Friday, September 30, 2011

The ultimate in right-wing hypocrisy?

Wondering how hypocritical right-wingers really are? Check out this article in The Nation. Some excerpts:
There’s right-wing hypocrisy, and then there’s this: Charles Koch, billionaire patron of free-market libertarianism, privately championed the benefits of Social Security to Friedrich Hayek, the leading laissez-faire economist of the twentieth century. Koch even sent Hayek a government pamphlet to help him take advantage of America’s federal retirement insurance and healthcare programs.

This extraordinary correspondence regarding Social Security began in early June 1973, weeks after Koch was appointed president of the Institute for Humane Studies. Along with his brothers, Koch inherited his father’s privately held oil company in 1967, becoming one of the richest men in America. He used this fortune to help turn the IHS, then based in Menlo Park, California, into one of the world’s foremost libertarian think tanks. Soon after taking over as president, Koch invited Hayek to serve as the institute’s “distinguished senior scholar” in preparation for its first conference on Austrian economics, to be held in June 1974.

Hayek initially declined Koch’s offer. In a letter to IHS secretary Kenneth Templeton Jr., dated June 16, 1973, Hayek explains that he underwent gall bladder surgery in Austria earlier that year, which only heightened his fear of “the problems (and costs) of falling ill away from home.” (Thanks to waves of progressive reforms, postwar Austria had near universal healthcare and robust social insurance plans that Hayek would have been eligible for.)

IHS vice president George Pearson (who later became a top Koch Industries executive) responded three weeks later, conceding that it was all but impossible to arrange affordable private medical insurance for Hayek in the United States. However, thanks to research by Yale Brozen, a libertarian economist at the University of Chicago, Pearson happily reported that “social security was passed at the University of Chicago while you [Hayek] were there in 1951..."

I won't post the details. You can read the original article for that. But if you don't know much about Charles Koch and Friedrich Hayek, this part might help:
Charles Koch and his brother, David, have waged a three-decade campaign to dismantle the American social safety net. At the center of their most recent push is the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, which has co-sponsored Tea Party events, spearheaded the war against healthcare reform and supported Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attack on public sector unions. FreedomWorks, another conservative group central to the rise of the Tea Party and the right-wing attempt to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, emerged from an advocacy outfit founded by the Koch brothers called Citizens for a Sound Economy. FreedomWorks now exists as a separate entity that champions the “Austrian school” of economics.

Hayek, a founder of that school of thought, is primarily known for two major works. The first, The Road to Serfdom (1944), grudgingly accepts the possibility that some “free” countries might find it necessary to set up a bare-minimum catastrophic social insurance program limited to the very neediest, so long as the benefits do not incentivize productive members of society to abandon free-market retirement savings or medical insurance.

Hayek’s comparatively liberal attitude toward social insurance hardened considerably by the time he published his 1960 opus, The Constitution of Liberty. Despite privately spending the intervening years paying into Social Security, Hayek devoted an entire chapter—titled “Social Security”—to denouncing the modern welfare state as a gateway to tyranny and moral decay.

The hypocrisy is breath-taking, sure. But what strikes me is how blind true-believers can be. Hayek's own experience with ill-health, his own worries about getting care in the United States, after enjoying Austria's progressive policies, did nothing to change his mind about any of this stuff.

Hayek simply believed what he believed. And this sort of thing is common in the right-wing, because a true believer doesn't let evidence affect him in any way. Indeed, Hayek just got more and more extreme.

The Koch brothers are billionaires who inherited their wealth and who've done everything they could since then to establish a hereditary aristocracy in America. They've always had money, so unlike the rest of us, they don't need a social safety net.

And providing such a net for other people would naturally lead to "moral decay." Of course, with their family's wealth, neither of them really had to work a day in his life. But who would ever think that inherited wealth would lead to moral decay? No, not a chance. I guess the rich are just better people than the rest of us, huh?

PS. My thanks to Penigma for the link.

Selling America to the highest bidder

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You know, we are doing this to ourselves. Yes, the Supreme Court opened up this can of worms in their Citizens United ruling that corporations were just people, too. But that decision was made by the far-right justices appointed by recent Republican presidents, right-wing true-believers who overturned longstanding legal precedent on a 5 to 4 decision.

And why are they on the Supreme Court? Only because we Americans elected those Republican presidents. (The four opposing justices, who voted to uphold legal precedent, were all appointed by Democratic presidents.) If we're selling America to the highest bidder, we're doing it to ourselves.

And note Trevor Potter's explanation of why corporations are so concerned with anonymity: "They'd be nervous about giving in a way that their name is publicly disclosed. People might object to what they've done - their shareholders, their customers."

Think about that. Those shareholders are supposed to own the corporation. That's their money being donated. If you own any shares of stock yourself, or even shares of a mutual fund which owns stock - say in your IRA or other retirement plan - that's your money they're giving away.

But you don't have any control over how that money is spent. You aren't even permitted to know about it. That way, a corporation's CEO can spend your money to buy politicians who'll cut his own taxes. Nice, huh?

It was bad enough when the wealthy could spend unlimited amounts of their own money to buy politicians, but now they can use yours. And in both cases, of course, the fact that it can be anonymous is just asking for corruption, don't you think?

After all, why would even billionaires who are donating their own money be so concerned that no one knows what they are doing? The fact that Republicans don't want you to know who's doing all this should be a huge red flag to all Americans. (But, of course, the airwaves are swamped with political ads paid for by this anonymous money, and far more people will see that than will ever read blogs like this.)

Finally, note what a 501(c)(4) can do with that anonymous money. Colbert: "Wait, Super-PAC's are transparent. And the (c)(4) is secret. So I can take secret donations to my (c)(4) and give it to my supposedly- transparent Super-PAC? What is the difference between that and money laundering?

One difference is that, thanks to the right-wing, this money laundering is legal. As far as I can see, the only other difference is that this money laundering is a huge threat to our democracy.

Prevailing trends in America

Conspiracy theorists really ARE crazy

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Gun nuts in the NRA had a preconceived narrative when it came to Barack Obama, and they're sticking with it no matter what the evidence shows. Once again, this is faith-based thinking. And it's a perfect example of why all faith-based thinking is wrong.

If evidence won't change your mind, what will? Obviously, nothing. Therefore, there's never any way to tell when you are wrong. As long as you just believe what you want to believe, you'll always be right in your own mind. Even when you believe really batshit crazy stuff.

The NRA, which isn't sane on the subject of guns in any case, trots out this really crazy conspiracy theory because they believe what they believe. Meanwhile, Barack Obama seems to be following the consistent pattern of his presidency - opposing his own supporters while trying to appease people who will continue to hate him no matter what he does.

Oddly enough, this is the one way in which Obama clearly shows he's no Republican. In fact, they are exact opposites. Republicans attack their opponents and won't do anything to upset the party's base. Obama attacks his base and tries not to do anything to upset his opponents.

