MonthAugust 2009

Republicans, Religion and the Triumph of Unreason

For many of the people at the top of the party, this is merely cynical manipulation. One of Bush’s former advisers, David Kuo, has said the President and Karl Rove would mock evangelicals as “nuts” as soon as they left the Oval Office. But the ordinary Republican base believe this stuff. They are being tricked into opposing their own interests through false fears and invented demons. Last week, one of the Republicans sent to disrupt a healthcare town hall started a fight and was injured – and then complained he had no health insurance. I didn’t laugh; I wanted to weep.

How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality? It begins, I suspect, with religion. They are taught from a young age that it is good to have “faith” – which is, by definition, a belief without any evidence to back it up. You don’t have “faith” that Australia exists, or that fire burns: you have evidence. You only need “faith” to believe the untrue or unprovable. Indeed, they are taught that faith is the highest aspiration and most noble cause. Is it any surprise this then percolates into their political views? Faith-based thinking spreads and contaminates the rational.

Truthout: Republicans, Religion and the Triumph of Unreason

(via Disinfo)

Bush officials sought to elevate terror alert to manipulate 04 election

Tom Ridge, the first secretary of homeland security, asserts in a new book that he was pressured by top advisers to President George W. Bush to raise the national threat level just before the 2004 election in what he suspected was an effort to influence the vote.

After Osama bin Laden released a threatening videotape four days before the election, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pushed Mr. Ridge to elevate the public threat posture but he refused, according to the book. Mr. Ridge calls it a “dramatic and inconceivable” event that “proved most troublesome” and reinforced his decision to resign.

New York Times: Bush Official, in Book, Tells of Pressure on ’04 Vote

Mexico decriminalizes small-scale drug possession

Mexico decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin on Friday — a move that prosecutors say makes sense even in the midst of the government’s grueling battle against drug traffickers.

Prosecutors said the new law sets clear limits that keep Mexico’s corruption-prone police from shaking down casual users and offers addicts free treatment to keep growing domestic drug use in check.

“This is not legalization, this is regulating the issue and giving citizens greater legal certainty,” said Bernardo Espino del Castillo of the attorney general’s office.

The new law sets out maximum “personal use” amounts for drugs, also including LSD and methamphetamine. People detained with those quantities no longer face criminal prosecution.

Raw Story: Mexico decriminalizes small-scale drug possession

(via Disinfo)

Reports: CIA hired Blackwater to help assassinate terrorists

The CIA in 2004 outsourced portions of a secret program to kidnap or assassinate terrorists to the controversial private security firm Blackwater USA, now called Xe Services, according to news reports.

The New York Times reports that according to current and former government officials, Blackwater’s involvement was a key factor in CIA Director Leon Panetta’s decision to cancel the program and divulge it to Congress during an emergency meeting with Congress in June. Congress had not been informed previously of the program’s existence, allegedly under orders from then-Vice President Dick Cheney, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last month.

Christian Science Monitor: Reports: CIA hired Blackwater to help assassinate terrorists

(via Disinfo)

UFO shaped, solar powered water purifiers in Japan

solar ufo

As part of the upcoming Aqua Metropolis festival in Osaka, engineering firm NTT Facilities has developed a pair of solar-powered, UFO-shaped floating water purifiers that will be deployed in the city’s canals and in the moat at Osaka Castle.

Pink Tentacle: ‘Solar UFO’ water cleaners afloat in Osaka canals

Time for a Real Jobs Stimulus?

Some sobering statistics:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the start of the recession in December 2007, the ratio of job seekers to job openings was 1.5 to 1. Now six unemployed workers chase every available job. […]

Economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute says the economy has lost 6.7 million jobs since the beginning of the recession and that the stimulus bill thus far has generated 750,000 jobs. But in addition to the nearly 7 million jobs lost, the national economy has failed to add the 127,000 jobs per month needed to keep up with population growth. “The real employment hole is 9.1 million jobs,” says Shierholz. “The stimulus bill is great, but it will only generate 3 to 4 million jobs. […]

“There are so many things in the package completely unrelated to creating a job in the next 18 months.” Only 11% of stimulus money was targeted toward infrastructure, and less than 10% of the jobs created have been public sector jobs.

Time: Time for a Real Jobs Stimulus?

(via Workforce Development via Kristin Wolff)

New Fletcher Hanks collection: You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation

you shall die

A new collection of the haunting, nightmare inducing work of Fletcher Hanks (the artist R. Crumb calls “one twisted dude”) is now available:

“You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!” is the companion to the Eisner Award winning, “I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!”. Together the two books comprise The Complete Works of Fletcher Hanks, the Super Wizard of the Inkwell who worked for three years in the earliest days of the comic book industry, created 51 stories and then disappeared.

Volume I includes a 15 page comics story by Paul Karasik explaining Hanks’ haunted past.

Volume II includes a prose introduction putting the work in historical context.

Official Site

Buy it on Amazon

Previous coverage of Fletcher Hanks with lots of links

(Thanks to Bill for the heads up!)

Should government stay out of Medicare?

Talking Points Memo highlights a recent survey that posed the illogical question “Do you think the government should stay out of Medicare?”

As it turns out, 39% of voters think government should stay out of Medicare, compared to 46% who disagree.

Among Republicans, 62% say the government should stay out of Medicare, compared to only 24% of Democrats and 31% of independents who agree.

TPM: Republicans Think Government Should Stay Out Of Medicare

The problem with using this as evidence of a profound level of ignorance in the US public (not that I don’t think it exists) is precisely in the illogic of the question. I would have a hard time deciding to make of the question if I wasn’t aware of the guy yelling “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” at a town hall.

It’s entirely reasonable to think that some, maybe even most, of the respondents who agreed that government should stay out of Medicare may have meant one of the following: a) the government should privatize Medicare b) that the government should leave Medicare alone and not make any changes to it.

Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.

Planning for the unthinkable

Peter Schwartz of GBN suggests there’s “a high likelihood” of a global food crisis due to commodity speculation and the potential for a bad rice season.

Schwartz, however, is quick to point out that he’s not stating unequivocally that there will be a food crisis. “Our goal is to do scenarios and look at the uncertainties and the elements that could surprise us … We’re not predicting a food crisis, but (saying) that we are vulnerable to it,” he told INSEAD Knowledge following a lecture on ‘Emerging Strategic Issues and Wildcards’ at Singapore’s Civil Service College.

So how can we better prepare ourselves from unpredictable ‘black swan’ events which would have a major impact? Schwartz believes the answer is to think the unthinkable. That involves considering possibilities that are outlandish, implausible but highly consequential. The Asian tsunami, he says, is a prime example of such a black swan event whose impact could have been reduced somewhat had the right questions been asked.

Insead: Planning for the unthinkable

(via Kristin Wolff)

DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show

Scientists in Israel have demonstrated that it is possible to fabricate DNA evidence, undermining the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases.

The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.

“You can just engineer a crime scene,” said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which has been published online by the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.”

New York Times: DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show

(via Disinfo)

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