Saturday, July 28, 2007

Democrats never go to church?

There is a post over at Illinipundit about Giuliani. I don't want to comment on the discussion there, but point out something about the original editorial. That editorial, from the Washington Post, begins:

Social issues such as gay rights and gun control divide America so sharply largely because no one has found a single solution for them equally acceptable to both churchgoing conservatives and secular liberals.

Note the dichotomy there: the two groups in politics are, apparently "churchgoing conservatives" and "secular liberals". Even though an overwhelming majority of Democrats are religious -- and Christians, to boot -- only conservatives qualify as "churchgoing."

We saw this crap all the time in the last election, except that it wasn't "churchgoing conservatives," it was "values voters." The rest of us being, apparently valueless, atheists that attend Black Mass during the new moon and probably would eat your face given half a chance.

It's a dangerous assertion made worse by the fact that it's probably unconscious at this point: that only conservatives have a moral compass. Of course, this meme has been brought to you by your "liberal" media.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Public health care policy

Imagine that you're interested in health care or public health. Or, perhaps, imagine you're a MD MPH PhD-candiate doctor working in an emergency room department in an urban hospital (though who would be that crazy?). In that case, you really should be reading Ezra Klein's blog. He has two really great blog posts today that I just must highlight. From the first:

Consumer-driven health care controls costs by pushing more spending onto the consumer so that they can afford less care. It rations by income. It's not even deceptive about this: That's literally what "skin in the game" means. When you're paying more for your care, your price sensitivity increases, which in turn makes you both less able and willing to pay for care, which in turn will make you more likely to purchase valuable care and discard bad care.

That, at least is what advocates hope will happen. Whether you believe them depends on whether you believe consumers can make smart care decisions, and whether you believe wasted care can be cut out by bluntly disincentivizing all care. But the cost controls here have nothing to do with innovation; they have everything to do with increasing financial exposure so we're less willing and capable to purchase medical services.

And from the second:

The LA Times reports that uninsured adults in Los Angeles are waiting more than a year for gallbladder and hernia surgeries. Indeed, the Harbor-UCLA medical center just told the county's clinics to simply stop referring non-emergency gallstone, hernia, orthopedic, or neurosurgery patients till the hospital worked through its year-long backlog.

The clinics, predictably, are responding by sending these patients to emergency rooms, further overwhelming ERs with patients in terrible pain, but not technically suffering from an emergency. Yet. So they're being turned away, though no doubt going into debt or having their wages garnished as they attempt to pay off the bills. Meanwhile, In the absence of the necessary surgeries, we're holding these folks together with belts and trusses -- literally

On the other hand, if you're the most powerful man in the world, here's your view on health care in this country:

People have access to health care in America. After all, just go an emergency room.

I feel healthier already. Don't you?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How much is a blog post worth?

John Bambenek is making a nuisance of himself again. He has filed a complaint with the FEC that the popular political group blog Daily Kos is an unregistered political committee. I discovered this when I saw that Atrios (another popular blogger) had bestowed upon him his semi-regular award of "Wanker of the Day."

His argument is essentially that DK provides the gift of "free advertising" to political campaigns and candidates. Since a paid advertisement on DK costs $9,000, he argues that must mean a blog post must be worth "at least that much." The only source of revenue to DK that I'm aware of is paid advertisements from the Advertising Liberally network. Those don't meet 2 USC 431. Therefore, the only possibly contribution to DK would be the value of the individual blog posts, made by unpaid community members. These clearly don't meet the status of a "contribution:"

2 USC 431(9)B: The term "contribution" does not include - (i) the value of services provided without compensation by any individual who volunteers on behalf of a candidate or political committee

The good news is that both the right and left blogosphere are fairly united in the absurdity of this complaint.

The thing I find frustrating is that I'm not convinced it has been made in good faith. The timing is suspicious. It's only a week until the Yearly Kos convention starts up in Chicago. So I rather just think this is a ploy to get attention. The sad thing is that it worked.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Please do not feed the crazies

DarkWraith over at Pam's House Blend has created a little graphic for people to put on their websites:

I'm sorry but this is simply unnecessary. The United States is not turning into the Fourth Reich. No one is being hauled off to gas chambers. Wholesale extermination of an entire race of people is not being perpetrated by our government.

Being a card-carrying, baby-eating liberal, I have serious problems with Bush's latest executive order. On the face of it, it strikes me as clearly unconstitutional. But to suggest that it turns our country into the fucking Nazis is ridiculous.