Gee, I wonder which strategy makes the most political sense? I guess we'll find out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chris Christie's Bernie Madoff problem

I hadn't heard this, but maybe it explains a few things:
In their ever-widening search for somebody who is not Mitt Romney, conservatives are now souring on Rick Perry and turning their desperate, flailing hopes toward Chris Christie. For his part, Christie says he's not running (but Republicans note that he keeps acting the part).

But should the New Jersey governor decide to dive into the shallow end that is the GOP nomination race, here's a lesser known part of his past that might doom him in the general election. ...

Before he was flying in state helicopters to his kid's baseball games, Christie was flying on private jets as part of the law firm Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci, for whom, as a lobbyist, the future governor fought for the rights of Wall Street. In fact, one of Christie's primary lobbying projects on behalf of Wall Street was to win an exemption for securities fraud from New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act. For those Americans whose 401(k)s have been gouged in the last few years, that won't play well. (The only reason this wasn't much of an issue in his gubernatorial campaign was because his opponent was Jon Corzine, who sucked off Wall Street's teat with even more gusto than Christie.)

But it gets worse for Christie.

In a detail that practically writes its own commercial script, the Wall Street client on whose behalf Christie lobbied was the Securities Industry Association. Which, at that time, was led by one Mr. Bernard Madoff.

The bottom line for Obama's communication team: As a lobbyist, Chris Christie worked to remove securities fraud from a consumer fraud act on behalf of an organization run by Bernie Madoff.

Of course, you never want to underestimate the Democrats' ability to shoot themselves in the foot. But this might explain why Christie seems to be busy running for president in 2016, not 2012.

By then, given our pathetically poor memories, we Americans will have forgotten all about Bernie Madoff and pretty much everything else that's happened to date.

After all, we've clearly forgotten the Bush administration already (else, why would anyone even consider voting for a Republican these days, especially given the fact that they're peddling the same policies that failed so dramatically just a few short years ago).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Not a new pic, apparently, but new to me.

Bad lip reading

I must say that I'm impressed. Rick Perry has seldom made as much sense as this!

Briefly, Fox & Friends no longer biggest boobs on TV

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So, do I have to worry, too? I mean, if Chaz Bono is "celebrated and lifted to heroic proportions" like this, am I at risk at deciding to cut my dick off and become a woman? Or is it only women who'll rush to do the reverse?

Or have Fox "News" and the American Family Association just completely lost their minds? You decide.

Then there's this "wardrobe malfunction." Frankly, there was nothing funnier than the complete and utter hysteria over that previous Janet Jackson episode. Yes, there's nothing like a glimpse of a nipple to warp our children for life, huh?

So, will we see the same hysteria over this nip slip?  Or will the fact that it was a white breast make a difference? (As an adolescent, I was... intrigued at television documentaries which would show naked breasts on African girls, but which would never show such things from a beach in France - even though, in both cases, it was local custom.)

I grew up hearing many of my parents' friends just obsessing about interracial couples. Oh, there were very few in northeast Nebraska (I was in college before there was ever a black kid in any of my classes), but those few were the objects of an embarrassing degree of fascination, which quite frankly seemed to combine racism with their own sexual fantasies.

But I always used to wonder why it mattered to anyone else. I still do. Why doesn't the American Family Association mind its own business? Or is this also about right-wing sexual fantasies?

Who benefits in America?

Click to embiggen.

Isn't it clear that we've been on the wrong path for decades now? This really took off during the Reagan administration.

Well, Ronald Reagan was so popular (inexplicably, as far as I was concerned) that even the Democrats moved to the right. Of course, Reagan was far too moderate for today's Republican Party, but that's the problem. We've continued to move even further down this path, when we needed to change course completely.

A graph like this is necessarily simplistic, but it lets us see some things clearly. In this case, it shows us who in America has benefited in recent decades and who hasn't. And it also shows us that we've recently suffered a "lost decade" in America.

The wealthy are doing a lot better than the rest of us, but even the wealthy can't prosper indefinitely when income and wealth inequality get this bad. The wealthy might have more power in a banana republic economy, but even they do better when everyone does better.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Is that Candidate Obama again?

Are we starting to see Candidate Obama again? I've sure missed him! Or maybe, if we're really lucky, President Obama has learned something in the past few years. (I just hope it's not too late.)

Anyway, here's TPM:
President Obama took a swing at Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) while speaking at a fundraiser at the Silicon Valley home of John Thompson, Symantec Corp. chairman on Sunday.

“You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire, denying climate change,” he said according to the White House pool report of the event. Texas has been hard hit in recent weeks with a series of wild fires that have only recently been brought under control.

The president didn’t limit his comments to the candidates. He also took the opportunity to address recent audience behavior at the debates, singling out those who applauded the prospect of a young man dying because he didn’t have health insurance and those who booed a gay service member.

“That’s not reflective of who we are,” the president said of the GOP audiences. “This is a choice about the fundamental direction of our country. 2008 was an important direction. 2012 is a more important election.”

President Obama challenged those gathered at the event to work hard for his reelection, saying that if they believe in a “fact-based” America, he was the only possible candidate.

The president quoted Joe Biden for a bit of comic relief. “Don’t compare me to the almighty,” he said. “Compare me to the alternative.”

I don't know about the political wisdom of running as the lesser of two evils, but he's definitely got a point. If you believe in a fact-based America, Barack Obama is the only possible candidate. The alternatives, every one of them, are scary as hell.

But after being the GOP doormat for two and a half years, has Obama finally recognized what he's up against? Has he finally realized that it doesn't matter how nice he is to them, they're not going to like him anyway? Has he finally decided to lead our nation, rather than expect Congress to do that?

Well, I sure hope so. And I really hope that it's not already too late. But hey, if we want a reality-based government, we've really got no choice. And giving up is only an option for cowards.

Yes, they're crazy

Apparently, William Kristol was a little disappointed in the last Republican presidential debate (Special Editorial: Yikes). And while I usually agree with him about pretty much nothing, I had to comment on this:
The e-mails flooding into our inbox during the evening were less guarded. Early on, we received this missive from a bright young conservative: “I'm watching my first GOP debate...and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

Hmm,... so why is that, do you think? Did you ever stop to wonder if you actually are crazy people? Frankly, that's what the Republican Party has become, an insane asylum controlled by the inmates.

Now, William Kristol has been right about almost nothing in recent decades. He was chief of staff to Vice-President Dan Quayle during the George H.W. Bush administration. (He was dubbed "Quayle's brain," but I'm really wondering if that was supposed to be a compliment or an insult.)

Later, he pushed hard for the Iraq War, and he was one of Sarah Palin's earliest fans. The former beauty queen just had him eating out of her hand. He's the founder and editor of the neoconservative magazine, The Weekly Standard, and for years, he's been a commentator on Fox "News."

