29 October, 2009

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

I never thought I'd see this in my lifetime, but Jon Stewart has earned himself a trip to the woodshed:

On last night’s Daily Show, host Jon Stewart heaped praise on the contrarian approach to global warming taken by SuperFreakonomics author Steve Levitt, a University of Chicago economist. Stewart was dismissive of the widespread criticism of Levitt and co-author Stephen Dubner, asking, “Have you stepped on a secular religion?” Stewart, often a tough interviewer, coddled Levitt, saying, “I’m sorry you’ve taken so much s**t for it.” He blamed the uproar over SuperFreakonomics on people who “feel you are betraying environmentalism”:
I’ve been somewhat surprised at how angry people are. The global warming chapter, you don’t deny global warming. You don’t say that CO2 isn’t a factor, but they feel you are betraying environmentalism or our world. Why are people so mad?


In reality, the critics of Levitt’s treatment of climate science and policy are not “dogmatic” believers of a “secular religion” — they are highly respected climate scientists, energy experts, and economists, including climate scientist Ken Caldeira, who has said Levitt and Dubner misrepresented his views. The widespread criticism isn’t based on the book’s personal attacks on Al Gore or its mocking of global warming as a “religion,” but on the multitude of factual errors, misrepresentations, and false conclusions that the authors use to promote their mindless contrarianism. As science journalist Eric Pooley writes, “The book claims the opposite of what Caldeira believes.”

Levitt recommends untested, planetary scale geo-engineering to block the sun as a “band-aid” that “buys us time” if “we might need to do something,” because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time. However, scientists concerned that global warming needs to be reduced rapidly have already found a well-proven approach that’s cheaper and safer than pumping unlimited amounts of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere: stopping black carbon emissions of soot from diesel and biomass burning.
And Jon's got stars in his eyes for this assclown.  I know that nobody's perfect, but for a man who regularly eviscerates media assclowns on teevee, this is a pretty big stumble. Let's hope he brushes up on his climate change science and sets the record straight.

Our next visitors to the woodshed are regulars.  Check out who the House Cons have chosen as their advisor:
I can appreciate the notion that congressional Republicans would bring in some outside advisors to offer policy advice to lawmakers. This, however, seems like a very bad idea.
House Republicans have a new foreign policy adviser with a controversial pedigree: Oliver North.
North, an aide on Ronald Reagan's National Security Council who is best known for his role in the Iran-Contra scheme to sell arms to Iran and divert the funds to Nicaraguan revolutionaries in the 1980s, was the special guest at a House Republican Conference meeting on Tuesday. North was convicted on three counts related to the Iran-Contra scandal and his efforts to cover it up, but the convictions were later overturned.

North was at the heart of the most serious political scandal since Watergate, misled Congress, and destroyed documents as part of a systemic cover-up.

House Republicans couldn't find someone else to talk to about U.S. policy in Afghanistan?
Seems like a perfect match to me: a crooked, totally not credible douchebag advising a bunch of crooked, totally not credible douchebags?  eHarmony.com couldn't have done better.

Speaking of douchebags, you guys are going to love this next one:
The California Assembly and Senate recently unanimously approved Assembly Bill 1176 to help the port of San Francisco with financing issues. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has decided to veto the legislation, sending a letter to the state Assembly chastising them for focusing on “unnecessary bills.” The San Francisco Bay Guardian also notes a second, more direct, message hidden in Schwarzenegger’s missive — contained in the first letter of each line:

Schwarzenegger's Letter

His office is trying to claim it was a coinkydink.  Maybe if Efrique stops by, he can calculate the odds.  They would appear to be astronomical at best.

At lost of people are pleased that President Obama signed hate crimes legislation into effect today.  Rep. Pence, of course, isn't:
The GOP may have lost a recent battle over President Obama on social politics, but a House Republican Leader today said he's not ready to let Democrats win the culture war.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), the leader of the GOP conference in the House, issued a fiery statement denouncing to Obama for signing a hate crimes bill into law today.

From the statement:
"The president has used his position as commander in chief to advance a radical social agenda, when he should have used it to advance legislation that would unequivocally support our troops. We should remember why our soldiers put on the uniform, and honor their service by giving them the resources they need to get the job done, without unrelated liberal priorities attached."

Classy as ever.  And we won't talk about all of the time Bush and his happy gang of shitheels slipped poison pills into other legislation - unrelated crap shows up in bills no matter who's in power, so it's not like this should be so shocking to Pence's sensitive sensibilities.  And that's not the silliest thing about his statement anyway.  It's mostly the tired old "radical social agenda" tropes that got to me.  Can these fucktards please, please, pick a different tune? This one's been way overplayed.

Looks like Rep. Joe Wilson's behavior is having some unintended consequences for Cons:
Former Bush attorney general Alberto Gonzales recently spoke at the University of Tennessee at Martin about “Living Legal History: Working with the White House, the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court.” Gonzales received a “mixed” response from students and residents, and he had a Joe-Wilson moment when a student interrupted his speech and shouted out “You lie!”:
At one point, Gonzales referred to America’s war on terrorism.
“President Wilson and Roosevelt engaged in massive collections of electronic communications during the first and second world war,” Gonzales said. “The collection performed by President Bush was much more narrow.”
At this moment, a student in the crowd interjected with: “You lie!” After some quiet applause the speech continued.

