Thursday, January 28, 2010

Huppenthal shows arrogance by drilling holes in high school wall.

Last week state Republicans held their meeting at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale.

Senator John Huppenthal, who is running for Superintendent of Schools, decided to hang a banner. Instead of finding out if there was anyone who could help him hang it, he went to work himself, got an electric drill and drilled several holes in the wall for him to hang his banner on.

It's not that he caused much damage; the school administration has said the holes did not affect the building (though what else could they say since he holds their budget in his hands?) and the state Republican Party has offered to pay whatever repair costs there are. Rather it's about his mind set.

Public buildings are owned by all of us. Apparently he feels, as a state legislator that he has the right to damage them for his own purposes. I mean, if I were to visit your home as a guest and take out a power drill and drill holes in your wall, wouldn't you feel a little miffed? What if I pulled out a drill and drilled holes in your local school, police station or other public building? Certainly this would be vandalism, and if I did it I imagine I'd be cited for at least a misdemeanor.

At the very least, don't you think he should have asked permission, or even asked if there was already something there he could use to hang his banner on? Any normal person would, but apparently John Huppenthal believes that he is an unusually privileged person who doesn't have to live by the same rules that he so nonchalantly makes for other people to follow, to say nothing of common decency.

It's the same kind of mindset that Tom DeLay had some years back when he lit up a cigar in a non-smoking building, and when he was told he couldn't smoke there by order of the Federal Government, responded "I am the Federal Government." Apparenly Senator Huppenthal has forgotten that he serves in office at the invitation of the voters, and he no more owns public property than you or I do.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Andre Bauer: continuing South Carolina's march to the bottom

Remember a few weeks ago when the South Carolina legislature decided against impeaching Mark Sanford?

Probably the right decision. Sanford's personal infidelity, while salacious and an example of the hypocrisy of right wing politicians who get elected while preaching about 'family values,' was hardly an impeachable offense. His use of state resources to fund his travel may have been unacceptable but probably not all that different from what I suspect you'd find if you looked into some of his colleagues in the legislature there (or for that matter in other states.) Maybe something that should be looked into (after all, Congress has to live according to ethical rules far more stringent than many legislatures or state level office holders) but I doubt if the legislature there wanted to start down that road.

But the real reason it's a good thing they didn't impeach Sanford was that if they had it would have elevated Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer to the Governor's mansion in Columbia.

Bauer, who is in fact running for Governor this year let the mask slip when he said that people receiving Government assistance are like stray animals because they 'breed' and 'don't know any better.'.

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals," Bauer told an audience in the town of Fountain Inn, according to the Greenville News. "You know why? Because they breed."

"You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply," Bauer continued. "They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better."

Keep in mind that South Carolina is a state with a 12% unemployment rate. So if someone lost their job, apparently the man who would be their next Governor thinks no more of them than the the animals housed at the dog pound. What will he propose as an alternative, given the failure of the current Governor and legislature to produce jobs in his state? Spay/neutering poor people, or forced euthanasia?

Yes, the mask slips off of conservatives sometimes. I never thought I'd say it, but I hope Mark Sanford stays in office for the rest of his term.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Get Health Care Done, Now.

The GOP and the paragons of the right hve been trumpeting the special election victory of Scott Brown in the Democratic state of Massachusetts as a reason why we should give up on the Obama agenda, starting with health care reform.

However, it means almost the opposite of this.

A lot of the voters who voted for Obama last year and stayed home this year (or in some cases, even voted for Brown) did so because really not much is that different from if John McCain had won last year's election. Obama has hired far too many Wall Street bankers and Federal Reserve retreads to set the course for the nation's financial policy. The Bush wars are continuing. Little has been done on the environment. And health care reform has been continually dragged out and watered down to the point where it is almost unrecognizable. And even this looks like it may be taken off the table and replaced by a bill that everyone can agree on which may clip around the edges of the problem, say by getting rid of the pre-existing condition exclusion but probably leave loopholes that in the end will make it just 'feel-good window dressing.'

In fact, Brown himself made the best case for why the public still wants meaningful health care reform. He pointed out that the voters in Massachusetts already have universal coverage, so they would only be essentially paying extra taxes to extend to the rest of the United States a benefit they already enjoy. He specifically did not call for the repeal of the Massachusetts law, which despite its warts seems likely to remain in place. Well, as Tip O'Neill said, "all politics is local" and Brown was able to take avantage of a progressive local law and turn it to his advantage. He also was very careful not to criticize the President directly, as Obama remains popular in Massachusetts.

