practical governance. It's a cynical power grab that seeks to elevate religious freedom above the common good.

The limit expressed in the New York City policy is unassailably reasonable. It simply says that if a measles outbreak is raging, kids who haven't been vaccinated against measles can't attend class. That's sound public health policy.

Here's what one of those opposed to the city's policy says:

“We’d rather rely on our natural immune system and our faith in God. This is about my children’s rights.”
No, it's not. This is about balancing rights: the right of your children to attend school, versus the right of other children not to be unreasonably exposed to a public health risk.

Attendance of public school is a right, but like all rights, this one has limits. Schools have rules, and the rules to protect the health of students and staff are among the most fundamental and important. Parents who don't vaccinate their children leave those children vulnerable, and even worse, reduce herd immunity. As a society, we've deemed public health to be a higher priority than religious freedom.

Your right to exercise your religion is not unfettered. You might not always realize that because in the main, the practices of Judeo-Christian religious denominations in the U.S. are consonant with the law, but limits exist. More importantly, the principle of there being limits on the free exercise of religion is well-established in our law and everyday practice. We would not permit human sacrifice under the color of religious freedom, for instance. The religious practice need not be that extreme, however, for it to conflict with law and public policy. When that happens, religion does not always win. Nor should it.

Stop crying "victim", religious advocates. It's absurd, it's tiresome and you're wrong. You have plenty of room to exercise your religion.

[EDIT: In fourth paragraph, second sentence, fixed a typo: "seems" should have been "seeks".]

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The great seafood shuffle

I'd been vaguely aware of the absurd distances seafood can travel after it has been caught, but this New York Times piece by Paul Greenberg laid out some of the details. In so doing, it also laid bare the insanity of the way we eat nowadays, at least in the U.S.

First, the statistic you should know but which our current eating habits suggest not enough of us do know:

While a majority of the seafood Americans eat is foreign, a third of what Americans catch is sold to foreigners.
What is the consequence of this imbalance?
... when trade so completely severs us from our coastal ecosystems, what motivation have we to preserve them? I’d argue that with so much farmed salmon coming into the country, we turn a blind eye to projects like the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, which would process 10 billion tons of ore from a site next to the spawning grounds of the largest wild sockeye salmon run on earth.

I’d maintain that farmed shrimp inure us to the fact that the principal rearing ground of Gulf shrimp, the Mississippi River Delta, is slipping into the sea at a rate of a football field an hour. I’d venture that if we didn’t import so much farmed seafood we might develop a viable, sustainable aquaculture sector of our own. Currently the United States languishes in 15th place in aquaculture, behind microscopic economies like Egypt and Myanmar. And I’d suggest that all this fish swapping contributes to an often fraudulent seafood marketplace, where nearly half of the oceanic products sold may be mislabeled.

Why does this strange global trade in seafood exist, a trade that at first blush seems terribly wasteful in fuel and time (nothing goes bad faster than seafood)? It seems that it costs less to send the raw product overseas to have it processed, then shipped back to us. Yes: it costs less to ship tons of fish to Asia for cleaning, gutting, carving into filets or pulverizing into fish sticks, and then to ship much of that back to the U.S., than it would cost to process the fish domestically. Even counting the fuel and labor costs, our big domestic seafood companies make a bigger profit this way than they could by not shipping the fish. And this doesn't include the farmed seafood originally raised in Asia. (Nearly all of our shrimp comes from Asia, for instance.)

There are a couple of other big-picture points to make, however, that Greenberg ignores (though he may cover them in the book from which this essay was adapted).

First, the reason the costs make sense for big seafood companies is, their business models don't take into account externalities: the pollution caused by the production and consumption of fuel, the side effects of transporting invasive species in bilge water over tens of thousands of miles (U.S. waterways are being choked by various mollusks and our native species are being decimated by non-native species with no natural predators outcompeting them for food), the environmental and health hazards created by irresponsible aquaculture practices (overuse of antibiotics is one well-known problem; also, in the article's comments, see the one from "Scott L" of "PacNW" referencing the Bloomberg News story about a tilapia farm feeding its fish a substance too disgusting for me to mention), and so on. The free market has never had to account for the totality of its effects on our ecosystem: the global seafood trade is just one more example of our shortsightedness.

