March 2013 Archives

American Prospect's Abby Rapoport reminds us that "For more than 15 years, congressional Republicans have been trying to do away with federal funding for political-science research:"

Every time until now, political scientists successfully fought back. One reason they could: The pot designated for political science in the National Science Foundation (NSF) was a tiny percentage of overall research money--about $10 million out of a $7 billion budget. That's less than two-tenths of a percent.

Rapoport details the deal:

But tucked inside the 600-page continuing resolution the Senate passed on Wednesday afternoon--the measure that must pass to avoid a government shutdown--is an amendment from Republican Senator Tom Coburn, designed to cut off the vast majority of federal support for political-science research. The amendment prevents the National Science Foundation from funding its Political Science Program, "except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States."

She also notes that "for decades, the Political Science Program has funded the National Election Study, a multimillion-dollar project run out of the University of Michigan

The data, freely available to anyone, provides the most comprehensive look at how American political opinion has changed over time on key issues. Through the study, we can track the evolution of partisan identification, public opinion, and a variety of other key issues over decades. The findings are used by journalists and campaigns, and they're used to train undergraduates and graduate students in research. If the study ceases, there will suddenly be no way to see long-term trends in the American electorate.

(At least, no way that's not tied to some profit-making scheme...) Rapoport also highlights Coburn's hypocrisy:

Coburn hasn't let his opposition to NSF's political-science grants stop him from relying on NSF-funded political-science research when the research bolsters his own positions. In one debate, he cited NSF-funded research to demonstrate the lack of congressional oversight of the Government Accountability Office.

Jen McCreight rages against capitalist cluelessness as displayed in Sarah Butcher's money-saving tips for bankers piece. Butcher's whine that "bankers and their once free-spending wives are suddenly becoming familiar with the art of thriftiness" falls on deaf ears, as tips such as send your kids to state schools (#3), iron your own shirts (#6), and cook your own food (#14) represent a reasonable status quo for most Americans--not a sacrifice.

Exhortations to "Stop skiing, or ski more cheaply" (#9) and Ensure both adults are working (#16) are rather galling, but this one is the worst:

11. Sell the second home

It's easy to see why such cluelessness can inspire rage.

Iraq War + 10

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On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Consortium News reprinted Peter Dyer's 2008 piece on propaganda as a war crime:

On Oct. 16, 1946, Julius Streicher was hanged, a historical precedent that should hold considerable interest for American journalists who have written in support of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" - the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Streicher was one of a group of 10 Germans executed that day following the judgment of the first Nuremberg Trial - a 40-week trial of 22 of the most prominent Nazis. Each was tried for two or more of the four crimes defined in the Nuremberg Charter: crimes against peace (aggression), war crimes, crimes against humanity, and conspiracy.

All who were sentenced to death were major German government officials or military leaders. Except for Streicher. Julius Streicher was a journalist.

Editor of the vehemently anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer, Streicher was convicted of, in the words of the judgment, "incitement to murder and extermination at the time when Jews in the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions clearly constitut(ing) ... a crime against humanity."

Ominously,

The next year [1947] another General Assembly Resolution was adopted: Res. 110 which "condemns all forms of propaganda, in whatsoever country conducted, which is either designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression." [..]

The existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was central to the Bush administration's campaign for war. Other important elements were Saddam Hussein's ties with Al Qaeda and the strongly implied association of Iraq with the tragedies of 9/11. All were false. In propaganda, though, selling the product trumps truth.

The role played by American mainstream media during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq was marked by widespread unquestioning submission to the Bush administration and abandonment of the most fundamental journalistic responsibility to the public.

The piece notes the eerie parallel of "Some prominent American media figures [...] passionately encouraged Americans to commit and/or approve of war crimes, before and during Operation Iraqi Freedom." Prominent among these was Fox's Bill O'Reilly and right-wing media figure Ann Coulter. In contrast to the war-0crimes cheerleaders, consider the 2003 firing of Phil Donahue, who was canned "on the eve of the war by MSNBC because he was allowing antiwar voices on the air:"

The problem was not Donahue's ratings, but rather his views: An internal MSNBC memo warned Donahue was a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war," providing "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity." Donahue joins us to look back on his firing 10 years later. "They were terrified of the antiwar voice," Donahue says.
PHIL DONAHUE: They [MSNBC] were terrified of the antiwar voice. [...] I had to have two conservatives on for every liberal. I could have Richard Perle on alone, but I couldn't have Dennis Kucinich on alone.

