Archive for the ‘Huckabee’ category

The Passive Voice is the Tell: Mike Huckabee is a gutless sophist dept.

November 30, 2009

Update: A day late, but still:  Huckabee takes responsibility — and defends his decision to commute Maurice Clemmons’ sentence to make him eligible for parole.  His defense is coherent, morally consistent, and — incidentally — one which I find persuasive.  (That TomLevensonSealOfApproval™  is not worth very much:  the question of whether or not this was a sound decision at the time turns on more finely grained detail than Huckabee’s statement provides.  But within the context of this statement, Huckabee’s reasoning makes sense, morally and practically).

I stand by my rhetorical scorn for the first queasy remarks Huckabee’s campaign released in his name, as detailed below.  But credit where credit is due:  Huckabee confronted the issue directly, accepted executive responsibility, and presented a strong defense of his judgment.


I was just going over some student writing this morning when I came across a passage in Mike Huckabee’s attempt to dodge his own Willie Horton moment in the tragedy of the murder of four police officers in the state of Washington.

On question of commuting the suspect’s prison sentence, not a seraph or an angel of the Lord, but that righteous Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee wrote:

He was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990…

Aha!  I said.  I know this game.

Just before I read that line, I had been hitting the red comment button a lot on one particular, quite promising student story, in which the writer had not completely shaken the MIT-inculcated rhythms of professional scientific communication.  In a section on the development of what a certain class of drugs could offer patients suffering from a particular mental illness here that writer defaulted again and again to the passive: “it was believed,” or “it was found,” or “it is known…” .

I pointed out to my student that writers use this kind of rhetorical gambit when they want to assert  authority without responsibility.  No actual person “believed” that a given drug would or wouldn’t work, but by FSM it is known — fer shure — that it does (or doesn’t).

Such writing is a standard trope in formal scientific communication, which makes the claim that whatever human process lies behind any result, the finding must speak for itself.  And in that context, such a rhetorical claim has value — and costs.  Certainly, MIT undergraduates get taught to see outcomes of scientific inquiry in this manner, and it takes some effort — a lot — to remember how to express the active, individual, present commitments needed to drive the work they do and mostly love.

But when it comes to “values-for-thee-but-not-for-me” Huckabee, there is no excuse.  It’s all about the duck-and-weave.

The suspect, Maurice Clemons, then serving a 95 year sentence of aggravated robbery, “was” recommended for mercy and that mercy, commutation of his sentence was received.  No one in particular seems to have had anything to do with this, at least in Mike Huckabee’s universe, (though not in that inhabited by Arkansas law enforcement at the time).

Huckabee screwed up.  Why he did, and whether he did it alone or with help are yet to be determined.  There is a lot in Clemons’ history to suggest that the former Arkansas governor was not alone in allowing this terribly violent man to slip through the cracks.  I do not for a minute wish to suggest that Huckabee acted in the expectation that tragedy would result from his decision.

But if you want to test the character of a person, see how they react in the wake of consequential failure.  Do they step up, own their error, explain their reasoning, and express their remorse.

Or do you find that according to them, their homework was eaten by some dog.

That is:   one crucial qualification for a job in which you have the lives of others daily in your hands is the character with which you face the consequences of choosing wrong.   In this moment of tragedy — or rather in his reaction to it — we have come the measure of Mike  Huckabee.

Image:  Jeff Crites for the U.S. Army, “I didn’t do it,” 2009.

Updates on the 100 mpg car front

July 28, 2008

Way, way back when there was a Republican fight for the nomination, Mike Huckabee made a little splash by calling for a one billion dollar prize to encourage the production of a generally available care capable of 100 mpg.

I ridiculed Mike here and here. Mostly because (a) the billion bucks was such a wildly disproportionate reward, given the X-prize being offered for the same basic goal seemed to think that ten million would do the trick, and, at least as important, at least one production vehicle on the verge of release, the Tesla roadster, could already lay claim to the milestone. (Latest news — as of a couple of weeks ago, 12 production vehicles had been completed, with the assembly line cranking away at a blistering four vehicles a week.)