Second, while there's no doubt we in the U.S. consume more of the planet's natural resources per capita than anyone else, the frenzied growth of the seafood industry worldwide is not just a result of our ravenous maw. Asia, in particular, loves seafood, and many of its inhabitants lust after a U.S.-style standard of living. We're experiencing a crisis in sustainability already. What will the future hold as living standards worldwide rise and the population grows? If we want to avoid famine and war, we must reduce the planetary population. Period.

Right now Homo Sapiens is a cancerous species, reproducing wildly beyond the ability of the ecosystem to support our numbers. We tend not to notice because the developed world is able to pay to maintain its food and water supplies and the developing world accepts levels and types of malnutrition, disease, injury and death that would never be tolerated by developed nations. The status quo, however, is unsustainable, and you who disdain Malthus can go jump in a polluted lake. Cancer cells eventually kill the host, after which they die off, too. That's where we're headed if we don't confront our destructive industrial practices head-on. The costs will be high; livelihoods will be upended; our standard of living will likely take a hit. But we don't have a choice — not if we want a future as a species.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Gay marriage bad for economy"

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to write about gay marriage again. Honestly, I don't care about it.

But then Rick Santorum came along and said another especially dumb thing.

Marriage, Santorum said, is not just about "a romantic relationship between two people."

"It's also about a unity of men and women, for the purposes of having and raising children, and giving the child their birthright, which is to be raised by their natural mother and natural father," he continued. "When we have less of that in America … then society struggles and suffers. Economically, it suffers."

Rick, Rick, Rick.

The economy? That's the victim du jour of gay marriage?

Okay, I'll play along. Fewer kids being "raised by their natural mother and natural father" means "society struggles and suffers" — that's the argument.

First off, what a great message for foster kids who fled domestic violence, huh? "Geez, kid, get back to your abusive father and battered mother: you're screwing up society!"

Second, how exactly does same-sex marriage take away from opposite-sex marriage?

What does your choice of a childless marriage have to do with mine to have 2.3 kids? What does your choice to have ten natural-born children have to do with mine to have none? What does your choice to marry your same-sex partner have to do with mine to stay single and adopt?

How does what happens in your home affect what happens in mine?

The majority of couples are still opposite-sex, still getting married and still raising kids, Rick. I would say the vast majority, but I only have anecdotal evidence. Still, it's pretty clear that the hordes of non-heterosexuals you seem to be convinced are waiting to destroy the country's demographics and economy just don't exist. Anyway, heterosexuals just don't seem to be that interested in adopting non-heterosexual lifestyles, for some reason. In fact, in my experience, people figure out what makes them happy and do that, no matter what their friends or relations or neighbors are doing.

Heterosexuals creating families will continue to be the norm. So what's the real problem?

Oh, the choices you don't like are hurting society? How? By putting Bad Thoughts into impressionable minds?

That's it, isn't it? You don't like the Bad Ideas being out there for everyone to see. If only we didn't show the Wrong Things, we'd be better off. Maybe then Johnny wouldn't even think about his feelings for Billy, and he'd go on to marry Susie instead. And then have a loveless marriage, with affairs on the side. Great example for the two kids they brought into the world.

More likely, though, Johnny would commit suicide. Whereas if he had lived and been free to find his own happiness, he might have founded one of those small businesses which your Republican brethren admire so much.

God, you despise the rest of us, don't you, Rick? You can't imagine our living moral, upright lives absent the suffocating strictures of your religion. Worse, you don't think my life is moral because I don't just not follow all your rules, I abhor the judgmentalism and smugness and prejudice that are inextricably a part of them.

Worst of all, you want to change the laws of this nation to enforce your narrow vision of what constitutes an acceptable life.

