Archive for the 'Flaming Small-Minded Stupidity' category

American Chemistry, First Responders, and a bloody stupid blogger.

May 27 2009 Published by under Flaming Small-Minded Stupidity

I'm not sure how I missed it when it first appeared, but it seems that a few days ago one of the other bloggers on this network - Greg Laden - wrote a post that discussed some of the advertising that you may have noticed here recently. I just noticed and read the post, and I honestly wish I hadn't. I'm not entirely sure what point Greg was trying to make with his post, but in his efforts to reach the point he said some things that are amazingly..... I don't know, I'm honestly at a loss for an appropriate word here.

Greg manages to more or less start off on the wrong foot. Most of the ads feature first responders - police and firefighters (although there's also one that features an astronaut). To Greg, this means that the ads are all about 9/11:

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Representative Joe Barton Brings The Stupid On Climate Change.

Yesterday, the Daily Kos and ThinkProgress reported on some spectacularly inane things that Texas Representative "Smokey Joe" Barton said about carbon dioxide. Now, Barton getting something wrong that involves science or the environment is, of course, nothing new. He is, after all, the man who recently Twittered his pride at "stumping" the Nobel Laureate Energy Secretary with a question that actually demonstrated nothing more than Barton's own ignorance of basic geology. As revealing as that whole little incident was, he managed to make more mistakes yesterday.

Barton committed the errors in an interview he did with's Ronald Kessler. Barton was expressing his disagreement with the EPA's recent decision to regulate industrial carbon dioxide emissions as a greenhouse gas. Barton's arguments took two separate, but equally inept, routes: carbon dioxide isn't harmful; and the EPA's new regulations could cause it to close down events like the Boston Marathon where an excessive amount of heavy breathing is taking place in a short period of time.

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2009 H1N1 Swine Flu: Is It Really Worth Making A Vaccine?

At least two medical doctors think that it isn't, and have said so publicly. They feel that the "research has shown" that the new flu isn't going to be very virulent, and question the wisdom of spending $1.5 billion developing a vaccine that "may never be used". I suspect that few of you will be surprised to learn that both these doctors are also Republican members of Congress. Representatives Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun (both of Georgia) made their views known during floor speeches in the House yesterday.

I was not aware that any research had been published that demonstrates that we know anything about how this disease will behave when the normal flu season rolls around this fall. I have not been keeping up with the situation to the same extent that Revere(s) have, but I do know that as of May 1st, we didn't know for sure how virulent swine flu is now. This makes me suspect that the two Distinguished Gentlemen from Georgia are either poorly informed or are making things up on the fly.

Nevertheless, it's possible that the stopped clock rule applies in this instance, and the Representatives are correct in arguing that this is a relatively mild flu. Does that necessarily mean that the it's not worth making a vaccine? Given a current US population of about 300 million, that works out to about $5 a person. Speaking for myself, I think that's a small price to pay if there's even a slight chance that the new flu strain could cause a large number of deaths.

Let's put this in perspective two different ways:

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Where's the outrage?

As of when I'm writing this post, a Google News search for the words "Inhofe" and "treason" returns no hits. When I search on "Inhofe" and "sedition", I get the same results. That's also true for a search on the milder combination of "Inhofe" and "inappropriate". What the hell is going on here?

I realize this is old news, but one week ago yesterday, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) issued a press release and the YouTube video embedded below. I don't understand why I'm not seeing any outrage.

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Anti-Vaccination Stupidity, Expertise, and Feeling "Empowered" by Risking Kids Lives

Mar 31 2009 Published by under Flaming Small-Minded Stupidity, Medicine

Your sink is leaking all over your bathroom floor. Whose advice do you take on how to fix it - your plumber's or your accountant's? I suspect that the sane among us would typically go to the plumber. If we were suspicious about the first plumber's advice, we'd probably call another plumber. Similarly, the rational among us would not look to a plumber as a source for informed commentary on the economy, foreign affairs, or journalism.

We understand that expertise matters.

We don't consider experts to be infallible, we don't bow down and worship at their feet, or uncritically accept everything that every expert says, but we understand the importance of knowledge and experience. Experts are not born, they're made through a long process that involves spending enormous amounts of time and effort to study a field. It's been suggested that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to gain expertise in a field, and that's not a bad lowball estimate for a lot of fields.

There are many fields, though, where 10,000 hours is not enough training to be considered an expert. That much time and effort might be enough for people to consider you to be competent, but only just.

