Saturday, January 31, 2015

Short: Radicals sowing civil conflict

This idea makes lots of sense: radicals like to create conflict. They thrive at times of disruption, and they often aim to create extra disruption, not just take advantage of disruption already occurring.

It's strange then that I saw only one article that applied this idea to the islamist-inspired killing rampage at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. What's the real reason for that attack?
"Al Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination."
Sow a bunch of hate and violence, and then feed off of the result. This might be a successful strategy for radical groups like Al-Queda and ISIS. So far, however, the French don't seem to be taking the bait, at least not in substantial numbers. The goal of turning the French violently against their Muslim population may not be achieved.

That's a good reflection on France, that they won't meet violence with revenge against those not involved. If only that idea would spread to the Middle East, then the sectarian bombings and wars might cease.
Coming together, not splitting apart

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Last outpost of crazy: Donald Trump again

Fox News headline:

Trump: Republicans can't be so stupid to give Romney a second chance

... or to give Trump a first chance. Thank God the Republicans aren't THAT stupid!

Why does this blowhard still have a podium?

Trump endorses Romney 2012--but that's not stupid?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Year in review 2014

Again, here are my favorite images from this past year. I love what they add to the words.

Not enough jobs--not a new problem.

Picture of a tragedy.

Empire strikes back.

Cairo apartments--too many, with roofs full of trash.

Notorious liberal.

Did you notice we survived 2014?


According to conservatives, the world was almost certainly going to end in 2014. The Russians were overrunning Ukraine (due to Obama's incompetence), ISIS was going to take over the Middle East and launch massive attacks on western countries (due to Obama's incompetence), and Ebola was going to decimate the US (due to Obama's incompetence).

If these things didn't happen, does that mean that Obama isn't as incompetent as portrayed? According to classic symbolic logic (if X, then Y), yes, it means Obama isn't as incompetent as stated. But, honestly, 1) conservatives aren't interested in logic and 2) classic symbolic logic is so limited as to be pretty useless. Here's a little known fact--logic doesn't deal with actual causation. 'If then' isn't necessarily a causal statement in classic logic. This is deeply disappointing.

Crisis contained - Russia and Ukraine

I think Obama did pretty well in each of these crises, mostly by not flipping out. Instead of starting a war with heavily armed Russians, he encouraged the Ukrainians to stand up for themselves, which is a VERY GOOD THING. More countries should do this instead of whining for the US to intervene and also conveniently bear most of the costs. The sanctions have hurt, but what's even better is that Obama has let the Russians show their true nature--militaristic liars. If we had gone to war, the narrative could have been that the US is the world-wide bully, and the Russians are heroes making a stand against the US. Instead, the Russians are the local bully, and the Ukrainians are the heroes. Other countries around Europe are seeing that you can make a stand against Russia. (At least I hope this analysis is correct. World affairs isn't my strength.)

(As an aside: This also bolsters the first lesson I learned that disproved a liberal tenet. Liberals said that demilitarization was good and morally superior. I learned, by observation, that being strong enough to defend your country was much more important, and the supposed moral superiority of demilitarization was hogwash. Liberals are so stupid sometimes that it boggles my mind.)

Crisis tested - ISIS

The surge of ISIS definitely was a crisis instead of being a faux-crisis trumped up by opponents. Obama reacted in way we haven't seen before--turning the crisis into a teaching moment. That may sound ridiculous--that you would allow a deadly crisis to play out instead of ending it as soon as possible. But I think this was the right approach.

In the Mideast, as in much of the world, too many people want the US to swoop in and save them (while also conveniently bearing most of the costs). It's a VERY GOOD THING for countries to get a reality check that the US might not be willing to do this, so they better be ready to defend themselves. Plus, they may want to identify threats early and do their best to avoid them.

Perhaps some people in Iraq finally learned the lesson this time. If you oppress large numbers of Sunnis, you create an angry insurgency that will try to take over the country. So don't oppress them. That's a relatively simple lesson that Iraq government under Nouri al-Maliki refused to learn. (Another aside--much of the Mideast, having been locked into strong-man dictatorships for so long, is now learning a lot of lessons. The learning process is important, so we shouldn't short-circuit it by swooping in like a helicopter parent.)

Crisis wildly overestimated - Ebola

The last threat that we survived was Ebola. The conservative response was so stereotypical as to be laughable. Talk about people not learning lessons--the conservatives really don't seem to understand science, and that the US response was going to be scientifically sound and based on evidence. So we brought a few infected citizens back to the US for treatment, and we learned from doing it. When we made mistakes, we learned and didn't repeat those mistakes. It is so incredibly simple, but partisan politicians seem not to know how to learn from mistakes. This is very strange, and I'll have to research why reality doesn't force politicians to learn.