But the what I want to highlight here is the power of 4 buck a gallon gas to concentrate the mass market manufacturer’s mind.

Most immediately, it looks like the GM Volt is real as of 2010 — though at a higher price than originally proposed, 40K instead of around 30K. It will have an MPG equivalent of 150 mpg running on its electric motor, which will drop if the range-extending gasoline engine gets called into use. GM also has a Saturn Vue plug-in SUV project in the works. Toyota is working on its plug in response, with a current, very short range claim of 99.9 mpg.

But what caught my eye today was this report from the Green Car Congress, showcasing the British Motor Show’s latest offerings of cool to cute electric, energy efficient cars.

The headliner? The four-seconds-to-60/10 minutes to recharge Lightning GT. 300 large, I’m afraid, so this is another pure fantasy. But taken all in all, and never forgetting the 350 mpg personal transportation available in the form of this electric scooter, it looks like the use of market mechanisms to control green house gas emissions is, pace the McCain campaign’s whispered walk-back on the issue, is working just as the econ 1 textbooks tell you it should.

Image:  Lightning GT, Lightning Car Company photo.

Election frivolity: Mancrush edition

February 5, 2008

More from my new favorite folly,

Barack Obama scores well: coming in at 11th 5th place as the man other men would most want to be — only one behind science’s top contender, Charles Darwin (sliding rising since I first posted on this meaningful topic.)

Hilary Clinton is, for obvious reasons, not a contender in this particular contest, though both Bill and George make the list:

As for the regard in which the Republican contenders are held? At least in this venue, not so much. Neither McCain nor Romney make the list at all (which has, after all, 1644 entries). Huckabee does score — but only at number 996.

Don’t blame me. I’m just your humble reporter.

PS: More wierdness. Adolph Hitler is on the list, at 1643. That’s pretty near dead last, but not quite. Who’s less crush-able, by whatever “standards” this site employs?

John Brown. John Brown! Wild eyed, hard charging, violent anti-slavery revolutionary. (Deplorable methods, perhaps– but he was at least on the good guys’ side, in case you were checking). Below Hitler? To quote the funniest movie of the last decade, Galaxy Quest: “Ohh! That’s not right.”

(at about 5:50 into the clip.)

Update:  A couple of links added, at which point I discovered that in the post election glow, Barack Obama rose from 11 to 5, still trailing Charles Darwin, also on a tear, by one.   That puts Darwin behind just Ernest Hemingway, JC, and Tom Brady as the fourth most admired/envied man in history.  The other big news — Jesus has slipped!  Ernest Hemingway now ranks first in the minds (sic) of men.  Who knew?

Update: More on Huckabee’s 100 mpg car (he wishes).

January 25, 2008

In this post I ridiculed Mike Huckabee’s pulled-out-of-some-orifice energy independence “plan” — the one where he proposed a one billion dollar prize (that’s right — a billion with a “b”) for someone who could come up with a 100 mile per gallon car.

Now, this idea is fatuous on many levels, anathema, I think from both right and left perspectives. Mostly it is a loser because it misses the point: energy indpendence depends on much more than increased efficiency in a use that accounts for something under one quarter of all energy use in the country. Getting there wouldn’t hurt — to the contrary — but it wouldn’t solve the problem, or even come close. (For many reasons — supply issues, oil being a resource that will begin to decline and has already been doing so for a long time from domestic sources; demand issues, given that a couple of billion folks in Asia want more of the stuff and so on; and more demand issues, given the fact that efficiency allows more people into the game, thus reducing the impact of gains on overall consumption; and so on.)

For more on energy use by sector, browse through the tables here for some interesting/depressing reading. Two things do stand out. Huckabee is right this far fuel efficiency is a problem, however feckless his solution might be. Efficiency totals for the American fleet of cars topped 20 mpg in 1990. As of 2005, total fleet efficiency had reached only 22.9. And second the SUV plague is a national security issue: over those same years, SUV efficiency went from 16.1 mpg in 1990 to a high of 17.6 mpg in 2001, and then back down to 16.2 mpg by 2003, where it has stayed. That’s a drop of about 9 % in just two years. All those Hummers and Porsche Cayennes take their toll, I guess. Given that SUVs and light trucks account for over half of domestic car/truck sales that’s just bad news. All numbers from the link above: the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Review for 2006.

