Archive for June 2011

Because, Because…Soshalism, That’s Why!

June 26, 2011

Not much blogging to come (will anyone be able to tell the difference?–ed.) this week, as I’m writing this from Doha, Qatar, where the biennial World Conference of Science Journalists is about to begin.

But as my body adjusts to the eight hour time difference, I chanced across this piece in The New York Times, which captures in the story of one small household appliance why American Exceptionalism may kill us all yet:

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found.

These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt, or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use. The recent study, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, concluded that the boxes consumed $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States — and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded. That is more power than the state of Maryland uses over 12 months.

That set-up:  the HD box and recorder, can add ten bucks or more per month to a household electricity bill, but the drain isn’t obvious, because the damn things are always on.

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It was said of Pythagoras that he was the only man who could hear the music of the spheres; the rest of us were so accustomed to it, having been cradled in such harmony from womb to grave…and so it is with that 60 cycle hum, or its metaphoric equivalent.  We can’t monitor that whose absence we’ve never known.

What’s truly galling, though, is that there is no technical reason either to spend that money, or to burn the fuel — much of it coal — to make the power required:

The perpetually “powered on” state is largely a function of design and programming choices made by electronics companies and cable and Internet providers, which are related to the way cable networks function in the United States. Fixes exist, but they are not currently being mandated or deployed in the United States, critics say.

Not our fault, says Big Cable:

“The issue of having more efficient equipment is of interest to us,” said Justin Venech, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable. But, he added, “when we purchase the equipment, functionality and cost are the primary considerations.”

Which is to say the old brush off.  You know, “You’ve got a problem, which means I’ve got a problem. You.”*

Except, you know, reality:

But energy efficiency experts say that technical fixes could eliminate or minimize the waiting time and inconvenience, some at little expense. Low-energy European systems reboot from deep sleep in one to two minutes.

Alan Meier, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said of the industry in the United States, “I don’t want to use the word ‘lazy,’ but they have had different priorities, and saving energy is not one of them.”

It’s hard to deny that charge, given this:

But as of Sept. 1, typical electricity consumption of Energy Star qualified products would drop to 97 kilowatt hours a year from an average of 138; and then by the middle of 2013, they must drop again to 29 kilowatt hours a year. Companies have fought the placement of the “Energy Star” seal on products and the new ambitious requirements, which may still be modified before enacted.

Mr. Wilson recalled that when he was on the California Energy Commission, he asked box makers why the hard drives were on all the time, using so much power. The answer: “Nobody asked us to use less.”

But of course, it isn’t just bad software and slothful, oligolopolist greedoid big Cable that’s to blame.  There is a pattern of trading energy efficiency — conservation — for other pleasures.  The internal combustion engine of 2011 is a vastly more efficient machine that that of the 1973 oil crisis — but the power numbers for just about every car have shot up relative to comparable categories of automobile from thirty and forty years ago, wiping out much of the efficiency gain.

Here, we like having zero time-lag when we wish to couch-potato.   While we enjoy the latest episode of whatever, we are heading for real trouble with our energy sector.  Global climate change is some ways — well, not the least of it — but the effect that we’ll notice second or third, well after we’re wondering why it costs so much to live like an American.

There is a response, of course.  We could try real conservation — actually building energy efficient structures and tools and transportation systems, which, if implemented — with tech that exists right now — would represent a meaningful step towards an energy demand that an alternative energy mix (that would for decades + still include stuff we burn) could plausibly meet.  It would indeed mean changes in habits and cultural practices — and those are very hard to achieve, I know.  But consider the alternative.

If we don’t, then when the rest of the world — and our kids — ask us what the hell  happened, we’ll have to tell them we were too anxious to start watching Survivor to stop and think.

*H/t science writer Jon Cohen, for reminding me of that old gem.

Image:  Jan Breughel the Elder, Landscape with Windmills, 1607

Apropos of Not Much…

June 23, 2011

…Last night I ran across perhaps the most awesomest example of an utterly unexpected juxtaposition.  Truly, in the list of improbable duets, this beats all, IMHO

And while it is tempting to try some snarkilicious gloss on the title and treatment of the material below, sometimes cigars are just…strange (and delightful)…as here:

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I invite you to try and top the pure glorious absurdity of this one.