If you had a cogent argument to make that your way of life was objectively better than mine, I might listen. But of course, the sorriest part of your decades-long campaign to demonize not just non-heterosexuals but everyone else who doesn't subscribe to your world view is that you have failed abjectly and completely to demonstrate that your way of life is objectively better than anybody else's.

You've had years to make your case, and you've failed!

You have never been able to explain why your way is right for all of us and no one else's is. You have never been able to back up your position with anything resembling a compelling argument. Your rhetoric is essentially mired at the schoolboy level: "I'm right and you're wrong".

"It hurts the economy" is the trendy argument to make, even if you can't muster up a scintilla of cogent reasoning to back it up. It gets headlines. It sparks argument (including, I'm embarrassed to say, this post). But it's just one more steaming pile you pulled from your hindquarters to throw against the wall in the increasingly desperate hope of finding something that will stick. It won't, of course. Well, except to you. The stink of your pointless, asinine attempts to demonize what makes you feel icky will cling to you as long as your name is remembered, Rick.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The coming "gay marriage witch hunt"

There's something weirdly fascinating about the contradictions in the deeply conservative world view.

There's a long-standing meme, for instance, that "liberals" are in favor of victimhood status for everyone but Protestant white males. The conservative rejoinder is to jeer at liberals' purported bleeding hearts, dripping with guilt.

That's why it is extremely funny to hear about the coming gay-marriage witch hunt. The article quotes Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council:

“This New McCarthyism demands, ‘Do you now think or have you ever thought that marriage should remain the union of a man and a woman?’ Answer incorrectly, and watch your career be taken from you and your reputation smeared on a thousand websites.”
I sense a mighty wind in the offing ...
Many of these fears burst out into the open earlier this year when Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, was run out of his position after it was revealed that he had donated money to the anti-gay marriage cause in California. Although some supporters of gay rights even thought the Eich affair was handled poorly, it sent a signal “that you have to be politically correct if you want to attain a higher position,” said Warner Todd Huston, a conservative activist and writer.

“That is the fear, that traditional American values are being criminalized as opposed to simply being out of fashion,” he said.

There it is: we have achieved "overblown"!

There's no criminalization of so-called traditional American values. There's ostracism, but being a social outcast isn't a criminal offense.

Calling out Huston's absurd overreaching isn't terribly productive, though. It's small ball. Conservative hypocrisy and self-pity — now that's a big, fat, ripe target.

Is the "traditional American values" crowd really going to play the victim card? This is the same bunch that declared homosexuality a mental disorder, non-heterosexuals to be evil, and passed laws criminalizing homosexual behavior in the states. Most of those laws are no longer functioning, but not because the ones who demanded them had a change of heart: it took courts with a healthy respect for the Constitution to strike them down. Outside the law, non-heterosexuals suffer beatings and killings merely for being who they are. It must be quite gratifying to the merciful God the traditional American values cohort worships that the lessons of His Holy Writ are used to justify that violence.

Non-heterosexuals have had plenty of experience being victimized in the name of "traditional American values". The proponents of those values will have to undergo a hell of a lot more than opprobrium to merit being called "victims" themselves. When you find marauding bands of non-heteros randomly curbing Christian fundamentalists, give us a call.

Yo, Tony, you're worried about your reputation being "smeared on a thousand websites"? What, as opposed to smearing thousands or millions of your countrymen — your fellow human beings — as mental defectives and moral obscenities? You think being called a bigot comes anywhere close to being called a depraved monster?

You and your protesting compatriots have some nerve. You call yourselves principled and righteous and arrogate the privilege of judging who is and isn't fit to be part of polite society, then you cry foul when the rest of us decide you're wrong and repudiate your condemnatory ways. Please, spare us your plaints.