So when even Kristol starts worrying that his party has become insane, you know things are pretty bad! But I want to address this "bright young conservative" he mentions:

Your party sounds like it's filled with crazy people because it is filled with crazy people. Crazy people have become the Republican base! If you are, indeed, "bright," maybe you should think about that a bit.

Plenty of Democrats aren't any real prize, to be sure, but at least the party isn't anti-science. There are woo merchants on the left, but for the most part, they have little power in the Democratic Party. By and large, Democrats are willing to accept reality, even when they don't particularly like it.

And Democrats don't try to destroy our country when they don't get everything their own way. They supported George W. Bush, especially after 9/11. They bent over backward being supportive, in fact. The biggest problem with Democrats is that they went along with far too much crazy stuff. But they didn't initiate it. Those things were all Republican policies.

Democrats made mistakes, but they didn't claim that tax cuts for the rich would pay for itself. They didn't claim that the Iraq War would pay for itself. All too many of them went along with these things, but these were Republican errors. And when they took charge themselves, they made sure to pay for what they wanted.

Democrats didn't invade two nations for no reason and with no exit strategy. But nevertheless, they've staunchly supported our troops. And note that it was a Democrat who finally got Osama bin Laden - and got him the way we should have gone after him in the first place!

Democrats created Social Security and Medicare and have protected them from Republican attacks ever since. Democrats haven't lied to the American people about Social Security being a Ponzi scheme. And Democrats didn't propose ending Medicare just weeks after pledging to America's senior citizens - before the election - that they could be trusted to defend it.

Let me show you an example of the difference between Republicans and Democrats, an example that clearly explains why your first GOP debate has you wondering about your own party's sanity:

The South, believe it or not, used to be a Democratic stronghold. Well, that was tradition, passed down from the Civil War era. But then, the Democrats passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act - signed into law by a Democrat from Texas, if you can imagine that - which outlawed state-sponsored racial segregation and discrimination. The Democrats knew that this would lose them the South,... but they did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

Republicans were just gleeful! They quickly developed their "Southern Strategy" of appealing to white racists, convincing all the old southern Dixiecrats to change party. Hey, it was a huge success! All those racists flocked to the GOP, making the South the most solidly Republican part of our nation, instead of the most solidly Democratic, as it had been.

And the GOP continued to appeal to racists, Christian fundamentalists, angry gun nuts - anyone at all who could be motivated by fear and hatred. Republican leaders were happy to use these people. After all, the end justifies the means, right? And they'd always kept the extremists on the fringe, giving them just enough to keep them happy, while the party went about helping the rich, its only real purpose.

But what happened? The tail started wagging the dog. Those extremists, those racists, those angry, frightened, bewildered lunatics became the GOP base. And they started flexing their muscles. They gave us George W. Bush. They made Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann media stars. And now there's not a Republican politician anywhere who'll really stand up to them.

You wonder why Republican leaders sound like crazy people? It's because people like you go along with it. It's because the sane Republicans - and there must still be a few of you out there somewhere - don't repudiate the party and vote Democratic (even when the Democrats have moved right, themselves).

There's a lot to criticize about the Democrats, but at least they tend to be sane. Barack Obama has been bending over backward trying to compromise with Republicans - much too far, to my mind - but insane people won't compromise under any circumstances.

The Democrats have been trying their best to fix the messes George W. Bush left us, but fixing our country would not help the Republicans politically, so they drag their feet, or even deliberately sabotage things. (Remember the debt ceiling debacle?) After all, what's more important, the good of our country or your own political ambition?

Of course, you've heard that Obama is a Kenyan, a Muslim, a socialist, haven't you? I'm sure you're not crazy enough to believe it, not if you really are "bright." But you went along with it, didn't you? After all, people who think that Obama is the Antichrist sure won't vote for him! And that's all that matters, right?

If winning is all you care about, I guess you're in the right party after all. But if you care about the truth, if you care about finding real solutions to real problems, if you care about ensuring that America becomes again that "shining light on a hill" (to paraphrase Ronald Reagan), what are you doing in the Republican Party?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

When cats pray

This is just too funny - though a bit disturbing, too, considering the source. If you want a good laugh - or to consider the sad state of the American magazine industry these days - read it. It's short.

But I'll still post an excerpt here:
Yes, in case you didn’t know it, when your cat is off staring into space, she’s not just chilling, or contemplating an impending nap or meal: she’s praying!  Or so says Dr. Pamela Gerloff, Ed.D, woomeister, and columnist at Psychology Today. I haven’t read that magazine for years, but it seems to be going the Deepakian route, with Gerloff’s columns (she’s nicknamed “Possibility Pamela” in her profile) doing everything they can to justify a supernatural world beyond our own.  I deal with that on a daily basis, but the idea of praying cats, which Gerloff floats in a piece called “When cats pray: how our feline friends uplift the world,” is simply too much (my emphasis):
The other day, as I was dusting off a little glass shelf that had been my mother’s, I inadvertently bumped one of the tiny figurines on it–one of a set of blue and white china elephants she had once given me. The disturbance sent all the beloved creatures toppling. As I juggled to keep the whole shelf from falling, I felt a flash of frustration move through me; I might have been tempted to utter a censorable word, except that just at that instant my eyes caught Miss Kitty’s. Sitting motionless on the footstool next to me, her inward gaze shifted outward ever so slightly, just enough to neutrally observe my agitated state.

Instantly, the contrast in our inner experiences became palpable to me and I had a sudden insight. “Why, she’s praying,” I thought, as my mind fell into the calm oasis of her silent meditation. In that moment I recalled something my mother had once said many years ago. It was a musing-aloud about how maybe the world seemed to be in increasingly bad shape because there were fewer and fewer monks and nuns spending time in seclusion praying.

. . . Prayer, contemplation, and meditation done for extended periods of time naturally result in increased inner peace, which then radiates outward, positively affecting the entire environment. This is what I felt in Miss Kitty. As I paused to experience the stillness in which she was immersed, an image entered my mind–an image of a global feline force that daily nourishes and sustains us all. Millions of cats throughout the world quietly doing their spiritual duty, emanating peace and contentment. ...

What happens when we absorb their state?  We start napping 18 hours a day and demanding that others serve our needs—bringing us food and cleaning our toilets.

I look forward to Gerloff’s next piece on Feline Woo: “When cats spray: how our feline friends teach us to leave our mark on the world.”

Hilarious, don't you think? But troubling, too. That "praying cat" post was at a blog at the Psychology Today website, and I'm not sure if it was in the magazine itself. But either way, it's disgraceful.

And I'd never heard of an Ed.D., but apparently it indicates a "doctor of education," equivalent to a Ph.D. (a doctor of philosophy) in education. So maybe "Possibility Pamela" isn't a complete moron, though you'd never guess it from that post.

