June 2012 Archives

sabotage?

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Michael Cohen of The Guardian wonders, did Republicans deliberately crash the US economy? He reminds us that "perhaps the most obvious piece of evidence of GOP premeditated malice is the 2010 quote from Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell:"

"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

"Beyond McConnell's words," he notes, "there is circumstantial evidence to make the case:"

Republicans have opposed a lion's share of stimulus measures that once they supported, such as a payroll tax break, which they grudgingly embraced earlier this year. Even unemployment insurance, a relatively uncontroversial tool for helping those in an economic downturn, has been consistently held up by Republicans or used as a bargaining chip for more tax cuts. Ten years ago, prominent conservatives were loudly making the case for fiscal stimulus to get the economy going; today, they treat such ideas like they're the plague.

Traditionally, during economic recessions, Republicans have been supportive of loose monetary policy. Not this time. [...] ...since the original stimulus bill passed in February of 2009, Republicans have made practically no effort to draft comprehensive job creation legislation. Instead, they continue to pursue austerity policies, which reams of historical data suggest harms economic recovery and does little to create jobs.

Part of the reason is, no doubt, the political calculus that lets a Democratic president take the blame, as "it is Obama who is bearing most of the blame for the country's continued poor economic performance:"

Whether you believe the Republicans are engaging in purposely destructive fiscal behavior or are simply fiscally incompetent, it almost doesn't matter. [...] ...one of two major political parties in America is engaging in scorched-earth economic policies that are undercutting the economic recovery, possibly on purpose, and is forcing job-killing austerity measures on the states. And they have paid absolutely no political price for doing so. If anything, it won them control of the House in 2010, and has kept win Obama's approval ratings in the political danger zone. It might even help them get control of the White House.

Is it all about gaining power?

Michelle Legro explicates the transit of Venus, praising Andrea Wulf's book Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens:

In 1716, sixty-year old Sir Edmund Halley called on astronomers all over the world to leave their cozy observatories, travel to the edges of the known world, set up their telescopes, and turn their eyes toward the sunrise on the morning of June 6th, 1761, when the first Transit of Venus of the scientific age would march across the face of the sun.

In the eighteenth century, the solar system had a shape but not a size. By timing the entrance and the exit of Venus across the sun from latitudes all over the world, Halley explained, astronomers could roughly calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun -- a "celestial yardstick" for measuring the universe, as Andrea Wulf calls it in her excellent book Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens.

It was the first worldwide scientific collaboration of its kind, a mathematical olympiad six hours in duration, with years of planning and seconds that counted. [...] Chasing Venus chronicles a rare planetary event that happened at a rare juncture in human history, when the age of empire, the age of science, and the age of curiosity brought the world together for just a few moments -- to achieve the measure of the universe.

According to Slate, nearly every sport except long-distance running is fundamentally absurd--and even Michael Jordan appears "decidedly human when it comes to the fantastic quickness, agility, strength, and ballistic precision various animals are endowed with:"

There's no denying it--our kind started substituting brains for brawn long ago, and it shows: We can't begin to compete with animals when it comes to the raw ingredients of athletic prowess. Yet being the absurdly self-enthralled species we are, we crowd into arenas and stadiums to marvel at our pathetic physical abilities as if they were something special. But there is one exception to our general paltriness: We're the right honorable kings and queens of the planet when it comes to long-distance running.

NYT mentions a half-dozen studies (with 1,687 subjects) showing that:

...about 10 percent actually got worse on at least one of the measures related to heart disease: blood pressure and levels of insulin, HDL cholesterol or triglycerides. About 7 percent got worse on at least two measures. And the researchers say they do not know why.

Dr. Michael Lauer, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute...said that if nothing else, the study pointed out the need to know more about what exercise actually does. "If we are going to think of exercise as a therapeutic intervention, like all interventions there will be adverse effects," he said.

He said, "There is a price for everything."