Mitch Daniels Murder Watch — an update.

June 21, 2011

Last month I wrote about the consequences of Governor Mitch Daniels decision to push for defunding Planned Parenthood in Indiana.

In it, I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of cancer deaths that would result from the loss of just one of the services Planned Parenthood provides to Hoosier women, the administration of 500 Pap tests per week.  That led to a rough estimate that the withdrawal of that service (without replacement) would produce three to four unnecessary deaths per year:  women cut down just as surely — but with much more suffering — as if Mitch Daniels and his allies had shot them in the face.

Well, we’re getting there folks.  The Indiana Star reports that Planned Parenthood will cease to provide Medicaid services as of today; those among most in need will suffer:

“Our 9,300 Medicaid patients, including those who had appointments Tuesday, are going to see their care disrupted,” said Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

The state of Indiana is also likely to see a rise in the number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases, as…

…the new law also strips Planned Parenthood of roughly $150,000 in funding for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, money that paid for three intervention specialists — health workers who track down the partners of someone who tests positive for an STD and ensure they are tested and treated. Two of those specialists, who were based in Muncie, have been laid off, and a third, in Lafayette, is now employed in a different capacity.

That leaves Planned Parenthood with a single specialist, in Lafayette.

Wear a condom or demand one be worn if you’re planning to make a bit of whoopie on your next opportunity in Indiana, I guess…but hell, I don’t even have the heart for snark any more.

Next up:  regular Wednesday closings for all PP clinics in the state, and, if a judge doesn’t block the implementation of the Indiana law, eight out of twenty eight of those facilities will shut their doors for good.

People are going to get sick, some of them will die as a result, and all because Mitch Daniels and your modern Republican party has decided that the abortion litmus test now demands that tax payer dollars can’t even be told that there are other dollars out there that might pay for something no federal ducat would dream of being exchanged for.

Those Republicans, predictably, conclude that the deaths — the murder — of Hoosiers severed from access to even basic health care is actually the fault of those who are being stopped from providing that care:

Sue Swayze, legislative director for Indiana Right to Life Anti-Women’s-Autonomy, said that with Monday’s reduction in services, Planned Parenthood has “made it clear what their priority is.”

“They wouldn’t stop providing abortions even in the interim to keep the women’s health services,” she said.

State Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, who authored the defunding language, echoed that criticism in legislative debate in April.

“If (Planned Parenthood) wants to receive taxpayer money,” he said, “they can simply stop practicing abortion.”

The shorter: cease providing a legal service with private money, or we’ll kill some women.

Anti-choicers don’t like being accused of valuing life only until it leaves the womb, but that’s too bad:  this is where you see exactly that (im)moral choice being made.

I don’t have words to express my contempt for these people.  Murders are being committed before our eyes, and that we will never know who the victims were only makes it worse.

Images:Paul Cezanne, The Murder, 1870

Paul Gauguin, The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch, 1892.

In the Integer-Based Community

June 21, 2011

I’ll give that unnamed Bush staffer credit.*  It is possible to create an alternate reality — if only for a time — given the willing complicity of all those watching (and transmitting) the useful fantasies of the powerful.  Just look at the success the Koch brothers’ subsidiary political arm, aka the GOP et al. have had in persuading so many that wealth transfers to the rich are the solution to all ills.

Hence the significance Bruce Bartlett’s entry today in The New York Times Economix Blog, in which the former Reagan, Bush I, Ron Paul and Jack Kemp policy advisor writes that, in essence, the entire Republican presidential field is lying about taxes to the American people.

He doesn’t quite put it that way — but he comes pretty close:

For years, Republicans have [said] …over and over again that taxes in the United States are exceptionally high and the primary obstacle to growth, and that a huge tax cut would do more to raise growth than any other policy.

For example, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has proposed reducing the top statutory income tax rate on individuals to 25 percent and abolishing the taxation of interest, dividends and capital gains. The Tax Policy Center estimates that this plan would reduce federal revenues by $8 trillion over the next decade.

Governor Pawlenty contends that unprecedented growth will result — to such an extent that there will actually be no revenue loss at all.

I am not picking on Governor Pawlenty; all of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination support similar policies, and not one has criticized him for making outlandish claims.

Yup — that’s as card-carrying a conservative (per commenter wvng below) stalwart as you can get, stating as fact (which it is) that the fundamental Republican position on tax policy is “outlandish.”