Maybe from now on you'll actually take to heart the admonition, "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

Friday, June 13, 2014

Stoning is not "pro-life"

I did a double take when I read the headline: "Oklahoma Candidate Says Gays Should Be Stoned".
Oklahoma state house candidate Scott Esk wrote on Facebook last summer that gay people are “worthy of death” and should be stoned, later claiming that violence against gays is “in the old testament under a law that came directly from God.”
The average bigot is content to hate and to scorn. It takes somebody special to want to kill the despised group. (Actually doing that is called genocide, by the way. Lots of examples in history books. Curiously, the perpetrators aren't widely admired.)

That you call it a duty of your religion is a nice touch, Scott. You make Christianity sound pretty damned appealing. I'm sorry, I meant appalling.

Oh, and since you're citing the Old Testament, I assume you keep kosher and have multiple wives?

Esk describes himself as “100% pro-life” and “100% Traditional Family Values” on his campaign website and says, “I look forward to applying Biblical principles to Oklahoma law.”
Leave aside for the moment the large number of inconsistencies among Biblical edicts. Just consider these two ideas:

"I'm pro-life." "Gays should be killed."

Does anything strike you as, er, contradictory about those statements, Scott?

No?

Really?

I suppose gays don't count as "human beings", so that pesky commandment about not killing can be finessed on a technicality. Still, you have to have a pretty narrow definition of "life" to call yourself "100% pro-life" while being in favor of stoning Teh Gays, who, after all, look very much like "people" to the rest of us.

Yeah, yeah, I know, "pro-life" is all about the unborn kiddies. Well, what if homosexuality has a biological cause? What if it's possible one day to ascertain sexual orientation in utero? Will Scott be in the hospital, rocks in hand, ready to throw the second the umbilical is cut? Or will he even wait for the kid to be born? After all, it's not like the kid will be human. Why wait? Easier to do the deed when the fetus fits in the palm of your hand. Just cut it out of Mom's belly and get it over with. That'll leave the rest of the day free to do more of God's work.

Esk is pushing murder as a "family value". I'm sure Christ is proud.

Or pissed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

No national monopoly on denial

For a decade or so I've envied Canadians and Australians. During Bush 43's profoundly anti-intellectual, anti-scientific two terms, it seemed that the baton of sanity and rationality had passed to our divided-by-a-common-tongue siblings.

I guess I was wrong. The ThinkProgress piece is, Australian PM Tony Abbott Travels The World To Drum Up Anti-Climate Action Coalition".

On Monday, Abbott visited with [Canadian prime minister Stephen] Harper in Ottawa for a full day with his close friend and ally. According to The Age, a Melbourne-based newspaper, Abbott “flagged intentions to build a new center-right alliance led by Canada, Britain and Australia along with India and New Zealand,” in an effort to “dismantle global moves to introduce carbon pricing, and undermine a push by U.S. President Barack Obama to push the case for action through forums such as the G20.”
It's idiocy like this that convinces me that even if humanity could visit the stars, it shouldn't. We're just too fucking stupid to be allowed to fuck up more than this planet. For the first time in my life, I'm actually happy that faster-than-light travel is probably not possible.

Mr. Abbott and like-minded pols could improve their image in my eyes if they would publicly acknowledge that they deny climate change because fighting it would hurt the business interests that put them in office. (Like this blowhard coal company CEO, or this deliberately obfuscating Congresscritter.) I understand ruthlessness in the name of money. I don't like it, but I understand it.

But this flat denial of reality is brain-dead. Scientific research has spoken. There are disagreements around the edges — in scientific matters, there always are — but the core message is undeniable.

There's a profound cognitive dissonance that deniers of climate change aren't forced to confront. They like and trust the science that brings them flat-screen TVs and shelf-stable meals. The science that brings them evidence of atmospheric and oceanic temperature rise? Not so much.

Science, however, is a way of looking at existence. If you accept what it tells you about pest control, you have to accept what it tells you about pesticide resistance, too. Science is siloed into disciplines because the average researcher can't hope to master more than one field in her lifetime, not because the different disciplines can tell different stories if you try hard enough. Astronomy, genetics, oceanography, molecular biology — these specialties tell us about different aspects of the same reality. The different aspects are all part of the same big picture.