Despite the facts (such as "intelligence officials said they found no evidence "indicating that WMD or significant amounts of components and equipment were transferred from Iraq to neighboring Syria, Jordan or elsewhere"), Fox spun numerous conspiracy theories related to Iraq's WMDs:

Fox News suggested that an attack in Syria might have involved chemical weapons from Iraq, pushing a conspiracy theory that Saddam Hussein hid WMD in other countries prior to the Iraq war. Fox made a similar claim just two days ago.

AlterNet's piece 10 years after the invasion notes with dismay "the web of myths, euphemisms and ever-growing secrecy behind which our leaders feel compelled to hide their war policies" and praises "The brave efforts of Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Bradley Manning to let us honestly examine the record for ourselves and draw our own conclusions are met with vindictive terror in the halls of power."

"Our military leaders may be chronically unable to win a war in another country," the article snarks, "but they sure know how to wage a propaganda war in America." It also links to:

- A leaked report from the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2004, based on 27 visits to 14 U.S. prisons in Iraq

- Human Rights First's "Command's Responsibility" report investigated 98 deaths in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. These included at least 12 people who were definitely tortured to death, 26 other cases of suspected or confirmed homicide and 48 more that escaped official investigation altogether. [...] The paper trail already in the public record appears sufficient to convict Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, their lawyers and senior military officers of capital offenses under the U.S. War Crimes Act.



Chris Hedges talked to The Nation's reporter Barbara Bedway in May 2003:

"We don't have a sense of what we have waded into here," said Hedges. "The deep divisions among the varying factions could be extremely hard to bridge, and the historical and cultural roots are probably beyond the American understanding.... Now that the feel-good, flag-waving part of war is over, the real culprits, the commercial-broadcast media, are going to pack up and leave. What they've done is a huge disservice to the nation. They have no sense of responsibility to continue reporting as the story gets more complicated and difficult to report."

Andrew Sullivan reflects on his post-9/11 smear of the Left, writing that "My horror at 9/11, combined with crippling fear, compounded by personal polarization was a fatal combination. This is not an excuse. It's an attempt at an explanation:"

When I really examine my emotional state that year, I can see better now why my anger at the left in general came out so forcefully in the wake of such a massacre. It was a foolish extrapolation from a handful of haters to an entire political tradition. Again, this is not an excuse. But if I am to understand my own personal anger at the anti-war left, it is part of the story.

"That epistemic closure, that surrender of the mind to the gut, that replacement of analysis with anger," he continues, "was the mother of all confirmation biases:"

It was also the very beginning of the blogosphere, and I had not yet learned the brutal lessons of writing instantly with reason-crushing emotion pulsing through my brain. The one silver lining was this blog - and the necessity to write every day in real time for the years that followed. That effectively denied me cover for my massive misjudgment and bias. You forced me to confront a reality I had never wanted to see, or had blinded myself to.

I cannot undo the damage and do not seek to put this behind me. Instead it is in front of me, a constant reminder that fixed convictions are dangerous, that premises should not be mistaken for conclusions, that confirmation bias is real ...

If only other pro-war partisans would be half as honest.

torture porn

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Atlantic's Noah Berlatsky calls Olympus Has Fallen vile, false patriotism--"both a shameless exploration of the worst aspects of the American psyche and, in consequence, one of the most depressing and despicable films I have ever seen." He points out that "The controlling paranoid fantasy here is, again, that North Korea is somehow our technological and military superior:"

In the real world, North Korea is nearly as incompetent as its leader is insane; it can barely fire a rocket, much less orchestrate a massively complicated, multi-stage, higher-than-high-tech (no box cutters here) split-second operation deep in the American homeland. But whatever. The main point is to somehow--anyhow--set up that Die Hard in the White House pitch, so that we can access the vast portion of the American cowboy hindbrain that spasms when we see a lone hardass struggling against the odds. [...]

