20 May 2013

Janet Is Etsified!

Big excitement -- Janet opened her Etsy store, Trillium Gap Designs, today. Four miniatures to start with, here's to many more!

13 November 2012

Sympathy for Petraeus? Not Hardly.

The irony dripping off the Petraeus/Broadwell/Kelley affair is rich and bitter. Consider:  The man who brought the disastrous counterinsurgency mentality back from Vietnam into the current debacle in Afghanistan moved over to the CIA, thus assuming executive responsibility for the civilian-killing drone program that is the jihadists' single best recruiting tool. The Afghanistan surge, which Petraeus advocated, was and is a colossal waste of blood and treasure, whose net effect is to leave the Taliban stronger. That alone should have doomed him, let alone helping direct a remote-control murder program that has veered from imperial arrogance to war crimes (secondary strikes on rescuers and funerals. Go on, look it up, I'll wait.).

But what brings him down is...a perfectly legal extramarital affair. Not with a Russian spy, mind you, but an American in the military establishment who could not be more loyal to Petraeus and all he stands for.

What's really rich is the method of his destruction. A prime mover of the invasive American surveillance state (though, supposedly, uninvolved with domestic surveillance) has his email traffic peeped by the FBI...why? Suspicion of a crime? National security issues? Terrorism? No, an FBI agent had a thing for yet another (married) woman, and used his police powers to pry into two citizen's private lives in order to please her.

The whole sordid thing is a metaphor for how low we've sunk as a nation of laws and liberties.

07 November 2012

It's a Brand New Day

You'll have to listen to the Neil Patrick Harris original to get the rhythm and tune right. I promise to be all bipartisan and sweet to get along with after this one day of gloating that Allen West, Joe Walsh, Richard Mourdock, and Todd Akin all went down in ignominious defeat. Tommy Thompson, Scott Brown, and their ilk, I hope they stay in politics because even if I disagree with their agenda, reasonable people can do that.

You'll have to imagine Barack Obama staring into the camera as the guitars thrash:

What appeared as a sick electoral dilemma
'Cause at first it was weird
Though I swore to eliminate the worst
Of the lurch to the past that your party made
It's true I was vague on the how
So how can it be that you
Have shown us the light?

It's a brand new day
And the votes are in
Black Kenyan socialist
Is the one who wins
Oh and don't forget:
Lesbian SEN-A-TOR!
It's a brand new day....

All the times that you blocked my agenda I'll forgive
Single-payer torpedoed, in honesty I'll live
Mr. Hate, Mr. Rich, Mr. Bigotry are through
Now the future's so bright and I owe it all to you
You blew up the riight!

It's a brand new day
And the Senate's mine
Allen West is toast
Wall Street's just a punch line
I tried to compromise
Now I wonder why
It's a brand new day...

29 October 2012

Mitt: Disaster Waiting to Happen

General Election Mitt would like you to forget Primary Mitt, who during a debate just after the Joplin tornado advocated closing FEMA in favor of state disaster relief. That's stupid enough. (Every state should maintain duplicate fleets of temporary housing and mobile hospitals, because a disaster could hit any one of them!) But what chaps my fanny is the Randian nonsense herein (emphasis mine), and I'm including his fatuous crap about passing on debt just to ensure that no one accuses me of taking this out of context:

"Absolutely," he said. "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?"

"Including disaster relief, though?" debate moderator John King asked Romney.
"We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids," Romney replied. "It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all."

Did you get that? He thinks a good way to trim the deficit is private-sector disaster relief. So people with a bundle of dough can buy rescue when hurricanes hit, but for the feckless lazy crowd that doesn't have tens of thousands in cash ready to hand -- sheesh, just die already!

Private insurance? Don't even start. Two reasons: Profit will siphon far more out of the risk pool than "government inefficiency" ever will (see "VA Hospitals"). The flip side of the same coin: Insurers' duty to shareholders compels them to evade claims in any way possible. If their lawyers can find an escape from funding a rescue mission for your family, then you're going to be treading water for a long, long time. In contrast, the Coast Guard, firefighters, EMTs, and SAR teams see rescue as their mission, and put their lives on the line because rescue, not profit, is what they do.