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Now this is, or ought to be obvious.

Bartlett here is actually responding to critics of an earlier post in which he made the following points:

The economic importance of statutory tax rates is blown far out of proportion by Republicans looking for ways to make taxes look high when they are quite low. And they almost never note that the statutory tax rate applies only to the last dollar earned or that the effective tax rate is substantially lower even for the richest taxpayers and largest corporations because of tax exclusions, deductions, credits and the 15 percent top rate on dividends and capital gains.

The many adjustments to income permitted by the tax code, plus alternative tax rates on the largest sources of income of the wealthy, explain why the average federal income tax rate on the 400 richest people in America was 18.11 percent in 2008, according to the Internal Revenue Service, down from 26.38 percent when these data were first calculated in 1992. Among the top 400, 7.5 percent had an average tax rate of less than 10 percent, 25 percent paid between 10 and 15 percent, and 28 percent paid between 15 and 20 percent.

The truth of the matter is that federal taxes in the United States are very low. There is no reason to believe that reducing them further will do anything to raise growth or reduce unemployment.

Remember, this is just propaganda from  your typical liberal conservative economist with longstanding ties to reliably anti-tax members of the Republican party.  Also, note, that along the way in that post Bartlett called out the conservative punditocracy as, again, liars:

Stephen Moore of The Wall Street Journal recently asserted that Democrats were trying to raise the top income tax rate to 62 percent from 35 percent. But most of the difference between these two rates is the payroll tax and state taxes that are already in existence. The rest consists largely of assuming tax increases that no one has formally proposed and that would be politically impossible to enact at the present time.

Ryan Chittum, in Columbia Journalism Review, responded with a commentary that called the Moore analysis “deeply disingenuous.”

Nevertheless, one routinely hears variations of the Moore argument from conservative commentators. By contrast, one almost never hears that total revenues are at their lowest level in two or three generations as a share of G.D.P. or that corporate tax revenues as a share of G.D.P. are the lowest among all major countries.

This is what apparantly appalled Bartlett’s readers, and this is what prompted him to … well, not defend himself, but to double down on the key point:

A typical middle-class family, on the other hand, is paying less in federal taxes than it has since 1967. Its marginal rate is also down substantially since it peaked in 1982 at 31.7 percent. The well-to-do family, too, has seen its average and marginal tax rates decline substantially.

Of course, these data do not prove that taxes are not too high. That is a subjective judgment related to issues of fairness and the value that people assign to the government benefits they receive in return. Many in the Tea Party talk as if the value of government is zero; consequently, they would probably complain about any tax level above zero.

Nevertheless, it is clear that federal taxes have not been rising and are, at least in historical terms, lower for most taxpayers than they have been since the 1960s.

There is a famous line from the history of mathematics:  “God made the integers.  All else is the work of man.”

That quote has had plenty of glosses, but let me appropriate it here to describe what Bartlett has just done.  We have real numbers about taxes.  We know what they are, and Bartlett in both of the cited posts provides handy historical references to allow any reader to trace the trajectory of those numbers.  They are facts, chunks of experience quantified, and they have autonomy:  Moore’s claim that a 35% rate is really a 62% rate is not a matter of interpretation; it’s just wrong.

But, of course — as Moore’s sin illustrates — what we do with such numbers,  the calculations we perform, the conclusions we draw from them, the interpretations we derive or force on them, why, all those are down to us.  It’s no god’s nor FSM’s fault when we turn the actual knowledge we have into fashion accessories cloaking choices too ugly to pass unadorned.

That’s what Bartlett, seemingly now irrevocably committed to the reality — or perhaps, better —  the integer-based community, is actually saying here.  To reiterate:  a leading conservative policy thinker and economist has just demonstrated that the entire Republican presidential field is talking nonsense about fundamental economic policy.  The implication couldn’t be more clear:  if these views gain direct power over US policy, WASF, even more than usual.

The question, which so far answers itself, is whether or not the media as a whole, and not just some (albeit prominent) blog-contributor, will pick up on this theme, and present the choice in 2012 as that between destructive fantasy and reality.

I live in hope, but not in expectation.

Bartlett himself demonstrates why.  This is the very last line of his post:

Those who assert that taxes are rising or are at confiscatory levels simply do not know what they are talking about.