You can't accept chemistry but reject biology.

You can't accept physics but reject cosmology.

You can't accept neuroscience but reject paleontology.

You can't accept pharmacology but reject climatology.

If you pick and choose your science according to what's convenient or what you prefer, you're a moron. It's that simple. That's what deniers of human-caused climate change are: morons.

Even — especially — if they've been elected to public office.

Mr. Abbott, what's the weather like up your own ass?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Problems pure extroverts don't understand

The piece is "27 Problems Only Introverts Will Understand".

It's true: only introverts will understand. What's misleading, though, is the implied idea that there are only pure introverts, or pure extroverts, for that matter. Most people fall somewhere between those two poles. You therefore might find yourself nodding ever so slightly once or twice (or more), even if you've never thought of yourself as particularly introverted.

#7 mentions a truth unknown to extroverts: being around others requires introverts to expend energy. Extroverts, by contrast, derive energy from being around others. It's not that introverts are always uncomfortable in company (although they can be around people they don't know well). Rather, socializing is a kind of performance for introverts. That's why they describe it as having to be "on". The effect of company is hard for extroverts to grasp, but it's at the heart of a lot of introverts' sometimes baffling behaviors.

I'm no longer in my twenties and I've structured my life over the years so as to avoid most of these problematic situations. I've been in nearly all of them, though. I'm a pretty serious introvert energetically: I need my recharge time after socializing. I've experienced #20 a lot, and I've embarrassed myself more than once in situation #24. #25 would be a problem if, over the years, I hadn't shed those people who just couldn't grasp the idea. That sounds cold, but the reality is that we self-selected out of each other's orbits.

Apropos of nothing, I love the animated GIF accompanying #17.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Encouraging news for California Republicans

California's gubernatorial race this fall will pit Democratic incumbent Jerry Brown against Republican challenger Neel Kashkari.

No one at this point thinks Kashkari has a real shot at unseating Brown, who benefits from both high name recognition (Brown is about as well-known in the state as anyone can be) and relatively good job-approval numbers. However, Kashkari's being the Republican nominee is itself a victory for the party. As a moderate, he had to fend off a Tea Party challenger, Tim Donnelly, who made the primary a real fight for the GOP base.

As is true everywhere nowadays, Kashkari the moderate had a tough time making inroads among the radical-right Republicans that disproportionately show up for primaries: Donnelly was their darling. That didn't sit well with the Republican power structure. Here's how the situation was characterized in a San Francisco Chronicle piece from 4 June 2014:

Donnelly's campaign, fueled by grassroots passion and defiant conservatism - as well as a penchant for headline-making - panicked the GOP establishment. Party leaders across the country issued warnings that the election of a gun-rights advocate who was a co-founder of the California Minutemen, a self-styled border patrol group, would irreparably damage the party's chances in November if he were the party's standard-bearer in November.
The political atmosphere is further to the left in California than in many other states. The Golden State has its share of hard-right GOPers, but the kind of radical-right rhetoric heard in bright-red states hasn't gained much traction. It certainly turns off undecided and independent voters.

Donnelly has struck me as impatient with the complexity of immigration and the border — and probably much else. I have no use for people whose default attitude is, "If it's complex, it must be wrong". Simplistic thinking like this is unproductive. It leads to gutting laws for the sake of reducing them to something anyone can understand, without asking if there was a good reason for the complexity. If you think like this, you probably also distrust government generally and strongly prefer it should be much smaller than it is, but you don't care how it's done. Exasperation with details, though, disqualifies you as a serious candidate for public office. Public service requires grappling with messy details, because messy details nearly always come down to individual people's lives.

Just as bad is the tendency for Tea Partyers to embrace offensively simpleminded (and often simply wrong) notions about everyone else.

A post on Donnelly's Facebook page that suggested that Kashkari, a Hindu, supported Islamic Shariah law drew widespread condemnation.