Free-market fundamentalists make me just as sick as the kind who put bombs on airplanes, or the ones who murder doctors. Markets are a fine tool -- for some things. But they are the distilled essence of selfishness, and those who worship them unconditionally are consigning people to die to satisfy their fetish.

Think I'm being too harsh? Consider the millions fossil-fuel profiteers have pumped into the so-far-successful effort to delay climate-change action. Those people share culpability for everyone who dies during this storm, and the ones to come. To wail that relief must be cut, for the suffering they helped cause, in order that their obscene piles of money grow a little bit faster -- that is evil in its essence.

23 October 2012

Reality's Liberal Bias

Liberals are wont to quote Stephen Colbert: "Reality has a well-known liberal bias". And they're smug about it too, implying that those who disagree with them are not just ignorant, but wantonly so. Why should that be?

"They're idiots" is an easy conclusion to jump to whenever stubborn disagreement manifests itself. It allows one to "flip the bozo bit", consigning the opposition to a stereotyped dustbin of stupid unwillingness to see what is obvious. And yet it's clearly not the case. If you're liberal, I'd lay dollars to doughnuts that you can effortlessly invoke baffling examples of friends or public figures who are clearly intelligent, not obviously corrupt, yet persistent in denying what seems transcendentally factual.

Evolution. Climate change. The failure of austerity as an economic booster rocket. To the "academic elite", and especially to those in the sciences, these matters are hardly in factual dispute -- they were settled long ago. And yet a significant proportion of the country sees "liberal bias" in those conclusions, refusing to accept them as matters of fact. What's going on here?

I submit that what's happening is a fundamental difference in orientation, a disparity in worldviews so basic that it's hardly visible. For example, to the evolution denialist -- let's not mince words here, the scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming -- the "liberal" academic consensus is weighed against the plain Word of God, and found wanting. Where do a bunch of scientists get off, flattering themselves that they know more than the Creator of the universe? In other words, of the two authorities, they'll pick God, thanks very much.

Climate change is a bit murkier, instructively so. After all, for every ten scientists proclaiming that anthropogenic carbon emissions are a critical danger, there's one* who has data purporting to show the opposite. Whose authority should we trust?

And of course in economics it's harder still. Important, credentialed figures -- the sort Paul Krugman calls Very Serious People -- continue to insist that in the depths of a recession, with unemployment reaching riots-in-the-streets levels in many countries, the crucial thing to do is to reduce the deficit! No matter that we now have actual experimental evidence that it doesn't work, that austerity measures cripple revenue and thus don't even reduce the deficit, to say nothing of the human suffering they cause. Very Serious People say that investor confidence is at stake, and we must believe them!

The correlation between educational attainment and "liberal" views is by no means 100%, but it's quite strong. In the sciences, it's even stronger. And this gives us a clue. People not immersed in the sciences tend to mistake what it's about, and I believe that leads them to fundamental errors on these sorts of issues. It's not ignorance, it's not stupidity, it's not stubbornness, but a natural consequence of worldview.

Ask laypeople about the nature of science, and you'll get some interesting responses. I've done so, and it's pretty instructive. Many think that science is chiefly a body of facts about the world, that one proceeds by memorizing those facts, and that furthermore those facts are frequently later found to be mistaken, so the whole thing boils down to a question of whom you choose to believe, that what your gut tells you will, in the end, turn out to be right.

That's the crux of the problem. Science is, more than anything else, a habit of skepticism. As Richard Feynman said, "The first principle is not to fool yourself, and you're the easiest person to fool". One's preconceptions color one's judgement of the data in subtle and confounding ways, so that scientists have learned, literally over centuries, that the data, and removing biases from their collection, are the whole game. Not who collected them, or how prestigious their position, but the actual observations

Since no person can possibly reconstruct the entire edifice personally, trust is still required, of course, and this is what the practice and customs of science attempt to guarantee. I haven't personally repeated the observations of transitional-form fossils myself, but given that the results have been repeated, and the process examined by skeptical scientists before me, I'm willing to accept that evolution, in fact, has occurred.