Crisis for dollars - Underage immigrants

While we're reviewing crises that didn't pan out, there was one liberal crisis that didn't end up nearly as horrible as predicted. The crisis of immigrant minors crossing the US-Mexico borders supposedly required an infusion of $3.7 billlion. Not surprising, but the House did not dutifully comply with the request. Somehow, the Obama administration managed to deal with the crisis without the cash, so perhaps they didn't need the money after all.

Congratulations, everyone, we survived! Well, to be more specific, congratulations everyone except:

  • Militaristic Russians
  • ISIS and their sugar daddies
  • Stubborn Iraqi politicians
  • Overheated American conservatives
  • Pollyanna American liberals

Trust whom?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Short: Oh no, she isn't!

Sarah Palin 'seriously interested' in 2016 bid

That's the headline to this Politico story. Is anyone stupid enough to believe this bimbo charlatan? Answer: probably yes. Plenty of idiots believed in her in 2008 and then in 2012, when she teased and teased.

However, the piece shows how unserious she is. "I'd rather talk football" sums it up. Gaaagggg!

Looney Tunes for President

Same day update. The Hindenburg windbag Donald Trump says he's thinking about running for president too. This jackass circus is brought to us by the "Freedom Summit" in Iowa. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The strange struggle between NYC cops and mayor

I'm having a very hard time understanding the disagreement between the New York City cops and the mayor. Why are the cops so incredibly pissed off at Mayor DeBlasio? He's not directly responsible for a maniac from Georgia shooting and killing two cops in Brooklyn. (Who's directly responsible? Obviously the guy who did it, but he killed himself so there goes the chance for vengeance.)

Is DeBlasio indirectly responsible for the cops' deaths? Wow, that's a tough one... that reasoning works only if you include as 'indirectly responsible' anyone who makes the public criticism of lethal police action. If that's true, millions of people are indirectly responsible. See--it makes no sense, at least on the surface.

The case against DeBlasio

When a situation makes no sense on the surface, there are usually factors below the surface, and that's the case here. It was fascinating to read a non-ranting explanation of why the police force is upset with the mayor. DeBlasio ran as a progressive who would end police stop-and-frisk policies and give a friendlier ear to minority complaints. In itself, that shouldn't anger the police. However, DeBlasio took that friendship to places that were bordering on offensive. DeBlasio has embraced Al Sharpton as a major ally, even seating him in a place of honor at a large public event that was supposed to be conciliatory. Sharpton has never apologized for the times he was wrong about supposedly racial incidents--not for his role at Ferguson, and not for the Tawana Brawley accusations. This is a double-standard that supports minority grievances and blames police 100% of the time, so I understand how the mayor's embrace of him angers the police. As a bit more gasoline on the fire, the boyfriend and son of a top aide to DeBlasio's wife tweeted remarks about 'pigs.' There are to be plenty of reasons for the police to be angry with the mayor.

The case against the NYC police

But it's equally fascinating to see forces within the police pour accelerant on their justified anger. Possibly even before the shooting of two officers on Dec. 20, some police circulated a request that the mayor stay away from police funerals (not it's not a new tactic). The head of the PBA (Patrolmans Benevolent Association) said that many people had blood on their hands and it "starts at City Hall in the Office of the Mayor."

And of course there's the biased media

I consider that rhetoric to be over the top, but it's not the only extreme rhetoric against the mayor. In the New York Post (a Murdoch-owned newspaper with pulp standards), a columnist wrote:
"Determined not to let a crisis go to waste, the mayor has spent the last two days cranking up the volume and the vitriol of his anti-cop agenda... Imagine that. The city is in turmoil over the Staten Island case and the mayor throws gasoline on the fire by painting the entire police force as a bunch of white racist brutes. Has he no shame? He certainly has no facts."
It's unlikely that the mayor "has no facts" or that he said anything like "the entire police force as a bunch of white racist brutes." Attributing those sentiments to him is vilification, which is obviously what the columnist intended to do. 

It's not just a local fight either. Here's Bill O'Reilly:
"...many on the left believe the American police are the guardians of the oppressive justice system. They prop it up.
Apparently that is what Mayor de Blasio believes, that there is injustice among his own police officers... That point of view that the left is putting out there saying the police are instruments of oppression rather than a protective force is causing outrage on the part of the cops themselves. Any fair-minded person can understand that. It is easy.
...'Talking Points' believes Mayor de Blasio does not respect law enforcement, has directly insulted each and every member of the New York City Police Department and should resign his position."
O'Reilly mixing in a few reasonable points, but he ends up over-the-top nonetheless--calling for the mayor to resign not for what the mayor did, but for how the most disgruntled can spin it.