It's also self-defeating. It's hysterical hyperbole that doesn't support this guy's position. Frankly, it just feeds the right-wing rhetoric that Democrats hate America. The recently-unhinged Bill O'Reilly has started calling the mainstream Daily Kos site equivalent to the KKK and other hate groups. This is just the sort of thing that gives him and other right-wingers the ammunition to do so.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I may have to wait a while

I am worried that with all the excitement about the latest Harry Potter book, someone in the media is going to leak the ending. So I'm avoiding all the press about it as much as I can. In fact, judging by the letters to the editor in yesterday's NY Times, it looks like they may have given away the ending in their book review. What kind of a jerk would do such a thing?

I don't own any of the other books, and I don't want to buy this one just to find out how it ends, so I reserved a copy from the public library. My place in the queue? 450. I guess I'm not in any hurry.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why are Americans so darn stupid?

I've read in a number of places about surveys that show American's have a truly awful understanding of science. Lots of these things turn out to be apocryphal, so I went looking for actual data. One thing that I found was the General Social Survey, which is a study that has been done every year to two years since 1972. It asks a large number of questions ranging from attitudes on social trends to politics to science literacy. Most of the science literacy questions are new, so there aren't trends to examine. It's very interesting, and I would encourage you to go to the GSS website, download the results for yourself, and have a look. It's only a 2600 page PDF.

I took the results of some of the science questions and turned them into pie charts. Some of the questions I reworded for brevity, but they're basically all the same. Needeless to say, the results are somewhat disappointing.

The first one is a bit predictable, on evolution: (click for a bigger picture)

That's understandable, if frustrating. Americans are constantly lied to by their (religious) authority figures about evolution. Creationism is basically in industry in this country with its own books, videos, and lecture circuit. Since it's usually portrayed as a choice between religion and atheism, all people really know is that they despise atheists, so they chose the religious option.

The next one is a health question:

This one has actual practical consequences. If people think antibiotics are effective against viruses, they are likely to demand them from their doctor or just take leftovers in the case of a viral infection. Since the antibiotics do nothing against viruses, they'll just let any bacteria present possibly build up a resistance.

Here's one on astrology:

My hope here is that people misunderstood the question and thought it was talking about astronomy, not astrology. If not, one in twenty Americans think the position of the stars and planets actually has an effect on your personality.

This one is dear to my heart as I deal with these little buggers every day:

I guess electrons are esoteric to most people, but come on, this is high-school level stuff we're talking about, not the Bohr model vs. electron shells. It's not rocket science.

Here's the one that really scares me:

Go back and look at that again. One in four Americans doesn't know the Earth goes around the Sun. One in four. I can understand if a couple of people just got the question backwards, or answered too quickly and answered wrong by accident. I can't believe that a quarter of the people surveyed did.

Is it just ignorance? Is it just that so few Americans know anything about the world around them? Or does a huge fraction of the population actually reject heliocentrism? It's not a crazy question. There actually are modern geocentrists. Heck, they even have a freakin' annual conference. There is a Catholic group that holds that not only is the Earth the center of the Solar System, but of the entire universe. It is not a coincidence that all these kooks base their ridiculous nonsense on their religion.

That sound you hear? It's Galileo spinning in his grave. Or maybe he's just holding still and the Earth is rotating around him.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Yet more incompetence on FOX News

A couple of weeks ago, Bill O'Reilly did a segment on a "Lesbian Gang Epidemic." I don't usually watch FOX News (my cable company doesn't carry it), but whenever I do, I'm just stunned by the fearmongering and their, shall we say, loose association with facts. This "OMFG the lesbians are coming, run, run, run" segment was no exception.

O'Reilly invited "FOX News crime analyst" Rod Wheeler on to lay it on thick. Here's some of the crap Wheeler was spewing:

Well, you know, there is this national underground network, if you will, Bill, of women that's lesbians and also some men groups that's actually recruiting kids as young as 10 years old in a lot of the schools in the communities all across the country... We've actually counted, just in the Washington D.C. area alone, that's Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, well over 150 of these crews...

O'REILLY: Now, when they recruit the kids, are they indoctrinating them into homosexuality?

Yes," Wheeler answered. "As a matter of fact, some of the kids have actually reported that they were forced into, you know, performing sex acts...

It's all over the country. I mean, you go from New York to California to wherever you want to name, you can see these organizations. Now, the other thing, too, that our viewers are going to find very, very interesting, is the fact that they actually carry—some of these groups carry pink pistols," Wheeler said. "They call themselves the pink-pistol-packing group. And these are lesbians that actually carry pistols...

