Thursday, April 29, 2010

Drill Baby, Drill

Just a reminder that empty slogans that pretend to deal with our
energy problems can still have consequences:

Oil will run out. We can find an alternative now or later. The
question is whether or not we want to destroy huge areas of the United
States in a last ditch effort to sustain or addiction, or start
weaning ourselves now. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Iraq update

Politics in Iraq aren't just deadlocked - they are regressing. It has
yet to spill into massive bloodshed, fortunately. One thing I do know
is that it certainly isn't time for conservatives to start
retrospectively describing the invasion as an enormous success.

The troop surge was not an end, it was a means. The surge didn't
establish a stable democracy in Iraq, it simply gave a (probably
small) chance for that outcome. Don't be so foolish as to confuse the

The fate of Iraq lies in the hands of the Iraqis, of course. We could
occupy Iraq with 500,000 troops for the next twenty years and still
fail to establish a self-sufficient, stable democracy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

You stay classy, Republicans in Arizona

The new hispanic racial profiling law that just passed there is an embarrassment to our democracy. Its funny that Republicans liken Obama to Hitler - and yet, this sort of policy would be a better fit in Nazi Germany than the USA. National Republicans support it, and it is another issue on which John McCain sold out.
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Palin on Obama's new arms reduction treaty

Here is Miss You-Betcha:

"We miss Ronald Reagan who used to say, when he would look at our enemies, he would say: 'No. You lose. We win.' That's what we miss. And that is what we have to get back to. No administration in American history would have considered such a step."

Palin's astounding stupidity never ceases to amaze me. This woman was almost a frail heartbeat away from being the President of the United States. John McCain is incredibly irresponsible for picking her as a VP.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Must read for conservatives

NY Times columnist and conservative Ross Douthat on the closing of the conservative mind.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Who thought Bush was doing a good job?

During the waning years of the Bush Administration, W's approval ratings bottomed out in the 27-29% range. There seemed to be this stubborn, unflinching cohort of Americans who still thought he was actually doing a good job as president.

Thanks to a recent poll, we found out what happened to this mysterious cohort. Almost two thirds of Tea Party protesters have a favorable view of GW Bush.

Even though Bush expanded entitlements with medicare part D, and didn't even bother to fund them (take that Jim Bunning!).

Even though Bush drastically increased the federal budget, increased the deficit, and increased the size of government.

Even though the massive bailouts of Wall Street banks started under Bush.

I could go on and on. If one reads the things the Tea Party pays lip service to, and then learns that they still love Bush...I dunno. On the one hand, this is just about the most unsurprising thing I've read all day. On the other hand you've really got to hand it to a group of people who can embrace a complete contradiction while keeping a straight face. These are also the same people who screamed "no government run health care" while also yelling "don't touch my medicare". Hypocrisy of this magnitude almost becomes a curiosity rather than remain simply an irritant. You really start to wonder, "How?". Like from a psychological perspective.

On my facebook profile, I have my political views listed as libertarian. Its almost embarrassing to have that now that the Tea Partiers (ie the Republican ultra-base) have adopted that label. Trust me though; the tea party movement ideology (if you can call it that) has about as much in common with libertarianism as China does with communism.

Oops! I slipped. Bad Nick.
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The Bible and the Constitution

The Gospel According to Matthew: "And when you pray, do not be like
the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and
on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they
have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your
room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your
Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

The Constitution of the United States of America: "Congress shall
make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof."

I'm not sure if she was directly heeding the words of Jesus Christ, or
simply interpreting the constitution with respect to the intentions of
the Founding Fathers. Either way, District Court Judge Barbara B.
Crabb has just ruled that the National Day of Prayer Proclamation,
instituted by Ronald Reagan in 1988, is unconstitutional. In doing
so, she has thrown out a law that was both an affront to the Bible and
the intentions of Jesus Christ, and an affront to the Constitution.

No doubt, Jesus Christ and the Founding Fathers would be proud of
Judge Crabb's ruling.
No doubt, Fox News and the rest of the people who systematically
exploit the Christian religion as a political tool will feign outrage.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nobody likes an apostate

A Catholic theologian named Hans Kung was with Ratzinger at the Vatican II Council. They were the youngest two there. Read his open letter to Catholic bishops worldwide.

I expect he will be called a traitor or an apostate by just the sort of "Catholic" who got the church into this crisis.
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Friday, April 16, 2010

Contract From America

I guess you really can't expect much better from a group of angry
nitwits, but here it is: the 10 terms that have been agreed upon by
the Tea Party Movement as a new contract from America. My comments
below each point, preceded by a *.


1. Protect the Constitution: Require each bill to identify the
specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power
to do what the bill does.

* Thanks guys, but we already have this. Its called the Judicial Branch.