Strangely (again), the head of the PBA (Patrick Lynch) got some of his own medicine, as some police shouted at him that they wanted more equipment, not the apology that Lynch insists on. Pushing ensued, but no injuries. Polls show pushback from the populace against the disrespect among the police.

Reasonable protest vs. sickening protest

So far I've given more criticism to the police and conservative media who are fanning the flames. But what has the mayor done to worsen the situation? Working with Sharpton and similar minority individuals and groups. The rhetoric of these groups varies. Some marchers against the lack of criminal charges from the death of Eric Garner chanted "Black Lives Matter" and "Hands up, don't shoot." On the other hand, one break-away group chanted for "Dead cops."

The extreme groups are definitely a problem that taint those protesting police actions. How do you draw a line between a peaceful protester and those a short distance away who are burning and looting? For the peaceful protester, the choice is tough, You may not want to give up a legitimate protest, yet you don't want to be associated with unwarranted hooligan behavior.

I personally have no trouble distinguishing between different types of protesters, but it's not just that some are responsible and some are violent. Some advocates, like Sharpton, will never change their rhetoric, even when the evidence shows that guilt and innocence weren't as originally portrayed. I don't know whether DeBlasio looks at evidence or not. I know that many of his detractors don't look at evidence, however. Is there something wrong with DeBlasio supporting retraining so that police use less force? I can't see what's wrong with that. We consider changes in medical procedures all the time to reduce negative outcomes. This is an intelligent response, not a hateful one.

Why do folks have to hate?

Maybe what surprises me the most is that too many people reach for the hateful response. There were responsible demonstrators in Ferguson who stopped looting, and then there were the looters. There are the people hoping that police will be killed ("pigs in a blanket, smells like bacon"), and then there are the ones who mocked the dying words of Eric Garner, who died during an arrest. Why all this nastiness?

And even among those who aren't as hateful as this, why can't they work to find some middle ground and understand the important issues for the other side? Do we have to vilify everyone who doesn't agree 100%?

I'm rather hoping that the people of New York City will be able to demonstrate how to let tempers cool and move on to a more productive dialogue. Maybe that hope is crazy, but the alternative is even more heated words and protests. There won't be a constant ratcheting up, cooling will happen sometime, so now is a good time for it. I recommend a new chant:


Extras. The police chief of Nashville is an example of cooling tempers. What would happen if you screamed into the face of a white cop? It depends on the cop, what kind of day he's had, and lots of things.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Political Lie Machine: Self-serving predictions

Contrary to an abundance of evidence, Hillary Clinton isn't running for president, or at least she won't be running.

That's according to some hackish journalist writing for the conservative Washington Times. Let's see what he says: She doesn't have the fire in the belly. She doesn't want to spend her golden years working 16 hours a day and sleeping in unfamiliar beds. He theorizes that there's a "hard blue flame" that drives the winners, and declares Hillary doesn't have it.

Excuse me, but did George Bush (either of them) have a hard blue flame? No, they didn't. They were candidates of convenience. It's a bunch of bullshit to think tremendous, unabridged ambition is required to become president.

Of course the article correctly claims Hillary has a mountain of negatives. This is true, but it's also true of every other candidate for president. Their opponents dearly wish that these negatives would disqualify the hated candidate. But it just doesn't seem to happen.  From reading Bernstein, I know the qualifications you need to win a nomination, but there's no clear list of what 1) disqualifies candidates, or 2) ensures you win the general election.

It used to be that a divorced candidate couldn't win high office, yet Reagan disproved that. It used to be that no woman or black or hispanic could win, but that obviously isn't true anymore. People want to believe that no one with such-and-such a black mark can win the presidency, and then they conveniently fill in the disqualifying event. But it just isn't so. Probably every single president has at some point been declared disqualified, and those predictions were wrong, wrong, wrong. This is just a particularly stupid example of the genre.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Last outpost of crazy headlines: Boehner's bartender

"John Boehner’s bartender planned to poison him at Ohio country club"

That's only part of the wackiness. Let's see--according to this news story, the bartender turned himself in, perhaps because he was trying to get his bartending job back! 

He also claimed to be Jesus Christ and Boehner is the devil. Is this a case of someone taking a statement from a conservative source ("Boehner is the devil" or some such) literally instead of figuratively?

