Archive for March 2012
Back in college, WC was required to read Whitaker Chambers’ 1952 autobiography, Witness. WC came to the book reluctantly. WC was a distant relative of Helen Gahagan Douglas, U.S. Representative from California, smeared by Richard Nixon as “The Pink Lady.” Whitaker Chambers contributed to that effort, and afterwards to the Pumpkin Papers political theater that made Nixon (in)famous. But as a window into the mindset of the Cold War, Witness is pretty good, even if it is on The Heritage Foundation’s recommended reading list.
There’s one passage in the autobiography in which Whitaker is describing how he came to renounce Communism and the Soviets in particular. He tells this story of a European girl whose father had defected from the Communist ranks.
It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. ‘He was immensely pro-Soviet,’ she said, ‘and then — you will laugh at me — but you must not laugh at my father — and then — one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams’ . . . She did not know that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the twentieth century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.
The metaphor is vivid, forceful and unsettling, as any really powerful metaphor should be.
WC, many years ago, was staying with acquaintances in Anchorage, crashing at their place overnight on the way to a backpacking trip on the Kenai Peninsula. And that night he heard screams coming from his host and hostess’s bedroom. The next morning, WC’s hostess had obvious bruises, and refused to make eye contact with WC. That event, and the chance to really reflect on it over the course of the backpacking trip, marked the moment at which WC really understood marriage could be a prison, a trap and literal torture. Since then, WC has learned enough about the cycle of domestic violence to develop deep suspicion of those who uncritically defend marriage.
Which is why the National Organization for Marriage had earned WC’s distrust long before NOM was forced in litigation to disclose its National Strategy for Winning the Marriage Battle. WC wouldn’t want to have to decide what part of the Strategy is the most unsettling. Its defense of marriage at all costs is appalling, and its virulent anti-gay ambitions remind WC of the worst of the 1960′s Klu Klux Klan screeds.
For pure outrageousness, it’s hard to decide between NOM’s “Catholic Clergy Project” and its “Behind Enemy Lines” campaign. The former is described:
All clergy are key influencers on gay marriage, but Catholics are a key swing vote and Catholic clergy are notoriously difficult to personally reach. The Catholic Clergy Project aims to use NOM’s close relationships with Catholic bishops to equip, energize and moralize Catholic priests on the marriage issue.
Strategy, p. 22
We know a bit about Catholic clergy here in Alaska. The hundreds of children those Catholic clergy sexually abused know still more. If NOM wants to use them as role models here, then NOM is even sicker than WC had supposed. And, by the way, exactly what is it that those male, celibate priests – the ones who don’t abuse children – know about marriage?
The “Behind Enemy Lines’ project, in comparison, offers a $200,000 budget for “a special effort to focus on the consequences of gay marriage for parental rights,” including a $120,000 item for “Children of same-sex couples and their concerns – an outreach coordinator to identify children of gay parents wiling to speak on camera.” Strategy, p. 24-25. A rebellious teenage kid never had more power.
WC invites his patient readers to decide which “strategy” is more offensive.
Or, perhaps, the most offensive element is the refusal to recognize that abusive relationships and domestic violence in the relationship that they are defending is orders of magnitude worse than their perceived “enemy,” gay marriage. NOM refuses to listen to – refuses to admit the existence of – the screams in the night.
One final note. WC is no fan of Governor Sean Parnell. But on this issue, the Governor – or perhaps the First Lady pressuring the Governor – deserves some modest praise. His campaign to “Choose Respect” is a good start at addressing Alaska’s shocking levels of domestic violence.
So it’s in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court now. We heard the arguments, heard the querulous questions of the Justices (all those old voices), and listened to the hordes of tea-leaf readers. WC, while he has little confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court, has no idea how it is going to turn out.
But between now and a decision late this summer or early next fall – at the earliest – WC will leave you with this quote, from David Frum, over at The Daily Beast. If ACA is held unconstitutional, what next?
In that case, Republicans will need a Plan B. Unfortunately, they wasted the past three years that might have developed one. If the Supreme Court doesn’t rescue them from themselves, they’ll be heading into this election season arguing, in effect,Our plan is to take away the government-mandated insurance of millions of people under age 65, and replace it with nothing. And we’re doing this so as to better protect the government-mandated insurance of people over 65—until we begin to phase out that insurance, too, for everybody now under 55.