The answer is to get health care reform finished. According to some reports, house and senate leaders were 'hours away' from an agreement when Brown's election caused some to get cold feet. They should go ahead and finish the agreement and push it through while Democrats still have sixty Senate votes.

The idea that moving to the center will save Democrats is foolishness. To win, Democrts have to give voters a reason to vote for them, and right now, they haven't yet. Throwing in the towel on health care would make the problem worse, not better.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Devil responds to Pat Robertson

credit to Jen Leist on facebook, who got this from William Schubert:

The Devil wrote a letter today to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in which he takes issue with Pat Robertson's characterization of his role in the Haitian earthquake disaster.

The letter reads,

Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action.

But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished.

Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?

If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan

Time for America to Come Together in our Best Effort

Let's forget about Rush and Pat and focus instead on what we can do right. This is a time when the United States can come together and show real leadership in the world, and do it for the right reasons.

The pictures we've all seen coming out of Haiti the past few days have been heart-rending, terrifying, gruesome, horrible, painful, and evoke so many other emotions, so diverse but all terrible.

President Obama showed real leadership in moving quickly to help the people of Haiti. He and Secretary Napolitano also showed compassion in suspending deportations to Haiti for eighteen months by granting TPS (temporary protected status) to Haitians currently in the United States; dumping a bunch more people into the current scene of devastation would be unhelpful at best and disastrous at worst. Yes, they are getting some heat from Nativist groups but the real test of leadership is the ability to make tough decisions because they are right.

Right now there is no functioning government there but American relief workers are working shoulder to shoulder with those from many other countries and with those Haitians who are able to help to treat the wounded, bury the dead and rescue the survivors. But that is only this week. Rebuilding Haiti will be a long term project. And the fact is, Haiti was in terrible shape even last Monday, the day before the earthquake. Rebuilding it won't just mean patching together the same concrete buildings that collapsed and killed tens of thousands on Tuesday. It will mean rebuilding it better. Certainly that begins with constructing buildings that will stand up the next time there is an earthquake, but it will mean more than that. It will mean creating a vibrant, dynamic economy, one where people can hope for a future for themselves and their kids in Haiti, instead of only dreaming of escaping in a small boat trying to sneak into the United States.

President Obama also turned to the source that many other Presidents have turned to when they need someone to coordinate efforts like this: former Presidents. He asked former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to help lead this. Not only does this show that this will be a non-partisan effort but he is showing that he trusts ex-presidents to show real leadership on behalf of the United States, as they have in the past (the Gerry Ford spend-your-retirement-on-the-golf-course model is now officially obsolete; even Republicans have to admit that when Jimmy Carter raised the bar for ex-Presidents it was a good thing.)

President Clinton has done things like this before (remember the Tsunami relief effort he headed with the elder President Bush.) He's also been involved in other international efforts, such as last year's retrieval from North Korea of two American journalists.

President George W. Bush has kept a low profile since leaving office (unlike his former Vice President.) So in a sense this is his 'rookie' assignment as an ex-President. And I wish him success. I certainly was very critical of 'Dubya' the whole time he was in office (and there are still things left over from his administration that we need to get to the bottom of,) but I'm willing to give him a clean slate as an ex-president (remember that even Richard Nixon had evolved into somewhat of a senior statesman by the time he died.) This is a good start, and to be honest even while he was President, and for all his warts, Bush Jr. did give significant non-military aid to very poor countries (including Haiti.)

This is a time for America to step forward and do what we can together.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

McGwire admission prompts the question: how big of a deal is it, anyway?

The revelation that Mark McGwire used steroids was, well about as surprising as the revelation that Conan O'Brien doesn't want to be demoted back to late nights on NBC. McGwire had admitted at the time to using androstenedione, a precursor to steroids back during his home run chase in 1998, and more recently had been accused by everyone from Jose Canseco (who talked about he and McGwire taking turns injecting each other in the butt when they were in Oakland) to members of the Senate who were outraged when McGwire appeared before them just to keep repeating 'I'm not here to talk about the past,'

To begin with, McGwire should have learned something from the andro episode. When he freely admitted to using andro, it made the headlines for a few days in 1998 and then disappeared into the 'deadlines,' or stories that have run their course and are out of sight and out of mind. If he'd done the same with steroids themselves it might be gone and forgotten by now.

More to the point though, McGwire's admission gives us a new opportunity to ask just how big a deal is it, and whether steroid users should be considered for the Hall of Fame. After all, just like in any sport, there have always been those who bent the rules to gain a competitive edge in baseball.