2. Reject Cap & Trade: Stop costly new regulations that would
increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation's
global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global

* Whatever, I'm not going to fight with them on this point since the
cap and trade bill sucks anyway. I would point out though that every
time we fill up at the station, we're sending money straight into the
coffers of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, and
Russia. Finding a way to reduce oil imports should be something all
Americans agree on.

3. Demand a Balanced Budget: Begin the Constitutional amendment
process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed
for any tax hike.

* Its easy to say you want the government to balance the budget. What
is more difficult is to actually specify what we're going to cut in
order to accomplish such a drastic target. So what are we going to
gut first? Medicare, social security, or defense spending? Because
if you aren't looking at one of those three, you're not being serious.

4. Enact Fundamental Tax Reform: Adopt a simple and fair single-rate
tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it
with one that is no longer than 4,543 words—the length of the original

* A flat tax? That sounds great. But in order to balance the budget,
as specified in point number 3, the flat tax rate is going to need to
be pretty high. In other words, we're going to drastically raise
taxes on low and middle class Americans, and drastically cut taxes on
upper class Americans. Good luck getting the electoral support for
that provision.

5. Restore Fiscal Responsibility & Constitutionally Limited Government
in Washington: Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in a
complete audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their
Constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste,
ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states
or local authorities, or ripe for wholesale reform or elimination due
to our efforts to restore limited government consistent with the US
Constitution's meaning.

* Great...have at it. Nobody is stopping you here.

6. End Runaway Government Spending: Impose a statutory cap limiting
the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of the
inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth.

* This is something that I think I could actually agree with in
theory. But the rest of this document is so worthless, the one good
idea that accidentally made it into this list will almost certainly be
ignored right along with the rest of these stupid ideas.

7. Defund, Repeal, & Replace Government-run Health Care: Defund,
repeal and replace the recently passed government-run health care with
a system that actually makes health care and insurance more affordable
by enabling a competitive, open, and transparent free-market health
care and health insurance system that isn't restricted by state

* Actually, health insurance system not inhibited by state boundaries
would be a disaster. All of the health insurance companies would
solicit the best regulatory offers from state governors. The one who
agreed to write the most favorable regulation for health insurance
companies (IE least favorable to the consumer) would get all of the
insurance companies to move to his state. The rest of us would then
be forced to buy insurance based on the lowest standards possible.
Anyway, good luck repealing Obama's health care bill. Remember: even
if the GOP does take the White House someday, they'll need 60 votes in
the senate to do it.

8. Pass an 'All-of-the-Above" Energy Policy: Authorize the
exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on
foreign energy sources from unstable countries and reduce regulatory
barriers to all other forms of energy creation, lowering prices and
creating competition and jobs.

* The problem with "drill baby, drill" is that it just reduces the
price of oil temporarily, which slows the development of alternative
forms of energy technology. Nothing can compete with cheap oil, and
we're going to have to transition some day. We can do it after we've
given the Saudis all of our money, or before. Seems like an easy
decision to me.

9. Stop the Pork: Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget
is balanced, and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark.

* Ok, I agree with this too, but earmarks still only constitute a tiny
fraction of the federal budget. Again, you'd have to seriously gut
all or parts of medicare, social security, and defense spending to
balance the budget.

10. Stop the Tax Hikes: Permanently repeal all tax hikes, including
those to the income, capital gains, and death taxes, currently
scheduled to begin in 2011.

* To be fair, those hikes aren't beginning in 2011. Rather, the Bush
tax cuts are just expiring. But I mean, how are we going to balance
the federal budget without raising taxes? Where is this money going
to come from?

This "Contract From America" is a good allegory for the Republican
Party. A lot of criticism, a lot of soundbytes, a lot of really easy
solutions being proposed. But when it comes down to them, most of
them have no basis in reality, whatsoever. Worthless document by a
worthless movement.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

GOP working hard to block financial regulation

Just a reminder for everyone: reckless, unchecked, unregulated banking just nearly brought down the world economic system. Huge financial institutions had to be bailed out by the taxpayers, starting under George W. Bush, because there was no other way to avert armageddon.

Now, the senate minority leader from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, is working to kill any future regulation. It was McConnell who authored the secret GOP strategy before the inauguration to refuse, under any circumstances, to cooperate with President Obama, just so you know how McConnell feels about bipartisanship. Now McConnel is doing his best to undermine the first draft of a financial regulation bill, which was authored by a Democrat along with a Republican.

And it gets better. McConnell actually went to Wall Street and met with 25 bank executives and basically told them that if they want to avoid regulations they better help the GOP win elections. You really can't make stuff like this up.