Well, probably not. I recognize this as manic behavior from someone who's gone off their meds, and I mean this literally, not as an internet insult. I've seen it often and in different forms, and once even called the applicable counseling service three days before the person ended up in a psych unit. Bipolar disorder is a common mental health issue among us wacky humans. I bet everyone knows someone with it. But I digress... 

Still, I wish everyone would desist from calling others 'the devil.' Some people can't process those statements appropriately, and we don't really need the vitriol. Give it a rest... and please drink and talk responsibly!


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lies on campus... or rape on campus?

I have little idea what is really happening on college campuses. Is there an epidemic of rape? I don't know. A journalist and the editors of Rolling Stone, who should know this better than me, published an account of a gang rape on campus that turned out to have a lot of holes. The complaining female student used a pseudonym for herself and everyone else involved.

One problem - Shoddy journalism

However, unlike many fabricated news stories, this one isn't a total lie thrown together from pieces of others' stories with generous exaggerations. People treating this story as only an example of bad journalism are missing an important point.

Yes, there was incredibly shoddy journalism with zero verification of the story. This story could easily have been totally false--a complete fabrication on the part of the woman/student telling it. We all know that this sometimes happens: Tawana Brawley wasn't raped by police officers and an assistant DA, and Susan Smith's children weren't murdered by a black man who carjacked them.

Another problem - Sexual assault at frats

In this case, elements of the story do appear to be true. The three friends have come forward and told a different story on the record. The victim called them in the early morning, was clearly traumatized, and told about a much-anticipated date turning into coerced oral sex by five frat members. That's not a gang rape by seven men, but it's not nothing either.

Yet even this part of the story may not be true. The actual name of the 'date' seems to been have fabricated by the accuser. Text messages were exchanged, but none of the three friends ever met the 'date' and it turns out that no student of that name ever attended the university. The accuser seems to have lied to her friends years ago, and kept on lying--to rape crisis counselors, to survivors' groups, and to a gullible journalist. (Just an observation, but gullibility isn't a good trait for a journalist.)

More problems - Student destructiveness and irresponsibility

Nonetheless, is there a major problem on campuses? I live in a college town, and my experience is that, yes, there are big problems on campus. There is a drinking and partying culture that sometimes runs rampant and ends up in riot, injury, and ridiculous amounts of property destruction. Maybe the riot part is getting better (or maybe it's just reported with less outrage). It's not hard to imagine that rape is a problem too, especially in light of the rapes of a minor in Steubenville, as just one example.

How should we deal with these issues? That's a very difficult question. We have a concentration of people who are of legal age, so they can't be treated as minors. However, they aren't generally very mature.

My background in psychology says that when you want to change behavior, you have to manipulate the contingencies. You have to understand what will motivate people to change in the direction you want them to go. But this doesn't always work, as any addictions counselor, police officer, teacher, or parent will tell you.

To understand how complex this can be, read this fascinating article about fraternities (by Caitlin Flanagan, the same author that inspired this post). Fraternities want to be places where college men have a lot of fun. That has motivated them to figure out legal and financial ways to avoid the legal and financial liability associated with that fun (which is often fueled by alcohol, drugs, and poor judgment). How are you going to change their motivation so that avoiding responsibility is no longer their goal?

That is why I doubt that new rules at the University of Virginia will be enough to change the situation where a story of a gang rape or coerced oral sex in a fraternity was all too believable.


Update 3/15/15. Two important stories involving fraternities this week. First is the video of frat members from the University of Oklahoma chanting an anti-black racist song during a chartered bus trip. Second is very sexual, racist, and arrogant email from last year that includes the valedictory "Fuck consent." It reminds me of the slogan "No means yes, yes means anal." That slogan caused the closure of a couple of fraternities. Gang-rape isn't too hard to imagine at a frat, is it?

Update 3/17/15. Another frat behaving badly.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

GOPers hate their House leaders

It's no surprise that John Boehner held on to his position as Speaker of the House, despite all the conservative media that seem to hate him. The conservative media and their zipperhead followers seemed to think Boehner was about to be overthrown. They unfortunately overlooked the reality that most of the country and the GOP isn't as right-wing as they are, and they are in fact a rather small minority.

However, in one way the Tea Party types are correct. No one seems to like John Boehner. Who is standing up and lauding him for his clarity of vision or great leadership?  In contrast, Nancy Pelosi is frequently praised by her caucus. This is a strange difference... so I must investigate, or at least cogitate and speculate.