Gaylord Perry admitted to doctoring baseballs-- a major type of cheating by pitchers. He's in the Hall of Fame. Perry may be the only Hall of Famer to have been so open about his cheating but only an intentionally blind idealist will assume that he's the only one there who ever did. Pitchers have been scuffing balls and batters have been corking bats since-- well, the game was invented. We seem to be worried about how many home runs hopped out of there because of steroids but we seem less worried about how many got their extra oomph from a corked bat. In fact, an interesting case can be made by looking at Sammie Sosa (who during 1998 played Mickey Mantle to McGwire's Roger Maris impression.) Though Sosa has been accused at times of using steroids-- mainly based on his home run statistics and no other evidence (maybe he's just that good,) Sosa was caught once using a corked bat. Overall this is considered an unbecoming but relatively minor breech of baseball's ettiquette-- Sosa was suspended five games. But because of the unproven allegations of steroids it's almost a given that some sportswriters will, fairly or not, cite the corked bat episode as an excuse to not vote for Sosa, even though the real reason will be suspicion about whether he may have used steroids.

I'm not sure that coming clean earlier would have helped McGwire as it helped Perry. The culture has changed. When Perry came clean, his admission of cheating was balanced to a degree by his honesty in doing it. But when McGwire's 'bash brother' (or as we now know, 'stash brother') Jose Canseco admitted to using steroids, he was made out to be a buffoon (which he actually was, but his honesty was not only rewarding but has been borne out by events.) Maybe it's because Canseco named names, including McGwire's.

But be that as it may, we have to ask whether steroids are such an ultimate crime, or whether we should think of them more like a corked bat or a scuffed ball. In the overall scheme of the game, not that big of a deal.

Monday, January 11, 2010

When is a murder not a murder? When a kook gets the judge to go along with him

When is a murder not a murder?

I guess when the victim is a doctor who performs abortions and the murderer is a fanatic who thinks he's justified in shooting an unarmed man point blank in the forehead.

The judge in the case of Scott Roeder, who has admitted to planning the killing and then shooting Dr. George Tiller in the head at Tiller's church last May while Tiller was serving as an usher, ruled Friday that Roeder could argue that he should be convicted of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder, not because of any facts in the case suggesting it was anything other than a premeditated homicide, but because Roeder thought that his action would 'save unborn children.'

So does that mean if you are motivated by a political belief the illegal, even up to and including murder, is now the legal and acceptable? What's next? If the holocaust museum shooter had survived (he died the other day) he should be able to plead guilty to a lesser charge than murder because in his mind killing a black man working for a Jewish client would be justified? Maybe they should water down the charges against the Christmas Day bomber too because he thought what he was doing was right in the name of Allah?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Lieberman even more unpopular than Dodd

The news yesterday out of Connecticut was the Chris Dodd is retiring instead of running for re-election.

What is more interesting is that there is one politician in that state even Dodd could beat: his seatmate, Joe Lieberman.

PPP (D) released some more data from its polling in Connecticut (522 RVs, 1/4-5, MoE +/- 4.3%), showing a precipitous drop in Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I) approval rating. It now stands at just 25 percent, with 67 percent disapproving. By comparison, that's lower than even Chris Dodd's showing at 29 percent approval.

Digging deeper, PPP finds that 81 percent of Democrats disapprove of Lieberman. Among Republicans, 39 percent approve and 48 percent disapprove; among indies the split is 32 / 61. Lieberman is up again in 2012

Dodd of course has gotten smacked with his push to allow AIG executives to collect multimillion dollar bonuses even as the Federal treasury was spending billions to clean up the mess they made, and also for the question of whether his Countrywide mortgage may have gotten a preferred rate because he was too cozy with the banks and the mortgage industry. But even with that baggage, Dodd is still more popular in his homestate than Joe of the 'Party of Joe.' And until the health care vote, Lieberman hadn't made a lot of waves. What has clearly made the difference was his waffling and watering down of health care legislation (note also that while he has net unfavorables with everyone, he's the closest to breaking even with Republicans.)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Sheriff of Nottingham hasn't read his own book, says he doesn't understand the fourth amendment

You'd think if your name was on a book you'd at least want to have read it, right?

I guess not if you're the Sheriff of Nottingham.

That's right, in a deposition today, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he hasn't read and is unfamiliar with what is in a book that he co-authored (in other words he had a ghostwriter.)

