Posted tagged ‘Republican Idiocy’

Bald Faced Theft

January 13, 2013

Fallows latest is a post titled “The Two Sentences That Should Be Part of All Discussion of the Debt Ceiling,”

Victor_Dubreuil_-_Barrels_on_Money,_c._1897_oil_on_canvas

In it, he writes:

 

1) Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize one single penny in additional public spending.

2) For Congress to “decide whether” to raise the debt ceiling, for programs and tax rates it has already voted into law, makes exactly as much sense as it would for a family to “decide whether” to pay a credit-card bill for goods it has already bought.
Ayup.
Image:  Victor Debruil, Barrels of Money, c. 1897

Only (Dis)Connect

June 9, 2011

News today of the essence of your modern GOP:  the Wisconsin legislature’s joint finance committee just passed a measure that would:

(A) force the University of Wisconsin to give back $39 million in federal funds to support the spread of high speed internet across the state…

(B) would essentially kill the nonprofit internet provider network that serves most of Wisconsin’s public schools and almost all of its libraries.  Oh, and

(C):

“Another provision in the plan would bar any University of Wisconsin campus from participating in advanced networks connecting research institutions worldwide, according to [state superintendent of public instruction] Tony Evers’s memo.”

Which is to say that the University of Wisconsin researchers would be materially hampered in conducting research in any field that involves significant amounts of data and the expertise of people more than a sneaker-net away.

The immediate stupidity of all this is, I think, obvious.

So for the rest of this, I’ll just dive into a couple of the broader implications of this latest folly.

First:  this is the Pawlenty doctrine in action.  No public action should be taken when a Google search reveals a private alternative, no matter how inadequate that substitute might be.

I’m not making that up.  This is how the those currently dominating Wisconsin — and GOP — politics framed this issue:

Republican lawmakers told the Wisconsin State Journal that the university should not be in the telecommunications business.

By this standard, of course, Wisconsin should simply shutter the University of Wisconsin, or rather, eliminate all state support for the institions; after all, the University of Phoenix provides a private sector alternative.  Hell — why should taxpayers subsidize drivers on I 94 heading to Madison from Milwaukee; why not convert the whole system to toll-supported private ownership? After all, private enterprise seeks nothing more than simple equity:

Telecommunications companies themselves cast the debate as a question of competition. Bill Esbeck, executive director of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association, was quoted on Channel3000 saying that WiscNet should  be allowed to run only without financial support from the University of Wisconsin.“WiscNet can continue to offer services, but in the future they are just going to do that on a more level playing field with the private-sector options that already exist,” Mr. Esbeck said.

Because, of course, everyone knows that the unfettered free market in US telecom services has left us with bleeding edge internet access. Or not.

This is what’s at stake in the political debate right now, so starkly expressed that even the MSM should be able to figure this one out.

The Republican party and its supporters reject the idea of the commonweal.  Outside of defense (and subsidies for the most comfortable) there is nothing a modern society could need — no infrastructure, no common good — that a government should provide.

Really:  education, transportation infrastructure, knowledge-making, the weather service, parks:  you name it, and there is a private alternative, and no matter whether it costs more or does less, or puts individuals or the nation at risk, private = better.

Sadly, though, that means  the entire GOP argument about government, debt, deficits and the economy turns on a false “fact.”

That’s the “fact” that the market for all kinds of goods and services is the ideal “free market” — the economists’ spherical cow — populated by that Randian hero, the perfectly rational economic actor.  Never mind that what Ec. 10 courses define as a free market exist for a very small number of transactions in the real world, nor that buckets of Nobels have been handed out lately to economists who realized that all kinds of factors — features of economic activity and intrinsic qualities of human nature — produce a world of folks engaged in exchange who do qualify as god-like, always-reasoning beings.

Which is to say that in the best reading, our Republican friends are simply mired in fantasy…

…or else, (and more likely IMHO, that many or perhaps most of the leadership is simply bought and paid for by the usual suspects.

In any event, the distinctino doesn’t really matter.  Whatever is going on inside the heads of Walker and the Fitzgeralds, or the Boehner’s and all the rest, the end result is the same:  current GOP thinking and action both transfers public goods to private hands to the net detriment of the citizenry as a whole…

…while directly threatening the future wealth and power of Wisconsin — in this case — and the United States as a whole.

Which is my second point.  Just to focus on the seemingly minor point of crimping the University of Wisconsin’s need for speed in its internet:  cutting off these funds action  it harder for any citizen of Wisconsin to learn, to research, to advance their ideas in schools or for a business idea or whatever. That’s what it means when you maim internet access at public libraries:  over the years a less-informed, less data-practiced citizenry is no asset to a state.  In time, Wisconsin will enjoy some difficult-to-quantify — but real — loss of good jobs, of new enterprises, probably of population.  It will be a poorer place.

And that effect will be magnified by the direct damage to basic and applied research done right now by limiting the return on Wisconsin’s enormously hard-won stock of human capital at the universities.