All that said, the bottom line is that if you want to increase the efficiency of US ground transportation the fastest way is through regulation: increased CAFE standards, applied to all light transport, with no distinction made between cars and light trucks. That’s something everyone knows, and no one –especially amongst the GOP orthodoxy — wants to admit.

But this post is not about the “I don’t wanna” idiocies of US energy/transportation policy. It’s about 100 mpg cars. The reason Huckabee’s offhand comment in a debate was not just stupid, but silly was that, of course, the technology to produce 100mpg cars does not need some Manhattan Project to generate breakthroughs to a brave new energy future. It’s already here, and, as I pointed out in my original post — there is one production >100 mpg sports car, the Tesla Roadster, about to be delivered to customers.

In that earlier post I noted that the 2008 model year is sold out. Since then, Tesla Motors has opened the waiting list for 2009 — so if $5,000 (against a base price of $98,000) is burning a hole in your pocket, go for it.

But I must say that I was perhaps too triumphalist in my crowing over Huckabee’s so-yesterday grasp of the technological possible. Tesla Motors has just deeply disappointed me. As the Wired’s Autopia blog reported yesterday, the high performance engine, capable of propelling the two-seater from 0-60 in 4.0 seconds, overwhelmed two different transmission designs. So when the car actually ships in March (promises, promises) it will come with a temporary fix, a beast of a transmission that can handle all the power generated, but that cuts acceleration to a mere 5.7 seconds for the 0-60 run. A newly designed transmission to restore the promised performance is promised for later model run cars (and as a retrofit to the tortoises off the line first).

All together now: awwww.

Now, its true that cars that cost less than $30,000 — the Nissan 350 ZX and the Ford Mustang GT for two — could smoke the transmission hobbled Tesla on the flat. But loathe as I am to agree with Gregg Easterbrook on anything, he’s right in the item in this column that ridicules the need for speed that is safe (and legal) only on the track.

Meanwhile Mike Huckabee’s naive paean to salvation by the technological deus ex machina (two dead languages in the same sentence — I’m cooking now) is simply a distraction from the real business of using policy incentives to change energy behavior. The big problem is not going to go away in the flash of a speeding Tesla, however delicious its technology may be.

And if you think that this was all an excuse to put up another couple of pictures of the car…you’re right.

(And if you think that I, c. 50 y. 0. want to live my second childhood in one, you’re right again.)

Images: Lesser Ury: “Paris, Sonnenaufgang,” 1928. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Tesla Roadster, taken Sept. 27, 2006, licensed under Creative CommonsAttribution ShareAlike 2.0. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Sullivan, Huckabee, and the step not taken.

January 18, 2008

Andrew Sullivan has been consistent on Huckabee — he thinks that a truly committed Biblical literalist would make a scary President. I agree with him, as too many posts on this blog should make clear.

Now, Sullivan has put together his clearest account of Huckabee’s commitment to the view that the Bible is absolutely true. That’s really true — not only in the sense that a man named Moses really did lead the Israelites through dry land in the sea of Reeds or that a divine/man named Jesus really did bring another man named Lazarus to life — but in that the inerrant text of scripture is the only real judge of truth for any claim made outside the Bible — law and government, the arts, medicine and science, everything.

Again, Sullivan seems entirely in the right of it here to me. These views are incompatible with reality. You can’t have a President who thinks the Bible is a medical text, or a guide to physics and so on.

But the real story here is that Huckabee is extreme in degree, but not in kind. Some kind of magical thinking infects all the major GOP candidates, not just the man from Hope.

You can see this most clearly in the near universal defense of a false, but foundational GOP belief, the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves. McCain is the latest of the Republicans to wave that magic tax-cut wand. But Giuliani did it too. Romney goes there and of course, Huckabee himself has signed on with a 30% “fair” tax. See this post and its links for one of the multiple debunkings of self-paying tax cuts, and this article for a takedown on the Huckabee tax proposal.

