Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A deal with Iran

I've been reading suspicious things coming from Iranian and American officials. The sort of things that only make sense in the context of an imminent deal. Just making a prediction =).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?

In genesis 18:23, God agrees to spare an entire city for the sake of ten innocent men, if they are to be found. As it turns out, they aren't there, so God's angels torch the city, evacuating the one innocent man and his family. This serves to illustrate one potential advantage that God has over the US Military: he can be 100% sure whether a suspect is guilty or innocent.

We can't. So when we pick up random people in Afghanistan or Iraq, there are a lot of possibilities. They could be members of Al Qaeda, or they may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Heck, the prisoner may be just some local dude who had a vendetta against NATO because a drone killed his wife but he has no knowledge of al Qaeda or terrorist activities. Not every German solder in WW2 was a Nazi; some were good men who were drafted into service or who were defending their homes from Soviets. Unlike God in the case of Sodom, we just don't know. That is just one good reason, among many, why we shouldn't just torture all of our prisoners to be on the safe side.

Meanwhile, we find Liz Cheney developing aspirations to follow in her father's political footsteps. And of course, that includes justifying and advocating torture (if the Nazis and Pol Pot used it, its safe to call it torture). Speaking at a conservative conference, Liz Cheney took Obama to task for his policies on interrogation:

“Mr. President, in a ticking time-bomb scenario, with American lives at stake,” she said, “are you really unwilling to subject a terrorist to enhanced interrogation to get information that would prevent an attack?”

Ah, the ticking time bomb scenario. This is an argument that torture enthusiasts use to capture emotional support for their policies. And its effective! Who wouldn't torture bin Laden in a heartbeat to save even one American life?

This is a snippet of what infuriates me about the mainstream right in America today; namely, the reliance on emotional arguments to achieve political goals. Its a horrible way to formulate policy. Whether its opposing healthcare reform by claiming death panels are going to euthanize grandma, opposing everything else by calling Obama a fascist, or using the ticking time bomb scenario to justify torture, the arguments appeal to instinct rather than logic. Considering the ticking time bomb scenario in particular, there are many good reasons why its an absurd concept:

1. Most terrorist attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan are suicide in nature, as were the attacks on 9/11. Terrorists don't use ticking time bombs. They are ticking time bombs.

2. The scenario requires that this terrorist has managed to somehow plant a powerful explosive device inside America, but waited long enough to detonate it to actually get captured. This is the sort of thing that happens all the time in movies, but not so much in real life.

3. Somehow, we have to find out there *is* a bomb. I'm not quite sure how we come across this information. Does the prisoner just up and tell us to taunt us? Do we find out from some other terrorist? Who knows, but we're pretty damn sure of this intelligence if we're willing to justify torturing someone who may actually be an American citizen (Cheney makes no distinctions, after all).

4. Now we need to torture the terrorist in order to figure out where the bomb is. At this point, we run into the non-trivial problem of the fact that torture is a notoriously unreliable way to get information. Since the terrorist knows the bomb will explode in some short amount of time, he just has to give his captors enough false leads to buy enough time for the bomb to explode.

Pretty far fetched scenario, right? But there is one more point that I haven't mentioned yet. Imagine all of the above points are satisfied. Somehow I have a terrorist tied to a chair in Indianapolis. I know with 100% certainty that he planted a nuke somewhere. The clock is ticking. Lets assume I watch "24" (I don't) and so I know how to torture someone really well. If all of those conditions are met, AM I REALLY GOING TO NOT DO IT BECAUSE THERE IS A LAW AGAINST IT???

People break laws all the time. I sometimes speed. I even run a red light here and there. If I have to choose between breaking the law, or letting the city of Indianapolis get nuked along with all of my family and friends, am I really going to hesitate? Besides, I bet the president would pardon someone who stopped a nuclear terrorist attack.