I hope to blog later today on a couple of stories of research and researchers that have made exceptional use of big data and the connections to be forged between different bodies of knowledge and people with diverse expertise. But for now, what matters is that such work is increasingly the cutting edge of a whole range of scientific and technological research initiatives.  And the one thing required for such work is access to a robust network. This is what the Wisconsin Republican-led legislature is targeting, with a determination that extends to turning down other people’s money.

The states really are the laboratories in which the future of our nation is being tried…so look to Wisconsin to see what could happen in a wholly GOP led United States.

There we see in microcosm how it is that empires die:   first they sell themselves off to the highest bidders. Then they crumble.

The Republican party cannot be trusted with even a whiff of power.  We have a lot to do over the next year and a half.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Images:  Quentin Massys, An Allegory of Folly, early 16th century

 

Albert Einstein was a Friend of Mine, and I Can Tell You, Representative: You Are No Albert Einstein*

April 15, 2011

From Think Progress (h/t Daily Kos) we learn that in the midst of yet another creationist eructation, a Tennessee state representative invokes the ghost of the good Dr. Einstein to defend the teaching of woo to the unwary:

Rep. FRANK NICELEY (R-Strawberry Fields): I think that if there’s one thing that everyone in this room could agree on, that would be that Albert Einstein was a critical thinker. He was a scientist. I think that we probably could agree that Albert Enstein was smarter than any of our science teachers in our high schools or colleges. And Albert Einstein said that a little knowledge would turn your head toward atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head toward Christianity.

I don’t have much truck with the argument from authority, but just this once, let me let it rip.

Dude:  I wrote the book here.**  Well, not the book, but one more in the seemingly limitless pile of Einsteiniana that has chased the poor man through the years.

So, a couple of things.  First:  Einstein himself was high school and college science teacher.  He taught secondary school briefly during the years between his graduation from Zurich’s ETH (1900) and the start of his job at the Swiss Patent Office (1902), tutoring a private student or two as well.  He became a university professor in 1908, and taught at that level until his move to Berlin in 1914.  He’s part of the set that the Representative — perhaps stunned by a too-prolonged exposure to tangerine skies — would seek to diss.

But the real howler, the grotesque lie, comes with the claim that Albert Einstein, famously Jewish and equally so an atheist by most senses of the word, would suggest that deep learning and understanding would make a person a Christian.

This is, of course, nonsense, and worse that that — a willful deception and one more example of the urge to invent a comforting falsehood when reality bites too hard.  Which sums up the whole modern GOP world view, sadly. (Cue the Rogers (kfMonkey) post in 3…2…1)

But for the record:  Albert Einstein disdained the notion of a personal god.  He was dismissive of god-talk in public affairs.  He saw nothing in the acquisition of knowledge that would tend one towards organized faith; quite the reverse.  He located the source of knowledge to be material experience, whose signals were to be processed by the 1200cc or so of very intricately organized meat we (most of us) keep in a round-ish vessel above our necks.

And just so we all get our fill of Einsteiniana, here are some supporting quotations:

In an autobiographical essay published in 1949, Einstein told of his loss of faith as a child:

“…through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true.  The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking, coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies.” (in Paul Schilpp, ed. Albert Einstein,  Philosopher-Scientist, Open Court, 1949, p. 5)

Of the demand for a personal god, Einstein wrote in a letter to a banker in Colorado that

“I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals….” [taken from Alice Calaprice’s collection The Quotable Einstein, Princeton University Press, 1996 p. 146]

Of the presence of a god intervening in history, he wrote, famously and bluntly to a correspondent calling down divine wrath on the British during World War I:

“I see with great dismay that God punishes so many of His children for their ample folly, for which obviously only He himself can be held responsible…only His nonexistence can excuse him.” [AE to E. Mayer 2 January 1915 Collected Papers of AE vol VIII doc. 44]

Of the independence from divine fetters of human knowledge, he wrote,

“No idea is conceived in our mind independent of our five senses.” [From Quotable Einstein p. 154]

And on the claims to authority of religion in general and his own Jewish heritage in particular, the year before his death  he wrote this:

… The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.

Enough.  As you all know, no doubt, I’m of the John Foster Dulles school of blogging, but I think the point is clear. Rep. Niceley (R-Delusional) is an ignorant and/or deceitful man defending the indefensible by stealing the mantle of someone way too dead to respond for his own part.  Niceley does so to support exactly what Einstein would have both loathed and ridiculed.  The desire to live in the world one wishes for is human enough — pretty childish, I’d say, following my man Al here.  But the indulgence we give children does not extend to granting them power over anything that matters…

…which is why the current Republican Party must be not merely defeated, but destroyed and replaced.

Factio Grandaeva delenda est.

*Here I butcher what is still my favorite political debate moment of all time:

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**I kinda made the movie too — writing and jointly producing  this two hour NOVA biography.  Just sayin:  I bin around the Einstein block once or twice, you know.

Image:

Professor Einstein’s Visit to the United States“, The Scientific Monthly 12:5 (1921), 482-485, on p. 483.


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