Such willingness to ignore the contrary, inconvenient fact takes us back to a running theme of this blog. The real reason that it matters whether or not the candidates and the voters understand and support science is not just to make sure that something we might like gets funded next year. It is because the stories of science teach that the goal is not to defend what you know is right — but to make sure that what you know is not wrong.

(I need to add that, of course, the Democrats have un or ill-examined assumptions of their own. But one of the consequences of being out of power for so long is that a lot of received wisdom erodes during the desert years. Right now, this is an acute problem on the GOP side. If the Dems hold power for ten or twenty years, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this kind of unreflective certainty become much more prevalent on that side of the aisle.)

Update: shortened and edited for clarity.’

Update #2:  John Cole puts my whole screed faster, cheaper, better, here.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, “Moses smashing the tablets of the law.” Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Huckabee again *#&!

January 17, 2008

Everytime I think it is possible to write about something else, my man Mike makes it impossible.

By now, most of those who make it to this blog will have heard about this interview, in which former Governor Huckabee, a leading Republican candidate for President says this:

” I think the radical view is to say that we’re going to change the definition of marriage so that it can mean two men, two women, a man and three women, a man and a child, a man and animal.”

Lots of folks have picked up on this — I found it first here, at Josh Marshall’s shop. Most of what I read emphasizes the fact that this is something that Huckabee believes, and that his beliefs are on the fringe.

I’d like to drag the conversation to a slightly different place: the problem with focusing on belief, and then arguing about the prevalence of one interpretation or another is that it plays into the world view behind this kind of hateful claim.

“Beliefs” for believers are not subject to challenge, to rational analysis and the test of material facts. With that in mind, please note that to Huckabee’s credit, he’s an honest man here. This statement is wholly consistent with a body of belief to which he has already told us he adheres.

But the point is that the rest of us don’t have to, and should not play in that particular playground. It’s not just enough, that is, to say he’s crazy or on the fringe — that the rest of us don’t believe what he believes. Rather we need to bring the conversation over to our swing set, and say, each time he makes a claim about things or people that fly in the face of what lots of data have shown, that Huckabee is not just misguided — he’s wrong.

And, of course, he is not just wrong here, he is terribly, terribly so. He assets an equivalence — not the mealy-mouthed “spectrum” of his spokesman’s earlier claim — between same sex attraction and relationships, and pedophilia and bestiality. This is simply false.

If you want to go beyond my say so: check out the context of a broad base of scientific inquiry into the biological and evolutionary underpinnings of same-sex attraction (link to review article). Now search out the repeated smack-downs of the conflation of the act of bestiality pedophilia with sexual orientation, gay or straight. See this post from a couple of years ago as a pretty good example of folks doing good work year after year, using a bit of scientific rigor to demolish this kind of nonsense.

So — science (not to mention common sense) tells us that there is a difference between two grown men who wish to marry (or just have sex) and a man who has sex with a child or an animal. Huckabee refuses to acknowledge that data.

What does that choice tell us about Mike Huckabee’s candidacy?

It tells us this: The fact that he chooses to ignore scientific results to preserve a treasured assumption means that he cannot be trusted with a job for which, as we have learned over the last seven years, paying attention to what actually happens out there in reality matters a whole lot.

Programming note: good science on the radio

January 17, 2008

Highly recommended:  Tom Ashbrook’s interview/call in w. University of Chicago paleontologist Neil Shubin.  It was just broadcast and the online version won’t be available until 3:30 EST, but you can go here to get the blurb and, later, the thing itself.

Shubin is smart, clear, engaging.  Best line I heard:  (paraphrase):  If  Mike Huckabee’s worried about apes he’s got bigger problems — the fish, the worms and the jellyfish.


PS:  Shubin’s got a new book out:  Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body.  I intend to it add to the pile.  Expected review date — sometime this millenium.

Image:  Henry de la Beche, “Duria Antiquior” 1830.  The painting, by a geologist, was inspired by fossils found in Dorset by Mary Anning.  Source:  Wikipedia Commons.