You know what the crazy thing is: I am not a Democrat. I never have been. I am right of center, an Economist-style classical liberal (ie a moderate conservative in the American system). But todays GOP is such an extraordinary collection of the most shameless and deceitful degenerates, that I feel like Karl fucking Marx by comparison. Seriously people, we need to wake up. Democracy doesn't work without a viable opposition, and the GOP strategy of win or burn the house down is not viable.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Deputy Pope on priest pedophilia

According to a Reuters story, the Deputy Pope has blamed
homosexuality, not celibacy, as the cause for the priest pedophilia
cases. I guess I have two comments.

1. Homosexuality is the cause of priests raping young boys? By that
logic, we cannot let the rest of the heterosexual priesthood anywhere
near young girls.

2. Personally, I really feel like the Catholic Church should not be
wading into the realm of the psychological sciences, and it especially
shouldn't be making controversial claims that aren't substantiated by

The thing about science is there are things that might make sense to
some people, and perhaps given political orientations it would be
convenient if those things were true, but they still may not be true.
A while back I criticized the Pope, who said that using condoms
increases HIV transmission in Africa. Yes, I can sort of see the flow
of logic that would bring someone to that conjecture; and it would be
really convenient for Catholics if it was true, since Catholics don't
want people to use birth control. But the problem is that there
really isn't any scientific evidence that would support the Pope's
condom assertion. Furthermore, that assertion might very well be
wrong. And if it is wrong, then many people might become infected
with AIDs as a direct result of what the Pope said. So I mean, when
the stakes are so high, why not just err on the side of caution until
we know more? Why not leave moral leadership to the church, and leave
public health leadership to the thousands of scientists who have spent
years on top of years studying disease transmission, epidemiology,
patient compliance, barrier effectiveness, et cetera?

The recent proclamation about homosexuality causing pedophilia by the
Pope's deputy is another good example. There is really very little
data that would support this assertion made by the deputy Pope,
however convenient of a scapegoat homosexuals might be for the church
at this time. And it is a very damning assertion that shouldn't be
taken lightly, because it is trying to blur the line between
homosexuality and pedophilia, which will lead to even further hatred
of homosexuals in this country, maybe more executions of homosexuals
in Uganda, et cetera. I guess I'm just sort of thinking that a group
of spiritual leaders should stick to spiritual leadership, and leave
the psychological sciences for someone else to sort through.
Ultimately, I really don't care why priests were raping children. I
just want priests to stop molesting children and I want there to be
accountability. The Catholic Church needs to stop the reactionary
scapegoating of homosexuals or lashing out at the liberal media -
because that is not what Jesus Christ would do. The church needs to
focus on reforming the church in a transparent, inclusive, and honest

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

This is beautiful

Roger Cohen, commenting on the tragic historical irony of Polish intelligensia dying in Russian forests:


Poland should shame every nation that believes peace and reconciliation are impossible, every state that believes the sacrifice of new generations is needed to avenge the grievances of history. The thing about competitive victimhood, a favorite Middle Eastern pastime, is that it condemns the children of today to join the long list of the dead.

For scarcely any nation has suffered since 1939 as Poland, carved up by the Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact, transformed by the Nazis into the epicenter of their program to annihilate European Jewry, land of Auschwitz and Majdanek, killing field for millions of Christian Poles and millions of Polish Jews, brave home to the Warsaw Uprising, Soviet pawn, lonely Solidarity-led leader of post-Yalta Europe's fight for freedom, a place where, as one of its great poets, Wislawa Szymborska, wrote, "History counts its skeletons in round numbers" - 20,000 of them at Katyn.

It is this Poland that is now at peace with its neighbors and stable. It is this Poland that has joined Germany in the European Union. It is this Poland that has just seen the very symbols of its tumultuous history (including the Gdansk dock worker Anna Walentynowicz and former president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski) go down in a Soviet-made jet and responded with dignity, according to the rule of law.

So do not tell me that cruel history cannot be overcome. Do not tell me that Israelis and Palestinians can never make peace. Do not tell me that the people in the streets of Bangkok and Bishkek and Tehran dream in vain of freedom and democracy. Do not tell me that lies can stand forever.

Ask the Poles. They know.
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Polls show physicians plan to retire.

I keep reading these polls that Obama critics are sending around. 40% of nurses are going to retire now, 45% of doctors plan to leave the profession, et cetera ad nauseum. I don't think I can emphasize enough how worthless this polling data is, and how little stock we should put in it.

A lot of doctors and nurses are Republicans, and Republicans generally weren't supportive of Obama's reforms. So it really shouldn't be surprising that a lot of docs and nurses opposed Obama's HCR (a minority, but still a substantial one). So now we turn around and poll a Republican who happens to be a doctor or nurse, immediately after HCR is passed, if they are going to quit early. Are we surprised if they're more likely to say yes?

