Archive for November, 2006

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Gimme that nickled and dimed religion

November 29, 2006

An idle thought.

Among first world nations, the USA stands out as being, by far, the most religious; and as having, by far, the lousiest set of welfare state bennies, which has by design been getting steadily lousier for the last thirty years. Could the first be a consequence of the second?

Imagine, if you will, a state whose populace is subjected to perpetual and rising free-floating anxiety, due to the knowledge that John or Jane QP and the family of JOJ QP are one serious illness or one pink slip away from living out of a shopping cart. Imagine that in this same state, every adult in the household has to work fifty plus hours a week just to keep marginally ahead of the loan sharks who happen to own Congress, leaving no time to cultivate any interdependent social network, or the sort of thing their foreparents knew under the now-quaint term “friends”.

How is such a free-floating anxiety to be assuaged? One avenue might be to throw yourself into political activism, to try to alter the economic conditions that created the anxiety in the first place. But that takes time, up-front sacrifice, as well as information not easily found. A second avenue is to seek assurances that someone is already taking care of you. Just as there’s a Big Daddy in Washington who is keeping you safe from those perpetual and (if Big Daddy has anything to say about it) perpetually rising anxieties about chemical attacks and bioweaponry and mushroom clouds, there is a Big Daddy in the clouds who will ensure that your home will always be encompassed by four walls rather than four wheels. And there’s also a ready-made social network down at the church house, which won’t except in some rare best cases lift a finger if that year of chemo or that lateral transfer to the unemployment office come along, but which can sure make you feel less alone up until then.

There is a lot more to genuine religion than a prosperity gospel, of course, or the comfort of familiar faces in the pews. But just because the USA has a lot more religion than its peers doesn’t mean it has any more genuine religion at all, does it?

If I’ve fingered a real connection here, the synergy of the GOP strategy becomes clear: the more they demolish the social safety net, the more they swell the ranks of their fundamentalist base. The good news is, that anything which serves to rebuild the safety net will build synergy in the opposite direction.

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Will the real Mitt Romney please sit down?

November 28, 2006


Around March of 2005, the media decided that John McCain will be elected President in 2008. Since they have the power to destroy whoever they like (see “Gore invented the Internet” and “Dean Scream” for details), and the power to suppress whatever information they find unpalatable (see – if you can find them – Bush’s lost years in the Texas ANG, his suppression of federal investigations into electricity manipulation in California, and the invisible Texas Funeralgate story), chances are they’ll be right about that.

But just in case the bobs and weaves of the supposedly straight talking McCain lead to his implosion somewhere along the line, it will be worthwhile tucking away a note on the guy who seems to be next in line, the telegenic Mitt Romney. Joan Vennochi recalls, in a Globe op-ed, Romney’s dance to the right, how today’s brimstone-breathing friend of the fetus and foe of gay marriage started out five years ago as defender of Roe and a champion of gay rights.

When he ran against Ted Kennedy for the Senate in 1994, Romney wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Log Cabin Club, pledging that as “we seek to establish full equality for American gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent.” During that same campaign, Romney was accused of once describing gay people as “perverse.” In response, Romney’s campaign vehemently denied that he used the word “perverse” and said that he respected “all people regardless of their race, creed, or sexual orientation.”While running for governor in 2002, Romney and his running mate, Kerry Healey, distributed pink fliers at a Gay Pride parade, declaring “Mitt and Kerry wish you a great Pride weekend.” He backed domestic partner benefits for public employees, winning the endorsement of the national Log Cabin Republicans. In his inaugural speech, he promised to defend civil rights “regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or race.”

Romney’s brand of politics is best served in stacks, with your choice of maple syrup or blueberry topping.

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Teachers’ organization finds a truth inconvenient

November 27, 2006

The producer of An Inconvenient Truth offered to distribute 50,000 copies of the DVD to schools for free. The National Science Teacher’s Association refused to accept the gift.

Why? Because it might jeopardize the funds Big Oil regularly pumps into science curricula. See, this is why the private sector is where you should always turn for things like education. Unlike that nasty gummint, the private sector is altruistic, and wholly free of any agenda. Especially from those icky liberal agendas, like telling kids stuff that scientists know.

Poor Al Gore. He shoulda made sure to have lots of product placement for Coca Cola in the film, then maybe he and his producer could have snuck a little science into our science classes.

[Update: in view of a NSTA press release pointed out by commenter “anonymous”, the first para should have said “offered 50,000 free copies of the DVD to NSTA for distribution”. The sticking point appears to have been the distributing, rather than the acceptance of the gift.]

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The margin of error in the margin of error

November 27, 2006

If you aren’t a poll junkie like me, you can skip this one.