Take medicine, for example. Residency is an enormously intense period of training - most programs officially limit interns and residents to 80 hour work weeks, but in a lot of places that's treated the way most people treat speed limits. Even if you assume that residents only average 70 hours a week, the vast majority of doctors will have worked for far more than 10,000 hours before they sit for board certification exams. The intern who sees you on his or her first day on the job has probably spent at least four or five thousand hours on clinical rotations as a med student.

Want to get a Ph.D in any of the sciences? After you're done with your undergrad, you should plan on spending at least five years in grad school. After that, plan on spending another few years as a postdoc before you even think about applying for a tenure track Assistant Professor job somewhere.

With that in mind, I'd like to share the source of my current irritation with you.

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8 responses so far

Charlie Rangel Says Don't Tax AIG Bonuses - And He's Right. (Updated - but he didn't mean it)

Update: My praise for Charlie Rangel in this post was, sadly, premature. Politico is now reporting that Rangel has gotten behind a 91% tax bracket for AIG bonuses.

When it comes to the AIG bonuses, I'm about as angry as any other taxpayer who has been paying attention. This morning, I was absolutely undelighted to read that quite a bit of the "retention" money is going to people who have, in fact, not been retained. The look I just took at AIG Chariman Edward Liddy's opening statement for today's Congressional hearing did absolutely nothing to improve my mood. When he says, "I share that anger," one has to wonder how much of that anger he actually understands.

Not to try to dish out the class warfare, but that's probably because he's rich enough that the numbers don't mean the same thing to him that they do to most of us. On the (very very small) chance that he might see this, let me try to put this into perspective. According to reports, one of the bonus recipients who worked in the AIG unit that caused the catastrophe received a $4.6 million retention payment, and has left the company.

The name of the $4.6 million dollar person has not been released - Mr. Liddy is apparently afraid that publicizing the names of the recipients might endanger their lives - so for the sake of simplicity I'll be referring to this person as "Mr. Scheisskopf". Mr. Scheisskopf worked for the unit at AIG that wrote credit default swaps that dropped AIG - and the American Taxpayer - in the drink. After contributing to a catastrophic collapse of the entire company that has required billions of taxpayer dollars, Scheisskopf, for whatever reason, left the firm. Now, as a "retention" award, the un-retained Scheisskopf is walking away with a cool $4.6 mil.

Let's put that in perspective. The median income for a man in the US was a little over $45,000 in 2007. More than half the wage-earners in the country, at whatever their current salary might be, would have to work for more than a century to earn what this AIG joker is walking away with. Scheisskopf walking away with far more money than most of us will earn in a lifetime, and to top it all up, we're the ones who are paying to clean up the mess he left. If Mr. Liddy thinks that he shares the popular anger about this right now, I'd suggest that he think again - preferably after spending three or four years working a long-hour, low pay job.

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13 responses so far

David Vitter and Congressional Pay: This Time, He's Actually Right.

Mar 14 2009 Published by under Flaming Small-Minded Stupidity, From the Left

If you hadn't figured it out by now, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is not my favorite member of Congress. If asked for my personal ranking of Senators, I'd probably place him somewhere in the bottom 2%. That said, I really can't claim that he's always wrong. Every now and then, he proposes something that is completely reasonable - even if his motives aren't all that pure.

Last week, he proposed an amendment to the big spending bill that would have eliminated the automatic cost-of-living pay increase that Congress gives itself every year. The amendment was shot down, ostensibly because it would have required sending the bill back to the House for another vote there.

Senate Majority Leader Reid has said that he'd take the measure seriously if it came up as a stand-alone bill, and on March 6th Reid sponsored such a bill. Speaker of the House Pelosi declined to say if she'd be willing to allow a House vote on such a measure. (Congress did vote to eliminate this year's raise, but absent new legislation they'll get one automatically next year.)

Reid is reported to have said that Vitter's amendment was a "delaying tactic" that was being employed to try and further delay the spending bill. He may well be right. However, in fairness to Vitter, it should be noted that Vitter did, in fact, sponsor stand-alone legislation to do just that. In fact, he proposed the measure (S.102) back in early January, and it's been languishing in committee ever since.

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Cramer/Stewart, The Right, The Wrong, and Democratic Loyalty.

Mar 13 2009 Published by under Bipartisan, Flaming Small-Minded Stupidity

(Fair warning: I usually keep the language clean in this blog, but I didn't manage it this time. Below the fold may be NSFW.)

OK, I admit it. I've still got last night's Jon Stewart CNBC Massacre (with full orchestration and five part harmony) stuck in my mind. I think that's going to be the case for at least a little longer, because I'm still trying to wrap my mind around some of the things I've learned over the course of the whole mess.