In the meantime, we are all in stasis, a stasis we can ill-afford, waiting for the Court’s decision. Well, everyone but the health insurance industry, who doubtless will continue to raise premiums.
While the Alaska Legislature is wildly enthusiastic about creating ridiculously harsh sentences, and a presumptive sentencing system that can put repeat offenders in the slammer into their 80s, the Legislature is notoriously miserly about building prisons to house all those convicts.
By preference, and when forced bycourt order to reduce overcrowding, the Legislature will warehouse its prisoners Outside in private stateside prisons, far from their families, their cultures and Alaska. The Legislature has flirted with private prisons in Alaska from time to time, at least until Bill Weimar went to jail for
bribing making illegal campaign contributions to our elected officials in an effort to advance private prisons in Alaska. That was after seemingly every municipality in Alaska had elected not to do business with Weimar.
So, rather than build a prison, the Legislature set out to find a municipality desperate enough to build a prison and then lease it back to the State. It turned out there weren’t so many municipalities that desperate, but Matanuska-Susitna Borough was. So it was that in 2004, SB 65 was enacted into law as chapter 160 SLA 2004. Then-Governor Frank Murkowski was skeptical about the idea – it was kind of whiffy at the time – so he attached some conditions to the project. Mainly, the problem for the State was that if the State of Alaska incurred any more bond debt, its credit rating might get hammered, driving up interest rates and debt service. So the Legislature’s cutesy solution was to lay the bonds of on Mat-Su. Sort of a Find the Lady con worked at the intergovernmental level.
By the time the prison was built, it was $50 million over budget, extremely expensive to operate and the lease payments from the State no longer paid Mat-Su’s bond payments. Several legislators suddenly professed surprise that the prison was 38 miles from the nearest population center, very expensive to operate and about to open its doors. So the State Senate, rather than face the financial music, hired an independent auditor to get to the bottom of it.
His audit is available on-line. It’s not a pretty picture. Among the more egregious unexplained changes: the water and sewer treatment facilities – the new prison is 38 miles from public water and sewer, after all – somehow magically drifted out of the bond package and became a $28 million add-on, on an adjoining parcel of property acquired by Mat-Su from the State, and then, in effect, sold back to the State as a water and sewer facility for $120,000. Those financing decisions are unexplained – the auditor reports that the State of Alaska refused to turn over some 78 pages of emails and documents.
In the meantime, Mat-Su Borough has “disavowed” its own bonds. (WC sure wishes he could that with his bills.) Presumably, the State of Alaska is making the bond payments to the bondholders to avoid damaging the State of Alaska’s bond rating. The prison itself – Goose Creek Correction Center – remains mothballed and completely unused.
So how many prisoners are actually housed in Goose Creek today? None. Zero. Nada.
Among the white elephants that the State of Alaska has created over the years – the barley silo in Valdez; the slaughterhouse in Fairbanks – Goose Creek probably wins some kind of prize as the biggest fiasco so far.
Andrew Halcro is practically frothing at the mouth over all this, but he has a crucial point: why doesn’t the Legislature care about any of this? Why did Senator Bert Stedman (R-Sitka), who initiated the audit, suddenly back away? Does the Legislature have a plan for the care, feeding and use of this latest white elephant?
Not so far, as far as anyone outside the closed door caucuses can tell. Apparently, our Elected Representatives are content to pay debt service on $244 million in revenue bonds after Mat-Su’s “disavowal,” and hire folks to guard Goose Creek Correctional Center from, you know, criminals. Too late.
Not everyone should wear a bikini. Obviously:
WC had absolutely nothing to do with creating this masterpiece. WC swears it. It was just there, on the east side of the road, driving south to Valdez. For those not familiar with the Richardson Highway, this is seriously in the middle of nowhere.
The whole tree had been cut down on the trip back north a couple of days later.
Anyone claims to be her creator can email WC privately.
Readers have likely already recognized that WC is not a fan of House Rep. Tammie Wilson (R. North Pole). But her latest effort, an attempt to abolish public food inspection services by the State, probably will go in the Guiness Book of World Record for Dumb Ideas.