He also said he is largely unfamiliar with the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In case you'd forgotten that is the one that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Maybe just a little relevant to his job description since he is the one making searches and seizures, wouldn't you think?

Democrats are right to lock Republicans out of health reform conference committee

Normally, I'd be in favor of following protocol involving conference committees. President Obama was elected on a promise to make Washington a more civil place, and it is absolutely certain that Democrats will therefore receive some flak for bypassing the conference committee and excluding Republicans from the final negotiation on health care.

WASHINGTON – House and Senate Democrats intend to bypass traditional procedures when they negotiate a final compromise on health care legislation, officials said Monday, a move that will exclude Republican lawmakers and reduce their ability to delay or force politically troubling votes in both houses....

Democratic aides said the final compromise talks would essentially be a three-way negotiation involving top Democrats in the House and Senate and the White House, a structure that gives unusual latitude to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

These officials said there are no plans to appoint a formal House-Senate conference committee, the method Congress most often uses to reconcile differing bills. Under that customary format, a committee chairman is appointed to preside, and other senior lawmakers from both parties and houses participate in typically perfunctory public meetings while the meaningful negotiations occur behind closed doors.

In this case though the White House, Reid and Pelosi are absolutely right. If there was a chance of reaching a consensus that Republicans could support then they should work with Republicans. But since it is now abundantly clear that the GOP is fixated on a single goal-- to defeat the bill-- there is no point in watering it down even further than it already has been in exchange for exactly nothing, because that's how much support any compromise with Republicans would get from the right side of the aisle.

Consider last year's stimulus bill early in the Obama administration when we were literally teetering on the brink of a total financial collapse and a second Great Depression. President Obama broke precedent by traveling to Capitol Hill to meet with Congress, including several meetings with Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate. Democrats made numerous changes in the bill to accomodate Republicans. We ended up with a watered-down stimulus (one reason economists are now saying we should pass another one this year) that was 43% tax cuts (including several breaks that Republicans specifically asked be included) and money that was supposed to be spent on needed school construction and renovation (and which would certainly have created jobs and boosted the local economy everywhere) was axed to keep Republicans happy. The price for the vote of Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) was to get rid of funding for pandemic preparedness.

So after reaching out to Republicans and making all of these concessions, how many Republicans actually voted for the bill? Zero in the House and three in the Senate.

When the health care reform bill was in committee, the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee entertained and ultimately accepted over 200 amendments proposed by Republicans. But even with the amendments in the bill, every single Republican voted against it. Then Senator Max Baucus spent the summer meeting with three Republican Senators to try and craft a bipartisan bill. He at least did get one Republican on his committee to vote for the final committee bill-- Maine's Olympia Snowe. But in the process all of the compromises that were written into his committee's bill-- most notably the lack of a public option-- were supported by Republicans but in the end they voted against the finished product.

So then during the floor debate in the House and especially in the Senate we saw Republicans do everything they could, not to reach an accord on the bill, but simply to delay the bill. And in the end, stripped of a public option and with abortion language that undermines the stated promise to end gender discrimination in pricing in order to placate Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, the bill passed with one Republican vote in the house and none in the Senate.

It is now abundantly clear that rather than trying to help craft a health reform bill that is more to their liking, Republicans, who would need to prevent Democrats in the Senate from reaching sixty votes on the final passage of the conference committee bill have instead bet the farm on making it fail. Their best hope is to try and delay the bill until some Democrat breaks ranks, or maybe they are hoping that Robert Byrd has a heart attack next month, or heck who knows what they are hoping, anything to make it fail.

Under these circumstances there is no reason at all to talk to Republicans. They will vote against it anyway and their entire agenda is delay, not serious negotiation. You'd have a better chance of trying to convince the chief Ayatollah of Iran to become a Mormon.

Monday, January 04, 2010

How you could scientifically test Intelligent Design

An argument has been raging over the idea of teaching 'intelligent design,' i.e. introducing into science lessons the idea that a Creator could have directed the process of evolution. The reason why I've opposed teaching it in a science class is because for something to qualify as science there has to be scientific evidence. Recent advances in science (notably the Human Genome project) have given us the tools we could use to actually test whether random chance is sufficient to explain evolution or if it is insufficient; if it is insufficient that would provide some hard scientific evidence at least of some other influence which accelerated the process. I've contemplated how this could be tested scientifically for years, hence the following post:

Recently I've discovered the joy of facebook (well, specifically, I had it thrust upon me one day about a month ago when my precocious thirteen year old decided I should be on it and came up to me and announced, "Dad, you have a facebook. What's your password?") It's actually been great though, as I've discovered people from all different phases of my life. So yes, if you've noticed a recent drop in blog volume that may be one reason why (as well as the fact that I'm in the process of writing a math book.) Blogging however has some specific and useful qualities and one of them is it gives me room to lay out some deeper thoughts (hence the name of this blog.)