Oh, and I must note that I enjoyed this comment by "Luke Scientiae":
My cat brings in mice on a regular basis and leaves their disemboweled carcasses lying around.

Would that be because “cats haven’t forgotten, even after thousands of years of domestication” that ritual sacrifice can appease the gods?

Global warming in the culture war

Here's a very good article at ABC News about the history of global warming - and global warming denialism. Some excerpts:
[T]he headline on the 1975 report was bold: "Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?" And this article that coined the term may have marked the last time a mention of "global warming" didn't set off an instant outcry of angry denial.

In the paper, Columbia University geoscientist Wally Broecker calculated how much carbon dioxide would accumulate in the atmosphere in the coming 35 years, and how temperatures consequently would rise. His numbers have proven almost dead-on correct. Meanwhile, other powerful evidence poured in over those decades, showing the "greenhouse effect" is real and is happening. And yet resistance to the idea among many in the U.S. appears to have hardened.

What's going on?

"The desire to disbelieve deepens as the scale of the threat grows," concludes economist-ethicist Clive Hamilton.

He and others who track what they call "denialism" find that its nature is changing in America, last redoubt of climate naysayers. It has taken on a more partisan, ideological tone. Polls find a widening Republican-Democratic gap on climate. Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry even accuses climate scientists of lying for money. Global warming looms as a debatable question in yet another U.S. election campaign. ...

The basic physics of anthropogenic — manmade — global warming has been clear for more than a century, since researchers proved that carbon dioxide traps heat. Others later showed CO2 was building up in the atmosphere from the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. Weather stations then filled in the rest: Temperatures were rising.

"As a physicist, putting CO2 into the air is good enough for me. It's the physics that convinces me," said veteran Cambridge University researcher Liz Morris. But she said work must go on to refine climate data and computer climate models, "to convince the deeply reluctant organizers of this world."

The reluctance to rein in carbon emissions revealed itself early on. ...

By 1988, NASA climatologist James Hansen could appear before a U.S. Senate committee and warn that global warming had begun, a dramatic announcement later confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a new, U.N.-sponsored network of hundreds of international scientists.

But when Hansen was called back to testify in 1989, the White House of President George H.W. Bush edited this government scientist's remarks to water down his conclusions, and Hansen declined to appear.

That was the year U.S. oil and coal interests formed the Global Climate Coalition to combat efforts to shift economies away from their products. Britain's Royal Society and other researchers later determined that oil giant Exxon disbursed millions of dollars annually to think tanks and a handful of supposed experts to sow doubt about the facts. ...

In fact, a document emerged years later showing that the industry coalition's own scientific team had quietly advised it that the basic science of global warming was indisputable. ...

In the face of years of scientific findings and growing impacts, the doubters persist. They ignore long-term trends and seize on insignificant year-to-year blips in data to claim all is well. They focus on minor mistakes in thousands of pages of peer-reviewed studies to claim all is wrong. And they carom from one explanation to another for today's warming Earth: jet contrails, sunspots, cosmic rays, natural cycles.

"Ninety-eight percent of the world's climate scientists say it's for real, and yet you still have deniers," observed former U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican who chaired the House's science committee. ...

The Australian scholar Hamilton sought to explain why in his 2010 book, "Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change."

In an interview, he said he found a "transformation" from the 1990s and its industry-financed campaign, to an America where climate denial "has now become a marker of cultural identity in the 'angry' parts of the United States."

"Climate denial has been incorporated in the broader movement of right-wing populism," he said, a movement that has "a visceral loathing of environmentalism." ...

Boehlert, the veteran Republican congressman, noted that "high-profile people with an 'R' after their name, like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, are saying it's all fiction. Pooh-poohing the science of climate change feeds into their basic narrative that all government is bad."

The quarterly study's authors, Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State University and Riley E. Dunlap of Oklahoma State, suggested climate had joined abortion and other explosive, intractable issues as a mainstay of America's hardening left-right gap.

"The culture wars have thus taken on a new dimension," they wrote.

Scary stuff, huh? I left out the parts of this article which describe what's happening now, and why it's such a concern. I urge you to check it out for yourself.

In America, on the right, it's no longer science. It's culture war. Science is like gay marriage. Being against it is part of the right-wing's cultural identity.

Note that Big Oil was following the lead of Big Tobacco from decades ago. In both cases, sowing doubt about the science was just a way to keep short-term profits high. I remember, when I was a kid, wondering how anyone could believe the tobacco industry when they trotted out their tame scientists. But I guess it's easy to believe what you want to believe.

But it's even worse these days. These days, the Republican Party sees a political advantage in opposing science. Fox "News" pushes it as part of a deliberate campaign to elect Republicans. And this campaign against the "elites" fits in perfectly well with the GOP campaign to destroy our trust in our American institutions, too. As the article notes, it "feeds into their basic narrative that all government is bad."

I posted about this previously. Destroy Americans' faith in their own government and the party seen as "anti-government" wins by default. Destroy our trust in science and who are you going to believe then? The oil companies? The tobacco companies? Fox "News"? What, don't multinational corporations have your best interests at heart? In fact, if you can't believe science, you'll just believe whatever you want to believe - or what someone convinces you to believe for their own purposes.

Science never used to be partisan. Both political parties used to respect science, just as both political parties used to respect the separation of church and state. But as the Republican Party has rushed faster and faster to the extreme right, it's abandoned all that.

Why did that happen? Well, I've posted before about faith-based thinking, and I think it all ties together. After the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the GOP made a concerted effort to appeal to southern white racists. Politically, that was a huge success. The South went from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. Indeed, these days, there's no other part of the country so red.

But the South is also part of America's Bible Belt - indeed, the most faith-based part of our country. So sucking up to Christian fundamentalists must have seemed a natural fit. That, too, was a political success. The religious right was a great source of money and volunteers. But moderate conservatives started seeing the tail wag the dog.

The thing about a political party appealing to extremists is that extremists start to become more and more powerful in the party. These days, right-wing fanatics control the GOP. That's the Republican base. What used to be a fringe in the party is the party these days. And most Americans go along with it because most Americans don't pay any attention to this stuff. They believe what they see on Fox. The believe the loony emails they get.

There are any number of reasons why this is scary, and global warming is only one of them. Even if these loons implode - which isn't assured - it might be too late. Well, it's probably too late already when it comes to global warming. But the longer we delay, the worse it will get.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Class war" and the lessons of history

From David Brin, here's a great post about our so-called "class war." I strongly urge you to read the whole thing, because it really is that good - and that important.

But I know it's not easy to find the time for everything, so I'll try to pick out some of the more important excerpts here:
One aspect of our re-ignited American Civil War is getting a lot of air-play. It is so-called “class war.”