The issue of torture should go far beyond just the fact that it is a national embarrassment. For religious people, it should be absolutely unacceptable. God in the Old Testament, as demonstrated by his actions at Sodom, wasn't willing to harm innocents in the pursuit of the guilty. Jesus Christ would CERTAINLY not be OK with torture. And yet, the religious right seems to have no problem with the sin being perpetrated in their name, and actually seems to support it from a political perspective.

***** Update *****

Here is a classic case. A GOP politician gets worked into a tizzy because of some affront to "Christian" values. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ):

"Obama's first act as president of any consequence, in the middle of a financial meltdown, was to send taxpayers' money overseas to pay for the killing of unborn children in other countries," said Frank. "Now, I got to tell you, if a president will do that, there's almost nothing that you should be surprised at after that. We shouldn't be shocked that he does all these other insane things. A president that has lost his way that badly, that has no ability to see the image of God in these little fellow human beings, if he can't do that right, then he has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity."

It sure is funny that the only sins that Republican Christians find time to condemn are those that are predominantly associated with the opposition party, isn't it? Torture is OK, but homosexuality is not! Its almost as if they're using religion to get votes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Obama and protectionism

I obviously strongly disapprove of Obama's stupid tire tarriff against the Chinese. Before we all freak out, however, lets keep some things in perspective.

Fair and Balanced.

Unbiased Journalism?

This clip shows footage of a Fox News reporter propagandist who is working a crowd into a frenzy at the idiotic tea party protest in Washington, D.C. He then does an interview for the show later, pretending to be an unbiased observer rather than an active participant of the event.

My favorite thing about these protests is hearing people claim that they want "their voices heard". Its almost as if they've never even heard of the concept of an election.

There may be a lot of people who think they sympathize with the sentiments that have led to these tea party events. The truth is, they don't. There is certainly plenty of intellectual criticism of health care reform going around, but none of it is to be found at these protests. These protests are emotionally driven. They are about anger, about bitterness, about disappointment and an unwillingness to accept the outcome of an election. They are even about racism.

Which makes it all the more ironic when you see pictures of Obama with a Hitler-esque mustache, or posters comparing Obama to a fascist, or reminders that Hitler was also a good orator. These are all superficial observations that are jumped upon by those with very limited mental capacity. Here is a deeper insight. Hitler's speeches were about emotion. They were about fomenting pent-up range, about the treaty of Versailles, "Jewish betrayal", or other such "injustices" against Germany. Hitler was a master speaker, but his method was to whip his crowd into an emotional frenzy. Contrast that to an Obama speech. He makes intellectual points. He seeks to calm our emotions, to reason with us, to reach a middle ground.

So lets be real about it. If we're going to throw around accusations of fascist, Hitler-esque behavior, lets do it right. The "conservative movement" is being led by a bunch of fat, drug abusing, demagogic blowhards. The movement is backed by a dominant propaganda machine, Fox News, which is in turn backed by corporate America and all of its interests.

In fact, there are only two real differences between the budding German fascists of the 1930s and today's conservative movement. The Nazis had a clear leader; that is one difference. Today's republican party has no such equivalent. The other difference is that the Nazis had a base of public support beyond just those with what appear to be very below-average IQs. Although to be fair, I could be wrong about that second point. I may be underestimating how far a movement can get by just manipulating the dumbest elements of society.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Obama and Republicans

My support for Obama in the general election, from a policy point of view, was more about a rejection of the direction of the GOP than an embrace of Obama's policy ideas. Ultimately I've always considered myself a member of some entity that exists apparently only in my imagination, a moderate republican party. I was hoping that the GOP defeat in 2008 would give the Republicans some much needed time to rethink their policy, restructure their organization, and come back stronger the next time.

The reality is that the GOP has descended deeper in a spiral of madness. The fringe extremists that were held in check by the seemingly moderate in retrospect George W. Bush have now all but taken control of the party. My disgust with the Democratic leadership in congress, and their inability to accomplish anything, and disappointment with Obama's executive record thus far, is far overshadowed by my revulsion of everything about the GOP today. I voted for Obama in 2008 in large part to accomplish a more central objective: destroy the GOP as it had developed under George W. Bush. That goal has yet to be accomplished, and will continue to be my main motivation for as long as it takes.