That may be true of some — but people like Pawlenty or Romney or Gingrich, any of them, really, have no such excuse.  Pawlenty governed a state for two terms.  Romney, we are told, is a smart money man.  You get the point.  They do know what they are talking about, and they choose to divorce themselves from the facts.

These are not potential Presidents.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

*Said to be Karl Rove.

Images:  Vincent van Gogh, The Corridor at the Asylum, 1889.

Martina Schettina, Fibonacci’s Dream, 2008.

Hot Stuff

June 16, 2011

Over in Australia, where the plague of special interest enmeshed AGW “truthers” has been just as bad, if not worse than the miserable corps we have here,* an impressive cross section of the Oz scientific community is actually making some noise.

At a new website (still in beta) called The Conversation, set up to be a unfiltered source of news and analysis from the Australian academic community, a group of Australian climate scientists are trying to do to climate “skeptics” (aka buffoons and/or grifters) what Bruins forward Brad Marchand did to  Daniel Sedin’s chin in Game Six.  In an open letter announcing the start of two weeks worth of demonstration that climate change is real, due to human activity, and amenable to certain kinds of action within our power if not our grasp.  They write:

The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes.

Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now.

 

Bam! Short, simple, clear and true.

They name and shame:

…Understandable economic insecurity and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and vested interests to whip up ill-informed, populist rage, and climate scientists have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.

Aided by a pervasive media culture that often considers peer-reviewed scientific evidence to be in need of “balance” by internet bloggers, this has enabled so-called “sceptics” to find a captive audience while largely escaping scrutiny.

Australians have been exposed to a phony public debate which is not remotely reflected in the scientific literature and community of experts.

And they make a promise:

For the next two weeks, our series of daily analyses will show how they can side-step the scientific literature and how they subvert normal peer review. They invariably ignore clear refutations of their arguments and continue to promote demonstrably false critiques.

We will show that “sceptics” often show little regard for truth and the critical procedures of the ethical conduct of science on which real skepticism is based.

And they’ve begun.  You can check out the series here.

Now, while I was born at night, it wasn’t last night, so I know that even sharply argued rational discourse won’t make a difference to the professional skeptics.  They’re in it for the money, and for the warm and fuzzies that come with comforting the comfortable.

The real targets of this kind of effort are the media, and through them, the mushy middle currently being persuaded by false information disseminated within a fake debate.

Anne Laurie wrote yesterday on the problem with that ambition:  that too many, in the US at least, have now crossed the line into territory where belief in the great secular-scientific conspiracy on AGW has entered the realm of religious commitment, of identity.  That’s territory in which argument has little or no pull; once it becomes a condition of one’s world view to affirm something false…counterarguments aren’t even heard.

She (and Tom Junod, who wrote the inciting essay at Esquire) may well be right.  But the triumph of (bad) faith over works in this field is recent, and not yet universal.

The long road back begins with both hard fact and sound reasoning, relayed over and over again — and the repetition, just as loud, just as often, of the counter meme, that those lying about global warming are doing so to line their own and their patrons pockets.

“Follow the money” ain’t dignified (or original).  But everyone, including true believers, understand what it means.

So, good on ya, my Aussie kin.  Let’s have more of this, and over here.

*For more on that point, let me puff a book I’ve touted before, Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.  They document how telling the “science can’t be sure/it’s just a theory” meme is a profitable business of long standing — if you have the conscience of a goat with IBS

Image:  J. M. W. Turner, The Angel, Standing in the Sun, 1846.

Still Not Ready For Prime Time

June 16, 2011

Mistermix already today brought up Mitt Romney’s gift for odd, awkward delusional gaffes.  It’s a kind of community-access-cable talent for saying something that’s not merely weird or wrong, but that actually makes the listener wonder if the speaker isn’t really dropping in from Planet Ten, if  you know what I mean.*

Now we’ve got this, in which the ridiculously wealthy Romney attempts to persuade the common clay that he is just like the least among us:

“I should tell my story,” Romney told a group of unemployed people in Florida. “I’m also unemployed.” (via TPM)

 

This, from a guy who dropped in the neighborhood of $45 million of his own cash on his last campaign, which still left him with a fortune estimated at around $200 mill.

