Saturday, February 15, 2014

The War on Science... continued

This piece from Juan Cole offers a chance to follow-up on my previous post (Being Gray, In a Black or White World)

The GOP's War on Science Endangering America: Climate Change, Evolution, Regulation
"The Republican Party is increasingly emerging as an anti-science party. Since American greatness was built on its science and technology (and not on the odd cult of biblical inerrancy), this development is a danger to the republic, and, indeed, to the world. The US used to be about solving problems, about a can-do spirit, not about denying concrete reality."
First, Cole is absolutely correct - the GOP, and their billionaire backers, are playing a very scary game because of their denial of reality.  But, in the last post, I made the argument that we should welcome skepticism in our own lives, admit when we don't have all the answers, be willing to say, "we just don't know".  Isn't that exactly what the GOP are doing?  Asking sometimes logical, reasonable questions about things like climate change, evolution, and regulation? They are, but not for the reason of solving serious problems and not in pursuit of answers.  Criticism and skepticism are not leadership. My inclination is that they raise these points not to move the conversation forward, but to score political points and pull strings.

There is a similar relationship on the issues of diet or supplements that I raised in the original post. Where are the issues being raised as a matter of moving the conversation forward, and where are they being raised as a point of stiffing conversation?  Are you questioning because you know what others should do, or because you hope others ask questions and learn more, because you too need to learn more and the research isn't clear?

Two more recent post that have garnered LOTS of comments at various places, are worth a read, be sure to browse the comments -

Whole Foods: America's Temple of Pseudoscience 
 When it comes to vaccines, science can run into a brick wall

And a couple of other links about spotting "bad science":
TEDx - A letter to the TEDx community
Spotting Bad Science

It seems the way this stuff works, I may just keep adding to this list - here's the latest related item traveling around the internet, again, check out the comments - note the true believers versus truth seekers (sounds cheesy, but I couldn't think of a better phrase):
High Protein Diets Make Look Good, Kill You
The Risk of High Protein Diets

VW vote... good for whom?

On facebook someone posted:
Good News for the South: Chattanooga Volkswagen plant votes against UAW | Times Free Press
Good News for the South? Good news for the workers?  Less money, less benefits, less ability to organize or to negotiate either going forward...  But, the current elected officials say it is good news because they'd "been told" that if the vote passed it would cost TN 1500 jobs for the new VW SUV line at the Chattanooga plant.

Back a few year's ago I was working on a project where we thought we had the chance to land the VW plant and in my research I noted that the Germany workers were going on strike because of the threat of raising their work week from 34 to 37 hours a week with no pay raise.  Adding insult to injury the German facility paid their workers over $60 an hour for their less than 40 hour work week.  The cheerful Chattanoogan's landed the VW plant with a guaranteed $14.50 starting salary. (Can't find the original article, but here's one from Forbes around the same time with similar stats).  Nissan and Toyota came to MS, KIA and Mercedes, VW, Saturn, all headed South... hell as Area Development mag, and many others, pointed out the Auto Industry "flew South"

For many economic development types, every time some nonunion industry lands in the South paying somewhere around $14.50 an hour they get something like a salary bump and a woody... every time some poor folk are willing to work for less money it's a good thing for him.