That’s the tag-line ordered up by Roger Ailes. The notion: that any talk of returning to 1990s tax rates – way back when the U.S. was healthy. wealthy, vibrantly entrepreneurial and world-competitive, generating millionaires at the fastest pace in human history – is somehow akin to Robespierre chopping heads in the French Revolution’s reign of terror.

That parallel is actually rather thought-provoking! Indeed, can you hang with me for a few minutes? After setting the stage with some American history, I want to get back to the way things got out of hand during that earlier 1793 class war in France.  There are some really interesting aspects I’ll bet you never knew. ...

It’s fairly obvious that the period following the Second World War was (for white U.S. males) the least class-ridden of all time.  Disparities of wealth were at an all-time low and the middle class, flush with WWII savings, good wages and GI Bill-fostered competitiveness, experienced a generation of utter dominance over the American experience. A confident dominance that got woven into popular culture through TV and all other media.

Instead of the classic human social pattern — pyramid-shaped with a tiny, fierce nobility lording it over peasant multitudes — ours was diamond-shaped with a well-off middle that actually outnumbered the poor! A miracle nobody in all the past ever foresaw. Except perhaps [Adam] Smith. Certainly not Karl Marx! In fact, nothing so undermined the honey-seductive mantras of Marxism so much as the living example of the U.S. middle class. Which the whole world wanted to join.

And now the penultimate point (before getting back to 1793 France). Our post-WWII flattened-diamond pattern did not quash or undermine competitive capitalism!  Not at all. In fact, never before or since has there been such fecund, vigorous entrepreneurialism as during the flattest and most “level” social order the world ever saw.

Those who proclaim these two things – social flatness and vigorous market competitiveness – to be inherent opposites, in perpetual conflict, are simply fools or historical ignoramuses — or outright liars. They are pushing the sick illogic of the zero sum game.  Indeed, Adam Smith himself contended, in both Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that a relatively flat social order — combined with lots of opportunities for the poor to get education, so the total number of competitors is maximized — can vastly increase the total number of people who get rich in the best way, by delivering innovative goods and services. ...

All the shouts about “class war” bring to mind images of rabid Jacobin mobs in 1793 hauling brave nobles and gentlemen to the guillotine. But if Rupert & co. really want us pondering that image, we owe it to ourselves to leaf back just a few pages to 1789, when the revolution began as a much more moderate thing, inspired by events across the ocean, in America.

France was broke.  Louis XVI and his ministers were incompetents who deliberately squelched commerce with internal tariffs and policies that crushed innovation. The church owned much of the productive land, tax-free. So did the feudal aristocracy. Top merchants and corporations managed to wrangle exemptions too. After years of quagmire wars, poor tax revenue, bank collapses and mismanagement, Louis needed more money to stave off bankruptcy and save the country. So he summoned the Estates General.

That was the rough French equivalent of the British Parliament, but with much less authority.  In fact, it had last met in 1614. But Louis was desperate. What he needed was for the first and second “estates” — the clergy and  nobles — to vote themselves a temporary levy and join the third estate (the people) in paying their fair share.

That’s how it all started.  The country’s leader asking oligarchs and aristocrats to pay the same rates as common folk, for a while, especially since they already owned damn near everything.  The answer given by the dukes and bishops and marquiseseses?  Heck no! We’re the ones keeping it all together. The managers and investors and owners and job-makers. The government can damn well keep its mitts out of our pockets. It’s our money, not the state’s.

Now you can see where I’m going with this. So I won’t spell out what happened next. ...

Across the sea, in America, a different experiment was being tried. The aristocracy over here — like Washington and Jefferson — certainly enjoyed being rich, and wanted opportunities to stay that way! But they also knew the frontier virtue satiability — the notion that getting rich is great! Economic success can both entice and propel innovation, hard work, enterprise, competitive creativity and philanthropy. But that (as Adam Smith proclaimed in the miracle year 1776) there comes a point where enough is enough… and sometimes even too much.

Hold onto your seat, because I’m about to tell you something about Washington and the others that you never knew… that they were “levellers.”

The founders started by banning primogeniture, so no family fortune could sit and accumulate, undivided, as a lordly demesne at the pyramid’s peak. Instead, they would get divided among the large numbers of children that folks had then — an intentional act of “social engineering” and outright “levelling” and don’t you for a moment think otherwise!  They also seized the assets of the Tory lords and even neutral absentees and distributed them to the masses. And they made homesteading easy, with laws that favored Yeoman citizens. (All right, some of the lands they seized belonged to native American tribes – I never called these guys perfect, just smart, with a goal of not repeating the historical mistakes they loathed. Sure, they proceeded to make others.)

Never heard of these “levelling” acts by the founders? Heck, even liberals have forgotten them. Or they’ve become used to simply ceding Washington and Adam Smith to the blustering right, without even putting up a fight.  Stupid-lame liberals.

The point is that we never had the kind of violent class war that erupted in France, because our elites were smart enough to avoid it! After the primogeniture and distribution and land grant tricks started to fade along with the frontier, we entered a dangerous Gilded Age when the pyramid shape began re-emerging and Marx rubbed his hands over the growing urban proletariat….

…but even among the titans of the 1890s, there were men who could see. “I would rather leave my son a curse than the almighty dollar,” quoth Andrew Carnegie, who was the Warren Buffett of his day.  And our agile nation came up with moderate, progressivist solutions like anti-trust laws, that staunched class war without ruining capitalist enterprise.  That kept the goose alive, to keep laying golden eggs. ...

And you – yes, you – need to start asking questions:

– like what degree of wealth disparity would you find discomforting? ...

– or ask what it means when Fox says the top families do pay a lot of money in taxes, despite paying at very low rates.  Can you do the simple algebra in your head, divide and put in an equal sign and draw the obvious conclusion?  If they pay vast amounts, even at tiny rates… doesn’t that mean they are getting most of the money in the first place?  And that’s supposedly a reason for you to… shrug?

– or ask who is financing the propaganda that you watch? When simplistic tag lines are ordered up at Fox News by Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes and Prince Waleed, and they are parroted within hours by every politician and talking head on the right, is it time to ask “is this the conservatism of Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, any longer?” What do these New Lords get out of teaching you to hate every American elite of science, intellect or skill… while demanding that you ignore the one elite that threatens everything we love?  Theirs?

– for the first time in American history, we went to war and the rich refused to help pay for it. Isn’t patriotism an issue all the time, and not just when you (or Glenn Beck) pick or choose?

More important: doesn’t this start sounding a whole lot like what the nobles did on the east side of the Atlantic in 1789… and not at all like the smarter elites did in the west?

There's more there, including good stuff about Franklin D. Roosevelt. I really do recommend you read it all. But I just want to add one thing:

As Brin states, the French Revolution started out as a relatively moderate thing. They were, indeed, inspired by America's example. But the revolution became more and more extreme. The fanatics took control and, after that, you really couldn't be too extreme.