Scientific American cautions about permanent cardiac damage from "excessive endurance exercise" although admitting that "the new findings do not negate the benefits of regular exercise for most people:"

It adds an average of seven extra years of life expectancy, and it also increases the likelihood that people will spend more of those years relatively trim and in good health.

Alex Hutchinson and Amby Burfoot at Runner's World echo the conventional wisdom that "many people believe the moderate approach is the smartest path to follow:"

Of course, you'll never qualify for the Boston Marathon that way. We all have to make our choices.

Trail and Ultra Running maintains that "there are two conclusions that can be reasonably drawn from the amassing research:"

The first is that running, no matter how much, is better for health than not running. The second is that ultra-distance athletes should probably consider having regular and thorough medical checkups by a health professional who is well aware of the individual's preferred level of sport participation.

Vanessa Runs defiantly proclaims I don't give a shit:

Considering so few of the population is actually made up of ultra runners, why is it that this story has spread like wildfire?

Because sedentary people are sharing it. Because it makes inactive people feel good about their shitty lifestyles. Because next time they go to a fast-food drive-in, they can reason, "Oh, at least I'm not running ultras. That's REALLY bad for me."

Articles like these contribute to a larger epidemic. They are not targeted to ultra runners at all. They are targeted to the tell-me-it's-OK-to-sit-on-my-ass-all-weekend crowd. [...] Ultra running is bad for my heart? That's fine. You die your way, and I'll die mine.

The paper, "Potential Adverse Cardiovascular Effects from Excessive Endurance Exercise" (PDF) states the following:

The aim of this review is to explore the hypothesis that long-term excessive endurance ET in some individuals may induce adverse CV structural and electrical remodeling that might diminish some of the benefits conferred by more moderate intensities and durations of ET [exercise training].

Although it notes that "extreme endurance events may produce adverse CV effects in susceptible individuals," it also suggests that "a safe upper-dose limit potentially exists, beyond which the adverse effects of exercise may outweigh its benefits:"

For now, on the basis of animal and human data, CV benefits of vigorous aerobic ET appear to accrue in a dose-dependent fashion up to about 1 hour daily, beyond which further exertion produces diminishing returns and may even cause adverse CV effects in some individuals.

book design

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This long piece on book-cover design is a delight:

These designers find ways to make exciting -- through illustration or creative debossings or other hacks -- a space that's remained largely unchanged for a hundred years. Their covers occupy a point of convergence blending austerity, sensitivity, reverence for the text and, of course, marketing.

The piece laments the "ever shrinking book cover," pointing out that "covers as we know them are devolving into the vestigial tails of books. A coccyx of codex." As a counter-example, this Oliver Sacks set is delightful,


20120605-oliversacks.jpg

(Cardon Webb)

as are Barnes & Noble's series of leatherbound classics and Penguin's Great Ideas.

Chris Mooney reports that more knowledgeable conservatives are worse on global warming according to a study in Polar Geography:

Scoring better on polar knowledge, and scoring better on scientific literacy, tends to make most people more concerned about what's happening to the polar regions. But that trend doesn't hold up for political conservatives. As the authors report:
...among politically liberal, moderate or even slightly conservative respondents, concern about polar climate change, or support for reserving the Antarctic, tend to increase as science literacy goes up. Among the most conservative respondents, however, concern about climate and support for reserving the Antarctic stay level or even slightly decline as science literacy goes up.

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In the face of this ignorance-despite-the-facts, Salon's Thomas Schaller asks can liberals cure stupidity?

The uncomfortable truth is that across a range of issues, many with important policy implications, Americans are simply misinformed, and often wildly so. Presuming citizens form their opinions based upon what they know about society and government, how in the world can even the most earnest politicians respond properly to preferences expressed by such a highly-misinformed public?

Schaller also observed that "a confused public makes life difficult for liberal policymakers:"

The public grossly misunderstands who owns how much in America and who gets what from the U.S. government in ways that make liberal policy prescriptions harder to sell. Americans drastically underestimate wealth inequality in the country, undermining the case for raising higher-bracket income, inheritance or capital gains tax rates.