Most folks understand a pawn broker's MO - the worse off you do, the better for them.  Their bet is that your life will not get better, and you will not be able to "buy back" the goods left at the pawn brokers.  Then they get to sell it and make more money.  But, fewer understand the number of people betting on you to fail... Joe Bageant called them the "pickle vendors" ... and you go to church with them, you're member of local hunting clubs with them, and meet them for breakfast at the local spots,   Here's what Joe said about them:
OK. So the truly rich may not get it. But the most dangerous weasels of all, the ones at the next level down from Dicko -- those little ankle biters trying to get a bigger piece of the action -- they get it all too well. Or at least to the extent they understand that the masses need to be roughed up from time to time. Kept in their place. Now I'm not talking about the barber or three-chair beauty shop or the deli owner up the street. I am talking about the realtors, lawyers and middlemen willing to cooperate in whatever it takes to destroy land use and zoning codes, bust unions and keep wages low, rents high, the liberals down and the "cullids" out. This group of second tier conservative professionals and semi-pros are dead set on being real players someday. On their way up the ladder they will screw you blind and make you beg for your change.
America's small and medium sized towns are run entirely by their business class, those countless little sparkplugs of the American capitalist corporate machinery. They are where the institutionalized rip-off by the rich corporations finds its footing and support. Serving on every local governmental body, this mob of Kiwanis and Rotarians have connections, and collectively can get that 200 acres rezoned for Wal-Mart or a sewer line to that 2000-unit housing development at taxpayer expense. When it comes to getting things done locally for the big guys, these folks can heal the sick, raise the dead and give eyesight to the blind. They are God's gift to the big non-union companies and the chip plants looking for a fresh river to piss cadmium into -- the Rotarian, Lions, Kiwanis Club can-do boys. What makes them especially dangerous is that they are politically active, and have a cumulative effect on the national corps politique.
So, the VW vote is good for the "little ankle biters"... but, it's not good for the rest of us.  Not good, in fact, for any of us as we fall farther on the race to the bottom.  The US isn't competing against other "first world" country's for these plants, it's competing in a race to the bottom against 2nd and 3rd world companies... see, we're willing to do it cheaper!  To sell our folks for a dollar cheaper... we're low cost!

It's obviously good news for the 85 people who own as much as 50% of the world's population, and the 50 most generous philanthropist who gave 7.7 billion dollars away last year (of there more than TRILLION dollars) and as this article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy asks, is it enough that these few are worth so much?  What a good debate... but nobody in the mainstream is asking what Joe did over 10 years ago, what about the 'ankle biters' and "business class' in our towns who are selling the majority down the tube for their own extra pennies?

What a damn mess.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

America as a Horror Show

Brilliant interview from Bill Moyers on Moyers and Company with David Simon  -

Some tidbits:

I mean, we are the country that jails more of our population than any other state on the globe. More than totalitarian states we put people in prison. We've managed to monetize these irrelevant people in a way that allows some of us to get rich.
Now, we're all paying for it as taxpayers for having this level of incarceration in American society which is unheard of in the world. But we let some people, you know, get a profit off of it. The monetization of human beings like that, you know, anybody tells you that the markets will solve everything, the libertarian ideal.
I can't get past just how juvenile the thought is that if you just let the markets be the markets, they'll solve everything.
You know, America worked when there was tension between capital and labor, when there-- when neither side won all of its victories, when they were fighting. It's in the fight that we got healthy, that we transformed a working class into a middle class, that we became a consumer economy that drove the world for about half a century...

Ultimately we abandoned that and believed in the idea of trickle-down and the idea of the market economy and the market knows best, to the point where now libertarianism in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought. It's astonishing to me, but it is. People are saying I don't need anything but my own ability to earn a profit. I'm not connected to society. I don't care how the road got built, I don't care where the firefighter comes from, I don't care who educates the kids other than my kids. I am me. It's the triumph of the self. I am me, hear me roar.BILL MOYERS: What are you talking about there? DAVID SIMON: Talking about greed, just greed

Some quotes to ponder

Some that I've recently come across, relevant to some of the recent posts on the blog...

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” - John Steinbeck
"You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from." -Cormac McCarthy

Consider the scene in Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall, when Alvy asks a happy couple how they account for their happiness, and the woman answers, “I am very shallow and empty, and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say,” and the man agrees, “I’m exactly the same way.”
 The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. What are we aiming at, if not a society in which ‘charity’ would be unnecessary? We want a world where Scrooge, with his dividends, and Tiny Tim, with his tuberculous leg, would both be unthinkable. But does that mean we are aiming at some painless, effortless Utopia? At the risk of saying something which the editors of Tribune may not endorse, I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue. - George Orwell
Voltaire -  "It is difficult to free fools from chains they revere"
"A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life." - Muhammad Ali
“If you continually ask a one-armed man to play the guitar, he’ll either come to hate himself or hate you” (source unknown)
"If experience was so important, we'd never have had anyone walk on the moon." - Doug Rader
"Today, people are afraid of not having enough money. That’s the big risk in a consumer society. If life entails consumption, if we don’t have the entity with which we need to consume (money), then we are in a bad way."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Busting through the fog

Over 10 years ago, David Brooks, conservative NYTimes columnist, wrote a piece called, "The Triumph of Hope Over Self-Interest".  It's a great piece that I've had it highlighted on the front page since I started the blog.