Moderates were considered traitors and went to the guillotine. But as the mob rushed to the far-left, even the extremists struggled to be extreme enough. The same people who executed the moderates soon were considered too moderate themselves and were also sentenced to death. When extremists take control, it quickly becomes impossible to be too extreme.

Doesn't this remind you of the Republican Party these days? Of course, it's been rushing to the far-right, rather than the far-left. And so far, no one has literally lost his head. But in today's GOP, you just can't be too extreme, and the worst thing you can be called is a moderate. Moderates, in fact, have been drummed out of office - even though they were "moderate" only by the standards of the complete loons of the GOP base.

At every step, you wonder how much further to the right they will go. Now, they're even talking about dismantling Social Security and Medicare, not just the Department of Education and the EPA. Is there any limit? Republican leaders run to the right in a desperate attempt to stay ahead of the mob they, themselves, created. And there is quite literally no way for a Republican leader to be too extreme, too fanatic, too far right. In today's GOP, the only sin is moderation.

That didn't turn out well for France, and it's not going to turn out well for America, either. But how much damage will they do us? That's the question.

PS. My thanks to Jim Harris for the link!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Reason Rally

I guess this is sort of an antidote to my previous post, huh? We need more reason in America - and certainly less gullibility.

Atheists aren't really a follow-the-leader kind of people, so I suspect that we'll never be particularly well organized. But a party? We can all get behind that, right?

I must say that I'm curious. I particularly wonder what comedians will be there. It's too bad George Carlin isn't still around, but there's always Ricky Gervais. Well, I guess we'll just have to see.

Some people will believe anything

Isn't that about the craziest thing you've ever seen?  This news team is careful - too careful - not to editorialize, but you have to wonder if they burst out laughing afterwards. I certainly hope so.

Yes, he can heal "anything" with his eyes. Sure he can - in only five minutes, for eight dollars per person. It's the "Croatian Yanni with superpowers." And he even heals automobile transmissions! Heh, heh. Isn't this something you'd expect to see at The Onion?

It must get harder and harder to write satire when real life gets this bizarre, don't you think? It's kind of like trying to poke fun at the Republican presidential candidates. What can you say that's crazier than the truth?

And in both cases, how gullible would you have to be to believe that stuff? It just blows my mind.

"The Atrocity Archives" by Charles Stross

(cover from

The Atrocity Archives (2004) is a weird mix of cold war spy novel combined with Lovecraftian horror, all with a healthy dash of Dilbert's office politics. I've never read anything quite like it.

Bob Howard is an IT professional charged with keeping the archaic, and often quite bizarre, computers in "The Laundry" repaired while he struggles with his superiors in a bureaucracy from Hell (not quite literally). At the same time, he's a secret agent in this same British organization, which defends the world from brain-sucking monsters from another dimension.

I thought it was lots of fun, but I also thought I missed a lot of the inside jokes from an IT department perspective. And sometimes, especially early in the book, Stross is just too clever for his own good. For example, check this out:
We end up at an earning-facilitated nerd nirvana called Wagamama, just off New Oxford Street: you can't miss it, just look for the queue of fashion victims halfway around the block. Some of them have been waiting so long that the cobwebs have fossilized. My impressions are of a huge stainless-steel kitchen and Australian expat waiters on rollerblades beaming infrared orders and wide-eyed smiles at each other from handheld computers as they skate around the refectory tables, where earnest young things in tiny rectangular spectacles discuss Derrida's influence on alcopop marketing via the next big dot-sad IPO, or whatever it is the "in" herd is obsessing about these days over their gyoza and organic buckwheat ramen.

And that's not even the whole paragraph. So yes, I did tend to skim a bit. I skimmed through passages mixing computer jargon, advanced mathematics, and the occult, too. It's not that it was ever boring, though. It was just a bit too ostentatiously clever.

And either I got used to it, or it got better as the book went on. Certainly, I had no problem finishing. Although it's clearly tongue-in-cheek - I do enjoy this kind of humor - the story gets pretty exciting. It's just altogether lots of fun.

The Atrocity Archives is a short novel, as such things go these days, so the book also contains his Hugo Award-winning novella, "The Concrete Jungle." That's another story about Bob Howard and The Laundry, and it's even better than the first.

It's also available free online, so it's a pretty easy way to tell if you're going to like the series. That's what got me to read this novel, in fact. And note that there are at least two other novels in the series, as well as some more short fiction - "Pimpf," "Overtime," and "Down at the Farm" - which are also available free online.

In fact, you can see at that last link that Charles Stross has a lot of fiction posted for free online. I haven't read very much by him, and I might have to remedy that, certainly if the rest of his stuff is as imaginative and as entertaining as this.

Note: Here's my review of the sequel, The Jennifer Morgue.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How to watch 'reality' TV

Nobody in this country got rich on his own

"I hear all this, 'well, you know, it's class warfare,...'  No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody."

She's absolutely right. We're social animals. We live in societies. If we thrive, some of that is due to our own efforts and some of that is due to the society in which we live, the society which protected us, which educated us, which created the opportunity for us to thrive.

We wouldn't have this opportunity in Somalia. We wouldn't have this opportunity in Haiti. We wouldn't have this opportunity in Iraq, not the kind of opportunities we have here. And we have the duty to support our society, not just take from it.

Elizabeth Warren fought long and hard for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and she should have been its first director. But Obama wouldn't stand behind her, and I'm sure Republicans would have blackballed her, anyway. (In fact, 44 Senate Republicans have vowed to prevent any nominee from getting a floor vote, holding our government hostage - again - unless they get everything they want.)

So a week ago, Warren announced that she was running for the U.S. Senate. I wish her the best of luck! I'm sure you can see why.

PS. It's kind of funny, but according to that article, Republicans in Massachusetts have "mocked her" for being born in Oklahoma - even though she's lived in Massachusetts for almost 20 years. Yeah, I'm all for mocking Oklahoma, myself, but primarily because it's such a far-right Republican state. (Well, so is Nebraska, but we're not quite that loony.)

I'm actually glad to know that not everyone born in Oklahoma is a complete loon. Maybe there's even hope for Texas, huh? :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

QOTD: The illusion of American exceptionalism

Quote of the Day:
Former airman Keith Boyea explores how war reshaped his worldview...

I have not faced the consequences of war up-close and have nothing but awe for those who have. But my own, much more cloistered experience as a war supporter is similar. I will never think of America the same way after the Bush-Cheney administration. They ripped the scales off my eyes; they proved that America isn't, in the end, different; that its core moral principles, such as the prohibition of torture, are nostrums to be tossed aside at the whim of a few very scared and incompetent men; that the rule of law ends when it comes to presidential power, when he can simply order dipshit lawyers to say black is white; when no regret is ever truly expressed about the tens of thousands of Iraqis who died under US occupation; when the architects of these strategic and moral disasters are given legal immunity and peddle books on talkshows defending and bragging of their own awful legacy.

