- For a Good Time on the Intertubes — Today!
- Texas, Jake
- Don’t Even Think About Being The Coolest Person On (Above) The Planet…
- Political Correctness Wins Again ;)
- Somalia On The Rio Grande
- Dog Bites Man — Internet Bank Heist Version
- For A Good Time In London
- Role Model (Dogged Determination)
- Oh Brave New World…
- Traitors in our Midst
It's that time of the month again -- the third (usually) Wednesday, when I do my Virtually Speaking Science gig. This afternoon at 6 p.m. eastern time I'll be talking again to Naomi Oreskes, historian of science and co-author of _Merchants of Doubt,_an account of how a small(ish) cadre of cold-war scientists became hired guns for Big Tobacco and the anti-climate change brigade. Naomi and I spoke in 2011 about the threats posed by the spread of "scientistic" argument -- the use of a science-like language, couched in the rhetoric of disinterested skepticism, to obscure critical knowledge for public audiences. Well, flash forward a year and a half, and we come to an America in which we have experienced years of devastating drought, superstorm Sandy, this week's tornado, and the breaching of the 400 ppm atmospheric carbon threshold, and it's time to talk again about the cost of denialism and the misuse of perceived authority by our still-thriving doubt peddlars. The tornado provides a great touchstone in fact -- as Naomi and I have been emailing back and forth on the question. What's happening is that there is a growing body of increasingly firm research on the impact of climate change on all kinds of circumstances. Changing and possibly deepening patterns of drought are pretty clearly on the table. A boost in the number of severe hurricanes too. Significant ice melt and sea level rise too. But what will happen to tornado patterns as climate change proceeds is still unclear. So what to make of that lacuna? Here's my take (not to put any words in Naomi's mouth): If you are a rational person, you say we need more research on that particular concern, but the broad pattern is clear: human-driven climate change is in progress and it is causing a host of changes that directly conflict with the way we've rely on our built environment and on all the things we do (grow cereals in the midwest, e.g.) needed to keep our societies going. And we'll get back to you on the twisters, asking you to bear this thought in mind: if you are a betting person, how much do you want to wager on the possibility that increasing the amount of heat trapped in the lower atmosphere won't kick up some extra nasty storms? We won't confine ourselves to climate and the weather, by the way. _Merchants of Doubt_ has given me a frame for looking at a lot of news, and I see the same desire to conceal useful knowledge the doubtists serve in the somewhat different technique of simply blocking research that might be used to produce inconvenient truths. See, e.g. the NRA - led ban on research on gun violence and the the recent Republican proposal to forbid the US Census from doing anything but a decennial count, thus eliminating, among other things, our ability to measure unemployment. So come on down. Listen live or later here. Y'all can head over to the Exploratorium's Second Life stage as well if you do that virtual world thing. Image: Pieter Brueghel the Younger, _Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,_ c. 1596_._
How's this for a catch 22:
A judge has ruled that a North Texas lesbian couple can't live together because of a morality clause in one of the women's divorce papers. The clause is common in divorce cases in Texas and other states. It prevents a divorced parent from having a romantic partner spend the night while children are in the home. If the couple marries, they can get out from under the legal provision — but that is not an option for gay couples in Texas, where such marriages aren't recognized.This is another one of those laws in which both rich and poor are enjoined from sleeping under bridges:
[Texas District Court Judge] Roach said the clause doesn't target same-sex couples, adding that the language is gender neutral. "It's a general provision for the benefit of the children," the judge said.And, of course, the husband's attorney talks the same line -- we're only in it for the kids:
Paul Key said his client, Joshua Compton, wanted the clause enforced for his kids' benefit. "The fact that they can't get married in Texas is a legislative issue," Key said. "It's not really our issue."Just remember: the state can't touch our guns (or require tornado shelters) because of freedom…but adults' private decisions about whom to love must suffer the full brunt of state power. Feh. Image: Mary Cassat, ___Jules Being Dried by His Mother, _1900.
I've a few things to get off my chest following the news that I got via Dave Weigel, that Dr. Jason Richwine, our favorite race(ist)/IQ/no-Latino-immigrants need apply
scholar aca-hack, has "resigned" from the Heritage Foundation. Richwine, recall, was the co-author of Heritage's now roundly ridiculed immigration study released earlier this week.