Though he leans well to the right, Rasmussen is a very good, very professional pollster, who bothers to publish a new job approval figure for Bush every day. (It’s a tracking poll, which is to say, in order to get his 3.5 percent margin of error, he polls 300 odd people each day, and the day’s published figure is the rolling average of the three most recent days.) He is also commendably transparent in discussing his methodology.

Recently, he explained why particular polls consistently show Bush’s job approval higher or lower than other polls do. It depends on which of three usual ways of posing the question are used. Rasmussen’s way, which requests a “Strongly approve”, “Somewhat approve”, “Somewhat disapprove”, or “Strongly disapprove”, regularly adds several points to the Prez’s numbers. The trick is to ignore the absolute levels, and just follow the ups and downs within any given poll. Those changes will track each other closely, regardless of the form of the question.

My own interpretation, after reading R’s essay, is that respondents, even when they think the Chief is sucking more than a little, tend to want to give him the benefit of the doubt if the poll lets them do that. If their feelings are negative but not strongly so, they’ll pick whatever answer looks to them like the lowest passing grade.

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Strange Seas and Shores

November 24, 2006

Politically, sure, it’s been a nightmare. But sometimes I just love the 21st century.

Every issue of Science or Nature these days includes an article or two spelling out how some enzyme or bit of RNA expression machinery does its thing: clarifying how it hooks or snips or binds or stretches some other bit of the machinery, or perhaps just drafting a megamolecule’s shape precisely enough that some future article can suss out the ways that shape can bend and move.

This is what it looks like when biologists and 3-D graphics professionals put a big fat stack of those brain-numbing articles together with meticulous accuracy, a good sense of space and color, and loving care. These are the dances that are going on in every one of your cells, every minute. It’s a journey that puts that dear old chestnut Fantastic Voyage to shame.

Here the animation team describes how the 3 minute clip was created. And here is a summary of the plotline, from a biologist’s point of view.

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Ketchup post

November 20, 2006


Items that lately caught my nictitating eye:

  • Torture from the top: The ACLU’s FOIA endeavors have turned up a Bush executive order and a DOD memorandum authorizing torture. Or whatever they’re calling it nowadays. In a Spiegel interview, Ron Suskind confirms that Bush knew who was waterboarding whom.
  • Go, Go, Go: WaPo today passed on the deliberations of a Pentagon review of three Iraq options: Go Big, Go Long, Go Home. Consensus is forming on bumping up in country numbers by 20 or 30K “for a while”, then scaling back quickly to 60K for forever or until The End Of Evil.
  • A Connecticut Patriot: Senator Dodd introduces legislation to repeal the noxious portions of the Torture Act. He does a commendably thorough job.
  • Sneak Thieves? For reasons I may expound later, I’m dubious about this. But O’Dell and cohorts at Election Defence Alliance believe they have a smoking gun that November 2006 was rigged, but the ploy fell short because the riggers didn’t realize how big the Democratic wave would be.
  • Euphemism of the Week: A Vietnam Vet commenting at TPM Cafe recalls how he and his fellow draftees, thrust to the front lines, summed up their job positions: “Ordnance Absorption Technicians”.
  • Goo Is Good: Nanotechnologists at Rice University have come up with a high tech manufacture/ low tech distribution way to clean up the arsenic poisoning most of the drinking wells in Bangla Desh and southeast India. Rust particles, each smaller than a virus, can adsorb the toxin on their surfaces. Once they’ve done their work, an ordinary hand magnet can scoop them up, with their cargo, leaving potable water behind.
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A fact so dread, he faintly said

November 17, 2006

Lewis Carroll’s Mad Gardener’s Song lends itself to almost endless variations on the following theme:

The Mad President’s Song

He thought he saw a missile threat
From which Star Wars would shade us.
He looked again and found it was
A strike plan of Al Qaeda’s.
“Clinton was paranoid,” he said.
“These clowns are small potatoes.”

He thought he saw a Pet Goat book
That he could read straight through.
He looked again and found it was
A plane that struck Tower Two.
“I’ll just sit tight until” he said,
“Dick tells me what to do.”

He thought he saw M. Atta link
Up to Iraq in Prague.
He looked again, and found it was
A puff of stovepipe fog.
“That makes no never mind,” he said,
“We still can demagogue.”

He thought he saw a mushroom cloud
That issued from Saddam.
He looked again, and found it was
A script by David Frum.
“Heck, let’s still go to war,” he said,
“To prove I am Da Bomb.”

He thought he saw a guitar chord
He could strum happily.
He looked again and found it was
New Orleans undersea.
“What are those corpses there?” he said,
“Just Democrats to me.”

Feel free to document any of the dozens of Dubya’s other well-known hallucinations in the same format.