From the New Yorker, with my favorite bit being highlighted with bold text:

Perhaps it was naïve, and obviously it was optimistic, to hope that once Obama—having been elected by a large and undisputed majority, unlike his two predecessors—took office the nastiness of the assault against him would subside. And so it did, briefly. But as the reality sank in that this temperamentally conservative President intends to make good on his substantively progressive promises, the fury returned, uglier than before and no longer subject to the minimal restraints inherent in a national electoral campaign aimed at persuading a plurality of voters. Lies and fantasies about health-care reform swirled together with lies and fantasies about the chief executive himself. Obama is plotting to set up “death panels,” government tribunals authorized to euthanize the old and sick. Obama was born in Kenya and therefore his very Presidency is unconstitutional. Obama will cut Medicare benefits to provide coverage to illegal aliens. Obama seeks to indoctrinate children in Marxist ideology and put teenagers in “reëducation camps.” Obama is a Communist. Obama is a Fascist.

This sort of lunatic paranoia—touched with populism, nativism, racism, and anti-intellectualism—has long been a feature of the fringe, especially during times of economic bewilderment. What is different now is the evolution of a new political organism, with paranoia as its animating principle. The town-meeting shouters may be the organism’s hands and feet, but its heart—also, Heaven help us, its brain—is a “conservative” media alliance built around talk radio and cable television, especially Fox News. The protesters do not look to politicians for leadership. They look to niche media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and their scores of clones behind local and national microphones. Because these figures have no responsibilities, they cannot disappoint. Their sneers may be false and hateful—they all routinely liken the President and the “Democrat Party” to murderous totalitarians—but they are employed by large, nominally respectable corporations and supported by national advertisers, lending them a considerable measure of institutional prestige.

Friday, September 11, 2009

France pwns America

This is a game changer: France is going to impose a carbon tax. The money derived from that tax will be then redistributed to households in the form of a green check. Thus, the tax is revenue neutral; it will simply shift incentives away from carbon emission.

This should be a political winner in the USA. Democrats should support a carbon tax because it would obviously result in lower CO2 emissions and reduce global warming. Republicans should support a carbon tax because it would shift petroleum consumption revenues away from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Venezuela. Furthermore, if the tax was revenue neutral like the French are doing, the Republicans would have no concerns that this is additional taxation and growth in government.

For anyone who has ever been to Europe: have you noticed how small the cars are? How much better the public transit is? There is a reason for that. The Europeans have had higher taxes on gasoline than America for years. Hence, we drive enormous SUVs and the Europeans do their thing. It is now we who are beholden to the oil production of countries who hate us.

Unfortunately, a carbon tax was never even on the table. Instead we have this ridiculous cap-and-trade bill. The goal was to be similar to a carbon tax, requiring polluters to purchase permits to emit certain amounts of CO2. Unfortunately, by the time congress was done with the bill, those permits were given away to the major CO2 polluters, instead of auctioned like they were supposed to be.

Meanwhile, the French, who get 70% of their electricity from nuclear power plants and have now imposed a carbon tax, are on course to be orders of magnitude more energy independent than the United States. And their air will be cleaner, to boot.

Glenn Beck accused of murder

Word is that he committed the crime around 1990. The victim was a young girl. Or so I've heard.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Republicans and Medicare

I do think it is ironic that Republicans pay so much lip service to medicare, considering it *should be* anathema to everything they (claim to) stand for.

Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) actually yelled out during Obama's speech, calling him a lair. That sort of behavior is completely unprecedented in American politics. Absolutely outrageous. What a perfect metaphor for the behavior of many of his constituents, anyway.