I'm sure Cons everywhere think this is a horrible breach of decorum.  Perhaps that's something they should've thought about before they applauded Wilson's bad behavior, eh?

In other news, Scholastic thinks lesbian mommies are too icky for kiddies:
Lauren Myracle’s new book “Luv Ya Bunches” focuses on four girls and is meant to depict the “the lasting friendships” that blossom out of “the shifting alliances and rivalries that shape school days.” But Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, initially refused to carry “Luv Ya Bunches” because one of the characters had lesbian parents:
The company sent a letter to Myracle’s editor asking the author to omit certain words such as “geez,” “crap,” “sucks,” and “God” (as in, “oh my God”) and to alter its plotline to include a heterosexual couple. Myracle agreed to get rid of the offensive language “with the goal—as always—of making the book as available to as many readers as possible,” but the deal breaker was changing Milla’s two moms.
“A child having same-sex parents is not offensive, in my mind, and shouldn’t be ‘cleaned up.’” says Myracle, adding that the book fair subsequently decided not to take on Luv Ya Bunches because they wanted to avoid letters of complaint from parents.
Of course, they got letters of complaint, anyway - thousands of people who know two mommies are a-okay flooded them.  So now they've relented and are offering the book at their spring fair, where they'll no doubt get a flood of correspondence from frothing fundie homophobes.  They could've cut down on the hate mail dramatically if they hadn't been such dickheads in the first place, now, couldn't they?  Let this be a lesson.

And, finally, must tip my hat to eBay here for taking a stand against right-wing hate and violence:
The Kansas City Star is reporting that eBay has decided to prevent a planned online auction organized to support the defense fund of Scott Roeder, the accused murder of Dr. George Tiller. EBay said that the auction violated its policy against “offensive material” and would not be allowed.

Anyone tempted to equate the two above items is encouraged to think a little more deeply about trying to edit lesbian moms out of a book as compared to not allowing a service to be used to support people responsible for murder and mayhem.  If you believe those are equivalent, you really need to be reading a different blog.

Let us now end on a happy note:
While impressions of Obama’s professional performance are mixed, the same can’t be said of the Republican Party at large. Put simply, the GOP’s brand is still a mess. According to the poll, just 25% have a positive opinion of the party (compared with 42% for the Dem Party), which ties the GOP’s low-water mark in the survey and which is a worse score than it ever had during the Bush presidency.
Huzzah!  Only 1 in 4 Americans are completely brain dead.  Better results than expected....


Efrique said...

Maybe if Efrique stops by, he can calculate the odds.

When I saw it I wondered if you were going to write about Arnie's acidic acrostic...

So what are the chances?

Well, actually, probably a *lot* more likely than you'd guess - and this is the thing that a lot of people get wrong when they calculate these sort of things. The probability is not "what is the chance that a GIVEN seven or eight-line letter contains a 7 letter message in the first letters of each line.

It's more like the probability that of all the hundreds of such letters from governors to legislatures, presidents to congress and similar communications, that *some* fairly obvious arrangement of letters in it would contain an apparent message that would make you say "Jeepers! What are the chances of that???"

I can't actually calculate that chance without a fair bit of effort and heavy assumptioning, but I'd wild-ass-guess it to happen purely by chance at least once every decade or so.

Can I rule chance out as so extremely unlikely as to be a ridiculous explanation for what happened? I don't think I can. It's not so implausible as all that.

Do I think it was chance? No, I don't.

But even if it was deliberate, Arnie may not have been the one that laid out the letter. That may have been done my someone who noticed that if they laid it out just so...

Efrique said...

I touched on similar issues in The Consolations of Probability

(especially in the true tale of the overtested driver)

- the problem is that we have to be careful about what we calculate the probability *of*. When looked at as "what are the chances of this specific event that we found remarkable happening tomorrow?" the chances might be incredibly low - but we should be asking something more like "what are the chances something would have happened like that - that could have caused someone to remark on it?"

Here's an example. Say you're playing Monopoly and someone rolls 5 lots of double-threes in a row.

"Amazing!" everyone extolls.

"What are the chances of 5 double threes in a row?"

But it's not 5 double threes in 5 tosses (a very low chance) - that person would have made dozens of such rolls in a game - and you'd have been just as amazed if it had happened in any other set of 5 rolls in a row. Maybe ten times the chance.

But wait - you'd also have been amazed if someone else at the table rolled 5 threes in a row. Maybe 4 or 5 times that chance.

But wait - you'd also have been about equally amazed if it had been 5 double-twos or 5 double-sixes or ten lots of doubles of any kind or...

Maybe another 20 times (or maybe even a hundred times) as likely.

Take them all together (what are the chances that during that game, SOMETHING amazing would have caused us to start calculating chances?) and you could get way over a thousand times more likely than the probability you'd initially be inclined to calculate.

What's amazing is if you say "I'm going to roll double three in each of the next 5 rolls" - and it happens. What's not amazing is if you say "at some point in this game, some 'amazing' sequence of rolls is going to happen"

Efrique said...

See also

which points to calculations that put it somewhere between 1 in a trillion and on in a couple of thousand. Give or take.