I thought about it based on a couple of things I've came across recently. Brooks wrote:

If you earn $125,000 a year and live in Manhattan, certainly, you are surrounded by things you cannot afford. You have to walk by those buildings on Central Park West with the 2,500-square-foot apartments that are empty three-quarters of the year because their evil owners are mostly living at their other houses in L.A.
But if you are a middle-class person in most of America, you are not brought into incessant contact with things you can't afford. There aren't Lexus dealerships on every corner. There are no snooty restaurants with water sommeliers to help you sort though the bottled eau selections. You can afford most of the things at Wal-Mart or Kohl's and the occasional meal at the Macaroni Grill. Moreover, it would be socially unacceptable for you to pull up to church in a Jaguar or to hire a caterer for your dinner party anyway. So you are not plagued by a nagging feeling of doing without.
Many Americans admire the rich.
They don't see society as a conflict zone between the rich and poor. It's taboo to say in a democratic culture, but do you think a nation that watches Katie Couric in the morning, Tom Hanks in the evening and Michael Jordan on weekends harbors deep animosity toward the affluent?
A really smart "facebook friend" (meaning we know each other, haven't seen each other in ages, don't have each others phone numbers, etc., I'm sure ya get the point) recently posted this -
From an email to a friend of mine, in which we were talking about social media: "Basically, too many people with a megaphone makes me feel icky and overloaded and out of step."
She went on to make a really astute comment about the self-righteousness of posters on social media, which was a bit odd because I've recently done a couple post on self-righteousness as well.  But, this first observation, "...too many people with a megaphone makes me feel icky and overloaded and out of step."  led me back to the David Brooks piece.  Historically. Brooks was right, we haven't harbored "animosity toward the affluent"... but is that changing?  People rarely post things to their facebook page or twitter where they say, "hubby's cheating on me with hairdresser, 6 months late on the credit card bill, or look at this picture of me! I've gained 20lbs and haven't brushed my hair all weekend!."  No, they usually post about how great things are going, their new loves, recent vacations, cute kids and puppies, new jobs, etc.  And I wonder how many of us, this sunshine slash horseshit, it makes feel "icky... and out of step"?

The other piece that made me reflect on Brook's 10 year old observation was the spill of 82 million ton's of coal ash in the Dan River by Duke Energy.
Yes, Duke's spin machine is on high gear, trying to pull folks strings - but, my instinct is that fewer are buying it.  Fewer believe that Duke Energy is sorry, or will fix the issue "no matter the cost".  They remember the recent stories about Freedom Industries who polluted the water in WV and within days filed bankruptcy and said, "catch us if you can".  The CEO's of these companies who's oil rigs explode and damage the Gulf, or damage the water in WV or the Dan River, don't feel bad enough to sell their Escalade, or their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th homes.  They just feel bad that they might lose that next bonus.

Perhaps, just perhaps, my instinct is right and  the bright sunny (or most likely delusional) folks on facebook, along with the obvious company spin machines after disasters, and the trickle of stories about the record profits of companies but lower wages of average folks, is starting to reach the hearts of people.  Maybe we'll edge out of the foggy world that Brooks accurately described, and people will stop admiring the rich, and start really looking hard at how that got that way.  Do you make your money off the misery of others?  Are you a slumlord renting folks property you wouldn't want your kids staying in?  Are you peddling merchandise that you aren't really sure works?  If so, maybe one day soon, your world will change.