----- UPDATE -----

Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina (you stay classy), yelled at the president mid-speech last night. He had been spending too much time at town halls, apparently. At any rate, says that it is actually Joe Wilson who is the liar. Joe Wilson already apologized for his outburst.

I don't actually believe that Republicans don't respect the office of the president. Rather, they simply don't respect this president, and never have, from the moment he won the election. That is the real travesty here. To disagree with Obama's policies is fine, but there has always been something more to it than that. I'd like to think that my personal feelings are reflective in the attitudes of independent voters in general. And if that's the case, I expect to see the GOP take a proportional* beating in 2010 out of sheer disgust for their behavior from 2008-2010.

*Which is to say, Republicans may still gain some seats in 2010, because the president's party almost always loses seats at midterm. They may end up winning fewer than the historical average, however, due to their ridiculous behavior.

----- Update Again -----

Few more "funny" tidbits about Joe Wilson (R-SC).

1. He was one of 7 South Carolina state representatives who stood fast, supporting the confederate flag being raised on the state capitol.

2. Strom Thurmond apparently had raped his African American maid and produced an illegitimate daughter. Joe Wilson blamed the girl when she revealed this fact to the world.

3. Here is a funny video of Joe Wilson accusing some dude of "hatred of America" because the guy alleged that the USA sold Saddam Hussein weapons of mass destruction. Joe Wilson in the video appears immune to reason, reacting purely emotionally, repeating his mantra over and over again. "You hate America". Purely immune to logic, reason, and sense. Of course, it was common knowledge then that America did indeed sell Saddam weapons, which he used in his war against the Iranians. And then used them on the Kurds. I'm pretty sure Donald Rumsfeld was involved in that deal, too.

I guess this paints a better picture of the man who tried to shout down the democratically elected President of the United States. I'm harping on this issue to hopefully draw some connections here. Does the behavior of Joe Wilson at all seem out of character when compared to the behavior of the Republican base at large over the last few months? Frantic, shouting, raging, irrational, illogical, destructive, angry...and sessessionist (remember the governor of Texas?), birthers, et cetera. These things are the republican talking points of our day.

The concept of a race card is a sad one. Its sad that a person would ever need one, and its sad that a person would ever play one for unfair advantage. But its hard for me to view this any other way. Its called xenophobia and racism, people. Not all republicans, but enough of them and certainly the emotional ones. Nothing else can explain it for me.

Who is Obama?

I have an idea in my head.

Just a pre-speech comment. If he doesn't do something bold to get his agenda pushed through, I will have to seriously re-evaluate whether or not my picture of Obama is accurate.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The cancer relay race

An interesting post on Andrew Sullivan's blog touched the subject of big pharma, and the new push for anti-cancer drugs.

When people assert that compensation is of central importance to biomedical innovation, its important to keep some things in mind. The fight against cancer isn't equivalent to a bunch of scientists running a bunch of solo races. It's more like a bunch of relay races, where the advancement of one scientist pulls everyone else along as well.

For example, the lab I work in does melanoma research using a mouse model. My buddy and I finished an experiment literally within the last two weeks, and the results are very promising:

There really aren't many good treatments for melanoma, so this could be pretty significant some day. Our strategy is still years away from a possible human application.

Keeping in mind that this research was funded by a US government funded grant, consider the following. What if a pharmaceutical company took our strategy to the next level, and developed an effective drug to treat melanoma? That would be fantastic. Would they have done it alone? Certainly not. They just happened to be carrying the baton on the last leg of the relay race.

I am not* anti-big pharma, and what they do is very important. However, it is important that people realize the pharmaceutical companies aren't the only ones doing research. And, a huge chunk of the non-pharma researchers are directly funded by the US government. In that context, it seems a lot less unreasonable to think that medicare should be able to negotiate for cheaper drug prices from pharmaceutical companies, doesn't it?

*Just because I think drug companies are important does not mean that I don't think the system should be set up differently. I suspect that the executives of many pharmaceutical companies would not agree with some of the changes that I'd want.