From Saddam-and-9/11 to healthcare "death panels," though, he notes that the misinformation is one-sided; he "failed to find any comparable examples of political or societal ignorance that favor the left:"

Even if misinformation does not uniformly advantage the right, ignorance has a clear ideological tilt. As the American Prospect's Paul Waldman has argued, conservatives not only have a vested interest in creating or at least perpetuating falsehoods about government, but they doubly benefit from the fact that many Americans who at some point in their lives relied upon government programs believe they never did.

Schaller's observation that "Their ignorance surely makes political life much harder for liberals" could well illuminate their true goal.

TruthDig examines Andrew Sullivan's crush on Obama:

[Glenn] Greenwald wrote, "There was a time when I thought Sullivan's serial blinding reverence for political leaders--Reagan and Thatcher, then Bush 43, now Obama--was the byproduct of some sort of transferred British need to be the subjects of a monarch." Greenwald recognizes, however, that all too many Americans share similar reflexes. The wider political pathology here is authoritarianism, and not simply a garden variety of British royalism. [...]

Sullivan is well aware that any social Gospel truly drawn from the Bible would spell condemnation to the practices of many conservative and fundamentalist Christians. Weaving a seamless garment from the words of Jesus Christ and the words of Adam Smith would be a long and laborious lie. Sullivan has not yet abased his talent to that level, while corporate politicians such as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama just declare a straightforward faith in both God and the free market. Republican politicians do so more often and more vehemently, but a Democrat in the White House now does so with more judgment of the moment and with more finesse.

Greenwald calls Sullivan's reaction "one of the creepiest episodes in American punditry in some time:"

Sullivan has been willing to criticize Obama more than most of the President's most devoted followers, but this complete turnaround in the flash of a presidential gesture is hard to watch.

Of such cloth is woven the imperial party's new clothing.

Digby comments on the GOP's voter-suppression effort, calling it "shocking in its brazenness:"

I have long wondered why the Democrats haven't seemed to take this seriously. It's been happening in slow motion, but it's been happening in plain sight. [...]

It's not that I care so much that the Democrats win. But I really care that Americans are allowed to vote and have their votes counted and I expect that most people care about that too. In this regard there is a big difference between the two parties: the Republicans have organized around suppressing the vote while the Democrats have organized around expanding it. The problem, as usual, is that the Democrats haven't been nearly as good at it. [...]

One would have thought the 2000 election would have been enough to energize them to protect the franchise, but it clearly wasn't. Let's hope it doesn't take another stolen election to convince them.

Addicting Info informs us that Republicans in Luzerne County PA have elected white supremacist neo-Nazi Steve Smith as committeeperson:

You can photo-shop a Hitler mustache on Obama, and pretend that you're fighting totalitarianism, if you want. But here's what a real live Nazi looks like; and he's an elected Republican official:

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You know, we've had to listen to a lot of nonsense about President Obama and Dems being Nazis, for quite a while now. Granted, many of Obama's critics call him a Muslim, Socialist and Communist, all seemingly without the vaguest notion of what those terms mean. But I've often thought there was something extra buried in the Nazi accusation; and it's called 'projection.'

Projection is the act of attributing feelings or beliefs you possess, but cannot admit to, onto others. It's usually known as an unconscious action, but if engaged purposely in a political climate, it can be a very effective tool.

Steve Smith: Republican Tool.

comics lit

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In comics as literature, part 1 GeekDad's Jonathan Liu is assembling a list of graphic-novel classics:

In the world of comics, just as with novels or kids' books, there are some stories that transcend the realm of "hey, it's just entertainment" and become Serious Literature. I'm not saying that they can't include a few laughs (though some are solemn), but that you can tell there's something under the surface, whether through the subject matter or the language or the artwork.

And here's the best part: there's a lot of them. I'll share some of my old favorites and recent discoveries with you over the course of a few posts, but I guarantee you that there are so many more that I haven't read (or even heard of) yet, and I'm counting on you readers to fill in the gaps on my own shelves.