Wilson has introduced HB 202, which would abolish the State of Alaska’s food inspection services and substitute a helpful card notifying the consumer that the food has not been inspected. WC is morally certain that Rep. Wilson’s education did not include reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and has not read the searing, sickening testimony that led to the creation of federal Food Safety and Inspection Service. Apparently, she is anxious to revisit those horrors on her constituents for in-state food services. She also apparently never learned the aphorism about an ounce of prevention and a pound of cure.
“We may sicken and kill dozens of Alaskans each year, but by Christianist God, they puke or die free of the burdens of government regulation.” Hey, it’s not WC’s idea.
Ironically, she is claims to be taking this course of inaction in an effort to “grow” local food service industries; you know, the burdens of regulation and all that. WC won’t presume to speak for his readers, let alone Rep. Wilson, but if a vendor hands him one of Rep. Wilson’s cards WC will take his business elsewhere. WC’s brothers and sisters in the Alaska Bar who practice personal injury law will be dancing in the street, so there is an upside. But for non-personal injury lawyers to reach that upside, you’ll have to suffer food poisoning, paralytic shellfish poisoning or something equally delightful. Or, if you don’t survive, take whatever comfort you can in wealthy heirs. Oh, wait, these food sellers aren’t rich, and don’t have insurance.
As you reflect on Rep. Wilson’s latest brainstorm (a wonderful word, with antithetical meanings: a good idea; a bad idea; sudden clear thinking; sudden confusion and muddy thinking), keep in mind that she’s also famous for enabling citizens of the Fairbanks North Star Borough to collect as much trash on their property as they want, thank you. Perhaps there is a pattern here?
WC expects that next the hardworking Rep. Wilson will introduce a bill to make the value pi equal to exactly 3.0000, because it’s unfair and burdensome for government to impose an irrational number on the public.
The fate of the Affordable Care Act will be handed to the very conservative U.S. Supreme Court this week. There will be three days of oral argument, and then the SCOTUS will take the various challenges to the law under advisement.
This isn’t a surprise. It was a given from the day the bill was signed into law. But there have been a couple of developments since enactment that bear on the SCOTUS’s decision and the climate in which that decision is going to be made.
Historically, citizens have gotten their health care through their employers. But the evidence is overwhelming that employers have been ending health care coverage.
In just three years, the percentage of employers providing health care coverage declined from 63.6% to 53.5%, a decline of 10%. As the graph shows, most of those folks are now uninsured, or are unemployed or marginally employed and eligible for Medicaid. In all of those case, it’s the U.S. paying for their health care coverage, and not the citizens themselves.
If the key provisions of health care reform are struck down by the SCOTUS, the misery is only going to increase. Because delayed health care means more expensive health care, the costs of health care to the nation, already increasing too rapidly, will accelerate.
While WC hasn’t found data to support this, WC suspects that among employers still providing health care, the quality of coverage is contracting (higher deductibles, bigger co-pays, more exclusions) at the same time as premiums increase at multiples of inflation. For WC’s small company, 20% annual premium increases are the norm. If the SCOTuS kills Affordable Care, we can expect those trends to accelerate, as well.
Those citizens who wax hysterical about the intrusion on freedom, or shriek about mandated coverage: think beyond your own pocketbook for a moment, and consider the economic health of the nation as a whole. This simply cannot go on. It will bankrupt our economy. And if you cannot think beyond your own pocketbook, ask yourself what you will do when your employer pulls the pin on your health coverage, because absent a mandate, it is gong to happen.
WC wrote a remembrance for the late Judge Jim Fitzgerald a while back. One comment noted the effort to honor Fitz. WC is pleased to report it has happened, that the federal courthouse in Anchorage will be named the James M. Fitzgerald U.S. Courthouse.
WC wishes it had happened in Fitz’s lifetime, but on the other hand, it would have embarrassed Jim badly. But it is a well-deserved honor. Props to Senators Murkowski and Begich for making it happen.
WC received an email the other day with a link to Mike Daisey’s gross lies about Foxconn. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, go to the episode of This American Life in which host Ira Glass ‘fesses up to having been sucked in by a con artist. The episode is itself pretty amazing; that Mike Daisey, who lied, and lied and lied some more, and apparently thought he’d never be caught, is more amazing still. Anyone who thinks Foxconn is an unmitigated evil, and that Apple is equally evil for doing business with Foxconn needs to listen to the episode.