Looking at this historically, it seems that the GOP wasn't enthralled with their last Speaker either. Denny Hastert wasn't a fiery Speaker either that many in the GOP seem to long for. The last Speaker who had some of that fire was Newt Gingrich. But unfortunately, Newt was also rather too blustery and egotistical, so he resigned when his leadership proved counterproductive.

So it seems that the GOP has been fated in the past two decades to never have a satisfying leader in the House. If they managed to elect another popular firebrand, he would probably cause too many headaches as Newt did. Most GOP representatives seem to know this, so they've elected more moderate leaders for their last two speakers.

These leaders might be taking on the Speaker's office as a favor to the party. They know they won't be popular, and that the conservative media will revile them, but someone has to sacrifice and take one for the team. That's what I think Boehner is doing. He has taken on a nearly impossible job, and will get no thanks for it. Maybe there are some perks that he really likes, such as tossing rebels off committees or perhaps assigning them tiny basement offices.

I'm afraid I can imagine all too well that it's satisfying to 1) keep your caucus from exploding, and 2) mete out petty punishments to the poorly behaved children in the caucus. Yikes! I might have the personality to be a GOP Speaker of the House. Quick, shoot me!


Extras. Bernstein series on Boehner here and here and here.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Will we see a battle for the GOP's soul?

Is the GOP the party of the white working class traditionalists, or a modern business-friendly party? Is it for crony capitalism where everyone gets a piece, or for small government?

This has been a big question ever since Reagan pretended that he was for small government, but never followed through. So many Republicans since then have winked and lied to the electorate about being for small guvmint, and the lie has taken root with conservative talk radio and the non-elites who think they are now the heart of the GOP.

First contender - Louie Gohmert

Maybe we will see the answer to this question in the next few years. Some of the Tea Party types are again hopeful that they can overthrow the business/establishment GOP leaders, as Louie Gohmert challenges John Boehner for leadership in the House.

To most people, Louie Gohmert is the embarrassing fool who talks about the dangers of letting gays (with their strength-sapping sex-same massage techniques) in the military. He probably denies evolution, and doesn't think that we should have freedom of religion for non-Judeochristians. I don't know that Gohmert espouses these religious views, but it would be all of the same piece if he did.

However, to some people, Louie Gohmert "is a good conservative- he’s been on Hannity a number of times." Wow, to some people, Louie Gohmert isn't a laughingstock! Who would have thunk it?

Nonetheless, it's highly unlikely that Gohmert will prevail as he tries to win the speakership. The true conservatives will probably be thwarted by the establishment yet again.

Weightier contender - Jeb Bush

The bigger contest will be for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Jeb Bush looks like he's going to run, and he isn't going to pretend to be more conservative than he is. He's sitting out an anti-immigrant conference (or at least that's the spin from the liberal MSM).

If Jeb Bush can blatantly run as a moderately conservative Republican and win the nomination, that will say a lot about the GOP. It will be a repudiation of the trope of 'true conservatism,' meaning the conservatism that desires to roll back almost everything since the 1960's. It would be a boon to rationality for this kind of conservatism to be defeated because this conservatism is chock-full of contradictions. They can't decide whether they are for or against Medicare, for or against Social Security. Many lie to themselves about how the government actually spends our tax dollars. They imagine that they are taxed heavily and benefit lightly while deadbeats make out like bandits. They refuse to see how they (or Granny) are actually the huge beneficiaries of taxation.

It would be great if Jeb Bush would run as a conservative who looks at the budget and tells the truth about it. It's good whenever any politician in any party does that. I don't know that Jeb Bush will do this, and I'm not counting on it, but maybe he'll get closer to this than any other GOP politician. And it could be that his wing of the party, including business people who regularly look at balance sheets, will be ready to hear that kind of message.

I keenly hope for this, but not because I believe in Jeb Bush or because I'm tired of the Dems. I hope for a heavyweight in either party who will run a campaign based on hard numbers instead of inflated hopes and vaguely sketched proposals. What would Americans do if someone confronted them with the truth? That would be a telling experience!


Extra. Another bozo running against Boehner: Ted Yoho.

Update 1/7/15. I have to chuckle about how the conservative media caters to (or lies to) their audience. These guys don't have the numbers, but their media outlets never tell them that hard truth. Here's just one example:
"I am tired of all this big talk from all these people who keep losing. And losing. And losing. They talk this big game, but they still haven’t defunded Obamacare. They still haven’t gutted the Environmental Protection Agency or shut down the Education Department. Call me a bad loser, but it is well past time for these people to shut up all their talk and start winning." 
Even in his rant against big talk, the author still doesn't acknowledge that the policies don't have the support at the ballot box.