On facebook, There is a page for the U.S. Constitution (yes, I'm a fan.) Often there are discussions there about the topic of 'Intelligent design' (I'm not sure why they show up so often on the U.S. Constitution message board but they do.) Intelligent Design is the idea that while life may evolve, the process of evolution itself (or whatever other method one ascribes to explain the diversity of life) is directed by the unseen hand of an intelligent Creator. In other words, it's a continuation of the debate that has raged since Darwin first published his work more than 150 years ago.

I'd like to first quote a rebuttal I gave to one proponent and then expand on an idea that I alluded to in the comment.

The rebuttal is as follows:

It's not that science does not look at all possibilities, it's that what is taught as basic knowlege in a science class is theory backed by evidence.

I personally do believe that God directed the process of evolution, but unless I can show some hard scientific evidence (fossil record, DNA or otherwise) then that is my opinion (and maybe even the opinion of hundreds of millions of people) but that doesn't in itself make it science.

As a matter of fact, I did once design an experiment that could actually test intelligent design but as far as I know it or any other experiment to test the same have never been carried out. Until there is experimental evidence it's not science.

Which brings us to the question HOW WOULD YOU TEST INTELLIGENT DESIGN?

A proper scientific experiment has to meet certain criteria. It must be replicable (i.e. someone else should be able to do the same experiment that you are doing, and get the same results); it must include a hypothesis before you actually produce any results stating clearly what you are theorizing and what results you would expect to see if your hypothesis is correct; and it must be consistent with what has previously been observed or discovered scientifically.

With the opening up of the genome, I have an idea for how you could test intelligent design. Granted, it's a rudimentary idea and one which would require extensive computer modeling, very complex calculations and certainly some guesswork in which you could only look at a high and a low end, but nonetheless it is an idea that could be tested scientifically.

Suppose we have the genome of a human and the genome of a simple eukaryotic cellular organism similar to the earliest eukaryotic cells on earth (both of which thanks to science including the Human Genome Project, we do have.) We could then use mathematical modeling to model how many random mutations the DNA of the eukaryotic cell would have to go through to produce a human (or a rat, monkey or elephant if you prefer.) You could also determine (and this is where some level of guesswork comes in, especially given our less than perfect knowlege of science) how many generations you would go through in going from a cell billions of years old to a modern day human.

Once you had that number and you've already used supercomputers to model the number of mutations you could get a number for the requisite number of mutations per generation (or heck, maybe it's generations per mutation-- I'm just suggesting a design for the experiment; someone else will have to crunch the numbers.)

NOW YOU NEED TO SEE IF THIS NUMBER IS HIGHER THAN THE RATE AT WHICH MUTATION WOULD HAPPEN BY PURELY RANDOM CHANCE. To do this you take a known species of bacteria and place one group in an unstressed and another in a stressed environment (such as heat or cold or the presence of a toxic chemical.) Some degree of natural selection would take place in the second group. You then measure the number of generations the bacteria go through and then find the genome of the end product of both the stressed and unstressed groups. If the number of mutations per generation is comparable to the mathematical model you had before (which should lie between these numbers given that the natural environment is sometimes, but not always stressed) then it would suggest that evolution happened by random occurrence. On the other hand if the mathematical model for the rate at which mutations had to occur was significantly larger than the range you have (say, even faster than rate of mutation of the stressed bacteria) then you will have produced scientific evidence that evolution by random mutation alone would be insufficient to explain the difference between eukaryotes and humans.

Would this solve the debate? No. Regardless of the results, you can be sure of that (either one side would say that the Creator didn't want to be detected and therefore fooled with the experiment, or the other would say that the lower than needed rate of mutation in the experiment might be explicable by something other than a Creator, such as contamination in the laboratory.) And both sides would certainly point to the guesswork and unknowns involved if they didn't like the results.

Conceded. But the unknowns and guesswork are based on things we don't know yet in science, but as science evolves (yes, science does evolve) we will have fewer guesses and more certainty.

The Genome project however has at least given us a WAY that we COULD try to test Intelligent Design. And until and unless it is tested and some evidence is found, it is not appropriate to teach it in a science class.
Flag Counter