Archive for: October, 2008

Nature's endorsement of Obama, the scientific enterprise, and community organizing.

Oct 31 2008 Published by under Science and Politics

I didn't get a chance to post about Rules for Radicals this week - the time that would have been spent on that went to knocking on doors and making phone calls for the Get Out The Vote effort here in the Florida Panhandle instead. It will happen next week, after the election. I promise.

I might not have time for in-depth writing on the topic, but that doesn't mean it's far from my mind. It certainly wasn't when I read the journal Nature's endorsement of Obama. (This appears to be the first time in it's 139 year history that Nature has made such an endorsement, by the way.) One paragraph particularly caught my eye:

But science is bound by, and committed to, a set of normative values -- values that have application to political questions. Placing a disinterested view of the world as it is ahead of our views of how it should be; recognizing that ideas should be tested in as systematic a way as possible; appreciating that there are experts whose views and criticisms need to be taken seriously: these are all attributes of good science that can be usefully applied when making decisions about the world of which science is but a part. Writ larger, the core values of science are those of open debate within a free society that have come down to us from the Enlightenment in many forms, not the least of which is the constitution of the United States.

If you read that, then go back and look through some of the quotes I used in last week's look at Alinsky's community organizing guide, I think you'll see one of the reasons that I think community organizing and science might really work well together.

One response so far

The Obama Show.

Oct 29 2008 Published by under Politics, Presidential

I just watched the Obama "infomercial", and I was blown away. Never mind the production values that Chris Matthews is nattering on about. The real story is about the message: this campaign is about us. It's about what we need, and what we can do to get it.

The entire half hour was - well, it's hard to call it a positive ad. It was a hard look at the problems that we're facing, and need to address. This was not a "daybreak in America" kind of talk. But it wasn't negative, either. McCain was not belittled, he was ignored.

As I was writing that last paragraph, MSNBC went to the first commercial break since the Obama piece ended. One of the first commercials up was the new McCain "Obama: Not Ready ... Yet" commercial. Coming right at the end of Obama's call for unity, and for all of us to get involved, I don't think McCain could have managed to come out looking any more petty.


But this thing isn't over:

And updated some more:

Watching Countdown right now, I'm reminded of the old saying that the best measure of a man's intelligence is whether he agrees with you. Chris Hayes was just talking to Keith about the whole juxtaposition of the happy Obama/nasty McCain image thing. He proved that, at least by the measure above, he's a really smart guy. (Actually, he's a pretty smart guy by any measure.)

Finally, here's a moment of Zen type thing:

Given his amazing and shameless efforts at self promotion, it's entirely possible that Joe the Plumber might, thanks to John McCain, actually wind up in the small group of people who would see a tax increase under Obama's plan.

3 responses so far

A military spouse's Presidential endorsement.

In today's Atlanta Journal Constitution, Army spouse Elisabeth Kadlec writes:

When we married our spouses, I am sure that none of us were signing up to be single parents. But in essence that is what we become. Many people I know, like my husband, have already been deployed more than three times, and will go again. Most of these deployments are to Iraq or Afghanistan. It always amazes me when people ask me if my husband has to go back. I even laugh at this question!

I think it shows that the public has no idea how many troops make up the armed forces and how many are deployed at a time. Somehow, that message has been lost when we talk about the war. I am pretty much resolved that my husband will be deployed almost every other year. You can only imagine what this does to a family, and how important it is to us that smart decisions are being made for military members.

I don't know Ms. Kadlec, but I sure do know a hell of a lot of people like her - enough to know that she is far from the only military spouse who will be voting Obama this year. She understands, as does every member of every Army family, that the current deployment tempo cannot go on forever, or even for much longer, without causing long-term damage to the army as a whole.

In other news, updates here will be fewer and farther between than normal this week. I'll be spending most of my free time working at the Obama campaign's Pensacola office.

8 responses so far

Rules for Radicals 1: The Prologue

What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.

Saul Alinsky

Rules for Radicals

This is the beginning of a promised (and late) series of posts discussing Saul Alinsky's 1971 book Rules for Radicals. Alinsky started out in community organizing in the 1930s, working in Chicago's infamous "Back of the Yards" neighborhood. Rules for Radicals is a how-to guide for organizing, based on the knowledge and experience Alinsky accumulated during the course of his career.

If you want a measure of just how effective Alinsky was at bringing about real grassroots change, you need look no farther than Rep. Michele Bachmann's now infamous Hardball appearance on Friday:

REP. BACHMANN: I think the people that Barack Obama has been associating with are anti-American, by and large, the people who are radical leftists. That's the real question about Barack Obama -- Saul Alinsky, one of his teachers, you might say, out of the Chicago area; Tony Rezko, who is an associate also.

Bachmann also provides a wonderful example of just how effective some of the tactics Alinsky pioneered. In the few days since she engaged in her reprehensible rant, her opponent raised almost three quarters of a million dollars, almost all from netroots sources. After seeing the influx in grassroots cash, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee decided to get involved, too, to the tune of $1,000,000, and now Bachmann has a real problem on her hands. (You can show your own disgust with Bachmann's attitude by adding to El Tinklenberg's total either through his own website, or through the ActBlue site. Every little bit helps - I kicked in $5.)