And after a newspaper dug up a 2006 speech to anti-illegal-immigration Minutemen in which he referred approvingly to the number of Mexicans killed at the Alamo, Donnelly was anything but apologetic, saying, "People will respect you if you stick to your guns."

("Sticking to your guns" is a popular theme on the far right. Heaven forbid that one should learn from one's mistakes.)

Donnelly left a very bad taste in my mouth. Had he been anointed the Republican challenger, that bad taste would have extended to the state GOP. That's the last thing it needs. That's the last thing California needs.

Democrats hold unchallenged sway in statewide offices and the Legislature. Though I lean Democratic, I know one-party rule is dangerous: earlier this year, for instance, Assemblyman Leland Yee became the third Democrat to be caught in a corruption scandal. California needs a GOP that's strong enough and rational enough to make Democrats fight for the right to hold office. Tim Donnelly doesn't make the party look strong or rational.

Neel Kashkari probably won't be California's next governor, but he has a shot at making the California Republican Party less unpalatable to those repelled by the Tea Party's baleful influence.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The NRA reverts to form

Well, that didn't last long: the Talking Points Memo piece is entitled, "NRA Apologizes For Calling Guns-In-Restaurants Crowd 'Weird'". The now-disavowed criticism of open-carry advocates' provocative tactics was attributed to an unnamed staffer.

The NRA is fighting to reclaim its just place in the ranks of Teh Crazy on the far right.

Bassem Youssef ends his show

Egypt's TV satirist Bassem Youssef shut down his show, "citing unspecified political pressure and threats".

No doubt newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is feeling a little smug, having succeeded where his predecessors Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi failed. He has bought his own comfort, though, by impoverishing his country's culture.

You may have been a general, el-Sisi, but you aren't a strong or wise leader. Strong and wise leaders don't fear criticism: they learn from it.

Making the NRA look reasonable

I'm no fan of the National Rifle Association. The NRA has done a hell of a lot to make even talking about gun violence, much less doing anything about it, virtually a third rail for politicians. The group has on occasion acted like a rabid dog, irrational and slavering and, well, just clamoring to be put down.

These days, though, nobody has a monopoly on Teh Crazy on the far right. Even a reliably fanatical organization like the NRA can be upstaged — out-orthodoxed by even more fanatical people. The purer-than-thou group of the day is Open Carry Texas, which has attracted attention for its members' group visits to restaurants toting long guns.

A bunch of guys entering a fast-food restaurant with rifles slung over their shoulders tends to unsettle the other patrons. (It would certainly piss me off.) OCT and likeminded groups have induced a backlash: they've received negative publicity in the news and several restaurant chains have established "no guns" policies. The negative impression of gun owners that the open-carry groups are creating worries the NRA enough that it has bluntly criticized the groups.

Let's not mince words, not only is it rare, it's downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one's cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.
OCT took exception to the NRA's criticism. OCT had a telling counter-critique that I'll paraphrase as, "Why'd you wait til after we stopped the demonstrations to bitch about them?!" What's getting all the attention, though, is the image of cut-up NRA membership cards and OCT's warning that more will follow if the NRA doesn't stop attacking a fellow gun-rights group.
"The more the NRA continues to divide its members by attacking some aspects of gun rights instead of supporting all gun rights, the more support it will lose," Open Carry Texas said in a statement published Monday on its Facebook page.
(The Facebook page was gone when I visited it an hour ago; I took this statement from the TPM piece.)

OCT paints itself as the upholder of absolute gun rights and the NRA as an accommodationist weasel. The rest of us see an NRA that looks sane next to a fanatical OCT.

If I were a conspiracy-minded sort, I'd wonder if OCT was a disposable front group designed to rehabilitate the NRA's battered image. Because let's not kid ourselves: it's a minor miracle to make the NRA look reasonable. (I detect the hand of alarmed gun manufacturers behind the NRA's newly-discovered common sense.)