It has sickened me - the lack of morality, the lack of accountability, the constant recourse to mass amnesia. And in a man like Perry, you see all the characteristics of this belligerent, diplomatically autistic, aggressively stupid, and fundamentalist psyche. The dragon we thought we had slain is stalking the land again. - Andrew Sullivan

Ron Paul's bedtime story

Atheism on the upswing in America

These days, as Republicans deliberately push a faith-based agenda and even Democrats fall all over themselves to proclaim their belief in God, is atheism really on the upswing? That's what this columnist at The Washington Post claims:
Some years back Washington Post Magazine ran a then-rare story on a strange and scarce species. A kind of person most Americans are so bigoted against that they refuse to vote for them, marry them, or even allow them into the Boy Scouts. These unusual creatures are American atheists, which the old joke said could all fit into a Manhattan phone booth. That was then, this is now.

As the survey results come in, as the irreligious best-sellers sell, and as the scientific analysis gets published, it is increasingly clear that Western atheism has evolved into a forward-looking movement that has the wind at its back, is behind the success of the best run societies yet seen in human history, and is challenging religion as the better basis of morality. Even in the U.S., a religious anomaly in the Western world, atheists are making major gains while Christianity withers, already having lost the mainstream culture to secularism. The least religious regions of the nation are enjoying superior societal conditions.

Religious conservatives commonly contend that only a transcendent supernatural intelligent designer can provide the absolute and perfect morality and the wisdom necessary to run successful societies – it’s become the de facto position of the GOP. Many religious liberals and atheists agree that both theism and atheism are sufficiently moral and practical to generate similarly successful cultures. This series will show that both views are errant. The science-based evidence leaves no doubt that, although very human in its flaws, democratic atheism is proving superior to faith-based mythical doctrines in practical societal and moral terms.

So Christianity is withering in the United States? I haven't seen much sign of that. Oh, I'd like to believe it,... and that's just why I need to maintain my skepticism.

OK, atheism gets a lot more notice these days. Or does it? Maybe it's just that I frequent atheist and skeptic websites online. In my personal life, I encounter a lot more evangelical Christians than I ever did when I was young. But atheists? Not so much.

Of course, when I grew up, I never knew any other atheists. But I didn't encounter the religious fanatics that I do today, either. Everyone seemed to believe in God, at least nominally, but they pretty well kept it to one hour a week.

After all, the famous Time magazine cover "Is God Dead?" was published in 1966. It's hard to imagine that today, don't you think? God seems to be healthier than ever, at least in America.

Of course, as there was a backlash against that magazine cover, maybe there's been a backlash against all this in-your-face religion, too. And it's true that Europe has become secular surprisingly quickly. But religion has only tightened its grip on America - or at least on American politics.

Note that I'm not sure I like the phrase "democratic atheism," either. Governments should be secular, but not officially atheist. When it comes to religion, governments shouldn't be officially anything.

The Soviet Union was officially atheist, but it wasn't any less faith-based for that. In fact, it was officially atheist simply because religion competed with faith-based communism. It was not democratic, true, but that wouldn't have made it less totalitarian, necessarily. After all, modern democracies are not just "majority rules," but also "minority rights."

My point is that, even as an atheist, I want a secular democracy, not a government pushing atheism. I suspect that this author does, too, but he doesn't make that clear.

Apparently, this column is the first in a series. Well, I acknowledge his point that secular democracies are outperforming on pretty much every metric of a civilized life. Not only are the least religious nations outperforming the most religious, but even in America, the Bible Belt badly lags more secular parts of the country.

And this isn't just in ways you might expect, like education and science, but also in such things as divorce, teen-age pregnancies, and child abuse. As a practical matter, using clear metrics of quality of life, the most religious parts of our country do the worst, not the best.

And yes, polls show that non-belief is growing. But a lot of nonbelievers shy away from that "atheist" label, even in polls. And when it comes to our youth, I've heard that abandoning religion has been more of a backlash from right-wing politics and not so much a turn to rational, evidence-based thinking. I hope that's not true, but what if it is?

That's one of the reasons I like to emphasize the importance of evidence-based thinking over faith-based thinking. There are, after all, liberal churches. And there's plenty of loony pseudoscience on the left, too, not just on the right.

But if you understand the value of evidence-based thinking, you'll probably understand why those things are also wrong. Faith-based thinking is widespread, because it's very easy to believe what we want to believe. Even when you get the right answer, faith-based thinking is the wrong method.

More than atheism per se, that's what we need more Americans to understand and accept. If atheism develops naturally from evidence-based thinking, then we'll be less likely to see errors in other areas. And if not, then we're not going to be gaining much, I suspect.

Well, we'll see. It might be that the hysteria on the Christian right has been from the fear that they're losing. After all, we've seen the exact same thing from the hysteria of white racists - often the very same people - now that we're seeing white births becoming a minority in America. And their surprising hatred of all things European certainly seems to be an interesting clue.

Maybe it really is the last gasp of faith-based thinking in our country. Yeah, and maybe pigs will fly. Heh, heh. OK, I'd like to see it, but I'm going to need more evidence.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to do my part. I'm an atheist because I'm an evidence-based thinker. I don't accept dogma, for good reason. I try to be properly skeptical of things I really want to believe. And I value reason, while recognizing that reason alone is not enough.

Reason requires evidence. Together, although there's no guarantee that you'll be right, you'll have far and away the best chance of that. And when you rely on evidence, you'll always be willing to change your mind when the evidence indicates that you've been wrong.

Trust me

Check out the original image, where you really can mouseover those boxes to see a slightly different cartoon. (I couldn't figure out how to embed that part of it here.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Buffett Rule

Here's something that really struck me as bizarre. This is from The New York Times, their article about President Obama's deficit-reduction plan:
Mr. Obama’s proposal is certain to receive sharp criticism from Congressional Republicans, who on Sunday were already taking apart one element of the proposal that the administration let out early: the so-called Buffett Rule. The rule — named for the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett, who has complained that he is taxed at a lower rate than his employees — calls for a new minimum tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million a year to ensure that they pay at least the same percentage of their earnings as middle-income taxpayers.

That proposal, which was disclosed on Saturday, was met with derision Sunday by Republican lawmakers, who said it amounted to “class warfare”...

So ensuring that the wealthy pay as much as the rest of us is "class warfare"? Tell me how the Republicans can make that sound reasonable, not matter how much Fox "News" repeats it?

Isn't that just the craziest thing you've ever heard? Well, at least since the last time a Republican leader opened his mouth?

PS. You know, there's something else in that article that bugs me a little bit, too. Why do we call Social Security and Medicare "entitlements," as if these are something the elderly don't deserve?