The film is pretty much an unbroken series of low points, but if I had to pick the absolute worst scene, I would have to go with the one where Banning gleefully tortures two captured terrorists. There's no Zero Dark Thirty shilly-shallying here, no oh-water-boarding-is-just-enhanced-interrogation, or does-torture-work-or-doesn't-it. Our hero stabs one guy in the throat to get the other one to talk, then stabs the remaining fellow in the knee, all the while boasting about how the US has trained him in information-extraction techniques. The audience reaction in my theater was jubilant; people gasped and laughed as Banning stabbed the guy in the throat and then, as the interrogation got bloodier, they broke into spontaneous applause. Torture--it has to work! It's too fun not to.

He concludes with dismay:

I really want to believe that America is not as smug or as stupid as Olympus Has Fallen suggests. That's why I'm hoping that the people of this great nation stay away in droves from this evil, cynical picture and its vile vision of our country.

arguing marriage

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Paul Waldman at American Prospect discusses the super-sexy case against same-sex marriage, writing that "this amicus brief filed by Robert P. George and two colleagues...is so laughable that it shows how far his side has to reach." Waldman notes that "according to George's logic, if there isn't a penis going inside a vagina, they won't have a 'true marriage':"

So conservatives (at least some of them) have retreated to a point where they're arguing that marriage is only secondarily about things like commitment or responsibility or love. Most importantly, they say, it's about sex, and if there's no sex, or not the right kind of sex, then it isn't "true." Talk about redefining marriage.

On the hyperbole front, New Civil Rights Movement quotes RI state senator Harold Metts explaining that "a cosmic battle between God and Satan...is the reason he opposes same-sex marriage."

Zack Ford points out at ThinkProgress that the "greatest challenge for gay and lesbian civil rights [is] the fact that sexual orientation is an invisible identity:"

Unlike race or gender, it cannot so easily be superficially assessed. Thus, conservatives are counting on doubt and distrust, urging the Court to dismiss whatever gay people actually say about their lived experiences -- discount every individual's coming out story, ignore decades of gay culture and gay history, and disregard the scientific conclusions of the entire major medical community. In fact, opponents of equality regularly claim that "the gay agenda" is merely a conspiratorial quest to validate sinful behavior -- as opposed to an effort to allow millions of people to participate fairly in society. [...]

The magic words to look for if the Supreme Court legally recognizes gay people is "heightened scrutiny," which is how the Court determines that the government cannot target a specific group for unfair treatment without substantial justification. For example, classifications based on sex are subject to "intermediate scrutiny," and classifications based on race are subject to the highest level, "strict scrutiny."

Ford concludes:

The end result of these cases will determine the legality of same-sex marriage, but for the first time, the Court could actually acknowledge that gay people exist and thus deserve protection under the U.S. Constitution. On both a symbolic and legal level, the latter victory could be much more significant.

Boing Boing enthuses over IDW's MAD Artist's Edition:

IDW's Artist's Edition series is a line of enormous (15" x 22") hardcover art-books that reproduce the full-page, camera-ready paste-ups used to create classic comics, from Groo to Spider-Man, offering a rare look at the white-outs, annotations, corrections, and pencil-marks that give tantalizing hints about the hidden workings of these amazing pages.

A recent and most welcome addition to the series is MAD: Artist's Edition, a spectacular tribute to the early years of the magazine and especially to the brilliant satire of Harvey Kurtzman, one of the great heroes of satire, which features an introduction by Terry Gilliam himself.

MAD: Artist's Edition isn't just an amazing book, it's an amazing object, a massive and weighty presence that drew me magnetically to it as soon as I got it back to my office.

It's a well-illustrated piece, and I particularly enjoyed the use of the adjective "Wolvertonian."

ThinkProgress linked to the manifesto Progressive Thinking (PDF), praising its attempt "to try to distill progressive beliefs and values into clear language in one digestible resource."