Best of all, as the TPM snark points out, Romney made this startling confession in the middle of a speech trying to persuade his unemployed audience that he gets their plight better than Obama, whose “bump in the road” malapropism Romney sought to exploit.

Ah, eloquence, thy name is Romney .  As is “sociopathic levels of self obsession,” though that’s a little harder to say when you want to get little Mittens back in the house for dinner.

Image:  Michaelangelo Caravaggio, Narcissus, 1594-1596.

[Update] *I tried to post the linked video here, but it broke the site.  So now you have to head off to Youtube for one of John Lithgow’s finer moments, if you dare.

God Bless The Child (Or Not…Depending)

June 14, 2011

First the good news:

Growing numbers of gay couples across the country are adopting, according to census data, despite an uneven legal landscape that can leave their children without the rights and protections extended to children of heterosexual parents…

Same-sex couples are explicitly prohibited from adopting in only two states — Utah and Mississippi — but they face significant legal hurdles in about half of all other states, particularly because they cannot legally marry in those states.

Despite this legal patchwork, the percentage of same-sex parents with adopted children has risen sharply. About 19 percent of same-sex couples raising children reported having an adopted child in the house in 2009, up from just 8 percent in 2000, according to Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The overall numbers are still relatively small.  The Times piece reports that the 65,000 adopted kids living in gay-headed households account for 4% of the total.  But the point is that (a) kids who need love and care are gettng it, and (b) in another “both sides are not the same moment” there is increasing recognition of and support for, essentially, the ordinariness of same-sex families, up to and including from the administration of that known enemy of teh gay, President Obama:

The Obama administration has noted the bigger role that gays and lesbians can play in adoptions. The commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Bryan Samuels, sent a memo to that effect to national child welfare agencies in April.

“The child welfare system has come to understand that placing a child in a gay or lesbian family is no greater risk than placing them in a heterosexual family,” Mr. Samuels said in an interview.

The bad news:  in many states, same sex households are still the families that dare not speak their names.  Arizona, for example, continuing its campaign to supplant Mississippi as the most benighted state in the union, set into law a principle of discrimination against same sex adoptive parents.

More generally, bars to same-sex marriage produce obligate single-parented children.  Why?

Because in states that prohibit the marriage of gay and lesbian couples, it is a common feature that two unrelated people may not jointly adopt.  In those states — the Times focuses on examples from Ohio — one half of the couple or the other adopts, and the other just kind of hangs around, legally speaking.

Which is what produces such terrible threats to the American family as this:

The Leeses took turns. Ray adopted three — two who were originally from Haiti and a baby — and Matt is completing an adoption of five siblings whose drug-addicted mother could not care for them.

“When we first considered it, we thought, people are going to think we are crazy for having eight kids,” said Matt Lees, 39. But they did not want to split the siblings and after careful thought, decided to take them.

…It was hard for them as two fathers at first. Their eldest daughter, 6 at the time, cried and asked who would cook and do her hair. But those days are long past. And though the family is a curiosity in their neighborhood — two white men driving eight black children in a large Mercedes minivan — they are not alone. There are at least two other gay families raising adopted children nearby…

“It was the best way we could think of spending the next 20 years of our lives,” he said.

But of course, it is out of the question to provide this family the legal structure that actually gives kids the maximum protection against the chance and hazard of real life.  Fortunately, the Lees are clever as well as (on the reporting here) exemplary human beings, and so they are taking care to guard their children from both random threats and the hostility of a state, that on the face of it would rather kids suffer than thrive in the “wrong” home.  Their arrangements aren’t perfect, but the couple is doing what Ohio law now allows:

They bind their two legally distinct families together with custody agreements. They do not provide full parental rights, however, because like many states, Ohio does not allow second-parent adoptions by unmarried couples unless the first parent renounces his or her right to the child. They have to maintain two family health insurance policies.

If folks — not naming names here — but if folks actually possessed family values, among such precepts would be included the recognition that parents willing to devote themselves to children in need are heroes.  They’re people to be celebrated — and supported, to the full extent that law and communities can.  Just sayin.

(Also too:  Yglesias has a good bit up today on another example of GOP love of the family whilst hating, you know, actual families — this time on the subject of actually feeding children in need.)

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of Jan Pellicorne and his son Caspar, c. 1634


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