Then you need to go and read Tim Culpan’s article in Bloomberg’s TechLog, Here’s the conclusion:
There are also things happening at Foxconn that just aren’t sexy to talk about: the cheap accommodation and subsidized food for workers, the Foxconn-run health centers right on campus, the salary that’s well above the government minimum and other companies, the continuous stream of young workers who still want to work there.
The problem with Mike Daisey’s lies is that they’ve painted a picture of the Evil Empire, a place devoid of any happiness or humanity. A dark, Dickensian scene of horror and tears. They also make anyone who tries to tell a fuller, more balanced account look like an Apple or Foxconn apologist because your mind is already full of the “knowledge” of how bad it is there.
To the public, a story about a 19-year-old shrugging her shoulders and claiming work is not so bad just can’t stand up against a 12-year-old working the iPad factory lines. The naïve and youthful smile of a kid having found his first girlfriend at a Foxconn work party pales in comparison to a crippled old man holding an iPad for the first time. Compared to the lies, the truth just doesn’t make good theater.
Can we all abandon are righteousness for a minute and talk about the real issues?
As the New York Times series made clear, Foxconn is not without its problems. Apple, just one of many computer companies whose products are built there, shares some of the blame. But the overwhelming majority of Chinese still spend their days in sweltering heat, trying to grow rice or other crops, weeding, transplanting and nursing plants. It’s awful. It’s so bad that the chance to make some money is an air-conditioned factory is overwhelmingly attractive. The work may involve mind-numbingly boring, repetitive tasks, but it’s far more interesting in far less miserable conditions than your average rice paddy.
No, it’s not perfect. No, WC wouldn’t care for the work himself. But there’s something fundamentally wrong about imposing our values and our standards in a country that is trying to lift itself out of millenia of poverty. Foxconn offers premium jobs. Not perfect, but preferably to the life of Noble Agrarians that too many critics of Foxconn and Apple apparently want to impose on Chinese laborers.
There have been suicides, but the suicide rate at Foxconn is lower than the U.S. suicide rate. There have been injuries and even deaths on the job, but before we get holier than though about it we need to reflect on Upper Big Branch Coal Mine and Massey Coal Company.
No one forces hundreds of Chinese to try to get jobs at Foxconn every day. It’s their choice. It’s the chance of a better life. It’s insufferably arrogant of Americans to deny those opportunities because the new life won’t be as good as ours, or because the opportunity is imperfect.
You can criticize Apple for shipping jobs overseas – Apple has reasons besides profits for making that choice – but if you buy an Apple product, too, then you need to reflect on the risk you are being hypocritical. But Apple’s decision to ship jobs overseas is a different question than Foxconn’s work environment. Ask anyone who has been able to upgrade from a rice paddy to an assembly line.
The Tito Puente, Jr. Orchestra was at Hering Auditorium last night, a part of Fairbanks Concert Association’s 2011-12 concert season. Any dust left in the rafters after k. d. lang, Te Vaka, Sweet Plantain and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was shaken loose as the second generation of the mambo kings rocked down the house.
Tito Puente fils is the proud son and mantle-bearer for the late, great Tito Puente père, multiple Grammy winner and titan of mambo music. Puente fils has assembled an exceptional band: electric piano, electric bass, congas, bongo drums, tenor sax, alto sax, trombone and two trumpets, as well as the kid himself on timbales. Gamalier Reyes, on bongo and vocals, was truly remakable. In an FCA season that has seen some amazing drumming, Reyes probably wins some kind of prize. The band was tight, obviously having a good time and pitch-perfect. The drummers’ ability to weave their rhythms together was especially impressive.
As was the case with Puente père, there are vocals, mostly in Spanish. Puente fils and Reyes have good voices. They had a guest vocalist – a former member of the band who left to join the U.S. Army, and is now a staff sergeant, stationed in Alaska. He’s the cousin of keyboardist and musical director Marlow Rosado. It was a sweet gesture. His singing, though, wasn’t so sweet. It may be that shouting at soldiers for years has damaged the staff sergeant’s voice but, really, that was the only weak point.