Shadowy homosexual conspiracy? Check. Nationwide crisis? Check. Gays molesting children? Check. Lesbians with weapons? Check. OMFG!!1!

The Southern Poverty Law Center did an excellent fisking of this report, and it turns out that every single thing this guy reported was complete bullshit. A couple of weeks ago I blogged about a so-called study that was being unquestionably reported by the press, even though its conclusion were clearly ridiculous. This is no different.

The 150 lesbian gangs roaming the DC area as we speak? It turns out there are only about 160 gangs of any sort in the DC area. Only nine are mostly female and there's no indication that any of those are a lesbian gang. There hasn't been a single media report about a crime committed by anyone with a "pink pistol," yet this fucking incompetent on FOX claims there are entire groups of people carrying them.

It's not that this guy was wrong or just exaggerated a bit that peeves me. It's that this was such a towering edifice of incompetence. That even if every gang in the DC area actually was a bunch of raging dykes he still managed to inflate their numbers by 1500%. That he managed to get every single fact he reported wrong, yet this still made the air. That's what ticks me off. So it doesn't really surprise me when the SPL pointed out that this idiot was part of an anti-gay church.

Apparently this had drawn some attention because the idiot Wheeler has taken down his entire website, and replaced it with a "disclaimer" that reads in part:

I mentioned that there are "over 150 of these gangs" in the greater Washington DC area. What I actually meant is that there are over 150 gangs in the Washington DC area, some of which are in fact lesbian gangs. Lastly, I mentioned in the segment that there is this "national epidemic" of lesbian gangs. A better choice of words would have been to say that there is a growing concern nationally, and especially in major urban areas, of increased gang activity, which includes some lesbian gang activity.

So if this segment was just about increasing gang activity in this country, then why the focus on lesbian gangs? Could it have something to do with a political axe to grind? Hmm... Not surprisingly, this story has been picked up by the right-wing nutjob press. Just here in Illinois, both Porno Pete and Stacy Harp have mentioned it. Facts are just so inconvenient when you have bigotry to spread.

(Via Pam's House Blend and Replace the Lies With Truth.)

UPDATE: Orcinus has also picked this up.

UPDATE II: Also picked up by Feministing and Pandagon

Monday, July 02, 2007

I guess I'm just naive

So Bush pardoned Scooter Libby the same day the judgment came down that he would not be able to stay out of jail while his appeal was in the works. I was honestly surprised. Not that he would pardoned, really, but that it seems so political -- blatantly political -- without any regard to whether this is for the benefit of the country or not.

I guess perjury and obstruction of justice aren't all that serious when it comes to the rule of law, after all.

UPDATE: Both David and prarie biker mention in the comments that this commutation is significantly different from an actual pardon. I disagree. There were three components to Libby's punishment: probation, a $250,000 fine, and 30 months of jail time. The jail time has now been reduced to zero.

The fine is also meaningless. Libby's defense fund was as high as $4 million a little while ago. Even if the lawyers devour all of that, raising another $0.25 million should be all that difficult for him. I doubt he will actually pay a penny of the fine. That leaves just the probation as his punishment. Big deal. As long as he doesn't drive with a suspended license, he's being punished less than Paris Hilton.

prarie biker's comparison to Sandy Berger isn't particularly apt, either. Berger did not "steal and destroy classified information" from the National Archives. He took copies of classified documents in preparation of his testimony before Congress. At worst, what he did was a security risk, there was no crime against the public interest.

A letter writer at the NY Times I think put it quite eloquently:

When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he presided over more than 150 executions. In more than one-third of the cases — 57 in all — lawyers representing condemned inmates asked then-Governor Bush for a commutation of sentence, so that the inmates would serve life in prison rather than face execution.

Some of these inmates had been represented by lawyers who slept during trials. Some were mentally retarded. Some were juveniles at the time they committed the crime for which they were sentenced to death.

In all these cases, Governor Bush refused to commute their sentences, saying that the inmates had had full access to the judicial system.

I. Lewis Libby Jr. had the best lawyers money can buy. His crime cannot be attributed to youth or retardation. He has expressed no remorse whatsoever for lying to a grand jury or participating in the administration’s effort to mislead the American people about the war in Iraq. President Bush’s commutation of Mr. Libby’s sentence is certainly legal, but it just as surely offends the fundamental constitutional value of equality.

Because President Bush signed a commutation, a rich and powerful man will spend not a day in prison, while 57 poor and poorly connected human beings died because Governor Bush refused to lift a pen for them.

Bush wouldn't pardon inmates who's lawyers slept through their trials, yet Libby gets off. There's just something fundamentally wrong about that.