He ventures a few of the classic graphic novels: Maus, Sandman, Watchmen, and Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics trilogy. It's tough to disagree with any of those choices, but I'm curious to see what books he adds in future installments.

Outside magazine asks are minimalist shoes good for kids? (h/t: runblogger), and answers by pointing out that minimalist shoes "reinforce the healthy running technique kids were born with:"

...namely, striking the ground with the fore foot, not the heel. Watch a video of a toddler running and you'll see they do this naturally. It's only when we start wearing thick-soled, heavier shoes that we re-program ourselves to run differently; heel striking has been linked to knee, hip, and lower back pain.

A commenter wrote that kids should play barefoot to prevent flat feet, mentioning the study "The Influence of Footwear on the Prevalence of Flat Feet" (PDF) from the British Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery:

The distinctly higher incidence [of flat feet] in children who used footwear suggests that shoe-wearing predisposes to flat foot.

Our cross-sectional study suggests that shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal or a high medial longitudinal arch. [...] We suggest that children should be encouraged to play unshod and that slippers and sandals are less harmful than closed-toed shoes.

Paul Krugman comments that "the austerity death spiral in Europe" should have taught us something:

When the private sector is frantically trying to pay down debt, the public sector should do the opposite, spending when the private sector can't or won't. By all means, let's balance our budget once the economy has recovered -- but not now. The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity.

He notes that "the austerity drive in Britain isn't really about debt and deficits at all; it's about using deficit panic as an excuse to dismantle social programs:"

And this is, of course, exactly the same thing that has been happening in America.

In fairness to Britain's conservatives, they aren't quite as crude as their American counterparts. They don't rail against the evils of deficits in one breath, then demand huge tax cuts for the wealthy in the next (although the Cameron government has, in fact, significantly cut the top tax rate). And, in general, they seem less determined than America's right to aid the rich and punish the poor. Still, the direction of policy is the same -- and so is the fundamental insincerity of the calls for austerity.

The big question here is whether the evident failure of austerity to produce an economic recovery will lead to a "Plan B." Maybe. But my guess is that even if such a plan is announced, it won't amount to much. For economic recovery was never the point; the drive for austerity was about using the crisis, not solving it. And it still is.

Chris Mooney discusses the reason why conservatives attack scientific findings about why they hate science, suggesting that "if I'm wrong, then the press can happily go on doing what it has always done:"

Splitting the difference between the political left and the political right, and employing "on the one hand, on the other hand" treatments that presume we're all equally biased, all equally self-interested...just in different directions.

The trouble is, I've presented a substantial body of scientific evidence suggesting that this simply isn't the case. More specifically, the science I've presented suggests that the political right and left are quite different animals; that they perceive the world differently and handle evidence differently; and most importantly, that the polarization and the denial of science in modern American politics are fundamentally the fault of the authoritarian right.

"It is very natural," Mooney observes, "that a lot of people...don't want to accept what I'm saying. The problem is, where is the scientific counterargument to what I'm saying? [...] So what do conservatives have to say in response to this science?"

Honestly, the objections are quite weak, and frankly provide a wealth of new evidence in support of the book's argument--that conservatives tend to simply reject science and evidence when it threatens their beliefs. The main conservative counterargument relies on little more than misrepresenting the book and its arguments.

He wonders, "So what's left?"

Not much, other than the standard conservative distrust of what academic scientists are up to--coupled with a rather stunning amount of overconfidence. After all, conservatives seem to think that they are competent to critique--not in the scientific literature, but in the media and on blogs--an entire field. And then, to dismiss it based on those critiques.

Mooney continues,

At least at the present time, it certainly does look like the available evidence leads to a conclusion that many people don't want to accept.

I'm very sorry about this, but hey--that's what journalists are for. And indeed, that's what anti-authoritarian liberals are for. And frankly, conservatives really ought to get used to it.

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