Puente fils brings a slightly more jazz-inflected approach to his father’s music. It’s okay with WC; simply re-playing your father’s music is a creative dead end. Most of the songs the band performed were Puente père songs. But the jazz improvisations around the old tunes gave them a new life. It keeps his father’s music alive, but lets him stretch his creative muscle as well. A handful of songs were written by Puente fils for his new CD, Got Mambo, and were quite good; “Junior’s Mambo,” written for his son, in particular was sweet, heart-felt and a fine song.
In the middle of the second set, Puente invited some talented local Fairbanksans on stage to remind the crowd that the scene at the Palladium with Tito Puente père was about dance as well as music. Milly Donay and Pedro ‘Cuban Pete’ Aguliar popularized Latin dancing, starting at the Palladium. The Fairbanks dancers reminded us why.
Puente père’s greatest pop hit was Oye Como Va, which Carlos Santana turned into a #1 hit on his multi-platinum album, Abraxas. So it was fitting that the show closed with a terrific, jazz-inflected version of the song.
Puente fils is a great entertainer, interacts well with the crowd in English and Spanish, and has a smile as infectious as his music. Folks who weren’t dancing in the aisles were bouncing up and down in their seats. He and his band put on a great concert.
It seems increasingly like that the opportunist former governor Romney will be the Republican candidate for President. In an effort to understand the candidate and his positions, WC will undertake a series examining The Mitt’s claims and the reality, looking for correspondence.
We’ll turn first to defense spending.
Numerous sources have reported The Mitt is attacking President Obama for reducing military spending. Bloomberg Businessweek reports,
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of bowing to global adversaries and promised, if elected, to boost America’s military strength by expanding the Navy and missile defenses.
“America must lead the world, or someone else will,” Romney said, reprising the argument from his 2010 book, “No Apology,” that U.S. military strength and leadership are essential to deterring tyrants and keeping world peace. “In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world.”
Let’s look at the reality:
That’s correct. The U.S. not only leads the world, it’s half again larger than the other top ten countries combined. The US defense budget is 825% greater than China’s. That would seem to provide a reasonable safety margin for the next few years, wouldn’t you think.
President Obama hasn’t reduced military spending; it’s 3.6% higher than it was under former president George W. Bush, and that’s with Bush’s land war in Iraq largely concluded.
It’s true that the failure of the so-called Super Committee to agree on deficit reductions triggered future budget reductions, including reductions in defense spending. But that was a Republican-led compromise.
Conclusion: Romney is delusional or lying. The U.S. defense budget is overwhelmingly larger than the combined ten largest defense budgets. President Obama has increased, not decreased, the total defense budget. Romney and REality do not correspond.
Sometimes there are unscripted moments, magic moments, that tell you more about a person than thousands of words ever can:
Stephon stood just a few feet away from Barack Obama. The president, busy shaking hands, looked right at him. “It was like he was waiting for me to say something,” he said later.
So the 26-year-old Prince George’s Community College student took his cue and spoke to President Obama in his first language: American Sign Language. “I am proud of you,” Stephon signed. The president, almost involuntarily, instinctively, immediately signed back.
“Thank you,” Obama replied.
This is one of those moments that humanize the office of the presidency:
WC’s grandniece is deaf, so perhaps this resonates more with WC than it might otherwise. But for WC, this is magic.
Repsol has officially plugged the blown-out gas well on the North Slope. Readers will remember that the well blew out at 10:29 AM on February 15, 2012; the well was officially plugged at 1:30 PM on March 18, 2012. If you had your stop watches going to see how long it would take to plug a blown-out well on land, the answer is
32 days, 3 hours and 1 minute.
As Shell presses ahead with its plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea, 30-50 miles off shore from Wainwright, ask yourself this question: how long will it take to plug a blow-out there?
Doesn’t it seem obvious it will take even longer? And what will be the impact on the admittedly fragile Chukchi Sea in the meantime?
Don’t say a blowout won’t happen, because it has. Don’t say we have the technology to deal with it, because we don’t. Ask instead, at what point does our addiction to petroleum and natural gas become to expensive to bear?
Q: Why does New Jersey have all the Superfund sites and California have all the lawyers?
A: New Jersey got to choose first.
The State Integrity Investigation describes itself as “a $1.5 million public collaboration designed to expose practices that undermine trust in state capitols — and spotlight the states that are doing things right.” It has conducted a study of the corruption risk – not the current level of corruption – in all 50 states.