The Bachmann example brings me to the reason that I think it's important for people interested in science to take a close look at Alinsky's ideas: the online tools that we have access to can make it amazingly easy for small groups of committed individuals to make a difference, but only if they're used effectively. There have been a number of occasions when we have been extremely effective, but there have also been a number of opportunities that have been missed.

I'll get into more detail about why I think Alinsky and community organizing are important for those of us who are interested in science, and want to change the way scientific issues are dealt with in another post. For now, let's start looking at what we can learn from Alinsky.

Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Sometimes it's good to be wrong.

Oct 20 2008 Published by under Politics, Presidential

I've got to admit that when I heard that Colin Powell was planning on endorsing a candidate for president yesterday, I was unimpressed. I figured that whichever candidate he chose would be on the receiving end of a lukewarm endorsement that would be easy to dismiss and would fade from the news rapidly. I didn't expect to see such a painfully honest assessment of the problems with the way the Republicans are campaigning, but I was even more surprised and impressed by Powell's simple, clear, and eloquent dismissal of the "he's a Muslim" argument:

I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

Thank you, General Powell. We needed to hear that. It's more effective when it comes from someone on your side of the political spectrum.

But it sure would be nice if the folks on our side of the aisle would say it more often.

One response so far

Lies, Damn Lies, DaveScot, and Statistics

There's something truly amazing about Uncommon Descent's DaveScot. He misrepresents data in a stupid way, gets caught, gets embarrassed, and then he does it again. And again. And again. It's like he expects it to work this time - and never mind the fact that it hasn't in any of the last 37 attempts. It's entirely possible that he has the same ability to learn from experience as a badly concussed pigeon.

Today's shining example involves a post of his entitled "Voter Preference by Education Level". In this post, he provides a set of statistics involving education level and current choice of Presidential candidate. He posted this, he says, because the statistics demonstrate "that a certain segment of the public veers radically from everyone else and it's the same segment that radically opposes intelligent design."

Here are the statistics, as Dave presented them:

Education: Obama%/McCain%

High School or less: 42/48

Some College: 41/52

College graduate: 46/49

Post graduate: 55/40

Here are the two important words that were included in Gallup's characterization of the data, but omitted from Dave's characterization:

"among whites"

The educational data is actually quite different when the entire population is viewed:

Education: Obama%/McCain%

High School or less: 51/40

Some College: 49/44

College graduate: 50/44

Post graduate: 59/36

Seriously, Dave, did you really think nobody was going to figure out that you weren't actually talking about the entire population of the United States?

13 responses so far

Say it ain't so, Joe.

What a difference a day makes. Last night, the picture of Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (aka Joe the Plumber) we all had was the one John McCain painted for us: a hardworking plumber with serious plans to buy the plumbing business he's worked for for "all these years", who won't be able to do so if Obama wins because Obama will raise Joe's taxes. Today, after reality has had a chance to be heard, the picture is very, very different.

Let's start with the basics: Joe isn't going to see a tax increase under Obama's plan. He's going to see a tax cut. If he buys the business, he might see an increase, but only if his net profits - not his gross - go over $250,000.

That brings us to the whole buy the business thing. Apparently, Joe doesn't actually have a plan to buy the business any time in the near future. He's worked there for six years so far, and his "plan" to buy the firm seems to consist of having talked with his boss about taking over "at some point".

There's one hurdle that he'll probably have to clear first that's unrelated to taxes - he might actually have to get himself licensed as a plumber of contractor. Right now, he's not.

He might also have to take care of another little problem between now and then. At the moment, he owes the State of Ohio over $1,000. For unpaid personal income tax.

11 responses so far

John McCain was for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act before he was against it.

Oct 15 2008 Published by under Political, Politics, Presidential

A little spat that John McCain is having with YouTube has gotten a bit of press lately. Basically, he's not happy because YouTube has been taking his videos down whenever they get a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice from a copyright holder. Apparently, this has happened to McCain fairly often, possibly because his campaign has gotten into the habit of using other people's material without their permission.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, an internet service provider (like YouTube) is only immune from copyright infringement suits if they promptly take down material upon receipt of a violation notice, and leave that material down for at least ten days following the receipt of a properly notarized counter-claim. McCain doesn't like that, and his people have reacted by proposing that YouTube should recognize how special they are, and give them special treatment.

YouTube replied by politely telling McCain that it's not their fault that the law is crappy. They're right, of course. Laws are not passed by internet service providers; they're passed by the United States Congress, which McCain has been a member of for a long time. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed in 1998, and was passed unanimously by the senate.

That's right. McCain is asking YouTube to exempt him from the provisions of a law that he voted for. But it gets better. He didn't just vote for the DMCA. He actually went on the record in the Senate as supporting the bill:

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

For this years Nobel Laureates ...

Oct 05 2008 Published by under Public Perception of Science

...keep an eye on the left sidebar of this blog. There's a listing there of the times and dates when the prize announcements will be made. If all goes well, the list will be automatically updated with the names of the winners, as soon as the announcements are made.
The first announcement, for the winner or winners of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, will be made sometime after 09:30 GMT tomorrow. Feel free to use this thread as an open thread for discussing speculation on who it might be, and for commenting after the winner is announced.

2 responses so far