The result of this collective effort is called "Progressive Thinking: A Synthesis of Progressive Values, Beliefs, and Positions." The document is free and we encourage you to read, review, critique, and pass it around to others. As the handbook states, the central progressive message is one of fairness and equality"

"In terms of values," ThinkProgress writes, "Progressive Thinking breaks down the four pillars of progressive thought as follows:"

  1. Freedom.
  2. Opportunity.
  3. Responsibility.
  4. Cooperation.

Melville House discusses the difficulties of reading Persepolis in Chicago:

It has been over a week since the Chicago Public School system made a move to restrict student access to Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's coming-of-age memoir which describes her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s and 80s and the war with Iraq. [...]

Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the book was being removed because "It was brought to our attention that it contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use."

Although Persepolis is "no longer going to be required reading for grades 7-10," the article continues, "the book will still be taught in grades 11 and 12 and in Advance Placement classes."

mountain man

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NYT Magazine lauds the accomplishments of Killian Jornet, calling him "the most dominating endurance athlete of his generation:"

In just eight years, Jornet has won more than 80 races, claimed some 16 titles and set at least a dozen speed records, many of them in distances that would require the rest of us to purchase an airplane ticket. He has run across entire landmasses (Corsica) and mountain ranges (the Pyrenees), nearly without pause. He regularly runs all day eating only wild berries and drinking only from streams. On summer mornings he will set off from his apartment door at the foot of Mont Blanc and run nearly two and a half vertical miles up to Europe's roof -- over cracked glaciers, past Gore-Tex'd climbers, into the thin air at 15,781 feet -- and back home again in less than seven hours, a trip that mountaineers can spend days to complete. A few years ago Jornet ran the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail and stopped just twice to sleep on the ground for a total of about 90 minutes. In the middle of the night he took a wrong turn, which added perhaps six miles to his run. He still finished in 38 hours 32 minutes, beating the record of Tim Twietmeyer, a legend in the world of ultrarunning, by more than seven hours. When he reached the finish line, he looked as if he'd just won the local turkey trot.

Endurance athletes often make the extraordinary look easy, but the piece notes that "Even among top athletes, Jornet is an outlier:"

Take his VO2 max, a measure of a person's ability to consume oxygen and a factor in determining aerobic endurance. An average male's VO2 max is 45 to 55 ml/kg/min. A college-level 10,000-meter runner's max is typically 60 to 70. Jornet's VO2 max is 89.5 -- one of the highest recorded, according to Daniel Brotons Cuixart, a sports specialist at the University of Barcelona who tested Jornet last fall.

His advantage lies not just in his legs (as seen below) or his lungs, but in his lineage and his lifestyle:

Born into a Catalan family, Jornet grew up in the Spanish Pyrenees at 6,500 feet, and his gifts are literally in his blood. [...] Years of daily running and skiing up mountains have further bolstered this advantage.

20130322-killianjornet.jpg
(Levon Biss, NYT)

Additionally, he's good at dispersing heat by vasodilation rather than sweating:

A body that sweats less loses less precious liquid from its circulatory system, a major factor in fatigue. In moderate temperatures, Jornet says, he can run easily for eight hours without drinking water.

Here's another alpine exploit:

This time he traversed Mont Blanc from Courmayeur to Chamonix, crossing crumbling moraines and split-lip glaciers and the chasm of the Innominata ("Unnamed") Ridge. The route -- 26 miles and 14,000 feet of ascent -- takes alpinists several days. Jornet did it in less than nine hours while carrying a little more than a dozen ounces of sports drink.

The NYT article quotes fellow ultrarunner Anton Krupicka as saying, "There is probably no one in the world who is a better technical downhill runner than him." The piece continues:

He likes to move fast and touch rock and feel wild, he told me; he feels most at ease and performs best when wrapped by the silence and beauty of the mountains. He can't abide cities for more than a few hours. The sea -- its unrelenting horizontality -- scares him.

His memoir, intriguingly entitled Run or Die, is due to arrive in July.

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