The idea was to develop criteria to evaluate the risk of corruption. Judging by the number of convictions – Illinois’s four governors who have gone to jail; Massachusetts’ three consecutive house speakers who are in the pen – was deemed too variable. Aggressive prosecutors, federal enforcement when the state governments get corrupt; it was found to be an imprecise measure. Which is just as well, given Alaska’s recent history.
Alaska got a D+ and ranked 27th, just barely in the bottom half. Close call. We nearly flunked! New Jersey finished first.
The limits of WordPress won’t allow WC to put a full link to the graphic here, but here’s a screen shot of Alaska’s report card:
Oddly enough, WC finds the grading to be too generous. If you’ve ever tried to find recent campaign financial reports in the Alaska Public Offices Commission’s on-line database, you know better than to give it a C+, and if you’ve ever tried to find lobbyist reports you know a C is incredibly generous. From the track record of the Alaska Commission on Judicial Qualifications, which is in charge of policing state judges, you’d think the judiciary deserved halos.
Ethics Enforcement Agencies? Two words: Ben Stevens. See what WC means? A C- is very generous. WC’s teachers were a lot tougher with the red pencils than the SII.
If Alaska indeed ranks 27th, the 23 states that are worse must be very bad indeed.
(Memo to The Newt: Perhaps you could direct your considerable energies to your avowed “home state” of Georgia which, on the evidence, could use some help. You have that personal experience in corruption, after all.)
The Anchorage Daily News’ Sean Cockerham has written a nice article on Alaska’s rating, which WC commends to this readers.
As anyone following the news knows by now, an unarmed black teenager named Trayvon Martin was murdered by a gun-toting vigilante in Sanford, Florida. The gunman, George Zimmerman, claims he was acting in “self-defense,” even though he disobeyed the police dispatcher’s instructions. Florida law enforcement authorities claimed that under Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense statute, Zimmerman could not be prosecuted. In the face of a firestorm of public criticism, Florida authorities are reconsidering. And the Feds appear to have a very strong criminal civil rights case against Zimmerman.
But that’s not what WC wants to discuss. The tragedy in Florida will play itself out over the next months and years. There will be civil and criminal trials. There will likely be criminal convictions. None of it will bring Trayvon Martin back.
Here’s the question for Alaskans: Can we not make the same mistake here?
Can we please not enact a similar “stand your ground” self-defense law in Alaska? In the Alaska Legislature, right now, HB 80 would effectively adopt the same law as led to the tragedy in Florida. It’s not a surprise, really; it’s an NRA initiative in the first place.
The House passed this piece of crap bill 33-6 in the First Session. It’s in the Senate now. Serious props to Ass’t D.A. James Fayette who, on his own dime, and using his own vacation time, travelled to Juneau and appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and schooled the committee members in the impact of the bill. Of course, not all state legislators are educable; Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake and Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage announced after Mr. Fayette’s testimony that their minds had not been changed.
If a seasoned felony prosecutor’s testimony can’t change their minds, then perhaps the death of an innocent teenager in Florida will. Or perhaps a majority of our state senators – who collectively have shown a lot more common sense than the house members – will think it through.
Because if the blinkered, unthinking support of the NRA and the Second Amendment leads to enactment of HB 80, Alaska will soon have its own Trayvon Martin, its own innocent killed by a pistol-packing vigilante, who feels “threatened” by someone guilty of walking while being a member of a minority, armed with a bag of skittles and a can of iced tea.
WC doesn’t say this often, but please, Alaskan readers, contact your state senator and tell them to vote against HB 80.
TPM had made an interesting analysis of increases in government spending, neatly summarized in the following graph:
At the end of their first terms, only two of the five presidents had achieved a reduction in federal spending: Clinton and Obama. Reagan and Bush I increased federal spending by 6%; Bush II by a whopping 10%.
Mark Thoma has taken the same data and graphed it per capita:
WC has called this out before. It’s utterly amazing to WC that the Republican Wannabes can make the claims about President Obama that they do. One would assume ex-senator Santorum would be afraid of being struck by lightning from his wrathful deity.
The real question isn’t wrathful, thunderbolt-weilding deities, but rather the voters, the electorate. Will they fall for the Big Lie?