Working Americans pay for these programs. We spend 40 to 50 years paying payroll taxes so that we'll get Social Security and Medicare when we retire. "Entitlements" makes them sound like something we think we deserve, but really don't.

We expect to get Social Security and Medicare because that was part of our implicit contract with the federal government. We held up the contract on our side, and we rightly expect our government to hold to the agreement, too.

That seems reasonable enough, doesn't it? And although "entitlement" is technically accurate, I suppose, it sounds like this is a privilege, not a contractual obligation, not something we've already paid for.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rick Perry, uber-Texan

Excerpts from Gail Collins' column in The New York Times:
You think of Rick Perry, you think of Texas. And more Texas. Perry the cowboy coyote-killer, the lord of the Texas job-creation machine, the g-dropping glad-hander with a “howdy” for every stranger in the room. He barely exists in the national mind outside of the Texas connection. ...

Rick Perry has never spent any serious time outside of Texas, except for a five-year stint in the military. Nobody sent him off to boarding school to expand his horizons. He grew up in Paint Creek, where he graduated third in a high school class of 13. He went to the most deeply Texas of all the state’s major institutions of higher learning. He was a terrible student, but won the prized post of yell leader, the most deeply Texas of all possible Aggie achievements. Then he joined the Air Force and flew transport planes out of Texas, Germany and the Middle East. “There was no telling what you were going to haul around on any given day, from high-value cargo like human beings to the colonel’s kitty litter,” he once told a reporter in Texas.

Then it was back to Paint Creek, where Perry worked on his father’s ranch and began a stupendously successful political career, during which he ran for the State Legislature, agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor and governor without ever losing a race. ...

When Perry was still a Democratic state representative, Karl Rove took him under his wing and set Perry up for a run as a Republican against the liberal icon Jim Hightower. This was in a race for agriculture commissioner, a statewide post without a vast array of issues. Perry ran against a Hightower rule requiring farmers to get their workers out of the fields before they sprayed pesticide on them, and won. When Perry moved up to run in a very tight race for lieutenant governor, his campaign got a critical last-minute infusion of $1.1 million from a very, very conservative doctor/businessman from San Antonio named James Leininger, who is one of a large number of rich Texans who seem to enjoy giving things to Rick Perry. (In Texas, individuals can donate as much as they want to political candidates. The term “Wild West” is frequently invoked by campaign finance reformers.) ...

Anyway, the real question isn’t how Texas is doing but whether Perry’s experience there has led him to think about the federal government at all, except as a sinister force that can be identified as the villain when anything goes wrong.

Just one example: health insurance. More than a quarter of all Texans have no health insurance whatsoever. During his first presidential debate Perry blamed that fact — as he has in the past back home — on Washington. (“Well, bottom line is that we would not have that many people uninsured in the state of Texas if you didn’t have the federal government.”) When Bush was in Washington, Texas proposed a half-baked plan to improve its Medicaid program by reducing benefits and coverage. The application was sent back to the state for reworking — by the Bush administration — and the state seems to have expended precious little energy in revising it. But the legend of federal overreaching lives on, a perpetual excuse for why more than six million Texans are uninsured.

Having an interest in national government that’s mainly limited to disliking it might work fine if you’re the governor of a state that has always regarded itself as “low-tax, low-service” anyway. It’s a little more problematic if you’re the guy in charge of keeping the dollar stable, the food supply safe and the national defense ready.

We could live with a president who named his boots “Freedom” and “Liberty.”

Not sure about one who has contempt for the job he’s running for.

I don't have much to say about this, except that if it doesn't worry you that this is another guy Karl Rove "took under his wing," you must have been born yesterday. Literally.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dwarf Fortress article

I missed this article when it was published in July, but I still wanted to post the link. It's an article in The New York Times magazine about Dwarf Fortress and its creators, Tarn and Zach Adams.

Dwarf Fortress is famous among gamers, but I'm surprised it's getting noticed by muggles. Heh, heh. Seriously, this is a game for a niche market, but all game developers could learn something from it.

An excerpt from "Where Do Dwarf-Eating Carp Come From?":
Dwarf Fortress is barely a blip on the mainstream radar, but it’s an object of intense cult adoration. Its various versions have been downloaded in the neighborhood of a million times, although the number of players who have persisted past an initial attempt is doubtless much smaller. As with popular simulation games like the Sims series, in which players control households, or the Facebook fad FarmVille, where they tend crops, players in Dwarf Fortress are responsible for the cultivation and management of a virtual ecosystem — in this case, a colony of dwarves trying to build a thriving fortress in a randomly generated world. Unlike those games, though, Dwarf Fortress unfolds as a series of staggeringly elaborate challenges and devastating setbacks that lead, no matter how well one plays, to eventual ruin. The goal, in the game’s main mode, is to build as much and as imaginatively as possible before some calamity — stampeding elephants, famine, vampire dwarves — wipes you out for good.

Though its medieval milieu of besieged castles and mutant enemies may be familiar, Dwarf Fortress appeals mainly to a substratum of hard-core gamers. The game’s unofficial slogan, recited on message boards, is “Losing is fun!” Dwarf Fortress’s unique difficulty begins with its most striking feature: The way it looks. In an industry obsessed with pushing the frontiers of visual awe, Dwarf Fortress is a defiant throwback, its interface a dense tapestry of letters, numbers and crude glyphs you might have seen in a computer game around 1980. A normal person looks at ♠§dg   and sees gibberish, but the Dwarf Fortress initiate sees a tense tableau: a dog leashed to a tree, about to be mauled by a goblin.

This bare-bones aesthetic allows Tarn to focus resources not on graphics but on mechanics, which he values much more. Many simulation games offer players a bag of building blocks, but few dangle a bag as deep, or blocks as small and intricately interlocking, as Dwarf Fortress. Beneath the game’s rudimentary facade is a dizzying array of moving parts, algorithms that model everything from dwarves’ personalities (some are depressive; many appreciate art) to the climate and economic patterns of the simulated world. The story of a fortress’s rise and fall isn’t scripted beforehand — in most games narratives progress along an essentially set path — but, rather, generated on the fly by a multitude of variables. The brothers themselves are often startled by what their game spits out. “We didn’t know that carp were going to eat dwarves,” Zach says. “But we’d written them as carnivorous and roughly the same size as dwarves, so that just happened, and it was great.”

Note that there are graphics packs available, so you're not completely restricted to ASCII code. I'm not quite that hardcore, myself. But it's still very much a niche product. I love it, but that opinion won't be universal.

If you do want to try it - and why not? it's free - I recommend using the Lazy Newb Pack. I'd skip the third-party utilities, at least at first, but definitely use a graphics pack.

I won't quote any more of this article, since it's several months old already. If you want to read more, here's the link. (Registration is required, though it's free.) It's quite an interesting article.