One of the (several) things I keep coming back to is just what some of the criticism of last nights production demonstrates. Some critics follow the example set by this schmeckle who decided to try the proven "if I lie hard enough and long enough, I can make something else have happened" strategy. Other criticism reprised the whole "how dare the comedian get serious" stratagem that Tucker Carlson used to such devastating effect back in 2004. That garbage is predictable. Stewart is a comedian, calls himself a comedian, says that his own show isn't fair, and suggests that - just maybe - it would be nice if the real journalists did a better job at covering the news than he does. Given all that, it's not a surprise that people are going to get outraged that Jon Stewart is a comedian and has a show that's not entirely fair.

It's not the predictable nonsense that's got me thinking. Actually, the thing that's got me thinking the most came from a Tweet that Joe DoucheScarborough sent last night:

Cramer just sat there and took his medicine. He's clearly shaken that his fellow Democrats have turned on him.

He went on to clarify that a little later:

I am quoting Cramer. He is a loyal Democrat and it depresses him to be reviled by his political allies.

What I can't figure out is why Scarborough - or Cramer - would expect anything else.

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29 responses so far

New Polling Data Suggests Americans Really Ticked Off At Entire Financial Sector

Mar 05 2009 Published by under Flaming Small-Minded Stupidity

I'm no Nate Silver, but I do enjoy reading polls. Most media reports give you the high points - approval numbers, disapproval numbers, that sort of thing. If take a few minutes to dig a little deeper, you'll often find things that didn't make the highlights, but are still very interesting. Case in point: the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll (pdf).

Fourteen pages into the poll, we find the following question:

I'm going to read you some news stories regarding various people and organizations that you may have heard about over the past two to three months. Please tell me which one or two of these people or organizations have most upset you by what they have done or the example they have set.

Bank executives taking large bonuses when they are receiving federal funds

Mortgage lenders making loans to people who would have trouble paying them back

The CEO of Merrill Lynch spending one million dollars to redecorate his office

Corporations holding meetings at spas and resort locations when they are receiving federal funds

CEOs of auto companies traveling in private jets to ask Congress for federal funds

Obama cabinet nominees who failed to pay their taxes

If you look at the list, you'll see that "all of the above" was not actually one of the options that the respondents were given. But it came in third anyway. An impressive 21% of the sample, when asked to pick one of those items, responded by saying that all of those things are equally upsetting.

If you are - just hypothetically, of course - some sort of trader working on some sort of trading floor, and some loudmouth asks you if you want to help pay for the mortgages of "losers", you might want to keep those results in mind before you do something that might further erode your industry's already non-existant approval rating.

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"Holds" on NOAA Administrator & Science Advisor Confirmations. Call Senators Now.

UPDATE: 4 Mar 09 There are now reports that Senator Menendez is not the only Senator holding up these nominations. I've got a new post up with the updated information and new suggestions for ways you can help.

The Washington Post is reporting that Senate votes to confirm Jane Lubchenco as NOAA Administrator and John Holdren as Science Advisor are currently being obstructed by a Democratic Senator. Quoting multiple unnamed sources, the Post says that New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez has placed an "anonymous hold" on the nominations in order to try to gain leverage for some issues related to Cuba that he's interested in.

Menendez's office, the Post reports, refused to confirm or deny the reports, saying only that it's their "policy" not to "speculate or comment" on matters related to anonymous holds. They also report, however, that a spokesman for Harry Reid said "We will work to try to address any concerns that he [Menendez] may have."

This is completely unacceptable. David Vitter might have been a jerk during last month's confirmation hearing, but even he declined to try to delay confirmation for these nominees. Both of these positions are important parts of the Obama Administration's environmental policy team. They are not unimportant positions, and both the nominees and the positions themselves deserve far more respect than Menendez is displaying. These people have agreed to serve their country. They should not be treated as pawns in whatever unrelated game the Senator is trying to play.

Please take a couple of minutes and contact Menendez's office. Tell him that science policy is too important to use as a pawn in whatever game he's playing. If you can, you should also contact the Majority Leader's office. Remind Senator Reid that science and the environment are important issues, and that you know he can, if he so chooses, push the nominations through over the hold. Contact your own senators, too, and ask them to bring whatever pressure they can on Menendez and Reid.

In his Inaugural Address, President Obama talked about restoring science to its rightful place. We can debate just what that should mean, but I'm sure we can all agree that the rightful place of science in public policy is not as a disposable pawn in an unrelated political game.

Contact information for the various Senators can be found below the jump.

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