Weigel asked what Heritage knew and when they knew it about Richwine's dissertation and public statements asserting his race-IQ connection. Heritage declined to reply, but earlier in the week, Heritage vice president of communications Mike Gonzalez posted a disclaimer that read, in part, like this (via): firing decision to resign:
The dissertation was written while Dr. Richwine was a student at Harvard, supervised and approved by a committee of respected scholars. The Harvard paper is not a work product of The Heritage Foundation. Its findings do not reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation…It falls to Heritage to answer (to itself, perhaps?) the degree to which Richwine's views were _the_ reason he was hired…but as to whether they knew about them before they brought him on board? There really are only two choices here. Either they didn't, and the folks that hire over there are so incompetent that it might be wise to remove all silverware more dangerous than spoons from the staff lunchroom. Or they did…and to the limits of inference, they sure did know what was behind door number one. Why do I say this? Because of what Richwine tells us in the acknowledgements to his dissertation:
I am indebted to the American Enterprise Institute for the its generous support, without which this dissertation could not have been completed. In particular, I must thank Henry Olsen, vice president of AEI's National Research Initiative for bringing me to AEI and supporting my research. The substance of my work was positively influenced by many people, but no one was more influential than Charles Murray, whose detailed editing and relentless constructive criticism have made the final draft vastly superior to the first. I could not have asked for a better primary advisor.I take two things from that passage. First, it reminds us of the degree to which AEI is a dog-whistling race shop -- as Charles Murray himself confirms in his reaction to Richwine's
Thank God I was working for Chris DeMuth and AEI, not Jim DeMint and Heritage, when The Bell Curve was published. Integrity. Loyalty. Balls.Second, in the real world, anyone who's done any hiring knows that the person doing the intake finds out what the potential employee did in his last job(s). Richwine may have been getting his degree through Harvard (and that's a post for another day) but the attempt to hide behind that institutional affiliation is a text-book baffle-with-bullshit moment. His diploma may read Harvard, but the work was, by his own admission, essentially part of the AEI pipeline advised intensively by one of AEI's best known members. And here's the thing: the Potemkin village of wingnut DC policy shops is not exactly some humongous impersonal word factory. It's a village. If AEI has some hot shot graduate student breaking old ground on the inherent wonderfulness of white people, then the folks at Heritage had to have known about all that when the newly elevated Herr Doktor comes calling for a job. I mean, you can believe otherwise, and I can't say for sure…but in my decade or so as a small businessman, I called the last couple of places would-be _interns_ had worked for just to see what I might be getting into. It strains waaaay past my willingness to suspend disbelief that name-brand purveyors of right wing propaganalysis wouldn't have done at least as much. So, is the Heritage Foundation a racist shop? Maybe. Perhaps. Maybe not -- there could be more economical explanations for the determined comforting of the comfortable that is the constant theme of the right-wing policy racket. And wondering whether the whole place, or Jim DeMint, or even Jason Richwine -- excuse me, Harvard Dr. Jason Richwine -- is personally a bigot is on some level the wrong issue. Rather, the proper question is what to do with an institution and a movement who can muster no better arguments, and no better arguers to advance their radical agenda? At a minimum: Scorn, ridicule and public humiliation is my prescription…repeat as necessary. Oh -- and serious mobiliation for 2014 and beyond. Image: George Romney, _Refugee Group, _undated (before 1802).
If it were just a matter of Texans killing Texans -- with the victims embracing their fates -- then I might be willing to let it all go with an "everyone to hell in their own handbasket" reaction. But, of course, the generalized Gresham's Law tells us what follows from this kind of thinking:
Five days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant leveled a wide swath of this town, Gov. Rick Perry tried to woo Illinois business officials by trumpeting his state’s low taxes and limited regulations. Asked about the disaster, Mr. Perry responded that more government intervention and increased spending on safety inspections would not have prevented what has become one of the nation’s worst industrial accidents in decades…
This antipathy toward regulations is shared by many residents here. Politicians and economists credit the stance with helping attract jobs and investment to Texas, which has one of the fastest-growing economies in the country, and with winning the state a year-after-year ranking as the nation’s most business friendly. Even in West, last month’s devastating blast did little to shake local skepticism of government regulations. Tommy Muska, the mayor, echoed Governor Perry in the view that tougher zoning or fire safety rules would not have saved his town. “Monday morning quarterbacking,” he said. Raymond J. Snokhous, a retired lawyer in West who lost two cousins — brothers who were volunteer firefighters — in the explosion, said, “There has been nobody saying anything about more regulations.”I'd be surprised, except for the fact that there's nothing out of the ordinary here, if you look at matters like a (certain kind of) Texan:
Texas …is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.Hold on a moment there, buckaroo! No fire codes? That's a reason to locate in Texas? I guess the goal here is to reduce the incovenience of contracting with Bangladesh. Seriously -- if you think it an act of social responsibility to demand clothing retailers to demonstrate proper work place safety for their imports, shouldn't we demand the same of, say every oil and gas company, refiners and all, that deliver products from Texas to the rest of these United States? Anyway -- guess the inevitable consequence of such "pro-business" concern. No prize for correct answers:
But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities — more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012. Compared with Illinois, which has the nation’s second-largest number of high-risk sites, more than 950, but tighter fire and safety rules, Texas had more than three times the number of accidents, four times the number of injuries and deaths, and 300 times the property damage costs.As I said at the top…if this were a problem for Texans alone then there is a part of me that says that they voted for this government (and regulatory regime), and they should enjoy what they've gotten -- good and hard. But (a) this ignores the fact that those most at risk are those with the least access to the levers of power, and even in a deep red state like this one, there are lots of folks who don't want to be blown up in their back yards. Some solidarity seems in order. More broadly there's (b): Texas's drive to hold harmless private businesses for any consequences of their decisions puts pressure on every other state. There are alternatives, and lots of non-feral players recognize that there's more to a positive business climate than crap schools, an immiserating approach to health care, a failure to provide worker and public safety, and an incentive structure that rewards environmental malice. But to the extent that Texas is successful in attracting enterprises to its let-any-harm-happen frontier, the downward pressure on other states exists. Bad laws, bad regulatory frameworks drive out good, just like Gresham could have said. National Republicans are, of course, complicit in this drive to put ever more Americans at risk. In the context of weak state protection for its citizenry, the onus falls on the federal government, through agencies like but not limited to OSHA and EPA. But they aren't meeting that task, and won't. There are lots of reasons why not, including some an Obama administration could address (and that we should push for), but a big part of the reason lies with the long-running effort by the GOP to hollow out government from within. So, yeah, Texas remains too small for a country and too big as an asylum. I know it's a near impossible task to imagine dragging it, kicking and screaming, into the Century of the Anchovy. But for our own sake, if not for theirs, we gotta try. The first step is to remember: _Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est._ Image: Alfred Rethel, _The factory Mechanische Werkstätten Harkort & Co_, c. 1834
Least suprising story of the year here:
…in two precision operations that involved people in more than two dozen countries acting in close coordination and with surgical precision, the organization was able to steal $45 million from thousands of A.T.M.'s in a matter of hours. In New York City alone, the thieves responsible for A.T.M. withdrawals struck 2,904 machines over 10 hours on Feb. 19, withdrawing $2.4 million.The scam was simple and very smart: hack credit card processing companies in India and the US; then raise the credit limits on pre-paid debit cards issued by a couple of banks in the Persian Gulf. Clone the data on said cards so that teams IRL could hit machines in multiple countries, stuffing wads of cash in backpacks that surveillance video shows getting heavier and heavier. Rince, repeat, profit. All this comes out of an unsealed indictment for a New York City crew of eight involved in the impressively effortful spree noted in the quote above. Don't try this at home, kids -- not only is it a pretty hefty felony, and not your money and all that -- but then there's this:
The authorities said the leader of the New York cashing crew was Alberto Lajud-Peña, 23, who also went by the name Prime. His body was found in the Dominican Republic on April 27 and prosecutors said they believe he was killed.I have no doubt that there are folks involved in this that you really, really don't want to irritate. None of the putative kingpins have been identified, but in an even less surprising footnote to the tale, the authorities are tracking down some of the loot in predictable forms:
The authorities have already seized hundreds of thousands of dollars from bank accounts, two Rolex watches and a Mercedes S.U.V., and are in the process of seizing a Porsche Panamera.Part of me says that this is something to note because so much of the financial life of individuals and the economy writ large depends on the secure functioning of -- and user trust in -- global banking systems at every level from the corner ATM to the massive inter-bank clearing mechanisms. The cyber security people I talk to have to hold their hands over the mouths to stop themselves from blurting "WAKE UP SHEEPLE!!!!!" -- as that trust rests on a rickety tangle of hardware and software. So while there's a kind of Great Train Robbery thrill to the idea of capers like these, this could get ugly indeed. The real question, though, is what role George Clooney will play. Image: Constant Wauters, _The servant as a thief, _1845.