This isn't to say that HCR won't make more docs and nurses leave the field, because it certainly could. But if you really want meaningful data about how HCR is affecting physician and RN labor habits, start doing statistics after reforms have been implemented. You don't get that data by asking loaded poll questions right after a contentious political fight.

I stand by an earlier conviction: Obama's reforms were reforms regarding access to health care, not the delivery of health care. The latter hasn't been addressed, but should be.
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sarah Palin disagrees with nuclear plan

I think we should all remember that, at least until she quit her post, Sarah Palin was the governor of a state that is very close to Russia. Therefore, she is a go-to source for an assessment of the complexities of a new nuclear posture. Plus, she reads all the newspapers so is informed from that end as well.
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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Sarah Palin on Michele Bachman

So awesome:

"I knew that we'd be buddies when I met her when she said, 'Drill here, drill now.' And then I replied, 'Drill, baby, drill' and then we both said, 'You betcha!'"

Palin 2012!
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I am in China right now. The urge to write about the political side of it is tempting, but probably unwise so I will mostly refrain. The most apparent thing thus far honestly though is how unpolitical day to day life seems. Then again, I don't speak Mandarin so maybe I'm just missing it.

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Church

One question I've had lately is whether or not the Catholic church is a religious organization, a political one, or both. I mean to some extent recently it has behaved as a political organization. And I'm not sure what I should think about that. On the one hand, its not like religious authorities assuming political role is without precedent. Religion and politics have been inseperable in many Islamic nations, and has been important in Christian ones in distant memory. And some religious matters are inherently political, so the cross over might be warranted.

Still, I'm uncomfortable with a political role for Christian religious institutions. I think anyone would be hard pressed to find me word or deeds of Jesus that imply that The Faithful should work through established political channels as a means to influence human life. Most of what I've read makes me think that Jesus Chris was decidedly apolitical.

I guess that's something for the Catholic Church to think about. In this recent outbreak of sex abuse accusations, the most surprising thing to me is how the church has lashed out at its critics. The liberal media is out to get the church...or most recently, that the attacks on Catholicism are no different than anti-Semitism. Lashing out in an insecure way to me is the desperate reaction of a political entity, not of a confident religious one.
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Thursday, April 01, 2010

The misery of a commute

I've written recently that I've taken a sudden interest in urban planning, development, and the factors that lead to sprawl. And the main reason for that is because I hate driving and traffic. This article helps shed some light onto why:

Why is traffic so unpleasant? One reason is that it's a painful ritual we never get used to - the flow of traffic is inherently unpredictable. As a result, we don't habituate to the suffering of rush hour. (Ironically, if traffic was always bad, and not just usually bad, it would be easier to deal with. So the commutes that really kill us are those rare days when the highways are clear.) As the Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes, "Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day."

The author goes on to describe a dilemma that many people face: a 45 minute drive to the burbs where they can have a nice big house, or a smaller apartment with a short commute. He argues that our tendency (in America generally) to go with the former is the result of not properly weighing the pros and the cons of the decision:

Consider two housing options: a three bedroom apartment that is located in the middle of a city, with a ten minute commute time, or a five bedroom McMansion on the urban outskirts, with a forty-five minute commute. "People will think about this trade-off for a long time," Dijksterhuis says. "And most them will eventually choose the large house. After all, a third bathroom or extra bedroom is very important for when grandma and grandpa come over for Christmas, whereas driving two hours each day is really not that bad." What's interesting, Dijksterhuis says, is that the more time people spend deliberating, the more important that extra space becomes. They'll imagine all sorts of scenarios (a big birthday party, Thanksgiving dinner, another child) that will turn the suburban house into an absolute necessity. The pain of a lengthy commute, meanwhile, will seem less and less significant, at least when compared to the allure of an extra bathroom. But, as Dijksterhuis points out, that reasoning process is exactly backwards: "The additional bathroom is a completely superfluous asset for at least 362 or 363 days each year, whereas a long commute does become a burden after a while."

I usually ride my bike to work, and its a 4 minute commute pedaling casually. But I also appreciate that the math of living downtown where I work is much easier for me, seeing that I have no wife but more importantly more children. I think by far the biggest impediment to people moving into higher density areas are schools. Public schools where I grew up (in suburbs) are excellent whereas in the city they aren't. My parents never really had an option to live in the city because, like most people, they couldn't afford to send all of their children to private schools. So that says to me that perhaps the most important thing we can do to encourage the sort of sustainable* development that I think will be the future of all civilization let alone this country is to encourage reforms of the school system so people with families have the option.

*I would shy away from "sustainable development" as a descriptor since it carries connotations that it is environmentally motivated. Having hundreds of millions of people spread out all over the country is inefficient in a whole number of ways, including environmental but also economically and social. I think, and there are studies that show this, that the more people cluster and interact, the more creative and innovative they become, for example.