The Republican presidential wannabes’ recent posturings have reminded WC that he has shamefully neglected the ongoing review of logical fallacies. WC has visited the Ad Hominem attack; the Big Lie and the Non Sequitur have been discussed. Certainly we have seen the Republican yokels use all three. Today we turn to a political and religious favorite, the Argument from Ignorance.
The best definition WC knows comes from Carl Sagan’s excellent book, The Demon Haunted World:
Appeal to ignorance: the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa. (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore, UFOs exist, and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
One of WC’s Christianist, anti-evolutionary acquaintances gave WC a lovely example of this fallacy: “I’ve never seen a monkey give birth to a human, so I know evolution is false.” Another example comes out of the Samantha Koenig disappearance in Anchorage: the police say there is no evidence the missing barrista is dead, so she must be alove.
Partly, this fallacy lies in the inability to see the world in anything but black and white, without shades of gray. Partly it is an intolerance of ambiguity in a world that is essentially ambiguous. It’s entrenched in Christianism: “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” Matthew 12:30.
Bivalence has its place – the boolean logic of computers is built on simple true/false values. But bivalence doesn’t work so well when applied to the vagueness of human affairs. Particularly when there are no absolute measures. Eubulides of Miletus formulated the sorites paradox:
A heap of sand has 10,000 grains (Premise 1)
A heap of sand minus one grain is still a heap (Premise 2)
At what point is Premise 2 false? Can you continue to apply it until there’s only one grain of sand remaining? If not, when do you cross the line from “heap” to “not heap”?
But at fundamental levels, ambiguity is built in to the universe. Consider Schroedinger’s Cat. While the box remains closed, we cannot know if the cat is alive or dead. It’s ambiguity. We have to live with it.
Presidential wannabe Santorum’s position on man=made climate change sounds mostly in an appeal to ignorance:
Santorum said global warming is a plot by “radical environmentalists” to “consolidate power.” It is “an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.”
WC will grant that there’s some unhealthy paranoia there, too. But the heart of it is that for Santorum, anthropogenic climate change hasn’t been proven true, and therefore must be false.
Remember, correlation is not causation, either. But in all but the most controlled circumstances, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Most advertising goes by WC without notice. It’s probably adaptive behavior in the 21st Century. But occasionally an ad comes along which grabs even WC’s jaundiced, cynical eye.
Certainly Alaska Airlines’ Salmon Thirty Salmon back in 2005 is an example of an ad that will make you do a double take:
(This is a promo shot from Alaska Air. Note the clearcuts in background. Oops.)
Sam Ash Music in New York City has a brilliant riff on an articulated bus.
But for WC, the current champion, eye-catching, double-take ad is this beauty for the Copenhagen Zoo.
For more examples of busvertising, try these.
WC got a tip from unnamed Alaska Dog Mushers Association official that Paula Poundstone would be making a surprise appearance in the AARP mushing event Saturday in downtown Fairbanks.
The AARP mushing event – and it really is sponsored by AARP – involves geriatric dogs and geriatric mushers, a complicated scoring system and fills the time between when the Open North American Mushers go out and when they start coming back.
Poundstone was a trooper, although her sled dogs were much more interested in running the full course than in turning around after one block and running back. It wasn’t Poundstone’s fault, but she finished last.
But that was the only disappointing thing about Poundstone’s appearance in Fairbanks. Her show at the University of Alaska’s David Concert Hall was packed, and Poundstone was in good form. Her comic chops are sharp, her wit is cutting and she doesn’t take prisoners. Her interviews of randomly selected members of the audience gave her themes to which she returned.
But out of an evening of laughs, for WC the best moment when, in response to an audience comment, she told the crowd that Sarah Palin had been good for America. Laughing, she reminded us, releases endorphins, which help us relax. And Palin, Poundstone reminded us, has certainly caused us to release a lot of endorphins.
At the post-show reception, Poundstone confirmed to WC she came back largely because she had so much fun in Fairbanks as one of the panel of comics on “Wait, Wait – Don’t Tell Me!” this past summer. We’re happy she did, and we hope she comes back again.
WC gave her an 8 x 10 copy of the photo at the top of this page. She was kind enough to autograph a copy. When we left the post-show reception, she was still greeting folks, letting her photo be taken and cuddling Eli, the month old baby of WC’s friends, Steve and Lauren.
Thanks again, Paula Poundstone. It was a fine show.