Come Thursday week, I'll be trying to keep my head about me when many before have lost theirs (though I doubt they blamed i on me). Which is to say, I'll be talking Newton, the Mint, counterfeiters and all kinds of good stuff at the Tower of London at 6:30, May 16. It's not a free event, alas, but tickets for any geographically enabled Balloon Juicers can be booked here. I believe the talk will go up at iTunes U at some point, and I'll add details when I post a reminder next week. I know that I'm often kind of late with this sort of announcement. This marks a conscious attempt at improvement. I'm channeling my inner Charles Dreyfus: "Every day in every way I'm getting better and better."* *It was a Pink Panther flick that introduced me to the phrase whose origins lie here. Hans Holbein the Younger, _Portrait of a Woman, inscribed in gold over red "Anna Bollein Queen,"_ c. 1532-6. (Note: there's a fair amount of controversy over whether this or another drawing attributed to Holbein do in fact depict Henry VIII's unfortunate second wife.
This morning I got copied on an email blast intended to encourage our graduate students to finish their theses in the next few days. Cruel, I call it. But still, it works for me as a goad to push Monday up the rails.
(Credit where credit is due, dept: the vid came to my correspondent via Gawker, btw) Chat about whatever, with bonus points for any discussion of impossible tasks to be done by Friday. Mine? Finish version 4 (a conservative estimate) of my damn book proposal.
…that has such people in't (via) A 3D printable plastic handgun is now (more or less) available. As the linked article suggests, there is a nasty possibility of having the thing blow up in your hand if you use too-powerful ammunition…but still. Talking Points Memo is also on the story, with a gussied up video that adds swelling music and shots of WW II bombers to the mix. They grabbed this quote (warning - do not read while eating lunch):
"I recognize that this tool might be used to harm people," Wilson said, according to Fox News. "That’s what it is -- it’s a gun. But I don’t think that’s a reason to not put it out there. I think that liberty in the end is a better interest."Presented without further comment, this story, also now up on TPM. And this one. And…hell, wait half an hour and there will be another tragedy to report. (At somewhere north of 50 gun suicides per day, that's a reasonably non-hyperbolic time period -- to say nothing of gun violence imposed on others.) The nuts, Civil War revanchists, and simple thugs who drive gun policy in this country are a danger to themselves and everyone else. Demographics are getting them too...but not nearly fast enough.
I know John posted on this already, but I was struck again this afternoon by the actual meaning implied by incoming NRA president James Porter's assertion that Barack Obama is a "fake president." Let's review. In 2008 Senator Barack Obama and his running mate Senator Joseph Biden received 69,498,516 votes, accounting for 52.93% of the total ballots cast. Their principle opponents, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin (yes, that happened) garnered ten million fewer votes, for a 45.65% of the total. Obama and Biden took electoral college victories in 28 states, the District of Columbia, and in Nebraska's second congressional district, to capture a total of 365 electoral votes out of 538 available. In 2012, lest anyone has forgotten, Obama/Biden again won an absolute majority of votes cast -- 65,910,437, or 51.1% to Romney/Ryan's 60,932,795, accounting for 47.2% of the total. The President took 26 states and the District to the Republican ticket's 24 states, and the victors captured a commanding 332 electoral votes to the losers 206. In other words, Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States, earned and retained his office by every legal measure -- handily at that. There's a strong case that George W. Bush, "43″ was, if not a fake, an illegitimate claimant to that office, losing as he did the popular vote in 2000 while gaining his electoral college victory by a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court that one at least of those in the majority now regards as an error. But Obama? If you accept the idea of small "d" democracy, if you believe that the casting of ballots amounts to an expression of public will, then Obama is as real as it gets. Which, of course, everyone in eyeshot of this post gets. So what that's the corollary to that positive statement? Easy: anyone who denies the reality of Obama's right to his office is telling the majority of the American electorate that their votes are fakes too. That public decisions don't count. That -- given that we're talking NRA here -- the armed rump of the American right, among whom are over-represented amongst those who want to refight the Civil War, are the arbiters of who gets to hold power, and damned be to the rest of us. I don't know what you all call an armed minority spreading such stuff, but to me? Well, it ain't treason until someone actually takes up arms and attempts to enforce that view…but it sure is dancing near that line. I'm not simply name calling here: this is dangerous talk. There is a responsibility that lands on the elected leadership of the right to reject such talk, to dismiss it, to banish it from public discourse, because the failure to do so expands what Obama wonkishly termed the permission sphere for anti-democratic behavior -- along with increasing the potential for political violence itself. It may be all fun and games for a Republican party that gets to say "hell, we aren't shooting anyone, so denying voting rights is OK, right?" But if the elected leadership -- looking at you Boehner, McConnell, not to mention the 2016ers -- fails to shut this kind of talk down, they will be complicit in the results. Image: Toyohara Kunichika, _Sen Taiheiki gigokuden_,_ _1890_. _(Description, via Wikimedia Commons: Taira Masakado (901-940), an evil usurper of the throne, charges into battle surrounded by look-alike decoys.)