Note that skepticism is not, in itself, an absolute value either. After a point, when experiments have been repeated, observations confirmed, conclusions debated, the reasonable scientist has to accept that we're done -- the conclusion is slotted into the structure of scientific fact. New data might dispute it (viz. Einstein on Newtonian physics), but a crucial distinction missed by those who misunderstand science is that one doesn't keep banging on, desperately refusing to accept facts that refute a treasured idea. Those people are not called scientists, they're called cranks.

Conservatives tend to lambaste liberals for their wishy-washy lack of absolute principle. And to some extent they're right -- in the sciences, at least, it doesn't matter how sacred a precept is, if the data show it to be erroneous, then it must be abandoned. So science-minded liberals (and remember, the two are pretty strongly correlated) perforce are parsimonious on the number of absolutes they're willing to adopt. Which makes them suspicious of authority, while conservatives tend to see authority as the standard of judgement.

This, I believe, is what drives intelligent people to adopt world models at odds with scientific fact. Akin to moral relativism, "factual relativism" leads them to believe that there are, in fact, two (or more) equally consistent and defensible worldviews to choose from, and it all comes down to whom you choose to believe. The conservatives choose the people most in tune with their values; the assertions they make are just as good as the other guys', after all.

Flipping the bozo bit isn't going to help -- it merely relegates my fellow citizen to an "other" status, and pretty well precludes any kind of dialog or constructive work. There are fundamental differences, some of which aren't amenable to compromise, or at least not in the "find the middle between two extremes" sense of the word. But we do not progress by poisoning the well of political discourse. These are our fellow Americans, and they deserve our respect, even if some of their ideas are demonstrably false.

Highlight the sources of disagreement, where you can, instead of attacking the values of the person you're facing. Frame the issue in terms they can come to grips with.

Don't give up. We might arrive there by an unnecessarily costly, frustratingly indirect path. But if you have the facts on your side, reality will eventually win out.


*Well, almost one, anyway. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Climate_science_opinion2.png. And the role of fossil-fuel funding for these researchers is not to be ignored, either. Or forgiven; they seem to have succeeded in paralyzing action when it would have made a difference, so having purchased their profitability at the cost of untold lives and ecosystem wreckage. Let's not forget to give them their reward when the all-but-inevitable happens.

21 February 2011

A Few Photos From The Capitol Protests

Lots more at http://rickwayne.zenfolio.com/

19 February 2011

Why We're Occupying the Capitol

There are a couple of common misconceptions about the protests. Perhaps the most pernicious is that they're about cuts to benefits or salaries -- they're not. The unions already offered serious concessions in December, in a deal that Walker rejected. This on top of the lack of even COLA raises for four years, 3% pay cuts for the past two, etc.

The reason we're on the streets is because of the abrogation of the basic mechanism for negotiations: The bill essentially strips the unions of any bargaining rights other than the "right" to try for raises less than or equal to the Consumer Price Index. In perpetuity.

Not to mention the underhanded way they tried to slide the original hearing through: No notice was given except some papers tacked up inside the Capitol building, yet several right-wing groups somehow managed to get wind of it in time to organize busloads of demonstrators. When the Dems had all three branches, they did not use these cheesy banana-republic tactics.

Finally, there's a sort of "no true Scotsman" dynamic to opinions about how hard we work and what we get for it that's multilayered, thus hard to shake off, despite its falsity. We earn less than the private sector. No one disputes that, but it's because our benefits more than compensate for it, right? Wrong. Factor in the benefits, and we're 8.2% behind. Yeah, but you don't work as hard, right? Well, I'd dispute that, but it's true that, overall, public-sector workers average fewer hours than private sector. OK, factor that in too. And the difference in educational attainment. Minority representation. A dozen different factors. We still come out behind. Not by a lot, it's true, but the idea that we're overcompensated in any way is manifestly false.

Here are the numbers.

I don't mind this, frankly. Although I could be making a lot more on the outside -- I'm a software developer whose track record includes teaching at conferences, dozens of articles for our trade press, yada yada yada -- I want to make a difference, and between the apps I write supporting environmental education, the water-quality Web apps I build, and supporting our Department scientists' biophysical research, I do just that. So being a little behind is OK.

But the implication that I'm some sort of lazy doofus sheltering from reality while fattening on the public dole...that does get my dander up. My wife and I proved we could be successful professionals in the private sector, thank you very much, before both of us entered public service.